Saturday, March 13, 2010

This Blog Has Moved

To I told you the URL would be easy to guess, didn't I? As far as I know only antiaphrodite did so. She actually showed up yesterday and left a comment on a test post, which isn't there anymore. (Actually, I had meant to leave it, as a testimony to her cleverness or good guessing or whatever, but at some point I had to delete about 20 posts and inadvertently included it.)

Please come over and tell me what you think. Perhaps there will even be a new post of at least some substance within the next 24 hours or so.

Eventually (like three months from now), everything presently on this site (not just the blog, but everything at will be over at TypePad, and then I'll make point there.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

This Blog is Moving Soon

Well, what a mess. I am preparing this post by manually editing a copy of the index file downloaded from my site--as opposed to the normal method of preparing it in Blogger and hitting the "post" button. That's because Blogger has done something which prevents me from being able to post. The result of this is that I'm going to move the blog to TypePad as soon as possible, which however probably won't be till the weekend.

It's been rather a circus behind the scenes here since the Haloscan comment service was abruptly terminated some weeks ago, which was quickly followed by Blogger's announcement that they would no longer support ftp publishing.

The original deadline for the Blogger transition was March 26. In response to user demand, they extended it to May 1. I've been trying to decide what to do and evaluating various options. This involved my switching back and forth between publishing here (via ftp) and publishing to After posting the SNJ Monday (ftp), I switched to blogspot for some testing. Last night I discovered that switching back to ftp has been removed as an option. I assume they did this to keep anyone from beginning the use of an option about to be discontinued. However, it keeps me from being able to post at all, except this way, which is not feasible except as an emergency (the post will only be visible here, does not have its own page, etc. etc.).

So. I had only decided a few days ago that TypePad would definitely be my choice, and had planned to spend a week or two getting things ready there, including a lot of work customizing the look. Well, that's off. I've got to go ahead and jump. I'll post a note here with the new URL (though you can guess it easily). Eventually will point there, but that's some weeks away. In the end the site will be better, but it's going to take some time.

I think, or at least hope, that you can comment at Janet's Undead Thread v2.0. I can't easily establish the usual comment link here. Comments on other posts should be working normally.

Sigh. Grumble.

Monday, March 08, 2010

War In the Closed World 6: A Spring Day in 1967

Sunday Night Journal — March 7, 2010

Sometimes I sympathize with the people who have little use for poetry, who believe (or at least seem to wish) that each word should correspond to one and only one thing, whether a physical object or an idea. Music and visual art produce their effects directly. It is the sound or the sight in itself that reaches the heart and mind through the senses, and one either does or does not respond. Language is far less immediate, and far less amenable to control. There may be a certain pleasure in the sound of it alone, but that’s pretty limited, and almost entirely inseparable from its meaning. The word points somewhere else, away from itself, and the writer can never be entirely sure that it points to the same thing for the reader that it does for him.

I want to tell you what a certain experience was like, and just as importantly to communicate to you what it feels like to remember that experience. I can’t expect to do that simply by describing it. And I can’t expect to be able to put the feeling itself into words. I can only try to describe it in such a way that it will cause you to recall a time when you felt something similar. I’ll put the words on paper, and it almost seems that it will be no more than a happy accident if they produce in you the sensations that the memory produces in me.

What I want to describe is what Peter de Vries calls in one of his novels (and I can’t remember which one so that I can quote it exactly) “the most poignant emotion: the memory of expectation.” It’s an emotion that occurs frequently in maturity, when one looks back at one’s youth. I have always been prone to melancholy and have never seen youth as a time of golden happiness; in fact I was quite unhappy for much of it. But I still feel painfully nostalgic for it at times, and what I’m remembering when I feel that way is not happiness, but rather the hope and expectation of happiness: the sense that the future was open and that something mysterious and good and exciting was coming.

I think many people felt that some great thing was happening in the early and middle ‘60s, not just in themselves but in the world, and if that is true then it was doubly powerful to be young then, because the sense of possibility involved not only one’s own life but a whole community—perhaps the whole of humanity, perhaps just some group with which one was associated. (I’ve heard theologians who were present at Vatican II describe that experience in very similar terms.) At any rate it’s certainly an historical fact that big changes happened then. Among other things, much of the world was entering a state of unprecedented material prosperity, and although the anxiety about nuclear war was intense in those prosperous societies, they were mostly at peace. It was easy for the young to believe that this was the natural state of things, and that rather than preparing for a life of work and struggle we should expect ease and contentment, with enough excitement to keep things interesting.

When I think of the spring of 1967, the first memory that occurs to me is of listening to Donovan’s Mellow Yellow album on a bright fresh day, in my dorm room with the windows open. If you know that album, you may think of it as a silly period piece. If you didn’t experience it when it was new, as it was in the spring of ’67, you may or may not like it as a piece of music, but you probably won’t sense its connection with that memory of expectation which it calls up in me.

Earlier today, thinking about this piece, I listened to the first few songs of Mellow Yellow. I can’t remember when I last heard it. Perhaps it was not since the late ‘60s, or perhaps I listened to it a few times in the ‘70s. At any rate I can’t recall having heard it more recently than that; the title song may have popped up on the radio here and there, but not the rest of the album. It’s been sitting quietly on my shelves all these years, the same LP that I noticed with happy surprise on the shelves of a record store in downtown Tuscaloosa, one day early in 1967, and immediately purchased. In those days there was no pop music press, and a kid in an out-of-the-way place like Tuscaloosa, Alabama, generally learned of a new release only when he saw it in the stores.

I was not surprised to find today that the album is really very good; Donovan at his best was an extremely gifted artist, and much of his work holds up well in spite of its association with the sillier aspects of the time: flower power, the Maharishi, etc. This is not my favorite of his albums—I think that would be Sunshine Superman—but much of it is about as good as pop music gets.

But even if you agree with me about that, how can you feel what I felt, listening to it on that sunny day, with the cool spring air filling my room? It wasn’t only or purely the music, but the sense that it pointed to another realm. Superficially the music itself is part folk, part jazz, part pop. But there is a romantic haze about it that suggests mystery. I suppose the haze was partly an effort to capture the feeling of certain drug experiences, and probably also a product of them, but I knew nothing of that, and my experience of the music both then and now proves that you don’t have to have the drugs to have the feeling; indeed I would say that what I felt was better than what the drugs gave: sweeter and more real, if less immediately potent.

The memory of this music is quickly followed by others: Richard and Mimi Fariña’s Reflections in a Crystal Wind, with its silvery dulcimer and poetic imagery; the Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday; Dylan, the Lovin’ Spoonful, Simon and Garfunkel. Some of it hinted, or more than hinted, at the sleazy side of the revolution, the drugs-and-sex side that, along with radical politics, would soon come to more or less define it. But either I didn’t notice or I didn’t fully understand those implications. I didn’t, for instance, realize that when Donovan sang, in “Mellow Yellow,” “I’m just mad about foh-teen,” he meant fourteen-year-old girls (I thought he was referring to some obscure color that I’d never heard of; after all, I wasn’t entirely sure what “saffron” was, either.)

What I took from this music—and I don’t mean a message I heard consciously, but what it caused to happen in my mind and heart—was something like this: Life had another dimension. It was not the flat and drab and constricted thing we experienced daily, the world of tiresome work that seemed intended to lead nowhere but to more of the same. There was beauty, and the promise of love, and other emotions so sweet and so fleeting that they weren’t even named or spoken of, but rather felt when they swept by like unseen wings, not apprehended directly but known by their passing. These last have been named for me now: the yearning that the Germans call sehnsucht and C.S. Lewis called joy.

I thought none, or little, of this consciously. It was simply present in me, and it seemed to lead somewhere, and I wanted to follow. The road to which it pointed led me much closer to hell than to heaven, but if I do get to heaven it will become part of the road by which I got there, and so I will bless it along with the rest. At present I can’t help wishing I had taken another.

It was in that spring of 1967 that the wizard and I actually encountered the thing that would soon be referred to as the counter-culture. Even on this unsophisticated university campus in the deep south, where George Wallace had attempted to prevent racial integration only a few years earlier, there were a few visibly bohemian types. There was one little group in particular we had noticed, because its leader was a graduate student in the English department: a very tall, very thin, dramatic looking fellow who wore sunglasses night and day and, at least in my memory, always dressed in a white shirt and blue jeans (jeans were not yet the universal uniform). He was the center of a little circle of much younger people (one of whom became the “friend from Atlanta” I mentioned a couple of installments ago).

Our dorm was at the northwest corner of the campus, and just to the west of us was an open vacant space, and then a patch of woods and a creek. On one of these bright fresh afternoons the little band of proto-hippies came walking by the dorm, heading for the woods. We talked about joining them; here was our chance to meet them, it seemed. After a bit of hesitation the wizard ran downstairs, caught up with them, and went off into the woods with them. But I was too shy and diffident to inflict myself on people who might not want me there, and stayed in my room.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Can Germans Sing?

(Weekend Music)

A few days ago someone wondered why Germans can’t sing. My response: they can, as the video below confirms. The singing doesn’t start until about the 40-second mark.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Evolutionary Psychology is Pseudo-Science

Here is one of many exhibits illustrating that fact.

And yes, I would think so even if this study claimed that Catholics or southerners or people with brown hair are smarter than others. The data may be factual, although even that depends on ill-defined and shifting terms like "liberal" and "conservative." But beyond that, it's all speculation, much of it not only narrow-minded, in the way that only materialists can be, but pretty much off the wall: religion is an evolutionary advantage because it makes you paranoid? You don't have to be religious to think that's just dumb.

Monday, March 01, 2010

War In the Closed World 5: The Wizard

Sunday Night Journal — February 28, 2010

I call him the wizard because people who had read The Lord of the Rings agreed that he reminded them very much of Gandalf. It’s difficult to say exactly why, though I think it would have been clear to anyone who knew both. I had not yet read the book, and would not do so until several years after I had dropped out of the revolution, but when I did read it I understood immediately why people had made the comparison.
He was tall—not extremely so, but taller than average—and although he was only twenty or twenty-one when I met him, there was a quality about him that suggested age. I think this was partly an effect of a chronic disease of the lungs, which may have been congenital; at any rate it had been with him for many years. He had spent a great deal of time in hospitals and was missing part of a lung. I assumed it was the disease which gave his voice a slight whispery or reedy quality—not weak exactly, but soft. It’s difficult to describe, but it was not the voice of a young man, and it was very distinctive. He had a strong brow, thick eyebrows, and deep-set eyes which sometimes gleamed in a wizardly sort of way. His glower was formidable, and yet he could look merry and childlike. He was generally quiet, but a clever and imaginative talker when he got started: I once saw him distract someone out of a bad LSD trip with a wholly improvised fairy tale.
There seemed to me an air of knowledge and wisdom about him, even a kind of authority, and I don’t think that’s only because he was a couple of years older than I (at an age when two years were significant), because other people seemed to sense it, too. As a part of the radical movement on and around campus he became a charismatic central figure because people instinctively turned to him for leadership.
None of this was apparent when I met him in the fall of 1966, my freshman year in college, nor for some months afterward. He was one of the occupants of the room next door to mine, and I don’t recall our initial meeting. My memory is of a shy, quiet, person bearing no sign of any attempt to be cool or fashionable, to look and behave like a college student was supposed to look and behave—I was aware of such things because most of my acquaintances at the time were in the fraternity-sorority crowd where they mattered a great deal. For the first few months of that fall I was trying to fit into that world, and I suspect, though I don’t remember clearly, that I didn’t really get to know the wizard until I had begun to give up on that hopeless effort.
He was an English major, which I was soon to become after beginning in the ridiculous delusion that I wanted to be, and was fit to be, a  journalist. It is a source of fascination to me to think of the effect that short-lived notion had on my life. I had applied to Vanderbilt, and might have gone there if I hadn’t decided, sometime late in my senior year of high school, that because Vandy—home of the illustrious tradition of the Fugitives—didn’t offer a degree in journalism, I would go to Alabama instead. But by the end of the first semester, if not sooner, I had discarded the journalism idea.
For my first semester of freshman English I had an excellent teacher, a graduate student, who encouraged me to switch majors, and for my second semester a man whom I came to revere intellectually, Dr. Eugene Williamson. I think this was on the advice of both my first teacher and the wizard. Williamson was one of the two or three most capable and rigorous intellects in the department, an astringent and demanding teacher. It was in that second semester that my interest in literature really blossomed, along with my friendship with the wizard.
I don’t really remember anything very specific that we did together; we only talked. We had in common a love for literature and learning and a deep sense of alienation from the world around us, and we talked and talked and talked. My roommate of the first semester moved out of the dorm for the second, and his roommate was an engineering student who spent a lot of time in labs or studying with other engineers, so we had a lot of opportunity for conversation. Neither of us had much of a social life (mine having mostly flamed out in the first semester, though I still had the occasional date). Apart from school, we had little else to do but talk. I don’t  remember anything much we said, apart from a few fragments, but I do remember that we were very intrigued by what we had read of the radical bohemianism that had flowered in other parts of the country, and had a vague desire to be part of it.
I remember Sunday afternoons especially, long and quiet, but full of conversation. Sundays were a problem because no meals were served in the dorms on Sunday evenings, and we were at the extreme northwestern corner of the campus, and the business district of the town, where the restaurants were, was on the opposite side, a couple of miles away. So our Sunday afternoons were greatly occupied with figuring out how we were going to eat on Sunday night, which generally involved negotiations with someone who had a car (not everyone did then).
Sometime during that year he read The Lord of the Rings and was completely captivated by it, going so far as to have a map of Middle Earth on his wall. I was intrigued by the map but didn’t think the book sounded like my cup of tea, and didn’t read it until perhaps 1973 or ’74—a great loss. I’m wondering now if he was the first to compare himself to Gandalf, and I can’t say for sure: perhaps he did, or perhaps he only said that he wished to be Gandalf, or at least some sort of wizard.
He was certainly the closest friend I had ever had at that point in my life, and the first who seemed really to share my alienation. By the end of the school year we had decided to move out of the dorm and get an apartment together the following fall. We did so, and shared that apartment until the spring of 1970—that is, for the three school years of 1967-68, 1968-69, and 1969-70. We drifted apart as the waves of the revolution broke and subsided, but I still remember him as one of the most gifted and interesting people I’ve ever known.
Perhaps I overestimated him; apart from being older, he knew much more about literature than I did; he had some ability as a poet and certainly more aptitude for pure scholarship than I (or at any rate much more discipline). Later on someone would remark of that friendship that “he had so much influence”—meaning too much—“over you.” I was a little startled by that, because I had never thought of it that way, but I recognized at once that it was true, or rather had been true, because by the time the remark was made it no longer was.
We talked less as time went on. As the frenzy of the revolution ramped up we began to go our separate ways, he very much at home in it, I much less so but trying hard to be, and correspondingly filled with anxieties of all sorts. Our apartment was often crowded with people, and we didn’t always have the same friends. In time the conversations became less frequent and less a meeting of minds. But I see us sitting there on a winter evening, across the room from each other, the blue flame of a gas space heater burning in one corner and me filling the little place with cigarette smoke. The smoke must have made him miserable, given his respiratory problems, but he never complained, and it was only years later that I realized how blindly inconsiderate I had been.
I still don’t know what he wanted from the revolution, what he expected it to accomplish, and I’m not at all sure that he knew, either. If he had a clear political ideology I was not aware of it. He seemed to have the revolutionary spirit without revolutionary doctrine. I don’t think it is unfair of me to suggest that he was interested in making trouble for the sake of making trouble, a project for which I had a great deal of sympathy.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Zappa Plays Zappa: “Peaches en Regalia”

In celebration of the temporary resolution of the blog "issues," here is the uncharacteristically cheerful Frank Zappa tune from Hot Rats, played by an ensemble led by his son Dweezil.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

I think the patient has been stabilized

Comments seem to be working now in a somewhat consistent if unsatisfactory way. In Firefox, if you come to the main blog page, you see "2 comments" or whatever at the end of a post. If you click on that, you get taken to a page with only that post, and, again, "2 comments". Click on that, and you get the comments box.

It works the same in Internet Explorer, except: I find that when I go the main page the number of comments doesn't appear. Reloading the page (F5) makes it appear. But even if the number isn't there, clicking on the word "comments" seems to work as above.

The Recent Comments feature is not going to be there for a while, and when it reappears it will probably be because I've moved the blog somewhere else. I had left the old Haloscan code in the blog template. The JS-Kit folks had said it would continue to work properly. As we know, it did not. After a frustrating go-round with JS-Kit support, I finally replaced it with the new Echo code. That involved discovering and correcting some things in their examples that were just plain wrong and would never work. But Echo has no Recent Comments feature as such. Instead, it has a big ugly navigation tool which includes a Comments list along with some stuff I don't want. The tool is customizable to some degree, and I could probably make it less obtrusive and perhaps remove the unwanted items, but I really don't much want to bother.

My goal now is to escape Echo for all future commenting while preserving the old comments. The good news is that I think this will be possible: it turns out Echo comments can be accessed from locations other than the one where they were generated.

If you see my Links list empty, it's because I had to start from scratch with a fresh copy of the template (that's also why it was green for a while today). I'll put them back soon.

Update 2/28/10: we now have a recent comments list, although it's rather unattractive, and I've put the links back, so I think I'm in a position to put the commenting problem aside for now and focus on the question of where to move the blog itself. Officially I have until late March to make the move, but it's going to take a while for me to evaluate the options and make the decision.

It's funny how the absence of a recent comments list made the blog seem somehow crippled--a sort of flying-blind feeling. Just shows how important the comments are.

Facebook group: Dove Descending

I'm not sure whether I've mentioned it except in passing in a comment, but I finally gave in to curiosity and joined Facebook a month or so ago. I did mention back in January that I'm reading Thomas Howard's book about Eliot's Four Quartets for Lent. Last night I created a Facebook group for that discussion, partly because the commenting situation here is, um, in transition. So, if you're on Facebook and are interested, please join the group (and send me a friend request, though if I've set the group up as I intended that's not necessary for joining it). You're welcome even if you don't want to read the Howard book but know or would like to know the poem, which can be found, probably in violation of copyright, here.