Thursday, September 21, 2017

Anna Alexandrova's "A Philosophy for the Science of Well-Being"

Anna Alexandrova is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy of Science at University of Cambridge and a Fellow of King's College, having previously taught at the University of Missouri St Louis. She writes on philosophy of social sciences, especially economic modelling, explanation, and the sciences of well-being.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, A Philosophy for the Science of Well-Being, and reported the following:
If only I had known about Ford Madox Ford and his page 99 test... As I didn’t, my page 99 does two things that are probably as uninteresting to most readers as they are obligatory to academics: signposting where the argument is going and bowing to relevant literature. It also has lots of empty space, which is about as informative. Please don’t judge my book by its 99th page.

But the idea I am servicing with all these accoutrements is good and right. The fundamental problem that animates this book is that today social and medical sciences are asked to speak on well-being, quality of life, and happiness – phenomena whose definitions are a matter of values – and science must speak on them while adhering to the ideals of precision and objectivity. The collision of these two ambitions – to advise on what is good for us and to do so scientifically – forces all sorts of new and distinctive compromises. As a scientific object well-being needs to have a clear and unambiguous definition (which it doesn’t normally), a precise measurement scale (which it doesn’t normally), a measurable connection to behaviours and material goods (also elusive). I have found that scientists resolve these tensions by modifying both the object of research, i.e. well-being, and the norms by which they study it. As a result of such, often sneaky, dovetailing ‘well-being’ ends up meaning something a little different and the traditional scientific ideals are also not what they used to be.

This is not in the least a criticism. There are no immutable meanings of words, nor rules of science written in the sky. One scientific norm this field has already redefined and rightly so is objectivity, which is what my page 99 is all about. If objectivity means detachment from value judgments and commitment to facts and nothing but the facts, there could be no science of well-being. It couldn’t even get off the ground in its initial act of delineating its subject matter. A better ideal of objectivity for this field is to embrace value-ladenness but set up public and explicit rules for how value judgments should be justified to the individuals and communities about and for whom this research exists. It can be done and it has to be done because good life is too important not to know about.

In a sense the science of well-being is too big to fail.
Learn more about A Philosophy for the Science of Well-Being at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Alvaro Jarrín's "The Biopolitics of Beauty"

Alvaro Jarrín is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at College of the Holy Cross.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Biopolitics of Beauty: Cosmetic Citizenship and Affective Capital in Brazil, and reported the following:
Plastic surgery in Brazil is permeated by anxiety: patients frequently remark that plastic surgery will provide them the “right appearance” needed to succeed in life, and that without it they will suffer discrimination and social rejection. My book argues that this anxiety reflects a widespread perception of beauty as condensing race, class and gender inequalities onto the body – the realm of bodily aesthetics becomes the terrain upon which citizenship claims are made and become undone. For low-income patients seeking plastic surgery in publicly funded hospitals, in particular, these surgeries are understood as unavoidable risks that they must take in order to achieve or secure upward mobility.

In page 99 of my book, I tell the story of Leila, a fifty-five-year-old social worker who described her own nose surgery and her daughter’s nose surgery as necessary interventions that provided them more opportunities in life and thus brought them happiness. Leila made a clear distinction between one’s face and one’s body: while she felt that only “thinner” noses associated with European heritage were beautiful and harmonious, she regarded the nation’s “black and Indian heritage” as providing sensuality to Brazilian bodies. This racialization of bodily features haunts the descriptions of beauty in Brazil, and supports the notion that some types of racial mixture are more aesthetically pleasing than others.

Plastic surgeons, above all, are very invested in this “raciology of beauty” and imagine themselves as correcting the errors of “miscegenation.” Opening plastic surgery services in publicly funded hospitals has historical ties to biopolitical concerns with producing a more homogeneous and beautiful citizenry. The idea that beautification is a measure of racial progress can be traced back to the Brazilian eugenics movement of the early twentieth century, and some plastic surgeons still frame their discipline as aiding eugenics. Individual stories like Lucia’s, I argue, can only be interpreted within this longer history regarding how racialized, classed and gendered bodies have been long perceived as providing different types of value for the nation, putting particular pressure on working-class women of color to seek out plastic surgery.
Learn more about The Biopolitics of Beauty at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Gideon Reuveni's "Consumer Culture and the Making of Modern Jewish Identity"

Gideon Reuveni is Reader in History and Director of the Centre for German-Jewish studies at the University of Sussex. His central research and teaching interest is the cultural and social history of modern European and Jewish history.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Consumer Culture and the Making of Modern Jewish Identity, and reported the following:
Consumer Culture and the Making of Modern Jewish Identity explores the changing nature and dynamic of consumer cultures in the context of Jewish history. It reveals the multifaceted process through which minorities are able to maintain a separate identity through consumption while concurrently, as consumers, feeling integrated in their host societies. Consumerism, it is here argued, refashioned Jewish cultures and provided new venues to imagine cultural belonging beyond the existing denomination of religious, social and political differences. The significance and contribution of this study is that it locates Jewish history within broader developments that may have facilitated cultural diversity and Jewish identities. In a wider sense, the book’s innovation lies in the fact that it employs a cultural approach to economic activities, suggesting that the very coherence of the economy and its ability to function depends very much on the aptitude of people to interact, to allocate values and norms to others, and on their willingness to share mutual representations.

Page 99 falls in the introduction section to part two of the book, which deals with the relationship between consumption and politics. In this page I call attention to the connection between Hannah Arendt's reading of the “Jewish condition” of victimization and exclusion from the world of political realities and her understanding of the “human condition.” Unable or unwilling to develop along industrial capitalist lines, Jews, Arendt argues, concentrated in consumer-oriented professions facilitating the emergence of a modern, passive and worldless, consumer society. Her view of consumer society neatly corresponds to her position on so-called Jewish passivity, and the failure of Jews to act politically. The ensuing chapters contest Arendt's reading. They do not only depict consumption as a site of resistance, but also reveal how Jews struggle to negotiate between their desire to retain Jewish distinctiveness with the demand for political and social emancipation.

It should be emphasized that there is nothing definitive in this study. My concerns here are to a large extent heuristic and my conclusions are still provisional. The realm of Jewish consumer culture is so large and its history so little known that this book has done scarcely more than set out some preliminary markers that will hopefully facilitate the way for more detailed investigations of this important field of historical inquiry.
Learn more about Consumer Culture and the Making of Modern Jewish Identity at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 18, 2017

Randy M. Browne's "Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean"

Randy M. Browne is an assistant professor of history at Xavier University and a specialist on slavery and colonialism in the early modern Atlantic world, especially the British Caribbean.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean, and reported the following:
Page 99 tells the story of an enslaved African man, La Rose, who had just been given 150 lashes and demoted from his position as driver. On Caribbean plantations, drivers were crucial go-betweens appointed by slaveowners to supervise fieldworkers, enforce rules, and punish other slaves. La Rose’s story is part of Chapter 4, “The Slave Drivers’ World,” which explores the political maneuvering of drivers who struggled to balance the competing interests of their enslavers and other slaves. In this case, La Rose’s manager lost confidence in him after La Rose supposedly gave a sick enslaved man a remedy that instead killed him. Firing La Rose, who had been a driver for at least five years, presented a series of challenges to the manager, who was so worried about La Rose’s response that he asked colonial officials to supervise him until he could be moved to a different plantation.

The manager was right to worry about La Rose’s reaction. Demoted drivers lost not only their elite status and the perks of their position but also what had probably been their best chance of forging a viable life under slavery. Caribbean slave societies were notorious death traps, and drivers stood out for living much longer and better lives than other slaves. The paradox at the heart of this chapter is that being a successful driver was a survival strategy for some enslaved men but one that necessarily required them to cooperate with their enslavers and thus perpetuate the slave system. To be sure, not all of them succeeded.

Surviving Slavery reconstructs cases like La Rose’s—documented in a remarkable archive of first-person testimony from hundreds of different slaves—to reconsider enslaved people’s world on its own terms and develop a new framework for studying the power relationships of Atlantic slavery. The basic premise of the book is that the struggle for sheer survival under desperate conditions was at the heart of enslaved people’s experience. Historians have long been preoccupied—for good reasons—with enslaved people’s efforts to resist their enslavers and achieve “freedom” but one of the biggest conclusions I reached while writing this book was that surviving the plantation world and resisting slavery were not one and the same. More importantly, for most enslaved people, survival took precedence.
Visit Randy M. Browne's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Wayne Sumner's "Physician-Assisted Death"

L.W. Sumner has published extensively in ethics, political philosophy, and philosophy of law. His books include Abortion and Moral Theory and Assisted Death: A Study in Ethics and Law. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and winner of the 2009 Molson Prize in Social Sciences and Humanities from the Canada Council for the Arts.

Sumner applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Physician-Assisted Death: What Everyone Needs to Know, and reported the following:
As it turns out, page 99 of Physician-Assisted Death is pretty darn interesting (as, of course, is the entire book). It is smack dab in the middle of a discussion of whether psychiatric illnesses should (if they are sufficiently serious, intractable, and distressing) be able to qualify a patient for PAD. This is one of the hotter issues in a generally hot topic: whether PAD is ethical and whether it should be legal.

The book as a whole deals with all (I repeat, all) of the issues implicated in these debates. It provides the interested and conscientious reader with everything he or she needs in order to decide where to stand on these important questions.
Learn more about Physician-Assisted Death at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Peter J. Marina's "Down and Out in New Orleans"

Peter Marina is a New Orleans native and Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Down and Out in New Orleans: Transgressive Living in the Informal Economy, and reported the following:
St. Roch cemetery, New Orleans, two in the morning. We hop cemetery gates tripping on mushrooms. Another night, it’s the swamp this time. The police search for us. We tell them all about that damn gris-gris. Next scene, same city, same night. The Marigny stroll filled with life and street poets, food vendors, and spectators loosening their “uptight sphincters” for the very first time, capturing the carnival of New Orleans life.
Steamy mid-summer night dreams flourish in the swampy, romantic informal nocturnal economy of Frenchmen Street, the home to a nightly carnival of decadence centered on dozens of shoulder-to-shoulder music venues. The “Marigny stroll” offers the flâneur an insider’s peek into thick New Orleans nightlife… (pg. 99)
But city officials occupying the great halls of corruption and scandal of New Orleans city hall make a mess of it all.

Glance toward another direction of the city to find buskers playing on the Frenchmen Street of broken dreams and gutter punks sneaking into abandoned buildings just off in the dark distance of hurricane ravaged houses still abandoned. We hear Orwell’s words about the conditions of poverty, a society that finds the poor repugnant while simultaneously fearing their potential for revolting.

While tourists consume a watered down and appropriated New Orleans black culture, wealthy carpet bagging gentrifiers price out the black and creole community from their historic homes. Everyone seems to love New Orleans, they love it to death.

A local working class New Orleans boy from Gentility gets a fancy degree and writes a book about joys and heartbreaks of the fascinating yet tragic city of New Orleans pushing towards an increasingly precarious future. As wetland depletion, climate change, and elite urban planners place the final nails in the coffin, we citizens of the swampy soils of New Orleans celebrate this tragedy defiantly second-lining to the final goodnight. The author feels himself drowning everyday as his city slips away, just as did everything but his memories when Katrina tore away all that was left of Odin and Spain Streets. It is time for us to save New Orleans from becoming down and out. It’s time to save the city from the new monsters of modernity that wreak havoc on our land and culture, or risk losing it all.

While the whole quality of the book may not be revealed on page 99, it captures one of the many scenes of the book that tells the story of Post-Katrina New Orleans, its struggles and triumphs, and it’s push to survive and prosper under the most precarious conditions of our times.
Visit Peter Marina's website.

My Book, The Movie: Down and Out in New Orleans.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Terry Allen Kupers's "Solitary"

Terry Allen Kupers is an award-winning psychiatrist and Professor Emeritus at The Wright Institute Graduate School of Psychology. As one of the nation’s foremost experts on the mental health effects of solitary confinement, he has testified in over two dozen class action lawsuits about jail and prison conditions, the quality of mental health care “inside” and the effects of sexual abuse behind bars. He is a frequent consultant to the ACLU’s National Prison Project and Human Rights Watch and the author of Prison Madness.

Kupers applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Solitary: The Inside Story of Supermax Isolation and How We Can Abolish It, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Solitary: The Inside Story of Supermax Isolation and How We Can Abolish It is the story of Willie Russell, an inhabitant of Mississippi’s Death Row when it was inside Unit 32, a supermaximum security unit at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, and a plaintiff in a historic class action lawsuit where I had the privilege to serve as a psychiatric expert witness:
The temperature rises rapidly, and life in the cell becomes unbearable. In the summer heat at Parchman, this one aspect of the punish­ment cells would make them entirely unacceptable by any standard of human decency or of health and mental health minimum standards. But in addition to this cruel and entirely excessive and punitive measure that clearly serves no legitimate penological objective, Mr. Russell reports that his cell is always filthy, the rain pours in through the walls onto his bed, the toilet floods the cell with backflow from other prisoners’ toilets, there are bugs everywhere, the cell is filled with mosquitoes at night, he cannot sleep at night because the lights are on 24 hours per day, he is not permitted to have a fan, he is not permitted television or radio and there are no activities, and he is even more isolated than other prisoners on Death Row because the Lexsan shield over his door makes it impossible for him to talk to anyone. For two years, he was permitted no mattress, no pillow and no sheets, and had only a blanket and the concrete for a bed. This kind of punitive deprivation and degradation is barbaric, and shocking to human sensibilities. It is the kind of cruel and unusual punishment that is well known to cause intense anxiety and rage, psychiatric breakdown, and in a large proportion of cases, suicide.

…. But clearly the treatment of Mr. Russell constituted torture. Those who have spent a long time in a solitary confinement unit, much like those who have been tortured during war, suffer lasting damage and never make a complete recovery. In the big picture, the decimation of life skills, destroying a pris­oner’s ability to cope in the free world, is the worst thing solitary confine­ment does. In that process are all the elements of torture even without hoods, waterboarding, or electric wires.
Enough said about the horror of supermax solitary confinement. In the book I proceed with more stories plus a discussion of the alternative to solitary: rehabilitation, quality mental health treatment and humane conditions in our prisons.
Learn more about Solitary at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Stephen Nash's "Grand Canyon for Sale"

Stephen Nash is the author of Grand Canyon for Sale — Public Lands versus Private Interests in the Era of Climate Change; Millipedes and Moon Tigers: Science and Policy in an Age of Extinction; Blue Ridge 2020: An Owner’s Manual; and Virginia Climate Fever: How Global Warming Will Transform Our Cities, Shorelines, and Forests.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Grand Canyon for Sale, and reported the following:
If you've been fortunate enough to visit Grand Canyon National Park -- more than five million of us do that every year -- the view is usually the draw. The reason for that banal observation is that it gives me the chance to point out that much of the time, that view is obscured by air pollution, a lot of it from coal-burning power plants in the region.

That's one example of how private interests degrade our national parks, national forests, and the vast expanses of our other public lands. Mining, logging, drilling, grazing, invasive species, giant shopping malls and lucrative helicopter overflights -- they are all taking their toll on the wildlife, the solitude, the very future of natural systems on those landscapes, which take up more than a quarter of our national dirt. They're public lands -- their natural heritage belongs to us -- but powerful political forces, including the Trump administration, are hell-bent on selling them off, either outright or piecemeal.

We've worked more more than a century to protect these lands. It says that, right here on page 99 of Grand Canyon for Sale. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes ruled in 1907 that air pollution -- just one threat to public lands today -- is no respecter of legal boundaries, and that it's unacceptable: “It is a fair and reasonable demand on the part of a sovereign [state] that the air over its territory should not be polluted on a great scale by sulphurous acid gas, that the forests on its mountains ... should not be further destroyed or threatened by the acts of persons beyond its control,” he explained. Only a few years later Congress created the National Park Service “to conserve the scenery ... and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

But scientists in a variety of fields point out that future generations, even the next generation, will witness mounting degradation of parks and public lands -- their natural systems are falling apart, as study after study documents. Climate change, especially, is beginning to force open the artificial boundaries we've drawn around national forests, rangelands, parks and prairies. We will need to combine them -- and do far more to protect them from the incursions of private interests -- if we want them to survive.
Visit Stephen Nash's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Lane Demas's "Game of Privilege"

Lane Demas is associate professor of history at Central Michigan University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Game of Privilege: An African American History of Golf, and reported the following:
Page 99 introduces a key celebrity who encouraged African Americans to take up golf as much as anyone else in history. From 1937 to 1949, Joe Louis was world heavyweight boxing champion, wildly popular with white and black Americans, and the world’s most recognizable African American. Yet he often drew as much attention for his interest in golf than for his boxing prowess. Stories of his devotion to the game were legendary: as the page notes, press reports in 1941 hinted that excessive golf caused the breakdown of his marriage; five years later “Louis threatened to sue Ebony after an expose claimed he owed $60,000 in golf debts and played high-stakes matches with entertainers Bing Crosby and Bob Hope for $1,000 per hole.” Louis regularly hinted that he intended to give up boxing for good so he could hit the links more.

Joe Louis was also a major supporter of the United Golfers Association (UGA), a black golf organization that operated from 1925 to 1975 and served as a parallel institution to the all-white Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA). (That’s why he is introduced in chapter three, “Our Masters: The Development of the United Golfers Association.”) Louis appeared at UGA events around the country, organized its tournament stop in Detroit (the Joe Louis Open), and helped finance a cadre of black players who routinely desegregated PGA tour events beginning in the 1940s – including Bill Spiller, Ted Rhodes, and Charlie Sifford. With Louis’s support, the UGA blossomed into much more than a “black golf tour” and it was unlike any other black professional sporting organization in American history. With tournament stops around the country, including the South, it sustained a lasting, national reach that rivaled any single black baseball league. Nearly every black professional who competed on the PGA/LPGA tours before the 1996 emergence of Tiger Woods (27 men and 3 women) participated in UGA events.

Along those lines, page 99 is relatively representative. The book tries to cover the history of black professionals and familiar, high-profile folks – from caddie John Shippen competing in the 1896 U.S. Open, to singer Marvin Gaye taking up golf in the 1970s. And, yes, it concludes with a chapter on Woods.

Yet Game of Privilege actually devotes more coverage elsewhere: to the little-known stories of black caddies who shaped the game in the South against all odds; to the 29 major lawsuits African Americans successfully organized between 1940 and 1970 to desegregate municipal golf courses nationwide; indeed, to the fundamental meanings of golf in American history and the intriguing relationship between the struggle to integrate the game and the broader Civil Rights movement.
Learn more about Game of Privilege at The University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 11, 2017

William Chapman Sharpe's "Grasping Shadows"

William Chapman Sharpe is professor of English at Barnard College, Columbia University. His books include New York Nocturne: The City After Dark in Literature, Painting, and Photography, 1850-1950 and Unreal Cities: Urban Figuration in Wordsworth, Baudelaire, Whitman, Eliot, and Williams.

Sharpe applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Grasping Shadows: The Dark Side of Literature, Painting, Photography, and Film, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Grasping Shadows opens on a moonlit night. Jane Eyre has just crossed the shadow of Mr. Rochester. His back is turned, yet he knows she is there. She writes, “I had made no noise; he had not eyes behind—could his shadow feel?”

In real life shadows are accidents of the light. But in creative works such as Jane Eyre shadows have been put there for a reason. Shadows may not be able to feel, but people inevitably feel the force of shadows. Grasping Shadows brings the largely unconscious act of shadow-processing out into the open. The book demonstrates how shadows communicate ideas and emotions in just about every kind of representation, from billboards to popular songs to Hollywood films to masterpieces hanging in museums.
Page 99 falls in the middle of a chapter on what I call the Vital Shadow, a shadow that reveals the life-force of its caster. Appearing to be connected to the soul or the psyche is one of the shadow’s most fundamental traits.. The shadow is an inside that displays itself outside, and audiences have to figure out how to respond to its power or vulnerability. Is what lurks in that dark shape something to be loved or feared? Is it something sexual, demonic or divine? Further down the page there’s an illustration of a fifteenth-century altar painting called St. Wolfgang and the Devil. Here, the devil’s shadow shrivels as it approaches the saint, as if could not survive in the light of the gospel that the holy man preaches.

But what about figures that lose their shadows completely? Or shadows that wander independently of bodies? Or shadows that do not match the bodies to which they are attached? Grasping Shadows explores how all these shadows silently speak to us, and shows how to understand the apparently infinite range of shapes that shadows assume in texts and images. Once we are sensitized to the shadow’s basic repertoire of tricks and traits, we can see the dark side of literature, painting, photography, and film in a whole new light.
Learn more about Grasping Shadows at the Oxford University Press.

The Page 99 Test: New York Nocturne.

--Marshal Zeringue