John Roberts, majority opinion:
The individual mandate forces individuals into commerce precisely because they elected to refrain from commercial activity. Such a law cannot be sustained under a clause authorizing Congress to “regulate Commerce.”
Thing is, the individual mandate was upheld as a valid use of Congress’s tax power.
Most of the time, when the Court finds a reason to uphold a law as Constitutional, it ignores the other arguments put to it and says something like, we have no reason to rule on the commerce clause question because we find this to be okay under the powers to tax. But Roberts didn’t do that here.
The language about the commerce clause is what lawyers call, “dicta” —a statement that cannot be relied upon as precedent because the decision doesn’t rest on it. Dicta is the legal equivalent of saying “blah blah blah” while making an open and shut gesture with your hand like it’s a puppet. But in the Roberts opinion, this might be the most powerful dicta since Footnote 4 of United States v. Carolene Products, which changed the application of the Equal Protection clause for the next 75 years. The reason it’s so powerful is that the four dissenting Justices agree with it, and it clearly states what will likely be a governing principle of the Roberts court: they will hold the line on the scope of Federal power. They might even ratchet it back a bit.
I don’t really understand why Roberts is willing to recognize the individual mandate as a valid application of the tax powers but not of the commerce clause, since in practice the result is the same. Congress can’t force you to buy broccoli, but Congress can put a $100 penalty on you if you don’t buy $100 worth of broccoli. I don’t know what this says about John Roberts. He might be balancing his interest in federalism with being soft on progressive policies. He might just prove to be a libertarian in the best sense of the word, and if that’s the case, it bodes well for things like gay marriage and legalization of marijuana.
People who drive below the speed limit.
People who drive the speed limit in the fast line of the freeway.
People who stop in the lane that merges onto the freeway from the onramp.
People who stop for the onramp stoplight, even though they’re in the carpool lane.
People who stop at green lights.
People who stop twenty feet before the intersection.
People who don’t pull into the intersection when making a left turn.
People who don’t understand that when the green arrow goes away, but isn’t replaced by a red arrow, and there’s still a green light, you can pull into the intersection and make the left turn.
People who have pulled into the intersection waiting to make the left turn, but when the light turns red, try to reverse back out of the intersection.
People who change their mind about turning left and try to merge back into traffic with a line of cars in the left turn lane behind them.
People who turn left from the right lane.
People who freak out when they see you make a left turn into the yellow middle lane, like you’re supposed to, and honk like crazy.
People who drive only part way into the turn lane to make a left turn, blocking half a lane of traffic with the back of their car.
People who just stop in the middle of the road when an ambulance or fire truck is coming, instead of pulling over.
People who have the right of way at a stop sign but wait for you to go first.
People who stop when there is no stop sign and wait for you to go, when you have a stop sign.
People who, in a situation where it is genuinely difficult to tell who has the right of way, motion for you to go first but then try to go before you.
Everyone driving in the rain.
I finally watched The Newsroom. This backlash is stupid. This show is fantastic. Aaron Sorkin is one of the greatest cheerleaders that I can think of off-hand. The reason cheerleaders are repetitive is because that’s what cheerleaders do. Like any good backlash this backlash deserves a backlash.
Radio is more important to Angelenos (because of cars), but songs tend to have a tiny shelf life before they disappear and show up on an oldies station 15 years later. Good songs never seem to fall out of fashion on New York radio. In New York, you can walk into a deli and hear Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize” or the first Vampire Weekend album playing on the radio but that almost never happens when you’re listening to the radio in your car in Los Angeles.
When you spend time in New York you realize how an Angeleno’s car is so much more than just a way of getting around. It’s a personal biosphere, an environmental bubble, subject to your complete control. 90 degrees outside? 62 degrees inside. New York is a very sweaty place.
New Yorkers don’t leave their office during the day. I think it’s because they’re air conditioned and heated. Angelenos regularly drive to lunch.
In your car-slash-environmental travel pod in Los Angeles, you are alone. Other pods are abstractions, “a thing causing me irritation” most of the time. You vent your id at people in their pods in ways you would never vent to a person on a Los Angeles street. New Yorkers vent their ids far less often. People are more often people than an abstraction. In this way, New York is friendlier than Los Angeles. When one New Yorker irritates another New Yorker, it’s usually in person and then it’s met with the same sort of invective, albeit more eloquent, as when Angelenos vent, unheard, in their cars. Angelenos may be more comfortable, but they’ve forgotten how to be irritated at other people.
New Yorkers cry in public, all the time, everywhere. On the subway. Just walking down the street. Angelenos cry in their cars.
New Yorkers have this remarkable ability to be alone in a crowd. They practice this skill constantly, probably because they have no other choice. It’s near impossible to be in a public place in New York and not be around other people. There are parts of Los Angeles where you can spend an hour and not see another human being. Certain trails in Griffith Park, the top of Temescal Canyon, almost anywhere in Mandeville Canyon. The streets in my neighborhood. Whole swaths of the beach, plenty of rocky breakwaters. The biking paths along the river.
New Yorkers drink far more alcohol —I calculated it, it’s more than double per person— than Angelenos. They smoke about the same number of cigarettes.
New York bars are astonishingly conformist. There must be hundreds of bars doing that whole iron and wood and Edison bulbs thing. Both New York and Los Angeles have their share of Irish pubs and dive bars, but Los Angeles has only a couple (I can actually only think of one) that are of that particular Mumford & Sons-chic. You would be hard pressed to find more than a handful of pairs of bars in Los Angeles that you could say are alike.
New Yorkers are just as flaky as Angelenos. People assume that plans might be broken up until a few hours beforehand, just as they do in Los Angeles. It’s easier to have a flexible schedule, however, in New York, because of the subway.
Rooftop parties are slightly more delightful than backyard parties.
Here’s a weird one: doorknobs. New York doorknobs break off in my hand, all the time. They’re all like a hundred years old, and people, like, don’t replace them. The newer buildings have these doors that are unlocked by keys that look like they were found by Voyager 1 at the outskirts of the solar system, and when you use one you hear the metallic clang of a magnetic force shield powering down so you can open the door. Other magnetic force shields are activated by electric fob. New Yorkers love their fobs. Several people I met carried multiple fobs on what I would call a keychain but what we’ll probably soon call a fobchain. Every doorknob in Los Angeles works like it’s supposed to; we all use normal keys that you can get copied at the hardware store.
The New York $4 umbrella is an amazing thing. They’re ubiquitous. They’re disposable. No Angeleno owns a disposable umbrella, because we don’t know where we would buy one.
Both cities have great ethnic food. New Yorkers scoff at eating pizza in Los Angeles but repeatedly suggest Mexican food to their Angeleno visitors. The “eggs on a roll,” available for breakfast at any of a million New York bodegas, is not something I understand how Los Angeles lives without. New Yorkers only think they understand hamburgers, but New York is objectively better at sandwiches. Coffee snobbery exists to a higher degree in New York, which is kind of hard to believe, because Los Angeles sets that bar really high.
I did. It took me a while. I have a degree in art history but I got that years ago and I only just figured out art last week. Art history classes don’t answer the question, “what is art,” or help you “get” art; they mostly just give you a string of images of art that other people have decided were Very Important and then tell you the historical context for that art. There’s a lot of sitting in dark rooms with slide after slide being force fed into your eyes, Clockwork Orange-style, and then you write about it.
For a long time I considered a piece of art “good” —or “successful,” in my chosen parlance— if I believed that the artist had something he wanted to say and said it and then I understood it exactly as he meant it. My favorite artist used to be Magritte for this reason, because Magritte is specific and kind of obvious and I felt like I “got” what he was trying to say. I decided that every artist had his own code, and my job as a student of art was to figure out that code and speak it like a language. Turns out this was an incredibly limited way of looking at things.
Two musician friends of mine were responsible for disrupting this belief. Both repeatedly had this experience, they told me, where they’d finish a set and someone from the audience would come up to them and say how much this one song resonated with them for this particular reason, and that particular reason had absolutely nothing to do with what inspired the song. Like, the person in the audience thought the song really spoke to how she felt when she broke up with her boyfriend but really the song was written about waking up late for work. I had trouble with this at first. But my musician friends were not only fine with it, it moved them. It made them feel like artists.
I think a lot of complaints about art, in general, as a thing we’re supposed to believe is important but more often than not fail to understand, stem from this conflict. Which is more important, the subjective experience or the objective understanding? Every now and then the pressure builds up and someone can’t take it anymore and writes something like “I DON’T GET ART” for Vice Magazine and then a small tizzy ensues that resolves nothing and everyone just goes back to tweeting about their cats. But the “I DON’T GET ART” thing really bothers me the way “WOMEN AREN’T FUNNY” really bothers other people, because it encourages the lazy habit of reductionist thinking, implying that this ignorance is somehow correct and thus superior.
That Vice Magazine thing made me start thinking about art again, as if I was unconsciously formulating a response, and so I was open to Big Questions About Art when I went to the Keith Haring exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum two weeks ago and suddenly figured art out. Haring did this thing where he invented a whole system of symbols —dogs barking, UFOs, dolphins, penises, androgynous human figures— and sort of mixed and matched them and put them in various contexts. Each of these symbols meant something to him, but what they meant to him wasn’t all-important. He used them as a framework for the viewer to ascribe their own meaning. His intention wasn’t to communicate anything, but to invite the audience to see whatever they wanted to see. It was a balance of the objective with the subjective.
This possibly very obvious thing had never occurred to me before, certainly not in my art history indoctrination sessions in college, and immediately I found myself applying it to everything. And that’s how I now define what art is. An artist is someone trained in a technique and often a subscriber to the fashion of her contemporaries. Her own variations on that style are dictated by personal life experiences —the things she finds beautiful, the reactions she has to events and politics and anything else that causes emotion to build and build until it requires an outlet that isn’t self-destructive— and then she creates this thing. An art. An objective work that has a distinct reason you can probably figure out if you talk to the artist. But that’s not the end of it, because art is a two-way mirror. For the viewer of the art the artist’s objective experience merely creates a vessel. The art is a heart-shaped box that you fill with whatever automatically pours out of you when you see it. The artist created something objective, you get to fill it with something subjective. Sometimes nothing will pour out of you. But sometimes it will, and that’s the experience of art and the why and what of art. If your experience and the artist’s experience match up, great. But who cares.
I’ll probably discard this understanding of art in a few months like I have every understanding before it. At the moment I’m curious whether, if we assume I’m right, the artistic experience can be quantified. Like, if the quality of art is dictated by the sheer number of people who have that experience. More equals better? Or maybe more equals worse? Anyway, I’m done for now.
Status Update: “Email I just received: ‘I am unable to make class today due to abdominal cramping and bowel issues.’ How do I respond??”
Comment: “Tell them you don’t give a shit.”