Richard Garfield for the “Al”

October 19, 2018

(Guest Post by Ben Ladner)

Editors note: Ben Ladner is a Senior at the Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: a nerdy, socially confused teenager looking for a place he can fit in discovers community in a game and the fellow people who are obsessed with it.  I suspect you all know the story – more than one of the regulars here grew up on Dungeons and Dragons.  But while I’ve raided a few bandit hideouts in my time, my story is about a different but no less revolutionary game: Magic: the Gathering.

In the early 1990s, Richard Garfield was an unkempt mathematics post-grad who designed games in his spare time.  He and a friend pitched a board game to Peter Adkison, CEO of Wizards of the Coast, a small gaming company looking for an innovation to sell, but it was too complex for Adkison’s scrappy firm to handle.   Adkison wanted something smaller and simpler, that could be played quickly between rounds at larger conventions.  Garfield told Adkison that he might have something, what he returned with was nothing short of a revolution.

Magic: the Gathering, released in 1993, is a combination of baseball cards and chess.  Cards representing various high-fantasy monsters, arcane spells, and powerful magic items can be collected and traded, but each has play value in a strategic, intellect-based game that pits players and their decks of cards against each other.  Players use their collections to fine-tune their decks in a game world that is ever-changing as regular expansions add new cards to the mix.

Magic was the first game to combine the two previously unrelated concepts, and it has become no less of a paradigm shift in the gaming world than D&D was a generation earlier.  Trading card games are everywhere now, and Magic is still going strong with over 20 million fans.  Its rise coincided with that of the internet, leading to a strong presence there among the players.  Some have become celebrities of sorts, leading the way in the world of e-sports as they compete in professional-level, livestreamed tournaments.  I, for one, care much more about the Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour than I do about any mainstream sport.

I am a nerd.  I lead a robotics club at my school, unabashedly cosplay for no reason, and have a map of the Klingon Empire pinned up in my bedroom.  For most teens, this would be a social death sentence, but Magic saved me.  I play in local tournaments whenever I can, and the community of people I have met at these events is no less nerdy or obsessed that I am.  I feel comfortable being me when I’m there.  Among the older players are people I would look up to as mentors and examples.  I, and millions of others, owe Magic an unpayable debt.  It has given us an outlet for our creative energy, a community, and a common bond.

As for Garfield, he pocketed 100 million dollars when the wildly successful Wizards of the Coast was bought by toy giant Hasbro, and moved on with his life.  While he continues to design games, he understands and accepts that he will forever exist in the shadow of his creation.  In his words; “Pretty early on, I realized that trying to make the next Magic only going to make me unhappy.”  Garfield’s later projects, which have seen some success, are made with the same obsessive passion that brought forth Magic, not in some futile attempt to measure up.  That’s not to say Garfield is above continuing to tinker with Magic.  He returns to the game from time to time, and the expansions he helps create, such as 2005’s Ravnica: City of Guilds, the gothic-horror themed Innistrad, released in 2011, and most recently Dominaria this year, are among the most innovative and best-loved by players.

Richard Garfield created something that has made life better for millions of nerds like me.  And he did it because he is just as much a nerd as we are.  He wasn’t in it for money or recognition, though he has received much of both.  He just wanted to make something cool.  For that, he is worthy of the title “humanitarian of the year.”

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Leo Moracchiloli for the “Al”

October 8, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The shape of things to come is discernable on the youtube channel of a delightfully crazed heavy metal guy’s every growing catalogue of cover songs made from a home-based studio in Norway. Leo Moracchiloli, a former member of multiple obscure Nordic thrash bands, has created music that has been viewed over 400,000,000 times and counting. As Voicecouncil explained:

Every week for the past two years, Leo Moracchioli has been posting a fully-produced recording and music video to his wildly popular YouTube channel, Frog Leap Studios, which has reached a remarkable 1,050,000 subscribers.

This one-man-show has found a new brand of genre-crossing that is hitting the spot for multitudes of hungry fans: heavy metal covers of hit songs.He sings the vocals, plays all the instruments, creates the arrangements, edits, mixes and produces every song, right down to shooting and starring in the videos (occasionally enlisting his young daughter as an apt co-star).

It is almost unheard of for an artist to single-handedly produce musical content at the rate and volume he does.

It is not just metal covers that he creates. He also puts out instructional videos and acoustic covers, reaching up to a dozen videos per month.

He says he has had fans telling him he should take a break once in a while, but he can’t bring himself to skip a week.

“You wouldn’t do this if you didn’t have the burn to do it,” he says regarding the insane pace of his work.

Leo is a fantastic example of disintermediation which is a fancy term for “cutting out the middle man.” Years ago I read an interview with the members the Austin band Fastball about record labels. You remember Fastball:

Anyway after The Way became a huge hit the interviewer asked the band members what it was like to be rich and famous. You could feel them shrugging as they explained they were not rich. One of the members said that he had redone his kitchen, but otherwise life had not changed much. The upshot of the article was that record labels basically profit like mad while artists not so much. If you are now thinking of the scene in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure where Billy the Kid says “Here’s the deal-what I win, I keep. What you win, I keep!” give yourself a gold star as it pretty much sums up record labels.

 

Oh brave new world where you don’t need a record label!

The Jayblog was also a bit of disintermediation when it launched in 2008. I think Jay, Greg and I were all working at think tanks at the time, but just in case you wanted more edu-nerdy goodness, Jayblog was dishing it out, automatic for the people. Like the Prime Directive that guides the JPGB, Leo is obviously primarily doing the videos to entertain himself, which is a large part of their charm. Just imagine Leo trying to sign a record label contract in the 19XXs. Not happening, but lo and behold people get a huge kick out of him. In fact, if I recall correctly, the plot of Bill and Ted involved some unexplained technological change that allowed their band to become a cultural phenomenon. Leo is not quite to the level of Wyld Stallions as a cultural phenomenon, but he is doing pretty good so far and he can actually play his instruments. I’m therefore pleased to nominate Leo Moracchiloli for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award.

 

 


For the Al: Russ Roberts

October 31, 2017

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(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

One of the underlying themes in awarding The Al Copeland Humanitarian Award, particularly in recent years, has been highlighting a virtue or norm that our present society lacks but desperately needs. As Jay wrote, last year’s winner (Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds) demonstrated the “type of courage in the face of illiberalism that we need more of in these times.” In 2015, the winner (Ken M) “reveal[ed] the ridiculousness of people trying to change the world by arguing with people on the internet.”

This year’s nominees have been no exception. Jay’s nominees appear to be using humor and pop culture to restore some sense of morality in a nihilistic age. Greg’s nominee made great sacrifices to honor the truth and expose both the evil of totalitarianism and the corruption of our ruling class. And Matt’s nominee literally saved the world by refusing to follow orders.

My nominee is economist Russ Roberts of the Hoover Institution, host of the popular EconTalk podcast and author of numerous books including How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life. He didn’t save the world (so far as I know), but he exemplifies many virtues and habits that the world needs today.

In an age when talking heads, radio shock jocks, and Twitter twits confidently bloviate about every matter under the sun, and in which self-proclaimed “experts” and technocrats believe they can run your life better than you can, Roberts demonstrates personal and epistemic humility.

In an era in which TV debates consist primarily of shouting over each other while trading insults, and in which college students frequently shout down or even assault speakers with whom they disagree, Roberts consistently engages in civil and reasoned discourse.

In a time when our attention spans seem to be precipitously shortening, when big ideas are expected to be expressed in 140 characters, when “tl;dr” is a supposedly valid excuse for expressing an opinion about something one hasn’t even bothered to read first, Roberts delivers each week a master class in the art of the substantive interview — getting past the talking points’ sizzle and down to the meat of the matter.

In a generation in which social-media navel-gazing has become our nation’s pastime, self-esteem is unearned, and the number of Twitter followers passes as a measure of achievement and influence, Roberts reminds us of Adam Smith’s wise counsel: it is not enough to be loved, we must also strive to be lovely.

And in moment in which we are obsessed with politics and the political has invaded every aspect of our lives, Roberts turns his — and our — attention to the infinitely diverse and fascinating things in this world that we inhabit.

If you don’t already subscribe to his podcast, do yourself a favor and do so right now. (Go ahead, we’ll wait.) Recent topics have included meditation and mindfulness, technological advances and their effect on our lives and culture, income inequality, philanthropy, self-driving cars, the evolution of language, internet bullying, permissionless innovation, and more. He also draws the highest-quality guests, including (to cite a few well-known recent guests in no particular order) John McWhorter, Megan McArdle, Michael Munger, Nassim Taleb, Tyler Cowen, Sally Satel, Martha Nussbaum, Cass Sunstein and many more. He regularly invites guests with whom he disagrees and yet he is never disagreeable. He never asks “gotcha” questions, talks over his guest, or tries to score cheap political points. Instead, he asks insightful questions and gives his guests the space to make their case, pushing back at times but always thoughtfully and respectfully.

Russ Roberts is the teacher and role model we need now. He deserves The Al.

I’ll leave you with two videos he co-created — raps battle between economists John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek:


Remy for The Al Copeland Humanitarian Award

October 16, 2016

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(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

If you’ve never heard of Remy Munasifi (a.k.a. GoRemy), I feel sorry for you for two reasons: first, because you have until now been deprived of his comedic genius, and second, because you will get no work done for the rest of the day as you cycle through hilarious music video after even more hilarious music video.

Remy deserves to win the 2016 Al Copeland Humanitarian Award because, like previous winner “Weird Al” Yankovic, he has improved the human condition “by making us laugh at the the absurdity of many who think highly of themselves,” whether corrupt or vacuous politicians, incompetent or abusive government bureaucrats, clueless celebrities, inane media outlets, smug activists or Petty Little Dictators of all stripes.

If ever there were a year when we needed more of that, it’s 2016.

Remy is a thirty-something, Arab-American comedian who, like Weird Al, satirizes society and culture through parody music videos. His first video to go viral was his 2009 gangsta-rap parody of the lily-white “Whole Foods” culture of the D.C.-suburb, Arlington, Virginia–a video that racked up more than 300,000 views in one day and has now been seen more than 2.3 million times. His series of videos about Arab culture are even more popular–his video “Saudis in Audis” has more than 9.5 million views. However, much of Remy’s work is more explicitly political, although not partisan, particularly the videos he has produced for the libertarian ReasonTV.

For example, Remy’s “Cough Drops-The Mandate” mocks both Republicans and Democrats for the different ways in which they use government to intrude on our lives, and suggests to the viewer that perhaps we can solve many of our problems without getting the government involved.

But politicians and bureaucrats aren’t the only targets of his satire. Remy brutally mocks people who think they are saving the world on Twitter in “I Need a Hashtag!”:

Remy strikes a similar chord in “How to React to Tragedy.” In recent years, but particularly in 2016, we’ve seen a disturbing trend in the wake of tragedies as people rush to exploit them for their own political ends. Remy doesn’t spare either side:

Remy’s videos are striking not only for their clever wordplay and witty pop-culture allusions, but also for offering a taste of the highest form of social criticism. As the great political theorist Michael Walzer described in his seminal work Interpretation and Social Criticism, there are different types of social critics. The type favored in academia idealizes “radical detachment,” the social critic as “dispassionate stranger,” whose freedom from any attachment to the people whom he criticizes allows him the necessary emotional distance to speak painful but necessary truths. This form of criticism can be beneficial, but it can also lead the critic to despise the people whom he is criticizing, and they know it. That reduces the effectiveness of the critic, sometimes reducing the criticism to mere virtue signaling.

Another model is what Walzer calls the “connected critic,” who stands somewhat apart from the community and can therefore see it in ways that the masses often do not, but who is nevertheless “one of us.” As Walzer writes:

Perhaps he has traveled and studied abroad, but his appeal is to local or localized principles; if he has picked up new ideas on his travels, he tries to connect them to the local culture, building on his own intimate knowledge; he is not intellectually detached. Nor is he emotionally detached; he doesn’t wish the natives well, he seeks the success of their common enterprise.

As with blacks and Jews in America, Remy’s status as a native-born American-Arab in the post-9/11 world makes him an insider-outsider, giving him a perspective that is ripe for both comedy and social criticism. He combines them well. His comedy is biting, but not mean-spirited. His videos contain sharp indictments of the American government and society more generally, but you can sense in them a deep love for the ideals of America. He is not a Chomskyite social critic condemning America as irredeemably corrupt and founded upon the wrong values, but rather a connected critic, in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., calling on America to live up to its highest ideals.

Take, for example, “Why They Fought,” in which Remy contrasts the spirit of liberty for which American soldiers have fought and died against today’s domestic surveillance, airport security theater, pervasive and complex taxes, and mountains of micromanaging regulations (which are recurring themes, as the previous links attest).

 

As an Arab-American, he’s also an insider-outsider in relation to Arab society and culture. His satirical takes on Arab culture–from a hip-hop paean to hummus to an ode to grape leaves set to the tune of a Nirvana classic–are humorous and even loving. However, he satirizes institutions like arranged marriage, laws against women driving, niqabs, morality police, etc.–topics that many comedians fear to touch lest they be labeled a racist or Islamophobe. Coming from someone else, these critiques may have been seen as mean-spirited and fallen on deaf ears, but Remy has a following among people with Arab heritage. He even toured with other Arab-American comedians in the “Axis of Evil” tour as his alter ego, Habib Adbul Habib, who is “Baghdad’s worst comedian.”

 

Whether satirizing Arab or American culture, this Arab-American’s comedy holds up a mirror that exposes our worst selves but also calls on us to be our best selves. He is the comedian and social critic that America needs and deserves right now. Remy may not need to win The Al, but he certainly deserves it.

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BONUS MATERIAL. Here are a couple of Remy’s education-themed music videos that JayBlog readers will enjoy:

“Straight Outta Homeroom” on the absurdity of “zero tolerance” policies (think Pop Tart guns):

“Students United (Tuition Protest Song)” on clueless college students who can’t understand why the tuition at their fully loaded, theme-park campus is so expensive:

 


Malcolm McLean for the Al

October 12, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

You may have never heard of American entrepreneur Malcolm Purcel McClean, but you have greatly benefited from his work.  The son of a North Carolina farmer, McLean went into the trucking business. One day watching the process of loading a shipment of cotton from trucks to a ship, he had a rather brilliant but simple idea:

I had to wait most of the day to deliver the bales, sitting there in my truck, watching stevedores load other cargo. It struck me that I was looking at a lot of wasted time and money. I watched them take each crate off a truck and slip it into a sling, which would then lift the crate into the hold of the ship. Once there, every sling had to be unloaded, and the cargo stowed properly. The thought occurred to me, as I waited around that day, that it would be easier to lift my trailer up and, without any of its contents being touched, put it on the ship.

Eventually this idea evolved into simply taking the box rather than the entire truck and box onto a ship. In 1955 McLean rolled the entrepreneurial dice, buying  two WWII era oil tankers and securing a loan to purchase $42 million worth of docking, shipbuilding, and repair facilities. He refitted the ships and designed trailers to go both below or on the decks of the ships. In April  26th, 1956 his first loaded ship successfully set forth from Port Newark, New Jersey, headed for Houston, Texas.

You knew there would be a Texas angle in this story right? In any case that date is now regarded as a historical marker in maritime history. When McLean passed away in 2001, his obituary noted that the sea transport of goods had not changed much between the time of the Phoenicians and 1956. McLean’s shipping containers enormously decreased the labor and the cost of shipping goods by sea. In 1956 it cost $5.86 per ton for longshoremen to load cargo- McLean’s technique reduced that cost to 16 cents per ton.

Memo to the Bernie Sanders/Pat Buchanan anti-trade Axis of Ignorance: an academic evaluation teased out the impact of containerization on the increase in world trade from that of tariff reductions. Containerization had a larger impact than free trade agreements, which means McLean deserves some of the credit for things like:

 

 

and:

 

Like many successful entrepreneurs, the progress McLean brought determined enemies- especially among unionized dock workers. Oh if we could only forego all of this progress, especially for the poor, so that we could go back to having more dock workers, more expensive goods and more global poverty! In 1980 the United States Supreme Court ruled against dock worker unions who were exploiting antiquated provisions to get paid for work that no longer needed doing.

McLean died a successful but publicity shy man who made the world a much better place while making a fortune for himself that captured only the smallest fraction of the prosperity unleashed by his innovation.

Bonus- innovators in construction have begun using shipping containers to make buildings like:

 

 

 

 


Al Winner Al is Bringing It July 15th

June 26, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner) Amazon Prime just informed me that Al Copeland Humanitarian Award Winner Weird Al has a new cd coming out July 15th.  The internet refused to reveal the songs on the collection in a 30 second google search, but there are so many pop songs aching for parody now that Weird Al will likely be shooting fish in a barrel. Just in case no one else is going to suggest it, a Weird Al/Me First and the Gimme Gimmes team up would be totally awesome unless it was so awesome that it tore a rift in space-time, unleash cosmic parody forces beyond human comprehension or control, in which case it would be really TOTALLY AWESOME.


Nominations Solicited for the 2012 Al Copeland Humanitarian Award

October 13, 2012

It is time once again for us to solicit nominations for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award.  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.”

Last year’s winner of “The Al” was Earle Haas, the inventor of the modern tampon.  As I wrote last year about why Haas won:

But the tampon also helps illustrate where advancements for women really tend to come from.  Technological innovation, like the tampon, helped liberate women and that innovation comes from a capitalist system.  Earle Haas invented the tampon, at least in part, to make money.  Tampax Corporation brought the product to a mass market primarily to make money.  And women were successfully educated about the benefits of tampons through advertising.  Contrary to the loosely Marxist notion that advertising artificially creates desires for unnecessary products, just look at how essential advertising of tampons was in overcoming irrational opposition and ignorance of its benefits for women and society.

Haas won over a group of other worthy nominees:  Charles Montesquieu, David Einhorn, and Steve Wynn.

The previous year’s 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.

Another past winner of “The Al” was  Debrilla M. Ratchford, who significantly improved the human condition by inventing the rollerbag.  She beat out 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.

Nominations can be submitted by emailing a draft of a blog post advocating for your nominee.  If I like it, I will post it with your name attached.  Remember that the basic criteria is that we are looking for someone who significantly improved the human condition even if they made a profit in doing so.  Helping yourself does not nullify helping others.  And, like Al Copeland, nominees need not be perfect or widely recognized people.