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Comments: Week of January 17, 2011

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1. Benjamin Wallace-Wells’s profile of former New Republic owner and editor-in-chief Martin Peretz (Peretz in Exile,” January 3–10, 2011) was much discussed by political journalists and close followers of Israeli policy. Mike Riggs at the Daily Caller praised it as a “deep and psychological read,” and the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, in linking to the piece, simply wrote, “Benjamin Wallace-Wells is a really fine writer.” “Everyone is talking about Benjamin Wallace-Wells’s profile of Marty Peretz in New York Magazine, and well they should, it’s an excellent piece, very sad,” wrote Philip Weiss on his blog, Mondoweiss. Then he went on to give his own, somewhat delighted gloss on it: “Peretz comes off as a racist crank … reduced to telling Holocaust stories in sybaritic Tel Aviv. Most poignantly, he has no idea how offensive his racial statements were.” The profile inspired similar feelings in other bloggers, who were happy to see Peretz in his reduced circumstances, without his editorship of The New Republic or his blog on the magazine’s website. Peretz “is, by all accounts, a very generous man, and also a very angry man,” declared Alex Pareene in Salon. “The New Republic, and the American press in general, are better off without him.” Talking Points Memo blogger M. J. Rosenberg chimed in that “I am delighted to see this bigot in exile for many reasons including this: I can start reading The New Republic again.” Several nymag.com commenters were more supportive, however. “One need not agree with Marty Peretz 100 percent of the time,” noted one. “Peretz remains one of the few who steadfastly and honestly defends what he believes in. I for one will miss his blog!” “People make mistakes, especially in the heat of argument. The important thing is whether they own up to them, as Peretz has,” said another. Ben Smith of Politico tried to draw a lesson from those mistakes. “A blog can extend a writer’s reach and voice,” he offered. “But it can also diminish someone who, like Peretz, had no evident filter and a reputation to lose.”

2. Christopher Beam’s treatise on the resurgent popularity of libertarianism (“'The Trouble With Liberty,” January 3–10), and why it doesn’t work in practice, was, unsurprisingly, criticized by libertarians for that conclusion. “Beam was writing as a good-faith critic trying to sketch the philosophy for folks unfamiliar with it,” wrote Conor Friedersdorf in the Atlantic’s blog the Daily Dish. “The most extended critique that Beam makes of libertarians goes something like this: though their ideas often sound good in principle, adhering to them too strictly can lead them deep into the wilderness; and too often, adherents of the political philosophy suffer from a failure or refusal to grapple with the world as it really is. But these aren’t flaws unique to libertarians—give that last sentence another read, and you’ll see that it characterizes literally every faction in American politics for the whole history of this country.” Radley Balko, writing in magazine’s Hit and Run blog, was less temperate. “If this had been a straight trashing of libertarianism, we could evaluate it on those terms. But this is more subtle and, I think, in some ways more pernicious,” he wrote. “This was a thrashing disguised as a primer. I don’t think Beam thinks libertarians are evil. I think he thinks we’re naïve and probably a little crazy. But there’s something revealing about him jettisoning the detached tone for the walk-away portion of the article. It’s as if ensuring that New York readers fully understand and appreciate libertarianism’s failings was the article’s most important objective—and far too important to let readers come to that conclusion themselves.” Sam Barr at the Harvard Political Review rolled his eyes at this. “It’s pretty far-fetched to think that some innocent reader is going to think he’s reading straight journalism,” he wrote. “Beam’s article hardly seems like foul play to me. It looks to me like Balko just doesn’t like being called nuts, which is an understandable but different objection.”

3. Robert Kolker’s story about the students at Columbia University caught selling drugs (The Columbia Kid,” January 3–10) was closely analyzed by readers. One wrote in to correct our doobie arithmatic: The article mentioned that “25 grams” sold in one transaction was “more than enough for ten joints,” when, this reader felt, it was enough for many more, “even supposing that the joints were, like, Bob Marley–sized.” On the subject of ecstasy, another commenter wanted us to know that “powdered ecstasy is not called ‘mollys.’ It’s ‘mollie,’ singular, with an affectionate ‘ie.’ The word originates from molecule, or molecular ecstasy.”


4. Adam Platt’s restaurant roundup (Where to Eat 2011,” January 3–10) didn’t do much to whet herbivore appetites. One wrote, “Why must your ‘Where to Eat’ covers always look like an episode of Dexter? I literally had to tear off the bloodiest part of the photo to keep from gagging over my nightstand.”

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