Things to Read - Six Interesting Articles (on a Syrian refugee, Instagram, Lonely Death, School Shootings, Japanese Kids, and Travel Photography)

1. (A Syrian Refugee) - Ten Borders - The New Yorker documents a Syrian refugee's escape.

"Ghaith said that he couldn’t help but feel lucky: “I made it, while thousands of others didn’t. Some died on the way, some died in Syria. Every day, you hear about people drowning. Just think about how much every Syrian is suffering inside Syria to endure the suffering of this trip.” He paused. “In Greece, someone asked me, ‘Why take the chance?’ I said, ‘In Syria, there’s a hundred-per-cent chance that you’re going to die. If the chance of making it to Europe is even one per cent, then that means there is a one-per-cent chance of your leading an actual life.’ ”

2. (Instagram Fame) - New York magazine published a profile of the "Prom Queen of Instagram" that made me want to hide my children from all main stream culture.

Hymowitz asked her friends if they thought her Instagram captured her personality. “Definitely not,” Lee said. “Your Instagram is like, ‘She does cool stuff.’ It’s a lifestyle that people want to live.” Everyone agreed that Hymowitz was sweeter in person than the cool, even tough, persona she presented online.

The table also agreed that building a high-profile online presence was practical. “When I decide what I wanna do in general with life, having followers could help,” said Hymowitz.

. . .

"Everyone’s like, ‘There’s so many people in New York, if you don’t want to be around the same people, why don’t you just meet new friends?’ ” she said. “But you can’t just wander the streets and pick out new friends.” As she crested the halfway point of high school, she seemed stuck between being an aspiring adult and a romantic teen who still posts pictures of Drake and says that all she needs is a man who would treat her like he would. Instagram offered a concrete measure of her popularity, which could be reassuring but also, she now realized, paranoia-inducing. “How do you even know why someone is hanging out with you? Is it for them to tag you in their Instagram, or is it because they like you?” Hymowitz wondered."


3. (Dying Alone) - New York Times' article "The Death of George Bell" about how the state deals with the death of a reclusive horder was both sad and fascinating (I've always wondered who comes in to clean out the apartment and deal with the estate).

Distance and time never dampened the emotional affinity between [Eleanore] and George Bell. They spoke on the phone and exchanged cards. “We had something for each other that never got used up,” she said. She had sent him a Valentine’s Day card just last year: “George, think of you often with love.”

And unbeknown to her, he had put her in his will and kept her there.

Her life finished up a lot like his. She lived alone, in a trailer. She died of a heart attack. A neighbor who cleared her snow found her. She had gotten obese. Her brother had her cremated.

A difference was that she left behind debt, owed to the bank and to credit card companies. All that she would pass on was tens of thousands of dollars of George Bell’s money, money that she never got to touch.

Some would filter down to her brother, who had no plans for it. A slice went to Michael Garber, her nephew, who drives a bus at Disney World. A friend of his aunt’s had owned a Camaro convertible that she relished, and he might buy a used Camaro in her honor.

Some more would go to Sarah Teta, a niece, retired and living in Altamonte Springs, Fla., who plans to save it for a rainy day. “You always hear about people you don’t know dying and leaving you money,” she said. “I never thought it would happen to me.”


4. (Japanese Kids)
- Citylab has a short, interesting piece on Why Japanese Kids are So Independent.

What accounts for this unusual degree of independence? Not self-sufficiency, in fact, but “group reliance,” according to Dwayne Dixon, a cultural anthropologist who wrote his doctoral dissertation on Japanese youth. “[Japanese] kids learn early on that, ideally, any member of the community can be called on to serve or help others,” he says.

This assumption is reinforced at school, where children take turns cleaning and serving lunch instead of relying on staff to perform such duties. This “distributes labor across various shoulders and rotates expectations, while also teaching everyone what it takes to clean a toilet, for instance,” Dixon says.

Taking responsibility for shared spaces means that children have pride of ownership and understand in a concrete way the consequences of making a mess, since they’ll have to clean it up themselves.
This ethic extends to public space more broadly (one reason Japanese streets are generally so clean). A child out in public knows he can rely on the group to help in an emergency.


5. (School Shootings) - This article on How School Shootings Spread, which concentrates on the idea of "social thresholds" for violence, scared the crap out of me.

"Social processes are driven by our thresholds . . . defined as the number of people who need to be doing some activity before we agree to join them. In the elegant theoretical model Granovetter proposed, riots were started by people with a threshold of zero—instigators willing to throw a rock through a window at the slightest provocation. Then comes the person who will throw a rock if someone else goes first. He has a threshold of one. Next in is the person with the threshold of two. His qualms are overcome when he sees the instigator and the instigator’s accomplice. Next to him is someone with a threshold of three, who would never break windows and loot stores unless there were three people right in front of him who were already doing that—and so on up to the hundredth person, a righteous upstanding citizen who nonetheless could set his beliefs aside and grab a camera from the broken window of the electronics store if everyone around him was grabbing cameras from the electronics store.

. . . .

. . . the sociologist Nathalie E. Paton has analyzed the online videos created by post-Columbine shooters and found a recurring set of stylized images: a moment where the killer points his gun at the camera, then at his own temple, and then spreads his arms wide with a gun in each hand; the closeup; the wave goodbye at the end. “School shooters explicitly name or represent each other,” she writes. She mentions one who “refers to Cho as a brother-in-arms”; another who “points out that his cultural tastes are like those of ‘Eric and Dylan’ ”; a third who “uses images from the Columbine shooting surveillance camera and devotes several videos to the Columbine killers.” And she notes, “This aspect underlines the fact that the boys actively take part in associating themselves to a group.”

. . . .

In the day of Eric Harris, we could try to console ourselves with the thought that there was nothing we could do, that no law or intervention or restrictions on guns could make a difference in the face of someone so evil. But the riot has now engulfed the boys who were once content to play with chemistry sets in the basement. The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts."


6. (Travel Photography) - And, finally, I loved this article by Teju Cole on finding one's own voice in writing and in photography.

"The question I confronted in Switzerland is similar to that confronted by any camera-toting visitor in a great landscape: Can my photograph convey an experience that others have already captured so well? The answer is almost always no, but you try anyway. I might feel myself to be a singular traveler, but I am in fact part of a great endless horde. In the 1870s, Mark Twain was already complaining: ‘‘Now everybody goes everywhere; and Switzerland, and many other regions which were unvisited and unknown remotenesses a hundred years ago, are in our days a buzzing hive of restless strangers."

. . . .

Technically proficient mountain pictures were good, but I also had to develop my own voice. In photography, as in writing, there’s no shortcut to finding that voice. I could not decide ahead of time that I would take only ugly pictures or only beautiful ones, or that everything would be in focus or blurred, or that I would use only color or only black and white.

. . . .

I let go of some ‘‘good’’ photos, the way you strike out pretty sentences from a draft, and I learned how a number of tightly argued photos should be followed by one or two that are simpler and more ventilated. Authorship, after all, is not only what is created but also what is selected.

Along the way, I felt the constant company of doubt: my lack of talent, my impostor’s syndrome, my fear of boring others. Every once in a great while, there was finally a superb picture, but when I looked at it the following week, I would see that it actually wasn’t very good: too obvious, too derivative. Three thousand photographs and three thousand doubts.

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