Why Would Consumers Object to a Policy That Forces Them to Buy Expensive Products They Do Not Want?

Jacob Sullum asks the important questions:

As Nick Gillespie noted last week, the end-of-the-year budget package includes a provision that bars the Obama administration from spending money to enforce new energy-efficiency standards that will have the effect of banning standard incandescent light bulbs. That spending restriction lasts until the end of the fiscal year, and Republican critics of the light bulb ban want to make it permanent. But according to The New York Times, "the delay hardly matters" because "the looming possibility of the new standards…has transformed the industry." As a result, "A host of more efficient products already line store shelves." The Times concedes that "many of the alternatives to incandescent bulbs are more expensive." In fact, all of them are, including compact fluorescent lamps (which cost about six times as much as standard incandescents), halogen bulbs (10 times), the new extra-efficient incandescents (ditto), and LEDs (80 times). Why pay so much more, especially when—as with CFLs, the cheapest alternative—performance may be inferior? Supposedly because you save enough on energy and replacement costs to justify the investment. If so, why not let bulb manufacturers make that case to consumers, who can then decide for themselves?

A noncoercive approach is unacceptable, the Times implies, because consumers are driven by irrational concerns.

Is there any evidence that Obama is that smart?

Victor Davis Hansen opines:

Obama Mythologos

Barack Obama is a myth, our modern version of Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan. What we were told is true, never had much basis in fact — a fact now increasingly clear as hype gives way to reality.

Brilliant”

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss, on no evidence, once proclaimed Obama “probably the smartest guy ever to become president.” When he thus summed up liberal consensus, was he perhaps referring to academic achievement? Soaring SAT scores? Seminal publications? IQ scores known only to a small Ivy League cloister? Political wizardry?

Who was this Churchillian president so much smarter than the Renaissance man Thomas Jefferson, more astute than a John Adams or James Madison, with more insight than a Lincoln, brighter still than the polymath Teddy Roosevelt, more studious than the bookish Woodrow Wilson, better read than the autodidact Harry Truman?

Consider. Did Obama achieve a B+ average at Columbia? Who knows? (Who will ever know?) But even today’s inflated version of yesteryear’s gentleman Cs would not normally warrant admission to Harvard Law. And once there, did the Law Review editor publish at least one seminal article? Why not?

I ask not because I particularly care about the GPAs or certificates of the president, but only because I am searching for a shred of evidence to substantiate this image of singular intellectual power and known erudition. For now, I don’t see any difference between Bush’s Yale/Harvard MBA record and Obama’s Columbia/Harvard Law record — except Bush, in self-deprecation, laughed at his quite public C+/B- accomplishments that he implied were in line with his occasional gaffes, while Obama has quarantined his transcripts and relied on the media to assert that his own versions of “nucular” moments were not moments of embarrassment at all.

At Chicago, did lecturer Obama write a path-breaking legal article or a book on jurisprudence that warranted the rare tenure offer to a part-time lecturer? (Has that offer ever been extended to others of like stature?) In the Illinois legislature or U.S. Senate, was Obama known as a deeply learned man of the Patrick Moynihan variety? Whether as an undergraduate, law student, lawyer, professor, legislator or senator, Obama was given numerous opportunities to reveal his intellectual weight. Did he ever really? On what basis did Harvard Law Dean Elena Kagan regret that Obama could not be lured to a top billet at Harvard?

That his brilliance is a myth was not just revealed by the weekly lapses (whether phonetic [corpse-man], or cultural [Austria/Germany, the United Kingdom/England, Memorial Day/Veterans Day] or inane [57 states]), but in matters of common sense and basic history. The error-ridden Cairo speech was foolish; the serial appeasement of Iran revealed an ignorance of human nature; a two-minute glance at an etiquette book would have nixed the bowing or the cheap gifts to the UK.

Rio panorama

Last week when my wife was in Rio, she sent me this picture of Copacabana beach from her iPhone 4s:

It’s pretty easy to see why people like Rio. But you don’t get a feel for the actual city. She also shot a number of pictures that I merged in Photoshop into a panorama. The panorama give you a better feel for the city:

The New York Times versus Free Speech

A judge in Oregon recently ruled that a blogger isn’t a journalist. John C. Dvorak, professional curmudgeon and one of the longest-tenured tech writers isn’t impressed with the decision:

The case of Crystal Cox, a self-professed "investigative blogger" from Oregon, should outrage the public. The woman was investigating targeted companies that she believed to be acting unethically and found herself at the wrong end of a lawsuit.

The evidence she had unearthed concerning a Pacific Northwest finance group she was after and the sources she used seemed, in the end, immaterial to the outcome of the lawsuit against her. I won’t get into the details of Cox’s case since my concern is the definition of journalist, but you can read more here." The judge, recent Obama appointee Marco Hernandez, asserted that as a blogger with no other credentials, she was not a journalist and was entitled to no protection.

He said, “Although the defendant is a self-proclaimed ‘investigative blogger’ and defines herself as ‘media,’ the record fails to show that she is affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system. Thus, she is not entitled to the protections of the law in the first instance.”

Apparently, there are now new qualifications for journalists. So who decides these qualifications? Hernandez? Where did he get this from? I’ve never seen a laundry list in the U.S. that precludes bloggers. There is nothing in the Bill of Rights, to wit: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Predictably, the New York Times like the decision:

The ruling on whether she was a journalist in the eyes of the law turned out to be a MacGuffin, a detail that was very much beside the point. She didn’t so much report stories as use blogging, invective and search engine optimization to create an alternative reality. Journalists who initially came to her defense started to back away when they realized they weren’t really in the same business.

This is the problem. A MacGuffin shouldn’t matter. If Cox were lying, then there could be a case for defamation and it wouldn’t require the judge to make up the criteria for what is or isn’t a journalist. But it appears that the judge looked at what appears to be bad facts and came up with bad law.    

DRM gives Amazon more power…

Charlie Stross thinks is it foolish for the Big Six book publishers to insist on digital rights management on ebooks because it just gives Amazon more power:

Anyway, my point is that the Big Six’s pig-headed insistence on DRM on ebooks is handing Amazon a stick with which to beat them harder.

DRM on ebooks gives Amazon a great tool for locking ebook customers into the Kindle platform. If you buy a book that you can only read on the Kindle, you’re naturally going to be reluctant to move to other ebook platforms that can’t read those locked Kindle ebooks — and even more reluctant to buy ebooks from rival stores that use incompatible DRM. Amazon acquired an early lead in the ebook field (by selling below cost in the early days, and subsidizing the Kindle hardware price to consumers), and customers are locked into the platform by their existing purchases. Which is pretty much how they gained their 80% market share.

An 80% share of a tiny market slice worth maybe 1% of the publishing sector was of no concern to the big six, back in 2008. But today, with it rising towards 40%, it’s another matter entirely.

As ebook sales mushroom, the Big Six’s insistence on DRM has proven to be a hideous mistake. Rather than reducing piracy[*], it has locked customers in Amazon’s walled garden, which in turn increases Amazon’s leverage over publishers. And unlike pirated copies (which don’t automatically represent lost sales) Amazon is a direct revenue threat because Amazon are have no qualms about squeezing their suppliers — or trying to poach authors for their “direct” publishing channel by offering initially favourable terms. (Which will doubtless get a lot less favourable once the monopoly is secured …)

If the big six began selling ebooks without DRM, readers would at least be able to buy from other retailers and read their ebooks on whatever platform they wanted, thus eroding Amazon’s monopoly position. But it’s not clear that the folks in the boardrooms are agile enough to recognize the tar pit they’ve fallen into …

[*] It doesn’t reduce piracy; if you poke around bittorrent you’ll find plenty of DRM-cracked ebooks — including all of my titles. DRM is snake oil; ultimately the reader has to be able to read whatever they bought, which means shipping a decryption key along with the encrypted file. And once they’ve got the key, someone will figure out how to use it to unlock the book.