“The most valuable sense of humor is the kind that enables a person to see instantly what it isn't safe to laugh at.” -- Donald Rumsfeld

Many of you frequent flyers will recall that for a time TSA had signs and loudspeakers prohibiting humor attacks at security checkpoints. “You are reminded that any inappropriate remarks or jokes concerning security may result in your arrest,” warned one loudspeaker message in Dallas last fall. It's ironic that a sign at Burbank's Bob Hope Airport should say, "No jokes."

This came to mind because of the announcement this week by the U.S. Secret Service that it has issued an RFP for software that can detect sarcasm. Since we are decades from producing a computer with a sense of humor, it's likely the service will have to make do with a program that sorts through a giant database of pre-screened tweets and emails looking for tells: wannabe terrorists would do well to get in the habit now of putting smiley faces and LOLs in all their social media posts.

The fact that no one can be absolutely certain the Secret Service itself isn't kidding is evidence of how difficult a task deciphering snide remarks will be. The safest thing is probably to assume that, like TSA, the service is deficient in the skill set needed to detect and catalog gradations of wit, and to try to help them out with some practical alternatives. I started to suggest that, instead of wasting resources developing software that will never be operational, the service ask working comics to apply their expertise to the problem, until I remembered that the functionaries interviewing prospective government humor analysts would be the same ones who can't see the whimsy in an airport sign prohibiting jokes; they'd just end up with a government facility full of Dennis Millers.

More effective might be a change in staffing practices: the service should immediately stop hiring seminary dropouts and returning Mormon missionaries and limit their recruiting to inner city Jews, blacks, Irish and Italians.

This is a serious problem needing serious attention. We certainly don't want anyone arrested at a fund-raising dinner or a Fourth of July picnic for asking the agent groping him, "Do you want me to do you now?," let alone for bringing up his fling with Hitler's mother.

“Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.” -- William James

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