52 Poems, Week 14: There Never Was Time (Byron Herbert Reece)
52 Poems, Week 15: Upon a House Shaken By the Land Agitation (Yeats)

Sunday Night Journal, April 8, 2018

Still thinking about the gun control question: I've had trouble articulating even to myself my reasons for thinking that a definitive repudiation of the right to keep and bear arms--i.e., repeal of the 2nd Amendment--would represent a major change in the culture and the self-understanding of this country, and even imply at least the possibility of rejecting other provisions in the Bill of Rights, such as the freedoms of speech and press. That's not just paranoia: reports of efforts to shut down free speech on university campuses appear frequently. And of course there is an awful lot of overlap between the gun-banners and the would-be censors. Reports of the latter aren't just about the shout-downs and the "no-platforming": they're also about polls of young people that show support for the censoring of "hate speech." That might not be so worrisome, as no right is absolute, if it weren't for the practice of so many on the left of declaring that any speech which offends them is simply an expression of hate, and even implicitly a physical threat. It's primarily about political speech, with a grossly overextended definition of "political"--the personal is the political! and vice versa. And political speech is precisely what the first amendment is intended to protect, and precisely what these people want to censor, not pornography, libel, or any other kind of speech that used to be considered outside of constitutional protection.

This piece at National Review about Joyce Lee Masters, a scholar who is an expert in the history of the right to keep and bear arms, provides some support for my intuition. She shows that prior to the American founding it was well known that rulers believed that they had very good reasons not to grant that right, and that accordingly there were good reasons for America's founders to insist upon it and to put it into the Constitution.

You can argue that those considerations no longer apply, and that's a fair point. But I sometimes hear people say "Only the police and the military should be allowed to have guns." Whatever you think of that, it implies a view of the relationship between governed and governing which is very, very different from that assumed in the Constitution, and, more subtly but no less strongly, in the whole spirit and temperament of the American republic.  

Routine disclaimer: I'm not a gun enthusiast, not an NRA member, and not opposed to legal measures that would keep guns out of the hands of those who would use them to harm others while leaving the basic right intact.

Chances of that last thing happening--the prudent balancing of the two concerns--seem to be growing slimmer, though. As a practical matter it's difficult. And laws have to be enforced: from what I've read it seems pretty clear that the Parkland shooter could and should have been stopped under existing law. As a political matter, in this as in so many other matters, the country is becoming more polarized. Gun controllers are more and more open about their desire to repeal the 2nd Amendment as a step toward getting rid of private ownership of guns altogether, or at least severely restricting it. And gun proponents therefore resist any regulation at all as precisely one of those steps.  When "common sense restrictions" are discussed, there's little agreement on what "common sense" means. Both sides might say with John Prine 'That common sense don't make no sense no more."


I've read different opinions on the question of whether Sundays during Lent should be considered part of Lent or not, at least as far as whatever Lenten discipline one has undertaken is concerned. Like a lot of people, I've chosen the answer I prefer, which is that you can give yourself a break on Sundays. That's how it came about that on a long drive on the fourth Sunday of Lent this year I listened to several of NPR's Tiny Desk concerts, though I had decided to listen only to classical music during Lent. 

I had subscribed, via my phone, to the Tiny Desk podcast some months ago, but had never actually listened to an episode. So the podcast app on the phone was perpetually pointing out to me that I had some fifty or sixty unheard episodes, and it was getting on my nerves a bit. It wasn't actively nagging me, but every time I looked at the phone I'd see that little red dot with a number in it, and it gave me a very slight but real sense that there was something I needed to take care of; these smart phones have a way of inducing such feelings. (I know, I could probably turn off even that relatively unintrusive notification, but that itself requires giving some attention to the device.)

I was getting a little tired of Mozart, and Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time had proved to be very unsuitable for the car--too much dynamic variation. So the last couple of hours of the five-and-a-half hour drive seemed like a good opportunity to get some of those podcasts out of the way. I had never heard of most of the artists on the list, so I didn't pick and choose, just plugged the phone into the car's stereo and hit "play" on the most recent episode and just let it go till I was almost home.

Each Tiny Desk concert is twenty minutes or so long. I think I had heard three or four and wasn't much taken with any of them until Anna Meredith came up. I'd never heard the name and expected to hear a singer-songwriter with her guitar, and, to be frank, was not going to be surprised to find her a bit on the dull side. I mean, you know...the one gal or guy with only voice and guitar...if the songs aren't really top-notch, that can be a bit dull. But then the music started, and it grabbed me and didn't let go until the end of the first piece, which is called "Nautilus." Here's a YouTube video for it; what I heard was pretty much the same, except for that wobbly sound that comes in around 2:30, but a couple of minutes longer.

I find this weirdly exhilarating. I was of course only hearing it, and I guess I had it turned up fairly loud. I thought it must involve a dozen or more people banging and blowing on things. I was surprised when I learned later that there were only five of them. 

When I got home, I naturally I had to find out right away who Anna Meredith is. She is a young (b. 1978--well, young to me anyway) Scottish composer. I think, based on her Wikipedia entry, that she started out in the classical world but now is sort of all over the place. So let's just leave it at "composer and performer of music." 

Lent being over, I sought out the Tiny Desk video. The music had been fun to hear, but seeing it performed was even more fun. I have now watched this video three times, and enjoyed it more each time. Their energy and enthusiasm and lack of pretension or posturing, the way they seem to be enjoying what they're doing so very much, are a joy to watch. See for yourself:

I don't know how you'd classify this music. Just file it under "Delightful." 



Easter amaryllis.



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Will watch the Anna Meredith at a later date. I love the NPR tiny desk concerts, and am always surprised at how few of these people I have heard of. Some of my favorites are of course my old favorites in performers: Lyle Lovett, Robert Cray, John Prine, Wilco (they have two), Neko Case...I'm sure there are more I'm forgetting. I watch some of these often.

I had an amaryllis at my previous house that popped up each year out in the yard, and I would protect it carefully until it went away. I love that flower. People said, "dig up the bulb and take it with you". I thought that a little extreme, and it probably would have killed it then I would be sad.

I have nothing to add to the gun debate except that I daydream about some sort of superhero assassinating nutcases that collect semi-automatic weapons. I don't daydream about politicians being killed, but instead gun-owners. I think they are odious and crazy.

My routine disclaimer is: not people who own normal guns, I'm talking assault weapons, body armor, etc. the militia crazies. Talk about a threat to our democracy and safety.

Okay, I guess I did have something new to add. :(

I have drifted back to being generally anti-anti- second amendment. Its largely because of the revelations of all the mistakes made by the various law enforcement agencies. About 20 people, including the shooter himself, told the police that the Florida shooter was dangerous. He made a blinking Youtube video showing how dangerous he was. Its crazy that he wasn't apprehended. My thought is simply that if the police, FBI etc are not apprehending (and preventing from buying guns) people who report themselves as dangerous, or people who are reported by multiple other individuals, then they could repeal the 2nd amendment and confiscate millions of guns, and maybe do a lot of damage to the culture, and there would still be violence in schools, whether through bombs or knives or other means. One year on the camino I read a terrifying novel about the mother of a school shooter, called 'We have to Talk about Kevin'. He commits mass murder with a bow and arrow.

The ubiquity of what look to me like the kind of guns that soldiers rather than civilian amateur game hunters need, still bothers me. But unless they sort out the other problems first, talking about whether Civilians need AR15s is a side track that will not save lives. I like the law they are talking about in Florida which enables the police to dis-arm people who are identified as dangerous.

I know that conservatives are always saying the problem is mental health more than guns. But I heard a podcast on NRO called 'The Editors' where the editor (not sure who) interviews someone who has recently written a book about mental health in this country. He explained how the closure of the mental health hospitals was related to the fact that the Insurance companies refused to help pay for mental health care. It was a really good podcast, and gave a healthy airing to the problems of getting treatment for mentally ill relatives (he has a schizophrenic sister in law). Given the high number of mass shooters who have some kind of mental health problem, this also has to be addressed if any kind of gun regulation has any chance of working.

As I'm always saying, I grew up in a culture where everybody, including teenagers, had guns, but nobody got shot, the question presents itself to me not as "why do we have so many guns?" but "why do we have so many people who want to commit mass murder?" Mental illness obviously has something to do with that.

I had no idea of the connection between insurance and mental hospitals closing. Another proof that our health care system is dysfunctional in important ways. I've always heard the closings sort of simplistically attributed to wacko ideas about the mentally ill just being different.

The "assault weapons" thing gets the publicity these days because the guns look scary, but rifles and shotguns account for a very small percentage (like 5% or so) of shootings. It's handguns that account for the other 95%. I *think* the only factual, functional thing about the AR and similar rifles that makes them potentially more deadly than other rifles is the capacity and ease of swapping magazines. Not 100% sure about that. But I don't see why that couldn't be limited without doing violence to the 2nd amendment.

I guess anti-anti-second-amendment is pretty much my view.

Re Tiny Desk--yeah, I'm surprised how many of the artists I've never heard of, too. A surprising number are rap/hip-hop--surprising because this is NPR. Can't help wondering if these middle-aged upper-middle-class white folks are really that into it.

This middle-aged white guy doesn't listen to those. I don't even consider rap music, some hip-hop is okay but if I never heard any that would be fine too.

Have any of you ever seen any statictics about how many of the mass shooters have no father in the home, or a really bad father?


Never seen any stats but I've certainly noticed it as a fact mentioned in connection with some of them. Also the fact that the young men were on various prescription drugs for ADHD or anxiety or something.

Regarding rap and hip-hop: what's the difference between the two? I've never been sure.

I've made an honest effort to find some that I liked, but hardly ever had any more positive reaction than "not too bad." Saw an album called Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest described in very glowing terms somewhere as establishing that rap is serious art, or something along those lines. Gave it three listens but, again, couldn't muster anything more than "not too bad." No desire to ever hear it again.

I was going to say, in general I don't recommend the NRO podcasts. All of them which I have tried have been dull or at least not as much fun as Commentary or GLOP. Jonah Goldberg's The Remnant is a disappointment.

This is the one. I mean to listen to it again when I've got a huge pile of ironing that I'm actually going to do


I was going to say that, but then a student walked in and I had to close down the page

Rap vs. Hip-hop

I probably don't really know, but perhaps you could all Erykah Badu "hip hop". She does not rap, but is now quite Soul music either. Maybe that's the answer, does Soul or R&B music exist anymore? That may all be labeled hip hop, and someone who speaks into a microphone rather than singing is rap.

Rob G can comment more intelligently on this, I'm sure.

"but is NOT quite Soul music either."

I have to admit I was never all that keen on soul for the most part, either. In its heyday I liked hippie music a lot better. Still do though I appreciate people like Aretha Franklin. What's called R&B now seems to be smarmy or worse.

Grumpy, I liked the two or three Mad Dogs & Englishmen podcasts I heard, but presumably it is no more. I'll give that one you linked to a listen while I'm doing something in the kitchen.

I've always heard the closings sort of simplistically attributed to wacko ideas about the mentally ill just being different.

I found an informative NY Times article about that from way back in 1984, "How release of mental patients began" -- some bits from it:

A detailed picture has emerged from a series of interviews and a review of public records, research reports and institutional recommendations. The picture is one of cost-conscious policy makers, who were quick to buy optimistic projections that were, in some instances, buttressed by misinformation and by a willingness to suspend skepticism. ...

The original policy changes were backed by scores of national professional and philanthropic organizations and several hundred people prominent in medicine, academia and politics. The belief then was widespread that the same scientific researchers who had conjured up antibiotics and vaccines during the outburst of medical discovery in the 50's and 60's had also developed penicillins to cure psychoses and thus revolutionize the treatment of the mentally ill. ...

Finally, there was a growing economic and political liability faced by state legislators. Enormous amounts of tax revenues were being used to support the state mental hospitals, and the institutions themselves were increasingly thought of as ''snake pits'' or facilities that few people wanted.

O Yes, Mac, I loved Mad Dogs. I didn't even think of that as an NRO podcast, because its so different from the others I've heard, which struck me as bland and droning on

Yes, Marianne, that sounds like what I've heard about the closure of mental hospitals in England. This podcast was the first time I'd heard insurance came into it.

I listened to some of that podcast and, at around the 5:30 point, the fellow says it was Medicaid, not private insurance companies, that wouldn't fund care provided in mental institutions. I found some more detail about it in this article about a change in that rule which was supposed to happen in 2017:

Medicaid, the nation's largest payer for behavioral health, is on the cusp of allowing stand-alone psychiatric hospitals into its provider networks for the first time.

The change, expected to be finalized in April, should introduce new capacity and competition in the acute-care psychiatric market. It also should increase access to acute mental-health and substance-abuse services for low-income adults, many of whom get stranded for days in emergency departments or find themselves cycling through jails and homeless shelters.

The policy represents a radical break for Medicaid, which has never reimbursed for either short- or long-term care in stand-alone psychiatric facilities. Before Congress created Medicaid, states financed the hospital bills of mentally ill adults, and legislators in the 1960s wanted to keep it that way.

Thanks, Marianne. 'The professional community made mistakes and was overly optimistic, but the political community wanted to save money.' That seems to pretty much tell the story. It's puzzling that it's gone on for so long when everybody seems to have realized long ago that it was a mistake.

There was one slightly good effect for Crimson Tide fans in the closing of Alabama's state hospital. It was located in Tuscaloosa, same town as the university. "Oughta be sent to Tuscaloosa" was a way of saying "crazy." And it gave Auburn fans a ready-made source of jokes. So the closing was a bit of a relief to us.

"Rob G can comment more intelligently on this, I'm sure."

O man, great is thy faith!

Actually, no. I don't like either rap or hip-hop and thus have never paid close enough attention to be able to differentiate between the two. I've never really liked R&B or soul either. I do like some 70's funk, but in small doses.

When it comes to "black" music generally speaking, my favorite genres by far are reggae and Afro-pop.

I'm a very big blues and jazz fan, funk and soul less so though there are things I like there, too. Also classic reggae. Because I like so much black music, I felt like I really should give rap a fair shot and have gone to a little trouble to find good stuff. But as I said earlier have never heard much that I really cared about. One possible exception is The Roots album How I Got Over.

I like mainly blues, some Prince, some other 70s/80s Soul and R&B (Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker, etc.), and only the first few rap songs ever, "Rapture" by Blondie, and "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang. :)

I listened to part of Hamilton the other day because my daughter, and some of my friends, like it so much, but then I finished what I was doing in the kitchen and I probably won't finish it.


I don't really know much about it beyond the fact that it's very popular.

Well, it's Rap. That's why I mentioned it.


And probably a little hip hop too!

I gather from looking around that it is mostly hip-hop.


Yes, I've mostly seen it described as a "hip-hop musical."

If you google "difference between hip-hop and rap" you get...some stuff.

Yes, I saw some stuff.


Did anybody actually watch this Tiny Desk video? Did anyone share my enthusiasm? I suspect not. Saturday my wife and I were driving somewhere about an hour away and I insisted on playing the podcast in the car. Sensing un-enthusiasm, I stopped it after a several minutes, and her only comment was "I wondered how long they would keep doing that."

Haven't had the chance yet but it's on my to-do list.

I haven't got my head around 'Tiny Desk'

I watched and enjoyed it, Mac. Probably was not as enthusiastic as you, her music is very different. But I can enjoy most things for that amount of time unless it is jarringly bad. RE: Karen - if she had been watching it her reaction may have been different.

Probably so. It is a pretty repetitive piece (the first one), but with all these weird little variations.

Grumpy, I don't know how it came about, but they actually are playing in little office, so I guess it has something to do with that.

Can't say I actually like it, but it's definitely fun and interesting. The first tune made me think of what it might sound like if Steve Reich had written the score for a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

I actually watched it when you posted it, but I've been so busy I forgot. I'm not enthusiastic about the music, but they were really fun to watch. It reminded me of that video you posted a few years ago with a bunch of young people dancing. I think the song had something to do with fish. Anyway, it was just that same joy in what they were doing.



I didn't really get the second and third songs till I'd heard them a couple of times. But the second one especially I really like.

Bugs Bunny? Bah. I hear it more as a march of some sort of stupendous creatures.

"Bugs Bunny? Bah."

It was meant as a compliment. :)

Heh. It is a playful piece, in its way, as are the other two in different ways. It has a mood-brightening effect on me.

The second song "Ribbons" made me think of Teletubbies.

Happily, my mind is not furnished with Teletubbies.

I keep finding that I have picked up some small object and am knocking it on the table in the rhythm of Nautilus.


Can you keep up with those shifting accents? They defeat me.

Oh, I haven't tried. Just the first part.


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