Thursday, February 11, 2016

Sarah A. Tobin's "Everyday Piety: Islam and Economy in Jordan"

Sarah A. Tobin is the Associate Director of Middle East Studies at Brown University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Everyday Piety: Islam and Economy in Jordan, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Everyday Piety: Islam and Economy in Jordan is a wonderful window into the larger book. The page starts out describing the Islamic veiling practices of an employee at an Islamic bank named Eman. As a practicing Muslim who did not wear the head covering outside of her place of employment but was required to do so at work (and did so in with an unusual fashion style), Eman was subject of much ridicule and derisive comments by other employees at the bank.

The case of Eman found on page 99 demonstrates two aspects of the larger book. First, it reveals much about the ethnical underpinnings of one of the book’s ethnographic cases – the Islamic head covering, or hijab, in Jordan. The guiding, normative principle at play is that women experience much pressure to don the hijab, which is made even more pronounced by employment at an Islamic bank. The way that many women opt to get around this and avoid this expectation is by indicating that they respect the hijab so much and take it so seriously that they are not “ready yet” to put it on. This calculated practice is tested in Eman’s case and reveals the limitations of it.

Secondly, this case demonstrates the larger argument of the book, which is that while Muslims in Jordan are Islamizing their economic activity – such as through the Islamic banking and finance industry and Islamized consumption – they are also economizing their religious life. This means that such actions in one’s religious life – donning the hijab, fasting for Ramadan, praying and comporting oneself as an “authentic” Muslim – are subject to a whole host of economic calculations of maximizing rewards, limiting risk, and cost-benefit analysis. This neoliberalization of pious life, I argue, is the everyday piety for middle class Muslims in Jordan and beyond.
Learn more about Everyday Piety: Islam and Economy in Jordan at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Richard L. Hasen's "Plutocrats United"

Richard L. Hasen is Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine. In 2013 he was named one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America by the National Law Journal.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and the Distortion of American Elections, and reported the following:
The Page 99 test works well for my book, because this page tells the story of one of our new Plutocrats, created by the United States Supreme Court. He's Shaun McCutcheon, a businessman who sued for a right to give $1,776 to every single of the hundreds of Republican candidates running for Congress. The Supreme Court eventually agreed with him, in a case known as McCutcheon v. FEC, holding that the government violates the First Amendment by limiting the overall amount contributions a person can give to federal candidates in a single election. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the opinion for the Court's five conservatives, and celebrated elected officials being responsive to the interests of donors, an argument I find quite troubling.

In Plutocrats United, I argue instead for the constitutionality and desirability of caps on campaign spending. I also want to give every voter $100 in campaign finance vouchers to contribute in elections.

Here is the excerpt from page 99:
"Though rich," Collins and Skover tell us, "McCutcheon cannot be counted among the super-rich." They quote McCutcheon as saying, "I do not come from a rich family."

Not "super-rich"? Anyone who can spend $384,000 in campaign contri­butions and have enough left over to finance a lawsuit is plenty rich, even if not at Sheldon Adelson's or George Soros's levels. In 2011 the amount Mc­Cutcheon spent on federal elections was more than seven times the annual median U.S. household income. It was just shy of the amount of annual income it took to fall in the top one percent of wage earners. But $384,000 was not McCutcheon's income; it was the amount he could spare that year for political activities (and only those that were related to federal elections and were reported).

Shaun McCutcheon asserts a right to maximize his influence over elec­tions and policy by spending as much as he can afford on political activities. Millions of other Americans feel just as passionately about politics and pol­icy but lack McCutcheon's means. As Professor John Shockley wrote of the Buckley decision, "In thus striking down limits on expenditures the Court freed the wealthy to engage in significant use of the most effective modes of communication. But what are the Justices saying about the great majority of the American people who cannot spend more than $1,000 on candidates they support? By the Court's own words, a majority of the American people are excluded from effective communication."
Spending limits stop wealthy people such as McCutcheon from spend­ing unlimited sums in political campaigns, but their purpose is to promote political equality and deter corruption. A $25,000 contribution limit per election per candidate (actually $50,000 each for a primary and a general elec­tion) is quite generous for a system also committed to political equality. The same can be said of an upper limit of $500,000 on all federal elections in a two-year period, aimed at stopping the richest of the rich from having totally outsized influence over federal elections, but generous to be sure.

Many readers may find these limits too generous.

If you too are troubled by Shaun McCutcheon's argument, you might find the rest of the book of interest.
Learn more about Plutocrats United at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 8, 2016

Caroline Shaw's "Britannia's Embrace"

Caroline Shaw is Assistant Professor of History at Bates College.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Britannia's Embrace: Modern Humanitarianism and the Imperial Origins of Refugee Relief, and reported the following:
From page 99:
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the British were well versed in refugee affairs. A coherent narrative instructed the public how to recognize and respond to persecuted foreigners. Yet, there was a practical problem at the core of their template for refuge. British responses to refugee crises were built on sensation. As Italian exile Count Pecchio wryly noted, once a particular crisis was old news, refugees were in danger of being forgotten entirely.

Few relief societies, formed in the moment of crisis, were prepared for the longue durée of exile. What would happen to the refugees when the crowds dispersed? When the powerful narrative that obscured differences of class, race, and religion found new heroes to lionize? When refugees began to look more like paupers than independent freedom fighters? Or when they found work at the alleged expense of native-born Britons? There were few cases where refugees could be repatriated before relief offers were depleted. Impoverishment could follow quickly for those who were not poor already. Writing in 1853, Chartist George Julian Harney deplored this dark reality. Harney noted that foreign refugees were free to come to Britain; once there, they were “free to starve.”

The prospect of integrating large and diverse groups of foreigners into British society on a more permanent basis was daunting from the start. As time passed, popular commentaries on refugee affairs became suffused with the very politics of class, race, and religion that was set aside in the excitement of the initial turn to refuge. Given these difficulties, why did philanthropists and public commentators remain optimistic about the prospects of British refuge? Why…
The Page 99 Test works well for Britannia’s Embrace: Modern Humanitarianism and the Imperial Origins of Refugee Relief. Page 99 is the first page of chapter four, “Taking Refuge in Empire,” a chapter that draws out and explores a critical development to the argument of the first half of the book.

The book as a whole argues that the British refuge emerged as a powerful humanitarian norm by the early nineteenth century as a means of defining what it meant to be liberal on the global stage. In contrast to continental conservatives, Britons committed themselves to parliamentary rule; in contrast to slave-based economies, the British increasingly prided themselves on abolitionism. Where intervention in the affairs of other nations was not possible or not desirable, care for their refugees provided a way for the British to assert their liberal values, as the book’s first three chapters examine.

Chapter four begins with Italian Count Pecchio’s wry observation (in an epigraph that appears on page 98) that refugees, quick to be made into celebrities, were equally quick to disappear in London’s “omnivorous maw” as the public sensation over new refugees faded. His observation illustrates the “practical problem” that lies at the “core of their [activists’] template for refuge” (from page 99). The longue durée of refuge brought with it the challenge of enabling the refugees – carefully distinguished in British cultural politics from ordinary immigrants – to become successful, even ideal, immigrants. Setting up this central conundrum, the chapter argues that activists stressed refugees’ willingness and ability to work hard in their exile. In cases where the refugees’ presence seemed likely to strain the social fabric, activists and officials turned overseas as they often did for the British poor as well. The outposts of empire provided a critical, if sometimes problematic, site for long-term refugee resettlement. Distanced from these places of refuge, metropolitan activists could celebrate the success of their endeavors on refugees’ behalf.

The remainder of the book examines the dynamic relationship in the moral politics of refuge between resources, imperial and local politics, law, and a powerful normative claim to intercede on refugees’ behalf. Moving through the nineteenth century and peering into the twentieth, Britannia’s Embrace highlights the origins of the politics of refuge with which we are all too familiar today: refuge, always a second-best to the ending of persecution overseas, depends perilously on the short-term sensation of rescue as well as on the willingness of the hosts to engage in the longue durée of asylum.
Learn more about Britannia's Embrace at the Oxford University Press website.

Cover story: Britannia's Embrace.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Tonio Andrade's "The Gunpowder Age"

Tonio Andrade is a historian living in Decatur, Georgia, where he teaches at Emory University. His books include Lost Colony and How Taiwan Became Chinese.

Andrade applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Gunpowder Age is about walls. Medieval walls. Ancient walls. Chinese walls. European walls.

The fundamental question of The Gunpowder Age is why China, which had once been the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world, fell behind the West, making it vulnerable to British, French, German, American, and Russian imperialism in the nineteenth century. Many authors blame China’s traditional Confucian culture, believing it to have been hostile to military development and to foreign innovations. China experts have increasingly noted that this is not likely to be true, and my research supports this new view: Confucianism was on the whole not inimical to military pursuits, and the book introduces many Confucian scholars and officials who were fascinated by military matters, who became great generals and innovators, who adopted new technologies, tactics, and techniques, and who wrote about their discoveries and experiments in detail. China’s vibrant military traditions have generally been neglected in historical work, and it is important to call attention to them. But this doesn’t solve the question. If Confucianism doesn’t explain the military divergence between China and Europe, what does?

Walls, it turns out, may be part of the answer. Historians have argued that although Europeans learned about guns from China, they quickly became far better at making and using guns than the Chinese. What I found, however, is that the Chinese maintained a superiority in gun use far longer than historians have presumed, but only insofar as handheld guns were concerned. Whereas Europeans did not generally use guns in field battles during the 1300s and 1400s, Chinese did. There were around 120,000 gun-bearing units in Ming armies circa 1400, and they were present in far higher proportions (relative to traditionally-armed units) in China than in the West.

But if Westerners lagged behind China in the use of guns on the battlefield, they became good at using guns in other ways: specifically the use of artillery to blast down walls. Whereas Chinese guns stayed small, Western guns became very large indeed, and very powerful.

Why? Not because the Chinese were poor metallurgists or lacked access to iron or brass. The answer, I believe, has to do with walls. Page 99 of The Gunpowder Age compares medieval European to Chinese walls. The Chinese walls were an order of magnitude thicker and were constructed much more resiliently than were European walls. This tradition of thick wall building was present in China long before the invention of guns – it is an ancient heritage – but Chinese walls were so thick that even the most powerful siege guns of Europe would have had little effect on them. In fact, in the course of the late 1400s and early 1500s, Europeans began building artillery-resistant walls, and those walls ended up being quite similar to those of traditional China: thick, sloped, and filled with earth.

So we don’t need to resort to Confucian culture to explain this big-gun / small-gun divergence. And so it is with the many other military divergences in this book.
Visit Tonio Andrade's website.

The Page 99 Test: Lost Colony.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Greggor Mattson’s “The Cultural Politics of European Prostitution Reform”

Greggor Mattson is associate professor of sociology at Oberlin College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Cultural Politics of European Prostitution Reform: Governing Loose Women, and reported the following:
“Smash a brothel cartel” begins page 99 of my book, a comparative account of prostitution regulations in northern European countries that, from an American perspective, seem quite similar: secular, multiparty democracies with strong welfare states and human rights protections. I conducted interviews with policymakers and administrators in four countries of the European Union: the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and Finland. Page 99 is about Germany’s prostitution law, what I call the “German compromise on sex work.” Popular and scholarly attention to prostitution policy overwhelmingly focuses on the Netherlands and Sweden as the extreme cases in an international “sex war” about whether prostitution should be legalized and regulated, as in the Netherlands, or whether buying sex should be criminalized, as in Sweden:
If prostitution in the Nordic countries was defined as gender inequality, and in the Netherlands as work, the German ruling was a compromise between important cultural principles of workers’ rights and protections for the vulnerable encoded in its welfare state.
I put these disputes in the context of national welfare legislation, which I argue are important cultural indicators for how societies protect vulnerable women. This German chapter shows how prostitution legalization is not monolithic, but operates according to local imperatives and national cultural logics. For example, German legalization was prompted by two state court rulings:
The first move toward national prostitution reforms in Germany came not from national legislation, as in Sweden or the Netherlands, or municipal reforms, as in Finland, but from two court cases. The first one occurred in 2000 when the State Court of Hesse ruled that brothel prostitutes were employees for the purposes of a compensation case. The decision clarified prostitution as an occupation requiring work permission for Frankfurt’s migration authority. In Germany, immigration is controlled at the municipal level. Concern had been building throughout the 1990s over the apparent rise in illegal migrants in Frankfurt’s brothels and a spate of spectacular crimes perpetrated by organized crime networks from other countries. The second ruling, in Berlin, ruled that prostitution was not immoral (sittenwidrigkeit) in 2001, removing the Christian jurisprudential basis by which prostitution had been prohibited. The ruling allowed Café Pssst, a hotel and bar established for prostitutes and their clients to meet, to retain its restaurant and liquor licenses. If prostitution in the Nordic countries was defined as gender inequality, and in the Netherlands as work, the German ruling was a compromise between important cultural principles of workers’ rights and protections for the vulnerable encoded in its welfare state.
This section gives a sense of the internal cultural logic of German prostitution regulation and its contrast with the Netherlands, a comparison I pursue further by noting the ostensible similarities in both countries and exposing the German words that animate their differences:
The proposal to legalize prostitution [gave] sex workers access to the health benefits, pension schemes, and unemployment benefits accorded to self-employed workers. In line with the law’s strengthened prohibitions against sexual exploitation, however, the prohibition on employment contracts between businesses and sex workers was maintained. The new law created a seeming paradox under German employment legislation by defining prostitution as a trade (Gewerbe) but not a business (Betrieb). In other words, sex work was legalized only in the context of self-employment, and sex workers could not sign contracts with an employer. This compromise marked a stark distinction with the Dutch legislation with which it is often lumped, and institutionalized a state classification that was neither purely rational, nor one with precedent in German law.
To give a sense of the logic of the German compromise, I explore its similarity to German abortion law, which is quite foreign when compared to United States discussions.
The German compromise on sex work does resemble its solution to abortion, however, in the way that the state reconciles important individual and social concerns. The German Constitutional Court ruled that fetal life is protected from conception onward, but ruled permissible a law that permits abortion through the first trimester if accompanied by counseling to persuade the woman to bear the child and a government guarantee of day care for all children three to four years of age.
Page 99 reflects the whole of the book well, by demonstrating the logic of comparing phenomena within a country case study (sex work to abortion) and the variety of ways that otherwise-similar societies attempt to organize sexuality. The rest of the book pursues these internal and external comparisons in these four countries, discusses the impact of European Union integration, and the blame heaped on globalization for preventing a coherent European response to human trafficking. While the book not yet in softcover, ask your library to obtain one today!
Learn more about Greggor Mattson at his website or follow him on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Steve Kemper's "A Splendid Savage"

Steve Kemper has been a freelance journalist for more than 30 years. His books include Code Name Ginger: the Story Behind Segway and Dean Kamen's Quest to Invent a New World and A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles Through Islamic Africa.

Kemper applied the “Page 99 Test” to his most recent book, A Splendid Savage: The Restless Life of Frederick Russell Burnham, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the first page of a chapter called “A Mine, a Wedding, a Change of Plans.” It begins with young Frederick Russell Burnham resolving to sever his connections to deadly range feuds and Mexican smuggling and to start a new life on the right side of the law. He has been pushed in this respectable direction by his recent work as a scout against rampaging Apaches in the wild Territory of Arizona. At the top of page 99 he hires out his amazing skills at scouting and woodcraft to help several Arizona sheriffs track down outlaws. By the bottom of the page, his horse gets stolen by two Mexican thieves, which will turn out badly for the bandits.

Since page 99 contains the chapter’s title, I figure it’s legal to use it to offer a glimpse ahead. The title’s first words refer to Burnham’s decision, a few pages later, to go prospecting, something he will do off and on for the rest of his life in hopes of a big strike. But at this point he just wants to find enough gold to convince his sweetheart’s father that this young drifter really is serious about marriage. He succeeds—hence, “a Wedding.”

“A Change of Plans” refers to Burnham’s impetuous decision to abandon the West for a brand-new frontier in southern Africa. He will make many such decisions in a restless life that will take him all over Africa, to the Klondike, and into the wilds of Mexico. In southern Africa, his adventures and daring exploits will make him world-famous as “the American scout,” and will bring him the Distinguished Service Order from King Edward VII as well as friendships with, among others, Cecil John Rhodes, H. Rider Haggard, Theodore Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill.

So the moment captured on page 99, when he decides to go legit, sets in motion many remarkable consequences.
Learn more about the book and author at Steve Kemper's website.

The Page 99 Test: A Labyrinth of Kingdoms.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Patrick H. Breen's "The Land Shall Be Deluged in Blood"

Patrick H. Breen is Associate Professor of History at Providence College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Land Shall Be Deluged in Blood: A New History of the Nat Turner Revolt, and reported the following:
Could Ford Madox Ford be wrong about Page 99? The thought crossed my mind as I read my discussion of number of blacks who were killed without trials as the revolt was suppressed.
How many of the 178 uncounted [by 1832 tax collectors] slaves were among the dead after the revolt? Nat Turner and twenty-nine others were found guilty by the white courts for their involvement in the revolt. They were all sentenced to die. Although some had their sentences reduced to transportation, all thirty convicted slaves were absent from the 1832 tax survey. As a result, it is likely that fewer than 148 Southampton slaves lost their lives during the period of panic and uncertainty that followed the revolt.

Primary sources, including The Confessions of Nat Turner, newspaper articles, letters from Southampton, trial notes, and petitions to the Virginia General Assembly mention between thirty-seven and thirty-nine slaves who were involved in the revolt. Of these, at least twenty-one survived long enough to be tried. Among the rebels never tried, nine men had their deaths documented: their owners and executors for their owners’ estates sought compensation for the property they lost when their slaves were killed without trial. (Since slave owners in Virginia were compensated for slaves who were executed or transported by the state, these owners argued that the owners of slaves who had been killed as the revolt was being suppressed also should have received compensation from the state.) Two other rebels were mentioned as prisoners, but their serious injuries—one newspaper described Tom as “desperately wounded and about to die”—meant that they did not survive long enough to stand trial. Add to the list three prominent rebels—Henry, Will “the executioner,” and Austin (who killed Hartwell Peebles)—whose disappearance from the record following the revolt is most readily explained by their deaths, and one can identify fourteen rebels who almost certainly died as the revolt was put down. Two more slaves—the unnamed slave who died at Samuel Blunt’s plantation and Nathaniel Francis’s Charlotte—were also killed after the revolt, bringing the minimum number of slaves who died without trial to sixteen.
The range discussed here is less important than the conclusion on the next page where I show it most likely that the number of blacks killed without trials was between thirty and forty. This is lower than most historians have thought and leads to an important question: how did it happen that whites did not kill more blacks after the revolt? My answer to this question—that the slaveholders intentionally prevented a massacre—is at a key to the second half of the book.

But the problem with Ford’s test is not that he chose page 99 instead of 100. Instead, the problem is that I am making a formal argument about the number of people killed in the aftermath of the revolt. But numbers—as important as they are—are not people, and my book is about the people and the terrible position that they found themselves in during the revolt. On page 99, names are mentioned, but I do not tell the stories of these people. Just to take one example, the unnamed slave who died at Samuel Blunt’s had been seen with a gun just as the alarm had sounded. It seems that the white man who killed him did not realize that the man had been armed to defend Blunt’s plantation. Irony is, of course, a stock technique of so many careful historians, but the irony is just one level of the story of the unnamed man’s death. This story raises the uncomfortable issue of slave loyalty: why did the unnamed man fight for the slaveholders? Was he trying to suppress the revolt? Or was he worried about what would happen if Blunt’s plantation, where his family lived, were captured by the rebels? It also raises the question of white confidence. Did the slaveholders really believe that their slaves would remain faithful to them? If so, it was a bit odd that they only distributed the guns at the moment when they heard that a rebel attack was imminent and then collected the guns from their slaves as soon as the alarm passed. These are the stories at the heart of The Land Shall Be Deluged in Blood, but you can’t find them on page 99.
Learn more about The Land Shall Be Deluged in Blood at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 1, 2016

Nina Milton's "In the Moors"

Nina Milton is most well known for her crime fiction series The Shaman Mysteries Series, published by Midnight Ink Books.

In the Moors was published in 2013 and followed by Unraveled Visions (2014). Beneath the Tor, set in the magical English town of Glastonbury was published at the end of 2015. Milton is a prize-winning short story writer and holds an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. She works in the UK for the Open College of the Arts and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Milton applied the “Page 99 Test” to In the Moors and reported the following:
I think all writers are curious about what happens when someone walks into a bookshop and opens their book at a random page. Will it stand up to incidental scrutiny? This is what I found on Page 99:
“Sabbie,” Cliff began. “Last time…you said something about…my soul?”

“Yes. I think you still feel bad because while you were in the cottage, the essence we think of as ‘soul’ broke into pieces. A massive ordeal can shatter a soul and bits of it get lost, or hidden in different places.”

“You’re saying I left my soul in that place?”

“No – it’s inside you somewhere. Just fractured, floating all apart in your spirit world. It needs healing, that’s all.”

“Something needs healing, that’s for sure.” Cliff took a shuddering breath. “When I get out of here, I want it all back. Can we do that?”

“It will take a long time. But if you feel that you could see it through…”

“I want to try.”

We were speaking quietly now, leaning towards each other, so I hardly registered that someone had come in, but Cliff’s face suddenly became the colour of my uncooked bread dough. I spun round. Rey and his sidekick Abbott were standing with their arms folded. A quip sprang to my lips – that he made a habit of bursting into rooms without knocking – but it died prematurely. Like Cliff, I took in their sombre expressions.

“We’re here to interview the prisoner,” said Rey to the policewoman at the door.
Six years ago, a new character walked into my head. Like a few of my shamanic friends, she had set up a small business. Modern day shamans usually offer therapy to people who can find help no where else. Doctors, herbalists, psychotherapists, have tried and failed to help with these people’s problems and now they are desperate. People who visit a shaman for help are often on the edge; on the edge of society, on the edge of a breakdown, or even on the edge of something darker.

The first book in the Shaman Mystery series, In the Moors opens when a child’s body is found buried in the eerie depths of the Somerset Moors. Sabbie Dare’s client, Cliff Houghton, is arrested for wandering at night over the shallow grave, now empty. Sabbie starts to work with him, and uncovers repressed memories from his childhood, but, as another small boy disappears, and fresh, damming evidence turns up at his flat, Cliff is charged with both murder and kidnap.

In the excerpt from page 99, Cliff has been brought up from police cells and Sabbie has been able to visit him alongside his solicitor, Linnet Smith. They are not discussing Cliff’s innocence – Sabbie already believes that implicitly – but the state of Cliff’s soul. Shaman understand souls; they work with them all the time. They believe that the soul is the first port of call when severe trauma hits a person. This theory does explain why childhood traumas affect us for so long – the rest of our lives, in some cases – and why we feel so badly shaken after horrid events, even if we were not touched physically. Often, the clients Sabbie sees have had their souls splintered or lost from past trauma, and it’s her job to retrieve those soul parts and help that person rebuild their life.

But the first thing Sabbie wants to do is to prove Cliff’s innocence and – if she possibly can – find the missing child. Ancient shamans were reputed to be able to find lost things…can Sabbie locate little Aidan Rodderick? Her attempts place her into deeper and deeper danger, but also throw her together with Detective Reynard Buckley, a fizzing relationship which will continue throughout the trilogy.
Visit Nina Milton's website.

Writers Read: Nina Milton.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Phaedra Daipha's "Masters of Uncertainty"

Phaedra Daipha is assistant professor of sociology at Rutgers University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Masters of Uncertainty: Weather Forecasters and the Quest for Ground Truth, and reported the following:
Masters of Uncertainty passed the test and the test passed Masters of Uncertainty. I was delighted (and somewhat relieved) to discover that page 99 can well serve as a benchmark of sorts for the book, in the sense that it nicely encapsulates how forecasters at the National Weather Service (NWS) endeavor to tackle meteorological ambiguity and uncertainty.

Right at the top of the page, I was greeted by the following passage:
It is precisely this visceral need to achieve an optimal gestalt, or “maximum grip” (Merleau-Ponty 1962, Dreyfus 1992), on the atmosphere that in practice compels NWS forecasters to oscillate between different ways of viewing the weather. Cast in this light, their habit of leaving their workstations to study the weather outside becomes central to understanding how they impose order out of the disparate and ambiguous fragments of information at their disposal.
The text next launches into a series of thickly described episodes from the field, so as to illustrate the “countless, indeed daily, instances where a forecaster would leave his workstation with the express purpose of checking on the weather outside, fully aware that a colleague had just been outside for the very same reason.”

The weather outside is forecasters’ passion and it is their nemesis. It remains forever elusive—too complex to be reconstituted and studied under controlled conditions inside, too dynamic to be perfectly predicted. To prevail over meteorological uncertainty and produce accurate and actionable weather predictions, NWS forecasters cannot afford to simply rely on the standard set of highly sophisticated information delivered to them on their computer screens. In practice, they harness a widely disparate assortment of meteorological cues to fashion a provisionally coherent representation of the future. Masters of Uncertainty takes the reader through firsthand accounts of several forecasting episodes to flesh out the dilemmas and challenges of creating weather predictions come rain or come shine. In the process, it advances a theory of decision making that foregrounds the practical and situated nature of expert cognition and casts new light on how we make decisions in the digital age.
Learn more about Masters of Uncertainty and read an excerpt from the book at The University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Kyle Smith's "Constantine and the Captive Christians of Persia"

Kyle Smith is Assistant Professor of Historical Studies and Religion at the University of Toronto and the translator of The Martyrdom and History of Blessed Simeon bar Sabba'e.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Constantine and the Captive Christians of Persia: Martyrdom and Religious Identity in Late Antiquity, and reported the following:
Every reader of this blog knows one thing about Constantine: he was the first Christian Roman emperor.

His decision to embrace Christianity certainly had a profound effect on the history of western Europe. But how did it affect Christians living outside of the Roman Empire?

Many believe that Constantine’s conversion in the early fourth century politicized religious allegiances, that it divided the newly Christian Roman Empire from the Zoroastrian Persian Empire. Some think that it even led to the persecution of Christians in what is now Iraq and Iran and that this, in turn, sparked a war between Rome and Persia.

On page 99, I explain that although we do indeed have a lot of stories about the persecution of Persian Christians we need to radically revise how we read these texts and, with it, how we understand fourth-century history.

There was no religious war between Rome and Persia. There was no persecution either.

Upon closer inspection, the many ancient texts that claim otherwise present an evocative and evolving portrait of the first Christian emperor. The literary memory of Constantine was undoubtedly very useful for shaping the political and religious identities of ancient Christian communities, but these texts have wrongly cast how we have understood the waning years of Constantine’s reign and, indeed, the emperor’s subsequent legacy.
Learn more about Constantine and the Captive Christians of Persia at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue