For the Al: Russ Roberts

October 31, 2017


(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


(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.

 *          *          *          *          *

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:


For the Al: Tim and Karrie League

October 12, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So tell me if you have ever had this experience- you find some time and think about going to a see a movie. No? Well you may have noticed that we dig movies here at JPGB so play along please…

Yes-okay so you want to see a movie, you go online to see what is playing, you look at the list of films currently screening at the movie houses you frequent and you think “blech I don’t want to see any of this” or some equivalent thereof.  Just how much we are held hostage to Hollywood became even more apparent to me a few years ago when I rented a house near Zilker Park in Austin for a month. Austin at the time had five Alamo Drafthouse sites in operation, which meant that there were a consistent barrage of older, offbeat and classic films to choose between. I took the kids to see E.T. and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade for instance, both of which were more fun than the How to Train Your Dragon 2 meh stuff that Hollywood happened to be shoveling out that summer.

The Drafthouse, with their combination of zany programming and out of the box thinking has brought something crucial back to film- soul. Authentic community is a treasure in life, and you simply can’t get much more of it out of a big-box theater. It is therefore with great pleasure that I nominate the founders of the Drafthouse, Tim and Karrie League, for the prestigious Al Copeland Humanitarian Award for showing us a path forward to redeeming cinema from the tedium of the factory farm film making.*

Like many great things in life, this story starts in Texas at Rice University, where Tim studied Art History and Mechanical Engineering, and Karrie majored in Biology and French literature. What do you do with that? How about “revolutionize the movie going experience” for starters. After Rice, the two opened their first theater, a prototype called the Tejon in California in 1994.  Located on the wrong side of the tracks, the couple began to develop their carnival style in an attempt to lure people to the theater. They for instance got a live band to accompany a silent film (a later Drafthouse regular.) They brought a pig to a screening of Charlotte’s Web. Unable to obtain a liquor license for the Tejon, Tim and Karrie did what a great many sensible Californians do- packed up and moved to Austin Texas in 1997.

Tim and Karrie set up shop in a former parking garage in the Warehouse district in Austin. They got the liquor license that eluded them in California. The rest is history.

Starting as a single screen, small theatre, Austin fell deeply and passionately in love with the Drafthouse. Local directors started hosting film festivals there, followed by non-locals. Some of the non-local directors bought property and became locals.

Big box theaters noticed that the Drafthouse was earning about twice as much per person and started serving food and beer. That’s all well and good, but what makes the Drafthouse the Drafthouse is culture and programming.  Examples include Master Pancake Theater (three comedians mic up on the front row and ridicule a bad movie), Hecklevision (audience text ridicule at a bad movie which appears on the screen), Midnight Blaxploitation (good grief how did this stuff get made?), Sing Alongs and Rolling Road Shows.

So sing alongs, here’s one for the ladies:

and another for Queen fans who want to put on a Freddy Mercury mustache and scream their lungs out with their favorite songs:

You of course already know about rolling road shows like Jaws on the Water:

But they’ve also gone out and about. One of my favorites was a canoe trip with a screening of Deliverance on the shore after a long day of rowing and eating pig sandwiches. They have also gone to filming locations to screen classics:

The Drafthouse is also famous for dealing with certain transgressions firmly and quickly:

Which prompted this gem (NSFW):

which was followed by a similar incident when they had to throw a Sith Lord out:

Anyhoo- thank you Tim and Karrie for making film an absolute blast. I am counting down the days until the opening of Drafthouse Phoenix.


* You may choose to infer an education analogy from this post, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

George P. Mitchell for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award

October 18, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I nominate Texas oilman George P. Mitchell for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award.

Mitchell studied at Texas A&M University, where he graduated first in his class with a degree in Petroleum Engineering. Born to Greek immigrant parents in Galveston Texas in 1919, George P. Mitchell built a Fortune 500 energy business Mitchell Energy and Development Corporation.

George P. Mitchell’s was both a deliberate and perhaps an inadvertent environmentalist. A philanthropic supporter of environmental causes, Mitchell ironically made a far greater positive impact on the environment through his market activities. More ironic still, many environmentalists somewhere on the ya-hoo to yay-hoo spectrum (a man from Wyoming once tried to explain the difference to me- but it is awfully complex) hate Mitchell’s fantastic environmental triumph.

Mitchell combined and developed the techniques of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) that is in the process of revolutionizing the energy business.

A biography page of Mr. Mitchell notes just how long and hard Mitchell and company worked to develop this process:

Mitchell Energy sunk a lot of money over a long period into learning how to stimulate the rock so it would flow,” says Potter. Their first attempts were expensive “massive hydraulic frac jobs.” They would pump a very large volume of fluid and sand down a well bore to crack the rock and give it more permeability. At first, they got the gas flowing, but the methods and materials were expensive. So they wondered if they could pump less fluid and get the same effect.

They arrived at something called a light sand frac,” says Potter. “Suddenly it was economical and at the same time-in the mid-1990s-the price of gas was rising. By the late 1990s, they had perfected the technique in vertical wells and started applying it to several hundred wells. That’s when it came to the attention of industry.”

“Then it was realized, oh, if you scale that up to the whole area and then to the whole county and up to the whole Basin, the amounts of gas are really quite prodigious,” says Potter. “People became aware of that in 2002 and 2003 and that really got the ball rolling.”

“It took George Mitchell 18 years to make it work,” notes Larry Brogdon, partner and chief geologist for Four Sevens Oil Company. “He is the father of the Barnett Shale. He was tenacious. He started in 1981 and it really didn’t take off until 1999. And even then, it took a long time to develop it.”

So what have been the benefits of Mitchell’s steadfast pursuit of this technology? Mark J. Perry provides the answers:

Let’s start with oil production in Mitchell’s state of Texas:

Peak what? North Dakota is booming as well:

And the energy sector is close to the only hot thing going in our depressed economy..

Most prominently on the environmental side of things, he has radically increased the supply of Natural Gas in America and a growing number of elsewhere, and this is killing the use of coal.

Natural gas produces less pollution than coal and it is cheap in America, so you see trends like this:

Leading to this:

The United States is going to meet Kyoto carbon emission goals despite the fact that we never signed the treaty. As it turns out, George P. Mitchell took care of things for us.

Casting their credibility out the window of a 100 story building, some environmentalists have gone to political war with Mitchell’s technology. The Washington Post is not confused about the desirability of fracking, blasting New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for delaying the use of the technique in his state in an editorial:

… anti-fracking activists who hope delay begets delay and eventually prohibition are doing the environment no favor. Burning natural gas produces only about half the carbon emissions as burning coal, which produced 42 percent of America’s electricity in 2011. With the increasingly common use of fracking, natural gas prices have plummeted, encouraging a switch from coal to gas, and the country’s emissions trajectory has improved.

A suite of technologies has brought vast supplies of previously unrecoverable shale gas within reach of humans, dramatically expanding natural gas reserves in the U.S. and around the world. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have produced a fuel that can at once promote a cooler planet and an expanded economy, essentially eliminating the tradeoff between climate change mitigation and the pursuit of other public projects and, perhaps, economic growth.

Compare all of this to the epic boondoggle of President Obama’s attempt to push solar power before its time (if it is ever going to have a time). The Wall Street Journal gives you the blow-by-blow on that one.

George P. Mitchell’s influence on the world is set to grow ever larger. With the new technologies for instance, Israel now has recoverable fuel reserves comparable to Saudi Arabia. Foreign Policy attempted to forecast the winners and losers of the new energy abundance and on balance, it is looking very good overall.

Mitchell has supported sustainability and even the deeply misguided Club of Rome report as a philanthropist, but in a deeply telling twist of fate, it was his determined entrepreneurial activities that have produced not only environmental benefits but also enormous prosperity and hope for the future. This Texas Wildcatter turns out to have been the ultimate environmentalist, as is implied in the Washington Post’s editorial linked to above:

True, half the emissions does not mean no emissions. But the United States does not have to eliminate its carbon footprint all at once, nor should it. Doing so would cost far too much. Instead, natural gas can play a big role in transitioning to cleaner energy cheaply. A recent analysis from Resources for the Future, a think tank, shows that low, fracking-driven natural gas prices combined with efficiency measures and a serious carbon tax would result in a massive increase in the use of natural gas, nearly eliminating America’s coal dependence by 2035 and cutting emissions from the electricity sector by more than half. Renewable technologies, meanwhile, would have time to lower costs and address other hurdles to widespread deployment before picking up more of the load later in the century.

Environmentalists, in other words, should hope fracking is safe — and permitted.

George P. Mitchell’s triumph proves Milton Friedman’s point perfectly and illustrates that it even applies to environmentalism:

I therefore place Mr, Mitchell’s name in nomination for the Al: an Aggie who has earned an enthusiastic Thumbs Up from this Longhorn and deserves one from  everyone.

Okay, almost everyone…

Steve Wynn for Al Copeland Humanitarian Award

October 28, 2011

"Stay Thirsty My Friends..."

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Last year, Jay nominated the Most Interesting Man in the World for the Al, arguing that he represented an appealing avatar for the manly good life.

Often on the blog, I have used the image of Leonardo di Caprio’s portrayal of Howard Hughes in the Aviator as a tribute to the restless innovator overcoming challenges.

Today it is my pleasure to nominate a real person who embodies qualities of both of these fictional characters: Steve Wynn.

WSJ reporter Christina Brinkley wrote a fascinating book about the battle to control the Las Vegas Strip called Winner Takes All: Steve Wynn, Kirk Kerkorian, Gary Loveman and the Race to Own Las Vegas. There were many interesting things about this book, but Steve Wynn without a doubt steals the show.

Steve Wynn essentially created the modern Las Vegas, transforming the city from a seedy, neon lit gambling hole to what it is today. I’ll let you decide for yourself what it is today, because the seedy neon lit gambling hold is certainly still there.


I can remember watching the U2 video I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, filmed on Fremont Street back in the late 1980s and thinking to myself “Vegas is repulsive. I have absolutely no interest in ever going there.”

Some of you reading this will have exactly the same reaction to Vegas today, but mine has entirely changed, and it is because of Steve Wynn. Steve Wynn invented the Las Vegas that I enjoy visiting.

Steve Wynn invented the modern Las Vegas in the late 1980s when he built the Mirage, the first of the modern casinos, on the strip. Wynn’s vision for updating Vegas was straightforward: he was out to build destination resorts so interesting that people would want to visit even if they weren’t interested in gambling.

Today, the Mirage has fallen into meh status (a volcano? Snore….) but that is a tribute more to the fantastic cycle of one-up manship that the success of the Mirage inspired.  Wynn imagined a Las Vegas that would appeal to far more than gambling junkies, paving the way for a hyper-competitive market in every type of distraction, from fine dining to elaborate stage productions, fine art to high-end nightclubs.

In other words, the tacky Vegas is still available, but now, so is everything else.

Winner Takes All paints a fascinating portrait of Steve Wynn as the ruthless capitalist moving Vegas forward. Others had tried to top Wynn in developing new resorts, but for the most part, Wynn was in a competition against himself. In building the Bellagio, a resort which would make Louis XIV green with envy, someone asked Mr. Wynn what he had in mind for decoration behind the check in counter. When someone suggested a piece of fine art, Wynn liked the idea so much that at one point he had multiple auctioneers in New York and London buying everything in sight. When you read winner takes all, you can imagine the London and New York auctioneers wondering to themselves Egads, who is this person in Las Vegas buying all of our art?”

Today, you can visit Mr. Wynn’s gigantic Picasso collection in a restraunt in the Bellagio known, appropriately enough, as Picasso’s, which combines fine dining with a museum of art experience. I highly recommend it.

Winner Takes All details the rise and fall of Steve Wynn. In building the Bellagio, vacuuming up fine art, and other projects (including the Beau Rivage, a “baby Bellagio” in Biloxi Mississippi- a market faux pas) Binkley presents Wynn as the capitalist gone mad. Wall Street analysts began calling Wynn out on his extravagent spending. Wynn’s reaction as conveyed by Binkley is priceless, something along the lines of “These idiots and their quarterly profit statements! Don’t they get it? I’m an artist!”

Wynn went so far off the financial deep end that his rival Kerkorian, developer of the MGM, wrote a check and bought Wynn’s company straight out from under him. I’m trying to imagine anyone having the ability to write a check with enough zeros in it to purchase the Bellagio and various lesser properties, but it certainly says something about the depths to which Wynn had driven his stock price. The transformative mastermind of the modern Las Vegas was finished, a victim to his own obsession.

Well, that wouldn’t do for an ending, now would it?

Despite losing it all, Wynn found new investors willing to back his vision of excellence. Wynn secured $2.7 billion to build the Wynn hotel, buying an old property for a relative song, and topping himself yet again with a fantastic new resort. Today Vegas is down like everything, but don’t count Steve Wynn out. Personally I can’t wait to see what the mad artist/capitalist comes up with next.

And “The Al” Goes to…

October 31, 2010

In keeping with our tradition on JPGB, Halloween is the time to announce the winner of the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award.  “The Al” is meant to honor a person who has made a significant contribution to improving the human condition.

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 was Debrilla M. Ratchford, who significantly improved the human condition by inventing the rollerbag, beating out Steve Henson, who gave us ranch dressing,  Fasi Zaka, who ridiculed the Taliban,  Ralp Teetor, who invented cruise control, and Mary Quant, who popularized the miniskirt.

This year the nominees were 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, 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, and Marion Donovan and Victor Mills, the developers of the disposable diaper.

These are all worthy nominees.  They all meet the minimum requirements in that none of them threatened to bomb, picket, tax, regulate, or imprison anyone.  And they all have done something to significantly improve the human condition.  But I think we can rule out The Most Interesting Man because I’m not comfortable with the idea of giving the award to a fictional person.  I also think we can rule out Herbert Dow because I’m not sure that he did anything beyond what almost all entrepreneurs have to do — overcome the government-assisted cartels of existing businesses to prevent the entry of new competitors.

Stan Honey’s yellow first down line is an amazing improvement for watching football on TV, but what about those who see the game in the stadium?  I keep expecting there to be a yellow line on the field, which decreases my pleasure from watching the game in person.  As soon as Stan Honey figures out how to install yellow lights to form lines in the turf, I’ll be sure to give him The Al, but until then he will have to be satisfied with a nomination.

Marion Donovan and Victor Mills greatly improved my life and the life of countless million with the invention of the disposable diaper.  I should mention that in addition to their greater convenience, better function, and lower cost, disposable diapers may even be better for the environment.

All of this makes for a compelling case to award The Al to Donovan and Mills.  But there is an even more compelling case to give The Al to Wim Nottroth.  All of the consumer items that improve our lives, whether spicy chicken, roller-bags, or disposable diapers, depend on the existence of liberty for people to choose how they live, including what they make, what they buy, and what they believe.  If the forces of tyranny that Wim Nottroth resisted prevail, we will eventually lose the liberty to enjoy these other benefits.

The tyranny Nottroth directly resisted was the kowtowing of Western governments to radical Muslims who found it offensive to say “Thou Shall not Kill” in the aftermath of the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamic fascist who disliked a film made by van Gogh criticizing Islam. If we allow these restrictions on free speech we are surrendering our liberty bit by bit.

The only way we lose our liberty completely is if we surrender it to the new wave of fascists.  Contrary to the gloomy claims of defeatists during the Cold War and today, freedom is not at a disadvantage in a struggle with tyranny.  Freedom does not make us weaker; it makes us much stronger.  Freedom makes us richer, which gives us the material advantages to defeat the enemies of freedom.  Freedom improves the quality of our information and decision-making.  Under tyranny everyone distorts information to fit the wishes of the tyrants for fear of punishment.  And no one scrutinizes the quality of decision-making.  The competitive market of ideas and the freedom to critique decisions improves the their quality in free societies.

As long as we maintain our appreciation for freedom and our desire to struggle for it, both at home and abroad, we are sure to win.  The problem is that it is all too easy forget how wonderful our freedom is relative to the tyranny that exists in many other places.  And it is an even greater danger for us to tire of having to struggle to preserve it, both at home and abroad.  That struggle never ends.  When the challenge from Nazis faded, the threat from the Soviets rose, and when that crumbled the danger has come from radical Islam.  And when we defeat them, as I am confident we eventually will, some other threat will take its place.

There will always be people who prefer to tell other people how to live — what you can say, what you can buy, what you can sell, with whom you can sleep, and what you can think.  In fact, there is nothing natural about freedom.  It’s natural to want your own freedom, but it is equally natural to want to tell everyone else what to do.  Respecting other people’s freedom is something that is acquired and sustained, not something with which we are born.

Clearly some government officials in The Netherlands as well as in other places in the free world are failing to teach and sustain the love of freedom.  They tire of the struggle to preserve freedom and look for compromises with tyrants.  Wim Nottroth resisted his government’s unacceptable surrender to tyranny.  He reminded us how free speech is worth fighting for, even in the face of murderous thugs and their lackey government enablers.  For that he has significantly improved the human condition and is most worthy of this year’s Al Copeland Humanitarian Award.

“No, I’m Not Going to Stand Somewhere Else.”

October 14, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Molly, if you’re reading this – you still have a choice. You can try to run away from what you know you’re called to do, but Victor Laszlo is right: like Rick Blaine, you’re trying to run away from yourself, and you will never succeed. Or you can rejoin the fight from wherever you are now; the Internet makes it possible to do your part to save the world from any computer station, anywhere.

In case you missed the news, Molly Norris, the cartoonist who came up with the idea for Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, was admonished by the FBI that she needed to erase her identity and go into hiding, and she has done so. As Mark Steyn and others have observed, it appears that the United States law enforcement apparatus is now, effectively, working for the other side. Terrorizing people into abandoning their freedoms is precisely what the enemy is trying to accomplish. Now the FBI is helping them.

This is not the same thing as doing this for a witness in a criminal trial. You send mob informants into hiding because for them, hiding is what they need to do in order to fight the enemy. You can’t testify against the mob if the mob can kill you before you get to the stand. And if they get to you after you take the stand, the next informant won’t testify.

But for people like Norris, not hiding is what they need to do to fight the enemy. If mob informants go into hiding, we win. If Molly Norris goes into hiding, the enemy wins.

Earlier this year, when Norris cancelled her proposed Everybody Draw Mohammed Day out of fear for her life, I expressed my disappointment and she showed up in the comments to ask where all the people who were supposed to be protecting her had gone. It was a very just question! And she was thinking only of politicians and intellectuals, not the police. Who knew, then, that even the police would turn against her?

Yet we can’t give up. We can’t become cowards just becasue the FBI has done so. We are still human beings, and there is no escape from responsibility.

That’s why, in the tradition of Fasi Zaka, I’m proud to nominate Wim Nottroth for this year’s Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year Award.

The Gates of Vienna blog recounts the story:

Back in the fall of 2004, just after Theo Van Gogh was murdered, an artist named Chris Ripke painted a mural on a Rotterdam street with the text: “Thou Shalt Not Kill”. A scriptural quote, but universally accepted, one would think, and not at all controversial.

Needless to say, local Muslims complained, and the municipality ordered city workers to remove the mural. A video reporter [for a local TV station] named Wim Nottroth stood in front of the mural in an attempt to prevent its removal, but he was arrested by police.

The authorities also ordered all news videos of the operation destroyed, but at least one survived and was uncovered by the diligent detective work of Vlad Tepes.

The mural was on private property. The owner of the property had approved the mural. No laws were violated. But the police destroyed the mural and confiscated all videos of their crime (or so they thought) and erased them.

Four months later, it was revealed that an imam from the mosque that demanded the destruction of the mural was connected to terrorist organizations and inciting his followers to violence. He was deported for being in the country illegally.

Nottroth had been sent to the scene in his capacity as a journalist. His job was to film the police destroying the mural. But as the moment of destruction approached, Nottroth realized that although he was a journalist, he was a human being first. And nobody else was going to do what needed to be done by somebody.

So he went and stood in front of the mural. And he stood there until the police arrested him.

The translation from the Dutch is awkward in some places, but it’s impossible not to hear the courage and integrity behind the awkwardness: “We all do agree to that, don’t we? Thou shalt not kill, we all agree to, isn’t it?…If this goes away there will be more misery than there would be if you leave it.” He couldn’t have been more eloquent if he’d quoted Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration or Milton’s Aeropagetica.

This exchange encapsulates a lot in a short space:

Nottroth: It should be possible here in a democratic…

Policeman: You rather go stand there.

Nottroth: Well then, I will remain standing here.

Darn straight.

Each and every one of us must be ready to say that at any time, when our duty as human beings calls upon us. For reminding the world that standing for freedom, even against your own government when necessary, is every person’s responsibility, I nominate Wim Nottroth for the 2010 Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year Award.

Al Copeland Humanitarian Nominee: Herbert Dow

October 8, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So I remembered reading the Mackinac Center’s book Empire Builders. The book featured stories of entrepreneurs that made Michigan great.  Years later when I watched The Aviator it reminded me of one of the stories from Empire Builders.

Herbert Dow is certainly worthy of a posthumous Al Copeland award. This 1997 piece from the Mackinac Center explains why:

Herbert Dow, the Monopoly Breaker

By Dr. Burton W. Folsom | May 1, 1997

Today, the Dow Chemical Company is an industrial giant, famous for its plastics, Styrofoam, and Saran Wrap. But when the company first went into business 100 years ago, in May 1897, almost no one took it seriously. The occasion of the company’s centennial offers a timely opportunity to retell an important economics lesson.

Herbert Dow, the founder, had already started two other chemical companies: one went broke, and the other ousted him from control. “Crazy Dow” was what the folks in Midland, Michigan, called him, as he pursued his entrepreneurial vision of an American chemical industry. Like David fighting Goliath, he actually believed he could throw stones at the large German chemical monopolies and topple them from world dominance.

In the story of Herbert Dow, not only do we see the spirit of freedom that helped America become a world power, we also learn how a small company can overcome the “predatory price cutting” of a large cartel.

Dow invented a process to separate bromine from the sea of brine underneath much of Michigan. He then sold bromine to other firms, which made it into sedatives and photographic supplies. With gusto, Dow sold it inside the U. S., but not outside—at least not at first.

The Germans had been the dominant supplier of bromine since it first was mass-marketed in the mid-1800s. No American dared compete overseas with the powerful German cartel, Die Deutsche Bromkonvention, which fixed the world price for bromine at a lucrative 49 cents a pound. Customers either paid the 49 cents or they went without. Dow and other Americans sold bromine inside the U. S. for 36 cents. The Bromkonvention made it clear that if the Americans tried to sell elsewhere, the Germans would flood the American market with cheap bromine and drive them out of business.

By 1904, Dow was ready to break the unwritten rules: He was so strapped for cash that he decided to sell in Europe. Dow easily beat the cartel’s 49 cent price and courageously sold America’s first bromine in England. After a few months of this, Dow encountered an angry visitor in his office from Germany—Hermann Jacobsohn of the powerful Bromkonvention. Jacobsohn announced he had “positive evidence that [Dow] had exported” bromine. “What of it?” Dow replied. “Don’t you know that you can’t sell abroad?” Jacobsohn asked. “I know nothing of the kind,” Dow retorted. Jacobsohn was indignant and left in a huff.

Above all, Dow was stubborn and hated being bluffed by a bully. When Jacobsohn stormed out of his office, Dow continued to sell bromine to countries from England to Japan. Before long, the Bromkonvention went on a rampage: It poured bromine into America at 15 cents a pound, well below its fixed price of 49 cents, and also below Dow’s 36 cent price.

The imaginative Dow worked out a daring strategy. He had his agent in New York discreetly buy hundreds of thousands of pounds of German bromine at the cartel’s 15 cent price. Then Dow repackaged the German product and sold it in Europe—including Germany!—at 27 cents a pound. “When this 15-cent price was made over here,” Dow said, “instead of meeting it, we pulled out of the American market altogether and used all our production to supply the foreign demand. This, as we afterward learned, was not what they anticipated we would do.”

Indeed, the Germans were befuddled. They expected to run Dow out of business; and this they thought they were doing. But why was U. S. demand for bromine so high? And where was this flow of cheap bromine into Europe coming from? Was one of the Bromkonvention members cheating and selling bromine in Europe below the fixed price? Powerful tensions surfaced from within the Bromkonvention. According to Dow, “the German producers got into trouble among themselves as to who was to supply the goods for the American market . . . .”

The confused Germans kept cutting U. S. prices—first to 12 cents and then to 10.5 cents a pound. Dow meanwhile kept buying the stuff and reselling it in Europe for 27 cents. Even when the Bromkonvention finally caught on to what Dow was doing, it wasn’t sure how to respond. As Dow said, “We are absolute dictators of the situation.” He also wrote, “One result of this fight has been to give us a standing all over the world . . . . We are in a much stronger position than we ever were . . . .”

When Dow broke the German monopoly, all users of bromine around the world could celebrate. They now had lower prices and more companies to buy from. This victory propelled the remarkable Dow to challenge the German dye trust, and, after that, the German magnesium trust. His successes in these industries again lowered prices and helped liberate the American chemical industry from its European stranglehold.

Those who value the spirit of freedom and the rise of America as a world power can thank Herbert Dow for what he started in Midland, Michigan, 100 years ago.



Donovan and Mills for Al Copeland Humanitarians of the Year

October 6, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

It’s taken me a week to think of it, but I have come up with what I believe is the ultimate nominee for the Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year award this year. Or rather, two nominees.

Yes, the most interesting man in the world is . . . very interesting! I love the ads, but does he really represent the spirit of “The Al”? He certainly has done a lot of things – but what has he actually accomplished?

I propose that the true spirit of “The Al” is what you find inside . . . diapers.

Marion Donovan and Victor Mills’ diapers, to be exact.

Just spend a moment thinking about what life was like during the endless centuries when a diaper was nothing but a piece of cloth – one you had to wash and reuse, because manufactured goods couldn’t yet be made cheap enough for disposability. Contemplate, for a moment (but no longer than that!) how many diapers were changed from the first human beings technologically sophisticated enough to make clothing down through the middle of the twentieth century – and what was involved in changing each and every one of those diapers.

When Martin Luther wanted to illustrate the point that joyfully worshipping God was not a special activity that you did by going to church or performing other “religious works,” but something that had to infuse every single solitary human activity, even the most unpleasant, he was shrewd to choose diaper changing as an example:

Now observe that when … our natural reason … takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, “Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labour at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make such a prisoner of myself? O you poor, wretched fellow, have you taken a wife? Fie, fie upon such wretchedness and bitterness! It is better to remain free and lead a peaceful. carefree life; I will become a priest or a nun and compel my children to do likewise.”

He went on to focus on diaper-changing as the representative activity encompassing all these unpleasant duties. Luther knew that by sticking up for the honor of the married estate, he was sticking up for getting poop on your hands. Daily.

But having a family doesn’t mean daily poop-scrubbing anymore.

Born in 1917, Donovan spent much of her childhood hanging around the Ft. Wayne factory run by her father and uncle. They were inventors in their own right – having invented, among other things, an industrial lathe for making automotive gears and gun barrels – and she absorbed their entrepreneurial spirit.

Her first invention was a waterproof diaper cover, made out of a shower curtain, to contain the small leaks that were endemic to diapers in the pre-Donovan era. Rubber baby pants were already on the market, but they weren’t widely used because they caused diaper rash and pinched the skin. The plastic “changing pads” we use today are a distant descendant of Donovan’s innovation.

For good measure, she put snaps on her diaper cover instead of using safety pins, which at the time were the universal fastening technology in the diaper sector. Today we use velcro, but the original quantum leap away from the use of dangerous and labor-intensive pins was Donovan’s.

None of the big manufacturers would even consider marketing her invention, so she went into business for herself. Her product was an overnight success, debuting at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1949. After two years she sold it to one of those super-smart manufacturing companies that had been too dumb to give her the time of day back when it would have counted.

Like any good entrepreneur, she didn’t rest on her laurels but plowed her success into the next innovaiton – this time, disposable diapers. The challenge was significant; she needed to make the interior out of paper (so it would be cheap enough to manufacture in large numbers) but make it durable and absorbant.

She produced what she thought was a workable solution, but once again she couldn’t get the manufacturers interested. They were already working on the same idea – and Victor Mills, a chemical engineer at Proctor & Gamble, had a better solution than hers. (Those are the breaks! “The Al” celebrates the tough life of entrepreneurial struggle.)

 In 1956, P&G had acquired a new paper pulp plant, and it asked Mills and his team what they could do with it. Lots of companies were working on disposable diapers, but nobody had solved the problem yet. Mills, a grandfather at the time, had a pretty strongly vested interest in coming up with a solution. And the new plant yeilded just enough durability and absorbancy to solve the problem. Using his grandchild to test the prototypes, Mills developed the disposable diaper that ultimately became Pampers in 1961.

Well earned

So if you have kids, thank Donovan and Mills for their contribution to your well-being – and vote for them for Al Copeland Humanitarians of the Year.

HT Thomas Frey, Women Inventers and Chemical Engineering World for images, Famous Women Inventors and Jon Marmor for info

Nominees for the 2010 Al Copeland Humanitarian Award

September 21, 2010

It’s time again to consider nominees for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award.  The award is meant to honor a person who has made a significant contribution to improving the human condition.

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 was Debrilla M. Ratchford, who significantly improved the human condition by inventing the rollerbag, beating out Steve Henson, who gave us ranch dressing,  Fasi Zaka, who ridiculed the Taliban,  Ralp Teetor, who invented cruise control, and Mary Quant, who popularized the miniskirt.

This year I would like to nominate The Most Interesting Man in the World.

The Most Interesting Man has improved the human condition by modeling “the good life.”  In an age that lionizes anti-heroes, slackers, and losers, it is nice to be reminded of what masculine virtue can look like (even if Harvey Mansfield would find that redundant).

Yes, The Most Interesting Man is fictional, but the award is for a “person,” which I believe could include a fictional person.  In the past we have focused on entrepreneurs as nominees for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award, with the purpose of emphasizing how inventors and business people can improve the human condition much more than the politicians and activists who more typically receive such awards.

But I think we should expand our set to include the idea of a person.  The creation of that idea — whoever developed the ad campaign — could be at least as important for improving the human condition as the creation of a business or product.

The floor is now open for other nominations.

%d bloggers like this: