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According to the author, that was the kind of twisted humor that spawned the underwear bomber, “another bozo who tries to blow a hole in an airplane and succeeds only in setting his underpants aflame in a manner that might have rendered him ill-equipped for the seventy-two heavenly virgins who were to be his reward.”

Not once, Mr. Trillin observes gloomily, had it occurred to anyone that the acts of terrorism inspired by “Khalid the Droll” were “an elaborate scheme to embarrass us to death. Nobody followed up on Trillin’s underwear tip.”

There is only one Calvin Trillin, and if he didn’t exist we would have to invent him. He would be a great Christmas present.

• Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.