Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Barbara Yngvesson's "Belonging in an Adopted World"

Barbara Yngvesson is professor of anthropology at Hampshire College, the author of Virtuous Citizens, Disruptive Subjects: Order and Complaint in a New England Court and Law and Community in Three American Towns (co-authored with Carol Greenhouse and David Engel), and an associate editor at American Anthropologist.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Belonging in an Adopted World: Race, Identity, and Transnational Adoption, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Belonging in an Adopted World focuses on a central theme of the book: the ways that transnational adoption contributes to projects of nation-building by countries that “send” and “receive” children in adoption. Drawing on anthropologist Arturo Escobar’s (1995) understanding of development discourse as a “secular theory of salvation,” the first paragraph argues that narratives of rescue underpinning policies of transnational adoption can be mapped onto development theories of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s that positioned the developing world as “a child in need of guidance.” In this sense, transnational adoption can be understood as one of the forms and practices of modernization through which the relations of First and Third Worlds took shape in the second half of the twentieth century.

The page goes on to describe specific visions of national identity and racialized community that accompanied these practices of modernization. I make use of Etienne Balibar’s (1991) insightful exploration of the role of “familialist discourse,” to describe the relationship between sending and receiving nations that took shape with the emergence of the adoptable child as a natural and national resource, referring to the analysis in chapter 3 of my book. That chapter focuses on transnational adoption in India from the 1960s through the 1980s, and the ways informal networks of elite women involved in finding families for abandoned children made the value of the abandoned child visible, transforming such a child from “the only thing, as an underdeveloped nation, that we can give away” into a precious national resource.

Page 99 also examines the role of international legal agreements such as the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 1993 Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption in affirming on a global scale a specific modernist vision of childhood and of children’s rights. I argue that the adoptable child became a key symbolic resource in this modernist project. “This child represented a form of love that exceeded the boundaries of nations and the ethnicized and racialized exclusions through which national identities are constructed. At the same time, this child hinted at the contingency of national identity on incorporating such excess and at the key role of the adoptive parent (and especially the adoptive mother) in such incorporations.”

While page 99 of Belonging in an Adopted World provides a condensed presentation of the relationship of transnational adoption to issues of national identity, it is not representative of the ways I illuminate this relationship throughout the book. Rather I move back and forth between narratives of the lived experience of adoption by adult adoptees, adoptive parents, birth parents, agency representatives, orphanage directors, and others to explore how the power of cultural forms—“the child,” “the family,” “the nation,” “abandonment”—figure their lives.
Read more about Belonging in an Adopted World at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 28, 2010

R. Charli Carpenter's "Forgetting Children Born of War"

R. Charli Carpenter is assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, specializing in international relations, gender and political violence, transnational advocacy networks, human rights, and the laws of war. She is the author of Innocent Women and Children: Gender, Norms, and the Protection of Civilians and editor of Born of War: Protecting Children of Sexual Violence Survivors in Conflict Zones.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book Forgetting Children Born of War doesn't exactly capture the argument of the book - but then again it isn't a full page, as it's the start of the introduction to Chapter 6:
I arrived on the doorstep of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on July 3, 2007, five years and two days after the court came into force, on the first day of the month after the sixtieth day after the sixtieth government ratified it. My hope was to interview someone from the prosecutor's office about the likelihood of including indictments for forced pregnancy into any charges leveled against members of the Khartoum regime, said to be behind campaigns of extermination and genocidal rape in the Darfur region of the Sudan. Stories of women and girls forcibly impregnated with "Janjaweed babies," some of whom were reportedly killed or stigmatized in the refugee camps of western Darfur and Chad, had helped galvanize international attention to the humanitarian crisis in the region and small waves of interest in the vulnerabilities of the babies by aid organizations. The subsequent investigation into atrocities in Darfur was an early opportunity for the court to leverage new language regarding gender crimes. I was curious about the extent to which this was happening and about whether by 2007 the consciousness of ICC prosecutors about the crime of forced pregnancy had come to include concern for the babies born as a result.

Judging by how difficult it was to get an interview with anyone from the ICC once I explained the topic of my book to a public relations officer, it seemed unlikely that such concerns were on the radar screens of the international civil servants staffing the new court...
Since each chapter begins with an anecdote from my field research into why the human rights community has paid so little attention to children born to war rape survivors, the page is written more in narrative from rather than the analytical style prevalent in the book. At the same time it does give you a clear sense of the human rights problem whose neglect I'm studying - stigma and mistreatment of children born of war rape. Although the example given on the page is about Darfur, compared to most of the book which focuses on Bosnia, the issue - and its neglect by the human rights community - are truly global phenomena. The page also gives a sense of what my fieldwork was like - poking around various sites in the human rights network, in this case the international criminal tribunals based in the Hague - in search of information on how these children's rights might fit on the agenda, and how instead they fell through the cracks in the process of constructing rape against women as a war crime and "children in armed conflict" as a vulnerable category.

Chapter 6 itself is a good representative look at the argument of the overall book. Skipping ahead to excerpt other bits from the rest of the introduction to this chapter on the following two pages, we learn the following:
On paper, the ICC is one of the most gender-inclusive multilateral institutions in the global system... largely because of the dedicated advocacy of women's organizations during the treaty negotiations, its statute includes a comprehensive list of gender crimes, including the first codified definition of the crime "forced pregnancy" in international legal history... But the concept seems unlikely to ever be used in the court... and if it were, the frame of reference would be the female rape survivor, not her child. Wrongful procreation claims aside, long-term harms to children of rape "are not within the reach of the court," according to the Gender and Children Unit. When I finally met with a representative from the Office of the Prosecutor, I was told, "That goes well beyond our area of expertise." This is in large part because forced pregnancy has been defined as a crime not against children but against female rape victims, for whom the existence of the child itself is part of the trauma of war.

Language - or its absence - is of crucial importance in constructing or foreclosing the possibility of new human rights claims. I argue in this chapter that the international criminal regime missed an opportunity to promote the rights of these children as part of its response to gender violence precisely because of the function images of the children played in constructing gender violence as a weapon of war. Rather than the long-term harms they face being front and center alongside those of their mothers, the babies were situated as tools of genocide, weapons of biological warfare, members of the perpetrating group, and signifiers of their mothers' trauma. By the time the ICC came into force the idea that forced pregnancy is a crime against a woman, not a child brought to term, was well established in international law... the chapter concludes by considering whether punitive justice makes sense when taking into account the human rights of children born of war.
Thus Chapter 6 is sort of a microcosm of the broader argument, which covers not just the tribunal system but human rights advocacy, humanitarian programming, post-conflict reconstruction, human rights reporting and human rights fact-finding. I argue that attention to issue by human rights advocates is conditioned by political, organization, structural, coalitional and economic factors, and in particular that the social construction of rights claims is contingent upon the social construction of wrongs - a factor that has so far prevented the full protection of children born of war.
Learn more about Forgetting Children Born of War at the publishers' website.

Visit R. Charli Carpenter's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Jeffrey Brand-Ballard's "Limits of Legality"

Jeffrey Brand-Ballard is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Affiliated Faculty in the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at George Washington University, Washington, DC. He co-edited the most recent edition of the anthology, Biomedical Ethics, and has published papers in scholarly journals.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Limits of Legality: The Ethics of Lawless Judging, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Limits of Legality, you’ll find a statement that may shock you: Brown v. Board of Education was “impossible to justify in purely legal terms.” But don’t blame me. I’m just quoting a respected liberal law professor. He hastens to add that desegregating public schools was certainly correct from a moral standpoint, as I agree. Thus, page 99 draws you into the central topic of the book, although the focus on such a famous case is atypical.

Virtually all legal scholars agree that Brown was morally correct, but they’ve long disagreed about how to characterize it from a legal standpoint. Some insist that the legal reasoning was correct, as well, while others see the decision as legally mistaken, albeit morally correct. A premise of my book is that judges hear cases, Brown perhaps being one, in which the law dictates results that judges might reasonably consider unjust or otherwise unacceptable. They face an ethical dilemma: should they apply the law faithfully or disregard it? My book is one of the few devoted entirely to this question. As a lawyer and philosopher, I treat it as a question in applied philosophical ethics.

For many readers the answer will be obvious: of course judges are duty-bound to uphold the law. It’s their job and they’ve sworn an oath to do it. This position is popular across the political spectrum. Liberals and conservatives may have opposing ideas about what the law requires, but they agree that judges must apply it, whatever it is. I put pressure on this popular assumption. Judges sometimes disregard the law, and most of Limits of Legality argues that they’re not always wrong to do so.

Page 99 goes on to consider the following objection to my position:
The fact that a result upholding school segregation is immoral, all things considered, does not entail that the judge acts immorally, all things considered, by reaching that result if the law requires it.
The rest of page 99 concedes this point and clarifies my intent. In the first half of the book, I argue that judges sometimes have moral reasons to disregard the law. In the second half, I address the obvious follow-up question: how powerful are these reasons?
Learn more about Limits of Legality at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Harvey G. Cohen's "Duke Ellington's America"

Harvey G. Cohen, a cultural and political historian, is a lecturer in cultural and creative industries at the Centre for Culture, Media and Creative Industries Research at King’s College London, in the United Kingdom.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Duke Ellington's America, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my new book Duke Ellington's America (University of Chicago Press) deals with the overwhelming success the Ellington orchestra experienced when they left their 4-year engagement at the Cotton Club in Harlem in 1931 and embarked for the first time on a national tour. At the Cotton Club, Ellington featured nightly on coast-to-coast radio, a first for any African American band. In those days of segregation and Jim Crow in America, the band was relegated to a late-night midnight broadcast on the east coast because the radio network did not wish to feature black Americans during prime time hours, for fear of offending audiences and sponsors. But these live broadcasts aired simultaneously hours earlier in the midwest and on the west coast, and Ellington and the band were shocked at the huge crowds that awaited their arrival in places like Los Angeles, Seattle and Chicago. The power of national radio to break new music stars was just becoming understood at this time:
On the road, the Ellington orchestra raked in large audiences and paydays, despite the country’s economic calamity. A March 1931 Variety ad trumpeted the record crowds the band drew in the months following their Cotton Club exit. A few weeks later, after a thousand people waited outside while four capacity shows were being performed in Peoria, Illinois, the band, "the biggest sensation ever to hit the city in a theatrical way," agreed to do an unprecedented fifth midnight show. The Oriental Theater in Chicago served as the site of Ellington's most famous engagement of 1931. The band sold out six weeks at the venue over the course of the year, a feat that inspired a full page ad in Variety ("of course we're proud!"). Chicago fell particularly hard for the Ellingtonians in 1931: in addition to the six weeks at the Oriental, the band enjoyed four weeks at the Lincoln Tavern, while a show at Chicago Stadium drew 5,000 patrons. This kind of peak business lasted for years, all over the country. By autumn 1931, the band's asking price was a $6000 guarantee per week, or one thousand per night.
That was big money for the time, especially for an African American band working in the Great Depression, a bit over $85,000 a week in today's money, and usually the band was paid more than that because their sold-out crowds normally brought them a percentage of the evening's gross receipts in addition to their guaranteed weekly wage.

Page 99 also gives a first hint of how the quality of Ellington's compositions and the reception given his music would eventually inspire some of the first serious criticism of popular music in America, especially African American music, in magazines like Downbeat and Metronome and eventually in national newspapers:
During Ellington’s initial American tours, the press demonstrated a willingness to see a classic element in the orchestra’s “concerts,” but many of their articles betray an amateur quality, with their sensational writing style and clumsy references to classical composers. America did not yet possess a tradition of serious criticism of popular music works, as did England. Most American newspapers printed syndicated national columns concerning popular music geared towards glib promotion, rather than analysis and contemplation.
Page 99 resides in a chapter called "Serious Listening" and the biggest influence in bringing about such listening came with the pioneering "1933 Ellington European tour, and the critical reaction it generated, [which] played a crucial role in bringing more sophisticated popular and jazz music criticism to America." Other important themes in Ellington's successful drive to get Americans to engage in "serious listening" were: his eloquence in interviews, where he often made remarks about black history, music and achievement; his singular appearances in movies and advertisements where he was always portrayed as a composer and a "genius" in opposition to the stereotyped vision of blacks that commonly ruled in Hollywood films and on Madison Avenue; his pioneering early 1930s tours on the Publix theatre circuit, with audiences seated and appreciating his music without necessarily having to dance to it. In the music industry of the period, African American music was seen almost exclusively as "torrid" sexy music strictly for dancing. Ellington, more than anyone at the time, was breaking down these hoary and inaccurate conventions, creating new possibilities and identities for black music and musicians in the media, in the United States and around the world.
For more information on Duke Ellington's America, including an overview, chapter-by-chapter summary, reviews, excerpts and YouTube clips, visit the official website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gary B. Nash's "The Liberty Bell"

Gary B. Nash is professor emeritus of history at UCLA. He is former president of the Organization of American Historians, and his 1979 book The Urban Crucible: Social Change, Political Consciousness, and the Origins of the American Revolution was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Liberty Bell, and reported the following:
Each year, some two million visitors line up near Philadelphia's Independence Hall and wait to gaze upon a flawed mass of metal forged more than two and a half-centuries ago. Since its original casting in England in 1751, the Liberty Bell has captured the imagination--and hearts--of Americans and come to symbolize freedom both here and abroad. Now voiceless after cracking in 1843 while tolling George Washington's birthday, the Liberty Bell has been adopted by disparate groups--abolitionists, woman suffragists, Cold Warriors, Civil Rights activists, and right-wing fundamentalists--all of whom found inspiration in its biblical inscription: "Proclaim liberty thro' the land and to all the inhabitants thereof.".

Worship of the Liberty Bell grew tremendously after the Civil War when it made seven road trips, from 1885 to 1915 to almost every region of the country. On p. 99 of Liberty Bell (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), I describe its third cross-country trek in 1895 to attend the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta.
Everywhere along the route southward, people flocked to see it. "Like a benediction,” reported Philadelphia's Public Record, the Liberty Bell rolled through the Roanoke Valley, over the rugged Blue Ridge Mountains, and down through the valley of East Tennessee “on this ideal Sabbath.” At a whistle-stop in tiny Elliston, Virginia, a 70-year-old great grandson of Patrick Henry “pressed forward and craved permission to touch the Bell.” In Bristol, Tennessee, an 88-year-old woman fell on her knees before the bell and “invoked a Divine blessing upon the old mass of historic iron."

When the train reached the Atlanta depot on October 8, 1895, the aura the bell created astounded even the exposition directors, who had planned a public holiday for its arrival. For two miles, the bell train slowly passed through walls of cheering Georgians as every steam whistle in the city shrieked its welcome. The crowd broke through guardrails and rushed to the flatcar to touch the bell. “Several children, held up by their parents,” reported the Atlanta Constitution, “kissed the revered old bell and happily patted its great brazen sides, hardly knowing what they were doing or why, but feeling, as all present did, that electric thrill of self-satisfaction and national pride.” The city’s school children, having been told about the bell’s history, were given city transit discounts to get to the fair. For good luck, boys rubbed coins over its surface, and a blind child was held up to passed his fingers over the inscription. [endnotes not included]
Read more about The Liberty Bell at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 21, 2010

Matt J. Rossano's "Supernatural Selection"

Matt Rossano is head of the Psychology Department at Southeastern Louisiana University and the author of Evolutionary Psychology: The Science of Human Behavior and Evolution.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Supernatural Selection is a pretty good page (one of many in the book, I hope). In it, I describe how the game of “peek-a-boo” provides a nice example of an early mother-infant social ritual. The predictability inherent in ritual allows the infant to engage with mother without becoming overly aroused and emotionally defensive:
Under most circumstances, suddenly pushing one’s face into an infant’s and saying “boo” is likely to send the infant into a screaming fit. Within the context of peek-a-boo, however, it is a thrillingly anticipated behavior, understood as playfully arousing, not threatening. The predictability of the game constructively regulates defensive emotions, allowing the social interaction to proceed without spinning out of control.
Social rituals such as this provide the foundation for the infant’s entry into the human social community and it is the infant’s (and later the child’s) effective participation in that community this is essential to becoming a fully human person. This is just one piece of a much larger argument about the critical role ritual played in human evolution.

Ponder this question for a moment: What occurred over the course of our evolutionary history that changed us from hairy apes, not to different from chimpanzees, into human beings? It is a question that has perplexed paleoanthropologists since Darwin’s time. Its difficulty is compounded by the fact that the first Homo sapiens were nearly identical to other hominids such as Neanderthals or Homo erectus in terms of tools, hunting practices, diet etc. But I think there is plenty of solid evidence to suggest that our ancestors were doing something that other hominids were not – they were engaging in social rituals. Thus, what we see going on in human development is simply a reflection of what went on over the course of human evolution. As human social groups became increasingly complex, social rituals – such as adolescent initiations, shamanistic healing ceremonies, and ritualized dancing and chanting around camp fires – became ever-more demanding both behaviorally and mentally. There are also very good reasons to suspect that the most demanding and effective of these rituals had supernatural elements incorporated into them. Page 99 is an excellent entry point into a fundamental thesis of Supernatural Selection – religious ritual made us human.
Learn more about Supernatural Selection at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mark Bevir's "Democratic Governance"

Mark Bevir is a Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. He has written widely about political theory and public policy. His previous books include New Labour: A Critique, Governance Stories, and Key Concepts in Governance.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Democratic Governance, and reported the following:
When you open Democratic Governance at p.99, you instantly discover how important “governance” has become. That page is about the fact that “good governance” is one of the lending criteria used by the World Bank. Perhaps you have already noticed how the word “governance” keeps cropping up everywhere. The World Bank is just one example. Climate change is described as an issue of “global governance”. The Forest Service calls for “collaborative governance”. Hospitals have created systems of “clinical governance”. Newspapers report scandalous failures of “corporate governance”.

Even if people keep coming across the word “governance”, they may not be sure what it means. How does governance differ from government? Why has the word “governance” become so popular? What is the relationship of governance to democracy? Democratic Governance answers these questions. It is about the rise of governance, the role it plays in our lives, and the challenge it poses to democracy. A new governance based mainly on markets and networks has spread rapidly across the world. Democratic Governance explores the theories behind this new governance. And it discusses concrete examples ranging from constitutional reforms to the response to the financial crisis.

If you continue to read p.99, you discover that although “governance” has become so widespread and important, there are reasons to be skeptical.
The World Bank has come to use the term “good governance” to cover concerns with technical areas and civil society. The technical concerns include legal frameworks for development (consistent laws, an independent judiciary, and the place in codified law of concepts such as fairness, justice, and liberty) and also capacity-building (better policy analysis, stricter budgetary discipline, and public service reforms). The concerns with civil society include legitimacy, transparency, accountability, and participation, all of which are seen as ways of strengthening civil society in order to reduce the power of the state, attack corruption, and ensure the efficient allocation of public resources. The same ends also inform the Bank’s concern with promoting competition, strong local government, and decentralized administration. In short, although the World Bank does not actually promote liberal democracy outright, it advocates liberal values as the way to efficiency. The World Bank promotes an efficient liberal economy based on free markets through both a liberal state enforcing property rights and contractual obligations and a liberal civil society sustaining and restraining such a state....

Challenges to the policy discourse of good governance typically concentrate on one or more of the following: its vagueness, its neoliberal bias, or its ethnocentrism.
That last sentence points to a critical perspective on governance. I would have liked p.99 to have included more of my skepticism, as that is a key part of Democratic Governance. In the book, I argue that policy-makers rely too much on expertise. Their faith in markets and networks has squeezed out democratic participation. Contemporary democracy thus suffers from blurred lines of accountability and declining legitimacy. I conclude the book by suggesting various strategies for democratic renewal.
Read an excerpt from Democratic Governance, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 18, 2010

Margaret K. Nelson's "Parenting Out of Control"

Margaret K. Nelson is the A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Sociology at Middlebury College. Her previous books include Negotiated Care: The Experience of Family Day Care Providers, Working Hard and Making Do: Survival in Small Town America (with Joan Smith), and The Social Economy of Single Motherhood. She has also edited two collections of essays, Circles of Care: Work and Identity in Women’s Lives (with Emily K. Abel) and Who’s Watching: Daily Practices of Surveillance Among Contemporary Families (with Anita Ilta Garey).

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Parenting Out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times, and reported the following:
As the author of a study that compares the parenting styles of the elite with those who are less privileged, it is disconcerting to stumble on a page that deals only with one side of the contrast. The working class parents quoted on page 99 all claim strictness (a component of what I call “parenting with limits”) as their bedrock approach to raising adolescents. Amy says that she’s “always been one of those [parents who believes] you’re not here to be their friend; you’re here to be their parent.” Francesca claims that her children chide her for not being lenient enough. And Christopher wants his children to show proper respect for him. As these three parents speak, they also hint at the comparative framework when they make it clear that they differentiate themselves from what they believe to be the more indulgent parents around them. Because it is both newer, and an issue of contemporary concern (as when people write about “helicopter parents”), that more indulgent stance (which I call “parenting out of control”) is highlighted in much of my book.

Technology helps reinforce the strictness of parenting with limits. As I show in the second half of my analysis, parents like the three quoted on page 99 are delighted by devices of constraint (like child locators) and devices of surveillance (like GPS tracking systems in cars). They see that these devices can help them monitor, control, and spy on their children. Curiously, for reasons I explain in the book, although more elite parents are even more insistent on monitoring, controlling, and spying on their children, although they do use both cell phones and baby monitors, as a whole they are less interested in technological aids than they are in intense interaction and personalized vigilance. As a result of the actions of these privileged parents, both their children – and the parents themselves – sometimes feel that parenting has exceeded its limits and has gotten entirely out of control.
Read an excerpt from Parenting Out of Control, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Kalee Thompson's "Deadliest Sea"

Kalee Thompson is a freelance writer focused on science, environmental, and outdoor stories. She has worked as a senior editor at National Geographic Adventure and Popular Science magazines and has contributed to publications including Popular Mechanics, Women’s Health, Wired, Skiing, and O, The Oprah Magazine.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Deadliest Sea: The Untold Story Behind the Greatest Rescue in Coast Guard History, and reported the following:
Deadliest Sea is the story of a tragic shipwreck, a harrowing rescue in frigid Alaskan waters, and the basic human drama of survival and perseverance in the face of death. There's not much of any of that on page 99, though. Would Ford Madox Ford--inventor of that all-knowing number test--put the book down? Instead, I'd hope he'd become deeply absorbed in the troubling but fascinating backstory behind the Alaska Ranger disaster: namely, the failure of many in the commercial fishing industry to take basic steps to ensure the seaworthiness of their ships--and the safety of their crews.

Commercial fishing is the deadliest job in the United States, with a 2008 fatality rate nineteen times higher than for firefighters. On page 99, I'm introducing a rogue effort by Coast Guard fishing vessel examiners to improve safety standards in the Bering Sea "Head & Gut" fleet (so called because the boats behead and de-gut their catch before packing it into freezers built right into the hull of the ship). The Alaska Ranger was one of about 60 boats in that fleet, and was among the ships enrolled in the innovative Coast Guard program, known as the Alternative Compliance and Safety Agreement (ACSA).

The goal of ACSA was to improve seaworthiness standards for a group of boats with an abysmal safety record. Since 2001, there have four major casualties in the Bering Sea Head & Gut fleet, resulting in the deaths of 30 men. Of course, for the Alaska Ranger, ACSA turned out to be too little, too late. The ship hadn't yet reached compliance with the new standards when it sank on March 23, 2008.

Though it was the freezing sea that threatened men's lives as they clung to each other in the waves, praying for the buzz of a helicopter on the horizon, it wasn't an angry ocean that sank their ship. It was the fact that the 35-year-old fishing trawler dropped a rudder, and then didn't have the watertight integrity required to keep the flooding from dooming the ship--as well as a number of the men onboard. On page 99, the story of how those failures could have been avoided begins.
Read an excerpt from Deadliest Sea, and learn more about the book and author at Kalee Thompson's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Massimo Pigliucci's "Nonsense on Stilts"

Massimo Pigliucci is professor of philosophy at the City University of New York. He has written many books, including Making Sense of Evolution with Jonathan Kaplan.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk, and reported the following:
If you open my latest book, Nonsense on Stilts at p. 99 you will find yourself in the midst of a delicate discussion of the role of the media in science dis-education. In particular, that page constitutes the coda of a critique of an infamous “documentary” entitled What the Bleep Do We Know?, a bizarre production that mixes confused bits of science from neurobiology and — of course — quantum mechanics, with quite a bit of new age fluff about the power of the mind to overcome matter and shape reality.

What the Bleep is, unfortunately, just one of many examples of how we are constantly exposed to what the book labels as, after a famous phrase by philosopher Jeremy Bentham, “nonsense on stilts,” that is a really tall order of nonsense. It is easy, of course, to blame “the media” for the sorry state of public understanding of science in this country, but in fact I argue in the book that the number of culprits is much, much larger. Just like in Agatha Christie’s mystery novel, Murder on the Orient Express, pretty much everyone involved turned out to have contributed to the crime.

The culprits in our case include a large part of the media, especially those that keep blurring the distinction between news and entertainment, or between reporting and ideological editorializing. But it also includes scientists themselves, who typically have little or no incentive in getting involved in public education — it doesn’t get them the scholarly publications and grants that will allow them to get the much coveted tenure. It includes celebrities like Oprah Winfrey or Jenny McCarthy, who just “know” that vaccines cause autism, despite the overwhelming consensus to the contrary within the scientific medical community. It also includes some less talked about characters, such as the increasingly influential “think tanks” (be they liberal, conservative or libertarian) which, far from doing research on important policy issues, single-mindedly pursue a predetermined ideological agenda, retrofitting the facts to a set of largely a priori conclusions.

Back to the chapter that comprises page 99 for a moment. There I also take on some big names of the skeptical movement, people who have dedicated their time and effort to debunk pseudoscientific claims. Well, it turns out that even skeptics are not immune to ideological blunders, perhaps not entirely surprisingly, considering that skeptics are not endowed with special powers of super-human objectivity. My favorite example is a damning episode of the otherwise excellent television series Bullshit!, hosted on ShowTime by magicians and semi-professional debunkers Penn & Teller.

The show is normally so good that I often use clips from it in the critical thinking course that I regularly teach at the City University of New York. But when P&T tackled climate change they got it horribly, horribly wrong. They start out with a rather amusing piece showing the gullibility of some committed environmentalists: they sent an associate to gather signatures for a petition to ban a chemical that is dangerously common in our food and environment, it’s called di-hydrogen monoxide — otherwise known as water. It is disheartening to see how many well intentioned young people jumped at the opportunity of “doing something” about a “chemical” that is in fact vital to our very own existence.

Still, the gist of the episode is that climate change is a myth made up by people bent on blaming the private sector for all our problems, with no scientific basis to the notion whatsoever. How do we know this? Well, Penn & Teller pit a number of clueless enviro-hippies against “experts” Bjorn Lomborg and Jerry Taylor. Neither of these latter two are climate scientists, however, or in fact scientists of any kind at all. Lomborg is an economist who wrote a book entitled The Skeptical Environmentalist, to the debunking of which Scientific American devoted a special issue (and which I examine in some detail in chapter 6 of Nonsense on Stilts, a few pages past 99). Taylor is a representative of the CATO Institute, a libertarian think tank that has been waging an ideologically motivated war against the very notion of climate change in order to protect the oil industry that funds the Institute, such as the Exxon Mobil corporation. Oh, and did I mention that Penn Gillette (the Penn of Penn & Teller) is a fellow of the CATO Institute? Not that you would know from the show, of course.

That is the challenge laid out by Nonsense on Stilts: it is not at all always easy to draw the line between science and bunk, and not even to tell apart reliable sources from less reliable ones. Sure, every intelligent person agrees that astronomy is a solid science while astrology is bunk, but what about evolutionary psychology, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or even string theory in physics? The first one is based on the sound principles of evolutionary biology, but it turns out that its specific claims about the adaptiveness of certain human behaviors (like rape) are next to impossible to test. The second one gets off the ground on the sensible assumption that if there is one technological civilization interested in interstellar communication in the galaxy (ours), there may be more. But is that enough theoretical foundation to consider SETI a science? As for string theory, it is thought by some to be the best route to the holy grail of physics, a unified theory of all natural forces; but other physicists consider it the most colossal and embarrassing waste of time for the theoretical physics community since before Newton.

Science is a marvelous human activity, and it behooves us as citizens of a democratic society to understand both its power and its limits. This understanding will be possible only if all the “culprits” mentioned in Nonsense on Stilts will fulfill their responsibilities properly: not just experts, media, celebrities, and think tanks, but also the rest of us. It is dangerous for the public to relinquish decisions about science and science education to ideologues and pundits. It is our money that funds scientific research, and it is our lives that are affected — sometimes dramatically — by the doings of science. You’d think it a matter of common sense for us to make the effort to educate ourselves and partake in the greatest intellectual adventures that humanity engages in. Could it be that so many of us lack common sense?
Learn more about Nonsense on Stilts at the publisher's website, and visit Massimo Pigliucci's Rationally Speaking blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 14, 2010

Kambiz GhaneaBassiri's "A History of Islam in America"

Kambiz GhaneaBassiri is Associate Professor of Religion and Humanities at Reed College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A History of Islam in America: From the New World to the New World Order, and reported the following:
A History of Islam in America explores the variety of ways in which Muslims have historically participated in American life through community and institution building. It offers a narrative of the encounters and exchanges between Muslims and non-Muslims since European explorers sought to navigate through the Atlantic in order to bypass the trade routes that went through the Muslim Ottoman and Mamluk Empires. It culminates with a history of the growing presence of Muslims in the U.S. in recent decades and the changes in their institutions in light of 9/11 and U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the context of America’s attempts to define its national identity as a multicultural society and the world’s sole superpower.

Page 99 doesn’t reveal the whole book but discusses an important time of transition American Muslim history. In the post-Civil War era, as the United States became more religiously and ethnically diverse, there was competition over who had the cultural authority “to define America’s national identity and to lay claim to its economic, industrial, and scientific advancements.” At this time, race, religion, and progress were not seen as discrete categories but were conflated to define America and its prosperity as essentially a product of Anglo-American Protestantism. On this page, I argue that this conflation “is important for narrating the history of Islam in America at the turn of the twentieth century for two reasons.” First, although intended as an exclusionary measure, it ironically functioned as an identity matrix through which members of other ethnic and religious groups could lay claim to America’s progress and help reshape America’s national identity. Later in the book, I discuss how early immigrants from the Levant and South Asia, some of them Muslim, sought to self-identify as Caucasians in the 1910s and 1920s in order to establish not only their citizenship but their claim on America.

“Secondly, in the context of European imperialism, a similar discourse around race, religion, and progress was employed to justify the colonization of much of the Muslim-majority world as a ‘civilizing’ or ‘modernizing’ project.” Consequently, “Muslim missionaries who immigrated to the United States in this period were intimately familiar with the way in which race, religion, and progress were conflated to support the colonization and oppression of dark-skinned non-Europeans.” In the U.S., they did not challenge this conflation but rather grappled with it to find Islam’s place within it. They argued that Islam, not Christianity, truly represented progress. They proselytized Islam as a religion of universal brotherhood and progress in northern metropolises and industrial centers, which were receiving black migrants from the South. As the ensuing chapters show, this had far-reaching consequences for the history of Islam in America because it facilitated the conversion of African Americans to Islam and provided a way by which many African Americans formed a distinct black, Muslim national identity through which they sought to participate in American progress and modernity.
Read an excerpt from A History of Islam in America, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Keith L. Shimko's "The Iraq Wars and America’s Military Revolution"

Keith L. Shimko is Associate Professor of Political Science at Purdue University. He is the author of Images and Arms Control, which won the Quincy Wright Award in 1992, and three editions of International Relations: Perspectives and Controversies.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Iraq Wars and America's Military Revolution, and reported the following:
The Iraq Wars and America’s Military Revolution examines whether advances in a variety of technologies associated with the information revolution are fundamentally changing the character and conduct of modern warfare. Focusing on the American experience in Iraq since 1991, the book evaluates claims of a contemporary “revolution in military affairs” (RMA) with an eye toward understanding both its promise and limitations. While the 1991 and 2003 Iraq Wars illustrated the revolutionary potential of these new technologies, the post-2003 experience and other military missions over the past two decades highlighted their limitations.

Opening to page 99 one finds a discussion not of the Iraq Wars but rather the origins of United States’ involvement in Somalia in 1992-93. Juxtaposed against the surprisingly easy and decisive victory in 1991, the Somali intervention provided an almost immediate corrective to post-Desert Storm military triumphalism and predictions of a historic transformation of warfare. This is where I begin to set the foundation for understanding the limitations of the military revolution heralded by the Gulf War: “Not long after the smashing success in Desert Storm and its dazzling display of American technological superiority, the United States was drawn into a very different conflict whose more ambiguous result would dull some of the lingering glow of victory and call into question some claims of a revolution in warfare.” The Somali intervention demonstrated that the surveillance, communications and targeting technologies that seemed to revolutionize warfare and gave the United States such an advantage in 1991 do not have an equivalent impact in all settings and conflicts. Faced with a less traditional opponent in an urban environment, these capabilities were less revolutionary and offered fewer advantages. In foreshadowing many of the problems the United States faced after the ouster of Saddam in 2003, the analytical significance of the Somali intervention is greater than its magnitude.

In The Iraq Wars and America’s Military Revolution I eventually conclude that technological change has produced fundamental changes in the character and conduct of warfare. I stress, however, that no revolution changes everything. The 1991 war against Iraq discussed in the book’s first 90 pages offers an example of the type of conflict that is being revolutionized. The Somali intervention, however, reflects a type of conflict that it is not being revolutionized. A balanced assessment of the contemporary RMA recognizes that no revolution revolutionizes everything.
Read an excerpt from The Iraq Wars and America's Military Revolution, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 11, 2010

Laurent Dubois' "Soccer Empire"

Laurent Dubois is Professor of French and History at Duke University. He is the author of many award-winning books, including Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution, which was a Best Book of the Los Angeles Times and a Notable Book of the Christian Science Monitor.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Soccer Empire:
“Hey, Desailly, do you know that little kids are dying in your country?” So Bulgarian striker Hristo Stoïchkov taunted French defender Marcel Desailly during a key game of the 1996 European Cup. Then he added: “Shitty country, shitty blacks, shitty skin.” Desailly kept his cool, and didn’t take the bait. After France won the game, though, he publicly denounced Stoïchkov. Later, though Desailly actually thanked the Bulgarian. From that day on, Desailly recalled, when he wore his French jersey on the field, he felt “at once French and African” and “proud of my two countries, black and white.”
I describe the incident between Desailly and Stoïchkov on p. 99 of my book Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France. It turns out the page is a pretty good mark for the book. Desailly was born in Ghana but was adopted by a French man who married his mother when he was young, and grew up in a comfortable and mostly white neighborhood in Bordeaux. As a young man he was invited to go to a football academy run by the local team, the Girondins de Bordeaux, where he completed high school and began a career as a professional athlete. Recruited to the French national team, he was one of the key players at the European Cup in 1996 and, more importantly, during the 1998 World Cup in France. In that year, France won the World Cup for the first time in its history with a team that was celebrated for its diversity.

To understand the meaning of that victory, though, you need to understand what happened in 1996. For in that year, while Stoïchkov attacked Desailly on the field, the French far-right political leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, attacked the team as a whole calling them “foreigners” and “fake Frenchmen.” In response, players, fans, and politicians responded passionately, claiming that in fact the French team, in all its diversity, better represented France than Le Pen’s outdated and xenophobic vision did. The story of how that happened, and of the broader and contradictory ways in which politics and football shape one another, is at the center of Soccer Empire. On the turf, it shows, racism has found itself both articulated and powerfully challenged.
Learn more about Soccer Empire at the University of California Press website and the Soccer Politics blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Richard Longstreth's "The American Department Store Transformed"

Richard Longstreth is Professor of American Studies and director of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The American Department Store Transformed, 1920-1960,
On page 99 of The American Department Store Transformed, you will read about a debate between advocates of municipally and commercially operated parking facilities and will probably ask what on earth that has to do with department stores. Quite a bit, actually. From the 1920s on, customer parking emerged as an ever-more pressing issue for department store companies as increasing segments of the best customers grew ever-more inclined to drive downtown. I devote an entire chapter to the subject, exploring the numerous strategies taken by, and disagreements among, these companies in trying to address a need for which they were ill-equipped to resolve.

The book explores many other such issues, including customer service, systematization of operational practices, warehousing, display, store location and design, lighting, and branch development. The period covered encompasses four decades, 1920-1960, when department stores were transformed in many ways, ending at a time when leading retailers thought they had re-invented their stores to the degree that they would continue to enjoy dominance for decades to come.

Besides the chapter on parking, two chapters focus on downtown stores, one on off-site warehousing and service facilities, two on freestanding branch stores, two on department stores in shopping centers, and one on the department store’s role in attempts at urban redevelopment around 1960.
Learn more about The American Department Store Transformed at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Jack Rakove's "Revolutionaries"

Jack Rakove, the William Robertson Coe Professor of History and American Studies and a professor of political science at Stanford University, is one the most distinguished historians of the early American republic. He is the author of, among other books, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1997.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America, and reported the following:
I think this famous literary test works reasonably well for my book, but not perfectly. Revolutionaries is a broad history of the American Revolution. It begins with the Boston Tea Party and ends in the final year of George Washington’s first presidential administration, when Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton explained why they could not patch up the political differences between them. In between, I explore the crisis that produced American independence in the mid-1770s, consider new issues that the Revolution created, and finally conclude with three chapters on the legacies of Jefferson, James Madison, and Hamilton. The book examines a broad array of issues, and while it is not a totally comprehensive history of the Revolution, it describes the diverse ways in which American leaders were caught in politics and the quite new questions they faced once they indeed became revolutionaries.

Page 99 of Revolutionaries happily captures a critical moment in this story. It begins in the spring of 1776, when Americans learned that George III had just rejected an address from London urging him to negotiate with the Americans. Robert Morris, the politically moderate merchant prince of Philadelphia, reacts to this news by concluding that his lingering “hopes for reconciliation” have come to naught. The page closes with Samuel Adams, the militant Boston patriot, contentedly noting that events have followed the course he expected they would, even if the Americans had not yet done everything they might have to prepare for independence. “We cannot make events,” Adams observes. “Our business is wisely to improve them.” In between these two passages, the page reflects on the work Congress still had to do to be fully ready for independence.

What I like about this page (for the Page 99 Test) is that it captures one of the recurring themes of the book. In every chapter, as new characters are brought on stage, I try to convey the sense of what it was like to be caught up in a revolutionary struggle whose dimensions far exceeded what anyone might have anticipated. Samuel Adams, of course, was an extreme case, and Robert Morris somewhat more representative. But together I think these passages illustrate the personal dimension of what the experience was like, which is why I called the book, with a modicum of irony, Revolutionaries.
Read an excerpt from Revolutionaires, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Andrew Zimmerman's "Alabama in Africa"

Andrew Zimmerman is associate professor of history at George Washington University. He is the author of Anthropology and Antihumanism in Imperial Germany.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Alabama in Africa: Booker T. Washington, the German Empire, and the Globalization of the New South, and reported the following:
The revolutionary lives of Polish seasonal migrant laborers in Germany is the topic of page 99 of Alabama in Africa and it does, I think, pass Ford’s test. By the 1890s, thousands of young Polish men and women traveled each year to do the backbreaking work of sugarbeet cultivation in the fields of German landowners. Even as these workers found themselves exploited and oppressed by their would-be masters, they also became mobile and cosmopolitan individuals who challenged prevailing social hierarchies in Germany and in Poland. German employers preferred to hire female fieldworkers, since they regarded these young women as more diligent and less demanding than their male counterparts. In doing so, employers unintentionally empowered these women to challenge patriarchal structures in the workplace, the household, and the political sphere. Alabama in Africa addresses the similarly revolutionary potentials of African American cotton growers, African palm oil harvesters, and Polish sugarbeet workers, remaining careful to not romanticize the real forms of oppression faced by these diverse groups of working men and women. The book also analyzes the efforts of economic and political elites and mainstream social scientists to capture these workers, checking their freedom even while enjoying the fruits of their labor. Equally important to its analysis are the efforts of revolutionary activists, from the German Social Democratic Party, discussed on p. 99, to the American Wobblies, to Communist International, to learn from, and catch up with, the spontaneous movements of these workers. I wrote Alabama in Africa as an experiment in writing a history outside the framework of national boundaries, but also while thinking about the situation of workers in the world today, whose mobility remains both necessary and inimical to the structures of wealth and power that allow a small ruling class to live at the expense of the world’s majorities.
Read an excerpt from Alabama in Africa, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 7, 2010

James R. Fichter's "So Great a Proffit"

James R. Fichter is Assistant Professor of History, Lingnan University, Hong Kong.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, So Great a Proffit: How the East Indies Trade Transformed Anglo-American Capitalism, and reported the following:
So Great a Proffit is about British and American merchants in Asia during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and the changes their business wrought. But page 99 isn't set in Asia at all — it's set in the Caribbean where we find a captain peddling Asian wares in Revolutionary Haiti. The captain makes a hash of his trades but still comes out ahead. Page 99 isn't at the heart of the book, rather it explores one of the many tentacles of that trade which reached out from India and China and encompassed so much more, in this case the re-export of Indian cloth in the Caribbean, likely as clothing for slaves. There were many other such tentacles — reaching back to the sourcing of goods to sell in India and China in the Pacific Ocean and the raising of capital in the London and Philadelphia markets, reaching forward to the re-export and smuggling of Indian and Chinese goods throughout Napoleonic Europe and the war-wracked Caribbean, and stretching to ports en route, such as Cape Town and St. Helena, and to side-trades in Mauritius, Java and the Philippines. One of the strengths of this book is that it draws on sources from all these places, putting east-west trade in a truly global perspective.

This is important not simply for the virtues of being thorough, but because of the broad and deep consequences of Anglo-American trade to Asia: it helped re-orient the global North from Asia to the North Atlantic on the eve of the great divergence. What was so consequential about this trade was how it was financed, its new method of funding transforming trade and capitalism in every port it touched. Just how did that work? Well, it might take a while for me to explain here … so read the book!
Learn more about So Great a Proffit at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Daniel Okrent's "Last Call"

Daniel Okrent was the first public editor of the New York Times, editor-at-large of Time, Inc., and managing editor of Life magazine. He worked in book publishing as an editor at Knopf and Viking, and was editor-in-chief of general books at Harcourt Brace. He was also a featured commentator on Ken Burns’s PBS series, Baseball, and is author of four books, one of which, Great Fortune, was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in history. Okrent was also a fellow at the Shorenstein Center at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, where he remains an Associate.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, and reported the following:
I’m fairly fond of my page 99, for it underscores the thrust of the Prohibition movement, which was simultaneously delusional and disingenuous. The time is 1918, as World War I rages; the Prohibitionists, embodied by William Jennings Bryan, are using the war to further their anti-alcohol cause:
“How can we justify the making of any part of our foodstuffs into intoxicating liquor,” Bryan asked, “when men are crying out for bread?” Anticipating the end of the war, Billy Sunday took a more cheerful approach. “The Problem of what to do with the farm surplus will be solved in a jiffy,” Sunday said. “The children of drunkards will consume this surplus in the form of flap-jacks for breakfast.”
The consequence, as the page goes on to relate, was a series of prohibitory laws enacted by Congress that prefigured the Constitutional amendment lurking around the corner. The war had given the Drys perfect cover: a patriotic excuse for their overreaching zeal.
See a graphic excerpt from Last Call, and view a video of Okrent discussing the book.

Learn more about the book and author at Daniel Okrent's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 4, 2010

Thad Williamson's "Sprawl, Justice, and Citizenship"

Thad Williamson is Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies and Political Science at the University of Richmond. He is co-winner of the American Political Science Association's Harold Lasswell Award for best dissertation in public policy in 2004, and lead co-author of Making a Place for Community.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Sprawl, Justice, and Citizenship: The Civic Costs of the American Way of Life, and reported the following:
As it happens, page 99 of my book is both a) deeply misleading concerning the book as a whole and b) an important step in my overall argument about suburban sprawl in the United States. Page 99 of Sprawl, Justice and Citizenship takes up the question of what a comprehensive assessment of the cost and benefits of sprawl might conclude. It comes near the end of two chapters devoted to examining suburban sprawl from a utilitarian perspective, including looking at the economic costs and benefits associated with sprawl as well as empirical evidence on the relationship between residence in a sprawling (automobile-oriented, low-density) neighborhood and community satisfaction. The reason the page is misleading is because by the end of that section I argue that cost-benefit analysis is too limited a tool to help us assess whether, going forward, sprawling development is superior or inferior to plausible alternatives, and that utilitarian frameworks in general often provide very indeterminate judgments about complex social questions.

This is especially true in the case of sprawl, which is often more expensive than more compact development but also appears to provide very many benefits to many, many people. The real import of this section is arguing that there isn’t a slam-dunk case against sprawl on either economic or quality-of-life grounds. At best the utilitarian-guided critic of sprawl could make a somewhat speculative argument that if we improved the social conditions of American cities and made them more attractive places to live, then Americans’ preferences for low-density suburbs would weaken, and that more Americans who would be very happy to live in cities but do not now because they fear crime or bad schools would (having a larger choice set) be better off. I happen to think that argument is probably correct, but I think it’s fair to label it as speculative at this point.

I do think there are other, stronger grounds for critiquing American-style sprawl. These include, first, the ecological consequences of continued car-centered development; second, the social injustice involved in (for instance) denying children growing up in disadvantaged urban areas the same quality education and opportunities as suburbanites; and third, the fact that suburbanization has often served as a mechanism by which the relatively well-off can escape from politics and sustained political engagement.

Taken together these are (to my mind) powerful arguments, and they are each developed at length in the book. But they will not translate into reversing sprawl unless or until major steps are taken to improve the quality-of-life of our urban centers. Doing this in a socially just fashion means more than just building museums and concert halls, attracting “creatives” or pursuing other elite-oriented strategies. Rather it must mean addressing the interconnected issues of substandard urban public education, disproportionate poverty in our cities, and inadequate employment opportunities for urban residents.
Learn more about Sprawl, Justice, and Citizenship at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gary Alan Fine & Bill Ellis' "The Global Grapevine"

Gary Alan Fine is John Evans Professor of Sociology at Northwestern University. His book, Whispers on the Color Line: Rumor and Race in America was a finalist for the C. Wright Mills Award. Bill Ellis is Professor Emeritus of English and American Studies at Pennsylvania State University. He is a Fellow of the American Folklore Society and has served as President of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research.

Fine and Ellis applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Global Grapevine: Why Rumors of Terrorism, Immigration, and Trade Matter, and reported the following:
Our thesis is that rumors are part of a working process of communal fact-finding, used by most people of all classes and levels of education, and hardly the trivial nuisance that previous researchers have assumed. Dame Rumor has been an essential part of culture since ancient times, and will doubtless remain so for the rest of human existence. For that reason, looking at page 99 of our book, just like looking at whatever rumors are afoot in 2010 (or 1784, or 2135), provides a useful microcosm of our book’s argument.

The page discusses the ways in which a recent influx of Latino residents to Hazleton, a small working-class town in northeastern Pennsylvania, led to rapid, visible changes in daily routines. This spurred a host of rumors focusing around the center of the new Spanish-speaking neighborhood. One such was:
[M]y great aunt ... told me a story about the Puerto Ricans that live on Wyoming Street in Hazleton. She said that her friend went to drive through the street but the entire street got blocked by Puerto Ricans. She said they demanded that the driver pay five dollars in order to pass. Eventually police showed up and the crowd disappeared.
The “Grapevine” rumor, in which unwelcome newcomers are said to harass residents by blocking the road, has older roots. It was found a generation earlier in Montana, the perpetrators being black-hooded satanists. And E. L. Doctorow used a similar scenario in his novel Ragtime; this time the culprits were Irish immigrants, and their victim was Coalhouse Walker, an upwardly mobile Black musician.

In all of these stories, the message is similar: doubt that local authorities are capable or even willing to deal with the menace. The only recourse is vigilante action, or a political crusade intended to give authorities wider power to intimidate newcomers into moving to another location. In Hazleton, where one of the book’s authors resided, the result was a political crusade in 2006 to enact draconian laws against immigrants, a solution more recently tried by the state of Arizona.

It is tempting to see such rumors and the crusades they mobilize as the result of ignorance or even racism. We take a more objective tack: rapid demographic changes always have and always will provoke rumors as residents, seeing their settled lifestyle disrupted, struggle to rethink their beliefs and habits. Rumor is just one highly visible tool in this complex process, whose political power cannot be underestimated.
Read more about The Global Grapevine at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Melvin Konner's "The Evolution of Childhood"

Melvin Konner is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Program in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology at Emory University, and author of The Tangled Wing, Becoming A Doctor, Childhood: A Multicultural View, and Unsettled: An Anthropology of the Jews.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Evolution of Childhood is fairly typical of the book, and it illustrates the general approach of the book while raising some specific themes. The first paragraph uses Darwinian evolution to explain how the brains of monkeys and apes evolved to reflect complexities in social behavior. When comparing different species, there is a correlation between brain size and the size of social groups, and this is probably due to the need to remember all the actors, how important they are, what they can do to or for you, and also to interpret their facial and vocal expressions, which become much more complex as we go from mammals generally to monkeys, from monkeys to apes, and from apes to humans. The complexity of the brain is hard-wired (genetically coded), as is the variety of facial and vocal expressions, but for any given individual growing up in any group, a huge amount of learning goes into becoming a socially competent adult. The basic brain circuits and the basic communications may be hard-wired, but the context and meaning of the communications is largely learned.

The page goes on to mention the work of Robert Seyfarth and Dorothy Cheney, which showed that African vervet monkeys have unexpectedly complex calls, three of which signal the approach of three different kinds of enemies—snakes, leopards, and hawks. The three require different responses, and the young learn those responses as they grow and imitate others.

Page 99 also describes the insightful work of Harold and Sarah Gouzoules, who showed that monkeys called pigtail macaques have different screams for different kinds of aggression among themselves, depending on who is attacking whom and how badly. These different screams are interpreted differently by relatives, who respond accordingly. “Moreover, there is a developmental course: as juveniles grow to adulthood, their agonistic screams become more situation-specific… The remarkable fact is that monkey calls have fine shades of meaning and a component learned during socialization, despite being in some ways innate.”

Finally, Page 99 says that play is essential to the development of the young in all monkeys, apes, and us, and that it stimulates brain growth as well as forming the foundation for social relationships. As with my book as a whole, this page shows how much our non-human relatives can teach us about the evolutionary background to human childhood, how evolution has made many things innate, but also how it has relied heavily on things that have to be learned as the young grow slowly toward adulthood.

It has been wisely said that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. My book shows that nothing in childhood does either. It is the product of a lifetime of work and thought, and its goal is to change the way we think about children and childhood, placing our views on a more scientific and biological foundation.
Learn more about The Evolution of Childhood at the Harvard University Press website and Melvin Konner's blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Jane Isay's "Mom Still Likes You Best"

As an editor, Jane Isay discovered Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia, commissioned Patricia O’Connor’s bestselling Woe Is I and Rachel Simmons’s Odd Girl Out, and edited such nonfiction classics as Praying for Sheetrock and Friday Night Lights. She is the author of Walking on Eggshells: Navigating the Delicate Relationship Between Adult Children and Parents.

Isay applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Mom Still Likes You Best: The Unfinished Business Between Siblings, and reported the following:
Page 99 tells of two sisters, and what happens when one of them becomes very wealthy. It’s not a happy story, and not an uncommon one. These two sisters were given identities at an early age: the elder was not so pretty but very smart; the younger sister was pretty, popular, and the first to marry and have kids. Things changed when the older sister married and with her husband started a successful business. Now the calculus was different, and money became the great divider. This story is in a chapter about the things that divide siblings as adults: politics, religion, and money.

It’s a funny thing, how we take the differences between us and our siblings so seriously. How many times have you heard, or thought, “How could it be that we came from the same family? We’re so different.” The reason we are so different is that we came from the same families, and we need to differentiate ourselves from our brothers and sisters. With the exception of some famous siblings (the Williams sisters, for example), most people slowly become who they are by shedding their childhood identities. But when it comes to politics, religion, and money, these differences are hard to bear.

There are some ways to feel better about our wayward siblings. The first is to remember that we aren’t responsible for our siblings’ choices—we can accept them or not, depending on how much we want a relationship. Many people I know just skip the subjects that divide them and stay with the songs they sang in the back of the car, the funny family stories, and memories of the dog. That goes a long way.
Read the back story to Mom Still Likes You Best, and learn more about the book and author at Jane Isay's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue