Thursday, October 26, 2006

Paean to the Potato Chip

I love them all. The thin ones, rendered translucent by their hot oil bath are probably my favorites. I’ve been known to search the bag to find those. Probably if I stopped after that, I’d be fine since there are only a handful of the perfect, crisp, translucent ones in each bag, but once those special chips are downed and gone, I console myself by eating the less perfect, slightly thicker ones. Then I move on to the ones with major imperfections, breaking off and throwing away any blackened bits or odd green-tinged spots, and, finally, even the ones that have been ground, on their journey from factory to home, into little chip crumbs, until, at last, only the inside of the bag, shiny with grease and rough with salt, remains.

Yes, that is the problem; I love them all. When Frito-Lay’s commercials used to trumpet “Bet you can’t eat just one,” it was as if they were announcing my guilty secret to the whole world. Just one? I couldn’t even eat just 25 or just 50. Chip addiction is a terrible thing.

Mind you, chips have been mostly off my food radar for years, decades. There’s the fat and the salt, and even worse, there are the carbohydrates. Eating a bag of potato chips is, chemically speaking, just like eating a bag of sugar. Pure, simple carbohydrate. Any possible food value the lowly potato might have, and it does have a little, although even in its natural state it is a bit on the starchy side, has been stripped away in the production of the potato chip. No skin (fiber) to slow the absorption of that glorious carbohydrate. No vitamins and minerals after the high-temperature oil immersion. Just starch, fat, and salt. Three of the most highly desired food groups.

I wish I could say that it was only potato chips that I crave, but it wouldn’t be true. I have a fierce Frito Jones, created in childhood. A family Thanksgiving tradition, as we waited for the big meal to be ready, was snacking on clam dip (homemade only, please, and wonderful) and Fritos while watching football. Never POTATO CHIPS. I loved the Fritos with the dip, but when the bag of chips outlasted the dip, I was happy to have them naked too. Fritos, with their delicious corn toastiness, are fantastic, alone or in partnership. A software company I once worked at in the 80s imported a bunch of programmers from Texas. With them, they brought one of life’s perfect food combinations. You know what I’m talking about: a dish where the whole exceeds the sum of the parts to the point that a manna of taste ensues in each bite. This food consisted of two things I had never tasted separately, much less together, in my Northern eating experience, RoTel and Velveeta. By now, I am sure you have had many versions of this exquisite glop. At the time, I had never heard of RoTel, which is now found on almost any grocery store shelf in America, and which I find has many uses in cooking, but back then it was as alien as their okra pickles. RoTel, in case you have been living on another planet the last 15 years or so, is canned diced tomatoes with green chiles. It has just a hint of heat. To make the dip, you put the can of RoTel in a crock pot (or fondue pot or on the stovetop, but you need some way to keep it warm [read: uncongealed]) and add a two-pound block of Velveeta cut into chunks. The tomatoes and chiles heat, the Veleveeta melts, you stir it all together and the most delicious slice of artery-clogging, TexMex heaven is created, which when scooped with a Frito, results in a perfect food.

Since clam dip with Fritos was the only dip experience I had as a child, I was quite surprised to emerge into the world and learn that most people ate their dip with potato chips. It seems quite alien to me, even now, and sort of criminal to render a perfect potato chip wet and soggy with dip. But there are other good choices for dip besides Fritos, and they have become favorites in my chip pantheon too.

Once again, we must look south for this new staple of American cuisine, the tortilla chip. These versatile little blank slates of starch take well to many treatments. They are good alone with salsa, which has surpassed catsup as the largest-selling condiment in the US, they are great as the bed for nachos or the vehicle for conveying another near-perfect food, Mexican seven-layer dip, to the mouth. Like their American cousin, the Frito, they have more body than a potato chip, the better to stand up to dipping.

For the most part, I am a bit of a food purist. In childhood, I believed that dinnerware design peaked in the 50s with those melamine plates with dividers that mimicked TV dinner trays. That way, foods didn’t run together and “contaminate” each other. I was appalled by one of my uncles, who possibly because he had lost his ability to taste or possibly just because, would mix all of his food, no matter what it was, into one large puddle on his plate (cutting his meat up as necessary first) and eat it. He explained that it all went the same place so why not, an argument that did nothing to change my scandalized mind.

I mention this by way of explanation when I tell you that, with a couple of noteworthy exceptions, I do not care for flavored chips. Your nacho cheese tortilla chip, or your sour cream potato chip, these strike me as abominations. Since coming to Florida though, I have found a new exception. I don’t know if you can buy these in stores even, but in some vending machines there are tortilla chips with avocado and lime that are really good. Another classic exception, for me, is the barbecue potato chip. It is like a whole separate thing from the regular potato chip. You have the addition of sugar, a fourth most highly prized food group, to your salt, starch, and fat.

There is one other style of chip that does nothing for me and that is the formed (Ruffles-style) or extruded (a la Pringles) chip. Gross. If one wants to eat a completely unredeemable fake food, there is really no comparison to Cheetos. I ask you, from where else can you obtain that lovely orange glow?

Mostly, I just taste the memories, the ghosts of chips past. Then, this week, the store that offers three free items if you purchase $25 or more was giving away a free 5 oz. bag of chips. Cogitating feverishly, my child-of-Depression-era-children brain came up with a reason not to leave the free chips on the table. My husband, whose cholesterol count indicates he does not need them either, could take them in his lunch. Yeah, right. I am sure it comes as no surprise that the chips did not live out the evening.

So, now, I am back to memories of chips and, most of the time, glad about that.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

How Dare They? How Dare We?

I’m ashamed to be an American tonight. How can I live in a country with so much wealth where greedy, profiteering men run hospitals that dump the indigent sick—so ill they must be transported by ambulance—out on the street on Skid Row, hoping that they will become someone else’s problem. If the worst happens and they die, at least it won’t be near the hospital.

There are many things that make this story even worse, if that is possible.

First, in at least one of Sunday’s cases documented by the Los Angeles police, a man was transported to Skid Row and dumped against his will, even after he told the hospital personnel he wanted to go to his son’s home. His family is horrified and outraged. They had not even been notified by the hospital the man was to be released. I have to believe this cannot be the only instance like this where the individual’s wishes were ignored and overridden.

Second, the hospital administrators are lying through their teeth about what has happened in the face of police video and still photographic documentation, as well as officers who witnessed five cases of the dumping. Further, some of the rats (in this case one of the ambulance companies) are deserting the sinking ship. Their employees are singing like birds and say that this practice has been going on for some time and involves other hospitals in addition to the one caught last Sunday.

We have plenty of shame for how we handle our homeless problem in this country, for how we have ducked the difficult issue of the mentally ill, going from one extreme, forced institutionalization, prior to the Supreme Court decision, to simply dumping them on the streets if their families are unable to care for them.

But not to provide medical care? To say to the homeless, we don’t want you in our nice suburb, you go downtown to the smelly, dangerous, dirty Skid Row, the only place you are fit for?

And lest we feel somewhat smug here in Florida since this, after all, happened in California, our news has been filled this past year with stories of indigent people refused medical care by local hospitals. Even the poor woman shot in the eye by the stray bullet on New Year’s Eve had difficulty receiving proper care. And then there is Orlando Regional Medical Center. Flying in the face of all common sense, they say that the poor healthy expectant mother who went into the hospital just to have a baby and contracted a superbug (known to flourish in hospitals) causing her to lose her arms and legs and very nearly her life must have brought the infection in with her.

Our city council has made it against the law to feed the homeless near City Hall in the parks.

How dare they? How dare we?

Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote in a 1985 opinion that the plight of the disabled, prior to the ADA, exemplified a "regime of state mandated segregation... that in its virulence and bigotry rivaled, and indeed paralleled, the worst excesses of Jim Crow."

We are now doing the very same thing to the homeless. We can do better than this.

• Let’s require our lawmakers to make hospital dumping illegal.
• Let’s require private for-profit hospitals to do their share of charitable care.
• Let’s go to our churches and schools and clubs and talk to our fellows about these horrors.
• Let’s all rise up and say, “This is NOT what we want. This is NOT who we are. We are all human beings.”

We are all worthy of the bare minimum of medical care, food, a roof overhead, and the freedom to obtain them in whatever part of the land we want to be in—not herded into a segregated area of another’s choosing.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Too Soon, Too Soon

Like many others, I was impressed mightily by Barack Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and I have followed his career since with quite positive feelings. Until tonight.

Senator Obama has disappointed me by saying that he is considering a run for the Presidency in 2008, or at least by not ruling it out. On what grounds would I choose to vote for Barack Obama as President? His handsomeness? His oration skills? Certainly, it could not be on his record, because there is scarcely enough of it to justify choosing him as a U.S. Senator, much less as leader of the free world.

Mind you, I am not saying he has accomplished nothing. I am not saying he has made hideous errors. I am merely saying that more is required of a Presidential hopeful than a couple of years in the Senate.

I want a seasoned politician and man as my President. I don’t want someone who is bound to be still learning on the job.

It is my fervent hope that wiser heads will provide Senator Obama with counsel on this issue so that he makes the right decision. It is not yet his time.

Barack Obama is the biggest star in the firmament of black leaders to come along in many years. Can he someday be the first African-American President of the United States? It may well be that he can. But not in 2008. At least not with my vote.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

What, Me Sorry?

There is a recent trend in public intercourse that I find very disturbing on many levels. Not the least of these is the fact that my being bothered by it may be a sign of impending old fogeyhood, which I would abhor. Truly, though, I don’t think so. If this had occurred during my youth, I would have found it just as disturbing and just as much a source of consternation.

OK, Voice, so what are you talking about here? Well, I am not sure what to call the phenomenon, but here is tonight’s example. I was replacing some membership brochures in the holders of the local dog park tonight, when I watched a woman leave the park and leave both the inner and outer gates of the main airlock gate standing wide open behind her and walk to her truck. I had seen it happen before with total disbelief, but this was one time too many, and I could feel my dander rise.

I quickened my pace to catch her before she left, but I need not have worried. She was standing rooting around in the front seat of her truck.

“Excuse me.” She turned and looked at me.

“Excuse me, but you left both of these gates standing open. This is an off-leash park; dogs are loose. They could have gotten out.” And here it is, the phenomenon. She looked at me, said nothing, turned her back, and began to root again in the front seat of her truck.

Other times when this has occurred, I have simply shaken my head and walked off, but tonight it was just one time too many. I could feel the old BP begin to climb. I closed the gates she had left open (fortunately, no dogs except mine, who was on a leash, were in the immediate vicinity). I walked up to her.

“You left the gates open. When I told you, you looked at me as if I hadn’t spoken and said nothing. You didn’t even apologize. Dogs could have escaped. A dog could have been run over.”

“OK, I’m sorry,” truculently. “My boyfriend is watching my dog,” defiantly.

“Right, and none of the other dogs matter? Is that it?” Me, sarcastically. I turned and walked away. It was pointless.

My husband has suggested that we should post signs that say “Please close both gates behind you.” Most of us feel, however, that the kind of blithering idiot or hopelessly egotistical asshole that would do this would not be bothered to read that sign either.
But that’s another post.

What I find flummoxing tonight is how someone can speak to you, and you can simply not respond, simply turn your back and walk away as if nothing had happened, particularly if the speaker is taxing you with some lapse of common courtesy or common decency on your part.

Whatever happened to: What was I thinking? I’m so sorry . . . I was in a hurry and thinking about the call I had to make, but that’s no excuse . . .or the simple You’re right.

Is acknowledging that you screwed up to a stranger now some weird loss of face? Is it impossible to believe you could have done something wrong?

Yesterday, I stopped at the grocery store’s courtesy counter to attempt to boost my upcoming retirement income (translation: buy a lottery ticket). It was as busy as they usually are on Saturday afternoons. There were three people behind the counter, one on the phone, one counting some money and another running to and fro. None of the three seemed to be interacting with customers, but all seemed engaged in some task. Finally, the running to and fro one made the mistake of slowing and looking over toward me. “I need one lottery ticket, please,” I said. She held out her hand and took my money and headed toward the lottery machine. It was at that point that I saw that the man standing in front of the lottery machine talking on his cell phone had a filled-out lottery card in front of him. When he looked up hopefully as the woman approached the machine (still talking on his cell phone, though), I realized what I had done. There was no fixing it. Ms. To and Fro was already punching my ticket into the machine. But I said to the man, “I am so sorry. I think I inadvertently cut in front of you. I didn’t realize you were waiting for lottery.” He said “That’s OK,” and seemed unperturbed. As I took my ticket, I said again, “Again, I am sorry I did that.”

Could I have just pretended that I didn’t realize he was waiting for the lottery ticket and walked away saying nothing? Sure. Would I? I can’t imagine it. Not from virtue, just because it seems unimaginable to do that. (It could be the tiny Southern lady and gentleman that live inside my head and coach me when I stray from the polite straight and narrow. They were created by years of early parental indoctrination that saw me well into my twenties before I could call a supervisor by her first name without my throat closing up.)

I have to wonder in this age of increasing violence how much could be avoided if we would only say I screwed up . . . I’m so sorry . . . I never meant to cut you off . . . I didn’t see you signaling . . .instead of engaging in this kind of group defensiveness and self-righteousness.

So, if I have offended you, it was inadvertent, and I am so very sorry.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Getting the Bird

I experienced “wild Florida” today right in the midst of downtown Orlando. Orlando, the self-named ‘City Beautiful,’ is a city of lakes. Lakes are everywhere, as you find when you are learning your way around and you head down a street that ought to lead from Point A to Point B, but instead meanders around a lake. That can, of course, have its charms. One of those is that a city of lakes is also a city of water birds. Ahingas, blue herons, white herons, white ibis, cattle egrets and snowy egrets among others. The latter are quite urbanized, and it is not uncommon to drive down a residential street and see one on someone’s front lawn.

Today, however, I experienced one very up close and personal. I went to the grocery store near our home, which is on a major arterial. As I pushed the cart toward the car after shopping, I was quite surprised to see a snowy egret sitting in the middle of the hood right up near the windshield peering into the car. He seemed to be staring at my dog. (I had left the car running so my pup had AC, locking the car door with a second set of keys while I ran in to get something—it’s a Florida thing.) Much to my surprise, my dog was sitting perfectly still in the back seat staring back at the egret.

There were two women outside the pick-up truck parked next to me and I exclaimed, “Well, this is something I haven’t seen before.” One of them said, “No, we haven’t either. We’ve been taking pictures.” I expected him to fly off when I opened the trunk and put the groceries away, but he seemed unfazed. I thought to myself that surely he would fly away when I went to get in my car, but he just looked calmly back at me and did not move as I opened the door, said to the dog, “Some bird dog you are!”, climbed in and slammed the door.

So, there I was in my car with an egret on the hood. We stared at each other. I have no idea what he was thinking, but I was wondering what the heck to do next. Animal lover that I am, I was reluctant to move the car with him on it. I was afraid he might fall under the wheels or snap one of his stilt legs or something. But, we were at an impasse and eventually something had to give. I never once contemplated attempting to shoo him off the hood. If you have ever seen an egret or heron lunge for food with its spearing beak, you know that they are lightning fast and their beaks are wicked sharp.

“OK, I thought to myself. I’ll just back up a few inches and he’ll fly off.” So, I put the car in reverse, backed a few inches and then stepped a little hard on the brake to cause a slight lurch, just a little momentum ‘nudge’ to start him off. He lost his balance, swayed onto one leg, flapped his wings slightly to recover and settled back on the hood with both feet, giving me a rather indignant look.

Sighing, I decided I was being a little too ginger, and I began backing slowly out of the space, thinking that any second he would fly or jump off of the moving car. Wrong. I was all the way out of the parking space and the bird seemed to be getting his driving legs, doing a fine balancing act and swaying on the turns like a natural.

I stopped. I knew I could not just drive away with my new hood ornament. Once I picked up speed the wind would buffet him off. I was afraid he wouldn’t be able to get his wings open in time. It was becoming clear who had the upper hand in this situation—the one with no hands. I started forward. The bird remained unmoved. I angled the car across the aisle of the parking lot so that my hood was adjacent to an island with grass and a tree that jutted out from the first row right across from where I had been parked, and stopped the car.

I now had cars lined up behind me and was blocking three vehicles in their spaces. No one honked. Everyone seemed fascinated by the byplay between me and the bird. A man was loading his groceries into his truck (that I was angled alongside). I rolled down my window and said, “Umm, I’m not sure what to do. I seem to have picked up a hitchhiker.”

The man said, “I’ve got just the thing,” and turned and began to rummage in his front seat. I had a momentary twinge thinking this was Florida with its liberal gun laws, so when he came out with a digital camera, I was at first relieved. He began snapping pictures of the unperturbed bird, who was quite at home being photographed, even turning his head to give the guy a profile shot.

I began to be a little annoyed. Among other things, he was “my egret,” and I was going to be the only one who didn’t have a picture of him. And I didn’t see how the camera was “just the thing” to help the situation at all. I said to the guy, “Look, I don’t want to just drive off. I’m afraid he might fall under the wheels or break a leg.” The guy said, “OK, let me see what I have.” I was skeptical at this point, but he seemed to have ladders and other paraphernalia in the back of his vehicle that indicated he was a painter or contractor. He came up with a towel-sized rag or drop cloth and headed around the back of my car toward the passenger side, seeing by my angling of the car what I hoped to do with the bird. He never got close to the bird to flap the cloth or anything. The egret, which had been only inches from me when I climbed in the car, took one look at this man approaching and decided the jig was up. As neat as you please, he hop-sailed off the hood onto the grass.

I rolled down my window, thanked the gentleman, wished the bird a good day, and admonished him not to try to cross the arterial, and drove home, shaking my head and grateful my Florida wildlife encounter was with a bird and not a leopard spotted ray, a shark or an alligator.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Plutokrat Manner

I find the Representative Foley mess disturbing on so many levels. Of course, another weirdo from Florida. Surprise, surprise. What he did and was doing—appalling. The acts of thinking about and, worse, writing to minors in the ways that he did are totally disgusting. I hated it when his team kept saying he never had a sexual liasion with a minor. His acts were sexual. Those sexualized contacts are damaging. Then, there is the whole added layer of the imbalance of power. Member of Congress coming on to a Congressional page. Hmmmm, the last time something like this happened the politician was impeached and, in that case, the recipient of the attentions was not even a minor! Foley presenting himself for years as a defender of the young and abused? Well, the best response to that is the one that one of the young men made about a Foley approach: sick, sick, sick, sick.

As disturbing as this whole business is, though, it is a sadly typical tale of a pedophile. Often, they were abused themselves as children (not any sort of excuse in my book since there are millions of sexually abused children who do not become abusers). And, very often, they elect to work with children and families, the better to be closer to their victims. Shudder.

Where this story has diverged from other stories of pedophiles, is an attempt by conservatives to drag out once again that mythological supposed connection between homosexuality and pedophilia and/or child molestation. How convenient to make gay men, those ever-so-popular whipping boys, once again the boogeymen. The facts are these: adult sexual orientation has not much, if any, relationship to pedophilia. Most pedophiles who even have an adult sexual orientation are either heterosexual or bisexual (with no preference for male partners) according to one of the few studies that has any scientific rigor. Further, it is erroneous to assume that male on male acts of child molestation are perpetrated by homosexuals. Canadian researchers have also shown that homosexual men are no more likely to respond sexually to sexual images of young boys than heterosexual men are to sexual images of young girls. All of this information and more can be found on a UC Davis Web page titled “Facts About Homosexuality and Molestation.” I have placed the link in the sidebar and recommend it.

Everybody in this mess is kicking sand just as fast and furiously as the Whiskers clan in Meerkat Manor, if for different purpose. Instead of trying to unearth a juicy morsel, these Congressional ’kats are covering up, or attempting to cover up, everything in sight. Congressman Foley himself uses the celebrity Southwest Airlines Maneuver, “Wanna Get Away?” and heads, like other famous people caught doing no nos (recent examples being Mel Gibson and Congressman Patrick Kennedy), to the Rehab Ranch, a convenient way of diving out of public sight for a protracted period. Then, using the “he did it first” whine and the answer to the riddle “What is the only thing more disgusting to the public than a pedophile Congressman?” (Answer: A pedophile man of the cloth.) Foley’s attorney announces that from his self-imposed exile the Congressman has told him that he wants us to know that he was molested by a clergyman as a child. Sigh.

But there are a lot of other sand kickers working side by side with Mr. Foley. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has employed the old Sergeant Schultz defense: “I know nuttink, nuttink!” But, on the theory that multiple jabs are better than one (must be that wrestling background) Speaker Hastert also kicks some sand on the media, repeatedly making the point that they had the same emails Congress did and did less. Hmmmm, scratching of head. Isn’t it Congress’ sacred pre-rogative (thank you, Pogo) to police their own? Doesn’t Speaker Hastert usually condemn the media for spending a lot of ink on allegations Congress has not yet officially investigated? But this time, it is a failure of the media to do so that is bad? ’Tis a puzzlement. (Wonder how many pop culture references I can cram into this post?) Then there is the chorus of far-right conservatives trotting out the Congressional staffers homosexual cabal cover-up theory, and even (this is my personal favorite) attempting to link Foley’s behavior to the Democrats.

All of this would be extremely funny if it weren’t for the very sad reality that these people are scrambling to keep all of us from asking them, the people in control of both legislative houses and the executive branch, how they could have failed to protect our most precious possession, our nation’s children, from themselves.

Monday, October 02, 2006

PC Equals Poor Choice

Remember the old joke that made the rounds a while ago? It postulated what the world might be like if cars were made like PCs? Its humor was based on being so close to reality. You never have to reboot your car in the course of everyday operation. Your appliances don’t get viruses, etc. Lately, I have been thinking about this in terms of the Microsoft Operating Systems, their software and Internet Explorer. I am not finding the joke very funny when I am the punch line.

From what other product in our lives would we tolerate this level of non-service? When we buy a car, we drive it off the lot. We may take a quick peek at a manual later to browse certain cool features or to look something up, but we can depend on the car operating efficiently and instantly. When we buy a new TV or appliance, either it is a simple matter of plugging a couple of cords in or the company sends a technician to install it.

Besides my recent experience with my IP regarding the problems their very invasive software client had caused for me (I guess they call it Total Control for a reason, but I don’t want them to have “total control” of my computer or my life.), I wrestled this weekend with Microsoft Word’s Mail Merge function. This is the single most poorly designed functionality I have ever come across. Have a list of names and addresses in a Word document that you want to print out on a sheet of labels? Good luck. Now, this seems to me to be a common problem or task. Why does Microsoft make it so that I have to jump through database-esque hoops of source documents and data sources? After I spent two hours figuring out the instructions, it still did not work properly. At that point, I was too frustrated to troubleshoot the problem and just threw in the towel for the day.

The last keeper of the list I was trying to turn into labels was that dinosaur of modern word processing technology—a Word Perfect user. Guess what? It is incredibly easy to print a sheet of labels from a list of names and addresses in a Word Perfect document.

Let’s face it. Microsoft is a real world example of that old adage: Eat s**t, ten million flies can’t be wrong. When I was moaning about these recent technological headaches to a friend and saying, “Why can’t they make a computer that does what I need it to do instead of making me stand on my head and rub my stomach and whistle before I can do what I want to do? He said, “They do. It’s called a Mac.” And he would be right. No compatibility problems. No operating unreliability. No viruses.

I have used Macs and even owned one once, at least, I had an Apple. I guess I went down the PC path because that is what everyone in every workplace I have ever been (except those graphics arts guys) had. Thus, it was easier to use the same thing at home. Plus, many of my computers ended up being surplus buys from office start-ups going T.U. or from companies upgrading everything.

Habit is not always one’s friend. I wish I had not just bought this new computer. I am too much the product of depression-era children to toss it with so much “good” left in it. (a somewhat debatable point).
I will get my mailing labels done eventually. I have two months before the next newsletter to figure it out, after all. But why, why, why does it have to be something I have to figure out? In Seattle, techies often refer to taking a job at Microsoft as going over to the Dark Side. I think maybe I can see that from the consumer standpoint right now. BTW, the instructions from my IP’s offshore tech support guy do not seem to have completely eliminated my connection problem, although the interval before it is cut off seems to be longer. Why this should be so, I have no idea. He certainly did not give me any information from which to extrapolate or figure it out.

And, right now, I haven’t the heart to call anyone or go online anywhere for any more “help” on anything.