Monday, September 23, 2013


It might be that it's always curving, but the curve is so gradual that we mostly don't notice. As a man who laid a lot of bricks in my day, it was something I noticed. A brick is a rectangular cube, with right angles for corners, and faces that are pretty much flat. None the less, one can lay up a lovely curving wall with a bunch of bricks, even my second most favorite garden demarcation, the serpentine wall, which if one cares to (I would) place in it's not exact center, but off some feet to the right, my most favorite garden demarcation, the Moon Gate. I had better be getting to this project of my dreams. Yesterday I spent the morning looking at photographs of the BSA Lightning, which still exists in a few restorations, and at prices lower than most new motorcycles. I had a BSA in 1967, a Shooting Star single. Some of the feeling of that still rattles around the ole noggin. And the sound.

Those bricks are not curved.

Nor are these.

I'm not happy being unhappy with NPR. I'm thinking it might be something they cannot help. Can an arrow change its course? There was a brief report yesterday in the late afternoon end of the weekend, concerning Mr. Obama's speech at the Navy Yard. He made the expected and utterly sensible points, that the United States now seems to "accept" gun death after gun death. Nothing changes. Our efforts to effect some small changes all die on the cutting room floor. Indeed, where small changes happened after the Newtown massacre, such as in Colorado, the gun cultists organized to get the leaders of the legislative changes removed from office forthwith, and succeeded.

After reporting on Mr. Obama's speech, and playing clips from it, the NPR report seemed compelled, like the arrow, to continue on to play clips from Wayne LaPierre's appearance on Meet the Press yesterday. Mr. LaPierre of course brought his usual array of arguments, asserting that what the Navy Yard needed was more armed guards. Mr. Gregory made some effort to argue against LaPierre's case, but the NPR report did not air much of that. Mr. LaPierre was the counterpoint to Mr. Obama. That was the structure of the story, and on the news source that, aside from hard right wingers, is generally accepted as a credible source, without much of an axe to grind.

This endless structure of balance in news is probably what poor Chuck Todd was driving at when he said that Obama had not made the case for the health care reform act, and that it wasn't the news media's job to make the case. This, I expect, is exactly how they teach journalism these days, and pretty much what news editors everywhere but Fox expect. The further fact that we also have Fox, the topsy turvy news "source," simply insures that no matter what, the overall public will be mostly frozen in amber. Is the arrow moving at all? In every photograph it seems as still as death.

It's easy to ask, why do they give Mr. LaPierre a soap box? I certainly don't understand it. At least he ought to pay for it. And with the NPR piece you can see the problem even if there is some refutation. It doesn't get reported, the refutations. If LaPierre is in the story, his views are the "balance." Against every sensible remark concerning the true problem of obscene gun proliferation in the United States is balanced LaPierre's paranoia concerning government, and his false dichotomy that if only a "good guy" were there to counter the "bad guy," these terrible things would stop happening.

The potential of a "teaching moment" is quenched. There is no spark. The factories are cranking up, the drill presses rifling, the brass casings stamped, the fine grained stocks burnished. How many of these beautiful machines fire only once? Does an operator at the press think of this, as he checks the sights or stamps the insignia into the side plate.

Take a hundred people. Introduce ten with active tuberculosis. It's almost a certainty that after a while some new cases will develop. Take a hundred people. Indroduce ten loaded weapons. It's almost a certainty that after a while a weapon is going to be discharged, and someone will find themselves with a bullet hole. It's not about good guys. People are mostly people. The other day a guy brought home a pistol. He'd just bought it. He was the nineteen year old step-father to a boy of eleven. He'd unloaded the pistol by removing the magazine. He gave it to his son to look at. The son fired the one bullet in the chamber that hadn't been cocked out, and the step father was shot dead. Where's the good guy, or the bad guy?

Who's the arrow? It might be us. Going in one direction.

...Now the bricks lay on Grand Street
Where the neon madmen climb
They all fell there so perfectly
They all seem so well timed...

Saturday I spent the day immersed in music. What a treat. My dear friend Malcolm Owen, who was a founder of the Fuzzy Mountain String Band, which invited me to join in 1970 and thus started my actual "career" as a fiddler, came down, and we executed a workshop on fiddling, fiddle tunes, and the history of the Fuzzies, to an attentive group at the Shakori Hoppin' John Old Time Festival, while the rain beat on the big top which was fortunately over all our heads. We'd all gotten interested in fiddle tunes at the inspiration of Alan Jabbour, who had shown us that each one was a particular gem, special, individual, worth acute consideration. We then spent two or three nights a week, for several years, acutely considering them, which is to say, learning how to play them accurately, to understand and execute their particular-ness as best we could. After the workshop Libby and I played a breakneck square dance, which is to say, placed some of the tunes into their larger context, made them do what they are made to do. Sunday I felt like a pitcher after a game, and considered icing down my left hand. I did take aspirin. I don't do enough fiddling to keep my body up with my mind.

I meant to tell the assembled, at the workshop, that all that microscopic focus kept Vietnam and Richard Nixon at bay, but we didn't get to that before the time ran out on us. I'd ride my Shooting Star to Tommy Thompson's Friday night jam session with my fiddle strapped to my back. BSA. That stands for Birmingham Small Arms, by the way. They manufactured the Lewis Gun, which was a significant armament in World War I. They even produced a motorcycle with a Lewis Gun mounted on it.

Further reading:


This is the Lewis Gun in action. The drawing reminds me of the style of Boy Scout illustrations when I was growing up. It probably pissed Hemmingway off, if he saw it, although he apparently reveled in the look as he healed from his shrapnel wounds at home, his mom and sis tending him through the long afternoons. Ah, romance. All the BSAs leaked oil, and the electrics were always dubious. Thus were the most beautiful motorcycles in the world eclipsed by sensible Japanese engineers who decided to split the engine casing horizontally, not vertically.

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