Magazine November 2, 2015, Issue

New Lamps for Old

Next week’s shocking headline: Ben Carson Compares Bush-Era Energy Policy to Nazi Germany.

How would that happen? Simple. Let’s back up a bit. A while ago I had an issue with a timer that controlled some external lights. An electrician said the wiring wasn’t up to the holy code, and he’d have to put in a small metal box and charge a large fee. I got a pang in the left buttock where the wallet is located, as though Andrew Jackson were trying to chew his way out and protest, so I asked whether there was an alternative.

Sure: dusk-to-dawn timers in the individual sockets. I said I’d tried that. They flickered. They went dark for an hour, then sprang to life as though they’d just remembered a forgotten appointment. He asked a question no one would have asked 20 years ago:

What kind of bulb do you use?

Well, CFLs. Compact fluorescent. The pig-tailed glass tubes that save the planet. Each one offsets the CO2 emissions belched out in 0.00000000000001 seconds by one car — if it’s a hybrid. For a while the entire house was on CFLs, and this probably reduced the melting of a glacier by 0.053 micrometers, which meant the polar bears would have more time to evolve into something with gills and webbed feet. Fishbears! They’re the future, if we act now.

The problem with the CFLs, of course, is that they emit a ghastly light that makes a morgue look like a candlelit café, and they contain mercury. For many years we were taught that mercury was a horrid poison. Don’t handle it! Don’t look at it! If you drive an old Ford Mercury, trade it in! Now! Then CFLs were introduced, and the narrative changed: Please, if you could just bring as much mercury into your house as possible, and distribute it to every room . . .

Eventually the quality of CFL light improved, and you had a range of hues from Morgue to Stasi Interrogation Cell. But! Science marches on, and LEDs came in. Expensive at first, because the Chinese factory had to bribe local officials to let them pour 40,000 gallons of antimony into the river. LEDs were better. They looked like normal, ordinary, bygone lightbulbs, and the light had different hues. There was Bright, which was like a movie-premier searchlight and let you look at your arm and marvel at the network of vessels and bones; Daylight, in the “staring at the sun” sense; Soft Light, which had a tint you could describe as “smoker’s teeth”; and so on.

After lots of trial and error, I’ve converted the entire house to LEDs, and everything is nice and crisp and operating-room white. When I put in the wrong LED, suddenly it looks as if the bulb were sunk in a vase of diluted urine.

So when the electrician asked which kind of bulb I had, I knew. CFLs, because I’d recently put in dusk-to-dawn timers and saw the tell-tale curly shape. “Well, there’s your problem. They don’t work well with timers. Not enough resistance. Take a look at timers that are CFL-compliant.”

Off to the hardware store, where there were two such timers. Both in packages that had been opened, returned, and restocked. That’s a good sign. Installed them. Same thing. Twitchy flickering light; no attention span. But! What if I put an LED light in? Same thing. But! What if I put in . . . an incandescent bulb?

And here you drew in a sharp breath, didn’t you. Incandescent bulbs? But — but they’re ungood wrongbulbs. Perhaps you imagine me taking out my incandescents from a hiding place, like Winston Smith removing his diary from a spot in the wall where the telescreens can’t see. No, I didn’t have a 100-watt. Perhaps the store carried some, if I asked in a low voice and flashed some greenbacks. They did not. They had halogens, though. I bought these. Installed them. Same thing. Flicker blink dark steady light! Then nothing.

Everything went back to the store. While searching around for another bulb to replace something in the garage, I found a 100-watt incandescent, and it was like an artifact from a lost era. A civilized belle époque. I cradled it in my hands like a doorknob from the Titanic, something rare and precious the likes of which we shall not see again. Because the store doesn’t have them. For the good of the earth.

I plugged in the old bulb. It worked. It’ll only burn for a few months, but then I can replace it with another –

Oh, right. There aren’t any anymore.

I like choice, and lots of it. I like new technology and more efficient tools. But buying a light bulb was once a simple, straightforward thing, and now you are required to go through these maddening rigmaroles because of the Federal Light Bulb Rigmarole Act, which frowns on incandescents. Everyone in Washington went along with it so the progressive media wouldn’t call them anti-science and pro–global warming. It wasn’t enough to offer a good alternative. We had to have the incandescent taken away, and it’s one of a hundred examples of the Great and Glorious State poking you in its chosen direction with mandates and bans.

And if Dr. Carson pointed out that the bulb ban was a fine example of the way the State shapes your life with incremental diminutions of your ability to choose, you’d get the headline about comparing the bulb policy to Nazi Germany.

Of course, he’d probably mention the Nazis outright, but if he didn’t, the headline writer would help him out.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.

In This Issue

Articles

Politics & Policy

Boldly Go

A flurry of space movies has fluttered out of Hollywood over the past few years. Generally speaking, movies skew toward the trivial side of the news spectrum — but the ...

Features

Politics & Policy

Chairman Priebus

On a sunny Friday morning in January 2015, Reince Priebus stood inside the main ballroom of an elegant Southern California resort wearing a conqueror’s smile. The 42-year-old Wisconsinite, a placid-looking ...

Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

The iFranzen

The publication of a new Jonathan Franzen novel has a lot in common with the release of a new iPhone: Both early-autumn events are greeted with absurd amounts of anticipation, ...

Sections

Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ If Bernie Sanders is tired of hearing about Clinton scandals now, he should just wait till she’s president. ‐ Hillary Clinton came out against the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), a trade ...
Athwart

New Lamps for Old

Next week’s shocking headline: Ben Carson Compares Bush-Era Energy Policy to Nazi Germany. How would that happen? Simple. Let’s back up a bit. A while ago I had an issue with ...
The Long View

Memorandum: CONFIDENTIAL

TO: POTUS FROM: MEDIA TEAM SUBJ: MANHOOD We’ve digested and analyzed the focus-group results from our weekend surveys, and have compiled those along with the results of our snap cellphone poll Sunday night. ...
Politics & Policy

Poetry

SLUMBERING ORION As first light gently pulls the dawn across the earth, Supine Orion readies his bed for the dream of day, and Slumbers within sight of the tranquil Pleiades Now cloaked by the ...
Happy Warrior

The Napier Doctrine

Some of you probably know the story, but too many people don’t. So I will repeat it here. General Charles Napier was the British commander-in-chief of colonial India. His most ...
Politics & Policy

Letters

Lord Kelvin, Out of Context? Robert Zubrin (“The Human Factor,” September 21) may well be right to deny that global warming poses a risk of catastrophic problems. Part of his case ...

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