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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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It takes an awful lot of courage for the soldier to admit that he’s finally had enough. The military is built around seemingly burying the natural urge for self-preservation. Nearly everyone tries to hide from those around them just how scared they are. That’s why a wise man said, “Everyone gets scared, it’s what you do about it that counts”. Some people end up more scared of being regarded by their peers as a coward than they are of being killed or badly injured. That’s why I liked Canadian special service force veteran Maurice White, who died earlier this month, so much. After serving in Italy during the Second World War with the Loyal Edmonton Regiment young Maurice went on to see action with the joint US-Canadian Special Service Force, immortalised by Hollywood in 1968 as The Devils Brigade. When the force was disbanded in 1944, White decided he’d seen enough frontline action. He opted to become a military policeman, a cushier number than a commando or infantryman. Maurice was a brave man, in more ways than one. 

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I tried, but I've failed: I've just got to say something about the odious Aung San Suu Ky's appearance at the International Court in the Hague late last year. I don't think she really believed that she would change world opinion when it came to the genocidal explusion of Muslims for the Northwest of Myanmar. She went there only to demonstrate to the Burmese people and so-called Military, which has a dismal record fighting the country's other national minorities, that she was standing up for them. She has never had any interest in human rights or democracy. The only right she challenged was the Military Dictatorship's decision to exclude her from power just because she was a girlie. If she had been a boy she could have smoothly, automaticallyperhaps even,  followed her pro-Japanese collaborationist military strongman father to national leadership. This family are quite some pieces of work. Considering the long line of murderers and sociopaths who have been honoured with a Nobel Prize, why anyone is suprised this woman is on the list beats me. 

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I have never spoken to the legendary BBC foreign correspondent John Simpson. I'm not sure if he will ever live down his over-excited claim to be the first journalist in Kabul after the fall of the Taliban. Funnily enough, it was in Kabul that I encountered him. It was a couple of days before the first Afghan presidential election in 2004. Most of the western aid workers, etc, in Kabul had been told to make themselves scarce just in case the election got out of hand. The main tourist shopping area, Chicken Street, was almost deserted. What better place for Simpson to do a piece to camera about being the only westerner brave enough to venture onto Chicken Street. At least that's what he seemed to be implying to his audience back home as myself and legendary Canadian foreign correspondent Matthew Fisher got out of an SUV behind him. From Simpson's point of view, or so it appeared from where we were standing, there couldn't have been a worse time for Fisher buy some blankets. I have a feeling the folks back in the UK saw a second version which did not include two obvious westerners giving lie to claims that only the BBC was brave enough to visit Chicken Street. 

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A while ago there was talk here in Canada about boycotting the Olympics. Which Olympics that was, I can't say now. Here we take the Winter Games seriously and probably win more medals at them than we do in the Summer version. Anyway, one of the Canadian would-be competitors announced that the government had no right to forbid her from going to the games. My feeling was if she had ever taken a penny of public money, she could only enjoy free choice in the matter once she'd repaid it. You take government money, you do what the government says. These people almost always compete for themselves, not for sake their neighbours. I certainly take no pride in their win. It's their achievement and they can have it all to themselves. And I'd rather they financed achieving their dreams from their own pocket. International sport is big big business these days and many of the successful sports people are mercenaries who have little in common with the people of the countries whose colours they wear. I don't see many of the competitors who do win and then land a lucrative endorsement deal putting the money back into their sport or reimbursing the taxpayer. 

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I was listening recently to a radio documentary series about GCHQ, Britain’s communications intelligence agency. What struck me was that many of the senior staff interviewed did not sound as though they had enjoyed the benefit of a private education. To me, that suggested that ability was more important there than privileged background. GCHQ is one of few British government agencies these days that enjoys a worldwide reputation for excellence. Could there be a link between the promotion of talent regardless of secondary school attended and a British agency that actually functions acceptably well? 

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The BBC has a series called In The Studio in which the creative process is followed for a period of usually about a year. What is being created can very from a new comic book to a shoe to a new ballet or opera. The presenters are often not professional broadcasters. Sometimes they are fresh voice; a change from the decidedly chattering classes usually employed by the BBC. Some are friends of the subject of the programme. Others would like to be friends of those subjects. The results are mixed. Some programmes are fascinating. Others are basically exercises in sucking up in the hope of furthering the interviewer's own career. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. This sort of thing is, of course, not restricted to radio. I remember many years ago  a newspaper or magazine feature article about then highly successful Scottish journalist Andrew Neil. The only thing it told me was that the author was desperate to work for Neil and hoped a sychophantic article would be their passport.  But it is especially creepy when public money is hijacked by mediocrities, or worse, to further their own careers. 

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