Mechanical World


One of the coolest attractions in Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is the Musee Mecanique.  It doubles as a museum of coin operated games and as a fully functional arcade, as each of the games have been restored to their original playing condition, and as long as your supply of quarters last, you can actually play them.  The pieces range from player pianos and other mechanized carnival attractions from the 1800s all the way up to the 1980s video game explosion, with titles that made my wife and I nostalgic for our early years, when we were newlyweds and when she was nearly unbeatable at “Space Invaders.”

We’d just eaten lunch and were strolling down the Wharf when we stumbled upon the museum. We stopped and played for a while, Pac Man and Ms. Pacman and Asteroids before finding the Space Invaders game. Deb became engrossed in it, while I quickly crashed myself nearly out of quarters on the various car racing games they had.  With only a dollar’s worth of quarters left and Deb returning to her championship Space Invaders form of thirty five years before, I left her and began wandering thru the other sections of the museum.

I wounded up in the part of the museum dedicated to the oldest attractions, the mechanized player pianos and baseball games and the recreations of late nineteenth to early twentieth century life. The biggest of these attractions was the mechanized farm, spread out on a four by six foot platform, with little wooden figures representing different people all set, once you put three quarters in, to come to life and perform different farm activities.  For example, in one corner some brawny men were loading bales of hay onto a wagon, while in another a logger with one of those long crosscut saws had a tree about halfway sawed thru, while not far away another worker was tending to the remains of a stump he’d apparently just dynamited. The whole thing was very primitive and cute, exuding a quaint charm and some real artistry in the images of people, animals, and the bucolic rural countryside they inhabited.

I browsed for another ten minutes or so until I thought Deb would have finally run out of bonus Space Invader plays and went to get her.  She wasn’t at the Space Invaders game where I’d left her, and I didn’t see her light gray jacket anywhere amongst the crowd that now occupied the 1980s arcade section of the museum.  I searched on through the rest of the museum to no avail. She was undoubtedly looking for me, too, two moving targets unintentionally moving in the same speed but opposite directions.  I stopped by the pinball machines and waited, figuring it shouldn’t be more than a couple of minutes until she finds me.

I waited for ten minutes to no avail.  I resumed my search for her, starting again by the Space Invaders game and ending by the pinball machines.  Nothing.  I waited there for another five minutes.  The late afternoon crowds were intensifying, getting bigger and louder, consuming more and more of the museum’s floor space, making it even more difficult to locate her in her light gray jacket, but I still pressed on.  After a half hour had passed, I went outside on the concourse, figuring she must have left by now, tiring of the crowd inside, and would be waiting for me out there.

She wasn’t.

I was beginning to panic.

After about ten minutes looking for her outside, I went back into the museum, figuring she must be somewhere amongst the crowd.

She wasn’t.

Finally, I came to the mechanical farm again. I just happened to look down and there, about halfway between the logger with his cross saw and the woodsman with his dynamite, I saw another miniature wooden figure I hadn’t noticed before.

She was wearing a gray jacket and had shoulder length brown hair.  Her clothes looked much more modern than the other characters. As I looked closer at the unmoving figure, there was no mistaking it for my wife.  The woman I’d been married to for more than thirty five years was now an inanimate wooden figure in a nineteenth century replica of farm life.

I looked around, making sure no one could see or hear me.  “Deb,” I said, just louder than a whisper, “can you hear me?”

There was no response from under the glass covered diorama.  Looking around, I gently tapped the glass above her, but there was no response from any of the miniature wooden figures, including my wife.  I quickly fished in my pocket for quarters and found I had only one left. It took three to bring the diorama to its mechanical life, so I quickly exchanged the five dollar bill in my wallet for twenty more quarters.

When I got back to the display, everything was in motion.  A young couple, twenty-something years old, had put money into the machine and were at the opposite end of the display, smiling as they watched the charming reproduction of farm life come alive.  I quickly found my wife and now she was moving, mechanically, backwards, backing away from the worker, who was carrying a stick of dynamite and running toward her.  He was making up ground when the logger, cross saw in his hand, suddenly moved off of his track to intercept the dynamite guy who was now in full pursuit of my wife.  Then the action stopped, the time allotted by the three quarters the young couple had deposited having expired.  I looked up and they were gone.  I quickly reached into my pocket and put in three quarters.

The action resumed where it’d left off, with the guy with he dynamite in pursuit of my wife, in the heavily wooded corner of the display.  Just as he was closing in on Deb, from behind a tree, where he’d been hidden from the woodsman’s sight, the logger appeared, and with the element of surprise and his long crosscut saw, eviscerated the woodsman, cutting him in half. Bright red paint bled from the two halves of what used to be the woodsman.  Then Deb fell into the logger’s arms and they embraced, the logger still holding her as the time expired

I didn’t know what to make of it all. On the one hand, I was appreciative of the logger for saving Deb’s life, and more than a little jealous of him as he held my miniaturized and wooden wife in tiny arms that bulged with muscularity.

I put another three quarters in and watched closely as my wife and the logger kissed.  I pounded on the display glass, yelling, “No! No, no!”

Suddenly everything went silent. I was still screaming when of the museum attendants approached me. I was sprawled out over the glass, watching as the logger took my wife’s hand in his.  Then the time expired with the logger and my wife walking out of the woods, stopping just before reaching Main Street, and I became aware that the scene had changed, from the farm that it’d been up until that point to a small town.

The attendant said, “Sir, I have to ask you not to lean on the glass.”

I stood up, straight and tall, and told the attendant, “My wife is in there.’

“In there,” he repeated. “In the game?”

“Yes! I know it sounds crazy, but there she is!”

“Where?” he asked, looking around.

I pointed to where my wife had stood with the logger.  She was still there but now she was wearing a wedding gown and the logger was wearing a tux.  Somebody approached and started putting quarters in. I yelled for her to stop, afraid that the next thing that’d happen when the action resumed would be the wedding.

“Make him stop!” I yelled at the attendant. ”We’ve got to get my wife out of there!”

“Call security,” the attendant told a second attendant who’d emerged on the scene.

But the attendant didn’t stop the man from putting in three quarters, and the figures lurched into action.  In a far corner of the display a miniature 727 flew in and landed on an airport runway.  Then the plane un-boarded, the first three passengers being tiny replicas of my three adult children. They hailed a cab and got to the church just in time to see my wife and the logger exchange vows, just before the security guards put me in the strait jacket.

 

What We Now Know


Here we are, three weeks into the Trump administration.  What we now know:

The right-wingers are hypocrites:  Classified information leaks and private servers and botched rescue missions were grounds for countless investigations and imprisonment when Hillary was the alleged perpetrator, but not an issue when Trump invites Putin in to hack the election, or when it’s revealed that several senior members of the Trump admin are using private servers, or when inadequate planning and preparation results in a failed mission in Yemen. There were also the unfounded accusations of pay for play funneling of contributions to the Clinton Foundation while Trump has yet to divest himself from his business interests and is actually funneling tax payer dollars into his family’s empire. The only sound more deafening than the hysterical calls for investigations into “crooked Hillary’s” alleged wrong doing is the silence of the same Republicans as Trump openly and brazenly engages in the same behavior and worse.

Trump is Putin’s puppet:  Trump is quick to criticize the U.S.A. and our allies but still has not said an unkind word about Putin.  Today it was reported that contrary to what he indicated before, that during the transition period, Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had conversations with Russian contacts about the sanctions President Obama was planning on implementing. Earlier this week, the Washington Post and New York Times printed stories that intelligence investigations into the dossier filed by an English intelligence agent about leverage Putin has on Trump  have so far been verified to be true. So far they haven’t checked out the more salacious details in the dossier, and I personally doubt their veracity. What does seem obvious is the fact Putin has something on Trump, and if we ever want to find out, somebody’s going to have to subpoena Trump for his tax returns. But even if we never get to see the tax returns, there’s still plenty of other evidence of Russian ownership of Trump – take this quote from his son in 2008:

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Trump is to be taken literally: This was one of the stupidest rationalizations for Trump’s insane rhetoric on the campaign trail, that when, for example, he spoke of “banning Muslims” from entering the country he was somehow speaking metaphorically.  We know now what was obvious all along – the man is too much of a moron to master such nuances as subtlety and context, and the reason for all the bat shit crazy things that leave his mouth is that he is in fact bat shit crazy. How bat shit crazy is he?  Crazy enough to think that more than three million illegal immigrants committed voter fraud, and that every one of them voted for Hillary, but not in key Electoral College states.  Crazy enough on the day after the inauguration to send his press secretary to angrily scold the press that the crowd that showed up to Trump’s inauguration was “the biggest crowd to watch an inauguration ever. Period.”  Never mind that this was patently false, it was also completely irrelevant. The ravings of lunatics shouldn’t be taken literally … that is, unless that lunatic is the most powerful man in the world, in charge of a nuclear arsenal large enough to destroy the world several times over.

Flooding instead of draining the swamp – The aggregate wealth of the twenty four people who serve on Trump’s cabinet is more than that of the bottom 100 million, or about one third, of the American population. And what a bunch: The new Secretary of Education has been the leading advocate of eliminating public school systems; the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency has been the loudest proponent of eliminating the EPA and has several open law suits against the Agency, the Secretary of State, the former CEO of Exxon, has implemented complex business structures in Russian oil that have helped make Vladimir Putin possibly THE wealthiest man on the planet. And in the ultimate “fuck you” to the American people, Trump has put the one man in the country who might be even stupider than himself – Rick Perry – in charge of the Department of Energy. Perry is a knuckle dragging climate change denier who now has responsibility for the safe and effective maintenance of our nuclear arsenal.  Traditionally, the post has been manned by individuals well respected in the scientific community.  Perry would be over his head in your four year old granddaughter’s wading pool let alone the department of energy, a department he once almost suggested shutting down, if only someone in the audience hadn’t waved something shiny in front of him, causing him to forget the name of the department.

The Republican Party has no interest in governing – and they haven’t for the past sixteen years.  They do have an interest in maintaining power.  Why?  So they can complete their fire sale of everything of value in this country to their rich and powerful donors and cronies.  They want to privatize social security and Medicare, not because these institutions are at risk, but because there is money to be made.  They want to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, even at a time when oil spills and sinkholes and tainted drinking water are impacting more and more people. They want to sell off the National Parks to mining interests and real estate developers.  They want to privatize public schools and prisons.  They want to repeal banking legislation that was passed to prevent the predatory practices that nearly destroyed the global economy in 2008.  They want to eliminate all federal funding of the arts, because artists rarely vote for them.  They want to eliminate the minimum wage, paid overtime, even child labor laws.  They want to repeal regulations ensuring workplace safety.

The “evangelicals” are a bunch of narrow minded hypocritical assholes who believe in only one thing – that abortion should be illegal.  Although I am pro-choice, I can understand why someone might be pro-life.  But I can’t understand how that can be the only issue a person might vote on.  Even if access to abortions was wide spread and open (which it is not), only a relatively small percentage of the population would be ever impacted by the issue.  But the evangelicals gave their votes to Trump because he changed from being pro-choice to being pro-life during the campaign, despite all of the unholy vitriol he espoused, from his many disrespectful remarks and misogynistic language about women, to his advocacy of torture and killing innocent family members of terrorists, to his open mocking of disabled people to his open courting of racists and overt espousing of racial sentiments. Any true believer would have trouble reconciling such an amoral narcissist with the values they claim they hold dear.  So if you voted for Trump, you’d do well not mention Jesus to me anytime – no candidate in my lifetime has ever been the antithesis of everything Jesus of Nazareth stood for as Donald Trump.

After three weeks, anyone who voted for Trump and still enthusiastically supports him is an idiot. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but how much more egotism and incompetence will it take to admit you made a mistake?

All of the anti-Trump protesters had better be ready for the long haul, because it’s going to take a lot more than waving a sign for an hour or two to create change.  Right wing nut jobs have taken over all branches of the federal government, they have control of more than 35 state governors and legislatures, and they have all the money.  And the Democratic Party is in shambles.  I have no idea how to best fight this, but I think the first step is to take an accurate and honest inventory of where things are and how much ground needs to be made up.

This is not and never will be normal. We cannot accept what’s going to happen, inevitable as some of it might be, as the way the system works, because our system has been taken over. Where we are now is not a function of American democracy, rather, it’s the result of a slow and eroding occupation of our country by a rich and powerful and radicalized minority, while the majority, fat and lazy, slept.

Don’t look to history for comfort – This has never happened before, at least, not here.  There have been similar Fascist take overs in the past in other countries, but never in the world’s greatest and dominant super power, never with these armed forces and this nuclear arsenal, never in the age of information, of the internet.  We’re heading into unchartered waters.

So, to quote that great political philosopher Bette Davis, “Fasten your seat belts – it’s going to be a bumpy night.”