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When the 3rd Battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry were sent to Kandahar in Afghanistan in early 2002 I was still a newspaper reporter and I put together a story about the equipment they would be taking with them. One of the officers said an interesting thing - "The most important thing is my weapons delivery system - my body". He may well have been repeating something he'd read in Soldier of Fortune magazine but I liked the quote and used it in my story. It was an interesting way of putting things. But I have to wonder if it's a view shared by the men running the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Apparently, the regiment has a major fitness problem. Over a three year period something like 630 of its soldiers failed the British Army's fitness test. Some would say that comes to one-in-five members of the regiment. When I first read that the army had an fitness problem, with almost half the troops overweight and one-in-five judged obese, I thought the fatties would be concentrated in some of the more sedentary army trades. So it was a bit of a shock when it was revealed that the RRoS has fitness issues. And I would suspect that it's not the recruits from overseas who are the problem. Perhaps it should not be a surprise that a regiment that recruits from the country that brought the world the deep-fried Mars bar is experiencing fitness problems. But anyone who knows anything about Scotland would have grip on the situation. There are Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics. The bare figures never give the full story. But it does seem there is cause for concern. A little more PT may be the answer but the worry has to be that this is a symptom of a more deep-seated leadership problem within the RRoS.

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As I get older, I get grumpier. One of the phrases that increasingly gets my goat is "investigative journalist". Surely all journalists are investigative?  Otherwise they would just be shorthand typists. Or even just typists. Of course, some stories do take longer to put together and involve more digging than others. But all stories involve a bit of thought and, dare I say it, investigation. I don't know if the sort of investigations that say the Sunday Times Insight team used to do are becoming rarer or not.  One of the biggest problems with Insight-style journalism is that the reporters have to get a result and that result has to be legally water-tight. Cops don't lose their jobs, usually, if an accused walks free from court after a jury of his or her peers finds them not guilty. But losing a libel case can bring a journalist's career to a sudden and irrevocable halt. The chances of a journalist managing to get his or her hands on irrefutable evidence are not good. A lot of what passes for Insight-style journalism these days seems to rely on making mountains out of molehills found sitting in files available via an access to information requests lodged with some level of government.  I used to have a boss who thought that he was entitled to describe any story he wrote that the competition didn't have as an "exclusive". Technically, that was true and he had a lot of "exclusives". Sadly, he failed to grasp an important thing about true exclusives - that competitors had to want the story. I can't remember a single one of his "exclusives" that a competitor actually followed up. Regrettably, he was typical of a lot of people who call themselves "investigative journalists". When I hear someone describe themselves as an investigative journalist I often also hear the words "pompous" and "egotistical" echoing around the extensive caverns of my mind.  Can I add "pretentious" as well ?

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Thanks to online search engines and such sites of Wikipedia, reference books are going cheap at second hand bookshops these days. In fact I might go so far as to suggest that the book dealers are almost giving dictionaries of biography, atlases, and encyclopedias away. These books may be going for a song but are they worth even that? I guess a lot depends on how much reliance can be put on the information a person finds on the internet. Even Wikipedia has problems. Self-appointed guardians of the truth, often former lecturers at such hallowed halls of academia as Coventry University, can wreak havoc. Oh, don't get me started on how Margaret Thatcher kept her promise of widening access to a university eduction by allowing technical colleges to call themselves universities. But back to how reliable the internet is. When I was researching Scottish Military Disasters, book after book named a Commando regimental sergeant major who took charge after all the officers in his raiding party in 1941 were killed or incapacitated as Campbell. But I also stumbled across a website set up by the son of one of the soldiers who fought in the same battle and it named the sergeant major as Tevendale. That was a red flag that I paid attention to and further research found the website was correct and the books were all wrong. It turned out that one author had got the name wrong just after the Second World War and his mistake had been repeated again and again by nearly every subsequent author. As a young newspaper reporter I soon became aware that just because a dozen people all said the same thing, that didn't count as corroboration of the facts if they all got their information from the same single source. Anyway, the moral of the story is that while those who supply words to usually reputable sources of information are often held to a higher standard of fact-checking than some enthusiast writing for their own website, they are not infallible. A copy of the BlankBlank Dictionary of Biography for a pound is a good deal, but run the relevant entries through an internet search engine too. That's what I think anyway.

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Apparently, the Ministry of Defence doesn't trust British Members of Parliament. A House of Commons attempt to investigate just how much British officers were to blame for a disastrous 2012 Taliban attack on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan found the MoD "obstructive and unhelpful". It would appear that the MPs ended up relying heavily on a censored US report that they found on the internet when they prepared their report into the attack. The Americans sacked two generals after six Marine Corps Harrier jets were destroyed by 15 Taliban raiders. The commander of the Harrier squadron and a US sergeant were killed. The incident failed to put a brake on the careers of any British officers. Of course, one can understand why the MoD decided the MPs could not be trusted. I mean, everyone knows that Prime Minister Harold Wilson was a Soviet agent. Don't they? Statistically, Harold Macmillan was more likely to have been the traitor. Nearly all the damaging and grotesque British traitors that we know of came from privileged backgrounds - Anthony Blunt, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess and Kim Philby. By pretending to be a fascist sympathiser, Philby managed to become head of first of all the anti-communist counter-espionage and then MI6's liaison with the American CIA. He was able to pass on the secrets the Americans thought they were sharing with their British allies direct to the Kremlin. Speaking of stupidity, I can only hope that the members of the RAF Regiment photographed posing next to the body of one of the Taliban raiders at Camp Bastion will find themselves on civvie street sooner rather then later. Posing with the bodies of dead enemies is juvenile in the extreme. Perhaps with adrenalin pumping through their veins the RAF folk weren't thinking straight. But being photographed suggests a degree of stupidity that should mean they should not be allowed to carry guns ever again. We will obviously have to be more careful about to whom we give guns.

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Is it too early to comment on the centenary of the First World War? Perhaps not. Many of the books being published to cash in on it have been on the shelves for more than year now. It must be a delicate balancing act for publishers. They want to be among the first to take advantage of the interest generated by a centenary but they also have to wait until the centenary generates some interest. Books these days literally have a short shelf life. If they don't sell, they're gone pretty quickly. Most publishers and organisations certainly haven't waited until the centenary of the outbreak of the war arrives in August to get their contribution out there. I just wonder if the centenary is going to catch the public imagination. Here in Canada the bi-centenary of the War of 1812, in which an American invasion was repelled, was a bit of bust. The First World War may be too controversial. The slaughter of the cream of British manhood on the battlefields of Europe, Turkey and the Middle East was followed by something almost as painful - a war on the poor. Before 1914 the poor were seen as people who needed help. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the poor of Britain were seen as potential Bolsheviks. Was it really necessary to put tanks on the streets of Glasgow in 1919? So much for the promised Land Fit for Heroes. It will be interesting to see if the bi-centenary of Waterloo next year generates more interest than say the centenary of the battles at Neuve Chapelle or Loos.

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Is the Geneva Convention a bad thing? Can war ever be civilised, with codes of conduct and rules? War is brutal and brutalizing. It's not fair. I remember as a kid that when I complained that something wasn't fair I was told that "Life isn't fair". To which the answer should have been "Maybe, but that's no excuse for making things worse". There is an argument which says that by pretending that there can be rules and laws in War we actually make it more likely. Those who argue in favour this point of view point out that War should be known to be so terrible that it will always be a last resort. In the really olden days, those who led their people into war also led their people in war - literally. Leading meant being in the lead in those days and the guy in front was often the first to die. War was not undertaken lightly. But in the West these days the people who declare a war are actually the least likely to die. They can retreat to secure well guarded bunkers if things go pear-shaped while the rest of us on the surface face oblivion. Perhaps the only rule of war that we need is that whoever declares one should literally put their life and the lives of their family members in prime position on the chopping block. But somehow, I don't think that's going to happen.

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I owe some of you an apology. Believe it or not, the Ask Me section of this website is one of the most popular features. The answers seldom appear on the site because the information people seek is usually only of interest to them, ie which unit wore the same uniform as my great-grandfather is wearing in this old family photo? Then a couple of weeks back the flow of queries dried up. That sometimes happens. It's sometimes a feast-or-famine thing. I tested the "contact me" feature and got a confirmation that the email had gone through. I suspect a lot of people in recent weeks received the same automated confirmation. The problem was that the messages were not actually going through: I messed up. I always personally acknowledge a query. So, if you sent a query and got no acknowledgement, then I didn't get receive it. Sorry. I just sent myself another message and the system appears to be working again. So if you sent me a message and haven't stopped visiting this site in disgust at my ignoring your query, feel free to send it in again. And if you don't get a personal acknowledgement, I still have a problem.

*I'll be running a daily check to make sure the "contact me/comment/ask me" button is working. I'll let know if there's a further problem.

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What do you do when your boss tells you to do something you know is stupid and can only lead to disaster? If you don’t obey their instructions and they find out – well, not so good. If you do what they say and as predicted it all goes pear-shaped; well the blame usually somehow doesn’t end up where it should go. Suppose you somehow, knowing the probable consequences of what you’re being asked to do, manage to mitigate the worst of the damage. This could be the worst option of all. People don’t like being rescued from the consequences of their actions. Often, the rescuer is the only witness to someone’s craven cowardice, deceit, or blatant incompetence. Folk don’t generally appreciate having such witnesses around. More often than not, they will do everything they can to destroy their rescuer and remove them from the picture. Not so good.

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A couple of years back I heard someone being interviewed about Afghanistan on a Canadian radio current affairs programme. What the woman had to say was both balanced and sensible. Last Friday that voice came very close to being silenced. The woman being interviewed turned out to be Associated Press journalist Kathy Gannon. What she had to say in the interview was in such contrast to most of the nonsense peddled about Afghanistan that in a case of "praise where praise is due" I contacted her to say how much I appreciated hearing a voice of reason among the general ill-informed babble. I've been to Afghanistan a couple of times.  Kathy turned out to be a really nice woman. So, imagine my feelings when I switched on the radio on Friday morning to hear that she had been badly wounded in a shooting that had claimed the life of her photographer colleague Anja Niedringhaus. A well informed public is a crucial component of what passes for western democracy. Perhaps if the world had paid more attention to events in Afghanistan after the Soviet pull-out the past 14 years might well have been very different for a lot of us. Sometimes gathering and bearing witness to events involves an element of personal risk. The people of Afghanistan have few better friends than the likes of Kathy Gannon who work hard to shed a light on what is really happening in their benighted country. I wonder if the Afghan cop turned gunman who tried to murder her, apparently in revenge for the death of family members in a NATO bombing raid, appreciated that.

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The Americans apparently believe they didn't lose a war until Vietnam. What then, it has to be asked, was the War of 1812 when the United States tried to take advantage of the Napoleonic War to annexe Canada? The war ended with the 1814 Treaty of Ghent restoring the pre-1812 status quo. The US failed to annexe Canada, therefore it suffered a defeat. I have a real problem understanding what present day Americans believe the war was about. I suspect many think the British invaded the United States and were driven back. The Americans at the time tried to justify the invasion of Canada by complaining that the arrogant British had been kidnapping their sailors for service in the Royal Navy. Putting aside the number of deserters from the Royal Navy who were crewing American ships, the Atlantic states were by far the least enthusiastic supporters of the war. That suggests "impressment", as it was called, was an excuse for war rather than a reason. Which brings us back to national myths. The real reason the United States failed to sweep aside the skeleton British force in Canada, aided by local volunteers,  was that the war was unpopular. The bulk of the US troops were militiamen who had signed up to defend their own homes, not invade other countries. The American invasion was half-hearted, if not quarter-hearted, and that is why it failed. Sadly, the lessons of 1812 were not learned.  Well, one lesson was learned: when a large part of Mexico was annexed by the US in 1848, the job was put the hands of the regular army. Just over 150 years later, it did not take long for the American public to work out that their sons were being sent to die in Vietnam to prop up a deeply unpopular, and often downright criminal, regime. One of the lessons here is that the United States cannot win prolonged wars overseas that are unpopular at home. It is a lesson that has been plain to see since 1812.

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You have got to love the way the BBC puts quotation-marks around the word massacre, as in Batang Kali Massacre. I guess if Her Majesty's Government says the Scots Guards did not gun down rubber plantation workers in cold blood in Malaya in 1948, then it's important that the BBC should cast doubt on claims that 24 men were murdered. The BBC spent a lot of money in the 1990s making a television documentary which concluded the massacre did happen. But I suppose the BBC can't be expected to take the word of its own journalists when their claims conflict with the Government's official line. Last week an English court condemned the government's continued cover-up and said the confessions of some of the Guardsmen involved that the ethnic Chinese workers were indeed shot in cold blood and not, as was and is still claimed by HM Government, shot while attempting to escape should have been properly investigated in the early 1970s. But the judges declined to order a public inquiry, on a technicality which they felt might well be challenged successfully in a superior court. Much of the BBC's coverage of events last week was careful to put quotation-marks around the word massacre.  I just wish the BBC showed the same caution, evidenced by the use of quotation marks, when it comes to other stories involving Her Majesty's Government. I don't recall any quotation marks around what the Government claimed were old military flares washing up on the beaches of south west Scotland in the early 1990s. They were not flares; they were the extremely flammable phosphorous cores of Second World War incendiary bombs. They were supposed to have been dumped far out in the Atlantic after the war ended but some were thrown into the sea between Scotland and Northern Ireland. They burst into flames, which could not be quenched, as soon as the phosphorous dried out. That doesn't sound like any flare I've come across. And yet the BBC insisted on continuing to refer to these potentially lethal and destructive left-overs from the war as flares long after they had been tipped off about their true nature. But given a choice, the BBC seems to prefer the Government's word to the facts.
See Batang Kali Revisited

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There is much debate at the moment about the impact of the First World War. For a long time I believed that it had made my life tougher than it needed to be. Neither of my grandfathers met their fathers. Both of their fathers, who would be my great-grandfathers, were killed after volunteering to fight in the First World War. The two men left behind widows with three children a-piece. The lives of the families they left behind were hard; very hard. One of them had a good job on the printing presses at Glasgow-based book publisher Wm. Collins before he joined up. It would not have been unusual for his sons, grandsons, and even great-grandsons to follow him into the skilled and unionised world of commercial printing. And I could have been one of the afore-mentioned great-grandsons. I always liked and admired the print and production folk at the papers where I worked as a young journalist. I particularly liked the fact that they had a strong union. Media employers only needed to find people who could read and write to fill the columns of their newspapers or the short amount of broadcast airtime devoted to news. Even that’s a qualification they seem to have dispensed with. The BBC World Service told me this morning that Crimea had voted to split from Russia. Its Canadian equivalent informed me that the last words heard by the crew of the missing Malaysia Airlines 777 jet had been “Alright, good night”. I suspect those were the last words known to have come from a crew member, in this case the last message broadcast by the co-pilot. Anyway, back to great grandfathers. I always thought great-grandpa’s death in Gallipoli had killed any chance of skilled unionised berth for his descendants. But recently I found out that Wm. Collins went out of its way in the 1920s and 30s to find jobs for the children of its workers killed 1914-19 when they themselves reached working age. I have no idea why my grandfather did not take up that offer. Perhaps his own service in the Second World War took him off in another direction. Maybe the hiring policy changed. But what modern day employer would even dream of having such a hiring policy?

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I was tempted to use this column to wonder why when the British Army is facing some many problems, one of the more senior officers was taking time to instruct his officers on how to behave at dinner parties and the correct use of a knife and fork. The Ministry of Defence insists that Major General James Cowan's letter to the "Chaps" at 3rd Division was intended to be light hearted. I'll take their word for it. Instead, I think I lament the fact that Cowan, a former commanding officer of the Black Watch and the first commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, has 2,500 commissioned officers and 20,000 other ranks under his command. Even with my poor maths skills, that seems to work out at more than one officer for every ten men. And as a lot of the real work is done by the senior non-commissioned officers who are included in the figure of 20,000 the number of commissioned officers might strike some as excessive. A very quick look reveals that the 2nd Highland Battalion in 1757 had 41 officers in a unit totalling1,088 men. Now, granted, in 1757 the Army didn't have as many much-needed administrators or planners as it does now. Nor did it include the number of technical specialists who are granted officer rank these days. But I think questions have to be asked as to whether the Army is heading towards a too-many-chiefs-and-not-enough-indians scenario. Some may believe that the weight of the present cuts to the Army is being borne by a disproportionate number of  highly experienced senior non-commissioned officers while leaving the Officer Corps relatively intact. Perhaps the answer is to cut admissions to public schools such as Eton, Winchester and Ampleforth. Then the Eton dominated British Cabinet would not need to find so much work on the public payroll for their less talented brethren. The British Army is the biggest employer of Old Etonians on the planet. And I'm sure the Old Etonians would not require instruction from Maj-Gen. Cowan on dinner party etiquette or to be chastised by him for eating sandwiches in the mess with one's bare hands.

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I do not usually approve of trial by media. When I was a young reporter in Scotland once someone was arrested and charged with a crime, little more than the name of the accused and the charges were published. Very little else appeared until after the accused until after the trial and verdict. Pre-trial coverage in England seemed a little more relaxed and material would appear in the papers that would have landed a journalist working in Scotland in the dock in front of a judge. American justice is a contradiction in terms because trial by media is interpreted as a freedom of speech issue. Canada’s criminal law is based on England’s but court coverage is heavily influenced by the example set by the American media. So, some of the material in the Canadian media causes me concern when it comes to a fair trial. But to my point; I think showing a bloodied knife killer addressing the a cellphone camera  to explain why he had just murdered an off-duty British soldier on a London street last year was a good thing. In most cases I would have regarded the on-camera confession as evidence that should only have come out at the trial. And, I would usually question the wisdom of promoting the idea that if you feel your views are being ignored, why not get on national TV by murdering someone. But the cellphone footage revealed the killers to be a pair of misguided clown inadequates. I am not sure if the dim duo were smart enough to hope that their stupidity would spark a wave of attacks on British Muslims but if that was their intention, they pretty much failed. There were some foolish attacks on mosques but common sense prevailed. Such attacks could only have acted as recruiting drives for the extremists. You will have noticed that I have not named soldier Lee Rigby’s killers. They don’t deserve the recognition.

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The Glasgow Highlanders. The Photo Identification feature attracts more reader queries than anything else on this site. Folk are always sending in photos of their ancestors in the hope that I can help work out which unit they served with. In a surprising number of cases, the answer turns out to the Glasgow Highlanders. Though sometimes, I’ve come close to giving the wrong answer. The Glasgow Highlanders were part of the Highland Light Infantry, in the First World War, they were the HLI’s 9th Battalion, but their uniform was modelled on the Black Watch. I was about to get back to someone to say the photo they had sent in was entirely consistent with a Company Sergeant Major in the Black Watch when I looked a second photo. It showed not the CSM, but his best friend, who was killed in action. The friend was wearing what looked like a Black Watch kilt and a Tam o’ Shanter. It was the headgear that gave the game away. The Black Watch wore red hackles in their Tam o’Shanters. This guy had a badge and the Glasgow Highlanders wore a badge. My hunch that the CSM was a Glasgow Highlander panned out. It was even possible, because he won the Military Medal, to come up with his army number. A Second World War photo showed what looked like a Black Watch kiltie with the lion rampant shoulder flash of 15th Scottish Division on his upper sleeve. The thing is that the Black Watch did not have a battalion serving with the Division. But one of the two Glasgow Highlander battalions in the war was part of the division. The guy in the photo proved to be one of the large number of Englishmen who served in kilted regiments in both World Wars. So, anyway, if the First World War photo shows suggests the Black Watch but the soldier has a badge rather than a hackle on his Tam o'Shanter, then possibly he's a Glasgow Highlander. Oddly, I've never had a query that involved the Royal Scots' "Dandy" Ninth Battalion, which also wore kilts during the First World War.

 

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British soldiers love to complain about not being properly equipped. They buy mail order equipment to replace the gear Her Majesty has issued to them. They swap stuff for foreign-issued kit. As I was once told, the time to worry is when they aren’t bitchin’. However, sometimes they have a point. Who would send soldiers to help with flood relief without giving them wellies or waders? Sadly, the answer seems to be the British Army. Or, more particularly, the 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Many of the ill-equipped squaddies found themselves relegated to the role of spectators as villagers of Waysbury basically dealt with the flood themselves. Other soldiers plunged into the water in their army boots. That can’t be good for the boots and it might have been cheaper to stop off at a mega-market somewhere between Tidworth camp and Waysbury to buy some wellies. Full marks to the Fusiliers for can-do attitude. Not so full marks for everything else. Can-do attitude only gets people so far. The tools for the job are also an important component of success. And lets throw in a little application of grey matter.  It could a good thing for the brains trust that put the Fusiliers' flood relief operation together that it seems possible in 2015 that for the first time in more than 40 years the British Army is not on active service somewhere in the world. Perhaps 2015 will allow the Army to catch its collective breath and take a hard look at itself. A much needed hard look.

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Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there lived a king. This king had never had a real job but the people made him their ruler anyway. Oddly, in this country, far far away, a man could be the king even if most people did not want him to be. It was a democracy of the constitutional monarchy variety. But that’s not what this story is about. This king, who had never had a real job, thought that everything should belong to someone, particularly if that someone was a friend of his. But in this country they had something called a State Broadcaster. It didn’t belong to any one person. And the king didn’t think anything should belong to the State. But this State Broadcaster was a national institution. The king had a problem. His friends in the privately owned media said it wasn’t fair that they had to compete with this State Broadcaster and still make a profit. The king hit on a brilliant idea. He would appoint an idiot to run the State Broadcaster. Like attracts Like and an idiot is bound to appoint other idiots. Soon the State Broadcaster would be filled with idiots. Eventually, the programming would become so awful that no-one would care that the king was effectively killing off the State Broadcaster using the old death-by-a-thousand cuts ploy. Before long, due to an infestation of idiots and budget cuts, the programmes were so terrible that some people even rejoiced at the thought that soon they would no longer have to pay for the State Broadcaster. And that Children is why some people call a television set "The Idiot Box".

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I’m old enough to have been given the strap when I was school kid in Scotland. It didn’t do me much harm; but it didn’t do me much good either. The lesson I learned that life is unfair. I can remember teachers taking what we knew as the The Tawse to me twice. Once was at Primary School. I think it was for talking in the line-up to get back into the school at the end of morning playtime. Hardly an offence likely to reduce the Scottish educational system to anarchy. As an adult, I think I’d say it was an over-reaction. The second time that I can remember being strapped was when I was at high school. It must have been in First or Second Year because it was one of the technical department guys who did it and I didn’t take technical as an O Grade. The roster of techie teachers included two sadists, quite possibly certifiable sadists, and this guy was one of them. He took the strap to an entire class. Our crime was that no-one would name someone who had been naughty when he was out of the room. I can’t remember now exactly what was done but it was about the level of writing a swear word on the blackboard. The culprit was a real thug and included amongst his pals, maybe even amongst his family members, some of the most notorious psychopaths in the town. There are still arguments about just how many murderers went to my high school. Anyway, when none of us would name the guilty party, the sadist laid the leather on us all. Once again, as an adult, I suspect some of one of deputy heads might have been interested in what happened. But in those days it never occurred to any of us to bring a real adult into the picture. My other lasting memory of corporal punishment at school didn’t happen to me but I was there. There was a Geography teacher that we all liked. His class was very relaxed but we got the work done. Someone said something in jest that must have touched a raw nerve with the teacher. He took the leather to the boy. We all lost respect for the teacher and were very wary of him from then on. And that’s my contribution to the debate over corporal punishment in schools.

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It’s very odd to live in a country that takes the Winter Olympics seriously. Last week I heard an interviewer on the BBC World Service questioning whether a programme of events which only really attracts multiple entries from about a dozen countries could even call itself an Olympics. Certainly, the British do not get very excited about the Winter Olympics. That is probably partly a legacy from the days when the entire British team pretty much had to be independently wealthy and be able to live in Switzerland or Austria all year around. I think British interest was only really piqued by the Figure Skating when Torvill and Dean were involved and maybe Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards’s exploits in the ski-jump when the games were held in Calgary in 1988. They changed the rules to make sure there would never be another lovable loser like Eddie the Eagle at the Winter Olympics. But here in Canada where the winters are long and very snowy, it’s a different story. There are lots of opportunities to ski and skate. The Canadian ice hockey, which is just called “hockey” here in the Great White North, teams are in with a good shot of gold medals. At the last Olympics, in Vancouver, there was a concerted effort to boost Canada’s medal standings. It was called Own the Podium. It struck me as a little Un-Canadian. Olympic competition is pretty much the realm of professionals. It has little to do with sportsmanship and much to do with money. The Canadians can’t and won’t compete with the kind of budgets deployed by the United States and Russian teams . I can’t help feeling that Canada would be better served if the team was made up of competitors who played fair and accepted defeat with grace and good humour. Sadly, I suspect that kind of event participant at Sochi will be rarer than Canadian gold medals.

 

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The BBC World Service radio this morning couldn’t shut up about the death, apparently from a heart attack at the age of 41, of one of the BBC’s African journalists. To me, journalists should seldom, if ever, be the one of the lead stories. But what annoyed me was not every program I heard talked about his death but that one of the BBC reporters when interviewing one of Nelson Mandela’s daughters about the death said Komla Dumor had gone to the family home after the former president’s death to “offer his condolences”. I suspect, strongly suspect, that Dumor had gone to the woman’s home to interview her about Mandela’s death. There’s nothing wrong with that, it was his job. Why was the BBC dressing up seeking an interview as a compassionate act? The interviewer suggested the woman had been hit by two deaths in quick succession. I’m not clear if Mandela’s daughter was prompted to declare the journalist’s death as a “tragedy for the continent”. I suspect there are many greater tragedies unfolding in Africa. Barely a day goes by without reports of another African country being ripped apart by rampaging murder gangs and bloody coups. The BBC invests a lot of money and effort in its programming aimed at Africa – possibly because it is one of the few places where many people still get their news from shortwave radio. I was talking to a friend about the latest verging-on-genocidal strife in Africa and he wondered out loud if there is just something “wrong with Africans”. I don’t think so. I strongly suspect that multi-nationals, and in authoritarian countries even national regimes, interested in exploiting Africa’s massive mineral resources have a hand in overthrowing governments that won’t play ball. And the murder gangs are part of the game. If the BBC really wants to serve its African listeners then it should concentrate putting the strife into context for the populations of the countries where these multi-nationals are based. These barbaric murder gangs do not operate in a vacuum.

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