Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Friday, March 10, 2017

Television Review: Emerald City Season 1 (Spoilers)

I like Emerald City. It's probably the best network sword and sorcery fantasy series I've seen since Xena. But it's not perfect and the more I think about it the more of its imperfections could be tied the thing I like.

So the moment I came to love Emerald City was when Princess Ozma dispenses justice to the Cowardly Lion. In that moment something clicked. This is not a retelling of the Wizard of Oz but a reclaiming of Ozma.

Let's Back Up

On Adaptations
Okay This Television show is based on The Wizard of Oz, which is a book that was turned into a movie so legendary that people kind of forgot it even was a book first.

I've seen the Wizard of Oz. I've seen a couple of the adaptations but it was not some crucial artifact of my childhood. But I love the hell out of fantasy and the word on the street is that as far as developed fantasy worlds go Oz is primordial gold.

But the Wizard of Oz movie is a simplified version of the first book so there is a lot of weird stuff the popular culture hasn't been exposed to.

It feels like the entire point of the show is because somebody wanted to do Princess Ozma. As far as important characters in Oz she actually probably ties with Dorthy as the most getting shit done person in Oz but since she wasn't in Wizard people just kind of forgot about her.

Emerald City feels very much like it views telling her story and what's going on in her head as the most important thing. By far she and everything related to her are the most interesting stuff going on.

But the show also feels the need to be a dark gritty retelling of the original Wizard of Oz.

I really like Tin Man. People don't but Tin Man had a lot of good ideas, a lot of good ideas Emerald City ran with. It remakes the WORLD of Oz into something I at least hadn't seen before.

But  Tin Man is not good. The writing's wonky, it relies too much on nostalgia, and the acting is horrific. They had some of the best oddball character actors working and they are all simultaneously restrained and overacting.

But Tinman did try to get the ball rolling in making Oz not revolve around Dorthy.  For a long time, people have been trying to get weird stuff we forgot from the books back into adaptations of Oz.

And dear god if that's what Emerald City was trying to do I have to give a slow clap. They did it masterfully.

We have versions of

  • Princess Ozma
  • Jack Pumpkin
  • Ku-Klip
  • Mombi
  • Princess Langwidere
  •  And A Version of Tik Tok That I probably just spoiled
With maybe the exception of the character that everybody loves to "revise",   all of those characters are more interesting than when the show stops to try to retell The Wiz.  But this was probably pitched to a network exec as a dark gritty retelling of Oz so it kind of has to.

It doesn't help that the show is short. Like I said the one character from the Wiz that works is the Wicked Witch, who is almost entirely sold by the actress. The script does not tell you what her deal is. I take that back it kind of does but breezes right past it.

So Glinda's main beef with West is that West is broken. The Wizard did a lot of stuff because of course, he's evil (they try to hide this fact long after it makes sense to do so). and Glinda is preparing for war, while West has more or less basically just given up. And West has a slow burn redemption arc. Except everything is so low key and in the background that it's hard to recognize as a redemption arc.

Here is the thing. We're in fantasy land. We don't know what NORMAL is for a witch period let alone West. We the audience don't know how she acts when she's on her game. And by the time the show really reveals how broken she is and how much guilt she feels it's almost over.

Her redemption arc is satisfying but it takes too much brain power to realize there was a redemption arc in the first place.

The end result is the realization that in the grand scheme they could have probably cut EVERYTHING with Dorthy save 2 mildly important scenes that they could have written around.

And while that sounds bad and there is no way the execs would have let them do it. The show has no time for fluff with its 10 episodes. Dear lord we get a love triangle with Dorthy, the Scarecrow and Glinda for crying out loud.  Things grind to a halt at Glinda's castle right around the time everything else starts to cook.


All that said. How many places do you get to see Princess Ozma come in all d. swaggar and put things to right.

I think I may be a monarchist.

Nah. Sometimes you get Arthur but most of the time you get Geoffry. (I have my soundtrack for the next four years)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

I Love PBS. Please Stop Trying to Kill It.

I love PBS.  Please stop trying to kill it. PBS never hurt anybody. I don't know if I can call it essential to the country or an institution that must be protected at all costs, but it's always been there when I needed it, from my days as a tot to when I had to cram in high school, and  in college, to now when I just want some news that helps me think or when I'm just trying to chill out or listen to some music.

I'm going to try to make the case but honestly. I just really really really like PBS. I talk about how The Mouse got to me as a kid. The Mouse ain't got nothing on PBS. The Mouse waxed and waned. but PBS was always there just waiting for me.

Sooo. Let's use PBS.

So the general argument for why the government should stay out of the economy, apart from arguments about government involvement in anything is because government involvement tends to screw up supply and demand curves, market equilibrium, and price signals. It's harder to tell whether or not people want a good, how much of it, and what it should cost, both to produce and purchase. It makes for inefficient markets.

In short companies need information to determine if a business venture is potentially profitable and government involvement obscures that information.


There are some goods, services and regulations that we've all just kind of agreed are useful but at the same time are unprofitable. There is just some stuff companies should do but won't because there is no money in it.


So the question is do I feel PBS is important enough to demand everybody kick in for it?

Well to answer that let's broaden the question.  Are the country's cultural and educational institutions in general important to demand everybody kick in. The National Endowment for the Arts, Corporate Broadcasting Corporation, Department of Education, as well as various grants ensure that everyday Americans have access to information, culture and education and that is something I think is a common good.

We all benefit when the American populous is educated and well informed. But the benefits of that education and sponsorship of the arts and culture are not always in terms of dollars and cents.

Folks, unless we start to value media, journalism, and the arts we are heading towards a crash where the people who make the things we love can not afford to do so anymore or have to make something so broad that it can not speak with any sort of real voice. I am wary of government involvement in those things but there needs to be a place for high-minded art and television programming to exist. The market will always push for broadness and I have a lack of faith in the American people's intellectual curiosity right now.

I'm worried about propaganda but still, we need to do everything we can to make America smarter.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Original Sin

The dream, the promise that is America, the singular thought that guides our founding documents, freedom, the idea that one is and should be able to express their will and act in their own interest without fear is a lie.

But it is a sweet and beautiful lie. A lie that I wish with all of my being were the truth. For far too long that freedom was only granted to the few the ability to craft your own destiny was denied to whomever the state deemed unworthy of that dream.

The state decided who's freedom it would respect and guarantee, whose interests it would protect and whose it would ignore.  and in the wake of all those decisions lies the country as we now have it. We can not change the past nor can we ignore it but we must reckon with the fact that it is a sin to simply ignore people only asking to defend their interests especially when those interests have been consistently ignored for the vast history of this country.

That is what slavery is to me.

The theft of the ability to act in one's own interest and express one's will without fear. That is the crime behind all the other crimes.  It goes further. Freedom is the ability to craft the future.  Slavery robbed my ancestors of the ability to craft the future for their posterity. It was and continues to be a crime not just against those who lived through it but those who came and will come after.

I don't blame the living for slavery. But I still acknowledge that it was a crime committed not just against my ancestors against me and my descendants.

I can not undo that crime. I can not remake history to my will. Moreover, I am not sure I would even want to. My mind has been twisted to this modern world of wires and wheels.

I am not African.

I do not know that land neither as it existed nor as it exists presently. I would like to pretend I would understand those who were sold and taken from their homes but I don't and can't. How they saw the new world is lost to me.

Slavery was a crime committed against me.

And yet the man I am is built on top of it. The wealth and prosperity of my country was built on top of the forced labor, rape, mutilation and bondage of my ancestors.

I am American.

I sing the songs of the new world. Trade in its currency and live by its laws.

I am American.


The lie. The lie. The damned lie.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

February 14, 2017 Southfield Board of Education Meeting

The Vice of Civility (I Aim to Misbehave)

This isn't about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The reason why I just mentioned her name in the first sentence is because she is someone I have the utmost respect and admiration for and I want to make clear that when I have the following discussion it doesn't mean I hate people, or think they are racists, or bad or evil or any of that jazz.

In short I AM NOT CALLING ANYBODY A RACIST (Miles what happened to you.). I am just describing what I consider a common difference in outlook based upon racial experience.

With that out of the way...

It kind of drives me nuts when white people want to divorce politics from regular life. The impetus for this go round was Mitch Albom's article about The Pats skipping out on the traditional Superbowl White House visit.

Again this is not about Mitch Albom. I like Mitch Albom. Five People You Meet in Heaven helped get me out of a funk a while back, (The movie. I haven't read the book, and dear god, I need to get to work on building that library.)

But he did the thing. He called it rude.

Yes, yes it is.

But is the thing. In this country who gets to be rude and who doesn't is often about who has the power in any given situation and you bet your ass race  (and gender) has hell of a lot to do with that. Often the mere act of being polite carries with it tacit approval of the status qou in power dynamics in interpersonal relationships.

And that's kind of bullshit.

Like I said MY racial experience has been that it's hard as hell to separate politics from my everyday life. Insisting people are polite often means insisting they shut up about both their politics and how their politics affect their lives. Why am I always of afraid of showing it when I'm put out?

And no I am not doing the traditional Black History Month thing because I can't just be Black for one month.

Saturday, February 4, 2017


George Will and Hugh Hewitt let's rap.

First off, I know I've said some not so pleasant things in the past and while I don't think I was completely wrong this election has proven there is a whole lot of nuts out there I didn't account for.

You came out against Trump at a time when a lot of the conservative press was capitulating to him. You have spine.  And if nothing else I admire that.

I am a liberal (left-leaning libertarian). There are a variety of factors involved in that but I am long past the point where I am going to pretend otherwise. But I like to imagine I at least have an open ear to conservatives. You know... that I'm fair.

And so I'll admit that sometimes you have a point. The media particularly print does tend to skew left. The government does work by coercion and that kind of sucks. The government should be held accountable for how it spends taxpayer money and there are a lot of institutions that provide needed stability to the social order.


You guys take a reasonable argument and push it a step too far especially in consideration to that argument's criticisms.

I've felt this way for a long time and that has caused me to dismiss a lot of what you and those representing conservative ideology have to say.

But you came out against Trump so you have an open ear.

...And you're losing it.

That said you aren't on my list anymore. So let's talk as if I take you seriously.

I would like to say I first read your columns in The National Review or the Washington Post, but my introduction to your minds was PregerU. I hate PregerU with the passion of ten thousand suns for the reasons I already said.

When you guys are on YOU ARE SMARTER THAN THAT. You want to defend capitalism. I love capitalism. It's kind of kicking my ass right now. But I want the stuff and capitalism is the best hope of me getting the stuff. Avarice is one of my vices.

Speaking of which. Don't call the Virginia Company socialist. Just don't.

But I digress.

I fundamentally agree that capitalism, the free exchange of currency, goods and services is overall a positive innovation in getting people the stuff they need and want.

Heck one of my beefs with Trump is just that.

But saying the government should have no role in the economy whatsoever goes a bit too far. Is Janet Yellen red because she was appointed by Obama? Don't answer that.

Still government shouldn't be involved in the economy?! No contracts. No taxes, no fed, AND NO MINIMUM WAGE!

Will your latest editorial in the Post rubbed me wrong.

Here is the fundamental problem. Wages are notoriously sticky.

People need need goods and services to live and that need puts them in an automatically weaker negotiating position. It's HARD to turn down a job because the pay is too low if you're struggling.

When wages don't rise well with inflation which they haven't it becomes harder for people on the bottom to afford basic stuff they need. But even without that Labor is basically the business everybody is in trading thier labor for currency and when the labor market is messed up the economy is messed up.

People spend what they get from wages and fuel the rest of the economy.

Now being a broke black guy in his 20's I can talk to you about inequality all day long but again I agree on the fundamental point that it sucks to get your stuff taken. I support "entitlement programs" and the stuff taxes fund but I admit seeing the numbers on your paystub go down for programs that are so obfuscated you can't tell who they help and how can suck.

And I can even admit that since it takes a crap ton of capital to invest in certain industries SOME of the wealth needs to stay concentrated for stability.


Asking for a higher minimum wage is not the same as asking for the downfall of civilization. It's asking to be able to pay your heating bill in winter or buy your kids nicer Christmas presents.

And I definitely don't like how asking for a fair day's pay for a fair day's work is seen as equivalent stealing from someone's pocket.

Note: When I wrote this I didn't realize that Hewitt flip flopped on Trump. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

How Do You Break a Stone?

I loathe President Trump. For the past week, my morning has been waking up to some dumbfounding thing he's done that day or some dumbfounding thing he's done the day before that. I want him gone.

... But that's not going to happen. A Republican congress is not going to impeach him, he will not resign and hell I doubt he'll even course correct. I'm stuck with the man.

And as much as I hate to admit it the United States needs an executive force. He was elected by the rules. I'm going to have to learn live with Trump.

His "advisors" are another matter altogether.

To the GOP, look I get it. Trump is your man. You made a choice and it does you no good to publically second guess the decision AFTER the election. But Jesus Christ almighty if the GOP really gave a damn to they could at least reign in his staff.

Nothing's going to get done when every weekend McConnell, Ryan, and McCain have to field questions about Trump's latest dumb idea and by now we all know where those dumb ideas come from. Spicer, Conway, and Bannon.

Trump was elected but they sure as hell weren't.

To the left. You're not going to win if your goal is some reality where Trump actually takes dissent into account. And the GOP house has already proven how craven it is when it comes to standing up to Trump. That's not going to happen.

But even the GOP might listen to the argument that these propagandists are gaining too much influence over what is and may hopefully remain to be the most influential country in the world.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

School Days

I can not deal with national news right now so let's get local ... which isn't much better.

So the state is considering closing academically failing schools.  I subbed at one of the schools so I have complicated and controversial thoughts that I've been trying to keep a lid on but if the world is going up in flames why bother.

So first off I believe in school accountability. That is my foremost beef with Betsy DeVos. I've spent FAR too long just trying to get through my day and ignoring big giant warning signs that things were not right when I was subbing and I feel some personal guilt for that.

However, I do not like the fundamental choice a lot of these parents have. Send their kids to no school or send their kids to a bad school.

If those are their choices somebody somewhere FUCKED UP! I don't know who. I don't know how but somebody fucked up. And my instincts are telling that if we are ending up with education deserts it's a systemic institutional problem that goes higher than the individual schools.

School choice like that ain't school choice.

Which is to say instead of closing schools I think we should try to reform them.

Let me be honest here. My only experience with education is as a part-time substitute teacher and a guy who likes to sit in on board of education meetings for kicks with a lot of stuff going over my head. I don't have a degree in child psych and I don't have an extensive library on education policy. But here are my thoughts,

The Teacher Shortage
For a lot of reasons I've been doing some life assessments and I think I subbed too long. My life might have been easier if I laid aside other issues and just focused on getting out, but I didn't. And one of the reasons why I didn't is because in the schools I subbed in there was a critical need for substitute teachers. And let's be honest a lot of that wasn't a critical need for substitute teachers but a critical need for teachers.

In these, schools they can't find enough permanent teachers to cover classes. And until they do all other reforms are meaningless.

The EXPERIENCED Teacher Shortage
And now we can get to the heart of it. One of the reasons why I stopped subbing was that I never felt confident enough in my knowledge base that I should be responsible for teaching other people especially people not knowledgeable or experienced enough to call me on my bullshit when I screwed something up. And trust me I KNOW THERE WAS A LOT I SCREWED UP!

Gaining that sort of confidence takes time and education itself and the people with those things have options. First off, from a spectacle perspective,  why should somebody with the required degrees for certification take a job that will offer them less pay than just about anywhere else. It get's especially galling for folks with STEM degrees who could be making bank as engineers or business number crunchers.

I was/am an out of work writer so eh. But anybody else is effectively taking a pay cut to be a teacher.

Furthermore, it gets much worse for the types of schools that lack the resources to pay close to or above median salaries. The moment a teacher starts to get good in those schools they get poached by other districts leading to revolving doors of the inexperienced.

Which is a real shame because while I never gained the confidence to want to make teaching my life there was enough learning on the job to convince me that no matter how much of a natural prodigy one is a teacher really does need experience.

Beyond everything teaching is like writing. It takes time to develop a style that works for you and a lot of the teachers in these schools haven't had that time.


I want to tread very lightly here. Teaching can be hell. And part of the reason it can be hell is because the kids are rough. Most of it is kids doing stupid stuff because they are kids and kids do stupid stuff (you're going to just have to get used to it) but some of it ain't.

Across the board, if the kids see nobody cares they won't either. Sometimes it will make them mad. Sometimes it will make them lazy. But that's beside the point. What matters is that a lot of thier distaste for education is on the people above them and to be honest on the people above the people above them. We set a better example and that example should come from the top.  HEAR ME DEVOS AND LEONARD!

An Aside on Uniforms
That having been said uniforms are the epitome of everything wrong with the school system. To be fair everything I am about to say crosses into my general left leaning-libertarian political ideology (shut up it is to a thing.) In that arbitrary rules/laws only serve to undermine the faith of and compliance within their institutions.

If there doesn't need to be a rule there shouldn't be one.  It wastes everyone time so it won't get enforced which causes confusion regarding the rules that actually are and have to be. (I suck at hall passes.)

Let's go back on uniforms being a waste of time. There is no consensus on the effects on uniforms. They came into being for two reasons. Firstly because of cultural values and dear god we all know how I feel about that by now.

And secondarily because out of all the possible reforms they are one of the cheapest to institute even if they don't do anything.  And like I said that sums up my beef with the state legislature. If you're going to get involved. GET INVOLVED! Don't half ass it and then act like you did something. If you're going to make a rule make sure it does something meaningful. If you're going to spend tax money make damn sure it does something meaningful!

Class and Wealth

Again I want to parse my words here because if I don't it will lead me into some very uncomfortable territory. The debate regarding growth vs proficiency is ultimately about wealth and class. How do those in charge of education policy acknowledge schools, teachers, do not all have equal resources?

When I was in the first grade my mom bought a home computer for her job. By the fifth she bought me a $2000 computer for homework. I can't imagine what my life would be like if for every report I had to spend an extra half our schlubbing to and from the library to type and look stuff up on the internet or worse if there was no library or computer lab and I was just out of luck.

When I was in college and was one of the few people without Adobe's creative products on my personal computer I got a taste of how much time I had to spend compensating and working around the lack of resources but it was only a taste. Within the month I had decided I had had enough of that business.

There are students, teachers, schools and districts where that is their life! And that's just stuff I can understand. There is a lot of stuff I have no experience with at all. I can't help but feel it is a bit unfair to judge them by the same standards as Country Day

All the same, there is a line between that and giving up, saying that these students will never be able to compete with their peers because of where they grew up so why bother. Why give these schools money for teachers, books, facilities, programming and everything else they need if we know they are just going to fail?

Do I even need to say how I feel about those ideas?

Kevin Cotter AND Betsy DeVos have my lifelong enmity!

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