- About Us
- Professional Development
- The Corporate Edge
- BlackJag Lifestyle
- BlackJag’s Den
- Industry News
- Career Advice
Please activate the Breadcrumb-NavXT plug-in to use the section.
Power & Money -Askmen
Power & Money on AskMen
Until last month, Paul Flowers may have been a good contender for being one of the dullest men in Britain. Tubby, silver haired, and with all the natural dynamism of a provincial tea-shop owner, Flowers had spent his life around the foothills of local government, in the charitable sector, working as a Methodist minister and latterly as chairman of the Co-Operative Bank (the ethical bank which is currently in the midst of a £1.5bn fundraising rescue plan following several years of disastrous expansion and mismanagement).However, in the last month Flowers has proven once and for all that it really is always the quiet ones you have to watch out for. Things started badly when Flowers was filmed by a Sunday paper allegedly handing over £300 to a drug dealer. It then emerged that he’d left the Co-Op Group after being quizzed about £31,000 worth of lavish expenses claims, and after serious claims were made about his competence to run a bank, given that he appeared to have the kind of financial acumen you normally associate with some moron on Channel 5’s Super Casino. Famously, while appearing before the Treasury Select Committee on November 6 he ended up hazarding a rough guess at the bank’s assets and underestimating the total by £44 billion.Each subsequent day seems to have bought new revelations about Flowers: according to the Daily Mail he apparently quit his role at drugs charity Lifeline in 2004 after trying to claim £150,000 in hooky expenses (the Charity Commission had received a complaint at the time but took it no further). There was a conviction from 1981 for gross indecency after an incident in a public toilet. The time in 1990 when he was done for drink driving. There was his rent boy mate who had once carried out an armed raid on a branch of the Co-Op. Oh, and he resigned as a councillor in Bradford two years ago when pornography was found on his work laptop. And was also accused of having taken cocaine and ketamine just before a Remembrance Day service in Bradford just for good measure.The Mail on Sunday then went to town with what appeared to be the contents of his phone (although where they might have got this from was left unexplained): while the piece is worth reading in full, Flowers gives every impression of being an enthusiastic ketamine user storming around Britain having an absolute ball and waggling his hard-on at anything which stood still for long enough. These texts detailing his ‘quiet day off work’ rather give the flavour of his life.
Apart from a sneaking admiration of the old boy’s stamina (I can barely function the morning after having three pints), it’s pretty clear that Flowers was a man who shouldn’t have been trusted with bus fare, let alone a vast financial institution.However, as entertaining as the drug-fuelled implosion of Flowers and his libido is to read about, it’s obscuring a lot of bigger issues that are relevant to the entire economy. Firstly, the fact that Flowers could get the job at all -- he was judged ‘fit and proper’ by the Financial Services Authority in 2009 and apparently sailed through the vetting process simply by ‘not mentioning all of the previous dodgy stuff’ -- suggests that the system is completely broken and could easily happen again (this week’s Private Eye has an excellent explanation of the FSA process). Secondly, institutions need to get over the idea that someone having religious qualifications makes them an automatically honest broker. As John Lanchester recently pointed out in the London Review of Books, it was under the watch of an ordained Church of England Minister, Stephen Green, that HSBC ran an operation in which “Mexican drug-dealers made special boxes to deliver drug cartel money over the deposit counter… (the bank) undertook criminal actions which led to a fine of $1.9 billion.” (Full article here). And thirdly, the real crime needs to be remembered -- not that Flowers was an irresponsible, priapic maniac who couldn’t keep off the Class A’s, but that almost 200 years of socialist financial tradition is about to be flushed down the toilet thanks to him and the rest of the bank’s management. Staff are facing redundancies, branches may well close, while customers are left hunting around for a safe, ethical haven for their money. Flowers may well be the most colourful villain of the piece, but he could only behave the way he did because of a system which allowed him to. And until that changes, there’ll be more people like him.
Who you know matters. Our relationships with others form the core of our human lives. Even a hermit has to have interacted with someone at some point -- I mean, someone did actually take care of that creepy old man as a baby, just maybe not all that well. Through the course of your life, you will encounter thousands of people. Some may share your interests and passions, but many won’t give a hoot about who you are or what your potential is. Your life goals are your life goals, and most people will never help you pursue them. In order to get help, you need to be able to leverage these relationships and convince people to work with you. This is called “networking,” and though it’s often thought of as something special by the uninitiated, it’s actually an intrinsic skill that’s rooted purely in how one interacts with others. Giving this skill a special name simply makes it easy to reference, but people often inordinately attribute special meanings to it as well, as if only by attending seminars will you know how to do it. In reality, everyone networks every single day. It’s simply how you get what you want. Networking can easily be defined as any opportunity you have to meet people pursuing similar interests to your own. This could occur in a wide variety of settings, such as an official event like a career fair, at work through client meetings, cold calls or lunches with your manager or in less social settings like brunch with your friends. Though everyone possesses the ability to network, how successful you are at it depends on your awareness of others, what you are pursuing and how comfortable you are stepping outside your comfort zone. It’s my opinion that seminars and classes purporting to make you better at networking really just help you improve at these things. They typically cover a combination of the following topics: how to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation, how to properly conduct yourself in social settings, the particulars of why specific industries require specific approaches and how to not piss people off. These skills are not exclusive to networking. They are life skills that, due to differences in experience, some people are just better at than others. Consider this: Someone brought up in an extremely extroverted family is more likely to be comfortable meeting random people than someone with a family composed entirely of introverts. Someone wary of stepping outside his or her comfort zone may be extremely knowledgeable on the topics within their sphere of interest but simply avoids going out and expanding upon them. I am not vilifying networking seminars or classes; I’m just saying that the skills that fall under the umbrella term “networking” have further reaching implications than just your career. Improving at all of the above-mentioned skills will help you advance your career, but it will also inevitably make you better at handling a myriad of other situations as well. The introvert becomes more social, the extrovert gains self-control and the worrywart is a little less anxious.Successful networking takes more than just being affable and nice. You must be the consummate professional. When meeting new people, first impressions are essential. It’s all well and good to get yourself in front of the people who matter, but if you come off as a fool, needy or disrespectful, good luck getting anything out of that interaction. In fact, good luck ever showing your face in that arena again. Never second-guess people’s memories.
Welcome back to my journal on the life of a new management consultant, on week two of my first job out of university. Last week, I introduced the firm orientation and the oddities of being in a brand new place. This week, things have moved a little faster -- and I’m getting closer to understanding what my profession actually means.The week started off with a lot of networking. Meeting people is the lifeblood of a successful consulting career. While it's still definitely an industry where you need to pay your dues and put in the hours to accomplish good results, without a sufficiently large (and reliable) network, it’s practically impossible to get ahead. Let’s recap why this makes sense. Consulting companies sell intellect, not physical products. Regardless of what kind of management consulting you do (strategy, implementation, technology, non-profit, etc.), everything begins with a client who has a problem -- and you have to fix it. This could be a gap in profits, a failure to meet certain goals or even the desire to wade into uncharted business territory. In order to solve the client’s problem, consultants will pair raw intelligence and market know-how to deliver solutions that the client can then use to address the initial problem.However, intellect is complemented by the backgrounds of the people on a team and how well they can sell. Every consultant will tell a client they can get the job done, but at the end of the day, projects are won on more metrics than just offering the lowest price. Therefore, the better you are with interactions and the more people you know, the likelier you are to rise up the ranks.Networking is also important because, as I mentioned in my previous column, consulting is a fairly nebulous profession. You need help with everything -- and I mean everything! From understanding a client’s organisational structure to figuring out how to book a conference room, chances are, your head will be crowded with questions every single day. You can’t get much done in this industry if you don’t ask, and the larger (and more varied) the network of people you can ask, the better. It’s useful to take a step back here. A lot of people are disheartened when they recognise that an attractive profession requires lots of human interaction. Often, building difficult models or working with complex algorithms on your own is easier than having to introduce yourself to complete strangers. However, I find one thought in particular helps with the malaise: people are people.
The recent Panorama documentary on BBC1 contained a series of extraordinary revelations about the conduct of the British Army in Northern Ireland during the 1970s. For the first time on camera, ex-soldiers detailed the existence of a secret unit called the Military Reaction Force used for ‘hunting down’ IRA members in Belfast. Disbanded in 1973 after 18 months, the soldiers recalled missions which sounded like something from a pulp airport thriller – lying in the gutter disguised as meths drinking vagrants with guns strapped to their inside legs, working undercover as refuse collectors while keeping their weapons stashed away in the bins.According to the documentary, the unit consisted of 40 men, handpicked from across various British army units. Front businesses were set up (particularly a laundry which gave the undercover operatives an excuse to be moving in and out of civilian areas). Travelling in unmarked cars, they patrolled the IRA’s heartland of west Belfast, working ‘to draw out the IRA and minimise their activities… if they needed shooting, they’d be shot.’ In practice, this meant not only civilians being fired on by apparently random individuals – but in 10 cases identified by the programme, civilians who were completely unarmed being targeted and killed.The British army’s exact conduct in Northern Ireland during the conflict there has long been shrouded in secrecy. Covert units like the MRF and later the 14 Intelligence Unit, along with deployments from the SAS were said to operate undercover in the region from the 1970s until the Good Friday Agreement largely ended hostilities in 1998. Separately, evidence has emerged that throughout the period, the Northern Irish police colluded with Loyalist gangs to cover up the murders of Catholics. In short, this week’s documentary seems to suggest that on several fronts, the British army was running a secret war on what was technically British soil, where the usual rules of engagement didn’t apply. As one member told Panorama: ‘We were not there to act like an army unit -- we were there to act like a terror group.’ Another justified the unit’s operations on the grounds that ‘we were hunting down hardcore baby-killers, terrorists, people that would kill you without even thinking about it.’The problem is the ongoing debate about how to deal with these revelations. Under the Good Friday Agreement, many people from both sides of the conflict were released early from their sentences. And the day before the Panorama broadcast, Northern Ireland’s attorney general John Larkin called for an end to all prosecutions in relation to killings that occurred during the conflict. ‘We need to bring to an end the prospect of inquests with respect to Troubles-related deaths,’ he told the Belfast Telegraph in a rare interview. ‘No more inquests and no more prosecutions with respect to Troubles-related deaths. Going hand in hand with that would be a commitment to developing ways in which access to State records can be facilitated consistently with the safety of individuals.’ Essentially saying that even if people who broke the law are still alive, a line should be drawn under the past and those crimes should become a matter for historical research, not legal retribution. The thinking is that without the threat of prosecution, former combatants of all stripes may be more open about what they did during a war. So you can have truth, or justice, but not both.The issue of how the law treats soldiers is still problematic today: the recent court case of three British soldiers accused of executing an injured Taliban fighter in Afghanistan showed the degree of legal debate over the extent to which soldiers in a warzone should be judged by the standards and morality of peacetime society.However, there are very good reasons why soldiers are held to rules of engagement. Firstly, there’s an obvious moral case against the state executing civilians. Secondly, a civil war like that which consumed Colombia for almost four decades shows what happens when both sides escalate violence into an ‘anything goes’ bloodbath. And thirdly, there’s a practical military reason – historian Niall Ferguson has pointed out that wars end much quicker when soldiers know that they can safely surrender and live. ‘World War Two kept going long after the Germans had any chance of victory, because it was really hard to surrender, particularly on the eastern front and the far east,’ he told Radio 4’s Start The Week back in 2012.At the time of writing, the army themselves are calling for further investigations into the Panorama claims: Colonel Bob Stewart, who served in Northern Ireland for six tours of duty and is now Conservative MP for Beckenham said ‘if you’re a servant of the state, you must apply the rules of the state and if you don’t, you become like the terrorists themselves’ before calling for an inquiry. The final word went to Baroness O’Loan, previously Northern Ireland’s police ombudsman until 2007: ‘Families who have, for 40 years, wondered how did it come about that their loved ones were shot by the military and yet no-one was brought to book and the facts maybe didn't add up, that they were told, and there were allegations of people having guns when they clearly and manifestly didn't have guns -- I think those families have the right to know what happened.’
If you're reading this drowning in a sea of spreadsheets, batting away a sadistic boss and wondering why you're paid a pittance for the privilege, try suspending disbelief for a minute. There are people out there who truly love their jobs. Passionate about their professions. Motivated by monday mornings. Honestly. We have proof. Reddit is an amazing place to get answers and inspiration from people's real life experiences. In this thread, Redditors post about why they love their chosen profession. We scoured through the list, picked our favourites and divided our findings into five categories to make it easy to get inspired based on what you're looking for in a dream job. Here are our five categories: if you love working with people, if you love to travel, if you're looking for a medical alternative, if you like working with your hands or outdoors and if you'd like to find a desk job that doesn't bore you to tears.
Working With PeopleCertified sign language interpreter. Decent salary, approx. £30,000 a year, work an average 30 hours a week. Work is varied and interesting, I go home and sleep well knowing I've spent my day helping other understand the world around them. I don't require much preparation, any equipment, and I don't create any waste. I show up, use my hands, email the invoice, get paid. It's nice... and I'll never be rich, but I've never lacked work.- defacemock I'm a therapist who works with children and teens in foster care. It's exhausting, the gratification definitely isn't instantaneous, and it doesn't pay well, but I still feel fortunate to be able to do it. I find the work fascinating and challenging; there's so much analysing and problem-solving involved, and every situation is unique. I'm constantly learning new things about people, relationships, emotions, mental illness, etc. I think I could be in this field for 50 years and still learn something new every day.I have a master's in Counseling and got a job right after university, although I consider myself pretty lucky because funding for mental health is always low and the jobs are sparse and competitive.To be a good therapist you have to really love being a therapist. Personality is also a huge factor: The job requires you to be both analytical and compassionate, and those traits have to work harmoniously together.It's tough, but I can't see myself doing anything else.- ba113r1naI'm a speech language pathologist. It requires a master's degree to fully practice under most situations, but afterwards it can take you anywhere. You can work in a variety of settings, you can specialise in different aspects (stuttering, autism, brain injury, etc.) and you make a decent amount of money. It's also mostly women, and a vast majority of them are intelligent and attractive (C'mon guys, where are you?).- XXchromosomePhysical therapy. There will always be a need for it, and even though it's a doctorate program for the full degree, getting the associate's along the way allows you to work in the field while going to school for your doctorate. In home health, you get to work with patients in their homes or you can work in a clinical setting, like a hospital or nursing home. Money is pretty good, but the real reward comes from watching someone take their first steps in months with your help. Truly amazing.- fuegolatino
I used to have a job. I used to get to work around nine AM (well, to be honest, it was closer to ten PM most days. A bit later if I was hungover) and leave around five PM (Well, sometimes around four PM, if things were dead. A bit later if I was out drinking with my boss. Work drinks count as work, right?) Things were OK. Sometimes a bit boring, but that’s working life.But last year, that changed. The newspaper I worked at (hence the late mornings and later evenings referenced above) was suddenly and surprisingly folded by its cheap-arse owners, and I found myself working as a full-time freelancer -- which is more or less a polite way of saying “underemployed” and “broke.” That’s changing now, but it took a while.Still, my hours are weird. One week I’ll be working eight, nine or 10 hours a day… and then nothing the next week. It’s a stressful way to live.On the other hand, it’s maybe not as stressful as having a real job, a real 9-to-5, five-days-a-week, 50-weeks-a-year job. According to a new book, Time on Our Side, published by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), working shorter hours -- specifically, 30 hours a week -- would make us healthier, happier and would be better for the environment. Its contributors, most of them economists, argue that a series of gradual changes to labor codes such as giving more time off in lieu of raises and instituting a four-day work week would give us more free time to spend with our families, enjoy leisure and become more civic-minded. “It’s time to make ‘part-time’ the new ‘full-time,’” said NEF's head of social policy, Anna Coote.It might also make us healthier. Last year, the American Journal of Epidemiology “showed that a combination of stress, raised blood pressure and unhealthy diets stemming from long working hours may be the cause of thousands of workers’ serious health problems.” (I realize that this study is looking at people who spend 10, 11 or 12 hours a day at work rather than eight, but there’s no reason why spending one fewer day at the office surrounded by coworkers, eating terrible food at the cafe downstairs, slugging back bad coffee and commuting can’t be good for you.)The idea of the 30-hour work week isn’t new either. In fact, as far back as the 1930s, deep thinkers like John Maynard Keynes speculated we’d be down to as few as 15 hours a week by 2030. It hasn’t worked out that way, but something else did happen that’s somewhat surprising: People working shorter hours have become far more productive than those working long hours.The OECD, a “rich country’s club,” according to The Economist, has an interesting chart on working hours. It shows that the three countries in which workers put in the most working hours were Mexico, Greece and Chile. Mexicans worked an average 2,226 hours a year, the highest of the bunch, which translates into almost 43 hours a week if you divide it by 52 weeks. Give Mexican workers a two-week vacation and maybe three days over Christmas, and that’s about 45 hours a week, or a nine-hour day, five days a week.
Recently, we've seen several signs of a stirring below ground -- signals that the Conservative election machine is grinding into action, announcing the imminent arrival of something huge. A bit like the Book of Revelations, but with men who all went to school together and don’t need to shave properly, rather than plagues of locusts and winged horsemen.First up was David Cameron’s Lord Mayor’s speech. The substance of Cameron’s talk was somewhat eclipsed by the fact that he gave a talk largely focusing on the need for continued austerity while stood in the middle of one of London’s most opulent buildings, wearing a stupid white tux and dicky-bow, following a massive gouty dinner, from behind a table bearing so much gold it looked like a cross between a Pharoah’s tomb and Mikey Carroll’s lock-up. He could only have underscored the thing more effectively if he’d finished his talk by draining a silver ram’s horn of pauper’s tears and then taken a massive piss out of the window straight onto the head of a matchstick-selling widow. You can say what you like about Cameron’s former spin doctor Andy Coulson -- and given that he’s currently in the middle of a trial at the High Court for phone hacking, it’s probably best for legal reasons that we don’t say too much here -- but this wouldn’t have happened on his watch. Coulson might have been a predatory, Fleet Street shit with the constant look of a hooky estate agent who’d just been rumbled by Watchdog, but he also had enough native cunning to know that visual symbolism is what sticks in the public mind.
Dave's A/W '13 austerity wardrobeBut what Cameron was saying was hugely significant: that the coalition’s long-fought campaign of austerity -- trimming the public sector, freezing wages, cutting public services etc -- is here to stay. It wasn’t just about saving money in the short term ‘It also means something more profound, it means building a leaner, more efficient state. We need to do more with less. Not just now, but permanently,’ he said, while kicking away the crutches of a polio-riddled orphan and stuffing his face into a bowl of diamonds. It also seemed to confirm the suspicions of people like economist Paul Krugman, who have long argued that there was no sensible economic rationale for austerity and that it was a politically motivated project.Similar suspicion that economic policy is being driven by plans for the next election campaign (rather than objective reality or the good of most ordinary people) are strongest around the new Help To Buy scheme. The short version of this is that it’ll be easier for people with a small deposit to get on the housing ladder. On the plus side, this’ll help some people become homeowners. On the minus side, it just means you’ll have even more people fighting over an insufficient housing stock, and prices are already starting to shoot up. The sense is that the government are happy to ignore the warnings from the likes of the IMF and The Institute of Directors that they’re creating a dangerous economic bubble, because if the bubble’s still bubbling come the next election, people will feel psychologically richer and more disposed towards Dave et al. Over in the Spectator, Fraser Nelson judged this to be a disastrous bit of politicking: ‘Look, he (Cameron) said, this policy shows I’m on the side of aspirational voters. If you want to get on in life, the Tories are on your side – they’ll kit you out with a sub-prime housing loan. After all, what could possibly go wrong…this strategy may pay political dividends for the Conservatives. But it is a piece of economic madness.’However, the strangest Conservative story of the week was broken by Computer Weekly, who spotted that the party have essentially obliterated their digital past, erasing speeches and press releases from 2000-2010, and using a robots.txt file to stop Google indexing the material. The Conservatives gave a not-entirely-convincing explanation that they were simply doing a bit of spring cleaning around the website ‘to allow people to easily access the most important information’: that’s presumably ‘spring cleaning’ in the sense of ‘burning all your possessions so it’s easier to keep track of the few things you still have’. The Independent gleefully rounded up all the u-turns, switchbacks and dud policies that might be a more serious reason for the site getting the 1984 treatment.The suspicion (as voiced by Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer) is that the Conservatives are getting spooked by Ed Milliband, and the rising poll numbers that he’s enjoyed since laying into the energy companies at the Labour Party Conference. If Rawnsley’s right, the Conservatives are responding with base-pleasing ideology, economic populism and a retreat into the information bunker. None of this is indicative of a healthy party and (to a much greater extent) is the approach which is snarling up the Republican party in America. Particularly in the last year, the success of Milliband’s energy speech, the enthusiasm for UKIP and the rousing response that policies way to the left of any mainstream political party (ie calls for full renationalisation of industry) get whenever they’re voiced on Question Time or Any Questions, suggest that the public are in the mood for hearing something genuinely radical. This week doesn’t suggest that the Tories are ready to give it to them.
Last week, the year-long slow motion car crash of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s career hit something like terminal velocity when he was finally forced to publically admit having smoked crack ‘probably in one of my drunken stupors’. Even in the socially liberal modern age, where political scandals from light infidelity to general political skulduggery can be weathered, it would seem that the court of public opinion still has limits: and ‘hitting the pipe like Pete Doherty’ might be one of them. Ford has long led what newspapers euphemistically term ‘a colourful life’. A Toronto native, he dropped out of university to care for his sister, a recovering heroin addict (the same sister would later be shot in the face by an ex-boyfriend). Entering politics in 2000, he set himself out as an opponent of government spending, trimming budgets, clashing with striking refuse workers and introducing privatisation to the service. Charged with assaulting his wife in 2008 (charges were dropped), he became mayor in 2010. From the start he was a polarising figure, with the bulk of his support coming from the city’s suburbs, rather than metropolitan centre, and minorly murky stories dogging him – missing council meetings to coach his football team, using his office to raise funds for his sports foundation, claiming cyclists were to blame if they got killed on the roads and suggesting that unless you were a homosexual or drug addict ‘you wouldn’t get AIDS, probably’. By March of this year, the allegations about Ford were gaining more substance. Local paper the Toronto Star (a dogged critic of the Mayor) wrote that ‘It’s an open secret at City Hall that the Mayor has battled alcohol abuse’ before alleging in May that they had been shown a video showing Ford smoking crack. Ford went on the offensive, denying that he was a crack user, keeping up his denials until the police eventually admitted that they had been passed a copy of the tape. There then followed a bizarre ad-hoc press conference on Tuesday in which Ford, looking like a tearful pork scratching, admitted to making mistakes, admitted that he was maybe drinking a little too much, but most definitely wouldn’t be resigning. ‘We must keep Toronto moving forward. I was elected to do a job and that’s exactly what I’m going to continue doing.’ Things then got even worse for Ford when another video was released of him unleashing an invective-filled rant including the threat to rip out someone’s throat and bellowing ‘I’m gonna kill that fucking guy. I’m telling you, it’s first-degree murder… I am a sick motherfucker, dude … Like no one’s gonna fuck around with me…I’ll fight him, no holds barred, brother. He dies or I die, brother.’ By this point, the sense that City Hall was occupied by a substance-abusing WWF character was impossible to shake. But Ford still wouldn’t quit. This isn’t even to mention the other (relatively) minor sleazes circulating around Ford’s career: his sometime driver, Alessandro “Sandro” Lisi, being arrested for possession and trafficking of marijuana, as well as being charged with trying to forcibly retrieve the crack-smoking video from two alleged gang members; Ford’s threats to call the police on reporters rather than answering their questions; his general willingness to lie his balls off until absolutely confronted with concrete evidence of his guilt. But here’s the strange thing: with the police revelation of the crack tape’s existence, Ford’s popularity actually went up (five points to 44%). And certainly, under his watch, Toronto has broadly performed well as a city (although The Star quibbled with many of Ford’s economic claims. Local commentators also see him as benefitting from having a loyal, largely blue collar/suburban base who like him for being outspoken, off-message and a bit rough round the edges. What Ford represents – in an extreme, cartoonish way – is what happens when politics is conducted on the basis of who the voters like and identify with, rather than those who might actually have some political acumen. Media coverage that focuses on personality, opinion and trivia makes this more likely to keep happening, not less, despite the fact that it never bodes well for politics. It’s what got Silvio Berlusconi elected in Italy, what has seen the American Republican party transform itself into a barely-electable rump of anti-elitist legislation wreckers and what a worrying amount of Boris Johnson’s appeal is based on: the idea among voters that being a fun bloke who you could have a drink with or who shares your prejudices trumps the fact that they’re an irresponsible menace. At the time of writing, Ford’s Twitter feed was relaying the important information that he’d had his flu shot and had updated his ‘Hockey Night’ music playlist. And wasn’t even mentioning all that other stuff. Right now, if he can ride this one out, Toronto may be stuck with him for a while yet…
If anyone’s qualified to write about different work environments, it’s me, because I’ve had about 9,000 jobs since I graduated university. In some cases, I left because I hated it. In a few others, I just had some bad luck with redundancies, but the point is I’ve “been around” in the least sexy way possible. Over a year ago, when I was last made redundant, I started chronicling my experiences -- until about 9 months into it, when writing family obituaries would have been less depressing. Recently, though, I found a new job that I like and am good at. I went from working for one of the largest companies in the world to a company so small that calling it “small” is an affront to things like dust mites and Bernie Ecclestone.It’s obviously not always a matter of choice, but the differences between working for a large company and a small one can be staggering and warrant consideration. Career changes, even positive ones, are inherently stressful ordeals. The worst thing that could happen is if you make the leap from small to large (or vice versa) and realise you hate it -- all of that stress was for nothing. Before you make your next career move, consider the pros and cons of large and small companies that I’ve developed through my experience.
Large CompaniesMost people in the Western world probably work in “large” offices for “large” companies. Obviously, the official criteria changes based on who you ask, but you know what I mean -- an office with at least, say, 75 people on multiple floors, fully functioning support functions (human resources, finance, etc.) and clearly defined departments. The company I used to work for boasted something stupid huge like 155,000 employees worldwide, but it doesn’t have to be anywhere near that large for the purposes of this example.ProsThe single biggest advantage of a large company is resources -- of all kinds. Money-wise, while large companies do generate a lot of overhead, they also have the money to cover it. That manifests itself in all sorts of ways. If business slows down, you still get your wage at the end of the month. You’re almost certainly assured serviceable technology like a phone, a decent computer and a comfortable chair. If you have an issue, there’s a department that can address it. A larger company has to deal with more turnover, and that’s a headache for them, but this becomes a resource for you because it creates opportunities for advancement. Besides being able to offer benefits, large companies are typically (but not always) able to pay a little better for a given role than the smaller guys.
Imagine you had the ability to convince people to do anything you wanted. Sound impossible? It's actually not that difficult. Some people, like salesmen, cult leaders and quite a few of the men featured on our Top 49 2013 list, devote their lives to mastering the art of persuasion. It may sound grand, but their methods are quite straightforward when you break them down.When you don't have the authority to command people, you have to use subtle psychological means to persuade them. It takes careful planning and a lot of blagging. Here's what it takes to make people change their minds.
Understand your audienceBefore stating your case, it is important to understand the nature of your audience, who they are and why they think the way they do. Doing so gives you two important advantages:1. You can empathise with them, establishing a human connection, and2. You can better construct your arguments to show why your view is more sound than theirs.Then apply the principles below. Understand that these tips apply for professional and social settings.And now, the ultimate persuasion tips1. Gain their trustPeople will automatically be wary of anyone who's trying to change their minds. This is why it's paramount to gain their trust by convincing them that you are sincere and know what you're talking about. Show them why you should be heard. You must know what you're talking about, and prove that there is good reason why you think the way you do.2. Find common groundMany people share similar ideas about what's fair and desirable. Show your audience that your values and ideas mesh with their own. Again, you need to put yourself in their shoes, understand their concerns, and be sympathetic to their feelings.3. Structure it wellAny persuasive argument, be it a speech, an essay, or a sales pitch, has a clear structure. Verbally, a successful structure is about repetition and placement. When listing reasons why people should listen to you, save your most powerful points for last, as they will linger in the minds of your captive audience. Also, repeat your most important arguments. Repetition establishes a pattern that remains in the memory.4. Show both sidesWeigh the pros and cons of your ideas, as doing so will make you seem fair and reasonable to others. The trick here is to emphasise the pros and underplay the cons. Explain why the cons aren't so bad, or how the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Never lie about the cons because if and when people find out about your deception, they'll resent you. And they will never trust you again.Now, find out how to feed people's egos, time your request well, and be original...
I’m standing suspended 450 feet above the city of San Diego looking out at the most peaceful view I've ever seen. I’m staring at a city lit up magnificently with skyscrapers, a glare beaming off the ocean from the light rays of a full moon and the headlights of thousands of cars moving slowly through hundreds of city streets below. All the while, my heart slows its rapid pace and I’m in a state of serenity, taking it all in and thinking about all the things in life that led me to this very moment. Suddenly, I’m brought back to reality and my heart starts pounding so hard that I can feel every pulse beat in my chest. It is my friend’s voice saying, “Dave, let’s roll” that brings me back to the task at hand. I look straight down and am reminded that I’m balancing on a 2-inch ledge at the top of a 450-foot-tall apartment complex in the middle of downtown San Diego with a parachute strapped on my back. I’m here to step off the ledge and never look back. I respond, “Ready when you are.” I hear his voice, “Ready.” I count down in my head “3, 2, 1” and then…My name is Dave Shapiro, and I’m vice-president and booking agent for a music agency called The Agency Group, an international agency that books worldwide tours for musicians such as Muse, Dolly Parton, Macklemore, A Day to Remember, Paramore, The Black Keys, Guns N’ Roses and many more. Throughout the years, I’ve also become an entrepreneur, starting many businesses, including a restaurant in Los Angeles, a ticketing company, an annual touring music festival, a record company and flight instruction. When I’m not focusing on my career, I fill my time flying airplanes and helicopters, skydiving, BASE jumping and wingsuiting (commonly known as squirrel suits). I think any person that has a dream of doing anything in life -- whether it’s traveling, learning how to knit, starting a business, meeting new people, jumping off a building or any other goal that they feel could be a game-changer for them -- should work toward that goal. If not, they might ultimately feel that their life was unfulfilled. And plus, sometimes the chase to get to the goal is just as fulfilling as the goal itself. In my personal situation, it’s the 50 phone calls and 500 emails a day that put me in a position to be able to have the freedom to do the things I’ve dreamed about for so long. My career has, in essence, been part of “the chase.” The fact that I’ve worked hard to get to the point I’m at makes me feel that these risks are even more necessary, not less.
On Monday 28 October, a car crash killed five people and injured 38 others in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the capital of China. According to eyewitnesses the vehicle veered off the road, crashed into a barrier at the entrance to the Forbidden City (under an enormous portrait of Chairman Mao) and promptly burst into flames.So, how did China respond to this?
Like Russia, China’s default response to any event that could threaten their stability is to close down coverage, deny there’s been an incident, delete all mentions of it from their most popular social network and generally pretend it’s business as usual. In the immediate aftermath of the crash, surrounding streets were blocked off, screens were placed around the incident site, and film crews (including one from Sky News) were detained for 20 minutes and had their cameras wiped. The hospital where surviving witnesses are being treated had extra security stationed on its doors.Seems a bit heavy-handed for an accidental car crash, no?
Just a bit. But the immediate reaction -- certainly on social media -- was that it’s unlikely to have been an accident. The description of the crash and the spectacular end result would suggest deliberate intent. Then there were reports on Reuters that the car was trailing some kind of banner behind it, and that the drivers ignited a flammable substance within the car.So the location was significant then?
Very much so. The Square is the symbolic centre of the Chinese state and the spot where Chairman Mao declared the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. Despite being almost 100 square acres in size, there are no benches, toilets or shelter -- it is a space purely for demonstrating political power. And, internationally, it is still associated with the huge pro-democracy protests in June 1989 that were brutally suppressed by the Chinese government and left hundreds dead (there is no officially agreed total). The protests have been largely scrubbed from the official record in China. Since then, different political activists have set fire to themselves in the Square for different causes.How about the timing?
There’s only a few weeks to go until the ruling Communist Party holds the major meeting -- or, to give it its full catchy title, The Third Plenum of the 18th Party Congress -- to unveil its plans, reforms and new ideas. It also marks the moment at which current President Xi Jinping assumes full control of the country. Basically, it’s like an election, coronation and party conference rolled into one.So who’s got it in for the Chinese then?
It’s hard to know from outside the country, due to the extensive censorship of state media and reporting restrictions, but there are various internal pressures at work in the country. In January 2001 -- on the eve of the Chinese New Year -- five people set fire to themselves in the Square, with the government claiming that the protestors were member of the Falun Gong (a spiritual movement once widely practiced in China, but now widely surpressed in the country). In 2011, a 42 year old man set fire to himself in protest at an unfair court judgement, while victims of flooding in the country’s east have recently rioted in protest at what they see as state inaction following the disaster. However the most fractious region is Xinjiang, in the north west of China: ethnically divided between the Han Chinese (the country’s majority) and Uyghurs (a local ethnically distinct group of Muslims) who speak a separate language related to Turkish. In July, 35 people were killed in rioting there, while back in 2009 clashes between Uyghurs and Han killed around 200 people.Why don’t the two get on?
Uyghurs claim that they are being deliberately outnumbered by an imported population of Han Chinese. They lose out to jobs, claim discrimination and harsh treatment by the security services. The Chinese government suggests that the Uyghurs want a separate state and are being controlled by backers in neighbouring countries like Pakistan and have terrorist leanings.Do they?
Sean Roberts, an associate professor at the Elliot School for International Affairs at George Washington University claims that the government exaggerates the threat posed by Uyghur separatists. ‘Most of it looks like spontaneous civil unrest or isolated revenge violence carried out by individuals or small groups of local citizens, rather than by an organized militant group," he told CNN. However, various other events – from bus bombs in two cities before the 2008 Olympics to an attempted hijacking in 2012 that saw three Uyghurs sentenced to death – do seem to have been carried out by them.Any hope on the horizon or is this just going to get worse?
Tentatively, there’s some possible progress. According to the BBC’s report, China’s long economic boom has seen state money invested in the Xinjiang region, and state funding for industrial and energy projects that may improve relations. But at the time of writing five Uyghur suspects are under arrest, with alert notices sent to airport security to watch for seven more suspects from the region. The fear for China is that now that Xinjiang’s problems have spread to Shanghai, it may happen again.
This week Britain got really angry about cakes. We’ve gone to war over less, but the vitriol that greeted the culmination of BBC Two’s Great British Bake Off might have surprised even that most hardened of internet bottom feeder -- the kind of people that ‘like’ ‘Cuddles in bed’ on Facebook, but are prone to thinking someone on their television is looking at them funny.For anyone who isn’t familiar with, GBBO is a show in which some people who enjoy baking do some baking for vaguely futuristic-looking master baker Paul Hollywood, and immortal cake expert Mary Berry, who judge their wares and, week-by-week, eliminate a contestant resulting in an eventual champion, before Hollywood turns back into liquid metal and slithers out under the door. The show is set apart from all other reality television competitions for a number of reasons.1. All of the contestants can bake. It’s what they do. They’re not turning up at a building site with a dildo and hoping to construct a house. Which is what happens on The X Factor.2. It’s funny. Host’s Mel and Sue approach it with a considered, wry wit that informs the shows whole tone, so it works as a structured comedy show. A version of it could probably be performed on stage.3. It sustains a level of dramatic tension, awarding a niche task the esteem the contestants clearly hold it in, so that it is about human beings doing human things. No one becomes a pop star, or the lead in a West End musical. No one has to pretend to not feel weird because of will.i.am, talk about how hard it was when their mum died or fellate Robin Thicke live on stage. The winner is very good at baking, simple as that.The majority of the internet’s ire was aimed squarely at finalist Ruby, who later shot down her detractors on the Guardian’s website more gracefully than I ever could. Among them were French chef Raymond Blanc, whose contribution was pretty typical of many -- groundless, nonsensical, bigoted, backwards and reeking suspiciously of silly old twat. He felt that Ruby and her fellow female bakers got upset too easily, saying they cried ‘women’s tears’ like a man who understands the term ‘crocodile tears’ to mean tears that actually come from crocodiles.He and others also took umbrage with Ruby being skinny, suggesting that it meant she doesn’t genuinely enjoy food, as though she doesn’t have a tongue. Many believed she flirted with Hollywood, not because she did (she didn’t) but because she is beautiful, and some felt that her clearly natural tendency towards self-depreciation was in fact a sham tactic of manipulation for which she should be dragged around the streets like the Colonel Gadaffi of pastry.The snipes at Ruby’s physicality or any emotions she might have experienced are sadly not representative of any new phenomenon. She’s a woman and people are awful, and as long as there are people, some of whom will be women, there will be people being awful. Plus, as I said, she’s dealt with them herself.What is most surprising is criticism she received for being downbeat -- presenting her bakes with a light dusting of unsurety, displaying self-doubt and a squirming a little as Robo-Paul passed judgement on her Charlotte Royale. It showed that we’ve been conditioned by a decade of reality television to expect everyone to talk of ‘their journey’, pumped full of artificially inflated aspirations, clapping like deranged seals. It’s as if we can no longer understand a human’s motives unless they’re to actually be Beyoncé. How dare Ruby for simply wanting to make a tower of biscuits.In actual fact she was simply doing something we used to take pride in as a nation – having a well-checked, humble sense of self. She was baking a cake on television, hoping it would taste good, that was all, but still not enough for some who’d rather she rubbed it all over her body, jumped onto Berry’s back and announced it the culmination of a life long dream.Ruby is what we used to be like before everyone wanted to grow up to be a pop star. When baking a cake and licking the spoon clean of chocolate was enough.
After 16 days of a partial shutdown, the US government is now heading back to work. With less than a day to go, the US Congress finally voted through a cross-party deal to raise the $16.7tn debt limit.So, what just happened?American government is, roughly, split into two bodies: the House of Representatives, and the Senate. The Republican party has a majority in the House of Representatives, while Barack Obama’s Democrats control the Senate. The two parties fundamentally disagree over government spending -- the amount of it, what it’s spent on etc -- and so have failed to agree on a US budget beyond ‘agreeing to come back and talk about it again in three months time.’ Without the money guaranteed to be in the coffers, the government went into shutdown mode, with state employees sent home on unpaid leave.Does this happen often?No. Last time it happened was 17 years ago under Bill Clinton when the government shut down for 21 days.Why did it happen now?Since the Republicans took control of the Senate in 2010, they’ve had the power to block budgets, and have used this to try and wrangle political concessions from the Democrats. On this occasion, it’s been seen as a last ditch attempt to block The Affordable Care Act (aka ‘Obamacare’).And they’re speaking for the majority of Americans, right?Not exactly. The Democrats have repeatedly pointed out that not only was Obamacare the key issue in the 2012 election (which they won by a thumping majority) but it’s also been validated by the Supreme Court. None of which has stopped the House Republicans voting more than 40 times to either repeal Obamacare or gut it of its funding.Isn’t that just going to piss off voters who aren’t getting what they voted for?Kind of. Due to the complexities of the American political system and heavy gerrymandering of political districts, most representatives are now in safe seats where the only question is ‘which kind of Republican will win’. If you’re a Republican representative, your main threat comes from ‘an even more right wing Republican’, not a Democrat. So the incentive is to be as hard line as possible. In short: a majority of Americans might have voted for Obamacare, but if you represent Georgia’s 10th congressional district, then a majority of your voters didn’t. And they’re the ones you’re concerned about.What did the shutdown mean in reality?700,000 federal employees off work, including 350,00 Pentagon workers and most of NASA, the closure of almost all national parks and museums. Cheques due to be paid to veterans were delayed, and (to massive public outcry) death benefits due to the families of recently deceased servicemen were also held up. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention was reopened after a deadly outbreak of salmonella, while child cancer trials were suspended.Anything else?An estimated $24bn was knocked off the American economy, while the markets saw a movement of investment money away from American bonds and into stocks. Essentially, investors saying that they thought there was a risk of the US government completely defaulting.And what’s the upshot of all this?Obama got what he wanted in that a deal was reached that saw the Republicans getting none of the concessions they sought, while the Republican party appears as divided as ever between a relatively moderate wing and the hard line Tea Party caucus. But as president, Obama’s in a difficult position -- as leader, voters expect him to step in and resolve a deadlock, even when he didn’t start it and even when his opponent’s demands are palpably insane. A CBS/New York Times poll from two weeks ago showed that less than 20% of the country supported his hardline stance, although a Wall Street Journal poll showed that public approval for Obamacare has now gone up. According to the New York Times, ‘The Republican Party slunk away on Wednesday from its failed, ruinous strategy to get its way through the use of havoc.’And what happens next?The deal only funds the government until January 15, at which point the wrangling can be expected to start up again. This is bad for America’s economic stability: ‘It will be essential to reduce uncertainty surrounding the conduct of fiscal policy by raising the debt limit in a more durable manner,’ said IMF head Christine Lagarde. Barack Obama himself was even more blunt: ‘Nothing has done more to undermine our economy the last three years than the kind of tactics that create these kinds of manufactured crises,’ said Obama. ‘The American people are completely fed up with Washington. How business is done in this town has to change.’
This article is by Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project and the author of Be Excellent at Anything. It was originally published on Harvard Business Review. I've been playing tennis for nearly five decades. I love the game and I hit the ball well, but I'm far from the player I wish I were.I've been thinking about this a lot the past couple of weeks, because I've taken the opportunity, for the first time in many years, to play tennis nearly every day. My game has gotten progressively stronger. I've had a number of rapturous moments during which I've played like the player I long to be.And almost certainly could be, even though I'm 58 years old. Until recently, I never believed that was possible. For most of my adult life, I've accepted the incredibly durable myth that some people are born with special talents and gifts, and that the potential to truly excel in any given pursuit is largely determined by our genetic inheritance.During the past year, I've read no fewer than five books -- and a raft of scientific research -- which powerfully challenge that assumption (see below for a list). I've also written one, The Way We're Working Isn't Working, which lays out a guide, grounded in the science of high performance, to systematically building your capacity physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.We've found, in our work with executives at dozens of organizations, that it's possible to build any given skill or capacity in the same systematic way we do a muscle: push past your comfort zone, and then rest. Aristotle Will Durant*, commenting on Aristotle, pointed out that the philosopher had it exactly right 2000 years ago: "We are what we repeatedly do." By relying on highly specific practices, we've seen our clients dramatically improve skills ranging from empathy, to focus, to creativity, to summoning positive emotions, to deeply relaxing.Like everyone who studies performance, I'm indebted to the extraordinary Anders Ericsson, arguably the world's leading researcher into high performance. For more than two decades, Ericsson has been making the case that it's not inherited talent which determines how good we become at something, but rather how hard we're willing to work -- something he calls "deliberate practice." Numerous researchers now agree that 10,000 hours of such practice is the minimum necessary to achieve expertise in any complex domain.That notion is wonderfully empowering. It suggests we have remarkable capacity to influence our own outcomes. But that's also daunting. One of Ericsson's central findings is that practice is not only the most important ingredient in achieving excellence, but also the most difficult and the least intrinsically enjoyable.If you want to be really good at something, it's going to involve relentlessly pushing past your comfort zone, as well as frustration, struggle, setbacks and failures. That's true as long as you want to continue to improve, or even maintain a high level of excellence. The reward is that being really good at something you've earned through your own hard work can be immensely satisfying.Here, then, are the six keys to achieving excellence we've found are most effective for our clients:1. Pursue what you love. Passion is an incredible motivator. It fuels focus, resilience, and perseverance. 2. Do the hardest work first. We all move instinctively toward pleasure and away from pain. Most great performers, Ericsson and others have found, delay gratification and take on the difficult work of practice in the mornings, before they do anything else. That's when most of us have the most energy and the fewest distractions.
There was a time -- not in your lifetime but certainly in your parents’ -- when men who worked hard at their chosen profession could expect to accumulate seniority and, ultimately, retire in comfort. In industries like media, seniority meant your own office, job security and plenty of time and money for boozy “work” lunches -- maybe even a second home. You’ve seen Mad Men; you understand. For the group of people who basically invented online media in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there are no corner offices and minimal, if any, expense accounts. No one has ever aged past 50 -- very few past 40 even -- as an online journalist. In an industry that’s only about 15 years old, the issue of seniority hasn’t really arrived. But it’s coming -- quickly. Before Facebook and Tumblr dashboards, the internet was a simpler place that represented openness and opportunity. Writing there gave a group of ambitious 20-somethings a place to craft the stories they wanted to tell without the traditional restraints of the industry.Fast-forward more than a decade, and that original crew finds itself approaching 40, or already there. Members of this loosely defined hard-working, hard-drinking early-aughts gang have moved up the career ladder. Men like Choire Sicha, Will Leitch, Chris Mohney, Alex Balk, Jason Kottke, Joel Johnson, Peter Rojas, A.J. Daulerio, and Greg Lindsay collectively influenced the writing of virtually every writer under 40. They founded sites like Deadspin, Gizmodo, Engadget, the Awl and Kottke.org. They have found some semblance of the trappings of adult stability -- marriages, children, houses, mortgages, higher salaries, more responsibility -- while navigating a complex, dramatically changing profession. While they are not old, they are very much senior members of the online media culture. But they are still making it up as they go along.These guys built the culture of web publishing when they were young and inexhaustible. What happens when you get to be 45 and don’t have the drive to stay up late and continuously react to flash-in-the-pan online controversies? What does middle age look like on the internet? Are these guys scared?
How To Build A Career On UncertaintyBefore the internet, young writers just starting out had only one reliable way to get published: their university newspaper or magazine. Starting your own site was a new option. One of the most successful of these early-days sites, at least in terms of launching careers, was The Black Table, founded by Leitch, Daulerio, Eric Gillin, and Aileen Gallagher in 2003 (the same year Nick Denton launched Gawker Media).The foursome, along with many of their contributors, held jobs more traditional forms of media and wrote for The Black Table at night. "We started the Black Table to keep our sanity and, hopefully, so something would catch on and we could write for publications that people had heard of," says Daulerio, now 39. "That was a two- or three-year process. But working for the Black Table was the best job you could ever have, even though it wasn't a job."While no one I talked to said they had a plan, in retrospect, it's clear that the route worked. "It was a way to show off my work. It's easier to look back now and say, 'Yeah, there was a path to becoming mainstream.’ But I just wanted people to read my stuff," Leitch, 37, says. Greg Lindsay, 36, was another Black Table contributor. "We were the ones who were actually able to realize some of the false promise of 'We're not paying you, but we'll give you exposure.'" Today, writing for "exposure" too often means creating stories for outlets that need content in a cynical attempt to game Google.
Throughout the short, ignominious political career of Tommy Robinson, very little has been straightforward or obvious. Whether using a made-up name, getting deported from America for having a hooky passport, parading around war memorials in camouflage gear despite never having served in the military, failing to get served in Selfridges or making a video begging supporters for money while lurking around outside the house of disgraced pop star Tulisa, the constant impression has been of a man who was constantly on the verge of punching someone, bursting into tears, yelling incoherently or possibly doing all three simultaneously. Suffice to say, whenever people previously wondered where the white British people’s own Malcolm X was, they possibly weren’t suspecting him to arrive in the form of a sunbed shop owner from Luton in a Stone Island cardigan.It says much about the general trail of chaos and lunacy which has trailed Robinson -- or to give him his full title, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon -- that when I first read of his defection from the English Defence League this week, I originally assumed that the story was some sort of Onion-style spoof. Because rather than do the normal thing -- publicly resign, quietly hand over the reins of power, etc -- Robinson had issued a sort of strange abdication, via the Quilliam Foundation, an organisation generally devoted to rehabilitating radical ex-Muslims. ie: exactly the people that Robinson has been raging against for the last four years. ‘I have been considering this move for a long time because I recognise that, though street demonstrations have brought us to this point, they are no longer productive... I acknowledge the dangers of far-right extremism and the ongoing need to counter Islamist ideology not with violence but with better, democratic ideas.’On the one hand, Robinson’s move -- and Quilliam’s overture to him that apparently led to his resignation -- is to be applauded. In a movement which has rarely been marked by coherent thought, peaceful compromise or generally any course of action which didn’t end up with chairs getting thrown around, someone just doing the peaceful thing is a welcome change. However, there was also much scepticism about his announcement -- Mohamed Shafiq of Muslim youth organisation the Ramadan Foundation indicated that without a full rejection of all his criticisms of Muslims, Robinson standing down was just a PR stunt.Robinson certainly hasn’t exactly renounced his previous views -- he complained that it was extremists within the EDL who were promoting violence against his wishes, and ‘whilst I want to lead the revolution against Islamist ideology, I don't want to lead the revolution against Muslims. I believe that the revolution needs to come from within the Islamic community and they need to stand up. And I believe this is a step forward not a step back.’ Extremism expert Professor Matthew Goodwin said that ‘I would treat the announcement with extreme caution.’What now for Robinson? And his former disciples? For the organisation in its current form, this is likely to be a huge blow -- the entire EDL has been built around Robinson’s forceful personality and little formal command structure seems to be in place that would allow someone else to take over where he leaves off. But it’s unsurprising -- extremist political groups on both the right and left seem hard wired to fracture and splinter into ever smaller and more antagonistic parties (this list alone shows just how many far-right groups the UK has sustained, despite having no serious far-right movement to speak of). There are already hints that Robinson may be about to launch a new organisation not based around street demonstrations.However, none of this addresses the real problem of the people who followed the EDL. As I’ve previously written about here, the group only became a problem because there are a sizeable number of white, predominantly working class people in this country who’ve been screwed over socially, left out during the country’s boom years and blamed during the lean times. Islam might be nothing to do with any of this, but it doesn’t alter the fact that these people’s problems are very real and rarely engaged with by mainstream politicians -- meaning that someone like Robinson found an audience because he at least seemed sympathetic to them.All the research on people following the EDL shows that for the most part they are socio-economically dispossessed, deeply pessimistic about the future, and hugely distrustful of their fellow citizens. Being suddenly abandoned by the one person who seemed to speak for them is likely to have just reinforced these feelings. And possibly make them even more susceptible to the next aspirant leader who comes along trying to appeal to them. As depressing as the thought is, when we see who this is, we might almost feel nostalgic for someone like Robinson who at least had the good sense to pay lip service to obeying the law while spouting his inflammatory rhetoric. Because until mainstream politicians speak honestly about the people at the bottom of the social pile -- and take some responsibility for how they got there -- there are going to be an awful lot of angry people ready to give the next Tommy Robinson a hearing.
I normally avoid writing anything about the Daily Mail as it’s such a cheap punchline for unfunny Radio 4-type comedians. But on occasion, they go so far beyond the call of duty that it’s hard to ignore them. And this week, they absolutely hit the bullseye.For anyone who missed it, the Mail decided on Tuesday that it was a good time to start lacing into the dead father of Labour leader Ed Miliband. Ralph Milliband, for about 98% of the population, is a complete irrelevance. For that small minority who care about such things, he was a political scientist and academic, mainly writing from the 1950s-1970s, and generally considered to be one of the foremost leftwing thinkers of his time. For The Mail, this obviously required them to commission Geoffrey Levy to hack together 2000 words painting Miliband as a raving, totalitarian menace who hated everything that decent British people stand for, and would only have been happy if Stalin’s troops had been marching down Whitehall and playing football with the Queen Mum’s head. By suggestion, Miliband junior had probably picked up a fair bit of this, so it was in the public interest to put all this material out there. And to bracket it under the snappy headline, THE MAN WHO HATED BRITAIN. They also illustrated the shot with a photo of Milliband’s headstone and the punning caption ‘grave socialist’. Even for an editor like Paul Dacre, who apparently prides himself on being one of the media’s leading belligerent arseholes, this was a tasteless shot.Rather predictably, this story fell to pieces under the slightest scrutiny. The main evidence in Levy’s piece was a diary entry written by the 17-year-old Ralph. Almost immediately, the biographer from whose book the lines had been lifted popped up to point out that they’d been taken completely out of context. And also that there were a few more pertinent facts about Milliband and his relationship to Britain -- that, rather than ‘hating’ this country, he was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Europe who had volunteered at the first opportunity to join the Royal Navy and fight fascism. Indeed, as he didn’t become a British national until 1946, he could have sat the war out, but instead signed up to do his bit. There’s also an excellent round-up here of how while he was leftwing, throughout his academic career he was anything but an apologist for Stalin.That the Mail on Sunday has been now forced to apologise for sending an uninvited reporter to Miliband's uncle's funeral comes as an almost macabre and deeply repugnant sidenote. Being generous, the whole affair has been a calculated attempt to attack Ed Miliband because his vaguely left-wing recent pronouncements (about stopping developers sitting on unused land and preventing energy companies inflating your bills) and support for regulating the press have put the ideological and commercial frighteners on the Mail. Being less generous, it was a venomous outpouring by a paper that frequently seems in the grip of a cross between a split personality disorder and an undiagnosed brain-eating virus.
Top 49 list rewards achievement, innovation and expertise with the judge being you, the AskMen reader. We've painstakingly compiled a longlist of 200 men from which you can anoint your own Most Influential Man.These men range from politicians to cyclists, footballers to auteurs, business impresarios to minority rights campaigners. Each and every nominee has exerted a degree of influence over Britons in 2013 and it's your job to decree just how potent and broad that influence has been.Perhaps look to past winners as a guide. Bradley Wiggins was 2012's chosen one after inspiring a nation to dust down their bikes after an annual mirablis of unparalleled, history-making personal achievement. A year prior, a newly married Prince William took the title, proving perhaps the Royal Family's relevance to modern men endures.This year, it's almost impossible to predict. Certainly sportsmen will figure strongly after another glorious year of British success. Andy Murray's Wimbledon triumph snapped generations of despair, the British Lions victoriously invaded Australia while England's cricketers crushed Australia's own visiting hoardes. In troubled times, which of the world's political leaders warrant your vote? Does the continued power of social media qualify any tech pioneers for your selection? Or, perhaps, a film, album, TV show, suit, watch or artwork has sufficiently moved you. The choice is wonderfully diverse and it's all yours.We'll publish the full list of 49 finalists later this October, whilst some of our own writers will attempt to subtly and artfully sway your vote by making impassioned cases for their selections in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, we'll leave you to get voting.
The siege in the Westgate Mall in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, is ongoing at the time of writing, although appears to be entering its final stages. To recap: on Saturday 21 September at noon, a group of armed attackers entered the mall through the main entrance (conflicting reports also suggest a second group entering via the car park). They moved through the complex to the upper floors targeting non-Muslim shoppers and staff before regrouping in a supermarket on the first floor. By the end of the day, 39 people were reported dead. Throughout Sunday a stand-off ensued with an attempt in the early evening to end the siege via a helicopter assault. Explosions and gunfire were heard. Throughout Monday, sporadic gunfire and explosions were heard, with two attackers shot dead by security forces. The death toll is currently at 62 with more than 170 injured.Has anyone claimed responsibility?Yes. The al-Shabab militant group. Loosely translated as ‘the lads’ or ‘the boys’, al-Shabab is an Islamic group from neighbouring Somalia that officially joined forces with al-Qaeda in February 2012. Previously it has staged attacks in Uganda (a double suicide bombing which killed 76 people as they watched the 2010 World Cup final), Kenya (an attack on a bus shelter last year and several assaults on churches) and shortly after the assault on Westgate, it tweeted: ‘The Mujahideen entered #Westgate Mall today at around noon and are still inside the mall, fighting the #Kenyan Kuffar (infidels) inside their own turf.’What's their problem?Somalia has effectively been a failed state for most of the last 20 years, and the country has been in almost constant civil war between competing warlords who have vied for control of the country in the absence of any central government. From 2000 onwards, with international support, a fragile transitional government was re-established. Their main rival for power was The Union of Islamic Courts who wanted to run Somalia as a Sharia state (ie under extreme Islamic law, like the Taliban in Afghanistan) and who seized control of the southern part of the country in 2006. In return, Ethiopian troops entered Somalia and routed the Courts. A relative measure of calm returned to Mogadishu, but a rump of al-Shabab –- the youth wing of the Courts –- has held on in rural areas, vowing to avenge the defeat.How much power does al-Shabab have?After several significant advances, it was driven out of Mogadishu in August 2011 and lost the economically vital port of Kismayo 13 months later. While they still carry out suicide attacks in the capital, they cannot match the firepower of regular African Union troops so have increasingly resorted to guerilla tactics. It is designated as a terrorist group by both the UK and US, and is estimated to have 7000-9000 soldiers under its control.
Anyone looking for proof that we live in deeply unserious, profoundly anti-intellectual times was in luck this week with the announcement that next month, an issue of the New Statesman magazine is to be ‘guest edited’ by Russell Brand, apparently assisted by associate editor and ‘human rights activist’ Jemima Khan (a woman with her head screwed so firmly on that she posted £20,000 bail money for Julian Assange before he gratefully did a runner into the Ecuadorean Embassy’s spare bedroom.To recap, this is the New Statesman: a venerable, left-leaning political magazine, founded in 1913 with the backing of George Bernard Shaw, and more usually a showcase for people like heavyweight modernist novelist Will Self and brutal political philosopher John Gray. And this is Russell Brand, a popular stand-up comedian who used to do that Big Brother spin-off show, has appeared in some films that received (let’s be charitable here) ‘a mixed reception’ and sung a song at the Olympics closing ceremony. Oookay.Right now, Brand is the worst example of a general culture in which celebrities are considered to have something to contribute to the political debate and are taken far more seriously than they should be. In the Guardian, he has recently been commissioned to write on the death of Margaret Thatcher, parliament itself and -- most recently -- how and why he was kicked out of the GQ awards after insulting their sponsor from the stage for its historic links to the Nazi party. He’s also shown up in parliament talking about drug policy (he wore a vest) and on Question Time. While he might be the most high profile example, he’s certainly not the only one. As I write this, Anthony Worrel-Thompson (a chef with a police caution for shoplifting) is on Question Time, the BBC’s flagship political discussion programme. Mary Portas was commissioned to write a government report on the state of Britain’s high streets, while Lily Allen spoke to Boris Johnson about reducing knife crime among teenagers.But giving famous people a political platform because they’re good at comedy/showbusiness/retail/music etc, is a really, really bad idea. Politics is extremely complicated, often really boring, governed by strict rules and people spend years studying it. Celebrities are generally a bit mental, pathologically interested in getting attention and utterly devoted to furthering their own agenda. That’s why they’re famous in the first place. So, you end up with situations like Mary Portas being asked to advise on saving British high streets and small businesses while her own PR firm, Yellow Door handles the account for the industrial-sized Westfield mall (Private Eye has been one of the few magazines to repeatedly point this out). Or you have to watch the Mayor of London wasting time being advised on youth crime by Lily Allen as though being an ex-Bedales pupil who sometimes attends hip hop nights in Notting Hill is actually the same thing as being a criminologist. Or despair at the fact that a serious newspaper like the Guardian give over 2000 words and their front page to Brand so he can explain how the GQ awards was a bit insincere, deferential to its sponsors and overly populated with powerful right-wing types. Given that GQ is an enormously successful lifestyle magazine funded by luxury advertising, whose editor wrote a glowing book about David Cameron, has featured Boris Johnson on the cover and runs columns by Andy Coulson, one rather wonders exactly what Brand expected to find there. And it’s a reflection of where we are now that nobody at the paper felt willing or able to point this out, or take a red pencil to his florid account of proceedings.It’s going to get worse before it gets better. With circulations in freefall, most newspapers and magazines are desperate for the temporary lift in circulation that they might get from celebrity association. And political parties know that they’re currently viewed with such mistrust and cynicism that they hope anyone from outside of their world is automatically seen as a credible alternative. Brace yourself for One Direction addressing a select committee on teen pregnancy, Kerry Katona advising on the need for an EU referendum and Joey Essex talking about quantitative easing. In other words, abandon hope.
Is there a key to living a happy and fulfilling life? Science, it seems, says yes. According to the Harvard Grant Study over the course of 70 to 80 years, happiness isn’t achieved by material gain, professional success or the wielding of power, though those do, of course, matter. More important, says George Vaillant, who directed the study for over 30 years and recently published a book on it, is the sense of connectivity with other people: your relationships and love. According to Vaillant, the friendships and connections you make with other people ultimately matter more to your happiness, especially later in life, than amassing wealth. The old adage that “Money doesn’t buy happiness” is now officially sanctioned by science. Vaillant adds that being connected to your work also matters (again, to a degree -- more so for some than others). But to a growing number of young entrepreneurs, happiness, professional satisfaction, relationships and financial stability are all part of the same package -- and are all achievable. Some of them are at the forefront of what’s called the B-Corp movement: benefit corporations, companies that do good while making money, whether by donating a pair of glasses or shoes for every one sold retail, or selling better construction materials. Here are some people who decided that the best way to live life is on their terms, and the lessons you can learn from their success.
Enjoy Whatever It Is You Are DoingThis may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s always worth emphasizing. Remember, for the majority of your waking hours, you’ll be at work. That’s a lot of time to spend being miserable and/or surrounded by people whose company you don’t enjoy. Jon Rose founded Waves for Water in 2009. The charity provides simple, cheap and easy-to-use water filters to people who, due to natural disasters or lack of infrastructure, don’t have access to clean water. It’s done using an unusual delivery system: footloose surfers. Rose recruits fellow surfers and asks them to bring the filters along with them as they travel the globe looking for waves to ride. And although surfing and surfers have certain peculiar lifestyle associations tagged to them, delivering water filters is an important job, with very serious real world consequences. But that hasn’t stopped the 35-year-old from having a good time. “I always like to bring everything back to center, to my driving force, my DNA, which is completely based around fun,” he says. “My dad used to ask me when I was a kid if I was having fun when I was doing something. If I said no, he'd say, ‘Then why are you doing it?’ I've never lost sight of this. Our entire mantra for W4W is, Go do what you love, and help along the way. So that's exactly what we do -- we go out into the world and follow our passion, and then we plug the purpose into that -- not the other way around.”
Be True to Your YourselfEveryone knows the story of the scorpion and the frog, right? Aesop’s story about the scorpion stinging the frog, even though it means they both will drown, because the scorpion cannot fight its own nature? There are a couple of morals there, aside from not giving a lift to a scorpion. One is, your true nature will come out, one way or another, so it’s best you don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re something you’re not, even if you are making a lot of money doing it. If you want to give up an advertising career to pursue comics, for instance, you can do it; you’ll make a lot less money, but you may very well wind up being happy -- and you might inspire someone else to do the same. Bill Watterson should know. The reclusive creator of Calvin and Hobbes, arguably the greatest US newspaper comic strip in history, quit a dull job as a graphic designer before he became a full-time comics artist. There’s a good chance you’ve read his inspiring quote that’s everywhere on social media these days, the one attached to a wonderfully drawn homage to Watterson by Australian illustrator Gavin Aung Than. It goes like this: “Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success… To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.” Aung Than thinks the quote pretty much describes his life: He himself gave up an unsatisfying though lucrative job as a graphic designer to concentrate on his own personal projects. The point, though, isn’t that creative people are better people than suits -- it’s that creative people will usually be unhappy if forced to adopt a suit’s values and lifestyle. Watterson is right. Creating the right life for you can be tough, but it is still allowed.
Say what you like about Russian President Vladimir Putin: he might be an authoritarian, democracy-eroding, homophobia-promoting, ex-KGB spook with worrying ideas about rallying the country around the memory of Joe Stalin, but he writes a damn good open letter to the New York Times. Wednesday of this week saw Putin taking time out from sheltering document thief Edward Snowden, riding around with sinister groups of nationalistic Slavic bikers and passing legislation banning American from adopting Russian babies to write an op-ed column in the New York Times laying out Russia’s position on Syria.The letter itself was a masterful deconstruction of America’s current policy (full text here). America sees Putin as protecting Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad for selfish reasons and undermining the UN by blocking any vote for military action against the country. However, Putin’s letter made the case that Russia is defending the democratic principles of the United Nations (that member states cannot act militarily without the support of the rest of the security council), is exercising caution in a situation that could destabilise the entire wider region, is being careful not to support a rebel movement with ties to al-Qaeda, and is unconvinced by military intelligence regarding the chemical weapons attacks in Damascus (Russia suggests the rebels may have launched the missiles as a false flag operation). In a perfectly timed payoff, he congratulated President Obama for the ‘growing trust’ that marks their ‘working and personal relationship’ -- and then blew a hole in the entire idea that America are an exceptional country, the only superpower. ‘There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.’Russia’s recent history is one of an astonishing revival. With the end of communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 the country went into an almost total collapse. Footage from the time shows food queues, banks unable to pay out people’s life savings, wholesale theft of the state’s assets and the creation of a class of super-rich oligarchs. Once such a major power that Ronald Reagan deemed them ‘the evil empire’, an impoverished Russia sat back while their long-term allies Yugoslavia were bombed into submission by America (1999), followed by US-promoted democratic revolutions taking place across their former sphere of influence -- Serbia (2001), Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), Kyrgyzstan (2005). By contrast, Russia’s attempt at a foreign adventure (in Chechnya) originally saw a tiny band of separatist guerillas turn the tables on an under-equipped, badly manned army so brutally that Putin’s predecessor Boris Yeltsin was forced to grant independence to the former Soviet state.
Thursday night ended with a crashing defeat for David Cameron as his call for a military response to Syria’s suspected use of chemical weapons on 21 August saw the motion defeated by 285-272 votes. After an impassioned session in the Commons (Speaker John Bercow imposed a time limit of three minutes per speech as so many MPs wanted to make their case), 30 Tory MPs (and nine Liberal Democrats) sided with Labour. ‘It is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action,’ said Cameron. ‘I get that and the government will act accordingly.’ (You can listen to the audio of the key speeches here.)For Cameron, this is a huge undermining of his authority. The BBC’s Nick Robinson wrote that ‘It is without modern precedent for a prime minister to lose control of his foreign policy, let alone decisions about peace and war. That, though, is what has happened in the past 24 hours.’ Former Labour minister Andrew Adonis described it as ‘maybe the most significant Commons defeat for a government on a single issue since devolution went down in 1976. Ramifications huge.’Feelings were running enormously high on both sides: in the House of Lords, former Liberal leader Paddy Ashdown spoke in favour of intervention and later Tweeted ‘In 50 years trying to serve my country I have never felt so depressed/ashamed. Britain's answer to the Syrian horrors? none of our business!’ The Press Association reported that education secretary Michael Gove was shouting ‘Disgrace!’ at his fellow MPs after the vote, while his wife Sarah Vine went ‘full Bercow’ on Twitter, describing Labour as ‘pathetic losers who can’t see past their own interests’ and eventually telling one anti-interventionist; ‘Piss off, you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Meanwhile, Labour’s Tom Watson celebrated the government’s defeat and classily yukked it up over Gove’s anger, perhaps not judging that ‘Haha’ is rarely an appropriate response to any issue that involves civilians being burned alive.August 29, 2013
There are several reasons why Syria is proving such a thorny problem. Firstly, the long shadow cast by the disastrous Iraq war means that liberal intervention (ie going into countries apparently to protect civilians) is viewed with a mixture of suspicion and weariness by the public. Pre-Iraq, British military involvement in Kosovo (1999) and Sierra Leone (2000) showed that these kind of military campaigns can work with great success, but it’s now almost impossible to make that case. Secondly, the symbolism of a western military going into an Arab country, again, just looks to too much of the world like old-fashioned neo-con warmongering, whatever the explanation. Thirdly, the legal case for intervention is tenuous at best: the UN treaty on chemical weapons doesn’t specify an armed response against countries who use them and the ‘Responsibility To Protect’ part of the UN charter is even vaguer, only being a convention, rather than a binding law. Fourthly, the evidence itself is sketchy: while the Joint Intelligence Committee report released on Thursday concluded it was ‘highly likely’ that the Syrian government were responsible for the chemical attacks, this was based more on deduction than hard evidence. And finally, it’s enormously murky what a military campaign’s objectives would be, and if they could be achieved: nobody is publicly talking about unseating President Assad, and even if he did it is unclear who would take over (and by default, end up with control of Syria’s formidable arsenal of weapons). The rebels are a fractious network of competing interests ranging from secular democrats to al-Qaeda affiliates (reports coming out of rebel-held areas of Syria already include the beheading of a Catholic priest (excellent analysis of the Jihadist role in Syria by CNN”s Peter Bergen here).
America may still intervene alone, and in The Guardian, Andrew Sparrow suggested this marks a crucial point in which Britain turns more ‘European’ and less ‘American’ in its foreign policy. In the Telegraph, Fraser Nelson saw Thursday night as ‘the biggest humiliation of Cameron’s leadership’, but also ‘a vote with no winners.’ Indeed, just as the implications of the vote were settling in, BBC posted up a harrowing report by Panorama’s Ian Pannell of the aftermath of what appeared to be a napalm-like attack on a school playground in the north of the country. He spoke to a British Muslim doctor who was volunteering and had spent the day trying to tend to horrifically burned civilians. ‘You just don’t even matter,’ she said from the hospital roof. ‘All these children who are being massacred, we don’t even matter. The whole world has failed our nation, and it’s innocent civilians who are paying the price.’ Watching that report, it was hard not to agree with the Times’ David Aaronovitch at the real significance of the debate.
I do not give a fuck what this means for Miliband and Cameron. It's the message it sends to Assad that counts. I am ashamed.— David Aaronovitch (@DAaronovitch) August 29, 2013