Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Prying Light Bulbs Out of Cold, Dead Hands

Wired did a cover story on the light bulb, which is fascinating to me, for many of the same reasons two freight trains containing rocket fuel and napalm colliding at full speed is fascinating to most people. Wired never has more than four god damned things a year even worth reading, unless you’re always in the mood to buyer’s guides for $700 headphones, or twelve-page ad spreads for crap Toshiba laptops, the glossy layouts disguised to look like actual articles. (I got a free subscription by trading in some about-to-expire miles on an airline I never fly, something that looked like a borderline identity theft request. Wired was by far the best magazine offered, with the second and third place choices being Vibe For Pregnant Teens and Country Shitkicker Kitchen.)  What fascinated me was the fact that Lightbulb-Gate has reached the level of fury where you can get guaranteed linkbait with a title like “Five things you need to know before Congress takes all of the light bulbs out of your house and rapes your children in the dark”, and we’re an election cycle away from adding a Constitutional amendment prohibiting any legislation regarding incandescent lighting.

It amazes me that people can get so bent out of shape about manufactured swing issues. I think all it takes is convincing side A that their mortal enemies on side B hates something, and side A will suddenly champion their complete opposite. If I could find the magic place to leak a story that the President is trying to criminalize the consumption of dog shit sandwiches, you’d see within three days a photo-op of some far-right nutbag with a foot-long hoagie of Doberman links, lettuce, and tomato, screaming “TAKE THIS ONE AWAY YOU GODLESS COMMIE BASTARDS!”  Sarah Palin would be working part-time as a night cashier at an Arco gas station, collecting food stamps, and living paycheck-to-paycheck in a studio apartment if the left wouldn’t keep blathering about how much they hate her.  And yeah, both sides are guilty; I’m sure that NASCAR does not implicitly endorse slavery, chaining women in kitchens, or impregnating first cousins, although that’s generally the opinion held by most people with an extensive secondary education.  I’m not saying I’m ready to tattoo a giant number 3 on my face, but I’ve never watched more than two seconds of a race, so I’m not about to condemn it.

News isn’t news. People argue that the news is the reporting of fact, and that the reporting of “incorrect” news is “bias”. We don’t read news to find out facts as much as we read it to validate our worldview.  You could replace the root page of CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and all of the other media sites with a single story that says “Your beliefs have been validated, and that makes you the center of the universe”, and 90% of the function of the media would be functionally replaced.  News stopped being news when the media realized that the most important part of journalism is pumping up your number of page impressions to increase ad revenue.

Here’s a cheat sheet on the “light bulb ban”:

  • It doesn’t “ban” anything; it sets new standards for efficiency that will eventually make the use of incandescent light bulbs impractical.
  • It was signed by law by George W. Bush.
  • The whole issue with Chinese workers getting mercury poisoning while making CFL bulbs would probably be irrelevant if people stopped buying so much Chinese-made shit at Wal-Mart.
  • Mercury thermometers contain way more mercury than CFLs, and you put those in your kids’ mouths and asses. (They are also banned in many countries but not the US.  If you’re looking to manufacture next year’s fake crisis, maybe something involving Nancy Grace screaming about how our babies are going to die of fever because Congress is takin’ away our thermometers.)
  • Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb.  It’s not an American invention.  Joseph Swan patented it a year before Edison, and Edison avoided litigation by eventually merging with Swan’s company.
  • CFLs are not condemned, condoned, or even mentioned in the Holy Bible, at least not in the version I stole from a Las Vegas hotel room to use as a coaster.
  • The focus of all of the fury is currently on the CFL bulb, but LED bulbs are coming down in price, don’t have the weird flicker/refresh effect, can be dimmed, are more efficient, and produce a more natural looking light.  I expect that once the LED bulbs break the $10 price point for an equivalent 100-watt incandescent, we’ll start hearing stories about how they’re really produced by homosexual Muslim terrorist splinter cells that abuse children.

I keep hearing that this is a libertarian issue, that we need to keep Big Government off of our backs, that we’ll spend some ridiculous amount of money on the light bulb police to kick down doors and send felon soft-white-light lovers off to maximum security prison.  And all of these laws and regulations will stifle the growth of business and kill jobs (even though all of the biggest industries in this country — pharma, telecom, aerospace, finance — are all heavily regulated.)  People keep talking about a return to “simpler times”, when we could dump raw sewage in drinking water, cut the mufflers off of our giant V-8 engines, and buy a table saw with absolutely no warning labels, guards, or any other pussy communist safety features that would prevent one from cutting off their fingers or launching a piece of wood at 800 miles an hour into your abdomen.  (Those lightweights in Europe only sell table saws with riving knives to prevent kickback when ripping lumber, but where’s the sport in that?  If I want to risk fatality and save $3 on a $947 table saw purchase, god damn it, that’s my right as an American!)  I wish we would return to simpler times – like the ones where idiots were too afraid of computers to use them.

And none of this is about the math, or the savings, or the efficiency.  It isn’t about mercury poisoning or the color of light produced by CFLs or the up-front cost of bulbs.  It’s because one side said “don’t do this,” the other side had to say “well FUCK YOU I am totally doing this.”  It’s about people who have been told to be angry by a for-profit news source that they feel validates their lives.  It’s about millionaires becoming billionaires by telling the poor that they should be pissed off at someone trying to save them a dollar.  It’s a non-issue.  Let it go.  There are more important things to fight about.


2 responses to “Prying Light Bulbs Out of Cold, Dead Hands”

  1. Since I live in Indiana, I have occasionally flipped through Country Shitkicker Kitchen magazine while waiting in line at Kroger, and I have to honestly admit that the photography is not that bad. Which isn't that surprising once you realize that there is no actual text anywhere in the magazine, although there are a few completely blank pages…

    "…and buy a table saw with absolutely no warning labels, guards, or any other pussy communist safety features that would prevent one from cutting off their fingers or launching a piece of wood at 800 miles an hour into your abdomen."

    Dude, that table saw had all of the normal safety guards when my dad bought it. He just made me remove them all and toss everything in a dumpster. And to be fair, he did get his fingers sewn back on.

    To be serious for a moment, as far as CFLs go, I've never understood the outrage. I have some "natural white" ones that, as the name indicates, produce very natural light that is much more white (it's like sunlight) than incandescent bulbs. Additionally they use something like 1/5th the power.

  2. Ray, if anyone would understand the implications of Laissez-fair table saw abuse, it would be you. I'm sure Big Ern is still bitching about those pussy doctors that insisted on sewing back on his fingers.

    When I first moved to CA, the power company had some deal where you could get a four-pack of CFLs for $2. I'm sure I pay for that, either in taxes or a higher power bill, but if it means that the people who don't pay taxes will shut the fuck up and buy the bulbs already, I'll take it.