Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Lisa Stampnitzky's "Disciplining Terror"

Lisa Stampnitzky is Lecturer in Social Studies at Harvard University. She earned her PhD in Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and has also held fellowships at Harvard, the University of Oxford, Ohio State University and the European University Institute.

Stampnitzky applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Disciplining Terror: How Experts Invented "Terrorism", and reported the following:
My book, Disciplining Terror, explains how political violence became "terrorism," and how this transformation led to the current "war on terror." It does this by tracing the political and academic struggles through which experts made terrorism, and terrorism made experts, arguing that the expert discourse on terrorism operates at the boundary—itself increasingly contested—between science and politics, and between academic expertise and the state.

Page 99 discusses "quantification," the (often messy) process of turning social phenomena into numbers. As I note there:
A major theme in the sociological literature on quantification has been that counting and commensuration are social processes, and, as such, require work to make them happen... quantification...can be seen as a means of standardizing entities that may have an unruly presence in the world, and of making them subject not just to science but also to governance.
While this certainly does not sum up the book as a whole, it does introduce one of its major themes: the question of how the rather inchoate phenomenon of "terrorism" has been made concrete through practices of knowledge.

A core argument of the book is that "terrorism" is not a natural category, but one that has been socially and historically constructed. As with any political concept, the question of how to define "terrorism" has been contentious. Yet the problem of defining terrorism has been particularly difficult to resolve, with even terrorism experts unable to agree on such fundamentals as whether or not states can commit terrorism. Various surveys have counted hundreds of different, often contradictory, definitions in use at any given time. And quantification is but one method through which experts tried to "discipline" the fuzzy concept of terrorism. In the chapter of which page 99 is a part, I describe how researchers the RAND Corporation, a federally funded think tank in Southern California, developed the first terrorism database by clipping newspaper articles, making entries on index cards, and eventually entering these into a computer database, thus turning the new concept of "terrorism" into an object of knowledge, about which experts could then ask questions such as "Is the rate of terrorism increasing or decreasing?" The difficulty, of course, is that in order to construct such a database, humans must make judgments about whether any particular incident is, or is not, an act of terrorism, and thus, whether or not it should be included. And what makes these acts of judgment particularly fraught in this case is that to classify an event as "terrorism" is not simply to make a social or scientific judgment, but to include it in a phenomenon which has come to be popularly understood as fundamentally immoral and illegitimate.
Learn more about Disciplining Terror at the Cambridge University Press website.

Writers Read: Lisa Stampnitzky.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Clare Mulley's "The Spy Who Loved"

Clare Mulley is the award-winning author of two biographies. The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville (2013) is 'scrumptuously researched and expertly rendered... outstanding', according to The Daily Beast, ‘assiduously researched, passionately written and highly atmospheric’ says The Economist, and ‘compulsively readable… thrilling’ in the words of Britain's Telegraph.

Mulley's other biography, The Woman Who Saved the Children is about Eglantyne Jebb (2009), the founder of Save the Children who did not care for individual children, won the British Daily Mail Biographers’ Club prize. All royalties from this book are donated to the charity.

Mulley also contributed to The Arvon Book of Life Writing (2010). She is a regular radio contributor, speaks at leading international literary and history events, and writes and reviews for various papers and journals including The Spectator and History Today. She lives in Essex, England, with her husband and three daughters.

Mulley applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Spy Who Loved and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Spy Who Loved touches a wonderful moment in the book when special agent Krystyna Skarbek, aka Christine Granville, and her one-legged lover and comrade-in-arms Andrzej Kowerski, are making a getaway from the Gestapo in Budapest, before they start to flee across Europe in the spring of 1941.
Andrzej’s pride and joy was his sandy-brown, two-door Opel Olympia, which he had kept topped up with petrol but hidden in a dirty greenhouse in the gated courtyard behind his and Christine’s flat. This was the same car that he had driven out of Poland the year before, and in which he had escaped the Hungarian internment camp. The SS had raced Opels in 1938, and the following year the convertible became a favourite of high-ranking SS officers. It is entirely possible that Andrzej’s beloved car had once belonged to a discerning Wehrmacht officer, as his sister later proudly referred to it as his ‘spoils of the war with Germany’…
Displaying what the British simply called ‘great presence of mind’, Christine had just orchestrated her and Andrzej’s release from a brutal interrogation by biting her tongue so hard it had bled profusely, enabling her to pretend to cough up blood – a symptom of tuberculosis. Rightly terrified of this highly contagious disease, the Germans had kicked them both out. But Christine still had to plead her and Andrzej’s case to the British Minister at the Embassy, where they first sought refuge, before being ‘folded up like a penknife’ and driven across the border to free Yugoslavia in the boot of the Embassy car, with Andrzej following behind in the trusty Opel.

The Opel would take them on through Europe in the spring of 1941, sometimes weeks and sometimes just days ahead of the Nazi advance. On occasion Christine would smuggle highly incriminating microfilm inside her gloves, and sometimes Andrzej employed a special panel in his wooden leg for the same purpose. Eventually the car delivered them to the safety of the British base in Cairo. Here Christine would undertake some espionage, her methods perhaps suggested by her code-name, ‘Willing’, and she was also trained to be dropped into occupied France in July 1944, ahead of the Allied liberation in the south, where her work would make her truly legendary.

There is something rather wonderful about having them captured on page 99, not by the Gestapo, the Wehrmacht, or the frustrating bureaucracy of the Allies, but in mid-flight, showing typical chutzpah as they head off to new countries and undercover missions, admittedly with ‘bruised and swollen faces’ but also with a stolen German car, a hip-flask of Hungarian brandy, and some nice new British passports.
Learn more about the book and author at Clare Mulley's website, and view a short video of the author talking about the book.

My Book, The Movie: The Spy Who Loved.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 29, 2013

Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm's "The Lost Whale"

Michael Parfit is a British Columbia-based writer, journalist and filmmaker. With his wife, Suzanne Chisholm, he has produced and directed more than twenty stories for the National Geographic Channel.

Suzanne Chisholm has produced and filmed documentaries and has done more than a dozen pieces for the National Geographic Channel.

Parfit applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Lost Whale: The True Story of an Orca Named Luna, and reported the following:
I’m delighted with what Page 99 [inset, below left, click to enlarge] turns up.

The book is about a sweet young killer whale baby nicknamed Luna, who lost his family and started trying to make contact with people, which created both funny and sad confusion in the human species. But there are several thematic layers in the narrative, which are mostly present on this page.

When I write nonfiction, I seem inclined to hide the themes that matter to me most, and sometimes -- I often fear through lack of art -- people don't notice them and they read as if the text had only one layer. So it is wonderful that with this book the Page 99 test is almost overtly revealing of both the key plot tension and the thematic stuff that The Lost Whale is really about. That clarity probably happens because the book was written in partnership with my wife, Suzanne Chisholm, who has the clearer mind.

Do I explain the bones of the book here and make everything overt? I can’t, even if I wanted to. I don’t think truly narrative work reveals its full meaning even to the person who writes it down. You exercise control as you can, but describing real events is in some ways radically different and more slippery than writing exposition or describing events that you make up. Fictional events may indeed be shallow, if you haven't given thought to the layers, but true events that you try to describe are always shaded into depths like the sea, all the way down into regions that you can’t see and don’t understand, and the choices that make your own version of actual events are only choices, not complete facts.

So I will not try to explain the things I think are important about the book as page 99 reveals them. I won’t outline the things Suzanne and I made sure were installed between some lines and spoken clearly in others, and I won’t chart the way the final chapters and pages summon those sparks out of the blaze of the main story to illuminate something that seemed to Suzanne and me to be important. You get a glimpse on page 99, but it’s incomplete.

It took 90,000 words to make the thing whole, and an attempted description here would be like the firing of a single photographer's flash -- it might show things in stark relief that have meaning only in their shading and movement, and would thus mislead.

So I can’t explain what page 99 means. I can only say that the page indeed strikes some of those sparks -- thematically in the description of Luna's relatively gentle nudging of a canoe with people in it, and, in terms of the basic tension of the plot, in describing the confusion of a good and sincere woman named Kari Koski, who wants desperately to help the little whale but cannot figure out how.

Those stories are in this book not just because they happened, but also because they illuminate the route we have chosen to travel through the overall story of the whale people called Luna. We can only hope that this road reaches a place that has at least a bit of truth in it. Page 99 does. You’ll have to see for yourself about the rest.
Learn more about Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm, and read more about The Lost Whale at the St. Martin's Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Toby Tyrrell's "On Gaia"

Toby Tyrrell is professor of Earth system science at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton (University of Southampton).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, On Gaia: A Critical Investigation of the Relationship between Life and Earth, and reported the following:
My book is an investigation of a scientific hypothesis, to see whether it is correct or not. The hypothesis that I subject to detailed scrutiny is the Gaia hypothesis, which suggests that life on Earth has helped to control the global environment, keeping it stable and comfortable for life. This is an important topic because we need a proper understanding of how Earth’s environmental system works, in order to be able to keep it habitable for us despite the massive changes we are imposing upon it, such as the 40% increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in air.

So how does my book stand up to the page 99 test? Page 99 is mid-way through an assessment of one claim put forward in support of Gaia, that the Earth is especially comfortable for life. In this chapter of the book I am in the process of showing how the data cast doubt on this claim (see also here). I have just finished showing that ice ages (the predominant climate state of the last few million years) are severely unfavourable times for life as a whole. Now I am considering whether past warm periods in Earth history were any better. The top part of page 99 shows a photograph of a Cretaceous-age fossil tree stump from Antarctica, where not even a single tree grows today. The fossil is of excellent quality and is unambiguously that of a tree stump. I like the way that this single fossil is able, by itself, to tell us that the Earth has changed over time. As it happens we now have a wealth of supporting evidence showing that forests spread much closer to the poles during past warm times on Earth, such as during the Cretaceous. Further examples, in the form of fossilised breadfruit and dinosaur bones in the high Arctic, give further evidence of past sub-tropical climates at high latitudes.

But on page 99 I am also discussing the limitations of fossil evidence, and the difficulties in working out past environments. In particular I am pointing out one such limitation: the difficulty in determining past vegetation when no fossils are left. It becomes problematic when whole ecosystems leave no trace of themselves. This is highlighted by describing how coal (with its abundant fossils) is not forming today beneath the Amazon forest.
Learn more about On Gaia at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 26, 2013

Emma Jinhua Teng's "Eurasian"

Emma Jinhua Teng is a MacVicar Faculty Fellow and the T.T. and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Asian Civilizations and Associate Professor of Chinese Studies at MIT and the author of Taiwan's Imagined Geography: Chinese Colonial Travel Writing and Pictures, 1683-1895.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Eurasian: Mixed Identities in the United States, China, and Hong Kong, 1842-1943, and reported the following:
On page 99 we meet the curious character of Patsy O’Wang/Chin Sum, a Chinese-Irish cook in a farcical play from 1895. We learn that:
As the playwright directed, "The key to this capital farce is the remarkable transformation of which Chin Sum is capable. Born of Irish father and Chinese mother and brought up in barracks in Hong Kong he has a remarkable dual nature." The transformation is effected when Chin Sum imbibes whiskey, "the drink of his father," and undergoes a metamorphosis into a "true Irishman." Strong tea, "the drink of his mother," restores Patsy's "Chinese character," which is that of a sober and industrious Chinese cook. The ideas of hybrid reversion and latent racial traits (blood will tell) are thus enacted in this farce through the bifurcated character of Patsy/Chin Sum, who reverts to parental type based on the drink he consumes.
As amusing as Patsy O’Wang may be, this selection from page 99 is not entirely representative, for this “capital farce” has only a cameo role in my book, which tells the story not of the all-too-visible fictional Eurasian characters that inhabited nineteenth-century Anglo-American literature, but rather the real-life (and largely unknown) stories of Chinese-white mixed families that made their homes in the US, China and Hong Kong during the years between 1842 and 1943. A central question of the book is how Eurasian families negotiated their social identities in an era when mixed race was generally stigmatized and monoracial classifications the norm. To this end, I examine both the range of ideas concerning racial hybridity that shaped Eurasian social experiences, and the claims set forth by individual Eurasians themselves concerning their own identities.

Yet, in other respects page 99 does reveal something of the whole. This page puts us right in Part II, "Debating Hybridity," which is the core (though perhaps not the emotional heart) of the book. The chapters of this section are dedicated to a comparison of ideas about mixed race that emerged in the US and China in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with one chapter set in the US, a second in China, and a third examining the transnational flow of ideas between the two. Page 99 falls in the middle of a discussion of competing theories on "human hybridity," which I loosely group into two sets of beliefs: one focused on the purportedly detrimental effects of racial amalgamation; and the other on its possible eugenic effects (hybrid vigor). Thus page 99 relates to a central aim of my book, which is to complicate the intellectual genealogy of mixed race by demonstrating that there were diverse opinions and vibrant debates on the subject, dating back well before the landmark Loving v. Virginia case of 1967. A more nuanced understanding of historical discourses on mixedness enables us to ask: how much have we really distanced ourselves from the biological and racialist discourses of the past? After all, even as the media now embraces "mixed race icons" as emblems of a post-racial future, the very notion of "mixed" presumes the existence of "pure" races to begin with.

That the intellectual genealogy of mixed race is far from monolithic is especially evident if we move beyond Anglo-American discourses to examine those from other cultures – in this case Chinese. Readers eager to learn more about the Chinese side of things should turn to page 199.
Learn more about Eurasian: Mixed Identities in the United States, China, and Hong Kong, 1842-1943 at the University of California Press.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Robin Beck's "Chiefdoms, Collapse and Coalescence in the Early American South"

Robin Beck is an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology and assistant curator of Eastern North American Archaeology in the Museum of Anthropology at the University of Michigan.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Chiefdoms, Collapse and Coalescence in the Early American South, and reported the following:
Each of my six chapters opens with a brief vignette that situates the reader in time and space and that presents an episode that is pivotal to--or in some way captures--the chapter that follows. As it happens, page 99 falls on the vignette that opens Chapter 3, The Stranger Indians:
May 1656

Defeat had not come often to the men of Virginia, but the weight of it settled over them now as they pushed away in their boats from the falls of the James, demoralized and shaken. Edward Hill had set out for this western frontier with his makeshift militia--more than a hundred Englishmen with their Pamunkey allies--to make a decisive show of force against the newcomers, the stranger Indians, who had appeared like apparitions out of the deep, inscrutable woods that stretched to the north, south, and west. They had met on the falls of the James, where the strangers sent their leaders forth to negotiate with Colonel Hill and his militia, who welcomed the foreigners into their camp. Later, and on the colonel’s command, his men had cut down these guests without warning or mercy, a clear lesson to the newcomers and other would-be claimants to this land that it was not for the taking. In times past such lessons, when imparted by Englishmen, were rarely challenged. But this time the strangers had imparted a devastating lesson of their own, driving the Englishmen back to their boats in a furious rage and shredding their Pamunkey Indian allies by the banks of a stream called Bloody Run. As the men of Virginia pushed toward home, the falls of the James behind them, none could have foreseen the consequences of their retreat.
When Spanish explorers first penetrated the American Southeast during the mid-1500’s, they described a precolonial, native world of river valleys thickly settled with large towns, powerful chiefs carried about on litters by their subjects, sacred temples atop high earthen mounds--and supporting it all--vast fields of maize. This was the world of the Mississippian culture, which once stretched from modern Oklahoma east to the Atlantic Ocean, from Wisconsin south to the Gulf of Mexico. Yet by the time the earliest English explorers reached the interior South just over a century later, this world was in ruins. From its ashes sprang the new world of Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Catawbas, a world based not on maize and the human labor needed to farm it but on guns and commodities--namely animal hides and Indian slaves. By focusing on the native peoples of the Carolina Piedmont, those whose descendants would forge the Catawba Indian Nation, my book aims to explain both how these changes unfolded and why they unfolded in the particular way they did.

Those strangers who appeared so suddenly on Virginia’s frontier in 1656 were a group of Erie Indians expelled from the shores of Lake Erie by the Iroquois. They soon became known as the Westos, and for more than two decades their name would strike fear in native towns and villages across the Native South as they captured hundreds--if not thousands--of Indian slaves for the Virginia and Carolina markets. Their arrival would ignite the Indian slave trade and smash the Piedmont’s Mississippian chiefdoms, turning the entire region into what anthropologist Robbie Ethridge calls a shatter zone. Page 99 captures that moment in my book when before turned to after, when the world as it was turned irrevocably into something else.
Learn more about Chiefdoms, Collapse and Coalescence in the Early American South at the Cambridge University Press website.

See the July 2013 New York Times article, "Fort Tells of Spain's Early Ambitions," which reports the recent location by Robin Beck and colleagues of a 1567 Spanish fort during excavations at the Berry site, a fort and a site that play significant roles in Chiefdoms, Collapse and Coalescence in the Early American South.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fredrik Albritton Jonsson's "Enlightenment’s Frontier"

Fredrik Albritton Jonsson is an assistant professor of British history at the University of Chicago.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Enlightenment's Frontier: The Scottish Highlands and the Origins of Environmentalism, and reported the following:
In the summer of 1764, the Reverend John Walker went looking for virtue in the bogs and hills of the Hebrides. He reported to his friend Lord Kames that he had discovered a “New world” in the north, brimming with natural resources and healthy natives. Page 99 of my book Enlightenment’s Frontier recovers some of the scientific and cultural context of Walker’s voyage. A major influence on Walker was the 1703 travel account by the Gaelic geographer Martin Martin who described the inhabitants of the Hebrides as noble savages in the vein of Tacitus’ Germania. Another template for Walker’s vision was the 1732 expedition of Carl von Linné to Lapland. The botanist claimed to have discovered a providential economy in northern Sweden, populated by Sami reindeer pastoralists. By diversifying Lapland with useful plants and animals, he hoped to create a new Eden on the periphery.

These passages on page 99 capture fairly well my original design for Enlightenment’s Frontier. I was interested in exploring the environmental foundation of the Scottish Enlightenment and assumed that this was a story primarily about the use of the Highlands as a laboratory for Linnaean natural history. But like many other historians, I found a lot more than I had expected in the archives. Nested in Walker’s journey was a series of other narratives. One was the clash of rival ecologies in the Scottish Enlightenment. Walker saw in the environment a bountiful but unstable and fragile realm that had to be carefully managed by experts. In contrast, liberal improvers viewed nature as a mirror image of their markets - resilient and self-regulating. Moreover, this story of rival ecologies was connected to an even broader framework. When Walker’s quest for a Gaelic cornucopia failed at the end of the Enlightenment, northern Scotland became a crucible for Malthusian anxieties about overpopulation and resource exhaustion. In this way, the rise and fall of the Enlightenment in the Highlands sheds new light on the origins of environmentalism.

Page 99 (footnotes omitted):
health, and temperance of island life, “free from the various convulsions that ordinarily attend luxury.” This was a people molded by a nasty climate to brave adversity with industry and ascetic moderation. Martin insisted that “the ignorance of vices [was] more powerful among [them] than all the precepts of philosophy . . . among the Greeks.” These were men who knew neither sugar nor cinnamon and slept on “beds of heath” without nightcaps. Such a conflation of Greco-Roman imagery with Gaelic ethnography would have a long life among Martin’s readers and imitators.

The double vision of the Highlands owed much to Linnaeus’s travels in Lapland. As we have heard, Walker, Robertson, and Lightfoot were all committed to the Swedish botanist’s system of classification and the economic priorities embodied in his flora. Indeed, by relying on Linnaeus’s Flora Lapponica to identify useful or edible Highland plants, their accounts sometimes mixed the cultural legacies and economic prospects of Lapland and northern Scotland. Linnaeus’s book dwelled at length on the importance of native botanical knowledge to Sami subsistence. The far north accustomed them to food deemed inedible elsewhere such as unsalted fish, reindeer milk, and native wild plants. It also preserved them from the luxury of modern commerce and made them ignorant of “alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee, sugar, silk [and] most spices.” Where another observer might have recoiled at debilitating scarcity, Linnaeus saw self-sufficiency and moderation: “The Lapp gets from his Reindeer herd almost all his needs; lives content and happy in his cold and sterile land.” This myth in turn helped sustain the moral aspect of Linnaeus’s cameralism. The Sami set a virtuous example to the rest of the nation. Only by subduing consumer appetites and denouncing luxury would his compatriots render Sweden truly independent.

Yet the centrality of Lapland to Linnaeus’s reputation never matured into a political commitment. The Swedish botanist spent only one summer in the north. Like so many other European social climbers, he took a colonial shortcut to wealth and authority. There was no compelling counterpart to the Scottish politics of population in Linnaeus’s thought because he did not think that the Sami needed special protection by the state or civil society (perhaps he would have if he had assigned them a military function). In contrast, Walker’s engagement with Highland improvement spanned the entirety of his career, from 1764 to 1803, and was driven by fertile anxieties about the economic and military fate of Scotland. The urgency and consistency of Walker’s commitment arose from the ways in which he disturbed and rearranged a mixture of Scottish commonplaces: conjectural history, the fear of Gaelic emigration, and worries about an inverse relation between commerce and martial valor. If history progressed by...
Learn more about Enlightenment's Frontier at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Robert Wuthnow's "Small-Town America"

Robert Wuthnow grew up in a small town and currently teaches in the sociology department at Princeton University.  He is the author of many books about American religion and culture, including Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America's Heartland .

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Small-Town America: Finding Community, Shaping the Future, and reported the following:
Two of the book’s themes conveniently appear on page 99, which comes in a chapter about small-town residents’ feelings toward their communities. These themes emerged from lengthy qualitative interviews with more than 700 residents living in scattered communities across the country.

Many of the towns were declining. In fact, 55 percent of all non-urban US towns of fewer than 25,000 residents were smaller in 2010 than they were in 1980. In several states three-quarters were smaller. Residents of these towns were keenly aware of the decline. People no longer congregated on Main Street on Saturday evenings. The school was shuttered. Children were bused to a larger town. The playground was silent. The hardware store was gone. The corner lot where it stood was empty. Residents figured the good times were past.

But small towns are surprisingly resilient. Although the smallest ones are losing population, towns of any size are not. Most towns with at least 5,000 residents have been holding their own or growing. Many are county seats, host small manufacturing plants, or are located near interstate highways. Many are within commuting distance of larger towns and cities. They are benefiting from tele-commerce. These are the towns that two-thirds of the 30 million Americans who live in small towns call home. They are hardly disappearing.

Those of us in cities and suburbs may think about small-town life and imagine it would be dreadful. Too stifling of opportunities. Too boring for words. But that view misses the rich variety of America’s small towns. Come closer and we hear people speaking eloquently about their towns and their families and their lives. Some are here to be near an aging relative. Some are down on their luck. Some are in towns suffering from drought, a recent flood, or a factory closing. Some are recent immigrants. Some are seeking a balanced life with time for friends and family or more space and a slower place of life. They have much to tell us about the meanings of community, if we are willing to listen.
Read more about Small-Town America at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Red State Religion.

Writers Read: Robert Wuthnow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 22, 2013

Peter von Ziegesar's "The Looking Glass Brother"

Peter von Ziegesar is a New York-based filmmaker and screenwriter. He has written articles, essays and reviews on film and art for many national publications, including DoubleTake, The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Outside, and Art in America. His short fiction won a PEN Syndicated Fiction Prize. His work as a film and multimedia artist has received national attention, including a solo exhibition at the Hirschhorn Museum of Art in Washington, D.C. He lives in New York City.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his recent book, The Looking Glass Brother, and reported the following:
Page 99 is full of incompletion and longing. It’s a part of the memoir where I go to visit my homeless stepbrother Little Peter who’s living temporarily in a halfway house in San Raphael, California. The place seems sterile and without inspiration to me. Each night my stepbrother leaves his room and hikes up into the hills behind the halfway house and sleeps on the ground. In order to cheer him up I take him for a drive in my rental car and he steers me to the house in Sausalito where he lived to age five before my father met his mother and took them both to New York. I’m not at all sure it’s the right house, but we have a kind of wordless epiphany sitting on the front porch. Afterwards I take him back to the halfway house and leave him there. Little Peter and I share that we were both kicked out of boarding schools. We are, in fact, both failed preppies. When I leave him that afternoon, he gives me “a despairing look, like a kid being dropped off at boarding school after a nice meal at the inn with his mother and father. A look that said, ‘Why me, and why this place? And when did you stop loving me, and don’t tell me that you didn’t, because it’s obvious, or you wouldn’t be leaving me here.’ A look I’d been on the inside of many times myself.”

Later on the same page, Little Peter leaves the halfway house and starts walking and hitching across country. From Sacramento he calls me and asks for a ticket to Albuquerque, one of his regular homeless hangouts, and I readily agree. Then I get into a tussle with his mother, Olivia, who is my stepmother. She thinks he should go back to San Raphael, where he has unfinished business. This is like the good angel and the bad angel on my shoulder, and I end up refusing to buy him the bus ticket after all. The result is that he takes to the rails and winds up in jail for Thanksgiving, much to my regret. It’s a theme throughout the book that I am more willing to indulge Little Peter and accept him for what he is, while almost everyone else wants to change him. This is both my biggest strength and my biggest weakness. In fact, I find I can’t change my stepbrother. I can only stay in touch with him, give him handouts now and then and try to ease his passage when possible. Often this thin communication lifeline is what he needs, though. Just someone to talk to.
Learn more about the book and author at Peter von Ziegesar's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Looking Glass Brother.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Patrick Colm Hogan's "How Authors’ Minds Make Stories"

Patrick Colm Hogan is a professor in the Department of English and the programs in Cognitive Science, Comparative Literature and Comparative Studies, and India Studies at the University of Connecticut. He is the author of fifteen books, including The Mind and Its Stories and What Literature Teaches Us about Emotion, and the editor of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Language Sciences.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his recent book, How Authors' Minds Make Stories, and reported the following:
Page 99 of How Authors’ Minds Make Stories begins with a reference “alterations in women’s political authority” as represented in Jean Racine’s play, Bajazet. It continues as follows:
Racine placed Andromaque in a position of authority after the play bearing her name. He placed Agrippine in that position before the action of Britannicus. He placed Axiane and Berenice in that position outside the action of Alexandre le Grand and Berenice. In Bajazet, however, Roxane is in charge of the empire while the events are unfolding. Thus her position of authority is integral to the story’s elaboration and specification . . . . [I]t may seem that this will simply produce a mirror image of the stories in which men have the positions of authority. However, this is not a matriarchy. The society is still fundamentally patriarchal, even though an exceptional woman has managed to gain some degree of (temporary) dominance. As a result, the position of this (female) leader is more fragile, and the balance of power is more complex. In keeping with this, the female characters in Bajazet draw on both the developmental principles for female characters in earlier plays and those for male characters. The result . . . is a sort of reconfiguration in which the possible interconnections (or configurations) of principles change significantly. Put simply, the metaprinciple that segregated principles by gender has been compromised.
Readers of this site will probably not be surprised to hear that this passage both is and is not representative of the book. It is unrepresentative in that only one chapter of the book concerns Racine. Though the greatest French tragedian, Racine seems to be little read in the English-speaking world, even by professors of literature. This means that the page treats an author who is probably unfamiliar to most readers. This chapter also involves the most thorough and detailed examination of an authorial canon and the most integral use of theoretical concepts. For these reasons, the page is likely to be far more difficult to follow than most of the book, especially when taken in isolation.

On the other hand, there are many ways in which the page is characteristic. The book as a whole concerns what psychologists call simulation. Simulation is the cognitive process of imagining what a particular character will do in a particular situation. It is probably the main process we use to decide whether we want to do something in the future (e.g., ask the boss for a raise) or what we might have done better in the past (e.g., timing the request for a raise differently). The book considers what constitutes simulation and argues that literary imagination is a particularly extended and elaborated form of ordinary simulative processes.

More exactly, a literary author has a set of principles that guide his or her simulation of characters and character interactions. These often involve categories of character, such as male and female. Part of simulation involves making small changes in single properties and imagining the outcomes. For example, one might imagine a male friend asking the bouncer at a club to let one in, then re-simulate the scenario with a female friend.

In the passage just quoted, my contention is that, up to Bajazet, Racine’s literary simulations maintained a fairly strict division between the sorts of things a female character might do and those a male character might do. By making a female character the ruler in the simulation proper, he broke those constraints. In consequence, he simulated the subsequent narrative differently than he simulated similar events in earlier plays. This was a watershed that had significant consequences for the plays that followed.
Learn more about How Authors' Minds Make Stories at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Egbert Bakker's "The Meaning of Meat and the Structure of the 'Odyssey'"

Egbert J. Bakker is Professor of Classics at Yale University. He has published widely on the language and the literature of ancient Greece, particularly on the language and the interpretation of the Homeric poems (Iliad and Odyssey). He likes interdisciplinary approaches to ancient literature, such as the anthropological perspective developed in the present book.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Meaning of Meat and the Structure of the "Odyssey", and reported the following:
Ancient Greece did not have environmental activists; nor do ancient Greek narratives carry an environmental message. Still, the narrative of the Odyssey, as I argue in my new book The Meaning of Meat and the Structure of the "Odyssey", revolves around a decidedly environmental issue. The poem’s central event is the criminal consumption of Odysseus’ herds and flocks by the suitors of his wife Penelope, who woo her for marriage in the hero’s absence—he is on a long quest for homecoming after he brought the Trojan War to a successful completion. The Suitors are out to annihilate the estate of the king literally by eating it up, as they sit feasting continuously as uninvited guests in Odysseus’ palace. Their massive consumption of meat must have shocked the poem’s contemporary audiences, who lived in a world in which meat was scarce due to the agricultural limitations of the environment: being dry and rocky, the Greek landscape does not allow for extensive cattle grazing.

I argue that the famous adventures of Odysseus himself during his quest are not just “folktales” or “inset stories,” but a sustained commentary on the situation back home on Ithaca. Odysseus travels in fabulous lands in which meat is limitlessly plentiful, in stark contrast to the situation in the Greek heartland. These lands are paradisiacal, but also dangerous, particularly the island of Circe, who is usually characterized as a sorceress or a witch, but whom I treat as a “Mistress of Animals:” the boundary between human and animal, eater and eaten, can become blurred, as appears from the transformation of Odysseus’ companions into swine. I show that the anthropology of hunting cultures provides parallels for this. The “bestialization” of the meat eater is a theme subtly hinted at in the depiction of the meat consumption of the Suitors.

Unfortunately, p. 99 does not address these central issues. But the argument here is preparing for one of the important roles played by Odysseus, when, after his return home, he takes his gruesome revenge on the Suitors. The role is that of Helios the Sun, owner of sacred and immortal cattle that Odysseus’ companions slaughtered and consumed in an act of illicit meat consumption that counterbalances the slaughter of Odysseus’ own cattle. It seems fitting that Odysseus, the returning master of animals, draws on the identities of the Masters of Animals that he has encountered in the supernatural world.
Learn more about The Meaning of Meat and the Structure of the "Odyssey" at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 19, 2013

James Mace Ward's "Priest, Politician, Collaborator"

James Mace Ward is Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Rhode Island.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Priest, Politician, Collaborator: Jozef Tiso and the Making of Fascist Slovakia, and reported the following:
My book is a biography of Jozef Tiso, a Catholic priest who headed the 1939–1945 Slovak Republic, the first independent Slovak state and an ally of Nazi Germany. For the first half of his life, Tiso was a rising clerical star who was widely expected to make bishop. Instead, he entered Slovak nationalist politics, a path that led him into temporarily breaking up Czechoslovakia as well as committing genocide against Slovak Jews. In 1947, after a trial manipulated by Communists, he was hanged for collaboration, treason, and crimes against humanity. Memory and politics then transfigured him into polarized symbols: war criminal versus saint. A postcommunist attempt to rehabilitate him actually helped to split Czechoslovakia again in 1993. How to interpret him as a historical figure continues to vex today’s independent Slovakia.

Page ninety-nine of my biography captures Tiso trying to integrate his party, Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party (or Ľudáks), into the Czechoslovak polity. In 1927, Tiso succeeded in maneuvering them into the Czechoslovak central government, he himself becoming the minister of health. The coalition lasted but two years before the Ľudáks veered permanently back into opposition, thus confirming their incompatibility with the Czechoslovak project. The page follows Tiso as he settled into his new job. I analyzed how he fit within the cabinet, the mediocre record of his coalition, and his priorities as a minister. In short, this was background for understanding why Tiso grew frustrated with Czechoslovak democracy and jettisoned it in favor of fascism.

Yet I also could glimpse here “the quality of the whole” as Ford Madox Ford predicted. The page engages two major themes of the book: first, Tiso’s struggle to square his dual roles as priest and politician; second, the difficulty of understanding his life given the competing moral claims of religion, nationalism, and human rights. On this page, Slovak nationalism had already eclipsed Tiso’s original political mission of defending the Catholic Church. Over the course of his career, Tiso unintentionally secularized to an extent, as the dictates of nationalist politics inspired him to privilege the interests of party and state over church. We also find on this page the triad of religion, nationalism, and human rights in tension. Tiso’s agenda as minister was to provide progress for the nation through state jobs for Slovaks and investment for the province. Yet,
he also espoused tolerance toward [Slovakia’s] Germans and Hungarians, an approach that he justified through faith: “We are Catholics, and thus our highest law is ‘justice for everyone.’ To unjustly deprive people ... of their property is not Catholic.”
The quote foreshadows the wartime expropriation of Slovak Jews before their deportation to death camps.
Learn more about Priest, Politician, Collaborator at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mark Blyth's "Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea"

Mark Blyth is Professor of International Political Economy at Brown University. He is the author of Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century.

Blyth applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford’s claim that on page 99 “the quality of the whole will be revealed to you” is uncannily accurate when applied to Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea. The book is composed of three stories that (I hope) build upon each other. The first story details how the financial crisis that started in the US of 2008 is still on going in Europe today. That crisis is commonly portrayed as a sovereign debt crisis brought about by runaway state spending. I disagree and show that it is in fact a part of ‘the greatest bait and switch in human history’ where the private debt of the US and European banking systems has been dumped on the public sector balance sheet and blamed on the state. It’s a bit like burning down your own house, calling the fire brigade, and then suing them for water damage.

The next part of the book is the intellectual history of austerity as an idea, and the final part covers its ‘natural history’ where cases of austerity as policy have been applied. Spoiler alert – it never works.

The transition between the first and second part of the book needed a bridge. Page 99 is the second page of that six page bridge, and it lays out in two and a half paragraphs the core of the book: the actual (rather than the mythical) relationship between states and markets. In that way Ford was absolutely correct. Here are the relevant paragraphs:
There is no well worked out “theory of austerity” in economic thought that extends back in time to some foundational statements that became more systematized and rigorous over time as there is, for example, with trade theory. We have instead what David Colander has called a “sensibility” concerning the state, embedded in liberal economics from its inception, that produces “austerity” as the default answer to the question, what should we do when markets fail?

Liberal economics grew up in reaction to the state. Not the state as we know it today—(usually) a representative democracy with large-scale spending ambitions—but the state personified by sovereigns: vicious, capricious, untrustworthy monarchs who would as soon steal your wealth as look at you. The state was therefore something to be avoided, minimized, bypassed, curtailed, and above all, not trusted. The market, in contrast, emerged in liberal thought as the intellectual and institutional antidote to the confiscatory politics of the king. In such a world, if prices and merchants were set free, the wealth of nations (note, not “kingdoms”) would multiply.

But from the start this liberal view of “the state versus the market” rested upon a misunderstanding: markets naturally appear when you remove the state from the equation. However, as Karl Polanyi noted at the end of World War II, there is nothing natural about markets. Turning people into wage laborers, securing the private ownership of land, even inventing capital and preserving its monetary form are all deeply political projects that involve courts, regulation, enforcement, bureaucracy, and all the rest. Indeed, gaining control of the state by the merchant class was a defining feature of early capitalism. With the partial exceptions of the United Kingdom and the United States (the former because it was first to make the transition to capitalism and the latter because it was geographically isolated), from Germany in the 1870s to China today, states make markets as much as markets determine the fate of states. Yet liberal economic thought remains largely oblivious to these facts. As a result, contemporary neoliberals who argue for austerity come at the issue with an anti-statist neuralgia that produces “cut the state” as the default answer, regardless of the question asked or its appropriateness.
Learn more about Austerity at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

David & Arthur Cropley's "Creativity & Crime: A Psychological Analysis"

David H. Cropley is a former officer in the United Kingdom's Royal Navy. He has been a member of staff at the University of South Australia since 1990, teaching across a range of topics in electronic and systems engineering. From 2003 to 2007 he was Director of the University's Systems Engineering and Evaluation Centre (SEEC). Since 2006 he has been very active in developing masters degrees in systems engineering with a particular focus on flexible delivery and has built up considerable experience in the application of tools such as virtual classrooms to the delivery of postgraduate education. Together with Arthur Cropley he has published Fostering Creativity: A Diagnostic Approach for Higher Education and Organisations (2009) and in conjunction with Cropley, James Kaufman and Mark Runco was co-editor of The Dark Side of Creativity (2010).

David and Arthur Cropley's new book is Creativity and Crime: A Psychological Analysis, to which David applied the “Page 99 Test” and reported the following:
Page 99 of Creativity & Crime: A Psychological Analysis is close to the climax of the first half of the book, and also the crux of the mirror-image point of the book. The subject matter, at this stage of the book is not crime, or negative aspects of creativity, but a discussion of the bright side of creativity. This is necessary, of course, because, as we say on the page in question, “creativity is seen as inextricably tied in with beauty”. The key message of the book is that creativity is traditionally seen as a positive, benevolent and constructive attribute, and yet effective, novel and elegant crimes are committed all the time which illustrate that creativity can also serve a darker – a malevolent – purpose.

So, while page 99 sits in the midst of a discussion of why society values creativity, it also hints at this dark side that is the theme of the book. Even in the case of a work of art – something that might be thought of as unequivocally good and creative – we draw attention to the differences between experienced and inexperienced judges. How is it possible for the same work – Russell Drysdale’s Woman in a Landscape – to be hailed both as a great work, worthy of a major prize and also as too ugly even to be called creative?

Shortly after page 99 we begin to explore this dark side of creativity. How do criminals, especially resourceful criminals like fraudsters and terrorists, employ creativity to more effectively achieve their law-breaking aims? We tackle this from a psychological perspective, employing established concepts to shed light on malevolent creativity, and also on strategies for combatting it. However, we do not attempt to give the reader a recipe for counteracting creative crime – rather, our hope is that the book will help law-enforcers themselves to think creatively about their activities, and to generate effective, novel countermeasures to malevolent creativity.
Learn more about Creativity & Crime at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Andrew Hudgins’ "The Joker"

Andrew Hudgins was born a military brat in Fort Hood, Texas, in 1951, moving to New Mexico, Ohio, and England before elementary school in North Carolina and California. His family lived for one year outside Paris before his father was transferred to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1966, the year after the Selma-to-Montgomery march. He has attended Huntingdon College, the University of Alabama, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and Stanford University. His poetry has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, and teaches at The Ohio State University.

Hudgins applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Joker: A Memoir, and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Joker, I tell my father, a devout believer, that I don’t want to attend Ridgecrest Baptist Church with the family anymore. I’m 18, a college student living at home and working at a dry goods wholesaler in the afternoon so I can afford to go to college in the mornings. If Dad throws me out of the house, I’m going to have to drop out of college and get a fulltime job. But if he gives me an ultimatum—“Either go to church or get out of my house”—I’ll capitulate and sullenly consider church just another job that pays for college. To my surprise, he appears to acquiesce. “No one is going to make you go to church if you don’t want to.” As a believer who’d lost his first child, a daughter named Andrea in a car accident when she was eighteen months old, he must have known the vicissitudes of doubt and faith.

But my mother, who always seemed to take church with a grain of salt, bolts across the room, screaming. Who did I think I was? Just because I was going to college didn’t mean I was a smarty-pants intellectual who could just up and decide in her house that he didn’t believe in God.

I stand before her open mouthed, unable to think go anything to say.

The scene gives a sense of one aspect of my family, but because there are no jokes, page 99 is not a true reflection of the book as a whole. The Joker is a memoir about being a compulsive joke teller. It’s funny, but it’s also a meditation on how jokes work and how my love of laugher grew out of my desire for relief from the somberness of my parents’ grief for Andrea, whose life they kept a secret from my brothers and me.
Learn more about The Joker, and follow Andrew Hudgins on Facebook.

Writers Read: Andrew Hudgins (March 2009).

Writers Read: Andrew Hudgins.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 15, 2013

Donna T. Andrew's "Aristocratic Vice"

Donna T. Andrew is professor emerita of history at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Aristocratic Vice: The Attack on Duelling, Suicide, Adultery, and Gambling in Eighteenth-Century England, and reported the following:
My book, Aristocratic Vice: The Attack on Duelling, Suicide, Adultery and Gambling in Eighteenth Century England examines some of the constituent elements of what was called “the code of honour,” i.e. that set of practices that distinguished the upper class from the rest. Members of this small circle could act in ways often punished in others, and could expect to suffer no penalties. When an upper-class man killed his opponent in a duel, he could expect to be acquitted of murder; when he killed himself, he could be sure to escape the verdict of felo de se, or self-murder, which entailed humiliating and public burial at crossroads. My argument is that, beginning in the eighteenth century, a very slow and stop-and-start series of campaigns, often promoted by the proliferating newspaper press, both called attention to these unpunished sins and crimes, bemoaned their deleterious effects on the fairness and even-handedness of the Law, and convinced a growing body of such readers, often referred to as “the middle”, that they were better than their betters, more virtuous in their obedience to the Law than the rest. And yet, it was equally clear that the world of aristocratic vice exercised a strong allure, and that this was one of its pernicious consequences. Which brings us to the sad tale of the life and death of George Hesse, which takes center stage on page 99 of my book.

Hesse, a prosperous and well-liked member of London’s mercantile elite, having taken too-active a part in the gambling circles surrounding the Prince of Wales, killed himself, unable to pay his “debts of honour.” When the inquest jury found his death the result of lunacy, i.e. exculpating his act from criminal responsibility, the press entered the fray. While most newspapers agreed that Hesse had had “very liberal and fine feelings” and that he would be missed and pitied both by those who had known him, and those who hadn’t, many others noted that it was not lunacy as such, but his “desire to live with and like the Great that led to his downfall.” Sympathy for the man did not excuse condemnation for his crime, and over the course of the century, spurred both by such reports and by letters to the editor from upset and indignant readers, condemnations of aristocratic vice became more pointed and frequent.
Learn more about Aristocratic Vice at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Nassir Ghaemi's "On Depression"

Nassir Ghaemi, M.D., M.P.H., is a professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and the director of the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. He is author of the bestseller A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links between Leadership and Mental Illness, as well as The Rise and Fall of the Biopsychosocial Model: Reconciling Art and Science in Psychiatry and The Concepts of Psychiatry: A Pluralistic Approach to the Mind and Mental Illness.

Ghaemi applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, On Depression: Drugs, Diagnosis, and Despair in the Modern World, and reported the following:
On Depression could have been more academically titled “An existential approach to depression”. On page 99, I begin to describe the existential approach of the American psychologist Rollo May. Throughout the book, I’m trying to explain to readers that “depression” is not one thing – that sometimes it is a medical disease, and sometimes it isn’t but instead reflects the despair that we normally feel about many aspects of life and death. It is important to know the difference. This is why I think so much that is written about depression and psychiatry tends to be mere cant, based on a “postmodernist” ideology where science/medicine/psychiatry are distrusted as mere tools of power. Critics claim a wish for humanism, but they don’t really seem to appreciate how a humanistic approach to people – the existential method – can be taken, while still remaining scientifically sound and medically oriented when diseases, like manic-depression, are present.

From page 99:
Many people act as if existential approaches to psychiatry are just completely at odds with medicine and science. All persons are patients to doctors. Some justify this usage in the sense that to be a “patient” means to “suffer” and the claim is that all those who seek help with doctors suffer in some way or another. But this is not true. Many of us feel quite fit, and then, on some routine visit, the doctor informs us that we have a disease; our suffering comes after the doctor visit, not before. (Is not hypertension the “silent killer”?)

It is the sign of the scientific physician, as Leston Havens informs us, that we are more often told we are healthy than ill. The doctor runs some tests; congratulations, on 25 tests you are normal; but on this one, you are sick. Even sickness is identified only in the context of larger health.

This is how medicine functions, when it is scientific. Health is a normative and common concept in medicine. It is usually the case; illness is the exception.

In psychiatry, matters are the reverse. No one goes to a psychiatrist or a psychotherapist without leaving the office pathologized; some “disorder” is labeled, and if not, some psychological complex or problem is identified. Existential psychotherapy is the only approach that begins with a premise of health, with the view that we are all normal human beings, and even our problems are the results of the same (“normal”) challenges that all human beings must face as part of existence. Existential psychiatry, by beginning with the person rather than the patient, is in fact much more in line with scientific medicine than the pseudoscience of universal patienthood that afflicts psychiatry in all its other forms – biological, psychoanalytic, cognitive/behavioral, and so on. I say “scientific” medicine because unscientific medicine is practiced – not just in psychiatry but also by many internists – whereby health is not respected and tests are excessively ordered, until something looks wrong enough to merit intervention, producing the corresponding monetary payment to the doctor, typically the ultimate goal of the whole process.
Learn more about the book and author at the Johns Hopkins University Press website and Nassir Ghaemi's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Simon Keller's "Partiality"

Simon Keller is associate professor of philosophy at Victoria University, Wellington. He is the author of The Limits of Loyalty.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Partiality, and reported the following:
Sadly, I hope that page 99 of Partialty does not reveal the nature of the whole book. Partiality is a work in moral philosophy, and page 99 finds me engaged in an activity of which philosophers are perhaps a little too fond: drawing distinctions. The page is part of a brief passage in which I clear some conceptual ground before giving my answer to the question of why we should we give special treatment to our friends and loved ones – why we should sometimes be partial, not impartial.

To understand page 99 and its role in the book, you need to know about Bill and Mary, whom I imagine (indulge me) to be your parents. Imagine hearing that your parents have been the victims of a house fire. You should immediately rush to comfort them – but why? The answer I give is inspired by an elusive suggestion from Iris Murdoch. Loving another person, says Murdoch, requires “really looking”: seeing the person as she is in her own right, with your own self and your own needs dropping from view. So your reason to rush to comfort your parents, I say, is that they are Bill and Mary. Your reason is not simply that you care about them, and not simply that they are your parents. It comes rather from their importance as particular distinct individuals, considered in their own rights.

Page 99 draws distinctions between some different things we might mean when we say that Bill and Mary are valuable, and when we say that their value gives you a reason to rush to their aid. Those distinctions in hand, I am able to go on to articulate and argue for my Murdoch-inspired position. If I am right, then to understand the morality of partiality – and in particular the experience of acting out of special concern for another person – we need to focus on a good old Enlightenment value: the value of individual persons, as persons. To see how that value can give reasons to be partial, not always impartial, we need to rethink not the value itself, but rather the responses we give to it, in particular manifestations and contexts. That, I hope, is what makes the book interesting. But you wouldn’t know it from page 99.
Learn more about Partiality at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 12, 2013

Michael Innis-Jiménez's "Steel Barrio"

Michael Innis-Jiménez is an assistant professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of American Studies at the University of Alabama. He has also served as a scholar for The Latino New South Project, a public history project sponsored by a three museum consortium consisting of the Levine Museum of the New South (Charlotte, NC), The Atlanta History Museum, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Steel Barrio: The Great Mexican Migration to South Chicago, 1915-1940, and reported the following:
My goal for Steel Barrio is to discuss how and why Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans created community, and how their fortunes were linked to the environment they helped build. Page 99 falls in the middle of Part II of the book titled “Community.” The book as a whole focuses on the early years of the Mexican community in the neighborhood of South Chicago.

Page 99 touches on a key point as relevant today as it was during the Great Depression: learning English without losing Mexican culture. In a 1926 editorial in a Chicago Spanish-language newspaper urged the learning of English “to better themselves as laborers, skilled workers, or students.”
In going beyond the argument that learning English would benefit members of the community and their families, the author drew on individual patriotism and the sojourner attitude within the community to advocate the learning of English in order to take new skills and knowledge back to Mexico. By linking his pro-English comments to Mexican patriotism and the importance of the eventual return of Chicago-area Mexican immigrants to Mexico, the editorial’s author promoted the learning of English as pro-Mexico and beneficial to Mexican culture both in Chicago and in Mexico. Beyond that, the learning of English and the vocational and intellectual skills workers could acquire after learning English would benefit Mexico on the immigrant’s return.
I also touch on the fact that promoters of learning English had different goals, but were for the most part well intentioned assimilationists. The expectations within the community did not always jive with external expectations. South Chicago Mexicans realized that learning English was not “the golden key” to the American dream. Many Mexicans who learned English did not get ahead.
Although there were various—and at times competing—reasons for assimilation, many Mexicans agreed that learning English would improve their social contacts and economic conditions. Paul S. Taylor argued that “a lack of knowledge of English was a material loss recognized and experienced by many, which handicapped them securing employment and promotion.” At the same time, Mexicanos realized that learning English was not a golden key to success or acceptance. One of Taylor’s informants argued that being able to speak English was no guarantee of avoiding discrimination. He complained that “There are many Mexicans who speak English, but even they do not get ahead.” According to this community member, many Mexicans did choose to learn English and pursue assimilation as a way to improve their ability to succeed economically. If they did not so choose, they risked being coerced into Americanization by external assimilationist pressures that included further economic and social exclusion at the workplace and in the local non-Mexican community. Community members’ ability to negotiate the use of Spanish or English within and outside of the community remained a critical component in the creation of a supportive environment.
At the bottom of page 99, I begin to discuss the gendered nature of access to English classes. Husbands did not want their wives to learn English because they feared that English-speaking wives would become independent and too “American.” My discussion of the paternalistic gender norms continues for the next couple of pages.

The book is about much more than learning English, but common threads that run throughout the book still show up on page 99. Immigrants negotiated between becoming “American” without losing “too much” Mexican culture, even as they knew that darker-skinned Mexicans would never be accepted as full-fledged Americans. The idea of eventually returning home to Mexico did not deter the desire to learn skills and do what it took to succeed and contribute to their community in Chicago.
Learn more about the book and author at Michael Innis-Jiménez's website and the Steel Barrio Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lisa Herzog's "Inventing the Market"

Lisa Herzog is a Postdoc at the Institut für Sozialforschung and the Cluster “Normative Orders” at Goethe University, Frankfurt. She works at the intersection of practical philosophy and economics. She wrote her PhD in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, received several prizes for her thesis, and turned it into her first monograph, Inventing the Market: Smith, Hegel, and Political Theory.

Herzog applied the “Page 99 Test” to Inventing the Market and reported the following:
This book is about markets, or rather, about the images of markets that we have inherited from the past and that continue to shape our thinking – as Keynes said, “Practical men ... are usually the slaves of some defunct economist“. Having studied economics and philosophy, I was struck by two things: first, how narrow the vision of mathematical economics is, and second, how important questions about markets are for core topics in political philosophy, for example for thinking about social justice.

My PhD became a search for a better understanding of these interdisciplinary questions. I delved into the history of ideas, and I ended up with two authors who are among the most influential, but also the most misunderstood thinkers of the last 300 years: the “father” of economics, Adam Smith (1723-1790), and the German idealist philosopher GWF Hegel (1770-1831). In their writings, I discovered the resources for a better understanding of what markets mean for a society. The book compares their views and analyses their contributions to questions of political philosophy along four dimensions: the relation between individual and society, justice in the market, freedom in the market, and the market in history.

Page 99 is quite typical for the book in that it analyses the origin of an idea that is widely held, but seldom argued for, today: that market outcomes are somehow “deserved”. In Smith’s thought, we find the idea that well-functioning markets reward certain forms of behavior, such as hard work, reliability, and a genuine desire to serve one’s customers. If one receives a higher income because of these, it can be called “deserved”. But there are also cases – and these are quite widespread, especially in labor markets – where this model does not apply to reality because there is one-sided market power. To quote from p. 99:
The picture Smith draws of these wage negotiations [between workers and employers] is more akin to the relations between feudal lords and their dependants than to the ‘haggling and bargaining’ of a free market. More generally, whenever there is one-sided power that distorts prices—and this might be the rule rather than the exception in today’s markets—market outcomes cannot be justified as rewards for virtue along the line pursued here.
As it turns out, Smith sees economic growth and a flexible labour market as solutions to this problem. This idea – that economic growth is a panacea for problems of all kinds – is one of the inherited ideas that we continue to believe in although they may not hold any more. The book as a whole is an invitation to challenge preconceived ideas about markets, and to discover a rich intellectual heritage that can help us to think about the future of our market societies.
Learn more about Inventing the Market at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Zygmunt J. B. Plater's "The Snail Darter and the Dam"

Zygmunt J. B. Plater is professor of law and director of the Land & Environmental Law Program at Boston College Law School. He chaired the State of Alaska Oil Spill Commission’s Legal Research Task Force, is lead author of an environmental law casebook, and has participated in numerous citizen environmental initiatives. He lives in Newton Highlands, MA.

Plater applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Snail Darter and the Dam: How Pork-Barrel Politics Endangered a Little Fish and Killed a River, and reported the following:
This is easy: Page 99 of The Snail Darter & the Dam is indeed representative of the grab and pace of the story and its essential challenges: Page 99 is a sex scene of heavy petting and copulation of two individuals quite small in stature—they are two-inch fish.

The scene takes place on videotape in a courtroom. A small group of citizens is defending the endangered “snail darters” threatened by Tellico, the last of 68 dams being built in Tennessee by the federal TVA.

The agency justified the small, non-hydroelectric dam by forcing condemnation of 40 square miles of 300 family farms, allegedly for profitable re-sale and development by a Fortune 500 company—which will never happen.

In our modern political system, the only practicable way for the farmers, fishermen, and local environmentalists to force a common-sense economic review of the destructive project is to block it in court.

If the dam portion of the Tellico project truly endangers the fish’s survival, it violates the Endangered Species Act. So the citizens must prove that the fish requires a cool, clear, flowing river, not a muddy dammed impoundment. A biology graduate student with an underwater videocamera throws images on the courtroom wall. Page 99 features his description of the two little figures in their watery boudoir; the little fish need clean, scoured gravel, not a dam’s mud, to hold their fertilized eggs.

The video is convincing: the dam endangers the fish. The darter wins in the Supreme Court and in an intensive economic review proving that river-based uses offer more economic benefits than the agency’s cockamamie dam plan. It subsequently requires dirty pork politics and lousy press coverage to override the fish and its river….

The reverberations of the snail darter case continue to raise important and annoying questions about how facts are processed by government and media—and the “silly fish” caricature is still regularly used by agenda-driven pundits to put down environmental protection laws and progressive regulation.

Only in America could a little group of citizens so lacking in money and power have carried a battle so far and so high. The darter’s true story and its democratic precedents remain extremely significant to public thinking today.

And none of it would have gone beyond that Tennessee courtroom if the judge hadn’t been convinced of the little fish’s endangerment by the sex tape on Page 99.

From Page 99:
… (Chuckles echo through the courtroom, as a hundred pairs of eyes peer intently into the watery boudoir.)

“Now he’s doing a tail-wagging movement to get her attention off me...

“Now he is dropping down on her, coming over her left hindquarter here...” (A hush falls on the crowd.)

“Now onto her right quarter,... you see him place his left pectoral fin, in a cross-over maneuver, and he is stroking the tail of her body with his pectoral,... but, oops, she moves away...

“Coming up now is very heavy courtship again, and possible spawning, I think... They’re moving in unison... Oh no, she moved away again...

“Now they go through the same maneuver again, he’s stroking her with his left pectoral, then crossing over to her other side..

“Now there, see!... A violent quivering of her body. And he’s waving his anal fin very violently,... now he’s moving the sand around for egg deposit!...

“Okay, that’s the end of it. You can turn on the lights.”

The courtroom observers let out the collective breath they’ve been holding. Starnes explains that this is not just an aquatic sex tape, and it’s not just a gambit to build empathy for the cute fish couple frolicking around in the pebbles of the river bottom. The video vividly highlights the special breeding conditions needed by this species. While filming, hunched over in the current, he’d had to struggle to hold his camera steady over the little couple in two and a half feet of fast-moving crystalline water.

The video clearly shows the clean bottom pebbles and sand that would catch hold of the microscopic eggs as they squeezed out of the female and were squirted with milt from the male. If the river current stopped, he said, or if muddy water and silt settled onto this shoal, the darters’ eggs sticking to substrate gravels there would lose their flow of oxygen, and suffocate.

“In my opinion,” concludes Starnes, “this is the only significant breeding population of this darter that we know of. If the reservoir is completed it will be completely exterminated.”

TVA’s lawyers’ strategy on cross-examination is to score points however they can. They elicit the admission that TVA has graciously funded Starnes’s studies of the darter. Under questioning, Etnier and Starnes both readily admit they personally oppose completion of the dam….
Learn more about The Snail Darter and the Dam at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Maxwell A. Cameron's "Strong Constitutions"

Maxwell A. Cameron is Director of the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions and Professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Strong Constitutions: Social-Cognitive Origins of the Separation of Powers, and reported the following:
On page 99 [inset below left; click to enlarge] the reader meets the distinguished Harvard constitutionalist Carl J. Friedrich as he reads Aristotle through the eyes of Immanuel Kant. Kant observed the resemblance between the structure of logical syllogisms and the separation of powers. Friedrich, with his rapier-sharp wit, cuts through the complexity of the problem by using a homely but memorable analogy.

Suppose I see a hat lying around, Friedrich says. (Yes, he was writing in the 1950s when men wore hats!) I can say “I will pick up that hat” or “I shall never allow hats to lie about”. One is a particular decision, the other a general rule. How is this connected to the separation of powers? Well, the legislature makes general rules—laws that take the form “one should not leave hats lying around.” The job of the executive is to actually pick up the hats—that is, to take the particular measures that follow from general rules. The judiciary stands between the two: it determines when a particular case falls within a general rule.

I love this example for two reasons. First, it shows the logic of the separation of powers. A logical syllogism implies a major premise (it is a general rule that “x means y”), a minor premise (this particular case falls within the class of events “x”), and a conclusion (it therefore follows that “y” is the case). The separation of powers follows this logic. The legislature provides the major premise, the judiciary determines how to interpret and apply general rules in particular cases, and the executive operates in the world of particular decisions.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, it shows how the structure of constitutional government is a reflection of the human mind. That is really the main argument of my book. As Friedrich puts it, the separation of powers “rests upon a broad logical and psychological foundation.” I take this argument even farther than Friedrich probably would have. In my view, the separation of powers is necessary for any political system that uses written texts, as well as unwritten conventions, to coordinate collective life. This is because texts always have to be interpreted. And the interpretation of texts demands movement between the general and the particular.

Strong Constitutions is all about how the separation of powers is not just a mechanism to limit government. It is about how we make meaning of the political world in ways that enable us to improve it.
Learn more about Strong Constitutions at the Oxford University Press website, and visit Max Cameron's blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 8, 2013

Geoffrey Parker's "Global Crisis"

Winner of the 2012 Heineken Prize for History, Geoffrey Parker is a renowned British historian who taught at the University of St Andrews, the University of Illinois, the University of British Columbia and Yale University before becoming Andreas Dorpalen Professor of History at The Ohio State University. He is also a Fellow of the British Academy, the Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Spanish-American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Cadiz), and the Royal Academy of History (Madrid). His many books include The Grand Strategy of Philip II, published by Yale in 1998 (winner of the Samuel Eliot Morison Prize) and The Military Revolution (winner of the best book prize of the American Military Institute and the Society for the History of Technology), as well as seminal works on global military history and early modern Europe.

Parker applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century, and reported the following:
My heart sank when I was asked to apply the “The Page 99 Test” to Global Crisis, because I found the entire page occupied by graphs about children abandoned at the Foundling Hospital in Milan, Italy, in the seventeenth century. One diagram showed that most foundlings were delivered to the staff by their parents by day, but that after dark most arrived via the scaffetta: the “wheel of fortune” located on an outside wall where parents deposited their children anonymously and then rang a bell that alerted the staff within to turn the wheel and recover the child.

The time for abandoning infants varied with the season of the year – between 5 and 6 PM in December and January; between 9 and 10 PM between June (presumably to spare the distraught parent the shame of being seen) – and with fluctuations in food prices: in years of dearth, four or five infants might be placed on the wheel in a single night.

Many of those who left their child on the scaffetta also wrote a heart-wrenching note of explanation – some written on a scrap of paper torn from a book or on the back of a document (in one case on the back of a playing card) – stating the child’s name, date of birth and saint’s day and whether it had been baptized. A few provided a brief explanation (parents too poor; mother abandoned by her lover; mother died in childbirth; “a well-known lady who does not wish to be found out”). The saddest messages of all were those written in the first person:
My name is Ana. I have been baptized. My parents are honorable people who, because they are poor, entrust me to Our Lady and St Joseph. I beg you to entrust me to someone who will look after me. A

[image of Ana's letter above left; click to enlarge]
These details meet “The Page 99 Test,” because Global Crisis contains hundreds of heart-rending first-person accounts from the seventeenth century; and the Index reveals that data about foundlings appear on ten pages and in one illustration. Their plight reflected a fatal synergy in the seventeenth century between climate change and human inflexibility – above all the failure of governments to avoid war in times of global cooling – that eradicated one-third of the planet’s human population. Most survivors would have endorsed the verdict of the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes in 1651: “the life of man” had become “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
Learn more about Global Crisis at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue