Saturday, March 20, 2010

E Friday, performing

In following the tradition of Clare we return again to E Friday, where I post photos of my darling granddaughter E, because VG really likes to look at these pics.

Back when they visited E put on a performance for us in our front courtyard. She was a wiz at playing guitar and singing.

Part of the performance involved a slow dance around the courtyard, planting rock seeds (pebbles) in different places as she danced.

And I think some closeup singing was involved too.

All in all, it was a good performance.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Rebuttal against healthcare reform

While writing that post on healthcare I was also thinking of what I was saying. I realize that there are some people in need of aid, but wonder how much a society is obligated to help it’s citizens. If health care is on the list, then shouldn’t food, clothing and housing be also? If you feed someone then there is less likelihood that they will need health care. If they have a place to live they will stay healthier than living on the street. If they have new clothes they will feel better. And in that place, of course they need furniture and beds and a nice wide screen TV to keep their mental health up. OK, a little ridiculous but who is it that says at what point this support stops or starts?

So, what defines a civilization? Is it the protection given; is it the aid given to those that are in need; common goals; what? I understand there is some obligation that everyone must have, but how is the extent of that chosen? I like the concept of universal health care, like Canada and other countries have, there is a good discussion on Wikipedia comparing the US and Canada. Rather than argue both sides myself I asked DA to come up with a rebuttal against healthcare reform. Here is her response:
Before I launch into my reasons against socialized healthcare, let me say I support it for children, immigrants, elders, single/divorced mothers with inadequate income, disabled and those who have gone through natural disasters (fire, flood, hurricane, tornado). Also for those who have no way to get insurance (if my husband loses his life insurance at State Farm, because he has been treated for melanoma no other firm will touch him unless he goes one of those term life policies most likely), and in such situations as now where we have mass lay-offs and no way to get employed with benefits ... This healthcare system already exists, it's call Medicare/Medicaid.

I also think the "pre-existing condition" loopholes that insurance agencies use is BS. It's like saying you're middle-aged or older, back in the dating scene and refuse to date anyone who's got kids or grandkids. As we get older, we have more past, more history, more experience, more baggage, more obligations, more family members, more health history. To be denied treatment due to "pre-existing" conditions is like saying a hairstylist won't dye your hair because you've had grey hair before or been dyed by someone else or cut/trimmed, or denied liposuction because you've been fat before. I've actually had an auto warranty for extended coverage deny my claim because "the part has to BREAK, it can't just WEAR OUT." Well, the car had 90,000 miles on it when I bought it. At that point, things are going to WEAR OUT -- which means BREAK. As we get older more and more things are going to WEAR OUT and BREAK and multiple times. At some point the "pre-existing condition" stipulation is retarded (and yes I meant that in a derogatory manner intentionally -- no offense to anyone with developmentally disabled family members, friends, patients, etc).

On the other set of claws, since the times of ancient Greece, people have figured out it's easier to sit back and let the government give you monthly rations instead of work to earn your keep. We already have government funded housing (metro housing, Section 8), food (WIC/EBT), monthly income (welfare), education (public schools - tho' paid for by taxpayers), mail delivery (stamps don't cover everything), police/fire/ems, retirement/disability (social security), etc. We even have the CSEA making sure the sperm donors pay for the kids women have whether they were being responsible and wanted them or "oops"'ed and the IRS who gives tax credits for each child so there are bigger annual refunds. We're already as close to Socialism as we can possibly get without crossing the line completely.

Sure the insurance companies suck, but they're for profit. Unfortunately we're stuck with the ones our employers give us (which if you think about it on the extreme ... this means you have your insurance chosen for you already -- socialized by your employer ... use who they give you with their restrictions or suffer), but if we continue to give handouts and provide for everyone who doesn't need it and is capable, everyone will sit back and let the government hand everything to us.

There is already proof of this in our education system. Reform the school systems all you want to, make the students take standardized tests to pass. Once they're 16, they can quit school and get their GEDs. Employers, the armed forces and colleges take GEDs alongside diplomas. Why try if you don't have to?? I'll admit it, when I was in high school I seriously considered dropping out just so I wouldn't have to put in the effort. My mom threatened to kill me so I stayed in school. But I've watched relatives on both sides of my family drop out, get their GEDs with little or no repercussions/negative effects.

So why aspire to go to college and have better things for our families when the middle of the road's adequate and someone's going to hand everything to us? Since the dawn of industrialism, people have lived generation after generation in slums and lower income parts of town with no desire for themselves or their children to do better. My father's family's been on the dole for generations, with Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, Welfare and Section 8 housing because all they want to do is run with the Iron Horseman MC club, have kids at age 14 and 16, quit school and party.

Upward Mobility, the desire to move from lower class to middle or upper class is no longer there because their lifestyles of being handed everything and provided for is good enough for them. They let someone else take care of them and I believe that situation is going to escalate if we go to socialized healthcare.

You can say "oh it works in other countries" but those countries have fewer people and more pride in themselves. They still want to work and are concerned with their image and reputation in the face of their peers. Not in the US. That went out the window. Back in the 70s and 80s we talked about overweight people behind closed doors and quietly said "she/he's 'heavy-set'." Now people my size (slender builds) are in the minority and are constantly accused of having eating disorders (I have the metabolism of a hummingbird on heroin, thanks). Men go around with their boxer shorts and Fruit of the Looms hanging out, women with their thongs "whale-tailing" for the world to see with no shame at all. Women with six kids by five different men ... that's not a disgrace anymore, either. In other countries, you don't see any of these shenanigans. They work hard and they appreciate what their country provides for them. Not here, we think we're OWED.

What makes you think we're not all just going to sit back and milk the government for everything we can get if they keep providing handouts because we think we DESERVE them??? You can't be forced to work and no one can force a hospital not to treat you. We're a country based on loopholes, technicalities, and how much we can get away with.

Now for me, I like choices and I think the government would become an HMO style (I always go PPO so I can change doctors if I'm not happy with the one I have even if my rates are higher) that would take away my choices and force me to go to the quacks and butchers who are not providing me with adequate care because they're getting kickbacks or reduced rates or something.

My husband's argument against it is simply because we've yet to see anything government run that's been managed effectively and I agree with him there as well. I ask the questions, will multicultural issues be handled as well or will they force their new brand of healthcare at you and make you go certain times, get certain vaccines, get blood transfusions and transplants if your religion is against it?? Are you sure they won't violate your freedom to not be seen kind of like a diamond warranty for your jewelry ... to keep your warranty you have to go every six months to get your diamond checked.

I've been "off-grid" for years (even tho' I've had coverage at different times) except to be treated for whiplash in 2005 and female trouble in 1999. My health's not perfect but I don't feel the need to go ALL THE TIME. If I went for every little sniffle, and was concerned about getting everything my family members have had, they'd put me in a bubble or label me paranoid.

We don't need completely socialized healthcare, we need common sense. Insurance companies like COBRA need to understand if you get their insurance after you're laid off or quit/get fired ... you don't have the income to pay their outlandish prices as if you were employed and paid less via BC/BS, Anthem, Aetna, whomever your company had. Insurance companies also need to quit the pre-existing condition stipulation BS because sooner or later we've all had something. Luckily we only get chicken pox once huh?

I say lower the price of healthcare (and stop the stupidity) so it is accessible to all who can get it and keep the Medicare/Medicaid for those on the dole or with extenuating circumstances aforementioned. Let us keep our options, keep our freedoms, and prevent more abuses to the government funded systems/handouts we're all growing more and more addicted to.

When she posted some comments on Facebook she liked this response:

I'll add my 2... . Canada has some trust that the people can self-govern in terms of taking treatments and medications. Perhaps another issue is the human right to refuse treatment--either self-imposed, or by another's choice. That's another issue entirely. Canada has several drugs OTC that are Rx here. Allegra and Robaxin/Ibuprofen come to mind. They also have more preventative and complementary care that the 17% of US doctors who are members of the American Medical Association say are "too radical, too ____" even though complementary care is providing more and more evidenced-based research each year. I guess I have a lot to say as a Health and Wellness Major--even though I have yet to formulate a comprehensive answer to the problem. It will take a lot of people working together to get our system away from a sick and injured care to a health and wellness care.

Friday, March 12, 2010

New layout

I used to use Haloscan comments here, picked them way back when I started writing this stuff (seven years ago now?) A few months ago an email came saying Haloscan was going out of business. I didn't pay much attention to that, but then a few weeks ago my comments dissappeared. Then a company called js-kit evidently took over, and my comments came back, along with a new way to enter them. js-kit also notified me that I would have to pay for their services. Blogger offered free comments, and being the cheap guy I am my choice was obvious.

Unfortunately I couldn't figure out how to change the comments and keep the same style (I know Suzy had some problems there), so it was easier to just click on the blogger template options and change, letting their system do all the work. So here we are. I was able to stick in the bubbles (I like those), but lost all the old comments. Sorry, especially since I used those to get back to some people's blogs. I'll try to figure out how to stick back in some of my old stuff. Especially the links - I used those to get to my regulars.

Cooking with Joe: eggs

And now for our next episode of Cooking with Joe: old fashioned Easter eggs.

Both sets of my grandparents immigrated to the US a long time ago. One side came from Poland, the other from Czechoslovakia. None of them ever learned English, and all passed away when I was pretty young. But they did pass on some traditions to their kids, and my mother likewise demonstrated some for us, and I get to move them on down the line to you. Most of the things I remember dealt with food, and my memories probably tie in with the fact that there are few gourmet Polish restaurants. There are a few things she made that were pretty good, like the creamed chicken or nut cakes, but this time of year I think more of the eggs.

We are coming up on Easter, and for some reason that holiday is associated with decorated eggs. All the grocery stores have big displays of candy and baskets and chocolate rabbits, but at one time the big push was for egg decorating kits, with different colored dyes and stickers and paper cutouts. Eggs seem to be a religious symbol for rebirth and new life, celebrating the arrival of Spring and the change from cold grey/white winter into colorful flowers and green growth. My mother used to decorate eggs for Easter, at one time she used to do the fancy decorations called Pysanky

These creations take a long time to make, but I guess back before television and computers people used to do lots of crafty things to fill the time. It’s been a while since I’ve seen anyone hand quilting or knitting clothes. But the process for making these eggs was not complicated, all it took was some wax (bee wax was preferred), a cork, a needle and some dyes. The wax was melted over a candle in a little metal tray; the lid from a bottle was common. A needle was pushed into a cork, making an easy to hold handle. The head of the needle would be dipped into the wax and a pattern drawn on the egg with the liquid wax. As the needle didn’t hold much, and the wax would quickly harden, it took a lot of dipping and drawing to make the pattern. This first pattern went over the white egg. The egg was then placed into a light colored dye (usually yellow), and the area under the wax would stay protected and white. A new pattern would then be put on the egg after it dried, on the yellow areas. The egg would be dyed again with a little darker dye, in this picture probably the red. The area covered by the second pattern would be protected and stay yellow. After the egg dried another pattern was drawn, and another dye used. This pattern would protect the red areas. This process would proceed through however many dyes were available, usually just the yellow, red and a black. Some of the eggs in the above photo also have some green, but I don’t remember that color being used. After all was done a warm cloth would be used to polish the egg, melting the wax off and leaving a shiny protective coat. As the dyes usually had to be dissolved in hot water the eggs were hard boiled by the end of the process. They would last a few days, and end up being cracked and eaten on Easter. I remember a lot of egg sandwhiches.

Ann mentioned the option of emptying the eggs first, so that they could become more permanent. My mother did do that at times - you take a sharp knife and make little holes in each end of the raw egg, and blow really hard in one hole to force the insides out. You can then make scrambled eggs with the output. Rinse out the empty egg shell with a little vinegar and water. The result is a nice shell that will keep for a long time without rotting and smelling. The empty egg shells are a little harder to dye, as they float and must be held under the dye water with a spoon or something as they color up. Thanks for the reminder Ann.

We had our kids do a somewhat easier version of this, using crayons to draw pictures on the eggs and then put them in succeeding Paas egg dyes - the brand was popular back east. The whole process of the needle and melted wax seemed too time consuming for me, for an item that was so transitory. An easier way of decorating eggs that didn’t use wax and multiple applications of dyes was also used. This involved onion skins and only one boiling. That’s what I’ll demonstrate here.

What you’ll need are some eggs, the outside skin from a lot of onions (and garlic if available), some cloth (cheese cloth was traditional, but I used some old cotton t-shirts), thread and some green leaves. We don’t use many onions around here, so I started collecting the colored dry layer of skins from the outside of the onions for several months, putting them in an open plastic bag as the onions were used. You just want the dry outer layer of the onions, what you would normally take off before using them anyway. Just peel off and save the dry layer, don't try to peel off and save too much as the wet layers don't have much color.

First you cut up the skins into little confetti pieces. It’s easiest to leave the skins in the bag and just keep snipping them with scissors for a while until there are no big pieces left. This is fun for kids (using blunt scissors).

You then put a layer of skins on a piece of cloth (about six inches or so square). Wet an egg and stick some leaves on; fancy patterned leaves work best like ferns or small celery leaves. The places where these leaves are stuck on will stay white, kind of how the wax kept areas white from the dyes. Then put the egg on top of the pile of onion skins and put more on top, surrounding the egg. Pull up the corners of the cloth so that you have a nice tight package and use the string to tie the top up. (sorry, didn’t take a photo of the little tied packages.)

Put these in a pot, fill with water, and put the pot on the stove to gently boil. I boiled mine for about fifteen minutes; you just want to make sure you end up with hard boiled eggs at the end, however long you usually do it for. You can also put some extra eggs into the pot to boil along with the packages; these will come out an even brown color. After fifteen minutes take the little packages out of the pot and put them in some cold water for a few minutes, until they are cool enough to handle. Then just snip the string to open the packages, wash off the onion skins and you’ll have some speckled eggs.

The boiling water will pull some brown colors out of the onion skins, and the different colored onion skin pieces will impart different shades onto the egg shell. If you stuck on some leaves those areas will stay white, and you will end up with some patterned hard boiled eggs. Yes, I know, not pretty pink and yellow and red and blue, but it is a project you can do with the kids that doesn’t take much money and you will end up with the makings of some egg salad sandwiches after all.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Three for spring

Thanks to Clare:
1. The smell of the sweet acacia blooming right outside our kitchen, after a few years here in Vegas that scent now signals spring.

2. Pink blossoms on the peach tree: no grand and glorious pink cloud this year, just a few scattered around with the out coming green leaves.

3. Looking at the weather forecast in the paper, and seeing the high temps going up by three degrees every day, from our cold yesterday up to 78f predicted for Monday. Warm! Yea! (our rosemary bushes are nice blue, filled with bees)

4. Planting the tomatoes and peppers, so that they will set and we’ll pick before it gets to 110f (43C+) (OK, 4)

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

No insurance? tough

Still watching the birds out in our yard, there seem to be more this year than in the past. I put seed in the feeder a few times a week and as a result our yard is filled with the chirps of the little finches. The robins are still around - seems to be two groups of four birds that hang about, and visit the fountain a few times a day. Don’t remember seeing any robins in previous years and we are wondering if they are wintering here from some colder place or will stay around for the warm summer. We have been commenting on the lack of pigeons scrabbling around under the feeder. Usually a half dozen pigeons show up to grab the falling seeds, but none have been around for a while.

Today the probable reason was revealed. We had just let Buster out to wander around (the birds have learned to ignore him, no threat there) and I filled up the bird feeder. A small group of finches had just zipped down, a half dozen on feeder perches attacking the seeds directly and about a dozen more underneath. I was at the sink and B, looking out the window called me over and asked if the big bird on the wire right outside was the sapsucker (a flicker I’ve been told) that frequents the yard. It wasn’t, but it was either a small hawk or falcon, sitting up there watching Buster down below. I didn’t think Buster was in any danger, even though the bird was bigger than him. Then I noticed that the yard was quiet and all the finches had disappeared from the feeder. The big bird flew off, and it took quite a while for the little birds to come back. We hadn’t seen a raptor like this around our neighborhood before, but either the pigeons noticed and flew away, or didn’t notice and became someone’s lunch. Yea!! (sorry, I don’t like pigeons)

On to a little story on politics, which I have been trying to avoid here by posting interesting pictures and videos and funny stories. It’s a story of some friends here in town. One of my wife’s cousins is married to a teacher. Well, retired teacher. He was part of the Clark County school district for a great many years, working his way up to assistant principal before retiring. Part of his benefits package is medical insurance coverage, which worked pretty well for them. But last year they went to take care of his mother in central Arizona. They found out that the medical insurance was only valid for Nevada doctors and medical providers, and thus they basically were not covered in Arizona. They had to drive a few hundred miles back to Vegas to see doctors, and if an emergency had happened they would not have been covered by the insurance. They are now back in Vegas, and she commented on a change to their coverage that she was just notified of: since they are now both in their mid 60’s they are eligible for Medicare, and the school insurance told them that they have to be covered under Medicare, and it listed as their primary insurance, with the school retirees insurance as supplemental coverage. I know that the state is trying to save money, but after thirty plus years with the school system this seemed a little too tight fisted. They now had to pay for Medicare (I know, not much, but still money out of pocket on a retired person’s lower income) but at least they would have Medicare coverage if they were stuck in Arizona again. The bad part, besides paying out more, is that because of low reimbursement rates a lot of doctors will not take Medicare patients, and they are subject to all of the Medicare pre approval restrictions.

Their daughter is also caught up with some problems. She has a degree in hospitality, and has been working for several larger hotels and casinos for the past fifteen years. A number of years ago the casino industry started to take the path that a lot of grocery chains have taken, which is giving a large number of employees only 38 or 39 hours a week of work. This means that these employees do not meet the 40 hour requirement to receive insurance coverage, accumulated vacation, holiday pay or other benefits that a 'full time' 40 hour a week employee receives, thus saving the employer a lot of overhead expenses. As a result she has not been to a doctor for regular checkups for quite some time. She was recently diagnosed with some type of large growth in her abdomen, which is up over six inches (15cm) in diameter. Not having health insurance she is having problems finding a doctor that can tell her exactly what is wrong; she cannot get some expensive test to check things out; and no hospital will permit potentially expensive surgery or an extended stay without insurance (not even a pay in advance plan, as the hospitals don't really know what it would take). There are laws that require emergency rooms to treat patients with medical problems, but since this has occurred over time it is not considered an 'emergency' so she cannot get treatment. She owns a condo, but with the economy and declining prices her mortgage is about equal to the potential sales price of the place. She pays all her bills, has worked steadily all her life, and has not called on welfare or any government program for anything.

So here we have some people that have been good citizens, working steadily and meeting their obligations. One couple went to care for a sick parent in another state, and was not covered by their health insurance plan, the other not able to get health insurance and now in need of medical care that she cannot get. Somehow the concept of your employer supplying medical coverage, if you even are employed, has disappeared for a large segment of the population. The school system has shifted insurance costs for retirees over to the federal taxpayer (well, paying taxes for schools made us cover them to begin with) if they are old enough to be eligible for Medicare. Some employers save overhead costs by reducing the number of full time employees. Next time you shop for groceries ask your checker if she (or he) is full time - I always talk to the ones here and usually find that only the store manager and two or three supervisors are considered full time. From news stories we all know that Walmart, the biggest retailer in the US, does the same thing; only classifying a few people per store as full time employees leaving the majority of employees ineligible for benefits.

I hear the arguments about the health care plan being pushed in congress right now, and wonder where people come up with their numbers and examples. I know 'universal' coverage would be expensive, and it is not even being considered. There is something in the current bill about requiring coverage, and putting a new tax on those without insurance. Would that mean that all of those minimum wage Walmart not-full-time employees would now have to pay out more for nothing? What about the retirees traveling out of state that aren't covered, such as our relatives? What about the 12% official unemployed here in Las Vegas (not talking about anyone particular here; considering that since my layoff in June I haven’t been able to find work) or those unemployed too long to be part of the official statistics with no employer to supposedly provide coverage? There is nothing in the bill to prevent a casino (or big retailer) with ten thousand workers from only classifying a few hundred as 'full-time' eligible for benefits, leaving the rest with no options. Perhaps it is time to consider having a real government run health care system.

One of the complaints about countries with health care systems is supposed long waiting times to get care. I know our cousin’s daughter would much rather be on a three month waiting list for surgery than waiting for whatever it is to kill her. Our son-in-law is from Canada; his parents would love to move down here and be close to their son and granddaughter, but will not mainly because of their health coverage at home. Our friend in Sweden is a cardiologist, part of the government health system there, and he does research funded as part of his job that no other country does, writing articles and speaking all over the world about his findings. I hear people saying the US system does not need to change, yet as a nation we spend more per capita on health care than any other country and still are rated down in the thirties as best medically, so don’t tell me we have the best system.

I don't have any answers, just more questions, and am pretty dissatisfied with the results of our government. Big insurance companies sure can afford to make large political donations which supposedly have no influence on our representatives (sure, yea, right), yet the average person gets a form letter from their congressman (if any response at all). I see all these letters to the editor and web postings complaining about potential costs yet no one else has a good suggestion either. Telling people to get a job and buy insurance? Our relatives have jobs and insurance which doesn’t work out of state. Or jobs and no ability to get insurance. Or no job and no insurance and no money to buy any. Somehow telling someone to buy insurance on their own is not valid if the cost of that insurance is so high they cannot afford rent or house payments (if available at all). Or how about the insurance company saying that you’ve reached the maximum lifetime limits of payout, and that surgery that your kid just had - yes - we only cover a little up to the limit, so the extra $250,000 is yours; sell your house to pay for it. The next life saving surgery? Yes, not us, it’s on you. Don’t have the money? Sell everything, cash in the retirement savings and go on welfare to get the government to pay . . . oh, wait, your husband has a job, sorry, he makes too much and already has health insurance for the kid . . . over limits? Sorry, rules say he’s covered. Between jobs and run over by a hit and run driver crossing the parking lot? Sorry, sell your house to pay for that one.

Our local hospitals are going broke from providing care to people without insurance. Several nationwide have closed emergency rooms to avoid those expenses, leaving everyone with reduced availability of care. I looked at the insurance statements from when we went to the doctor; a $120 charge for something reduced down to a $12 payment? I don’t see how our doctor can stay in business with reimbursements like that. And if I don’t have insurance that would be a $120 bill to me, or somebody that can’t afford insurance - how can you afford to be sick with costs like that? Congress is supposedly reducing the Medicare payments for service, which already is so low that many doctors refuse to take Medicare patients.

Whatever it is we are doing has stopped working, and something needs to be done. I know it would cost money, but as a nation we are already shelling out big bucks to provide coverage to the percentage that can get it. Yes, government can’t provide everything to everybody, since they don’t make money just take ours and redistribute it (with overhead). You go tell our cousin she is going to die slowly and painfully. Or that due to cutbacks your job has been eliminated, so your kid's next operation will leave you in such debt that you will never pay it all, if you can find a hospital to even let you in. I don’t know. Sorry, just here to complain again.