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Archive for August 28th, 2008

An unusual tactic to stop make men from peeing on the floor:

Authorities at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam have etched the image of a black housefly into each urinal. It seems that men usually do not pay much attention to where they aim, which can create a bit of a mess. But if you give them a target, they can’t help but try to hit it. Similar designs have been implemented in urinals around the world, including mini soccer goals, bulls-eyes, and urine video games (seriously). Do they work? Since the bugs were etched into the airport urinals, spillage has decreased by 80 percent.

This fits into the Sunstein philosophy of nudges and ‘libertarian paternalism’ that I have posted on several times in the past.

Incidentally Sunstein, a law professor is a friend and advisor of Barack Obama. I would love it if Obama — assuming he becomes president — appoints him to the Supreme Court. Sunstein is no libertarian; however his brand of ‘libertarian paternalism’ is definitely better (and more pro-freedom) than that of any of the mainstream leftist candidates the Dems are likely to propose.

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From the still-under-construction Republican platform for this election:

On stem-cell research — The 2008 Republican Platform calls for a ban on all embryonic stem-cell research, public or private.

On gambling — Millions of Americans suffer from problem or pathological gambling that can destroy families. We support legislation prohibiting gambling over the Internet or in student athletics by student athletes who are participating in competitive sports.

And it goes on…

Obama’s politics are not exactly pro-freedom either (see [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7]) but news like the above reminds me that on November 4 voters will have to make a choice — and from the libertarian perspective, McCain is the worse choice.

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Jim Lindgren has an excellent article over at Volokh on the dangers of Barack Obama’s proposals on community service for middle and high schoolers.

On the surface there is nothing wrong with the proposal. Voluntary community service can be an enriching experience both for the child and the community. The trouble starts when the government steps in. The inevitable effect is the substitution of individual volunteerism by a huge bureaucratic machine that subsists on tax money. Like many bad proposals, the detrimental effects show up slowly, but when they do, they are hard to remove.

Eventually, these kind of proposals convert non-governmental organizations that flourish on private philanthropy into inefficient arms of the government. Furthermore, as this article points out, those who lead these social-services groups tend to become advocates for government-funded solutions to social problems. The result is more social problems, not less.

Volunteerism is a wonderful thing but to be truly voluntary and useful, it needs to be more than an arms length away from government control.

I suspect there are ways the government can make a positive difference to the issue by encouraging high schoolers to do public service at private voluntary organizations (possibly by offering certain incentives) without actually stepping in directly. However, I fear that the plan Obama has in mind is more sweeping than that and (hence) more likely to do bad than good.

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The last time Obama had to give a speech to save his life, he delivered a tour-de-force. You could see it coming a mile away.

The trouble with Obama is that he is such a damn good orator that the expectations for tomorrow will be sky-high. Yet, he will need to surpass those expectations if he has to create a buzz, and will have to do it through content rather than soaring rhetoric because the latter is only going to reinforce the notion that he is an empty suit only good at words.

The last few weeks have seen the polls tighten to essentially a tie. Tomorrow is Obama’s call to shine. Well, he has done it before. Obama can be verbose and nuanced — too nuanced — in impromptu conversations and debates. However, he is the acknowledged master of the “big speech”. His greatest speeches — the 2002 one against the war, the 2004 speech at the convention, the race speech earlier this year, all came at big moments. So I’ll be tuning in tomorrow and expecting him to deliver.

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