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The Story of Writing Where the Light is Dim: Second Anniversary


Well, my friends, two years have passed since I posted my first blog on my website. I have experienced my share of ups and downs during those 24 months. Who has not? Anyway, the time has zipped by since July 2011, as time has a way of doing.

This is my 55th blog posting and the second anniversary of my first online musings. I thought it would be instructive to look back at the ground I have traveled since I started my trek.

First and foremost, CRC Press published my new book this month. It is titled American Environmentalism: Philosophy, History, and Public Policy. It was supposed to be published in August, but the press issued it early. Will wonders never cease?

I cannot pretend the book is perfect or that it is the tome I want to be remembered for, but it turned out reasonably well. As I said, will wonders never cease?

Here is the way the publisher describes the book:

Features

  • 1. Provides an interdisciplinary approach to environmental issues that draws on philosophical, historical, and public policy elements

  • 2. Discusses the philosophical foundations of American environmentalism

  • 3. Traces the history of American environmentalism from the Ancient Greeks to the present

  • 4. Explores the process and development of public policy in the American regime

  • 5. Includes 20 photographs of key historical figures and environmental processes

  • 6. Covers life cycle management for corporations along with related regulatory recommendations

  • 7. Contains complete coverage of contemporary literature, recent policies, agencies, laws at the federal level, global conferences, industrial trends, and the climate change debate

  • 8. Introduces policy makers to comprehensive foundational knowledge of environmental philosophy, economy, and history of competing concepts

Summary

Protecting the natural environment and promoting sustainability have become important objectives, but achieving such goals presents myriad challenges for even the most committed environmentalist. American Environmentalism: Philosophy, History, and Public Policy examines whether competing interests can be reconciled while developing consistent, coherent, effective public policy to regulate uses and protection of the natural environment without destroying the national economy. It then reviews a range of possible solutions.

The book delves into key normative concepts that undergird American perspectives on nature by providing an overview of philosophical concepts found in the western intellectual tradition, the presuppositions inherent in neoclassical economics, and anthropocentric (human-centered) and biocentric (earth-centered) positions on sustainability. It traces the evolution of attitudes about nature from the time of the Ancient Greeks through Europeans in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the American Founders, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and up to the present. Building on this foundation, the author examines the political landscape as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), industry leaders, and government officials struggle to balance industrial development with environmental concerns

Outrageous claims, silly misrepresentations, bogus arguments, absurd contentions, and overblown prophesies of impending calamities are bandied about by many parties on all sides of the debate—industry spokespeople, elected representatives, unelected regulators, concerned citizens, and environmental NGOs alike. In lieu of descending into this morass, the author circumvents the silliness to explore the crucial issues through a more focused, disciplined approach. Rather than engage in acrimonious debate over minutiae, as so often occurs in the context of "green" claims, he recasts the issue in a way that provides a cohesive look at all sides. This effort may be quixotic, but how else to cut the Gordian knot?

That is a lot of stuff to cram into one book. I hope it is a worthwhile project for students of environmentalism.

Aside from this latest work, I have many more books in the pipeline. I teach an undergraduate criminal procedure class online once a year for the University of South Dakota Political Science Department. To capitalize on my captive audience—and, hopefully, to make the subject matter more accessible—I have written a companion text to supplement the course casebook.

In the field of American criminal procedure, the system of legal rules governing the relationship between the individual and government quickly can become complex and difficult to comprehend, especially for the novice student. I have taught university-level courses for 18 years, including the basic course in criminal procedure for undergraduate criminal justice students. During that time, I have found that students sometimes become confused and despondent about the multitude of rules and cases. “I would not recommend my worst enemy to take this class,” a student once wrote to me in a parting email. Referring to the voluminous (and occasionally convoluted and contradictory) readings and cases, he said the material “only made me feel like an idiot,” which in turn made him believe he “did not deserve to be in your class.”

I was alarmed by the student’s experience because criminal procedure can be a fascinating topic if a person can delve beneath the complex legal rules and discover the human element played out in the cases. Often that individual drama is part of a larger perennial debate over the freedom of the individual and the authority of government. Criminal procedure textbooks focus heavily on landmark court cases that depend on crucial factual nuances, as they should, and yet such texts typically provide only a cursory, abbreviated summary of the facts behind the court cases. It is unfortunate that the rich, evocative context of the stories is lost or neglected.

Cases and legal doctrines can be turgid and boring, especially for undergraduates, but the human drama embedded in the stories sometimes awakens a dormant interest. As an example, when my class discusses Powell v. Alabama (1932), I have found that the case comes alive when I stream an American Experience documentary, Scottsboro: An American Tragedy, for students to watch. They see the faces of the defendants, hear stories about how the case became a cause célèbre, and understand the facts as well as the biases prevalent in the legal system of the Depression-era South. After watching the documentary, students have told me how much they learned. It was eye-opening to discuss the context leading up to the legal cases. “I wish all of the cases we discussed could be told as a story,” I have heard many a pupil remark. “Most of the time, it’s just a bunch of boring legal doctrines with Latin phrases and complicated legal tests and formulas.”

From these simple origins, I decided to write a companion text.

The working title is Great Stories in Criminal Procedure. It features the people behind 14 of the greatest cases — Roy Olmstead, the famous bootlegger; the Scottsboro Boys from the 1930s; Dollree Mapp from the early 1960s; Clarence Earl Gideon, the indigent defendant who asked for court-appointed counsel; Ernesto Miranda, the rapist who appealed his conviction and won the right to remain silent; and Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s former driver who challenged his indefinite detention at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp without a civilian trial, among other stories. I am a few months away from completing the first draft. Praeger/ABC-CLIO will publish the book about a year from now.

After that, I have plans to produce a manuscript with the working title Trouble Done Bore Me Down: The Politics of Race in America, 1880s-1940s. This book will be a sequel to my study of race relations from the 1830s through the 1880s, Coming For to Carry Me Home: Race in America from Abolitionism to Jim Crow. The book after that will be The Safety of the Kingdom: Government Responses to Terrorism and Subversion (working title), a sequel to my history book Terrorist Attacks on American Soil: From the Civil War Era to the Present. I don’t have a publisher yet for The Safety of the Kingdom, but I don’t anticipate a problem finding one. With fears about terrorism as well as concerns over government surveillance of the citizenry at a fever pitch, I believe I will be able to find a suitable publishing outlet.

I have book proposals in various stages of completion for an academic book on environmental sustainability and public administration as well as a proposal for a history of American political assassinations. I have not spent much time developing these proposals because Trouble Done Bore Me Down and The Safety of the Kingdom will keep me occupied for the next two or three years.

Of course, I also have a proposal under development for Dreaming Out Loud, the book about my mother’s stroke. I am posting regular chapters in my blog, but the book itself needs a great deal of polishing. It is my long-term project. I also have my ongoing crime novel, The Day of the Gun. That one is a guilty pleasure with (I hope) no socially-redeeming value.

As you can see, it has been an extremely productive period for me. I have no plans to quit my day jobs soon, but at least I am enjoying the writing hobby. It makes for a nice life.

Let’s see what the third anniversary brings in 2014. Stay tuned, gentle reader.

Thanks, as always, to the kind folks who have sent me notes of encouragement and support.


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© 2020 J . Michael Martinez