Monday, January 24, 2022

Peter Anderson's "The Age of Mass Child Removal in Spain"

Peter Anderson is Associate Professor in Twentieth-Century European History in the School of History at the University of Leeds. His books include Friend or Foe? Occupation, Collaboration and Selective Violence in the Spanish Civil War (2016) and The Francoist Military Trials: terror and complicity, 1939-1945 (2010).

Anderson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Age of Mass Child Removal in Spain: Taking, Losing, and Fighting for Children, 1926-1945, and reported the following:
Page ninety-nine of my book explores poverty in 1920s Madrid and looks at issues such as overcrowding and the exposure of children to adult intimacy or to adult criminal behavior. It also considers issues such as the prevalence of TB and shows how conditions in Madrid echoed those found in other major urban centers at the time.

The page reveals important aspects of the book’s central arguments. I argue that child-removal in Madrid offers a window onto the wider age of child removal: a time characterized by the growth efficient removal systems in the wake of the founding of juvenile courts from the late nineteenth century. The removal of children from poor parents formed one aspect of this age and the social conditions described on this page help explain the attitudes of officials who presented poor parents not as victims of their circumstances but as moral failures who stood out as a danger to their offspring. The ease with which disease, unemployment or bereavement could push families into extreme poverty also meant large numbers of people became vulnerable to removal (only around 5% of children were removed on the grounds of abuse).

The page also misses some of the book’s other central points. I contend that the age of mass child removal enveloped three groups of youngsters: the offspring of the poor, children displaced by war and children removed from political opponents. The Spanish case illustrates all three phenomena and the records of the Madrid juvenile court allow historians to study each aspect of the age of mass child removal. Other chapters explore how children evacuated in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 became vulnerable to removal and discuss the way opponents of the regime established by General Franco came to lose children to juvenile court officials. In all three cases, this was never simply a top-down process based on simple categories of coercion and victimhood. Instead, the book analyses how poor parents, parents of the displaced and political opponents (and their children) all helped drive and resist the removal process. In this way, the book gives voice and agency to both parents and children. It also attempts to overcome the privileging in the literature of the removal of children from political opponents and to recover the history of the poverty-stricken parents and children whose stories have remained untold for too long.
Learn more about The Age of Mass Child Removal in Spain at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Zeynep Pamuk's "Politics and Expertise"

Zeynep Pamuk is assistant professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Politics and Expertise: How to Use Science in a Democratic Society, and reported the following:
Page 99 of the book describes a proposal for a science court, which was put forward in the 1960s and 1970s by physicist Arthur Kantrowitz. The court was intended to examine controversial scientific issues in policy making and resolve disputes. It had an adversarial structure, with scientists defending rival positions and cross-examining each other in front of a panel of scientist judges. The proposal was highly popular and enjoyed the support of President Ford as well as twenty-eight prominent scientific organizations. An opportunity to test the court came up during a controversy over the construction of a new power line in Minnesota, which I go on to describe in the next pages.

This page is a crucial one for the book because it tells the origin story of an institution that I revive and reimagine in order to improve our use of scientific advice in policy making today. While earlier chapters of the book diagnose the sources of tension in the relationship between science and democracy — focusing on how the uncertainty, incompleteness and biases in scientific research shape political debate, and how scientific advisers face a nearly impossible challenge of trying to be useful without making overtly political judgments — page 99 is the beginning of my own solution to these issues. It gives a good sense of the institutional upshot of the theoretical discussions in earlier chapters.

The key aspect of my proposal, which I take from Kantrowitz, is the adversarial setup, which is designed to examine the uncertainty and weaknesses of each view in front of a public audience. One of the main arguments of the book is the need for democratic scrutiny of the limits of science and an understanding of how scientific findings are shaped by the values of scientists. The science court is one way to realize this. But I also change some key features of the original proposal. The original science court was an elitist and technocratic institution, whose participants were professional scientists and whose aim was to settle factual disputes for policy purposes. It was based on a strict fact-value distinction. I argue against these and suggest that the facts and values involved in a policy issue should be taken up together and the court should involve a citizen jury rather scientist judges. These modifications are intended to make it a more democratic and participatory institution.
Learn more about Politics and Expertise at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 21, 2022

Thomas Heise's "The Gentrification Plot"

Thomas Heise is an assistant professor of English at Pennsylvania State University, Abington. He is the author of Urban Underworlds: A Geography of Twentieth-Century American Literature and Culture (2011), as well as the novel Moth; or how I came to be with you again (2013) and Horror Vacui: Poems (2006).

Heise applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Gentrification Plot: New York and the Postindustrial Crime Novel, and reported the following:
Page ninety-nine takes one to the book’s second chapter that analyzes the recent transformations of Manhattan’s Chinatown and the corresponding transformations of the neighborhood’s crime literature. There one finds the following:
The reductive idea that cities change and that change just kind of happens obscures the questions of who or what causes them to change and who benefits from the changes. These are profoundly political questions that go to the heart of issues over power and representation that lay bare the truth that nothing about the redevelopment and gentrification of neighborhoods is natural. The urban ecosystem is itself, of course, not a naturally occurring phenomenon but a highly gendered and racialized capitalistic structure maintained in place by political and legal choices that have been made by humans and can be remade by them.

One of those choices is the kind of policing that is implemented, another the kind of development that is permitted.
The “page 99 test” captures one of The Gentrification Plot’s central arguments about urban political economy. I argue that the two main drivers of the post-1990s transformation of New York City was the punitive “broken windows” policing implemented by the Giuliani Administration and the neoliberal real-estate development policies that followed under Bloomberg once formerly “unruly” areas of the city, such as Chinatown, were pacified for investment. Page ninety-nine is one of the places in the book where I restate that claim. The remainder of the page begins to dive into the Museum of Chinese in America’s oral histories of crime and gentrification in which residents reflect on buildings that have been central to Chinatown’s history. The chapter then turns to how Chinese-American crime writers have sought to preserve the old Chinatown textually as its fades from memory with the relentless gentrification of the neighborhood in the early 2000s.

The argument on page ninety-nine is framed by the foundational question that I try to answer in The Gentrification Plot. That’s the question of what contemporary crime novelists write about when there seemingly isn’t much crime to write about anymore. What story do they tell when the narrative of the city as a site of decay and danger has been replaced by a boosterish narrative of postindustrial urban revitalization. The answer to that question is what I call “the gentrification plot,” crime fiction’s new stories of urban displacement, community erosion, and cultural erasure, stories traceable in one form or another to the socioeconomic transformations of the city. The Gentrification Plot is about changes to a genre, but it understands these changes as inseparable from the material changes to the city. Each of its chapters is dedicated to a city neighborhood—the Lower East Side, Chinatown, Red Hook, Harlem, and Bedford-Stuyvesant—that has been of historical importance to New York’s diverse communities. It is at the neighborhood level that abstract economic processes become visible. It’s there that we espy the layered histories of a city, its demographic turnover, its modes of production becoming outmoded, the nuts-and-bolts factory that shuts down and reopens as live-work condos or a hive of WeWorkers clicking away at desks rented by the hour. To see neoliberal urbanism in action, look at the neighborhood. That’s where contemporary crime writers look.
Visit Thomas Heise's website and follow him on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Christopher Leonard's "The Lords of Easy Money"

Christopher Leonard is a business reporter whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and Bloomberg Businessweek. He is the author of The Lords of Easy Money: How the Federal Reserve Broke the American Economy, The Meat Racket, and Kochland, which won the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award.

Leonard applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Lords of Easy Money and reported the following:
If readers were to flip to page 99 of The Lords of Easy Money, they would read a story that illuminates one of the most important themes of the whole book. They would see how leaders of the Federal Reserve bank project an aura of infallibility, even as they make colossal mistakes.

Page 99 recounts an episode in March of 2007, when the U.S. was on the precipice of the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve System, was called before Congress and asked to explain what was going on. Bernanke was assumed to be not just intelligent, but almost oracular in his powers of observation. He spoke in the rarified and expert language of an economic high priest. It carried a lot of weight, then, when he told the nation that there was nothing to see here. The Fed had been stoking the housing market for many years with easy money policies that kept interest rates extraordinarily low, and the money was sloshing into cheap loans for expensive houses and pumping up risky debt like “subprime” mortgages that were beginning to default in large numbers. But Bernanke assured lawmakers that the Fed had everything under control.

“The principal source of the slowdown in economic growth that began last spring has been the substantial correction in the housing market,” Bernanke calmly explained. “At this juncture, however, the impact on the broader economy and financial markets of the problems in the subprime market seems likely to be contained.”

Needless to say, the problems were not contained. Within a matter of months, the global financial system started to short-circuit under the weight of unsustainable debt and speculative derivatives investments.

Bernanke’s testimony on that day was not an isolated incident. It tells a bigger story about the power of the Federal Reserve bank. The institution has become increasingly important to American economic life, expanding its interventions and its powers. And as this has happened, the Fed’s leaders, like Ben Bernanke, have increasingly cocooned their decision making behind a thick wall of incomprehensible jargon and exaggerated complexity, a language that has come to be known as “Fed Speak.”

The first goal of Fed Speak is to make ordinary citizens believe that the politics of money creation is so sophisticated that it can only be handled by a small group of PhD-educated economists. The second goal is to make the Fed’s leadership team appear to be infallible, as if they are simply solving math equations rather than making policy decisions based on hunches.

The record in support of Fed infallibility is not encouraging. A review of internal transcripts and interviews with senior Fed policy makers show that the central bank has been repeatedly wrong in forecasting the effects of its own interventions. An internal 2012 Fed forecast used to justify $1.6 trillion in new money printing, called “quantitative easing,” was catastrophically wrong in predicting such important measures as future interest rates and inflation. In an internal meeting, Bernanke admitted that more quantitative easing was “a shot in the proverbial dark,” a view that was contrary to his public statements extolling the soundness of the plan.

The Fed is once again assuring the public that it has things firmly under control as inflation burns hot and newly inflated debt instruments, such as corporate junk bonds, reach sky-high levels. The record shows that we should be deeply skeptical.
Visit Christopher Leonard's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Meat Racket.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Mark Juergensmeyer's "When God Stops Fighting"

Mark Juergensmeyer is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Global Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara and William F. Podlich Distinguished Fellow at Claremont McKenna College. He is author or editor of thirty books, including the award-winning Terror in the Mind of God and the recent God at War.

Juergensmeyer applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, When God Stops Fighting: How Religious Violence Ends, and reported the following:
If readers randomly opened my book to page 99 they might indeed get a pretty good sense of what the book is about. The book tries to understand how religious-related violent movements come to an end, viewed from those inside the movements. The book looks at three case studies—ISIS in Iraq, the Moro movement for Muslim separatism in the Philippines, and the Sikh Khalistan movement in India. On page 99, I’m describing how support for the Sikh uprising began to erode among the Indian villagers who previously had tolerated it:
Accompanying the increase in violence was a general collapse of law and order, especially in rural areas near the Pakistani border. The young activists had intimidated the older Sikh leaders, who became virtual pawns of the militants. The only authority in some areas came from those who ruled by gun at night. This was due in part to the erosion of idealism in the Sikh movement and in part to the movement’s exploitation by what amounted to street gangs and roving bands of thugs. In time, the Sikh movement had failed to achieve whatever political goals it might have espoused, including the dream of an independent Khalistan, leaving a cynical and demoralized public in its wake.
As I go on to explain in the book, the loss of support from the public was one of several critical factors in bringing violent movements to a close. Another factor was in-fighting and loss of confidence in the leadership. Outside factors made a difference as well. Prominent among these was a sense of hope, alternatives to fighting that provided careers for the militants and some concessions to the movements’ demands that would allow the leaders to save face and convince their followers it was all worth while.

The role of police and military was ambivalent. On one hand, it was necessary to have an authoritative show of force so that violent people could be restricted in what they could do and were brought to justice when they committed crimes. On the other hand, all-out attempts to crush the movements through military force often backfired and made the militants more defensive. Sometimes a military victory over a movement was in fact a coup de grace for a movement that had already essentially destroyed itself from within. The military destruction of ISIS quarters in Raqqa and Mosul, for example, may have been the final blow to a movement that was already badly weakened by infighting and demoralization, according to some of the old militants whom I met. Many of them continued to believe in the ideals of a Muslim caliphate and would join the movement if it rose again. But for now, they capitulated to the reality that their war was over and the movement had ended.
Visit Mark Juergensmeyer's website.

The Page 99 Test: Buddhist Warfare by Michael Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Katherine Harvey's "A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy"

Katherine Harvey is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. She is also on the Board of Advisors at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and holds a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies from King's College London. Previously, she served as an intelligence officer in the US Navy, with tours in the Middle East, in Europe and at sea.

Harvey applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: The Saudi Struggle for Iraq, and reported the following:
A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: The Saudi Struggle for Iraq explores the Saudi leadership’s response to the political ascendance of the Iraqi Shi’a following the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Page 99 of the book looks at Arab reactions to the results of Iraq’s first free elections in January 2005. In the 20th century, a narrative had become predominant among Sunni Arabs – both inside and outside Iraq – that Iraqi Sunnis constituted a majority of the Iraqi people. Thus, when Iraqi Shi’a took a majority of parliamentary seats in the January 2005 elections, many Sunnis (including, for instance, elites in Saudi Arabia and Jordan) claimed that the elections had been fraudulent – they refused to believe that the Shi’a constituted Iraq’s true majority. From there, page 99 concludes by highlighting the stark change that occurred in Iraq’s political order at this time. From 2005 on, the Iraqi Shi’a consolidated a position of power in the new Iraq. But “[f]or many Arabs, both inside and outside the country, this new Iraq appeared alien, and despite the fact that the Iraqi Shi’a are mostly Arab, it seemed less Arab – even anti-Arab.”

Page 99 gives readers a pretty good idea of what the book is about. The 2005 elections constituted a huge shock to many Sunnis in the Arab world. Sunnis had been in charge of Iraq throughout the 20th century, and many were astonished when the Shi’a “won” the January 2005 elections. Many could only explain the election result by claiming fraud had taken place. (The Iraqi Shi’a constitute roughly 60 percent of the Iraqi population.) It seems that the Saudi leadership, adhering to a view that Sunnis should be in power in the Arab world, believed the fraud narrative. The book as a whole is about how the Saudi leadership, and the late King Abdullah in particular, struggled to come to terms with the new Shi’a-led Iraq that emerged after the invasion, and this page provides a window onto their confusion in the aftermath of Iraq’s first free elections.

Page 99 actually contains one of my favorite paragraphs of the book! It’s hard to overstate the momentousness of the shift Iraq experienced with the rise of the Iraqi Shi’a from 2003 on, and the second paragraph on this page captures that huge shift, as well as the bewilderment of many Sunni Arabs witnessing and experiencing it. For many Arabs, including Saudi leaders, the new Iraq really did seem “alien.” The Saudis, for their part, chose to isolate the new Iraq as a result, but in doing so I argue that they paradoxically pushed Iraq into the arms of their regional rival, Iran. That is the self-fulfilling prophecy alluded to in the title!
Follow Katherine Harvey on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 17, 2022

James C. Oleson and Ronald Kramer's "Contesting Crime Science"

Ronald Kramer is Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Auckland. His books include The Rise of Legal Graffiti Writing in New York and Beyond and Culture, Crime and Punishment. James C. Oleson is Associate Professor in Criminology at the University of Auckland. His books include Criminal Genius: A Portrait of High-IQ Offenders and Fifty Years of Causes of Delinquency: The Criminology of Travis Hirschi.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Contesting Crime Science: Our Misplaced Faith in Crime Prevention Technology, and reported the following:
Readers turning to page 99 of Contesting Crime Science will land at a subsection in the chapter on prediction in criminal justice. The section focuses on the relationship between techniques of prediction and sacrifice. Several scholars suggest that forecasting represents a mathematical abandonment of reforming individuals; others posit that punishment increasingly hybridizes prediction and reform. We suggest that prediction is underpinned by sacrifice: it is a way to “kill with impunity.”

Readers would not get a complete idea of Contesting Crime Science on the basis of page 99. They would, however, get a fairly accurate impression of one of its central themes. Throughout the book, we focus on particular manifestations of crime science – biological forms of evidence, prediction, security technologies, and environmental design. We show how these branches of crime science are often antithetical to important legal principles, recast some everyday behaviors as deviant, and cannot control crime in the ways they typically promise. In some respects, crime science can be understood as reckless. When it comes to the freedom and wellbeing of some, especially those at the margins of society, crime science adopts a cavalier attitude. Page 99, or the theme of sacrifice, is ultimately a way to explore how the recklessness of crime science is manifest in prediction. We describe prediction as cavalier with the freedom of others for a number of reasons. Perhaps most obvious (although not necessarily common knowledge) forecasting future events is plagued by error. But even if prediction were perfectly accurate, it would still entail imposing or extending punishment on the basis of events that have not happened. In this sense, any action grounded by prediction amounts to a “leap of faith.” It is the story of Abraham and Isaac, minus the angel of God that intervenes to avert the tragedy.
Learn more about Contesting Crime Science at the University of California Press website.

The Page 99 Test: James C. Oleson's Criminal Genius: A Portrait of High-IQ Offenders.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Akshaya Kumar's "Provincializing Bollywood"

Akshaya Kumar is an Assistant Professor in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Indian Institute of Technology, Indore.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Provincializing Bollywood: Bhojpuri Cinema in the Comparative Media Crucible, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Provincializing Bollywood discusses the emergence of Bhojpuri action-melodramas, which “altered the visual language of Bhojpuri films.” The chapter to which the page belongs focuses on the pre-eminent material cache – Bhojpuri cinema – which is elaborated and periodized for a thorough cultural analysis. On page 99, we foreground the process of privileging individual desire and the recession of the visual motifs of community life, which prepares the ground for the fantasy of traditional rural life and robust masculinity. We also learn about the visual routines by which this brooding masculinity is appeased by the “amorous offerings of the female counterpart,” who mediates the “intersecting worlds of private desire and public decency”. The politics of sexual difference, then, ensures that “violence becomes, as a result, a bounden duty, a moral bandwidth, a barometer for the capacity to feel outraged and defend one’s territory.”

While page 99 may not represent the book’s compound structure, it still suitably lands the browsers at a convenient entry-point into the core cultural process by which Bhojpuri cinema acquires its libidinal appetite. Quirky as the method may be, the page 99 test appears to be a partial success.

Provincializing Bollywood situates Bhojpuri cinema within the comparative media crucible, performing an analytical equivalent of extractive metallurgy, to identify the substances, processes and the vessel which have incubated the libidinal intensity of Bhojpuri popular culture. It argues that the scandalously out-of-turn and desperately out-of-tune libidinal belligerence of Bhojpuri media revels in the violation of an imagined language of command, which effectively challenges the poor social intelligence of control systems, all the while joyriding on the newly laid asphalt of digital media. In doing so, the book rehabilitates the research object of classical film studies in the new media ecology, particularly at the low-budget end.
Follow Akshaya Kumar on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 14, 2022

Boria Sax's "Avian Illuminations"

Boria Sax teaches at Sing Sing Prison and online in the graduate literature program at Mercy College. He is the author of many books.

Sax applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Avian Illuminations: A Cultural History of Birds, and reported the following:
At the top of page 99 of Avian Illuminations is a picture in color of a young Arctic tern engaged in its epic migration between Antarctica, where it spends winters, and Iceland, where it breeds. The bird, entirely white except for a dark area on its head and an orange beak. The sunlight flashes from the edges of its extended wings, which stand out against the dark, undulating waves below. The viewer will probably linger on the picture a short while before reading the text.

That begins in the middle of a sentence: “ ‘The free, wild winds, and the songs of the birds’, he remembers his childhood home.” Who remembers? No, it is not just the bird. Even without the previous page, it is probably not hard to guess that this is from a maritime ballad. The book goes on to tell how sailors observed birds for many purposes from ascertaining the distance of their ship from land to predicting weather and even relieving the loneliness of the sea. In folklore, people have thought that gulls and many other birds were souls of drowned mariners.

Then, at the bottom of the page, comes a subtitle: “Migration or Hibernation?”: “People have always been amazed at the precision with which birds arrive at fixed times of the year, which was so reliable that people could tell the time....” That’s all there is, at least if one doesn’t turn the page.

Were somebody to spot this book in a library, open it at random, and find this page, these would be fragments. She would put them together in a personal way. He might identify with the Artic tern. She might identify with the loneliness of sailors. He might think about vacations, sleep, schedules, or many other things. The book becomes less of an exposition and more of a poem, but the major themes at least are much the same.

But the reader may do these things anyhow in time. She may read the book cover to cover, and look at every picture, but will probably remember images, whether visual or mental, better than complicated arguments. He will then rearrange these at least a bit, like a bird rebuilding a nest after a migratory journey. I’d say the test works pretty well.
Follow Boria Sax on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr.'s "Eaters of the Dead"

Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr. is professor at Loyola Marymount University. He is the author or editor of many books, including Post-9/11 Horror in American Cinema and Uncovering “Stranger Things.” He lives in Los Angeles.

Wetmore applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Eaters of the Dead: Myths and Realities of Cannibal Monsters, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Eaters of the Dead consists of a summary and close reading of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dream-quest of Unknown Kadath (1926-7) and how it constructs ghouls. It is part of a chapter that examines the origins of the Arabic ghūl, its translation into the ghoul in the west, and then how various horror authors have used the monster and its cadaver diet to inspire horror in the reader/viewer. The analysis points out that one of Lovecraft’s innovations of the ghoul is that unlike in Arabian mythology or early modern western tellings, his ghouls can be helpful, friendly, and even funny. Lovecraft transformed the ghoul from just a hideous, terrifying, desert-dwelling, dog-like corpse-devourer into a hideous, terrifying, desert-dwelling, dog-like corpse-devourer with an entire society, ethos, and culture of their own, encompassing humor, play, and interactions with humans.

Thus opening the book to page 99 doesn’t quite give the reader a thorough sense of the volume, which deals with a wide variety of cannibals, corpse-eaters, and means of body-disposal through ingestion, but it does model what the book does with many of those “monsters” – having just considered the corpse-eater in its original context, the book then considers how artists and authors have used the creature(s) and further shaped our understandings of them. So what page 99 does for ghūls/ghouls, other pages do for wendigo, aswang, jinkiniki, cyclops, Grendel, ogres, cannibals (real and imagined), sky burials, and many, many others.

Perhaps as fun, facing page 99 (on page 98) is an illustration Lovecraft himself drew of a ghoul for “Pickman’s Model” in 1934, demonstrating both what he thought a ghoul looked like and why he is a writer and not a visual artist (no disrespect to H.P.L., but his drawing skills are not exactly on point). So read page 99, look at page 98, and then go back and start at the beginning, as pages 1-97 will illuminate the entire world of corpse-eating monsters, and why we fear them and fear becoming them.
Learn more about Eaters of the Dead at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Annie Berke's "Their Own Best Creations"

Annie Berke is the film editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books. Her scholarship and criticism have been published in Camera Obscura, Public Books, Feminist Media Histories, Ms, and the Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television. She was formerly Assistant Professor of Film at Hollins University.

Berke applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Their Own Best Creations: Women Writers in Postwar Television, and reported the following:
Let’s call “the 99 Test” my personal assistant, because it works for me!

Page 99 of Their Own Best Creations: Women Writers in Postwar America falls in the middle of my third chapter. Chapter Three centers on Gertrude Berg (The Goldbergs) and Peg Lynch (Ethel & Albert), two writer-performers whose shows successfully made the jump from radio to television. Berg and Lynch played housewives on-screen and spoke as accomplished career women in the fan magazines – sometimes, at least. Other times, they did the opposite: their characters, Molly Goldberg and Ethel Arbuckle, revealed themselves as shrewd operators and innovative (domestic) professionals, while Berg and Lynch posed for press photos with their families, flowery teacups in hand, inhabiting the postwar contradiction of the stay-at-home television showrunner.

How did these women insist upon their own relevance and value to a nascent television industry, and in whose voice were they best able to make the case? As we see on page 99, Gertrude Berg argued for television realism – with a mother’s touch – in an episode about sending a recording of the family dinner to her son in the army. Berg was more amenable to being confused with her character than Peg Lynch, who once proclaimed, “Ethel is more like me than I am like her.” A characteristically playful remark from Lynch, who, like Berg, used her show to mock male ego, advocate for egalitarian marriage, and slyly comment on television craft.

(For what it’s worth, I was fortunate enough to be invited to Peg’s house for lunch before her passing in 2015, and she was as funny and gracious as her on-screen persona. She even served the same “watermelon pickles” that the Arbuckles regularly enjoy!)

Their Own Best Creations looks at how women wrote across genre – comedy-variety, family serial, soap opera, anthology drama – in the first ten years of commercial television, keenly aware of how they themselves played a part in the unfolding drama of a new commercial art-form. How did these women writers circulate as public personalities in a pre-second wave feminist context? What were they able to say as themselves, and what could they only express through the characters they wrote? And who better to show that the personal is professional than Berg, Lynch, Madelyn Pugh (I Love Lucy), Joan Harrison (Alfred Hitchcock Presents), Irna Phillips (Guiding Light), and many more?
Visit Annie Berke's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Melissa Aronczyk and Maria I. Espinoza's "A Strategic Nature"

Melissa Aronczyk is an associate professor at Rutgers University in the School of Communication & Information. She is the author of Branding the Nation: The Global Business of National Identity (2013). Maria I. Espinoza is a PhD candidate in the Sociology department at Rutgers University.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, A Strategic Nature: Public Relations and the Politics of American Environmentalism, and reported the following:
Page 99 of A Strategic Nature lays the ground for the surge of corporate political power in the 1980s and the special role of public relations in coordinating that power. In the early 1970s, corporations were at a low point in terms of public perception. Civil society and government concern over environmental hazards had gathered steam throughout the 1960s, and business was targeted as a major culprit. Federal regulations and national organizations to protect the environment multiplied. Companies needed a new strategy to boost their sinking reputation. They would find it by creating campaigns in the name of the public interest, with the help of their public relations advisers.

Page 99 is a nice summary of the chapter it appears in (chapter 4: PR for the Public Interest). One could say it gives a sense of the larger work in that some key dynamics are present here, especially those of public relations counselors as masterminds of business and political strategy around environmental issues.

One of the most important arguments we want to put forward in this book is that our media and communication systems play outsized roles in how we understand public problems. When it comes to such a complex and abstract idea as “the environment,” we rely on the information provided to us to grasp it and to make sense of what is at stake in protecting it. By showing how PR experts and other professional communicators influence the provision of information as well as the political and social contexts in which this information appears, we reveal how powerful this kind of communication can be – especially considering the environmental crisis we’re now facing.

Each chapter in the book brings to light a particular historical moment in American life (from the early 1900s up to today) where ideas about publics, information, and the environment come together. These historical moments are organized around periods of political contention, where corporate, civic or professional groups saw the need to transform the rules governing American society. As these actions came into the public eye and contentious collectives emerged to demand change, the need for information to regain control of public narratives became more evident. What this book does to contribute to the conversation around information, publics and environmentalism is to highlight the role of the PR industry in making the environment into a matter of concern. We show the historical co-evolution of environmentalism and the PR industry and document how this co-evolution impacts our contemporary thinking about environmental change.
Learn more about A Strategic Nature at the Oxford University Press website and visit Melissa Aronczyk's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 10, 2022

Dane A. Morrison's "Eastward of Good Hope"

Dane A. Morrison is a professor of early American history at Salem State University. He is the author of True Yankees: The South Seas and the Discovery of American Identity and the coeditor of Salem: Place, Myth, and Memory.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Eastward of Good Hope: Early America in a Dangerous World, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Old hands adapted, learning the gales and currents driven by the seasonal monsoons of the South China Sea, following ancient routes pioneered by Chinese, Indian, and even Arab traders to Malacca and beyond. Chinese traders, likewise, used these winds to send their trading junks to Taiwan and to the Philippines, where, Nathaniel Bowditch reported, one could find the "great numbers” of Chinese junks dominating the indigo trade at Manila the beginning of the year. In March, dry monsoon winds blew out of the northeast, and in the 1780s Yankee captains began to take advantage of these to venture out of Canton into the Indian Ocean. By midsummer, the winds of the southeast monsoon rose out of the Indian Ocean, bringing drenching rains—as much as 30 inches of precipitation over two months--and propelling the sails that would carry ships back to China. Ambitious traders such as William Elting frequently weathered these late autumn winds, taking his chances to squeeze out more profit--“In the trade on the Malay coast requires you to stay as long as possible.” Elting had mastered the tactic of sheltering under the lee side of Sunting Island if the seas grew too rough. Others learned to simply comply with the monsoon winds, as the Cordelia did in the straits east of Java, “which made our passage longer, which was a little over one hundred days,” sailor Charles Tyng conceded. Many would not take the risk. As one captain’s clerk observed in 1852, it was an “unlucky cruise” that was “timed with the autumnal change of monsoon.” In his voyage to Japan in 1853, the flagship Mississippi under Commodore Matthew Perry followed a circuitous course to keep the ship away from hurricanes that swept Indian Ocean in the early part of the year.
This passage epitomizes several of the themes that I explore in my recent book, Eastward of Good Hope: Early America in a Dangerous World. It describes the kinds of challenges that confronted early American mariners as they explored the sea routes that led them out of the Atlantic and to reach what were for them the exotic ports of the wider world. The book’s title recalls the emotional costs of a voyage as American travelers sailed the unfamiliar and dangerous seas of the Ottoman Empire, China, India, and Oceana, and beyond. The title, Eastward of Good Hope, is taken from the writings of Amasa Delano, for whom the geography of a voyage to China, India, and the Pacific in the 1790s was a statement of liberation after Americans won their independence from Great Britain in 1783. For Delano and countless other Yankee voyagers, the phrase also measured the psychological and emotional costs of learning to navigate through the baffling shoals and reefs, daunting pirates and buccaneers, disconcerting monsoons and typhoons of a strange and dangerous world.

Eastward of Good Hope recounts the struggles and tribulations of William Elting, Charles Tyng, and many more—whose accounts linger in archives, but rarely appear in the popular treatments alongside the celebrated Matthew Perry or Nathaniel Bowditch. We learn more about the dangers of these ‘new worlds’ from the tattered, dusty letters and journals of forgotten mariners like Elting and Tyng, or merchant William Appleton in Canton, missionary Harriet Newell in India, or Biblical Scholar Edward Robinson in the Ottoman realm. Similarly, I wanted to embed these travels, so frequently and so inaccurately depicted as examples of a mythical American exceptionalism, within a global maritime experience in which generations of countless Chinese, Indian, and even Arab traders pioneered the routes later followed by Yankee mariners.

Dangerous voyages set the stage for what comes later in each chapter. Encounters between Yankee mariners, merchants, missionaries--emotionally taxed, exhausted, homesick, and vulnerable, carrying conceits of their own superiority and other peoples’ inferiority--and Ottoman, Chinese, Indian, and Oceanic peoples--welcoming but wary, carrying the experience of 300 years of European conflict and conquest.
Learn more about Eastward of Good Hope at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Glenda Sluga's "The Invention of International Order"

Glenda Sluga is professor of international history and capitalism at the European University Institute, Florence, and Kathleen Fitzpatrick Laureate Fellow and professor of international history at the University of Sydney. Her books include Internationalism in the Age of Nationalism and Women, Diplomacy, and International Politics since 1500.

Sluga applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Invention of International Order: Remaking Europe after Napoleon, and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Invention of International Order a significant shift in the narrative takes place: The story moves from a minor moment in the Allied campaign against Napoleon, to the apogee of its victory in 1814. As fragmented as the presentation of this narrative shift is here, it can serve a purpose, hinting at two of the book’s main themes, and, as importantly the anomalies that are its focus. First, there is the evidence of women’s presence in what is a military and political history. Second, there is the fact of Russian Tsar Alexander’s leadership of a liberal, liberated Europe. These same (here limited) examples invoke the substantial core of the argument of The Invention of International Order, namely that 200 years ago women were there, and that the politics between states encompassed ambitions that have since been forgotten.

The transformations that took place in European politics from 1812, as a result of the Allied campaign, and the processes of peacemaking that followed in 1814 and after, breathed life into new ways of doing politics between states, as women and men, bourgeois and aristocratic, non-state and state “actors” engaged political possibilities in unprecedented ways, to diverse political ends. When we include their histories, the narrative of how an international order was invented becomes the story of not only the ideas, practices and institutions that remained influential, but also long forgotten expectations of what an international politics might be.

At least that’s one side of the history; the other side is the sum of the processes of ‘ordering’—whether gender roles and relations or the differentiation of classes and civilizations. It is not inconsequential that, at the beginning of the 19th century, Russia led the European coalition against Napoleon, and even espoused a liberal political agenda for the international order, and by the mid 19th century it had the status of a pariah state, or that women missed out in a new international order based on the professionalisation of diplomacy, despite their traditional importance to the shaping of foreign policy and processes of negotiation.

With all its paradoxes, the point of The Invention of International Order is to illustrate that the longer 200-year history of diplomacy and its politics matters. The enlargement of political ambition, and of political engagement, among women as well as men, the imagining of an international order that impacted individual lives and deserved to be taken seriously as a site of politics—these characteristics tended to surface at critical century moments of disruption, not least in 1919 and 1945. Then as in 1814, a window briefly opened was soon closed; the world was repeatedly left with the shell of ambition and expectation, and the skeletons of bravely imagined institutions and practices.
Learn more about The Invention of International Order at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 7, 2022

Brian Lander's "The King's Harvest"

Brian Lander is assistant professor of history at Brown University and a fellow of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The King's Harvest: A Political Ecology of China from the First Farmers to the First Empire, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The King’s Harvest covers several of the key themes of the book. The main argument of the book is that the growth of more powerful political systems increased the ability of human societies to transform their environments, particularly by transforming natural ecosystems into agricultural ones. The page begins in the middle of a paragraph which argues that the Western Zhou (pronounced “Joe”; 1046-771 BCE) political system was highly decentralized: the king did not receive tribute from the lords who were officially his subordinates, but instead was expected to give them gifts. It was more an alliance of economically independent city states than a centralized kingdom. The Zhou kings only really controlled their own family estates and had no power to decide how most land was exploited. I emphasize this to make clear that the subsequent development of bureaucratic governance, a key theme of the rest of the book, vastly increased the ability of governments to transform environments. The final paragraph of page 99 does argue, however, that just by maintaining peace for almost three centuries the Western Zhou created the perfect conditions for agricultural societies to expand at the expense of wildlife.

A central theme of the book is the relationships between humans and domesticated plants and animals, and this is demonstrated in the second paragraph, which concerns horses. Horses were the tanks and sports cars of the ancient world. They gave their wealthy owners substantial power over commoners and were also beautiful things that became powerful symbols of masculinity. And they move fast, increasing the space that states could administer. The state of Qin, which founded China’s first empire, and is the topic of the two final chapters of the book, began as a horse-breeding fief of the Western Zhou kings.

The next paragraph discusses hunting parks. The book begins thousands of years ago at the dawn of agriculture, when the valleys of the central Yellow River valley were home to a great diversity of wildlife. By the time the book ends around 200 BCE those valleys were full of farms and livestock, leaving little space for deer and other animals. Rulers who liked hunting increasingly had to set land aside to preserve wildlife. As in many other times and places, people’s love of hunting wild animals has been one of the main forces pushing them to preserve them.

Since the book is arranged chronologically, page 99 only covers one time period, but it gives readers a taste of the main themes of the book.
Learn more about The King's Harvest at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Bill Bell's "Crusoe's Books"

Bill Bell is Professor of Bibliography at Cardiff University and Research Fellow at the University of Munich.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Crusoe’s Books: Readers in the Empire of Print, 1800-1918, and reported the following:
Page 99 lands the reader right in the middle of chapter 3 on the reading practices of nineteenth-century convicts, ‘The Indiscipline of Reading’. Over half of the page is dedicated to the following poem:
For Library books, I give my voice
When thus selected—here’s my choice;
Our Irish Rogues and Rapparees,
The Scottish, Welsh, and English thieves:
These would I read, with great delight,
When from the truck I get respite.
On Humphrey Davy, and his science,
The boys of Spike have no reliance.
Or give us some more fearful tale,
Of convict life, or city jail:
This is the theme, that would please me,
And bring to mind some former spree.
Or Robin Hood, and Little John;
The life of Turpin I could con;
Freney, O’Hanlon, and the like,
Would make me merry while in Spike.
Your humble servant J. M’C.
Fit subject for Reformatry.
The 1863 transcriber called it ‘a specimen of true convict poetry’. The author was probably the Irish political prisoner, John McCullagh, who was sentenced to seven years transportation for eight convictions and appears to have written it while he was incarcerated on Spike Island in 1856. The chapter as a whole is about the way that the penal authorities in the period sought to regulate reading habits among the prison population, prescribing pious texts and closely monitoring their use. This poem lays out the writer’s preference for adventure tales about notorious criminals rather than the improving stories of the Great and Good provided by the authorities.

In this instance, the Page 99 Test seems to have worked admirably well. Crusoe’s Books traces the reading practices of five constituencies in the long nineteenth century (emigrants, Scottish settlers, convicts, polar explorers, and troops in the First World War). What emerges, time and again, is the tendency for disenfranchised readers to respond in unpredictable ways. Page 99 follows on immediately from an argument by Michel de Certeau where tactical resistance is evident among the most common practices of everyday life. Consequently, Certeau’s ideal reader is not held in the thrall of a regulatory world, a passive recipient, but famously a ‘poacher’ operating on the territory of others. One of the major themes of the book is how, in the face of official directives and prescriptive literacies, readers in the long nineteenth century, from the most literate to the most meagrely educated, were to use a range of cultural practices for their own ends.
Visit the Crusoe's Books blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Andrew R. Polk's "Faith in Freedom"

Andrew R. Polk is Associate Professor of History at Middle Tennessee State University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Faith in Freedom: Propaganda, Presidential Politics, and the Making of an American Religion, and reported the following:
If readers were to open to page 99 of Faith in Freedom, they would find themselves near the beginning of the fourth chapter and at the point where the religious propaganda I uncover has just started to shift totally away from the control of religious representatives. The page discusses Harry Truman’s somewhat spotty record of fighting racial injustice throughout his administration, yet highlights his formation of the President’s Committee on Civil Rights. That group eventually released its report, To Secure these Rights, that explicitly condemned American bigotry and intolerance, past and present. Despite knowing the political consequences of his actions, Truman issued executive order 9981 a few months later, which called for the integration of the armed forces. That action nearly cost Truman the 1948 presidential election, but he overcame the defection of many southern democrats and numerous bad polls to win the election.

The page 99 test is somewhat of a mixed bag for my book. It works well in that it gives the reader a sense of my style and sets up the irony of Truman’s later acquiescence to his propagandists’ insistence that racial bigotry be ignored by patriotic Americans. However, the page misses the core argument of the book, which is that the Christian nationalism and civil religion people recognize in the Religious Right of the 1980s and in White evangelical supporters of Donald Trump today are actually legacies of the religious propaganda campaigns of Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower in the mid-twentieth century. The politicians, advertising executives and military public relation experts who constructed the propaganda all agreed that even mentioning America’s racial injustices was tantamount to disloyalty bordering on heresy. However, race was not at the center of their construction, and readers who start on page 99 might think otherwise.

In truth, the point of the religious propaganda I document was to unite the nation in support of specific political objectives. At first, the goal was to unite the country to fight during the Second World War, but those early campaigns were used as a template for the much more robust campaigns during the early Cold War. To convince Americans that the nation needed a large standing military and in support of free market economic policies, these propagandists created massive public relations campaigns to convince the American public that the nation was religious at its core. Yet that patriotic religion also insisted that anyone who did not support the preferred policies and positions of its architects hated America, supported the communists, and opposed religion and God Almighty. The result was a strict dichotomy within American culture that combined religion and politics in dangerous and divisive ways. It’s that legacy that Americans are still wrestling with today.
Learn more about Faith in Freedom at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Michael J. Rosenfeld's "The Rainbow after the Storm"

Michael J. Rosenfeld is Professor of Sociology at Stanford University. He is a social demographer who studies mating and dating, the Internet's effect on society, and family history and family law, especially as they relate to same-sex couples and their children. He is the author of many articles, and the books The Age of Independence: Interracial Unions, Same-Sex Unions, and the Changing American Family (2007) and The Rainbow after the Storm: Marriage Equality and Social Change in the US (2021).

Rosenfeld applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Rainbow after the Storm and reported the following:
From page 99:
Lessons of Romer and Baehr (1996):

When gay people appeared in court in the U.S. before the 1990s, the courts had not been required to take them seriously. Many people, especially gay men, were simply processed in local courts for offenses like solicitation that derived from the illegality of gay sex. If gay sex was illegal, as it still was in many states, gay people’s claims to equal citizenship were not likely to receive a fair hearing. Gay plaintiffs in civil cases often fared just as poorly. One jus­tice in the Minnesota Supreme Court actually stood up and turned his back on lawyers representing same-sex marriage plaintiffs Baker and McConnell in 1971. Justice White’s majority decision in Bowers v. Hardwick in 1986 expressed a fundamental disdain for the idea that the law should treat gay people as the equals of straight people, as if the very idea of equality of gay and straight people was preposterous.

Because U.S. courts had never had to take gay defendants or gay plaintiffs seriously, it was not obvious how gay rights issues would be adjudicated if and when they ever were taken seriously. Kennedy’s majority decision in Romer v. Evans showed for the first time from the nation’s highest court in an affirmative way that gay people were entitled to be treated as the equals of straight people. If gay people had to be treated as equal citizens, then a variety of discriminatory policies and assumptions were on the chopping block. The constitutional assumptions behind a variety of antigay discriminatory poli­cies were going to turn out to be grossly insufficient once they were examined closely.

Just as the flimsy constitutional bases for antigay discrimination had escaped scrutiny for decades, so too had the scientific and pseudo-scientific background for antigay policies escaped official scrutiny for decades. Social science had been making tremendous strides in understanding same-sex couples and their children in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, but U.S. courts had rarely been forced to listen to the social science. Instead antigay poli­cies were backed by sham science, prejudice, and faulty assumptions. The Baehr v. Miike trial in 1996 put the defenders of same-sex marriage bans on the witness stand and showed them to be either unconvincing or charlatans. The empirical social science foundation on which antigay policies had been made and justified turned out, on close examination, to be vacant. If you held it up to the light, you could see right through it.
Does the text from page 99 give a good account of what the whole book is about?

Yes, page 99 is a good window into this book. The Rainbow After the Storm is about how marriage equality came to be the law of the US before almost anyone thought it was possible. One of the great turning points was the Baehr v. Miike same-sex marriage trial in Hawaii in 1996, where the marriage equality plaintiffs won. Prior to the Baehr trial the opponents of marriage equality had never faced a trial before so the public had never gotten to see how un-scientific and vapid the anti-marriage-equality arguments and experts were. The book of course ties together a lot of additional threads that are not present on page 99. The book has an in-depth discussion of the public opinion survey data and what it tells us about the change in gay rights over time. There is a deep discussion of the three important same-sex marriage trials, and of the social science and social scientists on both sides of those trials. And there is a discussion of why LGBT Americans have seen their status and rights improve so much in the US while other groups and rights claimants have not seen the same kind of progress.
Learn more about The Rainbow after the Storm at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Alexander B. Downes's "Catastrophic Success"

Alexander B. Downes is Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs and co-Director of the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at The George Washington University. His book Targeting Civilians in War (2008) won the Joseph Lepgold Prize awarded by Georgetown University for the best book in international relations published in that year.

Downes applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Catastrophic Success: Why Foreign-Imposed Regime Change Goes Wrong, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Catastrophic Success consists of a figure that shows the effect of experiencing a foreign-imposed regime change on the likelihood of a civil war occuring in that country over the ensuing decade. The figure, which is derived from a data set of all country-years from 1816 to 2008, demonstrates that suffering a regime change at the hands of a foreign power more than doubles the probability that a civil war breaks out over the following ten years. It also shows that different types of regime changes have different effects. Regime changes in which outsiders install a new (usually autocratic) leader have the largest effect on the likelihood of civil war, increasing it more than threefold. Regime changes that construct political institutions in addition to emplacing new leaders have a smaller positive effect, whereas such interventions that restore the most recent leader to power (typically reversing a coup or a regime change by another power) have no impact on the probability of civil war.

Anyone opening the book to page 99 would get a partial but somewhat misleading idea about the book as a whole. Page 99 is in the chapter on foreign-imposed regime change and civil war. But the book also includes chapters on how regime change affects the tenure of imposed leaders (they are more likely to be overthrown violently) and its effect on relations between the regime changer and its target (on average they do not improve, and regime changes that empower new leaders without institutional support increase the likelihood that the two states engage in militarized conflict).

The theory in my book explains these unhappy outcomes through two mechanisms. The first, which I call military disintegration, argues that foreign invasions for regime change sometimes cause the armies in target states to collapse and scatter. The dispersal of armed men around the country (e.g., Iraq in 2003) or across a border (e.g., Afghanistan in 2001) provides the raw material for ousted leaders or their allies to launch an insurgency against the new government and/or the foreign occupier. The second, which I refer to as the problem of competing principals, observes that while foreign-imposed regime change is meant to install leaders with similar preferences to the intervener's, it overlooks the fact that there is a second player in the game--the domestic public in the target state, which typically holds different preferences. Because the preferences of the new leader's internal and external "principals" diverge, and each can threaten the leader's survival in office, the leader faces a difficult dilemma: no matter what he does, he is likely to anger one or the other. If the leader hews to the intervener's wishes, internal conflict is the likely result; if she adheres to the domestic public's views, conflict (or at best poor relations) with the intervener is the likely outcome.
Visit Alexander B. Downes's website.

--Marshal Zeringue