Wednesday, March 09, 2011


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Taxing Income Trusts

The Canadian government broke an election promise, yesterday. They announced they will tax income trusts.

There is no policy problem to which the proper solution is the increase of taxes. Furthermore, the Tories' explanation about how they needs to "plug a hole in their revenue" just days after the revelation of their massive surplus simply isn't credible.

And that doesn't even mention the appalling political consequences of flat-out breaking an election promise. The only way the Conservatives were going to form a long-term governing alternative was to appear trustworthy. They've been widely viewed as unrelentingly evil for a decade; overcoming that should be their number one priority. This broken promise badly hinders their progress on that front.

There is simply no way this is a good decision. If the imbalance is a problem, you can fix it by lowering corporate taxes. Any reduction in federal taxes can be sold as a solution to the fiscal imbalance.

This was a terrible decision, and because Harper's such a micro-manager this will all end up being his fault in the public's eyes. This government is doomed.

Friday, June 16, 2006

An Inconvenient PR Stunt

I saw Al Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth" yesterday. It's really well made, and it's going to convince a lot of people.

Because people are stupid. Gore doesn't actually present any science in the film. He presents a lot of anecdotal evidence, and he does a lot of apples to oranges comparisons with datasets (and he hardly ever uses numbers - just charts and trendlines). Plus, his datasets are often incomplete enough to require the viewer to extrapolate the actual consequences of what he's saying.

Think about that. In one case, he presents a bunch of information about historical carbon dioxide levels and historical temperatures (measured using Antarctic ice cores). The two lines match pretty closely going back over 600,000 years. Then, he appends modern carbon dioxide levels (measured directly from the atmosphere, so that's arguably an apples to oranges comparison) to the end of the chart, and they vastly exceed anything reported in the earlier ice core data. The unspoken conclusion is that temperatures are vastly higher by a similar margin than they have ever been before.

But why is that unspoken? Surely the chart would be even more compelling if you could draw that extra line for people.

Maybe the extra carbon dioxide breaks the system. It had been a pretty steady cycle throughout the whole chart, within an easily definable range that never varied. Now the carbon dioxide levels are vastly higher than that - what's that doing to the temperature? Why doesn't he show us that last piece of data. We know people are measuring it.

If the global warming community is so interested in convincing me of something, why don't they use actual science to do it, rather than hints and suppositions?

I was happy to see, however, that Gore did specifically mention carbon sequestration as a possible strategy. One thing the global warming community has done consistently (and it has really annoyed me) is ignore the possibly of large-scale industrial solutions to atmospheric problems. If we can build giant plants that change the composition of the atmosphere by accident, imagine how much we could do if we were actually trying.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Gasoline prices

By the gods, I can't believe I have to write about this.

Gasoline prices are set on a continent-wide open market. Oil companies have no control over the wholesale price for gasoline, so while they do make huge profits when the price of gas goes up, they had nothing to do with that.

Why does the price of gas go up? These days, it's usually caused by shortages. When Katrina hit last year, it damaged the ability of the US to produce oil (off-shore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico), refine oil (refineries damaged or shutdown for safety reasons in Louisiana and Texas), and import oil (tanker docks in Louisiana). As such, there was a lot less gasoline available for sale in North America. When shortages happen, you get rationing. Not everyone gets as much as he wants. You can ration goods several different ways, but on an open market rationing is done through higher prices. If you really need gas, but there isn't enough for everyone, you'll pay more to make sure you get yours. That drives up the price. Without the higher price, everyone would use as much gas as they normally do and we'd run out. That's rationing through waiting lists. This is how the Canadian healthcare system works, but that's a topic for another day.

Some people will claim that prices didn't used to go up when hurricanes hit. I'd need to see some data before I'd accept that assertion. I suspect people simply don't remember because prices were generally lower. Or perhaps that there used to be more excess refining capacity in North America. Sadly, it's quite difficult to get environmental approval to site a new refinery these days.

So that's why the price of gasoline fluctuates. The oil companies have very little to do with it. Production, transportation, and refining costs are mostly fixed. The only flexibility is on the government side. The government can relax or harmonise regulations governing gasoline (there are different blends required by law across North America) or by lowering the taxes on gasoline (which in Canada have historically been about half of the retail price - a bit lower than that now since the prices went up).

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Humans are part of nature

Humans are animals. We are part of nature, and we arose naturally.

Therefore, isn't everything we do necessarily natural? Be it industry or agriculture or genetic engineering, we, as natural creatures, are doing it, and thus it must be a natural event.

Nuclear power stations are part of nature in the same way that beaver dams or anthills are part of nature.

So there's no reason to claim that anything we do is unnatural or runs counter to nature, because our actions cannot help but be a natural part of nature.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


This is a much more general topic, but it deals with the fundamentals of reasoning.

Implication. Implication is the unspoken, hidden, but intended meaning of any remark. For example, if I say, "I don't like black people," that implies that I, in fact, dislike black people, rather than the less likely possibility that I am unaware of the existence of black people, and thus have no opinion regarding them one way or the other (or any other possible interpretation).

That's crap. There's no such thing as implication.

Yes, I did just say that. There exists no unspoken, hidden, but intended meaning in any remark. If I say, "I don't like black people," that tells you absolutely nothing beyond the denotative meanings of those statements. I may well be unaware of the exitstence of black people. Or I might be generally misathropic and dislike all people, black people included. You don't know, because I haven't told you.

Any conclusion you draw beyond that denotative meaning is not due to any implied content, because there isn't any implied content. Your conclusion is due entirely to your inference, and no one but you is to blame for your inferences.

I'm not going to tell you not to draw inferences, but you need to be aware that inferences are caused solely by the inferrer.


Illegal immigrants (or undocumented aliens, if you prefer - I don't see how it matters which label we use) are in the news. Let's look at what illegal immigrants typically do in order to work out whose fault it is.

Illegal immigrants, taken generally, work low-paying jobs that require little or no training. They are unskilled labour, and generally earn something below minimum wage.

From the employer's point of view, undocumented workers are the only ones she can pay below minimum wage, because documented workers are, by their very nature, documented. If I'm going to break the law by paying low wages, do I really want to hire someone who has the right to complain about it, or whose earnings get monitored by the government? Of course not.

So, the solution seems obvious. Stop forcing those employers to break the law. Eliminate minimum wage. That way, the incentive to hire illegals disappears as legal residents can then take those unskilled jobs.

Legal Marriage


I recognise I'm a bit late to the party on this one, but with all the discussion about the definition of marriage over the last year or so, why have so few people asked this question:

Why does the government regulate marriage at all?

It hardly seems like it's their business. I know we can make the whole thing voluntary by eliminating common-law marriages, and the liberal application of pre-nuptial agreements, but that still leaves the government administering a system that defines people's personal relationships, and I fail to see how that's their job.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Ideal Rational Agent

Reason's a funny thing. It can lead you to all manner of illuminating conclusions when presented with sufficient evidence, and you can be confident in those conclusions. But without sufficient evidence, you're pretty much out of luck. Let's see where the reason takes us.

And about the Ideal Rational Agent... that's me. You can call me Ira.