Public Libraries, Life Without Parole and Other Letters to the Editor

Off the Shelves

To the Editor:

The blurb for Brooke Barker’s terrific Sketchbook of neighborhood “little free libraries” (Jan. 10) says that “you can still borrow books for free even when public libraries are closed.” While the sketch is a wonderful advertisement for little free libraries — which I, as a librarian, fully support — I do want to correct the statement “when public libraries are closed.”

Many public libraries did close. However, it was only the buildings that closed; library staff around the world have worked hard to find new ways to provide library materials for their patrons, schools and communities while implementing new health mandates to keep everyone safe.

Many libraries have found ingenious ways to keep their communities reading. Our library in Waldport, Ore., used the drive-through window of an old bank building through last spring and summer, where patrons were able to pull up and pick up their items (including summer reading giveaways with books and Take & Make kits). We continue to provide services back at the Waldport Public Library through porch pickup and monthly online programs.

Just as we are doing, libraries everywhere are working hard to continue serving communities through online programming, downloadable checkouts and appropriate ways to safely pick up books with little to no contact. So while many of the public library buildings are closed, you can still borrow books from your library.

Sue Bennett
Waldport, Ore.

When Empires Collide

To the Editor:

In his absorbing review of John Ghazvinian’s “America and Iran: A History, 1720 to the Present” (Jan. 24), Abbas Milani writes that “Iran was a coveted prize in the 19th-century Big Game between Russia and England.” It’s a small terminological point, but the proper phrase is the “Great Game,” which refers to the competition for control of Central Asia starting from the late 19th century, and was popularized by Rudyard Kipling. Of course the more telling fact is that these clashing imperialist powers could look upon their bloody rivalry as a form of gamesmanship.

Benjamin George Friedman
New York

Life Without Parole

To the Editor:

Although I found Anand Giridharadas’s review of Maurice Chammah’s “Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty” (Feb. 7) insightful and fascinating, it seems to me that the reviewer, and perhaps the author (I have not read the book), may have missed what could be the single greatest factor accounting for the declining use of the death penalty in the United States: the effect on jurors’ minds of life without parole (LWOP) statutes as an alternative to the death penalty.

Before my retirement from the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, I was the lead prosecutor in death penalty cases, including one of the first such cases in Los Angeles in more than 25 years, and a case in which we sought the deaths of members of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang.

The death penalty was not imposed on any of those defendants. Some of the defendants offered to agree to a sentence of LWOP if the government withdrew the notice of seeking the death penalty. At trial, after being found guilty of a capital crime, some of the defendants argued to the penalty jury that a sentence of LWOP was punishment enough, and that such a sentence eliminated the future dangerousness of any murderer.

It is my own belief that the increased availability and use of LWOP sentences closely corresponds to the decreased use of the death penalty in America.

In the federal system, a vote of 11-1 in favor of death results in a life sentence, and the federal government, unlike prosecutors in some states, is not free to seek a mistrial and try the penalty phase again before a different jury.

Stephen G. Wolfe
Pasadena, Calif.

Woman at Work

To the Editor:

Michael Sims’s essay on Charles Darwin’s view of women (Feb. 7) is the best thing on Harriet Martineau to appear in a century.

Kudos to Sims for recognizing one of the powerful women of the 19th century. She played a major role in the abolition campaign that finally determined the outcome of the Civil War.

Lyn Paul Relph
Tucson, Ariz.

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