Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sunday Reading

From the Schoolyard to Cyberspace — John Schwartz looks at bullying in the age of Facebook and Twitter.

Tyler Clementi may have died from exposure in cyberspace. His roommate and another student, according to police, viewed Mr. Clementi’s intimate encounter with another man on a Webcam and streamed it onto the Internet. Mr. Clementi, an 18-year-old violinist in his freshman year at Rutgers University, jumped off of the George Washington Bridge, and now the two face serious criminal charges, including invasion of privacy.

The prosecutor in the case has also said that he will investigate bringing bias charges, based on Mr. Clementi’s sexual orientation, which could raise the punishment to 10 years in prison from 5.

But the case has stirred passionate anger, and many have called for tougher charges, like manslaughter — just as outrage led to similar calls against the six students accused of bullying Phoebe Prince, a student in South Hadley, Mass., who also committed suicide earlier this year.

What should the punishment be for acts like cyberbullying and online humiliation?

That question is as difficult to answer as how to integrate our values with all the things in our lives made of bits, balancing a right to privacy with the urge to text, tweet, stream and post.

And the outcry over proper punishment is also part of the continuing debate about how to handle personal responsibility and freedom. Just how culpable is an online bully in someone’s decision to end a life?

It is not the first time cruel acts and online distribution have combined tragically. In 2008, Jessica Logan, 18, hung herself after an ex-boyfriend circulated the nude cellphone snapshots she had “sexted” to him.

Public humiliation and sexual orientation can be an especially deadly blend. In recent weeks, several students have committed suicide after instances that have been described as cyberbullying over sexual orientation, including Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old in Tehachapi, Calif., who hanged himself from a tree in his backyard last month and died after more than a week on life support.

A survey of more than 5,000 college students, faculty members and staff members who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender published last month by the advocacy group Campus Pride found that nearly one in four reported harassment, almost all related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Warren J. Blumenfeld, an associate professor of curriculum and instruction at Iowa State University and an author of the Campus Pride study, also conducted a smaller survey of 350 nonheterosexual students between the ages of 11 and 22 and found that about half of the respondents reported being cyberbullied in the 30 days before the survey, and that more than a quarter had suicidal thoughts.

“Those students who are face-to-face bullied, and/or cyberbullied, face increased risk for depression, PTSD, and suicidal attempts and ideation,” Professor Blumenfeld said.

But punishment for people who do such a thing is still up for debate. In the Rutgers case, New Jersey prosecutors initially charged the two students, Dharum Ravi and Molly W. Wei, with two counts each of invasion of privacy for using the camera on Sept. 19. Mr. Ravi faces two additional counts for a second, unsuccessful attempt to view and transmit another image of Mr. Clementi two days later.

More below the fold.

The Wisdom of Revising Old Texts — Nathaniel Stein at The New Yorker looks at new versions of old biblical quotes that have become part of literature.

This month, Robert Alter publishes a new translation of three Biblical books in “The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary.” Alter, a Hebrew literature scholar at the University of California who has previously translated the Psalms and the five books of Moses, offers a rich alternative to the familiar translation that is in many ways more faithful to the ancient rhythms and meanings. James Wood, in a 2007 review of an earlier Alter translation, noted that “the Psalms (like the book of Job) were relentlessly Christianized by the King James translators,” and praised Alter for “stripping the English of these artificial cleansers” and “[taking] us back to the essence of the meaning.”

But the various inaccuracies and other inadequacies of the King James Version, though they justify a new translation, are beside the point when it comes to that version’s aesthetic power. The K.J.V. is so ingrained—its poetry has so completely seeped into the collective consciousness of the English-speaking world—that a new rendering, however valuable, is a vaguely disconcerting experience. In the four centuries since its completion, the K.J.V. has become our lives’ background poetry, its phrases and rhythms echoing through the canon, having been endlessly plundered by writers in search of a turn of phrase, or of a certain resonance unattainable elsewhere.

Which suggests a fun exercise for quickly determining just how different Alter’s new version is. In a world that possessed only this new translation, how would some familiar works be different? How would those famous titles, epigraphs, and other allusions come out?

For starters: “The Sun Also Rises,” taken from Ecclesiastes 1:5, would be “The Sun Rises.” Here is the King James Version:

One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever… The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose… The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to its circuits… All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come thither they return again.

And here is Alter’s:

A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth endures forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets, and to its place it glides, there it rises.
It goes to the south and swings round to the north, round and round goes the wind, and on its rounds the wind returns.

All the rivers go to the sea, and the sea is not full.

To the place that the rivers go, there they return to go.

But rest assured; graduations and classic oldies will remain intact with a new translation of the opening of the third chapter of Ecclesiastes:

Everything has a season, and a time for every matter under the heavens.
A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to rip down and a time to build.
A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to fling stones and a time to gather stones in. A time to embrace and a time to pull back from embracing.
A time to seek and a time to lose. A time to keep and a time to fling away.
A time to tear and a time to sew. A time to keep silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.

Oil Men — Carl Hiaasen imagines one president writing to another.

An absolutely true news item: Cuba will soon begin deepwater drilling for oil and gas only 45 to 65 miles from the Florida Keys.

Dear President Castro (may I call you Raúl?),

We’ve never met over mojitos, but you might have heard of me. My name is Anthony Hayward (Tony, to my friends), and up until recently I was heavily involved with deepwater oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico.

I’m writing to share some life lessons from my own experience as head of a prominent, multinational energy company, so that you and your corporate partners might better cope with any unforeseen crisis.

Let me first suggest formulating a real backup plan in case something goes wrong. By ”real backup plan” I mean a series of actions that can be promptly initiated to fix the problem, as opposed to the traditional imaginary backup plan that exists only on paper.

For instance, let’s say one of your drilling rigs suddenly explodes, spewing millions of gallons of crude into the ocean, crippling marine life, fouling tourist beaches, and creating one of the costliest environmental nightmares in history.

You’re thinking: It could never happen, amigo! We will use state-of-the-art blowout preventers!

Not to burst your post-revolutionary bubble, Raúl, but blowout preventers occasionally malfunction. I’m talking meltdown.

Should that occur, you certainly don’t want to be in the embarrassing position of consulting with Kevin Costner, or scrambling to weld a goofy-looking dome to drop over the broken wellhead.

So, play it safe. Build a warehouse-full of capture domes before you start drilling, ones that actually fit snugly over the pipe. Better still, test your blowout preventers every once in a while, to make sure they work.

Doonesbury — It’s apparently true.