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THE FUTURE LOOKS MURKY (I TRY MY HAND AT PREDICTIONS)

Might as well jump on the prediction bandwagon. All sorts of people are doing it; scientists, social observers, political types, religious nuts of every calling and technology buffs clamoring for an all-digital world. So let's pull out the old crystal ball and see what's in store for us in the days to come. Wish I had me one of those snappy cone-shaped wizard hats with a flowing robe to match, but an inventory of my wardrobe reveals a sad lapse in sorcerer's outfits so I'll have to make do with my civvies. Where to start, where to start?

I got it! Ten years from today the Middle East will be a mess and nobody will be getting along with anybody else. There, that wasn't so hard. Okay, we're rockin' now, let's go with this one: Five years from now there will be sectarian violence in Africa, pitting tribe against tribe and religion against religion. Many thousands will be slaughtered at the hands of their own countrymen while the world stands idly by wringing its hands and expressing "deep concern." More aggressive action by some concerned parties may involve forming committees to study the root causes and issuing bland condemnations of the violence, perhaps even going as far as a stern rebuke. Wow, this is easier than I thought!

How about this one: In the future there will be such a huge demand for oil that the kings and princes of the Middle East oil-producing nations will become richer than King Solomon and build all sorts of palaces and futuristic cities in the deserts they inhabit in the vain hope that such activities will make their sweltering, dusty and godforsaken homelands more palatable to bear. Their decadent offspring will travel the world in search of prostitutes, drugs, champagne and gambling casinos. No, wait, that's already happened. Okay, so it's not so easy to predict the future. Looks kind of murky, actually. See, that's the problem with the future; unlike the past, it hasn't happened yet. That, plus the fact that I don't have any wizard clothes or an ounce of psychic ability. Dang!

But I am pretty mule-headed so I'm going to keep at it. Here goes: Within five years Bill Gates will be only the second-richest guy in the world. Who will be richer than him? Vladimir Putin, the retired boss of Russia when he moves to Switzerland and starts making withdrawals on the 50 billion or so he stashed there while he pretended to be the new Vladimir Lenin restoring Communism and in reality was the new J.P. Morganovski, robber baron supreme. Unfortunately Mr. Putin will have to spend a big chunk of his fortune paying Blackwater mercenaries to guard him 24/7 from irate Russian citizens wondering where their money went.

Now for some showbiz news: In the year 2020, the Rolling Stones will embark on a tour of sold-out arenas all over the world, the Steel Wheelchair tour. Barbra Streisand, my wife's favorite lady singer, will give another farewell performance and endorse Chelsea Clinton for President. That same year Tom Hanks will win his ninth Oscar for a movie about the life of some ordinary guy pretty much like himself. Tonight Show host Pauly Shore will retire and turn the job over to the surviving Olsen twin, which is which I can't tell, either now or in the future. Bono and Sting will buy the last five hundred acres of rain forest and turn it into a museum. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will build a new wing dedicated to great white rappers. It will be the size of a closet.

Twenty years from now The United States Congress will pass another bill mandating better gas mileage for cars, giving auto manufacturers another 20 years to come up with something.

In 2019 The Corporate Wing of Government will be officially created by an Amendment to the Constitution and will be given full veto power over the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches, belatedly formalizing long standing practice. Heading this new branch of government will be a chubby white guy from Connecticut who will earn 50 million bucks a year plus stock options and a hot new trophy wife every two years. Its headquarters will be a gleaming office tower erected where the Lincoln Memorial used to be.

In just one year from now Apple will introduce an i-Pod the size of a tooth that will store every song ever recorded. It can be installed in place of one of your own teeth and turned on by speaking to it. You just say "i-pod, play me 'Beer Barrel Polka' by the Lawrence Welk Orchestra" and it plays it, no earphones necessary since it's already installed in your head. As soon as ten million units are sold Apple will introduce a smaller one that fits inside your ear. There will be two of them to create a stereo effect and they will be no bigger than a pin head, which is what the people who had a perfectly good tooth removed for the earlier version will feel like.

In the year 2015 the United Nations will make it official that all future Secretaries General must have amusing names. In the tradition of Boutros-Boutros Ghali and Ban Ki-moon, the newest Secretary General will be an American named Bubba-like Substance. The move will be seen as a true reflection of the effectiveness of The U.N. The mandate on silly names will remain in force until the United Nations does something anywhere on Earth that makes a difference to anybody at all. Until then they figure the name thing will be good enough to at least provide a chuckle or two for the world while it waits for that august body to get its act together.

In the year 2028 robots will be introduced that are so human in appearance that people will have sex with them, able to program their robots for any fantasy they like. In the year 2029 they will be banned since nobody has shown up for work since the robots were introduced as the divorce rate approaches 100% and no babies have been born. In the year 2030 the robots will be mass-produced in order to curtail the world-wide rioting that occurred as a result of the recall. Human reproduction will be handled by clone farms and the children will be raised and educated by Mommy and Daddy robots constructed for that purpose. Twenty years later the first neuroses-free generation of humans comes of age.

In only one month from now worldwide headlines will be made when no celebrity anywhere on the planet is arrested for drunk driving, public lewdness or possession of drugs and none of them makes any stupid public statements. The following week they will get back on track with a whole slew of embarrassing gaffes and arrests to the great relief of news-gathering organizations everywhere that have pretty much forgotten how to gather actual news.

In the year 2035 a manned mission will return from Mars reporting that there is indeed life on the Red Planet, a civilization more advanced than our own, but only by about five or six years. The only things they will have that we don't is an umbrella that folds up to the size of a ball point pen, disposable razors with eight blades and velcro that doesn't make that shredding sound when you pull it apart. People will wonder if the whole deal was worth all the time, money and effort expended to visit the Martians who, as it turns out, don't like us at all and tell us never to return.

In the year 2019 medical science will declare a breakthrough in the fight against some condition that they made up the year before called TMD or Traumatic Memory Disorder, something about phantom memories of childhood trauma that people have sort of forgotten about but through treatment and expensive drugs can now relive over and over again. So instead of moving on with our lives we can now wallow in our humiliation and pain. In 2020 people rise up as one and bitch slap the doctors who invented the syndrome, ordering them to get to work on curing some real diseases.

For Super Bowl LXXXVIII the NFL stops using Roman Numerals when they realize nobody knows that it means 88 anymore and that it was an outrageous pretense for a football game to begin with, nor will it fit on the souvenir caps and T-shirts.

In February 2009, only a month after his Presidency ends, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Pronto Flat Tire Repair Service will open in Crawford, Texas. Customers can peruse Dubya's extensive Marvel Comic Books collection while waiting for their tires to be fixed. Karl Rove manages the shop for Mr. Bush, who will hold the title of company president.

In the year 2100 the world's oils reserves will finally run dry. In a surprise move, auto manufacturers will announce that their cars run just as well on moonshine whiskey and always have but nobody ever bothered to ask. West Virginia will emerge as the new Saudi Arabia, minus the sand and the hostile culture.

In the year 2046 the New York Knicks basketball team will win the NBA championship in Isiah Thomas' 40th year as head coach. Thomas, 79 years old, had previously amassed the most losses by any coach in any major sport in history. His boss, Knicks owner James Dolan, 85, said it was "sweet vindication" for 40 years of people questioning his eye for coaching talent. "I always knew he had it in him," said Mr. Dolan. "It takes some coaches longer than others to establish their system." When asked for a comment, Coach Thomas refused to break his 30 year silence with the press, instead giving the middle finger salute indicating his team is finally Number One.

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