it’s the answer to the neverending story

God damn it. God damn it. I almost made it the entire week without saying anything about the health care reboot bill. And then:

Obama signs order on abortion in health care bill (AP):

With little fanfare, President Barack Obama signed an executive order Wednesday designed to ensure that no federal money can be used for elective abortions under the nation’s new health care legislation.

The order had been demanded by a key bloc of anti-abortion Ruling Party members as the price for their support for the health overhaul legislation that narrowly passed the House Sunday night.

Since then it’s been criticized by anti-abortion groups who say it has no actual impact other than restating restrictions on abortion funding already in the law. Rep. Bart Stupak, leader of the anti-abortion Ruling Party caucus, insists that’s not the case, but lawmakers supporting abortion rights did not object to the order because they said it made no difference.

Pro-choicers made quite a few complaints about the explicit denial of federal funds for abortions in this new health coverage bill. The Ruling Party acknowledged these issues but said hey, it’s cool, let’s just pass this shoddy bill full of pro-insurance-company graft first, and then we’ll fix it. And while this makes sense – Roe v. Wade became settled case law nearly forty years ago, and a woman’s legal ownership of her own body has only become stronger since then – it still sounds just a little dismissive when you put it that way.*

I know, I know. We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Women just need to wait their turn. After all, the important thing is that the Ruling Party passed a healthcare reboot that helps pay for itself by taxing high-income earners. Right?

Meanwhile, debate was under way in the Senate on a companion bill to the landmark law, with Opposition senators forcing the Ruling Party to run a gantlet of politically dicey votes on a long list of amendments. Major components of the “fix-it” legislation include scaling back a tax on high-cost insurance plans opposed by labor unions, eliminating a special Medicaid deal for Nebraska, closing the coverage gap in the Medicare prescription benefit, and imposing higher taxes on upper-income earners.


The Ruling Party is vowing to bat down the amendments one-by-one, and also hope Opposition won’t succeed with any procedural objections, because any change to the fix-it bill would send it back to the House, a complication Ruling Party leaders want to avoid.

Oh, wait: so the higher taxes aren’t settled law yet? Senate still needs to pass that? Well, it’s not like the Ruling Party has a history of caving, so I’m sure that’s set.

(Check the text of the House Resolution, HR 3590, if you like. There’s a new excise tax on “Cadillac” insurance plans, taking effect in 2018. How many people do you think will be demanding those kind of plans eight years from now?)

And what sort of principled objections will the Opposition Party mount in this last-ditch defense?

Sen. Tom Coburn wants a vote on his amendment to prohibit coverage of Viagra for sex offenders. Sen. Judd Gregg wants savings from Medicare cuts plowed back into the health care program for seniors, instead of being used to expand coverage to the uninsured.

Viagra for sex offenders? That’s the most crucial issue facing America today – making sure sex offenders can’t get Viagra. I can’t even come up with a joke for that.

But what’s really laughable are the pundits on the Opposition Party side who call this America’s first steps toward socialism. Guys! You were awake in history class, right? Because creating a massive body of bulletproof legislation that funnels money from the working poor to a small oligopoly of insurance providers isn’t “socialism.” The reason nobody takes your Party seriously anymore is because you don’t know what words mean.

I really need to stop reading the news. I have enough stressors in my life that I can change without spending my free hours worrying about things I can’t.** But there’s a word for people who form their opinions of the world before age 30 and then stop thinking. And while it’s not the worst thing you could call me, I’m not sure I feel like donning the ratty jacket and settling into the rocking chair just yet.

Still: you got me talking about politics again. Damn it, damn it, damn it. God damn.

* In case it’s not clear just how insidious this is: it’s the poor and working poor who have typically had the hardest time getting pregnancies safely terminated. And it’s the poor and working poor who’ll be most likely to need federal subsidies to acquire their (soon-to-be-mandatory) health insurance. It’s not like they’ll have the option of not buying any. And just in case anyone thought this was a wily ruse that he later planned to abandon, President Obama signed a (largely redundant) executive order yesterday stating, “No, really, we weren’t kidding, no federal funds can be used on abortions.”

** “But Professor, blah blah voting.” Did voting for Man-Palin stop the healthcare reboot from passing? Did voting for Obama make single-payer an option?


and if the law don’t get her then I will

To get a car registered in Massachusetts, you will need to do the following:

  • Acquire auto insurance. This isn’t hard; you can do this online. But I should caution that it’s not quite as easy as buying a book on Amazon. Every insurance company wants to give you a quote if you enter a few vague details. This draws you in, making you a lead. Once you start the application process, giving your driving history and VIN, shit gets real. “Oh, you’re that Professor Coldheart? Yeah; double the quote we just gave you.” Seriously.
  • E-mail the insurance company to get proof of insurance.
  • Presuming you got collision insurance – you’re not dumb, are you? – go get a photo inspection of your car. This isn’t very hard, but it takes some time out of a busy day. You will receive a form that you need to fax to your insurer, which, given the number of people who still use fax machines every day, won’t be a problem at all.
  • Go to the RMV and collect a number.
  • Spend some time browsing in Best Buy and Target next door, waiting for your number to get called.
  • Approach the RMV lady with your title and proof of insurance. What’s this? My insurance doesn’t take effect until tomorrow? Well, then I guess there’s nothing I can do with the rest of my day, is there? Certainly not the nine other errands that hinged on my having proof of registration of the car that I drove here.
  • Stomp into the rain.
  • Sigh, accept the hand that you’ve dealt yourself, and go buy groceries.
  • Take a nap.
  • The next day, go to the RMV first thing. Collect a number.
  • Spend some time browsing in Best Buy and Target.
  • Approach the RMV lady with your title and proof of insurance.
  • Fill out a form to waive any sales tax that you might owe on this car that you bought out of state.
  • Fill out the same details on a second form that you already filled in on a first. Whatever.
  • Get your plates! And your registration!
  • Affix these plates to your car.
  • Get your car inspected for the Massachusetts safety and emissions test.
  • What’s that? My car will fail the test if I don’t replace this one $12 light bulb, out of the eight light bulbs in the rear window? Well, go to town, buddy!
  • Get a parking permit for your apartment complex.
  • Get a parking permit for the town you live in.
  • Go home; park your car.

Dear Mr. President,

Remember when you compared mandatory purchase of health insurance to auto insurance? That’s not helping.

Professor Coldheart.

it all depends upon your appetite

Twice in the span of eight hours on Sunday I saw “Yes You Can!” used as a marketing slogan. Once for a dry cleaning special, once for an online dating site. Aside from the sheer silliness of appropriating a Presidential campaign slogan for, well, dry cleaning or online dating, I have two follow-up questions:

  1. Why now? The election was a year ago. Obama’s lost a lot of credibility recently, what with failure to institute the Ruling Party’s health care plan, waffling on the Defense of Marriage Act, upholding the Opposition Party’s stance on indefinite detention of enemy combatants, trillion dollar national debt, et cetera. Is now the time to invoke his image? Or is the lead time on creating the display copy for sandwich boards and banner ads one year? I can assure you that, for banner ads, it ain’t.

  2. Why “Yes You Can!”? Why would a dry cleaner or an online dating service want to invoke that sense of civic optimism, sweeping social change or racial harmony? At long last – affordable same day dry cleaning! America has entered the Twenty-First century, now that you can browse webcam pics of 22-year-olds in the privacy of your home.

    “My Fellow Americans, Let’s Roll … To The Olive Garden” would be equally weird.


Fed by the Invisible Hand
Pemberton Farms had their annual customer appreciation day on Saturday. I can never turn down free food, and the deli couldn’t be any closer unless I lived above it, so off I went into the rain. I intended to merely scarf as much free food as I could – two burgers, one hot dog, lots of bread and brie and hummus – and then scamper. But then a kind gentleman offered me a Dixie cup of Trapiche malbec which went down so smooth, so sweet. And when he told me it was only $8.99, what was I going to do? Not buy it?

The gents at The Second Glass have trained me to never pay more than $15 for a bottle of wine. This has the unintended side effect of compelling me to buy every bottle of wine (that tastes good) that’s below $12. I have collected three unopened bottles of red in this way. You bring the cheese and crackers, I’ll bring the kung fu movies.

it’s not a habit, it’s cool; I feel alive

In part of a slow effort to improve my productivity, I cut myself off from as many political weblogs as possible over the last month or so. I refused to let myself get drawn into the minutiae that amateur pundits obsess over (OMG Palin’s expensive wardrobe! WTF Obama socialism!), because I knew it would only make me angry.

But I had a few minutes to kill on Monday morning so, in a moment of weakness, I revisited IOZ.

Oh, sweet mother of Motown, that felt good.

From Moving to Montana Soon:

If the election of Barack Obama makes America “socialist,” then this blog makes me Tom fucking Clancy. I mean, here you have a dude who basically says he’s going to tinker a little bit with the marginal tax rate and try to close some corporate loopholes (yeah, uh, bon chance, yo), but who otherwise promises to invade Syria and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iran and the Moon and Kupier Belt, to expand the death penalty to include absentee fatherism, and to have the NSA eavesdrop on everyone in the universe. Ohmigod, America has been taken over by a dude who believes in American primacy and hegemony, who calls Israel our double-super-BFF-forever, who embraces a narrative of National Greatness that should give Canadian bagman David Frum the biggest only hard-on he’s ever had. Are we really in for four years of the chest-puffing closet cases of the putative right trying to convince us that a Wilsonian is some kind of crypto-Leninist?

From Phallibertarians:

Male libertarians who denigrate the pervading social constraints on women and people of minority racial groups and people with less common sexual predilections–i.e., most male libertarians–do so because their ideology is grumpy and reactionary; it is forged of the same stuff as crybaby conservativism; its concerns with genuine liberty are purely tactical, and entirely personal. These scattershot beliefs, which consist principally of disliking taxes, regretting surveillance, and smoking weed hardly constitute a political identity at all. Sometimes they involve opposition to imperialism abroad; sometimes not. They’re the reason libertarianism in general is routinely mocked as a kind of solipsism: it is!


Many, many self-identified libertarians are in fact bourgeois white men firmly ensconced in a patriarchal heteronormative social order that they fundamentally do not wish to change.

Holy hell, my hands are shaking. Someone keep me away from the devil in that needle because, after the two weeks leading up to this past election, this shit got me hooked again.

on the cover of the magazine, there’s no question why I’m smiling

Local software powerhouse Vecna Technologies has blitzed the Red Line with ads recently, looking for new developers. Most of these have really stood out – showing handsome people with eloquent pull quotes talking about the meaningful work they do. However, one that I spotted last week, and again last night, makes me laugh in derision:

Eternal (i.e., Built to Last)

Sure. You named your company after an obscure Czech adjective. Right. Not one of the most infamous recurring villains in Dungeons and Dragons’ thirty year publishing history. Okay, fellas.

(For nerds who’ve been out of the loop: Vecna got promoted from demigod to full on godhood in 4th Edition. Update the Satanic altar in your basement accordingly)

# # #

Karaoke on Wednesday had a rather small crowd – post-election fatigue plus cold drizzle kept people indoors. I saw a tiny house of regulars, plus a handful of new faces. A girl at the table in front of us sang some pop staple I can’t recall, largely because her intoxicated friend kept keening at her. She made noises at the parts of the song during which normal humans might cheer, but not in the right volume or tone. It was a funereal wail. I know no other way to describe it.

I dedicated my first song – “Jesus He Knows Me,” by Genesis – to “the city of Cambridge, which went 87% for Obama last night.” Nobody got what I was going for until I started swapping words out in the final chorus:

‘Cause Obama knows me, and he knows I’m right
I’ve been talking to Obama all my life
Barack Obama knows me, and he knows I’m right
Well he’s been telling me everything’s gonna be all right

It didn’t help matters that the intoxicated friend from earlier stood up and tried to take the microphone from me. This was before I started singing about Obama, mind you: I had barely hit the first chorus before she latched on. “Jesus doesn’t know you,” she slurred.

I extricated it from her grip as gently as possible (twist, don’t yank) while DJ Paul escorted her away from the booth. Apparently she burst into tears in front of her friends sixty seconds later. I couldn’t see; I was too busy being clever.

gunpowder, treason and plot

Two things.

First, I heard Fox News call it for Obama, with CNN and MSNBC following shortly, in the cabaret room at ImprovBoston last night. BostonNewsNet hosted a live election returns party, with a long string of sketches and comedian acts sprinkled between bits of breaking news. I had a couple beers and a cookie and chatted with various theater friends. Every time I made to leave – three times, at least – something interesting happened, or someone I hadn’t seen in a while wandered in.

When the announcement spread across the cabaret room’s three TVs, applause broke out spontaneously; shockingly enough, a Cambridge crowd tends to swing Obamaward. I’d spoken in yesterday’s post about the pre-rational appeal of picking sides and cheering for an abstract entity, and I got sucked into it with the rest of the room. The human brain evolved to respond strongly to us-vs-them impulses, and nowhere do you see that drawn more starkly than in election returns. Grown men weeped openly. Friends pounded me on the back. What I’m saying is: I may have clapped for a man I didn’t vote for.

Lest I come off too deconstructingly cynical, let me say sincerely: I was glad to be in a room packed with happy friends when I heard history being made. So last night was fun.

(Also, BostonNewsNet’s coverage was hilarious. TC, Kevin, Meghan, Bobby, Harry, Marcelo, Robert, everyone – beautifully done!)

# # #

Second: I haven’t made a point of observing Guy Fawkes Day, November 5th, in years. Really, we Americans owe what little interest we have in a failed act of radical religious terrorism to Alan Moore. He forever linked Guy Fawkes with anarchism in my mind with V For Vendetta, a remarkable graphic novel that I discovered in college. My views on politics have changed since then (I can’t say whether for better or worse), as has my fascination with the comic form.

But when Guy Fawkes Day falls the day after one of the most interesting elections in U.S. history? I know of no reason that striking coincidence should ever be forgot.

Reprinted from an earlier post (March 2006, LiveJournal), here’s my take on the two most compelling themes of V for Vendetta. They’re what inspired me the most, and what I think elevates the story from a comic book to a timeless graphic novel.

The message of V for Vendetta, the graphic novel, can be summed up in two lines. Both of these lines come from the book. One is unsettling; one is inspiring.

1. “Happiness is a prison, Evey.”

Part of what makes V such a fascinating character is that he might not be human. The story hints at superhuman alterations made to him at Larkhill, and the detectives surmise in Act One that he might be stronger or faster than a normal man. We never see his face. And he speaks and acts (and attacks) with such rehearsed precision that it’s as if he knew every move in advance.

But V’s ultimate inhumanity – in every sense of the word – comes when he kidnaps Evey and forces her through a faux-Guantanamo, torturing her and trying to trick her into giving up. He reveals this all to her later, only to meet with her shock and disapproval. Yes, most of the oppressed citizens of London are living in misery. But she had a life in the real world with a man she loved. She was happy.

“Happiness is a prison, Evey,” V tells her. “Happiness is the most insidious prison of all.”

That line is, at the same time, absolutely psychopathic and absolutely true.

To say that “happiness is a prison” demonstrates a fundamental detachment from the way humans perceive the world. However you define happiness – gut satisfaction, enlightened contentment, pure giddy joy – you’d have to be insane to say that the very idea is bad. Not just bad but a prison: a cage, a confinement, a restriction.

Let’s make that unstintingly clear. V is insane in every definition we’re comfortable with.

But he’s nonetheless correct. Happiness is the last obstacle to an absolute devotion to liberty. And it makes sense if you think about it. Don’t like your job? You could always quit tomorrow, sell everything you can’t carry, pack the rest in a car and drive off into the sunset. But that kind of freedom is scary: it contains a wild number of risks. If total social order broke down tomorrow in the United States, that would also be a new, unparalleled freedom. It would also be a terrifying ordeal.

Pure freedom, if such a thing is practical, may be too raw and terrible for humans. We all trade a little bit of our liberty in exchange for living comfortably with our neighbors. Every now and then, however, some misfit comes along and asks if perhaps we’ve traded too much. Our first answer is always, “No,” because he’s challenging our security. And we like to feel safe. V, in this role, represents the eternal misfit. He is violently unsatisfied with the fascist England of a postwar future; he would be just as unsatisfied with the United States under George W. Bush. Or under Andrew Jackson. Or under the Articles of Confederation.

The movie shies away from going this far in its agenda. This, along with other touches, makes V a little more sympathetic. Personally, I missed it, though. I don’t know if living the life of a Puritan guerrilla is a healthy pursuit of freedom. But I do know that no one’s going to be challenged by the notion of revolting against black-uniformed fascists. Fascists are easy villains. It’s the ones who tell you that Officer Friendly is your enemy – as V would – that get you thinking.

2. “It is the very last inch of us. But within that inch we are free.”

All law ultimately comes down to a man with a gun, pointed at you. All of it. Even the most trivial infraction – a speeding ticket, overdue taxes – will be corrected at gunpoint if you try and ignore it for too long.

That being said, all law ultimately comes down to one choice: obey or perish. For most laws this isn’t a hard choice at all. These are the laws we find moral anyway – don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t vandalize. It’s the fuzzier ones that make us criminals. Don’t drive so fast. Don’t smoke that. Don’t get on the plane with that. Don’t try and sit there if your skin’s that color.

We conform, of course. We go along, because it’s that or our heads. If we break the law, we do it quietly, with soft whispers or when no one’s looking. If no one went along, then there wouldn’t be enough cops in the world to enforce the law. It’s the threat of violence and the consent of our neighbors that keeps our heads down. And it’s not so bad, anyway. Besides, if anyone reproves us later, we can always say we were forced to.

Every now and then, though, we’re reminded that there is a choice. We were reminded in Tienanmen Square, in East Berlin, in Johannesburg and in Alabama. There’s always a choice. You can live in conformity or you can die with your integrity.

The point of V’s insane experiment with Evey is to remind her that there is a choice. No matter how many options are denied us, no matter how much of our property is seized, no matter how numerous our opponents, no matter how high the wall or how sturdy the bars, there is one last inch where they cannot trespass. There’s one sacred possession that can never be taken, only given away. As soon as we give it, they have everything. As long as we don’t, we are still free.

Like the other message of V for Vendetta, this vision – the vision of a life without compromise – is also hard to swallow. But we must occasionally be reminded of the heroic, the ideal, the beautifully naive and the practically impossible. Without such stories our lives are, to borrow Hobbes, nasty, savage, brutish and short.

and you may tell yourself: this is not my beautiful house!

Dear Yahoo! News,

These were your “top stories” on Tuesday, August 26th.

These were your “top stories” on Wednesday, August 27th.

And these were your “top stories” on Thursday, August 28th.

In that time, Russia has formally recognized the sovereignty of the breakaway Georgian rebels. Major League Baseball has adopted instant replay for close home run calls. A Sudanese plane was hijacked. Dr Dre’s son was found dead in bed (no apparent foul play). A tropical storm passed through the Gulf of Mexico.

You know. Trivial shit like that.

There are not five equally compelling stories to tell about the DNC every day. I would submit there’s not even one compelling story at the DNC – everyone in America has known that Barack Obama will lead the Democratic ticket for months now – but I’m a bit of a cynic. So I allow the need to post an occasional story. But not five “top stories” per day. Every day.

Get your act together, Yahoo, or I’m telling Carl Icahn to fire your CEO. He’ll do it, too. He’s waiting on my call, I promise.

Professor Coldheart