Ar Tonelico – Melody of Elemia

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Is this a retro review? Game is almost a decade old. Ah well.

So I played Ar Tonelico because one of my close friends (yes, I have close friends) recently (if three months ago can be ‘recent’) delivered unto me one of their patented rants. As someone that loves video games and friends, I take their rant rather seriously and decided to play it. After all, if it’s something that creates a two hour rant, it can’t be that bad.

Ar Tonelico is a JRPG, so you know what that means. Insufferably long, collecting something or another, big bosses, there’s going to be a traitor, the works. You play Lyner, because there’s no name finer. You start off in the Cloud District the Sky City of Platina and monsters that we call viruses are running wild. Normally you can handle them but this new one is super strong and can’t be damaged by physical attacks. One of your party stays behind to hold it off while the boss (that is, your boss) sends you to the lower world to find a macguffin that will solve all of the problems. Your ship gets attacked by a dargon and it crashes.

When you hit the ground, you’re probably bleeding out but a love interest girl of the church saves you. You can tell she’s special and that she’ll probably join your party at some point because she’s the only one with her sprite that’s wearing pink. Once you tell the church your mission, they pledge to help, and we can finally really set off. Oh yeah, the pinkie has a name, Aurica. She’s assigned to follow you (I knew it) and help you. Which is her wet dream come true because it parallels a legend that she loves and she’s easily deluded by fantasy. “Oh Lyner, true love will spark between us and we’ll be the legend cometh again”. Poor girl.

Aurica is revealed to be a Reyvateil, a special class of people that can use magic by… SINGING. Wow, that melody thing in the title sure came about. It’s almost like the ‘tone’ in Ar TONElico is actually related to music. Reyvateil fight with you but since they’re focused on singing, they stay in the back and you need to protect them if they get targeted. They level up in battle with you but don’t get stronger spells naturally. For that, you need to ‘dive’ into them (mind out of the gutter mates). Diving into a Reyvateil means entering their psyche or something like that. Each Reyvateil has a ‘Mind Guardian’ that sorta acts like the Virgil to your Dante, but often less friendly. And Aurica has the best Mind Guardian because his name is Don Leon and he has a sexy spanish accent and he’s this adorable little lion with a pan on his head! He’s the best! I mean, look at him!

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I love you Don Leon. You’ll always be my hero.

So yeah, diving into the Reyvateil. You enter the Reyvateil’s Cosmosphere which exists as a metaphor for the Reyvateil’s ‘inner demons’, things like anxiety, depression, or a feeling of entrapment. When you dive into the Reyvateil, you confront them and these inner demons. You help them solve their problems (remember, the only person that can save you is you) and badda bing. You get new song magic. I think that it’s a pretty neat system, even if I feel like it may exist (in game) mostly to explore relationships between you and the Reyvateil. Out of game, I feel like it’s designed to help young teenagers that are playing the game solve their problems. Or maybe it’s an avenue to helping people look at things from other perspectives, so that we may understand each other a little bit more. I think it’s great, a nice little after-school special.

And that’s pretty much the game. You have to save Platina and eventually the world (because JRPG) and you choose between one of three waifus… or do you. Remember those Cosmospheres I mentioned? I hope so, it was only the prior paragraph. If not, go up a paragraph and (re)read that. Anyway, so each Cosmosphere has 9 levels. On the ninth level, a ‘ceremony’ is performed in the name of giving the Reyvateil more power. But it’s a ceremony that her friends and family are all supporting you and telling you to ‘take care of her for me’ and… yeah it’s a wedding. We all knew it was a wedding. Lyner, you’re retarded, the whole ceremony is a wedding. It’s a wedding in all but name. They even say that which I know as wedding vows (I have not yet been wed, nor do I remember what the real weddings I attended were like) and at the end there’s a hug instead of a kiss. Which brings us to the characters.

The characters aren’t terribly dynamic. Particularly Lyner. Lyner is the most boring protagonist you can come up with and he fits all of the determined idiot tropes you can think of. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I suppose since I think the real lessons are in the Cosmospheres and the emphasis is on common situations you might encounter, I view the characters as an avenue of storytelling. They’re constructed to suit the story. But seriously, Lyner, you’re boring. So how did we get here from weddings in Cosmospheres? Easy. So Lyner has this line that pisses me off every time he says it. The line before is the priest saying something like, ‘now hug [the girl] as a confirmation of your vows’ and you know what this little bugger says every single time? ‘Do I have to?’ Lyner you dimwit. The girl is in her wedding gown, you’ve helped her get through all of her insecurities, you’ve agreed to essentially marry her and you don’t want to hug this pretty little thing that you’ve loved and nurtured? *Flips table* I’m done.

So the characters are as simple as they need to be to tell the story and produce the scenarios presented. Is it lazy writing? Probably not. Is it cliche? Hell yes. Is it bad? No. The characters play out their after-school special and everything is good. I enjoyed it.

Let’s talk about crafting since this is a JRPG with crafting and I don’t see it often in this way with the other JRPGs I’ve played. Mostly Tales games and Final Fantasy (the good ones). The crafting system by itself is boring in that you collect materials from monsters you’ve slain, you craft yourself something nice. Where I like crafting most is in the naming of crafted things. Let’s say you’re crafting something. Depending on the active Reyvateil, if it’s the first time you’ve crafted it with her watching, she’ll try to name it. The conversations to naming things can be just straight up amusing. One Reyvateil is absolutely silly with her names. Your naming scheme is horrible! Just stop! You’re not clever! The other is trying to forcefully take your love and make everything she names and the conversations that follow relate to your undying love for her. It’s great. These conversations are probably my favourite conversations in the game.

The thing I like most about Ar Tonelico is the commitment to a theme. From the outset, the theme is music. ‘Tone’ in the title? Check. Singing maidens? Check. The first forest you land in? It’s called Viola forest and normally I’d let something like that slide as sheer coincidence. But then the next forest you go into is called Cello Forest. Once is coincidence, twice is intentional (that goes for you, would be couples that ‘accidentally’ bump hands while walking together). There’s also a Singing Hill location and Silver Horn location. Silver horn, by the way, looks like a trumpet. Within Silver Horn there’s a barrier that exists to stop people from going through it by FRYING THEM ALIVE. What it’s called? Oh, only the VOICE OF GOD. What? It can be turned off? By pressing THREE VALVES (Half-Life 3 confirmed). Let me get this straight; inside a trumpet, the Voice of God is heard. Aren’t trumpets usually associated with messages from God? Did not the angel that told Mary about baby Jesus announce their presence with a TRUMPET? Did Joshua not bring down the house with TRUMPETS? And do trumpets not usually have… not one, not two, but THREE valves? Song magic drives the game, literally. The plot requires your Reyvateil to sing specific songs! Overall, I probably give the game the most points on this commitment to theme alone.

Overall, highly recommend!

Artemis Hunt

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Ar Tonelico – Melody of Elemia

Debate or Debait?

I guess I better publish this one because I’m running out of time. The debate is tomorrow and the East Coasters I expect to read this are probably going to bed like… now. I’m wary of the upcoming democratic debate in New York. I believe that both Sanders and Clinton should be as well. Ultimately, I feel that the debate will be inconsequential. Why? Let me explain.

Let’s examine Clinton first. Clinton has been hit very hard in these debates and town halls with questions that have no “good” answer. One striking example that I remember is a death penalty question she received a while back (source). For those that do not wish to watch the video, I’ll paraphrase the question. The person asks, “How do you still hold your stance on the death penalty, knowing that there have been many cases of innocent people getting killed for crimes that they did not commit”. She makes it clear in her response that she only approves of it at the federal level for a very select subset of crimes. But she justified her answer. She justified her support of the death penalty,and props to her for standing for her position instead of taking the weasel way out and saying that she’s changed her mind. People seem to get especially touchy at the thought of a death penalty, which makes this a loaded question. You know, that might be a topic for another death. The death penalty debate is rather… interesting. A primary criticism is that you can unjail a person but you can’t undead a person. While true (at this point in time *fingers crossed*) it seems irrelevant because you can’t give the time in prison back either. The individual asking the question had spent 39 years in prison. They missed the prime of their life. I can only hope that whatever compensation they received (if any) made up for their lost time. You can’t undo the psychological damage that they may have sustained either. But we’re getting off topic. The /r/Politics subreddit and their Sanders bias loves to come up with questions which put Clinton into a very difficult moral position (but Sanders can do no wrong). I would not be surprised if some of them get aired. It’s not like Clinton hasn’t given them plenty to work with.

However, none of this is my problem with the debates. Or perhaps they are, but only tangentially. My problem is that these questions seem designed to elucidate some aspect of Clinton’s characters, some aspect of their moral standing. It’s airing dirty laundry. Maybe the public cares about dirty laundry, and that’s why they want these questions asked? Personally, I don’t. If people listen to her policy responses, most of them sound fair, if not moderate. But since debates turn into Benghazi 2: Electric Boogaloo, we don’t get to see that. At least, not as much as we’d like.

Now let’s talk Sanders. Sanders has had a low impact on me since debate 3 or so. Why? Understand that I watch debates online because Alaskan time zone not always conducive to watching these debates and town halls. Sometimes when it comes to Sanders, I can’t remember if I’ve seen this one before. Maybe it’s intentional to get the message across, but Sanders has said the same stump sound bites in every debate. He could walk on, say “We need to get the big money out of politics,” walk off, and the same net work would be done for a much lower cost. With very few exceptions, he will always return to this. Two hour debates (airtime), one hour per candidate, and he can’t get his mind off of big businesses. What I want from Sanders is for him to make this a new debate. Give me, and the other undecided voters a reason to pick you over Clinton that doesn’t go back to banks and big corporations.

If this debate is ultimately another regular debate, it will be a waste of time. Clinton will have to defend herself from a barrage of attacks (none of which center on policy), while Sanders will sit pretty. If this is another repeat debate, it’s no wonder Clinton would object to having it. All of these debates are just attacks on her and Sanders gets no kind of interrogation. If the eye is supposed to be on both candidates, why does only one get scrutinized? It’s just a bait to get Clinton out in the open to attack her once more. It’s unfair. And I think that it’s weird how an “issues based campaign” isn’t objecting to attacks on character rather than attacks on policy. Who cares about the transcripts? The transcripts don’t tell me anything about how you plan to address the Middle East. Okay, the fracking might have some issues, but why must you attack so many jobs at once in the name of the environment? Why is nuclear energy off the table? This is just my take on the possible debate, and I hope it exceeds expectations.

Artemis Hunt

Debate or Debait?

Ramble: Madoka Magica

SPOILER ALERT: THIS RAMBLE WILL INCLUDE SPOILERS FROM THE ANIME MADOKA MAGICA. IF YOU DO NOT WANT SPOILERS, STOP READING NOW

Bear with me guys. I decided to do this off the cuff, without referencing any other review, analysis, TVTropes, anything so that my ramble is as ‘me’ as possible. And I am not a collected individual.

Okay, let’s get started. So first, what is Madoka Magica? Madoka Magica is a show about Magical Girls, much like you’d see in Sailor Moon or… I can’t believe I can only think of Sailor Moon. What happened to me, did I never watch another magical girl anime? That can’t be true. Christ, hold on a second. Let me check MyAnimeList.

Okay I’ve got Kore Wa Zombie Desu Ka on that list so that’s definitely a magical girl show. So Madoka Magica is a magical girl show. And of course magical girls fight monstrosities day to day because… progression? They’ve got cute little outfits, cute little powers, and the cute friendships. That’s magical girl anime. In Madoka Magica, magical girls fight witches using their powers which they are granted in exchange for a wish. Like they make a wish and they get a power. It’s great. The anime follows the story of Madoka as she defies becoming a magical girl for the longest time and her experiences as she tags along with her magical girl friends as they fight witches. Party! Though we may have to lightly weigh my magical girl anime analysis because holy smokes, only two magical girl anime seem to be on my list. But based on my experience with magical girl anime, Madoka seems to be more of an artistic perspective on magical girl anime, rather than a magical girl anime in it of itself. It isn’t, however, a horror anime as some anime sites may list it. Not even close. Dark fantasy would probably be more appropriate.

First episode, not even five minutes in and the funky art suggests to me that Akiyuki Shinbo has his mitts on this somewhere. Studio Shaft is definitely involved. So I wikipedia it and I’m not surprised. Damn you Shinbo!

Magical girls get their powers in a contract with this little rabbit thing called Kyubey. Kyubey is often referred to as the antagonist in this show because of his role. When the wish is made, the contract is formed, Kyubey removes the girl’s soul from her body and this soul gem is formed. It looks like an egg and it has some color related to the girl in some way. Which is really amusing because Kyubey is referred to as an incubator so it is through Kyubey’s influence that these soul gems, these ‘eggs’ hatch. And actually let’s talk about this contract a moment. So when magical girls get their powers, usually everything is flashy and pretty and happy. But the first time you see Kyubey grant a girl their powers, it looks more like what you’d expect from a death scene. This was my first tip-off that something wasn’t quite right in the way of magical-girl-ness of this anime. Because Kyubey effectively ‘kills’ the girl (placing her entirety inside this soul gem) the girls become angry at Kyubey. They don’t like how they are no longer truly human. But, I mean, the girls never asked what this contract entailed. And doesn’t it sound odd at the outset? You get a wish granted, and you get magical powers. Where’s the downside? Okay, so you have to fight witches, but that’s it? That’s nothing. I fully believe Kyubey would have laid out all of the details had any girl asked but because of the wish you get granted, there may be an element of distraction there.

Your powers are related to the wish you have though I still have no idea what one of the wishes was and in another case how the wish relates to the power. One girl asks for… actually it’s never explicitly stated… but as a consequence of her wish, a boy that was unable to use his hands could use them again. And this was no small feat, like this guy’s hands were toast. And her power seems to be that she can heal from injuries quickly, just like her wish healed a boy’s hands. I like this way of getting your powers. Your powers become linked to you in a way by choice. You chose your powers. It’s not like you wake up and you’re just destined to have the powers that you have. And it is after discovering this, I realize that the mentor character Mami may have been a little disingenuous with Madoka. She tried to push Madoka to spend her wish on cake to celebrate becoming a magical girl. But the impact of the wish, as noted before, is so much more vast than that. Why would Mami try to get Madoka to spend her wish on such a weak desire? Did she fear that Madoka would become more powerful than her?

And as it’s discovered that witches are what happen to magical girls as time goes on, I don’t think I can place the blame on Kyubey at all. I understand the frustration with Kyubey, but I’m more inclined to think that the girls themselves are the antagonists. And not because they become witches. Very few witch fighting scenes are shown. Most of the action seems to be following the interaction of the girls with each other. The evil is what the girls will eventually become. They become this due to their desires. It’s almost like your emotions are the antagonist. Is Kyubey, an emotionless creation, something that we should aspire to be? Or are we being taught that life is precious, and that we should cherish it, the good and the bad?

In general, I give the anime props for character rationale. The character interactions seem mostly reasonable, with few exceptions of friendships developing too quickly or distrust developing too quickly. There’s an episode in which a Sayaka (the girl who wished to fix the boy’s hands) tells Sayaka that she’d like to ask the boy out. But she wanted to give Sayaka a chance to confess her feelings first (because the boy has no choice in the matter, right?) out of… respect? I don’t understand feelings. Anyway, Sayaka dies shortly after this, so this girl has an excuse to not approach Sayaka’s home after Sayaka ‘goes missing’. It’s a subtle trick but it’s not something that I don’t notice. I had a hard time finding character actions with limited motivation.

After Sayaka goes nuts and becomes a witch, one of her magical girl friends sacrifices herself to keep Sayaka from killing more people. And this is like half of the main cast so holy smokes, we may have to start wrapping things up. But before that, let’s dedicate an episode to explaining the backstory to that mysterious magical girl that always seems to know everything but never really does much of anything.

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… Oh. It was great to see Homura and Madoka’s roles reversed from the beginning of the anime but as the episode went on, god damn. Someone must’ve cut open a whole crate of onions or something because the tears began to flow. And this happened consistently for the last 3 episodes! Like what the hell man. How do you make me cry three times in three episodes? The feels were realz. I won’t spoil the end but… have some tissues ready.

Okay, time for some episode by episode general comments.

  • Episode 5:
    • Sayaka is a little bitch for only fixing the dude’s hands when his legs were fucked up too. She could’ve totally wished for people in general to never get sick (seems like only Madoka knows how to use her wish) but no, Sayaka has no concept of scale
  • Episode 7:
    • The director said, “Kyouko, take a bite of this apple so you look like even more of an asshole”
  • Episode 8:
    • Understand that I was a physics major in undergrad. So when Kyubey’s explanation of entropy wasn’t egregiously incorrect, I was actually quite pleased.
  • Episode 12 (final):
    • Christ, Ave Maria would be the song that gets played after everything that just happened. Can someone just give me a towel? This tissue ain’t cutting it.

I apologize that I am unable to truly give this anime a true ‘review’ but I do recommend it. It seems to be a deconstruction of magical girl anime tropes but still maintains the obligatory happy ending. Of course since I’ve spoiled everything for you already, maybe watch it in a few months or so after you’ve forgotten everything I just told you.

Artemis Hunt

Ramble: Madoka Magica

Where’s the Media Bias?

A common complaint I see among Sanders supporters is this ‘media bias’. As if the media is out to get Sanders and shut down their bid for the presidency. I do not believe this to be true (at least, not in the way these people mean it) and in this little blog post, I’m going to tell you exactly why I feel that way.

So first of all, I’m going to begin with the statement that all of this is an opinion. In my opinion, none of the candidates have truly been treated fairly in the media. At least, not in the bulk of the media. There are some media in which I beleive some candidates are being treated more fairly than others but, again, opinion. As far as television networks go, I believe Clinton has been treated fairly if not the nearest so. They are the one that has been consistently and reasonably critiqued by the news networks. The only one. If we regard Sanders, he has gotten plenty of coverage for a runner-up. Some may say more than enough. You can complain about the analysis, but you can’t complain that no networks talk about Sanders. Especially when you spout socialism left and right. That was the first thing they touched upon. I’m not sure, but I suggest that when the Sanders supporters claim that Sanders gets no (television) media coverage, what they’re really saying is that no one in the media agrees with them in that Sanders is going to go all the way. But even if it were true, even if the (television) media bias wanted to shut Sanders down, I have to ask the question: does it really matter?

The government, at the advent of public broadcasting, incentivized stations to broadcast news as a means of maintaining a well-informed populus. They did this by funding the stations under the requirement that these stations broadcast specific programming. These programs include educational programs, local news, supporting the arts, the sorts of things that make our culture, well, our culture. And maybe you disagree as to whether or not they’re fulfilling these needs. Well, I’ve got some news for you. I’ve done a little bit of research on television broadcasting. I didn’t read the entire thing. Most of it seems to apply to permits to construct, maintenance standards, and broadcasting (the waves being broadcast, that is) standards. I focused on the issues regarding what you broadcast. It turns out, that these stations can be fined if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain. They have to renew a license every eight years or so. They do this by proving that their station held up its end of the deal (the whole broadcasting for public interest thing). But nowhere did I see that the broadcasting has to be unbiased (please correct me if I’m wrong and I’ll retract my statements). And that’s actually pretty good news because I don’t think that I’ve yet to see a program that is fully unbiased.

Now let’s remember that running a station costs money. To make money, you need people to be watching your channel. This incentivizes stations to broadcast popular programs. As an unintentional side-effect of this, stations need to broadcast bias. Because the fact of the matter is that people like to be told that they’re right. They like to be justified in their views. Unfortunately, this means that if stations want to reach the most people, they need to broadcast to their audience. They can’t afford to cast open a wide net and hope some people gravitate towards them. Or at least, that would be inefficient. It’s much safer and easier to just form your echo chamber and rail against the gods and have your viewers come with you. Do I like this? No. Not in the least. I agree with the sentiment that these stations should broadcast unbiased news. It SHOULD be fair. It SHOULD be balanced. When it isn’t, it just turns me off from stations. But I am in the minority, I’m an idealist. The fact of the matter is enough people want these echo chambers that the stations aren’t changing their programs.

And to be completely honest, I don’t blame them. This is their business. They’re in this to make money. I would never presume to tell others how to run their business, especially since I have no stock in this business. If you want to make changes in a business, buy stock in them. Perhaps some of you are members of a website or another. Do you realize that every time you log in, every time you enter that space, that you can be removed from it at any time? You have the right to voice any opinion you want on any website. But you need to remember that you are a guest there, and the owner has every right to remove you should they so desire. So when I see people complaining that Sanders isn’t covered enough, I can’t help but wonder if Sanders might have some agenda that is against their self-interest. Broadcasting Sanders in a favourable light can only hurt their business. Why would you demand that someone hurt their own business? So no, even if the stations are Anti-Sanders, even if that claim is substantiated, I’m not sure that it matters. The stations are under no obligation to cover Sanders in the way that you desire. They are under no obligation to broadcast unbiased programs. Hell, every educational program aimed at kids that I can think of eventually has the ‘drugs’ episode and the ‘guns’ episode. And these are topics which are covered in a VERY biased way.

Hold up though. I live in a first-world society. Maybe you do too. We have something called the Internet. Personally, I think that the Internet is a much more efficient, if not also more dangerous information highway. Ideas can spread faster than ever before, even across oceans. The Internet is here, and I fully support our new Google Overlords. And speaking of Google Overlords… maybe you’ve heard of YouTube? It’s a wonderful website full of user-generated content. And people across the world can reach other people across the world with their opinions on this YouTube. And you can hear these opinions at any time, not just at 6PM on Channel 5. Even better! You can pause and rewind broadcasts! You can carefully pull apart something that someone has said, which is a feature not everyone with a TV can abuse. What do we find on YouTube? What sorts of opinions? All sorts. If you want Pro-Sanders media, look no further. The only problem is that you have to slog through so many masses of stuff that it can be hard to find the actual “good” stuff. But like I said at the start, the internet is very messy.

Also, can we briefly mention online pubs? If ever you wanted to find Pro-Sanders media (remember, this is part of the media as well!) you better bring a raincoat because the tsunami comes. Salon.com, Huffington Post, Washington Post, LA Times, all of these pubs feature a fairly heavy Sanders bias. Why, today Salon.com published an article saying that Wisconsin was a total blowout for Sanders. He won in 99% of counties! Wow! Only they neglected to mention that Sanders only won close to 57% of the popular vote! It’s a total misrepresentation of the race! And this is the same bullshit I see coming from the Pro-Sanders camp daily. They note how Sanders wins states but not delegates. They note how Sanders wins counties and not delegates. The popular vote is the important thing when distributing delegates. Sanders got +9 from Wisconsin, barely denting the lead Clinton has over them (still well over 200+ delegates). God damn, I can’t scroll down their article list without seeing tremendously left-leaning articles. The titles make me sick to my stomach. And it gets even better! Notice how all of the TV stations favor Clinton? Many pubs favor Sanders over Clinton! Why is bias on one media acceptable while bias on the other is unacceptable? Tell me that Sanders supporters. Where is the line drawn for the hypocrisy? It’s sickening. Completely and utterly disgusting.

If we want to talk real anti-candidate bias, we should be talking about Trump. I have yet to find an outlet without bias regarding Trump. Either they’re Hitler (by the way, let’s forget that Sanders is Lenin) they’re racist, they’re some kind of extremist that breeds violence. But such claims are just propaganda. Trump has never directly told his supporters to go out and cause trouble. Granted, some violence is coming from Trump supporters, but that’s not Trump. Trump isn’t inciting this violence. Trump isn’t sending their supporters to disrupt rallies. Trump isn’t sending supporters to disrupt private, peaceful events. I recently came across a video of an experiment (in a very loose sense of the word) of a guy pretending to support Sanders and the same guy pretending to support Trump. As a Sanders supporter, it was all thumbs up, peace, and smiles. No one aggressed him. As a Trump supporter? Lots of violence, and one person even admitted that they were supporting Sanders before attacking this host. Why is Trump met with violence, while Sanders is not? Why does the media seem so intent to destroy Trump? Bias

While Clinton ‘may’ have television under wraps, Sanders has the Internet. One is vastly more powerful than the other. And it seems like the entire left is out to paint Trump a Nazi, a nationalist, a racist, and any other kind of non-white bigot. The left is scared of Trump, the right is scared of Trump. If I were Trump, I would be seriously scared of assassination right now. And I’d like to note, when I make these posts about Trump, I’m not trying to support them. I’m trying to support being fair to them. I’m trying to support being fair to every candidate. Which I don’t see happening at all. So to bring us back to where we started, is there a media bias? Most definitely. But I think if we’re going to begin the discussion about media bias, perhaps we should start with Trump.

Artemis Hunt

Where’s the Media Bias?