Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Christopher J. Fuller's "See It/Shoot It"

Christopher J. Fuller is lecturer in modern American history in the faculty of humanities at the University of Southampton.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, See It/Shoot It: The Secret History of the CIA’s Lethal Drone Program, and reported the following:
Opening up to page 99 drops the reader straight into one of the many controversial debates around U.S. counterterrorism policy covered in the book. It explores the aftermath of Operation El Dorado Canyon, an American bombing raid launched against Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in retaliation for his connection to the bombing of a nightclub in West Berlin frequented by U.S. service personnel in 1986.

The Reagan administration’s use of a large-scale bombing raid was controversial for a number of reasons. First, despite his tough rhetoric, the bombing marked the first time Reagan had directly authorized the use of military force in retaliation for a terrorist attack. This decision is still significant today as it marks the first time the United States shifted from treating terrorism as a criminal offense to a matter of national security.

Second, as the page reveals, the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh later uncovered evidence that members of Reagan’s National Security Council (NSC) had ordered the U.S. Air Force bombers to target Gaddafi’s personal residence in an attempt to kill the Libyan dictator. In targeting a head of state, the Reagan administration had technically acted in breach of international law, and Reagan’s own Executive Order 12333 (EO12333). A restatement of Gerald Ford’s Executive Order 11905, signed in the aftermath of the Church Committee’s investigations into CIA wrongdoing, Reagan’s order barred U.S. forces from engaging in any act that could be construed as political assassination. EO12333 is still in place today, although the United States’ counterterrorism efforts have long since evolved legally, with the U.S. authorizing targeted killings of members of terrorist groups based upon the state of non-international armed conflict America now argues it is in. This reveals that while the counterterrorism objective has very much remained the same – the elimination of terrorist leaders and their sponsors – the legal language and approach to this has become significantly more nuanced.

The final point of continued relevance covered on page 99 is the reason Gaddafi survived. Despite the aggression of launching a bombing raid on Libya’s capital, the United States went to significant lengths to try to limit civilian casualties. The bombers were fitted with state of the art laser-guidance systems — a precursor to the precision strike technology utilized for today’s drone strikes. On the night of the raid, these systems malfunctioned on four of the nine aircraft tasked with attacking Gaddafi’s compound. As the Rules of Engagement — written to limit collateral damage — stated any aircraft that was not 100 percent functional was to be withdrawn, these bombers never dropped their payloads, and Gaddafi’s compound was spared the sixteen two-thousand pound bombs they carried. Post-strike photography revealed a line of craters leading right to his home. Had the additional munitions been employed it is unlikely the dictator would have survived. In the end, the very technology designed to allow the U.S. to more accurately eliminate its foes saved Gaddafi’s life. Furthermore, despite these efforts the raid still killed dozens of Libyan civilians, revealing the enduring problem of utilizing military tools against terrorists who hide among innocent citizens.

It is apt that page 99 discusses the Gadaffi raid. As this book goes on to reveal, the failure of this raid, and the high collateral damage it incurred played a key role in inspiring the CIA to seek a more precise method of eliminating those responsible for prosecuting terrorism against the United States. That pursuit would eventually inspire the very technology that would evolve into the armed drones that have become so integral to the United States continued pursuit of security against terrorist threats.
Learn more about See It/Shoot It at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Wayne Franklin's "James Fenimore Cooper: The Later Years"

Wayne Franklin is professor of English at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. His biography James Fenimore Cooper: The Early Years was selected as an Outstanding Academic Title in 2008 by the AAUP and Choice magazine.

Franklin applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, James Fenimore Cooper: The Later Years, and reported the following:
This page in James Fenimore Cooper: The Later Years concerns an episode during Cooper’s European sojourn (1826-1833). After producing six books in as many years in New York, Cooper had gone abroad as the first internationally famous American novelist. Almost against his better judgment, he soon became entangled in the tumultuous politics of post-Napoleonic Europe. At this particular moment in the story (December 1830), he has just arranged a “grand dinner” among his fellow ex-pats in Paris to celebrate the Marquis de Lafayette’s seemingly triumphant role in a political uprising that began late the previous July and promised welcome liberal reforms for France. Cooper’s toast to Lafayette was unusually warm. Having specified the services Lafayette had performed not only for France but also for the U.S. during its own Revolution, the novelist proclaimed that his countrymen of course had deep respect and admiration for the idealistic nobleman. But their feelings went deeper. “Gentlemen,” Cooper added with an unusual show of public affection, “we love him.” Almost immediately, as Cooper’s report to a New York newspaper continued, the eighty Americans present jumped to their feet as if they “had but one soul and delivered nine such cheers as have rarely been heard within the walls of Paris.” When the uproar subsided, Cooper said, “Yes, gentlemen, and we have reasons to love him,” and once more the assembly burst into loud applause. The elation, though, was to be short-lived. Within a few days, the new monarch whom Lafayette had helped place at the head of a hopeful new republican state, the seemingly liberal Louis Philippe, dismissed the old statesman from his role as head of the National Guard and cynically tightened his own hands on the reins of power. The latest French revolution thus came to an ignominious end.
Learn more about James Fenimore Cooper: The Later Years at the Yale University Press website.

Writers Read: Wayne Franklin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Daniel Brückenhaus's "Policing Transnational Protest"

Daniel Brückenhaus is Assistant Professor of History at Beloit College. He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Policing Transnational Protest: Liberal Imperialism and the Surveillance of Anticolonialists in Europe, 1905-1945, and reported the following:
Page 99 tells the story of how, in 1919 and 1920, French officials decided to send secret agents into Germany, to observe the political activities of Cameroonian immigrants living there. The French were especially worried about one of these Cameroonians, Martin Dibobe. As an informant had told them, Dibobe had agreed to a deal with the German government to carry out an anti-French campaign in his African home country. A former German colony, most of Cameroon had just been given to France as a League of Nations mandate after the German defeat in World War I.

This story brings together several main themes of my book. First, it shows the high level of pro-colonial surveillance in Europe during the first half of the twentieth century. Second, it illustrates the fact that much of this surveillance was carried out across inner-European borders, often as a result of anti-colonial activists moving from one European country to the next.

Third, the events described on page 99 also illuminate the importance of French fears of Germans (and communists) secretly steering the growing anti-colonial movements directed against the Western empires. However, as becomes clear in the book, French officials severely under-estimated the agency of activists such as Dibobe. It was true that Dibobe had been in touch with the German government. However, it was in fact him who had initiated contact with the German authorities; and in return for his offer of carrying out pro-German propaganda he had made wide-ranging demands. These included the promise of reforms in Cameroon if it were to return to German rule, which would have given Africans a status much more equal to that of Europeans living in the colony, including them being accepted as Germans. Far from mere German puppets, Dibobe and other African activists therefore negotiated their national allegiances in independent and strategic ways.

Over time, the Cameroonians, disappointed with the German authorities’ unwillingness to acknowledge them as Germans, increasingly turned to a more radical, left-wing form of anti-colonialism. As described in later chapters of the book, they sometimes cooperated with organizations such as the League Against Imperialism, founded in 1927, which had its headquarters in Berlin. In the German capital, they worked together with local Indian and Egyptian activists in developing an inherently cosmopolitan vision of fighting colonialism on a global scale, and thus helped lay the foundations for the world-wide wave of decolonization after 1945.
Learn more about Policing Transnational Protest at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Peter S. Ungar's "Evolution’s Bite"

Peter S. Ungar is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Environmental Dynamics Program at the University of Arkansas.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Evolution's Bite: A Story of Teeth, Diet, and Human Origins, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Cerling was an undergraduate majoring in geology and chemistry at Iowa State University in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The geology department there at the time was on the rise, with a fresh infusion of creative and energetic young scholars like Carl Vondra, who studied the accumulation of sediments at fossil hominin sites. And the chemistry department was keen on students double majoring. Harry Svec, an alumnus of the Manhattan Project, was at the time pioneering new approaches to combining chemistry and geology. Cerling took full advantage of the opportunities that Iowa State had to offer and managed to score an invitation to help map sediments on the eastern shore of Kenya’s Lake Rudolf (now Lake Turkana). The hominin fossil rush in eastern Africa was starting to heat up, and there was much to do to understand the geology of the new sites. What he learned in those early years about geochemistry and tracing deposits across the landscape would serve him well into the future.

Cerling continued to work in Kenya through the 1970s during his graduate school years at Berkeley. His passion was the chemistry of sediments, and he began to collect the popcorn-like calcium carbonate nodules that accumulated over time at the sites. He spent months each year walking the deposits, gathering samples from each of the layers that had produced fossil hominins. It was blistering work, tracing layers of rock and sediment mile after mile, day after day, across the hot and dusty badlands on the eastern edge of the lake. The search took him up, down, and around erosional gullies and barren hills broken only by the occasional bush or acacia tree. I’ve always been jealous of geologists who can look out over a desolate landscape and see the past. Rocks and dirt become ancient streambeds, river deltas, and lake shorelines in their mind’s eye. Cerling knew exactly where to sample.
Page 99 of Evolution’s Bite presents the story of Thure Cerling, an important figure in paleoclimate research. He is a founding father of the use of chemical signatures in soils to reconstruct past environments. And his work provided pivotal evidence used to trace the spread of savannas across eastern Africa millions of years ago. This helps us understand the conditions under which our hominin ancestors evolved, those that triggered human origins.

Is page 99 representative of Evolution’s Bite as a whole? Yes and no. The book starts with the premise that we hold in our mouths the legacy of our evolution. The basic idea is that we can use teeth, living and fossil, along with an understanding of climate variation over deep time and how animals earn a living from their surroundings, to understand how a changing world made us human. It begins with the earliest mammals, during the age of the dinosaurs, and takes the reader from milestone to milestone -- our early, apish ancestors, the first humans, the origins of agriculture.

The text on page 99 has nothing to do with teeth and it has nothing to do with human evolution per se. But it does provide a piece to the puzzle. Evolution’s Bite builds the case, bit by bit, bringing together evidence from paleontology, primatology, climate research, archaeology, and myriad other disciplines. And it brings the tale to life through the stories of the scientists, and by peering over their shoulders as they made the discoveries that gave us the knowledge we have today.
Learn more about Evolution's Bite at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

James Mark Shields's "Against Harmony"

James Mark Shields is Associate Professor of Comparative Humanities and Asian Thought at Bucknell University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Against Harmony: Progressive and Radical Buddhism in Modern Japan, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Against Harmony begins mid-quote, as follows: “[If] these things make up what is called ‘Buddhism’, then it is an ‘old Buddhism’ that is on the verge of death.” This, very succinctly, catches the critical and rhetorical spirit of the New Buddhist Fellowship, one of the early twentieth-century progressive Buddhist movements discussed in my book. However, it also points to the fact that the so-called New Buddhists were actually recapitulating a discourse about Buddhist “decadence” that had been around in Japan for several centuries, and was increasingly wielded against Buddhism by secular modernist and Shinto nationalist critics alike.

This line of argument, in turn, has clear roots in the Protestant Reformation: the New Buddhists self-consciously styled themselves after Luther and Calvin in their protest against the “abuses” and “mystifications” of the Buddhist clergy and still-powerful monastic institutions. And yet, while largely content with a moderate, liberal, even “bourgeois” reformism, New Buddhist rhetoric opened up more radical possibilities—some of which would come to fruition in later, revolutionary movements such as the Youth League for Revitalizing Buddhism of the early 1930s. Here the language of “protest” bleeds into Marxist critiques of not only institutional religion, but of all forms of transcendental, otherworldly aspiration. This is where Buddhism becomes thoroughly secularized, and fixed onto what are clearly materialist premises.

What are the implications of this attempt to merge the Buddha and Marx (or Bakunin, Kropotkin, Tolstoy)? It certainly raises the value of poverty and injustice as key aspects of “suffering” (duhkha)—the liberation from which must always be the end game for Buddhism, in all its many forms. More particularly, I suggest it may help contemporary Buddhists (or contemporary Westerners interested in Buddhism) resist the creeping impact of neoliberalism, with its pernicious assumptions regarding the “self,” “rights” and “autonomy”—assumptions that may superficially resonate with Buddhist concerns. On the other hand, Buddhist insights into the danger of too-rigid adherence to “ideas,” coupled with a near-absolute commitment to compassionate action, may provide new ways of looking at Marxist and anarchist strategies for individual and social liberation. Perhaps we can find new resonance between Marx’s dictum about the necessity of philosophers “changing the world” and the reputed final words of the Buddha, to recognize change, while remaining “vigilant.”
Learn more about Against Harmony at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Jon Lewis's "Hard-Boiled Hollywood"

Jon Lewis is the Distinguished Professor of Film Studies at Oregon State University. He is the author of twelve books and the former editor Cinema Journal.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hard-Boiled Hollywood: Crime and Punishment in Postwar Los Angeles, and reported the following:
Page 99 attends one of the many scandals discussed in the book -- the doomed romance between the movie star Lana Turner and the mobster Johnny Stompanato. At this point in the story, we see how the gossip columnists Hedda Hopper, Walter Winchell, and Louella Parsons and fellow celebrities like Gloria Swanson viewed the story. Hard-Boiled Hollywood tracks how, accompanying the demise of the studio system, paths crossed in postwar Hollywood -- how various subcultures; here, actors and mobsters, overlapped and intermingled, frequently with tragic results. At this point in that narrative, we see how the gossip industry exploited the complex and fraught relationships between various types or styles of media celebrities. Key and apparent on this page is the complex role of gossip in this era as a policing discourse, as a way to not only reign in celebrity excess but as well to cast such excess as un-American at a moment when that term was rather loaded with meaning and consequence.
Learn more about Hard-Boiled Hollywood at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Richard E. Ocejo's "Masters of Craft"

Richard E. Ocejo is associate professor of sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY. He is the editor of Ethnography and the City: Readings on Doing Urban Fieldwork and author of Upscaling Downtown: From Bowery Saloons to Cocktail Bars in New York City.

Ocejo applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy, and reported the following:
My book is about traditionally low-status manual labor jobs that have been transformed into “cool” taste-making occupations that many young people want to do as careers. I studied cocktail bartenders, craft distillers, upscale men’s barbers, and whole-animal butchers. I structured the book into two parts with four chapters each. Each chapter in Part I discusses a different job, workplace, and industry, while the chapters in Part II combine them under different themes. Page 99 is from Chapter 3, which is the chapter on barbers. This particular page is part of a longer episode at the barbershop, and it is certainly an important part of the chapter. And interestingly, the more I think about it, the more I can see how it is somewhat representative of a specific argument of the book.

Out of context, the action on page 99 is very simple: a barber greets his regular client, they start talking about food and restaurants, other barbers join in, and the conversation shifts to movies, while the barber regularly stops cutting hair to chat face-to-face with his client. It sounds like a typical scene in a barbershop, specifically one that serves as a social gathering place of some sort. African American and ethnic barbershops come to mind.

But what makes this episode interesting is how rare it is for the shops I studied. Upscale men’s barbershops have opened in hip, gentrifying neighborhoods for culturally savvy and professional men to achieve a cool style. They deliberately model themselves on traditional barbershops, like black barbershops, to be havens for men to be men. They want community and socializing, but they rarely get it. Most of the clients travel from outside the neighborhood and are in and out. The barbers, however, provide the social atmosphere: they regularly have loud group conversations with each other, which entertain clients, who do not participate. In this episode, the client happens to be African American, and, for whatever reason, whenever he comes in to get his hair cut, the shop becomes the communal place the owners originally intended it to be.

I think these shops are fascinating examples of how young, well-to-do urbanites consume examples of traditional working-class and “lowbrow” culture, which is an important theme in my book. This episode really shows it in action.
Learn more about Masters of Craft at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Upscaling Downtown.

My Book, The Movie: Masters of Craft.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Jenna Weissman Joselit's "Set in Stone"

Jenna Weissman Joselit is the Charles E. Smith Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of History as well as the former Director of the Program in Judaic Studies at The George Washington University; she now directs two graduate programs in Jewish cultural arts. She holds a B.A. from Barnard College, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University.

Weissman Joselit is a frequent contributor to several publications including The New Republic and Gastronomica. Her column for the Forward ran for sixteen years. She now contributes a monthly column to Tablet.

Her books include The Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture, 1880-1950, which received the National Jewish Book Award in History in 1995, and she has authored more than 70 articles and reviews.

Weissman Joselit applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Set in Stone: America's Embrace of the Ten Commandments, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford would be pleased. Page 99 of my brand new book does reflect one of its central themes: the ways in which the Ten Commandments once unified the nation. Today they’re a source of dissension and internal conflict. But for much of American history, they brought people together. The ancient biblical code, I write, was a “symbol of commonality,” especially in the wake of World War II. At a time when the notion of the Judeo-Christian tradition began to take flight, the Ten Commandments “served handily as its visual companion.”

In his 1955 manifesto of America’s “cultural oneness,” Protestant-Catholic-Jew: An Essay in Religious Sociology, Will Herberg argued that each of the three faith traditions cherished the same ‘spiritual values, the spiritual values American democracy is presumed to stand for.’ That Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism valued the Ten Commandments proved his point, highlighting what they had in common and bringing them closer to one another – and into the fold.

Their widespread use by American Jews of the 1950s and early 1960s was no accident. In affixing the two tablets to the synagogue’s exterior, where they functioned much like an oversized mezuzah, or better yet, as a giant exclamation point – we belong! – the synagogue declared itself as much an American institution as the meetinghouse or the parish church, a place where Judaism and Americanism came together as a unified whole. A deliberate visual strategy, the prominent positioning of the Ten Commandments defined Jewish space in familiar American terms, even as it celebrated, once again, the transformation of this age-old covenant into the stuff of common ground.
Learn more about Set in Stone at the Oxford University Press website and at Jenna Weissman Joselit's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Carol Dyhouse's "Heartthrobs: A History of Women and Desire"

Carol Dyhouse is Professor (Emeritus) of History at the University of Sussex. She has written extensively about the social history of women, gender, and education. Her recent publications include Glamour: Women, History, Feminism (2011) and Girl Trouble: Panic and Progress in the History of Young Women (2013). She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and in 2004 she was awarded an honorary D.Litt from the University of Winchester in recognition of her work on history and education.

Dyhouse applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Heartthrobs: A History of Women and Desire, and reported the following:
Heartthrobs: A History of Women and Desire looks at men through the eyes of women. It has a lot to say about the influence of fairy-tale romance and fantasy, particularly the story of Cinderella. Walt Disney’s animated cartoon version of Cinderella premiered in 1950 and was a big hit in the postwar world. In England, young girls’ dreams of meeting Prince Charming were amplified by the glittery spectacle of a royal wedding and the coronation of a young Queen Elizabeth, who, though hardly Cinderella, wore a dress to die for and arrived at the abbey in a golden coach. In the United States, a romantic comic book series launched with the title Cinderella Love. Cosmetics manufacturers introduced lipstick in a ‘Cinderella’s pumpkin’ shade of orange. In such and so many ways, culture patterns our dreams.

By the 1980s, social change and the rise of feminism had diluted the appeal of the Cinderella story and a new kind of irony crept into representations of her Prince. On page 99 of Heartthrobs I describe British pop star Adam Ant’s performance as Prince Charming in his hugely successful music video of 1981. He poses first as a masculine Cinderella, vulnerable in a grubby singlet, before being transformed by his fairy godmother into a sexily trussed-up and dandified Hussar. Arriving at the ball in a sleek, low-bodied sports car, he struts towards a mirror wearing tight, silver-leather breeches. There’s a hypnotic drumbeat. He dashes the mirror to pieces. Shots of the star posing as Clint Eastwood, Alice Cooper and Rudolph Valentino’s Sheik represent the shards from which this picture of desirable maleness was composed. The performance unpicks cultural representations of gender, showing masculinity as both cocky and vulnerable, as haunted by a fear of female voraciousness (the ugly sisters chomp on heart-shaped chocolates), and as needing to overcome ridicule. It is oddly profound, and both men and women found it appealing.

My page 99, then, suggests changing templates of desirable masculinity, reflected through a cultural hall of mirrors: a fair clue, I think, to what this book is about.
Learn more about Heartthrobs at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Naomi Haynes's "Moving by the Spirit"

Naomi Haynes is a Chancellor’s Fellow and Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. She is coeditor of the Current Anthropology special issue The Anthropology of Christianity: Unity, Diversity, New Directions and of the Social Analysis special issue Hierarchy, Values, and the Value of Hierarchy. She is also co-curator of the Anthropology of Christianity Bibliographic Blog.

Haynes applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Moving by the Spirit: Pentecostal Social Life on the Zambian Copperbelt, and reported the following:
From page 99:
…Bana Mfuwe had persevered despite these difficulties, she explained, and had ultimately experienced a breakthrough. The women listened attentively as she spoke of how her husband had welcomed her back into the home and no longer stood in the way of her religious practice, but instead allowed her to host meetings at their house. And not only that; he also gave her money for household expenses, bought her gifts, and—notably—called her ‘Sweetie’.
This bit of ethnographic detail, excerpted from a larger testimony-cum-sermon that I recorded during my fieldwork with Pentecostal believers on the Zambian Copperbelt, speaks to the broader argument of my book, Moving by the Spirit. My primary claim in this monograph is that Pentecostal Christianity offers a set of social and cultural frames that make life in urban Zambia possible. More specifically, Pentecostalism allows believers to “move,” as people on the Copperbelt put it – to advance according to multiple, overlapping metrics of achievement, whether socioeconomic status, professional development, or through lifecycle milestones like marriage or parenthood. To this list, Pentecostalism also adds spiritual achievement, perhaps in an improved capacity to pray, sing, or prophesy. Pentecostal adherence does this because it embeds believers in networks of relationships that propel them forward along these various axes. Of these various relationships, the most important is unquestionably a layperson’s connection to her pastor, whose superior spiritual (and in some cases economic and social) status means that he or she is able to help a believer move by pulling her up. This is why the testimony that Bana Mfuwe gave, including the details of her happy marriage, was so important. By sharing how she had “moved” on to enjoy, among other things, such a good relationship with her husband, Bana Mfuwe presented herself as someone capable of effecting similar transformations for others. By building relationships with church leaders like Bana Mfuwe, then, believers “move by the Spirit,” and in so doing seek to make a good social and material life for themselves and their families.
Learn more about Moving by the Spirit at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue