Woody, in your column of Monday, 31 May 2010, “Lessons from the Great Oil Spill”, you complained about the shabby treatment of BP by the Congress:

“Just so, the public crucifixion of BP has had a coarsening effect on the body politic. The Congressional hearings look like the Nazi show-trials where prosecutors hysterically berated defendants. (Only the language is different.) “

At that point, I stopped reading (although I confess to peeking later on and seeing the Nazi references continue).

Woody, Woody, Woody.  You fell for it.  You fell victim to Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies, which states (referring originally to Usenet discussions but since adapted): “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”  This is also known as “Reductio ad Hitlerum” (Source for both:  Wikipedia).

Do I need to point out that the Nazi show-trials were a bit different?  That they were directed against groups of people that the Third Reich found undesirable, and that the stakes were a bit higher?  Is there any sign that BP will be thrown into concentration camps or gassed, or its civil liberties (since it is now a person as defined by the Supreme Court) will be restrained?  Why have you fallen for such a trivializing comparison?  And why am I bothering to point out something this obvious to someone who has himself been listening to the refining influence of Rush Limbaugh for the past quarter of a century?


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It is a kneejerk reaction on the part of the far Right to compare everything to Hitler.  Or Stalin.  Or both at the same time.  It is completely unworthy of a serious discussion.

And I about swallowed my teeth at your “coarsening effect” comment.  For eight years under Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, we were subjected to the coarsening effect of an endless assault on the Bill of Rights, with the possible exception of quartering troops in private dwellings in peacetime, to an extent where this assault  is not only accepted but condoned by a large part of the population.  Condoning Torture?  Coarsening?  We will never recover from those years.

But back to poor, defenseless BP.  It was so unfair to change the rules mid-stream.  In the golden, pre-regulation, pre-income-tax, 104-hour-work-week, pro-child-labor, non-union halcyon days before Big Government took over, BP would have simply walked away from such a disaster with no solutions and no repercussions.   So a few hundred thousand  people are ruined, along with a lot of land and water?  Not BP’s problem.  Coal companies have been doing this for two centuries. Why pick on BP?

We the People got rolled, but good.  I’ve wondered since the Deepwater Horizon blew why the other oil companies did not rush to BP’s assistance with their own finely honed disaster plans and technical approaches to plugging the leak. It’s become plain in the past few days, as the photocopied disaster plans of the oil companies have revealed their concern for the Gulf of Mexico Walrus, that none of the oil companies have any  idea how to stop this disaster.  They said it was safe.  It isn’t.  One well, from one company, can cause widespread disaster, and there are thousands of wells in the Gulf.

I spent nearly 30 years as a computer programmer, and one of the most important things I learned was exception handling.  In the early days, a few lines of code handling something that wasn’t right could prevent thousands of spurious lines on a 300 wpm printer, or an infinite loop which could cause an entire mainframe to seize up and crash, or the embarrassing pounding of an impact printer producing a core dump.  I spent a lot of time in my career planning and coding for error conditions, though none of those conditions would have drowned a single pelican in oil.  The oil companies, with vast resources, couldn’t even cut and paste their untested disaster plans properly.

It’s possible, of course, that the whole thing is a liberal media plot to blow up a few drops of oil into a frenzy (pay no attention to that one-ton tarball behind the curtain that  was found a few days ago).  Otherwise, we have an actual and potential disaster of unprecedented scale, especially if other wells fall victim to accident or terrorism.  And nobody knows how to fix it.

If it’s not a media plot, then it’s a national emergency, and I believe that it should be treated as such.  During WWII, industrial production was directed toward military production, at the direction of the government.  I believe that the President should use any power he has to direct all oil company R&D and profits into finding a way to plug the hole, as well as developing a realistic plan to address future disasters.  The faster the oil industry finds a solution, the faster they can get back to private ownership and making money.

Then hold the public crucifixions.

Kathryn L. Zimmerman

Springfield, VA

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Allan Dean

Allan Dean is editor, publisher, and founder of the Atlantic Highlands Herald. Published since 1999 and selected in 2000 by the Borough of Atlantic Highlands as one of their official newspapers, making...