Friday, January 15, 2021

Thank You, Friend

Yesterday I drove the Pontiac to the supermarket.  As I was crossing the parking lot, a man called out to me and asked if that was my car.  I replied that it was; I’m used to people asking me about it.  But he said he’d seen it on the internet and knew the owner lived in the area, that the owner wrote a blog called Bark Bark Woof Woof, and wanted to someday meet him.  I grinned and said thanks.  He said he’s a reader, never commented, but enjoyed my work.  And then he said that there are a lot more people who agree with what I write.

We talked as we went into the store.  He’s about my age, he works as a carpenter for the school district; we’d met up as he was going in to get his lunch, I think.  He told me his name, but I’m not going to share it because I didn’t tell him I’d write about our meeting.

I know that there are a lot more lurkers here than commenters, but even so, it is very nice to hear from them.  Thank you.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Sunday Reading

What We Got Wrong — Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker on interpreting America’s crisis in democracy.

Readers of “Through the Looking-Glass” may recall the plight of the Bread-and-Butterfly, which, as the Gnat explains to Alice, can live only on weak tea with cream in it. “Supposing it couldn’t find any?” Alice asks. “Then it would die, of course,” the Gnat answers. “That must happen very often,” Alice reflects. “It always happens,” the Gnat admits, dolefully.

How the Bread-and-Butterfly survives, given the impossible demands of its diet, is a nice question. Lewis Carroll was in part teasing Darwinian ideas, which depend on a struggle for existence in which, eventually, we all lose—nonexistence being the norm of living things, over time. But the plight of the Bread-and-Butterfly comes to mind, too, when we contemplate what is called, not without reason, America’s crisis of democracy. It always happens. We are told again and again that American democracy is in peril and may even be on its deathbed. Today, after all, a defeated yet deranged President bunkers in the White House contemplating crazy conspiracy theories and perhaps even martial law, with the uneasy consent of his party and the rabid support of his base. We are then told, with equal urgency, that what is wrong, ultimately, is deep, systemic, and Everybody’s Fault. Perhaps there is a crisis of meaning, or of spirit; perhaps it is a crisis caused by the condescension of self-important élites. (In truth, those élites tend to be at least as self-lacerating as they are condescending, as the latest rounds of self-laceration show.)

Lurking behind all of this is a faulty premise—that the descent into authoritarianism is what needs to be explained, when the reality is that . . . it always happens. The default condition of humankind is not to thrive in broadly egalitarian and stable democratic arrangements that get unsettled only when something happens to unsettle them. The default condition of humankind, traced across thousands of years of history, is some sort of autocracy.

America itself has never had a particularly settled commitment to democratic, rational government. At a high point of national prosperity, long before manufacturing fell away or economic anxiety gripped the Middle West—in an era when “silos” referred only to grain or missiles and information came from three sober networks, and when fewer flew over flyover country—a similar set of paranoid beliefs filled American minds and came perilously close to taking power. As this magazine’s political writer Richard Rovere documented in a beautifully sardonic 1965 collection, “The Goldwater Caper,” a sizable group of people believed things as fully fantastical as the Trumpite belief in voting machines rerouted by dead Venezuelan socialists. The intellectual forces behind Goldwater’s sudden rise thought that Eisenhower and J.F.K. were agents, wittingly or otherwise, of the Communist conspiracy, and that American democracy was in a death match with enemies within as much as without. (Goldwater was, political genealogists will note, a ferocious admirer and defender of Joe McCarthy, whose counsel in all things conspiratorial was Roy Cohn, Donald Trump’s mentor.)

Goldwater was a less personally malevolent figure than Trump, and, yes, he lost his 1964 Presidential bid. But, in sweeping the Deep South, he set a victorious neo-Confederate pattern for the next four decades of American politics, including the so-called Reagan revolution. Nor were his forces naïvely libertarian. At the time, Goldwater’s ghostwriter Brent Bozell spoke approvingly of Franco’s post-Fascist Spain as spiritually far superior to decadent America, much as the highbrow Trumpites talk of the Christian regimes of Putin and Orbán.

The interesting question is not what causes autocracy (not to mention the conspiratorial thinking that feeds it) but what has ever suspended it. We constantly create post-hoc explanations for the ascent of the irrational. The Weimar inflation caused the rise of Hitler, we say; the impoverishment of Tsarism caused the Bolshevik Revolution. In fact, the inflation was over in Germany long before Hitler rose, and Lenin came to power not in anything that resembled a revolution—which had happened already under the leadership of far more pluralistic politicians—but in a coup d’état by a militant minority. Force of personality, opportunity, sheer accident: these were much more decisive than some neat formula of suffering in, autocracy out.

Donald Trump came to power not because of an overwhelming wave of popular sentiment—he lost his two elections by a cumulative ten million votes—but because of an orphaned electoral system left on our doorstep by an exhausted Constitutional Convention. It’s true that our diagnoses, however dubious as explanations, still point to real maladies. Certainly there are all sorts of reasons for reducing economic inequality. But Trump’s power was not rooted in economic interests, and his approval rating among his followers was the same when things were going well as it is now, when they’re going badly. Then, too, some of the blandest occupants of the Oval Office were lofted there during previous peaks of inequality.

The way to shore up American democracy is to shore up American democracy—that is, to strengthen liberal institutions, in ways that are unglamorously specific and discouragingly minute. The task here is not so much to peer into our souls as to reduce the enormous democratic deficits under which the country labors, most notably an electoral landscape in which farmland tilts to power while city blocks are flattened. This means remedying manipulative redistricting while reforming the Electoral College and the Senate. Some of these things won’t be achievable, but all are worth pursuing—with the knowledge that, even if every box on our wonkish wish list were checked, no set-it-and-forget-it solution to democratic fragility would stand revealed. The only way to stave off another Trump is to recognize that it always happens. The temptation of anti-democratic cult politics is forever with us, and so is the work of fending it off.

The rule of law, the protection of rights, and the procedures of civil governance are not fixed foundations, shaken by events, but practices and habits, constantly threatened, frequently renewable. “A republic if you can keep it,” Benjamin Franklin said. Keeping a republic is a matter not of preserving it like pickles but of working it like dough—which sounds like something you’d serve alongside very weak tea. But it is the essential diet to feed our democracy if we are to make what always happens, for a little while longer, happily unhappen.

The Jon Swift Annual Roundup — The best posts of the year, chosen by the bloggers themselves, compiled by Batocchio at Vagabond Scholar.

Welcome to the 2020 edition. This year was much, much more eventful than most of us would have liked.

This tradition was started by the late Jon Swift/Al Weisel, who left behind some excellent satire, but was also a nice guy and a strong supporter of small blogs. As usual, I’ll quote Lance Mannion, who nicely explains:

Our late and much missed comrade in blogging, journalist and writer Al Weisel, revered and admired across the bandwidth as the “reasonable conservative” blogger Modest Jon Swift, was a champion of the lesser known and little known bloggers working tirelessly in the shadows . . .One of his projects was a year-end Blogger Round Up. Al/Jon asked bloggers far and wide, famous and in- and not at all, to submit a link to their favorite post of the past twelve months and then he sorted, compiled, blurbed, hyperlinked and posted them on his popular blog. His round-ups presented readers with a huge banquet table of links to work many of has had missed the first time around and brought those bloggers traffic and, more important, new readers they wouldn’t have otherwise enjoyed.

It may not have been the most heroic endeavor, but it was kind and generous and a lot of us owe our continued presence in the blogging biz to Al.

It was not hard for me to make my selection: it was the tribute to my father the morning that he died, May 25, 2020.  I hope that you will read through the other selections, which cover everything from the pandemic to the election and far beyond.

Doonesbury — What’s in a name.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Seventeen Years

It was a very different time when I sat down at my computer in my little apartment on November 8, 2003, and wrote the first post on Bark Bark Woof Woof. I was a year into my job with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, my daily driver was a 1995 Mustang GT convertible, the Pontiac was in retirement, my playwriting was unknown to all but a few dear friends, and I was incensed at the venality, criminality, and careless warmongering of George W. Bush.

This is what it looked like five months in:

Ah, those were the days.

Today I’m retired from M-DCPS, my daily driver is a 2007 Mustang, the Pontiac has been restored and going to car shows (and winning on occasion), my plays have been performed all over the country and overseas, they’re now being published by Smith Scripts, George W. Bush is no longer the worst president in the history of the country, and we just got rid of the one that was.

Since that Saturday afternoon, I’ve written 29,955 posts, including this one. I’ve made an effort to post something every day, missing a few due to weather and internet issues, but finding something to say or observe or just put up for the fun of it. I’ve made friends along the way; shared their joys and losses, learned a great deal about a lot of things, and on rare occasions been noticed by people who are worth being noticed by. I’ve posted in a lot of different places: three different homes here in Miami, numerous hotels from New York for my off-off-Broadway opening to Alaska, the homes of friends and family, and even internationally (Canada). I’ve shared a lot of personal stories, pictures of the family, and my own losses. After all, that’s what blogging was all about then, and in this rapidly-changing world, what it still is. And they said it wouldn’t last.

Thank you, dear reader, for coming here whenever you do and seeing what I’ve put up, and for those of you who comment, a sincere thanks for your support, your guidance, your corrections, and your indulgence. I’ve gotten to know many of you in real life and I truly appreciate your friendship and support.  You were here for the good times — my New York opening — and the sad times.  Thank you.

I’d also like to thank my brother CLW for the amazing work he’s done over the years in his technical advice, support, and commiseration in keeping this effort afloat. He’s been the designer and engineer in the move from Blogger to WordPress and from ASO to AWS. Despite the fact that we could not live further apart in the contiguous United States, he’s a lot closer than ever before. Thank you, my brother.

So, as I said back at the beginning, Here Goes. We’ve got a lot to do — a country to save, a Pulitzer to win (okay, I’ll settle for a Tony) — and with a little more time on my hands, I’ll ask the same question President Jed Bartlet asked: What’s next?

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The New Machine

The new computer arrived Saturday afternoon, and within less than 24 hours, Flat Rate Geek here in Miami had migrated everything over without a hitch except for me remembering I had to download new drivers for the printer and camera.  It’s blazing fast, quiet — I had gotten used to the fan spooling up when I opened Firefox — and it’s a bit smaller than the old one.

As before, I have a wireless keyboard and mouse, which makes it convenient to use, and a nice big monitor for my old eyes.

The one thing it won’t do it make my writing any better. That’s up to me.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Please Stand By

I am hoping that AT&T will be true to their word and show up between 2 and 4 p.m. to get me back on line at home.  Right now I’m at an undisclosed location, catching up on work.

Meanwhile, I got up to Level 8 on Klondike Solitaire.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

No Comments

The comments system has been disabled temporarily while we’re doing some work backstage.  It should be back shortly.

Update: And we’re back.  Comment to your heart’s content.  Thanks, CLW.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Jon Swift Memorial Roundup 2019

It’s time for the annual look at the best posts of bloggers as chosen by the bloggers themselves. In the words of Lance Mannion:

Our late and much missed comrade in blogging, journalist and writer Al Weisel, revered and admired across the bandwidth as the “reasonable conservative” blogger Modest Jon Swift, was a champion of the lesser known and little known bloggers working tirelessly in the shadows…

One of his projects was a year-end Blogger Round Up. Al/Jon asked bloggers far and wide, famous and in- and not at all, to submit a link to their favorite post of the past twelve months and then he sorted, compiled, blurbed, hyperlinked and posted them on his popular blog. His round-ups presented readers with a huge banquet table of links to work many of has had missed the first time around and brought those bloggers traffic and, more important, new readers they wouldn’t have otherwise enjoyed.

My submission for this year was my recent post “The Sting,” in which I said, “Was it enough to just impeach Trump in the House, knowing that the Senate will acquit him? No, it’s not enough. But it’s close.” This post came in second to my travelogue from Alaska.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Home For The Holidays

Today begins the two weeks that a lot of people take off for the holidays, and that includes me.  Even semi-retired folk get a break (although unlike years past, it’s unpaid), and so until January 6, things here will be on a holiday schedule.  That means a post or two a day — yeah, I know, that’s been what I’ve been doing since I retired — but it will be less focused on the foibles of politics and more on enjoying the small things of life such as catching up with my writing, and of course my usual end-of-year summation of looking back and looking forward.  I’ll also include some memories of this year, which turned out to be a rather momentous one in terms of theatre, playwriting, and travel.

For my part, I’m staying home along the banks of Cutler Drain Canal C-100A and enjoying the warmth of friendship and Florida’s idea of winter.  Oh, and some cinnamon buns from Knaus Berry Farm.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Open To Suggestions

It’s time for the annual Jon Swift Memorial Roundup of best blog posts.  If you have any suggestions for what you thought I wrote this year was worth sharing, I’d love to hear it.

As a reminder, here’s what I’ve done the last three years: 2018, 2017, and 2016.

Thanks.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Sixteen Years

It was a very different time when I sat down at my computer in my little apartment on November 8, 2003, and wrote the first post on Bark Bark Woof Woof.  I was a year into my job with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, my daily driver was a 1995 Mustang GT convertible, the Pontiac was in retirement, my playwriting was unknown to all but a few dear friends, and I was incensed at the venality, criminality, and careless warmongering of George W. Bush.

This is what it looked like five months in:

Ah, those were the days.

Today I’m retired from M-DCPS, my daily driver is a 2007 Mustang, the Pontiac has been restored and going to car shows (and winning on occasion), my plays have been performed all over the country and overseas, and George W. Bush is no longer the worst president in the history of the country.  And since that Saturday afternoon, I’ve written 29,077 posts.  I’ve made an effort to post something every day, missing a few due to weather and internet issues, but finding something to say or observe or just put up for the fun of it.  I’ve made friends along the way; shared their joys and losses, learned a great deal about a lot of things, and on rare occasions been noticed by people who are worth being noticed by.  I’ve posted in a lot of different places: three different homes here in Miami, numerous hotels from New York for my off-off-Broadway opening to Alaska, the homes of friends and family, and even internationally (Canada).  I’ve shared a lot of personal stories, pictures of the family, and my own losses.  After all, that’s what blogging was all about then, and in this rapidly-changing world, what it still is.  And they said it wouldn’t last.

Thank you, dear reader, for coming here whenever you do and seeing what I’ve put up, and for those of you who comment, a sincere thanks for your support, your guidance, your corrections, and your indulgence. I’ve gotten to know many of you in real life and I truly appreciate your friendship and support.

I’d also like to thank my brother CLW for the amazing work he’s done over the years in his technical advice, support, and commiseration in keeping this effort afloat.  He’s been the designer and engineer in the move from Blogger to WordPress and from ASO to AWS.  Despite the fact that we could not live further apart in the contiguous United States, he’s a lot closer than ever before.  Thank you, my brother.

So, as I said back at the beginning, Here Goes.  We’ve got a lot to do — a country to save, a Pulitzer to win (okay, I’ll settle for a Tony) — and with a little more time on my hands, I’ll ask the same question President Jed Bartlet asked: What’s next?

Monday, August 19, 2019

Passings

One life lost, and another journey ended.

Gil Christner, the creator of the blog skippy the bush kangaroo which cited this blog and taught a lot of us how to do it, passed away at the end of July.

Melissa McEwan, the creator and driving force of Shakesville, has retired from blogging and said farewell in the style and forthrightness that only she could bring to the pixels.  Over the last fifteen years she has been a presence in my work and blogging, and for a long time I was a regular contributor to Shakesville.  Her dedication to her work and to her community stand head and shoulders above so many others, and while I am glad that she is going out in style and on her own terms, I will miss her very, very much.

Thank you, Gil, and thank you, Melissa.  The world was made better with you here with us.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Sleep Cycles

One of the things that may change here thanks to my impending retirement is that I will attempt, after nearly 20 years, to sleep in until at least sunrise.  That may take some work.

The two questions I usually get about my sleep pattern is “What started it?” and “What time do you usually go to bed?”

What started it was when I lived in Albuquerque, the gym I went to opened at 5.  I would get up, walk Sam, go to the gym for an hour, come home, shower, and go to work, usually getting to the office at 7 or so.  When I moved to Miami in 2001, I stopped going to the gym because A) there wasn’t one within a reasonable distance and B) after 20 years of working out, I wanted to do something else.  My apartment complex had pool, so I swam laps after school.  I lived 30 minutes from the school where I was teaching and I had to get there before the students, which was 7:30.  I had to be up by 4 to get things ready, and while Sam was still alive, spend time exploring the flora around my apartment.

After Sam died and I went to work for the public schools downtown, I still lived 20 miles from the office and Miami’s morning traffic after 6:30 a.m. is a hell of a thing to wake up to.  Also, getting to work before everyone else gave me a chance to catch up on the paperwork that piled up.  It also was nice to be there by myself.  After I moved 12 miles closer to the office it was still easier to get there early.

Then, on November 8, 2003, I started this blog.  That meant getting up early to read through the news, absorb what was interesting (to me, at least), and write something cogent.  That takes up at least an hour or so, and after I moved to Palmetto Bay and was now 17 miles from the office, I had to get up, write, and then drive US 1 and still get to work on time.  That meant getting up when, to quote Col. Sherman T. Potter, even the roosters are comatose.  Even taking the train, which I’ve been doing for almost two years, I still need to be out of the house by 4:15 to get to Dadeland South, get parked, and get on the first train.  (By the way, in doing so I’ve made some friends along the way of the commute.  We’ve agreed to keep in touch; thanks, Derrick, Lee, Gil, Roberto, Cesar, Jim, Mata, Barb, Omar, and Donna.)

The answer to the second question — what time do I go to bed — is easier: when I feel like it, which is usually after 8 but before Rachel Maddow gets to her first commercial break.  I read myself to sleep, which takes about ten minutes, and then I’m out.  Thank Dog for TiVo or I’d have no idea what’s on TV after 8 p.m.

Starting next Tuesday, things will be a little different.  I start a new part-time job after Labor Day and I don’t know the hours yet, but I can’t imagine it will be like my schedule now.  We shall see.  The one thing I can guarantee you is that even if I do wake up at 3 a.m., I won’t be writing much about it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Catching Up

Okay, where was I…?

After being out of town for five days, then throwing in a holiday, I’m so far behind in keeping up that I’m probably going to take a few days to catch up.

But I did have a good time and met some great people, and I’ll be home long enough to put stuff away before taking it out again in preparation for my next adventure.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Jon Swift Memorial Roundup 2018

It’s time for the annual look at the best posts of bloggers as chosen by the bloggers themselves. In the words of Lance Mannion:

Our late and much missed comrade in blogging, journalist and writer Al Weisel, revered and admired across the bandwidth as the “reasonable conservative” blogger Modest Jon Swift, was a champion of the lesser known and little known bloggers working tirelessly in the shadows…

One of his projects was a year-end Blogger Round Up. Al/Jon asked bloggers far and wide, famous and in- and not at all, to submit a link to their favorite post of the past twelve months and then he sorted, compiled, blurbed, hyperlinked and posted them on his popular blog. His round-ups presented readers with a huge banquet table of links to work many of has had missed the first time around and brought those bloggers traffic and, more important, new readers they wouldn’t have otherwise enjoyed.

My submission was my love note to Allen published last Sunday.  It may not have been the most political or insightful, but it was from the heart and that’s what matters.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Winter Break

My two-week winter break begins today around 1:00 or whenever I decide to leave the office after our holiday luncheon.  Then I’m off until January 7.  I have nothing much planned other than some visits with friends and — I hope — a lot of writing that has been patiently waiting inside my head to get transcribed.

That’s my way of saying that things are going to be a little quieter here at BBWW for the break.  Of course I’ll have my usual Christmas observance and year-end wrap-up and prognostications, but I won’t be getting up at 3 a.m. to do them.  I’m also getting ready for a lot of theatre and car show stuff coming up in 2019, not to mention my looming retirement from Miami-Dade County Public Schools next August, so there’s a lot to look forward to and get ready for.

A lot of blogs and sites use the end of the year as a time to shake the can and ask for donations.  I’ve never done that — at least blatantly — but if you feel the urge, I won’t stop you.  It’s the yellow Donate button on the sidebar.

And what would the break be without a visit from Snowball?  He sends greetings from his retirement villa atop my dresser, but here he is from a few years ago when he was decking the halls.  What a crazy cat.

Tis the season already.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Fifteen Years

Today marks fifteen years since November 8, 2003, when I sat down to set up this blog on Blogger and wrote the first post of Bark Bark Woof Woof.  Back then I was living in a little apartment in unincorporated Miami-Dade County, I was a little over a year into my job with the public schools, and I was in my early fifties, single, and had visions of becoming part of the burgeoning blogosphere and a famous writer.  We were a year away from the 2004 election and outraged at the excesses of the Bush administration and vowing to take our country back from the warmongering and arrogant GOP.  I drove a Mustang convertible and had a Pontiac station wagon in the parking lot awaiting restoration, knowing it would be another ten years before it would be considered old enough to enter in antique car shows.

Well, fifteen years later, I’ve moved twice, changed servers twice, updated the blog from Blogger to WordPress with the invaluable guidance and expertise of my brother, and, according to the stats counter, written over 28,000 posts.  With a few exceptions due to weather and internet access, I’ve written every post and written something (or at least put up something) every day, be it a simple observation — How about those Tigers? — or a long essay on something that strikes me as important and worth sharing, be it marriage equality or nostalgia about leaving my old home town.  Much water has gone under the bridge, but some things have not changed: I still work for the public schools, I still have a Mustang convertible (though not the same one), and I still have the Pontiac, now restored and going to car shows.  And I’m still finding things to wax long or short about, and I’m still getting up at 3 a.m. to look at the world and try to find some way to make sense of it all.

This is the place where I say thank you to you, the reader, for coming here whenever you do and seeing what I’ve put up, and for those of you who comment, a sincere thanks for your support, your guidance, your corrections, and your indulgence.  I’ve gotten to know many of you in real life and I truly appreciate your friendship and support.

By the way, when I started this blog I made a somewhat diligent effort to keep my real name off the pages because I was pretty sure that writing an opinion blog while working for the public schools could cause issues.  Well, I’m less than a year away from retirement, I’ve rarely if ever written about anything to do with my work (and when I have it’s been supportive), and it doesn’t take a crack team of cyberanalysts to figure out who I am.  So I’ll tell you: my real name is Philip Middleton Williams, and if you want to know about my playwriting, you can look me up on the New Play Exchange.  I will still blog under the name Mustang Bobby and credit my alter-ego Bobby Cramer with all the work because he’s still a large part of my creative writing.  He will get his turn on stage next March when “Can’t Live Without You” opens at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton.

Anyway, fifteen years down and many more to come.  What’s next?

Friday, August 17, 2018

Warning Lights

I learned long ago not to ignore certain warning lights on the dashboard.  Last night the battery light came on while driving home from a car club meeting — ironically, the guest speaker was our trusty mechanic — so this morning the Mustang is going in to see what’s wrong with the electrical system.

Posting will resume when I get back from the shop.

Update: It’s probably the alternator.  I’ll know this afternoon.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Programming Note

I’ve got some things going on backstage that are taking my attention away from the keyboard for the next few days, so things will be a little quiet here for the remainder of the week.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Bleah

Along with making new friends and learning from some really good writers, I also picked up a bit of a cold at this year’s Inge Festival.

I’m not going to risk infecting anyone today other than my pillow.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Back Home Again

I say this just about every time I get back from Inge: I love going and doing all the fun and creative things we do there, but there’s nothing like getting back to your own bed.

I’ve got a lot of things to catch up on, including news and work and laundry, so this will be a short blogging day.

Thanks, Bob, for picking me up last night.