Lili Marleen: the poem and the song

by Emrys Westacott Lili Marleen is one of the best known songs of the twentieth century.  A plaintive expression of a soldier’s desire to be with his girlfriend, it is indelibly associated with World War II, in part because it was popular with soldiers on both sides. It was first recorded by the German singer…

Boris Johnson and the worst of times

by Emrys Westacott “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” I suspect there are many who feel that this Dickensian paradox applies to their own life and times. I certainly do. If you’re fortunate enough to have a sufficient income, a comfortable home, loving family and friends, decent physical and…

What counts as cheating in sport? And why?

by Emrys Westacott Baseball has always been a thinking person’s game. Like cricket, it seems able to offer an infinite variety of complicated situations demanding subtle analysis, and these are deliciously frozen for everyone to consider and reconsider during the tense, drawn out intervals between moments of active play. Moreover, although afficianados know the rules…

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…

What’s so bad about smugness?

by Emrys Westacott Elaine: “I hate smugness. Don’t you hate smugness? Cabdriver, “Smugness is not a good quality.” So goes a popular snippet from Seinfeld. In a 2014 article in The Guardian titled “Smug: The most toxic insult of them all?” Mark Hooper opined that “there can be few more damning labels in modern Britain than…

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…