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That arch Little Englander Matt Damon of the BBC World Service has been at it again. Actually, I know his name is Dan Damon, but I thought I would echo his cavalier attitude to names. His announcement that a Scottish barrister had successfully challenged Prime Minister Boris Johnstone's shut down of Parliament seemed a odd. Scotland's legal system has advocates rather than barristers. But, of course, a Scot qualifying for the English Bar would indeed eventually become a barrister. So I checked. Joanna Cherry is an advocate and not a barrister. Would Damon describe a rabbi as a priest?  I think not. A few days earlier I heard one of his colleagues on the World Service express surprise that the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, Leo Varadkar, could stand next to Johnston and be so rude about Bouncing Boris. He seemed genuinely shocked that a mere Irishman would behave this way to his obvious superior. If this reflects, as I suspect it does, the attitude of the English Establishment to the government of the Republic, then no wonder Varadkar and his people are being so unhelpful when it comes to Brexit. 

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I was disappointed to see that the Inverness Courier is still being credited by many as breaking the story of the Loch Ness Monster in May 1933. It pains me as a former chief reporter of that august journal but I am a sworn servant of The Truth. The fact is that the Courier's rival, the Northern Chronicle, carried a story about the sighting of a large unidentified creature in the loch in August 1930. The stories are very similar and that should be no surprise as the same part-time freelance journalist, Alex Campbell, was responsible for both. The difference, perhaps, was that the Courier story was printed on a particularly slow news weekend in Britain and several Fleet Street newspapers picked it up. The rest is history. What the Courier did do was brand the creature a "Monster". Campbell described it in his report as either, I can't remember which, "a creature" or perhaps "a beast". The then editor and owner of the Courier, Dr Evan Barron, changed it to "Monster". In fact as far back as the mid-1800s the Courier had been reporting sightings of strange creatures in the loch, often thought to be associated with the Highland tales of Water Horses or, if you prefer, Kelpies. I own the typewriter used for the original Courier story, and if you believe that you probably have also seen the Monster. 

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I recently watched a very good, excellent in fact, film about the war in Afghanistan. The first thing that struck me was how realistic the opening scenes featuring  the Danish patrol at the centre of the plot were. It turned out this shouldn't have been a surprise because many of the cast had served with the Danish Army in Afghanistan. The second thing was how probable the plot was. Basically, the politicians back home want a war in which nobody gets hurt and, with the assistance of a cringing military hierarchy, hang the lead character out to dry. Courageous Restraint gone mad. Sound familiar? I suspect that almost anyone who served in Afghanistan would join the film audience in rooting for the lead character. And be thankful that same thing hadn't happened to them. 

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A little historical footnote. Many more years ago than I care to acknowledge I was sent to the Mitchell Library by the Glasgow Herald to find out what its leader articles had said about important world events during its 200 year history. I was given a list of events and told to feel to free to harvest anything else I spotted that might also be of interest. It’s a long time ago and what I’d found it said about the treaty that made Hong Kong part of the British Empire in 1842 was not included in the book marking the paper's bi-centenary. So, I’m relying on my memory and quite possibly paraphrasing. But the Herald opined that it was hard put to see what the British gained by acquiring “this miserable little island in the mouth of the Canton”.  It speculated that the British had been outfoxed during treaty negotiations by the wily Chinese. I’m maybe not surprised that the Herald decided not to repeat that misreading of events. 

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I picked up an interesting video tape about the Korean War recently. What made it interesting was that it was produced by a Canadian war veterans group. So, it was a little less gung-ho and a little more humane than many military history video tapes. The group is called The War Amps, the "Amps" being short for "Amputees" and was set up as a charity to support men who had lost limps as a result of combat. The organisation's remit was later expanded to include children who needed prosthetic limbs. It also produced a series of videos explaining to later generations of Canadians just what the original amputees had been involved in. Most of the videos are pretty good.

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I have a soft-spot for the Gloster Gladiator fighter bi-plane. The Gladiator was replaced by the Hurricane and Spitfire but did see some combat during the Second World War, most notably in Norway and Malta. So, not one of the world's greatest fighter planes. But it has a special place for me because I regularly used to win balsa wood rubber band powered models of it while I was at Primary School. I can't remember what I won the models for and my guess is that the school didn't really explain. Decades later I found a prize certificate from the Scottish Milk Marketing Board informing me that I'd won third place in one of its national competitions. I remembered the guy from the board presenting it to me but thought at the time that the whole class had come third and I had been selected at random to take it from the certificate from him. The school was not big on prizes. But once in a while there was a prize table put out and some kids were invited to select something from it. I always chose the balsa Gladiator. My dad would build them and we would take it to the park at Stathaven where the model seldom survived more than a half-dozen flights. Hmm, I suppose a promised "favourite planes". Stay tuned.

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Decades ago I was lumbered with editing a weekly paper's sports pages. These pages often rely on match reports submitted by one of the teams involved, most often the home side. You won't be surprised to learn that the quality of the reports submitted varied a lot. Some, quite frankly, were terrible.  But if the paper wanted to have coverage of all matches in the area, they all had to used. In a somewhat perfect world every match report would be the same length. But in a big scoring game the last thing that's needed is a line such as "And then we scored six more goals taking United's total tally to 22"  to avoid exceeding the word limit. So, some editing was required. Often the worst written match reports were the toughest to edit because they barely made even sense as originally submitted and it wasn't always possible to get a hold of the contributor to clarify matters. I had one contributor who was especially awful and could not be safely edited. I also had a couple of contributors who were excellent and their copy a joy to edit. This really bad contributor was talking to one of the excellent ones. The awful one announced that his contributions were so good they were never edited. The better writer was frequently edited, because she safely could be, and naturally entertained hurt feelings because the implication was that her contributions were regarded as of inferior quality. I can't remember how I got out of that one, but I'm pretty sure I didn't tell her that the other contributor was one of the worst we had. 

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There can be no denying that the Vietnam War was traumatic for both the military and society as a whole in the United States of America. The same is true of the Second Boer War 1899 to 1902 and Great Britain. The British Army did not do well in South Africa, either in the set battles or during the anti-guerrilla campaign which dragged on for almost two years after the capitals of the two Boer republics were captured. The war led to a lot of soul searching and reform for the British Army. The same is true for the Vietnam War. Both conflicts led to strong domestic anti-war campaigns. Future British Prime Minister David Lloyd George was a determined and vocal opponent of the 1899-1902 war. The outcomes of the two wars were pretty much the same. Not long after the Americans pulled out of Vietnam, the Communist North swept into the South and re-united the country under its rule. The British appeared to get what they wanted when the guerrillas finally surrendered in 1902. But the Union of South Africa created from joining the British colonies with the two former Boer republics resulted in a state dominated by the supposed losing side. Two very similar conflicts 65 years apart. 

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So, the Iranians have retaliated following the seizure of one their oil tankers off Gibraltar by the Royal Marines. And where were was the US Navy when Iranians intercepted a British-flagged oil tanker in Omani waters? We heard a British frigate advising the tanker not to stop for the Iranians and trying to warn off the boarders. But for some reason, the Iranians paid no attention. There are some who would say that the boarding  of the Stena Impero was an act of piracy. The United States has a large military presence in the Persian Gulf but watched this piracy unfold. The reason given for the boarding of the Iranian tanker Grace 1 off Gibraltar was that it was suspected of carrying contraband oil to Syria in defiance of European Union sanctions. Pull the other one. Does anyone even remember the EU sanctions? It was a pathetic attempt to curry favour with the Americans as they pile the pressure on Iran for reasons of their own which has back-fired and exposed British military impotency on the world stage. I bet the Iranians wouldn't have risked an international incident if they thought there were a couple of armed Royal Marines on board this and every other British tanker in the Persian Gulf and bullets might fly. But how did the Iranians know the Americans would not intervene? They know their history and they know their United States and how it treats those who think they are its allies.  

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It looks as though Britain is set to become even more of an American poodle. Why else would the Royal Marines be sent to board an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar? Well, a word of warning: don’t expect the Americans to raise a finger to help if that provokes an unpleasant retaliation from the Iranians. Here in Canada we made the mistake of detaining a Chinese businesswoman Meng Wanzhou on behalf of the United States. The argument that Canada was bound to do this due to its international legal obligations have cut little ice with the Chinese. They have effectively halted imports of Canadian canola and meat; are holding two Canadian citizens hostage; and upped the sentence for a Canadian citizen convicted of drug trafficking to death. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau foolishly expected President Donald Trump at the last G20 meeting  to ask the Chinese to cool it. The Chinese gleefully reported Trump had done nothing of the sort. What Trump has done is to say Meng will make a great bargaining chip, once she is deported to the USA, in his own trade talks with the Chinese; thus making a nonsense of Trudeau's claim that he cannot free Meng because this is purely a matter of international criminal justice. Meng is wanted for bank fraud, namely falsely claiming her company does not do business with Iran. Britons, pay heed and take warning.And let's not go into America's record when it comes to securing deportations using perjured evidence.

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I wish folk like the BBC would stop referring to every old lady who worked as a postal clerk at Bletchley Park during the Second World War as a “former spy”. Talk about stretching the facts beyond breaking point. Yes, Bletchley Park was home to a very successful British radio signals interception operation, often called Enigma, but I’m not sure “spy” is a good description. To me, a spy is someone who gathers information inside enemy territory, or perhaps on neutral territory. In much the same way, members of MI5 counter-intelligence are not really spies either.  Nor were the truly brave women who served with the Special Operations Executive in occupied territory, unless they gathered intelligence in addition to their mission to organize resistance work such as sabotage. And MI6 was keen to keep its intelligence operations completely separate from the activities of the SOE. It has even been suggested that MI6 betrayed SOE operatives to help their agents within the Gestapo ingratiate themselves with their German masters. “Spy” is often lazy journalistic shorthand and sometimes even hyperbole. Let’s call a spy a spy and the others what they were. 

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So, no air services now between Lewis and the Scottish mainland. It must be true because I heard Pria Rai say on both the BBC World Service's The Newsroom and World Update that Stornoway could only be reached by boat. The item was about the first anniversary of Stornoway's first mosque. I can only guess that this "alternative fact" was conjured up to bolster a crude attempt for the sake of the story to patronizingly portray Stornoway and the Isle of Lewis as some kind of Uber-Teuchter theme park. You may ask where is the harm in this flight of fancy from Ms Rai when so many programmes now thank their audiences at the end for listening to "The Show". Well, suppose a very busy call centre entrepreneur in India was thinking of opening an operation in Scotland and heard that Stornoway could only be reached by boat. The very busy man decides that Stornoway is therefore somewhere he shouldn't waste any more time considering even adding to the list of possible locations to investigate further. As I say, a very busy man, and he may not have realised yet just how much of a stranger to reality the BBC World Service has become. My guess is neither Ms Rai nor the senior editors at the BBC will even get their fingers rapped for this disgraceful fabrication. After all, the hallmark of incompetence is a combination of ignorance and arrogance. 

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I might have come over last week as being a little harsh when it comes to academia in the United States of America. My disillusion stems from disappointment. I used to look forward to reading what Americans had to say about British military operations. After all, most British military history is written by men from a very narrow section of British society. But unbelievably, most American material proved to be even more flawed. Most of the books were poorly researched  and their conclusions so far wide of the mark that if they had any humour in them they could be safely relegated to a joke pile. And should American troops be involved, all objectivity is thrown aside and what is produced takes blinkered chauvinism to new heights. Way too many of these pathetic tomes were written by US history professors. I pity their students. The notable exceptions are those books written by former American military personnel who have turned themselves into academics. Most of their work is both meticulous and insightful. The American military has a policy of encouraging its officer corps to venture into academia to widen their horizons and some don't come back. By the time they enter the world of academia they are mature and confident enough to take what their professors have to say with the requisite dose of salt. 

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There were two things which still make my blood boil following the 70th anniversary D-Day commemorations in England and France. Firstly, that the American guest of honour was a  draft-dodger from the Vietnam era; I don’t know how the veterans could resist the temptation to turn the back on a man who got four deferments due to attending college and then a medical dispensation for a heel spur, which hadn’t stopped him playing sport at college and had not showed up in previous medicals. The second was the historical ignorance of many of the British media commentators when it came to events 70 years ago. They hadn’t a clue. Then I realised there was a link between the two. Trump was one of thousands of well off young Americans who avoided being sent to Vietnam by going to college or university. This greatly increased the student rolls at universities and colleges. The problem was that the talent pool of available teachers could not cope with demand – the jam was just too thinly spread and the critical mass of teaching talent needed to make an functioning educational faculty was achieved nowhere. So, a lot of chancers ended up being college and university teachers and education in the United States never recovered. Now that technical colleges in Britain are allowed to call themselves universities much the same is now happening in the United Kingdom where the talented professor pool is way too small to meet the demand and there has been an influx of American "academics". Would anyone go to a school for the blind to recruit driving instructors? No wonder historical ignorance is sky-rocketing.  

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Last week I saw something that made me more than a little sad. Someone had put an old style, by which I mean pre-flatscreen, television out in one of the back lanes near where I live. I presume it worked perfectly well because the remote control had been taped to it. The next day, I went past it again. Some idiot had spray painted over part of the screen. The day after that I just happened to  by taking the same short cut yet again and the screen was now completely coated with spray paint. Whoever had had a go by Day Three had even sprayed what I believe it called their “tag” on the screen. My guess is that the paint won’t come off. The generous soul who put the television there obviously thought it might have been of use to someone less fortunate than themselves. Well, I doubt if anyone can use it now. I also suspect that old televisions require special disposal if they are not to be a toxic environmental hazard.  One idiot with a spray paint can roaming the neighbourhood is bad enough, what did we do to deserve at least two? 

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So, the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. It’s a big deal here in Canada. The D-Day Landings and the subsequent fighting in Normandy was Canada’s highest profile operation during the Second World War. So, it’s understandable that the anniversary has attracted more interest in matters military than we usually see in Canada. But I can’t help feeling that those few survivors of the Canadian 1st Division and 5th Armoured Division who fought in Italy with the 8th Army between 1943 and early 1945 must be a bit peeved that their 75th anniversary last year was pretty much ignored. The same must go for the rest of the 8th Army men who fought in Italy and those of British troops who at many times formed around a third of the US 5th Army in Italy during the war. The two US commanded 5th Army beach landings in Italy, at Salerno and Anzio, came close to disaster. It is shame that the fighting in Italy, and the how-not-to lessons it taught when it came to coalition warfare, is so generally ignored. In June 1944 the odious American general Mark Clark decided a photo opportunity on the outskirts of Rome took priority over destroying   the retreating German 10th Army.  Thanks to Clark there are far fewer veterans of the Italian Campaign alive today to complain about all this attention being given to Normandy when their war is forgotten. 

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As a teenager I shared most people's distrust of British journalists. But then I took part in a BBC Scotland radio programme called Sunday Club in which school kids interviewed the newsmakers of the day. I had a lot of fun. I had a lot more fun than a lot of the other participants because I was invited back way more times than them. This wasn't because I was brilliant. It was because nearly all the others had been chosen by their schools. And they were the kind of people whom schools would choose to represent them. The senior staff at my high school would never in a million years picked me to represent the place on national radio. But I think my reluctance to kow-tow and generally sook-up gave me an edge when it came to quizzing the Great and the Good on a Sunday lunchtime. I had been incredibly lucky to side-step the usual selection process for the programme. But I have no doubt that the school's leadership believed there were other pupils who better deserved to have Sunday Club on their CV and would they happily have done everything it could to make that happen for their little favourites. 

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OK, I guess credit where credit's due. People know that I have never, ever, been an admirer of the odious Aung San Suu Ky. Why anyone is surprised at the way she has behaved in Myanmar baffles me. All the clues were there that she was never an advocate of democracy but only of power for Aung San Suu Ky. But she has had the sense to free, via a presidential pardon, two Burmese journalists fitted up by her military allies for breaching the Official Secrets Act. The journalists' real crime was writing about the murder of Muslims by soldiers in Rakhine Province. So, Aung is to be congratulated. In the same way as a man who stops beating his wife should be congratulated. Now all she has to do is end the genocide and make it safe for Burmese Muslims to return home to Rakhine. Somehow, I don't see that happening. 

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I recently heard an Oxford academic say on the BBC World Service, unchallenged, that 90% of Venezuelans are opposed to the Nicolas Maduro government. I'm not sure where she got that figure from and quite frankly I can't imagine a whole 90% of a country's population being either for or against any one thing. But it would not surprise me if a large majority of the citizens of that South American republic are indeed very unhappy with their president. Maduro does not appear to be doing such a good job, especially when it comes to his handling of the massive drop in the price of oil. The Americans, as they did in Cuba, are unintentionally giving him a get-out-jail-free card by imposing crippling sanctions on the country which Maduro can then tell Venezuelans are the real cause of the country's problems. But the US attempts to overthrow Maduro come to grief because  the mob the Americans and their proxies are trying to force on the country are as bad, if not worse, than the present regime. And Venezuelans know it. They don't need very long memories to recall these self-same elitist families and their previous undemocratic attempts to overthrow first Hugo Chavez and now Maduro.  What this small highly exclusive group wants is a return to the bad old Pre-Chavez days when they got to call all the shots and the poor knew their place. And that's why Maduro is still in power.

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In American films about expeditions to the moon, the control room is usually packed with white American guys. When Apollo 13 runs into trouble it is an All-American brains-trust that works out how the fix the problem with pipe cleaners and sticky-back plastic. But the Space Program in reality was heavily dependent on overseas talent. Most folk know the part played by Nazi rocket experts in the early days. But not so many are aware of the Canadian and British aviation engineers imported in 1959. That was after the Americans succeeded in persuading the Canadian government of the time to abandon its advanced interceptor plane, the Avro Arrow and the design team lost their jobs. The Americans won twice-over with that one. NASA gained the talent that took it to the Moon and a few years later the Canadians had to buy a very inferior interceptor from the Americans. Hollywood is very bad at acknowledging contributions to American life that did not come from white guys born and bred in the good old USofA. In all those films when the US cavalry charges across the American Southwest to save folk from the Apaches, in real life they could well have been Negros of the 10th or 9th Cavalry. And most of the white cavalry troopers of the time were Italian or German immigrants who could barely speak English. The best Hollywood would do was have the odd tough nut Irish sergeant. 

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