Here at Twenty Pounds of Headlines, I like to mix it up every now and then. Some days I’m all about long, expository diatribes concerning the virtues of legal prostitution or capitalist existentialism; and on others I feel like simply sharing a few interesting dispatches from that boundless, unruly universe we call “The Internet.” Since I gave you two lengthier pieces to digest this week, how about spending some time trolling a few of the following sites I discovered this evening while trolling for interesting story ideas. They each have their own fascinating tale to tell. You can thank me later for saving you the time of finding them yourself…
—Stumbleupon.com: This is where our journey begins, at a unique networking site I recently, well, stumbled upon. It’s kind of like Pandora for Web surfing, whereby a powerful “Recommendation Engine” takes note of your personal interests and then begins finding sites you might deem worthy of your wandering eyes. A toolbar is installed on your browser with a button labeled “Stumble!” Press it and a Web site pops up. If you like it, thumb it up. If you don’t, thumb it down. Apathetic, just push the Stumble! button again and up comes another site. The more thumbing you do the more specific the Recommendation Engine becomes, helping you sift through the infinite mounds of useless minutia that make up the World Wide Web, making you, in theory, a more discerning surfer.
—Meet-An-Inmate.com: There are some sites out there so dangerous to my productivity that they should be permanently banned from my browser. Meet-An-Inmate.com is one of those sites. This was one of the very first suggestions Stumbleupon sent me, and it took me over a half hour to move past it, captivated as I was both by these inmates’ respective personal ads as well as the nagging desire to begin writing to each and every one. Consider the petitions of Chuck, a 22-year-old from Oregon:
I enjoy music, reading, writing, food and philosophy. For exercise I like to jog and lift weights. I striver to educate myself in a [sic] all ways possible. I consider myself to be open minded, and intelligent, most of the time. I’m seeking correspondence from a wide variety of people. I’m in prison for manslaughter and currently parole in 2029. Though with a little luck and certain legal changes I’ll get out in 2015 instead. That’s all the info you get for now. Write me and find out more. I’m the inmate you want to meet! “Happiness knows no victory too great”…
Or how about “death row teddy bear” Philip Jablonski:
I ask your indulgence ladies and gentlemen, and promise to be as brief as possible. Allow me to introduce myself. Death row teddy bear seeks female and male teddy bears. Caucasian male, 62 years old, seeking an open minded female or male for unconditional/blunt correspondence on a mature and honest level. Someone that has a caring heart to carry a special friendship built from the heart. Let’s share thought and feelings (good or bad) as we learn about one another freely and watch the growth of our friendship bloom like a rose. Let out [sic] friendship be strong like a castle wall which can’t be broken. A loving heart is worth more than a mountain of gold. Love to communicate on any subject or issue. Love cats and dogs, horses, dolphins, teddy bears, and birds. Interests: History, reading, professional artist, amateur poet writer. Award winning essay writer and artist.
I can’t imagine many fates more trying on an individual’s spirit than incarceration, and to be so immediately connected to those who are living that experience fills me with a host of emotions too numerous and complex to delve into here. Anyway, maybe you’ll be inspired to write. If you do, please let me know. I will certainly do the same.
—The Arrow of Time: If you haven’t ever read it, please check out Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death (thank you Woody Allen). It’s a fascinating in-depth study of humanity’s subconscious denial of the one event that inevitably connects us all. The basic premise concerns the idea that we need to deny the reality of death every single day in order to function. If we didn’t, it would be impossible to keep moving forward. Our existential hubris in the matter—the silly, secret delusion we all harbor that out of the billions and billions before us, and the billions and billions of those yet to come, we are going to be the one who never dies—is as important to our preservation as oxygen. Necessary neurosis, if you will. I mention this book because The Arrow of Time will give you inevitable pause. Here’s the tag line:
On June 17 every year, our family goes through a private ritual: we photograph ourselves to stop, for a fleeting moment, the arrow of time passing us by.
It is a beautiful and melancholy meditation on the simple reality of our inevitably aging bodies, and trail of life they leave behind.
—A List of Unusual Deaths: Speaking of death, here’s a Wikipedia entry sure to make you utter a good ‘ol fashioned “What the fuck?” My personal favorite:
207 BC: Chrysippus, a Greek stoic philosopher, is believe to have died of laughter after watching his drunk donkey attempt to eat figs.
—Aerogel: Otherwise known as frozen smoke, solid smoke, or blue smoke, this stuff is just flat out unreal. And get this: It’s been around since 1931! Were you aware of this? Yeah, me neither. I want some for Christmas.
—The Cato Institute: Ah yes, let’s finish it off with a wonderful essay by Robert Nozick titled “Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?” Considering recent statements made by Mr. Hank Paulsen regarding the government’s need to now rescue the American auto industry (um…are you kidding me?), this is worth a quick read. Even if you don’t agree with his hypotheses (and there are several with which I do not), there is some great intellectual meat to chew on here, most of which has implications beyond the singular concerns of either capitalism or so-called intellectualism. Consider:
The (future) wordsmith intellectuals are successful within the formal, official social system of the schools, wherein the relevant rewards are distributed by the central authority of the teacher. The schools contain another informal social system within classrooms, hallways, and schoolyards, wherein rewards are distributed not by central direction but spontaneously at the pleasure and whim of schoolmates. Here the intellectuals do less well.
It is not surprising, therefore, that distribution of goods and rewards via a centrally organized distributional mechanism later strikes intellectuals as more appropriate than the “anarchy and chaos” of the marketplace. For distribution in a centrally planned socialist society stands to distribution in a capitalist society as distribution by the teacher stands to distribution by the schoolyard and hallway.