How to write a spoof

Yesterday's ruminations by the head of the CYACIA remind me to look for historical precedent. Before getting to the point, here are the history and the generalities.

Mark Twain wrote a number of outrageous hoaxes, or satires, depending on how you take them. In his early days in Nevada, he reported a bloody multiple murder that shocked everyone in town, since they didn't notice details such as that the man who murdered his family was a well-known bachelor. And there was the Petrified Man, described in great detail, with some obvious impossibilities in the geography, and the small matter that he was petrified in the position of thumbing his nose.

Then, later, there was a wonderfully stuffy and humorless British review of A Tramp Abroad, which the discerning reader (like, ahem, me at age 16) could see was written by Twain himself. (I think it was an utterly Twainish deadpan "This is surely an exaggeration" that provided what we now call the Tipping Point.) It got a lot of attention, including some from smart people who told Twain that it was a fake, and he had been taken in. They had a hard time accepting the obvious truth when told about it.

Anyway, Twain always played fair, sorta, putting in something outrageous enough to make it clear that the whole thing was false, provided you were paying attention. That was the problem with the massacre, as Twain later perceived it: it was so lurid and shocking that no one had his brain turned on while reading it.

The recent creationist manifesto might be real, and it might be a hoax to expose the profound ignorance of a supposed expert on the creationist side. By the Mark Twain rules, it ought to be a fake, but you can't be sure when you don't know anything about the author: this kind of thing is perfectly possible among sincere creationists, as you can see from the PhD who expressed herself as unsure that it was for real, but was favorably inclined.

So, Porter Goss of the CYA says that he knows where Bin Laden is. Then, to make sure we understand in what sense he is saying that, he adds in true Mark Twain fashion that we can't just go in and get him because of "our sense of international obligation, fair play."

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