Slow blogging, again…

By now you’re probably all accustomed to my frequent periods of silence.  But I am still here.

While I’ve been occupying myself with summer diversions, South Carolina has been looking for its governor, who might be the best politician in the world for disappearing for four days.  Poor chap has to go back to work today, though.  The story even sounded like his vacation was cut short by this non-event.  The rest of the news is also mostly irrelevant noise about Perez Hilton, or about gruesome murder stories designed to boost ratings.  

I was sorry to see one important story, however:  the Metro crash in DC.  I’ve ridden that line many times.  It already looks as if glaring safety omissions occurred there.  But I wouldn’t expect too much accountability from the public transportation racket.  Nine people have died, which is just horrible.

Ron Paul on Healthcare

One of the most excellent things about Austrian economics is that its methodologies cut through so much self-righteous posturing.  The current healthcare debate is one area in which people strive to emulate Robin Hood as much as possible as they yell and scream on behalf of the rights of the poor.  It’s all well-intentioned enough, for the most part, but the indignation really gets annoying after awhile.

Below, however, is a video from Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), who is an OB/GYN.  He discusses the healthcare situation from an Austrian economic perspective, and in only a few minutes, he makes far more sense out of the situation than all the other pundits rolled into one.


H/T to LRC.

Religion and violence

From Don Emmerich.  

On Christianity:

“The source of Christian belief, the New Testament, in no way promotes the belligerent nationalism that characterizes so many modern Evangelicals. Far from laying down the stipulations for ‘just war,’ Jesus preached non-resistance. And although the Apostle Paul seemed to believe that “the governing authorities” were justified in using force against wrongdoers, his ethical teachings echoed Jesus’ message of self-giving love. 

“The problem with modern Christians, it seems to me, is not that they have too much faith but that they have too little. The average churchgoer is guilty of serving two gods: God and Country. If such idolatry ended, if Christians started loving the Lord their God, and Him alone, then it’s hard to imagine how they could continue down the path that so much of the world finds deplorable.”

And on Islam:

“So what then motivates suicide terrorism? Pape summarized the answer in a 2008 interview: ‘What over 95% of suicide terrorist attacks around the world have in common since 1980 is not religion but a specific strategic objective: to compel a democratic state to withdraw combat forces from territory the terrorists consider to be their homeland or prize greatly. From Lebanon to Chechnya to the West Bank to Sri Lanka to Kashmir and to Iraq and Afghanistan today, suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign military occupation.’”

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.