Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Ranking the Boxers in the Rocky Universe

In anticipation of Creed II, I thought it appropriate time to evaluate all the major fighters featured in the Rocky Movies (Rocky I-V, Rocky Balboa, and Creed). Here is my definitive ranking: 

9. Mason “The Line” Dixon
(Rocky Balboa)

While he had become champion at some point, his struggle to defeat a 61-year old Rocky Balboa (who was coming back from a 20-year retirement) costs him any credibility.

8. Union Cane 
(Rocky V)

Critics called him a “paper champion” who got the belt despite having never beat Balboa. They were right, and he quickly surrendered the title to Tommy Gunn.

7. Tommy Gunn
(Rocky V)

Maybe he is a better fighter that his reputation, but his reputation is that of a loser. He had a meteoric rise to the top, and beat Union Cane to become heavyweight champ. But his decision to abandon Rocky Balboa as his trainer spelled the beginning of the end. After his loss to the 41-year old, retired Balboa in a street fight, Gunn was done.

6. "Pretty" Ricky Conlan

Conlan is one of the toughest to rank, given we’ve seen so few of his previous fights or his training. His rise to light heavyweight champion and split decision win over Adonis Johnson (Creed) put him here.

5. Adonis Johnson (Creed)

Notwithstanding his split-decision loss to Conlan, Johnson has the look of a future champ. He deserved to win the fight with Conlan, has the pedigree and skills to get better, and is the youngest fighter on this list. With time (and perhaps with a viewing of Creed II), he may rise in these rankings.

4. Ivan Drago
(Rocky IV)

Drago may be the most overrated boxer in the Rocky universe. He had tremendous punching power, and was incredibly hyped—thanks to the Soviet propaganda machine. But his strength was due in some part to steroid use, and a government sponsored training regimen. His win over Apollo Creed—killing Creed in the ring—was impressive; but Creed was 43 and had been retired from boxing for nearly 9 years by the time of the fight. His also nearly went the distance with Balboa, but was knocked out by the smaller, quicker Rocky (though Balboa was already 40) in the 15th round.

3. Clubber Lang
(Rocky III)

Clubber Lang was arguably the most impressive fighter in his rise to the top. He won his first 29 fights, all by knockout. Lang was some impressive, that Mickey tells Rocky “you can’t win Rock, this guy will kill you death inside three rounds…this guy is a wrecking machine”. Lang was intense, predicting “pain.” In the first match with Rocky, Mickey and Lang proved right, as Clubber dominated Balboa, knocking him out in round two.

But it’s the rematch that cost Lang a higher ranking on this list. Balboa got a second fight with Lang less than a year later. Balboa used a new strategy, capitalizing on Lang’s intensity and anger, and exposing his lack of stamina. Balboa—never considered a great mental fighter—outsmarted Lang with a “rope-a-dope”-like strategy. Balboa’s third round KO was the end for Lang, who seems to have quit fighting immediately thereafter. Lang may have been the best boxer on paper, but didn’t have the heart of Balboa.

2. Rocky Balboa
(Rocky I-V, Rocky Balboa)

The protagonist of the Rocky movies is the most difficult to rank. He lost a whopping 23 fights (more than all the others on this list combined), many of those to journeymen fighters. He was never considered a great in-ring tactician, nor was he the most impressive athlete. He was never even considered a contender, until getting a random chance at the title against Apollo Creed.

Still, Balboa is considered one of the greatest champions, and has three of the most impressive wins. He shocked the world by going distance with Creed in his first title opportunity. He first won the title from Creed in a rematch a year later, handing Creed his first defeat. He knocked out the previously unbeaten Clubber Lang to earn the belt the second time—a remarkable comeback from their first fight. And he knocked out Ivan Drago and single-handedly ended the Cold War.

What Balboa lacked in physical gifts, he made up in heart, being able to take a beating and keep on going.

1. Apollo Creed
(Rocky I-IV)

There is a reason why Rocky was such an underdog—Apollo Creed was better than him. Creed was 48-0 before losing the title. He beat the younger Balboa in the first fight, and nearly won the rematch, before an improbably 15th round KO by Balboa. His only other loss—resulting in his death—was at age 43, after an 9-year hiatus from boxing. Notably, Creed also took the third, unofficial fight with Rocky, as admitted by Balboa to Adonis Johnson years later.

Winning two out of three fights from Balboa is good enough to top this list. He was better physically, a better in-ring tactician, and a better showman than Balboa.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Trump Running Behind GOP Senate Candidates in Key States

The tables below shows polling presidential and US Senate polling in 10 swing states that also have key Senate races.

In 9 of 10 races, the Republican Senate candidate is running ahead of Trump, by an average of 5.5 points. In five of those states, Trump is losing, while the Republican Senate candidate is ahead. In one other, the Senate race is a virtual tossup, while Trump is losing handily.

What to make of this? I have two conclusions

First: Conservatism is alive and well. Trump’s current poll deficit, should it hold, should not be read as “a crisis for the Republican party”. Nor should it be considered a crisis for the conservative movement. In fact, most of these Republican Senate candidates are more conservative than Trump! Trump’s problems are Trump’s alone.

Second: Conservatives should focus their energies on down ballot races. As the numbers show, there are a number of Senate races that will go down to the wire. I’m not arguing the Presidential race is necessarily decided—a lot can happen between now and Election Day. But I am suggesting that if we want to hold Hillary Clinton in check as President—and I would argue we need to hold Donald Trump in check just as much—these Senate races are critical.

If we want to ensure conservative justices on the Supreme Court, the Senate is where that action will happen. If we want to repeal Obamacare, controlling Congress is essential to that. And if we want conservative policy victories, it is the down-ballot races—Senate, Congress, and state houses—that will be most critical to our success.   

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Conservatives' Conundrum

Conservative columnist Ben Shapiro offers a wise caution about the conservative movement endorsing, or turning a blind eye, to decidedly leftist positions and demagogic rhetoric from Donald Trump.

I agree. Conservatives shouldn’t feel the need to defend Trump from every point of criticism or support everything he says no matter how ridiculous or un-conservative. It is our job to call it like we see it and stay true to our principles.

Where I disagree with Shapiro is the idea this is a new expectation with Trump.

Too often, conservatives defended McCain and Romney, even when they offered big government policies or made indefensible gaffes. Conservatives tacitly endorsed the un-conservative policies of George W. Bush—going along with Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, the explosion of earmarks, multiple “stimulus” packages, the bank bailouts and uncontrolled spending increases. And it became heresy—certainly “unpatriotic”—to question his war strategy.

We can’t make the same mistake again.

Building a multi-billion-dollar wall isn’t a conservative priority. Waterboarding—based on the logic that the terrorists behead prisoners, so we must up our violence—isn’t conservative.  Massive tariffs that would devastate our economy certainly isn’t conservative.

Now, I’m not writing as a “NeverTrump.” Nor am I “NeverHillary”. Rather, I think this presidential election is silly nonsense.

What I am suggesting, as I’ve have before, is that this election creates an opportunity for true conservatives to talk about what a real conservative-libertarian agenda looks like.

Here is an agenda we should be talking about.
  • Reduce executive authority. For decades we have allowed the president to accrue more power to act unilaterally and circumvent our constitutional checks and balances. It is time to reject the idea of a superhero president and empower congress.
  • Restore Federalism. Our constitutional system is based on leaving power in the hands of the states and local governments who are closest to the people. Progressives shifted the balance of power to the federal government. As conservatives, we must push to devolve power back to the states and preserve the 10th amendment.
  • Block grant Medicaid and other welfare programs to the states—giving states greater flexibility to develop reforms that work and control costs.
  • Repeal Obamacare and replace it with Large HSAs and increased competition.
  • Reduce federal control over education, while states should expand educational choice programs empowering parents with the power to improve their child’s school.
  • Reform entitlements. Social Security and Medicare are not sustainable. We must overhaul those systems and giver younger workers more control over their own retirement.
  • End corporate welfare subsidies at all levels of government. Taxpayer-funded handouts undermine economic growth.
  • Repeal alternative and renewable energy mandates. Politicians should not be picking winners and losers.
  • Tax reform that makes America more competitive for jobs. The US has the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world.
  • Regulatory reform. Why are companies moving jobs overseas? Because our unnecessary regulations drive up the cost of doing business and are “out-forcing” jobs
  • Restrained foreign policy. We can’t be isolationist, but we should stop trying to be the world’s police force, stop engaging in wars without a plan for victory (or without a Congressional declaration of War), stop sending planes full of money to support foreign regimes, and stop letting fear be used to trample our civil rights.
  • Cut waste in all parts of government, including the Department of Defense. Yes, there is a lot of unnecessary and reckless spending in the name of “Defense.”
  • Reduce the corruptive power of public sector unions at all levels of government.
Disagree with anything on my list? Fine—lets debate them, because then we’ll be talking about the issues and not about Trump’s latest insult or Clinton’s latest lie.

We need to focus on the ideas that will make America greater than it already is.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Lessons from the 2016 Primaries for the Conservative Movement

As a conservative — one with many libertarian leanings, and who puts conservative principles above partisan politics — I’m dissatisfied with the choices I’ll have for president in a few months. I know many other conservative activists who feel the same way. Many of whom are distraught — I am not. In fact, this reinforces my long-held believe that we need to focus on ideas, not electoral politics.

Here four key lessons we should take away from the 2016 election:

1) We must shift our focus away from presidential politics and the cult of personality.

Voters are irrational. Voters, by and large, don’t vote based on careful consideration of all the policy issues of the candidates. Even when they understand and care about the issues, they often don’t vote that way.

Rather, they follow a cult of personality. This is far truer in presidential elections, when celebrity trumps style and style trumps substance.

For example, Trump — a casino magnate who praises Planned Parenthood — won in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. That doesn’t imply Lancaster voters have become pro-gambling or pro-abortion. They remain the most socially conservative county in Pennsylvania.

In Western Pennsylvania, Trump did very well by attacking the “DC establishment” and its cronyism. Yet voters also told Bill Shuster — an 8-term Congressman and son of a Congressman who has been having a relationship with an airline lobbyist while writing legislation favoring the airlines — he deserves another term. Don’t read too much into the meaning of either.

This isn’t just about Trump voters. Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were all iconic personalities. Likewise, Pennsylvania’s last gubernatorial election was only one driven by the personalities of the candidates, not their policies — in which a likable Democrat defeated an unpopular incumbent Republican, even as Republicans picked up legislative seats across the state.

On the flip side, presidential election voters — those who vote only once every four years, don’t know much beyond the presidential candidate’s names, and remain unengaged — don’t influence public policy all that much.

Too often, we have only looked at the presidential election as the definition of success — it is not and shouldn’t be. While we are building an infrastructure, it isn’t to win the next election, but to change public policy.

2) We have an opportunity to separate good policy from electoral politics.

For years, we’ve pretended the Republican party was conservative and that the presidential nominee was the face and voice of the GOP — and therefore conservatism. This meant celebrating President Bush even as he expanded Medicare, increased federal involvement in education, and approved bloated budget after bloated budget. It meant cheering for McCain as he endorsed restrictions of free speech, “Cap & Trade” legislation, and bank bailouts and federal stimulus ideas. And it meant defending Romney as he called 47% of Americans moochers.

Should Donald Trump be the nominee, this needn’t be a problem. Trump isn’t a conservative, and doesn’t articulate conservative policy positions or ideas. Conservative intellectuals have already disavowed Trump, and can continue to do so.

This provides a strong opportunity for conservatives to focus on conservative ideas and policies, divorced from the policies and rhetoric of the GOP nominee. We’ll be stronger as a movement for doing so.

3) We need to reestablish conservative principles and the conservative movement.

To be clear, it’s not merely that we have the opportunity to refocus on conservative principles, it is that we must. Being opposed to Obama or Hillary, or “Washington insiders” or “the establishment” isn’t enough — at least in the long term — to be successful in saving America.

On this, I strongly agree with Matt Lewis in his book Too Dumb to Fail that we — the conservative movement — have gone too far in dumbing down our ideas, making things too personal, and focusing on the next election rather than winning the war of ideas. We now have an opportunity to get back to those roots and focus our efforts on selling the idea that free market policies benefit all Americans.

4) We must recognize the importance of effective communication.

In one aspect though, we need to be more like Trump: in his ability to reach voters. Trump connects with voters who aren’t traditional Republican primary voters. Many of these are folks who have been frustrated with politicians and angry simply at the direction things are going.

To be sure, they are voters tougher for other candidates, Trump critics, and conservative leaders to reach. They aren’t the usually targeted “Super Voters.” They do not sit around watching every debate; they don’t read National Review or even the Wall Street Journal.

Trump does a good job talking to new voters. It’s been pointed out elsewhere Trump speaks at a 4th grade level, and speaks in a way to emphasize his points. These are great communication tools for reaching “regular people.”

If the conservative movement is going to win the war of ideas, we must become more effective communicators to regular voters.