- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Class theory

“Traditional theories of democratization, such as those of Harvard professor Samuel Huntington, predict a story of middle-class heroics: As a country develops a true middle class, these urban, educated citizens insist on more rights in order to protect their economic and social interests. …

“But now, it appears, the middle class in some nations has turned into an antidemocratic force. Young democracy, with weak institutions, often brings to power, at first, elected leaders who actually don’t care that much about upholding democracy. As these demagogues tear down the very reforms the middle classes built, those same middle classes turn against the leaders, and then against the system itself, bringing democracy to collapse.

“This is a process now being repeated in Africa, Asia, and parts of Latin America, regions that once seemed destined to become the third and fourth waves of global democratization … . The pattern has become so noticeable - repeated in Venezuela, Russia, Bangladesh and other states - that one must even wonder about democracy’s future itself.”

-Joshua Kurlantzick, writing on “Democracy on the Wane,” in Sept. 14 issue of the Boston Globe

Brain skim

“Once again, this is not so much about the content students prefer - Facebook, YouTube, etc. - or whether they use the Web for homework or not. It is about the reading styles they employ. They race across the surface, dicing language and ideas into bullets and graphics, seeking what they already want and shunning the rest. They convert history, philosophy, literature, civics, and fine art into information, material to retrieve and pass along.

“That’s the drift of screen reading. Yes, it’s a kind of literacy, but it breaks down in the face of a dense argument, a Modernist poem, a long political tract, and other texts that require steady focus and linear attention - in a word, slow reading. Fast scanning doesn’t foster flexible minds that can adapt to all kinds of texts, and it doesn’t translate into academic reading.”

-Mark Bauerlein, writing on “Online Literacy Is a Lesser Kind” in the Sept. 19 issue of the Chronicle Review

History making

“Joe Medley, 70, a retired Teamster truck driver, identifies with [Sarah] Palin’s husband Todd’s working-class credentials as a union man and avid dog sledder. Medley has never voted Republican, but said he strongly dislikes [Barack] Obama and has been excited enough by Palin to consider crossing party lines. With the economy sinking, he might have to come out of retirement, but he doesn’t believe either party can do much to bail out America right now. …

“That mood may point to the ultimate test for the Palin pick in the six weeks ahead: Can the excitement she’s generated help carry [John] McCain through to victory, despite an economy tanking under a Republican administration? Although unfriendly stories about Palin’s past continue to bubble up in the media, none seem to be sticking much with voters. If anything, they’ve endeared her more to some, who see her as a small-town mom getting beat up by a bloodthirsty press corps.”

- Dan Hoyle, writing on “What Small-Town America Thinks of Sarah Palin” at Salon.com on Monday

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