Hunger Games?

I am a huge fan of the Olympics. I love the different events and the competition among nations and athletes. A big part of my love of the Games was because I thought of them as so much cleaner than US professional sports. Your February 10 issue on Sochi pretty much shattered that illusion—especially Andrew Jennings’s article on the IOC and Samantha Retrosi’s “The Cruelty of the Olympics.” I still watch, but… a bit of the magic is gone. I’ll not complain, though. It was a great eye-opening issue, and I’m better off if I have fewer illusions.
Aaron Bennett
somewhere in cyberspace

It’s true. The magic of the Olympics is gone. It’s like Disneyland now; we’ve all seen the man behind the curtain. It’s all constructed. We have been robbed of the mystique and awe and watery-eyed welling-up of emotion it once produced in us. I’m saddened by that, but worse is that our athletes—our kids—are saddened.
Ygg Drasil

Thanks for Samantha Retrosi’s article. It really resonates with me. I was in Nagano in 1998 [in the giant slalom—ed.]. I’ll never forget being told by an Olympic PR specialist that crying’s not a bad idea if you win a medal. I realized I was an actor on a stage. People look hurt when I say the Olympics are a glorified TV show designed to command top advertising dollars, and that the athletes are the “puppet extras”—like I’m a big old wet blanket.
Betsy Shaw

Snowden: Necessity Defense

Chase Madar, in “Amnesty for Snowden!” [Feb. 10], causes me to wonder whether Edward Snowden could raise the “necessity defense,” should he return and be tried on federal charges in open court.

The elements of the necessity defense vary among the several federal circuits, and it has never been definitively ruled on by the Supreme Court. It turns on some variant of the same four basic elements: (1) Did the defendant choose the lesser of two evils; (2) did he act to prevent an imminent harm; (3) did he reasonably believe the action would avert the harm; and (4) did he have no legal alternative to violating the law?

A case for Snowden can be made on each of these elements. First, Snowden reasonably believed that the NSA’s dragnet violation of our Fourth Amendment right to be secure in our persons, papers, houses and effects far outweighs any security advantage the NSA might expect to gain by its dragnet approach to warrantless search and seizure of our personal data and communications.

Second, the NSA’s violation of our basic constitutional right to be secure in our persons, papers, houses and effects—i.e., our privacy—was not only “imminent,” it was manifest, ongoing and expanding. 

Third, the efficacy of Snowden’s action is clear: it has already compelled the president to publicly state that the NSA’s predations on our constitutional right to privacy will at least be reduced if not eliminated, and the political fallout continues.

Where Snowden could be charged with “treason” as well as simply statutory charges for disclosing classified material, the fourth question answers itself. There clearly was no legal alternative for him to publicly raise the issue of the NSA’s unconstitutional spying on us except by violating the law. 

So, would he be acquitted if he were to be allowed to present the necessity defense to a jury? Opinion polls on this point are encouraging. But all the government would need is twelve jurors who don’t agree with the polls. If I represented Snowden, I would remind the jury of Benjamin Franklin’s admonition: “They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

That wisdom appears to be lost on far too many of our fellow Americans, but it is something President Obama should take to heart as the basis for granting amnesty to Snowden, in addition to issuing an executive order to prohibit the NSA from conducting any more warrantless searches of our private electronic records and communications.

Richard K. Latimer
Attorney at Law
falmouth, mass.

‘Permission to Fail’

I found Barry Schwabsky’s “Permission to Fail” [Feb. 10] illuminating and particularly germane to the moment. As a largely self-taught artist, I’ve been giving myself “assignments” for many years, so I understand the value of this approach to art making. There is always a possibility that the outcomes of one’s artistic exercises will be failures, although if the artist is truly in touch with him- or herself, the question regarding who or what determines “failure” (or “success”) is bound to arise. 

Suppose we can no longer rely on the standards of the art world (or the art market), due perhaps to the fragmentation Schwabsky mentions. How then does the artist determine the value or efficacy of his or her work? Is critical appraisal of one’s own work in light of the work of one’s contemporaries the key? Appraisal certainly requires some self-assurance, which in turn, paradoxically, involves the understanding that one’s ignorance (in any matter) is always greater than one’s knowledge.

Paul Forte
wakefield, r.i.

Schwabsky Replies

Very good questions—meaning very hard to answer. But probably it helps not to be too quick to try to “determine the value or efficacy” of one’s work. It’s usually pretty indeterminate, unfortunately. Paul Forte’s contemporaries are not going to be unanimous one way or another. But he can try to earn the respect of those he respects, and let the others think what they will.

Barry Schwabsky
new york city

‘Czars & Samovars’ Redux

The letter from Steve Oren in Chicago [Feb. 10] makes me recollect a slightly different placement of lyrics that results in a somewhat larger chorus:

And all that seems distant,
And all that seems far,
From those glorious nights
In the palace of the czar,
Whe-e-e-n… (chorus):

I was shootin’ with Rasputin,
Ate farina with czarina
Blintzes with the princes and the czar.
We were sharing tea and herring,
Ate banana with Smetana,
Borsht and worsht around the samovar!


Jack Berger
mahwah, n.j.