The Real Target

Last week Target was in the news for a clothing line created by the British company Abprallen for its “PRIDE” Collection. While the items being sold by Target did not, apparently, include Satanic messages, Abprallen is known for selling Satanic merchandise. According to Abprallen’s Instagram post on May 9, the company had been approached by Target to design items for the collection and Erik Carnell, the founder and designer, said that it would be an opportunity “to ensure that any young people who saw Abprallen in Target would know that who they are is beautiful, purposeful, and worth expressing.”

The Abprallen website proudly (pun intended) proclaims itself “Independent LGBTQ+ fashion and accessories, designed in London.” It includes a picture of Carnell who identifies as a “gay trans man” and says that the name of the company comes from the German word for ricochet. Carnell says that pastel colors feature prominently in the company’s designs, juxtaposed against images of “skulls and spooky things.” The statement from Carnell closes, “I hope you find something of yourself in Abprallen and embrace the parts of you you’ve been told not to love.”

While the Abprallen items offered by Target included a tote bag, a messenger bag and a sweatshirt, the company’s website says that it specializes in enamel pins and button badges. Most of the enamel pins are a raised fist symbol, but the buttons—more than 150 of them to date—include a variety of messages promoting LGBTQ+. The pastel goth pride collection is the one in which Carnell takes the most pleased—a series that began with a pin featuring a Baphomet head over a twisting ribbon that proclaims “Satan respects pronouns.” By way of explanation, Carnell writes, “Satan Respects Pronouns is a fun way to show your Pride—a lot of LGBT people have found that Christianity hasn’t always been the most welcoming to them and find solace and humor in the idea that Satan would.” That pin design is also available on a t-shirt.

Other items featured on the Abprallen website feature these messages: “Heteronormativity is a plague,” “Witches and wizards love trans people,” “Time’s up for transphobes” and a guillotine over which is a sign that says “Homophobe Headrest.” The company’s homepage says, under the link for the collection of pins, “Wear your truth.”

Therein lies the bottom line, of course—“your truth.” The notion of “your truth” is a denial of the existence of any actual truth, since if there is such a thing as “your truth” there must also be such a thing as “my truth” and truth for many others, and when we all get to choose our own truth there is no truth. I am reminded suddenly of that notable exchange in A Few Good Men when Lt. Kaffee tells Col. Jessep, “I want the truth!” Jessep replies, “You can’t handle the truth!” Erik Carnell, among many others, really cannot handle the truth. In fact, Carnell would replace Jessep’s “You can’t handle the truth!” with “There is no truth!”

Within days of the Abprallen line debuting at Target, the company faced strong backlash. Target’s pride collection reportedly included more than two thousand items, only three of which were from Abprallen—none of which included the Satanic of threatening designs—and supposedly none of which were being marketed to children. The three Abprallen designs included a sweatshirt that was a play on the caduceus with the words “Cure Transphobia, Not Trans People,” a messenger bag that said “We Belong Everywhere” and a tote bag that said “Too Queer for Here.” The suggestion that the products were not marketed to children loses some merit when Carnell, who I understand to be 29 years old, said on Instagram, “I imagined what it would be like for a younger version of myself to see something more specific, more tailor made than a lacklustre rainbow flag. I wanted to create a range that would embrace younger me and tell him that who he is is more than OK, that being trans is special and wonderful and that the closet is not made for him to thrive in.”

Perhaps these products were not marketed to children, but there are plenty of items in Target’s expansive pride collection that are; just visit the website and see for yourself. In fact, some of the clothing items can be found in infant sizes.

I have seldom shopped at Target since its announcement several years ago regarding the use of bathrooms according to one’s gender identity. Of course, it helps that the closest Target to me is more than 100 miles away, too, but when I used to live close to one, I always preferred Target over Wal Mart. I realize that one could find a reason to boycott just about any company these days and I have not been a committed advocate of boycotts. If you decide to boycott Target because of its pride collection and its association with Abprallen in particular, I would certainly understand and support that decision.

What’s not okay, though, is threatening Target employees because of the pride items. On May 24 Target issued a statement that it was pulling some of the items in the pride collection because of threats to employee safety and well-being. There is no place for threatening anyone who works at Target over anything the stores may sell. There have been reports in recent days that Target has lost $9 to $10 billion in market value since attention has been drawn to the Abprallen association, and that’s fine. That’s an appropriate and effective means of communicating displeasure with a company’s choices. Anheuser-Busch has allegedly lost more than $15 billion in market value since its campaign featuring transgender individual Dylan Mulvaney. Also fine. Money, as they say, talks. Let yours speak loud and clear.

While Target’s decision to utilize a designer that has promoted messages that embrace Satan and even suggest, or at least hint at, execution for those opposed to the LGBTQ+ agenda, is deeply concerning to me and deserves whatever financial repercussions it may bring, Carnell’s messages unaffiliated with the Target merchandise are the greater concern. If nothing else, all the hullabaloo over the Target collection will drive more people to the Abprallen website, cause more people to see and purchase the more offensive and controversial items and prompt further looking into what Carnell has to say about the designs. For example, in on Instagram post, Carnell said, “Satan loves you and respects who you are; you’re important and valuable in this world and you deserve to treat yourself with love and respect. LGBT+ people are so often referred to as being a product of Satan or going against God’s will, so fine. We’ll hang with Satan instead. Satanists don’t actually believe in Satan, he is merely used as a symbol of passion, pride, and liberty. He means to you what you need him to mean. So for me, Satan is hope, compassion, equality, and love.”

Therein lies the real target in all of this; Erik Carnell—and others—have targeted the hearts and minds of everyone willing to listen, and young people in particular, with the goal of convincing them that Christianity is not only wrong, it desires to deny them the right to be who they really are. Christianity is wrong and people who oppose homosexual marriage and deny transgender identity are antiquated in their thinking, bigots who need to be reeducated if not eliminated. That is the real target; not selling some t-shirts or tote bags. Adding in that Satan is fun, a symbol of liberty and the one who really respects people for who they are is an eternally dangerous side dish that Carnell is serving up alongside his “be whoever you want to be” buffet.

Make no mistake, Satan is real, and he is thrilled by the notion that people would think that he isn’t. He is equally thrilled by the idea that Carnell or anyone else would suggest that Satan loves and respects them for who they are. Satan does not love anyone. Satan does not know or understand what love is. Satan has no interest in anyone’s wellbeing. His greatest desire is to have as many people as possible spend eternity in hell with him. We know how the story ends; we know he is going to lose. Don’t play games with Satan.

And pray for Erik Carnell.

All We Have to Do

This month marks the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For one year I have been wondering why the rest of the world is allowing the fighting to continue to not evicting Russia from Ukraine, by force if necessary. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the reluctance to initiate another war—whether it be hot or cold. My son is nearing the age when he will have to register with Selective Service; the last thing I want is another world war and the possibility of a draft in the U.S. At the same time, the fear of hardship—even violence and war—should not be a deterrent to doing what is right.

C.S. Lewis said, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” That’s a familiar quote because it’s true. But if it is true that integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching then it certainly follows that integrity includes doing the right thing when everyone is watching. And the world is watching Ukraine.

Last September, when the war was but seven months old, the Pew Research Center reported that Americans were less concerned about the war spreading into other countries than they had been, with just over a quarter of U.S. adults saying that they were not too concerned or were not concerned at all about Russia defeating Ukraine. At the same time, 57% of Americans said that the U.S. was providing the right amount or too much support to Ukraine.

Well, let’s be honest—if the U.S. were supplying adequate support to Ukraine, the war would be over and Russia would have lost.

In December, Steven Pifer wrote, for The Brookings Institution, that the war has “proven a disaster for Russia — militarily, economically, and geopolitically. The war has badly damaged Russia’s military and tarnished its reputation, disrupted the economy, and profoundly altered the geopolitical picture facing Moscow in Europe.” That may be true, but wrote that two months ago today and Russia does not seem inclined to give up.

A year ago Paul Kolbe, the director of the Intelligence Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a 25-year veteran of the CIA, said this about U.S. involvement in Ukraine:

From a principled standpoint, if the United States stands for democracy, if it stands for freedom of nations and peoples to choose their paths, if it stands opposed to aggression and efforts to change borders by force, then this is the ideal example of exactly where we should be walking the walk and not just talking the talk. 

Kolbe was right then and his comments are still right today. Back in November, when Russia withdrew from Kherson, General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “When peace can be achieved, seize it.” Maybe. But there’s a reason why Neville Chamberlain is best remembered for the utter foolishness of his claim of having achieved “peace for our time.” Appeasing Hitler proved to be naïve but shortsighted; before long, Hitler was doing exactly what he promised he wouldn’t do. And who can blame him, given that the rest of the world’s leading countries had demonstrated a reluctance to do what was necessary to make him stop? In case anyone has forgotten, the appeasement approach was already tried with Putin, too. (Remember Crimea?)

In late December Vladimir Putin announced that Russia was interested in negotiating an end to the war. Specifically, he said,

All armed conflicts end one way or another with some kind of negotiations on the diplomatic track. Sooner or later, any parties in a state of conflict sit down and make an agreement. The sooner this realization comes to those who oppose us, the better. We have never given up on this.

In other words, Putin is ready for a diplomatic agreement that gives him what he wants. In the words of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!” Giving Russia even one square inch of Ukrainian soil would serve to embolden Putin further but would also embolden Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un and others.

Paul Kolbe said that the reasons for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “are complex and multifaceted and include history and psychology, longstanding grievances and grudges, and a bitter resentment of NATO.” All true—and none of them justify the invasion or giving Russia anything. Near the end of the American  Civil War, the South made some overtures about a negotiated end to the war. The war had been going on for years and hundreds of thousands had died; no one in their right mind would have refused to listen to their offer. But Abraham Lincoln made one thing clear—there would be no end to the war without an end to slavery.

In the same way, the U.S., NATO and other Ukrainian allies would do well to listen to Putin about a diplomatic agreement, but only one that includes a complete withdrawal of Russian forces from all Ukrainian soil. That cannot be negotiated.

Last month, the George W. Bush Presidential Center released a report explaining why it is vital to U.S. national interest to support Ukraine. The report said, in part,

[I]t’s vital that the United States show total, bipartisan solidarity with Ukraine and any other country that might be threatened by thuggish, authoritarian regimes. The United States must lead, together with our allies, and that leadership starts with a united front between the executive and legislative branches on such a vital national security matter.

I agree with that assertion. But I agree even more strongly with this statement from earlier in the report:

There also must be accountability for Russian war crimes and genocidal acts committed against Ukrainians. Led by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukrainians reject the notion of negotiations involving territorial concessions in exchange for a ceasefire.

The U.S. must stand by Zelensky and the people of Ukraine. Maybe, like a district attorney negotiating an agreement with a murderer and taking the death penalty off the table in exchange for a confession, war crimes are taken off the table in exchange for an end to the fighting and a removal of all Russian forces from Ukrainian soil. Short of that, though, there can be no deal.

John Adams once said, “To be good, and to do good, is all we have to do.” That’s easier said than done most of the time. But in this instance, it’s actually quite clear. We know what the good thing is to do. Are we willing to do it?

My Year in Books – 2022

Another year has come to an end, meaning it’s time for me to write another review of my year in books. I finished the year having read fifty books exactly, and I think it included a similar mix of genres as most years do for me. Without further ado, here we go…

I read several more baseball biographies in 2022, starting with Joseph Thomas Moore’s Larry Doby. Doby does not get nearly as much attention as Jackie Robinson, though, as the first African-American player in the American League, joining the Indians just a few months after Robinson broke through with the Dodgers, he endured many similar experiences. He also came maddeningly close to being the first African-American manager in the MLB, though it was not to be. Lonnie Wheeler’s The Bona Fide Legend of Cool Papa Bell was a fascinating read. Bell must have been quite the player! The book also provides insight into the workings of the Negro Leagues. Lew Freedman’s Warren Spahn was okay, but it had some glaring errors in it which should easily have been caught if not avoided in the first place. Doug Wilson’s Brooks is excellent. Even if you’re not an Orioles fan, there is not much debate that Brooks Robinson was the best third baseman in MLB history—certainly the best defensive third baseman. The book recounts his outstanding baseball career but also describes his personal life. Uppity, by Bill White, is a great baseball book but also a great commentary on society and the inner workings of baseball’s powers that be. White was a player, a radio and television commentator and a league executive, so he has rich and varied perspectives to share. Jim Kaplan’s The Greatest Game Ever Pitched interweaves biographies of Spahn and Juan Marichal with the story of the 1963 game in which the two pitching greats both went sixteen innings, throwing more than 200 pitches each, before the Giants finally won on a Willie Mays solo homer. Great book.

A number of political memoirs were part of my reading. Kayleigh McEnany’s For Such a Time as This was more than a reflection on her time working in the Trump White House. It was polite in references to Trump, sometimes even admiringly so, but it was not as gushy toward him as Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ memoir. Nikki Haley’s Can’t Is Not an Option was her first book, written back in 2012. It describes her growing up years, including unique challenges she faced as the daughter of Sikhs growing up in a small South Carolina town—the first family of Indians to live there, in fact. She describes the challenges she faced being taken seriously in politics, too—challenges she overcame to become not just a state legislator, but the first female and first non-white governor of South Carolina. Kristi Noem’s Not My First Rodeo is a political memoir, but it is a lot more than that. Living in South Dakota likely gives me a greater appreciation for some of what she shares in the book, but its overview of how she grew up and what has influenced her thinking is the main purpose. Of course, as someone widely considered to be a future candidate for national office, it also serves to introduce her to those who don’t know all that much about her.

This is not exactly a political memoir, but it has political relevance, so I will put it here: Fighting for Life by Lila Rose describes how Rose grew up to become one of the most influential anti-abortion activists in the United States and the head of Live Action. It was sad to read that she found such limited support for life among churches she interacted with, leading her to eventually adopt Catholicism, but her perseverance in doing whatever she can to bring an end to abortion is admirable.

The Silencing, by Kirsten Powers, was written in 2015, but I just purchased it last year. It contains a message that is not unlike that in Sharyl Attkisson’s Slanted or similar books, but it does not make her revelations about the manipulation of news and the shutting off of certain perspectives and ideologies any less alarming. Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt wrote The Coddling of the American Mind, an excellent examination of the flaws in critical theory and the increasingly-common practice of shutting out, or shutting up, speech which is deemed offensive.

Carol Berkin is an excellent historian and her book A Brilliant Solution is a fine overview of the crafting of the U.S. Constitution. David Waldstreicher, however, in Slavery’s Constitution, puts slavery at the heart of that document. While the Constitution did kick slavery down the proverbial road for twenty years and failed to deliver on the soaring rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence for just about anyone but white men, Waldstreicher is guilty of some of the same flawed thinking that is seen in the 1619 Project, though not to the same extent. To his credit, he wrote his book nine years before the 1619 Project, but he did defend it.

Nathaniel Philbrick’s Travels with George is an interesting addition to the vast canon of books about Washington. Philbrick and his wife, and their dog, travel to many of the locations that were significant in Washington’s life, leaving readers with a combination history book and travel log. The book’s subtitle is “In Search of Washington and His Legacy,” and I am not sure that it does much to clarify Washington’s legacy, but it was a fun read. Phyllis Lee Levin’s The Remarkable Education of John Quincy Adams describes exactly what the title says, but given that Adams was one of the most qualified individuals to ever hold the office of President of the United States, it is worthwhile reading.

Thomas Kidd’s Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh may be the book that has been missing from the voluminous and ever-increasing mountain of scholarship on Jefferson. It is not a biography in the traditional sense, though it contains some of those elements. Rather, Kidd endeavors to explain Jefferson’s thoughts and beliefs. Perhaps identify them would be a better way to put it than explain, because Jefferson was so full of contradictions that one can not really be expected to either explain or understand. But finally someone, in one relatively small volume, elaborates on the ways in which Jefferson was influenced by the Bible and Christianity while also explaining that while Jefferson claimed to be a Christian, he was not claiming to be one in the sense that anyone else would define that word. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to try to understand Jefferson accurately.

Celia, A Slave, by Melton McLaurin, is a book I picked up in the basement of a combination bookstore/convenience store/souvenir shop in Tennessee. It is an incredible story and one I had never before heard. Celia, at the age of 18, killed her master. To tell much of what happened next would certainly be a spoiler, so I will refrain, but it is a story that deserves to be more widely known—and it is short, at less than 200 pages. David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass won the Pulitzer Prize for a reason. It is a sizable book but it is an exceptional biography of a key figure in the abolitionist movement and the fight for equality for blacks. Barracoon, by Zora Neal Hurston, recounts her experience in 1927 visiting and interviewing the last-known surviving slave brought to the United States from Africa. That alone would make the book worth reading, but the combination of the memories shared with her by Cudjo Lewis and Hurston’s own observations, the book is an invaluable part of understanding that sad part of American history.

The Zealot and the Emancipator, by H.W. Brands, is a dual biography of John Brown and Abraham Lincoln and how their lives intertwined in the fight against slavery. The book would have tremendous value even if it only described Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, but it does much more than that. Reading it shortly after I read Blight’s biography of Douglass was advantageous, too, since the efforts of Brown and Douglass intertwined literally for a time. Caroline Janney’s Ends of War tells the story of what happened to Confederate soldiers after Lee surrendered at Appomattox. I had read a fair amount about the surrender and about what transpired thereafter on the Union side, but Janney shed light on realities I had never before considered. This is a much-needed book for anyone interested in the end of the Civil War.

Lars Anderson’s Carlisle vs. Army was tremendously interesting and it is probably not a book I would have picked up on my own; it was recommended, and loaned to me, by a friend. It is a story about football but also about Pop Warner, Dwight Eisenhower and Jim Thorpe. It also includes insight into the Native American schools of the period. It was Anderson’s book that prompted me to put David Maraniss’s recent biography of Thorpe on my to-read list (and since I got it for Christmas, I will likely read it in 2023!)

We Were Soldiers Once…And Young, by Harold G. Moore and Joseph Galloway, is a powerful look at a very small part of the Vietnam War—the battle in the Ia Drang valley. I know it has been made into a movie, but I haven’t seen it. I cannot imagine how a movie could do it justice. Anyone reading it has to come away with an incredible appreciation for what the men sent into that valley did and endured, regardless of opinions on the war itself.

After Queen Elizabeth II died, I decided I would finally read Sally Bedell Smith’s Elizabeth the Queen, which Smith wrote a decade ago and which had probably been sitting on my shelf almost that long. It was a delightful and enlightening book. Smith is an American, so she had a unique and perhaps more neutral perspective that some other authors might have—though she clearly sided more with Charles than Diana in their marital issues, which surprised me. Obviously, since it was written in 2012, the last years of Elizabeth’s life and reign are not included, but for anyone interested in knowing more about the queen as a person, about her reign and about her approach to her responsibilities as monarch, I would recommend this book. (As an aside, it also helps those who have seen the various movies and television series about the royal family know how much of it is fact and how much is fiction; in the case of The Crown, I would say there is far more fact than fiction).

Leah Wright Rigeur’s The Loneliness of the Black Republican was a thought-provoking look at the African-Americans who were part of the Republican party from the 1940s to the 1980s—a group that was a distinct minority among African-Americans and within the Republican party. Sadly, the Republican party has still not, in 2022, done what it could and should do to attract African-Americans to the party.

Thomas Sowell’s Inside American Education is about twenty years old now and some of what he writes about here is no longer pertinent. A surprising amount of it is, however. Sowell expresses real frustration with the American education system, most of it well-justified. Some of his frustration seems to be directed at teachers, and could even be taken as thinking poorly of teachers, but I think he is mostly frustrated with a system that allows ineffective teachers to remain ineffective and employed. I also read his Charter Schools and Their Enemies, which is only a couple of years old. There is a lot to like about charter schools in theory but they are not the perfect solution to the problems that are endemic in American public education. Still, Sowell effectively highlights the way so many of those who oppose charter schools—specifically teachers’ unions and educators—are in fact hurting the educational prospects for the very children they are, at least in theory, supposed to be concerned about educating.

Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner was one of the classics I read in 2022. I do not think it would be my first choice as assigned reading for a high school class if I wanted a fictional work that addresses the relationship between whites and blacks in America, and specifically the way that relationship changed after the Civil War, but it is worth reading.

I have not seen the movie based on the book, but I read Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. It is quite a tale; not what I expected initially, to be honest. I can see how it could generate good discussion in a class or a reading group.

The Horsewoman, by James Patterson and Mike Lupica, is a different style than most of the other Patterson books I have read, which tend to include police detectives and murders. There were parts of it that were predictable, and it bears many of the hallmarks of Patterson’s writing style, but it was a decent read. The Russian, by Patterson and James O. Born, is the thirteenth book in the Detective Michael Bennett series and is much more typical Patterson fare. Sparring Partners, by John Grisham, is a collection of three short stories, the first of which brings back Jake Brigance—a character familiar to Grisham fans. The stories were enjoyable, but I don’t think they rise to the advertised level of “three of the greatest stories Grisham has ever told.” Grisham’s stand-alone novel for the year was The Boys From Biloxi, which I found to be different than many of Grisham’s books and one of his better offerings in recent years. In some ways it reminded me of a Jeffrey Archer book in the way that it looked at the way two individuals grew up in the same town, originally as friends and later as opponents. Speaking of Jeffrey Archer, his Next in Line is the latest installment in the Detective William Warwick series and is what one expects from Archer. Though still dealing with Miles Faulkner, Warwick also gets involved in rooting out problems in the royal protection division. Daniel Silva’s Portrait of an Unknown Woman finds Gabriel Allon finally retired from his position in the Israeli intelligence service, but he still draws on heir resources numerous times to solve the riddle of forged paintings and murder. Along with Archer’s book, Silva provides an enjoyable read along with insight into the world of fine art.

Marie Benedict’s The Mystery of Mrs. Christie is a fictional account of what may have happened during the real-life disappearance of Agatha Christie for eleven days in 1926. The Washington Post called the ending “ingenious,” but I think that’s a stretch. Still, it was an enjoyable read and it does offer an interesting possible explanation for her disappearance. Kristin Harmel’s The Book of Lost Names is a riveting bit of historical fiction, telling the story of forgers who helped to save Jewish children from the Nazis. The ending is too perfect—predictable but oh-so-unlikely; that aside, it is a book I would highly recommend.

Ellen Marie Wiseman’s The Lost Girls of Willowbrook is not a book I would recommend, or not casually. To the right reader I might. It is a work of fiction and the bulk of it is centered on what has to be among the most common nightmare scenarios known to mankind—being wrongly locked up in a mental hospital with no one outside knowing where you are and no one inside believing your story. Mix in a serial killer and you get the book’s gist. What is perhaps most alarming, however, is that Willowbrook was a real place, on Staten Island, survivors of which are still living. Wiseman admittedly takes liberties with the story, but far too much of it is based on reality. If anyone thought One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was bad, The Lost Girls of Willowbrook takes it up a notch—or three. Wiseman has Nurse Vic to Kesey’s Nurse Ratched, but she is not the major figure in the story. The book has a lot of profanity, though; far more than I think necessary even given the story.

The Sower, by R. Scott Rodin & Gary Hoag, provides a biblical look at fundraising and financial giving. It is a short book but has valuable insights for those tasked with raising money and those seeking to steward wisely their financial resources. The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus, by Steve Ventura, et. al., was an easy read. It does contain some valuable leadership principles but there is nothing there that cannot be found in other leadership books. Leonard Strob’s Mission Directed is written for leaders of Christian schools—namely administrators and board members—but it could be helpful for the leaders of other ministries, too. It would be a helpful resource for board training and development.

Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies is subtitled “A Manual for Christian Dissidents.” It is a good book and an important book but it also comes up short. Dreher effectively highlights the similarities that exist between what is happening in America today and what happened in totalitarian regimes, specifically the USSR, in the past. However, other than one brief mention, he either does not see or chooses not to point out that some of the things he points out are done as much by Donald Trump and his America First minions as they are by progressives and the political left. It is a significant misstep. It is a misstep shared by Os Guiness in his The Magna Carta of Humanity. I have more comments on that book that I usually include in these annual rundowns, so see the comments at the end if you are interested.

Dane Ortlund’s Deeper is a book about sanctification, a subject that does not get nearly the attention it should in evangelical churches. It is not about sanctification in the way many would assume, however. His Gentle and Lowly is a study of Matthew 11 and is an effort to understand the mind and heart of Christ. It draws extensively on Puritan writers. Before You Lose Your Faith is edited by Ivan Mesa and includes essays by a dozen or so Christian thinkers, including Trevin Wax, Brett McCracken, Karen Swallow Prior and Jared C. Wilson. It is a book intended to address the “deconstructing” movement and it addresses a variety of topics that those with questions would likely consider. A good read for someone straying into deconstructing or for anyone who wants to be able to effectively provide answers to someone who is doing so. The Believer’s Armor, by John MacArthur, is basically a transcript of MacArthur’s sermons on the fifteen verses in Ephesians 6 that describe the armor of God. Wayne and Elliott Grudem’s Christian Beliefs is a short book with short chapters providing an overview of “twenty basics” of the Christian faith. I don’t agree with the Grudems on all twenty, but it is a helpful book, especially for someone who is a young Christian or who needs reinforcement in the foundational elements of faith.

Sam Storms and Justin Taylor edited For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper. As in any such book, some of the essays were better than others. Of course, different people reading the book might also have different opinions about which ones the “better” ones are. I particularly enjoyed a couple of the essays about Piper the man, in a biographical sense, but I think Bruce Ware’s essay, “Prayer and the Sovereignty of God” might be the entry that I found most meaningful and thought-provoking. I also appreciated Justin Taylor’s essay outlining how faithfully and effectively Piper preached against abortion during his years in the pulpit at Bethlehem Baptist Church. Oddly enough, given his reputation as a Greek scholar, I found William Mounce’s essay the least effective of the book and found myself disagreeing strongly with his recommendations for how to use, and not use, Greek in preaching.

Timothy Keller’s Hidden Christmas is a short book, one that could easily be read in the days leading up to Christmas, and I would recommend it for that. Keller brings attention to the importance of Christmas and provides unique perspectives on some of the realities of the birth of Christ.

So, there it is, another quick rundown of another fifty books.


The Magna Carta of Humanity, by Os Guinness, is a bit of an odd book. The cover features the famous picture of Washington crossing the Delaware. The book’s subtitle is “Sinai’s Revolutionary Faith and the Future of Freedom.” Guinness dedicates the book to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and indicates at the end that it is a tribute to the exposition of Exodus by Sacks. More than once I wondered if I would have been better off just reading Sacks and Rabbi Heschel, so often and so extensively did Guinness quote them. Guinness endeavors to make the point that the covenant between God and the nation of Israel at Sinai is the real impetus for the design of American government and freedom and that “a rediscovery of the foundational principles of the Exodus Revolution” is what is necessary to heal America. But only in the last two chapters of the book does Guinness ever replace Sinai with Calvary—a hugely significant problem. There are numerous other issues with his contentions as well, but I will confine my comments here to two.

First, Guinness embraces the Jewish understanding of Exodus 3:14, which says, “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’” Rabbi Sacks and others, he points out, put the emphasis on the future tense, rendering the verse, “I will be who I will be.” Guinness says that the danger of the more commonly Christian interpretation “I Am who I Am” is that it takes the understanding in a “Greek direction” and “mak[es] God into…the ‘pure being,’ or the ‘ground of all being’ who does not, cannot and will not change or feel anything.” The not feeling anything is a stretch, but I see no problem at all with the rest of that. It is in fact imperative that we understand God as unchanging. The idea that God will be who He will be, apart from who He is, leaves open the possibility that God can be anything at all in the future. Oddly, Guinness even states this, writing, “God, as he reveals himself at Sinai and afterward, is faithful and unchanging….”

Second, Guinness either fails to understand or chooses not to acknowledge that much of what he calls the Exodus Revolution was expanded, for the better, by the teachings of Jesus. For example, he quotes Exodus 22:21 as a “command to ‘love the stranger as yourself’” that “flies squarely in the face of the human tendency to care only for ‘people like us’….” But that is not what Exodus 22:21 says. That verse is actually a negative command—“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” So, too, is the next verse—“You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.” Not wronging or mistreating someone is certainly a good thing, but it is not nearly the same as doing good to them. One is not doing a bad thing, the other is doing a good thing. It was not until Jesus’s instruction to “do to others as you would have them do to you” that it became a positive command.

It is not a bad book, but it would not be high on the list of books I would recommend to someone wanting to study the issues Guinness intends to address.

Reality Check

Donald Trump and Kari Lake at “Save America” rally in Florence, Arizona.

A day after the 2022 midterm elections it is looking like the projected Red Wave turned into a Red Swell. I have spent many hours in the Atlantic Ocean and many times what looked like it might be a wave while it was still way out ended up being nothing more than a swell by the time it reached us. That certainly seems to be the case with these elections.

Two weeks ago, Oliver Wiseman, writing for The Spectator World, headlined his column “All signs point to a red wave.” He began with, “It’s now just under two weeks until the midterms. Judging by the mood music on both sides of the aisle, all signs point to a very good night for the Republican Party.” He concluded his comments on the midterm with this: “Midterms tend to be a referendum on the party in power, and Democrats have every reason to believe that the verdict will be unfavorable.”

While not all results are yet in, and which party will control the Senate is still unclear, we do know that the verdict was actually not unfavorable for the Democrats—or at least not very unfavorable. It was, however, unfavorable for the Republican party as a whole and for Donald Trump and his minions in particular.

Someone suggested to me today that the media had done a good job of gaslighting everyone—that the best way to discourage people from voting is to make them think that the outcome was in the bag. He was specifically suggesting that some voters who would have voted Republican did not bother to vote because they were sure the Red Wave was coming. I disagree, though.

There really was every reason to expect a Red Wave. And I will even go so far as to suggest that without Donald Trump, there would have been one. President Biden currently has an approval rating of 41.4% according to FiveThirtyEight. That means that almost three out of every five Americans do not approve of the job that he is doing as president. Every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt had a higher approval rating at this point in his administration than Joe Biden currently has—with the president closest to Biden’s rating being Donald Trump. By the way, I suspect FDR’s approval rating was higher, too, and probably many other presidents, but FiveThirtyEight only has data back to Truman.

The makeup of the Senate is currently 50-50 (including two Independents who caucus with the Democrats), with the Democrats being in the majority thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris being the tiebreaker. That means that the Republicans needed a net gain of only one seat in order to take the majority. Politico rated ten Senate races as toss-ups or likely narrow wins. As of right now, Democrats held three and flipped one, Republicans held three and three are still undecided—Arizona, Georgia and Nevada. Georgia is all but certain to be headed to yet another run-off, since neither incumbent Raphael Warnock nor Herschel Walker managed to get a majority of the vote. Somehow only two-thirds of the vote in Arizona have been counted thus far, but Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly currently has a lead of five percentage points (roughly 90,000 votes). In Nevada, 77% of the vote has been counted. Adam Laxalt, the Republican challenger, has a narrow lead over Catherine Cortez Masto (less than 23,000 votes). Interestingly, Laxalt leads in every county but one, yet his victory is by no means certain. He does not currently have a majority of the vote, either; as of the most recently reported results, 24,608 people voted for one of three other candidates or for “None of These Candidates,” an option Nevada has offered since 1975.

The Republicans retained the seat in Wisconsin, but Ron Johnson barely defeated Mandela Barnes, winning by about 27,000 votes out of more than 2.6 million cast. Barnes actually achieved the exact same percentage of the vote as Joe Biden did in 2020—49.5%. That was enough for Biden to carry the state and pick up Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes, but not enough for Barnes to win; 1.7% of the voters in 2020 cast their votes for one of several third party candidates, whereas only Barnes and Johnson were on the ballot for Senate yesterday.

That the GOP did so poorly yesterday is certainly not a sign of confidence in or approval of Joe Biden. Instead, it is, mostly, a refutation of Donald Trump. Don’t get me wrong—Trump candidates did well in several races. Ron Johnson, for example, was linked to some election shenanigans in 2020 and originally said he would not vote to certify Biden’s victory, though he changed his mind after the January 6 riots. And J.D. Vance, a political newcomer who said that the election was stolen from Trump, won in Ohio. Sarah Huckabee Sanders was one of the earliest candidates endorsed by Trump, having served as his Press Secretary, and she won handily in Arkansas—but she is also the daughter of a popular former Arkansas governor.

But in Arizona, it is a different story. Kari Lake, the Trump-endorsed candidate for governor and a political newcomer who thought she was such an influential figure that she made campaign ads for candidates in other states, is not leading with two-thirds of the vote in. She is at least close. Secretary of State candidate Mark Finchem, however, who has ties to QAnon and the Oath Keepers, is considerably behind Adrian Fontes for Secretary of State.

In Alaska, with about 75% of the vote in, it seems that either Kelly Tshibaka or Lisa Murkowski will win the Senate race, but it is not clear which one. And Alaska has an interesting new ranked voting system in place. Trump has been clearly, consistently and adamantly opposed to Murkowski; if she wins, it will be a clear repudiation for Trump by Alaskans. And Trump-endorsed Sarah Palin has a slight lead over fellow GOP candidate Nick Begich for the a House seat, Democrat Mary Peltola has a sizable lead over both of them.

In Michigan, Democrats swept the statewide offices. Gretchen Whitmer, one of the most authoritarian governors amidst the COVID pandemic, won handily over Trump-endorsed Tudor Dixon. Incumbent Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson defeated Trump-endorsed Kristin Karamo, who denies the legitimacy of the 2020 election, even more handily.

In New Hampshire, Karoline Leavitt lost her bid to unseat incumbent Chris Pappas. Leavitt’s website proclaims that she “worked tirelessly” to get a position in the Trump White House and she later served as Assistant Press Secretary to Kayleigh McEnany. After that she was Communications Director for Congresswoman and House Republican Conference Chair, Elise Stefanik. But she came up short. Trump also endorsed Donald Bolduc in the New Hampshire Senate race, but he came up a full 9 percentage points behind incumbent Maggie Hassan.

In Pennsylvania, Trump-picked Mehmet Oz lost the Senate race to John Fetterman. While it is true that Fetterman is the incumbent lieutenant governor, the fact that he defeated Trump’s guy is noteworthy. Trump received 48.58% and 48.84% of the vote in Pennsylvania in 2016 and 2020 respectively. Oz received 46.8%. Fetterman’s own website describes him this way: “John doesn’t look like a typical politician, and more importantly, he doesn’t act like one. He supported legalizing marijuana before it was popular, officiated a same-sex marriage before it was legal, and pushed for single payer healthcare long before it was mainstream.” He regularly appears in a black hoodie. He did put on a suit and tie for his one debate with Oz, but the tie was not cinched up all the way. Oh, and because of a stroke, Fetterman had the assistance of a closed captioning device for the debate. Still, his performance was rough—so rough that Axios called the reaction to the debate “brutal.” Last Thursday, a poll done by Emerson College and The Hill showed Oz leading Fetterman. And yet….

Donald Trump held a big shindig at Mar-a-Lago last night to watch the election results. Earlier in the day, he released what CNBC called “a four-page press advisory detailing how much he had done to help Republicans up and down the ballot.” During the evening, radio host Jason Miller said that Trump should get the credit for GOP victories because “he is the inspiration and he is the one who has recruited a number of the MAGA candidates to run…no one has been out working harder for the candidates, he is still the kingmaker when it comes to the primaries and he’s the one who can turn people out in the general election.”

Hmmm. Sadly, Trump is a credit hog but spurns any responsibility at all when things go poorly. To his credit, he at least acknowledges it. He said, in an interview with NewsNation that was shown yesterday, “Well, I think if they win, I should get all the credit. And if they lose, I should not be blamed at all. But it will probably be just the opposite.”

In a column posted at 3:30 a.m. today, David Siders wrote, “Trump’s place in the party is far weaker after Tuesday. Truth is, if not for the former president’s interventions, the night could have been a lot better for the GOP.” What does he mean by that? Consider…

In New Hampshire, Bolduc lost to Hassan, receiving 267,594 votes, while Chris Sununu, a Republican not endorsed by Trump, won re-election to the governor’s office with 341,907 votes. In Georgia, Herschel Walker received 1,906,246 votes while Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican not endorsed by Trump (in fact, Trump endorsed someone to run against Kemp in the primary) received 2,109,105 votes. In Ohio, where Trump-endorsed J.D. Vance did prevail in his senate race against Tim Ryan, Vance received 2,147,898 votes, while Mike DeWine, the incumbent Republican governor, won re-election with 2,528,018 votes. In Vermont, Republican governor Phil Scott won re-election, receiving 201,316 votes. He was not endorsed by Trump. Gerald Malloy was endorsed by Trump for the Senate, but he garnered only 80,330 votes, losing badly to Peter Welch. In Maryland, Larry Hogan is the incumbent. He is term-limited and cannot run again, but he won with 51% of the vote in 2014 and with 55% of the vote in 2018. In 2018 he became the second Republican ever to be re-elected governor in Maryland, receiving the most votes of any governor in Maryland history in so doing. For 2022, he endorsed Kelly Shulz. Given his track record, you would think Republicans would pay attention. But Hogan is not a Trump lapdog, and Trump instead endorsed state delegate Dan Cox. Hogan refused to support Cox, calling him a “QAnon whack job.” How did that work out for the Republicans? Cox lost in a landslide, picking up only 37% of the vote, while Wes Moore, who has never before held political office, collected just shy of 60%. In Arizona, which has not yet been called, Trump tapped Kari Lake, who won the GOP primary over Karrin Taylor Robson. At the moment Lake is trailing Democrat Katie Hobbs. Chuck Coughlin, a GOP strategist in Phoenix, said, “I mean, come on. This should be a walk in the park for Republicans … If Karrin Taylor Robson was the [gubernatorial] nominee, it would be an a**-kicking this cycle.”

Kevin McCarthy is in line to become the Speaker of the House if the Republicans do, in fact, gain the majority. But if they do, it will be with a much smaller majority than McCarthy previously predicted. In fact, a year ago he suggested a 60-seat gain for the GOP. There are 46 House races that have not yet been called, and the Republicans only need to win 12 of those to take the majority, so it seems that that will happen. But even if they won all 46 of those races—which will not happen—they would not pick up the 60 seats McCarthy predicted last year.

It’s time for a reality check. Any efforts to truly make America great again will not involve Donald Trump. The sooner the Republican party realizes that the better.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

It’s Time to Grow Up

Jose Bautista flipping his bat in Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS

I have been a baseball fan since I was nine years old. Because my father was, and now my son is, a fan of most every sport, I have been exposed to sports my entire life. In high school, I would faithfully watch SportsCenter every morning between completing my paper route and going to school. And I am not naïve enough to think that poor behavior by athletes and fans alike is a new thing. But really, it is time for athletes and fans alike to grow up and demonstrate some maturity.

Athletes—you are playing a game. Sure, you should play to win. And yes, professional athletes, and now even some college athletes, are profiting mightily for playing. But if anything, that should increase the respect you have for the game. Let’s take baseball. Excitement is fine, but if you’re in the Major Leagues, act like you belong there. As a lifelong fan of another club in the AL East, I had hoped that the Guardians would beat the Yankees, but the Guardians certainly have a couple of players who did not impress me with their antics at the end of the Wild Card series. Oscar Gonzalez hit a walk off solo shot in the 15th inning on October 8. He then thought it would be a good idea to slowly take a few steps while watching it sail over the wall before flipping his bat. That’s really never a good idea, but Gonzalez, a rookie, hit it off of Corey Kluber, who has more career wins than Gonzalez has hits. Kluber has two Cy Young awards and was in the top ten for Cy Young voting five years in a row. Show some respect. (To make matters worse, Kluber did that while pitching for the Cleveland ballclub, then called the Indians).

After the game, Austin Hedges, a catcher who has managed a .189 batting average and a negative WAR in eight years in the Big Leagues, thought it would be a good idea to strip off his uniform and shirt on field to celebrate the win. Real mature. I don’t care what the sport is, or how excited you may be, there is neither reason nor valid excuse to remove your clothes in celebration.

Sadly, has a list ranking the greatest bat flips of all time, a list that begins by calling the bat flip “an art form.” With one exception, every one of the top ten came in 2007 or later. All ten of the “best of the rest” came in 2001 or later. What was the exception? In Game 4 of the 1987 World Series, Tom Lawless of the Cardinals hit a three-run homer off of Frank Viola of the Twins at the Metrodome, giving the Cardinals a 4-1 lead in the game. It was in the 4th inning, by no means a guaranteed game winner (though it did prove to be, as the Cardinals won the game 7-2). Lawless behaved almost identically to the way Gonzalez did earlier this month. And it was just as pitiful. That homer was the first Lawless had hit in more than three years. He would only hit two regular season home runs in his entire Major League career—which spanned eight seasons, but had Lawless playing in just over the equivalent of two seasons’ worth of games. The three RBIs that home run produced exceeded his season RBI totals for six of the eight seasons Lawless played. Reflecting on the homer thirty years later, Lawless said, “I don’t have any idea why I did it.” Not saying it’s okay that he did it, but I am inclined to agree with him; he was probably as surprised as anyone that he had hit a homerun.

In the same interview in which he said he did not know why he did it, which was a discussion with the Cardinals broadcasters during a game, he was asked, “Are you the original bat flip guy?” Lawless responded, “No. Reggie Jackson had to do it before I did, didn’t he?” But he and the Cardinals broadcasters then agreed then Jackson had never done it in that way or in such a big moment.

So why was the “original bat flip” in 1987…and why were they uncommon until more than twenty years later? I will suggest two reasons. One, a higher respect for the game in the previous century. Two, an exponentially higher likelihood in the last century that someone flipping their bat would have gotten a fastball in their ear or, at the very least, their ribcage the next time they came up to bat.  No one who has paid attention to baseball over the years has to wonder what would have happened had someone flipped their bat after hitting a home run off of Bob Gibson, Sal Maglie or Don Drysdale, for example?

I have to agree with James Simmons, who wrote the following in 2020:

Essentially a batter who hits a home run and flips his bat is doing to the pitcher what Roberto Alomar used to do to umpires. This is the definition of showing a pitcher up, is it not? And as a society we have glamorized it to the point it is done way too often. Not only is it disrespectful to the pitcher, but the act is also desecrating to the game itself.

Later, in the same column, Simmons said, “I’ve never seen a list of baseball’s unwritten rules, though surely this is within the first few pages. You do not show up another player.” Exactly.

Of course, sports fans sometimes act like fools, as well. I have never understood the rioting and mayhem that results seemingly anytime a team wins a championship. And this isn’t exactly new; many consider the worst such riot to have occurred in 1984 when the Detroit Tigers defeated the San Diego Padres to win the World Series. Police had to escort the Padres because of the chaos.

But sometimes fans don’t even leave the stadium before the idiocy begins. Last Saturday, for example, the fans at the University of Tennessee swarmed the filed after the Volunteers beat Alabama. A story on reported,

The north end zone goalpost at Neyland Stadium cracked near the base and toppled down Saturday as Tennessee football fans swung from it.

The crossbar and uprights were carried across the field and into the stands by a giddy gaggle of Vols fans…. They reached the concourse level before police stopped the procession and guarded the remnant of the goalpost in the southeast stands.

A story in The Tennessean reported that those goalposts had stood since 1998, when fans destroyed them after the Volunteers went 13-0 and won the national title. Said the report: “Those goalposts ended up in the Tennessee River. So did the uprights from the south goalpost Saturday, one remaining in it and the other fished out and taken to a fraternity house to be sawed into pieces.”

The same story reported that the estimated cost of new goalposts would be between $10,000 and $20,000 before installation. In Tennessee, destruction of property falls under vandalism but, for the record, that makes the destruction of the uprights a Class C felony in Tennessee, punishable by a term of imprisonment of three to 15 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.  Further, those who took the uprights out of the stadium would be guilty of Class C felony theft, also punishable by a term of imprisonment of three to 15 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Of course, this does not take into consideration damage to the field itself.

Perhaps even more egregious than the childish and destructive behavior of the fans is the cavalier attitude toward it. UT’s coach, Josh Heupel, responded to the fans’ behavior by saying, “If need be, I will pay for them to make sure that they’re up on Saturday. But I think they’ve got a plan to have a couple of them ready to roll when we get to Saturday.” Really? Pay for it yourself? How about something like, “I hope the fans’ actions do not prohibit us from being able to play our next home game. As much as I appreciate their enthusiasm, tearing down the uprights is unnecessary—and dangerous. I appeal to all UT fans in saying, ‘please don’t do that again.’”

Heupel was not alone in minimizing the destruction, though. The president of the University of Tennessee, Randy Boyd, said, when asked about the cost of the damage done by the fans, “It doesn’t matter. We’ll do this every year.” But then money means little to Boyd, since he is a millionaire several times over. He returned his salary to the state when he was commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and he takes no salary as the president of UT.

Of course, the expense goes well beyond repairing the field and replacing the uprights. UT was fined $100,000 for violating the SEC’s policy about access to competition areas. Should it happen again, the fine goes up to $250,000.

I commend the University of Tennessee putting out an appeal to ask fans to pay for the destroyed and stolen uprights, but even that appeal was lighthearted and failed to condemn the fans’ actions. Specifically, Tennessee Football tweeted, “Y’all remember how we tore the goalposts down, hauled em out of Neyland and dumped em in the Tennessee River? Yeah that was awesome. Anywho, turns out that in order to play next week’s game, we need goalposts on our field. Could y’all help us out?” Not only that, but the response has been overwhelming; as of yesterday, more than $150,000 had been donated. The response of the school’s Associate Athletics Director of Communications gives an idea of how expensive installation and other repairs will be, though—despite raising about eight times the projected cost of the goalposts, he said that excess funds will be given to other UT varsity athletic programs if there is any left over.

Not that UT really needs help paying the bill; one report indicates their operating revenue for 2021-22was $2.7 billion. Yes, billion. But that’s a completely different subject for a different time.

Players, grow up. Show respect for the games you play and for the players you play against.

Fans, grow up. Celebrate your team’s victory in a mature and responsible manner.

Coaches, owners and league officials, step up. Enforce meaningful consequences for stupid behavior by players and fans alike. In the case of antics like those at UT last Saturday, prosecute them. A fan who runs onto the field during a game would be arrested. Don’t let a victory make that behavior suddenly okay.

It’s time to grow up.

Photo credit: Jason Swaby/Flickr

The Final Nail?

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC in 2011

The Republican party—or at least a significant, influential and very vocal part of those who claim to be the Republican party—have been drinking the Trump-provided MAGA Koolaid for years now, including the almost-two years since Donald Trump failed to win reelection. Any Republican who dares to cross Trump does so at his or her own risk, as has been seen, most notably, by Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who not only spoke out against Trump and called for his impeachment, but served on the January 6 Committee (officially, the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol).

As one would expect from Mr. Trump, he has since made Cheney a target of his adolescent name calling, saying that she is a “warmongering fool” (April 2021) and a “despicable human being” (July 2022) among other things. When she lost her primary race against Trump-backed Harriet Hageman, Trump said Cheney “can finally disappear into the depths of political oblivion” (August 2022). Last weekend, Cheney made headlines when she said at an event in Texas that if Trump wins the GOP’s nomination in 2024, “I won’t be a Republican.” And I have to say, I do not think that Cheney is alone in that. She may be the only one, or one of the only ones, saying that out loud right now, but there are very good reasons to be extremely concerned about both Donald Trump’s possible nomination and about many of the candidates that he has been endorsing over the past year.

And he has been endorsing like crazy, issuing more than two hundred endorsements in campaigns for House, Senate and executive offices at the state level. The Washington Examiner said that Trump was embracing the role of kingmaker, but NPR said that while Trump-endorsed candidates did have an overwhelmingly winning record, three-fourths of them were likely to win anyway, with many of them running unopposed in their primaries. That is an important observation, because, as of the beginning of September, while 99% of Trump-endorsed incumbents won and 91% of Trump-endorsed candidates in open races won, only 40% of Trump-endorsed challengers won their races (4 out of 10)—and none of the four Trump-endorsed candidates for state executive office won their races. It is also important to note that some of the Trump-endorsed candidates who won likely would have won without that endorsement—or did, in the cases of J.R. Majewski, an Ohio candidate endorsed by Trump thirty days after he won the primary; Katie Britt, an Alabama Senate candidate endorsed by Trump 17 days after the primary (and after Trump had retracted his endorsement from Mo Brooks, who urged Trump to move past his claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent); and Markwayne Mullin, an Oklahoma Senate candidate Trump endorsed 11 days after he won the primary. Trump’s chosen candidates faired particularly poorly in Georgia—especially David Perdue, whom Trump tapped to take on Gov. Brian Kemp, whom Trump is known to loathe, but who was defeated by Kemp 74% to 22%. Trump-endorsed Morgan Ortagus, who was Trump’s State Department spokesperson and who moved to Tennessee last year and intended to run for the House in Tennessee’s 5th District, was removed from the ballot by the Tennessee Republican Party after its Executive Committee ruled that Ortagus (and two others) failed to meet the requirements of being a bona-fide Republican according to the party’s bylaws.

Of the candidates Trump endorsed, 58 of them had his endorsement for less than a week, including 13 who received his endorsement the day before their win and six who received it the day of their election. In those cases for sure it looks much more like Trump wanting to attach his name to a winner than it does that his endorsement had any impact on the outcome. There were a dozen or so candidates who carried Trump’s endorsement for more than 400 days, including his former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is running for governor in Arkansas. One of those candidates was Madison Cawthorn, who was defeated in his re-election bid, and one was Jody Hice, candidate for Georgia Secretary of State who was defeated by the incumbent Brad Raffensberger—he of the infamous phone call with Trump.

Side note – Trump has also endorsed Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is not expected to win reelection, though he is advancing to the runoff.

All of this is essentially a recap; what’s the point? Why would I start this post clearly implying that Trump’s endorsements are not a positive thing for the Republican party (or the country)? Well, the same reason why Eric Lutz said that the Republican party has nominated “a bunch of bozos” (August 2022). I am no fan of Mitch McConnell, but he is a wily political operative, and he has seen the handwriting on the wall. He told a Kentucky group in mid-August, “I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate. Senate races are just different. Candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.” Unspoken but still crystal clear: many Republican Senate candidates are not high quality.

Why would McConnell, who stands to regain his position as Majority Leader if the Republicans do retake the Senate, say such a thing? Well, because it’s true. And, whatever else he may be, he is pragmatic. (Which is why he also, just recently, showered praise on Arizona Democratic senator Kyrsten Sinema at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville. McConnell called Sinema, who has riled her Democratic colleagues by protecting the filibuster and pursuing a moderate course, “the most effective first-term senator I’ve seen.”)

So, what about the Republican candidates? Well, here’s a look at just a few of them…

Mehmet Oz, the celebrity doctor who became famous in no small part thanks to Oprah, is running for Senate from Pennsylvania. He shot a pretty horrible video in April in which he claimed to be shopping for elements of a “crudité,” which is a French appetizer consisting basically of raw vegetables and a dip. Nothing wrong with that per se, setting aside the fact that very few people use the word crudité, and his use of it did not help Oz in his effort to be relatable. He also mispronounced the name of the store where he was shopping, picked up salsa for the crudité, which I am pretty sure no one else does, and then, after lamenting the price of his veggies and salsa, added, “And that doesn’t include the tequila.” Again, I don’t know of anyone who commonly pairs tequila with veggie platters. To make matters worse, when attention was brought to the cringeworthy video, the Oz campaign fired back at Oz’s opponent, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, by saying, “If John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a major stroke and wouldn’t be in the position of having to lie about it constantly.” Elsewhere, Oz asserted that he owns two homes, when it was later revealed that he in fact owns ten. The bottom line is that Oz fits the Trump mold—he became popular through TV, because he has been as much an entertainer as a doctor he has said a lot of things he probably now regrets, he has more money than he needs, and he really has no business serving in elected office.

Kelly Tshibaka is the Trump-endorsed opponent of Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski. A video of her talking about speaking in tongues and God finding itso cute that the only person in the world who can understand me is him” raised some eyebrows among Alaska voters, but Tshibaka is certainly not the only person who believes in speaking in tongues—and that belief is consistent with her position as co-pastor, along with her husband, of Foursquare churches. Perhaps more concerning than that would be her claim in 2015 that God has told her, “I’ve made you a Deborah. I’ve made you a mother to a nation.”

J.D. Vance is the Trump endorsed candidate for Senate from Ohio. Vance is a political newcomer; he has no previous political experience at all, at any level. He is a former Marine and a venture capitalist who wrote the New York Times bestseller Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, which also became a Netflix film directed by Ron Howard. TIME called the book one of six books to read to help understand Donald Trump’s election to the presidency. And Vance once called himself a “never-Trump guy.” But none of that means that he is a viable candidate for the Senate. In May, Axios said that if he wins the election, Vance will be “arguably the hardest-edged populist nationalist in the Senate GOP.” That’s quite a statement. A July 2021 article in The Atlantic was entitled “The Moral Collapse of J.D. Vance,” with a subtitle calling him “a contemptible and cringe-inducing clown.” But none of that necessarily means he is not a good candidate for the Senate. But last month many GOP leaders in Ohio were questioning where Vance was and how effective—or not—his campaign had been. CNN quoted one Ohio Republican saying that Vance was “like the dog who caught the car,” that he did not know what to do after he won the primary election. A Cincinnati-area radio talk show host said that winning the general election would be easier if one of Vance’s primary opponents had won—and that if Vance does not win, “it’s his own damn fault. Worse than that, in an August column on, Brent Larkin called Vance’s campaign “a stain on the GOP,” writing that Vance “has awful political instincts, not an ounce of class and a tendency to embrace views parroted by political maggots he considers friends.” What’s most troubling of all, though, is some of the things that Vance has said himself. In May 2021, on The Federalist Radio Hour, he said, “We really need to be really ruthless when it comes to the exercise of power.” In September 2021, on the podcast of Jack Murphy, Vance said, “We need like a de-Baathification program, a de-woke-ification program,” and that is Trump wins the presidency in 2024, he should “fire every single midlevel bureaucrat, every civil servant in the administrative state, replace them with our people. And when the courts stop you, stand before the country, and say—quoting Andrew Jackson—‘the chief justice has made his ruling. Now let him enforce it.’” Last October he tweeted that Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a “fake holiday created to sow division.” In February, talking to Steve Bannon, he said, “I gotta be honest with you, I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another.” There is definitely a question of “candidate quality” here.

Herschel Walker is a familiar name to football fans, especially in Georgia, where he won the Heisman while playing for the University of Georgia. He is also a friend of Donald Trump and was endorsed by Trump for the Senate to defeat incumbent Rafael Warnock. Like Trump, Walker has a spotty record when it comes to his relationships with women, his business dealings and his ability to tell the truth. He claims to have been in law enforcement, including working for the FBI, neither of which is true (though he evidently did spend a week in training at Quantico). In May Walker told an Atlanta radio station that he had never heard Donald Trump claim that the 2020 election was stolen. If that’s true, he’s the only person in the country who can make the claim. Walker acknowledged in his 2008 book Breaking Free that he has struggled with dissociative identity disorder, claiming to have twelve alternate personalities. There is a lengthy list of allegations against Walker pertaining to violence and domestic abuse, and he has admitted holding a gun to the head of his ex-wife. Twenty years ago he was accused of stalking a woman who has been identified as a former Cowboys cheerleader. He supposedly talked about having a shootout with the police in 2001. Now, just days ago, a woman who has a son with Walker has claimed that Walker both encouraged her to abort that pregnancy in 2011 and paid for her to have an abortion in 2009. Walker has denied that he paid for an abortion, saying in a statement, “I deny this in the strongest possible terms.” I obviously do not know if that happened or not, but it is troubling—and does not, sadly, seem implausible given Walker’s record and the things he has admitted to doing. Also sad is the response of some Republican leaders. Ralph Reed, who founded the Christian Coalition and later the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said last week that reports of Walker paying for an abortion are “unlikely to resonate with voters in Georgia. It’s based on an anonymous allegation that is 13 years old.” Being translated, that means, “We’re not letting anything stand in the way of retaking the Senate.” Many prominent Republicans have been supporting Walker, including Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina and Ambassador to the U.N., who is considered a possible candidate for the GOP nomination in 2024. Senators Rick Scott, Tom Cotton and Lindsey Graham have expressed support, as has RNC chair Ronna McDaniel. Pitifully, Dana Loesch, a conservative radio host, said, “What I’m about to say is in no means a contradiction or a compromise of a principle. And please keep in mind that I am concerned about one thing, and one thing only at this point. I don’t care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles. I want control of the Senate.” is calling the Georgia race a toss-up, but projecting Warnock to win. Oz is projected to lose in Pennsylvania. Ohio is leaning Republican. Alaska is considered solid Republican, but it is unclear if Tshibaka or Murkowksi will be the winner. I didn’t talk about Trump protégé Blake Masters here, but he is projected to lose decidedly in Arizona. Leora Levy doesn’t seem to have a chance in Connecticut. Nevada is a toss-up but seems to be leaning slightly to incumbent Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto.

Bottom line: if I had to make a prediction one way or the other, I would not pick the Republicans to take control of the Senate. And to be honest, there’s really no excuse for that. With the current president’s issues and the state of the economy, it should have been a no-brainer to say that the Republicans would take control. The American Presidency Project posted in August that “In the 22 midterm elections from 1934 -2018, the President’s party has averaged a loss of…four Senate seats.” Furthermore, based on historical trends, the site said, “we would expect Democratic seat losses of around 30 in the House and 3 in the Senate.” The president’s party has only gained seats in the Senate six times since 1934, and it has not gained more than two Senate seats since 1934. If the Democrats gain three or more seats in the Senate—which I am not necessarily predicting, but also would not rule out—they would do something that neither party has managed to do since the first midterm election following Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first election to the presidency. If that happens, I hope it it’s the final nail in Donald Trump’s political coffin.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

What Should We Do With Columbus Day?

Statue of Christopher Columbus, formerly at the corner of Elmwood Ave and Reservoir Ave in Providence, RI, removed by the city in 2020. This statue is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today is Columbus Day according to the calendar. It is also Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Two years ago, Robert Reich tweeted, “Today is Indigenous Peoples Day. Please remove Columbus Day from your vocabulary. May this year be the last we even have to make that distinction.” Well, that obviously has not happened. On Friday, President Biden issued a proclamation declaring October 10, 2022, to be Columbus Day—but he also issued a proclamation declaring today to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day, making it only the second time that Indigenous Peoples’ Day has been designated as a national holiday, though it has been recognized as a holiday in South Dakota since 1989.

In the first proclamation he directed “that the flag of the United States be displayed on all public buildings on the appointed day in honor of our diverse history and all who have contributed to shaping this Nation” and in the second he called upon the people to “observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities. I also direct that the flag of the United States be displayed on all public buildings on the appointed day in honor of our diverse history and the Indigenous peoples who contribute to shaping this Nation.”

One could certainly argue that both of these celebrations have merit. Of course, it would be quite possible to celebrate them on different days. Tennessee and California, for example, have Native American Day in September. Planning Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the same day as—and it would actually be the preference of many for it to take the place of—Columbus Day, however, is not by mistake. It was at a 1977 UN conference on discrimination that an Indigenous Peoples’ Day was first discussed, and in 1990, at the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, again sponsored by the United Nations, replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day was suggested. Columbus Day has been a federal holiday since 1937.

In order to grasp the reasons for possibly replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day it is necessary to evaluate the reasons for Columbus Day. By every indication, there are two. The first reason is to celebrate Columbus’s accomplishments, specifically, his “discovery” of the New World vis-à-vis his arrival in what we today know as the Bahamas and Cuba in October of 1492. Columbus never set foot on mainland North America, though, so that creates a bit of argument against the commemoration. Why not celebrate Leif Eriksson Day? After all, he beat Columbus to the New World by some 500 years—and he actually landed on North America. Well, there actually is a Leif Eriksson Day; it is October 9, and was first so proclaimed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Obviously, though, it doesn’t get much attention and I would guess you have never seen it on a calendar.

Again, it was Columbus’s “discovery” that led to European exploration of the western hemisphere, but it was probably Juan Ponce de León who was the first explorer after Columbus to set foot on the North American continent. He landed, in 1513, on the coast of what today is known as Florida; in fact, he named it La Florida. The oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the continental United States is St. Augustine, Florida, founded in 1565 by Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. The first attempted English settlement in North America was the Roanoke Island colony, founded by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1585. That colony famously disappeared. The first permanent English colony was founded at Jamestown in the early 17th century by the Virginia Company. So why isn’t there a Juan Ponce de León Day? Or a Pedro Menéndez de Avilés Day? A Sir Walter Raleigh Day? A Virginia Company Day? All valid questions. Seemingly they would each have claims at least as good as any that Columbus might make. Columbus, after all, “discovered” the New World by accident. He rightly believed the earth to be round, but he had no idea that North and South America existed and he mistakenly believed that he was in the Indies when we arrived.

The second reason for Columbus Day is to celebrate Italian heritage. Italian immigrants were facing some significant persecution in the U.S. in the early 20th century, so this holiday was seen as a possible way to counter some of that. But that ignores the fact that while Columbus was Italian by birth, having been born in Genoa, he was sailing for Spain when he “discovered” the New World. asserts that when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a national holiday, he did so “largely as a result of intense lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, an influential Catholic fraternal organization,” meaning that the celebration was as much for Columbus’s Catholic faith as for his nationality.

Scott Stevens, who serves as the director of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Program at Syracuse University, told USA Today that he sees Indigenous Peoples’ Day “as an opportunity to have more critical discussion about our American history.” I, for one, would find it difficult to argue against having such a discussion. A thorough and accurate understanding of history is important. However, Stevens also said, “To have had American colonialism looked at throughout history as not being a problem and celebrated as a good thing is deeply problematic to any of us who live in a (Native-American) community or reservation.” But that’s a more complicated issue. Looking back with twenty-first century eyes, it is easy to say that colonialism was a problem or was not a good thing. But in the 15th and 16th centuries it was both normal and accepted. It is neither realistic nor appropriate to hold our ancestors to the same standards that we hold today. After all, there would also be plenty of things that Native American peoples did at that time that we would not approve of today, either. And we must not allow ourselves to forget that there was plenty of warfare and conquest among the indigenous people groups already in the Western Hemisphere when Columbus arrived. While it does not excuse the way they were treated by Europeans, the Native American peoples who were already in the Americas were not always peace-loving peoples. An article entitled “Warfare on Pre-Columbian North America” on the website of the Canadian Department of National Defence says,

Despite the myth that Aboriginals lived in happy harmony before the arrival of Europeans, war was central to the way of life of many First Nation cultures. Indeed, war was a persistent reality in all regions though, as Tom Holm has argued, it waxed in intensity, frequency and decisiveness. The causes were complex and often interrelated, springing from both individual and collective motivations and needs.

What’s more, the same article explains that while many have tried to claim that Europeans introduced to Native Americans the practice of scalping, that is not actually the case—though Europeans were by no means above promoting it among the tribes with which they allied themselves.

Some aspects of indigenous warfare shocked the European settlers. For example, the custom of scalping the enemy, which consisted in removing his hair by cutting off his scalp, scandalized many European observers. While some scholars have suggested that the Europeans themselves during first contact introduced this practice, it now appears certain that scalping existed well before colonization.

The article also states that the torture of prisoners was not uncommon among indigenous peoples, nor was the practice of giving captured women and/or young boys to the families of those who had lost a family member in warfare. While “giving” sounds nicer, and this was certainly better than torture or death, this was really just a form of slavery.

So, while I do not say this very often, I agree with what President Biden said last year: “We also acknowledge the painful history of wrongs and atrocities that many European explorers inflicted on tribal nations and Indigenous communities.” We should acknowledge that and teach history realistically. We also, though, must not allow for an inaccurate portrayal that makes it seem like bad things were only perpetrated by the Europeans.

According to, Indigenous Peoples’ Day “honors the histories, cultures, and perspectives of Indigenous peoples and their ancestors who lived on the land now known as North America. They existed in these areas thousands of years before the first European explorers arrived.” I have no problem with that, and I think Indigenous Peoples and their “histories, cultures, and perspectives” should be acknowledged, studied and even celebrated just as should any other culture that is part of what makes America. To be frank, I think Indigenous Peoples’ Day has a stronger claim to celebration than does Columbus Day.

Why? Well, as I have already said, Columbus never even set foot on the continent of North America. But more importantly is the fact that Columbus used his own desire for fame and fortune, and his desire to “convert” the indigenous peoples to Catholicism, as an excuse for horrific treatment of them. David Barton’s WallBuilders organization claims, in a post entitled “Celebrate Columbus Day!” that “It is especially because of Columbus’ religious motivations and convictions that today he has become a villain for most modern educators and writers, who regularly attack and condemn him.” I disagree with that completely. It is because of his enslavement of the indigenous peoples that Columbus is regularly attacked and condemned—and his motive for that enslavement is of little consequence. But if it was, I would be the first in line to say that Columbus’s methods of “converting” the indigenous peoples to Catholicism was no better than the tactics currently utilized by the Taliban and other similar groups. “Convert or die” can never be celebrated.

On another page of its website, entitled “Discovering Columbus,” WallBuilders has created what it calls “the port of departure for people who want to explore past and find the truth about Columbus.” One of the “modern lies” the page identifies is that Columbus sought gold so that he could get rich. The truth, WallBuilders claims, is that Columbus sought gold both for evangelism and to lead a crusade to retake Jerusalem from the Muslims—that Columbus “put God over gold.” That’s quite a stretch. While it is true that Columbus pointed to a desire to convert those in the Far East to Catholicism as one of his motives, one could argue just as easily, if not more easily, that he did so through an effort to get Ferdinand and Isabella to pay for his voyage and/or to increase his own standing in the Catholic church than through any pure motivation related to the souls of those unconverted peoples. After all, Columbus had some serious demands for Ferdinand and Isabella, as well, demands designed to ensure both wealth and titles for himself and his descendants. In his 1494 letter to Ferdinand and Isabella, Columbus did suggest that a portion of all gold found on the “Island of Espanola” should “be set aside for building churches and adorning the same, and for the support of the priests or friars belonging to them.” How much? A whopping one percent. Depending on the agreement you look at, Columbus expected to receive anywhere from one-tenth to one-eighth of all of the gold for himself. In his book Columbus: The Four Voyages, Laurence Bergreen describes the tribute system that Columbus and his brothers established that required “every Indian over the age of fourteen” to pay “the equivalent of a hawk’s bell filled with gold” and had to do so “on pain of death.” Since the area was not rich in gold, what was there was soon depleted, and the result was that the tribute system “obliterated any chance that the Indians would assist or cooperate with the Spanish in any other endeavor besides the pointless tributes of gold.” Even when Guarionex, one of the chiefs of the indigenous people, “argues that the land used to provide a minimal amount of gold could grow enough wheat to feed all of Spain, not just once, but ten times…Columbus refused to consider the idea.”

On Kenneth Copeland’s “Believers Voice of Victory” program in 2020, David Barton delivered a lecture entitled “The Truth About Christopher Columbus.” You can find it on YouTube if you want to watch it but I can give you the short version: Barton does what he always does, which is handpick quotes, anecdotes and sources, talk really fast and present himself as the bastion of truth in order to make the audience believe that anyone who disagrees with him is a fool. He cites Washington Irving’s multivolume A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus as a definitive source for the truth about Columbus. The problem with that is simple—it is a work almost universally recognized as part truth and part fiction, or at best creative license. Many consider it to be more of a historical novel than any kind of accurate history. In 1956, William Hedges, who spent much of his career as an English professor and, and eventually as the chair of American studies, at Goucher College, wrote an article published in The America’s entitled “Irving’s Columbus: The Problem of Romantic Biography.” He kindly notes that Irving’s work is “not so much falsification as the reflection of a certain point of view,” ending his article with this statement: “One is thus at least consistent in calling Irving’s Columbus a history which finally manages to transform itself into fiction.” Thus, with respect to Mr. Barton, not a source upon which we should be depending for our understanding of Christopher Columbus.

So, what should we do with Columbus Day? I do not personally see any need to observe it. Columbus never set foot on what is today the United States and to use him as the symbol of the influence of Italians on American culture seems a stretch at best. I think there are many other individuals with Italian ancestry who would be better candidates. As a historical figure, he was certainly influential, but his “discovery” of the New World was an accident; how much credit should he get for that? It seems that the negative outweighs the positive when it comes to Columbus, even when setting presentism aside. Columbus should surely be studied in history classes, but I don’t think he needs a national holiday. I am not advocating that all of the many statues of Columbus need to be torn down or all of the cities named after him need new monikers; I just don’t think he needs a federal holiday. Bartolomé de las Casas would seem a better candidate, really. Indigenous Peoples’ Day has a stronger case for a holiday than Columbus, but I think Native American Heritage Month (which is in November) is sufficient in that regard. Maybe on the second Monday in October we should all just go to work and school.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

A Booze-Soaked View of the World

Thomas Rhett at Merriweather in 2021

Yesterday someone mentioned to me that a relative had been unable to get a hotel room in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Saturday night because “some country singer was in town.” Who was the singer, I wondered? Turns out it was Thomas Rhett. But I had never heard of Thomas Rhett, so I was curious. After all, the venue at which he appeared can  accommodate 12,000 people for a concert, so who is this guy?

Well, his full name is Thomas Rhett Akins Jr., he is the son of country singer Rhett Akins and he has released six records. (I guess by now you can tell I don’t pay much attention to country music). But I wanted to know more. Why would every hotel room in the city that is home to slightly more than one-fifth of South Dakota’s entire population be booked for this concert?

Beyond the fact that he is obviously a popular act on the country circuit I don’t think I have found the answer to that question. But I have found out enough about Rhett’s music to know that it is disappointing that he is so popular.

What do I mean by that?

That his current tour is titled the “Bring the Bar to You Tour” was my first clue that alcohol is clearly an important part of his persona. His website includes a link to the site for Dos Primos Tequila (which you actually have to enter your birthdate to access), a tequila that Rhett and his cousin “dreamed up” in order “to create a tequila that blended Mexican tradition with southern sensibility.” VIP tickets for Rhett’s current tour include “dedicated cash bar service throughout the show” when the concert is in an arena, one drink ticket and a tasting experience of Dos Primos Tequila where permitted.

Skimming through the lyrics of Rhett’s songs makes it clear that both alcohol and sex play a prominent role in his writing. When I googled Thomas Rhett, I was helpfully provided with a link to a list of his top 20 songs on the website Taste of Country. Here’s what I found:

  • Number 1 is “Die a Happy Man,” which references how happy “last night” made him, between the bottle of wine, the look in her eyes and dancing in the rain. The second stanza says, “that that red dress brings me to my knees/ Oh, but that black dress makes it hard to breathe” before calling her “a saint, you’re a goddess, the cutest, the hottest, a masterpiece.” The good news is, Rhett (along with some help) wrote this song for, and about, his wife.
  • Number 2 is “Life Changes” which is a song about changes Rhett has experienced in life, including becoming a successful singer, getting married, adopting a child and then his wife getting pregnant. Nice enough song and nothing at all objectionable. With a few exceptions, that’s about where the good news ends, sadly.
  • Number 3 is “Marry Me,” which starts out okay—saying “she” wants to get married, she wants her grandfather to do the service and she wants to keep it small so as to save her father some money. But then we find out that the guy singing the song is not the guy she wants to marry, so he will have to take “a strong shot of whiskey straight out the flask” in order to get through the wedding. This could be an okay song—yet another song about the guy who misses out on the love of his life, songs that can be found in numerous genres. But the line about whiskey, and the implication that liquor can help someone get through life’s hard times is a sign of a recurring theme in Rhett’s songs.
  • Number 4 is “Death Row.” Could have been good. Includes the lines, “How Jesus is the ticket/And narrow is the road/About how all we need’s forgiveness/’Fore we see them streets of gold.” Near the end, the song says, “I can’t say that he’s in Heaven, who am I to judge his soul?/But Jesus don’t play favorites, ain’t a name that He don’t know.” It is true that Jesus doesn’t “play favorites” and someone on death row could go to heaven—but it would have been nice if the conclusion had made clear that doing so depends on that needed forgiveness.
  • Number 6 is “Unforgettable.” There are other songs by that title and there are other songs with the same storyline as this one—a memorable first meeting with a beautiful girl. The problem is, the guy in this one who is remembering that meeting says, “I was drunk, said I was sober.”
  • Number 7 is “Look What God Gave Her,” a song that one could quibble about in parts but that is mostly about seeing a beautiful woman.
  • Number 8 is “T-shirt.” Somehow, remarkably, it doesn’t mention alcohol, but it is a song about making out. Heavily. With very little left to the imagination.
  • Number 9 is called “Beer with Jesus.” The idea behind the song has merit—imagine being able to have a conversation with Jesus, hanging out with Him one on one, asking things like how to turn the other cheek and what happens when earthly life comes to an end. The problem is, this song has all of that taking place over a few rounds of beers.
  • Number 10, “Star of the Show,” is an ode to Rhett’s wife and is basically a song about how good looking she is, no matter where or when or in what. Fairly typical country fare, but it does still manage to include a reference to ordering a drink.
  • “Ya Heard,” which is Number 11, is a song about all of the prayers Rhett has seen answered—being married to his wife, having a successful singing career, having children. The only real issue I have with this song is that it clearly implies that we know God hears our prayers when we get what we prayed for, and that is certainly not accurate.
  • Number 12 is “Be a Light.” This is an inspirational song that encourages listeners to make difference in the world. This is a good song that could, with a more clearly stated message be a great song. What is it missing? The reason for being a light—and the source of the ability to do it.
  • Rhett’s Number 13 song is a duet with his father entitled “Drink a Little Beer.” The title is pretty self-explanatory; the song is all about unwinding and having a good time with friends while drinking. The lyrics include “a Yeti full of iced-down booze” and “a jar full of lightning juice.” To be honest, I am not certain what “lightning juice” is, but I feel certain it is alcoholic. The moral of the song? The recipe for fun is beer, music and girls.
  • “To the Guys That Date My Girls” is the Number 14 song. It is a quintessential tale of a dad threatening the guy who shows up to date his daughter. Interestingly enough the song includes a warning about the need for the guy to mind his manners around the mom but makes no real reference to minding manners around the daughter. The only real instruction, other than showing up early and getting home on time, comes immediately after a tacit acknowledgement that sex is on the guy’s mind, and says “But when you pull her close/just save some room for Jesus/’Cause if you ever cross that line/I swear, boy, you’re gonna need him.” Here’s hoping that most fathers give a bit more meaningful instruction.
  • Number 15 is “It Goes Like This.” Fairly typical country song about a boy meeting a girl, and there is no mention of booze, but the song clearly implies that the very first meeting goes well beyond a hello and a conversation.
  • “Craving You,” at Number 16, is a duet with Maren Morris, another singer I’ve never heard of before. The song itself is about the undeniable allure a girl can have on a guy. But there are some problems. First, the lyrics compare the effect to that of a cigarette or 100 proof liquor. The song also says, “Well, girl, my self control’s so paralyzed/When it comes to you, no, I ain’t got no patience.” It does not require any creativity to realize the danger in lyrics that embrace the idea that a guy can lose his self-control and his patience because he wants a girl so badly.
  • Number 17 is “Things Dads Do” and this could have been a wonderful song about the things that fathers do, and why, while raising their sons. And maybe this is the kind of dad that Rhett had and/or the kind of dad that he wants to be, but he includes some characteristics I think we could gladly do without. For example, the song says that when the son has his first heartbreak, his father will suggest talking it out over a beer. Two problems. One, as I have already mentioned, is the continuous suggestion that we need alcohol to help us cope with the pains and struggles life brings our way. Two, I think every guy I have ever known has experienced their first heartbreak before they were 21, making a discussion over a beer not just a bad idea but against the law. When the son does get married, though, dad will pay for the booze, the song says. Later, when he comes to visit, he’ll ask why your refrigerator has “weird beer” in it. And when he is sitting in the waiting room of the hospital awaiting the arrival of his grandchild, dad will be “chewin’ Red Man.” Here’s hoping these are not the things most dads do.
  • “Remember You Young” is Number 18. This, too, could have been a sweet song about the reminiscences that we all have about friends, spouse and children when they were younger. But this song, too, has two glaring problems. First, references to drinking and partying in younger years (I know, no surprise). Two, near the end, the song says, “Yeah, I hope when we get to Heaven/He looks at us all like we’re kids/Shameless and painless and perfect and ageless/Forgives all the wrong that we did.” One should never assume we will all get to Heaven—especially when one follows it by hoping that God will look at us as shameless and forgive us of “all the wrong that we did.” There is indeed a way that that can happen, but it takes admitting ones sins and accepting Jesus as Savior, not hoping God just decides to forget about all of our wrongdoing and let us into Heaven.
  • At Number 19 is “Church Boots,” which is basically a celebration of being the same guy all the time no matter where he is or how much money he makes. The problem is this: the song proudly proclaims that his church boots are his work boots and his partying boots and he doesn’t think “the good Lord minds.” I am sure He doesn’t. But I suspect He does mind this: “Go straight from the farm to the bar to the back row pew.” God isn’t concerned with someone wearing dirty boots to church. He is, however, concerned with someone who makes going to church just one more thing they do—and a think that has no impact on how they live their lives the rest of the week.
  • “Us Someday,” at Number 20, is harmless and even a fine little country song. It’s too bad, though, that as he sings about what their future would hold Rhett includes kids running around the backyard, family round trips and Little League games—but not church.

It wasn’t in this Top 20 list, bur Rhett also has a song entitled “Beer Can’t Fix,” the point of which is that no matter what you may be going through, it “ain’t nothin’ that a beer can’t fix.”

So… Could it be worse? Definitely. At least there is no profanity or explicit sex as is so prevalent in some other popular music these days. But it could also be better. I am well aware that country music has long included references to alcohol; Garth Brooks’s “Two Pina Coladas” and “Friends in Low Places” come immediately to mind (and also clue you in to the timeframe of when I paid any attention to country music). But for someone to be so popular that he packs out an arena that holds 12,000 people should prompt us to wonder why. What is he singing? What worldview is he promoting? What way of life is he celebrating? Do we really want the awards for Male Artist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year and so on to go to someone who is promoting such pro-alcohol messages? The fact that he seems to be a loving husband and father and he throws Jesus into some of his songs actually serves to make the impact of his songs that much more threatening. If you’re a Thomas Rhett fan, that’s your choice, of course—but in the words of the old children’s song, “be careful little ears what you hear.”

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Values We Hold Dear

Michael Bindas at lectern arguing for petitioners

The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has, rightly, been getting most of the attention recently, but there have been other significant decisions by the Court recently, too. On June 21 the ruling was issued in the case of Carson v. Makin. The case stems from a provision in Maine that allows families who live in school districts that do not have a public secondary school and do not contract with one in another district to choose where their children will attend secondary school and the state will pay some of the tuition for those students. The payments are made by the state directly to those schools. There are some restrictions; namely, the schools must be accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) or be approved by the Maine Department of Education. But since 1981, Maine has limited the use of the funds to attendance at non-sectarian schools.

On June 21, the Supreme Court struck down that restriction. And rightly so. But to see why I say “rightly so” it is important to understand some specific details.

On the day the decision was released, Maine’s Attorney General, Aaron Frey, issued a statement lamenting the ruling. In the process, however, he revealed both why it was the correct decision legally and why public education is increasingly dangerous.

Frey’s statement indicates that about 5,000 students in Maine live in areas without secondary schools, thus making them eligible for the program. “To ensure that these children have access to a free public education, they are permitted to attend at public expense a public or private school of their choice,” Frey said, continuing, “Public funds cannot be used to attend a private school that promotes religion because such schools, by definition, do not provide the equivalent of a public education.”

Notice that Frey said that eligible students could attend the public or private school of their choice—but then attempted to restrict that choice (which Maine has been doing for more than 40 years). In other words, parents could send their children to the school of their choice as long as the state approves of the choice. Is state-sanctioned choice really a choice? It is, but definitely a limited one.

Notice, as well, that Frey said that private schools that promote religion (that is what a sectarian school is) were not eligible for the program because those schools “by definition, do not provide the equivalent of a public education” (emphasis added).

The most easily addressed issue here is the use of state funds for attendance at a sectarian school. Writing in a dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer, citing a 1948 case, said “that a State cannot use ‘its public school system to aid any or all religious faiths or sects in the dissemination of their doctrines and ideals.’” Well, with all due respect to Justice Breyer, Maine is not using its public school system to aid any religious faith. Precisely because it does not have a public school system adequate to meet the needs of all Maine students, the state is allowing parents to choose where their students will attend school with the state paying part of the cost—since the state is required to provide students with an education.

Breyer further states that the Court has previously held that states may use public funds for the funding of religious schools so long as they choice of school was the “deliberate choice” of the recipient (the parents). He then stated this:

But the key word is “may.” We have never previously held what the Court holds today, namely, that a State must (not may) use state funds to pay for religious education as part of a tuition program designed to ensure the provision of free statewide public school education.

But Breyer is way off here. If Maine’s provision said that parents could choose any public school then this would not be an issue. Frey stated, “the purpose of the tuition program was to provide a public education for students who would otherwise be without.” But if that was the real purpose of the program, then it was written horribly. By definition, attendance at any private school is not public education. And since the program allows the choice of private schools, it cannot then restrict which private schools can be chosen. That is clearly discriminatory, as Chief Justice Roberts notes in the majority opinion. He wrote,

…there is nothing neutral about Maine’s program. The State pays tuition for certain students at private schools— so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion. A State’s antiestablishment interest does not justify enactments that exclude some members of the community from an otherwise generally available public benefit because of their religious exercise.

I could cite more cases and reference more of the majority and dissenting opinions, but this is sufficient to demonstrate why the Court made the correct decision legally. The deeper concern, in my opinion, is the clear demonstration provided in Breyer’s dissent and Frey’s statement about the anything-but-neutral instruction being provided in public schools. Consider Frey’s words:

Public education should expose children to a variety of viewpoints, promote tolerance and understanding, and prepare children for life in a diverse society. The education provided by the schools at issue here is inimical to a public education. They promote a single religion to the exclusion of all others, refuse to admit gay and transgender children, and openly discriminate in hiring teachers and staff. One school teaches children that the husband is to be the leader of the household. While parents have the right to send their children to such schools, it is disturbing that the Supreme Court found that parents also have the right to force the public to pay for an education that is fundamentally at odds with values we hold dear. I intend to explore with Governor Mills’ administration and members of the Legislature statutory amendments to address the Court’s decision and ensure that public money is not used to promote discrimination, intolerance, and bigotry.

In case you’re not sure, inimical means to obstruct or harm; unfriendly or hostile. In other words, because sectarian schools teach things that are not neutral, they are not consistent with a public education. To an extent I could agree with that. That is, after all, why sectarian schools exist—so that they can state clearly their positions, their beliefs and their convictions when it comes to issues like religion, marriage, sex, gender identity, family and more. So that they can employ faculty and staff who are likeminded when it comes to those issues. But to a larger extent, Frey reveals in no uncertain terms that public education also has a position and, dare I say it, convictions on these issues—and they happen to be contrary to those of many sectarian schools.

It does not require reading between the lines or inferring anything to grasp what Frey is saying; he comes right out and says it. Teaching that the husband is to be the leader of the household is inimical to a public education. Teaching anything other than acceptance and approval of homosexuality and transgender identities is discriminatory, intolerant and bigoted. Breyer wrote in his dissent, “Maine denies tuition money to schools not because of their religious affiliation, but because they will use state funds to promote religious views.” That’s a pitiful attempt to split a fine hair; what Breyer is really saying is that if there was a religious school that taught exactly what the public schools teach, it wouldn’t be a problem. The problem is what is being taught. The problem, in other words, is that the religious schools actually have a “religion” that means something and has real-life application. “The very point of the Establishment Clause is to prevent the government from sponsoring religious activity itself, thereby favoring one religion over another or favoring religion over nonreligion,” Breyer continued. But again, he undercuts his own argument. What he is saying he really wants is not fairness or equality but to favor nonreligion over religion. Prior to this decision, Maine would fund attendance at a sectarian school as long as the school did not promote the faith or belief system with which it is associated or deliver academic instruction through the lens of that faith. So, as long as it wasn’t really a sectarian school.

Breyer specifically included in his dissent that one of the schools in question has as an educational objective “develop[ing] within each student a Christian world view and Christian philosophy of life.” The other school “is based on a thoroughly Christian and Biblical world view.” These things, apparently, cannot be because they are not consistent with a public education. A public education has to be neutral right?

Oh, wait.

No, Frey said that a public education “should…promote tolerance and understanding” and apparently that means not teaching that parents should be heterosexual and married or that homosexuality is a sin or that God created men and women and that gender is not a multiple choice question. Teaching those things will “promote discrimination, intolerance, and bigotry.” Such belief and teaching “is fundamentally at odds with values we hold dear,” Frey said.

Hmmm… Who is being intolerant now?

In fact, remember that full sentence. Frey said, “it is disturbing that the Supreme Court found that parents also have the right to force the public to pay for an education that is fundamentally at odds with values we hold dear.”

Funny, it seems to me there have been a lot of parents saying that for a long time—how disturbing it is that public funds are used to pay for so-called education that is fundamentally at odds with the values they hold dear.

The Supreme Court made the right decision; the legal reasoning of the majority is sound. But if other attorneys general and state boards of education feel at all like Aaron Frey, parents who really have values they hold dear will want to strongly consider abandoning public schools.

A “Sickening” Overreaction

I did not watch the Oscars, but I do not live in a cave, either, so I know about Will Smith slapping Chris Rock. I do not condone Smith’s actions. Oscar hosts and presenters have always been expected to taunt, tease and, sometimes, humiliate, those in attendance. Whether you think that is right or wrong, that’s the way it has been…and what Rock said about Jada Pinkett-Smith was quite mild compared to what I have heard from some hosts and presenters in the past.

I have heard some people suggest that the reason behind Pinkett-Smith’s shaved head might be a factor in Smith’s response, but that doesn’t seem to hold much weight. She shaved her head last July after encouragement from her daughter to do so. She apparently acknowledged several years ago that she had struggled with hair loss issues and the tests to try to determine the reason revealed no medical issues. Relieved by that, Pinkett-Smith said that she “put it into a spiritual perspective, like the higher power takes so much from people,” like cancer, for example, and she was grateful that she was only losing her hair.

I realize that it is more common and probably less attention-getting for men to lose their hair than women, and I am not going to suggest, as someone who began losing his hair before he even graduated from college and has been “bald” for many years now, that I can empathize with what Pinkett-Smith went through in dealing with hair loss. But, whether appropriate or not, a bald head does tend to attract some wisecracks. For Rock to make a passing reference to G. I. Jane 2 in regard to Pinkett-Smith is pretty tame.

In 2013, Seth MacFarlane uttered what may be the worst attempted joke in Oscar history, saying, “The actor who really got inside Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth.” The crowd wasn’t amused, and MacFarlane tried to blow it off. Of course, neither Lincoln nor his wife was present. A close second came in 1955, when Bob Hope said, “The winners will take home an Oscar. The losers will all be presented with monogrammed do-it-yourself suicide kits.” In 2010 Steve Martin asked, inexplicably, of Meryl Streep, “What’s with all the Hitler memorabilia?” In 2014, Ellen DeGeneres called Liza Minelli, who was in the audience, a Liza Minelli impersonator and then added, “Good job, sir.” Chris Rock himself has said worse—see 2005’s crack about Jude Law and his 2016 introduction of Stacey Dash as examples.

Referring to director Alejandro González Iñárritu, a citizen of Mexico, Sean Penn said, in 2015, “Who gave this son of a [expletive] his green card?” Yikes. But Iñárritu said later that he thought it was “hilarious” and that he and Penn had that kind of a relationship, a “brutal relationship” that included some “very tough jokes.” Maybe Rock and Smith don’t have that kind of relationship. Maybe Will Smith really just was not okay with someone making fun of his wife. I don’t know.

If the outrage over Smith’s slap of Rock results in less mockery, that may well be a good thing. Despite Smith’s action being wrong, though, and condemnation of him slapping Rock being appropriate, other parts of the response to it by some has been simply outlandish. Wanda Sykes, who co-hosted the Oscars, called it “sickening,” said she felt “physically ill” and three days later said she was still “traumatized” by it. Sykes also complained that no one had apologized to her as the co-host. Sorry, Ms. Sykes, but I don’t think you are the one deserving an apology.

Another of the co-hosts was Amy Schumer, who took to Instagram two days after the event to declare that she was “still triggered and traumatized” and “waiting for this sickening feeling to go away from what we all witnessed.”

Let’s put this in a bit of perspective, shall we. Last fall, Schumer marched in the Rally for Abortion Justice in Washington, D.C. At that time, Schumer posted on Instagram a photo of herself holding a sign proclaiming “Abortion is Essential.” She has also posted on Instagram, “Everyone deserves to have a safe and supported abortion, at any time and for any reason.”

Back in 2006, in response to President George W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominations, Sykes said in a comedy special, “I got two abortions on the way here. I was, like, ‘I got to stock up.’” She said essentially the same thing in her book Yeah, I Said It, writing, “Women and our right to choose were going to be challenged with Ashcroft around. When Bush appointed Ashcroft, I went out and got me four abortions. I stocked up. The doctor was like, ‘Listen, you’re not pregnant.’ I said, ‘Hey, just shut up and do your job. I’m exercising my right while I can, dammit.’”

As I have already said, Will Smith was in the wrong. But when you joke about the murder of unborn children, you have no standing to claim that you are sickened and traumatized by an adult male slapping another adult male for making fun of his wife. Doing so would seem to put Schumer and Sykes in the running for a Best Overreaction award. I would like to ask Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes to do a little research into what abortion entails, especially a late-term abortion, since Schumer thinks “everyone” should have the right to an abortion “at any time.” Perhaps then they can get back to us on what is really sickening and traumatizing.