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I was listening to a radio documentary about former British soldiers and the problems they have suffered since they left the army after serving in Afghanistan. The programme billed itself as being about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But listening to what the ex-soldiers had to say, I was left unsure how many of them actually had PTSD. PTSD is a very specific diagnosis with definite symptoms and treatment. The media as a whole has only recently discovered PTSD, though it is as old as warfare, and tends to bit a cavalier when it comes to the use of the term. Some may even be rather cynical in its use as a headline grabber. While anything that highlights this debilitating condition is welcome, I am not sure this kind of mislabelling is entirely helpful. The ex-soldiers appeared to have a wide variety of problems, ranging from psychological trauma to simply having trouble adjusting to civilian life after several years of a highly structured lifestyle which happened to include several unforgettable adrenalin highs. Dealing with, and preventing, the wide variety of problems this collection of ex-servicemen suffer from will require a number of different approaches. Sticking them all in a box labelled "PTSD" could mean that a number of easily rectified problems end up not getting the attention they deserve.

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In what I believe to be his latest book, the American-English writer Bill Bryson has some very harsh things to say about the Scots after he found out that many of them subscribe to the ABE attitude to football - Anyone But England. His ill-wishes result from a visit to a pub Aberfeldy when he found himself the only patron shouting for England and the Scots clientele applauding goals from whoever they were playing. The English only recently discovered ABE and have been very hurt to find out about it because most of them support the other British national teams if England does not make it into an international competition. However, I suspect that Bryson did not ask any of his fellow patrons in that Aberfeldy bar why they behaved the way they did. I don't know what answer he would have been given but here is one: The English Football Association killed off the oldest international football fixture in the world in 1989 because they said Scotland were so crap that they just were not worth playing on an annual basis. I would say that is reason enough for Scots to take a delight when the Football Association's team gets hammered. There was also the BBC's coverage of the old international when it did take place. The so-called national broadcaster served up a recipe of chauvinism, bias, English nationalism and arrogance in the guise of unbiased coverage of the game. The far more fair and balanced coverage of the Rugby Union Triple Crown suggests that the football commentators' approach was not inevitable. And this was from an organisation that claimed that its commitment impartiality meant it could not describe the Argentinians during the Falklands War in 1982 as "The Enemy". It is not great leap to transfer anger and frustration at the Home Counties Broadcasting Corporation to the football team it so lauds. ABE has deep roots and while it is unfortunate, unpleasant even, it is understandable amongst people who live north of the border.

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Halloween is a big deal for adults here in Canada. Halloween costume parties are very popular and I suspect a lot of money gets spent. I was never that excited about Adult Halloween. To me, Halloween is kids' thing and all about guising. Here in Canada the kids go out Trick or Treating - which doesn't seem to involve doing anything like singing a song, telling a joke or anything like the things we used to have to do when I was young. By the way, did you know that it seems the first written reference to Trick or Treating was in a Canadian newspaper, an Albertan one in fact, in the 1927?  I had imagined that the concept of Trick or Treat was an Irish-American innovation. That it was an American perversion of a Celtic tradition.  But it could be that Trick or Trick is truer to Tradition. I remembered that many years ago I read a book by the son of a Strathpeffer crofter which mentioned Halloween mischief in, I think, the 1890s. The book wasEchoes of the Glen by Colin MacDonald. In his tale MacDonald recounted how when one crofter who incurred the displeasure of the local youths a bucket was placed over her chimney to smoke her out. Acts of mischief, if not outright cruelty, involving less popular members of the community seem to have been the order of the day.  There were no mentions of joke telling, singing or dancing to earn a reward from householders. That got me wondering if the Presbyterian Church had perhaps subverted what had once been a childhood once-a-year extortion racket into a life lesson about not getting something for nothing, hence the guisers' need to sing, dance or tell a joke before they could be rewarded. As very few ordinary working people were encouraged to writer about their lives, beliefs and traditions before the 1960s we may never really know the origins of the Trick or Treat approach to Halloween. Many of the folk "traditions" we know of were in fact captured through the lens of affluent outsiders who did not always ask the right questions and who sadly even when they did were not always given honest answers.  

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I really wish so-called journalists on the radio who are paid by the public would not wish people well with their campaigns at the end of the interview. Those employed by private broadcasters can pretty much do and say what they want. But when I'm paying the journalist's wages, I don't want them endorsing any campaigns. There are often two sides, if not more, to any story and quite frankly many of the so-called journalists today will obviously believe anything they are told without question or further investigation. Some of the people I have heard endorsed and encouraged on programmes on state-financed broadcasting systems are pretty obviously cranks and sometimes even dangerous cranks. The last thing they should be is endorsed by an organisation I am forced to pay to support. Last week I heard a film maker interviewed and, as far as I could make out, what made the movie interesting was that it was produced by an all-female crew. This was because the women felt more comfortable working that way and the "journalist" doing the interview seemed to think this was a praiseworthy way to operate. Would she have applauded a film maker who refused to employ Chinese or African staff because she was not entirely "comfortable" with them on the set? I think not. But I'm sure the journalist wished the film maker the best of luck with her project at the end of the interview. Coverage of an issue; yes. Endorsement and implied support; a definite Big No. 

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The English language is wonderfully vigorous and alive. It is constantly changing. The rules and usages I was taught at school were regarded as major blunders and indications of ignorance only twenty to thirty years earlier. In the time it takes you to read this, several nouns will have become the basis of new verbs. But a complete free-for-all leads to a proliferation of gibberish. I wrote following example down, heard on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, because it makes so little sense that it would be impossible to remember: "Little or no negligible impact". I don't expect to understand everything I hear on the BBC World Service these days and that's OK. For example, I take it when a presenter says he or she will be "across" something it means they are monitoring the situation. But the English language needs some kind of agreed framework to within which to continue to evolve. In the 1960s educators in Scotland decided that children should be encouraged to express themselves without feeling strait-jacketed by the full application of correct spelling and the rules of grammar. A good idea, perhaps; especially if the spelling and grammar tools were eventually supplied by a future teacher. But it turned out to be a slippery slope. How can teachers teach what they were never, or inadequately, taught themselves? There needs to be some push-back, some rearguard action to keep the barbarian horde from splintering the English language into umpteen mutually incomprehensible factions. As one American writer put it, we still need "a gentle foot on the brake and a guiding hand on the steering wheel".

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