The Secret Knowledge

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David Mamet, well-regarded playwright, screenwriter, and director, made kind of a splash a few years back with an essay in The Village Voice titled: "Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal'". This book is a fuller explanation of those views. (The library at the University Near Here bought it without me even asking. Good for them.)

It's a collection of relatively short chapters/essays. He lists his inspirations in the acknowledgements: Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, Whittaker Chambers. (This last via a gift of a copy of Witness from Jon Voight.) Also the radio voices of Dennis Prager, Hugh Hewitt, Michael Medved, and Glenn Beck. Those are—gosh—pretty good choices.

And if you want to check out what happends when those guys inspire an insightful, colorful, world-class writer, this book is it.

I have quibbles. Mamet attributes the notion of the "constrained" or "tragic" view of the world (as opposed to the "unconstrained"/"anointed" view) to Hayek; I'm pretty sure it should be Sowell.

Mamet is fond of broad and aggressive generalization in support of his arguments. This is red meat to folks like me, and maybe you. Fence-sitters might not be persuaded. For example (page 77):

What is Big Government but the Executive's cocaine dream, an activity devoted solely to jockeying for position, in which he may find license for malversation and may take the company treasury and direct it toward those people who will support his continued incumbency— it is within the law.
… I know what he means. Someone else may look at that "solely" and dismiss the whole point, or worse, the whole book.

I'm particularly fond of this anecdote in one of the later chapters:

My daughter had an heiress in her elementary school class.

The two were discussing their various bedtimes. And the heiress said that every evening, at ten o'clock, she went to the small refrigerator in her room, and took out her usual snack: fresh berries and organic yogurt dripped with honey.

My daughter asked, "Who puts it there?"

The heiress paused for a while, and said, "… I don't know."

Hell, that's not just an anecdote, that's a f'n parable. Sorry, I'm beginning to type like a Mamet character might talk. But aren't we all, as 21st century USAians, kind of like that little heiress, too many of us forgetting how the berries and yogurt got into our refrigerators?

Last Modified 2012-09-25 11:41 AM EST

Source Code

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I initially thought this would be 90 minutes of Jake Gyllenhaal reciting snippets of C, or discussing the inner workings of the Linux kernel. But no. As near as I can tell, no actual source code is shown or referenced. It's nevertheless a pretty decent movie.

Jake plays Captain Colter Stevens, whose last memories are of his service as a chopper pilot in Afghanistan. He suddenly finds himself on a Chicago commuter train, being chatted up by an attractive woman (Michelle Monaghan), who appears to know him. This is, of course, confusing to him.

I think I yelled at the screen: "Dude, it's Michelle Monaghan. Just go with it, see what happens!"

Unfortunately, what happens is that the train blows up. And Stevens finds himself in some sort of capsule, even more disoriented, talking to a high-tech anti-terrorist team. And this is reality: the explosion has already happened, but thanks to some very impressive pseudo-scientific verbiage and handwaving, Stevens' conciousness can be beamed into one of the victims' heads shortly before it occurs. His mission is to discover the culprit, and prevent an even more dastardly deed in the works. He chooses to take on two additional tasks: to find out the reality of his situation and (seemingly hopeless) to save the train and its passengers.

Definitely an above-average science-fiction thriller. It's directed by Duncan Jones, who previously directed Moon a couple years back.

Last Modified 2012-09-25 11:35 AM EST