Monday, 14 December 2009

Legal highs are not a police matter

The penalties meted out to children using legal substances such as mephedrone are outrageous, as is the police involvement

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/dec/14/policing-legal-substances-mephedrone?showallcomments=true#comment-51

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Mr Disraeli, Mr Oborne, Mr Gladstone and Mr Lerman

http://cifwatch.com/2009/11/21/mr-disraeli-mr-oborne-mr-gladstone-and-mr-lerman/

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

"The London Safety Camera Partnership is dominated by bureaucrats, has no constitution and holds meetings in secret"

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/nov/17/speed-london-safety-camera-partnership

Monday, 16 November 2009

We Jews Cannot Have It Both Ways

Jerusalem Post, 16 November 2009

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull&cid=1258027296250

Monday, 2 November 2009

The Virtual Private Network

A colleague of mine has recently been the victim of credit-card fraud. Whilst the total sum involved is not huge we are nonetheless talking about several hundred pounds – money stolen by an electronic thief. This is an unnerving experience, but what makes it more unnerving still is the fact that as a reasonably IT-savvy professional person my colleague takes (or thought he took) every precaution when carrying out transactions online. He has a mainstream commercial virus, spyware etc package installed on his laptop and regularly updated. He is ultra careful about PINs and passwords. So how was this fraud carried out?

There are several possibilities, and investigations are still ongoing. The fraud may not be IT-related at all. But cybercrime is now very big business. My attention was recently drawn to the ease with which IT crooks can (effectively) hack into a laptop by exploiting loopholes in wireless “hotspots.” A recent British TV programme graphically demonstrated this, and pointed out that the most effective antidote was to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

In layman’s terms a VPN is an extra layer of internet network that prevents hackers from accessing details of one’s own Internet Provider (such details are incredibly easy to access, and can be exploited to permit access to private data, even passwords). Using a VPN means that one’s own genuine IP address is replaced by a dummy address, within which one’s own data is ‘hidden.’

I am currently trying out a VPN provided by www.hideipvpn.com , who have kindly provided me with a free trial. I’ll write in due course about how I get on with this service.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

University Standards Row Deepens

"One blazing hot June day last year, Geoffrey Alderman stepped up to a podium, lit a touchpaper and watched it ignite."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/oct/20/higher-education-standards

Friday, 2 October 2009

"The Communal Gadfly"

Review in Times Higher Education

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=408458&c=2

"What is most attractive is the tone of Alderman's natural voice. He has a rare ability to float above stylistic expectations, producing a fluid textual mix of the academic, the idiomatic, the conversational and the Yiddish."

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Geoffrey explains why he has written his own obituary

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=407818&c=2

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The right to award degrees must be vetted regularly

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6737827.ece

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Students & Universities

STUDENTS AND UNIVERSITIES

Personal Statement by Professor Geoffrey Alderman in response to the Report (2 August 2009) of the House of Commons’ Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills



Begins

1. On 17 June 2008 I delivered my Inaugural Professorial Lecture at the University of Buckingham. Entitled Teaching Quality Assessment, League Tables and the Decline of Academic Standards in British Higher Education the lecture brought together material I had collected as part of a larger inquiry into the decline of academic standards in UK universities. I concluded that “Academic standards at many British universities are in danger of collapse – and at some have already collapsed - because those responsible for them are unwilling or unable to withstand the pressures coming from the culture of league-tables that many vice-chancellors have been only too happy to embrace.” I pointed especially to the work of the so-called Joint Planning Group (1996), and I accused the members of that body of “cynically betraying the self-regulation that British universities had enjoyed hitherto, and of handing this regulation over to a body – the newly-created Quality Assurance Agency – that has- perforce - been the tool of government in the sacrifice of academic standards on the altar of ‘public information.’

2. Following the delivery of this lecture (and the publicity it attracted) the House of Commons’ Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science & Skills launched a wide-ranging inquiry that focussed, in part, on the findings that I had presented in the lecture. In my own evidence to this inquiry I made the following points:

• Over the past twenty or so years there has been a systemic failure to maintain appropriate academic standards in British higher education.

• The blame for this lies primarily with university chief executives, who have, in general, been willing to subordinate academic standards to their preoccupation with league-tables and ‘market-share.’

• The Quality Assurance Agency has failed to halt this process because of its mistaken belief that the maintenance of standards appropriate to higher education can be achieved through a compliance culture and the standardisation of procedures.

• The QAA needs to be radically refocused so that its processes address academic standards, and the resource decisions that underpin them.

• The current situation, whereby universities enjoy degree-awarding powers in perpetuity, is insupportable.

• Where an institution is found, by the QAA, to be derelict in its supreme duty to maintain standards … financial penalties should be levied, followed if necessary by the partial or complete withdrawal of the authority to award degrees.

3. I am therefore very pleased that the Committee, in its report published earlier today, has broadly endorsed these findings.

4. In particular, I welcome the following statements made by the Committee:

• “the system in England for safeguarding consistent national standards in higher education institutions is out-of-date, inadequate and in urgent need of replacement. The current arrangements with each university responsible for its own standards are no longer meeting the needs of a mass system of higher education in the 21st century with two million students. … it is not acceptable … that Vice-Chancellors cannot give a straightforward answer to the simple question of whether students obtaining first class honours degrees at different universities had attained the same intellectual standards.”

• “The body that currently “assures quality”, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), focuses almost exclusively on processes, not standards. This needs to change. We call for the QAA to be transformed into an independent Quality and Standards Agency with a remit, statutory if necessary, to safeguard, monitor and report on standards.”

• “We are looking to see a fundamental change in the operation of the QAA and that, if this cannot be achieved within two years, the QAA/Quality and Standards Agency should be abolished and an entirely new organisation be established in its place.”

• “all higher education institutions in England [should] have their accreditation to award degrees reviewed no less often than every 10 years by the reformed QAA. Where the Agency concludes that all or some of an institution’s powers should be withdrawn, we recommend that the Government draw up and put in place arrangements which would allow accreditation to award degrees to be withdrawn or curtailed by the Agency.”

5. It must be a matter of deep regret to all of us involved in the provision of higher education in this country that the sector has proved unable to reform itself, and that it has required a parliamentary investigation to bring these matters under public scrutiny. The sector’s “defensive complacency” to which the Committee has drawn attention must be jettisoned at once, and the grave faults on which the Committee has focussed must be addressed as matters of the utmost urgency.

ENDS

[NOTE FOR EDITORS: This Statement is issued by Professor Alderman in his personal capacity. Further information about Geoffrey Alderman can be found at: www.geoffreyalderman.com.]

Friday, 24 July 2009

Schools and Schisms

The Board of Deputies of British Jews must not take sides in the case of admissions to the Jews' Free School

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2009/jul/23/faith-schools-board-deputies

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Tax Avoidance: should the government have the right to punish me for doing something that is legal but, in its view, morally wrong?

An action can be wrong as well as illegal (for example, murder), or - conceivably – illegal but not necessarily wrong (for example exceeding a designated speed limit when it is, objectively speaking, perfectly safe to do so). But can an action be legal but still wrong? Of course the concept of moral relativism makes this a very difficult question to address. Many people believe it is wrong to sell one’s body as a prostitute. But – in this country at any rate – prostitution is of itself not illegal. However, I am thinking more of the public domain rather than the private. The campaign now being waged by the Guardian – and latterly with the apparent support of Chancellor Alastair Darling – against tax avoidance falls squarely within this category.

Earlier this year the Guardian launched a widescale investigation of the stratagems used by large corporations to minimise their liability to UK tax. The Guardian named twenty or so major British companies, analysed their “secretive tax strategies,” and asked: are they paying their fair share? The Lib-Dem’s shadow chancellor, Vince Cable, naturally jumped upon this bandwagon. “The shocking scale of systematic corporate tax avoidance strikes a particularly ugly note [he thundered] in these straitened times.” [www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/feb/03/vince-cable-tax-revenue?showallcomments=true] According to Dr Cable, UK corporations should be paying 28% of their profits in tax, but many were paying much less. But neither he nor the Guardian suggested that anything illegal was actually happening. Why? Because they and he knew very well that it wasn’t.

At that time (February 2009) I entered the debate, via the Guardian’s website. I challenged the solution favoured by Dr Cable and his allies, that the UK should adopt a General Anti-Avoidance Rule, which would be interpreted and enforced by tax inspectors and which would proceed on the assumption that tax should be levied wherever Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs considered that there had been an intention to avoid the tax liability. This is part of what I wrote:

"Elsewhere in Europe the law of the constitution is (in general) that nothing is allowed save that which the law expressly permits. But in England … everything is permissible save that which the law expressly forbids. This is a cornerstone of English liberty. So, unless the law expressly forbids me from so arranging my financial affairs as to incur the least possible tax liability [tax avoidance], I am within my legal rights in so doing. What Dr Cable and his supporters want is a fundamental shift away from this position. He writes in favour of a more aggressive approach to tax avoidance and supports the notion of a General Anti-Avoidance Rule … that tax is applied wherever there is an intention to avoid it, even if the loophole hasn't specifically been identified in advance by the Inland Revenue. This would leave the door wide open to legislation [and not just interpretation of legislation] by tax-inspector decree. Let’s get one thing very clear: tax avoidance is and should be legal. Why should anyone – or any corporation – be prevented from exercising this right?"

The rule of the Guardians’s comments’ website meant that the debate was curtailed at this point. So my question was never answered. But a recent announcement by Chancellor Darling has re-opened the debate, and has, I think, given much greater urgency to the question I posed back in February.

Alastair Darling has announced [www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/jun/26/banks-tax-avoidance-darling-hitlist] that he proposes to publish a list of those banks that, in his view, assist their customers to avoid paying tax. Banks will be asked to sign up to a “code of conduct” prepared by Mr Darling. Those that refuse to do so, or which act against what is termed “the spirit” of current UK tax law, will be “named and shamed,” and will be subject to heavier scrutiny by the taxman. They will, in other words, be bullied and harassed until they do obey Mr Darling’s diktat.

Let’s get one thing absolutely clear: tax evasion – for instance concealing income -is illegal. Tax avoidance is not. Got that? It is my right, and the right of every citizen and every corporation in this country, to so arrange their tax affairs so as to incur the least possible amount of tax. What on earth does the Treasury mean when it threatens those who act against “the spirit” of current UK tax law? And who defines what “the spirit” actually is?

Saturday, 4 July 2009

The law of the land collides with the Law of Moses

A ruling by the Appeal Court last week raised the question of how Jewishness is to be defined

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article6632500.ece

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

So long, Ken's synthetic Simcha

I, for one, won't mourn the axing of 'Simcha on the Square'. It was always more a Livingstone-fest than a genuine Jewish event

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jun/16/judaism-london

Monday, 27 April 2009

Bogus Colleges: Closing The Loophole

The alleged terrorist plot in the north-west threw light on the sham academic institutions that offer a backdoor route into the UK. A crackdown is needed – for the sake of genuine international students as much as anyone

http://www.journal-online.co.uk/article/5714-bogus-colleges-closing-the-loophole

Silence over Sri Lanka

Why do those in the international community who expressed outrage over Gaza stay silent while Tamils die?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/2009/apr/27/sri-lanka-war-silence

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Don't Free Ronnie Biggs

When the Great Train Robber comes up for parole, sentimentality must not cloud justice: he is not a hero, he is a criminal

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/apr/10/ukcrime-brazil

Monday, 30 March 2009

Better safe than sorry

To abandon our deterrent would be to court danger without divine sanction

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2009/mar/27/religion-judaism-nuclear-weapons

Jacqui Smith didn't need to apologise

The press is exploiting her expenses claim for pornographic films, but neither she nor her husband have done anything wrong

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/mar/30/jacqui-smith-expenses-pornographic-movies?showallcomments=true&commentpage=9&commentposted=1

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Hazel Blears must back down

Hazel Blears's standoff with the Muslim Council of Britain over the views of Daud Abdullah is not only misguided but sets a dangerous precedent


http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/mar/25/hazel-blears-daud-abdullah

Sunday, 22 March 2009

"Off Come The Rose Tinted Spectacles"

Geoffrey appeared before the House of Commons' Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science & Skills, Monday 9 March 2009 [Report in Times Higher Education]

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=405760&c=1


Geoffrey's oral evidence can be accessed at:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmdius/uc170-iii/uc17001.htm

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

"A Troublesome Priest"

For Jews, the return of Holocaust denier Richard Williamson to the UK is an irritant. But for Catholics, it's a disgrace


http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/feb/25/richard-williamson-holocaust-catholic?commentpage=1

Saturday, 31 January 2009

THE BOARD OF DEPUTIES OF BRITISH JEWS AND THE BURTON BOOK

In his review [in the January 2009 Newsletter of the Jewish Historical Society of England] of my volume of essays Controversy and Crisis: Studies in the History of the Jews in Modern Britain (Academic Studies Press, 2008), Mr Raphael Langham discusses my account of a protracted dialogue that I had with the Board of Deputies of British Jews in the years 1985-88 stemming from my request to examine the so-called “Burton Book.” This document – an unpublished manuscript penned by the Victorian explorer Captain Sir Richard Burton, alleging that Jews used Christian blood for ritual purposes – had been purchased by the Board almost exactly one hundred years ago. Historians had not hitherto been granted access to it. In 1986 the incoming President of the Board, Dr Lionel Kopelowitz, wrote to me granting me permission to consult it. But almost at once this access was blocked, on grounds that had nothing to do with the manuscript, but which were related instead to public utterances I had made on other issues, and to which the senior leadership of the Board apparently took exception. In 1988 I was at last granted access, but only after I had, at Dr Kopelowitz’s request, agreed to keep silent about a quite unrelated communal matter.

Dr Kopelowitz may have forgotten that on 20 May 1988, as president of the Board, he wrote to me setting out precisely such a proviso.

A scan of this letter may be accessed at:

http://www.geoffreyalderman.com/pdf/Kopletter20May1988.pdf

I reproduce it now in the interests of historical accuracy and to set the record absolutely straight.

The history of “The Burton Book” is recounted by Professor Colin Holmes and me in our article of the same name in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, January 2008.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

The Right Results?

Inflated A-level grades are not only dishonest, they do our hard-working students no favours



http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/20/a-level-results-inflation

Thursday, 15 January 2009

HOW GAZA REVEALS HOME TRUTHS

http://www.thejc.com/articles/how-gaza-reveals-home-truths

Monday, 12 January 2009

Can Israeli actions in Gaza be justified on the basis of Jewish scripture?

Geoffrey Alderman v David Goldberg

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/12/judaism-gaza-israel-halachah

Thursday, 1 January 2009

BUCKINGHAM - "A Real University"

Interview of Geoffrey Alderman by Times Higher Education:

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=404854&c=2