Monthly Archives: May 2016

What Can We Learn about Writing from Flaubert’s Letters?

In short? That even talented writers suffer. A lot.

When we are trying to find wisdom in order to learn to write well, we usually get Stephen King’s On Writing and some other books. A less straightforward way would be to look at the notes or letters of writers. The Peruvian Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas-Llosa is a loyal follower of Gustave Flaubert, the french writer that is known as the precursor of the modern novel. Vargas-Llosa has said that after reading Flaubert’s letters he realized that with work, insistence and perseverance one can make up for the lack of talent.

Below I share some of the most interesting passages that I found in Flaubert’s correspondence (Steegmuller, 1980) at the time he was writing his masterpiece: Madame Bovary. Most of these passages come from letters addressed to his friend and lover Louise Colet, with whom Flaubert had a very strange relationship (but that is ‘harina de otro costal‘). Flaubert’s sentences in those letters show the process of writing the best sentences one could write. We usually assume that sentences flow out of talented writers in an effortless way. However, reading Flaubert’s letters we can see how one of the best writers struggles when trying to produce the written perfection.

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Genetic Diversity and Economic Development

If we think that diversity can have an impact on organizational outcomes, it would make sense to also look at higher-level outcomes. Ashraf and Galor (2013) do that. They study the effect of genetic diversity on economic development at the country-level. They find that an intermediate level of genetic diversity is associated with ‘the highest’ level of economic development. The results show that there is an ‘inverted-U’ relationship between genetic diversity and economic development: a trade-off exists between the positive and negative effects of diversity on productivity.

Based on their results, the authors indicate that (Ashraf & Galor, 2013: 38)

(i) increasing the diversity of the most homogenous country in the sample (Bolivia) by 1 percentage point would raise its income per capita in the year 2000 CE by 39%, (ii) decreasing the diversity of the most diverse country in the sample (Ethiopia) by 1 percentage point would raise its income per capita by 21%…

The following image extracted from the paper shows this curvilinear relationship:

Ashraf and Galor 2013

Ashraf and Galor (2013)

They explore some mechanisms through which genetic diversity has an impact on economic development. In particular, they look at interpersonal trust and scientific knowledge creation. They find that (Ashraf & Galor, 2013: 8)

…the analysis indicates that genetic diversity is negatively associated with the extent of cooperative behavior, as measured by the prevalence of interpersonal trust, and positively associated with innovative activity, as measured by the intensity of scientific knowledge creation.

This study has received some attention from news sites. Check one of the author’s website here.

References

Ashraf, Q., & Galor, O. (2013). The’Out of Africa’hypothesis, human genetic diversity, and comparative economic development. The American Economic Review, 103(1), 1.

 

Darwin’s Fox

After traveling around Tierra del Fuego, observing the Fuegians and spending time with Jemmy Button‘s tribe, Charles Darwin arrived in Chiloé, the second largest island in Chile. In this region, Darwin explored the main island and the surrounding areas. In his journal, Darwin (1989) describes an interesting situation that took place when he arrived to San Pedro island, located in the southeast side of Chiloé.

‘A fox, of a kind said to be peculiar to the island, and very rare in it, and which is an undescribed species, was sitting on the rocks. He was so intently absorbed in watching their [Beagle’s officers] manoeuvres, that I was able, by quietly walking up behind, to knock him on the head with my geological hammer. This fox, more curious or more scientific, but less wise, than the generality of his brethren, is now mounted in the museum of the Zoological Society.’

Zorro Chilote

This little fox (Lycalopex fulvipes; syn. Pseudalopex fulvipes), known as Darwin’s fox and Zorro Chilote (Fox from Chiloé) ‘is perhaps one of the rarest, least known and world’s most threatened canid’ (Jimenez, 2007). Even though Darwin found this ‘more curious or more scientific’ fox in 1834, we have not gained much knowledge about this specie. Some estimate the population of the Darwin’s fox to be close to 500 (in Chiloé) (Yahnke et al., 1996). Recent studies show that the Darwin’s fox does not only live in Chiloé, but also in the coastal area close to Valdivia. The Nahuelbuta National Park (5415 ha.) is a coastal forest that remains the only mainland area in which the fox has been observed. Because of the distance between this Park and Chiloé, some speculate that this mainland population may have come from captive foxes.

It seems that there is some agreement regarding the extent to which this fox is in danger . However, it is not clear yet how to protect it.

References

Darwin, C. (1989). Voyage of the Beagle: Charles Darwin’s” Journal of researches”. J. Browne (Ed.). Penguin Books.

Jiménez, J. E. (2007). Ecology of a coastal population of the critically endangered Darwin’s fox (Pseudalopex fulvipes) on Chiloé Island, southern Chile. Journal of Zoology, 271(1), 63-77.

Yahnke, C. J., et al. (1996). Darwin’s Fox: A Distinct Endangered Species in a Vanishing Habitat. Conservation Biology, 10(2), 366–375.