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Last weekend, on the recommendation of a friend who had served in Afghanistan, I watched the Tina Fey's film Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, about an American TV journalist's time in Kabul. It reminded me of how many Western poseurs there were in Kabul. Of course, for the sake of the film some things were exaggerated. I've been to the Chinese restaurant featured in the film, admittedly only for lunch, and it was no where near as raucous as the celluloid version. When I was at Kandahar airport in 2002 the media presence was almost without exception composed of highly experienced journalists. But when I was in Kabul three years later I came across a number of poseurs, the majority of them immediately identifiable by their trendy suede Australian boots, masquerading as journalists. They seemed more interested in getting into each other's underwear than what was happening to the Afghans. Some were rich kid war tourists - I could almost hear the languid tones of some influential uncle informing a newspaper editor "Biffy so-so wants to be a war photo journalist". Some of the others were another form of rich kid; the kind who can afford to effectively buy their job through participation in a newspaper intern scheme. Sadly, media bosses love these characters because they work cheap. And even more sadly many of them, due to lack of real reporting experience, were easily gulled and manipulated by Taliban spokesmen - often very smart savvy people. It's not the poseurs' faults, it's the twerps back at head office who use them. The Taliban's war is as much fought through the media, both traditional and social, as it is with roadside bombs and rocket launchers.  

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Many years ago I was voluntold to take part in an an annual endurance event run by the Canadian Army in Edmonton's River Valley. I seem to remember it involved putting on rucksack with 33 lbs (15kg) of stuff in it and running 20 miles (aprox 32km) before putting an 18 foot (5.5 metre) aluminium canoe on my head and tottering 3.2 kilometres (two miles) to the North Saskatchewan River. There competitors had to canoe 10km (something like six miles) downstream before running 5.56km (about three and half miles) to the finish line. I was so bad at paddling my canoe that at times the eddies in the river were strong enough to carry me back up stream. But I almost didn't even get to put my canoe in the water. There was an army medic stationed at the canoe launch and it was his job to ask competitors how they were doing. This was actually a test to weed out those who were so close to exhaustion that they were incoherent. My problem was that when I'm tired and excited my Scottish accent becomes very pronounced. The medic looked at me as though I was babbling and you could tell he was seriously considering sending me to join a couple of others who had already been pulled from the event after failing the Babble Test. But luckily for me, one of army doctors was just behind me. He announced to the medic that he had been brought up in Glasgow and could understand me. He vouched that I was not in fact babbling, though probably only other Scottish people could understand me at this point. So, I was allowed to continue. I honestly can't remember what my finishing time was but I do recall announcing that if I ever even suggested entering The Mountain Man again, people should feel free to bash me in the head with hammer. 

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Here in Canada we are in the early stages of the ice hockey Stanley Cup playoffs. The whole league season is basically a qualifier for the cup with the bottom few teams failing to make it into the knock-out competition, which is played out on a best of seven games basis. No-one ever remembers who wins the league competitions, the only thing that matters is who wins the Stanley Cup in a given year. The only other team sports competition that gets any attention in Canada is the Canadian Football League, which has slightly different rules from the National Football League. But the rules are similar enough for most of the CFL stars to be rejects from the NFL. Both the final stages of the ice hockey and the football league attract so-called bets from civic leaders keen to precariously latch onto the brief fan enthusiasm for the home teams. So we have the mayor of city where the team is based betting on "their" team going through to the next stage against the mayor of the rival team's home city. Sometimes, the provincial premier will bet against the premier of whichever province the other team is from, or in the case of American ice hockey teams, the governor. The bet usually consists of the loser having to wear the winning team's shirt at a big official function or occasion. Sometimes a case of locally brewed beer is involved. It's all too often a bit bogus and sad. I suspect that many of the politicians involved might be hard put to name three members of the local team and haven't chugged a beer since they left high school. And I hope the tax payer isn't funding this blatant electioneering. Any costs involved should come out of the party's election treasure chest, not provincial government or local council funds. Let's not pretend its about boosting civic pride. I find it hard to stomach a politician whose loud support for team can often span as few as four games a year.

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There are a couple of things I hear regularly on the radio or read here in Canada that drive me crazy. One is when it is reported that police are seeking a suspect in a crime. The giveaway is when a description of the supposed "suspect" follows. That says to me that the cops don't actually have much of clue who was responsible for the crime and certainly not a name. So, who is it they are supposed to suspect?  I think what the so called journalist means by "suspect" is perpetrator. But that's a long word. I used to just say "gunman" "robber" "raider", "knife-wielding thug", or something along those lines. But I never said "suspect". That's just stupid. The other one that really bugs me at the moment is when it is announced that such-and-such a country is sending 30,000 forces to some other country. I suspect what is actually happening that 30,000 troops or, more accurately sometimes, 30,000 military personnel are being deployed. The confusion may be when the so-called journalists remember that there is something called the Armed Forces. Sadly, this ignorance is now deeply ingrained in the media and I fear there is no turning back the tide on this one. But really it's one force of 30,000 that is being sent. I would question if someone with such a lack of grip on matters military, or alternatively on the English language, can really be trusted to get the story right.

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I remember a worried colleague coming to me once. It looked like he might get in big trouble with the authorities. But our bosses would back him up, he asked, wouldn't they? What do you say to that one? It would be nice to say, yes, of course they will. After all, you only did what they told you to do. And that is what I told him. He seemed relieved. The thing is, I didn't believe they would back him up. The first sign of trouble and I was pretty sure that the bosses would leave him swinging in the wind. They would paint him as an out-of-control rogue operator. That is how far too many bosses work. To a large extent that's how many of them got to be bosses; taking the credit for other people's work and successfully denying responsibility for their actions when things go wrong. It's Standing Operating Procedure. I know I considered starting to tape one of my bosses when he was doling out instructions. And when things went pear-shaped and he denied stuff, I could play the tape. Then again, that's sadly a sure-fire way to win a battle but lose the war. But back to my colleague; why add to his worries? Why make him feel worse and more scared than he already was? Go on, tell me you would trust your boss 100% to tell the truth when it's you or them face the sack as a result of their stupidity. 

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