Comments: Week of February 21, 2011

1. The blog GothamSchools called Chris Smith’s cover story on Cathie Black, the former magazine executive chosen by Mayor Bloomberg to run New York City’s schools (“Just Smile,” February 14), “an evenhanded-yet-damning profile.” But given the contentiousness of education reform in the city, many readers wanted to go on the attack, either against Black or Smith. One commenter on, who claimed to be a city schoolteacher, asserted that Black “is routinely mocked and ridiculed by parents, administrators, and teachers alike,” before diagramming a conspiracy theory of how “Bloomberg is trying to get rid of the union so he can be a dictator, and she is the one he chose to sell the plan … They want to turn public education over to hedge funds to make a profit.”Another commenter, “a former inner-city teacher in my mid-twenties with a girlfriend working in the NYC public schools,” had a different lesson. “We can both attest to the fact that the system of seniority is broken, there are a significant number of poor teachers in the system who do their students a disservice when they show up for work, and that test scores—however flawed—serve a purpose for measuring the progress of our students and teachers alike.” Meanwhile, another reader took Smith to task for, she felt, having “an ax to grind against hedge-fund folks, people who live on the UES, and even the Bill Gates Foundation.” Another commenter graded Smith harshly for writing a story that was “gratuitously snarky,” before asking: “Who knows what works anymore? The professional educators made a total mess of things when they were in charge … So who is to say that a smart businessperson can’t run the NYC school system?”

2. Many readers were touched and saddened by Jennifer Senior’s examination of the difficulties veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are having when they return home (“The Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Celexa, Effexor, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, Restoril, Xanax, Adderall, Ritalin, Haldol, Risperdal, Seroquel, Ambien, Lunesta, Elavil, Trazodone War,” February 14). “You can’t just pick up 500,000 men, drop them off on another continent halfway across the world, tell them to lay waste to the place, and expect to get the same group of men back,” wrote one commenter. Not every commenter was sympathetic, however. One asked, What about the Afghans who have to suffer all this war? They don’t get any chemical help, so I’m not particularly sorry for the soldiers here.”

3. Geoffrey Gray’s depiction of the death of a young inmate named Christopher Robinson in the city’s juvenile-detention unit, and the possible complicity of the guards in letting it happen (“The Lords of Rikers,” February 7), set off a brawl of its own among the commenters. Some readers, especially those who said they were friends with Robinson, expressed their anger toward the Correction officer now on trial for allowing the murder to happen (“Why is this article sympathetic to the lazy C.O. who is no better than the felons he manipulatedunder his employ?”), and others blamed Robinson for the behavior that landed him in prison in the first place (“If you live by it … you die by it”). Meanwhile, there was some sympathy for the guards (“C.O.’s have the hardest job in the penal system. They can’t carry a gun, they only have defense equipment, and it takes time for the response team to get there if summoned”) and several calls for prison reform, including alternatives to expensive, dangerous incarceration. Several readers took issue with the article’s illustration, however. One described it as “all black people, several of whom are painted to look like apes, in a dark, sensationalized picture. When did this turn into Fox News?”

4. Scott Brown’s review of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, was posted online February 7, much to the delight of many readers. “Reading your love/hate review perfectly mirrors my experience of the play: exhilaration and exhaustion,” wrote one commenter; another wrote that “I’m guessing your review is better than the actual show.” There were pans, however, like the commenter who deplored Brown’s “desperate positive spin on a bloated, egocentric, steaming pile of manure.”

Correction: The article “The Geek-Kings of Smut” (February 7) incorrectly characterized a civil suit that had been filed by the federal government against Mansef, Inc. The company was accused of violating Title 18, Section 1960, of the United States Code, which relates to “unlicensed money transmitting,” not, as was stated in the story, “money laundering.” The company denied those allegations. The suit was resolved after the article was published.

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Comments: Week of February 21, 2011