Thursday, March 31, 2016

Glen Weldon's "The Caped Crusade"

Glen Weldon is the author of Superman: The Unauthorized Biography and the new book, The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Caped Crusade and reported the following:
Well, this worked out nicely: page 99 of The Caped Crusade, which uses the character of Batman as a lens through which to examine how and why nerd culture came to be, chronicles the brief period of time right after end of the 60s TV show.

Turns out, that's the moment when everything changed. The POW! ZAP! Batmania fad had fizzled out. Sales of Batman comics were tanking. And over at Marvel, writers had keyed into the fact that the core readership of comics was now teens and adults, not kids, as it had been just a few years before. And that readership wanted more complex storylines that put heroes through the emotional wringer. To do that, those heroes needed to have emotions -- distinct, definable personalities, unlike the cheery, anodyne cops-in-capes that had dominated comics for the previous 30 years.

So the writers of Batman resolved to remake Batman from scratch, and they did so by viscerally rejecting everything Adam West's TV Batman had been. In the book, I argue that the grim, brooding badass version of Batman that now occupies our collective consciousness was actually born at the moment, in 1970, when they started Batman over, and -- crucially -- made him an obsessive. That obsession was key, because it resonated with the the obsessive nerds who read his comics, and paved the way for every Batman who's donned the cowl since.
Learn more about the book and author at Glen Weldon's website and follow him on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: Superman: The Unauthorized Biography.

Writers Read: Glen Weldon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

D. Peter MacLeod's "Northern Armageddon"

D. Peter MacLeod is a curator at the Canadian War Museum and the author of The Canadian Iroquois and the Seven Years’ War.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Northern Armageddon: The Battle of the Plains of Abraham and the Making of the American Revolution, and reported the following:
During the Seven Years’ War (1754-1763) France fought Britain for control of northeastern North America; Native American nations fought to preserve their homelands. The war reached a climax in 1759 when James Wolfe and his army sailed up the St. Lawrence River to besiege Quebec City, then the capital of the French empire in North America. The campaign is best known for the encounter between Wolfe and Montcalm at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

Northern Armageddon tells the story of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham through the eyes of American, British, French, and Native American participants. On page 99, we’re looking at the tense relationships in the French high command. Louis-Joseph de Montcalm commands the French regular army battalions that were posted to Canada during the Seven Years’ War. Pierre Rigaud de Vaudreuil is Governor General of New France and commander-in-chief of the French armed forces in North America.

They don’t get along.

On page 99, in a flashback to 1758, Montcalm, who has just defeated a massive British-American invasion at Ticonderoga, accuses Vaudreuil of attempting the mass murder of his army by holding back reinforcements. (“M. de Vaudreuil wanted to have us slaughtered by giving me so few men to face a real danger.”)

Vaudreuil, unimpressed, lists a whole series of abusive outbursts by Montcalm and gently suggests the general might be better employed elsewhere. (“He can serve very usefully in Europe. No one respects his excellent qualities more than I, but he lacks those which are necessary for making war in this country.”)

All this is background, providing context for a key moment on the Plains of Abraham in 1759. The French and British armies are formed in battle lines, facing one another across the plains. Vaudreuil orders Montcalm to hold in place. Instead, Montcalm orders a charge that leads to his own death, the shattering of the French army, and the surrender of Quebec, and ultimately contributes to the outbreak of the American Revolution.
Learn more about Northern Armageddon at the publisher's website.

My Book, The Movie: Northern Armageddon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Iain Overton's "The Way of the Gun"

Iain Overton is the director of policy and investigations at Action on Armed Violence (AOAV). Prior to joining AOAV in 2013, he worked as a journalist, notably for the BBC, ITN, the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and the Guardian, Telegraph, and Independent newspapers. He is the recipient of two Amnesty Media Awards, a BAFTA, and a Peabody Award, among others. He holds two degrees from Cambridge University.

Overton applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Way of the Gun: A Bloody Journey into the World of Firearms, and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Way of the Gun, the reader will read the following:
I’ve been held up at gunpoint three times in my life. I’ve also been shot at twice. The reasons I was shot at were indiscriminate, so I didn’t take those times personally; I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Being held up at gunpoint, though, was intimate. Those moments of rushed demands and ugly threats have stayed with me longer and touched me more deeply than most of the horrors I’ve seen. Something in me broke a little.
In many ways, this paragraph holds true to Ford Madox Ford’s litmus test. The heart of the book is summed up.

The Way of the Gun is a work of non-fiction that takes the reader deep into the world of firearms and those communities affected by them. It is a passage through a host of realities moulded by the gun. With almost a billion firearms on the planet and 12 billion bullets produced every year, it is a world defined by power and pain, and underpinned by profit.

Over half a million people die every year from gunshot, and this paragraph on page 99 sums up how I was almost one of them on a number of occasions. It also sums up how this is not an academic book into the gun – it is one where I write about intensely lived personal experiences, seeing the horrors wrought by the gun up close. From warzones in Iraq to gun markets in Somalia, ganglands in Central America to emergency rooms in South Africa, this is a book that reveals the true impact of the gun on the world.

On Page 99 I write that – like countless others – I have been the victim of gun violence. I write about being help up at gunpoint in Papua New Guinea, in the Netherlands and in Ecuador. And I write about fear and trauma, power and powerlessness.

This is a book, then, where my words are rooted in a hard-lived reality. The subtitle of the book says that this is a ‘bloody journey into the world of firearms’, and this page shows that that blood was almost mine.
Learn more about The Way of the Gun at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 28, 2016

Harriet F. Senie's "Memorials to Shattered Myths"

Harriet F. Senie, author of Memorials to Shattered Myths: Vietnam to 9/11, is Director of the M.A. Program in Art History and Art Museum Studies at City College, City University of New York, and also teaches at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is the author of several books and numerous articles on public art, and is co-founder of the international organization Public Art Dialogue and co-editor of its journal, Public Art Dialogue.

Senie applied the “Page 99 Test” to Memorials to Shattered Myths: Vietnam to 9/11 and reported the following:
In some respects the Page 99 Test works for Memorials to Shattered Myths: Vietnam to 9/11. It falls in the chapter on the Columbine shootings, which together with the Vietnam War, the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks all shattered myths of national identity: Vietnam that the U.S. always won wars; Oklahoma City that the heartland was safe; Columbine that the American high school experience was an idyllic part of growing up; and 9/11 many, many assumptions. Memorials to these events conflated cemeteries with memorials, and heroes with victims. By employing strategies of diversion or denial (consciously or not) they effectively preclude any consideration of the implications of these events.

This page observes that the primary scene of death at Columbine High School, the library, was eradicated and replaced by an atrium defined by an uplifting mural of trees and sky, while a new library was built on the other side of the building. This paralleled the deliberate omission of any reference to the two boys responsible for the shooting. Initially 15 crosses were erected, one for each of the victims including the two killers, but these two were immediately destroyed.

The book argues that the memorial process for major events such as these be a tri-partite undertaking leading to immediate, interim and permanent structures. It includes a chapter on immediate memorials, a common mourning ritual that is rooted in cemetery practice. Non-perishable objects left at these gatherings are often stored in adjacent museums or local historical societies. Presently victims families play a major role in determining the permanent memorial but this book suggests that it makes more sense to put them in charge of the interim memorial, which might take whatever form they deem would best address their needs during this deep mourning period of shock and transition. The permanent memorial would then be primarily in the hands of professionals, as was the case with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The book concludes: “The purpose of memorials –especially national ones – is to remember those who died and the circumstances of their death. These structures must have an immediate resonance not only for those who lost family members and loved ones, but also for everyone affected by the tragedy. They must have a broader significance as well because they define the present to the future.”
© 2016 Harriet F. Senie
Visit Harriet F. Senie's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Alex J. Kay's "The Making of an SS Killer"

Alex J. Kay is Senior Academic Coordinator at the Institute of Contemporary History, Berlin. He obtained his Ph.D. in 2005 from the Humboldt University, Berlin, and is author of Exploitation, Resettlement, Mass Murder: Political and Economic Planning for German Occupation Policy in the Soviet Union, 1940–1941 (2006) and numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals.

Kay applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Making of an SS Killer: The Life of Colonel Alfred Filbert, 1905–1990, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Making of an SS Killer, a biography of SS Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Filbert, a frontline Holocaust perpetrator responsible for the murder of more than 18,000 Jewish men, women, and children in the German-occupied Soviet Union, is notable for describing the opening of preliminary investigations against Filbert on 28 December 1959 by the Public Prosecutor’s Office in (West) Berlin. He was accused:
[...] during the period from July 1941 to April 1942 in Russia, Lithuania and Poland, in the central section of the army group rear area [. . .] of having jointly with others [. . .] by means of several independent actions with base motives, maliciously and cruelly killed or of having had killed by persons subordinated to him a not yet established number of people, mostly of Jewish faith[...].
Some of the details were unclear at this point – not least the precise duration of Filbert’s stint as commander and of the killings ordered by him – but over the course of the next two years the Public Prosecutor’s Office succeeded in ascertaining exactly when Filbert had commanded the mobile killing squad in question, where it had been deployed and, at least approximately, how many people it had murdered under Filbert’s command.

Page 99 of the book is located part way through chapter eight, which addresses the arrest and trial of Alfred Filbert, covering the period from February 1959 to June 1962. The main trial against Filbert and five other officers from his unit – SS-Einsatzkommando 9 – began in Berlin on 14 May 1962. As one German newspaper wrote: “A trial of this magnitude has never previously taken place before a German court.”
Learn more about The Making of an SS Killer at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Stephen Singular & Joyce Singular's "Shadow on the Mountain"

Stephen Singular is a New York Times bestselling author and Edgar Award nominee. His book Talked to Death was made into the Oliver Stone film Talk Radio. Joyce Singular is an author of two books and a collaborator on a number of titles with her husband, adding a female perspective on the nature of crime.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Shadow on the Mountain: Nancy Pfister, Dr. William Styler, and the Murder of Aspen's Golden Girl, and reported the following:
The page 99 test works well for this book -- the story of an Aspen heiress, Nancy Pfister, who once dated Michael Douglas and then Jack Nicholson. She was a regular at Hunter Thompson’s kitchen table when the King of Gonzo was ruling Woody Creek, just outside of Aspen, from the 1970s into the new millennium. She could hold her own after midnight, when partying with any of them, and combined both charm and a nasty, entitled tongue that some people dealt with better than others. In time, because of her drinking, drugging, and sexual escapades, she began to fall down Aspen’s social ladder. Although her family was quite wealthy, she was also on a limited budget and always in need of more money. In the fall of 2013, she planned to go away to Australia for the winter and needed to rent out her house. Dr. William Styler III, a once prominent Denver anesthesiologist, and his wife, Nancy, had lately fallen on very hard times. Looking to reinvent themselves in Aspen in their sixties, they met Nancy Pfister and this seemed to be a perfect solution for all – until Pfister starting treating them less like tenants and more like servants. Trouble came almost as soon as she left for Down Under because she didn’t feel that she’d been paid what the Stylers owed. Enter Pfister’s personal assistant/bank teller/one-time lover Kathy Carpenter, the intermediary between the couple and their landlady while she was out of the country. Six thousand dollars that the Stylers had paid to Pfister mysteriously disappeared and ended up in Carpenter’s possession.

Page 99 describes the escalating conflict between Pfister, who didn’t know what had become of the $6,000, and the Stylers, who felt wrongly accused of being in her debt. She’s about to return from Australia, throw them out of her house, and all hell will soon break loose. Within a few days, Carpenter will find Pfister dead in her bedroom closet and the Stylers (and then Carpenter herself) will be arrested for murder. Which one of the three people or what combination of the three did it? The case was resolved four months later, but many people believe the truth has still not come out… An apparently simple story that’s surrounded on every side by ambiguity.
Visit Stephen Singular's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Milt Diggins's "Stealing Freedom Along the Mason-Dixon Line"

Milt Diggins is an independent scholar, historian, and writer. He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Stealing Freedom Along the Mason-Dixon Line: Thomas McCreary, the Notorious Slave Catcher from Maryland, and reported the following:
Stealing Freedom Along the Mason-Dixon Line is uniquely framed around the story of a slave catcher and kidnapper, and his community. This framing provides significant insight into the sectional conflict over slave catching and kidnapping around the time of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. McCreary and his community’s side of the story focuses on a system determined to perpetuate slavery, and those who used the system to exploit vulnerable blacks living north and east of the Mason-Dixon Line. The contrasting side of the story is brought forth by an array of opposing forces—those who resisted being victims, those who were dedicated to ending slavery, and those who attempted to at least stop the kidnapping of free blacks and the injustice inflicted on suspected fugitive slaves. Unanticipated allies were the ordinary citizens who suddenly found themselves thrust into the turmoil, and who reacted out of a humanitarian impulse to rescue African American neighbors seized from their midst. This side of the story portrays the struggle for social justice prior to the Civil War.

On page 99, a party of citizens who had arrived in Baltimore from a Pennsylvania community near the Mason-Dixon Line are attempting to rescue Rachel Parker, a seventeen-year-old free black accused of being a fugitive slave, before she disappears into the maw of southern slavery:
… Wiley informed them of Rachel’s whereabouts. Benjamin Furniss, accompanied by the others, headed for the post office to ask his wife’s cousin, a postal clerk named Lewis Newcomer, for advice. Newcomer took them to meet Francis S. Corkran, a Quaker and lumber merchant with a business on a Pratt Street wharf. Miller and Newcomer arrived at his office shortly after eight that morning. Originally from Dorchester County, where he had assisted runaway slaves via the Underground Railroad, Corkran knew Campbell because their businesses were on the wharves. He advised the group to locate Schoolfield and to confirm Rachel’s confinement at Campbell’s.

When they met the slave-trader, Campbell denied that Parker was in his pen. They left, but after inquiring at another slave jail, they went back and confronted Campbell. A heavy fog blanketed Pratt Street that morning, Newcomer recounted, and “the return of our company to Campbell’s slave depot was a little too quick for the slave dealers.” As they approached the pen’s outer wall, they spotted a carriage at the gate whose driver appeared ready to depart. Newcomer rushed up and seized the bridle and reins to prevent the hack from leaving. Corkran peered inside and confirmed that McCreary was sitting with Rachel. Newcomer saw “no evident reason for the kidnapper and victim to be in the hack together except to get her hidden after learning that her friends were on the trail.” When Corkran and Newcomer spoke with him later, Campbell “claimed that after hearing of the claim that she was a free Negro he was planning to have her lodged in jail pending a decision of this question.” Corkran suspected otherwise, that McCreary intended to take Rachel to Alexandria and sell her.

McCreary then turned Rachel Parker over to A. P. Shutt, clerk at the city jail. Unless she could prove otherwise, she was Eliza Crocus, a runaway, presumably the chattel of Luther A. Schoolfield, Baltimore lottery dealer and exchange broker. After her transfer to the city jail, Rachel met Schoolfield, when “he came to her very angry, that the affair had taken such a turn, and was out of his control.” Around eleven o’clock that morning at the jail, Corkran finally had…
Without the preceding pages, the reader turning to this page is unaware of the danger in this situation. The Pennsylvanians have entered a hostile city a few months after Edward Gorsuch, a Baltimore County slaveholder, was slain when attempting to legally recover his slaves in Christiana, Pennsylvania. The rescuers had arrived in Baltimore a few weeks after one of the supposed leaders of the resistance was acquitted by a Philadelphia jury. Joseph Miller, Rachel’s employer, obtained a warrant charging McCreary with kidnapping. Miller disappeared later that day. The next day his body is found hanging from a tree outside Baltimore. Historians concluded that Miller’s death was revenge for the death of Gorsuch. But the aftermath of Christiana and its treason trial and the story of McCreary intertwine more significantly than historians have realized. As for the story of how Rachel Parker’s community responded, its telling is long overdue, for the community’s response is one of American History’s greatest displays of humanity in the face of hostility.
Visit Milt Diggins's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Nicholas Ostler's "Passwords to Paradise"

Nicholas Ostler is the author of The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel, Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin, and Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World. He is chairman of the Foundation for Endangered Languages, a charity that supports the efforts of small communities worldwide to know and use their languages more. A scholar with a working knowledge of twenty-six languages, Ostler has degrees from Oxford University in Greek, Latin, philosophy, and economics, and a Ph.D. in linguistics from M.I.T., where he studied under Noam Chomsky. He lives in England, in Roman Bath, on the hill where Ambrosius Aurelianus defeated the Saxons for a generation.

Ostler applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Passwords to Paradise: How Languages Have Re-invented World Religions, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Passwords to Paradise opens a new section in the chapter “Every man heard… his own language”: the section is called Other Language Communions.

The chapter as a whole is a review of different churches which grew up all round the eastern Mediterranean, each characterized by its own language. One contention of the book is that these congregations – and the specific heresies which characterized each one - would not have existed without the language differences, even though the Scriptures all spread among them originally in Aramaic or Greek. It was as if the languages created conscious communities, and the communities looked for their own distinctive confessions, to reinforce their identities.

On page 99, I extend the narrative to Gothic, the medium of the Arian church, and the first Germanic language to be written down. The language work was done, and the Bible translated (minus the war-like passages in the Books of Kings!), by its heroic first bishop, Wulfila — i.e. “Wolfie”— a young man consecrated (in 341) by the very same bishop who had baptized the emperor Constantine on his deathbed. Gothic as a language went extinct after the 6th century; but had it survived, so might Arianism, highly popular in the Roman empire in those early years. For Arians Christ was a creature of the Father, and so a man, not a part of God himself.

Page 99 also introduces the Armenian church, the first national one. Tiridates III, who had grown up as a political refugee in Rome, began his reign in 287 (with Roman support) as a great persecutor of Christians. Curiously enough, he was then converted by Gregory, the last survivor of the family which had assassinated Tiridates’ father. Tiridates went on to become Armenia’s first Christian king – It would take a few more generations before Mesrop Mashtots (362-44) did for Armenian what Wulfila did for Gothic, giving the language its own alphabet and translation of the Bible. Armenia, alone in its region, went on to host a Miaphysite church, holding Christ’s nature to be single, not a mixture of the human with the divine (as Greek, Latin and Georgian speakers have insisted).

Page 99 is just one brick in the wall. But it witnesses that in the world of religion – as Benedict Anderson memorably pointed out more generally – “Much the most important thing about language is its capacity for generating imagined communities [ in a book of the same name], building in effect particular solidarities.“
Visit Nicholas Ostler's website.

Writers Read: Nicholas Ostler.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Alexis Wick's "The Red Sea: In Search of Lost Space"

Alexis Wick is Assistant Professor of History at the American University of Beirut.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Red Sea: In Search of Lost Space, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford must have had some sort of mystical insight when he came up with the idea that Page 99 of any book would reveal something special and significant about the quality and nature of the whole. Page 99 of The Red Sea: In Search of Lost Space is headed by one of the very rare illustrations in the book, covering about a third of the printed space of the page. This singularity bespeaks its crucial importance to the larger project as a whole, which is fundamentally dedicated to an exploration of the constitutive features of the modern historian’s craft, and, more particularly, a reflection on the question of how specific spaces (and not others) become viable subjects of history. At the origin of the book were two rather simple discoveries. First, a historiographical observation: there was no holistic account of the Red Sea remotely comparable Fernand Braudel’s famous treatment of the Mediterranean, even though the space seemed to be an obvious candidate as a coherent actor. This led me to the records of the Ottoman empire, which had administered most of the shores of the sea in the modern period. Second, an archival finding: the Ottomans almost never used the category ‘Red Sea’, until the second half of the nineteenth century, when it becomes ubiquitous. The resulting book simultaneously presents the general contours of a geohistory of that distinctive space, even as it analyzes its scholarly marginalization, reveals the invention of the Red Sea as a discreet scientific object and traces the genealogy of the concept of the sea more largely. But it also explores what the writing of history outside of the Eurocentric analytic of objective space and time may look like. And this is where the illustration on Page 99 comes in: it is an image of an Ottoman document, which serves as the backbone of my attempt to write geohistory otherwise, as the chapter is constructed along the complete translation and intimate reading of the text. Instead of treating the document as a straightforward pool of data, I approach it as containing in its interstices a whole cosmos, which indeed may even suggest a different notion of spatiality entirely, and therefore an alternative way of thinking and being in the world.
Learn more about The Red Sea: In Search of Lost Space at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 18, 2016

George Goodwin's "Benjamin Franklin in London"

George Goodwin is the author of the highly-acclaimed Fatal Colours and Fatal Rivalry. He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America's Founding Father, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Franklin talked of Pasquale Paoli, the great Corsican anti-French patriot who had fled to London, and Franklin passed on some information he had heard from Robert Wood, the Under-Secretary of State. But the collective talk was of philosophy, inspiring Boswell, on getting home to his lodgings with a Mr Careless, to describe himself as the ‘Philosophe de Sans Souci’. He was then himself careless with a maid called Phoebe.
Franklin’s interest in science during his time in London was constant. We know that he continued to conduct practical experiments, such as his 1758 demonstration to Lord Charles Cavendish and others of some electrical apparatus he called his Philadelphia Machine, which obliged him by producing a spark nine inches long. Though he produced a damper for chimneys and stoves and, in 1768, the first map to chart the Gulf Stream, on the whole his science in London was philosophical, theoretical and speculative. He did, though, definitely invent two noteworthy physical items. One was a three-wheel clock, the other being the glass armonica.

James Ferguson, the Scottish natural philosopher and instrument maker, described Franklin’s clock in great detail in his Select Mechanical Exercises, first published in 1773. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of its design was that the larger of its two faces would show only four hours. Thus when the single hand was on the hour I, it would also be on the hours V and IX – the assumption being that the viewer would be sufficiently compos mentis to realize which of the three was appropriate. Each of the clock’s four quarters had the individual minutes marked up to sixty with each ten-minute mark enumerated. Above the larger face was a much smaller one which showed the seconds. The whole was a combination of style, simplicity and efficiency. The fact that Ferguson made improvements to the design was certainly not a criticism of a man classed by Franklin as someone ‘whom I rejoice to call my friend’. Rather it was reflective of a joyous collaborative spirit of scientific enquiry and practical experimentation that was common to the age.
This American ‘99 Test’, based as it is on page 99 of a book, is an excellent test of authenticity. Far better than a British ‘99 Test’, which would check whether a so-named Ice Cream had any authentic cream in it at all!

So, how does my Benjamin Franklin in London: the British Life of America’s Founding Father fare when facing the more searching American ‘99 Test’? Well, I am delighted to say that page 99 is true to the spirit of the rest of the book.

The first paragraph demonstrates that Franklin had very good contacts within the British government, a fact that has been too often missed by historians. It also shows that he was not a prude and enjoyed the company of men such as Boswell and the notorious Sir Francis Dashwood, though he and Dashwood enjoyed rewriting the Book of Common Prayer together rather than anything more scandalous.

The second paragraph shows that Franklin and the British aristocracy shared a passion for science, and moreover for a science that sizzled and sparked. It was for his theories on electricity that Franklin was famous, and indeed so much so that the philosopher Immanuel Kant hailed him as ‘The Prometheus of Modern Times’. Against that, his other mind-boggling scientific achievements, even his identification of the Gulf Stream were secondary – extraordinary as it might seem.

The third paragraph captures the point that the quest for scientific knowledge was a matter of joint enterprise and joyous collaboration. It embodied a desire for understanding rather than a greed for material gain based on practical application: after all, as one example, Franklin’s clock would not have been of much use during northern Canada’s long winter nights.

So, all in all, page 99 is a good representative of the rest of the book. And, if you like it, why not try the whole thing?
Visit George Goodwin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

David Weaver-Zercher's "Martyrs Mirror"

David L. Weaver-Zercher is a professor of American religious history at Messiah College. He is the author of The Amish in the American Imagination and the coeditor of The Amish and the Media.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Martyrs Mirror: A Social History, and reported the following:
In many ways, page 99 of my new book, Martyrs Mirror: A Social History, is not representative of the book as a whole. Whereas my book is largely a history of the reception of Martyrs Mirror (a seventeenth-century Anabaptist martyrology that continues to be read today in Amish and Mennonite communities), page 99 gives priority to the actual content of Martyrs Mirror.

In particular, page 99 examines the illustrations that appeared in the 1685 edition of Martyrs Mirror. The initial edition of the martyrology, published in 1660, did not have any illustrations, but twenty-five years later, an updated edition appeared that included 104 copper etchings by the renowned Dutch artist, Jan Luyken. In realistic fashion Luyken depicted a host of Martyrs Mirror accounts. Taken as a whole, Luyken’s images depict Anabaptist martyrs at various points in the drama of martyrdom: capture, separation, imprisonment, inquisition, torture, and execution. On page 99, and for a few pages thereafter, I categorize and count Luyken’s illustrations before moving onto an analysis of them.

So again, page 99 is not representative of the book as a whole, which is much more concerned with the ways the book has been appropriated by different audiences—and with the conversations about Christian faithfulness it has spawned.

That said, the material on page 99 sets up the analyses that appear later in the book, some of which explore conversations catalyzed by Luyken’s illustrations. For instance, few conversations about Martyrs Mirror have been more spirited than the ones that revolve around a Dutch Anabaptist martyr name Dirk Willems, who was arrested as he sought to rescue his drowning pursuer. No Luyken image is more renowned in Amish-Mennonite circles than is the image of Dirk rescuing his eventual captor. In fact, in some times and places the image has gained iconic status. Still, there are some who question whether Dirk’s example of sacrificing his life to save his pursuer is a good one to emulate. As I write later in the book, “Even as Dirk had become a pan-Anabaptist icon—much like a fraternal handshake that, without any words, establishes one’s insider status—some Mennonite found his story too tragic, and his example too troubling, to reduce them to platitudes” (p. 283).

These are the kind of conversations I explore in my book, which runs chronologically from the collection of martyr stories in the sixteenth century, to the book’s initial publication in the seventeenth century, to the book’s reproduction and reception in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. Although my book focuses mostly on this one aspect of the Anabaptist tradition—the tradition’s most revered text—my consideration of that text provides a readable history of the Anabaptist tradition as a whole, helping readers see both the unity and diversity in this nearly 500-year-old, nonviolent Christian tradition.
Learn more about Martyrs Mirror: A Social History at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 14, 2016

Kurt Stenn's "Hair: A Human History"

Kurt Stenn has over 30 years of expertise studying hair. He had a distinguished twenty-year academic career as a Professor of Pathology and Dermatology at the Yale University School of Medicine and was for ten years Director of Skin Biology at Johnson & Johnson.

Stenn applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hair: A Human History, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Hair: A Human History is a particularly auspicious hit because on that page I begin to describe one of the most interesting tools humans use to position hair: wigs. The book is a comprehensive description of the human experience with hair from that on the head and body to that derived from animals, and I write about everything from the fur trade and the wool industry to hair’s use in forensics, hair in art, and hair in molecular biology. Before page 99, I describe the ability of body hair to send messages—of sexual attraction, humanness, religion, culture, domination, and subjugation. Wigs supplant native hair when that hair is either not there or the hair is not suitable for the message desired.

Wigs are fascinating because they have an incredible power to transform. A person donning a wig after chemotherapy-induced hair loss generally regains the feeling of her old, healthy self. A wig on a balding male can make him feel young again. A wig on an actor can help him assume the presence of his character. And it doesn’t even have to be scalp hair: When the iconic moustache is placed on David Suchet, the gifted actor suddenly becomes Hercule Poirot.
Learn more about Hair: A Human History at the publisher's website.

Writers Read: Kurt Stenn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 12, 2016

John Gimlette's "Elephant Complex"

John Gimlette has won the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize and the Wanderlust Travel Writing Award, and he contributes regularly to The Times (London), The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, and Condé Nast Traveller. When not traveling, he practices law in London.

Gimlette applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka, and reported the following:
By page 99 of the book, my travels find me in what I call the ‘Badlands’ of Sri Lanka; the hot, desiccated north-west quarter of the country. Few people lie up here, and the region was once feared for the animals that live there, particularly the elephants. The Portuguese were the first outsiders to exploit these waterless wastes, in their search for wild cinnamon. Many Sri Lankans would happily tell me the conquistadores had left them with nothing but cake and a kind of dance. I always think that’s odd in a country of de Sousas and Fernandos, and – as always – the picture was more complex than that.

At this stage in the journey, I was travelling with a Sri Lankan war hero, called Ravi Weeraperuma. During the civil war (1983 to 2009), he’d been a naval commander, and, in the ‘Badlands’, he’d seen some of the dirtiest fighting. It was a cathartic experience for him, going back and finding the landscape silent again. For the first time, he was able to clamber into the old Portuguese forts, now abandoned to the crows. We were also pleased to find that the elephants had returned. Once, we ran into a nursery group, bathing in a villu. Although we were quarter of a mile away, our presence clearly spooked them, and – with a flurry of trumpets – they rumbled off into the forest, bawling and bellowing and spouting fountains of dust.

Another time, we stopped to visit an old school friend of Ravi’s. The Pereras had an estate on the scraggy neck of the Kalpitya peninsula. It didn’t look much at first, a bleak expanse of saltpans, and a long, spindly forest of palms. It took a while to appreciate that this was a hub of commerce. All night the trucks ground through the sand, hauling away coconuts and salt. But as well as farming, Perera was also a minister in the government, and a splendidly Falstaffian character: full-bellied, genial, strong in arm and loud in reproof. It wasn’t just his name that seemed Portuguese. In a well-domed polo shirt and baggy shorts, it was easy to picture him in doublet and hose. He had a barrelling walk, as if barging his way through a dense clutter of inconvenience.

But most surprising of all was Madame Perera, or Chrysantha. An opulent figure, she was always exquisitely jewelled and caparisoned in satin, as if in denial of all the salt and husks. Sometimes the whole world would stop as she rustled into view, resplendent in pea-green or a shimmering vision of lemon. She told me that, in Colombo, she spent her days with a personal trainer but, out here, she went to funerals. “Every day! You’d never guess the people who are dying!”

Page 99 finds me struggling to understand the Pereras, the Badlands, and their peculiarly late-medieval world (and, ultimately, Sri Lanka itself). I recognise bits of the past and yet, somehow, this great mosaic never quite fits together. In this extract, Madame Chrysantha explains that she’s off on a holy journey:
She told me she often travelled huge distances, out of devotion to God or her husband’s parliamentary seat. Several times, she’d crossed the country, searching out Kalpitya’s fishermen and bringing them home. Every year, she said, they’d set off during the monsoon, and sail round the island to fish the calmer waters of Trincomalee. It was a round trip of about a thousand miles. For Chrysantha, this was only ever a problem in election years. “They’re all gone, and my husband needs their vote, no? Aiyo! What are we to do? So I set out to fetch them. I take forty buses with me, and I bring them all back! That’s democracy, no? I even went during the war. My children begged me not to, but I went all the same. Not even my husband would go. Ha! He was too scared…”

That afternoon, she was planning a more modest trip: a pilgrimage into the badlands. It was a five hour drive, she said, through the bush to Madhu. “Every month, I go and come. But Madhu us a very holy place, our own little Lourdes, no? The Blessed Virgin is four hundred years old, and she protects us from the wild animals. During the war, the terrorists tried to steal her, but the Holy Father took her and hid her in the forest. He is in direct communication with God, and lays on hands. Before you’ve even met him, he knows your telephone number and where you live! It is a miraculous thing, the Kingdom of God.”
Learn more about the book and author at John Gimlette's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Risa Goluboff's "Vagrant Nation"

Risa Goluboff is Dean-Elect of the School of Law, John Allan Love Professor of Law, and Professor of History at the University of Virginia. She is the author of The Lost Promise of Civil Rights.

Goluboff applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Vagrant Nation: Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960s, and reported the following:
Page 99 both is and is not representative of Vagrant Nation. Overall, the book recovers the centuries-old regime of vagrancy laws that kept people in their prescribed places and describes the process by which that regime crumbled over the course of the 1960s. Vagrancy laws came to the American colonies from Elizabethan England. They made it a crime to be idle and poor, to wander about with no apparent purpose and no legitimate livelihood, or simply to be immoral.

Local officials—police, low-level courts, city officials—used these vague and flexible laws for a breathtaking array of purposes that went far beyond our usual notion of vagrants: to keep out suspicious strangers; to stop crimes before they were committed; to suppress nontraditional sexuality; to keep racial minorities, political troublemakers, and nonconforming rebels at bay. In other words, they were used against any perceived threat to public order or safety.

Those perceived threats became particularly acute in the 1960s, as many of those who had been the targets of vagrancy repression began to organize, assert their rights, find lawyers, and bring constitutional challenges to vagrancy laws. From sexual freedom to civil rights, from poverty to the politics of criminal justice, from the Beats to the hippies, from communism to the Vietnam War, the great issues of the day all collided with the category of the unwanted vagrant. By 1972, the laws were unconstitutional. The book thus tells a social and legal history of the 1960s through the lens of the downfall of vagrancy laws.

Page 99 comes halfway through Chapter Three, “Shuffling Sam Thompson and the Liberty End Café.” That chapter describes how Thompson, a frequent target of police harassment for being a poor, African American alcoholic who frequented the Louisville, Kentucky bus station in the late 1950s, challenged vagrancy laws and the power of the police to arrest him basically on sight. Here is what it says:
Embedded within Lusky’s attack on Louisville law enforcement was an implicit critique of the third pillar of skid row policing: status crimes themselves. Lusky argued that it was only after Officer Suter mentioned that he had arrested Thompson in the past that Judge Taustine’s “mind had frozen” against Thompson and Taustine presumed Thompson’s guilt. Lusky claimed that the judge was “applying a rule—a rule that no defendant who has an arrest record will be acquitted.” Such convictions were based “not [on] what petitioner has done, but what kind of man the police think he is.” Though Lusky acted as if following that “rule” was itself unlawful, he was well aware that such a rule was at the heart not only of peacekeeping policing and summary justice, but of vagrancy and loitering laws themselves.

That said, Lusky refrained from attacking the Louisville loitering ordinance. It was not that he liked vagrancy and loitering laws—he called them “broad and vaguely worded legislative prohibitions.” But throughout the Thompson litigation, he assumed, “without conceding,” the validity of the laws under which Thompson had been convicted. Lusky did not cite Edelman v. California or California’s efforts to amend its vagrancy law. He did not cite the small but growing number of articles and cases that suggested something fundamentally wrong with vagrancy and loitering laws.

Some at the Court were puzzled by Lusky’s decision to stake his claim on the novel (and legally unsupported) claim of “no evidence” rather than to challenge laws that Edelman and other cases had already made somewhat vulnerable. At oral argument, Justice Frankfurter, whose own interest in vagrancy and loitering laws dated back to his call to arms in 1948’s Winters v. New York, asked whether Lusky was also attacking the loitering law’s constitutionality. Lusky answered in the negative. The law clerk who had been so impressed with Lusky’s eminence was more openly critical. “I am not sure that Lusky has not hacked up irremedially [sic] by not challenging the statute as applied, since there was obviously ‘evidence’ in the case and the real question is whether a conviction for anything on the particular evidence is a violation of due process, a contention not made.”
Page 99 relates an ongoing theme in the book. Lawyers throughout the vagrancy law challenge struggled with whether the breadth of the laws specifically or the power of the police more generally was the key problem. That duality is important both for understanding the vagrancy challenge itself and our continuing concerns about police power today. On Page 99, the reader can see Thompson’s lawyer, Louis Lusky, struggling with precisely that question.

Page 99 is more tightly focused on legal strategy than much of the book, however. Understanding how the meaning of the Constitution changes requires beginning with the regular people, like Sam Thompson, who took action against what they perceived as unconstitutional practices. Page 99 gives little sense of the humanity of everyday people, the larger social context in which they acted, and their role in legal change that the book as a whole tries to capture.
Learn more about Vagrant Nation at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Peter Frankopan's "The Silk Roads"

Peter Frankopan is a historian at Oxford University, where he is Senior Research Fellow at Worcester College, Oxford and Director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, and reported the following:
A thousand years ago, the world’s centre of gravity did not lie in Europe or the West, but in the heart of Asia – just has it had for two millennia before that. Civilisation itself began in Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates, where the first cities even pre-date those of Ancient Egypt. This is where the Garden of Eden was thought to have been located – heaven on earth.

The jewel of this world ten centuries ago was a city whose vibrancy, beauty, grit and cosmopolitanism made it an early version of New York City – rough at the edges, maybe; but bursting with life and ideas.

Called the City of Peace when it was founded, it is today better known by another name – one that hardly conjures up the glorious past it once enjoyed: Baghdad. And yet Baghdad was once a magnet for scholars and preachers (of all religions), it drew in merchants and traders, lured artisans and craftsmen.

The rich lived like those in the fancy apartments overlooking Central Park in palaces that were ‘lavishly gilded and decorated, and hung with beautiful tapestries and hangings of brocade and silk’, in the words of one eye-witness (as you’ll find on page 99).

Although there are many different ways of looking at history, most historians tend to look at the same things. We are living through an age transition, where relations with Russia are strained, the Middle East is in turmoil, Iran is re-emerging and China is rising. Looking at the past from the perspective of the Silk Roads tells us what we need to know about the present – and helps us understand the future.

The world’s center of gravity has moved before, notably after Columbus crossed the Atlantic, and Vasco da Gama rounded Africa. It is now moving again – back to where it lay for thousands of years.
Visit Peter Frankopan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Omar G. Encarnación's "Out in the Periphery"

Omar G. Encarnación is Professor of Political Studies at Bard College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Out in the Periphery: Latin America's Gay Rights Revolution, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Out in the Periphery, a book about the dramatic rise of gay rights in Latin America, describes the sorry state of affairs of the Comunidad Homosexual Argentina, the first gay rights organization to emerge in Argentina after the military dictatorship in place between 1976 and 1983. The page also highlights a contrast with neighboring Brazil, where gay rights groups were allowed to operate freely by the military regime:
Until the early 1990s, when the CHA was successful in securing legalization, after a long legal and political battle, the organization was shunned by the state. This made the organization fearful of running afoul with the law. For years after its creation, a sign hung in the CHA’s Buenos Aires headquarters warning those under age twenty-two “to leave immediately,” as the organization was afraid that its leaders would be arrested “for trying to corrupt minors.” Understandably, for much of the 1980s and even into the 1990s, the Argentine gay movement looked with envy at its Brazilian counterpart, which by then was enjoying full legality and even the backing of a major political party with presidential aspirations, the Workers’ Party. Lamenting the political picture for gay rights organizations in Argentina in the 1980s and early 1990s, in contrast to the situation in Brazil, a study of Argentine gay activism of the era notes: “There is no equivalent in Argentina to Brazil’s Workers’ Party, which has forged a working relationship with a broad range of social movements, including the lesbian and gay one. In Argentina, power historically alternates between the Radical party and the Justicialistas (Peronists), neither of which has indicated much support on issues relating to sexuality.
The passage is very representative of the book in two important ways. On the one hand, it highlights how far Latin America, and Argentina in particular, has come in advancing equality for the LGBT community. As recently as 1991, the government refused to legalize the CHA. This refusal suggested the extent to which the state in Argentina, even after a successful transition to democracy, was willing to go to repress organized activism around the issue of homosexuality, firmly believing that homosexuality was a threat to the family and the nation as a whole. By 2013, however, Argentina was being celebrated as a global icon of LGBT equality, having legislated same-sex marriage in 2010, and enacted a gender identity law widely regarded as among the most liberal in the world.

On the other hand, the passage from page 99 highlights an interesting puzzle in Latin American gay rights politics: why Argentina surpassed Brazil in advancing LGBT equality. Brazil is world famous for its celebration of sexual diversity, and homosexuality has never been criminalized since the country declared its independence from Portugal in 1825. Yet the country lags behind Argentina and other Latin American nations in legislating LGBT rights, including banning anti-gay discrimination.

As I argue in the book, understanding the counter-intuitive outcomes of gay rights struggles in Argentina and Brazil requires deconstructing how gay activists articulated their demands. While in Brazil gay activists framed their activism as a civil rights struggle, focused on attaining civil rights protections through the legislature and the courts, in Argentina gay activists framed their activism as human rights crusade. Aimed squarely at transforming hearts and minds about homosexuality, the crusade succeeded in changing the law with respect to homosexuality. But, more importantly, the campaign succeeded in transforming society and the culture at large.
Learn more about Out in the Periphery at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Emily McKee's "Dwelling in Conflict"

Emily McKee is Assistant Professor in the Anthropology Department and the Institute for the Study of Environment, Sustainability, and Energy at Northern Illinois University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Dwelling in Conflict: Negev Landscapes and the Boundaries of Belonging, and reported the following:
Dwelling in Conflict, examines disputes over land in the Negev region of southern Israel. Drawing on fieldwork in Bedouin and Jewish communities, the book explains how social and political conflict has become so entrenched along Jewish-Arab lines and explores current efforts to escape the combative status quo.
Page 99 falls near the beginning of Chapter 3, which examines life in a Bedouin town. It begins in the midst of a comparative description of two families, the al-‘Uwaydis and the Abu Assas.
Adult family members held a variety of jobs. Three of the older brothers worked in and around Beersheba for a large store and an NGO. One brother was a self-employed graphic designer, and another worked part-time in the local schools. Luna, Ahmed’s wife, walked to work at a daycare center. Like Sarah’s household, this family’s compound primarily became the domain of women and young children during the day. Um Ahmed, her daughters, and her daughters-in-law stayed home, except when traveling to Beersheba to buy food. However, living in a neighborhood of unrelated lineages, unlike living in the spatially and socially dense ‘ashira relations of the al-‘Uwaydis’ neighborhood, there was little interaction with neighbors. Rather than hosting visitors for tea and chatting, this compound’s evening gatherings consisted of a small circle of immediate family members.
It would be difficult for any one page to capture the essence of the study, since it is multi-sited and these research sites are so segregated. Missing here are the Jewish families of a nearby village, residents of unauthorized settlements, Knesset members, and environmental activists who people other pages. However, page 99 does raise several key themes of the book.

First, this text, like the book as a whole, is ethnographically descriptive. It illuminates the everyday politics and social relations that stem from and contribute to environmental conflict in the Negev. Second, description like this contradict the myth—often expressed in media accounts and political speeches—of “the Bedouin” as a single, monolithic group. Resolving the Negev’s land conflict is challenging, in part, because Bedouin families have widely varied lifestyles. Elsewhere, the book also shows similar variety across other Negev residents.

The book also places these ethnographic details into a larger context, as it is about Israeli society, not just about Jews or Arabs. It looks at the relationships between them and, equally importantly, how these identities—Jewish and Arab—have come to be such fundamental shapers of Israelis’ experiences.
Sarah’s and Wafiq’s families each engaged in notable experiments with ‘Ayn al-‘Azm’s urban space—Sarah’s with the ‘izbe and Wafiq’s with the mud-and-tire house. Because my research aimed in part to explore new possibilities for escaping the Negev region’s divisive strife, I sought out people who were proactive in thinking of and enacting new land relations in the Negev. However, these households were not unique. Some residents participated in the processes of their own urbanization by turning entirely to wage labor in the regulated labor market, dressing in mainstream Israeli fashions, and striving for a middle-class, consumption-driven lifestyle. Many others chafed against the township’s grid of right-angle streets, restrictions on agricultural practices, and small residential plots. All these residents, like Palestinians throughout Israel, dealt daily with their simultaneous inclusion and exclusion from Israeli society (Kanaaneh 2002)…
This passage also references the book’s focus on efforts being explored to resolve this fraught situation. The book is about tracing the conflict’s causes, but also examining experiments with more equitable social relations and more ecologically and socially sustainable lifestyles.

Page 99 ends by hinting at the book’s historical concern. It begins exploring how history, in the form of past land tenure arrangements and residents’ oral histories of former homes, shape contemporary land ties.

So, despite missing the social scope of the book as a whole, page 99 features several of the book’s central issues. Interestingly, page 69 would be as good a test of the overall book, reflecting many of the same themes, though it presents ethnography in Jewish farmsteads.
Learn more about Dwelling in Conflict at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 4, 2016

Rajan Menon's "The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention"

Rajan Menon is the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Professor of Political Science, City College of New York/City University of New York, and a Senior Research Scholar at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention, and reported the following:
Well, one page: quite a challenge. But I'd say page 16 sums up some key ideas in the book much better than page 99 does.

Page 16 doesn't capture all of the many senses in which I use the word "conceit" (the attitude that gets humanitarian intervention into moral and practical quandaries--and worse); but it does summarize some key points.​

Page 99 begins to tell of our history with Suharto, who with our knowledge and arms (and Britain's and Australia's), killed over 600,000 people between 1965-1990--500,000 of them in 1965 alone. So that page provides a historical example to illustrate a point (double standards and humanitarian intervention, which invokes a singular standard) but does not get into the point itself.

As for the thesis of the book, in brief, it's this: The idea that there can be a plan of action for intervening in countries that is effective, consistent, and commands considerable legitimacy in the world is false, even though the proponents of humanitarian intervention insist that all of this is not just possible in theory but feasible today. States do intervene to prevent the slaughter of innocents but only when they can do so with no deaths among their soldiers--hence the resort to airpower: Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya--and ​they don't have to act against friendly or allied states. In many instances they have been all too willing to look the other way. As a rule, states tend to use interventions for strategic purposes, although they dress them up in noble and ethical garb. Western democracies, their liberal principles notwithstanding, have cooperated with all manner of vicious regimes (and still do). States are also quite willing to do nothing (or next to nothing) when mass killings take place: consider Iraq (1988), Indonesia (1965), East Timor (1975 and several years thereafter) Rwanda, Syria, Darfur, East Pakistan (1971), Cambodia (1975-78), and the Kurdish regions of Turkey, for example. Finally, knocking over a cruel regime is one thing; building a decent replacement, as Libya shows, is quite another. This is why I titled the book The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention.
Learn more about The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention at the Oxford University Press.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Charles Gardner Geyh's "Courting Peril"

Charles Gardner Geyh is the John F. Kimberling Professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law. He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Courting Peril: The Political Transformation of the American Judiciary, and reported the following:
Are American judges impartial arbiters of the law who must be insulated from political control, as the bench and bar have long claimed? Or are they politicians in robes, who will disregard the law and impose their personal preferences unless they are held accountable to the people they serve, as court critics contend? Courting Peril argues that the truth lies between these extremes, and page 99 summarizes the essential features of a new “legal culture paradigm” that describes this middle ground.

On page 99, I conclude that judges, by virtue of their education and training, are acculturated to take law seriously. But law isn’t mathematics—in close cases, when the facts and law are unclear, judges must choose between comparably compelling alternatives. Deciding which alternative is “right” or “best” requires the exercise of judgment that is inevitably informed by the judge’s education, life experience and world view. Because judges are subject to extralegal influences that can override their commitment to law and justice, they must be held accountable in ways that the legal establishment has historically rejected. But that does not justify treating them like politicians in robes who should be brought to heel for unpopular decisions, because the rule of law, due process, and the administration of justice are better served if judges are afforded a measure of independence from popular control.

Hence, as page 99 explains, “the operative task is to engage in a perpetual balancing act” between judicial independence and accountability “across three dimensions” or perspectives 1) the perspective of parties in litigation who seek a fair hearing; 2) the perspective of the general public, which seeks a judiciary that is politically acceptable; and 3) the perspective of judges themselves, who seek to abide by the ethical responsibilities of their roles. This is more than an arid, academic exercise. As the impending ideological brawl to name Justice Scalia’s successor makes clear, the future of justice in America will turn on how we as a people balance law and politics.
Learn more about Courting Peril at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Michael S.Evans's "Seeking Good Debate"

Michael S.Evans is a Neukom Fellow at the Neukom Institute for Computational Science, Dartmouth College. He received a PhD in sociology from the Science Studies Program, University of California, San Diego.

Evans applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Seeking Good Debate: Religion, Science, and Conflict in American Public Life, and reported the following:
Religion and science sometimes conflict in public life. But mostly they don't. What explanation accounts for both of these situations? Turns out it's difficult to answer this question by only looking at instances of conflict between science and religion. Despite a few prominent examples like human origins or stem cell research, conflicts between religion and science are rare in public life.

Instead, Seeking Good Debate treats this question about religion and science as a question about how public debate works. Drawing on theory from science and technology studies, Seeking Good Debate shows that elites who make arguments in mass media are usually just seeking credibility for themselves, not trying to engage with others. Page 99 discusses this point:
But the concept of credibility is even more useful for explaining the instances when conflict does not occur. Not all attempts to gain credibility are contests between individuals. The pursuit of credibility, even in the public sphere, does not actually require engagement with an opponent. Being seen as important and as advancing your agenda can increase your legitimacy and attract supporters, even if you never defeat an opponent in single (discursive) combat. In the debates considered in this study, this is the far more common situation between religion and science. Conflict is rare. But many representatives, especially the most visible ones, are pursuing public credibility without engaging in conflict, or even engaging at all.
Why is this important? As earlier chapters show, Americans think that good debate means engaging in open, ongoing debate. So when the most prominent voices on an issue do not engage with each other, and instead trumpet their own arguments in public, Americans see them as undermining good debate. The result is that ordinary Americans see those prominent elites as sources of conflict, even though those elites often aren't even speaking to each other.

The rest of Seeking Good Debate shows how this situation affects religion and science in particular. When those leading voices are identifiable as religion or science representatives, people see religion and science as being in conflict, not because elites are engaged in contentious interactions, but because these public representatives of science and religion are seen as undermining good debate. So, despite all the efforts to bring science and religion into dialogue or harmony, the deeper conflict over good debate remains.
Learn more about Seeking Good Debate at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue