An American Sniper

I’ve been really lax about blogging lately – mainly because I didn’t find anything interesting enough to make me want to share my thoughts. Maybe it’s just the mid-winter blahs. To blog or not to blog may be the theme of a future post.

In any case, last night daughter-Megan and I saw American Sniper, and my inner blogger felt compelled to write something about the movie. Given all the hype about the movie – the biggest January box office ever, and the all the pro-war and anti-war commentary it generated – I thought I would be in for a treat. (Regardless of my generally pacifist sentiments, I’ve always enjoyed a good war movie. FuryHurt Locker and Inglorious Basterds are good examples of recent war movies that I found compelling and/or entertaining.) And even if the movie wasn’t all that great, it could feed my compulsion to argue its pro- or anti-war sentiments.

For me, the movie failed on all counts. First of all, it wasn’t a very good movie. I found nothing new in its treatment of a soldier who does his duty well and has difficulty returning to civilian life. Technically, it was good in re-creating Iraqi battles, but the scenes themselves didn’t get my blood pumping. In fact, I almost fell asleep during the last battle scene. The scenes from his home leaves are well done, but again there was nothing new that moved me.

As for the political stance of the movie, I didn’t see any. Other than the scenes where Kyle is watching the Nairobi Embassy bombing and later watching the Twin Towers fall on TV, there was no background of his motivation to join the Armed Forces other than being a failed rodeo cowboy. There is certainly no discussion of whether or not the Americans should have been in Iraq in the first place. And even though there is no depth to the Iraqi characters, they are not totally dehumanized either. It’s just a guy doing an ugly job exceptionally well without a whole lot of thought or introspection.

So in my five-star scale, this movie rates no better than two. In other words, wait till it comes out on Netflix, and don’t waste your money at the theater.

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White Trash Princess

Isn’t she precious?

nikki11

Well yes and no. She is a lover and a cuddler, and she’s very smart. You could call her a princess! But she’s also devious. She does things she knows she’s not supposed to do, but she does them anyway. So we put up various barriers to help her modify her bad behavior. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We watch her body language carefully and I built her a dog run, so she no longer pees on the floor. (At least she hasn’t had an “accident” for almost a week now.) She’s getting used to lots of walks, and hasn’t pooped on the floor for several weeks.

But one habit we haven’t been able to help her with is her love of garbage. She discovered she could open the under-sink cabinet door, knock over the garbage can, and PARTY!! So I put child-proof catches on the cabinet, but she figured out a way around that. There was enough room between the latched door and the cabinet for her to get her paw through, snag the edge of the garbage bag, and pull it out in shreds on to the floor. OK, we’ll drag a chair over to block the cabinet door. No problem, she thinks, and moves the chair and gets in the other side of the cabinet, knocks over the dishwasher detergent bottle, and drags out the garbage.

This is the result –

garbage0

So now I installed a couple of cabinet knobs and have rubber-banded the doors together. Let’s see how she gets around this one.

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Boxgiving Day Dinner

For our second annual Boxgiving Day celebration, we continued the theme of anything-but-turkey cuisine from around the world. Last year was Mexican. This year, in honour of the months spent in India in 2012, we chose Indian food (gastrointestinal distress not included).

I hadn’t delved into cooking Indian food in the years since we returned to the USA – maybe the memories were still too fresh. But now, almost three years later, I was brave enough to risk a PTSD episode. Somewhat surprisingly, it all turned out quite well, and I got to use a bunch of the weird spices that had been lurking in the back of the spice cupboard for who knows how long.

Chicken curry –

curry

Saag paneer –

saag

 

Naan

naanRice and dhal -dhalIt was all quite a lot of work, but well worth it. For me the strange part was having to follow the recipes closely. My style of cooking usually entails a little of this and a little of that, but since making this food is way out of my comfort zone, I figured I’d better pay attention.

Thanks to Paige, Trevor, Hunter, the two Megans, and Hal for letting me experiment with their taste buds.

 

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This is way too complicated

Since it’s almost time to renew my health insurance plan, I spent some time on wahealthplanfinder.org today. I wanted to see how much the rates went up, and what plans are available. It’s a daunting task, and not just because the website still really sucks. More on that later. First of all, I have SIXTY-FIVE plans to choose from! Who was that said Americans want choice and control over their health care options. Bullshit, I say. So many plans to choose from is bewildering, if not paralyzing. For 2015 plans range in cost from $164.80 to $1077.80/month. (That assumes I get the same subsidy I received for 2014.) Out-of-pocket expenses (not including premiums) range from $5000 to a high of $13,000. I could probably find a lower cost plan, but I’d have to be really careful when shopping. The plans all have different co-pays, deductibles, and maximum out-of-pocket expenses. And not only that, but all of the plans have their own networks of doctors and hospitals. Not all plans accept all healthcare providers. Like I said, bewildering.

The problem I have right now is that I may require surgery for my tarsal tunnel syndrome. It is an in-hospital, out-patient procedure. I asked the podiatrist how much the surgery would cost. He didn’t know, but guessed $25-30k in total. His portion of that would be $1750. He gave me the procedure code and the number to call at Swedish to get their costs. Their charges are approximately $24,000, so the doc’s guess was right on. So in renewing my insurance, I’d want to minimize my out-of-pocket and monthly premium expenses. I started poking around and could find cheaper insurance, but then had to do more poking around to make sure the new plan would cover my current doctors. All that poking around was getting painful, so I figured I’d probably do nothing and stick with the plan I have. Things would just auto-renew, I’d get a new bill, and that would be that. Right?

Wrong! I called the Washington Health Plan today to get my home address changed because their still-sucky website wouldn’t allow me to do it on line. After going through all the phone menus and the requisite perma-hold time, they told me that my address was correct, even though it displayed incorrectly on my home page. OK, nothing more to be done. Not so fast, she said. You have to complete the application. What application, I said. Apparently when I tried to change my address, the website thought I was applying for a new plan. So I went through it all with the person on the line and finally got it all done. That’s when I asked her about auto-renewal. She said there was no such thing, and that I’d have to apply all over again for 2015.

It shouldn’t be this way. I shouldn’t have to choose from 65 plans to meet my needs. I shouldn’t have to spend hours on line and on the phone to make it all happen. The average person without healthcare doesn’t have the time or the energy to go through this process year after year. I shouldn’t have to base my plan choice on my current medical needs and current financial condition, and do it year after year. I just want health insurance at a reasonable cost and minimum hassle.

I think the Washington Health Plan is going to lose a lot of their clients when it comes time to renew. I think a lot of people are going to throw up their hands (after they finish throwing up) and say, “Screw it, I’ll take my chances.”

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First Snow at the CITW

first snow2And no, the tree in the yard is not on fire. That’s the reflection of a very cozy fire in the window.

I hope we get lots of snow this winter (Buffalo could send some our way). The winters around here are hard to predict. There’s usually quite a lot of snow, but snow conditions often aren’t that dependable. Snow can be late in coming or unseasonably warm weather and rain can wreck the snow that does fall. I was only out on the snowmobiles twice last winter. And as for downhill skiing, I didn’t get out at all last year. I think the folks running the Stevens Pass ski area a half hour from here spend a lot of time pulling their hair out. They had a late start last year, and then got a bunch of snow when the season was almost over.

I came up to the cabin a couple of days ago to take care of a few things. #1 on the agenda was to brew another batch of beer for the holidays. I chose to do a farmhouse ale, a style of beer I’ve never done before. The other night I dropped by the Urban Family brewery just down the street from us in Magnolia. They’ve just opened a tasting room, and I wanted to see what they had. I chose their Citron Noir, and was blown away by it. So I got the brewmaster’s email address and asked him for the recipe. He was kind enough to reply with enough information for me to give it a try. It’s a dark beer, not very hoppy but with some citrus notes, and a bit of the sour flavor characteristic of Belgian Saison beers. The brew day went reasonably well, and now the beer is happily bubbling away in the Fermenator.

Another thing I wanted to do was to change the water in the hot tub. The tub gets used a lot more in the winter than any other time of year, so I tend to start the season off with a clean tub and fresh water. There’s nothing better than relaxing in the hot tub with a glass of the adult beverage of your choice after a hard day of playing in the snow .

But wait, my chores aren’t over yet. Megan is on her way here today to do some master bedroom renovations. It seems everyone but me hates the wallpaper trim. So this weekend it’s coming off and some paint will be put in its place.IMAG080loons4It’s not THAT ugly, is it?

 

 

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One piece of good news in a Democratic rout

Democrats had their asses kicked all across America last week. They lost the Senate, lost seats in the House, lost several governships and several state legislatures. In my mind, they deserved it. They ran a campaign without passion or conviction. But I won’t dwell on why they lost, but instead on at least one area where common sense won – gun control.

Here in Washington State, ballot measure 594, a basic background check gun control measure, won 59-41 in spite of the money the NRA and other groups spent. In Colorado, pro gun control Governor Hickenlooper,  won re-election as did two state senators who had been recalled for their votes on Colorado’s gun control law last year. In Connecticut, Governor Dan Malloy, who pushed through tighter gun regulation after the Sandy Hook shooting, won re-election in spite of the strong opposition of the gun lobby.

The Democrats lost last Tuesday, but so did the NRA.

As an expatriate Canadian (and gun owner), I’ve always been amazed at the American attitude towards guns. The common refrain is that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Well, let’s see about that.

Here are some statistics (per 100,000 population):

USA murders –                        4.7

Canada murders –                   1.6

USA firearm murders –           3.6

Canada firearm murders –      .51

USA non-firearm murders –       1.1

Canada non-firearm murders – 1.1

I think most of us can agree that the USA and Canada are similar societies. We’re at least first cousins in the world family. What makes the difference in the murder rates? It’s the availability of guns.

Take away the guns, and the murder rates are identical!

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Ankle Update

Yesterday I went and had an MRI of my ankle. I have had x-rays and CT scans for various ailments over the years, but until yesterday I was an MRI virgin. It was an odd experience, lying motionless for over a half hour while things whirled and clanked and clunked around the giant donut hole that half my body had been sucked into. To mask all the noise, they gave me headphones and asked for my music preference. I said “classic rock” and ended up with a half hour of Steve Miller Band. The only real complaint I had was that they could have had music that was in time with the clanking of the machine. I can see how some people can get claustrophobic having a MRI. I’m glad my head wasn’t in the machine, and I’m glad I’m not fatter than I am.

But before I had the fun of an MRI, I had to do battle with the medical-industrial establishment. Before they let you near one of these monster magnets, they ask a whole lot of questions about metal in your body. My replacement knee presented no problem, but I told them I had wires in my face from a car wreck back in ’87. The dollar signs popped up and they insisted I get a CT scan to locate those wires. I said I had dental x-rays, that showed exactly where they are, but that wasn’t good enough. Only several hundred dollars spent on a CT scan would protect me from having these wires sucked into my brain. I have high-deductible insurance, and I didn’t want to waste $600 or whatever on an unecessary procedure. What could they tell from a CT scan that an x-ray wouldn’t tell them? Finally my podiatrist intervened on my side, and they agreed to do a simple x-ray of my skull. Here is the result:

P1050705Those bright white things are the caps on my front teeth. The squiggly things up by my eye sockets are the wires that the surgeons put in all those years ago to hold my skull together. Pretty cool, eh!

And here’s one of the hundreds of views of my ankle they took:

P1050706I don’t know what I’m looking at, but the wonders of modern technology never cease to amaze me.

So next week, it’s back to the podiatrist to see what’s next. I’ll keep you posted.

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