Let There Be Fluorescent Light

If Congress has its way on incandescent bulbs, will our world be darker for it?

“I immediately felt ill and almost depressed, like I should commit suicide.” Heath Ledger’s untimely death or perhaps even the announced withdrawal of John Edwards from the Democratic presidential primaries might seem like the most plausible occasions for such a dramatic statement to be uttered in Slate’s Spectator Fray. 

On its face, the precipitating event was far more mundane: “the horrifying light” emitted from a compact fluorescent light bulb, or CFL, purchased by nerdnam on a recent trip to Home Depot.

Ron Rosenbaum’s ode to the soon-to-be-extinct incandescent bulb elicited strong reactions from readers. Indeed, the sentimental attachment we have to the most common of objects can make their disappearance or alteration feel like a profound disruption to the order of things.

Is it all irrational, a reflexive clinging to the familiar? Some of the arguments against CFLs appear to be quite practical. Fitzpatrick expresses frustration with the time needed to reach full illumination, knickname with their limited use in certain fixtures, zahniser7 with imprecise wattage equivalents. Chris_O dislikes their incompatibility with dimmer switches.

After a year “of straining my eyes to read a book, of holding letters over my head to get enough light to read by,” darwinite ends an ill-fated experiment with energy-efficient lighting and further vows to “stockpile incandescent bulbs before the ban.”

But there also seemed to be a deeper strain of conspiracy theory running through some of the Fray postings. The supposed environmental urgency behind the compulsory adoption of CFLs amounts to a campaign of “fluorescent fear-mongering … on a scale that would impress Rudy Giuliani,” quipsstrive. OIFVet might also count himself in the mildly paranoid camp, characterizing the push for these “science lab lights” as “a movement by folks who have invested in the new technology and prey on the conscience of the American people.”

viral considers the current CFL mania as a political case study in why reform always fails, as our misguided fixation on a small detail (light bulbs) obscures the aims of a much broader social goal (energy conservation).

The color-rendering index provides some scientific basis for qualifying the “hospitalesque hue” of fluorescents as inferior. timrichardson explains: “A CRI of 100 shows colors like natural light: incandescents are basically CRI 100…fluorescent lamps do not produce the spectrum of visible light in the even distribution of the sun, or a glowing filament.” 

Tann upbraids Rosenbaum for his misplaced sentimentality and resistance to change:

He confuses “incandescent” with “warm light” the same way the some people conflate “all-natural” with “healthy.” Incandescent light can produce harsh light too, and there are warm spectrum CFLs that produce light better than a soft white bulb.

waliyuddin is also a voice for progress and embrace of the new:

All aesthetic considerations aside, incandescence is, taken in the aggregate, a wildly wasteful means of lighting … and one that needs to be supplanted along with lots of other survivors from the technology of the past century and a quarter.

Beyond the environmental debate, OIFvet imagines what the demise of the incandescent bulb might mean for pop culture: “cartoonists will forever be in a quandary as to what icon to use to symbolize an idea being formed in the head of their character.” AC9:47pm EST

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Christopher Hitchens, in this “Fighting Words,” regretted that there had been limited reaction to some remarks by Mike Huckabee about the Confederate flag. So, Mr Hitchens must be thrilled by the amount of reaction he managed to provoke in the Fray, where long vicious arguments are under way. There is a thread there with 73 contributions—not something we find every day.

There were two key, tightly-connected, questions: is that flag racist? Readers went for it here. And, was the Civil War was actually about slavery or not? Battle lines drawn here. Nobody seemed to change anyone else’s mind, and it wasn’t all that civil. Richmond says “We’re beyond the point of asking ‘What would Gen. Lee do?’ partly because we know the answer (’Surrender and tell the troops to go home.’) and partly because he’s dead.” And he also says “When I see that flag on a car or shirt, I think: you’ve got some nerve. Where do you think you’d be if the South had won the war? Sipping tea and getting yourself fanned by Ole Joe? Afraid not. You’d be working the damned fields getting a penny a day for your labor with no chance of a happier life.”

Ryanlindly was interested in regional identity:

A lot of people say it’s about history… given the short duration of settlement and frequent intrastate immigration and emigration, just how strong is any person’s link to the South? This isn’t Bosnia and Serbia. I always thought one of the great things about America was the historylessness of the individuals. State, regional, and even national identifications are kinds of self-deluding jokes. “Are you proud to be from Texas? Are you proud to be from the South? Are you proud to be from America?” Who would answer no? How about the question, “Is it worth creating an idea of yourself around any of these regional qualities? If so, why?”

Pilot22a argued out the issues before concluding, fair-mindedly, “So, Huckabee didn’t do anything wrong, except be a wacko religious freak.”

The entry that most resonated with the Fray Editor was from MrcpBlair, who said “Sometimes you read a post and go, ‘What just happened?’” Well, yeah. Rows raged on and on, about strange side-issues: we’ve read the entire thread but still couldn’t explain how Revelations came into it, leading San to say “I am only saying that anyone believing [that] is wrong and/or illiterate,”  but it certainly was a very typical Frayline.

Dreamweapon explained some of the strong feelings:

Name-calling can be fun and cathartic, there is no point in writing it off completely…Why not shout down the retrograde idiocy [other posters] represent, in all its forms? Rather than idly endure the slings and arrows of semi-literate nimrods…I say why not let loose with a return volley? It’s kind of fun.

But it’s not clear who exactly he thought needed encouragement—most posters seemed to have drawn this conclusion already. For more examples, look for featured Fray posts at the end of most of the past week’s Slate articles..  MR 4:30 p.m. GMT

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Another week, another primary, another set of long, long arguments about the candidates, particularly Hillary Clinton and the question of experience. Many posters are very serious, and their posts are well-argued, thoughtful, and usually lengthy. So, naturally, instead we’re going to highlight some short Fraylines that we found striking, tendentious, or just plain weird— go to the Frays for balance and context. (Well maybe not, but you will get even more variety.)

I didn’t watch TV for most of the years he [Bill Clinton] was President for fear of becoming ill by viewing his psychopathic self on the television screen. If she wins no TV for me. – PaybackDick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are probably the most experienced people in American History. They both served in Congress and each held several cabinet posts while they spent most of their adult lives in Washington. Would anyone in his/her right mind have wanted either of these guys within 100 miles of the Oval Office during the Cuban missile crisis? –Clark KentThe Queen could, in fact, govern the UK, and without the aid of a Prime Minister, if necessary…This is the kind of background Sen. Clinton has. It doesn’t matter how she got it. It matters that she has it. – RichmondI was married to an accountant for 30 years, but that didn’t make me a CPA– GrammagramRepublicans won’t attack experience… They want voters to be afraid of what Hillary would do; if they go for the “she’s never accomplished anything” line, that will diminish the fear factor. After all, if Hillary managed to “do nothing” while her husband was busy chasing interns in the White House, how would she be able to enact her nefarious plans now? – Madai

And, just for fairness:

It is hard to look at Mitt [Romney] without visualizing a wind-surfing board beneath his feet.– NightSwimmer, a poster with John Kerry on his mind

Elsewhere, there are excellent Frays, with featured posts, on the “Dismal Science” article on race and consumption; on the “Explainer” on garbage (readers showing an unnerving, but very entertaining, level of knowledge); the books on Tom Cruise and mind-body medicine; and (not chalk and cheese but) cheese and childbirth. On that last one, this Fray Editor is proud to have stirred up some trouble by highlighting a well-hidden post suggesting that women may use too much pain relief in childbirth—”we have gotten a little too generous…with pain” Sarvis claimed. Can we feature MessyOne’s reply from the same thread? Yes we can:

I’ll make a deal with you. As soon as it becomes necessary for you to shove a mass the size of a Seville orange to the outside world through your penis, you’ll be allowed to dictate whether or not a woman needs pain killers during labor. Until then, clear the decks and stay out of her way.

Yes, overall a good week for gender relations…MR 1:30 GMT

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

“The public mind is no longer a static, predictable thing. And that’s a great thing to know and a great situation…” Nerdnam was talking in the “Politics” Fray about the New Hampshire primary, and the state of democracy, but he might as well have been referring to the Fray itself, which likes nothing better than a fight, an upset, or at least a somewhat unexpected result. His post was titled “I’m glad it’s a contest”, which could be the Fray motto (but if you’ve got a better idea for one, then tell us). There was a lot of comment on Hillary Clinton’s tears: in Richmond’s post, to be contrasted with Barack Obama’s “staged passion” before concluding, “Candidates run to get elected. Anything short of murder and mayhem is fair play.” Jonawebb says, “Clinton’s trained professionalism is beating Obama’s exciting and promising amateurism.”

Christopher Hitchens’ “Fighting Words” article on race and Barack Obama produced a magnificent Fray, full of thoughtful comment and with a low (but not invisible) insult quotient. Pwoxby wondered about the description of Obama’s “crackpot” church: Isn’t Hitchens “rabid in his belief that all churches are crackpot?” And Xaedalus thinks the mistake is to “analyze this election from a basis of logic and reason. We’re not looking for the candidate that makes logical sense, we’re looking for a candidate we can put our faith in.” Meanwhile over at the “ForeignersFrayHamhock96 wondered if the writer had missed a word:

Dear Ms. Applebaum: Any male child can grow up to be president.

And icemilkcoffee made more fascinating points on race:

I think Americans are ready for a black president, but they are not ready for a black (and true black, not just mixed race) first lady…[Barack Obama] is more of a foreigner living in our midst than a typical African American. However there is no such novelty surrounding Michelle Obama. She is just a regular black American woman, a ‘known quantity’, with all the stereotypes that come with that characterization.

Readers took seriously the question of the political futures markets in “Moneybox“: They had also enjoyed the item on what stocks could represent the candidates, though they were disappointed Ron Paul was left out (suggestion from revrick: “one of those late-night cable advertisers selling cheap stuff”).

There was something very Fray-like about the discussion on “The Big Idea” on similarities between McCain and Obama. Blahblahblah suggested that “maybe they could agree to not have running mates, and to have the loser be vice president…seems like everyone could be happy with this? This could be real progress.” There was great and real enthusiasm for this idea in the thread, but then up popped Wpeotih: “Yeah, that’ll show all those whiners that say there’s no difference between the two parties and no real choice.”

It’s going to be a good election year for the readers. MR 4:30 p.m. GMT