Latest Bizarre Proposal: Save Democracy By Taxing Energy To Make It Too Expensive To Blog

from the say-what-now? dept

Okay, we see all sorts of crackpot ideas and theories show up from time to time, but it's not often that you get one quite this bizarre published in a publication quite as respectable as the Washington Post. Yet here is the venerable Washington Post with an op-ed from the lawyer, Dusty Horwitt, for a "nonprofit environmental group" in Washington DC complaining that blogging and other types of internet content are somehow a drag on democracy, and the solution is for the government to raise energy taxes such that it would make it too expensive for the riffraff to continue owning computers with internet connections, thereby reducing this flood of information. Yes, I think he's serious. There is, I will admit, a chance that this is pure satire. If so, I'll just tip my hat and admit that I was fooled -- but let's move forward on the assumption this is serious.

There are so many troubling aspects to this op-ed that it's difficult to know where to start. First, he brings up the classic complaint that the internet today is producing "too much information." Apparently, he believes that all this bad information somehow prevents good information from being distributed. Good information, by the way, is apparently information published in traditional newspapers. He uses a troubling interpretation of a few questionable stats to establish this -- assuming that because some people spend less time on various online sites, they're somehow not getting access to the good information that they need. He doesn't seem to consider that websites and the ease of publishing now allows people to get access to more good information that it was difficult to come by in the past.

He then goes on to suggest that true social movements have only happened because of the scarcity of broadcast media options, which somehow forced everyone to hear only a single message. This is, apparently, a good thing -- because obviously the big professional media only reports on the important stuff, whereas everyone else only reports on bad stuff. He honestly makes the claim that the civil rights movement wouldn't have happened today, because all of these other media would have drowned out the issue. It was only because a few newspapers decided that it was important to cover it -- and because people had nowhere else to get distracted -- that people actually made civil rights an issue. Today, I guess, we'd all just go back to watching hamsters hit each other on YouTube.

So, the problem, as he has described it is that all these damn people are talking to each other online, rather than listening to what the big important "good" media has to tell us. He says that the answer isn't necessarily to tax the technology of production -- though he considers this -- but to tax energy. He recognizes that it takes energy to use a computer and connect to the internet, so if it's much more expensive, he believes that plenty of folks would give up talking, and go back to being passive consumers of what the big professional media says is important today. As a side benefit (no, seriously), he points out that this increasing cost of energy would probably make it too expensive to offshore jobs. These would be the same jobs that have helped create new jobs and grow the economy (he leaves that part out). It's a wonder his proposal hasn't already been turned into legislation. Who wouldn't support a policy of higher energy costs to shut up the riff raff and make Americans have to pay more for just about everything?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Joe, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 1:02pm

    Ummm...yeah

    That has to be a satire. No way it's a real opinion. If it is a real opinion the guy writing it and publishing it have to both be in their 80's and totally unaware of how to use a computer.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 2:10pm

      Re: Ummm...yeah

      Don't you realize that lawyers don't have a sense of humor, so it cannot possibly be satire.

      This is the old school philosophy of "Punish them until they are stupid again."

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 1:06pm

    how about we save some democracy by taxing some energy companies?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Overcast, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 1:08pm

    Apparently, he believes that all this bad information somehow prevents good information from being distributed.

    Yeah, first off I agree with Joe - this guy can't be serious.

    But if he is, it sounds like a case of 'what I write is good information - what everyone else writes is bad information'.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Gutless Wonder, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 1:08pm

    Another side benefit

    As a side benefit (no, seriously), he points out that this increasing cost of energy would probably make it too expensive to offshore jobs.

    As yet another side benefit, the increasing cost of energy would probably make it too expensive to print newspapers, too. Or power televisions and radios. Or pay lawyers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 1:13pm

    Irish babies

    All we need to do is pass a law that forces bloggers to eat Irish babies. Suddenly, there won't be so many bloggers. Unless of course, they're as good as Johnathan Swift says.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 1:23pm

    Man the Carbon-Credit-Plan-Harpoons!

    Dusty's column isn't about taxes, it isn't about the blogs, its about controlling the information as mentioned in his 18th paragraph. Back in the day, some people found that by owning 20 newspapers, he could control the media. Blogs changes those rules, and seems similar to his comment in the 18th paragraph:

    "A reduced supply of information technology might at least gradually cause us to gravitate toward community-centered media such as local newspapers instead of the hyper-individualistic outlets we have now."


    I find it odd that the article comes from a (sic) nonprofit environmental lawyer. If they wanted to make a case for energy conservation issues, why not start with the inefficiencies within the combustion engine. A car converts chemical energy into heat and mechanical energy with an efficiency rating of about 2%. (When operating, the car looses 98% of its energy in the form of "Heat")

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 1:46pm

      Re: Man the Carbon-Credit-Plan-Harpoons!

      "A car converts chemical energy into heat and mechanical energy with an efficiency rating of about 2%"

      The otto cycle engine is inefficient, but it isn't that bad. It's more like 30%, not 2%.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 2:25pm

        Re: Re: Man the Carbon-Credit-Plan-Harpoons!

        > The otto cycle engine is inefficient, but it isn't that bad. It's more like 30%, not 2%.

        True.
        However, in this make believe world called "Carbon-Credit Land", the notion is to take into consideration the energy required to manufacture, which would be amortized over the product's life. Not just operating efficiency.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 4:23pm

      Re: Man the Carbon-Credit-Plan-Harpoons!

      When operating, the car looses 98% of its energy in the form of "Heat"

      Actually, when a (conventional) car has returned to it's starting point virtually all of the energy it has used has been converted to heat. This is regardless of the efficiency of the engine.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      A former colleague, Aug 28th, 2008 @ 5:18pm

      Re: Man the Carbon-Credit-Plan-Harpoons!

      It's elitism at its worst.

      I knew this would happen eventually. What a shame that Horwitt's Luddism reflects poorly on the organization he works for, when (obviously, if you take a look at their website) internet outreach is actually key to their mission.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Matt Bennett, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 1:24pm

    I'm reading the article, this guy is actively an idiot. Like, he is trying very hard, to be an idiot.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Joseph Weisenthal, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 1:26pm

    Holy c$@p

    I think he's serious. It's just too detailed and humorless to be a work of satire. But maybe it's just that good. I don't know.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous of Course, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 1:33pm

    Control, control's the thing!

    Just Like Patty Asp in Reform School Girls, it's all
    about control. Even love of money (after a point)is
    rooted in a compulsion for control.

    You don't believe the same things that I do. So you're
    either stupid or uneducated... or perhaps your mind has
    been poisoned by propaganda.

    Yes, that's a cause we can all get behind. Now what
    shall we do? How about passing the fairness doctrine
    and shutting down all those nasty bloggers as well.

    God save the republic from such small minded people.
    They would be dictators.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    NSMike, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 1:42pm

    Satire? Maybe...

    Much of what I read in that op-ed seemed pretty serious, but there was one glaring line that made me doubt that this was a serious attempt at discussion: "For this article, I got newspaper Internet readership statistics from the Web site of the Newspaper Association of America (NAA). But if there hadn't been prior newspaper coverage of the NAA, I might never have found its site."

    If he's being serious with this, then he's a moron, and it's clear that he has no idea what he's talking about, and neither do the editors at the Post that published this. If it's satire, it's brilliant, and even a bit subversively saying, "This is what you newspaper goons sound like. And I got it in under your noses."

    But so much of this sounds serious that I think he's just a loon that got lucky with some dumb editors.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Mel, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 1:45pm

    Ain't gettin' mine!

    They can have my electrons when they pry them from my cold, dead, slightly singed hands.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 1:54pm

    It's got to be satire

    Must be satire ... Unless this whole web site is a gag, the guy legitimately appears to be a lawyer for a DC based environmental group:
    http://www.ewg.org/media/interviewees
    However, he's also a comedic singer/songwriter and Bill Clinton impersonator:
    http://www.dustyhorwitt.com/
    http://www.clintonimpersonator.com/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Thom, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 1:57pm

    Irish babes

    Ahh, if only they would pass a law forcing bloggers to eat irish babes... I'd start blogging today and put Irish Girl from busted tees on the menu. Drooooolll.....

    Oh, wait, you said Irish babies. Never mind. I'll stick to posting comments on other peoples blogs.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    sashi138, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 2:25pm

    ummm.. if he's not kidding..

    as far as I'm concerned; if this *is* satire, then its pretty silly..
    but if this person is actually serious, then (as bad as this might sound) find this guy and blow his brains out before this rectal, misinformed idiot actually tries to get someone thats a greedy bastard in congress or such to *ATTEMPT* to but this into motion under another name..
    this kind of absolutely assinine thinking should be SMASHED fast!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    snark386, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 2:42pm

    He could be on to something....

    We could save the republic by holding less elections, If we elected our leaders less frequently, say, every thirty years or so, I propose an election tax that coupled with scarcity of free elections would save this nation. After all holding less election’s means we are saving more freedom. We, as a people would be able to trust our wise leaders who understand the value of 1850 america*.
    *(OK, that won't happen but my point is sound)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Sos, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 3:02pm

    Maybe he confused "elections" with "electrons"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Terri, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 3:16pm

    taxing energy

    This is already in the works. When Canada opened it's broadband for auction it paved the way for more Internet Service Providers who will in turn ""charge customers for each site a person would like on home page and have the right to deny some sites." This is supposedly a pilot project for Canada to see how it will be received,already we have the text messaging fee; if there is not enough dissent then it will go N.America and on and on,until the Internet is totally in the hands of the military(Rumsfelds & or Cheneys plan)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 3:25pm

    According to Arizona State University engineering professor Eric Williams, a desktop computer "is probably the most energy-intensive of home devices, aside from furnaces and boilers."

    I looked up Eric Williams at ASU. He writes about recycling computers, but I could find nothing like the above statement.

    This is probably good because the comment is utter crap. My laptop uses about 75 watts or so. About the same as a medium sized incandesant light bulb. I don't have the conversion from btus to watts in front of me, but even a small furnace must be something like hundreds of times that. My refrigerator, my tv, the total power consumption of of my lighting beats my computer. Clothing dryies, air conditioning, etc, etc,,, all way more power.

    If energy prices go up to the point he suggests, most of us wont even be able to afford huddling in the dark and cold, listening to a transistor radio.

    This is so stupid that it cant possibly be satire...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Thomas, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 3:54pm

    Energy?

    I can't belive any reasonable person thinks a desktop computer uses that much energy. The real problem is COFFEE MAKERS! We should quadruple the taxes on coffee! That will cut down on computer use!

    (sarcasm)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 3:59pm

    along with freedom of speech, lets get rid of freedom of press....

    there, shut them all up

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Craig, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 4:00pm

    One point...

    The op-ed, like everyone has already stated, is really about the traditional media losing complete control of the message. However, I believe there is some validity to the point about activism and social issues. People put "End Poverty Now" banners on their blogs or put an EFF badge etc., and that is the extent of their involvement. How many of these people would literally walk the street demanding change?

    Don't get me wrong, blogging CAN and HAS had an impact on corporations and governments, but the op-ed is right - nobody these days would drag themselves away from their MySpace / Facebook sites long enough to participate in a march or protest.

    It's one thing to be against racism or the "ism-du-jour" and a whole other thing to put your face out their for the media circus to report on.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Ed Duffy, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 11:18pm

    Too Much Information?

    Yes, all this communicating is distracting people from what's really important: The latest house fire, police chase, what Brittany Spears is up to, how this politician feels about what that politician said about him, how a dozen experts feel about how he feels about it, live coverage of the backpack outside the bus stop that's probably just a backpack, but we're going to ponder what would happen if it were actually a nuclear bomb...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Ed Duffy, Aug 25th, 2008 @ 11:21pm

    The real issue

    What's really burning these guys is that the major media has a handful of go-to guys that get to provide the expert input on any particular topic. Bloggers don't need them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, Aug 26th, 2008 @ 4:17am

    Actual Energy Consumption of Computers.

    Here is a summary table of household electricity consumption. As you will note, less than 10% of electricity consumption is used for all home electronics, and computer account for only about 2%. The big ticket items are heating and cooling equipment of one kind or another.

    Total Electricity Consumption-- 1,139.9 Bill. KWH;

    Heating, Ventilation, and Cooling-- 355.7 Bill. KWH; Kitchen Appliances (mostly refrigerators and freezers)-- 304.5 Bill. KWH; Water Heating-- 104.1 Bill. KWH; Clothes Dryer-- 65.9 Bill. KWH; Clothes Washer-- 10.1 Bill. KWH; Subtotal: 840.3 Bill. KWH (bear in mind that this is only the electric equipment-- it does not count equivalent appliances powered by gas, propane, or fuel oil).

    Lighting 100.5 Bill. KWH;

    Home Electronics-- 82.3 Bill. KWH; of which: Color TV-- 33.1 Bill. KWH; VCR/DVD-- 11.3 Bill. KWH; PC and Printer 23.1 Bill. KWH;

    http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/reps/enduse/er01_us_tab1.html

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    AJ, Aug 26th, 2008 @ 5:06am

    You're SURPRISED that this came from WaPo? And you call them a 'venerable' institution? That boat sailed years ago when they, like most other metropolitan newspapers, started blatantly carrying the banner for liberal politics. There is nothing venerable about WaPo anymore. The subject of this blog proves it!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2008 @ 5:42am

      Re:

      "You're SURPRISED that this came from WaPo? And you call them a 'venerable' institution? That boat sailed years ago when they, like most other metropolitan newspapers, started blatantly carrying the banner for liberal politics. There is nothing venerable about WaPo anymore. The subject of this blog proves it!"

      LMAO, when exactly did they start carrying this banner out of curiosity?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2008 @ 5:39am

    Sounds like . . . .

    a frustrated lobbyist who is not getting any traction for his movement or group. He doesnt understand how to succeed using the newer technologies and since he considers "his movement" to be the most crucial thing facing mankind in entire history of the universe, anything he views as preventing him from "selling" it must be inharently be bad.

    I have to side with Mike on this a little too. This crackpot and his ignorant opinion dont really bother me. However, the Washington Posts decisions to waste ink on it I do find troubling.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, Aug 26th, 2008 @ 5:52am

    Sanity Check-- Manufacturing Energy.

    When I hear some of these figures people fling about for energy consumed in manufacturing whatever machine they don't like, I find a useful sanity check is to work out how much energy would be required to melt or vaporize the device in question. For example, automobiles are made mostly out of steel. So I dug up figures for melting iron from the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, and I chased down energy consumption figures from the steel industry, which came out about the same as the theoretical figures. The effect of these figures was that the energy cost of making an automobile is on the order of a couple of tanks of gasoline, perhaps thirty times lower than the spurious figures churned out by oil industry publicists. It is understandable why oil industry publicists want you to think that hybrid cars are impossibly expensive.

    The same kind of argument applies to a personal computer. The vast majority of the materials are ordinary, such as the steel casings, chassis, etc., and the plastic parts. The total weight of the chips is on the order of grams, and the weight of the etched layers of the chips is on the order of milligrams. That said, the energy required to manufacture a computer is insignificant compared to that required to manufacture an automobile, which, as I have said, is insignificant compared to that required to drive an automobile.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Steve Lowe, Aug 26th, 2008 @ 7:20am

    Taxing Energy

    Once again we see the stupity of lawers. There are now too many lawers and they spent way too much time finding stupid ideas for civil suits or the above mentioned tax on energy. Instead of energy, why not put a 60 to 70 percent tax on lawers and on anyone taking law courses in college to become a lawer. While at it why not send a lawer to jail along with the person who's case they lost.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased), Aug 26th, 2008 @ 9:54am

    Important Information

    I have learned more important information from comments on this blog than I have through traditional media.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      TravisO, Aug 26th, 2008 @ 10:46am

      Re: Important Information

      >> I have learned more important information from comments on this blog than I have through traditional media.

      This is why we have to put a stop to the internet, because if you were a good little soylent green eating sheep, you wouldn't have to worry yourself over these complicated matters, let your government and the lawyers handle it.

      Now take a deep breathe and let the nerve.. I mean pleasure gas fill your lungs.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    BTR1701, Aug 26th, 2008 @ 10:51pm

    Car-Free

    If his theory is that taxing energy to the point that consumers would be forced to choose whether to turn on their computers, I think energy would have to be pretty expensive. This would probably force people to not only turn off their computers, but to certainly turn off their TVs, water heaters, air conditioners, heaters, refrigerators and pretty much everything else that draws electricity since those things use vastly more power than a desktop computer. And while people are making these choices about what essentials they will have to do away with, they might also just decide to stop paying for a newspaper if they subscribed to one in the first place.

    And what, may I ask, will be done with all of these billions in extra taxes which make people's lives miserable and tantamount to living in Mexico? I'm sure they will go to creating newer and more exciting welfare or healthcare programs that we are sorely lacking and which will not only get us closer to a utopian society, but will not waste single penny of our electro-tax dollars in the process.

    I think this guy is on to something. This is the sort of radical out-of-the-box thinking that we need so that there won't be any boxes in our lives ever again.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Emerson, Aug 27th, 2008 @ 9:55am

    Functional Insanity

    Articles like this make my head expand like Jiffy Pop. Over-educated simpletons think themselves into functional insanities, which they present to the world as reasonable and necessary for the greater good. You can write it off as well-intentioned ideas too outside the box for us little people. Or, you can question how much more nutty Dusty has to be before they take away his cutlery privileges.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2008 @ 9:40pm

    Editors should EDIT. Readers should READ. Got it?

    You guys here just don't get it, do you? Newspapers have *trained* staff who filter information and determine what's important and what's not important. Who are you to question this?

    Environmental Working Group
    http://www.ewg.org/about/staff

    I'd be embarrassed if I worked for this outfit. How can you do internet outreach if you have people like this who don't understand the fundamentals of the medium? What a joke.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    St. Jacques, Oct 23rd, 2009 @ 5:05pm

    Point of Dusty's article

    The long and short of it is that b/c of the internet, information is diffused. Consensus cannot be achieved as a result. Leadership through objective reporting from the fourth estate is dead. There really is no turning back.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This