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.

  • The Case of Renisha McBride

     I believe that we live in a country that justifies killing in response to someone "banging" on your door. I hope I am wrong.

    It's been a little more than two weeks since Renisha McBride was killed in Dearborn Heights. An inebriated McBride crashed her car, and somehow, wandered on to the porch of Theodore Wafer. McBride was evidently knocking on the door. Wafer responded by killing her:

    The Dearborn Heights homeowner dialed 911, telling the dispatcher: “I just shot somebody on my front porch with a shotgun banging on my door.”

    When police arrived, 19-year-old Renisha McBride was lying on her back with her feet pointed toward the door, a shotgun wound to her face, a newly released police report says.

    On Friday, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced second-degree murder and other charges against homeowner Theodore Wafer, saying the evidence suggests he opened the front door before he fired through the closed and locked screen door, killing McBride.

    “I can’t imagine in my wildest dreams of what that man feared from her to shoot her in the face,” her mother Monica McBride said on Friday. “I would like to know why. She brought him no danger.”

    Unfortunately whether Wafer was in danger or not is irrelevant to whether he will be convicted of any crime. He has been charged with second-degree murder. The standard for self-defense in Michigan provides for the use of "deadly force or force other than deadly force honestly and reasonably believes that the individual is engaging in conduct described in subdivision (a)" (my emphasis).

    Here is a preview of what you will likely hear:

    It’s not yet clear what kind of argument Theodore Wafer, the Dearborn Heights man accused of shooting the 19-year-old McBride through his screen door on Nov. 2 and charged with 2nd-degree murder on Friday, might use in his defense. But the bar will be high.

    “The standard for self-defense is that you reasonably perceive a threat of death or serious bodily harm from the other person. You respond with equal force. You can’t use deadly force ample to defend your home or to prevent someone from stealing your property. It can only be used for self-defense or defense of others,” Henning says.

    Authorities say McBride came to Wafer’s door around 4:30 a.m. after crashing her car. A toxicology report found twice the legal limit of alcohol in her blood.

    Could there be valid argument of self-defense in this case if the defendant was behind a locked screen door? “Certainly that’s a possibility,” says Henning. “It is possible that there was shouting, or perhaps an effort to open up the door, or bang on a window or something like that could give him a basis to believe that there was a threat that someone was going to break into his home. From there, you could infer a threat of death or serious bodily harm.”

    I'm not optimistic about this case. There are no eyewitnesses. The killing happened at the man's home as opposed to out on the street. And the only direct narrative will come from the lips of a killer who has every interest to shape that narrative in a way that justifies his actions. 

    I haven't written much on this case, because I don't know what else to offer beyond my deep skepticism of the courts as a likely resolution. It is painful to keep writing this. I believe that we live in a country that justifies killing in response to someone "banging" on your door. I hope I am wrong. It is sickening to believe myself right. It is sickening to see a polite society submit to gun law.

  • Yeah, Alec Baldwin Is a Bigot

    Supporting marriage rights doesn't mean you aren't a homophobe.

    AP

    I stole that headline from Andrew Sullivan, because like Andrew, I don't really understand how there can be much debate about Alec Baldwin's tendency to insult people who have angered him with the word "faggot" ("cocksucking fag" to be specific). "Faggot," like most slurs, is a word used to remove a group from the protections of society. It is not incidental that slurs frequently accompany acts of violence—both systemic (withholding the protections of the law) and personal (beatings, torture and killings). 

    Along with that societal estrangement comes an entire series of justificationsphysical weakness and immorality being the main ones. When Baldwin calls someone who has angered him a faggot, he is invoking those justifications. He is saying, "Your behavior is like that of a gay man and you should be treated as such." It is not a mistake that this reaction accompanies a temper bordering on violence. 

    This is bigotry. And it is not complicated by the fact that Baldwin  supports marriage equality. One need not believe that LGBTQ human beings are equal to support their right to marry, any more than one needed to be an anti-racist to support abolition, or an anti-sexist to support women's suffrage. There any number of self-interested reasons to support the advancement of civil rights. "Let them niggers vote" or "let them fags marry" is actually a politically consistent position. It says, "I don't like you, but I'm not willing to put my tax dollars behind my dislike." Or even, "I don't like you, but I think I can profit from taking this position."

    This is progress. But it certainly isn't the end of bigotry. And progressives, in this enlightened age, should not be in the habit of handing out cookies to bigots who happen to be politically sophisticated. One of Andrew's commenters begins by claiming that he feels "slimy" defending Baldwin. The commenter then launches a defense of his right to use the word faggot (and nigger) when angered. But if it feels slimy, it almost always is slimy. It is slimy to want credit for recognizing someone else's humanity, while avoiding a confrontation with the standards for your own. 

    UPDATE: Sorry, but I forgot to quote this essential graff from Andrew:

    In my view, the gay rights movement is not, at its core, about enacting legislation, or merely a political struggle. It is a moral case for the equal dignity of gay people, and for mutual respect. What deeply troubles me is not so much that one hot-headed actor is a bigot, but that his public support for gay causes is effectively buying him a right to perpetuate the vilest canards and hatreds that have demeaned gay people for centuries. What disturbs me is that pro forma support for various gay organizations or causes gives this man permission to perpetuate the foulest forms of bigotry – and never take full responsibility for it, and to do it again and again, with no penalty or the faintest sense that he has really done something terribly wrong by his own alleged standards.

    Dead on. 

  • This Is How You Lose Her

    The end of the NFL begins with the young

    Hall of Famer Mike Webster. George Gojkovich/Getty Images

    Given Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, given Tony Dorsett and Brett Favre, and given that these men were the heroes to the kind of parents who would have once put their kids in Pop Warner, this can't be surprising:

    According to data provided to "Outside the Lines," Pop Warner lost 23,612 players, thought to be the largest two-year decline since the organization began keeping statistics decades ago. Consistent annual growth led to a record 248,899 players participating in Pop Warner in 2010; that figure fell to 225,287 by the 2012 season.

    Pop Warner officials said they believe several factors played a role in the decline, including the trend of youngsters focusing on one sport. But the organization's chief medical officer, Dr. Julian Bailes, cited concerns about head injuries as "the No. 1 cause."

    "Unless we deal with these truths, we're not going to get past the dropping popularity of the sport and people dropping out of the sport," said Bailes, a former Pittsburgh Steelers neurosurgeon whose 10-year-old son, Clint, plays Pop Warner outside Chicago. "We need to get it right."

    I think that point about truths is exactly right. The NFL has a long history of lying about head injury, its effects and its connection to football. There's really no reason for any parent to listen to anything the NFL says on the subject:

    2010-In a display of seriousness over player safety, Steelers linebacker James Harrison is fined $75,000 for his hit on Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi in an October game. Somewhat undercutting this display, the NFL sells pictures of the hit on its website.

    This includes the idea that the effects of head injury can be dealt with teaching tackling technique--as though Mike Webster did not happen.

    But the truth may not be enough, because what if the truth is that not remembering your daughter's childhood is a built-in risk of playing pro football? In my ideal world, the NFL would acknowledge that and then structure its compensation around the incredible risk each players takes when he puts on a uniform. 

  • Richard Cohen in Context

    Some people are defending his abysmal column. Their argument is not very good.

    There are a few people defending Richard Cohen's abysmal column today as though it were the victim of a giant reading-comprehension fail. I think this piece by J. Bryan Lowder offers the gist of the argument:

    But before I get to that, though, let’s break down what Cohen actually wrote. The offending paragraph is embedded in a longer segment about the mindless, reactionary social conservatism of Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrats and how nasty their insurgence was for a more moderate Democratic Party back in the 1948 election. Cohen calls the similarities to contemporary tea-partying Iowans “ominous,” and warily eyes the trenchant, anti-modern (and politically costly) attitude that can emerge when a group of people perceive their “way of life under attack and they [fear] its loss.” Now, it’s true that he doesn’t condemn this faction as forcefully as he might, but my takeaway from the piece as a whole was that Cohen is none too pleased with what their ascendancy bodes for mainstream conservatism.

    Of course, a few highly ambiguous phrases (that probably should have been edited out) in the “gag” sentence make this reading harder, but let’s try. “Conventional” is the most unfortunate word choice, with its connotations of “common sense,” “widely shared,” or “unremarkable”; as many critics have already pointed out, studies show that disapproval of miscegenation is none of those things today. But recall that Cohen has been describing a limited, if still very much extant, mindset that (he at least wants us to believe) is not his own; in that worldview, dislike of interracial marriage is very much conventional, as is dislike of former lesbians—these are literally the conventions of that social group.

    This is not a very good defense. I read the entire column. I saw the preceding grafs where Cohen offers a rough history of the Dixiecrats and segregationists wing of America. And then I read this:

    Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled—about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York—a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts—but not all—of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.

    The problem here isn't that we think Richard Cohen gags at the sight of an interracial couple and their children. The problem is that Richard Cohen thinks being repulsed isn't actually racist, but "conventional" or "culturally conservative." Obstructing the right of black humans and white humans to form families is a central feature of American racism. If retching at the thought of that right being exercised isn't racism, then there is no racism. 

    Context can not improve this. "Context" is not a safe word that makes all your other horse-shit statements disappear. And horse-shit is the context in which Richard Cohen has, for all these years, wallowed. It is horse-shit to claim that store owners are right to discriminate against black males. It is horse-shit to claim Trayvon Martin was wearing the uniform of criminals. It is horse-shit to subject your young female co-workers to "a hostile work environment." It is horse-shit to expend precious newsprint lamenting the days when slovenly old dudes had their pick of 20-year-old women. It is horse-shit to defend a rapist on the run because you like The PianistAnd it is horse-shit for Katharine Weymouth, the Post's publisher, to praise a column with the kind of factual error that would embarrass a j-school student.

    Richard Cohen's unfortunate career is the proper context to understand his column today and the wide outrage that's greeted it. We are being told that Cohen finds it "hurtful" to be called racist. I am sorry that people on the Internet have hurt Richard Cohen's feelings. I find it "hurtful" that Cohen endorses the police profiling my son. I find it eternally "hurtful" that the police, following that same logic, killed one of my friends. I find it hurtful to tell my students that, even in this modern age, vending horse-shit is still an esteemed and lucrative profession.

  • Richard Cohen on Black-White Marriage

    I'm not racist. I just don't recognize my country.

    Here's a fairly amazing paragraph from Richard Cohen's latest:

    Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled—about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York—a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts—but not all—of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.

    Right. I'm not racist. I just don't recognize my country. Also, the sight of you, and your used-to-be-lesbian black wife, and your brown children make me sick to my stomach. It's not like I want to lynch you or anything. 

  • Delineating Evil

    A few months ago, when I was digging into some Eric Hobsbawm, I got into a debate with some members of the Horde over how to view Hobsawm's adherence to communism. I defended Hobsbawm's allegedly reflective outlook against many who saw him essentially indulging in a European version of Lost Cause-ism. I want to say that I was dead wrong and my interlocutors were right.  In that wrongness, I think is an important lesson. 

    I understood, say, the Soviet bloc under a general rubric of "bad" or "evil" or "not good." This is insufficient for one who endeavors to be a thinking person. To be human is to be detailed and individual, and thus to see inhumanity  you must not submit to the temptation of seeing people's oppressions as an undifferentiated muck of pain.  Part of the job of writers, historian, artists and intellectuals is not allow evil to become inhuman, amorphous and globulous, to make sure that we don't get lazy, that the contours of particular evils are delineated and precise.

    I should have known better than to do this because one of my pet peeves is the way the black struggle in American gets lumped into the broader "People of Color/Women/Poor/Gay etc" gumbo. Activism sometimes necessitates a melding of interests. But I am not an activist. I'm not sure what I am. But I am sure of what I want--to see clearly, that is to say  without self-serving apology or self-flattering caveat or self-justifying analogy.

    The following paragraphs from Tony Judt reminded me of this. Here is evil perceived clearly and communicated directly:

    The scale of the punishment meted out to the citizens of the USSR and Eastern Europe in the decade following World War Two was monumental—and, outside the Soviet Union itself, utterly unprecedented. Trials were but the visible tip of an archipelago of repression: prison, exile, forced labor battalions. In 1952, at the height of the second Stalinist terror, 1.7 million prisoners were held in Soviet labor camps, a further 800,000 in labor colonies, and 2,753,000 in ‘special settlements’. The ‘normal’ Gulag sentence was 25 years, typically followed (in the case of survivors) by exile to Siberia or Soviet Central Asia.
     
    In Bulgaria, from an industrial workforce of just under half a million, two persons out of nine were slave laborers. In Czechoslovakia it is estimated that there were 100,000 political prisoners in a population of 13 million in the early 1950s, a figure that does not include the many tens of thousands working as forced laborers in everything but name in the country’s mines. ‘Administrative liquidations’, in which men and women who disappeared into prison were quietly shot without publicity or trial, were another form of punishment. A victim’s family might wait a year or more before learning that he or she had ‘disappeared’. Three months later the person was then legally presumed dead, though with no further official acknowledgement or confirmation. At the height of the terror in Czechoslovakia some thirty to forty such announcements would appear in the local press every day. Tens of thousands disappeared this way; many hundreds of thousands more were deprived of their privileges, apartments, jobs. 
     
     
    In Hungary, during the years 1948-53, about one million people (of a total population of less than ten million) are estimated to have suffered arrest, prosecution, imprisonment or deportation. One Hungarian family in three was directly affected. Relatives suffered commensurately. Fritzi Loebl, the wife of one of Slánský’s ‘coconspirators’, was kept for a year in the prison at Ruzyn, outside Prague, and interrogated by Russians who called her a ‘stinking yid prostitute’. Upon her release she was exiled to a factory in north Bohemia. The wives of prisoners and deportees lost their employment, their apartments and their personal effects. At best, if they were lucky, they were then forgotten, like Josephine Langer, whose husband Oskar Langer, a witness at the Slánský trial, was later sentenced in a secret trial to 22 years in prison. She and her daughters lived for six years in a cellar. 
     
    Romania saw perhaps the worst persecution, certainly the most enduring. In addition to well over a million detainees in prisons, labor camps and slave labor on the Danube-Black Sea Canal, of whom tens of thousands died and whose numbers don’t include those deported to the Soviet Union, Romania was remarkable for the severity of its prison conditions and various ‘experimental’ prisons; notably the one at Piteşti where, for three years from December 1949 through late 1952, prisoners were encouraged to ‘re-educate’ one another through physical and psychological torture. 
     
    Most of the victims were students, ‘Zionists’ and non-Communist political detainees. The Communist state was in a permanent condition of undeclared war against its own citizens. Like Lenin, Stalin understood the need for enemies, and it was in the logic of the Stalinist state that it was constantly mobilizing against its foes—external, but above all domestic...
     
    The martial vocabulary so beloved of Communist rhetoric echoed this conflict-bound condition. Military metaphors abounded: class conflict required alliances, liaison with the masses, turning movements, frontal attacks. Stalin’s assertion that class warfare accentuated as socialism approached was adduced to account for the curious fact that even as elections everywhere showed99 percent support for the Party, its enemies were nevertheless multiplying, the battle had to be fought with ever firmer resolve, and the domestic history of the USSR had to be painstakingly reproduced across the Soviet bloc. 
     
    The main enemies were ostensibly the peasant and the bourgeois. But in practice intellectuals were often the easiest target, just as they had been for the Nazis. Andrei Zdanov’s venomous attack on Anna Akhmatova—‘a nun or a whore, or rather a nun and a whore, who combines harlotry with prayer. Akhmatova’s poetry is utterly remote from the people’59—echoes most of the conventional Stalinist anti-intellectual themes: religion, prostitution, alienation from the masses. Had Akhmatova been Jewish, like much of the central European intelligentsia, the caricature would have been complete.

    These paragraphs, which I listened to walking through New York today, made me feel like the whole conversation we had about Nazism and Communism yesterday was kind of silly. I have so many questions.

    I bring my own biases to this. In my eyes, killing someone because of what you perceive to be in their bones--because of invented race, or gender, or ancestry, or sexuality--is the worst possible crime.  But why is that the worse possible crime? What specific reason can I give for elevating the Southern slave society over the Gulag in the hierarchy of evils? Why, specifically, is the Shoah our buzzword for ultimate evil? Is a hierarchy of evil, itself, a ghoulish and bizarre enterprise, best abandoned? Why does it even matter?

    I don't know. I'm sure you will tell me. There's so much to think about here.

    More »

  • Richie Incognito's Accidental Racism: An Apologia

    Richie Incognito did not choose to employ the most incendiary slur in the American lexicon, so much as he was caught.

    AP

    Former NFL player Nathan Jackson makes a full-throated defense of Richie Incognito over at New York. It's worth focusing on Jackson's notion that Richie Incognito was well within his rights to call a black man a half-nigger:

    Through the TV screen, Richie Incognito looks like the big jerk. But we don’t understand the context, intent, or perception of the joking that goes on in that locker room, or whether it was perceived as joking in the first place. The voice-mail in question sure sounds like a joke, albeit a bad one: It allegedly involves Incognito using the N-word and offering to poop in the dude’s mouth.

    Of course, no one but ESPN’s Adam Schefter takes the mouth-defecation threats seriously. I mean, imagine the logistics there. But that Incognito called Martin a half-N-word is worth discussing. Out in society, the word nigger still excites and appalls, and a white man who is unlucky enough to utter it, even in jest, is forever labeled a racist. But inside an NFL locker room, the meaning of the word has washed out. There are white men who are so close to their black brothers that their lexicon is identical, and they communicate with the same phrases, jokes, and nicknames.

    Some in the media were quick to label Incognito a racist, but some of his black teammates defended him. Every NFL locker room is full of proud black men who have a keen eye for the intentions of their white peers. If Richie Incognito said the N-word in a malicious way, those teammates would have taken care of the problem.

    The thinking here is unfortunate. If I am found on camera inveighing against  "hook-nosed Jews," to call myself "unlucky" would be deflection and self-serving understatement. The word "unlucky" presumes that virtually all adult white men can be found, at some point, in full-on Michael Richards-mode and those of us who would shame them for it are the real culprits.

    This is accidental racism, which is to say white innocence, at its finest. Richie Incognito did not choose to employ the most incendiary slur in the American lexicon, so much as he was caught by some peeping Tom (who happened to be the victim.) Riley Cooper didn't physically threaten a black security guard with a phrase that has accompanied some of the worst acts of terrorism in our country's history; some rude voyeur videoed Cooper relieving himself in public. 

    It's that same white innocence that allows for Jackson's claim of brotherhood and his invocation of "proud black men." We have heard a lot about the peculiar context of the locker-room. I think we should remember the peculiar context in which the locker-room exists. The locker-room is a workplace controlled--almost entirely--by white people. In this sense we are all in locker-rooms, workplaces with different rules, but with white control remaining constant. I see no reason why the NFL should be immune to the basic laws of American gravity. On the contrary, players, like all workers, have interests--among them, securing food for their families and loved ones. Players, not unlike workers, do this by subverting individual interests in favor of the interests of their employers. 

    I highly doubt that the invocation of "nigger" has "washed out" of NFL locker-rooms. More likely, it is that players simply can't afford to be bothered fighting over it. This is not so different than any other work-place. White people relying on black people to be their conscience will very often be disappointed. We come to work to put dinner on the table. Charging me with taking my work-time to list the reasons why calling me a "half-nigger" might not be a very good idea is the magic that transforms your ignorance into my burden.

    The limits of using work-place friendships to analyze something that happened outside of the workplace, are evident in Jackson's notion that "nigger" is the ultimate statement of fraternity. White people who actually spend time around black people--not black individuals whom they know from work, but black people with their families, in their communities, with their parents--will quickly notice that using "nigger" actually isn't a barometer of closeness. I'm black and I don't call even some of my best friends nigger. They, unlike me, are offended by it. Black humans, like most humans, are different from each other. But to grasp this, you must have to have relationships with black humans that go beyond your job. 

    That is why black players defending Incognito is irrelevant. Those players are free to invite Richie Incognito to call their voicemails and threaten their lives, and threaten their mothers, and threaten to shit in their mouths, and call them half-niggers, and when it all becomes public hold a press conference in which they laud Incognito as the second coming of Lincoln.

    But Martin doesn't have to live by their standards. Arguing that he should because, like, these other black dudes I work with it said it was fine, is myopia.

  • The Coldest War

    I want to thank everyone who's been commenting in these threads about Tony Judt's Postwar and Tom Segev's The Seventh Million. These are always the best threads for me, because they are areas where I am just learning. The willingness of you guys to engage in debate and conversation, to actually attempt to compare and contrast Stalin's evil from Hitler's, to try to specifically delineate conquest from colonialism is major.

    I'm not in a history department. And more than most journalists, my orientation is toward history.  People often ask me how much work it takes to moderate. Funny enough they never ask what I get out of it. It's knowledge, of course. Rae knowledge. Evidently, I must read Bloodlands next. So it goes.

    Here's something else. Mucking around the internet and looking at some site dealing in Russian history, I stumbled upon the Red Army Choir. Here the are doing "Song of The Volga Boatmen." It's beautiful. I'm getting vision of Robeson. 

  • The Coldest War

    Joseph Stalin (Wikimedia Commons)

    I'm entering into the portion of the Postwar that deals with the early days of the Cold War. Terms like "evil" are overused, but it takes some mental gymnastics to watch Stalin bend Czechoslovakia, war with Tito, choke Bulgaria, pilfer Hungary and not construe the U.S.S.R as "an evil empire." If there's any problem with that phrase it's that it's redundant. I've yet to come across an empire that isn't "evil." Empires emerge from conquest, degradation, and mass existential violence. I don't know how you look at what the British did in Kenya, what the Belgians did in the Congo, what the French did in Algeria and conclude that empire is ever anything but "evil." 

    But this shouldn't obscure the point. There's a long history of African-American communism that deserves a longer treatment than I offer here. Some of my heroes rank among these folks--Robeson and Du Bois immediately coming to mind. I was talking to my buddy William Jelani Cobb about this. Jelani did his doc researching black anti-communists. He pointed out that part of the attraction for people like Robeson was the fact that the Soviets had no colonies in Africa. 

    But the U.S.S.R. was ultimately as much a colonizer, as much an imperial power,  as any other European power. The difference was that Russia colonized white people:

    The Czech case is a particularly striking one. Before World War Two, the Czech regions of Bohemia and Moravia (already the industrial heartland of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before 1914) had a higher per capita output than France, specializing in leather goods, motor vehicles, high-tech arms manufacture and a broad range of luxury goods.

    Measured by industrial skill levels, productivity, standard of living and share of foreign markets, pre-1938 Czechoslovakia was comparable to Belgium and well ahead of Austria and Italy. By 1956, Communist Czechoslovakia had not only fallen behind Austria, Belgiumand the rest of Western Europe, but was far less efficient and much poorer than it had been twenty years earlier. In 1938, per capita car ownership in Czechoslovakia and Austria was at similar levels; by 1960 the ratio was 1:3.

    Even the products in which the country still had a competitive edge—notably small arms manufacture—no longer afforded Czechs any benefit, since they were constrained to direct their exports exclusively to their Soviet masters. As for the establishment of manufacturing mammoths like the Gottwald Steelworks in Ostrava, identical to steelworks in Poland, the German Democratic Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and the USSR, these represented for the Czechs not rapid industrialization but enforced backwardness (crash programs of industrialization based on the manufacture of steel were pursued in spite of Czechoslovakia’s very limited resources in iron ore).

    Following the one-time start-up benefits from unprecedented growth in primary industries, the same was true for every other satellite state. By the mid-fifties, Soviet Eastern Europe was already beginning its steady decline into ‘planned’ obsolescence.

    The U.S.S.R. extracted reparations from Hungary and made each of subservient nations trade with them first, not each other. At the center of it all was the pirate Stalin:

    Stalin had emerged from his victory over Hitler far stronger even than before, basking in the reflected glory of ‘his’ Red Army, at home and abroad. The personality cult around the Soviet dictator, already well advanced before the war, now rose to its apogee. Popular Soviet documentaries on World War Two showed Stalin winning the war virtually single-handed, planning strategy and directing battles with not a general in sight. In almost every sphere of life, from dialectics to botany, Stalin was declared the supreme and unchallenged authority.

    Soviet biologists were instructed to adopt the theories of the charlatan Lysenko, who promised Stalin undreamed-of agricultural improvements if his theories about the inheritability of acquired characteristics were officially adopted and applied to Soviet farming—as they were, to disastrous effect.50 On his 70th birthday in December 1949 Stalin’s image, picked out by searchlights hung from balloons, lit the night sky over the Kremlin. Poets outdid one another in singing the Leader’s praises—a 1951 couplet by the Latvian poet V. Lukss is representative:  

    Like beautiful red yarn into our hearts we wove/Stalin, our brother and father, your name.  

    This obsequious neo-Byzantine anointing of the despot, the attribution to him of near-magical powers, unfolded against a steadily darkening backdrop of tyranny and terror. In the last years of the war, under the cloak of Russian nationalism, Stalin expelled east to Siberia and Central Asia a variety of small nations from western and south-western border regions, the Caucasus in particular: Chechens, Ingush, Karachays, Nalkars, Kalmyks, Crimean Tatars and others, in the wake of the Volga Germans deported in 1941. This brutal treatment of small nations was hardly new—Poles and Balts had been exiled east by the hundreds of thousands between 1939 and 1941, Ukrainians in the 1930s and others before them, back to 1921.

    More than anyone, Stalin is the most fascinating figure in the early chapters of Postwar. I can't get a handle on him. He bumbles constantly. When Stalin goes to subjugate Poland, he is crippled by the fact that he's purged an entire generation of Polish communists. He was caught totally by surprise when Hitler invaded. And yet somehow Stalin does not just hold on to power he increases his power.

    The politics at work in this era of Central\Eastern Europe remind me of the politics at work during in the early 17th century. There's that same sense of chaos and shifting alliances. As history, it is totally gripping. I have argued, repeatedly, that white people have never done anything to black people they haven't done to themselves. You see this in the Stalin's empire--right down to the slave ships.

    Judt is just now describing Stalin's anti-Semitism and the show trials orchestrated against Jewish communists. More on that soon. 

  • How to Be One of the Guys

    I don't really know in what universe "figure him out a little" leads to calling someone a racial slur.

    AP / Lynne Sladky

    It's worth checking out this piece by retired Dolphins lineman Lyndon Murtha, in which he gives his ostensibly unbiased ("I don't have a dog in this fight") perspective on Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito:

    From the beginning, when he was drafted in April 2012, Martin did not seem to want to be one of the group. He came off as standoffish and shy to the rest of the offensive linemen. He couldn’t look anyone in the eye, which was puzzling for a football player at this level on a team full of grown-ass men. We all asked the same question: Why won’t he be open with us? What’s with the wall being put up? I never really figured it out. He did something I’d never seen before by balking at the idea of paying for a rookie dinner, which is a meal for a position group paid for by rookies. (For example, I paid $9,600 for one my rookie year.) I don’t know if Martin ever ended up paying for one, as I was cut before seeing the outcome.

    Martin was expected to play left tackle beside Incognito at guard from the start, so Incognito took him under his wing. They were close friends by all apperances. Martin had a tendency to tank when things would get difficult in practice, and Incognito would lift him up. He’d say, there’s always tomorrow. Richie has been more kind to Martin than any other player.

    In other situations, when Martin wasn’t showing effort, Richie would give him a lot of crap. He was a leader on the team, and he would get in your face if you were unprepared or playing poorly. The crap he would give Martin was no more than he gave anyone else, including me. Other players said the same things Incognito said to Martin, so you’d need to suspend the whole team if you suspend Incognito.

    Which brings me to my first point: I don’t believe Richie Incognito bullied Jonathan Martin. I never saw Martin singled out, excluded from anything, or treated any differently than the rest of us. We’d have dinners and the occasional night out, and everyone was invited. He was never told he can’t be a part of this. It was the exact opposite. But when he came out, he was very standoffish. That’s why the coaches told the leaders,bring him out of his shell. Figure him out a little bit.

    I don't really know in what universe "figure him out a little" leads to calling someone a "half-nigger" and telling them "I'll kill you."

    Be that as it may, it's worth considering what being "one of the group" meant on the Dolphins' offensive line:

    Recently suspended guard Richie Incognito held meetings for fellow Miami Dolphins offensive linemen at a South Florida strip club and would fine them if they didn't attend, according to a report.

    The National Football Post, citing two sources, reported that Incognito expected the linemen to attend. If they failed to show up, Incognito would fine them in the club's kangaroo court and mock them for not being part of the group, one of the sources said.

    "Richie wanted to set up Richie's world as a way for everybody to act," a team source told the National Football Post. "Richie thinks everybody should act that way. He doesn't get that some guys aren't into that behavior. Some guys don't want to constantly explain to their wife or girlfriend why they have to go to a strip club."

    This is right out of the gangster's playbook. It's enough for me to dirt. You need to do it with me. Otherwise, I start wondering whose side you're really on.

  • Tony Dorsett Has CTE

    Whereas some players accentuated the violence of football, Dorsett masked it. It did not save him.

    Tony Dorsett. (Getty Images)

    When I was eight years old there simply no one I wanted to be like more than Tony Dorsett. Not Malcolm X. Not my Dad. No one. Tony Dorsett was pretty, as we used to say. He did not so much run as danced. He was the first player I watched as a kid and had that feeling—every time he touched the ball—that something other-wordly might be about to happen. (Randall Cunningham used to give me that same feeling. Derrick Rose, these days.)

    To perform in that way, to be a magician, to bring people to the edge of themselves, up out of their skin, simply by running with a ball seemed incredible to me. Watching Dorsett was like a watching a doe play tag with a pack of hyenas. The doe always won.

    Football is violence. Some running backs embrace this and broadcast this. I think of how Earl Campbell played offense like he was playing defense. He looked for contact and exacted a price on all who went looking for him. "He fell," Campbell once said after bulling over a linebacker. "I kept running."

    Whereas Campbell accentuated the violence of football, Dorsett masked it. Dorsett danced. It did not save him:

    Dorsett’s 15-minute phone interview with The News was punctuated by long silences as he stopped in mid-sentence, searching for his train of thought.

    Dorsett won the 1976 Heisman Trophy at the University of Pittsburgh and rushed for 12,739 yards during 12 NFL seasons, but nowadays he often can’t remember routes to places he’d driven for years.

    “I knew something was going on. It takes me back to the fact that we [as players] were treated [after head injuries] and still put back out there in harm’s way, when from my understanding management knew what they were doing to us.

    “They were still subjecting us to that kind of physical abuse without the proper treatment. It really hurts. My quality of life [long pause] deteriorates a little bit just about every day.

    I left the NFL two seasons ago. I still check in weekly on NFL scores and news. If I'm in a bar and a game is on, I watch. I went to Howard's homecoming game last week. For the first 35 years of my life, football was my favorite sport. It's going to be a long time before I'm totally done. 

    It isn't the violence to which I object. Players often say "I know the risk." I think it's worth taking them at their word on that. Longevity is not the only value in the world. There are experiences so intense that you might trade them for the years. Were I white I could pad my life expectancy a bit. Still I somehow believe I got the better end of the deal.

    What rankles me is the inability to look squarely at what this game is, to obscure, to pretend that penalizing head-shots, that decreasing "big hits," that playing the game "the right way" will make it all go away.

    And even as I write that I wonder if I am being too cute, if I am not being radical enough. Circling back to the conversation du jour:

    The report states the the female volunteer told police that Incognito "used his golf club to touch her by rubbing it up against her vagina, then up her stomach then to her chest. He then used the club to knock a pair of sunglasses off the top of her head.

    "After that, he proceeded to lean up against her buttocks with his private parts as if dancing, saying 'Let it rain! Let it rain!'" the report states. "He finally finished his inappropriate behavior by emptying bottled water in her face."

    I grew up in a time and place where you really did have to fight if you expected to be able to live.  I was a boy. I adopted certain codes in order to survive. But I never liked them. To beat a man down, even then, I felt was a kind of self-degradation, a lack of control, a reduction. I am not speaking abstractly.  I don't know how many of you have ever kicked anybody's ass, but the few times (the one time) I did, what I felt in the aftermath was great pride, then greater shame, and then even greater fear. I don't like being hurt. I like hurting other people even less.

    But when I was young our bodies were all we had. Imposing those bodies on other bodies was the height of our power. It was also the limits of it. All the while we knew that were other people with greater power, who imposed with force so great that it seemed mystical to us. To see football players—arguably the most exploited athletes in major sports—bragging about manly power, along the same codes that once ruled my youth, is saddening.

    I've been reading a lot about war, lately. Yesterday it was bloody Stalin in Prague and Belgrade. When I was young "Prague" was just a funny sounding word and I thought Belgrade was in Ireland. It's getting harder, the more I read, to find any valor in violence. Even self defense is a kind of failure, a breakdown, a submission. Perhaps this is our world and the job of a moral human is just to try to, somehow, live honorably in it. It's been two seasons, now, since I gave up my religion. Everything I have seen since has confirmed my feeling. I did not want the world to change. I would settle for myself.

    I am sorry for rambling.

  • Richie Incognito and the Banality of Supermacho

    What does being the "toughest of the tough" really mean?

    AP / Wilfredo Lee

    It's unsurprising to see reports indicating that the Richie Incognito's harassment of Jonathan Martin began in the upper levels of management. Via Deadspin, here is some reporting from The Sun Sentinel:

    Miami Dolphins coaches asked player Richie Incognito, who was the offensive line's undisputed leader, to toughen up teammate Jonathan Martin after he missed a voluntary workout last spring, multiple sources told the Sun Sentinel.

    The sources told the paper they believe that Incognito, who is accused of using racially incendiary language and bullying tactics against Martin, may have taken those orders too far...

    Even though OTA workouts are voluntary, the NFL culture forces coaches to strong arm the team's leaders to make sure everyone attends. Sources say Incognito was doing his job, but they admit he crossed the line.

    "Richie is the type of guy where if he's on your team you love him," a teammate said. "If he's not on your team, you hate him. Every team needs a guy like that."

    A Dolphins spokesman declined comment when told about Incognito's directives from the coaching staff, saying the franchise is fully cooperating with the NFL's independent investigation, which was requested by owner Steve Ross.

    There's been a lot of what my mother used to call "If I Hadda Had My Gun" talk around this story. On the one hand you have the keyboard commandos and sensitive thugs in NFL front offices popping off about "going down swinging." On the other you have players blaming Martin and invoking their own "toughness" and "manliness."

    There is something bizarre about all this talk about strength and ass-kicking. No other athlete in a major sport gives so much of his body and gets so little in return than the average player on a NFL team. These are men whoon balanceearn their greatest payday in their most vulnerable and immature years. Those years are generally brief, while the injuries sustained often last a lifetime. The average NFL player emerges into the world with three years of service, and without a college degree. All the while another group of people make millions watching these young men blow out shoulders, knees, and perhaps ultimately, brains.

    We all believe in the right to defend one's own body. But the ability to kick someone's ass is oft-stated and overrated. Jerry Jones doesn't want to fight DeAngelo Hall. He won't ever need to, because such is his power that he can erect a Wonderland of a stadium, reduce men to toy soldiers, and toss their battered bodies out onto the street when he's done. Pimping ain't easy, but it sure is fun.

    If you squint hard enough you might dimly perceive the outlines of some phantasm, some illusion. You might see power back there behind the scrum. You might see how a national valorization of violence attaches itself to profit. On the streets of Chicago, violently confronting someone for disrespecting you is evidence of a "culture of pathology." In the NFL it is evidence of handling things "the right way."

    We are being told that the NFL is filled with the "toughest of the tough," that Richie Incognito is a "tough guy." He had better be. The world is coming. And it's not a game.

  • You Don't Want to Fight an NFL Lineman—Stop Talking Like You Do

    Anonymously calling someone a coward is the height of self-parody and the pit of self-awareness. 

    Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito (68) stretches during an NFL football practice, Wednesday, July 24, 2013, in Davie, Fla. (AP / Lynne Sladky)

    "This is a most cowardly struggle. These people can do nothing without gunboats... We should have had gunboats."

    Julia Le Grand

    Miami Dolphin Richie Incognito has been found to have directed a rather lengthy campaign of harassment at fellow offensive lineman Jonathan Martin. "Harassment" understates the thing. Incognito, with some regularity, threatened Martin's family ("[I'm going to] slap your real mother across the face"), threatened Martin personally ("Fuck you, you're still a rookie. I'll kill you"), and assailed him with racist invective ("Hey. What's up, you half-nigger piece of shit"). This is what we know. Apparently there's more.

    Until yesterday, Incognito had taken to loudly defending his honor over Twitter, telling ESPN reporter Adam Schefter—"If you or any of the agents you sound off for have a problem with me, you know where to find me. #BRINGIT." Schefter subsequently brought it in the form of actual quotes. Incognito has been quiet ever since. 

    Jim Trotter has a useful piece on all of this in which he quotes various front office people loudly quoting from the Book of Men: 

    "I think Jonathan Martin is a weak person," said one personnel man, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "If Incognito did offend him racially, that's something you have to handle as a man! Mike Pouncey was a rookie at one point while Incognito was there and you never heard any complaints from him. There's no other way to put it, other than him being sofTTT!"

    Said another: "Guys are going to be guys, if you know what I mean. I'm sure there are some instances of 'taking things too far,' but that happens everywhere. You handle it in house—fight, handle it on the field, joke about it, etc.—and keep it moving..."

    "I might get my ass kicked," one said, "but I'm going to go down swinging if that happens to me, I can tell you that."

    Probably not.

    Anonymously calling someone a coward is the height of self-parody and the pit of self-awareness. Each of these personnel men feel perfectly comfortable attacking the mental strength of Jonathan Martin. Not a single one of them is willing to put their name on it. That is because none of them wants to deal with the pain of embarrassing themselves, their organization and the league, nor the pain that might attend their careers.

    Calling for others to endure pain in one breath, while you duck it in the next is a particularly loathsome form of cowardice. The men who call on Martin to fight Incognito in the locker-room, are also the same men who would ruthlessly cut Martin or Incognito should either be injured in any way that jeopardizes the team's plans. Perhaps one of these braggarts actually would "go down swinging." But "down" does not have the same meaning for a general manager as it does for a left tackle. Jeff Ireland can report to work with a broken arm. Jonathan Martin not so much. 

    The point here is power. As demonstrated by Trotter's column, Martin has risked his career and millions of dollars by exposing Incognito. There's a solid argument that Martin's actions were "brave." It just isn't the kind of "brave" that immediately empowers the NFL. On the contrary, it's the kind that threatens it. 

    The personnel men are not alone:

    Early this morning, a poster with the username "idrd1994" left an impassioned defense of Incognito on the FinHeaven message board. In it, he attacked both Martin and Mike Pouncey as "black brothers that do drugs on a regular basis," and asked readers to "pray [GM Jeff] Ireland and [coach Joe] Philbin die of AIDS." He blasts the team from top to bottom, claims Incognito is getting railroaded, and uses the "black people say the N-word in rap music" argument to dismiss claims that Incognito sent racial messages to Martin. He also implies that Martin has pondered suicide, and "does not belong in an NFL locker room."

    There is strong evidence that idrd1994 is Richie Incognito's fatherRichard. The senior Incognito isn't commenting. 

    UPDATE (1:12 PM): Thinking on this, I want to say something more. I think Jim Trotter should have asked his sources why they would demand that Martin risk his career, when they obviously are not willing to risk their own.

    There's quite a bit of opinion in Trotter's piece, but very little of it comes at the expense of the people who are venting under the mask of anonymity. I think challenging one's sources, as opposed to simply shielding them, is an important step in distinguishing penetrating journalism from stenography.

  • 'War and Welfare Went Hand in Hand'

    Children In London's East End Made Homeless By Nazi Air Raids. (New Times Paris Bureau Collection)

    I'm still making my way through Postwar, slowly but surely. I told my Pops to get the audiobook (which is fantastic) and he's now gotten further ahead than me. But I booted up my own audiobook yesterday while doing some cooking for the week and made some progress.

    The most striking thing about Judt's narrative is his essentially amoral view of history. That isn't to say Judt is amoral as a writer. He certainly is not. But he doesn't believe in history has a necessary trajectory, nor does he much care about narratives of inevitable progress. Europe was wrecked after the War. French opinion polls in 1946 list "food," "bread," and "meat" as the public's main concerns. In the East, bad harvests and droughts brought back reports of cannibalism. Here's Judt quoting Hamilton Fish's dispatch from Europe:

    There is too little of everything—too few trains, trams, buses and automobiles to transport people to work on time, let alone to take them on holidays; too little flour to make bread without adulterants, and even so not enough bread to provide energies for hard labor; too little paper for newspapers to report more than a fraction of the world’s news; too little seed for planting and too little fertilizer to nourish it; too few houses to live in and not enough glass to supply them with window panes; too little leather for shoes, wool for sweaters, gas for cooking, cotton for diapers, sugar for jam, fats for frying, milk for babies, soap for washing.

    I am coming at this as a total amateur and a total American whose exposure to the post-war narrative was something like—"The Germans learned their lesson and everyone (in the West, because no one talks about the East) resumed their status as upstanding white people." Somewhere in there I knew something about the Marshall Plan. But whereas the narratives which nations tell themselves so often have a moral component, Judt is giving us something less flattering and more atheistic. Even Europe's great achievement—a broad strong social safety net—seems inseparable from the barbarism from which it had just been plunged. A safety net (often means-tested) existed in Europe before the War, but there was not the same sense that a state should be a comprehensive guarantor of the health and happiness of its people:  

    It was the war that changed all this. Just as World War One had precipitated legislation and social provisions in its wake—if only to deal with the widows, orphans, invalids and unemployed of the immediate post-war years—so the Second World War transformed both the role of the modern state and the expectations placed upon it.

    The change was most marked in Britain, where Maynard Keynes correctly anticipated a post-war ‘craving for social and personal security’. But everywhere (in the words of the historian Michael Howard) ‘war and welfare went hand in hand’. In some countries nutrition and medical provision actually improved during the war: mobilizing men and women for total war meant finding out more about their condition and doing whatever was necessary to keep them productive...

    Moreover, the War in some countries actually enhanced views of the State:

    Obviously it would prove easier to achieve the ideals of the social state, ‘from cradle to grave’, in the small population of a wealthy, homogenous country like Sweden than in one like Italy. But faith in the state was at least as marked in poor lands as in rich ones—perhaps more so, since in such places only the state could offer hope or salvation to the mass of the population. And in the aftermath of depression, occupation and civil war, the state—as an agent of welfare, security and fairness—was a vital source of community and social cohesion.

    Many commentators today are disposed to see state-ownership and state-dependency as the European problem, and salvation-from-above as the illusion of the age. But for the generation of 1945 some workable balance between political freedoms and the rational, equitable distributive function of the administrative state seemed the only sensible route out of the abyss.

    To circle back to Judt's atheistic rendition of history, even this idea of the State as the ultimate salvation is not an unalloyed good:

    the ‘welfare state’—social planning—was more than just a prophylactic against political upheaval. Our present discomfort with notions of race, eugenics, ‘degeneration’ and the like obscures the important part these played in European public thinking during the first half of the twentieth century: it wasn’t only the Nazis who took such matters seriously. By 1945 two generations of European doctors, anthropologists, public health officials and political commentators had contributed to widespread debates and polemics about ‘race health’. population growth, environmental and occupational well-being and the public policies through which these might be improved and secured. There was a broad consensus that the physical and moral condition of the citizenry was a matter of common interest and therefore part of the responsibility of the state.

    You see a similar spate of reforms coming out of the Civil War—land grant colleges, the National Academy of Sciences, black male suffrage, etc. But the Civil War was so very different. Ultimately, Black Southerners paid the greatest toll. And most of the battles were fought near the homes of white Southerners. People talk of Sherman and "total war," but this doesn't belong in the same conversation as the kind of "total war" you see in World War II. In much the same way that World War II is a more radical war, its reconstruction seems more radical also.

    When I was younger it was popular for my leftie friends to ask "Why can't we be like Western Europe?" We probably can. A good first step, it seems, would be fighting a genocidal war which results in massive relocations, more ethnic homogeneity, the near-extermination of one of our minorities (one guess at who that would be), and the reduction of our major cities to rubble.

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