Superb Cover

The cover of the January 27 issue is stunning, in all senses of that word! Your note lists the artwork as “Hale Woodruff’s mural Mutiny on the Amistad (1939), courtesy of Talladega College, Alabama,” which was enough to set me off on a research mission. Thank you.

Readers not in the know, as I was not, may be interested to learn that the Paris-trained Woodruff was influenced by the muralists of his day, Thomas Hart Benton and Diego Rivera (he apprenticed under the latter); the cover painting is one of three scenes depicting the rebellion, Supreme Court trial and return to Africa of the freed men of the Amistad; Woodruff had not heard of the Amistad incident before he was commissioned to paint the murals; and Talladega College is the oldest historically black college in Alabama (it opened its doors in 1867).

Does it say something about our society that as an art history minor in college, I had not heard of this superb black artist and academic?st. louis

Susan Littlefield
st. louis

Who Are the Oppressed?

Re Greg Grandin’s “Slavery and Freedom” [Jan. 27]: Melville’s Benito Cereno can be understood as a parable for America’s involvement in the Middle East. We think we understand who the oppressed and the abusers are; we freely and smugly exercise judgment, although on close inspection the reality on the ground does not at all match our frame of understanding.
Andrei Radulescu-Banucity

Though his quoted estimate of 10 percent of slaves being Muslim seems high to me, I embrace Grandin’s research into this event. It is both insightful and revealing.
Paul Wojalewicz

Morrison & Melville

Toni Morrison’s “On Melville” [Jan. 27] reminded me that fourscore and nine years ago, I was brought forth upon this continent at 1744 Reid Avenue, Lorain, Ohio. From reading The Bluest Eye, I’m guessing that Toni lived about a block and a half from where I was born.
Robert Havel
winter park, fla.

What Privacy?

Regarding David Cole’s “Privacy in the Digital Era” [Jan. 27]: we already have Fourth Amendment protections for cars and telephone calls. It would follow the same logic to extend these protections to e-mails and our online activities. The NSA has claimed that, under the Patriot Act, it has the authority to do what it has been doing, but no law passed by Congress can go against the Constitution. Those that do are unconstitutional and therefore illegal. The Constitution is about limiting the power of government just as much as it is about outlining personal rights, and the government lacks the authority to undo that. The only way around the Constitution is to amend it.
S. Gillhoolley

If Fourth Amendment protections are deemed inadequate to protect privacy in the digital age, Congress should pass a law to provide those protections. We do not live in a free society if nearly every activity can be monitored.
Man Up

To me, some things are worth being conservative about, so I must point out that the capabilities of criminals and foreign governments to escape detection while acting out covert espionage—industrial and military—or deadly activities is unsurpassed in the digital age. That is why the NSA needs to be able to backtrack/intercept phone calls and other digital connections. We are not talking about the NSA catching someone talking to his bookie or telling your local police that you have friends over to get high and watch TV on the weekends. I want the NSA to spy on China and Iran and all their agents even if, and especially if, US citizens are involved. Yes, we need to protect citizen privacy rights, but is the NSA fishing for local lawbreakers? No. Do we need to make sure the NSA does not misuse the information? Yes.

Second That Emotion

I second Tom Mirabile’s sentiment as expressed in the January 27 Letters column. My guess is that for every Mirabile who writes to you, there are ten more out there who don’t take the time to write but who are equally frustrated by your design changes.
Phil Dacey

I agree with Mr. Mirabile that your “From Our Twitterverse” sidebar is annoying and properly belongs on the website. I have a very different approach when reading the magazine from visiting the website. I hope you will hear from many readers who agree.
Dianne Maughan
meadows of dan, va.

A brief response to Tom Mirabile’s call: amen, my friend.
Michael Killian
superior, wis.

Amen to Tom Mirabile’s comments. Your redesign is a dud overall, and taking up space on the Letters page with tweets is one of the most objectionable aspects. Those who want to be part of the Twitterverse are welcome to do so, but those who subscribe to the print magazine should not have it forced on us at the expense of more interesting and intelligent commentary.

Equally obnoxious is cluttering the pages of your superb columnists with mini-reports and factoids so that the columns now run to a second page, complicating things for readers and reducing the impact of the column. It’s annoying to me both as a reader and as an inveterate clipper who no longer can tear out a single-page column to keep or pass on to others.

Most depressing is the impression that you are desperate to make the pages of The Nation seem just like the online world—i.e., cluttered, distracted, incoherent, disorganized. I suppose that in the New York media environment you got a lot of sneers for having “gray” pages of mostly coherent print content, but that’s what your subscribers want and are paying for.

Clare Beck
ypsilanti, mich.

No Cross Words Here

I want to praise the crosswords of Henri Picciotto and Joshua Kosman. Their skill in composing puzzling clues inspires me with awe. Aw, and sometimes a guffaw!
Elaine Shinbrot
helmetta, n.j.