The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Bob Stepno § The structure of journalism today / 2014-03-10 18:42:32

Snarkmarket's Best of '08

In case you missed the comments to this thread, we’re soliciting your nods and votes for the best interviews and speeches of ’08.


Bailout Jokes

The other new trend in unemployment media is the rise of the bailout joke.

Bailout jokes range from late-night punchlines (“”The three big domestic automakers are now saying they are working jointly on a new hybrid car. It runs on a combination of state and federal bailout money”) to warmed-over stockbroker jokes, but what I’m really thinking about are the extended gags, like Charles Bernstein’s poetry bailout or P.J. O’Rourke’s bailout for print journalism:

Remember, America, you can’t wrap a fish in satellite radio or line the bottom of your birdcage with MSNBC (however appropriate that would be). It’s expensive to swat flies with a podcasting iPod. Newsboys tossing flat-screen monitors on to your porch will damage the wicker furniture. And a dog that’s trained to piddle on your high-speed internet connection can cause a dangerous electrical short-circuit and burn down your house.

What is it that’s so funny about our economic disaster? I love Depression-era jokes: it’s hard to beat “the rich get richer and the poor get children.” And the gap between sudden poverty and creature comforts has always been funny: cf. Will Rogers’s “We


My Awareness Modes

I started to post this on Newsless, but I think it might be more Snark-appropriate.

I’m trying to articulate some of the values and expectations I bring to my media consumption. I wonder whether my tendencies are typical, or how I might benefit from cultivating different values and expectations.

When I visit most local news sites, I have this sense that the editors of the site are trying to foster a sort of “ambient awareness.” That is, there’s not really an organizing purpose behind the information they provide. I suspect they don’t typically expect me to do anything with this information, but they just thought I should be aware of it, or that I might find it interesting.

awareness.gifAlthough I care about Minneapolis, I don’t really have a strong desire to be ambiently aware about it. Having very shallow information on a vast range of Minneapolis-related topics actually makes me a little crazy. I’m not sure if this makes me a bad citizen or an idiosyncratic news consumer or what. But it’s a filter I find myself employing when I read a local news site.

There are many domains in which I value ambient awareness. I think that’s what I get out of my New Yorker subscription, for example — not particularly deep knowledge on any given subject, but a sort of conversational familiarity with a well-curated variety of current affairs. I like to think of myself as ambiently aware of what’s happening in things like video games and Web development and gay culture and Minneapolis arts.

But in the domain of local news, I seem to value information that makes me “functionally aware” — that might actually affect my behavior or circumstances. So I’d pass over a headline like “City likely to OK $5.3M for Target Center green roof”, but “Paperless boarding passes coming to MSP” interests me.

Besides local news, I seek functional awareness in a few more specific contexts, such as Web design and health and nutrition. I read publications on those topics that keep me informed of products or practices or developments that might affect me.

And then there are a select few topics on which I’m looking for what I might call “expert awareness.” Online journalism, for example. And at this level, communities, not publications, are my highest priority.

I think my tendencies might be unique in several regards, but I wonder how many folks are like me. Is there a generational thrust to this sort of thing? And if everyone were like me, how would we draw attention to boring-but-important stories?


Best X of 2008

Hey, let’s make a best-of list and get it into Rex’s meta-monster.

The “ideas” category is pretty empty right now. I feel like we could beat the NYT Mag to the punch. And it’s sorta up Snarkmarket’s alley, you know?

But I’m open to “paranormal” too.

What do you think? (This is the meta-question. We’ll get to constructing the list soon enough. But first let’s decide what list we’re going to construct.)


Gender and Public Corruption

The Blagojevich scandal presents a familiar tableau: embattled man defends corrupt behavior.

Why is it so rarely a woman?

Replaying political scandals over the past year, tons of names come to mind: Rod Blagojevich, Tony Rezko, Jack Abramoff, John Edwards, Larry Craig, Elliot Spitzer, Alberto Gonzalez, Ted Stevens, David Vitter … I could go on. Off the top of my head, I can think of three female names: Sarah Palin, Monica Goodling, and Rachel Paulose. (And men figured prominently in all three of their scandals as well.)

Of course, there are a few instant provisos here:

  • Fewer women in politics: This is the obvious one. The most female governors we’ve ever had in the U.S. has been nine. Perhaps if women were equally represented, they’d be equally scandalous.
  • Lower likelihood of female sex scandals: Most of the men I mentioned above were exposed in a sex scandal. For several reasons — differing behavioral tendencies towards sex among men and women; possibly harsher attitudes towards women caught in sex scandals — women may just be less likely to be involved in sex scandals.
  • Statistical noise in a small sample: The U.S. doesn’t have all that much corruption, comparatively speaking. (At least as it’s commonly measured; we can talk Chomsky later.) If we had more cases to deal with, perhaps we’d see more equivalence between the sexes.

But these caveats aside, there are reasons to suppose women might make for less corrupt politicians. Women tend to be more responsible stewards of household money. Partially as a result of that, efforts to deliver financial support to women in poverty tend to have a more uplifting effect than supporting men. Studies seem to indicate that women perform more altruistically in group situations.

I was able to find three studies that addressed gender disparities in political corruption. Two — Dollar, Fisman and Gatti (1999); and Swamy, Lee, Azfar and Knack (also 1999) — found that women are less prone to public corruption. However, a follow-up study in 2003, by Hung En-Sung, suggested that the correlation between more women and less corruption was essentially a happy accident.

And even if we were to prove conclusively that having more women does lead to cleaner government, where does that get us? What course of action does that suggest? Already, I think most of us inclined to trust such a study are strong advocates for better representation of women in politics. Should we institute a quota system, like Rwanda?

Of course, I think diversity in the political system is a valuable goal in itself. A more representative and heterogeneous political body would probably be less corrupt for all sorts of reasons.

But as these scandals parade before us, this will linger in the back of my mind.



I love the word “sportswriter.” No need for a hyphen (like “letter-writer”), or dressing up the word “write” by writing as “graph” instead (“biographer,” “pornographer”) or the suffix “-er” with “-ist” or “-ian.” “Sportswriter” keeps close company with “screenwriter,” “typewriter,” and “underwriter,” and a wall separates it from “playwright” and “author.”

But at the same time, nobody writes with more authority than a sportswriter — if you don’t act like you’re pope of the game, nobody takes you seriously — in part because every serious fan has their own equally infallible proclamations to make about the game, the value of players, coaches’ decisions.

And the syntax makes it seem as though “sports” is what’s written, not the thing written about; a parallel universe brought into being by the talk about the game, the recording of statistics, and the narratives of players, seasons, teams, the sport itself.

Sportswriters were the first writers I was aware of who actually got paid for writing down what they thought. In particular, it was Mitch Albom — who before becoming a schmalzy best-selling novelist was a funny, knowledgable columnist whose super-cool photo in the Free Press fascinated me as a kid.

I am a paperwriter, a bookwriter, a blogwriter, a poemwriter. But secretly, I wish I could do all of these things the way a good sportswriter does them; following my object of affection around the country, hashing out opinions and arguments through daily viva voce argument — in print, on the web, on the radio, on TV.

What if our attachment to all of culture was like our attachment to sports — democratic, celebrating knowledge, unwavering in its fidelity? There are plenty of things that are deeply unhealthy about our sports-obsessed culture (cf. Burress, Plaxico, et. al.) — but I still feel like the ideal of sportswriting is as salutary as it is unshakable.


The Man Who Pitched Ground Balls

Greg Maddux is retiring, after 355 wins, four Cy Young awards for pitching, and 18 (!) Gold Glove awards for fielding. (Maddux has more wins than any living pitcher; does he have more Gold Gloves than any living player?)

The NYT story also links to this appreciation by sportswriter Joe Posnaski, who breaks down Maddux pitch-by-pitch in a 1997 Braves-Yankees game. I especially like his reading of Maddux’s fluttering “wiffleball” cut fastball; the way Maddux earned and got deferential treatment from umps; how three pitches strikes out Tino Martinez, who “was so baffled during this at-bat it was probably better to just send him back to the dugout where it was safe”; and how he managed to retire Mark Whiten:

When Maddux was going good, the only way anyone seemed likely to get a hit off him was if they could somehow fist his up-and-in fastball over an infielder



File under “Wow”: Adobe is working on an application called Zoetrope that allows you to quickly flip through archived web pages like you flip through pictures in iPhoto.

Google’s cache has nothing on this. Basically it turns the isolated snapshots of the web we usually see into an evolving movie. What’s more, it’s got a feature-rich set of tools (all visually oriented) that lets you play with, reshape, and visualize what you find. The video showing it off is pretty amazing.

So you can:

1) See how web pages change over time;

2) Isolate just some data or images from those web pages;

3) Do statistical correlations from that data;

4) Plot it to another app.

(Via Slashdot.)

Read more…


Design Your Own Muppet


You can either buy the mail-order kit or go to FAO Schwartz in NYC now — or starting in February, you can design your own Muppet “whatnot” (muppet code for “humanoid extra”) online.


Pretty Prose for an Ugly Sport

Ta-Nehisi Coates recommends a profile of an ultimate fighter and dagnabit, you gotta read that profile of an ultimate fighter.