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Column: 'Afghanistanism' not an academic joke anymore

As I sadly half listened to the president's speech on Afghanistan this week, the other half of my brain was back in Journalism 101, around 1960.

The Korean War had officially ended a few years earlier, and we weren't yet deeply involved in open conflict in Vietnam, but, even so, we journalism students were required to write a story about a war of some sort going on somewhere in the world.

This was way before the Internet, before CNN, back when television news was not all that immediate, and I, like my fellow students at that small state college, was pretty unsophisticated when it came to foreign affairs.

Our studies of history concentrated on Europe starting around 300 B.C. or the U.S. starting at 1492. We saw everywhere else sort of like some people in St. Petersburg view the world north of Ulmerton Road — a giant void until you get to New York City.

As we searched about for subject matter, an older student suggested writing about Afghanistan.

"There's always a war of some kind going on there," he said. "Nobody knows exactly where it is, nobody knows who is fighting whom or what the fighting is about, so you can write just about anything and get away with it."

We called it "Afghanistanism," a term that came to have several meanings in old-time newsrooms.

Need a subject for an editorial and don't want to tick off the mayor? Write about Afghanistan. Need a word to describe a political situation you don't know much about? Use Afghanistan, as in "It's all Afghanistan to me." Need a derisive term for some pundit's yawner of a column on a subject no one understands or even cares about? "Afghanistanism." Want to describe a place that has absolutely no connection to you or your daily life? Afghanistan.

Now, though, with friends and offspring of friends headed there, Afghanistan seems as close as the neighborhood grocery store. Gee, many of us can even locate it on a world map, or at least get within a country or two of it (hint: it's to the left of the one that looks kind of like a duck, two countries to the left of easily recognized India) — but still it seems a place of endless, incomprehensible conflict that remains handy subject matter for beginning J-school students and endless bloviating by dim-bulb radio and television commentators who can't even find the duck.

Please forgive me …

… if you e-mailed me or telephoned me during the last couple of weeks and didn't get a quick response.

I rather unexpectedly wound up in the Bayonet Point Heart Institute on Nov. 20 having three stents inserted into two arteries leading downward out my heart, and my attention was slightly shifted away from my desk duties.

For a year or so, I had been experiencing some pains near the place just above where my fingertips reach when I say the Pledge of Allegiance. I figured it was a pulled muscle, as I otherwise felt fine (okay, maybe a couple of tiny blackouts now and then) and I look as healthy as the proverbial horse.

I don't smoke, I drink maybe six glasses of wine a year, and I eat — well, maybe just a little bit too much Tex-Mex and Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla, but otherwise, pretty healthy.

Unfortunately, genetics caught up with me, and, like nearly everyone else in my immediate family, my vital arterial plumbing became clogged to the tune of about 80 percent in three different places.

Fortunately, my wise heart doctor, Dr. Chang, decided that even though several tests showed me to be okay, the pain and my family history weren't worth the risk. She ordered me to the Heart Institute for an angiogram, where, to my astonishment, everything wasn't a-okay.

But I think it is now, and I'm back running on all cylinders.

The post-op experience reminds me of when I became pregnant many moons ago (stick with me here; there is a parallel). Back then, I had never noticed anyone being pregnant. The moment I became so myself, it seemed as though every woman I saw was expecting a baby.

I've heard about heart stents, but, until two weeks ago, I had known only one who person who actually had one.

Since then, it seems that they're as ubiquitous as cell phones at a symphony concert — my waiter at Cracker Barrel, my hairdresser's two brothers, the husband of my mom's former car insurance agent — they're everywhere.

And since the people who have them are still walking around, I'm feeling better and better.

Column: 'Afghanistanism' not an academic joke anymore 12/04/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 4, 2009 10:52pm]

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