The fallibility of feelings

by Emrys Westacott A recent article by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker, “The Case of Al Franken,”[1]should disturb anyone who places a high value on fairness and rationality. Franken, who first became famous as a comedian, was elected to the US senate from Minnesota in 2008 and soon became a leading and effective advocate…

On Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations

by Emrys Westacott I just read Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations for the first time. Not every word. It’s over a thousand pages, and there are long “Digressions” (Smith’s term) on matters such as the history of the value of silver, or banking in Amsterdam, which I simply passed over. I was mainly interested in…

The Unmeasurable Value of General Education

by Emrys Westacott Learning Objectives. Measurable Outcomes. These are among the buzziest of buzz words in current debates about education. And that discordant groaning noise you can hear around many academic departments is the sound of recalcitrant faculty, following orders from on high, unenthusiastically inserting learning objectives (henceforth LOs) and measurable outcomes (hereafter MOs) into…

Liars, dammed liars, and presidents

by Emrys Westacott There is a famous exchange in Casablanca between Rick  (Humphrey Bogart) and Captain Renault (Claude Rains): Capt. Renault:  What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca? Rick:  I came to Casablanca for the waters. Capt. Renault: The waters?  What waters? We’re in the desert. Rick:  I was misinformed. Rick’s response is funny because it…

Freedom, private property, and public access

by Emrys Westacott The concept of individual freedom has been central to political philosophy since the time of John Locke, who published his groundbreaking Two Treatises on Civil Government in 1689. Before then, other values were paramount—for example: conformity to God's will, the cultivation of moral virtue in the population, social stability, national power, material…