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Beth, Kenny, and John R

February 11, 2024

White Burgers, Black Cash: Fast Food from Black Exclusion to Exploitation, by Naa Oyo A. Kwate (U. of Minn., 2023). 

Ms. Kwate is the prototypical race-grievance machine, finding abominations at every turn. As teacher of “Africana studies and human ecology” at Rutgers, she uses her tax-funded platform to run down whites (70% of New Jersey’s population) and portray blacks (15% of NJ’s population) as perennial victims. One searches in vain for a mitigating word of appreciation for the fast-food industry, for a even slightly critical word for the black community, or evidence of appreciation for free market capitalism. It’s all bile all the time for her. And, of course, there is great advantage to her in all this, as her university CV indicates, what with her appointments, grants, publications and such. It’s her gig, and she dare not play a different tune.

A sampling of her prose yields such “measured” observations as these:

Fast food has always been a fundamentally anti-Black enterprise. 

Of course, it has, as has everything else white folks have introduced.

Burger restaurants that literally embody Whiteness with names like White Castle and White Tower emerged in the 1920s, creating an urban restaurant landscape that catered to White, primarily male pedestrians.

This is a howler. The whiteness in the names (and reflected in the architecture, delivery vehicles, uniforms of the employees, etc.) was an attempt to salvage the reputation of the meat industry by emphasizing cleanliness in an age when Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle (1906), about the nasty Chicago meat packing industry, had horrified the public.

Historian Tanisha Ford shows that to disprove racist and sexist stereotypes for example, black women focused on clothing, hairstyling, speaking standard English, and refined comportment . . . Black elites promoted ideas about proper dining, emphasizing the fashionable European recipes and food types that were popular in White women’s magazines.

Well, we wouldn’t want to promote “standard English,” “refined comportment,” or fancy-pants pastas, casseroles, fresh fish, or whatever disrespects the “pig ankle joints” she identifies with authentic black culture.

As will be seen, the dominance of fast-food outlets in black neighborhoods became inscribed in black bodies as an assumption of excess—indeed criminally excessive—appetite, body size, and behavior.

OK, so they finally market to blacks, but these establishments feed into (pun intended) the perception of gluttony, obesity, and licentiousness. Fast food restaurants originally marginalized blacks, but when they no longer do, they stigmatize blacks. Can’t win.

Franchising is a vehicle perfectly suited to carrying the myth of meritocracy, a fallacy that is deeply allergic to the country’s racial realities. Americans want to believe that theirs is a country where success is equitably distributed to those who evince hard work, pluck, and perseverance, and that the country runs on the dogged pursuit of professional success that only comes from delayed gratification.

Oh, no! When blacks become prosperous franchisees, they serve to advance the toxic narrative that achievement is available to blacks who apply themselves to challenging jobs. This is a narrative killer, upsetting the notion that black victimhood trumps everything. She doesn’t say it, but she essentially makes these restaurateurs out to be Uncle Toms. 

In short, this book is a nasty piece of work by a nasty piece of work, albeit a woman perfectly attuned to the racialist zeitgeist of the age. What could have been an interesting and perhaps compelling book about problematic aspects of the fast-food industry vis a vis certain racial groups turned out to be an unrelievedly whiny and even hateful take on one of America’s success stories, eagerly imported from around the world (as with the KFC I enjoyed in Indonesia and the McDonald’s I visited in Russia). But this book counts as “scholarship” in the contemporary secular university, including the University of Minnesota, which published this dreck.

All My Knotted-Up Life: A Memoir, by Beth Moore (Tyndale/Momentum, 2023)

I read this book with great interest since I knew Beth from her days at First Baptist Church, Arkadelphia, when she was Beth Green. I was nine years her elder, so she would have been a third grader my senior year in high school. We were well acquainted with the Greens, particularly her brother, Wayne. And her dad, retired Army Major Al Green, once offered me a job as a projectionist (after suitable training) at the Royal Theater downtown. (I had many memorable viewing experiences there, starting in grade school, e.g., a couple of Davy Crockett movies, the musical Madame Butterfly, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (with Claymation), and, in college days, Cool Hand Luke.) At the time he approached me, I was up to my nose in high school extracurriculars, including band, tennis team, and student council, so I had to say no.

When I bought this book, the shop owner said there was something awful in the narrative about Beth’s dad, and, sure enough, she says she he abused her sexually—so hard to wrap my mind around since she and her family were pillars of the church. 

It was fascinating to read of her life in Arkadelphia and at Ouachita, where my dad was a prof, and then to hear from her over four decades later when she responded to one of my Facebook or Twitter posts (back when I used them, before I was overwhelmed by the need to tend them). Sharon and I were on a train to DC, and we found ourselves seated across from a construction engineer in the dining car. As we were talking, we learned that he’d had a thumb torn off by a dirt auger. I looked down at his hands, and they both seemed okay. I remarked that they must have done some skillful work in reattaching his thumb, and he responded, “That’s not my thumb.” Turns out, they’d removed one of his toes and sewn it on it its place. I posted a photo, and Beth got back to me with a message mentioning her appreciation for our family. 

Speaking of photos, I have one of Beth and friends of my sister Anne, taken back around 2010. Anne had been stricken with cancer, and these friends had taken a head-and-shoulders, life-sized picture of her to hold up in the group shot, so she could “be there” for the event with her old friend Beth. 

As I read through the book, tracking with Beth’s successes and disappointments, I found it to be something of a payback work, hitting not only her dad, but on those not keen on her growing feminism, which has led to her becoming a lector (entitled to preach) in the Anglican church. Her grievances with the Southern Baptists also stemmed from their willingness to vote for Trump and their handling of the sex-abuse problem raised (and its weight purported) by Houston Chronicle. As she throws various people under the bus, she offers, in effect, a Southern “Bless their hearts” to soften her image. Still, the job gets done. And, though she treats him lovingly, there’s something gratuitous about the condescending account of her husband’s growth as she’s submitted to his flawed leadership the best she could. 

My Life, My Love, My Legacy, by Coretta Scott King, as told to the Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds (Henry Holt, 2017).

I’ve read a good deal by and about MLK, but not much by his wife. I wanted to get her take on several things, perhaps material for a book I have in the works, one I’m calling I Heard a Dream. It plays off the line in his DC speech, the one about his hope that one day people would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. And yes, I’m making an appeal for color blindness, a notion that’s fallen on hard times in this day of crusading racialism, when skin color is meant to prompt all sorts of discrimination.

Though a minister, MLK has been charged with adulteries by friends and foes alike, the former discounting it as an “only-human” feature, the latter counting it a character disqualifier. Either way, it doesn’t mean that things he said and did were wrong. They have to be taken case by case. But it does mean we should go easy on hagiography. 

I’ve not read the book carefully; only skimmed it. But I was interested in homing in on Coretta’s take on her husband’s rumored infidelities. I think she frames her assessment near the end of the book when she says, with regards to CBS’s charging schools and nonprofits a thousand dollars to use footage from the “I Have a Dream” speech, “In cases large or small, we must safeguard Martin’s legacy—his name, image, and words—for future generations.” Nothing “tasteless and disrespectful.” And she follows this standard throughout the book.

When they were getting to know each romantically back in their student days (he at Boston University’s school of theology), he told her there was “another woman,” whom he’d been dating back in Atlanta. This led Coretta to say, 

What impressed me most about Martin was his integrity . . . His honesty was the quality that touched my heart most deeply. I felt he was trustworthy. From the very beginning of our relationship, he was the kind of man who could not keep a secret. If he did something wrong, no matter how big or small, he was so tortured by his conscience that he was miserable until he discussed it and asked forgiveness. He was constantly examining himself to see if there was any sin that had crept into his life . . . He was always looking for a sin to clean up, starting with sins in himself.

Later in the book, addressing herself to rumors about sexual misbehavior, she wrote, “In Oslo [where he received the Nobel Prize], when the entire family was there, the FBI claimed they picked up a bug on Martin that proved he was cavorting with prostitutes and running buck naked down the hall with them.” She links this to what she calls the FBI “suicide letter,” designed to so embarrass him as to life-ending despair. And then she takes another five paragraphs to dismiss the charges of infidelity, noting repeatedly that “nobody is perfect.”

Do I believe my husband was unfaithful? All I can speak for is what I know. I don’t have any evidence, and I never had a gut feeling that told me he had strayed. I never experienced any feelings of being rejected. I believe that women know if their husbands are unfaithful. They feel it. . . Those who really knew Martin knew he had a guilt complex. If he did anything wrong, he felt compelled to confess it and repent. I was often the one to whom he confessed his private wrongdoings This is one of the main reasons I do not believe any affairs took place.

She concludes the chapter with

Were any of us perfect? No, we all fell short. But when speaking of historical significance, it is important to note that when the ultimate question is asked about who the real sinners or saviors of this century were, the answer clearly shows that Martin Luther King Jr. helped transform America. This is the end of that matter. 

Of course, that doesn’t settle the issue but basically says it doesn’t matter whether or not he was unfaithful—just that he had a big impact our country. And that’s where she leaves it.

My Venice and other Essays, by Donna Leon (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013).

I’d not heard of Donna Leon, but my wife had, and had read some of her mystery writing. But the title was enough to draw me in for a used-book purchase. I love collections of essays, columns, articles, and such, whether incorporating many writers, or just one.

In one, she addresses the dog poop problem in Venice and honors the fellow who adorned the little mounds left by the pets of thoughtless owners with little paper flags on toothpicks, on which he’d written insults. But special praise was reserved for fellow who observed from a window a Maltese relieving himself at his doorstep. A grand lady in a fur coat had unleashed him and then walked at distance across the way, waiting for the dog to do his business. When he was done, she returned to retrieve the pup, only to meet the home owner who’d come outside and was staring at the mess. He asked her if it was her dog, and, throwing up her hands, she denied it. At which point, he picked up the dog, turned it over, and proceeded to brush up the dung using the pet’s fur—to the applause of observers.

I hope you’ll forgive me for enjoying this story.

The Monk of Mokha, by Dave Eggers (Vintage/Penguin Random House, 2018)

Back in 2019, I joined in the Vanderbilt alumni book club, wherein about fifty of us communicate online about the two or three books we read together each year. Almost all of them are novels; almost all deal with some sort of cultural issue tied to race or ethnicity, whether in Nigeria, Japan, an American Indian Reservation, or just plain Dixie . . . and with black grievances abounding (the latest, just finished, Take My Hand about forced sterilization of two young black girls through a government program). I’m glad I’ve worked through these readings, but the overwhelming focus on ethnic victimhood is getting a little old, and I may take a break. 

One I particularly enjoyed in 2023 was The Monk of Mokha, about the birth of coffee in Yemen. And yes, our term “mocha” derives from the Yemeni port of Mokha, where a holy man of some sort is credited with initiating the drink, which became a treasure for those people. So dear was it to the economic fortunes of the land that severe punishment was imposed on those who ventured to export the seeds or plants (sort of like passing along nuclear secrets in the 1950s). But the strictures could not hold:

The Dutch had stolen the seedlings, had planted them in Java and had given them to France, and the French had planted them in Martinique, and . . . the Portuguese had smuggled them from the French [and] had planted them in Brazil, and . . . now there was a seventy-billion-dollar market for coffee, [with] everyone . . . making money from the bean—everyone but the Yemenis, who had started the whole business in the first place.

The book connects this with the present-day efforts of an American of Yemeni descent who wants to master and revive the tradition of fine coffee from the region. And, as one might expect, given the current aggression by the Houthis, Yemen is a troubled land, and anyone who ventures to do business there will have his hands full of geo-political intrigue, involving both NGOs and armed parties, and with economic notions (including the virtues and faults of capitalism) at play in his mind.

It's full of coffee details as well, and I commend this non-fiction work to your reading list.

Sikhs: The Story of a People, Their Faith and Culture (DK, 2022). 

When our family visited India back in 1966, our driver from Delhi to Agra (to see the Taj Mahal) was a Sikh, and, as a Army Reserve retiree, I’ve watched with interest the Sikh campaign  to gain leeway for their beards and turbans in the military. Fascinating people, and I couldn’t resist checking out this library book to give it a quick scan. Turning through the pages quickly (with the limited time I have for this lavishly illustrated and texted, 300+-page book), I’ll note a few things: Its roots are in the Punjab (a term meaning “five rivers”); it emerged in reaction to belligerent Islam (rather, preferring the Sufi approach) and to caste-ridden Hinduism, preferring a gentler approach, focused on personal spirituality; ‘guru’ is built from two words, gu (for ignorance) and ru (for dispel); the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, was born in 1469 (14 years before Martin Luther); unlike Hinduism, it’s monotheistic, with God “singular, eternal, and formless”; they have their own script/written language; their fourth chief Guru, Ram Das, founded their holy city, Amritsar, where their Golden Temple stands, the holiest site; they’ve gone through regional strife, foreign invasions (e.g., Persian, Afghan, British), martyrdoms, reforms, rebellions, etc.; the five emblems that identify them are unshorn hair, a comb to keep the hair tidy (with covering turbans made of twenty feet of cloth, instituted in 1699), a sword, an iron bangle on their right hand, and special shorts; with a warrior tradition, they made up over a fifth of the British army in WWI; many Sikhs fought alongside the British in Malaya in WWII; the Punjab region was split after WWII, with the northwestern part going to newly formed Pakistan, a development that placed great hardship on many Sikh families; Sikhs have distinguished themselves in such sports as cricket, field hockey, and running, where they’ve won medals/trophies at the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, World Cup competitions, and the Olympics; Prime Minister Indira Gandhi reacted to Sikh separatism by sending forces their way, even entering their Golden Temple and killing hundreds of Sikhs; she, in turn, was assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards in 1984; known as fierce warriors, the Sikh regiment (with twenty battalions) is one of the most decorated units in the Indian army.

A Dictionary of Diplomacy, Second Edition, by G. R. Berridge and Alan James (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2003). 

It’s interesting to pick up on the jargon of various enterprises, whether “dormers” in residential architecture, “power plays” in ice hockey, amicus briefs in judicial work, or the various acronyms at play in the military (whether the nice ones, such as WWMCCS or CINCPAC, or the not-so-nice ones, such as SNAFU and FUBAR).  

Many if not most of the expressions in this book will sound familiar, but here are three to show the sort which fall outside the ken of the average reader, myself included:

black chamber. The room, often in a central post office, where letters, including diplomatic despatches [this is a British book] sent by ordinary post, were opened and (where necessary) decrypted before being re-sealed and sent on their way. [It hearkens back to the eighteenth century.]

casus foederis. An event or act which is deemed to justify calling on an ally to fulfil the undertakings of a treaty or alliance. [I suppose like the way an attack on Belgium would trigger our NATO military involvement. It’s Latin for “case for the alliance,” with foedus serving also as the root for “federation.”]

Echelon. The codename for the arrangement for pooling sigint [electronic signal intelligence, as distinct from humint (human intelligence) and imint (imagery intelligence)] between the intelligence agencies of the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. It has been in existence since 1948.

Man Sent from God: A Biography of Dr. John R. Rice, by Robert L. Summer (Sword of the Lord, 1959).

When I was a new pastor in 1983, I started receiving copies of The Sword of the Lord. John R. Rice established it in 1934, and it became a leading voice for the “capital-F Fundamentalist” community, providing a mixture of warm pastoral counsel, strong biblical preaching, theological hobby-horse riding, and scathing dismissal of both trends and personalities. I turned through most copies that came my way, and not much sticks in my mind, but there was one article that jumped off the page. I can’t remember who wrote it. It may have been Rice himself, but he had passed in 1980, so someone in his steps might have done it. Either way, the thesis was that W. A. Criswell, the pastor of FBC Dallas, was a liberal. But how could that be? He was a leader in the SBC’s conservative resurgence, striving to restore respect for biblical inerrancy in our seminaries and agencies. I just had to read it.

Turns out, the writer was working with the Fundamentalists’ notion of separation. While you may be faithful to the Bible yourself, if you associate/cooperate/work with someone who isn’t, then you fail at “separation” (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:17—"Therefore, come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”). If the one with whom you associated was sound, but he worked with some who weren’t, then you needed to pull away from the sound one since he hadn’t pulled away from the unsound ones . . . and so on, through second, third, and fourth degrees of separation. On this model, Criswell’s offense was in leading his church to give to the SBC Cooperative Program, with some of the money finding its way into the pockets of liberal seminary professors.

Reading through this biography, I see that separation was a major theme in Rice’s life. He began his Christian walk as a young Texan, going on to receive a degree from Baylor and to study for two years at SWBTS in Fort Worth. He proved to be an evangelist extraordinaire, and also a stickler from adherence to sound doctrine. Concerned with what he saw as slippage in the SBC (e.g., through the evolutionary teachings of a Baylor sociology prof), he broke with the Convention and established Fundamentalist Baptist Church of Oak Cliff in Dallas. (The church’s statement faith appears as an appendix to this book.) He later moved to Wheaton, Illinois, and then to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Over the years, he broke with crusading Fundamentalist, Frank Norris, pastor of FBC Fort Worth (objecting to Norris’s style of personal attack); and with Billy Graham (for his willingness to platform alongside and receive sponsorship from mainline liberals in his city crusades).

Tens of millions of copies of his tract, “What Must I Do To Be Saved” went out around the world in twenty-five languages, with over seventeen million distributed among English speakers alone. And his titles were often raucous and provocative. I remember my Dad’s mentioning “Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers,” and, in this book, I see listed along with “Jesus May Come Today!” and “Hindrances to Prayer,” such titles as “The Four Biggest Fools in Town” and “Church Members Who Make God Sick.” As for sermons, along with more conventional and less colorful titles, you find such offerings as “Beer-Drinking, Horse-Racing Dads,” “Filling Stations on the Highway to Hell,” and “Dirt at the Dallas Fair.”

He was a pistol. And this book is a fine introduction to the man.

PS: I went on line to read his pamphlet, “Negro and White.” He objected to the Brown v. Board of Education decision and said efforts at desegregation were likely rushing things since, as a group, blacks in America were making good progress in outgrowing their woeful African heritage, but their culture had a way to go. Suffice it to say, this particular pamphlet was not his best effort.

The Good Fellow’s Toast Book, by George Madison (Reilly & Britton, 1914). 

I’m a teetotaler when it comes to beverage alcohol, so I’m not well-versed in the culture of drink. I’ve had alcohol not only offered but pressed upon me through the years, most notably in the army, but I’m skeered of the stuff, afraid I might like it and then turn to it for comfort and courage in times of stress, to my great regret. But most of what I know about this practice (these practices) comes from what I see in television and film.

When I came across this tiny book at a Tennessee book sellers gathering, I snapped it up since I’m pretty familiar with the culture of words, and it was full of artful language on a range of topics, from brides and bridegrooms, to friends, to the nation, to conviviality, to old age, to drink itself. Fun reading, though not always uplifting. Here’s a small sampling:

                                               TO ME AS I AM

                               Compel me not to toe the mark,

                                      Be always prim and true,

                              But rather let me do those things

                                       That I ought not to do.

                                        TO FRIENDS AND FOES

                   Here’s to our friends who love us for what we are.

               Here’s to our enemies, who make us what we should be.

                                              A GOOD DRINK

                                  Here it goes, under my nose,

                               Down my throat, now it glows,

                       Warms me within, way out to my clothes,

               From the crown of my head to the tips of my toes.


Mother—the one person in the world whose kindness was never the preface to a request (Wm Hunter)

And, then, these two without titles touching the same subject:

                           Here’s to the happiest days of my life,

                Spent in the arms of another man’s wife—My mother

To Home: The father’s kingdom; the child’s paradise; the mother’s world.

                                               TO WOMAN

Here’s to God’s first thought, Man! Here’s to God’s second thought, Woman! Second thoughts 

                         are always best, so here’s to Woman!

                                            TO THE ABSENT

                          Here’s to the friends we love so well,

                                      To those so far away!

                    If a drink of cheer would bring them here,

                              We would drink the livelong day.

The Queer Film Guide: 100 Great Movies that Tell LGBTQIA+ Stories, by Kyle Turner (Smith Street, 2023). 

Of course, our local Nashville Public Library branch has this book, a totally predictable feature of their totally predictable Gay Pride fever. Starting with a 1919 German film, Different from the Others, Turner shows how the homosexual agenda has found sympathetic filmmakers at work for over a century. Naturally (or rather, unnaturally), the 2005 movie, Brokeback Mountain, is featured. 

For a Kairos Journal piece on the movie, I took in a (cheaper) afternoon showing. Here’s what wrote:

“Brokeback Mountain—Another Hollywood Lie”

Hollywood is in ecstasy over the release of Brokeback Mountain, the implausible story of two seemingly manly cowboys who become homosexual partners and remain so for decades. From the Los Angeles and New York Film Critics awards to the Golden Globes, to Venice’s Golden Lion, to rave reviews throughout the land, the cultural elites are falling all over themselves to honor and promote this film. Entertainment Weekly has put the two leads on its cover, has called the movie a love story which “touches us” with “purity,” and has given it an “A” rating.

Actually, it’s a hate story, not a love story. It despises heterosexual domesticity, marital fidelity, and conventional morality. It’s almost comic. The cowboys couple against the stunning backdrop of the Canadian Rockies (presented as Wyoming). Everywhere the camera turns, the viewer is blessed by big sky, snowy crags, evergreen-carpeted valleys, icy rapids, looming storms, and pristine snows. But when the beefcake stars return to their families, bosses, and neighbors, they enter a world of tedium, viciousness, and blight. Employers are snarling, petulant, and pig eyed. Wives, mothers-in-law, and waitresses are variously frumpy, gabby, icy, cheap, and shallow. The kids are charmless, sniffling screamers, a terror to delicately-balanced grocery store displays. The locals are just looking for an excuse to beat a sensitive gay to death. And it’s all played out against a backdrop of cruel upbringings, dreary work, pointless church-going, bleak towns, and squalid, tasteless interiors. But then, every month or so, these two men manage to break away to the high country for yet another tryst, and all is wonderful yet again. 

Though no fan of Christian values, The Village Voice correctly notes that the movie is “propaganda on behalf of gay couplehood,” that the movie’s “love . . . is little more than a euphemism for sex,” and that the portrayal of town folks is “the whole nine yards of ghoulish Americana,” with “grim, idiotic family gatherings where brewing antagonisms explode into open hostility” and with barrooms “full of squat, ugly men with stringy beards itching for a brawl.”

The movie is yet another Hollywood lie. It stands in the tradition of other lying films, such as those which normalize heterosexual promiscuity, make light of divorce, ridicule Christianity, and romanticize violence. Alas, lies told repeatedly, brazenly, and artfully can permeate the national consciousness and bring physical, social, and spiritual ruin to those who buy them.

How Do We Get Out of Here? Half a Century of Laughter and Mayhem at the American Spectator—From Bobby Kennedy to Donald J. Trump, by R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. (Bombadier/Post Hill, 2023)

Back in 2006, I unwittingly wrote my first piece for American Spectator. I say “unwittingly” since my comments were directed toward administrators of the K-12 Chapin School in Manhattan, whose former students included Jacqueline Kennedy, Vera Wang, and Queen Noor of Jordan. I was working as part of the team, whose publishers (Emmanuel and Camille Kampouris) had friends whose children went to the school—parents objecting to an upcoming “Day of Silence” for suffering homosexuals. They asked me to read the announcement and pitch in a response, one that found it’s way to “Bob” Tyrrell, founding editor of the magazine. Since then, I’ve done twenty-nine pieces for them, the most recent appearing in January 2024, one aimed at the Satanic Temple’s Christmastime display in the Iowa capitol.

Mr. Tyrrell and I got acquainted when he invited me to come to DC to talk about responses to Christopher Hitchens’ book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. We spent some time at his Northern Virginia home discussing the topic, but I also had the privilege of joining in a Washington dinner meeting the night before with a group of conservatives, where conversation centered on the upcoming, 2008 election. They wondered what I thought of Romney’s Mormonism and, learning that I knew Huckabee, what I thought of him. 

In 2023, Tyrrell stepped down as editor of the magazine he founded in 1967. (Paul Kengor of Grove City College stepped up to the editorship, with the continuing service of editorial director Wlady Pleszczynski at his side.) Back in the 60s, Tyrrell was a student at Indiana University, a member of the legendary swim team. But he was also involved in political commentary, a pursuit that put him backstage with Robert Kennedy, who was finding his way out of the hall where he’d delivered campaign speech. The book title quotes RFK, who uttered those words in the murk as they wove their way to the exit. The subtitle mentions “laughter and mayhem,” and Spectator has certainly maintained a healthy level of irreverence, daring-do, and disrupting over the years. 

Over the years, Tyrrell’s been an adviser to President Reagan and a torment to President Clinton, the latter feeling the sting of the Spectator’s investigative “Arkansas Project.” Early on, Bob coined the term Kultursmog, which the Urban Dictionary defines as (quoting Tyrrell)

[T]he cloud of liberal misconceptions and bugaboos that pollutes the liberals' minds and renders them oblivious of any evidence contrary to their gloomy views. It is a choking mess of touchy-feely and Marxist/Socialist ideas that are incompatible with traditional American social, cultural, and economic ideals.

To dissipate this fog in his 50+ years at the helm, he enlisted scores of remarkable writers (and a few non-remarkable writers, such as I) to populate both print and online editions. The roster has included Tom Wolfe, Thomas Sowell, George Will, Malcolm Muggeridge, Dinesh d’Souza, and Ben Stein.

The book is a wonderful read, as attested by cover blurbs from Newt Gingrich, Henry Kissinger, and other strong, perceptive voices.

President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier, by C. W. Goodyear (Simon & Schuster, 2023). 

Back in 2003, Tom Brazaitis, an asinine editor for the Cleveland Plain Dealer took a shot at Judge Roy Moore down in Alabama for placing the Ten Commandments in his court house. He not only found Moore wanting, but he also dismissed the applicability of the Decalogue, while misconstruing Moore to say they should be, top-to-bottom, the law of the land. So, I decided to write a column on this for the Illinois Baptist, a piece picked up by Baptist Press. I didn’t get far into it before I discovered that Cleveland had a rich spiritual heritage, and I juxtaposed it to the foolishness of the Plain Dealer’s mouthpiece, who said that the first four Commandments were just concerned with “protecting God’s turf”; the third, if enforced, would violate free speech; the fifth would kill the economy and require that Sabbath breakers be executed; the sixth only made sense if the parents deserved it; the seventh through ninth were not original; the ninth would kill politics; the tenth would kill capitalism.

Along the way, I discovered that oil magnate and Clevelander John D. Rockefeller was once a Baptist Sunday School superintendent, that Cleveland State University started as a YMCA school, and that when James A. Garfield (a seminary-trained lay minister of the Disciples of Christ) ran successfully for the 20th presidency of the United States, his campaign headquarters was in Cleveland. 

The Garfield story intrigued me particularly, and when a pastor friend offered to buy me the volume of my choice in a North Carolina book store, I chose this biography. I’m not far into it, but I’m already coming across passages like this:

A few days later, Garfield watched a friend get baptized and felt “considerably roused on the subject.” The next morning, he went into the water himself. “The cause is prospering,” he wrote at week’s end. “Truth is mighty.”

Garfield’s enthusiasm echoed the peculiarly warm, liberating nature of the church he had just joined. Its adherents didn’t even like the idea of giving their denomination a specific name—out of concern that doing so might erect yet another barrier in the already-divided world of Christendom. They preferred simply being called Christians. “Or,” as Garfield later conceded, “the Disciples of Christ.”

(The young man had picked up on the faith of his mother, who’d imbibed the deliverances of the Stone-Campbell Movement.)

Well, I have about 500 pages to go, but I think I’m up for it. It’s a fascinating book, albeit with a known ending. (Spoiler alert: Inaugurated as President in March of 1881, he was assassinated (by a frustrated seeker of a Garfield-administration job) in September of that same year.) 

Talk of Champions: Stories of the People Who Made Me: A Memoir, by Kenny Smith (Doubleday, 2023).

With over a decade’s experience as an NBA player (1987-1990), Kenny Smith went into broadcasting, where he shared the platform with the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley, with the latter setting him off with comments about rioters of the Ferguson/Kenosha genre. In a Philadelphia radio interview, Charles said

Them jackasses who are looting, those aren’t real Black people, those are scumbags. The real Black people, they’re not out there looting . . . There’s a perception among some Black people that if you’re not a thug or hood rat or if you don’t wear your pants around your ass, you’re not Black enough. They’re always holding us back, plain and simple.

Turns out, most of this book is a recitation of why Barkley (whom Smith insists he admires for his work on the basketball court), has the race thing wrong and has betrayed the protocols of “black excellence.” Barkley also let him down when he differed with Smith’s suggestion that they suspend hoops talk on one show to focus on the “justifiable” riots erupting in the streets. 

By Smith’s lights, the eruptions are understandable given the abuse and hopelessness suffered by a big segment of the black populace, the systemic racism, etc. Some blacks are privileged, but many are terribly beleaguered, and what else can you expect. And so on. 

Along the way, he introduces (or recounts) an interesting analogy—that the black community is like catsup in a bottle. When turned upside down, a bit of the contents manages to escape through the narrow neck, but the vast majority are trapped in the container, held back by all sorts of disadvantage and oppression. 

The book is cast as a memoir, and Smith does venture beyond current affairs to words of appreciation for his parents, including a faithful father in the home (alas, not the majority situation in Chicago and Detroit, where I’ve done mission work). But the book is essentially an addition to the vast literature of racial grievance and of rebuke for those who beg to differ with their woeful assessment of the situation and the trailing program of excuses for those who behave badly. The subtitle might just have well been, “Stories of People Who Made Me Angry.”