Thursday, February 26, 2009

No “Fake” Sugar For Me

Maybe it’s just me, but I am not a big fan of all the artificial sweeteners that are out there. There are newer sweeteners available, two of the more recent are Splenda, which is the artificial sweetener sucralose, and Truvia, billed as “Nature’s Perfect Sweetness,” which is derived from the leaves of the stevia plant. Both are bill as zero calorie sweeteners.

Call me a skeptic, but zero-calories doesn’t necessarily mean that it is good for you. I am understanding of people who are unable to eat regular sugar because of diabetes or other medical issues, and alternatives such as these make it easier to enjoy sweet treats. But, after getting either severe headaches or digestive distress in the rare cases I have a piece of sugar free candy or gum, I have decided that I would rather have plain old sugar, and just limit my quantity.

What I find alarming is the number of parents who are giving their children these sugar free drinks and foods, under the impression that if it has no calories and no sugar in it, it is not harmful. Why is it then that almost every child that I have been around whose parents have them eating the sugar free foods always seem so wired? I swear some of these kids are so hyper that they could walk upside down on the ceiling if I asked them to. And parents are stymied – “Why are my kids so uncontrollable?” they ask. I’ll tell you why – it’s the fake sugar you’re giving them. I wonder if their young bodies can really handle it.

When I was a kid in the 1950s and 1960s, sweet drinks were viewed as being an occasional treat. In the 1960s, when drink mixes like Kool-Aid were cheap drinks for kids, we had them more often in the summer, making a pitcher with the requisite full cup of real sugar included. It gave us energy, sure, but we weren’t so crazed to the point that we were unmanageable. When I see a parent now with a kid that seems like he/she can’t sit still, or they are having problems in school, or are seemingly hyperactive – and the parents are at their wits end – I always ask them what they are giving their kids to drink. It’s always that sugar free, zero calorie stuff. I find myself wondering if there is some sort of connection here. Worse yet, even though parents are giving their kids more zero calorie drinks, the childhood obesity problem is becoming near epidemic (not to mention adult obesity).

My opinion is if something sounds too good to be true, it usually IS too good to be true. This may be the case with these zero calorie sweeteners. We really don’t know long term what affects these products have on the human body. If the explosion of obesity in the last 10 years is any indication, I’d say that these sweeteners are doing more harm than good. For me, I’ve made the choice to use only sugar as my sweetener of choice, with real maple syrup or honey used on occasion, and just limit my intake. I’ve see no ill effects from it, unlike my “zero calorie” acquaintances. For me, there is no substitute for real sugar.


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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cartoon Shows Appalling Racism at the NY Post – Or Just Sick Humor – or Both?

In today’s New York Post, a cartoon appears which seems to compare President Barack Obama to the violent chimpanzee that mauled a woman and which had to be shot this past week. The cartoon, by Sean Delonas - which I won’t show here but you can access it here - shows a dead chimp on the ground, with two police officers, one with a smoking gun. The caption reads, “They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.'' It is widely viewed that the chimp is supposed to represent Barack Obama, who just signed the stimulus bill the day before.

One can interpret that the cartoon implied that the bill is so terrible that it could have been written by a monkey, but Al Sharpton, who I just cannot stand mind you, commented the cartoon is “troubling at best given the historic racist attacks of African-Americans as being synonymous with monkeys.'' This is one of those rare cases that I agree with Sharpton. In fact, I find it doubly troubling that not only does the cartoonist compare Obama to a monkey, the monkey also happens to have been shot dead. I would expect the secret service should investigate that cartoon as a death threat, if not an excuse for someone else to do the same.

In my opinion, there is NO excuse to link the stimulus bill to the chimpanzee story except to compare President Obama to a monkey. Frankly, it’s just plain disgusting.

Over the years, not many things shock me, but this cartoon seemed to clearly cross not only the line of good taste, but crossed into encouraging hate and violence. Freedom of speech is sacred, but not at the expense of fostering hatred or harm to another. Americans also have the freedom to chose to turn away from the Post or any Rupert Murdoch/News Corporation Companies, which includes Fox, The Wall Street Journal, Barrons, and other print and television media and movies. People can take it a step farther and also complain to, or boycott, advertisers who were featured that issue - or any issue - of The Post. Money speaks louder than words sometimes, and this is one of those cases where people can send Murdock and The Post a message by speaking with their wallets.

Here’s a full list of the current Murdoch/News Corporation owned media. There are plenty of products and companies you can choose to cross of your list of business or services that you patronize. (Partial list below.)

FILM
Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox Español
Twentieth Century Fox International
Twentieth Century Fox Television
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Fox Studios Australia
Fox Studios Baja
Fox Studios Los Angeles
Fox Television Studios

TELEVISION
20th Century Fox Television
bTV
BSkyB
Fox Broadcasting Company
Fox Sports Australia
Fox Television Stations
Foxtel
Premiere (19,9%)
Star Group Limited
Sky Latin America
SKY Network Television New Zealand
SKY Italia
Fox International Channels Italy
STAR TV
Latvijas Neatkarīgā Televīzija
TV5 Rīga
Fox Kids

CABLE
Big Ten Network (49%)
Fox Business Network
Fox Movie Channel
Fox News Channel
Fox Soccer Channel
Fox Sports Channel
Fox Sports Enterprises
Fox Sports en Español
Fox Sports Net
FUEL TV
FX Networks
Fox Reality
National Geographic Channel
SPEED Channel
SportSouth
LAPTV (Latin America - co-owned with Paramount Pictures/Viacom, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/MGM Holdings and Universal Studios/NBC Universal)
Telecine (Brazil - co-owned with Globosat Canais, Paramount Pictures, MGM, Universal Studios and DreamWorks);

INTERNET
Fox Interactive Media
AmericanIdol.com
AskMen.com
Fox.com
Foxsports.com
GameSpy
Hulu.com
kSolo
IGN
Drownedinsound.com
MySpace
MyNetworktv.com
NewRoo.com
Strategicdatacorp.com
Photobucket.com
Rotten Tomatoes
Scout.com
SpringWidgets
WhatIfSports


NEWSPAPERS
News International
United Kingdom
The Sun
News of the World
The Times
Sunday Times
News Corporation Ltd.
Australia
The Daily Telegraph (Sydney)
The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney)
The Australian (national)
The Advertiser and Sunday Mail (Adelaide)
The Sunday Times (Perth)
Herald Sun (Melbourne)
Sunday Herald Sun (Melbourne)
mX (Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane)
The Courier-Mail (Brisbane)
Geelong Advertiser
Gold Coast Bulletin
The Mercury and Sunday Tasmanian (Hobart)
Northern Territory News (Darwin)
The Sunday Territorian (Darwin)
New Zealand
Sunday Star-Times
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea Post-Courier
Fiji
The Fiji Times
United States
New York Post
The Wall Street Journal
Times Herald Record





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Monday, February 16, 2009

Government Employees Aren’t Sacred Cows

A headline on the front page of today’s USA Today says ”Benefits neglected for civil retirees.” It goes on to say that “State and local governments have set aside virtually no money to pay $1 trillion or more in medical benefits for retired civil servants, a USA TODAY survey found. With bills coming due as Baby Boomers start to retire, states, cities, school districts and other governments may be forced to raise taxes, cut benefits or both — a task made especially difficult in an economic downturn.”

This should not be a surprise. With the economy facing the hardest times it has in years, a person would be naive if they didn’t think it would only affect the “private” sector. I entered the workforce in 1973, when there was a mild recession going on, and I was lucky to get a job. I was also lucky that same company sold products that were viewed as being somewhat recession-proof. In fact, the company managed to do very well in that economic downturn, and many downturns to follow. Our “retirement” plan was called profit sharing, where the company would annually throw a pittance to the employees who were vested in the progam, to be held in an account that could not be touched until they retired. (This eventually turned int0 our 401-k program, where the employee was responsible for his or her own contributions to their retirement program.)

I also worked at that same company during the years where companies tried to maximize their profits, so any time there was any “softness” in the economy, jobs were cut in order to make the profit goals. We took the approach that there were no “sacred cows” and that in order to make the business as lean and mean as possible, there wasn’t any one job, person, product, or function that didn’t deserve scrutiny. It seemed year after year, while many public and privately held companies continued to get leaner and leaner by job and compensation cuts, that out city, state, and Federal government agencies got fatter and fatter and their benefits more out of touch with most non-government companie.

Now, during this severe recession, there is no safe place for anyone to hide. With the taxpayer footing the bill for a much needed bank bailout and a stimulus package, it can’t be expected that the taxpayers will have unlimited deep pockets. Something has to give. While auto workers – current and retired – are going to have to take a hit in their jobs, pensions, and medical benefits to get government relief, the government should also take a look at itself and see if its own compensation practices are out of line with the norm. Personally, I think the autoworker’s pensions and benefits are very rich, and I also think the governments are just as rich. I no more want to use my hard earned and dutifully paid tax dollars to go to bloated union pensions as much as I want them to go to bloated government agencies and their pensions and benefits.

So while I can certainly feel sorry for anyone who is suffering job loss or loss of income as part of this economic downturn, I don’t think our government agencies should be immune from also facing the same challenges and associated cost reductions that currenly face non-government entities. This may be the perfect time for our government agencies to cut out the bloat and save the taxpayers some money. I voted for Barack Obama because I wanted change, and getting rid of waste in the Federal government expenses could be the first place to start. There are no sacred cows.



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A headline on the front page of today’s USA Today says ”Benefits neglected for civil retirees.” It goes on to say that “State and local governments have set aside virtually no money to pay $1 trillion or more in medical benefits for retired civil servants, a USA TODAY survey found. With bills coming due as Baby Boomers start to retire, states, cities, school districts and other governments may be forced to raise taxes, cut benefits or both — a task made especially difficult in an economic downturn.”

This should not be a surprise. With the economy facing the hardest times it has in years, a person would be naive if they didn’t think it would only affect the “private” sector. I entered the workforce in 1973, when there was a mild recession going on, and I was lucky to get a job. I was also lucky that same company sold products that were viewed as being somewhat recession-proof. In fact, the company managed to do very well in that economic downturn, and many downturns to follow. Our “retirement” was profit sharing, where the company would annual throw a pittance to the employees who were vested, held in an account that could not be touched until they retired. (This eventually turned int0 our 401-k program, where the employee was responsible for his or her own contributions to their retirement program.)

I also worked at that same company during those same years where companies tried to maximize their profits, so any time there was any “softness” in the economy, jobs were cut in order to make the profit goals. We took the approach that there were no “sacred cows” and that in order to make the business as lean and mean as possible, there wasn’t any one job, person, product, or function that didn’t deserve scrutiny. (I was lucky to survive many cutbacks and was there 28 years until I decided I’d had enough of the cut-cut-cut mentality and one incompetent boss. But I digress.) It seemed year after year, while many public and privately held companies continued to get leaner and leaner by job and compensation cuts, that out city, state, and Federal government agencies got fatter and fatter.

Now, during this severe recession, there is no safe place for anyone to hide. With the taxpayer footing the bill for a much needed bank bailout and a stimulus package, it can’t be expected that the taxpayers will have unlimited deep pockets. Something has to give. While auto workers – current and retired – are going to have to take a hit in their jobs, pensions, and medical benefits to get government relief, the government should also take a look at itself and see if its own compensation practices are out of line with the norm. Personally, I think the autoworker’s pensions and benefits are very rich, and I also think the governments are just as rich. I no more want to use my hard earned and dutifully paid tax dollars to go to bloated union pensions as much as I want them to go to bloated government agencies.

So while I can certainly feel sorry for anyone who is suffering job loss or loss of income as part of this economic downturn, I don’t think our government agencies should be immune from also facing the same challenges and associated cost reductions. This may be the perfect time for our government agencies to cut out the bloat and save the taxpayers some money. I voted for Barack Obama because I wanted change, and getting rid of waste in the Federal government expenses could be the first place to start. There are no sacred cows.



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here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lincoln Lives at 200 Years

Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-B8171-7929 DLC
Allan Pinkerton, President Lincoln, and General John McClernand at Antietam.
October 3, 1862.

Today celebrates 200 years since the birth of President Abraham Lincoln. The event was celebrated with a grand re-opening of the restored Ford's Theatre in Washington DC, where Lincoln was assassinated, and numerous other events being held today. Also, prior to his inauguration, President Obama retraced, via train, a trip that Lincoln himself once made prior to his inauguration, and President Obama also used the Lincoln bible at his inauguration. There was also news today that a manuscript of a speech by Lincoln calling on the country to unite during the civil war sold at auction today for 3.4 million dollars.

Abraham Lincoln is a hot commodity these days. And that is something to be happy about. While the civil war was a horrific time for Americans fighting on both sides of the war, and for those that were held in slavery, Lincoln’s drive to unify the United States was the stuff of legends. He didn’t go out and fight the battle himself with guns or cannons, but with his words. His words are still relevant today, as the country still sometimes struggles with racial inequities and with war, our military off fighting in another country in the name of democracy and freedom. While Lincoln was born 200 years ago and is long dead, he continues to have life in the legacy of his actions and words.

With President’s Day coming up on Monday, this could be a good time to reflect on some of the writings of President Abraham Lincoln, and pause and think about what this man did to help make this country strong. USA Today compiled a nice list of links and referencesthat relate to Lincoln, one of them being a link to the Abraham Lincoln Papers from the Library of Congress. And if you don’t have time to read much, take a listen to an audio of the Gettysburg Address that I posted on one of my other blogs quite some time ago, as read by Sam Waterston (of Law & Order fame).

Sometimes we get so caught up in the present that we forget about the distant past, and the events that happened long before us that helped shape out great country into what it is today. Take a few moments to learn and appreciate the past, you may be surprised on what it can teach you!


Gettysburg Address




Note: New video of Sam Waterston from CNN doing three Lincoln readings on my other blog, These Are Their Stories, here.

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Google Latitude: Big Brother Won’t Be Watching Me

Google recently released an update to the popular Google Maps. called Google Latitude, which provides the ability to track your location real time. It’s been in beta testing for a while, but now it’s ready for everyone to use.

It can be used with any mobile device (like your cell phone), or on your PC. It will track your location in real time, so anyone to whom you allow access to view your location in Google Latitude can see where you are at the present time. (See the short video below from Google, which shows how it works.)

Maybe it’s just me, but why does this mildly creep me out? Are we giving away too much information about ourselves? Granted, you need only allow access to those people who you want to see your location, but the fact that the information is being collected by some outside source bothers me a bit. I’m not worried about my relatives seeing my whereabouts. They already know that on the days and times that I blog a lot I am nailed to my chair in front of a computer. But do they really need to potentially see where I am every time I leave the house? My concern is what other people can do with this information. Maybe I grew up in an area where the book “1984” by George Orwell with “Big Brother” watching you was a concept that terrified, but this does seem too much like “Big Brother” to me. A recent article from Computer World speaks to some of the risks:

Used correctly, such a system can offer great benefits, but misuse can be equally damaging. Even if Google have built a 'privacy-positive' system there are residual privacy risks, which include:

Latitude installed on mobile devices without the users' knowledge - for example, a jealous partner installing it on their partner's phone to track where they go (if they have physical access to the handset then this should be trivial to accomplish);

Hacks used to install Latitude on a handset without the need for physical verification, or to suppress warning messages that the service is running;

Users simply forgetting that their handset is transmitting their location when they go somewhere that they wish to keep from others;

Unauthorised access to back-end services such that an unauthorised user can track individuals' locations.

Privacy advocates have already commented on these problems, but my biggest concern is the inevitability of irresponsible sharing of location data by users who don't really know the other parties involved. Take a look at the willingness with which many social networking users will share a lot of personal information with people that they've never met before. It would be very easy to integrate Latitude with Facebook or Myspace, and as soon as that happens, users will open up their location to their entire address book, or even to any user at all. It would then seem to be a matter of time before we see frauds, burglaries and physical assaults inspired by a user's location.


Yikes! Too much information can possibly get into the wrong hands. And despite the fact that Google reportedly says they won’t be storing the information about your location, somehow I just don’t trust that it will stay this way. The next thing you know, someone could be issuing subpoenas for the information and people could find their harmless trips and jaunts to come back to haunt them in ways they never expected, or in ways I can’t even imagine yet. OK, I am watching too much Law & Order.

I suppose that part of my problem is that I have always been a private person, and likewise with web services like Facebook and Twitter, I just don’t see the need for someone to know where I am and what I am doing every minute of the day. My life is not so important in the grand scheme of things that I have to report on every little detail. By the way, I do have a Facebook account, but I only have two friends, both are relatives. I don’t feel like that makes me some sort of social loser. If I want to keep in touch, there is always my double-secret personal blog, a phone, and email for those people I don’t see regularly. They are also busy enough that they don’t need to watch out for what I’m doing.

I wrote the other day about turning up my nose at Twitter – and I may be softening on the issue as it relates to my blogs. But Google Latitude is just too much for this private person to bear.







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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

To “Tweet” Or Not To “Tweet”, That Is The Question

With my apologies to William Shakespeare, I have to ask that question.

It seems like you can’t turn on a newscast or pick up a newspaper without someone telling you that Twitter – and Twitter messages called “tweets” - are all the rage. In fact, I almost feel like Twitter is being forced on people by the news media. (If you don’t know what Twitter is, you have probably been living under a rock or are over the age of 70. In that case, here’s a quick explanation from the Wall Street Journal.)

For me, it isn’t the rage. In fact, even though I know a lot of people of varying ages, no one is even remotely interested in Twitter. And I include the under 30 crowd here, because frankly even they seem to be too busy trying to work rather than to Twitter.

It’s a simple case of time, and information overload. I thought briefly about it. And I passed on it for now. Why? It’s hard work keeping up with the 7 blogs I already have, and I don’t think I have the time to keep up a Twitter account for each one. It seems to me that Twitter is more of a marketing tool that companies are now using to drive people to their web sites. They say it’s a quick way to get news, but for me there already is a quick way to get news – on the Internet with sites like CNN.com which is a staple for me when I want to get up to date news. In fact, the CNN home page gives about the best, quickest snapshot for me of all the important news going on right at the moment.

And as far as having friends or family who would happen to have Twitter so they can keep everyone up on what they are doing whenever they feel it’s important to tell me, sorry, but I am just not that into you.

As I use Blogger for all my blogs, and it has the ability for me to put a section on each blog showing the headlines from my other blogs, I think that anyone visiting my blogs on a regular basis can see what I’ve got going on the other blogs, and they can check those things out if they are interested. That’s about the extent of “forcing” information on my readers that I’d like to take.

Part of my issue with Twitter may also be a little silly – I can’t help associate the name with the word “twit” and Monty Python’s “Upper Class Twit” sketch (below) from year past. Now, I’m not saying that people that use Twitter are twits, but I have to admit that I thought exactly that when I first heard about it.

And while I am on the subject, I also don’t have time for a gazillion Facebook accounts or having a gazillion Facebook friends. I do have a personal Facebook account, and I only set it up in order for family or very close friends to use. Interestingly enough, most don’t use Facebook, either. But I have also gotten invitations to join MySpace and some other social networking site whose name I can’t recall. I just don’t have time for all of it, really. I also don’t think what I am doing on a regular basis is all that compelling that I need to broadcast it to the world. And, after working for nearly 30 years in a career where a phone was almost attached to my head all day, I’m not interested in leaving my cell phone on so everyone can call me. There is something to be said for tuning out a little bit and just shutting out the rest of the world for a while.

So right now, for me, Twitter seems a little too much like work. I could be wrong. But if Twitter really is the hot thing they say it is, then someone will come along with a better concept built upon a similar theme, hopefully one that will be easier or involve less effort than Twitter. I would love it if Blogger would develop a service like Twitter that would just send the headlines of my blogs to followers who want to keep up with the latest news on my blogs. I just can’t help thinking there has to be a more efficient way of getting information out to people than my having to create another account so I can post shorter messages of what is already on my blog. I love technology and I love staying on top of information, but even I have limits. And Twitter may be that limit for me. To to answer my own question “To tweet or not to tweet”, my answer right now is no.

UPDATE March 15, 2009 - I succumbed to pressure from some of the readers of my blogs. You can now find me on Twitter - the link is on this page. I am now an official "twit."


Monty Python’s Upper Class Twits




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