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A recent British Royals visit to the Caribbean again raised the questions of reparations for slavery, long ago the basis of the former British colonies' economies. Interesting. The slave owners were compensated when slavery within the British Empire was banned in the 1830s. So, it seems to me that perhaps the fairest thing would be for the descendants of the slave owners to pay reparations to the descendants of the slaves. Meanwhile, what about reparations for the descendants of those forced from their homes by the Highland Clearances?  Or of the Scots held in bondage until the early 1800s and forced to work in the coal fields? 

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I was listening to an American radio programme called Democracy Now. The presenter asked a guy how old he was and he said he was twenty- three. She then said she had some tape of his twenty-two year old twin sister. Obviously "twin" means something different in the USA. Sadly, very sadly, the exchange is a good indication of journalistic standards on Democracy Now. I listen to it because it covers stories often given short shrift by mainstream media in North America. But way too  often the people interviewed are not challenged on what they say and only their point of view is supplied. There is little attempt at objectivity or truth. Instead, the programme often simply provides a platform for people who are just as dogmatic as those who appear on the unashamedly right wing American  media. No wonder the USA is so polarized. 

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I heard a radio programme recently in which an author was in the final stages of publication process. Part of what needed done was send advance copies to fellow writers who would write a positive blurb for use on the book cover. The writers had to guarantee to say something positive. In my naivety I always thought advance copies were sent to a number of writers and the most encouraging responses were selected for the cover blurb. But I'm pretty sure I heard a writer on the programme promise to write something positive before even seeing the book. I suppose appearing on the cover of someone else's book is free publicity and an endorsement of the blurb writer's credibility as someone whose opinion counts for something. 

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Many years ago I heard a BBC radio programme hosted by a young sounding Welshman. He was far from a typical BBC type and was a real breath of fresh air. At the end of the broadcast it turned out the presenter was former Welsh Guardsman Simon Weston, horrifically burned during the 1982 Falklands War. Sadly, the BBC and most major media outlets attempting to diversify their workforce think only in terms of skin tone, gender and sexuality. This means they still recruit almost exclusively from the upper middle classes. You don't hear a lot of presenters from Wester Hailes or Castlemilk. I can't help thinking that they would have a different, and valid, take on life from some woman from a privileged home in Home Counties whose parents happen to come from Pakistan. 

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I used to know a TV journalist who was always talking about "The Flavour of the Month" (FoM). Sometimes it seems the job scene all too often works on that principle. As the years go on and "positive hiring" practices  demand FoM criteria are more heavily based on skin tone and sexuality, things are just getting sillier and sillier. And the quality of the work done is plummeting. Right now in the Canadian media, it seems thst every newsroom must have least one Australian. But it seems it has to be an Australian woman. Most are at least competent. Which is an improvement on the results generated by the usual hiring  based on skin tone, sexuality and apparent lack of English language competence. Progress. But still a long way to go before ability becomes a factor in getting a new job. 

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Performance bonuses are an interesting but flawed idea. The notion that someone should be paid according to the quality, or quantity, of their work, or even a combination of the two, at first sounds like an excellent idea. But it's not. Greed quickly finds a way to circumvent commonsense.  Some  of the most common abuses involve bonus based on financial performance. Simply cook the books to maximise the bonus. The criteria for performance bonuses soon become  be all and end all of production and quickly defy common sense unless very carefully thought out. Paid a bonus based on the weight of screws your factory produces in a month? Make giant size screws which are easy to manufacture but no one has much use for. 

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There are people out there who don’t like folk who travel the country and live in caravan encampments. These  people get a hard time from the Bleeding Hearts. I remember one  such an encampment near my mum and dad’s. One day the field, which was a short cut between two neighbouring villages, was occupied by some tough looking characters. The savage dogs that wandered between the caravans and the surrounding area made using the short cut impossible. Even worse, the occupants of the caravans made their living from laying asphalt driveways. That kind of business generates some highly toxic by-products which would be very expensive to dispose of safely. That’s probably why they were just tipped it into the stream next to the encampment. I can’t say whether the driveways lasted for any substantial period of time  but I suspect it was just long enough for the encampment to have moved a couple of hundreds miles away from any disappointed customers. A knee jerk dislike of Travellers is a terrible thing. But so is a knee jerk assumption that they all, each and every one of them,  represent a rich cultural tradition.

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I’ve always reckoned that a person could be punched in the head seven times in the course of their life time and never go down. But if those seven punches were all delivered in the space of as many seconds, then they  would end up on deck. Life’s like that. It’s more about luck than we’d like to admit. That’s why farmers and fishermen are amongst the most religious and god fearing members of most communities. They realise just how tenuous our lives really are and how little control of them we actually have. It’s scary.

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The Winter Olympics are a bigger deal here in Canada than they are in Britain. No great surprise, Canada has more snow and I think nets more medals in the winter games than in the real Olympics which attract more countries. I hate the Olympics. But in one minor way the winter gamed are slightly better than the summer version. One of the things I have against The Games is that many of the competitors begin preparations as children. They often are pushed, bullied, and exploited by adults who should know better. It's child abuse. But many of the events in the Winter Games though basically circus tricks involve competitors who only took up the event as a late teenager or young adult. So, less child abuse. Though events such as ice dancing are more on the traditional Olympic model. 

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A lot of people have smart phones. I don’t. Two or threetimes a year that’s a problem. Here’s why I don’t have a smart phone. When Iworked at the Government of Saskatchewan I was supposed to be on call 24/7, via what was the cutting edge of technology at the time, The Blackberry. So, I’ve always associated smart phones with wage servitude. I’d rather not be available to idiots 24/7 every day of the year. But of course it’s getting harder and harder not to have smart phone. Proving you’ve had your Covid jags is way easier if you have  smart phone access to the government health app. I’m not sure how much longer I will be allowed not to have smart phone. I just hope I don’t become one of Those People, you know who I’m talking about.

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Sometimes my brain plays strange tricks. I inherited an old Canonet camera, circa 1963, complete with built-in light meter. For some reason it came into my head that I would need to get some black and white 35mm film for it. I mean, old camera equals  black and white. Of course that was nonsense. The lens and shutter don't care if it's colour or black and white film in the camera. And it's the film that capturing the light that's the key. In any case, there was colour film around in 1963. Maybe not great colour but colour nonetheless. There's even colour footage of the Second World War, a conflict most of us are used to viewing in black and white.

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I once won a prize that I could only claim if no-one else wanted it. Believe it or not I was once declared Employee of the Year. Actually, from what I can gather it was more of a lucky draw from a list of employees who had on at least one occasion gone above and beyond what was reckoned to be normal requirements  of their job. I won a watch, which soon stopped working. But even better, I could make one- time use of the corporate box at the local arena along with three friends. Or maybe I could go twice  with one friend . The arena played host to a lot of interesting events and concerts. However, it turned out that I and my friends could only get into the box if company management didn’t want to use it. Or if the promotions department didn’t need space in the box as a prize in one of their numerous competitions. So, not surprisingly, it turned out that as other people always wanted to see the same things as  I did, I never did get to claim my prize.

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Canada’s state broadcaster told me recently that the French had to invent the guillotine. Why would they need to that when the Scots already had an almost identical device, known as The Maiden?  What I suspect we have here is an information silo. Feed the information into the search engine and it tells  you what it thinks you want to know. A bit like all these people whose social media feeds deluge them with bizarre conspiracy theories. The Maiden, a frame with a 75 pounds of lead weighted blade, was first used in Scotland in 1565 and remained in service until 1716. Similar devices had been used in Europe since at least 1539. Halifax in Yorkshire claims to have inspired The Maiden, though it is not clear when it when its version was first used. So, if Mr Guillotine did indeed invent the device which carries his name, it was a case of reinventing the wheel.

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Folk live in such silos these days that they assume all their troubles are caused by their skin tone or some other marker. They don’t realise that most of their troubles come from a group of people who have been exploiting nearly everyone for generations and love to play divide and conquer. A classic illustration is the resurgence of the Klu Klux Clan in the American South of the 1920s. Money interests realised that they could smash working class solidarity if they could whip up racial division. Pitting white against black worked wonders when it came to keeping down the wage bill and forcing people to accept lousy working conditions. The great grandchildren of those same bosses still manage to do much the same thing.

* The 2021 Book of the Year has just been announced - Book of the Year 2021

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I always felt the winter solstice festive period was a season of two parts. Christmas was for family. New Year was mates and community. Most folk, at least in theory know how Christmas is supposed to go. But I'm beginning to wonder if the Art of Hogmanay is being lost. It's hard to say from here in Canada. If the Canadians ever got New Year, it was long before my time. I once went to the square outside Edmonton City Hall for Hogmanay. Folk just stood in their own little groups and didn't mingle. I think the square was almost empty by 12:15am. It was a poor imitation of something folk had seen on television beamed from New York. A similar event in Scotland, at least when I was young, would have have involved the whole crowd trying to interact with everyone else in it. Though there was the occasional empty bottle launched into the air. And everyone seemed to throw their home open to everyone else, even if they didn't particularly like them. Everyone was pals for one night, or at least pretended to be. But I gather things are a lot quieter in Scotland these days, and have been since  long before Covid came along. Maybe folk these days have nicer furniture that they don't want damaged or stuff around the house that they don't want people they barely know, if they know them at all, pocketing. Or maybe I'm just getting old. 

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I'm getting fed up translating ignorant into English on a daily basis. And I'm not thinking of slips of the tongue, but scripted material delivered by supposed professionals. "Journalists" who believe that situations are exasperated rather than exacerbated. That preempting is the same as predicting. And the plural of child is childs. And they are all being paid to produce this confounding drivel. I shouldn't have to work out what they are trying to say or mean. It's their job to use the correct words. 

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So, excited about the impending announcement of the SMD 2021 Book of the Year? Probably not. I think the only folk who might care are the ones on the shortlist. That's because I'm not beholden to any publisher and don't have to creep up to any fellow writers.  A lot of those pithy quotes from reviewers  on the back of new books are more about getting the some publicity for the reviewer, often a writer, than guiding potential readers. And I can think of one Canadian best seller praised for its originality by reviewers who did not realise that the central "revelation" had formed the opening chapters of British book two years earlier. So, the choice of SMD Book of the Year is usually less tainted than most such awards. The same goes for all the reviews that appear in Book Briefing. 

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Does anyone else remember a Scottish TV drama series from the 1960s called High Living? I remember it was about people living in a Glasgow high rise but that’s about it. Was it some kind of Scottish Coronation Street? I have no idea. It was in black and white. Or was it? Maybe we only had a black and white TV and really it was in colour.  I remember getting an old camera and automatically assuming it would only take black and white photos. Strange sometimes what I come up with. Am I only person who remembers Pogle’s Wood? I think I always hated Andy Pandy but used to make sure to be home from playing in the dark woods for in time Bill and Ben. It turns out that the dark woods where we were sent to hunt rabbits every morning takes up a space about the size of a football pitch. But when I was three or four and armed only with a bag of salt, which I was told if I could sprinkle on a rabbit’s tail would paralyze it, the dark woods seemed massive.

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Many of us have been brainwashed by the shear weight of American self absorption into believing that the Second World War in the Pacific theatre began with the Japanese air attack on the US fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec 7 1941. Not so. Several hours before that the Japanese shot down an RAF flying boat which was shadowing the invasion fleet heading for the Malayan Peninsular. It's a mystery as to whether the plane from 205 Squadron failed to get off a radio message before it was blown apart, or whether the message was not received, or whether it was simply ignored; because the crew were all killed. Certainly, RAF and Australian air force planes had been aware of the invasion fleet since December 6th, though no-one knew where it was headed at that point. When the Catalina flying boat was was first raked by Japanese machine gun fire the fleet was only 150 miles from the invasion beaches. Actually, perhaps few people are aware that the first Allied casualties of the war in the Pacific were flying with an RAF squadron rather than Americans at Pearl Harbor because the incident raises too many  questions about British military ineptitude. 

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I wonder how many people realise that the present 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment was once part of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. And how long will it be before folk forget that the 1st Battalion of the new Ranger  Regiment is descended from the old Royal Scots and King's Own Scottish Borderers, two of the oldest regiments in the British Army. 2 Para is usually associated with the guys who got the bridge at Arnhem in 1944. But actually what is now the 2nd Battalion started life as the 5th Battalion in May 1943 when the 7th Cameron Highlanders was converted into a parachute unit. The 5th Battalion was was redesignated the 2nd Battalion in 1948. So, there is a precedent for turning what used to be called a line infantry battalion into a specialist unit. Which is what is being done with the 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, formed from a 2006 merger of the Royal Scots, by the way the oldest line regiment, the old 1st Foot, and the KOSB, once the 25th Foot. In the run up to the 1881 Army reforms there was much talk of making the 1st Foot a London regiment and the 25th a Yorkshire unit. 

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