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Bad news from home

You’ve probably read the news that the Gibson factories in Nashville and Memphis were raided today by armed federal agents of the, errrrr…Fish and Wildlife Service?

Yup. The Lacey Act is a law so old, William McKinley signed it. It was intended to prevent trapping endangered animals for sale across state lines. You know, in 1900, when endangered animals were endangered-endangered and not just pretend endangered because there aren’t very many of them in Oklahoma while there were still tons in Texas.

Anyhow, the law was recently beefed up to require that all materials be painstakingly and accurately described coming into the country, and here’s where the mischief comes in.

Now, the trade in materials like poached ivory and Madagascar ebony is an evil trade…and evil trades often launder themselves through the East. So in theory — in theory — I don’t object to some additional scrutiny of incoming raw materials. But in practice…give a bureaucrat a gun and a regulation to enforce, and he’ll be looking for somebody to wave them at.

Henry Juszkiewicz, Gibson’s CEO, claims the issue this time is wood from India that would be legal if finished in India, but the US government says violates some Indian law the Indians certainly aren’t complaining about if finished in the US (watch his press conference here). Gibson is still litigating a similar government raid from three years ago, so it’s hard not to see this as harassment (Juszkiewicz is a notoriously difficult man; perhaps he stepped on a sacred toe).

But it’s broader than Gibson. Regulators aren’t making an exception for vintage instruments. Bring a guitar into the country, and you have to declare the origin of every bit of wood, bone, ivory, pearl or abalone, and the feds don’t give a shit if it was built by a cowboy when Victoria was a lass. Get it wrong, and they’ll take the instrument, fine you and maybe even put you in jail.

The Journal article describes the state of musicians and instrument dealers as “anxious” about the law. And that’s about right…there haven’t been many incidents yet and nobody knows how it’ll play out. But if you’re thinking to yourself, “naw, the government couldn’t possibly be this retarded,” then you, sir, are a banana.

I can tell you for certain, anxiety about the potential retardedness of the US government is already impacting the movement of vintage instruments between the UK and the US. AKA depressing trade.

Oh, and check out the little snark at the end of the Journal article about selfish musicians being reluctant to switch over to plastics. If you are a lover of fine instruments, that will make you want to whip out your slappin’ hand.

Have a good weekend, folks. Today’s post was going to be a delightful story of The Chicken That Insisted On Sleeping in the Kitchen, but the damn fool bird didn’t do it tonight and I don’t have a picture.

Thanks to Alice for the kick in the butt: SCOAMF merchandise.

August 26, 2011 — 8:34 pm
Comments: 38