Someday they will say of us that we were living in a strange time, the kind that usually follows revolutions or the decline of great empires. It was no longer the heroic fervor of midcentury upheavals, the glamorous vices of concentrations of power, or the skeptical soullessness and insane orgies of the latest bubbles. It was an age in which despair and material comfort, technological wizardry and political malaise, and a paradoxical freedom, both from criticism and to endlessly criticize, were mixed together, along with deep but narrow enthusiasms, the renunciation of utopias, condescension toward the past, weariness of the present, and pessimism for the future. Material man no longer knew how badly it yearned for violets and crimson roses from Athena or Isis. Our nightly dreams, where this goddess made us feel the shame of having turned away from her eternal youth, were forgotten each morning.
At our best, we renounced ambition, unable to imagine a goal worth striving for and repelled by the constant anxious and greedy striving all around us from which we retreated to ivory towers or solitary gardens. Led by our memories and nostalgias for what we could no longer remember, we drank blindness to our surroundings from the silver cup of legend, intoxicating ourselves with literature, music, and love. Love, however, of vague forms, the only forms left now that the sexual and psychological mysteries of past eras had been brought into the harsh white light of clarity. We preferred imagined, unapproachable souls to the bodies all too visible and available around us. We turned away from princes and slaves, charisma and coquetry, everything that past generations and centuries had told us we should want, and we had no vocabulary to describe how their absence felt or what it might mean.
It was a time, they will say, when we had lost the thread of the story. The end we felt nigh was no Apocalypse, no Antichrist—it was the end of we knew not what, and so there was no putting our spiritual house in order, no reflections on the journey traveled, no whole life flashing before our eyes. Even the earth-shaking events of that time never felt grand. We went about our dying business.
The greatest book of that time, they may say, if anyone still says such things, was a collection of photographs: pictures of oilfields, tankers, refineries, cars, roads, factories, salvage, polluted water, skies on fire. Large-format shots, most of them from slightly overhead so that the picture plane tipped us in. For compositions so impersonal—almost none had any people—they felt deeply personal; our world, our places. Turning page after oversized page of this book made you feel it, know it: your place in the world and what we have made the world become.
We’ve hit analog retro, Jeon said. I saw a guy on the train—expensive sneakers with no socks, beard, shaved head, Freitag bag—with a picture of a wall of LPs on his black T-shirt. His iPhone case looked like a cassette tape. Side A. The phone was a little too big to be a real cassette but the label was designed well, close enough to the real thing to fool me. He put his audiophile buds in his ears, cords running back over each ear, and twiddled away with his thumb for the next twenty minutes.
It was a time, they will say, when we had lost the thread of the story. The end we felt nigh was no Apocalypse, no Antichrist—it was the end of we knew not what.
Someone else I saw today, even more stylish shoes, had an expensive pale suede shoulder bag with a honking big tape reel (SONY) attached to the side. Not a picture of a reel—actual metal disks, like some kind of fender to keep dings off the suede?
I remember last spring, Anne-Sofie said, or was it the spring before?, when Starbucks was selling a CD called My Last Mix Tape? Nostalgia for the old plus a lesson for the young. “In the distant, ancient 1990s,” it said on the back, “The Mix Tape was an essential form of communication—a way of saying ‘Here’s how I feel’ . . .”
Actually, Chris said, that’s just how they market to the olds. They pretend to be talking to young people because no one wants to think that nostalgia is the only reason to like what they like.
In July of 2016, warmer to much-warmer-than-average conditions dominated across much of the globe’s surface, resulting in the highest temperature departure for June since global temperature records began in 1880. This was also the fourteenth consecutive month the monthly global temperature record had been broken.
Bright white glare low in the sky, the grass tinged yellow: summer rainstorm.
Every single thing is something you could pay attention to, so that even if you’ve resisted you have had to decide to. The web is a trillion decisions mainlined right into your gently beating heart: automatic decision fatigue.
Yesterday, the early morning of a long weekend, Trump tweeted out a Jewish star on a big pile of money. Today reports emerge that it had been lifted from an outright racist website, known for photoshopping Hillary Clinton’s portrait into a swastika, etc. Trump insists it was “just a basic star.” Elie Wiesel has died, and Trump has not commented, and if you read Trump’s books, a lawyer tweetstorms, it’s clear he counterproductively micromanages, so having another one hundred staffers on the campaign isn’t going to fix anything. Trump is already overwhelmed as part-time manager (he spends time on his other businesses) with thirty staffers. And this means there’s no bandwidth for routine regrets on the death of Wiesel. Of course, where that lands Trump and the nation if he accidentally wins is scary. Post-January planning hasn’t begun, and Trump seems to plan to wing it with thousands of appointments in a two-month sprint while he’s learning on the job.
Ben is telling us about a documentary he saw, on yak herders. Every year the tribe takes their herd to the year’s grazing grounds, or four of them do, there are always four men on the journey. Each plays one of the four roles—the roles are more important than each year’s individual participants. It is a very structural understanding of group endeavors. I like that, Ben says. Every journey, this practice tells us, has a mother, a father, an animal master, and a younger son or novice with almost no responsibilities. These are four men of roughly the same age. Someone to tend to the cooking and housekeeping; someone in charge of navigation and defense; someone in charge of the herd. The Youngest Son is the fascinating role: Why make sure, why have it be necessary, to travel with someone inherently or structurally inadequate and foolish? Is it to have a scapegoat, for the others to blame or vent frustrations on? If so, that job, which seems easiest, must be the hardest—spiritual lightning rod, psychic cesspit, therapy dog. But he seems to be loved, not blamed. Is it so there’s always someone for the others to help? A group of pure equals can’t get along in the long run, that feels right to me, and wise. Not all of us are cut out to be a youngest son, only to have one.
Dinner parties are the same, Ben goes on. There always has to be a mother, a boss, a wild man, and a listener.
We’re not as wise a culture, Anne-Sofie says.
The group in the narrow courtyard behind the bar starts talking about the late sixties, the seventies. Scott tells us his mother was really sick one summer, her arms almost paralyzed, and his father was taking care of her until English cousins came to take charge. He, Scott, was brought back home.
I don’t know how people used to experience weather but now it, too, is political. I remember clouds as unrepeatable mysteries, chasing each other across the world of the sky, not partisan evidence.
It was the summer of 1979. Skylab. He was at summer camp, but it was a grown-up’s theater camp upstate, so the menu board had Skylab notices every day—eighteen days to go, sixteen, fourteen; over the Indian Ocean, Europe, the Midwest, the South Pacific. Is it possible? Scott says now. Was it really all just a big joke?
We didn’t know how innocent we were. We never seem to stop having to say that.
The aunt showed up with armloads of hydrangeas; the other aunt had flown straight from her UN job in Nepal, where she collected carpets. For days we were full of tiger-skin rugs and hydrangeas. There were two cousins, playmate children to replace the ones from camp. It was a very happy summer, despite my mother’s illness.
Once, that summer, walking west on the south side of a street, in the shadow of a block-long building, he had had a vision: the sun slanted in up ahead, from the cross street, and there, in the sun, were what must have been young leaves or seed pods caught in the wind, darting and circling like giant daytime fireflies or, simply, fairies of light. They did not fall through the sunbeams, they flitted in them, as alive as fireflies. By the time I got to the cross street, the phenomenon was gone, like dense fogs, like dreams. The scene almost brought tears to my eyes.
But the strange thing is I forgot it, Scott says. I never once thought of it in all the years and decades since, until it came back to me in a flash a couple months ago when I saw a young woman with long dark hair, in an orange, expensive dress, a folder in her hand from the college around the corner—it is graduation day—and she is crying, silent savage tears from a deep and vulnerable center. What could be making her cry like that? Not a recent, isolated insult; not something expected that she could have prepared for, like the pain of graduating and being thrust out into the world.
Is she beautiful? Is it a better image if she is or if she isn’t?
I have no idea how or why it came back to me then. A woman crying on her graduation day has nothing I can think of to do with a New York street in Skylab summer.
Donald Trump, the real estate mogul and reality television star who has taken center stage in the race for the Republican presidential nomination this week, delivered a rambling monologue in Phoenix, Arizona, introduced by Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, whose tactics in tracking down illegal immigrants drew national attention and a federal ruling against him for racial profiling in 2013.
I have never felt like I belong to the human race or sssomesssing. I am a part of nature, and in that sense I belong with the human race which is also a part of nature.
I spent a long day walking in the mountains this weekend, Iris told us yesterday, roads snaking around the middles of hillsides. High vertical rocks on the other sides of ravines, with tufts of green on the top, a very Chinese effect, or else overlooking big river valleys, one jolly blue lake close by and others in the farther, hazier distances. The peaks were surprisingly jagged for there to be so many of them tumbled all across the horizon. There was a small, postcard-perfect waterfall in a high valley, a wide sheet of white ending in a calm pool of green, and only at the end of the day was there one that was more sublime, thin forking paths of white lightning down a high dark rock face. The first one hissed, the second one rumbled. Yellow and black lizards, motionless on the ground like thrown-out candy-bar wrappers, suddenly moved and were visible as what they were: moved so fast that they seemed to reappear an inch or two farther down the path, angled left instead of right, without passing through the space between.
I watch a talk online, at home with a swollen foot:
The reason any day that starts off on the internet is a bad day is “decision fatigue,” the speaker says. It turns out our brains have only so much decision-making oomph, and once we use it up for the day, we get all crabby, make bad choices, snap judgments, careless and irresponsible decisions—sound familiar? (the audience laughs offscreen)—until we recharge by going to sleep. They haven’t found anything but sleep that can replenish our choosing.
This, then, the speaker says, is the answer to the riddle of the ages: What is sleep? A cool, restorative recrystallization of our ability to decide. But I digress. Decision fatigue is why car salesmen ask you to make all kinds of pointless decisions first—cupholder? power windows? upholstery fabric?—so that half an hour later you give up and go along with the expensive options they suggest.
The web is, obviously to everyone, a huge waste of time among all the other things it is, but that’s not enough to explain why it ruins the rest of your day. Even for the disciplined—get online, scan the feed and the inbox, read the important ones, answer the vital ones, click it closed bam boom, no links no news no magazines no Twitter no YouTube, even I manage it sometimes (the audience laughs offscreen)—it’s less than five minutes, not enough time to ruin anything, but it ruins the day anyway. Because every single thing is something you could pay attention to, so that even if you’ve resisted you have had to decide to. The web is a trillion decisions mainlined right into your gently beating heart: automatic decision fatigue.
The opposite isn’t doing nothing, it’s something like a well-designed park, and the speaker got to the point of his talk. Frederick Law Olmsted understood the problem. He specifically intended the wide, gently sweeping paths of Central Park and his other designs to give strollers as little as possible to have to decide about: where to go, how to avoid oncoming people, what destination to head toward. He knew the restorative psychological effects he was going for were undercut and betrayed by conscious decisions, even conscious attention, to grand views, special plantings, noticeable sights or sounds or smells of any kind.
Olmsted learned on a ramble through England that the beautiful can never have clearly defined edges or limits—it has to fade into the hazy, mysterious distance. He preferred the common wildflower modestly growing in the mossy turf to imported exotics blooming in an enameled vase under a glass bell. He didn’t care what trees were called and didn’t add labels for parkgoers to decide whether or not to look at.
I shut the tab and look out my other window, at the park outside, a lesser Olmsted. The seasons are changing—it exemplifies mutability, that’s probably all that needs to be said. I don’t know how people used to experience weather but now it, too, is political. I remember clouds as unrepeatable mysteries, chasing each other across the world of the sky, not partisan evidence; I remember the heat and the cold, warned only by an analog thermometer nailed to the frame outside my living room window. They’re chopping down all the trees, but at least they can’t despoil the sky, people used to say, centuries ago.
For some reason I remember the last record store I passed when I was walking on pain-free feet. Popwax, a neighborhood institution. Sells CDs too, as well as the whole range of vinyl from nondescript to artisanal. There was a sign on the door, in blue marker, announcing their upcoming sale which must be nearly ending now: 40 percent off all LPs and cassettes. The sign in the window said, the door announced: Analog Days.
I have never felt like I belong to the human race or sssomesssing. I am a part of nature, and in that sense I belong with the human race which is also a part of nature.
There are sacred places, Edward told us at the bar recently. We all have them, our job is to find them. I was in the South of France once, near the Mediterranean, and there was a large pink house looking out over some Roman ruins. If you turned your back on the house and faced away from the ruins too, there was a loose grove of olive trees, sunk low, between walls that were low on this side and high on the other. Probably it would be truer to say that we were built up, not that it was sunk down. Now that grove is a park, with little soccer games tucked between the rows of trees.
A few years later I saw an old monastery, a monastic community that was now a school. It was summer, so looking over the wall I saw an empty schoolyard, where monks probably used to grow their food one or two thousand years ago. There were painted wooden animals on springs, playground structures at the far end, and a pair of waist-high soccer goals set up near me in a clearing between the wildflower snowdrifts against the old stone walls of the buildings. Something about those two white metal bars, each bent into three sides of a rectangle and rammed down into the dirt, facing each other across half a schoolyard empty of children, seemed more ancient than the monastic community, or Stonehenge, or the Pyramids.
I only remembered the olive grove later. The two places were less alike than I have made them sound—one northern, in the summer, the other southern, in spring; busy and empty; and so on. But who knows how these different things rhyme and what they speak to in us.
I asked Edward if he ever did figure out what it was about those places that so moved him, and he said no, he hadn’t. Anne-Sofie only smiled her sarcastic smile—she had heard it all before.
I am able to make it out to a talk at the New York Public Library, connected to its exhibit of geology and photography. That third-floor hall, always dimly lit, always nearly empty, archival photos that feel archival. For the talk they had a foreign writer with a thick, unplaceable accent in his deep, rich voice, and he talked about stones. I could have listened for hours.
Here is a ssstone from the park, he intones. I feel closer to thisss stone than to other people, more like it than like other people. I write for the stone, even though the stone won’t read me, but let’s be honest, how many people will either, out of all the people in the world, and the ones that do will read me in their own way, not necessarily my way of writing, any sense I have of having achieved some kind of connection or bond with them will be imagined on my part too. It’s no different than the stones. I have never felt like I belong to the human race or sssomesssing. I am a part of nature, and in that sense I belong with the human race which is also a part of nature. This isss why the photographsss here speak to me. Do they speak to you? I belong with the schissst, I belong with the gneisss. Other than that, no, I cannot take the side of this or that person. That is why I am a writer. A filmmaker has to feel close to people. Or a singer. Or a weaver. Not painters and not writers.
Last month, at 540 Hampshire Street, San Francisco—shiny corrugated shared workspaces and Berlinish cement-block cafes swarming round the low rows of wooden bungalows and old warehouses. The building was a long low facade of gray horizontal wood in the morning light, with a triangle jutting up in the middle, like an Illuminati pyramid, or revealing the peak of an A-frame, depending how mystical you were feeling at the moment. Every now and then I could hear the sound of a train moving south from the edge of the city.
The room slowly started to fill up, and I sat up straight in the chair, looking straight ahead, not up at the ceiling. Before long it was packed, about three-quarters Mexican and Salvadoran, one-quarter white. If I’d seen the white people on the street, I wouldn’t have thought they were Canterburyers. The service alternated Spanish and English.
The pastor rose and in a mild voice of unassuming authority began.
Of all the places in New York City to dream you could live, those buildings on East Third are the ones that feel most like real dreams—unconscious, vivid, impossible to remember.
Bienaventurado el varón que no anduvo en consejo de malos! Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked! For we are pilgrims all, my brothers and sisters, and none of us walks alone. We all have traveling companions, and woe unto you if you choose the bad one, reject the godly one. We all must accept the counsel of others to help us on our way, and let them be family and friends, the good and the just, not smugglers and coyotes. In this world, my friends, Sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without a passport; Virtue, if poor, is stopped at all borders.
The sermon went on, it ran something like the following but I do not pretend to quote: these are the very first words of the first Psalm, my friends, which is the book in the Bible where God, praised be His name, stops talking to us and instead lets us sing back praise from the godly place within us to Him. But listen, its wisdom is a warning. This verse, the beginning of the Psalms, tells us what we should not do, not what we should do. Blessed are those who walk not in the counsel of the wicked. Feel the beauty in this, my sisters and brothers, the loving kindness for us poor weak struggling hombres y mujeres. It starts by assuming we cannot even recognize the true path—all we know is the voice in our heart that tells us to resist the wicked counsel around us.
Observe the poetry of the rest of the first verse: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful.” The words themselves mark a path of darkness, the downward way, and let us see that yea we can know it and exhort us to avoid it. This evil course is to walk, then stand, then sit. First taking the advice of, then being near, then staying among. The wicked, the sinners, the scornful.
The Hebrew word for blessing here is esher, from a word that means to go straight, go forward, advance, set right. Yes, my friends, to go the right way is blessedness indeed. Spurred on by the counsel of the wicked, surrounded by sinners on the move, we must not tarry, nor give up hope of moving onward, not lose the will and heart to travel our own way, the righteous direction. Our fellowship is named Canterbury, brothers and sisters, a place known for its many very different pilgrims.
When we are blessed, that path is straight ahead; for you and me and the rest of us struggling to follow the Lord, that path will not be straight, it will have detours and backtracks and dead ends, but take heart! We are told that if we reject evil counsel and company, the squirming and winding path will have been straight and true. Who knows the geometry God’s eye can see! With the walls and dark forces blocking our way, these twists and turns might be the straight path for us.
Whenever it’s not too far out of my way I try to walk past the Marble Cemetery on Second Street. It is the quietest place I know, like a portrait of the god of silence, a frieze. I have never seen anyone in it, not a squirrel, a bird, any other animal; the long, long fence on the street side is always locked and the back windows of the four- or five-story tenement buildings on the other side look down in stillness on stillness. Of all the places in New York City to dream you could live, those buildings on East Third are the ones that feel most like real dreams—unconscious, vivid, impossible to remember. It is strange to imagine not the inside of an apartment or the front of a building but only a window or two in the back—not even sitting by the window looking out, but the window, the glass.
This document, then, dear censor, is mere notes on notes, a diary of a diary, about an unmade film about a country that is not yours—not Myanmar, not Tibet, not Russia, not North Korea . . .
There are few gravestones, far apart from one another; the long, thin shape uses up the maximum possible street-facing prime real estate, a fact which itself must be a sign of the cemetery’s age. The plaque on the fence does little to explain the place, who is buried there and why, beyond the reason that they are dead. I still remember a children’s book with a quiet graveyard in an enclosure—spaces within spaces, enclosers enclosed—it must be an image that does something for me.
I am standing at the fence looking in, and it is so quiet I don’t notice the first few raindrops, but soon it is coming down in sheets, then in masses even more solid. Without thinking I try to find shelter.
At the end of the block is the Film Archive, and a sign in the lobby is advertising a special screening not listed in the calendar or on the website. Because of the politically sensitive nature of the movie, smuggled out of the filmmaker’s repressive country, it was decided to show it without advertising it on the internet in any way. I had never heard of the filmmaker; the movie was about to start. Only four or five other people were sitting in the theater, far apart from each other. The likeness to the Marble Cemetery struck me for the first time. The lights went down, and it started.
Epigraph: and it stayed onscreen long enough to be reread several times:
Your late arrival, my son, has caused me to devote a great deal of time, spent in continual nightly vigils, to reveal in writing & to leave behind to you as a memory, after my own physical demise, & for the common benefit of mankind, such knowledge as God has granted me thanks to the revolutions of the stars. —Nostradamus
The credit sequence was simply stolen from some French New Wave movie I didn’t recognize—sans-serif bold white names on a black background, all Véroniques and Jean-Pierres and Phillippes and Laurents. They left off the régisseur and actors, gave just the minor credits: montage followed by some obscure French name, it said. Maquillage. Scriptgirl, Image, Son.
They’re gone, the voiceover begins, over ordinary images, rambles around a room. He was curious and interested enough, getting snapped into the car seat, milk and blueberries, then I leaned down to kiss his beautiful, beautiful head and say Bye, have a good trip with Mama, I love you, I’ll miss you, bye-bye, and he started howling, and I shut the car door and went back upstairs. He will have soon stopped: the verb tense of absence, future-past-future-imaginary.
Now I can begin my “effort.” Not a film—let me make that clear as can be to anyone watching this! Dear censor, dear prosecutor, dear torturer! I am well aware of and fully and zealously compliant with the government ban on my “filming, producing theater, writing novels, or storytelling in any other form whatsoever!” My sentence has been read out to me and I accept it, as it already says on the form I signed in the interrogation room as best I could before the handcuffs were taken off.
With my family away I plan to take a few private notes on the film I had hoped to make and now never will. This document, then, dear censor, is mere notes on notes, a diary of a diary, about an unmade film about a country that is not yours—not Myanmar, not Tibet, not Russia, not North Korea . . . The movie, as I’m sure you know, was to be called The Salt Smugglers, my seventeenth film, about a band of outsiders and their crushing life on the margins of our (not your!) nation. My “effort” is nothing of the sort. I am filming nothing, just taking a few videos on my phone for personal use; there are no images of our vast western salt plains, the white hills raked into grids and quincunxes, lunar horizons of bare and blinding immensity, just some modest moments in my modest house; there are no soundscapes of windstorms crossing the plains, clanking fixtures on the primitive carts, carpets beaten free of the salt trodden into them downwind from the smuggler’s tents, just some coffee being made, a few conversations, the noise of a little of my humble work. Since it just so happens that my wife is visiting her parents with our son today, my effort, though private in any case, will contravene neither our fine law that images of women even in their homes must be veiled, the realism of the character’s behavior rightly and nobly made subordinate to the fact of the actress’s images in the public sphere—nor the admittedly pettier concerns of artistic truth. Not that my little effort can legally or possibly claim to be art, dear functionary.
It is a strange feeling, putting L. into the car and watching him drive away. I have never been apart from my son like this, not since the moment he was born and I went with him and the nurse into the other room to clean him and weigh him and count his fingers (ten) and toes (ten) while the doctors sewed Mama up. Now he leaves and howls again, and I obsessively think about my greatest fear, something happening to him, could I go on? This is for him, then, whether he wants it or not doesn’t matter—everything is for him. Not for you, justice minister!
So thinks, perhaps, the salt-smuggler N. in his tent on the western marshes. I am trying to imagine his life, merely daydreaming, certainly not writing interdicted memoir or story. I myself have been parted from my son, who is not named L., many times, as you know, most recently during my two months in prison.
I lay down tape to block out the scene that will never be filmed, when the smuggler comes back to his yurt or grass hut and shakes off the Himalayan snow or monsoon rain and the smuggler’s wife is there—in words her face can go unmentioned, so here she is, in her veiled or unveiled glory. This would be the exposition, discussion of the competing band of smugglers and their schemes, introduction of the baby boy who would have played such a central motivating role in the putative plot, the smugglers’ love and stoic silence. The family has one scrawny cow and a young calf, whose fate, and the mother cow’s inarticulate response to it, mirrors and expresses much that the family itself suppresses.
Here, where I have my coffee table, is the central stove where the wife squats, boiling butter tea or mint tea or Turkish coffee. He enters from there, where the TV is, to accommodate the lights and the film camera and dolly on this side of the room. The camera doesn’t cut back and forth between the speakers of the dialogue, as viewers expect, but tracks left and right, in a swinging kind of motion, purely horizontal but slow-fast-slow like a pendulum. This technique saves film and editing time, and is more natural for the actors, and most importantly gives a suspense to the conversation without the use of artificial background music. I am trying to decide, in a way, how much of the pleasure I get is from the finished movie (that will never be) and how much from the hard floor under my hands and knees and the ripping sound of the masking tape coming off of its roll and turning into a line there.
I move the armchair to lay down the mark where the boy would sit, motionless, entering and leaving the frame of the shot, paying attention. It is vital—I say this for the benefit of any budding government filmmakers, since I have no plans for this effort to ever reach any viewers in countries more open to art—it is vital to have, in every scene, a silent, third presence: someone watching, someone the viewer can occasionally identify with and remember to look at while the dialogue remains in play and open to both parties. If there are two figures in a scene, the viewer takes a side—alternately, tentatively, doesn’t matter—but a third figure diverts that impulse and somehow both draws the viewer in and leaves him outside the lines of force between the other two. When there can’t be a third person there, for plot reasons, use a window, a mirror, a TV, a portrait, or a pet. These are the only five alternatives. Strangely, it makes no difference if the third figure is looking at the other two, or if one or both of the others are looking the, say, window—I’m not sure why that is. There is just enough room behind the sofa to shove the armchair, lay down tape, step back to check the angles, take a few pics on my phone (not a film, as we know! notes on notes . . .), and start pulling the tape up again.
Day One of the Republican National Convention was yesterday, with vicious speeches from Mike Flynn, Jeff Sessions, Scott Baio, a grieving mother of a Benghazi casualty, and Melania Trump. Today’s speakers will include Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, Ben Carson and Chris Christie, Don Jr., and, says the Party, “lovely pro-golfer Natalie Gulbis, Mr. Trump’s youngest daughter Tiffany, and Kerry Woolard, the General Manager of Trump Winery.” Big-time winners all. To highlight Mr. Trump’s charitable instinct, reveal his loving and doting side, and demonstrate his incredible business acumen, respectively.
There is, in fact, a long history of smuggling salt in our land. It is the sign of an advanced political system, you might say, since every community in a state of nature has had ways to supply itself with the salt necessary for life; smugglers come into being only with borders, taxes, and/or wars. In our case it is taxes, or rather a law that mandates salt be purchased only from government agents (at prices they set), as a way for the government to raise revenue that is not technically tax, and to create lucrative posts that can be granted to loyal functionaries. The smugglers in our case do not cross national borders, or not necessarily—they are more like black-marketeers, even, you might say, counterfeiters, trading in unauthorized currency. Fierce punishments await these enemies of the state, usually beheading. Their lives are bitter and cruel.