The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

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Category: Law

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.


Every US state has a flag. But only a few states have an iconโ€”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).


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


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.


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.)


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 (๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ) 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.

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 (๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ท), Tunisia (๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ณ), Pakistan (๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ฐ), 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.



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.


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




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:ย  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.


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.



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!



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 โ€œmedallionโ€ idea can still be applied in other places! One weird local government tip.


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.


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


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:


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


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 โ€œdog hypercubeโ€ would ensure that there was not an over-abundance of dogs on the sidewalks at any given time.



Fig 3:ย 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:ย 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.




International dignitaries love it: the โ€œhandshake-disinfecting tentacle noodle armโ€ is the next evolution of the handshake.


In the Western custom known as โ€œthe handshake,โ€ two individuals greet each other by smooshing their hands together, transmitting every disease (Figure 1).

Additionally, this custom can serve as a mini-battle between people with differing ideas of handshake firmness.


Fig 1: A clammy and moist hand is offered for your approval.

The issue:

There are two issues here:

  1. Diseases are transmitted
  2. A poor choice of angle, or unusually brittle bones, might cause you to lose the hand-crushing handshake battle

In order to alleviate both issues, the “handshake-disinfecting tentacle noodle arm” system is proposed.

Specifically, this is a set of extendable rubber arms that 1) spray a disinfectant on your hand and your handshake-target’s hand, and 2) optionally apply a strangling force to the opponent’s hand, assuring a victory in the handshake duel.

Figure 2 shows the handshake system in action, and figure 3 describes the internal mechanism.


Fig 2: A long-sleeved shirt sleeve conceals the pneumatically-activated tentacles that can be deployed upon successful handshake-docking. The โ€œsuckersโ€ on the tentacles are actually for spraying an aerosolized disinfectant.


Fig 3:ย Storage modules in the user’s sleeve contain the tentacles, the disinfectant, and the pressurized gas mechanism used to deploy them. A: Tentacle in folded form. B: Tentacle in the process of deployment.

PROS: All of them! Upgrades an ancient custom to the next level.

CONS: None.

Does your business require customers to agree to a “terms of service”? Run this incredibly illegal “INFINITE LENGTH CONTRACT” idea by your legal department! They will be impressed with your legal acumen.


Many web sites require a user to agree to a long and incomprehensible “terms of service” before they can use the site.

Since these contracts are dozens (or hundreds) of pages, everyone just scrolls to the end and clicks “AGREE.” (See two examples in Figure 1).

While you’d think that a company could slip in some secret contract clauses somewhere (e.g. “you agree to give up your first-born child to MegaCo Inc.”), this isn’t usually feasibleโ€”someone will EVENTUALLY find these clauses and cause a public relations disaster.


Fig. 1: Left: a relatively short contract that fits on one page. Right: a longer contract that no one will ever read.


Here is a secret method for putting totally unreasonable terms into a contract and preventing the user from being able to read them.

The secret is: the contract is literally INFINITE in length, so no one can read it all!

Details: the terms of service operates as follows (see Figure 2):

  • The first N pages are the real contract.
  • After the real contract is over, additional pages are randomly generated with legally-valid but meaningless legalese.
  • The contract has no scroll bar, so the user has no idea how long the contract is.
  • To accept the contract, the user clicks the “scroll to end and accept” button.
  • Thus, anyone who accepts the contract cannot have read the whole thing, since it is infinitely long.

Using this dirty trick, when a user has agreed to the contract after reading M pages, the company that wrote the terms of service can simply start putting the super-unreasonable contract terms on page M+1 and beyond.



Fig. 2: The “infinite contract” looks almost exactly like a real contract, except that there is no scroll bar or indication of how many pages the contract has. (This is because new randomly-generated “legalese” pages are created whenever the user clicks the “next page” button, so the user can never legitimately scroll to the end.)


The only downside to this plan is that it is almost certainly totally illegal in every jurisdiction.

PROS: Would probably be an interesting “future law school textbook case” if it were ever tested in court.

CONS: You will probably go to prison if you implement this idea.

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


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).”


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:


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.


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 isย  โ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆ, โ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆ and alsoย  โ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆ .


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: โ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆ โ–ˆ โ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆ ! โ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆโ–ˆ


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


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

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


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

In the past, omnipresent surveillance was not feasibleโ€”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.


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


Fig. 1:ย 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.

Theseย 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!


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


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.


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 typesย of crime.

CONS:ย Terminator and/or 1984.




The secret that BIG CITY LAWYERS don’t want you to know! Never get convicted of a crime you committed again, with this one insane tip!


“Justice is blind” is a common, but incorrect, expression.

It is indisputable that that factors of age, sex, race, general attractiveness, style of dress, hairstyle, and more will factor into both whether or not an individual is convicted of a crime and in the severity of sentencing for those convicted of a crime.


Fig. 1: If the defendant were replaced by a featureless silhouette, it would be impossible for the defendant to be negatively impacted by existing prejudices.


Normally, someone accused of a crime is forced to sit in the trial room, but they typically have very little input into the actual trial.

Therefore, it’s not actually necessary that the person sitting at the defendant’s table actually be the defendant.

The proposal is as follows: the actual defendant can hire an attractive model (of a sex, race, age, etc. of their choosing) to represent them in the courtroom. This hired stand-in could be a well-spoken and attractive orator.

The jury and judge would never actually know who the real defendant was.

If this “proxy defendant” needs to take the witness stand, they could also be outfitted with a wireless earpiece so that the real defendant could supply information to the proxy, who would then actually be the one to relate it to the judge or jury.

As an additional point: it’s frequently possible to determine a defendant’s sex and race by just their name. This can be solved by assigning randomized names and/or numbers to the defendant and others involved in the case. (In fact, this is already done for jurors in Americaโ€””Juror Twelve” is unlikely to be a person’s actual name.)

Fig. 2: Even the most fair judge is at least somewhat influenced by the appearance of the defendant; for example, the be-suited golden man at left is unlikely to be judged as harshly as the unkempt gremlin at right.

PROS: Allows justice will actually be applied fairly, regardless of the appearance of the defendant.

CONS: Would further increase the advantage of wealthy defendants.