19 January 2007

M.J. Workman Says.....

I would like you all to welcome our fiction writer and critic M.J. Workman. In today's post, he introduces himself and tells us about his past and his interests. Expect many more interesting contributions from M.J. Workman. If you have comments, leave them in the comments section, or email Workman at mjworkman39@yahoo.com

Who is this M. J. Workman, and what does he want?” The question boomeranged in the nearly empty greasy spoon posing as a restaurant. I was a fresh-faced professor, new to the Pennsylvania liberal arts college where I would teach for the next 37 years. I had just walked up to the coffee table and had been introduced to several academic looking types—each smoking a pipe, wearing a tie and a tweed jacket, the uniform (in those days) of the professoriate. After I sat down, ordered my coffee from a take-no-prisoners waitress who’d seen about all life at the bottom had to offer—I heard again the voice of brass that, thank God, tinkled with humorous grace, “I demand to know, who is this Workman, and what does he want?”

Everyone at the table burst into laughter. The question had been asked in a voice of mock irony from one of the college’s most beloved and cultured teachers who, I’d learn, knew as much about opera, classical music, English literature and gardening as he did about his academic “field,” Greek and Latin. He stood up, extended a welcoming hand and said he wanted to know, in twenty-five words or less, what I did, what I hoped to teach those “ungrateful wretches,” meaning our students. (Yes, college professors talk like that; if they (we) didn’t, we’d blow our brains out, believe me.)

His question was—and is—a fair one: who am I and what do I want from writing this literary column? I am, as Hamlin Garland (now an unread American novelist of the late nineteenth century) wrote “a son of the middle border,” a child of the Midwest, with deep roots in the working class, thanks to my parents, and thanks to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” as Thomas Jefferson wrote. Up until the time I graduated from high school I had been a jerk and a jock. But in my freshman year in college I caught the fever of education—real book learnin’ and thinkin’ and talkin’. I wanted to be a psychologist and cure crazy people since there were a few nutty ones barely hanging onto my family tree. I had already resolved not to be like them.

History, good old-fashioned Western Civ. (now given the boot by the field marshals of Political Correctness) won my heart. Psychology was shoved aside for the time being while I put on the full armor of History. In time, I earned a doctorate—my “union card”—that fitted me out just fine for a tweed coat, pipe, brief case, and tenure in a pretty fair college. While “professing” history I read Freud and William James and theologians such as Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr. They and social philosophers like John Dewey and Walter Lippmann fascinated me. In time, I learned to love novels and, much later, poetry. I dug around in dusty old books and microfilmed newspapers and wrote several serious biographies of important literary figures and even had the temerity to write a memoir about coming of age in America’s heartland in the 1950s.

Now retired and removed to a much warmer, sunnier clime, I loaf around a lot, but devour fiction, read and reread well-written memoirs and biographies. And I’m a sucker for reading the published letters of good writers—more on all this in later columns. Old habits died hard: I still mark up the books I read and note words that are unknown to me. But now it’s time for confession. I no longer worship Clio, goddess of history. Goodbye History. Been there, done that. More confession: I write a bit of poetry when the mood strikes me. Will I be brave enough in the future to share some of my poetry with you? Don’t know. Maybe.

So, now you know M.J. Workman and what he wants. I am consumed by a greedy, expanding desire to learn (I’m “into” the writings of C.G Jung at the moment and hang with some fellow Jungians here in my town.). Though retired from my academic pulpit, I still yearn to twist and shout exhorting others to listen up to what I have been learning. Be warned: this column will be my soapbox, my pulpit, and my lectern. I’ll hold forth loudly until my throat gives out.

18 January 2007

Blog For Choice Day--January 22

As many of you may know, January 22 marks the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. On that day, NARAL Pro-Choice America and Bush v. Choice are sponsoring the second annual Blog for Choice. During last year's initial event, pro-choice bloggers were asked to write/speak out on reproductive rights and health issues. Hundreds responded with posts concerning their experiences and opinions. This year's topic is a simple one: "Tell us, and your readers, why you are pro-choice."

So make sure to get involved in this day of activism for reproductive rights. This is a chance to raise the profile of these critical issues in the blogosphere and the media.

You can email me (dew) with your pro-choice stories and I will post all of them on January 22. Or you can leave your narrative in the comment section of the blog.

By the way, there are a number of great blog links on the Bush v. Choice site. Blogs have been registering to participate in Blog for Choice Day (including Books and Bait). All of those feminist, leftist blog links are included on that single page--makes for some fascinating reading.

Fiction Writer and Critic

Buddy's Books and Bait is pleased and excited to now have a fiction writer/critic on staff. On Friday, our fiction expert, the honorable and esteemed M.J. Workman, will post his first article--he will be introducing himself and discussing his academic background, interests, and some of his notions on fiction and literature. He will be submitting reviews, and also just contributing his intellectual random thoughts on books, poetry, and other aspects of the field.

16 January 2007

2008, part I: The Ghost of Ed Muskie

For a while, I've been planning to intermittently post my thoughts on the 2008 Democratic presidential candidates and the approaching campaign--so here are my initial ruminations. I do realize it's all just pure speculation at this point, but there are some trends to start looking for. And as both a longtime political junkie and a historian, I might be able to add some insights.

Today I want deal with "the Myth" (coming from Washington pundits and the right-wing media) that says Democrats always destroy their own front-runners. The myth suggests that Democratic activists can be counted on to subvert the party's electoral chances by sabotaging the front-runner and nominating some wild and crazy liberal. Where did this myth originate and is it at all relevant for 2008?

Edmund Sixtus Muskie--remember him? Younger readers of Books and Bait probably have no idea who he was. Let me fill you in--and briefly explain why Muskie, for the past 35 years, has served as the poster-boy for the aforementioned myth. In 1968, Muskie (representing Maine in the U.S. senate), ran for Vice-President on the Democratic national ticket headed by sitting Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey. The Humphrey-Muskie team was narrowly defeated by the Republican ticket of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew (both future criminals by the way). But Muskie emerged as a fresh face who had campaign reasonably well--he was anointed the strong front-runner for 1972.

Trouble was, Muskie was actually a very poor candidate: boring, insipid, and not at all in-step with the changing Democratic party. He was the establishment candidate--an organizational man in a party brimming with diversity. In fact, by 1972, both liberals and moderates in the party were in no mood for another pro-war, traditional standard bearer. Muskie spent 4 years as the front-runner, gained all the necessary endorsements and raised millions. But he soon went down to a quick and crushing defeat in the early primaries. The soul of the party never accepted Muskie and they made it clear at the ballot box by selected George McGovern as their candidate.

This stunned the establishment (Mayor Daley and other party leaders), but they were probably on their way out anyway. This is where the myth started. The fact that McGovern was thrashed in November just added fuel to the legend. Now, every time a Democratic front-runner has trouble, the press resurrects old Ed Muskie and talks about how prevalent this is in the Democratic Party--how the silly activists on the left dominate the primaries and defeat the moderate/electable candidates by nominating these "McGovernites."

Yes, other Democratic front-runners have had some problems: Mondale had to deal with Gary Hart in 1984, and Howard Dean self-destructed in 2004--but no one crashed and burned like Muskie. Dean was still an semi-insurgent candidate, and his fall was is no way comparable to the Muskie self-destruction.

For those of you who are still with me--there is a reason I am bringing this up. Senator Hillary Clinton of New York is currently in much the same position as Muskie was in 1971-72:
-a strong front-runner
-lots of money
-support of many party leaders
-has been ahead in all the polls since 2004

Expect it folks--the pundits (especially the right-wingers) will soon revive the Ed Muskie tale and compare his fate with what they believe will befall Senator Clinton next year.

Well, we need to at least look at it--is it possible? Are there similarities and patterns--might we see a replay of 1972?

I will deal with this more in the next post on this topic. More to come on Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Muskie, McGovern and others.

By the way, for those of you who, like me, were zealous McGovern supporters (yes, I am that old), a great film/documentary was released last year on the 1972 McGovern campaign. If you get a chance, please rent One Bright Shining Moment. I, for one, remain extremely proud of the vote I cast in that election.

15 January 2007

Same Old, Tired Antics from Republicans

The tired, sad, and pathetic Republican noise-machine is at it once again. It's what they do best.....actually, it's the only thing they do!

A rather benign exchange between Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, set off Republican alarms late last week. Boxer's children are too old to be fighting in Iraq (at least for now), and Rice has no children. Because of this, Boxer tried to make a point how neither one of their immediate families were directly affected by Bush's Iraq War escalation.

How could she say that, demanded the Republicans? Tony Snow called Boxer's comments "a great leap backwards for feminism." Rush Limbaugh accused Boxer of "trying to lynch" Rice right before Martin Luther King Day. Saying that Boxer had taken a swipe at all women who chose not to have kids, these long-time male chauvinists were actually attempting to stand up for feminists. No thanks! None of the feminists that I know want the FOX crowd or a bunch of white, male conservatives doing their political bidding.

But this worn-out ruckus is all the Republicans have these days. They can't govern, can't pass any domestic legislation, can't even begin to fathom public opinion, can't run a war, can't operate a coherent foreign policy.......they can't really do anything. Except.....these bullies can make sure if they hear something that even appears slightly controversial--they can yell and scream like privileged little children seeking attention. How dare the Democrats even question this war!

These pathetic losers tried this tactic when John Kerry made his infamous faux-pas before the November election. I said at the time that it would not help the Republicans, it might actually backfire. And it did! Why, because most of the country was wise to these depraved antics. And I was correct, the public didn't care what John Kerry said or didn't say; the public cared about how Bush and his Republican thugs were screwed up the country.

This is just more of the same from these dismal and wretched toughs. The Karl Rovian bully tactics don't work anymore. We have nothing to apologize for--(make sure to read these great comments by Feministing).

Books and Bait Lures: I hope you all enjoyed the book review by Doctor J last week. We now have a fiction reviewer who will be a regular contributor to the site--you will read more about that later in the week. In addition, another contributor is seriously considering keeping us informed on pending progressive/liberal legislation in Washington. I hope Books and Bait will be adding that to the site very soon. In the meantime, spread the word about this blog and submit some comments if you have the chance.