Math is hard! Let's go take a diversity class!

Last Week in Weird

Hey! Teacher! Leave those kids alone!

Wayne State University in Detroit has a long and proud history — it’s been in existence since 1868, hosts almost thirty thousand students every year, and may or may not be bankrolled by Batman through his Wayne Foundation. In a move nearly as creepy, disconcerting, overflowing with the social and moral philosophy of the 1970s and generally stupid as a Pink Floyd song, Wayne State University has announced that it will no longer require all students to study mathematics, but will now require them to take "diversity" classes instead. If you’re interested in the sort of word soup that can pour forth from the word extruders of the university’s General Education Reform Committee, which proposed this wonderful "reform," here’s a choice sample:

Year 1 focuses around a paired set of "Year 1 Core" courses designed to generate excitement, build key academic and practical skills, and build a sense of community… These core courses are intended to help excite students about the promise of a university education, build key skills essential for student success, and to increase a student’s feelings of "belongingness" to the university community…

[W]e feel that the Student Communities and the Capstone courses will increase a student’s meaningful interaction with their peers and the community, thus leveraging the incredible diversity of our university. Finally, we are proposing the creation of specific "Diversity" courses, with students required to take one course in this designation. These courses will provide opportunities for students to explore diversity at the domestic level and consider the ways in which it intersects with real world challenges at the local, national and/or global level.


Secession and the Political Elite

I’m sorry, but I just can’t bring myself to use the awful word-ish "Brexit." It’s not that I’m opposed to portmanteaux just in general, mind you; it’s just that "Brexit" is positively hideous. It’s neither clever nor funny, it certainly isn’t the least little bit mellifluous, and the two words don’t even join together properly. At least when everybody was saying "Grexit," ugly as it was, the two words actually did have a letter in common — "Brexit" is bits of two utterly dissimilar words artlessly smooshed into each other to no good effect whatsoever. The worst thing about it is that it’s completely soured me on "Texit," which on its own would be sort of clever and cute.

That’s not what I came to talk to you about today, though. I came to talk about prediction markets. Michael Rozeff had been watching the prediction markets on the British secession question for some time, and only a few days ago, they had "leave" at only 36 cents, to 64 cents for "stay" — in other words, the markets had stay nearly 2:1 over leave. This was directly in contrast to the opinion polls, which were reporting an expected leave victory.


Adam Weishaupt illuminating a boat

Presidential Rankings #22: George Washington

I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection; that he would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government

The Father of His Country, George Washington was, of course, the first president of the United States (under the Constitution, at least), and his words and deeds would have an outsized effect on American history, for good or for ill. As such, it is unfortunate that the general was so thoroughly under the sway of Alexander Hamilton, that tireless enemy of liberty and solvency. Many of the presidential traditions that have been passed down through the years originated with George Washington, from the annual "State of the Union" address to the two-term limit (violated only once, by the megalomaniacal Franklin Roosevelt) to, sadly, the use of military power to collect taxes. It is there that we begin our analysis.

At the dawn of 1791, at the suggestion of then-treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton, the Washington administration asked for (and received) the first excise tax in American history: a tax on domestically-produced spirits. Hamilton viewed this as a win-win proposition; it would bring in money for the federal government (which still owed tens of millions of dollars to creditors who helped finance the Revolutionary War), while, as a "sin tax," would discourage people from consuming spirits. In traditional Hamiltonian fashion, of course, the tax was designed such that it benefited large, entrenched interests at the expense of everybody else, since the tax was assessed by the gallon or as one large flat fee. The largest producers of spirits, obviously, would pay the flat fee, which pushed their per-gallon tax burden far below that borne by the smaller producers, thus artificially strengthening the large firms’ ability to compete on the market. Worse still, for many people living on the American frontier, whiskey wasn’t just a recreation; Spanish silver (the widely-accepted coin of the realm) didn’t often make its way out far from the urban northeast, and whiskey, due to its comparatively long life, ease of divisibility, and ubiquity became the de facto currency. A tax on whiskey, therefore, wasn’t just a "sin tax" that would discourage people from behaving in ways the eastern elite didn’t approve of; rather, it was a tax on every facet of daily life. Americans responded to this tax the same way they responded to the onerous excise taxes imposed by the British in the days leading up to the revolution: they ignored it.


Sorry, couldn't pick any of the pictures of shirtless chicks. Had to be these doofuses.

Last Week in Weird

Dude, where’s my jihad?

Thank God we have the federal government to keep us safe from terror. I can’t begin to imagine how terrified I’d be every waking moment without our noble public servants heroically interposing themselves between my stunted, childlike inability to deal with the terror and the terrifyingly harsh existential terror of international terror. In particular, it’s nice to hear that the government is keeping me safe from the terror of hipsters paying their buddies back for beer.

It turns out this poor sap went out drinking with a buddy at a bar in the West Village. Later in the evening, he attempted to reimburse his buddy for $42 worth of beer by sending the money via Venmo, which appears to be Paypal remade for the iPhone. In his drunken hipster daze, he decided it would be funny to note in the comments field that the money was for "ISIS beer funds!!!," in response to which the OFAC "detained" (read: stole) his money to keep it from going to another nefarious hipster beer terrorist.


She Who Shall Not Be Named

Last Week in Weird

Slow readers

Former first lady and secretary of state Hillary R. Clinton (Last Week in Weird has learned that the "R" is short for "Satan") has been all in a kerfuffle lately over the trivial matter of a few thousand felonies she allegedly quite obviously committed during her time as head murderer of funny-colored people. The Republican Party has sued under the Freedom of Information Act for the release of all the e-mails sent to and received by three of Clinton’s top staffers — Cheryl Mills, Patrick Kennedy, and Jacob Sullivan — alleging that those e-mails are important in determining just how extensive Mrs. Clinton’s espionage was. The state department is obligated to provide these documents, and has acknowledged this obligation, promising that it will release the requested e-mails… in seventy-five years.


Nasty, big, pointy teeth!

Presidential Rankings #23: Jimmy Carter

We cannot resort to simplistic or extreme solutions which substitute myths for common sense.

Whatever else one has to say about the presidency of James Earl Carter Jr., one must admit that he was not a warmonger. A technocrat, yes; a utopian socialist, probably; a warmonger, no. The Carter presidency brought the United States as close as it has been to peace since the days of Herbert Hoover; sadly, with the cold war still raging and the Iranian people overthrowing the American puppet Shah, president Carter would find himself dragged into foreign entanglements all the same. Still and all, it was something close to peace, and that’s not nothing.

President Carter had the good fortune to be the first president since World War II not to inherit any military boondoggles in the far east. This was, in fact, part of the reason he won the election of 1976; as a relative unknown with no nationwide name recognition, he was at a steep disadvantage running against a sitting president during the bicentennial. However, the Carter campaign nimbly took advantage of president Ford’s two main areas of weakness: Watergate and Vietnam. As an outsider, Carter sold himself to the American people as a "reform" candidate who wasn’t enmeshed in any of the national political scandals, as against president Ford, who was still suffering from issuing the Nixon pardon two years prior. He was also able to tar Ford with the eventual final disgrace in Vietnam. In other words: Jimmy Carter ran on a "hope and change" ticket, spinning his inexperience and remoteness as a positive.


An Open Letter to Donald Trump

Dear Mr. Trump,

Many people I like and respect have come out in support of your presidential campaign, and they all make basically the same point: Trump is the least likely candidate to start World War 3. Just recently, Dr. Walter Block said so in as many words, and it’s not an argument that holds little weight in my mind. My major concern about it, however, is that I’m not at all confident it’s true. While I greatly appreciate many of the things you’ve said in the past, I cannot overlook the fact that much of it contradicts other things you’ve said. For example, your statement that Qaddaffi, as nutbar and sinister as he may have been, was keeping even worse people bottled up was obviously true. I admired the courage and honesty you showed in bringing that up and standing up against the horrible atrocities the Obama administration committed in Libya, but I notice that now you’re saying something quite different.

I understand how this game is played. You have to wobble around so you don’t scare off either the hawks or the doves, and that may be good strategy, but it won’t win you my support. If you want me to go along with Walter Block and Justin Raimondo and agree that you really are the one who won’t start World War 3, it’s going to take more than this. At the moment, I’m being asked to believe that the less-warlike statements were what you really believe, and that the hawkishness was just a cover meant to "seem presidential," but that makes no real sense to me; it could just as easily be that the hawkishness is the real Trump, and the dovish remarks were to pull in the anti-war wing of the Republican party (who obviously wouldn’t support horrible warmongers like John Kasich and Ted Cruz). If you want my support, you’ll have to convince me that you really aren’t in favor of endless war.


Quick, Gary! To the Johnsoncave! Wait...

Last Week in Weird

Trash talk

Former governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson won the Libertarian Party presidential nomination last week, beating out John McAfee, Austin Petersen, and a host of other people, most of whom were vastly more libertarian and all of whom were vastly more entertaining than Gary Johnson. I’ve had unkind words for Austin Petersen in the past — and no doubt will again in the future — but in the aftermath of Johnson’s victory, he was all class, pledging to support the nominee anyhow, and presenting him with a fine gift: a replica of George Washington’s personal flintlock. A clearly emotional Petersen informed Johnson that "you have my sword, and you have my gun" as he delivered the gift, in a touching moment no doubt intended to unify a Libertarian Party fractured by an unusually acrimonious primary season.

Gary Johnson then threw the flintlock in the trash.

Apparently, Johnson was "frustrated" that Petersen only pledged him unconditional support and also gave him a valuable and symbolically-charged keepsake and also clearly attempted to unite the party behind the nominee. This, in Johnson’s eyes, was insufficient penance for Petersen’s great sin: he is skeptical of Johnson’s hilariously unlibertarian running mate, former Massachusetts governor William Weld.


Censorship and Morality

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Those are the exact words the irresponsible hippies who founded this country chose when they wrote the First Amendment. Those words are important; they were very carefully and very specifically chosen, and they reflect, as Judge Napolitano has forcefully explained, a very specific understanding of what it means to speak freely, and what the government doesn’t get to do about it:

The freedom of speech, as the framers envisioned it, is a preëxisting right; it came before the United States government, it was never abandoned to the United States government, and the United States government is obligated to respect it. The people are fundamentally and inherently free to speak as they please, completely irrespective of whether or not their overlords like it. This freedom is also understood to be a freedom not merely to speak as you please, but to put those words into writing — hence freedom of the press.


Lt. Commander Data

Presidential Rankings #24: Andrew Jackson

I know what I am fit for. I can command a body of men in a rough way, but I am not fit to be President.

Martin Van Buren had a plan. The year was 1824, and Van Buren was disgusted by the corruption that had soaked through the Republican party. The Federalist party had long since ceased to be, and politics in the United States had become a one-party game; as such, with no competition to keep it in check, that one party became a magnet for every type of disreputable political behavior. Having soundly defeated Hamilton’s Federalists, the Republicans then went on to become what they beheld, adopting all the old Hamiltonian policies they had once stood against: protectionist tariffs, internal improvement spending, foreign adventurism, ballooning central government, and even that most hated of institutions, the central bank. Aided and abetted by a life-tenured federal judiciary that had long been usurping powers never given to it by the Constitution, it seemed as though the permanent enshrinement of the Hamiltonian system was a foregone conclusion.

But Martin Van Buren had a plan. If there existed no opposition party to oppose the slide into tyranny and corruption, he would create one. Having long been possessed by that quintessentially American spirit of fundamental — if somewhat inchoate — distrust of centralized political power, he traveled to Monticello to meet with the man who he believed, more than anyone else, was capable of helping him refine his ideas into a viable political platform: Thomas Jefferson. Van Buren emerged from that meeting energized, and, ever more convinced that the vestiges of the Federalist party were rapidly dominating the Republicans, assured the former president that

you are not sensible my dear Sir, of half the respect, the reverence, & warm affection, entertained for you by all the old and uncorrupted Republicans. and notwithstanding the late rewards for apostasy, you may rest assured, that the number of those is yet larger Sufficiently So, I hope, to rescue their cause from ruin & their country from misrule.