The Loneliest Jukebox

Graham Barnfield's weblog, being gradually replaced by his Twitter feed -

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Revolutionary toilet nominated for National Energy Efficiency Award

That was headline. This is the actual press release (now with its title corrected). Not the first time I've been called a revolutionary toilet.

A PR guru replies:

"But never energy efficient, surely!
As an insight into PR poor practice, I lazily paste each new release into the previous distributon email and occasionally forget to change the subject line … with hilarious consequences."

Not to worry though: at least part of my weekend was spent watching various waste processing techniques in action.

Friday, October 27, 2006

School half term...

... hence a limited number of blog entries. Fortunately some decent new resources are coming online. First of all, Golden Myths takes issue with those who would keep Romania in the 18th century. Secondly, the Midnight Bell is a new blog of cultural commentary worth checking out. Oh, and I've been listening to the music of Naomi Bedford/Jonah Hex.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Happy slapping: the sequel

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the park ...

Not long ago, happy slapping was declared dead. I didn't quite agree with this quasi-official inquest, because the real pattern is a steady stream of low-level assaults that sometimes make the local newspapers. The point is that happy slapping has shifted from being a national news story to a local one, reversing the process 18 months ago that nationalised a south London and Tyneside craze.

The trend was clearly on the wane among teenagers too. My field research in Tower Hamlets suggested that, while 16-18 year olds had all seen the footage, they treat it as something that only younger kids would want to do. When Canadian TV reporters came down to the borough to test this out, local youth wanted to know why they were covering happy slapping at all, rather than the war in Iraq.

There are few situations that can't be made worse by bringing in new legislation. Step forward Jack Straw, who "raised the issue in the Commons on Thursday after Iain Wright, Labour MP for Hartlepool, said he was concerned about a posting from his constituency showing a man being kicked unconscious"*. Straw's proposals, as reported, are flawed for a number of reasons:
  • Why single out YouTube, when there are a growing number of websites accepting uploaded videos?
  • How does he propose separating staged footage involving consenting parties from the genuine assaults? (See Sir Ian McKellen's acting masterclass in a recent episode of Extras for an explanation of pretending to do things).**
  • Why not simply use the video as evidence in future assault prosecutions, and be grateful to the morons who supplied it? (Assault is already illegal in the UK, and covered by a multitude of laws.)

    Dubious uses of "pro-am" video are becoming routine. But selectively criminalising happy slapping clips will provide a lifeline to what was a declining delinquent activity.

    * Patrick Wintour, "Move to ban happy-slapping on the web", The Guardian, Saturday October 21, 2006.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Theories/Practices of Blogging

It would be morally comforting to produce an upbeat statement here, in the bombastic style of one of Frank Capra's Why We Fight movies ("why I blog"). Sadly, the truth is less dramatic.

My introduction to blogging was based on two factors. Firstly I was (and am) chronic at HTML and FTP applications. Updating my online CV, which itself is no design classic, seemed to take me forever. The lure of 'pushbutton publishing' appealed to my underlying laziness. Secondly, as a freelance journalist, it struck me that there were often articles -- or barbed comments -- to be issued on topical issues, sometimes rooted in personal experience. Yet these wouldn't find an immediate, paid and printed outlet -- still my preferred option. Nevertheless, the points struck me worth as making. On pragmatic grounds, blogging had its attractions. (Hyperlinking to the usual retail suspects* meant a steady trickle of additional income for me, or a chance to dispose of some of my personal belongings on Ebay, but that's another story.)

Alongside my pragmatic reasons for starting a blog, I couldn't miss some of the discussion surrounding this activity. As someone who'd written web content in the late 1990s, I was all too aware of the way hype and futurology could overestimate the potential of new technologies. (Indeed, these days social forecasters like to talk of a revolution in 'pro-am' new media, perhaps as a way of avoiding such rhetorical excesses in future. Just in case they are correct, I'll be maintaining a myspace page alongside this blog. You never know ...)

So far, so unspectacular. Then in the Summer of 2005 I got caught up in a breaking news story. The scope for instant replies, repudiations and resistance became clear. At times I got my retaliation in first, and became more convinced of the potential of blogging, once given a clear focus. My enthusiasm for this potentially democratic development increased and I've continued to blog since. Everyone else was at it, after all. New forms of networking and organisation ran in parallel with the wild predictions about blogging's future. One would be foolish to miss out on these opportunities, but equally foolish to forget that content itself is more important than any particular delivery system for words and ideas.



Couldn't resist it.

Preamble: Why I Blog

In recent weeks an invitation was extended to bloggers to join in on a collective blogging section of our upcoming winter issue of Reconstruction. The issue is the “Theories/Practices of Blogging.” In addition to the special section of posts on blogging there will be about a dozen essays on blogging. Having dozed through the "biggest blog ever" day, I thought I'd best do my bit. My entry appears above, and will be hyperlinked to the Reconstruction issue. Fellow bloggers are invited to join in.

What I watched last night:

preceded by

Monday, October 16, 2006

What I've been up to

No recent postings due to off-line activities. These include attending:
Inaugural Lecture by Professor Gavin Poynter From Beijing to the Bow Road - Olympic Cities, States and Societies in the 21st Century 10 October
Professor Gavin Poynter’s inaugural lecture, which launched our Public Lecture Series and attended by over 100 staff, students and external visitors, deftly explored the relationship between the Olympics, Politics and Culture looking at various Olympiads since the turn of the century.
From the 1936 Berlin Olympics in which Jesse Owens ably demonstrated the idiocy of the host nation’s nazi ideology, to the 1968 Black Power salutes of Tommy Smith and John Carlos symbolising the call for equal rights in the US – as well as the US boycott of the 1980 games due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Likening Beijing to Seoul 1988 Professor Poynter sees the primary function of the 2008 games as dispelling negative stereotypes and opening up the region to more tourism through substantial rebranding.
Many recent Olympiads are seen as the path to sustainable economic regeneration such as Barcelona, Sydney and we hope London 2012 – yet it’s very emphasis on sport and facilities at the expense of culture and art was seen as a self- defeating strategy – since as Gavin argued: “What East London needs most for sustainable development is a vibrant civic community which London 2012 as currently envisaged is challenged to deliver."

And an appearance at the 1st John Dos Passos International Conference in Madeira ... which was nice.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Branding the Brant Inn

Re-reading David Peace’s Miner’s Strike novel GB84* the other day, this little vignette jumped out at me:

The Mercedes leaves the M1 at Junction 21.
‘These are our people, Neil. These are their places.’
Neil Fontaine follows the police cars to the Brant Inn at Groby … The Jew takes off his aviator sunglasses. He says, ‘What a charming little place, Neil.’
Neil Fontaine nods. He opens the saloon door of the Brant Inn – (p.34).

The Brant Inn, Groby. A mile down the road from my parents’ house. Once the scene of semi-regular family Sunday lunches, many of them during the Miner’s Strike. In the novel, Stephen Sweet – ‘the Jew’ – and Neil Fontaine are going flat out to undermine - so to speak - striking miners. Was I one of their people? Not deliberately. Not at age 14.

The Brant couldn’t seem to decide on the interior décor – medieval or Brideshead Revisited? Hindsight suggests it also conformed to the template for pretty much every other suburban pub with a car park and restaurant I’ve been to since. No idea what it’s like these days, but I probably won’t be using the word ‘charming’.


PS. Schools invited to open their own Universities? Whatever next?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Tommy Sheridan broke my computer

After the News of the World lost the libel action brought against it by Tommy Sheridan MSP, it hit back with audio tapes which -- the paper claims -- show that Sheridan perjured himself in court. Sheridan has replied that the evidence against him has been manufactured. MI5 might be involved, he says.

At the risk of being called a traitor to the working class -- as I was when I finished with Labour Party Young Socialists, an outfit controlled at the time by Sheridan's political ancestors -- I can only hope that Mr Sheridan will not be giving technical evidence in his defence. According to the BBC, 'Mr Sheridan, a Glasgow list MSP, remained defiant as he held a press conference in Dundee, and insisted the tape was manufactured.
"I saw with my own eyes when we made party political broadcasts what we can do with computer graphics as far as voices are concerned," he said'.

If the author of Imagine and A Time to Rage thinks you can alter voices with computer graphics, he's probably not your first port of call for IT support.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Vice to meet you

Prostitution is a jolly good laugh on the sitcom Respectable; less so in real life. I could have probably worked that out by myself, but a report released today emphasises the position of women who are basically treated as slaves thanks to human trafficking. It also uses this catch-all explanation: "Divorce rates, sex tourism, stag weekends, lads' mags and the ubiquity of internet pornography". So boys' leisure activities are to blame for keeping the people traffickers in work, rather than the traffickers themselve. Hmmm ...

Incidentally, it's interesting to see the BBC reproducing internet brothel reviews on its news website. These are probably extracted from Punternet, a brothel creepers' site linked to by the Guardian and already featured extensively in a recent Guardian report. If I couldn't find a local brothel before, I sure can now.

The obscurantist French philosopher Michel Foucault had a point: the more vocally a society disapproves of sexual vices, the more its members get to know about them.

Right Clyde

Local news: I won't be turning this blog into the Oxdown Gazette any time soon. But once again we return to the London Borough of Waltham Forest. Regular readers needn't worry about my blog getting more and more parochial; after all, Walthamstow -- as part of Kashmir on the Thames -- is on the frontline of war on terror, apparently. (Those anoraks who think I live in Miami Beach may see my coverage of Northeast London as part of a deeper conspiracy.)

Anyway, some sensible words from publicity-shy council leader Clyde Loakes. Police and the council are 'exploring' ways to evict Al-Ghurabaa boss Omar Brooks (a.k.a. Trevor) from his Leytonstone council house (that's public housing, US readers). Brooks heckled Home Secretary John Reid on a recent trip to the borough.

In a lucid moment, Loakes told the London Lite newspaper that 'while he did not agree with Brooks's views that did not mean he should be evicted from his home' (Robert Mendick, 'Police try to help evict extremist Omar', 29 September 2006). Finally, a New Labour politician who does not confuse words with deeds and seems uncomfortable with making up legal sanctions on the hoof.

No promotion for him then.