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Comments: Week of September 20, 2010

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1. In last week’s cover story, Mark Jacobson traced the origins of a lampshade purchased in post-Katrina New Orleans that may be made of human skin from Jews imprisoned at Buchenwald during the Holocaust (Skin,” September 13). On the whole, readers found the story difficult to put down, even as they were repulsed by its subject. “Soon as I got this issue, I was haunted by the cover, and literally sickened a bit,” admitted one commenter on nymag.com. “But I’m devouring this article right now. Fantastic, horrifying.” They also debated the proper tone with which to discuss a fascinating and monstrous historical artifact. “There is an air of nonchalance in the telling of this tale that is nearly as horrifying as the object itself,” wrote one commenter. “If the intent is to echo the appalling indifference needed to fabricate such a thing in the first place, then perhaps the tone is a brilliant creative choice. But I doubt it.” “The matter-of-fact tone is not simply a ‘brilliant creative choice’ but a moral one as well,” rebutted another. “It lets the facts speak for themselves.” “Mark Jacobson has an alluring style,” wrote a third, “and the dexterity with which he deals with such difficult subject matter is refreshing.”


2. In last week’s issue, John Heilemann wrote about the battle over education reform as viewed through the lens of the upcoming documentary on the subject Waiting for “Superman” (Schools: The Disaster Movie,” September 13). “Heilemann sets up the possibilities that ‘Superman’ actually can change the tenor and direction of the debate,” wrote Variety’s Wilshire and Washington blog. “Which is not an easy task when it comes to education.” And naturally the argument for charter schools versus traditional public schools was hotly debated. “The article retreads well-worn points, predictably focusing on the teacher unions as the scapegoats and drooling all over Geoffrey Canada,” wrote the blog NYC Public School Parents, firing the first shots in defense of the public-school system. “Canada claims that teacher unions have not added anything to the quality of education, yet without unions, class sizes in NYC would be essentially uncontrollable. Charter schools enroll far fewer special-education, immigrant, poor, and homeless kids. Teacher attrition rates tend to be sky high. Student attrition also tends to be very high. I doubt that the Guggenheim film explores any of these factors.” Others shared their opinions on the figures at the center of the debate. “Of special interest to me was the description of the political animal that is Randi Weingarten,” wrote Yule Heibel at her blog Post Studio. “Ask yourself if you really want these people in charge of educating your young. Obama has made progress on education and has put his ass on the line for reform. That’s commendable—given the example of more political creatures (like Weingarten), Obama’s rectitude and integrity are refreshing.” “What makes it such a great article is that it’s fair to Randi, showing the incredible tightrope she has to walk,” argued Whitney Tilson at her School Reform Blog. “I almost feel sorry for her … seriously!” “What rich poetic justice that Randi Weingarten comes off as a ‘monster’ in this movie while D.C. chancellor Michelle Rhee is portrayed as goddess of reform,” wrote a commenter on nymag.com. “Rhee is as clueless as the day is long.” “Pay close attention to Michelle Rhee,” argued another. “She is sharp, dedicated, not afraid to tackle the big things, not intimidated, not patient, and has an end goal that is admirable.”

3. With the World Series just around the corner, Will Leitch took the opportunity to detail why the No. 1 team in the American League will not win it all this year (Bronx Mirage,” September 13). Yankees fans were predictably riled. “There are a couple of key factors Mr. Leitch conveniently leaves out,” noted the blogger at Yankeeist. “(a) There’s still a month left of the season for the Yankees to sort things out; and (b) Every other team the Yankees will potentially face has their share of problems and question marks as well.” “We have more speed this year and just as much pop in our starting lineup and off the bench,” argued one commenter on nymag.com. “As much as the Yanks are not overwhelming this year, they have the best record for a reason. They are the best team, and everyone has to figure them out, not the other way.”

4. Regular solvers of New York’s crossword puzzle may have noticed an unexpected byline this summer, and now we’re making it official. After several weeks of puzzles, Cathy Allis has joined us as our regular crossword co-constructor. She’ll be alternating issues with Maura B. Jacobson, who’s been with New York since 1980 and, we hope, will continue with us indefinitely. Allis is best known for her New York Times puzzles, notably one in which she constructed a grid around clues written by Bill Clinton. Her own non-presidential work has built a real following for its wit and accessibility. (Sample clue: “A race that’s always a tie.” Answer: ascot.) We hope you will find her work both charming and maddening.


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