I’ve been looking at those “energy-saving” lightbulbs and they look pretty complicated to me. A regular lightbulb looks like it’s much easier to make. Just a glass bubble with a filament in it. Is it really energy-saving to buy one of those fancy bulbs compared to a regular bulb?
— Anonymous, via email
Yeah, those juice-saver contraptions do look pretty complicated — like there’s a lot of energy and materials in them. Enough to cancel out any energy savings while they burn. The compact fluorescent bulbs do require a lot of manufacturing energy and materials such as metals and electronics and plastics. About five times the investment you’ll find in a plain incandescent. But that’s all in the service of high-efficiency lighting. CFLs last eight times as long as regular bulbs and eat up half the energy. So, in the end, the money thrown at the bulb on the front end is more than made up for on the back end.
The other day I saw on TV a big fight on the floor of the South Korean congress. The elected officials were really going at it, hitting each other with fists and rolled-up papers. Even women were in the mix. So, I started to wonder about our own distinguished lawmakers. They never seem to punch one another. So, how do they stack up in the violence department? How many fights have there been on the floor of Congress? Are they just a bunch of wimps soaking it up at the public trough or can they hold their own?
— Ted, downtown
Legislative fisticuffs seem to be a thing of the past, Ted. In Congress these days, when violence is done, the victim is usually the truth or ethics. Since the turn of the last century, meetings of the Senate and the House have been models of decorum. But in the very tense pre–Civil War era, there were some pretty spectacular brawls.
Until 1913, senators were elected by their state legislators and seemed to feel duty-bound to behave in a more refined manner than their popularly elected counterparts in the House. They mostly took verbal shots at one another for hanging about with unsuitable compay and frequenting low-class drinking establishments. They did drink a lot during meetings, which led to some shoving matches and lots of canes, whips, and guns being brandished during heated debate, but there was little in the way of actual bloodshed.
The House, on the other hand, was a pretty wild group. Some politicians routinely carried guns and knives to meetings One was well known for bringing his dogs with him for protection. Representatives occasionally punched and slapped one another to make a point. One brained a colleague with fireplace tongs. California representative Philemon Herbert carried a gun for protection but never used it on his colleagues. But one afternoon in a Washington restaurant, Herbert became so incensed over the slow service that he shot his waiter.
In 1856, during a states-rights debate, a general free-for-all broke out. The pols were rolling around, kicking, biting, cursing — spitoons and fists were flying. It ended when one legislator grabbed another by the hair, came up with ony a handful of toupee, and everybody laughed so hard they stopped fighting. Two crafty reps once ambushed a third and beat him to a pulp with his walking stick. They were censured and eventually resigned but were voted back in at the next election by their proud constituents.
Our family dog, Fritz, is not very intelligent but he is thoughtful and perceptive. He is the most photographed dog in the history of our family pets. When I show him all his great photos, he gets a funny gleam in his eyes, puts his ears back, and licks his lips bashfully. Is he recognizing himself? Can he see how cute he looks in the photo?
— K, Carlsbad
Well, K, Fritz is pretty much just saying, ”Huh? Whazzat? CanIeatit? CanIeatit? Pet me! Pet me!” Thoughtful, perceptive Fritz doesn’t have a clue. He knows he’s the center of attention, which is good. And you’re sticking your hand out like you’re giving him a treat, which is good. But the treat doesn’t smell like anything edible, which is not good. Go find Fritz and look right into his friendly doggie face. Note where his dopey old doggie eyes are. Kinda pointing off to the side, yes? That gives dogs good wide-angle vision but poor ability to focus straight ahead at close range. That makes sense when you consider that dogs are designed to hunt and chase down prey, not be art critics. A plain old Polaroid waved in front of his nose simply has no meaning, assuming he can see it at all. Fritz can’t see much in the way of color, so the party hat on his head is pointless. The pics don’t smell like good eats, so that’s a dud. He just knows that you’re having fun and he wants to join in.