Stories from The New Yorker

On the flight back from Burkina Faso I got to read three short stories from old issues of The New Yorker that I found in the FAVL office, leftovers from 2014!

“Story with Bird” by Kevin Canty is an amazing 2 page exercise in capturing a relationship with remarkable style.  I am not sure the “animal eyes in the dark” bit worked.  But much of the writing was like seeing a master technician at work! Tremendous review by Betsey over at Mookse.

“Rosendale” by Paul La Farge.  I was less taken with this story.  Very deliberate writing about writing, this time a horror story.  Stops and starts and breaking of boundaries, and pretty interesting.  But I did find myself skipping about.  She’s writing a book but she’s also a crack-addicted pole dancer?  Trevor did not like it either, over at Mookse, and he has reasonable reasons.

“Ordinary Sins” by Kirsten Valdez Quade.  Really this one went over to Raymond Carver territory big time (or to go the other direction, Breaking the Waves), and was just too much setup for a brief, quiet moment of two people holding each other. Mookse commentators and I part ways on this story.


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What libraries are for! Reading in Sumbrungu

reading in sumbrungu

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Evariste Meda from BurkinaInfo TV interviewed DOunko and I about FAVL

It was fun to do a studio interview.  Evariste Meda was a great interviewer.  FAVL-BF director Sanou Dounko did a fantastic job.

BurkinaInfo sept 17

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Long, depressing opinion piece on hospital services in Ouagadougou

La situation est plus préoccupante au Centre hospitalier universitaire Yalgado Ouédraogo (CHU-YO), le plus grand centre hospitalier du pays. L’on se rappelle que lors de la visite du Premier ministre Paul Kaba Thiéba, le 6 juin dernier, le scanner était en panne et il fallait la somme de plus de 188 millions de F CFA pour le réparer. Et ce jour, le directeur général Robert Sangaré s’est voulu on ne peut plus clair : « nous fonctionnons avec certains vieux équipements qui nécessitent des interventions fréquentes de maintenance. Et les maintenances sont aussi protégées et soumises à des contrats avec les fournisseurs. Par exemple, la maintenance du scanner se fait par la Sogemab (la Société de gestion de l’Equipement et de la Maintenance Biomédicale, Ndlr). Maintenant, la Sogemab dit qu’elle n’a pas eu les moyens que l’Etat devrait mettre à sa disposition pour nous accompagner. Cela nous l’avons posé à qui de droit. La réparation du scanner nécessite 188 millions de F CFA, somme que nous n’avons pas. Il faut que le ministère de la Santé et l’Etat interviennent exceptionnellement pour nous permettre de réparer le scanner ».Après ce cri de cœur, le scanner avait été réparé mais malgré tout d’autres appareils continuent d’être hors services. Selon une de nos sources au sein de l’hôpital, Yalgado est tout simplement dépassé.« Les équipements sont vétustes sinon inexistants. Les consommables et les réactifs sont le plus souvent en rupture. Actuellement (l’interview a été réalisée le 7 aout 2017, Ndlr) la bactériologie ne fonctionne pas depuis plusieurs semaines parce qu’il n’y a pas de réactifs. Pour un CHU, c’est vraiment impensable ». Tel est le triste constat dressé par Hamadi Konfé, le responsable de la sous-section du Syntsha à Yalgado Ouédraogo.

Source: Hôpitaux publics burkinabè : Ce que le RAME a découvert – L’Actualité du Burkina Faso 24h/24

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Solari board at a train station, takes you into the past

My sister reminded me of what these are called.  We had been talking about flying on the upper deck of 747 or Airbus… how for our generation that was “the future” and then of course these are “the past.”

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Feersum Endjinn by Iain Banks

Last year I start to read Wasp Factory by Iain Banks but I could not finish it: too bleak, too violent, too disturbing.  But I saw a mention of Feersum Endjinn somewhere, and so requested it through interlibrary loan.  What a great book.  Four narratives overlapping a central event in the far future where the humans who remained on Earth after the singularity have renounced AI’s and permanent virtuality, and so exist in “base reality” (where they are essentially quasi-immortal since their brains are linked through implants in continuous time to a giant database (the crypt) and so it they die they can be restarted at last moment of consciousness.  Like Robert Reed’ Greatship.  Anyway, Earth is under threat.  One narrative is a “chief scientist” and the rulers, another a recently deceased members of the ruling class who exists only in the crypt, another the asura, a program that emerges from the crypt as a failsafe, and finally Bascule, written in phonetic Dickensian-English.  The four narratives come together in a reasonably satisfying way (it is a novel, so things have to be tidied up at the end).  The Bascule narrative is what makes the novel special.  The phonetic English forces the reader to slow down.  I found I could only read one section at a sitting.  So Banks manipulates reader time, which is a nice and relevant effect.

Posted in Book and film reviews

Understatement of the year, but so true: Supervision matters for effective public services

This is obvious and true, but well worth the experiment because it has to be reinforced over and over again for NGOs and government:
We conclude that sustained supervision is crucial for achieving persistent improvements in contexts where the lack of external competition fails to create incentives for the adoption of effective managerial practices.
After 15 years of running Friends of African Village Libraries, if there is one lesson from experience that is reinforced over and over again it is this: a community librarian that is not enmeshed in a network of supervision and support will quickly become a “sleeping librarian” if he or she even shows up at all.  Effectively delivering public services in scattered locations is very expensive for this reason, but few donors want to recognize this issue.
Many NGOs keep waiting and hoping that technology will help with the problem.  Many NGOs are still waiting for Duflo to deliver those promised inexpensive tamper-proof digital cameras that send (for free!) pictures to a central server and automatically flag absences (and then deduct from paycheck according to rule) and then automatically respond (with compassion but firmness) when librarian sends in four page handwritten letter explaining absences as due to funeral of great-aunt.
The sentence is from a sobering paper “Management, Supervision, and Health Care: A Field Experiment” by Dunsch, Eze-Ajoku, @MMacis, & @tukopamoja.
Posted in Development thinking