Monday, November 30, 2009

Kelly Oliver's "Animal Lessons"

Kelly Oliver is W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of more than fifty articles and fifteen books, including Women as Weapons of War: Iraq, Sex, and the Media; The Colonization of Psychic Space: A Psychoanalytic Theory of Oppression; and Family Values: Subjects Between Nature and Culture.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Animal Lessons: How They Teach Us to Be Human, and reported the following:
[Rousseau] also says, ‘the first cake to be eaten was the communion of the human race’ (1966 35). Here, I am more interested in Rousseau’s suggestions about the connection between diet and morality than the connections between food and civilization discussed earlier. But before moving to his remarks on pure, natural, and wholesome tastes in both food and morality, recall that Rousseau’s discussion of the diet of civilized men suggests that man become cultivated in relation to how he eats animals and also learns how and what to eat from animals. As we have seen, Rousseau repeatedly describes how man imitates animals to survive and to become more human. This assimilation of animal lessons is another form of ingestion that enables human culture and morality themselves. Derrida’s analysis of eating also revolves around the metonymy between eating and assimilation, and eating understood as assimilation leads him to the heart of the problematic of ethical relations with others. (Animal Lessons page 99)
In Animal Lessons, I distinguish between two types of eating or assimilation that speak to our relations with animals and our relations with each other: We can eat only what we need to eat in order to nourish ourselves; and we can nurture a nourishing relationship with others such that assimilation is as nourishing as possible. Or, we can kill for the sake of conquest and mount our trophies on the wall, dissect them, or train them to jump through hoops. From Rousseau and Herder to Freud and Kristeva, philosophers suggest that humanity is determined by what we eat: whether they think that we are what we eat (like Rousseau and Herder) or that we are not what we eat (like Freud and Kristeva), man becomes human by eating animals. I begin by looking back at 18th Century notions of humanity and animality that define man in terms of what he eats in order to set the stage for an investigation into how philosophies of otherness from Freud through Kristeva repeat romantic gestures that exclude and abject animals. Examining texts as varied of those of Rousseau, Herder, Freud, Heidegger, Lacan, Merleau-Ponty, de Beauvoir, Derrida, Agamben, and Kristeva, I argue that concepts of subjectivity, humanity, politics and ethics continue to be defined by the double-movement of assimilating and then disavowing the animal, animality, and animals. Even thinkers who explicitly reject romantic notions of humanism rely on an opposition between human and animal born. Indeed, animals are so radically other it seems, they cannot even stand in the place of the other in relation to the subject of philosophy. I argue that within the history of philosophy, animals remain the invisible support for whatever we take to be human subjectivity, as fractured and obscure as it becomes in the late Twentieth Century. Just as philosophers from Aristotle through Kant have used animals to support a notion of the unified or autonomous subject, in philosophies of difference, the abstract concept animal continues to work along with animal metaphors, examples, illustrations, and animal studies to support alternative notions of a split or fragmented subject. Even as these thinkers challenge the Cartesian subject and the concomitant notions of rationality, sovereignty, and individuality, they continue to rely on the human-animal divide to do so.
Learn more about Animal Lessons at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Robert Marion’s "Genetic Rounds"

Robert Marion, M.D., is a professor of pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York, is the director of clinical genetics at both the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx and Blythedale Children's Hospital, Valhalla, New York. He is the author of several published books, including the best-selling and timeless classics The Intern Blues and Learning to Play God: The Coming of Age of a Young Doctor.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Genetic Rounds: A Doctor's Encounters in the Field that Revolutionized Medicine, and reported the following:
An exploration of the human side of the Human Genome Project, Genetic Rounds is a series of essays about patients I’ve cared for during my career as a medical geneticist. Featuring medical detective work, scientific observation, and emotional encounters with patients and families, the essays are self-contained lessons, each expressing something I’ve learned from these encounters.

Page 99 is emblematic. The final page of “Relics,” which tells the story of the Kennedys, a couple who came to see me years after their only child, Sarah, had died of complications of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), page 99 restates a theme of the essay. An inherited disorder in which nerves that control every muscle in the body inexplicably disappear, the child with SMA leads a nightmarish existence: normal at birth, they develop decreased muscle tone, a decreased ability to suck, and poor weight gain. The weakness progresses, eventually leading to paralysis of muscles involved in respiration. It’s the respiratory failure that’s lethal: most children die before reaching their first birthday.

Sarah Kennedy had lived this nightmare, dying at 10 months of age. Following her death, the Kennedys, understanding that each subsequent child would have a 25% chance of also being affected, had decided not to risk having more children. They came to see me however, because, through an accident, Mrs. Kennedy had become pregnant, and before terminating what was a much-wanted pregnancy, had been referred to find out if there was any way to diagnose SMA prenatally.

At that time, although the gene responsible for SMA had not been identified, its location on chromosome 5 had been determined. Through a technique called linkage, we could tell if the current fetus had inherited the non-working genes or not. But in order to do this, we needed DNA from Sarah. And unfortunately, DNA from the infant who’d died years before was simply not available.

It was not available, that is, until Mr. Kennedy mentioned in passing that the couple had kept relics of Sarah’s life: photographs, clothing, even her hairbrush. We realized that the brush contained the child’s hair, a potential source of DNA. Working with a lab that was able to extract that DNA, we discovered that the fetus, a boy whose DNA was obtained through an amniocentesis, was free of SMA. Instead of terminating the pregnancy, Mrs. Kennedy continued it, and six months after our first encounter, she gave birth to Sean, a perfectly formed baby whose nerves worked just fine.

Page 99 summarizes all this. The final paragraph reads:
It’s kind of ironic: in its early days, amniocentesis, in fact the entire field of medical genetics, was considered something of a search-and-destroy mission. Tests were performed…; abnormalities were identified; and since no treatment was available, couples were offered little choice but to either terminate the pregnancies or continue on, knowing that they were destined to deliver a baby with serious problems. But the reality of the situation has always been more like the story of the Kennedy family: without these genetic breakthroughs coupled with our ability to detect genetic disorders prenatally, couples with SMA and other inherited disorders would remain childless. The ability to test for the presence of SMA in Sean and his younger brother and sister allowed this family to have three children who otherwise would never have been born. This is one of the important reasons that, in spite of the sadness and angst associated with this field, we clinical geneticists continue to do what we do.
Browse inside Genetic Rounds, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bryant Simon's "Everything but the Coffee"

Bryant Simon is Professor of History and the Director of American Studies at Temple University and the author of Boardwalk Dreams: Atlantic City and the Fate of Urban America and other scholarly works.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Everything But the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks and reported the following:
On page 99 of my new book, Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks, readers get to meet Judi Schmitt from Northern Virginia. Like a lot of Americans, Schmitt lives in a highly atomized and privatized suburban world. This geography of nowhere left her feeling alienated and disconnected. Back around the turn of the century, Starbucks looked to her like a chance for something in the right direction, like a place to meet people and begin to form the bonds of community. That is, in fact, the way Starbucks portrays itself, as a “third place,” as a vital space between work and home where people get know other people and develop a deep sense of belonging to the place where they live.

For three years beginning in 2003, Schmitt and a friend played weekly, two-hour long Scrabble games at a local Starbucks. “We kind of hoped to start something,” Judi told me. But she regretted, “we have not ... started a trend.” Not a single person ever asked the two board game players to join them or sat down to talk. A few customers, Schmitt reported, looked up from their “babies, laptops, [and] school books,” and occasionally shared “fond memories of playing Scrabble.” But that’s it.

Schmitt went to Starbucks in search of connections, of that elusive third place – in part because the coffee company promised to deliver these things. But that is not what she got. She instead found a place that looked at a glance like a community gathering spot but on closer examination served as a place for people to be alone in public or work outside the home or maybe meet with a friend or two they already knew. What didn’t happen at Starbucks Schmitt found – and I discovered in my research and visits to 450 Starbucks in 10 countries over a five year period -- is much talk. Starbucks rarely supplied people with a fully satisfying sense of belonging or a vast and valuable network of connections.

Still the company marketed itself as a builder of community because it sensed what Judi Schmitt wanted and desired – a break from the alienation and dislocation of modern life. What Schmitt and most others got at Starbucks, though, was something that looked like a third place, yet lacked the substance of a genuine third place – a place, as the sociologist Ray Oldenburg described it, that buzzed with conversation and brought people together who didn’t otherwise know each other and therefore strengthened and thickened the bonds of community and helped to invigorate democratic culture and practices.
Preview Everything but the Coffee, and learn more about the book at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Brenda Cooper's "Wings of Creation"

Brenda Cooper is a futurist who works with Glen Hiemstra at She’s the co-author of the novel Building Harlequin's Moon, which she wrote with Larry Niven. Her novel The Silver Ship and the Sea won the 2008 Endeavour Award. Her solo and collaborative short fiction has appeared in multiple magazines, including Analog, Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Oceans of the Mind, and The Salal Review.

Cooper applied the “Page 99 Test” to Wings of Creation, the third book in the The Silver Ship trilogy, and reported the following:
On page 99 of 381, our heroes, Chelo, Joseph, and Kayleen, are sitting with the exotic winged-human couple Matriana and Daniel, and the doctor Chance. They are discovering the peculiar cultural difficulties that plague the flying humans:
Chance is speaking. “The mod for fliers is very painful.” A bitter anger boiled lightly under his words and showed in his eyes. “The infant fliers-to-be are drugged so they forget the pain of growing wings. Many die.”

Kayleen grimaced. “So why do it at all? If it kills so easily, why make flier? And worse, why let kids try it? They haven’t chosen.”

Chance nodded, his face softening, but his words were matter-of-fact. “The death rate for infants is far lower than adults.”

She shivered. “It seems…wrong.”

“It is wrong,” Chelo snapped.

The table fell silent. Chance’s fingers did a short dance over the data-button reader, and in front of us, the fliers flew. They morphed from the simplistic holograms we had been looking at to the beautiful beings that had taken our breath away, from sketch to real video, the men and women riding on air, smiles filling their faces. After we’d all watched for a few moments, Matriana echoed Alicia’s words from this morning. “Because to be us is the most beautiful thing in the universe.”
This passage is the first deep dive our characters get into the core of the book’s central plot, which is that our young and partially-trained heroes must solve a very big problem in order to, hopefully, stop a very big war. In Wings of Creation, I deal with beauty and the concepts related to the link between suffering and spirituality through the fliers, and with the pitfalls inherent in the idea of ownership related to the design of anything biological and sentient though other parts of the book. There is also love and betrayal, and the dog Sasha.

So far the early comments I’ve had back on the book are quite good, and I hope it is the best so far in the series that stated with Endeavor Award Winning novel, The Silver Ship and the Sea.
Read an excerpt from Wings of Creation, and learn more about the book and author at Brenda Cooper's website and her LiveJournal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Susan M. Reverby's "Examining Tuskegee"

Susan M. Reverby is the McLean Professor in the History of Ideas and Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. She is editor of Tuskegee's Truths: Rethinking the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. She writes on the history of American women, health care and race.

Reverby applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Examining Tuskegee: The Infamous Syphilis Study and Its Legacy, and reported the following:
The Tuskegee Syphilis Study is one of the most powerful racialized events in American culture, standing with slavery and lynching as the symbol for the failure to treat African Americans as rights bearing citizens. In the study, begun by the U.S. Public Health Service in 1932 in and around Tuskegee, Alabama, doctors tracked, but did not treat, hundreds of black men with late stage syphilis. The doctors explained instead that the aspirins, tonics and vitamins, and even a diagnostic spinal tap, were treatments for the men’s “bad blood.” The study went on for forty years until a newspaper story in 1972 made public what had been known in the medical community for decades. Media coverage was followed by outrage over the deceit and intentional deaths of at least 16 of the men, a federal investigation, a Senate hearing, a lawsuit, new rules on informed consent and medical research, and then histories, documentaries, poems, plays and in 1997 a federal apology from President Bill Clinton.

In Examining Tuskegee: The Infamous Syphilis Study and its Legacy, I trace out how the study happened and why it did not stop despite questions raised over its ethics. I explain why differing individuals became involved and understood their roles in it. I trace how the study’s many stories became imbedded in American culture and the rumors, some true others not, that continue even decades later. The point of the book is to look at the complexity of what happened and why “Tuskegee” remains a potent political symbol.

Page 99 is about the testimony given to a federal investigating commission in 1973. It explains why the white doctors who ran the study thought in medical terms (late latent syphilis does not always harm individuals, the heavy metal drugs used to cure the disease might be worse than leaving it alone, penicillin when it became available would not help these men). The black doctors, who had worked on the study, now saw themselves as having been lied to and could not justify it in terms of debates how to treat the disease. To them, it was racism pure and simple.

This page captures the tensions of reading the study as only medical on the one hand and only racial on the other. I argue we must understanding how medical thinking is often racialized and that scientific fervor can be misread in the context of a racial inequality.
Learn more about the book and author at Susan M. Reverby's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 20, 2009

Brian Z. Tamanaha's "Beyond the Formalist-Realist Divide"

Brian Z. Tamanaha is professor of law at Washington University School of Law. His books include On the Rule of Law and Law as a Means to an End.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Beyond the Formalist-Realist Divide: The Role of Politics in Judging, and reported the following:
Here is the first full paragraph on page 99:
This conventional picture, however, fails to acknowledge the massive increase of intrusive legislation that occurred from the final decade of the nineteenth century onward. “The most casual newspaper-reader and observer of legislation,” an editor wrote in 1887, “must have had his attention attracted to a growing tendency in our legislation toward the regulation of private and personal concerns.” “At no time and in no country has legislation been so active,” remarked a commentator in 1911.

A legislative onslaught it was….
As bad luck would have it, page 99 is poorly representative of the book. Although most of the book does not go into great detail about legal regulation, this page catalogues various types of social and economic legislation enacted in the 1890s.

Beyond the Formalist-Realist Divide debunks a historical narrative that dominates debates about judging within the U.S. legal culture. According to the conventional narrative, lawyers and judges at the turn of the 20th century widely believed in “legal formalism”—the idea that judges engage in mechanical deduction when deciding cases. In the 1920s and 1930s, the story tells, the legal realists destroyed the formalist view of judging by demonstrating that law is filled with gaps, contradictions, and inconsistent precedents; the realists argued that judges manipulate legal rules to reach desired outcomes.

The book shows that this standard narrative is false. Legal formalism, it turns out, was a myth created by critics (including the legal realists themselves) to discredit courts at the turn of the century. Lawyers and judges at the time did not think judging was deductive, and the legal realists were not radical skeptics about judging.

This conventional narrative, although baseless, is widely accepted as true today. The book explains how this false account became entrenched within the legal culture, and went on to warp political science research on courts as well as legal theory debates about judging.

Page 99 taken in isolation is not a good measure of “the quality of the whole” because this page is dry in content (although it is a better indication than page 66, which is blank). Unless there is something magical about page 99 that I am unaware of, the test proposed by Ford might work better if it involved reading three pages, say 9, 99, and 199. (Oops. I just checked—that fails as well. Page 9 and page 99 are the final pages of chapters, with hardly any text.).
Read an excerpt from Beyond the Formalist-Realist Divide, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

James P. Sterba's "Affirmative Action for the Future"

James P. Sterba is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of twenty-five books, including Affirmative Action and Racial Preference: A Debate, Does Feminism Discriminate against Men--A Debate, Justice for Here and Now, and Terrorism and International Justice. He is also past president of the American Philosophical Association, Central Division, and several other philosophical organizations.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Affirmative Action for the Future, and reported the following:
On p. 99, I maintain, “If one wants to replace [diversity affirmative action] programs with a well-funded program that does help the least advantaged in society, for example, my proposed $25 billion a year equal education opportunity program, I am sure that every defender of diversity affirmative action would favor the change, assuming that it was not possible to have both programs. However, the political reality in both India and the U.S. is that we either retain these affirmative action programs with all their limitations or we have nothing. When faced with such a choice, surely affirmative action programs deserves our support.”

That is how I view the justification of affirmative action in the U.S. today. It is the best politically feasible response that we currently have to deal with two persistent realities.

The first reality is the one I mentioned in the above quotation. It is our political inability to provide the funding for a really equitable K-12 educational system that would enable minority students to fairly compete for entrance to elite colleges and universities. This political unwillingness is no better seen than in California, when after it abolished affirmative action in 1998 to the detriment of minorities, it still refused to provide an equitable K-12 education to minorities throughout the state.

The second reality is that one that I discuss at the very beginning of my book where I cite study after study showing the persistence of significant racial and sexual discrimination in U.S. today. Since direct government response to this continuing discrimination, like its response to inequitable K-12 educational opportunities, is both sporadic and weak, affirmative action programs still remains one of the more effective tools we have for undermining the racial and sexual prejudice that fuels this continuing discrimination.

In addition, building on my agreement with the 75% of Americans who are currently opposed to legacy preferences, I argue for an economic-based affirmative action program that would use slots currently given to legacies at elite U.S colleges and universities that receive tax-exempt status and governmental funding in order to make those colleges and universities more inclusive of those who are economically disadvantaged in the U.S.
Learn more about the book at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 16, 2009

Steven E. Landsburg's "The Big Questions"

Steven E. Landsburg is a Professor of Economics at the University of Rochester, where students recently elected him Professor of the Year. He is the author of The Armchair Economist, Fair Play, More Sex is Safer Sex, The Big Questions: Tackling the Problems of Philosophy with Ideas from Mathematics, Economics and Physics, two textbooks in economics, a forthcoming textbook on general relativity and cosmology, and over 30 journal articles in mathematics, economics and philosophy.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Big Questions and reported the following:
In partial penance for killing his wife and children, Hercules agreed to slay the many-headed hydra. But each time Hercules severed a head, two grew back in its place.

On page 99 of The Big Questions, I describe a far more insidious sort of hydra, one that grows vast numbers of new heads almost every time Hercules cuts one off. But they grow back in patterns that a sufficiently clever Hercules can exploit and win the day.

What's more astonishing is that even a very unclever Hercules is guaranteed to win, provided he plays long enough. What's most astonishing is that while Hercules is guaranteed to win, that fact cannot be proven.

Or more precisely, it can be proven only if you assume the consistency of arithmetic (that is, a given arithmetic problem can't have two correct answers) -- something which in turn is unprovable (unless you assume something else equally strong). But we know that Hercules always wins, because we know that arithmetic is consistent -- even though we can't prove it.

We know arithmetic is consistent because arithmetic is not just the manipulation of meaningless symbols -- those symbols are *about* something, and the something they are about is the system of natural numbers, which exists and has properties quite independent of what we can or cannot prove.

I believe that the natural numbers are the starting point for all existence, and there is a sense in which everything is made of arithmetic. In The Big Questions, I've tried to explain what I mean by that, and why I believe it's true.

I'm not sure I'm right, of course -- who but a lunatic could be sure he was right about this sort of thing? But I hope I've shown how ideas from mathematics can potentially illuminate the biggest question in philosophy, namely: Why is there something instead of nothing?

Philosophy poses a lot of other interesting questions, too: questions about the sources of our knowledge and beliefs, the difference between right and wrong, and the best way to live our lives. I've tried to tackle all of these questions with ideas from other disciplines, especially economics, mathematics and physics. And I've resisted no opportunity for an interesting digression along the way.
Read an argument introduced on Page 29 of The Big Questions and peruse the index.

Learn more about the book at The Big Questions website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Saleem H. Ali's "Treasures of the Earth"

Saleem H. Ali is associate professor of environmental studies at the University of Vermont and serves on the adjunct faculty of the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. He was chosen in 2007 by Seed magazine as one of eight Revolutionary Minds in the World for his work on using the environment to help resolve conflicts.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed, and a Sustainable Future, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Treasures of the Earth starts off with the continuing description from the previous page of a famous Cold War fiction essay on materialism by David Reisman titled "the nylon wars." I then try to link the rise of nylon to the prominence of fossil fuels during that period and subsequently transition to a segment in the book which is titled "Guns, Guano and Butter." This enigmatic segment is part of a chapter in the book which is titled "The Darker Side of Fortune: the psychology of treasure dependence." Here I try to provide a natural history of some of the most momentous scrambles for resources as a result of our treasure-seeking behavior.

Using a play on words from Jared Diamond's celebrated volume and a pinch of economic jargon (guns versus butter production functions), I describe how "guns and butter are inexorably linked to a common mineral need that led to many colonial conflagarations in the past. Regretably, terrorists have also been able to make the connection between the common chemistry of feeding humanity and blowing it up." I then go on to describe how nitrates are an essential ingredient for fertilizers but also for many kinds of explosives.

Bat and bird poop deposits, or guano as they are more elegantly called, were the world's most significant source of nitrates before the discovery of a chemical process to synthetically manufacture nitrates was commercialized in 1910. Page 99 starts to describe how the world's most prized guano deposits in the Atacama desert of Chile became the source of war between regional powers.

The breadth of topical and geographic coverage, as well as an attempted user-friendly tone of the narrative with the use of provocative section headings and alliteration, is happily captured by the page 99 test.
Learn more about the book at the official Treasures of the Earth website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Andrew G. Walder's "Fractured Rebellion"

Andrew G. Walder is the Denise O'Leary and Kent Thiry Professor in the Department of Sociology at Stanford, where he is also a Senior Fellow in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Fractured Rebellion: The Beijing Red Guard Movement, and reported the following:
The Red Guard movement was at the heart of China’s Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1968. University and high school students formed marauding bands at the behest of Chairman Mao and attacked teachers, school officials, and eventually higher party officials. They terrorized ordinary citizens and officials alike. But they also formed factions that fought against one another with a puzzling ferocity that intensified into violent campus warfare by 1968. For decades, foreign scholars have thought that these factions expressed the conficting interests of different social groups in the student population: student leaders, party members and the offspring of officials formed a more “conservative” faction that sought to limit the damage to the regime, while students from more ordinary backgrounds pushed to alter their monopoly of power and privilege. This interpretation turns out to be wrong: students on each side were from similar social backgrounds, and were fighting to justify choices they made in novel and confusing situations in a closed and authoritarian political system that made a “political error” a life-ruining prospect. Page 99 describes the backgrounds of the students who emerged as leaders of the “radical” faction at Qinghua University, China’s premier scientific and technical university and Beijing’s largest. They included the sons of decorated revolutionary veterans and party officials, leaders of the Communist Youth League, and party members from poor backgrounds—precisely those who enjoyed privileges once thought to be the prime motivation to defend political authorities rather than attack them. Page 99 does not describe these students’ destructive activities and mutual warfare—this comes later in the book. But it does go to the heart of the puzzle presented by red guard factions and the book’s overall effort to unravel the confusing and obscure politics of the period. The book’s central message is that the politics of the red guards were not driven by the conflicting interests of different social groups, but by the ambiguous choices and personal risk encountered by students in a closed and authoritarian political system in the midst of a dangerous self-inflicted crisis.
Read an excerpt from Fractured Rebellion, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

Visit Andrew G. Walder's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gregory D. Koblentz's "Living Weapons"

Gregory D. Koblentz is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Public and International Affairs and Deputy Director of the Biodefense Graduate Program at George Mason University. The Biodefense Graduate Program is a graduate-level research and educational program designed to develop the next generation of biodefense and biosecurity professionals and scholars. Dr. Koblentz is also a Research Fellow with the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the Scientist Working Group on Chemical and Biological Weapons at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, DC. He received his Ph.D. in political science from MIT and his M.P.P. from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. His research and teaching focus on international security, terrorism, homeland security, and weapons of mass destruction.

Dr. Koblentz is the author of Living Weapons: Biological Warfare and International Security (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009) and co-author of Tracking Nuclear Proliferation (Washington: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1998). He has also published articles in International Security, Nonproliferation Review, Arms Control Today, and Jane’s Intelligence Review.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Living Weapons, and reported the following:
The proliferation of biological weapons (BW) is one of the most pressing security issues of the twenty-first century. My book, Living Weapons: Biological Warfare and International Security, provides a comprehensive analysis of the unique challenges that biological weapons pose for international security from the perspectives of verification, deterrence, civil-military relations, terrorism and intelligence.

Page 99 is in the middle of a chapter on the verification of biological arms control. The core problem in verifying compliance with biological arms control agreements is that the capabilities for conducting the research, development, production, and testing of biological weapons are virtually identical to those employed by defensive programs and in legitimate civilian enterprises. The overlap between the equipment, materials and knowledge required to develop biological weapons, conduct civilian biomedical research, and develop biological defenses creates what I call a multiuse dilemma. The 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) which bans the development or production of biological weapons does not include a mechanism for verifying the treaty. International negotiations to craft a verification protocol for the treaty collapsed in 2001.

On page 99, I am describing the end of the United Nations efforts to investigate Iraq’s biological weapon program in the 1990s. The United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), which operated in Iraq between 1991 and 1998, represents the most important effort by the international community to verify biological arms control. UNSCOM was the most intrusive arms control regime ever devised and had access to an unprecedented range of inspection techniques and technologies. Although UNSCOM was successful in uncovering aspects of Iraq’s past BW activities, a comprehensive account of Iraq’s biological agent research, production, testing, and weaponization only emerged following the defection of a high-level Iraqi official in August 1995. The UNSCOM experience provides insight into how the multiple uses of biological technologies complicates verification and the extraordinary measures that were required to overcome Iraq’s attempts to retain an offensive BW capability based on multiuse technologies.

Here is an excerpt from page 99:

Since its first revelations of an offensive BW program in July 1995, Iraq had submitted three Full, Final, and Complete Disclosures of its proscribed biological program to UNSCOM. Given the lies, half-truths, and omissions contained in these declarations, one inspector dubbed these documents “full, final and complete fairy tales.”
Read an excerpt from Living Weapons, and learn more about the book at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Eli Berman's "Radical, Religious, and Violent"

Eli Berman is Professor of Economics at the University of California, San Diego, and Research Director of International Security Studies at the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Radical, Religious, and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Radical, Religious and Violent explains by analogy the most surprising insight I know of in the analysis of terrorist organizations, by analyzing radical religious communities from the inside. It examines the hypothetical case of a young man who wants to marry into a radical religious sect, putting the reader in the role of the prospective bride's parent. The parent is concerned that the prospective son-in-law will pretend to be a committed member of the religious community in order to benefit from the comprehensive social services provided to members, but will shirk on his duties to community and family once safely married with a few children. Radical religious communities such as Hassidim, Amish and Radical Islamists solve the shirking problem by insisting on up front signals of commitment, which typically involve surrendering years of valuable secular education by instead studying holy texts, or not studying at all.

That theory is supported by evidence: comparing religious denominations, we know from numerous studies in the sociology of religion that the more costly the signal of commitment, the tighter is the social service provision network within the community.

The example illustrates the idea of an efficient sacrifice. Sacrifices are wageful in the narrow sense; they destroy value and opportunities. Yet a social norm in which individuals destroy personal opportunities is useful in the broader sense. It allows people to demonstrate their commitment. That explanation covers the ancient practice of sacrificing animals. It also explains current practices common to religious radicals: sacrificing years of secular schooling to community service, years of study in religious seminaries, and years of missionary work. The idea of an efficient religious sacrifice is (economist Laurence) Iannaccone's second great insight into religious sects. He must share some credit, though with the great Jewish rationalist scholar Moses Maimonides. As the epigraph at the beginning of the previous chapter indicates, Maimonides hinted at a similar conclusion some eight centuries earlier, in Egypt.

(I was unaware of the Ford Madox Ford's "Page 99 Test," but luckily enough 99 is a great page!)

What does all this have to do with terrorism? The key to understanding terrorist organizations is to realize that they are incredibly sensitive to defection, which is why so few remain viable once governments start bribing members into defection and squealing. The book goes on to explain that religious communities which provide social services have the potential to assemble terrorist organizations that can successfully resist defection -- since shirkers were not allowed to join the community in the first place, as the example illustrates. That may sound alarming; fortunately most radical religious communities which provide social services never engage in violence.

The book lays out the evidence for those arguments. It also explains the strong implication for Afghanistan and other conflicts: provision of basic social services by governments adds a critical, nonviolent component to counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategies -- competent, honest governance -- undermine the violent potential of religious radicals without disturbing free religious practice or endangering civilians.
Read sample chapters from Radical, Religious, and Violent, and learn more about the book at the official website and

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 6, 2009

Caroline Cox's "The Fight to Survive"

Caroline Cox is an associate professor in the Department of History at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA. She is the author of A Proper Sense of Honor: Service and Sacrifice in George Washington's Army. She has also written numerous articles for history publications and has appeared as a commentator on the History Channel.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Fight to Survive: A Young Girl, Diabetes, and the Discovery of Insulin, and reported the following:
In 1919, when Elizabeth Evans Hughes was eleven years old, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. At that time, before the discovery of insulin, it was a death sentence. Three years later, she had wasted away to only forty five pounds and lay near death. But in the summer of 1922, insulin was discovered. She became one of the first recipients and her life was saved. During these critical years, her parents, Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes and Antoinette Carter Hughes sent Elizabeth away from Washington DC with her nurse. My book about her life during this time is based on her letters home.

Hers is a more complicated story than courage in the face of adversity. After her diagnosis, Elizabeth lived a Spartan life, keeping herself alive by so-called starvation therapy. The theory of this treatment was that if the body was not processing carbohydrate properly, you simply should not eat any! Thus, she lived on less than 800 calories a day. You would expect someone in that circumstance to languish in miserable isolation but she was continually and enthusiastically engaged with the world around her.

Page 99 doesn’t reveal much about her story, but it does capture her personality. It contains her only real expression of complaint. She wanted to be in charge of her life and was frustrated when she could not be. But neither she nor her family tolerated whining and whatever annoyances came her way, she quickly found ways to deal with them.

I wanted to know where this self-discipline came from. I recreated her family life, found out about her friends, the places she went, and the people she talked about. I discovered that she lost herself in books and took solace from nature. But she also sought out friends and joined them at meals she could not eat and watched them at games she could not play, more comforted by their companionship than she was tortured by the sight of things she could no longer do. She was a dying child who rarely wrote about her illness and who was determined in the face of enormous odds to live well. I found her story of hopefulness inspiring and I hope readers do too.
Video: Caroline Cox discusses The Fight to Survive.

Read more about The Fight to Survive at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bertrand Taithe's "The Killer Trail"

Bertrand Taithe is Professor of Cultural History at the University of Manchester. He has published extensively on war, medicine and war, and humanitarianism, including most recently Benjamin's Arcades: An Unguided Tour, and is an editor of the European Review of History.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Killer Trail: A Colonial Scandal in the Heart of Africa, and reported the following:
It is an extraordinary process to take this test. As it stands page 99 is marking about one third of the book and stands in the middle of a chapter entitled ‘privateering for France’. In this chapter I have attempted to explain the specific culture of empire builders working for a liberal democracy. The page is devoted to the relations between two men, Voulet and Chanoine, both captain at an early age, and the French army in West Africa. The two men led a brutal expedition which eventually became scandalous and led to a rescue expedition – the rescue expedition was ambushed and dispersed by the expedition led by Voulet. The leader of the rescue expedition Colonel Klobb was killed, Voulet died in obscure circumstances two days later. The scandal of this murder soon obscured the original scandal focused on war atrocities. This took place between 1898 and 1900, precisely at the time of the publication of Heart of Darkness by Conrad, and their story imitates closely the plot of the book that inspired Apocalypse Now. The Killer Trail tells the story but is also questioning the role of scandals when it comes to war atrocities and especially the manner in which Voulet was portrayed as criminally insane.

Page 99 sets the scene of the complex relationships these adventurers had with French colonial administration of the last frontier colony of the French Empire, Soudan (what is today Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali). It is clear from the archival evidence that both Voulet and Chanoine, previously lionised for their daring acts and their cost efficient conquest techniques, were also feared for their brutality and for the impact of their methods on the development of a viable colonial administration under military rule. The French empire, and in particular the sub-Saharan empire was ruled from afar and while Voulet and Chanoine promised quick returns to their backers in Paris, many on the ground were aware of what it entailed. On page 99, I argue that the ‘scandal’ of colonial atrocities was thus not a ‘shock of discovery’. This sets the scene for a fuller discussion of how atrocities took place and how they were revealed at a time when France still coped with the Dreyfus Affair and how they later became remembered.
Read more about The Killer Trail at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ayala Fader's "Mitzvah Girls"

Ayala Fader is Associate Professor/Associate Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Fordham University, Lincoln Center.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Mitzvah Girls: Bringing Up the Next Generation of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn (2009), and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book, Mitzvah Girls, introduces what I call Hasidic Yiddish, the language, along with Hasidic English, spoken and written by contemporary Hasidic Jews in North America. Page 99 is specifically about the English words that are routinely integrated into Yiddish even though many have known Yiddish equivalents. From infancy on Hasidic children are addressed in Hasidic Yiddish. Examples of Hasidic Yiddish on Page 99 with the English words underlined and integrated into Yiddish grammar are:

a. Me ken jumpn (you can jump).

b. Zol ikh fixn de hur? (Should I fix your hair?)

c. Vilst dey paper tse coloren un? (Do you want this piece of paper to color on?)

However, in Mitzvah Girls I go beyond the linguistic analysis on Page 99; I aim to understand Hasidic women and girls’ language use as one way that a nonliberal (fundamentalist) Jewish community living in the heart of secular Brooklyn brings up the next generation of believers. Further on in the book, for example, I show that once Hasidic children begin school, language use is increasingly gendered: boys continue to speak Hasidic Yiddish, while girls speak more and more Hasidic English, primarily reserving Hasidic Yiddish for little children, religious learning, and their male relatives. Why would girls begin to speak English rather than Yiddish? Are they challenging this patriarchal society? Are they moving away from the strictures of Hasidic life?

In Mitzvah Girls, my answer to both is no. Instead, I argue that Hasidic women and girls’ fluency in secular modernity— their use of Hasidic English, along with contemporary secular education, fashion, literacy, and psychology (all of which I discuss in other chapters)— contributes to strengthening their ever-growing communities. In everyday talk, Hasidic mothers tell their daughters about a narrative of an alternative religious modernity where discipline, not freedom, will make all their wishes come true, in this life and the next.
Read an excerpt from Mitzvah Girls, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 2, 2009

Alan Philps & John Lahutsky's "The Boy from Baby House 10"

Alan Philps is an experienced foreign correspondent living in London. John Lahutsky is an American high school student who lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Their new book is The Boy from Baby House 10: From the Nightmare of a Russian Orphanage to a New Life in America.

Philps applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Boy from Baby House 10 and reported the following:
Page 99 is one third of the way through the book. The reader has got to know Vanya, the hero, who has been dumped in a Russian orphanage and cruelly misdiagnosed as an ineducable imbecile, despite his fluent speech and knack of making friends wherever he goes. At the age of six, he is moved from the orphanage and incarcerated in an adult mental asylum. This is a living hell which Vanya is unlikely to survive. The reader knows that Vanya escapes and goes on to find a new life in America, but how does he do it?

At this stage, Sarah, an Englishwoman who has followed her husband to Moscow, is asked by the head of the orphanage (a weak character who is terrified of authority) to rescue Vanya from the asylum. Sarah feels like a girl in a fairy tale who is given an impossible task by a witch disguised as a kindly old woman. She has got to know Vanya in the orphanage but what can she, a foreigner with no authority, do to help? As weeks pass in indecision, she feels that Vanya is beyond rescue. But one night, she receives a call from someone who says Vanya is asking after her.

On page 99 she sets off to find the asylum – a daunting barrack in the middle of the countryside – and do battle with the head doctor, whom she finds in a cosy room with carpets, plants and big TV, while the children slop around in their own urine on bare mattresses.

Does The Boy from Baby House 10 pass the p99 test? It is a key moment, but to be honest, it is mainly about discovering the asylum and setting the scene. There are many points in the narrative where you would need a heart of stone not to cry. One of these comes on page 101 when Sarah leaves the asylum and looks back and sees the hands of the teenagers used as slave labour stretched out towards her, begging her to come back. The realisation of the fate that awaits Vanya forces her into action.

So Ford Madox Ford is a little off in his page 99 test. As far as I’m concerned, page 101 (a number favoured, of course, by George Orwell) is the real target.
Learn more about the book and its authors at Alan Philps' website and John Lahutsky's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 1, 2009

J. William Harris' "The Hanging of Thomas Jeremiah"

J. William Harris is professor of history at the University of New Hampshire. He is the author of The Making of the American South: A Short History, 1500–1877; Deep Souths: Delta, Piedmont and Sea Island Society in the Age of Segregation (finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in history); and Plain Folk and Gentry in a Slave Society: White Liberty and Black Slavery in Augusta’s Hinterlands.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Hanging of Thomas Jeremiah: A Free Black Man's Encounter with Liberty, and reported the following:
The final paragraph on p. 99 reads:

As Bee and others wavered about what to do, Henry Laurens intervened. To Laurens, perhaps the most damning evidence against Thomas Jeremiah was, not the testimony of Jemmy and Sambo, but the testimony of his own character. Jerry was, in Laurens’s opinion, “a forward fellow, puffed up by prosperity, ruined by Luxury & debauchery & grown to amazing pitch of vanity & ambition.” He may have reminded Laurens of his own boatman Abraham, “Sly and artful,” “active, alert and Strong,” a man who had given him much trouble. As a free man, Jeremiah could not be compelled to offer the “gratitude” Laurens expected, and felt he deserved, from his slaves. But although Jeremiah, as a “Free Negro,” was beyond the reach of a master, he was not beyond the reach of the Negro Act. When Laurens asked the investigating committee on what grounds they could simply whip and banish “one or two Negroes,” he got “the old answer, why they don’t appear to have been so guilty as to deserve death but must receive Some punishment for example Sake.” Laurens was appalled at this relaxation of the precise terms of the law. If the accused were innocent, very well then, let them go, but if they deserve any punishment at all, then “nothing less than Death Should be the Sentence.”

Page 99 of The Hanging of Thomas Jeremiah does, I think, pass Ford Madox Ford’s test. A reader of this page would know that my book concerns an unequal confrontation between the “Free Negro” Thomas Jeremiah and a powerful white man, Henry Laurens; they would know that Jeremiah has been investigated, on the basis of dubious evidence, for a “plot” connected to an “insurrection”; they would learn something of the language and attitudes of Henry Laurens; they would learn, from the final quotation, that the stakes are very high.

What they would not know is that this is a tale of the American Revolution, taking place in 1775 in the fascinating physical and social setting of Charleston (then, Charles Town). The timing and the setting are keys to some of the multiple layers of irony in the story. Thomas Jeremiah, for example, was not only free and black, but a substantial owner of slaves himself. Henry Laurens–later to become president of the Continental Congress–won fame as an American “patriot” because of his defense of the Englishman’s right to fair trials. Readers also would not yet know about the third protagonist, Lord William Campbell, just about to arrive on the scene–indeed, on the very next page–and take up his post as Royal Governor of South Carolina. Campbell was the son of a Scottish duke, a former naval officer, and husband of a Charles Town heiress. He became passionately interested in Jeremiah’s case and tried to save him from the scaffold. Readers who keep turning the pages, then, will be introduced to a little-known drama that starkly exposes some of the contradictions built into the founding of our nation.
Read more about The Hanging of Thomas Jeremiah at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue