Friday, November 23, 2012

God's Idea of a Joke?

Breakfast with Neandertals was inspired by a conversation with the latina who sits outside the nearby Church of Latter Day Saints. I asked her if she could change singles for a five one day. She asked me how all the wonderful and varied things on earth could have been created without God. I asked her in turn why humans carried Neandertal DNA, and whether it was God’s idea of a joke. I regretted my comment instantly. Not everyone reads the paper. Her eyes were huge, unblinking. We never spoke again.

Was it blasphemy or the image of the abhorrent act that startled? Procreation between a human and the strange sub-species undermines Christian mythology. Its significance outweighs the union of Adam and Eve. Irregardless of religion it’s a shocking proposition. It was impossible not to speculate about the circumstances under which this act might have taken place. My acupuncturist speculated the female humans went after the Neandertal males. We laughed about it, but indeed this very pattern – female humans mating with Neandertal males – was found to be predominant, though one can only speculate as to why this pattern occurred.

I wondered how Neandertal DNA might affect us today. What remnants of the Neandertal body and mind persist through us as humans? And might we one day resurrect specific features of the Neandertal and reintroduce these traits back into a hybrid modern human/Neandertal Mars dweller? The Neandertal’s ability to withstand cold and fear were superior to that of modern humans, and these traits would serve future Martians well. And Mars will serve as the frontier for experiments not feasible legally or otherwise on Earth, including cloning. So the idea arrived that the next story will be set on Mars and involve a Neandertal resurrected on mars through cloning, for the purpose described above.

For a practical look at the human-neaderthal sex issue see this link to Live Science article which aggregates some compelling recent information on the issue. According to the article these unions seldom resulted in offspring, based on the low percentage of Neandertal DNA found in humans. But why? Implicated here is the inability to fertilize or gestate, but there could be other reasons, such as the intentional interruption of pregnancy or the cannibalization of resulting offspring post-birth?

We know that humans lived in close range to both Neandertals and Denisovans and interacted with them. We know that Neandertals engaged in cannibalism. We know the flesh and bones of Neandertal offspring were treated no differently than the large game prepared and eaten in the same caves.

We also know that shape of the human cranium is more upright and globular than the Neandertal’s, which accommodates more neurons (and more thought complexity). There is speculation these cranium and brain differences are what enable the fear of one’s own death in humans – but not in Neandertals. Did we also acquire an irrational fear of death at that same time? Why do thoughts of death, and a desire for death, appear spontaneously in Schizophrenics, Bipolars, Depressive patients?

Did human neurologic or psychologic affliction arrive via Neandertal or Denisovan interbreeding? Consider the role of genetic mutation in Neandertal’s adaptation to warming weather prior to their demise. Consider how this adaptation could have come at a price. Consider that Neandertal’s inner ear differences; it is speculated their balance was inferior to humans. And because of the proximity of the inner ear to the brain, is impossible to disassociate ear dysfunction with brain dysfunction.

In the story “Breakfast with Neandertals” (and in the story story to follow “A Compromised Subject”) a strange affliction is described known as Cutis verticis gyrata. insert here picture of verticulus caption God’s idea of a pun? It is an often benign superficial condition wherein a pattern of ridges appears on the outside of the skull. The pattern looks eerily similar to the brain – as if the surface of the brain appears on the outside of the head, visible to the world. God’s idea of a pun? The invisible becomes visible. As neuropsychological afflictions are invisible afflictions, I was fascinated with this disorder – all the more so when I discovered its co-occurrence with schizophrenia and mental retardation.

The Dysautonomia Short Story project is meant to make the invisible visible. It is meant to confront the origins and complexity of patterns in human thought. How will the way we think change on Mars, when we are unmoored from the only planet we’ve ever known for the first time? Will we become used to switching between different facets or models of reality, in order to fit our highly specialized and evolved needs on Mars – including our need for sanity?

Although the Russian space agency has concerned itself with mental health maintenance in Outer Space, NASA retained its military-like orientation toward short missions, rather than sustained phases. But if we don’t anticipate the toll of neurologic and mental health breakdowns on Mars, our best preparations will be useless.

Monday, November 5, 2012

“Breakfast with Neandertals” Final Installment

She’s blind.

“Your wife was blind?” I spilled my drink as I watched his hands. The Neandertal and I sat at the front of the cavern watching the sun set.

She still is, he signed.

“But she's no longer your wife,” I pointed out.

You are, he acknowledged.

“I must be. I feel like such an asshole.”

Its ok. She survived.

I touched the back of my lover’s head, and caressed the odd, soft ridges of skin that formed a coil pattern beneath his scalp. “Why do you have these?” I asked him.

The Neandertal shrugged. He indicated the ridges formed when he was young.

“Does it hurt?” I asked.

He was silent for awhile. “Sometimes,” he said. He described others in his clan with the same ridges. The Neandertal got up to turn the spit of smoking meat inside. I followed him inside with my drink. I asked him how he lost his children. He looked intently at the spit, slowly turning it, while picking his teeth. Their time had come, the Neandertal signed.

The End. From the short story project “Dysautonomia”The next short story, “A Compromised Subject”, will appear soon in this blog.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Gravity Suit, The WonderSuit, and Compression Hose

G-suit Pictures from the Orthostatic Intolerance resource page* The Gravity Suit at this link is donned not by a Space Traveler or Fighter Pilot, but by a Dysautonomia patient who got tired of being tired all day from low blood pressure. The goal is to keep blood in your upper body, increasing the amount of time a dysautonomic patient can stay up or stand. Such aids can help minimize fainting, dizziness, light-headedness, exhaustion, confusion, and other low blood pressure symptoms. I was prescribed compression hose to help with this problem. I think you have to roll the hose on before getting up in the morning, while laying down. Not sure yet.

But I am fascinated by this G-suit and wonder how it would feel to wear it. My concern is how hot it would get - keeping in mind that high body temp and hot weather lowers blood pressure. I fantasize about a G-Suit that regulates blood pressure, ventilates air, and looks radical. They would be woven with a friction-activated nano structure that expands and locks to provide pressure and ventilation. Maybe we could design a suit for POTSies and for Mars colonists. We can prepare ourselves for the future, and for everyday combat here on earth.

The surface would employ multiple layers of refractive material – just like fish – to camouflage the wearer if needed. Or the surface could display information about the wearer’s activities or vitals – among colleagues working together in a group for example. How could this visual information displayed on the suits be deciphered only by those with proper security clearance?

Our vision will be filtered through the ever present Lens through which we view the Martian landscape. We may never see the Martian landscape with naked eyes. Individuals in the group would have software to run filters on their Lens corresponding to the color/pattern camouflaging – so that the succession of filters were coordinated with the changing pattern encodings. kind of like how signal-hopping is used to throw off the interception of radio communication signals (Hedy Lamar the actress came up with this idea). But perhaps the unfiltered display content has to also make sense on its own – to those without the decoder algorithms. Perhaps the public sees a picture on those WonderSuits instead of sensitive data.

Similarly our normal hearing must be supplanted, as any pressurized barrier would affect sound, not to mention the effect of extremely high wind on ear function. I imagine distributed piezo mics and filtered directional mics could contribute to an audio augmentation and spatialization system which would process ambient sounds from all directions. One could listen remotely to another’s sound environment by switching into someone else’s electric channel, and focus in on certain sounds.

It would even be possible to take any (or all) of these sensorial data, reprocess them, and feed them back to the User in a new form. Remote ambient sounds could become visuals in a hiker’s Visual Display Lens, in an environment where high wind renders sound otherwise incomprehensible to human ears, or for a deaf user. But are there detrimental effects from too many such switches? Do the signals become a synaesthesiatic cacophony?

* How the G-suit helped one individual with Dysautonomia, see Before and After the G-suit at the Orthostatic Intolerance Resource

Friday, October 26, 2012

“Breakfast with Neandertals” Part 6

The Neandertal was there when I arrived late in the day. He looked pleased to see me climbing up the cliff wall toward the cavern. His shadow swallowed me.

I put my hands on my big belly. I asked him if he knew it was his. He nodded, and started picking his teeth. I asked him how he knew.

You and your husband have been together for a long time, he signed.

I made a gesture concerning my husband’s little dick. He laughed. I asked him why he and his wife had no kids.

He signed: There were two; they died.

We sat quietly for a long time in the mist smoking and drinking, half inside, half outisde. His wife was asleep inside. I could smell her. I asked the Neandertal which things were hers. I told him not to give her the Ottoman with the dogtooth fringe. I had noticed it when I was there before.

When she came into the front room I told her she had to leave. She glared. “Man-eater!” she spat. I asked her how she dare speak my language. I asked who taught her. My lover made the motion of “Before” with his hands. She must have learnt before they met. His hands hit his dick as he signed. He tried to cover it up by crossing his legs. I laughed.

I told her I was here now. I pulled out my machéte and told her I’d kill her if she didn’t leave. She took the things her husband packed for her into the early morning light. I had one leg up on the Ottoman. The one I liked.

My head itched fiercely. I resisted the urge to scratch viciously as I looked after her. The Neandertal was silent.

“Don’t worry.” I said. The dogs will look after her. So will the Spirits.”

How do you know?

“I took care of it.”

from the short story project “Dysautonomia”

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

“Breakfast with Neandertals” Part 5

I thought I couldn’t get pregnant. My husband said women couldn’t get pregnant from Neandertals because they were animals, and people couldn’t have babies with animals. I asked my husband how many times he’d tried. He snorted.

I first attributed my growing belly to the horse balls the Neandertal fed me. He had patiently boiled the giant treats, fried them in animal fat, then seasoned them with herbs. I ate two of them one morning. Then I put one inside, where it broke apart. Soonafter I dreamt a foal’s head and feet emerged from my vulva.

Then husband confronted me: Was I sure it was his baby I carried? I told him he must have made me pregnant when he was passed out. He said he was limp when he was out. I told him he didn’t know that. He said he knew from his last wife. I said I’m not his last wife. He said at least his last wife didn’t fuck Lowlifes. He called me a sodomite.

Then I got my shit and left. Fucking faggot. I walked in the direction of the caverns, toward the Neandertal.

from the short story project DYSAUTONOMIA. Comments and discussion welcome on blog entries. Follow me on twitter for updates to this serial story and future stories from this ongoing project

Saturday, October 13, 2012

An Old Friend

My vertigo came back, like an old friend – momentarily. Took me by both hands, firmly. Swung me in a wide arc, perfectly – like it knew me. Set me back on my feet, lightly. My awful friend – you look bad! and I hoped you’d stopped coming around. My stomach drops when you knock. Despite our recent separation, despite the restraining order, you siddle inside, next to deep thoughts, until you change them.

The worst thing about vertigo is the constant fear. The knowledge that you can be grabbed and shaken at any time. Sometimes it feels like (the aftermath of) being slammed against a wall – like a shock, like a bad deed. This fear turns everything an ugly color.

I decided not to get the brain MRIs done for now. I made an appointment instead with Dr. Ahern, a Cardiologist who is familiar with POTS / Dysautonomia. Lately more and more problems with low blood pressure, low blood sugar, tachybradycardia, symptoms upon standing. I am so happy to be going to see this doctor. I wish I didn’t have to wait until the 22nd. For the time being I stopped my Nortriptyline prescription and stopped going to weekly acupuncture, as I want the doctor to be able to measure my symptoms without them being subdued. So the symptoms are pretty bad right now.

On Tuesday something new, something strange: A hypo-manic episode coincided with a “silent migraine” attack. In other words a simultaneous neurologic and psychologic episode. Disturbing because it was distressful physically and mentally, and because I have to wonder what the significance of this convergence is. Things are shifting and mutating.

When I made a list of symptoms to bring to the Cardiologist I ended up with a list of 93 distinct symptoms (or distinct manifestations of symptoms) experienced since age 4 – ever since I can remember. These ongoing lists and journals can hold the key to understanding “invisible” medical problems. Hopefully soon we can use a DNA test instead, saving paper as well as decades of undiagnosed symptoms. Saving friendships and marriages, perhaps. And maybe even altering the genetic outcome of children (by manipulating specific genes for example).

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Solidarity with Mother Earth

Once I asked my neurologist if it was a coincidence that my vertigo made me spin in the same direction as the earth? The earth spins counter-clockwise around its own axis and around the sun. And my rotational vertigo continually spun me along just such a path. My doctor laughed and shook his head at my question. He said some patients spin one way and some spin the other.

That week I keep thinking about my body as a conduit for the rotational movement of the earth, as if I were a sensitive soul connected to her, at one with her impulses. Maybe it comforted me to imagine my illness had a significance outside of myself.

I had to give up that idea, but another symptomatic connection intrigued me: similarities between neurologic disorders and space sickness: Nausea, vertigo, stuffiness, confusion, weakness, dizziness, exhaustion. Maybe we already know what it feels like to travel and live in Outer Space. We just need to change the scenery.

I finally got a referral from my Otoneurologist for a set of Brain MRIs, though he emphasized there may be nothing meaningful in the results. He is treating me for Silent Migraines, which don’t show up on medical imaging scans, but I want to look inside nevertheless. Tangled nerves? Blocked arteries? Inner ear deformity? Strokes? Remnants of a long-lost twin wreaking havoc inside my brain? If only the culprit could be made visible. If only it could be snipped out forever, crushed, annihilated. But most likely these tests would be negative. What to do?

My neurologist told me my ongoing unsteadiness is the result of damage from years of vertigo, and it may straighten itself out over time. Lately my feet will suddenly cross one over the other, as if I were on a boat tipped by waves. I am stepping on eggshells, afraid the demon will grab me and throw me again into its utterly senseless orbit.

“Breakfast with Neandertals” Part 4

The grove where the Neanderthal and I met at the upper meadow looked out toward the Matterhorn. One afternoon we submerged ourselves under the cool cover of pine trees. Between the shafts of sunlight piercing the musty grove we got busy grinding and sweating.

Afterwards the Neandertal was spent. I looked his chest. Giant blotches had appeared on his skin. I was alarmed.

Don’t worry. It’s the heat, he gestured. You might have a rash too.

“I would know if I had a rash”, I replied.

How? he signed. He stroked my smooth black skin. He was surprised I had goose-bumps.

I shivered in the cool air, drenched with his sweat. I told him I would be able to feel it with my fingers. I touched his chest with my eyes closed to see if it was true. His heartbeat quickened, then slowed until it was faint. He fell asleep. The air whooshed through his windpipe as if through a canyon. I curled up across the warm red carpet of his chest, my hips and shoulders rising with each breath from the giant. While we slept I soared across the Universe.

When I awoke I was alone on an animal skin inside the Neandertal’s cavern next to the warm oven. The sun was just breaking. I gripped something tightly in my hand. It was a gnarled rock embedded with deep fingerprints. My fingers fit its pockmarks perfectly. It left a burnt dust in my palm.

from the short story project DYSAUTONOMIA. Comments and discussion welcome on blog entries. Follow me on twitter for updates to this serial story and future stories from this ongoing project

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Breakfast with Neandertals" Part 3

After meeting the Neandertal I made a point of walking alone each day to fetch water. I used the path east of the caverns so I could smell the delicacies smoking near the entrance. I knew the Neandertal was watching me. One morning he grabbed me as I walked, and tried to place me on top of his lap. I fought him but he held me tightly against his chest. His strawberry blond hair was dense and soft against my nose and smelled sweetly of gentian and musk. He kept pulling me against him but he was too big for me.

I never did it on top before, nor for more than a few seconds. His silky hair rubbed allover my front. Soon I was wet and grinding up and down his pestle. I ended just like the Neandertal did and at the same time. Then I slumped down, spent, into his huge arms. They reached all the way around my back. With his fingertips he played with my nipples. His nails were yellow, blue, and black – broken, with long hair and lice caught between the cracks. I’d have to file them.

At one point I tried to kiss his mouth. He thought I was trying to tell him something. He turned his ear toward me. I blew my hot breath into his ear. He still thought I was trying to say something to him. He shrugged. He started getting hard again inside me.

I came home late that day after gathering nuts and mushrooms. I also found herbs for the Neanderthal, who had a nasty wound on his leg. My husband was pissed when I returned. He sat smoking and drinking in the dark. I told him I had a migraine and to leave me the fuck alone. I placed my bag and a large package of smoked meat down. My husband looked down at the wrapped package and laughed. “Is that what this is all about? Meat?” he asked.

from the short story project DYSAUTONOMIA. Comments and discussion welcome on blog entries. Follow me on twitter for updates to this serial story and future stories from this ongoing project

Sunday, September 16, 2012

"Breakfast with Neandertals" Part 2

So breakfast was nice. I picked some yarrow and marshmallow as a gift. My husband was nervous, but we use many of the same gestures the Neandertals do. My husband just pretended not to understand him. What an asshole. I think the Neandertal is deaf anyway so it didn’t really matter.

The Neandertal fixed breakfast. His wife only prepared the drink. She didn’t seem well. My husband was upset because her hands were covered in dense hair. He said he didn’t want dirt and lice in his drink. She shrugged. She slowly handed us a drink prepared from ground nuts. I asked where she learned to prepare it.

While walking around the hearth my husband kicked over a hunting knife. He listened to it clang on the stone flooring, then said it was a piece of shit. “Is this a toy?” he asked sarcastically. The Neandertal signaled with his hands: It’s not the size of the wave. It’s the motion of the ocean. My husband stared at the Neandertal’s cock. “What’s an ocean?” he asked.

We soon sat down around the colorful spread of stonecakes, boiled eggs, and smoked meat with red berries. My husband eyed the meat suspiciously. He usually just ate bark in the morning. I didn’t care for the grass bed – nettles would have worked better – but I was impressed overall. The game was better than any meat I trapped. It was rich, dense, and chewy. And the fire made it even better than I imagined.

I ate a lot – the same amount as the Neandertals. I asked the wife which pulses she ground for the cakes but the bitch didn’t want to tell me. Maybe the Neandertal ground them himself. I resisted the urge to sit next to the Neandertal. My husband would probably blow his lid. He was suspicious of the whole affair. The Neandertal dwarfed him. My husband carried his weapon on him all the time but the Neandertal didn’t need to. He just watched constantly. And sniffed.

from the short story project DYSAUTONOMIA. Comments and discussion welcome on blog entries. Follow me on twitter for updates to this serial story and future stories from this ongoing project

Sunday, September 9, 2012

"Breakfast with Neandertals" Part 1





“The new neighbors invited us for breakfast”, I told my him. I was grinding wheat outside.

“Which neighbors?” He asked. “You don’t mean the giant rats hiding in the caverns?” My husband lounged under a deerskin nearby, smoking. “They’re not exactly our neighbors”, he said after a pause. “Anyway I thought they were moving out this summer.”

“How am I supposed to know! They can’t speak.” Little by little giant raindrops began to fall. I pulled a hardened deerskin over my workspace, and pulled my baskets close.

“I thought you said they could speak”, my husband admonished me.

“They can speak to each other. And they sign.”

“You don’t have a hard time speaking to one of them from what I heard.” His pupils were luminous under the shade of the animal skin.

I shook my head. “I wasn’t talking to him. Where’s my barley?” The sharp rhythm against the grindstone broke the air as I worked.

“What were you doing then?” my husband asked.

“I showed him where the red berries are.” I said, breathing with the rhythm of the rolling motion.

“What a fucking faggot!” My husband lay unmoving. “Where’s his wife? And why does he whack off at the creek?”

“How am I supposed to know!”

Things started with the Neanderthal on the way back from the creek one day. Me, Nana, and my cousin’s wife went to get extra water. We saw him sewing outside, fashioning hide into clothing. They said he was looking at me. They mimed him ogling my tits while chewing on animal hide with his big teeth.

The Neandertal looked down at himself as we walked past. His Schwanz almost reached the ground. He walked over to us to peer into the jugs we carried. He couldn’t see their contents in the bright sun and haze. Smoke billowed from the caverns. He kept blinking. He gestured to the berries we picked. I told him I would show him where we picked them. The next day I showed him the best bushes in the upper meadow.

I thought the Neandertal didn’t have a wife. He didn’t wear a wedding amulet. But when we returned from the meadow I saw her inside. I could tell by the way she looked at me that she was his wife.

from the short story project DYSAUTONOMIA. Comments and discussion welcome on blog entries. Follow me on twitter for updates to this serial story and future stories from this ongoing project

Monday, September 3, 2012

Can the Varicella virus cause Vertigo?

Last night I dreamt the blisters had become big hanging protrusions of withered skin, with eruptions on top of existing patches, like lava slowly overtaking former flows. In my dream I touched a piled-up protrusion on my lower face, gingerly feeling the papery texture. It burned angrily after I touched it, like a cactus needle, in waves. I thought, “I’ll have to go back on the antivirals”. But in my dream I was somehow indifferent.

Tinnitus today in my right ear, resonating loudly like a tuning fork at a very high steady pitch. The hearing goes in and out, throwing off my balance again and again. A week ago while being treated with acupuncture my left ear was singing instead, the sound starting low and shifting ever higher until I could hear it no more. How strange. I imagined my left ear opening up and freeing as the frequency rose.

The rotational vertigo I had the last 6 years dissipated (that is it turned into dizziness) when I started Acyclovir anti-virals. I hope I can eventually look inside my inner ear and see whether the cysts in my outer ear are also plaguing my inner ear. Or perhaps there is some other obstruction interfering with my balance and hearing. I am hoping to look inside there and inside the brainstem as there have been a lot of migraine headaches and “body migraines” in my neck and shoulders. Walking on eggshells hoping the vertigo does not return.

The feeling of vertigo would not be alien to Mars dwellers due to the need to compensate for the lack of gravity on Mars. I imagine a giant flywheel at work, powering the systems needed for life on mars, with its inner sanctum employed for its positive effect on the human skeleton...

We’ve been going to the field archery range early mornings since camp ended. Today we left very early. It was cold when I got up. I walked with the dog through the Canyon while my son shot repeatedly at an Ace of Hearts affixed to a target board. I love standing among the singing arrows, anticipating their whoooosh and the sudden “THWAT!” when they hit the board. I feel as if time has stopped, as if I am walking through a Margaret Honda sculpture, slowly, carefully.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Affliction as Meme

I heard in the news that eggs are just as bad for you as smoking. So I started giving my son a cigarette in the morning, instead of eggs. It’s faster and costs about the same.

I am joking of course, but nevertheless this news items offers us the opportunity to think about our individual health as a constant process of negotiation, and it points to the association of visual memes with health. Both an egg and a cigarette are loaded visual memes.

The question that comes up for me when considering the function of memes in society (to return to subject of last post re: “Of the Refrain” by Deleuze and Guattari):  Does affliction function as a social meme? If we consider the function of memes in “Of the Refrain”, we can see that they function to filter unwanted elements out, and engage favorable elements. All species are naturally suspicious of “the other”, though we may each define “the other” differently based on the niche or mileue we inhabit. We may even train ourselves to disavow notions regarding “the other” in an attempt to redefine our mileue. A well-known example of this is from the 1980’s when Ted Turner disallowed use of the term “foreign” or “foreigner” by anchors on his news network. Maybe they referred instead to “non-nationals”. Is the problem (discrimination) hereby solved or are we just shifting our criteria regarding “the other”? Is it a language problem or a discrimination problem, if it can be solved through language?

This natural suspicion of “the other” has a purpose: it allows a species or sub-species to identify and support each other in their common activities related to their own survival, while rejecting others who might disrupt this process. In this example a raptor such as a peregrine falcon would of course be disruptive to a pigeon flock (to stick with D&G’s bird example), as would a sick pigeon (due to the disruptive aspects of illness). Both examples become “the other”, that is, something to be avoided. A simplistic mechanism, to be sure, and simplistically described. But we can see it at work at every level of society, wherein cues both subtle (spontaneous gestures) and overt (printed signs posted) are used to direct behavior in desired ways, toward desired ends. The processes of inclusion and exclusion are forever at work, at both micro and macro levels, within and without every level of society.

We could define affliction for our purposes as any physical, neurological, or mental condition that limits one’s ability to function. That is, we can use the legal definition for disability to consider: Does disability function as a social meme? Deuleuze and Guattari focus on overt signals, automatic systems which are shifted from within. To be sure there are overt signals associated with disability: visible cues such as a wheelchair or cane, impaired motor or speech function, or use of aids such as ramps or input devices for communication. All these things clearly denote disfunction and serve to denote a mileue apart.

But the visible effects of these cues are even greater: the wide berth given to afflicted individuals is a way to separate them visually and physically from the healthy population. The physical distance generated and maintained around afflicted individuals becomes another, louder signal. All mammals display this behavior in the presence of affliction. It is a natural process of separation serving to deter both the spread of infection and the propagation of genetic conditions. It disemburdens the community momentarily from a stress factor. This relief can become a long-term respite from such responsibility. Communities have always exercised discretion when negotiating any commitment to the disabled. Again this occurs simultaneously on a micro (individual, unpremeditated) as well as on a macro (sanctioned or official procedure) level, and both types of enforcement contribute to the definition of the disabled mileue. We can consider systems at both ends of the scale: Nazi’s employed an overt and rigid system of enforcement regarding the management of different mileues including the mentally ill, which permitted few exceptions. Compare this short-lived example to a herd of horses, which will accommodate sick or injured individuals, but not during times of crisis (famine, stress from predators, etc). This control is enforced by lead horses (or alpha dogs, if you prefer dogs to horses) through individual unpremeditated actions. That is, the ability to accommodate affliction fluctuates based on current conditions. This fluctuating stance works for horses and dogs – but in a complex social structure, consistency and regulation are demanded.

Before we consider this requirement for regulation and consistency, let’s return briefly to   the notion of the “wide berth” from my last post. The physical distance generated and maintained around afflicted individuals by health individuals becomes another visual meme. This physical buffer operates together with other visual signs generated by affliction. But unlike with animals there is no resolution to this process of separation. The afflicted exist in a kind of limbo, with enough resources to remain alive, but not enough to thrive. As if inside a bubble, the afflicted are thereby visibly tracked through this buffer.

In the future the appearance of “thriving” will be central to the debate on healthcare. Kaiser has already identified this theme of “Thrive” as a welcome alternative to the more prosaic “Barely Alive” motto. People in the future will be expected to contribute, and in exchange they will be supported medically. This seems a reasonable exchange. But in the case of neurologic and psychologic affliction fact it will be a complex negotiation. Here the capacity to function and ability to function are two different things, with a host of shifting brain-related dysfunctions interrupting the process of recovery along the way.

The development of a disabled underclass would be highly undesirable on Mars, given the need for efficiency and order in a highly vulnerable artificial system. On Mars the disabled will be medically assessed and gainfully employed through a system that minimizes their limitations and exploits their abilities.

Such a system would rely on diagnosis and medication for its success, as well as on the enforcement of treatment through negotiation and other means. A breach in this system could spell crisis for the population that houses it. So the management of affliction (in particular those which could undermine the safety and moral of the larger community such as mental health patients) becomes crucial.

By the time we arrive on Mars, we will be thoroughly accustomed to being micromanaged electronically. Subjects (everyone on Mars will become a Subject in the sense they must subject to the automatic  will be accustomed to the exchange of their own private information for financial or other gain. Insurance companies are already exchanging extensive information profiles, gained through remote electronic tracking, for discounts on insurance policies. The micro management of the economics of this exchange will become accepted. Subjects will understand from an early age that when they are provided with the support needed for success, they give up some level of personal control. The amount of control relinquished is tied to the health and wealth of the individual. We see this narrative played out again and again, whether the exchange takes place in the realm of the occult (Mephisto, Rosemary’s Baby) or in the echelons of Big Government (1984, This Perfect Day also by Ira Levin ) or Big Healthcare The Handmaid’s Tale by Harold Pinter or A boy and his Dog by Harlan Ellison).

In these dramas, the subjects or victims are without rights. That is, they are born into or subjected against their will to an exchange that enables some but destroys others. Such a scenario becomes more complex when we consider the willing participation of subjects in this game, and the management of the desire to participate in such a system. Already Facebook and online and brick and mortar marketers are finding the fine line between what is acceptable to a consumer and what is unacceptable, and what is the exact price at which a product crosses this line for a given individual.

All this means that in the future we won’t be dealing with ultimatums as in the stories mentioned earlier, but instead a lifelong process of (enforcement masquerading as) negotiation.

As diagnostics and treatments become available for silent conditions (i.e., brain or neurologic impairment such as mental health), these formerly undiagnosed conditions become tangible. Once they become tangible to the medical establishment, will they also become tangible to society at large? And how to negotiate the vulnerability that comes with this disclosure?

At the moment one discloses this information one becomes vulnerable in both an immediate and long-term sense. Those with mental health conditions are exploited by the healthy population, even as they are alienated. This trend is clear when you compare the rate at which mental health patients are sexually violated, as compared to the general population: such incidents increase 4-fold when one switches their attention from the population at large to the mentally ill. That is, there is an immediate risk associated with disclosure. Sexual exploitation is only indicator of this trend.

There is of course also a long-term negative effect of disclosure within the society at large – unless perhaps when we consider a managed system designed to mitigate the long-term negative effects by supporting the afflicted individual in their effort to function in a limited or specific physical and mental capacity. Such a system would attempt to open private individual information, while closing down disclosure of its own internal rules. There would be a continual conflict re: information transparency between the administrators and recipients of such a system.

Instead of unintentional cues, perhaps on Mars the disabled will be clearly marked (the Wondershell could visually indicate the limitations or needs of the wearer). But how to negotiate the balance between: knowledge required to aid an individual, versus knowledge used to exploit an individual.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Negotiating alien terrain

I had to think of Ray Bradbury’s “The Day the Rain Stopped” when my vertigo came to a stop. In the story the kids don’t recognize their world once the noise stops. The silence overwhelms them. On June 9th my vertigo stopped for a moment. I was startled by the silence in my head and overwhelmed with joy until it revved up again. I wept after this incident because I had forgotten what it felt like to stand on solid ground.

I must have been thinking about Ray Bradbury because he recently died. I listened to an old interview with him on NPR and he talked about how he spent all his free time while growing up in the LAPL, where he read voraciously He emphasised that he read good books. That was his education. I thought wow just like me, I used to read a lot – but I only read horse stories. I should have read what Ray Bradbury read. I didn’t look into what he read, but I am revisiting texts in my head that resonate with me re: health and society on Mars.

It is impossible not to consider Kafka especially The Trial, Amerika, or the Metamorphosis. Because there will be stringent and extensive rules on mars, and no one will be privy to all of them. And they will drive people mad, as will the simple difficulty of the physical demands and limitations. And you won’t have to imagine that something is working against you. It most assuredly is.

I am rereading Freud’s essay on The Uncanny. It becomes relevant anew set on Mars. Because everything is uncanny on Mars: familiar yet strange. The same but completely different. Each new Marsian will carry her own ghosts as well as those of her ancestors and culture. These ghosts will visit their attendant hosts at will, further confusing familiar existence with alien.

In the past I’ve already attempted to read the chapter “Of the Refrain” by Deleuze and Guattari. It is in the section “One Thousand Plateaus” in their book of essays “On Schizophrenia and Capitalism”. I don’t really know what the book is about, nor the essay. But I revisit this essay again and again due to the intrigue and breadth in their examination of the human condition. They play around the question “What makes us human?” while focusing resolutely on how mammals signal to each other while they negotiate their social terrain.

These notions become profound when considered in the context of Mars colonization, just like some songs become profound when you consider their stories on Mars, because we realize all the things we take for granted every day. Signs and symbols will be everywhere on Mars of course as interface. But how will milieus form, reform and morph in a new world through signification, with the knowledge and tools of past interactions at their disposal? How will groups of people express their interests or limitations on the nature of interplay with other groups? How will interplay between various Mars colonies be negotiated? Though interdependent for survival, various stations will also be in competition with and mistrustful of others.

Marsians will be protected and covered against gamma rays, cold, dust storms, and other extreme physical conditions. Consider that mistakes and sabotage can be deadly in the Marsian environment, and infrastructure to negotiate developing crisis will be limited, hacked together, and vulnerable. How will individuals within or across groups mitigate crisis? Ideally a group cognition process would be utilised among marsian stations – a sharing of not only data and ideas but also tasks and problem solving. At the same time sensitive information and personal space will be protected through a complex of both automatic and discretionary or personal acts. These negotiations will take place on several platforms at once: wirelessly (local adhoc network), wirelessly (remote or offical comm system), and through face to face presentation. The latter may include surreptitious language exchange or formal outward codification through automatic or customised expressions. Imagine a Wondershell that emits moods or other real time info, changing as its wearer moves across the Mars landscape or inside the Station. Just as tartan plaids signified association with a group and a simultaneous warning, these visible patterns could mitigate human interaction, expressing or withholding information. The significance of this liquid skin could be changed at will, into: an avatar, a presentation screen, or a foil. It could act as an invitation, a repellent, or an open book. It must replace the function of: pheromones, street attire, casual meetings, and whispers.

This kind of expression will come naturally to those chosen to  attend Mars, as they will be screened/cultivated for both technical as well as expressive acuity. The latter will help them invent ways to address the communication, stress, and crisis situations as they occur.

Imagine an impromptu concert from printed musical instruments. Maybe these are the instruments the performers learned to play on earth. Maybe the instruments are automatically tweaked via autocad to better respond to conditions in the mars atmosphere. You could put together whatever you wanted, if you didn’t have a shortage of appropriate printing materials. Maybe these printed materials could be recycled. You couldn’t have a concert outside with a didgeridoo, a tuba, or a coronet, because there is no oxygen for human lungs. But outside you could play a piano, a guitar, a mandolin. How does string frequency change in low gravity, in a lighter atmosphere? Would the strings vibrate at a higher pitch? Would they sound forever?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Poison frog venom and ground fetuses

The Opthomalogist was young, smart, and insecure. “Hmm. That’s not the regular pattern. Usually there is an eruption in one place.”

Yes I know that’s not the regular pattern. I also know there is no such a thing as a regular pattern. A regular pattern only exists when you choose to ignore the anomalies. Are doctors not required to read James Gleick in medical school?

“Why do you think you have shingles?” He asked.

My psychic told me.

Of course I did not answer him thus. I need this guy on my side.

The Opthomologist did the right thing, of course. I went to the best hopsital in SD County. They brought in the Cornea Specialist. He was looking for damage to the cornea resulting from shingles lesions, which can cause blindness. He didn’t find any. He told me the antivirals I am already taking for shingles is the only thing I should be on at this point, even with an infection inside the eye. He said the drops should not be used unless needed.

He is right. But his rational only works when one has insurance. When you can’t pay the bill, and can’t afford to return (to the same place twice), the likelihood of getting treated on time dwindles.

I had already tried the night before at the CVS downtown. I asked the pharmacist, since he was already filling my anti-viral prescription, couldn’t he also just give me the Acyclovir eye drops. I told him how goopey and blurry my eyes were, and how they itched and burned, and how my forehead, scalp, eyes, and ears itched and burned. “That’s a different prescription”, he said. “Oh, I have to get a second piece of paper for that? Even thought it’s the same anti-viral in liquid form?” I feigned ignorance.

I also got a prescription from my acupuncturist. I went to the Chinese herbalist and requested Liushen Wan. The herbalist said nothing for a little while. He busied himself putting some little plastic bags of fungi in a drawer, although he’d come out from the back when I walked in. Finally he looked at me carefully, looked down at my service dog, and said quietly: “We don’t sell that.”

“Why not?” I asked.

After a pause he said: “One of the ingredients is not approved by the FDA.”

“It’s not ground human fetuses, is it?” I asked him.

The herbalist didn’t answer. Not sure if he didn’t understand me, or didn’t know how much I knew. I think he thought I was an undercover cop. That happens a lot.

I asked if I could get it elsewhere, or buy it online. He wasn’t sure. I left thinking he probably had it, but didn’t trust me.

I called my acupuncturist afterward and told her what the Herbalist said. She laughed and told me the illegal ingredient is poisonous frog venom. I had been instructed to take the pills by mouth (when I am not on the anti-virals) or to open them, mix with vinegar, and spread onto the affected skin.

I read an article recently about how a large batch of pills were confiscated going from China to (South?) Korea. The pills were hidden in cargo. There were thousands and thousands of them, brown powder pills in plastic popup packaging. They were tested and found to contain ground human fetuses. My acupuncturist told me this preparation was common, and available here at the chinese herbalists – it is commonly administered to women who’ve just given birth, and they use both placenta and fetus for this preparation. My doctor started to tell me the name of this preparation. But I didn't want to know its name.

 Consider that the fetus pills confiscated were traveling from China to Korea, and that the Chinese conduct forced abortions – a tidy arrangment as long as this activity remains clandestine. It is, of course, illegal – on earth. But just as Bugsy Siegel recognised in Las Vegas, there is a window of time wherein one may operate without deference to law, and may set and secure specific legal precedents or exceptions.

Whereas americans might devour only the reddest portion of a ripe watermelon on a hot day, discarding the rest into landfills, the chinese will save the hard rind and seeds, rendering them into dried edibles that last into the winter. On Mars each station must operate with optimal efficiency. Nothing may be wasted.

In the U.S. a top organ and tissue provider (worked with UCLA and other top medical centers) was found to have illegally mined cadavers for parts, and sold these untested possibly diseased parts for transplant procedures.

What I wonder is: if illegal trade in cadavers already exists, how will cadavers be handled on Mars?  In particular if there is a failure to provide adequate protein? After all, the lab meat we read about in the news requires a “starter” of live tissue. And surely we won’t have a corral of fat pigs at the ready, when the Meat Lab gets hungry. At the very least any live tissue would be indirectly exploited have to be used for its usefulness in growing plants.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful, Part I

I had a blister outbreak 2 weeks ago, and this morning my eyes feel goopey and wet. My sight seems dim and I feel frightened. I am going to the optometrist tomorrow to get drops for it and they should be able to see how it looks inside there.

My son is also going to the optometrist tomorrow to get his left eye checked by his surgeon. He was blinded in his left eye in an accident at school over a year ago, and has been recovering since. All this makes me realize how vulnerable our sight is – something I never really considered before. It turns out our seeing globes are cobbled from primitive parts. I am so thankful for modern medicine. In the old days we would have had no chance for recovery from this kind of affliction. But once my son is an adult he will be able to have his injured lens replaced. I remind him when he gets frustrated. Despite his troubles he will have options later.

That is something to be cheerful about. Another thing to be cheerful about is how incredibly well my son handles it. He got a compound bow last February (thanks Grandma for this awesome xmas gift) and learned to shoot arrows, and played in the AYSO California State Championships last April in Orange County. He did poorly in the latter (kudos to Coach Albert for playing everyone on the team in every game including Finals), but is stellar in the former. He began shooting with his right eye initially so never had to switch. I just read last week about the Olympic South Korean archer who is legally blind (blind in right eye) and holds world records.  I used to find it strange that my son is so enamored of arrows and knifes (he also learned to handle a filippine Balasong folding blad after his injury). But maybe it is not so strange after all.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Future of Medicine, and Space Travel

I am writing a book of short stories to be shared on this blog in rough form and gathered under the title Dysautonomy. In a dysautonomic world, automatic systems needed to sustain life are compromised through limited design, malfunction, sabotage, and Acts of God. The harsh physical environment on Mars becomes a metaphor for the daily struggle to survive with limited capability. These demands cause a series of breakdowns across the spectrum of automatic systems necessary for human life, including nervous, psychologic, atmospheric, hydration, nutrition, power, and communication systems. 

By sharing these stories and related information among neuroatypicals as well as normal functioning people I hope to open a constructive dialogue regarding our collective future health.

After all, when systems break down, the entire population is affected. The cost of such breakdowns are reflected in our sky-rocketing healthcare costs as we live longer and as neurologic affliction becomes more predominant. Over time our DNA changes based on our shifting social and environmental priorities, thus simultaneously shutting down and opening up future genetic possibilities. A decrease in physical health and increasing complications with neurologic and mental health are trends recognized throughout the world today. Both genetic and environmental factors contribute to this decline. In a near-future scenario, how will the diagnosis, treatment and care of afflicted individuals be apportioned?

Today in the U.S. we have a lottery system in which those born without affliction can gain access to excellent healthcare, while often those most in need of support are relegated to long-term poverty and sub-optimal care. Is there a more humane way to allocate access to healthcare? If afflicted individuals were supported instead of penalized, will our contribution to society outweigh the cost of maintaining our health? In a future universal healthcare scenario, will afflicted individuals be required to accept corrective procedures – even when someone prefers not to exchange their atypicality for “normalcy”? New diagnostic and treatment techniques are now emerging rapidly in the fields of both Neurology and Psychology. But who has access to these technologies? Will those genetically predisposed to affliction be removed from the gene pool through early recognition and intervention, or will such afflictions be corrected through genetic manipulation?

These are the issues essential to Dysautonomy. In this series of stories, the afflicted discover their strengths in surprising ways. A Bipolar visionary launches his team to Mars, but breaks down when his mania-fueled ego is unable to switch gears to more practical concerns. An autistic tween becomes a superhero, saving his group from demise while relying on the particular and peculiar abilities associated with autism. A young rape victim finds the will to survive and to love despite her entanglement in an interspace legal case. A drug-addict who becomes an unwitting subject in a disconcerting experiment in procreation finds the will to escape both his addiction and her captors.

This is not the clean, controlled image of a Mars colony promoted by NASA. Instead we discover a world much like our own, where disruptions internal and external determine our fate. The black market exchanges among the various Mars stations eclipse any effort to establish an earth-based control. Fudged health records, bribery, drone-hacking, human-hacking, stowaways, sex slaves, cannibalism, systems sabotage, environmental devastation, and substance abuse become fixtures in this scenario. But so does human ingenuity, generosity, sacrifice, and love.

Through stories, experiences, and public discussion, Dysautonomy will travel through space, time, and DNA in order to consider the human organism and psyche from a behavioral and neurologic standpoint.

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next to find ourselves.” –Pico Iyer

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The breakdown of automatic systems...

Dysautonomia is a breakdown of the autonomic nervous system. But I think of the term also in reference to the breakdown of autonomous systems generally – life systems including those related to power, water, and food are also vulnerable to breakdown.

What if we consider travel to Mars as a metaphor for neurologic dysfunction? In both scenarios simple everyday tasks become difficult, and one must be prepared for unexpected and imminent disaster. Physical movements become slow and heavy. You are subject to vertigo, nausea, disorientation, and psychologic stress. In short: your world closes down around you. The people in your immediate circle become key to your survival. You may never return to the life you knew.

The below image was taken during "a five-day odyssey in the Alps designed to mimic potential future missions on Mars" which took place in "the largest ice caves on Earth, spacesuits and remote-controlled planetary rovers were for the first time tested". In this recent experiment researchers attempted to create the conditions future explorers will encounter on Mars – the weight, immobility, and other physical factors were artificially introduced, as well as in the below scenario a breakdown in communications. I love this image because one immediately recognizes how difficult physical movement is, and how isolated one would be sensorially.– Link to story

I also love the images from this experiment because they remind me of a story from J.G. Ballard from his book "Memories of the Space Age", where a man believes he is on Mars, but is actually in a recreation of Mars on earth in a development called Jupiter Cove. He is of course out of his mind. As one would surely be on the real Mars.

Photo credit: OEWF (Katja Zanella-Kux)