Now cracks a less-than-noble effort: A tax on saturated fats in Denmark has been repealed by that country’s center-left government. The levy of 16 kroner per kilogram of fats was having little effect on eating habits, and drove consumers across the border to make their sinful purchases. Prices of basic foods, including butter, cheese, and cream, substantially increased; perhaps most appallingly, the nation’s largest dairy producer noted that Danish consumers were resorting to lower-quality cheeses. The law’s repeal will put an end to one other odd occurrence: shoppers’ traveling to Sweden for the lower taxes and cheaper prices.
It seems that Paul Revere’s apocryphal cry of “The British are coming!” was a popular one. An analysis, published in September, showed that, at one point or another, the British invaded almost 90 percent of the world’s countries, with only 22 countries escaping a visit. Only a few of the invaded states were ever officially a part of the Empire, with the remainder being subjected to military presence, threat of force, or sponsored piracy. “Other countries could write similar books,” the author drily quipped, “but they would be much shorter. I don’t think anyone could match this, although the Americans had a later start and have been working hard on it in the twentieth century.” With the exception of Sweden and Vatican City, many of the nations that escaped British attention could perhaps have benefited from an invasion — or at least from losing a war or two. “The real trick,” as an Italian character in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 says, “lies in losing wars, in knowing which wars can be lost. Italy has been losing wars for centuries, and just see how splendidly we’ve done nonetheless.” Come to think of it, that may be the strategic insight behind Obama’s defense budget.
Religious liberty scored a win when the Israeli government approved aliya, or immigration to Israel, for 275 members of the Bnei Menashe, a community of about 7,000 in northeastern India. The Bnei Menashe (Hebrew for “children of Manasseh”) claim descent from one of the ten lost tribes of Israel. In the past two decades, about 1,700 of them have settled in what they regard as their ancestral home, but the move has been controversial in both India and Israel, and the flow of Bnei Menashe into Gaza and the West Bank has been constricted since 2007. Now their advocates, who include prominent rabbis, expect the entire community to settle in Israel eventually, in increments. Some researchers dispute the historicity of the community’s belief that their ancestors were expelled from the Northern Kingdom during the Assyrian exile, but no one doubts the sincerity of their self-identification as Israelites. Around 1951, they say, a few of them set out for Israel on foot before the hilly jungles forced them back. Sixty years later, their children and grandchildren are flying there on El Al, their one-way tickets paid for by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
Academic freedom is, as Jonathan Lynn might have written, “one of those irregular verbs”: I honestly explore ideas, you are needlessly provocative, she is a seditious creep. So determined the president of Fordham University in November, when he slammed the College Republicans for inviting Ann Coulter to speak. President Joseph McShane announced that he was “disappointed with the [group’s] judgment and maturity.” The authorities stopped short of banning Coulter from the campus, but brought enough pressure to bear on the student group that it saw fit to “regret the controversy” and to “question our decision.” Funnily enough, on closer examination, the group found some of Coulter’s past statements disagreeable and promptly disinvited her (which they say they would have done even without the president’s criticism). For this, McShane congratulated the club. They had passed the test with “flying colors,” he exclaimed. “There can,” he added, “be no finer testament to the value of a Fordham education and the caliber of our students.” At least if thinking for themselves is not a desired mark of them.