Friday, October 24, 2008

Petunia Palin

When I lived in California my mortgage (house bond) payment was about $1500 a month. It was an old mortgage which I inherited from my late husband who had bought the house with his then-wife during the mid Eighties. In Silicon Valley at the beginning of the new millennia, this was considered a low monthly payment for a 3 bed 2 ba ranch style house. So reasonable, in fact, that the people who bought the house in early 2004 had a monthly payment of over $4000 a month for that same house.

Today, the US is in financial crisis and people are losing their homes right and left…even devout Republicans who’ve pinched their pennies to be able to donate a few bucks here or there to their favourite political party. Some of these people are among those who have lost their jobs and are losing their homes but have not yet lost their faith in the Republican Party.

So, I wonder what they think of this : . Will the same people who, in the last election, excoriated John Kerry for a $400 hair cut, find a way to excuse the GOP’s spending $150,000 at Saks and Neiman Marcus to gussy up their favourite lipsticked pig? In a time when people are finding themselves being booted out of their homes, how does McCain explain spending more than $500 in campaign funds on a pair of designer shoes? And who got the benefit of the almost $5000 spent at a high end men’s retailer, Atelier, McCain or Palin’s husband?

Macy’s got almost $10,000, Bloomies got more than $5,000, and the campaign even spent money at a couple of baby stores. All in all, it adds up to more than $150,000…enough to pay my old mortgage for nearly two years…and they managed to disgorge this impressive chunk of money in just one month!

Who knew that getting on the ticket was a ticket to a whole new wardrobe at no personal cost? Is this a precedent set for the future, a way to allow a female VP or Prez to acquire a public wardrobe at a cost not borne by her own pocket? Yah, the article says that the clothes are ultimately destined for charity, but let’s get real here…my clothes are ultimately destined for charitable donation, too…but not until I have worn them…and worn them…and worn them some more. Exactly which charity is going to receive $150,000 worth of barely worn high-end designer labels from top retailers? And when? Cos honey, I want to be first in line on the day that happens!

Interestingly, the Dem’s monthly financial disclosure report doesn’t seem to have an “itemized coordinated expenditures” or “campaign accessories” category in which red leather jackets and Ferragamo shoes can be explained away. In fact, nothing in any of the Dem’s monthly financial statements indicates these kinds of expenditures on the candidates or any of their family members.

So what does this mean? I dunno…but it doesn’t surprise me that Palin is gaining personal advantage without spending a cent of her own money. “ …Palin charged the state for her children to travel with her, including to events where they were not invited, and later amended expense reports to specify that they were on official business…The charges included costs for hotel and commercial flights for three daughters to join Palin to watch their father in a snowmobile race, and a trip to New York, where the governor attended a five-hour conference and stayed with 17-year-old Bristol for five days and four nights in a luxury hotel.”

I’m not going to go into the ethics of these revelations, but I do have to wonder if Palin can tell the difference between public and private funds and when is the appropriate time to use each one. I once had a sister-in-law who was afflicted with a similar condition: she simply could not draw a line between hers and anybody else’s…if you loaned her something, she took it as a gift and you never got it back. She couldn’t even tell the difference between your name…and credit rating…and her own. She once assumed the identity of a family member and financed a new refrigerator on that person’s credit…which she promptly “forgot” to make payments on. Palin reminds me of this (thankfully) former member of my family…rearranging right, wrong, and reality to her best advantage, regardless of the rules the rest of us play by. What part of the national budget is going to become the hiding place for her personal expenditures if she becomes VP or, heaven forefend, President?

Interestingly, Michelle Obama cuts a stylish figure…she reminds me of Jackie Kennedy when Jack was campaigning…on her own dime. In the same month that RNC forked over 150,000 smackers to drape the pit bull of the tundra, the DNC shows no personal expenditure for either of their candidates or the candidates’ families.

So, I am wondering…how does the RNC justify taking their pet pig to places like Nieman Marcus and Saks 5th Avenue for lipstick? Couldn’t she find decent clothes in places like Sears and JC Penney’s if she couldn’t afford Bloomies et al on her own income? Who dresses Michelle Obama? Where does she buy her clothes and, more importantly, who pays for them?

Most important of all, if you are a person feeling the pinch of today’s failing economy and you managed to squeeze out some money to donate to your favourite political party, how would you feel if your money had been spent to buy designer clothes from stores you can’t even afford to browse in? How would you feel if your party spent, in a single month, more than 100 times your monthly mortgage payment for fancy duds that they say they are going to donate to charity (I’m thinking $150K spent at Walmart would have clothed a lot more of the unfortunate than the same amount spent at luxe department stores)?

The whole thing stinks of elitism and a complete disregard for the sensibilities…and pocketbooks…of the average voter. I would have had a lot more respect for McCain and his entourage and sycophants if they’d told Sarah “You need to hire a stylist and get some new threads…but nothing too ostentatious because people who are worrying about losing their jobs and their houses might be offended if we look like insensitive spendthrifts...oh, and leave the kids at home with Grandma,” and then ignored her outstretched palm.

But that’s not the Republican way, now is it?

Monday, October 13, 2008

What do you call rich?

The next time somebody calls me rich, I think I am going to fall over and laugh until I need oxygen supplementation to breathe!

I am the first to admit I am comfortably well off, by both American and South African standards. Back in Silicon Valley, a costly place to live by anyone’s standards, and I saw my fair share of Mercedes and BMWs gracing the highways and byways of the Valley. Godiva choccies in every Macy’s, a Macy’s in every mall…Silicon Valley was definitely not a low rent kind of place to live.

Here in South Africa I hadn’t expected a higher standard of living for the average person, so I was downright astounded to see so many Beemers and Benzes crowding the parking lots outside the malls and jamming the roads. Not many Bentleys or Ferraris, I’ll admit, but then I rarely saw those back in California. A maid and a garden service are the middle class norm here, and the stay-at-home-mother is very much in evidence (and she has a maid and often a nanny as well). I have achieved the socioeconomic status I longed for back in my twenties…I don’t have to work, I have a maid, I drive a Mercedes, and I have enough money to pay for everything I need and quite a bit of what I want.

That being said, it is important to note that my needs and wants aren’t that grand. My second hand Mercedes is a joy to me: she’s eight years old and I love her to bits. I don’t want a cook: I just want someone to clean up the kitchen after me when I’m done cooking. I have a platinum credit card and a charge card for my favourite dress shop and when I say “I’m out of cash,” my husband’s only response is “How much do you want?” Life is good.

If that sounds rich to you, then you’ve got a shock coming because this weekend I got a look at the truly, extravagantly, obscenely, gaggingly rich. Hubby and I had brunch at our favourite quayside restaurant yesterday morning and moored across the inlet from us was a yacht. OK, it was a big boat from where we were sitting, but not that big…or so we thought. As we sat their munching our fresh croissants, a Chinese squid seiner lumbered into port, nudged along by a couple of scrappy little tugs. It was a big old rust bucket, and took its sweet time getting moored…right in front of the yacht. It was then that I noticed the yacht seemed pretty close to the Chinese ship in size…and while it was no super tanker, the squid ship wasn’t exactly your little eight man fishing boat, either!

After brunch we took a walk over to its mooring point and just gawked. It was tied alongside the pier so we were able to walk the entire length of the port side. It was huge. Inscribed around a porthole were the words “Tatoosh” and “George Town,” and on the stern “Tatoosh” and “Cayman Islands.”

“Maybe Bill Gates is in town?” Hubby opined, staring unabashed at the gleaming while-hulled monstrosity.

“Nah,” I shook my head. “He lives in Seattle…that’s an awfully long way to sail a boat, even one this big!”

We continued walking and gawking. In the course of our stroll we discovered a ketch stowed on the port side, two (two!) helicopters on separate helipads, and two motor launches. When we got back home I got on the internet and discovered that Hubby was more right than I was. The yacht belongs to Paul G. Allen, one of the founders of Microsoft. And it was a whole lot more boat that I had bargained for.

First of all, it is 303 feet (92.4m) long. Do you have any idea how long that is? A regulation American football field is 360 feet long! The thing is 49 feet (14.9m) wide and it cost $100million in 2001.

In addition to the amenities we could see from the dock, we discovered that the boat has:
Five decks
A spa
A master suite, a saloon and other rooms on the top deck;
A saloon with a French limestone fireplace, a dining area, staterooms and a ladies' powder room on the main deck
A lobster tank
A shaded six-foot (1.8m) deep swimming pool, located aft on the main deck beneath a full overhang
A movie theater
A big crane to transport two helicopters on the top two decks
A custom Hinckley powerboat (about a 40 footer (12m))
A Hinckley sailboat of about 40 feet (12m)

Mother Jones gives a few more details:” The 300-foot Tatoosh carries a 30-person crew, two helicopters, a swimming pool, a spa, a private movie theater, six other surface boats (including a separate 54-foot racing yacht and two Hobie catamarans) and a submarine.”

A submarine, for crying out loud!! A submarine!

But wait! It gets better…or worse, depending on your point of view. This ostentatious monstrosity is only his second best of three yachts! Allen also owns the Octopus which, according to Mother Jones “is 413 feet long, with seven decks, a 60-person crew including several former Navy SEALs, seven other on-board boats, a basketball court, the obligatory movie theater and swimming pool (just one?), and two submarines, one of which can stay two weeks on the ocean floor. Allen also owns a third megayacht it turns out, plus two personal Boeing 757's, in case one is in the shop.”

Before you get up on your “Greedy Americans” high horse, though, you have to know that Tatoosh is only the 26th largest yacht in the world, the largest presently owned by the Sheikh of Dubai. It’s called “Dubai” and is just two inches shy of being 525 feet long (160m). That makes it almost 1 ½ football fields in length. I can see where a sheikh might need a vessel of this size to keep all the wives and children in comfort, but what is Paul Allen’s excuse?

This is conspicuous consumption of the most obscene order. The man has three yachts…how many can you skipper at a time? This man is rich beyond even my imagination (and mine is pretty good!) and what he does with it is buy more yachts? Yah, yah, I know he has a foundation and does good works, but this is ridiculous.

If I had those three yachts I’d decide which one I liked best, then I’d sell the other two and sink the money into something meaningful, like free education for all of South Africa’s children…or free university educations for every American high school senior who could get accepted into college. Or fund some hospitals in places where the medical care is scarce…or establish a safety net for those millions of my fellow Americans who work but have no health coverage…the ones too rich for government assisted health care, but too poor to buy their own.

I am sure the sale of a couple of $100million yachts could fund all kinds of good works…I’ll bet old Paul could peel off a couple of hundred million more without even putting the tiniest of dents in his lifestyle (he’s worth $42Billion, after all). It boggles me to think of all of the good this man could do with all that money without reducing the quality of his life one jot.

It’s obscene, I tell you, the conspicuous flaunting of that kind of wealth. And the next time somebody dares to call my middle-class self wealthy, “Tatoosh” is the first word that will roll off my lips!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Close Encounters of the Kitty-Cat Kind

I was chatting on line with a friend recently and the subject got around to cats…well, her cats since I’ve become so allergic to them that I can’t have one anymore. In particular, she commented that she had to go “scoop the litter box,” because, with three cats sharing, it was a regular…if whiffy…chore.

Back in my Momcat days, I had several little purry furballs and one of them didn’t like sharing the box. I tried additional litter boxes, but since I couldn't keep the other cats out of the extra boxes, she still went around full of wounded dignity, her dainty little nose in the air. Fortunately she was an indoor-outdoor cat and would willingly go outside to do her kitty business, but rainy days and late night nature calls continued to be a problem for her.

We called her MamaKitty because she surprised us with a litter of kittens when she was little more than a kitten herself. We had found her, scrawny and flea-ridden, under a dumpster and brought her home. One vet visit and flea dip later, she was a member of the household. Being a feral kitten, she was not the friendliest cat in the world, but she did occasionally permit herself to be petted. Cats can be very aloof, but MamaKitty took it to a whole new level: I was her favourite person in the world, and she barely tolerated me! When she weaned her kittens we had her spayed, but the name MamaKitty had taken hold and so she was known for the rest of her days.

She was also aloof from the other cats…when she wasn’t being actively hostile to them. I got a little blue point Himalayan kitten, a male, and MamaKitty was so affronted by his presence that she took to stalking him like prey! It was so bad that we had to lock him in my bedroom while we were at work to prevent any mayhem. The cat ended up being called KittyMouse (although his registered name was Maserati) because MamaKitty treated him like a mouse, continually stalking and pouncing on him!

We had a large two story house, a split level type, with one bathroom on each level. The women in the house were outnumbered by the males, and getting those guys to put the lid down after a visit to the loo was a never-ending source of frustration. At one point I had to start reminding them to flush when they were done: finding the lid up is one thing…finding it up and unflushed is just gross. Naturally, nobody owned up to the transgression, so all three of them had to endure the brunt of my displeasure.

As I said, it was a big house…five bedrooms, to be exact. Downstairs there was a laundry next to a small bedroom that contained the hot water heater and furnace in a cupboard near the door. I had furnished this room as a home office, often spending time there late at night when the rest of the house had finally calmed down and gone quiet. Ordinarily all the lights were off in the house except for the one in the office, and with the exception of “house noises,” it was deadly quiet. One night I was typing along, my mind occupied with the story I was spinning, when I distinctly heard trickling noises nearby. I stopped typing and listened intently…yes, there really was a trickling noise.

Slowly, I turned my head trying to get a bead on the sound. Was it the hot water heater in the cupboard? Had someone turned on the hose outside and I was hearing water in the flowerbed under the window? Slowly I rotated the desk chair, concentrating on what I was hearing, until the sound was at its loudest. I looked around and something outside the office door caught my eye.

Across the hall from this room was the downstairs bathroom. It was dark in both the hallway and the bathroom, but I could clearly see two small red orbs hovering about two feet above the floor. My stomach suddenly turned to liquid and gooseflesh broke out all over me. My god, what was that?

The hairs lifted on the back of my neck as the red orbs wavered slightly from one side to the other, blinked out momentarily, and then reappeared. I flicked my eyes right and left, but I had no escape route: this room was at the end of the hallway and to get out, I would have to get within a yard of whatever it was that was hovering in my bathroom. Just as it occurred to me to pick up the phone and call someone…I had no idea who…to come rescue me, the orbs dropped audibly to just a few inches above the floor and started moving towards me. As they entered the light spilling out the office door and into the hall, I was able to see that my mysterious visitor was none other than MamaKitty! The red orbs were merely her retinas reflecting the light from my office!

But what about that trickling sound?

I went into the bathroom and flipped on the light and there was my answer. That cat had somehow associated the toilet with certain body functions and there, floating in the water, was proof. The trickling sound I had heard was MamaKitty taking a wee in the toilet! It should have occurred to me that there was no toilet paper in toilet with the mysterious deposits…but then who expects the non-flushing culprit to be a cat?

The next day I apologized to the kids, explaining it was the cat’s fault, not theirs, Without exception, they looked at me as if I had completely lost my mind. One of them asked me, only half-facetiously, if I had be smoking “those funny cigarettes.” I tried to explain it to them, but everyone just dismissed it, including my (then) husband who was sure I was a few bricks shy of a load anyway.

So it became my and MamaKitty’s secret. If I found the lid down, I’d put it up for her and if I found kitty exhaust deposits in the loo, I’d flush them down. It was just the two of us, knowing what the clever little cat had taught herself.

Then one Sunday morning, my husband staggered his bleary-eyed naked self into the bathroom, only to return seconds later, wide-eyed and rigid with disbelief.

“Holy sh!t!” he exclaimed. “You’ll never believe what I saw!”

I looked up from my romance novel and quirked my eyebrows questioningly. MamaKitty was a creature of habit…I already knew…

“The cat! The cat is sitting on the toilet!”

I nodded and went back to my book.

“No,” he said urgently. “The cat is on the toilet!

“Yes,” I told him. “She prefers this one. If you don’t want to wait, you’ll have to go downstairs…”

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Mexican food! Yum!

Well, I’ve been in the kitchen again. Last night it was chili verde and Hubby and I quite made pigs of ourselves.

I love South Africa, but when it comes to Mexican food, South Africa’s version of it frankly sucks. As in really, really bad. Lately I’ve been able to get some decent tortillas in the shops (that’s because wraps have become popular here), but they’re a bit costly…about R4 (half a dollar) each in packets of 10.

Anyway, at the market the other day I spotted long green chilis (chillies to non-Americans) and I grabbed a few. Monday Thandiswe roasted them for me, and last night I made chili verde and I have to say, it was my best so far. Here’s how I made it:

Start with 3-6 mild chilis. In America I used Anaheim chilis, here in South Africa I use green pimento peppers. Each chili should be at least 8 inches long (1 inch =2.54cm). Wash the chilis, but do not remove the stem or cut in any way.

Roast the chilis: this must be done over open flame. You can lay them directly over a gas flame on the kitchen stove, on a barbeque (braai) grill, or even with a chef’s torch. The skin of the chilis must be allowed to blister and blacken…blister as much of the skin as possible. I use kitchen tongs and roast them on the double gas ring (the wok ring) on my gas stove.

Once thoroughly blistered and blackened, place the chilis in a plastic bag and seal it shut. Allow the chilis to cool for up to 15 minutes: they will steam up the bag, which is what you want.

Remove the chilis to a cutting board. Using the dull side of a knife, scrape all the skin off the chili and discard. Now, cut the stem end off the chili and split it open down its length. Again, with the dull side of a knife, scrape the seeds and ribs out and discard. Cut the chili into squares approximately ½ to 1 inch square. Put in a covered container and refrigerate.

Preparing the Chili Verde (Pork and Green Chili Stew)

1 lb (500g) lean pork (a tough cut of meat is OK as this will cook long enough to get tender)
½ cup seasoned white flour
3 or more roasted green chilis, scraped and cubed
3 tbsp cooking oil
½ cup coarsely chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp red chili powder
1 tsp whole cumin (jeera) seeds
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups hot water
3 large potatoes, cut into 2 inch cubes
1 small jalapeno pepper, grated (freeze it first…makes it easier to grate)
Salt to taste

Cube the pork in 1 inch to 2 inch pieces. Place seasoned flour in a plastic bag, add pork, and shake until pork is well coated with flour.

Heat oil in a deep pot. When sizzling, put in cumin seeds, onion, and chili powder. Stir until the seasonings release their scent, then add onion, garlic, and meat. Stir rapidly to brown meat on all sides. When meat is about half browned, add 1/3 of the roasted green chili.

Continue stirring the mixture until the meat is lightly browned on all sides. Gently pour the wine down the side of the pan (so as not to wash the flour coating off the meat) and bring to the boil. Once boiling, gently add a cup of hot water. Bring to the boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover, and let cook gently for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove cover, stir thoroughly, scraping the bottom to make certain nothing sticks to the bottom. Now add about half of the remaining green chili, stir well, then add another cup of hot water. Bring to the boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove the cover, stir the contents well, and add the third cup of hot water. Also add the potatoes, the remainder of the green chili, the grated jalapeno and the salt. Boil very gently, uncovered, until the potatoes are done (about 30 minutes).

If the gravy is too thin, cook a bit longer allowing it to reduce.

Serve in shallow bowls with a bit of sour cream on top, garnished with some cilantro/dhania/coriander, and with Salsa Fresca and tortillas on the side.

Salsa Fresca
2 tomatoes chopped small
½ cup onion, minced
1 small jalapeno pepper, grated (freeze it first…makes it easier to grate)
1 tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup chopped cilantro/dhania/coriander leaves

Mix together, place in covered dish, refrigerate at least two hours before serving.

Tips on tortillas:
Do not reheat tortillas in a microwave oven…they will dry out and get stiff.

Instead, get a skillet really hot (no oil!) and put a tortilla on the hot surface. With kitchen tongs, flip the tortilla to warm the other side. When the tortilla begins to show scorch marks and puff up, it is ready to remove from the heat. (You can do this on an open grill if you are brave enough!).

Take a plate and put a non-fuzzy kitchen towel over it. Lay the hot tortilla on the towel and cover with the ends of the towel. Stack the tortillas under the towel and they will stay hot for serving.