Daily Archives: 9 January 2009

Why I just can’t get enough of bannng lightbulbs

I wrote my article earlier this week on the Daily Mail’s bonkers line about a sinister EU plot to ban traditional lightbulbs primarily to point out quite how many non-facts were in the story. I should have remembered the golden rule – nonsense begets nonsense. Because the next thing I knew I was getting ticked off, not for making any factual errors, but for advancing the cause for banning things (yes Jennie, I am talking about you).

There is a certain degree of irony in this, having pontificated about the perils of banning things myself from time to time. When it comes to bans, Rob Knight gets to the heart of things:

what about when trying to control the bigger picture is just as harmf ul as ignoring it?

Well exactly. Indeed, I would go further than that. You need more justification for a ban than simply some narrow cost-benefit analyis. You can justify pretty much anything that way. Where bans are bad is when they become about bullying and forcing conformity (the tricky thing being that sometimes not banning can have the same effect).

So it is that, eighteen months down the line – and despite being a non-smoker and enjoying the benefits – I’m still not comfortable about the smoking ban. Patio-heaters, and thus a cost to the environment, have not become quite as ubiquitous as we were promised they were – although that has clearly been a problem. The fact that every single bit of shelter on the London streets now reeks of tobacco as smokers have taken up semi-permanent residence, is an unfortunate by-product but still nicer than the alternative. Why I’m uncomfortable about the smoking ban is that I simply don’t believe that the dangers of passive smoking actually outweigh the denial of the smoker’s liberty – particularly given that as a non-smoker I always did have at least a degree of choice to avoid smoky pubs, etc. I appreciate it was a balancing act but I continue to think the wrong call was made. Furthermore, the more I consider the class angle and the fact that anti-smoking policies seem to be generating a small, inevitably poor, hardcore who are more addicted than ever, the more uneasy I get. These policies are helping those who need help the least while harming the most vulnerable.

That it was a balancing act at all however, is a fact that is not recognised by the libertarian right, who only consider the restriction on the smoker as material. And this gets to the heart of why I don’t frankly have much time for libertarianism. It is a fetishised, parodic version of liberalism in which personal liberty trumps everything (except money). Libertarians have it easy; they never need to consider anything other than the fact that all bans are automatically Wrong.

Going back to lightbulbs, the calculation seems extremely one sided if you accept the need for urgent action on climate change. Incandescent lightbulbs are not a lifestyle choice but a different way of producing light less efficiently. If you don’t define their dominance as a market failure (General Electric even originally decided to shelve the design of Compact Fluorescent Lights as soon as they were invented – they were only produced at all because the designs were “leaked” and copies made), I seriously question how you define market failure. We could try taxing incandescent bulbs and try gradually phasing them out like that I suppose, but that would be even less popular.

And the arguments in favour of keeping them? That CFLs are “too dim” (they aren’t)? The interests of the snake-owning, lava-lamp demographic (even that is contested)? 33 year old studies on fluorescent bulbs based on miniscule sample sizes? Come on!

There may well be a killer argument out there for not phasing out incandescent bulbs, but I haven’t heard one yet. You’re entitled to disagree with me of course, but until you can come up with a stronger argument, implying that supporting phasing them out is illiberal is simply lazy.

Nine wishes for 2009 #5: Comics I care about

Yoink! These nine wishes for 2009 were meant to be done and dusted by 31 December. Nevertheless, I shall plough on…

I’m a geek, to paraphrase Nick Clegg, by temperament, by instinct and by upbringing (the latter is all too true – my dad made me watch Alien when I was 8 FFS! He would also blare out War of the Worlds at 11pm. My earliest memories were reading science fiction and horror mags on my parents’ bed and the excitement surrounding Star Wars and Close Encounters – really was there any hope for me?).

So it comes as no surprise that, despite being in my mid-thirties, I have an unusually large comic collection (the only geek I know who doesn’t read comics is Will Howells. Bad Will! No biscuit!). But I have this problem: they aren’t exciting me like they used to.

My first comics were the Beano (but not the Dandy – rubbish!) and the eighties Eagle. From there it was but a short step to 2000AD during its bog paper, black and white glory days and with the eighties UK comics brain drain in full swing, moving onto US comics was all but inevitable. Highlights have included: too many Judge Dredd stories to mention, but in particular Block Mania, Chopper’s escape to Oz and the revelation of the identity of The Dead Man; Nemesis the Warlock; Halo Jones (I could mention loads of Alan Moore stuff, but this is the one that inspired me the most, oddly); Grant Morrison’s greatest hits (Zenith, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, The Invisibles); The Sandman; Preacher; The Adventures of Luthor Arkwright. More recently, Nikolai Dante has had its moments. Morrison’s run on X-Men was good and Joss Whedon’s follow up was great too. I whizzed through Mike Carey’s Lucifer last year after, wrongly, assuming for years that it was just another worthless Sandman spin-off (Vertigo have only themselves to blame for that assumption, but that’s another story).

But the sort of buzz I felt during the late eighties and nineties isn’t there any more. Don’t misunderstand me, I recognise that to an extent I am merely a little jaded and that is unavoidable. And there is still good stuff out there. Buffy Season Eight, while patchy, is generally strong. 2000AD has been consistent (but not amazing) for a good decade now going through a very bad period before. You can’t switch brilliance on like a tap but I don’t think 2000AD can be accused of doing anything to piss on their chips.

I think my dilemma is threefold. Firstly, the demise of Comics International. To be clear (last year I bemoaned the state of the magazine and got ticked off by Burt for my trouble), it does appear to be a going concern and at least one of the problems for its erratic publishing schedule over the past couple of years has been the editor’s ill health, but it is a far cry from the rigorous monthly schedule that Dez Skinn managed to work to for 15 years. I hope that if they do get it back up and running, they go back to basics. When it was launched, CI was a free newsheet printed on newsprint which offered news, reviews, and pretty much nothing else. I don’t miss anything else; I do miss that basic service. It is a bit of an embarrassing thing to admit as somone who likes to think of himself as generally web-savvy, but I can’t get my head around using the web as a news source for my comics. Something does not compute. Nothing feels as natural as a few pages of news I can pore over on the tube home from the shops (I depend on Empire for similar reasons).

Secondly, I find it really hard to get into the indie-scene these days. Even though I’ve never actually lived in the East Midlands, I occasionally used to go to Page 45 for some of their special events. In particular, they ran a great open day in 1996. Ostensibly a day to promote Dave Sim‘s latest UK tour (I continued to collect Cerebus up until it ended even though I basically gave up reading it during the last few years as he seemed to get increasingly bonkers – needless to say I don’t share his views), they invited lots of other independent comic creators as well. Since the queue to get stuff signed by Sim and Gerhard was so long, you ended up going around and talking to all the creators. I ended up buying stuff from pretty much everyone, discovering a passion for, among others, Kane, Sleaze Castle and Dix (the cartoonist on the brilliant Roll Up! Roll Up! which ran in the Guardian a few years ago before they criminally cancelled it. Thanks to the magic of teh internets you can now own a collected edition – buy it now!). But as you’ll have seen by following those links, those particular wells of creative talent have either mutated (Jack Staff is good, but nothing like as good as Kane) or dried up entirely.

Are Page 45 still organising such open days? If they are, I never read about them even when CI was coming out regularly. Back in London these days, the closest to Page 45 is Gosh! – they often do signings, but don’t seem to use them as an opportunity to do something more ambitious. Maybe in 2009, this might change.

My third problem though seems much more intractable. I’ve always tended to read DC more than Marvel. This is simply because DC used 2000AD as a recruitment brochure in the eighties and took a lot of the fanbase with them. Slowly I got sucked in, loving Keith Giffen’s take on the Justice League and the post-John Byrne Superman (an era which effectively ended with the death and rebirth storyline). Having stayed away for a few years, I ended up picking up 52 and some of the other Infinite Crisis spinoffs and tie-ins.

Now, 52 was a well executed and enjoyable series – a year in the life told in real time. The problem is, it was such a success that they immediately issued a sequel – Countdown – which in turn was a prequel of Final Crisis – which in turn was a sequel to Infinite Crisis (and sort of a sequel to Seven Soldiers of Victory) – which in turn was a sequal to the Crisis on Infinite Earths (and that’s just the simplified version). The idea that the Infinite Crisis had created 52 alternate universes (after the Crisis of Infinite Earths destroyed the “infinite” alternates and merged them into one, the revamped eighties DC universe), is essentially lame, lazy and, as you will have seen by reading this paragraph, incredibly confusing. Add to this the “is he? isn’t he?” death of Batman at the end of last year, and an alternate timeline in the latest weekly series Trinity, and you have a terribly stodgy mess. The problem with all these tie-ins, cross-overs and spin-offs is that it utterly alienates the casual reader. DC seems to have decided that their future lies in giving the hardcore dizzyingly complex onanistic wank. I’ve put up with it for a year longer than I should have done and expect to more or less drop all my DC titles later this year.

Marvel also seem to be going out of their way to alienate readers by producing company-wide meta-narrative after company-wide meta-narrative even if by all acounts they are doing it much better. But again, how do you get on board? Browsing through trade paperbacks in Borders and the specialist shops, I haven’t the foggiest where to start with, say, Civil War.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is rooted in the fact that both of these companies have discovered that they have such large back catalogues now that the casual reader has plenty to churn through before running out and wanting to look at the latest stuff. Want to get into Batman? Most “top ten” lists include Killing Joke, Dark Knight Returns, Year One, The Long Halloween and Arkham Asylum. Most of the Marvel films are mining stories from the sixties which you can read in their Masterworks series of books. So even if they did make the new stuff more accessible, I suspect they would get very little out of it in terms of improved sales.

As someone who is more than a casual reader but much less than the hardcore, this is a problem. Are there really so few of us out there though? I just think it is a real shame that as comics finally enter the mainstream, they seem to be having such a creative lull. And while there is undoubtedly good stuff out there to be found, finding it seems to be becoming harder and harder. Anyone got any suggestions?

Does the Guardian work for an Octopus God?

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

Okay, panic over. It turns out that rumours of Martian tripods returning to earth and confusing our!women! with wind turbines have been exaggerated. It transpires that it was, in fact, a combination of metal fatigue and what sounds like a rather unspectacular fireworks display put on the family of Guardian journalist Emily Bell.

Fair enough. Mystery solved. But what the hell is the guy going on about in the first paragraph?

“It was huge,” John Harrison, a farmer from Saltfleetby, said yesterday of the light display he saw in the Lincolnshire sky on Saturday night. “At first I thought it must have been a hole where the moon was shining through, but then I saw the tentacles. It looked just like an octopus.”

I suspect John Harrison has been at the rarebits again. Nevertheless, that description does sound familiar. And then it hit me: this is almost exactly what happens at the end of the first Hellboy film.

Somehow I doubt the Great Old Ones are particularly interested in wind energy, but maybe that’s what the Guardian wants us to think.