Monday, September 24, 2012

The Tragedy of AOD

A horrible problem in the world has reached epidemic proportions without anyone seeming to notice. It is insidious, and accounts for a declining intellect, social stratification, and rampant misunderstanding. We are all guilty of spreading this contagion of the digital age, and the sooner we find an antidote the better. I am speaking, of course, of AOD, better known as Acronym Overload Disorder.

The final straw for me came on Sunday, September 23, when a good friend listed her morning bird sightings in such truncated abbreviation that I had no clue what she was talking about. That is because I am a “fringe birder,” one who sees birds as a lovely complement to the more important insects. I would never be so rude as to assume that anyone would know what I meant if I said “There goes a TTS (Two-tailed Swallowtail)!”

This demonstrates the social stratification element of acronyms. We want to be the ones “in the know,” members of the exclusive club that can refer to things in shorthand with the confidence that other members of the club will recognize what we mean (wink). It is a way to create cliques. We all know how beneficial cliques are.

I realized how tragically hip I myself had become when another good friend mistook the “LOL” in my e-mails for “Lots of Love” rather than “Laughing Out Loud.” Indeed, we can trace our dependence on acronyms to the phenomenon of texting. From there it has spread to Twitter, Facebook, and e-mails. Maybe its origins go back farther than that, though.

When did we first start referring to Burger King as “BK,” Kentucky Fried Chicken as “KFC?” I confess that I don’t use “BK” when talking about the restaurant because it always reminds me of the “BTK” serial killer (Bind, Torture, Kill). Burger King should have thought of that, actually. We call Weapons of Mass Destruction “WMDs,” as if that somehow softens the thought of bombs detonating and killing innocent people.

There is also something of a generation gap created by the fast-evolving shorthand of texts, compounded by auto correct features of “smart phones.” Parents are often mystified by the messages sent by their children. That is the point, of course. What teenager wants to be sending a “sext” with a PLOS (parent looking over shoulder)?

Words have always been powerful, but the new shorthand is perhaps even moreso by literally excluding so many from the conversation, or the public discourse. I remember news broadcasts in my youth that referred to a hot topic of the day: euthanasia. I wondered what all the fuss was about regarding children in China. Today, I don’t even have a reference book that I can refer to for acronyms because they are created almost daily.

Obviously, this trend toward truncated language is a symptom itself of a society that puts a premium on speed, hurtling ever faster into tomorrow. That may be the biggest tragedy of all. We need to take time to slow down, observe where we are personally and as a species. We don’t need everything, right here, right now. We certainly don’t need to know every little detail of your day, Twitterholics. We’re losing sight of what things are truly important as everything becomes trivialized through social media.

RU RFLYAO yet? Oh, sorry, that’s “Are you rolling on the floor laughing your ass off, yet? I rather hope not. Remember, this addiction to abbreviations is an illness. That is why I am contemplating founding a non-profit aimed at curing our society of AOD. You can begin sending money now, if you like. I will happily see to it that funds are dispensed in the most effective manner possible, ASAP.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Stroke

Warning: This post includes my blunt opinions about the current state of human sexuality in the United States. Frank language can be expected.

Sunday, August 19 of this year changed my life. While taking a leisurely walk around a pond with me, my wife suffered a stroke. We didn’t diagnose it as such on the spot. She had tingling in the left side of her face and arm, and she wanted to lean to the left when walking. She felt a little light-headed, too. I thought that maybe she was having an allergic reaction to something she ate for lunch, or was dehydrated and overheated. I had her sit down, drink some water, and tell me more about how she was feeling.

”Do you think we need to go to the hospital?” I asked.

”I don’t know.” she responded.

”Are you thinking it might be a stroke?”


We wasted no time in getting her on her feet and back to the car. I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t driven in a city since 1999 in Cincinnati, and I was pretty panic-stricken even back then, so Heidi drove us both to the hospital. She was admitted into the ER quickly, and then into the hospital’s neurological services unit. We were there almost exactly 48 hours while she rested and hospital personnel did tests.

Heidi is young, only 41, and the idea that she had experienced a stroke left us dumbfounded. She is not overweight, does not smoke, gets regular exercise (at her job as a zookeeper; and keeping me in line at home), and has no other pre-existing conditions that are known to aggravate a stroke.

What had changed in the previous three months was that she had begun taking oral contraceptives. The blood work on Heidi is still pending as I write this, but nurses and doctors all concede that the birth control pills probably precipitated her stroke. The high estrogen levels in “The Pill” are firmly linked to not only an increased risk of stroke, but also breast cancer. Heidi was taking these drugs as much to alleviate heavy menstruation as to protect us from an unwanted and/or risky pregnancy.

One of the nurse practitioners that talked to us said that if it was up to her, no woman over forty years of age would be prescribed oral contraceptives. No woman who smokes should ever get birth control pills, regardless of her age. Yes, the warnings surrounding oral contraceptives are explicit, but chronically downplayed by both the pharmaceutical industry and the medical community. Why do women have the burden of birth control in the first place?

Here’s the thing. Our patriarchal society continues to assert that men have a right to sexual intercourse any time they want, on whatever terms they so desire, without taking any responsibility for the potential consequences. Gentlemen: Last time I checked, aside from potential allergy to latex, there were no side-effects to wearing a damn condom! Are you really willing to subject your loving partner to potentially lethal or life-altering damage for the sake of your carnal desires?

We need a fundamental cultural shift in the U.S. that demands men take responsibility for their actions, especially when it comes to sex. Lately, there seems to be movement in the opposite direction, seeking to rob women of the few options they have to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy, or even the opportunity to seek counsel, receive proper medical exams, and access to birth control in any form.

At least some of the roots of the problem can be traced to how we bring up our sons. The “rites” of manhood now seem to be “losing your virginity” and “getting a car,” not necessarily in that order. That sense of entitlement has got to go. It needs to be replaced with a reverence for women; and we must substitute selfishness with a code of sacrifice and toleration of deprivation. Native American rites of passage have much to teach us in this regard. Fasting, solitude, self-reflection, and testing one’s physical limits are at the core of what it means to be a man in those cultures.

Putting more women in places of power couldn’t hurt, either, provided that those women embrace the feminine qualities of compromise, empathy, compassion, and patience that seem to be missing from their male counterparts. Unfortunately, the feminist movement seems to be telling young women that to succeed in a man’s world one must act like a man. Nonsense.

I hope that I am not a lone voice in the wilderness here. Demanding accountability from men should not be simply a legal and liability issue. It cuts to the heart of who we are, or who we can become, as a society. Yes, we are animals, and subject to the same instinctual influences as any other creature; but, we also have the capability of understanding the consequences of our actions. Do we have the will to use that foresight?