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.