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I was sad to hear that the members of the  Australian Special Air Service Regiment are believed to have murdered Afghan civilians and Taliban prisoners as part of an insane initiation process. When I was in Afghanistan I travelled with members of the Ozzie special forces and found them to be very good blokes. At Kandahar Airport they lived next door. Their selection process does not put an emphasis on head down tramping for hours across the Ozzie version of the Brecon Beacons during the selection process. But somehow it would appear the SASR has also managed to lose its way. Obviously a special watch needs to kept on special forces. By the way it was only when I saw the Maori troopers that I worked out who the folk in the British cammo with Austrian Steyr rifles at Kandahar were. 

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I was reading a book by an American university professor. He quoted a letter or memoir written by an Oxford graduate. I found it very hard to believe that in the early 20th Century a British university man would use American spellings. But there they were, between the quotation marks. Surely the quote marks mean that's what the guy actually wrote? Only it wasn't. This is like giving a Briton a North American accent. By the way,  the Americans are notorious for rewriting history to include themselves when the reality is far different. Take the film The Great Escape. In fact not a single American escaped. I can't remember what nationality the Charles Bronson character was supposed to be but the real Tunnel King was a Canadian mining engineer called Wally Floody. Or what about U571 in which Americans capture a German enigma code machine? Nope, the closest real life event involved the Royal Navy. There was supposed to a film about Colditz in which ingenious Americans come up with an amazing wartime escape plan. I have a feeling no Americans were held by the Germans at Colditz.

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 Governments sometimes have an uneasy relationship with their publicly financed broadcaster. This is especially true in countries where the owners of the private broadcasters already toe the governing party line. The answer is to appoint an idiot to run the state broadcaster. The appointee need not been be a political fellow traveller, only the degree of stupidity is important.  It seems to be a given that an idiot will appoint other idiots and eventually the state broadcaster will be a bad joke. So, no- one will make too much of a fuss, because so few are still listening or watching, when the death of a thousand budget cuts really gets underway. And the further the cuts lead to even worse service, which means even fewer folk will shed a tear when the state broadcaster is eventually shut down, or as good as. As the Chinese say, A Fish Rots From the Head.

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There's a lot a talk of talk about systemic racism these days. It means different things to different people. And for many it means whatever they want it mean, depending on which axe they want to grind. I heard a Canadian lawyer blame the lack of non-white senior judges on systemic racism. When asked to he explain, he said few non-white kids came from families which had been in the legal profession for three generations. I'd venture that few working class kids of any skin colour get the  kind of hand up in the profession that three generations makes possible. Some well intentioned boob may decide to accelerate the promotion to the Bench  of non-white lawyers, failing to see the root of the problem is class rather than  based. In turn white working class kids might feel resentful at the career preference being shown to contemporaries based purely on skin tone. A person only has to look at the modern USA to see what what white working class resentment can lead to. Bosses  encouraging racism  has long been a way to split the working class.

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Thanks to all who let me know that most of the reviews in Book Briefing had vanished. The technical issue responsible has, I hope, been resolved. The plan now is to restore the more than 500 reviews which were lost. I still have all the draft versions. The challenge is to edit them all again. That might take a while, so I have to ask for your patience. I think it's worth reposting the reviews as many of the books were published long before the Internet became popular. At worst, some of the reviews may save you wasting money. 

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I heard a woman presenter on Canada's state funded radio talking about how proud she was of a relative who fought in the First World War as part of some Remembrance Day programming. According to her he served with the 114th Division. What that says to me is that she was so interested and proud of the guy that she could not be bothered to even find out which unit he served with. There was no Canadian 114th Division. There was a 114 th Battalion. Slip of the tongue? This woman is supposed to be a professional. Though I suspect she was hired by an organization in which skin tone is far more important than competence. And a slip of the tongue is easily corrected in a programme that is recorded, that is if the presenter really cares about the subject matter.

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The Soviet Red Army seldom gets the credit in the West it deserves for its part in winning the Second World War. The Soviets took on the vast bulk of the Germany Army and defeated it. Part of the reason for the lack of credit was down to Western historians having little access to Soviet records. But another factor was self- serving German Generals who succeeded in convincing their new American masters that they had consistently outfought and outthought the Red Army throughout the war but had been overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers. And even then, they would still have won but for Hitler's interference. The Americans quickly realised that the next major war after 1945 was likely to be against the Soviet Union and were keen to pick brains of men who had fought against the Red Army. The German Generals were hardly going to admit they were ever out- foxed by the Soviets; they loved being feted by the Yanks and wooed too much. And in some cases their supposed usefulness was all that stood between them and the hangman's noose for war crimes. This led to a dangerous under-estimation of the Soviet Generals which could have costed NATO dearly if there had actually been war.

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Recently I was listening to Germany's English- language international service and was informed that people were "protesting the efficiency" of the railway service. So, were they complaining that the local railway was too efficient? Or perhaps they were angry about inefficiency? But why should I have to scratch my head? A big part of the problem  is North American usage. People do not protest in favour or against something. They simply protest and you have to guess whether they are for or against whatever they are protesting about. Sadly, it's not just the Germans who employ Americans or people who learned their English from Americans. I've heard some BBC people in their monkey-see monkey-do way talking about people protesting something. Using the word "demonstrate" without a for or against doesn't help much either. Something should be done.

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I recently came across a pile of letters. It would appear that I used to ask newspaper editors for feedback after an unsuccessful job interview with them. A surprising number gave it. Some of what the editors said was valid and in a number of cases there was something I could do to remedy the shortcoming they highlighted. In other cases the criticism was unjustified but the fault lay with me because I had failed to dispel whatever reservation the editor had. And in a couple of cases the editor was obviously barking mad and I could comfort myself with the realisation that I'd just had a close escape. 

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I spent a morning down at the local park last weekend. It has two football fields and there seemed to be some kind of schoolgirl training session going on. Here in Canada, football, or "soccer" as they call it, is more of a girls' game. Anyway, what struck me was how many repetitive drills the girls had to do. At least two thirds of the training session was taken up by these drills. Now, Canadian sports teams love their drills. But I couldn't help wondering if actually playing the game might not be a better vehicle for skills development. And there is little point being able to chest the ball directly onto your boot if you have no sense of player positioning. I would also suggest that playing is more fun than repetitive drills.

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Years ago I walked along the Scottish-English border with a pal from school. Years later that pal 's only son was kidnapped and murdered by a known sex offender, but that's another story. I know our border walk began at Coldstream and we finished up at Jedburgh but I can't remember much about our route. What I do remember were the accents of the farmers we met. Right on the border line we were left in no doubt which country the farmer identified with. Further back from the border the accents were less pronounced though still identifiably Scottish or Northumbrian. There must be a PhD waiting for whoever can explain why the accents were so broad along the boundary. 

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When I was about 10 years old my grandad offered to teach me to play cards. I wasn't much interested. Most card games were boring. An older person now, I realise what he was really offering was to teach me how to cheat at cards. I suspect that the reason he made the offer when I was ten was that he knew he was already losing the dexterity in his fingers necessary to manipulate the cards. He certainly knew his way his way around a pack of cards. He'd spent more than decade in the British Army between the world wars and soldiers played a lot of cards in those years. What he wanted me to learn would have set me up for life, providing I didn't get caught. 

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Apparently, at the close of the First World War of the British officers demobilised something like 40% of them were judged to be working or lower middle class. I wonder if in our supposedly more meritocratic age whether the present officer corps shows the same level of job opportunity. I doubt if it even comes close. In 1918 there was a war on. There was a real job to do and not getting it done could have proved very costly. So, merit rather than parental wealth became an a very important criteria. But the British Army breathed a sigh of relief in  1918 and got back to "proper soldiering". It believed it had nothing at all to learn from the conflict. It therefore took until late 1942, and many would argue even later, before the army was fit for purpose. The Germans on the other hand not only learned from their experience during the First World War but from the victorious British Empire forces. The result was a very close run thing in 1940. 

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You don't meet many people who are satisfied with how their lives are turning out. I guess that's the price of progress. If banging rocks together had made people ecstatically happy, music as we know it now would not exist. But I think I have met some people who are truly happy. The most noticeable thing about nearly all of them is that they have little or no sense of humour. I guess humour must be a coping mechanism and the genuinely happy simply do not need it. 

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I was recently subjected to a series of divisive and muddle-headed lectures by an "award winning" journalist and writer. I was left wondering how anyone who produced such dross could win an award. But then I realised that no-one had said which award the speaker had won. There are many awards out there but few count for much. I'm an award winner but I'd hate to have my name mentioned in the same breath as some of the other winners - different judging panel, different winner. There are many groups out there who have an interest in promoting themselves and their whackey world view by sponsoring an award. So, maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that this truly dreadful dross monger has bagged an award or two. 

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I can't help feeling that too many people misuse the word "literally". A couple of Sundays ago I heard a much respected Scottish writer on the radio say that something had happened "literally 18 months ago". It either happened 18 months previously or it didn't. What did the word "literally" add to what she was saying? Nothing. To me, and I suspect I'm now in a minority, the word is intended to avoid confusion between metaphor and real events. In metaphor skating on thin ice is behaviour that may result in disaster. Literally skating on thin ice involves putting bladed boots and actually venturing onto a frozen body of water. But if a woman regarded by some as Britain's greatest living writer is correct I may have to literally eat my words. Or not.  

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One of things that impressed me about Canada were the newspaper boxes. People were trusted not to only take one paper from the box after they'd put their money in. I thought something like that wouldn't last 10 minutes in Britain before someone scooped all the papers out and threw them all over the street. But it turns out that in the late  1970s,in London at least, people were trusted to put their money into a cash box and take one copy of the Evening Standard from the rack at an unmanned newspaper stand.  I would have remained ignorant of this if I hadn't succumbed recently to borrowing the final series of the Sweeney on DVD from the local library. And there was the character played by Dennis Waterman using one of these unmanned stands. I was impressed.

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Let's face it family trees aren't worth the paper they are drawn on. Very very few of us are actually descended from the supposed ancestors whose surnames we bear. At a guess I'd say it's highly unlikely that the true male line goes back to more than a great great grandfather. It's just the way human beings are. On the radio this morning I heard a pensioner who recently found out his biological father was in fact a family neighbour and not the man he called "Dad" for more than half a century. With no disrespect to any of the women in my family tree, I'd be surprised if I am related to several of my more distant male ancestors listed at the Scottish Records Office. But being more inclined to believe that nurture counts more than nature when it comes to how a person turns out, I don't think that really matters. And the biggest health worry based on DNA, that I know of, comes through the female line and that's way less prone to error when it comes to family trees.

 

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I heard a radio documentary recently about media coverage of the Flapper craze in the years after the First World War. A lot of it was typical scare sensationalism along the lines that Flappers' short skirts would make them infertile or their short hair would make them prone to sunstroke, etc. The documentary makers argued that nothing the media reported could be true because Western Society did not collapse. This ignores the fact that while the Flappers were highly visible, there were not really that many of them. For the vast majority of women in Europe and North America life was poor and filled with drudgery. The documentary makers were obviously from the chattering classes which provided the bulk of the Flapper population. These are the same people who celebrated the Sufferagettes for the British 1918 Election Act which enfranchised some women. No mention of the women who laboured in the factories throughout the First World War as contributors to gaining the vote or that the same act gave a large number of previously non-enfranchised men the vote too. Nor was there much of a look at whether the Sufferagettes with their terrorist campaign, it wasn't their fault that they failed to kill anyone one, may have actually set the campaign for female enfranchisement back by several years. No Government likes to be seen to be giving in to terrorists. 

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Sometimes a person can't decide between two courses of action. The answer is to toss a coin, maybe, perhaps. Sometimes there is clue, either conscious or unconscious, as to the best course of action. That's when after the first flip, the tosser, or is that tossee, decides to make it the best of three. That suggests the first flip did not yield the option the flipper really favoured.

 

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