National Security & Defense

Pizza kings, team owners, &c.

Mike Ilitch in 2012 (Reuters photo: Rebecca Cook)
On Mike Ilitch, Dana Rohrabacher, Vladimir Putin, Grace Hopper, and more

There was big news from my home state last week, and sad news: Mike Ilitch died. He was the founder of Little Caesars Pizza. He owned the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Red Wings.

It’s funny about Michigan and pizza magnates. Another one is Tom Monaghan, who founded Domino’s. He too owned the Tigers.

Ilitch was born to Macedonian parents. And Macedonia has been in the news too. Because of Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, the Republican of California, who chairs a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee — the one on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats.

In an interview with Albanian television, Rohrabacher said, “Macedonia is not a country. I’m sorry, it’s not a country.”

That is a strange thing for an important congressman to say about a strong American ally. But there you go. I got this too, when I reported from Macedonia in 2015. Irredentists and other cranks said, “Macedonia is not a real country!” They want this former Yugoslavian republic divvied up between various other countries.

Macedonians beg to differ. And they have a say, yes?

My conservative friends in Macedonia say, “We are 100 percent, gung-ho pro-American. But your government treats us so badly, you are pushing us into the arms of Putin.”

Dana Rohrabacher is possibly the most Putin-friendly member of the U.S. Congress. He had an interesting exchange on television not long ago. A newscaster, Bianna Golodryga, brought up human-rights abuses in Russia. Rohrabacher said, “Oh, baloney! Where do you come from?” The lady replied that she had come to America from the former Soviet Union. Her family were political refugees. Rohrabacher shot back, “Oh, well, that’s good, then the audience knows that you’re biased.”

Yes: biased in favor of human rights, freedom, democracy, truth …

Republicans and conservatives always honored such people. Rohrabacher was, in fact, a Reagan speechwriter. Such strange times, these. May they pass quickly.

‐In Russia, Alexei Navalny has been effectively disqualified from running for president in 2018. He is one of Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics. Therefore, the government has bedeviled him with phony charges.

Michael McFaul, our former ambassador there, made an excellent point last week: Putin controls television, business, virtually everything. He is said to enjoy an approval rating of about 80 percent. Yet he fears Navalny. Why?

Why indeed?

My entire life, I was told that Fidel Castro was popular with the Cuban people. I always found it odd that he would not risk an election.

Listen to Donald Trump, talking about Putin during our recent campaign: “He’s actually got popularity within his country. They respect him as a leader … I think he’s up in the 80s, which is, you know — you see where Obama’s in the 30s and low 40s, and, you know, he’s up in the 80s.”

Trump was talking about poll numbers, of course.

Do you know what George W. Bush said to me, in an interview last year? He too discussed Putin: “People say, ‘He’s the most popular guy in Russia.’ I say, ‘Yeah, I’d be popular too if I owned NBC,’” and the other networks.

Putin might well win a free and fair election — with a free press, multiple parties, and the whole nine yards. But I can understand his not wanting to risk one.

‐A lot of people are calling themselves “nasty woman.” And a lot of people are calling themselves “deplorable.” I think people like victimhood — love it. They wear it like a badge of honor.

During a presidential debate, Trump said that Hillary Clinton was “such a nasty woman.” And Clinton said “deplorables” at a fundraiser.

“You know, to just be grossly generalistic,” she said, “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that.”

(She had a second basket: people “who feel that government has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they are just desperate for change.”)

(Actually, the rest of that statement is sort of interesting too. “They don’t buy everything he says,” Clinton said, referring to Trump, “but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”)

Two seconds after Clinton said “deplorables,” many, many people on the right changed their Twitter handle to include the word “Deplorable.” They were “owning the insult,” as the saying goes. (But was Hillary really referring to them?) Likewise, many women on the left changed their handle to “Nasty Woman,” or some variation, right after Trump dropped his little bomb.

And these words continue: “deplorables,” “nasty woman.” I am seeing them all the time, employed by people who want to be aggrieved. I understand this feeling real well. I’m sure I have succumbed to the temptation from time to time. But I also think people should cut it out, after a decent interval.

How long? Days? Weeks? Surely not months.

In 2013, libertarians made an issue of the nomination of John O. Brennan to be CIA director. They were concerned about drone policy. Rand Paul was filibustering the nomination. John McCain, ticked, said, “It’s always the wacko birds on right and left that get the media megaphone.”

Word spread that McCain had somehow referred to conservatives — good ol’ conservatives — as “wacko birds.” And some enjoyed calling themselves that, all defiant: reveling in the insult.

But the song wasn’t about them.

Whom was it about? McCain named three people, followed by “whoever.” The three were Paul, Justin Amash, and Ted Cruz (a conservative with a libertarian bent, as many of us have).

Cruz had a lovely response: “When Rand and I first heard about ‘wacko birds,’ we thought they were a new kind of drone.”

Do you know people who like to imagine themselves insulted? I do. It is a lousy way to go through life. For one thing, enough people will insult you for real

‐Yale University has made the decision to change the name of its Calhoun College. No longer will this college be named after John C. Calhoun, that champion of slavery.

I wrote about this issue — and related issues — last year. In fact, I wrote a three-part series: here, here, and here. I address the Calhoun business in Part II. Kind of an interesting issue. With its share of pain.

The college will be renamed for Grace Hopper, the computer scientist and rear admiral. I remember seeing her on television. She liked to hand out nanoseconds, i.e., pieces of wire representing the distance that light travels in a nanosecond. A neat trick.

In 2009, I published a letter about her, responding to something I had written (also about her). A reader wrote,

Admiral Hopper was, at one time, the only commodore in the U.S. Navy. I had the pleasure of meeting then-Commodore Hopper when I was a Federal Protective Officer assigned to the CIA. Just a standard gate check and directions to VIP parking.

Some months later she was back for another lecture, and I was working interior security at The Bubble (CIA auditorium). As she walked by me she said, “Good morning, Officer Smith. Better posting than the gate in this weather, isn’t it?” Such a memory! Such manners!

I was able to listen to her lecture from the lobby. I didn’t understand a word she said. But I do have the honor of having rendered a salute to, and having had it returned by, Adm. Grace Hopper.

“Amazing Grace,” they called her.

‐Speaking of music: I want to tell you something about “whataboutism.” This is the name given to the habit of saying, “Well, what about …?” If you say something about Trump, someone might say, “Well, what about Obama?” or “What about Hillary?” If you say “up,” some will say, “What about down?” If you say “black,” some will say, “What about white?”

You’ve gotten the point.

When I see whataboutism now — on Twitter, wherever — the Lone Ranger theme pops into my head. I sing (if only to myself), “What about, what about, what about ’bout ’bout?”

The Lone Ranger theme, of course, is borrowed from the overture to Rossini’s opera William Tell. The overture is in four sections, depicting life in the Swiss Alps. The one that people know is the last one, called “The March of the Swiss Soldiers.”

You remember this old joke? “Where does the Lone Ranger take his garbage?” “To the dump, to the dump, to the dump dump dump.”

I’m not sure that young people today know about taking your garbage to the dump. They’re not missing much, really.

See you!

A word from the National Review Store: To get Digging In: Further Collected Writings of Jay Nordlinger, go here.

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