August 31, 2011

"But for the incandescent aficionados, fluorescent lights tend to be associated with morgues, prisons and tenement hallways."

Cultural historian Christopher Cook says they have a "'cold creepiness' and make you feel like you're being interrogated."

An apt feeling, conveying the message of government coercion. But they'll get used to it, even the sensitive ones.

From "At Home: A Short History of Private Life," by Bill Bryson (page 112):
We forget just how painfully dim the world was before electricity. A candle—a good candle—provides barely a hundredth of the illumination of a single 100-watt lightbulb. Open your refrigerator door and you summon forth more light than the total amount enjoyed by most households in the eighteenth century. The world at night for much of history was a very dark place indeed.

Occasionally we can see into the dimness, as it were, when we find descriptions of what was considered sumptuous, as when a guest at a Virginia plantation, Nomini Hall, marveled in his diary how “luminous and splendid” the dining room was during a banquet because seven candles were burning—four on the table and three elsewhere in the room. To him this was a blaze of light. At about the same time, across the ocean in England, a gifted amateur artist named John Harden left a charming set of drawings showing family life at his home, Brathay Hall in Westmorland. What is striking is how little illumination the family expected or required. A typical drawing shows four members sitting companionably at a table sewing or reading by the light of a single candle, and there is no sense of hardship or deprivation, and certainly no sign of the desperate postures of people trying to get a tiny bit of light to fall more productively on a page or piece of embroidery. A Rembrandt drawing, Student at a Table by Candlelight, is actually much closer to the reality. It shows a youth sitting at a table, all but lost in a depth of shadow and gloom that a single candle on the wall beside him cannot begin to penetrate. Yet he has a newspaper. The fact is that people put up with dim evenings because they knew no other kind.
The world at night for much of history was a very dark place indeed. And history extends into the future, where it may not be so dark, but it is cold and creepy.

57 comments:

Curious George said...

Cold and creepy? So is Al Gore. Both are saving the planet.

The Elder said...

Both THINK they are saving the planet.

Both are taking us in the wrong direction.

Curious George said...

You had better use those fucking eco-bulbs!

Clyde said...

Better to turn on an incandescent bulb than to curse the darkness...

AllenS said...

Here's a math question:

How many candles in Algore's nine bathrooms?

Roger J. said...

Increasingly I have come to feel as a country we are truly fucked--Is it the fault of our political class in Wa DC--nope--we elect the fucking idiots who purport to govern us--as Walt Kelly (apologies to Pogo) said many years ago--we have met the enemy and he is us.

The American people are responsible for the political class, and the American people have failed miserably--its on us

Scott M said...

How many candles in Algore's nine bathrooms?

Too easy. Simply take the number of candles used in one average American family's bathroom per year and multiply it by twenty. For this particular question, it's probably still zero, but if you're trying to figure out anything regarding Algore's use of resources, simply take the average American family's consumption and multiply it by twenty.

Oh, and you have to divide that answer by the square-root of hypocrisy to get your final answer. And, as always, show your work.

Lincolntf said...

When freedom has devolved to the point that the Government tells you what kind of light you can read by, you're no longer in anything resembling a free country.

Pogo said...

Gee, I wonder if the gubmint hesitancy to let you own guns and defend yourself in your own home has anything to do with that same gubmint telling you what light bulbs to use and what food you can eat and taking your house whenever it wants (Kelo).

Roger J. said...

I suspect that the only thing that could be said is the american people are more stupid than the people they elect--doesnt reflect well on the American people

Of course it worked that way in Athens, and Rome--Platop, Aristotle, Tacitus, and Cicero understood the phenomena very well.

A lynch mob is nothing more than your friends and neighbors on an outing. we continue to vote for the scoundrels in washington, so we continue to have skin in the game.

Aristotle was right about democracy

Calliope Street said...

"The stations of uncensored expression are closing down; the lights are going out..." Winston Churchill, 1938 radio address on the rise of totalitarianism in Europe.

Scott M said...

Aristotle was right about democracy

What did he say about constitutional republics and federalism?

Roger J. said...

damn--just reread my post in the cold light of 5 minutes reflecting time--Alas: I have turned into Carol Herman. apologies to all--I will try to do better

AllenS said...

Scott M said...
... it's probably still zero

Wow, Scott, you got it on the first try. Algore can't use candles in his bathrooms, because if he passed gas from his bloated, overstuffed torso, he'd blow the place up.

Roger J. said...

Scott M: recall that Aristotle only looked at prevailing greek opinion and was, IIRC, attacking Plato for Plato's views on the philosopher kings--Basically, Aristotle did not endorse a specific form of government--he was suggesting that Plato was a douchebag (an attic term of art) for suggesting that smart people knew more than the larger population--For Aristotle, laws were the key factor. Impartial and all encompassing laws--of course I have done major damage to the nuances of aristotles thought, but hey--its only a blog

traditionalguy said...

Edison invention of electric illumination spread fast until by 1910 most cities had lights at night...the countryside was 30 years later. Generation plants and wiring took a customer base and time to build.

So our grandparents seriously told us not to " burn the lights" when we left a room to avoid wasting.

Actually one kerosene lamp was fairly bright when place on a high central point in the room called the lampstandm which I learned
in 1950 when we spent 2 weeks in the summer visiting our aunts old victorian summer home in the Monteagle Campground.

That is in Tennessee a few mile past Chattanooga over Lookout Mountain. It was founded as Methodist campground and was fairly educated and liberal for the day. It became the home of the Highlander Folk School that taught the Civil Rights groups.

But it was built before Edison's miracle, and they still used kerosene lamps and an Ice Box that used a weekly block of ice in the bottom third.

At night after dark our Uncle read out loud another chapter from a Dickens novel, and then we all went to bed by 9:00. He was a Mississippi planter that was serving as a USDA official overseas (read CIA) and had spent several years posted in Karachi during the Pakistan/India nation building days.

So now Obama's plans are to turn out the lights 70 years later, all
because coal is dirty, or whatever myth of the moment he can lie to us with.

Bob said...

Sounds like a Simon and Garfunkel lyric:

The lights of the rulers are glaring in the subway walls

And tenement halls

And wreck the sound of silence.

clemster said...

Roger, I think your post shows an unnecessary level of cynicism. My experience with voting has been that sometimes you vote against a candidate, even if the other choice is less than perfect. I don't think stupidity is an applicable adjective at all. Life reveals that you win some and lose some, and making the best of any given situation is probably the most sane way to face life. I personally think that liberals are foolish on many levels, but my freedoms require that I put up with their bleating in public. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Roger J. said...

Mr Clemster--thank you for your courteous rejoinder, and you have made your point very well.

Yes, I can only take refuge in the fact that I am and old opinioned fart. Not that that helps my credibility.

But sir: if there is in fact some residual of virtue that resides in the voting populace, why do we elect such dipshits (another term of art referring to elected politicians whether D or R)

Curious George said...

Roger J. said...
Increasingly I have come to feel as a country we are truly fucked--Is it the fault of our political class in Wa DC--nope--we elect the fucking idiots who purport to govern us--as Walt Kelly (apologies to Pogo) said many years ago--we have met the enemy and he is us.

The American people are responsible for the political class, and the American people have failed miserably--its on us"

You mean "some of us." Because many of us vote for people who who vote against this shit. The rest, sure they are responsible. They buy into this overreach, or get there through cool observation and rational choice...or what we call in the real world naive stupidity.

AllenS said...

Look how hard it is to get rid of an incumbent.

Roger J. said...

Curious George--another good rejoinder to my all to stark hypothesis--yes, you are abolutely correct--our results are on the majority that voted for the Barack Obamas, the Charlie Rangels, the Ron Nagins, and the David Vitters and Larry Craigs--(trying to include the miscreants from both sides of the aisle)

From this I conclude that the issue may reside in our collective ignorance as a free society.. that, sir, is why I am pessimistic. and freely admit short of draconian measures, we will continue to have our political system look very much like the Jerry Springer show

traditionalguy said...

To add to the "electorate is dumb" meme, the cause for it once being intelligent was the education that it received in schools where prayer and scripture reading had been allowed.

The days of an educated electorate ended after the SCOTUS played its trump card and deliberately misread the Free Exercise of Religion clause to require the banning any words being spoken in public institutions that might be base upon Judeo-Christian beliefs. A crime is a crime.

Children now easily believe whatever the State Media pumps out no matter how mythological it may be.

There is a reason that a candidates Christian beliefs are stirring up a storm of condemnation on the left today. Their myths cannot stand the competition.

Roger J. said...

trad guy--figuring out the electorate is dicey--some of their voting choices, viz our hostess--suggest their voting outcomes are dumb. While I agree that our education system has totally failed the larger republic, none the less I guess I take the position that the electorate preferences are more narrowly based than I would prefer.

I have not problem with the "electorate" voting their self interest-its an economically rational consideration. It however will take much more to move the "electorate" to a higher level--and our educational system is most certainly up to that standard

E.M. Davis said...

Are we going BACK! to the future?

Irene said...

"[T]here is no sense of hardship or deprivation, and certainly no sign of the desperate postures of people trying to get a tiny bit of light to fall more productively on a page."

Here's Dad, in about 1945, studying happily under the light of one bulb.

There's not a hint of cold creepiness!

MadisonMan said...

I bought incandescents yesterday. We've had a rash of lightbulb burn-outs lately. Odd.

ken in sc said...

My participation in a homeowner association has convinced me that democracy is unworkable. Individual homeowners had more freedom on their own property when the developer ran things as a benign dictator--he didn’t want to scare off new buyers with obnoxious rules. The HOA has no such concerns.

E.M. Davis said...

This is what comes to mind whenever someone talks about fluorescent lights.

edutcher said...

One gets the impression Bryson wants us to revel in our new condition. This is what our betters want, so it must be good.

His ancestors must have defended the Bastille.

PS Political scientists have known for a very long time most voters vote against one, rather than for the other.

A lot of people voted against McCain, as a Dubya proxy, last time, not necessarily for Little Zero.

traditionalguy said...

To add to the "electorate is dumb" meme, the cause for it once being intelligent was the education that it received in schools where prayer and scripture reading had been allowed.

No, they were actually taught to read and write and do basic mathematics, as well as learning about US history and geography.

Today, a lot of kids can put a rubber on a zucchini and know how to be PC and have great self esteem.

And that's about it.

You want to meet an educated kid, find one who's homeschooled.

Mitch H. said...

Kerosene lamps were the mainstay of John D. Rockefeller's 19th Century "monopoly", as gasoline as a transportation fuel wasn't really a thing until roughly the turn of the century. All the rage and fury and corruption and conspiracy was over the provision of light, over the advance of civilization represented by the humble kerosene lamp burning over every modest kitchen table in post-Civil-War America.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

The American people are responsible for the political class, and the American people have failed miserably--its on us"

I think that there are two (mainly) types of people when it comes to government and society. (I'm reading "Born Fighting" right now, so some of these thoughts come from that book)

1.)There are those who want the government to take care of everything. They are the ones who will cede all power to a higher authority figure and accept the rules, even stupid rules like the lightbulbs. These people accept unquestioningly the authority of the "State".

They are the Top Down people. They are the people the government elites like and want to cultivate.

2.)There are those who will accept that there is a need for government or for authority figures....BUT...they only accept and give loyalty to the leader if he/she deserves it. They are more than willing to change allegiance and change government when needed.

They don't want interference from the government in their lives. In how they live, worship, eat or anything else. The rules instead of being made as dictates from on high are made by the group/clan.

These are the Bottom Up people and the elites hate them, because they can't control them and they are a threat.

The Tea Party is a prime example of bottom up, grass roots type of people. It is aptly named as well, since the original Tea Party movement was the same type of people. Hopefully the results of this current bottom up movement will be the same and we can get a NEW government again. One that isn't oppressing the people.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Sorry that last post was rather long.

:-(

Scott M said...

Sorry that last post was rather long.

No problem, Carol.

edutcher said...

Mitch H. said...

Kerosene lamps were the mainstay of John D. Rockefeller's 19th Century "monopoly", as gasoline as a transportation fuel wasn't really a thing until roughly the turn of the century. All the rage and fury and corruption and conspiracy was over the provision of light, over the advance of civilization represented by the humble kerosene lamp burning over every modest kitchen table in post-Civil-War America.

Those humble lamps were also incredibly dangerous and that danger impelled Edison and his people to invent something better.

SteveR said...

This whole issue highlights for me something I became aware of in college over 30 years ago, and that was made very clear to me when I taught science in middle school for a few years.

We have access to a tremendous amount of information and there are many very complex issues involving science and technology. But we are mostly are not very good at sorting information out. We trust the experts, the educators, and the media to clear things up.

In time, we'll catch up, and hopefully ....

Ann Althouse said...

"Kerosene lamps were the mainstay of John D. Rockefeller's 19th Century "monopoly", as gasoline as a transportation fuel wasn't really a thing until roughly the turn of the century. All the rage and fury and corruption and conspiracy was over the provision of light, over the advance of civilization represented by the humble kerosene lamp burning over every modest kitchen table in post-Civil-War America."

This history is explained concisely and entertainingly in the Bryson book, which I recommend very highly. Kerosene was first derived from coal, and it was a replacement for whale oil.

Ann Althouse said...

I've listened to the audiobook many times (as I love Bryson's reading voice, when I'm trying to fall asleep). But I also bought the Kindle version, because it's great for searching for text (and I can copy bits that I'm reminded of as I blog about the issues of the day).

Scott M said...

and it was a replacement for whale oil.

If any of you EVER get a chance to go to Nantucket, make sure you hit the whaling museum. Talk about stepping into another world. Sure, the gigantic skeletons are cool, but it's the way those people lived around the whaling industry, from the ships to the tools, to the marriages, that really make you think.

But first read SM Stirling's "Island In The Sea Of Time" and watch a bunch of contemporary Americans flail about when the whole island is transplanted back to 1250 BC. Stirling researched Nantucket and the whaling industry extensively for those books and it shows when you visit, from the street names to the restaurants and businesses.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Re: Kerosene Lamps. We have at least a dozen oil and kerosene lamps and lots of the fuel stocked. Also many decorative glass and candle arrangements and basic candles in storage.

In the winter our power will routinely go out due to heavy snow or high winds downing power lines out in some difficult mountainous areas. The power may be out for day or even a week. Routine.

They are a necessity and really put out quite a bit of cozy light.

Scott M said...

From "Island In The Sea Of Time"

(20th Century Humanities Type): What? Kill whales? You can't kill whales! They're endangered!

USS Eagle Commander): Maybe up in the twentieth, ma'am. Here, they're a navigation hazard.

poppa india said...

Scott M: I lived in Nantucket for five years, till 1985. Whaling history is indeed all everywhere. The high school sports team are The Whalers (state football champs a couple of times). The bank at the top of Main St. is called the Pacific Bank because, it is said, it held the fortunes of the whalers of the old days who mostly worked in the Pacific.

Scott M said...

The high school sports team are The Whalers (state football champs a couple of times).

Yep. I spent four days there for my tenth wedding anniversary. We saw a stand-up show one night in the auditorium at the high school. They actually have a real sperm whale skeleton in their main hall. Afterward, we hung out with the comics at a little bar that was within walking distance from the HS. I can't remember the name of it but it was little and near the grocery store.

We went in October. I can't imagine what that place looks like in the summer.

Original Mike said...

"The world at night for much of history was a very dark place indeed."

Dark is beautiful. You can barely see the stars nowadays. So sad.

Original Mike said...

@Scott: I love that series.

Original Mike said...

"If any of you EVER get a chance to go to Nantucket, make sure you hit the whaling museum."

If you can't get to Nantucket, there's always the fresh water whaling museum in Hibbing.

Spencer & Lorilyn Crum said...

I've been reading a book on residential lighting because we've been doing some home remodeling, and apparently the key, if you choose to buy a florescent light, is to choose one with a lower Kelvin rating (which measures the "temperature" of the color of the light). Most candle light runs around 1850-1930 Kelvins, and incadescents run in the 2,000K to 2,500K range. Florescents run in the 3,200K to 7,500K range, with the higher temperatures producing cooler (bluer) light. Obviously, if you are an art buff and are using focused lighting in your home to highlight sculptures or artwork, you would need to choose your lighting based on what colors you were attempting to highlights.

caplight said...

They typical fluorescent bulb made to replace a home lamp incandescent bulb does not produce enough light for me to read comfortably at my age.

And once again, lib/progs/greens whatever have failed to convince people through data, sound argument and quality products (the market place) and so they must force their life-style and agenda on us by way of regulation.

And I have no doubt that our betters will have all the incandescent light they want.

E.M. Davis said...

Dark is beautiful. You can barely see the stars nowadays. So sad.

I live in a neighborhood without streetlights.

The stars are awesome at night.

Original Mike said...

Any houses for sale in your neighborhood, E.M?

I routinely drive 100 miles out of town to find a good place to stargaze. If they'd just turn out the damn lights, my carbon footprint would plumment.

foxlets14 said...

Here in Guilford CT on the CT shore we still have no electric power. My neighbor's portable generator gives me internet access, but no power for lights or appliances. All traffic lights are out and gas stations can't pump. All stores and restaurants are closed except for one supermarket which has a generator. Just informed that neighbor's generator has to go to his work place. Life is an adventure! Over and out.

chuckR said...

Hurricane Irene did get me reacquainted with my generator, which kept the food preserved and H20 coming up the wellhead. I bought it after Hurricane Bob had us out for 10 days. It isn't big enough to push back the vast pools of darkness most everywhere in the house. Lights were a few incandescents, supplemented by dazzlingly bright and energy efficient LED flashlights, and by an old favorite (hated by the wife). Its a Coleman dual fuel lantern, also very bright, that burns good old unleaded distilled dino juice. I can't even tell you how long it burns on high illumination because the power came back on in just two days and before I went through a single fill up. BTW, fluorescents don't play well with noisy generator power.

Let's hear it for something old, the Coleman lantern, and something new, the LED.

Peter said...

"Actually one kerosene lamp was fairly bright when place on a high central point in the room"

And a Coleman lantern (a gas lantern with a thoriated tungsten mantle) is about as bright as a 60W incandescent bulb.

BUT, before the 19th century, it must have been truly dark. There was no kerosene and no gaslight, and only rich people could afford quality lamp oil.

Most people made do with candles made from tallow- which burned with a smell, and tended to gutter out, and in any case provided very little light. And even these were costly.

I really cannot imaging living in such a time. Or (for example) in a medeival city- which had no street lighting, and pretty much no one out after dark except for a few watchmen (who were there primarily to give a hue and cry if invaders were seen scaling the walls).

As for fluorescent light: no matter what it's actual color it is, literally, a cold light: that is, a light produced by fluorescence and not by heat.

BUT, contemporary fluorescents do look a whole lot better than the old ones did, with their ghastly blue-green colors.

Nicholas said...

"I bought incandescents yesterday. We've had a rash of lightbulb burn-outs lately. Odd."

That can happen if the mains voltage is a bit too high. The increase in brightness is minimal but the filaments run hotter and fail much quicker. Incandescent lamp life drops with something like the seventh power of RMS mains voltage.

Personally I like the light from "daylight" fluorescents. The colour rendering index isn't fantastic but the light is soft and looks much like noonday sunlight (although dimmer). Tubes are better than CFLs and can be substantially more efficient with an electronic ballast.

I don't believe in forcing such a choice on others though.

Nicholas said...

Actually I remembered wrong, it's the thirteenth power. See here.

jms said...

You know they had residential gaslights before electricity. That's the same as a Coleman lantern with the cloth mantle, and they are pretty bright. I still have the gas pipes sticking out of the walls of my home. If you look up gaslights you can find out about them. Most of them were converted to electricity before they were replaced. They ran wires through the gas pipes. The world didn't go directly from candles to light bulbs.

jms said...

History of gas lighting. You might be surprised to learn how far back it goes.