Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The New Ecology / Four Legs Good, Two Rails Better

As periods of adaptation go, my sudden dietary shift is fairly straightforward; no crawling about in the muck for years trying to breathe, no flapping my fins uselessly, and very little slithering has been required - just a lot of avoiding carbs in general and beverages composed largely of high-fructose corn syrup in particular. Perhaps I'll grow a tail; the endocrinologist doesn't think so, but I'm hopeful.

But I am one of the lucky few, ostensibly at the apex of evolution on this quaint little tilted, eccentric dirtball. I have only genetic diseases and maybe the prospect of a new sensory ability to anticipate. If anything, I am losing what little remnants of a tail my ancestors left me, along with my appendix and other vestiges of the trial and error of human physiology. It is the much less personal evolution of the rest of the planet that intrigues me now, particularly the speculation of how I and my fellow apex apes may be inadvertently influencing the evolution of of other species.

Certainly we do a number of things to influence the evolution of other species deliberately, ranging from the mildly absurd to the positively brilliant (with the occasional foray into dangerously stupid), but that discussion doesn't need my sponsorship. Engineered medicine and food, biofuels, and organic industrial compounds may be miraculous or catastrophic when the score is tallied, but even if they are the product of hubris they were considered.

I'm far more concerned with lawn care and generations of dwarfed pets, two examples of the ecological and evolutionary impact that is derived from human aesthetic appreciation. We enjoy the look of well tended Agrostis Palustris, and as we cover golf courses and lawns with it we acknowledge that it is a pain in the ass compared to the less attractive grass that it replaced. It requires maintenance, significant watering, and the manual removal of other species that threaten to usurp it from within. We enjoy small, cute little yipping hypertense dogs, so we have bred them to fit into purses and laps over centuries of careful, controlled eugenics. We have created countless hybrids over millenia of agricultural experimentation, both primitive and modern.

And I propose that we are inadvertently teaching the species of the world to please us, slowly but surely. The concepts of camouflage and mimicry already exist in nature, so it isn't much of a leap to consider that as human beings become more and more the controlling force in the survivial and prosperity of a species, and as that decision is based more and more on our own aesthetic considerations, that a species will simply begin to evolve without interference to be more attractive to this capricuous control mechanism of the new ecology called 'man'. Our ability to influence the genetic makeup of pretty much everything around us has essentially made our collective opinion a concrete force in the development of the ecology, as significant as physics and as pervasive as climate.

And even the byproduct of our inhabitance, the machines and cities we construct in order to adapt our environment to our own ends, will no doubt become an evolutionary spark at some point, driving species incapable of that tool-making ape's trick to themselves adapt to our new jungles. If stray dogs begin to compete with us for a spot on the commuter line, such as the case in Moscow, I fear it won't be long until the little bastards stop honest begging and stealing and actually enter the work force, learning to tie a leash in a poor simulacrum of a single windsor, feign interest at social gatherings, and steal sidelong glances at bitches and studs while on the clock. Fifty years ago the job market would have judged them harshly for being illiterate quadrupeds, but in this economy being able to parlay their natural gifts of loyalty, intelligence, and the modicum of restraint all domesticated animals show intuitively even prior to training puts them at least one or two steps ahead of a newly graduated ivy leaguer douchebag with a BusAd degree. I suppose the dogs will be behind the curve in the easily entertained, ass-sniffing, and boot licking departments in comparison, but something tells me they'll catch on.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

If I had to literalize the metaphor of "opening a new chapter" in my life, my first pick would be something along the lines of "No shit, there I was, surrounded by horny amazons insisting I complete their 'religious' ceremony before collecting my winnings from the high-stakes poker game that followed my successfull United Nations speaking engagement." It absofuckinglutely would not begin with "I remember the day I was diagnosed with diabetes." As chapter openings go, that one just blows.

But alas, in these sort of endeavors it is improbable that I am the sole author of this particular body of work; at the very least the editorial staff has final approval (bitches). Whether I like it or not, Type II Diabetes is the opening to this new chapter and I'm going to have to deal with that, along with all of the carb counting and glucose management horseshit that a reasonably healthy person would have been doing anyway if he had any sense. Stress management, blood pressure, cholesterol - all of that shit that was peripherally important is now dire, because diabetics get twice as fucked three times as fast from those maladies. It is very strange to have those concepts reprioritized overnight, but that's basically what happened. All of those things you've casually done for most of your life, you immediately and permanently stop doing, and that's just how it goes.

And I can't help but feel like an asshole for that; why the fuck couldn't I have stopped all of those bad habits before, motivated by sheer sanity and the hope of a healthier life? Eating sweets and carbs doesn't cause diabetes; it's a pancreatic problem. If you aren't diabetic you can eat pounds of goddamned sugar, and your pancreas will make as much insulin as it needs to make in order to get rid of the excess. Type I diabetics don't make the insulin, and Type II diabetics don't process it correctly, but it isn't like Coca-Cola caused this. More likely a lack of excercise in the last several years, combined with a high carb diet, combined with stress, combined with who-knows-what-else kicked on that genetically predisposed circuit and the old pancreas eventually said "Ah...I see; you're not listening. Try this on for size, dumbass." The Coca-Cola isn't to blame; the idiot who drank two litres of it a day and stopped taking care of himself is to blame. Him, and his traitorous goddamned pancreas.

Although the modern Western term is Greek, Hippocrates didn't write about it. That's the scariest fucking thing I know about diabetes. Hippocrates wrote about tons of things, both obscure and phenomenally mortal...but not about diabetes. He doesn't mention it, not because it didn't happen in the ancient world, but because it was always quickly fatal. He didn't write about it, because there was no point discussing medical treatment for something that was (at the time) medically unreatable. Diabetes was a death sentence in the time of Hippocrates, and that's a sobering thought even if it isn't the same case today. Even a few hundred years later when Aretaeus named the condition diabetes after the way a guy stands to take a piss (seriously, 'one who straddles'), his prognosis for those afflicted was a life "short, disgusting, and painful". Charming.

But modern medicine is not so pessimistic. Excercise, light medication, and an almost monastic devotion to never eating or drinking anything truly tasty again will triumph. I took a hedonistic route in my late teens that lasted until I met my wife, just prior to turning thirty; beyond the other (ahem) "indulgences" along that journey of self-discovery, I managed to eat a variety of truly sinful, delectable dishes from around the world, some of which would make a nutritionist blush like a nun at a strip club. Of sweets, and carbs, and Coca-Colas, and rich French dishes I have had my fair share, and now my appetites have shifted. I want to stick around, and if that means regarding food as a measured, rational pursuit rather than a pleasure of the flesh I can do that. My new hunger is to remain healthy, and to be a very old diabetic someday.

And as far as the title of this chapter of my life is concerned, even my nom de plume, Amamankhet, is a bastard-Egyptian term that should have foreshadowed this - one that I chose at the beginning of that last chapter of being young and somewhat reckless, I might add.

It means "Eater of Life".