Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thomas Sowell Quotes

“One of the sad signs of our times is that we have demonized those who produce, subsidized those who refuse to produce, and canonized those who complain”

“Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it”

“Liberalism is totalitarianism with a human face”

“One of the consequences of such notions as "entitlements" is that people who have contributed nothing to society feel that society owes them something, apparently just for being nice enough to grace us with their presence.”

“The least productive people are usually the ones who are most in favor of holding meetings”

“People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.”

“People who have time on their hands will inevitably waste the time of people who have work to do”

“No matter how disastrously some policy has turned out, anyone who criticizes it can expect to hear: "But what would you replace it with?" When you put out a fire, what do you replace it with”

“You will never understand bureaucracies until you understand that for bureaucrats procedure is everything and outcomes are nothing.”

“The big divide in this country is not between Democrats and Republicans, or women and men, but between talkers and doers.”

“Talkers are usually more articulate than doers, since talk is their specialty.”

“The problem isn't that Johnny can't read. The problem isn't even that Johnny can't think. The problem is that Johnny doesn't know what thinking is; he confuses it with feeling.”

“One of the common failings among honorable people is a failure to appreciate how thoroughly dishonorable some other people can be, and how dangerous it is to trust them”

“The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.”

“Liberals seem to assume that, if you don't believe in their particular political solutions, then you don't really care about the people that they claim to want to help”

“People who claim that sentencing a murderer to "life without the possibility of parole" protects society just as well as the death penalty ignore three things: (1) life without the possibility of parole does not mean life without the possibility of escape or (2) life without the possibility of killing while in prison or (3) life without the possibility of a liberal governor being elected and issuing a pardon.”

“The assumption that spending more of the taxpayer's money will make things better has survived all kinds of evidence that it has made things worse. The black family- which survived slavery, discrimination, poverty, wars and depressions- began to come apart as the federal government moved in with its well-financed programs to "help."”

“Most people who read "The Communist Manifesto" probably have no idea that it was written by a couple of young men who had never worked a day in their lives, and who nevertheless spoke boldly in the name of "the workers".”

“Despite a voluminous and often fervent literature on "income distribution," the cold fact is that most income is not distributed: It is earned.”

“It is amazing that people who think we cannot afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, and medication somehow think that we can afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, medication and a government bureaucracy to administer it.”

“It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”

“What "multiculturalism" boils down to is that you can praise any culture in the world except Western culture - and you cannot blame any culture in the world except Western culture”

“If you have been voting for politicians who promise to give you goodies at someone else's expense, then you have no right to complain when they take your money and give it to someone else, including themselves”

“Mystical references to society and its programs to help may warm the hearts of the gullible but what it really means is putting more power in the hands of bureaucrats.”

"Envy plus rhetoric equals “social justice.”

"If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical 60 years ago, a liberal 30 years ago and a racist today."

"Much of the social history of the Western world, over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good."

"One of the most pervasive political visions of our time is the vision of liberals as compassionate and conservatives as less caring."

"The most fundamental fact about the ideas of the political left is that they do not work. Therefore we should not be surprised to find the left concentrated in institutions where ideas do not have to work in order to survive."

"What is ominous is the ease with which some people go from saying that they don't like something to saying that the government should forbid it. When you go down that road, don't expect freedom to survive very long."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thomas Sowell: In The Right Direction

2005 Fox News Special interview by Fred Barnes

Thomas Sowell - The Housing Boom and Bust

Good Intentions

Walter Williams' PBS documentary Good Intentions based on his book, The State Against Blacks (1982). The documentary was very controversial at the time it was released and led to many animosities and even threats of murder.

In Good Intentions, Dr. Williams examines the failure of the war on poverty and the devastating effect of well meaning government policies on blacks asserting that the state harms people in the U.S. more than it helps them. He shows how government anti-poverty programs have often locked people into poverty making the points that:

- being forced to attend 3rd rate public schools leave students unprepared for working life
- minimum wages prevent young people from obtaining jobs at an early age
- licensing and labor laws have had the effect of restricting entrance of blacks into the skilled trades and unions
- the welfare system creates perverse incentives for the poor to make bad choices they otherwise would not

Dr. Williams presents the following solutions to these problems:

Failing Public Schools - Give parents greater control over their children's education by setting up a tuition tax credit or voucher system to broaden competition in turn revitalizing both public and non-public schools

Minimum Wages - Remove the minimum wage from youngsters to give more young people the chance to learn the world of work at an early age instead spending their free time idle an possibly falling into the habits of the street

Restrictive Labor Laws, Jobs Programs - Eliminate government roadblocks that prevent new entrepreneurs from starting their own business

Welfare Programs - Enact a compassionate welfare system such as a negative income tax which would remove dependency and dis-incentives for the poor to get themselves out of poverty

Scholars interviewed in the documentary include Donald Eberle, Charles Murray, and George Gilder.

John Stossel - The State Against Blacks

Saturday, June 18, 2011

David Mamet: Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal'


John Maynard Keynes was twitted with changing his mind. He replied, "When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?"

My favorite example of a change of mind was Norman Mailer at The Village Voice.

Norman took on the role of drama critic, weighing in on the New York premiere of Waiting for Godot.

Twentieth century's greatest play. Without bothering to go, Mailer called it a piece of garbage.

When he did get around to seeing it, he realized his mistake. He was no longer a Voicecolumnist, however, so he bought a page in the paper and wrote a retraction, praising the play as the masterpiece it is.

Every playwright's dream.

I once won one of Mary Ann Madden's "Competitions" in New York magazine. The task was to name or create a "10" of anything, and mine was the World's Perfect Theatrical Review. It went like this: "I never understood the theater until last night. Please forgive everything I've ever written. When you read this I'll be dead." That, of course, is the only review anybody in the theater ever wants to get.

My prize, in a stunning example of irony, was a year's subscription to New York, which rag (apart from Mary Ann's "Competition") I considered an open running sore on the body of world literacy—this due to the presence in its pages of John Simon, whose stunning amalgam of superciliousness and savagery, over the years, was appreciated by that readership searching for an endorsement of proactive mediocrity.

But I digress.

I wrote a play about politics (November, Barrymore Theater, Broadway, some seats still available). And as part of the "writing process," as I believe it's called, I started thinking about politics. This comment is not actually as jejune as it might seem. Porgy and Bess is a buncha good songs but has nothing to do with race relations, which is the flag of convenience under which it sailed.

But my play, it turned out, was actually about politics, which is to say, about the polemic between persons of two opposing views. The argument in my play is between a president who is self-interested, corrupt, suborned, and realistic, and his leftish, lesbian, utopian-socialist speechwriter.

The play, while being a laugh a minute, is, when it's at home, a disputation between reason and faith, or perhaps between the conservative (or tragic) view and the liberal (or perfectionist) view. The conservative president in the piece holds that people are each out to make a living, and the best way for government to facilitate that is to stay out of the way, as the inevitable abuses and failures of this system (free-market economics) are less than those of government intervention.

I took the liberal view for many decades, but I believe I have changed my mind.

As a child of the '60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart.

These cherished precepts had, over the years, become ingrained as increasingly impracticable prejudices. Why do I say impracticable? Because although I still held these beliefs, I no longer applied them in my life. How do I know? My wife informed me. We were riding along and listening to NPR. I felt my facial muscles tightening, and the words beginning to form in my mind: Shut the fuck up. "?" she prompted. And her terse, elegant summation, as always, awakened me to a deeper truth: I had been listening to NPR and reading various organs of national opinion for years, wonder and rage contending for pride of place. Further: I found I had been—rather charmingly, I thought—referring to myself for years as "a brain-dead liberal," and to NPR as "National Palestinian Radio."

This is, to me, the synthesis of this worldview with which I now found myself disenchanted: that everything is always wrong.

But in my life, a brief review revealed, everything was not always wrong, and neither was nor is always wrong in the community in which I live, or in my country. Further, it was not always wrong in previous communities in which I lived, and among the various and mobile classes of which I was at various times a part.

And, I wondered, how could I have spent decades thinking that I thought everything was always wrong at the same time that I thought I thought that people were basically good at heart? Which was it? I began to question what I actually thought and found that I do not think that people are basically good at heart; indeed, that view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years. I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine, and that this, indeed, is not only a fit subject, but the only subject, of drama.

I'd observed that lust, greed, envy, sloth, and their pals are giving the world a good run for its money, but that nonetheless, people in general seem to get from day to day; and that we in the United States get from day to day under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances—that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired—in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it.

For the Constitution, rather than suggesting that all behave in a godlike manner, recognizes that, to the contrary, people are swine and will take any opportunity to subvert any agreement in order to pursue what they consider to be their proper interests.

To that end, the Constitution separates the power of the state into those three branches which are for most of us (I include myself) the only thing we remember from 12 years of schooling.

The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches. So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long.

Rather brilliant. For, in the abstract, we may envision an Olympian perfection of perfect beings in Washington doing the business of their employers, the people, but any of us who has ever been at a zoning meeting with our property at stake is aware of the urge to cut through all the pernicious bullshit and go straight to firearms.

I found not only that I didn't trust the current government (that, to me, was no surprise), but that an impartial review revealed that the faults of this president—whom I, a good liberal, considered a monster—were little different from those of a president whom I revered.

Bush got us into Iraq, JFK into Vietnam. Bush stole the election in Florida; Kennedy stole his in Chicago. Bush outed a CIA agent; Kennedy left hundreds of them to die in the surf at the Bay of Pigs. Bush lied about his military service; Kennedy accepted a Pulitzer Prize for a book written by Ted Sorenson. Bush was in bed with the Saudis, Kennedy with the Mafia. Oh.

And I began to question my hatred for "the Corporations"—the hatred of which, I found, was but the flip side of my hunger for those goods and services they provide and without which we could not live.

And I began to question my distrust of the "Bad, Bad Military" of my youth, which, I saw, was then and is now made up of those men and women who actually risk their lives to protect the rest of us from a very hostile world. Is the military always right? No. Neither is government, nor are the corporations—they are just different signposts for the particular amalgamation of our country into separate working groups, if you will. Are these groups infallible, free from the possibility of mismanagement, corruption, or crime? No, and neither are you or I. So, taking the tragic view, the question was not "Is everything perfect?" but "How could it be better, at what cost, and according to whose definition?" Put into which form, things appeared to me to be unfolding pretty well.

Do I speak as a member of the "privileged class"? If you will—but classes in the United States are mobile, not static, which is the Marxist view. That is: Immigrants came and continue to come here penniless and can (and do) become rich; the nerd makes a trillion dollars; the single mother, penniless and ignorant of English, sends her two sons to college (my grandmother). On the other hand, the rich and the children of the rich can go belly-up; the hegemony of the railroads is appropriated by the airlines, that of the networks by the Internet; and the individual may and probably will change status more than once within his lifetime.

What about the role of government? Well, in the abstract, coming from my time and background, I thought it was a rather good thing, but tallying up the ledger in those things which affect me and in those things I observe, I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow.

But if the government is not to intervene, how will we, mere human beings, work it all out?

I wondered and read, and it occurred to me that I knew the answer, and here it is: We just seem to. How do I know? From experience. I referred to my own—take away the director from the staged play and what do you get? Usually a diminution of strife, a shorter rehearsal period, and a better production.

The director, generally, does not cause strife, but his or her presence impels the actors to direct (and manufacture) claims designed to appeal to Authority—that is, to set aside the original goal (staging a play for the audience) and indulge in politics, the purpose of which may be to gain status and influence outside the ostensible goal of the endeavor.

Strand unacquainted bus travelers in the middle of the night, and what do you get? A lot of bad drama, and a shake-and-bake Mayflower Compact. Each, instantly, adds what he or she can to the solution. Why? Each wants, and in fact needs, to contribute—to throw into the pot what gifts each has in order to achieve the overall goal, as well as status in the new-formed community. And so they work it out.

See also that most magnificent of schools, the jury system, where, again, each brings nothing into the room save his or her own prejudices, and, through the course of deliberation, comes not to a perfect solution, but a solution acceptable to the community—a solution the community can live with.

Prior to the midterm elections, my rabbi was taking a lot of flack. The congregation is exclusively liberal, he is a self-described independent (read "conservative"), and he was driving the flock wild. Why? Because a) he never discussed politics; and b) he taught that the quality of political discourse must be addressed first—that Jewish law teaches that it is incumbent upon each person to hear the other fellow out.

And so I, like many of the liberal congregation, began, teeth grinding, to attempt to do so. And in doing so, I recognized that I held those two views of America (politics, government, corporations, the military). One was of a state where everything was magically wrong and must be immediately corrected at any cost; and the other—the world in which I actually functioned day to day—was made up of people, most of whom were reasonably trying to maximize their comfort by getting along with each other (in the workplace, the marketplace, the jury room, on the freeway, even at the school-board meeting).

And I realized that the time had come for me to avow my participation in that America in which I chose to live, and that that country was not a schoolroom teaching values, but a marketplace.

"Aha," you will say, and you are right. I began reading not only the economics of Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher) but Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson, andShelby Steele, and a host of conservative writers, and found that I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism.

At the same time, I was writing my play about a president, corrupt, venal, cunning, and vengeful (as I assume all of them are), and two turkeys. And I gave this fictional president a speechwriter who, in his view, is a "brain-dead liberal," much like my earlier self; and in the course of the play, they have to work it out. And they eventually do come to a human understanding of the political process. As I believe I am trying to do, and in which I believe I may be succeeding, and I will try to summarize it in the words of William Allen White.

White was for 40 years the editor of the Emporia Gazette in rural Kansas, and a prominent and powerful political commentator. He was a great friend of Theodore Roosevelt and wrote the best book I've ever read about the presidency. It's called Masks in a Pageant, and it profiles presidents from McKinley to Wilson, and I recommend it unreservedly.

White was a pretty clear-headed man, and he'd seen human nature as few can. (As Twain wrote, you want to understand men, run a country paper.) White knew that people need both to get ahead and to get along, and that they're always working at one or the other, and that government should most probably stay out of the way and let them get on with it. But, he added, there is such a thing as liberalism, and it may be reduced to these saddest of words: " . . . and yet . . . "

The right is mooing about faith, the left is mooing about change, and many are incensed about the fools on the other side—but, at the end of the day, they are the same folks we meet at the water cooler. Happy election season.

Lunch With David Mamet

The dramatist says he's "crazy" about Sarah Palin.

Even sitting at a banquette in one corner of the nearly empty Knickerbocker Bar & Grill, an old-style grill in Greenwich Village, with his orange Perspex-framed glasses lying on the table in front of him, David Mamet is at work.

David Mamet. Click image to expand.We have met at the Knickerbocker because he is in New York with his producer to scout locations for a film he has written and will direct for HBO about Phil Spector, the legendary music producer. "We call it a red-booth restaurant in the movie. This is close. It's oxblood," he says, prodding our leather-lined booth. "We'll have to dye it."

Spector, to be played by Al Pacino with Bette Midler as his lawyer, Linda Kenney Baden, was jailed for murder in 2008 after being convicted of the killing of Lana Clarkson, an actress, at his California mansion. "I don't think he's guilty. I definitely think there is reasonable doubt," Mamet says briskly when I ask what interested him about the case. "They should never have sent him away. Whether he did it or not, we'll never know but if he'd just been a regular citizen, they never would have indicted him."

The crisp certainty and rhetorical force makes Mamet sound like one of his characters. At the age of 63, with close-cropped gray hair and a beard, he is not only one of the most celebrated of American dramatists but one of the most prolific. From plays such asAmerican Buffalo (1975), a Pinteresque drama about four petty thieves, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Glengarry Glen Ross (1982), an intense clash of competing property salesmen, to harrowing films such as The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) and the Oscar-nominated courtroom drama The Verdict (1982), to novels and essays, he rarely rests.

There are signs of the advancing years—he has a hearing aid in one ear—but he has the nervous energy and edge of a younger man. He has greeted me warmly but seems a little isolated as he sits before me, as if the ideas jostling in his head leave little room for other voices to penetrate. He is dressed in artisan filmmaker style—white trousers, a gray linen shirt and a waistcoat with pockets into which are tucked some notes and a glasses case.

He recounts the restaurant scene from the film, which involves Midler's character. "Linda says, 'You've known your husband a long time. You know he's cheating on you.' The woman says, 'That's preposterous,' and Linda says, 'That's called giving him the benefit of the doubt.' The woman walks away and then she says, 'OK. But what are you going to do when he kills the next girl?' " Mamet chuckles. "It's a pretty good scene."

Confrontation is often present in Mamet's work, in which characters with opposing views argue with often unbearable intensity, trying to settle their differences by pounding each other's personalities. He thrives on provoking his audience and has now done so in real life by becoming a conservative and writing a book, The Secret Knowledge, that grinds into dust his erstwhile liberalism. Mamet's Damascene conversion from one side of the bitterly divided American political culture to the other, which he first announced in a 2008 article for the Village Voice headlined "Why I Am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal," shocked his fellow writers and artists.

"I saw things that horrified me in my own behavior, positions I'd taken that were foolish and absurd," he declares defiantly. I ask for an example. "Voting for big government. It has ruined our country as it ruined yours. As Churchill said, 'We fought the war and now our country is giving away everything we fought and died for.' California is broke, this country is broke, yet we keep on voting for it."

This peroration, delivered in a husky voice with traces of his native Chicago, is interrupted by the waitress. Mamet switches seamlessly to ordering his food in Hollywood manner—he now lives in the Brentwood district of Los Angeles with his four children, the younger two with his second wife, the Anglo-American actress Rebecca Pidgeon. "Filet mignon rare, and no mashed potatoes please, and no sauce please. I'll start off with the green salad with the balsamic vinegar on the side."

I ask whether anything in particular prompted his change of heart and he cites the 2007-08 film and television writers' strike and The Unit, a TV show that Mamet created and produced. "All of a sudden, the show was off the air and everyone was thrown out of work—the stagehands, the grips, the costume designers, all the people who worked 16 hours a day ... I realized I had been screwed by unions as much as I'd been helped by them."

The experience led him to start reading the work of free-market economists such as Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Adam Smith and philosophers such as John Stuart Mill and Thomas Hobbes. He also talked to Shelby Steele and Thomas Sowell, two conservative writers at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. "My dad was a labor lawyer and the ideas that I grew up with—bad management, bad capitalism, robber barons—when I applied this to my own life, I saw that we are all on both sides of the coin."

Mamet's book, with its dismissal of global warming, objections to state-supported spending programs and scathing hostility to liberals, often reads like someone who is grappling with these well-worn topics for the first time. Later in our conversation, I ask whether he had read any economics before and he says not—he typically gets absorbed in a collection of books relating to his current play for two years at a time before moving on. I wonder what might have happened if he had picked up John Maynard Keynes instead of Friedman.

The Secret Knowledge has had some hostile reviews, including one from John Lloyd in theFT, and Mamet stands accused of turning conservative as he has grown older and richer. When I mention this, he bristles. "People say, Oh, Dave just wrote this book because he made a couple of bucks or because he believes in the state of Israel and he cast his liberal beliefs aside, but what about the arguments?" Mamet, who attends synagogue regularly, cites the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah. "They say you can't study Kabbalah until you are at least 40 years old. You know why? You have to have experienced at least one generation making the same mistakes as the previous one. Getting into my sixties, I have a certain amount of experience. I know very well what it is to be out of work and to be cheated by employers and I know what it is to be an employer."


As we eat our salads—I have ordered beetroot salad with goat cheese, chives, and shallots—I take the opportunity of having this master craftsman in front of me to ask about writing. He commences by defining where others go wrong. "Anyone can write five people trapped in a snowstorm. The question is how you get them into the snowstorm. It's hard to write a good play because it's hard to structure a plot. If you can think of it off the top of your head, so can the audience. To think of a plot that is, as Aristotle says, surprising and yet inevitable, is a lot, lot, lot of work."

So what is the basis of drama? Mamet gazes at me blankly as if the question is naive, then elucidates in one long sentence. "The basis of drama is ... is the struggle of the hero towards a specific goal at the end of which he realizes that what kept him from it was, in the lesser drama, civilization and, in the great drama, the discovery of something that he did not set out to discover but which can be seen retrospectively as inevitable. The example Aristotle uses, of course, is Oedipus."

We return to politics and I suggest that his intellectual journey from liberalism to neoconservatism has been traveled before by Jews such as Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz. This triggers a long reflection on his own Zionism and how he thinks Israel has been betrayed by the American left.

"The speeches that Charles Lindbergh made and Oswald Mosley made in the 1930s are the same speeches that are being made today, only slightly more politely: 'The Jews are bringing us to war. Perhaps we should give their state away.' The liberals in my neighborhood wouldn't give away Brentwood to the Palestinians but they want to give away Tel Aviv."

But attitudes in Europe to the Middle East tend to be more skeptical about Israel than American ones, I interject. Does he believe that anyone who disputes Israel's land claims and believes in reallocation of territory to the Palestinians is anti-Semitic?

Uncharacteristically, Mamet hesitates slightly as he starts to answer and I wonder if he will back down, or at least hedge his answer. "Well, at some level ... listen ..." He throws his head back and looks briefly at the ceiling before emitting a grunt of relief as he abandons caution.

"Yes!" he exclaims. "Of course! I mean you Brits ... " He smiles ruefully. "I love the British. Whatever education I have comes from reading your writers and yet, time and time again, for example reading Trollope, there is the stock Jew. Even in George Eliot, God bless her. And the authors of today ... I'm not going to mention names because of your horrendous libel laws but there are famous dramatists and novelists over there whose works are full of anti-Semitic filth.

"There is a profound and ineradicable taint of anti-Semitism in the British ... The paradigmatic Brit as far as the Middle East goes is [TE] Lawrence. That's just the fact. Even before the oil was there, you loved the desert. It had all these wacky characters ... But there is a Jewish state there ratified by the United Nations and you want to give it away to some people whose claim is rather dubious."

The elision of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism strikes me as not only wrong but offensive, yet Mamet has delivered it almost amiably. He has a knack of combining character assassination with dry wit, as if only half-serious.


As the waitress brings Mamet's steak and a hamburger for me, he exclaims with relish: "Yum, yum, yum." Then he returns to safer ground. "The first time I met Tennessee Williams," he recalls, "he showed up at a party in Chicago with two beautiful young boys who were obviously rough trade. He looked at them and then he looked at me and he said, 'Expensive habit.' So that's kind of how I feel about liberalism. It's a damned expensive habit."

What does he think of Barack Obama? "The question is can he run on his record in 2012 and the answer is no, because it's abysmal. He took a trillion dollars and where it went, nobody knows. He dismantled health care, he weakened America around the world, he sold out the state of Israel. All he's got to run on is being a Democrat and indicting the other fellow."

So who would he prefer as president? He replies that he is "not current" with theRepublican contenders until I mention Sarah Palin. "I am crazy about her," he answers immediately. "Would she make a good candidate for president? I don't know but she seems to have succeeded at everything she put her hand to."

Mamet compares Palin to a late friend in Cabot, Vt., where he owns a "little cabin in the woods ... I like to hunt. I like to fish. Cross-country ski. It's in the middle of absolute nowhere. A dirt-track road, a 200-year-old post-and-beam house. Gorgeous." His friend, he continues, was "a hardworking guy, a man of honor who was looking out for the town's interests. I thought of him when I saw Sarah Palin. She started with the PTA and then became the mayor and then governor [of Alaska]. I thought, well, OK. That's someone who knows how to work."

Why, if he so loves small-town America and its values, does he live in the liberal enclave of Los Angeles? "There is a lot of work. My wife works there," he says and then he mentions his daughters. "They are very, very beautiful. It once occurred to me: being able to write is like being the pretty girl at the party. You can't be diffident about it because that's a lie but it's nothing to be arrogant about."

The waitress returns and Mamet asks if she has any fresh fruit. She offers us two plates of berries, bananas, and sliced apples. "Yum, yum," he says appreciatively as the fruit arrives a few minutes later. We are discussing Hollywood and his liberal friends and colleagues. "It is very amusing to listen to some people of my acquaintance who not only own summer homes but transcontinental jets going on about greed and how greed is ruining our country," Mamet says with a laugh. "You get rich through luck. You get rich through crime. You get rich through fulfilling the needs of another. You can be as greedy as you like. If you can't do one of those three things, you ain't going to get any money."

We close with his Phil Spector film and, as Mamet describes a monologue from it, it is clear how much he identifies with the defiantly eccentric and isolated producer—and with Lawrence of Arabia. "He [the Spector character] talks a lot about Lawrence. He loved Lawrence. Either he loved him or I do, I can't remember. He says in the film Lawrence wanted the one thing that he couldn't have, which was privacy. He simply wanted to be by himself. Did that make him a monster?"

This article originally appeared in Financial Times

America, have you forgotten history?

Budget Hero