Thursday, May 13, 2010
  Attempted does not equal failed.



Seems like a minor semantic point but it's an important barrier to clear thinking.

In discussions of the Times Square bomber Mohammed bin Shazam, nearly all the media describe the event as an "attempted bombing" and describe Shazam as "the alleged attempted bomber."

Only NPR gets it consistently right, calling his event "a failed bombing".

When you say failed you're implying that he did everything he meant to do, but his skills weren't up to the job, or his materials weren't good enough to make the kind of explosion he wanted.

When you say attempted you're implying that Shazam was prevented from carrying out his intended action.

And you're further implying that it was our dear loyal FBI who stopped him. Most of the media go ahead and say this explicitly.

THIS IS ABSOLUTELY FALSE. The FBI didn't stop him until after his mission was complete.

And that's unfortunately normal. All the plots FBI has "thwarted" were half-baked imaginings by half-serious people who were easy to sting. All the serious events have proceeded to their conclusion. In some cases, like Nidal Hasan or Naveed Haq or the Little Rock military recruiter, the conclusion was deadly. In other cases, like Shazam, the conclusion was a dud.

But the distinction between a death and a dud has no connection with the efforts of the police. It's just a matter of skill, or in this particular case it could be an intentional lack of training and materials, a test or diversion.

We've also blurred the role of intention and policing in earlier assassinations. No doubt about Oswald; he completed his KGB assignment fully, and we reckon his seriousness appropriately. But in the paired KGB assassinations of John Paul 2 and Ronald Reagan, we deliberately underestimate their seriousness by calling them attempted assassinations. Hinckley and Agca were only marginally less deadly than Oswald; in fact they were only thwarted by excellent modern medical techniques. Police didn't stop them. If Reagan hadn't been close to a hospital with lots of gunshot experience, he very likely would have died.

That's not an attempted assassination; that's a failed assassination.

= = = = =

Encouraging: This morning MSNBC seems to understand the difference. In fact they've used a livelier phrase: "Failed is not the same as foiled."


 


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Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.

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