- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2009

Dave’s targets

“Maybe it’s the fact that Jay Leno is moving to 10 p.m. and Conan’s moving to Los Angeles, we’re not sure, but David Letterman has been on fire lately. After years of post-heart surgery mellowness that made him seem passive and uninterested in what his guests had to say, Letterman is back in fighting form: sharp, biting and hysterical.

“These days guests should be forewarned - if you come on his show with inexplicable facial hair or a criminal record, you’ve got a target on your back (just ask Joaquin Phoenix or Rod Blagojevich). And watch out for Dave’s ire if you cancel on him and then show up on someone else’s show (just ask John McCain). …

“When Blagojevich appeared on ‘The Late Show with David Letterman’ to defend himself against accusations of bribery, Dave went for the jugular. He started with the oh-so-welcoming question, ‘Why exactly are you here?’ In answer to [Blagojevich’s] response, ‘I’ve been wanting to be on in the worst way,’ Letterman replied, ‘Well, you’re on in the worst way, believe me.’ … More seasoned journalists had hammered on the fallen governor for days, but no one revealed the level of his insanity to the degree that Dave did.”

- Amy and Nancy Harrington, writing on “David Letterman’s Top Ten Most Insane Interview Moments” at the TV history site Get Back

Intellectuals’ targets

“Rather than telling ourselves a back-and-forth tale of virtue versus vigilantism, academics concerned with the life of the mind generally, and the academic humanities in particular, might be better served by looking inward and asking what we can do to earn public trust. Most Americans, I suspect, are neither anti- nor pro-intellectual but bring to the question the same pragmatic attitude they bring to everything else: a desire to see results.

“Those who believe in a broad liberal education for all Americans, based on respect for culture in Matthew Arnold’s sense of ‘the best which has been thought and said,’ need to respond to the public demand for some demonstrable utility in what we teach: literature, history, philosophy, the arts.

“Some professors, especially, perhaps, those at elite institutions, respond to that demand simply by rejecting its validity. That has been the position of humanist educators from Cardinal Newman (‘Liberal knowledge … refuses to be informed … by any end.’ ‘Knowledge is capable of being its own end.’) to Stanley Fish (‘Higher education, properly understood’ is ‘characterized by a determined inutility.’) There is a certain prideful purity in such a view, but if educators hope for renewed public trust in the value of liberal as opposed to practical or vocational education, we have to come to terms with the utility question one way or another.”

- Andrew Delbanco, writing on “A New Day for Intellectuals,” in the Feb. 13 issue of the Chronicle Review

Updike’s targets

“Cinema was above all, for the young [John] Updike, an exploration of sexual encounters. It was there from the very beginning, in his writing, that celebrated infamous capacity for fastidious, clinical, visually intense, painfully and hilariously honest descriptions of men and women making love. However fleeting or disastrous the coupling, the metaphysical shadows are always on the wall - the same seriousness is in play. …

“The ruthless recording eye made Updike unpopular with some women readers, especially back in the salad days of Theory, when talk of the ‘male gaze’ was the fashion. …

“In his last novel, ‘The Widows of Eastwick,’ Updike engaged playfully with his female critics through his character Sukie, the romantic novelist. She erases from a work in progress a passage about carefully buffed fingernails digging deep ‘into Hercule’s broad, heaving back.’ She reminds herself that a proper romance never dwells on sexual details, for it might lose its ‘targeted demographic of dreamy, dissatisfied women. … Women know the facts but don’t want them spelled out.’ ”

- Ian McEwan, writing on “The Masterly Blasphemer,” in the Feb. 14 issue of the Australian

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