There Was This One Bad Day…

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I woke up in a messy dorm room. My assigned roommate was a sheepish and sad lad from California who seemed to struggle with the new life that was thrust upon him; a kind and gentle young man, he was polite and terrified with the prospect of learning how to operate a washing machine. He told me about his horse, Sundance, and the life he had lived before being stuck in a dorm room with the likes of me.

Everybody adapts to life away from home differently, I guess.

It didn’t really matter on the morning of September 11, 2001. I was eighteen and I’d had been away from the home for less than a month, just like most of the other folks in the dorm. Unlike most of my dorm mates, I’d made the foolish decision to take early classes; everybody else liked the idea of being able to sleep-in until ten or eleven and built their schedules accordingly. There aren’t many people walking about campus at seven o’clock in the morning, but those that were about were carrying their heads between their shoulders. I found myself standing by a coffee cart outside of the student union, huddled with a few other people, listening to the radio, to the play-by-play of what was happening in New York. Only one tower had been hit at that time.

It was hard to conjugate Spanish verbs that morning.
My second class, calculus, had some students weeping over their pop quiz papers.

Young girls at the dorm that night, blonde teenagers with tight shorts that read ‘juicy’ or ‘U of A’ across the ass, were shouting among themselves that “we need to bomb them,” even though we hadn’t yet identified who “they” even were at that point. And while these groups of young ladies were talking retribution, all the young men in the dorm were quiet. We had all just signed our military draft paperwork in the previous months, right before applying for federal student aid. The gravity of the situation was a little different for the lads than it was for the ladies.

My buddy Newman, a Jewish kid from Manhattan with the palest skin and the largest red curly afro you’d ever seen, wasn’t wearing his usual smile. He was the guy who’d dig through that ridiculous mound of hair at a house gathering and pull out a joint to share with everybody. He’d never worked a square job in his life and he was always the life of the party. We sat with him in his room for hours, nibbling on stale pizza even though we weren’t that hungry, not really able to take our eyes off of the repeated footage on the television. The whole time, Newman tried to get friends and family, anybody from back home, on the phone. Cell towers were down and too many calls were traveling to Manhattan, so he just kept hitting redial, eyes dull and glassy and distant, all day long, staring at the fire on the television screen.

It was a bad day. I was reminded of a school project from fourth or fifth grade, when I was told to ask a family member where they were and what they remembered about the day John F. Kennedy was shot. I had the thought that this was that day for me – that some day in the future, I’d be telling my son or daughter where I was when I learned about the attack on the World Trade Center. My parents were just children when Kennedy was killed, not even ten years old, but they remember. Some things just stay with you, and I know I’ll never forget the feeling, the anchor in my stomach, the sadness that made me want to cry, even though I didn’t, hanging out with my shaken friends.

Not every day can be great, I suppose. Sadly, too many of our days end with images of needless horror funneled into our living rooms. School, concert, movie theater, and church shootings, bombings, assassinations, and gruesome rhetoric from politicians, pundits, and citizens alike. It’s easy to be frustrated, benumbed, and hateful. But these are always opportunities to learn, to grow more resilient, and to come together. The greatest result of the September 11th attack was watching a nation of three-hundred million people, probably for the last time in these past two decades, come together in support of one another, if even only for a few days.

“When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways – either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.”
~Dalai Lama



February 06, 2017 – Forrest Trump


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Beyond photography and illustration, I also spend a lot of time tinkering with personal projects. I could write a book about the shenanigans on Capital Hill, but I’ll let the professional news outlets do that. I feel like this image speaks for itself.

Whatever your own personal beliefs may be, I still predict that history will not favor this man.
Good night, and good luck.


Trump – The Stakes Are High


With the Republican party cannibalizing itself, Trump’s race to the White House has managed to plow forward unimpeded. After the first wave of disillusioned Democrats, scratching their heads wondering how on earth a boorish windbag like Donald Trump could continue to pull off victory after victory, establishment GOP figureheads have themselves joined the ranks of Trump critics. He is a chameleon, a game changer, an insurgent candidate – it’s true. And there is nothing good about it. We can advocate for change in our political process, but this is not the proper path.

At the end of the day, Trump can scarcely claim to be a Republican in the first place. His base is not a contingent of highly educated political scholars. They are average working people who are as fed up with the broken machinery in Washington as anybody else, and they support him from a place of absolute knee-jerk emotion, checking reason at the door. How else could his proven lies stick? How else can a politician, of any stripe, behave the way he has behaved – and continues to behave – without backlash?

It’s a dangerous game we’re playing. There’s nothing wrong with an electorate that’s fed up with political gridlock and economic despair, but flocking to the loudest, meanest bully in the schoolyard is destructive at most, foolhardy at least. We need look no further than what we’ve seen at his rallies – from photographers being choke-slammed and press members being penned in for ridicule to ethnic minorities and protesters being assaulted – and we ought not talk ourselves into thinking that violent rhetoric doesn’t influence violent behavior. We are better than this. There are better people to represent the conservative half, and it is a damn shame that the largest barrier preventing genuine intelligent statesmen (and women) from entering the race is money. A Trump victory will be the ultimate proof; we will no longer be able to say that political positions in America aren’t flat-out bought.

Will tonight’s debate be the same shit-show as the previous dozen?
My money is on continued chaos and a dangerous lack of much-need discussion.
Follow me on Twitter @LenseBender for live updates.

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Fiorina Drops Out – But The Damage Has Been Done

Fiorina postAfter demonstrating unexpected prowess on the debate stage during the fall season, the meteoric rise reversed course; technology executive Carly Fiorina has quietly excused herself from the table. After declining poll numbers and her absence from the most recent debate, news of her quitting comes as little surprise. After the indictment of anti-abortion activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt – the individuals responsible for the altered Planned Parenthood video that Fiorina relied so heavily on – Fiorina’s dismissal from the race couldn’t have occurred soon enough.

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Fiorina entered the GOP race in April 2015. Extolling the virtues of small government, she relied heavily on her business experience – especially her “elegance under pressure” during her tenure as CEO of Hewlett Packard. She effectively handled critics who drew attention to her firing from Hewlett-Packard after a merger with Compaq – an action that led to 30,000 layoffs – as well as critics of her stance toward de-funding Planned Parenthood.

“While I suspend my candidacy today, I will continue to travel this country and fight for those Americans who refuse to settle for the way things are and a status quo that no longer works for them. I will continue to serve in order to restore citizen government to this great nation so that together we may fulfill our potential.”

Pretty words to conclude an ugly presidential bid.

While Fiorina’s bid has ended, her repeated lies continue to circulate, and promise to continue influencing the Planned Parenthood and abortion debate well into the future. Hers is a legacy of dangerous disinformation. Even though she lost, she has once again proved how influential and effective a well-told lie can be.


Trump – There’s Nothing He Can’t Say

Trump Naked post

Saturday brought more of the same from GOP front-runner Donald Trump, who was campaigning in Iowa. With the caucuses less than two weeks away, one would expect his words to be strong, calculated, and to the point. In a not surprising move, however, Trump shot from the hip, remarking at one point that his supporters wouldn’t abandon him even if he killed somebody.

“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” he said at the campaign rally.

This brand of brash confidence has been a trademark of the Trump campaign, who has launched vicious personal assaults against his competitors, journalists, and even entire ethnic groups. In a world of reason, these kinds of remarks would be identified by what they actually are: denigrating, unprofessional, and even dangerous.

A clear line, as an example, cannot be drawn between pulpit-pounding (in the name of ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood) and the shooting that occurred on November 27th, but it would be a mistake not to entertain the possibility that staunch political rhetoric may have played a role in hardening the attacker against his victims. This should be an object lesson; when politicians speak passionately, about any issue, there are a lot of people listening, and not all of them will respond with consideration and restraint.

With shootings in Colorado Springs, San Bernardino, the Northern Arizona University campus, and elsewhere during this election cycle, one of the major talking points has revolved around firearms legislation, culminating in President Obama’s executive order on January 5th. With a great deal of opposition from the GOP, it is still in poor taste for a Republican presidential candidate to invoke an image of gun violence to illustrate how politically impervious he believes himself to be.
At it’s best, Trump’s statement in Sioux Center has a callous ring to it. What does it say about the Republican electorate if Donald Trump’s statement is true? Are they that forgiving? How can a political figure ascend to an “above the law” position that allows murder? What does it say that Trump’s supporters aren’t offended by his comment?

Since the presidential race began, commentators on the political left have disregarded Trump as a non-threat, a narcissistic media whore who would eventually prove ineffectual and irrelevant. It’s been stated, on too many occasions, that it’s only a matter of time before he says something so outlandish that his supporters will turn on him. That time has not come, and it might be wise to put that notion to bed.

Donald Trump has racked-up a number of media gaffs that have proved not to be gaffs – his supporters seem to love him all-the-more for his aggressive cruelty toward anyone or anything that might oppose him. He rebounds when making offensive statements about Mexicans, when he insults the looks of his party competitors, when he mimics and pokes fun at the physically disabled. And his attitude toward banning Muslims isn’t just a slight against an entire population – it runs contrary to the spirit of the United States of America itself.

We should not forget about the neoclassical statue that sits in New York Harbor. A symbol of American values, it is a depiction of the Roman goddess Libertas. In her left hand is an engraved tablet with words from “The New Colossus” penned by American poet Emma Lazarus.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Building walls and closing doors does not a great nation make. Joking about killing people isn’t anything we should tolerate from our political leaders. Donald Trump is not irrelevant, and the other shoe isn’t about to drop. He has money and he has support, and it’s time we all start paying closer attention.


Politicians – Willful Ignorance And Dangerous Oversimplification

Ben Carson post

“The regulation of anonymous and pseudonymous communications promises to be one of the most important and contentious Internet-related issues of the next decade.”

~ A. Michael Froomkin

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Yes, it’s primary season. We all know it and it’s difficult to escape the constant pandering, posturing, and promoting. Each candidate is trying to provide their best sales pitch to the greatest number of people. At this point in the race, we are in an information loop; with so many candidates on the GOP stage, we’re hearing the same messages on repeat. If you’ve watched one debate, that’s enough to understand what the candidates stand for.

Statements from these debates are dissected, scrutinized by newsrooms,  and they’re stripped of context and converted into soundbites by radio personalities. During the GOP debate on Wednesday, each candidate spent a significant amount of time on outrage, on how President Obama has failed, and on what programs and executive orders they intend to eviscerate should they win the seat. What’s troubling about this is that very little time was committed to explaining precisely what they would do instead. It’s disconcerting, listening to ambitious political leaders pounding the podium and insisting on burning the building to the ground without explaining what they would build in its place. When fewer personalities cling desperately to the stage, perhaps we’ll be presented with a clearer picture.

One of Mr. Ben Carson’s statements stood out to me. It was emblematic of how truly uncombed the GOP’s philosophy has become. To call the GOP disconnected is a kindness; if their oversimplified statements are more calculated than they appear, there’s only one conclusion we can take from the debate: the GOP does not respect the intellect of its constituents.

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Midway through the GOP debate, Ben Carson connected two dots that any reasonable person should find outlandish:

“When you go to the Internet, you start reading an article and you go to the comment section. You cannot go five comments down before people are calling each other all manner of names. Where did that spirit come from in America? It does not come from our Judaeo-Christian roots, I can tell you that.”

The auditorium, predictably, erupted with applause. If we are to paraphrase his statement, though, it would appear to condemn America for falling into an attitude of meanness and contention, and the problem comes from prevailing secular attitudes that threaten to divorce America from is great religious traditions. I didn’t hear much discussion about this particular statement following the debate, but it clearly resounds with the Republican party and with GOP supporters. The implications are important.

First and foremost, Carson unwittingly evoked the parable of the invisible man, although he missed the point entirely. He also insisted that religion, specifically Christianity, is the panacea to help resurrect civility in the industrialized world. Like many in his cohort, Carson attempted to evoke a vision of a more civilized and cooperative American past, a 1950s pastiche of “simpler times.” The problem with that is that there has never in our history been a time of social perfection, and the ethnic strife and Cold War anxieties of mid-century America are the reality that “Leave It To Beaver” denies.

What Carson failed to realize is that anonymity is a problematic concept, and the lack of accountability that it promotes will almost always result in mischief. Bank robbers wear masks for a reason. White collar criminals are good at erasing their tracks. YouTube comment sections are rife with hateful rhetoric because nobody is held accountable for the words that stream anonymously from their fingertips. No amount of religion is going to change that.

What our leaders should be doing is promoting an atmosphere of accountability, not religious piety. They should not only preach from the pulpit of truth and transparency, but they should follow it up with sound legislation that reinforces that transparency. That is infinitely more American than insisting Christianity is the answer, than denying refugees because of their race or creed, than stripping regulation from the financial sector, of which every America citizen has a stake.

Watching politicians making broad statements about the decline of culture is offensive. Insisting on a monolithic one-shot solution – be it religion, a giant wall, or a fleet of gunships – is an unrealistic and dangerous lie. We need thinking leaders who do not pander to the lowest common denominator, but instead inspire greater conversation and comprehension of our status as a nation-state. Don’t tell me about how President Obama has failed. Tell me what you are going to do that is so much better. And while you’re at it, you had better tell me why.