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

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Clearing The Decks For The Proper Business Of Dying - The Sad Story Of A Man With Too Many Causes

J.M. Coetzee in his Booker Prize-winning novel, Disgrace, said

Aging is not a graceful business.  A clearing of the decks at least so that one can turn one's mind to the proper business of the old - preparing to die


Harrison Lord felt himself neither old nor prepared to die.  Too many things still to do, he said, and not enough time to do them. Contemplating death and dying were morbid pursuits of interest only to the chaise lounge Florida crowd for whom life had been a dreary affair and death was not the end of something, but the longed-for beginning.  As for him, he would die in his traces, plowing a rocky field as he had his whole life - a life of purpose, good intentions, and happy endings. 

He had been a man in love with the idea of responsibility, of doing good, of making efforts count.  He had been tireless in his pursuit of a more verdant, peaceful, and prosperous world; one of equal rights, equal opportunity, and equal pay; one of gender equality and affirmation; and one of restoring the black man to his rightful place atop the human pyramid. 

Rest on his laurels? Never. The fight for justice was a never ending one, and there could be pause, no  hiatus, no unnecessary pit stops along the road to a better world. 

So what would likely be the last decade of his life was to be no different from those before - years of energy, spirit, hard work, and good will.  He was the first to chair an online colloquium on climate change for his college classmates; the first to preside over a seminar on 'Civil Justice And The Rights Of Man', a discussion on Locke, Rousseau, and the need for restoration of civic values, and the first to chair a gathering of Emeritus members of the Equal Opportunity Commission, a meeting to emphasize the need for 'a fight to the death' for equal rights.  

Harrison was a regular contributor to the Yale Alumni Magazine, proud to list his current achievements with references to those past.  His trips with Martin Luther King over the Pettis Bridge had prepared him for the struggle ahead and led directly to his testimony before the House Sub-Committee on Diversity, Equality, and Inclusivity.  


"We are gathered here", he began his testimony, "not only to honor those past, those revered for running the gantlet of prejudice, hatred, and villainy and persevering; but to stress our fealty, our devotion, our absolute commitment to the black man". 

Not once did Harrison even give death a second glance - no frightening looks in the mirror, no troubling questions of mortality, no nettling bits of bleakness, no dark corners, no God, no Jesus.  No Coetzee doom and gloom for him, this crazy business of the proper business of dying.  Clearing the decks meant erasure, not clarity.  Contemplating death meant ignoring the present that would go on after him and hopefully more promising because of him. 

He was peripatetic - crazed to keep death away from his door said his chaise lounge friends who had done their share for house and home, family and friends, and were content to furl their sails, enjoy a sundowner, and enjoy the ease and comforts of retirement.  When all was said and done, what did his never-ending CV matter? Who at the pearly gates was keeping score? 'The last shall be first, and the first the last; for many be called but few are chosen' wrote Matthew.  Good counsel, said Harrison's friends, watching him banging away, losing traction and leather on his soles, filling every crack between loose slats with something, anything.  

"I did that", his granddaughter proudly claimed after she had crayoned all over the first page of his speech on transgender equality (Drag Queens In Mufti - The Outing Of Gayness In Donald Trump's America). Ah, the innocence of a child, Harrison thought, so sweetly proud of her accomplishment.  He, however, had held his pride in check, letting others praise his doings.  Although he listed one thing after another in the alumni notes, he did so with modesty and deference.  Yet, to himself, he said, "I did that!"

The days leaked on, a steady trickle but a persistent one.  He was a year older before he knew it, one more page turned in a fulfilling but still incomplete life.  Despite his wobbliness and bits of bad memory,  he was still tireless in his efforts.  Every lunch, every dinner, every recessional on Sunday morning was his opportunity to make a difference.  God might or might not be in his heaven, but surely it was up to Harrison and his cadre of progressive reformers to do right. 

"What makes Harry run?", joked a Yale classmate who found the herky-jerky puppet who hadn't changed a whit since his days with the Reverend Blanton Parsons, chaplain and Freedom Rider, nights in the carrels of Harkness Library boning up on Samuel Gompers, Lafollette, and Stephen Douglass and preparing another appeal before the Student Union. 

The fact that Harry Lord came by it honestly did nothing to stop the classmate's amusement.  From every possible perspective - historical, social, philosophical, Biblical - Harry's incessant, hectoring reformism was a stutter-step dance to fill the time between now and then.  

When he passed away, a lengthy obituary appeared in both the Washington Post and New York Times - so lengthy in fact that his wife had to pay extra for extra space.  Few people read it, however, so familiar were they with Harrison's career and his prolixity concerning it.  Dead and buried too soon, his admirers said, but then again, everybody had a start date and an end date. 

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Casanova, Valmont, And The Irresistible Allure Of Sexually Confident Men - Women Weep At Their Attention

Todd Huntley knew how to play upon and manipulate women's anxieties and insecurities - women's fears that they might become exactly like their mothers or fall for men just like their fathers - and used these insights to gain what he saw was men's rightful place in the family.  After all it had been only a few decades since the first cracklings of women's liberation, Betty Friedan, The Female Eunuch, Gloria Steinem, and bra burning, and every woman on the psychiatrist's couch still felt she must core out every last, nettling, upsetting seed - every painful memory of complaisant mothers and loving, ideal fathers. 

"All it takes is to swab a few toilets", Huntley was fond of repeating to his friends, men for whom the feminist agenda had had had a progressive appeal; but who now found themselves hectored, henpecked, and dismissed by their once quiet and demurring wives. 

His friends ran the gamut of feminized men.  There was Bob the lawyer who had been bitten early and often and who, once infected, took up the cudgel of women's rights as if their struggle was his own.  He went to women's conferences, marched on the Mall, and attended colloquies, seminars, and roundtables.  

Although proud of his allegiance, happy in solidarity with his wife and her feminist sisters, he was as clueless as an upcountry cracker when it came to understanding women who had no patience for this interloper, this self-abnegating thing, and despite their midnight howling about patriarchy, male dominance, and sexual abuse wanted a real man, not this groupie, this wannabe, this...sycophant. 

Despite all their claims to the contrary, these women wanted the attention of strong men.  Not the bulldozing, incompetent goons who loitered until the coast was clear; but the confident seducers who were patient, who listened, who charmed, and who appreciated them.  

Their mothers had warned them about these wolves in sheep's clothing, these duplicitous cads who would say anything for a sexual favor; but no matter how stern the warning nor how harsh the punishment, they could not stay away from men who wanted them, who looked at them with interest and desire. 

So it was not difficult, given this simple sexual equation, to solve it - to see how the quadratics lined up in order, how a + b = c was as true in bed as on the blackboard; and savvy men like Todd was an Einstein; and the more lovers he had, the more applied.  Women couldn't help wondering what it was about him that was so desirable; so desirable in fact that for every woman who slept with him, two were left on the curb wondering where the dream went bad.  

Ruling the roost has never been a simple matter.  Women have always found ways around clueless men.  Shakespeare was but the first of many to create strong, determined, Nietzschean women who not only were never intimidated by men, but bested them at every turn.  Poor Coriolanus, brilliant field general and aspiring Consul of Rome, done in by a scheming genius - his mother - who had use for him when it was convenient and useful; but who tossed him aside when it was to her advantage.  Poor Cleon, wife of the jealous Dionyza who plotted to murder Marina, the beautiful daughter of Pericles who outshone her own daughter like the sun compared to a distant planet.  Cleon had no chance against his willful, unstoppable wife, and sat by disconsolately as she engaged Marina's assassins. 

Poor Rosmer, taken in by the ingeniously seditious Rebekka West; or the Master Builder by the more quietly dismantling Hilde Wangel; or poor, naive Lovborg, former lover of Hedda Gabler - all clueless men easy prey for women whose only ambition was dominance.  Not to mention Rosalind, Viola, and Portia, lovely, feminine women of Shakespeare's Comedies who ran rings around their dopey but wealthy suitors and lured them into their beds. 

Poor Lear, poor Macbeth, poor Hamlet

Todd Huntley, a well-read man, had no intention of falling into the tender trap. He had never had any qualms about prosperity and survival - he was a Jack London man prowling in a Jane Austen world - and took what he could get thanks to his innate understanding of his prey.  The thing of it was, and the ultimate supreme irony of Darwin, was that only the human female put up no guard against the fox in the henhouse.  They opened the gate for him. 

He saw himself as a latter day Casanova and Viscount de Valmont - men with an irresistible sexual allure and attractiveness and the moral diffidence to ignore - eschew in fact - women's love.  Valmont's seduction of the young, innocent, aristocrat Marie de Tourvel plotted with the beautiful Marquise de Merteuil was his ideal.  Nothing could be more satisfying, so confirming of his understanding of  women's weaknesses than a successful affair with Mlle. de Tourvel. 

Nietzsche was right - the only validation of the individual in a meaningless world is the expression of pure will; an amoral pursuit of life above the herd, worrying not about consequences but victory.  None of this made any difference to Todd's lovers who were willingly seduced, happily listened to and loved for who they were if only for a while.  Hidden intentions were of no interest since the overt ones were so appealing.

Less sexually successful men criticized him for the vanity of his pursuits.  What did it matter, after all, how many women he seduced in this nasty, brutish, and short life?  Their interests were more substantial - the changing climate, the plight of the black man, income inequality - and they would die knowing that they had made a difference. 

All nonsense to Todd who saw no overarching purpose inherent anywhere.  Goodness was as fictive as concept as evil. La dolce vita was far too romantic a concept to describe his view of the world.  Indifference was many steps above sensuality, beauty, and pleasure.  Hedda Gabler's ambition was simple - she wanted to control someone, anyone, completely; and in so doing would have fulfilled her particular destiny completely. "For once in my life I want to have power over a human being" she said - no ulterior motive, no reason; and it was this exertion of pure power that interested and defined Todd Huntley.  He had no interest in influencing politics or international affairs.  Controlling women,  reasserting a Jack London-like feral superiority was enough. 

This was not a cruel ambition, for as D.H. Lawrence wrote in Lady Chatterley's Lover, it was the complementarity of sexual dynamics that mattered.  There would always be sexual dominance and submission, but these were debatable and fungible.  It was up to couples to figure out who would be on top. 

And so it was that Todd Huntley died without any regret whatsoever - no troubled conscience, no regret that he had not done more for others, that he had been kinder, more gentle, more appreciative.  He had led the life parceled out to him without conditions.  It was for others to worry about the restrictive codicils they had written into their contracts.  

American Fashion? John Fetterman And A Bum's Rush To Clueless Bad Taste

American movies of the Forties dealt with serious issues, studied character and conflict, and never flinched from moral and ethical dilemmas.  Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, The Third Man, Casablanca were the best of the lot, but They Drive By Night, the story of truck drivers fighting corrupt businessmen was tops. 

Image result for images bogart they drive by night

After Bogart, Joan Fontaine, Lauren Bacall, Cary Grant, and Humphrey Bogart, there were the clothes! Everyone looked great in tuxedos, long dresses, tailored suits, fedoras and snap-brims, overcoats and scarves, mink stoles and hats with veils, long gloves, silk stockings, and high-heeled shoes; riding outfits, hunting outfits, afternoon wear, pearls, earrings, umbrellas, and top hats.  

Everyone dressed up in those days.  No man or woman would ever think of going out without dressing up.  Whether to the department store, the movies, or the club; or whether on trains or airplanes, men, women, and children looked good. 

Casual Couture of the Average American
Things have changed. We think we look good, but we have lost that 40's class and fashion panache. We shop in cutoffs, sweatpants, flip-flops, raggedy T-shirts, and tank tops. We never dress up for travel. We dress down. Why bother getting all cossetted and dandied for the back of the plane? Summers are hot, so chop the Levi's down a few more inches and lose the sleeves on the T-shirt. “What’s the point?”, Americans ask. 
The issue is not with high fashion but with common, ordinary dress.  Why do most of us look like slobs all the time?

The Senate recently codified hillbilly chic by passing a rule that anything goes on the Senate floor, dress-down, casual Friday every day of the week.  The only Senator so far to act on the new rules is John Fetterman, who apparently has not gotten over his bout of depression and still flounders in an anomie of his own, making no sense whatsoever and dressing in a clown suit. 

No one should be surprised.  After all it was only a matter of time before the Senate, the august institution designed by the Founding Fathers to act as a firewall against the unwashed, became one of us, backwoods crackers and clod-busters from the prairie?  Why, said Democratic leaders rushing to cleanse the country of its elitist, white, racist past, shouldn't the Senate be everyman's chamber?

All French women may  not be so bien taillĂ©e as the most elegant matrons of the 7th,  but would never go out without  a simple cashmere sweater, string of pearls, skirt, and comfortable but stylish shoes

The Italian term bella figura says it all.  It means looking good, dressing with style; eating, walking, working, relaxing in style.
Even the uniforms of the Italian policemen, soldiers, and carabinieri are more stylish and elegant than those of neighboring countries. Even the road sweepers are more fashionable in their immaculate white coveralls. In addition to being well dressed and well groomed, Italians surround themselves with beauty. Italian cars are known for their design and beauty. Gardens and architecture are vibrant, alive and beautiful. The art, history, architecture, fashion and fine wines of Italy are undisputed. There's an inherent sense of appreciation for color, design and form throughout the land. (Celeste Stewart)
Italian Americans have always maintained a sense of bella figura.  John Gotti may have been a murdering mobster, but he always looked good.

In the few WASP enclaves left in America – on the Vineyard or Nantucket, for example – a visitor will see a lot of tweeds, pearls, and Docksiders.
The rest of us, however, have left behind any pretense of looking good. This is a shame, because not only is it a pleasure to look at someone who looks good, it is painful to see someone who is not.  And painful is the only way to look at John Fetterman, dressed in whiteboy threads, missing only the backwards baseball cap - a White Men Can't Jump caricature, stick legs in cheap running shoes, baggy hoodie, and shaved head.  

Manners – another part of bella figura – are practiced out of respect for other people.  It is disgusting to watch a fat tongue push the pastrami around, or someone pick bits of chicken from the serving plate.  We should eat with our mouths closed, seated up straight, and our hands kept in our laps to spare the guests across from us.  Good manners go with fine china, crystal, and silver.  Bella figura is an ensemble.

Dressing well adds to the community well-being. Dressing indifferently is like throwing trash on the street. Soon everybody does it.  A social norm has been progressively eroded.  The more people dress in ragged cutoffs and flip flops, the more such casual indifference becomes the rule.  The Senate, for all its inconsequential bickering, nasty divides, and do-nothing tenor, at least has held the line on decorum in part because dressing the part of statesmen has kept the sense of decorum alive and kept populist caterwauling to a minimum. 

The Senate floor will soon become no different from a New York inner city playground - broken baskets, bent rims, cracked cement, and trash talking.  Fashion is not an incidental, superficial add-on.  It is the most outward expression of personality and character. 

Despite our faith and belief in our classless society, we are very definitely a stratified one.  The hipsters in San Francisco may look unfashionable, but their pork pie hats, pipe-stem pants, and plaid shirts are absolutely de rigeur in the Mission. Low-end shoppers at Walmart on the other hand, could care less and dress with clothes pulled out of the hamper, or at best some pink plastic Capris. 

The best place to view the fashion of the ordinary American is on the National Mall during the summer tourist season.  It is not a pretty sight. 

One hears Europeans say that they love to visit America because it is so casual.  For once they can leave the restrictive norms of their countries behind.  No one is looking at how they look, whether they sit up properly at table, or if their hair has been properly coiffed.  Anything goes at Ben’s Chili Bowl.  There is no etiquette for eating a sloppy chili dog.

The proper Englishman has an outfit for everything in England – breakfast, hunting, tea, and dinner – but he can bring only one set of clothes for a visit to Washington. T-shirt, sweatpants, and running shoes are perfectly proper attire for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

There is almost no obesity among French women. The social norms against it are so strong that women will do anything to fit into a size 4, even smoke like chimneys.  It is gratifying, they say, to visit a country where size is no object, overweight is a matter of diversity, and any size  goes.

There are some young American women who always look good no matter where they go. They have mastered American casual fashion – an eclectic but never put-together-looking ensemble of clothes, shoes, accessories, and hairstyles.  They are a pleasure to look at.  They add beauty, style, and presence.  The city is better off because of them.  For them fashion is art, a creative enterprise which expresses character and personality, and shows off designer versatility and inspiration. 

Much has been made of the equality gap in America, rich vs. poor, the One Percent vs. the Ninety-Nine; but there is no reason why lower income must mean looking bad.  French women of modest means have always looked good.  They may have only one or two nice outfits in the closet, but they are tailored and attractive. In Italy and France there has always been a culture of fashion which has known no class distinction. 

The well-turned out sophisticated woman of the 40s may be a cultural relic, and the few young fashionistas of San Francisco harder to find; but there are still the runways of New York and Los Angeles, high fashion and Hollywood glitz to set the standards of dress.  Maybe more and more of us will get out of our sweatpants and tank tops follow their lead. 

Yet, there remains the image of misshapen, obese, clueless and nonsensical John Fetterman and the new rules of the Senate.  Just when the spirit of Yves St. Laurent thought that American fashion had finally hit its nadir at the bottom of the barrel, John Fetterman shoes up.  St. Laurent, Coco Chanel, and Diana Vreeland can no longer rest in peace. 

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Fairy Tales - Empty Eulogies At The Death Of A Complex Man

Burton Ellis was to most an ordinary man with an ordinary wife - a good man; not a model husband but not an indifferent one either; an acceptable father, a decent member of society, and a hard worker.  To the surprise of everyone, he dropped dead suddenly.  He had led a good, long life, everyone said, and they thanked the Lord that he had been taken off quickly and painlessly. 

And this is what people chose to say about him when it came time for eulogies, a nod to his rectitude, consideration, and fidelity.  He was any man, everyman.  For all the congregation knew from the reflections of the speakers, it could have been any one of a million men under the lid of the coffin.  Burt had been rinsed clean, prettied up for the service, as furbished and bright as the mahogany bier in which he lay. 

On and on they droned, he was the brave captain of every ship he sailed, friend of rich and poor alike, a leader, an eight-handicap golfer, a prankster, and a bowler.  By the end of the ceremony he was a dreary dud.


The real person, that intimate, cross, contrary soul that Burton was could not be revealed.  Funerals are points of reference.  He lived a good life, he died, he will be missed. There should be nothing more to say, no details needed, no embellishment.  

Burton Ellis was by no means an ordinary man, nor a particularly good one.  He could be scratchy, mean, and indifferent.  He had lost more friends than he gained.  He could be nasty, impatient, and arrogant but these sharp edges were 'fool foils'.  There was no room for complaisance or cheap novels in his life.  He lived on a wing and a prayer, escaping capture by the skin of his teeth - a morally fungible soul as adaptable as a raccoon, able to skim the surface of cultures, women, and ideas without deeper entanglement. 

He was a political contrarian of no particular party, an atheist, and an Adam Smith laissez-faire economist, an objective examiner of the Old South, a student of the economics of slavery, and a monarchist - all of which could not possibly be mentioned in his eulogies.  

He was 'a friend of the poor' reflected a former colleague who knew Burton in Ouagadougou together on a World Bank mission to revitalize the sagging health system; but Burton had quickly seen the endemic corruption of the Burkina government and the total impossibility of any reform, and spent his three weeks in-country drinking beer around the pool of the Independence with Burkinabe intellectuals and actresses from Hollywood-in-the Desert, the up-and-coming West African art film industry. 

He was desultory in his work because of the indifference of his government counterparts, more often than not busy with tribal business and mulatto paramours, 'out of station' or 'otherwise occupied', and thanks to a silver tongue and golden pen he was able to speak and write his way into a return contract which he accepted without hesitation. 

The Bank colleague, however, spoke only of Burton's professional elegance, his canny understanding of foreign cultures, and his contributions to end world poverty. 

Another speaker spoke of his congeniality and social graces.  "Everyone loved Burton", he said; but the real Burton was tolerated by most, loved by a very few, and rejected by many more.  His brand of sharp satire and unvarnished irony put most people off.  Rather than tell the truth to the congregation - his intelligence was unmatched, his intellect provided the fuel, and his personality the fire - the speaker chose to round the edges until Burton became anyone, any man, transparent - a cipher. 

Better to be cremated unceremoniously, a bit of smoke and ash, and memories for those who actually loved him, appreciated him, and missed him.  A plot in the graveyard of Christ Church, the oldest church on the Northern Neck of Virginia, Anglican, spiritual home of English colonists and after disestablishment, new Americans is to be his resting place, proper and fitting for an admirer of old ways and passionate about them.  He will be in good company - Virginia colonial governors, clerics, and landowners - all wanting a peaceful place of rest in church grounds which will remain unchanged for  another two centuries. 

So why was Burton's life best described by the platitudes spoken at his funeral? Was it because he had no track record to speak of, no paper trail, no trophies or gold watches, nothing to point to, 'I did that'; only a prickly, scratchiness that kept most people at a distance, but when soothed, had moments of peculiar insight?  Appreciated by his daughter who would have him no other way, and certainly not like the other fathers of the neighborhood who settled in and never budged; who were content with complaisance; and who never stole any fruit from the neighbors' trees. 

He was an eye-painter, a moral troubadour, a social brigand, a moral adventurer, a bad boy.  He had no causes, no ladders to climb, and no regrets.  A complete man, as it were, without deliberate compartments.  He fit no category, no filing system.  And it was because of all this that he was envied b the doers who limned his praises at his funeral.  He was the one who got the girl. 

Tolstoy in his novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, observed that we all die alone; that the composite of a random life is worth nothing more than the pieces of a broken mirror.  It is to the finality of the next step that one should turn, not to the relatively petty concerns of the past; so it is with some bemusement that the spirit of Burton Ellis heard the platitudes eulogizing him.  Had he seemed that simpleminded?  That ordinary?  Was he so predictable to those who eulogized him? 

Not that it mattered, for as Ivan Ilyich said in his final words, "Death is finished".  A conclusion to a life neither satisfactory nor unsatisfactory; neither satisfied nor unsatisfied, but life.  

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

A Prince Among Paupers - Doing Good In An African Dump With Oil

The one nice thing about dumps with oil - poor, desperate, nasty countries ruled by despots but which sit on top of billions in natural resources - is the hotels, refuges from the filth, squalor, and dysfunction surrounding them. 

The Grand Hotel had been financed with a generous loan from the World Bank to help its client state to develop a hospitality infrastructure - a fanciful idea given that the country had been ruled by Antoine M'Dogo Sesi Kofu for three decades, had been picked clean by him and his cohorts leaving no legal tender to repay even the Bank's softest loan.  Yet Bank managers saw hope in recent elections signaling, they thought, a return to democracy, a peaceful transition to popular rule, and prosperity; and if there was a decent hotel to house investors who, seeing both electoral promise and economic opportunity, it would fill quickly to capacity. 


President Kofu, having been to France and America as diplomatic royalty, and having stayed at the very finest, most luxurious hotels in Paris and New York, knew that to join the league of developed nations, a five-star hotel would be a must.  He, a man with deep tribal roots, had not stayed in a hotel of any dimension or reputation until his first trip to Europe as a member of The African Youth League, a thinly-disguised brown shirt Fascist group with cadres in every West African country devoted to keep Africa black, native, and proud. 

Western nations had celebrated the group and saw it as the emergence of a corps of young leaders which would lead the continent out of the Dark Ages. They had not, however, vetted the organization to see beyond its benign patriotism to its radical core.  Anything with even a scintilla of hope passed muster.  Africa could simply not be consigned to failure, a collection of dysfunctional, crime-ridden, corrupt, ungovernable 'shit holes'; and success stories had to be found come what may. 

Such impossible idealism opened the floodgates to billions in foreign assistance.  The United States in particular was anxious to show black voters that they cared about their homeland, and would put it at the top of the list of international economic priorities.   

In so doing, billions were sluiced into the Swiss bank accounts of African dictators from north to south.  The leader of Ethiopia who misruled the country for years was the beneficiary of billions of dollars of US largesse. Idris Deby, the dictator of Chad, played the US and the World Bank for fools, duplicitously agreeing to a gas-for-reform agenda and then reneging completely, absorbing the billions of development money siphoned his way, leaving the citizens of his country without a red cent. 

President-for-Life Kagame of Rwanda, lionized because of his victory over the genocidal Hutus, but turned repressive dictator who muzzles all opposition, lies and distorts reports about his clandestine military operations and Stasi-like national police. Deby received $6bn in aid, Lansana Conte of Guinee received $11bn, Kagame $10bn, and Museveni of Uganda $31bn.                           

Image result for images bokassa

President Kofu, then, was but one in a long line of African despots to be favored by Western financial assistance.  Looking at the countries around him and the vast treasures amassed by his fellow leaders, he knew that building a luxury hotel in the midst of abject poverty would be no stretch.  The funds would be there.  

Ground was broken, champagne drunk, foreign dignitaries invited to a show of tribal fanfare, bare-breasted women from the bush, rain dances; manioc, crickets, and jungle rat in a potpourri of native dishes for dinner; and gratuitous sex for everyone. 

Of course, nothing ever got built.  The Grand Hotel was a nice idea, and the President's real ambition was to actually build a five-star, Singapore-worthy hotel and make millions for himself, his minions, and his family.  There would be other opportunities to do both, but for the meantime, swelling his Zurich bank accounts was enough. 

Farnsworth (Farny) Lodge, international development consultant, frequent visitor to West Africa, and no stranger to the African way - corruption, dysfunction, filth, and misery - but salved whatever conscience remained after a number of years in the business and leading a good life while doing good, by saying that he tried.  No use crying over spilled milk, and the rancid, spoiled foul stuff was everywhere.  Do the best you can, enjoy the company, and return home in one piece. 

Haiti under the Duvalier family had been an idyll, an example that a repressive dictatorship was good for one thing at least - keeping the peace and keeping crime to a bare minimum.  Farny ate at the best French restaurants in Petionville and Kenscoff, partied till dawn in Carrefour, and walked the old port at sunset. 

African dictators had lost their taste for management.  It took vigilance, administration, and financial control to maintain and control the Tonton Macoute - patience which African big men did not have.  As long as the money rolled in for gas, oil, rare earths, and minerals; and as long as the presidential palace remained impregnable, why bother with the rest? 

So Farny had to make do, and some of the hotels he stayed in had been maintained and kept up as a matter of presidential pride and as watering hotels for important political cronies. Make do is only by comparison to the hotels of Asia, of course, where the term 'luxury hotel' has been redefined. The hotels of Jakarta, Manila, and Singapore are palaces, the most accommodating, pleasurable, complete packages anywhere.  The hotels of Kigali, Bamako, and Nairobi are grungy flop houses by comparison; but within the African context quite passable.

There are pools and lively bar scenes, massage parlors, and French wines; good room service, flowers and marble floors, and a doorman. 

Sometimes Farny went in for colonial funk - small hotels still run by French expatriates who decided to stay on after independence, still settled their accounts by hand, and were, as one Frenchman noted, like living in France fifty years ago in la France profonde; or river funk, like La Pirogue whose cabanas on the Niger River had a touch of the safari or Mungo Park adventurism. 

All in all, international development was a prince's game.  One lived well, ate well, and temporarily loosed from family, responsibility, and office, was as free as a bird. A touch of the exotic was enough of a prelude in the tropics for liaisons to come easily and often.  The nastiness of the African street and the malarial bush were put aside without a second thought.  Doing good was someone else's fanciful notion and nothing whatsoever to do with the pestilential, obstructionist, inherently corrupt 'beneficiaries' with whom one was supposed to do business. 

One thing about international foreign assistance - it has staying power.  Despite the fact that little of the money earmarked for 'the people' ever get past the presidential palace; and despite the fact that there is little infrastructure and even less competence to carry out notional projects even if the money got past Go, government after government, development bank after development bank keeps pouring in limitless funds. 

So, within such a system, why worry?  Development was a great ride and Farny would have it no other way.