New Essay at the Federalist – War Stories: An Interview with David Mamet

It is nearly impossible for me to measure the influence that the work of David Mamet – one of America’s greatest writers – has had on my thinking, my ideas, and, I hope, my writing.

Needless to say, I was thrilled and honored to spend 90 minutes with the literary genius and giant on the phone. The Federalist has published the result of that conversation – an essay that ranks among my best work, and one that I am very proud to have written.

The essay, because of Mamet’s brilliance and wit, contains so many gems of insight that it really becomes required reading.

I am particularly happy with the essay, because it truly gets to the essence of Mamet’s philosophy and personality. We spend time discussing his greatest work – Glengarry Glen Ross, American Buffalo, Edmond, The Verdict – along with his newest book, Three War Stories.

We also spend time on his political conversion from liberalism to libertarianism, which is similar and influential on my own same ideological travel route, and on his early life on the streets and in the theaters of Chicago.

It is my hope that the large swath of people who will continually find Mamet’s work worthy of study will use my interview and profile as a source of knowledge for many years.



Interview with Mondo Film Podcast on the Norman Mailer Novel, An American Dream

I was happy to participate in an episode of the excellent, Mondo Film Podcast, on the Norman Mailer novel, An American Dream.

As a member of the Norman Mailer Society, I was flattered to receive an invitation to participate in a conversation on one of Mailer’s greatest novels. Listen to the entire program at the Mondo Film Podcast website.

I will also contribute to the next episode, which focuses on Mailer’s Pulitzer Prize winning work of literary journalism, The Executioner’s Song.

New Essay at The Daily Beast: Richard Hofstadter and America’s New Wave of Anti-Intellectualism

Twenty-first century philistines, suffering from a lack of imagination and curiosity, have seized upon understandable economic anxieties since the financial crash of 2008, to shepherd an increasingly large flock of American sheep into the livestock freight carrier Pulitzer prize winning historian, Richard Hofstadter, called “anti-intellectualism.

Anti-Intellectualism in American Life—one of Hofstadter’s best, among many great books – was a pile of dynamite in 1963, when it was first published and blew a sizable hole in the house of America’s self-comforting delusions of intellectual superiority. In 2014, one can only hope that some of its initial blast still reverberates, as media commentators, university administrators, and even the President, have exposed themselves as adherents to what Hofstadter indicted as the “lowest common denominator criterion” of thought and “technician conformity” of lifestyle. Suspicion, and often outright hatred, of ideas is making American culture as riveting as oatmeal. By reading Hofstadter, one learns that the resurgence of a new anti-intellectualism isn’t new, at all. In fact, Hofstadter identified the particularly poisonous strain of the virus that now infects the American mind and kills the imagination.

Read the rest at the Daily Beast.

February Trilogy of Essays on The Free Market

One of the most profound political, and personal, changes I’ve made in my lifetime is the shift from central planning advocacy – “big government” – to robust belief in limited government and the free market. I no longer believe in centralized power, heavy regulation, high taxation, and other forms of interference in the economic system that, as Hayek explained, most effectively recreates humanity’s natural state of evolution, adoption, and adaptation.

The free market is not only best at broadening the benefits of prosperity. It also creates and maintains the maximum levels of freedom in a society, and ensures the most wild and fun amount of cultural variety and diversity.

In February, I wrote a trilogy of essays on the virtues, strengths, and attributes of the free market. In each essay, I also, as a former liberal, attempt to expose the flaws, and hypocrisies, at the heart of modern liberalism.

The first essay ran on the Federalist – “Understanding Liberal Schizophrenia About the Free Market”

This essay looks at the inherent contradictions of leftist attacks on “consumer culture”, and the leftist obession with inequality. It also argues that the free market is an affirmation of individual choice. Those who oppose the free market are often using their economic position as a cover story for the desire to limit people’s choices, and thereby gain control over their behavior.

The second essay also ran on the Federalist“Diversity and the Free Market

This essay demonstrates how the free market succeeds, above everything else, in creating and maintaining a diverse society full of cultural variety and vitality. Drawing on the development of jazz music, and the opportunities for exploration and adventure in Chicago, I show how the free market make things interesting and fun. I also undress liberal platitudes about diversity that, if put into practice, actually undermine it.

My third essay on the free market ran as a column in the Indianapolis Star. Titled “The Moral Case for Capitalism”, it is reprinted here in its entirety.

The Moral Case for Capitalism

By David Masciotra

Many believers in a robust, lively, and muscular free market have made the empty-headed error of punting on third down.

Since the financial collapse of 2008, which seemingly demolished the job market into debris, capitalism has come under heavy artillery attack from the off key chorus of liberal journalists, activists, and politicians who have not learned a new song in decades. More importantly and disturbingly, world leaders, such as President Barack Obama and Pope Francis, have made out of tune contributions to the farcical nonsense that condemns“unbridled” capitalism as the exploitative and destructive creator of vicious“income inequality.”

Libertarians and defenders of the free market have reacted to the lunacy of central planning advocacy with appropriate mockery and anger, but have largely missed the crucial truth of human history that would deflate the hot air balloon of government spending enthusiasm.

Most often, they merely make the correct, but uninspiring point that gluttonous deficit spending, coupled with the bloat of entitlement expansion, will turn the entire country into a rickshaw for the morbidly obese. You can only get so far following the liberal model, and eventually, the entire thing will fall apart.

That fact based argumentation contains compelling and undeniable veracity, but it misses the moral case for capitalism.

According to the joint research of Xavier Sala-i-Martin, an economist at Columbia University, and MIT economics professor, Maxim Pinkovskiy, since 1970, the world’s worst poverty, meaning the amount of people living on one dollar a day or less, has declined by eighty percent.

News of this stunning achievement is like a damaging secret about a gangland enforcer. No one is going to spread it around out of fear of the repercussions. The major media, much like the Pope and President Obama, would prefer to keep alive the idea that capitalism is an evil that anointed agents of goodness – themselves – must unite to regulate and eradicate.

Capitalism is the very system of economics, however, that is responsible for the reduction of poverty in Africa and Asia. Martin and Pinkovskiy credit private property, commercial activity, and free trade for the uplift of millions of the world’s worst poor.

Bono, the lead singer of U2 whose organization DATA works to“eradicate extreme poverty in Africa”, recently told students at Georgetown University that “in dealing with poverty, welfare and foreign aid are a Band-Aid, free enterprise is the cure.”

As if the improvement in the conditions and lives of millions of the world’s poorest people wasn’t enough to demonstrate the ethical superiority of the free market over intrusive governmental involvement and interference in business, there is also staggering evidence available in the world’s richest country, the United States of America.

For all of the obsessive self-pity and envy that comes with derision of the “one percent”, all Americans remain in the one percent of the world. According to every measurement of health, safety, and welfare, the world’s one percent not only enjoys a high standard of living, but takes comfort from the continual increase in standard of living. The free market is effective at broadening the benefits of prosperity, and anyone who doubts thecase, can compare living in Miami and Havana.

Even within America’s borders, people unwilling to wear the intellectual shackles of ideology can make instructive comparisons: Would you rather look for a job in California or Texas? Would you rather raise a child in Detroit or Indianapolis?

The states and cities with lower levels of government spending, lower taxes, and less regulations are more livable. In the world and in America, the places with a stronger and freer market, have healthier and happier people.

The moral case for capitalism is easy to make, and it should amplify the voices of free market advocates, while overpowering the sputtering whimpers of its detractors, and shaming them into silence.

New Essay at Splice Today: Racial Conflict and Tension in American Life

The news media is a relic, an over-the-hill, front porch swinging, sclerotic, dementia-debilitated, half-dead, halfwit trying to tell everyone “how it used to be.” The sports media, and specifically ESPN, is what now offers the most racially smart and sophisticated programming in pop culture….

Read the rest of my essay on ESPN and race in America at Splice Today.

New Column for The Indianapolis Star: Marijuana Legalization Makes Sense for Indiana

I don’t like marijuana, and I don’t enjoy socializing with people under its influence. But what separates me from most elected officials is that I am not so arrogant as to believe that my personal preferences function as divine mandates. Just because I don’t enjoy something, does not mean that you should not have the option of trying it, and if you do try it, you should face the risk of criminal penalty.

There are many practical reasons to legalize marijuana…

Read the rest of my column on legalizing marijuana at the Indianapolis Star.

New Essays at Splice Today: My Take on Duck Dynasty and My Take On MSNBC

“Phil Robertson—the knuckle dragger of Duck Dynasty—is the most truthful and accurate representative of Christianity’s position on homosexuality in the public eye. More than liberal Christians who try to have their wafer and eat it too (the Bible is the “word of God” except for the parts that conflict with their politics), and more than the hypocritical and hollow Pope who makes a few friendly statements about gay couples, but does nothing to alter the anti-gay policies of the church he leads, Robertson had the highest degree of Biblical authority when he compared homosexuality to bestiality and paraphrased Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the Kingdom of God.”

Read the rest here: Duck Dynasty, Christians, Gays, and The Bible

Read my take on the failure of the contemporary left, and the need for obscenity, humor, and sexuality in cultural discourse here: Nerd Land and the Left

New Essay at The Daily Beast: Books to Transform Your Sad Life

In my new essay for the Daily Beast, I offer a syllabus for self-transformation. From my introduction to the book list:

As the New Year dawns, let’s admit that the American psyche is a dilapidated maze of funhouse mirrors that leads nowhere. It should not shock even the most credulous patriot that many people who spend their internal lives within this maze of narcissism and dysfunction have major problems. One in five Americans suffers from some kind of mental illness, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The New York Times recently reported that suicide rates are rising so rapidly and steadily that more Americans now die of suicide than in car accidents. In a turn that vindicates Aldous Huxley, one in ten Americans ingests their daily Soma supplement in the form of antidepressants.

Many Americans are like Soren Kierkegaard’s allegorical corpse who did not realize he was alive until the morning he woke up dead—aimlessly wandering around in a drug addled haze, indulging smart phone addiction, disconnected from reality and community, while wondering why they feel unhappy and unfulfilled.

To worsen their condition of alienation and dejection, many Americans, in an attempt to feel better, read books that manipulatively sell mindless optimism and pathological hope. The cult of positive thinking turns out one hit after another, both secular—The Secret—and Christian—Joel Osteen’s prosperity gospel. The delusion that changing a life is as simple as believing it will change, and the poison that pretends God wants people who pray early and often to win the lottery, only raise expectations to unrealistic heights, and set desperate people up for a crushing fall with a crash landing.

Since Americans seem to love making New Years resolutions, now might be a sensible time for many to resolve to gain maturity and perspective in 2014. Such a process of self-education can and should begin with the close reading of books containing wisdom that will alleviate their anxiety, provide edifying purpose, and begin to transform their minds from circuses to cathedrals.

Check out my ten book recommendations, including Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway, Gore Vidal, American history books, sexual advice, and a “loafer’s manifesto”, at the Daily Beast.

New Essay at Splice Today: A Cozy Allegory in a Cozy Mystery

Tim Hall is a man with answers. He is a man with humor. He is a man with guts. He is a brilliant writer. He is a friend of mine.

I’ve written about his work before with an essay about his autobiographical novels and a review of his collaboration to create a web comic.

In my first essay for Splice Today, I review his new mystery novel, Dead Stock. Dead Stock is a book that will make any lucid reader laugh, but the book is so full of insight and inspiration, that in between belly laughs, it will hit you in the same region, provoking introspection and examination of the culture in which Dead Stock‘s unlikely hero – Bert Shambles – lives.

Dead Stock

New Column for the Indianapolis Star: Mike Pence Leads Way Against Government Bloat

In my new column for the Indianapolis Star, I defend Indiana Governor’s miserly cuts to the higher education budget, picking up on the thread I’ve deemed the “higher ed hustle” in American life.

I also reference the brilliant theory of Jonathan Rauch – “demosclerosis.”

The column is an interesting and important read for anyone still caught in the 1960s and suffering from the belief that the modern university is still a dilapidated school house where professors wearing clip on ties lecture to students on scholarships sharing a single text book.

It is, in fact, one of the most profitable, and selfish, institutions in the world, and it is continually scamming American students and their families. Pence’s small cuts to the budget are necessary, helpful, and one can hope, the beginning of a new precedent throughout the country.