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ALARMS AND DIVERSIONS FOR THE THINKING PERSON

Forum File

Saturday, March 16, 2013 - 12:01 am

The reading list

“When the Third Wave of democracy began in the mid-1970s, democracy seemed to be where the world had been or where the West had settled, but not where the rest of the world was going. In a pair of widely noted works, two of the most eminent political scientists of the time, Robert Dahl and Samuel Huntington, dismissed the prospects for significant democratic expansion. Given chronic poverty, Cold War competition, and 'the unreceptivity to democracy of several major cultural traditions,' Huntington speculated in a 1984 Political Science Quarterly article, 'the limits of democratic development in the world may well have been reached.'

“The developments of the last four decades, however, have proved the skeptics wrong. Even as Huntington was writing the words quoted above, a wave of democratic expansion was gathering momentum, which Huntington himself would document and analyze definitively just seven years later in his influential book 'The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century.' In the decade following his 1984 article, the world witnessed the greatest expansion of democracy in history, as political freedom spread from southern Europe and Latin America to Asia, then central and Eastern Europe, then Africa. By the mid-1990s, three of every five states in the world were democracies – a proportion that persists more or less to this day.

“While it remains true that democracy is more sustainable at higher levels of development, an unprecedented number of poor countries adopted democratic forms of government during the 1980s and '90s, and many of them have sustained democracy for well over a decade.”

– From “Why Wait for Democracy?” at wilsonquarterly.com

A quiz

The amount of energy Americans use doubles how often?

Wisdom of the ages

“The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.” – Socrates

Current wisdom

“I think it's up to the person. If they want to have a giant soda, that's their business.” – Jose Perez, a fifth-grade teacher in Manhattan, reacting to a judge's ruling that struck down New York City's ban on big sugary drinks just hours before it was supposed to take effect.

Quiz answer

Every 20 years.

Snob words

scupper (SKUHP-er), v. – to prevent from happening or succeeding; ruin; wreck, as in: “The editorial writer was very pleased with himself for showing up at the unannounced council meeting, scuppering the council members' plans for secrecy.” The word first entered English as a nautical noun in the late 1400s. The verb senses did not enter English until the 19th and 20th centuries.

Today in history

On this date in 1935, Hitler ordered German rearmament in violation of the Versaille Treaty; well, that's not going to end well.

Now you know

A fish’s jaw is not attached to its skull, so many fishes can shoot their mouths forward like a spring to catch startled prey