Good morning, comrades. As expected, a few post-Independence Day complaints and animadversions:
* Mediaite’s Andrew Kirell watches in astonishment as MSNBC host Touré declares that our munificent federal government should mandate a bunch of policies that Touré supports because “the people are sometimes like Mikey from that old Life cereal commercial; they hate it until they don’t.” Conservatives are rather too quick with the “elitist” sneer — I heartily recommend William Henry’s classic book “In Defense of Elitism” — but when I hear dyspeptic rants about the proles “voting against their own interests” (see Tom Frank’s “What’s the Matter With Kansas”), requiring the urgent intervention of the federal government and telegenic MSNBC hosts, I start to understand where they’re coming from. Engels called it “false consciousness,” the idea that the proletariat would be more amenable to the ideas of bearded German radicals if not for the seductive lies of the capitalist establishment. In other words, you agree with me, you just don’t know it yet. It was stupid and condescending in the 1890s, and it’s stupid and condescending now.
* NPR’s Boston affiliate WBUR hosted conservative writer Yuval Levin, editor of the always interesting and deeply serious journal National Affairs, to talk economics and government expansion with liberal columnist Robert Kuttner. So how did WBUR’s Web site introduce the segment? “Call it extremism, but conservative Yuval Levin doesn’t apologize. The U.S. government needs a radical paring back, he says. We’ll hear him out.” Very generous of them.
* It’s important to remember that many countries in Western Europe have only a passing familiarity with the concept of free speech. And if you think I’m being hyperbolic, just read Nick Cohen’s new book on the perilous state of free expression in the United Kingdom. Understandably, things are slightly trickier in Germany, where one cannot purchase a copy of Hitler’s soporific and evil manifesto Mein Kampf (though Munich recently approved the sale of an annotated edition), deny the Holocaust or display fascist symbols. Those who argue that the Holocaust was a hoax or enjoy strolling the Kurfürstendamm in Himmler T-shirts are contemptible boors, but should contemptible boors also be afforded free-speech rights? A German fascist political party is suing the country’s postal service for refusing to deliver its magazine, a sinister little pamphlet called Klartext (Plain Speaking). A lower court previously ruled in favor of the postal service because — and I’m not making this up — “it should not be considered a magazine but rather propaganda intolerant of different opinions.” The opinions of subliterate fascist thugs should not be suppressed but exposed and ridiculed. And it’s a moot point anyway, because, like Mein Kampf, the magazine is easily obtainable on the Internet free of charge.
* Behold the power of Michael Bloomberg’s stupid ideas! On my final day in Ireland, I wake up to this bit of news, via the Irish Times: “Minister for Health James Reilly has given food businesses six months to introduce calorie menu labeling on a voluntary basis, or else face the possible introduction of a compulsory scheme.” Reilly has a curious understanding of the word “voluntary.” He also hasn’t done his homework. A 2011 study from Duke University and the Seattle public health department found that listing calorie counts on menus had no effect on consumer behavior. A study conducted by researchers at the Ghent University found much the same thing. Same, too, from this New York University researcher. So how long before Reilly proposes an outright ban on the battered sausage?