Problems with Journalism Today

Frankly, there have been problems with journalism as long as there has been journalism. Like many things in our life it is for us to think the problems of the day are unique to us when in fact they are often as old as human nature. None the less, age old issues can and do take new forms due to the currents of society and technology.

What has irked me quite a bit recently are misleading news headlines, specifically those found on the internet. All too often I see someone post a headline along with their personal outrage. Often the claim looks just too outlandish to be true and I click through to read the article. A good many times the article is fine, it lays out some event or argument that deserves to be covered and has some news worthy elements yet bares little to no resemblance to the headline included. Often in fact the content is near contradictory to what the headline claims or implies.

I understand why it is the way it is. These kinds of headlines get your attention, get you to click on them, and thus get you to the website where advertisements are there to make money for the folks who host the website. Heck, I’ve got my own website that now earns a meager income from adds. I can feel the dark side of the force telling me how much traffic can be generated by basically lying to people about how exciting the content will be.

Yes, you can ruin your reputation by posting a bunch of crap but I think the truth of the matter is the reputation ruined is likely worth far less than the traffic from one successful bull shit headline can muster for you. It’s clear there are a great many websites, that appear to be quite successful based only on this principle. I’ve also seen plenty of formerly respectable sites walk down this path into journalistic oblivion.

I can’t honestly blame these sites. Making a living is something we all have to do, and if you are in the eyeballs business strictly for the sake of business then you do what it takes to get them to come to your site. Very often the writer of the article probably has nothing to do with the headline. Some marketing person has the specific job of reading the article and coming up with a spit that will evoke outrage or curiosity. Those who refuse such tactics are often simply “rewarded” with failure.

Adding to this we have the host of “satirical” news sites that have popped up. These folks basically manufacture news stories tapping into exactly what people want to hear and doing very little to clue folks into the fact they are fake. You might say this is what the gullible deserve, and yes, they can be funny, but a great many people think these things are true and spread them around. Sadly many “legitimate” news organizations have picked up such articles and run with them, not bothering to check if its legit.

There are plenty of folks one could point a finger at: Writers, Marketers, Editors, Website admins and so forth. They are in one situation or another the ones doing this. But like many things what really drives it are the consumers, us. We click on the things driven by curiosity and incredulity, looking for a thrill or perhaps only the truth. We hammer away with out outrage before checking the facts, googling the source, or sometimes just asking ourselves, “does this even make sense?”

We could pay for our media, pay journalists specifically to bring us the straight dope, but what we really like is when our media is free and easy so we let our attention pay for us and make it a commodity to be mined and exploited at every opportunity. We need to take some time to choose what we read and who we read it from based on their diligence and excellence in getting at the truth instead of just entertaining us. We need to pay money to those who work hard at getting good information so they don’t need to dredge the eyeball far for any and all attention they can muster.

Id encourage folks to share their favorite news and information outlets that you feel don’t engage in click bait headlines and advertising. Give them a little free push with your time and effort to encourage more of what they do. Meanwhile do your best not to reward the bunco artists out there by avoiding the temptation to see what the fuss is all about when you see some crazy headline.

In short, we should be more deliberate with our money and your attention. I doubt we can starve out the scoundrels but if we can keep some of the paladins fed, that would be enough.

Terrorism: Right and Wrong

There is a lot of talk about Terrorism and I feel compelled to say… something. Mind you whatever I say is in all likelihood of no significance. I’m at a great distance, very safe, very secure, and basically in no danger. Same goes for everyone I know. None the less I feel like writing about it so here I am.

The Right: All I can say that I know is true is so obvious it’s of little interest. Most feel sorrow and sympathy with the victims. Most of us feel angry at those who perpetrate these crimes. We don’t want any more of it. There is also very little most of us can do about it.

The Wrong: Everything else. What I mean to say is that many of the insights, opinions and conclusions folks bloviating on the internet make are almost always going to be wrong. Sometimes subtly, sometimes monumentally. A big part of that is because its a complicated thing. There are many people and groups involved. I read two very good articles recently. One pointed out how ISIS is a deeply religious organization and to understand it you need to understand the religious views. (Read it yourself) Another pointed out how many of the fighters in ISIS are motivated not by religious beliefs but a desire for something resembling self rule or sovereignty. (Read it yourself)

I think the most wrong are those that presume that tough talk and posturing is somehow going to make ISIS scared and they will go away if we just show them how scary we are. That to me is as naive as thinking they will just go away on their own. People who go on suicide missions are not frightened of getting killed so tough talk about how we will kill them does nothing. There is nothing simple about this problem and nothing simple will solve it. We won’t know the real solution until its already happened.

But like scientific discovery we have no choice but to be ignorant and yet seek the truth. Likewise in this endeavor despite not knowing the answer, we have to look for it and try to make things better. I don’t think America or other countries can solve this. Ultimately this is a crisis of the middle east and it has to be solved there by its people.

I could say that our opinions don’t matter, but they do. What is happening in the middle east has our finger prints all over it. It is not that your bold statement will change the world, but American politics do follow the American political mood and culture and our individual voices are what that is made of. We should neither see ourselves at the center of this nor think we are without responsibility.

Here is my final advice on all this. Stay informed, when you think you have something to say, say it. Stand by your convictions, but keep an open mind and an open ear. When you are faced with the choice of confrontation or engagement, favor engagement. Finally, if you really want to help directly, make a donation to a charity helping victims of the violence. You can’t go wrong with that.

Game review – Mars: War Logs

Mars: War Logs is an import game released in 2013 which I picked up on Steam during one of their numerous sales for something under $3 (retail is just under $15). I was curious about it based on the images which had a cool cinematic retro future look and because it’s in one of my favorite genre, the story driven RPG. I had trouble running it on my old PC but after getting my new laptop I thought I’d give it another try and I’m glad I did.

The story takes place in the distant future on Mars. Long ago in the history of the game Mars was a prosperous colony on a well terraformed world. Now it is something of a post apocalypse wasteland where the surviving remnants of civilization fight over continually dwindling resources. People known as Psychers use ancient technology to manifest magic like abilities serving as elite military personnel for the factions.

The protagonist of the game is a renegade Psycher who becomes embroiled in a plot to stop the Psychers from one of the factions from completing a secret project and taking control over society for their own mysterious ends. The story begins in a military prison from which the hero escapes with a comrade, then moves to a neighboring empire where you either ally with a band of idealistic rebels or a concerned faction of the establishment to stop the Psycher plot.

Game play is two pronged. There is a branching story to navigate and you can form alliances with different factions and relationships with different potential allies. There are also various side quests to occupy your time. This shares about equal footing with the hand to hand combat encounters which are a mix of arcade action and leveling/gearing your character in various combat powers and attributes.

The storytelling and world building are the game’s strongest selling points. Unfortunately both suffer a little from uneven writing in the dialog and plotting. At times the story can be quite compelling, especially in the game’s first two chapters. As it moves on things get a bit more predictable and wrote and the end of the game is on the anti-climactic side. The same goes for the world building. It starts out very intriguing but before too long you realize you are only going to scratch the surface of it while playing the game.

The combat and character building are lackluster but not deficient. Most of the combat choices are decent and they do lead to different tactics during fights. The controls are a little on the awkward side and the combat animations are not the sophisticated sort you find in Witcher 3 or the Batman games. It is a pretty simple game with fairly simple mechanics.

Ultimately it feels like a game made by professionals but both a bit behind the times and on a very limited budget. The locations are linear and limited and the range of enemies is pretty small. There is a fair bit of detail in the art, but there isn’t all that much of it. I certainly got my moneys worth and personally I like a short game with a concise story. By the time it had started to show its weaknesses the game was nearly over.

I recommend it for fans of the genre so long as you go in wanting a smaller simpler game than sprawling epics like Dragon Age but with the same sort of game play and in an unusual genre setting.


The Real Job Interview

So my last post was about honesty and partly about work. Up until recently I was doing numerous job interviews and while I had no occasion to outright lie to anyone discretion in what I told people did come into play quite often. I feel like setting the record straight and on this occasion, letting discretion go by the wayside.

“Why did you apply here?”

What I said: Generally something highlighting what seemed best about the company based on my research, qualities that indeed I found some virtue in. I’d also point out any strong qualification matches.

What I didn’t say: I wanted a job to pay the bills, they were advertising and it seemed plausible I could do the work. I didn’t pick them out or think it was my dream job, it was just a place where I thought they might hire me for work I know how to do.

“Where do you see your career 3 years from now?”

What I said: I came up with an answer based on what I knew about the work they were hiring for plus some elevation in in status. I do tend to get promoted in most jobs so it was more about a practical prediction than an aspiration.

What I didn’t say: What I’d like to do is work for myself, set my own agenda and be in charge. I was tired of company politics and watching people above me in the chain of command make bad decisions. The thought of more of that was depressing. It was getting asked this question and considering how I felt about it that pushed me towards deciding to finally go into business for myself because it is where I wanted to be in 3 years.

“Why did you leave your last job?”

What I said: I was laid off due to budget cuts. That is all I was told at the time. I sometimes added that my reviews and those of my employees were all good and the lay-off was a surprise.

What I didn’t say: I lost the game of office politics too many times and was stuck in a rut. I felt like I was a pain in the ass questioning what I thought were a lot of bad decisions. I had no future because the IT department I worked for had a very different idea of how software should be made and didn’t value or use my talents well. Basically I had a dim future there and a hefty price tag so I was selected when they had to make cuts. I should have seen it coming but I really felt all the good work I did and was doing day to day kept me safe. I got good reviews as did all my employees and word from my boss was generally positive. The people it turns out most adamant in selecting me for the cut pretty much had nothing to do with my day to day work.

I feel lucky that I had the financial wherewithal to walk away from the job hunt and into self employment. It may not last, but I’m bound and determined to find a means to make my own way on my own terms and that frees me to say what I think more and worry what others think of it less.

Honesty and Deception

Nearly everyone thinks honesty is a virtue, myself included. Frankly it simply feels good to be honest. Saying what you truly think and expressing your thoughts openly is often liberating when in truth society is such that being truly open and honest is often deeply anti-social behavior.

I’ve told plenty of lies. Most I’d like to think were for the sake of discretion, but some, the bad kind, calculated to gain advantage for me, quite possibly at someone else’s loss. Some, worse by my accounting, simply made out of fear. On the whole though I try to be honest because I want to be a virtuous person and because as I said, generally it feels good to say what you think.

One of the reasons I decided to throw in the work a day towel is it was the part of my life where lies were still common. Too often I’d find that people were two faced, deceptive, and downright dishonest; often simply for their own pride or perceived advantage as they fight for a bigger share of someone else’s pie. Most companies want to have honesty, generally it’s very good for getting business done, but often the very nature of work and business create strong incentives for dishonesty and disincentives for honesty.

By working for myself, and by having minimal expenses I am to a degree free to be more honest and more open. That doesn’t mean I’m going to throw fireballs out there or make a lot of trouble, I still believe in discretion as much as honesty, but where I can speak truth without doing anyone I care about harm, I’ll do that.

I’d be a hypocrite to tell you not to lie. And despite honesty being a virtue, on balance I think sometimes lying is the right course of action. What I do think might be possible is for all of us to try and give less incentive for others to be dishonest. Try to appreciate honesty even when we don’t like it and don’t punish candor. Don’t put people into situations they must lie to resolve successfully. Think about the options others have and leave a path open for an honest approach to be a good outcome. Of course, that also means not rewarding dishonesty, and in some cases punishing it but you have to be careful because avoiding consequence is itself often a motivation to lie. If we can try to remove the need to lie, then perhaps honesty could be a virtue without so many exceptions.

Dusty Blog Update

Hi all.  So most of the news of note is over on TrailAndHitch.Com where I talk about our grand adventure of hitting the road and living in an Airstream. The short news is we managed to sell nearly everything we owned, go 100% debt free and own an awesome airstream trailer we now live in. Head on over there if you want to hear more about that.

Here at the thought dispensary you will continue to find things Sig that are not to do with traveling and the traveling lifestyle. Now that things are more settled expect to see a fair bit more of me on both blogs. Things here will be more eclectic and personal, while things there will be more polished and eventually somewhat commercial as we intend to try and make some money with the whole Trail and Hitch enterprise.

Culture and Preservation

I was reading a debate regarding immigration among other things and I was reminded of the inherent challenge of culture, nationality, and individual views in these situations. Many of history’s greatest moments and its most dire are the result of one culture meeting and mixing with another. Some kind of violence is almost always part of the story.

Personally, I embrace change. I’m always interested in taking cultural ideas of others and making those I like part of my own; and yet, there are certain values and ideas that I do take to be core personal values I will not part with. I actively promote them and challenge those who would not uphold them.

You might say I have some faith in the idea that good ideas will survive and poor ones will fail in the competition of the marketplace of ideas. And of course I figure my ideas will win out eventually and overall in the world it feels to me like they have been winning out. Not everywhere, not all the time, but slowly but surely. Whether that’s the world becoming more like me, or me more like the world, or just personal ego I can’t say.

I know many don’t feel as I do. I know that many feel their cultures are under attack and that unless they take dramatic action they can’t survive. I know that many feel that any change or adaptation is tantamount to the death of that culture. While I can sympathise, what I tend to see is that those who don’t adapt die out. Cultures didn’t get to the way they are by not changing and innovating. It was trying new things and growing that got the great cultures of history and modernity to where they are today.

Of course change can mean loss, ideas forgotten, beauty destroyed and loss is something that strikes us at our core. Therefore I think that as people change and adapt, we need to record and remember what was in case we need it again or simply for its own sake. We as human beings should adapt, and with us our culture, yet we should make record of who and what we were.

I think in any culture there are rolls for different people. Those who find change brings the pain of loss should be charged with keeping for us a record of who we were, even embodying it themselves. But those people should not prescribe this attitude for all. Others should be pioneers on the leading edge of change, taking new ideas from other cultures and making them their own.

And the final key is to have awareness we need both, and that these two activities are not at odds with one another. Those who prefer tradition should be honored for keeping it and those who lead change should be honored for their efforts. I think through this attitude we can have mix and mingle knowing we will neither lose our own past, nor remain behind rigid lines in a battle for cultural purity.


A Two fisted Monkey Adventure

Right, so this one of the Two Fisted Monkey stories I mentioned in the last post. Its one of the better ones in various respects. As time went on they got more and more elaborate. Lord knows how this sort of thing turns into a novel but I really do like the main characters. Its pretty easy to imagine how these folks work their way in and out of trouble on a daily basis.

For the shorthand…. Seablade is an elf berserker fond of taunting his foes and getting himself beat up. Pythia is an elven priest and seablade’s unrequited love. Rylestel is an elven rogue for whom discretion is always the better part of valor. Igathu is a cat-man warrior of few words and much action. Aletha is an elven druid wise in the ways of the world. And Paxe is an earnest human paladin of great virtue and limited intelligence.

Two Fisted Monkey Adventures, Episode #10: Pulling another tail out of my thundering trousers.

The shadowy force that had entered monkey headquarters loomed over them exuding a kind of evil malevolence not seen since the blackberry Jello of doom. It needed no weapons or armor to menace those who dared cross its path. Arms and magic were no use; all you could do to retain your sanity was to strike a barging that left your soul intact. That’s just what Pythia was attempting to do.

“Aside from the clause pertaining to fragments of Lucien, I don’t see any loopholes here.” Pythia said looking over the documents. “It’s not cheap but we can’t afford another disaster, the price of reagents of resurrection is skyrocketing and we have been going through those like Jum Jum at a hobbit bachelor party.” She faced the shadowy force and stared into the inky blackness of its evil eye. “Ok, we’ll buy your adventure insurance policy.”

The thing of evil seemed to grin as she signed the document and paid the premium in silver coin. It said nothing but a stroke of thunder was heard in the distance and the door of the Monkey shack blew open on a cold and silent wind. Taking the dread contract the creature seemed to recede into the distance without ever moving until finally the insurance salesman was gone.

“I sure hope you know what you’re doing.” Rylestel said once the thing had gone.

“If what I hear of the thundering steppes is true,” responded Pythia quietly, “we are going to need this occupational death and dismemberment policy.”


With their final work for armor contracts in hand, the Band of the Two Fisted Monkeys set forth for the distant land known as the Thundering Steppes. Seablae, Pythia, Igathu, Rylestel, Alaetha and Paxe were on hand to face the unknown dangers.

Consulting the list Seablade seemed disappointed. “Look at this crap, deer, beetles, falcons, small snakes, undead farmers. What kind of hit list is this? We’ve been battling savage gnoll lords, undead palidans and all manner of terrible creatures and now were hunting garden pests? What’s next? Dust bunnies and deadly hobbit midwives?”

“Fool Elf!” Igathu responded, tail twitching. “You know nothing of these dangers! These garden pests as you call them, killed and then ate my blood brother Razor Claw and his entire family. Each deer or beetle here has lived for years in a place rampant with Giants, Gryphons and undead that make those in Stormhold tremble in the dark hours of the night.”

“Holy crap!” Seablade exclaimed. “That was like… a whole paragraph. With multiple sentences and stuff. OK old buddy, I promise to be extra careful; I’ll treat every creature here like it was Lucan D’lere himself!”

“How much did you say that policy pays each time one of us bites it?” Rylestel inquired discretely to Pythia.

“If history is any indication, it should be enough to renovate the monkey layer with enough left over buy Seablade a clue.” Pythia said under her breath.


Together the Monkey’s began to seek out their targets. Much as Igathu had warned the creatures of the thundering steppes were unusually potent, but all their trials had made the monkey’s strong and Seablade’s usual reckless abandon had been somehow transformed in what could only be borderline paranoia. He was continuously on the watch for threats, planning intricate attack formations, double checking healing supplies, sharpening weapons, and carefully assessing each opponent before engaging in battle.

“And if Pythia takes up a flanking position behind the setting sun, and Rylestel soaks his arrow tips in red ant venom, and I adopt a 3 point fighting tiger stance we should emerge with a narrow margin of victory.” Seablade explained while drawing figures in the dirt.

“It’s a fledgling antelope.” Paxe observed, “Can’t we just smash it with holy zeal or something, my head hurts.”

“How much did that policy cost us?” Rylestel asked Pythia.

“A lot,” she replied worriedly, “and we haven’t had a single casualty yet. If someone doesn’t get hurt soon were going to have to go back to the guided sewer tour business.”

“Is there anything on that list with a bit more um… peril? I mean those gryphawns were a little bit of a challenge but our so called mad berserker is on a winning streak a mile wide here.” Rylestel observed.

“Not much,” Pythia replied, “We have a few more undead, and some octopus, umm.. a few feral crabs.” She shook her head.

“What’s that on the back?” Rylestel inquired.

Turning the scroll over Pythia read “Special Claus #431: all contract payments shall be null and void if proof of the demise of Shadowdash the Gryphon lord and the Giant guardian Stompgut the terrible is not provided.” “Why those two bit, deceptive, lying merchants. They stuck this on the back on purpose to keep people from fulfilling the contract,” Pythia steamed.

“Ya, but that’s exactly the kind of break we needed.” Rylestel said, “I think I have a plan. After we execute our cunning attack plan on this doe, let’s camp for the night. I’ll spike Seablades wine, you tell him all about how you miss his frothing at the lips and the way his muscles ripple when he’s all enraged. Paxe will snore all night long keeping him awake, and in the morning, we go pay Shadowdash a little courtesy visit. What do you think?”

“He is a lot cuter when he’s frothing.” She replied.


En-wreathed in some kind of flaming aura with more than just a glimmer of madness in his eyes the now thoroughly reckless elf cavorted among the rocky nest with his shiny axe he now called “Freddy poo.” “Come out come out wherever you are, Mr. birdie.” He called. “I brought a nice yummy kitty cat for you,” he cooed.

“Are you sure this is wise?” asked Igathu.

“Don’t we want to plan or something before fighting a gryphon lord?” asked the thoroughly concerned Alaetha.

“Don’t worry,” replied Rylestel confidently as he tightened the laces on his fastest running boots. “Seablade worked it all out last night while you were sleeping. He does his best work when he’s mumbling like that.”

“Kill kill kill, thrill thrill thrill,” the mad elf murmured.

“Look!” Alaetha called, pointing skyward, “I think its coming back to its nest, and it seems to have a couple of its children with it. Battle formations!”

The Monkeys steeled themselves as Seablade let out a mad howl of delight. Before the great bird-lion had landed to remove the interlopers, Seablade had leaped from the nest and tackled a smaller gryphon mid air biting at its neck like a wild beast. The two tumbled to the ground as Shadowdash and his other child swooped in to aid their besieged family member. Alaetha immediately began her healing chant as Igathu dived into the fray. Paxe hefted his hammer and with a prayer to the fallen gods smote his foes. Rylestel expertly shot arrows in all the really painful places a gryphon possesses. And Pythia used the power of the shaman to ward and protect her allies.

Shadowdash was mighty, and his children were among the strongest that flew the skies of the thundering steppes. But never had they encountered so fierce a creature as the elf with fire in his eyes, or so well coordinated a group of hunters as these. Try as he might, he could not stop the two legs as they cut down his beautiful children. Try as he might to disembowel the hateful elf his wounds kept healing themselves, and all the while the others peppered him with blows. Bleeding but defiant to the end he died on the spot he had been born.

Seeing the gryphon fall, Seablade smiled a peaceful little smile and collapsed into the nest with his eyes rolling back. “Is he OK?”, Pythia said running forward to check on her brave champion with a look of genuine concern.

“Afraid so,” said Rylestel, “just exhausted after all that prolonged berserking. Well, there is always the giant…”

Am I going to write a novel?

Normally I’d say “I am going to write a novel” but having no real foundation for this claim I thought it might make a better question than a statement.

As you may know this is my year of creativity and so far I’ve done very little to live up to my theme. I need to create something and why not go with a classic! Besides, I have lots of writer friends these days so good advice and moral support should be easy to come by.

I’ve been mulling what to write about because in general this is my greatest writing weakness. I do not have stories inside me crying out to get written. My stories and characters more leak out on an as needed basis. I’ve got a file of various ideas I’ve collected in fevered moments, could be some winners in there, but I settled on expanding some stories I wrote a while back and get pleasure reading every so often. I figure if a story I wrote 10 years back can still make me chuckle more than once, its got some legs.

Mind you the idea is kind of terrible. These are stories written for a guild website about the MMO characters we played chronicling the adventures each week for those who couldn’t attend: Tales of the Two Fisted Monkeys. So this is MMO fanfic comedy about a generic fantasy game that plays up the tropes of MMOs and features frankly cartoonish characters. Hows that for an elevator pitch?

I’ve no idea if I can sustain cute funny stories for more than 50K words and dance that line between making readers care what happens to these goofballs and laughing at their antics. I have no real ambitions to make money on this, its more a personal mountain to climb.

I plan to approach this somewhat systematically. First off I need to cleanse the existing stories of their Everquest IP and substitute some generic fantasy trope of my own invention. I’ll need some kind of overall plot and/or ending for the piece. And I’ll need to come up with some interesting adventures beyond those in the existing stories. And then, a whole bunch of typing and making funny without sounding like a broken record.

I figure it’s going to take me like 2 years to do this including ironing the thing out once all the words exist. That is assuming the notion doesn’t just die of apathy, but that’s one of the reasons I’m telling everyone, to put a little potential shame in my game.

Next post:  One of the original stories in its EQ2 self referential glory.