Sunday, March 29, 2020

Paul Cairney & Emily St Denny's "Why Isn’t Government Policy More Preventive?"

Paul Cairney is Professor of Politics and Public Policy, University of Stirling. His publications include Understanding Public Policy (2019), Making Policy in a Complex World (with Tanya Heikkila and Matthew Wood 2019), The Politics of Evidence-based Policymaking (2016), and The Handbook on Complexity and Public Policy (2015).

Emily St Denny is a Lecturer in Public Policy at the University of Stirling. Her expertise lies in prevention policy, policymaking in the devolved UK, and public sector reform.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Why Isn't Government Policy More Preventive?, and reported the following:
Page 99 focuses on the UK Government’s public health policy and policymaking during a Labour government led by Tony Blair (1997-2007) and Gordon Brown (2007-2010). Labour’s election in 1997 had signalled a major shift in commitment to public health policies designed to reduce health inequalities. It saw smoking as the biggest cause of the health inequalities associated with ‘non-communicable diseases’ such as cancer and heart disease. It sought to boost the role of primary care in detecting illness more quickly, and to address the relationship between contributing factors such as obesity and ‘worklessness in deprived areas’. It sought to intervene early in the lives of children under three years old, to address likely inequalities in health, educational attainment, and ‘behavioural problems’. It also described new forms of policymaking, built on the idea of ‘evidence based policymaking’ and ‘joined up government’. The page ends by suggesting that key public health policymaking initiatives failed.

Page 99 is representative of one key time and place in the book. The Labour government era was sandwiched between (1) the Conservative governments of 1979-97, led by Margaret Thatcher and John Major, which had minimal interest in state action to reduce health inequalities, and (2) the Conservative-led governments from 2010, which inherited Labour’s commitment to reduce inequalities but also delivered an ‘austerity’ programme that exacerbated its cause (socio-economic inequalities). Labour’s election was clearly a turning point in policy, but its defeat in 2010 had a less clear effect. UK government policy from 2010 was marked by a focus on individual behaviour – smoking, drinking alcohol, eating high salt and sugar foods, and low exercise – rather than the ‘structural’ and environmental factors – income and wealth, housing, green space, pollution – associated with the ‘social determinants’ of health. Yet, Labour had also been moving in this direction, and its policies were closer to the government in 2010 than the one it replaced in 1997. The book also compares UK and Scottish government policy, showing that they faced similar problems in similar ways, with similar levels of success.

Page 99 ‘zooms in’ to the details of a recurrent problem in policy and policymaking. Governments in many countries seek to prevent the rise of (a) inequalities and (b) the costs of public services by intervening as early as possible in people’s lives. To do so, they describe an evidence-based and joined-up approach. However, governments do not keep up this commitment or solve the problems they describe.
Learn more about Why Isn't Government Policy More Preventive? at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 27, 2020

Edwin L. Battistella's "Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels"

Edwin L. Battistella teaches linguistics and writing at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, where he has served as a dean and as interim provost. His books include Bad Language: Are Some Words Better than Others? and Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology. He writes a monthly column, "Between the Lines with Edwin Battistella," for the Oxford University Press blog.

Battistella applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President, from Washington to Trump, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels picks up with William Howard Taft, who served from 1909-1913, and later was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Readers get a bit of his background, learning that the affable Taft was known as “Smiling Bill” and was Teddy Roosevelt’s chosen successor. But the two had a falling out as Taft reined in a good deal of Teddy’s progressive reforms. By 1912, Smiling Bill and Teddy were running against each other and the Bull Moose Party was born. Things got ugly.

Page 99 gives readers a good feel for the descriptions of presidents and the challenges they face, and Taft’s single term is a perfect illustration of this, sandwiched between Teddy and Woodrow Wilson and roughly midway between Washington and Trump. What readers won’t find on page 99 are the insults themselves, which occur nearby on pages 98 (for Teddy) and 100 (for Taft). On those pages, readers learn, among other things, that Taft called Teddy Roosevelt a “honeyfuggler”—an old term for a swindler or conman—and that that Teddy considered Taft to be “a flubdub with a streak of the second-rate and common in him.” Page 99 is the set up, the necessary background to appreciate the insults.

Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels has an alternating structure with chapters covering key periods in US history and with sections on each of the nation’s forty-five presidents detailing how they were dissed. The introductions to the chapters provide context to the historical periods, from the Founders (Chapter Two) to the Culture Wars (Chapter Seven), and the book is adorned with caricatures by artist Morgan Pielli and with Etymological Explorations—sidebars that give the history of terms like copperhead and wimp, among others.

The message beyond the insults themselves is twofold: how consistent the categories of insults have been over time even as the words themselves change, and the power and importance of the First Amendment—the right of Americans to insult the president, whoever that is.
Visit Edwin L. Battistella's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Jeremy Arnold's "Across the Great Divide"

Jeremy Arnold is a political theorist and, most recently, was Senior Lecturer at the National University of Singapore. He is the author of State Violence and Moral Horror (2017).

Arnold applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Across the Great Divide: Between Analytic and Continental Political Theory, and reported the following:
Page 99 summarizes my reconstruction of Hannah Arendt’s theory of freedom and moves on to a further discussion of the value and importance of freedom as understood by Arendt. Very little on page 99 would seem to summarize or reveal the book as a whole. I end my discussion of Arendt’s novel and singular theory of freedom by reminding the reader that freedom for Arendt requires an act of genuine spontaneity, not fully determined by any condition, context, intention, or prior event. However, free actions are not undetermined; they are importantly limited by the need to be (at least barely) intelligible. I write:
The initiation of the new is a moment of freedom because what emerges is not fully determined by what came before. Although limited by the need to be intelligible, initiating the new is not determined by the limits of the intelligible, or by anything else. The intelligible is not fully determined, not static, and not fully determining. Modernism depends upon the relative stability, and permanent possibility of the change of, the limits of the intelligible. So does significant change in our own lives.
Page 99 does reveal a bit about how I understand Arendtian freedom, but little about Across the Great Divide as a whole.

My discussion of Arendt’s theory of freedom, and her claims about why freedom is valuable, is just a part of Across the Great Divide; but it is, perhaps, the most salient given current trends in contemporary Euro-American politics. Recent developments in right-wing politics have brought words and possibilities like “fascism”, “authoritarianism”, and “totalitarianism” back into public discourse. Before and after the 2016 American presidential election, Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism was often referred to by those seeking to understand contemporary political tendencies. However, Arendt provides us not only with an analysis of totalitarianism, but a political response that challenges one of the most important causes of the desire for totalitarian politics: nihilism. As we learn in books like Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies, new forms of communication allow racist, sexist, and fascist discursive tropes to circulate in an ironic, nihilistic, “doing it for the lolz” guise, while nonetheless fueling movements deeply committed to racist, sexist, and fascistic politics. A recent case of anti-semitism in a New Jersey school provides a useful recent example. Nihilism, alienation, loneliness, and resentment are all causes of totalitarianism on Arendt’s account. Challenging contemporary fascistic politics—whether from the left, the center, or right—requires beliefs, practices, and experiences that reaffirm and rejuvenate the meaningfulness and joyfulness of the shared human condition (as Arendt calls it): to pluralism, individuality, and difference; to ecologically sustainable forms of existence; to what is shared; to public goods and public life. Freedom as initiating newness—especially the freedom that comes through speaking and acting with others in public spaces—is one of those experiences. In freedom, Arendt argues, we can find a joy and meaning in shared forms of life that makes human life, with all of its suffering, not only bearable, but affirmable.

That being said, Across the Great Divide is committed to what I call—I wish it were less of a garbled mess—“aporetic cross-tradition theorizing”. In short, Arendt’s theory of freedom, however important and attractive, is still deeply problematic. In the book, I compare Arendt with the philosopher Philip Pettit, whose work on republicanism (the political form, not the party), is an equally challenging, powerful, and persuasive, if also equally problematic, theory of freedom. It is through such comparative work, I claim, that we can better understand both political theories and political phenomena.
Learn more about Across the Great Divide at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Eric Nusbaum's "Stealing Home"

Eric Nusbaum is a writer and former editor at Vice. His work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine, The Daily Beast, Deadspin, and the Best American Sports Writing anthology. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he has also lived and worked in Mexico City, New York, and Seattle. He now lives in Tacoma, Washington with his family.

Nusbaum applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Stealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the Lives Caught in Between, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Stealing Home is the first page of a short chapter about one of the book's central characters: a young man named Frank Wilkinson, who was raised conservative and Methodist, but found himself, in his twenties, becoming a radical atheist. The year is 1942. The city is Los Angeles. Here's the opening paragraph:
There was something about the Communist Party: The big ideas, the being on the right side of history, even the danger of it. In the early 1940s becoming a Communist wasn't so crazy. The party had been growing in America for a decade. Communists were deeply involved in labor and activism. They were freedom fighters and intellectuals in a city that was dominated by elite oil and real-estate magnates. Also, the United States and Soviet Union were now allies in Europe. To Frank Wilkinson, joining up made a certain level of sense. At heart, he was an institutionalist. He liked to feel like he belonged to something bigger. The Methodist Church wasn't cutting it anymore."
Soon, Frank will be recruited to join the party at the home of architect Richard Neutra and his wife Dione. Frank and Jean will then move into the upstairs of the Neutra's home.

I actually think you get a decent idea of the book, which is alternatively sweeping and intimate in the way it treats the city and the lives involved in this story. Frank's radicalization is an important development. You miss out on some of the other stuff: the principal family involved, the Aréchigas of Palo Verde, and, of course, baseball -- but the test more or less works.

An interesting thing about the Page 99 test in this instance: Frank Wilkinson was actually my initial way into this story as a high school student. He went on to live a long and fascinating life, which I will not spoil here (pick up the book!) , and ended up speaking to my class about the Red Scare many years after the action of Stealing Home takes place. The story he told, about his life, about Los Angeles, and about Dodger Stadium, was enthralling and moving to me. It led me on the path to writing this very answer.
Visit Eric Nusbaum's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Kari Weil's "Precarious Partners"

Kari Weil is University Professor of Letters at Wesleyan University. She is the author of Thinking Animals: Why Animal Studies Now and Androgyny and the Denial of Difference.

Weil applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Precarious Partners: Horses and Their Humans in Nineteenth-Century France, and reported the following:
As fate would have it, page 99 does bring readers to one of the central questions of Precarious Partners and which gets to the very precarity of human-horse relations in the nineteenth-century: why is it that at the very moment when the popularity and presence of the horse as worker, prized possession, and even pampered pet were at their height, horsemeat was legalized for human consumption. To answer that question, I refer to Derrida’s essay on “Eating Well,” in order to raise the idea and desirability of “carnivorous virility.” But meat was expensive and the prevalence of horse carcasses in the city made it a far less expensive meat than beef. Hence, I suggest, the legalization of horsemeat could be regarded as a generous extension of such virility to the working classes, if of a distinctly lesser order signaled by the mandatory horse head above all horse butcheries.

To complicate even further the importance of eating animals for virile subjectivity, the page then moves to Walter Benjamin’s essay on “Gloves,” and his suggestion that eating animals may be a way of overcoming the fear of being like them, of sensing our animality. In contrast to feminist thinkers who have celebrated the reciprocity of touch, Benjamin adds that disgust for the animal-other begins with touch and ends with a reaction whereby “may not deny his bestial relationship with animals… He must make himself its master.” Benjamin thus adds a new perspective on the postcard image with which the chapter opens, where a man in full equestrian attire is seen standing in line at the chevaline or horse butcher shop. Might it be, I ask “that in nineteenth-century France, the horse was that animal who most revealed man’s intimate and bestial relationship with animals, such that activities like pleasure-riding required subsequently a drastic means of separation, sending our post-card equestrian immediately to the “Chevaline” in order to eat his disgusting mate and so prove himself its master?”

To be sure, eating and virile mastery over the horse is not the whole story, nor are Benjamin and Derrida the only theorists considered to help understand horse-human relations at the time. Other chapters of the book move between literature, painting, writings in natural history and sport manuals to examine the rise of the woman rider or “amazone,” conflicts between animal protection and worker’s rights, ideas behind domesticaion along with connections between race and the breeding of horses, and the various aesthetic, cultural, physical and affective pleasures and power achieved through partnerships with horses whether on the streets, in the parks, in the hippodromes or circuses, and, unfortunately, at the slaughter yards.
Learn more about Precarious Partners at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 23, 2020

Christopher Houston's "Istanbul, City of the Fearless"

Christopher Houston is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Macquarie University in Sydney. He is the author of Kurdistan: Crafting of National Selves and Islam, Kurds and the Turkish Nation-State.

Houston applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Istanbul, City of the Fearless: Urban Activism, Coup d'Etat, and Memory in Turkey, and reported the following:
Page 99 in Istanbul, City of the Fearless comes near the end of a chapter describing the rich and interlocking repertoire of leftist and rightist activists' protest tactics in Istanbul in the late 1970s. The chapter is titled 'Inscription, Sound, and Violence', and it explores political groups' graffiti, posters, slogans, songs, guerilla speeches, the occupying of space, and the violent breaking of other groups' occupying of those places. One sobering aspect of these activities was that conflict over the affordances of the city sometimes led to violence unto death, and the chapter concludes by exploring certain perceptions of death and dying expressed by the revolutionary movements in obituaries and family statements.

The page 99 'test' works exceptionally well for Istanbul, City of the Fearless. However there is a poignancy to its relevance. On it readers will find examples of the death notices written by comrades for slain activists and published in factions' newspapers and journals. In one obituary the text reads: 'While fighting militantly and sacrificially against the oligarchy, our heroic brother KEMAL KARACA was treacherously and deceitfully struck down. Let your memory lead our struggle, let your life be our honor! Once again, in your execution: we saw ‘treason and fire.’ Once again, a thousand times again, we condemn provocation.' In the obituaries we see how the city is constituted as a political crucible for for a struggle against fascism and imperialism, and the revolutionary cause as demanding sacrifice.

Page 99's concern to describe the meaning and description of violence and death as given by political actors themselves is illustrative of the book in another way. Istanbul, City of the Fearless is a phenomenological exploration of activism, a study whose first concern is the perception and experience of urban activists in the city. The book describes and analyzes phenomena such as the built environment, militant bodies, movement around the city, places, moods, ethics, violence, ideologies and factions as perceived and remembered by participants. Thus page 99 reveals in miniature what it was like for militants to dwell in Istanbul in the years 1974-1983, years ruptured by the 1980 military coup that brought a terrible new meaning to urban phenomena.
Learn more about Istanbul, City of the Fearless at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Erin Hatton's "Coerced: Work Under Threat of Punishment"

Erin Hatton is an associate professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Her research is centered in the sociology of work, while also extending into the fields of race and gender, social inequality, culture, labor, law, and social policy. Her first book, The Temp Economy: From Kelly Girls to Permatemps in Postwar America (2011), weaves together gender, race, class, and work in a cultural analysis of the temporary help industry and the rise of the new economy.

Hatton applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Coerced: Work Under Threat of Punishment, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Coerced: Work Under Threat of Punishment is the last page of the central substantive chapter of this book, which examines coercion, compliance, and resistance across four very different groups of workers: prisoners working behind bars, welfare recipients required to work for public assistance, Division I football and basketball players, and graduate students in the sciences. This page (along with the previous page) does a pretty good job of summarizing the book’s main argument: that the supervisors in these labor relations wield expansive punitive power over these workers, and that this power is a previously unrecognized form of labor coercion that I call “status coercion.” Through such coercion, I argue, the supervisors in these labor relations have far-reaching power over these workers’ lives, families, and futures. As I write on page 99,
The coercion in these labor regimes has a far-reaching effect, producing compliant yet productive workers not only for the regimes themselves but also for the low-wage “precariat.” … For as we have seen, these labor regimes not only produce actions of compliance; they produce ideologies of compliance. Although these workers hold both hegemonic and counter-hegemonic ideologies of work, they generally accept, and often embrace, the importance of being coachable, teachable, and compliant: hardworking, unquestioning, and acquiescent. Perhaps this is not surprising given the severity of the consequences they face if they do otherwise.
(Though, later in the book, I also analyze the many ways in which these workers resist the coercion and subjugation that pervade their labor.)

In short, the ”Page 99 Test” works! This page gives the reader a great synopsis of the book’s main argument, as well as a strong sense of the book’s tenor.

Of course, one has to read more than just page 99 to get a full understanding of the book, particularly if the reader needs to be convinced that it is even reasonable to compare such seemingly incomparable groups. (Spoiler alert: I do not argue that these groups are the same. Graduate students are not prisoners! But I do argue that they experience the same type of labor coercion, in kind but not degree, just as day laborers and managers both experience economic coercion to varying degrees.) Ultimately I argue such unusual comparisons can yield new and surprising insight into social dynamics.
Visit Erin Hatton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Philip Mark Plotch's "Last Subway"

Philip Mark Plotch is an associate professor of political science and director of the Master of Public Administration program at Saint Peter's University. He has served as Director of World Trade Center Redevelopment and Special Projects at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and manager of planning and policy at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Plotch is the award-winning author of Politics Across the Hudson.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Last Subway: The Long Wait for the Next Train in New York City, and reported the following:
The Page 99 test describes conditions that should not be forgotten and reveals a timeless lesson. Elected officials like sexy projects and are willing to ignore basic infrastructure needs to pursue them.

Page 99 describes how New York’s governor in the 1970s promoted building a new covered highway along the West Side of Manhattan that would add more than two hundred acres of landfill in the Hudson River for parks and apartments.

Many environmental and transit advocates, however, opposed the new highway and preferred that New York take the $800 million allocated for it and use the funds for transit improvements, instead. To generate support for his pet project, the governor did something that numerous elected officials have done before and after him – he overestimated the project’s benefits and underestimated its costs.

Even though the environmentalists won, the city's transit system still lost. Because elected officials prioritized grand new projects over basic maintenance work in the 1970s, New York’s subway system rapidly deteriorated. One-third of all the subway cars pulling into stations had broken doors, and nearly as many had lighting problems. Because of cutbacks in maintenance and cleaning, a subway car caught fire nearly seven times a day.

New York’s graffiti-covered trains from the 1970s and 1980s should serve as a reminder of the need to maintain existing resources before embarking on unaffordable endeavors.

The Page 99 test worked! The page reflects the entire book -- tension and drama between powerful players, written in an engaging, accessible, and informative way.
Visit Philip Mark Plotch's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 20, 2020

Peter Levine's "Defense Management Reform"

Peter Levine is a senior fellow at the Institute for Defense Analyses and a former Senate staffer. He has served as the Deputy Chief Management Officer of the Department of Defense—the senior Pentagon official responsible for defense management reform.

Levine applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Defense Management Reform: How to Make the Pentagon Work Better and Cost Less, and reported the following:
Page 99 begins a description of how published “horror stories” about defense acquisition drove reformers in Congress and the Pentagon in unhelpful directions in the 1980s. A quote from a 1981 article on the acquisition of C-5 aircraft captures the spirit of the time, saying: “If the Edsel had been built to military specifications, it probably would be with us today; generals would be photographed with it, contractors would be promising third-generation, rocket-assisted, amphibious Edsels, and congressmen from the contractors’ districts would be warning of an Edsel gap.” As this narrative built through the decade, the Pentagon “was left in a protective crouch, trying to fend off unneeded, unwanted, and – in many cases – counterproductive reform proposals.”

This page captures one of the key take-aways of the book: public concerns and press attention are a vital catalyst for reform initiatives, but do not always drive reform in a positive direction. In this case, the government focused so much attention on “spare parts scandals” – $436 hammers, $649 toilet seats and the like – that it neglected needed reforms for billion dollar expenditures on major weapon systems. By the late 1980s, the Department of Defense had hired almost 6,000 new personnel to handle the added spare parts workload at a cost of close to half a billion dollars a year. Spare parts prices leveled off for a few years, but the trend was not enduring – and the prices of big ticket items continued to skyrocket. As the conclusion to the section explains, dedicating disproportionate resources to a narrow set of initiatives may hurt more than it helps if it means neglecting other, more important causes.

Of course, the book discusses other time periods, examines other case studies, and includes other key take-aways. For example, would-be reformers who fail to understand the existing system and how it works may unwittingly make management problems worse; one-size-fits-all approaches rarely work in an enterprise as large and complex as the Department of Defense; bipartisan management reform efforts are more likely to last than narrow partisan victories; without a strong executive branch partner to implement it, reform legislation will not bring about lasting change; and leaders who try to take on too much often end up accomplishing nothing.

Page 99 gives an accurate feel for the quality of writing and the analytic approach of the book, but no single-page snapshot can capture the tangled history of defense management reform or provide a full recipe for future success.
Learn more about Defense Management Reform at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Alexander Bukh's "These Islands Are Ours"

Alexander Bukh is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Victoria University of Wellington. He is the author of Japan's Identity and Foreign Policy: Russia as Japan's 'Other' (2009) and the producer and co-director of the documentary This Island Is Ours: Defending Dokdo/Retrieving Takeshima (2016).

Bukh applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, These Islands Are Ours: The Social Construction of Territorial Disputes in Northeast Asia, and reported the following:
Page 99 of These Islands Are Ours: The Social Construction of Territorial Disputes in Northeast Asia is in a chapter that discusses the South Korean grassroots movement to protect Dokdo- two tiny islets in the Sea of Japan, administered by South Korea since early 1950s but claimed by Japan as its territory. Most of page 99 discusses the nature of Korean post-war national identity as one of the factors that shaped the “protect Dokdo” movement.

The Page 99 Test works only to a certain extent for These Islands Are Ours. The discussion of Korean national identity on this page shows that the book establishes a relationship between various movements that seek to protect or recover disputed territory and national identity. However, it is not clear from this page that the book as a whole is mostly interested in economic, political and social crises as factors that shaped the emergence of such movements.

These Islands Are Ours focuses on three territorial disputes in Northeast Asia which are one of the main sources of tension in the region. Escalation in such conflicts often stems from a widely shared public perception that the territory in question is of the utmost importance to the nation. While that's frequently not true in economic, military, or political terms, citizens' groups and other domestic actors throughout the region have mounted sustained campaigns to protect or recover disputed islands. Quite often, these campaigns have wide-ranging domestic and international consequences.

The main question These Islands Are Ours seeks to answer is why and how do territorial disputes that at one point mattered little, become salient? Focusing on non-state actors rather than political elites, it explains how and why apparently inconsequential territories become central to national discourse in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. These Islands Are Ours challenges the conventional wisdom that disputes-related campaigns originate in the desire to protect national territory and traces their roots to times of crisis in the respective societies. This book gives us a new way to understand the nature of territorial disputes and how they inform national identities by exploring the processes of their social construction, and amplification.
Learn more about These Islands Are Ours at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue