Comments: Week of October 12, 2009

1. Anybody who’s spent any time perusing the comments section of popular websites knows how easily they turn nasty. And yet the vitriol directed at Joe Hagan for his profile of the mysterious financial blogger behind Zero Hedge (The Dow Zero Insurgency,” October 5)—both on and Zero Hedge itself—was something to behold. Fans of the blogger convinced themselves that the article was a vicious Establishment takedown of their hero, and they responded with personal attacks on Hagan: “Let’s get some of his work particulars, as well as information about his father. And does he have kids? … Hagan: you’re just another meal in the food chain, and you might find ZH readers are a hungry lot.” So vituperative were Zero Hedge’s fans that their anger became a story in itself. Reuters’ Felix Salmon, who had been mentioned in the story, dutifully tried to make sense of the whole flare-up: “It’s not hard to guess why these people might be angry: They’re losing substantial amounts of their own money in the market, and they’re casting about for someone to blame. The insanely profitable Goldman Sachs, for one, is always a good target … It becomes quite easy to see how they would be attracted to a conspiracy theorist like ZH, who writes dense and often hard-to-decipher posts about the arcana of how the market works. None of this really explains the unbridled anger aimed at Hagan, but for the fact that when you’re casting around for someone to blame, and a major media outlet paints your idol as some kind of sleazy kook, you’re liable to take extreme umbrage—especially when you can hide safely in complete anonymity.”

2. The emotions stirred up by Robert Kolker’s story of Bernie Madoff investors still struggling with the personal consequences of the collapsed Ponzi scheme (The Madoff Exiles,” October 5) were mild by comparison, but still surprisingly fresh and raw. “These people were motivated by the same greed as the Madoffs themselves. They felt entitled to the sweet deal he was offering, and now they feel entitled to drain the government of its resources when it turns out it was all a fallacy. These people understand nothing about the way the market works, and even less about the world around them. They get no pity from me,” declared one commenter. “It is a shame that Madoff and his feeders conned them, and they should recover their losses from the con men—but their claim to be entitled to profits that never existed and that would be far in excess of actual market returns for that period is an attempt at conning the rest of us,” wrote another reader. Richard Friedman, a Madoff victim, commented to rebut those claims: “We are not interested in asking for anyone’s pity, nor is anyone asking to be made whole. We just want what the law entitles us to and our own tax dollars back.”

3. Kevin Gray’s breakdown of the teeming urban center that is Union Square (The Micro-Economy of Union Square,” October 5) riled up advocates who want to see the park space maintained as a sanctuary from commerce. “There is no shortage of commercial activity around Union Square. The city and the local Business Improvement District should stop trying to shove a restaurant plan down the public’s throats. Why should any neighborhood have to fight so hard in order to get a tiny bit of respite and recreation? The park already produces far more than its fair share for the city’s coffers,” argued NYC Park Advocates president Geoffrey Croft. Other commenters echoed his sentiments: “Part of why Union Square thrives is because it is a vast public space where people walk, meet friends, say hello, engage in First Amendment–protected activity, and cultivate civil society. What the city and this space need is more space for such activity, not another restaurant to slow the flow of traffic through our public commons. If the BID wants to help Union Square thrive, they should leave the space well enough alone.”

4. But enough complaining. Tim Murphy’s profile of newly minted movie star Gabourey Sidibe (Living the Life,” October 5) had commenters all jazzed. “Good Lord, but how I love this girl already. Whatever you think of health or body issues, she sounds so comfortable in her skin, she’s probably had it lined with mink,” gushed one commenter. “She is the future. She will set new standards of beauty and acceptance. Her photographs speak 3,000 words. For me, she is art. It’s love at first sight,” raved another.

5. Now back to our regularly scheduled complaining … Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld’s roundup of the best of New York’s fried chicken (The Bucket List,” October 5) generated outcry from connoisseurs whose favorite comfort-food purveyors didn’t make the cut: “Chat ’n Chew’s honey-dipped fried chicken was robbed!” … “Amy Ruth’s in Harlem not here, joke of a list” … “Not including Georgia’s Eastside BBQ is sacrilege” … “I got to give a holla to the Dirty Bird on 14th and Seventh. Small place, tasty chicken” … “Surprised Mama’s was left off this list. I grew up in the Deep South, and this chicken is pretty close to the real thing.”

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Comments: Week of October 12, 2009