The Conversation


Liza Mundy’s June cover story, which laid out what straight couples can learn from same-sex ones, drew responses from both sides of the gay-marriage debate.

On one hand Mundy argues that these partnerships are more egalitarian and spouses therefore treat each other more fairly; some go to extremes to ensure nobody is being taken advantage of …

On the other hand Mundy tells us how some gay couples have accepted that when it comes to parenting, it can [be] much easier to have one spouse be fully in charge, while the other one is the primary breadwinner. Mundy quotes a 1981 book that explained that allowing one spouse to specialize in their profession while the other specializes in taking care of the homestead ultimately allows the working spouse to make more money [for] the household … A few paragraphs later she quotes a study that showed that the process of deciding who gets to work and who gets to stay home is often a fraught one, because neither partner is too keen on being the caretaker …

Mundy presents these almost utopian partnerships, in which the absence of a legacy of gendered expectations allows them to not just rewrite, but actually write the rules for their marriage and their lives …

If you read between the lines of the piece, you will see that while gays aren’t undermining marriage in any which way (and no sane person thought they would), they don’t exactly have it all figured out. And this is where the beauty lies. Marriage, when done right, isn’t a puzzle to solve. Instead, it is [a] complex and malleable system that twists and turns as [we] and our circumstances shift and change.

The couples in the story seem to be engaged in the same maddening and delightful task of figuring out how to make their partnership work as the straight couples I know who strive for egalitarian marriages … Perhaps a “Gay married people, they’re just like us!” approach wouldn’t have had a big enough hook to catch the cover of The Atlantic, but that is what I discovered reading it, and that is the story I liked.

Elissa Strauss
Excerpt from a Jewish Daily Forward blog post

Interesting article. An update every few years, along the lines of the old Seven Up documentary, is in order, to determine whether these differences of same-gender relationships are due to the novelty of legal marriage for gays and lesbians, as well as increased numbers of the committed long-term cohabiting, or actually are a litmus test for quality partnering, even groundbreaking models of relationship navigation and interpersonal problem-solving. Doubtless, gay/lesbian divorce is just as painful and even predatory, if not more so, especially when the age-old heterosexual bugaboos of property, money, and/or children are involved.

sammybaker comment

On the same cover are two titles: one about gay marriage and another about how the GOP can save itself (Molly Ball’s “How to Save the GOP”). On the surface, you would not think these could possibly be related. For me, the cover is very personal and connected. I am a lesbian with a partner of 20-plus years (no children, though), and my father has supported the Republican Party for just as long. My dad has paid my annual subscription for even longer—30-plus years, since I was in college. The Atlantic has provided topics of challenging discussions for many years. We both have appreciated the depth and range of articles. I’m sure I’ll have a debate with Dad over this issue, too—just a little more personalized.

Leslie [last name withheld]
Pensacola, Fla.

The cover photograph on your June 2013 issue—the guys holding hands—was so revolting that I ripped it off immediately. I tossed it right into the trash, trying as hard as I could not to defile my hands with it. I’ll think twice before renewing my subscription.

George Pollack
New York, N.Y.

The reason gay couples are so happy is that no one ever has a problem with the toilet seat being left up or down.

Cooper Ward comment


In June, Joseph S. Nye Jr. asked, “Do Presidents Matter?” In reaching an answer (essentially: “it depends”), Nye evaluated several of our past presidents. George W. Bush received the lowest grade, a D+.

It is ironic that Mr. Nye vilifies President George W. Bush in the same issue that describes the vilification of arguably our greatest president (Mark Bowden’s “Abraham Lincoln Is an Idiot,” about contemporary criticism of our leaders). It is all about the press’s hatred of the personality or the politics of the man in the office. Only after the hatred is gone, and the haters are dead, will President Bush rise in popularity. As with President Lincoln, cooler heads will then prevail, and the unbiased will realize that President Clinton left Bush with a terrible situation regarding Muslim terrorism. When the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993, Clinton prosecuted only the truck driver. When an FBI agent reported that Muslims were being trained to fly planes but were not interested in learning how to take off or land, even that was ignored. Like President Obama, Clinton saw no Muslim terrorism, only simple crimes.

Bush inherited a situation that called for serious and very expensive anti-terrorism action; the successful WTC attack was the final straw. Now the lefty press accuses him of lying to get us into war, even though Congress voted in favor almost unanimously. It’s called revisionist history; it helps with certain agendas.

Dan Landis
Broomall, Pa.

Joseph S. Nye Jr. Replies:

Despite Dan Landis’s conspiracy theories, my judgments were not partisan. Although I campaigned for his opponent in 1988, I gave George H. W. Bush my highest grade. In Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era (from which my article was drawn), I compare George W. Bush with a Democrat, Woodrow Wilson. I wrote that “while it is still too early for a definitive historical judgment on the Iraq War, what is clear at this point is that the twenty-first century opened with a crisis that led to failed transformational leadership. The leader lost his followers.” From what we now know, Iraq was a costly strategic blunder. On other issues (such as AIDS in Africa) George W. Bush did well.


In June, Carl Zimmer wrote about fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, a rare disease that locks its victims in cages of superfluous bone. He profiled a patient, Jeannie Peeper, as well as two physicians—Frederick Kaplan and Michael Zasloff—who have dedicated all or part of their careers, respectively, to finding the cause of, and a cure for, FOP. Presented here: an exchange between an online reader and Dr. Zasloff.

What a fantastic article. I’m so glad to hear how Kaplan persisted and worked with the network of people affected by FOP, to be at the point where human trials are in sight.

One thing I was curious about by the end of the article is whether Zasloff is still around, and if so, what his thoughts are on where this is going.

Exolon comment
Yes, Exolon, I am quite around, and very excited about the progress being made in the field by Fred Kaplan and his colleagues. I am very hopeful that we will see a therapy emerge in the near future, since several appear to be promising in animal models of FOP. One of our hopes is that we might be able to surgically remove ectopic bone on an individual, free up a joint, and not fear recurrent growth of bone at the site of surgery. That alone would be miraculous. And I think we are getting very close to making that happen.(And thank you, Carl Zimmer, for writing such a wonderful, and accurate, piece.)
Michael Zasloff comment


In the July/August issue, Joseph Epstein contended that the critical consensus about Franz Kafka is wrong. Readers argued that Kafka is indeed a modernist master, whether or not Epstein understands him.

The gist of Joseph Epstein’s essay on Kafka seems to be that Mr. Epstein is confused by Kafka, and that that constitutes a flaw in Kafka. Mr. Epstein correctly notes many critics’ contention that the conventional tools of literary criticism don’t work well when applied to Kafka’s writing, but then proceeds to interpret this phenomenon thusly: “Kafka, in other words, is given a pass on criticism.” I submit that the explanation is more straightforward: Kafka is an original.

Stephen Jacobson
El Granada, Calif.

I have read few literary critiques that are further off the mark than that of Joseph Epstein regarding Franz Kafka. Epstein is wrong on almost all counts, but especially in his view that the value of Kafka’s work is limited to a very narrow time and place, and is somehow linked to the validity, or lack thereof, of Freud’s psychodynamic theory. On the contrary, what makes Kafka compelling is his universality. Who among us has not felt severely negatively judged for reasons we do not understand by a nightmarish system from which there is no exit, and that defies comprehension despite all our efforts to make sense of it (The Trial)? And who has not foolishly aspired to a goal that is badly and wrongly chosen and that, despite our best efforts, always seems close but is never quite reached (The Castle)? Franz Kafka captures these themes through a fantastical world that seems like a nightmare come true. He predicted not only the rise of Nazism and Stalinism, but of the totalitarian regimes that exist today. With so many “great” authors, we feel only that we are reading about the life of someone whose problems just do not touch on ours. Epstein’s judgment of Kafka fits very well into the nightmarish landscape of The Trial.

Robert J. Sternberg
Laramie, Wyo.


In the July/August issue, Mark Oppenheimer posited that Glynn Washington may be “NPR’s Great Black Hope.” He compared the public-radio host’s success with that of Tavis Smiley and Michel Martin, NPR personalities past and present.

Mark Oppenheimer opines that “Tavis Smiley, who had a daily NPR show from 2002 to 2004, never really caught on (perhaps because he was a poor fit for the medium).” That’s just not true. Indeed, the facts suggest otherwise. Mr. Smiley joined NPR after a class-action lawsuit had been filed by African American former employees against the network for discrimination. He was the first African American in the history of NPR to host a signature program heard daily across the nation, and his was the fastest-growing program at NPR while he was there as a host.

Mr. Smiley left NPR of his own accord because he was dissatisfied with the lack of marketing for his show despite his overwhelming success, and with the slow pace of inclusion efforts inside NPR. Mr. Smiley was quite vocal when he left about his disappointment on the diversity front. Oppenheimer doesn’t mention this; his appreciation for the historical context of how and why Glynn Washington even has a shot at being “NPR’s Great Black Hope” is sorely lacking.

After leaving NPR, Mr. Smiley transitioned to Public Radio International, where he hosts two weekend public-radio programs. It’s hard to imagine, considering all the success Mr. Smiley has had, how Oppenheimer could so dismissively write that he didn’t fit the medium.

Leshelle V. Sargent
Publicist for Tavis Smiley
New York, N.Y.


“Why Sylvia Plath Haunts Us” (June) stated that The Bell Jar was published a few months before the author’s death. In fact, the book came out a few weeks before Plath died. In “When Men Lost Their Charm” (June), Joseph Cotten’s name was misspelled, as was Guthrie McClintic’s.

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Readers respond to the June issue

Q: What was the most influential TV show in history?

The Milton Berle Show and Howdy Doody

Kick-started TV and children’s TV, respectively

The Twilight Zone

Revolutionized TV writing and inspired a generation of scientific exploration and sci-fi writers

The Kennedy-Nixon debate

Debates are now often how we pick presidents.

Star Trek

Showed the value of curiosity, technologically advanced tools, and diversity

Sesame Street

Has taught educational skills and values to 95 percent of American kids for 44 years; now broadcast in 140 countries

Hill Street Blues

Where would televised dramatic storytelling be today without it?

Married … With Children

Al Bundy changed the direction of sitcoms way more than Jerry Seinfeld ever did.


Bypassed the networks, thus changing the whole business model

The Real World

Transformed both TV and our definition of reality

The Larry Sanders Show

Stylistic template for many a deadpan mockumentary since

The X-Files

Paved the way for multiseason story arcs, which became a modern sci-fi staple


Gave birth to cable TV as a serious alternative to network television

The O. J. Simpson chase and trial

The harbinger of 24-hour news coverage and America’s celebrity obsession

Will & Grace

Did wonders to humanize gays and lesbians and push for their rights

The Sopranos

Brought cinema to TV

Family Guy

The first show that returned from the grave, thanks to DVD sales and good ratings in syndication

The Office

The first show representative of Internet-age voyeurism

The Wire

Offered an incredible look at sociopolitical themes through the realistic portrayal of urban life in America


Set a precedent for what television could and should be—compelling, beautiful, meaningful

Some people answered with shows that influenced them personally. On our Web site, RMichTrav04 said:

The Cosby Show. As a poor black kid growing up in Arkansas, I had no idea that there was such a thing as middle- and upper-middle-class black people. And its spin-off series, A Different World, inspired me to go to college. In relation to that, Roseanne showed me that there was such a thing as poor white people. I never would’ve known that otherwise.

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