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Category: Government

Does your city / state / country have an ICON, or just a flag? Vex vexillologists with this proposal to create ICONIC EMBLEMS to represent your favorite regional administrative division! This is the U.S. State Flag edition.

Background:

Every US state has a flag. But only a few states have an icon—something immediately recognizable (and ideally, easily drawn and memorable).

For an example of icons, we can look at Japan’s provinces (or “prefectures”), nearly all of which are represented by a distinctive single-color icon (Figure 1).

flags-japan.png

Fig. 1: Japanese provinces have iconic minimalist symbols associated with them. Compare these to the selection of American state flags in Figure 2.

2-flags-us-detailed.png

Fig. 2: Most state flags were not selected with visual clarity in mind. Additionally, many state flags look identical on a flagpole when there is no wind.

3-flags-us-iconic.png

Fig. 3: Some flags are visually distinctive, but these are the exception. (In reading order: Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Alabama, Tennessee, and Washington D.C.)

Proposal:

The proposal is as follows:

  • Every state will get a supplementary icon, that can be easily rendered in a quick pen sketch (Figure 4).
  • When possible, the flag and emblem should be similar, to make them easier to remember.
  • A flag and an icon have different requirements. Some guidelines:
    • A flag should be visually distinctive even when on a draped piece of cloth. For example, the American flag (🇺🇸) is easily identified even when there is no wind.
    • A flag can make use of multiple colors (although there is such a thing as “too many” colors).
    • An icon should minimize or eliminate reliance on specific colors.
    • An icon should have relatively few fine details. It should be distinctive even at a very small size.
4-flags-graffiti-sketches-1.png

Fig. 4: Some sketches of icons that could represent specific states. Three of these are based on elements from real state flags: Tennessee (top left), New Mexico (left middle), and South Carolina (palm tree + crescent moon, top right). The top right one would probably need to be modified in some way to distinguish it from the flags of Turkey (🇹🇷), Tunisia (🇹🇳), Pakistan (🇵🇰), and others.

There is also no icon that represents the United States (although USA works as an easily-written shorthand). Figures 6 and 7 investigate some elements that could be incorporated into a flag-inspired icon.

 

5-air-force.jpg

Fig. 5: Although it is not a national icon, this existing U.S. Air Force insignia manages to elegantly incorporate the elements of the national flag.

 

Fig. 6: If someone only had 5 seconds to draw an American flag, they’d probably some up with something similar to these graffiti-like icons on the left. Isolating the iconic elements of the American flag leaves us with a number of possible emblems in varying levels of detail (right). The bottom-right one also indicates how the Chinese / Japanese character for “above” coincidentally appears in the negative space: this might be useful in a U.S.A.-and-China-centered science fiction future like the one in Firefly.

Examples:

Below (Figure 7) is a column of state flags (left) and some potential icons (right). The color is arbitrary—it can be omitted or changed to any other color (as in the Japanese example in Figure 1).

 

 

7-flags-us-plus-icons.png

Fig. 7: Left column: state flags. Right column: corresponding easy-to-draw icons for each state. Some of these have a very shaky rationale, and are not based on the existing flags. For example:  Illinois: rivers converging, also it’s the “Y” from the font “Malayayam Bold.” Florida: the shape of Florida, if it were exactly three pixels. Michigan: the bordering lakes. Louisiana: the Mississippi river delta. Vermont / New Hampshire: the icons fit together, like the states. See below for Washington State.

Conclusion:

You should come up with some icon suggestions of your own, and propose them to your state government. They love sponsoring things like state birds, state flowers, and state songs, so why not a state emblem? California even has a state lichen and state dinosaur!

PROS: Would provide the option for people to promote their state with an easily-recognized emblem.

CONS: Could increase intra-state rivalry if people become attached to their own state’s amazing icon.

 

washington-crossing-the-delaware.jpg

P.S. The hypothetical icon for Washington State is an abstract representation of Washington crossing the Delaware. Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but that never stopped icon designers before!

 

brainstormed-weird-icons-small.png

P.P.S. Run out of icon ideas? Just draw a bunch of weird stuff on a sheet of paper and see if anything sticks. Try to avoid accidentally repurposing fascist iconography!

Uber and Lyft may have diminished the taxi medallion system, but the “medallion” idea can still be applied in other places! One weird local government tip.

Background:

Taxis in many cities operate under what is called a “medallion system” (Figure 1), whereby the supply of taxis is limited by a fixed quantity of tokens (“medallions”) that are issued in controlled quantities by the city.

taxi-medallion

Fig 1: An actual “taxi medallion” is apparently nothing like this.

Proposal:

For some reason, almost nothing else is regulated in this manner. But there are other services that are conceptually similar and could have their own “medallion” systems.

For example:

delivery-driving

Fig 2: Food delivery (e.g., pizza, Chinese food). Like a taxi, the driver operates a passenger automobile on public roads for commercial purposes.  A “delivery driving wedge” could be required in order for a business, such as a pizza restaurant, to deliver food.

dog-hypercube

Fig 3: Dog walkers make use of the public sidewalks and roads, and must abide by requirements that other pedestrians are not subject to (“pick up dog poop, do not allow the dog to bite anyone”). This “dog hypercube” would ensure that there was not an over-abundance of dogs on the sidewalks at any given time.

 

internet-cube

Fig 3: The medallion system could be applied to other activities with commercial potential.

  • Bicycles: Like a taxi, a bicycle consumes space on the public roads. Licensing of bicycles to a small number (see Figure 3, right side) would guarantee the availability of bike rack spots.
  • Internet usage could be prohibited without an “Internet cube” medallion (see Figure 3, left side). This could increase the available bandwidth for other purposes and could bring clients back to businesses like video rental companies and paper map retailers.

PROS: Opens up a new source of income: purchase a medallion, and then rent it out!

CONS: It may be difficult for City Hall employees to estimate the exact quantity of medallions to issue.

 

 

 

One trick of common courtesy that would give you a new sense of satisfaction from paying your taxes!

Background:

It’s always polite to write a thank-you note when you get a gift. Especially if it’s a large sum of money!

For example, a thank-you note from a child might look like this: “Dear Grandma, thanks for the money for my birthday. I used it to buy a bicycle. Here’s a picture… (etc).”

Proposal:

The various benefits of a stable government are generally abstract and far-removed from the taxpayer.

But the pain of paying a huge chunk of money is obvious and immediate!

Governments across the world might benefit from sending a “thank you” note to each taxpayer, indicating what the money was used for!

(Some charities already do this, sending personalized thank-you notes in return for donations.)

Here is a mockup of what it would look like for the U.S. Government:

traffic-cone

Fig 1: A taxpayer who didn’t make a lot of money during the year might get a letter that looked like this.

Fig 2: A taxpayer who made a larger sum of money might get a more interesting thank-you note. The wizard hat was probably grossly overpriced, however.

octo

Fig 3: Sometimes, your tax dollars wouldn’t actually be enough to pay for the entirety of a specific purchase. In this case, the fraction purchased would be indicated, and the picture would be partially grayed-out to match. For example, this person’s tax revenue was used to partially buy an octopus, but their contribution alone was only sufficient to pay for five of the octopus’s eight legs. What strange and secret purpose did the government need an octopus, anyway? Well, the answer is  ████ ████ ██, ████ ██ █████ ██ ██████████ and also  ████ ██ ████ ███ ████ ██████ ████ ██ ████ ███ ██ ██ █ ██ ██████████ .

Conclusion:

This is a great idea! The many readers of this post who work at the IRS should lobby to have it implemented immediately.

PROS: Increases both accountability to the taxpayer of tax revenue and the personal connection of citizens to their representative government.

CONS: ████████ █ █████ ██ ███ █ █████ ! ████

blank

Supplementary Figure A: A blank “taxpayer thank-you note.”

unknown-tax

Supplementary Figure B: Original “taxpayer thank-you note” mockup.

Five underrated facts about dystopian totalitarian surveillance regimes! You’ll never believe fact #2!

Background:

The optimal tradeoff between privacy and security is a topic that is endlessly debated.

In the past, omnipresent surveillance was not feasible—but technology is now at the point where implementation of a 1984-esque surveillance state is actually possible.

On the one hand, it would be theoretically convenient to have immediate response to crimes and/or injuries, and perhaps take action to prevent some crimes before they even occur.

On the other hand, you might be sent to a faraway gulag because you opposed the interests of a politically-connected individual.

Proposal:

The problem here, of course, is the human element (see Figure 1).

monitor-computer-guy

Fig. 1: This guy (right) can monitor every aspect of your life on the video screens (left). This works fine until you become successful and he blackmails you!

But if an all-seeing computer system (like Skynet in the Terminator series) were in charge of things, we could could theoretically know that the surveillance system could not be misused, and would only be used for the programmed-in purposes (e.g., catching kidnappers and insane murderers).

Humans would write the rules for the system, but the raw data would (somehow) be inaccessible except to the analysis computer (Fig. 2).

Some example rules that might be applied:

  • If a car was used in a felony, check traffic cameras for its license plate number.
  • If a person has purchased explosive-manufacture-related chemicals, check their records for unusual activity and potentially flag them for further investigation by actual humans.
  • If a person declared no taxable income, but drives around in an 80,000 dollar car, check them for tax fraud.

Since these rules could be set by the legislature, they could be transparent and subject to review by the voters.

One downside: many countries operate on implicit rules like:

  • If a person supports an opposing political party, make sure to harass and imprison them.
  • If a person is a member of a disfavored ethnic or religious group, make sure to hold them to the strictest letter of the law.
  • Otherwise, don’t enforce any rules at all.

These informal enforcement rules might be less likely to survive if they had to be explicitly coded up and put on the official registry of surveillance rules. Or perhaps they would remain, and just be enforced with horrific robotic precision!

robot-wheel

Fig 2: This robot is totally trustworthy with your personal data, and has no ulterior motives or desires of its own (unlike a human).

seeing-eye

Fig 3: This unblinking “panopticon” eye will be a useful symbol to let you know you are in a safe and trustworthy robot-surveilled region! Stick one of these in your bedroom and bathroom to remind you that a robot is watching you at all times.

Conclusion:

When you lobby for omnipresent surveillance, make sure to imagine the predicable scenario where some irrationally angry neighbor or ambitious business rival now has a recording of every stupid thing you (and your friends/family) have ever done!

PROS: Would probably reduce many types of crime.

CONS: Terminator and/or 1984.

 

 

 

Voter suppression with a twist! Add SECRET disqualification questions to the ballot in order to save democracy! Definitely there would be no possible way to misuse this. Plus: you’ll never believe what kind of animal was nominated as ambassador to Australia!

Background:

Voter suppression has historically been a popular method of “adjusting” election results.

It comes in many forms. For example:

  • Do supporters of your opponent have 9-to-5 jobs? Easily solved—set up the polling places from 10 AM to 4 PM (with a break for lunch) in inconvenient places!

  • Are your supporters richer than your opponent’s supporters? No problem—poll Tax!

  • Want to selectively disenfranchise arbitrary groups of your choosing? Literacy test / civics quiz!

  • Do your supporters all own exotic reptiles? Make sure to require two forms of ID (to prevent voter fraud), but allow a card from the National Organization of Snake Aficionados to count as one form of ID.

  • Etc.

There are, of course, hundreds of variations on this idea.

Proposal:

The not-immediately-nefarious goal here is to make sure that a voter understands the ballot, at least slightly.

ballot-disqualifiers-1

Fig. 1: This ballot only has 6 questions, but I’m a busy individual with no free time to search online for a summary of them. I’ll just vote randomly, or vote based on whichever one-sentence summary of each item looks the best. But wait—an informed electorate is important to democracy, and I’m sabotaging this process with my intentionally bad votes!

In order to make sure that the voter is making an informed decision, we will add multiple fake “ringer” candidates to the ballot. A voter who is voting randomly will probably end up voting for one of these candidates, but someone with even the most basic understanding of the ballot will avoid these obviously-terrible options.

The key component is that a ballot that votes in favor of one of these (intentionally) terrible ringer options will be automatically discarded—it is assumed that the voter is not actually taking their civic duty seriously.

Example:

  • in addition to the traditional candidates, the ringer candidate ROBOTOZAR THE METALLIC is added.
  • Robotozar’s electoral platform is listed as “DESTROY ALL HUMANS AS PAINFULLY AS POSSIBLE.”
  • Then, any ballots that include a vote for Robotozar would be disqualified.
  • This will save representative democracy, as well as humanity in general.

For areas with direct voting on ballot measures, we could have “ringer” measures as well, such as:

  • Recall the current ambassador to Australia, and send a horse as the new ambassador. 🇦🇺🐴
  • Change voting eligibility: only snakes may vote in subsequent elections; intent is determined by divination of their slithering. 🐍👀

ballot-disqualifiers-2

Fig. 2: The two disqualifying “ringer” questions on this ballot (described above) are highlighted in orange.

Conclusion:

Saves democracy.

PROS: Could cause more careful reading of ballot measures.

CONS: What if a horse actually turned out to be an amazing ambassador?

THE CITY GRINDER: The one relentless trick that will DRAMATICALLY CHANGE your property values! Read up before you buy property, or soon you will weep bitter tears of despair!

Background:

Modern cities face a number of issues due to old buildings. For example:

  • Housing that isn’t up to code
  • Abandoned buildings
  • Absentee owners who don’t maintain their property
  • Urban decay

Proposal:

Fortunately, with an amazing new idea, we can revitalize urban development and create guaranteed construction jobs.

Specifically, the proposal is as follows:

  1. Build an elevated circular track around City Hall (or some other centrally located building).
  2. Next, build an enormous miles-long spiked roller that rests on this track (Fig 1). The outer edge of this “city grinder” should reach to the farthest extent of the city.
  3. The city grinder will now make a slow revolution around the city, consuming everything in its path.

city-grinder

Fig 1: The “city grinder” is a giant spiked roller (left) that levels everything in its path. It is mounted on an elevated circular track that is centered on city hall (right; the building with a yellow roof). In this example, the roller is traveling counter-clockwise (see arrow). Not shown: the roller should actually be rotating quickly in order to grind the buildings it encounters.

The actual time required for a full rotation could be set based on the circumstances of the specific city. Perhaps 100 years for a full rotation would be reasonable.

Although this idea may seem unorthodox, it isn’t without precedent: some places have 99-year leases or even 999-year leases instead of permanent ownership.

Thus, the “city grinder” is just a strong formalization of the 99 year lease—except a property won’t just revert to government ownership after 99 years, but instead will be ground into dust.

city-map

Fig 2: An example of city grinder transit over a 100 year period (as indicated by the numbers; note that the grinder is in the top-right corner of the map in both 1900 and 2000). The star indicates the city hall (or other “center” location). At 100 years for a complete revolution, the city grinder will only need to cut through 3.6 degrees of the city per year. For a circular city that is 10 miles across, the outermost (fastest) point on the city grinder would be traveling at a mere 4.5 feet per day (or 1.4 meters / day). (City circumference = π × 10 miles = 31.4 miles. 31.4 miles / 100 years = 4.5 feet per day).

The only remaining logistical question is: how does traffic pass through the region being ground up? Luckily, this can be easily solved by breaking up the roller into many independent-operating sections that can be elevated. So only a small portion of the city grinder would be blocking traffic at a given time, and this segment could easily be driven around. This wouldn’t be any more difficult than dealing with railroad crossings, which all cities already handle.

PROS: Prevents accumulation of obsolete and decaying buildings in a city. Improves urban beautification. Architects and construction workers will have guaranteed employment.

CONS: The roller may be expensive to operate and maintain.