Moron Squad

“Why are so many people invested in keeping medical issues private? The answer is probably insurance. We should change it so they have to insure people. Maybe we have a safe place where people can go live in a world like that and see if it works.”

And just like that, in only four sentences, Larry Page made the best case ever for why nobody should ever put any information into a Google product…ever.  Honestly, where do you start?  The complete oblivion to the way health care works in this country? The utter ignorance of the knock-down drag-out year-long brawl in 2009 over how to get people insured?  The indifference to the entire notion of privacy?

Larry has absolutely stupid money.  Larry doesn’t have to worry a lick about where his health care is coming from for the rest of his life. “We should change it so they have to insure people” – guess what, genius, that’s called a “mandate,” and Barack Obama burned through every last atom of political capital he had to try to make it happen.  Larry Page can pay straight cash for anything medical, pretty much forever.  Meanwhile, the rest of us are at the mercy of whoever our employer is willing to contract with – in my case, Blue Shield of California, which appears to be run by feces-flinging monkeys unable to receive communication back from the providers whose records they request.  I don’t really have an alternative either – I could go to Kaiser and take the chances one takes with an HMO, even though Blue Shield’s steadfast refusal to cover anything is practically an HMO in and of itself.  Or I could pay cash, lose the discounts that come with negotiated group insurance, and go broke inside of a year.

So yeah.  How about I just quit my job and go live in the safe place where they have to insure people? Because remember what I said about working from home a while back? I’ll just buy a ticket to fly to this place.  And best of all, I’ll just tell everyone I’ve got major health issues requiring medication and possibly longer term care in my dotage, because guess what, that’s sure to make the people who have to insure me charge the least possible amount for the insurance.  Hint: not all insurance is created equal.  What you’re probably thinking of is universal CARE, not coverage, and it’s the thing that the GOP keeps waving as part of that hellish nightmare that is Britain. Or Canada.

There have been a couple of cutting articles in the London Review of Books and the New Yorker that sort of get at this, but I’ll sum it up quick: there are way too many people in this valley who live in their little bubble at the crossroads of Affluent and Asperger’s.  People who never had to get up at 5 AM to unload a truck.  People who never sat on a forklift.  People who never worked for minimum wage at a temp gig, doing the same work that staff were getting twice the money for plus benefits.  We’ve created a class of instant millionaires who think what they have is normal, and who don’t grasp – or care – why anyone else can’t just do the same. 

What we have done in Silicon Valley is this: we have normalized the absence of empathy.  It’s not a model to emulate.

On second viewing…

…some of Iron Man 3 works slightly better. I guess the gimmick with Mk42 is that every individual piece of it can operate individually, and that’s the whole point. The power issues were more obvious to me and more consistent, and the prototype nature of the suit was played for effect – the only thing I really still object to is that every individual piece of the Mk42 somehow flew from Tennessee to Miami in FIVE MINUTES, which would be over twenty times the speed of sound. Then again, it’s possible the suit pieces trying to break out wasn’t actually happening at the same time as the shtick…okay, it’s a show, but it bugs me less now. Also, since AIM was heavily involved in the Iron Patriot rebrand and overhaul, the idea that the revised War Machine could be used as a remote kidnapping truck is slightly more believable.

You know, fuck it. It’s summer, it wasn’t as strong as the others but it’s more Tony Stark, I’ll have it. I’m on board. All the suits he was dodging between down the stretch reminds me HEAVILY of 2006 when I was flipping between 3 or 4 separate phones constantly. Horses for courses and all that. Maybe the early stages of “Every Man His Own Tony Stark.” I think there might be a couple of lessons in that picture for my current state of mind…

Flashback, part 62 of n

It started with the Cassidy brothers, of course. When we all met up in the courtyard of my old workplace in DC to load the van, one of them pulled the Serengeti drivers off his own face and put them on me, “for the look.” Brown gradient aviator-looking shades, half Elvis and half Delaware Avenue club-boy, but it was in the spirit of things. And my bachelor party went up to AC, and everybody cashed, and when I got back to California, I took my ill-gotten loot and bought a pair of Ray-Ban wire-frames with polarized amber lenses.

It wasn’t until I wore them on the honeymoon that I realized what a difference they made. The amber is for high-contrast and the polarizing reduces glare, and the result was that everything – especially green – just popped. The hills of the Cotswolds, the gardens of Bath, everything was in high-definition. When I got home, I went back to the blue Oakleys and saved the ambers for when I needed the rose-colored effect…life literally looked better through those.

Eventually I crunched the Oakleys in a moving accident, and went to the ambers full-time. I can never keep the special stuff special; it always turns into everyday wear eventually. And then, the following June, I sat on the ambers. Idiot. So they went somewhere safe, because I couldn’t well dispose of them. And it was hot as hell, no sign of fog, summer being typical depressing summer. And I finally threw my hands in the air, drove to Stanford Shopping Center, bought a pair of Wayfarers in tortoise with the polarized amber lenses, and then just drove up 280 until I could see fog again. I just needed hope. And within a day or two the heat broke and 2006 went on to be a great year.

I’m still wearing those glasses. I have the plain black Wayferers for color-neutral wear, bought when the ambers went missing for a couple of months, and they are the daily-wear ones. And I have a new pair of the tortoise-ambers, in a slightly larger size, which are for special occasions only. But the original tortoise amber Wayferers are on right now, out by the BBQ smoker. The trees are vibrant green and the world has that golden glow, and right now, everything is all right.

Game on

Called it. Kinda. I was mostly facetious about Twitter, but Tumblr makes a kind of sense for Yahoo’s acquisition. Words like ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ get tossed around for a microblogging service that was the hot thing in Brooklyn a few years back and is best known these days for its endless supply of animated GIFs. But the question is…is it worth $1.1 billion cash?

To Yahoo, maybe. Tumblr exists in a space between full-scale blogging and Twitter. It works well on mobile, both for reading and posting, and like Twitter bought a best-of-breed iPhone app to revise into its official client. It has a simple mechanism for reposting, favoriting and commenting. Lightweight and lean, it’s as much blogging client as most folks need, and I probably could have done all my blogging there as easily as on Moveable Type or WordPress. Little bit blog, little bit social network, little bit mobile – all things Yahoo could use some help with.

Meanwhile, Tumblr is just now starting to monetize itself – ads, sponsored posts that started cropping up around a month ago – but hasn’t made any kind of money yet. For Tumblr, this is the likeliest exit strategy they were liable to get. Probably not as much as the investors were hoping for, but Tumblr is a fairly mature company; if the big blowup was going to happen it would have happened by now. This is their big blowup, and it’s of a piece with the modern Silicon Valley: the endgame is less IPO than acquisition by somebody with plenty of cash. And Tumblr didn’t have an obvious suitor. Yahoo may not be the prettiest girl in the world, but she’s the prettiest girl in the bar and it’s getting late.

The obvious model is Facebook buying Instagram – they threw a quick billion to get right in mobile, and so far have largely left it alone. Rumblings are that Yahoo will do the same thing with Tumblr, leave it to its own devices for now and not try to force it into the Yahoo model. One tends to hope it doesn’t work out like last time – and Geocities and Flickr didn’t really flourish under the purple Y. But that was before Marissa came to Sunnyvale, and if the model is Google acquiring YouTube, then this might work. YouTube and Instagram were obvious goods, though – easy video and mobile photo sharing – and Yahoo’s going to need to make a bigger and better case for what Tumblr’s for if they’re going to realize $1.1B worth of value for their new toy.

Downton Abbey and its discontents

If I’ve learned one thing from three seasons of Downton Abbey, it’s this: the only thing worse than a class-structured society is a class-structured society that thinks it’s a classless society.  Back in the day, the Earl of Grantham at least felt a responsibility toward the tenants, toward the staff, toward the greater good of the household. Now, certainly part of that responsibility was in the service of arcane values and obsolete ideas about how much shame would come on the house from the kitchen maid getting knocked up or from somebody taking tea with a women whose maid used to be a prostitute or whether the daughter ran away to marry the former chauffeur who’s all Irish and shit…but let’s face it, most of that could be sorted with a healthy dollop of second-wave feminism and a case or two of Tab and Virginia Slims.

But we got away from that!  We have a classless society!  Except we don’t. Lop off all the people who have crazy money, and then draw the line of demarcation between everyone with a college degree and everyone without.  Because somewhere back there, the executive decision was made that college should be for everyone.  Not in the sense that everyone needs a college education, but that everyone needs a college degree.  Try breaking into the white-collar workforce in 2013 with only your high school diploma.

Just like that, we have a line of demarcation that puts a fairly expensive toll gate in front of the middle-class lifestyle. You will go to the best, most impressive school you can get into, and hang the cost, you will take ALL THE STUDENT LOANS and then pay them back for twenty years afterward.  This sounds an awful lot like what we were taught in the early 90s about the Japanese education model: work your ass off through high school, go to the cram schools, take the high-stakes tests, get into one of THE six universities in Japan that you MUST get to in order to secure your future…and then coast.  Just ask any faculty at an American university about their students.  It’s difficult to shake the impression that we’ve got a bunch of kids mainly interested in finding new and interesting ways to get onto Texts From Last Night while helicoptering boomer parents demand to know why they only got a C in their class.

So there’s that.  But what happens once you’re in the middle class?  Or not?  Well, consider retirement…Social Security isn’t going to be there in its current form.  You can’t so much live off it now, and the Sabbath Gasbags will piously tell you it’s meant to be a safety net, not a hammock, and that your 401K empowers you to save for your own retirement!  Responsibility! Ownership society!

I don’t know if there’s a 401K option for those folks running the checkout stands at the Piggly Wiggly.  I know for a fact I didn’t have any sort of retirement plan to check boxes for during my days as Temporary Deputy Assistant Produce Manager (read: lettuce wrapper) in the summers back in the old days.  But let’s assume that yes, you have an employer who has a 401K match, and you’re going to put back the max amount and hope against hope that whatever mutual fund manager runs the service isn’t putting it all on mortgage-backed securities or PointCast or whatever.

Now. You’ve met some sweet young thing and gotten married and want to start a family.  But you can’t stay in this one-bedroom apartment forever.  So now to your student loan payback and your 401K savings, add a mortgage of your own AND child care expenses, because you’re only getting three months unpaid leave to pop out a kid.  Maternity leave?  Work from home?  How the hell are you going to work the produce cooler from home? Are you going to run that road grader from the comfort of your living room?  Nope.  Find child care.  Probably another thousand bucks a month on top of your student loan payback (let’s ballpark that around $300 per quick Google search) and your mortgage (let’s be kind and peg that at $1100, the national average in 2011, and just ignore those hot weeping tears in California) and look, you’re already shelling out $2700 a month.  Or over $32,000 a year.  And that’s before you put back for your retirement.  Or pay for a car. Or groceries. Or electricity. Or the GI Joe with the Kung Fu Grip for that kid we mentioned earlier.

As of 2006, the median annual gross income per household member was $24,672. GROSS income. So one half of that couple is working full time just to float the mortgage, the child care and the loans, and it’s still not enough.  The middle-class lifestyle itself – two kids, a house with a picket fence, you know, the American Dream – is a luxury good. So there you have it.  You’ve got a middle class that can afford to be middle class – as often as not by foregoing home ownership, or children, or having dodged student loans somehow – and a working class that consists of a bunch of people, blue-collar and white-collar alike, who are only one paycheck or two at most from having the music suddenly stop – and finding themselves without a chair.

And then, you have the upper class.  The seriously upper class.  The much-derided “one percent,” the people who don’t have to worry about whether they can go to Tahoe this year or whether the kids will be able to stay in their private school or where the new BMW X5 is coming from.  The problem doesn’t come when people earn that kind of money.  To some extent it’s what the market will bear – if it costs $50 million to put Robert Downey Jr in a movie that grosses $1 billion worldwide? Pay the man – but the market isn’t always perfect.  Especially when a CEO can get a crazy amount of money in bonus after a year where the company tanks.  Or when a bank has to be bailed out by the Feds – and a big chunk of taxpayer change goes toward paying out the bonuses of the traders and managers who wrecked it.

The problem isn’t people who earn crazy money, or even the ones who have crazy money.  But there are too many people who think they deserve crazy money – and once they have it, that they deserve it irrespective of market conditions, future performance or their own judgement.  These are the Ayn Rand devotees, the Mitt Romney base, the “job-creators” – the product of the great 80s realignment that changed the fundamentally respected element of American business from the man doing the work to the man he works for.

It’s part of the problem around here.  There are far too many people in Silicon Valley who thirty years ago would have been sucking down Perrier on Wall Street and bragging about their new Rolex and BMW.  Now they’re all in Northern California looking through their Google Glass as they don’t look where they’re going on their way back to the Google shuttle that will take them back to their place in San Francisco they bought with cash, while the average mortgage in the Valley rises back to a point that someone with a five-figure income simply can’t afford any longer.

We have spawned the 21st-century Masters of the Universe.  More on that later.

Google I/O: Snap Judgement

Apple: “We will sell you [AMAZING iTHING] which you can use to do X, Y and Z.”

Google: “We have [AMAZING GOOGLE SERVICE] which will let us do X, Y and Z for you.”

Thing is, to me, the problem of using all these services which are COMPLETELY FREE!!!!!11!!!!!11! as long as you push all your data through Google is oddly reminiscent of the guy who will give you a free bottle of wine every day for the rest of your life…so long as he can just pass it over his kidneys first.

More than ever, Google – and Facebook – are building their future around your willingness to let them hold all your personal information and social interactions.  The first company that can figure out a way to do this without actually keeping hold of your data – or providing sure and secure anonymizing and expiration of your data – has a real chance to get some traction in the marketplace.

But I say “real chance” because right now, so far as we can tell, Ed Earl Brown doesn’t really give a shit about privacy issues in Google/Facebook.  It’s going to take a major broad-based fuck-up, of the sort that gets coverage on the Today Show, for him and his to start to take this sort of thing seriously. 

Here it comes

What actually happened with the IRS: some employees began applying extra scrutiny to Tea Party applications for 501c4 status.  501c4 is tax-exempt status for political organizations that don’t actually support parties or candidates.  There are much bigger (and transparently fraudulent) examples like Karl Rove’s GPS Crossroads, but these were smaller groups chasing that status.  And the IRS apparently gave their applications more scrutiny and made them jump through a few more hoops.  It seems unclear how high and wide the process went, but one thing is known: the IRS commissioner at the time was the holdover Bush appointee, who has since resigned.  There is an acting commissioner, because the Obama appointee is lost among all the other unconfirmed cabinet positions.

There’s not a lot there.  But what is there has given Conservative Inc. a gift on a silver platter. Martyrdom, conspiracy theory, wild outrage, and a hook for a limp-dick mainstream media to be pushed into supporting the whole thing.  It’s Whitewater all over again – just start the ball rolling, throw everything else you can into it, and maybe you’ll turn up something.  I’m going on the record right now: there WILL be an attempt to impeach Obama ahead of the 2016 elections unless the Democrats somehow regain control of the House in 2014 and the GOP can’t slide it in by then.

Meanwhile, the Senate is still ground to a halt and tons of appointed positions sit empty, because the GOP has normalized an unconstitutional 60-vote requirement to pass anything.  Government is failing to work, simply because the Republican Party has figured out how to get away with preventing it working and blaming Obama for the resulting mess.  This is your new political normal.  The American political system is broken, the Republicans broke it, and we sat by and let them do it.

There’s not a solution.  The obvious thing to do would be to fix the filibuster unilaterally, but that won’t happen because 1) Harry Reid is an amoeba, not a man, and lacks the most fundamental spinal fortitude to stand up for his party and his country, and 2) a unilateral breaking of the filibuster would bring on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir of teabaggers and their amen corner in the Village of Washington screaming about executive overreach on the Sunday talk shows and impending tyranny on the talk radio.  And that’s the easy solution – when the easy fix is impossible, you just have to accept that it’s not getting fixed.  You just have to start looking for the least painful fail case.


It says a lot about what people expect from Google Glass that the term “glasshole” has already passed into blogospheric jargon less than a month after the developer model reached the public. Not surprising; in a world where the default position of every transit commuter has become “head down over the smartphone” in a span of less than a decade, you have to think that the prospect of heads-up distraction will be an issue sooner than later. I’m sure it will lead to the continuing Aspergering of the Valley, and I say that as somebody with some pretty Asperger-ish tendencies myself, but the extent to which people around here tend toward truly oblivious of the world around them is reaching severely annoying proportions.

Still, though, the technology press seems to need some new thing. Phone? Old hat.  Tablet? Already passé. We need a watch, or glasses, or some sort of wearable thing, because a three-year-old market is played out.  Never mind that we have yet to see a tablet other than the iPad make a serious impact – the Kindle Fire is the closest thing, and it only succeeded by out-Apple-ing Apple.  There may or may not be new Nexus tablets out of Google I/O this week – significant, since the Nexus 7 is the only general-purpose Android tablet worth criticizing – but they’re probably a couple of months from shipping anyway.
And in the meantime, it looks like HTC is about to take a bath on its “Facebook phone.”  It’s not *really* a Facebook phone so much as a cheap stock Android phone with “Facebook Home” pre-installed – but when most any Android phone can download the Facebook Home client, it makes little sense to stake anything on a bespoke device.  Which started at $99 on AT&T (with a two-year contract, natch) and then suddenly dropped to 99 cents within a month.  That is the definition of Bad Arithmetic.  There’s still room to innovate on the phone, but people aren’t really sure how – HTC did it with the sweetest physical hardware of the last two years, Samsung seems determined to do it with cramming every imaginable bell and whistle into a plastic case and to hell with whether any of them work outside the ads, Motorola…hasn’t done anything since being consumed by Google, and Sony appears to be going with…waterproofing.  I guess if you really can’t get out of the shower to Snapchat, Sony has your back.
And oh yes, Samsung is now honking the horn for the “5G” they tested. The original sin of T-Mobile in branding fast HSPA+ as “4G” is now complete: “5G” means absolutely nothing at this point, but by being first to announce, Samsung gets a jump the way Sprint tried to with WiMax as “4G.”   Proof, if any more were required, that at this point marketing trumps actual technology. People can say all they want about Apple being all hype, but the fact remains that for the last fifteen years or so, when Apple succeeds it’s because they’ve done something right where people can understand and use it.  And that’s where the next new thing will emerge: when somebody can do an iPhone-esque job of producing something new that makes people see they need it without having to be told they need it.


So we now have the potential to print a 3-D firearm.  Well, sort of.  Sixteen parts, plus a common nail to use as a firing pin (try using a piece of plastic to pop the primer on a bullet).  This is at once a bigger deal and less of a big deal than people think.  On the one hand, yes, here is a gun with no more metal in it than a nail (there’s no reason you HAVE to include the six-ounce chunk of legally mandated metal to make it trip the metal detector).  On the other hand, this is a single-shot gun, apparently – there doesn’t appear to be any sort of magazine.  In addition, some extra steps are apparently needed to toughen up the “barrel”, which while interchangeable for different calibers also appears to be unrifled and thus less accurate. (A short, unrifled barrel is not going to be very useful at anything but very close range.)  Too, since you’re using ABS plastic instead of metal, the whole thing is bigger and bulkier than an equivalent metal firearm, so concealment is going to be tricky – it’s a lot of trouble to go to for one shot at a time and problematic reload options.

The most important part of the gun, though, is the most important part of any gun: the bullet. A gun with no bullets is only useful inasmuch as you can bluff or club someone with it.  All the power a particular gun can impart is based on how many bullets it holds and how long the barrel is (for accuracy and giving the gunpowder long enough to burn to build up maximum force behind the bullet).  Everything else is down to the cartridge itself, and that’s generally a function of how big the actual piece of lead is and how much (and how potent) the burning gunpowder behind it is.  Which makes things tricky with a 3-D-printed plastic gun: the industry standard for a 9mm cartridge (the bullet with its casing and gunpowder and primer) is 31,000 psi.  Which means your plastic gun has to stand up to a momentary burst at 31,000 psi, which means that by and large your plastic gun is going to fail after more than a couple of shots.

By no small coincidence, this gun is called the Liberator, after the FP-45 Liberator of Second World War notoriety.  It was a bog-simple gun, stamped out of sheet metal in bulk at a GM plant, that could fire a single .45 bullet and be reloaded with another single bullet in about a minute with the use of a dowel to extract the fired casing.  Not very practical. But the point was to drop them all over Occupied France, where anybody could potentially have one – and ideally, use it to pop a German soldier and take his superior weapons. Similarly, I’m sure the idea is that you in your occupied country can print out the parts for this gun separately and severally, including a barrel that fits whatever sort of bullet you can get your hands on, then pop in a nail for a firing pin and use it to cap somebody who has a better gun that you can then take for yourself. 

Thing is, something like this has existed for a while – in the 50s, the gangs of New York would fashion “zip guns” out of a hollow car antenna and a simple wooden handle, able to fire something like a lightweight .22 bullet (plenty deadly if it hits you in the head, make no mistake) at close range…assuming it didn’t blow up in your hand.  Simple shotguns aren’t tough to put together, as a one-round shotgun is basically just a long tube for the barrel, a hammer to hit the end of the shotgun shell, a trigger to drop that hammer, and a stock to brace against your shoulder.  So improvised firearms are not new.  Indeed, the ability to generate one from a 3-D printer (sort of) isn’t even that big a change at present; how many people have access to a 3-D printer?  And more importantly, how far are you going to get with a brace of single-shot plastic pistols that have to be reloaded every time you shoot them, when the Oppressive Socialist Fascist United Nations One World Government army is coming at you with real honest-to-God machine guns and assault rifles?

The risk posed by 3-D-printed firearms, right now, is that they make it that much simpler to improvise.  Some random kid can download the plans – and then, if they can find a 3-D printer and a bullet, they can make a zip gun.  Then again, if they can download some plans, find a car antenna and a .22 bullet, they can also make a zip gun.  Or they can just obtain a real gun – a top-quality 9mm pistol costs an order of magnitude less than the 3-D printer needed to print the parts for this one-shot gun.  Of greater concern should be the 3-D printer’s ability to produce, say, a 40-round magazine for an assault rifle in places where magazines of that size are already restricted.  Somebody whose cheap Chinese AK-knockoff now has an extra 40 rounds between reloads is infinitely more dangerous than somebody with one .380 bullet in a thick plastic pistol.

The moral of the story, as with most things involving guns, is that you have to think things through.  Which is not a hallmark of the firearms debate.


Review, thoughts, etc. follow. Skip this post until you see it.







First off, this is not Iron Man 3, no matter what the posters and the titles tell you. This is Iron Man 4, and the movie makes little sense without taking into account the actual third Iron Man movie, i.e. The Avengers.

To a big extent, this movie is about Tony Stark coming to grips with PTSD induced by saving the world from gods and aliens and almost dying on the other side of the universe after carrying a nuke through a wormhole and being unable to get the love of his life on the phone while doing it. He does exactly what you would expect – he spends his every waking minute building more suits, improving his armor, creating more options, and when I say every waking moment, I mean he’s not really sleeping much. And it’s taking exactly the toll one would expect on him. Take that as your premise, allow for the idea that this is the fourth movie in the series, think about Superman IV and reflect on how much worse it could all be, and let’s just ride from there.

I appreciate that they were trying to be subtle in how they reflected the events of New York. But they didn’t really give a good accounting of why War Machine, né Iron Patriot, was nowhere in sight at the time. You could infer from some early remarks (“there have been nine explosions, but the government only admits to three”) that Rhodey was all around the world chasing the Mandarin at the time, and thus not really an option. You could also infer that SHIELD is not affiliated with the American government at all, and since its mandate are those threats – extraterrestrial or otherwise – that ordinary forces can’t handle, it has no part in dealing with this particular brand of terrorist. After all, if the United States killed Osama bin Laden eventually, it stands to reason that you save the Avengers for when things are dropping out of the sky with lasers and shit. Iron Patriot is obviously being painted (literally) as a 21st Century Captain America, but SHIELD (and specifically Hawkeye, Black Widow and presumably Captain America) are not at the beck and call of Uncle Sam. I suspect a lot of people won’t infer that. But you’d think that the presumed death of Tony Stark would be of more than passing interest to Nick Fury; instead, this is the first time he doesn’t crop up in an Iron Man picture.

Still, set that aside. They could have gone a whole ‘nother way with Extremis – in the comics, Extremis was something that allowed Tony Stark to keep key components of the Iron Man suit inside himself. Hollows of the bones, or something. Instead, they kept it basic and made the suit do its thing with the cunning use of subcutaneous implants of the sort of wristband-thingys that the Mark VII suit relied on last time out. Okay, broadly feasible. Some of that seems to have trickled down to the other suits as well, because the whole “retract your way in and out of them more or less at will” seems to apply to several others, despite the pretense at the beginning that the Mark XLII represented a new step forward. And then there’s JARVIS remote-controlling the suits except when Tony is doing it himself…which doesn’t explain why the Iron Patriot armor (which doesn’t seem to have the JARVIS link) could then be used as a flying truck to stuff a kidnapped person in under the remote control of AIM or whoever. Setting aside the fact that the percentage power on each suit is purely a function of whatever the plot demands and is decidedly non-linear…

…hold it.

One of the things I found so annoying about Transformers was that Bay et al made such a big deal of the robots being exactly proportional, that this robot is made up of the same amount of parts and space and etc that the vehicle is. And yet, apparently an old VW Bug and a new Chevy Camaro are the same size. Or a robot that has to make the iconic noise while transforming can crouch completely silently behind a house. Or a huge cube that they had to hide by building Hoover Dam around it can suddenly be reduced to the size of a basketball.

There is a certain threshold of willing-suspension-of-disbelief that goes along with any movie. If you see When Harry Met Sally, for instance, you are able to suspend disbelief to the extent that you accept that Meg Ryan would ever find Billy Crystal attractive. If Carrie Fisher had ended the argument about the wagon-wheel table by telekinetically lifting it and smashing Bruno Kirby through the living room window with it…that would not have worked, because that’s beyond the accepted threshold of disbelief for that movie.

The problem with movies like this is that they have to play by their rules as they establish them. You want me to believe that there’s an all-powerful Force that binds the universe together and can be manipulated by those strong in it? Okay, your story, your rules. If in the fifth Star Wars movie, Anakin Skywalker could suddenly use the Force to teleport himself from Alderaan to Tattooine – nope. That’s beyond the threshold. To put it in terms even a kindergartener should understand, you can draw the lines wherever you like, but when you’re done, you have to color inside them.

When Bobby Petrino was fired at Arkansas after some extremely public malfeasance with a woman not his wife, culminating in a motorcycle wreck, one SEC coach anonymously said “You can get away with pushing the envelope if you’re winning, but my God, Bobby was wipin’ his ass with the envelope.” You can teeter right up to the line if you establish that it’s out there in the first place. The problem is, we have three movies establishing where the lines are for Iron Man, and by the last twenty minutes of the film I got the feeling Shane Black found himself without a roll of Charmin and started looking around.

And that’s where the other Transformers problem comes into play (actually there are three, but the third – needless additional subplots that ultimately have no bearing on the actual thrust of the movie – is thankfully not a factor here). The final battle is too damn crowded. Iron Man vs Iron Monger is manageable. The big final set piece in Iron Man 2 is straightforward enough. Even the Battle of New York in the Avengers is well-choreographed and easy enough to follow. What we end up with at the end of Iron Man 3 is a brawl on the docks, in the dark, with thirty flying suits that we can barely even see or make any sense of. Maybe some of the serious comic nerds will piece together one or another, but in the end, it’s just big, noisy, loud, messy, and tough to keep score on. It’s about what you’d expect from the man who dropped Lethal Weapon on an unsuspecting world, but the thing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that we’ve come to expect a little better, slightly smarter grade of mayhem from its various denouments.

Other than that…it could be worse. There are some particularly good character swerves to keep people on their toes, and fans of the old comic book will be particularly surprised at the ultimate machinations of the Mandarin and confused by the ultimate disposition of the Ten Rings. That’s not a problem for me; it’s easy enough to see the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a separate self-contained canon (and one that heretofore has been expertly streamlined and simplified for mainstream consumption; these movies have done more to drive attention to those properties than Ultimate Marvel ever did). It’s nice to see our old friends together, and especially nice to see Tony and Rhodey in that sort of buddy-relationship we always knew had to be there but never got to see in the first two movies due to the basic conflict.

I need to see it again and see what I think. Ultimately I suppose I’m on board, but unless something clicks for me, it’s not the direction I would have taken.