Editor’s Note: I like to do a summer potpourri article at this time of year. The news is so relentlessly depressing right now, that there’s not any specific issues I really want to deal with at this point.

I Should Live So Long


A phrase has been rattling around in my head quite a bit lately. I increasingly find myself thinking, “I can’t believe I lived long enough to see that.” Of course, this certainly beats the alternative — not having lived long enough to see whatever “that” is.

After 16 years at my current job, I’ve lived long enough to find myself wishing I still looked like the photo on my 16-year-old employee badge, where I resemble a middle-aged convict. Like many guys my age, I reflexively avert my eyes whenever I catch sight of myself in a reflective surface; nonetheless, I hope I live long enough to one day find myself wishing I looked the way I do now — like an even older convict.

At this point, I could start collecting Social Security, which would make me the first male in my family to live long enough to do so. And I’ve actually begun receiving a monthly pension check. I’d always thought of “pensioners” as decrepit and shriveled-up old curmudgeons. Now I’m one of them.

I’m glad I lived long enough to see a black man elected president, and to see “race mixing” shown so casually in the media, especially since I remember a time when miscegenation was illegal in much of the country. I only wish some of my more-bigoted relatives had lived long enough to see it. Mixed-race couples now routinely appear in advertisements, and we’ve even begun to see gay couples in commercials. Back when I was in school, we were barely aware such people existed.

I’d always hoped to live long enough to see marijuana decriminalized, which is now happening everywhere, but I never thought I’d see the day a major credit card company’s theme music would be Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” a song touting a type of LSD that kids once took at Grateful Dead concerts. Ex-hippie Baby Boomers have now become mainstream, just in time to start dying off, although some of us will probably live long enough to see TV commercials for hash brownies with Viagra in the icing.

As a poker fanatic, I hoped I’d lived long enough to see Stamford become libertarian enough to allow poker tournaments; however, the state attorney general outlawed all the games being sponsored by local restaurants. This took place in a city about to open an OTB parlor over the same bar where I once played in now-banned Texas Hold ’em tournaments and in a state that licenses some of the largest casinos in the Northeast.

You can’t buy a newspaper in a local convenience store without waiting in line for a half hour, while poor people blow their welfare checks on Connecticut lottery tickets they have about as much chance of cashing in on as they do of being hit by lightning or marrying Scarlett Johansson. I don’t think I’ll live long enough to see our state government sanction any form of gambling it doesn’t profit from.

But this is trivial next to the things I’ve lived long enough to see: My new Volkswagen has more-advanced electronics than an F-111 fighter, my credit-card-sized iPod holds weeks of music and my iPhone has more computing power than the mainframe that put Neil Armstrong on the Moon. Scientists have accurately calculated the age of the universe, decoded the human genome and cloned a sheep. The Voyager spacecraft has left the solar system, and NASA has driven remote-control dune buggies across Mars.

The Turritopsis dohrnii (aka the “Benjamin Button jellyfish”) has the ability to reverse its aging process, and then start life over again. This activity, called cellular transdifferentiation (which is similar to what occurs in human stem cells), may enable jellyfish to live forever. Genomic sequencing has shown a surprising degree of genetic similarity between humans and jellyfish, and scientists in Japan are now working to apply this knowledge to the extension of human life spans.

If I last long enough to see the dawn of human immortality, then I might live long enough to see pretty much everything. I’m skeptical about this possibility, and I’m not even sure we humans deserve it. Besides, there are too many people already, and immortality would bankrupt the Social Security trust fund.

Still, I hope I live long enough to see mankind colonize Mars. The Mars One Project (www.mars-one.com) has interviewed thousands of prospective colonists for a one-way trip to the Red Planet; however, I have my doubts about its feasibility. (I’d be happy just to see us make it back to the Moon, which is only 1/140th as far away as Mars.)

Oddly, the United Arab Emirates’ Islamic Affairs Authority has issued a fatwa forbidding Muslims from applying to Mars One, because they deem such a trip to be suicidal, thus contrary to Islamic law. This prohibition against suicide probably comes as a surprise to the thousands of victims of global terrorism.

I’d be happily surprised to live long enough to see an end to the War on Terror, but this would require an end to fundamentalist Islam, which seems improbable. Religion worldwide seems increasingly to be headed toward fundamentalism and fanaticism, and away from moderation, in both the Middle East and America.

On the other hand, I never thought I’d see the atheist son of our conservative Messiah, the sainted Ronald Reagan, doing an ad for separation of church and state on network TV. Equally shocking was the fact that Ron Reagan Jr.’s message opposing theocracy was aired on Fox, one of most consistent media opponents of church/state separation.

Due in no small part to the same social conservatives who support theocracy, I’ve lived long enough to see the beginnings of climate change. I’d hoped to see us do something to avert this, just as I’d hoped to see a time when Americans would decide they love their children more than their guns. In both cases …I should live so long.

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