Great trenchant essay on reading from Hisham Matar

Nothing we read can import new or foreign feelings that we don’t, in one form or another, already possess. “Every reader,” as Marcel Proust writes in “Time Regained,” “is actually the reader of himself.” Books can’t install unknown feelings or passions into us. What they can do is develop our emotional, psychological and intellectual life, and, by doing so, show us how and to what extent we are connected. This is why literature is the greatest argument for the universalist instinct, and this is why literature is intransigent about its liberty. It refuses to be enrolled, regardless of how noble or urgent the project. It cannot be governed or dictated to. It is by instinct interested in conflicting empathies, in men and women who are running into their own hearts, in doubt and contradictions. Which is why, without even intending to, and like a moon to the night, it disrupts the totalitarian narrative. What it reveals about our human nature is central to the conversation today.

Read the full essay here.

Posted in Reading

Can students record me in class?

Turns out in many states there is only a “single party consent” needed to record a conversation, and so students could record me in class.  They are limited in what they can do, since the cannot “sell” my intellectual property. But certainly they could make fun of my mistakes, tics, physical attributes.  But you know, they could do that anyway, with a crude drawing and verbal description.

In California, one of a dozen states (it seems) where “two party consent” is required,  the students cannot legally record me without consent.   And of course they cannot then use the recording for any purpose if I have not consented.

Some schools simply make it a policy (as part of the student code of conduct) to prohibit recording, regardless of legality.  Here is the policy of Georgetown Law School.   I wonder if such policies would be enforceable?  Courts might say the university cannot circumscribe a legal right.

The ethics here are interesting.  As an academic, aren’t I committed to sharing of knowledge and open discourse?  Why would I have a default position to not let students record me sharing knowledge?

In practice, my classes are recorded and available to students, so possibly that is an implicit consent on my part, so if I do something stupid that goes viral, tough luck for me.  At this point in the Internet’s short history, it clear that the effects for a relatively anonymous person of going viral are probably short-lived.  Does anyone remember the professor who threw the cell phone against the wall?  Does anyone know the identity of the policeman who manhandled the student who refused to leave?  Sure it is embarrassing.  But you will go back to being anonymous relatively soon.  And in my Economics classes, will I really go viral because I mixed up the IS curve with the LM curve (not happened yet, but who knows)?

But what if my subject matter were white privilege? Or understanding masculinity?   These are hot-button topics where haters abound.  Easy for dry academic discussion to be misinterpreted and go viral.  Even easier for a charismatic, opinionated, pugnacious classroom performance to go viral.  Why would I enable that?

Anyway, these debates are tied into issues of the meaning of academic freedom, and a good place to start on that is this excellent review of the work of Stanley Fish.

Posted in Being a teacher, Santa Clara University, United States

Awe-inspiring study from

People moved east to west, less so north to south. See how the differently colored clusters form distinct horizontal bands? The red, blue, purple, and green dots fan out from right to left. This pattern means DNA confirms the descendants of immigrants to the East Coast moved westward.While people certainly moved back and forth from the north to south as well, if people had moved in the same volume from north to south, you’d see the bands fanning downward and not just from east to west.But instead you can see powerful forces pushed people westward, even showing that the Mason-Dixon line separates some of the clusters.  Catherine Ball, chief scientific officer at Ancestry and the leader of the study, commented to Wired: “I have to admit I was surprised by that. This political boundary had the same effect as what you’d expect from a huge desert or mountain range.”

Source: What 770,000 Tubes of Saliva Reveal About America – Ancestry Blog

Posted in United States

Leading a non-profit that supports village libraries is a lot of work!

I like to share parts of my life with you, readers, but mostly I write to share stuff with my future self.  As you may know, I started back in 2001 and continue to direct a small non-profit Friends of African Village Libraries.  FAVL currently supports 34 libraries in Burkina Faso (though three have been closed for many months now because of issues with the mayor’s offices, and we are struggling to have them re-opened).  Our director in Burkina Faso is Sanou Dounko, an amazing country director who started as a village librarian.  We also support three libraries 3 in Ghana (under the able management of Paul Ayutoliya), and the Kitengesa Community Library in Uganda (shout-out to our dear colleague Kate Parry to whom we wish a full recovery) as well as the Uganda Community Library Association.

Anyway, work for me guiding our Burkina Faso and Ghana programs was piling up, so I had to take a day off from the university and get things right.

  • Had to take a difficult decision and not renew contract of one of our program officers.  That meant many emails with our staff and partners at Catholic Relief Services in Burkina Faso.  We are looking forward to working with them to recruit an excellent replacement.
  • Finished a draft and did corrections to our monthly “local” newsletter for librarians and partners in Burkina, Echos des Bibliothèques.  Started a draft for the March edition.
  • Authorized Paul in Ghana to buy a new motorcycle.  How could I not after he went to the market, took pictures of all the motorcycles available, sent me price list and key features?
  • DLG and MK boxes booksWorked with Deb Garvey, FAVL treasurer, to get another box of books sent to Burkina Faso.  Over the past couple months, Deb and I have shipped eight boxes of books (a couple to Ghana – great books donated by network of friends of Sue Frey, and some extremely high quality French books coming from the Peninsula French international School parents and librarian).  Of course, when these books arrive, in the Ghana case, the customs agent at the post office wanted payment of about $200!  So that involved letters, mobilization of some key community members… got the payment down to $5 to release the books.  In Burkina , by contrast, we have never been hassled by customs agents.
  • Some friends of FAVL in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina, approached us to organize a reading camp in a local school.  We decided this might be a good opportunity for training reinforcement for the staff, so we have agreed, and I spent an hour working with Dounko to develop a plan for having a good number of staff participate in the reading camp, and learn new “animation” techniques.
  • Worked with FAVL intern yesterday (the great Maria Khouri-Haddad), to bring Burkina accounts up to date, and continued that today.  Accounting is very time-consuming, but absolutely necessary.  We pretty much put every transaction into our Quickbooks software… 13 years of expenses!
  • Maria also helped us develop some Algerian short stories for reproduction for use in library reading clubs, along with promotional posters.  So I finalized those today and sent off to Burkina.
  • We have eight staff in Burkina, and they all report regularly to Dounko and copy me.  I try to read their daily reports and occasional longer reports, and send back feedback and encouragement.  That is the part of the job I love!  They all come from very humble roots… first generation to get educated, first generation to have “office” jobs, first time to be using computers, first time to write a report, first tie to offer “constructive criticism”… watching their skills evolve over the years is fascinating.  I like to say that they can all skin and gut a pig, or boil, pluck and prepare a chicken… or grind corn into cornmeal, or ferment mash and make homemade beer, or walk into a forest and make a chair… and now they are sitting in front of Microsoft Publisher.
Posted in Burkina Faso

Growing incidents and threats of jihadist violence in northern Burkina Faso

FAVL-supported  libraries in several provinces in northern Burkina Faso have had to close as the security situation has deteriorated.

À cet effet, dans les provinces martyres de Soum et de l’Oudalan, la mesure semble quelque peu radicale : « La circulation est interdite aux motos, tricycles, véhicules et charrettes de 17h à 6h du matin sur la bande de la frontière (Markoye-Oursi, Tin Akoff-Nassoumbou, Koutoubou-Baraboulé). » Au-delà de la simple menace terroriste, plusieurs attentats ont été commis de part et d’autre de la frontière malienne. Par ailleurs, les enseignants de cette région survoltée ont également décidé de déserter les lieux. À en croire une source bien introduite : « Beaucoup d’enseignants ont déjà fait leurs valises. » Avant d’ajouter, avec ce constat tout aussi triste : « A Foubé, un village qui relève de la province du Sanmatenga, et à quelques kilomètres de Djibo, c’est la même chose : Salles de classe fermées et départ des enseignants. » La psychose est donc généralisée, et personne ne voudrait tomber aux mains de ces jihadistes. Surtout que ces hommes sans foi ni loi ont déjà menacé ces dispensateurs de savoir de changer leur programme pour le remplacer par des cours arabes. Même si un directeur d’école a été abattu, vendredi dernier, à Kourfael, ses autres collègues tentent de dissuader les fuyards. Mais jusque-là, rien n’y fit, car plusieurs préfèrent d’ores et déjà se mettre à couvert et éviter tout risque. « Avec ses terroristes, l’on ne sait jamais d’où peut surgir le danger », se justifient-ils. C’est à juste titre que le président Kaboré a nommé un nouveau ministre de la Défense pour combattre les terroristes. D’aucuns espèrent donc que les efforts du gouvernement vont déboucher sur une sécurisation entière des personnes et des biens.

Source: Burkina Faso : Face à la menace terroriste, des écoles fermées au nord

Posted in Burkina Faso

Noujain Mustaffa is the right drop of bittersweet sunshine for a cloudy day

Posted in United States

If you want to know what racially motivated terrorism looks like in the United States

The episode occurred in the summer of 2015, when Ms. Norton, Mr. Torres and other members of a group called Respect the Flag drove around Paulding and another county, flying the Confederate flag, pointing guns at black residents and threatening to kill them.

From the New York Times.

Posted in Burkina Faso