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Lessons From Failed Times Square Bombing

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It's not too soon to look for lessons in the failed monster-bombing of Times Square.

One is that everything seems to happen to New York or Louisiana.

Another is that preparation is both crucial and useless. Authorities can protect us from a crisis that's already occurred (see: shoe removals at the airport). They can fail to protect us from crises that have already occurred (see: Rudy Giuliani's decision to put the emergency response headquarters in the already-bombed World Trade Center). But the one thing authorities probably can't do is protect us from The Next Big Thing.

The New York police have devoted endless time, money and personnel to anti-terrorism efforts since 9/11. But it still took two sidewalk vendors to point out to the always-substantial force of Times Square officers that a strangely-and-illegally parked SUV was making strange popping noises.

Officials have yet to determine whether the would-be bomber was a Timothy McVeigh wannabe (think: white guy with a car full of fertilizer) or a Muslim fanatic (think: next to Viacom/South Park/making fun of Mohammad). Or he could be a nut job of unexpected origin.

Whoever he is, he failed. The whole glow-in-the-dark-alarm-clock connected to the fireworks and the barbeque grill propane tank plot seems reminiscent of the would-be synagogue bombers and the Kennedy Airport bombers and the subway bombers whose total ineptitude seems almost calming.

But ten or twenty or thirty inept bombers down the line, someone could get lucky. The hapless Times Square bomber is just another reminder of how fragile our lives are. And how fiercely we reject that knowledge. The day after the SUV bomb was discovered, people were back at Times Square, going to the theater and the restaurants as if nothing had happened. It's the only way we can afford to behave.

If I could offer a lesson, I'd be counter-intuitive. We should have let the federal government try the 9/11 terror sheik in Manhattan. It would have been inconvenient, although not necessarily as inconvenient as the police department led us to believe. But it would have been taking a stand. New Yorkers against the crazy people, most of whom fail. And the one who succeeds is never the one you suspect.

So we should work as hard as we can to protect against the unforeseeable. But in the meantime, we should be brave, and united, and supremely ticked off.

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