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.)

Getting Shaggy!

Just goofing around a bit the other day; My hair’s been getting pretty long and I was curious how it looked. I took advantage of the time-lapse repeat picture of my phone. After WAY more futzing around than is justified by the result, here is what I ended up with.

Yep, this is how I spend my time.

A Tip for Would-Be Fashion Designers

Putting your own name on otherwise ordinary clothing is not design. Yes, Tommy Hilfiger, I’m talking to you, and a host of other narcissistic fashion hacks who wish they were you.

Some Presidential Musings

Despite my apathy over whether Obama or McCain became the next American President, I do have a few thoughts. Or maybe just one thought with a few facets. I feel kind of bad for John McCain.

To appreciate the raw deal he was dealt by his own party, you need to go back more than eight years to the primaries in 2000, when the Republicans chose their man to run against Al Gore. McCain was enjoying good numbers and the Republicans were faced with a choice between a very electable McCain or a more “conservative” (in the modern, not-at-all-conservative sense of the word) Bush. Then the classic Karl Rovian dirty politics began, and McCain never recovered. From the very start Bush demonstrated the complete lack of ethics that marks everything he does.

The 2000 presidential election was very close (so close, in fact, that there should have been a runoff, but that’s another story), but it is likely that McCain would have fared better — and required fewer dirty tricks. Imagine the last eight years with McCain instead of Dubya!

Well, it was Dubya we got and government without etihcs and McCain plugging away in the senate, while his party became steadily less popular. Not even a historic national crisis (the easiest time to be president) was enough to buoy Dubya’s ratings for long. 2008 arrived, and found the Republicans casting about for the best way to salvage a bad situation.

They faced several problems. The president is so universally reviled that anyone who had worked with him was sure to pick up his stink. McCain had in the past stood up to the administration — but not lately. Still, he was less tainted than just about anyone else. Also, the religious conservatives, a key constituency for Republicans, were getting fed up with an administration that turned their backs on their core issues as soon as the votes were counted. The religious right was getting fed up with empty promises.

Finally, I suspect that there were many high up in the Republican party who saw the writing on the wall a long time ago. They were going to lose unless the Democrats blundered badly. (Hillary Clinton tried to help out, but even she wasn’t enough.) For these denizens of the smoke-filled rooms in Washington, the question became how to lose in the most productive manner. The formula was pretty easy in retrospect: throw McCain under the bus.

Facing not just a decisive loss but downright humiliation, the power brokers were not going to waste the career of a rising star, a potential candidate four or eight years down the road. This campaign was going to mark the end of a political career. So they let the old guy run. He wasn’t going to be a viable candidate next time around in any case. Then they saddled him with Sara Palin. Ordinarily that would be a shock, but it sure made the religious right happy (so I’m led to understand). When one of your core constituencies is tired of empty gestures, give them… a bigger, grander empty gesture than ever before! They were going to lose anyway, so the huge political liability she represented was irrelevant.

Once McCain and Palin lost big, even the idea of ‘maverickness’ would be undermined, which probably appealed to the entrenched power brokers as well.

McCain went out, campaigned, and in the very limited view I had of the campaign, on occasion looked like he would make a pretty good president. The powers that be couldn’t let him stray too far from the old party line, couldn’t let him be a real maverick (his main job was damage control, after all), so what we got was a watered-down version of the McCain that ran last time.

And now John McCain will fade into the twilight. There will be a book or two, appearances on Sunday-morning talk shows and so forth, but his days as a contender are over. He has a lot to thank his party for; he’s had a long and productive career at the highest level of politics. I have to wonder, though, if he harbors a little bitterness as well. Maybe now he can be a maverick.

Tell me of this… Bollywood.

It is clear to me now, in the middle years of my life, that I’ve been missing something. I’m not a big fan of musicals — no, let me just say I simply don’t like them, even when they’re disguised as popular entertainment — but there is this giant film factory out there, producing an amazing amount of work on a very low budget, and some of it is quite possibly good. Statistically, by now they must have produced a few I’d enjoy.

So how do I get to know Bollywood? Anyone know?

Election Day

So today America is electing a new president. This election is the source of a great deal of passion, as love it or loathe it, the previous eight years have left people with strong opinions about what is wrong or right with our country. Oddly, I just can’t get worked up over this one. Perhaps it’s just my deep-felt belief that anyone would be better than the current cabal. Perhaps it’s my belief that getting elected is a pretty good indication that you shouldn’t be president.

I just hope that whoever wins displays at least a shred of respect for law. The current gang of thieves has proven time and again that they regard law as an inconvenience to be circimvented when it stands between them and what they want. As far as I can tell what they want is to move money from my pockets into their own. Consider: American foreign policy almost makes sense if “higher oil prices” is considered a favorable outcome. And it is a favorable outcome to a small group of men who happen to be friends of the president.

At home, abroad, at war, at peace, from the top of the government right down, the question is no longer “is this legal?” but “how can we spin this as legal long enough it won’t matter anymore?” Whoever is next, even if they’re incompetent, I will temper my criticism if they simply display a bit of an ethical backbone when the going gets tough. Other than that qualification, go ahead and stick anyone in the oval office you want.

November 1st, 2008

I wrote a lot of words today. It’s November, after all, and that’s the point. I’m not going to put it all up here, just the first chapter. I’m tempted to put Chapter 2 up as well; it’s quite a bit racier and reintroduces us to Bixby, a nice guy, good with an ax, happy to let others do the thinking. I should probably read this over before posting. Maybe tomorrow. If you’re actually interested in the next chapter, let me know.

This excerpt represents less that 20% of my writing for the day. Wow!

The Quest for the Important Thing to Defeat the Evil Guy

Part 1: The Gathering of the Good Guys

Chapter 1

The lone rider clattered up the road to the castle, his black horse’s iron-shod hooves striking sparks in the darkness. A watchman above sounded a horn at his approach, the long note echoing through the rocky valley, until it was defeated by a peal of thunder. When the horn sounded, dark, misshapen forms rushed to the capstans, driven by snap of their masters’ thirsty whips. The creatures began to chant in hollow, tongueless voices as they leaned into their task. With a groan and a rumble the black iron portcullis lifted, and the rider passed through without pausing. More whips bit flesh and the portcullis lowered once more.

The dark rider pulled up at the massive oaken door of the main keep, his horse quivering from exhaustion, coated with sweat, foam coming from the mighty steed’s mouth, the fiery glow of his fearsome eyes diminished. It had been a long ride.

The rider dismounted. Servants swarmed around horse and rider, bowing and scraping as they took the reins of the devil-horse and opened the door for the rider. From his saddlebags the dark rider produced a bundle. Cradling it carefully, shielding the precious object from the rain, he strode into the castle.

“The master awaits,” a slightly taller, slightly less missapen servant said in a voice that bubbled with fluid. “He is in his laboratory.” The servant made no attempt to escort the dark rider; it would only slow him down, and slowing a dark rider down was a good way to die unpleasantly. The dark rider nodded and began the climb to the top of the improbably tall tower in the center of the castle.

The master was seated at his reading table. He looked up when the dark rider entered. “You have the book,” he said in a rich baritone voice.

“Yessss, Masssster,” the dark rider said, his voice the whisper of a winter wind passing through the bare branches of a graveyard tree.

“Bring it to me.” the Master closed the book he had been reading and made space for the latest addition to his library. The dark rider crossed the room in three strides, then carefully unwrapped the book. With a bow he offered the book. The Master lifted the tome off outstreatched hands. “It’s beautiful.” He ran his fingers over the gilt lettering on the cover. The book was bound in soft leather – human skin, the master was willing to bet – reinforced with brass at the corners. It was difficult to believe, looking at it, that it was one of the oldest objects in the world, old when the mountains themselves were young. Almost nothing remained of the ancient civilization that had created the book, mighty as they were, time proved mightier yet. The book smelled of time, it radiated age. The master wasn’t sure it the book was vibrating gently or if that was just his nervous fingers. The room brightened and a bare instant later a crack of thunder shook the tower. Neither dark rider nor master seemed to notice.

“You have done well,” The Master said.

“Thank you, massster.” the dark rider whispered.

“Any word of Trabant?”

“No, Massster. Not that I have heard.”

“He’s up to something, I’m sure of it. Go, then, and help your brothers.” The dark rider bowed and backed out of the room.

Alone, the master centered the great volume on his reading table. A simple incantation released the catch, and he opened the volume. The paper crinkled and a musty smell greeted his nose, but there on his desk were pages that no man had seen for thousands of years.

The master frowned. The page appeared to be gibberish. He had studied all the fragments of the language of the ancients that he could get his hands on, but this text was different. Code, The Master thought. The power that this book revealed would be carefully protected. Code, or simple misdirection? With a wave of his hand he extinguished all the candles in the room, plunging himself into darkness.

Now the master smiled. Floating in the air in front of him, blood-red squiggles twisted and danced, forming themselves into words. Lightning lit the chamber and was just as quickly gone, and as the thunder rettled the shelves the master read the opening dedication:

Qua’alox Linnor!

Qua’alox Linnor!

Narding u’hjit,

Nerding b’hoom,

Nording g’hnkl!

Important Thing!

Important Thing!

Above space,

Beyond time,

Mightier than the pantheon!

“Cower in fear, all who read these words, stand in awe of the Important Thing, who’s true nature can only be revealed to the few capable of weilding such tremendous power. Within these pages lie great power and great responsibility.

Chapter 1: What is the Important Thing?”

The master rubbed his hands together in anticipation. At last! He held the key to the important thing, whatever it was. Soon the world would bow before him!

The next words written in the air were like a punch to the gut:

“FREE SAMPLE ONLY. ENTER PASSWORD TO CONTINUE. PASSWORDS MAY BE PURCHASED FROM S’RNGRVE & S’RNGRVE, YOUR ONLY SOURCE FOR THE FINEST TOMES OF UNTOLD POWER.”