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

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Joe Biden, Donald Trump, And Turning Eighty - Old Age Never Stopped The Big Men Of Africa

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Hastings Banda, President for Life of Malawi presided over one of the most repressive regimes in Africa, an era that saw political opponents regularly tortured and murdered. Human rights groups estimate that at least 6,000 people were killed, tortured and jailed without trial. As many as 18,000 people were killed during his rule, according to one estimate. He maintained full diplomatic relations with the apartheid government in South Africa. By 1993, after decades of autocratic rule, he was stripped of his office, forced to face the electorate, and was defeated.  He was 90.

Paul Biya, President for Life in Cameroon is still in office at the age of 90.  On 6 November 1982, following the resignation of President Ahidjo, Biya rose to the highest office.  In 1984, the presidential guard attempted a coup. From that moment on, Biya began to become more authoritarian and ruthless; and during his regime hundreds of people have been killed, especially in the north of Cameroon. Former President Ahidjo, considered an accomplice to the putschists, was sentenced to death in absentia.

Paul Kagame, President for Life of Rwanda, rose to power thanks to his fight against the Hutus during the genocide; but as he consolidated power, he became more autocratic. Rights organizations have made serious allegations against Kagame. Human Rights Watch, claims that since Kagame took office, people have been prosecuted for doubting the official government's explanation about the genocide. The rights body lists a long series of murders, disappearances, politically motivated arrests and illegal arrests of critics, opposition members and journalists.

Kagame himself has, at times, unashamedly commented on such allegations, as in the case of former secret service chief and dissident Patrick Karageya, who was strangled to death at a hotel room in South Africa: "Rwanda did not kill this person. But I wish Rwanda had done it," Kagame said. Kagame is only 64, but foresees a long run as President for Life of Rwanda.

Robert Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe for over thirty years until forced to resign at the age of 93.  Like Kagame, he rose to power as a legitimizing political force, but as he accrued and consolidated more and more power, his rule became authoritarian and autocratic, and any traces of democracy, promised in his early years, disappeared.  

Mobutu Sese Seko, President for Life in Zaire (Congo) ruled the country for over thirty years and was forced into exile by rebel forces.  Although he was only 67 at the time, had he been able to navigate and exploit the rebellious forces in the country, he would have ruled well into his 90s. Mobutu was notorious for corruption, nepotism, and the embezzlement of between US$4 billion and $15 billion during his rule.

Image result for Images Mobutu. Size: 206 x 206. Source: afrique.lalibre.be

In December 1976 Jean-Bedel Bokassa assumed the title Emperor Bokassa I and changed the name of his country to the Central African Empire. He was crowned a year later—in emulation of his hero, Napoleon I—in a lavish ceremony that cost more than $20 million. By this time Bokassa’s rule had effectively bankrupted his impoverished country, and his reign as emperor proved to be short-lived.

Following the substantiation of international charges that Bokassa had personally participated in a massacre of 100 schoolchildren by his imperial guard, French paratroops carried out a military coup against him .Bokassa went into exile, first traveling to Côte d’Ivoire but later settling in France.  He was only in his early 70s when he died, but had it not been for the French coup, he would have remained as President for life.

Geriatric dictatorship is not confined to Africa. President for Life Francois Papa Doc Duvalier ruled Haiti for decades and would have continued his autocratic rule well into his 90s had he not died in office. 

The Tonton Macoute, the undercover death squad organized by Duvalier indiscriminately killed Duvalier's opponents and became so influential that everyone was fearful of expressing any form of dissent.  

Ali Khamenei, 83, is the clerical, spiritual, and political leader of Iran; and given his status, power, and religious authority in a very religiously conservative country, he has no intention of resigning, facing the electorate, or tolerating any dissent.  If all goes well, he will rule well into his 90s.

Mahathir Mohamad, President for Life of Malaysia, while no brutal dictator was never known for enlightened democracy. He used the controversial Internal Security Act to detain activists, non-mainstream religious figures, and political opponents. . Mahathir's record of curtailing civil liberties in Malaysia was well known in the West which chose to publicly condemn his actions but privately to tolerate them.  In 2016, Mahathir quit UMNO over the 1MDB corruption scandal, and in 2020 was forced to resign under pressure as he refused to give up the Presidency voluntarily. He was 95.

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Joe Biden is under intense scrutiny because of his age, now (7/22) a few months from 80; and many even within his own party are quietly suggesting that he demur and not run for re-election in 2024.  It isn’t so much his age, but his mental competence that is called into question. He has none of the will, determination, character, or personal authority that enabled Africa’s big men to acquire, retain, and extend their rule.  

He is now a caricature of a doddering old man, helped to walk in a straight line and corralled by his aides to never go off script and to pick only the most generous reporters from the press pool.  He is a shambles and doomed to lead his party to defeat in the mid-term elections of this year and in the presidential poll in two years.

Donald Trump is 76 – hale, unrepentant, aggressively political, ambitious, influential, virile and at the top of his game – and it is clear that he would like to be the first Big Man Of America, President for Life, ruler ad infinitum, consolidating his rule, stifling criticism, thwarting opposition, and governing the country well into his 90s just like his African colleagues.  America has a few more roadblocks to this ambition than Africa, a continent where since independence autocracy and big man control have been the rule, not the exception, but that does not mean that Trump cannot dream.

As much as inveterate Trump haters refuse to admit it, he had charm, exuberance, charisma, and confidence.  The Trump presidency was, after decades of temperance and the appearance of good will and sound rule, a release, a catharsis, a happy time.  America is, after all, not the land of Pablo Casals, Robert Frost, New England, patrician manners and breeding; but one of Hollywood, Las Vegas, and the mean streets of New York.  

We are a nation of brawlers, hucksters, snake oil salesmen, strip tease artists, and con men; a nation of parades and fireworks, band concerts, bass fishing, guns, and tobacco.   It felt good to have one of us in office, and the reason why the January 6 ‘insurrection hearings’ have so little resonance in Trump country is because there has always been an admiration for the outrageous and the unthinkable.

History, of course, is on the side of African big men and autocrats.  Genghis Khan did not extend his empire from Japan to Europe thanks to cake and ale but through unbridled ambition, power, intelligence, brutality, and will.  Rome was ruled by the likes of both Augustus and Nero, Claudius,  Marcus Aurelius, Caligula, Commodus, and Trajan – great leaders and despots, subject to popular rule only intermittently during episodes of republican government and even then, governed martially and completely.

The Persian and Indian Empires were no different, producing visionary leaders like Darius I and Ashoka and those with limited, crass vision and venal ambition. 

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Mugabe, Kagame, Banda, Duvalier, and Mobutu all came to power during heady times of independence or nationalism.  They had legitimacy based on their patriotism, personal appeal, political savvy, and intelligence.  They were appealing and heroic; and their quick descent into big man autocracy is only proof of the saying about absolute power corrupting absolutely.  The best of Persian, Roman, and Indian emperors and kings had the same universal appeal.

Democracy is a relatively new phenomenon, challenged at every turn.  It is no coincidence that two of the world’s most influential powers, Russia and China are ruled by supreme leaders, presidents for life, ambitious men who link themselves to past glory, empire, and international influence.  Big men will not go away, but will be carried away.  It has always been so.

Yet this does not diminish the appeal of big men, or at least those men of virility, ambition, and will – men who will always rise to power and will extend their rule well into their 90s if they possibly can.  Eighty means nothing to Donald Trump or any African big man.  It means everything for Biden.

Poor Joe, stumbling and bumbling as he approaches 80, supernumerary,  a politician well past his pull date who will soon be escorted to the wings.  He is in office because of the vitriolic hatred for Donald Trump by the embittered Left, not because anyone thought he would be an influential, let alone charismatic leader. He was the antithesis of Trump, a man of temperance and moderation; yet his happy smile disguised an empty suit, and the anti-Trump candidate has turned out to be a presidential cipher, run by his aides, a man of platitudes and vagaries who would rather be in a chaise longue in Delaware than in the White House.

He will soon get his wish.  The brouhaha of American presidential politics is only just beginning, and who knows what kind of President will come next?

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Cashing In On The Romance Of Nature – Lots Of Money To Be Made In Them Thar Hills

The Ecotherapy Movement promotes the improvement or restoration of the ‘human-nature’ relationship, and by so doing aims to rebalance our lives.  Americans spend between 85-99 percent of their time indoors, advocates say, thus distorting the psychological, spiritual, and physical balance we once had in an earlier, more pastoral age.

“Ecotherapy” refers to healing and growth nurtured by healthy interaction with the earth…Ecopsychology, the study of our psychological relations with the rest of nature, provides a solid theoretical, cultural, and critical foundation for ecotherapeutic practice.This perspective reveals the critical fact that people are intimately connected with, embedded in, and inseparable from the rest of nature. Grasping this fact deeply shifts our understanding of how to heal the human psyche and the currently dysfunctional and even lethal human-nature relationship.

Advocates of Ecotherapy recommend the following:
  • Inreach: receiving and being nurtured by the healing presence of nature, place, Earth.
  • Upreach: the actual experience of this more-than-human vitality as we relocate our place within the natural world.
  • Outreach: activities with other people that care for the planet (loc.cit.)

The movement is popular because it unifies spiritual longing, psychological health, and commitment to the environment.  Environmentalists are too outward-directed, and religious ascetics too inward-looking; but Ecotherapy fully integrates the spiritual nature of man with the spiritual nature of the Earth.  In marketing terms, it has found a vacant consumer niche; created a strong brand image which signifies commitment, idealism, and purpose; and developed a sales strategy which includes products, services, and technical support. Perhaps most importantly, like all New Age movements before it, it cynically taps into vast reservoirs of personal insecurity, providing an institutional home which is both alternative and strong.

Those who believe in the Gaia Hypothesis, a theory which states that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self-regulating, complex system that contributes to maintaining the conditions for life on the planet, come the closest to this inclusive, integrated world view. Gaians reject the idea of us-them, humans-nature, and see all life as a part of one, universal system.  This semi-spiritual notion is far from the original idea of the scientist James Lovelock who was trying to deduce a universal theory which would explain the complex interrelationships found in nature; but the idea of a sentient Earth coincides perfectly with a New Age movement which deliberately discarded logic and rational exegesis for belief, faith, and uncomplicated spiritual vision. The way to enlightenment was not through cognition but intuition.

Ecotherapy has wisely and perfectly piggy-backed onto Gaia’s practical mysticism.  Both movements incorporate both a  philosophy of love, compassion, and dignity; while at the same time offering an anodyne for psychological pain and suffering.
Ecotherapy got an unexpected boost from the movie Avatar, James Cameron’s spiritual vision of a world of perfect harmony – a Garden of Eden where not only are all living creatures linked together by spiritual bonds, but to all deceased ancestors. Cameron’s fictional vision was part Carl Jung, part New Age mysticism, and part Gaian environmental beauty.

Image result for images movie avatar tree of life

Ecotherapy advocates couldn’t believe their good fortune.  Here was a movie which visually and emotively recreated the world in which they believed. Communing with nature is not simply the means to facilitate human connections, but to join with a universal life force. Cameron, his producers, and the studio has made millions from the movie; and Ecotherapy with is rapidly expanding wholesale and retail sales machinery, will soon be in the same league.  Both Cameron and Ecotherapy spin fantasy and romantic idealism, and both make money from the enterprise.

A Washington lawyer, when hearing about Ecotherapy for the first time, said "Nonsense”. He had recently spent a week in a small town in western Montana; but resisted requests to swim in the hot springs, trek up to the snowline, and observe bears and elk. “ I spent my time hanging out in bars with cowboys, trailer moms, and rock musicians”, he said. He was not interested in grizzlies, bighorn sheep, and river trout; but couldn’t get enough of the stories of old-timers who remembered the Great Snow of ‘72, the valley fires of ‘03, and the oil and gas boom of the 2010s.

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“If you have seen one mountain, you have seen them all”, he said, “but no two people are ever alike.”

The originators of Ecotherapy, on the other hand, believed no such thing; and knew that there was money in ventures strengthening the bond between man and nature.  They understood New Age philosophy, the spiritual nature of Environmentalism, and the anger and frustration of Americans living in a politically divisive, increasingly fragmented society. Their angst was real. ‘The talking cure’ was expensive and increasingly irrelevant.  Xanax, Zoloft, and Prozac were quicker, cheaper, and easily available; but pacified rather than cured.

A return to nature was the perfect solution – it was organic, pure, and inspirational.  An old-growth forest of 2000 year-old redwoods was as close as one could get to the Garden of Eden. Southern swamps were primeval and spiritually fundamental. Midwestern prairies simulated the inspirational wilderness of the Holy Land.

The commercial opportunities are endless. In addition to the hundreds of ‘clinics’ which are springing up around the country, books, skincare products, and ecological gifts are big revenue-producers.

Understanding the nature of social movements, marketers have organized eco-therapy holiday tours, vacations, outings, and spas. American enterprise at its best.

A young follower of Ecotherapy from San Francisco had left the city to live in Mendocino County, had been trained in Ecotherapy, and was working as a therapist at a local Nature Wellness Center. She was enthusiastic and committed, and although she made less than the minimum wage, she felt that the rewards of her mission were enough.  Her trajectory from San Francisco office worker to ecotherapist was familiar. She had moved to California from Chicago to escape the winters and the prairie, and soon became an enthusiastic biker.  She spent as much time as possible on the beach or in the mountains.

She quickly became active in the Environmental Movement, contributing and then volunteering in campaigns to protect the redwoods, estuaries, sea lions, and the deserts.  Perhaps because of her traditional religious upbringing which she never fully dismissed, she subscribed to the spiritual side of the Movement.  She became a Gaian, and her secular purpose (advocacy, political activism, and demonstrations) was strengthened by devotional energy.

When she first heard of Ecotherapy, she knew it was for her.  She was particularly taken with the ideas of a particularly well-known advocate who said:

I am a flower person, a water nymph, a sprite, and a butterfly. I caress and embrace trees.  I taste the waters of springs and brooks. I smell the perfumed scent of meadows and forests. I was once reticent – ashamed in fact – about my desire to express my feeling of intimacy with the natural world; but Ecotherapy changed my life.  Practicing the profession has allowed me to share my experience with others – to guide fellow travellers along the path which for so long was hidden from me. I have become one with nature.

Brilliant! Not only did the Movement extend its reach and influence through canny publicity and media use, but through the evangelism of  its growing staff of engaged and committed therapists. They set the style and tone, and were so convincing in their appeal to both environmentalism and spiritual evolution that the clientele grew by leaps and bounds.

The marketing vision of the founders of the movement some 15 or 20 years ago was truly canny.  Amidst the hundreds of New Age, alternative therapies in the country, they found the perfect niche – nature-spiritualism-environmentalism.  The former San Franciscan friend recounted only one incident that took the blush off the bloom of the rose.

Aromatherapy had become increasingly popular in Northern California, and the Center for Sensory Renewal was becoming a serious competitor.  It was obvious that Ecotherapy clients were succumbing to the mystical allure of aromatherapy which also was built on the premise of naturalism and eco-friendliness. According to proponents, aromatherapy “ is a form of alternative medicine that uses plant materials and aromatic plant oils, including essential oils, and other aromatic compounds for the purpose of altering one's mood, cognitive, psychological or physical wellbeing”  It was not surprising, therefore, that Sensory Renewal was drawing clients from Ecotherapy.

A local newspaper ran a series of articles on the topic. “NEW AGE WARS – THE BATTLE FOR SPIRITUAL GROWTH” was one headline.  The journalist had been educated at the Columbia School of Journalism and did his thesis on the muckraking and social exposés of the early 20th century, and had no sympathy for either enterprise.  He had recently done an article on Magnet Therapy, but could get no traction.  The producers and marketers of magnetic products were careful enough to make no absolute claims about the curative properties of magnets, so no legal case could be brought against them.  As far as consumers were concerned, the journalist quickly found that those who had spent a lot of money on magnets were unwilling to say that they had been duped.

Mothers in the Forties always insisted that children ‘get out of the house’ and ‘get some fresh air’; but were more interested in physical exercise than nature.  The advice took for most children who were happy to run around; and some, at least for a while, continued to value the outside world well into adolescence.  They went hiking in the mountains, spent hours hours reading Wordsworth or Thoreau by ponds and woodland lakes.  For most, however, this nature phase, had a pull-by date; and as soon as they had seen the big city, there was no turning back. The country was no match for the excitement of the city nor could it ever be.

The Washington lawyer who during his long professional career as an adviser to government Ministries of Finance in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, was routinely invited to visit game parks, and national preserves.  He turned down hikes in the Rwandan rainforests to see silverback gorillas.  He politely refused many requests to visit the lemur colonies of Madagascar. He  turned down rafting on the Zambezi, tours through the Costa Rican rain forest, and trips down the Napo River in the Amazon.  He, as he did in Montana, preferred to hang out in local bars, relax by the hotel pool, smoke a cigar in the Cuban lounge, and eat foie gras and capitaine a la crème.

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His therapy was always been urban diversity. Walking through the bazaars of Calcutta, the markets of Old Delhi, the outer-ring neighborhoods of Paris, or on the New York City High Line was enough renewal for him. The air of the congested city was just fine. Trees were a distraction. He preferred the East River to the Yellowstone.  Brooklyn to Montana. Skyscrapers to cabins. Bars to campfires.

Although Ecotherapy, Aromatherapy, and Magnet Therapy are 21st century Snake Oil, it is hard to ignore or dismiss the business acumen and enterprise that has made them so successful.  Alternative therapies, medicine, religion, and social movements help keep the economy booming, so why quibble over principle?

'The business of America is business', Engine Charlie Wilson, former President of General Motors famously said, and the reach of American ingenuity and extent of American marketing acumen knows no bounds.  Ecotherapy is an excellent example.