Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Takin' It Back

So for personal reasons, I'm trying to find media for kids that I have access to on the cheap cheap (I'm broke and canceled most of my streaming services but I have a free Amazon trial.) and I came across a lot of Golden Film's stuff. And I have feelings.

For those who don't know Golden Films spent most of the 90's making mockbusters of Disney Renaissance movies... and I was burned by them.  And I don't blame my parents for not knowing the magic of "I Won't Say I'm In Love". I blame Golden Films.  The rat bastards.

That is their business model. Tricking ignorant or naive adults into spending money on products their kids don't want. Screw 'em.


And then I get out of my head for a second. And ask myself do I really want to excuse Disney for branding stories that are supposed to belong to the public to the point where they kind of own them now.

Like that's where it started. We excused that business for far too long. But by now it's clear we have given the mouse too much power over us and it must be brought low.

Oh who am I kidin' I'm not giving up Star Wars, Marvel, Ghibli, and Pixar. I'm not.

... But I don't have to make it so easy for The Mouse either.

Here is my list of movies and shows that retell folk and fairy tales so if you want that you don't have to come crawling on your knees to the mouse if you don't want to.

Honorable Mentions
Before I continue I want to establish that I want this to be a pragmatic list of stuff that is easily and legally available, not just stuff I like.  But since a lot of these sorts of things are children shows a good bit of them have been lost to time. So here are some of those.

Merry Melodies Shorts

I can think of no better way to stick it to The Mouse than to watch Looney Tunes. Back in that golden age both Disney and Warner Brothers adapted a lot of fairy tales and honestly, I like the Merry Melodies shorts better. But here is the thing, some Loony Tunes shorts are easier to find than others and I just don't know where to find all the ones I want streaming.

Long Ago and Far Away

It was a PBS animated story anthology hosted by Mr. Darth Vader himself.

Shelly Duvall's Fairytale Theatre and Tall Tale's and Legends

These are actually two separate shows but they had more or less the same feel. The only difference is the types of stories they would tell. It's always kind of annoyed me that we pretend like there is no new folklore... mostly because in doing so we're pretending like simply because of its age my country has no stories of its own so any show that delves into tall tales, or urban legends gets a thumbs up from me.

Simsala Grimm

It's a German TV show and it actually looks kind of good as a fairy tale anthology featuring a lot of stories Disney hasn't touched yet... it's just that I have no clue how to get it legally.

Grimm's Fairytale Classics

And we're back to that actually good but I have no clue how to stream it thing.

The Stuff That You Can Actually Stream
Jim Henson's The Storyteller

When making this list what was most important to me is that these stories were not just trying to cash in on the Disney wave. (Sorry Don Bluth but Anastasia and Thumbelina to a lesser extent are about as Disney as you can get without actually being Disney) And there are a few ways I test for that. The principal one is that I look for movies and shows that adapt stories that Disney hasn't yet touched. The Storyteller is one of those. Instead of "Beauty and the Beast" you get "Hans the Hedge Hog". Instead of "Cinderella", you get  "Allerleirauh".  It bounces from service to service but generally, you can find it somewhere. I think though am not sure that right now HBO is streaming it.

Correction: I thought it was HBO but it's actually on Starz

Happily Ever After Fairytales for Every Child

Okay most of the stuff on this list is pretty old. It's going to be stuff from the 70's and 80's. Happily Ever After ran ... almost this century. So it's something I would actually show to a kid rather than just watch by myself drowning in the nostalgia. You can stream it on HBO.

Stories to Remember (Light Year Entertainment)

It's a bit hard to find because Amazon doesn't list it as an actual series but the as individual stories of that series with almost no indication that they're in the same style and made by the same company. But they are there. (By the way that's something it does with another entry on this list) But they do have most of them.

Anyway, the voice work is amazing on each of these and characterizes them as stories being told rather than just watched and there is something I love about that.

Ever After

You know how everybody said Disney's live-action remake of Cinderella was perfunctory since it wasn't all that different from the cartoon. This one isn't that. Mostly because this version of Cinderella actually has a personality.

Roger's and Hammerstien's Cinderella ALL OF THEM

I'm cheating because Disney owns the rights to a couple of them. But still, this one bugs more than most. See back in the day, the Disney Channel would actually run marathons of different versions of Cinderella.  And they were all interesting. I know for a FACT there are a million interesting places to take that story and when given the chance they didn't.

Shirley Temple's Storybook

Life is a circle. Yeah, I would prefer Shelly Duval as the celebrity endorsed anthology but Shirley Temple's Storybook is actually available. Also, note if you want to see a pre-Disney version of Winnie the Pooh here you go.

World Masterpiece Theatre

If you're looking for a man who can out Disney Disney look no further than Hayao Miyazaki. Back before he founded Ghibli he worked with Toei, on World Masterpiece Theatre (Specifically he was on Anne of Green Gables episodes) which was a series that adapted a number of well-known children's stories.

The thing about World Masterpiece Theatre along with Grimm's Classic Fairy Tales is that for a long time they were the international anime market. Gundam and Lupin the Third existed but good old red jacket took a long time to crossover. (Toonami popularized a lot of older anime. Not just Lupin, Dragon Ball and Gundam but also Astroboy and Cyborg 009.)

 Again Amazon lists them all individually so they can be hard to find but they're there.

Jiri Trnka's Films

They're available. I haven't seen them but bear mentioning.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Christian Media That Doesn't Suck

I have beef with God and his followers but one of the more benign is "Christian" movies are kind of shit. And heathen though I may be I feel there is no excuse for it, faith, the nature of God, and all of that is ripe for interesting storytelling opportunities. And it seems like all Christian media these days want to do is rant against the atheists.

So here is my list of actually good Christian movies and shows... that don't suck. With a few caveats

Books (Fiction)
For a lot of reasons I want this movie to primarlly focus on movies but there were a few books that I love so much that I had to mention them.

Tales of the Otori
It's basically a fantasy version of Japan's Warring States period but with a messianic protagonist who is a Hidden Christian named after the apostle Thomas well Tomasu but you get it. Huge chunks of the books are about him balancing his Christian beliefs, upbringing, and loyalty to brothers of the faith with the fact that the world will literally not allow for it in doctrine or morals. Turning the other cheek does not work in this series and will only serve to make your enemies hate you more... fatally more.  

He views Christianity as the faith of the underdog and wants to create a world that the meek can inherit rather than that of the samurai lords, but the world is the world and he has to live in it even as he changes it.

I haven't technically read it but everything I've heard about this version of Old Scratch is that he's interesting on a theological level and can't be dismissed as merely that bad guy. He's makes a decent point about why he and god can't just get along. Part of me wants to put the TV show on this list but it's a flawed adaptation.  It's not a philosphical rumination on the nature of free will which is what attracks me to the concept of the comic. 

There is a subplot in the book about close reading the story of Cain and Abel and I love it. Other than that the entire book is chock full of religious symbolism and is retelling Genisis as if it were set in California and oddly enough mostly succeeds.

The Ten Commandments

Alright let 's start this list off proper. Okay, so the real reason why I'm doing this whole thing is that back in the day the church I went to actually did show movies during Sunday school. And regardless of whether or not I've personally lost my faith I've seen enough good stories that almost rekindle it that it miffs me that any piece of media even tangentially related to Christianity is considered crap. The 10 Commandments is a lot of things crap ain't one of  'em 

Oh and while Job is my favorite Bible story there aren't a lot of Job movies but there are a billion Exodus movies so prepare for a lot of Moses parting the red sea.

It's not my favorite telling of the Exodus but if you want a big budget movie version of a Bible story this is one of the best.

The Prince of Egypt

Might as well get all the Moses stuff out of the way first. I personally like Prince of Egypt a bit more than The Ten Commandments and a lot of that happens to be simply,. I like the songs.  I feel the same way about Hunchback of Notre Dame but feel that's only really religious in the music not the story (which is odd considering the source material).  It's worth mentioning but otherwise isn't on this list. 

"Rugrats Passover Special"

Okay, I fully understand that the Exodus apart from resurrection is probably the BIG DAMN STORY of the Bible chock full of themes, symbols, and meaning that resonate across 3 different religions.

But sometimes you just need to have some fun with it. And if you want a "funny" version of the Exodus you can do no better than the "Rugrats Passover Special".

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

We all know that Aslan is Jesus right. The books, (specifically the Magician's Nephew which is the book of Genesis in a talking animal world) make it clear Aslan is the god of Abraham given flesh in the form of a lion because Narnia is a talking animal world.

Moreover explaining the redemptive power of Jesus Christ while not boring kids with a sermon is more or less the entire point of the story. Edmond betrays his family for candy, (because kid's story) and then his soul is condemned for it by our resident satan figure, the white witch until Aslan dies for his sins breaking the physical manifestation of the old laws and it's covenant.... and being resurrected from the dead.


Oh and then there's all that "sons of Adam and daughters of Eve" business.

The resurrection scene is the core of the story all of the versions I've seen do it well. The best version I can think of is probably the 1979 cartoon. The Disney Movie was trying to be Lord of the Rings and Narnia isn't Middle Earth. I haven't sat through the '88  BBC version in a long time but it, while I think I would get a kick out of it, looks very much like the made for TV version it is.

Pillars of the Earth

Don't let the trailer fool you it's mostly about the political and financial wrangling as well technical knowledge required to build medieval cathedrals. This isn't Victor Hugo but it's about as close as I can reasonably expect to a modern Hunchback movie that's actually about Notre Dame. A man wants to use his God given talents towards the glory of God by building a monument in his service.

Oh and it has Ian Mcshane as a currupt Bishop. (I love Ian Mcshane)


I mostly like Rome because it's probably the most historically acurate television show I've ever seen. In the second season they have an arc about what was going on in Judea just prior to the birth of Christ. It was canceled before they get the gospels proper. But it sets the stage for why most of the major factions act the way they do.  

Forest Gump

It's subtle but losing his legs caused Luitenant Dan to have a crisis of faith before ultimately returning to it and it's one of the least annoying versions of that story I've ever seen so it's on here.

Mostly what get's me is the story frames this aspect of his character neutrally and doesn't pass judgment, not to say that he wasn't a prick in other ways. But in regard to the God thing, the story doesn't dismiss how he's feeling.  What happened to him sucks. He is not wrong to be pissed about that and he's not wrong to be pissed at God about that. And that he eventually can make peace after it all is kind of inspiring.


Up until now, I've been trying to accommodating to the folks who can't stand any deviation from what they've been told but from here on out the list will be challenging. Not necessarily heretical but stuff a decon might give you the side eye for. On the lighter side of that is Kings a fairly straight retelling of first and second Samuel ... if it were set in modern day.

It treats the story as a political thriller as Saul is working to eliminate a rival for his throne and it's an interesting way to tell the story.

Furthermore, it has Ian Mcshane and I will watch that guy in anything. If you need someone to play a charismatic villain and Saul is a charismatic villain he's your man. Accept no substitutes.

The plot of Dogma is that existence is jeopardized because of the inflexibility of ... catholic dogma. That makes it sound deeper than it. is. the movie is mostly trying to have some fun at the expense of the church but it also has big giant point to make about the consequences taking religion too seriously.

The Witch

Enough with the shallow end. Let's go deep nearly blasphemous.  On a metaphysical level, The Witch is a meditation on original sin, (in this context) humanity's natural proclivity towards sin and depravity and our attempts to make ourselves truly worthy of the glory of God knowing it's an impossible goal. It does not speak well of the pursuit.

Jesus Christ Superstar

It's basically The Gospel of Judas Iscariot, ... music and dance numbers. And I know the very idea of that is enough to turn people off but it has a point to make.  By the way there are lots of rock operas about Jesus this just the only one I really saw so eghh.

From Dusk Till Dawn

Who knew a movie filled with vampire strippers could inspire faith in Christ.  Seriously though one of my beefs with let's call it propaganda is that it doesn't acknowledge that it's perfectly reasonable and natural for someone to wrestle with their faith and offer. Just admitting that can offer solace. It is okay to be pissed at the Father. And I have soft spot for movies that do. From Dusk Till Dawn is one of dems.

Angels in America

Angels in America... Angels in America. The word that comes to mind is epic. The play/miniseries has a lot to say about government, love, loss, sexuality, and yes religion. And while the story ends with a big damn rant against god from the protagonist that is seemingly the point, his isn't the only voice of the piece. Several of the characters wrestling with how to integrate their religious beliefs into their daily lives and there is more than one view within in the story on how to do that. Not all of them are good and the story says as such but if you're looking for a guide on how to live as a good Christian in a modern society here you go.

Moreover, it challenges the notion of the comforting God. Good doesn't necessarily mean nice.

The Grapes of Wrath

You know, it's not exactly fair that a lot of the religion has to take the heat for nutty evangelical fundamentalists who are complicit in all the horrible shit Donald Trump does. Like there are lots of different ways faith can be expressed and it doesn't have to be and most of the time isn't that. Casy is the my ideal of the good shepherd offering solace to his friends in the name of the father during times of trouble even if he is unsure if it does any good. That is all.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Argument

I am a black nerd, which is to say I am Black and I also tend to engage in media generally associated with dedicated and energetic fanbases. The two are not mutually exclusive.

My idea of a good weekend is ordering a pizza and marathoning whatever the new hotness is on Crunchyroll with intermediate bouts of video games and maybe a fantasy novel on the sly. That is my fun.  That is my jam. That has always been my jam. That will probably always be my jam.

But I am also black and fully aware that at least a reason why Trump won the white house was his overt appeals to white grievance.  Let me say it explicitly. DONALD TRUMP IS A RACISTMADE APPEALS TO RACIST SENTIMENT, AND CONTINUES TO MAKE APPEALS TO RACIST SENTIMENT!

He did that.

But more than that from where I sit Trump is incompetent and the reason why the electorate and yes even Republican leadership is willing to dismiss that incompetence because of that  racism. For a lot of them, it's a feature, not a bug.

People are willing to ignore everything about Donald Trump BECAUSE he reassures white racists, or sexists "or whatever" else that yes they are firmly in control of the country. And since they won the White House and the congress and are well on their way to a Supreme Court majority, yeah they kind of do. Life sucks get a helmet.

That is my reality. That that is the world I live in. That is the nail in my brain. That is my life. I don't like it but it is what it is.


Damn near every week I have hear some new controversy about ehem a "fan movement". And regardless whatever the spark was this time they all boil down to being mad about the same thing. And that same thing is directly related to all the crap I just described.


I am just about sick of all that noise.

I know other groups of people have it worse off than me, a black dude from the burbs. but I've had to put up with a lot of shit over the years from media that otherwise, I'm pre-disposed to loooooooove.

(To anybody who comes at me saying I want to destroy Star Wars and hate it. Shut up! I love Star Wars, and I will probably die loving Star Wars.)

I also want to be clear. I kind of sucks when your favorite show or movie series, or comic book series veers off in a direction you can't stand and you have to give it up. And it's not out of bounds to criticize cast and crew when that happens.

But all of these fan movements have the same central complaint, that these pieces of fiction are trying to appeal more to people who aren't them and that criticism almost always immediately devolves into racist and sexist harassment as people start crying "SJWs (anybody concerned about issues race, class, sexuality or gender) ruin everything".

And it's not cool. It's not alright. And it's going to keep happening. Because that's where we are right now.

That is my reality. That that is the world I live in. That is the nail in my brain. That is my life. I don't like it but it is what it is.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

For the Sake of the Record

So I ran out of money to keep doing the blog... again and I have some strong feelings about that. In order to keep what I call, "brain leakage" (a state where I am unable to keep negative thoughts and feeling from affecting what I say and do) at bay I've been mostly writing stuff offline to sort out how I feel about it but somebody asked so here goes.

It takes money to keep up the blog and it's never been self-sustaining. I've also had trouble finding money otherwise in my personal life and am in huge amounts of debt. In all honesty, restarting the blog in January was a pretty irresponsible move on my part along with other things I did, that shall go unmentioned. But at the time I wrote down (again offline) what I was doing and why and I understand the logic of me of six months ago even if I can't say with a straight face I'd make the same choices, though yeah I probably would. I'm a predictable little bastard. 

This sort of stuff is what I want to do with my life and if I have the capacity to do it I will. I just don't right now. And yeah it bugs me but it is what it is at the moment.

All that having been said I'm not as angry as I was the last time things kind of fell apart. Even if I don't have the power to do all the stuff I want to do right now, I know how to rebuild things in my head and know that me not being in a position to do what I want isn't a permanent state. Or to put it another way in 2017 I was a bit of a junkyard dog, but the simple act of proving to myself that I can rebuild things has helped calm me down and find ... peace.

And Megalobalboa didn't hurt either.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Everything is Politics and Politics is Everything

So a lot of hay has been made about Republican political officials being heckled in public spaces. And none of the usual scuttlebutt from the usual places seemed to feel right.

The "Can't we get along pieces" from Washington Post seemed totally tone death from this moment in time and I just haven't seen an article from the opposing side of that sentiment that articulated exactly going on without talking about the incredulity of specific policies and well as much as I hate to say it elections have consequences.

And then I saw this video from Extra Credits about political and something clicked for me.

There is a sentiment in this country that politics is divorced from daily life, that is in the broad strokes politics does not matter. And that sentiment is one that's really been subtly under question for the past few years.

From where I sit of course politics matters because public policy matters and is one of the great forces that affects lives on a massive scale.

Because of that sentiment, it's not unusual to view politics as just a job. Something that can be slipped into and out of at the end of the workday. But I would argue it's more than that.

In the 2016 election, there was this great cynicism. This feeling that if the citizenry couldn't change the system they should revolt and dismantle it. And part of what led to that was a feeling that politics, the stuff people see on cable news, was divorced from their everyday experience.

And that runs counter to how I think. For me, everything politics. I can look at even the keyboard I'm typing on and work backward to environmental policies about manufacturing which affect the durability and pricing of the thing. We are a society of law even when the law is obtuse or invisible.

I don't know if I support the heckling of Republicans in these spaces but it speaks to a larger ideological divide. A politician doesn't stop being a politician at the end of the workday. The effects of their policies don't stop at the office door.  The effects of decisions about who gets what money and who doesn't, or who gets prosecuted and who doesn't, or who gets to vote and who doesn't don't just stop 50 feet from the office.

And the notion that it does is from where I sit why we ended up with a party in power that doesn't believe the government helps people in their daily lives because for the representatives of that party government doesn't exist outside of the physical workplace.  And that's something worth changing

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

SMART (and Mass Transit in Metro Detroit As A Whole) as It Is Right Now Does Not Work But The RTA Millage Would Go a Long Way to Helping It Get There

So Mark Hackel and L. Brooks Patterson's solution to regional transit is to essentially expand the SMART BUS system, which on its face doesn't sound like a bad idea except ... SMART is kind of broken. It's not the institution's fault. From where I sit a lot of the problems associated with SMART are caused the by the opt-outs and the lack of resources that those opt-outs cause which these two fellows are absolutely stuck on.

All the same, I can't get behind the idea that SMART as exists right now works. That is that it does its job of efficiently and cheaply getting people from place to place in a timely manner, which by the way is something that I consider essential.  We have to make this work. We can't just keep shrugging and dusting it's failings under the rug.  Don't get me wrong it's better than nothing but if we really wanted to (i.e. supported the RTA) we could do better.

So here is a list of long-standing gripes big and small I have with SMART many of which, though not all, the RTA plan explicitly seeks to fix

P.S. As it is the RTA plan is dependant on SMART. So we actually need both SMART and RTA millages to pass in order to actually enact that plan. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Case Against L. Brooks Patterson

So if you haven't guessed already I am in favor of Warren Evans' transportation plan as I was also in favor of the original 2016 RTA plan.

Right now the main obstacle from keeping it from happening isn't so much that people are against it, though they very well might be but rather that Macomb and Oakland County executives Mark Hackel and L. Brooks Patterson via their representatives on the RTA Board of Directors essentially have veto power over any attempts to even put it on the ballot.

Which is to say I kind of hate those guys right now.

I don't know Mark Hackel but not counting college I've lived in Oakland County my whole life. L. Brooks Patterson is my guy and has been since childhood. And that thought makes me want to bang my head on a desk.

Despite that and my own personal fortunes, I have to admit Oakland County as a whole is in a state of relative prosperity.

But I would also argue that a lot of that prosperity is the direct result of white flight from the City of Detroit which Patterson directly encouraged. Which is one of the most frustrating things to me about this.

Patterson's rationale for not "giving" "Detroit" (for the record those are irony quotes, the money the RTA millage would raise would in no way be under his stewardship except maybe via his representative on the board of directors and the REGIONAL Transportation Authority as its name suggests is a regional body that encompasses not only Detroit but also Oakland County and as mentioned I for one as a resident of Oakland County would very much like a functional mass transit system which right now we do not have.) is that the city is politically dysfunctional but from where I sit at least some of that dysfunction though admittedly not all of it is his fault.

P.S. I also have beef because he continuously advocates for the widening and expansion of highways which have historically, especially before his time, been to the detriment to the neighborhoods of the city.

Oh. And the bus integration thing... WHY IS THIS GUY STILL IN CHARGE!?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

I Am The Darkest Fear of Grover Norquist and the Koch Brothers... A Tax and Spend Marxist

So this year there are a lot of local millages coming up in the Detroit metro area. Part of me wants to talk about the importance of taxes and my hatred of the current anti-tax environment both nationally and statewide but after some thought, I realize I might have the blinders on. The past two, if I'm being honest eight years of my life, both politically and personally has been a laundry list of things I want and need not getting done because the money isn't there so I have a natural bias towards the shiny new policy proposal that could change my world save for the lack of funding.

Indeed, it is easier to tell people what would make me oppose a tax rather than what would make me support it because supporting taxes is my default position. My baseline is that the government does a lot of important stuff and in order for it to keep doing all that important stuff, it needs money. "Starving the beast" is a very bad no good horrible idea.

I know everything I just said. But taxes are still essentially "the people's" money regardless of how necessary I think they are. There are lots of reasons Donald Trump bugs the hell out of me but this is one of them. Even if you think the amount of graft in the administration is negligible compared to the size of the actual federal budget, which it is, the graft degrades trust that tax dollars will actually be spent on the missions of their departments which is something citizens are absolutely in the right to expect and be upset about when it does not happen. That graft is making every conservative right when they complain about the inefficiency of the federal government. And I hate it. 

Part of that accountability is having a clear, understandable, and accessible purpose for each dollar the government spends. And honestly, I do think government budgets are a bit too complicated. Not so much that the government itself should be paired down but in how they are prepared in presented to both lawmakers and the public.  Budgets are more than a bunch of numbers but practical records and mission statements of the priorities of their organizations. If you want to know what the government actually does rather than what it says it does look at the budget

Notice I didn't say tax and spend liberal in the title. I have drunken from the fount of Engels and Marx. Capitalism is inherently exploitative but we have so oriented our society around that system of production that replacing it would require radical revolution: cultural, economic, and political.

... But Communist revolutions don't exactly have a great track record of advancing the interests of the proletariat. 

Apart from throwing off the oppressive yoke of the bourgeoisie, ... a progressive tax along with services aimed towards helping poor and middle-class people (and maybe universal basic income)  is about the fairest and most practical means of the wealth re-distribution needed to create a more equitable and egalitarian society short of the alternative.

Which is to say I am tired of hearing rich bastards bitching about taxes while gutting worker pensions and arguing against raising the minimum wageI do not like the republican party right now.

And  I wish they would knock it off before I give up the pretense of respecting property rights and show them what a real pinko commie bastard would look like rather than the limp center-left policy advocates that pass for socialists/communists in their heads.

I have family that works for the local energy company. Seizing power plants would go down great at the family barbecue.

(For the record that was sarcasm. Seizing power plants is a very very bad idea that I do not support. It was just an idea of something a hard-line old school commie would want that nobody is seriously suggesting. The mainstream left is pretty far from out-right communism or even socialism right now, despite the fever dreams of Fox News, Breitbart and whatever crazy Youtube talk show host is in my suggestions this week.)

Saturday, April 28, 2018

April 26, 2018 RTA Detroit Community Meeting

On April 26 2018, the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan held a community meeting at the Detroit Historical Museum to educate the public about the Connect Southeast Michigan plan.

Friday, April 27, 2018

April 25, 2018 RTA Birmingham Community Meeting

On April 25, 2018, the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan held a community meeting at the Baldwin Public Library in Birmingham Michigan to educate the public about the Connect Southeast Michigan plan.

More information about the plan can be found at

Southfield April 24, 2018 Board of Education Meeting

An agenda and related documents can be found here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Opioid Town Hall

On April 11, 2018, a town hall meeting was held on the Opioid Crisis at the Southfield Public Library in Michigan.

The town hall featured remarks from:

  • 46th District Court Judge, Debra Nance
  • State Representative, Jeremy Moss
  • Oakland County Commissioner Janet Jackson
  • Oakland County Sheriff, Michael Bouchard
  • Southfield Police Chief, Eric Hawkins
  • Fire Chief, Johnny Menefee
  • Oakland County Health Network, Christina Nicholas
  • Attorney, Mark Bernstein

Also, the presentation included a clip from a speech from Sam Quinones, Author of Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Let's Talk About Digital Labor

So two things happened at relatively the same time making it hard to talk about one without the other but also the importance of each also overshadows the other to the point it's nearly impossible to talk about both at the same time.

YouTube Headquarters just got shot up by a disgruntled vlogger. And before I continue I want to apologize to them. I want to start a broader discussion about digital media, labor and yes monetization, but the moment somebody chooses to try to have that discussion with violence it ceases being a discussion and turns into a threat whether I want it to or not. And believe me I don't want it to be. That's not how society is supposed to work. And I don't just mean that regarding this issue. I don't care if somebody has a perfunctory line in their "manifesto" I agree with. Murder is murder and attempted murder is attempted murder.

That being said something else happened last week that makes it more difficult for me to wait until the dust settles to have this discussion.

Former Channel Awesome Producer released a Google Doc of long-standing complaints they had against the company. While Channel Awesome didn't start on YouTube they were and a lot of their producers still are pioneers of the current web video landscape. I want acknowledge that that Gooogle doc was also mostly written by disgruntled ex-employees of the company, but I'm also inclined to believe them.


Because there are plenty of other online media companies that have been under fire for similar scandals to the point where I have to wonder, is this just want it means to work in online media. If it is that's a problem we need to fix because it means the internet and the economics behind it are fundamentally broken. Digital media as it exists right now is inherently exploitative. And considering it's ubiquity that's a big damn deal.

New Yorker article that came close to trying to make sense of YouTube producer issues in the context of the shooting but I felt missed mark. Later I found an Ars Technica article that describes those issues better but I also understand how it could be seen as glorifying the shooter.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Time Is My Enemy

Last time I didn't give people a heads up and in retrospect, I feel that wasn't the right way to go about things. I only have enough money in the till to keep recording and posting city council meetings for about another month and a half.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Sunday, March 18, 2018

So You Want To Be A Teacher

So a family member who I haven't seen in a while has told me they're going back to school to become a teacher. And I have thoughts. My experience as a sub has pretty much soured me on the idea of kids, teaching and all of it but WE NEED TEACHERS and I didn't want to be a buzzkill.

This person is an adult past college age and has lived a life and even worked in positions that involved kids so if they want to do this I have faith they can and even should. Let me repeat. WE NEED TEACHERS!

So let's pretend I didn't fall completely out of love with teaching and give in to my advisory role.


First off before I get to the other stuff I also want to acknowledge that I'm kind of jumping the gun This person needs to get a degree and certification.  Again I have faith in this person but personal experience tells me the transition to college life is difficult.  It's been so long since I've been in college I don't know if I should give out free advice on the subject but I will.

I am jealous of college students because even 10 years ago there just were not the digital tools available today. Evernote didn't exist. Youtube was just getting off the ground. Smartphones were just coming around and were super expensive. There is so much I would do differently if I could do it now instead of then.

I don't have enough knowledge about the subject matter this person wants to teach or the University itself to give much other advice so I'll give that advice. Learn about the school and learn about your professors. For better or worse I didn't take professors much into account when choosing classes. "I needed x course and these were the sections available that fit my schedule" That was a mistake.

For the longest time the most difficult classes I were taking in my academic career were the classes where I learned the most but every now and again there would be a course that was hard AND I wasn't really learning much. Almost everything I read up until that point about school and there are some good books, stress never to blame the professor if you do poorly in a class.

That is horrible advice. I understand it. Going up to someone and telling them, "You are bad at your job" is one of the easiest ways to get them to dislike you and you need your professors to like you.  But sometimes you will get stuck with a poor professor and you need to be able to recognize that and on occasion even avoid it. "Koofers" "Rate My Professors" and "College Confidential" are really good websites for this given you keep a few things in mind.

Ignore the ratings themselves and look at the comments. Different students prioritize different things. Some students are taking a course to fill out their schedules and think it should be an easier course than it is. Others will get mad if they feel a professor isn't adequately preparing them for the industry. Read the comments.

A brief aside: something to keep in mind is that some courses will be designed for majors and some for non-majors. That is important information to know.

Also, to be fair to profs, there are some very good reasons why they may be bad at teaching students. It may not be their primary job, especially in STEM fields at research universities. That being said it is useful to jump in with your eyes wide open. They may have been tapped to teach lower level material that they themselves may not have engaged with in a while.

Take it as my first advice on actually teaching, almost every subject being taught to a student simplifies or even ignores complexity and edge cases. And if you are somebody who HAS to be aware of them ignoring them can be a hard mental hurdle to jump.

Beyond avoiding bad professors, you also want to be on the lookout for really good professors. I barely scraped through my college years and I honestly do think that the difference between me graduating and not is I had a lot of good professors at exactly the right times offering encouragement or opportunities to gain insight outside of class.

One of the reasons why I stuck J-school out is because MSU had a lot of good journalism professors who were willing to interact with students outside of class, even willing to be pulled for interviews on stories.

Teaching Requirements
Different places and even subjects have different teaching requirements. Be aware of those as you are going through a teaching program.

Opportunities Before Graduation
I am actually opposed to people without certification "teaching" (Note the first paragraph.) but the State of Michigan is in the middle of an education crisis. Right now there are lots of opportunities to get your feet wet. This person has already made clear that ultimately they probably won't be sticking around in the state permanently but they will get their degree here. If they want to gain experience outside of an educa.. you know what I mean they can.

 After about college 90 credits or about 2 years, they could sub. I do not recommend substitute teaching unless you are serious about going into the profession. The pay is too low and stress is too high for that job to function as a job. It helps to think of it as an industry-specific paid internship. (Isn't that what student teaching is for.)

Also, schools are desperate for teachers right now so they have crazy bonuses for people who may commit to getting those things and sticking with the school.

Let me repeat. THESE ARE THINGS I THINK ARE MAKING THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM WORSE!  I quit subbing for lots of reasons but the worst was the feeling (I don't have data) there were more long-term substitutes than certified teachers.

Happy Miles. Positive Miles.

Next even early on it might be a good idea to show up at the local school board meetings. It's free and open to the public. Anybody can go.

The school board essentially acts as the boss of your of your boss and understanding their logic is extremely useful even if it's not the specific school board of the district you end up teaching.

Fun fact my middle science teacher for a while ended up as the superintendent of the District. Having a broader view of how the system works is useful.

Charters vs Public Schools

It's political and I have my opinion.  (One of the charter schools I subbed at is in the middle of a huge lawsuit that may or may not go to the Supreme Court, another cheated teachers out of paychecks,  and another was headed by a scam artist. See the first paragraph!)

Happy Miles. Positive Miles.

But even so in this day and age if you are going into education you need to at least know charter schools are a thing. Right now about half the kids in Detroit aren't being taught in traditional public education and love it or hate it you can't pretend it's not a thing, especially considering the charters have lower starting requirements.

Regardless of whether or not you prefer to teach public school, there is a very good chance that your first job will be teaching in a charter school.

Team Work

In a school, you can not cowboy out. There are too many moving parts. It is really really easy to screw up somebody else's job even without realizing it. I repeat do not cowboy out. Even as a sub there was too much for one person to do in managing a single class. You need all the help you can get.

Students (A primer on classroom managment) 

As a student, the worst experience I have had by far in a classroom was in a class where the students were in open mutiny against the teacher. They hated her, she hated them.

To quote some famous guy. If you have to choose it's better to be feared than loved but never be hated.

The reason why this case sticks out to me is that these were kids who wanted to learn. It was an AP class and most of these students were acutely aware that doing well on the AP exams could save them hundreds maybe even thousands of dollars. And that money may be the difference between going to the school they want and not even if they were already accepted.

And they were hitting brick walls.

As a sub one of my goals was to avoid that situation, where it's not just kids getting off task, or getting a little lazy, or a little rowdy but where they openly want you fired.

And I have sympathy for the teacher. She wasn't originally supposed to be teaching the course. There was a beloved physics teacher (he was great at his job) who's wife got another job in another place and he decided to go with her, and the district struggled to find somebody else to teach AP physics and in desperation went to the department head... who was a better department head than a teacher.

You'll notice this happens a lot if you go to school board meetings. The parents and students want something to happen and the administration just can't find or keep a teacher for a certain course or activity and it either has to go away or they have to make due.

Anyway. Recognize when a mutiny is happening and cut it off. Regardless of age or size if 25 people disagree with you they and are absolutely obstinate probably will have their way whether you like it or not.   I don't know the best way to do that but a way is to it designate a first mate. You need to be subtle about it. because being a teacher's pet is an easy way to get the other kids to hate them and everybody knows this. But having another student or two who can advocate for you to the rest of the class in their terms is extremely useful and can help you know when you need to bend a little before order completely breaks down.

Almost every teacher is going to hear about "classroom" management. That's my starting advice. I was horrible at classroom management. Kids do not respect substitute teachers. There are lots of "good" reasons for this. But one of the few things that did work was to actually let the kids have what they wanted. They aren't dumb and especially if the (practical) negative consequences are short-term and immediate they'll get it.

For instance, teachers would tell me they hate noise in the halls so I would have a rule that the kids couldn't leave the room for lunch or recess until it was quiet. If they were late they had themselves to blame and a lot of them got that and understood it and would actively try to help me get the line quiet.  I had a rule that kids could only go out to the bathroom one at a time. If one kid held up the rest of the class by basically skipping they only had themselves to blame and the rest of the class would enforce the rules for me ideally (though not always) making my job easier.

How involved parents are in their student's school lives is going to vary. You may have parents who literally sit in on classes and you may have parents that are nowhere to be seen but in either case, they will be a factor. Even early on I was mostly just trying to collect a paycheck so I was horrible at interacting with parents after hours but sometimes it would come up.

Be cognizant that their interest in you is their kid. People go a little crazy over their kids. It can be annoying but expect it. Moreover. Good involved parents are invaluable. The reason why kids don't respect subs is that they know it takes a lot of work on my end that I may or may not want to do in order to hold them responsible for their actions. I may be there for one day. I don't know anybody's name. And most of all they may never see me again in their lives. And I get this. I understand this. It is what takes the social pressure off me whenever I feel like I am in danger of being a robot.  It's not always a bad thing. But it did make my life hell for a while. You know who they will see, who they have to deal with? Thier parents.

Other Teachers

I have different thoughts about different times in my academic career but in terms of how the system was set up, I actually like middle school the best. See in middle school they sort of did this thing where they sorted all the kids into a sort of "house" for lack of a better word. The kids had mostly the same schedules with the exception of electives, with most of the same teachers. and that fact let the teachers work with each other behind the scenes.

For instance, the math and science teachers could say, that a big project was actually for both classes and act accordingly letting the students work on big complicated projects in both classes with both experience pools to draw on. I really like that idea because of no matter how you slice it the kids outnumber you.

Even when they are on their best behavior there are going to be situations that demand you be in two places at once. For instance, when I was subbing I was under instructions to NEVER leave the kids by themselves. But there was one student who had to use crutches and just couldn't keep up with everybody else and so another teacher was fine watching the class for the five minutes or so I could watch this kid who had to move up a level in the school (I don't remember if it was stairs or an elevator).

And dear god bathrooms. When I first started subbing I would get all of these reports that kids were horsing around in bathrooms but bathrooms are segregated by gender. It was incredibly useful to coordinate bathroom time with a female teacher so I don't have my logic circuits shorted anytime there is a situation that demanded an adult in the girls bathroom.

Non-Administrative Staff (Be nice to the custodian)

While I complain about how crappy people (especially in this state) treat teachers, they treat the other staff in school worse. And we need these people. Be nice. Try not to make their jobs any harder than they have to be.

The worst of it a cleaning staff. When I was subbing my model for how I wanted to run a class were my teachers. And the biggest hurdle to that is the kids would destroy the room where it was almost unrecognizable as a classroom.  Most of my prep hour went to just cleaning the room. I have a profound respect for the cleaning staff in the school. They can be the difference between a school physically being a school and it not.

These guys are underpaid and have to manage the entire building. Ideally they should be able to get away with cleaning each classroom once a week.  These kids could destroy a class in an hour.  (And every time they did I died a little inside.)

Furthermore, I was a contractor to a subbing company and they didn't really train me. Like I said I suck at classroom management. But a lot of these guys knew the school, knew the teachers, and knew the kids and occasionally even knew the parents.

I may have felt like I was eaten alive but without the cafeteria personnel and the custodians and the paraprofessionals, I would have had a nervous breakdown.

They could tell me when a kid was lying or not and that was incredibly valuable to me.

Office Staff
Information makes or breaks me and generally speaking the folks behind the office desk are the most knowledgeable about how the school actually runs. Whose in charge? What does the schedule look like? What does the calender look like? How do you get supplies? Where are the copy machines? Did anybody not come in today? Are there any parents running around?

They know this stuff.

... And as a result, they are incredibly busy. If you piss them off they can make your life hell but if they like you dear god do they make the trains run on time.

Department Heads
I don't really know what they do.  I know they do something. A lot of my teachers over the years doubled as department heads. But I never got entrenched enough in the system that I got a first-hand look at what they do.

The District Board and Administration
One of the most direct ways parents have of holding schools accountable is electing the school board. They can literally fire the people in charge of the schools if they want. Which is amazing to me. Ain't democracy grand.  My view of what both the superintendent and the rest of the administration do is execute the desires of the school board and by extension the parents.

Moreover, the board and administration are responsible for the allocation of resources, which is important.

Classroom Management 

As stated I was horrible at it.  There are some good books out there but I haven't really read them well enough to recommend them. Just know that if you are struggling there is help out there for you.

A Word on Curriculum and Supplemental Materials

So again I'm speaking as a sub, not a regular teacher. I was never in charge of curriculum unless something bad had happened. And most teachers aren't. That's not exactly right. Teachers can craft lesson plans but teachers don't have the absolute control over curriculum most people think they do for a lot of reasons. 

The most obvious reason is standardized tests. All sorts of things are tied to them some of which are by law, such as funding or closure of a school so teachers often "teach to the test.  It gets even weirder in high schools where students take tests that aren't mandatory but can still have huge consequences. Remember my AP example. 

Beyond that there is money, supplemental materials cost money and teacher salaries are crap. For instance, it is very hard for an English teacher to get a classroom set.   30 books X 10 dollars per book = $300 That is a significant amount of money. 

Next of course is the pacing of the class. Teachers have some leeway of "okay I think you guys need an extra week on this subject"  But teachers get excited by the subject matter. they want to expose kids to lots of books or ideas or whatever and time is finite especially with those tests looming over. Textbooks are generally paced better than making things up on the fly, though that is one of the things that comes with experience. 

Experienced teachers are better at figuring how long it's going to take the class to "get" something.  

Regardless teachers out of necessity rely on the materials the school board approves. Those materials set the template of the curriculum. And the state and district school boards have a lot of control over textbooks. 

Also, most schools require the principal approve lesson plans allowing them to veto stuff.  

P.S. Even if you are a male teacher it will be useful for you to take a female sex-ed class if you teach middle or high school. There were a few situations where stuff was happening and I didn't know because as a guy never needed to know and the students were not going to tell me. And I made a situation a lot more embarrassing than it had to be.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Medium Is the Message

So I went to a journalism panel. I liked it, but walking in one of the things I was afraid of was that the panel was going to bash the internet, and for the most part, they didn't but I still think it's worth talking about.

See I graduated from MSU J-school in 2010 and the overall conversation regarding journalism back then was "Oh dear lord the internet is going to eat us!"

It feels like journalists have moved on from that line of thought but with the proliferation of fake news I have this fear that the journalistic establishment will backslide, and for obvious reasons, that's bad for me. I've pretty much spent the last 7 years of my life trying to prove David Simon wrong. There are times when doubt the wisdom of that choice.

But as a guy who uses his computer as a second brain, I disliked how the internet was viewed as an inherently negative force. Good journalism is good journalism and bad journalism is bad journalism regardless of how its delivered to its audience.

I don't know how much I deserve credibility but I want to be judged on the merits of the work rather than the medium by which I choose to communicate.

That is not to say I don't have problems with internet media. I suck at marketing and advertising and even if I didn't CPM is horrible.

But beyond that what I feel was left unsaid 10 years ago is the medium is the message. That a lot of what distinguishes internet content from say film or television developed because of technological and production limitations; the run time of videos, jump cuts. Even the content itself is shaped by the fact that a huge chunk of the audience will be interacting with it not on its original page but on their Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Pursuing the News in the Era of Social Media, Divisive Politics and Declining Revenues

A Journalism Panel Held at the Southfield Public Library on March 7, 2018

Moderator: Maureen McDonald


  • Eddie Allen
  • Matt Roush
  • Jennifer Cherry Foster
  • Ed Garsten

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

February 12, 2018 Southfield City Council Meeting

An agenda and related documents can be found here.

For more content like this please visit and please support me on Patreon.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

It's Long Time We Reexamined Dot Hack

I am an isekai apologist. I love Sword Art Online and all of the knock-offs it inspired but when I listen to people give their point by point breakdowns on why they don't like it I can't really disagree with them. All of that stuff is true. But I also believe that the core conceit of being stuck in a video game has a lot of interesting possiblities and SAO does deliver on enough of them to be engaging.

That being said even I'll admit that season after season the genre gets more and more watered down and hard to like as it copies more and more of the elements that didn't work in SAO.

... Our jaded programer protagonist who kind of hates MMORPGS because they are his job and actually kind of made Death March To Parallel World kind of interesting for 2 episodes is getting a harem ... with slave girls. Yaaaaaaaay.

And I think okay if I were to use all commentary, all the critique to fix SAO, to make it a show beyond otaku instant gratification what would it look like?

What if they made it so Asuna spent more time doing guild stuff and could show off how badass she was?  What if they made it so that instead of fawning over him Kirito's harem actually did plot-relevant stuff? Heck what if instead of just saying he has trouble dealing with people ... while having nearly every female character want to date him Kirito actually did have trouble dealing with people and all of his friends had lengthy discussions about why they hang out with this guy who can't help himself from pissing them off?  For that matter what if he actually had a personality that made him act in ways that weren't a just generic hero stuff? What if there were a character in the story specifically designed to do all the crazy hacker stuff required to solve the plot rather than the 15-year-old kid hero whose primary qualification amounts to being really good at playing video games? What if the story focused a lot more on the existential horror and dread of not being able to go back to the real world and why that was happening rather than spending a bunch of it's time in a log cabin in the woods playing house?

I would probably end up with something that looked a lot like .Hack specifically .Hack//Sign the first anime iteration of the franchise.

That's not to say that .Hack is perfect. Even //Sign which is both arguably the best of the .Hack franchise and the one that least requires knowledge of the property as a whole ends in a way that requires you to play the games... that were released on PS2.  And yes for a fantasy show ostensibly about an action-heavy video game it is very talky.

Also I want to differentiate between isekai or trapped in another world stories and what I'm going to dub cyber isekai or trapped in another world stories where the world in question overtly runs on video game rules.  Trapped in another world stories have a long history even in anime and I dislike that everybody pretends like it started with Sword Art Online which by the way is kind of why I'm writing this. Heck even if you just wanted to stick to dude stuck in a vaguely video gamey world Digimon has you beat.

All the same rather than saying SAO is the progenitor of modern (cyber) isekai I would say .Hack did it first and better warts, and all.

One of the biggest problems people have regarding .Hack//Sign is especially compared to modern stories it doesn't feel like it's about video games. It's not fun.  No. No, it's not.  It's a story about the segregation of offline and online identity and communication and how that divide is an illusion. About how even in a game whose entire purpose is escapism these characters, these miserable saps,  can't run from who they are in the real world. Because more than an isekai story or even a fantasy story .Hack is a post cyber-punk story.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Southfield January 29, 2018 City Council Meeting

An agenda and related documents can be found here.
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I'm Going to Pick On the Financial Diet

So I have money problems. And I have spent the last 7 years doing the same thing I always do when I have a problem I can't seem to wrap my head around. Go to the internet for advice. And there is no shortage of places to go to for financial advice on the internet.

After spending years trying to figure out ways to reorganize how I spend money the only conclusion I can make is that I simply need to make more money. No amount of cost-shaving or budgeting is really going to change that.

Yet that's most of the (not obviously a scam) financial advice on the internet.

For simple shorthand, I'm going to use the Financial Diet. They give good advice... if you already have enough money to do the things you need to do and live comfortably. But what if you don't?

I don't blame the Financial Diet for that. They do what they do well. It's just that I don't see a lot of places giving the other type of advice. Realistic advice like how to get a job in your field after college, or how to avoid multilevel marketing scams, or how to gauge whether or not you are getting paid too much or too little for your work, or how to figure out if you can survive on your salary with the cost of living in your city, or how to accurately gauge the value of potential purchases.

This, by the way, is why I love John Oliver. He is the only person I really see in the mainstream even close to giving this type of advice short of actual journalists.

And then I think about why.

Giving that type of advice requires a little bit of cynicism. A little bit of acknowledgement that yes to a certain extent the system and the individuals who profit from it are out to keep you down and bilk you for everything you're worth and the remedy is to make it your chief goal in life to become smart enough so you can cut 'em off at the pass and even then the odds aren't good.

That requires a certain type of worldview or at least a certain amount of openness to it.  And that worldview does not sell well.

Regardless more and more I'm getting the feeling that the places I've been looking aren't the places to get the advice I really need.

...So I'm getting more cynical as I get older.

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