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I doubt if I’m the first person to point out that the Guinness Book of Records has lost its way. Some of the records it records are just stupid. Who cares about the greatest number of people holding hands while they recite in unison Mary Had a Little Lamb? When the book was started, as a brewer’s promotion, it was to settle pub arguments. How many people get all riled up in the pub over the greatest number of people holding hands while the recite a childhood poem? Quite possibly zero. Now, tallest man, greatest number of children, longest finger nails, most prolific convicted mass killer, most London buses jumped on a motorcycle, etc, do still crop up over pub tables. I think the Guinness people started noting stupid futile pointless activities to generate publicity for themselves. And life must be getting tougher for them at a time when most folk sitting in a pub can find almost any information the want on their smart phone. 

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More years ago than I care to admit I spent most the time between finishing school homework and going to bed played football. There wasn't much else to do and the number of other kids who wanted to play determined the size of sides. Basically, everyone who showed up got a game and which team someone played for was determined by in what order they showed up. I was more of an enthusiastic player than a skilled one. So, when it came to organised games or tournaments I was seldom picked to play. But no matter; if I could, I would enter my own team. I remember a team I put together reached the semi-finals of a town-wide tournament staged in a local park. We wore strips borrowed from my primary school. Later at High School I wasn't picked for an end of term competition but once again got a team together. When one of the players from other Sixth Year team fell off a cliff, one my my team defected to it. Now here's the point. Although the teams I recruited were usually the second-rate players, we often did better than the teams composed of better footballers. We were well aware of our limitations and tended to pass more, etc. We were never a Team of Greats but we instinctively became a Great Team. There's a moral in there somewhere. 

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You know, for someone who was once the idol of human rights activists, Aung San Suu Kyi is turning out to be quite the cheerleader for the Burmese military. Two Burmese journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe OO, have just been jailed for trying to do their jobs and the odious Aung has labelled them "traitors" who well deserve seven years in the pokey. Never mind that the two journalists were caught in a sting after they accepted documents relating to the murder of Muslim minority Rohingya from someone posing as a journalistic source. Aung has pretty much been a cheerleader for what the United Nations now regards as a genocide in Myanmar, the name the military strongmen have given Burma. She applauds the military's crackdown on "terrorists". It would appear that Aung's interest in human rights never went much beyond her right to rule Burma. The military shoved her snout away from the trough because she was girlie. But Aung would have been given access if she'd been the son of Second World War Japanese collaborator General Aung San instead of a daughter. Long before the Burmese military started the wholesale murder and eviction of over 700,000 Rohingya the Burmese leader had made it clear they could expect no help from her. Speaking of help. Has anyone ever asked who called the cops on deluded American Aung San fan John Yettaw after he swam a lake in 2009 to visit his heroine when she was under house arrest? Canada stupidly gave this monster honourary citizenship. I hope the Canadian government has to guts to revoke it and demand Aung San is hauled before an international court for her part in Myanmar's ethnic cleansing. 

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The BBC believes that Korea was partitioned in 1953 after a ceasefire was declared. I could blog every week correcting the garbage that the, publicly funded by a United Kingdom-wide levy on television owners but overwhelmingly English-dominated, broadcaster puts out. But Korea is a big story and such ignorance of the basic facts is disturbing, to say the least. So, BBC here is what really happened. Japanese-ruled Korea was divided along the 38th Parallel into two occupation zones, American and Soviet, at the end of the Second World War in 1945l. Neither of the local puppet regimes installed was much to write home about and in 1950 Communist North Korean invaded corrupt American client South Korea. There was a ding-dong war which raged up and down the peninsula which eventually petered out and ended with a ceasefire, basically along the 38th Parallel, in 1953. The BBC's Jackie Leonard on the World Service's Newsroom made the post-war partition gaff in an item about South Koreans being allowed all-too brief meetings with North Korean relatives. Now, I don't know if Ms Leonard writes her own scripts. But I do know she should read them through before going on air. So should the programme's producer. I don't have the BBC's expensive news-gathering resources but almost any history book would have told the BBC when Korea was partitioned. The whole organisation must be held to account for this kind of incompetence. On the subject of the World Service, good for Edinburgh City Council revoking the freedom of the city foolishly bestowed on the service's former favourite world leader Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi. Anyone who looked closely at the career of murdered Burmese military strongman and Axis collaborator Aung San's daughter would have realised years ago that  she was a wrong 'un.  But the World Service used to love her and was very very slow to call her out over her odious attitude to the Rohingya Muslims and their horrendous treatment at the hands of her country's army . 

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I’m reading another American book at the moment. Now, if I read an American book I shouldn’t grumble if it is filled with words spelled the American way. But sometimes I still do. But the real irritant is that I have to keep reminding myself that that is not how I have to spell words in question when I’m writing for a mainly British audience. Of course, one day everyone will spell things the American way. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, unless a careful eye is kept on word processing software (most of it of United States origin), it will change spellings to the American version without asking. Yes,  I know about setting the dictionary to UK English and making that the default but that doesn’t always work. And secondly, the past two or three generations of teachers in the United Kingdom have verged on the illiterate. It’s not their fault. It all dates back to the 1960s when educationalists believed that being constrained by grammar and spelling was killing kids’ creative juices. So, good spelling and grammar were not taught early enough in a child’s schooling. A rot set in that just got worse and worse. How can today’s teachers teach something they were not properly taught themselves? They don’t have much of a chance when the people who taught them hadn’t been taught because teachers who taught them had not been given a good grounding because the people they learned from were victims of trendy 1960s educational theorists.

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When the Scots look at Northern Ireland I wonder how many realise that Kintyre was used as a laboratory for the displacement of the native Celtic population by their Lowland cousins. The Ulster Plantation was mirrored by the plantation of Kintyre after its MacDonald overlords were kicked out by the Edinburgh government. A lot of the best farms in Kintyre are owned by the descendants of Ayrshire farmers brought in by the Campbells. The names Ralston and Armour come to mind immediately. To this day, the farmers have a lot of clout in the Campbeltown area. I recall one of my predecessors as editor of the Campbeltown Courier believed crossing them had cost her her job. And I always suspected that an anonymous complaint that I’d showed up to cover a night-time meeting inappropriately attired had come from one of the farmers’ organisations. It was shame that I left the job before their next meeting or they would have found out my attitude to anonymous complaints. Another pointer to the Kintyre Plantation is the anglicisation of Gaelic family names.  There are a lot of names in the Campbeltown area which suggest they were anglicised a generation or two before those in the rest of the Highlands and Islands. I certainly had never encountered so many MacVicars, McSporrans,  McIlcheres, or MacKinvens before I moved to Campbeltown. 

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One of the problems with the media, and it has always been so, is that it has a very short attention span. It is very much “flavour of the month” stuff. The World’s justified contempt for the always odious Aung San Suui Kyi over the treatment of the Rohingya stayed in the headlines and on the pages of the newspapers for longer than most stories. But now she is being let off the hook as the media finds new supposedly more interesting and relevant issues to feature. There are still occasional mentions of the plight of the displaced Rohinyga pounded by monsoon rains in often desperate conditions in the refugee camps of neighbouring Bangladesh. But the pressure is basically off Aung Sang and her military thug partners as they run Myanmar as their own personal business fiefdom. This is no-news is great news for western businesses because the subject of sanctions, the only thing short of military action that might persuade Aung Sang and her nasty cronies to lay off the Rohingya, has been quietly dropped from the agenda.  Don’t let this happen. I was delighted to see Canada's Museum of Human Rights, in Winnipeg, has removed Aung's photo from its hall of fame. Rather than follow the museum's lead all at once, it would be great if similar bodies across the planet could over the period of several months one by one do the same thing and thus generate headline after headline in the World media. 

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I was listening to an interview with a woman who was trying to arrange of all the church bells in Britain to be rung to mark the centenary of the end of World War One. Suddenly, the interviewer, Dan Damon, asked if bells had been rung in the United States to mark the Armistice in 1918. The woman didn’t say it but the tone of her voice suggested that she hadn’t a clue and didn’t really care. Mr Damon explained that the BBC World Service has a lot of listeners in the United States. So?? Does every item on the BBC World Service have to mention the United States from now on? Mr Damon’s approach is both patronising and muddle-headed. Not all Americans are obsessed with their own country to the exclusion of all others. And the Americans who listen to the BBC do so to get away from the self-obsessed American media which believes if no Americans are involved in a given event then it might as well not have happened. I live in Canada at the moment and we get a lot of American news, way more than we deserve. It’s cheaper for Canadian broadcasters to take feeds from the US television news than cover actual events in Canada. I’ll tell you how bad it can get. Back in 2013 a runaway train carrying oil exploded in the middle of a town in Quebec killing 47 people. The event rated barely a mention on the evening news I watched that day. But we did get seven minutes or so about two people being killed at an airport in the United States. By the way, Mr Damon was part of the BBC’s Team Clueless which covered the Scottish Independence referendum. The Barr-ass!! 

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The Ministry of Defence’s decision to compensate British service personnel for having to pay Scottish income tax to support Holyrood is a pretty cheap political shot. Many of soldiers, sailors, and RAF personnel will be getting about £12 rebate a year. Considering the cost of administering the rebates, it hardly seems worth it. And the personnel stationed in Scotland will continue to get free prescriptions, free school meals and a better funded education for their kids, etc. The real winners are the highly paid officers who will be getting up to £1,500 pounds in rebates. My guess is that the rebates will go towards paying their kids private school fees. Thus helping to maintain the fine tradition of ex-public school boys dominating the officer corps of the British Army. There are plenty of jobs that mean that people are forced to work in areas in which they pay higher council  rates for public services than did in their home town and yet as far as I know, apart from London-weighting, the London government does nothing for them. What’s so special about the military and Scotland? If you ask me, it’s all a political stunt. The London government’s suggestion that unless the rebates are paid there will be no-one willing to come to Scotland to keep in the nuclear submarines in the Clyde operational is an insult to the technicians of Royal Navy. 

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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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