Two Weeks in the Life: March 17, 2024

Hello, friends and enemies. I wrote a big chunk of this post in the middle of the night on Thursday. I took a nap after work, which I do with some frequency, but ended up sleeping for nearly five hours (my naps average around three hours so this was surprisingly long). Kirk woke me up a little after nine like, hey, uh, it’s almost 9:30 and what do you want from Del Taco. Truly he is a prince among men. I am not often up late (because I stay sleepy) but I do love being up at night because it feels like bonus time. There are no demands at one in the morning because people are asleep and you have to be quiet and shops are closed. There is no one around to perceive me. I wish more of my waking hours felt like this.

I have been talking a lot about various problems and ailments so I want to make sure I highlight two things that went well. The first is that I went to get my teeth cleaned this week and the dentist joked that he didn’t even need to clean them because they were in such good shape (though unfortunately they did still clean my teeth, which I hate, but alas we must care for our stupid exposed mouth bones). It’s nice to know that at least some part of my body isn’t falling apart. The second is that we got our taxes done and don’t owe any money! It has been a bit of an ongoing struggle to calibrate how much to withhold—I’ve had to specify that more money needs to get taken out of my checks to not owe the IRS money. This year we are getting a return from both the state and the fed, thankfully. I know it’s “my” money coming back to me, but it’s way less stressful to get the tax return than to suddenly owe $1,000 (or more), you know?

Books and Other Words

There are not many authors that could make interoperability into an interesting story, but Cory Doctorow has offered us a highly readable treatise on how to fix the internet in The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation. But, as Doctorow notes in the book, “it is precisely because this stuff is so dull that it is so dangerous.” That is, a lot of tech issues like interoperability (the idea that computers and their systems naturally can connect and work together, like a Mac or PC could both display a website the same way) fly under the radar because they seem dull and complicated, which big corporations and their legal teams use to their advantage. Doctorow provides some history of computing and the internet to create a record and remind us that the internet wasn’t always five websites filled with screenshots of the other four. He explains that it’s hard to leave those five websites (facebook, for example) because they have shut off interoperability. You can’t message your friends on facebook through a third-party messenger app. If you leave facebook, you can’t talk to anyone on facebook anymore. This is the opposite of how the internet worked historically and how the internet ought to work, assuming we weren’t all here to be consumers but actual humans and internet citizens. One of the arguments in the book that I found particularly interesting is that lawmakers have a very hard time regulating tech because they don’t understand it (I will never forget the comment about the internet being a series of tubes). However, Doctorow notes that legislators aren’t experts in all kinds of things but manage to pass meaningful laws about, say, environmental protections. With tech, “the handful of rotten companies who stole the internet from us” have such an outsized influence, representatives from big tech companies are able to sway any regulations in their favor, leaving us with no small and mid-sized companies who can shift the conversation to things that might help regular people.

The Book of Love is Kelly Link’s first novel, although she is already a very well-known author for her collections of weird-as-hell (affectionate) short stories. The description of the book online starts by saying that Link is “at the height of her powers” and it made me wonder what I need to do to be considered at the height of my powers (am I already there?). The Book of Love is kind of a hard book to describe although I liked it, certainly. It’s sort of a romance turned on its head. We have a nod to traditional romance novels through one of the main character’s grandmothers, who is a wildly successfully romance novelist. We have centuries-old lovers bound to a horrible goddess, and fairly normal teens trying to figure out what it means to love someone else while dealing with problems like being magically brought back from the dead and being forced to figure out how to use magic. I think it’s an interesting book but I just don’t have anything smart to say about this one!

Meanwhile, on the internet:

  • The TikTok ban is all about preserving US power via Disconnect. This legislation seems really bad. This is some next-level internet censorship that could have an extremely chilling effect on how we operate online. I honestly think that congress and its rich backers are mad that we’re online comparing notes about the various atrocities and so want to shut it down. I don’t think this has anything to do with safety or securing data. If that were the case, why not pass a fucking data security law? Oh right, because that would piss of our American tech companies.
  • Schiff and Garvey are headed to November showdown for coveted California Senate seat via the Los Angeles Times. I’m legitimately so mad about Schiff’s approach to the senate primary race. This asshole made his whole campaign about the republican candidate, a man who did not even bother to run any ads for himself, instead of battling Porter and Lee on the issues. He did this because he wanted to have an easy run for the general election in November and he knows California isn’t voting for some retired baseball-playing Republican chucklefuck. I think this is a really sour way to get into the Senate and I don’t appreciate it.
  • The science fiction of the 1900s via Unapcalyptic. One of science fiction and speculative fiction’s roles is to help us imagine a better future. However, our scifi canon is really stuck in the 1900s, imagining mid-century horrors like nuclear war. I mean, those things could still happen but it’s not nearly as relevant as it was. We need fiction that moves us forward.
  • Berlin techno on Germany’s intangible cultural heritage list via DW. I have never been to Berlin but as a long-time techno enjoyer I think it’s cool that Berlin’s club scene is going to be a UNESCO cultural heritage site.

TV and Music and Autism

Kirk and I at the movie theater, smiling (or it seems like we're smiling behind our masks) at the camera
ready for Dune: Part 2!

We saw Dune: Part 2 last week and I was very excited about it! Dune is kind of my Roman empire. I first read the book as an impressionable youth and it has stayed with me, which I wrote about when the first movie came out a few years ago. I’m so excited that we got multiple Dune movies. Not only that, the movie has spawned discourse and memes that would have made adolescent me lose her damn mind (adult me: also losing her mind but it hits different when you’re young and weird and something you’re really into gets popular). Spoilers for a sixty-year-old book ahead (I maintain that spoilers have a statute of limitations but you’ve been warned regardless).

Dune: Part 2 was so fucking good and seeing it in the theater (as opposed to on my couch like we did with part one because we were in season one of the pandemic) was amazing. I absolutely love the scale of the movie. It feels epic and it has such amazing costumes. My god! I loved all the costumes and especially the various things the Bene Gesserit were wearing. Princess Irulan and her weird sword hood/cap thing? Killer. I want one. The way they depicted Geidi Prime (the Harkonnen planet) in black and white was a really cool choice. Brutalism aesthetic times a thousand. There were a few departures from the book (like Chani’s arc and the time frame—Paul and Jessica are with the Fremen for several years before their confrontation with the emperor) but I think they made sense for the medium and I don’t think they detracted from the story.

Something that stood out to me watching the movie that I had never really thought about when reading Dune before is how much this is a story about being a fucking terrorist and standing up to colonizing forces. At least, until the end. It’s kind of hard to see just because of the way storytelling works in a book versus a movie (and because I first read this as a much-less-critical young person). The book is full of a lot of internal monologue. Paul is weighing the risks, trying to figure out how to choose the right path that keeps his family alive and doesn’t plunge the whole universe into a horrific jihad (his word!). As a reader, we are along on the hero’s journey with him and seeing all the rationalizations he makes. However, in the movie, we see other character’s perspectives and we do not have access to his thought process so it’s much more obvious that Paul is choosing the path of coopting the Fremen and taking advantage of them, albeit in a different way than, say, the Harokkens had been by oppressing them and harvesting spice for the last few decades. Has there ever been a better time to release a movie about indigenous people fighting for their freedom against the machinations of empire?

I was also thinking about my relationship to Dune and the autism of it all. So many autistic people latch on to Star Trek (I know, we’re talking Dune but stay with me) because it’s a show where they can see themselves in characters like Spock and Data. I didn’t start watching Star Trek until I was an adult when Kirk introduced me to it. I missed it for a few reasons, not the least being that I wasn’t allowed to watch a lot of TV growing up (my step-mom didn’t let us watch TV from Monday until after school on Friday, but that is a story for another day). However, my Star Trek was Dune. I wrote previously about wanting to be a mentat. Training your brain to be a human computer—because the Dune universe outlawed “thinking machines” after the horrors of the Butlerian Jihad—was something I wanted. And something I felt I already had in a way (I have been called both a “human dictionary” and “walking encyclopedia” thanks to my particular brand of autism). I was low-key obsessed with the concept of gaming out interactions to predict what someone might say and the potential response, which is also something I think I picked up from Dune‘s mentats and Bene Gesserits. I can now recognize this as a way to manage the autism and anxiety I have and a strategy for dealing with people and unknown situations, but this was one of the first frameworks I had to be able to do that. I think Dune is also a big part of the reason I ended up learning Arabic, although I don’t think that was a conscious influence. As some of you already know, I started college with the goal of being an Egyptologist, and started learning Arabic right away (that’s what they speak in Egypt now … just in case anyone is unaware of that fact). At least half of the Dune glossary is just Arabic. When I studied abroad in Egypt, I went on an excursion with some friends to the White Desert. I remember my friend Will, a fellow Dune aficionado (and now author of The Mercenary Pen newsletter), saying something to me while we were driving through the middle of nowhere part of the desert like, imagine a sandworm out here. Imagine the shield wall. All this is to say you never know which book is going to be the one that shapes your life.

Here are some more Dune things I’ve been looking at:

  • ‘Dune: Part 2,’ annotated via Read Max. This explains all the stuff from the movie and how it relates to the book in probably even more detail than I could do it.
  • Gurney Halleck, the Moor; or Othello in Space via Harris Durrani on Medium. This book was published in 1965 and we are still finding new things to say about it. That’s what makes something art! I totally missed the details that suggest that Halleck is “likely a man of color [who] appears to be a Moor” (that is, from Moorish Spain). I missed this and I have read Dune multiple times, have a degree in Middle Eastern studies, and took a class specifically on this period in Spain’s history. What the fuck am I doing with my life.
  • “Dune” and the delicate art of making fictional languages via The New Yorker. The languages in the film were invented by well-known conlanger David J. Peterson (you know him even if you don’t know his name, he invented all the Game of Thrones languages for the TV series). Peterson’s approach to the languages in Dune was very different than what we see in the books. Herbert’s Fremen basically speak Arabic, but Peterson, as a linguist, asserts that there’s no way that people 30,000 years in the future could be speaking anything recognizable to us today. He’s not wrong but this approach ignores the fact that all speculative fiction is really a way of understanding our current world. I think removing the Arabic ignores some of the real-world context of Dune (white people forcibly extracting resources from a desert people? What in the world could that be about??).
  • Frank Herbert explains the origins of Dune (1969) via Open Culture. I haven’t watched this yet but it seems very cool!

I must also include a few Dune memes for posterity.


Book cover for Chiapas: La rebelión indígena
Chiapas: La rebelión indígena

I checked out Chiapas: La rebelión indígena de México (Chiapas: Mexico’s Indigenous Rebellion) by Carlos Montemayor from the library months ago when I wanted to read more about the Zapatistas before getting my latest tattoo. I finally finished it after renewing the loan so many times that I had to return the book to the library and check it back out. Only when I finished reading it, did I realize I had a different edition of the same book on my own shelves. So dumb. But at least I’m consistent in what I want to read! I wish I could tell you I learned a lot from reading this. I think I did in a way but I’m still struggling to retain information in the long term from reading a whole book in Spanish. I am too focused on the language and I forget a lot of the information. Still, I did enjoy reading about the Zapatistas and their rebellion. Maybe I’ll retain more from whatever I read next.

Corporeal Form

This week I finally met with my GI doctor to review the results of my liver biopsy (yes, the biopsy that was over a month ago at this point). The doctor confirmed what I already figured out from reading and researching the pathology report that Kaiser put in my online chart. She said I have the lowest level of fibrosis, which means that those special liver ultrasounds were useless in determining what’s going on in there. The fibroscan I did earlier this year rated me at “you’re going to die,” and that’s not at all what the biopsy shows. The plan for now is that I have to get a blood draw every six months to check on my liver enzymes and I may be getting another biopsy in three years, depending on how things look. There’s no easy way to check how the liver is doing, unfortunately. The doctor also reiterated that she wants me to lose weight and I again told her that, to my knowledge, no diet has shown to be effective for weight loss in the long term and she said that bariatric surgery works. Which … I guess to an extent but I have zero interest in literally cutting my stomach in half. This meta analysis shows that people who had bariatric surgery had an average weight loss of 30.1 kilograms (about 66 pounds). If I lose 60 pounds, I am still fat. People will still look at me and see a fat person before anything else AND I won’t be able to eat anything so what is the point of that for me? The doctor also told me that she felt “triggered” when I pushed back on her about some of this stuff. What a fucking joke.

I am also still trying to figure out what is going on with my stomach, which I wrote about in my last post. I talked to my primary care doctor to ask if I could get referred to an allergist so I can get some kind of allergy panel because I think I’m having some kind of allergic reaction to fruit. She told me there is no test “for all the fruits.” I explained that I want to get a test so I can see what underlying allergies might be plaguing me, not because I want to test every single fruit. She kept insisting that allergy tests don’t work that way, which is weird because I know there are allergy tests for common food allergens. That’s like half the point of allergists. She said she would refer me, but there’s no point and I felt so defeated that I said okay fine don’t refer me. Of course, I immediately got off the phone and was like, “Hey, wait a minute!” I spent the last week trying to get ahold of the doctor to ask her to refer me anyway and her office finally responded on Friday to say the doctor put in the referral. I don’t know why it had to be so difficult. I have also been consulting my council of friends with health problems and two suggestions that sound very plausible have come to me. One is oral allergy syndrome (OAS). If you have regular seasonal allergies, sometimes the allergens in food can also trigger allergies, causing weird mouth or throat feelings or, as in my case, stomach aches. I think this could really be what I have because I don’t eat a lot of raw produce (cooked vegetables don’t cause the allergic reaction) and I am getting sick when I eat fruit. I’m hoping a trip to the allergist can help me figure this out. The other issue that could be at play for me is small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). I shall spare you the details but suffice to say I am experiencing many of the symptoms. After reading about this, I also consulted with my sister and learned that her doctor recently suggested that she too might have this. Gut problems! We’re having fun as a family! Anyway, I have an appointment with my GI doctor about SIBO in a month. Hopefully I can get some useful answers.

Kitchen Witchery

I am still working on taking my dietician’s recommendations to the best of my abilities. I made another tofu dish last week, butter tofu, a riff on butter chicken but, you know, tofu. I still don’t feel like I love tofu but it’s fine and I guess not every meal has to feel like it’s the best thing I’ve ever had (even though I want every meal to be top-tier but, alas, I must live in reality). However, we really did love a recipe from the latest installment of the Rancho Gordo bean club: rio zape beans with roasted sweet potato and green sauce. The “green” sauce is just sour cream blended with parsley (the recipe calls for cilantro but I’m not about to eat that much cilantro, sorry) and other seasonings. Yesterday I made vegetarian tamale pie, which is in my regular rotation at this point, and I served with these green beans in walnut sauce because my dietician also wants me to get more vegetables. Of course I am bougie and not content with just heating up some frozen broccoli or whatever so we have to be extra about it. The recipe makes more sauce than beans so today I am going to cook some pasta and mix the rest of the green beans and sauce in.

I tried this classic 100% whole-wheat bread that came out nicely and I made some no-bake peanut butter oatmeal bars because it’s a way to get some more whole grains and fiber into my treats/snacks. It is a good snack but I will note that I added some seasonings to the peanut butter mixture because I actually enjoy flavor. I tossed in some cinnamon and mesquite but I think it might also be good with any kind of warming spice blend like chai or even five spice. Later on, I made whole wheat pecan bread, which was good and another batch of muffins based on this recipe. I added some slivered almonds and coconut to the muffins which turned out okay but not thrilling.

Cat Therapy

Finally, here are some cat photos for your nerves.