Recent reading: Fantasy science-fiction, and historical fiction

For recent leisure reading lately I read four novels/novellas/collections/YA.

  • China Miéville, The Census Taker.  While I did not enjoy the novella, it was like a good workout, following along with an excellent writer a concept, “What would a novel be like if it were… sketched?”  Well, it would take a lot of competence by the reader, one realizes, to appreciate the craft.  So you feel like you are part of the reading elite, reading it.
  • Nancy Bond. A String in the Harp.  I found this in Burkina Faso among some donated books. Cover was ripped off so no use to the libraries there.  I like reading these to imagine a someday Burkinabè fiction: take the 10,000 YA novels already published and adapt to French West Africa => millions of hours of reading pleasure for young people.  But who has the time!  Bond was clearly a master of the genre. The novel is exactly the kind of novel I read in 1973 when I was 11 years old and in 5th or 6th grade.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin. The Found and the Lost (collected novellas).  I had not read too many of the Ekumen stories when I was growing up and reading science fiction in the late 1970s.  These are generally wonderful.  But maybe reading one a month would be better than 10 at a sitting.
  • Francis Spufford. Golden Hill.  Perfect vacation novel.  Good historical drama, with enough intersectionality to fill a pig trough.
Posted in Book and film reviews | Leave a comment

Every Day by David Levithan

I occasionally read young adult fiction, sometimes because my kids are reading something, sometimes because I like to imagine what such fiction would be like for French West African readers.  I finished Every Day by David Levithan over a couple of nights.  A difficult premise.  A teen- naming himself A- inhabits the body of a different teen upon waking.  Groundhog Day but each time in a different body.  Levithan elides the whole problem of how a “person” could survive that kind of “trauma” in early childhood.  To his credit, he does some hand-waving and winking at the reader: “C’mon, you can’t really expect me to figure that one out.” Fair enough.  Everyone knows time-travel fiction suffers from similar problems that require suspension of critical faculties.

Even for me, this was pretty moralizing fiction, though.  The bodies that A cycles through have back stories straight out of a catalog of teen types, and each one is treated fairly, honestly, and compassionately. It gets a trifle treacly as you move through the book.

So what would this look like in Burkina Faso?! That’s the thing.  Exactly the same. The issues that teens face are the same anywhere: Who am I? Why are my parents jerks? Why does nobody like me? Why don’t I like anyone? How can I fly away? I hope someday to see the Burkinabè version.

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Recent activity by Salimata Korbeogo visiting libraries in northern Burkina Faso for FAVL

Le lundi 06/11/2017 la sortie fut dans la commune de Sabce. Elle avait pour objectif, la vérification des outils de gestion et la récupération des livres en retard, nous avons pu récupérer ensemble une dizaine. Le mardi 07/11/2017 la visite dans la commune de Bourzanga n’a pas eu lieu car la ville était menaces donc je fus à Zimtanga, pour l’enregistrement des livres qui en reste encore une bonne partie.  La visite du mercredi 08 et jeudi 09/11/2017 ont été dans les communes de Nassere et Mané pour aussi faire séances de dessin et jeu de scrabble. Elles ont été très belles car beaucoup d’enfants ont participées aux séances de dessin (libre) qui avait pour objectif permettre aux participants d’avoir leur idées créatif, tous les deux ont vu la participation de plus d’une centaine. Plusieurs et joli dessins sont faits. Pour le jeu de scrabble, a Nassere le jeu était nouveau pour les participants, mais avec les explications suivi du pratique ils ont pu jouer sans difficultés le vainqueur avait 270 point contre 145 et moins. Pour la visite et sensibilisation à l’école B de Mané, nous sommes allés trouver que le directeur est absent mais les autres enseignants nous ont accueillis. Après les présentations, je lui fis l’objet de la visite. Ils se disaient satisfait de la visite feront le point au directeur à son retour. Ils nous ont promis de revenir un autre jour.  La journée porte ouverte qui a eu lieu le vendredi 10/11/2017. Cette journée a été très motivée. Il a eu la visite du gestionnaire de la CEB et aussi l’animatrice de CRS de ladite commune Avant de commencer l’enregistrement des noms nous avons présentés la bibliothèque et son fonctionnement son importance etc… A la clôture 266 usagers ont été enregistrés dont 139 femmes et 127 hommes.

Posted in Burkina Faso

Data analysis of Literature

Nice New York Times article by Jennifer Schluessler.  Data analysis of texts is fun and informative.  But “close reading” will always remain the primary tool for discussing and interpreting a literary text.  The attention to particular phrasing and using novel arrangements of words is what makes a work literary, rather than simple describing and telling.  A “Lucas Critique” applies here as well: as authors themselves learn from the data analysis of texts, they adapt their choices of words.  Once the World Bank finds out how many “and” their documents contain, they go “and” hunting, and then you get shorter sentences.  The changes in syntax emerge after the data analysis.  Future analysts, in order to understand the evolution of style, will have to take into account trends in data analysis as well as trends in literary criticism.

The history of literary criticism is filled with would-be revolutionaries. But few have issued as radical a cry as Franco Moretti, the professor famous for urging his colleagues to stop reading books.Most literary criticism is grounded in close reading, with scholars poring over individual texts to tease out subtle meanings. But to truly grasp the laws of literature, Mr. Moretti has argued in a series of polemics, requires “distant reading”: the computer-assisted crunching of thousands of texts at a time. It’s a pie-in-the-sky idea, perhaps, but one that Mr. Moretti has put into practice. Since 2010, Stanford Literary Lab, which he founded with Matthew Jockers, has issued a string of pamphlets chronicling its research into topics ranging from loudness in the 19th-century novel to the evolving language of World Bank reports.

HT: Kirstyn Leuner

Posted in Burkina Faso

Compromise and the Civil War: Rejecting the euphemism of John Kelly

Nobody has to be a professional or even amateur historian to understand the import of General John Kelly’s words (below), stated in his capacity as Chief of Staff of the President of the United States, in a formal public interview, in 2017.  In current vocabulary, you just have to be “woke” to understand the meaning.

“… the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War,” is a euphemism for saying, “If northern politicians had been a lot more willing to allow slavery to continue, and to forcibly return escaped slaves, and to allow southern states to secede so that white slave owners could continue to use violence and terror to control their slaves, the Civil War might not have happened.”  Every person in the United States, free and especially slave, knew in 1860 that the first is a euphemism for the second.  And every person in the United States knows this today.

General Kelly uses a euphemism, and not the more true phrasing, for a reason.  He uses the euphemism to deliberately elide the issue.  Why use the euphemism, then?  The only explanation is that the euphemizer cares more about the feelings of the white slave owners, their descendants and their enablers, than the black slaves, their descendants and their allies.  It is that simple.  He decided to tell people what side of the fence he was on.  We heard, loud and clear.  I hope he feels the shame that someone with his experiences should feel, but I am pessimistic that he actually does feel that shame.

General Kelly complains that that people should not apply the moral standards of the present to judge or evaluate the actions of persons in the past.  As many have pointed out, his choice of moral standards of the past is that of the white slave owners. He does not choose the moral standards of the black slaves. He chooses not to empathize with them, and to ignore the easily drawn conclusion that millions of people in the past were quite sure that slavery (forcing people to work through violence and terror) was evil.  Their “old” knowledge of the evils of slavery was quite consonant with our “current” knowledge of the evils of slavery.  There is no basis for his complaint, except a willful blindness.

What Kelly said:

You know, 500 years later, it’s inconceivable to me that you would take what we think now and apply it back then. I think it’s just very, very dangerous. I think it shows you just how much of a lack of appreciation of history and what history is.

I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.

Posted in United States

Ioannidis et al. on low bias and publication bias in Economics  the “con” game is still being played loud and even proud

If we adopt the conventional 5% level of statistical significance and 80% power level, as well, then the ‘true effect’ will need to be 2.8 standard errors from zero to discriminate it from zero. The value of 2.8 is the sum of the usual 1.96 for a significance level of 5% and 0.84 that is the standard normal value that makes a 20/80% split in its cumulative distribution. Hence, for a study to have adequate power, its standard error needs to be smaller than the absolute value of the underlying effect divided by 2.8. We make use of this relationship to survey adequate power in economics.

All that remains to calculate power are the values of the standard error and an estimate of ‘true’ effect. Because our survey of empirical economics produced 64,076 effect size estimates and their associated standard errors from 159 meta-analyses…, we have much information from which to work.

Simple weighted or unweighted averages of all reported estimates do much to eliminate sampling error and random misspecification bias, because the average number of estimates per meta-analysis in our survey is 403 (median = 191).

Several statistical methods have been developed to identify and accommodate potential publication and related reporting biases and others have proposed methods to detect and evaluate the extent of p-value hacking. With information from 159 meta-analyses, these statistical methods can be used to approximate the genuine empirical effect, or at the least, to filter out some of the selection bias should it be present in a given area of research.

Table 1 reports the percentage of empirical economics findings that have ‘adequate power’, defined by the widely accepted convention that power is adequate if it is 80% or higher. It is clear that most of empirical economics is underpowered….  half of the areas of economics have approximately 10% or fewer of their estimates with adequate power.

Source: The Power of Bias in Economics Research – Ioannidis – 2017 – The Economic Journal – Wiley Online Library

Posted in Burkina Faso

Quantifying effects of rent control in San Francisco… very large redistibrution and inefficiency

It almost seems like the uncontrolled landlords are quite content to keep rent control in place: their rents go up substantially.

In this paper, we exploit quasi-experimental variation in the assignment of rent con-trol in San Francisco to study its impacts on tenants, landlords, and the rental market as a whole. Leveraging new micro data which tracks an individual’s migration overtime, we find that rent control increased the probability a renter stayed at their address by close to 20 percent. At the same time, we find that landlords whose properties were exogenously covered by rent control reduced their supply of available rental housing by15%, by either converting to condos/TICs, selling to owner occupied, or redeveloping buildings. This led to a city-wide rent increase of 7% and caused $5 billion of welfare losses to all renters. We develop a dynamic, structural model of neighborhood choice to evaluate the welfare impacts of our reduced form effects. We find that rent control offered large benefits to impacted tenants during the 1995-2012 period, averaging between $2300 and $6600 per person each year, with aggregate benefits totaling over$390 million annually. The substantial welfare losses due to decreased housing supply could be mitigated if insurance against large rent increases was provided as a form of government social insurance, instead of a regulated mandate on landlords.

Source: The Effects of Rent Control Expansion on Tenants, Landlords, and Inequality: Evidence from San Francisco  by Rebecca Diamond, Tim McQuade, and Franklin Qian.

HT: Irene, muchas gracais!

Posted in United States