This contains spoilers for the latest episodes of The Good Place.
Everybody on The Good Place is dead. This is not the spoiler promised above – rather it’s the very premise of the show. Four people wake up in a waiting room where they are informed they’re dead and they’ve made it to The Good Place. But very quickly it becomes clear that none of them actually belong there, and over the course of the first season they try to avoid being found out and sent to The Bad Place. Then came the first season twist: they were already in The Bad Place. This had all been a part of their eternal punishment, a new spin on damnation.
The next season was an endless series of reboots, with The Bad Place trying to make them forget they were in The Bad Place, and after that they tried to escape. In the process they discovered that the afterlife works on a point system, but that the system is impossibly flawed. The complexity of moral life in the modern world – when you buy a turnip you’re possibly enriching a truly evil corporation that is ruining the lives of millions – has rendered the system moot. Nobody goes to the real Good Place anymore. Nobody at all.
Continue reading “THE GOOD PLACE Invents Buddhism”
We stood, a hundred or so of us, jammed under a complex of blue tents in a thunderous downpour. This was real rain, not just LA rain, a driving rain that had turned the grass of the cemetery grounds into a sucking puddle of mud.
At the center of the crowd, flanked by an underpowered speaker, was a small gathering of religious figures, clustered around a freshly dug grave. Inside the grave were the cremains of 1,457 people who had died in LA County in 2016 and remained unclaimed. The county held on to their mortal remains for three and, when no one was found or came forward to accept the ashes, they were buried in this small green space. We were all gathered there to put these people – our neighbors – to rest.
Continue reading “Witnessing The Unclaimed Dead”
I don’t believe in Hell anymore.
Supposedly I didn’t believe in it for decades; I’ve been an atheist and an agnostic since I was a teenager, so you’d think there would be no room for Hell in that worldview. But when you’re raised Catholic – even as lightly Catholic as I was – Hell and Satan are overwhelming concepts that become the cornerstones of your cosmology. It wasn’t that I intellectually believed in Hell but rather that I had an emotional fear about what might happen after I die.
Continue reading “What THE EXORCIST Taught Me About The Trump Administration”
I work at a drive-thru coffee shop, a national chain. I would say it’s a living, but it isn’t, since I just make minimum wage, but that’s supplemented some by the tips (and honestly the benefits are the real reason to work there). I used to work at a cafe and the tips there were good, but the drive thru tips sort of stink. I’m not sure why – I think some of it is that the speed of drive thru makes the kinds of customer connections that lead to tips hard to create, and because people aren’t trained to tip at other drive thru establishments – but since I started working at drive thru my weekly tips have really nose dived.
The way it works at my coffee shop is that everybody shares tips, and all the tips of the week are pooled and parceled out by hours; ie they count all the tips, divide that amount by the number of hours worked total, and that gives an hourly tip rate. Then you get that rate times your worked hours; ie, if the tips are worth $1 an hour and you worked 20 hours, you get 20 bucks.
It’s not a lot, but it’s spending money. I saved up about six months worth of tips and used it to finance a trip to Las Vegas for the big Star Trek convention this summer, and it was a delight. Sometimes I use the tip money to buy food, or to get a record. It’s a small sum that feels extra and brightens the week.
Continue reading “Somebody Stole My Tips”
This week I killed a cockroach and it made me cry.
First things first: I don’t know whether the fact there was a roach in my kitchen sink is a referendum on my housekeeping or just related to the fact that I live in an old apartment building on the first floor with windows facing out to the street, where I often see big-ass roaches on the sidewalk at night while walking my dog. Probably six of one, half a dozen of the other.
Second, this wasn’t some regular little roach. This was like a three or four inch guy, a roach so big he was transcending insect and approaching being an animal. There’s a different relationship between killing a bug that is but a speck and killing a bug who looks like he could pick up one of my forks.
Third, a few years back I took Buddhist vows (the Five Precepts) that included the vow to refrain from harming living things. To be fair I regularly break this vow; while I have cut beef and pork from my diet, and while my growing lactose intolerance makes me opt for dairy substitutes more often, I still devour foul and fish. What’s more, my general lifestyle cannot be claimed cruelty-free because I do not pay attention to the origins of my clothes and stuff.
Continue reading ““Why, She Wouldn’t Even Harm A Fly””
I was at the Star Trek Las Vegas convention when the El Paso and Dayton shootings happened. Conventions and film festivals are strange bubbles, separated from the rest of the world, but when something like this happens, the bubble is penetrated. It can be disorienting to go from reading the news on your phone to walking through the dealer’s room and marveling at the cosplayers – there’s real emotional whiplash happening.
But maybe there’s nowhere I’d rather be when two such overwhelming examples of reckless hate are unleashed on the world. There’s no fandom like Star Trek fandom; there’s a positivity and a kindness inherent in the most hardcore of these people. I know that in the year 2019 all fandoms are suspect, and there are certainly elements of Trek fandom who are not great, but the core of this group reminds me of Midwesterners – polite, friendly, deeply uncool. And I don’t say deeply uncool as some kind of a putdown; the lack of pose or ironic distance is part of the charm. No matter how hard CBS or JJ Abrams have tried, nobody has ever, ever been able to make Star Trek cool.
Continue reading ““Let Me Help””
A couple of weeks ago some Gamergate-type site (anti-SJW, you know the sort) discovered this blog. They brigaded the comments here, saying mean things about me. I had to shut down the comments – I was tempted at first to just leave it, but I decided that whatever small community has appeared here would be hurt by the trolls. Not because of what they were saying about me, but just because that kind of negativity often breeds negative replies from people who are trying to defend me/the community.
What was interesting was how many of these invading trolls were unaware of who I was. They had heard/read a thing or two about me, but they seemed to functionally be unclear on who they were attacking. A few of them talked about my divorce, even though I’ve never been married. I think they were conflating me with other film critics.
This happens a lot. I get it from people who say mean things to/about me and attach it to some criticism of a film/filmmaker that I never made. It’s crazy how many people think I’ve been on an anti-Zack Snyder crusade; I called Watchmen The Godfather of superhero movies, for fuck’s sake. That wasn’t a good take, necessarily, but it certainly isn’t anti-Snyder.
Continue reading ““Who Does Number Two Work For?””
When Rutger Hauer died last week social media lit up for one brief moment with a thousand iterations of his tears in the rain speech from Blade Runner. It’s the best bit of the film (a film to which I am not partial), and it’s great despite the clunky scifi nonsense weighing it down.
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
(It’s worth noting that Hauer himself wrote the “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain,” which is what we’re going to be talking about here)
This monologue comes at the end of the movie, as Roy Batty has defeated Harrison Ford’s Deckard but has opted to save his life. Here, on a DTLA rooftop in the rain, Batty passes the Voight-Kampf Test, flipping this turtle rightside up. And as Deckard sits, astonished, Batty gives that speech… and then dies.
It’s become a monumental little monologue because the existential howl at the center of it is so familiar to us all (and because Hauer’s delivery of these few lines is coursing with intense power and pathos). We live in a modern world, and few of us believe in eternal souls. We have come to accept that when we die, that’s it – lights are out, the show is over and there is nothing else. Every unexpressed thought, every feeling, every experience we have ever had is snuffed out as the neurons go dark and cold.
Continue reading “Tears In Rain”
You don’t have free will. One of the grand questions of philosophy is being answered today in laboratories as we come to better understand genes and the workings of the brain, and it’s becoming very clear that we actually do not have free will.
Sure, we get to make choices, but they’re incredibly constrained. It’s like in a video game RPG, where you’re given an onscreen prompt that allows you to make three different choices – yes, the choice is yours but is this really free will? In real life those choices are dictated by things like genetics (my love of sweets is likely handed down to me over the generations), time and place of birth (all of your woke beliefs wouldn’t exist if you had been born in Alabama in 1835, for instance), your biochemistry (people with toxoplasmosis, a parasite related to cats, have higher risk-taking behaviors and die in car accidents more often), and your upbringing. Yes, you get to pick from three options, but the entire world of options is never, ever available to you. That’s before we even get to physical, legal and economic constraints.
Continue reading “Resist The Algorithms”
This piece is two years old; I wrote it in February 2017 and posted it on Facebook. Today is the 20th anniversary of the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and I wanted to commemorate it but didn’t have the forethought to sit down and watch the movie again. But this piece, which represents my latest revisit of the film, feels pretty spot-on to me still two years later. I’ve gone back to the Prequels again and again, hoping each time the changes in me have changed the way I see the movies. This has not been the case. In fact, this post came after I bought the Prequels on Blu as an attempt to revisit them in full in a spiritual/Buddhist light. I never made it past Attack of the Clones.
Note: I have made minor edits to this for clarity and grammar, but not for content. This piece is maybe more jargon-y than I would write today, but maybe that’s a problem with me today. I reference a thing I wrote about Yoda’s fear/anger/hate/suffering bit that I have not published on this site; maybe I will at some point. Finally, this was written before The Last Jedi, which I think has a top tier John Williams score.
I just finished the book The Dharma of Star Wars, which finds parallels and examples of Buddhist teachings in the Force and the Jedi, and it really impressed me. Much of the book’s content related to events from the Prequel Trilogy, and it made me wonder if these films – which I had maligned for so long – were actually brilliant Trojan horses smuggling dharma into the minds of impressionable Western children. The book’s pretty good in general – out of all the Buddhist stuff I’ve read/listened to in the last few months it’s the work that moved my understanding of ‘no self’ furthest. So I decided to give the Prequels another shot, with a Buddhist perspective.
Continue reading “STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE Is Still A Miss 20 Years Later”