NaNoWriMo 2008: Victory!

This morning That Girl and I, though nine time zones apart, both hit the “submit” button at the NaNoWriMo Web site at the same time, and so officially became winners together. Woo hoo!

Universal Health Care

Universal Health Care is a very good thing, an idea rooted in fairness and basic human rights, the idea that people should have access to decent medical care no matter their income or social standing. It’s a fundamental measure of a society, how it takes care of its people. Universal health care in the United States would transform society and possibly generate a large fiscal payback in a short time, as people with small problems see a doctor before they become big problems. I’d like to see that.

I also think it’s impossible. The wealthiest nation on earth is also the one least prepared to have the government play a role in health care. It comes down to a fairly simple chain of reasoning.

  1. Health care in the United States is far more expensive than anywhere else. Remenber HMO’s? That was an attempt to reduce the overall cost of care, but in the end doctors and patients alike joined in the hate of them.
  2. As much as insurance companies suck, they are the ONLY force in the United States with an interest in keeping health care costs down. They are regularly castigated and challenged for saying ‘no’. Lawsuits abound. The general public pushes constantly to limit the power of the insurance companies to say no, even to radical treatments that cost an arm and a leg and have little chance of success. Thus we have the most expensive health care in the world. It is also the best, precicely because there’s not cost/benefit analysis.
  3. So if insurance companies are the only force keeping health care costs down, just imagine if the US government were in the insurance business. Even if they could hold the line on costs, there’d be a thousand lawsuits against the government active at any given moment. People who were told ‘no’ for an expensive treatment with little chance of success — but wait! That was the government saying no! Goddammit, no one in Washington is going to tell me I can’t have that buttock transplant!

Alternately, the government can require private insurance companies to insure everyone who asks for it. Still, Uncle Sam will have to pitch in for people who can’t afford a reasonable premium (I am one of those people). Once again it comes down to saying ‘no’, and insurance companies will pass the bill along rather than rack up legal costs.

Another reason universal health care works where I am now: doctors don’t drive fancy cars. They make an honest living and do all right, and they don’t (yet) get kickbacks from the pharmaceutical and medical technology corporations.

Just to be clear: I WANT every US citizen to have access to health care, me included. But it’s not going to happen until the core problem is addressed: health care in the United States costs far too much already. Someone has to learn to say no and mean it before care can be extended to everyone. Alas, the United States government really sucks at no.

mausoleum

Many of us, if not most, want to be remembered long after our mortal flesh has returned to the Earth. It is common for people with the means to erect monuments to themselves, great works of stone that potentially can stand for thousands of years. One king of Caria in the 4th century B.C. hit the jackpot in this regard. Not only is King Mausōlos rememberd for his own tomb, now everyone else’s tombs are named after him as well!

Dream Writing

I slept poorly last night, and elected to keep trying to get a few quality z’s long after the sun was up. I was not entirely successful, but I did spend time drifting through a half-sleeping state. There are dreams of a sort to be found at this level of consciousness, different (I think) from deep-sleep dreams, more tied to possibility and the world we know, stories we whisper to ourselves while we snooze.

This morning more than once I awoke from these mental muddled ramblings feeling annoyed. There had been a continuity problem with the dream, and I had wanted to go back and re-dream the previous part to fix it. I wanted to edit the first draft of my dream. Naturally I couldn’t do that, and the frustration brought me back to full wakefulness. I know that with a little work it could have been a much more compelling dream.

The World’s Worst Writing

I’m not a big fan of television serials, as a general rule. There was a period of several years in which I never watched a single minute of sitcom. Not counting animated shows, anyway. Over the last few years the cartoons have been able to go where no live show dares. Which isn’t saying much.

As I write this I’m sitting in Pizzeria Roma, an old haunt of mine (the black hole by the oven is still working). They have a plasma TV now, showing network programming without sound. A crime drama just concluded, and it confirmed what I have come to suspect for a long time: There’s a lot of crap coming out of Los Angeles and New York, but the worst television in the world is made in Germany.

Maybe I should qualify the title a bit. This is about the world’s worst writing that people actually get paid for (regularly!). There’s plenty of truly awful writing published on the Web and in vanity press.

The Czechs have Ulice (rhymes with “street”), and old-school low-budget urban soap opera, and they have “Kriminalka: Anděl” (rhymes with “CSI: Prague neighborhood” – Anděl means angel which adds a nice nuance to the title). I am told that this show is actually pretty good if you’re into the whole CSI thing. It might just be national pride, but the locals tell me that the show makes up for a smaller budget with writing and acting. I know the one time I watched it without sound, I found it far less silly than the American franchise that inspired it.

Then there are the German shows. After a while they’re easy to spot. And when it comes to bad, they have taken sucking to a whole new level that American television can only dream of. I know that’s hard to believe, given the state of American TV, but the writing in the German shows is so bad it is a shining beacon of suck even with the sound turned off. (Worth noting here is that I’ve never seen a Chinese television serial. They might be worse.)

The other night I was laughing out loud at the action in a German detective drama featuring a dog. (There is another that features a helicopter, and so forth. In every case the show is constructed so we can say “yay dog!” or “yay helicopter!”) One of the many Toma

Winter comes to Prague

This morning I was chatting with That Girl (funny how ‘chat’ has been completely redefined in the age of the internet). We were talking about being together, which we are not right now, and we got to discussing the unique together-vibe that every room carries when we are together. Some rooms you can probably predict the nature of the vibe, while others are uniquely us. (Even the predictable places have our own resonances, of course, our own history and traditions layerd on top. It was fun to think about those things, and play with the unique vocabulary we have developed, shortcuts to memories. But this episode isn’t about rooms, it’s about seasons.

I’m sitting right now at Little Café Near Home, and behind me, outside the window, cars are hissing past on the wet pavement. It has been raining, one of those rains that chills you from the center out, makes you dream of tropical places or warm fires. It is the perfect weather to film a cough drop commercial, except that the crew would be miserable.

Then, a few minutes ago the pitter-pat of the rain disappeared and I looked out and it was snowing. Still cold, still wet, but snowing. And somehow that made it all better. Not just better, but good. We have moved from the cold, dry nights of autumn, with leaves skittering in the vagrant wind, down the hallway of uncertain weather to arrive at winter.

One of Prague’s graces is that she wears all the seasons so well, with unreserved intensity. I love the old girl at times like this, when she puts on her new outfit and spins for inspection. She’s donned her winter apparrel a thousand times before, but every time she does, it’s new. (I suspect that there are very few locals who would agree with me on that one.)

The rain turns to snow, dusk arrives at midafternoon. Indoor time. Cuddling weather, time for camping under a toasty tent for two. Prague would be perfect, but she lacks two things: a fireplace (this remains the greatest mystery of czech culture to me — cold weather, buildings that don’t burn, and no fireplaces) and That Girl. Next winter I will be in a place that includes That Girl, and ideally a fireplace here and there as well.

NaNoWriMo Update

Halfway through the month of November, it’s time to take a look at what my fumbling fingers have managed to wreak so far. There’s been some good, there’s been some bad, and there’s been a lot of ugly.

I’ve made it through Part One of the story, “The Gathering of the Good Guys”, and I’m embarking on part two, “The Big Trip.” At this pace I’ll esaily eclipse the required word count, but the story is a long way from done.

I’ve got all the characters in (except the carp), but a lot less silliness than I was shooting for. I know what I would do to go back and put the silliness in – Trabant the Immutable can certainly be a lot dottier, John the Smith can be more of an ass, and in general the people who are not immediately involved in the conversation can add a lot of silliness.

The story has developed into a romance, actually; I decided it would be stupid to drag out the tension between Bixby and Lada when it’s totally and completely obvious they will end up together. So what the hell, I decided not to create some sort of artificial “I hate you so much I love you” stupidity. They like each other. A lot. There are other people who might make that more complicated, but they won’t stop liking each other. I respect you, the reader, too much for that other nonsense.

So I have a Sexy Elf maiden wearing a hot little number that, when we visit Elfaville, turns out to be what the men wear. The males are not terribly masculine; when Chavdar the horny hafling first sees the elf men, his comments prompt Lada to say, “Chavdar, there are two things you should know. One, elves have very good hearing. Two, those are males.”

Chavdar himself is quite a bit of work, skilled with cutlery, seemingly amoral, but sometimes surprises everyone — himself included. We had a nice trip through the Valley of the Great Kings who Mysteriously Disappeared, where some of the statuary looked remarkably like John the Smith. While there, I threw in a random artifact (“plot token,” in the parlance of the trade) that I have no idea what I’ll do with. Maybe nothing. Ha!

Princess Skoda is a lot more than the annoying brat I had planned initially, she’s definitely got conniving on her resumé as well; her agenda may include a few bullet points she has chosen not to share with the rest of the group. One thing for sure, when things go badly, she wants Bixby at her side, and she’s willing to do what it takes to make sure that happens.

After the traditional Bestowal of Gifts By The Powers That Be (In this case Bixby’s new Mother-in-Law, so there’s infant’s clothing and an amulet with warnings about contacting a doctor after four hours — she is more than a little anxious to be a grandmother), the team is heading off for the DwarfHole. I have enough misadventures planned for that place that I will likely forego the required Bad Guy Obstacles to get them there more quickly. Luckily in this sort of story the Brushes With Death along the way rarely mean anything in terms of the plot.

Here’s one longer passage that pretty much tells the entire story (in chapter two), then a couple of other lines I enjoy. I thought I would find more lines to include, but they way the funny bits build doesn’t leave many lines that stand alone.

  • “There is another wizard, a twisted and evil man. No one knows his name, he goes simply by ‘The Master’. He lives far from here, to the west, beyond the great river of Zug, past the Bumpy Hills of Kromdor and the Grassy Plain of Plax, beyond even the Treacherous Mountains of Hagarslax, across (or around) the great inland sea of Hydrox, and then through the vast Squishy Swamp, with its leeches the size of alligators, and alligators the size of leeches. Over the last years he has had his twisted, evil minions scouring the Earth in search of the Important Thing. He must not succeed.”
    “The what?”
    “The Important Thing.”
    “What is it?”
    “Um…” Trabant the Immutable shifted in his seat. “No one is certain.”
  • “It is bad luck, they say, for the husband to lie with his wife for the first time before he cleans all the mud off her.” (I just realized I forgot to mention that Bixby missed a spot!)
  • “So… why aren’t we going the other way?” asked Bixby. (Certain death in the form of Dark Riders awaits them across the river they are about to ford.)
  • “Listen everyone. This is a dangerous place. Don’t ever, for any reason, leave the path.” (I don’t thik I have to tell you what happens.)