Home Cooking Party: Primary Elections 2016

The field of primary presidential candidates has sufficiently narrowed to where I’ve been able to form an opinion about most of those remaining and feel compelled to offer some commentary and my official endorsement as leader of the Home Cooking Party.

Official Primary Endorsement:  Bernie Sanders

The Home Cooking Party’s chief virtues are earnestness, practicality, and a commitment to treating all people with due respect. Bernie Sanders measures up on at least two of the three virtues and the last, Practicality, is at least up for debate. He is a man that speaks his mind, holds to some less than popular stands, and consistently calls for treating others with respect. Not only that but he plays to peoples better natures, which is something to be striven for.

I do feel some of his policy proposals are both unrealistic and may well have consequences that are contrary to their objectives. While the motivations are often good, there are simply limits to what state power can do to change peoples lives at a grass roots level. That said, the Home Cooking Party is not one of policy doctrine. Good policy starts with good intentions and follows up with practical application. The legislative and judicial process tends to blunt over reach in the types of legislation Bernie Sanders seeks to pursue.

I feel most strongly that Bernie Sanders will be a stalwart for social liberties and social justice which are areas in which a president can have great influence. In areas of economics, where presidents are typically somewhat weak, I feel he may be too ideological to be effective, though this is something that the practical concerns of leadership and budget tend to temper. In foreign policy I feel Sanders will peruse peace vigorously but may falter when faced with implacable enemies and lack the cunning pragmatism needed to deal with such foes as ISIS or the subtlety and charm to work out beneficial trade relationships.

Hillary Clinton

Like Sanders, Hillary gets high marks from me for two of the three categories critical to the Home Cooking Party. In her case practicality and respect are her strong points as where earnestness is where I find her wanting. Hillary’s actions speak better for her than her words. Her exercise of government power has mostly been for the good of her constituents and shows competence. What tends to undermine her in my view is her guarded nature and lack of candor. As an experienced lawyer and politician this is no surprise, but it goes against the ethos of the Home Cooking Party.

Hillary’s policy stands tend to be fairly standard democratic initiatives. While these are mostly reasonable and safe I find the lack of desire for innovation and change a disappointment. There is little in Hillary’s record to show her leading a change in direction on political or economic issues. She has often worked to preserve conventional economic, social,and moral conventions, only following changes in broader society and rarely leading them. While this is not purely a critique, I think America is at a time where it once again needs innovation in policy and leadership.

Likely economic policy is one of Hillary’s strong points. Playing it safe is often the best course and she has shown a propensity to take what we have and defend it. That said, I see little in her initiatives that could address the underlying weakness for the middle and lower class opportunities that have been growing and causing discontent since the 1980s. While she has great foreign policy experience I find her stands too aggressive and too quick to war, nor do I find any particular cunning or imagination in how she has dealt with the challenges she has faced. On civil rights she has a near sterling reputation. While no leader in the field she has been a stalwart ally to most social justice movements. Nonetheless I worry about the “protecting the children” rhetoric and her very “tough on crime/terrorism” stance both of which tend to erode civil liberties in various ways and lead to crowded prisons.

John Kasich

If I was going to endorse a republican this time around, it would be Kasich. He meets the virtue test on all accounts from what I can discern. Admittedly, I am not well familiar with him and most of my opinion is based on his debate performances and reading his stated and reported policy positions over his career. I found of particular note Kasich’s pragmatism and willingness to adjust his views outside strict ideological lines, often citing basic human dignity and kindness as the reasons for his departure from dogma. That exemplifies both being practical and paying people due respect.

Policy wise Kasich seems to start from a conservative mold and then branch out in various directions based on practical and personal experience. The fact he is willing to make deviations from the core GOP line is heartening since much of it goes against my own policy views. While I would not personally vote for him due to these policies, it would be out of respectful disagreement. Thus the Home Cooking Party would give its approval if not its outright endorsement to John Kasich.

Marco Rubio

In full honesty I am not especially well acquainted with Marco Rubio. As to his HCP virtues, the only one I could argue for (mostly from ignorance) is treating people with respect. He’s mocked Obama, but that is par for the course with the opposing party. I’ve not read or seen anything form him that is truly disrespectful to others and in general seems better than many of his fellow party members on this account. His earnest is sorely in question after his recently silly attempts to make personal insults to Trump and other candidates and his prior highly scripted approach to speaking. It is understandable for candidates to do whatever they have to in an attempt to win, but it doesn’t speak to the qualities I look for. In terms of practicality a review of his policy stands reveals the usual GOP discord that you can cut spending while strengthening the military and balance budgets while cutting taxes. It has never worked before and its not likely to suddenly start working later.

As for policy, I find Rubio is pretty much a classic republican of the mold we have been well accustomed to since the 1980s with some threads that go much further back. Most of what he advocates we have already done, to some success and to some failure. Strong military, tough guy foreign policy, cutting taxes, tough on crime, and easy on business. I think there are some merits to most of that, just not in the apportionment the GOP pursues. I think we long ago passed the level of these things that are needed and have gone too far in these directions. At least Turmp seems aware there are problems people want resolved and they won’t be solved by more of the same.

Ted Cruiz

Cruiz is an interesting case for me. On the HCP virtues list he scores at least 1, probably 2 out of 3. His earnestness is almost unquestioned. It is very clear Cruiz believes what he days and walks the walk when he talks the talk. I looked for claims to the contrary and found all of them highly contrived. On practicality I have to give him a fail. Cruiz is the most dogmatic and inflexible of the field and his zero compromise stand has made him a legion of enemies and some very committed friends. This kind of orthodoxy is antithetical to the Home Cooking Party ideal. Finally we have the ideal or respect. This is difficult to judge. He does seem to deal with people even evenhandedly and to a degree with respect in his speak and attitude. He does not hurl insults at others. He is however ready and eager to pass judgement on others and call out those he things are wrong and immoral. I’d be a hypocrite to say I don’t pass judgement or call out what I see as immorality. To be fair, I have to give him a pass, but I must reserve that an element of respect is tolerance and Cruiz has little of that to spare.

Ted Cruiz’s policy positions are as near to antithetical to mine as I can find in mainstream american politics. His economic policies are purely aimed at aiding big business and crony capitalism while his social policies are about religious moral orthodoxy. His stands on the law are in the range of authoritarian moral control of the masses and the strict protection of private wealth. No doubt he would see it differently but ideologically we could not be farther apart. That said, I’m not sure Cruiz would be disastrous since the current of American culture is so much going the other direction, progress in areas I find him most concerning would be almost impossible.

Donald Trump

The only virtue I can see in Trump is in the area of practicality, yet it is not the sort of practicality I appreciate. Trump seems content to say nearly anything in order to appeal to a base of disaffected people. While I am for pragmatic policy that falls short of ideals for the sake of effectiveness I do not think pandering is a pragmatic virtue. Many supporters see in Trump an earnestness not found in other candidates. I can see where they get that from, his delivery is not at all like a politician’s evasiveness and calculated reserve. To some degree he does speak his mind. The problem is his lies and deception are more the corporate sort. Calculated for the moment and using authority to mandate a truth of the moment that lasts only as long as it is to his advantage. As to treating people with respect, he has none of it. Occasionally he pays lip service to one person or another, but it is clearly only done for his own image at times when he feels it is at his advantage. A man who can and will say anything can convince a great many people, there is always some evidence of some virtue if you want to find it.

No one truly knows what Turmp’s policies would be as he has no real political record. His main selling point is that he will champion the people’s interests in negotiations on trade, and in conflicts with the likes of illegal immigrants or ISIS. Exactly how he would do these things, Trump remains silent on, not wishing to tip his hand of brilliant strategies. For me, its easy to see how this is appealing. I too would like a tough negotiator and brilliant champion fighting for my benefit. That said, my strong feeling is that Trump is only truly interested in Trump. He strikes me as just the sort of corporate executive who calls on his employees to work hard, that we are all a team, that we all strive for the good of the company and the company is good to us. But when bonus time comes he gets a huge chunk of cash while the employees are getting movie theater gift cards or pink slips. Trump’s only real motivation in helping anyone is to create loyalty to him of which he can take advantage at a later time.

What strikes me most about Trump is how he panders and manipulates people. He takes fear and stokes it into hatred. He creates that kind of cult like mob mentality that leads decent people to do very indecent things to one another. I am not convinced at all that he has the aims of famous despots that folks are fond of associating him with, but I do think he uses the techniques they did to garner support, stoking existing fear and hatred, then instilling a sense of community and pride around it.



Sig’s Blog Trinity

I now have three blogs going and I thought I’d give a rundown on them here for folks that may be interested.

Sig’s Thought Dispensary
This is my personal blog and where you will find rants or essays on politics, culture, and philosophy as well as anything not found on the other blogs. It’s non-commercial and I don’t work too hard at making it pretty. Lots of words and few pictures.

Trail and Hitch
This is where you can read about the adventures of Anne and I as we travel around the country in our Airstream. It is a mix of travel writing, product reviews, and how too articles as well as some bits about lifestyle and love. We try to make money through advertising products and services there.

Downy Owlbear Design
This is the website for my writing and games business. Here I will be selling or giving away various products related to games as well as posting blog articles about games from reviews to design discussions. It will also be the home of the new Netbook of Feats. It’s still not 100% ready for prime time but it’s there and I will start writing articles for it soon.

Heads up: Bullshit News is Booming

In my never ending self determination to be a smarty pants I’ve noticed a big surge in Bullshit News articles that are pure fabrications turning up in people’s social media feeds. I felt like some kind of heads up was in order.

WARNING: There are now many sites on the internet specializing in fake news stories. Their goal is not to entertain you but to get you to share their stories so people will click through and then click the adds on their site. They hide the fact they are fake news stories somewhere on an about or contact us page.

I like satire, especially political and news satire. The Onion is a great site and is completely honest about its satirical nature as are many other similar sites. These bullshit site however are not being funny, they are being deceptive and their only real aim is to fool you into helping them make money.

They design these stories with the following characteristics.

  • Sound like a plausible story
  • Focused around current popular news stories and famous people
  • Are just a bit outrageous
  • Are exactly what you had hoped to read
  • Are total bullshit

My advice, check the source of a news article before you post it. Look around the site and see if you can find a mention of the word satire or “for entertainment only” on the about page or contact page if you can find one. If the news on the site is almost all outrageous stuff, that’s a good clue they may well all be fakes.

Don’t be fooled, don’t spread lies, don’t help these jerks make a living off deception.

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.