Most Powerful Woman in the World

Fareed Zakaria of CNN interviewed Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsico on his Sunday GPS show. Zakaria asked Nooyi to respond to her reputation as the world’s most powerful woman.  She seemed embarrassed by the title, but remarked that she works very hard, often sacrificing precious family time.  The interview moved along fairly tamely until it came to the question of healthy food and the growing American problem of obesity.  As you may know, Pepsico is a snack food conglomerate.  Their products include Pepsi, Gatorade and other sugary drinks and Frito Lay, known for salty chips.  She was not at all apologetic and gave what I thought to be an incredibly silly but revealing  answer which to me was a tacit admission that Pepsico is more concerned with profit, than juvenile diabetes or clogged arteries.  She characterized Pepsico’s products as “20% good for you and 80% fun for you”.  Said another way, what’s good for you is not fun for you, and what’s fun for you may not be good for your health. It sounded like a clever marketing pitch to skirt the question, but it does show that Pepsico is 80% about profit. Once the 20% becomes more profitable, things will change, but this is likely to take a long time.

30 years ago, I heard Ralph Nader speak at the University of Arkansas.  He described a hot dog as a pink missile and railed against snack food, suggesting that the vending machines could be stocked with healthier food.  Fast forward to 2011, and not much has changed.  The majority of stuff I see in the snack aisles at the supermarket and in vending machines are sugary drinks, candy bars and salty chips.  Just the other day I was delighted to see a bag of sunflower seeds in the vending machine where I work.  I was disappointed to learn that the seed shells were coated in a powdery salt.  I guess seeds qualify as “good”, and with all the salt also “fun”.  But those seeds were unsafe at any speed and not even fit for the birds, who seem, by and large, more fit than an average American.

To Do List

For me, making a to do list is a clever way to procrastinate. I know very well what I have to do, and I could be doing it right now, no should be doing it right now.

It’s the weekend, Sunday to be exact. Palm Sunday in fact. And my wife’s birthday.

Eggs, turkey bacon, fresh fruit, coffee and toast.

Just have to run the dishwasher and sort out the removed clean plastic containers.

Unfortunately, I brought work home. I need a solid 4 hours to make any progress, which includes research and work on the narrative.

I don’t like doing this much, actually the thought of doing it, but it’s not so bad once I get going. We bought a new LG upright and the novelty has not yet worn out. So I’ll play around with this toy for a while and take too much time as a way to procrastinate working on the grant.

I have a frozen shoulder and one with tendinitis. I have about 10 stretching exercises to do. I can stretch this to avoid beginning work on the other things listed above.

I can turn down the volume completely and do other things  like vacuuming, even writing grants. In place of the broadcasters, I’ll put on some classical music to help me focus on whatever else I need to do during the Red Sox game.  The Red Sox play good to Beethoven.  If I didn’t have the game on, I’d feel anxious and would constantly check for updates.

I want to make a video to post on YouTube. I ran across one recently of this guy talking about his record collection. Now that’s a topic I could sink me teeth into – I have so many stories to share about collecting records, CDs and then records again.

This is a silly post, I know. I doubt anyone but me will ever read it. I can’t imagine that anyone would put as a search term – LG vacuum. But if you did, know this: I like the LG brand. I’ve owned an LG cell phone, an LG dehumidifier and now a vacuum and they all performed as expected. The upright bagless vacuum has good suction and a elegant design. We bought a floor sample for cheap, to replace our aging Kenmore canister and have been pleased so far.

Jethro Tull and Cady Coleman Space Jam

I saw an interview on CNN American morning with a team of astronauts from the International Space Station.  Crew member Cady Coleman stood out as not only the only woman, but the only person with hair, and her hair was flowing like Medusa’s head, suffering or enjoying the effects of zero gravity.  But what stood out even more than the flowing hair was that she had recorded in space a flute duet with Ian Anderson of the band Jethro Tull, an iconic band many 40 somethings like me remember.  Jethro Tull is now on another world tour which will feature the two performing the duet with Cady projected on a big screen from the International Space Station.  Very cool, very cool indeed.

And an interesting contrast, the two, she with flowing hair and he with no hair at all.  But I’ll have to say for a man who has been a rock star for 40 years, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull looks like he could perform for another 40.  Rock on.

One last thought, I wonder if an Aqualung would be of any use in space?

Simple Plan to Balance the U.S. Budget

It’s hard to believe the U.S. government nearly shutdown over a dispute of a mere 360 million dollars, which is but a fraction of the nearly 3.7 trillion dollar U.S. budget.  What was the sticking point? An ideological issue over federal funding for Planned Parenthood.  Ultra conservative Republicans insisted that it would be preferable to shut down the government, than to continue funding women’s health initiatives.  I’m surprised it didn’t also come down to funding for National Public Radio, and maybe it did, who knows? In a compromise between the Speaker and the President at the last minute, the Republicans dropped their attack on Planned Parenthood for now anyway, in exchange for nearly 40 billion in the 60 billion in cuts it wanted, short of the 100 billion Tea Party members had pushed for in the House. The President apparently also agreed to put the Planned Parenthood issue to a vote later.  By all accounts, the Republicans do not have the votes in the Senate to defund Planned Parenthood or NPR for that matter.

Who came out the winner in this heated budget process that almost shut the government down? Speaker Boehner? President Obama? Their negotiating teams?  The Tea Party?  Republicans? Democrats? The American people?  Actually, I think there are no winners.  That it took so long to come to an agreement, and that the deal had been conditioned on social issues, signals that some lawmakers care more about social issues, even as they claim their priorities are all about reducing the budget deficit.  If it is all really about the budget deficit, why not talk in serious terms about cutting defense spending, ending our involvement in 3 wars and raising revenues.  Why not debate the issue of corporations paying their fair share of taxes.  Why not discuss a tax increase on the wealthiest who can afford it and would feel it the least?

The Republicans are beginning to learn that it is difficult to govern with a majority, especially when the tent is so large. The Tea Party is undoubtedly furious that Speaker Boehner caved in on their demands.  The American people are disgusted by both parties and with the politicians they elected to office who have not made good on their campaign promises.  Conservatives and Progressives alike are none too happy.  It feels like the only moderate out there is the President, which is why he will ultimately be reelected.  Looks like his most serious challenges could come from two reality show stars.

Conservative James Baker, former Reagan Chief of Staff and Treasury Secretary who also served as Secretary of State for Bush Senior, said on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN show GPS, that the U.S. must cut spending and raise revenue.  He also hinted that we would have no choice but to raise the debt ceiling so that we don’t default on our financial obligations. And I completely agree.

Yes we have a spending problem, but we also have a significant revenue problem.  Here’s my budget plan:  cut defense, eliminate corporate loopholes, end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, reduce military involvement beyond an advisory capacity in Libya; raise revenue by legalizing all undocumented workers to increase the tax base, which would help keep Social Security solvent, increase corporate taxes – (we have to stop corporate welfare handouts), simplify the tax code (maybe put the supercomputer Watson on the case) and never privatize anything ever because it’ll require a bailout in the end.  We need to learn from our mistakes, Paul Ryan.

Dr. Watson to the Rescue

Watson the IMB supercomuter may soon be used to diagnose patients.  Dr. Chase of Columbia, not the show House, has teamed up with IBM to “retrofit” Watson for use as an aid to physicians in diagnosing patient ailments.  Presumably, Watson could comb through unthinkable amounts of data in seconds flat and cough up a diagnosis.

I tell you one thing, I’d rather a doctor use Watson then to step out of the room to consult Web MD, as I suspect some do.  You know those ask your doctor commercials on TV?…Is Zegred OT right for you, or whatever…I’d like to ask my doctor if he could ask Watson what’s up with my ailing “frozen” shoulder.

I do have some reservations though. Watson is not omniscient.  It is a computer programmed by humans, who have been known to fail upon occasion.  Don’t forget that on Jeopardy, Watson did not answer all the questions correctly. It thought Toronto was a U.S. city, and it buzzed in to give the same wrong answer that its competitor gave.  Watson may be intelligent, but not a very good listener.

I can imagine a scenario where a doctor plugs in some data about an elderly male patient who has the chills, an earache and leg cramps and after a a 15 second delay, Watson comes back with a likely diagnosis: Colic.  Treatment:  Warm milk.

Actually, warm milk might just do the trick, I don’t know, but if you ask me, I say I’d rather my doctor stay informed than depend on a computer. After all, a computer is potentially more vulnerable to a virus than a doctor.


The thing is we’re wired, really we are.  And maybe even a little weird, at least we would have appeared that way to someone who had awakened from a coma after 30 years.  Wired used to mean wide eyed after drinking too much coffee.  Now of course it means connected, connected to devices.  In the 80’s about the only device anyone would have been connected to was the then ubiquitous Walkman.  While this made social interaction challenging  – ever try having a conversation with someone wearing headphones? – today, folks may be having a conversation via blue tooth which sometimes creates the illusion that they are talking to themselves.  Who knows, they may be.

We are seriously wired.  Blue tooth, blackberries, MP3 players, Ninetendo, iPads, iPods, iPhones, and others of the smart variety, netbooks, notebooks and Kindles.  If you observe people on the subway these days, yes, even underground, most are fiddling around with their electronic devices.  Riders don’t interact with one another anymore, not that they ever did.  No one reads a newspaper, not even the free Metro that litter the subway cars.  Folks don’t carry books anymore.  Instead people are hooked on newsfeeds and eBooks, and incessantly checking their Facebook and Twitter accounts, updating their status -“OMG, I’m on the subway and it smells like popcorn and dirty socks in here.  LOL”.  In some ways I think social media is actually anti-social.

We are wired 24 7.  It’s gotten to the point that when I come home, I no longer relax with a good book, or watch a TV show.  First, I take out my netbook, and tab it up – Facebook, WordPress, Twitter, E-mail, NYTimes.  Then I get out my HTC Evo and go to my newsfeeds.  I turn on the TV and channel surf while I go from one application to another on my netbook and smart phone.  I don’t know where I get all the energy after a long day of work, but I’m wired.  When it’s time for bed, my mind is racing and I have a hard time relaxing.  And here I am first thing in the morning, blogging.  I’m wired.  And time for another cup of Joe, as I watch MSNBC Morning Joe, and CBS, and CNN, and the Fishing Channel and play another addictive round of Angry Birds.  And I can’t stop playing till I get to the next level.

Straws Made of Chicken Feathers?

Get a load of this headline from the BBC News: Chicken feathers suggested as basis for plastics.  Sounds like a good idea.  It’d make plastics “light as a feather” so to speak, and according to the article, the plastics industry would require less petroleum in the manufacturing process.

But wait a minute.  Would you eat from a spoon or drink from a cup made of chicken feathers?  The article indicated that manufacturers could also use hair, and fingernails which are composed of keratin to add strength and reduce the weight of plastics.  This is all good right?  Ecofriendly, or friendlier, even though plastics likely contain a ton of other chemicals with a half life of billions of years.  The thing is, if consumers knew plastics were made of chicken feathers, fingernails and hair, I think most would stop using straws, and plastic utensils and anything else made of plastic.  Unwittingly, the chemical engineers working for Big Plastics, in an effort to make their companies even more profitable, may have found just the right formula to destroy the industry.

What A Mess

I’d like to write about anything but politics.  I try reading and contemplating all the weird and zany stories out there that are both interesting, and newsworthy, but I’m drawn to politics.  I guess everything is political.  There’s no such thing as neutral – there is no such thing as fact really – to borrow an academic term from critical theory, all facts are interested – all news is processed through an ideological filter.  I know, I’m rambling.  But here’s the thing:

On Libya.  Let’s (the U.S.) just back off and pass the thing over to Sarkozy, and his French intellectual collaborator, Bernard Henri Levy.  Let the French re-colonize the place, not that that’s in Libya’s best interest necessarily, except that it’d rid them of Ghadaffi, and perhaps put them on the path to democracy, if that’s what they want.  It should be noted that democracy has yet to take root in Iraq, and may never in Afghanistan.  Beyond the initial humanitarian mission of establishing a no fly zone, the U.S. should let France and Britain take over.  Let this be Europe’s concern, because it is.  The U.S. has enough of a mess to deal with in the Middle East and should get the heck out of Iraq and Afghanistan as soon as “practicable”  to borrow Shelby Foote’s favorite word to quote.

The U.S. needs to put considerable attention to brokering a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  Bill Clinton tried and damn near succeeded, but the Bush clan did next to nothing and didn’t seem to give a holy crap either.  To the Bush administrations, all politics was personal.  Here’s an idea, why not send Bill Clinton back in as a special peace envoy, to show Hillary how it’s done?  It may sound like a boneheaded idea, but I think we have to think outside the box a little bit.  Anyway, isn’t Bill Clinton the President of the World?

One last thing while I’m on a roll.  Oil.  Who needs it?  If we weren’t so blasted dependent on the stuff and our politicians not so beholden to the Big Oil overlords, and our foreign policy not so dictated by the finite resource, we’d be a lot better off.  Even the Republican leadership agrees with me, except their solution is to plunder our natural resources.  Ole Mitch McConnell was saying we got all the natural gas we need right cheer in our backyard.  I’d have to say that there’s enough gasholes in Congress to destroy all of our precious resources before the 2012 elections if we gave them the license to drill.

I’ve said it so many times before, but it’s worth noting again.  We, the car loving people of the United States, ought to get off our collective butts and peddle, walk, or carpool more, myself included. And for city dwellers and suburban commuters, why not give the mass transit system a try, at least when practicable, and I grant that it some cases, it is not.

Goodness, where there’s demand for stupid material things, there’s no shortage of goodwill to exploit our natural resources, including those rare earth metals.  But one day, it’ll all be gone and our children will be left scratching their heads saying “what the hell have they done to the planet, the bastages.”