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Newspaper columnists are a big deal in Canada. I remember when I worked for a newspaper, people used to ask me what column did I write.  To me, most columnists are a waste of time. I wanted the facts, not someone’s opinion.  Opinions are like feet, nearly everyone’s got one or two.  But I was perhaps a little too harsh. Some columnists actually were journalists who did a lot of research and stuck closer to analysis than opinion. That was why it was so interesting to be the first one into the office in the morning and unjam the printer. Once that was done, a lot of stuff from the previous night’s print-queue would spew out. This was usually gay porn or columns from obscure publications in the United States on subjects that with a couple of slight changes could have some local relevance. Suffice to say, I usually knew what at least two of our columnists would have to say in the days that followed. If only they had taken to trouble to find out how to unjam the office printer, I might have even thought they’d come up with the idea themselves. 

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Later this month the 70th anniversary of one of the most discreditable  incidents in the history of the British Army will occur. On the 12th of December 1948 men of the Scots Guards murdered 23 rubber plantation workers in Malaya. On the previous night they had shot another of the workers at the Batang Kali camp. I should qualify my opening statement: one of the worst incidents that we know of. Until December 1969 very few people knew of the Batang Kali Massacre. That was when some former Scots Guards who had been there spoke to the People newspaper. The Labour government of the time asked Scotland Yard to investigate but the inquiry was shut down by the Tory government which took power shortly afterwards.  Until recently former senior Scots Guards officers vehemently denied there had been a massacre and many journalists and writers took them at their word. In 2012 the Royal Courts of Justice  put an end to that nonsense by ruling that there was a massacre but it refused to order a fresh inquiry. Further attempts through the courts, all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, to force the British authorities to tell the truth have all foundered for one technical reason or another. What makes me so angry is that the army and government seems to have got away with making sure the truth about what happened 70 years ago never comes out. The official version remains that the men were shot while trying to escape, the unofficial version is that it was a work of a rogue patrol. We know there was a massacre, we will probably never know who ordered it.  See Batang Kali Revisited  

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I've always thought that before a couple gets married, or shacks up together, or whatever people do, co-habit (?), they should go on a camping trip together. There's nothing like putting up a tent or camp cookery for testing a relationship. Many folk get on fine as long as they are in their element. But take that fish out of its usual pond and turn up the heat with some unfamiliar activities and tempers can quickly fray. Putting up a tent can be a challenging experience, or least it used to be but maybe the makers have simplified things, that even requires working together and co-ordination. Maybe throw in some map reading and mountain navigation just to test things further. Any fools can go to the pub, the disco, a film or a restaurant and not be challenged. But putting up a cramped tent on a rain and wind lashed Scottish mountainside and then trying to heat up some kind of food to keep body and soul together will almost certainly test any relationship to the full. If it can survive An Teallach, it should be sound as pound for many years. 

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Newspapers seem to be in rough shape these days - just ask the folk at The Scotsman. It used to be that reports that newspapers were dead ducks proved premature, both radio and television failed to drive them out of business. This was mainly because both mediums are more than somewhat superficial. The word count on a story for either is so small that only very basic, and all too often inadequate, detail can be given. The shorter the better I've always found when it comes to newspaper stories, but always use enough to tell the full story - usually a greater number than a TV or radio format can accommodate. What did for newspapers was a left-right combination from the internet. People could just steal the news, which costs money to gather, and peddle it themselves. Readers found they could get the news on their computer without having to pay for it. Of course, the news thieves had their own motives for stealing other people's work. There is no copyright on events and a quick re-write of a real journalist's work avoids trouble and expense. As newspaper advertising revenues dropped, so did the number of journalists on the payroll and the standard of work they produced. I worked a place that laid off a lot of people. The thing is they laid off the wrong people. It was the reporters covering the local news who all too often got the axe. They were usually the youngest reporters and had been at the paper the shortest time. Therefore they cost less than the long tenured to make redundant. A lot of older guys and gals simply continued with the various taskless thanks bestowed on them purely for payroll longevity. But it's the local news people buy the paper for; cynics said it was small ads but look at the mess the free-sheets turned out to be . OK, maybe let the young reporters go but re-assign the old hacks back to covering local news. When the paper did do that, one guy tried to sue for constructive dismissal. No surprise that the paper eventually went belly up and became shadow of its old self. Or that it is now owned by what used to be it's main competitor which could well have had to motto "Last Week's News Next Week". And which is by the way is owned by American hedge funds. Who says the quality will out and it's the poor product that goes to wall. Deep pockets speak loud. 

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I'm coming to the conclusion that war films made either during the Second World War or just after it may be better than many made in the decades that followed. I've just finished watching "The Way Ahead", with its strong cast, and an American film "Go for Broke" about ethnic Japanese men who served in Europe with the American Army. Both very good films. And Battleground about the US 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge is also a surprisingly strong film. Of course there's an element of propaganda in all of them. But I think the makers realised that a lot of men who had seen frontline service were going to see the films and they didn't want the cinemas filled with sounds of disbelief or mockery. So, a lot of the nonsense was toned down.  However, as time went on the war films became perhaps sillier. The British were nearly always brave, honourable, clever and the Germans, or sometimes Japanese, were brutal and stupid. The Colditz Story, about prisoners of war, mainly British, is one I find very hard to stomach these days. The British are so brave and clever, the Germans are so stupid. It is only in recent years that war films have improved again. The scripts of all too many films from the late 1960s and 1970s were written by people with an agenda but no first hand experience of war. Mind you, by then there wasn't really much of a British film industry left by then. Lead rolls went to US actors who either pretended to be Canadian for the purposes of the story or were Americans awkwardly thrust into battle alongside British troops. Though generally a terrible war film, Saving Private Ryan, which may well have been pitched in a Hollywood lift as "Gang of Americans defeats German panzers with sweaty old socks", however showed there was still money to be made from war films and we've had some half-decent ones in recent years. It's just a shame that in the case of the Second World War the time when the writers could have benefited from talking to the men who were there are almost gone.  

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