‘They’re here to check our bulbs’

In the early Woody Allen comedy “Bananas,” our hapless hero helps a bearded revolutionary curiously reminiscent of Fidel Castro fight his way to victory in a revolution against his banana republic’s ruthless dictator.

The triumphant freedom fighter strides out onto the palace balcony to accept the adulation of the cheering crowd, declares himself dictator for life, and promptly issues his first orders. Among them: “Everyone will now wear their underwear on the outside, so we can check.”

It’s amusing because it sharply condenses the inevitable process by which those who find no limits on their power gradually take it upon themselves to control every aspect of everyone else’s life “for their own good” (Hi, Comrade Putin) — and also because it’s just so downright silly.

Real-life governments are so tied up with truly important matters that they’d never have time to bother us about anything so trivial as whether we’ve put on clean underwear, whether tavern owners choose to allow their customers to smoke while eating chicken wings in the bar at midnight, or, say, the size of the water tanks on our toilets.

Oh, wait.

The founders promised Americans a central government of sharply limited powers. But “that was then,” as the politicians say.

Today, if our state legislators want to keep being handed their “fair share” of the loot seized from our paychecks every week, they’ve learned they’d better adopt Washington’s one-size-fits all “recommendations” when it comes to seat belts, air bags, motorcycle helmets, speed limits — yes, even requiring too-small toilet tanks, “to save water.”

What next — a federal edict on what kind of light bulbs we have to use?

Oh, wait.

Buried deep in the new energy bill signed by President Bush last month — buried there so no congressman would actually have to stand up and vote “aye” for such “green” silliness, you understand — is a requirement that would phase out the ordinary light bulb between 2012 and 2014, in favor of compact fluorescents and other, costlier, high-efficiency instruments.

Americans would simply be barred from buying the old-style light bulbs, just as Congress banned normal-sized toilet tanks.

“While an incandescent lasts about seven months, a fluorescent burns six times longer. It also saves about $5 a year in electricity costs, paying for itself in as little as four months,” enthuses Steve Nadel, head of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, to USA Today.

But if they’re so great, why is there any need to mandate them?

Americans have already started moving toward the new lights for use in hard-to-replace locations, or where the headaches caused for many by their flickering moon-blue beams are not a concern.

But that’s not good enough for Congress, or the special interests whose posteriors they yearn to suckle and smooch. No, everything that isn’t mandatory must be banned, and everything that isn’t banned must be made mandatory — even if it means forcing us to drive tin-foil cars that crumple in a crash, stand around in bathrooms waiting for the tank to refill so we can flush again, and pay many times the cost per bulb for lights we don’t like.

Unintended consequences? What are those?

Can’t fluorescents full of mercury vapor constitute a disposal hazard? And what will happen to our rate of fire deaths if a certain percentage of Americans already living in borderline poverty decide to go back to candles or kerosene lamps?

Those who stocked up on cans of Freon when Congress required us to change our refrigerants made out like bandits. Now expect to see dwindling supplies on the light-bulb shelves as word gets around, and the hoarding begins.

But don’t worry, Congress can just ban the “hoarding of light bulbs.” Right?

The federal government: “We have the solution, and it’ll soon be your problem.”

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