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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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