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When I was a young beer-drinker, if you spilled someone’s pint in a pub, you bought them a fresh beer. It didn’t matter if the spilled pint glass was almost empty, the victim of your clumsiness got a full pint as compensation. But then I was brought up in a macho culture in the depths of Scotland's Central Belt - the part rarely seen in postcards and picture calendars. There were a lot of angry frustrated people around who were just looking for an excuse to punch someone else’s lights out. This meant that folks were actually more polite and respectful than in some other places I’ve lived. When I was in Newcastle upon Tyne, if someone spilled your pint – tough luck. Canada was even worse, drunks catapulted around the bars tipping over other people’s beers willy-nilly. At first, being used to the Scottish way of doing things, I took each spill in Canada as a personal insult and challenge. Actually, it wasn’t the spill, it was the lack of a compensatory pint that was the insult. Macho-Culture gets a bad press. But a least in central Scotland a fellah knew for sure if he was being treated with contempt. In many cases, machismo is the oil that lubricates a polite and respectful society.

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Somewhere out there on the interweb, the Book Briefing section on this website bills itself as “Book Reviews You Can Trust”. This claim is based on the fact that it’s not beholden to anyone. The books that are reviewed I pay for. I’m not reliant on buckshee copies from publishers and don’t have to worry about a bad review meaning no more free samples. The number of other writers I know is tiny and if I’m reviewing a book by one of them, I declare an interest. But I’ve been lucky in that the writers I do know are nearly all at the top of their game at the moment and I’ve not been tempted to give any of them a poor review yet. It will be interesting to see what happens one of them writes a duff book. A couple of prize winning authors have been in touch with me to agree with my concerns that many book reviewers. One recent prize winner e-mailed me to describe the majority of reviews as “BS” and added “the system of reviewing and blurbs is totally corrupt - so much mutual back-scratching”. He is not the only one who feels that way. But here I have a confession. I’ve been sitting on three reviews for several months. In one case that’s because I have serious doubts that the book is what it purports to be. That’s OK. But the other two have not been posted because they are highly critical of two super-stars in the field of military history. In one case, I know someone who had to edit the guy’s work and my friend shares my reservations about his writing style and standard of research. So, why haven’t I posted the reviews? It’s because I have high hopes of following up Scottish Military Disasters with another book. While it’s unlikely either of these two superstars would be asked to review the new book, it’s not impossible. People can be really petty. Why take the risk?  Anyway, I thought you might be interested in my experience next time you read a review in the mainstream media. 
Why not check out Book Briefing?

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The appeal against a High Court decision that there were no legal grounds to order a public, and proper, inquiry in the 1948 massacre in Malaya of ethnic-Chinese rubber plantation workers by the soldiers from Scots Guards does not appear to have attracted a lot of attention. The appeal itself is rather technical and involves Human Rights law. In 2011 the families of the 24 men killed in cold blood at Batang Kali had their day in court when they asked the High Court to order the British Government to hold a proper inquiry into the massacre. The judges refused, but did agree that the evidence pointed to the 24 men being massacred and to a subsequent British cover-up. On Friday I noticed some “wag” demanding an inquiry into the death of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. I suppose his point is that it’s all ancient history and sleeping dogs should be allowed to lie. But the British Government has just agreed to pay compensation to Kenyans who claim they were tortured by the British in the 1950s during the suppression of the Mau Mau. So, when does ancient history begin? The children of those massacred in Malaya are still alive and the loss of their fathers must have been life changing. If torturing Kenyan terrorist suspects is wrong, so executing almost the entire male population of a village suspected of sympathising with insurgents must also be wrong. By continuing to attempt to hush-up the Batang Kali Massacre, the British Government allows a bloody stain on the reputation of British people to fester and gives ammunition to the country’s detractors. This was no random massacre by some out of control squaddies. The real story would appear to be far more complex than that and the time has arrived to come clean.

See Batang Kali Revisited

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Viewers of British television news should rejoice that they do not share a common language with their European neighbours. If they did, they might find they get more news from abroad than do from home on the evening news. News is expensive to gather and many Canadian news broadcasters find it easier and cheaper to fill their programming with trash and trivia from the United States. Recently a runaway train carrying volatile fuel exploded in the middle of a small Quebec town killing more than a dozen people and devastating the main shopping street. But what did one of the news broadcasts here in Edmonton use for its out-of-town news item? A plane crash in California that killed two people. Almost nightly the poor viewer of the TV news is bombarded with crap from the United States that the local Canadian station probably wouldn’t even bother sending a film crew to itself. But thanks to news affiliate deals, the American trivia is free.  American TV viewers have depressingly little interest in overseas news, so broadcasts there are filled with navel-gazing, mind-numbing, local dross. The sad thing is that the internet has pretty much killed print media and is starting to make inroads into television advertising revenue. This means even less money will be spent on the gathering of TV news.  Trivia and celebrity so-called news, both of which are dirt-cheap and often even free, will become more prevalent. TV news was already suffering because many of their news stories, the ones that took some digging out, had been scalped from that morning's newspaper. But newspapers do not have the news gathering resources they once had thanks to internet sites which gave the news they had gathered away for free. What is going to happen now that those real journalists are becoming rarer than hens’ teeth? Someone told me yesterday that they can get all the news they need from blogs.  To my mind blogs are not that reliable. Many of the bloggers have hidden agendas and some "insider" bloggers are not even who they claim to be.

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How much time and money should be spent on discovering the obvious? There are of course some surprises involving startling counter-intuitive facts that can be revealed by careful research. But it wouldn’t have taken a genius to cotton onto the fact that Territorial Army soldiers are more at risk from combat stress than regulars. They don’t have the all important peer support network. And when they come back from Iraq or Afghanistan, the return to normal work-a-day life is far more jarring than it would be for a regular going back to a military base in the UK, Germany, or Cyprus. The Ministry of Defence did not need studies to get out well ahead of the curve on this one. I sometimes wonder if paying for study doesn’t seem cheaper to the bean-counters in Whitehall than seeing the blinking obvious and spending money on avoiding the problem getting out of hand in the first place. By the way, the study showed that TA members were twice as likely to suffer some form of deployment-related stress than regulars. The Ministry of Defence is dead set on shifting more of the burden for Britain’s defence from regular soldiers to part-timers. But has anyone who actually knows what they’re doing conducted a proper cost analysis? I’m not even talking about ruined lives, I’m talking about cold hard cash. If the Ministry of Defence is serious about looking after reservists properly, that might cost twice as much as it does for a regular. I guess a lot depends on who is counting the beans.  A lot of "savings" in departmental budgets are achieved by simply offloading the spending burden on another agency.

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