Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

And thus concludes a very tumultuous 2005! Tra and I are very much looking forward to 2006 and all the promise that the new year brings. We've survived our own personal version of Harvey Pekar's "Our Cancer Year" and we now set our sights on happier pursuits -- new jobs (yes, that's "jobs," plural, because even I plan to reverse the inertia), new plans, and New Years resolutions we won't keep.

We've spent a very relaxing day playing "Guitar Hero" for the PS2 (yes, even Tracy's hooked now) and will be spending NYE at the Funny Farm in Roswell with comedian Tom Simmons. We're convinced we've seen him before but it's been a few years.

Anyway, one quick housecleaning item: tonight is the last chance to give to charity and still qualify for deductions on 2005-2006 taxes. Everyone has causes they hold near and dear, and for me, I'm contributing to keep alive the best libertarian site on the Intarwebs.

Best wishes to all for a very happy, healthy, and prosperous 2006!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Eliot Spitzer Is An Evil Fucking Douchebag

New York's evil Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is in the news again, this time for threatening John C. Whitehead, who recounts in today's OpinionJournal:

After reading my op-ed piece, Mr. Spitzer tried to phone me. I was traveling in Texas but he reached me early in the afternoon. After asking me one or two questions about where I got my facts, he came right to the point. I was so shocked that I wrote it all down right away so I would be sure to remember it exactly as he said it. This is what he said:

"Mr. Whitehead, it's now a war between us and you've fired the first shot. I will be coming after you. You will pay the price. This is only the beginning and you will pay dearly for what you have done. You will wish you had never written that letter."

Spitzer's bullying tactics and abuse of power have garnered a lot of attention nationally, and are chronicled most notably by Tom Kirkendall. Many of the fine columnists on have also done good work exposing this jackass, including Michael S. Rozeff, J.H. Huebert, Paul Craig Roberts (here and here), and most passionately, William L. Anderson (here, here, here, and especially here), to whom Spitzer is known appropriately as "Mr. Evil."

But it's not enough to point out that Spitzer is an evil fucking douchebag -- the man is legitimately dangerous. In his hands the law is not an instrument of justice but a weapon to be wielded against politically convenient victims. The many lives ruined by Spitzer's recklessly aggressive posturing are mere collateral damage to him; necessary sacrifices to his political ambitions. The man is a bully, demagogue, and opportunist. Make no mistake -- Spitzer intends to use his AG position as a springboard, first to the governorship of New York, and then on to the White House. The thought of this megalomaniac wielding supreme executive power sends chills down my spine.

Design Within Reach

I promised that this blog would reflect my myriad interests and idiosyncracies without regard to local customs or social taboos. In that spirit, this post represents something of a confession, and it may surprise even those of you who know me well. So here goes: I'm a full-blooded heterosexual male who also happens to be keenly interested in design. There, I'm not afraid to say it.

Design Within Reach offers some amazing pieces of functional art at prices only moderately beneath "spit take" reaction levels. Some of my favorite items include:

Sapien Bookcases:

Ideal for the bookworm who needs to store many tomes within a limited footprint.

Malena Chair:

Hard to tell from the profile view but the ladder back really gives the chair its signature look.

Eames® Soft Pad Chair (I believe these appear on the set of Stephen Colbert's show during the interview segment):

It's important to nourish the soul as well as the bile -- the political ranting, economic wonkery, and sports commentary can really mess with the chi. So be sure to recharge over the holidays by checking out these and other cool, upscale pieces. And indulge your inner architect/designer for a fraction of what you'd pay for a mid-sized American sedan or a kidney on the black market (what, you think cachet is free?).

Thursday, December 15, 2005

In Defense of "Goldbuggery"

Hat tip to Angelica of Battlepanda for linking to James Hamilton's and Brad DeLong's critiques of the gold standard. Her blog post is interesting:


James Hamilton has written the definitive take-down of the supposed benefits of pegging one's currency on a gold standard. Brad Delong says it shorter: "If your government doesn't have monetary-policy credibility, attempting to establish that credibility by going on the Gold Standard is a recipe for disaster. If your government does have monetary-policy credibility, going on the Gold Standard doesn't gain you anything."

I was surprised by her characterization of Hamilton's piece as a "definitive take-down" of the benefits of the gold standard -- I found it singularly unimpressive. Hamilton and DeLong attack the same old strawmen about the gold standard that the Austrians have repeatedly refuted.

For examples, see Joseph Salerno, "Money and Freedom":

Those who implicate the gold standard as the main culprit in precipitating the events of the 1930’s generally fall into one of two groups. One group argues that it was an inherent flaw in the gold standard itself that led to a collapse of the financial system, which in turn dragged the real economy down into depression. Writers in the second group maintain that governments, for social and political reasons, stopped adhering to the so-called "rules of the gold standard," and that this initiated the downward spiral into the abyss of the Great Depression.

From either perspective, however, it is clear that the gold standard can never again be trusted to serve as the basis of the world’s monetary system. On the one hand, if it is true that the gold standard is fundamentally flawed, that in itself is a crushing practical argument against the principle of monetary freedom. On the other hand, if the gold standard is in fact a creature of rules contrived by governments, and it is politically impossible for them to follow those rules, then monetary freedom is simply irrelevant from the outset.

The first argument is the Keynesian argument and the second the monetarist argument against the gold standard.


In the face of the historical evidence they adduce, can any defense be mounted in favor of the gold standard? The answer is a resounding "yes," and the defense is as simple as it is impregnable. As I have tried to indicate above, the case against the gold standard is from beginning to end a case of mistaken identity. The genuine gold standard did not fail in the 1920’s, because it had already been destroyed by government policies after 1914.

The monetary system that sowed the seeds of the Great Depression in the 1920’s was a central bank manipulated and inflationary pseudo-gold standard. It was central banking that failed in the 1920’s and stands discredited to this day as the cause of the Great Depression.

And Lew Rockwell, "Our Money Madness":

Should our monetary system be reformed so that it is based on a pure gold coin standard? Yes it should. This would be the single best reform we could make for the cause of freedom. Its commercial benefits include stability, predictability, and honesty in finance. Its moral benefits include a financial system that does not reward living beyond one's means. From the point of view of government, a gold standard would tie the hands of the state. They could wish and long for wars, welfare, foreign aid, bailouts, subsidies, and graft, but unless they could raise the money by taxing, all their talk would be pointless. That is a country I want to live in.

For years I've heard people suggest that the Mises Institute come up with a detailed plan for how the conversion would work. In fact, there are many models to choose from, from Joseph Salerno's to Murray Rothbard's to George Reisman's to Ron Paul's own legislation, which has been before the House for some two decades. What is lacking is not a plan. It is the political will. It would require that the government recognize the error of its own ways, agree to limit its power and influence, abolish the Fed, and return the control over economic structures back to the people. And you wonder why the movement for a gold standard struggles!

Finally, if the gold standard were the Force, Murray N. Rothbard would be its Yoda. For goodies too numerous for snippage in this space, see the following from Rothbard:

***NOTE: Honestly, I have no intention of starting an econ wonk slapfight. I admire Angelica's well-written, entertaining blog and am a regular reader of Battlepanda. The point here is to raise awareness of the counter-counterarguments to the gold standard. The scholars have done the heavy lifting on this issue already, so -- having no scholarly credentials of my own -- consider my contributions here a mere conduit into further research on this debate. Please read the links. Carry on.***

Sunday, December 11, 2005

"The Impossibility of Imposed Freedom" by Lew Rockwell

Many times I've used the word "stunning" to describe Lew Rockwell's writings but his latest piece, "The Impossibility of Imposed Freedom," is especially so:

We flatter ourselves into believing that our central planning mechanisms are imposing not socialism but freedom itself, with Iraq as the most obvious example and the reductio ad absurdum, all in one. Here we have a country that the US invaded to overthrow its government and replace it with martial law administered by tanks on the street and bombers in the air, a controlled economy complete with gasoline price controls, and handpicked political leaders, and what do we call it? We call it freedom.

And yet some 15 years ago, when Saddam invaded Kuwait, threw out its leaders, occupied the country and attempted to impose a new government, the US president called it an aggression that would not stand. He took us to war to send a message that the sovereignty of states must be considered inviolate. It seems that everyone got the message except the US.

Iraq is hardly the only country. US troops are strewn throughout the world with the mission to bring about the conditions of freedom. Ads for military contractors emphasize the same theme, juxtaposing hymns to liberty with pictures of tanks, bomber’s eye views of cities, and soldiers with gas masks on. Then we wonder why so many people in the world bar the door when they hear that the US government is going to bring the blessings of democratic freedom to their doorsteps.

We have developed some strange sense that freedom is a condition that can be imposed by government, one of the many policy options we can pursue as experts in public policy. But it is not real freedom of the sort described above, the kind Jefferson claimed was to be possessed by all people everywhere whose rights are not violated. Rather it is freedom that conforms to a particular model that can be imposed from the top down, whether by the US government domestically or by US troops internationally.

Please do yourself a favor and read the whole piece.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

In Defense of the A.J. Burnett Signing (sort of)

Sheesh, been a slow news cycle lately, huh? The Bush Cabal hasn't of late done anything flagrantly, uncharacteristically stupid, and this absence of tomfoolery has left many bloggers feeling blue. At least baseball's hot stove is burning bright; even the Braves have moved on some minor deals but commentary on those will have to wait for now.

One thing I did want to touch upon: A.J. Burnett's free agent deal with Toronto. The Blue Jays have taken a beating for the signing and not undeservedly so -- 5 years/$55 million is a huge gamble on any pitcher and the Jays are unlikely to get full value for this investment.

But what's interesting to me is the logic underpinning many of the criticisms. It's fair to say Burnett will suffer statistical backsliding in '06 -- he's trading a terrific pitching environment (NL East in general and Dolphins Stadium in particular) for one far more friendly to hitters (AL East/SkyDome). 9-man lineups (with a DH) are tougher to pitch against than 8-man lineups (no DH). But what puzzles me is how many sportstalk hosts have been trumpeting Burnett's career record (49-50) as prima facie evidence of the deal's folly.

Two problems with this approach:

  1. It overrates the importance of W-L records, which are often dictated by factors beyond a pitcher's control, such as bullpen and run support, team defense, etc. It's probably the single worst way to evaluate pitcher performance.

  2. In general, teams are paying for expected value moving forward, not rewarding past performances. Toronto sees the 98 mph fastball and comparatively low mileage and gambled $55 million chips on Burnett taking a developmental leap forward. It's a huge risk but not entirely implausible to pay off.

The reason is there are historical precedents for mid-career developmental spikes, especially among power pitchers. The comparison hardly seems valid but there are superficial similarities between A.J. Burnett and Randy Johnson. Burnett is unlikely to approach even 40% of the Big Unit's accomplishments but let's not dismiss the odds based on evidence as flimsy as W-L totals.

Let's examine the parallels:

  • After Johnson's age 28 season (where Burnett now resides), his career record was 49-48 in 130 career starts. He had a no-hitter to his credit and was best known for his overpowering wildness, prickly demeanor, and flyaway mullet. His numbers: 818 IP, 649 HA, 519 BB, 818 K, 70 HR, 3.95 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 0.77 HR/9.

  • After his age 28 season (2005), Burnett's career record is 49-50 in 131 career starts. He has a no-hitter to his credit and is best known for his overpowering stuff, prickly demeanor, and nipple rings. His numbers: 853.2 IP, 719 H, 377 BB, 753 K, 66 HR, 3.73 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 0.63 HR/9.

(According to baseball-reference, Randy Johnson's most similar by age at 28 is...(*drumroll please*)...A.J. Burnett!)

Now, I am aware that there are tons of unexamined variables here such as park effects and league contexts, but the point is simply this: hardly anyone would have predicted superstardom for Randy Johnson based on his statistical achievements through age 28. But Johnson went 75-20 in his age 29-33 seasons -- Burnett will make the Jays look pretty S-M-R-T if he spikes so dramatically. I realize that the differences between Johnson and Burnett are manifold and let me emphasize that I am not predicting the same career trajectory for Burnett.

But it's waaayyy too soon to judge this signing; all this idle speculation is just that until Burnett takes the Toronto mound. I really wish the talking heads would just shut the hell up about his record already. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to be skeptical but A.J. Burnett's career W-L record strikes me as the weakest.