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If you listen only to the BBC you'd think the sole problem Afghanistan faces these days is lack of access to education for females. You might conclude that one of the Bs in BBC stands for Bourgeois. Because what we're getting is bourgeois interviewing bourgeois. The average Afghan villager isn't planning to send his daughter to university. It's an upper middle class and above issue. Here in Canada when we asked what our soldiers were bring killed and crippled for in Afghanistan, the best the government could answer was Girls' Education. In the long run girls and women have lost out because in the minds of the Taliban their education is associated with foreign military occupation. Afghanistan is, as far as we know, at peace. Afghans apparently do not agree that female education is worth dying or being crippled for. Though, that doesn't make what the Taliban is doing right. But let's hear more in the western bourgeois dominated media about all the problems Afghanistan faces and how we can actually help.

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One of the few useful things we could have been taught on the journalism course at Napier, but weren't, was table etiquette. You know, which implement to use to eat which food. This was brought home to me shortly after I started work in Inverness. There was a fancy meal hosted by British Rail to celebrate the launch of a new train service. I was sitting next to a senior executive and we were chatting away quite happily until plates with an avocado in each were placed before us. I had no idea how to eat an avocado in a formal setting and suddenly felt at a disadvantage. Our places had been set with at least nine pieces of cutlery and I had a feeling picking the avocado up with my hands was not the way it should be done. If only we'd been taught this skill at Napier.

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The radio tells me I live in Amiskwaciywaskahikan, rather than Edmonton in Canada. That's the old Cree Indian name for the area the city stands on. Only, it's not the only name for the area which predates the rebranding to honour a part of London. It has long been an attractive locale and the Indians long fought over it. At one point the North Saskatchewan River, which cuts the city pretty much in half, marked the boundary between the Cree and the Blackfoot. The Blackfoot called it Omahkoyis. The radio station which harps on about Amiskwaciywaskahikan is south of the river. So, if it wants to remind us of the evils of colonialism and settler culture maybe it should be using Omahkoyis. There are even third and fourth names- Titâga from the Nakota Soiux and Nââsʔágháàchú, anglicised as Nasagachoo, from the Tsuutʼina. And dollars to doughnuts, none of the above were the first inhabitants of the area. Shame no-one recorded what they called it. The radio also refers to Planet Earth as Turtle Island. Once again, not all Indians subscribe to the Turtle Island legend. And the radio is certainly wrong when it claims the Innuit of Northern Canada describe it as Turtle Island. It strikes me as much akin to the radio describing Edinburgh as Edinburg.

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Twice while driving between Oban and Campbeltown on the A83 I met a vehicle coming at me head-on on the wrong side of road. I swore if it happened a third time, I was going to quit my job and no more driving the A83. Of course, I may not have survived that third encounter with a nut behind the wheel. You can't quit if you're dead. The A83 was, and for all I know still is, a nasty road. Once, on a curve, the office van hit some loose spilled gravel or oil from a vehicle and briefly went onto the verge. I managed to get it back on the road but not before a rock tore out a back tyre and damaged a wheel arch. Another time I slowed down to walking pace on the approach to an almost 90o turn onto a bridge across a burn because I knew the road might be icy. The van only made an 80o turn. I could have got out, the van was moving so slowly, and interposed myself between it and the bridge parapet. But vague memory of High School physics and the momentum of even a small van made me think crushed shins. I think I got off with a broken indicator. Minutes later the council sanding truck went by. I miss several things about life in Argyll but the A83 isn't one of them.

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It's an old trick: a supposed question that's really an accusation. I think I heard one recently. Until comparatively recently the Canadian federal government sent Indian kids to what were known as Residential Schools, usually far from home and their parents. The schools were often run by churches. It's hard not believe that their primary purpose was to destroy the kids' sense of their heritage. In the past couple of years there has been a lot of talk about the kids being abused by staff and this has now transformed into tales of hundreds of unmarked graves in the grounds of the old schools. Even of mass graves. Cree writer and musician Thomson Highway attended one of these schools and was pretty much asked why he continued to insist he had no complaints. Question as accusation. The accusation being that was he refusing to back the clamour and was therefore betraying the kids allegedly murdered in a century long "genocide". Some in Scotland may recognise the residential school scheme as being very similar to what happens to kids from the remoter islands. Anyway, good for Mr Highway.

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When I was a newspaper reporter I never described a crook as bold, or brazen, bandit. Criminals to my mind are scum. There are no excuses. The bleeding hearts always seem the least likely to be victims of crime. And the people who want most to see the thugs jailed are their neighbours, the most likely to be those preyed upon. I was seldom allowed to say in my articles what I really thought of those behind the crimes. I writing about. Sometimes I could get away with the odd knife wielding thug. But I never used a term that suggested any admiration. Not even an "ingenious".

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I've heard a couple of news reports that suggested that simply because there were no criminal charges that means that the person arrested hadn't done anything wrong. And therefore the police had been heavy handed and had over reacted. So, if the police want to avoid that accusation they should charge everyone? The media pundits want people to have criminal records, even when there are better ways of dealing with them? It's a crazy old world when giving someone a break means you end up being castigated.

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In the Old Days juries had the power to have a man hanged. I sometimes wonder if we should have super panels of folk recruited in much the same way as a jury run the country. Could a gang of randomly selected citizens run the country better than elected members of parliament? Maybe a better question would be could they do worse? Probably not. Getting elected takes money. That money comes from somewhere and the people who provide it expect a return on their investment.  Also, power corrupts. So perhaps it would be fairer on all concerned if the exercise of power was limited to a period five years, when the next parliamentary panel is selected. And having no need to fixate on the short term as politicians all too often do, we might see some projects and policies which look beyond the next election.  Plus we'd probably get a wider breadth of knowledge and skills than presently provided by the political hacks and former lawyers who dominate the elected legislatures.

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I heard a woman interviewed on the BBC World Service who was being applauded for fulfilling her childhood ambition of being a war correspondent. It made me uneasy. Would she have received the same adulation if she had said that since she was a child she had wanted to report fatal traffic accidents? I've encountered war reporters in Kosovo and Afghanistan. I was very seldom impressed by them. I can't do better than quote the American journalist and war reporter Martha Gellhorn. "Wars are frightful, wicked things, and anyone who wants to specialize in reporting them is either a charlatan or else lacks a scintilla of humanity."

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Years ago I heard a Scottish teacher interviewed on Canadian radio about how she spent every summer on Cape Breton island in Nova Scotia. At the time a number of Scottish people had realised that Cape Breton was a bit like of a Gaelic world captured in aspic. Some of the Gaelic folk traditions on the island had almost died out back in Scotland. Fiddling was big. Cape Breton had absorbed a lot of Highland immigrants in the 19th Century, many ending up as coal miners and steel workers. This Scottish teacher was a Gaelic speaker. She could tell by the variety of Gaelic spoken in various parts of Cape Breton where people's ancestors came from. One village obviously had been settled by folk from Lewis while a neighbouring community was evidently settled by people from Skye, etc. This was in the early 1990s. Sadly, I suspect the number of Gaelic speakers on Cape Breton has by now drastically shrunk.

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When I was an office boy at the Glasgow Herald one of my bosses gave me some advice. It was not to ask out women who were a good laugh on the phone. His theory, or experience, was that the women with the best phone personalities often turned out to weigh 100 stone or have beards. The good looking are able to get what they thought they wanted without needing personalities. Kind of a superficial notion, but with a possible grain of truth. A couple of years later when I was working as a reporter there was a charming, fun, young woman I spoke to regularly on the phone who was always talking about films she wanted to see at the cinema. Even I knew what expected of me. I think what stopped me was that most relationships don't work out and I didn't want to risk losing a good contact thanks to the almost inevitable breakup. A while later I spotted her standing outside her work. She was drop-dead gorgeous. So much for my Herald boss's theory. 

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When will time come to forgive the Germans and Japanese for the atrocities they committed during the Second World War? The war ended 78 years ago. It is better to forget and be happy than to remember and be sad. But the terrible things done were the work of societies and they last longer than individuals. I heard some Japanese people on the radio recently and thanks to having two atomic bombs dropped on them they were able to portray their country as a victim of the war. It's even possible they don't know about the regular mass murders of prisoners, civilians and the wounded or the wide scale rape sprees. Perhaps the evil that led to these atrocities still lurks unaddressed in Japanese society. I think the time to move on is perhaps when the last person affected directly by their crimes dies. Someone who grew up without a father because he was murdered as a prisoner and who briefly had a little half-Japanese rape brother or sister during their time in a Hong Kong internment camp. So, maybe another decade yet.

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I was reading an article by a black journalism professor about the challenges ethnic minorities face getting into the UK media. Nearly all of the hurdles were exactly the same as those faced by the majority of Britons; at least those who did not go to private school. In fact it struck me that I've heard more black people from the media/arts world from Tower Hamlets, Tottenham, Toxteth and Nottinghill on the radio talking about their childhoods than Scots from Easterhouse, Wester Hailes, Cranhill or Craigshill. The likes of the BBC regards skin-tone diversity as enough. But what we often end up with is the likes of the odious Razia Iqbal who parrots the Home Counties' No Sentient Life North of Watford attitude to life. I wouldn't trust her to cover The Pony Club. The real hurdle is not skin tone, it is parents' address and which high school you attended. To discriminate in favour of is also to discriminate against. Discrimination is always ultimately corrosive.

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It's been just over a year since The Great Eviction when everyone in my block of flats was thrown out. So far, there's only one death that I would link to the mass turnout from the dozen flats. The anniversary had me thinking about how many times I'd been evicted by folk who just didn't care. I counted that in just over 40 year's I'd lived in 18 houses or flats. I'd been kicked out of four of them, five if you count the landlord trying to sell the house without telling us. He had cheek to demand three months’ notice when I moved out. Anyway, that's a scary eviction rate of more than 20%. I hadn't realised how precarious renting was. And there was the landlady in Gayfield Square who after pocketing three months rent announced she was withdrawing access to cooking facilities. The first full eviction was in Shetland when my landlady decided she wanted my room for someone else. Then the guy in Newcastle who said he wanted the house vacated so that he sell it. That was followed by the optician in Oban who wanted the flat for additional storage space. And then last May. Legal rights don't really come into it. Fight the eviction and the landlord puts your stuff in the street in the rain anyway. You could sue, but what's the point in having your worldly goods destroyed for the sake of a few more weeks more occupancy? In any case, the civil courts are only an expensive, and lengthy, game of chance. Don't, ever, confuse the Law with Justice.

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In the 1940s the BBC was accused of undermining good English usage. But at least it said what it meant and meant what it said. Now thanks to ever increasing levels of ignorance its broadcasts are a riddle within an enigma surrounded by a puzzle. If a Lebanese politician really relinquished party leadership after 40 decades, why wasn't he interviewed about what it's like to be more than 400 years old? Did RAF Bomber Command really let wireless operators pilot its planes, as the BBC reported in its coverage of recent funeral? Here's a clue BBC, the pilot drives the plane. Zoom Zoom. 

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Just after I started work at The Evening Chronicle in South Shields I popped into the bar where the folk from head office in Newcastle city centre went for an after-work beer. One of the reporters was sitting recounting how she had got a pretty heart-wrenching interview with the mother of a murder victim. She reckoned the mother would be equally candid with other reporters who approached her about her daughter's murder. So, the reporter decided to make the mother so disgusted with the media that she would give no more interviews. Her parting comment to the mother was along the lines of "But she was a bit of a slag, wasn't she? I mean, she basically asked for it". The mother went ballistic. And our reporter was right, the mother gave no more interviews. Her fellow reporters were almost unanimous in applauding her initiative. 

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I heard recently of a scumbag who set fire to his rented flat while trying to burn off the plastic coating on stolen copper wire in his livingroom. The blaze was confined to the livingroom. Grounds for eviction. You'd think so. But his social worker didn't agree and helped him fight the eviction. The social worker wasn't bothered that next time the scumbag wanted to "process" stolen cabling the fire could burn the whole block of flats down and kill people. The very same people who pay the social worker's wages. One of them is a former neighbour of mine. I wonder what his social worker makes of the situation. Or maybe my former neighbour and the scumbag share a social worker. In the latter case it must hurt that the social worker puts the right to commit crime without fear of eviction above my former neighbour's life.

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One of the problems with new recipes is deciding whether to risk splashing out on required ingredient only to find that the meal is a disappointment and that almost full jar of something is never used again. Several years ago a lot of voluntary groups used to raise money by putting out cook books with recipes contributed by the members. Some were very good. Others were rubbish. One of the worst I encountered was put out by a listener funded radio channel called CKUA. This shouldn't have been a surprise. Years before one of its star presenters was in a serious road accident and as a reporter I had to phone some of his colleagues. Without exception they were rude and unpleasant to me. Pretentious people, pretentious recipes. 

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Here in Alberta welfare benefits are paid by the provincial government. Old age pensions and the dole are federal responsibilities. Anyway, an awful lot of criminal scumbags aren't turning up for their court appearances. Someone suggested the no- shows should be encouraged to show by cutting off their benefits if they didn't. Oh, no, said the bleeding hearts. No benefits means they'll have to commit more crimes to address their budgetary shortfall. That's not how the scumbags' minds work. They get their benefits and they then still make everyone else's life a misery. But the bleeding hearts are saying that we should be bribing the bail-jumping scumbags not to commit crimes. I say to the crooks,  play by the rules and show up if you want my tax money.

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I was reading a history of New Zealand recently. One of the most interesting aspects was how the European and Australian settlers, and their successors, treated the descendants of the people who were there when they first arrived, the Maoris. And more interesting were the contrasts, and similarities, with how the Canadians dealt with , and continue to deal with, the Indians. Canadians should know more about the histories of the other parts of the old British Empire. I don't just mean New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Looking at India, the Far East and the former African colonies could also yield valuable lessons. 

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