Politics and International Affairs

Everything that is going on in the world

Construction Professionals

Making the most of your colleagues

This week I started work at a recruitment company called Project Resource – dealing with white collar construction professionals working on projects throughout the UK. There are three things that I’m already really happy and enthusiastic about:

  1. The office atmosphere and company culture is just… exactly what I wanted. Boom.
  2. My predecessor has laid a solid foundation for me to work upon and handed over very well – this has made a hell of a lot of difference.
  3. Construction and Infrastructure are both subjects that are current and intrinsically linked to the well-being and health of the UK’s economy. It’s an exciting time for the industry and to be part of an operation like Project Resource in a marketing role is a fantastic opportunity.

This last point is the most important one for me. As a marketing executive with a very basic knowledge of the construction and infrastructure industry sectors, I rely on my colleagues for information and opinions so that I am able to create quality content and not just sit on my bottom and curate content written by other people.

Construction in Central London

I think in any in-house marketing, communications or social media role, the relationships you build with your colleagues are critical. You need their help much more than they need yours in the early days – and it pays dividends to get people on your side!

Reading around a topic is a very helpful exercise, but talking to people on the ground who know what’s happening out there in the market is crucial if you are to gain some kind of a handle on the subject matter that you need to be dealing with and extracting valuable articles and blogs from.

Olsoweir

Fleeing Italy: a Generation Lost?

Everyone always moans about immigration – British people tend to say they either don’t like it or loathe it. Just take a look across Europe and far right anti-immigration political parties are gaining ground and winning seats in government.

My girlfriend is half Italian and half Palestinian, and perhaps 50-60% of her friends from home (a relatively affluent area of Italy – a suburb of Milan) have left the country for places all over the world – primarily London and Australia. Maybe just take a moment to think about that in terms of your own friendship group – its a lot of people.

Sforzesco Castle, Milan

Sforzesco Castle Main Courtyard in Milan

They come here with skills British companies need, they speak decent English (in my experience) and also because they enjoy parts of our culture. Someone even claimed that there are 500,000 Italians living in the UK at this moment – I can’t find any proof to back this up, but in 2011 there were 133,000 so it wouldn’t surprise.

Yet Italians seem to go unnoticed. They look foreign, sound foreign and are often employed in jobs that a British person would’ve been able to do. They’re all over the place; behind bars, discussing football on the tube, coming round for dinner constantly.

Apart from the horrible incident when a young man was killed by a group of other immigrant workers, there is seemingly very little bad will to them at all. I’d love to know why this is.

Comparing this to the extremely unpleasant, incorrect and over the top stories published in the Daily Mail about Romanian and Bulgarian workers and the imminent flood the UK was supposed to be subjected to, and you have to wonder if people in the UK actually understand how immigration actually benefits the UK. We are reliant on immigration and have benefited from it for hundreds of years.

Venice

Venice

One thing I do feel is a pang of sadness for Italy. It’s losing it’s young people, and fast. Apart from there being relatively few jobs, most of my Italian friends cite the government and the world famous Italian mafia as the main reasons for leaving their country.

Italy also has one of the oldest populations in the world – which only compounds the problem of the economy. Germany has more old people, but their crazily resilient and tough economy is able to deal with it. Japan’s young people rarely emigrate – and look after their parents in old age.

Hopefully Italy’s economy will rise from the ashes and people will return, perhaps to start families or just because they miss the food.

Olsoweir

New York Bicycle Couriers

London based? Why don’t YOU cycle to work?

Cycling Commuter in Ottawa

After commuting to work and getting from A to B  on a pushbike in London for the best part of six years (apart from the 10 mile post-pub missions braving sub-zero temperatures coupled with sleet), I have come to the unexpectedly sudden realisation that it could help to mitigate a number of London’s social and economic problems. With enough support from our government and employers to ensure certain initiatives are implemented, cycling to work could become a viable option for many current slaves of Transport For London, and be a force for positive change on several different levels. I’ve listed them below:

  1. Get into work smiling! It’s a well known fact that the UK economy is heavily reliant on the service sector, and nowhere is this more evident than in London. This means a lot of people sit in front of computers all day for five days a week. Obvious point: exercise is good for you. We weren’t built to sit in front of screens for nine hours a day. Some people valiantly go to the gym on their lunch breaks. But why pay for a gym membership when you can cycle to work? A) it’s free, b) you burn a load of calories, c) you don’t have to pay for an overpriced ticket for a tube full of hot, irritable people, and you get into work having released a load of endorphins that improve your mood and cognitive performance. Win win scenario? … Yes.
  2. Help your National Health Service! A lot of people are overweight in this country. Diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer are all either triggered or exacerbated by a poor diet. While a healthy diet is a good start, to stay healthy in the long term people need regular exercise. Humans were built to hunt Mammoths and build huts, not design magazines, answer phones and write press releases all day. We could relieve the burden on the NHS significantly if enough people could be convinced to adopt cycling to work as a central pillar of their effort to get healthy, but more importantly remain healthy!
  3. Reduce traffic and congestion on London’s creaking transport infrastructure! London is one of the most important cities in the world, as well as the oldest subway system in the world. Londoners are all too aware of this. Often the tube network seems to resemble a leaking boat – as soon as one line upgrade has finished, another one starts. Not to mention the mad crush to get on tubes and buses in the mornings. Wouldn’t you trade that in for a breezy, relatively flat commute on a pushbike? Oh, AND if you really want to get a workout / not have to wake up earlier in the morning to allow for a longer cycle ride, put that little bit extra ooompf in and you might find your cycle commute is shorter than your tube journey. I live in Brixton, and I get to Soho around 15 minutes quicker on my bicycle than if I take the tube. WIN WIN SCENARIO!

So, some pretty perspicacious points for you there! ;-)

Olympic Fixed Gear bicycle

One of the bikes whose owner is likely to be loathed by seasoned cycling commuters. Avert your eyes, seasoned commuters.

Of course, helping people to feel comfortable cycling to work on what are some pretty mean streets would require a completely new, and most likely expensive approach to how the capital’s roads work. The widening of existing cycle lanes on busy routes and the creation of new ones will only have an impact if people are told how to use them.

People who haven’t passed their driving test are allowed to ride a bicycle on London’s roads – this doesn’t seem right. Cycling proficiency in year seven at primary school was a joke. People who aren’t familiar with riding on busy city roads need to be shown how, for free. This will ensure people know what they are doing – increasing confidence but most importantly it will reduce fatalities. Boris, that one’s for you!

Employers also need to be cycling-friendly and ensure that people have a secure place to put their bikes, and provide showers or some sort of storage for ironed shirts.

Olsoweir

A new race to space

Did anyone else ever play the strategy game Civilisation? I became obsessed with the second version as a kid, but every time I played it my ‘strategy’ was to build as many military units and cities and pursue technologies that allowed for ever more advanced weaponry. That was what won me the game, after a while – world domination.

I had a little go at the fourth version, and instantly found myself doing exactly the same thing. I Googled strategy guides for the game and discovered that you need to pay close attention to a huge variety of various factors to succeed. Territory and big cities were crucial.

Anyway – to the point.

This weekend there was a long article in the Guardian by the paper’s science correspondent Ian Sample all about a “new space race” that many fear could result in the militarisation of an area that no state has or is able to lay claim to.

Stars and Solar systems

Going to visit the bright lights

Then I remember my brief game of Civilisation – what happens when human life is no longer sustainable on this planet and we are forced to hop planets? Or even Solar Systems?

While Mr Sample writes about the implications of competition and tension between countries such as China and India, looking further into the future space is a whole new and vast territory to be explored. And, I must add, not only explored but colonised in a characteristically human way.

Lego spaceship

Not SO far away… coming to a store near you soon!

International collaboration and smooth diplomacy will be critical, but as everyone knows money is power. If China forges ahead with its space programme, the likelihood is that it will be on the same level, if not ahead of the United States and Europe in terms of technology and capacity for space exploration.

Who do you think will rule the unknown, and what do you think the ramifications will be?

Olsoweir

(Images courtesy of Sweetie187 and legoz tourist 328)

… MY Life on Camera? What?!

So everyone is going bananas about the intelligence Big Boys in the US and UK basically having the access to everything we ever thought was private and off limits to the state. Call me passive (I am, a bit), but I’m not that fussed.

Hands up who’s got a Facebook account? Yeah, thought so. The most popular social network has 1.19 billion monthly active users as of September 30, 2013. This is one reason why I’m not that bothered that the NSA has access to all the conversations I have and have had. There’s so many people to spy on! Why would they bother looking at me? Go ahead, look through my texts, phone calls and whatever else you have. Do me!

But then I think about what the future may hold, and I start to really think. Where are we headed as a human race? 20 years ago mobile phones didn’t exist. Now the Google Geeks over in Silicon Valley are preparing to sell a pair of glasses that can take videos and pictures at the tap of a finger, a voice command – and thanks to some unknown digital fanatic – the blink of the wearer’s eyes.

The Economist hit the nail on the head in an article a few weeks back and discussed the ramifications of a device that over time could become unobtrusive and the norm, just as glasses, watches and even clothes became the norm over the history of humans. In the Briefing section, the article documented the life project of an Irish computer scientist who, for the past seven years, has been taking a photograph of his immediate surroundings with a wide angle lens hung around his neck every minute. Yes – EVERY MINUTE. Check out the video:

A search engine for the self

So, in light of this, I started to think about some really scary things:

  • What if, in the future, in the same way as everyone is required to own some sort of ID or proof of who they are, everyone was forced to wear one of these in the interests of say, preventing crime?
  • What if cameras with face recognition could cross reference with a future social network similar to Facebook, leading to a complete stranger knowing exactly who you are, where you work and the full name and address of your partner?
  • What if someone was able to hack into your (compulsory) wide angle camera and watch you having sex with your partner?

The number 1984 springs to mind, or rather explodes in my mind, showering my frontal lobe with metaphorical glass in the process.

The thing is, I really do believe that this is the future. In the UK, we are already the nation with the most CCTV camera’s per person. That’s all well and good – but do I want people taking pictures of me while I’m buying a tuna crunch baguette from Greggs? Do YOU? F***, I hope you don’t, because I certainly don’t.

Olsoweir

Do you know why we celebrate the 5th of November?

Fireworks night! I sat down with my girlfriend this evening and listened to the fireworks pop and crackle over in Brockwell Park. While I knew that the reason everyone sets fire to big piles of wood and fire rockets into the air is because of a guy called Guy Fawkes and his decision to blow up Parliament in… ages ago, I didn’t know why he’d tried to do it or why we celebrate it.

Seen in the context of the quest for universal freedom of speech and human rights that we chase today, I naively assumed that we celebrate this man for his bravery against oppression of some sort. This assumption turned out to be true – he was a Roman Catholic in a newly turned Protestant England – a minority. Now, I don’t know if anyone else saw V for Vendetta, but that certainly portrayed the supposed villain as the ‘good guy’ battling against an entrenched and wholly evil state, bent on oppressing citizens of London with endless propaganda and a variety of state owned television channels.

Intrigued, I looked it up on the internet, and quickly found out that rather than celebrating the man who stood up for his rights as a minority Catholic man, we celebrate the fifth of November because King James 1st and his Royal leaders were saved, even after they continued to deny Roman Catholics the same rights as Protestants and enforced persecution and injustice.

A Guy Fawkes Mask

The mask from the film V for Vendetta has become an internationally recognisable symbol of protest and resistance to a variety of things, from state capitalism to poor living conditions.

Now, I don’t condone terrorism, but it was intensely interesting that so many people celebrate the survival of someone who oppressed people because of their religious beliefs. In today’s society, I assume that most people (including myself) don’t know the reason we celebrate the 5th of November either, and just set off a few rockets to keep the kids happy.

Or, perhaps, I just missed out on that one history lesson at school or was looking out the window.

But, then, you look at it the other way – who is oppressed in our society today? Some people would say that in certain areas of the country poor people are oppressed and unfairly affected by meagre wages and often awful living conditions. If someone professing their commitment to the cause of the poor by attempting to assassinate the Prime Minister, of course it would be a crime and I would want that person taken off the streets. But, would we as a society celebrate Mr Cameron’s survival 400 years later? I think not. Just an interesting thought – maybe just from my point of view. I believe that every point of view is worth sharing.

Olsoweir

Twitter picture of BORIS JOHNSON stuck on a zip wire in Victoria Park

What happened to the New Tories?

David Cameron’s speech didn’t fail to prove he is among some of the most impressive leaders (or at least speakers) that the Conservative Party has had, but I believe he and his Party isn’t doing enough to retain the voters that matter most. After all, British politics is all about the centre ground and who is able to most effectively hold it. While conferences seem less and less relevant, and even boring according to some delegates (Sara Price of communications consultancy Pagefield being one of them), they still serve as a reasonably effective way to depict your party as one that is ready for the challenge of government or of opposition. Before the general election, the Conservatives seemed fresh and a good alternative to Gordon Brown, but they are starting to reveal their true colours.

Mr Cameron’s apologies for his two sexist jibes to Labour frontbencher Angela Eagle for asking her to ‘calm down dear’ in front of the House of Commons, and also for insinuating that anti-abortion campaigner Nadine Dorries was sexually frustrated was a good move – similar to Liam Fox’s detailed admissions of meetings with old buddy Adam Werrity. However it merely serves to show how out of touch the Conservatives still are with the people that matter most. The picture of Mr Cameron patronising Angela Eagle and George Osborne laughing as if he had just seen the school nerd get a wedgie was PR gold dust for Labour. I laughed just looking at a still of Osborne’s reaction.

I have a personal passion for the preservation of the environment and the drive to cut emissions. I believe strongly that the Government has a large role to play in encouraging people to recycle and convince the public that ‘going green’ will have lasting benefits. The UK has the potential to be the global leader in the development of sustainable energy generation technology, and I believe we are passing up this opportunity.

Mr Cameron didn’t mention climate change once in his speech at the Conservative conference last week. He mentioned the word ‘green’ just twice. This, coupled with Osborne’s statement that they would not lead the way in sustainable energy generation in Europe, and you have a blatant and traditional sway towards the big hitters – the carbon heavy industries. While this is helpful for the recovery, the Government needs to do more to push an environmental agenda, particularly when it was part of their election strategy in their push for No. 10. What happened to the Green Tories? Broken promises?

Theresa may have gone a step too far with the Bolivian cat incident...

Theresa may have gone a step too far with the Bolivian cat incident…

It isn’t even necessary to ‘shed the Old Tory skin’; to be honest sometimes it can be amusing and good for the party image. Boris Johnson playing tennis with kids at newly opened sports centres was a great PR show – but more important than this is the fact that he has actually done a lot for London and continues to lobby his party to stop cuts to transport and communities inside London. Also great PR. Maybe David Cameron could take a note out of his book. Mr Osborne definitely should.

To finish with: one of the funniest things at the conference: Theresa May revealing that immigration was so out of control that – and she’s not joking – a Bolivian immigrant was able to remain in the UK because he owned a pet cat. Crumbs!

The smooth talking David Cameron who didn’t win the election is holding his ground, but the true colours of the Conservative Party are hard to hide. Old habits die hard, and holding the centre ground will be hard if the party continues to ignore the people who turned their backs on Labour.

Olsoweir