Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Dealing with the American Government.

Confidential messages leaked from the US State Department include a request from the then British Prime Minister that the US Government abandon extradition proceedings against a computer hacker, Gary Mackinnon, whose misdeeds were perpetrated in Britain, which is not within the jurisdiction of the US Government. I gather the Prime Minister's request was refused.

I recommend hard bargaining.

We do a lot to help the Americans, most conspicuously by providing military support for their actions in Afghanistan - support that costs lives as well as a great deal of money. The Afghan campaign was to deal with an American problem when Afghanistan was sheltering terrorists who attacked targets in America. (Note that there was no international invasion of America when it sheltered Irish terrorist who tried to kill the entire British cabinet).

We should insist on getting something in return, indeed on getting lots of things in return.

Many people object to airport scanners that show them naked. America should exempt British passport holders from those.

We should also insist on security of communications with the US Government. As the Americans seem unable to secure electronic communication, I suggest that the President report daily to the British Embassy in Washington so that our ambassador can deliver the opinions of the British Government orally.

We should also tell them that if they want to be forgiven for publishing the request to abandon those extradition proceedings, they'd better do as they were asked and abandon them.

Of course they may decide that all that's to high a price to pay for British troops in Afghanistan. In that case we can withdraw them with immediate effect, both saving lives and reducing the budget deficit.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Loan Me a Lend

It's quite common to hear 'borrow' confused with 'lend', but I was surprised when this morning's Radio 4 News programme claimed that various countries had 'loaned' a vast sum to Ireland. Surely they are aware of the verb to lend.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Diminishing Bookshops

I used to enjoy browsing round bookshops, but find Leicester's are gradually fading away. Of two moderate sized second hand shops that I used to frequent in the 1990, one has closed completely, and the others has shrunk to a market stall open for just a few days each week.

Last time I entered the larger of our two branches of Waterstone's, I notices that a chunk of the ground floor is now devoted to cards, and the top floor is entirely given over to a café.

The University used to have two moderate sized bookshops, one for Maths and Science, and one for everything else. Both those have closed, to be replaced by one little cubby hole. When I looked around that to find what today's Maths Students are taught, I couldn't find a single text book on Analysis.


Sunday, 7 November 2010

A Strange Offer

A leaflet recently dropped through my letterbox advertised the services of an astrologer and palm reader, who ambitiously offered to solve 'any problems' 'within 18 days', and to predict 'the past - present - future'

I wonder what he'd charge for 'predicting' yesterday's weather ?

Friday, 5 November 2010

Politicians’ Promises

It is unwise for politicians to make definite promises, because circumstances can change rapidly. However they still do it quite frequently.

How binding should such promises be? Where lection promises are concerned, I distinguish winners from losers.

I don’t think losers should be bound at all. Their policies having been rejected by the electorate, they should be free to think of something else.

On the other hand a winner had better have a very good reason for breaking a promise, and would usually deserve a black mark even then.

It is still hard to apply those rules to Britain today.

Labour definitely lost the recent General election, so that leaves them free to change any policy they wish.

The Conservatives won, but only up to a point. As they had to form a coalition, they can be expected to make some concessions to their partners, and therefore not to carry our the full programme on which they fought the election.

The Liberal Democrats are in a particularly odd position. They lost the election badly, coming third and losing seats too. That would let them off all election promises, were it not that they have joined the government. As it is, joining a coalition and making the necessary compromises is arguably just the sort of policy revision one expects of a loser. They can therefore be expected to obtain changes to some Government policies that go some way towards meeting some of their promises, but on matters where they disagree with the Conservatives it would be quite unreasonable to expect them to get all or even most of their policies implemented.

Currently being debated is the Liberal Democrats’ election promise to abolish university tuition fees. The fees were introduced by a Labour Government, and supported by the Conservatives. The proposal to increase them came from an enquiry set up by the recently departed Labour government, so it is not a matter on which Liberal Democrats are likely to be able to make much difference. I forgive them for breaking that promise.