Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Secret Knowledge by David Mamet

To say that I LOVE this book is an understatement! David Mamet as a reformed liberal knows better than just about anyone else of whence he speaks. Having come out of the art world and being a rather successful writer, his book, with its metaphors and analogies and lyrical language, delights the reader.

Throughout the book, I wondered, "What is 'The Secret Knowledge'?" As I told others I was reading this book, I was at a loss to explain its title. He finally gives us the answer on the last page: There is no Secret Knowledge. Time and again, he paints the left as Utopian, seeking the elites who will finally unlock the door and lead us into nirvana using the vast resources of the government. With this one sentence, he bursts the bubble of their fantasy. There is no Secret Knowledge. No one has all the answers and can solve all our problems. The One we have been waiting for isn't coming. (Which is why we look to Christ and not man as our Savior!)

"The essence of Leftist thought. It is a devolution from reason to 'belief,' in an effort to stave off a feeling of powerlessness. And if Government is Good, it is a logical elaboration that more government power is Better." The left, despairing of ever solving complex, seemingly intractable problems, suffers a sort of Stockholm Syndrome, identifying with its captors and begging for answers at the hand of the benevolent and all-knowing Government.

Never having spoke to or read from a Conservative for the first 60 years of his life, David Mamet sees Conservatism like a new-born baby sees the world and wonders. He brilliantly explains and dissects beliefs both liberals and conservatives take for granted. Diving into the thought processes (or lack thereof) of the left exposes a group motivated by fear and desperate to belong. Any belief or thought that goes against the accepted grain, qualifies one for expulsion. In their fear and anger, they react disproportionately harshly and unreasonably.

Put succinctly, the Right views mankind as flawed and the earth as fallen. This is the Tragic View. Perfection is impossible with an imperfect people. The only thing the government can do is offer to treat everyone equally under the law. It cannot equalize a group with disparate talents, abilities, drives, passions, influences, DNA, desires, and dreams. It can only clarify the rules and adjudicate when someone steps outside the boundaries. And it must do this IMPARTIALLY! Further, the Right recognizes there are no solutions, only trade-offs. Everything has a cost. If you spend all your money on A, you cannot buy B.

The Left believes not only that man is basically good, but perfectible. A Perfect Society can exist if the right people are available to lead it. Equality of outcome is achievable. Government's job is to do the impossible - create Utopia. The absolute subjectiveness of "utopia" does not give the Left pause, because the Left never stops to ask questions. Questions may get you disbarred. Whose utopia exactly are we to create? What of those that disagree? What of the consequences of the destruction of the individual and free will? "Fairness" is their rallying cry, despite the fact that any kind of "fairness" they advocate is inherently unfair. This "first-stage thinking," as Thomas Sowell calls it, leads to all manner of contradictions and no real plans (see "Occupy Wall Street"). To the Left, "there are not hard choices," (Obama says). Everything is possible. They "dream of things that never were and ask, 'Why not?'" according to Ted Kennedy.

To achieve this Utopia, the Left must necessarily devolve into Totalitarianism. They must achieve outside the law what cannot be achieved under it. They must undermine their own supposed ideals to achieve them. (i.e. race-blindness is the ideal and to achieve it, we will implement Affirmative Action.) They must destroy the culture to rid it of its evils. What it will be replaced with is one of those unasked questions. Mamet likens it to sleeping in a new house every night of your life. You are never sure if the noise you heard is an intruder or the settling of the house. You are constantly unsure, constantly offended, constantly in fear, constantly lashing out. The world is always in a constant state of flux if you are on the Left.

To the world, the Left is a scary place. To the Right, its a place full of individuals, each working together, laboring under millennium-old traditions, knowing what is expected of themselves and others. It's a place of freedom, ancient wisdom, comforting traditions,  chaos, and in the end, consensus is reached and beauty is produced.

In the notes at the end, he quotes his son's understanding of the Left and Right: Then, basically, it's the difference between the Heavenly Dream and the God-Awful Reality.

As good a summation as any.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War

I wanted to like this book, really I did. But I didn't make it far (pg 164 out of 608). I think it's probably a really good book and would appeal to someone interested in and knowledgeable about military history. But I got bogged down in the details. Sample sentence: The next day, as Verdun fell, Panzer Group Guderian and Colonel-General Friedrich Dollman's Seventh Army surrounded near the Swiss border 400,000 Frenchmen of the Third, Fifth and Eighth Armies, who surrendered en masse.

This book requires more background knowledge than I have, so, regrettably, I am putting it down.

I feel like a failure.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Living Life is better than Dying in College

I just read this post and I can't get it out of my head. James Altucher makes a lot of sense, but his revolutionary ideas take some thinking through. I'll repost it here:

I know I’ve been doing a lot on college lately. But I view it as a stepping stone for how the life we live now diverges from the life we could be living (and the life I hope my kids will live). I’m in the process of writing a book on this where I hope to give some more views not on just college but a better way to spend your entire life, every moment, being educated and learning from experience.  Here’s an interview I just gave to a newsaper which clarifies my views a bit more:
Q: When you say that parents should not send their kids to college, do you mean that they should not go to college indefinitely? Or come back to college later in life?
Kids at 18 have no idea what they want to do in life. The world is a very big place. Its bigger than five classes a day on philosophy or chemical engineering. Most kids at 18 don’t relish philosophy but they relish the experience of freedom and being out of their parents’ home for the first time in their lives. There is nothing wrong with this. Young adults have a lot of energy and should use it. But the problem is that college costs have risen 1000% in the past 30 years while healthcare has risen 700% and inflation has risen “only” 300%. Colleges have made use of the myth that you can’t get a job unless you have a college education. So young people feel a rush to get that college out of the way so they can get a job and “begin” their adult lives. I think kids should begin their adult lives at 18 by experiencing what else the world has to offer other (see my eight alternatives to college) than a classroom (which they’ve all just been locked in for the prior 18 years). A rose needs space to bloom.
Then, later, if they’ve thought about the debt burden they will place themselves and their parents in, they can choose to go to college. Right now student loan debt is greater than homeowner debt and credit card debt in this country. Thats a lot of debt. Whereas previously we’ve created generations of innovators and creators, now we are creating a generation of young people mired down in hopeless debt. When will they get to live life?
Q:  When did you come up with your theory? How did you come to think of your theory?
A lot of people say, “Oh, James Altucher went to college so he shouldn’t be talking about this”. Well, why not? I saw what people were doing in college. I know now how much I learned in college and how much I learned in other experiences in life and which is more relevant to me now at the age of 43. And, btw, it was much cheaper when I went to school than it is now. So when did I develop this theory? Almost immediately when I realized college had nothing to do with any successes or failures that I had in life (and I had A LOT of failure despite college). And also, it took my 8 years to pay back my student loan debt. Now it takes kids 30 years to pay down that debt. Its not fair to the youth of our country.
To summarize:
A) you learn very little that you use in real life
B) you are so burdened by debt that you can’t use your new-found
knowledge to create real freedom and joy for yourself
C) a young person can use their energy in many other ways than just college.

Q:  Do you think that nothing well worth learning is taught in college? Or is it the fact that students might not be willing to learn?
There are many things worth learning in college. And not every person in the world should avoid college. But the best colleges cost a lot of money and its a burden for young people. And most things that you can learn in college you can learn for free outside of college thanks to the Internet. For instance, computer programming is best learned on the job. English literature is best learned by reading the books you are passionate about. Writing is best learned by having real experiences, writing every day, and reading the great writers who inspire you. Philosophy is learned by having real experiences and reading the philosophers or religious practitioners who inspire you. Imagine learning all of these things because of real world experiences, and then not having any debt. Also, when learning is not force-fed to you you develop a real love and knowledge for how to learn on your own and thats something you keep for the rest of your life. Most young people don’t learn this.

Q:  Do you think you learned anything when you went to college? Or do you think you could have learned more if you chose not to go to college?
I went to college from 1986-1989. I was paying for it with debt so i graduated in 3 years. I took six courses a semester so Icould graduate early. And I took courses every summer. I also worked about 30-40 hours a week at jobs so I could afford my expenses outside of tuititon. Even then i graduated with enormous debt. I majored in
Computer Science and learned how to program.  I thought I was a very good programmer when I graduated college. I prided myself into thinking I was the best since I was sure I was better than any of my classmates. While I was in college I programmed computers to play chess, I wrote papers that were published in international conferences on artificial intelligence, I got As in every practical programming-related class (other than Fortran, ugh!), and then, by the way, I got a full scholarship to go to graduate school for two years. Then, when I finally had a job in the “real world” at HBO, the television network, my programming was so bad (awful!) I had to go to courses offered at AT&T for two months in order to get my programming in shape. And even then I was still nowhere near ready to do real programming in the real world. It probably took about another six months of daily effort to learn how to really program. I had the passion for computers and I’m sure if all I had done were those AT&T courses right from the beginning I would’ve been fine.
Sometimes you have to throw a kid in the water to teach them how to swim (or let them drown). Thats the way to learn. Not being force-fed from textbooks written twenty years ago and being taught by professors with little real world experience. Its a shame also that unless you have a PhD a college won’t let you teach (in most cases). PhDs are often the most intellectual but have the least real world experience. And for that great experience we have to go into massive debt now.

Q:  Do you have any advice for students who are in college right now and feel like they aren’t getting anything out of their education?
Yes, take a year or two off and try some of my eight alternatives. I’m writing a book now with over 40 alternatives and explaining my views in greater depth.

Q:  Are there many people who disagree with your thoughts? Agree? How do people react when they first hear what you have to say?
I think many people agree and don’t say anything. But the people who disagree get very very upset. Its like I’m questioning their religion. I can go right now in the center of Times Square in NYC and shout, ”Jesus is Satan!” and people would just walk around me and think, “ok, its free speech”. But if I shouted, “don’t send your kids to college”, WHOAH!! Lock this guy up! Take away his kids!
I’ve even had death threats based on this opinion. People have a huge life attachment to the fact that college is a part of life, the same way that birth, marriage, parenting, and death are. Its not. Its a relatively modern invention (for the mainstream American, its about fifty years old the idea that most kids should go to college, after 6000 years of civilization). Unfortunately this modern invention has been so abused by college administrators that the next generation of kids we graduate will be mired down in debt, and STILL need to learn the skills required for basic jobs that they want to do. Lets not forget, nobody learns how to be a doctor in college. Thats pre med. They learn a little in one or two years of medical school, but then they really learn when they are a resident in an actual hospital. And then between debt, insurance, and the burdens government is now placing on doctors, how will they ever pay down their burdens? The entire system needs to change but the discussion has to happen somewhere. Hopefully it will be here.

Q:  Anything else you’d like to add?
I began my career at the age of 23, after I left graduate school. And then I began a career from scratch again when i was 26, and then 28, and a totally new career when i was 33. And then a completely new career when i was 36. And now I’m 43 and I’m still open to changing careers and doing new things in life. There’s no rush to start a career at the age of 22. Life changes as you go out in the world and experience things. Failures happen, seeds grow and take years to turn into a tree. Give yourself time to plant those seeds, to learn from your failures, to experience new things in life. The earlier you start to do this, the wiser, healthier, and more balanced you will be. You will be more capable of making decisions on career, family, and life in general.
Its also important that people stop using the statistic: people who went to college make more money. This is a very true statistic but anyone who takes Statistics 101 in college should know that correlation is not cause-and-effect. It could quite possibly be that over the past 30 years, people who are more achievement oriented (and hence more likely to make more money) were more likely to go to college. A better test would be if we take 2000 people who got accepted to Harvard today and divide them randomly into 2 groups: one that goes to college, the other that doesn’t, and see what they are earning 5, 10, 20, 30 years from now. (Some people will then say, “but money isn’t everything” and I strongly agree, but this is just to counterbalance that one statistic that seems to suggest money is everything)
Don’t discount the value of spending time experiencing the world before you make the enormous financial committment of going to college. It will teach you the beginnings (and JUST the beginnings) of what might be important to you. It will teach you how to survive, it will teach you about people other than from your own age group and socio-economic demographic, it will teach you about the 99% of opportunities that happen in the world that have nothing to do with college, it will teach you how to stretch your mind to learn how to sell and communicate, and finally it will show you at an early age that failure, choices, and life is a spectrum and not a ladder. Take advantage of that when still young and I can guarantee you all of life will bend down and support your endeavors.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Divinity of Doubt by Vincent Bugliosi part 3

Bugliosi next blasts Christians for their supreme calling to Love God. He belittles this as some kind of false choice between loving God or loving our fellows humans. He completely ignores John's admonition in 1 John 4: 20-21, "If anyone boasts, "I love God," and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won't love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can't see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You've got to love both."

Loving people IS loving God. There is no either/or or even an "and." Had he spent any time in a book like "In Defense of Faith" he might realize his ignorance as to the extent to which Christians actually DO love their neighbors!

As to the question of all the evil done by secular humanists like Stalin or Mao, he brushes their travesties off by saying none were done in the name of Atheism like Christians act in the name of God. Ummm... once again, this cringeworthy excuse falls short of convincing. I would argue it is precisely BECAUSE they were atheists that they were even able to commit such atrocities. Nothing held back their innate sinfulness.

Of course Christianity, while earning most of his venom, is not alone in his list of victims. Other world religions get a short write-up in a single chapter. It's surprisingly easy to sit on a fence and throw stones when you are ignorant.

Finally, he concludes his ridiculous diatribe with ridiculous tests for flushing out God. One involves a death row prisoner standing on a cliff daring God to strike him down. No comment. Another bemoans the fact that life ALWAYS seems against us: we get in the wrong line at the grocery store; every time you drop a pill, you can't find it; a searched-for paper is always in the bottom half of a stack. His idea is to get some sort of mathematician to discover how often we beat the odds, so to speak, and get the short end of the stick. He believes this will conclusively prove, with evidence, that if there is a God, he is mean. Ugh.

Bottom line, avoid this book if you want a serious critic of belief in God. He is just embarrassing. I thought his credentials would require him to be well-reasoned and logical, but I was wrong. Very wrong. I have a lingering thought that we might want to re-look at his criminal trials. There may be people convicted by a man with little grip on rational arguments and ignorance about his ignorance.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Divinity of Doubt by Vincent Bugliosi part 2

After saying one inane thing after another,  Divinity of Doubt by Vincent Bugliosi continues with the cleverly titled, "The Intelligence (or Lack Thereof) of Intelligent Design." While recognizing the incredible complexity of the known universe, he argues that could be due to complex natural laws. He kind of hints that God could be behind those laws, or they could just be self-sustaining laws having no origin. This tautology makes my head hurt. Incredible design indicates a designer or just brilliant design principles with no designer?!? What?

The sheer complexity and impossibility of the universe, however, seems to move him away from a belief in God. In an incredibly poor reasoned paragraph he states: In the first place, if God, per Christianity, is all-powerful and all-intelligent and can bring about whatever he pleases, why in the world would he create this incredibly complex system of 122 constants to provide life on earth? You mean that he couldn't create an earth that was self-sustaining and relied on none of these things. That do do so would be beyond his power? That he's not, after all all-powerful and without limitation?... The fact that there are 122 constants out there is, to me, very powerful circumstantial evidence not that it was God who created all these constants, but of the opposite, that no one of them has anything to do with the Christian God of people's imagination." What? If God is all-powerful, he would have created a simpler universe? The complexity argues that God is not powerful enough to create a simple earth. What? Later he argues that the vastness of the universe shows that God is similarly not powerful enough to make just the earth and leave it at that. In fact the sheer wastefulness of it offends his sensibilities.  For some reason, he contends, God is not capable of simplicity. Or... maybe God created something so wonderfully complex it has taken us thousands of years just to begin to discover and He has reasons for a vast, infinite universe we cannot even begin to understand but will someday begin to catch glimpses of.

He moves into an attack on the book of Genesis. Many things he blows off with a simple prima fascia argument, taking no time to actually exam the text (i.e. Jonah, Noah, Sampson, the whole Garden of Eden story). He shows not even a rudimentary understanding of the book, completely ignoring the thousands of years of scholarship seeking to explain and elucidate the Scriptures. He belittles an "all-knowing" God for not knowing where Adam was or that he ate the apple (apple? again no knowledge of the text!). (When making this point on Dennis Prager's radio show, Dennis replied, "Are you serious?") Yet strangely, he ends the chapter with praise for the Bible as a whole.

Of course he goes after Christians, belittling and mocking them, while claiming not to. He adamantly opposes the notion that you must be born again to be saved. He simply cannot imagine anything other than good works paving the way to heaven. He claims in back-to-back sentences that God has remained silent as to the path to salvation, but then quotes Jesus as saying, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the after except through me." He advocates God appearing in the clouds and spelling out His plan for salvation to humanity. Apparently that's a much better way to communicate then coming down to earth in the form of a human and actually talking  and interacting with us. How this cloud thing works, he doesn't elaborate. Does God have to appear to every person at some point in the clouds? Does He have to do it every 15 minutes or so, so as not to miss anyone? If I see Him in the clouds, would Vincent Bugliosi take my word for it? He even mocks Jesus' exchange with Nicodemus saying Jesus himself couldn't really explain the whole "born again" thing.

He has no use for the original sin doctrine or patience to understand why Jesus death would redeem us. Being an extreme literalist, he cannot conceive of the concept of Jesus taking our punishment. Furthermore, he blames God for giving us a sin nature in the first place, with no acknowledgement that God also sent Himself as the remedy. I would think a prosecutor like Bugliosi would see that justice demands a punishment, and God is therefore demonstrating true justice in demanding a price paid, but demonstrating beautiful mercy in paying price himself. Then, conveniently forgetting the whole "born again" thing, he states obviously Jesus' death did not forgive ALL sin because some people will still be sent to hell. It's like he didn't even read his own last chapter.

He spends quite a bit of time doing what he accuses atheists of doing, denigrating religion and conflating it with denigrating God. He jumps on Christian beliefs to mock them with no consideration of the voluminous scholarship done to clarify them (i.e. the Trinity, Jesus being the Son of God, the virgin birth). It's embarrassing to read his pretentious, shallow analysis.

In a couple of strange chapters, he slams God for putting us all to death, eventually, and then argues Heaven cannot possibly be worth the pain and suffering of death. Hmmm... The fact that we all will die someday, definitionally means God is not good. How could a good God rob us of this beautiful thing called life with all its wonder and joy. Simultaneously, after we die, Heaven will be boring compared to life on earth. Somehow, God can create a wonderful material world, but is creatively-challenged when it comes to the eternal. Having no interest in sitting on a cloud and playing a harp for eternity, Heaven holds no attraction for Bugliosi. Ummmm, a three-year-old could explain a few things to this pompous know-it-all.

There's more! I'll have to rant in a later post!