Fighting the cyberwar, &c.

(scyther5/Getty Images)
On Donald Trump, John McCain, Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, John le Carré, Paul Sarbanes, Leontyne Price, and more

In April 2015, I did a Q&A podcast with John McCain. He said he had recently received a briefing on cyber threats to America. And it was “the most disturbing briefing” he had ever received, he said. The United States was way behind its adversaries in this department. And “we better start paying attention.” “We better start doing a helluva lot better job.”

The most disturbing briefing that I have ever received. That made me sit up a little straighter. McCain had been in Congress since 1983. At the time of our interview, he was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He had received a lot of security briefings.

I thought of this, naturally, when news came of a massive cyberattack against key departments and agencies of the U.S. government — including State, Treasury, and Homeland Security.

By all indications, the guilty party is Russia. The secretary of state has said as much. Many people were waiting for the president to say something. And he finally did, as only he can, or would:

The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality. I have been fully briefed and everything is well under control. Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens because Lamestream is, for mostly financial reasons, petrified of….

….discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!). There could also have been a hit on our ridiculous voting machines during the election, which is now obvious that I won big, making it an even more corrupted embarrassment for the USA.

Two days before these tweets, he had lashed out against McCain, in another tweet. (The senator died in 2018.) The president wrote,

Check out last in his class John McCain, one of the most overrated people in DC.

Evidently, Trump will never stop trashing McCain. Nor will he ever breathe a negative word about Putin and the Kremlin. This strikes some of us as odd. Over and over, he covers for the Kremlin. His instinct is to defend Putin, no matter what.

During the 2016 campaign, Joe Scarborough pointed out to Trump that Putin sometimes kills his critics. Trump answered, “Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe.” (In the old days, we conservatives called this “moral equivalence.”) Shortly after Trump was sworn in, Bill O’Reilly said to him, “Putin is a killer.” This time, Trump answered, “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent?”

Apparently, it will be up to Joe Biden and the Democrats to deal with the problem of this cyberattack and related problems. That ought to be embarrassing — even a little emasculating — to Republicans and conservatives, I would think. We always prided ourselves on realism and toughness when it came to such matters.

• Trump tweeted,

Tremendous evidence pouring in on voter fraud. There has never been anything like this in our Country!

If there is tremendous evidence — maybe Trump and his team could share it with us?

He also tweeted,


As I see it, the third exclamation point makes it so.

One more:


There is a line of argument among conservatives that goes like this: “Trump’s not getting anywhere. All of these efforts are futile. He’s just blowin’ off steam. The new president will be inaugurated on January 20th. Nothing to get upset about.”

Yet, in a way, Trump is winning. He is succeeding in embittering, aggrieving, and misleading tens of millions of his followers. He is divorcing them from the American system. This will have consequences for a long time to come, I fear.

• For now, Trump is the capo of the Republican Party. Here is a characteristic tweet from two days ago:

Republicans in the Senate so quickly forget. Right now they would be down 8 seats without my backing them in the last Election. RINO John Thune, “Mitch’s boy”, should just let it play out. South Dakota doesn’t like weakness. He will be primaried in 2022, political career over!!!

As I said, the third exclamation point makes it so.

Will Trump still be calling the shots in the GOP come 2022, 2024, and beyond? I wouldn’t bet against it.

• For weeks now, people have been eulogizing John le Carré. I will contribute a dollop. I went on a le Carré jag in my early twenties, I think. I inhaled his books. They provided some of the most satisfying reading experiences of my entire life.

I did not care for the turn that le Carré’s books took later in his career. Above, I recalled the expression “moral equivalence.” That applies here. But le Carré is a master, no doubt.

Here is a little aside, which will be interesting to some: I once did a “Christmas sail” with Bill Buckley and his party in the Caribbean. WFB had chartered a yacht and its crew. The previous charterer (if that’s the word)? John le Carré (as the crew told us).

Those must have been long odds: two leading spy novelists, in the same boat, so to speak.

A friend shared with me remarks that le Carré made about Israel — highly interesting, flavorful, and perceptive ones, I think. You will find them quoted here.

“Israel rocked me to my boots. I had arrived expecting whatever European sentimentalists expect — a re-creation of the better quarters of Hampstead. Or old Danzig, or Vienna, or Berlin. The strains of Mendelssohn issuing from open windows of a summer’s evening. Happy kids in seamen’s hats clattering to school with violin cases in their hands.”


“I found the most extraordinary carnival of human variety that I have ever set eyes on, a nation in the process of reassembling itself from the shards of its past, now Oriental, now Western, now secular, now religious, but always anxiously moralizing about itself, criticizing itself with Maoist ferocity, a nation crackling with debate, rediscovering its past while it fought for its future.”

A final word: “No nation on earth was more deserving of peace — or more condemned to fight for it.”

• Walter Williams died on December 2. He was a libertarian economist, and a black American. National Review once joked that he and Thomas Sowell should not be allowed to travel on the same airplane.

I talked with Sowell about Williams in 2011. Let me quote from the resulting piece:

For a time, Sowell and another economist, Walter Williams, seemed to be the only black conservatives around. “This was not because Walter and I knew something that nobody else knew; it was because we were the kind of people who would say things that others wouldn’t.”

Yes. There are always people who say what others think but will not say. Such people are worth their weight in gold.

A bit more from my article:

Sowell likes to point out that both he and Williams faced courts-martial: Williams in the Army, Sowell in the Marine Corps. “We both beat the rap, but I think it shows that we were not the kind of people who, you know — fell in line very easily, even in a military organization.”

I joked with Sowell that I suspected both he and Williams were guilty — rascals that they were. He laughed that deep, wonderful laugh of his.

• Paul Sarbanes died on December 6. He was a longtime senator from Maryland — before that, a House member. I have one abiding memory of him, and I have looked it up. You will find the relevant material in this news article.

The year was 1994, and Sarbanes was questioning a young Clinton official. Sarbanes was calm and lawyerly.

Young Official: “I don’t believe I’ve had any specific conversations with either Mr. Altman or Ms. Hanson.”

Sarbanes: “Strike the word ‘specific.’ Have you had any conversation?”

Young Official: “It’s conceivable. I can’t recall any conversations directly.”

Sarbanes: “Strike the word ‘directly’.”

Funny, the little things that stick in the memory.

(Some readers will insist that I perform a complete assessment of the senator’s career — the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, etc. Some will want me to say something about what Walter Williams thought of Lincoln, and I understand them. Thing is, I’m typing Impromptus, in my own fashion, so . . .)

(There are endless things to read, and we are all welcome to them.)

• Ralph K. Winter died on December 8. He was a Yale law prof and then a prominent federal judge. So was Bob Bork. He and Winter were good friends and had a great time together. Bork told me a few Ralph Winter stories. Wish I had known him. Wish I had had lunch with the two of them together! You would have learned and laughed.

• Another Winter, William Winter, died on December 22. He was governor of Mississippi from 1980 to 1984. I learned some things from the obit in the New York Times.

Governor and Mrs. Winter invited a number of Mississippians to the governor’s mansion for dinner — including Leontyne Price, “the world-famous soprano whom previous governors had shunned.”

Can you imagine shunning pretty much the greatest singer who ever lived? And such a delightful personality, to boot? Racism is, among other things, weird.

I love something that Zora Neale Hurston once said (I will paraphrase): “It’s not so much that I am offended by racism as that I’m astonished by it. Why would anyone want to deny himself the pleasure of my company?”

A bit more from the obit:

The Winters invited her to stay overnight in the Bilbo Room, named for Theodore G. Bilbo, an infamously racist governor and senator; the next day Mr. Winter renamed it the Leontyne Price Room.

Bravo, as they say in the opera house.

Stuart Stevens is quoted in this obit: “Winter was someone who made you proud to be from Mississippi.” That is a high, and deeply meaningful, tribute.

• The Times ran a piece whose headline was “What Books Should Biden Read? We Asked 22 Writers.” If I had been asked, I would have suggested The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World, by Robert Kagan. Two years ago, I podcasted with him about this book (here).

• A little language? I have a number of items on tap. I will choose something seasonal — something regarding punctuation. N.B.:

“God rest ye merry, gentlemen.” And “Where meekness will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.”

Yup (on all fronts).

• A reader sent me an e-mail. He is a doctor, professor, and editor. At the end of his e-mails is a “signature” and this message: “My working hours may not be your working hours. Please do not feel obligated to reply outside of your normal work schedule.”

What an amazingly thoughtful message. I had never seen such a thing before.

• A long time ago — decades — a young Englishman was journeying in Iran. He passed a graceful figure in a niqab. He could see only her eyes — beautiful eyes. He glanced back at her; she glanced back at him — and winked. He said it was the sexiest thing he ever saw or experienced.

May I just say that, today, some women look quite beautiful in their masks? (Sue me, if you must.)

• I see something on Twitter: Being alone on the holidays is hazardous to your health! Your mental health! This isolation and quarantining is a public-health crisis!

No doubt, no doubt. Then, for some, being with family over the holidays is a mental-health issue.

However you are spending them, my friends, may your days be happy and bright. Thank you, love you, and see you!

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