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.

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.

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.

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.

Summer Reading for the Kids

 

Thanks to Drew Klavan, Rob Long, Ursula Hennessey, and the many Ricochet readers who have made suggestions, the summer reading list for the three teenaged Robinson males has begun taking shape:

The mandatory pile

Someone start a petition

 

Gov. Jindal needs to borrow a little of Gov. Christie’s moxie. The oil is lapping at the bayou and the Corps of Engineers — one more example of bureaucratic delay and non-responsiveness in the Gulf — is dragging it’s feet on the necessary approvals to let them put in prophylactic sandbags. The Governor needs to take ownership, put on his waders, lead the sandbag brigade, challenge them to throw him in jail, and be willing to go if necessary. Now that would earn him some love!

A crisis too good to waste

 

Did FOX this AM on the Administration’s decision to extend the moratorium on drilling. Remember, there have been 3000 deep water wells drilled safely, but we’re not stopping there but including approved sites in Alaska and shallow water wells. Either this is a huge political overraction, or taking advantage of an opportunity by an administration staffed with people who never liked offshore drilling and thinks $5 gas is a good thing. Can we say lost jobs? Higher costs? If we’re going to shut down things which are potentially harmful, any votes for including Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, and the White House on that list?

This Sestak-Clinton-Emanuel-Obama Thing

 

Let’s just get the nonsense out of the way first. I, Ursula Q. “Public,” am not at all “assured” by you, Mr. President, that “nothing improper took place.” Nonsense. However, to my Ricochet political experts, please help me fill in some blanks with this New York Times story about Bill Clinton passing on Rahm Emanuel’s “message” to Joe Sestak.

1) Why would Clinton do this? What does he get out of it?

Transparency And The Despotism Of Data

 

The brilliant PEG points my eye toward this observation on the limits of transparency in an era of big government:

People who are hip to the we-gov (as opposed to e-gov) concept are beginning to see that in order to bring netizens in as partners in governance, they need to be data literate, and need to be empowered with an understanding of what data actually means. Otherwise data — data that is useless to anyone except an intellectual elite — is largely just another tool for public relations, or a way to lower costs.

Are Open Primaries a Step in the Right Direction?

 

Making sense of the California ballot is like reading Chinese.  Literally, it actually is — although the state graciously provides English and Spanish translations.

One proposition that I find especially baffling is Proposition 14, which would introduce the open primary process for congressional, statewide, and legislative races.  In an open primary, all voters can choose any candidate regardless of political party preference.  The two candidates receiving the greatest number of votes appear on the general election ballot.

Obama’s Press Conf

 

I don’t know about you, but when I heard Obama mention the dead turtles, I sat in my car and wept for a full hour. Then I collected myself, went into my office and started playing Frogger.

Frogger – how old school is THAT?

Relocation/Consternation

 

My four year-old has Down syndrome. Yesterday, I sent her off to school for the first time in our new suburban town. We chose this particular suburb because of its reputation for a committed and loving approach to educating and including children with special needs. In New York City, where we lived for eight years, the best strategy for families with limited financial resources looking to get their special-needs kids into decent education environments was to sue the city. Every year. Until they turn twenty-one. Usually these suits are successful, but we have no stomach for this kind of thing, and we don’t have the finances to keep a lawyer on retainer for seventeen years, so we moved. Even though we’re now in a better neighborhood, I can’t help but worry a little bit extra about my sweet Miss M, since the country seems to be falling apart on so many fronts. Five years ago, the medical team who told us our unborn baby would have Down syndrome advised us to “terminate.” Hearing a diagnosis of Down syndrome is a horrible, terrible shock. All your hopes for your unborn baby, for your family, for your own journey into old age, change in an instant. To have people not-so-subtly reminding you that your child will also be a burden on society is a crushing blow. Yet this is the message that all too frequently gets sent to people in this very unfortunate, and vulnerable, position. We know Miss M won’t be going to Harvard, just as we knew we had to get out of the city in order to find a more hospitable place to raise our family, a place where she has the freedom to pursue her interests and talents. Maybe she’ll end up living on her own, holding down a job, and, at least partially, supporting herself. Come to think of it, that’s what I’m hoping for all my kids. But under a government that seems intent on making ALL of us wards of the state, how long before some of us are deemed too much of a burden? After all, we’re living in a country where the president’s right-hand man feels free to drop the R-bomb in the White House and Mr. Obama himself jokes on late-night TV that his atrocious bowling skills might qualify him for the Special Olympics (remember? he got a few laughs). I wonder what the future holds. Not just for my little Miss M, but for all of us.

Europe at Peace? Thanks to Uncle Sam

 

Below somewhere, Conor Friedersdorf makes this observation (I know I’m supposed to be able to link to his original post, but I haven’t yet figured out how):

And isn’t it nice, incidentally, that none of us fear the French, German or Italian overreaction that the former German foreign minister mentioned? Given even recent European history, that is an achievement to be celebrated.

Calling Andrew Klavan

 

At the beginning of each summer vacation, Drew, I like to buy a stack of books, set the books on top of the dining room table, and then command my children to start reading. (“Command?” That’s the way I’d like it to happen. The truer words would be “cajole” and “beg.”) May I ask your advice? My oldest, home from her first year in college, will be reading for courses she’ll be taking next fall, while my youngest, only eight, will devote her time to children’s books. That leaves the three teenaged boys in the middle.

All three of the boys have already read–devoured, actually–your first book for young adults, The Last Thing I Remember, making it more or less mandatory for me to begin my summer book purchases with your second book in the series, The Long Way Home. But where do I go from there? Ideally, I figure, I’d give the boys half a dozen or ten books, including, perhaps, a work or two of American history, a work or two of good sports writing, and maybe a brief volume of good science writing. What would you recommend?

Kagan, Presidential Power, the New York Times

 

I wanted to share my piece today in the New York Times, which argues that Elena Kagan is not the great friend of presidential power that her supporters claim. Her academic work praises Bill Clinton for taking the authority to issue regulations from the agencies (which are given that power by Congress) to enact what she calls progressive solutions to national problems. But she says it is not because of any power that the Constitution grants the President. Because of that, I argue that she would not recognize any powers of the President, under the Constitution, to wage the war beyond what Congress allows him — the common view in the academy, I must admit.

I must admit surprise that a) the New York Times would let me appear on its pages, except as a target (let me make clear, that being a moving target for the New York Times can be great fun) ; and b) that it would allow a criticism of her for not supporting presidential power. Thoughts?