For regular Right Turn readers hoping to be informed and amused by Jennifer Rubin, I’ll be filling in for your regular host while she takes a much-deserved vacation. A brief introduction is in order: I’m a contributing editor at Reason magazine; I frequently make fun of the news of Greg Gutfeld’s television show Red Eye (occasionally alongside former A-Team cast members); I often write book reviews for the Wall Street Journal; and I was previously the managing editor of Vice magazine.
For most of this week, I’ll be lazing about on the southern coast of Ireland and consuming a heavy diet of Irish and English media, so expect my story selection to be — in the non-silly sense of the word — multicultural, with a focus on news that transcends horserace politics. But, dear readers, the American political landscape, with all of its bizarre Supreme Court rulings and partisan whinging about the scourge of partisanship, shall not be ignored. So let’s get to the expertly curated stories, suggested viewing and required reading:
* The New York Times reports on an unsurprising development in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s war against bad personal choices: The soda industry, identified by the mayor as the mustache-twisting corporate villain behind expanding waistlines, is fighting back against the city’s forthcoming ban on the sale of sugary drinks in large containers. The Times quotes Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, moaning that the industry’s talking points “are ‘Nanny State,’ that it won’t work, because people will just buy as much as they ever would, and that this disproportionately hurts the poor.” All perfectly sensible points — and all demonstrably true.
* In other silly-people-telling-us-what-we-can-consume news, San Francisco’s foie gras ban went into effect yesterday, a law that the San Francisco Chronicle calls “confusing [and] hard to enforce.” It warns of the “back-door dealings that ensued during Chicago’s short-lived ban,” where enterprising chefs “gave away foie gras and charged $20 for the cracker on which it was served.” Expect something similar in San Francisco, whose previous attempts at forcing its citizens to eat healthy have been foiled by rather obvious legal loopholes. Recall that when the city banned Happy Meals by legislating against the distribution of free toys with junk food, McDonalds simply charged separately for the toy (a paltry 10 cents) and donated the money to charity. Brilliant.
* The most popular item on The Post’s opinion page yesterday was this tongue-firmly-in-cheek review of New York Times columnist Gail Collins’s book “As Texas Goes.” Collins argues, according to reviewer Bryan Burrough’s précis, that a cabal of dim-witted, knuckle-dragging Texans have set out to destroy something called the “American agenda,” which presumably mirrors Collins’s own agenda. It won’t surprise readers to know that, as a libertarian-leaning journalist affiliated with Reason, I’m not particularly enamored with the Christian-brand of conservatism, but Americans are becoming more, not less, libertarian on social issues, Texans included.
Collins acknowledges that “Houston has elected a gay Democrat as mayor” and Austin is “Berkeley with low unemployment and country music.” But this is cold comfort, because “statewide, Texas politics has become a mixture of Tea Party populism and big-business conservatism that fits in perfectly with the national Republican tide.” It’s true that in 2005, Texas voters approved by a large margin a ban on both gay marriage and domestic partnerships. But Collins’s book fails to mention recent polling data showing that 61 percent of Texans now favor some legal recognition — 30 percent for marriage, 31 percent for civil unions — of gay relationships. But why complicate matters by providing such nuance?
* There is an odd myth, commonly held by intellectually insecure Americans, that the BBC creates television and radio for clever people. This was perhaps once true, when a lack of choice allowed Auntie Beeb to dictate the tastes of the British viewing public — interminable adaptations of Martin Chuzzlewit are good for you! But these days, with competition from hundreds of other television stations, the BBC is increasingly giving the people what they want: vapid reality shows, nonsense celebrity news and cringe-inducing talent showcases. Indeed, a 2007 internal report from the BBC complained that network was producing content that was too middle class and middlebrow and should give those who fund the corporation — taxpayers fork over a yearly $225 television license fee — the programming they crave.
And much to the horror of its critics, like the actor Stephen Fry and conservative columnist Peter Hitchens, the BBC has done just that. I saw this dumbing-down strategy in action last Friday, when an Irish friend relayed the news of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’s impending divorce. She was informed of this horrible development via a BBC mobile phone “breaking news alert.” As we all lamented the corporation’s falling standards, I offered a qualified defense: When the BBC speculated “if Cruise’s belief in Scientology was a factor in [Holmes’s] decision,” citing the gossip Web site TMZ (!), I realized that most of what I knew about Scientology’s treatment of defectors came from an exceptionally good documentary produced … by the BBC. This 2011 “Panorama” investigation into Scientology, available in full on YouTube, is a brilliant bit of journalism exposing the group’s internal workings and intimidation tactics against ex-Scientologists and nosy journalists. Watch it.
An addendum: One person unafraid of the notoriously litigious group is News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch who, reacting to the Cruise-Holmes “story,” tweeted yesterday that there is “Something creepy, maybe even evil, about these people.”
* And a few general recommendations for those trying to separate the wheat from the chaff in roiling debates over the economy, the ballooning deficit and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) : One of my favorite economics bloggers has been traded, for players to be named later, from the Atlantic to the Daily Beast. So If you aren’t reading Megan McArdle, start doing so now. You will be a smarter person for it. And if you’re interested in the intellectual case against Obamacare, devoid of table-thumping about the impending Sovietization of America, look no further than Megan’s husband, Peter Suderman, Reason magazine’s resident expert on the ACA.