Existing Laws Turned Out To Be Valuable In Hindering Times Square Bomber

It might not have just been luck which led to the failure of the bomb to go off on Times Square. As I noted yesterday, thousands could have been killed if  the plan had been successful. A report in The Wall Street Journal shows how current laws were effective in reducing the possibility that a working bomb could have been made:

Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad used inferior explosives to avoid detection, New York’s police commissioner said Tuesday, helping to explain why an international bomb plot ended up a dud…

A key question in the early stages of the investigation had been how a trained terrorist could craft such a poorly made bomb, consisting of weak fireworks, propane tanks and nonexplosive fertilizer.

“He tried to lessen the explosive nature of the fertilizer that was used because he thought he would get a higher profile as he went to buy it,” Mr. Kelly told reporters, adding that Mr. Shahzad “sort of dumbed that down.”

Mr. Shahzad also used M-88 fireworks that were much weaker than other alternatives, Mr. Kelly said.

Law enforcement agencies, particularly the Federal Bureau of Investigation, maintain a number of “tripwires” designed to encourage people who sell everyday products that could be used to make explosives to notify agents of any suspicious behavior or purchases. Mr. Shahzad was apparently so worried about the tripwires that he deliberately built a weaker, less effective bomb.

In other words, it was basic law enforcement policies which prevented a successful terrorist attack–not torture and not invading another country.

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Captain America Is No Flag-Waver

For several days before Comic-Con officially opened there has been lots of news, with much of it being dominated by Marvel. There has been the release of the above movie poster for Captain America, and now there is even some political controversy surrounding the movie. The shocking news is that Captain America isn’t going to be a flag-waver. The Los Angeles Times reports:

The director of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” the 2011 summer blockbuster that will coincide with the character’s 70th anniversary, says the screen version of the hero will be true to his roots — up to a certain point.

“We’re sort of putting a slightly different spin on Steve Rogers,” said Joe Johnston, whose past directing credits include “Jurassic Park III” and “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” He’s a guy that wants to serve his country, but he’s not a flag-waver. We’re reinterpreting, sort of, what the comic book version of Steve Rogers was.”

None of that is surprising, of course — Christopher Nolan pared away significant parts of the Batman mythology (such as Robin the Boy Wonder and any super-powered villains) that didn’t fit his grim take on Gotham City, while Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. manufactured a version of Iron Man that is hard-wired for far more humor than the old-school Marvel Comics character…

“He wants to serve his country, but he’s not this sort of jingoistic¬†American flag-waver,” Johnston said. “He’s just a good person. We make a point of that in the script: Don’t change who you are once you go from Steve Rogers to this super-soldier; you have to stay who you are inside, that’s really what’s important more than your strength and everything. It’ll be interesting and fun to put a different spin on the character and one that the fans are really going to appreciate.”

Some¬†pundits will pounce on all of this as another desecration of an American touchstone, but¬†how many of them have ever read the books? The character, created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, was certainly unconflicted about his country and its mission during the clear-cut days of the 1940s, but it didn’t always¬†stay that way. In late 1974, for instance, in the months after President Nixon’s resignation, Steve Rogers chucked¬†the star-spangled¬†costume and¬†changed his hero¬†name to¬†Nomad (although, by 1976, Cap and original artist Kirby had the hero in bicentennial mode).

In recent years, Marvel star writer Ed Brubaker’s work on the character has been exceptional¬†and never two-dimensional. Brubaker (the son of a Navy intelligence officer who was stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba)¬†came to recognize that Cap is a vessel that can contain whatever any generation or reader wants to put in it.¬†In 2007, Brubaker told the New York Daily News: “What I found is that all the really hard-core left-wing fans want Cap to be standing out on —¬†and giving speeches on — the street corner against the George W. Bush administration, and all the really right-wing fans¬†want him to be over in the streets of Baghdad, punching out Saddam Hussein.”

How much of a flag-waver Captain America should be depends a lot upon the era in which the story takes place. If this is to be a World War II story going back to his origins, then James Joyner has a good point:

I’ve got no problem with rebooting decades-old comic book characters and tweaking their origins to fit modern sensibilities.  After all, Marvel and DC have done this multiple times with their flagship characters.

But here’s the thing:  They’re still setting Cap’s origins in WWII and having him as an American super-soldier fighting the Nazis (including, one presumes, the Red Skull).  It would be incomprehensible for that character to be other than a flag-waving patriot, as that was simply the norm.

If Johnson were re-imagining the character with an origin in 2010, on the other hand, the change would be perfectly natural.   American soldiers fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, for example, very much think they’re the good guys.  But cynicism and ambiguity about the mission are part and parcel of their culture.

But a WWII Cap?  It doesn’t make sense.

It doesn’t completely make sense if it is to be a WWII Captain America, but I’m not certain that the entire movie deals with that era. Another consideration is that the movie is being made for modern audiences, not those of the World War II era. Just as M*A*S*H successfully took Vietnam era views and portrayed them during the Korean War, it is conceivable that a World War II era movie might be written with more modern cultural views. I think we need to suspend making a decision until we see what the actual story is and to what degree Captain America ceases to be a flag-waver.