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Hollywood's quintessential English gentleman David Niven tells a very touching story in his autobiography The Moon's a Balloon about his days as an officer in the Highland Light Infantry. He recounts how he went to the hospital bedside of crusty old Company Sergeant Major "Sixty" Smith the day before the battalion left Malta. Smith, a highly respected regimental character, asked the young Niven to arrange for the battalion to deviate slightly from its marching route down to the docks so that he could hear the pipe band one last time before he died. Niven claims to have been with Smith as the pipes and drums marched past and saw tears ran down the old soldier's "granite cheeks" before he slid back down between the sheets and turning his face to the wall. Niven reports Smith died that night. The problem with the story is that Smith died in 1936, in Egypt, and Niven resigned his commission in 1933. The last soldiers of the regiment to see Smith in hospital before they left Egypt reported no premonition of death from the tough old Military Medal winner; who came through the entire First World War uninjured. Smith made fine fodder for one of Niven's many embellished and dubious tales in The Moon's a Balloon. Would Smith have approved; I don't know. The urbane raconteur always had a twinkle in in eyes when he told such tales during television interviews. It was obvious that he was not the kind of man to let the facts get in the way of a good story. He was after all an entertainer. But as News becomes more and more a branch of the entertainment industry some disturbing trends are emerging. Television news anchors are taken more seriously than they should be here in North America. For years US anchor Brian Williams told how a helicopter he was in over Iraq had to make an emergency landing after being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. In fact, it was another helicopter flying nearby that was forced down. I won't go into why some Walter Mitty television newsman would make up such a story. What concerns me is the lack of respect he had for journalism. Did he really think no-one would check his story? Though, it took US journalists more than a decade to call Williams out, so perhaps his contempt for his own profession was not entirely without some foundation.

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Canada now has more kilted regiments than Britain. Britain's down to only one, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, while around a dozen cities in Canada are home to kilted units. Granted, they are all reserve units. Canadians were recently reminded just how much some units still cherish their Scottish connection when a kilted reservist from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada was shot dead at the National War Memorial in Ottawa by a sad-sack loner who had converted to some perverted branch of Islam. Years back I came across a bunch of lads from the Vancouver-based Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. Not one of them was anyone's traditional idea of a Highlander. At least one looked Hispanic and all the others obviously traced their roots to China or the Indian sub-continent. But they all assured me they wore kilts on ceremonial parades. But even though the ethnic mix in the reserve units carrying on the Scottish names of regiments is very varied, they still show an interest in the the British Army regiments which inspired them. As well as the Seaforth's and Argylls, Canada also has a Black Watch and two regiments of Camerons. I was reminded of the strength of these links when I saw that the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada is throwing its weight behind the appeal for the proposed new Royal Highland Fusiliers museum at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow. By the way, the Canadian cousins have long been a kilted regiment. The Highland Light Infantry regained their kilts in 1947 only to lose them again in 1959 when they merged with the Royal Scots Fusiliers to form the Royal Highland Fusiliers. Bizarrely, the government of time insisted on putting the new regiment in trews against the wishes of both the HLI and the RSF. It was only when the RHF became the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland that the kilts were restored.  For more information about the appeal - Museum Appeal.

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There are 17 regular infantry regiments in the British Army. Eight of them are single battalion. Five of those eight are Guards units. Since the Second World War all the regiments but the five Guards units have been renamed and subject to amalgamation. Many long-storied units have lost their identities. Efficiency and flexibility has been the reasons given for axing many of the great regimental names to create the new multi-battalion regiments. I guess Her Majesty's Foot Guards must already have been super-duper efficient and flexible. One of the features of the super-regiments is it is easier to axe a battalion once in a while. In recent years, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders has been reduced to one company and the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers cut to one battalion. But Whitehall is shying away from creating a unit simply known as The Foot Guards and sneakily axing a battalion. One of the problems is that three of the five Guards regiments are named in honour of constituent parts of the United Kingdom. Though, it must be hard to justify the Irish Guards when the part of that island which is still British territory is pretty small. It used to be the most junior regiment would be the first to be disbanded. In this case, that would be the Welsh Guards, formed 1915.  But let's make ending the Guards' immunity from the painful reorganization process the rest of the British Army has undergone a little gentler. How about the regiment with the fewest officers from the area is is supposedly traditionally recruits from gets the axe? But I don't think I'll hold my breath waiting for that to happen.  

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I was more than a little saddened to see that Winston Churchill's memory was being hijacked by the present regime in Britain. My first thought was that wallowing in past glories is not a good response to the challenges faced by a 21st Century nation. My second thought was the historical basis for the hijacking is bogus. The Tory party in the 1930s and 1940s hated Churchill. Many of its members did everything they could to undermine him after be became Prime Minister. He only remained in power thanks to Labour support. Churchill would have loathed the Cameron Conservatives - though a loose-cannon child of privilege, he didn't go to Eton. Churchill was more committed to social equality than Tony Blair ever was. Cameron, his idol Maggie Thatcher, and Blair dismantled Churchill's social legacy.  And let's not forget that the British electorate passed a pretty damning verdict on Churchill after the defeat of Germany in 1945 by kicking him out of power. So, it's a bit cheeky to be lionizing the man now. I have an admiration for Churchill, though the men who during the Second World War steered Britain in the slipstream of American Victory found him exasperating to work with and were hard put to derail some of his crazier notions. And speaking of Americans - the archetypal British Bulldog was half Yankee. He was as much British as Barrack Obama is the first black president of the United States of America.

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The Festive Season often yields some cash in lieu of a present. Some of you may still be stumped as to how best to spend this windfall. I have a suggestion - if you can wait a few more weeks. Why not order a copy of a wonderful new book called With Wellington in the Peninsula? This account of the Peninsular War 1808-14 through the eyes of a rank-and-file soldier in one of Wellington's best regiments is a long lost treasure. Of course, I would say that: I'm credited as editing the first re-issue of the full text since 1827. I recently had to re-read the book in its entirety and to be honest I'd forgotten what a little gem this account of the Highland Light Infantry at war is. Working on the new edition proved to be a far bigger job than I'd expected. While double-checking the narrator's story I came across three other first-person accounts of the Peninsular War from members of the regiment and wove them into the book in the form of footnotes. The book also includes ten specially commissioned maps.  The new edition is due to be published by Frontline at the end of February and Casemate in North America in April. Even if you're not interested in the Napoleonic Wars, this book has much to say about the experience of men at war throughout history.

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The senior officers in the Royal Regiment of Scotland would perhaps take some comfort from the introduction to to an 1878 book I came across recently about the British regiments. The author, a former army officer, was lamenting what he believed was the destruction of the regimental system by the 1873 Cardwell Reforms to the army. They linked regiments together for training and recruitment purposes. In fact the 1873 and subsequent 1881 Childers Reforms, which created two battalion regiments with clearly defined recruiting areas, proved to be the foundation of what are now as the "historic Scottish regiments" which were amalgamated into the Royal Regiment of Scotland in 2006. Actually, it was the First and Second World Wars, and National Service, which saw tens of thousands of civilians put in the tartans of their "local" regiments and cemented the link between specific regions and army units. At the moment, the four remaining front-line regular battalions of the RRoS, still carry names rather than simply being referred to by number. But  only the Black Watch, the 3rd Battalion, still bears a name that veterans of the Second World War would recognise. It is no secret that senior civil servants and military men would prefer to see the end of the individual battalion names and want them referred to by their numbers. Some battalions are keener than others to retain the traditions of their predecessor regiments. Others buy into the whole creating a tradition for the RRoS, if that is not a contradiction in terms. It is a balancing act. But just the jeremiahs of 1873 were wrong, let's hope their 2006 counterparts are also proven mistaken. By the way, 1873 reforms linked: - The 26th Cameronians and the 74th Highlanders; the 42nd Black Watch and the 79th Camerons; the 71st HLI and the 78th Ross-shire Buffs; the 72nd Duke of Albany's and the 91st Argyllshire Highlanders;  the 73rd Highlanders and the 90th Perthshire Light Infantry; and the 92nd Gordon Highlanders and the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders. 

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Most journalists lead boring lives. What really got up my nose last week were the accusations of cowardice and gutlessness levelled at media organisations which decided not to run the Charlie Hebdo images of the Prophet Mohammed in so called "solidarity" with the satirical magazine's murdered journalists. I found the "holier than thou" types making the accusations against fellow journalists both arrogant and silly. They know, as we all do, that there is almost zero chance that they will be executed one-by-one in the repeat of last week's murders in Paris. So what makes them so brave. Nothing. They are playing at being brave. They know that there is no question of them dying to defend someone else's free speech, even if they disagree with what is being said. I think the accusations of cowardice  could be fairly made against a media organisation which was planning to run the cartoons and decided not to after the murder spree. But attacking media outlets for exercising their right not to run potentially offensive images is stupid. In the same way I would not criticise someone for deciding to run the images, I would not condemn someone else who decided not to because they are simply  not their cup of tea. To me, that's what Freedom of Speech is all about. It all reminded me of the aftermath of the murder of Irish journalist Veronic Guerin in 1996. Suddenly, it seemed, half the journalists in Britain were writing about how dangerous their work was - even if it was only writing a gardening column for the local weekly. Self-dramatising, self-important, twaddle. Here's a good rule of thumb - a scary number of the journalists who really do put their lives on the line for the sake of the job do indeed wind up dead. According to the Committee to Protect Journalist, 61  definitely died in 2014 as a result of their work.

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The problem with recycling old events and packaging them as news is the danger of being scooped. Perhaps that's why news organisations marked a couple of recent anniversaries so early this year. I'm thinking of the 10th anniversary of the tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people on Boxing Day 2004 and the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce between British and German troops during the First World War. The media started running tenth anniversary stories in early December and I'm sure I heard Truce stories in November. The problem with News is that the media has a short attention span, so, events are surrounded by a flare up of white-hot saturation coverage and then forgotten. There is little calm later analysis or follow-up. But both the anniversary "stories" I'm talking about were stale, stale, stale. In the case of the tsunami most were interviews with survivors who had been interviewed a decade before. A more interesting story would have been the damage done by the self-interest of so-called non-governmental aid organisations. Basically, as far as they were concerned it didn't matter what they did as long as they were seen to be doing something and doing it quickly. Long term meaningful help was not a priority for many aid organisations. Instead the priority is income-generating publicity. In the case of the Christmas Truce the stories basically involved reading out some diary or letters from participants. No attempt was made to look at how widespread the fraternization between the troops actually was. A couple of years ago few people were even aware of the Truce and now it has reached mythic proportions. In view of the unimaginative coverage of both events, I can see why media outlets were scared of being scooped and marked the anniversaries so far ahead. It's only four years until the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing, expect the first commemoration "stories" before 2015 is over.

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I have a pal who decided that women were not getting a fair kick of the can when it came to jobs in his office. He was responsible for hiring and he went out of his way to make sure vacancies were filled by women. Eventually, he was the only male in the office. His female colleagues decided they would be more comfortable in an all-women work environment. They conspired to get rid of him. He only just kept his job. I was reminded of this by a couple of job adverts I saw recently. Both mentioned recipes. Now, it's possible that this was a heavy-handed attempt to demonstrate that the successful job candidate would be joining a "fun" organisation. But there is a more sinister implication. Could the mention of recipes be code for "males need not apply". I know a lot of guys who like cooking and might welcome a new chocolate chip cooking recipe or one for banana-bread. But I also happen to know that both the departments advertising the jobs are 100% female at the moment. I would have thought these days any office that was 100% one gender or the other would raise a red flag. But apparently not. I've said it before and I'm prepared to say it again - discrimination of any kind is wrong and that includes so-called positive discrimination.

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Just how low can the BBC World Service sink? Most hostage situations are about gaining publicity. So why would the BBC spend 90 minutes or so in two hours of broadcasting on Monday's hostage taking in Sydney, Australia? The facts could be summed up in four or five sentences. So, the BBC filled the rest of the time with speculation and bizarre interviews with people who had seen police cars near the coffee shop where the hostages were being held. Police at the scene of a hostage-taking - Hold the Front Page! What the BBC was basically saying through its prolonged and unenlightening coverage was that if you are a maladjusted loner, take some hostages and we'll devote three-quarters of our news programming to giving you publicity. Sadly, news broadcasting is becoming less about the facts and more and more about what social media is saying about events. A friend down in the United States was complaining that the BBC World Service news is now being carried by his favourite radio station in the morning. At first, my national pride was hurt. But then when I thought about it, he had a point. The time is coming when the pompous and self-satisfied National Public Radio network in the United States is going to be a more reliable news provided than Auntie Beeb. A couple of months back in the space of an hour the BBC World Service told me that Oscar Pistorius's defence team had requested a psychiatric report on the legless killer during his trial in South Africa and that rogue Toronto mayor Rob Ford was expected to announce that day whether he was going to run for re-election. Neither was true. The BBC World Service is taking a wrong turn. It's attempting to be social media on the wireless. Why would any professional media outlet ape social media? The internet is where I go for social media, the wireless if where I go for news.  I'm not saying that the Sydney hostage-taking should have gone unreported on the BBC; just that when there is little to report, then report little. I can't help but wonder if the hostages had been taken in Islamabad or New Delhi  whether so much time would have been devoted the covering events. People like us?

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A couple of days ago while looking for some on the interweb I came across an appeal from some guy who wondered where he could download one of my books for free. I wonder if he would have gone on the interweb asking if anyone knew of a shop where the guy behind the till was blind and deaf because that would make it easier to steal. Perhaps he would. I followed the link suggested by one of his fellow creeps. I was delighted to recognise it. Anyone who downloads from the site is almost certainly going to regret it. Put it this way, it's not just a book they're getting. The only legitimate free book downloads I know of involve publications that are long long out of copyright. Quite often there are a couple of pages missing due to whoever scanned the book being in too much of a rush. None of my books are out of copyright. There are no legitimate free copies available for download. Maybe some musicians encourage free downloads of their tunes. But musicians have diverse sources of income and perhaps their business model includes offering free downloads. But most authors have only one source of income. I wonder if that creep was stupid enough to give that "free book" download site his credit card number so he could subscribe to their "service".

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I wonder if bank robbers have a problem with the eye-holes on their balaclava ski masks stretching. If you roll the ski mask up, the eye holes get stretched. I know this not because I rob banks but because I live in a sometimes cold country, Canada. We've just had a heavy dump of snow, it looks like about eight to nine inches so far today and it's still coming down, and the temperature is -20oC (knock off another -10oC for windchill) and so it's time to think seriously about Winter-wear. I couldn't help noticing that the eye and mouth holes on my white balaclava are getting a bit big. I'm not worried about being recognised, the reason bank robbers wear them, but every micro-square-inch of bare flesh exposed to the elements is an invite to a frost-bite. And I take frost-bit seriously. A couple of years back one frigid lunchtime I took my gloves off to wrestle with the handbrake of a car which had become stuck. The gloves were only off very briefly and though I was aware of a tingling in my finger tips, I thought I'd got away with it. Next days those finger tips looked like bleached white ripped rags. What to wear when the temperature plummets and the snow gets deep can be a challenge. Wading through freshly dumped snow soon builds up body heat. Not enough clothing, you freeze, too much and you end up at your destination covered in sweat. And footwear is also a challenge. Out here on the Canadian Prairies nearly everyone has what I like to call Snow Wellies. The foot part of them is rubber and then they reach wellie-high up the leg in some kind of water-proof fabric. They usually have a felt-like insulating liner and tie-off at the top to keep the snow going down them. Army surplus ones are much in demand. The problem with them is that they have extra-wide soles. A size 10 boot has something like a size 13 sole and acts a bit like mini-snow shoes. They're great when snow needs to be waded through. But once you get into a building; well when's the last time you saw anyone walking the hallways in snowshoes - even mini-ones?  Sun glasses are also a good idea. The Ski Set has long been aware  of how much light bounces off the snow but it was news to me my first full winter in Canada. So, snow-blindness is an issue. And we get a lot of sun during the winter here on the Canadian Prairies. Ah, what to wear!

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The Royal Highland Fusiliers museum on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow is an interesting place. But the regimental trustees would be the first to agree that they are forced by lack of space to cram perhaps too much into the very limited space they have available for display. That's why they have launched an appeal to fund a move to bigger premises. The regimental trustees are the custodians of artifacts and documents relating to two of Scotland's oldest regiments. Perhaps part of their problem is that both the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the third oldest Scottish infantry regiment (counting the Scots Guards), and the second oldest Highland Regiment, in the form of the Highland Light Infantry, lack the glamour attached to many of the other units. And that might make the fund-raising drive tougher than it should be. When I was researching Scottish Military Disasters, several of the regiments were very very helpful: only one ignored me completely. It would be unwise of me to pick a favourite museum or archivist. In fact, not only would it be unwise but it would also be unfair. I'm not even going to name a top three. But I will say that the RHF have some tremendous tales to tell and I whole-heartedly support anything that improves their ability to get their story out. For more information about the appeal -  Museum Appeal.

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Remembrance Day is a big deal here in Canada. It is marked not on the nearest Sunday but actually on November 11th and is a public holiday in many parts of the country. There are ceremonies at war memorials across the nation. But the grandest of all is at the National War Memorial just outside the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. Following the recent murder of a member of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada while on ceremonial guard at the memorial by a loner sad-sack convert to Islam, this year's commemoration attracted a bigger than usual crowd. So, maybe not a good day for a someone to allegedly dress up in a military uniform and pretend to be a serving soldier. An even worse idea to be interviewed on national television while wearing that uniform. And even even worse to wear one of the highest awards available to members of the Canadian military for bravery. Straight away geniune members of the military called "fake" and many of them howled with rage. It's a criminal offence in Canada to wear military medals that have not been earned or to impersonate a member of the army, navy or air force. Jail time , if found guilty of the alleged offences, seems a bit severe but a fine would probably in order to show society's disapproval. I know a lot of people here in Canada wonder what all the fuss is about. Years ago I tried to follow-up a tip that a frequently quoted in the media and supposedly highly decorated veteran was really a navy cook. What harm is he doing, I was asked by the people who controlled the purse strings I needed loosened to pay for a couple of searches of military records I wanted done before outing the old fraud. The answer is plenty. He was filling folks' heads, including young soldiers, with nonsense about war. War should never be undertaken lightly and the last thing people need is fakers muddying the waters with their fantasies when decisions that put people in harm's way are to be made.

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You don't need me to tell you that the First World War was a turning point in British history. In fact it may have been THE turning point. The conflict is all too often portrayed in British popular memory as futile. I can believe that my great-grandfathers were duped by their political masters and social betters and herded like cattle to the slaughter grounds. As two of them were killed in the war and the other two died long before I was born, I never had the chance to ask them what their thoughts were when war broke out. What did they believed was worth risking death to defend? But the First World War was not an exercise in futility. The Germans were stopped. It's too often forgotten that the German commanders who pillaged and murdered and created so much havoc during the Second World War had learned their trade during the First. The populations of German-occupied France and Belgium were enslaved and starved. Hostages seized by the Germans to ensure local good behaviour were murdered. One of the greatest libraries in Europe was torched. The only things missing from equation were Death Camps. The Kaiser's Germany was a vigorous and lusty parent of Nazi Germany. The Treaty of Versailles was indeed a mistake. It was harsh enough to create resentment in Germany but not harsh enough to prevent the Germans resuming the work they had started in 1914. If you want to talk about harsh peace treaties, have a look at the one the military dictators who ran Germany imposed on the Russians in March 1918.

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Calling film buffs everywhere. In the deep dark recesses of my mind I seem to remember an old British black and white film which featured in the climactic scene a Centurion tank busting its way into a bank.  It was obviously a robbery caper and I have a feeling that the bad guys did not get away with it. Can anyone remember the name of the film and/or anything about the plot? I used to think that the film might have been called Robbery Under Arms. Then I decided that was the name of a Stanley Baker film about a gang trying to steal an army payroll around the time of the Suez Crisis. Wrong yet again, the Stanley Baker film I was thinking about is called A Prize of Arms. Anyway, without any idea of the title of the tank-in-the-bank film or what year it was made, or who was in it, I haven’t managed to get very far. I am beginning to wonder if I dreamt the whole thing and there's no such film. Anyway, if you know anything about this film, hit the comment button below and let me know.

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The thing about politicians - apart from being unable to look beyond the next election - is that they feel they have to be seen to be "doing something". I'm sure I'm not alone in becoming increasingly concerned about the proposed curbs on free speech and civil liberties that seem to be accompanying the rise in Islamist extremist violence. The United Kingdom managed to survive the threat of Northern Irish terrorism without many of the powers which we are now told are essential to deal with the rise of ISIS and the ilk. I don't remember all the passengers getting off the ferry from Larne to Stranraer being herded into detention camps for questioning. Here in Canada the murder of two soldiers, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo, in separate incidents by sad-sack loser loners, both converts to Islam, has led to calls from a couple of MPs for some form of internment.  I suspect that there are already adequate means in the legislative toolbox to deal with the present threat. I would have thought extremists should be encouraged to shoot their mouths off. That way we know who they are. Then we can watch them and anyone who associates with them. The Number One aim of terrorists is to provoke an over-reaction that shoves recruits into their net. What is needed now is some finesse and imagination, not a blunt instrument forged because some politco feels "something should be done" to secure the vote of Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells or Toronto.

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It would appear that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II shares my concerns about bravery medals. She recently, for the first time in history, took a soldier's bravery medal away from him. The rescinding of Major Andrew Armstrong's Military Cross appears to have opened a can of worms. A review is going on into all the bravery awards given out to the Royal Artillery in Afghanistan. The suspicion appears to be that some of the recommendations for the awards contained exaggerations and distortions. One has to wonder why it has taken so long for the Palace to become suspicious. The British officer corps has a long tradition of looking after its blue-eyed boys and a nice little bravery award can often help when promotions come around. And not all bogus citations are self-serving. One of the founders of the Special Air Service, Paddy Mayne, was recommended by his officers for the VC. He may well have earned the VC several times over - probably not for the action which led to the recommendation. His subordinates were more than a little economical with the truth. They concocted a recommendation that they believed pushed all the right buttons to spit out a VC for their boss. He ended up with a fourth Distinguished Service Order.  Some units keep score of the number of VCs they have won in their history as an indication of military prowess. Other units regard extraordinary deeds of valour as all in a day's work and seldom apply for them. I say the only recognition that counts comes not from the Queen or the chain-of-command, but from fellow members of the unit involved.

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At a recent job interview I was asked how I felt about working in an environment in which most of my colleagues were black. Or was it Chinese.? How is a person supposed to answer a question like that? There's an implication in the question that is very unpleasant. Actually, the working enviroment was going to be heavily populated with women. Does that make the question any less objectional? Or the implication any less vile? Maybe I had a close escape when I didn't get the job. A less welcome escape was when I was refused a roof over my head because I was male. I had just returned to Edmonton and was sleeping on a friend's floor until I could find a place of my own. I found a nice little granny flat in the basement of a house in my old neighbourhood. I met the people who rented the main floor and they were really nice. The landlord's factor was not so nice. She would not lease the place to a male. That might have been understandable if the people on the main floor had an objection to males or a fear of them. But they didn't. It doesn't get much meaner than refusing someone a roof over their head on the grounds of gender, colour, country of birth or sexual orientation. But I just moved on. No human rights case lodged with the courts. No attempt to bully someone, no matter how loathesome they were. So, I didn't have a lot of sympathy when I heard a woman in Saskatchewan had taken a barber to court for refusing to cut her hair. There are far more important battles out there that need fought before we should get around to tackling loony barbers and sexist factors.

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In the words of the old song - if you're going to love a woman, be sure and do it right. The same goes for fighting a war. I'm not sure how the apostles of air power manage to get away with it; convincing their bosses that it's a war winner. "Boots on the ground" do not appear to be a priority when it comes to defeating Islamist hard-liners in Iraq and Syria. Western politician after western politician promises their nation's warplanes will take part in air strikes but their will be no "boots on the ground". I guess that keeps the number of body bags down and the political cost at home to a minimum. But it's no way to win a war. We're assured that the Kurds and the Iraqi Army will provide the necessary boots on the ground. I don't think so. Does anyone remember how Libya turned out? And no-one likes to mention who will be providing the boots on the ground in Syria. Anyway, if the Iraqi Army and Kurds can't do the job, who can? Perhaps it's time for mercenary man. There is a long long history of kings and governments hiring mercenaries to do their fighting for them  - particularly when their own countrymen are unlikely to cut the mustard. I strongly suspect that the presence of "contractors" is yet another of the things we are not being told about the conflict in Iraq. That and the number of civilian casualties being inflicted as the Islamic hardliners embed their positions in amongst the local population. 

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