Monday, September 11, 2017

Some Thoughts About Genealogy

To state the absolutely obvious, every person living today is directly descended from the very first cells that lived billions of years ago. However, to make the time scale easier to grasp, let’s just state that every human alive today is necessarily directly descended from someone who was alive a thousand years ago, when, according to one estimate, the human population of the world was about 265 million.
Of those 265 million, we can assume not everyone managed to produce offspring, who, in turn, produced offspring, over forty-one generations (assuming four generations per century) between the years 1000 and the year 2000. Families were wiped about by wars, plagues, other natural disasters, and some people would have been celibate or infertile. However, a certain, evidently substantial fraction of those 265 million did manage to breed successfully, and today they have an estimated seven billion descendants.
From the perspective of a person concerned with genealogy, the important question is: which of the 265 million humans, who were alive a thousand years ago, are my ancestors? If you make a simple but fallacious calculation, you might be led to the conclusion that you are descended from them all. A person born in the the year 2000 has two parents who were born in 1975, four grandparents who were born in 1950, eight great-grandparents born in 1925, and sixteen great-great-grandparents who were born in 1900. Taking it back to the year 1000 would mean 241 ancestors, which is 219,902,325,552,
or more than thirty times the present human population of the world. We could not possibly be not descended from two-hundred, twenty billion different people. Hence, many of our ancestors must, in fact, sit in more than once place on our family trees.
For example, suppose two of your great-grandparents, not necessarily a man and wife, were first cousins (let’s say your mother’s grandmother and your father’s grandmother). That would mean that two of your great-great-grandparents were siblings, and those siblings would, by definition, have the same parents. So instead of thirty-two different descendants in that generation, you would only have thirty. That’s the process that whittles down the number of our actual ancestors from the impossible billions that the arithmetic offers. In the villages where most of our ancestors probably lived, in times when people tended to live and breed close to the places where they were born, the pool of available spouses could not have been very large, so many of our ancestors were related to each other. Instead of fanning out more or less infinitely, our lines of direct descent overlap and tangle. Not only are we directly descended from someone who lived a thousand years ago, we are descended from that person (and from many of our other actual ancestors in that generation) along multiple paths.
Some people I know are very proud that they can trace their ancestry back several centuries, but, obviously, that usually means they can name one person out of the many from whom they are descended in each previous generation. I would be interested in my own genealogy only if I could discover more than a name and place of residence. If I knew what one of my ancestors did with her life in the twelfth century, that might be interesting.

In Praise of Mediocrity

If I weren't mediocre, you couldn't excel. Mediocrity is comfortable. If I don't make demands on myself or on you, we can all relax and enjoy ourselves. Don't expect too much, and you won't be disappointed. People who are content with mediocrity probably sleep well, have low blood pressure, and don't get tension headaches. They don't get angry at other people for being ordinary, a bit sloppy, a bit lazy. They live in a mediocre world and expect the world to be that way.
Mediocre doesn't mean “bad,” it means “good enough,” “decent,” “satisfactory,” “serviceable” – not the best but not the worst.
Of course mediocrity is relative. One of my college roommates was taken into a freshman physics class restricted to students who, like him, had received 800 on their college board tests in physics. In that context, he proved to be a mediocre student. Those who excel in one environment rise to a higher level, where they prove to be mediocre. As far as I know, my former roommate went on to have a happy and prosperous life.
Mediocre people run the risk of being overtaken by the excellent and left behind, but even mediocre sports teams sometimes beat the league leaders. Besides, at a certain level, mediocre people are kicked upstairs, where they can do no harm but still can draw a nice salary and feel happy with their lot. Mediocre workers are passed over for promotion, which means they have less responsibility, less pressure. Maybe they are wise enough to know they don't handle pressure well.
Self-satisfaction can be a symptom of mediocrity, bourgeois fatuousness, not realizing that one is mediocre. It takes the critical gaze of the outsider, who is superior, to discern mediocrity, to see that the person who fancies himself superior is far from that. But a mediocre person with self-knowledge, who doesn't imagine she is better than she is, can be satisfied with her lot without being proud of it.
Mediocrity might well be optimal in the utilitarian sense. What's preferable, a society of content mediocrities, without too many outstanding successes or miserable failures, or a society with a few anxious, insecure brilliant people at the top and a huge mass of unhappy nobodies?
Does the idea of mediocrity necessarily entail competition? Not in zero-sum games with only winners or losers. It definitely entails comparison: to others or to an ideal of excellence.
If you grade people's performance on a curve, the middle is, by definition, mediocre. What ever happened to the Gentleman's C? The idea was: it's bad form too try too hard. Why? Because you were born to privilege, and if you strove, it was a sign that you doubted your privilege. The idea was: ideas and knowledge aren't all that important. On the other hand, it didn't do to fail. You had to learn something. And perhaps accepting the Gentleman's C was a way of rejecting the standard of those who presume to judge, who presume to know what should be known, who presume to set standards. Plenty of very intelligent and creative people never cared what kind of grades they got in school or college, because they were deeply interested in other things. The stigma of mediocrity implies some absolute scale, against which everyone is measured, but if society no longer agrees on standards, or if there are many independent sets of standards, the man or woman who are judged mediocre in one area of their life might be highly valued by people in another area of their life.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

History Versus Mythology

Because of my personal history and psychological makeup, I have thought a great deal about the difference between being a religious person and a secular person. In some ways I am both, unable to come down squarely on either side.
I grew up in an unequivocally secular Jewish family. My parents never mentioned God. My father was an absolute rationalist, but my mother, though not religious, had a strong sense of identification with the Jewish people, and she sent me to Hebrew school when I was about eleven, in preparation for my Bar-Mitzvah, which was, for her and myself, confirmation of my Jewish identity. My father went along with it. The Society for the Advancement of Judaism, the Reconstructionist synagogue where I had my Jewish education was essentially atheist. We were not taught to believe in a “personal” God, since Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of the Reconstructionist movement, called God “the power that makes for salvation.” This is not a concept that can inspire a young person or infuse him with religious faith. The concept of salvation was meaningless to me.
Nevertheless, I took on my mother's identification with the Jewish people. Since I was born in the end of 1944, when the Second World War and the Holocaust were still going on, in my youth I was strongly affected by knowledge of the destruction of European Jewry, though, again, I don't remember my parents discussing the subject with me. Perhaps it was so evident to them that they didn't feel the need to bring it up. Our immediate family was spared the Holocaust, because my grandparents and almost everyone in their families emigrated from Lithuania to the United States before the end of the nineteenth century. But I couldn't help knowing that the Nazis had tried to destroy the entire Jewish people, and I regarded the strengthening of Judaism as a retroactive act of defiance against the them.
I have only two specific memories connected with my awareness of the Holocaust from the time I was high school age. The first concerns a book of photographs of the liberated death camps in Europe, showing piles of emaciated corpses. Someone in my Hebrew school class brought a copy, and it was passed from one of us to another – not by a teacher as part of a class, but among ourselves. The shock of seeing those murdered Jewish people was indelible. The other powerful memory was left by André Schwarz-Bart's The Last of the Just, which I read in French, since I was an outstanding student of French in high school. I identified with the hero of the book, which I only remember dimly, and it heightened my loyalty to the Jewish people.
Because of that loyalty, I attended synagogue intermittently during college and spent the summer of 1967 in Israel as a volunteer on a kibbutz during the Six Day War. Evidently, judging by my later life, although some of these currents in my soul were subterranean, barely discussed and hardly evident in my behavior, they were very powerful.
In finding a marriage partner, it was very important for me that she be Jewish, in part to please my mother, who would have been sorry to see me marry a gentile. Why? All I remember her saying was that it would make married life easier – not that the survival of the Jewish people depended on avoiding intermarriage. There were intermarriages in our family, and we were friendly enough with the non-Jewish spouses of our relatives. But what was tolerated for cousins would not have been tolerable for me.
To skip the tedious details, in 1973 I ended up in Israel, married to Jewish woman, with a baby daughter, and my family and I gradually joined the (orthodox) religious community in Jerusalem. For many years I was a rather observant orthodox Jew, wearing a kipa, praying daily, eating only kosher food, observing the Sabbath and holidays, and sending my children to religious schools. My reasons for adopting this style of life never had to do with belief that the Torah was divine or that the commandments reflected the will of God. Being an immigrant, I needed an entrée into Israeli society, and I saw orthodox practice as the ticket of admission. I was also intellectually curious about Jewish texts and customs, we had many orthodox friends, and Jewish observance gave our family life structure and stability. By becoming observant, we became affiliated with a wonderful community, some of our closest friends in the past three or four decades.
Gradually, however, I began to think that without religious belief, religious practice was empty – though I'm still not sure about this. I am sure, however, that it became impossible for me to identify with values characteristic of most if not all members of the orthodox Jewish community: political conservatism, chauvinism, xenophobia, focus on driving the Arabs out of Palestine, discrimination against women, and homophobia. If behaving as if I were an orthodox Jew is a sign of identification with that community, forget it. Another feature of Jewish orthodoxy is acceptance of rabbinical authority, something I never did. The only kind of question I would ever ask a rabbi would be a very specific technical question about a detail of religious observance, and I can't even think of an example now. I certainly would never have asked a rabbi whether it was okay to eat fish in a restaurant that wasn't kosher. I knew it wasn't okay, but I did it anyway, even when I was taking kashrut pretty seriously.
Identity is a central element in religiosity. It is not a tautology to state that a religious person conceives of herself as a religious person. Participating in religious ceremonies, sharing religious beliefs, wearing certain kinds of clothes, eating or refraining from eating certain kinds of foods, using a certain kind of language – all of these are part of who the religious person is. This is true of Muslims, Jews, and Roman Catholics, whose religions require a regimen of specific behavior, as well as of Quakers, let's say, of whom one of their web sites proclaims: “Friends reject traditional, outward ceremonies and sacraments, sometimes characterized as 'empty forms.'”
In addition to identity, as demonstrated both to others and to oneself by adherence to certain behavioral norms, and the sense that observance of these norms is an expression of who one essentially is, religiosity denies historicity, and this is where we part company, for I am a child of the Enlightenment.
I earned a PhD in Comparative Literature, and my period of concentration was the late Renaissance, the sixteenth century. I chose to study that period, because I regarded it as the key to the uniqueness of Western European civilization, and I still think the Renaissance marked the beginning of the deep cultural change that gradually led, during the following two hundred years, to modern Western culture. There are three interconnected reasons for this. During the Renaissance the intellectual style of humanism emerged; critical rationalism began to take hold; and people became aware of historical change and the need to explain it. The last of these three developments most interests me at the moment.
To generalize much too broadly, early in the Renaissance thinkers noticed the discontinuities between ancient Roman civilization, medieval Christian culture, and their own times. Seeing themselves as a new kind of people, they rejected medieval philosophy and theology, and they sought to understand history not as the working out of a divine plan, but as the consequence of historical forces, forces that could and should be analyzed and understood in human and natural terms.
Gradually the idea that all the phenomena in the universe are historical took hold in every area of intellectual life in the West. We now believe that the universe itself has a history, that events are not caused by acts of God, but by previous events, and, in turn, they give rise to subsequent events. The explanation of why things happened in a certain way is to be sought empirically, not metaphysically. For secular people today this assumption is self-evident, even axiomatic. However, the consequences of this idea were revolutionary, because it implies that the Bible, too, has a history, as do all religions. If this is so, then the story the Bible tells about itself, and the explanation that events occur because God intervenes in history, cannot be true. Or, at the very least, they must be subjected to the same kind of critical evaluation we apply to any other historical account. The secular historian does not resort to the will of God to explain events, except, perhaps, as some vague and abstract “first cause,” since, given our assumptions about the universe, we believe that something must have given rise to the Big Bang.
I subscribe wholeheartedly to this view of history. Any claim, for example, that AIDS is God's way of punishing homosexuals and drug users, or that natural disasters are meant to teach us something about God's will, or that diseases such as Parkinson's or pancreatic cancer are connected to our accounting with God disgusts me. I don't believe Jewish claims that God chose the Jews and gave them the Torah and gave the Promised Land, or that Jesus is the son of God and died to save our souls, and I can't understand how anyone who subscribes to the secular understanding of history can take such claims seriously except as important historical objects, highly influential myths, stories humans have made up about the ways of the world. Like any other historical object or event, these myths demand a historical explanation, because so many people believed them in the past and still believe them today.
But why do people believe them, despite centuries of critical historical study, the development of science, and tons of evidence? Because the secular view makes history meaningless to anyone but ourselves. Historical events only matter to us humans, the people who live through them, remember them, and try to understand them. “History” is not an entity or force that is going anywhere in particular. History, with a capital 'H,' is an artificial construct. Events just happen for reasons inherent in themselves.
Now, why do I, a person who firmly believes that the secular view of history is correct, attend synagogue services, recite prayers, listen to the reading of the Bible, and even study Jewish religious texts? The reasons are essentially emotional – a statement that I acknowledge to be an oxymoron.
Let me begin by stating that I enjoy attending services (though not all the time, and not when they drag on too long). I like the singing, I like reading the beautiful Hebrew of the texts, and I like the feeling of fellowship that participation in prayers offers me. When I am praying in the synagogue, I belong to a virtual community with two dimensions in time: the Jewish people for the past two thousand years or more, my ancestors, and a real community, my fellow worshipers, those immediately present and those performing the same ceremonies at the same time elsewhere.
Reciting the prayers with a congregation is a collective performance, like playing a part in a play, the part of a religious Jew. Religion in general can be viewed as a collective work of art, and you don't have to believe in the empirical truth of a work of art to enjoy it in the deepest sense. Indeed, the Jewish religious view of the world as having a meaningful history, which is headed in the direction of final redemption, has much in common with art. Works of art have authors and creators, just as the universe, in the religious view, has an Author and a Creator. The details in a work of narrative art are placed there intentionally, for the purpose of advancing the plot, shedding light on characters and their motivations, and also for compositional, structural reasons. A religious person believes that this is also true of everything placed in the world by its Creator.
My reason knows that this is not true, in the sense that there are better explanations for what is in the world, and also because so many catastrophic events in the world make it impossible for me to believe in that they have been planned and executed by a merciful god. However, I cannot help wishing it were true. If only the world were the way the prayers say it is!
Prayer rescues me from cynicism, reminding me that there are values worth hoping and striving for. I can't define holiness, but I do believe that if we consistently regarded life as holy, we could make the world better.

 Prayer also puts me in contact with the mythical dimension of human consciousness, and a major flaw in the attitude of categorical opponents of religion is their deafness to that dimension. If we secular humanists accept Terence's dictum, that nothing human is alien to us, we cannot ignore the powerful effect of the symbols of mythology in our own lives, as rational as we may wish to be, nor can we understand the behavior of those who don't subscribe to our understanding of the world, surely the vast majority of people on earth. No rational argument can persuade a billion Hindus that their gods don't exist, a billion Muslims that Muhammad couldn't possible have heard the words of Allah, or a billion Christians that Jesus wasn't really the messiah. If we think that aspects of these beliefs are damaging, we should try to avert that damage, but dismissing the entire business of religion as balderdash is fruitless. So, praying with other Jews keeps me open. Open to what? I found it impossible to finish that sentence and answer that question. I'm still thinking about it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Too Many Flutes (7): Solid Gold Cadillacs and Copper Tubing

The price of flutes rises steeply depending on the metal they're made of, from silver-plated nickel through solid gold and platinum. The influence of the material on the sound of the flute is a matter of debate. Jennifer Cluff, a Canadian flutist who posts a great deal of valuable information on the web, sheds some clear light on this matter, as does a paper by Gregor Widholm and others.
I had the feeling that flute makers were charging disproportionately for the metals they use, so, out of curiosity I weighed my Sankyo silver flute on an admittedly not absolutely accurate kitchen scale. It weighs just about 500 grams. Assuming that it is sterling silver (it isn't - it's a special alloy developed by the Sankyo company), the silver in the instrument would be worth $230. So, let's say, $250 to give Sankyo the benefit of the doubt. That's not a large proportion of the price of the flute. Assuming that flutes made of other materials weigh about the same, a 14 karat gold flute would contain about $12,000 worth of gold, which goes far to explain the high cost of these flutes. Platinum is a bit more costly. But, if it doesn't make a noticeable difference in the sound of the flute, why pay so much more for a gold or platinum flute? (Or, for that matter, a solid silver flute as opposed to a silver plated flute?)
Looking at it another way, if the metal in a silver flute doesn't cost more than, say, a maximum of $500, given the different types of silver used by the best makers, why should a Brannen flute cost $13,000 or more? Obviously, it's a matter of the workmanship, and if I had a huge amount of spare cash, I would be very tempted to buy one. But still...
Saxophones, which are much heavier than flutes, are generally not made out of silver, though manufacturers do make silver neck joints for them. Some musicians I know use these silver neck joints, and they claim that they improve their sound. That's possible but also very subjective. A wind instrument sounds different to the player than to the listener. The musician's body is essentially part of the instrument, and their ears are not a few meters from the production of the sound. It's impossible for players to judge their sounds objectively, because they are part of the sound.  If the material of the flute or neck joint or whatever makes the instrument sound better to the player, regardless of whether the listener notices the difference, that's an important justification for paying more. Making music on a high level is extremely demanding, and every psychological edge helps the musician.
All of this is by way of justifying an unjustifiable purchase. After I donated my Armstrong student model flute, which needed some adjustment, to a music school, I had only (!) one flute, my expensive Sankyo flute. What if I brought it with me on a trip, and it was stolen? What if I dropped it and had to have it repaired? I persuaded myself that I needed, as it were, another, less expensive flutes.
A Taiwanese company, Guo, makes flutes out of plastic, but they didn't appeal to me. Then, one day, I searched for "copper flutes" on the web, and, lo and behold, I found one, made by the Schiller company, a defunct German manufacturer, which was revived. The Jim Laabs store in Wisconsin markets Schiller instruments (and, apparently, has them manufactured in China). It wasn't outrageously expensive, so I bought one. I was a bit depressed at the time, and I decided to cheer myself up by buying myself a present.
The pleasure of getting a gift was soured a bit because it took a lot longer to arrive in Israel than I had expected, partly because the store had the instrument adjusted before it shipped it, and partly because Fedex sent it back to America because they didn't have my phone number. It appears to have been made by people who were trying to produce something decent, and it is. Not as good as my Sankyo, but, considering that it cost about a sixth of what the silver flute cost, it's an amazingly good buy.
So now, in addition to all my folk instruments, I own two Western flutes, which is definitely twice as many as I need. But I enjoy playing on the copper flute. It's a bit harder to play than the Sankyo. The low notes don't come out as easily and as clearly, so playing it is a bit like running with lead weights on your ankles. When you take them off, you're lighter on your feet.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Too Many Flutes (6): A Luxury Item

I was persuaded to spend about twice as much as I planned to spend, when I decided to replace the Di Zhao flute I had owned for a couple of years. That flute was in the category of a "step up" instrument, better than a student model but not professional level.
The flute that Asaf Ginzburg sold me, a Sankyo silver flute, is on the bottom level of professional instruments, which extends upward through solid gold flutes that cost much as much as a luxury automobile.
Asaf set me down at a counter with about six excellent flutes, and, together, we tried them all and narrowed the choice down to the one I finally bought. From the very first note I played on one of the sample flutes, I could hear and feel the improvement over the Di Zhao, so the die was cast right away.
Asaf is a persuasive salesman, a clever businessman, and I like him. I like visiting his store in Tel Aviv. I love to see the huge array of instruments he has for sale. And I appreciate his knowledgeability. He knows his instruments. His prices are not low compared to the prices of huge Internet outlets like Woodwind and Brasswind. But his store is in Tel Aviv (only an advantage to Israelis, of course). You can go there, try out the instruments, compare them, and bring them back for adjustment. By the time you buy an instrument from an online store, have it shipped to Israel, and pay the VAT, the price isn't that much lower than in a local store. In my opinion, Ginzburg earns the difference between what he charges and what you'd pay if you ordered something from abroad.
Ah, but let's get back to the flute itself.
I've had dealings with Ginzburg over the years, and he pretends to recognize and remember me when I come in - being the fine salesman that he is, he probably does remember me. He more or less guessed my age, my income bracket, and my seriousness about playing the flute. As we moved toward closing the deal, which included trading in the Di Zhao flute and buying a new case for my baritone saxophone, he admitted that the flute was better than I was. At my level of playing, I didn't need a professional level flute. However, how many more flutes was I likely to buy in my lifetime?
(This reminds me of a friend of mine, at least eighty years old by now, who bought a big white SUV, saying to himself that it was probably the last car he'd ever buy).
I usually have a good deal of sales resistance, and I don't tend to buy high end stuff, but Asaf overcame my parsimony, and I'm grateful to him. Having an excellent instrument pulls down all the barriers to one's progress as a musician, and it's also an incentive: I want to play well enough to justify owning such a fine instrument. In the two years that I've owned it, I have improved, and, most importantly, I have enjoyed playing it.
Yesterday I played a Telemann trio with my wife, playing the piano, and a friend of ours, playing first flute. It was a hot day, and I wasn't feeling so great, but playing the music, even though our performance was hardly on a professional level, energized me. Where does that energy come from? I asked. Certainly not from the notes printed on the paper. Objectively speaking, it comes from within the musician, but, subjectively speaking, it feels as if it comes from a higher source. So if my overly expensive flute can give me that feeling from time to time, it is worth every penny and more.
So why did I buy yet another flute?
More to come.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Too Many Flutes (5)

When I decided to buy a Western flute I went to a small shop run by Charly Elbaz, in downtown Jerusalem (he has closed it since then and doesn't deal in used instruments anymore). I've known Charly slightly for a long time and he's repaired my instruments now and then. He had a small selection, some for 800 sheqels and some for 1000 sheqels - not a lot of money.
I bought a used flute manufactured by the Blessing company, which no longer makes flutes - they specialize in brass instruments today. I couldn't really try the different flutes out at the time. Charly had to show me where to put my fingers on the instrument. The one I bought probably wasn't much worse or better than the others at that price.
There are literally hundreds of used student-level flutes on the market at any given time. Just check on ebay or on the Goodwill Industries web site. Lots of them cost less than $25, but they're probably not worth fixing up. There's something sad about that.
I struggled with the Blessing flute for several months, trying to figure out how to play by watching instructional Youtubes. I figured (arrogantly) that I had enough experience with woodwinds, that I didn't need to take lessons, and, in a way, that was right. By trial and error I could have reached some level of proficiency and left it at that. But I was dissatisfied and frustrated, and I wanted to play flute as well as I can play saxophone. So I sought out a teacher and ended up with Ra'anan Eylon, a master teacher with decades of experience, who has worked out a sound method for turning beginners into musicians.
As I advanced, I discovered the shortcomings of my first flute and traded it in with Charly for a slightly better one, an old Armstrong flute. Charly, being a gentleman, gave me full credit for the Blessing flute, even though I offered to accept less than the 800 sheqels I had paid for it.
I played the Armstrong for a while. It was a reliable, solid instrument, quite easy to play, but limited in its responsiveness. But I was outgrowing it and got Ra'anan's approval to look for a better flute. He wouldn't authorize me to upgrade until I reached a level that required it. When he finally told me that I had progressed enough to reward myself with a better instrument, I started looking.
On a local web site that I found that someone was selling a new Di Zhao flute for 3500 sheqels (if I remember right), or approximately $1,000. Coincidentally, the man who was selling the flute was a young student at the Jerusalem Academy who, in partnership with Ra'anan, my teacher, had imported half a dozen flutes by Di Zhao, a new Chinese company established by a craftsman who had worked for the Powell Company in Massachusetts (I believe), making head joints for them. So Ra'anan had no problem in recommending the Di Zhao flute, which I played for a couple of more years.
The Di Zhao flute was a good instrument, made with care, and I played on it for a couple of years. If I wasn't sounding good, it was my fault, not the instrument's.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Too Many Flutes (4) - Traverso

Before I took up the Western Boehm system silver (plated) flute, I reasoned that it would be easier to play a baroque flute. I love baroque music, and I particularly love the soft, round tone of the baroque flute, which gradually supplanted the recorder during the eighteenth century in Europe. Wooden baroque flutes, copies that modern craftspeople make of old flutes that are in collections and museums, are, as they should be, very expensive. But a Japanese company called Aulos, which makes recorders, also manufactures baroque flutes out of resonite, for much less money.
I bought one.
On the scale of frustration, the Turkish Kaval and the Peruvian Quena are 10 on the scale (most frustrating), the Chinese flute is 4, and the Indian flute is 3. I rather expected the baroque flute to be easy to play. Boy was I wrong. Getting a decent sound out of it was difficult (indeed, I didn't make much progress in that direction till I had played a Western flute for a while), and playing in any key except D major turned out to be cumbersome. The instruction sheet that came with the flute warns that F natural is out of tune, and you have to turn the flute lower the pitch. It also sounds fuzzy, as do other very common notes like C natural, B flat, and so on.
When I listen to contemporary musicians playing the baroque flute, such as Stephen Preston, whom I met at Wildacres in the summer of 2016, I'm astonished at the apparent ease with which they play. I would say that I don't know how they do it, but I do know how they do it: they practiced like crazy when they started out until they mastered the instrument.
That being said, an expert musician can play passages faster on the baroque flute than on the Western keyed flute, because you don't have to move anything mechanical except your fingers.
Incidentally, on a trip to Ireland I fantasized about buying an Irish wooden flute, thinking to add to my collections of instruments that I can't or don't play (including a metal G clarinet that I bought in Istanbul), but they cost up to a thousand euros, and that seemed like a bit too much for a souvenir.