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ALARMS AND DIVERSIONS FOR THE THINKING PERSON

Forum File

Saturday, March 22, 2014 - 12:01 am

The reading list

“In the 1990s, some regarded realpolitik as a thing of the past – a relic of the Cold War and a 'needs must' approach to the world which could now be tossed into the dustbin of history. Even at the height of their influence, Western realpolitikers have often faced resistance and criticism from within their own societies. As a foreign import, lifted from the heart of the great Anglo-American bogeyman of the two world wars, the word does not sit comfortably alongside such soothing terms as 'enlightenment,' 'morality' and 'virtue.' In a world where great-power rivalries have returned, however, realpolitik is once more discovering a receptive audience. The chastening of American ambitions in the Middle East also allows realpolitikers to point out, with some justification, that idealism can lead to worse moral outcomes than the cool, circumspect approach to statecraft that they purport to employ.

“So the exponents of realpolitik have rediscovered their voice and their swagger. Yet realpolitik is one of those words borrowed from another language that is much used but little understood. Its true meaning remains occluded by the fact that it has so often been caricatured – but also because realpolitikers caricature the naive idealists whom they set themselves up against. 'I will leave it to the self-described realists to explain in greater detail the origins and meaning of “realism” and “realpolitik” to our confused journalists and politicos,' said Robert Kagan in 2010, in a discussion of President Obama's realist credentials. In fact, few satisfactory definitions exist, largely because international-relations theorists have remained uninterested in its historical origins.”

– From “The real origins of realpolitik” at nationalinterest.org

A quiz

Whose page became the most popular on Facebook shortly after his death in 2009?

Wisdom of the ages

“I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.” – Bill Cosby

Current wisdom

“This is theft on an international scale, when under the cover of troops, one country has just come and robbed a part of an independent state.” – Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, after losing Crimea to Russia.

Quiz answer

Michael Jackson's.

Snob words

venerable (VEN-er-uh-buhl), adj. – commanding respect because of great age or impressive dignity, as in: “The venerable editorial writer ignored the politician's banalities.”

Today in history

On this date in 1457, the Gutenberg Bible became the first printed book; good stuff – read it sometime.

Now you know

A baby cannot taste salt until he or she is 4 months old.