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Here in North America coming to work early and leaving late is much admired. The people who do that kind of thing are often promoted. I used to come in early for my shift too, but that was because I wanted to do the morning calls in my own way and that included chatting to people about matters that were not strictly business, and I used to leave late, but that was because there was no point leaving on time and spending an hour in a rush-hour traffic jam; why not just leave an hour later and drive straight home? I understand that in Germany, people who come in early and leave late are not marked for promotion. The Germans seem to take the sensible attitude that if someone can’t do their job in the time allocated, then something is wrong. And that “something” is more likely to be the employee than the employer. So, German bosses are decidedly unimpressed by what North Americans see as eager beavers. And let’s not get into people who never take holidays. It’s not unusual to find that’s because they don’t want anyone else doing their job and finding out either how incompetent they are or how much fraud they are committing.

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I heard the most interesting thing on the German Government’s English-language radio service – apparently the people of Berlin welcomed the Red Army as liberators in 1945. But, according to  Deutsche Welle, the good citizens of Berlin soon tired of the boorish Soviets and were grateful when the Americans saved them from starvation during the Berlin Airlift of 1949. Most of the item on the radio was about how wonderful the Americans were. This was a bit of a surprise because the Americans had no interest in fighting to “liberate” the people of Berlin from the Nazis until Hitler declared war on them in 1941. Liberation came courtesy of the fickle Red Army, at least according to DW.  The German radio programme did acknowledge that the British and some private airlines may have had something to do with the airlift, but apart from one token RAF pilot interviewed, the item focused on how wonderful Americans are. I was a little surprised to hear how delighted the people of Berlin had been at the arrival of the Soviets, but if the German Government says so………

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More than a decade ago I came across an odd little book in a second-hand shop. It was written by a Scots guy who at one point had spent some time riding around North America on freight trains in either the 1920s or 1930s. I think the Americans called such people “railroad bums” . Or maybe Hobos. Anyway, it turned out that this fella had ridden some trains that had gone through Alberta, which is where I live for the time being.  He recounted in the book that his fellow travellers strongly advised him not to get off the train in Alberta because it was widely believed by them that the province’s population was mostly crazy. Our Scot was told that Alberta was basically the last place in the world to be populated by white people. Many of the settlers had already failed badly in other parts of the world, such as Australia, Africa, eastern Canada or the United States. The province was the last chance saloon for some real strange dudes. I can’t say how valid the advice our Scottish chum was given actually was. But to this day Alberta has a reputation among other Canadians for being a bit of an odd man out among the provinces. There can't be many governments who, as the Albert provincial government did in 1975, would appoint a murderer as Solicitor General. Roy Farran was never convicted but anyone who was unaware of his confessions to the killing wasn't doing a very good job on the background check. For more on Farran

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OK, if I hear one more idiot on the radio refer to football as “The Beautiful Game”, I’m going to throw the wireless out of the window. With the World Cup on at the moment, the airwaves are full of poseurs talking about “The Beautiful Game”. Anyone who has actually played the game knows it is very seldom beautiful. I suspect that many of the balloons who describe it thus are just trying to jump onto some kind of bandwagon. Needless to say, we have a lot of people on Canadian radio who use this hackneyed and misleading label. Few I suspect, if any, ever played the game seriously.  Football, or soccer as it is called here, is still catching on in Canada. For many, it is still a game for schoolgirls. The professional men’s teams are nothing to write home about. Here in Edmonton there is interesting once-a-year tournament in which the various immigrant communities play their own version of the World Cup.  That’s about as good as it gets. Professional sport in Alberta is either ice hockey, just called hockey here, or Canadian Football League; think American football with slightly different rules and dominated by Yanks who can’t get a game in the NFL.  The same is true of most major Canadian cities. Only when more people actually play football in Canada will the phrase “Beautiful Game” get a well deserved banishment. Mind you, if Canadian journalists don’t  know much about football, neither do many of English ones. I heard one say last week that England’s first home defeat wasn’t until 1953. The Scots had been beating the English in England for decades by then and the Republic of Ireland were first non-British to beat England, in 1949. 

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Maybe I'm just not listening to the right radio stations, or podcasts, or whatever; but there don't seem to be many novelty songs around these days. When I was kid there seemed to be lots of silly songs or monologues on the radio. Hmm, some examples: Right Said Fred, My Boomerang Won't Come Back, Have Some Madeira My Dear, My Brother, Here I am at Camp Granada, Monster Mash, etc, etc. By the way, I'm not guaranteeing all the preceding titles are the ones on the sleeves of the records concerned. What's happened? Has the world become a far grimmer place? All people seem to sing, or apparently want to hear, are songs about shaking something called a booty or shooting folk dead. OK, I know that's an exaggeration, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of humour out there these days.

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I see there’s a giant poster in Wishaw wishing the English football team the worst of luck in the World Cup. In previous blogs I’ve explained that in the case of football, there is a case to be made for this Anyone But England attitude; after all, the Football Association did end the annual clash with Scotland in 1989 because it reckoned the Scots were so rubbish they were not worth wasting time playing. The end of the oldest international fixture in the World. Oh, by the way BBC World Service, the first international was not played at Wembley in the 1920s, it was played in Glasgow in 1872. Football, or as the World Service often calls it “soccer”, is the most popular team sport in the World, so a station that bills itself The World’s Radio Station, shouldn’t be spouting such nonsense. But back to this poster in Wishaw. Most English people are unaware of the all too valid reason for the bitterness and maybe the Scots who persist with ABE are just coming over as childish boors. Many are English people hurt by ABE because when England fail to make the finals of some major international competition they throw their support behind one of the other teams from the British Isles which has qualified. And on the subject of the BBC, it must take a lot of the blame for ABE because many non-English sports fans find its coverage of their team both patronizing and dismissive, especially if the team is playing England. And that frustration is transferred to the England team rather than to the ignorant Home Counties Broadcasting Corporation.  Anyway, maybe it's time to let bygones be bygones and set a good example when it comes to manners. Nothing will stop the English going on and on about their 1966 World Cup win, even if it owed more to poor refereeing than to footballing prowess. 

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When I was kid there was a TV programme called Joe 90. It was about a kid who by wearing some hi-tech glasses could do things only highly skilled and trained adults could do. Like operate a nuclear reactor, they were cool in the 1960s, or fly a high performance jet fighter, or disarm a nuclear bomb. It was a puppet show, or at least marionette, and I think from the same people who made Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. There was also, as far as I can remember, always some psychedelic sequence with a spinning ball cagey thing that had something do with transferring the adult knowledge to Joe. And if he lost the glasses, he lost the knowledge, I think. Anyway, there are days when I wish for a touch of the Joe 90s. I don't want to operate a nuclear reactor or fly a hi-tech jet. All I want is to know what a book says without having to spend hours and hours reading it. Reading, as you know, is very very time consuming. Of course, there are some writers who take the reader on a journey which they wish would never end. But reading to find things out can sometimes be a slog - and a disappointment if it turns out the author actually has nothing new to share or say. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all a person had to do was touch a book with their forefinger and the contents would all be downloaded into their memory? 

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Several years ago I came across a crack in a book about Dam Buster hero Guy Gibson caring more about his dog than the men under his command. It was from one of the men who served under him. But I've never had much luck find out whether the criticism was justified. Gibson's entry in the National Dictionary of Biography notes that he got on better with his flyers than he did with the ground crews. That didn't quite seem to cover the crack about his dog being more important than his men. But recently Gibson turned up twice in a book of air crew reminiscences. One of the men in the book was a flight sergeant who noted that Gibson was distant in his relationships with any air crew who were not officers. Gibson, the sergeant said was "arrogant, a martinet, not very approachable" and ruled his squadron with a rod of iron. Another sergeant recalled Gibson had all his pilots arrested as they landed for what many would regard as exuberant high spirits while moving from one airfield to another. The same sergeant added that Gibson was quick to accuse air crew of cowardice and this was a cause of much resentment. Though he thought accusations that Gibson was nothing but a gong-hunter were unfair. It has to remembered that Gibson was a pre-war regular who had been taught in the RAF to believe in a strict officer/rank and file divide. He even had a problem with officer pilots who he believed were too friendly to their crews. Gibson once ordered his squadron's air crews to spend two days cutting down trees because he didn't want them spending their weather enforced non-flying time boozing. The real Gibson would appear to not quite as played by Richard Todd in the 1955 film The Dam Busters. But, Gibson's book Enemy Coast Ahead remains on my Worth a Look list. 

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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 in a war which lasted from 1776 to 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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