Saturday, October 22, 2016

Benjamin K. Bergen's "What the F"

Benjamin K. Bergen is a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego, where he directs the Language and Cognition Laboratory. He writes for the Huffington Post and Psychology Today and appears on NPR's Morning Edition, the Brain Science Podcast, and elsewhere.

Bergen applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves, and reported the following:
What the F is a book about the science of swearing, and the heart of the book explains fundamental facts about the brain that we have only been able to discover through profanity. Page 99 happens to fall precisely at the beginning of a chapter about speech errors—slips of the tongue, Freudian slips, and the like.

Considering how hard it is to produce language, people make relatively few errors in speech. And profanity provides a unique window into why. It turns out, and this is a spoiler, that we have an internal monitor in our heads. Milliseconds before we actually articulate a word, this monitor “hears” that planned word in our mind’s ear and if a mistake is in the making, the assembly line screeches to a halt, and the error is avoided. This is all unconscious, but we know it’s happening specifically from profanity. Statistically speaking, the times when we most successfully avoid errors in fluent speech are when those errors would in fact produce taboo words. This means that when the stakes are highest, the internal censors do their most fastidious work.

The chapter and indeed the page begin with the case of a surprising speech error—one that produced profanity from a most unexpected source. It starts like this:
5  — The Day the Pope Dropped the C-Bomb

By any account, Pope Francis has made interesting choices. He has foregone the traditional, opulent Papal Apartments, electing to reside in a small, modest bedroom in a Vatican guesthouse instead. He wears a silver ring instead of the traditional gold. And he has made a practice of washing feet each Easter—not the feet of priests as his predecessors did but those of patients at a home for the elderly and disabled, non-Catholics, and women. In aggregate, these many small acts of modesty have helped him build up a public image as the pope of the vulgar people.

Still, no one expected him to be quite this vulgar. On March 2, 2014, while delivering his weekly Vatican address, he slipped in a word that caught the world by surprise. He was speaking in Italian, and this is what he said: in questo cazzo. This translates literally as “in this dick,” but since the offending word cazzo is used in Italian roughly as fuck or fucking are in English, in colloquial terms, he said something roughly equivalent to “in this fucking...” I’m no papal scholar, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and proffer that this is an uncommon turn of phrase for a pope, even one fresh off an appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Learn more about What the F at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Keally McBride's "Mr. Mothercountry"

Keally McBride is Professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco. Her books include Collective Dreams: Political Imagination and Community, Punishment and Political Order, and with Margaret Kohn, Political Theories of Decolonization: Postcolonialism and the Problem of Foundations.

McBride applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Mr. Mothercountry: The Man Who Made the Rule of Law, and reported the following:
From page 99:
The Governor Eyre controversy provoked a national discussion about British colonial governance, and whether it would infect British rule of law more broadly… The honor of the Empire was at stake, but so was the position of the rule of law in the colonies and at home. Who is at fault when regulation of a population becomes force, brute force? The governor who ordered suppression of foment by all means, or those who burned the courthouse down? Should the law be used to protect the citizens against the rulers, or the rulers against unruly citizens? Remarkably, the position of the angry colonial mob was given credence; sometimes the governors were in the wrong and the governed were in the right.
Page 99 of Mr. Mothercountry: The Man Who Made the Rule of Law examines the aftermath of a brutal repression of an uprising in Jamaica in 1865, ordered by British colonial agent, Governor Eyre. The bloodbath caused a surprising moment of collective examination about whether the British were truly serving as a civilizing force in their colonies. This passage is a pivotal moment in the book, describing the ascension of a son, James Fitzjames Stephen, to a position of power and influence in creating a new legal system that was implanted throughout the British Empire through his participation in the trial of Governor Eyre.

His father, James Stephen, was called Mr. Mothercountry by his enemies, and he almost single-handedly ran the British Empire for 30 years until 1847. He truly believed that the law should be a force for good, serving the interests of the less powerful and protecting the most dispossessed subjects of the British Crown. An ardent abolitionist, he wrote the bill ending slavery in the Empire. All laws instituted in the colonies passed over his desk and were subject to his review, and he used his position to curb the power of British settlers whenever possible. Mr. Mothercountry was a critic of colonialism, and upon his retirement expressed the hope that he had contributed to mitigating “the cruel wrongs inflicted by his countrymen on the rest of the world.”

His son, James Fitzjames Stephen, took over the mantle of colonial law, and his codes survive today in places as diverse as Nigeria, Canada and India. But he saw the law in a very different way, and sought to create order and exact obedience, instead of aiming for justice. Mr. Mothercountry reveals the family that was at the origins of international law, the tragic fall of a father, the rise of his son, and the lasting implications of their lives and work in the legal order we have today.
Learn more about Mr. Mothercountry at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Murray Pittock's "Culloden"

Murray Pittock is Bradley Professor and Pro Vice-Principal at the University of Glasgow, and one of the leading scholars of Jacobitism and Romanticism globally. His books include The Myth of the Jacobite Clans, Material Culture and Sedition, Poetry and Jacobite Politics, Jacobitism, Inventing and Resisting Britain, The Invention of Scotland, and many others. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and of the Royal Historical Society and has won or been nominated or shortlisted for fifteen literary prizes internationally.

Pittock applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Culloden, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Culloden is the first page of Chapter 4, 'Aftermath and Occupation'. It addresses some of the central themes of the book: the lack of prisoners taken at Culloden, the scale of atrocities after the battle, the proposals for ethnic cleansing. The book's combination of a detailed examination of the engagement as it was fought using the cutting edge of both battlefield archaeology and archival research, is complemented by an exploration of the systematic misrepresentation of Culloden both by historians and in British cultural memory. This foundational battle in the development of the British Empire was not regarded at the time as an easy victory against a cause foredoomed to defeat: but that is what it became in the imperial narrative, the inevitable triumph of modernity over backward tribalism and its outdated politics. Yet the hugely expensive building of Fort George to contain the Jacobite threat tells another story, as do Cumberland's words in July 1746 on p99, 'I tremble for fear that this vile spot [Scotland, particularly Highland Scotland] may still be the ruin of this island and our family'. How would the Jacobites have ruined these? Not just by replacing the Hanoverians by the Stuarts, but by ending the constitutional settlement of the 1707 Union which underpinned British military power from that time onwards, and restoring England, Scotland and possibly Ireland to a looser political confederation. In the aftermath of Culloden, redoubled efforts were made to incorporate Scottish troops in the British Army, while the very British military policies that had been trialled in Scotland in the late 1740s were used in the Acadian deportations in Nova Scotia from 1755. Just as British memory and historiography portrayed the Jacobites as tribal, backward and savage, so their taming into the British military machine became a model for the incorporation of native peoples in the decades to come, while the actions taken to disrupt political identities in Scotland and Canada was also a lesson learnt in the policies adopted with respect to potential opponents of British power across the world. Page 99 of Culloden is the moment where history becomes memory: the point where a relatively small scale battle started to transmute itself into a story about the foundational moment of Britain's consolidation at home and the projection of its power abroad.
Learn more aboutCulloden at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Gísli Pálsson's "The Man Who Stole Himself"

Gísli Pálsson is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Iceland.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Man Who Stole Himself: The Slave Odyssey of Hans Jonathan, and reported the following:
Every biography emphasizes some life-changing moments that redefine the road ahead for the person in question, the life course that follows. One of the key dramatic moments in the case of Hans Jonathan, the enslaved man who stole himself, the son of a West African house slave, was the verdict of the legal case of 1802 at the Copenhagen court which sentenced him to remain someone’s property, liable to be sent back to the plantations in the West Indies to be sold to the highest bidder. During the court proceedings, the lawyer representing the slave-owner Henriette Schimmelmann, who owned several sugar plantations on the island of St. Croix in the West Indies, spent some time on establishing Hans Jonathan’s background and identity. Knowing that Hans Jonathan was the son of a white man since he was classified as a “mulatto” in court documents, the defendant used the opportunity to complicate the case by asking an obvious and tricky question: Who was the father of Hans Jonathan? The drama begins on p. 99:
The question that cannot be asked

When the advocates had made their arguments, witnesses were called. ... On Monday 1 March 1802, court officers met with Hans Jonathan .... He appears to have been present at some of the proceedings. ... The two lawyears took turns, Bierring posing the first set of questions: he wanted to know when Hans Jonathan was born....
The paternity question may have served the purpose of appealing to parts of the white community in Copenhagen, the biological relatives of the Hans Jonathan. However, it was repeatedly dismissed by the court. While the legal proceedings were detailed and formal and the defendant had the right to speak, one gets the impression that the case had been decided before the court began its work. The case has for long illuminated the legal debate on rights in humans in Denmark. Had the proceedings taken place a year later, the conclusion would have been different as slavery was becoming illegal in Denmark. And the fate of Hans Jonathan would have been very different. Following the verdict, Hans Jonathan escaped to East Iceland where he would live as a free man for the rest if his life, marrying a local woman, Katrin Antoniusdottir, and having two children.
Learn more about The Man Who Stole Himself at the University of Chicago Press website.

My Book, The Movie: The Man Who Stole Himself.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 14, 2016

Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer's "Unclear Physics"

Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Oslo.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Unclear Physics: Why Iraq and Libya Failed to Build Nuclear Weapons, and reported the following:
From page 99:
When Jafar presented a quarterly progress report to the IAEC [Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission] in April 1987, however, he seemed nervous. This report went into far more detail than previous quarterly reports, and the conclusion was bleak: it would be impossible to make the major leap forward within the deadline promised to Saddam two years earlier. Having put massive resources into the EMIS research program, they were still not seeing reliable results during pilot trials. Because other approaches had been marginalized in order to pour resources into the EMIS project, little progress was forthcoming elsewhere.

The reactions were strong and immediate. The first commissioner commenting was al-Kittal, who asked whether this finding would be reported to Saddam - it was not. [.] Senior participants later described the discussion, which lasted for hours, as the most stressful meeting of the weapons program.
The events described on page 99 are among the most dramatic turning points in the Iraqi nuclear weapons program. Having promised Saddam Hussein to make a major breakthrough only two years earlier, the scientific leader of the program is now telling his senior colleagues that they are going to miss the deadline. They will all be held accountable if Saddam finds out. So they make sure he doesn't.

This incident reflects two of the main findings of Unclear Physics. Scientists in personalist dictatorships (such as Saddam's Iraq and Libya under Muammar Gaddafi) report selectively to the state leader. They get away with this because the state apparatus - essential for monitoring specialized programs - has been undermined by the dictator's efforts to concentrate power in his own hands. This means that the state leader does not have the resources to verify what his scientists are telling him. Both Saddam and Gaddafi were aware of these problems, and tried to compensate by placing additional controls on their scientists, with mixed results.

As this page, and book, demonstrates, everyday lives of scientists and officials in personalist regimes do not always look like what we might expect. Faced with unimaginable pressures, individuals came up with various coping strategies in order to survive. While dictators such as Gaddafi and Saddam wanted to come across as omniscient, the history of their nuclear weapons programs tells a different story.
Learn more about Unclear Physics at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

James Cockayne's "Hidden Power"

James Cockayne is an Australian strategist, writer and international lawyer who works at the United Nations.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hidden Power: The Strategic Logic of Organized Crime, and reported the following:
A hundred years ago, New York was what we would today call a ‘fragile city’. It stank, in more ways than one. The sewerage and sanitation systems were patchy, and refrigeration next to non-existent. The police were corrupt and easily bought. Banks were tied to political cliques. Tens of thousands of immigrants from Ireland, Italy and beyond were crammed into the tenements of the Lower East Side. And elections were rigged.

Using first hand mafia accounts, government records and subsequent research, page 99 of Hidden Power: The Strategic Logic of Organized Crime explains how the Italian-American mafia emerged as a governing force in this chaotic environment. ‘Their power’, it argues, ‘stemmed particularly from their ability to govern’ illicit markets and transactions, drawing on the ‘shared operational culture and system of governmentality’ imported from the southern Italian mafias – the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, the Camorra and the ‘Ndrangheta.

Breaking with tradition in existing criminological and political science literature, Hidden Power argues that the mafias are not just business organizations – but often also political ones. In New York, early mafia entrepreneurs used their governmental power in Manhattan’s underworld to conquer and harness the upperworld political networks earlier pioneered by Tammany Hall, the Democratic political organization that controlled New York politics from the mid-nineteenth century. Page 99 helps to explain the sources of this governmental power.

Nor did the mafia stop at the water’s edge. Subsequent chapters, drawing on detailed archival research, show how the mafia strategically developed governmental power through collaboration with the US Navy during World War Two, cooperation with the CIA in Cuba, and joint ventures with governing elites in Cuba, The Bahamas and southern Italy.

Along the way, we see criminal groups deliberately influencing elections, changing constitutions, fomenting terrorism, waging war, negotiating peace deals and working behind the scenes in pivotal historical moments such as the Bay of Pigs invasion, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Through these episodes, Hidden Power identifies a range of criminal strategies that armed groups and political organizations use to this day – in venues as diverse as Afghanistan, Mexico, Myanmar and the Sahel. Forcing us to rethink our distinctions between politics, conflict and crime, Hidden Power reveals a world in which states and mafias compete — and collaborate — in a ‘market for government’, and not only states, but also some criminal groups, make war.
Visit James Cockayne's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 10, 2016

Richard C. Schragger's "City Power"

Richard C. Schragger is the Perre Bowen Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, where he has taught for almost fifteen years. His scholarship focuses on the intersection of constitutional law and local government law, federalism, urban policy and the constitutional and economic status of cities.

Schragger applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, City Power: Urban Governance in a Global Age, and reported the following:
City Power is a book about the possibilities of the exercise of city power and the potential for cities to affect social and economic change. Page 99 is quite representative of the book, for it discusses how progressive reformers in the beginning of the twentieth century championed the city as an ideal site for democratic governance. For some early progressive reformers, city power was an antidote to state legislative corruption, a means to achieve important social ends, and the embodiment of participatory government. On page 99, I discuss Frederic Howe’s 1905 book, The City: The Hope of Democracy. Howe served in the Ohio Senate and on the Cleveland city council, and later in the Roosevelt administration. His book was directed at those urban reformers who viewed the city as a problem of management, to be governed by businessmen and so-called “expert” boards and commissions. Howe argued that urban reformers were suppressing urban democracy and that they “had voted democracy a failure.” As he argued, in a quote that serves as an epigraph for City Power: “Distrust of democracy has inspired much of the literature on the city.” Howe’s quote captures the current skeptical approach to city power, both in the politics and economics literatures. Those literatures tend to assume that cities are relatively powerless to affect their economic and regulatory fates. Footloose capital and mobile residents call the shots and cities sing the tune. City Power describes why this is not so. The book’s other epigraph looks toward the future. It is a 1967 quote from political scientist Robert Dahl: “Is it too much to hope that we might be on the verge of the age of the democratic city within the democratic nation-state?” The urban resurgence of the last decades and cities’ aggressive adoption of progressive social welfare legislation portends a coming urban renaissance—culturally, politically, and economically.
Learn more about City Power at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Alexandra Chasin's "Assassin of Youth"

Alexandra Chasin is associate professor of literary studies at Eugene Lang College, the New School. She is the author of several books of fiction and nonfiction.

Chasin applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Assassin of Youth: A Kaleidoscopic History of Harry J. Anslinger's War on Drugs, and reported the following:
Oddly enough, on page 99 of this book about the history of the war on drugs, Harry Houdini makes a brief appearance. Houdini pops up at the end of a chapter about the rampant prosecution of physicians in the late 1910s and 20s, following the passage of the Harrison Act in 1915. The Harrison Act was a stamp act that required physicians to pay a licensing fee for, and to report, prescriptions of narcotics to patients. But the Act was used to prosecute many thousands of doctors – some of whom were dealing drugs and some of whom were prescribing “maintenance” levels of drugs to addicted patients, in order to prevent them from going through withdrawals. Maintenance prescriptions began to take the moral taint of dealing.

Many cases of both kinds went to the Supreme Court. In another chapter, the book treats the case of Dr. Linder, a Spokane doctor who was busted, with the aid of a stool pigeon, for prescribing four grams of morphine. But on page 99, Harry Houdini concludes a chapter about the case of Jin Fuey Moy, who went to the Supreme Court twice, once for maintenance prescriptions in 1916, and a second time for dealing large quantities of drugs and charging money for them, in 1922. Moy is an interesting example of the rampant prosecution, but he also serves as a good figure for the connections forged between drugs and racial and immigrant social groups.

In the Jin Fuey Moy decision, the majority opinions states that
Only words from which there is no escape could warrant the conclusion that Congress meant to strain its powers almost if not quite to the breaking point in order to make the probably very large proportion of citizens who have some preparation of opium in their possession criminal.
Thus the chapter ends with an escape, with Houdini standing in for swarthy immigrants, who were also objects of suspicion:
After he had taken a train from his childhood home in Milwaukee to Kansas, and from there to worldwide fame, the foreign little Houdini could be seen in several states contorting himself into and out of a “Chinese water torture cell.” … Places that had no water, Houdini could sink himself in it anyway, and stay trapped below, while so many citizens waited breathless above the surface for him to perform the impossible escape.
This passage also demonstrates that the book takes poetic license, performs linguistic contortions to match the trickster Houdini, and otherwise offers lyricism as a set of moves leading to a rhetorical escape from the discipline and punish of the war on drugs.
Visit Alexandra Chasin's website.

My Book, The Movie: Assassin of Youth.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Emrys Westacott's "The Wisdom of Frugality"

Emrys Westacott is professor of philosophy at Alfred University in Western New York. He is the author of The Virtues of our Vices (Princeton Univ. Press, 2012), and numerous articles in both scholarly and popular publications.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Wisdom of Frugality: Why Less Is More - More or Less, and reported the following:
The Wisdom of Frugality is a philosophical reflection on why so many sages, from Socrates to Thoreau have claimed that the good life is the simple life, and why so many people ignore them. It examines both moral and prudential arguments in favor of frugal simplicity, considers counterarguments in defense of luxury and extravagance, and concludes by arguing that we could use a good dose of the ancient wisdom today to deal with contemporary economic and environmental problems.

Page 99 of the book is fairly representative. The claim under examination is Epicurus’ thesis that all we need to be happy is to have our basic needs satisfied–i.e. such things as food, clothing, shelter, friendship, and liberty. Today, in prosperous societies like the US, most people’s basic needs of this sort are met. Indeed, on most counts even the poor today enjoy a higher material standard of living than ever before. So why aren’t we all wallowing in Epicurean contentment?

One problem that interferes with our ability to embrace Epicurus’ teaching is that it’s difficult to maintain our self-respect if we find ourselves at the bottom of the socio-economic heap. In pre-modern societies this problem was less acute, both because the great majority was poor, and also because one’s social standing was viewed as something largely outside one’s control. The idea that we now live in a meritocratic society may be a myth; but if people believe it, that is likely to make them more dissatisfied with occupying the position of “losers.”

I’m not saying that everyone living under capitalism is hopelessly caught up in a materialistic rat race. Most people have no desperate burning desire to be rich or powerful or famous. But to live with nothing but the bare essentials invites pity or contempt. Hardly anyone enjoys being looked down on, and being continually subjected to this continually will usually affect our sense of self-worth.

But Epicurus isn’t completely wrong. His argument prods us into reflecting on the way we live with an eye to identifying wants and habits that are foolish, wasteful, unnecessary, or inauthentic. And he’s right to suggest that the key ingredients for happiness are usually within easy reach for those of us not mired in awful circumstances. When we fail to realize this, we assume that happiness lies in the acquisition of what we currently lack. This is the mistake that leads us to step off the path toward contentment and onto the hedonic treadmill.
Learn about Westacott's five best books about bad habits and five top books on philosophy & everyday living.

The Page 99 Test: The Virtues of Our Vices.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Vincent W. Lloyd's "Black Natural Law"

Vincent W. Lloyd is Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University and the author of The Problem with Grace.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Black Natural Law, and reported the following:
The piece of writing by Martin Luther King, Jr., that most people are familiar with is his letter from Birmingham City Jail. In that text, King invokes natural law, placing himself in the tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas. He also invokes many other religious and secular ideas to justify his civil disobedience, including the ideas of Protestant theologian Paul Tillich and Jewish thinker Martin Buber. Because King refers to so many and so diverse authorities, it might seem as if he is just using natural law rhetorically, to add extra oomph to his argument.

In Black Natural Law I demonstrate that King was part of a longstanding tradition of natural law reflection among Black Americans, and I show that he developed his own natural law theory. On page 99, I begin to take the reader from King’s rhetoric to King’s ideas, show how King puts forward two distinctive accounts of natural law, one “philosophical” and one “practical.” The latter came about after King was unpersuasive in a live television debate, and a political science student at the University of Minnesota wrote him a letter suggesting a more convincing way of speaking about natural law. King responded enthusiastically and began incorporating the student’s phrasing into his speeches.

The other point that I make on page 99, which also runs throughout the book, is that King thinks Blacks have privileged access to natural law. His point could be called the epistemic privilege of the oppressed: marginalized individuals are particularly aware of the ways the powers that be distort moral truths. Instead of just adding one more perspective on natural law, I argue that the Black natural law tradition offers greater insights into natural law than abstract theorizing in the European tradition because of this lived experience of oppression.
Learn more about Black Natural Law at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue