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Never, never, attempt to answer a hypothetical question. Here's one. If a medical charity like Medicin Sans Frontieres had existed in 1945 and Hitler turned up at their tent flap wounded - would they have treated him? Then what would they have done? And if the British or Americans found out that Hitler was in the tent hospital, would they have been justified in bombing it? There are those who suggest that aid charities actually prolong conflicts and that without the food and other humanitarian supplies they provide, one side in a conflict would be forced to surrender sooner and the killing would end earlier. There are even those who say that sending out rescue ships to look for sinking migrant ships in the Mediterranean does not reduce the number of drownings. The argument goes that a greater number of people take to the seas in leaky rafts, dinghies and derelict fishing boats in the belief that they will be rescued if things go pear-shaped. And therefore, so the argument continues, a greater number of ships sink and despite the efforts of the rescue ships, a record number of people are being drowned in the Mediterranean. What do you think? I think we have to think carefully about the full consequences of the things we do in our attempts to help.  

 

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There was a time when most British Army regimental museums occupied only one or two rooms. And half of the space was taken up the display cabinets was containing medals. There was also at least one cigarette case or bible that had taken a bullet. The regimental museums have come a long way since then. So, it's ironic that more and more of them are coming under threat as the Ministry of Defence cuts their funding. The bean-counting bureaucrats at the MoD have always found the regimental system a baffling irritant - more so these days when so few civil servants have any idea what life in the military about. The MoD has decreed that it will only give financial help to one museum per regiment in the British Army. Among the latest victims of the cuts is the Gordon Highlanders museum in Aberdeen; which is expected to survive for the time being at least without the government funding. The Gordons merged with the Queen's Own Highlanders in 1994 and the combined unit is the 4th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, rather unimaginatively known as The Highlanders. The QoHldrs was itself a 1961 shotgun marriage between the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders and the Seaforth Highlanders. The Highlanders museum is at Fort George, the one time depot of the Seaforths and for the moment the home station for the Black Watch, the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland (whose museum is in Perth). Now I seriously doubt if many of the new recruits to the RRoS walked out of their local regimental museum straight to the nearest army recruiting office. And I know that many Scottish school teachers would fight tooth and nail against a class trip to the local regimental museum. But these museums, if some thought is put into what is shown, play an important role in what used to be known as KAPE, Keep the Army in the Public Eye, which was intended to encourage local awareness and understanding of what the Army is all about. The Army, and for that matter the Ministry of Defence, goes to war every year. But that "war" is the fight is between government departments for taxpayer money. Few people are prepared to shell out for something they know very little about and what they do know they mainly learnt from Hollywood films. It might be one thing if the museums were being sacrificed so that present day soldiers are better equipped - but that's not going to happen.  

 

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I wonder how Robbie Burns would have made out as a slave driver. The farmer turned poet and high society darling was planning to head out to Jamaica to work on the Port Antonio slave plantation in 1786 and probably would have if his scribbling hadn't started to pay off. Supporters sometimes point out that his job description was "book keeper". But Burns himself admitted he was going out to become a "poor negro driver".  Part of Burns's popularity is his supposed egalitarian leanings. All men may have been brothers in Burns's eyes but the ones with the darkest skin tones obviously were less equal than their lighter skinned brethren. Of course, Burns was not the only Scot who had no apparent objection to slavery in the West Indies. Thanks to Americans' self obsession, when most whites think of slavery they think of Dixieland and the Land of Cotton. The truth is that slavery in the West Indies was often far more cruel and brutal than anything happening south of the Mason-Dixon line. It had to be. There were far fewer whites in the West Indies per head of population than there were in the southern states of the USA. Any slave rebellion would have far more serious consequences. Something like three-quarters of slave overseers in the British West Indies were Scots and the greatest concentration of British-based slave owners in the 1820s were in the Glasgow area. An estimated one-third of the white population of Jamaica at the time was Scots or of Scots descent. One of the reasons Kingston in Jamaica remains so lawless is that the police force on the island was never intended to tackle crime but to cow the majority of the population and prevent a racial bloodbath. To this day, the force has never really shaken free of its roots. Only now the exploiters they serve are black instead of white - a not uncommon state of affairs in today's Commonwealth. 

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I remember the "good" Blue Peter. The one with John Noakes, helped out by Peter Purves and Valerie Singleton. Noakes was an apparently ordinary bloke in amongst the still cut-glass accents of the BBC. I don't think that it was just because I got older that some of the later presenters, including if I remember correctly a guy who used to make porn movies, irritated me more than somewhat. The presenters moved from being Uncle or Aunt figures to trendy and annoying older siblings. But throughout the programme's history I would never have entered one of the artistic competitions. What was the point? The overall winner was nearly always the top entry in the youngest age group. So, the Post Office ended up issuing a stamp of a stick-man going to moon or something. It could be that this foolishness, which discouraged talented teenagers, sent out the kind of wrong message that in turn accelerated Britain's decline? Bad Auntie Beeb.

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It used to be that journalism on both sides of the Atlantic offered a good path out of the ghetto for working class kids who did not excel at professional sport. Of course, not all journalists were products of the mean streets but the ones that weren't usually wrote for papers hardly anyone read. Then came Watergate and journalism became sexy. Rich and privileged kids, especially in the United States, decided they wanted to bring down governments too. And being rich and privileged, these kids got what they wanted. All the President's Men became their talisman and bible. I read the book while I was working in Newcastle upon Tyne. A lot of it didn't make much sense. But, I thought, maybe journalism works differently in North America. I now know the operating procedures for good journalism are the same on both sides of the Atlantic. But thanks to All the Presidents Men, there isn't so much good journalism around nowadays. What we've ended up with is a bunch of so-called journalists who didn't see Trump or Brexit coming because the lives of ordinary people are as alien to them as the Queen would find life in Cranhill, Pilton, Wester Hailes or Easterhouse. Horses for courses and fewer blue bloods in the reporters' room, I say. A good newspaper has staff from a wide variety of backgrounds. Right now, on both sides of the Atlantic (I can't comment on the Antipodes), there are too many who have basically been able to buy their berths thanks to an accident of birth.

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