COVID: “So you have your first shot. What’s next?” (A primer on the COVID vaccines)

[Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and this is not medical advice. I’m writing this to process my vaccine timing and choice decision, as well as feelings about the world slowly opening up.]

If you’ve been reading this blog, you will know that I got my first vaccine shot a couple of months ago, and that it was AstraZeneca. At the time, I mentioned that there were some known issues with blood clots, and the incidence was estimated to be about 4 per million by the United Kingdom Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. With more data, this number has been changed. The Canadian National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has now estimated that the VTT blood clot rate could go to as high as 1 in 55,000, with increased observation time. So far (as of June 4th), there have been 2,346,032 doses of AstraZeneca administered, and there have been 50 cases reported to PHAC[1] or Health Canada, including 31 with laboratory results showing VITT, including 6 deaths. This 50/2.3 million is about one in 47,000, 31/2.3 million is about one in 76,000, so one in 55,000 seems like a reasonable estimate. The death rate is about one in 390,000, similar to the ~19/9.5 million (or one in 500,000) we discussed last time. (Please also note that the NACI is now recommending that people watch for VITT for up to 52 days post-AstraZeneca dose.)

That being said, with more evidence from Canada and elsewhere, the NACI is now saying that:

“Due to the observed AstraZeneca safety profile and risk of VITT, offering an alternative product with a more acceptable safety profile and expected comparable immunogenicity profile, while enabling individuals to make an informed choice is ethically justifiable. This is expected to lead to increased accessibility and acceptability for those who were initially offered a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, including those who are most at risk of COVID-19.”

In this, they are weighing the apparent increased risk of death from VITT against the dangers to an un-immunized individual (and of an un-immunized population), and the expected timeline for mRNA vaccine availability vs. the increased risks of COVID variants that are resistant to a single dose of a vaccine.

As always, your decision should be made in consultation between you and your doctor. I’m planning to get an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) for my second dose, but I don’t know when, yet. Likely within the next month or two.

So, with the NACI saying that:
– If you got Pfizer or Moderna for your first shot, you should get the same (or the other) for your second shot (strong recommendation)
– If you got AstraZeneca for your first shot, you can get AstraZeneca, or Pfizer, or Moderna for your second shot (and that they understand why people might prefer Pfizer or Moderna to AstraZeneca for their second shot)

The next question is ‘when do you get your second shot?’

There are a few factors at play here:
– The total local number of COVID cases
– The number of cases of more dangerous variants (and wanting to stamp the total local number of cases so as to avoid evolving more dangerous variants)
– Vaccine type & availability
– The waiting time for maximum effectiveness (and whether a third shot will be necessary/allowed/possible/etc…)

– The total local number of COVID cases:

Currently, in Ontario, the number of cases per day is trending downwards by 20-40%, week on week:


This is great news! However, there is also disturbing news that a new variant, ‘Delta’ (B.1.617.2), with about 60% greater transmissibility is starting to take over. (Some more Ontario-specific news on the Delta variant.) Specifically, it is estimated that while one vaccine dose is 60-80% effective against ‘wild-type’ COVID, and two doses are >85%, against the Delta variant, one dose is only about 30% effective, and it requires two doses to be about 80% effective.

– The number of cases of more dangerous variants (and wanting to stamp the total local number of cases so as to avoid evolving more dangerous variants)

So, people might want to get their second dose as soon as possible, in order to protect as much as they can against the new Delta variant (and any others that may arise). (This has the added side-benefit of reducing the total number of cases, and reducing the number of chances that COVID-19 has to mutate into other variants.)

– Vaccine type & availability

From the NACI: “Canada is anticipating large supplies of mRNA vaccines in the summer months that will be sufficient to complete the second dose in all age groups for whom immunization is recommended.”

So, availability of mRNA vaccines seems to no longer be a concern.

– The waiting time for maximum effectiveness (and whether a third shot will be necessary/allowed/possible/etc…)

So, here’s where it gets tricky. Because all of these vaccines are super-new, there is a limited amount of data on exactly when the ‘sweet spot’ is as far as how far doses should be spaced from each other for maximum effectiveness. Also, the presence of variants and vaccine mixing complicates matters.

The current recommendation from NACI is:
– Pfizer: 21 days to 16 weeks
– Moderna: 28 days to 16 weeks
– AstraZeneca: 28 days to 16 weeks

(The minimum number of days are based on general scientific understanding of how vaccines work, along with the number of days between doses in the clinical trial. The maximum number of days was based on ’emerging evidence of the protection provided by the first dose of a two-dose series’ and ‘limited COVID-19 vaccine supply and ongoing pandemic disease’.)

Based on increased vaccine availability, Ontario is now starting (Monday June 14th) to book second shots for those who had AstraZeneca for their first shot 8 weeks after their first shot (down from 12 weeks).

Ontario is also echoing the NACI recommendations:

“If your first dose was:
– AstraZeneca: you can get AstraZeneca, Moderna, or Pfizer for your second dose when you are eligible and it’s at least 12 weeks after your first dose.
– Moderna or Pfizer: you should get the same vaccine for your second dose when you are eligible and it’s at least 28 days after your first dose. You can switch between Moderna and Pfizer safely if the original vaccine you got is not readily available.”

The Ontario government specifically calls out that there is evidence that waiting 12 weeks ‘helps to ultimately provide more protection’:

“With informed consent, individuals can choose between a second dose of AstraZeneca or an mRNA vaccine, at an eight to 12-week interval, recognizing that while waiting 12 weeks helps to ultimately provide more protection, some may choose to receive their second dose sooner to have the increased protection provided by a second dose earlier. All of these options provide protection against COVID-19, including the Delta variant, and have been deemed safe.”

So, with some digging, I found this paper: “Single Dose Administration, And The Influence Of The Timing Of The Booster Dose On Immunogenicity and Efficacy Of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (AZD1222) Vaccine“, which talks about how the amount of time between vaccine doses correlates with overall effectiveness. This study includes data from the UK, Brazil, and South Africa (about 17 thousand participants, about half receiving the vaccine, half control). The upshot is that the effectiveness of the second dose goes from about 55% at <6 weeks to >80% after >12 weeks, with indications that the enhanced effectiveness starts to kick in somewhere between 9 and 11 weeks.

So, knowing all of this, which vaccine should you get for your second shot, and when? As I said above, this decision should be made between you and your doctor, but given the data above, it would make sense to weigh your perceived day-to-day danger level (along with mounting dangers from Delta and other variants) against the knowledge that waiting a bit longer could give you greater immunity overall. I’ll be 8 weeks out from my first immunization this coming weekend, and I can see myself waiting a couple of weeks after that for my second shot (which I intend to be a mRNA vaccine). (There is also some evidence that waiting 12 weeks leads to better mRNA vaccine effectiveness in older people.)

I’m still making my decision, though, as it may be that the extra overall vaccine effectiveness may not be meaningful, as the overall effectiveness may be ‘high enough’ (especially in reducing or eliminating serious COVID effects), and the extra security from emerging variants (and getting to enjoy more of the summer) may be worth it.

Let me know what you think for your own situation.

As always, thanks for reading, and stay safe!

P.S. If you want a more in-depth discussion of how the immune system works, and why vaccine mixing makes sense, let me know in the comments below! I had thought that this would be necessary to explain NACI’s vaccine mixing recommendation, but I think their ethical arguments are more directly relevant at the moment. (And this post is already quite long.)

P.P.S. Some more references I glanced at but only used for background:

These have a whole bunch of interesting graphs that I didn’t have time to get into:

Here are a bunch of articles that I didn’t have time to get into:

COVID Vaccines: They are Safe and Effective (What we know Right Now)

[This is a fast-moving and controversial topic, so if you’re reading this, you may disagree with what I say, or I may be wrong. Please feel free to read the sources linked throughout my post. If in doubt, please consult with your doctor. Also, I’m writing this as much for myself, to process all the things that I’ve been hearing and reading, so this may or may not address your specific case. #notmedicaladvice]

By the time you read this, if all goes well, I will have received my first vaccine dose. I’ll be getting the AstraZeneca-made vaccine, for a bunch of reasons, perhaps best summed up by this quote from our Prime Minister:

In the words of the Canadian Prime Minister: “The best vaccine for you to take is the very first one that is offered to you”

There’s a bunch to unpack here. In order for a vaccine to be offered to anyone, it needs to go through a number of steps, shown in this handy chart from UNC Healthcare:

Infographic from UNC Healthcare showing the FDA vaccine approval process, and how it differs under an 'Emergency Use Authorization'
Infographic from UNC Healthcare showing the FDA vaccine approval process, and how it differs under an ‘Emergency Use Authorization’

1) The initial R&D of the vaccine, including the conceptualization, and very likely in vitro (cell culture) tests and in vivo (animal) tests, both to show safety and effectiveness
2) Three phases of increasingly large clinical trials, to test for safety & effectiveness
3) Formal approval

The above process is the one for the U.S. FDA, but other jurisdictions will have similar processes. In Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) does a review of the evidence, and makes an approval decision. As vaccines can have risks as well as benefits, the NACI may approve vaccines for certain demographics, and not others. A common example of this might be restricting approval to adults 18 and over, due the difficulties and ethical restrictions of testing on children. Indeed, the current statement on the AstraZeneca vaccine includes such a statement:

“The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is authorized for use in Canada for adults 18 years of age and over. Health Canada has determined that it is a safe and effective vaccine.”

The availability of multiple approved vaccines has led to comparisons of the four vaccines currently approved for use in Canada: Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna

This being a fast-moving topic, affecting millions (really, billions) of people, science news is being reported on a daily basis in the popular press, which has a number of effects:

Because the topic is fast-moving, there is a lot of news, not all of it checked to normal standards of scientific rigor.

Because the topic is affecting millions of people, we see effects that we might not otherwise see in small populations. For example, of the approximately 9.5 million vaccine doses administered in Canada to date, there have been 3738 ‘adverse effects’ reported, with 529 of those being deemed ‘serious’, or about 55.5 per million. (For a breakdown by demographics, click here.)

(Apologies for the formatting below, but WordPress is tricky. You may want to rotate your phone to read the table in landscape.  The full description of each of the columns is available here, and the names of the columns appears before the abbreviations below.)

Here, you can see a summary of the adverse effects seen in Canada from COVID vaccines so far, as defined here. (Rotate your phone to landscape if the table does not display properly.)

Number of adverse event reports by vaccine name up to and including April 16, 2021 (n=3,738) Vaccine name Non-serious reports Serious reports Total reports Total number of doses administered Total non-serious report rate* Total serious report rate* Total report rate*
                 Non-S Ser Total   Total   Rate  R(ser) R(non-ser)
 Pfizer-BioNTech 1,762 395 2,157 7,183,048 24.53   5.50    30.03
 Moderna         1,311  83 1,394 1,843,805 71.10   4.50    75.60
 COVISHIELD        124  36   160   491,171 25.25   7.33    32.58
 AstraZeneca        11   9    20   615,582  1.79   1.46     3.25
 Unknown             1   6     7       N/A   NaN    NaN      NaN
 * Per 100,000 doses administered.

(‘COVISHIELD’ refers to the AstraZeneca vaccine, under a slightly different brand name.)

Overall, between all the vaccines administered, there have been:

“Up to and including April 16, 2021, a total of 38 reports identified deaths that occurred after the administration of a vaccine. Following medical case review, it has been determined that 19 of these deaths are not linked to a COVID-19 vaccine and the other 19 are still under investigation. As investigations are completed, the numbers are updated accordingly.”

(From the page, and the recommendations for on-site supervision immediately following vaccination[1], my guess is that deaths associated with vaccination are generally caused by anaphylaxis, but I don’t have good data on that.)

(Please note that this number of 19 per ~9.5 million may go up or down, but as it stands, it’s about at 2 per million, or 1/4 as dangerous as being a pedestrian, or 1/13th as dangerous as driving a car for a year. (2017 data))

Drivers: 985 (26/1e6) Passengers: 311 (8.5/1e6) Pedestrians: 284 (7.7/1e6)
Canada Population: 36,708,083 (approximate)

(Please also note that all of these vaccines seem to have similar rates of serious and non-serious side effects.)

The item at the top of the news at present is that there are currently specific questions about blood clots and the AstraZeneca vaccine. Health Canada performed a review, and determined:

Health Canada’s review of the available information concluded that a link between the use of AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine and COVISHIELD and the risk of these blood clots with low platelets is possible. The risk of these events is very rare, and the overall benefits of the vaccine in protecting Canadians from COVID-19 continue to outweigh its potential risks.
Health Canada did not identify risk factors, such as age or gender, for these very rare events, and is not restricting the use of the vaccine at this time.
A potential mechanism for the combination of blood clots with low platelets is the triggering of an immune response by the vaccine, leading to a condition similar to that seen sometimes in patients treated with the blood thinner medication heparin.

(You can see the timeline of updates here. You can see the current ‘product details’ here.)

This article talks about the relative absolute risk of these blood clots vs. the population risk of COVID.

In the UK, this incidence seemed to be:

The potential risk of blood clots with low platelets is very rare. Based on their vaccination rate as of March 31, 2021, the United Kingdom Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency estimated the overall risk of these blood clots to be approximately 4 people in a million who receive the vaccine. Reported cases of these adverse events have been seen after the first dose, usually within the first 14 days after immunization.

While the overall population risk seems low, when people have options, they will move to optimize their decisions with whatever information they have available, especially when there may or may not be demographic effects on these issues. At its worst, this leads to ‘vaccine shopping’, exacerbating outbreaks, but at its best, it involves people making educated decisions about their personal risks and benefits from taking a particular vaccine. Indeed, from the NACI April 23rd statement:

“At this time and based on current evidence, NACI recommends that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine may be offered to individuals 30 years of age and older without contraindications, if the individual does not wish to wait for an mRNA vaccine and the benefits outweigh the risk.”

This represents the fact that individuals between the ages of 30 and 40 are at reduced risk for COVID (compared to older individuals), and they may be at the same or increased risk for these blood clots.

There has been speculation that this is auto-immune linked, but the current (not yet published) research has not found (or ruled out) a link yet. (Numbers are still very small, and this is a tricky determination to make.)

However, if you know that you are more susceptible to auto-immune issues (especially those with high estrogen levels), you might want to consult with your doctor, or wait if it remains safe for you to so, while the science is worked out. Ultimately, only you (with your doctor) can make this determination.


Overall, the title of this post still stands. There are a small number of rare side effects associated with these vaccines (mainly PEG allergic reactions for Pfizer & Moderna, and blood clots for AstraZeneca), both of which are detectable and generally treatable. I’m planning to get my shot tomorrow morning, and I believe that the vast majority should also, as soon as they can.

Stay safe.

-Nayrb 🙂

[1] “The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is contraindicated in:
– Individuals who have ever had a severe allergic reaction (i.e. anaphylaxis) to a previous dose of an mRNA vaccine or to any of its components (including polyethylene glycol (PEG) and/or polysorbate) or its container, should not get either mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. PEG can rarely cause allergic reactions and is found in products such as medications, bowel preparation products for colonoscopy, laxatives, cough syrups, cosmetics, skin creams, medical products used on the skin and during operations, toothpaste, contact lenses and contact lens solution. PEG also can be found in foods or drinks but is not known to cause allergic reactions from foods or drinks.
– Vaccination should be deferred in symptomatic individuals with confirmed or suspected SARS-CoV-2 infection, or those with symptoms of COVID-19.
– As a precautionary measure and in light of the need to be able to monitor for COVID-19 vaccine adverse events without potential confounding from symptoms of COVID-19 or other co-existing illness, it would be prudent to wait for all symptoms of acute illness to completely resolve.
– Individuals who have received another vaccine (not a COVID-19 vaccine) in the past 14 days.
– Individuals under the age of 16: The safety and efficacy in children under 16 years of age have not yet been established. The manufacturer plans to conduct clinical trials in children.
Considerations for other patient groups
– Guidance for special populations, including for example breastfeeding or pregnant individuals, individuals with allergies, individuals with autoimmune conditions, or individuals who are immunocompromised due to disease or treatment, is available in the Vaccination Recommendations for Special Populations guidance document.
Precautions during vaccination should be taken for:
– Patients who have a bleeding problem, bruise easily or use a blood-thinning medicine should receive the vaccine. Individuals receiving long-term anticoagulation with either warfarin or heparin are not considered to be at higher risk of bleeding complications following immunization and may be safely immunized through the intramuscular route as recommended, without discontinuation of their anticoagulation therapy.
– There is some evidence to suggest that instramuscular administration may be safer when given with a small gauge needle (23 gauge or smaller) and when firm pressure is applied to the injection site for 5 to 10 minutes
– Individuals with a history of severe allergic reactions (i.e. anaphylaxis) not related to vaccines or injectable medications—such as allergies to food, pet, venom, environmental, or latex, etc. should be offered the COVID-19 vaccines.
– An extended period of observation post-vaccination of 30 minutes is recommended for these groups
– For more detailed recommendations on people with allergies, please consult the Vaccination Recommendations for Special Populations guidance document.

Where Were You When…?

“Where were you when…?”

There are events that so significant, so momentous, that they sear themselves into the psyche. I say ‘sear’, because these moments are often negative events, such as the Challenger explosion, or 9/11, but these events can also be positive, such as the first person on the moon[0], or the one that happened yesterday morning, the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election being called for Joe Biden & Kamala Harris[1].

For us, this was a momentous and significant occasion. We had been on tenterhooks for days[2], perhaps for years, ever since the unexpected upset of Hillary Clinton by Donald Trump in 2016. The presidency of Donald Trump was an exhausting one, with endless breaking of norms, rampant illegality, and cruelty.

We had an endlessly raging sense that this was not normal, and it was difficult to focus on other things, when there could be a new evil or stupid thing being done each day or week, that could potentially harm thousands or millions of people. Earlier in the week, it had become clear that barring a catastrophe, Biden would win the election, so my tension level had gone down significantly (especially when it became obvious that Fox News and the Bush/Rubio wing of the Republican party would not support such an illegal seizure of power as Trump was contemplating).

But it still felt odd, and somehow wrong, to focus on other projects until this was well and done. The actual calling of this election for Biden was an important step on this road to normalcy, and perhaps also an indication that we could take our eye off the ball and relax for just a second…[3][4]

For us, this happened when we were out in the wilderness, in one of our favourite spots, when S’s watch buzzed, and showed us the following message:

Where were you when you first heard?
Where were you when you first heard?

…indicating that the newpaper(s) of record were now willing to put their credibility behind the fact that Biden was going to win this election.

We expressed our happiness a little bit, and then immediately wanted to check which state it was that had made the difference, and it turns out that it had indeed been Pennsylvania, as had been suspected all along[5]:

With Pennsylvania called for Biden, the election is over.
With Pennsylvania called for Biden, the election is over.

While looking at this map, we encountered some other people coming the opposite way on the trail, and perhaps cathartically, or just to have some human connection to share this experience, I made hand motions and cheered, to which they replied that they had also just heard.

Admittedly, people who drive to an art gallery in the wilderness so that they can go walking on a trail will tend towards certain demographics, but it is telling that within minutes, we all knew this most significant bit of news, suggesting how much everyone around the world was on tenterhooks.

Here’s hoping that we remember this moment as a turning point. Keep pushing my friends, this is not over yet.

[0] (It feels like there’s a whole book to be written about why all of my positive examples (and many of my negative ones) have to do with space flight/exploration/travel…probably having something to do with space travel representing all of humanity working together to solve a problem…a super-poignant one for me was the landing of ‘Curiosity’, I remember exactly where I was, and how verklempt I was that this little robot[6] had gone so far (560 million km, to land so exactly (within 2.4km), and they cared so much about it that they had altered the orbit of the Odyssey orbiter (not done trivially) so that they could check on Curiosity immediately after landing…There are also probably comments about how the advent of television makes these moments possible, such that all of humanity can experience something in real time, and so viscerally through the visual medium.)

[1] It will remain to be seen whether this moment is as changing of the course of history/presaging a new era as the other ones mentioned. For the sake of the planet, we hope so.

[2] The election was officially held on the Tuesday, and it was finally called on the Saturday morning.

[3] (The link is people dancing on and around a car to the tune ‘All I want for Christmas is you’, along with commentary that contrary to when this song is normally heard (endlessly in retail areas in the month(s) leading up to Christmas), it was actually pleasurable, and led to people being verklempt, because of the incredible catharsis and sense of relief: “this was the first time i heard this song in 2020 and it was absolutely the best possible occasion

[4] Remember, there are two senate runoff elections happening in Georgia that will decide things like how much healthcare Americans get for decades to come, and there is still the ‘lame duck’ session where Trump will have some power to cause damage. There will likely be an unimaginable amount of money flowing into that election, and the most incredible GOTV campaign that you can imagine, both of which you can help with.

[5] had given a 36.6% chance that Pennsylvania would be the tipping point in this election, but that was the chance of Pennsylvania being the one state that was closest to the edge, once all the votes were counted, which has not been determined yet. But being the state that pushed the ‘called count’ over is probably good enough for Gritty fans.

[6] A tiny capsule, flying through the immense void of space, carrying so many of humanity’s hopes and dreams with it, and trying so hard to do its job as best it can…

The End of the Beginning…

Winston Churchill said after the Second Battle of El Alamein[1] that “…this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

This morning, the first minor outlets started calling the U.S. Presidental Election for Joe Biden. I remember seeing the first indication that Biden had actually taken the lead in Pennsylvania just after 9:30am:

The long-anticipated lead for Biden in Pennsylvania finally happens:
The long-anticipated lead for Biden in Pennsylvania finally happens:

This had been predicted by many observers, and we had been seeing the slow march in this direction for days, as the mail-in votes in Pennsylvania were being counted:

The day before, when Biden was still catching up:
The day before, when Biden was still catching up:

But it’s one thing to know almost for certain that something is coming, and another thing entirely to see it actually happen.

If there’s one thing that I feel that we’ve learned during these last 9 months of pandemic isolation, it’s that there is a significant difference between understanding something intellectually, and the full-on emotional experience.

People were saying that this election might not be decided until late this week, and that it might be a nail-biter…[2]

…similar to ‘life will not go back to normal until there is a vaccine, and that will not happen until late 2021 at the earliest’…a nail-biter that one is living through is very different than one that one is merely discussing in theory. I would posit that people around the world lost a significant amount of sleep (and not just those counting ballots) from the stress over the starkly divided U.S., perched on a ‘knife’s edge‘.

But it now looks like we have a way forward. The current numbers are juust over the biggest barrier, and the overall trend is good. Barring some catastrophe[3], Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States, and as he alluded to in his ‘not-quote-a-victory-speech-speech’: “We believe when the count is finished we’ll be the winner“, that it is time for the country (really, the world), to come together to heal.

“What brings us together…is so much stronger than anything that can tear us apart.”

We need to keep up the pressure, so that our politicians implement what they said they would do, and we need to watch for shenanigans around every corner (and do everything we can to win both Senate seats in Georgia), but there is light at the end of the tunnel…and if we play our cards right, we[4] could end up with a president that can bring together a consensus on programs that rival the New Deal in scope and progress.

Stay safe and keep pushing…

[1] The Second Battle of Alamein (and indeed the entire African campaign and WWII) are fascinating in their own right, but are far too large and out of scope to address here.

[2] To be precise, predicted that:

“…it wouldn’t take that big of a polling error in Trump’s favor to make the election interesting. Importantly, interesting isn’t the same thing as a likely Trump win; instead, the probable result of a 2016-style polling error would be a Biden victory but one that took some time to resolve and which could imperil Democrats’ chances of taking over the Senate. On the flip side, it wouldn’t take much of a polling error in Biden’s favor to turn 2020 into a historic landslide against Trump.”

While many were undoubtedly hoping for the latter, undoubtedly record Republican turnout meant that we ended up with the former.

[3] #knockonwood

[4] I wonder if this is how empires happen…that those in the hinterlands are so affected by the decisions made, or the culture projected, that they start to identify with the leaders, rooting for them as they root for themselves…

On Tenterhooks

In just over two days, Election Day in the United States will have drawn to a close. Normally, I would say ‘the election in the United States will be over’, but as anyone who is reading this knows, these are not normal times.

I was talking with a friend of mine on Friday, and he asked me how I was doing. I told him I was ‘really tense about Tuesday’. He looked over to his other screen, and said ‘89 to 10‘. We both immediately knew what he meant. The situation in the U.S. is so pervasive that not only has it overloaded[1] numbers, but days of the week.

Pennsylvania is the key.
Pennsylvania is the key.
'89 to 10'.  We both immediately know what it meant, and where the information came from.
’89 to 10′. We both immediately know what it meant, and where the information came from.

To give you an idea of how people are feeling,

Problematic Jim Jeffries commented on the Daily Show[2] that just being able to name so many members of the U.S. administration, including people in such insignificant jobs as ‘Deputy Press Secretary'[3], is a sign that something is terribly wrong. The whole point of a representative democracy is that we don’t always need to know the names of the people in positions of power, that there is some trust that they will do their jobs properly.

That does not seem to be the case at the moment.

Norms are being violated all over the place, the president has called for active voter suppression on election day (never mind the concerted and constant Republican efforts to suppress the vote and gerrymander a victory), and it is now looking like their strategy will be to attempt to declare victory on election night, after the votes cast on election day have been counted, but before the absentee and early voting votes have been counted, kind of a Florida 2000 writ large…

Pennsylvania is the key.
Pennsylvania is the key.

Graph from 538's ' Why Pennsylvania’s Vote Count Could Change After Election Night'.

All of this is a recipe for civil unrest and violence.

There was disturbing news today about a caravan of pickup trucks flying Trump/Pence flags who worked together to attempt to run the Biden/Harris bus off the road in Texas. Even more disturbing was that the President expressed his support for this.

One other friend of mine opined today that he now understood what he now understood what it felt like to be Polish on March 3, 1933[4].

It is no wonder then, that the rest of the world (and probably much of the U.S.) is on tenterhooks, waiting for the result…a result that may be inconclusive, or swing back and forth for days, with large numbers of people yelling and committing violence, attempting to muddy the waters and intimidate a result.

So, what do we do?

For people currently residing in the United States, especially those with the power to vote (and those who can vote from overseas), there are various ways to make one’s voice heard, the most important at this moment being voting or helping others vote.

But what about all the rest of us, those of us who will be affected by the results, but have no direct say over the outcome[5]?

Well, we might have to accept that there’s not a lot we can do about U.S. politics…but…

…We can donate to NGOs that promote justice in the world (such as the SPLC & the EFF), you can promote justice at home (remember, ‘All politics is local‘), and you can help remind people online that they are supported, and that there are other people out there who believe in a better world.

I guess that’s what I’m trying to do here today. You are not alone. ‘Peace, Order, and Good Government‘ may be a Canadian[6] saying, but I feel that most people in the world would want/prefer this. Working together, we can make this happen, and sooner than you might expect.

Stay safe out there.

-Nayrb 🙂

[1] ‘Overloaded’ in this context meaning the computer programming term, where you modify your code so that you can use something like the ‘+’ sign to add things that your computer doesn’t normally know how to add, such as ‘a + b = ab‘.

[2] He is known to be problematic, so I’m not linking it. Caveat Lector.

[3] …including their married and maiden names!

[4] A Google search for ‘1933 election’ brings up the March 1933 German federal election as the first hit. That alone should give you an idea of that event’s importance.

[5] There are a whole bunch of interesting arguments that are out of scope, about this lack of representation. Some of them are ‘taxation without representation’ arguments that are fascinating, but are out of scope.

[6] Apparently, it’s a common (natch) Commonwealth saying, appearing in multiple Commonwealth constitutions and other places. Note that it contrasts with the ‘Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness’ from the U.S. Declaration of Independence, but one could easily argue that these are much more difficult to achieve without ‘Peace, Order, and Good Government’.

Another Day, Another Septim

Last weekend, we went out of town for the first time since the pandemic started. I had been looking forward to it for some time, but it took me a while to really understand why.

We have an annual tradition of going ‘apple picking’ each fall, where ‘apple picking’ is code for going on a weekend road-trip and exploring the area a couple of hours from where we live. We have some favourite haunts, but we’ve been finding over the years that we’ve been doing it that we enjoy a little more variety in the locations we visit.

Which brings me to last week.

As I said, I’d been looking forward to our trip, but had had difficulty articulating exactly why. I’ve always looked forward to the trip, a vacation away from the cares and maintenance of daily life & work.

I had realized (and managed to articulate) that I needed a vacation, somewhere around a week or two before the trip, but it wasn’t until we were on the trip that I realized why it was so incredibly important.

The title of this post comes from the computer game ‘The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion’, where long-suffering guardsmen say it as a commentary on the sameness and tediousness of their existence[1].

While I likely enjoy my job more than they do, I understand the sentiment, especially through the endless samey ‘now’ of the work from home grind[2]. I didn’t realize until halfway through our trip, I think when we were talking about the day-by-day ordering of our schedule. This being small-town Ontario, the trip takes on a very different character, depending on which places we visit on the Saturday of the weekend, when things are still open. Even in a pandemic, this character is very different between Saturday and Sunday.

It was this difference from trip to trip (I think) that highlighted to me the real reason why I so desperately needed to ‘get away’ from town/home. It was the sameness, the day-to-day sameness that was so grinding me down. Even though I asked that we spend our most valuable Saturday on visiting what we knew were our ‘old favourite’ places where we normally travel, it was still really different from the day-to-day at home, and even very different from each of the other times we’ve been out there. Some of this difference was because of the pandemic, because we didn’t eat inside any buildings, or stay inside any buildings with other people for longer than necessary, but also because when you’re that much more conscious of it, and it’s such a scarce commodity, each moment inside a bookstore is a rare and special occasion, and even now, I remember them more acutely than many other trips to many other places.

I’ve always found our brains’ natural filtering ability fascinating, how the trip back is always much shorter than the trip there, how one is able to focus so intently on one thing, even outdoors. But the downside of this automatic filtering is that if one day is pretty much the same as the previous, they will start to run together, and it will seem like one amorphous mass, and like that nothing has really happened, or that one hasn’t really done anything, even though a large amount of time has passed…

You may or may not know that this was the main reason I started this blog (or perhaps why continuing to write it ‘stuck’).

Since we got back, I’ve taken action to improve a few things in my life, cleaned my room, etc[3]…

I may or may not be out of my rut, or the ‘lockdown mindset’, but I’m feeling a lot better, and a lot of it is because I trusted myself and my ability to interrogate my feelings[4].

Winter is coming, and now is a good time to look for and bring out the sun inside yourself, to help others find the sun inside them, to warm and entertain and provide variety during these long months ahead.

With love,

-Nayrb 😀

[1] I had never realized, but the original song feels a much, much darker commentary on modern patriarchy and capitalism:,_Another_Dollar

[2] Yes, I understand my incredible privilege of being able to work fully remote in a situation like this.

[3] Also, this post you’re reading…

[4] And, of course, a partner with whom I have a trusting relationship such that I can express and explore this interrogation. <3 🙂

The Majesty of Showing an Unexpected Skill Range

Lady Gaga has an amazing set of talents and skills, which many others have talked about better far better than I can. I’m impressed in many different ways, but what I wanted to focus on today was an aspect of her skill and self-control in not overdoing things, in using just enough to make the point, then moving on. It’s something that I treasure in the art I love, the ‘using just enough’, but more precisely in this instance, it’s the art of having a large amount of skill in an unexpected direction, and then doing something seemingly easy that shows that you have a lot of skill in that area.

In Lady Gaga’s case, what I’m getting at is we know she can sing[1], we know she can dance[2], but did you also know that she can speak French? In ‘Bad Romance‘[3], she seems to be really good at rolling her ‘r’s (3:21), and seems to easily to slip into French (3:52), both of which (to my untutored ear) sound well spoken. But she understands how much is ‘just enough’, and declines to descend into wankiness, carefully and with great skill putting the cherry on top of a delicious sundae.

Another great example is Psy (can you tell what part of my playlist I’m on right now?). He is a great singer & performer and dancer, but do you really know how *good* a dancer he is[4]? His most popular song (and the most popular song on Youtube, so popular they ran out of numbers) is a super-fun, somewhat problematic takedown of ‘Gangnam-style’ frou-frou culture in Korea. But what I want to talk about is his dancing.

At the end of the video, he’s in a dance-off with a friend (presumably) of his (it happens in a cut-down version earlier in the video, but this seems to be the uncut version). They’re having fun, each of them dancing in a way that works for them, and then suddenly, at 3:58, Psy breaks out his ‘legs-shuffling side-gallop‘ Gangnam-Style trademark dance, and his opponent, realizing he can’t compete at all, immediately stops, and has to take a second to regroup and find his groove. I’m not a dancing expert, but it seems to me that the ‘legs-shuffling side-gallop’ dance requires an inordinate amount of core strength, control, and body part isolation to bring off. If you watch the rest of the video, you can see that none of the other dancers get anywhere close to how well Psy is doing it. You can assume that Psy is big enough that they would find good dancers as back up for him, suggesting that either this particular dance is actually incredibly difficult to perform (or they are deliberately trying to not upstage him). Again, like Lady Gaga above, he makes it look easy.

Stay tuned for next time, when we talk about skill, privilege (and how they can be confused), and different ways of perceiving holding back. Thanks for reading!

Note: The title of this post was also difficult to settle on, as I’m trying to express multiple related concepts:
– The idea that even having the skill is unexpected
– The idea that having that skill at such a high level is unexpected
– The idea that showing a skill and making it look easy (to show a very high level of skill) is majestic
– The idea that using a skill at a high level, just the correct amount, not overdoing it is majestic

[1] There are also great examples of this in the video, where she uses dynamics and range in an intertwined way to mold the energy and flow of the song, and it’s fantastic.

[2] Ibid.

[3] On a side note, can we talk about the censorship in that video, how they replaced ‘bitch’ with ‘bit’? I’ll admit it is some of the best-done censorship I’ve ever heard, the least disruptive to flow (except for perhaps ‘melonfarmer‘), but I still side with George Carlin on this one.

[4] Perhaps unsurprisingly, people in Korea do, but I didn’t. 😀

“During an interview with The New York Times, Psy revealed that South Korean fans have huge expectations about his dancing, so he felt a lot of pressure. In order to keep up with expectations, he studied hard to find something new and stayed up late for about 30 nights to come up with the “Gangnam Style” dance.”

The Feracious Potential of Autumn

I went for a walk today. This would not normally be notable, except that it was only the second time I’d been out on a walk on my own during the pandemic, and the first time since S went home to visit her parents.

It was a nice night. The perfect, slightly chilled temperature of late summer/early autumn, a light breeze bringing smells of something delicious, something burning, just cool enough to make you think of goosebumps.

People always talk about the potential, the bountiful feelings of spring, but I think that the fall speaks to me even more strongly. I’m not sure how much of it is that the heat of summer has finally broken[1], how much of it is that it signifies going back to school, the creativity and freedom/safety of end-of-summer music camp[2]. Conversely, it signals the end of summer, the world now feels like there is a deadline, that time is moving forward, and that things must be done before it is too late[3].

Whatever the reason, walking outside just now, I feel full of potential, and I’m looking forward to expressing more of it.

Saturn & Jupiter, sandwiched between the terrible streetlight pollution in my neighbourhood.
Saturn & Jupiter, peeping out from behind the terrible streetlight pollution in my neighbourhood.

Photograph taken 2020-08-18:

[1] Interestingly, I grew up in a room that was directly over the furnace, so I think that I have a little more heat tolerance/expectation/less blood circulation to my extremities[1a] than many others do. However, when it gets much above 23, I can feel my mental efficiency going down. I can still function, I’m still in emotional control of myself, but creativity, of the ‘sitting down creating something'[1b] type is greatly curtailed. My guess is that there’s something about the brain overheating, or energy being used elsewhere in the body (it does take some energy to ensure homeostasis during sweating). But back to cogitation and heat tolerance. It is known that the human brain uses about 20-25% of the body’s energy budget, and “As a metabolically demanding organ with intense heat production, the functional activity, and energy efficiency of the human brain is exquisitely sensitive to fluctuations in temperature”. My understanding of this is that one of the reasons scalp wounds bleed so profusely is that much of the purpose of blood flow to and around the brain is thermal regulation, basically keeping your brain cool so that it can keep thinking efficiently.

[1a] Also, tall people problems.

[1b] Not the ‘react with witty remarks’ type, that is pretty hard-coded, and seems to activate upon waking, and is almost impossible to turn off.

[1c] I was going to make a comment here about how the heart & brain make more ATP per glucose than other parts of the body (38 instead of 36, or 36 instead of 34), but it seems that science has moved on since I was in school, and I could not find a source for different cell types or organs generating different amounts of ATP, and also it seems that due to leaky mitochondiral membranes and other factors, human (eukaryote) metabolism is thought to generate only about 30 ATP molecules per glucose molecule[1d].

[1d] 29.85, at last count.

[2] Music camp holds a very special place in my heart. Similar to High Hrothgar, it is a peaceful place, very disconnected from the troubles of this world. For a number of years, I spent the last two weeks of summer at National Music Camp, playing music for five hours a day, spending time with old and new friends, spending time outside. It’s difficult to describe the feeling of walking from place to place, and hearing the drifting sounds of people practicing and making music being a completely normal and natural thing. One could use the percentage of our time we spend making music as a metric for quality of life, and as an indictment of our modern society.

[3] Similar to squirrels saving for winter, like the one earlier this week that perched on the chair six feet from me and noisily and ostentatiously ate a carrot.

Note: I tried a few different titles before I settled on ‘feracious’, meaning ‘producing in abundance; fertile, fruitful‘. ‘Subtle’ is not quite right, as it’s more of a quiet power, and ‘flowering’ or ‘flourishing’ are really more spring or summer words, respectively.

Processing Endgame VIIa: The Avengers (2012) (continued…)

Please note that this is one of a series of posts, all of which may contain spoilers for the MCU, and particularly Endgame.

Date re-watched: 2019-09-06

(Note also that this I liked Avengers (2012) so much, that I had to write more about it. #filmateleven)

In an effort to make this not just a laundry list of ramblings, I want to organize my thoughts into a few themes. Remember that a lot of this is about processing my feelings from Infinity War & especially Endgame, and really about the finality of the character arcs that ended there. There’s something about character death, similar to the death of a famous painter or sculptor. It puts all of their other actions into relief, and each moment becomes more poignant, as you see how each moment led them to their now inevitable end. Your mind tries to piece together their story, and make each bit make sense, now that you know the ending.

As far as characters, Tony is of course at the top of the list for me, probably because he’s the intended stand-in for the cis white male viewer, and perhaps also because he tickles my nerd/maker side (in a very cinematic way). In Avengers, a lot of the interesting interactions with Tony happen with Cap. As Jack Saint[1] argues, they are representatives of the two main sides of the heroic ideology in the MCU[2], Tony being the ‘pragmatist’ and Steve being the ‘idealist’, but still both representatives of the fundamental ‘great man‘ ideology of the MCU.

That being said, Tony & Steve, though they have philosophical differences, respect each other, well enough that Tony, who never takes orders from anyone, says at the height of the battle for New York (his home): “Call it, Cap.”. In the other direction, Cap asks everyone about Loki, to better understand his tactics. (Especially since Cap is the only one who has physically traded blows with Loki, and understands and appreciates his strength.) Thor is too embarrassed about being Loki’s brother, Banner dismisses him as having a brain with ‘a bag full of cats’, and Cap ends up understanding that only Tony can understand the way that Loki is a “full-tilt diva“. They also agree on other fundamentals, very distinctly that SHIELD should not be developing super weapons[3], and on defending the Earth from external threats…such as Loki.

Speaking of Loki, like Gamora, he is reborn (in a way) after Endgame, effectively re-setting his character development to the end of Avengers, so it’s worthwhile talking about where he is as a character here.

Physically, he’s the Asgardian/god/high-level ‘rogue’ of the party, able to hold his own in combat against ‘lesser beings’, even a ‘super-soldier’ human like Cap. With an artifact weapon (the staff), he is fought to a standstill by his warrior brother (Thor, who is likely pulling his punches), and falls twice to Tony’s repulsor blasts, and is taken out by the Hulk.

Loki wants attention and adulation ‘Full-tilt diva'[4], and is happy to bully lesser beings to get it, or to talk when he perceives that he has the upper hand, instead of using it. Tony is able to read this, perhaps because he sees it in himself, and has had to confront some of those demons in himself[5]. Perhaps more importantly, Tony is able to use this against Loki, using Loki’s distaste at being reminded of his brother Thor to distract him while he puts on the Mark 7 ‘bracelets’. Out-tricking the ‘trickster god'[6]. How much must that sting?

So, where is Loki sitting at the end of this? He had been cast out by his family and home, was taken in by an interstellar villain, given power (but always reminded that he was subordinate to them)[7]. He knows that he is being taken back to Asgard, to face some sort of punishment. He likely knows it will be some sort of imprisonment or exile. Like ‘a bag full of cats'[8], Loki is at war with himself. Thor is able to convince him briefly that they can work together to undo things, but he is unable to help himself from stabbing Thor and running away[9]. Throw the influence of the mind stone/scepter, and it’s difficult to come up with a consistent characterization. If anything, he might have learned something about being more effective, and perhaps how he is unsuited to command in a combat situation.[10] Or is he still ‘burdened by terrible privilege’?

Speaking of alternate timelines, the scene where Tony is thrown out the window in Stark tower has always been super-harrowing for me. Think of how many timelines there are where Tony didn’t survive[10], where Loki thought to shoot his suit with the scepter, all the times he almost died, both before and after this.

Moving on to the Natasha, she is easy to overlook, as she rarely gets a lot of screentime, and she is not the flashiest character, but we really have to give her credit for being the bravest character in the movie. (Also each scene she’s in makes sense, and there’s a reason for her being there.) She’s a (well trained) normal human being who decides to take it upon herself to leap onto a flying Chitauri chariot, knowing that one misstep would be her death. (And how did she even grab it? Was it her suit locking her hands?) We also get to see her unique ‘interrogation’ technique, allowing herself to get captured[11] earlier in the film, and again tricking the trickster god to get his plan for the Hulk out of him. Her ploy/way of understanding people and making them talk is not really played up in the other movies, and I hope that they explore it more in her solo movie. Avengers also brings out her relationship with Barton, and perhaps explains some of her bravery, as S puts it, the self-sacrifice might be a way to wipe the ‘red in her ledger’ clean.

There was also a nice gentle non-toxic masculinity scene with Tony & Banner (about 3:10), where Banner talks about being ‘exposed, like a nerve’. ‘A terrible privilege’ ‘but you can control it’ ‘because I learned how’ (Note that this scene also includes blueberries that RDJ hid on set.)[12] This is perhaps Tony trying to do for Banner what Yinsen did for him, trying to remind Banner that he can be a force for good. Tony is proven correct, when Banner shows up to the Battle of New York, after perhaps making a difficult decision while talking to a security guard who seems curiously well informed, and pushing him towards helping out… “I know where I can do the most good, but it’s also where I can do the most harm.” “Your mind’s already made up, son. The rest of you will follow”

A few last random comments, so this doesn’t become three posts:
I really enjoyed the ‘Metal Man’ comment by Thor, and the idea of Thor charging up Iron Man’s suit (which would not be fully realized until Endgame). I also wonder if the ‘Shwarma’ scene was part of Tony’s journey to deal with his PTSD and accepting the good things that the Middle East has to offer. I thought the ‘Hulk yelling at Tony’ to save him was silly, but it had the desired filmmaking effect to break the mood, even if it was outside the film’s general scientific basis (unless the Hulk has special ‘jumpstart’ powers in his yell).

Cap is also understated and seemingly hurt all through the helicarrier section, perhaps because the mind stone/staff is getting to him, perhaps by bringing out his PTSD and his feeling of being ‘out of time’. Eventually, perhaps Cap and Tony bond over their shared pain, but in a subconscious way (as opposed to the conscious way that Tony & Banner, or Natasha & Hawkeye bond over shared pain).

We also see the first installment of Thor vs. The Hulk, where they seem to be evenly matched, although Thor’s dodging prowess seems to be vitally important.

Lastly, we see the Tesseract acting with inconsistent characterization, with it ‘telling things’ to Selvig, although that could easily have been the Mind Stone (or the other stones have powers beyond what is normally assumed by their expected bailiwicks).

Thanks for reading all the way to the end! Next time, we’ll continue with Iron Man 3, where we follow Tony’s reaction to the Chitauri invasion and almost dying carrying a nuke through the portal into space. Stay tuned!

[1] S showed me this video this week. I recommend it very highly. 🙂

[2] And this conflict will spiral into ‘Civil War’.

[3] This leads to the great scene where Tony is trying to break in and comb through SHIELD files on the helicarrier, to figure out what Fury and SHIELD are up to (‘Phase II’, energy weapons similar to ‘Hydra weapons’, as Cap puts it), while Cap simply breaks into the armory and brings one to the lab. “Sorry, the computer was moving a little slow for me.“[3a]

[3a] At 2:36, that video shows one of multiple occasions where Hawkeye enjoys posing with his bow slightly too much for non-sequential-art.

[4] Funnily, this just seems to add to the Shakespearean feel of the Asgardians, almost like they understand that they are but players on a stage.

[5] There are interesting questions here about whether humans, because of their mortality, are more likely to see it necessary to learn and grow.

[6] We never really get to see Loki’s illusions in ‘Avengers’. The closest we see is a few costume changes, and one image projection to trap Thor in the ‘Hulk Hotel Room’ on the Helicarrier (and to get around behind Coulson). So, we never really get to see how Tony would have dealt with them. There seems to be a ‘Mirror Image‘ quality to Loki’s illusions, where sometimes (like Ragnarok), he seems to leave an image behind while he walks away, while in Stuttgart, he seems to almost be able to teleport between them. (Although, upon watching it again, they seem to be only images…but this disagrees with what we saw in Dark World…) So, how would Tony deal with have dealt with these? Are they only visual illusions? We know that the Soul Stone was able to dispel Dr. Strange’s images in Infinity War, so we know that it is possible to tell them apart, but can it be done using only things like heat signature detection?

[7] Thanos’ herald: “You would question me, him?”

[8] As per Banner.

[9] Similar to the ‘snake story’ in Ragnarok.

[10] In Dark World, we see Loki only being truly effective in combat when paired with Thor. In Ragnarok, Loki will learn that he is not the most effective at command in the rulership sense, but eventually learns some of how to do this by the end of the movie (while still fighting alongside Thor). There’s also questions as to how much Loki was being influenced by the mind stone/scepter, and how much that impaired his judgement and abilities…but he seemed perfectly willing to cause chaos and destruction after being separated from the scepter during the ‘final battle’. However, Loki perhaps learns very different lessons when he escapes from ‘Avengers’ at in the middle of ‘Endgame’, perhaps having learned how to be a little more effective, but perhaps thinking that he just needs to find people more suitable for his ‘rule’, similar to how he pretends to be Odin later in the series, or perhaps he will just go around messing with people, taking the opportunity to be actually free of constraints.

[10] Although, we see in Endgame how the Ancient One is busy fighting off Chitauri during the Battle of New York, so one would expect that she would have used the Time Stone’s powers to set things so that New York would not be nuked. This also brings up general questions of fate, and how much the events were controlled by various types of puppetmasters, but that is perhaps more appropriately a better conversation for a later post about Dr. Strange’s plan(s).

[11] Perhaps by some of the arms dealers that Tony refers to in Age of Ultron.

[12] Perhaps the best foreshadowing of ‘Professor Hulk’ from Endgame.

Processing Endgame VII: The Avengers (2012)

Please note that this is one of a series of posts, all of which may contain spoilers for the MCU, and particularly Endgame.

Date re-watched: 2019-09-06

So, this is perhaps my most favourite of the MCU movies. Maybe it’s like the first even-numbered Star Trek you see. The Undiscovered Country may be a better movie, but Save The Whales will always have the favoured place in my heart.

It’s also probably the one I’ve watched the most, but only in clips. It was super-interesting to watch it in full-movie form, both without interruptions, but also to see all of the interstitial scenes that tied things together. It’s interesting, the decisions movie makers make, which connecting scenes they think to be necessary, and which ones not, kind of like decisions as to what action/etc. to put in the whitespace between comic panels[1]…

For example, these interstitial parts established Banner as some kind of M.D. (or at least proficient enough to practice medicine)[2].

The interstitial parts showed the interplay between the characters, really smart & funny dialogue (“he’s adopted”, “No hard feelings, Point Break, you’ve got a mean swing.”, “I was having 12% of a moment”, “How does Fury even see these?” “He turns.” “Sounds Exhausting.”, “Are you nuts?” “Jury’s out.”[3]

Interestingly, apparently Robert Downey Jr. is known to never say the same line twice: “Robert will never do the same line twice. I think it’s sort of, he gets bored the minute he says the line.” He also improvised the ‘blueberries scene’ near the “Jury’s out.” scene above.

Chris Hemsworth was kind of odd to watch in this movie, especially since Ragnarok was so fresh in my mind. This was pre-‘Kevin‘, but you can see some of his humour coming through in lines like “He’s adopted“, but he seems almost reticent or guilty about it (but that could be the scene), and plays it straight and narrow through the rest of the film, falling back on the once-interesting, but very one-note Shakespearean, similar to the first two Thor movies, one each before and after this. (Interestingly, it seems that the writers/director felt this way too, and decided to send it up with Tony’s mockery of Thor’s Shakespearean demeanour with “Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?“, but they rolled that back in Thor:The Dark World, reverting/sticking with the Shakespearean tone…speaking of Shakespearean tone, only Tom Hiddleston could have pulled off ‘Balm’ in an American movie.)

In this movie, we see various Avengers facing off against each other, perhaps because (like the first two Iron Man movies), the antagonists, while powerful, are not a match for the heroes all working together (witness Thor ‘lighting up’ the Chitauri coming through the portal). In these face-offs, one can see the relative power levels of the characters (or perhaps the perception of the screenwriter/director), with Thor and Iron Man battling to a standstill (although Thor might have been pulling his punches, as he’s still the protector of Earth, after all), with Hawkeye successful only through stealth (he is a ‘master assassin’, though), Thor knocking the Hulk back through better combat skill, and a seemingly similar ability to soak damage, and Black Widow vs. Hawkeye also quite evenly matched.

We see some interesting combat tactic foreshadowing, or perhaps Loki’s weakness, where both Cap & Thor have similar ‘throw something at him, make him react, then you can get inside his defenses’. Cap also mentions that Loki ‘packs quite a wallop’, suggesting that even though ‘weak’ for an ‘Asgardian’, Loki still somewhat outclasses the ‘Super-soldier’.

It’s also fun to speculate about the composition/mechanism of Iron Man’s repulsor beams, as they seem to have some sort of knockback force for Thor & Loki when used. Iron Man seems to also quickly one-shot Loki both times they confront each other directly.

We also see a common trope, where the ‘biggest gun’ is busy fixing something (or solving a different problem, where Iron Man is unavailable for the Helicarrier battle, where he could have make a huge difference, because he’s also the best (only) one who can solve the technical problem.

We see some character growth, from Natasha talking about the ‘red in her ledger’ that she wants to erase, talking with Barton about how she’s been ‘compromised’ and is now fighting for something. Thor’s (slow) growth is mentioned above, but his ‘protector of Earth’ is very much in play, especially wanting to protect Earth from the ‘higher form of war’. “Your work with the Tesseract is what drew Loki to it, and his allies. It is the signal to all the realms that the earth is ready for a higher form of war.”

One wonders how Thanos found Loki. The other time he fell off the Bifrost, he ended up on Sakaar. Given Thanos’ goals, it is possible that he was watching Asgard very closely for any signs of weakness. Speaking of Loki, how much of the ‘glorious purpose’ that he was ‘burdened with’ was from inside himself, how much was from drifting in space for a year, how much was from the mind stone?[4]

Loki’s plans were really not that good (as Tony was quick to point out). They involved dividing the Avengers, and making a quick show of force to cow the Earth into submission. This worked (mostly) well enough with the civilians at a gala in Stuttgart, but as soon as Cap & Tony got there, it quickly fell apart. Eventually, Loki’s machinations at the Helicarrier end up bringing the Avengers together, perhaps a type of ‘predestination paradox’… Even though the Chitauri are widely known (outside Earth) to be a terrible army (perhaps a sign that Thanos was not in favour of sending his ‘A-Game’ along with Loki[5]), Loki still used them badly. He sent a small number of Chitauri chariots, let the Avengers get used to them, then sent one large Leviathan, allowed the Hulk & Tony to take care of it, then sent ‘the rest’, with apparently only minimal orders, apparently only trying to cause as much destruction and chaos as possible.

Perhaps it is because, as Coulson said, Loki ‘lacks conviction’. Loki always seems to be seeking approval for his actions, from Coulson ‘Where is my disadvantage?’, from Tony ‘What have I to fear?’, from Thor “It’s too late to stop it.”, as if he has mounted the tiger made by his ambition and the Mind Stone, and even though he doesn’t really want to rule, he wants to be respected (feared?) as if he was. It feels almost like a classic ‘B’ personality raised as with the expectations of an ‘A’ personality, always at war with themselves, never willing to accept that the ‘Trickster God’ is never really meant to rule, and can be much more effective in other ways, no matter how much they think they might want something else.[6]

This is getting long, so I’ll continue in a second installment, where I’ll talk about a bunch of smaller things, and perhaps get into some analysis of some of the ‘physics’ of the MCU. Stay tuned!

[1] Thanks, ‘Understanding Comics

[2] Not to be confused with the scene (after the credits in Iron Man 3) where Banner states that he’s “not that kind of doctor.” This trope is played multiple times for comedic effect, my favourite being in the escape from Sakaar, when he states that none of his Ph.D.s are ‘for flying alien spaceships’. I’ll admit that I enjoy doing this myself. I have two degrees with the word ‘Bio’ in them, but S is generally the one who is more knowledgeable about human biology, leading to hilarity (at least on my part.)

[3] This is not just Tony, Romanoff, Banner, Fury, Coulson, Stark, Potts, even Cap have many pithy lines. It’s unclear how much of this is good/pithy writing, stealing from the comic books, or improv. that made it in.

[4] There is a theory, and I don’t remember where I first heard it, that the infinity stones are sentient, and/or are part of a larger cosmic plan. If this were true, one could see their effects all over many of the movies, if only to explain away mistakes that characters (especially villains) make. There’s also a competing theory that we’re viewing the only MCU where things turned out well. Many of the characters, without whom things would have turned out very differently, have come extremely close to dying…

[5] Either Thanos trusted that Loki would never figure out that the ‘glowstick of destiny‘ was powered by the Mind Stone, or the Mind Stone was affecting both of them (leaving aside the fact that the Infinity Stones had still not been retconned at this point). Loki for sure did not know the significance of his scepter, as can be seen by how easily he was willing to leave it behind. Speaking of the significance of the scepter, one might wonder why the Mind Stone would be able to close a portal made by the Space Stone.

[6] There is also evidence that Loki is the classic ‘Bad Man’. As per Pratchett:

“Something Vimes had learned as a young guard drifted up from memory. If you have to look along the shaft of an arrow from the wrong end, if a man has you entirely at his mercy, then hope like hell that man is an evil man. Because the evil like power, power over people, and they want to see you in fear. They want you to know you’re going to die. So they’ll talk. They’ll gloat.

They’ll watch you squirm. They’ll put off the moment of murder like another man will put off a good cigar.

So hope like hell your captor is an evil man. A good man will kill you with hardly a word.”