Saturday, September 14, 2019

Ian Stewart's "Do Dice Play God?"

Ian Stewart was born in 1945 and educated at Cambridge (MA) and Warwick (PhD). He is an Emeritus Professor in the Mathematics Department at Warwick University, where he divides his time equally between research into nonlinear dynamics and furthering public awareness of mathematics. He is also an Emeritus Professor of Gresham College, London. He has held visiting positions in Germany, New Zealand, and the USA. He has five honorary doctorates (Open University, Westminster, Louvain, Kingston, and Brighton) and is an honorary wizard of Unseen University on Discworld.

Stewart is best known for his popular science writing—mainly on mathematical themes.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Do Dice Play God?: The Mathematics of Uncertainty, and reported the following:
The top half of page 99 finishes off a discussion of two main current approaches to probability and statistics: Frequentist and Bayesian. In the Frequentist approach, which until recently was dominant, the probability of an event quantifies the proportion of times it occurs, in the long run, after many repeated trials. In the Bayesian view, which goes back to the Presbyterian Minister Thomas Bayes in 1736, probability is a measure of how strongly we (should) believe that something is true.

The bottom half of page 99 looks at one area where Bayesian methods have a serious impact on people’s lives: criminal trials. More to the point, the misuse of Bayesian methods — notably conditional probability, the likelihood of some event occurring, given that something else has already occurred. The Prosecutor’s Fallacy confuses the probability of some event occurring to a randomly chosen person with the probability of the accused being guilty, given that the event has occurred.

The text here reads:
A court of law might seem an unlikely test ground for mathematical theorems, but Bayes’s Theorem has important applications to criminal prosecutions. Unfortunately, the legal profession largely ignores this, and trials abound with fallacious statistical reasoning. It’s ironic — but highly predictable — that in an area of human activity where the reduction of uncertainty is vital, and where well-developed mathematical tools exist to achieve just that, both prosecution and defence prefer to resort to reasoning that is archaic and fallacious. Worse, the legal system itself discourages the use of the mathematics. You might think that applications of probability theory in the courts should be no more controversial than using arithmetic to decide how much faster than the speed limit someone is driving. The main problem is that statistical inference is open to misinterpretation, creating loopholes that both prosecution and defence lawyers can exploit.
The page 99 text doesn’t work very well for Do Dice Play God?, even though the chapter concerned covers a very important topic. The reason is that no one-page selection, except perhaps from the opening chapter which outlines the contents, can convey the broad scope of this particular book. The one feature that does generalize to the rest of the book is the link between mathematical theory and human impact; in this case, that a court can convict an innocent person of a serious crime — such as a mother murdering her own children, or a nurse murdering dozens of hospital patients — on the basis of flawed mathematics, even when there is absolutely no other corroborative evidence.

The book is about a much broader topic: uncertainty. It concentrates on the many different mathematical techniques that have been developed, over the ages, to help us manage uncertainty, reduce it, remove it, or exploit it. Probability and statistics represent only one of six ‘Ages of Uncertainty’ that provide a loose organisational structure to a widely ranging discussion. Page 99 gives a false impression because its scope is too limited.

In the first Age of Uncertainty, we were at the mercy of the natural world, subject to fires, floods, earthquakes, famine, hurricanes, and tsunamis — not to mention the unpredictable ravages of other people, such as an invading army. Unable to control these things, an evolving priesthood invented belief systems, attributing such events to the will of the gods. The priests claimed the ability to predict what the gods would do, or even to influence their decisions, based on methods such as examining the liver of a sacrificed animal.

This first age is still with us, perhaps in more sophisticated forms, but for most practical purposes it has given way to the second Age of Uncertainty: the scientific method. Planets don’t wander about the sky according to godly whim: they follow regular elliptical orbits, aside from tiny disturbances that they inflict on each other. Uncertainty is merely temporary ignorance. With enough effort and thought, we can work out the underlying laws and predict what once was hidden from human knowledge.

Science forced us to find an effective way to quantify how certain or uncertain an event is, and how errors affect observations. This opened up a new branch of mathematics: probability theory. The theory grew from the needs and experiences of gamblers, who wanted a better grasp of ‘the odds’, and astronomers, who wanted to obtain accurate observations from imperfect telescopes. Probability, and its applied arm of statistics, dominated the third Age of Uncertainty, and led to a revolution: the application of statistics to large-scale human behaviour.

The fourth Age of Uncertainty arrived at the start of the 20th century. Until then, it was assumed that uncertainty reflected human ignorance. If we were uncertain about something, it was because we didn’t have the information needed to predict it. New discoveries in fundamental physics forced us to revise that view. According to quantum theory, sometimes the information we need simply isn’t available, because even Nature doesn’t know it.

The fifth Age of Uncertainty emerged when mathematicians and scientists realised that even when you know the exact laws that govern some system, it can still be unpredictable, because unavoidable errors in observations can grow exponentially and swap the true prediction. This is ‘chaos theory’, and it explains such things as why weather is so unpredictable, even though we understand the basic physics that it involves.

We have now entered the sixth Age of Uncertainty, characterised by the realisation that uncertainty comes in many forms, each being comprehensible to some extent. We now possess an extensive mathematical toolkit to help us make sensible choices in a world that’s still horribly uncertain. ‘Big data’ is all the rage, although right now we’re better at collecting it than we are at doing anything useful with it. Our mental models can now be augmented with computational ones.

The story of these six ages spans a wide range of human activity, and many branches of science. In particular, quantum uncertainty is still not properly understood, mainly because we don’t really know how to model an observation of a quantum system. I cover this ground in two chapters: first the orthodox story, then the unorthodox alternatives currently emerging. The topics in the book range from reading entrails to SatNav, from gambling with dice to fake news, from statistical regularities in human behaviour to the widely misunderstood difference between weather and climate.

We’re beginning to recognise that the world is much more complex than we like to imagine, and everything is interconnected. Every day brings new discoveries about uncertainty, in its many different forms and meanings, and new methods to help us deal with it. The science of uncertainty is the science of the future.
Visit Ian Stewart's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 13, 2019

Victor Fan's "Extraterritoriality"

Victor Fan is Senior Lecturer at Film Studies, King's College London and Film Consultant of the Chinese Visual Festival. His articles have appeared in journals including Camera Obscura, Journal of Chinese Cinemas, Screen and Film History: An International Journal. He is the author of Cinema Approaching Reality: Locating Chinese Film Theory (2015). Besides his academic works, Fan is also a composer, theatre director and filmmaker.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Extraterritoriality: Locating Hong Kong Cinema and Media, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Ann Hui, Shu Kei and Wong Chi are not modernists. Rather, they use the classical Hollywood paradigm to invite their viewers to live with characters who are reduced to a socio-politically deindividuated, desubjectivised, and deautonomised position. Giorgio Agamben calls such a position a bare life or homo sacer, a life identified by the rest of the community as an outsider, which can be kept alive, persecuted, ostracised, or even killed without breaking the communal law. Julia Kristeva calls such a life abject. The abject is part of me (the subject) that I eject. Facing the abject, I feel disgusted and am eager to objectify it. Yet, it has once been part of me and it has once formed––and still does––a relationship with me. In biological terms, bodily fluids such as vomit, phlegm, excrement, blood, and semen can be regarded by a subject as abject. In political terms, refugees, illegal immigrants, queers or even women are often perceived and treated by the larger community as such. Yet, becoming abject is not the end of all hopes. Instead, the abject figures in Hui’s works come to terms with their own extraterritorial positions and form alternative kinships with one another, thus suggesting that a new sense of agency can be generated from their state of deindividuation and desubjectivisation.

‘The Boy from Vietnam’, together with feature films Hu Yue de gushi [Wu Jyut dik gwusi or The Story of Woo Viet, 1981] and Touben nuhai [Tauban nouhoi or Boat People, 1982], are now known as Hui’s Vietnam trilogy. Hui’s trilogy was inspired by the influx of Vietnamese refugees (later renamed boatpeople) into Hong Kong between 1978 and 1989. After the Fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975, ethnic Chinese, especially middle-class families in the South, were increasingly targeted in the new government’s economic and political reforms. By 1978, many of them were sent to the New Economic Zones, remote areas where they were forced to clear landmines in order to cultivate the land. In May 1978, a large number of ethnic Chinese began to leave Vietnam by boat. Some of them reached Hong Kong directly or via Mainland China. Those who had relatives or were picked up at the sea by vessels registered in Hong Kong could apply for permanent residency. Otherwise, they would stay in refugee camps for resettlement in Europe or North America. On 11 June 1979, there were 51,400 Vietnamese refugees waiting for resettlement, and only 3,400 were successfully resettled. [footnotes omitted]
The first paragraph cited here serves as a good window onto the key conceptual framework of my book and the second paragraph gives browsers a taste of the kind of cinematic and media works examined. In my monograph, I argue that as a geopolitical community, Hong Kong has been historically and socio-politically set up as a zone of exception. It is best seen as a liminal space doubly occupied by two conflicting sovereign authorities––China and the United Kingdom––which have exercised their political powers over its biopolitical lives, ironically, by abandoning them outside their respective territories. For these lives, political individuation, subjectivisation, and autonomisation are perpetually deferred. Hong Kongers are neither Chinese nor British, at once Chinese and British. Their state of double occupancy and double abandonment have therefore rendered them homines sacri or abject.

Under these conditions, Hong Kong cinema and media are therefore best understood as a public sphere, where complex and mutually contesting affects generated by their audience’s extraterritorial positions are negotiated. My book traces through the history of Hong Kong cinema and media (including television and video art) from 1967 (the Leftist Riots) to 2016 (the aftermath of the Umbrella Movement in 2014). It analyses how filmmakers and spectators have developed aesthetics and strategies to mediate their affective responses to their various modes of extraterritoriality. Page 99 is taken from a chapter on the television phase of the Hong Kong New Wave during the second half of the 1970s. In this chapter, I examine the experimental cinema of Tang Shu-hsuen and the televisual works by Patrick Tam/Ivy Ho and Ann Hui. I especially focus on how women filmmakers and screenwriters adopt different stylistic strategies in order to enable themselves, their female spectators and characters to speak as women without any interlocutors, a concern not only interested filmmakers in Hong Kong and elsewhere during the 1970s.
Visit Victor Fan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Christopher W. Shaw's "Money, Power, and the People"

Christopher W. Shaw is an author, historian, and policy analyst. He has a Ph.D. in History from the University of California, Berkeley, and is the author of Money, Power, and the People: The American Struggle to Make Banking Democratic (2019) and Preserving the People’s Post Office (2006). His research on the history of banking, money, labor, agriculture, social movements, and the postal system has been published in the following academic journals: Journal of Policy History, Journal of Social History, Agricultural History, Enterprise & Society, Kansas History, and Journalism History.

Shaw applied the “Page 99 Test” to Money, Power, and the People and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book provides a snapshot of the debate over the Federal Reserve Act. Bankers wanted a single central bank that they would control. But public opposition to financial monopoly yielded a compromise that President Woodrow Wilson endorsed, which recognized public authority by establishing a supervisory board of presidential appointees to govern twelve Federal Reserve Banks.

In the summer of 1913, this contest was fought out in the Democratic Party's caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bankers' congressional opponents wanted the legislation to further curb the power of bankers and make farm loans more affordable. Among the reforms they proposed was an amendment banning individuals from serving on multiple banks' board of directors. House Democrats who supported the administration's bill managed to sidetrack this amendment, setting the stage for the pivotal moment in the caucus's deliberations. Among the bankers' most prominent political opponents was William Jennings Bryan—the three-time Democratic presidential nominee then serving as secretary of state. However, eager to support President Wilson, Bryan announced that he backed the existing legislative compromise, revealing that the bankers' congressional opponents lacked the support of a critical figure, and clearing the way for the bill's subsequent passage in the House.

The Page 99 test identifies a central theme of my book: political resistance to bankers. Because the actors on this page are bankers, congressmen, and Bryan, however, the grassroots political activism that is crucial to my book is not spotlighted. Working people not only exerted the political pressure that forced bankers to compromise over the Federal Reserve Act, they also compelled the establishment of the predecessor of today's Farm Credit System. Workers and farmers would play a similarly crucial role in securing financial reform during the New Deal.
Visit Christopher W. Shaw's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

James Lindley Wilson's "Democratic Equality"

James Lindley Wilson is assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Democratic Equality, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Democratic Equality distinguishes two ways in which people can treat others as authorities. In one way, we treat other people’s expectations of certain kinds of treatment as authoritative. For instance, you expect that I don’t tread on your feet on the subway, and I treat that expectation as authoritative when I take it as determining what I should do (e.g., stepping carefully). In another way, we treat other people as authoritative, when we take their decisions about what we ought to do as playing an important role in determining what we should do. For instance, you tell me that we should go get an ice cream, and I treat that decision as weighty in my deliberations about what we should do together. I then begin to explain my view that true democracy requires that citizens equally share authority in the sense of authority of persons. One important consequence of this is that representatives should see themselves as tasked with doing what their constituents believe the representative ought to do, not with simply advancing the constituents’ interests.

Page 99 presents a central thesis of the book—that equal authority is a morally central part of democracy. It moves directly between philosophical clarification of ideas and practical consequences for democratic ethics. Page 99 is from a chapter that’s a bit heavier on the clarification, because I introduce a new way of thinking about the authority of persons. I suggest that we can obligate others to attend positively to our views about what to do without putting them under obligations to obey us. (I don’t have an obligation to obey your verdict that we should go for ice cream, but, if we are friends, I ought to take your judgment seriously, and engage with it in various ways.) This way of thinking about the mutual authority of citizens is suitable for a democracy of equals, or so I think.

Page 99 gives a flavor of how this clarification of ideas can help develop a moral argument about how we should pursue democratic reform. But it does not alert the reader to the fact that the book takes up many of these political questions in some detail (by philosopher standards, at least!). Later chapters discuss, among other issues, proportional representation, racial vote dilution, gerrymandering, and campaign finance regulation. Earlier chapters try to ground these more concrete discussions in a wider ideal of citizen equality.

Page 99 catches the discussion in the middle of movement between the wider ideal and the concrete applications. The page shows how painstaking it can be to make this movement. But I hope it also reflects how fascinating it can be to reflect on how our democratic aspirations involve ideals drawn from familiar features of our social life. There is something democratic in this very idea that most of us understand what it is to be treated like an equal, and are fit to judge our political conditions accordingly.
Learn more about Democratic Equality at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 9, 2019

Jennifer A. Herdt's "Forming Humanity"

Jennifer A. Herdt is Gilbert L. Stark Professor of Christian Ethics and Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Yale University Divinity School.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Forming Humanity: Redeeming the German Bildung Tradition, and reported the following:
On page 99 the reader is deeply embroiled in Johann Gottfried Herder’s political theology. In what sense can humankind be, or become, the image of God? While Herder is often seen as shedding a conception of Bildung as the divine (re)formation of humankind in favor of a secularized understanding of Bildung as a purely human process of self-realization, on page 99 we learn why this is too simplistic. Herder’s understanding of Bildung is rooted in earlier medieval Christian humanism’s understanding of human beings as active participants in the cosmic reditus or return of creation to God. But this notion of human participatory activity is given a more dynamic historical and political expression by Herder and others in the Bildung tradition; it is a teleological process by which immanent powers unfold and interact throughout the universe: “the more you recognize perfection, goodness, and beauty,” writes Herder, “the more these living forms will form [bilden] you to an image [Nachbilde] of God in your earthly life.” Politically, this yields a consociational, communitarian vision. “Humanity,” the telos of Bildung, is realized in myriad forms of human culture and community, creating increasingly complex webs of interconnection that are capable of harmonious coexistence insofar as they prove capable of mutual recognition in all their embedded particularity. Simply put, ideal humanity is essentially plural, not singular.

What page 99 cannot convey to the reader is the broader narrative arc of the book, which begins long before Herder, in Greek paideia, Latin humanitas, and medieval Christian conformatio, moves through Meister Eckhart’s yearning to transcend images, Paracelsian epigenesis, and Pietist suspicions of human image-making, and engages competing conceptions of Bildung at work in Wilhelm von Humboldt’s religion of art, Schiller’s aesthetic education, Goethe’s exemplary Bildungsroman, and Hegel’s metaphysical project of reconciliation. Yet however partial and bewildering a starting point, this page is critical to the book’s broader claim that the Bildung tradition from Herder to Hegel drew on inherited theological notions of humankind’s creation in the image of God while rejecting suspicions of human creativity and imag-ination. This, in turn, is central to Forming Humanity’s aim of assembling usable resources for a dialogical humanism adequate to our own historical moment. So the page 99 test comes out rather well, on the whole.

Of course there is much more to be said. While Herder helps us envision a pluralistic cosmopolitanism worthy of endorsement, his thought can no more be uncritically retrieved than that of anyone else in the Bildung tradition. Herder’s most egregious failure lies in his naively providentialist view of history; he assumes that historical progress is assured, whatever the ups and downs along the way. Historical conflicts further a process of equilibration that issues in harmony. Herder’s providentialism thus justified past evils or present injustices as serving the progress of humankind.

Why redeem such a troubled tradition of reflection? Because the best anti-humanism is itself a renewed humanism. Our best critiques of existing notions of our common humanity, past and present, are forms of immanent criticism. Essential as it is to diagnose the ways in which the powerful make over the world in their own image, erecting their own identity and values as the ideally human, it is equally indispensable to arrive at more adequate conceptions of the human, that vindicate the humanity—and hence the equal dignity—of the marginal and dispossessed. Dialogical humanism thrives on what Paul Gilroy, in his own recent defense of humanism, has called “heteropathic identification.” So long as we recognize “perfection, goodness, and beauty” only in our own image, we ourselves are not yet fully human.
Learn more about Forming Humanity at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Alexandra Minna Stern's "Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate"

Alexandra Minna Stern is a Professor in the Department of American Culture at the University of Michigan. She also holds appointments in the Departments of History, Women's Studies, and Obstetrics and Gynecology, and directs the Sterilization and Social Justice Lab housed in the Department of American Culture.

Stern applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate: How the Alt-Right Is Warping the American Imagination, and reported the following:
Page 99 is a revealing prism on to key ideas in my book, including the centrality of race realism to white nationalism, and how "diversity" functions as the bĂȘte noire for the alt-right. I show how extreme disdain for diversity, combined with anxieties over changing demographics in America, fuels assertions about impending white extinction. These ideas undergird the alt-right equation that "diversity equals white genocide" and sit at the core of emergent, reactionary "white identity politics."

This page also connects the alt-right anti-diversity mindset to a longer trajectory of eugenic thinking, that espouses that race and intelligence are fixed attributes, immutable to change. This fatalistic attitude is part and parcel of "race realism," which I examine in the context of sociology and behavioral genetics in subsequent pages.

Yet the test has limitations, as page 99 does not capture the gist of the chapter as a whole, which focuses on the depraved gender politics of the alt-right, and the alt-light, both of which engage in caricatured anti-feminism and explicitly or implicitly celebrate patriarchy and traditionalism.

Overall, I'd give the page 99 test a B+, at least for this book.
Visit Alexandra Minna Stern's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Julie Guthman's "Wilted"

Julie Guthman is Professor of Social Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her books include Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California and Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism.

Guthman applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Wilted: Pathogens, Chemicals, and the Fragile Future of the Strawberry Industry, and reported the following:
As luck would have it, on page 99 of my book you find a photograph and some summary language of the preceding pages. The main paragraph you read states a key paradox of the use of mitigation measures for chemical fumigation of agricultural fields: that they exist to enable chemical use not to reduce it. The next paragraph, which only begins on this page, summarizes several arguments about the weakness of U.S. agro-chemical regulation. Here we read that it has allowed easy substitutions (if a particular chemical is restricted another potentially as toxic takes it place), that it exists more to manage these chemicals than to eliminate them, that it has largely disregarded populations with little recourse to contest chemical use violations, and that toxicity assessments neglect cumulative and interactive exposures. The photo helps illustrate some of these points, as it shows an agricultural field with tarps, designed to keep chemical fumigants in the ground and not expose those nearby, ripped from the wind.

If you opened my book on page 99, you would learn about one aspect of what the book is about – restrictions on fumigation. And you would see that the book isn’t light reading, but some sort of scholarly analysis. But you wouldn’t know what fumigation is and what it is for, and that these restrictions threaten some industry as well as enable it. And you certainly wouldn’t know that the book is primarily about the many converging crises facing the California strawberry industry, only one of which is restrictions on fumigation. So the test works in terms of signaling something about the book, but gives you no context. I would still take that as a “pass” of the page 99 test.

Wilted is written by a geographer (me) with an abiding scholarly interest in the political economy of California agriculture and the contradictory pressures of supplying so much of the country’s fresh fruits and vegetables while doing so in less toxic and more land-sustaining ways. In Wilted, I focus on the fate of the strawberry industry, which supplies 88% of US strawberries, most of which are grown within a few miles of the Pacific Ocean, competing with suburbanites for land. The industry’s earlier success come from innovations in plant breeding, soil fumigation, irrigation, and more, which together have improved upon the natural advantages of the sandy soil and climate of the California coast to produce nearly year round harvests. Growers have enjoyed exceptional profits and consumers have enjoyed the affordability of a fruit that kids love to eat. Today, however, many of the industry’s earlier advantages have morphed into threats, including the tighter restrictions on soil fumigants discussed on page 99. Chemical fumigants have long allowed growers to manage a number of soil-borne diseases and pests and plant year after year on the same blocks of land. Making things even more difficult, these restrictions have converged with several other threats discussed elsewhere in the book. Together, these have made the future of the industry highly uncertain – and thus also the future availability of affordable strawberries.
Learn more about Wilted at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Byron E. Shafer & Regina L. Wagner's "The Long War over Party Structure"

Byron E. Shafer is Hawkins Chair of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Regina L. Wagner is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Long War over Party Structure: Democratic Representation and Policy Responsiveness in American Politics, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford did not have the social sciences in mind, with their need to blend text and evidence at every point, when he suggested the Page 99 Thesis. Or perhaps he did, and he meant to alert readers that what is being conveyed in these books must be a compound of interpretation and evidence.

In that sense, it is pages 99 and 100 of The Long War over Party Structure that are his introductory sample. A reader who cuts into the story there meets the political ideologies of the ordinary American, not of scholars and theorists. With an eye on current politics, what stands out is the long-running presence of a strong streak of Populism. Once, this Populism was one of two fundamental strands in American politics. For a long time, it has instead been suppressed by political activists in both parties, but the data—not to mention current experience?— suggest that it never went away.

The argument about ideology is nested in a larger argument, keyed in the title of the book, about changes in the way political parties connect public preferences with the real activities of government. And this builds on a huge, data-driven, irony. Forty years of attempts to ‘open up’ politics by increasing the clout of issue activists have come at the expense of a general public that has a lot more to think about in its daily life than politics. A party system that once focused on delivering concrete rewards to partisans, from party officials drawn from local community organizations, has been successfully replaced by a party system focused on mobilizing intense, independent, issue activists, for whom rank and file citizens and their daily lives are in effect the enemy.
Learn more about The Long War over Party Structure at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 2, 2019

Martin S. Flaherty's "Restoring the Global Judiciary"

Martin S. Flaherty is the Leitner Family Professor of International Human Rights Law and founding codirector of the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School. He is also a longtime visiting professor at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He lives in New York City.

Flaherty applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Restoring the Global Judiciary: Why the Supreme Court Should Rule in U.S. Foreign Affairs, and reported the following:
Anyone opening Restoring the Global Judiciary at page 99 will find a discussion of the Supreme Court’s epic decision, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer. In that case, a majority of the Justices held that President Harry Truman could not order the seizure of the country’s steel mills in the face of an imminent nationwide strike in the midst of the Korean War. The specific passage on this recounts how some of the Justices came to this conclusion. Justice Hugo Black, writing for the Court, famously relied on a strict reading of the Constitution’s text provided the president no authority for his attempted action. Justice Felix Frankfurter, no less famously, goes on to argue that how the Constitution has operated over time supplements the text, but in this instance finds nothing to help Truman. Just after this page, the book goes on to review Justice Robert Jackson’s opinion, which proved to be the most thoughtful, eloquent, and enduring.

Despite stopping just short of Jackson, the page offers a superb window in the the overall book. Restoring the Global Judiciary argues that the Supreme Court once did, and once again should, take a much more active role in cases involving foreign affairs. The point holds with special force when the courts are called upon to check the overreaching of the president or Congress, when fundamental rights are at stake, or both. Youngstown is perhaps the Court’s most famous and relevant illustration of what Restoring the Global Judiciary advocates. For that reason, it is something of a threat that runs throughout the work.

With Youngstown as a point of departure, the book makes three basic argument in support of the decision’s approach. First, it argues that the Founding generation intended the doctrine of separation of powers to apply as full to foreign as domestic affairs, with the corollary that the courts should uphold the law in cases before them. Second, the book notes that two hundred years of practice has put pressure on this understanding, thanks mainly to the expansion of the presidency as the US became of world power, but that this pressure should be resisted. Third, the book makes a complex argument that modern international relations theory gives a further reason for a robust judicial role. Finally, Restoring the Global Judiciary shows how these precepts should apply to modern doctrine, not least the Youngstown decision itself.
Learn more about Restoring the Global Judiciary at the Princeton University Press website, and follow Martin Flaherty on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Jeffrey S. Adler's "Murder in New Orleans"

Jeffrey S. Adler is professor of history and criminology, as well as distinguished teaching scholar, at the University of Florida.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Murder in New Orleans: The Creation of Jim Crow Policing, and reported the following:
Murder in New Orleans explores the collision of violence, race, and criminal justice in the South’s largest city from 1920 to 1945. It analyzes changing patterns of violence and policing, charting the impact of the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, racial segregation, Jim Crow, and World War II. In the wake of World War I, New Orleans experienced a series of counter-intuitive trends in crime and punishment that combined to generate mushrooming racial disparities in law enforcement and criminal justice, eerily presaging late twentieth-century developments in policing, incarceration, and race relations. Deadly violence soared during the 1920s, when the economy boomed, and, surprisingly, homicide plunged during the Great Depression, even as the economy collapsed and poverty increased. Rapidly changing trends in gun violence, spouse killing, and street life played particularly important roles in shifting levels of murder. For African American New Orleanians, policing became more aggressive and punishment more draconian precisely when crime decreased. Deteriorating race relations shaped this process, and the city’s African American community went from being under-policed to being over-policed, in inverse proportion to rates of criminal violence. At the start of the era, African American murder skyrocketed, but policemen, prosecutors, and jurors routinely ignored this violence; local courts convicted white homicide suspects more frequently than African Americans, and police brutality mainly targeted white suspects. By the 1930s, the patterns had reversed. African American violence plummeted, yet horrific racial disparities developed, with African American New Orleanians far more often beaten and killed by the police, convicted at higher rates, and incarcerated for longer terms. In New Orleans, the roots of the modern carceral state began to emerge during the 1920s and 1930s, when trends in law enforcement and punishment bore scant connection to patterns of crime.

Page 99 explores a crucial component of the argument in Murder in New Orleans, explaining why African American violence plummeted during the 1930s, despite worsening poverty and deteriorating race relations in the city. This portion of the book focuses on the social pressures that reduced African American gun violence.

The larger argument in Murder in New Orleans, however, connects this decrease in lethal violence to larger trends in law enforcement. Precisely as the African American homicide rate plunged, local officials and white commentators insisted that African American New Orleanians posed a growing threat to the safety of white residents and to social order in the city. As a result, municipal policemen became increasingly aggressive and violent toward African Americans. Police shootings surged; coercive interrogations became more commonplace, race-based mass arrests emerged in a core response to robberies and burglaries in the city. Racial disparities in prosecutions, convictions, and executions ballooned as well. Ironically, Jim Crow criminal justice emerged at the same time that African American crime dropped precipitously. Crime and punishment in interwar New Orleans shifted in opposite, counter-intuitive ways, redefining the relationship between race and the law in the city and presaging the age of mass incarceration.
Learn more about Murder in New Orleans at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue