• sara reads the feed

    Ch-ch-ch-caregiving, watching the Arcade, and mocktail policing

    I find myself contemplating what life is going to look like in the next couple decades, on a really practical level. Political stuff right now is dreadful. It’s going to have far-reaching impacts that hit the marginalized the hardest, I’m sure. How will it hit me? What should I be doing to prepare? What’s my day-to-day life going to look like if things go Worst Case Scenario?

    I couldn’t have imagined life as it is now a decade ago; the pandemic shifted things profoundly in unexpected ways. I suspect this is another situation where there’s just no telling what’s going to happen. There will be big changes, and I don’t know what they are yet.

    Living in uncertainty about the future sucks, but it’s also pretty normal. Some people are always dealing with this. A lot of people deal with this sometimes. Most of us are feeling it right now in particular. There isn’t really a way to prepare for unknowns, but we can focus on where we are – this month, this week, this day, this hour, this moment.

    I keep thinking “I’m along for the ride” as a reminder that I’m already doing what I can and the rest is up to future history.

    Certainly on a personal level, my life will be QUITE different in a decade, if only because I will have children who are 23 and 19 years old respectively.


    My summer has been very little productivity (namely writing and editing) because I’m absorbed in caring for my kiddo on summer break. I’ve also shifted my sleep schedule ahead so I can be awake later and do some Family Time for those who aren’t early risers. I’m just terribly discombobulated, is what I’m saying. Hence it is appropriate timing that Psyche posted an article about caregiving.

    It’s not entirely a useful article for me, but sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that these things are challenging to people in general.


    Andy Samberg talks about how he burned out of SNL after a while on Variety. It’s illuminating about the schedule that performers endured in his era.

    I sense that things have changed in the last few years because of this being a problem. For a while we had a bigger cast; older cast members hung around longer, but sketches were more spread out – I think to make sure everyone was getting some time off. It also feels like they’re taking longer, more frequent breaks. It’s a difficult format.


    On August 1st, ad-free Vampire Survivors will arrive on Apple Arcade. (Engadget)

    The game is perfect for mobile play, but I haven’t been keen on the mobile app style. This will probably get me back into it.

    Ars Technica notes that Apple Arcade is mostly rereleasing old games. I am fine with this, for the record. I want my good ol’ games without ads and microtransactions.


    Whether or not under-21s should be able to buy mocktails (NPR) is an interesting question I wouldn’t have thought to ask.

    My initial response is, why not? There’s no alcohol in them.

    They’re worried about normalizing drinking and encouraging drinking roleplay among younger people. I think I grew up drinking Shirley Temples because they seemed ~fancy~ and it was generally benign, relative to the overwhelming drinking culture in general. You know? There’s so much merchandise, media, events, etc built up around drinking. Making servers card for mocktails seems silly.

    On the other hand, we don’t really do candy cigarettes anymore. There’s a precedent for limiting youth access to simulacra of illegal substances.

    But again: no alcohol.


    Adding the modern concept of AI to everything means Google and Microsoft are bigger contributors to climate change (Quartz). Google’s emissions have increased by 48% since 2019; Microsoft’s have increased 31% since 2020. It seems reducing energy usage has been sidelined for profit. Who’s shocked?

    In California alone, climate change has killed at least 460 people and cost $7.7 billion (also Quartz) in the last decade.

    California wildfires have also burned 5x the amount of area as usual this year. (The Guardian)

  • resembles nonfiction

    Romancing the Vote 2024 was a big success!

    I’ve participated in Romancing the Vote twice now. It’s an event where authors and romance fans get together to raise money for American voting initiatives. Previously I offered a manuscript critique; this time around, I’ll be performing Zoom tarot readings for some generous donors.

    The mission statement for RtV:

    We are romance authors, readers, and fans who care about the future of this country and are inspired by fellow romance author Stacey Abrams to do what we can to preserve the right to vote. Democracy only thrives when every vote can be cast and counted, and we are fighting to help dismantle the legacy of voter suppression both in Georgia and across the country. All funds raised through our project will go to voting organizations. (In 2024: Fair Fight and VoteRiders)

    It’s really exciting to see how much we’ve collectively raised. I only play a small part compared to the exhausting work of the volunteers who make it happen, but I still feel so proud to know that I have helped Romancing the Vote reach a million dollars+ in donations. It’s a really substantial effort that makes a tangible shift in voter access. (Click the image below to go through to a screen reader-friendly original post.

    This post from Her Hands, My Hands is a good recap of this year’s financial accomplishments…so far.

  • sara reads the feed

    Salad Fingers high school reunion, brick your kicks, and disrespecting God’s favorite fungi

    It’s been twenty years since the advent of Salad Fingers, and a new episode doesn’t feel the same. It’s not bad or anything. (YouTube) It just got me reflecting on how the different experience of the twenty-years-ago internet changed how it felt to experience Salad Fingers.

    Back then, we didn’t have high-speed internet. It still went “wheeee bzzzz badongy dongy dong grrrr” when you got online. If you wanted to watch a Flash video — which Salad Fingers was, back then — you had to be terribly patient. I seem to recall download rates at 5mb/minute, which is boggling nowadays.

    Often we’d wait for some mb to download, then watch a few seconds or a minute of the video before it stuck again. That meant having loads of time to ruminate on what strangeness we were seeing. It drew out the experience in an excruciating way. This was also before internet horror took off as it is now (influenced in large part by Salad Fingers!), so the liminal spaces and chaotic Millennial randomness of it was still unfamiliar territory, and you didn’t really know what was going to happen next.

    You still don’t know what’s going to happen, but it happens quickly, and you don’t have to devote your attention to it for any length of time. You don’t get immersed in those empty planes and hungry groans.

    The episode didn’t do much to me except make me reflective and nostalgic, which is eerie in its way.


    Having all our belongings dependent on apps means that we have a lot of real life objects rendered useless because their ephemeral software on our phones is abandoned by companies. You really, really can’t just use a thing you got until it breaks anymore.

    Two recent examples from Ars Technica: Amazon’s bricking its weird expensive security robot. And also, those self-lacing Nike sneakers? Bricked.


    On NPR, a former astronaut insists that the astronauts stranded by Starliner are not abandoned, which is indeed what I’ve been hearing. More detail somehow makes it sound more suspect. They want to be able to certify Starliner for regular use despite its malfunctions, is what they say. They won’t go home until they’re certified. I don’t really understand why they’re eligible for certification *at all* if it’s to the point that they’re stuck on the ISS for a while because the vessel malfunctioned. It really feels like they’re stuck because they want to make sure it’s safe to bring the astronauts home. But my feelings really don’t mean anything, I guess.


    I think we’re all well past The Avengers movie at this point (and MCU at large), but it’s cool to hear that they’ve done a Lakota dub with the original cast. (Reactor Mag) The actors worked with Lakota-speaking coaches to get it right.

    Keeping languages alive with popular media is cool no matter how ya slice it. Sixty two Lakota-Dakota speakers got some of that Disney money for the project.


    I’ve heard people saying “plants are the new pets, pets are the new kids,” so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that 1/3 of Millennials would take a pay cut to spend more time with their pets. (Quartz) I bet a good chunk of the other 2/3 just can’t afford a pay cut.

    As I amble through my thirties, I understand the drive. Our pets are ephemeral, beautiful things. When you’re young, knowing you’ll have a dog for 8-12 years sounds good, but then 8-12 years pass and it was never enough. Cats can live to be 20, but they usually don’t. Who wants to be at work, making capital for other people, when you’ve got something so lovely at home? Plus, our kitty- and doggy-friends are just happier when we’re home, period.

    When you understand pets are family, it really doesn’t sound weird to say that people want more time with their families.


    Record-breaking heat in the United States is taking lives. Four folks in Oregon have died (The Guardian) and a motorcyclist died in Death Valley (also the Guardian). These two articles popped out at me, but I doubt these are the only losses we’re experiencing from the heat.

    It’s sad news. I’ve been thinking a lot about how climate change news has changed a lot over the last couple decades, and how they used to make it sound like we’d just hit a wall and the planet would turn into cinder or whatever. Nowadays it’s like, “Yep, the climate is more extreme, and we’re in the process of watching it take lives.”


    Someone died, and many more have been sickened, after eating magic mushroom candy bars. (Ars Technica) The mushrooms themselves are about as safe as any. But it was earlier this year that people got extremely sick (with two deaths) from eating another safe mushroom, morels. To quote myself:

    Some of the symptoms sound like what happens when you just eat raw mushrooms. The chitin isn’t digestible by humans. Simply eating raw mushies in volume can cause diarrhea and vomiting like that. But that doesn’t sound like the only factor at hand here. They’re having a hard time figuring out exactly what happened.

    Obviously psilocybin and morels aren’t the same thing, but I’m struck by the way that we’re eating these things en masse and the consequences that follow. I feel like humans aren’t taking fungus as seriously as we should? I don’t know the doses involved, but generally speaking, neither of these mushrooms are meant to be bountiful all year round and easily consumed whenever you want. Hallucinogenic mushrooms aren’t candy. Morels are seasonal. I don’t think anyone can safely eat loads of uncooked mushrooms, and even cooked mushrooms should mostly be a small-quantity thing, no matter how delicious.

    Consuming with respect won’t necessarily spare you unpleasant side effects, but…you really gotta consume with respect. I feel like that’s missing from the dialogue here.


    Tom Cruise and Doug Liman still discuss making an Edge of Tomorrow sequel. (Variety) It’s a really good movie. I don’t feel a need for a sequel, personally, but I’d absolutely watch the heck out of it. For all his faults and horribleness, Cruise has good taste in sci-fi projects.


    Ozempic et al have been previously linked to severe gastric problems. It has also recently been linked to sudden blindness. (Quartz) The condition is nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION).

    The study’s researchers analyzed medical recorders over the past six years from over 16,000 patients in the Boston area.

    Of those patients, 710 where diagnosed with type 2 diabetes with 194 being prescribed semaglutide. Of the patients in this cohort that were given semaglutide 17 ended up developing NAION. For comparison, there were only six cases of NAION among the patients who were not prescribed semaglutide. This translated to a slightly over 4% higher risk of diabetic patients taking semaglutide developing NAION.

    The risk was even higher for obese patients. In separate cohort of 979 patients with obesity, 361 were prescribed semaglutide. There were 20 patients in this cohort that were given semaglutide and developed NAION. And only 3 patients who were not prescribed semaglutide developed NAION. This indicated a 7.6% higher risk for semaglutide patients.

    They haven’t determined causality yet.

    This magic drug has spread quickly. They’re projecting that 9% of the population may be taking it by 2035. (Quartz) I worry about how it’s going to impact a population that is taking it so much. Democrats want prices cut so more people can have it. (Quartz) Novo Nordisk is investing $4bn into meeting American demand. (The Guardian) It’s not going anywhere, but are we really sure it’s safe?

  • sara reads the feed

    Watching TV with sibling, new perspective on a movie, and nostalgia laptop

    I’m delighted to report I’ve ruined Sibling’s life by drawing them into The Boys, an Edgy McEdge show about Bad Superheroes and contemporary American politics. We’re only on the beginning of season 2 together, but they’ve also been sitting in while I watch season 4 week by week, which is weird. It’s so weird going back and forth!

    This week’s episode has some material that could be seen as especially dark, since one character just lost a parent and then gets [spoiler’d]. I was wondering how that tone was supposed to be read. I thought it was funny until the character’s breakdown at the end. Welp, I guess the darkest part is that the showrunners think it’s supposed to be funny too.


    I loved this Bright Wall, Dark Room post about Furiosa. I liked the movie but had mixed feelings about the amount of detail it added to a character journey where I felt detail wasn’t necessary. The point they make is this: “Furiosa exists to show us how a drive for revenge can turn into a drive for redemption.” That really made something click for me.

    I’m looking forward to watching it again.


    The American president has been cracking down on border crossings, ostensibly to appease the right wing who hates him. He’s been successful. (WaPo) You know who still hates him? The right wing.

    Engaging in their cruelty to make them happy is never going to work. It’s intensely frustrating to watch Democratic presidents try this again and again.

    One good move is that Biden did pardon military veterans convicted for being gay. (Digby’s Hullaballoo)


    I thought I’d never be That Guy who wallows in nostalgia, but I really do miss old computers so, so much. Apparently I’m not the only one. If you have “$200-ish” you can have a new laptop with a 386 and Windows 3.1 (Ars Technica)


    Sometimes the justice system gets it right. In California, a man who tried to kill his family is going to therapy instead of jail. (The Guardian) This is one of those knee-jerk issues where it’s tempting to say “send him straight to hell,” but I want to believe compassion is truly the better route. I hope the family (who survived) is going to find a way through this trauma too. I don’t think imprisoning the man would help anyone.

    But usually, the justice system isn’t right, and it does things like imprisoning a man for four months because he was carrying a Zelda sword around. (WaPo) This one is in the UK, where there have been spates of knife killings recently. I can get why people would be spooked. It nonetheless seems ridiculous to go so far on such a case. Take the tiny sword away and send him home, maybe? I think it was only “sharply pointed” and not actually sharpened.

    Amusing to see The Guardian reporting on the US justice system and WaPo reporting on the UK justice system, btw.


    I wondered why the AQI has been so bad in the Reno area lately. It might be thanks to the Thompson Fire in Northern California, which has displaced 16,000 people. (NPR)

  • Alex Rogan holding his Starfighter equipment in front of Saturn. image credit: Universal Pictures
    movie reviews

    Movie Review: The Last Starfighter (1984) ***

    The Last Starfighter is an 80s science fiction movie about a teenage boy who gets a high score on a video game that is meant to recruit people to an actual war in space. His big score leads to an alien abduction and joining a small class of others destined to pilot a Gunstar for the Star League. He’s a reluctant hero, but he does become a hero. The eponymous Last Starfighter.

    It’s a fun concept, and it works great for kids. I loved this one when I was young. So did my mom, who was barely out of teenagehood when it released. There’s something near-universally appealing about the fantasy of being swept out of your ordinary (crappy) life into a bigger world. The hero, Alex, is very much a chosen one: it’s believed humans can’t even have the aptitude for piloting Gunstars, yet he’s the one who stops the Zur and the Ko-Dan Armada.

    The Last Starfighter is obviously coming for Star Wars’s wig, using a lot of the same mechanisms. It’s an extremely straightforward Hero’s Journey screenplay. The humble hero comes from a humble trailer park rather than a dead-end moisture farm on Tattooine. The grand score absolutely competes with that of Star Wars. And the 3D graphics — among the first extensive uses of them in a movie — are more sophisticated than the miniatures and film etchings used for Star Wars.

    What TLS misses is that much of the Star Wars charm comes from the quality of the writing, not its use of tropes. You really can’t undervalue what Marcia Lucas did to that original screenplay. It radiates humanity and adventure. TLS mostly focuses on hitting the beats of the Hero’s Journey, and it relies on (admittedly wonderful) charming actor performances to give it life.

    But it feels like it’s missing a whole act. Remember how Luke Skywalker needs to develop his skills with Obi-Wan Kenobi? How he’s defeated but rebounds? How Bilbo Baggins takes on side quests so we can actually see him develop? The time Katniss Everdeen takes to repeatedly fail before she develops enough to figure out survival?

    Here, Alex isn’t given that time, and what time he gets is spent on Earth — a total misfire that loses the opportunity to develop the Star League beyond a few brief, shallow scenes. The focus on his Beta replacement is funny, but does no good for the story whatsoever.

    I think the screenplay is so anemic because of the limited imagination of the filmmakers. See, they blew their load on about a half hour of spectacular CGI, which was only matched in its era by Tron. There are a couple of simple science fiction sets we only see for a short time elsewhere. They can’t imagine any other way to utilize those spaces to work around lacking more Gunstar and combat, so with the budget expended, they just return the story to the trailer park. Even when Alex is being rewarded for his victory at the end, it’s done on a bare black screen, rather than with the grand matte painting of Leia bestowing medals on Luke, Han, and Chewie.

    The trailer park just isn’t the right place to spend time in a movie that’s about escaping the drudgery of life for a space adventure. It’s a really nice depiction of a trailer park, though. I mean it! Can you think of another time that a trailer park is painted with such warmth and sentimentality, without even a hint of classist sneer? We just shouldn’t have seen it between his abduction and his return at the end. There’s no sense that Alex has grown bigger and changed and can’t go back home anymore. He’s barely left.

    Absent of an act really letting him develop out in a great big galaxy, The Last Starfighter feels like a hollow grasp for Star Wars-like fame. It’s not an adventure so much as a bunch of conversations, and then also some pretty excellent early CGI.

    If you love all the character stuff, you might love this movie. A lot of people still do. It’s an extremely polished cult classic. My 13yo found it adequate. My mom still giggles adorably through it. I was less impressed with it now than when I was a kid, and I wish we could do some reshoots on some cheap sets to flesh out the middle. I can think of so much science fiction that taped together great stories from very paltry budgets. What’s the excuse here?

    The score is still one of the absolute greats, they’ve got a good Gandalf/Obi-Wan, and this is another fun use of a Delorean. But there are much better, cheaper science fiction movies worth your time than this, and the contemporary box office numbers agreed. Show it to your kids, though.

    (image credit: Universal Pictures)

  • Frodo, Sam, and Gollum lie on the ground together. image credit: New Line Cinema
    movie reviews

    Movie Review: The Two Towers (2002) *****

    I have nothing but biased opinions about Lord of the Rings. I think of this as the greatest movie trilogy of all time, and I won’t listen to any opinions that say otherwise.

    Of the three movies, whichever one I’m watching at the moment is my favorite. Today, The Two Towers was my favorite. It’s got some of my favorite parts of the trilogy, anyway: great speeches surrounding Helm’s Deep, the most amazing satisfying battle, gorgeous goth Arwen, a score that makes me cry evry tiem, the Dead Marshes, po-ta-toes, “What Do Your Elf Eyes See?”, Faramir proving himself stronger than Boromir, and on and on and on.

    It’s difficult to review any individual part of the trilogy without the rest, since they’re a cohesive unit. Nine to twelve hours of flawless filmmaking, depending on what edition you’re watching. (I always watch the Extended Edition.)

    You’d expect the middle movie to be the saggiest entry, since you’ll find saggy middles throughout most movies, series, books, and media in general. There’s definitely some parts that stretch out longer than they need to. I’m not exactly bolted to my chair with all the Ent stuff — even though I love the Ent stuff too! — and everything with freeing Rohan from Wormtongue’s sway feels a little bit like a side quest you don’t *really* want to do in the game. I also feel like things slow down a lot once Frodo is with Faramir. It’s more of a jarring moment of quiet than a moment of needed respite from the high energy of the fighting going on elsewhere.

    But I’m really straining here to find something balanced to say, and also kind of lying, because I love every moment of this.

    I mean, c’mon. This movie starts with Gandalf fighting the Balrog and ends with Gandalf bringing Eomer’s men to rescue Helm’s Deep from the brink of death. It’s incredible. Why don’t I have a fell beast? I deserve a fell beast.

    It’s awesome to see the effects after more than twenty years too. Nothing looks as realistic as it felt at the time (I was 14), but it doesn’t matter. There’s a really cohesive artistic vision happening here. Everyone was given space to do their jobs right, and that means the bigatures, nascent mo-cap, photo composition, and other CG all come together to look *right* even as it ages.

    Truly this is amazing cinema, amazing fantasy, and I think I could rewatch this trilogy every week for the rest of my life without losing the excitement. I get such chills throughout Helm’s Deep, it almost hurts. It’s that good.

    (image credit: New Line Cinema)

  • image credit: Wild Bunch
    movie reviews

    Review: Martyrs (2008) ****

    How the heck do you review a movie like Martyrs?

    The story is this: a ten-year-old girl escapes extreme torture, and nobody knows why she was being tortured in such a way. She meets another girl at an orphanage. The two of them grow up together and become extremely close. Fifteen years after her escape, she seeks revenge, and things…don’t go great.

    As part of the French New Extremist movement in cinema, Martyrs (2008) is intended to be unpleasant to watch. The director said it himself. The plot of the movie involves subjecting young women to so much pain that they transcend it and become martyrs (witnesses) to the afterlife. To paraphrase the director, simply watching the movie is meant to somewhat turn viewers into martyrs too. It’s that kind of unpleasant. Cruelty is the point.

    I often review movies based on my enjoyment, so how do you review something you’re not meant to enjoy?

    Certainly I found the project thought-provoking, though not in all good ways. It seems terribly convenient that a man would write a script claiming young women are the best martyrs, which then lets him make a whole movie where beautiful young (often mostly naked) women are pantomiming extreme suffering. I’ve come across way too many men who get their jollies off on women who suffer — but also women who *transcend* the suffering, giving the men a sense of benevolence, because the women are better than being broken by it. I’ve got a particular loathing for this kind of misogyny. It’s all over Martyrs…and horror in general, honestly.

    You’ll hear fans (is anyone a fan, really?) say that Martyrs is making a point about the way society uses women and their pain — or horror itself uses them — but if it’s meant to be criticism, then it’s the kind of criticism where they do exactly the thing they criticize. You know? How much of a critical leg does someone have to stand upon when they do the thing they say is bad? Why would you do it if you *really* think it’s bad? Creators are in full control of their message and its execution, after all. He could have said this in a way that didn’t involve a bunch of attractive naked actresses acting extreme suffering. But he did. So he must bear the same criticism ~fans claim the movie is making, in my opinion.

    That said, it’s kind of naive to expect horror (especially of this movement) to do anything else. I feel like I have to set aside the above because Martyrs is what it is.

    Once I get over all that, I’m left with the impression of a masterfully made movie. It’s shot beautifully, sorta, as much as a gory movie can be beautiful. The sound design (mostly a lot of screaming) is more impactful than the visuals, and the visual effects are beyond impressive. The editing is great. The score is lovely. The tender relationship between characters is genuinely touching, and they didn’t have to center such loving relationships in such a shocker of a film.

    Very little is explicitly stated in Martyrs, which leaves ample room for interpretation. I always enjoy that. Why did Mademoiselle do what she did at the end, for instance? You have to comb back through the movie and watch the actress closely to draw your own conclusions about the motivations from character, plot, and theme. There is a sense of meaning — albeit possibly illusory meaning — to all the pain, and the way it demands time for analysis manages to make the film itself transcend torture porn to become actual art.

    This is why I’m left giving it a four star review, even though I might wanna fight the director if we ever ate dinner at the same restaurant, and it wasn’t fun to watch, and I’m not sure I’ll watch it again. Martyrs is really skillfully made and it’s worth thinking about.

    All the above said, I might actually watch it again because I think I missed whole levels to the flick. For instance: I didn’t realize the two main women would be considered nonwhite by the French filmmakers. I’m an American, and we absolutely have tons of racist biases, but I honestly just registered them as French. I feel so silly typing that out! But it means there is not just a gendered element to the people chosen as Martyrs, but also a racial element I didn’t begin considering. I mostly thought about gender, Catholicism, and the creator’s desperate need for therapy (said lovingly).

    It makes me wonder if I even have enough context on French culture and cinema to really crack this movie. I’ve got to be missing tons of nuance. And I do think there’s lots of nuance.

    Martyrs is the kind of movie you can’t really recommend to anyone, but if you think you can stomach extremely bleak and violent horror, it’s good to swing by at least once. Don’t watch it. I think I have to tell you not to watch it just in case.

    (image credit: Wild Bunch)