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Nate Silver On Gambling And Politics

Nate Silver On Gambling And Politics

A fun chat with the famous stats guy, poker master, and old friend.

Nate is a statistician and writer focused on American politics and sports, and a longtime friend from the blog days. He was the founder and editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight, and now he writes his own substack, Silver Bulletin. He’s the author of The Signal and the Noise, and his forthcoming book is On the Edge: How Successful Gamblers and Risk-Takers Think (pre-order here).

You can listen right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app). For two clips of our convo — on the pluralism of gay social networks, why poker is so male — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: Nate growing up in the Midwest obsessed with sports and the debate team; the Best Little Boy in the World syndrome; coming out while living abroad; how the LGBT Society in 1999 was apolitical; gays as heterodox thinkers in media; the joys of code-switching; the diversity of sports fans and poker players; the sexism in poker; Maria Konnikova and Maria Ho; how a poker player can benefit from discrimination by defying stereotypes; Erving Goffman and risk-taking; testosterone; Nate grossing $750,000 in poker; the flow state of gambling under extreme pressure; how Gen Z is more risk-averse than older generations; immigrants as risk-takers; the morality of gambling; addiction; people peeing at slot machines; Fauci’s noble lie for masks; the Swedish model during Covid; effective altruism; Obama the poker player being cool under pressure vs. Trump’s impulsivity; Truman’s gambling mindset and Hiroshima; the online poker boom; how Nate doesn’t want to be known as the political forecast guy; the misconception of him as a partisan Dem; Will Stancil; how the economic perceptions of the public are usually accurate; Biden’s age; his people blaming the media for his problems; the convention option for switching nominees; the White House not boosting Kamala Harris; her flaming out before Iowa in 2020; Claudine Gay’s plagiarism; Twitter under Musk; and, yes, Angry Birds!

Browse the Dishcast archive for an episode you might enjoy (the first 102 are free in their entirety — subscribe to get everything else). Coming up: Jeffrey Rosen on the Stoics and happiness, Rob Henderson on class and “luxury beliefs,” Christian Wiman on resisting despair as a Christian, George Will on Trump and conservatism, and Abigail Shrier on why the cult of therapy harms children. Please send any guest recs, dissents, and other pod comments to

On last week’s episode about the Trump case in Georgia, a dissent:

You, Isikoff, and Klaidman were much too lenient about Fani Willis sending substantial amounts of taxpayer dollars to her lover. Previous Dishcast guest Josh Barro, on his own podcast, provides an excellent summary of the serious ethical conflict (starting at the 19:15 mark). The gist: a person with whom Willis was having a romantic relationship had a financial interest in the case taking longer and thus generating more billable hours. Many commentators were puzzled over why she took such an expansive view of the crime and charged so many defendants with RICO, making it a much more complex and difficult case than a more targeted prosecution of Trump would have been. We can now see that her interests may have conflicted between her role as a prosecutor and her financial concern for her lover — and herself, since they took lavish trips together.

It’s infuriating that Trump may get off the hook on the most solid case against him because of this prosecutor’s misconduct.

I did express incredulity at the encomiums that Mike and Dan and the rest of the MSM bestowed upon her. But we were more focused on the perpetrators of the plot to reverse the election results. Another listener on the episode:

I enjoyed your conversation with Isikoff and Klaidman. However, at the end, I believe you are severely underestimating the amount of damage that a re-elected Trump could do to our country and our allies. You have recognized that Trump has already stated multiple times that he should have total immunity from prosecution and thinks he is above the law. His followers may draw the obvious conclusion that being a completely loyal supporter would likely be a “get out of jail free” card, allowing them to do whatever they want to the wimps and cucks who think the rule of law still applies.

Just as worrisome, Trump has already said he will end the war in Ukraine in 24 hours, which obviously means he will make clear to Zelensky, and Putin, that he will cut off all aid to Ukraine if Zelensky does not sign a peace treaty with (i.e. surrender to) Putin. That means surrendering at least 20-25% of Ukraine over to Russia, and foregoing any military alliance with the US or NATO, thus allowing Putin to gain complete control of Ukraine in a year or two.

Trump’s unwillingness to support Ukraine will also signal to Xi Jinping that Trump is very unlikely to interfere if China blockades and then invades Taiwan. Once that happens, all of our allies in Europe and East Asia will realize that their alliance with Trump’s America is basically worthless and will have to make their own deals with Putin and Xi Jinping. Kim Jung Un may be emboldened to invade South Korea.

After Putin takes over Ukraine, he will try to subvert and then invade one or more Baltic countries, and will convince Trump that it’s in Trump’s interest to let him do so. Putin has already figured out how to flatter Trump’s ego and persuade him — or intimidate him — into saying and doing whatever Putin wants. The world will be transformed in ways that may be good for Trump’s ego but will be very bad for most Americans.

Biden has undoubtedly lost some brain cells over the past four years, but his administration has managed an amazing soft landing for our economy, exceeding all pre-2020 predictions. Inflation is down to 2%, unemployment is below 3.9%, and GDP is up more than in any other developed country. His administration has managed multiple crises abroad, including strengthening NATO and helping Ukraine push back an invasion by a much larger country with a much larger military plus nuclear weapons. Biden is helping to prevent (so far) the war between Israel and Hamas from becoming a much larger regional war.

I seriously doubt a malignant narcissist who has indicated he will only appoint complete loyalists would be able to accomplish any of those things. It’s unlikely that any competent, ethical, intelligent person would even want to work in a second Trump administration.

We are still getting many emails over the popular pod with Justin Brierley. From a Dishhead who listened to it twice:

A snowy day and I was trapped inside doing chores when I listened, again, to your Brierley talk. So good. I was particularly interested in how the materialists try to explain the inexplicable. I remembered something I read years ago by Teilhard de Chardin discussing the problem of consciousness. He said consciousness was “matter become aware of itself.” Explain that transformation, Mr. Dawkins.

Another fan of the episode:

I’m another anecdotal data point in the “surprising rebirth of belief in God,” having started attending church again in the past couple of years after about 25 years out — most of that spent within the lefty secular humanist worlds of academia and the arts. It is still hard for me to believe in the way Sunday School taught me to, given the critical-skeptical mindset that is so deeply ingrained. But it was exactly your point about the “metaphorical” aspect of the Resurrection — that Jesus clearly did not reappear in the same guise but in unrecognizable, perhaps post-material form — that gave me permission from my own critical mind to believe. I don’t have to care if the story is true in the way a science experiment or historical account is true in order to find wonder and connection with my fellow humans and the universe.

Communion is an especially beautiful ritual to me now, the joy of sharing a meal with friends extrapolated — again, quasi-metaphorically — to all of humanity. I have never had an experience of revelation like Brierley’s teenage one (maybe I need to try mushrooms!), but there is something prosaically ecstatic in finding my way through awkwardly, even going through the motions of belief.

Beautifully expressed. Thank you. And another:

I’ve been a subscriber since almost the beginning, and I am so happy to support the Dish! Thank you for introducing me to a whole host of wonderful thinkers like John Gray, Aurelian Craiutu, etc, but also for your discussions about faith and purpose with Justin Brierley last week.

Discussions like that are Christianity at its best; it doesn’t feel stale and dogmatic when I hear Christians speaking of their faith this way. I am a born Catholic, non-practicing, have dabbled in mediation in my 20s. I spent years, probably most of my adult life, constricted by depression and anxiety from early childhood trauma. (I find the overuse of the term “trauma” in our culture to be deeply offensive.) I found healing by working with psychedelics, especially MDMA. Most recently, though, I have connected to a beautiful Catholic sect, the Focolare. And though I am not sure whether Christ is my vessel, so to speak, the notion and practice of loving the other as God is profoundly inspiring to me, and seeing those who live by this practice is touching. 

Next, a “non-practicing Catholic” who enjoyed “the very insightful conversation with Brierley”:

I grew up in an atheistic environment in Lithuania during the Soviet occupation. My atheistic and deterministic perspectives solidified during my studies and career as physicist. However, my convictions began to shift as I delved into the realms of cosmology, quantum physics, and ethics. I came to the conclusion that science has limits and we already reached them. (I recently posted some thoughts on my substack.) So it was through rational contemplation that I embraced a belief in God, not driven by emotion. But now I also feel the goodness of God emotionally.

That’s how it is sometimes. As Pascal wrote, “soumission et usage de la raison.

A reader dissents over a different topic:

You continue to assert that immigration should be curtailed because immigrants are changing American culture too quickly: “a lowering of legal immigration rates [is needed] for the sake of national cohesion and integration.” Do you have an example of this? The one I easily recall is a gay British gentleman, well-educated, who thought he was going to die of AIDS so he wrote a book laying the intellectual foundations that led to Obergefell. In less than a generation, Americans decided same-sex marriage was okay. That’s a big cultural upheaval much accelerated by a legal immigrant. I am assuming you are okay with it? Could you please provide a counter-example of an immigrant, legal or illegal, who ruined American culture?

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