Saturday, March 29, 2008

Dim Bulbs

James Lileks is in one of his mischievous moods, and you know what that means: oxen will be gored, and sacred cows made into hamburgers, and the politically correct will wail and gnash their teeth.

Rep. Michele Bachmann has proposed a bill that would repeal the ban on normal light bulbs. They're scheduled to be phased out by 2012 AD, replaced by compact fluorescent bulbs, which are either Godless Death Coils or Sensible Joy Spirals, depending on your opinion. Those of us who prefer incandescently salute the attempt. Oh, I wish I liked fluorescents - they bring your electricity bill down to $1.95 per year, you get to shake a fist at OPEC, and those curly pig-tail tubes look cool. But I detest the light.
If you can overlook Lileks' grueling attempt at jauntiness, which recalls nothing so much as a man trying to tapdance in lead boots, you'll notice that he comes dangerously close to accuracy here: CFLs do use a lot less electricity, and this could have certain political...implications.

So far, so good. The question is, how does he get from there to here?
It's an aesthetic preference, and so there isn't a correct position. It's OK to prefer incandescent. It's OK to prefer CFLs. But some curious form of moral authority has been applied to CFLs....
I certainly can't fault Lileks for forgetting his sentences as soon as he writes them; if I were a theologian I might even see it as evidence of a merciful God. But logically speaking, if you really believe that CFLs reduce your electricity usage, and that this in turn reduces your country's vulnerability to Islamopetrofascism, it's pretty obvious that something more than aesthetics is at stake.

Michelle Bachman (R-Bedlam) calls her bill the "Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act," in honor of her belief that everyone should be able to choose lightbulbs calmly and rationally, without being made to feel like they're destroying the earth (especially since CFLs are full of deadly mercury that will kill us all).

This has given conservatarians the freedom to choose between praising Bachmann's commitment to consumer liberty and sound science, and attacking her as a chemophobic alarmist and an adherent of the Precautionary Principle. I'm guessing that Lileks' exceptional incoherence in this column has something to do with the discomfort of straddling this fence.

Lileks isn't actually scared of mercury, natch, 'cause it's perfectly harmless. Which is to say that he knows it isn't harmless, but is being cute by pretending not to know it, while overstating its hazards for humorous effect, in order to reinforce the idea that it actually is kinda dangerous, without having to be so uncool and "eco-correct" as to admit it, or to admit that generating electricity for his beloved incandescents releases lots more mercury than CFLs. This, you understand, is both zany and irreverent.
Then there's the mercury issue. Supposedly each bulb contains actual Alien blood that eats through the floor if you break the bulb, but that doesn't worry me. Heck, we played with mercury when I was a kid. We gargled mercury. We'd rub it in our pants so we could go down the slide twice as fast. Mom made us mercury omelettes, in fact. Dad used to sit down at night with his pipe and smoke up some mercury.
Also, they used to put mercury on your ice cream sundae at the corner drugstore. Nowadays those little silvery balls are made of sugar, but back then they were mercury. And not only that, but we fed the dog on mercury. He was leaving illegible silver streaks on public property long before inner-city teens thought of it. The only bad thing about it was that Mom used to take my temperature by putting his dick in my mouth!

The perils of mercury notwithstanding, Lileks decides to give CFLs a second chance. Unless you've visited a few third-rate casinos and heard struggling comedians make jokes about the difficulty of programming VCRs, you'll never guess what happens next. He tries the CFLs out at home, and wouldn't ya know it...he finds that they're either too bright, or not bright enough, except for the one he kinda likes, which doesn't fit in any of his sconces or lamps (which begs the question of what he was using to test it).

Also, you can't use a dimmer with CFLs. He tries it anyway, though, and the bulb stops working. So much for its nine-year guarantee, ha ha! In summation: he'll switch to CFLs once they work as well as incandescents, and not one minute before! You can buy them, though, if you want; that's OK by Lileks as long as you don't look at him like he eats veal or something (even though he probably does eat veal, in order to show the hippies that they're not the boss of him).

As for Bachmann, she considers the CFL phase-out to be downright tyrannical.
“I was just outraged that Congress would want to substitute its judgment for the judgment of the American people,” she said. “It struck me as a massive Big Brother intrusion into our homes and our lives.”
Which explains why she supports warrantless wiretapping and opposes gay rights.

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