A Letter from the Berkshires, July 15, 2006
© 2006 by Joel

Special Alert: I just want you to know that from now on there will only be two ways of doing or thinking about anything; my way, or the right way. I plan to settle for nothing less.

You must know about the poll that shows Americans would prefer Condoleezza Rice as a lunch partner to several t.v. stars. Perhaps they think Condi Rice is something to eat?

Don't you love the mantra, cooked up no doubt by some D.C. p.r. type, that "Condi Rice is intelligent." Was that ever in doubt? Were Acheson, Kissinger, Albright and Shultz dull? Of course Ms. Rice is a brain, and beguiling as her job requires, and I would not miss the opportunity to split a sandwich if asked.

There would be asking, all right. I would ask why she declined to answer a question in the late 90's at the World Affairs Council of Northern California because the subject, the Middle East, was one she admitted knowing little about. I'd be curious as to why, later that evening, when she thought nobody was looking, Rice so intimidated her female driver from Stanford University that the poor driver was trembling as she kept repeating, "I'm sorry, Dr. Rice." And I would ask Condi why the devil she is a Republican and much, much more. Hearty appetite. C.R.

If I have nothing else to offer my readers, I want to encourage you to get into the habit of watching C-Span 2 all day Saturday and Sunday. Weekends are Book T.V., which consists of lectures and Q & A in bookstores and think tanks all over the country, indepth interviews with the top of the line nonfiction writers on topics ranging from current affairs to biography, religion and education. If your weekends are as busy as ours, record as much as you can for watching with meals or in spare moments. My guarantee. You will become you to a heightened power from this experience.

In her novel Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand (pronounced I'n, NOT Ann) famously asked, "Who is John Gait?" You may be wondering, "Who is John Caris, and for that matter Mary Caris?", the San Francisco couple on whose website my Letters From appear.

In the early 90's, I had the good fortune to profit from John Caris’s Humanities classes at City College of San Francisco, where he taught for thirty-three years. I learned a lot and gained two good friends, in fact John and Mary have been to our Berkshires digs.

Now retired, John has a new novel out entitled, Hermes Beckons, subtitled, "A Tale of Alchemy and Magic," which is an idea packed, highly imaginative gem. Mary gets credit for the cover image and for being her husband's long time inspiration. John has also written Foundations for a New Consciousness and Reality Inspector. Check out the Caris' work at "Ye Olde Consciousness Shoppe" at the web address you are at now.

On my Home Page I credit Mary and John with being Encouragers in Chief, a rank they share with many of you. In my many years I have also known individuals who hold Masters degrees and even doctorates as Discouragers in Chief. Haven't we all?

You want to teach and they remind you, "The kids are no good and neither is the pay." Invest in real estate? "Do you know what it's like to rent to tenants?" (What else, hippopotamuses?) Law? That's boring. Medicine? With all that paperwork? Acting? Acting?? Actors never work, not ever. If you take these people seriously you'll dig the hole in the ground now. I plan to bite off my tongue if I ever discourage a living soul.

What, then, are the Berkshires, from which I'm writing this Letter? For thirty-four years our country home has been in this hilly corner of western-most Massachusetts where Wharton, Melville, Hawthorne and Norman Rockwell once roamed, and writer Robert Kaplan, playwright William Gibson, James Taylor and Marge Champion, among many other creative souls, now live. Summers the Berkshires become the home of the Boston Symphony, first rate theater and dance festivals and a superb Shakespeare and Co. Second home owners and visitors come from near and far, though the joys of summer are mitigated by bugs, bears, mighty storms, power outages and human beings.

Remember back thirty or more years ago when we had a middle class in this country? Our Berkshire neighbors were well educated middle class culture vultures with a mom and kids who stayed the summer and dads who made welcome appearances on weekends. Our mansions were small cottages with pine paneled interiors, two pathetic t.v. stations and no air conditioning, our swimming pools the lake, and we loved the contrast with city and suburban life. We loved getting together to speak of many things, our bank accounts not among them.

Then "Along Came Ron," Reagan, that is, and America changed. Two salaried households, competition for riches and status, and ultimately the booms in securities and real estate. The kids grew into yuppies and married what middle class minds regarded as "well." America's middle class was either getting an upgrade from Coach or bumped off the flight altogether.

And to the beautiful Berkshires came air conditioning, cable t.v., more bedrooms and baths, fancy restaurants and other city amenities and record breaking house prices, until multimillion dollar price tags fazed no one at all.

And lo, the subject of conversations changed, too. No one was any longer identified merely by relationship or name. Brother George was now George from Bronxville with a big boat; Sam, Sam from Scarsdale with a seat on an exchange. Anyone not allergic to B.S. could play this game, and they did and do.

A neighbor who works in a bank became an "international financier." In 1985 a stranger struck up a chat in a store to tell me her son just sold his company for $6 million. Those who lacked the imagination to magnify their own assets boasted of their in-ground swimming pool friends. My all time favorite came for a woman we barely knew but credit with outstanding subtlety and ingenuity. Her granddaughter, it seems, was having a problem. She had issues with her father's being, you guessed it, so rich.

Quickie about the movie Da Vinci Code. If I held it in for 2 + hours they must have done something right, but I was as surprised by my candor as the theater owner's asking my opinion at the film's conclusion as I headed for the you know where. "That was one of the silliest, most self-important movies I've seen in some time. My religious beliefs or lack thereof were not effected at all." The Wall St. Journal was on the dollar with their accusation of "joyless" acting as was Stanley Kaufmann's appraisal of Tom Hanks as "a pleasant fellow to spend time with, which is not the same thing as giving a good performance," to which he added, "But the role as written would have hobbled Edwin Booth."

The invention that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and sired a line is no more preposterous, perhaps less so, than the other stories, but which I mean fictions, made-up, never happened, in the books of all of our religious faiths. These stories are no less valuable for not being literally true. When asked whether the virgin birth was literally true, the pastor of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco replied, "Does it really matter?" Humans seem to require myths to help us wrap our minds around the mystery of it all. Religions do wrong when they use these myths to control the minds of believers in order to advance the interests and power of their institutions, and that is what Da Vinci Code is all about.

How's about a Constitutional amendment banning Republicans from ever marrying? I mean, if elephants are permitted to go at it, what next? Is God, gays and guns all today's Republican have?

Almost. Mustn't forget that forgotten British sentiment from the late 1950's, "I'm all right, Jack," which fully expressed was, "I'm all right, Jack, screw you." Translation: I've got mine, so the hell with you. Lovely sentiment, no? I speak of the Republican mind and soul from first hand knowledge. I was once one of them myself.

Even some of my most enlightened heterosexual friends have wondered why lesbians and gays won't settle for civil unions that provide rights and protections identical to marriage. I told a friend that I am perfectly willing to accept civil unions. "You and your wife get to call what you have a civil union; we get marriage." Oh.

A recent thrill was attending the 60th annual Theater World Awards at Studio 54 in NYC. The likes of Liza Minelli, Kate Burton, Ralph Fiennes, Tammy Grimes and Patricia Neal participated. Theater World Awards, unlike the more competitive Tonys, Oscars and Grammys, go not to the winner among several nominees but to chosen recipients. To win does not require that other actors lose.

The buzz along Broadway is that Jersey Boys owes its Best Musical status in part to the votes of regional producers who view the show as a natural for touring their precincts and more marketable if "the winner." True or not, we know how political "and the winner is" events are. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which sounds funny when you think about it, was concocted by founding moguls such as Sam Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer to dignify their businesses, and themselves in the bargain, and to attract more people to the Bijou. If the likes of Hitchcock and Garbo never won other than "honorary" Oscars, so much for the Awards.

A P.S. on the issue of illegal immigration. The key word remains exploitation, and not only exploitation of illegal workers, those whose jobs they've taken and the neighborhoods they may degrade. Even the most thoughtful and objective among us are not immune to all the noise.

My advice is to get Lou Dobbs, La Raz, Pat Buchanan, Ted Kennedy, Ann Coulter and even my beloved Randy Rhodes out of our cortexes. Make your head as empty as mine–as empty of rhetoric, I mean. Far too often I find myself whirling in their orbits, using their language and allowing these talking heads to frame the terms of the debate. Let's try to concentrate less on the emotions of the issue, though they count too, and more on how to mitigate the harsh effects of the global economy while keeping in mind that even King Canute cannot hold back this sea.

Immigration in America has always been about cool calculation of national interest as well as public sentiment. Scholar Naill Ferguson reminds us that "developing countries need foreign capital to grow, and that is what globalization gives them. By contrast, developed countries need foreign labor, ideally as productive as homegrown labor, but less expensive."

If there must be winners and losers, the idealist in me believes we have a responsibility to protect the losers until they gain stability, and the pragmatist in me cautions against opposing globalization outright and throwing baby out with the water.

Archive 2006