The Loneliest Jukebox

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

Graham Author Page

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Harry slapping

"My Harry's Off to Iraq", says royal girlfriend Chelsy Davy in a Sun front page story (27 December 2006). Trips to Reno, NV and Rio de Janeiro will help her relax while her beau is stationed overseas. Needless to say, equivalent trips are not planned for the partners of other combatants.

When "Haz" gets to Iraq, a game of "chopper chicken" might be in order. The same day's Sun reported that four soldiers stood still as an Apache helicopter gunship roared past. "To beat boredom, thrill-seeking forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are vying to come up with the most daring film clip. Top brass have blasted the craze and fear someone will be killed" ("Let's play chopper chicken", p.5).

It sounds like happy slapping to me, although a man with a hammer sees nails everywhere. (I'm also reminded of my grandpa's account of military life* as a mixture of tedium and danger.) One step on from Princes who dress up as chavs, I suppose.



Saturday, December 23, 2006

Freedom for oddballs

Something troubles me about the press coverage of the Ipswich murders. It's not just their transformation into entertainment, which is bad enough. It's the way a number of newspapers have convicted the two suspects already. As Mark Lawson argues, it's because they look the type, particularly after a bit of surfing the net. I wonder how many journalists' personal lives could get through the same level of scrutiny?

PS. If you weren't expecting to read anything new here before 2007, well I just wouldn't let it lie. I was going to cut back on blogging over Xmas, not least to catch up with other things. But like a number of bloggers, my proposed interuption has been interupted. There's no specific emergency to report on, nor any of those end of year award listings people go in for (e.g. here, here and here); one could add on an award for maximising BNP recruitment to the Guardian, where an undercover journalist became something of a London organiser for the boneheads. Nor will I be summarising Thursday's Blog Digest 2007 launch party, initiated by Justin McKeating. No "Bloggers in social skills shocker" headlines here. And I got to meet Nosemonkey by the urinals: beat that for a claim to fame.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Festive greetings

This blog is winding down for 2006 but will back in 2007. Best wishes to (most of) its readers for a good break and a happy new year.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Church in the lurch

'Churches in Britain are a “toxic cocktail” of bullying and terror, as parish priests struggle to lead congregations dominated by neurotic worshippers who spread havoc with gossip and manipulation', reports The Times, paraphrasing a recent publication.

For family reasons - this is a militant atheist blog, after all - I ended up at a Church carol service this morning. True, it did seem a bit cruel to force the aged pianist to stretch to a fifth verse of the Xmas carol popularised by Boney M. But my main impression was one of an institution cut adrift in the modern world, where the clergy's attempts to use Powerpoint presentations throughout a sermon inspired more hilarity than confidence.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

No You-turns on new technology

I'm quoted at, discussing the merits of YouTube with Kilian Murphy (log-in required). "Recent postings of dubious merit have plunged the Internet site YouTube into controversy, prompting many to wonder if it’s fulfilling its potential for positive, stimulating and innovative broadcasting," the piece begins. Read on at the link.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

PC Games

Over at the First Post, I'm quoted as being skeptical as to the merits of using online gaming to raise awareness. Quick as a flash, the creators of one such game email me to say:

"I just read an online article in First Post, where you comment on social impact games and describe them as desperate attempts to reach homebodies who might not come across traditional campaigning materials. While that may be what the games attempt to do, imo there's nothing desperate about it. If a group of college students can reach hundreds of thousands of people and raise awareness on political issues at virtually no cost, just by publishing their own games on the internet, I would consider it clever and interesting, rather than desperate. If you think I'm wrong, please explain why. Or was the word desperate aimed at the idea of changing the world? Well, we are changing the world, perhaps not much, but still more than we could have hoped to change it through any other media or effort. Besides, everybody plays online games these days, not just homebodies. Well, I hope that's a few things for you to consider before dismissing the potential of social impact games entirely.
(Frederik Hermund & 3rd World Farmer Team Copenhagen, Denmark)

The full quote I gave to my interviewer was as follows:

The point with these games is that they are taking a punt on finding new ways to prick people's consciences around the usual liberal icons. If it was a flyer, a half page ad in the Guardian etc then the outcomes would be probably the same as with this game - some players might be inclined to adopt the point of view expressed. This is consistent with the argument I endlessly trot out that games/media have cognitive effects - i.e. they can probably enter the thinking of those coming into contact with them - but not behavioural effects. They can't make us act againt our will. So when the usual test on violent game players show raised heart rates etc is suggests that physical changes are taking place following the cognitive effect of the game. The press-worthy conclusion drawn from such research is that real life violence would follow. But the problem with this 'behaviourist' argument is that real life violence cannot be predicted by the lab results, because real life kicks in: conscience, opportunity, real dangers to potential assailants etc all act as restraints outside the lab.
I would say that the cognitive ambitions of the games mentioned - turning kid into campaigners - are doomed because the format's audience are not the logical firt port of call for this kind of politics. It seems like a desparate attempt to reach homebodies who might not come across the more traditional campaigning materials. Those playing these games are unlikely to get off the couch; even if these games outperform Halo etc, which I doubt, it makes them no more likely to do public spirited things, just more gaming. Incidentally, there is a great spoof of all this in Chris Bachelder's novel US! Songs and Stories, which includes a (fake) report from a games company on the beta version of a socialy conscious game.

And that's where this exchange stands at the time of writing: some grumbling on both sides about the merits of form over content and whether the word desperate is the right one.