Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Steve Viscelli's "The Big Rig"

Steve Viscelli is currently a visiting assistant professor of sociology at Swarthmore College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book includes the following paragraphs:
Leviathan and companies like it recruit and train workers completely unfamiliar with the trucking industry. As a result, these workers don’t know any other way to truck. When difficulties arise and their company does not bend, these drivers are likely to see problems as inherent in their company, or in trucking more generally, and not as being about the kind of freight they haul, the customers they service, or the organization of the labor process in that segment of the industry. In part this is simply because these inexperienced workers have no experience with any alternative, and the company does not present itself as a particular kind of trucking company.

The implicit and explicit messages from companies like Leviathan are that they are the result of market forces freed by deregulation, they are the leaders of the industry, the cutting edge, the future. If you are entering the trucking industry and want to have a successful career, they are your future. If there are alternatives, they are not long for this world. You need to be flexible, because this is the way trucking is.
This section focuses on how long-haul truck drivers are trained. It took me years to trace the full implications of the rather simple idea of this section– that the first company a trucker drives for determines much of how he sees the industry. The goal of my book is to explain the remarkable transformation of the trucking industry over the past four decades. Once dominated by well-paid union jobs, trucking is now populated by hundreds of thousands of independent contractors with terrible pay and working conditions. This transition relied on trucking companies’ ability to shape how employees understand their work, the industry, and their role within it.

The book is based on a ton of interviews, but also on some pretty intense fieldwork including 6 months I spent training and then working as a long-haul trucker. I experienced entrance into the industry the way most people do, through a training program run by a major trucking carrier. That carrier taught me what trucking was and how I should do it. And at first, that was the only framework I had for understanding the industry. Then I started the interview phase of my research and heard the perspectives of more than 100 other truckers, some were rookies like me, but many were far more experienced. Those interviews put my experience into a whole different light.

Experienced drivers had a very different (much more critical) take on the job I had done. Being employees’ introduction to the industry allows companies to shape the expectations of new workers and consequently get them to accept a combination of low pay and bad working conditions (e.g. being away from come for weeks at a time and living out of truck) that experienced drivers would never accept.  - in my case working almost 14 hours per day for 12 or 19 days at a time. Companies indoctrinate new workers, presenting their job conditions as the inevitable outcome of natural market forces. The pseudonym for my own employer, Leviathan, was intended to capture this notion. Later I came to realize that this kind of conceptual leadership – which I viewed through Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony - was a critical part of a coordinated set of labor strategies that companies have developed since the trucking industry was deregulated in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Today, those strategies end by convincing many of workers to take on the risk and cost of leasing a truck and becoming an “owner-operator” in pursuit of the American Dream.

In later chapters, I discuss how employers, trucking media and consultants have convinced countless truckers to lease a truck and become an independent contractor by completely reworking what it means to be self-employed, tailoring it to the advantage of firms and turning long-haul trucks into rolling sweatshops. All of this starts with the training process discussed on page 99.
Visit Steve Viscelli's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Emily D. Edwards's "Bars, Blues, and Booze"

Emily D. Edwards is a professor of media studies at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. She began her media writing career as a journalist, reporting for ABC and NBC affiliates in Alabama and Tennessee. She has written and produced news stories and documentaries for both radio and television. In the early 1970s when employees in small and medium market stations wore many hats, Edwards wrote, produced, and directed television news, commercials, and public service programs. In 1984 she earned a Ph.D. in journalism and mass communication at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and moved back to Alabama to direct the broadcasting program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In 1987, she joined the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where she is now a professor in the Department of Media Studies.

Edwards applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Bars, Blues, and Booze: Stories from the Drink House, and reported the following:
I had not heard about the page 99 test before, so it was interesting to open the book to page 99 and see part of the interview with Bob Baskerville and Penny Zamagni where they describe the enthusiasm for blues music in Europe and the seeming disregard for that same music in American sports bars. Does page 99 represent the entire book? It does represent an important theme but the book reflects the experiences of many different people -- it's a joyous romp through American bars, joints, and drink houses as told by musicians, fans, and the bar owners who experienced them.
Visit the official Bars, Blues & Booze website.

Writers Read: Emily D. Edwards.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 29, 2016

Scott Bukatman's "Hellboy's World"

Scott Bukatman is Professor of Film and Media Studies in the Department of Art and Art History at Stanford University. He is author of Matters of Gravity: Special Effects and Supermen in the 20th Century; Blade Runner, BFI Modern Classics; Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction; and The Poetics of Slumberland: Animated Spirits and the Animating Spirit.

Bukatman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hellboy's World: Comics and Monsters on the Margins, and reported the following:
Hellboy’s World uses the work of Mike Mignola to explore what it is to read comics — and even what it is to read books in general. Hellboy is meant to be encountered two pages at a time — in a book held in the hand. Mignola’s panels and pages engage not only as linear narrative sequence but in other, non­linear, ways that produce an explicitly aesthetic encounter. And it’s a very “bookish” engagement: he tells stories in the traditions of Lovecraft and occult detection, which often involve mysterious tomes, and his comics form an elaborate textual network across his comics titles, but also through his explicit references to other writers, folklores, films, and genres.

Page 99 concludes a discussion of color in comics; a very under­studied area that deserves more attention (Hellboy’s World contains multitudes of lush color images). Did the very presence of so much color have anything to do with our culture’s suspicion of comics as a medium? David Batchelor’s Chromophobia discusses modern art’s mania for monochromaticity. Color is often associated with any of a number of Others: the primitive, the infantile, the feminine. Early comic strips combined the primitive and the infantile (yay!), and comic books were even more garish, their printing presses capable of far less chromatic nuance.

Children’s books are also replete with color, and Walter Benjamin (one of the heroes in my book) argued that these “riotous” colors had their seditious side: the text may have been scrutinized by society’s moral arbiters, but the pictures escaped notice. As with the marginal monsters on the pages of some medieval manuscripts, pictures defied the pedantry of prose. Color and image provided something that plain prose could not, a sensuous encounter that was meant to be felt rather than decoded. And color was fundamental to that non­rational affect; it worked against linear reading and singular meaning. On page 99, I write that color “can constitute a space apart that absorbs a reader, and provide an antidote to pedantry.”

I then shift from color to comics: “But comics themselves have been theorized as a form that works against (or at least alternatively to) traditional modes of reading.” The eye can move from panel to panel, absorbing information more or less linearly, or take in the entirety of the page, which has a composition of its own and other means of directing the eye. Mike Mignola does this quite a lot in Hellboy: some pages contain panels, or clusters of panels, that emphasize small details, and exist apart from the linear sequence. The eye’s progress is slowed, and reading gives way to something more measured. Linear reading yields to an aesthetic encounter with, at the same time, art, page, and book. So on page 99, we learn that color and comics complicate the act of reading, and in doing so, they afford additional layers of very real pleasure. Hellboy’s world is very aestheticized, and very bookish — in fact, it’s the world of the book.
Learn more about Hellboy's World at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Kevin J. McNamara's "Dreams of a Great Small Nation"

Kevin J. McNamara followed the path taken by the Czecho-Slovak Legion shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, traveling almost 2,000 miles along the Trans-Siberian Railway. He was subsequently awarded research grants by the Earhart and Tawani Foundations to acquire and translate from Czech to English first-hand accounts by the men who had served in the legion, which were published in Prague in the 1920s but were suppressed following the Nazi and Soviet conquests of Czecho-Slovakia.

A former journalist for Calkins Media Inc., and a former aide to the late U.S. Congressman R. Lawrence Coughlin, McNamara is an Associate Scholar of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, PA and a former contributing editor to its quarterly journal, Orbis: A Journal of World Affairs. He earned a B.A. in journalism and M.A. in international politics from Temple University.

McNamara applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Dreams of a Great Small Nation: The Mutinous Army that Threatened a Revolution, Destroyed an Empire, Founded a Republic, and Remade the Map of Europe, and reported the following:
Dreams of a Great Small Nation, a narrative history of the First World War, Russian Revolution, and the founding of Czecho-Slovakia, passes Ford Madox Ford's test, in that on page 99 a fugitive philosophy professor from Prague, Tomas G. Masaryk, is informed for the first time that France and its Allies, primarily Great Britain and the United States, might – perhaps – actually liberate the Czechs and Slovaks from Austria-Hungary's iron grip by granting them a nation-state of their own after the war.

A young Slovak aide with influence in Paris, Milan R. Stefanik, secured a meeting for Masaryk, his elderly former professor, with Aristide Briand, then serving as both war-time prime minister and foreign minister of France. Following their meeting, Briand issued a public statement on February 3, 1916, that announced to the world:
"We French have always entertained keen sympathies for the Czech nation, and these sympathies have been strengthened by the war. I assure you that France will not forget your aspirations, which we share, and we shall do everything in order that the Czechs may obtain their independence. We will not speak about the details now, but as far as the chief point of your claim is concerned, we are in agreement."

This was the first public Allied expression of sympathy and support for the aspirations of the Czechs and Slovaks delivered by an Allied government official.
Yet the Czechs and Slovaks will not earn any real attention or respect from the Allies until and unless they can help France, Great Britain, and the United States defeat Germany and Austria-Hungary. To do that, Masaryk travels to revolutionary Russia, which has exited the war, abandoned the Allies, and emptied its POW camps. Among the 2.3 million German and Austro-Hungarian prisoners taken by Russia in the war are 210,000-250,000 Czechs and Slovaks. Masaryk spends almost a year traveling among Moscow, Kiev, and St. Petersburg, recruiting these men into an ad hoc army that he promises the French he will deliver to the Western Front. What he wants in return is an Allied guarantee of a new nation for his peoples on the ruins of Austria-Hungary.

During a perilous journey along the Trans-Siberian Railway toward Vladivostok, where ships will sail them around the world to Europe, Russia’s new Bolshevik regime and its agents begin a campaign to keep this Czecho-Slovak Legion from leaving Russia, and tensions slowly mount. At the train station outside of Chelyabinsk, Siberia, on May 14, 1918, a fist-fight leads to a brawl, a lynching, and arrests of the Czechs and Slovaks. Worse, Soviet Red Army commander Leon Trotsky loses his cool and threatens the lives and freedom of all 50,000 legionnaires stretched 5,000 miles across Siberia. The Czecho-Slovak Legion revolts, seizes all of Siberia, and nearly topples the new Soviet regime.
Visit Kevin J. McNamara's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Marcela Iacub's "Through the Keyhole"

Marcela Iacub is a jurist and researcher at the Centre de recherches historiques, Écoles des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Director of Research, CNRS, Paris, France. She is the author of several works on Gender, Sexuality and the law, that have been translated into Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. Through the Keyhole: A history of sex, space and public modesty in modern France, translated by Vinay Swamy, is Iacub's first translation into English.

Vinay Swamy is Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies at Vassar College, and the author of Interpreting the Republic: Marginalization and Belonging in Contemporary French Novels and Films and co-editor (with Sylvie Durmelat) of Screening Integration: Recasting Maghrebi Immigration in Contemporary France, which was recently published in French as Les Écrans de l’intégration.

Swamy applied the “Page 99 Test” to Through the Keyhole and reported the following:
Marcela Iacub’s Through the Keyhole traces the history of the word pudeur (modesty, often translated as decency in the legal context) as a specifically legal term used in Article 330 of the old Napoleonic Penal code, which regulated “modesty” in public space and thus sexuality in general. The deletion of this term from the French legal vocabulary in 1992 represented not only a semantic shift but also an epistemic rupture, which Marcela Iacub explores in this work.

We discover how the law has long divided the visible world between domains that are considered legal and illegal with regard to certain acts and behavior, thus transforming real (and sometimes indistinguishable) spaces into institutional and political spaces. Rather than read the final disappearance of pudeur from the French legal, and perhaps cultural, lexicon as a liberation (and thus progress), Iacub shows how anxieties of the post-Napoleonic period that produced the very concept of decency allowed for the construction of a sexuality that was controlled through spatial dispersion. Yet, over time, this control of sexuality through a tight regulation of space (by defining what constituted public or private) gave way—through a series of legal judgments from the nineteenth into the mid-twentieth century—to a sexuality that is now articulated through what she calls the politics of Sex. Thus, Iacub’s text lays out the underlying stakes for contemporary French society of this semantic and indeed conceptual shift from pudeur (decency) to Sex.

Page 99 describes how the courts in the early to mid-twentieth century parsed the definition of public decency to distinguish between “chaste” nudity and obscenity in an effort to allow space for artistic freedom:
This rule would be applied for nearly forty years in Parisian music halls. The public powers remained impassive in front of performances of live nudity when a minuscule opaque triangle covered just the genital split, without showing any more, the pubis itself being shaved and made up—without a doubt, in Roger Doublier’s words: “to give to this part of the body the ‘pallor of statues’ that the police commissioner so appreciated on 9 January 1935.” The decision handed down by the judges of Riom not only invoked art but also hygiene as being a good reason to be naked. The judges doubtlessly were alluding to French nudist practices, which were beginning to be seen with a great deal of benevolence by the authorities. But what seems the most groundbreaking in this decision is that it was no longer a question of motion or motionlessness, of art or the absence thereof to make it such that nudities were not obscene. On the contrary, for there to be obscenity, it was necessary for the exhibition of genitals, or breasts for that matter, to be accompanied by lascivious attitudes. Obscenity was like a piece of clothing that made nudity unacceptable. This implied a radical change in relation to the theories in force at the turn of the century.

However, some years later, on 8 November 1950, the Tribunal of Saint-Lô punished a stallholder at a fair who had been presenting inside his stall, in a glass box, one naked woman with only a G-string, on the grounds that this spectacle could not have presented any artistic character. For this tribunal, as opposed to that of Riom, the veil of art was indispensable to protect the spectacle of all obscenity.

This debate was to be central during the period when the new fashion of the monokini would be judged, for the fact of knowing if, to be legal, bare breasts must be covered or not would determine the fate of this new bathing suit in communal spaces such as beaches, streets and in open public. This question would also be decisive in making fashion compatible with law.
Indeed, historians of fashion and culture have not stopped foregrounding the indisputable fact of the progressive baring of women, but also of men, in communal public spaces since the beginning of the twentieth century.
The importance of this book, then, stems equally from its content as its method: Iacub both demonstrates the link between juridical decisions and the ways in which the ethics and morality of (French) society have evolved, and offers us a mode of interrogation that might prove productive for other legal systems and societies.

In this sense, Iacub’s perspective on the power dynamics at play in the construction of gender and sexuality resonates with the work of several Anglophone scholars in the fields of sexuality and gender studies. Our debates about acceptable (sexual) behavior often rely on unarticulated definitions of private and public. Whether or not the construction of those spaces differs significantly in the Anglophone world, Iacub’s critical and legally-grounded framing of such questions as what constitutes such divisions, and how they impact our understanding of sexuality, lends scholars in these fields a clearly tenable method to approaching the way we view gender and sexuality within our own societies.
Learn more about Through the Keyhole at the Manchester University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Steve Olson's "Eruption"

Steve Olson is the author of Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins, Count Down: Six Kids Vie for Glory at the World’s Toughest Math Competition, and, with Greg Graffin, Anarchy Evolution.

Olson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens, which is the first page of Part 3 of the book, depicts a 31-year-old Gifford Pinchot gazing out the window of a Northern Pacific train headed from Tacoma, Washington, to Portland, Oregon. In many ways, the page poses the essential structural question at the heart of at least the first half of my book. What could a train ride by the future head of the U.S. Forest Service possibly have to do with the eruption of Mount St. Helens?

Eruption asks why 57 people were close enough to an extremely dangerous volcano to be killed when it unleashed a ferocious blast on May 18, 1980, to the north and northwest of the mountain. Some of the reasons are straightforward: people wanted to go camping on the first nice weekend of the spring, sightseers hoped to see and photograph one of the small eruptions that had been occurring for the previous two months, monitors were keeping an eye on the volcano to warn downstream communities of trouble.

But some of the reasons are rooted in history. The designated danger zone around the volcano was much too small because government officials did not want to disrupt the Weyerhaeuser Company’s logging of its property around the volcano. Instead, they drew the no-go line along the boundary between Weyerhaeuser’s land to the west and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest to the east, even though that boundary passed within three miles of the volcano’s summit. Only 3 of the 57 victims were inside that line, and 2 of them had permission to be there. The only person in the danger zone illegally was the one victim people tend to remember from the eruption: 83-year-old curmudgeon Harry Truman, who refused to leave his lodge beneath the mountain’s north flank.

Gifford Pinchot, Teddy Roosevelt, and industrialists like Frederick Weyerhaeuser helped shape many of the policies that govern land use in the western United States. Those policies were a critical factor in the deaths of the volcano’s victims. As I’ve been saying in my booktalks, the people killed by the eruption of Mount St. Helens were the victims of history – and of a danger zone that was much too close to the volcano.
Visit Steve Olson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 22, 2016

Howard Means's "67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence"

Howard Means is the author or coauthor of many books, including Johnny Appleseed: The Man, the Myth, the American Story, the first biography of Colin Powell and Louis Freeh’s bestselling memoir My FBI.

Means applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, 67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence, and reported the following:
Page 99 is more a pivot point in 67 Shots than a representative moment, but I do think it reveals, in Ford Madox Ford’s phrase, the “quality of the whole.” The famous 13-second, 67-shot barrage is over. On the other side of Blanket Hill, near the center of the Kent State campus, four students are dead, nine wounded. The wail of ambulances has replaced horrified screams. The action now has moved back to the Commons, where the confrontation began a little over half an hour earlier, at noon on Monday, May 4, 1970.

At the far end, near the burned-out ruins of the Army ROTC building, the National Guard has regrouped — more than a hundred men strong, most armed with M1 battle rifles, and now with blood in the air. At the other end are massed more than a thousand students. A hard core of twenty or so have large “X’s” hastily painted on their chests and backs and across their foreheads.

General Robert Canterbury, the Guard mission commander, has sent word up and down the line that if the students charge, Guardsmen are to fire in self-defense. In the hysteria of the moment, many students seem ready to do just that. As one remembered, “You felt like you were invincible because you were so angry about what happened.”

We pick up Page 99 here:
The math here gets truly appalling. If only the conveniently self-targeted students, stripped to the waist, had charged the Guard line, they would have been mowed down long before they reached the halfway point across the Commons. Gas masks were off. Sighting would have been easy and motivation strong. Had that first wave been followed by a second or third wave of students, sucked into the vortex of irrationality by the killing in front of them, the dead and wounded would, of course, had grown exponentially. The Guard had that .50-calibre machine gun, mounted and ready on a jeep. Even without new magazines for the Guardsmen who had emptied theirs on the other side of Blanket Hill, 70 or more M1s stood ready with 8 rounds to the magazines—560 of those long, skinny .30–06 projectiles leaving muzzles with 2,500 foot-pounds of energy, each one squeeze away from firing. Any students who survived that barrage were sure to be met by fixed bayonets as they descended on Guard lines.
How that second and potentially far worse crisis is narrowly averted is a complex tale involving multiple players, none more important or heroic than a crew-cut ex-Marine, geology professor Glenn Frank … but that gets us to Page 100.
Learn more about the book and author at Howard Means's website.

The Page 99 Test: Johnny Appleseed.

My Book, The Movie: 67 Shots.

Writers Read: Howard Means.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Michael F. Robinson's "The Lost White Tribe"

Michael F. Robinson is professor of history at Hillyer College, University of Hartford. He is the author of The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration and American Culture and blogger at Time to Eat the Dogs, a site about science, history, and exploration.

Robinson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Lost White Tribe: Explorers, Scientists, and the Theory that Changed a Continent, and reported the following:
From page 99:
By whichever channels Mutesa learned the story of Ham, it captivated him. He spoke of it when he met with Stanley in 1874 and also when he met with other Westerners during the same period. When the French explorer Ernest Linant de Bellefonds arrived in Buganda to meet with Mutesa in 1875, a few months before Stanley’s arrival, he marveled at Mutesa’s appetite for studying the Scriptures. “I left the King at two o’clock after we had arranged to meet again at four,” wrote de Bellefonds. “[The] talk was of Genesis. Mutesa had the story of Genesis from the Creation to the Flood taken down on a writing-tablet. We parted at nightfall. Mutesa is spellbound.”

It’s perhaps understandable why Mutesa would embrace the story of Genesis in general and the story of Ham in particular. At a time when he was learning about powerful peoples who lived beyond the Lakes Region, the stories connected the Ganda people to the broader human family, including the Arabs and Europeans whom he so admired. By establishing kinship between the peoples of Lake Victoria and the West, the story of Ham also brought Buganda into history, at least the Judeo-Christian vision of it, aligning Mutesa more closely with his foreign guests.

Mutesa I
Mutesa also found much to like in Speke’s version of the Hamitic hypothesis, given that it argued that some East Africans, particularly those in royal clans, were the descendants of Abyssinian or Caucasian invaders from long ago. In Speke’s opinion, Mutesa and other rulers were more closely related to Westerners than his Ganda subjects, a flattering claim that only confirmed Mutesa’s right to rule. It was blood that tied the king to his father, Suna II, and to the Sesekabaka before him: a long line of hereditary rulers whose trail went back into the mists of prehistory, a chain that—if Speke were correct—eventually led to the figure of Ham, son of Noah and first king of Buganda, father of all future Kabakas including Mutesa. In a kingdom that understood both history and political power as the expression of a sacred bloodline unfolding over time, the seeds of the Hamitic hypothesis found fertile soil.
The Lost White Tribe is the biography of an idea --the Hamitic Hypothesis-- which argued that fair-skinned tribes had invaded Africa long ago. Born from ancient myth, the theory evolved over time became by the late 1800s the darling of scientists, subject to their most sophisticated instruments and most prized analytical techniques, all in hopes of solving the mysteries of the human racial past. Page 99 examines the origin of the hypothesis in the biblical story of Ham, son of Noah, who was believed to be the forefather of African peoples.

In this excerpt, the explorer Henry Stanley is explaining the story of Ham to Mutesa I, the powerful King of Buganda, who is assisting Stanley in his mission to explore East Africa.
Visit Michael Robinson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Eric Jay Dolin's "Brilliant Beacons"

Eric Jay Dolin is the best-selling author of the award-winning Fur, Fortune, and Empire; Leviathan, which was chosen by the Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe as a best book of the year; and When America First Met China.

Dolin applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The lens that Fresnel installed at Cordouan used eight square lens panels, with each panel having a bull’s-eye lens in the center and prisms encircling it. The panels were arrayed in a belt on a metal frame around a lamp in the center. With this configuration alone, much of the light thrown off by the lamp would escape above and below the lens belt. To capture some of that light, Fresnel placed above the lens belt, at an angle, smaller lens panels that directed the light traveling up from the lamp onto a series of inclined mirrors that, in turn, reflected the beams toward the horizon. Below the lens belt Fresnel used inclined mirrors for the same purpose.

A clockwork-type mechanism rotated the Cordouan lens. As each panel came into the line of sight of a distant mariner, it sent out a bright flash of light, which would be followed by an interval of increasing dimness, then relative darkness, then another flash of light when the next panel came into view.
Lighthouse illuminants changed dramatically over time, running the gamut from whale, lard, and vegetable oil to kerosene, acetylene, and finally electricity. Similarly, crude lamps gave way to more sophisticated ones, and reflectors that did a poor job of projecting the light were replaced by the crown jewels of lighthouse illumination—Fresnel lenses, which not only increased the intensity of the light, but also became one of the most important and strikingly beautiful inventions of the nineteenth century.

Page 99 of Brilliant Beacons (half of which is taken up by an illustration) is in chapter 5, titled “Europeans Take the Lead,” which profiles the French genius, Augustin-Jean Fresnel, who invented the eponymously named Fresnel lens. This excerpt talks about the first Fresnel lens ever installed, which took place in 1823 at the magnificent Cordouan Lighthouse in France. Sometimes referred to as glass beehives because of their shape and appearance, Fresnel lenses did a magnificent job of refracting and reflecting the light coming from the lamp or bulb within, and focusing it to produce a strong, clear beam of light that could be seen by mariners many miles away.

Although this snippet from page 99 is quite interesting, I don’t feel that Ford Madox Ford's “test” reveals the “quality of the whole” book. The snippet doesn’t capture the incredible drama of Brilliant Beacons, nor does it give the reader a good sense of the numerous fascinating stories that the book contains. Simply put, Brilliant Beacons, a work rich in maritime lore and brimming with original historical detail, is the most comprehensive history of American lighthouses ever written, telling the story of America through the prism of its beloved coastal sentinels. Set against the backdrop of an expanding nation, Brilliant Beacons traces the evolution of America’s lighthouse system, highlighting the political, military, and technological battles fought to illuminate the nation’s hardscrabble coastlines. It includes a memorable cast of characters including the penny-pinching Treasury official Stephen Pleasonton, who hamstrung the country’s efforts to adopt the revolutionary Fresnel lens, and presents tales both humorous and harrowing of soldiers, saboteurs, ruthless egg collectors, and most importantly, the light-keepers themselves. Once you read Brilliant Beacons you will literally see lighthouses in a whole new light.
Learn more about the book and author at Eric Jay Dolin's website.

The Page 99 Test: Fur, Fortune, and Empire.

The Page 99 Test: When America First Met China.

The Page 69 Test: Brilliant Beacons.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 18, 2016

Diana Tietjens Meyers's "Victims’ Stories and the Advancement of Human Rights"

Diana Tietjens Meyers is Professor Emerita of Philosophy at the University of Connecticut. Poverty, Agency, and Human Rights, which she edited, came out in 2014.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Victims’ Stories and the Advancement of Human Rights, and reported the following:
From page 99:
I propose that a victim’s story that successfully represents a moral void together with an implicit moral imperative that has been systematically ignored achieves this alternative kind of moral closure. Such a victim’s narrative fully expresses a moral demand.

Such an appeal to conscience consists in nothing more than a compelling articulation of what the narrator has endured. Now, it might seem that the moral demand is a consequence of a formal defect in the victim’s story – namely, the absence of a morally gratifying ending. On this view, narrative moral closure depends on real-world moral closure to supply an ending and complete the story. To adopt this approach, however, is just to insist that White’s full-fledged narratives and Amsterdam and Bruner’s problem-solving narratives exhaust the category of morally complete narratives. But confining the concept of moral closure to these formats does an injustice to many storytellers and arbitrarily excludes some orthodox narrative forms. Consider parables and allegories – narratives that are complete in themselves and that express moral meaning without explicitly stating it. That these literary forms require interpretation to discern their normative significance is no reason to deny that they can achieve moral closure, and, in my view, the same goes for hybrid victims’ stories.
This passage comes at the end of chapter 2, which begins with discussion of the problems victims of human rights abuse encounter when they try to couch their stories in the beginning-middle-ending form that Hayden White, Jerome Bruner, and Anthony Amsterdam endorse. Aiming to provide a more victim-friendly conception of the relations between narrative and moral norms, chapter 2 presents a conception of hybrid narratives that takes into consideration the trauma that victims of human rights undergo and the testimonial disturbances that can result from it. Page 99 affirms that this nonstandard narrative form doesn’t prevent victims from conveying a moral point – namely, that people of conscience have an obligation to do what they can to prevent future abuse.

In an important way, this passage is representative of the whole book. Discussions of human rights abuse often focus on the perpetrators – the wrongs they commit and their responsibility for what they’ve done. When the focus is on victims of human rights abuse, discussions typically highlight narrative as an aid to surviving their ordeals. Without denying the value of inquiries centered on perpetrators or victims’ recovery, Victims’ Stories and the Advancement of Human Rights centers the reception of the stories victims tell and the moral significance of those stories.

A prevalent conception of victims links victimization to degradation and dehumanization, thereby underwriting victim blaming and indifference to their plight. The book counteracts these tendencies by demonstrating that victims retain their agency – their full humanity. It then explains how emotional intelligence helps us grasp the moral norms embedded in victims’ stories and how empathy with victims’ stories discloses the complex meanings of human rights abuse in human lives. The aim is to show that attention to victims’ stories can make a vital contribution to building a culture of human rights. Finally, the book provides ethical guidelines for journalists, scholars, activists, and legal officials who interview victims and use their testimony. Securing informed consent and preventing re-victimization are key. Effective human rights advocacy must rest on treating victims ethically.

Throughout the book, arguments are illustrated with victims’ autobiographical stories of diverse kinds of abuse: torture at the Guantánamo prison, slavery in the US, genocide in Rwanda, forced service as a child soldier in Sierra Leone, mass sexual violence against women in Berlin at the end of World War II.
Learn more about the book and author at Diana Tietjens Meyers's website.

--Marshal Zeringue