And the Higgy Goes to… Peter Daznak

April 17, 2023

Those who suffer with PLDD, which The Higgy is meant to (dis)honor, try to boss other people with the delusion that doing so benefits those being bossed around. It doesn’t really matter whether the bossing is based on something true or false. It’s all for a good goal, so that justifies everything. This is probably what Peter Daznak was thinking when he organized a group letter of public health experts to The Lancet in February 2020 asserting that considering the possibility that Covid originated from a lab leak was dangerous conspiracy thinking and needed to be squashed. As Matt noted in his nomination, those who signed the letter didn’t know then and probably still don’t know now whether Covid originated from a lab or the wild.

In some ways, they didn’t really care whether it was true or false as long as the letter achieved something that they thought was good. That good might be maintaining positive relations with the Chinese government, getting stronger cooperation from China with global health organizations to combat the virus, avoiding the possibility that people would wrongly blame Chinese individuals for collective responsibility for any leak, avoiding scrutiny of the EcoHealth Alliance’s relationship with the lab in Wuhan, or some other thing they valued. When people do bad things, they can almost always rationalize to themselves that they are doing something good.

But the path to the Higgy is paved with good intentions. Once we abandon standards of truth-telling and acknowledging uncertainty, we develop the over-confidence required to boss others around and are prey to the self-delusion that whatever we want must be good for others. We don’t know Peter Daznak’s heart. But we do know that he organized an effort by self-interested experts to delegitimize reasonable inquiry into the origins of the Covid virus.

We highly doubt that the confident assertion that the lab leak theory was a crazy conspiracy achieved any of the good things Daznak and his colleagues may have imagined. But it is more likely that using their expert status to stymy reasonable inquiry may have made discovering the truth impossible and may have shielded those responsible from accountability. That accountability is not merely a matter of justice, which is important in its own right, but may help avoid future global-level catastrophes through deterrence and improved practices.

For this abuse of expert status to boss around others with recklessness about the truth, Peter Daznak is this year’s recipient of the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian of the Year Award.

Daznak beat two other worthy nominees: Jennifer Dorow (nominated by Greg) and Yusuke Narita (nominated by me). Dorrow was certainly self-absorbed and destructive in her behavior by refusing to yield to another candidate from her party who stood a better chance of winning. But her self-absorption is not so much derived from the desire to boss around others (like a PLDDer) as from the regular politician desire to be the one receiving attention. It is still blame-worthy but not obviously PLDD to want to win a nomination even when one is not the best candidate for the party.

Narita is more like Daznak in that he uses his expert status to try to boss around others. But unlike Daznak, it is very unlikely that anyone is likely to listen to Narita other than the few dozen grad students in the Yale econ program compelled to take his courses and maintain his favor by agreeing with him. Daznak was more effectively mobilizing government officials to dismiss lab-leak investigations. That effectiveness made Draznak more worthy of The Higgy.

Daznak joins past “winners” of The Higgy: Abraham FlexnerAlison Collins, Mark DiRoccoKosoko JacksonJohn Wiley BryantPlatoChris ChristieJonathan Gruber, Paul G. Kirk and the incomparably petty inaugural winner, Pascal Monnet.

Peter Daznak for the Higgy

April 17, 2023

(Guest post by Matthew Ladner)

On February 19, 2020 a group of 27 public health officials published a joint letter in the medical journal Lancet that read in part:

The rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumours and misinformation around its origins. We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin. Scientists from multiple countries have published and analysed genomes of the causative agent, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and they overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife, as have so many other emerging pathogens.

This is further supported by a letter from the presidents of the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine and by the scientific communities they represent. Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumours, and prejudice that jeopardise our global collaboration in the fight against this virus. We support the call from the Director-General of WHO to promote scientific evidence and unity over misinformation and conjecture.  We want you, the science and health professionals of China, to know that we stand with you in your fight against this virus.

We invite others to join us in supporting the scientists, public health professionals, and medical professionals of Wuhan and across China. Stand with our colleagues on the frontline

We speak in one voice. To add your support for this statement, sign our letter online. LM is editor of ProMED-mail. We declare no competing interests.

Competing interests were not declared, rather they were concealed.

I should note from the outset that I do not know whether COVID-19 originated in wildlife or in a lab. Neither do those who signed on to the letter, either today or back in 2020. Wuhan has both a wet-market and a laboratory that conducted experiments on bat viruses, and one of these two things is far more common in Chinese cities than the other and the pandemic started in (checks notes) Wuhan. Only someone deep in the throes of delusion inspired by self-interest or an utterly unsophisticated dupe would not want to explore the possibility of a lab leak.

Peter Daznak drafted the first draft of this letter, and an analysis found that 26 of the 27 original signatories had ties to the EcoHealth Alliance. After the publication of this letter, Daznak was appointed to a commission to explore the virus origins by Lancet and on another organized by the World Health Organization. Later he was removed from both. Sleuthing revealed that EcoHealth had made grants to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for experiments on bat viruses, that EcoHealth had engaged in some heavily criticized lobbying of the National Institute of Health officials in order to skirt rules specifically designed to prevent a pandemic, and that multiple safety concerns had been raised by Chinese officials regarding the security of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Some of the signatories later said that it had been their intention to push back on the notion that Chinese officials had released the COVID-19 virus on purpose. You’d have to be a Roger Moore era Bond Villain to do such a thing and you’d be needing an incredibly reliable vaccine to create your post-pandemic utopia on the ashes of the old world, which China shows no sign of having. Allegedly Daznak himself insisted on keeping the statement “broad” in denouncing a lab origin.

The first paragraph in the above quote is really a piece of work- a true masterpiece of licking the boot stomping of a human face forever. Chinese officials were anything but “rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data.” For instance as Annie Sparrow related in Foreign Policy:

Instead of notifying the World Health Organization (WHO) about the outbreak of atypical pneumonia and evidence of human spread, the authorities censored information, concealed the virus, and silenced doctors who tried to warn their colleagues. Hospital leaders refused to authorize masks or other personal protective equipment (PPE) on the grounds that it would cause panic. As patients infected health care workers and health care workers infected one another, hospital leaders insisted that spread among humans was impossible—that no staff members were infected—even altering diagnoses that suggested otherwise.

Beijing’s official line through Jan. 19, 2020 was that the outbreak began in late December 2019, that all cases had been infected by an unidentified animal source at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, and that no health care workers were infected. But even when the government conceded human spread on Jan. 20, it reported only a fraction of the real numbers.

Instead authorities engaged in a pattern of demonstrable lying and covering up, threatening doctors involved in early warnings and restricting information. On Jan. 3, 2020, when China formally acknowledged the pneumonia outbreak, authorities told the WHO they had no idea what was causing it. In fact, by then, the new coronavirus had been sequenced several times—beginning with Vision Medicals on Dec. 27, 2019; BGI Genomics on Dec. 29, 2019; Wuhan Institute of Virology on Jan. 2, 2020; and China’s CDC on Jan. 3, 2020. On Jan. 5, a consortium led by professor Zhang Yongzhen at Fudan University in Shanghai sequenced it, deposited it in GenBank, the U.S. public database of DNA sequences, submitted it to Nature, and shared it with China’s National Health Commission (NHC).

This letter is Exhibit A of the abuse of scientific “authority” and why many of us have drawn the unavoidable conclusion that grandees and technocrats are not to be trusted. Oh, and in addition his sketchy grant-making and lobbying may have been a single step upstream from causing a global pandemic that killed millions of people and damaged the lives of millions more. I am not certain about that last part, just that there was an obvious effort to cover up the investigation of the possibility of a lab leak through the abuse of authority. It is therefore my distinct pleasure to nominate Peter Daznak for the Higgy.

For the Higgy: Jennifer Dorow

April 11, 2023
Christie had his M&M box, Dorow has her binder

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Some are born PLDD, some achieve PLDD, and some have PLDD thrust upon them.

As 2022 dawned, Jennifer Dorow was an obscure Wisconsin judge. Then she had the good luck, and the rest of us had the bad luck, to have a sensational, nationally watched mass-murder trial of a black nationalist who said Hitler was right to kill Jews and sympathized with the extremist “Black Hebrew Israelites” land in her courtroom.

Dorow clearly loved the spotlight, but her conduct of the trial was incompetent, as she repeatedly made irresponsible statements about the defendant’s courtroom conduct. While the defendant’s conduct in court was indeed outrageous – refusing to answer to his own name and regularly interrupting the judge, for example – Dorow’s unguarded comments attacking him went well beyond what was necessary to maintain decorum in her court.

Dorow’s inability to control herself could have opened up the defendant’s eventual criminal conviction to complications in the public eye, not to mention the appeals courts.

It seems Dorow just could not do her job, which was to maintain her composure and follow proper judicial procedure when deeply evil and unhinged people break the court’s rules. She seems not to have been able to prioritize the integrity of the court above her own sense of wounded pride in the face of her inability to control others.

Fortunately for Dorow, and for the criminal justice system, the defendant was so obviously guilty, and his courtroom conduct was so offensive to the jurors, that he was convicted in spite of Dorow’s incompetence.

But Dorow had tasted the spotlight, and wanted more.

The mass-murder trial had given her huge quantities of what is unfortunately called “earned” media. She began looking around for a way to leverage the trial publicity to advance herself.

So when Wisconsin had an election for a seat on the state supreme court this year, Dorow jumped into the race. Her conduct in the campaign continued to show both her incompetence and her growing signs of PLDD.

You will think I’m making this up, or at least exaggerating, but this is the stone-cold fact: At her first debate in the election, Dorow showed up with a binder full of answers.

Throughout the debate, whenever she was asked a question, she turned to the appropriate page and read her answer verbatim out of her binder.

Unfortunately, in spite of her constantly demonstrated incompetence, her much larger “earned” media profile allowed her to take the endorsements and the donations of many short-sighted, media-chasing political constituencies away from her main opponent on the Right, distinguished jurist Dan Kelly (a former professional colleague of mine).

Kelly, because he was the superior candidate on every metric other than who had presided over a national media-sensation murder trial, beat Dorow in the first phase of the two-phase election. But it was a long and bruising fight, and with massive pro-abortion money pouring into the state to fuel his general-election opponent, Kelly couldn’t come back.

Dorow’s PLDD appears to have cost the Right the most expensive judicial election in history.

But 2023 isn’t over. We can still give Dorow the victory she craves.

I nominate Jennifer Dorow for the 2023 William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian of the Year Award.

Image HT PBS Wisconsin

For the Higgy: Yusuke Narita

April 10, 2023

Yusuke Narita is a tenure-track economics professor at Yale with an impressive pedigree. He received his PhD from MIT, where he was mentored by Nobel Prize winner, Josh Angrist, and John Bates Clark Medal winner (which is often seen as a precursor to the Nobel), Parag Pathak. He has also frequently co-authored research with these prize-winning economists as he makes his way toward tenure at an Ivy League institution. But we at JPGB have developed a healthy skepticism of high status prizes, noting for example in our justification for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award that “the Nobel Peace Prize has too often gone to a motley crew including unrepentant terrorist, Yassir Arafat, and fictional autobiography writer, Rigoberta Menchu.”

In the case of Yusuke Narita, it also appears that his high-status credentials are not consistent with high-level virtue. Narita became infamous earlier this year when it was revealed that he had been advocating for mass suicide among older people in Japan as a solution to their growing demographic problem. According to the Daily Mail:

A Yale University professor has sparked outrage by suggesting the only way to deal with Japan’s rapidly aging population is a mass suicide and disembowelment. 

Yusuke Narita, an assistant professor of economics at Yale, defended his views in a New York Times profile this weekend after he made the remarks on a streaming news program in 2021.

‘I feel like the only solution is pretty clear,’ he said at the time. ‘In the end, isn’t it mass suicide and mass ‘seppuku’ of the elderly?’…

Narita told the New York Times he was ‘taken out of context’ but he has also said that euthanasia could become mandatory in the future, his comments forcing a backlash nonetheless. 

He claims that this would allow younger generations to make their way in business, politics and other aspects of society that the older generation refuses to leave. 

The Daily Mail continues:

Narita was asked to defend his views in a class earlier this year and did by showing a clip from the 2019 film Midsommar, in which a cult forces an older member to jump off a cliff. 

‘Whether that’s a good thing or not, that’s a more difficult question to answer,’ Narita said. ‘So if you think that’s good, then maybe you can work hard toward creating a society like that.’ 

There’s a term for mandatory euthanasia, and it isn’t mass suicide. It’s mass murder. But when you are a high status researcher, some people feel liberated from the constraints of common morality. These people imagine that they are guided by reason and science, not ignorant moral tradition, so they are free to pursue their “big thoughts” that regular people just aren’t smart enough to appreciate.

If flirting with mass murder was not enough, Narita has a recent paper in which he and a co-author run a series of sophisticated empirical models that “all show that democracy persistently causes worse outcomes in this century. The median estimate among our five IV strategies is that a standard deviation increase in the democracy level causes a 2 percentage point GDP decrease per year in 2001-2019 (50% of the outcome mean) and a 1.8 percentage-point GDP decrease in 2020 (40% of the outcome mean). Democracy also causes more Covid-19 deaths in 2020, with a median estimate of a 350 increase in Covid-19 deaths per million (120% of the outcome mean) per a standard deviation increase in democracy. To facilitate interpretation of the findings, the political-regime difference between China and the US is equivalent to a three standard deviation difference in the democracy index.”

Step aside Thomas Jefferson. Yusuke Narita has put on his lab coat and analyzed the data to show that democracy harms GDP growth and kills people in pandemics. If Narita had a proper education — rather than a narrow training in context-free causal model designing — he might know that democracy has long been denounced as counter-productive for economic growth and hindering effective governance, and those denunciations have been proven mistaken by history (even if not by a 5 IV model). The Soviets claimed to have cracked the code for rapid industrialization and high GDP growth, which helped them recruit many Third World countries to communism. But that rapid industrialization and high GDP growth proved to be grossly over-stated and unsustainable, leading eventually to the collapse of communist economies by the end of the 1980s. A well-educated scholar might suspect that Chinese GDP and Covid data might similarly be unreliable and any short-term advantages are likely to prove unsustainable, but Narita got his doctorate in economics from MIT. And even by the rules of his narrow MIT training, a proper scholar would doubt the exogeneity of his 5 IVs and suspect that his model is not truly causal.

When NYT columnist, Thomas Friedman, tries to shape public policy based on what his taxi driver tells him, it is easy to reject Friedman’s advice because his method of consulting taxi drivers lacks scientific authority. But when Ivy League economists run sophisticated models to tell us that democracy is harmful or that we need to encourage mass suicide among old people, they have cloaked themselves in the authority of science and it gets more difficult for people to reject their advice. No one wants to be accused of being a “science denier.”

Like the eugenicists of the 1920s, falsely invoking science helps spread bad ideas by making them feel modern and fashionable and by making opponents seem backward. Economists are increasingly the priestly class of our modern age, giving them undue influence over policy discussions. Over-claiming based on bad models with bad data has made too many of them PLDDers, bossing everyone else around with their false invocation of science. Yusuke Narita may be a perfectly fine person in other regards. He may be kind to his mother and love his cat, but he sure seems to have a bad case of PLDD and for that he is a worthy nominee for The Higgy.


Nominate a “Forgotten But Not Gone” Fool for the Higgy!

April 1, 2023

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The Higgy, like its recipients – including 2016 honoree Chris Christie, whom no one would blame you for not remembering – has a long tradition of existence. But while we’re glad The Higgy exists, we’re not glad its recipients do – in fact, we’re glad The Higgy exists because we’re not glad its recipients do.

Alas, Higgy winners, who seem to exist solely to plague us with their costly and frustrating PLDD nonsense, just go on and on, existing. And so do people who deserve The Higgy and have not yet received it. Thus, The Higgy marches on, never lacking for worthy contenders.

Yes, with the arrival of April Fool’s Day, it’s time once again for the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian of the Year Award – “The Higgy.” Each year, we (dis)honor the most (un)worthy candidate from your nominations of people afflicted with PLDD (not BSDD, note the difference).

Past “winners” of The Higgy include Abraham Flexner, Alison Collins, Mark DiRoccoKosoko JacksonJohn Wiley BryantPlatoChris ChristieJonathan Gruber, Paul G. Kirk and the incomparably petty inaugural winner, Pascal Monnet.

The award is named for history’s greatest monster, William Higinbotham; as a special way of (dis)honoring Higinbotham, we have not even given him The Higgy.

Get your nominations in by April 15, Tax Day – definitely a day to discountenance petty little dictators!

To inspire you to greatness in discerning pettiness, we carry on immemorial Higgy tradition and reproduce below the text of Jay’s original post launching The Higgy. Good hunting!


As someone who was recognized in 2006 as Time Magazine’s Man of the Year, I know a lot about the importance of awards highlighting people of significant accomplishment. Here on JPGB we have the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award, but I’ve noticed that “The Al” only recognizes people of positive accomplishment.  As Time Magazine has understood in naming Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Ayatullah Khomeini as Persons of the Year, accomplishments can be negative as well as positive.

(Then again, Time has also recognized some amazing individuals as Person of the Year, including Endangered Earth, The Computer, Twenty-Five and Under, and The Peacemakers, so I’m not sure we should be paying so much attention to what a soon-to-be-defunct magazine does.  But that’s a topic for another day when we want to talk about how schools are more likely to be named after manatees than George Washington.)

Where were we?  Oh yes.  It is important to recognize negative as well as positive accomplishment.  So I introduce “The Higgy,” an award named after William Higinbotham, as the mirror award to our well-established “Al.”

Just as Al Copeland was not without serious flaws as a person, William Higinbotham was not without his virtues.  Higinbotham did, after all  develop the first video game.  But Higinbotham dismissed the importance of that accomplishment and instead chose to be an arrogant jerk by claiming that his true accomplishment was in helping found the Federation of American Scientists and working for the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.  I highly doubt that the Federation or Higinbotham did a single thing that actually advanced nonproliferation, but they sure were smug about it…

I suspect that Al Copeland, by contrast, understood that he was a royal jerk.  And he also understood that developing a chain of spicy chicken restaurants really does improve the human condition.  Higinbotham’s failing was in mistaking self-righteous proclamations for actually making people’s lives better in a way that video games really do improve the human condition.

So, “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.

We will invite nominations for “The Higgy” in late March and will announce the winner, appropriately enough, on April 15. Thanks to Greg for his suggestions in developing “The Higgy.”

Churches against Education

November 8, 2022

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA carries my latest, on pastors who measure the kingdom of God by the size of government budgets:

Alas, the good Babylonians of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches aren’t interested in prophecy but in profits for their government friends. Check out their “Areas of Focus” page to see all the different domains in which they demand justice in the form of bigger government budgets. From the environment to health care to poverty, they’ve got one bell and they keep ringing it: more money for government bureaucracies, no matter whether it does any good.

Under “Education” they demand, without asking how much we already spend or whether it’s effective, that “funding should be increased across the board” for government schools. And they opine that “public school teachers should be recognized as professionals who deserve to be paid as professionals.” When they say “paid as professionals” they don’t mean paid based on how well they get the job done in the judgment of those for whom they’re supposed to work, which is how professionals actually get paid in every profession not dominated by government cronyism.

It sure would be nice to think that the disastrous NAEP results would awaken some inkling of a prophetic instinct from these pastors, but they remain mired in captivity to special interests:

If you want to know why their vision of the kingdom of God only includes government-controlled schools and doesn’t support any other schools, you won’t find out from them. They don’t explain. But you might find out by consulting their good friends at Pastors for Oklahoma Kids, whose social media feed is a sewer of falsehoods about the evils of school choice programs.

Much is at stake in whether pastors represent the kingdom of God to the powerful, or represent the powerful to the kingdom of God:

Obviously the reason I want churches to dump this left-wing pabulum is not because I want them to preach right-wing pabulum. Nor would I want them to go silent, and leave the kingdom of God without a public witness for justice and mercy in the world. But would it be expecting too much if we asked them to give a damn whether or not the ever-bigger budgets they have spent decades demanding are having any positive impact on students?

Let me know what you think!

And the Winner of the 2022 “Al” is… Hunter Scott

November 1, 2022

To defend the good name of someone who has been wrongfully dishonored makes Hunter Scott worthy of the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award. Scott is an example of the heroism required to stand up to “cancel culture.”

To be clear, “cancel culture” is the public dishonoring, shunning, and reduction in economic and social prospects for people improperly accused of wrongdoing. I emphasize “improperly” because people who do engage in egregious wrongdoing demonstrated by a process that meets reasonable standards of evidence deserve to be dishonored, shunned, and have reduced economic and social prospects.

When people lament “cancel culture,” they often fail to make this distinction. While it is amazing how many people have been wrongfully cancelled, it is even more amazing how many high-profile people have engaged in horrible behavior who seem to experience no consequence for doing so.

Al Sharpton fueled the Crown Heights riots — a modern day pogrom — saying “If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house.” Instead of being cancelled, Sharpton has had his own show on MSNBC for over a decade. Ed Rollins bragged to Time magazine after his work on a 1993 election that “he secretly paid black ministers and Democratic campaign workers in order to suppress voter turnout.” Instead of being cancelled, he became a political commentator for CNN and then Fox as well as the national campaign chairman for Mike Huckabee’s 2008 run for president. Folks like Sharpton and Rollins didn’t seek to make amends or have to spend even a little time in the penalty box.

But Charles McVay III was made a scapegoat by the Navy and was court-martialed without having done anything wrong. Frankly, even if McVay had made some errors, he did not deserve the treatment he received. Remember that Al Copeland was not a paragon of virtue. He and those honored with an award named after him, just like all the rest of us, are flawed human beings. But Copeland and the winners of The Al made significant contributions to improving the human condition despite their flaws.

Hunter Scott improved the human condition by standing up for McVay. And in some sense, Scott represents all of the people who previously attempted to defend McVay, including sailors under his command, who were unsuccessful in their efforts to rehabilitate McVay. The people who stand up to a cancel mob when it is too strong to defeat require more courage than the person who stands up when conditions permit success. So, in honoring Hunter Scott with The Al, we honor even more all who attempted and failed to exonerate McVay.

For the Al: Hunter Scott

October 30, 2022
“The Ship of Doom!”

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Charles McVay III had a lot to live up to. His father was a U.S. Navy admiral during WWI and commanded the Pacific fleet in the 1930s. The younger McVay graduated Annapolis in 1920 and had a stellar career in military intelligence, rising to chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee of the Combined Chiefs.

He took command of the USS Indianapolis – “The Ship of Doom!” – in 1944.

Under McVay’s command, the Indianapolis came through Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and even survived a direct hit from a kamikaze aircraft that penetrated the hull. Then it got a new job: transporting nuclear material and parts to be used in the construction of Fat Man and Little Boy.

But in the early morning of July 30, 1945, after dropping off a top-secret nuclear delivery, the Indianapolis was surprised by a ruthlessly efficient submarine attack. She sank in 12 minutes. Of her 1,195 men, 879 perished.

Only about 300 died in the initial attack. The remainder died while awaiting rescue, which didn’t come until four days later, because the Indianapolis had not been reported missing. The crew was finally rescued only because a pilot spotted them, stranded without provisions in shark-infested waters and unable even to fit everyone into the lifeboats.

The failure of those at her intended destination port to report that the Indianapolis was overdue was at first attributed in the Navy’s records to a “misunderstanding” of the protocols for communication about secret missions.

But McVay, who survived (though wounded) was never told this. His demands for an explanation went unanswered. But at least they did tell him one thing. They told him that his SOS signals had not been received.

As it turns out, there was definitely a signal that got lost in the noise, but it wasn’t McVay’s.

We now know that three separate Navy radios had received the SOS signals sent out by the Indianapolis as it sank:

  • One did nothing because the commanding officer was drunk.
  • Another did nothing because the operator decided it must be a Japanese ruse.
  • The third did nothing because the commanding officer had given orders that he was not to be disturbed.

That is how over 500 sailors get “misunderstood” right out of this vale of sorrows.

Covering up this information was apparently not enough. The Navy felt it needed a fall guy for this catastrophic confluence of incompetence. While Admiral Chester Nimitz argued for leniency, he was overruled by a sterling sample of American manhood in the person of one Admiral Ernest King, who had a long memory. Years earlier, King had been the subject of a letter of reprimand by McVay’s father, when King was caught sneaking women onto a ship. (“King never forgot a grudge” testified the elder McVay.)

So King decided to court-martial McVay for the loss of the Indianapolis.

McVay remains to this day the only captain in the history of the U.S. Navy to be court-martialed for the loss of his ship by act of war.

McVay pointed out that he had requested a destroyer escort and had been denied, even though the Indianapolis lacked the submarine-detecting equipment that destroyers would have had. And McVay had not been informed of recent submarine attacks in the area because the intelligence was classified.

Alas, to no avail. McVay was convicted.

Although Navy Secretary James Forrestal overturned the conviction, McVay’s career was over. He was promoted to rear admiral when he left the service, but that was cold comfort to a man who knew he had been destroyed unjustly.

For the remainder of his life, as a result of his false conviction, McVay was hounded by vicious phone calls and letters from relatives of the sailors who died under his command.

He died by suicide in 1968. In his hand they found a toy sailor he had been given as a boy.

And that’s where his story would have ended, if not for another boy.

Personally, I wouldn’t stand with my head actually in the shark’s mouth, but that’s just me.

In 1997, 12-year-old Hunter Scott did something vitally important that all patriotic Americans who love truth, justice and the American Way should do on a regular basis: He saw a really well-made middlebrow pop-entertainment movie.

Specifically, he saw the classic Spielberg shark thriller Jaws, which includes a speech about the sinking of the Indianapolis. Fascinated, young Scott decided to do his sixth-grade National History Day project on the topic – and ended up launching a campaign to exonerate McVay.

Scott was far from the first to tilt at this particular windmill. McVay’s son, other survivors of the sinking, historians and others had been at it for years.

But it was the plucky lad from Pensacola who finally found the attack pattern that would sink the Navy’s injustice. He personally interviewed over 150 Indianapolis survivors and reviewed over 800 documents for his little school project – including declassified records establishing the sequence of Navy failures.

And this time, the signal didn’t get lost in the noise.

Scott contacted his congressman, who did his best impersonation of another Scott – Scott Glenn – and arranged for hearings. In October 2000, the United States Congress sent President Clinton a resolution exonerating McVay, which he signed.

Much as we honor McVay’s service, Scott is the hero to be emulated in this story. Here at JPGB, we’d rather have our mate cry on our shoulder than go to his funeral. If you have thoughts of harming yourself, reach out for help – text or call 988, or just click here.

As for the rest of us, we should all do what Scott did: Go see more really well-made middlebrow pop-entertainment movies.

And keep fighting for truth, justice and the American Way no matter how far gone they may seem to be.

Images HT Pensacola New Journal (top) and Timetoast

Nominated for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award: George Washington

October 30, 2022

George Washington may not seem like an obvious contender for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award. The Al normally highlights someone whose contribution to improving the human condition was not previously widely known or properly acknowledged. George Washington is hardly unknown and his contributions are memorialized in the name of our nation’s capital, a state, cities strewn across the country, statues in other towns, the one dollar bill, and several universities. Washington’s image is carved into the side of a mountain. He is about as well known as anyone in the US.

But he is mostly known as the “father” of our country — the general who defeated the British and became the first president of our new nation. He is also increasingly known for his role as a slaveholder. While both these positive and negative accomplishments are important, his biggest contribution to our country is less commonly acknowledged. He didn’t just lead our country, he voluntarily walked away from power to allow someone else to be selected as leader.

The problem of succession has plagued every governmental system, company, religious movement, and family for all of human history. The transfer of power to the next leader has always been problematic. How can we get the current leader to leave before they cease being effective? How do we ensure that the next person will be capable? How do we make the switch without too much disruption or even violence?

Marxists and others convinced that advantage only compounds advantage over time so that inequality becomes severe and unchangeable have never paid close attention to how incredibly hard it is to sustain any endeavor over time. In almost every organization, the quality of leadership has a tendency to fade over time as the attributes required to obtain the position become detached from those required to sustain let alone expand its greatness.

Businesses tend to reach their zenith during or shortly after their founder’s leadership. Great families fade into oblivion in no more than a few generations. Inevitably, a future leader will be a drunk or a fool, squandering the advantages accumulated by their predecessors.

One of the main drivers of this organizational entropy is the inheritance of leadership. Kings typically remain in power until they bequeath that role to a child. To avoid fights over which child, most regimes embrace the principle of primogeniture, where power goes to the oldest son. There have been brief-lived alternative methods of succession, such as in the early Ottoman Empire when whichever of the Sultan’s sons could conspire to outwit and destroy his siblings would become the next Sultan upon the death of the prior one. This process may select for political acumen, but it proved too bloody and chaotic to sustain. Picking the oldest son may be orderly and relatively peaceful but it also unlikely to select the most meritorious.

With the founding of the American Republic, we explored another alternative to primogeniture — selection of leaders by popular election. If, to invert Clausewitz’s maxim, politics is war by other means, then the contest among candidates for election would resemble the violent struggles among the Sultan’s sons in tending to select those with greater political merit. It’s an ingenious and relatively peaceful way to select quality leaders except for one, central weakness.

What makes the person who currently occupies the position accept that there needs to be a new election and then to abide by its results? To say that this is required by the Constitution, fails to understand that legal requirements can be ignored or modified by whoever is in power, if they have enough power and desire to do so. Putin has changed term limits and election laws several times now. Mahmoud Abbas is now in the 18th year of his 4 year term as president of the Palestinian Authority. Having laws requiring elections and the transfer of power is far from a guarantee that power will be transferred as planned.

The most important contribution of George Washington to improving the human condition was in establishing the precedent that a virtuous leader should voluntarily relinquish power. To be sure, this precedent is not always honored. Shortly after Washington set his example, Napoleon was carted away to exile after failing to remain in power for life, saying “They wanted me to be another Washington.” And more recently Xi has violated the precedent set following Mao by seeking and receiving another term as leader of China.

Despite increasingly heated disputes in the United States over elections, it is worth noting that Washington’s example of voluntarily leaving office following elections remains universally practiced in this country. Perhaps by honoring Washington with The Al we can help ensure the continuation of the peaceful and meritorious transfer of power developed and preserved in the American political system.

For the Al: Fred Smith

October 27, 2022

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Do you enjoy being able to click on a product in Amazon and have it delivered to your door the same day?

Thank Fred Smith, who founded FedEx in 1971 and stepped down from the CEO chair this year.

The benefits Smith’s work have brought to the whole world are far, far greater than what we experience simply by virtue of being able to click on a knickknack and then have it in hand before the Earth has finished a rotation. The explosive economic growth of the modern world, which powers everything from longer lifespans and new medical inventions to the drive toward greater political and social equality at the heart of commercial republics, depends essentially upon transportation. The modern economy does not grow because modern science invents new stuff; people have been inventing new stuff since they were people. The modern economy grows in part because it gives people (at least in principle) enforceable legal rights to property and contract, which gives them social space to unleash their constructive potential. But it also grows because the scope and extent of economic exchange has expanded radically, and we realize huge gains from trade. Better transportation means more trade, which means more growth, and while economic growth does create major new social challenges we didn’t have before, it is on balance one of the best things the world has ever known.

But don’t discount the value of being able to click on a knickknack and then have it in hand before the Earth has finished a rotation! The ability to manage our time more efficiently – to have more flexible and adaptable access to the resources and opportunities we acquire through exchange – is of tremendous value to every one of us. Time is not money, time is value, and value is the only thing that ultimately matters to economic life.

Smith outlined his bold vision in a term paper he wrote for an economics class in college. Tremendous value was being lost because shipping services were not coordinated. The trucker drops it off at the dock and then it sits there until the boat leaves; the boat drops it off on the dock and then it sits there until the other trucker comes to pick it up. An integrated global transportation network could eliminate this colossal waste by tightly coordinating transportation schedules. It might not work for shipments that need special treatment, but for the average home or office sending an average package, it would be a huge improvement.

His professor gave his paper a “C.”

After two tours as a Marine in Vietnam (including the Bronze Star, the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts), Smith came home to realize his dream. In 1971 he incorporated “Federal Express,” partly because he thought the word “Federal” would make customers feel like their shipment was an important part of the national economy (which of course it was), and partly because he hoped to lure the Federal Reserve Bank as a customer. In 1973 the company began operations in Memphis – centrally located, good weather and friendly local airport officials who were willing to make improvements to attract Smith’s business.

But the big opportunity came in 1977, when Congress “deregulated” the airline industry. “Denationalized,” while not technically correct, would be at least somewhat closer to the truth. The upraised hand of cronyism and special favor that had stood in the airport door since humanity first defeated gravity at Kitty Hawk was at last removed.

Smith had, of course, been among those who fought hard for years to get Congress to take this vitally important step. So we owe him that, too.

FedEx snapped up seven jumbo jets of its own, beginning the process by which they would take full ownership of their transportation network, unlocking further efficiencies.

They were listed on NYSE the following year.

Whereupon they launched one of the greatest ad campaigns of all time: “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”

And the pièce de résistance:

That last one is Al-worthy just by itself.

A 2015 Harvard Business School article on FedEx’s system is titled “The World’s Largest Continuous-Flow Process.” That characterization, as applied to FedEx, may no longer be technically correct. But while Jeff Bezos runs away with all the publicity, it was Fred Smith who really invented the global commercial chain we rely on today.

Giving Fred Smith the Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year Award is so simple, even Jay Greene can do it!

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