Sunday, October 22, 2017

Aidan Forth's "Barbed-Wire Imperialism"

Aidan Forth is Assistant Professor of British imperial history at Loyola University Chicago.

He  applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Barbed-Wire Imperialism: Britain's Empire of Camps, 1876-1903, and reported the following:
Camps, throughout history, have served a multitude of functions, from incarcerating political suspects, to rounding up refugees, enemy aliens and military combatants. One thread that connects this global history is the language of disease. Whether in Nazi Germany, where camps detained “carriers of the bacillus of Bolshevism” (218) or at Guantánamo Bay, where barbed-wire incarcerated Haitian refugees suspected of carrying AIDS (227), medicine and social sanitation have proven central metaphors of modern statecraft. Likewise, in the British Empire, medical concerns led to the detention of more than a million colonial subjects during a global pandemic of bubonic plague in 1897. A system of medical quarantine camps, from Hong Kong to South Africa, and especially in India, interned those suspected of carrying the contagion. In the name of “disease control,” camps (like the one pictured on the cover of the book) detained “certain classes of people” who “as a rule are dirty in their habits” (82). Page 99 is the final page of chapter 3, which systematically examines this vast system of detention and lays the groundwork for future chapters on camps for political rather than medical “suspects.”

Ultimately, the chapter concludes that medical quarantine largely failed to stop the spread of plague. In the words of Claude Hill, Private Secretary to the Bombay Governor, plague camps were “not only ineffective,” they “created an undercurrent of discontent” among the native population (99). Yet camps remained popular among colonial officials because they offered an excuse to remove undesirable social and racial elements—“the scum of the Bombay population,” according to one police official (56)—from the center of colonial cities. Urban “cleansing” became racial “cleansing.” British plague camps also provided effective logistical models for the billeting of mass populations in the future. These included the “concentration camps” of the South African War (1899-1901), which interned “verminous” and “extremely dirty” populations during a colonial “dirty war” (167). Interestingly, officials from India with experience managing plague camps were eventually seconded to administer this new system of camps in South Africa.
Learn more about Barbed-Wire Imperialism at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Walter S. Judd & Graham A. Judd's "Flora of Middle-Earth"

Walter S. Judd is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biology, University of Florida. Graham Judd holds an MFA in Printmaking, and received a Jerome Foundation Fellowship for Emerging Printmakers at Highpoint Center for Printmaking.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Flora of Middle-Earth: Plants of J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium, and reported the following:
From Page 99:
The forest gate is described as archlike, formed by two gigantic trees leaning against each other, and these trees are ‘strangled with ivy and hung with lichens’ and bear only a few old, damaged leaves. Here we see two distinctive characteristics of Usnea: first, its preference for sickly, dead, or dying trees that have fewer leaves and thus a more open canopy, allowing more sunlight to reach the lichens; and, second, its characteristic epiphytic and hanging habit—that is, it almost always grows on trees or shrubs on which it forms a much-branched system of often pendulous, pale gray to yellowish branchlets (Figure 7.8). This growth form is so characteristic of Usnea, a fruticose lichen (i.e., one that has a branched, miniature, shrubby or treelike form), that the species of this genus are  called beard lichens (or old man’s beards) because their hanging branches look like a graying beard. These common names are alluded to by Tolkien elsewhere, as when Merry and Pippin entered Fangorn forest (Figure 7.8) and saw ‘great trailing beards of lichen hung from’ huge branches (LotR 3: III), and Pippin, picking up on the feeling of the forest, exclaimed—‘Look at all those weeping, trailing, beards and whiskers of lichen!’ (LotR 3: IV). These descriptions perfectly match the appearance of many species of Usnea, which are widespread and diverse in Europe (with more than 30 species occurring there) and thus would have been very familiar to Tolkien. Usnea seems to have been as common in Middle-earth, and it adds to our mental image of—and gives a certain foreboding quality to—the great forests of Mirkwood and Fangorn. This expectation of evil is expressed most clearly in the very similar description of the forest gateway where the orc trail from Thangorodrim entered Taur-nu-Fuin: the Forest-Beneath-Night, so named because it was filled with terror and dark enchantment by Morgoth. We read in The Lay of the Children of Húrin that Beleg and Gwindor saw

[A]n archway opened.        By ancient trunks

It was framed darkly,        that in far-off days

The lightning felled,         now leaning gaunt

Their lichen-leprous        limbs uprooted. (Lays I: lines 936-939)

Again, we see the image of ancient dead trees covered with beard lichens. Their presence is described as ‘leprous’ because of their gray-green to yellow-green color, but this term is also appropriate given that Taur-nu-Fuin itself is diseased and distorted by the evil actions of Morgoth. This forest, located in Dorthonion north of Beleriand in the First Age, was much more perilous than either Fangorn or Mirkwood. Yet it was here that Beleg found Gwindor and rescued Túrin (see SILM 21).
This book is a flora, and like any flora it documents the plants occurring in the geographical area of concern—in this case J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. For each of the 141 genera and/or plant species mentioned in Tolkien’s major writings, we include (1) the common and scientific names, along with an indication of the family to which the plant belongs; (2) a brief quote from one of Tolkien’s works in which the plant is referenced; (3) a discussion of the significance of the plant in the context of Tolkien’s legendarium [part of which is quoted above, for Beard Lichens]; (4)  the etymology, relating to both the English common name and the Latin scientific names, and, where relevant, the name in one or more of the languages of Middle-earth; (5) a brief description of the plant’s geographical distribution and ecology; (6) its economic importance; and (7) a morphological description. Most of these are also provided with a woodcut-style illustration (as an aid to identification), along with an inset illustrating one of the events in the history of Middle-earth in which the plant played a role. Tolkien was clear that his Middle-earth is to be viewed as our own world, and his writings, therefore, are meant to reconnect us to important elements of our internal and cultural landscape and also to impact how we interact with other individuals and with the world in which we live—including the landscapes of our natural environment—including plants!  The plants within Tolkien’s legendarium are actually part of the story, showing numerous connections with humans, elves, and hobbits in the myths and history of Middle-earth. We hope that our detailed treatment of these plants will create a visual reference, and legitimacy, for both the plants growing in our forests, meadows, and marshes, as well as those that we have received as gifts from Tolkien’s imagination. Finally, Tolkien viewed the light of the Two Trees of Valinor as “the light of art undivorced from reason, that sees things both scientifically … and imaginatively” – following his guidance, we attempt in our book to integrate both botanical science and artistic imagination
Learn more about Flora of Middle-Earth at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Gregory A. Daddis's "Withdrawal: Reassessing America's Final Years in Vietnam"

Gregory A. Daddis is an Associate Professor of History and Director of Chapman University’s MA Program in War and Society. He is author of Westmoreland's War: Reassessing American Strategy in Vietnam.

Daddis applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Withdrawal: Reassessing America's Final Years in Vietnam, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Just as important, the increasing role played by the ARVN meant a necessary decline in American influence. Though the “one war” approach envisioned an integrated allied effort, officers still saw deficiencies in the “sequential manner of attacking one critical phase or threat at a time.” If both pacification and Vietnamization relied on a secure environment in which to flourish, then it made sense to defeat the enemy’s military threat. Yet the combined campaign plans continued to place the primary responsibility for pacification on the ARVN’s shoulders. In large sense, the South Vietnamese armed forces were being pulled in two opposite directions….

Yet it seems hard to argue against the idea that South Vietnamese forces, despite all their flaws, indeed were best suited for pacification, always a process of negotiation between the host government, its army, and the people. Realizing the “population had to be provided with more than temporary security,” MACV had always intended the ARVN to work closely with local territorial forces. But with US forces withdrawing, Abrams and his staff grappled with whether the South Vietnamese army should focus on pacification or improving its ability to react to the more conventional NVA threat.
For many Americans who fought in the Vietnam War, their relationship with the South Vietnamese army, popularly known as the ARVN, remained one fraught with tension. The friction seemed inevitable. With President Richard M. Nixon’s 1969 decision to withdraw U.S. forces from South Vietnam, American military leaders felt they were bestowing the war to an ally in which few had much faith. Generals like Creighton Abrams were far from optimistic about a policy that quickly became known as “Vietnamization.” Even after years of US aid and assistance, by the late 1960s, the ARVN was grappling with issues of corruption, low morale, and poor leadership.

True, South Vietnamese soldiers fought hard across much of their homeland. They were instrumental in helping pacify the countryside, defeating local insurgents, and building bridges between the Saigon government and its rural population. An excerpt from page 99, however, illustrates a key paradox that the American military assistance command (MACV) faced as it began to depart from a war not yet concluded. That paradox remains a controversial topic on the U.S. war in Vietnam to this very day.
Learn more about Withdrawal at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Westmoreland's War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sarah Adler-Milstein and John M. Kline's "Sewing Hope"

Sarah Adler-Milstein is a worker-rights advocate and has served as Field Director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the Worker Rights Consortium. John M. Kline is Professor of International Business Diplomacy at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He is the author of four books, including the textbook Ethics for International Business.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Sewing Hope: How One Factory Challenges the Apparel Industry's Sweatshops, and reported the following:
How do you capture the difference between heaven and earth? Sewing Hope: How One Factory Challenges the Apparel Industry’s Sweatshops tells the story of Alta Gracia, an apparel factory in the Dominican Republic.  Local workers describe the comparison between Alta Gracia and typical apparel industry sweatshops as la diferencia entre el cielo y la tierra (“the difference between heaven and earth”). Alta Gracia is the only apparel factory that pays workers a living wage over three times the legal minimum, maintains excellent health and safety standards, and has signed collective bargaining agreements with a legitimate labor union – all verified by an independent labor rights organization.

Page 99 captures one small aspect of what makes this life-changing model for apparel production so different from a "normal" factory. On top is a photo of two factory administrators reviewing personnel policies. Text on the bottom half relates the administrators’ unusual efforts and equally unusual success altering company policies to improve workers’ health insurance coverage, providing access to quality healthcare clinics and pharmacies. This “slice-of-life” example only hints at the dramatic contrasts in labor-management relations and workplace standards revealed by the full analysis of Alta Gracia’s operations.

Beyond Page 99 you'll find many other crucial aspects of the living wage model and the "big picture" view of how this one small factory could chart a course for larger industry transformation. Most executives and many economists hold a fatalistic view that low wages and dangerous conditions are unfortunate but inherent elements of competition in the global apparel industry. Alta Gracia tells a very different story: that living wages and safe factories are possible and that the cost is minimal – less than a dollar a sweatshirt.

Life-changing stories show the impact a salario digno (wage with dignity) can have on a worker’s family. There can be nutritious meals, needed healthcare and educational opportunities for both children and adults.  Later may come improvements in basic housing, such as running water, and help for relatives in need. Some workers start small businesses or train for a profession.  These other scenes of heaven are revealed if you read beyond the photo and short text on page 99.  There's so much more that Alta Gracia’s anti-sweatshop model offers by creating a kind of "heaven" for only 90¢ more a sweatshirt.
Learn more about Sewing Hope at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Matthew Kraig Kelly's "The Crime of Nationalism"

Matthew Kraig Kelly is a historian of the modern Middle East. He has served as a visiting professor at Occidental College and the University of California, Los Angeles, and his work has been published in the Journal of Palestine Studies, Middle East Critique, and other academic journals.

Kelly applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Crime of Nationalism: Britain, Palestine, and Nation-Building on the Fringe of Empire, and reported the following:
"Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you."--the page 99 test, attributed to Ford Madox Ford

This is arguably accurate for my book. Page 99 of The Crime of Nationalism concerns Zionist and Palestinian anxieties in the run-up to the release of the 1937 Peel Report, which – unbeknownst to either group – would recommend the partitioning Palestine into two states: one Jewish and one Arab. Why did the British recommend this partition? Because they came to the determination that Arabs and Jews just couldn’t get along. Even with the utterly neutral, entirely objective, scrupulously fair British exerting every sinew to bring about a reconciliation between them.

This British self-image is, in a sense, what my book is all about. The British had a terrible habit in Palestine of overlooking the ways in which their own actions contributed to the political instability they were attempting to manage. If one metaphor captures this mentality, it is the stage. The British conceived of themselves – and particularly of their institutional presence in Palestine – as the stage upon which two actors, the Arab and Jewish communities, performed. On this understanding, the stage merely upheld the actors; it could not script their behavior. It was up to the Arabs and the Jews to put their intercommunal affairs in order. Their failure to do so only illustrated how obstinate and perhaps uncivilized they were. Yet, as my book demonstrates, the British state in Palestine was much more than a stage. To stay with the metaphor, it was a third actor, just as causally dynamic and consequential as Arab and Jewish institutions. Once we appreciate this fact, we can approach the historical materials relating to 1936-39 with the goal of deconstructing the British representation of the rebellion. By returning the British to their rightful place in the causal picture of the revolt, we gain a more complete understanding of this important episode in the history of interwar insurgencies.
Learn more about The Crime of Nationalism at the University of California Press website.

My Book, The Movie: The Crime of Nationalism.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 16, 2017

Abeer Y. Hoque's "Olive Witch"

Abeer Y. Hoque is a Nigerian born Bangladeshi American writer and photographer. She has published a book of travel photographs and poems called The Long Way Home, and a book of linked stories, photographs and poems called The Lovers and the Leavers. She is a Fulbright Scholar and has received several other fellowships and grants. Her writing and photography have been published in Guernica, Outlook Traveller, Wasafi ri, ZYZZYVA, India Today, and The Daily Star. She has degrees from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and an MFA in writing from the University of San Francisco.

Hoque applied the “Page 99 Test” to her book, Olive Witch: A Memoir, and reported the following:
From page 99:
…universities and jobs in Enugu, Ibadan, Jos, Benin, Kano, Zaria, and Lagos, or they will have gone abroad. In another couple of years, even those in Nsukka will have gone. It is a university town, its population bounded by those studying or teaching there.

‘You cannot accept this,’ Abbu says after reading the letter.

‘What do you mean?’ I ask, shocked.

‘It’s not for you. This scholarship is for black students.’

‘No, it’s for students who have ties to Africa,’ I protest.

‘They mean blacks. What if you went to their office? What would they think when they saw you? When it was clear that you weren’t black?’

I think about Kunta Kinte, his unthinkable trials repeated a million times over the centuries to where America is today. With less force in my voice, I say, ‘But we need the money.’

‘They need it more.’

In the break room at work, I read the scholarship offer one last time and then pitch it in the trash with the fast food wrappers and coke cans. I shut my book and take out Glenn’s latest letter.

My lovecrush is so overpowering that I don’t perceive the tension mounting in our house. So when my father asks why I must write Glenn so often, I’m not as careful as I usually am with my words.

‘I like writing to him,’ I say, capping and uncapping my inky blue pen as I look out the living room window. ‘Nothing seems real until I’ve told him.’

Outside, the summer heat shimmers on our black tar driveway. I notice the grass has to be cut. Maher is still too young to handle a bulky bladed machine on his own, so it falls to me and Simi to mow the lawn, and we hate it. We have a used lawnmower whose starter is so reluctant that it requires…
My book is split into three very different, chronological geographies of my life and identity: Nigeria (where I was born and lived til I was 13), the States (where my family moved and I’ve lived since high school), and Bangladesh (where my parents are originally from and where I lived as an adult for a few years). Interleaved with those sections are excerpts set in a psychiatric ward.

Page 99 falls in the American bit, just past high school into college, but it mentions my first hometown in the world, Nsukka, in southeastern Nigeria, and alludes to the nostalgia and grief of never really being able to go home after you’ve left. There’s a conflict between my father and me, telling because family dynamics and cross cultural and generational clashes are some of my memoir’s major themes. And the actual conflict is about how I identify myself, as African or otherwise. My first love makes an appearance, a relationship not approved of, par for the course for immigrant families. And there’s suburban America in the backdrop with its sprawling lawns and fast food chains and household chores – alien landscape slowly, resentfully becoming familiar ground.

As a writer, I’m also interested in language as much as story and place, and I think page 99 of Olive Witch gives the reader a thank you taste of much of what I hold dear: an attention to place via description and setting, themes of displacement and identity, and of course, love.
Learn more about the book and author at Abeer Y. Hoque's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A. James McAdams's "Vanguard of the Revolution"

A. James McAdams is the William M. Scholl Professor of International Affairs and director of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies at the University of Notre Dame. His many books include Judging the Past in Unified Germany and Germany Divided: From the Wall to Reunification.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Vanguard of the Revolution: The Global Idea of the Communist Party, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Vanguard of the Revolution, I outline the circumstances under which Lenin and other Bolshevik revolutionaries debated whether Russia should withdraw from participation in World War I.  Lenin was angry that his associates should dare to disagree with him at all, but he ultimately got his way.  He argued that they should act according the wishes of the party--i.e., his wishes--because their association was a "comradely family." A few months later, he also secured their agreement to rename their party the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks).  Of equal importance, Lenin also embraced the notion that the party needed to be more than a source of inspiration.  It also needed to be the source of clearer lines of commend in order to effect its wishes.

At this point in Vanguard of the Revolution, I am setting up two themes that run throughout the book.  The first is that on this occasion, and on many others, there persisted a culture of debate among the Bolsheviks that frustrated even the party's preeminent leader, Lenin. On these particular issues, he got his way.  But this was not always the case. Later, in the 1930s, Joseph Stalin waged war on this "comradely family" by ordering the execution of nearly all of the early Bolsheviks.  The second theme on this page is Lenin's endorsement of the principle that the party should not only be driven by a central idea; it should have the organizational means to put the idea into practice.  This point allows me to set up a juxtaposition that suffuses the book: the tension between the party as a motivating idea and the party as a practical organization.
Learn more about Vanguard of the Revolution at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Kieran Setiya's "Midlife: A Philosophical Guide"

Kieran Setiya teaches philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, working mainly in ethics, epistemology, and the philosophy of mind.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Midlife: A Philosophical Guide, and reported the following:
Page 99 finds me in the midst of retrospection, asking how it could make sense to affirm my actual life as a professor when I believe I should been a physician instead. Looking back at my foolish decision, am I condemned to wish for a second chance?

It is not just about me. There is a wider question here, about regret in the face of our mistakes and the misfortunes that befall us. Is there space between the things you should not have done, or should not have had to endure, and what you should want to change about your past?

Turns out there is. What matters is not the bare existence of what you did, or what has happened to you, as if its mere occurrence made it better, but immersion in the subsequent details of your life, the intricate fabric of moments, relationships, and activities that make it good, even though it is not the best. My relationship to life as a philosopher, in living it, is utterly different from my speculative relationship to an imagined life as a physician.
There is a difference between knowing that something is worthwhile and knowing what makes it so, between knowing the existence of reasons for desire and knowing what those reasons are. Just as it is rational to respond less strongly to the abstract knowledge that your life will have deficiencies than to learning which ones, so it is rational to respond more strongly to the definite ways in which a life is good than to the nebulous fact that another life is better.
Hence the advice with which the chapter ends: “Do not weigh alternatives theoretically, but zoom in: let the specifics count against the grand cartoon of lives unlived. In doing so, you may find that you cannot regret that you should have resisted at the time.”

This is from a chapter about dealing with the past. Other chapters confront the relentless grind of necessity, the distortions of nostalgia and the problem of missing out, mortality and fear of death, the tyranny of projects and the challenge of living in the present. A cerebral self-help book, Midlife uses philosophical arguments and ideas as cognitive therapy, speaking to the many midlife crises, and to anyone coping with the irreversibility of time.
Visit Kieran Setiya's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 13, 2017

David Biespiel's "The Education of a Young Poet"

David Biespiel was born in 1964 and grew up in Houston, Texas.  He is a poet, literary critic, columnist, and contributing writer at The Rumpus, American Poetry ReviewPolitico, New RepublicPartisan, Slate, Poetry, and The New York Times, among other publications.

He is the author of ten books, most recently The Education of a Young PoetA Long High Whistle, which received the 2016 Oregon Book Award for General Nonfiction, and The Book of Men and Women, which was chosen one of the Best Books of the Year by the Poetry Foundation and received the 2011 Oregon Book Award for Poetry.

Biespiel applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Education of a Young Poet and reported the following:
From page 99:
For a short time the summer before my senior year in college, I had nowhere to go but Houston. So I moved back in with my mother. The last place I wanted to be was in my old neighborhood of Meyerland, even for a few weeks. I had been living in Boston, and I was different now. To return home seemed like a defeat.

I had always seen Meyerland as an idyllic area of southwest Houston with its cozy, mid-century Tudor and colonial ranch houses. In August the wide roads and trim lawns had settled low against a tall sky. Now, after living in Boston, I couldn’t see it at all anymore. Driving down Chimney Rock Road with the bulbous trees heavy under the long, humid skies was like a familiar dream. I did it without looking, without interest. I could only remember my childhood there but could not see who I was even in so familiar a place.
I’m not sure this passes the Page 99 Test. Though, interestingly, it does pass the test for the book I’m currently writing.
Visit David Biespiel's website.

Writers Read: David Biespiel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 12, 2017

David Howard's "Chasing Phil"

David Howard's first book, Lost Rights: The Misadventures of a Stolen American Relic, chronicled the 138-year journey of an original, priceless rendition of the Bill of Rights that was pilfered during the Civil War.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Chasing Phil: The Adventures of Two Undercover Agents with the World's Most Charming Con Man, and reported the following:
As it happens, page 99 encapsulates the book nicely. Chasing Phil is a road-trip story, and the three main characters are trying to find their rhythms and routines together. Here, in March 1977, they’re visiting the Fontainebleau Hotel, a massive, ostentatious slab on Miami Beach where in better days Frank Sinatra played the La Ronde Room, entertaining visiting mafioso. The main character, Phil Kitzer, an ingenious, globetrotting high-finance con artist, favors these kinds of vast lodgings—places that are at once grand and anonymous.

The sagging Fontainebleau is now under assault from Kitzer’s swindler associates, who are using fraudulent bank securities to try to wring out the last drops of its lifeblood. The hotel, I write, is “flirting with bankruptcy and sending off the kind of distressed-animal sounds that attracted predators like Andy D’Amato.”

The page introduces one of my favorite scenes—a passage that unpacks some of Phil’s complexities. He sweeps into the gift shop, where he buys every teddy bear on the shelves, then loads them into the arms of his trainees—two young men who are actually undercover FBI agents. The agents are thinking, What is this?

Page 100 spoiler alert: Phil ushers them into the hotel’s Poodle Lounge, where he hands out the stuffed animals to women cradling happy-hour martinis and proceeds to take over the room. He’s hilarious and flirtatious and flamboyant, making sure everyone watches as he peels a couple of hundreds off a massive wad of cash to pay for rounds of drinks.

This scene helps set up readers to wrestle with a central dilemma: Do I root for or against this guy? All you know for sure, as of page 99, is that it’s fun to ride along.
Visit David Howard's website.

--Marshal Zeringue