A Retrospective: The Good, The Bad, The Surprising
Published on September 30, 2003 By Larry Kuperman In Personal Relationships
Today is my 48th birthday. I was born on September 30th, 1955 (coincidentally, the day that actor James Dean died.) As a self-indulgent bithday present, I would to share my thoughts on what has happened, what didn't happen and what has really surprised me. A personal perspective, leavened with a touch of humor!

The Good- The Number 1 good thing on my list is a "non-event." No Atomic War. I was a little kid in the early Sixties. At the time of the Cuban Missle Crisis, I had just turned seven years old. To kids my age, the spectre of the mushroom cloud was an imminent thing. I lived in the Bronx in New York. Khruschev was probably no more than 3 miles away at the UN when he told Americans that he would "bury us." Kennedy had issued an ultimatum. In school we had drills where we hid under wooden chairs to protect us if hydrogen bombs fell. No, I'm not kidding! I am grateful everyday that this never happened.

The Sixties was a time of dictators. Mao ruled China and in 1966 the Cultural Revolution began. Tens of thousands of people died. In 1964, Brezhnev replaced Kruschev, but no one knew if this was good or bad. Kruschev scared the you-know-what out of me, banging his shoe on the desk at the UN. But he was a liberal compared to Brezhnev! Franco was still alive in Spain, I remember the wall going up in Berlin, De Gaulle was making anti-American speeches in France. By comparison, the world looks a lot friendlier now. Communism is not going to take over the world, at least not in the immediate future. I see this as a REALLY GOOD thing. The world is a safer, saner place. (Note: I didn't say "safe and sane." I made a comparison. We still have a way to go!)

There haven't been any really bad environmental events. Okay, global warming may be a problem. Acid rain is a bad thing. There may be a hole in the ozone layer. But, you can walk outside without a radiation suit in most places. In fact the air and water are probably cleaner in the United States at least than they were 40 years ago. My thoughts on Three Mile Island and Chernobyl were "It could have been worse, much worse."

I got to watch the Moon Walk! I can't begin to tell you how cool that was! I remember the first Cosmonaut in space, the first American in space, the first orbit. It was like living a science fiction dream come true!

The Bad- "When we declared war on poverty, no one thought that poverty would win." I really thought that if we were still alive, we would have come much further along in solving world poverty. Frankly, the AIDs epidemic (pandemic might be more accurate) in Africa scares me silly. Millions of people starve to death or die from a lack of common medicines or basic hygiene. It seems to me that we are playing worldwide Russian Roulette here. Sooner or later, some virus or bacteria is going to evolve that will force the world to deal with this. I would have thought that the world would have done a better job in solving this.

The world community has lost a lot of optimism. I thing that the death of John Kennedy in November of 1963 and the Vietnam war sapped a lot of our spirit. Not only American spirit, but of the world. Suddenly problems seemed unsolvable and no leader had the answers. Mao was locking up his followers, Stalinism had returned to Russia and by 1968 Nixon was President of America. The Great Society was over and done. There was a sense that we tried to solve poverty and hunger, we failed and the problems are insolvable. Sigh.

You know what I am disappointed in? Cars. It is more than that my copy of The Big Book of Helicopters said that we would all be flying to work by now. Cars don't seem to have evolved much. They are still using the Infernal Combustion engine and seem as likely to crash into people as they ever were. I would have thought that the number of people killed in auto accidents would have declined dramatically. But, what do I know?

Surprises- Things never seem to turn out quite the way you expect. I have been reading Science Fiction since I was six years old. The first "grown up" sci-fi book that I read was Galactic Patrol by E.E. "Doc" Smith. (You never forget your first!) Many sci-fi writers try to predict the future. I am a big fan of William Gibson and the cyber-punk authors. But I can't imagine any author whose wildest imaginings of the Internet would include e-Bay!

If you were listening to The Who's album A Quick One in 1966 and said that General Motors would use Happy Jack as the song in a Hummer commercial I would have suspected that you were smoking something besides tobacco! The same with Led Zepplin's Rock and Roll for of all things a Cadillac commercial. In 1963 (or 1973 for that matter) if you were asked who would be touring in 2003 and you said Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones, people would have looked askance. Mick and Keith alive in 2003? Not bloody likely!

The last surprise is a small one. Pocket calculators replacing the slide rule! Who woulda thought that?

Anyway, thanks to all for the birthday wishes!

on Oct 01, 2003
1955 to 2003 (and much more beyond, Happy Birthday!) would definitely be a pretty exciting period of time for a US citizen. the first 50 years from 1900 on would probably qualify as a little more exciting, but still, congrats on living through some "interesting times."

i also am disappointed in the lack of flying cars seen so often in scifi stories. and i'm only in my twenties!