Thursday, January 26, 2017

Politics and Fotoplayers

I spent the weekend – and parts of a snow day Tuesday – scanning the news and my social network feeds. Depressingly, most were filled with mongering on the subject of politics (to which I added a small amount). Various derangements from those fearing fascism would soon jackboot its way into the country to those waving Confederate flags yet not seeing the irony in telling their opponents to “get over it” because they lost.

Some of the mongering began to hit home as various government agencies were told to stop using social media – even temporarily – or to remove data from their websites (an affront no matter how you look at it). This hit home because I work as a subcontractor to a private company doing business with the federal Department of Energy.

I should say here and now that any views I express in this post are mine and mine own, and do not reflect the opinions of any of the companies I work for, whether directly or indirectly.

You may notice I included a video of an American Fotoplayer at the beginning of this post. I now explain why.

The fotoplayer was developed to allow an individual with limited musical skill to accompany silent films with pre-recorded music (in the form of piano rolls) with the company of a multitude of sound effects the individual could activate by pulling ropes or pushing buttons. Most of the work is done by the piano, reading music off a roll and powered by an electric motor and bellows. The individual at the keyboard was charged with watching the film and adding sound effects as he or she saw fit to go along with the silent film on the screen.

I think the fotoplayer and its operator are an apt analogy of politics, particularly of the bureaucratic sort that we have here, for good or bad, in the United States.

The operator may add trills here and there, he or she may change the roll being played, but he or she is also limited in skill and scope to pulling ropes and pressing buttons, adding sound effects here and there. Whether he or she moves or not, the piano and its roll will roll on, playing the music of the bureaucracy.

And if the operator strays too far from what’s playing on the screen, the audience will eventually leave, and probably ask for their money back.

But what about fascism, you ask? What about if the operator locks the door and won’t let anyone out, or refuses to install the roll that goes with the film?

Well, there’s where my fotoplayer metaphor breaks down a bit.

But here’s where bureaucracy doesn’t:

The 10th Amendment to the Constitution, often championed by conservatives, is going to become much more important to liberals now that the national piano roll has been changed. State governments have powers too, and they will be exercised as the states see fit. California may continue research on climate change or pushing solar power. Utah may fight against land protection mandates coming from Washington. Each may use its power as each sees fit – changing the roll back to what it wants to hear. And states are answerable to their citizens, if the citizens do not like the rolls the state wants to play.

The federal government doesn’t have to be the be-all and end-all for science. States can do it. Municipalities can do it. All it takes is talent and money. Surely those are not lacking at the state level.

And if fascism marches in Washington, I guarantee you’ll see conservative and liberal states marching together to fight it, because of that 10th Amendment.

So I watch the film and listen to the music being played to accompany it with trepidation and wariness. But not with hopelessness.

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