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Most family businesses do not survive the third generation. Business history is full of third generation crashes and  bankruptcies. So, it's a mystery to me why the British continue to know-tow to the perpetuation of privilege inherent in the public school system. Whatever those parents who privately educate their kids are paying for, it's not really about academic achievement. It's about networking and exclusion of the children of the non privileged from the good jobs. I've worked with four products of public schools and all four were out of their depth. And two were Toxic Lifeforms. I don’t know if the latter two were an unexpected by-product of private school or the whole point of sending kids to one.  I seem to remember that nearly all David Cameron's cabinet went to Eton. Does anyone really believe that one high school is the repository of almost all the talent in Britain? Which brings me to my solution. People must be free to educate their children the way they want. But if their children are too good to be educated alongside those of the majority of taxpayers, then perhaps they are also too good to make their living from taxpayer money. So, attendance of private school should exclude a person from a publicly financed job. No Civil Service jobs, no military careers. The Army would no longer be the biggest employer of old Etonians. Of course, the privileged will eventually find another way to stack the deck again in their favour but perhaps while they are working on it there will be a brief period where talent is more important than parental income. But briefly, it could be something beautiful. 

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I've often wondered about reincarnation. Not doing it, or believing I've done it. What puzzles me is how come the people who claim to have been reincarnated always led such interesting previous lives? Most of the people who have died in this world led dull hard monotonous lives. Your average dead human was a peasant. Maybe the answer to my question is that it's the interesting lives that stick in the reincarnation memory. Or maybe .......

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It used to be that the BBC would almost automatically caption or provide a voice-over when a foreigner spoke English  on air. The same treatment for working class Scots is another issue. But that doesn't seem to be so common now. Whether that's a budget thing or a sign of the general improvement in the standard of English as a second language I couldn't say. But I still hear some very poor English being used, or English that is so heavily accented that it takes about 30 words to tune into and understand. As the BBC loves soundbites, much that is  important is lost. I think the problem is that the programme makers are reluctant to tell foreign interviewees/contributors that despite what they might think themselves, their English is truly deadful. It is obviously better and  easier to baffle the listener than offend some Third World dictator by suggesting that he is not quite the language genius he believes himself to be. 

 

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Some older Scots may remember actor Roddy McMillan as Para Handy. Older Brits might just remember him as Choc Minty in Hazel. But he was a man of many parts and that included song writing. He produced completely original songs and English-language versions of old Gaelic songs. For years one struck me as odd. He was about the old sail ships and mentioned sailing to Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Manitoba. The first two I got, they both have a lot of coastline. But surely Manitoba is a Canadian Prairie province. I thought maybe McMillan was stuck finding a rhyme for Nova Scotia. However, on Saturday it suddenly came to me that I'd forgotten all about Hudson Bay. OK, for all but a few months it's choked with ice but until recently grain shipments sailed from Churchill. And Manitoba was only created in 1870, with Hudson Bay becoming part of the province many years later, when the Day of the Great Sail Ships was drawing to a close. But maybe there was window of time when it was possible to sail to Manitoba on cargo carrying square rigger. So, I take it back Roddy. 

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I heard on a recent half hour feature on the English service of Germany's state run Deutsche Welle radio station to mark the 75th anniversary of Allied Victory in Europe that the six or so million victims of the holocaust had been "sacrficed". Sacrificed? By whom? To what purpose. These babes in arms, grandparents, toddlers, etc, were murdered. By a horrible coincidence I saw a television interview recorded in the 1960s with a former German officer who recalled being taken by his captors at the end of the war to the concentration camp at Dachau. His attitude was "nice try but it's all a hoax. Yes, people were cremated in those ovens but only after they died of natural causes". From what I heard on DW not all Germans even today have managed to get a handle yet on The Final Solution.

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I've just heard that the BBC World Service has axed its news programme World Update. I hadn't heard it for a while, but I put that down to the erratic scheduling on the the local radio station here in Alberta that carries the World Service. Regular readers will know that I wasn't always impressed by the programmme's main presenter, Dan Damon. His ignorance of, and what often seemed like contempt for, life north of Watford irritated me more than somewhat. All I wanted was for him to wise up a little. He was capable of redemption. I didn't want him to lose his job. The BBC is reasonably good at programmes such as World Update. I can think of several World Service programmes, and presenters, who should have been ahead of Dan and World Update when it came to the axe thanks to their cavalier approach to sex equality and race relations legislation.

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Many many years ago there was debate over whether sports coverage should be the responsibility of the advertising or editorial department. Editorial "won". The problem is that the vast majority of sports "journalists" are so dependent on the teams or players that they won't write anything that might offend them. They are more part of the publicity machine than reporters. You only have to look at the state of Scotland's international football team to see what happens when sports coverage comes from "fans with typewriters" . But it's bigger than that. Match fixing, doping and sexual abuse are the rule rather than the exception in most professional sports these days. Journalistic laziness, stupidity or something more sinister? Or maybe just the nature of the game.

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Well according to Canada's state broadcaster the Anzacs lost 100,000 men at Gallipoli. Not true - around 35,500 dead and wounded. And as the Newfoundland Regiment served in the Dardenelles, the Canadians should know better. Newfoundland was still a British colony then and didn't become part of Canada until 1949, but even so. The British suffered the worst casualties on the Allied side, 120,000 dead wounded, missing or taken prisoner, but it is the Australians and New Zealanders who commemorate Gallipoli. The Anzacs and Canadians were the shock troops of the British Empire in on the Western Front in 1917 and 1918. But it is the defeat that is best remembered. The myth is that the Anzacs were singled out as cannon fodder in the Dardenelles. The fact is that senior British officers treated their own countrymen just as badly. The difference is that the bungling was not the  shock or surprise to the British public that it was in the slightly more egalitarian Antipodes

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I was absolutely appalled to read in a book written by respected American military historian Carlo D'Este that the Japanese over-ran Hong Kong during the summer of 1941. In fact, that happened around Christmas Day 1941. Folk in the United States constantly rewrite the history of the early years of the Second World War to hide the fact that Hitler had to declare war on "The Greatest Generation". Yes, the US Government came up with Lend-Lease, but only after the British had produced documentation from the world's bankers confirming that that the country had effectively been bankrupted by the cost of buying its war supplies from the USA. President Roosevelt still hoped that the war could be won with British Empire dead and American equipment. I used to have a bit of time for another US historian called Paul Fussell. Then I heard him interviewed on the radio and constantly referring to the war beginning in 1941. The thing was he was talking on Canadian radio, and the war started for Canada, as with most decent nations, in 1939. Fussell was obviously past his sell-by-date. The British had a poor record when it came to buying victory with others' blood, that's how they became briefly The British Empire, but at least they put their name on the sign-up sheets for the wars they benefited from. Believers in The Greatest Generation; what kind of people bankrupt those fighting the evils of Nazi Germany and only join the conflict when the Nazis declare war on them?

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Here's a story I heard when I worked in Campbeltown. I don't know if it's true but I hope it is. Just after the end of the First World War, a distinguished looking German checked into a hotel on Islay. Asked if he'd been there before, he replied "Yes, in 1916". Quizzed as to how this could be, the German explained that he had been a U-boat captain during the war. He claimed that he had brought his vessel into a remote bay on Islay to let his crew stretch their legs and nab some fresh mutton. While his crew enjoyed a night sleeping on the beach, the skipper hiked across the island and got a hotel room. Next morning on his return the sub resumed its patrol. The German's story was greeted with skepticism. But then the German gave them the name he'd registered under and the date. The hotel register for that date was checked and there was the name he gave. Good story, but maybe too neat to be true.

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US General Omar Bradley comes over rather well in the film Patton. Actor Karl Malden portrayed him as like able and competent, a decent and sympathetic character. This would come as no surprise to anyone who had read Bradley's wartime memoir "A Soldier's Story". It seemed very fair and balanced. Though, it did seem odd that nearly every photo I'd seen of Bradley showed a man apparently sucking hard and intently on lemon. Then I read Bradley's redo of "A Soldier's Story" - called "A General's Life".  He should have left well alone. In the second book he comes across as a bitter twisted crank. It turns out "A Soldier's Story" was written by one of Bradley's aides. Bradley had a lot questions to answer regarding his handling of the early phases of the Battle of the Bulge and the bloodbath that was the Huertgen Forrest campaign. So, why was the portrayal of Bradley in the film Patton so wide of the mark? It turns out Bradley was the film's main technical advisor. Churchill was smart enough to get his version of the Second World War into print as quickly as possible, but even he wasn't as movie savvy as Sad Omar.

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Sadly, it did not surprise me to read that relations between ethnic Indian officers and their white counterparts improved dramatically when the flow of British officers from working class backgrounds increased during the Second World War, the English public schools and their Scottish clones could not cope with the demand for junior officers when the Indian Army expanded from a pre-war strength of 205,000 to 2,500,000 men, the largest volunteer army in history by the way. The shortfall in public school boys was made up with an influx of middle class Indians and trusting working class boys with command. To this day, the British Army prefers to reserve front line command jobs for the right sort of chaps, those who benefit from the economic and political status quo. But what if the right sort of chaps are the wrong sort of people? What then when it comes to operational efficiency?

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I suspect the use of the bayonet in modern-ish warfare is grossly underestimated. Based on hospital admissions, the number of men estimated to have been killed on the Western Front during the First World War was tiny. But this appears to be based on dividing the number of men admitted with bayonet wounds by three or four to come up with an estimate for those killed. They didn't do many post mortems. The thing is that a bayonet thrust more likely results in death than being hit by a shell fragment or a bullet. So, fewer hospital admissions. And the bayonet was a favoured way of killing men who had surrendered or were in the process of surrendering, which would keep hospital admissions down.

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This has been bugging me for more than half a century. I remember as a kid at the cinema seeing a trailer for a film with lots of Bang-Bang and involving trains and Mexican federales in khaki uniforms. I really wanted to see it. But it turned out to be an X Certificate and there was no way I could pass for 18, not by a long chalk. I felt at the time that they shouldn’t show trailers for films that many of the audience were not allowed to see. Injustice. A few years later I came across a spoof of The Wild Bunch in Mad Magazine. I recognised it as the film I had unjustly been denied. Over the past few days we’ve worked out that the film which was preceded by the Wild Bunch trailer was probably Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Now I understand that The Wild Bunch is pretty violent at times. But what kind of lunatic film censor would believe that it would traumatise a young kid more than the Childcatcher scenes in CCBB? That guy is made for childhood nightmares. He still creeps me out.

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Good ideas for radio programmes are rare. At the moment in Canada one of the radio stations seems to be deluging us with reporters playing detective; literally playing detective. Suspects and potential witnesses in hereto unsolved murders are interviewed by supposed journalists. Sometimes even police officers are foolish enough to take part. Years ago there was an interesting programme in this vein when a Canadian took a look at the long unsolved murder of a black man in the Deep South of the United States. Though unsolved, everyone in the area knew who was responsible for the murder. The victim was Black and the killer was White. It made for a good radio show but it was very low hanging fruit. Present-day imitators settle for carefully libel lawyer-vetted innuendo. Sometimes resurrecting an old case pays off because someone finally cracks and comes forward with evidence they have withheld for years. But I’ve yet to come across this in this recent crop of imitations. I recall when I was newspaper reporter one of my bosses pretty much pointed the finger of guilt in a child's murder on a very close relative of the victim. DNA evidence eventually revealed the killer was a stranger. 

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There was a time when abolishing slavery was the sort of cause that attracted the kind of people who know believe they have the right to penalize working people by preventing them getting to work in the name of curbing global warming. A generation ago they were sending bombs to medical researchers in an attempt to kill those who believed that it was necessary to experiment on animals. The thing about abolishing slavery was that they were going after the low hanging fruit. The British slave owners in the West Indies felt ill-used. When times were tough they were saddled with a lot of barely productive workers who needed fed and housed. In Britain, bosses simply fired their workforce when hard times came around and cared not a jot if they starved to death. It's all well and good for Glasgow University to attempt to make amends for the funding it received from slave owners in the United States and West Indies. And it is indeed time that Scotland faced up to the role slavery played in its history. But did life for most people in the West Indies improve dramatically when they went from legal slavery to join working Scots in wage-slavery. Perhaps Glasgow University should do more to help the descendants of coal miners and salt-panners, the last slaves in Scotland. 

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I recently came across some old letters. They were responses to queries I’d sent in the early 1990s after failed job interviews asking what lessons I should be learning from the experience. A surprising number of interviewers replied, far more than would these days. Some of the replies correctly identified weaknesses in my “skill set” and were issues that needed some attention. Others identified weaknesses that did not exist. These were almost as useful because obviously I’d failed to explain myself properly at the interview and needed to rethink my presentation or answers. The third kind of reply were in their own way comforting. These revealed that the interviewer was barking mad and I had had a close escape from working for someone who was unhinged. 

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I remember when I was a newspaper reporter doing two or three stories a year about parents who had lost a child in tragic circumstances, usually through illness or accident, who were setting up some kind of charity. Usually this charity involved raising money to find a cure for whatever had killed the child or to raise public awareness of an accident hazard. It was a natural reaction, perhaps part of the grieving process, to try to make something good come out of a terrible tragedy. To make the death somehow meaningful. Very few of these efforts went the distance. Organising a successful charity or a campaign takes a lot of work and skill. I’ve often wondered whether in the longer term this urge to make a loved one’s death meaningful actually added to the family’s burden of woes.

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National Service Officers
I was reading a book recently which blamed much of the anti-militarist rhetoric in the British Arts scene in the 1950s and 60s on writers who were bitter about not being allowed to do their National Service as officers. These, according to the book’s authors, unjustifiably embittered souls dragged the military’s reputation through the mud as revenge for not being selected for officer training. In many cases both sides probably had a case. But maybe there should have been no National Service men trained as officers. By the time they were properly trained, they would barely have had time to learn the job before they were kicked back onto Civvy Street. And with each year they were civilians they would have become less useful as officers. It’s hard not to believe that the scheme was just a way of finding more comfortable berths for the sons of the privileged when called up for National Service. And as one of the few positive aspects of National Service was exposure to a broad slice of men from various backgrounds, perhaps service in the ranks would have been more beneficial to the already privileged than playing at officers. Though Play Officers continue to crop up in the army under the guise of Short Service Commissions, now sold as Gap Year commissions. 

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The disgusting behaviour of the US authorities over the death of a British motorcyclist bodes ill for any reasonable trade deal with them following the UK’s departure from the European Union. The refusal to send serial careless driver Anne Sacoolas  back to UK after she killed 19-year-old Harry Dunn when she drove down the wrong side of a Northamptonshire road shows  a contempt for Britain. The highly dubious, and apparently retrospective, diplomatic immunity claimed demonstrates that the UK is looked on as a Banana Republic of the most Banana kind. Here in Canada, we know all about the US attitude to extradition. It’s OK for the FBI to lie and produce perjured testimony to secure extradition – ask rights activist Leonard Peltier.  Chinese claims that the arrest in Canada on an American warrant of a Chinese telecom executive was more about trade disputes than criminal activity received a boost when President Donald Trump declared the executive would make a good bargaining chip. In the meantime, two Canadians rot in Chinese jails after being arrested in retaliation and Canadian exporters face successive trade sanctions. And Canadians know all about bullying and unequal US trade deals. If Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and his Eton cronies think the US is going to play fair, then he and they are blind to numerous red flags flying proudly in the wind over Washington. 

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