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80s

GAME OVER, the Stargate machine told Bobby.

Bobby didn’t mind. His initials ROB (easier to input than RWW) were already in the top three spots of the high score list. He eased off the controls and looked around the arcade, wondering what game to play next.

He could have his pick. Two years ago, when he had first started coming here, Video Worlds was jumping every night of the week. Lines were three deep at the machines. Now only a few were occupied. The sound of the handful of games operating seemed far away, lonely.

The Pac-Man machine stood open. You could walk up and start playing. There had been a song, a big hit, “Pac-Man Fever.” In 1982, everybody had Pac-Man Fever. Well, science musta found a cure, because in December of 1984 nobody was playing Pac-Man.

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Thirty years ago today, the boundary between East and West Germany popped like a soap bubble. Something that had seemed fixed, an unsolvable problem, simply ended. This was one element of the ongoing collapse of the Soviet Bloc, the relatively peaceful end of a major system of world totalitarianism.

I was 16 at the time. It was a wondrous thing for a young person to watch, still the best geopolitical event I’ve ever witnessed. To see people power in action was to get a sense of hope, of the possibility inherent in the human spirit if it can just seize the moment.

It didn’t make everything wonderful forever. In the world as it is, there is no such thing as happily ever after. But it did make things better. If they got bad again, it doesn’t change that. That moment of liberation was real. If it happened once, it can happen again.

As I am constantly harping on about, we live in an Unprecedented Era. There are no models in human history for what we should do with our amazing knowledge and technology. We as a species are making it up as we go along. It’s only natural that sometimes everything looks bleak, as it did in the Thirties and the Seventies, because we don’t know where to go. Horrible things happen along the way. But so far we have managed to find a new path each time. H.G. Wells, on his deathbed, was sure, for very rational reasons, that humanity was doomed. But he was wrong. May he keep being wrong.

We have to cherish the good moments. We have to keep the memory and not let it degrade, to give us hope for the next one, to be sustained from victory through confusion to victory again.

[I’m not one for alternate histories. I think there are no ifs. But I’m not oblivious to the attractions of the genre, and, after recent thoughts on Jimmy Carter, visions of what might have been flitted through my mind.]

Election Day 1976: after a grueling primary and a difficult election, Ronald Reagan, former governor of California, sweeps to victory, bringing with him a cohort of new Republican congressmen. In his victory address, he promises to restore America’s power and moral standing. Read More