Sunday, November 23, 2014

Gary Schmidgall's "Containing Multitudes"

Gary Schmidgall is Professor of English at Hunter College at the City University of New York. His books include Shakespeare and Opera, The Stranger Wilde: Interpreting Oscar, and Walt Whitman: A Gay Life.

Schmidgall applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Containing Multitudes: Walt Whitman and the British Literary Tradition, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test does seem to work for Containing Multitudes. Its page 99, in a chapter on Milton and Whitman, draws attention to the radically disparate styles of the two poets: "The unique Milton and Whitman styles, both endlessly mimicked but almost never successfully, seem at first glance an Atlantic Ocean-sized distance from each other. Whitman's admonition to himself, 'No ornamental similes at all,' would alone seem to sink the notion of discussing his style and Milton's in the same breath." And yet...the chapter is devoted to bringing the two poets (their affinities, shared views of the human condition, and the likenesses of the arc of each career) into intimate conversation. I set out in Containing Multitudes to write a book that should not exist, and page 99 is like most of its other 367: the author who famously declared America deserved a literature of its own, distinct from the "feudal" and anti-democratic literature of Britain, was deeply influenced by his transatlantic forebears. Though, Whitman seems to have made a conscious effort to downplay or conceal the extent to which the literary heritage of "that wonderful little island" seeded Leaves of Grass. In a cheeky unsigned self-review of the first edition, he boasted he would "make no allusions to books or writers; their spirits do not seem to have touched him." Containing Multitudes seeks to reveal that, though he largely kept his vow about allusions, his second assertion was decidedly disingenuous. My study's chapters argue that several odd literary couples--Shakespeare and Whitman, Milton and Whitman, Burns and Whitman, Blake and Whitman, Wordsworth and Whitman--are not so odd after all. In shorter essays five other important 19th-century authors are also associated with Whitman: Scott, Carlyle, Tennyson, Wilde, and Swinburne.
Learn more about Containing Multitudes at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 21, 2014

Malcolm Gaskill's "Between Two Worlds"

Malcolm Gaskill is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of East Anglia. His books include Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Gaskill lives near Cambridge, England.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Between Two Worlds: How the English Became Americans, and reported the following:
Given the size and sophistication of the USA, it’s hard to conceive how precarious were its beginnings. Trace Virginia’s history, say, and a sort of inevitability emerges – like it was always bound to succeed. But leap straight back 400 years and you find the original settlement, Jamestown, in big trouble. Too little of everything: food, shelter, law, government, peace. It’s amazing it survived; so many colonies did not. But what is really amazing is that speculators threw good money after bad to keep ailing colonies going and start new ones.

By page 99, where we reach the 1620s, a lot has already gone wrong since Jamestown’s foundation in 1607. The Pilgrim Fathers are ensconced at Plymouth, but life is far from easy, and they are a long way off satisfying their financial backers. North of there, the plantation at Wessagusset is doomed, settlers having tried “to build castles in the air”, to quote one contemporary. Life was hard in the wilderness, and the challenges of building a new society manifold. The deeper problem, however, was always that English monarchs insisted on granting permission for colonial enterprises, but refused to bankroll them. This meant reliance on private investors, and persuading them that colonies were a reasonable bet despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Earnest entreaties were made, but America remained a hard sell:
The usual suspicions dogged colonial enterprise, pushing projects back into the realms of fantasy. In 1623, James I encouraged the city of Exeter to invest using the Council for New England’s proposals. The arguments were conventional: plantations enlarge the nation, advance religion, stimulate navigation, and supply commodities. The benefits to the depressed western counties would be huge, provided enough shares were sold.
By then the English imperial heart was beating, and the crown urged to see colonies as a way to expand trade and subordinate foreign rivals. Furthermore, as the Council for New England suggested, colonization could improve domestic conditions:
The key to victory [against Spain and Holland], it was proposed, was not just ruling the waves but sending paupers to plantations: as the northern fishing industry contracted, for example, workers should go to Newfoundland. Mass emigration – 10,000 people a year – would not only solve England’s begging problem, but also create export markets and customs revenue. A venture to unlock America’s potential could be funded by taxing alehouses.
Yet still monarchs were reticent and investors either sceptical or interested in a way that benefited the nation only incidentally. The citizens of Exeter were unmoved by noble sentiments. They decided that the best land had already gone, and declined to be anyone’s tenants in the New World. Most of those who did invest did so not from pious altruism, or because they believed the adventurers’ propaganda, but because, like all serious gamblers, they saw in high risk only glittering prizes. Greed, like hope, springs eternal.
Visit Malcolm Gaskill's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Erik J. Wielenberg's "Robust Ethics"

Erik J. Wielenberg is Professor of Philosophy at DePauw University. He works primarily in ethics and the philosophy of religion and is the author of Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe and God and the Reach of Reason. His work has appeared in such journals as Ethics, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, Synthese, Faith and Philosophy, The European Journal for Philosophy of Religion, and Religious Studies.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Robust Ethics: The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Godless Normative Realism, and reported the following:
Where do our moral beliefs come from? Psychology has seen an explosion of competing answers to this question in recent years. Page 99 of Robust Ethics highlights an important area of agreement in the midst of this ongoing debate. Despite their differences, many psychologists who study moral cognition accept the following:
The Hidden Principles Claim: Our conscious moral judgments typically conform to general moral principles; such principles are often but not always hidden from us in that we cannot become consciously aware of the conformance of our conscious moral judgments to such principles in any direct way. This phenomenon is a consequence of the heavy involvement of System 1 cognition in the production of our conscious moral judgments.
System 1 cognition is thinking that happens quickly, effortlessly, and automatically; it also often operates behind-the-scenes, outside of conscious awareness, with the result that we often lack insight into its operations. When System 1 thinking drives our moral thinking, we often find ourselves with firm moral convictions that seem simply to appear in our minds and which we struggle to justify. For example, many of us will judge that it’s permissible to flip a switch that diverts an out-of-control trolley onto a sidetrack where it will kill one person rather than killing five. However, many who make that judgment will also judge that it’s wrong to push a large man in front of an out-of-control trolley, killing him in order to save five. Ask us to explain how we can consistently hold both convictions and we’ll typically illustrate what psychologists call “moral dumbfounding” – we’ll hem and haw, offer various inadequate justifications, and most likely stick to our judgments about the two cases even if we can’t justify them.

Zooming out a bit, the discussion of moral cognition in Robust Ethics is part of an attempt to provide a plausible account of how human beings could have knowledge of objective moral truths. Providing such an account and answering objections to it is the main task of the second half of the book; the account combines ideas from philosophy and psychology in a new (and hopefully plausible!) way. Zooming out a bit further, Robust Ethics as a whole could be characterized as an attempt at answering these questions: what are objective moral facts? Where do they come from? How do we know them? The answers I give to these questions imply that (i) moral facts and features are not the sorts of things that can be investigated by empirical science (contra some of the “new atheists”) and (ii) there can be objective moral facts and that we can have knowledge of at least some of them even if ours is a godless universe (contra many theistic philosophers).
Learn more about Robust Ethics at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Joseph P. Laycock's "The Seer of Bayside"

Joseph P. Laycock is an assistant professor of religious studies at Texas State University. He has published over a dozen peer-reviewed journal articles and is currently working on a project about the moral panic over role-playing games during the 1980s.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Seer of Bayside: Veronica Lueken and the Struggle to Define Catholicism, and reported the following:
The Seer of Bayside tells the story of Veronica Lueken, her followers, and their complex relationship with the Catholic hierarchy. In 1968, Veronica Lueken, a Catholic housewife in Bayside, Queens, New York, began to experience visions of the Virgin Mary. Over almost three decades, she imparted over 300 messages from Mary, Jesus, and other heavenly personages. These revelations, which were sent all over the world through newsletters, billboards, and local television, severely criticized the liturgical changes of Vatican II and the wickedness of American society. Unless everyone repented, Lueken warned, a “fiery ball” would collide with the Earth, causing planet-wide death and destruction.

When Catholic Church authorities tried to dismiss, discredit, and even banish her, Lueken declared Pope Paul VI a communist imposter, accused the Church of being in error since Vatican II, and sought new venues in which to communicate her revelations. Since her death in 1995, her followers have continued to gather to promote her messages in Flushing Meadows Park, Queens. Known as “the Baysiders,” they believe that St. Robert Bellarmine's Church, from which Lueken was banned from holding vigils, will someday become “the Lourdes of America” and that Lueken will be elevated to sainthood.

As a historian, I am attracted to the Baysiders because it is an amazing story that has never been properly told. It has also been said that the job of a religion scholar is to “make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.” Critics dismissed Lueken as either mentally ill or a fraud and ridiculed her followers. However, in studying and speaking with Baysiders, many of their controversial ideas seem more sensible within their own context. In the aftermath of Vatican II, traditional Catholics were trying to make sense of a world that no longer seemed sensible.

Ironically, page 99 of The Seer of Bayside describes the folly of trying to understand a text by opening it to a random page! Here I attempt to show how elements of Lueken’s prophecies that may seem bizarre or outlandish can be understood as an attempt to make sense of the world:
To outsiders, the Baysider worldview can seem completely incomprehensible and other. This is particularly the case if one attempts to understand the Baysiders by opening the Bayside Prophecies to a random page. Consider the following message from May 1973:

NOW OUR LADY SAYS: “Watch, my child, what else is exiting from the hole.”

VERONICA: Oh, goodness! There are things that look like bright lights, by they’re like dome-like at the top. And they don’t have any windows; they’re just great lights. And Our Lady now is standing at the edge of this hole and She’s pointing, and She’s saying:

OUR LADY: “Many will not accept the truth. These are transports of hell.”

VERONICA: Oh, Our Lady’s referring to these things that are being seen on earth.

OUR LADY: “Make it known, My child, that the false miracles of the time are now at hand. Satan seeks to confuse you. Make it known, My child, that there is no life beyond your earth as you know it. Man will go out into space; better that he uses these efforts to find his way back to God.”
For Lueken’s critics, even mentioning UFOs meant her ideas were not to be taken seriously. Today, Baysiders seem uninterested in discussing UFOs and emphasize other aspects of Lueken’s prophecies. But in 1973, UFOs were front-page news. Protestant leaders like Hal Lindsey and Billy Graham openly speculated about the religious significance of UFOs, but the Catholic Church was silent on the matter. Lueken offered a Catholic perspective that folded UFOs into larger apocalyptic scenario. And her charisma as a seer made this explanation authoritative for her followers. By showing Baysider beliefs and practices in context, I try move past the popular image of the Baysiders a weird cult and instead portray a group of Catholics motivated by a deep concern that the core values of their religion are under attack.
Learn more about The Seer of Bayside at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Deborah Halber's "The Skeleton Crew"

Deborah Halber is a Boston-based journalist whose work has appeared in The Boston Globe; Technology Review; the interactive, illustrated digital magazine Symbolia; and many university publications. A native New Yorker, she received her BA from Brandeis University and an MA in journalism from New York University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her book, The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America's Coldest Cases, and reported the following:
From page 99:
It was only seven in the morning but I was wearing the desert heat like a lead suit. My throat, eyes, and sinuses had shriveled up like a slug doused in sea salt. Somewhere to the west the Las Vegas strip hummed, but the taxi had deposited me on a seemingly deserted street of low buildings of the type favored by personal-injury lawyers and insurance agents. I pushed a buzzer next to the mirrored door of 1704 Pinto Lane and admired a Japanese-style sand garden of swaying grasses, flowering desert plants, artfully placed boulders, and cacti. Excellent landscaping is not something you expect at the morgue.

When Mike Murphy opened the door, nothing about him dashed the illusion that I’d come to inquire about life insurance or a timeshare. (Famed forensic expert) Marcella Fierro complained to me once about “Joe Coroner from East Wherever”—the elected official who’s also the local feed store operator or a farmer who milked cows before signing the day’s death warrants—but she wasn’t talking about Clark County coroner P. Michael Murphy, known to pals as Murf. He’s an FBI National Academy graduate and holds a doctorate in business administration. Vegas’s death chief likes to say he’s in the people business. The day I met him, he was revved and brisk, clearly prepared to interact with someone with a pulse.
Page 99 marks the beginning of one of my favorite chapters, in which I meet legendary Las Vegas coroner Mike Murphy, have a panic attack in a morgue, and learn the backstories of some of the country’s most moving and perplexing unsolved cases of Jane and John Does. Like many of those I encountered during my research for The Skeleton Crew, Murf is a larger-than-life character. The Clark County coroner’s office is the model for the first CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and it was Murf who was brave or foolhardy enough to post actual morgue photos online in a desperate attempt to engage the public’s help in identifying Clark County’s unidentified--the likes of Jane Cordova Doe, found in a dumpster at the Villa Cordova apartments; John El Cortez Doe, dead of a heart attack in the El Cortez Casino; Jane Sahara Sue Doe, a murder victim between seventeen and twenty-one years old who wore a complete set of dentures. Many were scandalized by the images Murf posted on Las Vegas Unidentified, but the controversy helped focus attention on the estimated 40,000 cases of unidentified human remains in the US--a little-known travesty that has been called the nation’s silent mass disaster. All the stories I tell in The Skeleton Crew start, like an episode of Bones or CSI, with the discovery of a corpse or skeletonized remains, or even a single body part. Then the mystery is: Who was this person? I traveled the country to meet the web sleuths--ordinary citizens who had managed against all odds to match the missing with the unidentified. I tell the story, among others, of Todd Matthews, who was only 17, living in a trailer home and working the night shift in a factory when he became obsessed with a young woman who had been found dead in 1968 near a Kentucky road, wrapped in a carnival tent. The advent of Internet databases--official ones such as Las Vegas Unidentified as well as strictly volunteer efforts such as the Doe Network--helped Todd give Tent Girl back her name. Todd helped bring a degree of closure to a family that had been searching for a young mother, sister and daughter for three decades.
Visit Deborah Halber's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 17, 2014

Karen Piper's "The Price of Thirst"

Karen Piper is the author of Cartographic Fictions and Left in the Dust, which the Los Angeles Times has called an “eco-thriller” that every “tap-turning American” should read. A regular contributor to Places magazine, Piper is also a winner of Sierra’s Nature Writing Award and has published in numerous academic journals. She is professor of postcolonial studies in English and adjunct professor in geography at the University of Missouri.

Piper applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Price of Thirst: Global Water Inequality and the Coming Chaos, and reported the following:
I was surprised to find that the page 99 tests works! This page in my book describes the battle that many countries face when they attempt to preserve local values and laws about water in the face of transnational corporate “water grabs.” The example here is New Zealand, where the national government is starting to recognize that indigenous Maori values matter and should be respected and codified in law, which the government calls “biculturalism.” But the Maori do not support transnational water corporations, which are also moving into the country. According to two Maori water scholars, the Maori value transparency and a “unity of purpose” between the deliverers and those who receive water. Accordingly, transnational corporations are “ill-suited for any kind of leadership especially in the service industries” due to their lack of transparency, as well as a lack of care for those in need. Without this unity of purpose, they say, rebellion will occur “until the balance is restored.”

In the same way, my book argues that the corporate takeover of global water supplies will lead to hostilities around the world “until the balance is restored”—that good faith and unity of purpose are established between all participants. This is, in fact, what the title of my book means. On the one hand, “the price of thirst” describes the reality that water prices are going up around the world as more transnational business are gaining control over water and raising water prices. The poor are often left in the lurch, literally without clean water. But on the other hand, the title describes the true “price of thirst,” which is social chaos—the rebellion and hostility of those without water. Since the 1990s, there has been a global shift in water laws, which has led to nations treating water as a commodity. This is creating a new landless class of people who once lived by a river, but now cannot drink from it and so are forced to leave. Instead, they end up buying expensive and often dirty water from trucks in urban slums. Eventually, people without water will riot, and we are seeing this in many parts of the world today. It is no coincidence that there is greater political instability in countries with water scarcity or a large gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” in water.

We will see more unrest until we understand, like the Maori, that we must restore balance and create trust between those who provide water and those who need it for survival, including plants and animals. The truth is that nature also riots when it does not get the water it needs; it rebels with mass extinctions that act like suicide bombers against the human race. But multinational corporations do not care about nature. They only care about their customer base ... and plants can’t pay.
Learn more about The Price of Thirst at the University of Minnesota Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Teri Kanefield's "Guilty?: Crime, Punishment, and the Changing Face of Justice"

Teri Kanefield, an appellate lawyer and children's book writer, is the author of Rivka's Way and The Girl from the Tar Paper School. Her articles and essays have appeared in publications as diverse as Cricket Magazine, The Iowa Review, Education Week, and The American Literary Review.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Guilty?: Crime, Punishment, and the Changing Face of Justice, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Fifty-one year old Clarence Earl Gideon was arrested On June 3, 1961, and charged with burglarizing the Bay Harbor Poolroom in Panama City, Florida. The crime was a felony.

Clarence-–a man with a frail body and white hair–had a long criminal history, and had been in and out of prisons much of his life. He was first arrested at the age of fourteen for burglarizing a county store for clothes. He was caught the next day wearing the clothing he had stolen and was sent to a juvenile “reformatory.” Later he said of all the prisons he’d been in, that was the worst, and he carried permanent scars from the whippings he received. He was released at age twenty-two, in the middle of the Great Depression. He found a job in a shoe factory, but he was arrested again for stealing government property and sentenced to three years in federal prison. When he got out, he worked some more and saved a little money, which he sent to his parents to help them buy a house. He was arrested several more times over the years, each time for burglary.

At this time of his arrest in 1961, he’d been convicted of four felonies. If convicted of burglarizing the Bay Harbor Poolroom, it would be his fifth.

Clarence pled not guilty.
Page 99 is the start of a story. Not just any story, but the famous case of Clarence Earl Gideon, a convict from Florida whose case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and changed the law of the United States. Because of Clarence Earl Gideon, if you are arrested, you have the right to an attorney. Before Clarence’s case, you had no such right.

Page 99 exemplifies what I tried to do in this book: Make the law interesting to young readers by presenting the material the way it is taught in law school, through actual legal cases.

Intended to get young readers thinking critically about our criminal justice system, this books goes back to the basics, asking such questions as: What is a crime? Why do we punish? These questions appear simple, but in fact require us to examine the very foundation— and flaws—of our criminal justice system. Presenting the material through actual legal cases allows readers to learn the fascinating story of Clarence Earl Gideon—and many others—while considering how crime control should be balanced by due process.
Visit Teri Kanefield's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 14, 2014

Phil Orchard's "A Right to Flee"

Phil Orchard is a Lecturer in International Relations and Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland, and a Research Associate with the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. He holds a PhD from the University of British Columbia, and previously worked as the Assistant to the Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Internally Displaced Persons.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Right to Flee: Refugees, States, and the Construction of International Cooperation, and reported the following:
A Right to Flee focuses around a puzzle. Over the past thirty years, states in the developed world have introduced a range of policies to deter asylum seekers and to contain refugees in the developing world. But they haven’t taken the obvious step of just leaving the 1951 Refugee Convention, or otherwise stopping completely their support for the broader refugee regime. Even while the Australian government, for example, transfers boat people directly to Papua New Guinea and Nauru, it continues to resettle thousands of refugees a year. Instead, my book argues that a lot of what takes place today needs to understood in light of the long historical development of refugee protection and that a lot of today’s practices - and their durability – comes from this history. This isn’t necessarily a positive history. The Refugee Convention, for example, only gets negotiated after the complete failure of earlier efforts under the League of Nations in the 1930s to help Jews flee Nazi Germany.

By Page 99, the book is focusing on how states were dealing with refugees in the 19th century. The first group to be called ‘refugees’ – the French Huguenots – had fled in 1685 and throughout the next century we see states hesitantly accept in religious refugees. With the French Revolution, there is a major shift – suddenly political refugees also need protection, and states begin using domestic law to do this. Starting at the bottom of page 98, the book discusses the Galotti Incident of 1829:
Giovanni Galotti, a Neapolitan officer who had fled to France following the restoration of the Bourbons in Naples, was extradited to Naples for a number of common crimes. This occurred only after assurances were received by the French government that he would not be prosecuted for political offences. Following his extradition, however, he was prosecuted for his participation in the 1820 Revolution and sentenced to death. France not only revoked its extradition decree and requested his return, but threatened to declare war when Naples refused…

This case, and the start of the Polish refugee exodus in 1832, triggered a need in the French government to codify in law the rights of refugees. The result was the Loi Relative aux Etrangers Réfugiés Qui Résideront en France, passed on April 21, 1832. This law, as Grahl-Madsen notes, was pivotal because it offered the first definition of a refugee as “ceux qui résident en France sans la protection de leur gouvernement” (those who reside in France without the protection of their government). Thus, he argues “it would seem that here we have the origin of the notion that refugees are ‘unprotected persons’” (1966: 280; see also Haddad 2003: 307).
This is a critical shift for two reasons. France is only the second state after the United Kingdom to define refugee status in law, and it starts an important trend in continental Europe in which extradition treaties get linked to refugee protection, a system that worked well for the rest of that century. But this notion of a refugee as an unprotected person is still with us today. The refugee definition included in Refugee Convention notes that a refugee is someone “outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear,
unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”
Learn more about A Right to Flee at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Robyn Muncy's "Relentless Reformer"

Robyn Muncy is associate professor of history at the University of Maryland. She is the author of Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform, 1890–1935 and the coauthor of Engendering America: A Documentary History, 1865 to the Present.

Muncy applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Relentless Reformer: Josephine Roche and Progressivism in Twentieth-Century America, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Relentless Reformer, we enter the life of progressive activist Josephine Roche as she desperately seeks funding for one of her many efforts to diminish inequalities in American life: the Foreign Language Information Service (FLIS). It is the early 1920s and Roche has recently founded the FLIS to support immigrants’ efforts to participate fully in American society and politics. When we join the action on page 99, the Red Cross offers Roche stable funding for a part of her program but insists it can no longer underwrite the whole.

In consultation with her staff of 65 writers, translators, and caseworkers, Roche chooses to forgo the offer because she believes it will impose anti-democratic curtailments on her program. The cutbacks would especially eliminate mechanisms created by FLIS to allow immigrants to communicate their ideas, hopes, and dreams to English-only Americans. For Roche, page 99 concludes, “keeping the fullest possible program in operation was worth continual anxiety about funding.”

This tiny part of Roche’s life story captures her unrelenting dedication to the project of diminishing inequality in American life and thus a major theme of Relentless Reformer. Roche remained a progressive activist from 1908 (the year she graduated from Vassar College) into the 1970s. Along the way, she served as the second-highest ranking woman in the New Deal government, ran a coal-mining company in partnership with coal miners themselves, initiated the conversation Americans are still having about the federal role in health care, and pioneered managed care in medicine. She was a staunch pro-labor feminist, who battled inequality for over 60 years.

The goal of my biography of Roche is both to restore a forgotten but deeply important woman to our understanding of American history and to provide a new way of thinking about progressive reform, a strain within American political culture that emerged in the late nineteenth century to challenge the inordinate political and economic power of corporations. With Roche as my guide, I develop a unique vision of the meaning and trajectory of progressivism: I define it as an effort to diminish inequalities of wealth and power through social legislation and new civil society institutions (like the FLIS) and argue that it did not cease to dominate American politics until the 1970s. Page 99 goes a surprisingly long way toward capturing the spirit and themes of the book.

From page 99 (citations excised):
By March 1921, Roche was pleading with the Red Cross for increased funding. She needed more staff to respond to the deluge of requests [from immigrants] for information and advice, and she wanted to add several new languages to the FLIS repertoire, especially Greek, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese. Roche was also emphatic that her managers should be meeting in person with representatives of their language groups all over the country. Democracy required it. She insisted, “if the Bureau’s work is to continue to be based on the fundamental needs of, and in sympathetic cooperation with the foreign born,” the staff had to get out into communities. “A long absence by Managers from the field,” she argued, “inevitably undermines the Bureau’s work.” Roche wanted her agency to be an integral part of immigrant communities, not to become a separate bureaucratic entity claiming to speak on behalf of those whose real and changing concerns it could not possibly know....

Roche would not abide any diminution of her efforts. In spring 1921, the Red Cross, facing financial pressures of its own, recommended that the FLIS downsize to twenty staff members, cut the American Press Section, and end its casework with individual immigrants. Roche and her staff found these reductions unacceptable. Eliminating the American Press Section and casework would shut off much of the communication from immigrants to English-only Americans.... Rather than accept what she considered an anti-democratic curtailment of her work, Roche took the risk of unhitching her organization from the Red Cross. After a mad scramble, she won funding from various foundations.... Every grant was for only a fixed period. Still, for Roche, keeping the fullest possible program in operation was worth continual anxiety about funding.
Learn more about Relentless Reformer at the Princeton University Press website.

My Book, The Movie:  Relentless Reformer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 10, 2014

Claire Prentice's "The Lost Tribe of Coney Island"

Claire Prentice is an award-winning journalist whose work has been published in the Washington Post, The Times of London, The Guardian, Sydney Morning Herald, BBC Online, Cosmopolitan, and Marie Claire.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Lost Tribe of Coney Island: Headhunters, Luna Park, and the Man Who Pulled Off the Spectacle of the Century, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Lost Tribe of Coney Island throws us right into the heart of the story. It’s the summer of 1905 and fifty Igorrote tribesmen, women and children from the far north of the Philippines, have been taken across the world and put on display at Coney Island where they are billed as “head-hunting, dog-eating savages.”

There in a mocked up tribal village, they perform a sideshow version of their culture from dawn to dusk, singing, dancing, staging sham battles and eating dogs in daily feasts with mutts brought from the New York pound. In return for spending a year exhibiting in America, the tribespeople have been promised $15 a month each by their manager, Truman Hunt.

America quickly falls in love with the Igorrotes. They are visited by millions of ordinary Americans along with anthropologists, famous singers and actors, even the daughter of the president. Reporters flock to the Igorrote Village and write stories about the tribespeople in newspapers coast to coast.

On page 99 they are visited by a journalist from the Independent, a high minded journal devoted to politics, economics, history and the arts. Almost uniquely amongst the journalists who interview the tribe, most of whom come seeking pure sensation, the Independent’s reporter seems genuinely interested in the tribe’s authentic culture. He attempts to interview the tribal leader Fomoaley Ponci about his beliefs. But the tribe’s manager, who has a genius for publicity, believes that the distorted version of tribal life he has been selling is more likely to capture the public’s attention than the truth. While Ponci attempts to answer the questions as best he can, Hunt keeps interrupting.

When the reporter asks the tribal chief what his people make of the Americans who have colonized his land, Hunt insists on translating the tribal chief’s answer: “The American people are our friends and want to learn our culture.”

Hunt has no compunction about selling the press a sham, and exaggerates the Igorrotes’ custom of hunting the heads of their enemies at every opportunity. Hunt appears to be a paternalistic manager but as the story progresses we see a darker side to his character. What happens on page 99 of The Lost Tribe of Coney Island is a clue to the scandal, man hunt and court case which are to come.
Visit Claire Prentice's website.

--Marshal Zeringue