Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mark Peel's "Miss Cutler and the Case of the Resurrected Horse"

Mark Peel is professor of modern cultural and social history and head of the School of History at the University of Liverpool. A former professor of history at Monash University, his books include The Lowest Rung: Voices of Australian Poverty.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Miss Cutler and the Case of the Resurrected Horse: Social Work and the Story of Poverty in America, Australia, and Britain, and reported the following: 
If it is difficult for any single page to encapsulate a book describing hundreds of encounters in five different cities and three continents, I am confident that page 99 of Miss Cutler and the Case of the Resurrected Horse gives its readers a reliable sense of the book’s themes and style. This is a history of what the social workers and charity investigators who encountered the poor during the 1920s and 1930s heard them saying and then formed what they heard—and misheard—into dramatized explanations of poverty. What we understand about poverty powerfully shapes what we think we should do about it, and this account of Melbourne, London, Boston, Minneapolis and Oregon shows that Australians, Americans and Britons agreed on some ideas and disagreed on others.

On page 99, readers find themselves in London, at the end of a chapter called ‘The Man With the Repulsive Face’. It features an impoverished young husband and father, William Rowthorn, who came to symbolize for a group of London social workers, employed by the Charity Organisation Society, the strange, hapless ways of the poor. In London, more than in the United States or Australia, the poor were seen at a distance and with a more or less dismissive disdain, ‘when they come close, or when they are tracked to where they live: behind things, under things, down the stairs, or surrounded by the debris of their hopeless lives. They “shamble” and “shuffle” on and off the stage, largely untouched by any attempt to help them, and probably cheerful, apart from the odd teary moment. They are disfigured and disarrayed, too fat or too thin, and distant and different enough to warrant such terms as “repulsive.” William Rowthorn’s rash might have been worse than many, but he was not alone in attracting a rather offhand entitlement. As the COS faced its own crisis in the 1920s and 1930s, that version of the poor would hardly waver’.

Miss Cutler’s raw material are thousands of case files, written by social workers who were normally trying very hard to understand and help the poor. They tell stories in these files, and it is from those stories that I show how ideas about the poor and their poverty differed and did not differ, changed and did not change, across place and time. I have turned some of those stories into scripts, dramatizing encounters in which there was always misapprehension, and often clumsiness and denial. But they also dramatize the difficulty—and the great significance—of listening to the poor and accepting that they might understanding something about poverty, its origins and especially its remedies.
Learn more about Miss Cutler and the Case of the Resurrected Horse at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 30, 2012

Fritz Allhoff's "Terrorism, Ticking Time-Bombs, and Torture"

Fritz Allhoff is associate professor of philosophy at Western Michigan University and a senior research fellow at the Center for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the Australian National University. He is coauthor of What Is Nanotechnology and Why Does It Matter? and the editor or coeditor of numerous volumes, including Wine & Philosophy, Physicians at War, and The Philosophy of Science.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Terrorism, Ticking Time-Bombs, and Torture: A Philosophical Analysis, and reported the following:
Terrorism, Ticking Time-Bombs, and Torture explores the conceptual and moral underpinnings of terrorism, then asks, when terrorism is wrong, what we may do to prevent it. In particular, the central question of the book is whether torture can be justified in ticking time-bomb cases, as well as how those cases gain traction in the real world.

Page 99 falls within a critical chapter in the book, the fifth. In this chapter, the discussion is not about whether it is morally permissible to torture in ticking time-bomb cases, but rather is about what ticking time-bomb cases are and what role they are supposed to play in our moral methodology. These cases ask us to countenance torture as the lesser of two evils: with torture, many lives will certainly be saved and, without it, many will be lost. The moral calculus is supposed to be configured such that the harm of torturing the terrorist is outweighed by the value of the lives saved, though, again, this chapter is methodological; the normative issues are deferred to the following chapter.

Setting aside whether ticking time-bomb cases are ever actualized—for more on this, see chapter 7—a standard assumption is that we intuit the permissibility of interrogational torture in these cases. But do we? Or, even if we do, what, precisely, is it that we are intuiting? That the torture is, all things considered, permissible? That it is morally wrong but that we may do it nevertheless, perhaps with moral residue (cf., dirty hands)? These are very different answers. Page 99 falls in the midst of this discussion, and within a chapter more generally that marshals empirical data on intuitions to make arguments as to what ticking time-bomb cases are doing and the role they play in our thinking. To be sure, the goal here is to vindicate ticking time-bomb thinking; in other words, contra critics, the author wants to make a legitimate role for ticking time-bomb cases in our moral discourse. This methodological project is important given the normative discussion that follows, as well as for later chapters in the book where the discussion shifts to torture in the real world.
Learn more about the book and author at Fritz Allhoff's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Meredith H. Lair's "Armed with Abundance"

Meredith H. Lair is assistant professor of history at George Mason University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Armed with Abundance: Consumerism and Soldiering in the Vietnam War, and reported the following:
American soldiers had a lot of complaints in the Vietnam War: hard work, heavy loads, oppressive weather, loneliness, boredom, bugs, military regulations, and of course the threat--and often vicious reality--of enemy attack. Page 99 of Armed with Abundance is part of a discussion of complaints that U.S. soldiers made to their families, elected officials, and the Army itself about daily life in the war zone.

Complaints are dual articulations of experience, expressing both the way things were and the way they ought to be, according to the author of the complaint. Some soldier complaints were perfectly legitimate, but others were problematic, because they exaggerated the depths of their misery in order to extract sympathy from the folks at home. On Page 99, I describe two such cases: a mother's letter to the secretary of the army alleging that her son was not getting enough to eat; and a wife's missive to her senator alleging that her husband had to trade liquor purchased in Saigon for rations at his base up-country. In the first case, military investigators determined that the soldier's letter to mom included "that little hardship touch to let the folks back home know that he's fighting a war." In the second case, the soldier quietly disavowed the complaints he had made to his spouse. "My dear wife's intentions are indeed good and honest," he wrote, "but everything over here is relative, and she doesn't understand this."

Armed with Abundance examines the daily lives of soldiers in Vietnam, most of whom did not serve in combat. Because the war was unpopular, military authorities struggled to maintain troop morale. To do so, they provided soldiers with material abundance—comfortable living conditions, frequent entertainments, and easy access to consumer goods—that minimized the gap between stateside and war zone standards of living. But no matter how much soldiers had, they always wanted more; there was no fixed point at which satisfaction was achieved. Complaints discussed on subsequent pages reflect this phenomenon: soldiers who slept in beds wanted maids to make them; soldiers who worked in offices wanted fans or central air; and soldiers who worked nine-hour shifts wanted entertainment for the rest of the evening. These complaints only begin to suggest the world the U.S. military made for its soldiers in Vietnam, an alternative warscape that has been all but forgotten in public memory, because it fails to conform to popular ideas of what a war should be.
Learn more about Armed with Abundance at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 27, 2012

William J. Cook's "In Pursuit of the Traveling Salesman"

William Cook is a professor in the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Georgia Tech and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, In Pursuit of the Traveling Salesman: Mathematics at the Limits of Computation, and reported the following:
Any mathematician will tell you that coincidences are not as rare as we might think. So maybe you should not be surprised to learn that this is the second 99 test I've faced this week. The first is playing out on the roads of Iowa.

In mid-December, together with two Princeton professors, I computed the shortest route to visit all 99 county seats in the state. This was the basis of an op-ed piece that appeared in the New York Times political pages. The tie-in was the mad scrambles taken by presidential hopefuls in front of the January caucuses.

Des Moines columnist Kyle Munson is now putting our optimal route to the test. Munson is driving his Ford Focus from county to county in an attempt to complete the state tour, known as a Full Grassley, in a single week.

Finding the shortest route to visit a list of cities, such as the 99 in Iowa, is known in mathematical circles as the traveling salesman problem. It is not only known, it is despised. Or loved, depending on your point of view. The emotions come from the fact that, despite its simple description, no one knows a method that can solve quickly every example of the problem. There is even a $1,000,000 prize offered to the first person to succeed, or to prove that it is impossible.

For now, if you want to get a shortest route for a specific example of the traveling salesman problem, you need to employ a tool called linear programming. This is the topic of the paragraph in the middle of page 99.
The scope of the use of linear programming in industry is breathtaking, covering pretty much any sector you can name. Although it is difficult to quantify, it is clear that planning via linear programming saves enormous amounts of the world's natural resources every day. In terms of money, a New York Times article by Gina Kolata states, "Solving linear programming problems for industry is a multibillion dollar-a-year business.'' Take that, Professor Hotelling.
The short book is devoted to the history, mathematics, and aesthetics of the salesman problem. If you like math, or you are just curious to learn how mathematicians are trying to understand the world around us, I hope you will have a look!
Learn more about the book and author at William Cook's webpage and the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Eben Miller's "Born along the Color Line"

Eben Miller teaches at Southern Maine Community College and lives in Lewiston, Maine.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Born along the Color Line: The 1933 Amenia Conference and the Rise of a National Civil Rights Movement, and reported the following:
From Page 99:
Recently plagued by symptoms of fatigue, [Abram] Harris had received a medical checkup that revealed startling but thankfully small "cloudy areas" on his lungs. Naturally he feared tuberculosis—a blight in urban black communities across the nation, another morbid consequence of segregation—but was told the spots would "disappear very shortly," he wrote, "if I get plenty of sleep, drink milk regularly, take the prescribed doses of cod-liver oil and cut down on my work." Between cod-liver oil and rest, the latter was the less palatable prescription....

All the while, the economics of the race problem beckoned. He did not "deny that you can still fight for Negro rights," he wrote his friend and Howard colleague Ralph Bunche during these weeks of convalescence, yet gaining citizenship rights would be "only half of the job." Just as the New Deal was remaking the national economy, it remained necessary for black leaders to develop a comprehensive program for the civil rights movement.
Two features in this excerpt from page 99 most struck me as supportive of Ford Madox Ford's memorable maxim—its biographical focus and its suggestion that African Americans' economic rights were as important as civil rights.

The biographical nature of this excerpt is apt; my book is a collective biography. Page 99 falls at the very end of the second chapter, which follows the early career of Abram Harris, an economist and professor at Howard University. Here details from Harris's life, such as his illness during the spring and summer of 1933 and his frustration with being so unproductive, afford an everyday perspective. But they appear without the intent of overshadowing the broader argument and momentum of the narrative. For instance, I deployed these details to underscore how committed Harris was to his scholarship. They also help to establish how anxious he would be to participate in the singular civil rigths gathering described in the following chapter. In this respect—the attempt to balance biographical details within a generation-long story about the struggle for African American freedom—this excerpt certainly reveals something of "the quality of the whole."

As does its emphasis on economic rights. A main argument appearing throughout the book is that between the 1920s and early 1950s, African Americans strived to secure equal economic opportunities along with Constitutionally-protected political and civic freedoms. Abram Harris was a key figure in this regard. During the 1920s and early 1930s, Harris sought to use his scholarship and stature as an intellectual to promote an interracial movement for economic rights, mainly among industrial laborers. Much of the rest of my book examines the influence of this outlook on the civil rights movement, especially during the Great Depression and World War II.

In each of these ways, then—illustrating the narrative strategy and highlighting a critical argument—the Ford test works with my book.
Learn more about Born along the Color Line at the Oxford University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Born along the Color Line.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hendrik Hartog's "Someday All This Will Be Yours"

Hendrik Hartog is Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor in the History of American Law and Liberty at Princeton University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Someday All This Will Be Yours: A History of Inheritance and Old Age, and reported the following:
Someday All This Will Be Yours explores how family members solicited and produced old age care in the generations before World War II. It is a study both of how older people convinced younger ones to stay and work and about the arguments mobilized by younger people who fought to be compensated for the care they had provided. It offers a weird and different picture of nineteenth and early twentieth century family life than do most family histories. It focuses on negotiations and bargaining between family members around questions of care. The world it brings out is not one where family members worked together and shared an unconflicted “haven in a heartless world.” To the contrary, it is filled with dark stories about unsatisfied expectations and discomfort. It lends no comfort to those who might wish to return the care of dependent people to the private family.

The first half of Someday All This Will Be Yours is framed by what I call the “King Lear” dilemma. Older (or soon-to-be older) people struggled to secure care from mobile and free adult children and other younger people, without actually giving up power or control. A successful resolution of that dilemma depended on careful and constant mobilization of the language of “promise.” Older people promised, repeatedly and in many contexts and situations, to compensate those younger people who stayed to care. But the promise would be fulfilled only after death, through inheritance.

That language of promise was consciously ambiguous. Promises had to appear strong and unqualified, if younger people were to stay to work at home (and to give up economic prospects elsewhere). But, in order not to become like King Lear, the promisemaker could not offer an executed contract, an actual conveyance of property. Until death, the older person would, in theory, retain control. (In actual fact, of course, many older people would become actually dependent, might succumb to dementia or other disabling conditions, would lose control.)

Around page 99 I bring out the ways that language of promise often became something different when mobilized to keep a daughter at home, as opposed to a son. A daughter who stayed at home to do housekeeping, which might include intimate bodily caregiving to an elderly person, was often construed as doing what daughters did, as opposed to sons, who were understood as “naturally” moving away to seek trades and careers. As with everything in this difficult book, I move in two directions on page 99. On the one hand, I recount a modal case where a daughter lost in court because she was doing just what daughters did, because she conformed to gender stereotypes. The promises made by father to daughter would be reconstructed after her father's death as empty talk. On the other hand, I then qualify that overly simple picture by insisting on the ways needs sometimes overwhelmed conventional gendered categories and by reminding readers that parents often may have compensated daughters in other ways not revealed in the case transcripts.
Learn more about Someday All This Will Be Yours at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 23, 2012

A. W. Moore's "The Evolution of Modern Metaphysics"

A. W. Moore is Professor of Philosophy and Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Oxford.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Evolution of Modern Metaphysics: Making Sense of Things, and reported the following:
The Evolution of Modern Metaphysics is concerned with the history of metaphysics since Descartes. Its subtitle, Making Sense of Things, reflects the definition of metaphysics—“the most general attempt to make sense of things”—on which the book is based. The book charts the evolution of this enterprise through various competing conceptions of its possibility, scope, and limits. It runs to a little over six hundred pages and it is divided into three parts. Part One deals with the early modern period. Part Two deals with the late modern period in the analytic tradition. Part Three deals with the late modern period in various non-analytic traditions. Each of these three parts is divided into seven chapters, and each of the twenty-one chapters looks in depth at the work of one particular philosopher. The chapters are of roughly equal length. Page 99 thus occurs mid way through the fourth and central chapter of Part One, which is a chapter on David Hume (1711 – 1776).

I would be very disappointed to learn that this page reveals the quality of the whole book. This is not because I take it to be unrepresentative, still less because I take it to be unrepresentatively bad. It is simply because I like to think that my book has, in the words of one of my reviewers, “a strong narrative thread” which prevents its quality from being revealed by anything significantly less than the whole. Typical authorial hubris? You will need to judge for yourself. But be fair: you cannot do so unless you read a good deal more than page 99. (Oh, and for the record, page 99 tries to rebut the suggestion that there is material in Hume that makes a mockery of my definition of metaphysics.)
Learn more about The Evolution of Modern Metaphysics at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Paul M. Barrett's "Glock"

Paul M. Barrett is an assistant managing editor of Bloomberg Businessweek. He is the author of American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion and The Good Black: A True Story of Race in America.

Barrett applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Glock: The Rise of America's Gun, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Glock: The Rise of America's Gun describes the early commercial battle between Glock, an Austrian upstart handgun maker, and Smith & Wesson, the storied American manufacturer of revolvers and pistols. Overall, the book describes how Glock, a plastic semiautomatic invented in 1982, became an almost-instant success in the richest gun market in the world, the United States, by winning the affection of cops, civilians, Hollywood directors, gangsta rappers, and, more ominously, more than a few mass killers. On its way to becoming the best-known handgun in America, Glock had to overcome Smith & Wesson, which in the 1980s was issued by 95% of all the police departments across the country and was by a wide margin the favorite brand of homeowners and weekend firearm enthusiasts.

As the reader learns on page 99, Smith & Wesson had let its quality control slip by the 1980s. It had also stopped innovating. Gaston Glock, an Austrian engineer who before getting into guns had manufactured curtain rods in a garage workshop, arrived on these shores with a futuristic-looking pistol that worked every time you pulled the trigger. He discovered a receptive audience. As I note in Glock, this story is strikingly similar to that of the American car industry, which during the same period, for the same reasons, was allowing foreign competitors to grab market share.

Gaston Glock also had the good luck of perfect timing. He introduced his weapon at precisely the moment--the mid-1980s--when many American police departments came to the conclusion they were "outgunned" by increasingly violent crack-cocaine gangs. The traditional Smith & Wesson six-round revolver, in use for 75 years, now seemed inadequate. Glock offered "the pistol of the future," with a 17-round ammunition capacity and the ability to reload swiftly. The police rushed to adopt the Glock; civilian gun owners like to buy what the local cops have. In short order, Glock ate Smith & Wesson's lunch.

Finally, page 99 alludes to Glock's ability to adjust and improve and "resell" its customer base. In the late 1980s, Smith & Wesson developed a larger round (.40 caliber) in response to law enforcement anxiety about being outmatched by the bad guys. But before Smith & Wesson could introduce a pistol to go along with the more potent bullet, Glock got its new larger model onto the gun store shelves. Sherry Collins was Smith & Wesson's public relations manager at the time. A salty-mouthed woman who took no guff in a macho industry, Collins narrated yet another illustration of Glock outfoxing its slow-moving American rival. From page 99:
"Oh, my God, what an embarrassment," recalled Smith & Wesson's Sherry Collins. "We're beaten to market on the gun for our own ammo, the round we've made especially for the FBI. And some Austrian gets there first!" Swirling a midday cocktail, Collins added: "The technical industry term for that kind of experience is 'getting your butt kicked.'"
Learn more about the book and author at the official Glock: The Rise of America's Gun website.

Writers Read: Paul M. Barrett.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ronald Weitzer's "Legalizing Prostitution"

Ronald Weitzer is Professor of Sociology at George Washington University and author or editor of many books, including Sex for Sale: Prostitution, Pornography, and the Sex Industry, Second Edition.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Legalizing Prostitution: From Illicit Vice to Lawful Business, and reported the following:
On page 99 of my new book, Legalizing Prostitution, I discuss the situation in New Zealand after prostitution was decriminalized in 2003. Some of the standard concerns about legalization include whether the number of sex workers and clients will increase after legalization has occurred, how the authorities treat newly-legal participants in commercial sex exchanges, and whether sex workers will feel empowered or oppressed by the new regulations. Regarding New Zealand, page 99 reads, in part:
A major evaluation in 2008 indicated that the number of prostitutes has remained about the same as prior to legalization and that there has been no increase in the number of underage workers. In addition, more than 90 percent of prostitutes (survey N = 772) were aware that they had legal and employment rights under the new law; two-thirds felt that the law gave them more leverage to refuse a client or his requests; and a majority (57 percent) felt that police attitudes had changed for the better since passage of the law.
No one would predict that everything would improve in such a short time period (2003-2008). It typically takes quite a number of years for a vice that was previously illegal to gain acceptance and become normalized – as was true, for example, for casino gambling in Nevada when it first began or problems regulating medical marijuana today in the 15 states that allow doctors to prescribe it for patients. In New Zealand, as my book points out, legal prostitutes continue to feel that certain employment conditions have not improved and that sex work continues to be stigmatized by New Zealanders. But overall, as I write on page 100, the government’s main prostitution monitoring agency has concluded that “legalization had achieved many of its objectives and that the majority of individuals involved in the sex industry were better off now than under the prior system” of criminalization.

What the New Zealand case shows is that legalized prostitution can be organized in a way that is superior to criminalized prostitution, where participants not only risk arrest but also face much higher risk of victimization and exploitation. And the New Zealand case is by no means unique. In varying degrees, other settings where prostitution has been legalized reveal certain benefits of a liberalized approach. Nevada’s legal brothels (restricted to rural counties, not the cities of Las Vegas and Reno) are very safe and healthy workplaces. For instance, not one prostitute in these legal brothels has tested HIV-positive since the Nevada mandated monthly testing in 1985. Most of the book focuses on my research on three other legal prostitution systems – in Frankfurt, Germany, Antwerp, Belgium, and Amsterdam, the Netherlands. My research identifies both advantages and disadvantages of each of these rather different models. We see that legal prostitution is far from a monolithic category: there are major differences from one legal system to another and these differences are largely due to the specific kinds of regulations in place post-legalization. Is it possible to identify a set of “best practices” across settings where prostitution has been legalized? I think so, and the final chapter of the book lists several practices that I advocate as universal norms for any society considering legal reform.

What about the United States more generally? Well, the U.S. has steadily moved in the direction of enhanced criminalization, in the sense that penalties have increased and new offenses have been created over the past two decades. Although as many as 45 percent of Americans favored legalizing prostitution in a public opinion poll, no state has seriously considered this in recent memory. However, it is possible that change could happen at the local level. In a 2008 ballot measure in San Francisco, for example, 42 percent favored de facto decriminalization of prostitution – which means that the city’s police would simply stop enforcing the prostitution laws. Prostitution would remain illegal by state law (which trumps local measures) but the San Francisco police would informally cease enforcing the law. Although the measure failed to win majority support, the fact that 42 percent voted in favor of it (in the face of a robust campaign by opponents of the measure) suggests that at least some kind of liberalization might occur in a particular city in the future. The former mayor of Las Vegas also floated the possibility of legalizing brothels in a designated district of the city. We can conclude, therefore, that criminalization in the U.S., while it reigns supreme today, may be lifted in at least some jurisdictions in the future.
Learn more about Legalizing Prostitution at the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wesley Moody's "Demon of the Lost Cause"

Wesley Moody is Professor of History at Florida State College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Demon of the Lost Cause: Sherman and Civil War History, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Demon of the Lost Cause begins by naming a few of the major events of 1891, the year General William T. Sherman died in his New York City home. The general had died several pages earlier. Among the events were the launching of what is considered the first modern submarine by John Holland and the invention of the moving picture camera. Page 99 is just shy of the half-way point of the book. It may seem strange to have already placed the main subject of the book in his grave so early. The main focus of Demon of the Lost Cause is not the life of General Sherman but his public image and reputation.

At the time of his death Sherman was not viewed as the man who ushered in a new destructive form of warfare that intentionally targeted civilians, what is called “total war” today. His opponent in the Georgia campaign, Joseph Johnston, was a pall bearer at Sherman’s funeral. Southern newspaper lamented the death of Sherman. He was still remembered as the South’s political ally during Reconstruction.

There are a number of sources for Sherman’s modern reputation but on page 99 is the introduction to the chapter that discusses how the sons and daughters of Confederate veteran’s rewrote the history of the Civil War. This mythical version of the Civil War came to be known as the “Lost Cause.” Disproving the old adage that “winners write the history books,” large amounts of Lost Cause mythology have been generally accepted. Besides the Civil War having nothing to do with slavery and Grant being a butcher with no concern for the lives of his men, Sherman is a monster with a psychological hatred of the South in the Lost Cause version. To prove this wrong by accurately portraying Sherman is only part of the story. How the flawed view of Sherman came to be so widely accepted is an important key to understanding Civil War history.
Learn more about Demon of the Lost Cause at the University of Missouri Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Michael R. Powers's "Acts of God and Man"

Michael R. Powers is professor of risk management and insurance at Temple University's Fox School of Business and distinguished visiting professor of finance at Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management. He serves as chief editor of the Journal of Risk Finance and the Asia-Pacific Journal of Risk and Insurance, and has coedited two books: Global Risk Management: Financial, Operational, and Insurance Strategies and The Economics and Politics of Choice No-Fault Insurance. Previously, Powers was appointed deputy insurance commissioner for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and served as member of the Pennsylvania Health-Care Cost Containment Council during its formative years. He has consulted on a variety of regulatory and tax concerns for clients in both the public and private sectors.

Powers applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Acts of God and Man: Ruminations on Risk and Insurance, and reported the following:
Reports abound that the realm of risk and insurance – with its chary underwriters, cynical claim adjustors, and calculating actuaries – is dry and forbidding. In Acts of God and Man, I challenge this notion by proposing a “science of risk” that entails:
  • a fundamentalist Bayesian (i.e., subjective/judgmental) approach to modeling uncertainty and assessing probabilities;
  • a formal distinction between the primarily natural “aloof” risks of insurance and the largely artificial “non-aloof” risks of other financial markets; and
  • a personalized scientific method that casts off the shackles and inconsistencies of more orthodox methods too burdensome for the study of risk.
The book is a congeries of temperate instruction, robust opinion, overwrought speculation, and strained humor, in roughly equal parts. The a priori probability that page 99 would fall into the first of these categories is therefore approximately 1/4. Knowing this, the F. M. Ford-inspired reader will experience a level of “surprise” of about 2 (i.e., the negative of the log [base 2] of 1/4, as explained on page 183), but a level of “happiness” that depends entirely on personal preferences (as asserted on page 80).

In fact, page 99 marks the beginning of the formal discussion of aloof and non-aloof risks:
So what are the essential differences between insurance and other financial services? And will these differences persist into the future?

Traditionally, distinctions between insurance and other financial risks have relied on either: (1) regulatory definitions and institutional terminology/jargon; or (2) attempts to draw a theoretical difference between the categories of pure risks (characterized by the negative outcomes – i.e., losses – common to insurance) and speculative risks (characterized by both positive and negative outcomes). Although the latter approach may be intuitively attractive, it possesses little mathematical rigor. All that is needed to transform a pure risk into a speculative risk is to subtract its expected value; then, like a market price, it will have the potential of both increasing and decreasing.

As an alternative to the pure risk/speculative risk dichotomy, I would distinguish between the “aloof” and “quasi-aloof” risks of insurance and the “non-aloof” risks of other financial services markets.
In subsequent paragraphs, I explain that aloof risks are those that can influence all financial risks as they propagate through time, but are themselves immune to the effects of their non-aloof counterparts. For example, a satellite-damaging solar flare that imparts adverse effects on earthbound financial markets is entirely aloof, whereas the economy-sensitive market price of gold is clearly non-aloof.

Beyond page 99, Acts of God and Man will appeal to a broad assortment of readers. For those attracted by immoderate opinion, there is a categorical denunciation of observational studies (which happen to form the basis for most business-related empirical research). For those preferring wanton speculation, I adduce personal evidence of the paranormal. And for those contented by repeated attempts at feeble humor, a series of end-of-chapter dialogues divided into three “Acts” – featuring God, angels, saints, ordinary people, and even a lawyer and statistician – will likely suffice.
Learn more about Acts of God and Man at the Columbia University Press website and Michael Powers's webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Steven Mock's "Symbols of Defeat in the Construction of National Identity"

Steven J. Mock teaches political science at the University of Waterloo.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Symbols of Defeat in the Construction of National Identity, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Symbols of Defeat in the Construction of National Identity raises a point that, though not original, must be stressed before one embarks on study whose primary source material is myth: that there is no such thing as the “most authentic” version of a myth, and wasting time searching for such an animal is counterproductive.

Myths are essentially narratives, fictional or factual, with social significance. As social systems change constantly, so too will the mythologies that underpin them. Thus if we find divergent or even contradictory versions of a myth, it is less important to query which should be privileged as the oldest, the most factually accurate, or the most popular, than it is to examine what social changes or cleavages these different versions reflect in terms of the interests and needs to which they speak.

Indeed, the search for the “most authentic” tends to reveal more about the searcher than about the object of study, for one cannot help but measure this nebulous standard against contemporary values and priorities. Difficult as it is to see through the eyes of someone in the past living in a radically different social context, mythic texts tend to be interpreted through the prism of the present.

This was certainly the case during periods of nation-building, when nationalist scholars mined the cultural histories of their ethnic communities for those relics that best reflected the authentic national character. Invariably, the relics deemed most authentic were those that spoke to modern national values: images that stressed the antiquity and durability of the group; narratives that elevated past periods of sovereignty as Golden Ages; and texts supporting the often dubious assumption that a yearning for self-determination was a dominant and continuous factor of the group consciousness throughout its history.

Curiously, images of the group’s defeat and subjugation also tended to prominent among those elevated by nationalists to the status of “most authentic”, indicating an ambivalence toward ethnic history that this book aims to dissect.
Learn more about Symbols of Defeat in the Construction of National Identity at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 13, 2012

Lea Ypi's "Global Justice and Avant-Garde Political Agency"

Lea Ypi is a Lecturer in Political Theory in the Government Department, London School of Economics, and Adjunct Professor in Philosophy at the Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University. Before joining the LSE, she was a Post-doctoral Prize Research Fellow at Nuffield College (Oxford) and a researcher at the European University Institute where she obtained her PhD.

Ypi applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Global Justice and Avant-Garde Political Agency, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Analysing the issue of the principles of global justice from a fundamentally appropriate point of view requires focusing on global circumstances of injustice and explaining how they generate egalitarian claims. An interpretation of the function and purpose of existent institutions which does not merely rely on the facts of poverty but is also able to investigate the moral and empirical nature of its causes offers the sort of relational analysis of global injustice upon which the cosmopolitan demand of a particular kind of global justice principle (e.g. egalitarian) can be grounded. In other words, the sort of justification outlined above provides a plausible account of the relevant circumstances in which egalitarian requirements might apply and of the reasons supporting the emergence of such requirements
This passage summarizes one of the key methodological points the book makes in order to identify relevant normative principles compatible with the ideal of global equality. The book criticizes current normative political theories troubled by the persistence of global poverty but neglecting an analysis of its causes. I contend that the right approach to global justice should combine normative requirements with a causal analysis of global poverty able to tell us not merely why poverty is what it is but also what triggers it. Applying a dialectical method of enquiry to the relations between rich and poor citizens of the world and focusing in particular on the distribution of global positional goods, my book introduces and develops the concept of avant-garde political agency to provide an egalitarian account of global justice that tells us not merely what justice requires in the global sphere but also how to change the world compatibly with its requirements.
Learn more about Global Justice and Avant-Garde Political Agency at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Jonathan Lyons’s "Islam Through Western Eyes"

Author and independent scholar Jonathan Lyons has spent his professional life surveying the shifting boundaries between East and West. For more than two decades he was a foreign correspondent and editor for Reuters, much of it in the Islamic world. His previous publications include The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization and Answering Only to God: Faith and Freedom in Twenty-first-Century Iran, (co-authored with Geneive Abdo). He has a doctorate in sociology and now lives in Washington, D.C.

Lyons applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Islam Through Western Eyes: From the Crusades to the War on Terrorism. Here’s what he found:
Page 99 finds the reader immersed in the first of three broad themes explored in my book: Why the West seems congenitally unable to take Islamic achievements in science and philosophy seriously. The other themes revolve around Islam and women and Islam and violence.

Central to this mystery is the persistent notion that Islam is by its very nature irrational and opposed to the sciences, a view codified by the Orientalist scholarship of the 19th and early 20th centuries and very much with us today. It also reflects the West’s own historical experience in the formative years of “modern” science and ignores the distinct Islamic understanding of science and knowledge in general.

This trend first emerged with the secular humanists of what we call the Renaissance, who insisted that Muslim meddling in Greek science had to be eliminated and replaced by a return to “authentic” Greek texts in the place of Arabic translations. This fatally overlooked the enormous contributions made by Muslim scientists along the way, and, at times, led to a virtual comedy of errors.

Page 99 picks up this storyline:
The history of Western mapping of the Caspian Sea illustrates the point. Western cartographers, following Muslim examples, had successfully portrayed the Caspian’s primary north-south orientation by the fourteenth century. Less than two hundred years later, under the influence of the new translations of Ptolemy’s Geographia directly from the Greek, Europe’s mapmakers set aside the fruits of Arab research and reverted to the classical representation of the Caspian as running east-west. Only two centuries later was the damage finally undone – eight hundred years after the Muslims had first accurately charted the Caspian Sea.

In a similar vein, Renaissance Europe’s refusal to recognize and then master the underlying achievements of medieval Arabic science led to the widespread notion that the earth’s circumference was some 20 percent shorter than it actually is, an error not addressed by Western experimentation until the sixteenth century. Christopher Columbus used this shorter distance in planning his exploration of the New World, an error with almost fatal consequences.
The Western narrative of Islam and science, like those of Islam and women and Islam and violence, is part of a 1000-year-old discourse that shapes what we say – and more importantly, what we cannot say – about Islam and the Muslims. This, in turn, has left us intellectually unprepared and politically unable to respond to some of the most significant challenges of the twenty-first century: the global rise of Islamic political power; the more narrow emergence of religious violence and terrorism; and clashes between established cultural values and multicultural rights on the part of growing Muslim immigrant populations.
Learn more about Islam Through Western Eyes at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

James Clay Moltz's "Asia’s Space Race"

James Clay Moltz holds a joint faculty appointment in the Department of National Security Affairs and in the Space Systems Academic Group at the Naval Postgraduate School. He is the author of The Politics of Space Security: Strategic Restraint and the Pursuit of National Interests and has served as a consultant to the NASA Ames Research Center.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Asia's Space Race: National Motivations, Regional Rivalries, and International Risks, and reported the following:
China’s strategy in space is the main focus of page 99 of my book. But, in many ways, China’s goals provide a useful mirror for similar themes seen in the strategies being pursued by its main rivals in today’s Asian space race: India, Japan, and South Korea. Beijing’s 2006 White Paper describes space activity “as a strategic way to enhance…economic, scientific, technological and national defense strength.” Indeed, space assets can serve multiple purposes. Current trends in Asia are worrisome because we are witnessing a recent surge of interest in military space activity among a number of countries. Unfortunately, Asia lacks any tradition of regional arms control or security cooperation. The question my book asks is whether Asian countries can avoid a figurative and literal “collision course” in space.

Fortunately, page 99 also highlights another factor that may eventually lead to a positive outcome in Asia: economic globalization. Forces of globalization within the commercial space industry are providing new incentives for countries to benefit from the international division of labor. European nations have successfully united their efforts within the European Space Agency, saving resources and greatly reducing the chances of conflict over space issues. The problem in Asia is that countries continue to place space activity within the context of deep-seated historical rivalries with their neighbors. This has prevented meaningful cooperation.

Looking ahead, using space for region-wide environmental and disaster management activities might be a good starting point for Asia. But a dialogue is also needed on space security matters to reduce military tensions and halt weapons tests that release harmful orbital debris. The United States could play a positive role by beginning a policy of enhanced cooperation with Asian space actors, including China. But, for these efforts to work, current congressional restrictions against such contacts with Beijing (mentioned on page 99) will have to be lifted. Europe’s recent effort to create an international Code of Conduct for space activity is another useful step and could help stimulate Asian discussions.

Overall, Asian capitals will first need to recognize for themselves the perils of their current course and the benefits to be gained by increasing space collaboration. At present, however, the signs are not optimistic.
Learn more about Asia's Space Race at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 9, 2012

Maxwell Boykoff's "Who Speaks for the Climate?"

Maxwell T. Boykoff is an Assistant Professor in the Center for Science and Technology Policy, which is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He teaches in the Environmental Studies program and is Adjunct faculty in the Geography Department. In addition, Boykoff is a Senior Visiting Research Associate in the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Who Speaks for the Climate?: Making Sense of Media Reporting on Climate Change, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the first page of the fifth chapter of my book. This chapter works through the various ways that journalistic norms shape media representations of climate change over time, and how (mis)understandings about climate change in the public citizenry can be perpetuated by way of journalistic and editorial (mis)steps in the newsroom. On page 99, I weave this premise into surrounding chapters, writing, “[C]onstructions of meaning – negotiated in the spaces of cultural politics – are shaped by structural and institutional as well as cultural and psychological factors, operating simultaneously at multiple scales. These issues intersect with journalistic norms and values.”

Professionalized journalistic behaviors – held together by norms – contribute to media representational practices. While these help to translate and make meaningful oft-complex issues in climate science and policy for consumer-citizens, uncritical deference to particular journalistic norms can have detrimental and far-reaching effects, shaping ongoing climate science and governance discussions. Individual journalists must contend with many pressures while reporting news, and decisions are made in context of larger-scale pressures. Clearly, while these pressures affect content, they are interrelated; influences can be considered through a range of elements such as technical capacity issues, weather events, underlying issues of trust, and political economy (such as corporate mass media consolidation). I explore how these dynamic, contested and complex issues play out across space/place and time in Who Speaks for the Climate?.

The start of Chapter Five on Page 99 is an important hinge for the broader discussions as to how salient and swirling contextual factors as well as competing journalistic pressures and norms contribute to how issues, events and information have often become climate ‘stories’ we tell ourselves (and each other). I then focus attention on how these stories have contributed to critical misperceptions, misleading debates, distractions and divergent understandings that can be detrimental to efforts that seek to enlarge rather than constrict the spectrum of possibility for responses to climate challenges. Overall, I have been compelled to write the book in order to help understand the role of media in considerations of how formal climate science and governance link with people’s everyday activities in the public sphere. Considerations of "who speaks for the climate" via mass media are as important as formal climate governance architectures themselves to the long-term success or failure of efforts to take carbon out of the atmosphere or keep it out. It is in our collective self-interest to interrogate, and more wisely support links between science, policy and media.
Learn more about Who Speaks for the Climate? at the Cambridge University Press website.

Writers Read: Maxwell T. Boykoff.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Lawrence Peskin and Edmund Wehrle's "America and the World"

Lawrence A. Peskin is an associate professor of history at Morgan State University and author of Manufacturing Revolution: The Intellectual Origins of Early American Industry and Captives and Countrymen: Barbary Slavery and the American Public, 1785-1816. Edmund F. Wehrle is an associate professor of history at Eastern Illinois University and author of Between a River and a Mountain: The AFL-CIO and the Vietnam War.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, America and the World: Culture, Commerce, Conflict, and reported the following:
Our book is all about connections and context. As the title indicates, the subject matter is America's evolving connection to the larger world over the last five centuries. This topic is of great interest to academic historians these days. They are writing numerous books and teaching courses detailing aspects of America's connection to the wider world, often focusing more on cultural and economic influence than on old-fashioned diplomatic history. But it is also very important to the broader public which, at least since 2001 (and certainly since 2008), is achingly aware of how connected our world has become, even if it is not quite so aware of how we got there. We are also concerned with a second sort of connection: the links between various aspects of American history that can sometimes be obscured by scholars' preoccupations with tightly bounded specialties and narrowly focused monographs.

Page 99 offers great examples of both sorts of connections. The top half contains the final sentences of a section on America's westward expansion. We view Commodore Perry's 1853 voyage to Japan, which forced that nation to open itself to world trade, as the culmination of westward expansion:
Five years later, in 1858, the United States became the first western nation to negotiate a trade agreement with Japan. Japanese agreements with France and Britain soon followed. The United States took great pride in its role opening the Japanese market. When the first Japanese delegation arrived in New York in 1860, the poet Walt Whitman exulted, “I chant the world on my western sea... I chant the new empire, grander than any before.” In Japan, however, stresses created by the end of seclusion soon led to the violent overthrow of the ancient shogunate in 1868. World markets transformed Japan as well as America.
The bottom half of the page marks the start of a section detailing the new nation's efforts to create domestic manufacturing during the early industrial revolution:
The colonies had supported very little manufacturing, in part because of mercantilist strictures against it. During the Revolution some Americans, particularly artisans, viewed the boycott against British goods as an entering wedge for developing America's manufacturing capacity. Revolutionaries initiated some early manufacturing projects, most notably the American Manufactory in Philadelphia (1775), which hired several hundred employees and purchased some of the earliest industrial textile machinery in America. In lauding this project, the patriot leader Dr. Benjamin Rush noted, “A people who are entirely dependent upon foreigners for food or clothing must always be subject to them.” Not all agreed. In the 1780s Thomas Jefferson hoped Americans would “let our workshops remain in Europe.” He feared that manufacturing would lead to factory towns on the order of Manchester, England, which would undermine his vision of a nation of independent farmers. But by 1816, like many members of his party, Jefferson had modified his position, writing, “Experience has taught me that manufactures are now necessary to our independence.” Nevertheless, much like westward expansion, the growth of manufacturing soon created greater national and global interdependence than self-sufficiency and independence.
While both episodes – Perry's voyage and the development of domestic manufacturing – are reasonably well known to historians, we hope that juxtaposing them in this way will prompt students, general readers, and scholars to gain new perspective on America's long connection to the larger world, and, in this case, to consider the longstanding tensions between the efforts of some to look inward and of others to look outward. Or, as the last sentence suggests, the impossibility of entirely disentangling those two impulses.
Learn more about America and the World: Culture, Commerce, Conflict at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Aaron Herald Skabelund's "Empire of Dogs"

Aaron Herald Skabelund is Assistant Professor of History at Brigham Young University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Empire of Dogs: Canines, Japan, and the Making of the Modern Imperial World, and reported the following:
If we humans currently live on an “Animal Planet,” as one astute observer has suggested, with TV programming and even cable networks completely devoted to animal-related content, then dogs certainly dominate the realm. Canines, more than any other animal, pervade our lives. In the United States alone, over 40 percent of households keep a dog. People in industrialized societies purchase recognized breeds and spend billions on a huge and flourishing industry dedicated to these treasured canine “companions.” Many people treat dogs like, and sometimes in place of, human family members.

Our affection for dogs, though, is equaled by a striking lack of understanding of how these dogs we adore came to be and how we came to interact with them in this way. Sure this relationship has an ancient history that began with domestication (theirs, and perhaps ours!), but dogs and our relationship with them have changed drastically in the last century and a half with the advent of imperialism. Dogs joined with people to create the modern imperial world and, in turn, imperialism shaped dogs’ bodies and their relationship with humans through its impact on dog-breeding and dog-keeping practices that permeate much of the world today.

Using the history of dogs in Japan as a case study, Empire of Dogs describes how, in response to the threat of Western imperialism, Japan’s tremendous geopolitical and economic imperial rise was mirrored by a dramatic transformation of its canine population. As in other imperial contexts, indigenous canines on Japanese archipelago were disparaged by Westerners during the decades of semicolonization, and in many cases were physically eliminated. During those same years, purebred Western breeds achieved tremendous popularity in Japan. As Japan’s became a major imperial power in its own right during the early twentieth century, the country’s once ridiculed indigenous dogs were nationalized and recognized as codified breeds in the 1930s. From page 99:
The [Japanese] Ministry of Education named the Akita breed an endangered national asset in July 1931. Over the next six years, the Ministry granted similar status to the Kai, KishÅ«, Koshino, Shiba, Shikoku, and Hokkaido breeds… The Ministry of Education’s rationale for preserving “Japanese” dogs echoed [the] argument that the character of the nation was ingrained in the personality of the country’s canines. When the Ministry announced its designation of the Shiba breed in 1936, its spokesperson proclaimed that the dogs were worthy of the honor because they “reflect the character of the Japanese people, and compared to foreign dogs demonstrate a particular vigor and have all the characteristics of a Japanese dog.”
In this way, “Japanese” dogs, once derided as semi-wild and uncivilized canines came to be prized, purebred pet dogs, a source of national and imperial pride. The “Faithful Dog” Hachikō, whose statue stands outside a Tokyo train station, is probably the best example of this transformation. Thanks to Japan’s geopolitical and economic imperial rise, these newly nationalized dogs were recognized at home and abroad, and two breeds, the Akita and Shiba, have entered the pantheon of the many predominantly Western breeds that continue to dominate the empire, of and by dogs, in which we still live.
Learn more about Empire of Dogs at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Jonathan M. Ladd's "Why Americans Hate the Media and How It Matters"

Jonathan M. Ladd is assistant professor of government and public policy at Georgetown University. He received his PhD in politics from Princeton University.

Ladd applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Why Americans Hate the Media and How It Matters, and reported the following:
With all the changes to the news media landscape over the past few years, it is hard to know how people learn information and form political preferences in this new environment. I argue that this media landscape has set up an important choice between using conventional media sources that try to adhere to the 20th century ideal of objectivity and newer sources that offer more sensationalist and/or partisan interpretations of the news. Given this dynamic, whether one trusts the mainstream media is now more important than ever, because it affects where one acquires new political information.

Consistent with this, even while mainstream sources hold smaller market share than they once did, people still hold very strong opinions about them. Questions about trust the mainstream media have very low refusal and “don’t know” rates compared to other poll questions. On page 99, I summarize the results of a survey I conducted in the mid-2000s, where, rather than using the a conventional closed-ended poll format, I allowed people to explain their opinions about the media in their own words and recorded their entire responses:
… [T]he two types of thoughts mentioned by far most frequently both relate to the trustworthiness of the information the media provide. These were thoughts about news accuracy, which were mentioned by 41% of respondents, and thoughts about general bias or too much opinion overall, which were mentioned by 22% of respondents. Every other type of comment was made by less than 10% of the sample.

For example, here are the comments of an independent who gave the news media a thermometer rating of 40 and was coded as mentioning accuracy: “You cannot believe everything you read. Sometimes the media stretches the truth and clouds some stories that you don’t know if it [is] true or not.” Here is another independent, who gave the media a thermometer rating of 60 and also mentioned accuracy: “I think they try to report as close to facts as they can. Sometimes I think in some cases they give too much info.” A Democratic- leaning independent, who had “only some” confidence in the press and was coded as mentioning accuracy, said, “The institution is manipulative, doesn’t always give the full story, uses information to benefit itself instead of the cause of others.” Another Democratic-leaning independent, who was coded as mentioning sensationalism, accuracy, and general bias even though he gave a thermometer rating of 70, said, “I think the news media tries to be fair and accurate, but those that control the purse strings are affected by what they perceive as what the public wants and what draws in an audience (what makes money)—sensationalism, hype and sound bites.” A weak Democrat who trusted the media “only some of the time” and was coded as mentioning both accuracy and general bias simply said, “I think that a lot of the media has their own biases that come through when they report the news—particularly in the area of politics.” Another weak Democrat who had “hardly any” confidence in the press and was coded as mentioning accuracy and Republican bias said, “The press has not written the truth since Bush has been in office. [Any others?] That they are afraid to speak against this administration.”
Learn more about the book and author at Jonathan M. Ladd's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Daniel Berkowitz & Karen Clay's "The Evolution of a Nation"

Daniel Berkowitz is professor of economics at the University of Pittsburgh. Karen B. Clay is associate professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Evolution of a Nation: How Geography and Law Shaped the American States, and reported the following:
The Evolution of a Nation argues that geography and colonial legal conditions played critical roles in shaping state legislatures and state courts. State geographic characteristics including temperature, rainfall, and access to navigable rivers, lakes, and oceans influenced the occupations of the wealthiest men in a state in 1860. Page 99 describes the share of state wealth held by these state elites. These men had considerable control over who represented their county in state legislatures. In some states the elites were largely agricultural or largely trade-based, and in other states they had a mix of occupations. We show that when elites had similar occupations, a single party tended to control the state legislature, whereas when elites had different occupations, the level of political competition in the legislature was higher. What is striking is that the occupational composition of elites in 1860 is an important predictor of political competition in state legislatures over the period 1866-2000.

Colonial legal systems influenced the balance of power between state legislatures and state courts. There are two major legal families: common law and civil law. England has a common-law legal system, while France and Spain have civil-law legal systems. These systems have very different visions of the appropriate balance of power between the legislature and the judiciary. In common law, the judiciary and the legislature are relatively more equal, whereas in civil law the judiciary is explicitly subordinate to the legislature. Because of their colonial heritage, thirteen states had operational civil-law legal systems during the eighteenth or nineteenth century. All of these states except for Louisiana adopted common law around the time of statehood. We show that individuals with civil-backgrounds were politically active during the period in which the balance of power was likely to have been established. Data on judicial retention procedures, the adoption of intermediate appellate courts, and court funding are consistent with these states having different early balances of power. The judiciary in former civil-law states were more easily removed, more heavily monitored, and less well funded, suggesting that they are on average more subordinate than their counterparts in states that always had common law. These differences persisted over the period 1866-2000.

We conclude that geography and colonial legal systems played early and enduring roles in shaping political and legal institutions in the American states. The last chapter examines the effect of state political and legal institutions on state income per capita.

The first chapter, which contains a more detailed description of the book, is available for free at the publisher's website.
Learn more about The Evolution of a Nation at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 2, 2012

Randy Roberts's "A Team for America"

Randy Roberts is a Distinguished Professor of History at Purdue University. His books include John Wayne: American (coauthored with James Olson), Joe Louis: Hard Times Man, and Papa Jack: Jack Johnson and the Era of White Hopes among others.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, A Team for America: The Army-Navy Game That Rallied a Nation, and reported the following:
Smart man that Ford Madox Ford. After reading more than my fair share of Page 99 Tests, I’ve concluded that there is something special, even cosmic, about the theory. Kind of like watching Tim Tebow play the last series of a football game, which, I guess, is as good a segue as any from literature to football. And A Team for America: The Army-Navy Game That Rallied A Nation is about football—and perhaps even more about West Point, leadership, and the ties between the home front and the battle front during World War II.

The book could have been entitled Col. Red Blaik’s War because it traces Army’s rise in football from well south of mediocrity to the national title. Blaik came to West Point before the 1941 season with a mission: To build a team that would reflect the excellence of the U.S. Army. In 1944, Blaik’s fourth season, he accomplished that mission. Between D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge Army’s team, led by Felix “Doc” Blanchard and Glenn Davis, rolled over all their opponents. And sportswriters were quick to draw parallels between West Pointers on the gridirons and the American armies driving toward Germany.

Page 99 illustrates this link between football and war. It begins with the death of Paul Bunker, an All-American West Point football player who served 40 years in the Army, commanded the coastal artillery forces in the Battle of Corregidor, and died of starvation and disease in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

From Bunker the page transitions to a discussion of the new image West Point cultivated during World War II. Before the war reporters regarded the USMA as an anachronism, a place where cadets still mastered equestrian skills and were photographed at cotillions wearing white gloves and plumed tarbuckets. The coverage changed during the war. Now reporters noted that dress uniforms had been shelved for fatigues, and the hills around West Point echoed with the low rumble of artillery pieces and the rat-a-tat-tat of machine guns. No longer horsemen, West Pointers were soldiers in the age of tanks.

I reinforce the connection to football on the next page: “By 1943 journalists had transformed Army’s team from a squad of football players to representatives of the country’s first line of defense. They were America’s soldier-players, commanded by Colonel Blaik and adored by General MacArthur. Navy players struggled to erase their image of elitism, but the men in long gray coats were as all-American as the G.I. Joes slogging up the gut of Italy.”

On one level, then, A Team for America explores the connections between the players and the soldiers. But on a different level, it recounts the lives of specific players as they advanced toward a showdown game with Navy. It was their story—perhaps the smaller story—that made the book a joy to write.
Visit the A Team for America Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Patrick Lee's "Deep Sky"

Patrick Lee's first novel, The Breach, hit the world at the beginning of 2010. It was followed by a sequel, Ghost Country, and the final volume of the trilogy, Deep Sky, was released last week. The series tells the story of Travis Chase, a man who finds himself caught up in the chain of events surrounding the world's most violently kept secret.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Deep Sky and reported the following:
Here's most of Page 99 of Deep Sky, starting with the first full paragraph near the top of the page. It happens to be the last page of a chapter, so it's a bit short in any case.

The setting is a Jeep rolling along a mountain valley road north of Ouray, Colorado. In the Jeep are Travis Chase and Paige Campbell, whose lives revolve around the Breach--a passage through which alien technology continuously enters our world. With them is Carrie Holden, an older woman who once worked closely with the Breach as well--and also knew Paige's father Peter before he died.

In this scene, the three of them have been discussing strange events that occurred decades earlier, soon after the Breach first formed. Carrie has revealed to them that Peter and a few others conducted a secret investigation back in those early days, delving into something that worried them badly at the time. Whatever they were looking into, they apparently got a handle on it and dealt with it--though perhaps only temporarily. This present-day scene in Colorado comes against the backdrop of a new conflict; some unknown party is revisiting the old investigation and trying to reverse what it accomplished:
"Whatever Peter did was in all of our best interests," Travis said. "Who could possibly have the motive to undo it?"

The words hung in the air. No one had an answer. Snowflakes swirled in the headlights like stars broken free of the sky.

"We need details," Paige said. "We need to know who my father met with in 1987. We need to find one of them, preferably one who still has a copy of the cheat sheet locked away somewhere."

"It'd be a tall order getting your eyes on that document," Carrie said. "It's right up there with finding the original Scalar notebook, which Ward probably burned in a vacant lot before he killed himself."
Learn more about the book and author at Patrick Lee's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Deep Sky.

--Marshal Zeringue