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I have got to admit I’m baffled as to why young men think it’s cool to spit on the street. I really don’t want to be treading that kind of stuff into my home after accidentally stepping in it. I feel like running up to them and saying “Hey, I’m calling you an ambulance, you must be really ill, don’t worry, lie down until the medics get here”. But of course I don’t. Some of them might be smarter than their ignorant behaviour suggests and they may be aware of sarcasm. There was a time when there were jobs that did do terrible damage to the working people’s lungs. I remember when I worked as a journalist in England going to all-too-many inquests for Tyneside shipyard workers who had died from asbestosis or for ex-miners whose lungs had been destroyed by coal dust. But there aren’t many shipyards or coal mines taking on youngsters these days. Now, I know that sometimes a lung infection can generate a lot of horrible thick green goop that needs to be coughed up. But I would think it should be possible to deposit it into the gutter. That’s what I do. 

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Many years ago, many more than I care to think about, I was in Quebec City in the company a young Black woman. I remember her being repeatedly quizzed in a more than patronising manner by people as to how long her family had been in Canada. The assumption seemed to be that she was descended from Caribbean immigrants who had only come to Canada in the 1960s or 70s. The looks on people’s faces when she replied was priceless. For the answer was something like “1824”. The odds that that this  was a lot earlier than the questioner’s family are very good. She was from Nova Scotia where there has been a strong Black presence, mainly former American or Canadian slaves,  since the late 1700s. I was reminded of those long-ago encounters in Quebec during a recent radio interview between an Edmonton presenter and the Black  American Country and Western singer Charlie Pride. The presenter asked what colour certain critics of Pride were. “Oh, I guess the same colour as you,” replied Pride. It being a telephone interview and the presenter sounding like most CBC on-air staff, Pride just assumed she was White. But you guessed it, she was black and was raised in Nova Scotia. It was hard to tell on the radio if Pride blushed. 

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I've been reading a book that came out in The Year 2000 which I feel should have been compulsory reading for British Army commanders before they went to Afghanistan. One of the biggest problems the British and Canadians faced in Helmand and Kandahar was that they were propping up a corrupt kleptocracy based in Kabul. Many Afghans preferred to deal with what most westerners refer to as the Taliban rather than the regime being imposed on them by the detested feringhee. Many British 20th Century counter-insurgency campaigns paired the stick of military action with the carrot of political and social development. That's not so hard to do in a colony. But in Afghanistan the British and Canadians had few tools beyond firepower. The book I was reading, Soldier Sahibs was about a previous encounter between the British and the tribal societies of Afghanistan and what became known as the Northwest Frontier in the mid-1800s. In the early years the British were operating in areas under control of the highly unpopular Sikh Empire. And the young Britons managed it. The book contains a lot of interesting pointers as to how to prop up unpopular administrations and how to deal with Pashtuns, the tribes which to this day make up most of the folk who live in Helmand and Kandahar. Did many Britons sent to Afghanistan this century read Soldier Sahibs. My bet is very few; if any.  

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What if the French had done more to support the Jacobites in 1745-46? I was recently reading a book of the World's 100 most decisive battles. I was surprised to see the 1746 Battle of Culloden on the list. The book was by an American university professor. So, no great surprise that it should not be trusted as a basis for the high school history exam. This professor believes, according to the book, that James VIII and II was a son of Charles II, not his brother, and it was Charles II who was deposed by William of Orange. I long ago ceased to be disappointed or surprised by the lack of a grip of the facts shown by the majority of US university professors whose books I've read. Anyway, the guy does pose some interesting points when it comes to what might have happened if Charles Edward Stuart had managed to tip German Geordie off the throne. That might have happened if the French had made more of an effort to send arms and troops to support The Rebellion. The restored Stuart monarchy would have repaid the French by allying the United Kingdom with France. Your man argues this would have meant the British would not have kicked the French out of Canada; the American colonists would have taken longer to kick their British protectors out; the French state might not have bankrupted itself supporting the American rebels; and consequently the French Revolution may never have happened. And the British under the Stuarts would have supported France against Prussia's Frederick the Great rather than bankrolling his wars in Europe. So, a completely different balance of power in Europe. Maybe no World war One and therefore no World War Two. A lot of interesting "what ifs". 

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Radio is probably not the best medium for Art Appreciation. You would think that is obvious. But not apparently to the BBC World Service. I recently heard a programme discussing a painting. Listeners were urged to go to a website to view the painting in question. Yes, in this multi-media universe this was an option. But it shows an ignorance of when people listen to radio. It's usually when they are doing something else; driving, cooking, laying bricks, tidying the house, etc. Not so easy to go to a website to look at a painting. And what about the millions of listeners who are so poor they don't have access to a website download? It is this kind of thinking, or lack of it, that gave us a programme which used to boast that it would feature only women and no men were involved in production. The programme still exists but has dropped that boast. I suspect that was more because it was felt dangerous to be seen to discriminate against trans-sexual radio-wannabees than anything else. The last trailer for this dreadful piece of tosh claimed that the participants were drawn from all over the world but most of those featured in it seemed to be from Africa. The fact is that way too much of what the BBC World Service puts out panders to the trendy and the gimmicky. Business Daily therefore has little competition when it expands the definition of "business" to include nutrition, politics, medical matters, media analysis and pretty much everything that the BBC used to do regularly and reasonably competently in terms of interesting content. 

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I came across an interesting take on the First World War recently. It discussed why the United States entered the conflict in 1917. Now, if the USA had been genuinely democratic there is no way it would have joined the British. The nationalist myths necessary to create a country meant that most US kids were taught to distrust, if not hate, the British, who had had to be driven out of their country around 1776 and 1783. Throw in the massive German and Irish immigrant vote and add the number of isolationists who wanted nothing to do with a conflict in far away Europe and I doubt there was a majority in favour of intervention on the side of Britain and France. So, why did America enter the war? Simply, the Germans made the mistake of pissing US industrialists off. The British had been very careful not to economically blockade Germany too thoroughly prior to 1917. American manufacturers had little real difficulty shipping goods to German customers via middlemen in the neutral Scandinavian countries and Holland. The same neutral middlemen, by the way, also shipped British goods to Germans. The British knew better than to interfere too much with American pursuit of the Mighty Dollar.The Americans were also making a fortune from selling to the British and its war effort became increasingly dependent on American arms and goods. The Germans decided to gamble in 1917 on severing Britain's trans-Atlantic lifeline through unrestricted submarine warfare. They hoped the British would collapse before the Americans could effectively react to their golden goose being throttled. They lost that gamble. America's war millionaires resented the interference with their right to make money from European folly. Germany must be punished for meddling too efficiently in free trade. Faced with the threat of large numbers of US troops being thrown into the fight on the Western Front, the Germans gambled on a massive spring offensive in 1918 and lost again. Its battered armies collapsed during the British-French-American offensives of late summer and autumn. And of course following America's entry into the war the British could finally take the gloves off when it came to an economic blockade of Germany. Germany's defeat owed more to brutal economic realities than to much belated Allied military brilliance.  It's an interesting take that merits further study and proper consideration. 

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Research costs money. When it comes to writing books, that money often comes from the advance paid by a publisher based on what the author claims the book will say. The problem is that until the research is done, there is no way of guaranteeing that there actually is the evidence to back up the claims that the author used to sell the book idea to the publisher. What if all that time tracking down participants in historic events and poring over paperwork in the National Archives fails to come up with the promised goods? Quite often the author cannot afford to repay the publisher's advance, which was not only spent on the research but also on day-to-day living costs. All too many writers might be tempted to package the thin evidence to make it look more substantial than it is and hope that enough readers don't notice the con and that his or her reputation is not too seriously damaged. I suspect that too many reviewers, often authors themselves, cut the errant writer too much slack when it comes to exposing the research flaws and inadequacies of books to potential readers.

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With Wellington in the Peninsula is moving up the best seller list again. Sadly, I suspect this is because most books these days have a very short shelf-life at full price. So, I'd been fooling myself if I thought this increase in sales is due to the reading public finally realising what a gem of a military memoir I put so much effort and expense into bringing back before them after just under 200 years of undeserved obscurity. This sales boost is more probably price driven and due to discount sales. But I'll take it. I had under-estimated my own desire to do the best job possible. The modest amount of further research requested by the publisher took me in some new and unexpected directions. I spent more money and time on the project that I'd budgeted for. I could have shut down the fresh avenues of research and done less than my best. Many professional writers would have paid more attention to harsh economic realities and got away with it. But professional pride got the better of me. I used to joke with a former work mate that I might take home a bigger pay cheque than him but he got more per hour, thanks to the amount of unpaid overtime I was working. Some people never, ever, learn. But back to With Wellington in the Peninsula: I recently found it being recommended on an internet discussion forum called AskHistorians.

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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 of 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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