Corruption Perceptions, 2016

From time to time, I report on the Corruption Perceptions studies by Transparency International. It’s interesting to watch the trends, though I have to admit they’re slow-moving. In 2016, China caught up with India, and Myanmar – again is the surprise.

Transparency International tracks corruption, and each year they make a ‘Corruption Perceptions Index’ across 175-180 or so countries. For 2016, it was 176 countries. This measures how business people both local and international perceive corruption in each country. The map below shows the findings graphically – lighter is better. (The Transparency website has a larger interactive map. Take a look if you want to browse – scroll down from the large map until you find the interactive one.)

cpi2016_transparency-international-map-excerpt

So here are the results for 2016.
In 2014, India ranked ahead of China for the first time since year 2000. People thought India’s corruption environment was improving, and China’s worsening. I speculated that it might be the Modi Effect. In 2015, a year I skipped, China improved its rank and this year – it’s caught up. Both countries have a “normalized rank” of 45. The US is stable at 10.

Since the number of countries Transparency covers changes each year, I normalize the ranks. You could think of them as percentiles.  So a rank of 45 is around the middle of the pack.
corruption-perception-rank

Myanmar is the surprise. In 2013, it improved its Corruption Perceptions sharply. At that time, I wrote, “While a normalized rank of 89 is nothing to brag about, the improvement is. If Myanmar can keep this up for a few years, people will be able to dismiss corruption there as no worse than anywhere in ASEAN.”

But then it seemed to flatten out, and 2014 and 2015 weren’t much different that 2013. This year, it’s shot up to 77. Again, not bragworthy exactly, but it’s pulled it out of the company of countries like Somalia and Sudan and North Korea, and is now in the same group as Guatemala and Papua New Guinea (and Kyrgyzstan). It’s climbed 12 ranks in 4 years. If it can do it again, it could in a few years be within shouting distance of other ASEAN countries. Thailand and the Philippines, for instance, both have a normalized rank of 57.

Here are the actual Corruption Perception Scores (out of 100, higher is better). According to the organization, the scores before 2012 are not comparable with the ones from that date onward. I’ve tweaked them so I think they’re good enough, but a data-purist might object.

corruption-perceptions-2016

I’m using the US as a standard of comparison, and this shows it’s been quite stable.

But it’s not the top of the world.  The US only scores 74 (out of 100). It’s behind New Zealand and Denmark (90),  Finland (89), Sweden (88), Switzerland (86), Norway (85), Singapore (84), Netherlands (83), Canada (82), Germany, Luxembourg, and UK (all 81), Australia (79), Iceland (78), Hong Kong (77) – though I don’t know why Hong Kong is separately reported, Belgium (77),  and Austria (75). I wonder if the new government in the US will have an effect on corruption perceptions in 2017.

Watch this space.

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Smells Like a Man…

The other day, we went to an Indian grocery store in Seattle. In addition to replenishing our spice stocks, and picking up a few veggies that are difficult to find in regular grocery stores (and what turned out to be date-expired, fungus-growing idli mav), we picked up a tube of shaving cream. Old Spice, old familiar brand, right?

A little later I was startled to hear laughter from the bathroom. When I went to investigate, I was handed the cardboard outer package. The ad copy on the package went like this:

SMELLS LIKE A MAN

For gentlemen with exceptional taste in scents, rugs, and TV shows.

Dear Man, your hands were not made to carry shopping bags or stroke furry kittens however cute they may be. No, your hands were made so you can sculpt statues of yourself. Or squeeze out a handsome amount of this smooth, man-friendly tube of Old Spice Shaving Cream. Buy it, and all else will be forgotten.

old-spice-shaving-cream

Old Spice has been doing a whole bunch of amusing, tongue-in-cheek video commercials. They’re more American in context… so I guess this is the stripped down, desi version.

And then, of course, there’s also the Indian video commercial, Mantastic
“It’s a telescope. But it’s also a flute.”
“Wonderful!”
“Aami jani.” (I know)

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If ‘The Donald’ Were a Book, He’d be a Bestseller

(An earlier version of this article was published in Naradanews.com )

When I read The Bestseller Code recently, it felt oddly familiar. It reminded me of Donald Trump.

This new book analyzes the secrets of bestselling novels. Authors Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers developed a computer algorithm to dissect and measure various aspects of a novel, from the number of times the author uses the word “of” to the topics and themes. Then they had the computer ‘read’ thousands of books, and differentiate between bestselling books and those that weren’t. The algorithm succeeded 80% of the time.

donald-trumppublic-domain-sm1

Donald Trump (Public Domain clipart)

So why Trump? Here was a candidate who emerged from nowhere to defeat all the front-runners for the Republican nomination. He was the bestselling candidate. Whether for supporters or opponents, his campaign always drew attention.
The book describes the algorithm’s criteria that differentiated best-selling books from others.

Many of them mapped perfectly on to Trump’s campaign. Here’s how:

THEMES

Focused themes.
Best-selling books limit their themes. The authors give the example of John Grisham and Danielle Steel as iconic best-seller authors. A single theme took up about one-third of the book. Secondary themes – and only a few of them – took up the rest. That gave the novels a cohesiveness that made them easy to follow.

Trump’s campaign does this. His main theme is: “We need somebody who can take the brand of the United States and make it great again.” The underlying appeal implies that America is not what you want and I can change that. (I’ve taken the Trump quotations from: http://www.yourdictionary.com/slideshow/donald-trump-20-most-frequently-used-words.html)

Implicit conflict.
Grisham’s main theme is always legal; his secondary theme is everyday life, warm moments of human connection. Steel’s main themes are domestic, but her second commonest theme is ‘Hospitals and medicine.’ In both cases, there’s a threat to the family – legal or physical.

Trump’s campaign brings in the danger of the immigrant, the outsider. “They’re pouring in. They are bringing drugs, they are bringing crime.” The conflict he implies is that they’ll have to be stopped in order to “make America great again.”

Mainstream and relevant themes.
With a few exceptions, people prefer to read about here and now, a world they can relate to. They like to read about work. They like to read about families and human emotion.

Everyone can understand when Trump talks about his work. He’s not from an esoteric political ivory tower or the halls of government. He’s a businessman. And wife Melania and daughter Ivanka provide that sense of human connection.

EMOTIONAL PACING AND PLOT

This is one of the most important things that separates best-sellers from others – the emotional pacing and plot turns. Bestsellers start with a ‘hook’ that draws you in. Then something changes. After that, things get better and worse more or less like a sine curve.

sine-curve

(Source: Wikipedia)

(The authors of The Bestseller Code actually graph these curves, finding seven basic patterns for novels.) In the end, either the emotional curve turns up into a happy ending, or down into a downbeat one that often implies a sequel.

bestseller-code-image
(This graphic is from The Bestseller Code. Used here as “fair use” with a link to the book.)

Trump’s campaign followed this pattern quite closely. The initial hook was, look, a candidate who’s entertaining! He’s not spouting all that boring language the other candidates use. He’s watchable. If you look at the graph on fiverthirtyeight.com, it’s clear that all eyes will be on him right to the end.

538graph6nov2016

Trump’s chances of winning through November 6, 2018 (source: FiveThirtyEight.com)

The graph above is taken from fivethirtyeight.com as of November 6th. (I edited out the non-Trump lines.) It doesn’t actually tell the whole story, because it doesn’t cover the primaries… when Trump defeated, one by one, all the other Republican contenders.

WRITING STYLE

The authors had the algorithm analyze the writing style of these thousands of books, and found each author had a style that was as easily identifiable as their DNA. They also found a difference between bestselling authors and others in the way they wrote.

  • Straightforward language. Bestsellers didn’t use complex writing. Fewer adjectives and adverbs, more verbs and nouns. Full stops and commas, not semi-colons and colons. “The everyday language of the common man.”
  • Ellipses (that is, when the sentences fades away into three dots… ). Bestsellers used ellipses more than other books did. They allow a reader to fill in the blanks and identify more closely with the character.
  • Contractions are good and so’s colloquial language. The word “okay” appears three times more often in bestsellers. “I’d” is better than “I would,” “Can’t” better than “can not.” The authors note: ‘The contraction “n’t” appears four times more often in books that master the sweet spot of bestselling style…” Again, this reflects everyday language.

Trump has mastered colloquial, straightforward speech – which may be why teleprompters don’t work for him. There’s nothing convoluted or complex about his language.

We used to call it the quiet majority but people are fed up – they are fed up with incompetence, they are fed up with stupid leaders, they are fed up with stupid people.”

He also uses the ellipsis in its spoken form. For example, the now famous: “Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know…” (he was speaking of his opponent Hillary Clinton, and the 2nd Amendment gives Americans the right to carry guns).

STRONG AND ACTIVE CHARACTER

Bdonald-trumppublic-domain-smestsellers have strong characters with ‘agency’ – that is, they make things happen. The characters need and want things. They are not passive. Their actions are described with strong, active verbs: “Tells, sees, hears, smiles.” Or “pulls, pushes, starts, works, knows.”

Trump has mastered this. It’s why it was so devastating when he called his opponents Jeb Bush “low-energy” and Marco Rubio as “Weak like a baby.” Or when he called all his competing Republican nominees weak. “All of ’em are weak, they’re just weak. Some of them are fine people. But they are weak.

Of himself, he says:

Show me someone without an ego, and I’ll show you a loser — having a healthy ego, or high opinion of yourself, is a real positive in life!

I am worth a tremendous amount of money” and “I have had tremendous success.” Not to mention, “I’m, like, a really smart person,” and “I am strong; politicians are weak.”

TITLES

Bestsellers, apparently, often have the word “The” in the title. Examples the authors mention include The Goldfinch, The Firm, The Circle.  It’s probably a coincidence, but remember when Donald Trump was called “The Donald”?

NOVELS, STORIES, AND FACTS

My analysis doesn’t look at whether any of the statements are factual or not. That’s not an issue with a bestselling novel, which is obviously not “true.” The questions for a novel are: is it engaging and is it believable?

It seems as though Trump is being held to the same standard. For nearly half of America, Trump is a strong, active candidate with a simple and gripping story. He’s believable if not factual.

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2014 India Corruption: Modi Effect?

Last year, when I wrote about Corruption Perceptions, I said: I’ll be very interested to see if the new government in India significantly affects corruption perceptions in the next survey. The 2014 data are available, and it’s had an effect. How significant is it?

BACKGROUND

corruption map 2014scale for corruption perceptions mapTransparency International makes an annual Corruption Perceptions survey, covering 170-180 countries. (In 2014, it covered 175 countries and territories.) It calculates a score for each one, and ranks countries according to the score. They provide this information as a table – and in the neat map I’ve shown as a screen-grab above.

(The actual map on their website is interactive. When you mouse-over any country, it shows its current score and rank, and the scores for the two previous years. It’s a really user-friendly website. If this subject interests you, it’s worth checking out.)

Here’s how they describe their survey: “The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. A country or territory’s score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). A country or territory’s rank indicates its position relative to the other countries and territories in the index. This year’s index includes 175 countries and territories.”

CORRUPTION IN 2014

I look at these data for India and Myanmar – both countries where I follow the business conditions – and also for the US and China as reference points. So here are the 2014 scores.

corruption scores to 2014(I’ve massaged the pre-2012 data to account for Transparency’s change in methodology. It’s probably good enough, but if you’re a purist, then you only can compare the last three years.)

  • India’s better, China’s worse. India improved its score, from 36 in the last two year to 38 in 2014. It’s a nice, though small, turnaround from the 2007-2011 slide. China meanwhile sharply lost ground, falling from a score of 40 last year down to 36 (its 2011 level).
  • This change means that India actually ranks better than China for the first time since I started looking at these numbers. The people surveyed consider governmental corruption worse in China than in India. India ranked 85 of 175 countries while China ranked 100 of 175.
  • Myanmar leveled off in 2014 after a sharp improvement in 2013. Unless there’s a significant change on the ground, people are unlikely to change their views of the corruption there. Its current rank of 156 of 175 isn’t in itself impressive, but it’s a whole lot better than its 2011 ranking of 180 of 183 countries (only ahead of North Korea, Afghanistan, and Somalia). Right now, it’s similar to Cambodia though well behind Indonesia.
  • The US improved its score from 73 in 2013 to 74 in 2014, also continuing a gradual rise since 2011 – which was enough to give it a rank of 17 of 175, in the top ten percent of countries.

corruption ranks to 2014(Since the number of countries surveyed changes from year to year, I use a Normalized Rank for this graph, showing the country ranks on a scale of 1 – 100. The graph is also inverted, because of course a lower rank is better and I wanted to show that visually.)

What I find interesting is that while these scores and rankings shift from year to year, the variation is usually small. In 2014, none of them have moved enough to change their color on the map above.

This suggests that there’s a “corruption environment” that is easier to tweak than to change dramatically. Also, since this survey measures perceptions rather than any objective reality, I’m never sure how much of the shift describes changes in perceptions unrelated to any change in the extent of corruption.

So I have mixed feelings about this exercise. I think it’s valuable to shine the spotlight on corruption, as Transparency does. Perceptions are also important in terms of willingness to do business. But it also demonstrates how much effort and commitment is required to make significant changes.

http://media.transparency.org/maps/cpi2014-640.html

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What a Night! Paul McCartney at Candlestick

August 14, 2014: the last day for Candlestick. The obsolete stadium’s going to be torn down. It went out in style, with a concert by Sir Paul McCartney. The concert quickly sold out, of course, and we hadn’t thought to go. But our kids surprised us with two tickets…

pix 43 010 before the showWe didn’t quite know what to expect. Would Sir Paul perform the whole concert? Could anyone do a whole two or three hour concert? We figured we’d be home by 10.30 or 11 p.m. Fortunately, we’d been warned about the traffic difficulties, and went at 5.30 p.m. for a show due to start at 8 p.m. We got one of the last few parking spaces in an outside lot. The stadium was half-empty.

pix 43 014 the stageThrough my binoculars, I could see people bustling around the stage, which was at the other end of the stadium. In the audience, one group of people – dressed as Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – carried a banner saying “Three generations of Beatles fans here tonight.” Unfortunately, they took off their coats before I could get a picture.pix 43 020 before the showEight o’clock came and went with nothing but recorded music. People started clapping in the “We-want-Paul” rhythm.  But it died down and we all waited. I stepped out, and saw why – the entire road was lined with cars trying to enter. Later we learned that traffic management had been awful, and hundreds, maybe thousands, of people with tickets couldn’t find parking.

FINALLY, SIR PAUL MCCARTNEY!

At 9 p.m., the waiting paid off. Paul McCartney walked onto the stage, in a dapper burnt-orange jacket. He looked good and energetic, waved a hello. In the picture below, that little figure in the middle is Sir Paul. His image was projected on two enormous screens on either side of the stage.

pix 43 030 paul mccartney finally
pix 43 032 paul mccartney

pix 43 030 paul mccartney finally 1Lots of nostalgia. He said this was where the Beatles had their last concert together in 1966, and the guitar he was carrying was the one he’d used then. He was here to give Candlestick a great send-off.

pix 43 033 paul mccartneypix 43 044 paulBy this time, the crowd had become really dense, and all the seats were taken. Everyone was thrilled. I overheard someone saying, “If you had told me that I would actually get to see Paul McCartney in person, I wouldn’t have believed it!”

pix 43 044 paul 1It was wonderful to hear him. But it was a visual spectacle, too, with film running above the stage and ever-changing colored lights.pix 43 057 colorSoon after he got started, he took off his jacket. The crowd cheered. He turned to the audience and said, “That’s the only undressing I’m doing this evening!” pix 43 068 paul

pix 43 070 paulFor some of the songs, he had little blurbs about what inspired them. Queenie-eyes is based on a childhood street game. “It’s too complicated to explain, but it goes ‘Queenie-eyes, queenie-eyes, who’s got the ball? I haven’t got it, it isn’t in my pocket, O-U-T spells OUT.’ That’s how we entertained ourselves, playing in the street. Nowadays…” He wiggled his thumb, miming a video-game control. Everyone laughed. We knew what he meant.

pix 43 087 paulHe explained Blackbird as a song of hope, that some young person who was feeling beaten down by all the events around would listen and know that they could rise above them.

pix 43 071 paulIn the old days, people wanting to applaud a performer would use their cigarette lighters, and the flames would be visible across the auditorium. No one carries cigarette lighters any more, but the stadium twinkled with cellphone lights. Sir Paul looked out and said he’d seen the lights and thanked the audience.

pix 43 090 lightsToward the end of the show, there were fireworks going off over the stage, and light flares on stage.pix 43 093 fireworkspix 43 094 fireworkspix 43 095 fireworksBut of course, it wasn’t exactly the end of the show, because the standing crowd brought him back for several encores. Here’s Sir Paul on the piano…pix 43 096 paulAnd then there were more fireworks…pix 43 100 paul and fireworkspix 43 101 fireworkspix 43 102 fireworksAnd another encore… see the faces of the Beatles on the screen onstage?

pix 43 103 encoreIt’s clearer here. pix 43 103 encore 1The crowd was mesmerized, no one wanted to leave.

pix 43 104 crowdpix 43 105 paul n crowdpix 43 107 paul n crowdA final burst…

pix 43 108 packed stadium…and then confetti pouring through the lights, and it was over. It was nearly midnight. He’d been performing non-stop for almost three hours, and still seemed full of energy. I was amazed. He had the body-language of a much younger man.

pix 43 109 confettiHere’s a list, from the Beatles Bible website, of the songs he played and sang (including encores): Eight Days A Week; Save Us; All My Loving; Listen To What The Man Said; Let Me Roll It; Paperback Writer; My Valentine; Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five; The Long And Winding Road; Maybe I’m Amazed; I’ve Just Seen A Face; San Francisco Bay Blues; We Can Work It Out; Another Day; And I Love Her; Blackbird; Here Today; New; Queenie Eye; Lady Madonna; All Together Now; Lovely Rita; Everybody Out There; Eleanor Rigby; Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!; Something; Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da; Band On The Run; Back In The USSR; Let It Be; Live And Let Die; Hey Jude; Day Tripper; Hi, Hi, Hi; I Saw Her Standing There; Yesterday; Long Tall Sally; Golden Slumbers; Carry That Weight; The End.

HARD TO LEAVE

Traffic control after the show wasn’t any better than before it. We got home around 2.30 a.m. Still, in the car we had the complete remastered Beatles albums (my husband is a huge fan of their music, which is why the kids had gotten the tickets). So we turned on the CD player for  a Beatles music session while waiting to get away.

pix 43 113 farewell candlestick

All in all, a fantastic experience. After all, I’d been listening to the Beatles since I was a kid. At 16, I owned one 45-rpm record, bought with my pocket money, for which I made a cover decorated with a drawing made with my first set of felt-pens (i.e. markers). It’s “Money Can’t Buy Me Love” (with Cupid thumbing his nose at a boy offering him a wad of cash); and “You Can’t Do That” (with a guy confronting his girl-friend who’s dressed in floral bell-bottoms and talking to ‘him’).

Neither song was in the concert. But nostalgia aside, I think I liked the ones he sang better.

money cant buy me love 45 rpm jacketyou cant do that 45 rpm jacket

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My Suitcase is a Dinosaur

“Your suitcase is a dinosaur,” Usha said as she helped me haul it into the back of her van. It looks like it. My sturdy grey Samsonite is maybe 20 years old. It’s heavy and has only two wheels, so it’s not maneuverable.  This isn’t the suitcase I’d normally take on a short trip inside the country. I use it for international travel when I anticipate rough handling of luggage.

gray samsoniteMy usual suitcase for domestic travel is a sleek American Tourister (coincidentally, bought in Japan!) with four wheels. It’s much newer, maybe 4 years old. It’s small, light, and easy to move in any direction. But thanks to the TSA, it’s dead.

Sleek American TouristerFor my non-US readers, here’s the background: When you’re traveling inside the US, bags can be inspected by the Transport Security Agency at any time. You can’t use a lock that isn’t TSA-approved (meaning that they can unlock it with their master keys).  You check in your bag, it goes through some kind of inspection process, and if they want, they open it and check the contents.

It nearly always happens to my luggage, no matter from where to where I’m flying. I don’t mind. They re-pack everything perfectly; the only way you know they’ve been through is a little paper slip that informs you that your bag was opened for inspection. I have a sheaf of them.

tsa NOI

This suitcase has a TSA lock. Somewhere, on its multifarious journeys, we’d lost the keys. It didn’t matter; we never locked it when traveling anyway. It was never a problem.

Except this one time. I got home late at night from a trip, and found I couldn’t open my bag. The TSA had inspected it, and then — locked it. Since we had no keys, we had to break into it with a large screwdriver. That was the end of that suitcase.

I’ll replace it one of these days. Until then, I travel with a dinosaur.

gray stegosaurus

 

 

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New Product: Berries, Memories

The other day, I found this new product at our local grocery store: Pichuberry (TM). The box described it as a “newly-discovered Super Fruit.” It came from Colombia. The Latin name is Physalis Peruviana.

newly discovered pichuberries

I hadn’t seen these newly-discovered berries in years. They were abundant in season in Delhi, when I was a kid. We called them “gooseberries” and ate kilos of them. They were cheap enough that my Mom made preserves from them – enough to last us most of the year. It was a lot better than Kissan’s mystery-fruit jam we had otherwise.

Had Delhi discovered them before anyone else?

Not so, it would seem. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about this plant, called the Cape gooseberry (South Africa), Inca berry, Aztec berry, golden berry, and a host of other names:

  • The plant was grown by early settlers of the Cape of Good Hope before 1807. In South Africa, it is commercially cultivated; canned fruits and jam are common, often exported.
  • Not long after its introduction to South Africa, Physalis peruviana was introduced into Australia, New Zealand, and various Pacific islands.
  • It is also cultivated and naturalized on a small scale in Gabon and other parts of Central Africa.
  • It is grown in India where it is called ras bhari.
  • The Cape gooseberry is also grown seasonally in Heilongjiang Province in northeastern China, harvested in late August through September.
  • Its Turkish name is altın çilek.
  • It is grown in Thailand, particularly on Doi Inthanon.
  • In Egypt where it is known locally as harankash or as is-sitt il-mistahiya (the shy woman, a reference to the papery sheath).

The store price here was the equivalent of several pounds of apples, but I bought a box of the ‘newly-discovered super-fruit’ anyway. For old times’ sake. It brought back memories of sitting with my Dad while he spread a toast with cream and, for our amusement, made designs on it with Mom’s home-made Gooseberry jam.

pichuberries

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