Thoughts from Blog-ingham

YouTube 5 Years on – Leave the Lunatics Running the Asylum – They’re doing a Good Job

Posted in Current Affairs, Internet, People, Social Media, Uncategorized, Web 2.0, YouTube by adamellis1985 on February 15, 2010

Introduction

I was browsing my Twitter feed yesterday afternoon and I noticed a link posted by @guardiantech, which was entitled, “YouTube’s fifth birthday: watch its top five videos.” It stirred a few thoughts in my mind that I will explore in this blog post.

Firstly, it made me realise how incredible YouTube’s growth has been in such a short period of time. Secondly, it made me rather nostalgic about how many great things I have seen on YouTube and I will share some of those with you in the same way The Guardian did. And finally, it made me slightly concerned about the ever expanding Internet juggeranut that is Google. As Google continues to expand, steamrolling the Internet landscape, re-inventing the YouTube commercial model and simultaneously looking for its’ return on investment, I fear we may lose some of the things that have endeared us to that site for the past five years. YouTube is a crazy and bizarre place at times but that is one of the things that has made it so great. The people behind the videos are YouTube and without them it’s nothing.

Happy Birthday YouTube – My, How You’ve Grown

So, YouTube has reached the tender toddler age of five years old. I can imagine many teenagers wondering what came before YouTube in that space. And the answer really is, not much. Google bought YouTube for $1.65bn in 2006 less than a year after its launch but is still working on ways to make money out of it. At that time, 100 million videos were views every day and 72 million people visited the site each day. YouTube now streams a monstrous 1 billion videos a day. It’s a scary figure and I can’t get my head round it. It’s growth is quite simply astronomical and causes quite a headache for ISP’s providing the bandwidtch to cope with their customers appetitie for an ever expanding library of online video content. If you want to see how far YouTube has come, check out the Web Archive where you can check back month on month to see what the site used to look like. YouTube is now of the most visited websites in the world sitting at number 3 for 2009 behind only its parent company Google and of course, Facebook. People my age have grown up with YouTube and found amateur videos that are inspiring, cringeworthy, hilarious, sad, endearing and sometimes outrageous. Here are just a few of the best videos I have viewed on YouTube over the last few years:

The Battle of the Kruger

Filmed by holidaymakers in the Kruger National Park in South Africa, this is an incredible video and probably something that even the professionals would struggle to find themselves in the right place at the right time to film. It is a once in a lifetime clip.

Where the Hell is Matt?

This is one of the most heartwarming, life-me-up videos I have ever come across. I don’t really know why but I just like it. Perhaps it’s because a guy called Matt has decided to do a silly dance in many countries across the world and invited anyone who lives there to do it with him. Simple but brilliant. YouTube is the perfect forum to share it. If you want to find out more about Matt and how he made the videos and the story behind it, then check out his website.

100 Greatest Hits of YouTube in 4 minutes

For me this video sums up what YouTube is all about. It is an eclectic (substitute electic for other adjectives such as, crazy, mental or bizarre where applicable) mix of brilliant amateur clips that you just wouldn’t have seen before YouTube came along.

Google and a Changing Commerical Model

This leads me on to my final point which is about what YouTube represents and why people like it? YouTube is changing the way we consume online content and moving beyond the amateurish realms of videos of babies giggling and having 50 million people view it. Google is looking for its ROI by using YouTube as a plaform for much more than your average person sharing their holiday videos. More and more online content consumption is via video. Google is not missing a trick here and is raising YouTube into a fully fledged adult capable of bringing in massive revenue streams to get its’ return on investment. YouTube recently announced the rights to stream Inidan Premier League Cricket. The two-year deal gives the Google-owned YouTube the exclusive rights to stream IPL matches online, with the two companies splitting revenue from sponsorship and advertising.  YouTube are moving into content areas traditionally owned by broadcasters such as BBC and Sky and they must be looking over their shoulders now at the Google backed video giant wondering how they can compete in the future. This move was on the back of YouTube moving into the live music market and winning the rights to U2 broadcasting their gig at the Pasadena Bowl, in California, in October via YouTube, to fans in 16 countries around the world.  Google has been making its mark on YouTube, professionalising it and moving it beyond the You’ve Been Framedesque amateur clips. Furthermore, the expansion of corporates into YouTube for having their own communications or marketing channels has also been noticeable. YouTube now even features a Corporate Brand Channel, which teaches you how to plan online marketing campaigns. YouTube styles itself as being a “powerful, creative and efficient partner for your next campaign.” (Source: http://www.youtube.com/user/advertise)

Don’t Like Change

All this is fine and Google needs to make its money back and the new channels on music concerts, live sport and online events streamed via YouTube only adds another dimesion to the its appeal. But what attracted us all to YouTube in the first place was the appeal of seeing normal people (well, people anyway) sharing their amusing, uplifting or downright deranged video clips. I just hope Google doesn’t ever take that precious channel away, as I know I for one would miss it!

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Facebook: Photos, Tags and Categories – How to Improve the User Experience?

Posted in Current Affairs, facebook, People, Social Networks, Uncategorized, Web 2.0 by adamellis1985 on February 12, 2010

Facebook has been frustrating me recently coming up with rather superficial enhancements to the layout when you log in rather than concentrating of enhancing the core functionality that drew so many users to the platform in the first place. The recent launch of a new layout split into three linear columns of shortcuts on the right hand side, your feed in the middle and suggestions and ad’s on the right, looks nice but it doesn’t make me want to stay with Facebook over another social network. Perhaps the launch of the new layout was to coincide with Googles’ foray in the social networking space with their launch of Buzz this week.

The topic of this blog post is about Facebooks’ core functionality and when I say it frustrates me I am going to talk specifically about its app for photos. Facebook is a great place to store and share photos with your friends who you are connected with. It has a simple interface for uploading albums and a tagging feature to mark your friends are in the photos and then they are alerted that you have uploaded a photo of them. It has been hugely successful having passed 10 billion photos in October 2008

If you’re the number crunching type, here are some other facts and figures from Facebook’s photo vault:

* 2-3 Terabytes of photos are being uploaded to Facebook every day
* They have just over one petabyte of photo storage
* They serve over 15 billion photo images per day
* Photo traffic peaks at over 300,000 images served per second

Source: Stan Schroeder

Photos may be a popular part of the Facebook package but it can still improve. The photos functionality has remained too static and has not progressed to work alongside the sheer volume of photos that some people now have on there. Facebook needs to look to FlickrPhotobucket and Picasa to see how the storage and viewing of photos needs to be made more manageable and accessible.

If I take my Facebook profile as an example of an average twenty-something user; I have 1,330 photos, which I am tagged in on Facebook, 42 albums I have uploaded of approx 50 photos each so roughly 2000 photos on Facebook.

I think Facebook could improve its service in two ways by developing its tagging feature beyond people to categories of the actual photos. Firstly, by allowing users to tag individual photos or whole albums with categories and then browse them and secondly by allowing users who are connected with friends to share tags so they can browse a tagged category of similar photos combined from a number of different connected Facebook users.

Tagging photos and sub-categorising beyond the album structure

As I mentioned the volume of photos on some users’ profile means finding the pictures you want to see can become difficult. I am not proposing this for the Facebook stalkers out there and there are many who would find this service useful. It is quite the opposite. I am proposing it for people who don’t want to flick through hundreds of photos of the same person but want to get to a category where they have a shared interest and/or may appear in some of the photos. There are two features, which cover some of that functionality already. One is the album categorisation where you can upload and label an album with a title and description but albums are too rigid for getting what you want when you are looking for photos. Secondly, Facebook added a very useful, ‘photos and person X and me’ so you can browse them.

But why can’t they extend tagging further to categories? It has worked with tagging individual people in photos so users are happy to manually categorise their photos. For example, I would be interested in tagging some of my photos with #skiing or #football. Then anyone who is interested in where I have been skiing could check those photos out by browsing across different albums through selecting the right tag (as long as I had tagged all the right photos) Secondly, if I play football with someone and they want to check out football photos but nothing else they could work with the #football tag. This would rely on people choosing the right tag. And of course the tagging system for categorising photos would still stick to networks and people who have privilege to see your photos. There is also a second application to the feature of tagging which I think could prove even more useful

Tagging across different connected users’ photos

Once you have the ability to tag individual photos with single or multiple tags building up a catalogue of your photo is categorised not just by an album name, users have the ability to extend that out beyond their own profile. So if a user and a number of friends wanted to use the same tag to share photos which would compile photos from all their albums and make them accessible through a tag then this could be very useful. For example, a number of people like to relive their youth and share photos of when they were at school with their friends. But how they currently do this is not the easiest way. They start by setting up a ‘group’, called ‘Remember the days of School X 1993-1999’ and then they all upload their individual photos for the same topic of when they were at school to the photos section of the group. They could bypass that by having a shared tag of #oldschooldays # school etc and apply it to the whole album they upload to their profile or individual photos. They could then combine their favourite photos of the same topic from as many different Facebook users as necessary to browse them all together. Again privacy settings would prevail.

Open up photos to search

A further piece of functionality this would open up is search. If users embraced the idea of sub categorising their photos beyond static individual albums they could then search to find the photos they want. So a user could go to the photos section of Facebook and select in a tick box or a search box the users they want to search (their 5 best friends for example) or they could search all their 400 (or however many) friends but the results might then be overwhelming. They could then enter in the photo category search box whichever topic they were interested in, be it #nightsout #sport # school # work or #christmas and browse photos in a different more accessible way.

Conclusion

Anyway, just a few thoughts from me as an active Facebook user. I dropped Facebook an email with the suggestion but sure they have already thought of this or someone has!

Don’t hate the player, hate the game

Posted in Current Affairs, Football, sport by adamellis1985 on November 19, 2009

So, France are going to the World Cup. Keane and co can begin booking their summer holidays for 2010, as they are not going anywhere. The Football Association of Ireland has lodged a complaint with FIFA asking for their World Cup play-off against France to be replayed. Good luck getting Michele Platini to sign that one off! Ireland are out though. That is final. The result says so. And FIFA will not intervene and reverse the result or call for a replay.

In case you haven’t already heard, Thierry Henry broke Irish fans hearts’ last night by scoring in extra time to send France to the 2010 World Cup. As if there hadn’t been enough injustice in the lead up to the World Cup playoffs with the seedings debacle, Ireland were outdone after being arguably the strongest team in their two legged playoff match with France. They battled for 180 minutes across and after being beaten in Ireland showed tremendous courage in beating France 1-0 in Paris to force extra time.

Step up on Monsieur Henry. A double handball hand ball later in the penalty area and a pass to William Gallas who put the ball into an empty net sent Les Blues through 2-1 on aggregate. Irish protestations obviously followed but nothing came of it. A referee never changes his decision. In a statement today, football’s world governing body said: “As stated in Law 5 of the Laws of the Game, and also in Article 13, paragraph 6 of the Regulations of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, ‘no protests may be made about the referee’s decisions regarding facts connected with play. Such decisions are final, unless otherwise stipulated in the Fifa Disciplinary Code.'”

The media reaction and the reaction in Ireland has been phenomenal. A sense of injustice is being felt and the arguments will ramble on all the way to South Africa next summer where the finals are being held. The Irish FA and even the Irish government (who have been heavily involved today) should ask themselves what they would have made of it Robbie Keane scoring a similar goal at the other end of the stadium to take Ireland to the World Cup? Robbie Keane would not have turned round and told the referee he had handled the ball and there should be no goal. This simply does not happen. Football begins as a level playing field each match and some decisions will go with and some will go against your team. Giovanni Trapattoni, the Republic of Ireland’s manger is hugely experienced and knows very well that if it had been the other way round that he would have thought it was hard luck the French but there is nothing that can be done. Trapattoni is a realist and said after the game, he does not expect a replay. “When a referee decides a game has finished I know it is impossible to replay the game,” said the Italian.

Some pundits, like Tony Cascorino, a former Republic of Ireland international have suggested that Henry should have done the gentlemanly thing and owned up to the referee that he had controlled the ball with his hand. This is ludicrous. We cannot get to the stage where players have the power to overturn referees decisions even for the better. Self regulation of a football match by players will lead to chaos and the referee will not have a clue what is going on (which by the way is often the situation now anyway) It would be a case of the lunatics running the asylum. Not all players will own up to the referee on diving or handling the ball, some might but others (most) won’t.

But can we follow Cascorino’s train of thought and blame Thierry Henry for not owning up to his indiscretion? The simple answer is no. If Ireland’s talismanic striker Robbie Keane had scored in similar fashion at the other end, he would have run off towards the Irish fans and done his trademark cart wheel in celebration at the thought of playing on the world’s biggest stage next summer and being the Irish hero who had sent them there. The Irish FA have cleverly introduced mind games by lavishing praise on Henry’s talents as a footballer before pointing out that his legacy will be tainted with this scandal. But it won’t, as Henry is protected by the fact that the decision was not his to make. Henry knows he hand balled it but jurisdiction for this decision was not his. It was the match officials’ choice and that is where the buck stops; unfortunately for the Irish fans.

Henry obviously did something wrong if he deliberately handled the ball and deceived the referee. This is cheating. But the simple way to eradicate this is to introduce technology to stop it. These things happen in sport and they will happen again. It goes back to the famous 1966 World Cup Final where England benefited from a dodgy Russian linesman. What would have happened in 1986 if one Diego Maradona had so, ‘oh hang on a sec, I didn’t head that in, I used my fist.’ England may have won the 1986 World Cup. But Maradona was never going to own up to it in the same way Henry wasn’t going to. The stakes were too high. Whether they should have owned up could take another entire blog post. But it is Football as a sport that is in the wrong by remaining in the dark ages of technology. Other sports have demonstrated how easy it is to incorporate technology that aids the fair outcome of a sporting tussle. Look at how hawk eye has been introduced into Tennis Grand Slams. Video replay technology has been introduced into international Rugby for try decisions and is used in Cricket to decide on run outs. Football is big business and the amount of money the Irish FA are going to lose out on in sponsorships and endorsements is huge considering how easy it would have been to ensure they had a fair chance of realising their World Cup pot of gold dream.

The game last night is undoubtedly more evidence for the need for technology to aid the match officials for goal line decisions or penalty area decisions but not all over the pitch. It won’t spoil the game and will vastly improve it. Had it been introduced this year and France were beaten on penalties, Monsieur Henry may well be at home now flicking through holiday brochures for next summer as he wouldn’t be going to South Africa.

Will the real President Obama please stand up?

Posted in Current Affairs, International Relations, People, Politics by adamellis1985 on October 9, 2009

It was announced today that Barack Obama has become the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Winner. It is a decision that has shocked the world and led many to question what on earth he has won it for and whether he will even accept it? While statesmen and dignitaries across the world congratulate him on his accolade and wonderful ‘achievements’ (I use the word in its loosest terms), the rest of the world look on and see a Commander in Chief overseeing two wars, crises on the domestic front and the worst international economic crisis ever. But admittedly he didn’t start any of those events himself.

The decision shocked the world including none other than President Obama himself, who was awoken to the news by the White House press secretary. Mr Obama had no early indication he was to receive the award and only found out about it when his press secretary called at 6am, which was just an hour after the decision was announced in Oslo, to break the news.

It must have come as a huge shock to Obama. Firstly, as he did not deserve it and secondly because he was asleep and clearly not expecting to receive the call. Obama being asleep could be construed as his humble nature and not expecting the award but really it was just that he didn’t have any idea he was going to win. If I were ever in the running for a Nobel Peace Prize then I would have been pacing the room waiting for ‘that call’. However, Obama was happily tucked up in bed, probably dreaming of what he can achieve in the next 4 years of his Presidency and maybe 5 years beyond that with re-election. Obama would have been dreaming of bringing the Iraq War to an end and bringing the American troops home, restoring stability to Afghanistan and bringing peace to the Middle East while passing legislation on healthcare reform on the domestic front and restoring the world economy to prosperity with a US led recovery.

President Obama addressing troops in Iraq

President Obama addressing troops in Iraq

In Obama’s dreams, at the end of that distinguished list of achievements, he would have been hailed as one of the greatest statesmen ever to live by stated heads, academics, the media and the American people and maybe even given the nod for a Nobel Peace Prize. I would not have been surprised if on hearing the news of his award, Mr Obama would have awoken somewhat confused and could even have been excused for thinking that he had slept straight through to 2016 when he might actually warrant being considered for the achievement more seriously.

After rubbing his weary eyes and letting the achievement sink in, Mr Obama had to react to the news and in an address at the White House said that he was, “surprised and deeply humbled” by the award. Or that could be code for, ‘what the hell have I done to win this? I’m pretty embarrassed. Maybe I should check what I have won it for?’ From 1901 to 2009, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded 90 times to 120 Nobel Laureates – 97 times to individuals and 23 times to organizations. Vietnamese politician Le Duc Tho is the only person to have declined it.

To clear up the ambiguity and shock, which came with the decision of who the winner was, the Nobel Committee were good enough to point out why he had won it, which was for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”. Note the precise choice of language here. It was for his ‘efforts’ and not his ‘achievements’. This decision is politically motivated and could prove a very clever decision in the long term. Obama has been granted his annual financial bonus at the start of the year before hitting his targets. The Nobel Committee are telling Obama to make sure he stands up and delivers against his promises. End the Bush wars, reduce nuclear weapon stockpiles, bring peace to the Middle East, pacify North Korea and bring some agreement and cohesion on climate change. Any one of these accomplishments could warrant a Nobel Prize but Obama has not completed or even really started out on the road to sorting out many of these issues.

So it is a pat on the back and a well done so far but much more work to do and don’t let us down. Defending the decision to grant the prize to Obama, Nobel Committee head Thorbjoern Jagland said, “It was because we would like to support what he is trying to achieve”. Hopefully Obama can live up to the hype, hope and promise of his campaign of ‘Can we do it? Yes we can!’ It seems that the Nobel Committee have been swept up in the hope, rhetoric and promise of change. Remember he has only been in power 8 months and a lot of Americans are beginning to question if they were wrongly swept up in the same furore that brought Obama to power. Obama must have been added to the shortlist of nominees almost within his first two weeks in office, in which time all he had time to do was choose his Presidential desk and change the curtains George and Laura Bush had in the Presidential bedroom.

It is a shame that such a well respected coveted prize has been reduced to a political tool such as the move to  pick Obama as winner demonstrated. Former Polish President Lech Walesa, who won the prize in 1983, questioned whether Obama deserved it now. “So soon? Too early. He has no contribution so far. He is still at an early stage. He is only beginning to act,” Walesa said.

And as a former winner, Walesas’ comments point out the distinguished company he finds himself in now as a winner of the Peace Prize. But he should not be there yet. Obama is being held in the same esteem as 1979 winner; Mother Theresa who devoted her life to charity and missionary work, Marin Luther King, who won in 1964 and was the leading figure in the civil rights movement and Mikhail Gorbachev who won in 1989 for helping bring the Cold War to an end, a war that could have brought the world to an end through the promise of mutually assure destruction. And then there is Obama, a former Senator only eight months into his Presidency.

Obama is the first African American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize since the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. There were a record 205 nominations for this year’s peace prize. Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Chinese dissident Hu Jia had been among the favourites. Now, if we take Morgan Tsvangirai, he would have been excused for pacing around waiting for a phone call from Oslo while Obama slept well in the White House. Tsvangirai has battled tirelessly against the despotic Zimbabwean regime led by Mugabe. Tsvangirai has been arrested, beaten, threatened with assassination and has kept hope and brought change, something that Obama is yet to achieve. On 11 February 2009, Tsvangirai was sworn in as the President of Zimbabwe.  We have to remember that Obama already looks like a Saint (which might come soon at this rate) compared to his predecessor. The change between Bush’s unilateralist foreign policy and Obama’s world outlook has maybe also had an influence on the decision.

Tsvangirai trying to make things work with Mugabe

Tsvangirai trying to make things work with Mugabe

So eight months into a so far undistinguished Presidency, this may be a wakeup call for Obama (quite literally in this instance) to stand up and take account and start acting. There is a lot of work to do and I, as well as many others believe Barack Obama could be the man to bring the international community together through multilateralism, end the Afghan and Iraqi wars, bring a peace resolution to the Middle East and lead the world out of the economic quagmire it has found itself in. But he has not done any of that yet. Who knows, if President Obama achieves even just a few of the things on that list, he could well win a second Nobel Peace Prize?

Goodbye Sir Bobby – Where is Sport without people like you?

Posted in Current Affairs, Football, People, sport, Uncategorized by adamellis1985 on September 22, 2009

Yesterday, friends, family and colleagues gathered at Durham Cathedral to pay their last respects to a sporting legend. Sir Bobby Robson died 31st July, aged 76 after losing his fifth battle against cancer. It was fitting that it took place in Durham, the heartland of Robson’s beloved North East where he grew up and close to Newcastle United where he enjoyed a successful managerial spell around 10 years ago. Sir Bobby was a football icon, playing for England in a successful playing career before managing some of the biggest clubs in the world including Barcelona and nurturing the talent of household names, such as Romario, Ronaldo and Alan Shearer. Robson was not only a footballer’s man but he was also a gentleman and a fair man.

Sir Bobby Robson (1933-2009)

Sir Bobby Robson (1933-2009)

Robson’s achievements in football included winning European trophies with Ipswich Town and taking England to the semi finals of Italia 90 and a posts width away from a place in the World Cup Final. He also won numerous competitions with Barcelona, PSV Eindhoven and Porto. He was an early mentor to one Jose Mourinho at Barcelona as well. But his efforts stretched beyond sport where he used his high profile status in his great efforts in raising money for cancer and the Cancer Trials Research Centre he helped set up at Newcastle’s Freeman hospital. Once he had to give up football coaching he set himself another stretching target, which was target of raising £1.5m for the new unit, and reached that sum in eight weeks. We need more Robson’s in the world.

In the summer when a great sporting man died, sport has been dragged through the mud yet again with scandal after scandal. The early summer saw 1980’s football hooliganism return in the shape of rioting Millwall and West Ham fans in a Carling Cup match at Upton Park. The pitch was invaded four times and outside the ground was a scene reminiscent of an evening out in downtown Baghdad. A great image for our bid to host the 2018 world cup and for onlookers seeing how we are preparing for the 2012 Olympics. Then just in the last week, Manchester City have been embroiled by disciplinary issues. Firstly Emmanuel Adebayor playing aginst his old club Arsenal put the boot in, quite literally.

Adebayor stamped on Robin Van Persie’s face and could have blinded him. I suspect Robson would have had a thing or two to say to Adebayor in the dressing room, which would have been a little firmer than Mark Hughes’ pathetic defense. Hughes said I looked him in the eyes and asked him if the did it on purpose? He said he didn’t and I believe him. Come on now Mark, is he really going to tell you he was trying to re arrange his face because he hated his ex-teamate?! Robson would most likely have apologised to the fans and put Adebayor on the transfer list. You only have to cast your mind back to what he thought of Craig Bellamy and Kieron Dyer fighting each other on the pitch when they were teammates. Robson’s eventual efforts to get Dyer out of the club led to a fans backlach against him, however, it was the right thing to do. Hughes and Adebyaor have let themselves and the fans down. Then in the Manchester derby just this weekend, a Manchesater United fan ran onto the pitch to celebrate a goal with the players (which he must have thought was allowed or have been blind drunk or both) and Carig Bellamy (him again) slapped the fan in the face.

But these issues of bad sporting etiquette extend beyond Robson’s realm of football. I wonder what Robson would have thought of Falvio Briatore’s diretive to Nelson Piquet to deliberately crash his Formula 1 multi million pound car into a wall so his teammate could win the race? Don’t forget that Briatore is also asscoiated with football in his capacity as a director at Queens Park Rangers. Not for long I suspect.

What Reanult did wasn’t just playing hard and doing everything you can to win. This is plain cheating. There is no two ways about it. And how do the FIA try to uphold sporting and fair play standards? By giving Renault a suspended two year ban. Yeah that’s a real deterrent. Great job.

And then there is the gentlemen’s game and a real man’s game that is Rugby Union. But what would Robson have made of Dean Richards instructions to wing Tom Williams during the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Leinster in April to fake a blood injury while he was in charge at Harelquins? Richards asked one of his players to bite down on a blood capsule so that he could leave the field and they could make a subsitution that would have otherwise not been allowed to get a kicker on in the final minutes of the game? Can’t imagine Robson would have thought much of that. Real blood injuries…fine…man up and get on with it if you can. I’m not sure Robson could have even fathomed what a calculated, deliberate fake blood injury could even be.

The point is that we need influential people like Robson at the top of the sporting game and with the ability to influence and uphold the standards to keep sport moving in the right direction. We need less Adebayors and Briatores and more Robsons. Sport shames itself week in week out across Football, Rugby, Formula 1 and even Tennis. But it is how people are punished and how sport learns from its mistakes as a community that we will move on from these issues. Overturning Eduardo’s ban for blatent diving because FIFA are scared of Arsenal’s mite in world football does not send the right messages to the grass roots of the game and it’s not the way to go. Sporting associations need to take more of a stand against violence, corruption and cheating in sport. It would be easy to stamp out (no Adebayor pun intended) all the issues mentioned above. Fine Renault £1 million and ban them from competing for a few races. Then see if one of their drivers ever miraculously drives into a wall again. Ban Adebayor and arrest him for assault and fine Manchester City an exhorbitant amount of money (they can afford it). Otherwise in fifty years time there will be no more memorial services to celebrate the lives of sporting legends and people like Sir Bobby Robson.

Why did the September 11th al-Qaeda attacks happen?

Posted in Current Affairs, International Relations, Politics, Uncategorized by adamellis1985 on September 8, 2009

The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11th 2001 became synonymous with two simple numbers and from then on the attacks were simply known as 9/11. But why did Al-Qaeda choose the United States of America? Why didn’t they choose the United Kingdom, France, Brazil or China for their most devastating attack ever? The subject of this blog post will explore the reasons why 9/11 happened. They are not excuses for an inexcusable, unfathomable series of events that took place 8 years ago this week. They are objective explanations seeking clarity around the chain of events spreading back twenty-five years, which culminated in America being subject to the attack. By looking to the past we can learn why things happened and maybe even take lessons from that to stop the cycle happening all over again in the future. Adding to this the fact that American policy in Afghanistan is currently yielding fairly disastrous results and regular casualties for all the coalition forces, this is an appropriate time to question why the 9/11 attacks happened and whether American can take any lessons for the future from how we got to 9/11?

The World Trade Towers, September 11 2001

The World Trade Towers, September 11 2001

How was Cold War policy linked to the 9/11 attacks?

The term blowback has been associated with this idea that the costs and consequences of U.S interventionist foreign policies and military overextension have made life more dangerous for them. In a 1998 fatwa, issued by bin Laden, he announced that the American actions in the Middle East were a, “clear declaration of war on God, his messenger and Muslims.” It is important to understand the contextual importance of U.S foreign policy in the Middle East in this era. Richard Clarke, a disillusioned member of the Bush administration, argued that to understand why the Islamic movement has chosen America as its target, it is necessary to analyse events form the last twenty-five years and particularly, American actions influenced by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the impact of the Iranian Revolution.

A proxy war in Afghanistan against the Soviets: ISI given too much control rather than CIA?

Much has been made of the funding doled out by the Interservices Intelligence (ISI) agency of Pakistan and whether the U.S should have maintained stricter role in the supervision of that funding. The CIA and ISI cooperated very closely during the Regan years and over the conflict in Afghanistan and it is important to note that all CIA funding was channelled through the ISI. CIA personnel were not allowed to enter Afghanistan. There are three criticisms of the U.S policy, which can be linked to the 9/11 attacks here. Firstly, the U.S was not forward thinking enough in allowing the ISI to recruit anyone from anywhere in the world to fight against the Soviet’s. Secondly, the ISI had too much control and used the funding to arm the most extreme and radical of the Mujahideen groups. Thirdly, the United States did not consider what the proxy army of Arab fighters they had helped create would do after the conflict.

Mujahideen fighters in the Soviet-Afgan War

Mujahideen fighters in the Soviet-Afgan War

The CIA and ISI were willing to recruit Islamic extremists to a cause that was not theirs, although they adopted it. Funding to the ISI in 1982 was only $35 million and by 1987 it had reached between $600 and $700 million. Involvement of the Saudi’s was seen as a prudent move by Regan to reduce the financial cost of the conflict, as the Saudi’s matched U.S aid equally. However, as I have noted, it had consequences in leading to the 9/11 attacks. The ISI was given the role of helping the U.S to win its proxy war and defeat the Soviet’s. The U.S engaged in drafting in a proxy army. Fighters were engaged from all over the world including Saudis, Egyptians and other Arab states. America helped seek the importation into Afghanistan and Pakistan of an army of Arab fighters

There was no monitoring or regulation of who was in Afghanistan fighting on behalf of the Americans. During the jihad, anyone was welcomed with open arms. There was negligence on the part of the U.S in turning a blind eye to the recipients of the aid and the background of the fighters who were recruited. The CIA and ISI effectively privatized the recruitment of Islamic extremists through Islamic charities and religious bodies. The U.S were responsible for allowing particular sights in the U.S, including the al-kifah refugee centre in New York to be turned into a key centre for, “recruiting and fund raising for the Afghanistan jihad.” Among the lead recruiters were Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and Sheik Abdullah Azzam. Azzam went on to found Hamas.

Furthermore, the CIA was too dependent on the ISI and they had too much control over allocation of resources. Saudi and U.S assistance was funnelled through the ISI who helped distribute arms and train the fighters. Considering the financial backing the U.S and the Saudis were providing, they should have had more of a say over where the funds went. Beyond the ISI connection to Wahabbism, like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan had a fear of Pashtun-driven Afghan nationalism and wanted social order in Afghanistan and wanted a strong Islamic state.  The autonomy the U.S gave the ISI over funding meant that they could aid their causes while also trying to help the U.S win the war. It was a case of coincidental causes.

The ISI favoured arming the extremist group, Hizb-I-Islami, the group headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. That group was the primary beneficent of the ISI’s system of allocation of aid and was a vehemently anti-American group. I think this was short sighted of the Americans to help aid extremist Islamic groups. In the same way the U.S forged a World war II alliance with Stalin but was still wary of his actions, and sought to contain him after the end of the war, the U.S should have realised how pragmatic their approach was an been more aware of the consequences. Hartman explained that the nature of the U.S Cold War alliances ensured that the, “U.S money and weapons programmes would solidify the growing pan-Islam movement, more commonly referred to as Islamism.” I agree with state department Afghanistan specialist Eliza Van Hollen, who argued that the CIA should have held firm against the ISI and not allowed it to direct its weapons to favoured groups.

However, some commentators including Jason Burke have defended the U.S role in using the ISI for its proxy war. Jason Burke claims that American funding went exclusively to the Afghan Mujahideen groups and not to the Arab volunteers. On top of this, as little as 25% of the money for the Afghan jihad was actually supplied directly by states. Money was supplied from sheiks emirs, princes and devout businessmen throughout the Gulf. It is difficult to analyse this defence, as there is little published information on the pattern, scope and method of the CIA’s international recruitment and allocation of resources to the jihad. Form my reading, I concluded that the ISI funded Arabs fighter in part as well as the Afghan resistance. However, even if the U.S did not fund the Arab part of the resistance, they were still willing to allow and encourage their recruitment and participation in the war, which damages Burke’s defence.

Thirdly, the American Cold War policy of being overly transfixed on the Soviet threat left the United States expose to even greater dangers in the future. There was little consideration to what would happen to this huge army of recruited Arabs once the fighting was over. The United States did nothing to help with post-war assimilation back into society. Many of the fighters had come from countries thousands of miles away and had no homes to return to. The United States should have foreseen they would need a new role and a new cause. The United States should not have allowed and helped the ISI to recruit anyone willing to fight the Soviets from anywhere in the world, as it left an assembled group of ideologically charged Islamic extremists. Now moving on, I will analyse the role of bin-Laden.

Recruitment of bin-Laden

Another highly documented element of the U.S role in the Afghanistan-Soviet conflict is the link between bin-Laden being supported by the U.S and later striking in the 9/11 attacks. Unsurprisingly, the 9/11 Commission Report discounts this line of thinking. “Bin-Laden and his comrades had their own sources of support and training, and they received little or no assistance from the U.S.”  However, Mamdani argues that bin-Laden was recruited by Saudi intelligence to lead the jihad and this was done with the approval of the CIA.  It is widely agreed that Bin Laden was predominantly a financier and a logistics expert during the conflict. Between 1979-1984, bin-Laden spent his time split between Saudi Arabia and Peshawar, focusing on fundraising and raising the profile of the jihad. From the mid-1980’s onwards he began spending more time in Afghanistan.

Osama Bin-Laden in 1998

Osama Bin-Laden in 1998

However, bin-Laden was not funded by the CIA. This was not possible give the structure of the funding that General Zia Ul-Haq had in place in Pakistan. What is possible though is that due to the CIA using the ISI as it a proxy service for allocation of funding is that bin-Laden received support despite what the 9/11 report states.  Hartman argues that bin-Laden, as a prominent Saudi, was heavily patronised by the ISI and was involved in recruitment, transportation and raining of Arab national who volunteered to fight. Therefore, if American’s only defense is that they did not directly fund bin-Laden then this is a weak argument and it can be possible to see even greater link to 9/11. However, having said this, it is important to question whether bin-Laden and other Arab fighters really contributed that much in the conflict?

Afghan and Arab fighters

There is an important separation to be made between the Afghan resistance fighters and the Arab fighters, a point that Burke was trying to make in defence of allocation resources. A line of argument that some would make would claim that the Arab Mujahideen fighters had gained legitimacy and prestige from defeating a superpower in Afghanistan and they had the confidence and ability to turn its attention the America. The Arab fighters gained a lot from the war and I believe some of these factors helps explain the 9/11 attacks but to argue that they won the Afghan-Soviet conflict and therefore moved on from there is a weak argument and is incorrect, as it discounts the major role of the Afghan resistance.

Estimations of how many Arab fighters participated in the conflict vary hugely. The official estimation from former CIA officials stationed in Pakistan at the time say it was, “a maximum of 25,000.”  This may have been slightly on the low side, explained by what some of the Arab volunteers went onto participate in during the future. Conservative estimations are in the region of 35,000 Muslim radicals. However, some have made much higher estimates of towards 100,000. Relating back to the lack of U.S intelligence on the Arab fighter’s this makes it difficult to predict numbers of Arab participants in the conflict. However, even if it was a high figure, it is important not to merge the effect of the Arab and Afghan resistance in defeating the Soviet’s. Cooley in particular is an advocate of the large role played by the Arab fighters. He seems intent on ignoring indigenous Afghan resistance when in fact most of the resistance against the Soviets was carried out by Afghans who received nothing for their efforts. Whatever role the Arab volunteers played in the conflict, I see a link to the 9/11 attacks, as the war created an opportunity for a number of ideologically charged Muslim fighters to come together and discuss future causes

The creation of jihad

The U.S Cold War policy of proxy action in Afghanistan had a huge effect on creating a jihad that would lead to the 9/11 attacks. One of the most subversive effects of the privatized jihad was on the madrassahs, many of which were turned into politico-military training camps. Thousands came to study at the Saudi financed camps in Pakistan. These camps became a foundation for promoting pan-Islam fundamentalism and a place for forging tactical and ideological links. The international Muslim fundamentalist coalition that assembled provided a perfect recruiting ground for bin-Laden’s terrorist group that was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

The jihad produced an opportunity for a huge number of radical Muslims to come together and have legitimacy to be there in the U.S’s eyes. Therefore, they were not subject to intelligence reports and it led to the chance for bin-Laden to recruit them to al-Qaeda, which struck on 9/11. Although the Arab fighters, in my opinion cannot be credited with winning the war alone, they certainly did end the war having gained experience and the Afghan jihad had given them as Mandami put it; “organization, numbers, skills, confidence and coherent objectives.”  The jihad continued after the U.S withdrawal and fighters went to Kosovo, Bosnia, Chechnya and some eventually took part in the terrorist atrocity on 9/11. The United States helped to create the jihad for a contemporary political objective; however, it backfired and led to the creation of an infrastructure of terror.

An infrastructure of terror

Cold War American policy does help to explain the 9/11 attacks. The actions of the U.S helped create a jihad that would later terrorise the U.S and the west all over the world, form New York to Madrid, from Bali to Istanbul and London to Riyadh. What makes American policy help explain the 9/11 attacks is the infrastructure the war put in place for the future terrorists. A Los Angeles Times team carried out an investigation into the Afghan war and found that the key leaders of every major terrorist attack, including 9/11, veritably turned out to have been veterans of the Afghan war.  Mandami thinks that the real damage the CIA did was not in providing arms for the resistance but “the privatization of information about how to produce and spread violence – the formation of private militias capable of creating terror”.

The U.S helped provide and ideological infrastructure by allowing like-minded radicals to meet and rub shoulders and discuss the jihadist movement. They also helped with an actual material infrastructure, from which bin-Laden would later conduct his operations.  Construction of bases was part of the ISI program in Afghanistan, under the direction of the CIA. One of these bases was in a natural cave complex in the Tora Bora Mountains. It was reported that this is where bin-Laden was hiding when he planned the 9/11 attacks and where the U.S unsuccessfully attempted to find him in the Khost complex in October 2001.

The end of the Afghan conflict and the U.S withdrawal

The United States final Cold War policy that proved to have disastrous consequences was the rapid withdrawal of assets and resources from Afghanistan at the end of the conflict and this indicates culpability for 9/11. The United Sates largely abandoned the country to its own fate and following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989; the Afghan factions fought each other. The power vacuum left by the U.S meant that Afghanistan became a haven for fundamentalist Muslim radicals.

The birth of al-Qaeda and the rise of the Taliban

Pakistani intelligence used its power and influence to bring order out of the chaos and bring the Taliban to power.  The Saudi’s and Pakistanis sponsored the Taliban takeover in 1995/1996 on an agenda of promising peace and security. Bin-Laden was allowed to return to the country in May 1996 despite having been ally of the Taliban’s enemy Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.  Arab Afghan veterans and many North Africans, Asians, Saudis, Palestinians and Egyptians began to come to join bin-Laden and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The U.S is definitely culpable here for withdrawing too quickly, despite war wariness towards the end of the Cold War, they should have had the foresight to analyse the role the Arab veterans may play in the future. Leaving such a power vacuum in Afghanistan meant the Taliban coming to power and giving refuge to a terrorist group who knew the country well, where they could plan strikes against the U.S from which culminated in the 9/11 attacks.

Taliban fighters around the Pakistan-Afghan border

Taliban fighters around the Pakistan-Afghan border

Conclusion and why this is not the full picture in explaining the 9/11 attacks

The 9/11 attacks were partly precipitated by America Cold War policy. However, it does not give us a holistic explanation. Other factors also help explain the 9/11 attacks. These include, the legacy left by colonialism, some would even go as far back as the crusades. Also weaknesses in U.S intelligence leading up to the attacks partly explain why it happened and a degree of explanation can never be defined as it was such a barbaric callous attack which went against the grain of human nature.