And the Higgy Goes to… Kosoko Jackson

April 15, 2019

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It is time once again to (dis)honor the recipient of the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian Award.  We have a smaller but still (un)excellent set of nominees to consider.  I failed to submit my own nominee as I was paralyzed by such a target-rich environment and then came down with a fever just when I needed to make a decision and write it.  Oh well. Higgy nominees are evergreen, so I’ll keep those possibilities in mind for next year.

So we had three nominees to consider: Richard Henry Pratt, nominated by Matt, Kosoko Jackson,  nominated by Greg, and William N. Sheats, nominated by Patrick Gibbons.  While they are all very (un)worthy nominees, I think Kosoko Jackson is clearly most deserving.  Pratt and Sheats were much more like BSDDers than the kind of PLDDers we are seeking for the Higgy.

Sheats mustered the coercive power of the state to amend Florida’s constitution to forbid integrated instruction in Florida public schools.  Pratt embarked on a systematic government program to remove Native American children from their families to be educated in boarding schools that would raise them as “real Americans,” which was tantamount to obliterating an entire people, their language, their religion, and their customs.  Whenever people start arguing that we need public schools to create a common sense of identity and shared understanding of democratic citizenship, remember that line of thinking ultimately leads to Pratt. Both Sheats and Pratt are horrifying, but too horrifying for the Higgy.

Jackson is the winning nominee because his dictatorial behavior was really about self-advancement, not truly oppressing large numbers of people.  Jackson joined in social media witch hunts that falsely called out competing authors (falsely) for alleged infractions of the Young Adult Fiction politically correct code.  That was working well to clear the path for his own career until the mobs came after Jackson.

Posturing on social media as woker-than-thou to advance one’s stupid career and at the expense of a commitment to truth, good sense, and professional courtesy… .  Hmmm, does this sound like something familiar?

Anyhoo, Jackson joins past winners, John Wiley BryantPlato, Chris Christie, Jonathan Gruber, Paul G. Kirk, and the inaugural winner, Pascal Monnet.


And the Higgy Goes to… John Wiley Bryant

April 17, 2018

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Today taxes are due, so it is time to announce the recipient of this year’s William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian Award.  We had many (un)worthy nominees, so it was difficult selecting the winner (loser).  My nominee, Derek Jeter, is certainly annoying in trying to make us eat our baseball vegetables by denying fans the fun distraction of mascot races while the team loses a lot of baseball games goes through its rebuilding phase. But the criteria for awarding The Higgy states that: “‘The Higgy’ will highlight individuals whose arrogant delusions of shaping the world to meet their own will outweigh the positive qualities they possess.”  So, there should be some amount of coercion in whoever receives The Higgy and Jeter is not really forcing anyone to have no fun at baseball games.  If anything, it is my own darn fault for being a Marlin fan.  Jeter is just doing a poor job of running the team, but I am free to become a fan of another team or enjoy something else.

Jason’s nominee, Traci Wilke, was a principal who punished a student for secretly recording a teacher making threats against another student.  There is clearly an element of coercion in the principal’s behavior, but if we started awarding Higgies to every school administrator who suppressed the revelation of unflattering information, we’d run out of space on the internet.  It would be like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.

This year’s Higgy really comes down to Greg’s nominee, Romanus Cessario, or Matt’s nominee, John Wiley Bryant.  Greg’s nominee is certainly vile for defending the forced abduction of a Jewish child because he believes Catholic doctrine requires it.  It almost feels like the sort of argument one might make as a freshman in college to see what ridiculous extremes you might reach if you followed a certain idea to its bitter end.  But this is a serious grown-up writing in First Things, which was once a respectable outlet.  As Greg notes, the really insidious part of the article is that it reveals how much social conservatives seem to be willing to abandon liberalism.  The way I’d put it is that these days you don’t have to scratch much beneath the surface to discover how many Jew-hating authoritarians there really are out there.

But I think Cessario falls short because he has no ability to shape the world to his ends.  Writing this kind of drivel has about as much influence on the world as the guy sitting on the park bench muttering to himself about how things will be different when he is in charge.  Greg is right that abducting children is BSDD, but I think writing in defense of it falls short of being PLDD.  The too-easy embrace of authoritarianism and Jew-hating by social conservatives is alarming, but Cessario is a very mediocre anti-Semite.  He couldn’t even achieve excellence at that.

John Wiley Bryant is the most deserving of this year’s Higgy because he arrogantly and coercively sought to reshape the world in a way he imagined would be better, but ended up making it significantly worse.  Like Matt and many other people of our generation, I gained significant cultural literacy (and had a ton of fun) watching Bugs Bunny cartoons.  For trying to force us to watch “educational” television instead of freely choosing quality programming, John Wiley Bryant is awarded the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian Award.  He joins last year’s winner, Plato, the 2016 winner, Chris Christie, the 2015 winner, Jonathan Gruber, the 2014 winner, Paul G. Kirk, and the inaugural winner, Pascal Monnet.


Update — Thanks to Greg for being our official Higgy Historian and remembering earlier winners.

 


And the Higgy Goes to… Plato

April 16, 2017

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We had a particularly strong set of Higgy nominees, mostly because things are so awful that the list of those contributing to that awfulness has grown quite long.  In a normal year Joe Biden might make for a fine recipient of the Higgy, given his wild claims, multiple incidents of plagiarism, and grossly inflated status as a respected politician. But Trump makes one pine for the days of ordinarily unimpressive politicians of which Biden may be the archetype.  Kimberlé Crenshaw would also make a worthy recipient of this dishonor for her intellectually lazy and politically disastrous idea of intersectionality.  But these days outrage at the defects of PC is so commonplace that there is little need to pile on.  TIFs are a truly horrible idea that fuel the public corruption of handing tax breaks to favored industries or friends while righteously claiming to be creating jobs.  But the Higgy cannot go to the entire city of Cerritos, California for pioneering this vehicle for Petty Little Dictators since the dishonor really needs to identify an individual.

This year’s Higgy has to go to the “ur-Bossy Mcbossytoga” — Plato — who has provided Petty Little Dictators across the generations the intellectual defense and respectability they crave to lord over others while claiming that reason and science justify their actions.  Greg may well be right that Plato’s Republic should be read as a metaphor for the well-governed soul rather than a proposal for what seems to me to be a nightmarish dystopia.  And he may be right that Plato articulated a more appealing political vision elsewhere, but the fact remains that The Republic — even if it is a common mis-interpretation — is the most horrific political dystopia ever-described.  It puts 1984, Brave New World, and the rash of recent Young Adult dystopias to shame because at least you hear villainous music in your head as you read them.  The Republic is so pernicious because it is completely awful while also being completely righteous.

It is this righteousness that makes Petty Little Dictators so insufferable.  They have complete confidence that they are guided by reason and science.  Anyone who fails to submit is anti-science or motivated by base interests, requiring re-education and denunciation.  It is incredibly painful to acknowledge, but I believe that education reform — an effort to which I have devoted the bulk of my professional life — has been almost completely captured by Petty Little Dictators, including its researchers, advocates, journalists, and practitioners.

I sometimes wonder whether we might have been better off leaving things alone.  I wish I had listened more closely to the great political scientist, Ed Banfield when he warned us of the dangers of “reform.” Instead, we Young Turks in grad school generally dismissed Banfield as the old and out-of-touch emeritus professor whose office had been moved to the basement of Littauer Hall as a sign of his declining relevance.  In fact, Banfield had something more important to teach us than all of the “science” we were learning to fix the world — wisdom.  Unfortunately, I and my ed reform peers were all young and generally lacking in wisdom.  The mystery to me is not that young people in ed reform can be so lacking in wisdom, it is that there seem to be so few grown-ups who have acquired wisdom from hard experience and are able/willing to restrain the next wave from trying to foist their brave new world on all of us.  It is as if even the older ed reformers suffer from some sort of Peter Pan syndrome where they never grow up.  Rick Hess’ new book, Letters to a Young Education Reformer, is a refreshing exception to this Peter Pan syndrome but his is largely a lonely voice standing athwart history, yelling “stop.”

The damage wrought by Petty Little Dictators is not just in their faux-scientific bossiness, it is in the backlash they generate, which is the essence of Trumpism.  If PLDDers want to impose their will in the name of science, Trumpites dismiss science altogether and focus exclusively on the triumph of their will. As they see it, science, facts, truth are all just a charade to disguise one’s interests, so their interests might as well prevail.  Petty Little Dictators fuel this oddly post-modern rejection of objective evidence by the Trumpites because they behave exactly as the Trumpites think one should behave — imposing their will arbitrarily — even if the PLDDers are simply more self-deceptive than the Trumpites about what they are really doing.

There is an alternative to invoking Science as the club to beat others into submission and advance toward the perfection of human beings or rejecting science altogether — it is called Conservatism.  Unlike the Trumpites, Conservatives believe that there is such a thing as objective reality and give deference to science and reason.  But unlike PLDDers, Conservatives are keenly away of how flawed we all are and do not trust themselves (or anyone else) enough to be the True Guardians of science and run roughshod over everyone else.  They believe people can never be perfected and that it is dangerous to try given our deeply flawed nature.  The best we can do is to preserve the traditions and institutions that hold our flawed nature in check while using science and reason to improve things on the margins.  In short, Conservatives emphasize humility while PLDDers suffer from over-confidence.

It’s true that Plato (via Socrates) displayed much humility in works such as the Meno, emphasizing how little we really know.  Then again William Higinbotham also did much good by contributing to the development of video games.  But Plato is worthy of the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian Award because the damage done by The Republic — even if it is simply by permitting a common misinterpretation — outweighs the good.  Plato joins last year’s winner, Chris Christie, and Jonathan Gruber the year before that.

(edited for typo)


And the Higgy Goes to… Chris Christie

April 25, 2016

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Where has the Higgy been? As the traditional nomination date of April 1 and the traditional winner anouncement date of April 15 have come and gone, angry mobs have been gathered around the National Higgy Convention for weeks as the delegate has fruitlessly passed through round after round of voting, trying to find one candidate among this year’s overwhelming bumper crop of potential nominees who can secure a majority vote on the floor. I am now proud to announce, on behalf of the Convention, that the delegate has finally settled on a winner.

The 2016 William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian of the Year is Chris Christie.

Like so many public figures in this remarkable year, Christie exemplifies the spirt of the Higgy and its (un)illustrious namesake:

“The Higgy” will not identify the worst person in the world, just as “The Al” does not recognize the best.  Instead, “The Higgy” will highlight individuals whose arrogant delusions of shaping the world to meet their own will outweigh the positive qualities they possess.

Encapsulating the (de)merits of this year’s winner is a challenging feat. Let me attempt to convey his (un)redeeming qualities through the three lessons all future PLDDs can learn from his example:

1) Despite your arrogant delusions, you will not, in fact, get to shape the world.

Christie go home

 

Christie thought that by signing up to campaign for America’s Mussolini, he would gain influence over the budding BSDD’s ambitions.

Yeah, that didn’t work out any better for Christie than it did for any of the other PLDDs who (as all PLDDs eventually do) latch onto a BSDD in hopes of gaining power.

2) People punish arrogance by seizing any opportunity you give them to laugh at you.

Christie M&Ms

I’m just going to leave this here.

3) You will lose your soul.

Christie soulless stare

Every day from this day until the day the illusion of your existence ends, every moment of every day, you will do nothing but seek out alternatives to distract you from staring into the void of a meaningless world. Eat Arby’s.

Christie joins previous Higgy winners Jonathan Gruber, Paul G. Kirk, Jr. and (the greatest of them all) Pascal Monnet in their fruitless pursuit of identity and purpose.


And the Higgy Goes to… Jonathan Gruber

April 16, 2015

I know that the winner of the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian Award is supposed to be announced on April 15, but I needed more time to decide among our three excellent (horrible) nominees and filed for an extension.

I thought my nominee, Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis, was a strong candidate because he illustrates how our liberty faces the greater threat of gradual erosion from Petty Little Dictators than from Big Scary Dictators.  Ardis may only be the mayor of a small city, but he still has the power to find some legal pretext to send the police to raid the house of people who mocked him on Twitter.  We can all recognize how a Putin or Khomeini might want to oppress us and so we all (or should be all) make efforts to counter those threats.  But the mayor of a small city in cahoots with the local police and judge can exploit the fact that our extensive legal code makes each one of us a possible criminal to selectively use the force of the government to punish enemies.

Ardis, however, falls short of earning a Higgy because his actions were too transparently self-interested.  The ideal Higgy candidate believes he is shaping the world for the better, but is foiled by hubris, self-delusion, and the extent to which the complexity of the world exceeds the ability of people to impose centralized plans on it.  No one believes Ardis was trying to make the world better.  He was just trying to settle a score.  It’s oppressive but it isn’t Higgy-worthy.

Greg’s nominee, John Maynard Keynes, is also a strong candidate.  Yes, Keynes’ ideas provide justification for reckless state intervention in the economy.  But my previous objection to awarding Keynes with the Higgy still holds.  I don’t think the state needs much justification to intervene.  In fact, the historical norm is heavy state distortion of economic activity.  This was true for centuries (probably millenia) before Keynes came along and is still true today when few even bother to reference Keynes for support.  Keynes may have bad ideas but so does the guy who stands on the corner of the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market who shouts about how Jesus smoked pot and 9/11 was an inside job.  You don’t get the Higgy just for having bad ideas.

Matt’s nominee, Jonathan Gruber, didn’t just have bad ideas, but he helped develop a plan to foist those bad ideas on the country through deception and manipulation.  And he engaged in this central planning because he believed he was doing something good for us.  Let me be clear — I don’t believe Jonathan Gruber is a bad guy.  I know a number of economists who are his friends and they swear that he is a decent, capable economist who was just caught on camera expressing the type of hyperbolic commentary that is fairly common at academic conferences.  That may be true, but there is a kernel of truth even in that hyperbole.  And that truth is not very flattering to Gruber or ObamaCare.  It reveals the type of hubris and delusion of control over events that is a near-perfect model of a Higgy winner.  And Gruber does not have to be a a bad guy to do something that worsens the human condition enough to warrant a Higgy.

I therefore bestow the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian Award to Jonathan Gruber with all of the dishonors, responsibilities, and lack of privileges that accompany it.


And the Higgy Goes to… Paul G. Kirk, Jr.

April 18, 2014

We have had another excellent (that is, horrible) group of nominees for the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian Award.  It is more than a bit disconcerting that both this year and last we have had a plethoria of compelling nominees.

My own nominee, Paul Ehrlich, was a strong candidate.  His modern Malthusian warnings about how humans were exhausting natural resources and needed to control pupilation to avoid an imminent catastrophe helped justify the oppressive and disastrous Chinese One-Child Policy.  Ehrlich would have won The Higgy were it not for the fact that folks are already recognizing the dangers of declining birth rates, especially when coerced by the government.  Even the Chinese are starting to back away from their policy.  The demographic problems of more retireees dependent on fewer workers is becoming a big topic of discussion throughout Europe, Japan, and America.  And even the developing world is producing dramatically lower birth rates.  The highly influential Higgy does not appear necessary to discredit Ehrlich’s ideas.

Barney Frank is also a very worthy nomination.  Frank not only personally contributed to the causes of the Great Recession by  championing policies that pushed and subsidized lenders to provide houses to everyone, regardless of the ability to pay, but also has the chutzpah to assert “The private sector got us into this mess. The government has to get us out of it.”  But Frank falls short of The Higgy because he was far from alone in the governmental recklessness that nearly destroyed private credit.  Politicians on both sides of the aisle favored a house in every pot (they had to up the ante from chickens).  Politicians will always be tempted to promise free money and we’re to blame if we take them up on their offer by electing them.

A reader in a comment suggested John Maynard Keynes, who is also a compelling candidate for The Higgy.  But the reader did not make a full case, so it is hard for me to fully judge the merits of this nomination.  In addition, I’m inclined to believe that governments did not need Keynes to believe that they should actively meddle in the economy.  They were doing it plenty  well before Keynes came along.

This year’s winner of The Higgy is Paul G. Kirk, Jr. for inventing the pernicious notion of a “free speech zone.”  Even with a constitutional guarantee, free speech is always under seige because the government and other powerful folks would rather not be undermined by it.  People often wrongly cite the decision in Schenck v. United States as proving that the government would only restrict speech if it posed a “clear and present danger.”  What those people forget is that even while articulating the clear and present danger standard, the Supreme Court upheld Schenck’s conviction for passing out leaflets in front of a draft office during the Great War.  If a guy on the street corner handing out leaflets can be interpreted as a clear and present danger, then clearly the government will be inclined to restrict speech whenever it can.

The essential check on government control over speech is the popular backlash that would occur if the government over-reaches.  The accountability of the government to people in elections (and if bad enough, in the form of revolution) is essential to making the words in the Constitution protecting free speech real.  In the face of popular protection of free speech, censoring authorities have to find sneakier ways to control speech.  They have to find indirect and less obvious ways, like creating free speech zones.

For contributing to this sneaky infringement on our liberty, Paul G. Kirk, Jr. is deserving of the dishonor of the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian Award.


And the Higgy Goes to…

April 15, 2013

In announcing the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian of the Year Award, I established the following criteria for selecting dis-honorees:

The Higgy” will not identify the worst person in the world, just as “The Al” does not recognize the best.  Instead, “The Higgy” will highlight individuals whose arrogant delusions of shaping the world to meet their own will outweigh the positive qualities they possess.

Frankly, I had in mind those suffering from Petty Little Dictator Disorder (PLDD) more than those with BSDD (Big Scary Dictator Disorder).  BSDD folks obviously worsen the human condition with their blood-thirsty and brutally oppressive ways.  But almost everyone can recognize BSDD folks and an opposition to them forms naturally and immediately.  BSDD is awful and frightening ( it is Big and Scary), but it is also relatively rare.

The more common and insidious threat to the human condition comes from PLDD folks as they sit around in their offices or bars or cafes dreaming about how everyone else’s lives should be organized and what should be done with everyone else’s money.   Unlike those with BSDD, the PLDDers are facilitated in their disorder by the righteous (and self-deluding) conviction that everything they are doing is actually for the benefit of others.

The alphabet soup of DC-based think tanks and advocacy groups are filled with PLDD, but we couldn’t just give the Higgy to all of them.  We aren’t Time Magazine (and as  the recipient of the 2006 Time Magazine Man of the Year honor, I intend the magazine no disrespect).  Instead, we have to name an individual who has worsened the human condition through the arrogant delusion of shaping the world to meet his or her own will.

This year’s recipient of the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian Award is Pascal Monnet.  Monnet is what the alphabet-soup PLDDers look like if they actually succeed in gaining power.  Once their dreams of lording over others have been realized, rather than fixing the world, as they had imagined back in their cubicle days, successful PLDDers like Monnet just want to make sure that others don’t displace their position by fixing it on their own.  In the end we learn that it was all really about control, not repairing the world.

Greg also had an excellent nomination, David Sarnoff.  But Sarnoff didn’t have delusions of shaping the world; he actually did shape the world, at least for a while.  He might be closer to a BSDDer than a PLDDer.  And my nomination of Louis Michael Seidman fell short because Seidman only provides the rationale for the PLDD of others.  Matt’s nominee, Pascal Monnet, more closely captures the essence of the Higgy because of his petty dictatorial impulses to block a group of artists from doing his job better than he could by fixing the clock in the Pantheon.

Anyone who could block a group of super-hero-looking artists like the UX members pictured below certainly has to be cast in the role of the villain.


Nominations Solicited for the 2019 Al Copeland Humanitarian Award

October 14, 2019

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

It! Is! That Time!

Time once again for us to solicit nominations for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award, that is! The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded, so by immemorial custom it is time to begin considering which non-Nobel-esque humanitarian we will honor.

As our thoughts turn Al-ward this October, recall that this has been a banner year for fast-food chicken joints bringing joy to the world. Scott Lincicome elegantly captured the moment back in August:

There’s a full-on chicken sandwich war underway, yet some lunatics still question capitalism.

Words for the ages, Scott. America has problems, many and serious. But lack of an economic system that delivers goods and services to the people who need and want them is not one of them – thanks to heroes like Al Copeland.

In September, a local KFC tried to top everyone by giving a free car to a single-mom worker who had walked to work for a year. Josh Jordan suggested Popeye’s could do KFC one better by giving that mom the last of their new chicken sandwiches!

But you want to hear about The Al. Nominations can be submitted by emailing a draft of a blog post advocating for your nominee. If Jay likes it, he will post it with your name attached. A winner will be announced after Halloween.

The criteria of the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award can be summarized by quoting our original blog post in which we sang the praises of Al Copeland and all that he did for humanity:

Al Copeland may not have done the most to benefit humanity, but he certainly did more than many people who receive such awards.  Chicago gave Bill Ayers their Citizen of the Year award in 1997.  And the Nobel Peace Prize has too often gone to a motley crew including unrepentant terrorist, Yassir Arafat, and fictional autobiography writer, Rigoberta Menchu.   Local humanitarian awards tend to go to hack politicians or community activists.  From all these award recipients you might think that a humanitarian was someone who stopped throwing bombs… or who you hoped would picket, tax, regulate, or imprison someone else.

Al Copeland never threatened to bomb, picket, tax, regulate, or imprison anyone.  By that standard alone he would be much more of a humanitarian.  But Al Copeland did even more — he gave us spicy chicken.

The 2018 winner of The Al was Joy Morton. Like Al Copeland, Morton promoted good by doing well. It was known that small amounts of iodine could prevent goiters, but no one was doing anything about this until Morton saw a way to gain a competitive advantage for his salt company: adding iodine to salt, and advertising its health benefits. The bumper crop of nominees in 2018 also included Elizabeth VandiverLeo Moracchiloli, Richard Garfield, Eric LundgrenAdam Butler and Autumn Thomasson and George Henry Thomas.

The 2017 winner of The Al was Stanislav Petrov, who literally saved the world from nuclear destruction by refusing to follow Soviet orders to retaliate against what he suspected (as was later confirmed) was a false warning of a US strike. It’s not quite spicy chicken, but it’s close. Petrov was selected from an excellent set of nominees, including Whittaker ChambersJustin Roiland and Dan Harmon and Russ Roberts.

The 2016 winner of The Al was Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, who prevailed over a very competitive field of nominees, including Tim and Karrie LeagueRemy Munasifi, and Yair Rosenberg.  Edmonds stood up against fascists at considerable risk to himself by declaring that he and all of his fellow prisoners of war were Jews to foil the Nazis’ effort to separate Jewish prisoners.  It is this type of courage in the face of illiberalism that we need more of in these times.

The 2015 winner of The Al was internet humorist Ken M.  Ken M did more to improve the human condition than just make us laugh by making idiotic comments on social media (although that would have been enough).  His humor reveals the ridiculousness of people trying to change the world by arguing with people on the internet.  Given how much time ed reformers waste on social media, especially Twitter, Ken M’s humor is a useful reminder that many of the people reading your posts are probably not much swifter or influential than the Ken M persona.  Ken M beat a set of strong nominees, including Malcolm McLeanGary Gygax, and John Lasseter.

The 2014 winner was Peter DeComo, the inventor of the Hemolung Respiratory Assist System.  To save a life, DeComo tricked border control officials to bring a model of his artificial lung machine into the US from Canada, because the device had not yet been fully approved by the FDA.  DeComo won over a worthy field, including Marcus Persson, the inventor of Minecraft, Ira Goldman, the developer of the “Knee Defender,”  Thomas J. Barratt, the father of modern advertising, and Thibaut Scholasch and Sébastien Payen, wine-makers who improved irrigation methods.

The 2013 winner of The Al was Weird Al Yankovic. Weird Al beat an impressive set of nominees, including Penn and TellerKickstarter, and Bill Knudsen.

The 2012 winner of The Al was George P. Mitchell, a pioneer in the use of fracking to obtain more, cheap and clean natural gas. Mitchell won over a group of other worthy nominees: BanksyRansom E. OldsStan Honey, and Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes.

In 2011, The Al went to Earle Haas, the inventor of the modern tampon. Thanks to Anna for nominating him and recognizing that advances in equal opportunity for women had as much or more to do with entrepreneurs than government mandates. Haas beat his fellow nominees:  Charles Montesquieu, the political philosopher, David Einhorn, the short-seller, and Steve Wynn, the casino mogul.

The 2010 winner of The Al was Wim Nottroth, the man who resisted Rotterdam police efforts to destroy a mural that read “Thou Shall Not Kill” following the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamic extremist. He beat out The Most Interesting Man in the World, the fictional spokesman for Dos Equis and model of masculine virtue, Stan Honey, the inventor of the yellow first down line in TV football broadcasts, Herbert Dow, the founder of Dow Chemical and subverter of a German chemicals cartel, and Marion Donovan and Victor Mills, the developers of the disposable diaper.

The 2009 winner of The Al – in the first year the award bore that name – was Debrilla M. Ratchford, who significantly improved the human condition by inventing the rollerbag.  She won over Steve Henson, who gave us ranch dressing, Fasi Zaka, who ridiculed the Taliban, Ralph Teetor, who invented cruise control, and Mary Quant, who popularized the miniskirt.

Also noteworthy from 2009: history’s greatest monster, William Higinbotham, was declared permanently ineligible to receive The Al. He remains the only individual thus disqualified. In (dis)honor of Higinbotham, The Higgy award has been bestowed on (un)worthy candidates annually since 2012.

Al Copeland himself was honored in 2008 as the official humanitarian of the year of Jay P. Greene’s Blog. The award was renamed in his honor the following year.

Happy nominating and good luck!


The Higgy Gets Results!

April 30, 2019

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

April 15: Kosoko Jackson awarded The Higgy for joining a bogus outrage mob demanding the publisher cancel blockbuster novel Blood Heir by Amélie Zhao, and then having his own book canceled the same way.

April 30: Zhao announces that Blood Heir will be published after all. No word on publication of Jackson’s novel.

Sometimes the good guys win one.

Fear The Higgy! It does not bear the sword of mockery in vain.


For the Higgy: Kosoko Jackson

April 8, 2019

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

If you gathered a bunch of alt-Right, neo-Nazi knuckleheads and gave them perfect laboratory conditions for hatching a villainous master plan for preventing the representation of diverse voices in book publishing, they could hardly devise anything as foolproof as what is being done now by advocates of more diverse representation in book publishing. Nothing encapsulates that dreadful irony more clearly than the story of Kosoko Jackson, who gleefully fanned the flames of ignorant hatred, and promptly got burned.

Put on your hazmat suits, fellow JPGBers, for we are now descending into the most radioactive realm of the internet: young adult fiction. “YA Twitter” has been notorious for years as a cesspool of petty vendettas, unsubstantiated accusations and cancel culture. One of the most common tactics for destroying your enemies is to invent accusations of bigotry, insensitivity or online bullying/harassment. In a social world where the rules of what is permitted change every ten seconds – and, more importantly, where people will reliably believe almost any accusation without checking evidence if it aligns with their priors – witch hunts of this kind are not hard to drum up.

The publishing world was stunned earlier this year when one of the most anticipated new books in YA, Blood Heir by debut author Amélie Zhao, was pulled from publication even after the books had been physically printed. Zhao had received a three-book deal and a $500,000 advance, basically unheard-of for a first-time author. The book had been championed by diversity advocates because Zhao used the fantasy setting to turn a critical eye on the oppression of women and the practice of slavery in modern-day Asia. But then a YA Twitter mob whipped up bogus tales of supposedly offensive material in the book – before the book was publicly available – falsely accusing Zhao of having written things that were insensitive to the experience of African slavery in her book about Asian slavery. (Yes, for the record, it is hypothetically possible to write a book about Asian slavery that demonstrates insensitivity to African slavery, but there is zero evidence Zhao wrote such a book – you can read the ridiculous details for yourself if you really want to.)

Big names in the industry piled on, and Zhao’s allies abandoned her. Zhao decided to put her signature rather than her brains on the contract, and “requested” that the publisher pull her book. It did.

One player in this sordid spectacle was fellow YA debut novelist Kosoko Jackson. Like Zhao, Jackson had a disproportionate platform in this world as a new author representing a marginalized constituency. He chose to use his platform to help destroy Zhao, whipping up the mob with angry screeds – like this declaration that stories about the civil rights movement should only be written by black people, stories about the AIDS epidemic should only be written by gay people, etc.

He must have thought that he’d be safe, and these tactics could never be turned against him. After all, he’s a gay black man with a debut novel about a gay black man.

But what goes around comes around. The smoke from the burning of Zhao’s books had hardly cleared when an equally bogus YA Twitter mob came after Kosoko’s A Place for Wolves. The book is set in the former Yugoslavia during the ethnic warfare among the rump states there, and someone asserted (without substantiation – as with Zhao, the book itself was not publicly available) that the villain in Kosoko’s novel was Muslim. Luca Brasi came calling on Jackson, and he caved, too.

Headline: “He Was Part of a Twitter Mob that Attacked Young Adult Novelists. Then It Turned on Him. Now His Book Is Canceled.”

There is no evidence that the YA book-buying public cares about any of this. It’s totally self-generated by the creators and publishers themselves. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that! On the contrary, standards of professional ethics are often unrelated to customer demand, especially in professions that deal with words (literature, law, politics). And wanting to see more diverse voices represented in book publishing is an important aspiration.

The problem here is that people are being branded as bigots or bullies and “canceled” without having done anything wrong. In fact, the authors being destroyed are overwhelmingly people from marginalized communities whose stories we ought to be trying to hear. “YA Twitter’s Diversity War Is Hurting Writers of Color” reads one Huffington headline. The inexorable logic of this system is rigid conformity, not diversity – and the continuing dominance of already-established authors rather than the success of new voices.

As a matter of fact, when you think about it, the whole thing looks a lot like a protection racket run by the established authors. YA publishing is big, big business. Insiders are using their positions of power to destroy newcomers who want in. You can appease the gatekeepers by spending money on useless “sensitivity readers” and various other rackets – and even then, there are no guarantees. With Luca Brasi you were at least safe once you signed the contract.

Try this thought experiment. Suppose for a moment that sales success in YA publishing is not strongly related to authors’ writing talent. (For the record, that supposition casts aspersion on the readers, not the writers.) If that were the case, the pool of potentially successful authors would not be limited to the tiny population of people who have exceptional talent in writing; it would include almost anyone who enjoys writing and isn’t totally abysmal at doing it. Existing dominant providers in this industry (the established authors) would be very, very heavily incentivized to erect artificial barriers to entry, to shrink the pool of potential competitors.

You see where I’m going with this?

There’s a good case to be made that the established authors in this scenario are afflicted with BSDD, not PLDD. But The Higgy has a long tradition of (dis)honoring the PLDDers who want to gain power by serving as toadies and lickspittles and public legitimizers to BSDDers, then end up out in the cold when it turns out they have nothing to contribute and are no longer needed.

In the tradition of Higgy winners Jonathan Gruber and Chris Christie, I nominate Kosoko Jackson for The 2019 Higgy.