Friday, April 29, 2016

Scott Bukatman's "Hellboy's World"

Scott Bukatman is Professor of Film and Media Studies in the Department of Art and Art History at Stanford University. He is author of Matters of Gravity: Special Effects and Supermen in the 20th Century; Blade Runner, BFI Modern Classics; Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction; and The Poetics of Slumberland: Animated Spirits and the Animating Spirit.

Bukatman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hellboy's World: Comics and Monsters on the Margins, and reported the following:
Hellboy’s World uses the work of Mike Mignola to explore what it is to read comics — and even what it is to read books in general. Hellboy is meant to be encountered two pages at a time — in a book held in the hand. Mignola’s panels and pages engage not only as linear narrative sequence but in other, non­linear, ways that produce an explicitly aesthetic encounter. And it’s a very “bookish” engagement: he tells stories in the traditions of Lovecraft and occult detection, which often involve mysterious tomes, and his comics form an elaborate textual network across his comics titles, but also through his explicit references to other writers, folklores, films, and genres.

Page 99 concludes a discussion of color in comics; a very under­studied area that deserves more attention (Hellboy’s World contains multitudes of lush color images). Did the very presence of so much color have anything to do with our culture’s suspicion of comics as a medium? David Batchelor’s Chromophobia discusses modern art’s mania for monochromaticity. Color is often associated with any of a number of Others: the primitive, the infantile, the feminine. Early comic strips combined the primitive and the infantile (yay!), and comic books were even more garish, their printing presses capable of far less chromatic nuance.

Children’s books are also replete with color, and Walter Benjamin (one of the heroes in my book) argued that these “riotous” colors had their seditious side: the text may have been scrutinized by society’s moral arbiters, but the pictures escaped notice. As with the marginal monsters on the pages of some medieval manuscripts, pictures defied the pedantry of prose. Color and image provided something that plain prose could not, a sensuous encounter that was meant to be felt rather than decoded. And color was fundamental to that non­rational affect; it worked against linear reading and singular meaning. On page 99, I write that color “can constitute a space apart that absorbs a reader, and provide an antidote to pedantry.”

I then shift from color to comics: “But comics themselves have been theorized as a form that works against (or at least alternatively to) traditional modes of reading.” The eye can move from panel to panel, absorbing information more or less linearly, or take in the entirety of the page, which has a composition of its own and other means of directing the eye. Mike Mignola does this quite a lot in Hellboy: some pages contain panels, or clusters of panels, that emphasize small details, and exist apart from the linear sequence. The eye’s progress is slowed, and reading gives way to something more measured. Linear reading yields to an aesthetic encounter with, at the same time, art, page, and book. So on page 99, we learn that color and comics complicate the act of reading, and in doing so, they afford additional layers of very real pleasure. Hellboy’s world is very aestheticized, and very bookish — in fact, it’s the world of the book.
Learn more about Hellboy's World at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Kevin J. McNamara's "Dreams of a Great Small Nation"

Kevin J. McNamara followed the path taken by the Czecho-Slovak Legion shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, traveling almost 2,000 miles along the Trans-Siberian Railway. He was subsequently awarded research grants by the Earhart and Tawani Foundations to acquire and translate from Czech to English first-hand accounts by the men who had served in the legion, which were published in Prague in the 1920s but were suppressed following the Nazi and Soviet conquests of Czecho-Slovakia.

A former journalist for Calkins Media Inc., and a former aide to the late U.S. Congressman R. Lawrence Coughlin, McNamara is an Associate Scholar of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, PA and a former contributing editor to its quarterly journal, Orbis: A Journal of World Affairs. He earned a B.A. in journalism and M.A. in international politics from Temple University.

McNamara applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Dreams of a Great Small Nation: The Mutinous Army that Threatened a Revolution, Destroyed an Empire, Founded a Republic, and Remade the Map of Europe, and reported the following:
Dreams of a Great Small Nation, a narrative history of the First World War, Russian Revolution, and the founding of Czecho-Slovakia, passes Ford Madox Ford's test, in that on page 99 a fugitive philosophy professor from Prague, Tomas G. Masaryk, is informed for the first time that France and its Allies, primarily Great Britain and the United States, might – perhaps – actually liberate the Czechs and Slovaks from Austria-Hungary's iron grip by granting them a nation-state of their own after the war.

A young Slovak aide with influence in Paris, Milan R. Stefanik, secured a meeting for Masaryk, his elderly former professor, with Aristide Briand, then serving as both war-time prime minister and foreign minister of France. Following their meeting, Briand issued a public statement on February 3, 1916, that announced to the world:
"We French have always entertained keen sympathies for the Czech nation, and these sympathies have been strengthened by the war. I assure you that France will not forget your aspirations, which we share, and we shall do everything in order that the Czechs may obtain their independence. We will not speak about the details now, but as far as the chief point of your claim is concerned, we are in agreement."

This was the first public Allied expression of sympathy and support for the aspirations of the Czechs and Slovaks delivered by an Allied government official.
Yet the Czechs and Slovaks will not earn any real attention or respect from the Allies until and unless they can help France, Great Britain, and the United States defeat Germany and Austria-Hungary. To do that, Masaryk travels to revolutionary Russia, which has exited the war, abandoned the Allies, and emptied its POW camps. Among the 2.3 million German and Austro-Hungarian prisoners taken by Russia in the war are 210,000-250,000 Czechs and Slovaks. Masaryk spends almost a year traveling among Moscow, Kiev, and St. Petersburg, recruiting these men into an ad hoc army that he promises the French he will deliver to the Western Front. What he wants in return is an Allied guarantee of a new nation for his peoples on the ruins of Austria-Hungary.

During a perilous journey along the Trans-Siberian Railway toward Vladivostok, where ships will sail them around the world to Europe, Russia’s new Bolshevik regime and its agents begin a campaign to keep this Czecho-Slovak Legion from leaving Russia, and tensions slowly mount. At the train station outside of Chelyabinsk, Siberia, on May 14, 1918, a fist-fight leads to a brawl, a lynching, and arrests of the Czechs and Slovaks. Worse, Soviet Red Army commander Leon Trotsky loses his cool and threatens the lives and freedom of all 50,000 legionnaires stretched 5,000 miles across Siberia. The Czecho-Slovak Legion revolts, seizes all of Siberia, and nearly topples the new Soviet regime.
Visit Kevin J. McNamara's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Marcela Iacub's "Through the Keyhole"

Marcela Iacub is a jurist and researcher at the Centre de recherches historiques, Écoles des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Director of Research, CNRS, Paris, France. She is the author of several works on Gender, Sexuality and the law, that have been translated into Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. Through the Keyhole: A history of sex, space and public modesty in modern France, translated by Vinay Swamy, is Iacub's first translation into English.

Vinay Swamy is Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies at Vassar College, and the author of Interpreting the Republic: Marginalization and Belonging in Contemporary French Novels and Films and co-editor (with Sylvie Durmelat) of Screening Integration: Recasting Maghrebi Immigration in Contemporary France, which was recently published in French as Les Écrans de l’intégration.

Swamy applied the “Page 99 Test” to Through the Keyhole and reported the following:
Marcela Iacub’s Through the Keyhole traces the history of the word pudeur (modesty, often translated as decency in the legal context) as a specifically legal term used in Article 330 of the old Napoleonic Penal code, which regulated “modesty” in public space and thus sexuality in general. The deletion of this term from the French legal vocabulary in 1992 represented not only a semantic shift but also an epistemic rupture, which Marcela Iacub explores in this work.

We discover how the law has long divided the visible world between domains that are considered legal and illegal with regard to certain acts and behavior, thus transforming real (and sometimes indistinguishable) spaces into institutional and political spaces. Rather than read the final disappearance of pudeur from the French legal, and perhaps cultural, lexicon as a liberation (and thus progress), Iacub shows how anxieties of the post-Napoleonic period that produced the very concept of decency allowed for the construction of a sexuality that was controlled through spatial dispersion. Yet, over time, this control of sexuality through a tight regulation of space (by defining what constituted public or private) gave way—through a series of legal judgments from the nineteenth into the mid-twentieth century—to a sexuality that is now articulated through what she calls the politics of Sex. Thus, Iacub’s text lays out the underlying stakes for contemporary French society of this semantic and indeed conceptual shift from pudeur (decency) to Sex.

Page 99 describes how the courts in the early to mid-twentieth century parsed the definition of public decency to distinguish between “chaste” nudity and obscenity in an effort to allow space for artistic freedom:
This rule would be applied for nearly forty years in Parisian music halls. The public powers remained impassive in front of performances of live nudity when a minuscule opaque triangle covered just the genital split, without showing any more, the pubis itself being shaved and made up—without a doubt, in Roger Doublier’s words: “to give to this part of the body the ‘pallor of statues’ that the police commissioner so appreciated on 9 January 1935.” The decision handed down by the judges of Riom not only invoked art but also hygiene as being a good reason to be naked. The judges doubtlessly were alluding to French nudist practices, which were beginning to be seen with a great deal of benevolence by the authorities. But what seems the most groundbreaking in this decision is that it was no longer a question of motion or motionlessness, of art or the absence thereof to make it such that nudities were not obscene. On the contrary, for there to be obscenity, it was necessary for the exhibition of genitals, or breasts for that matter, to be accompanied by lascivious attitudes. Obscenity was like a piece of clothing that made nudity unacceptable. This implied a radical change in relation to the theories in force at the turn of the century.

However, some years later, on 8 November 1950, the Tribunal of Saint-Lô punished a stallholder at a fair who had been presenting inside his stall, in a glass box, one naked woman with only a G-string, on the grounds that this spectacle could not have presented any artistic character. For this tribunal, as opposed to that of Riom, the veil of art was indispensable to protect the spectacle of all obscenity.

This debate was to be central during the period when the new fashion of the monokini would be judged, for the fact of knowing if, to be legal, bare breasts must be covered or not would determine the fate of this new bathing suit in communal spaces such as beaches, streets and in open public. This question would also be decisive in making fashion compatible with law.
Indeed, historians of fashion and culture have not stopped foregrounding the indisputable fact of the progressive baring of women, but also of men, in communal public spaces since the beginning of the twentieth century.
The importance of this book, then, stems equally from its content as its method: Iacub both demonstrates the link between juridical decisions and the ways in which the ethics and morality of (French) society have evolved, and offers us a mode of interrogation that might prove productive for other legal systems and societies.

In this sense, Iacub’s perspective on the power dynamics at play in the construction of gender and sexuality resonates with the work of several Anglophone scholars in the fields of sexuality and gender studies. Our debates about acceptable (sexual) behavior often rely on unarticulated definitions of private and public. Whether or not the construction of those spaces differs significantly in the Anglophone world, Iacub’s critical and legally-grounded framing of such questions as what constitutes such divisions, and how they impact our understanding of sexuality, lends scholars in these fields a clearly tenable method to approaching the way we view gender and sexuality within our own societies.
Learn more about Through the Keyhole at the Manchester University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Steve Olson's "Eruption"

Steve Olson is the author of Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins, Count Down: Six Kids Vie for Glory at the World’s Toughest Math Competition, and, with Greg Graffin, Anarchy Evolution.

Olson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens, which is the first page of Part 3 of the book, depicts a 31-year-old Gifford Pinchot gazing out the window of a Northern Pacific train headed from Tacoma, Washington, to Portland, Oregon. In many ways, the page poses the essential structural question at the heart of at least the first half of my book. What could a train ride by the future head of the U.S. Forest Service possibly have to do with the eruption of Mount St. Helens?

Eruption asks why 57 people were close enough to an extremely dangerous volcano to be killed when it unleashed a ferocious blast on May 18, 1980, to the north and northwest of the mountain. Some of the reasons are straightforward: people wanted to go camping on the first nice weekend of the spring, sightseers hoped to see and photograph one of the small eruptions that had been occurring for the previous two months, monitors were keeping an eye on the volcano to warn downstream communities of trouble.

But some of the reasons are rooted in history. The designated danger zone around the volcano was much too small because government officials did not want to disrupt the Weyerhaeuser Company’s logging of its property around the volcano. Instead, they drew the no-go line along the boundary between Weyerhaeuser’s land to the west and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest to the east, even though that boundary passed within three miles of the volcano’s summit. Only 3 of the 57 victims were inside that line, and 2 of them had permission to be there. The only person in the danger zone illegally was the one victim people tend to remember from the eruption: 83-year-old curmudgeon Harry Truman, who refused to leave his lodge beneath the mountain’s north flank.

Gifford Pinchot, Teddy Roosevelt, and industrialists like Frederick Weyerhaeuser helped shape many of the policies that govern land use in the western United States. Those policies were a critical factor in the deaths of the volcano’s victims. As I’ve been saying in my booktalks, the people killed by the eruption of Mount St. Helens were the victims of history – and of a danger zone that was much too close to the volcano.
Visit Steve Olson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 22, 2016

Howard Means's "67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence"

Howard Means is the author or coauthor of many books, including Johnny Appleseed: The Man, the Myth, the American Story, the first biography of Colin Powell and Louis Freeh’s bestselling memoir My FBI.

Means applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, 67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence, and reported the following:
Page 99 is more a pivot point in 67 Shots than a representative moment, but I do think it reveals, in Ford Madox Ford’s phrase, the “quality of the whole.” The famous 13-second, 67-shot barrage is over. On the other side of Blanket Hill, near the center of the Kent State campus, four students are dead, nine wounded. The wail of ambulances has replaced horrified screams. The action now has moved back to the Commons, where the confrontation began a little over half an hour earlier, at noon on Monday, May 4, 1970.

At the far end, near the burned-out ruins of the Army ROTC building, the National Guard has regrouped — more than a hundred men strong, most armed with M1 battle rifles, and now with blood in the air. At the other end are massed more than a thousand students. A hard core of twenty or so have large “X’s” hastily painted on their chests and backs and across their foreheads.

General Robert Canterbury, the Guard mission commander, has sent word up and down the line that if the students charge, Guardsmen are to fire in self-defense. In the hysteria of the moment, many students seem ready to do just that. As one remembered, “You felt like you were invincible because you were so angry about what happened.”

We pick up Page 99 here:
The math here gets truly appalling. If only the conveniently self-targeted students, stripped to the waist, had charged the Guard line, they would have been mowed down long before they reached the halfway point across the Commons. Gas masks were off. Sighting would have been easy and motivation strong. Had that first wave been followed by a second or third wave of students, sucked into the vortex of irrationality by the killing in front of them, the dead and wounded would, of course, had grown exponentially. The Guard had that .50-calibre machine gun, mounted and ready on a jeep. Even without new magazines for the Guardsmen who had emptied theirs on the other side of Blanket Hill, 70 or more M1s stood ready with 8 rounds to the magazines—560 of those long, skinny .30–06 projectiles leaving muzzles with 2,500 foot-pounds of energy, each one squeeze away from firing. Any students who survived that barrage were sure to be met by fixed bayonets as they descended on Guard lines.
How that second and potentially far worse crisis is narrowly averted is a complex tale involving multiple players, none more important or heroic than a crew-cut ex-Marine, geology professor Glenn Frank … but that gets us to Page 100.
Learn more about the book and author at Howard Means's website.

The Page 99 Test: Johnny Appleseed.

My Book, The Movie: 67 Shots.

Writers Read: Howard Means.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Michael F. Robinson's "The Lost White Tribe"

Michael F. Robinson is professor of history at Hillyer College, University of Hartford. He is the author of The Coldest Crucible: Arctic Exploration and American Culture and blogger at Time to Eat the Dogs, a site about science, history, and exploration.

Robinson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Lost White Tribe: Explorers, Scientists, and the Theory that Changed a Continent, and reported the following:
From page 99:
By whichever channels Mutesa learned the story of Ham, it captivated him. He spoke of it when he met with Stanley in 1874 and also when he met with other Westerners during the same period. When the French explorer Ernest Linant de Bellefonds arrived in Buganda to meet with Mutesa in 1875, a few months before Stanley’s arrival, he marveled at Mutesa’s appetite for studying the Scriptures. “I left the King at two o’clock after we had arranged to meet again at four,” wrote de Bellefonds. “[The] talk was of Genesis. Mutesa had the story of Genesis from the Creation to the Flood taken down on a writing-tablet. We parted at nightfall. Mutesa is spellbound.”

It’s perhaps understandable why Mutesa would embrace the story of Genesis in general and the story of Ham in particular. At a time when he was learning about powerful peoples who lived beyond the Lakes Region, the stories connected the Ganda people to the broader human family, including the Arabs and Europeans whom he so admired. By establishing kinship between the peoples of Lake Victoria and the West, the story of Ham also brought Buganda into history, at least the Judeo-Christian vision of it, aligning Mutesa more closely with his foreign guests.

Mutesa I
Mutesa also found much to like in Speke’s version of the Hamitic hypothesis, given that it argued that some East Africans, particularly those in royal clans, were the descendants of Abyssinian or Caucasian invaders from long ago. In Speke’s opinion, Mutesa and other rulers were more closely related to Westerners than his Ganda subjects, a flattering claim that only confirmed Mutesa’s right to rule. It was blood that tied the king to his father, Suna II, and to the Sesekabaka before him: a long line of hereditary rulers whose trail went back into the mists of prehistory, a chain that—if Speke were correct—eventually led to the figure of Ham, son of Noah and first king of Buganda, father of all future Kabakas including Mutesa. In a kingdom that understood both history and political power as the expression of a sacred bloodline unfolding over time, the seeds of the Hamitic hypothesis found fertile soil.
The Lost White Tribe is the biography of an idea --the Hamitic Hypothesis-- which argued that fair-skinned tribes had invaded Africa long ago. Born from ancient myth, the theory evolved over time became by the late 1800s the darling of scientists, subject to their most sophisticated instruments and most prized analytical techniques, all in hopes of solving the mysteries of the human racial past. Page 99 examines the origin of the hypothesis in the biblical story of Ham, son of Noah, who was believed to be the forefather of African peoples.

In this excerpt, the explorer Henry Stanley is explaining the story of Ham to Mutesa I, the powerful King of Buganda, who is assisting Stanley in his mission to explore East Africa.
Visit Michael Robinson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Eric Jay Dolin's "Brilliant Beacons"

Eric Jay Dolin is the best-selling author of the award-winning Fur, Fortune, and Empire; Leviathan, which was chosen by the Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe as a best book of the year; and When America First Met China.

Dolin applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The lens that Fresnel installed at Cordouan used eight square lens panels, with each panel having a bull’s-eye lens in the center and prisms encircling it. The panels were arrayed in a belt on a metal frame around a lamp in the center. With this configuration alone, much of the light thrown off by the lamp would escape above and below the lens belt. To capture some of that light, Fresnel placed above the lens belt, at an angle, smaller lens panels that directed the light traveling up from the lamp onto a series of inclined mirrors that, in turn, reflected the beams toward the horizon. Below the lens belt Fresnel used inclined mirrors for the same purpose.

A clockwork-type mechanism rotated the Cordouan lens. As each panel came into the line of sight of a distant mariner, it sent out a bright flash of light, which would be followed by an interval of increasing dimness, then relative darkness, then another flash of light when the next panel came into view.
Lighthouse illuminants changed dramatically over time, running the gamut from whale, lard, and vegetable oil to kerosene, acetylene, and finally electricity. Similarly, crude lamps gave way to more sophisticated ones, and reflectors that did a poor job of projecting the light were replaced by the crown jewels of lighthouse illumination—Fresnel lenses, which not only increased the intensity of the light, but also became one of the most important and strikingly beautiful inventions of the nineteenth century.

Page 99 of Brilliant Beacons (half of which is taken up by an illustration) is in chapter 5, titled “Europeans Take the Lead,” which profiles the French genius, Augustin-Jean Fresnel, who invented the eponymously named Fresnel lens. This excerpt talks about the first Fresnel lens ever installed, which took place in 1823 at the magnificent Cordouan Lighthouse in France. Sometimes referred to as glass beehives because of their shape and appearance, Fresnel lenses did a magnificent job of refracting and reflecting the light coming from the lamp or bulb within, and focusing it to produce a strong, clear beam of light that could be seen by mariners many miles away.

Although this snippet from page 99 is quite interesting, I don’t feel that Ford Madox Ford's “test” reveals the “quality of the whole” book. The snippet doesn’t capture the incredible drama of Brilliant Beacons, nor does it give the reader a good sense of the numerous fascinating stories that the book contains. Simply put, Brilliant Beacons, a work rich in maritime lore and brimming with original historical detail, is the most comprehensive history of American lighthouses ever written, telling the story of America through the prism of its beloved coastal sentinels. Set against the backdrop of an expanding nation, Brilliant Beacons traces the evolution of America’s lighthouse system, highlighting the political, military, and technological battles fought to illuminate the nation’s hardscrabble coastlines. It includes a memorable cast of characters including the penny-pinching Treasury official Stephen Pleasonton, who hamstrung the country’s efforts to adopt the revolutionary Fresnel lens, and presents tales both humorous and harrowing of soldiers, saboteurs, ruthless egg collectors, and most importantly, the light-keepers themselves. Once you read Brilliant Beacons you will literally see lighthouses in a whole new light.
Learn more about the book and author at Eric Jay Dolin's website.

The Page 99 Test: Fur, Fortune, and Empire.

The Page 99 Test: When America First Met China.

The Page 69 Test: Brilliant Beacons.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 18, 2016

Diana Tietjens Meyers's "Victims’ Stories and the Advancement of Human Rights"

Diana Tietjens Meyers is Professor Emerita of Philosophy at the University of Connecticut. Poverty, Agency, and Human Rights, which she edited, came out in 2014.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Victims’ Stories and the Advancement of Human Rights, and reported the following:
From page 99:
I propose that a victim’s story that successfully represents a moral void together with an implicit moral imperative that has been systematically ignored achieves this alternative kind of moral closure. Such a victim’s narrative fully expresses a moral demand.

Such an appeal to conscience consists in nothing more than a compelling articulation of what the narrator has endured. Now, it might seem that the moral demand is a consequence of a formal defect in the victim’s story – namely, the absence of a morally gratifying ending. On this view, narrative moral closure depends on real-world moral closure to supply an ending and complete the story. To adopt this approach, however, is just to insist that White’s full-fledged narratives and Amsterdam and Bruner’s problem-solving narratives exhaust the category of morally complete narratives. But confining the concept of moral closure to these formats does an injustice to many storytellers and arbitrarily excludes some orthodox narrative forms. Consider parables and allegories – narratives that are complete in themselves and that express moral meaning without explicitly stating it. That these literary forms require interpretation to discern their normative significance is no reason to deny that they can achieve moral closure, and, in my view, the same goes for hybrid victims’ stories.
This passage comes at the end of chapter 2, which begins with discussion of the problems victims of human rights abuse encounter when they try to couch their stories in the beginning-middle-ending form that Hayden White, Jerome Bruner, and Anthony Amsterdam endorse. Aiming to provide a more victim-friendly conception of the relations between narrative and moral norms, chapter 2 presents a conception of hybrid narratives that takes into consideration the trauma that victims of human rights undergo and the testimonial disturbances that can result from it. Page 99 affirms that this nonstandard narrative form doesn’t prevent victims from conveying a moral point – namely, that people of conscience have an obligation to do what they can to prevent future abuse.

In an important way, this passage is representative of the whole book. Discussions of human rights abuse often focus on the perpetrators – the wrongs they commit and their responsibility for what they’ve done. When the focus is on victims of human rights abuse, discussions typically highlight narrative as an aid to surviving their ordeals. Without denying the value of inquiries centered on perpetrators or victims’ recovery, Victims’ Stories and the Advancement of Human Rights centers the reception of the stories victims tell and the moral significance of those stories.

A prevalent conception of victims links victimization to degradation and dehumanization, thereby underwriting victim blaming and indifference to their plight. The book counteracts these tendencies by demonstrating that victims retain their agency – their full humanity. It then explains how emotional intelligence helps us grasp the moral norms embedded in victims’ stories and how empathy with victims’ stories discloses the complex meanings of human rights abuse in human lives. The aim is to show that attention to victims’ stories can make a vital contribution to building a culture of human rights. Finally, the book provides ethical guidelines for journalists, scholars, activists, and legal officials who interview victims and use their testimony. Securing informed consent and preventing re-victimization are key. Effective human rights advocacy must rest on treating victims ethically.

Throughout the book, arguments are illustrated with victims’ autobiographical stories of diverse kinds of abuse: torture at the Guantánamo prison, slavery in the US, genocide in Rwanda, forced service as a child soldier in Sierra Leone, mass sexual violence against women in Berlin at the end of World War II.
Learn more about the book and author at Diana Tietjens Meyers's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Robert Schmuhl's "Ireland's Exiled Children"

Robert Schmuhl is the Walter H. Annenberg-Edmund P. Joyce Chair of American Studies and Journalism at the University of Notre Dame, and the author or editor of a dozen books.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his most recent book, Ireland's Exiled Children: America and the Easter Rising, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Ireland's Exiled Children, President Woodrow Wilson is preparing for the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and making his decision that the future of Ireland will not become an issue in the upcoming negotiations. Ultimately, this decision alienated many in Ireland and in Irish America. Wilson, of course, had championed "self-determination" for small nations, and Irish people on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean thought the president was including Ireland in his thinking. He wasn't. He considered the fate of Ireland a domestic matter to be resolved by Great Britain. A quoted memo on page 99 and written by a British official notes "the president assured him 'that as far as he was concerned he would not allow Ireland to be dragged into a Peace Conference.'" The word dragged is telling.

Throughout his two terms in the White House, Wilson ducked and dodged when confronted by the Irish Question as best he could. Though he did everything a Democrat could do to appeal to Irish American voters in 1912 and 1916, he kept substantive matters related to the Easter Rising of 1916 and the struggle for Irish independence afterwards at a distance. For a long time, Irish Americans perceived him as an ally; however, a review of his papers in the Library of Congress and elsewhere reveal a strong bias against those of Irish ancestry living in the U.S.

Ireland's Exiled Children focuses on four individuals to tell the story of America's role and involvement in the Easter Rising. John Devoy raised money to support the buying of arms for the rebellion, and he plotted and schemed for decades to defeat the British in Ireland. Joyce Kilmer wrote compellingly about the Rising as a journalist and poet, explaining the significance of the event and its aftermath to the American public. Woodrow Wilson sought to avoid the complexities of Ireland's fate and, in time, blamed the Irish in America for the failure of the Senate to ratify the Versailles Treaty and U.S. participation in the League of Nations. And Eamon de Valera, who was born in New York and fought during the Rising, used his American connections throughout his life to advance politically, although how he avoided execution after receiving a death sentence in 1916 remains something of a mystery.

Timed to appear on the centenary of the Rising, Ireland's Exiled Children is the first full-scale study of U.S. participation and response to a defining moment in modern Irish history.
Learn more about Ireland's Exiled Children at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 15, 2016

Joseph Mazur's "Fluke: The Math and Myth of Coincidence"

Joseph Mazur is an emeritus professor of mathematics at Marlboro College, and the author of several popular mathematics books, including the highly acclaimed Enlightening Symbols: A Short History of Mathematical Notation and Its Hidden Powers and What's Luck Got to Do with It?: The History, Mathematics, and Psychology of the Gambler's Illusion.

Mazur applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Fluke: The Math and Myth of Coincidence, and reported the following:
From page 99:
We are often deceived by the magnitude of our world. It is bigger than we think; it is smaller than we think. A hundred years ago we stayed close to our towns and villages. My great uncles and great aunts in Poland surely didn’t wander far from their shtetl. Today, because of our international mobility, we bump into friends and relatives without surprise. We don’t quite fathom the hugeness of the world when we can get from New York to Hong Kong in fifteen hours. If I ask you how many people in the world have committed suicide in the time it took you to read this paragraph, you might very well say zero. But to give you some sense of how large this world really is, let me tell you that, according to estimates from the World Health Organization, on average every forty seconds someone, someplace in the world, performs a successful suicide. That’s 2,160 people, every day, on average! The rate varies according to country. In India, where suicide is illegal, the rate is almost double the global average.

By definition, coincidences are events that happen without apparent cause. Apparent to whom? It does not mean there is no cause. The world generally works by cause and effect. I say generally, because there are acausal phenomena in physics, psychology, and religion. But the word apparent tells us that the moment we learn the cause of a coincidental phenomenon, its status diminishes to a simple time-space event. That must mean that coincidences are relative to the people affected by them. It also means that the unapparent cause is there, waiting to be discovered. If there is no cause at all, then it happens by chance.
The monkey problem brings up a century old question of whether or not a monkey could write a line of Shakespeare by randomly striking the keys of a typewriter. Yes, it’s not only possible, but also sure to happen. That’s because the prediction powers of mathematics differs from real life pragmatics. Given enough time, a well-fed and well-rested monkey will, not only type a single line of Shakespeare but also someday in her enduringly extensive life plunk out the entire contents of the British Museum.

For a simple explanation let’s not expect the British Museum, not the complete works of Shakespeare, and not even a sonnet, just the line shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? If our dear little golden monkey were to hit the letters s-h-a-l-l-I-c-o-m-p-a-r-e t-h-e-e-t-o-a-s-u-m-m-e-r-’-s-d-a-y in that order, we would surely consider it a grand coincidence.

She has a 25 to 1 chance of typing the first letter of shall, assuming the keyboard is limited to just lowercase English letters. And since one key hit is relatively independent of any others[1], her probability of typing the first five letters are just 26 × 26 × 26 × 26 × 26 = 11,881,376, or odds against hitting those letters as 11,881,375 to 1. Very slim odds, but not infinite to 1; and so, if she persists, she shall have a better than even chance of typing shall after twelve million more tries.

From page 99 of Fluke, and perhaps a few pages following, we learn how hard it is to randomly generate a Shakespeare sentence. We surmise that it would take an army of humans to sift through interminable sheaves of nonsense before recognizing anything of literary value. Readers understand that random monkey finger play cannot compete with human creativity. Readers deduce that words on a page live in the human spirit. They come from the collective intelligence of the human condition. The monkey problem feeds the mathematician’s curiosity, and perhaps the philosopher’s diggings of logical analysis, as well. The coldness of random letters on a page would not only be detected, but also scoffed as chilling emptiness. In other words, literature worthy of the true sense of authorship is a dynamical system of interplays between author, subject, and character, an autonomous cerebral collaboration that cannot be even approximated by simple random play.
[1] The keys hits are independent; however, some hits might be more likely than others, given their position on the keyboard.
Learn more about Fluke at Joseph Mazur's website and read about his five best books on gambling.

The Page 99 Test: What's Luck Got to Do with It?.

Writers Read: Joseph Mazur.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Frank L. Holt's "The Treasures of Alexander the Great"

Frank L. Holt is Professor of History at the University of Houston and the author of Lost World of the Golden King, Into the Land of Bones, Alexander the Great and the Mystery of the Elephant Medallions, and Thundering Zeus.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Treasures of Alexander the Great: How One Man's Wealth Shaped the World, and reported the following:
Imagine judging a movie by watching its 99th minute, or asking customer number 99 whether to order the soup of the day, or worse yet, walking through a bookstore and reading page 99 of everything on the shelves. The catch, call it catch-99 if you wish, is that Ford Madox Ford’s random sample works only if the rule itself fails. The moment it succeeds and becomes common practice, film-makers will make sure that minute 99 is a thriller, restaurants will treat customer 99 to the finest cuisine, and publishers will tell typesetters to flag page 99 for special editing: Rules are made to be brokered. Meanwhile, for those curious about page 99 of The Treasures of Alexander the Great, it falls exactly half way through the text (the notes begin on page 199). Appropriately, page 99 reflects half the story. It captures the noble side of the young king’s character and conquests. There readers discover that Alexander singled out his mother and sister to share in his war-won wealth, and that his generosity extended as well to the royal women of Persia and to the wives, widows, and concubines of his soldiers. This is the good-hearted leader of the Greeks who warred to make a better world for winners and losers alike. He built cities and temples, funded the arts, honored the deities of diverse lands, and left money enough to raise the standard of living for generations to come. A different sampling, however, takes the reader into the darker corners of this great drama. The vast treasures that Alexander shared and invested were the spoils of war, and it does no good to bleach the blood out of history. War transfers wealth violently through battles, sieges, massacres, confiscations, enslavement, deportation, and even outright extermination. This book calculates as fully as possible not only the good that Alexander did in his short life, but also the evils that his victories unleashed.
Learn more about The Treasures of Alexander the Great at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Catherine Newman's "Catastrophic Happiness"

Catherine Newman writes the cooking and lifestyle blog Ben & Birdy. Her books include Catastrophic Happiness: Finding Joy in Childhood's Messy Years and Waiting for Birdy; her middle-grade novel is due out in 2017.

Newman applied the “Page 99 Test” to Catastrophic Happiness and reported the following:
From page 99:
The baby poops and cries and spits up into your bra, and it is all one big long meditation, halfway between tedium and franticness. (“Wake me if I actually do anything,” Ben said recently, watching a very long video we’d taken of him as a newborn, kicking microscopically on his changing table.) The baby wants to play Candy Land and Hi-Ho Cherry-o and some weird zoo game where you’re both dying dolphins, and you breathe in and out slowly through your nose and notice the way the sunlight is catching the down along those ripe peaches of her biceps. The baby wants to read Maisy’s Bed Time and Maisy’s Morning on the Farm and Where’s Maisy? and your brain threatens to contract and shrivel into a dried pea rattling around your skull, but instead you inhale the baby’s summer-smell scalp that is pressed fragrantly against your face (and also you occupy your mind with estimating Lucy Cousins’ net worth). The falling-asleep baby wants you to scratch her mosquito bites, and when you say you'd really prefer not to, she snatches your hand in her own and uses it as a disembodied scratcher, dragging your nails across her stomach and forearms until the darkly lashed eyes flutter and close, the beloved rose of her face open and slack in sleep.
Well! Weirdly, that's kind of the book in a nutshell. In fact, it's really just that, for the 98 pages that precede this passage, and the hundred or so that come after. Just joking! (Sort of.) The book it comes from, Catastrophic Happiness, is a memoir about raising children, and it's about that kind of dead-zone that doesn't get written about as much as the crazy baby years and the wild teen years--just the regular school-aged children who kill you softly with their magic and awfulness, with your own love and boredom. Page 99 is actually in the middle of a chapter specifically about boredom--about bored kids and also the bored adults caring for them. It used to be called, "In Praise of Boredom," because I actually think it's so vital to be bored, to have that kind of weird mental downtime, to know what to do with bored energy that isn't drugs or crime or video games. But also how boredom is kind of a segue to mindfulness. To paying attention to all the beautiful moments as life passes you by--as your kids grow like a stop-motion film of a flower opening, and they're halfway out the door even as you're catching your breath, stopping to notice your own incredible luck, your welling gratitude.
Visit Catherine Newman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 11, 2016

Kiri Paramore's "Japanese Confucianism"

Kiri Paramore is University Lecturer in Japanese History at Leiden University. He studied Asian History at the Australian National University and worked for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade before moving to Japan to study Area Studies and Intellectual History at the University of Tokyo. He has been awarded research fellowships from the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy at Academia Sinica, Taipei, where he was Visiting Research Professor from 2011–12. His first book was Ideology and Christianity in Japan.

Paramore applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Japanese Confucianism: A Cultural History, and reported the following:
What is Confucianism? What role does and did it play in Japanese society and history, and how is that similar or different to what happened (and is still happening) in China? Each part of my book focuses on a different social activity to answer these questions. So chapter by chapter we march through education, religion, knowledge, politics, warfare, and so on. Page 99 is part of a section dealing with medicine. Confucianism is often described as being against innovation and science. This chapter instead demonstrates how most scientists in East Asia were Confucians. It argues Confucianism was the primary push factor in promoting medical innovation from the 1400s right up until the late 1800s. In the nineteenth century Confucianism even supported the institutionalization of Western medical practice in Japan. In other parts of the book other similarly counterintuitive stories of Confucianism are told. The book explains how the popularization of Confucianism in medieval Japan was the work of Zen Buddhist monks from China, how early Japanese liberals and socialists first arose in Confucian study circles in the nineteenth century, and how in early modern Japan Confucianism was associated with the rise of a form of rampant ultra-individualism. In each of these strange social manifestations of Confucianism in Japan there was an underlying interaction with China - sometimes a reflection of China, sometimes a reaction against it, but always slightly and intriguingly different. This difference, encountered in various disparate aspects of history and social life through the course of the book, demonstrates the plurality of Confucianism globally, and thereby challenges the usual equation of Confucianism with Chinese culture. This book will be enjoyed both by readers interested in Japanese society and history, and those engaged with the bigger question of the role of China and Chinese civilization in current imaginations of future global society and past global histories.
Learn more about Japanese Confucianism at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Andrew B. Kipnis's "From Village to City"

Andrew B. Kipnis is Professor of Anthropology in the School of Culture, History and Language of the College of Asia and the Pacific at The Australian National University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, From Village to City: Social Transformation in a Chinese County Seat, and reported the following:
Over the past 25 years the Chinese county seat of Zouping has developed from a relatively impoverished town of 30,000 people to a bustling city of more than 350,000, complete with factories and high rises, parks and bus routes, shopping malls and school campuses, and its own bureaucracy, hospitals, school system and police force. In this book, I depict the transformations of Zouping as a place, the transformations of the lives of the formerly rural but now urban people who reside there, and the interrelations between the two. While examining a site that has industrialized and urbanized, that has undergone a demographic transition and increased integration into national and global markets, I pay close attention to how practices, imaginaries, ideologies, dreams and nightmares from the past are reproduced in the present. I develop new ways of theorizing the transformations typically associated with “modernization” through the concept of “recombinant urbanization.” While Zouping is clearly prospering, it is not depict a utopia. Dynamics of patriarchy, alienation and anomie, processes of class formation and exclusion, and problems like pollution and traffic jams accompany more positive changes like increasing material comfort and growing cosmopolitanism.

The book is organized into two parts, the first giving overviews of different ways the place has changed and the second focusing on the lives of the different groups of people who have moved to the city. Page 99 comes in the third chapter of the first part, which examines how the consumptive universe of Zouping has evolved over the past 25 years. The chapter focuses on the new technologies people have come to consume and the ways in which these technologies both transform people’s lives and enable them to reproduce practices from the past in new ways. Much of page 99 is devoted to the recent history of internet cafes and computing technology. Internet cafes had an early peak during the 1990s but faded late in the decade as most people began purchasing their own computers. But the cafes re-emerged during the 2000s as Zouping began attracting a large number of migrant workers who had no place to keep a computer. Male migrant workers use the cafes primarily for gaming, but also chat with friends from their hometowns. One surprising use of computers has been in primary school classrooms. Many literature teachers now require students to contribute to a class blog rather than keep a handwritten diary. The result has been an increase in the amount students write, but a decrease in handwriting abilities. An eleven year old boy I knew, whose father ran an electronics repair shop, wrote almost every day about his father’s TV repairs. He would detail the twists and turns of each repair—when a replaced part or re-soldered wire did or did not make the TV work again. Because of the importance of written characters in Chinese society, some teachers and parents lament the decline in handwriting ability and worry that it will affect the children’s future careers as some employers still ask for handwritten materials in the job search process.
Learn more about From Village to City at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Dov Waxman's "Trouble in the Tribe"

Dov Waxman is Professor of Political Science, International Affairs, and Israel Studies, and the Stotsky Professor of Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies at Northeastern University. He is also the co-director of the university’s Middle East Center. An expert on Israel, his research focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli foreign policy, U.S.-Israel relations, and American Jewry’s relationship with Israel.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict over Israel, and reported the following:
Trouble in the Tribe examines the growing debate and divisions over Israel within the American Jewish community. There used to be a broad consensus among American Jews in strong support of Israel, but that consensus has steadily eroded and there is now a bitter argument over Israeli policies, especially towards the Palestinians. In the book, I identify the four main ‘camps’ in this argument, and I describe their contrasting views in some depth.

Page 99 outlines the views of those on the American Jewish right:
Unlike the center-right, […] the right completely opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state (unless it is located in Jordan), and it rejects even the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The most it is prepared to offer the Palestinians is some kind of autonomy under Israeli rule. The right’s firm opposition to a Palestinian state is based not only on its deep suspicion of Palestinian intentions but also on its conviction that the entire Land of Israel, including all of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), rightfully belongs to the Jewish people, whether on historical or theological grounds. Nevertheless, those on the American Jewish right tend to offer security arguments to justify Israel’s continued control over the West Bank, rather than the historical and religious arguments that those on the Israeli right often make. They stress the risk to Israel if it withdraws from the West Bank, not the historical or divine right of Israel to possess this territory.

As a corollary to the right’s belief that Israel should have sovereignty over all of Judea and Samaria, the right also insists that Israel is absolutely entitled to establish Jewish settlements throughout the entire area. Whereas the center-right’s attitude toward Israel’s settlement enterprise in the West Bank is lukewarm and noncommittal, the right is committed to the settlement project for historical, religious, and security reasons—claiming, for instance, that Israeli settlement building actually promotes peace by demonstrating Israel’s strength and determination. The right, therefore, provides financial, political, and moral support to Jewish settlements.

Notwithstanding its support for the Israeli settlement movement, only a minority within the American Jewish right—almost all of them Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox (haredim)—really have a strong religious attachment to the Land of Israel, and even fewer believe that an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank would be a violation of God’s will (unlike much of the Israeli right). In general, the American Jewish right is driven more by ideology, than by theology or eschatology. Revisionist Zionism and neo-conservatism shape its perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict much more than Judaism does.
Most American Jews do not hold this view. Although they are divided over whether a Palestinian state should be established in the near future, a majority of American Jews continues to support an eventual two-state solution to the conflict. But while those on the right are a minority within the American Jewish community, they are highly mobilized and vocal. They constantly criticize mainstream American Jewish organizations for not being assertive enough in their defense of Israel, and they vociferously denounce American Jewish organizations and individuals on the left who are outspoken in their criticisms of Israel. What makes the American Jewish right particularly important today is the fact that most of the members of the current Israeli government share its hardline views.
Learn more about the book and author at Dov Waxman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Loring M. Danforth's "Crossing the Kingdom"

Loring M. Danforth is Charles A. Dana Professor of Anthropology at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. He is the author of The Death Rituals of Rural Greece, Firewalking and Religious Healing, The Macedonian Conflict: Ethnic Nationalism in a Transnational World, and Children of the Greek Civil War: Refugees and the Politics of Memory (with Riki Van Boeschoten).

Danforth applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Crossing the Kingdom: Portraits of Saudi Arabia, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Crossing the Kingdom reveals a good deal about one of the seven portraits of Saudi Arabia I present in this book, but it only offers slight hints to the contents of the other six.

Most Americans know that Saudi Arabia is a land of deserts, camels, and oil; a country of rich sheiks in white robes, oppressed women in black veils, and violent terrorists. They have not met a Saudi architect who encourages Muslims and Christians to struggle together with love to know God, a young Saudi lesbian eager to learn about the lives of gay women in the United States, or a Saudi artist who uses metal gears and chains to celebrate the diversity of the pilgrims who come to the holy city of Mecca as “guests of God.”

With vivid descriptions and moving personal narratives, Crossing the Kingdom presents detailed accounts of seven aspects of contemporary Saudi society and culture: Saudi Aramco, the largest oil company in the world; protests against the ban on women driving; the emerging Saudi art scene; Islamic creationism; archaeology, tourism, and the different attitudes Saudis have to the country’s pre-Islamic past; urban renewal in the city of Jeddah; and the politics of the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Page 99 of Crossing the Kingdom describes the success of Edge of Arabia, a non-profit arts initiative dedicated to promoting the work of contemporary Saudi artists. The first major exhibit of contemporary art in Saudi Arabia, entitled “We Need to Talk,” parallels the efforts of the late King Abdullah, known as the “King of Dialogue,” to promote more open conversations among Saudis about the pressing need for social change in the Kingdom. The artists working with Edge of Arabia are exploring issues such as the place of women in Saudi society and the nature of freedom of speech and religious pluralism in what remains in many ways a very closed and conservative country.

The following passage from page 99 describes the insights into Saudi culture that the work of young Saudi artists has to offer.
The contemporary Saudi art [Edge of Arabia] has presented to international audiences powerfully demonstrates the creativity and vitality of Saudi culture. This success is testament to the dramatic changes that have transformed Saudi society - the rise of individualism and consumerism, the growth of new technologies and social media - but it also confirms the continued relevance of traditional Islamic beliefs and tribal practices. In this way, Edge of Arabia opens an instructive window Europeans are rarely privileged to look through, a window onto the complexity and richness of Saudi culture. Here contemporary Saudi artists are testing the limits of what is possible in their very conservative culture. They are working right at the edge of Arabia.
In Crossing the Kingdom, I hope to offer equally valuable perspectives on the tensions that characterize the rapid changes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is undergoing at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
Learn more about Crossing the Kingdom at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Diego Gambetta & Steffen Hertog's "Engineers of Jihad"

Diego Gambetta is professor of social theory at the European University Institute, Florence, and official fellow of Nuffield College at the University of Oxford. His books include The Sicilian Mafia and Codes of the Underworld. Steffen Hertog is associate professor of comparative politics at the London School of Economics. He is the author of Princes, Brokers, and Bureaucrats.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Engineers of Jihad: The Curious Connection between Violent Extremism and Education, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The cultural context and philosophies that inspire the ideological tenets of radical Islamism and right-wing extremism differ. Although it is remarkable that they should generate so many similarities of sentiment and belief, it is hardly surprising that they also produce differences. These would include, of course, religiosity, as not all right-wing movements are religious, and some are in fact antireligious. This carries further differences downstream; for instance, among right-wingers the quest for purity does not necessarily imply a puritan sexual morality. Recall the propaganda pictures of naked Nazi frolicking in the woods to promote health and parade Aryan beauty. On the other hand, right-wingers conceive of purity in racial terms, while Islamists do not. Moreover, Islamists may accept social inequality, but they do so passively rather than promoting it in the name of some “Darwinian” philosophy. In a related area, order for Islamists is the result of social conformity to a religious law, while for right-wingers order is due either to a strong central power organizing the national community or to the spontaneous working of some “law of the jungle,” in some cases through unbridled market forces. Finally, while some right-wingers reject cultural modernity and invoke traditional values, others embody a muscular version of Western cultural imperialism. Islamists, by contrast, are more like the former and focus exclusively on defending their culture.

Yet, the overlap of weltanschauung between radical Islamism and right-wing extremism and the near complete lack of overlap with left-wing extreme ideology are striking. It suggests that if “engineers” are attracted to extremism other than that of the Islamist kind, it would be to right-wing extremism and not left-wing.
The point of this specific chapter is that right wing and Islamist ideological categories overlap and that much of radical Islamism really is right-wing ideology in religious garb. This is significant because, building on more than 4000 biographies, other chapters in the book show that members of radical right-wing groups have a similar educational profile as Islamist radicals, notably an over-representation of engineers. Members of the radical left, by contrast, include almost no engineers and instead numerous humanities and social science graduates.

These biases apply across very different country contexts. This means that something fundamental must be going on at the individual level to drive different graduates into different types of groups.

Existing political psychology research links three personality traits to right-wing attitudes: proneness to disgust, a desire to draw rigid insider-outsider boundaries, and need for cognitive closure. Using international survey data, we show that these traits are on average stronger among engineers, and weaker among humanities and social sciences graduates. They are also weaker among women, who have a strong presence on the radical left and are largely absent from radical right and Islamism. We explain how both right-wing ideologies and Islamism cater to the three traits, and how these ideologies closely resemble each other. They both aim to purify society, restore a lost social order and hierarchy, and defend a rigidly defined “in-group” against outside challengers.

The book in its first half also tells a story of how economic frustration has led educated elites in the Muslim world into Islamist violence. Such frustration explains some of the over-representation of both engineers and doctors among Islamist extremists there, as they come from the two most elite faculties in the Islamic world. The broader distribution of degrees across the rest of the world’s radical groups however has more to do with the psychological and ideological factors we outline in the book’s second half.
Learn more about Engineers of Jihad at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 1, 2016

Mark Sanders's "Learning Zulu"

Mark Sanders is professor of comparative literature at New York University. His books include Complicities: The Intellectual and Apartheid and Ambiguities of Witnessing: Law and Literature in the Time of a Truth Commission.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his newest book, Learning Zulu: A Secret History of Language in South Africa, and reported the following:
Although most of what the reader finds on page 99 is background information about the trial of Jacob Zuma, now the president of South Africa, for rape in 2006, there is also the more enigmatic sentence: “The play on ukuluma is insistent.” Why insistent, the reader might ask? And for whom? Most immediately, it refers to the predatory older men known in Zulu as omalume abalumayo (uncles that bite), and to the honorific of Malume (maternal uncle). To be insistent, however, wouldn’t there have to be more than a single example of wordplay? The reader is asked to recall the puns, mentioned elsewhere, that came to the author as he was learning Zulu: ukukhuluma (to speak) plays on ukuluma (to bite), and the idea that to speak is to bite one’s tongue (ulimi), meaning that a price is being exacted for learning the language (ulimi), any language perhaps, and that doing so must involve an alleviation of guilt if it is to succeed at all. At the rape trial, at which Jacob Zuma testified in Zulu, which is his mother tongue, although guilt and punishment are in play at another level, it is the process of learning the Zulu language that allows the author to catch a glimpse of some of the more covert forces at work in the courtroom.
Learn more about Learning Zulu at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue