Wednesday, October 24, 2007


For the past eight months, Leslie Strange has been cowed by this acronym: “LMP.”

First of all, Ms. Strange despises acronyms; to her, they are like Dixie cups or swizzle sticks, things once intended to be useful but eventually inadequacy renders them kitschy. She doesn’t think it’s cute the way the newspapers refer to an institution as NATO or the UN. Why not just write out the whole stinking phrase to avoid confusion? NATO could stand for “North Atlantic Treaty Organization” or “National Association of Theater Owners” or the name of that Queen album “Night at the Opera.” Likewise, UN might stand for “United Nations” or “User Name” or “Uranium Nitride.” Acronyms and abbreviations might seem convenient and cute, but they can cause confusion, especially if a reader only gives the content a cursory eyeball. Considered in this way, acronyms reveal themselves as unstable little beings that might be diagnosed as Bipolar or Schizophrenic if they were to pay a visit to Doctor Dictionary.

Leslie Strange cringes when she reads LMP.

To Ms. Strange, this acronym stands for both “Literary Market Place” and “Last Menstrual Period.”

Ms. Strange is a struggling writer who also happens to be eight months pregnant. When she fills out medical forms, the box asks “Date of LMP?” She assumes the doctors want to know when she had her last menstrual period, not the date of the latest rejection she received from the Literary Market Place.

But as Ms. Strange’s pregnancy nears its final stages, well-intentioned women, who like to offer advice, warn her about PREGNANT BRAIN. “Pregnant brain,” referred to by some as PB, is a mythological condition in which the pregnant woman is supposed to experience some sort of clumsiness in her intellect; she loses her normal mental focus and turns into a veritable dumb dumb. That hasn’t happened to Leslie quite yet. But supposing it may happen, Leslie Strange is likely to get confused about the meaning of “LMP.” Perhaps she’ll start to worry that the Literary Market Place has ceased altogether on that fateful day in March when she ceased needing a tampon. She’ll assume there’s no use writing another word or trying to get published because her pregnancy is the equivalent of the financial industry’s Black Tuesday market crash. She thinks about this prospect with some narrative distance: "The writer Leslie Strange’s menstrual cycle is on hiatus; consequently, the Literary Market Place experiences a Great Depression." Now, Leslie thinks, that’s not a bad beginning for a wild-minded story.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Ethical Drinking Game

Doctor Viagrossi and Senator Novote are two men who have built reputable careers that make their mothers proud, but they turn to Drink if they cannot resolve all the ethical dilemmas that arise in Medicine and Law.

Now, these two high-strung brothers-in-law are eating dinner at a local pub in Hell’s Kitchen while their wives are at The Ballet and the kids are with The Sitter. The men engage in one of their favorite drinking games: they have a talk about some work-related issue that arose that day, and for every ethical dilemma they face and fail to overcome, they agree to take one sip of drink.

“Darkface, my sly man at the Justice Department, told me all about the simulated drowning, head-slapping, and frozen temperatures, but I’ll be damned if I’m taking what I know to the press.” Senator Novote turns the tumbler around on a coaster. “I’m sticking to the official line: the US does not endorse torture.” The good Senator sips his Scotch.

“Today, I refused to sign medical exemptions for parents who felt religiously and philosophically opposed to vaccinating their children. You know, the US is the only country in the world that does not allow parents an informed choice in the matter of how and when to vaccinate their children? Parents have no choice about which vaccinations to give children and which not to give? Still, I am loath to break the law and sign risky medical exemptions. What about my reputation?” The good doctor sips his beer.

“Torture is one thing, and vaccination a completely different thing all together. Mandating certain vaccines before a child can enter school does not qualify as torture.” The Senator thinks the Doctor’s dilemma does not qualify as ethically volatile. “Of course kids need vaccines.”

“There’s no scientific proof they work. It’s all a ruse cooked up by the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry. Parents are coerced into vaccinating their children!”

“So. That’s not torture!”

“Perhaps not. But how do you know that the ingredients in certain vaccines are not torturing your child’s immune system or neurological development in the same way a detainee is tortured through waterboarding at the prison in Guantanamo?” The Senator is not sure he understands the Doctor’s analogy, but the Doctor continues growing more passionate, “…vaccines are administered recklessly and have adverse effects that we may not be aware of.”

“What kind of recklessness and adverse effects are you talking about?”

“For instance, the state of New York requires newborn babes to receive the vaccination for Hepatitis B.”

“Well? There must be some scientifically sound reason for it.”

“Nope. Think of this. How does a person acquire the Hepatitis B virus?”

“It’s transmitted through blood…?”

“Here’s how a person gets the Hepatitis B virus: Intravenous drug use. Tattooing. Sex with someone who is infected. Contact with blood of someone who has the virus, particularly among health care professionals.”

“Hmm. Yeah? So?”

“When Tessa and Sylvester were newborns, did they engage in any of those activities?”

“Hah! I see your point.”

“You know the ingredients in the Hepatitis B vaccination?”

“Can’t say I do.”

“Aluminum hydroxide, Thimerosal, yeast. And according to a 2006 physicians desk reference of studies compiled by a former FDA investigator, the ingredient Thimerosal is a ‘recognized developmental toxicant.’ You should see what it does to lab animals.”


“Makes them have small brains and small penises.”

“This is just a load of alarmist crock.” The Senator wants to win this drinking game, but he feels himself on shaky ground. How can he top complicity in the epidemic of shrinking heads and dicks? “Capitalizing on the public’s fear of terror and authorizing secret torture is more worrisome than whatever little damage some chemicals might do to a kid. People are living longer than ever these days. It does no harm to require immunization for school children. It’s the law. Not signing those exemptions, you were just biding by The Law. The Bush administration is acting as though it is above the law.” He knocks back the last drops of his Scotch and waves to the barmaid. Another round.

“Alarmist crock? Well, if terrorists don’t get us first then the next generation of leaders may be autistic, asthmatic, allergic, and ADHD. Future presidential candidates will campaign on issues of whose neurological development is most stunted. Hey, maybe we’ll find a way to turn it into sport.”

When the waitress comes, the doctor orders something much stronger: Vodka, neat. He has a strong feeling he will be out-drinking his brother-in-law tonight.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Fine. Don't Bring Them Home.

Agent Winks has been spying on the Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran. Today he is called to report to his Superior Officer about the level of threat Iran poses to the US. The Superior Officer would never doubt Agent Winks’ credibility on the matter because he’s the Officer who promoted Winks after this good-ol’ Brooklyn-boy sniffed out the hiding places of a group of cave-dwelling extremists who hinted at their terrorist orientation in Afghanistan.

The Superior Officer would never expect Winks to disappoint him. But today, Winks reported that the Tehran facilities pose little more than a “wee threat.” The only thing Winks had discovered was an underground arcade where members of the Corps were engrossed in a video game that simulates an attempt to rescue two Iranian nuclear experts kidnapped by the US. The Superior Officer screwed up his face into a scowl and commanded that Winks think carefully over the wording of his report. The word “wee” was misspelled, the Superior Officer explained, and it should be spelled i-m-m-i-n-e-n-t. And, the Superior Officer gave Winks his most patronizing glare and asked him if he didn’t know that the phrase “nuclear experts” was code for “terror cell” and “video game” code for “death to America.” The Officer asked if Winks was trying to get himself dishonorably discharged. Winks hung his head and said nothing. He'd nearly gotten himself killed gathering what he thought was near-useless intelligence.

That night, Winks, who was in the throes of considering what an awful bad day he’d had, received a letter from his young and gorgeous wife, Julia, whom he had impregnated just before being deployed. Her letter was a rambling account of how she had just joined the New Mom and Pop Strollercize Workout Group in Prospect Park. The mission of this group was to “prepare parents to push”—a far cry from Winks mission abroad, the young agent thought with sadness. Julia’s letter went on to give him a running account of all the “baby loot” she had acquired from the shower and how now she was rearranging the furniture. There was just enough room for the Baby Schwarzenegger Playgym to fit their one-bedroom, so now “it’s looking like a wee Kiddie Land ‘round here,” Julia wrote.

Winks concentrated on the word “wee,” a word Julia was fond of using in her letters to him: I’m blowing you “wee” kisses, my darling. I’m more than a “wee” bit in love with you, Beef Cheeks! Can’t wait for your return, so we can be together with the “Wee” One as we push through a Strollercize workout.

After all Thomas Winks has been through, he had to admit to himself that he did not know how he would ever again be able to readjust to life back in US if this war should ever come to an end. No. Please. Let the fighting continue indefinitely as it has become such a comfortable habit. After all, what sane person could ever reconcile Iranian video games and US military anxiety with baby playgyms and Strollercize outings in Brooklyn?