Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Education and the Failures of Capitalism

I was venting about a lot of different things both personal and political when I wrote this but then Bridge posted this article and it's actually a good case study on how economic self-interest can decimate public institutions. The article is actually pretty even-handed in the push and pull between teachers and districts fighting over money.

Because of personal experience and other biases (my mom was a teacher for 30 years), I tend to side with the teachers. Specifically, a lot of charter schools do have horrible working conditions and low pay at least without the current slew of bonuses and I have no faith that's sustainable in the long term or that the charter operators will even stick to the terms of their own deals when dollars get tight, which they will (and I'll get to it in a moment)

Let me put it like this. In Ken Burns Vietnam War documentary an ARVN interviewee says he told the American government the fastest way to end corruption was to pay officials enough money honestly so that they didn't have to steal to support themselves, as once they crossed that line all bets were off, and doing so would comparatively cheap.

It's not the same thing and I don't want to even come close to pretending it is but that's more or less how I came out of my experiences with education. That a lot of the problems of education were caused because there just wasn't enough money to seriously tackle problems and the knowledge of that so lowered moral that some people stopped trying.

At the same time, I don't like the cutthroat competition the article describes even amongst the teachers. As much as I hate to admit it they aren't blameless, or at least not as blameless as I would like to pretend.

That having been said of feel the article is missing a bad guy.

This entire situation is the result of nearly a decade of bad public policy regarding education. I have mixed feelings about how hard I want to rail against charter schools. Love them or hate them nearly half of Detroit's kids are enrolled in them now.

But the state legislature needs to own that.

To own they have a monster of their own making and deal with it.

Which brings me back to the squabbling.

There is so little money in the system that both the teachers and the schools are desperate for every dollar. The state needs to intervene with both funding and guidance to bring order to a system of laisse fair dog eat dog economic self-interest.

And let me be clear I don't want the state to come in and punish teachers who have been dog pilled on enough, but to act as a fair and just referee in a conflict they engineered.

They created this system with the idea that such economic competition for students and by extension funding would increase the quality of the educational system.  By now it is the nearly common knowledge that on its own it has and not can not.

We need law. And we know whoose responsibility that is.

On Conyers and Franken

Right now I have a visceral hatred of the Republican Party. (And that's not even the state-based stuff I'm pissed about.)

When it comes to Senator Al Franken and now Representative John Conyers I've known for weeks that my absolute repugnance towards the Republican party has been clouding my judgment but there is no counting for emotion.

The argument can be made that right now we need every Democrat in office we can get and I am very tempted to agree with that position.

And then I think about Roy Moore. Am I that bad? Am I one of those guys?

If so I really really don't want to be.

Politics has to be about more than beating the other guy. It has to be about the argument.

I don't know how it happened but the Democrat Party has branded itself as the party that lends an ear to traditionally marginalized groups. In this case specifically, women who are in this moment saying that this type of sexual harassment is an unwanted detriment to their everyday lives and has been for a very long time. 

Anytime this or any other gendered issue comes up in the national conversation the Democrats will no longer be able to claim the moral high ground if they overlook their own problems.

All the opposition will have to do say the words "Franken and Conyers" to claim that the argument is a political ploy initiated in bad faith.

That being said what is really needed is a reform of workplace culture and procedure not just in Congress but in general and that requires more than retribution towards a few bad apples, but without dealing with this it makes cultural and procedural reform much more difficult.

Anybody, not just Republicans but anybody who wants to protect the status quo will not take the problem seriously when the people at the top don't.

Econo-Political Problems

I hate Donald Trump.I really do, for a lot of reasons.

But the biggest reason of all is that he's a coagulation totem of problems in my personal life and it's getting harder to divorce my feelings of him from that so let me vent a little.

What Donald Trump represents to me is the apotheosis of the econo-political problem.

A capitalist system depends on the exchange of value.  Or in laymen's terms the flow of money or capital as a store of value. If the money doesn't flow the system breaks down. That value of that money often represents a capacity to act within the economy. As such it's in the individual's and even an organization's interest to accumulate as much money as possible.

On a macro-level money is only useful when it's being ... used or at least has the capacity to be used. But it's in the individual's interest not to use it, to hoard it.  And sometimes this interest can override others. This is the cause of econo-political problems.

There are a lot of problems that have detailed worked out practical solutions save for one thing. The funding to put them into practice. Regardless of all other factors, it's not in the individual's interest to put money into these solutions if there is not a direct and quantitative return on their investment.

And it is maddening.

I see all these problems we could solve, we could fix but we lack the political will.
It's hard to convince the people with the money to put it towards solving these problems when it has been ingrained in them that it's more so in their interest not to. At that point, it's not only the economics that keeps these problems from being solved but the politics. Simply convincing people with the capacity to act (as represented as an accumulation of value) to do so.

I don't know how to do it.

But over and over and over again I see all of these problems we have the ability to solve in both my personal and political life that we simply don't because we don't want to give up the money to do so.

It's the reason things don't get done.

So...  I need to read Das Kapital. Hell even Kaynes was on to this problem.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Best Once Upon A Time Episodes (Between Seasons 1 and 4 and not counting Wonderland)

Okay, I might as well. Once Upon a Time is a very hit or miss show. When it's good dear god is it great but when it's bad dear god is it intolerable. As such it's guilty pleasure. I like it but I completely understand other people who hate it. Sometimes I'm right there with them.

It is hard to make people understand what I see in this show when there's a 50/50 chance their first episode will be god awful. So if you are someone who wants to see what all the buzz is about here are the episodes I recommend you watch.  Keeping in mind a few provisos.

  1. Spoilers. Both if you read what I have to say and if you watch these. If you want the full Once experience you're going to have go through some PAIN but most times I'm not even really all that willing to do that. So whatever. Just don't blame me if you see some really huge plot turns out of order. 
  2. I've only seen the first half of season five and almost none of season six. So they won't be showing up on this list.
  3. Furthermore, I think it's unfair to really grade most of season 7 until things play out. I'm digging it but I want to wait until the season is over to really solidify my opinions. 
  4. Once Upon a Time: Wonderland is probably the most consistently good thing the show has ever done so instead of cherry picking episodes if you want to watch it just watch it. It is generally more serialized well-paced than the main series.
  5. This isn't a straight top 10 list since Once is so serialized. But rather a list of watch these in this order so you don't get put off. 

Pilot: Season One Episode 1
Name on the tin. It's not the best episode not even close. But it does have most of the basic information you need to engage. So watch it.

The Outsider: Season 2 Episode 11 
I have trepidation about putting this on a list of "best" Once Upon a Time Episodes but it does form the foundation of Regina Mill's/The Evil Queen's redemption arc so if nothing else it's important.

Honestly, if you're binging the series watch this earlier.  It explains the motivation of season two's villains but they're small potatoes anyway so ehhh.  That's not why it's important. In all honesty you should probably watch it right after the pilot.

This episode is about explaining why Henry, Regina's adoptive son means so much to her.

She can't control him. His love actually is love and that's what after all of it she wants.  Retroactively that's what the big conflict between her and Emma was about. Losing the only person in her life that truly loved her.

It takes place just before the series proper.

The Evil Queen wins. Regina gets everything she wants. Her magic forces Snow White and Prince Charming to kowtow to her. Her enemies live in fear of her. Life is pretty sweet. Except it isn't. She won. She won. Yet she's unsatisfied.

The love and respect of her enemies means nothing unless it's freely given. That revelation would have meant a lot more if the series articulated that earlier.than it did.

And Still doesn't change that she ripped the Huntsman's heart out though. And this episode ends with her doing some pretty despicable stuff too. So she's no saint.

That Still Small Voice: Season 1 Episode 5
This is the episode where Once Upon a Time... grew up. I'm a sucker for fantasy and will give virtually anything a try if it has dudes with swords but this is probably the first legitimately good episode of Once Upon a Time. It still has its problems but has a story to tell and is a pretty good character study of Jiminy Cricket.

Sometimes the guy who everybody goes to for advice just doesn't have the answers. Sometimes "the conscience" has no clue what the right thing to do is.


But that doesn't mean he shouldn't try.

Anyway, it highlights one of the best aspects of Once in that it fills out well-known fairytale icons to make them more interesting in ways that feel very much in line with what we know. Most of the better episodes of season one do this. So many in fact that I'm probably going to skip a few not because of they're bad but because I don't want to write a complete episode guide for season one.

Nor do I want to pretend there is no fat in a lot of these episodes. They are obligated to focus on the main plot featuring Regina Mills and Emma Swan and compared to some of the other stuff those two are just boring. And that extends to this episode.

There are lots of times when I would be screaming at the scream, "STOP CATFIGHTING AND GO BACK TO THE CRICKETT!"

The Heart is A Lonely Hunter: Season 1 Episode 7
Yeah I just got done explaining this one but. It's probably the singularly most important episode of season one. It's the first real episode where the show stops playing coy about whether or not "the flashbacks" we've been seeing are real or not. It's the episode where Once Upon a Time became Once Upon a Time.

Desperate Souls: Season 1 Episode 8
"Desperate Souls" covers the back story of Rumple Stilskin who is probably the single most important character of the entire series. Everything and I mean everything goes back to him.  Even if it wasn't a good episode you would need to watch it just to make sense of things... but it's a really good episode. If this were a straight top 10 list it would probably be number 3.  Most of my affection for the character is based on the quality of this single episode as his quasi-introduction.

Rumple is a real rat bastard, but he's a tragic rat bastard.

Skin Deep: Season 1: Episode 12
I keep saying the series is more clever than people give it credit for and one of the reasons is because it amalgamates characters in clever ways. This is the first time it really does that and introduces Rumplestilskin, one of the most duplicitous and ruthless individuals in the show up to that point (and let's be honest period) as Belle's beast. And honestly knowing how horrible he is when he starts that story adds a new context to it, highlighting the redemptive power of love.  And also hinting the stuff that went down in Rumplestilskin's episode affected him to the core. Part of the reason why Belle falls for him is that she's the only person he reveals this vulnerability to but that story is another episode.

The Crocodile: Season 2 Episode 4
This list is probably going to wind up as  "Rumpie is  so awesome isn't he." But the plot of the show really is best when you view as epic tale of the fall and redemption of one big screwed up family of which Rumpie is responsible for.

Once Upon a Time really can be seen about how his moral failings cause his family to suffer and the lengths he will go to in an attempt to make things right even if in doing so he causes more harm.

The Crocodile is really three interconnected stories.  And each of them is interesting. The first is a perspective flip of Belle who is trying to make a real go of a relationship with Rumpie but she has to come to terms with the fact that yeah for a long time he really was this series' resident devil and acted accordingly.

The other two are basically the tale of one of the worst things Rumplestilskin has done in this series. And later sets up consequences for his actions.

Hat Trick: Season 1 Episode 17
This episode is important for two reasons. First off while the audience realizes that magic exists far earlier in the series, the characters are oblivious to it. While it's not a lock this is the first episode characters become open to the possibility that something hinky is going on.

And secondly, it establishes the cosmology of the series which is one of the more interesting aspects of it. This episode introduces the existence of Wonderland a third "realm" other than our world and the world of fairy tales.  It actually goes further explaining that there are a lot of places and a lot of stories playing out that we the audience just haven't been seeing. It opens the door for anybody and everybody to show up.

Also as a stand-alone episode, the Mad Hatter plays up the mad bit. He's legitimately frightening and unpredictable.

Also this is the start of the end. There is a lot of fluff in Once Upon a Time but from here to the end of the season it's more or less a race to tell its story.

"The Return": Season 1 Episode 19
I've been trying to focus on episodes that are good in their own right. Where you don't have to watch everything that preceded them to be entertained.  But a lot of the best of those happen to be about Rumplestiltskin's backstory. This list might as well be called the Rumplestiltskin playlist, and this episode expands and connects "his" episodes to the story at large. What exactly is it he wants and how have his actions, which have instigated the story at large,  been getting him closer to it.

Rumple mentions the plot of this flashback story Skin Deep but this is where we see it. The ONE DEAL, the one promise he couldn't keep. And it more or less defines him as a character.

"Second Star on the Right" & "Straight on Till Morning": Season 2 Episode 21 & 22
So part of what had Rumpie so rattled in "The Return" is that he thought, August, the only person around he didn't recognize as a known fairy tale creature might have been his long-lost son. Spoiler he's not.

"Second Star on the Right" might have more impact if you watch it right after "The Return".

For a long time, we're going to be exposed primarily to Rumpie's regret but "Second Star on the Right" and "Straight on Till Morning" reveal that, yeah what he did was a really lousy thing to do to his kid it did have consequences for his son.

Furthermore, this episode sets up the groundwork for Neverland as Baelfire, Rumplestilskin's son crash landed in Victorian London and started stealing bread from Wendy Darling to survive. It doesn't go exactly where you think and I'll probably spoil all of that later but it's a really nice charming retelling of the first bits of Peter Pan.

Also as mentioned previously I don't really give a damn about the villains or really the plot even of the second half of season 2. It's the guy they're working for I really care about. And this is the first episode we get an idea that he's baaaaaad news.

"The Stranger": Season 1 Episode 20
August, the guy walking around in "The Return"  is actually a grown-up Pinocchio. A globe trottin' grown-up Pinocchio who failed to stay on the straight and narrow, and we all know what happens to Pinocchio when he fails to stay on the straight and narrow.

This is an episode where we watch him confess his sins and try to make amends. And it is especially heartrending as he tries to fix things with an amnesiac Gepetto.

"The Doctor": Season 2 Episode 5
Anyway, by the second season Once Upon a Time decided it really want to redeem The Evil Queen, who up until this point I viewed as a pretty disposable character despite her being framed as the co-lead. This episode manages to make her actually interesting, by pulling the same trick it did with Rumpie.  Once has a talent for charting it's characters' paths to the dark side and while it's not the first of her episodes to deal with it it's probably the best. It best captures the forces that made her into what she is.

Furthermore. It's the Frankenstein episode. (It was that season's Holloween episode.)

One of the biggest criticisms of the show is that at times it can feel like a giant Disney commercial. While it does regularly feature some non-Disney characters it's rare for it to depict a character that feels out of line with what they would do in their classic animated movies.

Victor Frankenstein is a whole 'nother animal.  Once never really fulfilled it (I didn't see season 6) but watching that episode felt like a promise.  Once Upon a Time could and would mine any iconic story. Anybody and everybody could possibly show up.

"Manhattan": Season 2 Episode 14
Manhattan is the series MVP. It is by a long shot the best episode of Once Upon a Time, and is the pay off to all the stuff dealing with Rumpie.

The entire series plot thus far has been a part of Rumplestilskin's master plan to reunite with his son and this is the episode where it happens.  He meets his son and has to account for that moment. And it's rough and honest, and rough.

"Think Lovely Thoughts": Season 3 Episode 8
I have a tendency to talk Rumplestiltskin up as best bad guy. Largely because in a lot of ways Once Upon a Time is his story but he's not the best villain of series. Peter Pan is the best villain of the series. The first half of season 3 is the high point of the series but because of how interconnected it is I have trouble just sorting one episode from the others. But this is the episode where the show puts its chips on the table and tells us exactly what season 3 is all about.

Furthermore Peter Pan is the reason why I say this show is the story of Rumplestilskin's big screwed up family. And Rumpie coming to terms with him as a manifestation of his own sins is satisfying.

"Snow Drifts" & "There's No Place Like Home": Season 3 Episodes 21 & 22 
Okay mostly I'm going on for big dramatic episodes filled with pathos. This one is just funny. It's basically Back to The Future. The series decided that for the season 3 finale it would do fairy tale Back to the Future. And it's just fun on a metalevel.  That said since we're playing with time travel most of the humor is dependent on being keyed into the series continuity this far.

"A Tale of Two Sisters" & "White Out": Season 4 Episodes 1 & 2
Season 4 is where the show started to jump the shark for me. Let me explicitly state that. Almost everything that happens is stupid and incongruous with previously established events.



The relationship between Anna and Elsa works. Especially as a post-script to the movie.

Furthermore their "spirit quest" to find each other works as the closest thing Disney could have done to telling the Anderson version of Snow Queen.

If nothing else season four deserves my respect for pulling that little miracle off.

Shoehorning Emma into it as a snow witch later kind of ruins it but as it is I have to give it a slow clap for what they did manage to accomplish.

And these two episodes are relatively light on the stuff I hate. And I feel I need SOMETHING from season four on here.

"Operation Mongoose" Parts 1 & 2: Season 4 Episodes 22 & 23
Okay, the plot of the back-half of season 4 is convoluted and I hate it. Just about every bad guy in the series that matters already went through a redemption arc and to make season 4 work they had backtrack on all that good character development.



 It culminates in one of the most fun episodes of the series.

So the bad guys have been trying to use the magical mcguffin to re-write themselves as good guys in their own stories, and it works. They manage it. The bad guys are good and the good guys are laughably bad and it's hilarious.


As a single episode.


I hate season 5.



Saturday, November 25, 2017

Let's Talk About Magical Rape: Once Upon a Time Season 1 Episode 7: The Heart Is Lonely Hunter

Alright, I've been glib about this. And I shouldn't have been. To recap, about a week and a half ago Once Upon a Time aired an episode that featured a character being tricked into sex. 

At the time I did and to be honest I still do consider it to be the best episode of Once Upon a Time in a long time. It allows for compelling human drama rather than needing the peanut gallery to explain why every plot turn is a big damn deal. 

But I've been down this road before.  And also I need to take my own advice of taking the series seriously.  When this conversation came up with Game of Thrones my general opinion of using rape for drama was that generally, it's a bad idea


There are a number of speculative fiction stories that use the trope well or at least well from the perspective of a guy with no experience of this in real life. As such I have to take things on a case by case basis. 

Does it work?

And even when I find something cringe-worthy it very may well not be enough to make me stop engaging with the story if I appreciate other aspects of it. I still love Game of Thrones

Moreover the first time Once Upon a Time used "magical rape" was honestly my favorite episode of the first season and to this day holds up as one of my favorites of the entire series. The second instance was lazy, awkward and tacked on and I'll back up anybody who has a beef with it (for a lot of reasons).And the third is still playing out so I'll see what the writers do with it though at least so far I am liking it as it ties a lot of different characters together in interesting ways.

But the first time worked. Granted as the series went on it refused to address and outright forgot it happened it but at the time, within the context of the first season it works. Regina Mill's magical manipulation of Graham into a coerced sexual relationship is the thing that reveals that the facade of civility she has thin though may be is but a facade and that she will do anything she wants to get her way.

Furthermore the revelation of what's going on forms the backbone of a pretty good character study and even outside of the context of Once Upon a Time deconstruction of The Huntsman, who's normally a bit player in "Snow White" but isolated is really interesting.   

I previously mentioned that Once Upon a Times uses the binary good-evil morality of fairytales to impart lessons of morality to an adult audience. This is a prime example of that. Because The Huntsman is such a small player in his original tale it's really easy to overlook his role in the story. But what he pulls took guts.  Once Upon a Time managed to take the same character and put him in a new context with more or less the same stakes. And like in the original story he pays for it. 

For my money, the episode is good for its own sake and without it season one would be radically different. But regardless it begs the question. Did Once Upon A Time need to have The Evil Queen (just go with it) magically manipulate The Huntsman into a sexual relationship to facilitate that story?
Yes. Yes it did.

Part of the essence of Once, especially in the first season is that despite it all these characters are at their core themselves. Regardless of Regina's manipulations, Graham, the Huntsman is still essentially himself even if he doesn't remember to realize it. He can only be compelled so far before he realizes something is... wrong. You can argue about messaging and what that says. But that story is about forced coercion. THAT STORY IS ABOUT RAPE!

Friday, November 24, 2017

How to Find a Good Book

I've noticed that the blog posts where I feature a book list tend to get more traffic. Okay. ... But for a lot of reasons I'm not going to just make a series of blog posts that are that. First off my reading list is large and unwieldy and I don't have the patience to adapt it.  And secondly, I have a lot of guilty pleasures on that list that I don't want to get out.

But what I am willing to do is run down my methodology. How stuff winds up on my list. And why yes I am recycling my old material. So let's go.

Retail Marketing

In the before time in the long long ago. There was no Goodreads.  There was no Amazon. There was no Googlebooks. There was just the store and perhaps the library. Buildings where the great tomes were stored. But there were so many. How would you know what stories were... and I can't keep this up.

Yeah.  A lot of what I read in the old days was based on how the stores displayed and marketed the books. Standees and cover art. I'll get to it a bit later but I still like some of those authors and series so the marketing played a role. And I figure it's better to cop to it now than pretend like I am some sort of librarian.

It  Got a Movie

First off no. No. I've been around the block long enough to know that sometimes the book ISN'T better than the movie. But if a work got a movie or really any sort of adaption I figure it's beloved enough to pique my interest. Especially since even for good adaptations a lot tends to get lost. Sometimes the book is a whole 'nother animal. And in the case of multiple beloved adaptations, it's interesting exercise just to see what elements are intrinsic to the story and which were adaptational flourish.

Was It Referenced in Another Story

Sometimes you'll get lucky and to denote that a particular character as smartypants bookworm the writers will just stick books in their hands or even go further and have them just go into long diatribes about literature.

If a character I like is reading something I at least try to make a note of it. Other times it's not so obvious. Narrative economy means that if writers want to pay tribute to a story they loved sometimes they have to be subtle about it.  But if you're a big enough fan/nerd you'll sometimes just hear about this stuff and get curious.

Da Canon
As far as educational policy goes, I hate the idea of literary canon, that an English teacher hasn't done their job unless they exposed their students to a relatively infinitesimal grouping of texts. Especially considering early on teachers often feel it's better to expose kids to stuff they find engaging and show them reading can be fun rather than just something you do with a gun to your head.

But as a starting point, The Cannon is useful if you have absolutely no clue where to start..

Genre Lists and Subcategories
Let's pretend that you do have a clue where to start. That you have a pretty good understanding of the tropes and conventions that are your buttons. You know what you like. Well instead of trying to figure out what the greatest books ever were written were you might just try to figure out what the greatest books ever written were with the stuff you like. I have some issues with trying to categorize everything but it's useful if you're tyring to expose yourself to stuff that might otherwise get overlooked.

Science Fiction and Other Speculative Fiction Websites, and Magazines

I know what I like and my genres of choice are science fiction and fantasy. So here is a list of those types of websites I visit regularly. They often signal boost stories they think are worthwhile, sometiems even if they are a bit old and often feature short stories. 

Furthermore, while I don't want to give them their own category The Nebula and Hugo awards has generally done a good job of picking worthwhile stuff over the years. They have a good track record. Even if you don't read the award winners you should check out the authors. 

Series and Authors I Like

Doing it too much may be a problem but there are plenty of book series that I know I like. That I'm really into... that I just haven't been able to finish.

Furthermore even if a work may not be directly related to another I still lament if I haven't read it if it's by an author that I know I like.

Books I Read as A Kid or Are Related to Books I Read as A Kid

I loved Animorphs growing up but there were just a lot of books I missed. So it's always been on my bucket list to fill out the series. But in reality, there are a lot of books I wish I had read as a kid that I just didn't. Moreover that quite a few that I did that just got lost or ruined and I'd like new editions of them.

People of Color, Other Marginalized Voices, and International Literature

Apart from the sci-fi ghetto, my beef with Da Canon is that it's really hard for someone who's not white, not male or not straight to become accepted as a must read. And I feel a certain duty to rectify that. Even in genre-fiction it can just be painful waiting for somebody to get their due. And when they do the powers that be will never shut the hell up about it. (Jesus Christ the Sad Puppies are stupid.)

Anthologies, Textbooks, and Readers

Anthologies, textbooks, and readers are really useful for ideas. Often for, practical reasons (Let's be honest even in college a novel was a least two weeks in the curriculum and in high school I would say at the very least three that's a lot of time for teachers and the textbook makers know it. Furthermore even without things having to be taught a full novel, or play, is already a lot of space in a book especially considering any supplemental material.)  they don't feature whole texts but rather excepts but if you're digging on something why not seek out the full story?

If I Was a Professor

I have been and still intend to focus mostly on fiction for this list but this trick works on non-fiction as well. Pretend for a second you were a professor and had to write a syllabus on any given topic.

  • What books are highly referenced? 
  • Who are the leading researchers (or writers) in the field? 
  • What books have historical importance? 
  • What books lead to some groundbreaking paradigm shift?

This strategy works for a surprising amount of subjects fictional or not.

Literary Magazines, Web sites and End of Year Lists
A list for a list.

Okay here are some of my favorite book websites and Magazines.

Most of these feature some sort of end of year best of list which is also a good place to go looking for decent books.

Booktube and Other Bookish Youtubers

There are a lot of Youtuber's who take to reviewing books.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

If I Were A Rich Man: The Library: Post-Modern Folklore and Deconstruction

You know if I'm looking for just random stuff to put on the blog this is a long overdue idea. A list of books to read between seasons of my favorite TV shows. It's not exactly an original idea. Every season after Game of Thrones there's a billion lists of what can tide fans over but why not. TV takes a long time to produce.

Stuff to read you dig the fairytale deconstruction of Once Upon a Time.

Standard disclaimer. Most of these aren't books I've read but books I've want to read. While I'm at it this list is based on my personal list which was greatly influenced by a Goodreads list though I don't remember exactly which one so here a few worth mentioning.

Fables by Bill Willingham

I don't know if I want to include comics but Fables basically is Once Upon a Time if Once wasn't contractually obligated to pimp Disney so hard.  Moreover, Taletale made a video game adaption which is pretty inexpensive if you want to get your feet wet. It's an episodic game and normally the first episode is free though I don't know if that's still the case for The Wolf Among Us

The Bloody Chamber By Angela Carter
One of the reoccurring themes of this list is going to be that it chaps my hide that for the past century Disney has more or less had a monopoly on these stories.  And the obvious answer to that conundrum is go back to Grimm, Anderson, and Perrault. But then I have the same problem with a new name. Specifically a lot these stories were part of a pre-existing tradition of oral storytelling and I hate that they've been locked in place by not only film but previous to that the written word itself.  They are supposed to change. WHY DO THEY NEVER CHANGE!

The Bloody Chamber is a salve to that wound.  It makes the old tales interesting again. Also one of it's stories was adapted into movie. "The Company of Wolves" which is based on Little Red Riding Hood.

The Hard Facts of Grimm's Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar
Any story that can be so ingrained in the public conscious deserves some study and analysis and Maria Tatar is one of the best academic in the field of studying the cultural significance of fairy tales. This is basically a work where she anotates Grimm. I also recommend Off With Thier Heads: Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood.

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales (Anthology)
Finally some new fairytales rather than recycling the old stuff. Oh who am I kidding I love recycling the old stuff that's why this list exists but like I said we've told the stories over and over again in more or less the same way they are getting a bit stale.

Wicked by Gregory McGuire
McGuire has also made a career out of reworking and revising folk stories. His most well known and well-regarded work is Wicked but he's done a bunch of other stuff.  Some would argue Confessions of An Ugly Stepsister is more interesting.

Daughter of the Forest By Juliet Marillier
The Six
Swans is one of the fairytales that didn't get a flashy Disney movie so if you want to stick it to the Mouse by divorcing lore from Disney it's a great one to do that with.

Daughter of the Forest seeks to retell The Six Swans as a Celtic folktale. One of the more interesting aspects of the book is that the main character fairly early on realizes she is in the type fairy story she tells her family regularly and has a pretty decent knowledge of DA RULES (particularly when dealing with the fair folk).  She spends more or less the first third of the book, without irony or snark, describing said rules to another character as she tells him various Irish folktales.
Princess of the Dancing Ball by Jessica Day George
You know how I said the "Six/Wild (it's complicated. Hey once you get past a few details Snow White basically is Sleeping Beauty) Swans" is a good way to stick it to the Mouse. So is "The Twelve Dancing Princesses". YOU HEAR THAT MICKEY! YOU AIN'T GETTING A DIME OUT OF ME FOR THIS CRAP!

Enchantment By Orson Scott Card


Orson Scott Card has said and done a lot of horrible stuff since his heyday as sci-fi nerd king. ... but I just can't bring myself to hate Enchantment the first book of his I've ever read which retells the story of Sleeping Beauty with Baba Yaga playing the role of Maleficent and a time-traveling Ukrainian-grad student, NAMED IVAN, reluctantly playing the role of Prince Phil.

The Sleeper and The Spindle by Neil Gaiman
Reworking old stories into something new is Gaiman's bread and butter it's what the man does.  Seriously, SandmanAnansi BoysAmerican Gods, Norse Mythogy. But I'm trying to stick to fairytales so The Sleeper and the Spindle it is.

The Princess of Thorns By Stacey Jay
Because of Disney there almost always is some confusion over what the name of Sleeping Beauty is. Aurora or Briar Rose. Post-modern adaptations split the difference by making them two different characters with similar stories. This Aurora is the daughter of sleeping beauty and she's more action-oriented than her mother.

Briar Rose: A Novel of the Holocaust by  Jane Yolen
I haven't read it and I want to be careful what I say about it because of the setting. But I hear it's really really good.

Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter byAdeline Yen Mah
Everything I just said.

The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge


I've got a thing for clones. They help me work out my junior issues. Vinge reworks the Snow Queen into space opera about predestination as our Kai this time around IS the Snow Queen... at least genetically.

The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey

Cindy's got a brand new bag. Again a lot the books I'm recommending I haven't read but come on it's Mercedes Lackey. She probably set the gold standard for this kind of thing.

People have had beef regarding Cinderella's passivity and lack of agency for a long time and the point of the story is to basically rewrite her happy ending into something a bit more modern.

The Stepsister's Scheme by Jim Hines
Another post-script to Cinderella. The step-sister's strike back.

Mechanika by Betsy Cornwell

It's a steampunk Cinderella. It's CInderalla if Cinderella was also Girl Genius.

The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine

You know how a few years back everybody was pissed that they basically turned Snow White into a Lord of the Rings style fantasy epic that didn't work. This is that... but good.

Uprooted by Niomi Novick

It's a bit removed but it's Beauty and the Beast with more or less the same dynamic as in Once.

P.S. Screw the mouse.

The Court of Thorn and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
It's an epic Lord of the Rings style fantasy of Beauty and the Beast

Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis
Remember how I talked up that Sci-fi space oppera of the Snow Queen. Well here is one riffing on Snow White and the Author Managed to do another one for The Six Swans by the way there are a lot of good adaptions of The Six Swans floating around.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Once Upon a Time is Smarter Than People Give It Credit For

So I came across this article about Once Upon a Time and... it has a point. I don't completely agree with it (mostly because I'm having too much fun) but it's argument is firmly based upon knowledge of the series I can't argue with.

But I do have one bone to pick. The article called Once dumb. To be fair I'm only dogpiling on the article because it provides me a good opportunity to use Once as a case study for an idea that's been rolling around in my head for a good long time.

Once Upon a Time has a ridiculous premise. What if a bunch of fairy tale creatures got transported to the real world? But I love speculative fiction and one of the rules for engaging with speculative fiction is the ridiculousness of the premise is irrelevant, what matters is what a work manages to do with it. My favorite TV show amounts to what if one of the stupidest conspiracy theories of the last century was real.  One of the most thought-provoking movies I've ever seen amounts to what if we were all living in a computer program, and one of the most important books ever penned is basically what if a bunch of farm animals formed a communist society.

The silliness of the premise isn't what matters.  What matters is what the work manages to do with that premise and Once is kind of clever on that count. That's not to say the show doesn't have it's problems it has the same pitfalls as most network television with wonky pacing and at times it can feel like a Disney promo but it does have a fairly clever and consistent theme.

Fable Morality

While it's not the only reason to tell a fairytale one of the primary purposes to tell one is to communicate a simple moral truth to children who may otherwise be blind to it. The series inverts this by using the binary nature of fairytale morality to explore a deeper question of morality. What responsibility do adults, namely parents have to live up to the moral standards set by their children?

Almost every major conflict in Once Upon a Time's seven seasons either is or is the result of a parent failing to live up to their kid's moral standards and getting viciously called out on it.

The series pilot drops the gauntlet when 10-year-old Henry shows up to call his biological mother out on giving him up for adoption and running away from her responsibilities to him (Note: That's not how I feel about adoption but that is the show.) and it never lets up.

This is what the show is about.

By the way. "Manhattan" is for my money the best episode of the entire series and a distillation of what at it's best it is. If you're curious but don't think you'll be able to get over the premise I recommend watching that episode first to get your feet wet though it might lessen the impact of various plot revelations. 

Once basically makes nearly every character it casts as a fairytale villain look their kids in the eye and account for their sins and that's a genuinely clever conceit.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Toxic YouTube Fandom

So I came across a web series "retrospective" on various personalities from now known as Channel Awesome. It's a hate-watch. I will not link to it. And it's a hate-watch for a couple of reasons. Most of the personalities he's talking about as "cautionary tales" have actually done alright or about as alright as a  professional YouTuber could reasonably expect to do.  But the more I watched the more I realized that wasn't it.

This guy is THE toxic fan.

Let me be clear. Channel Awesome was not and is not immune to the growing pains of internet content creation. There are plenty of things to criticize. It had trouble with the shift from enthusiast content creators to a more professional business.A lot the video producers couldn't keep up with the production schedule the managers wanted especially since a lot of them were working for the site part-time along with other jobs or school.  A lot of its early humor went for shocking and hasn't aged well. A lot of the creators didn't interact with each other very often and that led to a clash of personalities when they did. There was an exodus of talent. It has always been difficult to monetize internet content and that made a lot of the aforementioned talent unhappy, especially when Blip was bought by Maker and then later shut down.

While it's not the same, and I don't visit the site, in the same way, I used to, I don't think Channel Awesome is dead but if you want to do an enlightened post-mortem you could. Moreover, a lot of the creators who are the focus of his retrospectives like I said are doing alright for themselves producing content very much in the spirit of what they made for Chanel Awesome.


Apart from the speculation, the series uses questionable sources and moreover delves into the waters of personal hit job bringing up any information that it can dig up to personally embarrass these figures in a way that at best is a massive invasion of privacy and at worst skirts the line with libel.

It is not the enlightening deconstruction of the difficulties of online content production and internet persona management it purports to be.

And I find it absolutely repugnant.

Moreover throughout it has a tone of absolute entitlement. I don't want to give this guy traffic and the creators involved have been around long enough that they have tough skin and can handle it but these videos are emblematic of the entitlement of a lot of internet audiences and it won't leave my brain.

First off even the most well-funded internet videoes tend to have budgets dwarfed by their Holywood counterparts.

Profesional work costs professional money.  A lot of the fans expect these web series to be THE priority of the creators and if they were being directly paid by the fans I agree but most of the time that's just not how this works.

The point I'm getting at is a lot of these fans act as if they OWN the series in a way they really don't. 

Patreon and crowdfunding complicate the point I'm trying to make. But most of these videos are experienced for free by the audience and net the video makers relatively little money. There is very little obligation on either party to deliver something to the other. Viewing YouYube videos, or really any form of media as a transaction in which a particular experience has been promised is ... unhelpful

Moreover since as established money isn't often the prime motivator for YouTube creators there has to be some room for them to get what they want out of it. And


A lot of YouTube creators are held hostage. It's not just the fans fault. But it's a bad situation that their behavior doesn't help.

 Alright if your sole or even primary source of revenue on YouTube is advertising the numbers matter. The sheer number of eyeballs required to make even a few hundred dollars is hard to wrap my brain around. So the million dollar question on everybody's mind is how do you get enough eyeballs to break even in YouTubeland. And the answer is to get signal boosted by YouTube itself.

For the user one of the most challenging things about YouTube is finding the content you'll like especially if you don't already know what you're looking for. YouTube has a vested interest in connecting eyeballs to content. While there are bots and algorithms personalizing content they still tend to skew towards a relative few reliable creators.  Most YouTubers who want to make a living at it work their butts off to become one of those relative few reliable creators.

Three of the biggest things YouTube uses to determine who gets featured and who doesn't are the frequency of content, subscriber count and the number of views already obtained. And this incentivizes creators to create in a way that is... less than healthy in fear of gaining or more often than not losing their featured spots.

They have to create a lot of content in a very small amount of time and make sure it has enough mass appeal to go viral. NOBODY LIKES THAT SYSTEM!

First off as much as people dispute it internet content creation is hard work.

I'm not saying YouTube creators are coal miners.  But managing to keep a regular schedule that has the frequency YouTube wants can be fairly hectic, at least more hectic than all the comments about how easy the job is would make it seem.

They have to:

  • Brainstorm ideas
  • Research those ideas
  • Script Everything Out
  • Cast Any Actors or Cameos
  • Buy Any Needed Video or Audio Equipment
  • Make/Buy Any Costumes or Necessary Props
  • Film
  • Edit
  • Make Thumbnails
  • Write Descriptions
  • Manage Social Media
  • Manage Advertising and Crowdfunding
  • And Manage Self-Employment Taxes and Other Business Stuff

And remember because of how little money they make most video creators even if they make money off of their videos probably also have to have another source of income and do YouTube stuff as a side gig.

Again the system itself isn't the audience's fault. But it is a toxic system. The bots are merciless when the number of subscribers of viewers goes down on a channel. And this leads to a situation where the creators can't take breaks or even really experiment with content. And if you're someone who started doing this to have fun and express yourself, you're in for a world of disappointment. 

What is the audience's fault is their complicity in the system, when they don't recognize that these video creators are human beings with human lives and human needs, and just expect them to be content farms. 

It seems like anytime creators bring this stuff up and ask fans for a little understanding they get mobbed. They can't ask to experiment with content. They can't ask for a break. Heck, they can't even ask for money to help support the content the fans want in the first place.

And God help you if you're so jaded you just want or, let's be honest, need out to do something else entirely.

They will never let you live it down.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Reason I Quit Watching Once Upon a Time

Well I'm in this place so I might as well. It's not the first time I've touched upon it but the primary reason why I quit watching Once Upon a Time was its binary view of good and evil which this season it's finally starting to write its way out of.

Up until season 4. Once Upon a Time actively tried to subvert the idea that the bad guys were the bad guys just because. Heck, the pilot threw down the gauntlet by having the sanest, most emotionally well-balanced character shown be the one whose name literally means evil.  Each of the major villains has an understandable reason for turning even if it doesn't excuse them from culpability for the horrible things they do.

Season 3 more or less is a redemption arc for Rumplestilskin and to a lesser extent Regina. It's a heavy lift but they get to the side of the angels.

 And then season 4 happens. 

The story of season four isn't actually that bad at least not the first half which acts basically a loose sequel to Frozen. 

But there is a b-story in the first half the becomes the foundation for the rest of season 4 and most of season 5.

And in order for the mechanics of that b-story to work. Magic has to work like the dark side as a slowly corrupting force.

That's not to say it wasn't there. In season 2 there is this throughline about getting Regina and to a lesser extent Rumpie over their addiction to magic. But I always took it as a metaphor. In this context Magic is basically a gun. They're walking around with a loaded pistol and the implied sometimes not so implied threat of violence.  And getting them to understand why that's wrong is an important part of getting them on the side of the angels. And it happens for the same reason for both of them. They don't like the fact that their children are afraid of them nor that they are right to be so. 

Then surprise! Nope none of that stuff really mattered at all. It was just all because they were mages. Rumplestiltskin didn't tragically make the choice to pursue power to protect his family from those who would do them harm while not realizing he was slowly becoming someone who would do his family harm.

It was all the magic's fault.

That's all regrettable but the point where it became ridiculous was with Emma Swan's turn to darkness which is what all of this was setting up.

For a really long time Once had the problem that its protagonist is the least interesting character of the show. I'm sorry she is. Emma Swan's role for at least the first three seasons is as an audience surrogate and as a character she's not much more than that.

Season four bends over backward to try to make her more interesting and the solution they hit upon is to make her evil.

Emma Swan has her issues. She has a pathway to the dark side. She tends to run away or at least attempt to run away from her problems. She feels some resentment towards her parents for not being around even if it wasn't their fault. But neither of those seems like it would be enough to force her to put on the black and those issues were more or less resolved by the end season 2. Emma's just not evil. Not even a little. She's hardly even mean. She's just Emma.

So in order to to get her there Once basically rewrites its own history in one of the most convoluted what the hell retcons I've ever seen largely to remove her choice in the matter. She's evil literally because the story forces to be. 

Which would be fine if her personality changed to reflect that at all.

It doesn't. At least not in a way that reveals how her character thinks. She does evil stuff but she does it more or less so the story can prove how evil she is now. She has no character motivation. Her actions don't get her any closer to her goals or desires. She's just doing stuff because the story literally told her to.

Furthermore, it actually undermines her Dark One powers.

Okay, let's back up. Rumplestilskin's origin story is that he ultimately became so desperate to have the power to fight against his tormentors that he sought out and acquired the powers of the show's version of the devil. And the guy who had the job before him explicitly tells him that he choose this. Nobody forced him into any of it. He may have had a slight push but ultimately his turn to darkness was on him. Which is sad undercurrent of his entire arc.

He IS the Dark One. It's not just the magic, it's not just the curse, it's him. If it wasn't the knife, it would be something else. And his best character moments always come when he accepts that. Emma does not have that. She's not dark. At all. Not even a little.

It was a bad choice but for a long time, the show wrapped itself around that bad choice so it touched EVERYTHING.

Remember how I said that Mels was the sanest and most down to earth member of the cast. Well, they retconned her backstory into a twisty pretzel.

Where is MY Alice

So far this season of is pretty good. As I've mentioned before the most frustrating thing about this show is that it almost always makes one or two creative decisions each season that kill it for me and so far that hasn't happened. Sure it feels like at episode six we're at what would be the end of episode 2 if this were a Netflix joint but that's broadcast TV and since I'm watching this week to week instead of binging it doesn't feel as bad.

But there is one thing.

Okay the new Alice is actually pretty good.  But I've always been bummed that the spin-off version never immigrated into the main cast. 

EVERY season of Once Upon a Time is flawed. But Wonderland is probably the best "season"  in the franchise and comes closest to the ideal of what if all of these iconic characters lived together in the same world and had to deal with each other even if at the end of the day it really only amounts to a giant crossover between Aladdin and Alice and Wonderland. 

The spin-off version had a lot of pathos and build up and while the show is satisfying as its own thing it's just a shame that it kind just ends...on a sequel hook never to be.

This new version of Alice, as good as she is,  more or less closes the door on the idea that the spinoff version will EVER integrate with the main cast it just kind of vexes me. Wonderland is one of the best things the series ever produced and it feels like they just junked it, I reiterate, the best part of this whole endeavor. 

By the way Once Upon a Time: Wonderland is available for free on ABC's app if you can I highly recommend you give it a try.

Oh and hey it features Millie Brown before Eleven.

Friday, November 10, 2017

GATE Is Military Propaganda

So Gate...

On the surface, GATE is a dumb little anime in the mode of a guy saves the world by being super special awesome at role playing games that have been taking over the medium over the past few years. And it is that but it's also propaganda for the Japanese Military.

Okay let's back up.

World War II specifically how it ended with the nuclear bombing of cities with large-scale civilian casualties had a profound effect on how the Japanse have viewed warfare ever since. Japan is the only country to ever have nuclear bombs used against them in warfare. I am speaking as a western outsider who only really consumes Japanse culture through mass media but those themes are evident.

In the immediate aftermath, there was a lot of consideration for the causes of the war. Specifically what hyper-militarization cost the nation. To be fair some of that was forced upon the Japanese as a war concession by the United States but culturally it was still there.


How did that happen?

How did the whole country, the whole of society up and down get on board with attacking both China and the United States?

For better or worse the most interesting thing about GATE is just how remarkably pro-military it is. And it's not hard to see that as a reflection of growing Japanese right-wing nationalism. Specifically, the show views the military as the most functional institution of Japan's society, and in the story very much tries to circumvent checks the Japanese government has put on the military to prevent the sort of hyper-militarization that lead up to World War II and Sino-Japanese wars.

In fact it goes even further to frame what is essentially a military occupation as a good thing.

Furthermore, it frames Japan's Self Defence Forces as the most proficient and moral military amongst, The United States, Russia, and China.

It's not like I've never seen any of these elements alone before. Ghost in the Shell, for instance, has a lot of negative things to say about the United States and isn't exactly against using force as a means to solve problems.

It's just that GATE in the form of a breezy lark feels kind of insidious. I know to turn on my brain and critically examine political philosophizing while watching Ghost in the Shell but GATE is just so damn subtle in it's framing that it's hard to even recognize that it does have a political worldview that permeates its story and taken to its logical extremes that worldview is concerning.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Map AKA I Need to Get My Ass Out to Macomb

Journalism or activism, or straight up political strategy, my biggest problem is transportation. I simply don't have the money to head to where the action is right now.  When I get over my anger at a general lack of resources in my life my next thought is that last year the map blindsided me. Even before "the crunch", I was constrained to thinking locally because that felt like the where arena I could do the most good with the resources I had. I can't run around "chasing the story". I can't afford to move to Washington. Hell I can't even afford to move to Lansing.

And the 2016 election (not just Trump) proved that just don't cut it. And in reflection, I should have seen it coming. there were a lot of Trump rallies that were just too far out for me to really think about.

It feels like where I'm from most of the folks around me agree with me, at least in the broad outlines when it comes to politics. 

I was and am living in a bubble.

And the reason why at least politically the policies I want in place still have a hard road to travel is that it isn't only the people around me who have a say. I've seen it time and time again. If I am going to politically get what I want a cultural change is going to have to take place in this state regarding how we see government as an institution that provides needed services to people and helps ensure resources are distributed fairly.

I'm there.

It feels like the people around me are there.

But that's just not enough to get stuff done.

In each of the state legislatures, that's just one vote. And dear lord the 2018 and 2020 nationals.

If I'm going to get what I want I need to position myself to help push along the map.

The Wolf's Guide to Activism

Sooo. I'm dead broke right now. And my laundry list of things I want to do and things I need to do that aren't getting done is starting to get to me. I need to do... something (before I lose my mind). So I'm revisiting an old idea.

The Wolf's Guide To Activism

Even if I can't "be a part of the resistance" right now maybe somebody else will read this and get an idea or two.  Here goes.  Before I start though here are a few other places you might consider to look for ideas.

Places to Go to For Advice
Contact Your Local Representatives
In the aftermath of the 2016 election Dan Olson used his web series Folding Ideas to provide a guide for how to well contact your representatives. I absolutely love this video.

Crash Course U.S. Government
I will talk about this in a moment but a basic understanding of civics is really useful in determining things like.

  • Who do I talk to address a concern I have?
  • How do I contact this person?
  • What type of power do they have to resolve my concerns?
  • What are the limits to their power?
Crash Course U.S. Government and Politics is very useful as well a crash course in civics. 

Second verse same as the first. Here is the thing we live in a democracy and everything both negative and positive is the result of the choices we've made regarding how we organize ourselves as a society. Understanding those choices is incredibly useful. I recommend an understanding in sociology. As with government, I don't think these series are substitutions for a class but they are free relatively easily available. 

As usual here are a few books that I haven't read but are on my list
  • You're More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen's Guide To Making Change Happen
  • Rules For Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything
  • Rules For Radicals: A Practical Primer For Realistic Radicals
  • People Power: The Community Organizing Tradition of Saul Alinsky
  • Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing
  • Roots to Power: A Manual For Grassroots Organizing
  • Organizing for Social Change
  • Tools For Radical Democracy: How to Organize for Power in Your Community
  • Building Powerful Community Organizations: A Personal Guide to Creating Groups that Can Solve Problems and Change the World
Pay Attention and Be Informed
It's by far the simplest thing to do and is the first step towards action. Pay attention. Stay abreast of what's going on regardless of whether it's local, nationally or even internationally.  Most politicians want to solve problems so something is almost always happening being aware of this is the first step towards attempting to move policy. 
Eghhh nobody wants to be the guy who showed up the day after the State legislature held the vote. 

Here are some ways to stay informed
  • Go to council and board meetings
  • Go to town halls
  • Pay attention to the media
  • Read meeting minutes and packets
  • Visit the websites of officials and candidates for information
  • Call officials and candidates for information
  • Listen to conversations in common areas (public transit, bars, restaurants, stores, parks) you know people watch. 
If all of that is starting to sound like the outlines of journalism. That's because it is.

And this is the part where I say if you don't support local journalism, which is often the only place you can find certain types of information it will go away. And even if you think something better will replace it that will take a while and in the meantime, a lot will happen. 

Anyway, one of the easiest ways to get politicians to talk to you is to have the information they find useful. That helps them accomplish their policy goals. 

Know Who to Talk To
This goes back to that understanding of civics but with local and state governments that might still require a bit of research especially for niche or obscure issues. Still, the line, "It's your job" is very powerful.  Finding that person who is "responsible" is half the battle.  A few good places to start here are
  • Organizational Departments
  • Legislative Committee
  • Legislative Sponsors
  • Boards

Join a Group
I'm ripping off Dan'O but there is a power in numbers. We live in a democracy and it's easier to sway those in power if you can convince them you are speaking for more than just yourself. Before trying to grow a grassroots movement by on your own see if there is somebody already doing what you want to do and ask them how you can help. Some ideas are
  • Church Groups
  • Community Groups
  • Neighborhood and Homeowner Associations
  • Advocacy Groups
  • Non-Profits
Write and Speak Publically
Again I'm ripping off Dan but politics is all about persuasion. Most politicians are beholden to thier constituents and one of the easiest ways to convince a politician to an action convince their constituents. It's what the people want. 
 A Couple Ways of Doing That Are

Contact Your Local Representative
I would just be ripping off Dan Olson's video so there you go. 

Don't Lie
It speaks for itself. Lying will make you lose all credibility.

Donate or Volunteer
One of the most horrifying things regarding election 2016 is that it represents a massive shift in fiscal priorities. There is just a lot of necessary work that won't get done now. One of the easiest though not the only way to help is to donate and volunteer.  John Oliver provided an excellent list of non-profits in the aftermath of election 2016.  There are also a plethora of local charities and organizations that could use support. 
  • Forgotten Harvest
  • The Michigan Humane Society
  • Boys and Girls Clubs of South Eastern Michigan
  • St. Jude's Children's Hospital

Run for Office
As I said before even if it's a small office with limited power simply being able to say you speak for for people other than just yourself is incredibly powerful and running for office formalizes that. 

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