For My Father on Memorial Day


During the Second World War, Theodore Herbert Robinson spent some three years as a boiler tender on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Roger B. Taney, pictured above. He would spend hours at a time in the boiler room, where he regulated the oil that was piped into the boilers to keep them burning and the superheated steam that was piped out of the boilers to power the ship’s engines. Deep in the ship, next to the boilers. That would have been a bad location if a torpedo or kamikaze had ever hit–and during the Battle of Okinawa, I learned when I did some research, the Taney came under repeated attack by kamikazes, sounding general quarters 119 times in just 45 days. In my father’s place, I’d have spent every moment frightened of finding myself scalded or trapped. As it turned out, that would have been the wrong fear. The pipes in the boiler room were wrapped with asbestos, and the vibrations from the ship’s engines, which were located in an adjoining compartment, kept the air in the boiler room swimming with asbestos particles. Thirty years after the war, my father lost part of a lung to asbestosis. A decade-and-a-half later he died, of conditions exacerbated by asbestosis, becoming, in effect, a delayed casualty of the War.

He never complained about his service–for that matter, he scarcely mentioned it, even when, once or twice over the years, I tried to get him talking about it. As he saw it, he had simply done what he had to do, just like millions of young American men like him. In one sense, I suppose, he was right about that–during the Second World War, heroism became almost commonplace. Yet on this Memorial Day, six-and-a-half decades after a young man from Johnson City, N.Y. found himself belowdecks thousands of miles from home, my father has two sons and seven grandchildren who are in awe of him.

Road Trip, Part 1: Free Refills!


My old friend (and former neighbor) Tim Fall moved with his family from Venice Beach to Oklahoma City a few years ago. Tim and I did a lot of writing and producing together (still do) and he was an actor on a lot of shows (some of which I produced.)

So this Memorial Day weekend, in between working on a script together, we’re driving from my house to his house in Oklahoma City. There was some stuff I was keeping in my garage, but really it’s just an excuse for a road trip.

Role Call


My parents were married a happy 45 years – not giddy happy, but placid happy. Part of the reason for their happiness was their traditional approach to what today are called “gender roles.”

My dad was in charge of 1) earning money, 2) “life” conversations with children, 3) entertaining guests, and 4) running errands on Saturday. He excelled in his role, as my mother did in hers. She 1) cleaned, 2) bought and prepared food, 3) fixed stuff (televisions, roofs), 4) did scheduling, and 5) managed finances.

The Big Spill and All That


Following all the news from the Gulf — and all the commentary on the news from the Gulf — has made me think not so much of Katrina as of an earlier disaster — the space shuttle Challenger. And it seems to point to a rather disturbing trend in our national life — the increasing politicization of EVERYTHING. Peter & others can correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall very much commentary back in 1986 to the effect that the Challenger explosion was “Reagan’s fault,” or a “political disaster for Reagan.” Overwhelmingly (as I recall) people accepted that for what it was — a terrible tragedy, but also a risk that came with the territory of space exploration.

Fast-forward a couple of decades, and if you listened to anyone to the left of Olympia Snowe you’d have thought George W. Bush personally directed the winds and rains of Hurricane Katrina precisely to obliterate the poor of New Orleans. And now, with little-concealed glee, conservatives are pouring it back on Barack Obama — “Obama’s Katrina” (Rove), “political disaster for Obama” (Noonan), and so on.

Assimilation, Islam, and France


Another reason to put American faith in French, not British, leadership in Europe? Read Gilles Kepel at The National Interest:

The imperial experience serves as a backdrop to the markedly contrasting ways that London and Paris have approached the immigration dilemma. France has created an intermingled culture, which is being forged on a daily basis between the native Gaul and the immigrant Arab and Berber. It revolves around two French obsessions: the bed and the dinner table. Your average young Muslim girl is interested in living and having children with a French gouer, a North-African colloquial term meaning “infidel”—i.e., non-Muslim. (Gouer is itself a corruption of the classical Arabic kuffar, used in immigrant slang to designate a French native. They are also known as fromage, or “cheese”—ironically the same synecdoche that was used in the neocon-coined “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.”) These women would loathe the very idea of an arranged marriage to a fellah (peasant) cousin from the far away bled (North Africa) with his unrefined manners and pedestrian French.

More like Hong Kong, Less like Brazil


This week, Ben Smith reported in Politico that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton aspires to make the United States more like Brazil.  According to Ms. Clinton:

The rich are not paying their fair share in any nation that is facing the kind of employment issues [America currently does] – whether it’s individual, corporate or whatever [form of] taxation forms…Brazil has the highest tax-to-GDP rate in the Western Hemisphere and guess what – they’re growing like crazy.  And the rich are getting richer, but they’re pulling people out of poverty.

Another Day At a Military Base


Having finished a rejuvinating workout at the military base near my home, I emerged from the weight room to see a good number of troops in their dress blues.  I asked when they began working out dressed like that, and was informed that they were gathering in the gym for their promotion ceremony.  It’s an interesting and insular community on base.  Here at the gym, young men and women walk a little taller in their dress blues, displaying rows of ribbons that mark courage and honor.  Today they add another stripe to their sleeves.  Their wives, husbands, and children are with them to share in their accomplishment even as they also share in the sacrifice of service.  Meanwhile, the thunderous roar of F-22 fighters shakes the ground and rattles the windows as our pilots hone their deadly skills.  In the base exhange, families purchase the items they need, and retirees like me drink coffee, tell lies, jokes, and watch with a mixture of pride and nostalgia as the current generation of warriors get about the business of keeping the nation safe.  Just another day at the base.  Another day in a community that will do whatever it takes to defend your community.

Sestak and the White House and criminal law


Was anyone convinced by the two-page memo released by the White House on the Sestak jobs program? There was some unintended humor, as befits this posturing administration — the White House had Bill Clinton offer Sestak an unpaid but prestigious job to get out of the PA Senate primary race. History tells us that Clinton and interns don’t mix well.

The Hatch Act (18 USC 600) makes it a crime to a) offer anyone a federal “employment, position, compensation, contract, appointment, or other benefit” b) as a “consideration, favor, or reward” c) for “any political activity or for the support of or opposition to any candidate or any political party” involved in a election.

Slick Arguments


Kim Strassel make a good argument in the Wall Street Journal today that, in attacking Obama for his handling of the oil leak, the GOP had better watch it.  Insist that the federal government ought to be big and powerful enough to plug leaks a mile under water at a moment’s notice?  Argue that offshore oil exploration is so risky that the Obama administration should never have approved it?  Those lines of attack could very easily twist around to bite the GOP itself.

On the other hand, it’s entirely legitmate, I can’t help supposing, to hold the Obama administraton responsible for enforcing the federal laws and regulations that govern offshore exploration and drilling.  Unlike the Katrina disaster, in which primary legal responsibility for managing the emergency lay with the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana—both utterly dysfunctional, as we quickly learned, but still—the oil rig that blew up in the Gulf was drilling in federal waters.

I Need an Intervention, I Think


As everyone knows, I can be a real squish.  So let me stipulate, at the outset:  I’m for a small, limited government.  I’m for a flat tax.  I instinctively recoil at government schemes and programs and mousetraps designed to shape and change human behavior.

And of course, it goes without saying that San Francisco Mayor Newsom is an absurd clown.

Learning by Default


Peggy Noonan has a very insightful column in today’s WSJ (subscription required), regarding some of the signature problems with the Obama administration. Highlighting the President’s aloof dismissal of the majority of American opinion regarding illegal immigration, the unseemly manner in which a hideous health care law was inacted, and the government’s inability to plug an oil leak, Noonan zeros in on the central thesis that the Founders understood over 200 years ago, namely that:

“…even though the federal government has in our time continually taken on new missions and responsibilities, the more it took on, the less it seemed capable of performing even its most essential jobs.”

Flying Emirates


As I mentioned on the podcast yesterday morning, I write a weekly column for the English-language daily newspaper in Abu Dhabi, The National.

I write about Hollywood, about the life of a screenwriter. It’s often a more expounded version of my weekly commentary on the local NPR station here in Los Angeles — which is sort of an inside view for local listeners — but what I like about the National gig is that it encourages me to read actually read the paper, to read something else at least once a week, to break out of the NYT-WSJ silo that I often lapse into. It’s an interesting and well-written paper, and often has surprisingly sophisticated international coverage.

Obama’s Cotton Candy National Security Strategy


If you get RT America on your cable TV — or if you click here — you can watch me deliver some fair and balanced criticism of the Obama administration’s new National Security Strategy (or, as it is known in wonkese, NSS). Though he’s made some blunders, optical and otherwise, I’d been pleasantly surprised at the president’s ability to shepherd the nation through the tricky geostrategic obstacle course we inherited from the Bush years. But it’s time to shift into a more focused and creative gear — with our thinking uncluttered and undistorted by what I’d call the ‘strategic misidentification’ that characterizes this NSS. One might venture that beneath the finely spun sugar of this document is a core of carefully acknowledged truths about the reality of our world and our position in it. But that kind of rhetorical finesse is out of place in a statement meant to carry the clarity and heft that it must.

Living The Ricochet Life


At the end of the site’s first work week, I’d just like to observe that the two best political pieces on my Rushian stack o’ stuff this week happened both to be by Ricochet contributors. Peter Robinson’s Uncommon Knowledge interview with John Podhoretz really is superb. And so too is the article by my fellow City Journal contributing editor Claire Berlinski on the indifference to the records of Soviet evil (linked, as Claire mentions in her post, by that fine, fine paper The New York Times). How genuinely delightful to be in such company!

That said, I now plan to leave my computer behind to join my former karate instructor on the shooting range where we will continue our training for the coming zombie wars. Have a wonderful Memorial Day.