Coming This Fall with an All-Star Cast: It’s the New Gates Foundation Follies!

May 6, 2020

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

File this under big-budget franchise reboots nobody was asking for. Reuters:

New York will work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to “reimagine” the state’s school system as part of broader reforms in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo told a daily briefing on Tuesday…

While he did not provide specifics, Cuomo suggested a fundamental rethink of the classroom was on the table.

“The old model of everybody goes and sits in a classroom and the teacher is in front of that classroom, and teaches that class, and you do that all across the city, all across the state, all these buildings, all these physical classrooms – why with all the technology you have?” Cuomo asked.


There must be somebody whose word Bill Gates would trust, who could sit him down and explain what’s being done to him.


If not for his sake, for the sake of all the rest of us who have to watch this crap when there’s nothing else on.

If some good Samaritan does decide to take Gates to class, here’s the reading list.

We Interrupt This Communist-Caused Pandemic to Bring You an Important Bulletin

April 29, 2020


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The Chinese Communist Party’s national computer system for managing surveillance is actually called Skynet.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled communist-caused pandemic.

Coronavirus Isn’t Ushering in the Cool-Kids Future or the Homeschooling Past

April 17, 2020


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

My latest for OCPA considers whether digital learning or homeschooling will see big boosts from the current public health emergency, when millions of parents suddenly found themselves thrust into both these alternative modes of education. Admittedly, it’s a unique moment:

Oklahoma’s largest virtual charter-school organization, EPIC Charter Schools, even offered free training to teachers and schools in traditional school districts. Despite their rhetoric about how “everyone in public education must come together,” it’s a little like watching Nixon sell grain to the Soviets.

But having to do this under emergency conditions is not necessarily giving people a representative experience of what digital learning and homeschooling are normally like.

With a callback to a classic Matt Ladner meme, I argue that while digital learning has long-term promise, techno-futurist hopes for a quick digital-learning revolution remain as overblown as they were ten years ago:

Today, we can see that the edu-futurists—Matt Ladner dubbed them The Cool Kids—were right about the direction, but wrong about the scope. Or, if you prefer, you can say they were wrong about the timing; perhaps technology really will revolutionize the whole education landscape, but if so, it didn’t do it on the timetable The Cool Kids predicted…Models that explain how people behave when they buy copper wire—“the market is a huge bubble right now, it’s about to burst”—turn out not to explain how people behave when it comes to the rearing of their children.

Homeschooling has more to gain from the current crisis, because it will no longer feel weird and abnormal in the same way – people will have looked in the closet and found out there was no Boogeyman in there. But don’t get your hopes up for radical change here, either:

Institutional schooling was not imposed upon American society by some kind of totalitarian regime. Homeschooling is the right choice for some, and perhaps the right choice for more than choose it now. But radicals who view institutional schooling as a false consciousness that everyone will suddenly wake up and realize they never really believed in are a little like the “heteronormativity” theorists who think people are only attracted to the opposite sex because society programs them that way.

Bottom line, education policy is still political, and politics is still the same as it was.

Franchise movies in summer 2021 and street signs in St. Petersburg on Dec. 26, 1991 are also part of the story. Let me know what you think!

And the Higgy Goes to… Mark DiRocco

April 15, 2020

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 10.33.25 AM

It is time once again to (dis)honor the recipient of the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian Award.  This year we had an exceptionally strong set of nominees, perhaps because difficult times reveal the worst (as well as the best) in us.

We had four nominees to consider: Bruce Aylward, nominated by Greg, Charles Lieber, nominated by me, Nancy Gibbs, nominated by Matt, and Mark DiRocco, nominated by Jason.  While they are all very (un)worthy nominees, our (dis)honoree this year is Mark DiRocco.

While Nancy Gibbs surely did a dis-service to journalism by awarding lousy reporting at the Arizona Republic, journalism is already so beaten down and discredited that it hardly needs our tap dancing on its grave. Will the last reader of the Arizona Republic please turn off the lights on their way out?

Aylward and Lieber were particularly strong contenders given their sycophancy for a murderous, oppressive regime.  But that’s precisely why I decided not to choose them.  While both Aylward and Lieber were excellent examples of PLDDs, their service to a BSDD made their actions too menacing for a our little award.

Especially in these troubling times I thought we needed a Higgy winner who was more familiar and less menacing.  Mark DiRocco’s callous treatment of students as mere revenue units for the schools he represents by seeking to deny Pennsylvania’s children access to existing online services offered by charter schools is just the sort of edu-blob activity we are accustomed to seeing.  It is like the comfort food of PLDD behavior that is exactly the kind of Higgy we need this year.

If you’ve been carbo-loading a bit too much to appreciate the comfort food metaphor, I’d suggest that DiRocco is the Goldilocks of Higgy nominees.  He is neither so weak and irrelevant as a journalism professor, like Gibbs, nor so scary as servants of an authoritarian regime, like Aylward and Lieber.  This year DiRocco is just right.

Anyhoo, DiRocco joins past winners, Kosoko Jackson, John Wiley BryantPlatoChris ChristieJonathan Gruber, Paul G. Kirk, and the inaugural winner, Pascal Monnet.

The Overreach of Economics

April 13, 2020

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a review of a new book that looks like a must-read.  The central argument of the book is that economists have wandered into offering solutions on every type of policy problem.  Economists have become the new priests of our secular age and we are inclined to consult them as the ancients might have consulted the Oracle of Delphi.  They read their entrails and give us answers, but as the reviews says, we should be wary of seeking the wisdom of economists:

The main advice to emerge from this book is: Don’t ask an economist. Economics has claimed for itself the right to address health policy and many other issues outside its usual orbits. “Radical Uncertainty” reminds us how inappropriate that is. Chemists, plumbers and doctors identify problems within their subject areas, then develop tools with which to solve them. Economists appear unbidden on any doorstep they please with a box of mostly useless tools in search of problems….

There’s a place for those tools, but economics habitually overreaches. Modern economists assume that whatever outcome their models predict must be axiomatically rational. When human beings fail to act according to these predictions, it is taken as a failure of the people, not the model.

This insulting assumption, Messrs. Kay and King point out, is at the heart of microeconomics’ behavioral turn and the proliferation of “nudge” quackery in policy-making circles.

The problem is that almost every policy decision has to be made in the midst of “fundamental uncertainties” about the basic facts that the economists’ models require.  The tools of economists were derived from probability theory that was developed to gain an edge in gambling.  As the review says:

Card games are “small worlds,” in a phrase from the mid-20th-century economist Jimmie Savage that the authors use throughout. The rules are well-defined, all possible outcomes known, the inputs fully quantifiable and the games run repeatedly.

None of that is true for a “large-world” event such as a pandemic or a financial crisis. Decisions must be made before basic facts, such as a disease’s rate of transmission or what proportion of the infected develop symptoms, are understood. Meanwhile politicians no longer seem to know what questions they want answered. Probability can tell you how likely you are to win a hand of blackjack because you know what “winning” means. But should we define winning against Covid-19 as the minimization of infection? Or merely slowing the flow of new cases into our hospitals—and if so, to what rate?

Unlike with blackjack, we’re dealt only one hand. The terrible truth is that every time a politician makes a decision, families might lose a parent or child, or be cast into an economic tailspin from which they may never recover. Faced with such radical uncertainty, “real households, real businesses and real governments do not optimize; they cope.”

These fundamental uncertainties aren’t unique to a pandemic, although the stakes are unusually high. Writing before the new coronavirus, Messrs. Kay and King find plenty of other examples. Corporate-strategy documents, they note, are designed to lend a false air of probabilistic precision to what is at best a guess about the market. Economists measure the economic impact of public-works projects by feeding invented numbers into faulty models, deriving outputs that enter the public realm with an undeserved aura of certainty.

There is an alternative and historically common way to solving policy problems — politics.  In Failure Up Close, Mike McShane and I argue that the kinds of solutions economists offer to education problems fail so often because these approaches typically refuse to consider politics.  The review makes the same point:

The authors argue instead for a return to a narrative form of decision-making that pretends to less precision and offers more scope for human intuition. Lloyd’s of London operated in such a way for centuries, we are told, setting premiums to insure against unquantifiable risks—such as the likelihood that a rare art collection might be stolen—through the hunches of individual human underwriters.

Politicians appear to be taking this approach to Covid-19. Britain’s early, relatively laissez-faire approach didn’t respond adequately to the intuition of voters worried about a fatally overstretched health service; a lockdown ensued, justified by only one of several available models. President Trump’s tug-of-war with himself over reopening the U.S. economy by Easter can be read charitably as an attempt to take the narrative temperature of the American public.

This approach makes use of a powerful tool economists despise—politics—to settle on a decision the public finds tolerable.

The review also notes that one of the other harmful effects of the overreach of economists is a bossy inclination to design optimal solutions for everything.  He could have included nudging students into college as another example:

Alas, another fruitful solution to decision-making is largely absent from the book: not making policy at all.

This may not be possible or desirable in special circumstances such as a global pandemic, but most things our governments do aren’t that special. Must they really nudge us toward optimal soda consumption via taxation, or manage the economy’s growth and contraction through the manipulation of interest rates, when they don’t really know what constitutes “optimal” in either case?

If you’re radically uncertain about what to do, doing nothing is often the best option.

The good news is that I think many people, including elite decision-makers, have been learning through hard experience just how useless many economists are in effectively addressing policy problems.  If economists are the priests of our secular age, their cult is fading.

For the Higgy: Mark DiRocco

April 8, 2020

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 10.33.25 AM

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

The COVID-19 crisis has brought out the best and the worst in humanity, from heroic health care workers risking their lives to save others to horrible hoarders who think of no one but themselves.

The same is true in K-12 education, which is facing an unprecedented nationwide shutdown. Some teachers are going above and beyond in trying times to provide their students with a quality education despite trying circumstances. Some are even driving by their students’ homes to offer encouragement.

And then there’s Mark DiRocco.

DiRocco is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators. His main concern? Making sure that families DON’T have educational options outside of what his system provides.

As Mike McShane and I detailed in the Washington Examiner today, DiRocco is just one of a number of educrats who have forgotten that our education system is intended to serve students, not the other way around. Policymakers in three states have blocked or restricted access to online charter schools out of a fear that parents might avail themselves of such options while their kids are cooped up at home. DiRocco just made the mistake of saying the quiet part out loud:

“You have got to give the school districts time to make some decisions, make plans, and put alternative learning delivery systems together,” DiRocco told Pennsylvania public radio, arguing that it is not fair to “allow the [online] charter schools to say, ‘Well we are open for business now.’”

When DiRocco talks about what’s “fair,” he’s not talking about what’s fair for or in the best interests of children. Rather than allowing students to access an already-existing schooling option, the forces of the educational status quo want to hoard them as if they were the last roll of Charmin at Walmart.

Hoarding toilet paper is bad enough. Hoarding kids is grotesque.

Ever since 2012,” The Higgy” has highlighted ” individuals whose arrogant delusions of shaping the world to meet their own will outweigh the positive qualities they possess.” By actively blocking families from meeting their children’s educational needs during a global pandemic and treating kids as mere funding units for district schools, DiRocco has proven himself deserving of The Higgy.

Have Fun Mocking Nationalism for Only $10

April 8, 2020

PvT cards

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

We interrupt this Higgython to bring you an opportunity to enjoy making fun of nationalism for just $10. Isn’t spontaneous social coordination awesome?

I’ve spent the last two years designing a card game, Presidents versus Trump. It’s an action-packed, fun-filled, 30-minute game for 1-4 players. The American presidents, from George Washington to Barack Obama, are so offended by Trump sitting in their chair that they’ve all come back together to kick him out. But while the portal to the past was open, a rogue’s gallery of villains from American history, from Benedict Arnold to Bull Connor, have come back to defend Trump. The battle for the honor of the American presidency is on!


The game is designed and ready; check it out here. What it needs now is amazing art, like the sample cards from our artist that you see here. This game won’t be what it should be until we get this kind of art on all 130 cards. That’s where we need your support.

So I just launched the game on Kickstarter. For $10 you get a digital copy of the now-amazing-looking game!

Head on over to Kickstarter now to check it out, click that button and support us today. Spread the word and let’s make this game happen together. Thanks for your support!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Higgython.


For the Higgy: Charles Lieber

April 5, 2020

Charles M. Lieber - Wikipedia

My nominee for this year’s Higgy follows on the same theme as Greg’s nominee.  For China to be the BSDD that people are increasingly recognizing it to be, it requires the complicity and active assistance of PLDDs.  Just as the Soviets needed accomplices like the Rosenbergs or Alger Hiss to supply them with information to fuel their global ambitions, China has recruited its own cadre of willing stooges.  Exhibit A of these stooges is Charles Lieber, the recently indicted chair of the Chemistry Department at Harvard.

It wasn’t enough that Lieber was at the top of his field, serving as the head of the Chemistry Department at an Ivy League institution, holding an endowed professorship that likely paid him several hundred thousand dollars.  He needed more.  So he accepted an offer from the Chinese as part of their Thousand Talents Plan to be paid as a professor at a university in, of all places, Wuhan.  According to the Wall Street Journal:

As part of the Thousand Talents program, Wuhan University of Technology gave Mr. Lieber more than $1.5 million to set up a research lab in China, according to the complaint.

The school also agreed to pay him a $50,000 monthly salary and offered about $150,000 in annual living expenses for “significant periods” from 2012 to 2017, it said.

In exchange, Mr. Lieber was required to work for WUT at least nine months a year by “declaring international cooperation projects, cultivating young teachers and Ph.D. students, organizing international conference[s], applying for patents and publishing articles in the name of” the Chinese school, the complaint said.

So what’s the problem with this?  Well, Lieber’s work has also been supported by significant funding from various U.S. government agencies, including the Office of Naval Research, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the National Institutes of Health. Those agencies understandably require researchers to disclose foreign funding to avoid national security risks and conflicts of interests.  Lieber is alleged to have failed to disclose his Chinese support to his US government funders as well as his primary employer, Harvard.  When investigators asked him directly about this support, Lieber is accused of lying to them and concealing his Chinese funding, which would be a crime.

The Chinese motivation for the Thousand Talents program is fairly obvious.  They are essentially engaging in national security and industrial espionage by paying US researchers a fraction of what the US government pays them to share insights derived from that US funded research.  In addition, if American researchers conceal their foreign pay, the Chinese are collecting kompromat that could be used later if they want leverage over US researchers to perform other illicit tasks for them.  Lastly, the Chinese are buying powerful and influential friends in high status positions who might be able to advance Chinese talking points and propaganda.

More puzzling is what Lieber’s motivation would be for doing this.  An adjunct appointment at Wuhan University of Technology could hardly enhance the professional status of the head of Harvard’s Chemistry Department.  Of course, Lieber might be attracted by the millions he could make from the Chinese, but that is probably not sufficient given how many opportunities someone like Lieber has to make money from American universities and companies.  In addition to the money, Lieber and previous cohorts of willing stooges have often been motivated by the PLDD belief that sharing information with foreign powers is actually helping the world.  They can tell themselves that the Chinese and US should be friends and that friendship is not helped by keeping secrets from each other. They can say that they are helping the world by advancing science through the sharing of knowledge.

Some other researchers and media outlets have repeated these rationalizations.  For example the NPR coverage of Lieber’s indictment notes:

These kinds of cases are not always straightforward, especially when fundamental research is involved. In spring 2015, Xi Xiaoxing, a physicist at Temple University in Philadelphia, was arrested and accused of sharing sensitive technology with his collaborators in China.

It later emerged that he never did. What’s more, he says, everything he did share was already public, because the findings of basic research aren’t secret. They’re published in scientific journals.

“Academic espionage is a contradiction,” Xi says. “There’s nothing to steal, you can just sit there and read your paper.”

Before you get too moved by these defenses, you should remember that Lieber was paid to a large extent IN CASH. As the Wall Street Journal reports: “his contact at Wuhan discussed how Mr. Lieber would be paid, with some of the funds from Wuhan to be deposited for him in a Chinese bank account and some provided in cash. ‘Our university has put your salary in your…[bank] card and we will help you change the cash for you when you come to Wuhan,’ the Wuhan contact wrote in one January 2017 message.”

Famous scientists tend not to be paid in cash and with foreign bank cards for their research when that work is above board.  And they tend not to lie to their employer and federal investigators when that work is clean.  Lieber must have known that what he was doing was dirty.  Self-delusion is not that strong.  And the Chinese were not paying famous scientists in cash because of their love of science.  They knew what they were buying.

When the plague under which we currently suffer is lifted, I expect that we will find ourselves in a new Cold War with China.  And Lieber will likely be remembered as one of the early traitors to his country in that struggle.  No PLDD delusions of sharing knowledge to promote mutual understanding, peace, and science will rescue him. For that, Charles Lieber is worthy of The Higgy.

For the Higgy: Bruce Aylward

April 3, 2020



(Guest post by Greg Forster)

For this year’s Higgy, in the spirit of previous Higgy winner Pascal Monnet and Al winner Pete DeComo, I had been planning to nominate the culprits in this story. It was initially reported that volunteers were being sued by a medical device manufacturer because, to keep breathers at a hospital in Italy working (and thus patients alive) under emergency conditions where there were no other options, they used $1 of materials to 3-D print replacements for valves that normally cost $11,000. But the story fell apart when the reporters followed up.

I was glad that it turned out the company had not in fact sued, or even threatened to sue, the volunteers. But I’ll admit I was also a little disappointed. I wondered whether I could possibly find another Higgy nomination as good as that one would have been.

I needn’t have worried!

Radio Television Hong Kong Reporter Yvonne Tong: Will the WHO reconsider Taiwan’s membership?

WHO Useful Idiot of Durantyesque Proportions Bruce Aylward: [Excruciatingly long embarrassed silence]

Tong: [Waits patiently]

Aylward: I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear your question, Yvonne.

Tong: Okay, let me repeat the question.

Aylward: No, that’s okay, let’s move to another one then.

Tong: I’m actually curious in talking about Taiwan as well, on Taiwan’s case…

Aylward: [Leans forward and looks down at his keyboard, as if searching for the Escape key]

[Screen freezes, signal disconnects]

[Tong calls him back]

Tong: I just want to see if you can comment a bit on how Taiwan has done so far in terms of containing the virus.

Aylward: Well, we’ve already talked about China. And you know, when you look across all the different areas of China, they’ve actually all done quite a good job. So with that, I’d like to thank you very much for inviting us to participate, and good luck as you go forward with the battle in Hong Kong.

Here’s the original source, but thanks to the magic of YouTube, you can watch the whole thing in all its majestic glory right here, without even leaving the comfort of your own JPGB. And really, you must watch it to appreciate it in full:

Now, don’t cry “BSDD!” until you hear the punchline.

Punchline? You mean this story gets better? You bet your Escape key it gets better. In fact, the more you know about this story, the better it gets.

For instance: Five days before he became a global laughingstock, Aylward gave an interview to Time in which he said we need to look not only at “places that are recently getting infected [and] places that aren’t infected” but especially at “the places where it all started.” He then immediately mentioned “Europe, North America, the Middle East.”

For instance: The day after he became a global laughingstock, Aylward was still telling Canadian television that China was one of the few countries that had contained the virus. Why learn lessons from your experience when you can just keep charging mule-headedly forward along the same path? What would become of the grand project of a centrally planned society, which is our only hope of salvation, if we learned lessons from experience? (What’s the definition of insanity, again?)

For instance: On March 4, the New York Times ran an interview in which Aylward not only praised the Beijing regime’s handling of the crisis, but said that the number of cases had already peaked in China. The number of people asking for tests daily declined from 46,000 to 13,000. “Hospitals had empty beds.” On March 4.

The Times managed to rouse itself to ask, of the supposedly stellar job the Beijing regime was doing, “isn’t it possible only because China is an autocracy?” Which shows a lot of credulity in accepting the claims about the regime’s performance at face value, as well as an unconscious admiration for autocratic regimes. Thankfully, Aylward was on hand to assure the Times that the Beijing government is not “some evil fire-breathing regime that eats babies.”

The reference to eating babies is especially rich. And in case you wondered, yes, there is a connection between the millions of murdered babies in China’s past and the two million Uighurs awaiting execution in concentration camps in its present. The connection is this.

Headline of Aylward’s Times interview: “Inside China’s All-Out War on the Coronavirus.”

Appropos of absolutely nothing, I will choose this moment to note that the Timesstatement on Walter Duranty admits frankly that his reporting was a pack of lies designed to whitewash communist mass murder, but it does not contain an apology. The Times also primly notes that the Pulitzer committee has repeatedly declined to withdraw the award, and links prominently to the Pulitzer committee’s statement – which, with titanically inhuman irony, actually absolves Duranty of lying. I can’t decide which is worse.

So at this point you’re all yelling “BSDD!” Right?

For one thing, Aylward’s not making policy. He only has “arrogant delusions of shaping the world.”

For another, it hardly counts as BSDD to help keep Taiwan out of the WHO when Taiwan is actually far better off outside the WHO than in it! They have the spirit of freedom we had when we were a young nation, and seem to be doing just fine without the WHO’s help. They’re actually printing their flag on the masks they produce, so anyone (say, on the mainland) who buys them will have to walk around wearing the Taiwanese flag.


Taiwan is the Tom Doniphon of Asia; the oppressor has more men, and has more guns, and has subverted the legal authorities, and Taiwan just does not give a rat’s ass – not about the oppressor’s bullying swagger, and not about hoity-toity, pointy-headed “civilized” people who talk about peace and justice but disappear when the oppressor walks into the room.

And we’re better off with Taiwan out of the WHO, too. On January 14, WHO parroted Beijing’s claim that there had been no human transmission of the virus, but Taiwan was openly telling the world otherwise as early as December 31. We’re the suckers, for listening to the WHO instead of Taiwan.

But that’s not the best part.

Punchline: Just hours after the exchange with Tong was posted, his employers at the WHO panicked and deleted Aylward from their website.

Bruce who? Bruce WHO? We’re the WHO, and we’ve never heard of him!

You’ll be reassured to know that Aylward is back on the WHO website, and the WHO has issued a statement responding to Tong’s questions. Determining how much credibility the WHO’s answers have is left to the reader as an exercise. But I do believe we can trust the message that they’re sending loud and clear when they decline to say whether Aylward hung up on Tong.

The bloodthirsty tyrants of Beijing are BSDD. The WHO, which has submitted to the control of the Beijing regime and spreads its lies, is BSDD.

But this moron freaks out and melts down the moment he’s asked a question he should obviously have been prepared for – he was one of the WHO’s point people for media on China and Coronavirus, and he gave an interview to a Hong Kong journalist, and he wasn’t prepared for this? – and he ends up scrubbed from his employer’s website. That’s PLDD if anything ever was.

In the spirit of earlier Higgy winners who were PLDDers used and discarded by BSDDers – Jonathan “We’ll Get to That Part Later” Gruber, Chris “Get on the Plane and Go Home” Christie and Kosoko “Then It Turned on Him” Jackson – I nominate Bruce “I Couldn’t Hear Your Question” Aylward for 2020 William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian of the Year.

Image HTs: Header image, Taiwan masks

Speaking of People We Want Social-Distance from, Let’s Do the Higgy!

April 1, 2020

William Higginbotham

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

It’s that foolish time of year again! And we’ve had a bumper crop of bad behavior in just the past couple months, so I can’t think of a better moment to launch the 2020 season of the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian of the Year Award! There hasn’t been this big and competitive a field in years.

There are plenty of good options, so don’t be shy. Remember that The Higgy has a shorter season than The Al, launching on April Fool’s and closing on Tax Day, so you only have two weeks. With so many fools to choose from, you’ll want to get your nomination in early before someone else takes it!

Remember, although we are now living through a festival of foolish behavior, your nominations are not limited to recent or Coronavirus-related instances of idiocy. Feel free to let your fancy flow far and wide when fetching feasible fools to nominate for this distinguished award.

And please do remember that we are looking for PLDD, not BSDD. (Here is your field spotter’s guide to knowing the difference.) So kindly shelve your nominations for the bloodthirsty communist dictators who ordered doctors to stop testing and destroy their lab samples, announced that human transmission of the virus was impossible when in fact they knew it was already happening, murdered a series of people who tried to tell the world the truth, quietly stocked up on vital medical supplies while telling the world there was no threat, used their iron control of the WHO to reinforce their deadly lies, and sold defective tests and masks to nation after nation after nation.

(If you’re behind on all this, start here. Unless you think “it couldn’t happen here,” in which case start here. Or if you think it’s not worth clicking the links because even communists can’t possibly be that evil, start here.)

To guide your selection process, I’ll carry on immemorial Higgy tradition and reproduce the text of Jay’s original post launching the Higgy award.

Get your nominations in by Tax Day, and happy 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.”