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It's hard not to feel sorry for the Australian government. The price of hosting a South-East Asia leaders's summit was allowing the odious Aung San Suu Kyi onto their soil. Decent people in Australia demanded that Aung be arrested for her part in the ethnic cleansing and murder of Muslims in Myanmar, as the country was rebranded from the old name of "Burma" by the military thugs she partners with in ruling the Buddhist-dominated land. Sadly, this apology for a human being enjoys diplomatic immunity. It might have better if all the other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had refused to share a room with this one-time poster woman for democracy. Actually, in way she perhaps is still a paragon of democracy.  The majority of Burma's population approve of the Muslim population of the country being burned and murdered out of their homes and forced to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh. It's democracy in action. And the 600,000 - 700,000 Muslim Rohingyas in the Bangladeshi refugee camps aren't ever going home again. But back to the conference. The Australians had to cozy up not only to the odious Aung but to many other local leaders who actually have human rights records which are not much better, if not worse, than Myanmar's. What is they say; keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Actually, the Australians are trying to cozy up to these creeps because they may be useful in curbing Chinese ambitions in South East Asia.

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I was surprised to see one of the big Canadian newspapers was recommending a seriously flawed book to readers - at least recommended according to the sticker on the cover in my local bookshop. It took a while to track down the review that the supposed recommendation was based on. It turned out to state that the central claim in the book was not-proven but praised what the reviewer thought was the pioneering archival research. The reviewer was unaware, I know because I asked him, that the same information had appeared in another book published two years earlier. In fact, it was the opening chapter of the other book. So, no new information at all. Just a chancer taking two and two and claiming that makes five - something no-one had previously discovered. And, as I said, the reviewer had actually expressed reservations over the central claim in the book and was only praising what he thought was some new information contained in it. So, how did the book in question end up with a "A ------ Recommended Book" sticker? That was down the the publisher's promotions department and a very misleading extract from the newspaper review. You give these folks an inch of praise to work with and they turn it into a mile of unrestrained recommendation.   

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I wonder if human beings can and do pick up radio signals. Sounds crazy, I know. And maybe it is. But I remember as a child that there was an old Pye record player in the house which was capable of recording onto an LP size brown disc. And if we put our fingers on the "recording" needle when it was slotted onto the playing arm we could hear radio signals. I'd love to say that by moving our arms around we could tune to different stations. But that would not be true. The only time the record player put out radio programmes was when a human being put their finger on that needle. Now perhaps there was some weird freaky set-up inside the gubbins of the Pye that meant it could function as a radio, of which even the manufacturers were unaware, and us kids were simply acting as an antenna. I've often wondered what it was all about.

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I'm hearing trailers on the radio for what sounds like a programme on the BBC World Service celebrating the Suffragette Movement. It would seem that many of the women involved were interviewed in the 1970s and those interviews are being packaged into a radio programme. I hope it's not a celebration. The Suffragettes were a terrorist organisation. They attacked both people and property. Votes for women for a laudable cause. But the ends don't justify the means- including assault, vandalism, fire-raising, destruction of artwork and bombings . There's a strong argument that the violence these women committed set back a good cause and delayed females getting the vote by several years. The hard work done by working class women during the First World War probably did more to win the vote. If those same working class women had behaved the same way as their Upper Class sisters in the Suffragettes, you can bet the forces of law and order would not have been so patient and understanding; though the Glasgow police seem to have rougher with the women than their English counterparts. Around 40% of men didn't have the vote prior to 1918 and my guess is if any of those men  had mounted a suffragette-style campaign, several would have wound up dead at the hands of the agents of Law and Order. So, why would the BBC wish to celebrate the Suffragettes and not the tripling of the number of people entitled to vote in parliamentary elections? It's simple, the women involved were the grandmothers, great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers of the people who run the BBC. 

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Longtime readers will know that I don't regard an athletic event in which the winner is decided by judges to be a sport. To me, a sport has a clear undisputed winner; the side or individual with the most goals, or greatest number of target bullseyes, or first across the line, or highest jump, or longest jump, most points scored, or whatever. The judged stuff may involve physical activity but it's not a sport. Gymnastics and figure skating are two prime examples of non-sports which feature in the Olympics. But who am I to deny anyone Olympic glory? And who cares what I think anyway? It's their business. But then I heard something terrible. It would appear that for a long time the girl gymnasts of Team America were all-too often victims of sexual abuse. But until recently their complaints, if they dared even make them, were ignored. It turned out no-one wanted to make a fuss about the adults committing the abuse. And why didn't the girls of their families want to rock the boat? Because gymnastics is a judged event and the judges are drawn from a tight-knit adult network drawn from the gymnastics community. And who else is part of that network? Why. the coaches and doctors who were molesting the little girls. We're moving here from what can be regarded as just a silly non-sporting activity into the Realm of Evil.

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The British Empire had been reduced to a couple of islands by the time I was old enough to pay much attention to it. But having watched a television series about it fronted by Jeremy Paxman, I can only conclude that it was a Bad Thing. It wasn't what Mr Paxman or the people he spoke to said that led me to this conclusion. It was Paxman himself. It struck me that if Paxman had been born 50 or 60 years earlier than he was, he is, just the sort of person who would get a job with the Colonial Office. Just the sort of chap who would thrive in a seedy British colonial administration in say Malaya or Kenya. I would not want to live a country ruled by the likes of Paxman. The colonies may have gone, but the grandchildren, great-great grandchildren and even great-great-great grandchildren of the old British administrators still roam the earth supposedly helping those people not lucky enough to have been born English. Only now this happy privileged few are working for a charity during their "gap year". Some of them even return to the Non-Governmental Organisation industry after they graduate. Even such a respected NGO as Oxfam, which does actually sometimes genuinely make things better for people, is not without its problems. Did the old British administrators in Malaya or Kenya indulge in the same sexual exploitation as their spiritual, if not literal, descendants working for Oxfam did in Haiti? Oh, when I refer to English, I include those born in Scotland whose parents chose to ape their masters by sending the kids to private schools. 

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For a while now I've been intrigued by a radio programme put out by BBC Ulster. It involves two historians, one Catholic and the other Protestant, looking in various controversial aspects of Ireland's past. Apparently, they usually have different takes on events. Sadly, the episode I heard, on the Irish Republic's neutrality in the Second World War (and, yes, I know it was called Eire at the time) they agreed. They agreed that neutrality was the wisest course. But the programme did a very very poor job of examining the issues. Yes, thousands of Irishmen fought for Allies. But there was no mention of the decades of official persecution the 5,000 men who absented themselves from the Irish armed forces to fight the Nazis faced from the Irish government after the war. Yes, Eire exported food to the United Kingdom. But it was the only export market they had and they didn't exactly sell the food cheaply. Yes, folk in Donegal did help build the new Royal Navy facilities on Loch Foyle, but again they didn't do it for free. And it would have saved a lot of time and money if the De Valera government had allowed the Allies to use Irish ports during the Battle of the Atlantic. It was not mentioned that more than half of Eire's population wanted Hitler to win or were certain he would until far into the war. The arguments for Irish Neutrality could equally well be used to justify a British surrender in 1940. As the war went on, Eire's neutrality tilted in favour of the British. But then even the De Valera government knew which country was in the best position to invade them. The Irish Republic deserves no more praise for its application of neutrality than the Swedes and Swiss deserve blame for their pro-German stance in the early years of the war. And lets not go into whether De Valera's official condolences to Germany on Hitler's death in 1945 could be justified as simply diplomatic protocol - other European leader felt the same obligation. I can only think that this sad attempt at history on the wireless was somehow down to some politically inspired desire not to rock the boat in the Northern Ireland of 2018.

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Complaints about tourists disrespecting what are war graves at Culloden, thanks to an interest inspired by the TV series Outlander, have inspired a number of people to point out that a big part of the Government army was Scottish. Most want to debunk the whole "Culloden was a Scottish Vs English" thing. What these people don't seem to know is that the aftermath of the 1745 showed that the English on the whole did regard Culloden as a Scottish Vs English battle. So, I think perhaps we should take it that the English back in 1746 knew what was what and whom was fighting for whom. As George Orwell pointed out, it wasn't a good thing to be a Scot in England in the decades following Culloden. It wasn't just the "rebellious Scots" of the National Anthem who needed crushed according to the bulk of English people, it was all Scots. Yes, from a Caledonian point of view, the 1745 Rebellion was complicated and very much the final chapter of a Scottish civil war that had been going on for the for decades. But Britain could never have held India without the help of Indian soldiers. And technically large parts of the Indian sub-continent, the Princely States, were independent entities. But no-one in their right mind would claim that the British did not rule India until 1947. Maybe India in 1946 and Scotland 200 years earlier had more in common than many people realise. I can't help feeling that many of the Smart Alec's who draw attention to the number of Scots in Cumberland's Army are also apt to declare that the British invented Concentration Camps during the 1899-1902 Boer War. A couple of problems with that. The Spanish had a couple of years earlier introduced a concentration camp system in a bid to cripple the Cuban Uprising. And what were the Indian Reservations in the United States and the Reserves in Canada but concentration camps without barbed-wire?  The Afrikaans population of South Africa  has never forgiven the British for the deaths of up to 25,000 women and children in the concentration camps. But the deaths were not part of any British plan or policy. They were down to the same official stupidity and incompetence that meant the British lost twice as many men, around 13,000, to disease as they did due to enemy action during the war.

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So, one of Aung San Suu Kyi's biggest international admirers, former US diplomat Bill Richardson has finally seen what dispassionate observers realised years ago - that she is a hypocritical supporter of ethnic cleansing and against press freedom. Well, good for Mr Richardson. But it's only words and that's all we've seen really so far from the international community and they don't really help the hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees in neighbouring Bangladesh. Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world and can't really afford to play host to hundreds of thousands of refugees. So, here's an idea. Any company that does business with Burma/Myanmar, import or export, should be pressured into making a contribution to the United Nations' refugee fund. Some naming and shaming should do the trick. The people who run Burma/Myanmar will probably be hit hard in the pocket as many of their international business partners decide they would rather not pay the levy intended to support the refugees. The country is all about the money. The Burmese military can barely fight its way out of a wet paper bag, instead it is a prime example of a military/industrial complex, though not in the way the late President Dwight Eisenhower meant the term. Anyway, either way the Rohingya come out ahead. Either the refugee camps are properly funded or the Burmese government ends the ethnic cleansing and the refugees get to go home in safety. Make no mistake, the ethnic cleansing of Rakhine State has as much to do with money as it has to do with community disagreements. 

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One of my pals used to play bars and community halls in Edinburgh in a band fronted by a couple of guys from West Africa. Sometimes one of the Africans would perform wearing a kilt. The crowd was delighted. But according the BBC World Service, we should all have been appalled and disgusted. The musician was apparently guilty of Cultural Appropriation. I can only presume from the lack of balance shown in the programme that the BBC regards this as a crime. The way to avoid accusations of simply giving extremists and racists a platform on such programmes is to challenge them vigorously on air about their views. The only interviewee given a hard time was a white English woman who performs rap music. The woman who declared no white person should ever have dreadlocks pretty much went unchallenged. Here in North America sports teams run into trouble for naming themselves things like the Edmonton Eskimos, Washington Redskins, or the Blackhawks. I find it hard to condemn a high school sports time that chooses to call itself the Clansmen or something along a Scottish theme, even though none of the players has ever crossed the Atlantic. But that said, I do find the hijacking of Scottish themes by American white supremacists a little disappointing. But these guys belong in the same reject bin as the Boston Irish who run fundraisers with catchphrases such as Buy a Bullet, Kill a Brit. I would really like to know how the Dreadlocks Woman feels about people of different skin tones marrying: Ethic Cleansing by Stealth, perhaps. Maybe she would want to outlaw Englishmen wearing kilts for their weddings. 

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When I was still working on a daily newspaper, I had a boss who had an interesting take on what constituted an exclusive. To his tiny mind, an exclusive was a story none of the competition had. He had many exclusives. Now, while a dictionary might agree with his definition, no journalist worth his or her salt would. Not only must none of the competition have the story, they must want it. A real exclusive story is one that rivals can't afford not to come up with their own version of as quickly as possible. My ex-boss's exclusives seldom met that test. No-one cared about the stories he wrote. So, why was this guy a boss? I have my theories. Even good reporters don't always make good editors. But bad reporters never-ever do. But being a boss often isn't about competence, it's all too often about soft-soaping and sucking up. Do what your boss tells you and when things predictably go pear-shaped, find someone else to blame. It's easy; for some.

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I was at a talk recently that reminded me that history is more about what is happening today than what happened yesterday. History books written in the 1960s and 70s often reveal more about the issues and attitudes to the fore in those days than they do about the periods they supposedly covered. The link between the talk and the books is that in the course of the talk facts that put events into a wider context and damaged the author's argument were simply ignored. History is about interpreting past events, not simply recounting them. Almost every historian or writer who wants published needs to come up with something new to say. That's a lot of pressure. And it makes for a lot of very bad history. Historical writing should also, if possible, have some lesson for the present day. In the 60s and 70s, demolishing the reputations of leading figures was a good way to get published. Books on the British Empire in those days were often as biased and inaccurate in their own way as a 1901  school picture book on the same subject. History is very nuanced; never mind the problems and finding and correctly, not to say fairly, interpreting the evidence. Nuance is a hard sell. Easier to claim that the British Army was no match in battle for the German SS and it was simply an abundance of artillery that defeated the Nazis on the western front in 1944. That way the stream of Walter Mitty's who want to play at being SS men is constantly refreshed. Sadly, not all stop there. 

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I remember there used to be a bar in Inverness, opposite the train station, run by a German guy. Folks obviously thought it was funny when they told him that MacSporran was a good Scots name to adopt. In fact, it is. There are a number of MacSporrans in Kintyre. Kintyre was one of the first places in Scotland to be taken over by white settlers, in a trial run for what would become the Lowland Scots settlement of Ulster. One of the results of this was that it was one of the first Gaelic areas where folk had their names written down and anglicized. This has meant that there are a number of family names seldom found elsewhere in Scotland, including MacSporran. Anyway, this German MacSporran was proud of his service with 12th SS Panzer Division during the Second World War, or at least made no secret of it. This was the Hitler Youth Division. Many people in Inverness forgave his SS service on the grounds that he was "just a wee boy" at the time. Canadians may not have been so tolerant. They know that the 12th SS were a gang of vicious Nazi fanatics. They killed Canadian prisoners. In turn the many Canadians murdered SS prisoners. If that Inverness bar owner was "just a wee boy" many of his friends were horrendous pieces of work. Interesting how perspectives can differ on either side of the Atlantic. 

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What a great Christmas present for the world it would be if the obnoxious Aung San Suu Kyi was indicted for genocide; her and her partners in the Burmese military. There have been very few so blatant examples of ethnic cleansing in recent years than the expulsion of 600,000 Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar and murder of thousands more who didn't get the chance to flee the brutal Burmese army and its Bhuddist militias. What happened in Rakhine State was no surprise to those of us who were not taken in by An Sang. She said more than a year ago that she was not going to raise a finger to help the Rohingya, and that was long before the wave of terror was unleashed on them; before her buddies in the Burmese military-industrial complex went past the point of no return and when they might have been stopped. And have no doubt that the Burmese Army is more industrial than military. Its capabilities don't go much beyond shooting men, raping women and smashing babies' heads in. That's why it has been involved in such long conflicts with its other ethnic minorities when they took up arms - look at the Karen. This time the Army went in hard and brutal and will almost certainly get away with it. The Burmese military have always been an unsavourary bunch. They were eager collaborators with the Japanese during the Second World War and turned Burma into an economic fiefdom following independence from Britain. They included Aung San's father. He was killed, Mafia style, during a fall-out among thieves. If Aung San hadn't been a girlie, she would have been part of this Buddhist Mafia long before she was. But Aung San and her partners in crimes against Humanity will not be indicted; Money Talks. Those sad apologists for Aung San who claim she is powerless to intervene should ask themselves: "If she has no power to lose, why does she not resign and salvage what's left of her reputation as a latter-day saint and shining light of democracy?

 

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To me, the facts belong to everyone. So, I'm a little disappointed to learn that demands that only, say, one-legged Chinese lesbians should be allowed to make television documentaries about one-legged Chinese lesbians are being taken seriously. Now, if a one-legged Chinese lesbian asked me to help fund such a documentary, I would think their insight might help make for interesting television. But if then I was asked to help organise a boycott of a rival documentary on the same subject by a transgender one-armed Spanish film-maker, I would have to refuse to be any part of such action. It's possible that the Spaniard is simply a better documentary maker who can more than compensate for a lack of first-hand experience of the subject matter when it comes to telling the story and laying out the facts in an interesting way. Let the best story-teller win. No-one should "own" the facts of a story and forbid anyone else to tell it. 

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This happened a long long time ago; in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. Many Americans believed, and still believe, that the terrorists infiltrated the USA from Canada. It wasn't true. But the Canadian authorities decided that immigrants should have modern identity cards instead of Landed Immigrant certificates. It took about a year to get the identity card system in place. I was working at the Edmonton Sun at the time. The day before all immigrants should have had their cards I was monitoring a television news bulletin at 6pm. One of the main stories involved a series of immigrants saying their had no idea about the identity cards or the deadline. They were all readers of the Sun's rival, the Edmonton Journal. When I reported the contents of the bulletin and the supposed identity card crisis to my boss, I made some crack along the lines "No surprise there, that's what they get for thinking The Journal's a real newspaper." That's when my boss, a little English guy, dropped his bombshell. He hadn't applied for his identity card yet and didn't know he had to. What does a person who wants to keep their job say to that? Not only was the guy directly affected by the need to have an identity card but he was also supposed to be in the news business.

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We have a problem in Edmonton at the moment with the rich, or comparatively rich, robbing the poor. A sort of anti-Robin Hood. And it's a little old lady who is doing it. There are a large number of people in the city who sift through the bins looking for bottles, cans, and milk cartons. They then hand them in at bottle depots for the deposit money. A couple of weeks ago I saw a bottle-picker/dumpster-diver chasing a little light coloured car down a back street. I thought maybe the driver had cut too close the the bottle-picker and he was angry. But when I got up to the guy he told me the woman in the car had just snatched one of his bin bags full of cans and bottles and driven off. He'd left it beside a dumpster while he checked another one across the back alley. There was no way the woman thought the bag was just rubbish because she didn't stop to look inside before throwing it into her car. Nor did she stop when the outraged bottle-picker gave chase. Earlier this week I was chatting with another bottle-picker a couple of streets from the scene of that theft. It turned out he'd been a victim too. He said it was an old woman who snatched a bag containing the fruits three or four hours of bottle-harvesting. That's when I remembered that a little old lady had driven past me near the scene of the first theft. I had thought the car speeding off looked a little like the one that had just passed me, but thought it unlikely that a little old lady would be prowling the back streets robbing bottle-pickers. Wrong again. I fear this will not end well. 

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I'm guessing that excitement must be growing out there as the announcement of the winner of the  Book of the Year award approaches. There's going to be a slight change in format this time around. Some years offer a better crop of books to choose from. In other years, the pickings are distinctly sparse. There have been a couple of years in which a very strong contender has been pipped by an even stronger one and received no mention or credit. If I had read the runner-up a year later it would probably have won a Book of the Year award. In fact, a few weeks , say reading a book in January 2016 rather than November 2015, can make the difference. This is basically a long way of saying that from the 2017 Book of the Year onwards the short-listed books will be listed along with the winner. Seems fair.

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Here in Edmonton we just had a reasonable but not excessive dump of snow - two to three inches, bringing the total depth on uncleared surfaces to about five inches. In Britain, an inch of snow can bring transport to halt. I remember that when I worked in Inverness that a rumour that the Drummochter Pass might be closed by snow led to the shelves of the local supermarkets being cleared of bread and toilet paper. In Britain the cost of having fleets of heavy-duty snow clearing equipment on hand for the two or three days when there is a heavy snow fall just does not make economic sense. Several years ago, one Saturday, here in Edmonton we spotted way more than usual more people out walking on the streets after a heavy-ish snow fall. It took a while for the reason for this to dawn on yours truly. It was going to take 15 minutes to dig cars out of the snow. People who hop in their cars to make a journey which on foot would take 10 minutes decided it was quicker to walk than dig out their vehicle. There were a depressing number of people here who leap into their pollution spewing cars to drive two or three streets. The cars would have to be dug out to go to work on Monday but a Saturday car journey to buy a carton of milk just wasn't worth all that digging. I wonder if it snowed every Saturday of the year how much that would cut global warming. 

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What is it with failed journalists and armed robberies? Yet another journalist here in Alberta has been jailed for staging armed hold-ups. I used to work with reporter who was just out of jail after serving a sentence for armed robbery. My guess it has something to do with covering the courts and crime. Some journalists decide that years of covering crime gives them an insight into the subject. They think they know the nitty-gitty mechanics of an armed hold-up and where the bad guy who appeared in court went wrong. One thing that always struck me was that many of the robbers were well known to the police long before they took a gun, or a replica thereof, on the job with them. Someone with no criminal record might have an advantage. Another point that struck me was that most hold-up men staged at least three or four heists before their luck ran out. So, the odds of being caught could be reduced by committing only one or two heists and then quitting. Though inexperience and lack of proper violent menace might make the first outing more than a little risky. Journalists down on their luck seem prone to taking up the gun. Much the same thought must have struck Scottish crime writer, and journalist, Bill Knox. He wrote a crime story about a young journalist who decided he'd come up with a near perfect armed robbery. It did not work out well. Time and chance and all that. 

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