Letters to the editor

Think Again

As a reader of The Atlantic on and off for 40 years, I have to say that your new look is making William Dean Howells turn miserably in his celestial resting place (perhaps as Harold Ross roiled when Tina Brown rampaged at The New Yorker), to say nothing of his literary colleagues of the 1870s who were trying to hold off the ascendancy of New York and the Jamesians as the center of letters in the country.

You look like a cross between Time and The Economist. Amid your lunging social and political reportage, you severely neglect literature and the arts, save for those shabby paragraphs of sanitized authors and titles in the back. I know you will not dare to publish this, fearing to offend what H. L. Mencken called the “great booboisie” of readers.

David Taylor Johannesen
South Dartmouth, Mass.

Could it be that all it took was a stunning new wrapper to transform an indisputably excellent magazine into one that instantly strides to the head of the class? Or, alternatively, has The Atlantic been so skillfully retuned from the inside out that the changes ever so slightly shift the book’s emphasis and sensibility?

Having thought about it, I conclude, happily, that both are true: every element and detail of your redesign is “just right.” A venerable old title is once again a brilliant monthly gift to readers who appreciate being challenged at every turn.

Cable Neuhaus
Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Spousal Infidelity?

Ross Douthat (“Is Pornography Adultery?,” October Atlantic) writes, “The man who uses porn is cheating sexually, but he isn’t involving himself in an emotional relationship.” Does that make my wife’s romance novels—in which the heroine meets and falls in love with a handsome sea captain with a Ph.D. in marine biology just back from Far Tortuga, where he was saving whales and attempting to get over the tragic loss of his wife, who died trying to climb K2 to raise money for the Special Olympics—better or worse than anything I might see on PhatFarmGirlz.com? She’s also cheating sexually, and she is involving herself emotionally—vicariously falling in love—with a fantasy male I can’t compete with (except for the perfect pecs and the cleft chin, anyway). Why is it that Mr. Douthat’s outrage is aimed only at men?

Jeff Raines
Oakland, Calif.

New York Legend

Jed Perl’s article (“The Man Who Remade the Met,” October Atlantic) pays due tribute to Metropolitan Museum of Art Director Philippe de Montebello and raises several interesting points about museums today. However, one sentence is damaging, indeed downright wrong: “The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, one of the greatest in the country, has drastically cut curatorial departments and positions.”

Under the leadership of Malcolm Rogers, the museum has expanded both its curatorial and conservation departments. In fact, during the past eight years, curatorial positions have grown from 62 to 77 (a 24 percent increase), and conservation positions have grown from 46 to 69 (a 50 percent increase).

By investing in the curatorial and conservation departments, Rogers has demonstrated his commitment to ensuring that the museum’s collection receives the care, scholarship, and accessibility it deserves.

Katie Getchell
Deputy Director
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Boston, Mass.

Jed Perl replies:

Numbers tell only part of the story. Anybody familiar with the recent history of the museum knows perfectly well what I am referring to. In the summer of 1999, Malcolm Rogers—to quote from The Wall Street Journal—“put into effect a re-organization so radical in conception and so heavy-handed in its implementation that some have dubbed it ‘The Boston Massacre’ … When the dust settled, eighteen longtime employees were gone and departments had merged into superdivisions responsible for immense tracts of cultural terrain.” Among those fired were Jonathan Fairbanks, who had founded the American decorative arts department, and Anne Poulet, head of European decorative arts, who went on to be director of the Frick Collection, in New York. At the time, the firings and reorganization were met by a storm of protest that prompted the museum’s chairman to say, “I understand why people feel strongly.” As for the aftermath, Getchell may see net gains, but many see net losses.

Giving Wind a Chance

Matthew Quirk’s article about wind power (“Blowback,” October Atlantic) begs some clarifications. It is not necessary to install lots of new backup generation when large blocks of wind generation are added to the grid. Wind power is only a fraction of the total generation in any particular part of the country, and its variability typically falls within the margins of the existing operating reserves utility systems maintain. Thus, it is usually possible to add a significant amount of wind power without causing any increase in the use of reserves. Also, wind’s variability is largely forecastable.

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