Category Archives: Nostalgia

Processing Endgame IV: Thor (2011)

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

“Shakespearean Drama.” If you read any articles about Thor (2011), it’s hard to miss the choice of Kenneth Branagh, an acclaimed Shakespearean actor, as director. I had been expecting something of the sort when I watched the movie, but as it was happening, I realized that I didn’t really know what that meant.

It seemed to me a very human story, an uncomplicated story of youthful brashness and foolhardiness, leading to a fall from grace, redemption through discovering selflessness. A nice uncomplicated origin story (with one of a thousand faces)[1].

But so well told. It felt good all the way through, it made sense all the way through, the blending of magic & science worked all the way through. This is perhaps because of the way the character was originally conceived:

“Thor, at his best, has always had a classic bent in terms of his history, the way he speaks and the often Shakespearean dramas that surround him. That kind of dialogue and character needs someone who comes from a classically trained background in order for it not to sound forced or artificial. Branagh is the perfect choice.”

—J Michael Straczynski, co-writer of Thor, on Kenneth Branagh

“Thor’s powers are godly, yes … But at the end of the day, he’s a man … Odin sends him to Earth because he’s not perfect. He’s brash, arrogant. Even over-confident … he also bleeds. He struggles. Life kicks him where it hurts the most … You want to feel Thor’s rage when he rages. You want to see him fight like hell, and take as much as he dishes out — maybe more. You want to have a visceral reaction to the guy, and what happens to him. You don’t want his adventures to be clean and antiseptic. You want to see the dirt, and grime and blood. You want to feel every bone crunching moment of every fight. And when he unleashes the storm, you want to feel like you’re seeing the power of a GOD at work.”

—Ashley Miller, co-writer of Thor, about the project

Yes, world-shaking and family-shaking[2] Shakespearean Drama, all in one accessible package. That’s Thor (& his family).

The film opens with Thor triumphant[3], on his way to being named heir to the throne of Asgard, but the jealous younger[4] son Loki organizes an interruption to embarrass him, setting off the chain of events that cascade through most of the rest of the MCU Phases 1->3.[5]

The film does an interesting bait and switch, setting up the frost giants to be the antagonist, but even though Colm Feore[6] does a fine job as Laufey, I never particularly felt threatened by them (perhaps because I had seen the movie before, and we were watching it on a small screen). They could have used more time/space to set them up as a more believeable adversary.

But the bait and switch still worked, as it didn’t occur to me until later, that it was indeed Loki who had orchestrated the original break-in (even fooling the all-seeing Heimdahl), to embarrass his brother. It wasn’t until a little later, that he tipped his hand and fully became the overt antagonist.

But was he really? You can say that Odin had the best interest of the Nine Realms in mind when he kidnapped Loki, to raise him as Asgardian[7], but ultimately, he didn’t do it well enough, perhaps because he didn’t know about the idea of ‘Sevastokrator‘, a power-sharing agreement to help younger children work together with their older siblings (You could also see the ceremony of naming Thor heir being this type of ceremony, but he must have known, after hundreds of years of raising him, how Loki would react…).

So, maybe the real antagonist of Thor (and Phases 1-3) was Odin’s inability to emotionally communicate and connect with his family[8]. This eventually ends the movie, with Loki, unwilling to accept that he has failed his father, voluntarily letting go and falling off the Bifrost into oblivion[9].

But there’s other aspects of toxic masculinity, not just Odin’s inability to communicate, or to defuse competition between his children, there’s the aftereffects of this, Loki’s mocking Thor being ‘soft’ for caring about Earth, because he cares for one of the people there, even trying to turn it against him, to try to get Thor to stop trying to prevent Loki’s genocide of the Frost Giants, by saying ‘you’ll never see her again’ if he breaks the Bifrost bridge[10].

As far as other characters in the movie, we were surprised that Coulson was such a hard-nosed, by-the-book agent (although he did vote for science in allowing Thor to try to wield the hammer), and not really a likeable character (Perhaps J.J.Abrahms made all the difference there, in ‘Avengers’.)

Natalie Portman got to be a strong, intelligent woman, to be the first to really understand what is going on with the Einstein-Rosen (bifrost) bridge[11]

It did feel kind of like an odd couple, with Thor being so massively muscled. It was nice, that he did remember to steal her notebook on the way out, as he had promised.

Darcy also showed indications of how she would be stealing the show in Thor:The Dark World, especially with little comedic timing gestures like getting her taser[12] ready as they’re talking about going to find Thor again.

Later in the movie, we have a touching moment, where Erik Selvig comes to rescue Thor in custody (and pretends that he is ‘Donald Blake'[13], in a fun comic callback). Remembering Thor calling Erik Selvik ‘He is a friend’ when they discover he is under control by Loki has so much more poignancy when you see the scene where he is the one to go drink with him, where Thor opens up about how he is truly feeling about being cast out, that Erik is the one who was there when he needed someone the most.

I also enjoyed the ‘Son of Coul’ moment, where Thor declares himself an ally of Midgard, and promises to return. (Not to be confused with the cute Coulson moment, where he confronts the Destroyer with a megaphone.)

So, what did Thor learn in this film? That he had more to learn…that some humility is in order, that he does not always have the answers, and that his decisions can get people killed. Perhaps some sense of the responsibility of defending all nine of the realms, not just Asgard. Maybe even the sense that even when he is cast out, and at his worst, that there are people who will care about him, just for himself.

There’s also always the danger that every time you surmount another unsurmountable foe/obstacle, it’s another opportunity to become arrogant? This is a common human failing, and also allows second movies (such as Iron Man 2), but is perhaps not as well understood as a concept, and is perhaps why those second movies fail more often[14].

What defences against Thanos fall in this movie?
– The Destroyer (would not have stood up to Hela, but would have perhaps allowed some help vs. Thanos’ minions)
– S: “It could rotate like that, because there’s nothing inside.” As a design, it’s a really interesting piece of machinery, and bespeaks some really good industrial design in Asgard’s past.
– The unity of Thor & Loki (really, Loki) as protectors of Asgard & the Nine Realms
– Odin has to enter the odinsleep
– Frost Giants are no longer really possible allies

What alliances/defences are forged?
– Thor & SHIELD/Jane Foster

[1] It might fall under ‘Voyage & Return‘, but it is for sure a ‘Hero’s Journey‘.

[2] I think the key here is to have the world-shaking events, but to also have the family-shaking events happening at the same time, having the family-shaking events be almost a synecdoche or accessible proxy for the world-shaking events.

[3] Well, it starts with him being hit by a van, but that’s beside the point…

[4] ‘Younger brother'[15], the trope of so much fiction (and history), caused by the flawed practice of Primogeniture. Like many older concepts, it might have been one that humans had to pass through on the way to greater enlightenment. Perhaps better than Partible Inheritance[16], but only a stepping stone towards modern republics & representative democracies[17].

[5] One could argue that Loki letting the Frost Giants past Heimdahl, leading to Thor’s overreaction, leading to Thor being banished to Earth, leading to SHIELD increasing activity to deal with external threats, leading to Loki being cast out, to working with Thanos, to the invasion of Earth, to Tony’s PTSD, to Ultron, to the Sokovia Accords, to the Civil War, to the death of Frigga & Odin, to the unpreparedness for the Infinity War, to the eventual resolution, is the main arc of the series. I feel like it is still a point of contention as to whether this was a ‘best’ (or even good) way for this to turn out, but 1 in 14,000,605 should tell you something.

[6] I first heard of Colm Feore as being that famous person performing in Toronto musicals. I’m glad to see him doing so well. 😀 Also, he had a super-interesting note about the power of ‘Shakespearean Shorthand’:

“He said the Shakespearean training he shared with Hopkins and director Branagh helped keep production moving briskly, saying that “during the breaks, Tony, myself and Ken would be talking in Shakespearean shorthand about what the characters were doing, what we thought they may be like, and how we could focus our attention more intelligently. These were discussions that took no more than a few minutes between takes, but they allowed Ken, Tony and [me] to understand each other instantly without Ken taking an hour away to explain to the actors exactly what was going on. So that was enormously helpful.”

[7] So much colonialism in this movie, that I don’t have the chops to fully dissect.

[8] Made explicit in conversations between Loki & Thor in Thor:Ragnarok.

[9] Well, ‘Avengers’.

[10] I really enjoyed the portrayal of the Bifrost bridge (the bridge to the sphere where the Bifrost emerges from) as some sort of conduit from some power source in the heart of Asgard to the (probably dangerous) sphere that emits the Bifrost. (Interestingly, there are electrical discharges when making the Bifrost happen, which might be dramatic license, or they may be associated with Thor’s power (or indicate something fundamental about the connection of Thor’s power with the power of Asgard), or they may be something that falls out of Wormhole equations.)

[11] I have all kinds of questions after Thor:Ragnarok & Infinity War about where Thor’s power comes from, and how the Bifrost works after Asgard has been destroyed, even if Stormbreaker is made of Uru metal.

[12] I always took the fact that Thor was susceptible to tasers to be an indication that he had lost his powers (or at least confidence, similar to Thor:Ragnarok, with the control chip).

[13] Interestingly, Marvel seems to really enjoy taking people who have or feel a duality, and then doing the gedanken experiment of ‘what if they were separate people?’, or ‘what if they grew apart?’ We see this with Hulk’s story arc, and apparently it happened in the comic books with Donald Blake.

[14] This could also be selection bias, where 80% (made up number) of all movies fail, so having 80% of sequels fail is not unexpected.

[15] “Loki’s like a comic book version of Edmund in King Lear, but nastier.” (Edmund being an illegitimate son.)

[16] I became most aware of this concept from a problematic book I read a while back, which talked about the Partition of Poland (1138). Others might use more classical examples, such as Clovis, or the Partition of Babylon (or Triparadisus).

[17] One could make an argument here for an analogy with Polytheism -> Monotheism -> Atheism, but that would be outside our scope here.

Processing Endgame III: The Incredible Hulk (2008)

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

Music playing: Still “Avengers Theme Remix”, remixed by ‘Approaching Nirvana‘.

CW: suicide

We had originally planned to skip The Incredible Hulk (2008), as many do, but after thinking/hearing about all of the controversy regarding the arguments between Edward Norton & Marvel about scripts, we decided we wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

The movie opened with a strange choice: The film’s editors decided to put the usual character origin story into a short montage at the beginning[1]. S noted at the time that she felt cheated of the best part of one of these superhero movies, the part where they discover themselves for the first time, when they go from zero to one.

The rest of the movie just seemed a bit off. It’s hard (for me) to put my finger on exactly what the issue was. I’m sure part of it seemed to be that the Hulk character seemed a bit inconsistent with the later portrayal, with Norton’s silent & brooding fugitive contrasting with Ruffalo’s more comedic take, some of it was the on-screen depiction of the Hulk, seeming scarier and more visceral, but I think I could have dealt with that, and found my peace with the film, accepting that Banner and the Hulk were learning about each other, and that this movie was all about acceptance of one’s inner Hulk…

…except they never really talked about that. There was a deleted scene in Norton’s edited screenplay that showed Banner trying to commit suicide to get away from the Hulk (a similar scene alluded to by Ruffalo’s Banner in Avengers). This was supposed to be the opening scene, and it might have gone a long way towards justifying an arc through the movie of Banner slowly coming to terms and accepting the Hulk as part of himself, where after trying to remove him, he finally accepts the necessity, in order to defeat Abomination[2].

Some things that were done really well: The chemistry between Tyler & Norton was fantastic, they were really believeable as long-lost lovers (apparently they spent a lot of time discussing their backstory, even though they didn’t talk much about it in onscreen), and Tyler’s character was pretty badass, in one scene, leaping on top of the Hulk to try to save Banner, in another, taking them out of a cab, to reduce Banner’s stress level.

The rest of the characters…well…it felt like they never really fit into the story. I always find it difficult to figure out what drops me out of my suspension of disbelief in a film. Is it the editing, that makes the time between comments feel unnatural? Is it the script? Is it the actors not living their parts? Whatever it was, Thunderbolt Ross felt unnatural, the scientist ‘helping’ them felt absurdly over-the-top, and I can’t even remember the rest of them[3].

The one other shining star was Ty Burell’s Samson, who felt believeable all the way through. You could just picture him understanding Tyler’s character, feeling her inner torn-ness, and choosing to let her go.

Overall, the movie felt like Banner trying to find Betty Ross (eventually successfully), while trying to control and suppress/expurgate the Hulk part of himself. Along the way, he eventually accepted that the Hulk was part of himself[4][5] (which is a long way from liking or trusting the Hulk[6]).

But overall, it didn’t really deliver. It might have been because Norton and the editing team had different ideas about the character, or what movie they were making. It might just not have been put together well.

In my head-canon, I see The Incredible Hulk (2008) as being an alternate universe explanation of how the Hulk came to be, and not really part of Earth-199999 (unless there are cross-overs), and not really informing the Hulk’s (or Banner’s) character moving forward[7]

I would recommend this film only for completionists, or those who like Ed Norton (or Liv Tyler).

Next up: Iron Man 2! Purported to be ‘not as good’ as the first, but we’ll see how well it’s held up.

Other random notes:

Much of the film was shot in Toronto, leading to some interesting cognitive dissonance for the scenes shot on UofT campus, as the terrain/buildings really didn’t connect well with each other. (It’s difficult to know how much of this is because I know how things connect, and how much is because they had a grassy meadow with no buildings visible in the distance right beside a university building with a treed circle and cars.)

(Contrast with Avengers, which had regular establishing shots[8] with Stark tower in the background)

[1] Apparently, there was a test screening where viewers found the original plan (a reboot with flashbacks) too similar to Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003), and that is why they made this decision. 11 years later, it just seems like an odd design decision.

[2] This might also have helped a lot with explaining the ‘leap of faith’ that Norton’s Banner took near the end of the film, to try to transform into the Hulk in mid-air. I didn’t feel that there was anything in the movie that showed that Banner felt guilty enough about being the Hulk to take that action.

[3] Looking at Wikipedia, to check part of this post, I realized that I had forgotten Tim Ross’s Abomination. I felt during the movie that I never really understood where he was coming from. Yes, he said that he a survivor, that wanted to keep fighting (very likely some form of PTSD), but it was a bunch of ‘tell-rather-than-show’ moments, and some sort of flashback would have been much more effective for this character.

[4] This would eventually lead into the ‘Hulk is feeling taken for granted’ storyline from Ragnarok->Infinity War->Endgame

[5] Also, random note. They changed the ‘>200bpm -> Hulk’ to ‘letting yourself be angry’ after this movie, likely for storytelling reasons, but it’s a super-interesting ‘science’ part of the film.

[6] There was a final scene, where Banner is off somewhere hiding, and you see him almost gleefully going to ‘days without incident: 0’, which could have been a super-interesting ‘addicted to Hulk’ story.

[7] I’ll have to wait until Ultron to decide, but I feel that it is unlikely that Banner’s romance with Ross in this movie is consistent with his later romance with Black Widow.

[8] Thanks Ty Templeton for his fantastic Comic Book Boot Camp, which taught me about Establishing Shots, and many other important things!

Processing Endgame II: Iron Man (2008) [SPOILERS]

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

Music: “Avengers Theme Remix

First on the list to watch was Iron Man (2008). I had watched a few of the ‘best of’ scenes on Youtube, including the really impactful opening scene, and when he first takes the Mark II out for a spin.

A lot of the hagiography about Tony Stark talks about how he has a lot of features that make him an effective superhero. They talk about him being a futurist, super-smart, and handy. This movie perhaps emphasizes his handy-ness more than any other, with the extended scene of him building an innovative new Iron Man suit while a prisoner in a cave.

But what I think people perhaps forget is while he goes through a character development arc, his armor perhaps goes through even more of a change. His perhaps greatest ability is to learn from experience, and adapt by changing his actions and the tools he builds.

In this first movie, we see three versions of his Iron Man suit: The first, iconic grey suit that I remember so well from his first appearance in comics in the ’60s[1], the redone silver-coloured Mark II, and the familiar red & gold Mark III.

The suits go from working for a few minutes (Mark I), to almost being able to beat altitude records (Mark II) in what is probably a few weeks (or months).

And that’s when disaster almost strikes[2]. The suit ices up, and Tony has to manually de-ice it[3] in mid-fall. Luckily, he survives, and with this survival comes a small bit of learning.

This learning is used when making the Mark III, and is an important point in the final battle scene.

This learning from experience will be shown in later movies, but looking at it here, from Mark I->Mark II, the suit is streamlined, focus is placed on being able to fly (presumably because if it had been able to fly, Tony would not have had to walk out of the desert), and most of the weapons are removed (apparently because it was a flight test model). Tony also adds an automated way to don the suit[4], perhaps because his friend and compatriot[5] in building the Mark I dies to give him the time required to finish donning it and charging it up.

This learning from trauma, perhaps a source of his perfectionism is another theme that is consistent throughout the series.

From the Mark II to the Mark III, there’s the aforementioned de-icing package, along with the re-addition of some weaponry, as Tony was planning in a semi-revenge fashion to go destroy all of the weapons that bore his name that had made it onto the black market.

But there are two other things that make a huge difference. From the Mark I to Mark II, Tony integrated his home AI J.A.R.V.I.S. (Paul Bettany) into his suit. It’s difficult to describe how much of a difference it would make to have an AI companion riding along with you, vs. a mere targeting computer with Heads-Up Display. Part of the reason to have it there is very effective in movie terms, as it gives Robert Downey Jr. someone to argue with and be snarky with (also a super-important part of the Iron Man character), but even for someone who is great at multi-tasking, having a separate intelligence there, ready to sort through all of the data to tell you what is important *right now* is invaluable in a life-or-death situation[6].

The second (and perhaps even more important than anything else here) thing that makes Tony different is his willingness to embarrass himself. You see him videotaping himself testing all of his experiments, presumably so that he can watch the replay and learn from it.

Can you imagine Thor, or Captain America experimenting with repulsor boots so that they flip over and land unceremoniously on the ground? It’s totally out of character for them. Perhaps this is different, because we actually see into Tony’s practice workshop, and we never got the chance to see Thor first learning how to wield Mjolnir.

Next up: Iron Man II, one of the less-well known (and lower rated movies), but we’ll see how it goes on a re-watch!

Other notes: Pepper Potts’ ‘proof Tony has a heart’ moment was really poignant, and the interactions between the two of them were fun and meaningful to watch. I especially liked her bravery, and when she stuck up for herself and gave as good as she got.

Messages: How easy it is to fall into the mental trap of believing that your actions are not hurting others or having unintended consequences, if you never see them… #chardev

[1] I was lucky enough when I was growing up to have access to a few cardboard boxes of old comics from the late ’60s. I still remember the first Iron Man story, I think from before he had his own comic series, the first story where he builds his first suit, and before he paints it. It’s difficult to separate how I felt then about it then from the movie adaptation, and how much of it is from a soft place in my heart, vs. just feeling familiar[8] from childhood….

[2] There are so many places in these movies that disaster almost strikes, that there must be alternate timelines for each of them. Earth-199999 feels super-lucky.

[3] Well Chekov’s gun-d by the ‘cool suit-up montage’ (great multiple-use of a scene) showing the demo of all of the control surfaces.

[4] There are a number of iterations of this, with so many different ways to don the suits, or otherwise adapt to situations, that it almost deserves its own post.

[5] Shaun Toub‘s Ho Yinsen was the most poignant part of the movie for me, as I knew he was going to die (because I remembered enough of the plot), but I had forgotten that he was willing to die partially (or mostly) because his family had already been killed by the group that had captured him and Tony. There’s something here about the necessary sacrifice of good people to thwart evil, and from the (likely deliberate) casting of an an Iranian-American actor, about how people of all races and backgrounds can be good people, and we should be working with them.

[6] And your house robot will bring you your spare arc reactor, so you can put it back in your chest and save your life… 🙂

[7] This ability to give a voice command and have it followed intelligently will become super important later in the first Avengers movie. #staytuned

[8] I wonder how much of it is that Tony falls into the ‘scientist/inventor’ category of Marvel Superheroes, that speaks to me, or spoke to me especially when I was growing up, and that was how I saw my life/career unfolding.

Whimsy

Whimsy.
noun: “playfully quaint or fanciful behavior or humor.” (OED)

To me, it speaks of playfulness, perhaps some randomness, a willingness to play along and see where things go. Perhaps somewhere between the Pkunk and Dirk Gently.

If you played the old M:tG ‘Shandalar’ computer game[1], you may remember this card.

But I’m speaking of whimsy today because I had recently noticed that I had been feeling much less of it my life, due to some stressful circumstances that (I think) have now dissipated. You may have been following my writing for a while, and this is a large part of why I have not written in months, with the few sporadic mostly-picture posts being the most that I could put together.

I’ve been working with my life coach for some time now, on a number of things. One of the largest ones was finding space to create. I had spent a lot of time focusing on making physical and temporal space for creation, but had forgotten about creating the mental space, to be able to deal with distractions.

I almost said ‘push away’ distractions, but similar to the discussion of Saidin and Saidar, pushing away distractions is okay as a crutch, but being able to relax into the flow is much more powerful.

Either way, I’m excited to be feeling creative again, and have some ideas[2] about how to keep this going, even through the next set of distractions that will inevitably crop up.

It’s going to be an interesting year, thanks for being here with me.

-Nayrb 😀

[1]Still one of my favourite games of all time, and I think, even with all its faults, the best M:tG computer game.

[2]Interestingly, a bunch of these are around meditation, which I feel I only discovered very recently.

1997: The year they made Contact

20 years ago, I watched Contact in the theater with my family[1]. Tonight, I watched it again, with S.

To me, it held up well as a movie. All the characters were believable, and the science and the effects were well within the normal parameters of suspension of disbelief.

What struck me[2] was how hopeful a movie it was, that our better natures would win out, that our endless curiosity would take us places we’ve never imagined.

[Note that spoilers follow]

It’s always interesting the things you remember 20 years later. “Why not make two, at twice the price?” The destruction scene. The prime numbers sounding so ominously alien from the aether. The speaking through her father. The 18 hours of static[3].

Interestingly, I had remembered that 18 hours of static as being the vindication at the end of the movie, that she was not crazy, that something had indeed happened, but I had forgotten how much it was covered up.

The one (gaping) plot hole I had missed the first time around was the absence of study and testing before a human was sent through the machine. If you look at the history of the Apollo program, you see that it was preceded by Mercury and Gemini, with dozens of sequential missions, each testing new parts, to make sure that each part of the system and plan were well-enough understood to ensure successful missions. The idea that they would build a half-trillion-dollar system in Contact and not fully study it (especially if it’s generating strange EM radiation) before sending a human through it ‘strains credulity’. Even the EM it’s radiating would be a fantastic discovery for humans.

But I can understand how they would cut out things to make a move that was watchable, and which was able to spend its time focusing on the humans in the story.

The alternative view of events that the NSA directory was trying to convince people of at the end of the movie was reminiscent (for me) of the big con[4] at the end of ‘Watchmen’, albeit at the opposite end of the hope-fear axis.

Apparently, like Bladerunner, the ending was supposed to keep your doubt alive as to whether the events she experienced had actually happened. To me, it didn’t, as 18 hours of static (and whatever metallurgical data they could get from the sphere) would be enough to prove the story.

I laughed, I cried, I am full of hope. A new year dawns. Time to use that hope to build something meaningful, starting with some words.

[1]We immediately followed it with Men In Black. I’ll leave it to you to enjoy this juxtaposition.

[2]If you’d read or watched any Carl Sagan, this would probably not be surprising. “The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.”

[3]I had remembered it as 18 minutes.

[4]In ‘Contact’, it was posited that a billionaire had faked first contact to inspire humans to push themselves outwards. In ‘Watchmen’ (the graphic novel[5]), Adrian Veidt fakes an alien invasion to scare humans into working together against a common foe.

[5]’Watchmen’ the movie simplified the plot to have Doctor Manhattan be the scapegoat. this lead to a much tighter movie, but slightly less appropriate for my analogy, however much he played with space and time.

When Your Partner Succeeds, How do You React?

Recently, a friend of mine posted this article, which talks about a study where the experimenters measured how participants felt about themselves after hearing that their partner either did very well or very poorly on a test.

Interestingly, the male participants[1] felt better about themselves when they were told[2] that their partners did poorly, and worse about themselves when they were told that their partners did well[3].

Perhaps more interestingly, this only happened when measuring ‘Implicit self-esteem[4]’, but was absent (or much less pronounced) when measuring ‘Explicit self-esteem[5]’.

So, what does this mean? Many or most of us are feeling something subconsciously. Unfortunately, this can be difficult to detect, as the expression can vary widely from person to person and event to event. In the article, the author described one example thus:

“Not long ago a friend’s first book was published, so when I arrived at her home for a visit I eagerly voiced my enthusiasm and congratulations for her accomplishment. Moments into the interaction, her husband strode across the living room to a bookcase and returned with a copy of a book he authored 15 years ago.”

I remember acting like this once[6], and ascribing it to “trying to take away someone else’s success”, or “trying to take their success for your own[7]”. I compensated for it by explicitly giving praise and support whenever someone told me something they were proud of[8].

More recently, I talk with pride about the accomplishments of my partner[9].

Similar things could also manifest as ‘waiting to talk’ rather than ‘listening’, a calling out I remember vividly from early on in my efforts to learn how to communicate.

So, if this is a subconscious feeling, what exactly is it that you’re feeling? Some kind of threat, but what kind of threat? Some kind of threat to yourself? Some kind of threat to how you see yourself or your place in the world? Why does your subconscious think it’s bad for someone else to succeed[10]?

Why does your subconscious see this as a zero-sum game? What are you afraid of? What is the training that you took in as you were growing up that motivated you to think/act this way?

Knowing that, how can you deal with it? You could start by imagining how your partner being successful would help the both of you. As Belgarion said[11], when you notice yourself reacting to something more strongly than you might expect, you can pause, delve into that emotion, try to understand it, and think about it.

Outwardly, you can try listening and praise. Figure out what the person is proud of, why they’re proud of it, and try to find something along that axis to compliment them on. Usually, when your partner is telling you something, it’s like a bird bringing a present back to the nest for their partner. It’s important to acknowledge them and their gift[12]. There will be more than enough time for you to talk about the things you’re proud of, to talk about how you feel. Let them have this moment.

So, how do you react when your partner succeeds? Do you have coping mechanisms for dealing with subconscious issues like this? Share them in the comments below!

[1]”The mean age of participants was 18.9 years (SD 1.52). The average relationship length was 10 months and did not moderate any study results.” All hetero- couples, presumably of college-going demographics.

[2]Interestingly: “Extensive debriefing revealed that all but two participants
believed the feedback. Data from those two participants were
dropped from analysis.”

[3]The effect was opposite, but not statistically significant for female participants.

[4]”The self-esteem IAT assesses associations among two concept categories (self and other) and two evaluative attributes (good and bad) by requiring that participants categorize stimulus items representing the four categories as quickly as possible using two keys of a computer keyboard.”

[5]”Global explicit self-esteem was measured using the Rosenberg (1965) Self-Esteem Scale (RSE). The RSE consists of 10 statements related to overall feelings of self-worth. The items were answered on a 4-point scale ranging from (1) Strongly Disagree to (4) Strongly Agree (Cronbach’s alpha = .77).”

[6]’once’ as ‘in the past’, not ‘one time’. 🙂 It would undoubtedly have taken me multiple occurrences to have noticed the pattern, and likely multiple calling-outs.

[7]’Trying to take their success for your own’ is a separate issue, with its own long and terrible history.

[8]This was actually quite difficult for me at first, as I had to learn it by rote, as my parents found this difficult to do for me as I was growing up.

[9]This may or may not be related. I like telling stories about how cool she is, and cool things she’s done or is doing make for good stories.

[10]There’s a long literature on this topic, probably the most explicit is Wired’s article on how male computer game players who are losing the game are more likely to harass women.

[11]I can’t find the exact quote, but basically, he discovered something about himself that he didn’t like, and he had to take it out, look at it, and think about it for a while. (I think it was him. It was in something by David and Leigh Eddings.)

[12]This is from ‘Blink‘s discussion of successful couples.

When You Wish Upon a Star…

So, a good friend of mine recently posted the following meme:

Depressing thought...But is it true?
Depressing thought…But is it true?

“According to astronomy, when you wish upon a star….
You’re actually a few million years late.
That star is dead.
Just like your dreams.”

It’s a really depressing thought, perhaps even more depressing than the Nietzsche/Kubrick mashup: “God is dead, and you are alone in an uncaring universe.”[1]

At least with an uncaring universe, something with persist after you are gone. If all the stars are dead before you can even see them, would there even be anything left after we are gone?

But extraordinarily depressing statements require extraordinary evidence. So let’s take this sentence apart and define some things.

First: “According to astronomy” means that we get to (and have to) use astronomy in our proof or disproof. It also likely refers to modern astronomy, as it did not specify a time/technology period. (It may be interesting to see if any answers would be different under astronomy from a different time period, but that will be a secondary investigation.)

Second: “when you wish upon a star….” has a few different readings. The phrase seems to come (at least most recently) from the song written for Disney’s Pinnochio. In that movie, Gepetto says the following:


Look! A wishing star!

Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight…

I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I make tonight.

This is an ‘English language nursery rhyme’ first published in the late 19thC (Wikipedia).

Interestingly, it seems to refer to ‘shooting or falling stars’, or meteors. These would certainly be ‘dead’ (as they are vaporizing in the atmosphere during the ‘wish’, but not for ‘millions of years'[2], as the distance from the viewer to the meteor can be measured in tens or hundreds of kilometers, an insignificant time light distance[3].

But going back to “When you wish upon a star, the meme-maker seems to be clearly referring to the 1940 Disney song and film. Looking at the occurrences of this song in the film:

At 0:34, you can see the image of Gepetto wishing upon the star:

The star is clearly stationary, as can also be seen in the reprise at the end of the film, where Jiminy Cricket is looking upon the same star, still unmoving:

So, this restricts us to the realm of non-moving (or slowly-moving) celestial objects[4]. From the film, the star also seems significantly brighter than the surrounding stars, but the exact extent to which this is true could be dramatic license.

The rhyme mentions ‘first star I see tonight’, which also suggests that the celestial object seen is unusually bright.

So, non-moving (or slowly moving) celestial objects which are bright. This leaves us with comets, planets, and bright stars[4][5].

Comets are objects orbiting through the solar system, and unless they fall into the sun, impact another body, or otherwise breakup, they tend to go on ‘living’ after we see them. (Halley’s comet has been known since at least 240BC.)

Planets could easily look like stars, often like unusually bright stars. Venus was called the ‘evening star‘[6] since antiquity, and it would be bright enough (up to apparent magnitude -4.9) to be significantly brighter than anything else in the sky. Venus could be considered ‘dead’ because it may have once supported life before a runaway greenhouse effect millions of years ago, but this seems an unlikely metaphorical interpretation. Mercury (up to apparent magnitude -2.45) would also be significantly brighter than anything but Venus (and the moon and sun), but has never been ‘alive’, being too close to the Sun[7]. Mars (up to apparent magnitude -2.91) could have been alive at some point, in the same vein as Venus. One or more of the moons of Jupiter (up to apparent magnitude -1.61) or Saturn[8] (up to apparent magnitude 1.47) could have been home to life, under this same metaphorical definition. (The other planets and other bodies in the solar system are too dim to ever be a ‘bright star’.)

So, a planet could be a metaphorical source for this quote, but this seems unlikely, as the quote seems to be referring to the fact that the celestial object is no longer emitting the light itself.

This leaves us with bright stars. Looking at the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius (up to apparent magnitude -1.46), it[9] is only about 8.6 light years away, so we would know in less than a decade if something were to happen there.

The next 91[10] brightest stars are listed here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_brightest_stars

You will note that even the furthest among these, Deneb is still only 2600 light years away, much closer than the ‘few million years’ mentioned above.

Based on all this evidence, it would seem that the original meme:

“According to astronomy, when you wish upon a star….
You’re actually a few million years late.
That star is dead.
Just like your dreams.”

is false, which is good, because it would be super-depressing otherwise.

If you enjoyed this sojurn through astronomy, you may like the rest of my blog. Comment below with things you want me to talk about or investigate!

[1]If you have a better source for this, please let me know.

[2]If you want to be pedantic (and I know you do), you could say that meteors are the dead husks of possible (or tidally destroyed) planets, and their burning up in the atmosphere is hundreds of millions of years after they ‘died’.

[3]Much less than a second, even if you assume they impact the Earth’s atmosphere thousands of kilometers away.

[4]A close supernova might also qualify, as it could easily be brighter than anything else in the night sky, would last just long enough to be a ‘wishing star’, and would have been ‘dead’ for some time before it was seen by a human observer. This might indeed be source of this rhyme, where a ‘guest star‘ could inspire wishing and omens. However, looking at this list of supernovae, any supernova which would have been visible as a ‘bright star’ with the naked eye would be at most tens or hundreds of thousands of light years away, not qualifying for the ‘few million years’ mentioned above. I also personally see supernovae more as a seeding of the galaxy with heavier elements, and thus wishing upon one of these would be wishing that the spreading of heavier elements would inspire life to form elsewhere in the universe.

[5]I see no way that any reasonable person could confuse the Sun or Moon with a ‘wishing star’.

[6]Interestingly, the Babylonians had figured out that the ‘evening star’ and the ‘morning star’ were one and the same. It took the Greeks a significant amount of time to discover this themselves, calling them ‘Phosphorus’ and ‘Hesperus’. How many times have there been such dark ages, where knowledge needs to be rediscovered? Was there a Greek ‘renaissance’, or were the Babylonian star charts lost until modern archaeology? Did mere dregs survive to inspire subsequent scientific revolutions?

[7]…unless there was life along the terminator, at some point in the past…

[8]Or [spoiler alert]:

One of the planets themselves!

[9]They, really, as Sirius is a double star, but that is outside the scope of this post.

[10]93, including the Sun, Sirius and the next 91 of magnitude 2.5 or greater.

“I Want To Be Her!”

Today, we went to see the new Ghostbusters movie.

Before I go any further, there may be spoilers below, and you should go see this movie. S loved it. For me, it was worth it just for the bad-ass ghost fighting, for Kate McKinnon stealing every scene, for the closing credits. Just go see it. (Also, Market Square on Front is a great theatre.)

The review that best captures the feeling for me, I saw on facebook shortly before we saw the movie, and I quote part of it here:


I’m almost 30 and last night was the first time I saw a movie where a woman fucking did a thing and was funny without crying into a pint of ice cream and was badass without being a pinup and all I could think was… I really didn’t know that was an option. I really didn’t know you could save the world without looking like you’re trying to pose for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition at the same time. I have never, in 30 years, seen a major movie that didn’t reinforce the message that how I look is more important than what I do.

The Atlantic talks about how the new movie is a product of its time, just like the old movie:


In that sense, though, Ghostbusters is engaging in one of the most valuable aspects of the culture’s current reboot mania: It is serving, in its very re-ness, of evidence of all that has changed, for better or for worse, since 1984. In the years since the original Ghostbusters premiered, 9/11 happened. The web happened. CGI improved. Feminism got normalized, and then commercialized.

Here, believing in ghosts makes one not iconoclastic, as it did for the men of the original, but potentially that most loaded of gendered epithets—“crazy.”

The film is, in many ways, a study on what would have happened if the original Ghostbusters had been female. They are treated totally differently, routinely called ‘crazy’, even at the end of the movie, the powers that be want to keep them swept under the carpet.

Chris Hemsworth was fantastic as Kevin. I think he should do more comedy.

Kate McKinnon’s fight sequence near the end of the movie was to die for. If they don’t make her a superhero movie, there is no justice in this world. She also stole just about every scene that she was in.

A new movie for the kids of today, a new product of its time. Go see it (and stay all the way to the end!)

How do You Measure Inflation?

Inflation is supposed to be one, measurable number. There’s a number that’s quoted in all the newspapers, and is used all over the place, to help determine how well the economy is doing, to index pensions, to negotiate union contracts, etc, etc…

This is generally known as the ‘CPI’, or ‘Consumer Price Index’. I’ve reproduced the numbers for Canada from Statcan[1] below:

Consumer Price Index, historical summary
(1996 to 2015)   	All-items 	Change from previous year
  	2002=100 	%
1996 	88.9 	1.5
1997 	90.4 	1.7
1998 	91.3 	1.0
1999 	92.9 	1.8
2000 	95.4 	2.7
2001 	97.8 	2.5
2002 	100.0 	2.2
2003 	102.8 	2.8
2004 	104.7 	1.8
2005 	107.0 	2.2
2006 	109.1 	2.0
2007 	111.5 	2.2
2008 	114.1 	2.3
2009 	114.4 	0.3
2010 	116.5 	1.8
2011 	119.9 	2.9
2012 	121.7 	1.5
2013 	122.8 	0.9
2014 	125.2 	2.0
2015 	126.6 	1.1

These numbers should dovetail well with what you read in the news. They even nicely break the CPI down by type of item:

Consumer Price Index, by province (monthly)
(Canada)   May 2015 April 2016 	May 2016 April 2016 to May 2016 May 2015 to May 2016
  	2002=100 	% change
Canada 	  	 
All-items 		126.9 	128.3 	128.8 	0.4 	1.5
Food 			140.8 	143.8 	143.3 	-0.3 	1.8
Shelter 		133.2 	134.9 	135.1 	0.1 	1.4
Household op & furn. 	119.7 	121.6 	122.1 	0.4 	2.0
Clothing and footwear 	95.0 	96.0 	96.0 	0.0 	1.1
Transportation 		128.0 	127.8 	129.4 	1.3 	1.1
Health and pers. care 	120.7 	122.2 	122.3 	0.1 	1.3
Rec, ed, & reading 	109.9 	110.3 	111.7 	1.3 	1.6
Alc. & tobacco products 151.9 	156.5 	156.8 	0.2 	3.2
Special aggregates
All items excl. food 	124.2 	125.3 	126.1 	0.6 	1.5
All items excl. energy 	124.8 	126.9 	127.2 	0.2 	1.9
Energy 			152.4 	143.4 	146.9 	2.4 	-3.6
Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM, table 326-0020 and Catalogue nos. 62-001-X and 62-010-X.
Last modified: 2016-06-17.

But many peoples’ experience of inflation can be very different.

I’ll use an example near and dear to my heart:

Today, I had the

Vegetable Chow Mein from my favourite food truck: Wokking On Wheels!
Vegetable Chow Mein from my favourite food truck: Wokking On Wheels!

I first visited the Wokking on Wheels food truck sometime during the fall of 1996, when I was working on Calculus with J (Thanks, J!). At that time, they had five daily specials which, if I recall correctly, they were selling for $3.75. These included the special Thursday special, ‘Singapore Fried noodles’, which you could persuade them to add red sweet sauce to. Delicious!

Anyway, the Vegetable Chow Mein was the least expensive thing on their menu today, at $7.

So, 20 years later, how has inflation fared? By the CPI deflator above, you would expect a $3.75 item in 1996 to cost $3.75*128.8/88.9 = $5.43, about $1.50 less than the actual.

Even if you use the ‘food’ number above, you get: $3.75*143.3/88.9 = $6.04, or about $1 less than the actual.

There are a number of reasons for this (which are beyond the scope), but it’s enough for now to note that there are reasons that people have a different feeling of inflation than what is ‘official’.

[1]The numbers for Ontario seem to be about the same to me.

“It felt like flying.”

Walking, walking, walking. It felt like that was all he ever did. He didn’t mind, though, it was actually kind of fun. Most of the time, there would be new things to see, or at least new people. In a city of five million, you would rarely see the same person twice, unless you were specifically going somewhere to meet someone.

But today was different. He was biking instead. He had avoided it for years, after an accident in his youth, where his back carrier had become detached, lodged in the spokes of his back wheel, throwing him over his handlebars.

He had wondered if riding a bike was really ‘like riding a bike’, that you never actually forgot. He wondered how all of the muscle memory (if that was what it really was) worked, to help him keep his balance. He wondered if he’d ever be as balanced as those who biked without hands.

And so he went out and bought a bike. It was nicely coloured, and had front and rear shocks. Not too expensive. It spoke to him somehow. Strongly enough that he didn’t notice that pun until many years later.

Slowly at first, he tried the bike. It rode well, and it turned out that riding a bike was in fact ‘like riding a bike’.

He rode that bike for years, his trusty steed, even getting it repaired for more than it cost to purchase, after an unfortunate overnight stay in a bad neighbourhood. But it was too important, and he was too attached to it to let it go. They continued, and had many adventures together, braved travails and stress, pain and joy.

Some time later, he and the bike moved on to a new place. They continued their adventures, but they were increasingly discovering that riding was causing him pain in the knees. It was time to move on, but he wanted to make sure the bike would continue adventuring, especially because of all they had been through together.

So he put out the call. He put a price on it, not because the money was important, but because he wanted whomever the new person was to take it seriously.

He met the new person, he was a good person. He went away with the bike, sending back a picture as a momento. But the bike had given him an even better parting gift.

Looking back many years later, the bike’s new person had become a good friend. One last time, the bike brought him together.

But perhaps some of that spirit had transferred to his new trusty steed. Biking down the street near what would be their home, his new bike brought him towards a person who would end up being very special indeed.