The Corner

Dimwit Alert

It is a sad fact, well-known to people who write for the public prints, that

some quite substantial portion of the reading public, including people with

good educational credentials, cannot actually read. I don’t mean that they

are illiterate — we don’t hear much from true illiterates — but that their

minds reject any kind of rhetorical device deeper than the simple

declarative sentence.

Case in point: Among my e-mail this morning was the following. I have

reproduced it as it arrived, though blanking out identifying information to

protect the irredeemably dimwitted. **It included the link to my column.**

[Beginning of e-mail]

“Hello John—I stumbled onto your webpage in a google search and saw

reference to a story that I found mind boggling. I am involved in media

advocacy … I wondered if you could offer any references/sources on the

story below. Many thanks!—[Name and New Mexico address]

“Albuquerque, NM; Sept. 15. A passenger on a United flight from Houston to

Los Angeles was shot dead by flight attendants over New Mexico this morning.

The passenger, a Moroccan businessman, had complained loudly of having been

delayed at the boarding gate because of ‘profiling’ by security personnel.

Half an hour into the flight he began cursing at the cabin staff in mixed

English and Arabic, referring to the United States as a ‘racist’ and

’terrorist’ nation. Then he jumped from his seat and began walking briskly

forward toward the flight cabin. When an attendant ordered him to stop, he

paid no attention. The attendant, together with a colleague, opened fire

with the sidearms issued to all flight attendants since 9/11. The passenger

was declared dead at Albuquerque airport, where the plane made an emergency

landing. A United spokesman praised the actions of the flight attendants,

who, he said, had done ‘exactly the right thing.’ Asked whether

the passenger, who was of Middle Eastern appearance, had indeed been

profiled by United staff at the Houston departure gate, the spokesman

replied: ‘Of course. That’s what our security people are trained to do.’ “

[End of e-mail]

I sent the following reply. I’m not betting that I make $250,000 on this

deal, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

[My reply]

Dear Sir or Madam—If you read the preamble to my piece, you will see that

this story comes from newspapers published in an alternate universe I was

able to visit by use of the syllogismobile.

Actual details of the syllogismobile are, for antional security reasons, not

available for disclosure to unauthorized members of the public. However, if

your organization is willing to pay me an appropriate fee — $250,000 is the

amount I usually suggest — I can arrange for one of your staff to take a

trip on the syllogismobile with me. For reasons to do with the time-space

distortions involved when crossing to alternate universes, the most

appropriate persons to send on these trips are attractive, single young

women, blondes for preference. Several weeks of training sessions will be


Please let me know when you would like to explore alternate reality, and I

shall begin the necessary arrangements.


John Derbyshire