The Electric Commentary

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


It's time for another dip in the EC mailbag! These are actual letters from EC readers.*

What is the most politically incorrect way to fight global warming?

- Sancho P.

A good question. What's the most offensive way to solve a very PC problem? You could spray paint large portions of the globe white, which would reflect light and heat back into space. You could also start using fuels that spray more particulate matter into the atmosphere which would have a similar effect, blocking heat from ever entering in the first place. Part of the reason (although an admittedly small part) that temperatures have been going up is that we have cleaner air, which allows more light and heat into the atmosphere.

We could also bulldoze "old growth" forests and bury the trees while replacing them with new saplings. New trees absorb more CO2 than old trees, and by burying the old trees we would create a carbon sink. Of course this would only work if it offset the emissions from the industrial processes necessary.

None of these are worth what they cost, of course, but that just makes them like most proposed global warming solutions.

What's the funniest line from Moe the Bartender on the Simpsons?

- Frito L.

Well Frito, Moe is not consistently funny and is better used as a pathetic foil for others. When Comic Book Guy walks into the bar and Moe asks "Hey Homer, who's the manatee?" that's pretty good. And I like this conversation:

Homer: Moe, I need your advice.
Moe: Yeah?
Homer: See, I got this friend named... Joey Jo Jo... Junior... Shabadoo.
Moe: That's the worst name I ever heard.
Joey runs out of the bar sobbing
Barney: Hey! Joey Jo Jo!

When Homer steals a "Who" concert from "New Springfield" an angry Moe is heard to say that:

That fat, dumb and bald guy sure plays some real hardball.

I might go with that because it's really clever and it took two rewatches for me to notice it.

I like Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams comedy but when he writes about evolution and pseudoscience and free will he pisses me off. Is it OK if I still think he's funny even if I think he's a bit of a self-important moron on some issues?

- Franklin R.

Absolutely Frankie. In fact, I think you'll find that you disagree with most entertainers if you actually know what they think. Scott Adams has a strange sense of humor, but he is funny, and I think it's probably impossible to separate his humor from his, well, crazy views on certain subjects. Adams is usually brainstorming, in fact, in the unlikely event that he reads this answer he will almost certainly claim that I have no idea what his views are, and that he just writes what he writes for fun, or because it occurs to him. He calls it "Philosotainment."

I think that this is a cop out, but I also think it's a somewhat valuable cop out. It is sometimes useful to pontificate on certain subjects without having to justify everything that you do. Moreover, while I think that Adams may have started writing on these subjects for his own amusement, they now generate a bunch of hits every time he does it.

Whatever Adams actually does think, his speculative views about evolution, about pseudoscientific crap like "The Secret," and about free will are incorrect. (Ed. - I think I have free will, therefore I have free will. Heh.) But he's still a funny guy, and if you're reading a cartoonist to gain deeper understanding of the mysteries of life, well, maybe you need to rethink your priorities.

Have you played the Nintendo Wii? What do you think?

- Arvid E.

I have and it is the wave of the future with regard to video games. It's not just that the motion-sensing controls are novel, it's that they actually work well. I'm a bit of a collector of video games and I have in my possession a game called Samba De Amigo for the now defunct Sega Dreamcast. The controllers for this game are motion-sensing maracas, and even though they barely work it's still super-fun. The Wii controllers work very well, and they're very intuitive, and they really do get you into the game. I'm not surprised that Nintendo is destroying Sony in sales even though there are not many games for the Wii. Even the bad games I've played have been pretty fun just because the physical act of doing something provides a more satisfying emotional payoff than a normal video game. It's not up to the level of playing an actual sport, but it's very impressive nonetheless.

Plus the "Virtual Console" allows you to play old NES, SNES, N-64, TurboGrafx, and Sega games. Nostalgia + increased interactivity = a winner. I'm a big fan of the bowling, and surprisingly, of the boxing.

I put Tabasco Sauce on everything. I think it's way better than ketchup, but it doesn't get enough pub! I know that one of your favorite articles is a feature by Malcolm Gladwell on ketchup. Is there anything like that on Tabasco Sauce?

- Rachel R.

Funny you should ask Rachel, my lovely wife recently forwarded a very interesting NYT's article on Tabasco Sauce and the makers of Tabasco. It contains fascinating info like:

When the peppers are harvested, they are shipped back to Avery Island where they are ground into mash. Salt is added and the mixture is put into old whiskey barrels from distilleries like Jack Daniels and Jim Beam to age for up to three years. (The bright red mash is so corrosive that forklifts last only six years.) After three years, a family member samples the mash and, if approved, it is mixed with vinegar and stirred for one month. The seeds and skins are then removed and the sauce bottled.

And this:

The family has not tweaked Tabasco to shave expenses or lower prices because they make money from more than just the sauce. On Avery Island, a 2,200-acre salt dome west of New Orleans, they mine rock salt, pump oil and natural gas and operate Jungle Gardens, a botanical garden. They also reuse everything, from selling their used oak barrels to selling the seed mash to a company for use in candies.

It's good stuff if you're a sauce enthusiast.

With such a wide open field of presidential candidates for 2008, I was wondering if you have any thoughts about who might have an inside track at the two nominations, and at winning. Obama, Hilary, or other? Do the Republicans have a snowball's chance?

Paul T.

At this early stage of the election I actually find it politics pretty boring. Since I vote using a system of creating gridlock it doesn't really matter that much to me, and at this point candidates rarely say anything worthwhile for fear of saying something stupid or offensive.

If forced to handicap the race I would go with John Edwards, as long as he doesn't pull out of the race because of his wife's cancer. I see an Obama-Hilary war with Edwards coming out clean on the other side. He's southern (important if a Dem wants to win) and he's a good looking guy. I think he wins it all, but like I said, it's far to early to make a credible prediction.

The Republicans have some shot, but they'll probably nominate a bad candidate and shoot themselves in the foot. As far as I can tell no one likes McCain even though he polls well. Rudy will screw up at some point, plus he's too liberal. I think Romney has some chance if he can turn his Mormonism into a positive. Ignoring it will just make him suspicious to the rest of the religious right.

Fred Thompson? No idea. Tommy? Uhm, no.

I'll go with "Other" on the Republican side.

OK, last one...

Why can't I hit lefties?

- Geoff J.

Good question Geoff. It actually seems strange that lefties have a tougher time hitting lefties than righties have hitting righties until you look a little more deeply.

To start with, most people are right-handed. This means that in your developmental years you will face mostly right-handed pitching. Left-handed batters have an advantage against right-handed pitching because:

1. The RHP's release point is across the plate/mound from the LHB's eyes which eliminates the illusion that the ball will hit the LHB on an inside pitch,

2. AND, more importantly, requires that the ball travel farther to enter the LHB's power zone.

You will frequently hear announcers state (correctly) that lefties like the ball "down and in." This is true because when facing a RHP, the farthest distance that the ball can travel is from the RHP's release point to the low-inside corner against a LHB, giving the LHB more time to react and allowing him to pull the ball.

So, lefties become accustomed to having more time to see the ball than righties, they have more time to turn on inside pitches, and more time to adjust to "down and in" pitching, often unhittable for RHBs.

Righties also grow up facing mostly RHP. For a RHB, an inside pitch takes the shortest possible distance to get from the RHP's release point to the inside part of the plate. Righties need to develop quick wrists to get around on inside pitches. For a RHB, pitches "out and over the plate" are the most attractive because they still allow for decent contact and provide enough time (ie. travel further) to react properly. Righties have the most time to react to outside pitches, but it is difficult to get good contact on an outside pitch and very difficult to pull, so RHBs correctly focus on the middle of the plate, in.

This means that RHBs, in general, must learn to react more quickly, as they will not see the ball as well as lefties.

Lefties feast on this quirk of the game, but when lefties get into the higher levels of the baseball and start to face more LHPs, they suffer greatly. Because LHBs are used to being able to wait a bit longer on pitches, speeding up their swing is challenging, and the effect is multiplied by the fact that the typical LHB's swing is geared to hit "down and in" pitching. An inside pitch from a LHP to a LHB takes the shortest distance to get there, and so completely neutralizes the greatest strength of the LHB.

When a lefty faces a RHB, the natural assumption would be that the RHB would pound inside pitches for the same reason that LHBs crush inside pitching from RHPs, but by this point your swing is fairly ingrained. Righties like the ball out over the plate and cannot simply adjust to inside pitching on a whim. LHPs can still be effective by busting RHBs inside even though the ball takes longer to get there. RHBs do enjoy an advantage against LHPs because they have better vision against them, and balls thrown middle-in still take a bit longer to get there, but the difference is not as pronounced as it is with LHBs.

This difference is magnified as players get older and start to lose bat speed. A LHB, for instance, Geoff Jenkins, who sees a serious decline in bat speed, will still be able to compensate against righties due to the natural advantages (sight lines + more time), but typically he will lose all ability to hit lefties as he cannot catch up to their pitches. Righties, on the other hand, decline against RHP and LHP at a fairly constant rate. As righties naturally develop faster swings/quicker reactions, and prefer the ball to be in a more central location, their declines are not as exploitable.

So, if it has ever struck you as odd that lefties struggle more against lefties than righties do against righties, now you know why.

Here's a helpful picture of the difference between a RHP busting a righty inside (the blue line) vs. a RHP busting a lefty inside (the red line). If you connect the end points of the two lines you get a nice right triangle, and the righty-to-lefty line is the hypotenuse, ie. the longest line.

OK, that wraps up another EC mailbag.

*This is a lie.



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