Editors Note: Did you ever open up the newspaper, and say to yourself, what in the hell is that all about?! The older I get, the more it seems to happen, and my mother, who’s even older than I am, tells me it’s going to get worse. 

What’s the World Coming To?


The older I get, the more I seem to require a phrase that combines “What’s the world coming to?” with “Does anyone see the irony in this?” Texters express this concept with three simple letters: “WTF?”

The cover story of the New York Times Magazine’s annual “The Lives They Lived” issue featured Adam Yauch of The Beastie Boys. Of all the people who died in 2012, the Times chose a rapper renowned for the lyric, “You gotta fight for your right to party.” Yauch got a two-page spread, while Dave Brubeck’s decades-long career merited a mere two sentences, and Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, had a caption.

This was the Times, not television, where one expects an extreme pop-culture bent. For example, on the misnamed Learning Channel (now renamed TLC), you can spend hours “learning” from such brain-dead programming as “Toddlers and Tiaras” and the redneck reality of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.”

Meanwhile, The History Channel runs endless episodes of “Cajun Pawn Stars,” “Swamp People” and “Larry the Cable Guy.” And when it does cover history, it’s often day-long marathons on “Ancient Astronauts,” the writings of Nostradamus or the search for Noah’s Ark. What’s next, “Scientific American” articles on creationism and astrology or papers on phrenology and faith healing in the “Journal of the American Medical Association”? WTF?

Speaking of medicine, Federal judge Mark Wolf ruled that Massachusetts must provide free gender-reassignment surgery to a transsexual inmate serving life without parole for strangling his wife. Wolf deemed that not providing the procedure violates the prisoner’s Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment. Oddly, the judge is no Massachusetts liberal, but a conservative Reagan appointee, and his ruling was condemned by progressive Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren.

James Verone confessed to robbing a bank to get prison medical treatment, and convicts in Colorado, California, Idaho and Wisconsin have sued those states to get sex-change surgery. Will cross-dressers someday steal my car to qualify for free gender reassignment? On behalf of the taxpayers of Massachusetts, let me reiterate, WTF?

Closer to home, the former CEO of Northeast Utilities is retiring with a $34.6 million golden parachute, despite widespread dissatisfaction with his company’s response to the freak October 2011 snowstorm and Hurricane Irene. Ironically, his package is $10 million more than the $25 million that public outrage forced the utility to spend on pruning the trees around its wires, a task it had long neglected.

More sadly ironic, the gun deaths in Sandy Hook have been a boon for the NRA, which added 100,000 new members in the month after Newtown, and for its patron, the gun industry. Since Newtown, the manufacturers’ top lobbyist, Wayne LaPierre, has played on the paranoia of survivalists and militia members who worry the black helicopters will soon be disgorging SWAT teams to take away their guns, and sales of weapons and ammunition are booming.

In 2008, NRA ads spread the lie that an Obama administration would rescind Second Amendment rights, and repeated this nonsense during the 2012 campaign. Gun owners who feel the need for large-scale arsenals are buying assault weapons like crazy, and WalMart has reportedly run out of semiautomatics in five states. So the deaths of children by gunfire benefits both weapons manufacturers and their symbiotic lobbyists. WTF?

Speaking of weaponry, at a time when the U.S. is, realistically, bankrupt, we’re about to send F-16 aircraft and M1A1 Abrams tanks to Egypt, which is now ruled by Mohammed Morsi’s virulently anti-American Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi has called Jews “bloodsuckers,” and “the descendants of apes and pigs.” He’s also said Egyptian children should be “breast-fed hatred of the Jews” and praised uncompromising opposition to any negotiation with “Zionists.”

Ironically, in 2010, Morsi called for a boycott of all American products, due to our support for Israel. Morsi’s only neighbor with weaponry comparable to Egypt’s is Israel, our staunchest ally in the region. Should hostilities break out, we will have catered both sides of a conflict between the top-two recipients of American military aid. The only American entities this benefits are the weapons manufacturers.

I heard myself say WTF? when I realized I was on the same side of this issue as far-right broadcaster Sean Hannity and the ultraconservative American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). The ACLJ’s primary mandate is eroding the wall of separation between church and state, but it was also one of the first groups to focus major attention on the Egyptian arms deal.

And I heard myself say WTF? when I found myself agreeing with Pope Benedict. The pontiff’s New Year’s speech decried the burgeoning gap between rich and poor. Of course, a sermon on income inequality might have carried more weight if he hadn’t delivered it from a solid-gold throne.

Perhaps the Pope wasn’t the best messenger for this message, but then he’s the leader of a cadre of celibates who dictate in excruciating detail how the faithful should run their sex lives, so the Vatican may be just a tad irony-impaired. As in so many other situations, someone in the public relations department should have asked, “WTF?”

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