Burt Prelutsky

In the old days, it seems to me, people went in far more for predicting the future. Whether it was Da Vinci’s foreseeing flying machines, Jules Verne’s envisioning ocean exploration or H.G. Wells’ anticipating space travel, the great imaginers devoted many of their waking hours, not to mention their dreams, to the technological advances we have all lived to see.

While some people, notably Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, conceived of a future filled with such nightmares as drug cultures and Big Brother, I don’t think that if we went back even just a few decades, anyone could have imagined that our society would become so darn silly.

Imagine if a modern-day Rip Van Winkle suddenly woke up after an extended snooze, and everywhere he turned, he’d be confronted with the frivolous, the inane and the downright goofy. It’s not just the fact that such complete ninnies as Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears, are serving as role models for young girls or that people as obnoxious and as contemptuous of America as Rosie O’Donnell, Michael Moore and Jimmy Carter, serve as cultural icons for millions of adults.

Consider the world of professional sports. During World War II, such baseball super stars as Ted Williams, Bob Feller and Stan Musial, lost years off their careers and never once bellyached. These days, pitchers get pulled out of a ballgame and feel entitled to throw tantrums in the dugout.

In the past, homerun sluggers such as Babe Ruth might go out to play ball suffering from hangovers, but it would never have entered their heads to use performance-enhancing chemicals. And if they had, the fans -- including those in their home parks -- would have booed them off the field. What’s more, baseball commissioners like Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Bart Giamatti would have kept them off.

Perhaps the biggest change of all is the way we view our enemies, foreign and domestic. When we were engaged in an epic life and death struggle with the Axis during the 1940s, FDR didn’t feel the need to keep reminding us that Germany, Italy and Japan, were filled with basically decent, peaceful people, the way that President Bush keeps trying to convince us is the case with Islamics.

Even a mere quarter century ago, I would never have believed that so much time and money would be spent trying to accommodate millions of Mexicans who have absolutely no right being here. If you had dared suggest that a sizeable number of American governors, congressmen and senators would put their careers on the line in order to guarantee education, health care, welfare and even citizenship, for millions of sneaks, you’d have found yourself being carted off in a straightjacket.