Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Passing: John Updike March 18, 1932 – January 27, 2009

No matter what you think of his work, it's impossible not to recognize John Updike as one of the United State's premier men of letters in the 20th century. With over fifty books, including a number of bestsellers, two Pulitzers, two National Book Awards, countless essays and reviews, the man was a prolific success and recognized as a literary writer at the same time. This is increasingly hard to pull off, it appears. Considering him, he almost seems the last of dying breed.

I saw him speak once, at The Florida Suncoast Writer's Conference, circa 1997. After his keynote speech, I went up to the podium hoping to shake his hand, make that brief corporeal contact with a legend, but there were too many people lingering around him and I gave it up.

I always admired Updike's carefully crafted style. If his characters failed to move me, it was probably due in large part to my carefully cultivated disdain for middle-class suburbian life. The most recent work of Updike's that I read is a poem. I first heard it recited at an academic panel on scatology. It is called, "The Beautiful Bowel Movement." It showed me another side of him, one that I had to respect.

John Updike, dead at 76....He shall be missed.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Inauguration thoughts from Road Dog Kathy

My inauguration was a bit frustrating, less than the momentous experience I was hoping for. I wanted to go down earlier, but my friends convinced me we could still get on the mall even if we didn't get up at 5 a.m., and alas, they were wrong. We got turned away. The mall was shut down by like 8:30 or 9. Hundreds of people were stuck in sort of no-man's land, not on the mall but not on the parade route either. Bleh. So we were lucky and had tickets to a Democratic Leadership Committee parade watch party, where we watched the inaug on TV and were served limitless champagne and oysters and bacon--wrapped scallops, etc. Not exactly the authentic and hard-fought experience of the common man rejoicing in this very uncommon moment of history. But, I suppose, it was moving wherever you were, and I did have some sort of inaug experience, even if it wasn't the one I had imagined. We did get to see the parade--we were right along the route, on 15th near the corner with Pennsylvania--and I did see the Man himself walk down the street. So... something.

Ric, what is the cure for deep pangs of historical regret? Why wasn't I on the mall? What can I do to stop asking myself that? Maybe you should post that: Why weren't we all on the mall? Or why aren't we all out there in our own ways, making history?

--Kathy Crutcher
Writer, Teacher, Philosopher

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Post-Inauguration Comments from Down Under

So let me tell you how I am feeling today after watching the inauguration concert and Obama's presidential address.
I feel very emotional. Throughout both, tears were filling my eyes and occasionally travelling further.
I feel, for the first time in many years, that something might be changing much for the better - and this despite a greybeard's realism.
I am starting to think, again for the first time in many years, that your people and your leadership might be capable of inspiring others again, instead of making your country hated or a laughing stock.
I feel that you might, just might, have some intelligent, compassionate, hard-headed but sensible--a powerful word when you think about it--role to play in the world, not only directly but indirectly, through the way you handle your internal challenges.
I love the inclusivity of what I have been seeing and hearing. Yes, it's all just words and images but words and images are so important.
I wondered how, in my own country, Aboriginal people might feel about seeing Obama up there, and the same for so many other colonised peoples. I noted how Obama had sent a letter to the people of Indonesia, thanking them for their role in his upbringing.
I feel more hopeful than in a long time, despite the dire situation of the planet, and of global politics.
I am aware of the structural impediments to change.
I feel like wishing you, and your country, well.
I feel the awesome responsibilities on Obama and those who work with him and who support him.
I feel, in a most un-Australian fashion, like wearing my heart on my sleeve for a change and saying 'Well done Yanks and bloody good luck!'

-- Graeme Parsons
Darwin, Australia

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Those readers who have known me for a long time might know of my affection for the Star Trek universe, an affection that culminated in a quasi-obsession in the early to mid-1990s.

The franchise lost two important members recently, and I wanted to take a moment to remember them here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ricardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalbán y Merino
(November 25, 1920 – January 14, 2009)

Some don't realize that Montalbán first played Khan Noonien Singh in an episode of the original Star Trek series, an episode entitled "Space Seed." He reprised his role, of course, in the motion picture Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, delivering an inspired performance that anchors what many consider the best of the Trek movies. The character in Wrath is patterned in many ways after Melville's Captain Ahab, whom he quotes or paraphrases throughout the movie. Captain Kirk, whom Kahn blames for the death of his wife, becomes his elusive White Whale.

Majel Barrett
(February 23, 1932 – December 18, 2008)

Barrett is by far the most ubiquitous actor in Trek history. The wife of late Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, she played "Number One," the Enterprise's first officer in the pilot episode "The Cage," which never aired in the series' original run. In the original series she played Nurse Christine Chapel, who had an unrequited crush on Mr. Spock. She has also supplied the voice for the ship's computer in, I believe, all of the series and films. Her best role, in my opinion, was the recurring character Lwaxana Troi, the sexy mother of ship's counselor Deanna Troi. Lwaxana was a favorite returner in Star Trek: The Next Generation and also made three appearances on Deep Space Nine.

Ricardo Montalbán and Majel Barrett, dead at 88 and 76 respectively. They shall be missed.