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December 29, 2009

Maybe next year
Posted by Avram Grumer at 11:05 PM *

Patrick referred to “international terror klutzes” yesterday, but I think maybe Charlie Stross’s “murderous clowns” was more accurate. So far, we’ve had the recent exploding underpants, and Richard Reid’s exploding shoes, both classic bits of circus clown comedy. This implies that the TSA’s obsession with fluids and spray canisters is actually right on target for preventing a future seltzer bottle attack. Variants on the “suitcase gag” are also clearly anticipated and taken care of. A ban on pies and rubber chickens would seem to be in order.

If you examine the types of circus clowns, Reid and Abdulmutallab are clearly the auguste or “red clown” archetype — the hapless guy who’s the butt of the joke. Osama bin Laden himself would be a “whiteface”, like Moe Howard or Bud Abbott, the straight-man figure who orders the other clowns around.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mohamed Moumou, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, Saif al-Adel, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and the various other second- and third-bananas in al Qaeda’s hierarchy are “character clowns”. They aspire to the authority of the whiteface, but wind up like the auguste. (Note also how the face of the “hobo” clown — originally a sub-category of character clowns — resembles an abstraction of the full dark beard favored by so many of these men.)

The Dep’t of Homeland Security clearly needs to switch the focus of its efforts away from air travel, concentrating instead upon small, densely-packed automobiles.

Comments on Maybe next year:
#1 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 11:15 PM:

All performers on the stage of "The Security Theater".

#2 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 11:20 PM:

Bozo the Clown was a Democrat.

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 11:30 PM:

Avram, you're a genius.

#4 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 11:40 PM:

I think we're all Bozos on this plane?

#5 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2009, 11:59 PM:

We're definitely all bozos for putting up with this nonsense.

#6 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 12:00 AM:

Joel, that would be an interesting plane trip: everyone in clown costumes. (At least, interesting for those watching the departure and arrival. For the people involved, maybe not so much.)

#7 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 12:16 AM:

PJ Evans @ 6... I'd like to see the TSA try to handle all those clown shoes.

#8 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 12:59 AM:

Reality is getting a little too far into the booze and starting to sound like a screwball comedy.

#9 ::: jsgbs ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 01:13 AM:

Some guerrilla warfare experts have started theorizing that AQ is sending in the clowns because habitual TSA over-reaction means that failed attacks present a very favorable cost benefit ratio for AQ. It costs less to send a moron who will fail to ignite himself than to send a seasoned bomber, but thanks to the TSA and the bed-wetting right wing, both attacks cause about the same level of disruption.

AQ's bombers are clowns but the AQ leadership certainly aren't.

#10 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 01:20 AM:

Turning this around, I'm not sure that Freddie the Freeloader would be pleased with the idea of being lumped in with terrorists.

#11 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 01:28 AM:

Al-Queda clowns with loads in their diapers.... new meaning to "load in his underwear."

Or, a decades old song, blaming it on women, "Goodbye cruel world... gonna be a broken-hearted clock... shoot me out of a cannon I don't care... that mean fickle woman made a dyin' clown out of me." Who's the woman, Margaret Thatcher? Condeelisa Rice? Michelle Malkin? Sarah Palin? *nn C**lt*r?

#12 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 01:30 AM:

jsgbs @9, it also strikes me as entirely likely that there just aren't a whole lot of people out there who are competent, motivated enough to follow a complicated plan, and willing to kill themselves.

I've seen it suggested that not all of the 19 9/11 hijackers knew that they were on a suicide mission. There were four or five hijackers on each plane, and only the four guys actually flying the planes had to know that they weren't expected to land.

#13 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 01:39 AM:

Avram @ 12... only the four guys actually flying the planes had to know that they weren't expected to land

"Say, what do we do after we hijack the plane?"
"We will explain later."

Daleks on a plane?

#14 ::: Jon ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 02:10 AM:

I think there's some deglobalization going on here, watching the trend from multithousands of deaths and major economic harm down to the mostly funny-worthy kind of terrorist on offer today. They're being done by people with less training and fewer connections to al'Qaeda (or reality!).

So, what's missing? Well, not trained and fewer connections means they aren't traveling as much, doesn't it? And, plenty of people flew in and out to wave go for and to prep 9/11. Well, it's not like there's evidence the bureaucratic watch list's working to do more than keep innocents at home, and it's vulnerable to fake identities/ids. BUT flying is pretty expensive, especially to Pakistan and Afghanistan. So, I'm guessing the one bit of antiterror measures that are working are the money freezes on terrorist .orgs.

Whadda I know, though? I'm up with of reality on the booze just now.


#15 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 02:52 AM:

Four words:

Google "Very Proper Charlies".

It's been my standard with dealing with all of this heightened security state.

#16 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 04:41 AM:

jsgbs @9, given AQ's mode of operation, I'm not sure that they have that many "seasoned" bombers.

#17 ::: JDC ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 05:59 AM:

cgeye@15: thanks, I've been trying to remember the name of that story for some time. Would that the powers that be would use it as their standard.

#18 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 06:15 AM:

You could hide one hell of a bomb in those shoes.

#19 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 06:53 AM:

There will be no sleeping on this flight or the clowns will get you.

#20 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 07:03 AM:

I think that the dynamic is more that Osama is rich and he and Ayman al-Zawahiri are a pair, considering this I don't mind telling you I'll be staying on the ground - you take your chances mid-air.

I guess this is very funny for some of you, it's like every attack sends you into bliss, like you approve, while the whole damn TSA just keeps tearing around without actually moving - trying to do something.

Sure they've done some good things - for example making it so you can't open the pilot's doors anymore - there won't be anymore of the classic film hijackings with their usual flair and grand entrances.

And for everyone that complains about the farce of the TSA regs, well don't you love farce? It's all a little bit queer, in the old sense of the word, that people like Schneier can now make a career out of complaining about the bad timing of TSA security regulations and whatnot.

Send in the Clowns.


#21 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 07:05 AM:

Sorry, cgeye, I'm not familiar with that story, and Google didn't help. Care to summarise?

#22 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 07:24 AM:

And actually nowadays when I travel the joy is all out of it, sure I might keep smiling in order to fool public profiling, but I guess you - making light readership - are canny enough to see through that kind of thing. Nobody likes flying the unfriendly skies anymore.

I guess in the clownshow of modern airtravel I'd be Pagliacci.

It's so damn sad it makes me cry.


But really - the time for clowns is over.

All these republican phonies crying trying to blackmail Obama to ransom off their favorite projects, at the same time pointing at him and saying sure he looks good but he's the real phony, you have to keep an eye on him or he'll be walking all over you - and your pocketbook.

But if they expect Obama to back down I think they're wrong, which is dangerous for him, he's 'different' and draws the attention of dangerous extremists and I don't believe the Secret Service is going to protect him.

Which is another reason - the time for clowns is over!


#23 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 07:29 AM:

if terrorists are clowns, then they might be effectively detected by toddlers, who typically burst into tears at the sight of clowns.

tsa could employ toddler-handlers instead of dogs.

#24 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 07:52 AM:

You missed this one: Suicide Bum in September this year.

The mind boggles (well mine did, anyway).

#25 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 08:13 AM:

Clowns with detonating pants...
Pantalon is a terrorist?

#26 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 08:34 AM:

Cadbury @ 24: That's the one who missed the Saudi prince (head of counter-terrorism). The articles keep referring to that event without explaining why it's pertinent, other than mentioning the suicide bum-ber* came from Yemen.

*I had to contribute in some small way. It's a fundamental flaw in my personality, I know.

#27 ::: Rob ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 08:42 AM:

jsgbs@9: I think the use of incompetents is a bit of self-preservation as well... if AQ succeeds on the level of the World Trade Center again, they know their leadership is as good as dead. The only reason they're still alive now is that the Bushies bungled the search and the US public quickly lost the appetite to lose a lot of our boys to find them.

Another large-scale murder and whoever is President at the time will be able to use the public revulsion to justify a similarly large-scale assault on AQ's stronghold.

And, as you said, it suits AQ to allow the US government to make itself look foolish with constant overreactions to AQ provocations. Each time AQ does something, the US edges closer to becoming the country that AQ already has the "Muslim street" convinced that we are.

#28 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 08:59 AM:

bryan @20:
I guess this is very funny for some of you, it's like every attack sends you into bliss, like you approve

Bwuh?

We're trying mockery because serious criticism of what we will loosely call the system has been bouncing off. And if I don't have something to laugh about when I travel next week, I'm going to be tempted to smack someone.

#29 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 09:20 AM:

bryan, #20: "It's all a little bit queer, in the old sense of the word, that people like Schneier can now make a career out of complaining about the bad timing of TSA security regulations and whatnot."

I know you're just venting, but to be perfectly clear about it, Bruce Schneier doesn't need to "make a career" out of criticizing the TSA. Bruce Schneier has a perfectly successful career already.

It's because he's already a respected expert in security issues that people ask for his opinion about, for instance, TSA policies.

#30 ::: lmashell ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 09:23 AM:

The potential of a costumed clown on my flight frightens me more than the potential terrorist with exploding underwear. That pancake makeup! Those shoes! There can be no nightmare as frightening as a clown.

#31 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 09:34 AM:

Abi, Patrick -- Bryan's post was a paraphrase of the song "Send in the clowns" with all the rhyme words kept and the rest of it forced as close to sense as possible under the circumstances. I'm not sure they were intended as actual statements, but I am sure they were intended as a joke.

#32 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 09:34 AM:

Bryan, terrorist acts don't make us happy. Stupid DHS responses to terrorism don't make us happy either.

It's like living in Shakespeare's version of Messina. There's no question that we deplore the wicked doings of the villains, and wish we had less maladroit law enforcement; but we can't pretend we're not fascinated, in an appalled sort of way, by the antics of Dogberry and his constabulary assistants.

#33 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 09:39 AM:

(I miss Mike Ford.)

#34 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 09:43 AM:

In defense of bryan@20, his rhetoric may be a little lumpy, but that's because he's shaping it around an extended riff on the Sondheim lyrics. @22 is "Tears of a Clown" (Wonder/Cosby/Robinson) and "Clowntime is Over" (Costello).

#35 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 09:46 AM:

Jo and Andrew:

Oh, cool.

Bryan, I apologize. That's neat; I'm just too uncultured to catch the trick. (The lyrics are not in active memory).

#36 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 09:46 AM:

Y'know, that's why God created line breaks.

#37 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 09:50 AM:

I was gonna say, bryan is clearly entitled to make the "glyph of mourning for a joke insufficiently appreciated" (best bit in a David Brin book EVAR), but...line breaks!

#38 ::: Matt Stevens ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 09:56 AM:

Avram: Brilliant!

#39 ::: Another Damned Medievalist ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 10:10 AM:

I'm getting on a plane (with any luck) tomorrow night. And all this nonsense makes me wonder:

Why don't we have security that works better? And again, I say that it has a lot to do with the average USian's desire to: 1) pay as little as possible for services, and; 2) not be inconvenienced at all. Me, I'd like to see TSA and DHS run well and given the funding to check *all* the places where it makes sense, like ports, and employee entrances, and do really good background checks, and ... I dunno, train and pay TSA workers as if their jobs are important and highly skilled?

And if it means planning an extra hour into travel, then so be it. Actually, think about how many people might decide to drive shorter distances (or take trains, but that's another can of worms) if air travel were less convenient. Not sure how that would affect carbon footprints, but ...

#40 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 11:06 AM:

I wonder if (or when) "Nigerian underwear" will become as universal a meme as "Nigerian scam"?

#41 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 11:50 AM:

Avram, I join the chorus calling for you to be recognized as a genius for this.

I saw bryan's joke almost right away, but I grew up listening to musicals, and that one is one of my favorites. I actually think it's funnier without (lyric-style) line breaks, especially since he's not following meter or rhyme, just using phrases from the various verses of the song. The drawback of doing so is just what happened: people less familiar with the song will take it as a regular comment and go WTF?

Ginger 26: the suicide bum-ber

And if it had been a gun instead of a bomb, would he have been a bum-ber-shooter?

Fragano 40: I heard the Nigerian Information Minister on BBC this morning, saying "We are not terrorists!" repeatedly. No, you're not a nation of terrorists; you're a nation of email scammers (I can't remember where I read that 419 scams are Nigeria's second-biggest industry). That's better, but only in the sense that it's not as bad.

Also heard this morning that the liarliar* bomber's father went to the security services in Nigeria on more than one occasion, expressing deep concern about his son's activities. They apparently ignored him, and not for class reasons: the father is a well-respected banker in Nigeria and quite well-known. Got some clowns on the security side in Nigeria, too, it seems.
____
*If you don't know why I'm calling him that, ask and I'll tell you.

#42 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 12:01 PM:

Xopher -- If liarliar's father was writing to the security services with messages like "Dear Sir, I am a well-respected banker in Nigeria...", it's not surprising that they were ignoring him.

#43 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 12:13 PM:

Joel 42: GAMD! Good point. But he actually showed up at their headquarters and spoke to someone about his son's activities IIRC.

That does bring up another possibility, of course. Maybe his father really is a 419 scammer! That's apparently what "well-respected banker" means in Nigeria.

#44 ::: Reinder Dijkhuis ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 12:21 PM:

I just read today that pies are in fact restricted. You can carry them on board but they have to be individually inspected. So the odds of passengers or crew getting pied are slim.

#45 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 12:30 PM:

Xopher @41: I was at graduate school briefly with someone who had worked for intelligence in another country, and he told me once that the biggest problem is to separate the real information from the mountains of stuff that just come in over the transom (didn't say much else,he was damned close-mouthed, as is only proper). I would think that these days the number of people making threats against the US is a tide that is overwhelming the intelligence community. We need to pour money and training into the policing/intelligence side of this.

On the other hand, his opinion of how American agencies handled intelligence was quite low...

#46 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 12:52 PM:

Xopher #41: "I heard the Nigerian Information Minister on BBC this morning, saying "We are not terrorists!" repeatedly. No, you're not a nation of terrorists; you're a nation of email scammers (I can't remember where I read that 419 scams are Nigeria's second-biggest industry). That's better, but only in the sense that it's not as bad." Dang skippy, sir, dang skippy.

Doesn't Nigerians know that the US wants them dead for their oil, and the Internets want them dead, period? If they want sympathy because a bankster's boy went mental, they won't get it from me. Now if they offer to clean their house of Al-Qaeda *and* 419 scammers, Nigeria would become the 51st state, screw the P.R....

#47 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 12:57 PM:

Oh, and follow the Charlie Stross link in the above post, and drill down to talk of a Dean Ing story that repositioned the British WWII anti-panic campaign to terrorist times. Taking these bastards seriously in terms of fear and mindshare gives them an easy win. Keep Calm & Carry On is denying them that right to your spirit, despite whatever comes.

Mr. Kung Fu Monkey also posted a bracing sermon on this topic....

#48 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 01:08 PM:

The father was apparently very interested in finding his son, and only mentioned the radicalization of him after asking the US to help find him. I think pretty much everyone here would object if a single person, under most circumstances, could raise the surveillance on another person -- the chances of it being used maliciously or inappropriately are way higher than that it would be used properly. Do you want your ex to be able to declare that you're a security risk?

This is one case where it might have worked properly, but I think it's an outlier.

#49 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 01:15 PM:

Tom@48: Very strong agreement. One informant generally shouldn't be enough to trigger no-fly status, it's far too easily abused.

#50 ::: Kate Y. ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 01:22 PM:

I use the phrase "Security theater" myself, becs what the TSA is doing at those checkpoints is orthogonal to Security and I won't go along with the Orwellian Newspeak of saying otherwise.

But this talk of clowns disturbs me. I know you're joking. I know you're laughing in lieu of screaming. I think perhaps we need to be screaming. Far too many people are taking this ALL as a joke: "oh, that darn doofus, what's he done now?"

That doofus has guns, and prisons, and control of our air transit system. We're acting as if it's just another installment of Dumb & Dumber.

#51 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 01:24 PM:

Don't Bother, They're Here Dept.:

In #31, Jo comments on Bryan's post in #20:

Bryan's post was a paraphrase of the song "Send in the clowns"

Avram's title to his post is also an allusion to the last line of the song. Bryan was picking up Avram's ball and carrying it far down the field and over the goal line.

#52 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 01:28 PM:

Another Damned Medievalist @ #39

Actually, think about how many people might decide to drive shorter distances (or take trains, but that's another can of worms) if air travel were less convenient.

Already doing that. Anything that can be driven in less than 10 hours is now automatically a driving rather than a flying trip for me. I live in the boonies, so it takes me roughly 90 minutes to get to the airport and park. Add another 90 minutes for dealing with security and travel cushion. 90 minutes and change to load, fly, and unload even on a short hop. At that point the additional 5 1/2 hours driving time doesn't seem like that much of an inconvenience, especially since it's cheaper, I won't have to rent a car at the other end, and I don't have to play security theater to do it. If I've got time and interesting places to stop en-route I'll often drive even a 20 hour trip.

#53 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 01:32 PM:

#27 Rob
Al Qaeda is not a centralized, corporate model operation/entity. Extirpation of Osama bin Laden won't extirpate Al Qaeda. Think of the Internet and individual websites, websites of small groups of like-minded people, websites such as Making Light.... there are linkage from site to site based on personal involvement or referencing, there are links across, there is information sharing and dissemination.... wiping out any particular sites/entities such as LiveJournal or sff.net or MakingLight or Facebook or Twitter or MySpace or Book View Cafe, or tor.com or antipope.org or specific individuals of the blogosphere, etc. etc., would remove that particular site/forum/person, but it wouldn't terminate the blogosphere or prevent other sites from popping up with many of the same people interacting and goalseeking to some of the same goals. It also wouldn't prevent people from communicating about it, or being angry....

Discussion on various sites which is negative about Author Solutions for example, has resulted in sometimes the disappearance of the condemnatory forum for some amount of time--but most of the forums come back, and others take notice and the condemnation becomes even stronger and more widespread.... Al Qaeda is that sort of thing, it does not have a central authority. Get rid of #5 or #2 or even #1, and there is very little disruption, other people are involved and it's like playing whack-a-mole. Whack one, anoter pops up....

It's a bad joke, which apparently someone in the US Government got a fraction of a clue about eventually, that for quite a while in the misadministration, there was announcement after announcement of killling #2 or #4 or other numbers which supposedly were of the persons' ranks in Al Qaeda... and within week of killing Son or Father of War who was #4 person in Al Qaeada, would come the announcement of killing or capture of someone ELSE who was person #4....
Whack-a-mole, with aleph null supply of moles...

#54 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 01:43 PM:

I wonder what the Chiodo Brothers are up to these days.

#55 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 02:08 PM:

This most recent event saddens me on another level that is shared with my Nigerian friends and many other friends and colleagues in music, history and art.

Nigeria is home to some of the most beautiful, strong and influential cultures / religions / art anywhere, much of which in one way and another has been exported via slavery to the New World. I'm thinking particularly of the Yoruba, whose language literally birthed the concept of the cool.

Sad, sad, sad.

Love, C.

#56 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 02:52 PM:

Kelly #52:

Getting people to change from a 4 hour flight to a 16 hour drive costs a great many lives. Driving is *much* more dangerous per mile or per hour, especially during winter.

But the lives lost are lost one or two at a time, far away from TV cameras. There won't be a big media fear hype about how The Terrorists Are Coming To Eat Your Children. No politician will get his face on Fox News proclaiming how this proves that the president was wrong to stop torturing captives. So, no harm, really.

We do this sort of ignorant shit all the time as a society. Partly, that's because our built-in threat evaluation circuitry is buggy as hell. A bigger reason is that lots of people have found it profitable to exploit those bugs. TV stations know that a story about The Bad People Lurking Out There will get people to watch. The politicians know that campaigning as the Strong Men Who Will Keep You Safe wins elections. The sales and marketing droids understand that fear can sell everything from cars to insurance to guns to alarms to vitamins, all intended to protect you from threats real and imagined.

In a sane society, the stuff Bruce said on Maddow's show would be conventional wisdom, and politicians and media types and salesmen would have to come up with some other set of mental bugs to use to separate us from our money, time, and votes.

#57 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 02:54 PM:

Constance @ #55:

Indeed, Nigeria has some admirable & marvelous cultural history, and has come down sadly in the world.

Perhaps that condition or kind of situation will be more widely recognized here in the United States, in a few more years.

#58 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 03:17 PM:

I never did fly to Chicago, except for work; pleasure trips there were always by car, and that was 8 hours (during the 55mph period).

We (including housemates) often drove from Massachusetts to Minnesota, too. Only 28 hours, and with 5 drivers not that stressful. Quite cheap compared to flying! Usually two trips a year.

More recently, I've made a couple of road-trips down to Nashville (from Minnesota). In addition to cost (especially if two or more people are involved) and security theater, there's also the fact that we can easily haul more stuff (lots of camera equipment), and things that are hard to transport by plane (guns and ammo; most airlines will take guns as checked luggage, but there's a limit of two).

I've never driven myself out to California, though. Maybe it's time.

#59 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 03:22 PM:

Kate Y. @ 50:

See #47 above; we discussed this some on that previous thread. The argument is essentially this: security can't prevent all terrorist activity, the only long-term preventive measure we have is to marginalize the extremists who become terrorist operatives, so fewer people, eventually none, we hope, will be tempted to follow their example. One powerful way to do that is to cast them as humorous bumblers, hence the derisive laughter.

#60 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 03:35 PM:

"I actually think it's funnier without (lyric-style) line breaks, especially since he's not following meter or rhyme, just using phrases from the various verses of the song. The drawback of doing so is just what happened: people less familiar with the song will take it as a regular comment and go WTF?"

I considered doing just a normal parody of Send in the Clowns but decided that was too obvious and also that using the narrative flow of the song as if I were doing a wingnut post about the subject at hand - of course one reason that it had to be a wingnut post was that to take the narrative implicit in a love song and move it to a prosaic critique of current TSA regulations creates a certain disconnectedness in sense that most resembles the paranoid style in American politics. The wingnuttiness creates extra WTF in the post you see.

I was sort of hoping to get disemvowelled before someone caught on to the joke.

Anyway after Send in the Clowns I did the Tears of a Clown and Clowntime is Over because I find it hard to stop with one example when I have an idea and those are the two most widely known clown songs I can think of, but those two in my opinion were less successful - perhaps because I had to take care of parenting duties at the time and rushed it - I would have expected Clowntime is Over to be easier because it is (as most Costello love songs are) an incredibly paranoiac affair to begin with.


#61 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 03:57 PM:

Last night, while I was composing this post, I'd hesitated for a bit, because al Qaeda has managed a bunch of successful, deadly terrorist attacks in the past few years, just not in the US. My joking might well have seemed callous to someone from London, Madrid, or Algiers, to name just a few places.

So when my eye fell across the words "I guess this is very funny for some of you" in Bryan @20, I thought for a quarter of a second that it was just someone calling me on it. Then my eyeball tracked upwards, saw "you take your chances mid-air", and, well, I did write the post with those lyrics open in a tab while deciding which line to use for a title, so they were fresh in my memory. And Bryan, it's funnier without line breaks.

#62 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 03:59 PM:

Now I'm trying to figure out if it'd be even funnier without the vowels.

#63 ::: linnen ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 05:38 PM:

I wonder what a clown-based threat advisory spectrum would look like.

Raphael @16:
A 'seasoned' bomber is one thing. A veteran suicide-bomber would be a bit pathetic.

#64 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 05:44 PM:

albatross @ 56. I never claimed it was safer. I claimed it was cheaper and more convenient for me. I know it's not safer and I do it anyway in substantial part because I don't like to play security theater. Also, I'm not real happy with the phrase "ignorant shit" in regards to that decision.

#65 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 05:49 PM:

linnen @63: A veteran suicide-bomber would be a bit pathetic.

Make a pretty good character in a dark comedy, though.

#66 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 05:53 PM:

Kelly McCullough @ 64... I don't think Albatross's comment about uninformed poop was about those people who drive, but about its casulaties being seen as ho-hum by politicians and newscasters. That being said, my wife and I drive when we go to the Bay Area from New Mexico for the Holidays. For one thing, it allows my wife to bring each and every little thing she might need while away from home. No, that doesn't include the kitchen sink.

#67 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 06:09 PM:

"Make a pretty good character in a dark comedy, though."

....Alla' Alla'....
Series 1 Episode 1

Opening scene - an idyllic little cafe in downtown Baghdad during the American occupation.

American soldiers, mercenaries, reporters, and various typical arabic stereotypes are sitting at the tables. A fat man, obviously employed in some capacity at the cafe is moving between empty tables cleaning them up.

The camera pulls in, he looks up as if startled and says:
Hello, my name is Achmed and this is my cafe......

#68 ::: Kate Y. ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 06:19 PM:

Bruce #59:
On re-reading, I realize my comment wasn't in synch with the actual topic. I was thinking of jokes that frame the TSA's behavior as clownish. Y'all are framing the bombers in that role--not at all the same--carry on.

#69 ::: Ingvar ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 06:21 PM:

bryan @ #67:

Including the (veiled) sexy female Iraqi freedom fighter whispering "I will fatwah this only once...", the American soldier with a thing for young Arab boys who's taken a shine to Achmed playing his non-existent twin brother and...

#70 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 06:32 PM:

"and..."
the top membership of Al Qaeda hiding out as a troupe of merry clowns.

#71 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 07:06 PM:

"Excuse me, sir. Could you please step over here and remove the nose?"

#72 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 07:12 PM:

"I've had it with these motherf***ing clowns on this motherf***ing plane!"

#73 ::: linnen ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 07:29 PM:

Avram,

There are two routes that I can think of for that.
a) The 'sad sack' comedy would be that nothing works for the would-be martyr. To include the fact that nobody will believe them. Woody Allen could direct.
b) The second would be that the explosives work, beautifully and all over the place. Except for the fact that everyone survives, including the bomber. Who would then spend the rest of the film trying to find their pants again.

#74 ::: Mike McHugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 07:33 PM:

All I can think about now is the Dadaist clown bank robbery in Brookmyre's "The Sacred Art Of Stealing". But they were actually successful.

And, as long as there isn't really any arms dealer in the world who matches up terminally ill people with not-sufficiently-inspiring-causes, we should be fine.

#75 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 07:38 PM:

I robbed a clown bank once, but all I got was a bunch of exploding snakes and toilet paper flags.

#76 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 07:41 PM:

linnen @ 63:
I wonder what a clown-based threat advisory spectrum would look like.

Rather than a color spectrum, how about a clown-prop list:

Hat - low threat level
Shoes - medium threat level
Nose - high threat level
Bow Tie - "Oh, sh*t, run for the hills"

"Nose alert, nose alert. Number 2 to the observation room, please."

#77 ::: Mike McHugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 07:43 PM:

As for laughing at terrorists, there's always Monkey Dust. (examples here)

#78 ::: linnen ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 07:52 PM:

Of course the 'mistaken identity' bit would work here.

An explosion occurs. No one is hurt, but some burnt identification is found. Its the nice kid from down the lane. A game of telephone ensues, with a couple of half-deaf old men for humorous effect. And lo, the kid is built up to be the local Capt. Tuttle of the area. State Dept. press release says that the kid was the second of command, etc.

However, in comes the kid, just woke up from being mugged, money and id stolen. What will happen now that the very nice funeral is over?

#79 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 08:25 PM:

Tom Whitmore, #48, in NoVA, we had five families tell the authorities that their sons were missing. Sure enough, the boys turned up in Pakistan, trying to join Al Qaeda. Their parents and imams apologized like crazy. Pakistan has decided to take them to court and the US is thinking about doing it afterward.

#80 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 08:31 PM:

linnen @63: A veteran suicide-bomber would be a bit pathetic.

I read Niven & Pournelle's Escape from Hell (sequel to their Inferno) a few months ago, and was trying to figure out how the suicide bombers fit into the cosmology. I thought I heard the distinct sound of authorial axes being ground.

#81 ::: linnen ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 08:36 PM:

Bruce Cohen,

Curly-Joe
Shemp
Larry
Moe
Curly

Which one denotes 'batten down the hatches' is up to you.

#82 ::: linnen ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 09:28 PM:

Joel Polowin @80;
Actually I did not find the suicide bomber placement by Niven & Pournelle to be anything out of the ordinary. Everyone, Pagan or otherwise, to be judged against Xian rules, using Xian values, circa Dante's time and place. Virtuous Xians, went to Heaven, redeemable Xians to Purgatory, virtuous Pagans relegated outside the gates of Hell, and the rest to Hell. ("Do not Pass Go! Do not Collect 200 USD!") The fridge logic (on Dante's part) is that this places the virtuous pagans further from God than the atheists.

No, I was hearing the authors' axes when reading that Hell was modernizing its bureaucracy and using sinners to be the advisors for this. A better written Infernal Bureaucracy was written in 'The Story of the Stone' by Barry Hughart.

#83 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 10:21 PM:

linnen @ 82: IIRC, the suicide bombers in Hell (as portrayed in that novel) destroyed themselves irrevocably (vs. all other forms of destruction shown in the book, which the characters eventually recovered from). And nuclear detonation, purely as an act of will, destroying a large chunk of the landscape? Convenient for the story the authors wanted to tell, but it didn't seem consistent with the setting.

#84 ::: linnen ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2009, 10:47 PM:

Joel Polowin @83:
Irrevocably? I do not think that was in the works. Even if souls / soul-forms could be destroyed, God allowed only one way to get out of Hell. HIS way.

As for the nuclear blast, I think that Oppenheimer had more to do with that than the suicide bomber. Personally, I would not be surprised if any nuclear physicist's soul caused the same reaction (jokes about the souls of string theorists or quantum physicists aside). But even if not, Oppenheimer managed to guilt-trip himself into the Tenth Circle of Hell, the one closest to Satan. He has GOT to have some serious mojo from that.

#85 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2009, 12:39 AM:

hoist by his own petard?

#86 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2009, 02:55 AM:

Kelly #64:

I'm sorry I was unclear. It's totally reasonable for you and many others to avoid the increasingly unpredictable and unpleasant airlines. My point is that policies that push millions of people from very safe airplanes to less safe cars are stupid. Doing this in the name of security is dumb, among other things, because if we're lucky, it will save a hundred lives a decade, and it's probably costing far more lives than that already. Those lives just won't be counted against the TSA or the president, or mourned on TV.

My dad and sister drove out to visit us on Christmas. Their drive included some pretty harrowing bits while crossing the mountains. After the underpants bomber story came out, they both said they were really glad to have driven, because of all the nonsense they were avoiding at the airport. If the security theater stopped, and we decided on some sensible level of security, they might have flown. Even assuming no ID checks, no shoe checks, allowing fluids on, etc., their risk of dying on that flight would have been, I'm sure, several orders of magnitude less than their risk of dying crossing the mountains in the midst of freezing rain. The tradeoff we're making there is making us less safe, not more.

#87 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2009, 04:43 AM:

For my 2008 NaNoWriMo thing, the ending sequence involved Ninja Clowns.

There are downsides to using a circus as a cover for your shenanigans. But first....

============

There's a buzz about a circus, a sense of excitement just in its existence. it's another world, with its own language, its own culture, alien yet, being transient, a visitor, it is safe. It is tolerated, even as it is watched by those who would wish the world to conform to their standards. There is, after all, the idea of running away with the circus, just as there was a time when people ran away with the fairies, or the raggle-taggle gypsies.

And yet the circus is a little bit more respectable than the mere fairground or the travelling carnival. The lions might seem old, but they are real lions. The trapezes fly, the wires are high, and the knife-thrower throws sharp knives. The danger, the athleticism, and the daring are real.

But then there were the clowns. For Bellman, it was the memory of being in the front row at the Yarmouth Hippodrome when the clown had hurled a bucket of whitewash at him. It was a bucket filled with scraps of white paper, but everyone had thought it was whitewash.

“The clown,” he said to Helen, “had set out to scare me, just to make the audience laugh. So I've never liked clowns since them. I couldn't trust them not to hurt me.”

“It's the bit where one clown just stands there while another clown pours a bucket of whitewash into his pants. Would you let anybody do that to you, for any reason?”

Bellman shook his head. “I liked the horses,” he said, “But there'd always be some lad on a farm, who would try to do one of the tricks, and fall off.” He paused. “I thought it would be safer in the infantry.”

Helen looked up the road towards where two clowns were nailing another bill to a telephone pole. “You know, you expect all sorts of silly things to happen. Give a clown a ladder on a busy street in tourist season, and watch the fun.”

“They brought elephants. A ship-load of elephants and horses and lions... I hear it can be worse than shipping guano.”

“I thought that stank.”

“Hardly at all,” said Bellman. “It's almost a very condensed soil, just add sand and gravel. But elephants?”

“Well, I don't know of any aeroplane that could carry them. And flying elephants, that's silly.”

“I've seen a house-fly,” said Bellman, dead-pan.

Helen poked him in the ribs. “Behave, Charlie.”

“Ouch!”

“I shall have to remember that one.”

“You know,” said Charlie, “it is odd that one of them is dressed all in black.”

“Puppeteers. From Cipangu. They're supposed to be famous.”

After a moment, Bellman nodded. “Be a devil to see the beggars in the dark.”

“I think that's the idea.”

“I still don't like clowns.”

“Me neither.”

They wandered on, around a corner, pausing to look in shop windows. Behind them, a clown discovered that his floral pattern necktie had, with the circus bill, been nailed to a telephone pole.

Hilarity ensued.

=======

(This takes place in the Spontoon Islands, in the mid-Thirties. Charlie Bellman was a soldier in the Great War, and is now a minor diplomat. Lady Helen Todd is the doughter of the late Duke of Stepney, an anarchist, and an aviator. Together, they fight crime.)

#88 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2009, 09:54 AM:

albatross @ 86, no worries. I drew the wrong conclusion from your comment and was quicker to respond than I probably should have been. Mea culpa. I agree completely that it's dumb counter-productive policy on the TSA's part.

#89 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2009, 11:16 AM:

serge @2: Which Bozo the Clown? Pinto Colvig? The final Chicago Bozo? Or any of the Bozo minions in between? ("Dr. Madblood," the perennial Virginian horror movie host -- who used to get his props made by Dave Merriman -- was Richmond's Bozo, circa 1975.)

#90 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2009, 02:45 PM:

@65: For some reason the idea reminds me of Wile E. Coyote. All his schemes and devices fail to work, until it's funnier to have them work but achieve nothing.

Of course, Wile E. Coyote just wants to have dinner, not kill himself for a political goal, so his personal indestructibility is sort of beneficial to him (except that since he remains cursed, it really only prolongs his suffering).

Presumably the hypothetical repeat suicide bomber would be *trying* to kill himself (along with the target(s)), but keep failing through steadily-more-improbable malfunctions or accidents.

#91 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2009, 05:01 PM:

Chris at #90 - didn't the old Laugh-In have a recurring "world's oldest kamikaze pilot'? Or have I confused that with someone else? Wound seem to be a bit related.

#92 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2010, 11:51 AM:

Here at Making Light, of all places, I get to watch a bunch of science fiction authors, editors, and fans making fun of the idea of an experienced suicide bomber? Fie! For shame! I expect Bob Howard will fight one in Charlie's next book. If not, the idea fits perfectly into any post-singularity paradigm. Charlie? Cory? Vernor? Anyone home?

I am embarrassed on behalf of each and every one of you!

#93 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2010, 12:01 PM:

Dave Langford was working on the idea years ago. The Space Eaters, if memory serves.

#94 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2010, 03:56 PM:

#87 ::: Antonia T. Tiger :::

This takes place in the Spontoon Islands, in the mid-Thirties. Charlie Bellman was a soldier in the Great War, and is now a minor diplomat. Lady Helen Todd is the doughter of the late Duke of Stepney, an anarchist, and an aviator. Together, they fight crime.)

That combination of characters sounds like something that would be right at home in Steampunk...

#95 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2010, 05:15 AM:

Steampunk?

I think the setting is more Dieselpunk, and the Spontoons have been described as Talespin-inspired. My stuff is definitely coloured by the real-world European politics of the 1930s.

And Biggles.

Lady Helen is the appropriate age to have been at the same parties as Sir Oswald Mosley, in the 1920s. But never in Bedfordshire with him.

By 1937 she's air-racing, in a four-engined flying boat.

Charlie, with his experience of the Trenches, and later the North-West Frontier, has the ability to be extremely undiplomatic about some things. Perhaps something like a blend of Richard Hannay and Simon Templar, as played by Humphrey Bogart.

#96 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 05:23 AM:

#90, 91, 92 - You may be thinking of Douglas Adams (first ever?) Radio sketch, Kamikaze

#97 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 10:27 AM:

Kevin @ 96

Nope. I meant my comment, # 92, just like it read. I even went and wrote a (non-comedic) story about a Veteran suicide bomber, just to prove it can be done.

I felt a little bad, because I set the story in a very Accelerando-like world with all the post-singularity stuff Stross has pioneered, but the story works and I like it. So there.

Liked the Adams bit, BTW. I'd never heard that one.

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