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The Ladder

Things I think about when I'm not talking or listening

Battling the Islamic State with its own weapon: ideas

I think a lot of Westerners might empathise with me when I cringe when leaders like Barack Obama say that Islamic State must be “defeated, degraded and destroyed”, I accept, grudgingly, that they have a point. Although (so far, anyway) the group has concentrated its efforts almost entirely on parts of Syria and Iraq, their aim is fundamentally global in nature. Establishing an Islamic Caliphate that pays no attention to existing state boundaries would be an enabler, allowing Islamic State to consolidate its position, growing stronger and bigger and being in a position to launch attacks on neighbouring countries far. For the sake of those living in regions under threat from the oppressive influence of Islamic State, and indeed the entire world, it has to be stopped. It’s critical that this is done differently from how it’s been done previously if the West is a) going to solve the problem, and b) not do its reputation in the Middle East any more damage.

Winning the hearts and minds of moderates across Iraq in particular should be central to any solution. One of the most powerful arguments against the West is that it consistently intervenes in Middle Eastern affairs without making a positive impact. You only have to look at the disasterous 2003 Iraq War to see why the above can be such a powerful argument.  Just look at the mess in Libya, Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. Is America helping the average Muslim in those countries? Maybe in some ways, but it certainly doesn’t seem that way, especially to those actually living there and experiencing the situation first hand, rather than being fed accounts by international news organisations.

One of Islamic State’s stated aims is to liberate territories that they believe were taken from them after the Sykes-Picot Agreement after the First World War. See? Another Western intrusion, perhaps the main offender! This has to be taken into account by Western governments looking to get involved in the Middle East; to avoid being seen by the Muslim world as the same old imperialist conquerors, a serious attempt to both defend people from harm while making solid efforts to ensure fair representation of all sections of society, religious or not.

Bombing Islamic State inside Syria is surely short-sighted and counterproductive – helping Sunni groups to organise politically and showing them that participating in Iraqi politics can garner results more efficiently and without bloodshed is crucial to defeating Islamic State. Apart from the fact that President Assad’s army has highly sophisticated air defence, bombing in Syria makes little sense. There is a quote I saw emblazoned on a wall in Birmingham the other day that reads: “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on”. The ideology of Islamic State will not die until those that are within the movement are convinced that life is better without it. An idea must be implanted and cultivated in the minds of Sunnis, extremist AND moderate, that armed struggle is counterproductive and that freedom and quality of life is attainable through democracy and freedom of choice. Attempting to destroy military hardware, kill leaders in the group or indeed ideology with physical attacks is not only destined to fail, but it could inflame the problem considerably.

 Olsoweir

Israel and Palestine: the bullied will bully

After hearing the Director of the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) deplore Israeli targeting of UN buildings on TV in the aftermath of an attack on a UN-run school in the Gaza Strip, my opinion of the Israeli government shifted from very bad to resolutely abhorrent. While Hamas is clearly a very real threat to Israel, and has mismanaged scarce resources, watching the effects of disproportionate and indiscriminate force used by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on TV has been hard.

I’ve pretty much always seen the Israeli people as damaged, fearful and defensive. Who wouldn’t be that way after such a brutal history of abuse? Growing up, you become better at identifying people that have had harder lives. In school particularly, you get to know those that have been unlucky enough to have had abusive or absent parents, or even partners for that matter. They can be insecure a lot of the time, sometimes extroverted, sometimes introverted. Sometimes, they are bullies. This character trait – damaged, scared and as a result a bully – is what strikes me whenever I try to work out why Israel is so severe in its treatment of Palestinians, in particular those that live in the Gaza Strip.

Child psychologists have developed many theories dealing with the question of why bullies do what they do. One interesting article was on the subject of bullying in Israeli schools, written by Dahlia Scheindlin for +972. She discusses the “awful dismissal of fellow human beings” by Israelis and the way in which their children are too often brought up bearing the psychological scars of war and conflict. I’ve never been to Israel or Palestine, but I lived with three Israelis during my time in Melbourne, Australia, and while they were perfectly pleasant (actually very nice people), there was a definite air of guardedness about the two girls, possibly even slight hostility. I was only 19 at the time and not clued up about the situation in Israel and Palestine, but I can remember them displaying a kind of resentment towards their conscription into the IDF. In my opinion, this indicated that whatever they had seen or however they were brought up, they are in some ways irreparably changed by these experiences. Surely that guardedness wasn’t a result of ideology in this case, seeing as the two girls came across as almost guilty or ashamed of their time spent in the military.

Feelings of guilt and shame are often cited as common feelings in bullies, which is why I found Ms Scheindlin’s article so interesting and relevant. The psychologist June Tangney once said that the more ashamed we are, “the greater our anger and the less we are able to feel empathy – because we so want to stop the painful feelings of shame that we realign our perceptions of the world so that we are not ashamed.” Is this shame that was so evident in the Israelis I met in Melbourne more widespread? Are a lot of Israelis unable to deal with feelings of shame?

I feel like a have to say that while I find this point about the parallels between the behaviours and feelings of bullies and the character and attitude of the Israelis I met and the current government, I think it’s necessary to say that these are two among a very small number of Israelis I’ve had the opportunity to meet and talk to, and I’m making very detached observations about the workings of the Israeli government.

The lack of empathy and disconnectedness mentioned above rings so true for Israel in my eyes. It is a Jewish state slap bang in the centre of the Middle East. It’s about as geographically isolated as it gets on a religious and political level. No wonder, therefore, that this particular country feels like it needs to lash out and get the big international powers involved (fussy parents!). Elan Baruch, the former Israeli ambassador to South Africa once said that “Israel doesn’t look for allies, it looks for partners of convenience”. In other words, it looks for its parent with supposedly unconditional love and support for everything it does, i.e. America, and goes ahead and commits horrific acts.

Obviously things are a great deal more complex than this. For a start history is extraordinarily complex, but vastly more important is the fact that every single human individual reacts to history and any given situation differently. How a person is raised, what they have experienced, their own view of history, the present and what they want in the future is fully influential on how they act. An Israeli that has lost family members to Hamas rockets and friends during military exercises may participate in pro-peace demonstrations, just as a 16-year old from a liberal Jewish family may turn to right wing extremist groups. Everyone is different. Like most people across the world, but most crucially Palestinians and Israelis, want to see people living side by side in comfort and harmony. Depressingly, at the moment anyway, this seems like a long way off.

‘Her': a frightening vision of artificial intelligence

My boss sat down with me for coffee a few months back and we ended up talking about a movie she’d seen – Her, with Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlet Johansson and directed by Spike Jonze. See the trailer below if you haven’t heard of it or are intrigued and I’m held in such high esteem as a blogger that those first two sentences were enough ;-) In any case, it doesn’t really give much away (unlike some trailers, which seem to make it their mission to reveal the entire movie apart from one single event that is the key to it all).

My boss said it was “like, really good”, so I waited for it to come out on DVD then downloaded it.

Ok – so the first 20 minutes were ok. A very authentic portrayal of San Francisco set in the not to distant future. The lead character, Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix) writes emotional letters for people who either can’t be bothered to write them themselves or just think Theo is just so amazing at writing them they’re willing to pay for it. To be fair, his letters are pretty good, if a little soppy…

The Millenium Bug didn't cause any catastrophic system failures

Everyone went mental for the Millenium Bug – and it changed nout.

Theo is a lonely guy, and one day wandering around this future world’s equivalent of a Mac Store, he impulsively decides to buy the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system (OS). Groundbreaking, eh? He takes it back home, and to cut a long story short, falls in love with ‘her’, being the self-named Samantha as she acts as his part-PA, part f*** buddy. Weird, I know. And yes, they do actually have sex, how I’ll leave you to ponder.

Anyway this isn’t a film review. This film got me thinking about a lot of things. Artificial intelligence has been heavily documented in books and films for a long time, but it’s one of those futuristic, far away inventions that may not be so far away as we think. In the film, Theo gradually becomes more and more emotionally attached to Samantha and begins to tell his colleagues and friends about the fact he’s bonking a mobile phone. The greatest thing was that dating these new generation of artificially intelligent operating systems seemed kind of widespread and almost accepted as a norm.

While Samantha seems to be extremely efficient and helpful, even emotionally supportive, I felt distinctly uncomfortable imagining a world where my future children might have a sentient being inside their laptop. It’s a nice nice an rosy in Her but one only has to think how badly things could go wrong.

Forget the Millenium bug, let’s make sure The Wachowski Brothers didn’t make an accurate prediction with their film The Matrix

Olsoweir

Guns in the US: when will this madness stop?

Yet another shooting in the country that is often referred to as the “leader of the free world”, and yet another sharp reminder of America’s utterly insane laws on the sale of guns. For me, this shooting stood out for two main reasons:

  1. The video Elliot Rodger recorded and then posted on YouTube was horrific. It was an excruciating insight into the mind of a disturbed young man moments before he mowed down six people before taking his own life. The video was made all the more chilling by his coherence and the stated reasons that moved him to do what he did. The video was taken down from YouTube soon after the incident, but can still be found here.
  2. The guy had deep rooted, but more importantly long-term and widely acknowledged problems by his parents and the local law enforcement agencies.

After so many shootings and the deaths of so many young and innocent people, Americans are tired of mass murder within their borders. With each new catastrophe comes an outpour of anti-gun sentiment, very often from relatives of the victims. One of the victims’ parents of the Santa Barbara shootings, Richard Martinez, attacked the government, calling for an end to “insanity” and for someone to “DO something” about the gun laws that allow people like Elliott Rodger get their hands on lethal weapons so easily.

Michael Moore's reaction to the Santa Barbara shootingsSome question how effective banning the sale of guns would be (more often than not those that belong to the powerful pro-gun lobby), but the fact that someone suffering with such blatantly obvious problems was legally allowed to buy three semi automatic guns along with over 400 rounds of ammunition is damning of the current system, and quite frankly very scary.

Michael Moore’s comment on the Santa Barbara shooting was particularly eloquent (see right hand side image). The line that really hit home for me was Moore’s referral to mass murder as “now part of normal American life”. It really is, if you think about it. It happens so often and is such a consistent occurrence that it’s almost like the weather – impossible to predict but inevitable.

Sometimes I try to imagine what the UK would be like if the public here was suddenly given the ‘right to bear arms’. Our society is not too dissimilar from that in America and our cultures are quite like each other. Gang violence in the UK isn’t such a problem in relative terms, but unbridled access to guns for members of those gangs could result in it rapidly becoming much, much more of a problem. Looking at documentary footage of gangs in LA, the viewer gets the impression that a lot of the tension seems to stem from feelings of retribution and the desire to have revenge. Territory and the control of drug markets is also a major factor. Both of these factors are present in the UK.

As Moore says in his Facebook status update, 90% of Americans are in favour of tougher laws on guns. Something has to be done to make it more difficult to acquire these weapons, and that’s at the absolute minimum.

Olsoweir

 

How incredibly useful is Google Analytics?

I am a newbie to Google Analytics – but after reading a really good article outlining the surface of it’s many capabilities, I was taken aback at how powerful it is, and how useful it can be when you’re determining your audience and finding out how to target new ones. And, of course, its free.

As Google Analytics is free and is relatively easy to install if it hasn’t been already, it’s a complete no-brainer for people with a company website. Or any website for that matter.

You can discover so many valuable things about how people use your website. For example, after launching a new website, you want to attract as many new users as possible so you work out how many people are returning users vs new users. Is this ratio changing over time so that more users are classed as returning? If not, you need to change the content on your website or its structure.

Similarly, are people spending enough time on the pages that you want them to spend time on? Are they signing up to your newsletter? Are they liking your Facebook Page? You can track all of this for free using a combination of Google Goals, and a hell of a lot more.

Google Analytics is free

Google Analytics is free – as are most of their products. They have SO many online help guides too – even if they are little inaccessible and filled with jargon!

 

This guide by the guys over at Kissmetrics (really good analytics blog/company) is well worth a read if you’re just starting out. It got me interested in Google Analytics in the first place.

And then I got introduced to social analytics software. Wow. But that’s a story for another time.

5 reasons why Google+ will continue to grow and thrive.

Google+ is, and will continue to be a cool and insanely useful platform (especially for marketers!), and a valid and beneficial social media marketing tool. Even before Mr Gundotra left, rumours that the social network is a ghost town have been widely discredited.

The huge number of functions, its deep and integral tie to the two biggest search engines in the world and the way in which it is made for online marketing will ensure the platform continues to be essential to the vast majority of online marketing campaigns.

One of the main strengths of Google+ is the user base. Communities are full of decent, helpful and often great content and conversations

Google+ Communities are a huge strength

1. It was never meant to be the next Facebook. A lot of Google+ critics are sitting in their chairs, in front of their screens laughing and congratulating themselves on being right in their prediction that the network would never supplant Facebook as the world’s number one. That was probably the target at some point – but the two are so very different.

  1. Look at the people who are active on Google+. Go to the communities and you find intelligent, helpful conversations taking place. It’s like a socialised Wikipedia!
  2. Circles allow you to follow whoever you want to, and place them within specific broadcast groups. You can even email certain circles. If this isn’t a brilliant marketing tool, I don’t know what is. Facebook doesn’t have anything like this.
  3. Google+ unifies all of Google’s services under one roof. Gaining the coveted Authorship status means your blog or website gains that little extra SEO juice and your picture comes up in search results.

2. The  network is NOT GOING ANYWHERE PEOPLE. So many people kicked up a massive fuss after Vic Gundotra left (and continue to do so), squawking that the network had been beheaded, and that the breakup would turn it into a zombie. Sorry, but – Google+ is alive and kicking? The Chief Architect even had to discredit an article ran by TechCrunch alleging that the network was ‘dead’. Far from dying, Google said that it would continue to work on the network and that the 1,200 people working on it were just moving to a different building. I mean, why would it just chuck away something that is successful, has a huge user base and complements its advertising sales so well? Stupidquestion.com.

3. The network is growing. The number of people and businesses signing up for Google+ accounts and pages is still increasing. The opportunities for B2B marketing are huge. While it’s not the easiest to utilise and make the most of, Google+ has the potential to drastically increase the effectiveness of online marketing campaigns and elevate brands’ visibility.

While Vic Gundotra's departure was a massive blow to Google+, it is very much alive and kicking

Vic Gundotra’s departure was sad, but not fatal

4. Universal sign in and future Google products. This is a really important point. Google has engineered its growth so that in order to use any of its online services, you need to have a Google+ account. As the number of users increases, and the network expands, the products that are on the horizon and the acquisitions that the search giant may or may not make deserve consideration. For example, if Google Glass takes off, you’ll need to sign in to see which of your friends are in your local pub as you walk by. You’ll also want to know your new colleague’s second name without looking at your phone or desktop, even though she told you two hours ago. It’ll all be linked and part of the same ecosystem and you can’t avoid it.

5. Google’s search engine dominates the web, online advertising and what you see on page one of your search results. This somewhat scary but inescapable fact proves that Google+ might have just undergone some changes, but it’s inseparable from the largest Web-search engine in the world. For marketers, this means its unavoidable and must be utilised as a tool in the majority of marketing campaigns. Gaining Google+ Authorship for your client’s website or blog is crucial, as is engaging current and prospective clients and customers via the network itself.

It’s here to stay, people. I, for one, am happy about it.

Olsoweir / George Archer

Hashtags are a wonderful invention. How to use them at events:

The use of hashtags at events is nothing new, but most people just stick em up without any thought a month or two before the event, and then forget about them during the event. What a wasted opportunity!

The clever individuals and teams are doing the following three things:

  1. Crafting a hashtag that is short, easily linked to the brand or the event it’s being created for, and funny is hard. Of course, it’s easy to get a lot of engagement with the more obvious hashtags at large, regular events like sports competitions – just think #SuperBowl, #USOpen, #WorldCup2014… your challenge is to get people engaging with the hashtag before the event so that a certain level of buzz is built. Attach the event hashtag onto the end of a question – “If you could ask XXXXX one question at #XXXXX, what would it be?” While the respondent might not use the hashtag, you’ve reached someone and touched them with your brand and your event hashtag.
  2. Where should hashtags be used? By Andrij Harasewych

    Where should hashtags be used? By Andrij Harasewych

    At the event, keep a constant eye on your event hashtag on Instagram and Twitter. If anyone mentions anything – shoot something witty, upbeat and entertaining back ASAP. Why not even include a call to action? For example, tell them about the speaker currently giving a social analytics workshop in Hall C!

  3. After the event, use a tool like Hashtag Tracking to see ALL the engagement your event hashtag garnered. There are SO many different tools to track hashtags, and many are free. Twitonomy, Tweetdeck – the list is (nearly) endless. You can even do it inside Twitter’s website000 itself. Some of the more expensive services are very cool, and have ways of tracking conversions and lead generation. Hubspot is one – Social Report is another. They are ridiculously expensive, and are only worth paying for if you a) have people who know what they are doing and b) have a marketing team with multiple campaigns going on at once and a need to measure the effectiveness of every single action. You should look at the people who engaged using the hashtag and follow up – they could become a customer! Follow them, Tweet about how great their blog is and Reweet a couple of their Tweets. You are the salesperson, not me ;-)

Olsoweir / George Archer

Been fired? Here’s 7 things you need to do.

So, you’ve just been fired for whatever reason. Maybe you weren’t performing as well as you should have been, maybe you just weren’t up to the job, maybe you didn’t fit into the company culture – whatever the reason, you can always come back from it. The main and most important thing is to remain positive. Lean on your other half, your family, your friends. They’ll help you to remain positive and see the good side of the situation.

Here’s a list of seven things you should do, depending on the circumstances:

  1. Get to the Job Centre. You may find it humiliating but it’s there for a reason. Those who get fired from their jobs have bills to pay, children to look after. Just do it – they even help you find work (although more often than not the jobs on offer are probably not what you are looking for).
  2. Steps of Despair

    Been fired? Don’t sit on the steps and cry – do something about it!

    Don’t lie on your CV – update it and say that you left the job on good terms because you didn’t fit the company’s culture, or you wanted to try freelancing for a bit.

  3. Whatever work is available, do it. You need some form of income, and as great an achievement the establishment of the welfare state was in the years after the Second World War, in today’s society jobseeker’s allowance doesn’t cover the cost of living, particularly in more affluent areas of the UK.
  4. Think about where you were working before you got fired. Were you happy there? If you weren’t, see this as a chance to change your career path! Make sure you join a company where you do fit in, study to get that qualification you’ve always wanted, or save up and go to China and teach English! Anything is possible and life is too short.
  5. Exercise as much as possible. Physical exertion is amazing for the mind and body, and will keep you feeling positive. One way to combine exercise and job hunting is to ride a bike around the city, handing out CVs.
  6. Wake up at 7-8am every day! Don’t rest until you have a job. Getting fired is not an excuse to lie in until 12pm every day. It will make you feel awful.
  7. Don’t make the same mistake again. Getting fired is a wake up call – be thankful you have another chance.

Olsoweir / George Archer

How can we get the rich to instigate social change?

Rich people, or anyone who lives in a rich country, has a comfortable job, is able to pay the bills with some money left over are comfortable. Why do they need to spend their precious leisure time protesting against the Government’s refusal to combat climate change effectively or to make sure huge conglomerates pay their fair share of taxes? They have enough problems of their own – kids to feed, deadlines to meet, a girl they like that doesn’t feel the same way… life is full of problems already, why make more trouble for themselves? Of course, I am one of these people and I’m not here to preach, merely to pose the question:

What’s it going to take to get comfortable people to instigate social change on this rapidly decomposing planet?

I think the answer has to lie in thinking about the future. Or better still, being shown what the future looks like for the comfortable ones. There are definite scenarios that will happen if we continue to emit carbon at this rate. These need to be clearly articulated in video format and broadcasted on major channels every day. The Thames overflowing. Millions of refugees swamping Europe, overwhelming borders and destabilising entire countries.

But this might not be enough. Social change requires the participation of everyone, and the belief of everyone that change can be brought about, no matter what corporate interests dominate. The sheer number of people on this planet can overcome any Government. Everyone should be worried, because it’s not just Sub-Saharan Africa or Bangladesh that will suffer. Everyone will.

“It has to start somewhere, it has to start some time, what better place than here, what better time than now?” – Zack de la Rocha, Lead Vocalist, Rage Against the Machine

Olsoweir / George Archer

It’s almost incredulous UKIP are still knocking about.

Four characteristics of the UKIP that are repulsive, and simply anything but up to the standards of those politicians in charge of a country.

1. The UKIP leadership cannot contain its profoundly racist members from venting obnoxious views over immigration, religion and emigration issues on social media networks. Maybe it’s all part of a master plan to cement their position as the ‘looniest of them all’ and thus able to lead up on a radical new path to social nirvana. Not.

UKIP poster campaign

This demonstrates the kind of hostility the UKIP has to workers that actually are far more productive that native British workers.

2. Perhaps even more importantly, UKIP is a racist political party, with a highly intolerant attitude towards Islam and the Muslim community which exacerbates existing tensions, nationally and internationally, not to mention other communities.

While the party has apparently tried to improve its vetting of candidates, one UKIP candidate up for election in Enfield – William Henwood – responded to Lenny Henry’s (the black comedian) comment that black people were underrepresented in British television by suggesting: :”He should emigrate to a black country. He does not have to live with whites.”

That doesn’t answer the question and is completely irrelevant to what Mr Henry argued. As there are a lot of black people living in the UK, there should be a reflection of that in British TV; why not? Henwood’s response seemed petulant and ill-thought out, reflecting the professional and intellectual level of UKIP’s candidate base.

3. Nigel Farage is a borderline alcoholic and a bit of a playboy (as far as you can trust the Mirrror). From the reports I’ve read about his campaign trails and discourse with prospective UKIP voters, he sinks pints of ales like a student on a night out with half-price drinks.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage having a pint

Nigel Farage is not on the campaign trail with numerous stops at local pubs. Is this the kind of guy who we want in government?

4. Party funding from Paul Sykes and Mr Farage’s attitude towards his expenses audit are both extremely dodgy and out of kilter from what you might expect from someone who is trying to disrupt mainstream British politics.

If Ed Miliband or David Cameron was supplied money in the same way as Mr Farage, all hell would break loose. In an interview with the Guardian on Saturday this week, Mr Farage grinned bashfully and said he was just about within the legal limit for expenses claims. He also reneged on a promise to undergo a full audit of his expenses, claiming that it would be unfair for him to undergo the audit without any other MEPs undertaking the same audit.

This party cannot win any more voters. They must be prevented from further gains at all costs.

Olsoweir / George Archer

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