Where I conquer the Francophone Canadian media

So, I mentioned being interviewed in Montreal’s La Presse earlier this week about a Tea Party nut here in NC.   Went and found the story today.  Here it is.  And, while at it, discovered an awesome feature of Chrome.  It recognized that the site was in French and offered to translate it to English for me.  Did a pretty good job of it, too.   Actually, will translate into a ton of languages.  Had fun playing around just to see what they all looked like.  Didn’t even know there was a Macedonian language.


Surprise: BP made a bunch of mistakes

The thing is when you investigate any catastrophe– be it the oil spill, an airplane crash, an economic crash, or failed levees– there’s invariably a ton of mistakes and red flags that were overlooked on the way to the catastrophe.  Catastrophes are not the result of one small oversight here or there, but typically long chains of human error that were not caught and fed upon themselves (that’s why then end up being catastrophic– all the failsafes along the way are blown past).

The Wall Street Journal, nicely demonstrating that Murdoch has yet to destroy it as a news source (the opinion pages have been and remain an pathetic joke), does a nice report on what happened with the BP oil spill.  A sampling:

A Wall Street Journal investigation provides the most complete account so far of the fateful decisions that preceded the blast. BP made choices over the course of the project that rendered this well more vulnerable to the blowout, which unleashed a spew of crude oil that engineers are struggling to stanch.BP, for instance, cut short a procedure involving drilling fluid that is designed to detect gas in the well and remove it before it becomes a problem, according to documents belonging to BP and to the drilling rig’s owner and operator, Transocean Ltd.

BP also skipped a quality test of the cement around the pipe—another buffer against gas—despite what BP now says were signs of problems with the cement job and despite a warning from cement contractor Halliburton Co.

Once gas was rising, the design and procedures BP had chosen for the well likely gave this perilous gas an easier path up and out, say well-control experts. There was little keeping the gas from rushing up to the surface after workers, pushing to finish the job, removed a critical safeguard, the heavy drilling fluid known as “mud.” BP has admitted a possible “fundamental mistake” in concluding that it was safe to proceed with mud removal, according to a memo from two Congressmen released Tuesday night.

Finally, a BP manager overseeing final well tests apparently had scant experience in deep-water drilling. He told investigators he was on the rig to “learn about deep water,” according to notes of an interview with him seen by the Journal.

A depressing, but sadly, not surprising, litany of failure.

Extremism in the defense of liberty is a vice

Okay, I only said I’d try not to pick on libertarianism any more this week.  However, could not resist this terrific blog post by TNR’s Damon Linker.  It’s been almost 20 years since I read any Locke or Hobbes (shame that Lost didn’t have a Hobbes character, given John Lock and Desmond David Hume), but I remember enjoying both and they certainly both have a lot to contribute to our understanding of politics today.

So, why the dig at the Goldwater quote in the title?  Because, extremism is almost invariably a vice.  You take any good idea (be it those from Hobbes or Locke, in this case) to its extreme, and its probably not such a good idea any more.  If only libertarians could see that.  Linker explains:

On one side is Thomas Hobbes, who defended the creation of an authoritarian government as the only viable means of protecting certain individuals and groups from injustices perpetrated by other individuals and groups. On the other side is John Locke, who advocated a minimal state in order to protect individuals and groups against injustices perpetrated by governments themselves. Taken to an extreme, the Hobbesian pole leads to totalitarianism, while the Lockean pole terminates in the quasi-anarchism of the night watchman state

What makes Rand Paul’s position (as he originally expressed it on the Maddow show) noteworthy is that it’s a pure, unadulterated expression of Lockean anti-statism with little admixture of Hobbesian sentiments at all. Paul, like many libertarians and Tea Party activists, is so obsessed with the possibility that the state might commit an injustice that he’s indifferent to the reality of actually existing injustice at the hands of private citizens. As far as these radical Lockeans are concerned, the former is tyranny, pure and simple, while the latter is just life: yeah, it’s sometimes unfair, but freedom requires that we (or rather, in this case, blacks living under Jim Crow in the South) get over it.

Adding to the party, today’s George Will column celebrates a libertarian candidate for the Republican Senate nomination in Wisconsin:

the idea of running for office never crossed Ron Johnson’s mind. He was, however, dry tinder — he calls Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” his “foundational book” — and now is ablaze, in an understated, Upper Midwestern way. This 55-year-old manufacturer of plastic products from Oshkosh, Wis., is what the Tea Party looks like…

From 2000 through 2008, sales of “Atlas Shrugged,” which was published in 1957, averaged a remarkable 166,000 a year. Since Barack Obama took office, more than 600,000 copies have been sold. The novel’s famous opening words — “Who is John Galt?” — refer to a creative capitalist, Rand’s symbol of society’s self-sufficient people who, weary of carrying on their shoulders the burden of dependent people, shrug. Ron Johnson would rather run.

Damn, Ron Johnson and his fellow travelers really piss me off.  Poor, Ron, the Nietzchean super-man pulled down by all these lame, unwashed masses trying to destroy his ability to create great things.   I just hate that these people never stop to consider all the chance occurrences, social support, publicly-funded education,  etc., that helped them become a successful plastics manufacturer or whatever.  No, it’s all just because Ron Johnson is better than the rest of us.

The idiots on Wall Street

Kevin Drum links to James Kwak and posts his rant.  It’s good enough that I’m going to do the same:

Wall Street CEOs like to think they are the adults, the big men in the room, the ones who know how the world works. Well, you know what? They screwed up their own banks, the financial system, and the economy like a bunch of two-year-olds. Every single major bank would have failed in late 2008 without massive government intervention — because of wounds that were entirely self-inflicted. (Citigroup: holding onto hundreds of billions of dollars of its own toxic waste. Bank of America: paying $50 billion for an investment bank that would have failed within three days. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs: levering up without a stable source of funding. Etc.) The financial crisis should have put to rest for a generation the idea that the big boys on Wall Street know what they’re doing and the politicians in Washington are a bunch of amateurs. Yet somehow the bankers came out of it with the same unshakable belief in their own perfection that they had in 2005. The only plausible explanation is some kind of powerful personality disorder.

That felt good.

When everybody is a socialist

Another great EJ Dionne column today– this one on the oil spill.  My favorite parts:

“The strength of America is not found in our government,” Jindal declared in his response to President Obama’s February 2009 address to Congress. “It is found in the compassionate hearts and the enterprising spirit of our citizens.”…

You can’t blame Jindal for being mad. But will he ever acknowledge that “compassionate hearts” were not sufficient for coping with this catastrophe? Did he ever ask BP how prepared it was for something like this? Or was he just counting on the company’s “enterprising spirit”?…

“Deregulation” is wonderful until we discover what happens when regulations aren’t issued or enforced. Everyone is a capitalist until a private company blunders. Then everyone starts talking like a socialist, presuming that the government can put things right because they see it as being just as big and powerful as its Tea Party critics claim it is.

But the truth is that we have disempowered government and handed vast responsibilities over to a private sector that will never see protecting the public interest as its primary task. The sludge in the gulf is, finally, the product of our own contradictions.

Why I am still Catholic

You’ve probably seen the Catholic Church come in for a fair amount of criticism in these parts.  I stand by it.  So, in my research on parenthood I was adding some more sophisticated religion controls to my regression models and was aided in the effort by my friend from my grad school days, Steve Mockabee.  Anyway, it caused me to go back and take a look at his (with Ken Wald and David Leege) 2009 APSA paper, which is really pretty cool.  In it, they argue that we (political scientists) have been over-emphasizing the conservative aspects of religiosity because all our measures are focused on the individualistic aspects of religion, and not the more communitarian aspects.  To that end, they got a new measure on the NES, which taps into this aspect by asking Christian respondents whether they try to be a good Christian more by “avoiding sin or by helping others.”  Not surprisingly, they find that the “helping others” perspective is correlated with more liberal political attitudes.  I’ve reproduced a portion of their table below.

Distribution of New Religion Items by Religious Tradition, 2008 ANES

Evangelical Protestant Mainline Protestant Black Protestant Roman Catholic
Tried to be good a Christian by…
Avoiding sin 56.0% 43.3% 54.1% 35.8%
Helping others 44.0% 56.7% 45.9% 64.2%

As you can see, Catholics take a backseat to nobody when it comes to helping others.  Not surprisingly, this is certainly what religion is about to me.  Of course, there’s something to be said for avoiding sin, but what’s the point if you aren’t actually doing good for others.  Reading the gospels, it’s pretty damn clear which aspect Jesus emphasized more.  That’s good enough for me (and a solid majority of Catholics, it seems).  Part of my dismay at the Catholic Church is that while the rank and file clearly emphasize the doing good, it seems like the hierarchy is more about avoiding sin.  And to me, that’s a real shame.

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