Sunday, December 29, 2019

Gut Health & Mental Health

There are so many things that influence our state of physical & mental being that are interrelated, yet we are relatively unaware of them.

One thing I've been interested in for awhile now is the relationship between the microbiome in the gut & it's effect on not just our physical well-being, but also our mind and emotions.

Science Focus: 

When you see the entire human body has a fully-integrated system of trillions of cells, bacteria and other microorganisms, this idea of seemingly separate parts influencing each other seems less far-fetched.

The gut-brain connection results from chemical signals being produced by the microbes in the intestines affecting the nerve endings in the digestive system, which travel up the vagus nerve into the brain. 

There is also speculation that gut bacteria digest fiber to produce fatty acids that travel through the blood stream & have an epigenetic effect on gene expression in brain cells.

Whatever the mechanism may be, there is a clear link between what we eat and both our physical & mental state. Getting proper nutrition is not the only dietary concern, but we should also be mindful of how the food we eat could possibly lead to inflammation or other effects that could influence our overall heath.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Review: "Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker"

Last night I went to see the final installment of the 9-part "Skywalker" story. It is something I have been waiting for my entire life of 42 years, being a die-hard Star Wars fan since I was a child.

The Monkey Buddha Archives:

I will leave a spoiler-free general review first, then get into more specifics with a "spoiler alert".

Overall, I really enjoyed the movie. It "felt" much more like a Star Wars movie than The Last Jedi, but Episode 9 was just as much as a mixed bag for me as was Episode 8 (and really all the Star Wars movies) - with things I thought were great, as well as choices that I thought were downright horrible. However, I felt the same way about parts of the prequels and original trilogy, so my in-depth criticism is not unique to the sequels.

Unfortunately, there was one specific aspect of this movie that really killed the film (& now perhaps even the entire series) for me. This detail, really an omission, resulted in me leaving the theater fairly disappointed once I realized that it wouldn't materialize (pun intended). See below in the spoilers for what I am talking about.

Throughout "The Rise of Skywalker", there were truly "WTF!" moments where I was completely thrown through a loop, usually in a good way. Although I had ideas in my head about what I would've like to see, I also appreciate unforeseen twists- as long as they make for a good story.

If you are a dedicated Star Wars fan like me, you obviously have to see this movie in order to see how this "trilogy of trilogies" ends. However, there is plenty to both love and criticize, so it is undoubtedly going to be as divisive as the rest of the Star Wars saga.

Read on, if you want to see my specific thoughts on "Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker".


So, I'll start off my more in-depth review by saying that this Episode contained several things that I hoped for & have posted in this blog.

When I saw that the Emperor and the ruins of the Death Star II would be involved, I hoped that a horror movie vibe would be used, with Palpatine haunting the ruins like an evil spirit in a haunted castle. Although it didn't play out exactly like this, the Death Star and the Sith planet of Exogal definitely had a horror film feel to them, in both the visual and sound design. Although he wasn't a Sith ghost, the re-animated Emperor Palpatine as a clone zombie (or whatever the hell he was) turned out to be pretty creepy. I thought having his decaying body connected to the giant mecha-arm thing was pretty cool. In addition to being one of the more "fun" Star Wars movies, with very effective humor (unlike The Last Jedi), it also had the scariest moments of Star Wars movie. It might frighten the crap out of little kids at certain points.

Whereas in "The Last Jedi" we got to see the first Jedi Temple & got some Force philosophy from Luke, in this movie we got to see Sith artifacts, rituals, and planets, which was something new & interesting.

However, one thing that the movie got wrong right off the bat was having the movie open with Kylo Ren on a smoldering forest planet, but with no indication that this planet was actually Mustafar- the lava planet where Darth Vader was defeated by Ob-Wan and resided in his imposing fortress, seen in Rogue One. I had no idea, & found this out after seeing the movie. I can't believe they wouldn't show Vader's castle or give some sort of clue that the planet was Mustafar. In fact, focusing more on Kylo Ren exploring his grandfather's former abode while encountering aspects of Vader's past would have been awesome.


I have a lot of "should have" criticisms of this movie... God, where do I start???

Let me just get out what I see as the biggest, most egregious flaw in "The Rise of Skywalker" -


"GGGGAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!" (That is my nerd scream of disbelief and disappointment) The ONE thing that I (and many other fans) thought needed to happen in this movie did not happen. How are you going to wrap up the story of Anakin Skywalker & his family and NOT show Anakin's spirit appearing at some point???? In his own words, "It's outrageous, it's unfair!!!" This decision is absolute friggin' insanity and ruined the entire movie for me, especially when it gets to the end of the movie and we see Luke & Leia's ghost appear to Rey. I was ready to see Anakin (& maybe the countless spirits of other Jedi) appear in the wide open space behind them, which would have been epic.

But no, this scene passed, the movie ended, and I realized that Anakin is basically persona non grata in the final trilogy of a series that is supposed to be about him & his damn family!!! The frustration and incredulity I feel as a life-long Star Wars fan who has been immersed in the lore of the stories is maddening.

On the topic of Force ghosts, although it was cool to see Luke as a Force ghost, the effect seemed kind of "off" to me. The apparition seemed too blue, or clear, or something that didn't feel like the original trilogy's appearance of the Jedi spirits.

Anyway, after I got home and was reading other people's reaction to the movie, I realized that Anakin WAS in the movie - with the other voices of the Jedi, calling out to Rey to defeat Palpatine. Sorry, but that is just not good enough for me. I could barely tell which voice was Anakin's or the other Jedi. On the other hand, having the stars in Rey's vision as she's lying on the ground materialize into the different Jedi or some other way of visualizing them would have had so much more of an impact. Imagine seeing Anakin, Qui-Gon, Yoda, Obi-Wan, Ashoka, etc. all appearing before Rey - it would have been amazing. Nope, we got a bunch of jumbled up voices with a closeup of Rey's face... a massive lost opportunity to connect to the iconic characters of the entire saga.

Now on to the big reveal... that Rey is actually a Palpatine, the Emperor's granddaughter! I mean, come on!...

Although I guess it's an explanation for why she is so ridiculously overpowered, this idea is still a bunch of straight-up BULLSHIT. The twist in The Last Jedi - that she really was no one & had no family - should have remained intact. The idea that someone with no special lineage can still be strong in The Force is a powerful concept. Nope, we have to re-twist the twist & make Rey a Palpatine, because... why the fuck not?

Then, we get Kylo/Ben finally turning back to The Light for a few minutes, so.... he & Rey kiss in the middle of this creepy Sith temple??? So I guess Rey loved Ben all this time, despite his murder of countless innocent individuals, genocide on a planetary scale, & mental and physical abuse to her personally. I thought Padme's love of Anakin despite his descent into The Dark Side was hard to swallow, but this was a point in the movie where I was like, "Yikes, this is bad".

The final insult to the whole treatment of the Skywalker lineage was to have the last Skywalker (Ben Solo) die, but PALPATINE'S bloodline lives on & takes the Skywalker name??? What the hell?!? Ok, there's some poetic justice in the Emperor's offspring renouncing his dark side legacy and taking the namesake of his antagonists. However, the way it was done with the random old lady in the desert asking her name was so forced & such a ridiculous way to end this saga. Then Rey finally lights up her yellow saber at the end of the movie, never having got to see her use it. I'm sure this is setting up the future "Rey Chronicles" movies ($$$!!!) where we'll see her new lightsaber in action & her training new Force sensitives.

I was hoping that Rey would use the "Skywalker" name as a formal title, describing the new line of Force users that would have shamanic connotations.

I've been on a rampage here & could probably write a small book about my criticisms, so let me backtrack and say what I DID like about this movie.

Speaking of shamanism, I felt like there was some interesting shamanistic undertones. In the beginning, the scene when Rey was levitating in the woods showed her connection to The Living Force, the natural source of life and energy.

Also, when she & Kylo each entered the Sith temple, from the side there was a cool visual of a line of light behind them in the darkness. This was like the "light bridge" that a shaman passes through on the way to the underworld. Once in the realm of the dead, the shaman brings back knowledge or supernatural abilities to facilitate healing the individuals of the community.

Another aspect that I thought was good was the introduction of healing as a Force ability. This spoke to the shamanistic nature of The Force and it's users. Unfortunately, I felt it was overused, with everyone bringing each other back to life.

At first I thought it was dumb that Ben was able to bring Rey back to life at the expense of his own life. However, I read afterward that by doing this act of self-sacrifice, Ben was able to achieve what his grandfather Anakin was unable to do- bring back the one he loves from death. So, Ben did what Anakin couldn't on several fronts due to fear- he destroyed his master Snoke and became the ruler of the galaxy, and also saved the one he loved.

I thought Leia being trained as a Jedi and having her own lightsaber was pretty neat, but why wouldn't this have been known earlier? It also makes a lot of the events of the sequel trilogy nonsensical. Why didn't she reach out through The Force to her son earlier? Why couldn't she have trained Rey instead of Luke in the first place?

Although there were a lot of really cool things to come out of the sequel trilogy, I think as a whole Disney (Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams, Rian Johnson, & everyone involved in producing this trilogy) basically fucked it up.

All the Star Wars movies have plot holes and cringe-worthy aspects, but the new trilogy was basically a movie-to-movie re-hash of the original trilogy with very limited imagination. There were so many angles that could have taken the series in a fresh direction, like exploring the ramifications of a malevolent A.I., or introducing an existential alien threat from outside the galaxy, or having Snoke be a corporatist whose extravagance & power depended on exploitation of the masses, etc., etc., etc. However, we got endless retreads of the "Empire vs. Rebellion" dynamic. Oh wait, this time there's a planet that can destroy other planets! Oh, no no wait, this time we have a gigantic FLEET of Star Destroyers that came from out of the blue, with planet destroying cannons on each of them!!! Ugh.

I could have lived with all the flaws if they would have at least tied up the Skywalker saga by addressing Anakin in some way that provided closure to his legacy. Instead, there was barely a mention of him and no sign of him at all in any of the movies. It really is a fatal flaw that has soured my outlook on the whole sequel trilogy.

Clearly, I am passionate about this story because it's one that I've grown up with, and it has informed me about life, the world, and myself since I was a little kid. Because I am such a devoted fan, I have also been an extremely harsh critic. I will continue to see "The Rise of Skywalker", as well as the other movies, multiple times over the years because they still entertain & inspire me. Maybe my opinions of some of these negative aspects will change, but I doubt it. The stupid things that George Lucas did still seem totally fucking stupid to me. Unfortunately, Lucasfilm & Disney did not hire me as a consultant, so we are left with the movies we have.

As flawed as they are, the Star Wars movies are still part of an epic saga that incorporates philosophy, spirituality, humanism, and a sense of wonder & possibility that will inspire people for generations. I feel fortunate to have witnessed the unfolding of such an amazing work of fiction over the course of 42 years, and look forward to sharing the stories with my children. It has been a truly awesome journey.

"May The Force Be With You"...

Sunday, December 15, 2019

"Rome" TV Series

I recently finished watching the HBO series "Rome" with my wife. We have been watching it sporadically and finally saw the final episode this weekend.

Inspired by this show, I recently posted about an artist re-creating the likenesses of the Roman emperors.

The show follows the rise and fall of Julius Caesar, the first autocratic leader of ancient Rome. Of course, the show features many other characters, some historical such as Marc Antony, Brutus, and Cleopatra.

We enjoyed the show, and I think the production values & writing were really good. Like humans today, the ancient Romans were full of interesting personal tendencies and cultural norms. Some of them were similar to our current behaviors, some were wildly different. I think the show did a great job of showing many aspects of Roman home life, religion, politics, and everyday experience.

The thing I love about well-produced historical TV or movies like this is the ability to really place the viewer into the time period being presented. The detail of the costume and set designs gave an excellent sense of the Roman experience. The re-creation of the city of Rome, with it's varied locations, provided a sense of accuracy that helped make the story believable.

My only complaint about the show would be the use of British accents for the majority of the characters. This took me out of the immersion that the show otherwise provided very successfully. Why wouldn't the actors use Italian or Latin accents, even if they were speaking English? It was just a weird choice that led to some cognitive dissonance for me as I watched it.

Despite that minor flaw, overall the show was really good and touched on the major historical events of Caesar's life. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is interested in historical dramas or ancient Rome.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Ape Agape

I recently came across a couple psychedelic simian images on the Shamanic Sacra-Mental Spaces blog that I thought were pretty awesome.

The first one is "Stoned Ape Theory" by Tim Marr. It illustrates the theory espoused by Terence McKenna (whom I've posted about a lot here) that our primate ancestors had an evolutionary boost from eating psilocybin mushrooms that was a factor in accelerated cognitive development.

The second "Ape Agape" image is by Samuel Farrand, and would be the next step after the previous picture! After ingesting a psychedelic compound, the ape's experience transforms into a energetic mindscape of abstract patterns.

This image reminded me of the 3D image I created called "Psychedelic Symbiosis", which drew a comparison between the structure of neural and mycelial connections.

by Paul Micarelli

Friday, December 06, 2019

Gothic Nautilus

I see a lot of content of all kinds, and love looking at amazing artwork that blows my mind. However, sometimes I see something that stops my online scrolling, & I'm just "Wow'd"!

This laser-cut stainless steel sculpture, Nautilus Penta, by artist Wim Delvoye just made me amazed - at what the human mind can conceive & what the technology it excretes is capable of actualizing.

It is an intricate gothic-style cathedral spiraling into itself to create a nautilus shape.

I have experience laser cutting 2-dimension pieces, and something like this is just insane to me...