Monday, July 26, 2021

John V. Petrocelli's "The Life-Changing Science of Detecting Bullshit"

John V. Petrocelli is an experimental social psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Wake Forest University. His research examines the causes and consequences of BS and BSing in the way of better understanding and improving BS detection and disposal. Petrocelli’s research contributions also include attitudes and persuasion and the intersections of counterfactual thinking with learning, memory and decision making. His research has appeared in the top journals of his field including the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Petrocelli applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Life-Changing Science of Detecting Bullshit, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Social psychologists refer to the mental tension created when someone simultaneously holds two conflicting thoughts as cognitive dissonance. The act of fact-checking questionable beliefs is in contradiction with one’s desire to hold those beliefs because fact-checking may prove those beliefs wrong. People are motivated to reduce cognitive dissonance when it emerges or prevent it from emerging in the first place. Rather than admitting their mistakes and letting go of bullshit-based beliefs, people tend to double down on their beliefs and rationalize contradictory evidence in order to reduce dissonance. For the very same reasons, while political conservatives sort of know that Pope Francis didn’t endorse Donald Trump as he campaigned for the presidency, and that Hillary Clinton wasn’t directing a pedophile ring out of a Washington, DC, pizza parlor, they really want it to be true. They prevent dissonance from emerging altogether by not bothering to factcheck these claims. They’d rather believe this bullshit because it fits perfectly with what they’d like to believe about these presidential candidates.

Although bullshit-based beliefs can persist in the face of scientific evidence, they shouldn’t. Holding some bullshit-based beliefs will only lead to greater bullibility and suboptimal judgments and decisions.
I believe page 99 of The Life-Changing Science of Detecting Bullshit only moderately supports the Page 99 Test. Page 99 is the final page of a chapter entitled “Bullibility: Bernard and His Bullible Gang” and it is specific to motivational bullibility, or a preference for bullshit over truth and facts. Although some people repeatedly fall for deceptive influences, most everyone behaves in a gullible fashion on occasion. More generally, research suggests that many people suffer from bullshit blindness, or bullibility—accepting bullshit as fact by failing to infer from available social cues that the bullshitter has a disregard for the truth or has failed to take reasonable action to find truth. A gullible individual may believe something despite signs of dishonesty, but the bullible individual is a relatively lazy thinker who doesn’t even care about signs of dishonesty. Page 99 deals with the motivational reasons people are bullible. Although page 99 is part of but one sub-section on bullibility (motivational) and there are four others (personal, contextual, emotional, and cognitive), it does represent the quality of the whole in the way of its completeness. However, The Life-Changing Science of Detecting Bullshit offers readers much more, including when bullshitting behavior (communicating with little to no regard for truth, genuine evidence, or established knowledge and talking about things one knows little to nothing about) is most likely to occur, the many unwanted consequences of bullshit, how best to detect bullshit, and how best to dispose of this most insidious communicative substance at work, home and play.

The reasons people fall for unwanted bullshit—permitting it to affect their thoughts, feelings, behaviors and decisions—have to do with the imperfections in their thinking, untrained critical thinking/inferential tools, and the questions they fail to ask bullshitters. Although people are generally reasonable under ideal conditions of data collection, they are often confined to the irresistible products of their own personal experiences. They are not always the products of irrationality, but of flawed rationality because personal experience is a problematic data collection method. Instead of providing us with clear information that would enable us to “know better”, personal experience often provides us with messy data that are random, unrepresentative, ambiguous, incomplete, inconsistent, indirect (secondhand), unpalatable. When people rely on messy data for the development and maintenance of their most confident beliefs, rather than the fuller picture of truth, they become subject to bullshit. The Life-Changing Science of Detecting Bullshit details research-based habits that will help anyone weed out bullshit and make smarter decisions.
Visit John V. Petrocelli's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Cary Federman's "Democracy and Deliberation"

Cary Federman is associate professor in the Department of Justice Studies at Montclair State University and the author of The Body and the State: Habeas Corpus and American Jurisprudence and The Assassination of William McKinley: Anarchism, Insanity, and the Birth of the Social Sciences.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Democracy and Deliberation: The Law and Politics of Sex Offender Legislation, and reported the following:
Unfortunately, the University of Michigan Press put my case law citations to chapter 2 on page 99. But if we look at pages 94 and 101, the two pages that directly precede and succeed page 99, we get a fair appraisal of what could have been on page 99.

Page 94 is the conclusion to chapter 2, called “Confining the Mentally Ill and Dangerous.” That chapter concerns the arrest of Terry Foucha, who was found guilty of breaking and entering. Foucha pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and was put into a mental facility. After two years, he claimed he was no longer insane and so he petitioned for release. The Supreme Court held that Louisiana could not hold Foucha for being dangerous without finding a mental disorder. The case is important for sex offender law because it provides the required legal analysis for all future postconviction civil commitment cases that rely on mental disorders to establish the dangerousness of sex offenders. Page 101 is the first page of chapter 3, and it is equally 99-ish, as it describes how the Supreme Court and the states have defined the psychopathic offender in sex offender civil commitment cases.

Apart from examining the constitutionality of sex offender laws, including going over the psychological literature regarding mental disorders, the book also analyzes the constitutionality of residency restrictions, which restrict where convicted sex offenders can live and work, and registration requirements, which require that released sex offenders must register with their local police departments.

All in all, the two pages that straddle page 99 are good summaries of the book itself.
Learn more about Democracy and Deliberation at the University of Michigan Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Assassination of William McKinley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Mary T. Boatwright's "Imperial Women of Rome"

Mary T. Boatwright is Professor Emerita of Classical Studies at Duke University. Her books include Peoples of the Roman World and (with Daniel J. Gargola, Noel Lenski, and Richard J. A. Talbert) A Brief History of the Romans.

Boatwright applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Imperial Women of Rome: Power, Gender, Context, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Imperial Women of Rome: Power, Gender, Context is near the end of “Imperial Women within the Imperial Family,” the chapter that assesses the traditional importance of family and procreation in ancient Rome, the enhancement and modification of these values by the first emperor Augustus both publicly and for his own extended family, and the developing distinction of the “imperial family” as divine. Page 99 concludes discussion of this last phenomenon by citing second- and third-century (AD) inscriptions; then, asking “What roles could women have within this within this “August” or “divine” household of the emperor, who was both paterfamilias and pater patriae?”, it turns directly to the imperial mother, one pronounced function of imperial women.

This test provides merely a partial idea of my book, since page 99 serves larger, interconnected arguments. It figures in one chapter of the assessment over time of the visibility and agency of Rome’s best documented women, those connected by blood or marriage to the emperor. The book regularly toggles between Livia, Agrippina, and other such elite women themselves, and the evolving institutions of the Roman empire shaping their lives and choices.

Page 99 reflects my goal of assessing change and continuity over time, my constant recourse to ancient evidence, and my insistence on showing women as participants in Roman history. The page also accurately reflects my focus on the systemic nature of the factors affecting the lives and history of Roman women, as well as their interconnection. On the other hand, I fear page 99 might mislead a browser to conclude that the book is dry factual history: the page does not include one of the book’s 40-some illustrations and maps, and it is not from one of the vignettes of an imperial woman that open each chapter and personalize its institutional subject (e.g., family; law; religion). The new section it begins is entitled “The imperial mother,” not something like “The criminality of Domitia Longina” that appears elsewhere. The page even lacks the name of an imperial woman! But this absence signals the challenges of exploring the history of Roman women, individuals severely restricted by law and custom and typically ignored, downplayed, or disparaged in the ancient sources that overwhelming reflect a bias towards Roman men and their perspectives.
Learn more about Imperial Women of Rome at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 23, 2021

Will Mari's "The American Newsroom: A History, 1920-1960"

Will Mari is Assistant Professor of Media Law & History at the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University, and author of A Short History of Disruptive Journalism Technologies: 1960–1990.

Mari applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The American Newsroom: A History, 1920-1960, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Gelb observed that his new companions in a Lower East Side police station’s reporters’ “shack” had been hired for “their street smarts and ability to ferret out facts swiftly.” Many were the sons of Italian, Irish, and Jewish immigrants, had not finished high school, and were “dese, dem, and dose kind of guys.” They often shared the same backgrounds as the police and criminals they covered. Communicating with the newsroom could be challenging, as some of the field reporters had thick accents. Once, a leg man’s report that a woman had died at the hands of a “poisson” (person) or “poissons” unknown had translated into the headline “Funeral Follows Inquest with Verdict of Death by Poison.” Gelb, having gone to college, was initially regarded with suspicion in this environment. He had to show that he could report despite his education. Work in the field, and hunting down facts for the crime beat, was considered such a part of the job that “legging” became shorthand for this kind of reporting.

Others distinguished leg men from “the routine men,” “the specialists,” “investigators,” and “dynamiters”—while the latter group could “blast out the stories that are hard to get,” members of the first group “do the running around” needed to find details about breaking-news stories. Despite the humble status of the leg man, he or she was expected to travel constantly from one news source to the next, “and is always expected to be miraculously on the scene of every newsworthy incident practically immediately on its happening.” Sometimes also called a “district” or “beat” reporter (though not to be confused with an older and more educated beat reporter), he or she would occasionally work alongside a dedicated police-beat reporter. Familiarity with sources, including the constant making of rounds, was crucial foundational work for a good leg man. Knowing ordinary police officers, neighborhood-level politicians, local shop owners, and the various individuals who hung out at quasi-legal watering holes could lead to solid sourcing when the time came. Relying on carefully cultivated friendships with police officers, but also knowing when and how to bluster, bully, or appeal to their bosses, fell within the general sphere of the leg man or woman.
I think this short selection of text from page 99 of the book works rather well, to capture some of the main missions of my book -- I'm very focused, for example, on the community (or rather, communities!) of news workers toiling in and out of the newsroom during the midcentury in the United States. This group of workers transitioned from a largely working-class to a more white-collar community, over time, and I think that socioeconomic shift is a bit underappreciated. My media history tries to move the conversation back to how the backgrounds of news workers mattered, in the production and reception of industrialized journalism during this era.

When thinking about newsroom work culture, I also think the temptation for media historians (including myself!) was to think about the period from the 1920s through the 1960s as sort of static, with journalism not really changing -- that was definitely not the case -- this half-century or so chunk of time was fully of dynamic changes, including the introduction of key technologies, such as the radio car and early experiments with portable ("mobile") tools, like microphones and typewriters, but also movements like unionization and college education for news workers. I would be remiss if I didn't point to the work of scholars such as Julia Guarneri, Matthew Pressman and Michael Stamm, who've also looked at this transitional period.
Follow Will Mari on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Allyson Brantley's "Brewing a Boycott"

Allyson P. Brantley is assistant professor of history and Director of Honors & Interdisciplinary Initiatives at the University of La Verne.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors and Remade American Consumer Activism, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Brewing a Boycott captures the complicated history of the multi-decade Coors beer boycott remarkably well. This page comes at the end of the fourth chapter, which was by far my favorite to write. The chapter details a boycott episode that united labor, LGBTQ+, Latinx, and other activists of color in San Francisco between 1973 and 1975; together, they targeted Coors for allegations of anti-unionism and anti-gay, conservative politics. Page 99 underscores the difficulties of maintaining this boycott coalition after a major labor union, the Teamsters, withdrew its support from the effort in 1975. At the same time, it highlights the enthusiasm of many allies to keep up the pressure on the Coors Brewing Company. Here’s an excerpt:
Indeed, very few coalition members accepted the news that the boycott was over simply because the [Teamsters] said so. Without any settlement regarding contracts or affirmative action, Coors remained a target. And as Joe Coors’s nomination to the board of the [Corporation for Public Broadcasting] dominated the news in the summer and fall of 1975, many leftists, union members, and gay activists reaffirmed their commitments to the boycott and the relationships they had built in its service. Others also joined the fray, angry at Coors and spurred to action through activist networks and new revelations about the family’s conservative politics and discriminatory practices. A columnist for the Bay Area Reporter argued that “in supporting the Coors Corp. (which also owns TV stations), or any other discriminating business, we are keeping our lives, our existence in the dark ages.” To boycott, then, was a “vote against discrimination.”
While the localized fight against Coors in San Francisco came to an end in 1975 – due to top-down pressure from union leaders – the boycott itself carried on because of activists’ perceptions of it as an accessible, compelling way to fight for their lives and against conservative forces.

This tension between institutional efforts to end the Coors beer boycott and grassroots activists’ unceasing enthusiasm for it would repeat itself multiple times over subsequent decades (and throughout the next 100 pages of the book). Page 99 of Brewing a Boycott helps to reveal that the history of the Coors boycott is not a black-and-white, good-or-evil story. The boycott was a complicated movement, waxing and waning from the late 1950s to the 1990s. Over multiple decades, its organizers scored some victories and faced some bitter losses – thus revealing the complexity of the American left, the challenges inherent in coalitional activism, and the growing power of corporations and conservatives in the late 20th century United States.
Visit Allyson Brantley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Michael K. Miller's "Shock to the System"

Michael K. Miller is an Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Shock to the System: Coups, Elections, and War on the Road to Democratization, and reported the following:
Shock to the System is all about changing people’s ideas about how democratization happens. Page 99 comes in the middle of the third chapter on how major violent events like coups, civil wars, and assassinations precede democratization surprisingly often. Combined with their international counterparts (like loss in a foreign war), these violent “shocks” occur before nearly three in four democratic transitions since 1800.

Specifically, page 99 is near the beginning of the discussion of civil wars. Unfortunately, that beginning has one page of lit review and that page is number 99. Sometimes the roulette wheel lands on green. I give a brief idea of how previous scholars have connected civil wars and democratization:
At first glance, civil wars present an unlikely starting point for democratization given the extent of violence and difficulty of compromise in such polarized contexts. Yet several scholars argue that civil war can provide a democratic opening by creating a power balance between the state and rebels, or at least sufficiently threatening elites that they prefer conceding to democracy. From there, the warring parties can agree to a mutually satisfactory democratic bargain.
I proceed to mention several empirical findings showing that civil wars, at least in the right contexts, can increase the likelihood of democratization. In addition, I mention the large literature on “power-sharing,” political strategies prominent in post-civil war peace-building that try to limit the concentration of power and encourage prior combatants to buy into democracy.

The page 99 test nicely showcases a major theme of the book: power. My central argument is that violent shocks encourage democratization by disrupting autocratic regimes and leaving them insecure in power. As a result, giving in to democratization is less of a sacrifice and may even be a salvation. The same power logic explains the other major path to democratization, in which a ruling party voluntarily allows the transition because its leaders believe (correctly) that they will continue to compete and win power in democracy. Once again, the context limits the loss of power, smoothing along the transition.

Although it captures the logic, the content of page 99 is misleading as the book is not lit-review heavy. Most of this civil war section is on specific cases, with the most attention on Nicaragua’s transition after the Sandinista victory and the Philippines’ democratization during a brutal Communist rebellion. Later in the book, I confirm quantitatively that civil wars predict democratization, with the effect mostly limited to the aftermath of stalemates.
Follow Michael K. Miller on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Kristy L. Slominski's "Teaching Moral Sex"

Kristy L. Slominski is the Assistant Professor of Religion, Science, and Health in the Department of Religious Studies and Classics at the University of Arizona. She is a historian of how religion and sexuality have intersected with science and health in the United States. She received her Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she specialized in North American religions and completed a Feminist Studies Emphasis and a Certificate in College and University Teaching.

Slominski applied the “Page 99 Test” to Teaching Moral Sex: A History of Religion and Sex Education in the United States, her first book, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In addition to mitigating criticisms aimed at medical measures, the military used moral education to justify other uneven practices in its sex hygiene program. More specifically, racist assumptions about who was best served by moral education guided the disproportionate use of preventative measures among white soldiers and disciplinary measures among black soldiers, who were segregated into different units. Whereas white soldiers were seen as redeemable, African American troops were often portrayed as a lost cause when it came to venereal disease. Higher rates of venereal disease flourished among black soldiers based on lower entrance standards for their physical exams and substandard medical treatment once enlisted, including stories of reused, unsterilized syringes. Racist stereotypes about unrestrained black sexuality led to limitations on vacation leave and forced treatment with chemical prophylaxis even if the soldiers claimed to be abstinent during their time away from base. At the same time, recreation and entertainment opportunities were severely lacking compared to those available to white soldiers. Moral education about sexuality was likewise imbalanced, in part because of the small numbers of black chaplains and YMCA representatives available to black soldiers. Just over eighty black YMCA secretaries aided the American Expeditionary Force compared to nearly 13,000 white secretaries, and most of these secretaries were not trained to provide sex education beyond distributing pamphlets. Although the number of black chaplains serving in the war rose from approximately twelve to sixty- three over the course of 1918, the rate still remained embarrassingly low.

The cooperative campaign to combat venereal disease through sex education, recreation, medical interventions, and legal measures became known as the “American Plan,” in part to contrast it with the French plan of regulated prostitution. It would also extend the military battle against syphilis and gonorrhea to the American public. Although the engineers of the American Plan considered it morally superior for refusing to believe in the inevitability of prostitution, critics pointed out its similarities with French approaches by calling it neo-regulationism. Resistance came from British social purity reformers and the Purity Federation, an American purity group that had not merged into ASHA and that included leaders such as B. S. Steadwell and, at one point, doctor and Methodist missionary Katharine Bushnell. They opposed the American military’s reliance on prophylaxis, which they viewed as perpetuating soldiers’ visits to prostitutes and upholding a double standard of sexual morality. They also lamented the horrific treatment of women under the American Plan, including the violation of individual rights….
The page 99 test works relatively well for Teaching Moral Sex—I would give this test a B. The page introduces readers to many of the key themes of the book, especially the interaction between moral education about sex and medical approaches to syphilis and gonorrhea in the early phases of sex education. Sex education was largely focused on venereal diseases and prostitution in its early history, and the military was one of the first arenas where early public sex education developed, so the topics on this page are highly relevant to the work as a whole. It mentions major characters whose Christian influences shaped early sex education, including YMCA lecturers, military chaplains, and purity reformers. It is also significant that ASHA (the American Social Hygiene Association) is mentioned here, as it was the national organization that founded and led the movement for public sex education for half a century.

I rated this test a B because page 99 might lead readers to assume that the book focuses more on the racial inequalities of sex education than it actually does. This page provides important examples of how the deeply racist assumptions of white sex educators impacted African Americans. The rest of the book focuses more on white sex educators and how they shaped cultural norms at the national level. Page 99 also does not mention “religion” directly. The main religious influence that shaped movements for public sex education was liberal Protestantism, and this excerpt provides a small window into some of its moral education and beliefs.

Since Teaching Moral Sex covers 150 years of sex education history, this page is more representative of the book’s coverage of early sex education—before family life education of the mid-twentieth century and the rise of comprehensive sexuality education and abstinence-only education in the late twentieth century. In the more recent phases, “public sex education” comes to be associated with public schools, so the longer book explores this trajectory from community-based campaigns to struggles over K-12 curricula.
Visit Kristy L. Slominski's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 19, 2021

Kate Fortmueller's "Hollywood Shutdown"

Kate Fortmueller is an assistant professor in the Department of Entertainment and Media Studies in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She is the author of Below the Stars: How the Labor of Working Actors and Extras Shapes Media Production.

Fortmueller applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Hollywood Shutdown: Production, Distribution, and Exhibition in the Time of COVID, and reported the following:
My acknowledgements, which begin on page 99 open: "First and foremost, thank you to all the essential workers who provide care labor and sustain the national infrastructure for those of us who were able to work from home throughout the pandemic."

Page 99 is inscrutable from the perspective of the book's argument but reveals Hollywood Shutdown to be a unique academic book. First of all, this book is very short (the conclusion ends on page 98). The acknowledgements begin at the end of the book, which is common placement for fiction or popular non-fiction, but not academic books. Finally, the acknowledgements clearly explain that this book about Hollywood in the pandemic was written during the pandemic. My goal as the author was to write something accessible in tone and length that can initiate broader conversations about the effects and potential long-term ramifications of the pandemic for creatives and audiences. If you study media, work in media, or if you signed up for too many streaming services in 2020, this book is for you.
Learn more about Hollywood Shutdown at the University of Texas Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Erin Woodruff Stone's "Captives of Conquest"

Erin Woodruff Stone is Associate Professor of History at the University of West Florida.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Captives of Conquest: Slavery in the Early Modern Spanish Caribbean, and reported the following:
If a reader opened directly to page 99, they would find themselves at the end of Chapter 4, which focuses on the roles that indigenous slaves played in Spanish expeditions of exploration and conquest. More specifically the page concludes a segment discussing the power of indigenous allies, in particular the story of one Indian intermediary, Luis, who orchestrated the destruction of a Spanish settlement in the Chesapeake Bay area, the furthest north the Spanish ever ventured. The page then goes on to review the different roles that indigenous slaves took on, willingly or unwillingly, during missions of exploration from translators and guides to porters or “consolation prizes” sold at the end of unsuccessful ventures. The page then highlights the occasional opportunities available to indigenous allies during Spanish expeditions, which at times provided them with agency and power, revealing a different and neglected aspect of indigenous enslavement.

The Page 99 Test works quite well for my book. While the page is one of transition coming at the end of Chapter 4, it features several of the most important arguments and themes of the book. First, it highlights the importance of Indian slavery in the creation of the Spanish Caribbean/Empire by explaining the multitude of roles played by indigenous slaves during every part of journeys of exploration and colonization. Second, it shows the complexity of the indigenous slave trade, where some Indians were displaced multiple times, travelling across the Caribbean and even the Atlantic. This was not a simple enterprise, but one that involved many players and ports of call. Third, it underscores indigenous voice and agency.

While the indigenous perspective is difficult to find within Spanish sources, at times one can see glimpses of the indigenous viewpoint, for example in the case of “ally” Luis. Luis was captured from present day Virginia in the 1550s after which he was taken to Mexico and later Spain. During this time Luis became a central player in the attempted conquest of “La Florida” first under Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, and later with a group of Jesuits. They believed that the key to successfully converting the indigenous peoples of the new world was the creation of a purely religious settlement free from Spanish military or other secular colonists and their bad influence. Thus, when the small number of Jesuits departed for the Chesapeake, they only took with them Luis and another indigenous slave. Luis was to serve as their guide and translator. Though we never hear directly from Luis, his actions speak louder than words. Only days after the mission’s arrival in Virginia, Luis ran away. He then began to organize attacks on the Jesuit settlement. Within a few months the Indians had destroyed the nascent colony in dramatic fashion; “On the morning of February 4, 1571, Luis and a large group of Indians assaulted the camp. They clubbed the Jesuits to death and beheaded others.”

In sum, the page 99 test reflects the larger themes of the book quite well, and hopefully would inspire a reader to delve deeper into the text where they would examine many more facets of the earliest indigenous slave trade and how it contributed to the formation of the Spanish Empire.
Learn more about Captives of Conquest at the University of Pennsylvania Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Anja Shortland's "Lost Art"

Anja Shortland is a Professor in Political Economy at King's College London specialising in the economics of crime. She studies private order systems in the world's trickiest markets: hostages, hijacked ships, fine art and antiquities. She researches how people work and invest in complex and hostile territories and studies trades between legal and illegal enterprises. Her previous book, Kidnap: Inside the Ransom Business revealed how special risk insurance at Lloyd's of London helps to bring abducted people home safely.

Shortland applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Lost Art: The Art Loss Register Casebook Volume One, and reported the following:
Page 99 takes us right into the thick of a complex art recovery case. A private British company - the Art Loss Register (ALR) - is negotiating with a shady Taiwanese businessman over the return of a set of impressionist paintings stolen from the Bellas Artes Museum in Buenos Aires. Although the paintings were obviously valuable – a beautiful Renoir portrait graces the page - the Argentinian government had been strangely reticent to authorise their recovery or indeed pay for it. On page 99 an explanation suggests itself, when the nonchalant holder reveals himself as a weapons dealer and implies that the military junta was complicit in the theft. Art had been traded for arms and a deal was a deal.

In one way, page 99 is characteristic of the book, which is based on the detailed analysis of a dozen diverse art recoveries from the ALR’s archive. The book shines a light on the dark side of the art world, where crooks and criminals try to sell stolen masterpieces, savvy traders turn a blind eye to suspicious provenances, and millionaire collectors fight tooth-and-claw legal battles for ownership of Nazi-looted artworks. The unexpected twists and turns of these underworld escapades would not seem out of place in a detective novel. Indeed, sometimes reality seems stranger than fiction…

What page 99 misses entirely is the book’s overarching theme of a commercial institution-building (ad)venture. Over the last three decades, the art market has been transformed by a revolution in social norms and the aggressive application of US law promoting the restitution of stolen artworks to their former owners. Nowadays, the moral rights of the victims of theft, looting, and genocide may well prevail against the legal protection traditionally given to good faith purchasers. The market therefore had to develop an efficient way to identify stolen, missing, and at-risk artworks and resolve outstanding title problems before each sale.

Since 1990, the ALR has created a vast database of more than 700,000 artworks registered by their former owners. It has become the arbiter of what can and cannot be sold in good faith: no reputable dealer will touch an artwork flagged up as problematic by the ALR. This creates a space for negotiation between current and former owners – with the ALR itself often taking on the role of mediator to broker just and fair solutions acceptable to both sides. Tracing how artworld disputes were resolved over time teaches us fascinating lessons about the changing nature of property rights and the laws, norms, and institutions underpinning them.
Read early reviews of Lost Art and visit Anja Shortland's faculty webpage.

The Page 99 Test: Kidnap: Inside the Ransom Business.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 16, 2021

Patricia Fortini Brown's "The Venetian Bride"

Patricia Fortini Brown, Professor Emerita at Princeton University, was Slade Professor of Fine Arts University of Cambridge in 2001 and served as president of the Renaissance Society of America. Honors and awards include Fulbright and Guggenheim Fellowships; the Rome Prize at the American Academy in Rome; the British Academy Serena Medal in Italian Studies; and the Paul Oskar Kristeller Lifetime Achievement Award from the Renaissance Society of America. A trustee of Save Venice, Inc., Brown has published extensively on Venetian art and culture. Her award-winning books include Venetian Narrative Painting in the Age of Carpaccio (1998); Venice & Antiquity: The Venetian Sense of the Past (1996); Art and Life in Renaissance Venice (1997); and Private Lives in Renaissance Venice: Art, Architecture, and the Family (2004).

Brown applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Venetian Bride: Bloodlines and Blood Feuds in Venice and its Empire, and reported the following:
What drove the Montagues and Capulets to so wantonly let the blood of their patrician kin? While The Venetian Bride does not discuss Shakespeare, page 99 of my book offers the reader a sense of what was driving all that fury. Falling midway through Chapter 6, “Honour and Disgrace,” the page features the extended quotation of a petition by Count Girolamo Della Torre to the Council of Ten in Venice to quash his sentence of a 10-year exile to the island of Crete. Referring to the murder of his brother by a Savorgnan on the Grand Canal on the eve of his departure, Della Torre observes that this was only the most recent outrage in the long-standing blood feud between the Della Torre and Savorgnan families and asks for clemency. Della Torre’s petition argues:
“These crimes and enormous excesses as a legacy are not only unheard of, but also [now] executed by the brothers, Giovanni and Nicolò Savorgnan, with the firmest intention to extirpate and eliminate us from the world with all their might; and how many infinite times the two have contrived to take the life of myself, Girolamo Della Torre, as confided to friends, relatives and their authority, as documented by the cited processes; never however did they succeed to execute their spirit of malicious cruelty against my person.

So that seeing that I defended myself against their machinations with the help of God, they drove Tristan Savorgnan, executor of their most unjust appetites and desires, to murder my poor unarmed brother, and in a boat, far from any such suspicion, and above all most innocent, for whose death there were assembled in number perhaps 20 persons in two armed boats in the middle of the Grand Canal of this city, the head of which was the cited Tristan, by commission, however, and order of the above cited Savorgnan brothers, who, claiming themselves to be offended by me for the event that happened in Padua, and knowing that my poor brother and my sister with my brother-in-law had come here to accompany me to the galley, had made an insidious plot; they expected to assassinate all of them, but seeing that they could not execute their depraved design against all, they directed their arms against my brother to revenge themselves, and here one sees [that this was clearly ordered by them], because Tristan had never been offended by us; indeed none of the Della Torre have ever held any enmity toward Tristan, so he would have not had cause to be moved to commit such an assassination, one might say in the eyes of the Prince [Doge]....

Regarding this case, however, I, Girolamo della Torre, hold for certain that it will be adjudicated by the excellent Council of Ten with the severe justice merited by a crime so cruel and so horrendous that, in truth, never has anything similar been committed in Venice: that in armed boats a band of butchers equipped with firearms [that are] prohibited in the middle of Venice, have massacred subjects of this Illustrious Dominion in the eyes of all the world, even in gondolas, as one might say in their own home.

Therefore, your illustrious lords, seeing the importance of this miserable case, seeing that these Savorgnans try to extirpate and send into ruin the afflicted family of the Della Torre, [and] seeing that in our house after the death of my brother there is no one who could repair such ruin, I, Girolamo on bended knee supplicate your excellent lords for justice and piety to suspend my departure to my exile, so that I can provide for the conservation of my life and jointly be able to provide for my calamitous family, in which no one remains to govern except for my person, [and] wish for your clemency so that I could repair so many misfortunes in that brief time that would seem appropriate to your illustrious lords, to whom I humbly prostrate myself on the earth [and] recommend myself.”
I was flattered to be invited to participate in this intriguing program. I had no idea exactly what I would find on page 99, but I was happily surprised to find our protagonist, Della Torre, in court pleading for mercy, to be spared an exile that threatened to end life as he had known it. Indeed, the Page 99 test works remarkably well for The Venetian Bride. Arguably the hinge of the overall narrative, Della Torre’s petition is a predicate to the marriage that gives the book its name. His sentence would, indeed, be postponed, allowing him to pursue another strategy (albeit unsuccessful) to avoid exile by his marriage to Giulia Bembo, the daughter of an influential Venetian patrician, in Chapter 7. Without giving much away, I'll just say that while exile is not ultimately avoided, things turn out considerably better than they did for Romeo and Juliet. Without the petition, the postponement, and the marriage, there would be no book. No sojourn in Crete for both the Della Torre and Bembo families, no return to the Della Torre family properties in the Friuli -- the castle at Villalta and the palace in Udine --no stayovers in the bishop’s castle in Ceneda, perhaps no elevation of Girolamo’s brother Bishop Michele to the cardinalate, no birth of ten children who would carry on the family line for both good and ill in a saga that played out over three centuries. In a sense, the passage provides the nexus between the blood feuds that dominate the first third of the book and the melded bloodlines and the gradual embrace of the rule of law that will be the major focus of the remainder. In sum, the petition distills the human side of the conflict between the feudal values of honor and retribution of Venice’s contentious subjects on the mainland and the civic values of the Serenissima itself.
Learn more about The Venetian Bride at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Christopher Bell's "The Dalai Lama and the Nechung Oracle"

Christopher Bell is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Stetson University in Florida. His research focuses on Tibetan ritual and deity cults, as well as Asian models of divinity.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Dalai Lama and the Nechung Oracle, and reported the following:
While my book focuses on the centuries-old relationship between incarnations of the Dalai Lama and human oracles for an important Tibetan god, page 99 is much more granular. The page is found near the beginning of my fourth chapter, which concerns the expansive and rich ritual calendar for the Tibetan Buddhist monastery of Nechung, which has historically housed the famed medium of the Dalai Lamas. After briefly discussing the general ritual activities that Tibetan monks engage in, the page focuses predominantly on the work of an anthropologist named Urmila Nair, whose ethnographic research among Nechung monks in exile recorded the major liturgical programs of the monastery. The pages that follow continue to summarize Nair’s observations before the remainder of the chapter describes Nechung Monastery’s annual calendar of ritual and festival engagements. The core observation of page 99 – and the chapter as a whole – draws from another scholar, José Cabezón, who describes Tibetan ritual structure as “modular in nature, in that ‘subritual’ elements can be pieced together in different permutations and orders to suit different liturgical ends.”

The Page 99 Test does not work very well for my book, unfortunately, and I doubt a browser would be able to pick up on the larger arguments and focus of the monograph as a whole. I suspect as well that the casual reader would be daunted by the seemingly sudden and inexplicable names and titles that crowd page 99 – such as Pehar, Tsongkhapa, Yamāntaka, Nebesky-Wojkowitz, and Dhasa Nechung – all of which require the prefatory explanations in the book’s introduction and previous chapters to make full contextual sense. There are some obscure references as well to ontological statuses, epistemologies, and politics of spectacle. Optimistically, however, the esoteric nature of these figures and concepts, and the mystery behind their significance, may spark curiosity rather than frustration, and spur the browser on to explore the larger complex of elements that make the Nechung Oracle and the god who possesses him so important to Tibetan Buddhist history.

Despite its very particular focus, page 99 does continue an important conversation about the nature of liturgical practices and their foundational importance to the identity and annual activities of a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. While the previous chapter focuses even more minutely on Nechung Monastery’s core ritual manuals, these chapters together are part of the larger structure of the book, which explores the mythologies, rituals, and institutional histories tied to the Nechung Oracle, and by extension the Dalai Lamas past and present. The book is rife with examples of how the Dalai Lama’s own incarnational history is permeated by the presence of the god Pehar, who possesses the Nechung Oracle. Furthermore, the introduction and conclusion include vivid ethnographic vignettes of how this deity and others close to him permeate Tibetan belief and practice today, and other observations collected on site in Tibet and India punctuate the chapters. Despite its nuance, page 99 and the surrounding fourth chapter nevertheless present a detailed snapshot of the dense ritual understanding needed to engage with a Tibetan god, and it alludes to the robust mythos and history out of which such spirits sprung.
Learn more about The Dalai Lama and the Nechung Oracle at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Mona El-Ghobashy's "Bread and Freedom"

Mona El-Ghobashy is Clinical Assistant Professor of Liberal Studies at New York University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Bread and Freedom: Egypt's Revolutionary Situation, and reported the following:
When Egypt’s longtime president Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a popular uprising-cum-military coup in February 2011, what followed were 30 months of relentless competition over who would rule Egypt and on what terms. Page 99 analyzes one of the most powerful contenders in that power struggle, the senior military generals who hastily came together as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and edged out Mubarak on February 11. SCAF seized executive and legislative powers and promised to hand them to elected civilian politicians within six months. The analysis plunges into why many in Egypt and abroad welcomed SCAF’s intervention rather than fearing a military dictatorship:

From page 99:
The armed forces had a distinct mystique, at once familiar and well-regarded in public culture yet insulated and inscrutable, furthering the perception that they were a professional, neutral third party ridding Egypt of a reviled autocrat. It helped that the generals’ most powerful patron swiftly certified their status as legitimate interim rulers. Hours after Mubarak’s departure, US President Barack Obama declared, “The military has served patriotically and responsibly as a caretaker to the state, and will now have to ensure a transition that is credible in the eyes of the Egyptian people.” But this is hardly the whole story of why military intervention did not immediately raise hackles.
The Page 99 Test works well, since it reflects a main feature of my book: explaining Egypt’s politics using general concepts from the historical social sciences, in this case “military involvement in politics.” The rest of the page reviews the many different forms of military involvement in a country’s politics, which helps explain why it was not immediately clear what role SCAF would play in post-Mubarak politics, which is why we see little initial opposition to the generals’ seizure of power. That changed in a matter of months.

Yet page 99 gives a distorted idea of the book as a whole. Existing studies and popular understandings tend to focus on the generals as the decisive actors, especially in hindsight given the outcome of a military coup that toppled the first elected president in 2013 and extinguished the democratic revolution. What my book does is reconstruct the hectic politics that led to this result, showing how the military and many other politically relevant actors interacted in confusing and unpredictable ways. Nearly every page of the book shows multiple actors cooperating, colliding, talking past each other, and competing to shape post-Mubarak politics. Egypt’s revolutionary situation was made not by ‘revolutionaries’ facing off against ‘the military,’ but by the simultaneous actions of civilian politicians, youth activists, police commanders, generals, civil servants, industrial workers, judges, parliamentarians, and journalists.
Learn more about Bread and Freedom at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Emily Bass's "To End a Plague"

Emily Bass has spent more than twenty years writing about and working on HIV/AIDS in America and East and Southern Africa. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Esquire, The Lancet, Ms., n+1, Out, POZ, Slice, and has received notable mention in Best American Essays. A lifelong social justice activist, Bass has served as an external expert for the World Health Organization and is a member of the What Would an HIV Doula Do Collective. She has been a Fulbright journalism scholar in Uganda and received scholarships from the Norman Mailer Writer's Colony and the Vermont Studio Center. She was the 2018-2019 Martin Duberman Visiting Research Fellow at the New York Public Library. A Manhattan native, Bass lives in Brooklyn with her family.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, To End a Plague: America's Fight to Defeat AIDS in Africa, and reported the following:
From page 99:
As Fauci recalled, Bush’s domestic policy advisor Jay Lefkowitz—who’d help steer the president towards a position on stem cell research—took it a step further, asking Fauci, “What’s the moon shot here?”

Time-consuming under any circumstances, the task was nearly impossible to do in secret. In order to work up a public health moon shot and keep up with his day job, Fauci recruited Dr. Mark Dybul, a young researcher and physician in his lab, to help devise the proposal. Both men leaned on the visits they’d made to clinics in recent years. They were taken by the Ugandan example of a “hub-and-spoke”approach, in which central facilities did the lab work and stored the drugs, while more basic, distal sites provided the care. Fauci had seen Mugyenyi’s clinic; Dybul had visited Mugyenyi and also gone to Tororo, on the country’s easternmost edge, and seen a research project funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that put all the medications and supplies a household needed on the back of a motorcycle ridden by a community health worker with the equivalent of a high school degree. The research project, known as the Home-Based AIDS Care (HBAC) project, was irresistible—the love child of Mother Teresa and Bruce Springsteen—and Dybul would credit it for years to come as a major inspiration.

By July 2002, as the AIDS world began packing its bags for the World AIDS Conference—which had moved from Durban to Barcelona—Fauci and Dybul had a rough sketch of a plan. Both men departed for the meeting, with Fauci assuring Dybul he would present the proposal when the time was right.

I’d left for the conference too, heartbroken over the final end of my relationship with Kate Sorensen a few months prior. We’d split in April, and I’d descended into maddened, hard-drinking sadness. “I’m wracked with grief,” I declared to a bemused, blue-eyed man at my best friend’s wedding the night before I flew to Barcelona. “Memory is a garden, eventually it becomes ground,” he replied, paraphrasing V. S. Naipaul.
Page 99 captures my book completely, and not just because it contains the phrase "the love-child of Bruce Springsteen and Mother Teresa." The first and last quotes hold the whole.

What’s the moonshot here?” At the top of the page, Jay Lefkowitz, a senior member of the George W. Bush first term White House staff, asks Dr. Tony Fauci. It’s 2002, so of course he’s not talking about covid-19, but HIV/AIDS. The moonshot that Fauci devises—aided by activists, African physicians, nurses and people living with HIV among many others—is the largest and longest-running pandemic-fighting response in American history to date. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, was launched by George W. Bush in January 2003, and it continues to this day. If you want to understand what it means to spend money wisely on a pandemic-ending moonshot, whether covid or a pandemic of the future, the book you need may be this one—an intimate, in-depth account of America’s best historic and ongoing work on fighting AIDS.

Memory is a garden, eventually it becomes ground,” offers a Brooklyn Irish man at the bottom of the page. He's paraphrasing VS Naipaul to me beside a bar while I tell him about the woman who’s recently broken my heart. Reader, I married him, but that’s not why this quote is such a perfect bookend for a page-length encounter with the book. Accomplished, masterful and artful, Naipaul is not a simple writer—nor is anyone writing in and about colonial and post-colonial configurations. This book puts me, a white cisgender woman who does not have HIV in her blood, in the story I’m reporting. Not to worry-it’s not about me finding myself in Africa or in the eyes of AIDS orphans, but about the messy, complex, unfinished and essential work of understanding where and who you are when you try to tell a story, whose story you’re telling, and whether you’re aware of your position—are you on solid ground? A little heartbreak, activist scheming, personal intrigue and political machinations? That’s here too, which is why one early reader has fulfilled my dream and called this a surprise beach read. Or, as I’ve been saying for years: It’s a history of America’s war on AIDS in Africa. It’s gonna be fun. (I mean the book. The topic, my life's work, is deadly serious.) And more recently: The book you need to read to understand how COVID might end, and other pandemics might be prevented, isn’t about COVID at all.
Follow Emily Bass on Twitter and visit her website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 12, 2021

Oren Falk's "Violence and Risk in Medieval Iceland"

Oren Falk is Associate Professor of History and Medieval Studies at Cornell University.

He is a cultural historian of medieval Europe, educated in Jerusalem, Israel, and Toronto, Canada. He works primarily with Icelandic sagas; his recurring interests include histories of violence, gender, folklore, and ecology, as well as historical methodology. Falk has written on unexpected absences - things that ought to be there but aren't - such as wives, beards, and heirs apparent, and on equally surprising presences: pregnant warriors, sodomitic cats, and outlawed rituals.

Falk applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Violence and Risk in Medieval Iceland: This Spattered Isle, and reported the following:
What do we know about the history of violence? Less than we might think, this book argues, because – although we historians have been studying it since forever – we haven’t really analysed ‘violence’ itself as a concept. What parts of the past do we call violent? What assumptions do we take for granted when we do? How do we theorize ‘violence’ in a specifically historical way? And what is it that we explain when we write its history? Astonishingly, such questions seldom get voiced, much less debated, by historians.

This Spattered Isle proposes a cultural history model for understanding violence. Page 99 drops the reader into the middle of Chapter 2. Chapter 1 presented my model, which cuts along three axes: power (what violence does), signification (what it means), and risk (how it meshes with our sense of agency). Chapter 2, a proof-of-concept analysis of an unimportant battle no one’s ever heard of, demonstrates how the model works. By page 99 [inset left, click to enlarge], readers will have met Arnórr, a reckless chieftain willing to run great risks, and his scheming ally Sighvatr; they come together to attack Bishop Guðmundr, holed up at Helgastaðir, a farm in northern Iceland. We now witness them intensifying their assault on day two of the siege: by focusing on their risk calculus, I try to explain when and why they dialed the pressure up or down, even with victory seemingly within reach. (Only ‘seemingly’ because, as we learn on the next page, an X Factor was about to intervene, flipping their calculus on its head.)

Chapters 3, 4, and 5 then move beyond the case study method to explore the mechanics of Icelandic feuding, why medieval Iceland never experienced war, and the sagas’ zero-sum game, in which human violence elbowed natural disaster out. An Epilogue hints at the extendability of my model beyond medieval Iceland, and an Appendix looks under the hood of my source critical methods.

So, on page 99, Ford Madox Ford would find a fair representation of the book’s analytic doggedness and of Chapter 2’s close reading technique; what he’d miss out on, though, are the broad vistas that fan open in the book’s later chapters.

(Glossary of terms appearing on page 99: bœndr = farmers; goðar = chieftains; récit = the surface of a text; histoire = the text’s imaginary depth; vígflaki = mobile fortification.)
Learn more about Violence and Risk in Medieval Iceland at the Oxford University Press website and follow Oren Falk on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Benjamin J. Wetzel's "Theodore Roosevelt: Preaching from the Bully Pulpit"

Benjamin J. Wetzel is Assistant Professor of History at Taylor University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Theodore Roosevelt: Preaching from the Bully Pulpit, and reported the following:
A reader who opened to page 99 of my book would find himself or herself in the middle of Chapter Four, a chapter dealing with domestic issues during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency. In particular, the reader would find a discussion of the infamous “Brownsville Incident” of 1906, where Roosevelt dishonorably discharged a group of African American soldiers because they had allegedly engaged in a shooting spree in Brownsville, Texas. Page 99 goes over the basic facts of the case as well as its political aftermath. While Roosevelt always asserted that his actions were righteous, nearly all modern historians conclude that the soldiers’ dismissal was based on racial prejudice. The bottom of the page discusses how religious journals commented on the controversy. Some upheld the president’s actions but others criticized him for a rush to judgment.

The ”Page 99 Test” works fairly well for my book. Theodore Roosevelt: Preaching from the Bully Pulpit is a religious biography of the 26th president. As such, it covers all of the major events of Roosevelt’s life (such as the Brownsville incident) that one would expect in a standard biography. However, my book is different because it zeroes in on how Roosevelt’s religious beliefs and doubts factored into his more well-known accomplishments. The book also contextualizes Roosevelt in the American religious landscape of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. So there are quite a few examples of where the book discusses a “secular” incident like Brownsville but then seeks to understand how religious communities interpreted the incident.

The main themes of the book, however, center more on Roosevelt’s own beliefs and how they impacted his career. I argue that he was a spiritual pilgrim who, despite being a lifelong churchgoer, changed considerably in this theological beliefs. He was also a “bully pulpit preacher” who never tired of exhorting his fellow citizens to morality and who often quoted the King James Bible in doing so. Roosevelt was also a sharp defender of the separation of church and state, consistently opposing favoritism toward any religious sect. Finally, the famous president was also a religious ecumenist: that is, he urged tolerance for a wide variety of religious persuasions. While he himself remained a mainline Protestant, he supported marginalized groups like Jews, Catholics, Mormons, and Unitarians, helping move them a little closer toward the religious mainstream.
Learn more about Theodore Roosevelt: Preaching from the Bully Pulpit at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Julie Willett's "The Male Chauvinist Pig"

Julie Willett is professor of history at Texas Tech University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Male Chauvinist Pig: A History, and reported the following:
If you only had a few moments to understand why this research matters, I would encourage you to take a close look at page ninety-nine. In fact, it serves as the introduction to the last chapter entitled “Modern Conservatism’s Missing Link: Rush Limbaugh, Feminazis and the Rise of Donald Trump.” Here you will see how an unorthodox conservative talk show host used “‘bad-boy jokes’” to reshape the political landscape. Indeed, this single page of history reveals humor as a conduit of power, and one often overlooked in the histories of post-Vietnam conservatism.

This page begins with the observations of documentary filmmaker Stephen Talbot, who in 1995 was trying to understand how Limbaugh had become a political tour de force. In part, Limbaugh presented himself as the common man whose manners and mores were anything but elite. Most importantly, Talbot notes, the talk show host effectively challenged “the notion that ‘funny conservative is an oxymoron.’” To be sure, progressives never found Limbaugh funny. After all, isn’t the golden rule of comedy to punch up not down? But for white conservatives, who felt they were the victims of limousine liberals and political correctness, Limbaugh “‘played the angry white guy with a sense of humor.’”

By the end of the page, it becomes clear that Limbaugh had become a master at transforming his political enemies into the butt of the joke. Most famously, “with a single catchphrase [Feminazi], feminism became an indispensable enemy” and too serious to be taken seriously, too moralizing to be likeable. All of which came to haunt the 2016 Clinton-Trump presidential race.

Earlier chapters, however, offer a richer history that trace the rise of the Male Chauvinist Pig (MCP), including the popularity of 1970s icons like Bobby Riggs and Archie Bunker. As the epithet transformed into a source of pride, the MCP sold everything from neckties to conservative politics. The MCP not only rolled around in white privilege; he was far more accessible than the Playboy. Men didn’t need to rely on a swank bachelor pad or a refined sense of taste. Instead, a misogynist joke got them into the club.

Finally, looking beyond this single page also reveals an important nuance: The MCP was easier to spot than to define. Like feminisms, chauvinisms turned on a more fluid and mixed political consciousness, something that might make us rethink our contemporary political divide.
Learn more about The Male Chauvinist Pig at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 9, 2021

Margarita M. Balmaceda's "Russian Energy Chains"

Margarita M. Balmaceda is a professor of diplomacy and international relations at Seton Hall University. She is also an associate at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. Her books include The Politics of Energy Dependency: Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania Between Domestic Oligarchs and Russian Pressure (2013) and Living the High Life in Minsk: Russian Energy Rents, Domestic Populism, and Belarus’ Impending Crisis (2014).

Balmaceda applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Russian Energy Chains: The Remaking of Technopolitics from Siberia to Ukraine to the European Union, and reported the following:
Page 99 is located in the middle of chapter 4 of the book (“Natural Gas: Managing Pressure from Western Siberia to the Nürnberg Power Plant”), the first of three parallel chapters analyzing, respectively, the journey of a natural gas, an oil and a coal molecule from production in Russia to final consumers in Germany in order to compare how the different materiality characteristics of different types of energy affect the way it may be used as an instrument of (domestic or) externally-oriented power. In page 99, in the middle of chapter 4, our natural gas molecule finds itself in the Ukrainian-Slovak border, in the middle of a complex gas transit system.

Most of page 99 is taken by a map, “Uzhgorod area gas infrastructure map” (more on this below).

Here is an additional excerpt from page 99:
In addition to its use in managing networkness and Gazprom’s exports to Western Europe, underground storage could also be used in more domestic-related ways. Ukraine reportedly used supplies from storage—but shipped in reverse of the usual route—to supply its own population during the January 2009 gas cutoff. Their technical characteristics also made stored volumes hard to secure and account for, facilitating their misappropriation and helping create distinct distributive openings.
The page 99 test works well for my book as it illustrates several central ideas of the book.

Page 99 features a map that encapsulates many of the larger themes of the book. This map is a high-detail map of natural gas transit infrastructure in the Western Ukrainian area near the borders with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova. This map illustrates two key arguments made in the book: 1) In contrast with the prevalent view presenting gas pipelines as a single-line conduct for energy and power where supplies can be simply turned on and off at will by the supplying country (in this case, Russia) for political pressure purposes, this map illustrates how complex long-distance gas transportation is, and how, for it to happen, a number of elements need to work in synergy – and not only the will of the supplier. In particular, the prominent role of underground gas storage sites in the map (without match in the former USSR in terms of volume and location next to export markets) illustrates Ukraine’s extremely important role making possible Russia’s profitable natural gas exports, and not only because gas transits through it. These sites are key for Russian exports in several ways. As discussed in this chapter, a key element in natural gas supply chains is managing physical pressure in the pipeline, as natural gas, being lighter than air, would not move at all in the pipeline without pressure, but too much pressure can endanger property and human lives. So the enterprise becomes one in managing pressure: from reducing pressure when natural gas comes out of the ground so that it can be handled, to significantly increasing pressure to make it possible for gas to move in the pipeline, to reducing pressure again as it reaches smaller-diameter city pipelines so that it can be safely distributed. Most important in our case, having available large und reliable underground storage facilities (from which natural gas could be pumped in and out as needed) was essential both for the managing of pressure in the system and for the managing of seasonal demand swings –such as storing natural gas until the winter months when demand would be higher and it could fetch a higher price. The technical needs related to natural gas’ materiality transform Ukraine from being simply a passive recipient of Russian energy to a key player.
Learn more about Russian Energy Chains at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Blake Scott Ball's "Charlie Brown’s America"

Blake Scott Ball is Assistant Professor of History at Huntingdon College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Charlie Brown's America: The Popular Politics of Peanuts, and reported the following:
On this page we encounter Snoopy as the World War flying ace in hot pursuit of the Red Baron. We learn that cartoonist Charles Schulz introduced the new fantasy story at the outset of US combat presence in South Vietnam in 1965. We also find that some of Schulz’s colleagues, like Beetle Bailey cartoonist Mort Walker, were deeply concerned that Schulz might ruin the appeal of his popular strip by drawing analogies too close to a gruesome real-world conflict. We also get a good sense of just how the American public felt about the emerging Cold War conflict through a range of opinion poll results. Finally, page 99 explores why Schulz might have chosen to put Snoopy to war in World War I rather than the conflict the cartoonist had experienced firsthand, World War II.

For Charlie Brown’s America, the “page 99 test” works fairly well. There are really three threads at the heart of this book: the content of the Peanuts strips, the intent of the cartoonist Charles Schulz, and the interpretation of his diverse national audience. On page 99, we get a glimpse of each one of these elements at play with one another during the Vietnam War era. Over the course of the rest of the book, I explore the interaction between these three threads through a wide variety of issues: evangelical revivalism, civil rights, abortion, feminism, environmentalism, the rise of modern conservatism, and more.
Visit Blake Scott Ball's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Barbara Katz Rothman's "The Biomedical Empire"

Barbara Katz Rothman is Professor of Sociology, at the City University of New York. She has served as President of Sociologists for Women in Society; the Society for the Study of Social Problems, and the Eastern Sociological Society. Her awards include the Jesse Bernard Award of the American Sociological Association, and an award for "Midwifing the Movement" from the Midwives Alliance of North America, and a distinguished Chair in Health Sciences from the Fulbright Association. She is the author of numerous books, including A Bun in the Oven: How the Food and Birth Movements Resist Industrialization (2016).

Katz Rothman applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Biomedical Empire: Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic, and reported the following:
Seriously? It had to be page 99? A whole book about Biomedical imperialism, and y’all had to pick the page where I am back to talking about what I’ve been saying for my whole career, from my dissertation onward?

So yeah, on Page 99 I am making the absolutely reasonable and true point that medicine as a profession, as an industry, as an imperial power colonized midwifery, taking knowledge, power and control over birth out of the hands of the women of the world, and claimed it as an exclusive medical arena. You can be – and midwives have been – arrested for ‘practicing medicine without a license’ for doing what they have done for cultural eternities and individual lifetimes. Feeling a baby move gently through a belly, saying ‘yes, you’re pregnant, feel that?’ can get you arrested. You don’t have the right to ‘diagnose’ a pregnancy. Let alone helping a woman push the baby out and bring it up to her arms. It’s a great example, yup, but dammit I did write about other things, I’m not totally stuck on that one issue, no, not me.

Take the medical innovation we are most indebted to right now in this gradually post-covid moment: vaccinations. People (‘milk maids’) knew that exposure to cowpox prevented smallpox and were doing that for each other. Jenner tried it out on a servant’s kid to confirm, gave it a Latin name (Vax for cow) and ta-da! Medicine gets credited with inventing vaccines. And anyone else who might want to try anything like that now – don’t. All the rights, to invent, to try, to implement – solidly in the hands of Biomedicine.

Biomedicine has the hallmarks of an imperial power – enormous economic power, governmentality or legal rule (medical folks need to sign off on birth certificates, yeah, but also death certificates; you’re not legally dead without one) and an almost religious power, something we ‘believe in.’

Colonizing was never only about the land – what to do with that coffee, that cotton, how to grow and harvest and use – that too was colonized. In our global world, it’s no longer about any given nation colonizing another, and it’s no longer about land alone. We need to think about and understand biomedicine as an imperial power, conquering the world. Like all Empires it does some good – those Romans built some great roads – but it most assuredly does what it does in its own interest, in the interest of growing and maintaining imperial power.

It’s not just about birth –but you’ll have to read the other 152 pages yourself.
Visit Barbara Katz Rothman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Elie Honig's "Hatchet Man"

Elie Honig worked as a federal and state prosecutor for 14 years. He prosecuted and tried cases involving violent crime, human trafficking, public corruption, and organized crime, including successful prosecutions of over 100 members and associates of the mafia. Honig now is a CNN Legal Analyst, hosts podcasts and writes for Cafe, is a Rutgers University scholar, and is Special Counsel to the law firm Lowenstein Sandler.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hatchet Man: How Bill Barr Broke the Prosecutor's Code and Corrupted the Justice Department, and reported the following:
Page 99 picks up right in the middle of one of my own real-life trial stories. This one’s a favorite of mine; it’s about a sad-sack contractor who had been the victim of an extortion by the mafia and was having a nervous breakdown just as he was about to take the stand to testify against a mobster. On page 98, I set the scene and describe how I started to get angry with our recalcitrant witness, until my trial partner saved me:
But thankfully, my trial partner, Lisa Zornberg, stopped me with a look. The contractor was her witness, and she brought a better touch to the matter. “Listen,” Zornberg said to him. “I know it’s not easy. But the law is entitled to your evidence. We need it. The court needs it. The jury needs to hear it.” The contractor seemed to catch himself and arrest his downward spiral. He took a breath and looked up. “Would it help if I gave you a hug?” Zornberg asked.

Minutes later, the contractor walked into the courtroom, past Nicosia, and onto the witness stand. He took the oath and got through his testimony, first answering questions from Zornberg on direct exam and then withstanding a pointed cross-examination from the defense attorney. The contractor was halting and visibly shaky in his testimony—in a sense, his palpable fear probably helped us by driving home to the jury just how scared he was—but he got through it. By the time he was done, it was game over. A few days later, the jury found Nicosia guilty of extortion.

We were lucky to get the contractor’s testimony. It often is difficult to convince witnesses, especially victims, to come forward and testify against a criminal defendant, particularly those who are Mobbed up or otherwise powerful. As a prosecutor, it’s easy to get used to the courtroom. But to a victim, the courtroom can be terrifying. The defendant is right there, seated just feet away from the witness box. (There’s no way around this. Our Constitution ensures every defendant the right to “confront” the witnesses against him, meaning the defendant must be physically present during the trial and can challenge the testimony, through a lawyer’s cross-examination.) Trials are open to the public. Sometimes members of the media show up. And at times, defendants will pack the viewing area with sympathizers and supporters; if the defendant has Mob ties, the gallery can look imposing. It’s a small miracle we got the contractor on the stand, albeit just barely.
I tell these insider stories in part because they’re fun and entertaining and accessible. The book offers a unique, insider’s look at how federal prosecutors really do the job. But I also use these firsthad anecdotes to establish and explain those core principles that I collectively refer to as “the prosecutor’s code.” These are the unwritten rules, the things you learn only by doing, by succeeding and failing, and they guide the ethical and effective prosecutor in everything he or she does. The story on page 99 about our terrified contractor, for example, illustrates the systemic danger posed by what people sometimes dismissively call “process crime” -- witness tampering, obstruction of justice, and the like.

Throughout the book, after I establish each of the core tenets of the prosecutor’s code through a story like this one, I then demonstrate how Bill Barr broke that code during his tenure as attorney general. For example, I use the story on page 99 to launch into chapters about Barr’s unprecedented and nakedly political interference in the prosecutions of Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, both of whom were convicted of what Trump and his supporters referred to as mere “process crimes.” I argue that Barr’s actions convey his fundamental disregard for, or ignorance of, the prosecutor’s code and that, all told, Barr should be remembered as a uniquely inept and corrupt attorney general .
Follow Elie Honig on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 5, 2021

Charly Coleman's "The Spirit of French Capitalism"

Charly Coleman is Associate Professor of History at Columbia University. He is the author of The Virtues of Abandon: An Anti-Individualist History of the French Enlightenment (2014), which was awarded the 2016 Laurence Wylie Prize in French Cultural Studies.

Coleman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Spirit of French Capitalism: Economic Theology in the Age of Enlightenment, and reported the following:
Page 99 is at the end of chapter 2, which argues that the French government’s interventions in early modern theological debates over frequent communion—the question of how often and under what conditions it was acceptable to partake of the Eucharist—reflected more general anxieties over how to approach the sacrament as a conduit to boundless spiritual wealth. Here’s an excerpt:
Historians continue to view the fate of the eighteenth-century Gallican church and state through the prism of degenerative processes: dechristianization, desacralization, disenchantment. Yet symptoms should not be confused with causes. As this and the preceding chapter have argued, disputes in the economic-theological field involved no small measure of creative destruction. Without Arnauld’s provocative treatise on frequent communion, it is uncertain whether Jansenism would have assumed its distinctly French aspects or sheer prominence on the spiritual and social scenes. Likewise, but from the opposite end of the doctrinal spectrum, Pichon’s attempt to encourage the practice, which came seemingly as a bolt out of the blue, elevated the already high stakes of the refusal of sacraments controversy. This bitter feud laid bare the constitutive tensions of absolutism under the Old Regime.
My book argues that in early modern France, theology and the economy were deeply imbricated not only in religious matters, but also in financial relationships and affairs of state.

In one sense, the page 99 test offers a mediocre if satisfactory glimpse into this argument. It comes immediately before a major hinge in the exposition between chapters 2 and 3, as I move from an account of the sacramental economy, in which the Eucharist figured mightily, to the influence of this sacramental economy on the workings of the economy as conventionally defined. The point is crucial for my claim that, in Catholic France, theology was always already economistic, and that what I term economic theology operated alongside the material economy in consistent but contingent ways—in ruminations not only on the Eucharist, but also on seemingly profane subjects such as money, usury, and luxury.

There are limits to the test’s reliability. Much of the page is taken up with narrating how debates between the Jansenist Antoine Arnauld, who opposed frequent communion, and the Jesuit Jean Pichon, who championed the practice, drew to an inconclusive close. The stalemate ultimately compromised the monarch’s role as the guarantor of religious peace in his kingdom. Yet even this flawed resolution suggests how the sacramental economy remained of pressing importance; otherwise, it would not have drawn the attention of the king himself along with that of much of the French ecclesiastical establishment. What began as a series of controversies over the nature of the Eucharist as a universal equivalent in the production and distribution of grace established a template for understanding how consumption in all its forms could be mediated by sublimely material instruments, including money itself.

But there is another sense in which the test is surprisingly revelatory. Among the aims of the book is to historicize what Marx called the fetish character of the commodity, which he duly likened to the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Fetishes work by endowing a part with the ability to conjure the whole in mysterious but intensely gratifying ways. The page 99 test operates according to a similar principle by assuming that the quality of a thing—its intellectual, if not financial value—can be grasped through an arbitrary quantity. The figures in my book speculated on how this was possible to the point of obsession.
Learn more about The Spirit of French Capitalism at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue