Saturday, February 4, 2023

Ditte Marie Munch-Jurisic's "Perpetrator Disgust"

Ditte Marie Munch-Jurisic is a philosopher specialized in the field of emotions and negative affect with a particular focus on the implications for majority-minority relations. I am currently a research associate at the University of Virginia, working remotely in The Moral Injury Lab, and a teaching associate professor in Minority Studies, University of Copenhagen.

Munch-Jurisic applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Perpetrator Disgust: The Moral Limits of Gut Feelings, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Perpetrator Disgust contains a brisk summary of the book’s unfortunate thesis:

“By rejecting the nativist assumption that human beings are essentially good and possess an instinctual resistance to killing, we arrive at a much more convincing account of the phenomenology of perpetrator disgust.”

We may wish to believe that it is against human nature to kill, and that perpetrator disgust represents the revolt of this benevolent nature against violence, but evidence across continents, conflicts, and time periods shows this account is too simple to be true. Page 99 is typical of the book in casting doubt on comforting conclusions. By pointing to instances of soldiers who enjoy war and the careful, systematic manner in which military organizations manage the emotions of soldiers in order to facilitate killing, the page reinforces a central argument of the book: that gut feelings are not reflections of nature, and that a more complex account of the relationship between our emotions and morality is required.

Through the disturbing lens of perpetrator disgust, we observe that gut feelings can be molded in many different directions and to different purposes. Our emotions are biological templates onto which particular values are imprinted. Gut feelings speak to the social facts of our time and place. Emotions, as a result, must be interpreted through a contextual understanding of the concrete emotional episode, an agent’s broader environment, and the available frameworks for interpreting an emotional experience.
Follow Ditte Marie Munch-Jurisic on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 3, 2023

Tabitha Stanmore's "Love Spells and Lost Treasure"

Tabitha Stanmore is a research fellow at the University of Exeter.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Love Spells and Lost Treasure: Service Magic in England from the Later Middle Ages to the Early Modern Era, and reported the following:
I was sceptical when asked to take part in the Page 99 Test for Love Spells and Lost Treasure: how could one page, taken at random, reasonably encapsulate the point of a whole book? In the end, though, I admit that I was pleasantly surprised. The page opens with the heading ‘Sales and Marketing’ and, despite how uninspiring this probably sounds, does centre on a major theme throughout the book. One of the key findings of my research is that magicians in premodern England were treated as a form of trader, selling a coveted and skilled ware to ready customers. Page 99 lists a number of ways in which service magicians plied their trade, and particularly the importance of word of mouth for finding potential clients. To quote directly from the opening paragraph:
…how did magicians find their clients and advertise services? Many seemed to have relied on word of mouth and recommendations. Others, particularly itinerant cunning folk, actively sought out clients by knocking on doors or even creating their own business. Either way, an important part of service magicians’ repertoire was their ability to promote their successes and build strong reputations.
People dealing with everyday yet urgent problems – chronic diseases, love-sickness, poverty – had limited directions to turn in the pre-modern period, but magic was definitely one option. Magical practitioners claimed to be able to cure illnesses that left trained doctors stumped, and find hoards of treasure buried in fields. The temptation to control one’s fate made spells an attractive solution, so people often turned to someone with supernatural powers for help. As page 99 relates, though, knowing which magician to approach – or even how to find one – was not always a straightforward task. People had been warned by generations of stories and Church warnings that magicians were sinister people who, at best, might trick you out of your money, and at worst could send you on a path to Hell. In the hope of finding an honest, reliable practitioner therefore, many potential clients relied on an intermediary to introduce them to the right wizard for their needs.

The use of intermediaries to move between cunning folk and their customers emphasises the delicate relationship – and market – in which magicians were acting. To come recommended suggests a long-standing reputation for reliable services: in short, that the magician was trusted by at least some people in their community. But when one’s business relies almost entirely on the good will and positive impression of a small, local population, the situation is necessarily fragile. Failing to perform the magic commissioned could easily damage one’s reputation, and the consequences from there could be severe. At the milder end, a magician’s business could dry up; at the more extreme, it could mean being reported to the authorities.

There’s much more to the book than this, but the themes certainly come through in the Page 99 Test.
Follow Tabitha Stanmore on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Elie Honig's "Untouchable: How Powerful People Get Away with It"

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.

Honig applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Untouchable: How Powerful People Get Away with It, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Seven years later, armed with Arillotta’s information, we sent an FBI excavation team to the Agawam murder site. We had gotten permission from a judge for the FBI to take Arillotta out of prison for a day, on a macabre field trip of sorts, so he could show them precisely where to dig. FBI agents quickly found a series of .22-caliber shells on the ground, right where Arillotta had indicated—powerful corroboration in its own right, but merely a warm-up act for what happened next. The FBI team then used a front loader to skim thin layers of dirt, an inch or two at a time, from the spot where Arillotta claimed that Westerman’s body would be found. The FBI sifted carefully through each bucketload of dirt, first by hand and then by using a straining device that looked like a massive colander. After the first few scoops yielded nothing, the FBI’s front loader hit something hard—the soles of a pair of Nikes. It was Westerman’s body, head down, feet up, just as Arillotta had told us. The team spent the next several days, aided by an archaeologist, carefully excavating the site. They ultimately recovered Westerman’s decomposed remains—still with a ski mask over his head and a Taser in his jacket pocket, just as Arillotta had described. And inside the grave the team found the .38-caliber shell from that final close-range gunshot that Fred Geas put in Westerman’s head.

There has never been better corroboration than this. Here’s what I said to the jury during my closing argument at trial: “There’s an expression that people use in regular everyday life: ‘does he know where the bodies are buried?’ It means, does this guy know what he’s talking about? Is this guy for real? Well, here, you see that expression literally applied. Anthony Arillotta knew exactly where the body was buried.”

And, believe it or not, Arillotta had yet another murder plot to confess. (This was a truly prodigious crew.)
We caught a good one with this Page 99 Test: a story about a New York City mafia case that I prosecuted where we dug up a dead body of a guy the mob had killed and buried in the woods seven years prior. This sounds like it’s out of a movie, but it’s all true; I was an organized crime prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, and I use real-life stories from my own cases to illustrate broader points about how powerful people get away with it.

This particular anecdote appears in a section of the book about how powerful people insulate themselves from law enforcement by surrounding themselves with other criminals, lower down in the power hierarchy. Savvy powerhouses – political bosses, corporate CEOs, drug kingpins, actual mob bosses – understand that you always want to stay away from a crime scene, you want to say as little as possible to as few people as possible, and you want to have others do the dirty work. And, if somebody does happen to flip – like Anthony Arillotta, the gangster discussed in this excerpt – the boss can brand that person as a murderer, a criminal, a liar whose testimony for the prosecution should not be trusted by a jury.

But prosecutors (sometimes) have a counter-move: corroboration, independent evidence that backs up the cooperator’s testimony. “It’s not about whether you like the cooperator,” we’d often tell juries, “it’s about whether you believe him.” And we’d urge the jury, in making that determination, to consider the testimony against other hard evidence. Sometimes, prosecutors gather substantial corroboration, and other times we wind up with little to nothing in terms of support. This story focuses on one case where we got especially lucky. The cooperator, Arillotta, was backed up by the ultimate form of corroboration: he led us directly to a dead body that had been missing for seven years.
Follow Elie Honig on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: Hatchet Man.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Eliran Bar-El's "How Slavoj Became Žižek"

Eliran Bar-El is a lecturer in sociology at the University of York.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, How Slavoj Became Žižek: The Digital Making of a Public Intellectual, and reported the following:
Page 99 demonstrates one of the ways by which Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian Hegelian-Lacanian thinker, became an international celebrity and global public intellectual. Particularly, it describes one of Zizek’s earlier books, The Ticklish Subject from 1999, and shows how in-and-through introducing the book, its topic and goal, Zizek also casts a wide net of intellectual-political positions through which he positions himself.

As one would expect from a single page, this is a fragment of the entire story that my book unfolds, yet, nonetheless it is an indicative one: Zizek’s unique style of performance, his constant act of positioning, as well as frequent interventions in fields such as publishing and academia, these are just a few of the factors that eventually led to his global breakthrough a decade later.

In this regard, page 99 could be seen as a teaser. While it contains some key features related to Zizek’s emergence and reception, the whole story cannot be understood solely based on this page. Given the processual nature of public interventions, they are never a one-off. For Zizek to become a brand, and for his brand to stick, a more sustained positioning process had to be maintained by a network of people including close allies and fierce critics. In this precise sense, what happened before and after page 99 is crucial for understanding how Slavoj became Zizek. For example, Zizek’s early publication in France, roughly a decade prior to the episode on page 99, did not receive much positive attention. Therefore, Zizek started to expand his social network of personal and professional relations and to publish more in England. However, this was still not the big breakthrough that put Zizek on the global intellectual map. This happened shortly after page 99, in another episode that took place in the US. There Zizek brought his ideas to a wide range of publics by intervening with various mediums, including feature films and internet clips. Yet, such an academically unusual and diverse performance, in addition to other reasons as political positions and rate of interventions, resulted in a growing critique of his work and doubt of his intellectual seriousness or authenticity. This is explained as part of the “media-academia trade-off” through which Zizek keeps positioning and re-positioning himself to this day.
Learn more about How Slavoj Became Žižek at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Benjamin L. Carp's "The Great New York Fire of 1776"

Benjamin L. Carp is professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. He is the author of Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America and Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution. He lives in New York City.

Carp applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Great New York Fire of 1776: A Lost Story of the American Revolution, and reported the following:
Page 99 appears just before I describe how the Great Fire of New York began in the early morning hours of September 21, 1776. The fire destroyed a fifth of the city. Page 99 comes toward the end of Chapter Six, “The Loss of New York City,” and it includes one of the book’s thirty illustrations.

Because page 99 is only half filled with words, it probably doesn’t give the best idea of the book’s quality, but a browser might be intrigued and gratified to discover an eighteenth-century engraving that breaks up the text. Authors have to work hard to secure reproductions and permissions for images and organize them for the publisher. On the other hand, this visual evidence supports the book’s overall argument. In Augsburg, Franz Xaver Habermann engraved this scene of British troops marching through New York City, based on his reading of British newspaper accounts. Although the buildings have little resemblance to New York’s actual architecture, the image conveys the dramatic changes that were happening in the city on September 15: an occupying army tromping through the streets.

The chapter describes the British capture of lower Manhattan as part of the Battle of Kip’s Bay on that day, followed by six tense days as the occupiers began to settle in.
Other signs worried the British, too. Captain [Frederick] Mackenzie noticed that “many of the Rebels who were unable to make their escape yesterday, are now in the town, and as they have changed their dress it is extremely difficult to discover them.” . . . Americans knew that people’s clothes could easily disguise their true identity. Striving status seekers, con artists, gender nonconformists, rioters, deserters, and runaway slaves all took advantage of their ability to don disguises. In a civil war, this problem grew more fraught—it was hard to know whether a person was loyal or rebellious.
(Disguises were an important part of my book on the Boston Tea Party, too.)

A recurring character in my book also appears on page 99 among these clandestine Rebels: a tavernkeeper named Captain Abraham Van Dyck:
Van Dyck may still have been wearing his grenadier uniform—a blue coat with red facings over a white waistcoat, breeches, and stockings. The British arrested him on September 16, angry at finding a Continental Army officer “secreted in a private House.”
Van Dyck would spend almost twenty months as a prisoner, because the British accused him of having helped to set New York City on fire. Witnesses would later testify that he had been arrested not on the sixteenth, but during the fire. He himself told his friends that a Black man had “betrayed” him to the British.

Page 99, in other words, offers some slivers of evidence that support the book’s argument: in the first week of the British occupation of New York City, skulking Rebels in the town—and perhaps even a Continental Army officer—attempted to burn it to the ground. I doubt that page 99 is very convincing on its own, but the book contains plenty of other evidence that the Great Fire cannot be dismissed as a mere accident.
Visit Benjamin L. Carp's website.

The Page 99 Test: Defiance of the Patriots.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 30, 2023

Lauren Bialystok and Lisa M. F. Andersen's "Touchy Subject"

Lauren Bialystok is associate professor at the Department of Social Justice Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, at the University of Toronto. Lisa M. F. Andersen is associate professor of History and Liberal Arts at The Juilliard School.

They applied the "Page 99 Test" to their new book, Touchy Subject: The History and Philosophy of Sex Education, and reported the following:
Lauren: On page 99, I look at evidence of public opinion in support of comprehensive sex education (CSE). It turns out that an overwhelming majority of Americans from across the political spectrum want most topics in CSE – including information about contraception, oral and anal sex, and the risks of “sexting” -- taught in schools, even though Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Education has dominated federal policy for four decades. From a straight democratic perspective, the justification for CSE is clear. But is that enough? What kinds of evidence matter, and how seriously should we take public opinion? A recent controversy in Ontario showed that, when a populist leader framed a particular CSE curriculum as a liberal project, a large number of people suddenly wanted to repeal the curriculum, even though they supported all its contents.

Lisa: In some ways, this page is very representative. It conveys why, for sex education policy makers, there are times when it’s hard to see a path forward; the Ontario incident is one of several controversies where misinformation regarding curriculum content fanned the flames of animosity. Even a leader who wants to listen to public opinion might have trouble figuring out what that is. The United States is often misguided when it comes to sex education – and the U.S. is the focus of our book – but there is plenty of unsound decision-making to go around.

Lauren: Right, we talk about how controversies over sex education are distorted to the point that we forget what we agree on and what we already know.

Lisa: And the conversation about sex education is more than just controversies. In my historical chapters, I show how sound deliberation by well-meaning people has resolved into a formidable amount of common ground. Ideas that were once vexing are now so widely accepted that we take them for granted: we should learn about sex before having it, sex education should support public health, and teachers should teach sex education differently from how they teach academic subjects.

Lauren: As much as the polarized camps described on page 99 disagree, they’re not disagreeing about any of that. That’s why tracing the historical journey should give us some hope for the future of sex education policy. We know that it’s possible to make progress because it’s something that we’ve done before.

Lisa: A browser opening to page 99 might give a reader the sense that we’re more pessimistic than we actually are, or that we’re suspicious of evidence because it can obviously be manipulated.

Lauren: This page actually appears in a section about the importance of using evidence and using it rigorously. Some types of sex education are demonstrably ineffective, and we’ve wasted countless years and billions of dollars wishing it were otherwise. Part of our purpose in the book is to refute the arguments for continuing with approaches that don’t work.

Lisa: And I think it’s clear that we oppose AOUME, even though we take issue with the oversimplified dichotomy of AOUME vs. CSE.

Lauren: Finally, I think that page 99 represents our book well because of its tone. We’ve written a serious academic work that is also … fun. Because, ultimately, sex is kind of funny.
Learn more about Touchy Subject at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 29, 2023

James E. Cronin's "Fragile Victory"

James E. Cronin is research professor of history at Boston College and a local affiliate of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including Global Rules: America and Britain in a Disordered World. He splits his time between Watertown and Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

Cronin applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Fragile Victory: The Making and Unmaking of Liberal Order, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test works quite well in giving readers a sense of the book’s argument and its approach to making the argument. Page 99 is in a section of the book that discusses the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan in 1947, the Berlin blockade of 1948 and efforts to craft a German state, and the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. Its central paragraph reads thus:
In his Inaugural Address in 1949 Truman promised a “collective defense arrangement” linking the US, Canada, and Europe. The logic leading from the Marshall Plan to military alliance was powerful, and by early 1949 the effort had gained serious momentum. On April 9, 1949, the treaty setting up NATO was signed in Washington. The decisions that produced the Marshall Plan, NATO, and the new West German state were countered with parallel moves by the Soviet Union. The Soviets began making bilateral trade agreements with the states of Eastern Europe in 1947 and these were turned into a regional grouping, Comecon; and the German Democratic Republic was founded on October 7, 1949. The Warsaw Pact, which was hardly necessary given the looming and commanding presence of Soviet forces in Eastern Europe, did not come into being until 1955. Still, the symmetry seemed appropriate, even though cooperation and alliances in the West were largely voluntarily, if often the fruit of argument and at least subtle manipulation, while those in the East were simply coerced.
The first sentence of the next paragraph summarizes the main point being made:
Taken together, the Western initiatives were a dramatic reversal of previous policies and long- standing traditions.
The argument of Fragile Victory is that liberal order was a creation that required great effort and inspired policy-making to bring it into being and continued effort and vigilance to maintain it. It was not inevitable, and although for a time it seemed to become the norm, it was always in need of tending and adjusting. The plans that Roosevelt and others bequeathed to the world in 1945 assumed peace and international cooperation. The Cold War soon made those assumptions appear naïve. The response, by Truman and his allies in the US and Europe, was to reshape the vision by adding greater economic cooperation, as with the Marshall Plan, and a more serious security dimension, as with NATO.

The result was that the liberal order, once understood as universal, would be confined to the West and its allies, but it would be embedded in a broader and relatively stable Cold War order. Liberal order would only become a global project later, when the Cold War ended. The last three chapters of Fragile Victory assess that post-1989 project and the present serious challenges to liberal order. An additional “Note to Readers: The Invasion of Ukraine and Liberal Order” at the beginning of the book brings the assessment closer to the present.
Learn more about Fragile Victory at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Eleanor Janega's "The Once and Future Sex"

Eleanor Janega teaches medieval and early modern history at the London School of Economics. The creator of the popular blog Going Medieval and author of The Middle Ages: A Graphic History, she lives in London.

Janega applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, The Once and Future Sex: Going Medieval on Women's Roles in Society, and reported the following:
Page 99 contains a discussion of the sexual practices that were deemed acceptable by the medieval Church. As a general rule, sex had to take place between a married man and woman strictly for the purposes of procreation, but there were a lot of rules on top of that. In general, “what concerned theologians was an excess of pleasure which Aquinas categorized as ‘bestial’.” As a result, this page discusses restraints on sexual positions, as well as times when sex could take place, and restrictions to visual stimuli.

In this case the test absolutely works. Browsers who look at page 99 would understand how the book approaches breaking down various expectations in the medieval period. It draws on works from various theologians to explicate how theological consensus was created. While the book isn’t only concerned with religion, and looks at social patterns more broadly, a reader would get a good idea of how it does that. It’s also a fairly amusing page, which underlines the tone of the book more generally. Yes, it tackles complex concepts – but it does so while also having fun. This is, after all, really interesting and humorous subject matter.

While page 99 looks particularly at sexual expectations, that is just one of the main themes of the book more broadly. It first explains how we use sources like those that appear here to understand medieval society, as well as looking at how that impacts beauty standards, then sexual ideals, before looking at expectations about life and work for women. It finishes up with an explanation of why that matters, our society’s gender expectations now, and argues that the more we understand about how social
Follow Eleanor Janega on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 27, 2023

Colin Summerhayes's "The Icy Planet"

Colin Summerhayes is a chartered geologist and Emeritus Associate for the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University. He previously served as Executive Director of the International Council for Science's Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research at the Scott Polar Research Institute. His most recent publications include Paleoclimatology (2020) and Earth's Climate Evolution (2015).

Summerhayes applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Icy Planet: Saving Earth's Refrigerator, and reported the following:
Page 99 talks about making scientific measurements of the atmosphere in East Antarctica, which is the largest ice cube on the planet. What meteorologists need to know to make weather forecasts, aside from the temperature and humidity of the air at ground level, is the profile of these properties up through the atmosphere, which they measure by releasing weather balloons that collect the data and send it back to base via tiny radios. They can also watch how the balloons move sideways with the winds at different altitudes, which indicates wind speed and direction. These measurements also tell us why Antarctica is much colder than the Arctic. You may be surprised to learn that the overlying air is much thinner in the Antarctic, so traps less outgoing heat, thus making this environment cooler than the Arctic. Antarctica also contains a much larger area of ice, which reflects solar energy, which also makes the region colder. And East Antarctica is also higher than the Arctic, averaging a height of 3000 m, which makes it colder. The air at both poles is extremely dry because cold air holds less moisture. And they are also cold because the Sun’s rays are oblique in the polar regions, which means they get much less of the Sun’s energy than the tropics do.

The page 99 text doesn’t tell the reader all about the book, which follows a virtual tour through the world’s icy places – Antarctica, the Arctic, and the world’s high mountain ranges and plateaus, which make up what’s called the Third Pole. The book explains what is happening to the ice, snow and frozen ground (permafrost) in each of these places, demonstrating that we are losing a great deal of the planet’s ice and snow cover. Why does that matter? Well, ice and snow reflect the Sun’s energy back to outer space. That helps to keep our planetary climate moderately cool. As ice and snow melt, the newly exposed ground and sea absorb the Sun’s energy, which warms the surface, which then radiates heat back into the atmosphere. Unlike solar energy, which is not absorbed by greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide or methane, this heat is in the form of infra-red radiation, which those gases absorb and re-radiate, warming the atmosphere. So our climate gets a double whammy: warming due to the emission of carbon dioxide and methane, plus additional warming caused by the loss of our reflective cover of ice and snow. In effect ice and snow act as Earth’s Refrigerator. If you go on vacation and leave your fridge and freezer door open by accident, its contents will rot and melt. So for much the same reason we don’t want to lose any more of Earth’s Refrigerator. And yet all of the data show that the Arctic, the Antarctic and the Third Pole are losing progressively more ice as time goes by. Indeed, the January 2023 issue of Science magazine suggests we will have lost 50% of all the Earth’s glaciers by the end of the century. Imagine that!

Almost everyone knows that melting ice and snow raise sea level. Careful calculations show that our sea level is rising at progressively increasing rates as our climate warms. These same calculations suggest that by the end of this century sea level will have risen by between 1 and 2 metres. But the rise will not stop there. By studying past climates we know that some 3 million years ago when there was a similar amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, sea levels rose by an average of about 15 metres. Are we heading for the same outcome over the next 200 years? Many climate scientists are convinced that we are. This is because the current forecast for the average global temperature by 2050 is 2.7 degrees Centigrade, well above the UN’s guardrails of between 1.5 and 2.0 degrees. These averages conceal something important – the temperatures in polar regions tend to be about three times higher than the global average. So, 2.7 degrees globally would translate to 8.1 degrees Centigrade in, say, the Arctic, which means a lot more ice and snow melt, which means yet more global warming, and yet more sea level rise.

The key question, then, as we face this threat, is what can be done about it? Some people blame the rise in global population, but matters are seldom so simple. In fact it is abundantly clear that the problem is not population, it is consumption. The richest 10% of the population causes 50% of the greenhouse gas emissions. The richest 1% causes 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is double the emissions of the poorest 50% of humanity. This is primarily a problem of excessive consumption by western countries, and demands a primarily western solution. Do our leaders realise this? Many people are calling for a techno-fix, but currently none of the technologies on offer can match the size of the challenge. Governments and industries must work together urgently to fix this, if our grandchildren are to live in a climate like the one we grew up in. Unfortunately, as Greta Thunberg points out in The Climate Book (2022) one of our key problems is that “we are not aware of the fact that we are not aware” when it comes to understanding the climate crisis and the urgent need to act. Even so, The Icy Planet ends on an optimistic note. Provided people are prepared to accept the need for change, then change we can.
Learn more about The Icy Planet at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Natalie Koch's "Arid Empire"

Natalie Koch is a Professor in the Department of Geography and the Environment at Syracuse University. She is a political geographer specializing in the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula region.

Koch applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Arid Empire: The Entangled Fates of Arizona and Arabia, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The earliest technological advance in the cultivation of Arizona and Arabia’s arid landscapes were wells that could be pumped electronically, replacing the slow and expensive animal-powered methods of the past. In Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Arizona alike, clever canal systems could divert water to crops far from the original source. Extracting freshwater from wells and canals was still limiting, though. The real promise of limitless water is in the ocean. Optimistic engineers, farmers, and seafarers have long sought ways to make saltwater usable through desalination—that is, stripping out the salt. Water desalination is an ancient practice, based on various techniques of distillation. European explorers began trying to modernize it in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, when they installed emergency desalting devices for their long ocean voyages. The practice was later expanded aboard steamships in the 1840s and 50’s and quickly transformed into land-based desalting facilities built around steam condensers.
The text works well for my book because it launches the reader into one of the most important themes in how “arid empire” works –people harnessing new technologies to source water in the desert.

The Page 99 Test is interesting because it opens up the bigger issue about how people have historically thought about finding ways to live and grow food in the desert. I am from Tucson, Arizona, so the limited water resources of a desert was something I grew up learning about. But I didn’t know the deeper history of how commercial agriculture systems were developed in Arizona, and I certainly didn’t know how connected they were to places in the Arabian Peninsula. The chapter that this page comes from talks about a University of Arizona project in Abu Dhabi (now, the UAE) in the 1960s and 70s. I had been traveling there for years before I discovered the history of project from over 50 years before. And almost no one in the UAE had ever heard of it, and even few people in Arizona know about it. The book repeatedly comes back to the question that kept pursuing me in all the research: why is this history so invisible today? Over the several years of researching this book, I became obsessed with chasing the hidden stories that I go into – ranging from the camels (and camel herders!) imported to help settlers take over the new desert territories added to the US after the Mexican-American War in 1848, to the date palms imported to set up a US date industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Biblical fantasies of the “Old World” deserts were central to the early settler visions of colonizing the “New World” deserts the US Southwest, but they quickly gave way to fantasies of using new technologies to master and “civilize” the desert environment, which becomes the real focus of arid empire in the US. The quote from this test doesn’t get into all that, but it starts to introduce that transition in the history I trace over 150 years.
Visit Natalie Koch's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Ewa Atanassow's "Tocqueville's Dilemmas, and Ours"

Ewa Atanassow is Professor of Politics at Bard College Berlin. Her books include (with Alan S. Kahan) Liberal Moments: Reading Liberal Texts and (with Richard Boyd) Tocqueville and the Frontiers of Democracy.

Atanassow applied the "Page 99 Test" to her latest book, Tocqueville's Dilemmas, and Ours: Sovereignty, Nationalism, Globalization, and reported the following:
From page 99:
As Mill indicates, the English public’s insouciance about foreign policy went hand in hand with its trusting the government’s expertise and commitment to do the right thing. Public confidence left the ministry a free hand: a greater leeway for maneuver and, potentially, for abuse. It also left the public ignorant and helpless. Not only did the lack of meaningful debate over foreign policy rob the nation of learning opportunities and prevented it from grasping the complexities of its situation. Reducing foreign affairs to strategic or technical questions to be handled by experts behind closed doors runs the serious risk that the people and their representatives may find themselves committed “beyond redemption” to an international standing attained, as it were, in a fit of absentmindedness. It directly impacts their sovereignty.

For Tocqueville, by contrast, if the government is to be both liberal and democratic, involving the people in external affairs is no longer a matter of choice, but of double necessity. An alert and enlightened public opinion serves to uphold the legitimacy of the institutional order and provides an indispensable corrective to the government’s action. As Tocqueville conjectures (and Mill concurs), had the English public been involved, the Eastern crisis could have been averted. What is more, alongside providing policy correctives, informing public opinion about external affairs is a vital opportunity to shape national identity and thus sustain the moral preconditions for political freedom.
Serendipitously, page 99 falls into the central chapter and discusses a key issue in my book’s argument. The issue is whether foreign policy questions should be subject to broad-based democratic debate. Mill and Tocqueville, two foundational figures in the history of Western democracy, disagreed on this question.

Mill believed that foreign policy should be shielded from public scrutiny. As discussed on the preceding pages, international politics deals with foreign ways and modes of thinking that often exceed the experience and common sense of a democratic citizenry. It is also easily hijacked for populist and partisan ends.

The example Mill and Tocqueville debate was the Eastern crisis of 1840, when in response to Egypt’s invasion of Syria, the British government (unbeknownst to the British public and Egypt’ ally France) signed a secret treaty committing to a military intervention. Once the news of the treaty reached Paris, a nationalist mobilization fanned by the popular press prompted the government to declare an ill-considered war on England. And while a war was eventually averted, the incident brought both countries to the brink.

Recognizing Mill’s concerns, Tocqueville begs to differ and my page 99 clarifies his oft-misunderstood position. In Tocqueville’s view, an alert and informed British public may have prevented the signing of the treaty and therewith the Eastern crisis – a point Mill concedes. Moreover, in France as in England, a free and honest debate would have enhanced the ability of both government and people to appreciate a complex situation. Far from simply fanning nationalism, such a debate would be crucial to preventing nationalist excess.

By contrast, handing foreign policy to unaccountable experts robs the people and its representatives of learning opportunities that enhance their collective self-understanding and capacity to govern, in a word, their sovereignty. Last but not least, in a democratic age public opinion backing is a vital source of legitimacy. Lacking popular support dooms any policy or government to failure.

Canvassing the controversy between two influential liberal thinkers, page 99 illustrates one of my book’s main theses: that liberalism is a long tradition of thinking – and disagreeing! – about core questions of democratic governance. Far from being fundamentally elitist, liberalism, as I show, is not reducible to fixed dogmas such as individual autonomy or economic freedoms, as many today think. Nor is it opposed to sovereignty and nationalism but relies on a certain understanding of these concepts.
Learn more about Tocqueville's Dilemmas, and Ours at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Simon Huxtable's "News from Moscow"

Simon Huxtable is Lecturer in Modern European History at Birkbeck, University of London. His work focuses on the history of the Soviet Union, with a particular focus on mass media. He is the co-author, with Sabina Mihelj, of From Media Systems to Media Cultures: Understanding Socialist Television (2018) and has published a number of journal articles and book chapters on the history of the press and television in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Huxtable applied the "Page 99 Test" to his latest book, News from Moscow: Soviet Journalism and the Limits of Postwar Reform, and reported the following:
Page 99 of News From Moscow places the reader in the middle of one of my favourite stories in the book. In 1960, in the town of Kirovgrad (today Kropyvnytskyi) in Central Ukraine, a group of schoolchildren found a letter in a cigarette case attesting an act of wartime heroism. News of the case reached the press, and a few days later, the Red Star [Krasnaia zvezda] newspaper was asking for information that would help identify this heroic partisan. A day later, the paper reported excitedly that A.S. Krishovskii, a museum worker in a nearby town, had been identified as the hero as positive evaluations from comrades flooded the paper. Before long, however, the story unravelled. Krishovskii was no hero - he had recently been imprisoned for sexual coercion and wounding a passer-by with a misplaced gunshot. Worse still, Krishovskii had never been a partisan: in fact, he had spent the occupation working as a forest warden for the occupying German forces. After an investigation, the KGB concluded that the accusations were true and that Krishovskii had probably planted the cigarette case himself. Meanwhile, the editor of Red Star found himself summoned to the Central Committee's Agitprop department for a dressing down.

Page 99 offers an excellent way into the book and its concerns. If we try to unpick the motivations of the different protagonists, we learn a lot about the Soviet media in the early 1960s. From the point of view of the unlucky editor, the hidden letter offered a sensational news story that might earn him and his newspaper kudos in the eyes of readers and political overseers. Soviet newspapers in the 1960s were not the unreadable rags of the Stalin era, but searching for fresh ways of reporting the news. Despite his mistake, the editor was not imprisoned or fired. Though his conversation at Agitprop was no doubt unpleasant, the result was probably nothing more severe than a reprimand; this climate allowed journalists and editors to take risks. Krishovskii's burial of the letter showed an awareness of the Soviet media's search for sensations, and its capacity to create heroes. In the years leading up to this case, newspapers had grown particularly interested in searching for documents about everyday heroes, often serializing their diaries and letters. And what of the 'comrades' who phoned the newspaper to share their positive evaluations? Given that Krishovskii was never a partisan, these stories, too, would seem to be untrue. So what was the motivation? Mistaken identity? A chance for material gain by bathing in the reflected light of a hero? Or just a desire to see one's name in print? Again, it seems that these individuals, too, were cognizant of the power of the press.

Page 99 is representative of some of the wider questions my book poses. What counted as good journalism after Stalin's death? And how did Soviet newspapers relate to their readers during Khrushchev's 'Thaw'? My book argues that the answer to these two questions are related. After the Secret Speech’s denunciation of Stalin, journalists recognised that their newspapers were boring and politically harmful. To remake them, they appealed to readers, in the sense of producing content that would make them eager to build communism, by acting as readers’ defender in the face of an often-faceless bureaucracy, and by drawing on content drafted by readers themselves. But, as the case of the poor Red Star editor shows, journalists often made mistakes, undermining the Soviet newspaper’s claim to infallibility. This case, and my book more broadly, shows that the Soviet propaganda machine was often prone to misfire.
Learn more about News from Moscow at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 23, 2023

Marion Turner's "The Wife of Bath"

Marion Turner is the J.R.R. Tolkien Professor of English Literature and Language at the University of Oxford, where she is a Professorial Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall. Her books include the prize-winning biography Chaucer: A European Life.

Turner applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, The Wife of Bath: A Biography, and reported the following:
Page 99 comes about half way through chapter 4, ‘The Female Storyteller’ and focuses on Heloise and Abelard. On this page, I describe the relationship between these two medieval lovers, telling the story of their disastrous affair. Abelard, a famous scholar and cleric, tutored Heloise, and they began a passionate relationship. Heloise gave birth to a child, but she was very much against marriage, seeing it as a hindrance to a full intellectual life. Under pressure from her relatives, Abelard insisted on their marriage, but wanted it to remain secret, and removed Heloise to a convent. Believing that Abelard had abandoned his wife, Heloise’s uncle, Fulbert, sent his henchmen to take a brutal revenge, which they did by castrating Abelard. The lovers took vows, becoming a monk and a nun, but Heloise remained plagued by sexual desires. They exchanged a series of letters. From these letters, Heloise emerges as a complex and fascinating character.

This page gives a reasonably representative, though inevitably partial, sense of my book as a whole. It gets across the idea that medieval women were interesting, risk-taking, thinking people, who had more opportunities than many people imagine. Heloise was a notable intellectual; a brilliant thinker; sexually adventurous; and herself a writer.

However, you have to read the next few pages to learn more about what kinds of things Heloise wrote. Page 99 begins to tell the reader about the anti-women comments that she herself made. But a couple of pages later, I write about the fact that many critics have dwelt exclusively on her sexual relationship with Abelard, and her misogynist comments (the things I write about on page 99!), and it is in fact important also to consider her intellectual and philosophical writings, her interest in conscience and consciousness, her particular use of language and imagery. If you only read page 99, you would get a view of Heloise that dwells primarily on her sexual life and attitudes. Importantly, the chapter more generally sets her in the context of other writing medieval women, and also takes a longer view. It goes on to discuss the fact that later readers cast doubt on her authorship of her letters, although no one at her own time doubted this. I compare this with the mutilation of Margery Kempe’s text by early printers, and with translators’ and editors’ explicit denial of Christine de Pizan’s authorship of her texts – which they attributed to men. This comparative and long view demonstrates bigger arguments about attitudes to women across time which aren’t clear from page 99 alone.
Learn more about The Wife of Bath at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Mehran Kamrava's "Triumph and Despair"

Mehran Kamrava is Professor of Government, Georgetown University in Qatar, and directs the Iranian Studies Unit at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies. His books on Iranian and Middle Eastern affairs include Inside the Arab State and The Nuclear Question in the Middle East.

Kamrava applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Triumph and Despair: In Search of Iran's Islamic Republic, and reported the following:
It just so happens that page 99 of the book starts with a section that is at the core of one of the book’s chapters, titled “Reforming the System.” If one were to read page 99 only, or to at least start there, one would get a sense of the complexities of the Iranian political system and its internal tribulations from its inception in 1979 until today. There is much that the reader would have missed – the Islamic Republic’s precarious start, the constitutional deliberations that gave rise to its peculiar institutional make-up, the reign of terror that consolidated it, its later approaches to the rest of the world, its indecisive patterns of economic development, and its increasing tilt toward authoritarianism ever since. But page 99 does point to a pivotal point in the Islamic Republic’s history, a moment of reflection and an inadvertent inflection point.

This is what the first two paragraphs of page 99 say:
The Reform Movement

Even before the start of what Iranians popularly though largely inaccurately refer to as the “reform movement” – there was no movement per se – a general sense of dynamism and palpable yearning for change permeated the air. In various ways, the reconstruction campaign had helped facilitate the new phase, in part sparked by Rafsanjani’s more permissive attitude toward political pluralism. In its post-war phase of reconstruction, the Islamic Republic had rediscovered and reinvigorated the debate on nation, history, and method of governance, and also on national identity and rights. This had spurred the publication of a spate of new books and journals, among them a number of independent magazines and newspapers devoted to the issue of women. Earlier, Zanan (Women) had been launched in 1991, followed by Farzaneh in 1993. These independent publications were all the more impactful as a number of other, earlier publications on women, most notably Zan-e Rooz (Woman of the Day) and Payam-e Zan (Woman’s Message), had become Islamization tools at the hands of hardliners.

The appearance of new publications in the 1990s was the result of a convergence of three separate but interrelated intellectual currents. One current was comprised of ideas imported into the country through translations, especially on topics related to philosophy and sociology, based mostly on countries with experiences similar to Iran’s. A second current was made up of literature being produced by a new crop of religious intellectuals who were presenting new ideas about religious hermeneutics and the relationship between religion and politics. A third and final current was comprised of the works of those looking at ideas that were largely non-religious and were considered Iranian-national.
The book itself is a broader chronicle of the Islamic Republic’s tormented journey to the present from its birth. Triumph and Despair tells the dramatic story of post-revolutionary Iran’s first four decades, from its establishment in 1979 until today. The revolutionary coalition that overthrew the monarchy was at once democratic, populist and Islamic. The Islamists, and the Khomeinists in particular, were able to capitalise effectively on prevailing conditions on the ground; to frame the new republic’s constitution, capture nascent institutions, and consolidate their power by eliminating opponents through a reign of terror. Once the war with Iraq was over and after the death of the new order’s charismatic founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, the Islamic Republic was consolidated: first by tweaking its institutional arrangements, and then by fostering economic development and post-war reconstruction. A reformist interlude then followed, reversed unceremoniously by a return of populism and a broader authoritarian retrenchment.

Today Iran remains at odds with itself, its economy too deeply political to yield meaningful developmental results, its foreign relations too conflicted to allow it a productive place in the community of nations. As Iran’s nationalities and its women and youth carve out spaces for themselves in the broader narrative, competing identities–religious, national and otherwise–abound.

The Islamic Republic is a hybrid political system whose authoritarian features and impulses far outweigh its responsiveness, accountability, and representative nature. It is a system with an all-powerful religious figure at the helm, and whose elected president and parliament have few powers. It is a system that has repeatedly shown itself to be unwilling to tolerate internal reforms, one that remains essentially nondemocratic. Despite the manifold changes it ushered in Iran, the Islamic revolution did not fundamentally change the nature of state-society relations, and the state has remained deeply authoritarian. Iranian thinkers and writers frequently muse over the relationship between what it means to be “Islamic” and what it means to be “republican.” Academic musings notwithstanding, it is Khamenei’s interpretation of Islam that today rules over Iran, with the country having gone from the authoritarianism of the monarchy to the authoritarianism of the Islamic Republic.
Visit Mehran Kamrava's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Samantha Muka's "Oceans under Glass"

Samantha Muka is assistant professor of science, technology, and society in the College of Arts and Letters at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Oceans under Glass: Tank Craft and the Sciences of the Sea, and reported the following:
From page 99:
For the most part, the modifications of the Hamner kreisels were done to make feeding and scaling up easier. The main changes in the kreisels were aesthetic. Tanks were lit from the sides, and the back was a translucent blue backlit with a fluorescent light. This lighting caused an “endless blue” effect that made the tank appear larger than it actually was. The biggest finding was that the kreisel design could be modified to keep a truly wide array of species, many that did not need the same rate or directionality of current. Cassiopea xamachana (upside-down jelly) do not need a kreisel tank because they are a mainly stationary species that live in relatively stagnant water; their tanks were sand filtered tetrahedrons with rectangular bottoms and heated water. Other species, including Polyorchis penicillatus (bell jelly) are small and could be kept in pseudo kreisels, which work on the same theory of traditional kreisels but are modified from traditional rectangular tanks.
In general, this test is both good and bad for gauging the overall contents of my book.

It is good because it gives you a sense of what the book is about. My book looks at the history of aquarium technology as it was developed in homes, public aquariums, and laboratories in the last 150 years. Page 99 is the end of a section on the development of aquariums for the opening of “Jellies”- an exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in 1992. The end of this subsection tells how Monterey brought together the tank technologies developed around the world and the husbandry techniques (feeding and temperature information) developed separately.

But in some ways, it doesn’t work so well. The first way is that this section appears very dry and technically unapproachable. I promise, the whole book isn’t like this! But because this is a bit later in the chapter, I’ve already introduced so many of the concepts in these paragraphs that I don’t stop to explain them completely. You shouldn’t expect that you would have to be someone who knows anything about aquariums before you read this book. By page 99, you’ll be able to follow all this easily! In addition, each chapter is on a different tank, including photographic aquariums, breeding systems, and coral tanks. Each chapter is self-contained and tells the history of that tank; the whole book isn’t about jellyfish tanks.
Follow Samantha Muka on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 20, 2023

Russ Crawford's "Women's American Football"

Russ Crawford has taught U.S., East Asian, and Sport History at Ohio Northern University since 2005. He earned his PhD from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and has published books and articles on the history of sport, among other topics.

Crawford applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Women's American Football: Breaking Barriers On and Off the Gridiron, and reported the following:
From page 99:
"I kind of had an identity crisis. I didn’t know what to do in the world without sports.” As with many women football players, her road to joining a team started online. She found information about the Dallas Diamonds, and considered moving there, but then married and had children. “When we moved out to Seattle, I needed that competition in my life. I got on Google and saw that there was a Seattle team. I emailed the coach (Scott McCarron) and haven’t looked back since.” Since that beginning, she has become a member of the board that oversees the Majestics, and played on the U.S. National Team. She has also had injury issues. When asked about how her parents had reacted to her new football career, she told me “It surprised pretty much no one in my life. I’ve always been rough and tough, playing with the guys. I am super competitive with everything that I do, whether it is a spelling bee, or if I am drinking a glass of water with someone, I’ll still try to beat them. It didn’t surprise them, they were like, ‘welp, don’t get injured,’ which I have managed to do every season. So…” When I talked with her, she was recovering from a spinal surgery, and at the time of the world championship, she was “only about eleven weeks out of spine surgery when I went for the games. I got a doctor’s clearance, but yeah, that’s a very, very, intense injury. Just after our interview, she injured her knee, but at the Falconz game, she played through the pain.

Like Tolliver, Majestics linebacker Holly Custis has had to return from injury to play. Custis started playing for the Eugene Edge while studying history at the University of Oregon. After the Edge folded, she played three years for the Corvallis Pride and four more for the Portland Fighting Phillies for five years. She had played for the Majestics for the last four seasons when I interviewed her.

Just after returning from the Women’s World Games in Orlando, Custis was running a simple pass pattern in practice when her knee failed. She would face surgery and rehabilitation before she could play again. Custis blogged about the injury on her Relentless21: A Gridiron Mindset site, and the recovery process that followed.

On her injury and rehabilitation, Custis told me “My knee injury has been a huge process, and it’s only been about two years, actually just over two years..."
If a reader opened Women's American Football: Breaking Barriers On and Off the Field to page 99, they would get a decent taste of what the rest of the book is like. On that page, I discuss two players - McKenzie Toliver and Holly Custis, both of whom, at that time, played for the Seattle Majestics of the Independent Women's Football League. Both also had to play through injuries - spine and knee injuries in Toliver's case, and knee injury for Custis. They did so willingly in order to make it onto the gridiron. Custis, as is the case with many players, had played on several teams across the country. Toliver also played with the United States Women's National Team that won a gold medal in 2017.

My book explores the history of the major women's tackle football leagues from the 1970s to the present day, so page 99 is a bit narrow in focus. It does, however, give readers an idea of how I used oral history to flesh out the sparse documentary reports that I was able to locate. It also introduces the reader to the world of tough women that I discovered during my research and writing. They recognize that injuries are a part of football, and something to be overcome. Their reward is getting to play America's favorite game, and do so at a high level.
Visit Russ Crawford's website and follow him on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Shiamin Kwa's "Perfect Copies"

Shiamin Kwa is an associate professor of East Asian languages and cultures and comparative literature at Bryn Mawr College. Her books include Regarding Frames: Thinking with Comics in the Twenty-first Century for the Comics Studies (2020).

Kwa applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Perfect Copies: Reproduction and the Contemporary Comic, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Perfect Copies is a close reading of representations of “noise” in the artist Conor Stechschulte’s Generous Bosom four volume series (also republished as Ultrasound), in which sound recordings play a key role in a plot about mind control. I describe a conversation that has already been represented in an earlier section of the book, and is now shown again in a different setting. On this page, I perform a close formal reading of some pages of Stechschulte’s work, and discuss words as representatives of sound: in the language of conversation, but also in onomatopoeia (‘ssshhhh’ suggestive of the running water of a shower). I consider the contradictory meaning of noise as something that gives meaning, but that also can be used to mean something that interrupts or obscures meaning. This is all complicated by the facts of printed pages, whether they are all text or text and image, and how “noise” can be represented on a silent and unyielding page.

The Page 99 Test does genuinely give the reader a sense of how my book “works” across its five chapters and speaks to my approach to the analysis of texts in this book as well as in my other books and articles. The majority of the page is given over to close formal reading of a section of Stechschulte’s work. This example of my method of close analysis of the text conveys to the reader how reading small units of a text can reveal broader, wide-ranging meaning that adheres to the work of that particular artist, as well as to our understanding of the affordances of the Comics form. The last full sentence on page 99 reads: “The tools of technological reproduction are uncannily linked to the control of biological reproduction in Stechschulte’s text.” This sentence brings the close reading back to the central argument of the entire book: that the technological reproducibility of the Comics medium facilitates and complements fascinating and sometimes troubling explorations of biological reproduction. The browser of my book will understand, from page 99, that Perfect Copies will provide close and detailed analysis of primary source texts that are selected and arranged so as to highlight certain theoretical questions about the relationship between form and meaning.
Learn more about Perfect Copies at the Rutgers University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Coretta M. Pittman's "Literacy in a Long Blues Note"

Coretta M. Pittman is associate professor in the Department of English at Baylor University. She teaches undergraduate courses on race and rhetoric and writing and social justice and graduate courses in African American literature and critical literacy studies. Her research focuses on literacy and rhetoric at the intersections of race, class, gender, and popular culture.

Pittman applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Literacy in a Long Blues Note: Black Women's Literature and Music in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham writes about the cultural and class differences among nineteenth and twentieth century public voices for the race writing “the nineteenth century had witnessed the ascendancy of the middle class as the literate public voice of the race. The twentieth century witnessed the ascendancy of the black working class as the oral narrator of modernity” (“Rethinking Vernacular Culture” 165). Although Higginbotham is writing specifically about black religious content within a subset of the black religious working-classes who were then using race records to promulgate their public message for salvation, the race record market for classic blues was, in fact, “the oral narrator of modernity” (“Rethinking Vernacular Culture” 165) for a different kind of subset within the black working-classes who listened to classic blues by women who expressed themselves in a vernacular which they were intimately familiar. Sales of Smith’s “Crazy Blues” verified the public’s desire for music with secular themes. According to Adam Gussow, it has been estimated that “within seven months, hundreds of thousands of copies of ‘Crazy Blues’ had been sold nationally, perhaps even a million, the great majority of them to a black public delighted at the chance to consume, in endlessly replayable form, a commodified narrative of one black woman’s romantic abandonment” (9). After Smith recorded “Crazy Blues,” many more black women would were recorded singing blues.

Chris Albertson, blues writer and critic argues “Crazy Blues” would be an insignificant blues song but for it being the first blues record recorded. His summarily dismissive comment reads in part, “if ‘Crazy Blues’ cut on August 10, 1920, had not been the first vocal blues record issued, it would probably be long forgotten, for it is an undistinguishable blues composition rendered by a singer whose métier was the so-called sweet song” (24). Albertson’s criticism is harsh. Even though Smith’s vocals are not comparable to Rainey’s or Bessie Smith’s, it is the content of the song more than the vocals that render it a distinguishable blues composition. The song cannot be forgotten because 1) it expresses viewpoints and behaviors akin to a subset of the black working classes often ridiculed, rendered silent, deemed deviant, and 2) this record provides a window into the imaginative spirts of a working class artist with a working class ethos whose artistic contributions were as much a part of the formation of the new modern age as any writer of the New Negro in Literature Era. Another critic offers a less critical view of “Crazy Blues” writing, “overdetermined or not, the extraordinary success of ‘Crazy Blues,’ was at least partly a result of the complex symbolic rebellion it enacted, the truth it spoke to white power” (Gussow 12). Or rather I suggest the truth it spoke against white power and black middle-class constraints and repression.
These two paragraphs taken from page 99 speak to the larger concerns of the book. Black women from all social classes participated in discussions about the race in the 1920s and ‘30s. The challenge as I note on page 99 is that Black women singing the blues were often relegated to the margins on questions about the race. Yes, their blues lyrics openly discussed what was then taboo topics such as sex, same sex attraction, interpersonal violence, drinking, etc., but these modern women also cared about what happened to the people in their communities. Thus, their lyrics also described how tuberculosis ravaged their communities, how the criminal justice system harmed their men, how Black love empowered them to live within the restraints of Jim Crow as well as other pertinent issues confronting the race. Their secular efforts to entertain and their sacred efforts to heal disarmed some Black elites, those in the emerging professional class, and the religiously minded yet they pressed on.

As page 99 illustrates, rather than rely on the mythology of the classic blues singers as fun loving and fancy free, I turn to Mamie Smith’s recording of “Crazy Blues,” to offer an early view into women like her from the working class who plunged headfirst into the new modern age to add their voice alongside their contemporaries talking about the race in the New Negro Era. Like Angelina Weld Grimké, Jessie Fauset, and others Mamie Smith also had something powerful to say about Black people’s place in the world. That other classic blues singers were recorded after Mamie Smith signaled that Black women from the working class could speak for themselves.

Given this summation, I’d say the Page 99 Test passes in this case. Any reader can turn to page 99 to understand the motivations for the book but also some of its key assertions.
Follow Coretta M. Pittman on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Robert Dover's "Hacker, Influencer, Faker, Spy"

Robert Dover is Professor of Criminology, specialising in intelligence and national security, and the Head of the School of Criminology, Sociology and Policing at the University of Hull.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Hacker, Influencer, Faker, Spy: Intelligence Agencies in the Digital Age, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Developed Vetting (DV) allows material up to TOP SECRET. There are extended versions of the Developed Vetting, but that would be beyond the need of nearly all academics in all disciplines: bar some forms of sensitive engineering, and those writing official histories. The hosted workshop or equivalent keeps the security onus on the government department and its officials to ensure that official secrets are protected. This onus means that government departments are often unwilling to arrange events that make it clear what questions they are interested in. As an entirely fictitious example, an interest in hosting experts to discuss Chinese development or exploitation of 5G infrastructure would clearly hint at a preoccupation around future network security, although this would have been a more interesting and relevant topic five years ago, perhaps. The acknowledgment of a gap in knowledge is as relevant to understanding the state of the security community as it is reading the knowledge they have.

Greater levels of embedded engagement – such as the Special Officer programme, or working in some form for an agency – are a good opportunity for the agency to exploit academic knowledge and gain targeted insights on classified materials, and they are a good opportunity for the academic to experience practitioner life on the inside, rather a curated or carefully guarded snapshot of that life provided by workshops or interviews and the like. But embedded relationships require an agency to sponsor the academic’s security clearances (which has a financial cost and a cost to officer time), it requires them to manage the academic, to provide them with physical passes, internal-electronic passes and if they are to gain access to the intranet, or equivalent, a laptop and telephone, as appropriate. Such a level of expenditure would require the agency to put forward what they describe as a business case to justify the cost against the anticipated gain. For the academic, they have to be intellectually and politically sold on the idea that this wish to assist the government’s security effort – and that is by no means guaranteed across academia, they have to be willing to put themselves forward for the level of personal intrusion that a security clearance process entails, they have to manage the expectations of their university employer and gain consent for time away from the office, they have to be willing to accept the obligation that official secrecy and the surrounding processes entail and they have to accept a partial curtailment of their normal freedoms to publish.
The test has landed on one of the drier pages in the book! Page 99 sits in a section looking at how intelligence agencies use and could better use external expertise, and how this has been impacted by the digital age. In that sense it does give the reader a (dry) snapshot into what I was interested in, which is how the digital age is changing and framing the business of intelligence. Before I turned to page 99 I had wondered if it would land on a chapter opener or an intentionally blank page to scupper the test completely. I was pleased when it landed on something substantive, and in my office I picked a few books off my shelf and discovered the test works pretty well on those too.

The bits of the book the test didn’t pick up on were the small ‘p’ political role that government intelligence has in western democracies. The way that intelligence activity both frames and polices the underpinning logics from which we view politics, society and threats. I think that is a really important concept, and one I feed through in discussions about politics, but also through popular culture. I really enjoyed looking at spy novels, films, TV and video gaming to see how these framing logics are written through them, and iterate over time. I end the book with a brief example of futurology to speculate on where technology might take intelligence in the medium-term future. When we are teaching intelligence analysis we generally say that five years is the timeframe where a prediction will hold some water, and I have stuck to this. As a result automation, AI, quantum computing and the metaverse were my focuses.
Learn more about Hacker, Influencer, Faker, Spy at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 16, 2023

Alexander Laban Hinton's "Anthropological Witness"

Alex Hinton is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Director of the Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights, UNESCO Chair on Genocide Prevention, and author or editor of seventeen books, including It Can Happen Here: White Power and the Rising Threat of Genocide in the US (2021), The Justice Facade: Trials of Transition in Cambodia (2018), and, most recently, Anthropological Witness: Lessons from the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (2022). In November, he received the American Anthropological Association’s 2022 Anthropology in the Media Award.

Hinton applied the "Page 99 Test" to Anthropological Witness and reported the following:
From page 99:
“Isn’t it true that Vietnam was the real enemy?” Koppe asks me as he turns to the last main topic of his questioning, Vietnam. “And [isn’t it true] that the fear of . . . the [Communist Party of Kampuchea was] real?”
A page 99 reader steps into the middle of the story about my March 2015 expert witness testimony at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia, which is the focus of Anthropological Witness. As the above excerpt suggests, page 99 reveals quite a bit. It gives a sense for the book’s writing style, which draws on creative non-fiction techniques including dialogue, narrative, character, tension, setting, and first-person voice.

One of the characters, international defense lawyer Victor Koppe, appears on this page as he presents the “crocodile defense” of a more major character, his client and the accused, Khmer Rouge “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea. Working hand-in-hand with Pol Pot, Nuon Chea was responsible for enacting revolutionary policies that resulted in the death of a quarter of Cambodia’s 8 million inhabitants from January 1975 to January 1979. Now, more than thirty years later, he was on trial for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Page 99 foregrounds a key issue in the book -- genocide denial -- that I had to combat during my testimony when confronted with Nuon Chea’s “crocodile defense” that sought to displace blame from the Khmer Rouge to outside actors, especially Vietnam. Relatedly, page 99 anticipates the book’s denouement: the end of my three and a half days on the stand when, upset with what I had said, Nuon Chea broke his long silence at the court to try to rebuke my testimony, which had damaged his defense and denials. He also took the opportunity to pose two questions to me, one of which centered on the responsibility of the U.S. for the violence. The book tells my reply.

Page 99 doesn’t connect all the threads of Anthropological Witness. But it does involve significant ones, including some of the most important stakes of my testimony: justice, accountability, explanation, and truth in the aftermath of genocide and mass violence.
Follow Alex Hinton on Twitter and Facebook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Verlan Lewis & Hyrum Lewis's "The Myth of Left and Right"

Verlan Lewis is a visiting Scholar in the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University and the Stirling Professor of Constitutional Studies at Utah Valley University. Hyrum Lewis is an associate professor of history at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

They applied the "Page 99 Test" to their new book, The Myth of Left and Right: How the Political Spectrum Misleads and Harms America, and reported the following:
The body of our book is short, so page 99 is the first page of the conclusion. Here is a telling quote:
Ever since the terms “left-wing” and “right-wing” emerged during the French Revolution, we have been asking the wrong question. Instead of asking, “What is the essential characteristic that binds ideologues together?” we should have been asking, “Why do people share the same views on so many distinct political positions when there is no essential characteristic binding them together?” This book has shown that social conformism is the best answer.
Browsers opening to page 99 would get an excellent sense of what the book is about since the Conclusion is a summary that wraps up the research and sends the reader off with a compact explanation of everything they’ve just read. But more than anything, page 99 describes why we think our project is important: there are two theories of ideology that we address in the book—the essentialist and the social theory. To us, the essentialist theory, which says that left-right ideologies (such as “liberal” and “conservative”) are unified by a common philosophy or ideal, should wind up on the ash-heap of history. It is an obviously false model that crumbles under cursory examination, but, sadly, our society is currently in thrall to it. We are hoping that a “Copernican revolution” of sorts will help people see that their cherished ideologies are nothing more than sets of unrelated positions that are bound socially, not naturally, and that shedding the false notion that the many political positions considered left (abortion rights, higher taxes, affirmative action, etc.) or right (anti-abortion, lower taxes, against affirmative action., etc.) are somehow connected will lead to a more thoughtful, open-minded, charitable politics in which compromise and humility, rather than dogmatism and anger, are the norm.
Learn more about The Myth of Left and Right at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue