"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Brown Shirt Mothers Of Merriweather Park–Political Enforcement In A Nice Neighborhood

Jane Talbot was a good neighbor.  She brought tomatoes and figs from her garden, offered to watch the house when the Chandlers were in Charleston visiting their children, and pottered in her garden every Spring and Fall, keeping it trim but interesting, a tad wild, very English, and as she put it, ‘Revolutionary American’.

This last bit was surprising, for the Chandlers knew that Jane was a radical progressive, a woman who was on the left of nearly every family in the already solidly Democratic neighborhood, and someone on the avant-garde of the movement to recalibrate American history, to expunge it of its racism, homophobia, and profound misogyny.  Shit may have happened, she said in her own particular vernacular, off-putting to many for a mature woman from the Main Line but part of her new persona, developed in the Sixties and honed to a fine edge during the Trump presidency, but we do not have to remember it.  

So much for being condemned to repeating the history one chooses to forget, Jane was unmoved by anything but progressivism these days.  Jefferson, Madison, Washington himself had to go in the interest of truth, justice, and a doctrinal purity necessary for the promotion of universal social harmony.

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The irony of the ‘Revolutionary Garden’ was lost on her for it was part of her own Revolutionary, true American, aristocratic heritage.  The Talbots of Philadelphia, while not exactly the Cabots and Lodges of Boston, were of the highest pedigree with close genealogical links to both the Mayflower and Jamestown; and she was bred with the good taste, manners, and intentions of her class.  It was only in college that she learned to reject her ‘privileged, elitist’ background.  While intelligent enough, she was never Harvard grade, and spent her undergraduate years in a small but midwestern college known for its music department and radical progressivism.  Her parents only remembered the name of the college from their own university years, a name which then did not shout radical, progressive socialism as it now did; so it was with some disappointment but reasonable expectations that they signed the check

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It didn’t take long for Jane to be undressed, stripped naked of her past.  She was called out, shamed, humiliated, and dunned for her parentage, family history, and ties to America’s corrupt, predatory, capitalist past.  She was sent to the gulag to be purged and re-educated.  

It is not surprising that this credulous young woman, brought up to be respectful and generous towards others, demurred and agreed to accommodate her hectors’ wishes.  What is so surprising is that her re-education took hold so deeply and completely.  By the time she had completed her four years in Ohio, she had become the leader of the school’s Socialist Union, Progressive Party, and Feminist Association.

Yet, as much as she denied it, she could never fully free herself from her patrician past.  There was still something appealing – comforting if she were completely honest - about bone china, Crichton Brothers silver, fine linen, and Chippendale furniture.  Her college classmates howled when she married Thomas Langley, son of the Wilmington Langleys, a family whose forbears fought in the Revolution and the Indian wars, and while never as rich as their peers, were respectable, proper, and  correct.   Jane was pleased that she was finally recognizing her roots and settling down in the very orchard where they had first taken hold.

Yet there was something niggling and irritating about her life, something too predictable and staid.  She missed the fire and brimstone political meetings in college, the torchlight parades, the angry demonstrations; and for years she struggled with the conflict.  Who was she, actually? And where was she going?

Her husband was never investment banker material, so became a downtown lawyer instead.  He and his wife moved to Washington after a number of years in Philadelphia and Wilmington, where he took a job with a law firm specializing in the cases of non-profit agencies fighting both government regulation and conservative lobby groups.  He, like Jane, had questioned his past and its legitimacy, had gone to a college much like Jane's but less endowed and committed, and emerged less radical and more moderate in belief and opportunity than his wife. 

It was association with these non-profit clients of his that Jane’s progressive fire was rekindled.  These groups were fighting for the climate, for oppressed black people, women’s rights, and economic justice, and although her husband was doing his part to defend their interests, she wanted to do more, to be activist, frontline, and physical.  She joined large national organizations that fought for social justice, and before long she had earned the respect of many in the Movement.  She was first at the barricades, loud and insistent at rallies for civil rights, economic justice, and social reform. 

As she grew older, had children, and sent them off to college, she toned down her anger and moderated her activism.  She was no less committed to the progressive cause; only less vigorous in furthering its claims.  Before long hers was a desultory participation, a mail-in, annual contribution kind of activism.

Then, along came Donald Trump with his vindictive, arrogant, insanely self-serving presidency.  The man was evil, an incarnation of every racist, misogynist, and homophobe that had ever existed.   Most importantly his brand of populism – an appeal to the ignorant, backwater rubes and country cousins of the South and West – was a threat to the very progressivism she had always espoused and fought for.  The Bushes – and even Nixon and Reagan before them – were sweet, likeable moderates compared to Donald Trump.  No, this man must be stopped in his tracks.

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Jane became the point person for ‘Merriweather Park for Social Justice’ (MPSJ), a group of like-minded former social activists who felt resurgent and in touch once again with their most true and telling sentiments.  Jane and her minions were instrumental in organizing discussion groups, meetings, and rallies.  She invited black leaders from Washington’s most oppressed inner cities, feminists from local universities, and political firebrands from New York.  

The Merriweather Park community, formerly complacently moderate and politically unengaged, was becoming sensitized.  Black Lives Matter and rainbow Hate Has No Home Here signs went up throughout the neighborhood.  Men and women were heard talking about rights and injustice on street corners, and students at the local public  school now heard calls for social action from their teachers.  Jane was happy and finally content.

Yet there was something still niggling and disturbing about her community’s response.  There was a diffidence in certain quarters and even an opposition to her calls for universal social reform.  The problem lay in the inner cities themselves these outliers claimed, in the social dysfunction of the black community, not the ‘systemic racism’ that Jane and her followers claimed.  The glass ceiling had been broken decades ago, gay men married, and the sadomasochistic revels of the Folsom Street Fair, Bay-to-Breakers parades, and Halloween In The Castro were deformations of sexuality not the best expressions of it.  Donald Trump for all his braggadocio and vaudevillian performance was an intelligent leader who understood geopolitics, national culture, economics, and especially political philosophy better than most.

Outrage! shouted Jane and her supporters. Something must be done; and her organization turned hostile.  It was obviously not enough to promote social justice, and the fight required the silencing of those who opposed it.  Anyone flying an American flag – clearly and evidently a symbol of radical conservative Trumpism – would be confronted, shamed, and publicly disgraced.  Any reference to Trump, conservatism, or its retrograde ideas and principles, no matter how casual the remark, would be challenged and dismissed.  

In a well-organized, well-orchestrated campaign, the MPSJ, with the support of the Teachers Union, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Progressive League of Washington, the District of Columbia Feminist Alliance, and the Capital Gay Action Committee were able to institute significant policy changes in the DC public schools.  Not only would race, gender, and ethnicity be taught as part of the ‘Diversity and Inclusivity Now’ curriculum, students who showed any sign of reluctance or even opposition would be censured and disciplined.

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The mainline Protestant churches in the wealthy neighborhoods of Washington had already adjusted their sermons to address social issues, but Jane’s group made sure that all pastors did not simply exhort responsible behavior but called out those who neglected their social duties.  There was to be no dissent in the schools or churches of Merriweather Park.

Town meetings to address the need for political solidarity and uniformity in the neighborhood were organized by Jane.  Participants were told how to suss out radical conservatism in even casual speech and how to blunt it.  They were instructed in ways to innocently turn conversations to politics, to engender trust in order to elicit political views which could then be attacked and espousers shamed, and to insinuate intimidating remarks in all gatherings.

Jane always pointed to Caryn Marshall as a model.  No matter what the conversation was from literature to religion to modern art, Caryn had a way of introducing references to Derrida, Lacan, Deconstructionism and its spawn, liberal American progressivism.  She was brilliant, studied, an academic star, and a talented rhetorician.  Before her listeners knew it, they were nodding in agreement with her seamless arguments for righteous behavior and  became ashamed of their own residual conservative feelings. 

COVID was a progressive activist’s dream.  Despite the existential threat, there were virus deniers, anti-maskers defiant of ‘the government’ and its Stalinist measures to limit free choice; and these must be as irreverently and absolutely stopped in their tracks. Just as there were conservative naysayers in Merriweather Park, so were there those suspicious of or at least indifferent to the public health measures advised by CDC.  

Regardless of their reasonable questioning of the quarantining and spraying of mail, triple-masking in the open air, the closure of parks, outdoor recreation facilities, the budget-breaking retrofitting of industrial strength air purifying equipment for offices and clinics, and other economy-depressing, socially disruptive measures, these political reprobates were to be shut down.

In a program reminiscent of Stasi, Stalin, and the Brown Shirts, Jane recruited parents, teachers, students, and children to accuse those who were not wearing masks or social distancing.  J’accuse! was a cry of honor and justice in Merriweather Park.

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Jane was particularly pleased because she knew that this radical community organization, if instituted properly, would take root as a permanent feature.  The same volunteers for COVID compliance could be called on to accuse and call out racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and capitalist remarks.  Her goal of a completely sensitized, aware, and responsible community was in sight.

Jane ignored Tip O’Neill’s famous reminder that “All politics is local” and tried to market her particular brand of community activism to other cities, and failed.  Her knowledge of local culture, political history, and social parameters was severely limited.  Merriweather Park was unique because it was a Washington neighborhood where K Street lawyers, Congressional aides, think tanks, and university professors lived – all of whom could not possibly avoid the proximity of the contentious and highly partisan dealings of their city.  A slide into aggressive politics, a dismissal of Constitutional rights, and Communist bloc recruitment of informers and enforcers was a natural, but not extended elsewhere.

In any case, COVID is ending, Black Lives Matter banners and posters have all been taken down, and President Biden has lulled the electorate into thinking that everything’s OK now.  It is not of course, and the political Right is itself mobilizing and preparing for significant wins in the 2022 midterm elections and the Presidential election two years later.  Jane’s brand of gulag-style progressivism, now the going thing, will not last, and the electorate will vote out those vociferous, arrogant, and ill-meaning politicians who knee-jerk irresponsible liberal policies at every turn.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Bad Boys And Good Girls–The Ineffable, Irresistible Allure Of The Sexual Truant

‘Do the right thing”, said Mrs. Shilton to her son, Roger, every day as he was leaving for school, where he would be told to behave, to be good, to fall in line, and to obey, after which he would be reminded by the priests at St. Maurice and the nuns at Sunday school to be moral, righteous, and good. 

For a while he got A’s on his report cards, pats on the back from Frs. Brophy and Mullins, pictures of the Virgin Mary from Sister Mary Joseph, and extra servings of peach cobbler from his mother.

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He was the son that every parent wanted, a model student, and a boy destined for a religious vocation and a place at St. Anselm’s Abbey.  Then, without warning, notice, or intimation, he began to slack off, and little by little and piece by piece, he began to turn bad. 

First was a deliberate indifference to his clothes – school tie loose and askew, khakis dragging, and shirt half-tucked. Then was a more deliberate disregard of propriety and right behavior – snide remarks to the English teacher, refusal to kneel during the Kyrie, bad table manners, and a messy room; and finally downright defiance.  By his sixteenth birthday he had joined a gang, drunk, hung out at pool halls, and cruised for factory girls on the Strip. 

His parents of course had no idea what had gotten into him.  “Such a nice boy”, was all Mrs. Shilton had heard since Roger’s toddler days, and so he was, proper, obedient, prayerful, and respectful.  It was as though he had been possessed by the devil himself, for this could be the only explanation for the sudden transformation from everything good to everything bad.  So convinced was she, a devout Catholic, that she went to Father Brophy for counsel and support.

He dismissed her suspicions, explaining that the boy was simply going through a phase like most adolescents; and she needed only to up her vigilance, trust in the Lord, and be patient, not petition for an exorcism.

Father Brophy was on solid ground here.  Many a parish parent of adolescent boys had come to him suspecting the worst, and he offered the same advice and comfort.  Boys will be boys, he said, and the Lord will watch over them.

By his seventeenth birthday, Roger had become a center of sexual interest, and girls from up and down the social ladder sought him out.  There was something very appealing about his nonchalance, his confidence, and his air of superiority and defiance that was irresistible.  The more their parents tried to keep them away from Roger Shilton, the more desperately they pursued him.  They couldn’t keep their eyes off him, had wild, sexy, exotic dreams about idylls with him in Jamaica and Hawaii, naked, hot, and wet, coming with the thought of his body, his kisses, and his embrace.

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The girls at Miss Willard’s fell the hardest.  Girls who came from the crème de la crème of New Brighton society were sent to private day and boarding schools for the well-off and privileged with the expectations of an Ivy League education, a proper marriage, and a return to the country clubs and social milieu of their youth from which they would carry on into adulthood with grace and aplomb.  If there were any truly ‘good’ girls still around, they were to be found at Miss Willard’s.

The moral and social restrictions, the insistence on propriety, rectitude, and good behavior – all part of Miss Willard’s code of behavior – were enforced uniformly and harshly.  The school was as close to a nunnery as the more liberal modern age would allow; so it was no surprise that its girls, as red-blooded, sexually enthusiastic, and rebellious within as any, wanted release from this punitive environment. 

The name Roger Shilton made the rounds of the classrooms and refectories of Miss Willard’s and soon the most adventurous and sexually precocious girls were seen with him.  It didn’t seem to bother them that Shilton had already had his share of girls from both sides of the tracks, that he bedded and left them quickly and unceremoniously, that he showed no interest in love or a relationship, or that he showed no signs of interest in them as people, individuals, beings of value.  In fact every new report of his dereliction piqued their interest even more.  

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None of this is surprising or new, of course.  Good girls have always fallen for bad boys. Their unshakeable male confidence; their calm, determined sexual nature; their social defiance, and their rejection of the proper and the predictable are Darwinian traits.  The righteous, the dutiful, and the honorable cannot hold a candle to them.  It is their children that good girls want.  They want to pass on to their sons their mates’ irrefutable maleness. 

Although the other side of the brain tells them to be sensible, to marry a good provider, a family man, a man of principle and caring, they cannot resist the allure of bad boys.  Most women fall prey to the inevitable social pressures of a good, profitable marriage, and a solid roof over their heads; but will always regret never having at least tasted the wild seed of the likes of Roger Shilton.

Those who do marry bad boys soon realize what they have done, for they never change.  Their irresistibility to women and their desire for them remains as much a part of them as it did before marriage.  The very traits that led to a marriage with a good girl lead to the beds of hundreds of others.  Ironically but not surprisingly, this male irresistibility is part of what keeps these women married.  They hate the idea of such an attractive, virile mate sleeping with other women, but this sexual insistence is why they married him.

D.H. Lawrence, perhaps more than any other writer understood sexual determinism – sex is not simply an act of pleasurable procreation, nor one of intimacy and consolidation; but one of almost epiphanic importance.  Men and women seek each other for the possibility of a uniquely powerful, if not transformative sexual experience.  Lady Chatterley and Mellors seek each other out despite the great differences in social class because of this instinctive, irresistible attraction. 

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Flaubert’s Madame Bovary wanted nothing to do with her pedestrian, dutiful, and insufferably boring husband; and looked to men of physical beauty, sexual allure, and social prominence.

Sinclair Lewis’ heroine in Main Street grew  increasingly impatient with her rural doctor husband and his patient dutifulness.  She wanted  more than a man of principle and good intent, and she eventually left her husband to find her own way. While Lewis brings her back to reality and to her husband, he has created a female character of vitality and sexual energy.

Tennessee Williams’ Alma, the main character in Summer and Smoke was brought up in a rectory by a censorious, disciplinarian father, and has for most of her youth followed his precepts and good counsel; and yet she is ineluctably attracted to the bad boy next door, the ‘wastrel’, womanizer, and libertine.  He is the one, not the schoolmarmish, bookish young man who seeks her company.

Blanche and Stella, main characters in Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire both are attracted to Stanley, an unashamed male who likes women, who understands them, and in his irrevocably powerful sexuality attracts them easily and often.  In Williams’ mind, like Lawrence’s, this primitive, inexplicable, but captivating sexuality is the central point of male-female relationships.  It is no surprise that women like Stella, unpretentiously feminine in her wifely and motherly role; and Blanche in her sexually promiscuous way are both attracted to Stanley.

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Because good girls always fall for bad boys, the boys have no reason whatsoever to reform, to repent, or to apologize for their ways.  They understand the indefinable but inevitable captivity of sexual bonding.  The wives who have married them for their untrappable ways, and who have voluntarily agreed to this particular marital contract will bear up, conciliate, draw some of their own lines in the sand, but be satisfied.

Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is about one of these improbable but very decipherable marriages.  Kate, the shrew, is ‘tamed’ by Petruchio not because of some timorous desire to be dominated, but because her shrewishness has been a result of her sexual and social frustration.  Once she meets Petruchio who loves her for her defiant and indomitable character, she loses her sharp edges, her hostility, and aggressiveness.  It is a perfect match.

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Today’s feminists and their male coterie make automatic assumptions about such relationships.  Tennessee Williams’ ‘fragile’ female characters – Blanche, Alma, Laura – are, these progressive advocates insist, are all oppressed and dominated by the men in their lives.  They are victims, sufferers, and in no way independent from the predatory male.  Williams of course thought just the opposite, and put social assumptions and environment aside.   Sexual attraction at its best and worst is primitive, and at the heart of both epiphany and disaster.  In either case it is not an affair of misogyny, abuse, or oppressive domination.

The political-social climate in America today is censorious, presumptuous, and unrelenting in its righteousness.  Progressives are intent on neutering sexuality, removing all traces of a Lawrentian, Williams-like heterosexual power, and replacing it with a passionless gender spectrum.   One hopes they will not be successful and that the pendulum will swing back to dead center between sexual poles; but the news is discouraging.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Doing Good–How Idealism Quickly Loses Its Luster In Nasty Places

Hermione Baxter joined Children Are The World to do good, to work for those children born in poverty, misery, and oppression; and to make a difference.  

While her college classmates were headed off to Business and Law School, she joined the Peace Corps.  There, she was certain, she would find the answer to life’s puzzles and bring home a restored belief in humanity and God.

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The training sessions in rural Wisconsin included an intensive course in Yoruba, the rudiments of arid agriculture, and the cultural does and don’ts of dealing with Nigerians, Muslims, and societies quite different from her own.  

Hermione had been brought up in a small town in rural Ohio, to a farm family, and one of rich American heritage.  Her Great Grandfather, Hiram,  had come from New England in the early days of Westward Expansion, found the relatively benign climate, fertile land, and peaceful Indians more than he could have ever hoped for, and settled down, the patriarch of successive generations of Baxters who never moved more than ten miles from the old homestead.

Hiram was particularly taken with the Shawnee who at the time of his migration were a semi-migratory, nomadic tribe which moved often and freely within the Ohio Valley and only occasionally set up their teepees for a longer stay.  It was during one of these temporary sojourns that Hiram got to know Tenskwatawa, twin brother of Tecumseh, and  prominent in Indian affairs in the early Nineteenth Century. 

‘Tennie’, as Hiram affectionately called him, was, like his brother, a proud man, patriotic and defiantly loyal to his tribe and his people; yet the central Ohio branch of the Shawnees which he governed had never met up to expectations.  Although the same rich Shawnee blood ran through their veins, there was something desultory about their attitude, a lack of motivation and ambition.  By the time Hiram’s son came to take over the now prosperous Baxter ranch, the Shawnee were living on three reservations in present-day Ohio -  Hog Creek, Lewistown, and Wapakaneta. 

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Conditions on the Ohio reservations were little different from the many others in the country, certainly not as bad as in the Dakotas, but bad enough.  Crime, alcoholism, and broken families were the norm.  Hiram’s son, Hermione’s grandfather, had, thanks to his father, maintained a close relationship with a number of Indians on the reservation, and would take his young granddaughter there to spend Sunday afternoons.  For him it was a pleasant reminiscence of his own childhood, and every time he was with Indians, no matter how low they had fallen, the image of the great Tenskwatawa and his heroic brother Tecumseh came to mind.

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The young Hermione, on the other hand, could see only the desperate poverty, the ramshackle trailers, mangy dogs, broken down trucks, mud, and drunkenness.  She hated the trips to the reservation but went because she adored her grandfather and would do anything with him and for him.

It was this experience, Hermione considered, that was the motivation for joining the Peace Corps.  Her work in Africa amongst the continent’s poorest, most desperate, but most beautiful, proud people would be a final expression of her childhood sympathies for underprivileged peoples.

Her co-trainees were a happy, positive, and equally motivated group who had joined the organization for the same generous regions.  They of course hoped for great adventure, but they were headed to the Dark Continent for one reason only – to do good.  As they dispersed from their in-country training camp outside Lagos, they assured each other that they would keep in touch, and looked forward to the yearly meetings which the Nigeria head office arranged on the Delta.

The Volunteers were sent to every region of the country – from the strictly Islamic North to the very tribal rainforest interior – and each were charged with different tasks and objectives.  Some were to raise poultry and pigs, others to teach school, and still others to work on public works.

Hermione’s village was a pitiful place, far worse than the Lewistown Reservation back home – shabby, mosquito-infested and fly-ridden, hot, and filthy. Worst of all were the people, thieves and tricksters who saw her not as an American savior, but a mark to be had.  

While she wrote back to her parents of ‘the lovely people’ of the village and talked only of the ‘challenges’ she faced, she had nothing but scorn for the place and its inhabitants.   She knew this was definitely not what she was supposed to feel, but she couldn’t help herself.

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The Peace Corps should have known better, she thought, and given her and her colleagues something more transitional.  How could they expect a young American woman from the Ohio farmland to survive in such a primitive place?

Paul Theroux wrote a book about just this experience.  In Lower River he describes the odyssey of a middle-aged man who was a Peace Corps Volunteer in a small village in Africa forty years before and who, thanks to the fond and happy memories he had kept for all those years, decided to return. 

Everything however had changed.  The warm, generous, welcoming, and friendly people and fertile, modestly prosperous environment had disappeared.  He found only corruption, exploitation, thievery, and deceit.  The years since African independence had not been kind to Africa, and the heady optimism felt in the first days of liberation had disappeared entirely.  Much of the continent was ruled by despots, petty autocrats, and Big Men, and their corruption had filtered down to the lowest village.  The Theroux character gets embroiled in dangerous village politics and barely escapes with his life.

Lower River By Paul Theroux - Used (Good) - 0544002253 By Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company | Thriftbooks.Com

So Hermione’s experience should have been expected.  Africa was no longer the place of simplicity, generosity, and good will; but had been deformed by the exploitation of the ruling class, the diversion of foreign investment into Swiss bank accounts, tribal hatred, and a historic international indifference to the plight of Africa.

Fortunately there were other Americans in the area – a well-driller and his young family who lived in town; a Methodist missionary who lived in a white frame house in the jungle that tearfully reminded her of the Midwest, and a Dominican priest who had been sent by his Archbishop to take over a small church which had sought spiritual assistance – and Hermione found herself spending most of her time with all three.  The other Volunteers in the area also frequented these congenial homes away from home, and the families and priest were quite happy to have company.

Over time a new, unpleasant ethos emerged.  The Nigerians were called ‘Jeers’ and laughed at by the Volunteers for their backwardness, insensitivity, and ignorance.  The poultry farms set up by the Volunteers to be productive, commercial enterprises had within months fallen apart.  The original breeding chickens had been eaten, the cages had been dismantled and the chicken wire diverted for irrelevant uses, and only a few, ragged chickens and one cropless rooster remained.  

The schoolteachers faced empty classrooms, diffident local administrators, and no supplies.  Those Volunteers who were to work on public works projects found the same levels of apathy and indifference.  Roads did not get improved, wells were never dug, and repairs to public buildings ignored.

The cadre the US government had trained as the future cadre of American international development - Peace Corps Volunteers chosen for their Americanness, their down-home rectitude and goodness, and modest but never challenging intelligence - turned out to be just the opposite of their compassionate vision, a group whose clients would always be ‘Jeers’, ‘Guats’, and ‘Bunglers’.

Sent out to the more needy and deserving parts of the world, Volunteers were supposed to return convinced of the appropriateness of their can-do enterprise, filled with a renewed idealism, and with the practical experience of managing development projects in the Third World.  They returned with none of the above but with a conviction that development would never work; and worse, why even bother?

With her experience, Hermione was sought after by the Washington non-profit agencies which were the beneficiaries of generous US Government contracts to help raise African countries out of poverty, to instill a sense of American-style justice and civil society, and provide humanitarian assistance to the disadvantaged.  

She took a job with one of the most well-known agencies, and headed back to Africa, feeling that having an office in the capital city, a house in the international quarter, a car, driver, and full expenses, she could finally do the good she had earlier intended.

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Of course her expectations were as idealistic as they had been upon joining the Peace Corps, and she was disappointed to find that the projects so liberally financed by the United States were politically driven, overly ambitious, and largely outside the cultural context of the ‘beneficiary’ countries. Millions of dollars in foreign assistance authorized by Congress went quickly and easily into the pockets of local authorities. 

Project after project failed dismally, only to be refinanced because “We have learned our lesson”. The World Bank’s Annual Development Review persistently claimed an upward trajectory only to retract such optimism in subsequent Reviews.  International development was a joke, yet despite the eradicable idealism of those in government, in Congress, and in the non-profits, it continued and continues to this day.

Hermione kept with it for years.  Managed well, it was a good life – nice hotels and restaurants in rapidly developing capitals, assignations among the international development consultants freed from home, wife, and children for a beach idyll in the tropics, good pay, and collegial friends.  She like most, gave up on any idea of doing good long ago, and took what was given – a not unreasonable, not unpleasant life.

So much for idealism, so easily corrupted.  One non-profit agency for which Hermione worked was granted millions by a private foundation.  Freed from heavy-handed, obstructionist government rules and regulations, the agency could finally do what it wanted and make a difference.  Yet, so enamored with is ‘participatory, cooperative, down-up, community approach’ to development where the means were more important than the ends (in this case reducing infant and maternal mortality) it failed miserably, refusing massive tetanus vaccinations and malaria drug prophylaxis for communalism and ‘sharing’. 

Hermione eventually retired and never looked back in the rear view mirror.  Development had treated her well.  Thanks to the same nihilism that affects most people who work in professions which pay well but do little, she had few regrets and many fond memories.