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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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