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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 with ‘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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Another_Day,_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 🙂

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.”

Don’t Listen to me, Listen to People who have Lived This Experience

If you are reading this near when I wrote it, you are likely aware of the worldwide protests related to the murder of George Floyd.

I have a lot of words that I could say about this, but you shouldn’t be listening to me. You should be listening to people who have actually lived this experience.

A good place to start is one or more of the books on this excellent list from the Toronto Public Library. The first book on the list is by Desmond Cole, an excellent local journalist, activist, and writer:

https://account.torontopubliclibrary.ca/shared/blacklivesmatter-a-booklist/7a30VmdcoaVzXnHz5QRMyCEAsh7MfWLIhaF08xO8JLFLNB1xuF

You can get these books from the library, but if you can, it is good to support writers, for example from a Toronto black owned bookstore: https://www.adifferentbooklist.com/

If you want to learn some more about the history of the civil rights movement in the mid-20th century, the story of Fred Hampton [Wikipedia] may be instructive, here summarized in a twitter thread.

There are some interesting findings about what does and does not work for police reform, summarized in a twitter thread here.

Some words about how to be a good ally.

12 ways you can be an activist without going to a protest.

And finally, some words from one of my favourite people in the world, Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

To Move Forward, We need to Address This First

If you are reading this near when I wrote it, you are very likely aware of the worldwide protests related to the murder of George Floyd.

At the root of it, these protests are about police brutality, and many are asking the question “are the police really who we should be calling in order to solve the problems we see?”

There is a movement to defund the police. Specifically, there are a number of jobs that we have been asking the police to do that could be done more effectively (and with less violence, and likely in a less costly way). The following pictures paint a vision of what would be possible if we diverted more of our resources towards solving some of these problems instead of suppressing them with people who are trained primarily in the use of force.

[image of text: SOMEONE IS BEHAVING ERRATICALLY & IN HARM'S WAY. IMAGINE... ...TEXTING A NUMBER & AN UNARMED URGENT RESPONDER TRAINED IN BEHAVIORAL AND MENTAL HEALTH COMES WITHIN 5 MINUTES. AN HOUR LATER THAT PERSON IS SAFE & GETTING THE SUPPORT THEY NEED. ____ isn't that public safety?]
[image of text: SOMEONE IS BEHAVING ERRATICALLY & IN HARM’S WAY.
IMAGINE…
…TEXTING A NUMBER & AN UNARMED URGENT RESPONDER TRAINED IN BEHAVIORAL AND MENTAL HEALTH COMES WITHIN 5 MINUTES.
AN HOUR LATER THAT PERSON IS SAFE & GETTING THE SUPPORT THEY NEED.
____
isn’t that public safety?]
[image of text: SOME FOLKS ARE SLEEPING ON BENCHES IN THE PARK. IMAGINE... ...A CITY EMPLOYEE COMES BY & CHECKS IN TO SEE IF THEY NEED A PLACE TO SLEEP, FOOD, WATER, OR HEALTH CARE. AN HOUR LATER, THOSE WHO WANT A DIFFERENT PLACE TO SLEEP HAVE ONE. _____ isn't that public safety?]
[image of text: SOME FOLKS ARE SLEEPING ON BENCHES IN THE PARK.
IMAGINE…
…A CITY EMPLOYEE COMES BY & CHECKS IN TO SEE IF THEY NEED A PLACE TO SLEEP, FOOD, WATER, OR HEALTH CARE.
AN HOUR LATER, THOSE WHO WANT A DIFFERENT PLACE TO SLEEP HAVE ONE.
_____
isn’t that public safety?]
[image of text: YOU ARE EXPERIENCING A MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS & AFRAID IMAGINE... ..YOU CALL +311 & A FIRST RESPONDER TRAINED IN MENTAL HEALTH COMES TO YOUR DOOR. 1 HOUR LATER, YOU ARE IN A SAFE PLACE WITH YOUR CONSENT, WITH PLANS FOR FOLLOW UP CARE. _____ isn't that public safety?]
[image of text: YOU ARE EXPERIENCING A MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS & AFRAID
IMAGINE…
..YOU CALL +311 & A FIRST RESPONDER TRAINED IN MENTAL HEALTH COMES TO YOUR DOOR.
1 HOUR LATER, YOU ARE IN A SAFE PLACE WITH YOUR CONSENT, WITH PLANS FOR FOLLOW UP CARE.
_____
isn’t that public safety?]
[image of text: YOU DON'T REALIZE, BUT YOUR BRAKE LIGHTS AREN'T WORKING. IMAGINE... ... A CITY EMPLOYEE SIGNALS FOR YOU TO PULL OVER & SAYS, "HEY - HOW ABOUT I REPLACE THOSE LIGHTS FOR YOU RIGHT HERE SO NO ONE GETS HURT?" AN HOUR LATER, BOTH LIGHTS WORK & YOU'RE AT HOME. ______ isn't that public safety?]
[image of text: YOU DON’T REALIZE, BUT YOUR BRAKE LIGHTS AREN’T WORKING.
IMAGINE…
… A CITY EMPLOYEE SIGNALS FOR YOU TO PULL OVER & SAYS, “HEY – HOW ABOUT I REPLACE THOSE LIGHTS FOR YOU RIGHT HERE SO NO ONE GETS HURT?”
AN HOUR LATER, BOTH LIGHTS WORK & YOU’RE AT HOME.
______
isn’t that public safety?]
[image of text: YOU ARE EXPERIENCING INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE. IMAGINE... ...TEXTING A NUMBER & A TRAUMA INFORMED CRISIS INTERVENTION SPECIALIST MEETS YOU IN A SAFE PLACE. AN HOUR LATER YOU ARE WORKING TOGETHER TO MAKE A PLAN THAT WILL KEEP YOU SAFE LONG TERM. ____ isn't that public safety?]
[image of text: YOU ARE EXPERIENCING INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE.
IMAGINE…
…TEXTING A NUMBER & A TRAUMA INFORMED CRISIS INTERVENTION SPECIALIST MEETS YOU IN A SAFE PLACE.
AN HOUR LATER YOU ARE WORKING TOGETHER TO MAKE A PLAN THAT WILL KEEP YOU SAFE LONG TERM.
____
isn’t that public safety?]
[image of text: YOUR FRIENDS ARE INTOXICATED & FIGHTING BUT YOU DON'T WANT THEM TO GET IN TROUBLE. IMAGINE... ...YOU CALL +311 AND A CRISIS INTERVENTION TEAM COMES TO YOUR DOOR. 1 HOUR LATER, YOUR FRIENDS ARE SLEEPING IT OFF AT HOME. ____ isn't that public safety?]
[image of text: YOUR FRIENDS ARE INTOXICATED & FIGHTING BUT YOU DON’T WANT THEM TO GET IN TROUBLE.
IMAGINE…
…YOU CALL +311 AND A CRISIS INTERVENTION TEAM COMES TO YOUR DOOR.
1 HOUR LATER, YOUR FRIENDS ARE SLEEPING IT OFF AT HOME.
____
isn’t that public safety?]
[image of text: SOMEONE SEEMS TO BE SNOOPING IN CAR WINDOWS IN YOUR BLOCK. IMAGINE... ...CALLING YOUR NEIGHBORS WHO ARE TRAINED IN SELF-DEFENSE & DEESCALATION & APPROACHING THE PERSON. AN HOUR LATER THE CONFLICT IS RESOLVED & THE PERSON RESPONSIBLE IS GETTING THE SUPPORT THEY NEED. ____ isn't that public safety?]
[image of text: SOMEONE SEEMS TO BE SNOOPING IN CAR WINDOWS IN YOUR BLOCK.
IMAGINE…
…CALLING YOUR NEIGHBORS WHO ARE TRAINED IN SELF-DEFENSE & DEESCALATION & APPROACHING THE PERSON.
AN HOUR LATER THE CONFLICT IS RESOLVED & THE PERSON RESPONSIBLE IS GETTING THE SUPPORT THEY NEED.
____
isn’t that public safety?]

Processing Endgame IV: Iron Man II (2010)

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

After the somewhat disappointing The Incredible Hulk (2008), we turned to the next movie in the MCU, Iron Man II (2010). I had low expectations for this one, not remembering a lot of it from 9 years ago, except that it wasn’t an origin story[1], and that it would have to deal in some way with Tony’s narcissism (as all of the Iron Man movies did). I couldn’t shake the memory that Robert Downey Junior had started to get bored with the movies (although that might only have happened in Iron Man 3), and I was expecting it to be not very good.

I was quite pleasantly surprised.

From the beginning, they set up the premise of the movie, that Tony was dying from palladium poisoning (from the arc reactor in his chest, that was keeping him alive). Somewhat similar to his brush with death in the first Iron Man movie (in the desert in Afghanistan), it humbled him somewhat, making him think about what his legacy would be, how he would be remembered. He thus set out to recreate the Stark Expo, perhaps to make his father proud[2]. Of course, this inner humbling had to be outwardly avoided, at all costs, by huge stage shows, large parties, and public drinking to excess.

This led to his actual first low moment, where he let ‘Rhodey’ take his Mark II armour[3], perhaps as part of a legacy, perhaps because he knew that he really was actually out of control.

Scarlett Johansson makes her first appearance here, going undercover in the legal department of Stark Industries, then as Tony and Pepper’s personal secretary. She gets to show off her badassery, first sparring with Happy, then breaking into Hammer Industries. She also gets to show off her creative understanding of computer systems, where, after she and J.A.R.V.I.S. both being unable to break into War Machine’s system, she manages to reboot it, restoring Rhodey’s control.

She felt like she was used as a supporting character through most of the movie, but that makes sense, given her cover[4].

Overall, the movie felt like the ‘A’ plot was Tony trying to save his own life, by developing a better arc reactor. The fights against Vanko and the Hammer drones seemed almost too easy for Iron Man (totally unprepared, he suits up in his weakest, portable armor, and wins reasonably handily on the racetrack[5], and the Hammer drones are only a threat because of the civilians nearby. (The last battle sequence with Vanko is also incredibly short[6].)

Along the way, he got a bit closer to his father, and solved the ‘B’ plot of Vanko[7] & Hammer.

He solved some of the problems (but not all) of quick field deployment of his armour (The Mark V was much quicker (about 15 seconds), and doesn’t require specialized equipment. He learned a better appreciation for his father, and got some emotional support from him. During the movie, he added electrical resistance and the new arc reactor to his Mark VI armor, which was otherwise mostly unchanged from the Mark III[8].

However, he triumphed mostly over himself. His external adversaries (Hammer, Vanko, that senator) were not substantial enemies for Stark & Iron Man. He even managed to defeat them with no bystanders being harmed. This would only fuel his narcissism, which would not be adequately countered until much later[9].

The movie held up quite well. It felt well paced (all of the ‘best of’ scenes on Youtube were connected by scenes that seemed to make sense, and went on for reasonable amounts of time), all of the characters were believeable (Justin Hammer wonderfully punchable villain, and Vanko was well-devloped, and quite in character[10]). All of the rest of the cast were believeable, and made sense.

How did I feel about it? I felt that I understood Tony as a character better, I understood where I knew Black Widow from, and why I wanted to see more of her as a character. I wanted to see more interactions with technology, more world-building in that direction, more Tony making better amour, or other things. (Making Black Widow’s devices would be pretty cool.) I appreciated the interactions with Tony’s father. Justin Hammer perhaps spoke even more to me, as he channeled an ’80s movie villain. I understand more of the dual challenges of Tony fighting with himself, vs. fighting with others, and how this varies over time.

How did this help me process Endgame better? Perhaps it showed me that Tony was at his most interesting and effective when he was right on the edge, or that he wasn’t, and it was all about giving him time to be apart and get into ‘flow’, to solve large intractable problems. It helped me understand his arc better, and how him coming face-to-face with his mortality, and tempering his narcissism were key (although he always had the drive to protect those around him, which always seems to have included all civilians, which seems to have been a constant part of his character).

This was perhaps best personified in the “C’mon!”, where he’s desperate to make a difference (and survive), and save people, but he needs others to do help him do it[11], and being so frustrated when this is difficult.

Stay tuned for next time, when we watch a movie with a totally different feel, the Shakespearean[12] drama Thor!

[1] I still have a soft spot in my heart for Iron Man’s origin story.

[2] The dealing with his distant father issues were done in (I thought) an understated and tasteful way, focused on a few scenes of introspection

[3] To be refitted and ‘weaponized’ into the ‘War Machine’ armour. Interestingly, he calls him ‘War Machine’ explicitly in the film, before this happens. Also, it’s pretty obvious that off-screen, he had allowed Rhodey to play with the armour.

[4] I really hope that her movie gets into her origin story with Fury…

[5] Vanko suggests in the jail cell scene that he was deliberately just trying to make Tony bleed, not actually trying to kill anyone, which would agree with how no civilians seem to have been harmed in the Stark Pavilion battle.

[6] Vanko mentioned in the jail cell scene that once you ‘make god bleed’, then ‘there is blood in the water’, about how now that he has shown that Iron Man is not invincible, others will come after him. Some[13] have suggested that this is related to the ‘All that for a drop of blood’ line in Infinity War. I interpreted that line straight, that even with the benefit of surprise, and a pretty good plan, Stark was not enough to defeat Thanos head-on.

[7] Although it’s never really explained exactly what happened to Vanko’s father, we only have Fury’s word on it.

[8] The ‘arm lasers’ are a noticeable exception.

[9] It was a work in progress, but it could be argued that his PTSD arc after Avengers, and his defeat in Infinity War are the keys.

[10] Apparently Mickey Rourke did a substantial amount of work to prepare for the part, and it showed.

[11] A substantial part of the character growth may be Tony learning that others are not subordinates, but can be full partners in what he needs to do. Promoting and giving Pepper control of Stark Industries may have been the first step here, then Rhodey, and finally letting Cap call the shots in New York…

[12] Why else would you choose Kenneth Branagh to direct? Fun factoid: He also directed the post-credits scene for Iron Man 2, where they discover Mjolnir.

[13] Sorry, I can’t find the reference. 🙁

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.

What is the Goal of Management?

Earlier, I talked a couple of times about some possible deconvolutions and separations of a number of traditional management roles.

Today, I want to talk about the goal of management. What are the principles underlying how we support and direct our teams? What are we trying to accomplish?

We want to look at some of the various goals we might have as managers, and then see how those may map onto different roles that might be allocated to different team members.

I like to say that I have two goals as a manager: 1) Support each of the people on my team to develop themselves as best they can, and 2) Achieve results for the larger organization that we are part of.

Sometimes these goals are in conflict, but I put them in this order deliberately, to show[1] that helping your people is often the best way to help your organization, that in general, these goals are in alignment.

But I digress. What are the goals of a team?

1) Support and develop each of the team members
– Help each of the people figure out how they want to develop
– Help each of the people develop themselves
– Help them remove internal[2] obstacles in the way of their development
– Help them remove external[2] obstacles in the way of their development
– Give feedback and suggestions for improvement
– Have difficult conversations with more pointed suggestions for improvement
2) Achieve results for the larger organization
– Provide guidance (estimates, progress reports, and risk levels) to the rest of the organization[3]
– Estimate the amount of time/effort[4] required for a task
– Perform tasks (may include investigations to better define tasks)
– Perform prioritization of project work
– Perform prioritization of triage tasks/incoming requests
– Firefighting of emergencies
– Define & subdivide tasks
– Work with other teams on projects/tasks
– Unblock and remove obstacles for other team members

Next time, we’ll see how these tasks are divided, in traditional management, and in typical Scrum/Agile. We’ll also start looking at how you can use this more granular list of management roles to start training up your management bench. Stay tuned!

[1] At least through repeated assertion…

[2]You can interpret the concept of ‘internal’ and ‘external’ obstacles in a number of different ways. In this context, I’m thinking about ‘internal’ as ‘inside your own head’, but ‘internal’ could just as easily mean ‘in your team’, or ‘in your organization’. This duality could easily be split into multiple roles. I separate out ‘inside your head’ because I see ‘Inner Game‘ issues as requiring a different approach than talking to people other than the one with the obstacle.

[3]I had originally written this as ‘up the hierarchy’, but this information is also useful to other parts of any organization, and I’m trying to generalize this to less hierarchical organizations.

[4]Perhaps wall-clock time vs. % of a two-week sprint, for example.

Weather Only A Druid Could Love II

He walked down the street, skipping between the puddles and weaving between the umbrellas. It was one of those days where he wasn’t exactly sure where he wanted to go for lunch, but he was pretty sure it was going to be one of the local takeout places. He felt himself gravitating towards the little hole-in-the-wall ‘BBQ’ place, where he had oddly never seen a barbecue, nor any food that was barbecued. Walking in, he ordered his usual, enjoying the fact that they now left the onions off his salad without asking, and even remembered his dressing choices (balsamic).

Stepping outside, he walked through the geometric tree garden. That probably wasn’t its name, but he didn’t know how to refer to it. There were little (to him) trees inside half-toroidal bollards. Normally, when he walked this way, there would be people sitting on the bollards, sometimes two people conversing, sometimes people taking a brief moment of solitude and recharge from whatever emotional labour their ‘normal’ daily life entailed.

Today, there were a few stalwarts, sitting huddled on the bollards, each of them inside their own bubble. It reminded of what a woman had told him about her experience living in London, that ‘each person was their own country.’

Some of them were smoking cigarettes, most were on their phones, hunched over the screens to keep them dry, hoarding the few minutes they had to themselves all day, resentful of the rain for robbing of some of the little joy they ever felt.

He gave this whole montage a wide berth. It felt rude to intrude, and once again, he was still enjoying his walk too much to want to, even by trying to share a smile or nod.

The rain continued its gentle mist, he continued his walk. When he was growing up, he had always seen himself as a wind-lover, based on how much he loved the summer breezes and winds, especially when they whispered through the trees, but it seems that his love was actually for the outdoors, whatever its weather might bring. He was looking forward to what it might bring next, whatever that may be, as long as he was outside.

Forgiveness and Daily Standups

Recently, I wrote about forgiveness.

I made a comment in there about how it was super-important to make regular forgiveness a cornerstone of your management technique.

Forgiveness is so important because it allows your people to take calculated risks, with the knowledge that they can make mistakes that will be forgiven.

Like how brakes on a car allow you to go faster[0], forgiveness of error allows people to take larger risks, to go faster.

It’s also similar the to risk/reward tradeoffs that people make while investing. If you can’t forgive yourself for the large drawdown, you will never make the large returns.

So, these are nice words, but how do you do this?

First, I want to focus on one of the words I wrote above: ‘regular’. Specifically, ‘regular forgiveness’.

I first learned this from my undergrad thesis supervisor[1]. Every single meeting we had, no matter how much I had accomplished since the last meeting, he would always talk about where we were right now, and what the next step was. It felt like a safe space, where I was not going to be judged, and I’ve tried to bring this to all of my teams since.

Fundamentally, people worry about being embarrassed and being judged, by their manager, by their peers, or people that they don’t even know[2].

Daily standups can help you remind your team that they everything is okay on a daily basis. Think about it. That regular contact is telling your entire team not just that they’re important, but also telling them that you know what they’re doing, and you approve. It gives them that solid floor underneath them that they can jump from every day, knowing that you and your whole team are waiting and willing to catch them tomorrow if they fall.

You can do this today, with your daily standup, or your weekly meeting. “Where are we right now? What is our next step?” It might take a while for people to unwind, but if you give them time, they will see that you mean it. It is powerful once it works.

The fear of being judged by people you don’t know is the most difficult to fix with this method. You can help someone understand that you will not judge them for things they do, and it’s somewhat more difficult (but totally doable) to create and reinforce that culture at your site, but it’s much more difficult to convince someone that they person that they’ve never met, perhaps on the other side of the world, won’t judge them for asking a stupid question or wasting their time.

All you can really do for this is to make a local culture of acceptance and non-judgement, so that people at least have a safe space to jump off from to take their risks.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention gender and cultural issues. I’m not enough of an expert on either of these to really comment in depth, but all of the above are often more difficult (sometimes much more difficult) for those who are not part of the dominant power group in a society.

As a general rule, think about how tense you get when asking your boss about something. Now, what if that was your boss’s boss? Now think about for each type of privilege that you don’t have, you add one level of hierarchy and tension.

So, for you, asking your boss is like, well, asking your boss. But for your female co-worker, asking her boss might be as difficult as you asking your boss’s boss.

This is why it is so important to make your organization’s culture as accepting and non-judgemental and as forgiving as possible, because you never know how much more difficult it is for the person sitting next to you to do the things that you might do every day.

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

[0]Thanks, Jay!

[1]Thanks, Brad!

[2]I’m not actually sure which of these is a stronger fear.