6 ways we've already made more progress than 'Star Trek,' and 1 thing we still need to do.

"Star Trek" turns 50 today, which means it's time to grade the progress we've made against the franchise's vision of the future.

Ask anyone — from a casual fan to the guy who spent $500,000 turning his basement into the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise NX-01 —  to describe "Trek," and you'll likely hear the word "optimistic." Unlike the widely admired TV dramas of today, which love their morally compromised heroes, no-win situations, and characters suffering for doing the right thing, "Star Trek" is full of good people trying their best, often while being chased by giant cats.

GIF from "Star Trek"/Paramount.


These good people have made the 23rd and 24th centuries really, really, great. According to series lore, it's a future that includes medical technology that can repair anything from a scraped knee to heterocyclic declination in a matter of seconds, magic machines that conjure full banquets out of thin air, and whatever "bio-neural gel packs" are.

Which makes it kind of astonishing that when it comes to the kind of social progress that matters to real people, we're actually beating "Star Trek's" vision in some ways.

Yes, despite our many flaws, it turns out our messy, imperfect society has already achieved more equality and justice in some areas than the technologically superior, world-peace-attaining, pan-species utopia of "Star Trek."

Here are five examples — plus one thing we really need to get on ASAP:

1. We put women in the captain's chair centuries before the Federation.

In the episode "Turnabout Intruder" from the third season of the original series, former Starfleet officer Janice Lester, barred from command because of her gender, responds to the systemic sexism infecting the Federation military hierarchy in the only sensible way: by going crazy, trapping Capt. Kirk in an alien personality-switching device, and trying to take over the Enterprise while wearing his body.

This was a big deal, Starfleet? Photo from "Star Trek: Voyager"/CBS.

Even in the pilot of "Voyager," 102 years later in the franchise's timeline, it's clear that while female officers are no longer forced to body-swap with William Shatner in order to get promoted to command, the fleet is still not totally used to women giving orders:

JANEWAY: Despite Starfleet protocol, I don't like being addressed as sir.
KIM: I'm sorry, ma'am.
JANEWAY: Ma'am is acceptable in a crunch, but I prefer Captain.

In 2016, sexism in the military — and pretty much everywhere — is still a thing. But we got our first female commanding officer of a Navy vessel over two decades ago, beating the United Federation of Planets by nearly 300 years — and over 10 female admirals are currently serving.

2. We saved the humpback whale. "Star Trek" predicted we wouldn't.

Wheeeeee! Photo via NOAA/Wikimedia Commons.

The fourth "Trek" film establishes that humans will have wiped out humpback whales by the 23rd century, forcing Kirk and crew to slingshot around the sun and time-travel back to 1980s San Francisco to retrieve a pair (coining the indelible catchphrase "double dumbass on you!" in the process).

While the whalepocalypse (whaleckoning? whalemageddon?) may have seemed plausible — even probable — to moviegoers 30 years ago, thanks to conservation efforts here on real planet Earth, most populations of humpbacks have been taken off the endangered species list, and the species has been designated one of "least concern" — making this the perfect time for them to go extinct out of spite (but they haven't done it yet, so hey, notch another one up!).

3. We make people wear seat belts. Strangely, Starfleet doesn't.

How many casualties could have been avoided if the Enterprise had encouraged its officers to buckle up?

GIF from "Star Trek: Into Darkness"/Paramount.

This is why, starting with New York in 1984, seat belts eventually became the law in 49 states.

4. It's not clear that LGBT crewmen and women can serve openly on the U.S.S. Enterprise, but they can in our military.

Checkov (right) and Not-Gay Sulu. Photo via Getty Images.

Before "Star Trek: Beyond," which takes place in an "alternate" timeline, retconned Sulu's sexuality by giving him a husband and daughter, the franchise hadn't featured a single out lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender crew member — aside from that one episode of "Deep Space Nine" where Dax makes out with a lady who was the wife of the guy whose body Dax's genderless internal slug thing previously inhabited, and a few villains who were — somewhat unfortunately — coded gay.

While it's possible that openly LGBT officers and crew members exist in the primary timeline, we've got absolutely zero evidence they do as late as 2378...

...which is weird, because L, G, and B Americans have been serving openly and without incident in the armed forces since 2011 (and, in other countries, for way longer). Sure, it took us way too long — the Pentagon waited until June 2016 to end the ban on transgender people joining up without having to conceal their identity — but we still managed to do it before freaking Starfleet.

We can be a little bit proud of that.

5. We didn't blow ourselves up in the '90s, like "Trek" assumed we would

This is what we did instead. Photo by Australian Paralympic Committee/Wikimedia Commons.

Our planet has lot of problems — and, tbh, we're responsible for most of them. Racism. Civil war. Looming environmental catastrophe. And yet, for all our faults, we have yet to start World War III and nuke each other into oblivion.

For all the purported optimism of "Trek," the franchise makes it clear that its shiny, harmonious, need-free future is only available to us after we do that.  

The inciting incident leading to humankind's downfall and ultimate rebirth are Khan's eugenics wars, which reach their apex in 1996. Thankfully, we spent that year doing the Macarena and watching Will Smith punch aliens in the face. A far better use of humanity's time.

Despite some legit impressive progress, however, there's one area where we're still lagging behind.

Unfortunately, we can't ignore it forever.

1. We haven't destroyed the Borg Transwarp Hub yet.

Tick tock. Photo from "Star Trek: The Next Generation"/CBS.

Thanks to their peerless technical expertise obtained by assimilating thousands of species, the Borg maintain a vast network of conduits, allowing their cubes to travel seamlessly from one end of the galaxy to the other, wreaking destruction wherever they go.

And we still haven't taken the thing out.

It won't be easy. It took Capt. Janeway until 2378 to devise a plan, which involved stocking up on transphasic torpedoes, engineering a neurolytic pathogen, and the suicide of her future self. The Borg are pretty damn persistent, and if we're serious about protecting everything that we've accomplished, we should get on that ASAP. Now that we know how to do it, how hard can it possibly be?

Call your senator!

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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