Thursday, January 10, 2008

Life-Enhancing Progress

Jay Ambrose describes a bloodcurdling scheme that'll destroy American life as we know it:

I know this sounds far-fetched, but in their deep concern about saving energy, some congressional leaders meeting in secret have come up with an idea that goes by the code name "TCM." The acronym stands for "The Candle Mandate."

The idea, they think, is marvelous in its simplicity. To make Americans consume less electricity, they are going to outlaw electric-powered light inside and outside homes and workplaces....

[T]his step is perfectly in line with a provision in the nation's recently enacted, new energy law, a measure Congress approved and President Bush signed. It does not go quite so far as TCM, but in its potential sabotage of life-enhancing progress, is headed in exactly the same direction.
Ambrose eventually acknowledges that "The Candle Mandate" is just something he made up, though it'd be very easy to miss this little detail, especially if you're ignorant or crazed enough to see his argument as coherent.

What I find funny about this - besides...well, everything - is that for Ambrose, Progress is represented by a technology that we've "been using since Thomas Alva Edison and his co-inventors came up with a carbonized filament that could last for 1,000 hours and more 125 years ago."
Within the next 12 years you will have to start using bulbs consuming 30 percent less electricity, meaning the bulbs you've learned to love will have to go.
Are we so callous, so unfeeling, so spiritually inert, that we would turn our backs, after all these years, on light bulbs with a carbonized filament? Is that the human thing to do?

Ambrose concedes that even if u no can haz teh awesum Edison bulbz, it doesn't mean that you're stuck for life with CFLs; other options are available, and will continue to be invented or improved. But that's just the preamble to a litany of complaints about CFLs: they cost more (in a sense); some of them may be the wrong size for your fixtures (what will you do?); you'll probably need two or three of them if you want to read a newspaper (huh?); and - steady now - they're full of deadly poison:
I did a Google search and found a news account about a kid who took a quarter of a cup of mercury to his school several years ago, resulting in intensive care for one 17-year-old who may suffer from the exposure for the rest of his life....

So, if you break one of these CFLs, run for the woods while calling your congressman on your cell phone to come open your windows for you. Be prepared to spend an interesting amount of money in cleaning things up.
I guess it's possible that some of Ambrose's readers have never gone to school, or ridden on a subway, or worked in an office, or visited a hospital, or gone to the supermarket, or spent time in any other building or vehicle that was lit by the fluorescent bulbs we've learned to love over the 150 years that've passed since Heinrich Geissler first produced illumination in a glass tube evacuated with a mercury vacuum pump. If so, you can't blame them for being frightened by this nightmare scenario.

Normal people, however, are likely to perceive Ambrose as a mongrel idiot (to borrow a phrase from my pal Steve Simels). Here's how we handle broken fluorescent bulbs in the treehugging nanny state of Californistan:
[W]ear latex gloves and carefully clean up the fragments. Wipe the area with a damp disposable paper towel to remove all glass fragments and associated mercury....

After clean up is complete, place all fragments along with cleaning materials into a sealable plastic bag. Wash your hands. Recycle along with intact lamps.
This complex operation could easily cost the unlucky consumer tens of cents, which is not what I'd call "an interesting amount of money." (Just for the record, the expensive clean-up myth seems to have been invented, with malice aforethought, by none other than Steven Milloy.)

This is not to say that the mercury in CFLs isn't an issue when considered en masse, or that I'm a fan of CFLs as opposed to, say, LEDs. But trying to pass fluorescent bulbs off as some apocalyptic threat is pretty fucking ludicrous, especially considering that the new bulbs contain less mercury than the ones that most of us have been exposed to virtually every day for the last six decades.

(Photo: Geissler tubes circa 1860, from the apparatus collection of Dartmouth College.)


Anonymous said...

cool pic, as is usual.

i'm one of the 5 or 6 thousand occasional viewers of Fox business news. had a guy on the other nite that very much reminded me of this post.

when the hell did a light bulb become the newest liberal threat to civilization as we have known it?

by the way, CFL light bulbs are excellent. great light, doesn't look dingy, and they last forever. well, not forever, nothing is forever.

olvlzl said...

I don't know to be proud of you or not for leaving the question behind, how many chief editorial writers at Scripps Howard does it take to screw in a lightbulb.

Doesn’t matter, it's bound to be a dim one.

It's not truth that someone like Jay Ambrose is looking for but a slogan that will snow an effective margin of people to prevent progress. I've started a campaign to stop calling these people "journalists", if anyone is interested in the truth, the large majority of the American media are "opinionists" and that's overlooking the fact that most of them are a pack of whores.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm impressed that he's banking on people having a sentimental attachment to their lightbulbs. That's a pretty bold strategy.

Remember, people, don't *name* your lightbulbs or you'll never be able to give them up.

chris said...

He forgot to mention that CFLs are, umm, hard to swallow.

chris said...

One for Friday hopelessness.

roger said...

whetre can i get cfls like the ones in the picture? i promise not to lick the mercury.

Coeruleus said...

Quater cup of Mercury?!? If he's concerned about those amounts, he ought to be more concerned about regular light bulbs than CFLs: the mercury emitted to generate the electricity from the percentage of electricity gotten from the coal fired plant is greater for teh Edizzzen than for the CFL + the mercury in the CFL bulb itself!