MY FORMER COLLEAGUE, John McSweeney, retired after 40 years in the journalism business, hopes to return to earth 50 years after he dies and ask a few questions about the state of things.
I am not psychic, but the answers to McSweeney's questions seem obvious to me. He plans to come back on only a 24-hour liberty. Assuming that it will be nicer where he is coming back from than it will be here, I am hoping to save him the trip by answering his questions now.
Q: Is the world more civilized?
A: No. The National League has adopted the designated-hitter rule, which is a sign of general deterioration.
Presidents are elected on the basis of their Nielsen ratings, a practice that began with the election of Ollie North in 1988.
Crowds have become so unruly that professional football games are played in empty stadiums for TV audiences only.
All persons over 50 are deaf from having been exposed to rock music in their youth.
Reading has been dropped from public school curricula.
Q: Has the Bomb been used?
A: Only by a few terrorists who managed to wipe out New York City, Washington and Tel Aviv, and by a high school student who built one in his backyard and blew up Boston. (He said later that he had nothing against Boston; he just blew it up because it was there.)
The United States and the Soviet Union are still negotiating nuclear disarmament. Each has enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world 10 times over.
Q: What happened when the big quake came?
A: Having failed to come on July 10, 1987--the day I predicted it would come--it came one year later, on July 10, 1988, wiping out Los Angeles. Seismologists say I was right, but just a year early. Predicting the big one to within a year is regarded as phenomenal.
Q: Is technology still outrunning social progress?
A: Yes. We are keeping ahead of the garbage explosion by shooting garbage into space. This solves the garbage problem but is making space less attractive.
Q: Does racism still exist?
A: Yes, it will exist as long as there are races.
Q: What startling new discoveries are there in the universe?
A: Anthropologists have discovered the missing link, proving conclusively that we have a common ancestor with the apes.
Cosmologists using powerful radio receivers have picked up a female voice from a planet 10,000 light-years away. They say it sounds like Shirley MacLaine, evidently in one of her previous incarnations.
Astronomers and physicists have finally unified their theories and decided that the universe began with a bang, and will end, as T. S. Eliot predicted, with a whimper.
Q: What's the world's main source of power?
A: Because of pollution, we have gone back to rubber bands. Transportation has returned to sailing ships and horses. The freeways are cleared, the cities unclogged, the air cleaned. It has also reduced Japan to penury, since it can no longer sell us its automobiles.
Q: Has the deterioration of the world environment been greatly slowed?
A: Yes. Deforestation and the pollution of our lakes and rivers have left nothing more to deteriorate. We are dumping our overage nuclear weapons into the oceans; that will soon take care of them . There are no more wild animals, except for a few coyotes in the Hollywood Hills. Zoologists do not yet know whether the Abominable Snowman is a man or a beast. There are also some piranhas left in the Amazon and its tributaries, and a few goldfish.
Q: Did we cure cancer and AIDS?
A: Both have been eliminated, but a mysterious new disease has appeared. It apparently can be transmitted by conversation, and its social consequences are regarded as catastrophic. Fundamentalists are calling it God's Wrath.
Q: What's the U.S. national debt?
A: The national debt was repudiated in 1997, when it reached $5 trillion. Federal bankruptcy courts have now taken over the government and are running the country on a cash-and-carry basis. Of course, taxes are high.
Q: Has the world population been stabilized?
A: Yes. By disease, famine, conventional warfare and muggings.
Q: How common are robots?
A: Since they started breeding in 2007, they are part of the problem. As a means of climbing back into power, the Republican Party is trying to get them the vote.
They have also struck and rioted in many large cities in a united front for civil rights, demanding, among other advantages, equal opportunity in hiring and the right to free abortions.
Q: Has peace finally arrived in Ireland and the Near East?
A: Peace will never arrive in Ireland and the Near East.
Q: Has Los Angeles finished (or started) the subway or the new library?
A: No. Before it was finished, the subway was abandoned as already obsolete; the same thing happened to the library.
I hope McSweeney changes his mind about coming back. By that time we won't need any more visitors.