#REVIEW: The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America, by Thom Hartmann

Back in June I was lucky enough to receive an early review copy of Thom Hartmann’s The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment. I mentioned in the review that the book was part of a series– a series that I have since discovered is planned to run ten books— and that the second volume was to be out in October.

That was true! The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America was released on October 1 and should now be available anywhere you might happen to buy books. I was able to snag a copy of the second book in the series through the same folks that sent me the first one, and I sat down and read it tonight after getting home from work.

The book, and as I’m writing this I’m feeling like nonfiction needs a word similar to novella, is 156 pages long plus a dozen or so pages of footnotes and an index, and is divided into three sections. The first section is devoted to the founding fathers’ view of the Court and how the principle of judicial review became one of the Court’s powers. The second discusses the Court’s frequent rulings against the people in favor of the rich and powerful and corporate interests, and the third section– by far the shortest– is about how we might break the current right-wing stranglehold on the Court and, uh, save the world in the process.

I enjoyed Guns and the Second Amendment quite a bit. I was less a fan of this one, to be honest. To begin, it shares many of the weaknesses of the first book, weaknesses that are intrinsic to deliberately writing a book this short– I don’t have a wordcount handy, but I would suspect this book to be no longer than 30 to 40,000 words if it’s even that long, and it took me no longer than an hour or two to read. The sources, again like the first book, are almost entirely to websites, meaning that that entire part of the book will be useless in a few years, and this book feels a bit unfocused in a way that Guns and the Second Amendment didn’t. There’s simply a lot more to discuss when you’re talking about the Supreme Court– and as a result this book feels much more cursory and, to be honest, slapdash than the first volume did. This is, in large part, due to the deliberate decision by the author to write a short book, of course; I leave it up to you to decide if that aspect of it is going to be a problem for you or not.

A second problem is that I simply don’t have much sympathy for Hartmann’s core argument. I don’t believe that the first section ever actually directly states that Marbury v. Madison was decided wrongly, but it’s hard to escape that conclusion after reading it; describing the court as “despotic” in more than one place is pretty clear. And the thing is, I just … don’t care if it was the right decision, to be honest. The Constitution was fourteen years old when Marbury v. Madison was decided. We are, I think, well beyond the point where “The Court shouldn’t be able to overturn acts of Congress!” is a reasonable argument. If we’re talking about rewriting the entire Constitution, then okay, let’s discuss judicial review. But as an argument in what is supposed to be a history book? Meh. I just think it’s a silly discussion to be having.

The book is on stronger footing for the second part, although I’m not sure how hidden any of the history really is. The Court really has mostly privileged the wealthy and powerful over much of its tenure, although it’s not unlike basically all of human history in that regard, and there are certainly places where Court decisions have contributed materially to, well, justice. There is a brief review of judicial appointments to the Court since the Nixon years that was quite interesting– I wasn’t aware just how many of the Republican presidents (nearly all of them since Nixon, basically) initially took office under a cloud of some sort, which makes the hard-right turn that the conservative justices have taken over the last 40-50 years all that much more pernicious. And in more recent history, of course, we have Mitch McConnell stealing Obama’s last Supreme Court appointment, and the current occupant of the White House’s selection of perjuring rapist Brett Kavanaugh for the job.

The book wraps up with the rather grandiose claim that it is the composition of the current US Supreme Court that is causing the global climate crisis, or at least preventing us from fixing it, and goes into a few ways– court-packing and jurisdiction-stripping, basically– that we might choose to combat that. I, uh, kinda feel like Step One on this is to get Congress and the White House back, and if I were to line up a whole bunch of people in order of how responsible they were for the fucking mess human civilization is currently in I suppose the US Supreme Court would be on the list but they wouldn’t be as high as Hartmann seems to want them to be. It’s a bit of a stretch, is what I’m saying, and again the length of the book works against the author’s goals here, because you’re gonna need a few more pages to get me to blame the Supreme Court for climate change, particularly when you also make the point that the Supreme Court allowed the EPA to exist in the first place. We’d be worse off without them, in other words.

So … yeah. I wasn’t a huge fan of this book, although there were definitely some interesting parts to it; the series continues to be intriguing, however, and I’ll happily read the third volume– dedicated to the war on voting, which feels like a better fit to this series than the Court does– when it comes out even if my Mysterious Benefactors choose not to bestow a copy on me.

The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America is available now.

#REVIEW: The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment, by Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann’s The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment is the second of two books that I was sort of randomly offered ARCs of in the last couple of months. They asked me to have it read and the review ready today, and I’m happy to announce that unlike the last time I’m actually managing to successfully fulfill that request.

To put it mildly, the gun issue is one place where I am pretty consistently far to the left of anyone I ever talk to about it. I want guns banned, period. I want the Second Amendment repealed. When you hear “moderate, reasonable” gun control advocates say things like no one is coming for your guns to the gun nuts? That’s not true, because I’m totally coming for your guns. I’m sick to death of people thinking the Constitution enshrines a right to murder other people, guns don’t ever make anyone or anything safer, and there is no such thing as a “good guy with a gun.” There is only a dangerous idiot who hasn’t killed anyone or shot his own dick off yet.

So now that I’ve pissed everyone off, this is actually a pretty interesting little book. I used to listen to Hartmann’s radio show back when I was commuting to the South Side and back every day in Chicago, so I’m familiar with how he works– and the fact that he kept me listening to a liberal talk show when I have learned over the years that listening to talk radio from people who mostly agree with me is actually not something that will keep me awake during a drive is a good sign for him. Despite the pull quote on the cover, this is actually a history book and not a polemic about gun control, although it does have a few chapters at the end about what people call “sensible” gun control measures, like registering them similarly to the way we register cars, insisting that gun owners carry insurance, and regulating semiautomatic weapons the same way we regulate automatic weapons.

(Wanna fight about technicalities over what a “semiautomatic weapon” is? No problem; I’ll start pushing to ban anything that uses a controlled explosion to fire a projectile faster than a human being can throw it.)

At any rate, Hartmann traces America’s gun culture back to– surprise!– slavery and Native American displacement and genocide, and discusses the history of (and some interesting looks at early drafts of) the Second Amendment in particular, and probably spends 80% of the book’s text discussing why America is different about guns than damn near the entire rest of the world and how our history affects the gun fetishism that infects our culture today.

(Deletes a rant)

This is at all times a clear and readable book; if anything, my sole major criticism of it is that it could be a bit more in-depth. The book itself is less than 200 pages long and most of the chapters are less than five pages, and while there are several pages of endnotes at the end most of them are to websites, meaning that the index and the sources are mostly going to be useless a few years down the road. I went back and forth on whether this was a fair criticism; after all, it’s not like Hartmann wrote a short book accidentally, and the fact that there’s a companion volume of similar length coming in October called The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America indicates that he’s thinking of this as a series and not a one-off. There is certainly a place for cursory looks at American history, but given how … well, revisionist is the wrong word, but certainly nontraditional this look at history is, I wanted a bit more meat on the book’s bones than I got. For example, he devotes a single intriguing sentence to saying that Texas’ declaration of independence from Mexico was over Mexico outlawing slavery. That’s interesting! I want to know more about it, and I hadn’t heard that before! But it’s literally a single throwaway sentence.

(Note that I am far from an expert on Texan history.)

At any rate: The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment is available now at all the places you might buy books. Those of you with an interest in modern politics and American history should check it out; anytime my only criticism of a book is I want more, that’s probably a sign of something that I can honestly recommend. Check it out.

On HAMILTON

IMG_6920Ask me to name my heroes and two names will come to mind very quickly: Malcolm X and Abraham Lincoln.  I’m always interested to see how fast people catch the fundamental similarity between the two men: they’re both damn near entirely self-educated.  I’ve had more than my share of formal education but in a lot of the things I find important I’m an autodidact, and it’s a quality I deeply respect in people.

Which explains my attraction to Alexander Hamilton, or at least the version of him that Lin-Manuel Miranda has created in HAMILTON.  I mean, the fundamentals of the story are basically correct, and Hamilton is undoubtedly a supreme autodidact, but he’s not quite up there with my heroes mostly because, while I’ve read tons of speeches and writings by Malcolm X and Abraham Lincoln, I’ve mostly read stuff about Hamilton, and that represents an important difference to me.  At least at the moment.  I need to reread the Federalist papers sometime.

But, yeah.  This guy?  I wanna be this guy:

How do you write like you’re running out of time?
Write day and night like you’re running out of time?
How do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive?
How do you write like you need it to survive?
How do you write every second you’re alive?

wish, y’all.  I don’t write enough, and the feeling “I don’t write enough” has been a goddamn constant in my life basically since I left college despite the fact that I’ve had, at the very least, an active blog for for nearly that entire time.  I don’t write enough, but I think about writing constantly.  I am never happier than I am just after completing a written piece– distinctly happier than when I’m actually writing it, a sentiment I suspect most writers will recognize.

Writing is torture.  Having written is the purest bliss.  🙂

Anyway.  We went to see HAMILTON for our 10th anniversary a week ago and somehow I haven’t talked about it here yet.  Walking in, I had large portions of the soundtrack memorized and my wife was at least reasonably familiar with the whole thing, and I think both of us were concerned that the cast being “wrong” might impair our enjoyment somewhat.  I’m glad to report that that concern was basically nonsense; my wife actually walked out preferring the Chicago cast, or at least their voices.   I wasn’t quite there, but I spent some time raving about the performance of Jonathan Kirkland, who plays George Washington.  The guy’s physical presence is outstanding; he towers over the other actors in the show, and he does a tremendous job embodying someone who was so personally forbidding that Hamilton himself once actually made a bet with a fellow Constitutional Convention-goer about whether he was brave enough to slap him on the back.  The “son” scene in Meet Me Inside was so much better than I’d thought it was going to be from the soundtrack.  Washington just stares at Hamilton, and Hamilton folds like a cheap suit.

I mean, okay, not surprising that I liked seeing the most successful Broadway musical of my lifetime live, but still: I know the tickets are expensive, but if this show is near you?  Go see it.  It’s worth it.

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My wife is actually prettier than she was the day we met.  I am … still alive, mostly.

Some odds and ends and also swear words

crappy-dayIt’s been a depressing couple of weeks, honestly.  A bunch of things that haven’t managed to make their way into entire posts yet:

  • I didn’t get the job at my old district, which blows my goddamned mind.  Blows. My. Goddamned. Mind.  I’m trying to avoid, y’know, despair at this point.  I’ve applied for another job at Notre Dame; Notre Dame has already done a really good job of ignoring my applications in the past so I have no particular hope for this one.
  • There’s another local university, by the way, that I’ve sent several applications in to for various jobs, all of which I was very qualified for, that has literally never replied to a single application.  Not a no-thanks, not a fuck-you, not an interview offer, nothing.  I wanna know who the hell they’re hiring.
  • I read Hillary Clinton’s book.  I wasn’t going to at first until I realized how many assholes were enraged by the fact that the book existed and I enjoy being able to make even a tiny contribution to making that kind of person feel bad.  I can’t really say I enjoyed reading it, though, because the whole damn thing was so profoundly depressing.
  • Every time I come even close to writing a post about politics I start literally seeing red around the edges of my vision.  I thought I hated George W. Bush; I had no idea what it was like to hate a politician until this current piece of shit.  None.  I would name George W. Bush dictator-for-life in a second if it meant I never had to hear the current fucker’s name again for as long as I lived.
  • Fuck the NFL, while I’m at it, and fuck America for everything leading up to me having to say the words “Fuck the NFL” on my blog.  This current controversy is everything wrong with America in a nutshell.  And America as a country is as completely and enthusiastically fucked right now as it has been in my lifetime.
  • I’m stealing the phrasing of this from Twitter, I admit, but if we can’t get an overwhelming military presence to Puerto Rico immediately to put together some sort of hurricane response than we have no fucking reason to have a military at all. Trillions of fucking dollars a year and we may as well flush the shit down the toilet. The shitgibbon doesn’t care; Puerto Ricans aren’t white.  I doubt he knows they’re American citizens; I’m certain he doesn’t think they’re people.
  • Speaking of Hillary’s book: you may be aware that I previously had a point of pride that I had at least one book for or by every President of the United States.  I have now had to amend that to every legitimately elected President of the United States, and this is a picture of my Presidency bookshelf.  The book is located where it properly belongs:

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  • Sales on Tales haven’t been remotely what I’ve wanted them to be so far, but I got a big stack of paperbacks this week for Kokomo-Con 2017 in a couple of weeks and that was pretty exciting.  I haven’t done a con in quite a while and this one is just a simple one-day thing a couple of hours south of my house.  I’m looking forward to it.
  • I need to decide what my next book is going to be.  I’m leaning toward knocking out the Skylights sequel finally but it may be something new.  We’ll see.
  • Speaking of big stacks of paperbacks: the Buy Autographed Books link in the masthead of the site has been completely updated.  I price the books cheaper than Amazon does but it probably evens out after shipping– but you get an autograph and a personalized copy, so bleah.
  • Speaking of the Amazon: consider this the part where I’m begging for reviews.  Please?  Pretty please?

#REVIEW: MJ-12: SHADOWS, by Michael J. Martinez

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Let us begin with the obligatory disclaimer: I’ve read all of Mike Martinez’ books, and reviewed all but the first one in this space.  Mike apparently noticed my review of THE ENCELADUS CRISISand he actually thanked me by name in the Afterword of THE VENUSIAN GAMBIT.  I’ve gotten both of his last two books early as ARCs, with the request that I review them honestly.  And Mike was also kind enough to do a cover blurb for TALES FROM THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES, which is going to be out super soon.  (Stand by for an announcement in the next couple of days, actually…)

So anyway.  I read MJ-12: SHADOWS on my trip last week.  And it’s interesting; I didn’t actually review the first Michael Martinez book I read, THE DAEDALUS INCIDENT, because I like my narratives straightforward and TDA is anything but and it kind of bounced off of me a bit.  But I loved the sequel, which is still my favorite of his books.  Now that I’ve read his second MJ-12 book, though, I’m starting to wonder if Martinez is just really good at hitting the ball out of the park when he writes a sequel.  The premise to the series is thus: the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II led to certain individuals around the globe randomly acquiring superpowers.  Of course, this being the beginning of the Cold War, both Russia and the United States have a distinct interest in acquiring those individuals and using them to advance their own national security.  The series, effectively, is a historical fiction Cold War spy thriller with superheroes, only there’s no crazy costumes and no saving cats from trees.  SHADOWS, cut loose from having to set up all that background, gets to focus solely on superpowered individuals (“Variants”) being badass spies, and it’s both a more densely plotted and more historically interesting book than INCEPTION was as a result.  This book must have been hell to write; it snakes in and around a bunch of actual historical events and pulls them into its orbit and its narrative (and the characters are spies, right, so the Actual Historical Narrative we know about is just the cover story!) and I think it’s one of those cases where the more you know about the actual history of the early Cold War, the more you’re going to like the book.  I mean, I know a little bit about James Forrestal, right?  And I hit a Certain Moment with him in the book and then spent an hour in a Wikipedia spiral.

Again: this book had to be a bastard to write, but at the end of it we’ve got a great spy novel involving dueling world powers with superpowers against the specific setting of the CIA interfering with early independence movements in Syria and Lebanon, with a little stop in Kazakhstan in October of 1949 along the way, and I’m not going to tell you what happened there because it counts as a spoiler if you don’t know the history.  I find it kind of fascinating, too, that the two most interesting characters are a deeply Christian African-American former day laborer whose powers cause him to age or grow younger when he uses them– hurting people makes him younger and healing them makes him older– and Harry Truman.  Toss in a former Nazi scientist and a couple of coups and, oh, something that may very well be a parallel dimension inhabited by the dead, because this is a Michael J. Martinez book and it just wouldn’t do to not have something completely bananapants insane in it and you have a book that I very much enjoyed reading, a book that neatly avoids feeling like the second book in a trilogy precisely because it’s tied in so closely to actual historical events and history doesn’t work in a three-act structure and you have what probably isn’t my favorite of his books (that’s still ENCELADUS) but may well rank as his best work nonetheless.  Yes, he gave it to me for free.  Yes, I’m buying it anyway, once it comes out on September 5, because I can’t not have this in print.  And you should too.

(“Completely bananapants insane” is your pull quote, Mike.  Just FYI.)