Comments: Week of May 9, 2011

1. Benjamin Wallace-Wells’s cover story on Paul Krugman and the lonely plight of progressivism (What’s Left of the Left,” May 2) received an enthusiastic response that seemed to transcend political allegiances. “Paul Krugman is not my cup of tea,” wrote David Von Drehle at Time’s Swampland blog, who said he began reading the article “the way one might probe a sore tooth, fully expecting a bolt of pain—but wow, what a surprise! This splendid piece of journalism is at once sympathetic and completely fair, beautifully written, intellectually sophisticated. I think Krugman’s many fans will find it informative and reassuring at the same time that the rest of us get a better understanding of how such a powerful talent manages to go screeching off the rails.” Regardless of their politics, many bloggers focused on what the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein called “the hilarious sniping between Krugman and Larry Summers,” which provided a useful window into how liberal policy mandarins interact. Others, like Dealbreaker, were somewhat facetiously sympathetic to Krugman’s conundrum as positioned in the piece: “You cannot be a human and not want to give Kruggles a hug as well as a hand. We need to find him some friends and fast.” And while some conservative commenters on took the opportunity to roll out prefab critiques having little to do with the article (“Krugman is a liberal shill … He just cares about the great socialist future, not economics that actually work”), others were willing to show both their respect and their frustration (“I am pretty conservative, and disagree with much of what Krugman has to say, but I realize that I am no economist … If Dr. Krugman would spend less time telling me that I am a red-state idiot and more time explaining why the policies he believes in work, and where/when he has seen them working in the rest of the world, than maybe I could understand him ­better”). But Krugman undoubtedly has his disciples. As one reader wrote in: “Paul Krugman may be a loner, but he has millions of fans. This is because he is the most effective liberal writing in the mainstream media. Krugman is one of the few people in the media who recognize that job creation, not the deficit, is our most important economic problem. He is the one voice of sanity among the right-wing crackpots.”

2. John Swansburg’s portrait of Brian Williams earned the NBC anchor heckles from certain quarters for his attempts at being both jocose and a journalist (The Comic Stylings of Brian Williams,” May 2). Certain commenters found Williams’s refusal to be more conventionally authoritative laughable at best (“Huntley and Brinkley are spinning in their graves [that] this buffoon is the face of what NBC News has become.”) But most readers were more interested in parsing the quality and context of his humor. “While we admire Williams’s willingness to show his range and, perhaps more important, not take himself too seriously, maybe it’s time for someone to come out and say it: He really isn’t that funny,” wrote the blog Mediaite, which observed that Williams has “greatly benefited from the low expectations of humor that have gone hand in hand with his national-news-­anchor gravitas.” Salon, among others, joked that he was merely “newscaster funny,” not funny-funny. As one commenter put it, “His comedic charm works because he’s a serious newsman, not in spite of it.” Most readers seemed comfortable with that tension, finding his lack of self-­seriousness appealing (“He seems like such a cool-ass dude. From what I’ve heard, he’s the same way off-camera”; “Had the pleasure of briefly meeting him when I was an NBC peon, and he was so hilarious and friendly”).

3. Even readers who never had to fight for their right to party found Amos Barshad’s oral history of the early days of the Beastie Boys (Rude Boys,” May 2) delightfully ill, not to mention thoroughgoing. A writer for Explore Music noted that it “offers up a bunch of stuff I didn’t know,” as did Slate’s Double X blogger (“I had no idea that Luscious Jackson drummer Kate Schellenbach was also the drummer for an early incarnation of the group”). Still, one commenter brought up how the adolescent rambunctiousness of the Beasties, especially in the song “Girls,” could have unintentional effects. “I was in sixth grade when [Licensed to Ill] came out, and it had a huge influence on me. I was obsessed to a clinical degree,” wrote one. “It was a beautiful experience to be so consumed with a record, but as a young female, it also kind of %^&*ed me up … I’m not saying bonehead lyrics should be censored or anything, just that maybe it would be cool to hear what they have to say about it now.”

4. Several readers wrote in to say farewell to Maura B. ­Jacobson, who so seductively wrought the crossword puzzle in the back of New York Magazine for 31 years. “I just literally shed a tear when I read that Maura is retiring,” wrote a long-standing acolyte who “looked forward to Monday nights and hanging out with ­Maura’s words. This woman exudes class, humor, and intelligence, and I will miss her so. Good luck, friend!”

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Comments: Week of May 9, 2011