Comments: Week of August 10, 2009

1. Was Joe Hagan’s examination of Goldman Sachs’ risky business and the profits it has amassed while relying on government support (Tenacious G,” August 3) the “most damning” portrayal of the firm or “the most level-headed”? Or was it both? Many supported Goldman, attributing the anger directed at the company to a lack of understanding: “Nobody bothers to report on the true breadth of business that firms like Goldman perform for both investors and the corporate world. People can spout off about GS being evil without really understanding how these firms all work hand in glove as the foundation that keeps the United States creating business.” Another defended them, saying, “GS is successful because they have a culture that attracts the best and the brightest, many of whom are later picked for government positions for that very reason.” Blog PoliGazette echoed that statement, noting, “What makes Goldman Sachs truly different is quality … GS only hires the best of the best, and it has historically refrained from taking risks. Compared to other financial institutions, GS is terribly conservative.” A blogger at the Faster Times brought some perspective to the question: “The problem isn’t about conscious meddling; rather, it’s about the paradox of financial regulation …The government needs to hire people who know Wall Street intimately. But while that employee may have the best intentions and may accumulate a spotless record, he or she brings a certain amount of baggage to the job. They’re likely to push legislation that works best for Wall Street, even if it’s at the expense of Main Street. It doesn’t make them evil, it just makes them, well, bankers.” There was also plenty of plain old anger directed at Goldman Sachs. These responses ran the gamut, from the aggrieved (“GS is a classic example of how wealthy elites with high-level connections manage to steal from the rest of us hardworking citizens. They help rig the system so the middle- and lower-class cash cows can continue to be milked”) to cryptic prophecies of doom: “This is a battle of life and death, in the medieval sense. The sword-wielding monster is definitely not in its cage.”

2. The magazine also received a lengthy and detailed critique of Tenacious G from Lucas van Praag, Goldman Sachs’ spokesperson. As of this writing, we do not believe that any of his concerns necessitate a correction, but in the interest of registering the firm’s considerable discontent with the story, here is a brief excerpt: “Hagan ascribes the most venal of motives to our hedging activities. Goldman Sachs is in the business of facilitating transactions for clients; in doing so we put our shareholders’ capital at risk. As prudent risk managers, we hedge our risk. To describe that activity as a cynical breaking of faith with clients is both misleading and horribly naïve.”

3. While not as widely debated as the evilness of Goldman Sachs, Bryant Urstadt’s story on the popularity of sport clothier Lululemon (Lust for Lulu,” August 3) drew an equally divided crowd. Plenty of readers came out to denounce the commercialization of yoga. “The practice of yoga is not done so that you have a ‘perfect ass,’ ” said one commenter. “It’s a mental and spiritual offering. Sometimes I feel people in America are so easily taken away by marketing.” Another commenter, a yoga teacher, offered, “I wonder why you need to spend over $50 for pants and tanks when you are supposed to be forgetting the outside and working on the inside. The Lulu-heads carrying their Lulu water holders wind up texting and chatting on their BlackBerrys the minute the class ends. I don’t think they get it.” One defender jumped in for Lululemon to trumpet their quality, saying, “Obviously you can’t peg all Lululemon-wearing yogis as more or less authentic or sincere. I find that Lululemon’s stuff really holds up well to the punishing heat/sweat. Yes, Lulu is expensive, but it does last. I recognize quality and am willing to pay more for it.”

4. Emily Nussbaum’s look back at the history of her fascination with Madonna (“The Culture Pages: Justify My Love,” August 3) inspired readers to share their own feelings about the pop star. Many expressed disappointment with her. “She really has no idea who she really is inside and so the constant physical transformations reek of desperation,” one commenter said. Another found her reinvention act to be getting old: “Her trying on and shedding of different personas used to be more lighthearted; now it’s rather grim and relentless.” Others sprang to her defense and expressed their undying love. “Pop stars come and go, but nobody has managed to come even close to her,” claimed one commenter. “The discomfort that she evokes in people can usually be explained with one word: jealousy.”

5. New York may not be ready for the next wave of technology in the ice-cream world. Susan Burton’s Chemistry in a Cone (August 3), about warm, no-melt, unconventionally flavored ice cream worried readers. “Am I the only one that likes the old Breyer’s when it prided itself on being made from only real milk, vanilla, and sugar?” asked one commenter. “The first thing I think of,” said another, “is space ice cream.” ”

Comments: Week of August 10, 2009