Police Bare Arms for a Pointless but Uncontroversial Cause.

Published by Matthew Davidson on Fri, 03/01/2014 - 9:41pm

Whether you choose to do it "tits-high" or "groin-low", folding your arms is nearly as old as Coffs Harbour itself. That's why members of the Coffs-Clarence Local Area Command have chosen to spend January in a sponsored self-embrace to raise awareness of intimate dermatalogical chafing.

"Particularly in these more humid months, many people suffer in silence. Apart from a bit of grunting," says Detective Chief Inspector Ron Vertigo. "The money we raise will be used to purchase anti-perspirants and talcolm powder for the needlessly grimacing in our community, as well as to fund workshops on exo-dermal dehydration which will keep young people from falling into the 'sweat/swagger spiral'."

The concept was the brainchild of CCLAC Community Relations Officer Lucy Embouchure. "So much of our job is 'move them on, lock them up, release them, then move them on, lock them up…' — it never ends. Then suddenly one day when I was feeling quite sticky, I thought 'Here's a way we can broaden our outreach beyond the local indigenous and economically disadvantaged communities and finally make a difference.' The message we are now sending to the wider audience of normal people in our area is that although it's all very nice living in a hot and humid climate, you should treat your pits and nether regions with respect. After all, disgusting as they may be, they're the only bodily recesses you have."

"It felt a bit strange at first," Constable Jarvis Jarvis sheepishly admits from behind a pair of forearms more used to gripping the steering wheel of a paddy wagon than each other, "but it's good to know you're helping local kids develop the skills they'll need in managing the friction caused by excess bodily fat later in life."

You can "like" the "CCLAC Sweat Band" on Facebook, and you can sign up to sponsor a "Coffs Top Slop-Blotting Cop" at any business that bears the secret insignia of the Coffs Coast Key Stakeholders Society.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014 - 11:29am

Published by Matthew Davidson on Wed, 01/01/2014 - 11:29am

What better way to celebrate the centenary of rail in Coffs than to revive Rodney Degens' idea for a mid north coast commuter rail service?

On the day of the 2011 census only 220 people from the Coffs Local Government Area travelled to work by public transport; 0.8% of the working population, opposed to 13.8% for the state of NSW as a whole. This is an absurd figure for a growing and increasingly (sub)urbanised population, but there is a very good reason for it. Commuting full fare from Sawtell/Toormina/Boambee East to the Coffs CBD by bus will cost you over $100 per week, compared to $34 for a weekly rail ticket from Strathfield to the Sydney CBD (a comparable distance). Coffs Harbour does not have a public transport system; it has a safety net transport system, affordable only to pensioners and schoolchildren through public subsidy.

Look at a map: we have a rail line that passes either through or quite near Nambucca, Valla, Urunga, Raleigh, Repton, Bonville, Sawtell, Coffs Airport, the Jetty, the North Coffs retail precinct, Karangi, Coramba, Nana Glen, then on to Grafton. What would it do to the regional economy if people could easily and affordably move between these centres? What would it do to the household budgets of those who would no longer require one car per-driving-age-resident? What would it do to traffic congestion, drunk-driving and motor vehicle fatality/casualty statistics? How is this anything but a no-brainer?

Sunday, 29 December 2013 - 10:35am

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 29/12/2013 - 10:35am

There's been a flurry of Bitcoin critiques all of a sudden. This is the most comprehensive I've seen (so far).

In short, there is the possibility of an unforseen technical - in the IT sense - problem with the overall security of the Bitcoin system, and there is the technical - in the economics sense - problem of how a currency which is designed to be deflationary, with no available corrective mechanisms, would work. If you know the value of Bitcoin can only go up, there's a stong incentive to hoard. But if everybody's hoarding and nobody's actually trading in Bitcoin, where's the real value? Pop!

The inescapable reality of any kind of monetary regulation is that decisions of when, where, and how to allocate resources are inherently political. As Adam Smith would tell you, there is no economics but political economics. There is no hands-off, one-size fits all regulatory system — whether it be trust in an algorithm, a relatively rare chemical element, the infallibility of unfettered markets, or the inevitable tendency of history towards communist utopia — that works in anything but the short term for a fraction of the population. In the end they all crash, and conscious decisions have to be made, hopefully democratically. In fact it would be a jolly good idea to build democratic decision making into the system, but that was the project we all decided to abandon about 35 years ago, and hasn't that gone swimmingly? In the short term. For a very small fraction (some would say 1%) of the population.

Friday, 27 December 2013 - 2:34pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Fri, 27/12/2013 - 2:34pm

I don't claim to know a lot, but I can say with reasonable confidence that Steve Martin isn't a racist. Or at least I can't say that he is one, and on balance, it seems jolly unlikely. I don't consider myself a fan of Martin's work; I hold The Jerk to be one of the funniest films of all time, I have a sneaking fondness for banjo music, and I think the way that over the last couple of decades he's shunned "success", in favour of doing what he enjoys, is admirable, but his early stand-up comedy and later films do nothing for me.

I think the joke at the centre of this putative scandal falls flat, but there's the germ of something amusing in there. On the question of whether it is clearly offensive, if you're going to insist that gags of the form "white people do X like A and black people do X like B" are inexpressible, you're going to have to erase almost all of the recordings of American stand-up comedy from the 1980s; a paradigmatic example of doing the right thing for the wrong reason. Martin's joke here doesn't even really fit that form; it's a pun that depends on your knowledge of the sterotypical names that people in certain ethnosocial groups give their children. All names are funny when you stop to think about them, and they usually tell you something about when and where a person was born and what their parents were/are like.

I myself am of european descent, and raised in the outer suburbs of Sydney. The whole way through primary school in the 1970s, I was one of three Matthews in my class. Think about it. Ten percent of my class (including the girls) answered to Matthew. Matthew is probably one of the dullest names in existence, but the 1970s was a very dull decade; Australia was and is a very dull country, and the Sutherland Shire is probably the dullest part of it. No hippy ever said "I want my child to be a free spirit, to joyously roam naked and free through a world of bliss. Therefore, I shall call him Matthew!" I'd wager there are far more Matthews in accountancy than bohemia.

I have nieces and nephews who are doomed to live their entire lives with names like "Jayden", "Keely" and "Makenna" because my siblings are bogans. In most situations it is entirely unjust to make assumptions about people based on their social background, but nonetheless if you meet a "Jayden" you will not be entirely surprised to hear that his father is anglo-Australian, reasonably affluent, hates "poofs", as well as immigrants (who are taking "our" jobs), and finds his chosen profession of driving loads of dirt around in a truck immensely fulfilling.

Now you may think I'm quite a snob for saying something like that, but I've decided that I'm not going to care about what somebody thinks about me if a) it doesn't matter, or b) the person in question has ample evidence to doubt the feared negative assement. For example, last week my GP enquired about my mental health. I went on a bit of a rant about how the miserable culture in Coffs Harbour was getting me down, before realising that I possibly sounded a bit elitist. I prepared to mount a defence along the lines of "I lived in Western Sydney for years - some of my best friends are toothless junkies," but decided I just couldn't be bothered.

A few days later somebody asked me how I felt about feminism, in the middle of a conversation about something else entirely. I tried to say something to the effect that it appalls me that ideas which ought to be considered a part of fundamental morality are still marginalised to an "-ism", but made a balls-up of it and started to fret that I sounded like I was actually dismissing feminism outright. Then I thought bugger it; this person knows me fairly well, and knows my wife well enough to know that she wouldn't be married to a raving misogynist, and this isn't what I'm here to talk about, so I changed the subject back. If he wants to think ill of me without adequate justification, it's not something I can afford to worry about.

I concede that in many circumstances one should be careful about what one says on the Internet, but not because a single statement can be taken out of context. If anything, the Internet makes context more plentiful and easily aquired than ever. Charges such as racism, sexism, or homophobia are very grave, and anybody who makes them without adequate evidence, or without bothering to look for evidence to the contrary, is contemptible. Taking such people seriously, with the accompanying anxiety, overthinking, and self-censorship, is corrosive to creativity and ordinary civic or social discourse. The proper response to somebody who says "Aha! You've covered your tracks pretty well for the last fifty years, Steve Martin, but this tweet PROVES you are a racist!" is to ignore them.

I want my RSS!

Published by Matthew Davidson on Fri, 27/12/2013 - 12:35pm

I've been meaning to post something to this effect for a while, but it ended up as a comment to a post by Mike Linksvayer:

I've recently been working on a couple of projects designed to aggregate large quantities of information (mostly news posts) from websites in particular fields. These sites range in scale from single-author blogs to mutinational behemoths, and can be from anywhere in the world (admittedly with an English language bias).

What I'm dismayed to find, across all these sites, is that (at a rough approximation) only half of them have RSS (or Atom) feeds, never mind microformats, RDFa, or the Next Big Thing from Tantek Çelik. Instead there are the inevitable buttons linking to social media silos. I've seen things like a single image comprised of the usual logos representing "social media", including the RSS logo, but no RSS feed on the site, suggesting there are now professional web developers out there who don't even know what RSS is. There's a UK think tank with a site which, going by aesthetics, has been running in it's current form for many years, that links to "/RSS/file/goes/here.rss"; if anybody's noticed this TODO, they don't think it's important enough to fix.

If you follow Zeldman et al. it's easy to forget that the vast majority of web developers are ignorant, talentless hacks. Most (approximation again) of these non-syndicating sites are built on off-the-shelf CMSes which have either built-in or plug-in RSS/Atom functionality; it's just not switched on. I'm horrified to say so, but I think the first step in fixing the Web's "social" deficit is to have an awareness-raising campaign for a 15 year old XML document type: "RSS EVERYWHERE", "I WANT MY RSS", or something. Only then can we get more ambitious and start to argue that RSS isn't the last word.

Saturday, 21 December 2013 - 11:10am

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sat, 21/12/2013 - 11:10am

I had no idea that the benefits of vocational education were so substantial as to be retrospective in effect. I'm getting a bit old to be starting a business now, but perhaps with a UTS Bachelor of Business under my belt, I too could go on to start a successful business seven years earlier.

Dr Poche completed a Bachelor of Business with the NSW Institute of Technology Sydney (now UTS) in 1979.  He went on to become one of Australia’s most successful business people, responsible for founding freight company Star Track Express in 1972.

A message to Boing Boing

Published by Matthew Davidson on Tue, 17/12/2013 - 4:29pm

Hi, I am a very successful social marketing guru who specialises in helping old new media properties retain and grow value in an increasngly competitive post-new media landscape. While I applaud your repeated innovative and intrusive attempts to extract the most value out of your eyeballs, in partnership with the key commercial surveillance providers, I believe that I can help you take that next step across what I call the Internet Commercial Kudos (ICK) threshold.

The problem is that you have a lot of low-value content consumers (or "readers", if you want to get all "steampunk") who aren't in the affluent, vacuous, merch-consuming demographic (or "makers", in your inspired newspeak), and although you're certainly irritating them through advertorial content, outsourcing comments to Discourse, incessant hectoring to leave the open web and join parasitic data silos, you're not quite completely _alienating_ them. This is a problem if you want to provide a high-purity product.

Please don't think I'm being disparaging. You're close. You're very, very close. With the asistance I can provide, I believe we can turn your audience into a much more attractive commodity for the eyeball-consuming market, and their partners in the international intelligence community. When you're ready to take, the next step, just "like" me on Facebook.


Published by Matthew Davidson on Mon, 25/11/2013 - 9:44am

Uncanny portrait by my pal Ruben.

A recent exercise at uni asked for a history of one's personal political development. What I came up with was probably as close as I'll ever get to a definitive bio, so here it is:

When I was a teenager, I was very taken with an interview with Abbie Hoffman for a documentary about the 20th anniversary of the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper. I wish I could find that bit of the video online, but essentially he described the reaction of his generation to the repressed, plastic, disposable world their parents had created as "Yuck!" I suspect that, coming of age in the 1980s, I was among the last to have the luxury to be able to afford that reaction.

My first proper job was basically unskilled office work. My father was terribly pleased. "Get your foot in the door of a company like that, and you've got a job for life." I was mortified. However, one only has the freedom to say "Yuck!" and explore other ways of living if you know you can fall back on a little well-paid indignity when you need to. I was able to alternate quite congenially between paid work and more meaningful pursuits (well, mostly sitting in the pub reading, to be honest). Looking at the positions vacant today, the same unskilled office job now requires a Diploma in Office Administration. You go into debt on spurious "human capital" before you've made your first dollar.

In my brief and undistinguished time on the margins of political activism, I used to get quite irritated with the vanguard intellectuals who were very good at formal meeting protocol, but very bad at understanding how the world actually works. They welcomed gleefully the tearing of each page from the post-war social contract, confident that once things got bad enough, the masses would seek them out and follow them onwards to revolution. Unfortunately they failed to grasp the most salient point about desperate people: they generally devote little time to political activism, because desperation is in itself actually quite time-consuming.

It's up to others to calll me names, but I would say the most likely label for me would be "libertarian socialist". Not all forms of government are necessarily illegitimate, but it's up to the institutions to regularly demonstrate their legitimacy. I was a member of the IWW for about a decade, and am still sympathetic; I only formally left because I moved to regional Australia, and the effort involved in mailing a few dollars in dues to Sydney every month seemed faintly ridiculous. Wobblies tend to like paperwork, official stamps, cards, badges, and so on.

Saturday, 16 November 2013 - 4:04pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sat, 16/11/2013 - 4:04pm

I am so sick of this, that I finally reached breaking point with somebody who is far from the worst offender:

Can you please stop depicting Richard Stallman as an unreasonable person unwilling to compromise on anything? It's demonstrably untrue. For instance (unlike many) he is not opposed to the use of no-derivatives clauses in licenses for some kinds of copyrightable works, he oversaw the addition of increased compatibility between the GPL and other (including non-copyleft) free software licenses in GPLv3, and was the original author of the LGPL. The continued misrepresentation of Richard, and the FSF in general, in this way is unjust and immensely harmful to the free software movement. Moreover, presenting a straw man dichotomy between pragmatism and zealotry is an obstacle to clear thinking on important ethical issues.

Saturday, 16 November 2013 - 12:57pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sat, 16/11/2013 - 12:57pm

Ever seen or heard or otherwised experienced a work of art that deeply touched and transformed you? Well, you can banish those often awkward and uncomfortable feelings and remain staunchly unmoved by just reminding yourself that you are merely engaged in consuming the products of the creative industries. Purchase it, maybe rate it or provide some customer feedback, then move voraciously ever onward to the next product.

As the brilliant Tressie McMillan Cottom says, as soon as we adopt neoliberal language, we limit ourselves to arguing for neoliberal outcomes.