Saturday, May 2, 2009

Make No Bones About It

If Cass Sunstein has his way, cats will sue.

From an oft forwarded email (with apologies to the author whose name and original words, no doubt, have long been stripped away):

Excerpts from a dog’s diary

8:00 AM- Dog food! My favorite thing!
9:30 AM - A car ride! My favorite thing!
9:40 AM - A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
10:30 AM - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
12:00 PM - Lunch! My favorite thing!
1:00 PM - Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
3:00 PM - Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
5:00 PM - Milk bones! My favorite thing!
7:00 PM - Got to play ball! My favorite thing!
8:00 PM - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
11:00 PM - Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!

Excerpts from a cat's diary

Day 983 of my captivity.

My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength. The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape.

In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet. Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates what I am capable of. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a 'good little hunter' I am.


There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of 'allergies.' I must learn what this means and how to use it to my advantage.

Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow -- but at the top of the stairs.

I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches. The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released - and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded.

The bird has got to be an informant. I observe him communicating with the guards regularly. I am certain that he reports my every move. My captors have arranged protective custody for him in an elevated cell, so he is safe. For now....
While I find the differences between the secret cognitive lives of dogs and cats both familiar and hilarious, I don’t find Mr. Sunstein’s rise to political positions, including being on a list of potential Supreme Court candidates, anything to laugh about.

To read two good blog posts on what is horribly wrong with having Mr. Sunstein in any position of power see here and here.

Or you can read Mr. Sunstein’s own words when he feared a conservative activists’ takeover of the Court:

Of course, the activists argue, and even believe, that they are speaking for the Constitution itself, and not for any particular point of view. But this is the most damaging myth of all.
Now if only we could be certain that Mr. Sunstein could apply this wisdom to his own particular point of view and remember that granting animals rights and putting bumper guards on personal choice is not in the Constitution, whereas freedom of speech most definitely is.

If you haven’t read Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, you owe it to yourself to do so as Sunstein, who along with Richard Thaler co-authored the book, is gaining political ground to nudge us into making decisions for our own good. In addition to getting people to save money, Thaler and Sunstein propose nudging could help people lose weight and have better marriages. Apparently there is no limit to what a well-placed nudge can do for you.

In previewing Nudge for The Boston Globe last year, the reporter actually stated that “most of us grossly overestimate our own abilities, whether it's to invest intelligently or avoid divorce.” I guess in the minds of the authors of both the book and the article, that makes it okay to get some positive channelization (my favorite euphemism from my traffic engineering days) from the government to help us out.

Lest you think this choice architecture, the actual euphemism given to this practice, is new on the scene, leading behavioral economist George Lowenstein from Carnegie Mellon University assures us in the same article that it has been around long before it was identified as such. He says the fast food industry, the banks, the credit card companies, and healthcare companies all wield subtle forces which cause us to act a certain way, and that it’s high time for the government, in its role as protector to nudge back.

"The idea that the government should be the consumer's ally to me doesn't seem like a particularly controversial one." he says.
While his potential for an appointment to the Supreme Court may be limited, Mr. Sunstein is already a part of Obama's administration in the Office of Management and Budget and "regulatory czar nominee." With these positions and his often touted academic brilliance that qualifies him to know better than we do how to live our lives, he is already a threat to our individual rights.

Does anyone else have the urge to watch The Truman Show?

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