Tag Archives: Websites That Punch You In The Gut

South Beach selfies

For the next few days, the girls must inundate their Facebook pages with staged bikini shots. They stand in glossy clusters up and down South Beach, documenting their spring break cleavage. You get the sense that the girls selected their vacation companions based purely on how physically complementary they’d look in photos. Every thirty seconds, someone exercises veto power over a group image and the bikini shoot begins again. These young women are modeling spring break, rather than living it. They’re starring in a swimwear catalog available exclusively on their social media accounts. And Poseidon pity the boyfriend who’s conscripted to take photos of his lady as she rolls around suggestively in the surf, thong pointed to the sky like an arrow. In the distance, a dolphin splashes merrily in the Atlantic, but he doesn’t make it into the picture.

The newlyweds wander hand in hand through the historic lagoon gardens of Vizcaya. A selfie stick precedes them like a carrot promising relived experience later on. The cell phone on the stick’s extremity shoots amateur film of the man kissing his new wife on her sunburned cheek, then the man sweeps the camera around to include some unknown future viewer in the tour. Here is the picnic pavilion that resembles a sailing ship. Here is brackish water being pumped into a fountain made from limestone and coral. In the background, other tourists wander obliviously through the honeymoon video. Once they’re in, there’s no way out.

Florida Republicans keep snapping pictures of Miami. To foreign investors they text photos of Bahama-white sand, DJ Paris Hilton dressed as Barbie, and private yachts the size of naval destroyers cruising Biscayne Bay. Then the Brazilians send cash for new luxury condos they’ll never inhabit. No one takes pictures of the seawater flooding the streets at high tide. No one takes pictures of the storm surges that swamp ritzy nightclubs on the barrier island. The recent flood of real estate development is the only way to save the city from the actual flood. “There’s no such thing as climate change,” say Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, as they frantically delete Miami’s selfies from her phone.

Fuck yeah Everglades

This article has everything I look for in an article

I grew up next to a funeral home in Easton, Maryland. At least once a week a white truck lumbered down the alley, pulled into our neighbor’s rear parking area, and left with mysterious boxes labeled BIOHAZARD and INFECTIOUS WASTE. Because I was a kid, I usually watched these proceedings from a tree limb or a swing or a bicycle seat, and I didn’t think too much about the cargo’s hazardous contents. But I was vaguely aware that the boxes issued directly from the garage that doubled as a mortuary, the place where the hearse delivered all the bodies. And I assumed that strange things happened in there that probably had to do with bloodletting. Eventually every dead body that arrived at my neighbor’s house was disassembled into the tidy corpse that would be displayed at the front of the home and the remains that would be shuttled out the back.

This Atlantic article by Saira Khan, “Smelling Death: On the Job with New York’s Crime-Scene Cleaners,” was so grim and unnerving that it brought back my whole childhood. (Kidding, Mom. Sort of.) For me, a red plastic bag full of carnage is like Proust’s petite madeleine. So I’m reading along, just savoring my heartwarming memories of the morgue next door disgorging body parts to men in hazmat suits, when I hit this passage:

Anything that gives personality to the dead affects crime-scene cleaners—things like a neatly folded jacket hanging over a chair, a Victoria’s Secret bag from a recent shopping trip, a pot of macaroni and cheese with the wooden spoon still in it. “It’s like someone literally hit the pause button on someone’s life,” says Baruchin. “It’s actually one of the most serene things you could see, a preserved moment in someone’s life, but when you think about the death part of it, it can get upsetting.”

Renner adds, “It can be very surreal, or freaky, kind of like a snapshot because you can actually picture what the person was doing right before they were killed or died.” Both men say they prefer to know as little as possible about the victims.

I guess I never thought about a crime scene as capturing a moment. Detectives do this with a specific objective in mind: they’re trying to decipher the etiology of a homicide. But when the body is gone and there’s only the immediate aftermath to contend with—those frozen objects all around—it’s tempting to imagine what the dead were doing, seeing, and generally experiencing at the moment their lives were cut short. Like right now I’m sitting at my desk with an empty bowl of watermelon (at least her last meal was one of her favorite foods), an empty glass of water (a shame that she was thirsty though), a to-do list with many open items (this delay on buying a bicycle helmet proves that she was courting death), and photos of my loved ones (man, she’s gonna miss them). Unfortunately one of the prostitutes living in the illegal strip club/brothel across the street has pointed a rifle through my window and shot me through the ears. Does this moment of dying represent me? Do these scattered, splattered objects on my desk tell a story? Can they communicate a life to a cleaning crew? If I just step away for a moment, can I ever come back?

Maybe we should treat all moments in time and objects in space with the delicacy and absorbing interest we’d grant those that belonged to the dead. I can hold up my sticky fork that once pierced a watermelon. What if this is my last fork? What do its little tines tell me about the life that I’ve lived? I can smile back at my nephew as he grins up at me from a photograph. Where did you come from, you little goof? And where are you going? I can contemplate the tree through my window before the prostitute’s bullet tears through its leaves. It would be nice to be a kid perched in that tree, heedless of the worlds that are drained from people when they die. These surroundings may not form a crime scene (yet—for now I’m still in the whore’s good graces), but they are worthy of attention. And it’s indeed criminal that one day they will all disappear.

I feel that there is much to be said for the Celtic belief that the souls of those whom we have lost are held captive in some inferior being, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, and so effectively lost to us until the day (which to many never comes) when we happen to pass by the tree or to obtain possession of the object which forms their prison. Then they start and tremble, they call us by our name, and as soon as we have recognized their voice the spell is broken. We have delivered them: they have overcome death and return to share our life. (Proust, Remembrance of Things Past)

In which my husband solves the newspaper publishing crisis

There’s been a lot of chatter lately about the future of journalism residing in “hyperlocal” news. Hyperlocal news steps in where the doomsday scenario leaves off: Newspapers fire experienced writers, writers have no place to go, newspapers die out, the end is nigh. Yet we still crave news that is streamlined and directly relevant to our lives. So instead of scavenging a national paper on its deathbed, we might read a blog written by an out-of-work reporter who lives down the street, a meaningful voice that in turn aggregates other meaningful voices.

This is where Darren Hoyt comes in. He and Ben Gillbanks, an English colleague, just launched Dispatch, a WordPress blog theme for writers and journalists. An add-on to the Mimbo Pro WP theme, Dispatch gives any journalist with $20* an online platform that looks and feels like a professional newspaper or magazine website. So with minimal effort and financial commitment, you can launch a respectable blog for posting pictures and stories of your tour in Afghanistan or your cat or whatever. God, my husband is on the cutting edge.

Tech Dirt tells us why hyperlocal news makes sense, and, by extension, why you should be interested in Dispatch:

The technological and economic constraints of newsprint meant that the whole process had to be done by full-time employees and carefully coordinated by a single, monolithic organization. But the Internet makes possible a much more decentralized model, in which lots of different people, most of them volunteers, participate in the process of gathering and filtering the news. Rather than a handful of professional reporters writing stories and an even smaller number of professional editors deciding which ones get printed, we’re moving toward a world that Clay Shirky calls publish, then filter: anyone can write any story they want, and the stories that get the most attention are determined after publication by decentralized, community-driven processes like Digg, del.icio.us, and the blogosphere.

Other tech people weigh in on hyperlocal news here and here and here.

In my own hyperlocal news, I want to punch that word “blogosphere” in the gut. And then make sweet love to it.

Here’s a “for instance”: Your wife needs a new website ASAP so she can compete with the New York literati! You just created an awesome website! What’s your next move?

Screenshot of Dispatch WordPress theme

Screenshot of Dispatch WordPress theme

*Keep in mind that Dispatch is an add-on to Mimbo Pro, which costs $79. Still, that totals $100 for a website with amazing functionality and versatility that you might otherwise pay a designer thousands of dollars to develop for you. I feel like I am one step away from an infomercial right now.

Web 2.0 and all my extra brainage

This is a profoundly geeky thing to blog about, but perhaps it will widen my fan base to include online gamers and Wikipedians, my most neglected demographic.

Web 2.0 guru Clay Shirky recently published a book entitled Here Comes Everybody. I am dying to read this book due to the persuasive strength of “Gin, Television, and Social Surplus,” a talk the author gave at a nerd conference last week.

Shirky believes that modern society functions with a massive cognitive surplus, a surplus we primarily devote to drinking liquor and watching TV. But recently Web 2.0 – the gospel of society’s consuming, producing, and sharing information instead of just idly absorbing it – has engaged this cognitive surplus in a more worthwhile way. Now people can devote millions of hours to debating the planetary integrity of Pluto on the internet, whereas 15 years ago those same hours would have been spent on sitcom reruns.

This, believe it or not, is progress. Information is becoming more inclusive than exclusive, more interactive than inactive, more loving sex partner than life-size blow-up doll. But we can still lament the ’90s brain drain of thousands of MTV hours, time that I could have passed blogging, or that you could have passed reading and commenting on my blog.

Everything an online social network should be

Congratulations to the brains behind the presumably fake Frrvrr.com.

Frrvrr uses cutting-edge technology to identify topics you might be interested in based on your browsing history, public records, health records, email activity, legal filings, and web profiles. Frrvrr then directs you to those topics and connects you with similar-minded people.

It’s enough to strike fear into the heart of every web surfer.

When you sign up, Frrvrr’s AvaTroll Accelerator™ will download itself onto your desktop and begin cataloguing your web history, or “webtory,” from the past eight months. Once it gathers all of your information, it creates a personalized avatar of you based on the snapshot of you gleaned from web usage and sites visited.

No one wants to look into that mirror. Frrvrr is the absurd conclusion to the booming personalization business. Technology will know you better than you know yourself. You’re not surprising anyone with your love for awfulplasticsurgery.com. That love was mapped out years ago when your web surfing algorithm incorporated your encrypted medical records. And incidentally, we think you’re gay.

It’s the miracle of life!

Egg to chicken. AKA breakfast to dinner in five seconds.

So gross, and yet so amazing. Is that you, God, all covered in mucus and hair?

Irena Sendler

I wish there was an appropriate segue here between my post about the vagina clown car and this post about a 97-year-old Polish woman who saved thousands of Jewish children from the concentration camps during World War II. But there’s not and there never will be, and that’s just how life is.

Mrs. Sendler, code name “Jolanta,” smuggled 2,500 children out of the Warsaw Ghetto during the last three months before its liquidation. She found a home for each child. Each was given a new name and a new identity as a Christian. Others were saving Jewish children, too, but many of those children were saved only in body; tragically, they disappeared from the Jewish people. Irena did all she could to ensure that “her children” would have a future as part of their own people.

Incidentally, Mrs. Sendler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year, but lost out to Al Gore. I would hate to be on the prize selection committee and have to make those tough choices, but it would probably make me feel a lot better about humanity to read all those outstanding CVs.

Family histories of childhood friends

This morning I caught this moving story on NPR about an archaeological dig taking place on a former slave plantation in Talbot County, Maryland, not far from the town where I used to live. Thousands of slaves inhabited Wye House Farm across the Chesapeake Bay from the 1650s onward. Many of the Maryland slaves joined the Union Army during the Civil War and then came back to the old plantation to farm their own parcels of land and to build their own churches and schools. Today, ancestors of the slaveholders and ancestors of the slaves live down the road from each other. They are all watching the archaeological dig with great interest.

Harriet Lowery, a local resident and descendant of Wye House slaves, wholeheartedly supports the dig. She says (and the written quote doesn’t do her words  justice – you have to listen to the broadcast):

It’s very hard for us to find out our roots a lot of times and so to see something so real – to hear about something so real – gave me a sense of pride…it gave me a feeling of being in touch with my ancestors.

NPR journalist John Ydstie writes that:

Lowery has been tracing her family history in the area, hoping to find some small consolation that the lives of her ancestors contained some joy.

In his memoirs, Douglass recounts the killing of a slave named Demby — likely one of Lowery’s ancestors — by an overseer at Wye House Farm named Gore. Douglass wrote that Gore whipped Demby, who ran to the river to soothe his wounds. He refused to come out, and Gore shot him.

Lowery says she was deeply touched by a few small beads and pieces of pottery excavated on the Long Green and brought to St. Stephens for display.

“It was amazing to me that they had a necklace or earring. And there was one particular bowl … it reminded me of a bowl my mother had,” Lowery said. “It’s comforting to me to know at least there were some peaceful times.”

You can read more Maryland slave narratives here.

Plastic in our oceans, plastic in our bodies

When will American industrialists realize that they have created a chemical Molotov cocktail? If people don’t care about the environment, they can at least care about their gay babies and their back fat.

“Except for the small amount that’s been incinerated—and it’s a very small amount—every bit of plastic ever made still exists,” [Captain Charles] Moore says, describing how the material’s molecular structure resists biodegradation. Instead, plastic crumbles into ever-tinier fragments as it’s exposed to sunlight and the elements. And none of these untold gazillions of fragments is disappearing anytime soon: Even when plastic is broken down to a single molecule, it remains too tough for biodegradation.

Controversial websites I want to launch

1. Website that makes the correlation between multi-vitamins and acne.

2. Website about how our contaminated water supply is making babies gay.

3. www.eatingpiewithcelebrities.com – Photoshopped pictures of me binge-eating with famous people.

Those are the only ones I have been wanting to launch for a while now. Lengthening the list would just be being facetious.