Volunteer, Dammit!

Volunteer, Dammit!

Volunteer, Dammit!

Recent posts from our readers forum.
Nov. 25 1999 3:30 AM

Volunteer, Dammit!

Subject: Weisberg's Virtue, Wieseltier's Venom

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Re: "{{Ballot Box: Bill Bradley's Naomi Wolf#31972:Show=11/15/99&idMessage=3998}}"

From:{{michael berube#2:mailto:m-berube@uiuc.edu}}

Date: Sun Nov 21

Kudos to Jacob Weisberg for reading Cornel West on his own instead of relying on Leon Wieseltier's version. Wieseltier's 1995 essay on "the decline of the black intellectual" wasn't really the "devastating critique" of West's work that Weisberg once took it to be, and it's relatively good to hear that although Weisberg had hitherto set his lights by it, he no longer agrees with Wieseltier's conclusion that West's work is "almost entirely worthless."

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The truth is that Wieseltier's piece was a shameful, spite-ridden hatchet job on West, motivated almost entirely by the fact that West had been profiled in TheNew Yorker in 1994 and then assessed (along with lesser lights bell hooks and Michael Dyson) by me in a January 1995 essay that likened contemporary black intellectuals to the New York intellectuals of the postwar period. (Robert Boynton in the Feb. 1995 Atlantic Monthly had pressed the same analogy, by reference to Skip Gates, Shelby Steele, and Stanley Crouch, and the analogy sent all too many black and Jewish intellectuals into frenzies of identity politics and territorialism. Wieseltier's reaction was the worst, somewhat akin to his frantic, ill-informed denunciation of the essay by Lionel Trilling's son in a recent issue of the American Scholar.)

It's true that West can be formulaic, derivative, clunky, and annoyingly self-absorbed (though surely in this last category Wieseltier is more than a match for him). And he really is a mass of contradictions. But his virtues are considerable nonetheless, and as Weisberg writes, suit him well for the role of Bradley's counselor. This is much more than can be said for Wieseltier, hence the venom of his essay. A tip of the hat, then, to Mr. Weisberg, whose work I've enjoyed often in the past five years--ever since his devastating critique of The Bell Curve in a fall 1994 issue of New York magazine.

(To reply, click here.)

[Michael Berube is the author of Life as We Know It

A Father, a Family, and an Exceptional Child
.]

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Subject: Weisberg's Chekhov

Re: "{{Ballot Box: Bill Bradley's Naomi Wolf#31972:Show=11/15/99&idMessage=3998}}"

From: David Edelstein

Date: Mon Nov 15

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A very lucid analysis. But Jacob, you make fun of the Chekhov references without explaining them. West has really grappled with the great plays and found in the lack of a central consciousness (the protagonists are not mouthpieces for the playwright) and refusal to demonize even the most destructive-seeming characters a hallmark of Christian forgiveness. I confess I don't know as much as I should about Christian theology (and I'm not sure Chekhov knew all that much, either), but I do share West's (and many others') view of Chekhov as a kind of saint of the drama (albeit a saint with a rarely acute bullshit detector). It's not risible; I wish all political theorists and politicians would read Chekhov.

(To reply, click here.)

Subject: Shapiro on the Stump

Re: "{{Kausfiles: Doesn't Anyone Want To Be Famous?#36706:Show=11/18/99&idMessage=4029}}"

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Date: Thurs Nov 18

In touting Walter Shapiro's candidacy for the Senate, you neglected to mention one thing: Walter is a seasoned campaigner, having run for Congress in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1972. And more recently he's done a lot of public speaking, appearing on the New York comedy-club circuit. After dealing with audiences that tough, town meetings in Binghampton or Utica would be a breeze.

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[David Margolick is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.]

Subject: Chatterbox Mandates Volunteerism?

Re: "{{Chatterbox: George W., Folklorist#2606:Show=11/4/99&idMessage=3954}}"

Date: Wed Nov 10

Timothy Noah says he supports requiring high schoolers to perform some sort of volunteer service. If this service is a required activity, how can it be voluntary?

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Subject: Re: Chatterbox Mandates Volunteerism?

Re: "{{Chatterbox: George W., Folklorist#2606:Show=11/4/99&idMessage=3954}}"

From: Tim Noah

Date: Wed Nov 10

Good point. I could argue that you still get to volunteer (i.e., choose) whichever service you want to provide, but probably I shouldn't have used the word "volunteer" at all.

(To reply, click here.)

Subject: Bill Bradley's No Jerry Brown

Re: "{{Today's Papers: Nov. 23#1652:Show=11/23/99&idMessage=4050 }}"

From: Tarja Black

Date: Tues Nov 23

The NYT fronts and the WP carries inside Bill Bradley's speech Monday in which he charged that Al Gore had little interest in campaign finance reform because the current money-raising system favors incumbents.

--"Today's Papers," Nov. 23

Bradley portrays himself as the guru of an insurgent movement fighting for campaign finance reform. But he's more closely linked to big money than to grassroots. ("Bradley's unexpected challenge to Gore is backed by numerous corporate titans, especially those from Wall Street," writes John Broder in his Oct. 24 New York Times piece, "Bradley Relies on Wall Street to Raise Funds.")

In contrast, Al Gore's contributions come more often from humble folks like my own family. As the current U.S. News & World Report notes:

Vice President Al Gore is trouncing challenger Bill Bradley in the battle to collect federal matching money. In fact, he's on a record-breaking pace. ... The agency matches donations up to $250 from individuals, leading Gore allies to crow that they've received more small donations than Bradley.

The biggest contributors in the room, at a recent Al Gore fundraiser here in California's Antelope Valley, were my husband and I. Our check was for $20.

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Subject: My Own Vote.com Experiment

Re: "{{Frame Game: Dickmorrisy#56075}}"

From: Paddy Lewis

Date: Tue Nov 23

As an interesting sidebar to your story on vote.com, I tried it out tonight. I am always looking for new ways to improve the democratic process, and thought, taking into account the caveats in your article, this sort of thing could work well in my job as communications manager for a large city council in New Zealand. I couldn't resist voting, even though I was sure technology would catch me out as I am (a) not an American citizen, nor (b) a registered Congress voter [refer a].

I plugged in my e-mail address and the zip code of some obscure FBI building in Washington and waited for the e-mail reply telling me to go away. Nope. I got a thank-you e-mail too. Does this mean the U.S. really is taking over the world and I can now expect my Congressperson to come knocking here in good old God zone next election?

(To reply, click here.)