Author Archives: Russell Newquist

ON THE EXISTENCE OF GODS – Book Review

godsA few days ago I was fortunate enough to receive an advance review copy of On the Existence of Gods by Vox Day and Dominic Saltarelli. Full disclosure: I was given this e-book specifically for the purposes of reviewing it, and publisher and co-author Vox Day has also published one of my own previous works. On the flip side, I specifically requested a chance to review this one. Indeed, I jumped at the chance. As a philosophy major and a former atheist turned agnostic turned eventually Catholic, you might imagine that the topic has some interest for me. Saltarelli was an unknown to me, but I’ve followed Day’s blog for quite some time and I figured this work would at least be interesting.

I was not wrong.

The book is actually a reprinting of a debate between Day and Saltarelli that I believe was originally published on Day’s blog, although I can’t immediately track down the original posts. Somehow I missed it in its original run.

To begin with, Saltarelli is to be commended on several fronts. First, for agreeing to debate Vox Day. Regardless of your opinion on the controversial man, he’s a formidable debater. Second, having accepted the challenge, Saltarelli gave it an honest go. More than most of today’s atheists are willing or able to, he kept it to an honest intellectual argument. He refrained from “that’s just silly” dismissals, ad hominem attacks, attacking straw men, and other dishonest debate tactics. Mr. Day, for his part, held to the same high standard. The result makes the debate a strong one, and well worth the read.

But Saltarelli’s biggest achievement is one he must share with his co-author. I’ve read quite a bit out there on this topic, and I’ve participated in many informal versions of this debate – on both sides of it. This is the first thing that I’ve read in a very long time that actually had new, novel, and interesting arguments – and both authors achieved this, on both sides of the debate.

My singular complaint about the book is that the format of it virtually guarantees that the arguments on both sides will be underdeveloped. This does indeed turn out to be the case – in particular, Vox Day’s argument from the existence of evil is here represented almost criminally poorly, and I’d love to see it fleshed out in greater detail. I believe I can fill in many of the details, but I’d very much like to see his own logic here. In essence, he’s sold me on the argument but I feel that he needs to show his work.

Still, I find myself giving this book five stars purely for the astonishing achievement of presenting novel arguments. After two thousand years of debating the topic, that’s a remarkable achievement.

This book is unlikely to change any minds. But if you’re interested in the topic on an intellectual level, it’s worth the read.

Super Tuesday Post Mortem

Everything is in except Alaska at this point. As I type this, Alaska is looking good for Trump – but only 7% of the vote is in:

Clinton

Clinton has all but shut down Sanders, defying my own prediction of a preference cascade. Looking at the turnout numbers and breaking down the polls, however, it’s easy to see why I made the mistake. The number one second choice candidate for Sanders voters is… Trump. And GOP turnout has been roughly three times higher than Democratic turnout. What we can learn from that is that the voters Bernie needs to push him over the top have crossed the aisle to vote for Trump.

For the record, I still predict an anti-Clinton preference cascade. Except now it looks like we’ll have to wait until November for it.

Sanders

Didn’t do what he needed to do tonight. What’s his play? He carries this all the way to the convention and racks up as many delegates as he can. He’ll have a formidable number and it’ll give him a lot of influence over the official party platform. Count on him to use that.

Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures during the first Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Somehow there are still people out there saying that the GOP race isn’t as over as the Democrat’s race. Trump didn’t hit his best case scenario tonight (running the table) but it was a pretty damn good night for him. By my math he’ll most likely have a quarter of the delegates he needs for the nomination by the time it all falls out. He also hit a magic number tonight: with 10 total wins (at least), he’s the first candidate to cross the magic threshold of 8 wins to allow his name to be officially thrown in the hat for the nomination. The remaining candidates have a good bit of catch-up to do if they want to reach that threshold as well.

Rubio

To put it bluntly, he’s finished. I’m not sure where he goes from here. Does the establishment force him to stay in to keep hitting Trump with everything they’ve got? Or do they hold back their money and save it for later? I’m betting on the latter. My money says his funding dries up this week and he’s out, and he doesn’t even make it long enough to take a beating in his home state of Florida on the 15th. The establishment will find other, more cost effective ways to attack Trump.

Cruz

A better than expected night, but still not where he needs to be. The upshot: this is now a two-man race. The downshot: don’t expect him to pick up all of Rubio’s voters, or even a majority. Especially if Rubio hangs around for a bit. My suspicion is that Cruz’s appeal is limited outside of the deeply conservative evangelical circles and that more of Rubio’s voters go to Trump than Cruz. A two man race doesn’t favor him the way he seems to think it should.

The Establishment

Their guy can’t win anything except the kind of caucus states where they can play every card they’ve got. My gut says the fold on Rubio and put all of their money on Hillary.

New York Times Finally Learns to Count

The New York Times has finally figured out what I’ve been saying here for weeks and on Twitter for even longer: the delegate math is on Trump’s side.

“Trump has significant advantages, and that’s the way the system is designed,” said Joshua T. Putnam, a political science lecturer at the University of Georgia with an expertise in delegate selection. “It’s right in line with what the folks designing these rules wanted. It’s just not the candidate they preferred.”

This election was bought and paid for, lock stock and barrel, by the establishment for Jeb Bush. The reason I support Trump – the only reason I support him, but also the reason I’m 100% behind him – is because he’s the only candidate who was ever capable of destroying their corrupt game. He did it by hijacking their own process.

Unless today’s polls are completely wrong, tomorrow we’ll be waking up to headlines informing us that this game is all but over. Those headlines won’t be wrong.

I Will

I WILL break 300lbs on the bench press!
I WILL break 300lbs on the bench press!

I’ve been struggling with my workouts for the last couple of years. After making a lot of progress for a while, I got kind of stagnant. My bench press especially got stuck for nearly two years at about 295lbs.

Right around the new year I was pointed at this post by Mike Cernovich, and it had some words I needed to hear.

There is no “I want.”
There is only “I will.”

Go read the whole post. Seriously. It’s probably his most important post. I’ll wait.

The thing is, it’s nothing I hadn’t heard before. It’s not even a mindset I’d never adopted before. But I’d lost it, and I just needed to hear the words again. From somebody. Anybody. And Mike was the one who happened to be saying it on the day I needed to hear it. So I began this year without New Year’s Resolutions but instead with a list of New Year’s “I WILL’s.” The very first item on the list: I WILL break 300lbs on the bench press in 2016.

Tonight I smashed it out of the park:

  • 320 on the bench press (25lb or 8.5% increase over last record)
  • 395 on the squat (50lb or 14.5% increase over last record)
  • 425 on the deadlift (50lb or 13.3% increase and also broke the 400lb barrier).

There are guys out there who lift a hell of a lot more than that, so don’t mistake this for any kind of bragging. But those are respectable numbers. More importantly, they represent a break in the stagnation and the achievement of multiple personal goals tonight.

So tonight I’m putting out the thank you to Mike for giving me the words I needed to do it. Here’s to shattering many more personal records!

Trump Wins Because San Dimas High School Football Rules

Every time I see a Donald Trump rally, speech, or debate I’m reminded of the following scene from the film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure:

If you’ve never seen the film, or if you can’t watch the video for some reason, the context is that each student at San Dimas High School has to give a major presentation as their final exam in history class. The student in the clip above is one of the school jocks. His presentation is poor, his grasp of the history appears to actually be even poorer, and any sane teacher would give him an equally poor grade. A generous teacher might be able to squeeze him into a D.

BillTedBut when he finishes his presentation by belting out, “San Dimas high school football rules!” the crowd loves him, and they go nuts to show it.

This, in a nutshell, is why Donald Trump is winning the race for the GOP nomination. It’s why a Donald Trump type will always win in our current system, and it’s why he’ll win the general election in the fall. The vast majority of voters don’t care about the history lesson. It doesn’t matter who is giving the history lesson – they will always find it boring and tune it out, just as the audience did above.

Trump understands this. His entire campaign has been to cut out the history lesson and focus on the only part voters care about. To the typical voter, Rubio and Cruz and Hillary and even Bernie sound like the history lesson. Trump just wants everyone to know that San Dimas High School Football Rules!

There are only two ways to defeat Trump. The first is to out-Trump him, which might well be impossible. The second is to turn the history lesson into an epic multimedia entertainment spectacle. Unfortunately for those who want to stop Trump, Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted Theodore Logan are not among the 2016 crop of candidates.

FIGHT LIKE A PHYSICIST – Book Review

fightlikeaphysicistThere’s a reason that martial arts are called “arts.” There are a lot of myths, half truths, gray areas, and outright lies in our field. And even when we can demonstrate with practical experience that something works, martial artists all too often have a terrible understanding of the science behind why it works. In that environment, Fight Like a Physicist by Jason Thalken is a real breath of fresh air.

Thalken’s tome is basic rather than exhaustive. Anybody who’s had a college level physics course should be familiar with most of what he lays out. The problem is that all too many college educated martial artists leave their physics knowledge outside the dojo door, swallowing whole whatever their sensei feeds them. The even bigger problem is that too many senseis are feeding them a diet of junk science.

And it’s a shame, because there’s very good, very real science to back up much of the martial arts. Thalken covers the key concepts here – center of mass, momentum, energy, rotational physics, and leverage. Again, none of this is groundbreaking to any college level physics student. But what Thalken does is to apply the physics to the body and explain how it interacts when human beings fight one another.

In the second section, Thalken discusses some of the ramifications of the physics he lays out in the first section. Importantly, most of this section is given over to safety. His discussions of padding, gloves, helmets and concussions should be required reading for any martial arts instructor or coach.

My only complaint about this book? As I mentioned above, it’s not an exhaustive tome. It’s more basic than I would have liked, covering a lot I already knew (I did take college level physics). I’d very much love to see a follow on to this book at a far more advanced level. Mr. Thalken, if you’re reading this, know that I’d buy such a book in a heartbeat if you wrote it.

For what it is, though, this book is top notch. Five out of five stars, and I would consider this book a necessity for every serious martial artist.

This post has been cross posted to the Madison Martial Arts blog.

Trump is a Cult of Personality – and So is Evangelicalism

One of the more interesting data points to come out of the South Carolina Republican primary is how well Donald Trump did with self described evangelical Christian voters. Interesting – but not surprising.

First, the data: Trump pulled 34% of their vote, compared with 26% for Ted Cruz and 21% for Marco Rubio.

The reason this isn’t surprising? Donald Trump’s following is a cult of personality. Trump’s major selling point isn’t his policies. It’s not his ideology. It’s not even his good looks, his business sense, or his wealth. Trump’s major selling point is his personality. Voters are attracted to an alpha male who leads the pack with swagger and assuredness, charisma and vitality. Most of all, he’s entertaining.

Evangelical Christianity functions the same way. What draws evangelical Christians to any given church? You’ll hear lots of answers, ranging from the atmosphere to the style of worship to the particular beliefs being espoused. But what you’ll also see, almost universally, is that when the pastor of the church changes the makeup of the congregation also changes dramatically.

Tellingly, when people leave the congregation of one church to join another after a pastor change, the church they choose almost always puts the lie to any other reason they’ve given in the past for choosing. The ideology will be different. The atmosphere will be different. The style of worship will be different. Sometimes all of it will be different. Quite often the spectator will choose an entirely different denomination. And yet the congregationalist will once again use one of these reasons to justify his choice.

Sometimes people are honest enough to acknowledge that they just like (or dislike) the pastor. Most of the time they’re not. We all seem to inherently know and accept that that’s a poor reason to choose a pastor, and a far worse reason to choose a different denomination. It’s even worse for someone to admit that the pastor is the reason they chose to become Christian at all – but that happens, too.

Donald Trump may not be an evangelical Christian. But he appeals to them for the same reasons their pastors do. He’s energetic, bold, assertive and strong. He calls it like he sees it and doesn’t back down. But above all, he’s interesting.

Can Rubio and Cruz Afford the Fight?

Last week I wargamed the GOP primaries out through Super Tuesday. Things already weren’t looking good for anybody not named Trump. After this weekend’s vote in South Carolina, what’s changed? Conventional wisdom says that Rubio should be the big winner. But will he? There’s an honest question to be raised here: will Rubio have the funds to continue the fight? The same question applies to Cruz – although, as we’ll see in a minute, not to the same degree.

Candidates were required over the weekend to report their finances through the end of January. So we know what they had when the primaries actually started. What we don’t know yet is what they’ve spent and raised throughout February. So this analysis is necessarily a bit speculative.

First, the standing as of February 1:

Ted Cruz had $13.6 million cash on hand. That’s not bad. Marco Rubio had $5.1 million on hand – considerably less good. And Donald Trump had $1.6 million on hand – barely more than John Kasich’s $1.5 million. How does this effect the race?

We know that all of the candidates spent a lot more money in both January and February than they had been previously. As the actual voting neared, it was time to open the wallets. And the New Hampshire media market is particularly expensive. We also know that this problem is going to get worse. With Super Tuesday being a week out, the race has now gone national. Candidates can no longer pull a Kasich and just camp in one state. Eleven states vote next Tuesday – no candidate can be in all eleven at once. They’re going to have to make up for it with media presence.

Advertising is expensive. Advertising on a national level is really expensive. Will the candidates have the funds to do it? Looking at the mounting evidence, I’m starting to come to the conclusion that if your name isn’t Donald J. Trump, the answer is “no.”

The expectation for weeks has been that when Bush dropped out of the race his donors would migrate to Rubio. Various reports this weekend have been showing that’s not happening. Some of his donors have gone to Cruz. A few have actually gone to Rubio. Trump has even contacted a few. This is probably more strategic than monetary; Trump just wants to ensure that they don’t keep his rivals funded. But many, apparently, are holding tight anyway.

This really shouldn’t surprise anyone. Indeed, although I didn’t predict it, I feel now that I should have predicted it. Deep pocketed donors didn’t get deep pockets by throwing money away. They’re very often deeply conservative – not in the political sense but in the fiscal sense. They won’t spend money unless they think they’re getting something for it.

In the case of Rubio and Cruz, it’s not at all clear that they’ll get something for it. Cruz has only an Iowa win under his belt and seems to be hitting a ceiling with voters. Meanwhile Rubio – supposedly the establishment’s new darling – has yet to put a notch on his win board anywhere. Donors are right to be skeptical.

Additionally, I’ve seen more than one report that Bush’s donors aren’t even sure that political spending has even accomplished anything this cycle. Given how much money Jeb spent per vote, they’re right to be skeptical here, too.

Jeb’s donors holding back from the other candidates is a serious blow – especially to Rubio, who would have seemed to be the natural beneficiary. Without the extra cash, can Cruz and Rubio compete nationally? Or will they run out of cash? And if these donors do finally open up their wallets will it be too late?

My suspicion is that we won’t find out the answer to that last question. Lack of funding combined with Trump’s current momentum will cause both Cruz and Rubio to stall out next Tuesday. And after that, the donors will be clamping their wallets closed. The odds for Cruz and Rubio will simply be too long for conservative donors. It’s very possible that they’ll both drop out much sooner than I’ve expected – possibly even as early as March 2nd – simply because the finances dry up.

Nevada & South Carolina Post Mortem

États-Unis : les candidats déclarés aux investitures pour les primaires démocrates et républicaines (180x108 mm)

Nevada first because it’s simpler:

Good but not great news for Hillary. She pulled out the win – and although it was still close, it was a lot less close than I would have expected. She absolutely needed to win. But she really, really wanted to win by a much larger margin. But, as they say, a win is a win.

Oddly, I also think it’s good but not great news for Sanders. In January Clinton had a 20+ point lead in Nevada. On Saturday she one by a mere 5.3 points. He didn’t quite get below the 5 point margin I claimed would be a huge win for him – but he kept it close to that.  The Democratic primaries are almost all proportional, so by continuing to keep the race close he still racks up delegates. But sooner or later he’s going to have to actually win. I continue to think that he’ll eventually pull it out. The evidence is there for a preference cascade. The question for Sanders is whether it’s too little, too late.

A further data point: there’s evidence that the Clinton campaign is running into a fundraising wall. She’s been reliant on big donors contributing the maximum allowed, but there are only so many people who can contribute $2700 to a political campaign. Evidently she’s already hit them all up. If Clinton runs low on cash halfway through this thing and Sanders keeps up his smashing success with small donors, the race could get very interesting in a few weeks.

South Carolina

At dead last, Carson hit his worst case scenario. Why he’s still in the race is beyond me. Kasich didn’t hit either his best or worst case scenario. He avoided “dead last,” but couldn’t quite beat out Jeb. He’ll most likely limp along through March 15th to see if he can win Ohio. Unless he runs out of money.

The reports aren’t saying it yet, but Jeb ran out of money. Count on it. As I noted last week, that was the only reason he’d actually be out yet if he didn’t fall behind Kasich. Good riddance. I’m not interested in a hereditary monarchy.

Cruz hit what I laid out as his second-worst case scenario. If he can’t beat Rubio in a state as heavily evangelical as South Carolina, it’s extremely difficult to see where he does win. His path to the nomination is not looking good. He’s got the money and organization to hang in for a good while – and a few upcoming states, such as Texas, still look good for him.

But a win in his home state is unlikely to revitalize his campaign, and even there the trend is running the wrong direction. He needs more, and it’s hard to see where he gets it at this point. Also, he’s not polling anywhere close to high enough to hit the 50% threshold for winner-take-all status, which means that Trump and/or Rubio is likely to rack up a fair amount of delegates here as well. None of the other Super Tuesday states where he’s polling well have recent enough polls to be reliable.  Super Tuesday simply isn’t looking good for him.

Rubio came very close to his second-best scenario. The finish order wasn’t quite what I laid out yesterday (Kasich couldn’t beat out Bush) but the end result was what Rubio needed: Jeb out of the race.

Rubio gets Bush’s donors… or does he? There are reports that the Republican megadonors are gun shy after seeing how little their money did for Jeb. Some are saying that they plan to sit out the rest of the race. Others are merely reluctant and may eventually cut Rubio his checks.

And Rubio get’s Bush’s voters, right? Well… maybe not. It’s unclear where they go, but it seems to be a given that they won’t go 100% to Rubio. A USA Today/Suffolk poll shows them actually going heaviest for Kasich – and both Trump and Cruz do nearly as well as Rubio. That’s just not enough for Rubio, in the end.

Still, this was about as well as Rubio could’ve reasonably expected to do this weekend.

And what can we say about Donald Trump? He got the best win order he could’ve hoped for. But Jeb still dropped out and that’s not great for him. On the other hand, it’s not as terrible as many make it out to be. For one, see above about Jeb’s voters. For another, though, it’s one more challenger gone. In a way, it’s very like a reality show: each round, you want to not be the guy voted off the island, and this is one more round that Trump survived – and held onto his lead.

He also managed to pull of something I absolutely didn’t expect: he very well might have won all of South Carolina’s delegates. And if not, he got very nearly all of them. That’s 4% of the delegates needed to win all in one go, and that’s definitely a good night for him. Also, the media is very much solidifying on the “Trump is front runner” narrative. That’s also good for him. Ignore the cross tabs. At the end of the day, everyone wants to root for either the underdog or the winner. Trump can make a reasonable claim now at both.

Also, both Cruz and Rubio did well enough to keep them in the race a while longer. And the only thing better for Trump than both of them dropping out is both of them staying in. The Republican Nevada Caucus is tomorrow, and although the polling there is likely to still be sketchy it’s also looking very good for him. He’s got room for Cruz and Rubio to both overperform and still not be able to touch him. The only way Nevada is even news tomorrow is if Trump doesn’t win.

Otherwise, he’s looking strong going into Super Tuesday next week. Massachusetts looks terrific for him, and Georgia, Minnesota and Oklahoma are all looking good.

FiveThirtyEight.com shows Virginia looking rough for him in their polls-plus model – but their polls-only model shows it looking quite good for him, and so far this cycle it seems to have been the better predictor. Virginia is commonly thought of as the hardest state to get on the primary ballot for, due to the number of signatures involved. Trump was the first candidate to file. We can thus expect his organization and ground game there to be one of the better ones he has, and that will help him.

Texas is honestly looking good for Cruz… but not so good that he can afford to ignore it. And the Texas polls are a month out of date now. Don’t be surprised if they change between now and Super Tuesday.

TL;DR: Both Clinton and Sanders did well but neither did as well as they’d have liked. Cruz had a bad night. Rubio had a good night, but probably not good enough. Trump’s night wasn’t absolutely perfect… but was pretty darn close.

Nevada 2016

The GOP South Carolina primary is today. Across the country, the Democratic Party is having their Nevada Caucus. Next weekend these will be flipped. Why the parties did that is beyond me, but there it is. What should we expect in Nevada?

The RCP average shows Clinton at 48.7% and Sanders at 46.3%. But polling in Nevada is notoriously terrible, and the candidates are within the margin of error of each other as well. This one’s going to be a nail biter, plain and simple.

Anything less than a solid victory (5-10% or more) is terrible news for Clinton. The Democratic primaries are proportional all the way through to the end. That means that if Sanders keeps the race neck and neck, he’s going to continue to rack up plenty of delegates even if he loses. And the longer he pulls that off, the more likely Clinton is to falter.

On the flip side, anything smaller than a 5 point Clinton victory is a huge win for Sanders. A month and a half ago Clinton had a 20+ point margin in Nevada. If he manages to erode that down to a close contest in such a short period it shows him with honest momentum in the campaign.

My call? I’m expecting this one to be close either way, which is terrible for Clinton. Bernie’s brought out a killer ground game to Nevada just as he did in New Hampshire and Iowa. Nevada uses cards instead of coins to settle ties, so Clinton won’t be helped by magic quarters this time around. But the Nevada mafia might settle it for her all the same. She might pull out a technical victory, but my money is that the margins will be so tight that it hurts her more than it helps.