Sunday, October 22, 2017

Aidan Forth's "Barbed-Wire Imperialism"

Aidan Forth is Assistant Professor of British imperial history at Loyola University Chicago.

He  applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Barbed-Wire Imperialism: Britain's Empire of Camps, 1876-1903, and reported the following:
Camps, throughout history, have served a multitude of functions, from incarcerating political suspects, to rounding up refugees, enemy aliens and military combatants. One thread that connects this global history is the language of disease. Whether in Nazi Germany, where camps detained “carriers of the bacillus of Bolshevism” (218) or at Guantánamo Bay, where barbed-wire incarcerated Haitian refugees suspected of carrying AIDS (227), medicine and social sanitation have proven central metaphors of modern statecraft. Likewise, in the British Empire, medical concerns led to the detention of more than a million colonial subjects during a global pandemic of bubonic plague in 1897. A system of medical quarantine camps, from Hong Kong to South Africa, and especially in India, interned those suspected of carrying the contagion. In the name of “disease control,” camps (like the one pictured on the cover of the book) detained “certain classes of people” who “as a rule are dirty in their habits” (82). Page 99 is the final page of chapter 3, which systematically examines this vast system of detention and lays the groundwork for future chapters on camps for political rather than medical “suspects.”

Ultimately, the chapter concludes that medical quarantine largely failed to stop the spread of plague. In the words of Claude Hill, Private Secretary to the Bombay Governor, plague camps were “not only ineffective,” they “created an undercurrent of discontent” among the native population (99). Yet camps remained popular among colonial officials because they offered an excuse to remove undesirable social and racial elements—“the scum of the Bombay population,” according to one police official (56)—from the center of colonial cities. Urban “cleansing” became racial “cleansing.” British plague camps also provided effective logistical models for the billeting of mass populations in the future. These included the “concentration camps” of the South African War (1899-1901), which interned “verminous” and “extremely dirty” populations during a colonial “dirty war” (167). Interestingly, officials from India with experience managing plague camps were eventually seconded to administer this new system of camps in South Africa.
Learn more about Barbed-Wire Imperialism at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Walter S. Judd & Graham A. Judd's "Flora of Middle-Earth"

Walter S. Judd is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biology, University of Florida. Graham Judd holds an MFA in Printmaking, and received a Jerome Foundation Fellowship for Emerging Printmakers at Highpoint Center for Printmaking.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Flora of Middle-Earth: Plants of J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium, and reported the following:
From Page 99:
The forest gate is described as archlike, formed by two gigantic trees leaning against each other, and these trees are ‘strangled with ivy and hung with lichens’ and bear only a few old, damaged leaves. Here we see two distinctive characteristics of Usnea: first, its preference for sickly, dead, or dying trees that have fewer leaves and thus a more open canopy, allowing more sunlight to reach the lichens; and, second, its characteristic epiphytic and hanging habit—that is, it almost always grows on trees or shrubs on which it forms a much-branched system of often pendulous, pale gray to yellowish branchlets (Figure 7.8). This growth form is so characteristic of Usnea, a fruticose lichen (i.e., one that has a branched, miniature, shrubby or treelike form), that the species of this genus are  called beard lichens (or old man’s beards) because their hanging branches look like a graying beard. These common names are alluded to by Tolkien elsewhere, as when Merry and Pippin entered Fangorn forest (Figure 7.8) and saw ‘great trailing beards of lichen hung from’ huge branches (LotR 3: III), and Pippin, picking up on the feeling of the forest, exclaimed—‘Look at all those weeping, trailing, beards and whiskers of lichen!’ (LotR 3: IV). These descriptions perfectly match the appearance of many species of Usnea, which are widespread and diverse in Europe (with more than 30 species occurring there) and thus would have been very familiar to Tolkien. Usnea seems to have been as common in Middle-earth, and it adds to our mental image of—and gives a certain foreboding quality to—the great forests of Mirkwood and Fangorn. This expectation of evil is expressed most clearly in the very similar description of the forest gateway where the orc trail from Thangorodrim entered Taur-nu-Fuin: the Forest-Beneath-Night, so named because it was filled with terror and dark enchantment by Morgoth. We read in The Lay of the Children of Húrin that Beleg and Gwindor saw

[A]n archway opened.        By ancient trunks

It was framed darkly,        that in far-off days

The lightning felled,         now leaning gaunt

Their lichen-leprous        limbs uprooted. (Lays I: lines 936-939)

Again, we see the image of ancient dead trees covered with beard lichens. Their presence is described as ‘leprous’ because of their gray-green to yellow-green color, but this term is also appropriate given that Taur-nu-Fuin itself is diseased and distorted by the evil actions of Morgoth. This forest, located in Dorthonion north of Beleriand in the First Age, was much more perilous than either Fangorn or Mirkwood. Yet it was here that Beleg found Gwindor and rescued Túrin (see SILM 21).
This book is a flora, and like any flora it documents the plants occurring in the geographical area of concern—in this case J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. For each of the 141 genera and/or plant species mentioned in Tolkien’s major writings, we include (1) the common and scientific names, along with an indication of the family to which the plant belongs; (2) a brief quote from one of Tolkien’s works in which the plant is referenced; (3) a discussion of the significance of the plant in the context of Tolkien’s legendarium [part of which is quoted above, for Beard Lichens]; (4)  the etymology, relating to both the English common name and the Latin scientific names, and, where relevant, the name in one or more of the languages of Middle-earth; (5) a brief description of the plant’s geographical distribution and ecology; (6) its economic importance; and (7) a morphological description. Most of these are also provided with a woodcut-style illustration (as an aid to identification), along with an inset illustrating one of the events in the history of Middle-earth in which the plant played a role. Tolkien was clear that his Middle-earth is to be viewed as our own world, and his writings, therefore, are meant to reconnect us to important elements of our internal and cultural landscape and also to impact how we interact with other individuals and with the world in which we live—including the landscapes of our natural environment—including plants!  The plants within Tolkien’s legendarium are actually part of the story, showing numerous connections with humans, elves, and hobbits in the myths and history of Middle-earth. We hope that our detailed treatment of these plants will create a visual reference, and legitimacy, for both the plants growing in our forests, meadows, and marshes, as well as those that we have received as gifts from Tolkien’s imagination. Finally, Tolkien viewed the light of the Two Trees of Valinor as “the light of art undivorced from reason, that sees things both scientifically … and imaginatively” – following his guidance, we attempt in our book to integrate both botanical science and artistic imagination
Learn more about Flora of Middle-Earth at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Gregory A. Daddis's "Withdrawal: Reassessing America's Final Years in Vietnam"

Gregory A. Daddis is an Associate Professor of History and Director of Chapman University’s MA Program in War and Society. He is author of Westmoreland's War: Reassessing American Strategy in Vietnam.

Daddis applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Withdrawal: Reassessing America's Final Years in Vietnam, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Just as important, the increasing role played by the ARVN meant a necessary decline in American influence. Though the “one war” approach envisioned an integrated allied effort, officers still saw deficiencies in the “sequential manner of attacking one critical phase or threat at a time.” If both pacification and Vietnamization relied on a secure environment in which to flourish, then it made sense to defeat the enemy’s military threat. Yet the combined campaign plans continued to place the primary responsibility for pacification on the ARVN’s shoulders. In large sense, the South Vietnamese armed forces were being pulled in two opposite directions….

Yet it seems hard to argue against the idea that South Vietnamese forces, despite all their flaws, indeed were best suited for pacification, always a process of negotiation between the host government, its army, and the people. Realizing the “population had to be provided with more than temporary security,” MACV had always intended the ARVN to work closely with local territorial forces. But with US forces withdrawing, Abrams and his staff grappled with whether the South Vietnamese army should focus on pacification or improving its ability to react to the more conventional NVA threat.
For many Americans who fought in the Vietnam War, their relationship with the South Vietnamese army, popularly known as the ARVN, remained one fraught with tension. The friction seemed inevitable. With President Richard M. Nixon’s 1969 decision to withdraw U.S. forces from South Vietnam, American military leaders felt they were bestowing the war to an ally in which few had much faith. Generals like Creighton Abrams were far from optimistic about a policy that quickly became known as “Vietnamization.” Even after years of US aid and assistance, by the late 1960s, the ARVN was grappling with issues of corruption, low morale, and poor leadership.

True, South Vietnamese soldiers fought hard across much of their homeland. They were instrumental in helping pacify the countryside, defeating local insurgents, and building bridges between the Saigon government and its rural population. An excerpt from page 99, however, illustrates a key paradox that the American military assistance command (MACV) faced as it began to depart from a war not yet concluded. That paradox remains a controversial topic on the U.S. war in Vietnam to this very day.
Learn more about Withdrawal at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Westmoreland's War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sarah Adler-Milstein and John M. Kline's "Sewing Hope"

Sarah Adler-Milstein is a worker-rights advocate and has served as Field Director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the Worker Rights Consortium. John M. Kline is Professor of International Business Diplomacy at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He is the author of four books, including the textbook Ethics for International Business.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Sewing Hope: How One Factory Challenges the Apparel Industry's Sweatshops, and reported the following:
How do you capture the difference between heaven and earth? Sewing Hope: How One Factory Challenges the Apparel Industry’s Sweatshops tells the story of Alta Gracia, an apparel factory in the Dominican Republic.  Local workers describe the comparison between Alta Gracia and typical apparel industry sweatshops as la diferencia entre el cielo y la tierra (“the difference between heaven and earth”). Alta Gracia is the only apparel factory that pays workers a living wage over three times the legal minimum, maintains excellent health and safety standards, and has signed collective bargaining agreements with a legitimate labor union – all verified by an independent labor rights organization.

Page 99 captures one small aspect of what makes this life-changing model for apparel production so different from a "normal" factory. On top is a photo of two factory administrators reviewing personnel policies. Text on the bottom half relates the administrators’ unusual efforts and equally unusual success altering company policies to improve workers’ health insurance coverage, providing access to quality healthcare clinics and pharmacies. This “slice-of-life” example only hints at the dramatic contrasts in labor-management relations and workplace standards revealed by the full analysis of Alta Gracia’s operations.

Beyond Page 99 you'll find many other crucial aspects of the living wage model and the "big picture" view of how this one small factory could chart a course for larger industry transformation. Most executives and many economists hold a fatalistic view that low wages and dangerous conditions are unfortunate but inherent elements of competition in the global apparel industry. Alta Gracia tells a very different story: that living wages and safe factories are possible and that the cost is minimal – less than a dollar a sweatshirt.

Life-changing stories show the impact a salario digno (wage with dignity) can have on a worker’s family. There can be nutritious meals, needed healthcare and educational opportunities for both children and adults.  Later may come improvements in basic housing, such as running water, and help for relatives in need. Some workers start small businesses or train for a profession.  These other scenes of heaven are revealed if you read beyond the photo and short text on page 99.  There's so much more that Alta Gracia’s anti-sweatshop model offers by creating a kind of "heaven" for only 90¢ more a sweatshirt.
Learn more about Sewing Hope at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Matthew Kraig Kelly's "The Crime of Nationalism"

Matthew Kraig Kelly is a historian of the modern Middle East. He has served as a visiting professor at Occidental College and the University of California, Los Angeles, and his work has been published in the Journal of Palestine Studies, Middle East Critique, and other academic journals.

Kelly applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Crime of Nationalism: Britain, Palestine, and Nation-Building on the Fringe of Empire, and reported the following:
"Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you."--the page 99 test, attributed to Ford Madox Ford

This is arguably accurate for my book. Page 99 of The Crime of Nationalism concerns Zionist and Palestinian anxieties in the run-up to the release of the 1937 Peel Report, which – unbeknownst to either group – would recommend the partitioning Palestine into two states: one Jewish and one Arab. Why did the British recommend this partition? Because they came to the determination that Arabs and Jews just couldn’t get along. Even with the utterly neutral, entirely objective, scrupulously fair British exerting every sinew to bring about a reconciliation between them.

This British self-image is, in a sense, what my book is all about. The British had a terrible habit in Palestine of overlooking the ways in which their own actions contributed to the political instability they were attempting to manage. If one metaphor captures this mentality, it is the stage. The British conceived of themselves – and particularly of their institutional presence in Palestine – as the stage upon which two actors, the Arab and Jewish communities, performed. On this understanding, the stage merely upheld the actors; it could not script their behavior. It was up to the Arabs and the Jews to put their intercommunal affairs in order. Their failure to do so only illustrated how obstinate and perhaps uncivilized they were. Yet, as my book demonstrates, the British state in Palestine was much more than a stage. To stay with the metaphor, it was a third actor, just as causally dynamic and consequential as Arab and Jewish institutions. Once we appreciate this fact, we can approach the historical materials relating to 1936-39 with the goal of deconstructing the British representation of the rebellion. By returning the British to their rightful place in the causal picture of the revolt, we gain a more complete understanding of this important episode in the history of interwar insurgencies.
Learn more about The Crime of Nationalism at the University of California Press website.

My Book, The Movie: The Crime of Nationalism.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 16, 2017

Abeer Y. Hoque's "Olive Witch"

Abeer Y. Hoque is a Nigerian born Bangladeshi American writer and photographer. She has published a book of travel photographs and poems called The Long Way Home, and a book of linked stories, photographs and poems called The Lovers and the Leavers. She is a Fulbright Scholar and has received several other fellowships and grants. Her writing and photography have been published in Guernica, Outlook Traveller, Wasafi ri, ZYZZYVA, India Today, and The Daily Star. She has degrees from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and an MFA in writing from the University of San Francisco.

Hoque applied the “Page 99 Test” to her book, Olive Witch: A Memoir, and reported the following:
From page 99:
…universities and jobs in Enugu, Ibadan, Jos, Benin, Kano, Zaria, and Lagos, or they will have gone abroad. In another couple of years, even those in Nsukka will have gone. It is a university town, its population bounded by those studying or teaching there.

‘You cannot accept this,’ Abbu says after reading the letter.

‘What do you mean?’ I ask, shocked.

‘It’s not for you. This scholarship is for black students.’

‘No, it’s for students who have ties to Africa,’ I protest.

‘They mean blacks. What if you went to their office? What would they think when they saw you? When it was clear that you weren’t black?’

I think about Kunta Kinte, his unthinkable trials repeated a million times over the centuries to where America is today. With less force in my voice, I say, ‘But we need the money.’

‘They need it more.’

In the break room at work, I read the scholarship offer one last time and then pitch it in the trash with the fast food wrappers and coke cans. I shut my book and take out Glenn’s latest letter.

My lovecrush is so overpowering that I don’t perceive the tension mounting in our house. So when my father asks why I must write Glenn so often, I’m not as careful as I usually am with my words.

‘I like writing to him,’ I say, capping and uncapping my inky blue pen as I look out the living room window. ‘Nothing seems real until I’ve told him.’

Outside, the summer heat shimmers on our black tar driveway. I notice the grass has to be cut. Maher is still too young to handle a bulky bladed machine on his own, so it falls to me and Simi to mow the lawn, and we hate it. We have a used lawnmower whose starter is so reluctant that it requires…
My book is split into three very different, chronological geographies of my life and identity: Nigeria (where I was born and lived til I was 13), the States (where my family moved and I’ve lived since high school), and Bangladesh (where my parents are originally from and where I lived as an adult for a few years). Interleaved with those sections are excerpts set in a psychiatric ward.

Page 99 falls in the American bit, just past high school into college, but it mentions my first hometown in the world, Nsukka, in southeastern Nigeria, and alludes to the nostalgia and grief of never really being able to go home after you’ve left. There’s a conflict between my father and me, telling because family dynamics and cross cultural and generational clashes are some of my memoir’s major themes. And the actual conflict is about how I identify myself, as African or otherwise. My first love makes an appearance, a relationship not approved of, par for the course for immigrant families. And there’s suburban America in the backdrop with its sprawling lawns and fast food chains and household chores – alien landscape slowly, resentfully becoming familiar ground.

As a writer, I’m also interested in language as much as story and place, and I think page 99 of Olive Witch gives the reader a thank you taste of much of what I hold dear: an attention to place via description and setting, themes of displacement and identity, and of course, love.
Learn more about the book and author at Abeer Y. Hoque's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A. James McAdams's "Vanguard of the Revolution"

A. James McAdams is the William M. Scholl Professor of International Affairs and director of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies at the University of Notre Dame. His many books include Judging the Past in Unified Germany and Germany Divided: From the Wall to Reunification.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Vanguard of the Revolution: The Global Idea of the Communist Party, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Vanguard of the Revolution, I outline the circumstances under which Lenin and other Bolshevik revolutionaries debated whether Russia should withdraw from participation in World War I.  Lenin was angry that his associates should dare to disagree with him at all, but he ultimately got his way.  He argued that they should act according the wishes of the party--i.e., his wishes--because their association was a "comradely family." A few months later, he also secured their agreement to rename their party the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks).  Of equal importance, Lenin also embraced the notion that the party needed to be more than a source of inspiration.  It also needed to be the source of clearer lines of commend in order to effect its wishes.

At this point in Vanguard of the Revolution, I am setting up two themes that run throughout the book.  The first is that on this occasion, and on many others, there persisted a culture of debate among the Bolsheviks that frustrated even the party's preeminent leader, Lenin. On these particular issues, he got his way.  But this was not always the case. Later, in the 1930s, Joseph Stalin waged war on this "comradely family" by ordering the execution of nearly all of the early Bolsheviks.  The second theme on this page is Lenin's endorsement of the principle that the party should not only be driven by a central idea; it should have the organizational means to put the idea into practice.  This point allows me to set up a juxtaposition that suffuses the book: the tension between the party as a motivating idea and the party as a practical organization.
Learn more about Vanguard of the Revolution at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Kieran Setiya's "Midlife: A Philosophical Guide"

Kieran Setiya teaches philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, working mainly in ethics, epistemology, and the philosophy of mind.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Midlife: A Philosophical Guide, and reported the following:
Page 99 finds me in the midst of retrospection, asking how it could make sense to affirm my actual life as a professor when I believe I should been a physician instead. Looking back at my foolish decision, am I condemned to wish for a second chance?

It is not just about me. There is a wider question here, about regret in the face of our mistakes and the misfortunes that befall us. Is there space between the things you should not have done, or should not have had to endure, and what you should want to change about your past?

Turns out there is. What matters is not the bare existence of what you did, or what has happened to you, as if its mere occurrence made it better, but immersion in the subsequent details of your life, the intricate fabric of moments, relationships, and activities that make it good, even though it is not the best. My relationship to life as a philosopher, in living it, is utterly different from my speculative relationship to an imagined life as a physician.
There is a difference between knowing that something is worthwhile and knowing what makes it so, between knowing the existence of reasons for desire and knowing what those reasons are. Just as it is rational to respond less strongly to the abstract knowledge that your life will have deficiencies than to learning which ones, so it is rational to respond more strongly to the definite ways in which a life is good than to the nebulous fact that another life is better.
Hence the advice with which the chapter ends: “Do not weigh alternatives theoretically, but zoom in: let the specifics count against the grand cartoon of lives unlived. In doing so, you may find that you cannot regret that you should have resisted at the time.”

This is from a chapter about dealing with the past. Other chapters confront the relentless grind of necessity, the distortions of nostalgia and the problem of missing out, mortality and fear of death, the tyranny of projects and the challenge of living in the present. A cerebral self-help book, Midlife uses philosophical arguments and ideas as cognitive therapy, speaking to the many midlife crises, and to anyone coping with the irreversibility of time.
Visit Kieran Setiya's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 13, 2017

David Biespiel's "The Education of a Young Poet"

David Biespiel was born in 1964 and grew up in Houston, Texas.  He is a poet, literary critic, columnist, and contributing writer at The Rumpus, American Poetry ReviewPolitico, New RepublicPartisan, Slate, Poetry, and The New York Times, among other publications.

He is the author of ten books, most recently The Education of a Young PoetA Long High Whistle, which received the 2016 Oregon Book Award for General Nonfiction, and The Book of Men and Women, which was chosen one of the Best Books of the Year by the Poetry Foundation and received the 2011 Oregon Book Award for Poetry.

Biespiel applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Education of a Young Poet and reported the following:
From page 99:
For a short time the summer before my senior year in college, I had nowhere to go but Houston. So I moved back in with my mother. The last place I wanted to be was in my old neighborhood of Meyerland, even for a few weeks. I had been living in Boston, and I was different now. To return home seemed like a defeat.

I had always seen Meyerland as an idyllic area of southwest Houston with its cozy, mid-century Tudor and colonial ranch houses. In August the wide roads and trim lawns had settled low against a tall sky. Now, after living in Boston, I couldn’t see it at all anymore. Driving down Chimney Rock Road with the bulbous trees heavy under the long, humid skies was like a familiar dream. I did it without looking, without interest. I could only remember my childhood there but could not see who I was even in so familiar a place.
I’m not sure this passes the Page 99 Test. Though, interestingly, it does pass the test for the book I’m currently writing.
Visit David Biespiel's website.

Writers Read: David Biespiel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 12, 2017

David Howard's "Chasing Phil"

David Howard's first book, Lost Rights: The Misadventures of a Stolen American Relic, chronicled the 138-year journey of an original, priceless rendition of the Bill of Rights that was pilfered during the Civil War.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Chasing Phil: The Adventures of Two Undercover Agents with the World's Most Charming Con Man, and reported the following:
As it happens, page 99 encapsulates the book nicely. Chasing Phil is a road-trip story, and the three main characters are trying to find their rhythms and routines together. Here, in March 1977, they’re visiting the Fontainebleau Hotel, a massive, ostentatious slab on Miami Beach where in better days Frank Sinatra played the La Ronde Room, entertaining visiting mafioso. The main character, Phil Kitzer, an ingenious, globetrotting high-finance con artist, favors these kinds of vast lodgings—places that are at once grand and anonymous.

The sagging Fontainebleau is now under assault from Kitzer’s swindler associates, who are using fraudulent bank securities to try to wring out the last drops of its lifeblood. The hotel, I write, is “flirting with bankruptcy and sending off the kind of distressed-animal sounds that attracted predators like Andy D’Amato.”

The page introduces one of my favorite scenes—a passage that unpacks some of Phil’s complexities. He sweeps into the gift shop, where he buys every teddy bear on the shelves, then loads them into the arms of his trainees—two young men who are actually undercover FBI agents. The agents are thinking, What is this?

Page 100 spoiler alert: Phil ushers them into the hotel’s Poodle Lounge, where he hands out the stuffed animals to women cradling happy-hour martinis and proceeds to take over the room. He’s hilarious and flirtatious and flamboyant, making sure everyone watches as he peels a couple of hundreds off a massive wad of cash to pay for rounds of drinks.

This scene helps set up readers to wrestle with a central dilemma: Do I root for or against this guy? All you know for sure, as of page 99, is that it’s fun to ride along.
Visit David Howard's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

John Marmysz's "Cinematic Nihilism"

John Marmysz holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from State University of New York at Buffalo. His primary research interests focus on the issue of nihilism and its cultural manifestations.

Marmysz is the author of The Nihilist’s Notebook, Laughing at Nothing: Humor as a Response to Nihilism, The Path of Philosophy: Truth, Wonder and DistressThe Nihilist: A Philosophical Novel, and Cinematic Nihilism: Encounters, Confrontations, Overcomings. He is coeditor (with Scott Lukas) of Fear, Cultural Anxiety and Transformation: Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Films Remade.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Cinematic Nihilism and reported the following:
Page 99 of Cinematic Nihilism is the first page of Chapter 5, “The Lure of the Mob: Cinematic Depictions of Skinhead Authenticity.” On this page appears a still from the 1998 film American History X. It is a picture of a skinhead (the actor Edward Norton) with a swastika tattooed on his chest. The image is followed by these introductory words:
Skinheads are generally viewed, in contemporary Western culture, as symbols of violence, white racism and bigotry. In fact, the term ‘skinhead’ is taken by most academics and mainstream media consumers virtually to be synonymous with the term ‘Nazi’, and it has become almost automatic to associate images of young, white males sporting shaven heads with viciousness and racial intolerance. The media commonly utilise and exploit this iconic image in everything from television programmes and commercials to magazine ads and movies, reinforcing and strengthening its evocative power.
The chapter goes on to examine a somewhat puzzling and controversial genre of film in which neo-Nazi skinheads are portrayed in an understanding light, as misguided yet intelligent and psychologically complicated individuals in search of personal autonomy and self-understanding. The concept of “authenticity,” as articulated by the philosopher Martin Heidegger, is marshaled in order to try and appreciate the reasons why these otherwise reprehensible characters appear so sympathetic to audiences. My argument is that this sympathy is the result of audience identification with the struggles of the film characters as they confront, and authentically come to terms with, their experience of nihilism.

This chapter closes the book’s second division, which is devoted to films that depict struggles to confront nihilism. The book’s first division is devoted to films depicting initial encounters with nihilism while the book’s third, and final, division focuses on films in which characters overcome nihilism. Among the films examined are many that have been condemned by critics and scholars as morally reprehensible: The Wicker Man, Under the Skin, The Human Centipede, Nymphomaniac, Videodrome, Night of the Living Dead, Fight Club, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters.

The argument I make over the course of analyzing these films is that, contrary to much critical opinion, cinematic nihilism is not essentially negative or destructive, but a potentially constructive phenomenon offering audiences the opportunity to wrestle with an issue of universal human concern: alienation from our highest ideals. This alienation is not an unambiguously bad thing, since in addition to anguish, it also potentially provokes ongoing interpretation, aspiration and ambition. The rush to overcome nihilism (in both film and real life) may in fact result in consequences worse that nihilism itself, such as abjection, fascism and death.  Thus, despite common wisdom, I conclude that the defeat of nihilism (cinematic or otherwise) is not unequivocally good. It may be beneficial to remain within its grips rather than overcoming it once and for all.
Learn more about Cinematic Nihilism at the Edinburgh University Press website and John Marmysz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Jason Fagone's "The Woman Who Smashed Codes"

Jason Fagone's books include Ingenious: A True Story of Invention, the X Prize, and the Race to Revive America and Horsemen of the Esophagus: Competitive Eating and the Big Fat American Dream.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies, and reported the following:
Opening the book to page 99, this paragraph jumps out at me:
A tiny slip of paper fluttered down to Elizebeth. She was outdoors at Riverbank with William and Mr. Powell, the gentle University of Chicago publicity agent, the three of them working in the grass, the fresh air. She picked up the paper and saw a line of cursive written in light pencil. It was from William. “My dearest, I sit here studying your features. You are perfectly beautiful!! B.B.” Billy Boy. She hid the note so Mr. Powell wouldn’t see it, later pressing it between two pages of her diary. “My heart sang,” she wrote there, “carolling bursts of ecstasy.”
Elizebeth is Elizebeth Smith, the heroine of the book, and William is William Friedman, her coworker at a strange and wondrous scientific laboratory outside of Chicago. At this point in the story, the autumn of 1916, they're only in their twenties, and they're just beginning to fall in love. She's a Quaker poetry scholar, he's a Jewish plant biologist. They're from completely different worlds. But they just click. They're young and they're bright and they're ambitious and they want to leave a mark on the world. And that's what happens next, in their lives and in the book. They teach themselves how to become codebreakers -- to solve secret messages without knowing the key. Over the next 30 years, they use their abilities to shape the American intelligence community and help win the world wars.

For me, this is one of the cool things about learning about American history through the eyes of Elizebeth and William. You realize that, beneath the familiar narratives of the world wars and the growth of American intelligence, there's also this love story.
Visit Jason Fagone's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 9, 2017

Michael A. Ross's "The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case"

Michael A. Ross is Professor of History at the University of Maryland. He is the author of the prize-winning Justice of Shattered Dreams: Samuel Freeman Miller and the Supreme Court during the Civil War Era and The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era.

Ross applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case and reported the following:
Page 99 does indeed reflect what readers can expect from The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case, a true story of a sensational trial in which the key participants were Afro-Creoles. Both the lead detective and the accused women in the famous Digby Kidnapping case were Afro-Creoles, members of an elite class of African Americans who had been free before the Civil War. It was 1870 in Louisiana, the height of Radical Reconstruction.  The state’s Republican governor had just integrated the New Orleans police force and issues of race and class had recently led to wild violence and riots. Startling crimes like the Digby kidnapping quickly became intertwined with the tumultuous politics of the time. And the fact that the accused women in the story came from a class many white people in New Orleans had once trusted created panic amongst those who feared the changes emancipation and Reconstruction had wrought. Page 99 helps explain why many members of Louisiana’s upper class found it so terrifying that they could no longer judge people based on their manners and style. It was one more sign that their world had been turned upside down.
Learn more about The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Cleo Hanaway-Oakley's "James Joyce and the Phenomenology of Film"

Cleo Hanaway-Oakley was awarded her doctorate from the University of Oxford in 2013 after having completed a BA in English and Philosophy and an MA in Twentieth-century Literature at the University of Leeds. Her work is concerned with the interrelations between literature, philosophy, film, culture, and science. She is Founder and Chair of Oxford Phenomenology Network, an international group of interdisciplinary scholars and practitioners interested in all aspects of phenomenological thought and practice. She currently works at the University of Oxford in the role of Knowledge Exchange Facilitator and as a tutor at various Oxford colleges.

Hanaway-Oakley applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, James Joyce and the Phenomenology of Film, and reported the following:
My book spans three disciplines: literature, philosophy, and film studies. Page 99 of my book focuses only on the latter two. In this sense, the page is not representative of the book as a whole. However, the page contains analyses which are central to my overall argument, to my contention that modern artists – be they writers or film-makers – were supremely interested in the world-as-it-is-lived, the world as it is directly experienced by an always already bodily-and-subjective consciousness.

Interestingly, page 99 of my book features a discussion which is particularly germane to the ‘page 99 test’. I talk about gestalt theory. Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka famously stated that ‘the whole is other than the sum of the parts’; by this, he meant that we do not merely perceive a set of elements added together – when we view an object or a scene we directly and immediately (without any intellectual effort or rationalizing) see it as a unified totality that makes sense to us. For example, when we look at a cube, we do not see a collection of 2-D squares – we see a 3-D cube. Similarly, when we read a book we are not experiencing 350,000 letters, 60,000 words, or 200 pages – we are experiencing a conceptual whole, whether that whole is a story or a thesis. If we were to duplicate the ideas presented on page 99 a further 199 times, we would not end up with the complete book – we would have something rather different.

Conspicuously absent from page 99 of my book is the writer James Joyce. Joyce was a contemporary of Ford Madox Ford, but I have no idea how he felt about Ford’s ‘page 99 test’. Let us give it a go with Joyce’s Ulysses (Gabler Edition). On page 99, we find what appear to be two newspaper articles, denoted by capitalised headlines. Are we to assume, from this, that Ulysses is just one long newspaper? In one sense, this is a fair summation – the book delivers news of various goings-on in and around Dublin on 16 June 1904. But, as my monograph demonstrates, these goings-on are not communicated via a single reporter; Joyce employs multiple perspectives and devices, all of the time conveying the experience of fully-embodied and enworlded conscious beings.
Visit Cleo Hanaway-Oakley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Meryl Gordon's "Bunny Mellon"

Meryl Gordon is the author of the New York Times bestselling Mrs. Astor Regrets and Phantom of Fifth Avenue, a Wall Street Journal bestseller. She is an award-winning journalist and a regular contributor to Vanity Fair. She is on the graduate journalism faculty at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. She is considered an expert on “elder abuse” and has appeared on NPR, CNN and other outlets whenever there is a high-profile case.

Gordon applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Bunny Mellon: The Life of an American Style Legend, and reported the following:
On page 99 I write about Paul Mellon's marriage to his first wife, and there's foreshadowing that they are not the happiest of couples.

I think Ford Madox Ford's test is a great conceit but it is also so arbitrary. That page in my book is fine but there are other pages that I loved reporting and writing so much more.
Visit Meryl Gordon's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Phantom of Fifth Avenue.

Writers Read: Meryl Gordon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 6, 2017

Johann N. Neem's "Democracy's Schools"

Johann N. Neem is a senior fellow at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and a professor of history at Western Washington University. He is the author of Creating a Nation of Joiners: Democracy and Civil Society in Early National Massachusetts.

Neem applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Democracy's Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America, and reported the following:
Page 99 opens with Hiram Orcutt’s memories of his student days in a New England district school under “incompetent” and “cheap teachers.” Poet John Greenleaf Whittier was a bit more generous. Although teachers relied on “birchen arguments” (the stick), Whittier acknowledged that they at least helped children learn “the mysteries / of those weary A B Cs.”

Antebellum education reformers wanted to transform teaching. They sought teachers who appealed to students’ innate curiosity rather than relying on the external force of “birchen arguments.” Advocates of a more democratic pedagogy, reformers believed that students should learn to think for themselves, not just obey fearful teachers. Page 99 thus opens with critical depictions of antebellum teachers. I appreciate reformers’ hope that great teachers would make classrooms places where children felt alive.
Yet I did not want to limit myself to elite reformers’ perspectives. My goal was also to understand the experience of teachers and students on their own terms. I read teachers’ and students’ diaries, and empathized with their struggles. One schoolmaster was overwhelmed by his one-room classroom. He could not get the kids to cooperate. By late January, he “almost gave up to sobs and tears.” One morning, after starting the fire, he looked around at his charges, walked out, picked up his paycheck, and left. He cared but he just couldn’t do it anymore. As a teacher, I get it.

And students too struggled. While I admit to being inspired by reformers’ dreams, students spent long days in school when they wanted to be elsewhere. Despite education reformers’ hopes, students in their diaries rarely described their time in school as exciting and intellectually stimulating. Instead, they did what their parents and teachers asked, but looked forward to recess and snowball fights. I sympathized with them too.

Ultimately, I wanted to depict how complicated a space classrooms were/are. They are filled with real people with their own dispositions and aspirations. Since the 1960s, some scholars on the left and right have portrayed schools as if they were total institutions capable of “social control.” While schools mattered greatly, teachers struggled to keep their students’ attention, and students struggled to pay attention. Parents, policy makers, and educators sent teachers and students mixed messages. Far from total institutions, public schools competed with all the world’s distractions while trying to cultivate a fragile space where students might learn and grow.
Learn more about Democracy's Schools at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Peter Zheutlin's "Rescued"

Peter Zheutlin is the author of Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry’s Extraordinary Ride and Rescue Road: One Man, Thirty Thousand Dogs and a Million Miles on the Last Hope Highway, a New York Times best seller.

Zheutlin applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Rescued: What Second Chance Dogs Teach Us About Living With Purpose, Loving With Abandon, and Finding Joy in the Little Things, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In the morning Albie hobbled to the top of the stairway. He was shaking and absolutely refused to come down the stairs… Never since he’d been with us had I seen him in so much pain and, it seemed to me, confused by what he was enduring. As I hugged him and tried to reassure him, I felt tears well up inside me. My empathy for Albie was total. His pain became my own. I could only hope that even if my words made no literal sense to him my closeness, my tone, and my feeling for him would somehow pass directly across the language barrier and into his brain, that he would somehow take comfort in my compassion for him.
Albie was our first rescue dog, a yellow Lab mix, who had been found wandering alone and frightened on a road in rural Deville, Louisiana. He spent five months in a high-kill shelter before joining our family in Massachusetts in 2012.

A couple of years ago while running on the beach he suddenly pulled up lame and was in obvious pain. Though we took him to the vet that day – I carried all eighty pounds of him down the stairs and to the car – it took a few weeks to learn that he was suffering from advanced arthritis though he was still only about four years-old.

If you asked me what Rescued is about and gave me only one word to describe, the word would be “compassion.” So, in this case the page 99 test is 100% accurate.

There are millions of dogs in the U.S. and the Caribbean suffering on the streets or languishing (and dying) in cold, concrete shelters. These dogs just need a second chance at life and a family to call their own. Give them that and the overwhelmingly majority will repay your love a hundred times over.

It took my wife more than 20 years to persuade me to get a dog and when we did we went the rescue route. Rescued is partly about our life with our three rescue dogs, and the lives of many others who have opened their hearts and homes to a second-chance dog. And it’s about the life lessons and emotional rewards of sharing your life with a dog that once was lost but now is found.
Visit Peter Zheutlin's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Peter Zheutlin & Albie.

Writers Read: Peter Zheutlin.

Coffee with a Canine: Peter Zheutlin & Jamba.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Andrew Demshuk's "Demolition on Karl Marx Square"

Andrew Demshuk is Assistant Professor of History at American University. His publications include The Lost German East: Forced Migration and the Politics of Memory (2012).

Demshuk applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Demolition on Karl Marx Square: Cultural Barbarism and the People's State in 1968, and reported the following:
“Cultural historical assets will obviously be kept in mind,” regional communist party boss Paul Fröhlich assured the Leipzig university senate in January 1964. This quote from page 99 of Demolition on Karl Marx Square encapsulates the deceitful rhetoric by which a diverse host of leaders pushed forth their imperative to remake this major East German city’s central Karl Marx Square into a modern campus. Fröhlich was lying when he related the “‘well known’ statistic” to his eminent audience of administrators and academics “‘that the city center was up to about 90% destroyed.’” Any of them could see for themselves that, beside the partially intact and in-use historicist masterpiece of the university’s storied main complex, the fifteenth-century Gothic University Church stood fully intact as a constant venue for concerts, lectures, and multi-confessional services. By demolishing this cherished landmark in 1968, reigning authorities proved their flagrant disregard for an engaged populace that had campaigned for years to preserve what it upheld as one of the city’s dearest “cultural historical assets.”

Page 99 thus offers a snapshot from the steady divergence in regime and public perspectives this book illustrates through a wide array of archival sources. After first unveiling the notion of a purely modern square in 1960, authorities already sought to level the church in 1964 to make way for socialist modernity. Overwhelming public concern expressed in letters and (as page 99 also reveals) active protest from the East German General Conservator and even Cultural Minister helped to stay the dynamite for four years. But then at last, even pitched letter-writing and civil disobedience failed to prevent the destruction of this urban icon in front of stunned crowds on May 30, 1968. Just weeks before the crackdown on Prague Spring, Leipzigers learned that their voices did not matter under real existing socialism. After such a profound gesture of high-level indifference, even hostility to their pleas, they gave upon on “working with” their leaders to build a socialist tomorrow.
Learn more about Demolition on Karl Marx Square at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Lost German East.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Bronwen and Francis Percival's "Reinventing the Wheel"

Bronwen Percival is the cheese buyer at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London. She initiated the biennial Science of Artisan Cheese Conference and is cofounder of the website In addition to serving on the editorial board of the Oxford Companion to Cheese, she recently edited an English translation of the leading French textbook on raw-milk microbiology for cheesemakers.

Francis Percival writes on food and wine for The World of Fine Wine and was named Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year in 2013 and Pio Cesare Wine and Food Writer of the Year 2015. His work has also appeared in Culture, Decanter, Saveur, and the Financial Times. Together with Bronwen, he cofounded the London Gastronomy Seminars.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Reinventing the Wheel: Milk, Microbes, and the Fight for Real Cheese, and reported the following:
While Reinventing the Wheel is at face value a story about “the fight for real cheese,” it also grapples with how agriculture and the food that we eat has changed over the last hundred and fifty years and the unintended consequences of systems designed with only partial understanding.

Page 99 is a perfect distillation of these themes, and finds us exploring milk microbiology, and how the liquid milk market has driven cheesemakers to adopt a quality standard that is particularly maladapted to the quality and safety of raw milk cheese. In a world where bacteria are conflated with dirt and disease, milk production standards have followed suit, rewarding low total bacterial counts as a quality mark:
Milk with depleted microbial biodiversity and a low total bacterial count, made up of a large proportion of spoilage bacteria and a minute number of pathogens, will perform brilliantly on analyses designed to measure suitability for pasteurization and potential shelf life. For a raw-milk cheesemaker, however, this milk would be the first ingredient in a recipe for disaster.
With recent advances in understanding the role of microbes within complex systems, we have begun to realize that health (whether we are referring to the soil, the gut microbiome, or to raw milk for cheese) is intimately linked to the proper makeup and balance of microbial communities rather than their absence. This is one of the fundamental paradigm shifts of the early twenty-first century, and promises to transform not just agriculture and food production, but medicine as well. But these are powerful forces that are not yet completely understood:
It is important to note that this is not a call for the revalorization of filth, for an anything-goes microbial philosophy where a bit more shit in the milk just adds to the flavor.
Microbiologists and raw-milk cheesefarmers are at the forefront of this revolution, working together to find ways to produce milk with a healthy community of microbes while shutting the door against pathogens.

But Reinventing the Wheel is not just about microbiology and the microbiome. On a broader level, it is about how ecologies on multiple levels, from breed and feed to healthy and diverse communities of cheesemakers and cheesemongers themselves, have been disrupted by a pervasive single-variable, yield-centric view of the world. The advent of highly-inbred cattle breeds and loss of field and crop biodiversity are problems that impact not just small-scale farmers and environmentalists, but pose a significant threat to the future of intensive agriculture as well. Rather than a book about marginal food production systems, it is an exploration of the modern world and the food that we all eat, every day.
Learn more about the book and authors.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 2, 2017

María Cristina García's "The Refugee Challenge in Post-Cold War America"

María Cristina García is the Howard A. Newman Professor of American Studies in the Department of History at Cornell University. She is a 2016 Andrew Carnegie Fellow. She writes about refugee and immigration history and policy.

García applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Refugee Challenge in Post-Cold War America, and reported the following:
The Refugee Challenge in Post-Cold War America examines refugee and asylum policy in the United States since 1989. For over forty years, from the end of World War II to the fall of the Berlin wall, the Cold War provided the ideological lens through which the United States defined who a refugee was. In the post-Cold War era, a number of actors and geopolitical and domestic interests have influenced the crafting of refugee policy.

Page 99 falls in the middle of Chapter 2, which examines the U.S. responses to genocide. Since 1989, millions have crossed international borders in response to genocide, creating humanitarian crises for the societies that have received them, politically destabilizing fragile democracies, and putting enormous pressure on refugee and asylum programs worldwide. The case studies in this chapter—the Kurds in Iraq, Bosnians and Kosovar Albanians in the former Yugoslavia, and the Tutsi in Rwanda—were chosen for what they illustrate about U.S. responses to survivors. On page 99, I discuss the historical context for the Rwandan genocide of 1994. In signing the Genocide Convention, the United States committed itself to fight genocide wherever it might occur, but in Rwanda—and elsewhere—it failed to heed warnings from intelligence sources and failed to prevent the genocidaires from carrying out their destruction. The number of Rwandan refugees admitted to the United States in the aftermath of the massacre was also surprisingly small, in part because of the difficulties of distinguishing the victims of violence from the perpetrators.

Two decades after the Rwandan genocide, millions continue to be at risk—in Syria, Burundi, Somalia, the Central African Republic and Myanmar—to name just a few countries. Widespread and horrific violence does not guarantee that people at-risk will receive refuge in the United States, however, as the Rwandan case demonstrates. News of genocide might trouble American readers, but their unfamiliarity with certain regions of the world (and their suspicion of racial and cultural difference) makes them unlikely to call for the admission of large numbers of refugees. In such cases, advocacy becomes all the more important to changing public opinion and creating opportunities for refuge.
Learn more about The Refugee Challenge in Post-Cold War America at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Jessica L. Adler's "Burdens of War"

Jessica L. Adler is Assistant Professor in the Departments of History and Health Policy and Management at Florida International University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her book, Burdens of War: Creating the United States Veterans Health System, and reported the following:
Burdens of War is about the beginnings of the United States veterans’ health system. The excerpt on Page 99 describes congressional hearings that took place in December 1919, approximately one year after the Armistice of World War I. It features testimony of Rupert Blue, the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service. Blue was deeply concerned that his agency’s facilities were “overflowing” with recently discharged service members, whose care was funded by another federal entity, the Bureau of War Risk Insurance:
As he reported that the Public Health Service and Bureau of War Risk Insurance were lacking in resources, the surgeon general also argued for legislation supporting “care for all discharged soldiers and sailors”… Blue offered an economic rationale as justification for providing care to all veterans. Expanding access, he said, will “operate to save the government millions of dollars in preventing or deferring the payment of compensation and insurance claims.” It would also, he maintained, foster industrial productivity; it made good business sense to provide “medical supervision for such a large portion of the population at the greatest productive age period.”
Throughout Burdens of War, I connect policy debates and decisions with real life experiences of military veterans. Page 99 is heavy on the policy debate angle. That said, Blue’s statements hint at a central point of the book: the veterans’ health system was established, not simply because there was a consensus that former service members deserved publicly sponsored care, but because advocates made strategic, practical, and historically contingent arguments about why it was necessary.

Like many Progressive Era public health advocates, Blue believed that the government should play a role in enhancing citizens’ well-being. The proposal that publicly sponsored facilities provide care to “all” honorably discharged veterans – many of them unable to afford treatment otherwise – was, to him, perfectly logical.

But plenty of legislators disagreed. It was fiscally reckless and dangerously socialistic, they maintained, to provide federally funded health services to millions of veterans, including a great number who had never seen battle.

Blue’s pragmatic justifications for expanding access were intended to undercut the arguments of skeptics. Echoed throughout the interwar years by veterans’ advocates, they helped form a sturdy ideological foundation for the establishment of a vast, federally sponsored health care system tailored to the needs of former service members.
Learn more about Burdens of War at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Zack McDermott's "Gorilla and the Bird"

Zack McDermott has worked as a public defender for The Legal Aid Society of New York. His work has appeared on This American Life, Morning Edition, Gawker, and Deadspin, among others.

McDermott applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother's Love, and reported the following:
I like this test. And, yes, I think it’s fairly representative of what readers can expect from Gorilla and the Bird. It’s kind of a funny scene – and it has one of my favorite descriptors of a character in the book: “He looked like he was no stranger to a Mountain Dew for breakfast.” This is at a psych clinic in Kansas shortly after I’ve been released from the locked psychiatric ward. Admittedly, the passage may come off as a bit judgmental, but I try not to hide my flaws and being too judgmental is definitely one of them. The person I’m really judging in the scene though is myself. I had yet to accept my diagnosis of bipolar disorder and, at that time, it didn’t feel bad to be struck with a severe mental illness, it felt like a moral failing – like I was damaged goods, a person to be avoided. Today I’m proud of being mentally ill and I’m proud about how open I am with my condition. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but it will remain a source of shame until people are able to openly and without fear of ostracism reveal that they have a DSM-V diagnosis.
Visit Zack McDermott's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Alejandro Nava's "In Search of Soul"

Alejandro Nava is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Arizona and author of Wonder and Exile in the New World and The Mystical and Prophetic Thought of Simone Weil and Gustavo Gutierrez.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, In Search of Soul: Hip-Hop, Literature, and Religion, and reported the following:
By some nice coincidence, page 99 hits on a key theme in my book, namely, the affinity between the harassed and ghetto life of Jesus, and contemporary hip hop. Just before the page begins, I had entertained Garry Will’s analogy of the life of Jesus: He compares his fate to the “scurrying agitato that opens Khachaturian’s violin concerto.” Though I don’t question the usefulness of the analogy, I suggest that hip hop images are more suggestive of the life of Jesus:
I prefer the analogy of the blues or hip hop for Jesus’s passage in the world: the desperate flights and departures of Robert Johnson; the apocalyptic urgency of Chuck D; the staccato barks of DMX; the looming threat of death and dying in Tupac; the frenetic, plaintive raps of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony; the spiritually minded lyrics of KRS-One, Kendrick Lamar, and Chance the Rapper.
In essence, my book, In Search of Soul: Hip Hop, Literature and Religion follows the lead of Lauryn Hill when she remarks that we need to “change the focus from the richest to the brokest,” Kendrick Lamar in his cautionary tales of the soul’s fate in the face of materialistic temptations, and of course the famous adage of Jesus, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” The book is a response to the crisis of the soul in our age. More specifically, it explores the different nuances in the meaning of soul, from religious interpretations to profane and musical accounts. Part I of the book defends the basic values associated with the soul in the Jewish and Christian traditions: contemplation, compassion, spiritual depth, and fundamental human rights. Part II, then, moves to a cultural, artistic, and musical exploration of “soul” in African American and Hispanic traditions.

By weaving together these different strands of “soul,” the book draws not only from my experiences in the classroom at the University of Chicago (where I studied religion), or at University of Arizona (where I’ve been teaching courses on religion and hip hop); it is also a product of my schooling outside the walls of the university. In learning from the street scribes of hip hop, I have come to realize that whaling can be one’s Harvard and Yale (Melville), that the slums and tenements of New York can be the finest tutors (Stephen Crane), and that “beyond the walls of intelligence, life is found” (Nas).
Learn more about In Search of Soul at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Sujatha Fernandes's "Curated Stories"

Sujatha Fernandes is a Professor of Political Economy and Sociology at the University of Sydney. She taught at the City University of New York for a decade and holds a visiting position at the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Her research combines social theory and political economy with in-depth, engaged ethnography of global social and labor movements. Her first book, Cuba Represent! looks at the forms of cultural struggle that arose in post-Soviet Cuban society. Her second book, Who Can Stop the Drums? explores the spaces for political agency opened up for barrio-based social movements by a hybrid post-neoliberal state under radical left wing leader Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. In her third book Close to the Edge, she explores whether the musical subculture of hip hop could create and sustain a new global cultural movement.

Fernandes applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Curated Stories: The Uses and Misuses of Storytelling, and reported the following:
On page 99 I’m talking about the ways in which a national domestic workers organization used a controversial Hollywood film, The Help, in order to raise the profile of domestic workers, and how this strategy received pushback from some domestic workers themselves. The Help had been criticized for resurrecting a mythical “mammy” stereotype, for its comic treatment of the abuses faced by domestic workers, and for centering the plot on the triumphs of a young white benefactor who writes the women’s stories.

One of the domestic workers from the local New York-based organization Domestic Workers United (DWU) noted that the hype of the film created a frenzy of reporters and writers wanting to speak with contemporary domestic workers and get their story: “We’re so in vogue now. Everyone wants our story, everyone wants a DWU story, so they come and put a microphone in your face. And these were the same stories that the women couldn’t speak about back in the sixties, who were still in the backwaters of Mississippi or Alabama.” Just like it was a white woman in The Help who wrote down the stories of the domestic workers, this worker says that it is the same with contemporary domestic workers who have somebody else come in to “take our story and twist it and turn it and tell the story.”

My book Curated Stories argues that in the contemporary period, advocacy organizations, non-profits, and foundations have turned to the use of such curated stories to humanize their issues and gain the attention of the public. I explore how domestic workers used a storytelling advocacy approach to push for legislation that would protect their rights. They told their stories at the New York State legislature, to the media, and in rallies. But they found that the kinds of stories they could tell were highly circumscribed by legal and media venues, and they questioned whether telling their stories of horrific abuse and mistreatment actually brought them any benefits in the end. The book cautions us to be wary of the claim that storytelling may be a universal panacea for marginalized groups, and that while films like The Help may bring coveted modes of mainstream recognition for domestic workers, this may be at the cost of reproducing stereotypes about these groups.
The Page 99 Test: Who Can Stop the Drums?.

Visit Sujatha Fernandes's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 25, 2017

Jeremi Suri's "The Impossible Presidency"

Jeremi Suri is a professor of history and holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America's Highest Office, and reported the following:
From page 99:
George Washington would have recognized the unifying vision of Abraham Lincoln, but Lincoln’s transformative ambitions would have astounded the first president.

“The war came,” Lincoln wrote; the president acted to help the people find their way through to a better future. He was an active visionary and a collective redeemer, as never before. His beautiful words made him a new kind of leader for a new kind of nation, searching for the “better angels” of its originally sinful nature.

Lincoln’s assassination, one month after his Second Inaugural Address, gives the speech a “farewell address” quality. Lincoln delivered another more informal speech on 11 April 1865, just a few days before his murder, but the Second Inaugural reflects his deepest thinking about the role of the American president. It also shows the fundamental transformation in the presidency from the troubled beginning of his time in office to his sudden and shocking death.
Over two centuries the power of the American presidency has risen, but the effectiveness of the office has declined. I wrote The Impossible Presidency to understand this contradictory phenomenon. Many Americans are frustrated with their leaders, and many are seeking to “blow up” the system. My book seeks to get beyond the name-calling and partisanship, to understand how the presidency has evolved to our current moment, and how we can make the office better for the future. Studying history gives us the broader view that we so desperately need in a time of deep division.

Abraham Lincoln is one of the inspiring figures I examine. He was not a genius, and he was not always effective as president. But he understood the crucial unifying role of the president in times of conflict, and he found the words to define a new America for diverse citizens. Lincoln made the president into a nation-builder, and he left an enduring legacy for his successors. Although few presidents have reached Lincolnian heights, all aspiring leaders should learn from studying his example, and others.
Visit Jeremi Suri's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Katja Maria Vogt's "Desiring the Good"

Katja Maria Vogt is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, New York City. In her books and papers, she focuses on questions that figure both in ancient and contemporary discussions: What are values? What kind of values are knowledge and truth? What does it mean to want one’s life to go well?

Vogt applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Desiring the Good: Ancient Proposals and Contemporary Theory, and reported the following:
Yes, you can get a sense of what Desiring the Good is about by reading page 99. On this page, I address Aristotle’s dictum that the good is different for human beings and for fish. What this really refers to is a way of doing ethics. In ethics, the thought goes, we ask what is good for human beings. This is not a weird kind of species egoism; it is, rather, the question of how we, as human beings, should live. This may well include that we ask what is good for fish as well as other non-human animals and take this into account in our actions. But we don’t ask how fish should arrange their lives: we ask how we should live.

Desiring the Good offers a new version of ancient-inspired ethics, one that considers ordinary motivations as an inroad to ethical theory. On the view I defend, human motivation is guided by the agent’s conception of a good human life. I distinguish among the motivation for small-scale actions like having a cup of tea, for mid-scale actions or pursuits such as moving to London, and the largest-scale motivation to have one’s life go well. One of my projects throughout the book is to explore the relation between these three levels.

On my account, ordinary action is already en route toward the good. We all have a conception of a good human life, even if much of it is implicit, confused, and a work in progress. We all are aiming at what is, by our own lights, a good human life, yet this conception may be muddled and flawed. If so, then ethics has its job cut out for it. If we operate with some such conception anyway, we better get clear about it—in the hopes that what guides our everyday motivations and larger-scale decisions is on target.
Visit Katja Maria Vogt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 22, 2017

Mara Einstein's "Advertising: What Everyone Needs to Know"

Mara Einstein is a Professor of Media Studies at Queens College, City University of New York. She brings more than twenty-five years of marketing and advertising experience to this work. She has worked as a senior marketing executive in both broadcast (NBC) and cable (MTV Networks) television as well as at major advertising agencies working on such accounts as Miller Lite, Uncle Ben's, and Dole Foods. Einstein's books include Compassion, Inc.: How Corporate America Blurs the Line between What We Buy, Who We Are, and Those We Help.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Advertising: What Everyone Needs to Know, and reported the following:
Page 99 gets to the fundamentals of how advertising is created. Who creates advertising, how do marketers decide what to say, and how does the creative team put the ad together.
Who is responsible for creating advertising?

Advertising is created by teams of two made up of a copywriter and an art director. Based on a strategy statement or creative platform, they will generate a number of creative concepts. These concepts must then pass through the gauntlet of the creative director (who oversees all campaigns within an account), the account team, and finally the client. Along the way, the concept may be shown to a focus group of prospective consumers.

How do marketers decide what to put in an ad?

Using a combination of market research (what is going on in the business environment) and marketing research (everything the company has learned about the target consumer), advertisers will develop a message that they hope will resonate with their target audience. This information is synthesized into a short document called a creative brief. The information in this document is what the creative team uses to come up with the advertising.

What exactly is contained in a creative brief?

A creative brief, sometimes called a creative platform or a strategy statement, provides a distillation of consumer research and defines the elements that need to be included in the advertising for the creative team. There are variations in the format, but it will always include an objective, a definition of the target audience, a detailed product description and how consumers relate to the product, a one- line promise or consumer benefit, an accompanying one- or two- line support statement, and either a description of the brand personality or a definition of what the tone and manner should be— that is, should the commercial be serious, funny, or irreverent. Other elements that may be included are competition and known problems that inhibit usage. Bottom line: the creative platform defines who the advertising is talking to and what the advertising should make consumers think, feel, or do after having seen it.
Advertising: What Everyone Needs to Know provides an overview of the advertising and marketing industries as well as tools to help readers understand advertising’s subtle, and not so subtle, impact on their life.

The prevailing wisdom is that Americans see upwards of 3000 advertising and marketing messages per day. And, while we may not be conscious of all these commercial messages as we walk the aisles of the supermarket or scan our Facebook feeds, they influence our product purchases—from cars to clothes to coffee. People’s preference for Starbucks over Dunkin Donuts, for example, has as much to do with the brand mythology created through marketing as it does with the flavor of the java. Our product usage has become building blocks for our personalities; as the commercial says, “I’m a Mac.”

Advertising is rarely based on product attributes. Coke doesn’t say it is a syrupy fizzy water, it sells the idea of happiness and friendship. Using emotion to sell products is a strategy that began over a hundred years ago and has been exacerbated by the use of technologies that rely on consumers to proliferate advertising messages via social media. The more angry or happy or awestruck we are, the more likely we will be to forward the advertising to our friends and family. Good examples here are Red Bull’s space jump or Dove’s “Sketch Artist.”

The more we use mobile devices—and we are using them at an increasing rate—the more we are faced with someone trying to sell us something. Ad blockers help to reduce the commercial assault, but as consumers got better at avoiding ads advertisers got better at hiding them. Confusion has gotten so bad that it is difficult to discern the difference between an ad and a news article, a legitimate recommendation or a paid Influencer tweet.

And while we surf and scan, advertisers scoop up our personal information, watch our every online move, connect that to our offline purchases, and then use all that data to sell us more stuff. The Internet is first and foremost an advertising platform—an idea many forget while watching the latest YouTube video or reading about the president’s latest tweet storm.
Learn more about Advertising: What Everyone Needs to Know at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Compassion, Inc.

--Marshal Zeringue