Past Life (film) by Avi Nesher

Went with S. to see this Israeli movie.  Quite a good drama (OK verging on melodrama).  But since it is about holocaust survivors and their secrets, the melodramatic is actually real.  Some really awful things happened.  The film is self-conscious in its heavy-handedness.  Definitely not an award-winning movie. Nice acting all around, and some nice comedy, camera angles, and set design, and the clothes from the 1970s are fun.

A bit too forced, and some scenes that could have been edited, and unsure about its exact emotional tone and moral sensibility.  But still worth the watching, especially with a teenager.

Posted in Book reviews | Leave a comment

Science fiction illuminating key ideas in social science: Two examples

I was reading The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach, and realized is is a good example of the concept of persistence in economic development.  In this case, the emperor sets thousands of worlds on a persistent path of economic activity (dominated by a peculiar kind of carpet maker), designed with institutions to discourage growth and maintain the same economic activity.  Nice sociology of a traditional economy within a market economy.  And then just today, on a long run, listening Nicholas Stern talk about Palanpur (great talk by the way) and he mentions that he and C. Bliss wanted to choose a village that was not “different” and the one of the criteria he cites? Not dominated by weavers.

I am now reading The Greatship by Robert Reed.  This is a collection of novellas.  Definitely needed editing.  But the stories and scope are so imaginative and well-done that you forgive Reed.  If you like sci-fi you should read this!

The story in the first chapter, “Alone,” introduces the Remoras.  Made me think of a particular problem in data analysis.  Many researchers are acquiring giant lists of geo-coded names (census or voter registration data) and using names to generate estimates of ethnic composition of localities.   Often machine-learning techniques are used.  But if human ethnic groups have their remoras (not atypical in West Africa) then those names are always associated with an ethnic group by location and will likely be picked up/classified as of that ethnic group.  Only the “expert” will understand the remora-nature of the subgroup.


Posted in Book reviews | Leave a comment

Manga Art in Kenya

Posted in African literature | Leave a comment

I bet the framers of the Federal and Puerto Rico constitutions had clear, original intents on the issue of Cofina vs. general obligation bonds

The dispute between COFINA bondholders and Puerto Rico’s general obligation bondholders took a new turn Wednesday, as the former parties asked the federal judge overseeing the commonwealth’s restructuring to let Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court determine once and for all whether tax-backed bond issuer COFINA is even constitutional.The bondholders of COFINA, or the Puerto Rico Sales Tax Financing Corp., are confident the island’s high court will uphold the 2006 law that established the government-owned corporation, which issues bonds backed by a portion of the island’s sales tax.Puerto Rico’s general obligation bondholders have been adamant that interest on their instruments should be paid first, saying even sales tax revenue is fair game if that is what it takes, despite the fact that the revenue is promised to COFINA bondholders.But the COFINA bondholders said Wednesday that either the general obligation bondholders are right and COFINA is unconstitutional, or they are wrong and the law is solid. Regardless, the only way to resolve the “lynchpin issue once and for all” is to certify the question to the high court, according to Wednesday’s motion. Any ruling in the restructuring case will just end up there eventually anyway, the COFINA bondholders said.

Source: Puerto Rico Justices Must Hear Bond Issuer Row, Judge Told – Law360

Posted in Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso Travel Warning

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Burkina Faso, and recommends they avoid travel to the northern part of the Sahel region, and exercise caution in the rest of Burkina Faso, due to continuing threats to safety and security, including terrorism. The ability of the U.S. Embassy to provide consular services in remote and rural areas of the country is limited. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning issued on January 20, 2016.The security environment in Burkina Faso is fluid and attacks are possible anywhere in the country, including Ouagadougou. ISIS, al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and al-Murabitun terrorist organizations and affiliates have declared their intention to attack foreign targets in North and West Africa. In January 2016, armed assailants attacked civilians at the Splendid Hotel and Cappuccino restaurant in Ouagadougou, killing 30 people, including one U.S. citizen. AQIM and al-Murabitun claimed responsibility for the attack. Violent extremist groups increased their activities in Burkina Faso’s Sahel region in 2016 and 2017, attacking police stations, customs offices, military posts, and schools in Koutougou, Intangom, Markoye, Tinakoff, Nassoumbou, Kourfayel, and Baraboule.In the border regions shared by Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, extremist groups and linked criminal networks have targeted Westerners for kidnapping. These northern regions are extremely remote, and the ability of the governments of either Burkina Faso or the United States to provide emergency assistance there is very limited.Due to the risk of attacks throughout the Sahel region, the U.S. Embassy has placed restrictions on official government travel to Dori and Djibo, the road that connects these cities, and all areas north of that road. Embassy personnel traveling to or staying at Parc National du W (Parc W), the regional national park located on Burkina Faso’s southeastern border with Niger and Benin, must arrange armed escort with Burkina Faso security forces. U.S. citizens are encouraged to follow the same guidance.

Source: Burkina Faso Travel Warning, June 7, 2017 – – Santa Clara University Mail

Posted in Burkina Faso | 2 Comments

Oil discoveries did not change female labor force participation in southwest U.S.

Am teaching the paper by Michael Ross on oil, Islam and women.  Here is a nice paper by Stephan Maurer and Andrei Victor Potlogea that addresses the question with far better data and methods.

Fueling the Gender Gap? Oil and Women’s Labor and Marriage Market Outcomes
CEP Discussion Paper No 1280
25 Jul 2014

This paper analyzes the effect of resource-based economic specialization on women’s labor market outcomes. Using information on the location and discovery of major oil fields in the Southern United States coupled with a county-level panel derived from US Census data for 1900-1940, we specifically test the hypothesis that the presence of mineral resources can induce changes in the sectoral composition of the local economy that are detrimental to women’s labor market outcomes. We find evidence that the discovery of oil at the county level may constitute a substantial male biased demand shock to local labor markets, as it is associated with a higher gender pay gap. However, we find no evidence that oil wealth lowers female labor force participation or has any impact on local marriage and fertility patterns. While our results are consistent with oil shocks limiting female labor market opportunities in some sectors (mainly manufacturing), this effect tends to be compensated by the higher availability of service sector jobs for women who are therefore not driven out of the labor market.

A recent paper that takes issue with Ross is “Islamic Culture, Oil, and Women’s Rights Revisited” by Lasse Lykke Rørbæk in Politics and Religion, 2016.

According to recent research, oil abundance is the principal explanation for women’s poor human rights record in many Muslim societies. However, this study argues that resistance to gender equality in the Muslim world originates in its specific historical trajectory and that the critical juncture precedes the extraction of oil by a thousand years. The study assesses data on women’s economic, social, and political rights in 166 countries from 1999–2008 and shows that whereas the negative effect of oil is driven by the 11 members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, Muslim countries consistently underperform even when oil and gas rents and other relevant factors such as income and democracy are accounted for. The study concludes that persisting orthodox tendencies in Islamic culture provide the best explanation for Muslim women’s limited empowerment.

Posted in Gender

New photos books for Burkina Faso libraries published in fastpencil

I am so proud of our team in Burkina Faso, especially Sanou Dounko, Guy Roland Hema and Alidou Boué, who have been creating photo books for printing and distribution to the Burkina Faso libraries.  Interns Beth Borowsky and Maria Haddad have also been a big help, and also FAVL board members Deb Garvey and Helène LaFrance.  Ten new books have already been published, and another 10 are in various stages of editing and should be printed by the end of June.  You can buy copies, too, at  But even better, send us a donation for $100 so we can buy 15 more copies to send to the libraries!


Posted in Burkina Faso, Development thinking, Education effects