Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Steven Ujifusa's "Barons of the Sea"

Steven Ujifusa is the author of Barons of the Sea: And Their Race to Build the World’s Greatest Clipper Ship. Barons of the Sea tells the saga of the great 19th century American clipper ships and the Yankee merchant dynasties they created. It is a story of high-stakes competition on the high seas, groundbreaking technical innovation in shipbuilding, and intense family rivalries. Nathaniel Philbrick described it as “A fascinating, fast-paced history…full of remarkable characters and incredible stories” about the nineteenth-century American dynasties who battled for dominance of the tea and opium trades.”

Ujifusa applied the “Page 99 Test” to Barons of the Sea and reported the following:
From page 99:
Palmer estimated that his new ship could bring fresh tea from China to New York in fewer than a hundred days, a faster voyage than the Paul Jones and other ships in her class. The relatively flat-bottom contours of Palmer’s prototype created the interior volume needed for greater carrying capacity. His new model would be ideal for hauling the maximum number of tea chests with the minimum amount of wasted space. And there was another factor at work. Some sailors on the China run had noticed how their ships sailed differently with a cargo of tea versus bulk goods. “A ship with a tea cargo is very buoyant and is not deep in the water and sails very well,” the young sailor Charlie Low observed. This enabled tea ships to make nine or ten knots sailing large in a quartering wind—compared with six or seven knots for merchant ships loaded with heavier cargo. Imagine how fast a better-designed ship could be.

Such was the ship that Captain Nathaniel Palmer envisioned while slogging homeward on John Murray Forbes’s brand-new Paul Jones. With luck, Palmer reasoned, a sharp-bowed ship could average twelve or thirteen knots in a fresh breeze—possibly even faster—when loaded with a full cargo of tea. The question was whether a ship with such sharp ends would lose crucial buoyancy and become unstable or structurally deficient in bad weather, especially when fully loaded with cargo.

Late in 1843, a newly disembarked William Henry Low turned up at the South Street offices of A. A. Low & Brother, sadly without the competence he had sought in China, but bearing Captain Nat’s model ship. His brother Abbot controlled the family purse strings, and after careful examination and consultation with the East River shipbuilders Brown & Bell, he gave his approval for building this experimental craft. Captain Nat would design the new vessel and supervise her construction at the shipyard.
Page 99 of Barons of the Sea discusses how a few strokes of imaginative thinking on the part of an experienced sea captain (Nathaniel Palmer) and two brothers from a prominent New York shipping family (William Henry Low and Charles Porter Low) led to the construction and financing of one of the earliest clipper ships: the Houqua of 1843, named after China’s wealthiest merchant. Because of her revolutionary design, Houqua could sail from China to New York in less than 100 days, which became the new gold standard for the passage, when only a few years earlier six months was considered an average run. Houqua helped touch off a race to built the fastest tea clipper, which culminated in the Sea Witch of 1846, which sailed between Hong Kong and New York at an astonishing 74 days, a record which stood for over 150 years.

A clipper ship is a three-masted, full-rigged sailing vessel built for speed at the sacrifice of capacity. To achieve speeds of 13 knots plus, a clipper ship’s bow and stern had sharp lines rather than the traditional full ones. These sharp lines had their origins in the small, schooner rigged “opium clippers” owned by the Lows, fast boats that smuggled the Indian drug into China to pay for the tea. A clipper ship’s keel had to be strong to compensate for the loss of buoyancy at the bow and stern. Clipper ships also carried a much larger spread of canvas than a typical vessel, which meant a larger crew and higher operational costs. To make a clipper ship’s great speed pay, the cargo had to be extremely valuable. First, it was high quality tea from China to be sold at auction in New York or Boston. Then, during the California Gold Rush, this meant dry goods and provisions to be sold to miners in booming San Francisco to be sold at sky-high prices.

The American clipper ship revolutionized world trade similarly to the way Amazon has in modern times by greatly speeding up the global supply chain The men who owned and operated clippers were bare-knuckled, laissez-faire capitalists. Ships were built with great skill and creativity, for speed and profit first, safety last. There were no trial voyages, government inspections, or labor regulation. Crew life was harsh and dangerous: one misstep ten stories above the ocean meant near-certain death.

These innovative clippers made the Lows and a handful of other families (including that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s grandfather) fabulously wealthy, and established America as a global economic superpower. Due to the advent of steam, railroads, and changing economic conditions, the clipper ship era only lasted about two decades, but these beautiful ships live on in art, song, and the family fortunes that they produced. They were the perfect blend of art and commerce. As maritime historian Samuel Eliot Morrison wrote, “These were our Gothic cathedrals, our Parthenon; but monuments carved from snow. For a few brief years they flashed their splendor around the world, then disappeared with the finality of the wild pigeon.”
Visit Steven Ujifusa's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 15, 2018

Helmut Norpoth's "Unsurpassed: The Popular Appeal of Franklin Roosevelt"

Helmut Norpoth is Professor of Political Science at Stony Brook University. He is the co-author of The American Voter Revisited and author of Confidence Regained: Economics, Mrs. Thatcher and the British Voter.

Norpoth applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Unsurpassed: The Popular Appeal of Franklin Roosevelt, and reported the following:
From page 99:
By October 1940, support for aiding Britain was the popular option, while opposition, commonly called isolationism, was in a minority. The balance in favor of aiding Britain was three to two in the October 1940 Gallup poll. Had it been the reverse, this issue would have doomed FDR's reelection prospect in 1940.
This passage from page 99 of Unsurpassed: The Popular Appeal of Franklin Roosevelt highlights the critical importance of public opinion about foreign policy for FDR's approval and electoral success. Had he not run and won a third term in 1940, FDR would not have been commander in chief when the United States entered the war. History might have turned out quite differently.

In 1940, as shown by ample polls, the American people said good-bye to isolationism and embraced a policy of doing everything, even at the risk of war, to help Britain win against Nazi-Germany. For example, in an October 1939 poll, 67 percent opposed such a policy, while a year later, 62 percent approved it. This was not a forgone conclusion. Leaders of the isolationist movement like the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh and Montana Senator Burton Wheeler attacked FDR as a warmonger bent on saving the British Empire at America’s expense. But it was Roosevelt who commanded the “bully pulpit.” A master of the new medium, radio, he appealed to Americans at their homes with his fabled “fireside chats.” It was an invention of his own that typically reached more than turned out to vote. In those chats and other addresses that were broadcast the President pleaded his case that helping England in the war was helping the United States avert grave and imminent peril. It was imperative, in his words, to turn the United States into the “arsenal of democracy.” Almost every time FDR spoke to the American public or gave an address to Congress that was broadcast he chipped away at the rock of isolationism.

Roosevelt also took advantage of a new device for feeling the public pulse. He eagerly embraced polling, not simply what he could glean from reports of Gallup polls in the press. In early 1940, he enlisted the personal services of Princeton Professor Hadley Cantril’s operation to brief him on what polls revealed about the views of Americans on foreign policy issues. So this captain was not operating in the dark about the passages and shoals of public opinion. FDR was able to divine which actions most Americans would support and which ones not, whether it was repeal of Neutrality Acts, military spending, the draft, Destroyers-for-Bases, Lend-Lease or a declaration of war, among other things. At the same time, public opinion in 1940 also registered a reversal on the question of giving FDR a third term. He learned of this change of heart, too, removing what had looked like an immovable obstacle to an unprecedented third term.
Learn more about Unsurpassed at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Connie Y. Chiang's "Nature Behind Barbed Wire"

Connie Y. Chiang is Professor of History and Environmental Studies at Bowdoin College.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Nature Behind Barbed Wire: An Environmental History of the Japanese American Incarceration, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Nature Behind Barbed Wire describes the agricultural labor problems in the Japanese American incarceration camps during World War II. The War Relocation Authority (WRA), a federal civilian agency, oversaw the administration of the ten camps and developed extensive agricultural programs at each one. The WRA’s goals were two-fold: to make the camps self-supporting and to provide worthwhile jobs for Japanese American detainees. However, as page 99 makes clear, WRA officials could not secure adequate Japanese American workers to maintain maximum production. At the behest of the WRA, many were leaving the camps to take outside employment. As a result, “the camp labor pool sometimes became drained at inopportune times in the planting and harvesting cycle.” Indeed, it was crucial to find workers at specific times of the year—when the environmental conditions were ideal for sowing and reaping.

Page 99 thus hints at the environmental underpinnings of the WRA’s agricultural challenges. The labor supply needed to align with nature—that is, the changes in the seasons. As I show elsewhere in this chapter, other environmental considerations affected farm production. Some Japanese Americans rejected agricultural work because of the harsh weather. They also found that their previous agricultural expertise—honed in more temperate locales along the Pacific Coast—was not applicable to the arid conditions in the camps. In fact, most of the camps were located in areas that were ill-suited for farming, with short growing seasons or poor soil. The environment, in other words, shaped the quantity and quality of farm labor. This interplay between humans and nature in the operation of the camps is central to the book’s narrative. Nature Behind Barbed Wire argues that the Japanese American incarceration was fundamentally an environmental story, shaped by the lands and waters of the Pacific Coast and the inland camps.
Learn more about Nature Behind Barbed Wire at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Loren Schweninger's "Appealing for Liberty"

Loren Schweninger is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, where he taught for forty years. He was Director of the Race and Slavery Petitions Project from 1991-2009, creating the Digital Library on American Slavery during his tenure, and is the author of numerous books, including the Lincoln-Prize winning Runaway Slaves: Rebels in the Plantations (2010), co-authored with John Hope Franklin.

Schweninger applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Appealing for Liberty: Freedom Suits in the South, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Nancy’s term of service would have expired the same year Smith received his “instrument of freedom,” but, like him, she remained in bondage another twenty years, until the mid- 1830s.

In perhaps the strangest case of inordinate term servitude, a Virginia woman named Nan claimed that, according to a deed, she was bound to serve a term of twelve years, whereas her children’s terms would end on their reaching age twenty- eight. In 1817, Nan was released and registered in Rockingham County as a free person of color, but long after Nan’s death, her daughter Gracey and Gracey’s nine children remained enslaved. Not until 1859 were they freed, when the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals declared that there was nothing in the case to show that Nan was a slave, “except the fact of her color and African descent”— a presumption “repelled by the other facts proved in the case.” More than four decades after Nan had gained her freedom, her children and grandchildren won theirs.

Many of the slaves kept in bondage long after their terms had expired had in fact been sold as slaves for life. Often they were conveyed to states where the laws prohibited or inhibited the ability of African Americans to file freedom suits. In Louisiana, for example, slaves could not be freed prior to reaching age thirty unless special permissions were granted. When term slaves were permitted and able to bring suits in their home communities, the courts sometimes failed to provide assistance or relief, especially when time-limited servants had not yet served out their terms. Even under the most frightful circumstances, when blacks feared being taken out of county or state and enslaved for life, courts might decline to issue injunctions of protection. In such cases, the slaveholders retained ownership rights over their human property and the courts could offer that property no alternatives.

Among the most vexing questions in the law of emancipation was whether children born to female slaves who had been promised their freedom in the future were entitled to the same benefit. The question arose almost entirely in the Upper South, where manumission continued during the nineteenth century. The laws covering emancipation differed from state to state, as did the precedents established by the courts. In 1799, in Pleasants v. Pleasants, the Virginia Chancellor George Wythe and Appeals Judge Spencer Roane offered the opinion that as soon as the right of the mother to future freedom had been determined, she was free, as were any children born to her, and testators had no power to “impose any servitude on them.” In short, they ruled that “the present right to future freedom is present freedom.”

This view was repudiated in Virginia in 1824 in the case of Maria v. Surbaugh, wherein Virginia Judge Spencer Green decided that the children born to female term slaves during the mother’s term of servitude were born in, and remained in, bondage. The case was complicated, stretching back to 1790 when, in his
Page 99 in Appealing for Liberty: Freedom Suits in the South is a good reflection of the volume which examines how illegally held slaves in the southern states sued in various courts for their freedom. Among them were black people who were supposed to be freed after a term of years as indicated in deeds of manumission and last will and testaments and what happened to their children if born during the term before their release, at least in Virginia law. (For other topics covered in the book, see the table of contents.)
Learn more about Appealing for Liberty at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

T.V. Paul's "Restraining Great Powers"

T.V. Paul is James McGill professor of international Relations, McGill University, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. His most recent book, Restraining Great Powers: Soft Balancing from Empires to the Global Era, discusses the different soft balancing and hard balancing strategies that states have used from Concert of Europe to Contemporary Era.

Paul applied the “Page 99 Test” to Restraining Great Powers and reported the following:
From page 99:
American interventionist policies, whether in the Persian Gulf or in Kosovo, act as catalysts to some extent in determining whether soft balancing efforts occur. Whenever the U.S. has engaged in aggressive unilateralism, some of the affected great power states have responded with temporary coalition building at the diplomatic level… The U.S. case exemplifies that the first two decades of the post-Cold War era featured balancing against threat, not against power.
Page 99 of Restraining Great Powers: Soft Balancing from Empires to the Global Era discusses the attempts by secondary states, both allies and adversaries to restrain the U.S. from intervening militarily in theaters of the world, especially it the Middle East. It asks the question why the U.S. was not militarily balanced by other states, despite the cardinal argument inherent in balance of power theory and policy that power will be met with power. The different answers provided by scholars on this puzzle range from the huge capability discrepancy between the U.S. and its rivals, America’s internal democratic order and the liberal characteristic of U.S. hegemony enabling it not posing a fundamental threat to the state system. The page initiates these points, but subsequently the chapter contends that the U.S. was balanced, but not through military buildup or formal alliances. The U.S. interventionist policies produced responses by affected states, first by Russia and China during the US intervention in Serbia to prevent a military backlash on Kosavar Albanians, and later, prior to the Iraq War of 2003. This time around, U.S. allies Germany and France also joined in that endeavor to restraining America using institutional means. Russia and China used their veto power in the UN Security Council to deny a resolution authorizing the US the right to intervene and thereby denied the international legitimacy it sought for military action. This US case is one of the key examples of soft balancing discussed in the book. Previous chapters dealt with soft balancing theory, the ideal conditions that led to this approach, and the use of institutions from Concert of Europe and the League of Nations as well as Nonaligned countries during the Cold War era. Subsequent chapters discuss the soft balancing efforts by and against China and Russia.
Visit T.V. Paul's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Catherine Reef's "Mary Shelley"

Catherine Reef is the author of more than 40 nonfiction books, including Noah Webster: Man of Many Words, Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life, Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse, Victoria: Portrait of a Queen, and other highly acclaimed biographies for young people. She lives in College Park, Maryland.

Reef applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest young adult biography, Mary Shelley: The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein's Creator, and reported the following:
A reader opening Mary Shelley: The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein’s Creator to page 99 will find Mary and Percy Shelley in Florence, Italy, in December 1819. The weather is unusually harsh, but then Italy seems determined to treat the Shelleys cruelly. Disease claimed their daughter, Clara, in Venice, and their son William in Rome. There is no way they can know that another devastating surprise awaits them off the coast of Livorno. So, ignorant of the future, they are cautiously optimistic. Mary has just given birth to another boy, Percy Florence, who thrives. She stays indoors to care for him while Percy, who can never be still, wraps himself in a cloak to take a visiting cousin and Mary’s ever-present stepsister, Claire Clairmont, sightseeing.

Page 99 is a narrow window, but a reader peering through it can spot recurring trends or themes in Mary Shelley’s life. One of these is isolation. Mary and Percy “see no company and live quite to themselves,” notes the cousin, Sophia Stacey. They began their relationship by running away to France when Mary was sixteen and Percy was a married man of twenty-one. Polite society shunned them and continued to do so even after circumstances allowed the couple to wed. In Italy they have some open-minded friends, but just a few.

A second theme that page 99 touches on is tragedy. Other children whom Mary knows and loves will die as well, and so, famously and at a young age, will Percy Bysshe Shelley. Drownings, suicides, and premature deaths from disease are all part of Mary Shelley’s story—there are too many of them, really, to list here.

Also, a theme that will feature prominently in the second half of the narrative makes its debut on page 99. It is the hope Mary invests in her infant son, Percy Florence, who will sustain her through the misfortunes to come. “Poor Mary begins (for the first time) to look a little consoled,” Percy Shelley writes to a friend, in a letter quoted at the top of the page. Being a single parent to her only surviving child will force Mary to be strong and carry on. Needing to support him will ensure that she keeps on writing.

Writing: it gets a lot of attention in this biography of a novelist married to a poet, but there’s little mention of it on page 99. Sophia Stacey does remark that Percy Shelley “is always reading, and at night has a little table with pen and ink, she [Mary] the same.” The curious can find out what Mary Shelley wrote after the publication of Frankenstein if they turn the page and go on reading.
Visit Catherine Reef's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Catherine Reef & Nandi.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 5, 2018

"Technicolored: Reflections on Race in the Time of TV"

Ann duCille is Emerita Professor of English at Wesleyan University and author of Skin Trade and The Coupling Convention: Sex, Text, and Tradition in Black Women's Fiction.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Technicolored: Reflections on Race in the Time of TV, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Technicolored falls in the middle of a chapter on Shirley Temple as an American icon whose films from the 1930s were regularly shown on television in the 1950s and ’60s of my impressionable youth. I am concerned here—as I am throughout the book—with issues of racial representation and Hollywood’s fondness for what I call “stigmatic blackness,” mass mediated depictions of African Americans as the dominant culture’s “low-Other.” Little Shirley Temple, whose biographer describes her as “perfect 10”—“everything parents want their children to be”—was often surrounded onscreen by imperfect black caricatures, whose dark skin, bulging black eyes, lumbering gaits, and stammering speech worked to highlight Temple’s snow-white perfection and overdetermined precocity.

This excerpt from page 99 critiques a scene from The Littlest Rebel (1935) in which the distinction between perfect-10 whiteness and stigmatic blackness is played out in the contrast between Temple as Virginia “Miss Virgie” Cary, the bright, bubbly plantation mistress who is celebrating her birthday in the big house with ice cream and cake served by waiting slaves played by Willie Best and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the latter of whom entertains the birthday girl and her guests with a buck-and-wing tap dance on command.
Called from the lavish festivities inside, Miss Virgie is met on the front porch of her plantation manor by a group of slave children who have come to the big house bearing birthday greetings and a gift for their little mistress. But Sally Ann, the designated spokesperson, can’t manage to get out the simple salutation. Although older and much taller than the diminutive Miss Virgie, Sally Ann stumbles over a simple and presumably well-rehearsed greeting. “Miss Virgie. Please, ma’am,” Sally Ann says. “We all done come hereto wish you many happy... happy...”

“Returns,” the bubbly, hyper-articulate Miss Virgie interjects.

“That’s it,” Sally Ann musters. “We all done made you a doll and here it is,” she adds, holding out a black golliwog rag doll. “There was more I had to say, but, Mammy, I forgot it,” she cries, dissolving into tears and burying her face in Mammy’s skirt.

The magnanimous Miss Virgie, cradling the black doll against her white dress, tells Sally Ann not to worry: “This is the very nicest present I got. Thank you ever so much.” She exits, promising over her shoulder to save Sally Ann and the other slave children some birthday cake, which makes [them] dance with joy. As a child watching the film on TV in the 1950s and ’60s, I might have thought Miss Virgie’s promise of birthday cake played like a modern-day version of Marie Antoinette’s apocryphal pronouncement “let them eat cake.” But as a critic, I know the gesture is meant to make Miss Virgie loom all the larger for her largess to dimwitted [slaves], who thrill at the thought of crumbs.
I go on to point out in the ensuing analysis that the willing deference and submission of happy slaves depicted in such scenes are critical to the ideological schemes of early cinema and wholly in keeping with the benevolent portrait of the South’s “peculiar institution” presented on television and in our textbooks and songsters at midcentury. But because Technicolored is part memoir as well as cultural critique, I also confess my own vexed relationship to Shirley Temple. As a young viewer, I didn’t worship the wunderkind child star like Pecola Breedlove, the ill-fated protagonist of Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), but I did covet those fifty-six blonde curls and that irresistible come-let-us-adore-you cuteness, even at one point asking Mrs. Ellison, the church lady who pressed and curled hair in her kitchen, to give me a headful of ringlets like Shirley. The result was an early admonishment to be careful what you wish for. I emerged from the hairdresser’s chair several hours later sporting a rat’s nest of tight, greasy coils atop my head that was anything but cute. In attempting to look like the white starlet, I had succeeded only in making my black difference ridiculous.
Learn more about Technicolored at the Duke University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Timothy J. Lombardo's "Blue-Collar Conservatism"

Timothy J. Lombardo is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of South Alabama.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and Populist Politics, and reported the following:
Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and Populist Politics examines post-World War II Philadelphia to explain how working- and middle-class whites turned to the right in the last half of the twentieth century. It focuses on the white ethnic and blue-collar supporters of Frank Rizzo, Philadelphia’s controversial police commissioner turned mayor in the 1960s and 1970s. Rizzo was an archetypal example of late twentieth-century populist conservatism and a champion of “law and order.” As police commissioner, Rizzo earned a national reputation for his tough stance on crime, the heavy-handed tactics of his police force, and his openly hostile treatment of civil rights activists. Page 99 finds then-Deputy Commissioner Rizzo commanding the police response to civil rights protests demanding the integration of Girard College, an all-white boarding school for orphaned boys in the heart of all-black North Philadelphia.

Page 99 begins by describing Girard College as looking “like a fortress, with high white walls protecting expansive grounds and mansion-like structures from the surrounding neighborhood” and calling the boarding school an “architectural manifestation of African Americans’ exclusion from the city’s white power structure.” Willed as a whites-only institution by nineteenth-century financier Stephen Girard, the integration of Girard College had long been a goal of Philadelphia’s African American community. By the mid-1960s, the effort to integrate Girard College came under the direction of the fiery leader of local NAACP, Cecil B. Moore. Outspoken and brash, Moore led daily marches outside Girard College between May and December of 1965. While his marches and speeches inspired civil rights activists, they also drew the anger of white Philadelphians that viewed Girard College as a cherished local tradition. Moore’s protests also brought him face-to-face with Frank Rizzo. The regular confrontations secured Moore’s role as the leader of the more militant movement for civil rights in Philadelphia. They also established Rizzo’s reputation as a protector of tradition among white, blue-collar Philadelphians.

The snapshot of Rizzo and Moore outside the walls of Girard College hints at the conflict at the heart of Blue-Collar Conservatism. While maybe not fully revealing “the quality of the whole,” page 99 provides a glimpse of the book’s central focus on the various ways blue-collar whites reacted and responded to the changes wrought by the civil rights movement. It also offers an early look at why Frank Rizzo became such an important figure in Philadelphia’s white blue-collar politics and the broader rise of blue-collar conservatism.
Learn more about Blue-Collar Conservatism at the University of Pennsylvania Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 1, 2018

David Kloos's "Becoming Better Muslims"

David Kloos is a researcher at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) in Leiden.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Becoming Better Muslims: Religious Authority and Ethical Improvement in Aceh, Indonesia, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Becoming Better Muslims describes a conversation I had with a young man called “Fendi.”
“My father is a good man. He hates injustice, but he is too stubborn in his opinions. If he wants to go to [the city of] Banda Aceh, he will go to Banda Aceh. Whether it rains or whether it storms, he will go. This time it is not different.”
The conversation took place in the wake of a great drama. A few days earlier, Fendi’s younger brother had been caught red-handed stealing from a large Islamic boarding school nearby. The brother was arrested, held for a few days, and the case was eventually solved within the village through a peace-making ritual. Fendi’s family was angry and distressed. The theft was petty, but Fendi’s brother was treated as a criminal. Fendi’s anger, however, was directed at his father. In his view, the treatment of his brother was due to the fact that his father had failed to maintain good relations with the head of the school, who was also one of the most powerful Islamic leaders in the province.

Fendi’s remark is indicative of a broader generational difference. More than their elders, young people like Fendi are prepared to view religious leaders as agents of the state, and thereby as brokers of power and resources. At the same time, the section on village conflicts – of which the story is part – opens up a larger discussion about religious lives as long-term “projects” of ethical formation. Personal projects of religious becoming, like other projects, lie idle sometimes, and they meet with unexpected setbacks. This is a socially accepted reality, and it is important to observe the flexibility inherent in this view in a place like Aceh, where state and religious leaders have progressively intruded in local communities and individual lives.

Because of my own age and gender, I connected well with people like Fendi. We had things in common. The prospect of a married life and a family. The conundrums of adulthood. On page 99 I express my irritation with his views and behavior. We sat behind the house, relaxed as usual, but our conversation was different in tone. It was edgy. I asked him how people would be able to stand up to the rich and powerful if everyone shared his views. I remember how he looked at me and I think he suddenly realized how little I understood. I didn’t really understand the stakes involved. He was more cool to me that evening but I was very thankful later for his patient countering of my presumptuousness during a phase of life of which he himself didn’t know exactly what to make.
Learn more about Becoming Better Muslims at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Jennifer McKitrick's "Dispositional Pluralism"

Jennifer McKitrick is Professor and Chair of Philosophy at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, where she has worked since 2004.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Dispositional Pluralism, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Dispositional Pluralism is the final page of Chapter 4, “The Metaphysics of Dispositional Pluralism,” one of the central chapters of the book. Dispositional Pluralism is the view that dispositional properties are abundant and diverse. On this view, when something has a disposition, it is such that, if it were in a certain kind of circumstance, a certain kind of effect would occur. Dispositions include such varied properties as character traits like a hero’s courage, characteristics of physical objects like a wine glass’s fragility, and characteristics of microphysical entities like an electron’s charge. Some dispositions are natural while others are non-natural. Some dispositions called “powers” are ungrounded while non-fundamental dispositions are grounded in other properties. Some dispositions manifest constantly, some of them manifest spontaneously, while others manifest only when they are triggered to do so. Some dispositions manifest by causing another dispositional property to be instantiated, while others have manifestations that involve non-dispositional properties and relations. Some dispositions are intrinsic to their bearers while others are extrinsic. Some of them are causally relevant to their manifestations while others are not. Some dispositions manifest in some particular way in particular circumstances, while other dispositions manifest in various ways in various circumstances. While some of the chapters of Dispositional Pluralism are revised versions my previous publications, Chapter 4 is all new material, in which I dig deep to uncover the metaphysical assumptions I have been making in my work for years. On page 99, I am comparing my views to Ann Whittle’s causal nominalism. While Whittle and I agree that there are fundamental counterfactual facts (what she calls functional facts), my view differs from Whittle’s in that I maintain the ontological reality of properties, non-dispositional properties, and powers. The page, and the chapter closes with the following: “This concludes my articulation of the metaphysical assumptions that underlie Dispositional Pluralism. In the following chapters, I explore the nature of manifestations and circumstances of manifestation, and go on to argue that dispositions can be extrinsic, ungrounded, and causally relevant.”
Learn more about Dispositional Pluralism at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue