EDITORIAL : He sells t-shirts for a living, surrounded every day by hordes of people shouting in any number of languages, haggling over his wares. But the Times Square t-shirt vendor who alerted cops to what turned out to be a car bomb is proof of how much good there is in this world.
In a way, neither he nor the person who created and planted the crude, potentially destructive device could exist without the other.
What makes the incident so scary is the purported use of propane — the same as in the London bombing plot three years ago.
In this case, three propane tanks, fireworks, two filled 5-gallon gasoline containers, and two clocks with batteries, electrical wire and other components were found, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. Although the device was ignited, it didn’t explode.
“We’re taking this very seriously,” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said told CNN’s “State of the Union” program this morning. “We’re treating it as if it could be a potential terrorist attack.”
“This wasn’t make believe,” said city Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano, adding the force of a bomb could have taken down the front of a building. “This wasn’t a false alarm. This was the real deal — to hurt people.”
In the London incident, a first car was set to be detonated by a cell phone that investigators found inside. Hundreds would have been killed if an actual blast had ignited the propane, which would have created a fireball. Nails or bullets or other materials could be hurled in all directions at blinding speed.
“This type of blast is much more effective at destroying buildings from the inside than normal (‘condensed’) explosives,” author David Hambling wrote after the attempted London strike.
“One factor is the greater energy release from explosive mix that takes oxygen from the air, but the other is the sustained impulse that a fuel-air blast produces.
“Many structures rely on gravity for their structural strength – arches are a good example – or have very limited ability to withstand a horizontal load. A fuel-air blast has long enough duration to cause such structures to lose their integrity, and basically they just fall apart.”
The car was parked across the street from the theater playing “The Lion King.”
But, as the New York Times put it:
The vendor had seen smoke billowing from the rear of the S.U.V., which was parked awkwardly near the curb and was running, shortly before 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. Within moments, the vendor alerted a mounted police officer; the officer smelled gunpowder near the car and an evacuation of Times Square was ordered.
He is a hero, though he doesn’t necessarily consider himself one. This morning, he gave reporters a simple philosophy: “See something, say something.”
What’s difficult to grasp is the way good and evil make one another possible. “Profound suffering makes noble,” Frederich Nietzsche wrote. “It separates.”
Fellow philosopher John Hick agreed: In a universe without pain and suffering, he said, virtue wouldn’t exist.
Look no further than 9/11 and the heroes who gave their lives, as well as those who are living now with debilitating illnesses and emotional trauma. It took the most unspeakable tragedy in American history to allow us to see their bravest of hearts.
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