On Easter Morning

Today is Easter Sunday. Everyone loves the Easter story with its theme of Resurrection. Other holidays are opposed by some grumbling faction or another. Thanksgiving gets criticism for ignoring the genocide of Native Americans, and Christmas for being overly commercialized. Halloween has its detractors for promoting Satanism, and New Year’s gets slammed for its Bacchanalian excesses.

No one quarrels with the celebration of Easter. No one, not even most cynical and skeptical among us, gets upset by the idea of dodging death and transporting into eternal life.

There’s a reason why, which is that everyone loves life. To be sure, not everyone loves living. For some, it becomes unbearable. Nevertheless, everyone loves life. And the cool thing about eternal life is that when you reach it, all the big and little things you hate about living simply disappear. No more having to shave in the morning, no more stupid bosses, no more wrinkles, no more common colds. You’re able to enjoy life, pure and simple life, forever and ever, with no downside. It’s a fantasy that’s hard to resist, even for hard-bitten realists.

Let’s raise a toast to Jesus, who died not to redeem our sins, but to give us a holiday we could all appreciate.

A Reminder From Fukushima

Every year, the nuclear power industry generates ten thousand cubic meters of high-level radioactive waste. That waste has to be kept cool in pools of circulating water. If cooling stops, containment fails. That’s what happened in 2011 at the Fukushima nuclear plants. Although the mainstream media have lost interest in Fukushima, it remains a catastrophe. Japan has made no progress at all in decommissioning the reactors there. Actual clean-up is impossible.

With the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986, the Russian solution was to bury the radiation-spewing reactor under a mountain of concrete. The concrete sarcophagus is cracked and leaking, so the Ukrainians are re-entombing it. They expect the new containment structure to last a century. Unfortunately, the radioactive elements buried there have half-lives of hundreds of thousands of years. The area will be uninhabitable for a longer period than humans have lived on earth.

The Fukushima nightmare is far, far worse. The nuclear fuel in two of the six nuclear plants there melted down, while another (#4) has been so badly damaged that it’s a time-bomb of catastrophic potential. The amount of radioactive material at risk at Fukushima, most of it in the form of “spent” fuel rods, dwarfs that of Chernobyl—twenty-four times as much. And the facility is so enormous that entombing it in concrete is impossible.

Take into account that there are 442 operating nuclear reactors in the world, a fourth of them operating in the United States. Now try to imagine 442 Fukushima disasters across the planet, each one spewing hundreds of tons of radioactive particles for thousands of years.

That’s what will happen if our civilization collapses. Then there are the stockpiled nerve gases and biological agents, and the lab cultures of lethal microbes. Who will safeguard all of those? Who will make sure the last existing vials of smallpox are incinerated before turning out the lights at the CDC and locking the doors? And what about the millions of barrels of organic and inorganic poisons in warehouses? When these begin to rust, what will stop the contents from leaching into rivers and aquifers, or spreading toxic clouds over hundreds of miles?

In such a scenario, life on earth wouldn’t suddenly stop, but the cumulative damage to DNA would weaken gene pools with mutations. After a few centuries, microbes might be the only creatures surviving. After a few million years, intelligence could re-evolve, but by then there would be no trace left of us human beings.

Because we wake up every morning and everything seems the same as yesterday, we assume that tomorrow will be mostly like today. No doubt the ancient Egyptians and the Romans and the Ottomans were seduced by the same illusion of continuity. But illusion it is, because every great civilization before us has crumbled. Do we think we are so much wiser, or protected by technology, that it won’t happen to us?

We are faced with a terrible truth. The complex civilization that we take for granted will sooner or later collapse. When it does, it may be so devastating that life as we know it vanishes from earth. I realize that everyone today thinks they know what is important, and their views differ. That’s why there are debates about guns, abortion, and e-cigarettes. That’s why some people obsess about getting rich, others about praying five times a day while facing in the correct direction, others about coordinating their fashion accessories.

But I think we have a higher obligation, and that someday soon we will pay the ultimate price for pretending not to notice it, or hoping someone else will take care of it, or telling ourselves that our luck will hold forever… because it won’t.

What I Told Colin Farrell

I ran into Colin Farrell last night. I was standing outside the pool hall in my home town, getting into my car, and Colin walked by with some other guy. Oh, it was him. He was pudgier and not as beautiful as in real life, which gave me a moment’s hesitation. He was already several steps past me when I said, “Colin Farrell?”

He pretended not to hear me and I said it again, with more certainty. He still ignored me, and I said, “Hey, come on, I know it’s you, Colin.” He finally stopped. With visible reluctance he turned. His head cocked a bit to the side and his mouth twisted wryly.

I said, “I’m not going to cause you a problem, okay?” I came forward. “I just want to tell you that I greatly admire your acting. As far as I’m concerned, you should’ve won three Academy Awards by now.”

Colin was still playing coy, but he dipped his head infinitesimally to show that he appreciated that judgment and agreed with it.

“You were poignant in ‘In Bruges,’ and the one I watched the other night, ‘London Boulevard,’ that one, too. And the one about the kid whose brother was killed when he ran through a plate glass window, you were heartbreaking in that movie.”

Colin winced at the memory, his expression telling me he’d bared his soul playing that part.

“But the movies where your character dies at the end, like ‘In Bruges’ and ‘London Boulevard,’ nobody wants to see them, Colin. I do, of course. I always want to see a great movie, and they are great movies. But the end, where the main character dies, people don’t like that. Sure, the girls like movies where a lover dies—Titanic, movies like that. But most people want endings that are uplifting, movies where the protagonist succeeds. They want movies to validate their lives. You have to validate their lives, Colin.”

He was listening, and the words came pouring out of me as if I’d written them beforehand, just in case I ran into Colin Farrell on the street someday.

“That doesn’t mean the main character can’t die at the end. But it has to be meaningful. Like in ‘Tale of Two Cities,’ you’ve seen that, right? I mean, you’ve got Sydney Carton, a loser, a drunk, a man who’s squandered his life, and he dies at the end. Well, he’s on his way to the guillotine, almost there. But Sydney Carton is a hero at the end. His death validates his life. The movie was nominated for an Academy Award, did a great box office, and people loved it. What it is, is that people go to movies to feel like they’re the main character for a couple of hours. They want to feel like they have that kind of meaning in their lives. Validate their lives, Colin. Validate their lives.”

I woke up thinking, man, what a cool dream. I hope Colin Farrell thinks so, too.