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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 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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Is there such a thing as the Canadian Cringe? That no Canadian has really truly made it until they are famous somewhere else? That what happens in America or Europe is more interesting than anything happening in Canada? I was appalled by recent Canadian coverage of the murder of eight people in New York by a Lone Loser in a rented truck. Journalist after journalist or should I say "'journalist' after 'journalist'", cited similar previous attacks in Europe. Not one mentioned the recent hire-van pedestrian knockdown by a Lone Loser here in Edmonton, Alberta, which put four people in hospital. And there was the cop the Loser hit with a car earlier the same night and tried to stab to death. I guess for Canadian "journalists" if it didn't happen in the United States or a major European city, it didn't happen at all. OK, the Edmonton nut-job didn't succeed in killing anyone, but I don't think it was through lack of trying.  And while we're on the subject of homicidal losers; what's this with describing their sad sad murders, and attempted murders and maimings,  as "Lone Wolf Attacks"? That gives them an implied dignity and valour they certainly don't merit and insults wolves. Lone Loser. Sad Sack. Pathetic Excuse for a Human Being.

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I voted recently, in the local council elections here in Edmonton. One of the things that struck me the first time I voted in the Canadian election was that the ballot really seemed to be secret. There was no election worker noting the serial number on my ballot slip against my details on the electoral roll. If the Canadians have a way of working out who has voted for the "wrong" candidate, I haven't been able to figure how they do it. In Britain, and this may no longer be true, the tiny vote for the Communist, Fascist, or other extremist candidates, was gone through by students during the summer holidays and the serial numbers on ballot papers checked against  the electoral roll. Very time consuming and probably the actual real Communist agents of subversion were warned by Moscow not draw attention to themselves by voting for The Party. So, apart from providing some holiday pin-money for the student children of the politically reliable, the whole exercise was pretty much a stupid waste of time when it came to preventing genuine subversion. But it gave Special Branch more work.  In the Hong Kong legislative elections, the Chinese Government in Beijing do not give people the opportunity to vote "wrong".  It carefully vets the list of candidates to make sure no-one disagreeable is on the ballot paper.  A different approach to democracy. But probably both British and Chinese pay equal heed to basic democratic principles.

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So, all the World is doing about the ethnic cleansing of northwest Burma is wringing its hands. The Rohingya crisis has also woken the international community up to just how dreadful Aung San Suu Ky truly is. It must be clear to even the dimmest that Aung actually approves of driving the Muslim population out of Myanmar and has no intention of calling a halt to the Burmese army's murder and house-burning campaign. What disturbs me is the lack of international action. I'd like to think the inaction is due to some kind of realpolitik and not wanting to give over control of Myanmar to the Chinese by destabilizing the Burmese military. But it's important not to forget that the Burmese military is not really a fighting force - its lacklustre performance against non-Burmese insurrections since World War Two clearly shows this - but a multi-billion pound business empire. Could it be that the lack of international intervention, economic sanctions perhaps, has more to do with financial considerations rather than the balance of military power in south-east Asia. The mass displacement of the Rohingya has a lot to do with enriching the Burmese military through landgrabs and other asset seizures.  A sad footnote is that the non-Burmese minorities that the military is so keen to crush, the Rohingya, the Karens, the Shans, etc, were all on the anti-Fascist side in the Second World War. The Burmese military, led by Aung's father, only turned against Imperial Japan when its defeat was certain. Follow the money if you really want to understand what is going on.

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So, the latest figures show 70% of British Army officers were privately educated. Something like 7% of Britons are privately educated. Does anyone else agree that is a terribly shallow talent pool to select leaders from? Those who believe brains and talent are inherited, along with all that money to pay for private education, need only look at the number of family large businesses which collapse by the third or fourth generation. And yet we trust our defence and our children's lives, those of youngsters who choose to join the armed services at least, to the a group of people whose only common qualification is wealth. That works if the the whole point is to make sure that our military leadership has a massive stake in the status quo and therefore a military coup highly unlikely. If, however, the future existence of the country is at stake, maybe it's not really the way to run our defence. Brains rather than breeding could be the way to go. Some may say, well, 70% still leaves 30% who were not privately educated. True, but I suspect that the 30% who are state educated are mainly going into the parts of the army in which the ability to successfully walk and talk simultaneously without falling over is part of their job. OK, that's an exaggeration but that chances of encountering a competent infantry officer below the rank of Major are less than 50-50:- all too often way less than that. And the officers who go into the more technical parts of the army very seldom reach the sort of high ranks at which they could make a real difference to how operations are planned and conducted. And because of that young Britons who choose to serve in the military but who are not privately educated will continue die unnecessary deaths. 

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In my memory about the only month when some summer sunshine was more likely than gloom laden skies and rain in my childhood was May. If a bookie was taking a bet on which months in Scotland would have more than a total of 30 hours of blue skies and sunshine, then he would probably refuse to accept any bets on May. The summer school holidays, in my memory at least, were a lottery when it came to sunshine. No great surprise then that the BBC summer holiday morning TV schedule was heavily watched. Year after year the schedule was almost entirely the same bill of foreign fare, and not always well dubbed. Best of all was The Flashing Blade from France, at least until our heroes reached The Castle. Robinson Crusoe, also a French offering, was also not bad. But France's Belle and Sebastian was just pure boring: right up there with White Horses, was that German or Yugoslavian? Anyway, it was boring too. For cheap scary camp, Germany's Singing Ringing Tree has to take the prize. If that didn't put a kid off evil dwarfs, nothing would. I think most people in Scotland in the years it was on TV knew that at least one Scottish regiment stationed in Germany was known to the locals as The Poison Dwarfs. Was the Boy from Lapland, the one with the catchy Scandinavian yodelling in the theme tune, on the summer schedule? I think it was, but I could be wrong.  Ah, those dreich summer holiday mornings. That was before every cartoon had an annoying brat character that the viewing kids were supposed to identify with. Can anyone remember Scrappy Doo without wanting to puke? 

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I don't know, there's just something about the sale of Victoria Cross for around six hundred thousand Canadian dollars, around four hundred thousand pounds, that makes me uncomfortable. It is only a piece a metal and it's not as if it's the guy who actually won it that's being forced to part with it because he's hit hard times. The VC in question was won by Canadian tank commander Major David Currie during the Normandy Campaign in August 1944. The notoriously modest Currie always insisted until his death that the medal really belonged to all the men who served under his command as they tried to staunch a massive German retreat they stood in the path of. His widow sold the medal to a Canadian collector. I don't know what he paid for it. But we do know it has just been resold to a British collector. I don't know why the medal was sold this time around or why the British collector wanted it so much. I can understand why the widow might have sold it. Acts of bravery do not pay the rent. Though, if she took her husband's words to heart, she would have tracked down all Currie's men and shared the proceeds of the sale with them. I presume the medal was sold for more than the Canadian collector paid for it. Maybe that's what's troubling me. Why, I ask myself, should someone with enough spare cash to buy a medal profit by another man's courage? Or in this case, according to the recipient himself, other men's courage? Pieces of medal are one of way of recognising outstanding performance in the service of the nation. But perhaps a decent lifetime pension might be better. Towards the end of Queen Victoria's reign as far too many rank-and-file winners of the award that bears her name went to paupers' graves, a decent pension was instituted - somewhere between fifty and seventy-five pounds a year.  Last I heard, the pension, officially an annuity, was just over fourteen hundred pounds a year.

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So, Burmese leader Aung San Suu Ky is baffled by almost unanimous worldwide condemnation of her handling of the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya- basically a denial that it's happening. I am also puzzled by the sudden flood of condemnation - what took the international community so long to revoke her Mandela-like sainthood? Aung has always been a bit dodgy. Are world leaders really just waking up to this? What do they pay their embassy staffs and spies for? Did they hope that even Aung would stop short of condoning the military-sponsored ethic cleansing of Myanmar's Muslim community and they would not have to speak out? A year ago, Aung told a BBC interviewer that now that she was in a power-sharing partnership with the Burmese military that she wasn't going to jeopardize her electoral support by supporting the Rohingya. And I've always wondered who called the cops when a misguided American swam a lake to see her while she was still under house arrest a couple of years ago. I've long suspected Aung initiated the call to her jailers and dropped that poor Yank in the smelly stuff. If Aung's father hadn't been part of the military junta which seized power after the Second World War, I don't think anyone would have ever heard of her. As I said here a couple of weeks ago, if she hadn't been a girlie, she would have been part of the military dictatorship long ago without all that bothersome posing as a paragon of democracy and humanity for so many years. 

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I recently heard the BBC World Service refer to Richard III, who died in 1485, as a British monarch. I hold to the belief that James VI of Scotland became the first authenticated British monarch when he succeeded Elizabeth I of England in 1603. The BBC was just reflecting the difficulty many English people have in differentiating English from British. The Scots, Welsh, and a chunk of Irish folk are also British. I was truly appalled during the Scottish Independence referendum by the coverage carried out by the BBC's so-called National correspondents. They hadn't a clue about what was going on in Scotland. Their ignorance was mind-numbing. Yes, the English do make up the vast bulk of the British population. But there is a significant proportion of it who are not English. Organisations such as the BBC often confuse English with national. That is not a mistake the Scots, Irish, and Welsh make very often. The Scots and Northern Irish have English laws and procedures rammed down their throats daily by the so-called national media. Scots, brought up on a constant diet of English courtroom drama, are astonished to find fifteen of them are required for a jury in their own country. The Northern Irish, Welsh and Scots often have to be aware of two systems of government, the English and their own. Many English people, through no real fault of their own, know little of life beyond their own borders. I respectfully submit that unless National means English, then the BBC should be looking only to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland for journalists qualified to cover British affairs. 

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So, why are people so surprised that Burmese politician Aung San Suu Ky isn’t planning to lift a finger to stop the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar? She basically told a BBC interviewer a year ago that there were no votes in helping the Rohingya Muslim minority, so she wasn't interested. And there must be a suspicion that she actually approves of the mistreatment of a group of people many of her fellow countrymen and women regard as illegal immigrants. She is after all pretty much a chip off the old block when it comes to military dictators, her political career is built on her turncoat general of father being one of the founders of present-day Myanmar. Possibly the only reason why she was not a member of the military dictatorship which supposedly recently bowed to democracy was that she was born a girlie and couldn’t be a general. Some argue that she is unable to control the military which is leading civilian mobs in murdering and raping Rohingyas before burning down their villages. She claims this is all “fake news”. The use of that term gives us a measure of the woman. If she genuinely does not have the power to stop the ethnic cleansing then she should have the guts to stand-down and show what a sham democracy Myanmar is. Instead she is acting as a fig leaf and apologist for her fathers’ old chums and their successors. But in one thing she is correct – there is now an armed Rohingya insurgency. And the Burmese military is playing right into their hands by grossly over-reacting to their provocations. Classic mistake.

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Good Grief, has it really been two decades since Lady Di died? With days to go before I left Staffordshire to start a new job in Canada I got a call from my about-to-be employer asking me to gauge local reaction to the death of the former consort to the heir to the throne in a Paris car crash. To be frank, no-one was rending their clothes and tearing their hair out. The mass media had still not managed to guilt the population into feeling that they must be monsters if they did not weep publicly at the death of a woman who it was busy elevating to latter day English sainthood. I sort of regretted that I'd thrown away an old photo of Lady Di and I. It was taken during a royal visit to Shetland. This was in the days when the media were not allowed to speak to royalty and coverage consisted of asking people what the royals had said them during walk-abouts. The exchanges seldom even reached the heights of banality; though Prince Phillip might say something crass under the impression he was being funny. So, I never spoke to Lady Di or her husband. But, I was photographed trailing the obligatory 12 feet behind the couple. A trick of the camera lens made it look as though I was standing at Lady Di's shoulder and she was sharing a joke or a comment with me. A year or so later, when I was leaving Shetland to return to Inverness, I found the photo while clearing my desk. It went into the chuck-it-out pile rather than the "keep" folder. How was I to know she would become famous again almost a decade later? 

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