On being a night owl

Not long ago, on a visit home to family, I proudly announced one morning that I had stayed up until almost 2am the night before reading an article on circadian rhythms.  The irony was just too delicious.  The interesting part of the article concerned the effects of artificial light—lamps, and even computer screens—on our body clocks.  This could go a long way to explaining my nocturnal tendencies, in addition to the fact that, if I’ve been practicing late, the music runs through my head until almost sunrise.

Years ago I got down on myself for being an owl.  I felt guilty.  Early birds carry this air of self-righteousness with them, as though the only way to get any work done is to get a jump start on the monks at la Grande Chartreuse, and these attitudes sometimes gave me a complex.  Finally, one of my uncles boxed me on the ears and said, “If you work best at night, do it.”  I was cured of my guilt, and the self-flagellation came to a halt.

Until recently.

For all the advantages of being an owl, there are disadvantages.  Perhaps the most obvious is that you are out of sync with the rest of the world.  As something of a misanthrope, I find there to be many benefits to this:  I eat at off hours, and I even shop, walk, and run at off hours, and the quiet is a good thing for me.  Too many people demand interaction from this introvert, so I simply do my best to avoid them.  But eventually there comes a day when, after eating lunch at 3pm and starting my work at 4pm, a friend invites me to dinner at 5pm.  Then I am faced with an unbearable choice:  stay home and get work done and be alone, or go out and eat when I’m not hungry and fall a day behind in my tasks.  

Compounding this whole situation is the fact that I’m desperate for light.  In the winter, I can get very depressed because of the darkness, and so in about September I have to start being very careful about how late in the day I awake.  

Surely by now some of you are beyond incredulous.  “This is what he considers to be a problem?”  In fact, I have a couple of friends who are jealous of what they consider to be my easy lifestyle.  But it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  In anything on this side of Eden, there are pluses and minuses, and the minuses have started to get to me.  Being too extreme an owl, I’ve noticed, can rob one of vital energy, and, if there are “show-face” commitments in the schedule, the day can start to feel cramped very quickly.  In short I would say that my lifestyle is different from, but no easier than, the 9-5 approach.  The work still needs to be accomplished.

But should I bother to change?  I’m sure there’s a Reader’s Digest article out there somewhere, or a keynote speaker at a local Rotary meeting, who has claimed that the only healthy way to live is to be out of bed before the cows are milked, but I’m inclined to think of such endeavors as merely an effort to get everyone to go with the flow and to be conventional, which is something I resist out of principle.  Maybe it’s best simply to leave my routine the way it is and reinterpret the facts a little.  For every person who hates night owls, there’s someone who admires them, even if such admiration is tinged with envy.  Then there are those who say that such nocturnal habits are a sign of genius:  A friend of mine relates that Murray Rothbard, surely a great mind, worked all night long and refused to teach morning classes.  I, however, as a jackass, can lay no claim to genius.    

The truth of this whole situation may well lie in beauty.   More than once, after an evening of revelry, a friend will ask me how I’m getting home.  “I’ll walk.”  Almost to a man they have all been in disbelief about this, but I assure them that I love long walks at night.  Nighttime, in fact, is gorgeous.  It is quiet, and it always seems as though a great space yawns before me in which I can accomplish a lot of thinking.  It is a heavenly abyss, a cloud of unknowing, a place in which Eternity opens up into time.  It is stillness and sweet harmony.

Maybe being an owl isn’t so bad after all.

George Bush goes on his Herbert Hoover speaking tour

Got this from Greg Ransom at Mises.  This man really is Herbert Hoover.  

My comment here.

H.L. Mencken on Music

H.L. Mencken on Music

Louis Cheslock, ed.

New York:  Schirmer

A few days ago, as a belated birthday treat to myself and in celebration of the end of a long work cycle, I visited Bookhaven, Philadelphia’s finest vault of used books.  This is one of those places in which there is always something to be found, even if it isn’t what was originally sought.  On this particular day I had it in my mind to see if they had a copy of Hymns Ancient and Modern, one of three hymnals, all of which are Anglican, which are worth having.  No dice there, but in one last desperate attempt to find what I sought, I visited the music section.  There was Maynard Solomon’s biography of Mozart, the Grove Dictionary, H.L. Mencken on Music, something about Wagner…..

Hold on a minute.  H.L. Mencken on Music?  Indeed, and as it turns out it was edited by Louis Cheslock, professor of theory at my alma mater, the Peabody in Baltimore.  This was a no-brainer, and it was quickly added to the pile of books I had already amassed that afternoon, books that I did not seek but which nevertheless sought me.  

Mencken’s writing is incisive and vivacious, graced with a wit that, while sardonic, never descends into bitterness.  He could, at the same time, be fiercely logical, particularly when exploding the various quackeries put forth by congressmen, the Temperance Union, or the Kiwanis Club.   All things considered, he seemed to me to be the last person that would be so profoundly absorbed in music.  I was wrong, and in my error I found great delight, for Mencken approaches the subject of music with such deep devotion that many of us paid minstrels, who face the same job hazards of frustration and burnout that everyone else does, ought to be put to shame for approaching our art sometimes in routine rather than inspired fashion.  At moments, Mencken wrote with such enthusiasm that he had me running for my iPod, and sometimes even my old-fashioned CD rack, to find something that I hadn’t listened to perhaps in years.  

To be sure, there is some outdated information in this collection of essays, but that is to be expected from a book that was last edited in 1960.  All the same, Mencken speaks with an informed authority on a wide-range of music that makes Albert Schweitzer look like the mountebank that he was.  From chant and Palestrina to Bach to Haydn and Mozart and Beethoven to Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms, to Igor Stavinsky, Arnold Schoenberg and jazz (all three of which he detested), Mencken covers all the most important composers of the Western canon that existed at the time he was writing, and he does it with erudition and love.

Mencken himself was a musician of amateur persuasion.  He insisted that he played badly, but he also implied at times that he wrote badly.  If this is any means by which to measure the situation, he was probably adequate, to say the least.  He was a member of the now famous “Saturday Night Club,” a group of music enthusiasts which met weekly in Baltimore.  Editor Cheslock was a member as well and does a good job of providing the reader with background information on this band of Renaissance men who clung to a tradition which modern distraction has largely obliterated.

It is tempting to try to say too much about this book.  Maybe it’s best, then to stick to a couple of things, the first of which might come as a surprise, given the seeming iconoclastic tendencies of the writer.  Today, for instance, people in the main laugh at the ancient Greek notions that music can be dangerous, that its mystical tones can woo us to do good or ill, or just downright tawdry things.  Mencken takes up the Hellenic cause, saying that the music a man creates is revelatory of character.  “When a trashy man writes, it is trashy music,” he says.  In the same vein, while extolling the artistic genius of Franz Schubert, Mencken says that his operas all came to nothing, and that this is because a successful opera composer is half musician and half clown.  Schubert, being a man of good taste, was incapable of such nonsense.

More interesting gems are contained in Mencken’s writing about church music.  “New Wedding March Needed,” trumpets a headline to one of these essays, written years before it was popular for pastors to ban the now infamous Wagner and Mendelssohn pieces.  The author goes on to suggest that these works remain entrenched because of the laziness of organists, for whom each wedding is about as interesting as a new chin to a busy barber.  On the very next page one finds “Enter the Church Organist,” a far from inaccurate spoof on a typical character in this profession.  (Cheslock explains that, as part of Mencken’s job for the local paper, he was often sent to third rate organ recitals as a reviewer, for which Mencken has my deep sympathies.)  Perhaps the most surprising essay in the whole collection is the one on Catholic Church music, in which Mencken lauds the efforts of Pope Pius X to resurrect chant and polyphony and shelve the operatic caterwauling that had been fashionable at that time. It’s not the kind of story one would expect to come from an agnostic, but this could perhaps be the result of the writer’s occasional friendly gatherings with clergymen, including the local archbishop.

Buy this book and read it to find out even more, to discover what Mencken had to say about private music lessons, “Music and Sin” (which is the chapter on jazz), singers (especially tenors), the Bach Choir of Bethlehem, and much more.  Amateurs, and even people who yet know nothing about classical music, can enjoy and benefit from this book, and musicians can find great inspiration in the joie de vivre which gallops from every page.  If you can read parts of these essays with a dry eye, you’re a better man than I.  It is quite clear that to this man of words, one of the most prolific and colorful writers in the American language tradition, music is the ultimate language, a kind of logos.  He writes:

“My lack of sound musical instruction was really the great depravation of my life. When I think of anything properly describable as a beautiful idea, it is always in the form of music. I have written and printed probably 10,000,000 words in English, and continue to this day to pour out more and more. But all the same I shall die an inarticulate man, for my best ideas beset me in a language I know only vaguely and speak only like a child.”

Jean Langlais’s Pasticcio

I was just practicing, finding some repertoire for a last minute gig this week, and in the process, I stumbled upon an old gem:  Jean Langlais’s (1997-1991) Pasticcio, which is the tenth and last movement from his organ book.  It’s quite a cool little thing.  I’ve actually settled on two other pieces of Langlais for later this week.  I’ll need to work this one up for future engagements.

A few interesting things from here and there

1.  An English court has ruled that a blogger has no right to anonymity.  Hardly comforting that this is on foreign soil, since the quacks on the Supreme Court have been citing laws of other countries for a few years already.

2.  William Grigg on a cop who pulled over an ambulance that was taking a patient to the hospital.  Turns out this cop, who manhandled the ambulance driver while the patient’s family watched in horror, had gotten back from Iraq about a month before this incident.

3.  Finally, I always knew Paul Krugman was a clown, but I didn’t realize that it was this bad.

Pope Ratzinger weighs in on the free market

Thanks to the Young Fogey.  

My comments here and here.

Just so that there’s no mistaking it, I hold Ratzinger in fairly high esteem.  I certainly prefer him by leaps and bounds to his predecessor.  The man is a genius, and in the first twenty pages of his Introduction to Christianity he masterfully exploded all the sacred myths of the historicism of both the Marxist and Whiggish outlooks.  But when it comes to on-the-ground economic issues, Ratzinger sometimes adopts positions that I don’t think are justified.  For all that the man has read—thousands of volumes, really—I think he would not only benefit from but be interested in the ideas of Mises, particularly his critique on the holistic view of society.

Parking Wars

The City of Philadelphia is known to have one of the most tyrannical parking enforcement bureaus in the country.  This racket has gained notoriety from the TV series Parking Wars.  What you are about to see is quite accurate.  In this city, many, many people hate the parking authority:  Young, old, conservative, liberal, black, white, etc.  I’ve known people whose cars were towed in the absence of a violation.  On one night, I watched a PPA tow truck move in and, with some kind of automated machinery, scoop up a car in less than a minute.  In many places the parking signs are confusing.  After all this, the city recently saw fit to raise parking rates in Center City.  The best solution for someone unfamiliar with the town?  Park it in a garage—preferably a privately-owned one.

Is the Obama administration looking to raze parts of shrinking American cities?

Via Matt Drudge comes this interesting story.  Dan Kildee, treasurer of Genesee County, Michigan, has developed a plan to level acres of abandoned land in Flint in order to make the city more viable.  There is merit to this thinking, and I can go along with it as long as private property rights are respected:  The land being considered consists mostly in abandoned properties.  According to the Rothbardian theory of private property rights, abandoned land is up for grabs, so this can hardly be considered the worst public works project that a bureaucrat has ever dreamed up.  It would be nice, however, to see all this done through means of private exchange rather than through civic planning.  But I don’t want to cavil about that today, not too much, anyhow.

What bothers me about this story is that Mr. Kildee has been consulted by the Obama administration.  Why?  If a local community wants to drastically alter its landscape, so be it.  But why is the Federal government getting involved?  Do they want to “help”?  And how long will it take before the offer of “help” becomes a mandated change?  

One more random thought:  I just can’t shake the image of General Sherman terrorizing Atlanta.

Just a thought…

Slow blogging

Sorry for the slow posting of late.  I’m in one last mad dash before my summer officially begins.  Lots of concerts, church services, birthdays, getting lunch one last time with someone before they leave town, etc.  For now it will suffice to say that for as much as I complain about the shabby condition of modern society, there is lots of creativity and thinking going on out there, and sooner or later it stands to triumph over the stupidities of bureaucracy, infotainment, and American Idol.

Texas Cop Tasers Woman, 72

Here’s your latest installment of “Land of the Free,” as it were.  Travis County Deputy Chris Bieze tasered an unarmed 72-year-old  woman after she dared him to do it—which was after he had already shoved her.  Sgt. Maj.  Gary Griffin, the commando in charge of the precinct, said that the taser was only used after the lady became “combative.”  

Combative?  What, did she bring guns and knives?  Tasers are only supposed to be used as a substitute for deadly force when the police feel threatened.  (There is of course this court ruling, which, however does not apply to Texas and which is monstrously wrong and ought not to be recognized anyway.)  Did this pig feel threatened by a 72 year-old woman?  What’s all this claptrap we hear about the “bravery” of our police when they’re tasering people left and right?  Sounds to me like they’re wimps, or that they have something to prove with regard to their….um, masculinity.  Kind of like guys in fast cars or big trucks, or school principals.  

There is a video.  Where is it?  If the cops are so right they should release it immediately and prove to us how this lady, who was pulled over for speeding (another non-crime), genuinely threatened their safety.


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