I remember as a schoolboy Reading the last chapter of the history textbooks, always title “THE FUTURE.” The first page usually had a drawing of some futuristic city with air cars flying around fantastical towers and sky-high parks. In the foreground was always a family riding some interminable escalator to… where? They were dressed like Captain Kirk, even the kinds in their mini-Star Fleet duds, beatifically staring into the sky at… what? The chapter, always the shortest in the book and with no quiz at the end, went on to describe how the omnipotent power of modern science would provide our nation and the world with untold wonders in the very near future.

Undersea cities. Giant space stations. Mining asteroids for new and useful metals. Vacations on Venus and Mars. Moving sidewalks. Food pills (no, thanks). Air cars. Deserts transformed into veritable Gardens of Eden. Fully automated homes. Robots. Cures for mankind’s myriad illnesses. World peace. Elimination of poverty and hunger. One world government uniting the planet. Longer life spans. Lasers that do anything and everything. Travel by intrepid explorers to the farthest star. Not to mention my favorite prediction of them all; the evolution of our species into hairless gnomes. Can’t wait! You name it or imagine it, this chapter had it all written down.

Well, all I can say is, get busy scientists. The new millennium is upon us and what have we got? Cell phones, microwave ovens and computers. Useful toys and wonderful conveniences, sure, but hardly all that exciting. Science guys and gals, you’ve let us down.

Our skies are still polluted with the foul waste of internal combustion, all the old diseases are killing folks unchecked and there’s even a new kid on the block, AIDS, that none of you can make heads or tails of. Oh sure, we’ve got i-phones phones now, thank you very much, like we didn’t have enough annoying gadgets. Beepers, hypnotic mindless game boys, talking cars alarms. Enough already! And I’ve got news for you, Brainiacs, CD’s don’t sound any better than cassettes. Why did I have to replace my whole music collection? Ever try to re-wind a CD to a favorite passage?

It’s not that we’re bereft of technology. No shortage there. But what are we using it for? Video cameras to record every glop of shiny drool our children produce. Complicated computers used mostly for playing zap-the-aliens-with-weird-noises games. Sophisticated surveillance devices turned mostly on our own honest citizenry. Microwave ovens to heat up day old pizza. Supersonic jets only the very wealthy can afford, and now they’re even obsolete and headed for the bone yard. Incredibly advanced machines that can map the entire human body, used all too often on people for no other reason that they’ve got medical insurance to pay for it, not that they necessarily require the treatment.

My grandfather entered a hospital in recent years for treatment of a torn hamstring muscle and was given a CAT scan, an EKG and a full body MRI. I’m sure there are thousands of poor children in dire straits health-wise who could have benefited from those tests. The tests didn’t do a damned thing for Gramps’ hamstring, but hey, the old boy was covered and the bills were paid. A week at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, with a few Broadway shows thrown in, would have been cheaper and would have done just about as much for his torn hamstring muscle, but at least he’d have had a good time.

Sadly, my Grandfather passed away shortly after that, a 90 year old man dead of an aneurysm before he hit the floor. His obvious lack of life did not dissuade the paramedics and the hospital personnel from subjecting his dead body to all manner of complicated medical procedures involving every machine at their disposal and subsequently billing his estate for twenty thousand dollars. True story. Meanwhile, HMO’s are turning away gravely ill children who require the benefits of those same marvelous machines in order to be able to live a life half as full as Gramps led. So we’ve got a load of technology at our disposal, but why is so much of it disposable?

And what ever happened to the Space Program? What, was it boring or something? Where the hell did most of this new technology come from? Bingo! That’s right, mostly developed for the space program. Sure it’s expensive to blow out into outer space, but no space program, no microchips, no microchips… well you get the picture. The Queen of Spain hocked her jewels so Columbus could sail. Did her gamble pay off or no? Do the math. (The answer is YES.) Here we are staring down the barrel of the 3rd millennium endlessly circling our own planet with space shuttles like so many aging eighteen wheelers delivering more satellites that look right back at us or beam HBO into our homes. Where is the adventure? Where is the romance? There are a thousand challenges unmet and a thousand rewards uncollected because we for some strange reason decided that the moon’s the limit. It’s like Christopher Columbus (and all of Europe that followed him) was satisfied with leaving dusty footprints on the island of Hispaniola and calling it a day. Does that make sense? You tell me.

Some say that the money is better spent right here on Earth, solving our many pressing problems. Valid point, but did it happen? The space program has slowed to a crawl for years now and I don’t see a hell of a lot of dough pouring into the elimination of hunger, poverty and disease. The rain forest, the planet’s lungs, if you will, is being slashed and burned at an appalling rate. Anyone besides rock & roll singers looking for alternatives?

The global warming thing? Just maybe scientists and explorers can cook up an answer when they’re looking at the globe from the outside in. Lots of the technology invented for the space race was developed for other reasons than are being applied now and society reaps the benefits. Maybe they’ll find something out there, just like the early settlers in North America found corn and potatoes and fed Europe for centuries, as well as gold and silver and timber and many other seemingly endless resources. Well, not quite endless as we’re finding out as we hurtle past the six billion mouths to feed mark. Let’s look upstairs.

Wars, large and small, declared and undeclared, continue to devastate humanity. So I guess none of the space money we saved went into advanced diplomatic techniques. As it always was, the fat old guys responsible for prosecuting these wars remain miles and miles from harm’s way while thousands of dedicated, valiant soldiers and innocent civilians of all ages perish horribly. For what? So we all have to buy new maps every couple of years? Perhaps if we viewed the Earth on a regular basis from outer space we’d notice the seamless, beautiful wholeness of our world. The view of the globe from space shows us clearly what a unique, gorgeous planet we inhabit. You can’t see borders and you can’t see human stupidity. As a matter of fact the only man-made thing you can see from orbit is the Great Wall of China, a structure designed to keep out Mongol invaders. That didn’t work out at all, but there it is, a tribute to human folly visible from outer space

Of course I’m not speaking from personal experience here, but I wouldn’t mind taking a spin on a rocket. Hell, if John Glenn at age 77 can do it then I can’t help but think that I too have the right stuff. Float my skinny butt in weightlessness for a couple of weeks. I’d perform those dinky high school lab experiments or change the lens on the Hubbel telescope, no problem. Bring my own tools, too. Maybe I could talk the pilot into a side trip to Venus for a nice barbecue or something. Bring back something other than a rock, maybe. We’ve still got plenty of those from the moon. I could bring my family some snappy “My Dad went to Venus and all I got was this lousy shirt” T-shirts. Cool stuff like that. Maybe a Venus beer mug for my brother.

See what you’re costing me, Science Guys? My history book told me that by my age I’d be vacationing in at least some Hilton hotel in the sky. You’re making liars out of the Dominican nuns who taught me, and believe me, you don’t want to get on their bad side. So get busy and deliver us a future worthy of the name. Life is pretty much the same now as it was when I was a boy, only more annoying. Don’t make me come down to your labs with a couple of angry nuns…

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