Tuesday, 11 July 2017


I don't know how to interact with people soliciting donations in public spaces. It's not so hard with the professionals who are looking for donations to some organization that is paying them to be there. I don't mind simply walking past those people and refusing to engage with them. It's much more difficult when people are looking for donations to support their own sustenance.

I don't want my ability to sustain my life to dependent on going into a job and filling time sitting at a cubicle, but I'm pretty resigned to it now. Other people may not have the luxury of resigning themselves to my fate. Yet others may have simply chosen not to resign themselves to this, but there is no point in me being resentful of them for that.

But I rely very heavily on social customs to get by in my interactions with people. I mimic socially acceptable behaviour and have no idea what to do if I am to genuinely interact with someone. Sure, I can interact with some people on a genuine level, but the thought of being exposed to a stranger's actual emotions and thoughts is bone chilling. I'd really rather they just shut up. This kind of personal soliciting makes me uncomfortable because it it outside those social norms so I have to default to reacting by being honest, which is paralyzing.

Someone was standing outside the Tim Horton's where I often go to get tea during the day, asking people to buy them a coffee. At some point in my life I would have thought that I really shouldn't buy them a coffee because it's undesirable to have him standing there and I am rewarding that - I'm being part of a system that reinforces having people stand outside Tim Horton's to ask other people to buy them coffee.

But I'm already part of that system, and I participate in it every day. People aren't asking for donations on the street because they have been positively reinforced to do so, they are asking for those donations because they need to eat and here we are in a system that takes enough-for-everyone and turns it into starving people.

I want to qualify "need to eat" because I think a lot of people would respond to that by saying that there are places people can go to get food if they can't afford it, but here's the thing: I don't have to go to those places. I get to walk into Tim Horton's and get what I want. Do I get to start putting conditions on how someone else lives their life because I make money and they don't?

The answer is yes. That's what money is. But if I have the capacity to do that then I also have the capacity to decide not to do that.

So I asked them what they took in their coffee. Five creams and four sugars. Sadly I exercised the power of my money and ordered only a triple-triple because I just couldn't bring myself to order so much cream and sugar. That wasn't a judgement on them, it was just that it was too uncomfortable for me to actually place the order, I felt nervous. Some of that came from me thinking that the person at the counter might recognize the mismatched and tremendous quantities and might realize I was helping the crowd-funded person at the door, some of it came from my internalization of the idea that anything over double-double is sickeningly too much. I have to imagine that the person would rather get the triple triple from me than not, so I don't feel too badly about it.

But what a luxury my wealth affords me: The luxury to avoid associating myself with that person, the luxury to avoid feeling uncomfortable ordering a coffee for that person, the luxury to assume they are happy that I got it for them even though I didn't actually get them what they wanted.

None of this seems right to me.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Confusion about Conservativism

Tomorrow Theresa May will likely be elected the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. This is despite her best efforts to lose the position in a snap election she called for no reason. Try to find an opinion piece that says May did a good job running the campaign. If you find one, I'll lay down a substantial bet it's on a satire site.

One of her biggest flops was proposing a new charge for people who are receiving home care who own their homes. The idea ran that rich people ought to pay something for government assistance to make it more affordable for everyone else. Owning your home is basically being rich for the most part - you are sitting on this valuable asset while begging for help.

Dubbed the "dementia tax" by her opponents, this didn't go over well.

I can understand why Conservatives would be confused by this. Means testing programs and charging except in the case of dire need is a right-wing idea. Charging people for the programs they use in general rather than funding them from taxes is a right-wing idea. Why would it not be popular in this case?

It's not popular in this case because it is their own constituents who would largely be affected and paying for it. Older people - and, consequently, people who are most likely to own houses and to receive home care - are overwhelmingly Tory voters and Tory voters are very heavily older people.

Ring-wing ideology may once have been about conserving. Upholding traditions and institutions. Being responsible to the community. That kind of stuff.

Contemporary ring-wing ideology has two mottos. First, get yours. Second, fuck everyone else.

A problem with these two mottos as a political idea is that legislation isn't targeted toward people based on their party affiliation. You can't directly implement a policy of handing stuff over to people who voted for you and screwing over people who didn't. Parties sometimes seem to try their best, but it has to be done through obfuscation and proxies.

Another other problem with these mottos as a political idea is that you are not the people you elect. So when they implement "get yours" and "fuck everyone else" it is them who gets theirs and you who are part of the everyone else.

I'm unsurprisingly on board with a policy of taking old people's homes from them since, as anyone who knows me knows,
I hate old people
. But that's me in my most burn-it-all-down anti-conservative mode. I doubt the UK Tories want to go to that part of me for advice, since that voice thinks the people of the UK should be breaking out the guillotines.

That serious people with serious positions can be so openly destructive and hateful as a way to success makes me angry. I think it probably makes me jealous.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Oracle Review - Reflecting Mirror and Season of the Witch

Two last cards from the Dark. The Dark had fewer bad, difficult or interesting wordings than I thought it would. This owes, presumably, to it being one of Magic's smallest sets. Still, I found 50% more cards in Homelands than in the Dark in my first-glance reading. Maybe the dark isn't quite as strange as I thought. Maybe it's just a coincidence that the rules have evolved in a way that make a card like Dance of Many easy to word and understand.

Reflecting Mirror
Very badly costed artifacts were everywhere in the old days of magic. Basically reflecting mirror requires you to sit with all your mana untapped while you opponent plays spells that don't target you, then when you finally have to react they get to target you. But even bad cards need good Oracle wordings.

Variable Colorless
, Tap: Change the target of target spell with a single target if that target is you. The new target must be a player. X is twice the converted mana cost of that spell.
This wording is way off the original and there are no reprintings where things got changed. First of all, the original wording doesn't say to change the target of a spell if it targets you, it said to change the target of a spell that targets you. You can't use Reflecting Mirror on your opponent's
Nicol Bolas
for no effect, let alone using Reflecting Mirror on your opponent's
Lightning Bolt
that is targeting one of your creatures only to then have that lightning bolt's target changed to you before Reflecting Mirror's
ability resolves

Second, the original wording does not specify the spell has to have a single target, it only says the spell has to target you. I understand the desire to put this in: if you leave it out, the mirror doesn't work at all the way most people would assume.

Suppose we take that clause out and you attempt to Reflecting Mirror an entwined Barbed Lightning. What do you think would happen? The correct answer is that you would be unable to change either target of the spell:
114.6a If an effect allows a player to “change the target(s)” of a spell or ability, each target can be changed only to another legal target. If a target can’t be changed to another legal target, the original target is unchanged, even if the original target is itself illegal by then. If all the targets aren’t changed to other legal targets, none of them are changed.
Using that same rule, what would happen if someone case
Blessed Alliance
to gain 4 life and make you sacrifice an attacking creature? Well, if it were a multiplayer game, you could change the target opponent to another opponent of the caster, and also change the target of the life gain to you, since reflecting mirror allows you to assign new targets to be players. Suddenly you are playing with Attracting Mirror.

But the current wording has problems too. What if someone hits you with a
Kolaghan's Command
to make you discard a card and take 2 damage? It has two targets so you can't reflect it, even though both targets are you.
114.8a An object that looks for a “[spell or ability] with a single target” checks the number of times any objects, players, or zones became the target of that spell or ability when it was put on the stack, not the number of its targets that are currently legal. If the same object, player, or zone became a target more than once, each of those instances is counted separately.
I know why the single target wording is there in the Oracle text. I was around when the mirror was printed, and what it meant to change the target of a spell was not as clearly defined then as it is today. They had to make ruling to try to make sense of weird situations. The simplest thing was to say that Reflecting Mirror didn't work unless the spell had only a single target.

If you read the original wording on
, two sets later, you'll see that it even specifies that the new target must be legal since that wasn't implicit.

But I regard this as an "we don't know what else to say" ruling, not a as a real errata. I'd prefer the Oracle wording of Reflecting Mirror go back to the original wording, and possibly the original intent. Back in The Dark we were still in the days when most Magic players were playing based on flavour judgments rather any actual rules, so what do we expect the mirror to do?

I think with the imprecision of the original wording we have two options. One is restricting it to spells that only target you - which is very different than spells that only have a single target, if that target is you. The other is allowing it to change only targets that are you.

One wording would be:
X, Tap: Change the target of target spell that targets only you. The new target must be a player. X is twice the converted mana cost of that spell.
The other is really, really akward. Magic basically lacks a vocabulary to talk about the targets of a spell. But still, I think this restriction is plain enough to read in the English language:
X, Tap: For each time target spell that targets you targets you, change that target of that spell. The new target must be a player. X is twice the converted mana cost of the spell.
Both have the problem of allowing you to use Reflecting Mirror to split a spell with multiple player targets to two different players. and it's not Reflecting Beam Splitter. I like the former a little better, the idea being that the mirror should reflect the entire spell, but it might not reflect the entire spell anyway, so I'm happy to go with the latter to make it more compatible with a fix to make sure you reflect the spell in just one direction.

All in all, I think this is the probably the best way to word it:
X, Tap: Choose another player. For each time target spell that targets you targets you, change that target to the chosen player. X is twice the converted mana cost of the spell.
I'd definitely want to workshop this with other Oracle experts, though. This is the first time I've acknowledged in an Oracle Review that I might not simply know best about everything. It will also be the last.

As for the current wording:

Season of the Witch

This card caused some consternation in it's day. What does it mean to say that a creature "could have attacked?" Let's see how the Oracle resolves this:
At the beginning of your upkeep, sacrifice Season of the Witch unless you pay 2 life. 
At the beginning of the end step, destroy all untapped creatures that didn't attack this turn, except for creatures that couldn't attack.
Oh. Um... how unexpected? Let's see what the rules say about things that "could have happened"... nothing there. Are there a bunch of rulings explaining it? There are two:
At the beginning of every end step, regardless of whose turn it is, the second ability triggers. When it resolves every creature that could have been declared as an attacker during that turn’s Declare Attackers Step but wasn’t will be destroyed. 
A creature won’t be destroyed if it was unable to attack that turn, even if you had a way to enable it to attack. For example, a creature that had summoning sickness wouldn’t be destroyed even if you had a way to give it haste.
So what does it mean to say a creature could have attacked? It means it could have been declared as an attacker during that turn's Declare Attackers Step. You know that that means.

You know.

You know

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Oracle Review - Gaea's Touch and Mana Vortex

Sometimes I try to group cards thematically, but there are a few things working against me in the Dark. First, it doesn't have that many cards. Second, it doesn't have very many themes other than just being weird. Last time I found two cards that remove things from graveyards. This time, well, check this out:

Gaea's Touch
I think I really underestimated this card when it came out. The idea of spending two mana on your second turn so that you could have access to six, possibly even seven, on your third turn probably didn't strike me as game breaking the way it does now.
0: You may put a basic Forest card from your hand onto the battlefield. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery and only once each turn.
Sacrifice Gaea's Touch: Add GG to your mana pool.
I disagree with the interpretation of the original wording. In current wording, "you may put ... [a] land in play" would be "you may put a land onto the battlefield" and putting a land on the battlefield is not the same as playing a land.

However, putting a land into play and playing a land weren't quite so clearly delineated the The Dark. And I think there are two very good reasons to think Gaea's touch should allow you to play lands rather than put them into play.

The part I skipped with ellipses in my quotation of the original wording was "an additional". You can't put "an additional" land in play unless it is in addition to something. The only thing it could possibly be in addition to would be your land play for the turn.

Secondly, unlike the play land vs put land into play distinction, the format for an activate ability was quite well defined by The Dark. Our friend Eater of the Dead has the familiar "0:" to indicate an activated ability that can be used without spending anything. If Gaea's Touch was meant to have a zero-cost activated ability, it could have had one with the templating of it's time.

So I'm convinced the better wording would be that Gaea's Touch allows you to play an additional land each turn.

There is a problem with that, though. There just isn't a way to give someone an extra land drop that has to be used for a specific kind of land. It would have been pretty easy prior to July 2014, but with currently land drop rules, it can't quite be done, at least not neatly.

Rule 305.2a says:
To determine whether a player can play a land, compare the number of lands the player can play this turn with the number of lands he or she has already played this turn (including lands played as special actions and lands played during the resolution of spells and abilities). If the number of lands the player can play is greater, the play is legal.
There's no point in that process where you check to see if the suite of lands you have played this turn is legal or not.

This isn't trivial to solve. If you simply keep wording similar to the original: "You may play an additional land on each of your turns, but this land must be a basic forest" you run into the problem that you never actually check to see whether the land you are playing is the one from Gaea's Touch or not. You have a lands_played value and a max_lands_per_turn value and you compare one to the other, you don't assign each land drop to each thing that allows an additional land drop. I have an intuitive sense of how that ought to be read, but I can't back that up technically.

So what can we do within existing wording? One question is how we know how many forests we have to play. Do we count the number of Gaea's Touches we have in play right now? We could do that by saying that we need to play forests equal to the number of permanents named Gaea's Touch we control, but I am loathe to start counting permanents with a given name when the original card didn't say to do anything of the sort. Imagine your Starfield of Nyx is turned on animating your three Gaea's Touches and your opponent targets one with a Dance of the Skywise. It has no abilities, but it's still a Gaea's Touch so you'd only be able to play basic forests.

And how do we put the restriction on anyway? Should we do a replacement effect for playing a land that checks against the number of forests already played? Or just word it as a restriction on playing the land?

So with the current rules, I think this the best wording that can be mustered:
To determine you whether you can play a land, you may ignore up to one additional basic forest when determining the number so lands you have already played this turn, and count the number of basic forests ignored. The play is legal if either the number of lands you can play is greater than this modified number of lands you have played, or if the land you are playing is a basic forest and the number of basic forests you may ignore is greater than the number of basic forests you have played.
The solution is not to find a replacement ability or a restriction on land plays. It is to rewrite rule 305.2a on the card.

Gaea's Touch could have a number of different wordings that I'd consider flawed but passable. A wording involving an activated ability is not one of those:

Too harsh? For an activated ability where there should be
a continuous one? I think this is just about right.
Mana Vortex
Just think of it, if you have a Gaea's Touch then you can play two lands a turn while your opponent can only play one. They'll break even or gradually run out of lands, but you can keep building your lands up. That's what they call a combo.
When you cast Mana Vortex, counter it unless you sacrifice a land.
At the beginning of each player's upkeep, that player sacrifices a land.
When there are no lands on the battlefield, sacrifice Mana Vortex.
I don't have much to say about this wording. It's basically the original wording given a formalized reading. What I will say, though, is that if you cast Mana Vortex and choose not to sacrifice a land, you get a 1/1 merfolk from your Lullmage Mentor. Unlike a certain creature from last week.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Oracle Review - Eater of the Dead and Frankenstein's Monster

By popular demand, Oracle reviews have returned.

I'm moving on to The Dark. Presumably as I get into later and later sets, there will be fewer and fewer cards to review, but I've done cursory scans up to Mirage so far, and the notable Oracle texts are still flowing.

Today, I'm featuring two cards that remove creatures from graveyards.

Eater of the Dead
Eater of the Dead has an odd bit of text in the Oracle wording that goes back to a bit of Magic history I've tread over before:
0: If Eater of the Dead is tapped, exile target creature card from a graveyard and untap Eater of the Dead.
"If Eater of the Dead is tapped" is a phrase that appears to come out of nowhere. Let's remember Serra Angel and Maze of Ith, though. You can find my recounting of it in my review of Mishra's War Machine.

When Eater of the Dead was printed, the rules team could rely on "you can't untap things that are untapped" as a shortcut to avoid spelling certain things out, much in the way that they have relied on spells with no targets being countered for most of Magic's history. Really, they never intended Eater of the Dead to be able to hit the table and immediately devour all creatures in both graveyards.

But they never intended a lot of things. I don't think they ever intended people to tap Basalt Monolith to get the mana to untap itself. I don't think they ever intended for people to use Galvanic Key on Time Vault. At some point they had elaborate power-level errata to remove these kinds of abuses, but it's been a long time now since power-level errata was stripped from cards, and they've settled on a "who cares, it's vintage" approach instead.

Eater of the Dead existed during the transition from the vague trying-to-untap-something-that's-untapped-nullifies-the-entire-effect rules and the much more sensible trying-to-untap-something-that's-untapped-just-doesn't-do-anything rules. As a result, it was issued official errata clarifying that you can only use it to remove cards from the graveyard if it is actually tapped.

Might I suggest replacing this with a "who cares, literally no one will ever play with this card" approach?

At 4B for a 3/4 no one could possibly argue that Eater of the Dead is problematic if it can remove an number of creatures from graveyards. At 4B playable only in Vintage and Legacy, I don't even think anyone could argue it would be problematic if we interpreted the original wording as a "choose" instead of a "target" and allowed the Eater to untap any time for free. Is someone really going to make an Eater of the Dead / Fire Whip deck in a format where someone can draw a Kozilek's Inquisition and still die on their second turn?

Eater of the Dead ought to say this:
0: Exile target creature card from a graveyard. Untap Eater of the Dead.
I give the present wording:

I'm more disappointed than I should be.

Frankenstein's Monster
There's a lot to be embarrassed about with this card. Three kinds of counters, out-of-lore literary reference, a lot of text for virtually no playability. The Oracle text doesn't rank high on that list, but it's not exactly perfect either:
As Frankenstein's Monster enters the battlefield, exile X creature cards from your graveyard. If you can't, put Frankenstein's Monster into its owner's graveyard instead of onto the battlefield. For each creature card exiled this way, Frankenstein's Monster enters the battlefield with a +2/+0, +1/+1, or +0/+2 counter on it.
Replace remove-from-the-game with exile, use counters to keep track of permanent stat changes, and you have a nearly unchanged wording, which is kind of impressive, but it's only nearly unchanged, because the original wording had problems.

When you bring the card into play, you do a thing, but if you don't do it, you counter the card. You can't counter a creature that is already in play, though. By the time it checks whether to counter the spell, the spell can't be countered.

Clearly there are two ways to fix this problem. The first is to sacrifice the monster instead of countering it if the creatures can't be removed. The second is to have the creature be removed as it enters the battlefield instead of when it entered the battlefield. I think it's kind of an open question which makes more sense. I do side with the approach taken by the rules team's choice as the monster was never intended to be in play as a 0/1, vulnerable to Gut Shots and such before taking on its larger size. I'd accept either decision, however.

What I'm not thrilled with is that being countered was replaced with being put in the graveyard. According to rule 701.5:
701.5. Counter
701.5a To counter a spell or ability means to cancel it, removing it from the stack. It doesn’t resolve and none of its effects occur. A countered spell is put into its owner’s graveyard.
So what's the difference, you may ask. Countering a spell means putting it in your graveyard, that's just what happens to insufficiently fed Frankie. The only difference I can come up with is having Baral or a Lullmage Mentor in play. If you cast a Frankenstein's Monster with X higher than the number of creatures in your graveyard, then it would be the ability of the Frankenstein's Monster that countered itself, that would be an ability you controlled, and so you could use it to loot or to create a merfolk token.

A Frankenstein's Monster/Lullmage Mentor deck is probably several orders of magnitude less likely to see play than an Eater of the Dead/Firewhip deck, so you may wonder why I'd make a big deal of this. The answer is that I'm not actually making a big deal of this. Still, I feel the Oracle is in error, so I'm only able to give the wording:
I almost want to give two stars just to contrast with
Eater of the Dead which is considerably worse than this

Friday, 28 April 2017

C. S. Lewis and the "soul" of freedom

Freedom of speech is a high ideal that I've complained about before because it's stupid and good for nothing.

Recently a person who makes a living saying horrible things about other people chose not to deliver a speech at the University of Berkeley because they weren't going to get paid to do so and it's thrown a lot of people into Freedom of Speech despair. We're talking about a well-to-do person who could, at a moment's notice: get hundreds of thousands of views on youtube, organize a TV appearance on a major network, or fill a venue of their choice with listeners. They weren't coming to Berkeley to finally have their voice heard, they were coming to promote their most recently published book - the latest of a at least a dozen. This is not a person whose freedom to espouse their ideas is in jeopardy.

But it's the principle of the thing, you see.

Here's a great passage from C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters in which senior devil Screwtape gives advice to his nephew, Wormwood, on how to tempt humans from "the enemy":
It is, no doubt, impossible to prevent his praying for his mother, but we have means of rendering the prayers innocuous. Make sure that they are always very "spiritual", that he is always concerned with the state of her soul and never with her rheumatism. Two advantages follow. In the first place, his attention will be kept on what he regards as her sins, by which, with a little guidance from you, he can be induced to mean any of her actions which are inconvenient or irritating to himself. Thus you can keep rubbing the wounds of the day a little sorer even while he is on his knees; the operation is not at all difficult and you will find it very entertaining. In the second place, since his ideas about her soul will be very crude and often erroneous, he will, in some degree, be praying for an imaginary person, and it will be your task to make that imaginary person daily less and less like the real mother—the sharp-tongued old lady at the breakfast table. In time, you may get the cleavage so wide that no thought or feeling from his prayers for the imagined mother will ever flow over into his treatment of the real one. I have had patients of my own so well in hand that they could be turned at a moment's notice from impassioned prayer for a wife's or son's "soul" to beating or insulting the real wife or son without a qualm.
There is a lot of prayer for the soul of Freedom of Speech going on, but very little care for actual freedom of speech.

Defending your actual right to free speech if it is threatened means spending time and resources in courts - time and resources that most people do not have. Getting the sort of national attention to the suppression of your speech requires already having a platform, already being famous.

If we, as a society, have a positive duty to protect the rights of famous people to say odious things, where are we in protecting the rights of marginalized people to express themselves? You spend your day defending the right of a privileged asshole to advocate racism at length, and meanwhile transgender people still get beaten to unconsciousness for a single use of a pronoun. Might as well fight hunger by delivering 10 tons of steak to Bill Gates.

Trickle-down human rights. Voodoo liberties.

Talking about Freedom of Speech on the internet because an asshole isn't getting paid to incite hatred and violence against identifiable minorities isn't defending a high ideal. It's using "Freedom of Speech" as a racist dog whistle. Increasingly, I think that's what all the term is now.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Unintended Consequences

"Unintended" and "consequences" are two words in the English language that we understand pretty well on their own. Further, modifying the noun "consequences" with the adjective "unintended" is pretty simple to understand. But when you see the words "unintended consequences" together, you aren't looking at a noun you understand modified in an understandable way by an adjective you understand. You are looking at technical jargon, and it doesn't mean what you think it means.

Today, Don Pittis wrote a piece for the CBC on the unintended consequences of meddling in the housing market. It spells out various things that could happen if you try to reduce housing prices with government intervention. Everything from popping the bubble to creating a rental shortage. I might stop to point out that popping the bubble is actually the intended effect of the policy, and a rental shortage is something we already have, but as I said, neither "unintended" nor "consequences" mean what you think they mean here.

"Unintended consequences" means, "I'll apply confirmation bias to pretend that any bad outcomes were things I predicted." "Unintended consequences" means, "I've generalized from the fact that government sometimes intervention causes problems to the position that not only does it always cause problems but that the problems are always worse than the problem it was trying to solve." "Unintended consequences" means "at some point in the future, something will go badly, and when it does, we will use our position as experts to retaliate against you for this move by saying it is your fault."

That last one is made explicit in the article, where the Ontario government is essentially threatened that they will lose elections if they intervene in housing markets. Which is a little like predicting Halloween will be on October 31 if they intervene in housing markets, true in classical logic but extremely misleading in English.

The only prediction worth anything on the list is the point that targeting housing prices in Toronto may simply spread the problem to another part of the country, like police cleaning up a notorious drug-buying corner to find that the next block over is the new notorious drug-buying corner. Of course this doesn't argue against intervening, it simply argues against pin-point intervention and for consistent widespread intervention.

If economists used the term "unintended consequences" to mean results that we didn't mean to happen, they might notice that the current problem in the housing market is an unintended consequence of the kinds of markets they advocate for. I don't think it was the intention of any economist advocate of markets that houses big cities would have houses that no one can afford to live in, that literally sit empty because their purchasers don't care if they are put to and use. That's a tremendous inefficiency from any perspective. But it's also an outcome of a system were money takes precedence over things that are actually of use to people - where our metric of well-being has become more important than actual well-being.

But this isn't just a screed against economics. Every time I hear someone talk about this problem I see they've failed to grasp the essential underpinnings of it. The point of capitalism is that people with more money are supposed to have things better than people with less money. People talk about how a family in Toronto can't afford a detached home anymore but they have no idea how much they think that home should cost or how much money that working family should make. People talk about how people should have housing "choices" but they haven't thought through what that means. The market is going to provide you with a choice of this $1.5M home or that $1.5M home, not a choice of whether you have $1.5M to spend.

I like the idea of a vacant home tax because it's an expression of society's interest in land being put to use. I really dislike the idea of a foreign buyers tax because it's an expression of society's idea that it's the non-white people who are to blame.

But if we think it is absurd that a person can decide to sit on homes, leaving them totally unused, as an investment the same way a person might sit on gold or famous works of art, then what we really ought to do is be seizing properties. Not without notice, and not without them being empty for a substantial time, but a vacant home tax is society saying, "You can do that as long as we get a cut," when we should have a law that says, "You can't do that." The "unintended consequence" of this would be a sudden collapse in the value of investment properties, and the "unintended consequence" of that would be that in the future people wouldn't think it was a good idea to invest their money in empty homes. The only way to prevent the spread of the contagion is to make the current investors take a bath.

I've got nothing against Don Pittis who I think does fine work. But I was actually being quite generous when I called "unintended consequences" jargon. Jargon is a term for language that means something specific or technical when used in a particular field or setting. This isn't jargon, it's a coded phrase. Depending on whose saying it, it is either a religious mantra or a veiled threat. It doesn't really mean anything, it is an example of performative language, trying to achieve the outcome of increasing the standing of the speaker.