"Show me a hero, and I'll write you a tragedy"

Eric Posner believes American fear of Syrian refugees can be explained by factors other than bigotry and nativism.

Psychologists who have studied these reactions have identified a number of factors that predict when people place excessive weight on a low risk. All of these factors point, with remarkable clarity, to the reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis.
People underestimate risks that are familiar, under their personal control, voluntarily incurred, ignored by the media, and well-understood. Driving an automobile is the best example. Everyone is accustomed to driving, feels in control of the car, and drives by choice. The extraordinarily high risk of an accident becomes background noise that no one pays attention to. By contrast, the opposite qualities are true for the risks that people fear the most, like meltdowns of nuclear reactors, airplane crashes, and cancer-causing food additives—and even more so for terrorism. The Syrian refugees are strangers from an unfamiliar and terrifying part of the world, and they will be placed in neighborhoods where people did not necessarily invite them in. The media has made much of them, particularly after the Paris attacks, and most Americans don’t understand the circumstances that drove them from their country.
People also overreact to risks that may produce especially dreaded or gruesome outcomes. While a car accident can produce mangled bodies, a terrorist attack is an especially gruesome event, often involving hostage-taking and terrifying helplessness. Terrorist attacks victimize children as well as adults, and there is no practical way to avoid them. People are more likely to tolerate risks when the accompanying benefits are clear—that’s why, in the end, people fly. But any benefits from refugee resettlement are remote, intangible, and indirect. People also fear risks of human origin (vaccines) more than risks of natural origin (the flu), and terrorism is very much the fruit of human ingenuity.

Until we have a way to bypass human emotion and augment our statistical reasoning, fighting irrational fears of the public will continue to feel like so much noble thrashing.

I just finished David Simon and Bill Zorzi's Show Me a Hero, a look at the attempt to desegregate Yonkers, and it felt like a mini season of The Wire, on a different subject. That should sound like high praise because it is.

The miniseries illuminates how racism is not merely a subset of what Posner identifies as irrational fear. Having experienced various forms of racism in my youth, I've encountered many a strain that seems to arise not from fear but a desire for dominance. It isn't a creature lashing out in defense or fear but but a monster on the offensive.

The incident of the dog in the night-time

The Department of Justice’s report on the Ferguson Police Department is full of eye-catching numbers that reveal a culture plagued by significant racism. Statistically significant. For instance, nearly ninety per cent of the people who prompted a “use of force” by the F.P.D. were black. Even among such skewed percentages, there are some standouts. Among cases in which a suspect was bitten by an attack dog and the suspect’s race was recorded, what percentage were black?
A hundred per cent.
There is little nuance in the incidents described in the report; the police simply sicced their dogs on unarmed black males. According to the F.P.D’s own guidelines, handlers should not release the hounds “if a lower level of force could reasonably be expected to control the suspect or allow for the apprehension.” But the report reveals that the F.P.D. is quick to set loose its trained attack dogs—often on black children.

The damning DOJ report on Ferguson is a great example of data as an objective racism detector. This might be an example of dogs revealing the racism of their owners.

A 2011 study published in the journal Animal Cognition found that even expertly trained dogs and the most professional handlers cannot evade what is called the Clever Hans effect. In tests, dogs trained to detect explosives and drugs were sent, with their handlers, into a series of rooms to find non-existent contraband. In one room, there was a decoy that had been scented with sausage; in another, there was an unscented decoy accompanied by a sign telling the handler, falsely, that it smelled of contraband; a control room had no decoys. The investigators found, overall, that “human more than dog influences affected alert locations”: the meat decoy attracted more false alarms than anything in the control room, but the decoy with the sign prompted nearly twice as many false alerts as the one with the tempting scent. In other words, the dogs found their handlers’ unconscious cues significantly more compelling than the sausage. Trained animals, it turns out, are arguably better at reading our cues than we are at suppressing them.

Remember, there are no racist dogs, only racist owners.

Why Idris Elba can't play James Bond?

[Ian] Fleming described Bond as looking like musician Hoagy Carmichael. As such, we’ve never gotten a screen incarnation of 007 who matches Fleming’s description perfectly, and across 50+ years there has been quite a bit of variation. Black hair, brown hair, blonde hair. Blue eyes, brown eyes. Scottish, Welsh, Irish, even an Australian. The persona, too, tends to shift with each portrayal: Sean Connery’s earthy, predatory swagger; Roger Moore’s upper crust dandyism; Daniel Craig’s “blunt instrument” interpretation. But whatever the variations thus far, there’s a glaring commonality among these actors which - let’s just say it - clearly leaves Idris Elba out of the running. And I get it; it’s trendy to shake up formula, and change things just for the sake of change, but someone needs to be unafraid to point out the obvious here.

With apologies to Mr. Elba, James Bond simply cannot have a mustache.

Now that I’ve baited you in with a facetious headline, can we talk for a minute about how the idea of Idris Elba as James Bond is a way bigger deal than simply being an exciting, outside the box casting choice? On that criteria alone, I do think Elba would be a great and interesting pick. 

Apologies for borrowing the click-baity headline from here, but the whole piece is a worthwhile quick read.

Having never read the James Bond books by Ian Fleming, I had no idea they contained so much extreme racism. I'm glad most of that never made it into the movies.

Inasmuch as 007 was a drinking, fighting, screwing avatar through which aging white male readers could live vicariously, Bond was also a reassuring fiction that England was still a crucial player, secretly saving the world from non-British (and often mixed raced) villains and madmen who would plunge it into chaos and darkness. In the course of these missions, the literary James Bond looks down his nose at women, at homosexuals, and very much so at the “Orientals” and “Coloureds” with whom he’s thrust into conflict. In all of Fleming’s 007 stories, only one villain was an actual Brit; many had complex ethnic backgrounds described in exacting detail by the author. Quite often, underneath Fleming's fascination with foreign cultures lied a xenophobic streak that betrayed an ugly superiority complex.

While it’s true that the cinematic Bond has never been QUITE as racist as his printed counterpart, the residue is there: Connery snapping “Fetch my shoes!” at Quarrel in Doctor No is a rather gross moment, and Moore using Indian street beggars as obstacles during a tuk-tuk chase in Octopussy is a bit troublesome. But the films carved their own path away from the novels, doing their best approximation of “changing with the times.” 1962’s Doctor No, for example, has no mention of the “Chigroes” (you can figure that portmanteau out) described in its source novel. By 1973, the cinematic Bond was bedding African-American agents in Live And Let Die, a far cry from what passes for race relations in Fleming’s novel of the same name: “One used to go to the Savoy Ballroom (in Harlem) and watch the dancing. Perhaps pick up a high-yaller and risk the doctor's bills afterwards.”

That happens in chapter four. Chapter five is called “Nigger Heaven.”

If they named Elba as Bond, and I'd love to see it, can you imagine the number of articles to be written consisting entirely of a collection of outrageous racist posts from Twitter and Facebook? Someone has probably already pre-written the Buzzfeed listicle or Onion article.

How stereotypes persist

Martin and his family may be what politicians and teachers say is the American ideal, but the actual rewards -- the acting jobs, the record deals, the social acceptance, the money -- largely go to the African-Americans who exemplify the N-word, who embrace the suffocating, limiting image of male blackness. The decision to perpetuate this image isn't made solely by the black community but by the white suits who decided long ago how the part is supposed to look and what black behavior they will compensate; think of that LeBron cover again. Corporations seem to doubt the authenticity and marketability of black men who live outside the primal construct.

This represents the ultimate victory of racism: the belief that exists among both whites and blacks that being educated, being articulate, having manners, is the sole province of being white. It is why Jonathan Martin appears so foreign, so threatening, to his teammates, and why a nothing like Richie Incognito makes them feel right at home.

Howard Bryant on how powerfully the stereotype of the angry and primal black man persists, aided by an entertainment industry that packages and resells it.