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Comments: Week of February 10, 2014


1. Our collection of stories on the vibrant ­urban fauna of New York, from a new species of cockroach to a portfolio of ­pigeons, delighted readers (and, okay, ­occasionally disgusted them: Noted one reader, about the pigeon on our subscriber cover, “This close-up is terrifying”). In ­particular, Lee Siegel’s exploration of the carriage-horse industry (Clomping ­Toward Oblivion,” February 3) inspired strong feelings both pro and con. “Not that long ago, people watched movies on VCRs and made phone calls by spinning a rotary dial. What was once considered standard is now gone,” wrote Jennifer O’Connor in a comparatively measured response for a PETA member. “Nostalgia has long been the shameful excuse to continue to work horses into the ground and put their lives at risk.” “I applaud the mayor’s condemnation of the horse carriage business,” wrote veteran veterinarian Rick Yacowitz. “There is no place for any creature but man in the 21st-century city.” “Horse-drawn carriages cannot be operated humanely or safely in NYC,” argued a commenter on “Horses are prey animals who sometimes flee when spooked by sirens, potholes, bright colors or other stimuli. No amount of regulation or enforcement can prevent horses from spooking.” Others didn’t see the need for a ban. “The horses are doing just fine,” wrote one commenter. “They are draft horses which need regular work and are kept in accommodations which are nearly luxurious. Let working horses work!” “I don’t think we need to end this industry. Why not move the ­stables to Central Park?” asked another. And a more cynical reader noted, “This is about real estate, not animal cruelty. Big developers want to obliterate the stables for ever more ducats.”

2. Even more lather-inducing than the carriage-horse debate, though, was Frank Rich’s essay on why the left needs to wean itself from its fixation on Fox News, since its political clout is on the wane (Stop Beating a Dead Fox,” ­February 3). “Fox is a reflection of its geriatric, knee-jerk audience of frightened, bigoted ­henny-pennys,” declaimed one commenter on “Fox is an infection, a kind of gangrene in the blood of the body politic. Despite its waning power and appeal, it must continually be watched to ensure it does not spread that infection to other organs.” “Fox’s numbers are hollow,” crowed another. “The goal should be to convert new voters while maintaining the base. Fox is doing neither. It’s a drag on the party at a time when the GOP is just short of open rebellion.” Others were more skeptical of Rich’s thesis. “Fox News has certainly seemed attuned to some of its problems. Last year, the network underwent its biggest schedule overhaul in recent memory,” noted Jack Mirkinson at HuffPost Media. “Fox News has maintained its huge ratings lead over CNN and MSNBC; in one sense, it faces no mortal threat for the time being.” “The entire cable news industry relies on building a product for ages 60 and up. ­MSNBC­ isn’t exactly a nursery,” wrote Derek Thompson at The Atlantic. “Fox News is at an unassailable advantage on its turf because it’s selling a conservative political product to an older audience, which tends to be more politically conservative, anyway. Maybe Fox’s secret sauce isn’t TV. It’s demographics.”

3. In Art at Arm’s Length (February 3), art critic Jerry Saltz explored our newest cultural artifacts: “Selfies are front-page news, subject to intense, widespread public and private scrutiny, shaming, ­revelation,” he wrote, arguing that the ­now-pervasive camera-phone self-­portraits are a new genre of art, with its own rules and constantly evolving aesthetic values. “In this Internet world the selfie allows ­others to be a tourist in our daily routine,” remarked a reader on “Perhaps in 300 years, the current generation of selfieists will be the genre’s ‘old ­masters,’ with the first wave of distorted noses and foreheads being the ‘Giotto’ phase, still discovering and learning techniques,” said another, giving the movement proper historical context. On Facebook, fans posted hundreds of their selfies to Saltz’s wall in response. But the form is not without its detractors. As one reader put it, “Only Jerry Saltz could dedicate this much ­verbiage to the utter banality of the selfie.”

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