Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

  • A Beautiful Use Of Negative Space

    I think Matt gets at the biggest problem with Wolverines "Orgins" be it in comics or in the film:

    Wolverine isn't a character whose origins we're curious about. Wolverine is a character whose origin is that he has no memories and we don't know where he's from other than that at some point he was mixed up with a shady covert ops program that bonded adamantium to his skeleton. That's the origin. That's the character.

    I think we actually are curious about his orgins, but that's the appeal--it's in what you don't know.  How, exactly, does Wolverine know Sabretooth? How did he get admantium bones? Why is he so prone to rage? That negative space is where you put your imagination. This could be generational--I read comics mostly in the 80s, and these were still questions. But I think in story-telling, period, there something be said for letting the consumer wander.

    I never wanted to see a Gwen Stacy clone--the reach she evinced from the grave, the way she altered the Spiderman character was so profound. But the financial upside of filling in the space, of bringing back characters, of revealing orgins is simply to much for some editors, I think. It's certainly too much for Hollywood.

    On another note, sometimes I feel like Yglesias never left this space. All my links are belonging to Matt.

  • Be Serious

    John Judis makes the argument for a Latino judge. I'm mostly cool with his points about democracy and ethnicity, but then he says this:

    Is Sonia Sotomayer qualified to be on Supreme Court? I'm agnostic on that subject--I don't know enough about her--and if you read Jeff's piece carefully, so is he.

    No he isn't. The headline was The Case Against Sonia Sotamayer. It was subtitled Indictments Of Obama's Frontrunner To Replace Souter. He concludes the piece by calling Sotomayer "a gamble."  Judis continues..

    If she has the requisite abilities, and if her opinions are broadly those of Obama himself, then the President should certainly consider her. What if she is very good, but that there are more brilliant jurists around on the faculties of law schools? When Wilson chose Brandeis, he did choose the leading progressive jurist in America. But when Johnson picked Marshall or when Reagan chose O'Connor, there probably were other lawyers around who were more brilliant. Still, these were good choices and good for our country.

    Unlike all those conservative white guys who were clearly most qualified jurists in the land. It's amazing how assumptions that Sotomayer may not be the most qualified candidate (as though there's a such thing) has seeped into TNR's water supply. Funny how that happens. More amazing than that is the fact that the two writers weighing in on this know virtually nothing about Sotomayer's jurisprudence.

  • It's The Racism, Stupid

    Matt had a series of posts a few weeks back about racism and the tea parties. I thought about commenting but, frankly, I wasn't sure what to say. I couldn't tell whether the signs were indicative of the movement, or indicative of a few oddballs. I think it says something that people feel comfortable toting that sort of message to a rally. But my instincts led me to allow for a "charitable interpretation," as one commenter put it last week.

    All of that said, I think Matt was on to something.

    One common refrain of black Southeners from Robert Smalls to Booker T. Washington to Martin Luther King is the notion that white Supremacy has actually corrupted the white South, that while it is a blight on the physical conditions of blacks, it is a greater blight on the spiritual, moral, and mental conditions of whites.

    I never understood how that could be true until relatively recently. But when you think about the embrace of white supremacy by political leaders, you understand that it was not simply an embrace of evil and bigotry, but an embrace of superstition, ghost stories and, ultimately, utter ignorance. At times this has been literally true. There's a short portion in Capitol Men that discusses a late 19th century effort by the federal government to upgrade public schools in the South. For fear that black schools might benefit, South Carolina declines all federal help thus fucking over its white children in the name of white supremacy.

    Racism, like all bigotry is, at its root, lazy thinking. Thus the demagouge who employs racism is engaged in a kind of mental corruption, aimed not at the victims of racism, but its alleged benefactors. Thus when George Wallace asserts the following...

    In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.

    ...he is, for sure, defaming black people. But he's also engaging his followers in a seductive flight of delusional stupidity. The "segregation" part of that quote isn't the worst part. It's the white nationalist hoodoo, the unreflective vanity of "greatest people that have ever trod this earth" that's the killer.

    Likewise, when Jesse Helms tells white North Carolians that all their economic troubles can be summed up by Affirmative Action, he is telling them, "don't think too hard." When Mike Huckabee goes to South Carolina and says...

    You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag. In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell 'em what to do with the pole; that's what we'd do.

    ...He's saying, Don't think too hard about history. Go kick some ass.

    Of course the problem with mental corruption is that it doesn't really respect borders. There's a short step from Farrakhanesque numerology to believing in little green men. Likewise, a group conditioned to, at once, believe that they are "the greatest people that have ever trod this earth," that the stars and bars actually stand for barbecue, NASCAR and rugged individualism, that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery, are exactly the sort of people conditioned to believe that man once hunted dinosaurs, that Obama is (all at once) a radical Christian and a closet Muslim, that global warming is a liberal hoax, that a neurogical diagnoses can be done via video-tape. To be sure, history is littered with smart, well-read racists.But they weren't any smarter for it.

    I think this amazing quote from Joe the Plumber says it all:

    Queer means strange and unusual. It's not like a slur, like you would call a white person a honky or something like that. You know, God is pretty explicit in what we're supposed to do--what man and woman are for. Now, at the same time, we're supposed to love everybody and accept people, and preach against the sins. I've had some friends that are actually homosexual. And, I mean, they know where I stand, and they know that I wouldn't have them anywhere near my children.

    So much of this is perfect--including the idea that "honkey" is the worst slur Joe can think of. But his attitude toward not letting "queers" around his children, is oddly reminiscent. Much as the racist demagouges of yore convinced themselves that the highest aim of black maledom was to bed their fugly-ass daughters, Joe the Plumber is convinced that the highest aim of all queerdom is to spend some time with his snotty-nosed brats.

    He's indicative of a demographic that has long been ill-served by its leadership. That works out well for the leadership--at least initially. But over the long-term, the trouble with ignorance is that it trades the "now" for the future. You're betting that those who come after you won't wise up. How's that working out?

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  • Late-Sauce

    Because I have no television, I'm late on everything. So I have no idea how long ago this Spike Jonz\Karen O collabo came out. But it's pretty awesome. Kinda like an anti-Super Bowl ad.

  • Judicial Malpractice

    Like Matt, I don't understand how in the world a journalist writes a critical piece on a possible Supreme Court nominee and includes this graff:

    I haven't read enough of Sotomayor's opinions to have a confident sense of them, nor have I talked to enough of Sotomayor's detractors and supporters, to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths.

    I should add that the thrust of the piece is that Sotomayor isn't that sharp. That may well be true, but how do you asses that without thoroughly reading her opinions, and talking to broad range of supporters and detractors? I know. You use anonymous quotes!

    Sarcasm aside, minorities and women are particularly sensitive to being told they're stupid--as they should be. It doesn't mean that there aren't any stupid minorities and women. But if you're going to make that case, you really should cover your ass.

  • Blogger Down

    I'm sick, folks. Blogging will be very light. My apologies. Scrimmage amongst yourselves. No hands to the face.

  • Hate Crime Laws

    This comment is bubbling below, and its a question I have myself, so I thought I'd pull it out:

    I have to confess that I'm a bit meh about hate crimes legislation. Matthew Shepard was murdered, after being kidnapped and beaten, etc. So, many crimes were committed. And absolutely, they were committed because he was gay. We punish the crimes of murder, kidnap, and battery. I'm sure that in Montana, the punishments are quite severe. Why isn't that enough?

    I'm not engaging in rhetoric, I'd like a real answer.

    The thing that made me leery of Hate Crime Law was the infamous Fat Nick case, in which a kid got 15 years for what really sounded like beef--with a quasi-ethnic twist. The victim had literally come to the neighborhood to steal a car. Read about the whole story here:

    It is true that Fat Nick chased Moore through the streets that night, and after finding him hiding behind a porch set upon him with the softball bat, saying, "What up, nigga? This is what you get when you try to rob white boys." But it was also true that Glenn Moore and his two friends had come from East New York (one of Moore's friends, Richard Pope, lived there), on a failed excursion to steal a car in Lindenwood. Moreover, there had been a spat of robberies in Howard Beach in the weeks preceding Nick's attack, documented by letters to the editor of the Queens Chronicle. "Where were the press, Mayor Bloomberg, or Police Commissioner Kelley when they held my family hostage?" said Edward Benedetto, the author of such a letter, as he described being robbed at gunpoint by three black men to a Chronicle reporter after the media descended on Howard Beach.

    In his confession, Fat Nick seemed accepting of the presence of black people in East New York, whereas detective D'Angelo seemed coercive, as though he had a bigger arsenal of generalizations about race at his disposal than Nick did, albeit for different purposes. In other words, it seemed possible that Nick had selected Glenn Moore because he was black, but it seemed uncertain as ever that Nick was a racist, as opposed, say, to a street punk with an anger problem who acted with the instincts of a racial profiler, and who should only have been charged with aggravated assault.

    The law isn't my area, and I'd love to hear a solid defense of hate crime laws. It strikes me as weird that the mere utterance of a racial slur during a violent act automatically makes it worse.

  • David Souter On The Outs

    But you already knew that. John Nichols argues that this is why Arlen matters:

    No matter who Obama picks, the chances that his nominee will be confirmed with relative ease have risen significantly in recent days. Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter's switch from the Republican caucus to the Democratic caucus moves a key member of the Judiciary Committee into the majority-party camp. If and when Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party candidate Al Franken is finally seated, Democrats will have the 60 votes they need to advance a nomination without having to contend with a Republican filibuster.
  • Byron York Is Not A Racist

    Byron York claps back with this shocking claim:

    A few commentators on the left are calling me a racist for my post, "The black-white divide in Obama's popularity."  I suppose if you haven't been called a racist by the usual suspects on the left, you haven't been writing for very long...

    I wrote that citing Obama's "sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are." I thought the word "overall" conveyed the idea that there was a difference between the total job-approval number and the complexities of opinion of Obama on various issues.  Maybe "across-the-board" would have been better than "overall," but I doubt that would have kept a left-wing activist like Matthew Yglesias, or Andrew Sullivan, who has himself been accused of racism and, quite recently, anti-Semitism, from branding me a racist.  The numbers inside the Times poll are newsworthy, if the critics would take the time to read and analyze them.

    The fact that York, at no point, quotes a single "left-wing activist" calling him a racist should tell you something about the honesty of his rebuttal. For employers of the "not a racist" form letter, the unsubstantiated charge is the heading.

    One reason I spent so much time yesterday talking about people who play the "not a racist" card is because I was fairly sure this would be York's response. I can't tell you how comical it is to see that he actually followed the script. (Meekly defend your position and feign victimhood for having been called racist--whether you were called one or not.)

    In fact neither Matt nor "left-wing activist" Andrew called York a racist. But "you're a racist" is the  easiest argument to respond to, so York just pretends that they did. It's an incredibly dishonest and intellectually cowardly move, but it's the stock and trade of your average pundit  looking to "score points." Instead of evaluating your adversary's critique, you simply stick your fingers in your ear and exclaim "not a racist" and "left-wing activist" and hope no one's the wiser.

    Meanwhile, York never responds to the fundamental critique of his column summed up here by noted lefty, flagrant race-card dealer, and former aide to Newt Gingrich, (and self-professed friend of Byron York!) Robert George:

    The "problem" with this analysis is -- what's the point? Analysis of the GOP's relative strengths and weaknesses comes down to geographic assessment. Schneider doesn't devote a segment to "What would the Senate look like if white Southerners didn vote for Republicans (which in some states they do to upwards of 70 or 80 percent)?" But blacks voting for Democrats is staged as some sort of "exception" that should implicitly invalidate the reality of the current political situation.

    Ironically, this Schneider segment -- as pernicious as it was in itself -- actually undermines York's even-worse piece: Simply put, because blacks tend to vote overwhelmingly black Democrat at the presidential level, there is actually very little difference between black support for Barack Obama and that of any "generic" Democratic president.


    I do not mean to make this personal, and I hope George will forgive the use of his quote in this manner. Moreover, in the spirit of honesty, it's worth noting that George denies that York is a racist--which is fine because I've yet to a see a single writer of note actually call him one. George glancingly addresses the point I'd make:

    Of course, it is fine to entertain the question whether it is possible for someone (of any race or background) to write an article that is implicitly racist without that person being racist. That, however, forces a level of philosophical charity that few are willing to entertain.
    No disrespect, but I call bullshit. We entertained that exact argument right here, yesterday:

    I don't say this because I expect York to care very much. I say this because I hope some of my white readers, who think Bobby Rush is the end of this discussion, understand why I'm very comfortable calling York's column racist. As for the matter of York's heart, I leave that to him. I don't wash his laundry. I don't balance his affairs.
    I can't tell you that Byron York is racist. I've never met him. I am not in this business to read the contents of York's heart. That's between him and his preacher. My duty is to try to have some honor, to respond directly to the arguments as the come, to not make up strawmen, and  to be as confident and clear as possible about what I write.

    Before I called York's column racist, I looked for ten other ways to read it. I came away with nothing short of the implication that in the court of public opinion, black people matter less. If that isn't a racist argument, then there is no such thing. And for half a century now, hasn't that been the conservatives' point?

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  • Orgins

    A.O. Scott says the new Wolverine flick kinda blows:

    "Wolverine" is shorter and less pretentious than "Watchmen," but almost programmatically unmemorable, a hodge-podge of loose ends, wild inconsistencies and stale genre conventions. Vengeance is the default motive for most of the mayhem that is perpetrated, and for good measure there is a military-scientific government conspiracy overseen by a reptilian bad guy (the excellent Danny Huston).

    A flotilla of secondary characters parades through the scenery, mostly mutants with various powers and questionable franchise-enhancing capabilities. Ryan Reynolds, Taylor Kitsch and Will.i.am show up and do what they can, but prove hopelessly unable to compensate for the absence of, say, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin or Ian McKellen.

    "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" will most likely manage to cash in on the popularity of the earlier episodes, but it is the latest evidence that the superhero movie is suffering from serious imaginative fatigue.

    I'll catch it on DVD. Not because of its merits or lack therof, but because the theater's are just too damn loud these days.


Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.


Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air



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