Books you must not read

The Telegraph provides fifty to avoid:

41 Courage by Gordon Brown: A tantalising prequel to the former PM’s future publications: “How to Get a Good Price for Your Gold”, “Debt Management for Dummies” and “Workplace Harmony”.

42 Jordan: Pushed to the Limit by Katie Price: Disappointingly thin on insights into the Hashemite Kingdom east of Israel.

43 Saturday by Ian McEwan: What the author learnt after spending two years getting in the way of a neurosurgeon. Not as good as Enduring Love, which is not as good as Amsterdam, which is not as good as Atonement.

44 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières: Loved for its description of wartime Cephalonia, but now ruined by the constant appearance during civil partnership ceremonies of the passage about tree roots.

45 The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: Useful only as a shorthand to know whom to avoid on the Tube.

46 Twilight by Stephenie Meyer: See above, especially if they’re grown-ups, who really should not be fixating on vampires.

47 Harry Potter… by JK Rowling: See above, especially if they’re grown-ups reading a version with an adult cover.

48 One Day by David Nicholls: A wonderful book that follows a relationship over 20 years, spoilt only by people telling you how wonderful it is, while trying not to give away the ending (hint: very, very sad).

49 Scouting for Boys by Robert Baden-Powell: Awkward to ask for in a book shop.

50 Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov: Scouting for girls.

This list inspired me to come up with a list of six SF/F books you must not read.

A mysterious decline

The New York Times ponders a seeming imponderable:

AT first glance, the numbers released by the Census Bureau last week showing a precipitous drop in Detroit’s population — 25 percent over the last decade — seem to bear a silver lining: most of those leaving the city are blacks headed to the suburbs, once the refuge of mid-century white flight.

But a closer analysis of the data suggests that the story of housing discrimination that has dominated American urban life since the early 20th century is far from over. In the Detroit metropolitan area, blacks are moving into so-called secondhand suburbs: established communities with deteriorating housing stock that are falling out of favor with younger white homebuyers. If historical trends hold, these suburbs will likely shift from white to black — and soon look much like Detroit itself, with resegregated schools, dwindling tax bases and decaying public services.

And why might that be? How do these urban dystopias continue to keep sprouting up around the country? Since we obviously know that all people are the same everywhere, what could possibly explain this bizarre tendency towards economic disintegration and social breakdown that appears to follow blacks around like an inexplicable curse?

The unusual thing about the NYT article is the way it avoids playing the usual racism card. When it mentions the way in which “the city’s whites fought what they called the “Negro invasion” with every tool at their disposal”, it doesn’t frame the description of the historical resistance with the usual delegitimizing codewords, probably because the historical fears of Detroit’s white populace were ultimately proven to underestimate the negative consequences of the Great Migration. I doubt even the most pessimistic white racist could have imagined the decrepit state to which Detroit has declined in 60 years.

The article is somewhat amusing in how it laments the fate of the black recon elements. “Much to their chagrin, many new black suburbanites found that integration was just a phase between when the first blacks moved in and the last whites took their children out of the public schools.” One would think that black people who don’t want to live with black people should understand that white people don’t want to live with them either.

In society after society, the same pattern is repeated. Majority populations will tolerate a minority population up to a certain point, which is somewhere between two and ten percent of the population. More than that and the minority population will begin to demand societal modifications to suit itself by virtue of its size, at which point the majority population will quite reasonably begin to react in a distinctly hostile manner. If there is room to retreat, the majority population will retreat. If there is not, there will either be violence or the eventual disappearance of the erstwhile majority population.

But keep in mind that the trends ebb and flow. In the nineteenth century, it was thought that the black race was on a demographic decline to extinction. In the twenty-first, it is sometimes assumed that the white race is. Neither is likely true, and now that the Hispanic population exceeds the black population in the United States, the monochromatic lens through which most race relations are viewed is increasingly irrelevant.

The dream isn’t deferred, it is simply impossible because it is nothing more than a delusion that one racial populations will behave in exactly the same manner as another one. Since this has never happened yet in the recorded history of the human race, it seems more than a little quixotic to believe that because individuals have surmounted their racial, ethnic, and cultural differences, entire populations not only can, but will.

Flat myopic

Thomas Friedman unwisely gushes over rebellion in the Middle East:

With Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria now all embroiled in rebellions, it is not an exaggeration to suggest that the authoritarian lid that has smothered freedom in the Arab world for centuries may be coming off all 350 million Arab peoples at once. Personally, I think that is exactly what is going to happen over time. Warm up the bus for all the Arab autocrats — and for you, too, Ahmadinejad. As one who has long believed in the democracy potential for this part of the world, color me both really hopeful and really worried about the prospects.

If this was the 1930s, Friedman would no doubt be gushing about how optimistic he is about the new German Reichschancellor, and how remarkably popular Mr. Hitler is with the German people. And we can expect that he’ll soon lose his optimism and start shrieking bloody murder about how the US should invade whichever new Arab democracy first begins rattling its sabres in Israel’s direction.

Like most secular liberals, Friedman wildly overestimates the popular appeal of secular liberalism… when he’s not daydreaming about how useful it would be to be an authoritarian dictator-for-a-day.