El Moro Fortress, Puerto Rico

El Moro Fortress, San Juan, Puerto Rico, USA, 1989

While doing a deep dive into my archives I came upon this interior shot of a barracks room in El Moro Fortress. I think it is a metaphor for partisanship and what happens in the partisan’s mind. I’ll let you create your own metaphors.

Happy New Year.

May 2018 be a time of healing, of the resurrection of democracy, and the return to civil discourse.





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Round Barn

Round Barn, 1902, Pigeon Falls, Wisconsin             photo 1988

The History of Trempealeau County, has an entry about this land and barn, recorded for all posterity:

Ludwig O. Goplin. Among the farmers of Gale Township who are recognized as successful men in their branch of industry is the subject of this sketch, whose farm of 220 acres is situated in sections 3, 14, 23 and 24, town 23 north, range 7 west. Here Mr. Goplin was born Jan. 27, 1883, son of Olaus E. and Mathia (Benrud) Goplin, the homestead having been in the family since the time of the grandfather, who settled on it in 1869. Olaus E. Goplin, who was born in Norway in 1861, purchased 80 acres of the farm and lived on it many years, dying in December, 1901. He added to his land until the farm comprised 220 acres. His wife, also a native of Norway, survived him about a year and four months, passing away in April, 1903. Ludwig O. Goplin worked on the old home farm for his parents from his boyhood until his father’s death, and afterwards for his mother until she, too, died. He then rented the farm from the heirs for five years, buying it in April, 1915. Here he is carrying on general farming and dairying, keeping graded Durham and Holstein cattle, of which he has 35 head, milking 20. The residence on the farm is a good two-story and basement frame house of 10 rooms. A man of progressive nature, in 1902 Mr. Goplin built a round barn, 64 feet in diameter, and 26 feet to the eaves, and in 1915 he erected a stave silo, 14 by 34 feet. He is a stockholder in the Pigeon Grain and Stock Company and also in the Whitehall Hospital. Since 1913 he has served as treasurer of the school board. His religious affiliations are with the United Norwegian Lutheran church, of Pigeon Falls, of which he is a member, and of which his father was secretary from the time of its organization until his death. Dec. 10, 1910, Mr. Goplin was united in marriage with Ruth Mortenson, of Whitehall, Wis., who was born in Pigeon Township, this county, Sept. 15, 1887. Her father, Hans H. Mortenson, who was born near Hammerfest, Norway, Sept. 15, 1836, is now residing in Whitehall. Her mother was born in Norway, Jan. 11, 1847, and is now living in Whitehall. Mr. and Mrs. Goplin have two children: Margaret Alverne, born Oct. 15, 1911, and Obert Harvey, born Oct. 27, 1913.

I’ve been observing and photographing my chunk of the world since 1964, when my father introduced me to cameras and the darkroom. Since then, I’ve always had a camera and, often, a darkroom. Now, I use a digital darkroom. It’s hard to imagine how many pictures I’ve taken over the last half-century.

Now, I’m finding out. I’ve always wanted to catalog my work but been too lazy to tackle it. Starting in November, I began collecting all my photography from packing boxes scattered around the basement. I piled everything in my office and began finding places to store all it all; 15 file cabinet drawers and a small closet later, I now have an idea of what 52 years of photography look like.

To build my catalog, I needed to create a  numbering system and database. Then I began exploring my images. I’ve never thought that I had a great memory, particularly in the last few years. However, each image brought back that instant. My memories began to materialize from the nebulous past.

I am one lucky son of a bitch. I live in this incredible universe, on this rare living planet, at a special moment when it is possible to see back to the beginning of time and imagine the distant future and the end of time, while surrounded by a continuously changing matrix of humanity. These are the moments when the path of history is set for the next 1000s of years. And I’m here to see it.


Why the Round Barn? Damned if I know.


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Political Dehumanization – Creating the Other

Political Dehumanization - Creating the Other

Derek, volunteer first responder, showing a Jaws of Life device.

As 2017 comes to a close, we find America dangerously divided. There are powerful currents at work, trying to deepen the fissures that threaten to fragment our nation. I have not been immune to this disease, even though I know better and, like many Americans, I have gotten into the habit of stereotyping people as one-dimensional characters, editorial cartoons. To combat this dehumanization of my fellow Americans, I need only look at my family to remind me that beneath the politics and emotions there are warm loving people.

Take for instance my nephew-in-law Derek.  Derek has a wonderful family, is a great father to his two children, and a loving partner to his wife.  He is respectful to others. Also he is actively engaged in his community as the Captain of the local volunteer fire department.  Lastly, he believes in the US and is actively engaged in being a good citizen by studying the issues. I am proud of Derek, he’s a good man.

From the picture above and what I’ve told you about Derek, can you tell what political group he supports?  Do Derek and I share the same politics and/or social values?

That’s my point. You may guess but you can’t be certain unless you get to know him.

It’s easy to get caught up in the tribal emotions of Red-Blue state rhetoric. The media on all sides cover the news like a sporting event with winners and losers. This encourages simplistic thinking about people and their values.

Now is not the time for simplistic thinking. Life is complex. We face unclear situations that contain both threats and opportunities. We need a nuanced approach if we are going to  solve the problems facing us. Stereotyping people and their concerns undermines our ability to get to the heart of the matter and peacefully sort out our differences.

There is no subtlety in black and white.


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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Today I participated in the most important act that an American can do; I voted. This year’s election is what I’d call an off-off-year, in which I get to vote for Mayor, City Council, and a couple of Park and Recreation Board members.

What’s wrong with the picture?

My polling place at Martin Luther King Jr. Park is empty. A few dedicated souls silently vote, otherwise just the sound of crickets. Where is the hustle and bustle? Where are the long lines of voters quietly talking with strangers as if they were next door neighbors? You’d be hard pressed to imagine that my district has the highest voter turnout in Minnesota. That’s what is wrong with the picture.

The problem with Democrats is that we really don’t understand democracy. If we did, we’d be swarming all over the place. Unfortunately, Democrats just can’t seem to get out to the polls for local and midterm elections. We sit at home watching the returns while Republicans, Libertarians, Independents, and Greens go to vote.  That is one reason that Republicans usually do better at the local and state levels. This isn’t just a Minnesota problem, nationwide Republicans tend to do better during off-year and midterm elections.

Democracy doesn’t work if only one team shows up, like baseball. Teams in the Major Leagues are fed players that have sharpened their skills in the minor leagues; Rookie, A, AA, AAA. Politicians, the pros who know what they’re doing, follow a similar route; party member, school board, park board, city council, mayor, governor, state office, federal office and, for a ballsy few, President.

Successful Pols know how to work with differing points of view, within and without their party. There are a few who jump the line, like the current Pretender, but they are unable to get things done. They’re ignorant of the intricacies of democracy; civil discourse and compromise. In Minnesota we once elected a boa wearing pro wrestler for Governor. By the end of his only term he had alienated the legislature and his supporters and was just waiting to be gone.

Local and state offices are where the action is. Our representatives rub shoulders with us, their constituents, daily. This is where every voter is intimately involved in deciding their future and the future of their neighbors. It is where the rubber meets the road and as Michael Bloomberg, ex-mayor of New York City once said, “If you need to get something done, ask a mayor.”

So why in hell would anyone ignore something so important as picking the people who will govern us, set our taxes, invest in public works, convince companies to move into the community, and pass laws concerning our education, environment, health, and livelihood?

Currently, the Democrats are at a disadvantage because they haven’t invested in their minor leagues. The Republicans have; it shows.

It all starts with me and you showing up to vote. I think of it this way, voting isn’t a chore, it’s the sacred duty; it’s a priceless privilege.  Joseph-Marie, comte de Maistre, 18th century French lawyer, monarchist, philosopher and writer criticized the  idea of democracy,”In a democracy, people get the leaders they deserve.”   He was right.

If we don’t take our elections seriously then we will get leaders who don’t take us seriously.

That’s what’s wrong with the picture.


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Senator Al Franken: Giant of the Senate

Senator Al Franken: Giant of the Senate

Last night, I went to a book signing for Senator Al Franken’s new book Senator Al Franken – Giant of the Senate.   It was sponsored by Magers and Quinn, a super independent book seller, and hosted by Uptown Church, which is an intimate sacred space with beautiful stained glass windows.

The weather last evening was hot and humid. Anyone who knows me knows that I was  designed and built for cold weather. I sweat like a foundry worker when watching other people work.  By the time Al was done, so was I.

It was well worth it. Al’s new book was part of the ticket price, thus now I’m reading about his experiences growing up, writing for Saturday Night Live, inhaling and enjoying it, meeting and marrying his wife Franni, being elected to the Senate, and now serving in Congress. Along the way, good friends struggled with addiction and some died. There are plenty of things that I didn’t know about Senator Franken or his wife Franni. They are genuine people who have had hard times and know what ordinary people go through.

As I settled into my pew I looked around and this is what I saw.



This morning, over coffee at the Patisserie, I cracked open  SAF-GOTS. I typically don’t laugh when reading something funny but this morning people around me kept looking at me strangely. I was chortling snorting (almost gave myself a coffee nasal lavage) and simply laughing my ass off.  More importantly, besides being funny, there are numerous insights into how the Senate works and the personalities of  the Senators, including Al.

For about an hour, Al sat on a raised stage and was interviewed by MPR’s Gary Eichten. He then took questions. Needless to say, the questions mostly centered on President WTF.  Al made it clear that things are baaaaaaad. BUT, citizens are coming out of the woodwork to resist the insanity. He confided that it will get worse before it gets better. Ultimately, he has faith in the American people to sort it out. He did admit that this faith has been tested repeatedly.

Al briefly mentioned how close his race for the Senate was, winning by only 325 votes, and how that impressed on him that he served all the people of Minnesota, which is what he has been doing since.  He reassured everyone that his opponent, Norm Coleman, had bounced back and was OK. He is now serving the people of Minnesota as a lobbyist for the Saudi’s.

Al went to Congress knowing that he needed to maintain a serious demeanor and sideline the humor. When he won his second term he began relaxing and easing in humor when talking with his fellow Senators.

He also mentioned that the Republicans have spent $15 million on an Israeli machine called a Dehumorizer which they first used during his election and have continued ever since.  He pointed out that humor is in short supply for most Republicans but not for all.

In the end, I walked into the still simmering night, wringing wet with sweat, and more optimistic than when I was when I came.

Did I get the Senator to sign my book?  Nope. There was a line of about 50 people waiting to see him. I preferred going outside. Besides, I’ve been more active in the political scene since I began resisting and I’m fairly certain that I’ll have another opportunity. Perhaps there will be time enough to chat?  A wonk can dream.

Update on Washington:  Things will continue to get worse for a while. However there is grave concern about President Attention-of-a-Squirrel among a growing number of  Republican Senators who have privately expressed themselves to Al.

Tips for Living with Trumpenstien

  • Limit consumption of news or read the news rather than watching it on the screen. That way you leave the hysteria outside your head.
  • Remember that most Breaking News isn’t.
  • After watching the news, lift your spirits by watching a WWI documentary.  See? It isn’t that bad. Or is it?
  • Remember to breathe.
  • Maintain a sense of humor and eat lots of greens.
  • Get involved! Relieve stress by doing something about what is stressing you out.
  • Get outside for some fresh air and mild exercise; join in a march, protest, or picketing.
  • Let your Congress people know where you stand and demand action. Also, thank them when they do something right.
  • Spend time with someone who supports President Yellow-Rain, don’t call him that while you practice civility.  Look for common ground to share; grandchildren, cats, dogs, Rocky Horror Picture Show, whatever. Build trust between the two of you before wading into the substantive stuff. Actively listen and ask questions.
  • Remember that the person on the opposite side is a warm-blooded Homo sapiens with many of  the same dreams and problems we have. They aren’t stupid, deranged or evil. Well, except for President Dementia and the boot licks surrounding him.
  • Read The Religious Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Religion and Politics by Jonathan Haidt.













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Memorial Day 2017 – What have We Learned?

Memorial Day 2017 - What have We Learned?

We are in the 16th year of the longest war in American history. It’s the Memorial Day weekend. As a nation we remember all those who have served our nation in war, sacrificed their mental and physical health, and for too many, made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives.

What are we remembering today; the shared intimacy with a loved one, smiling faces, all those moments that would have been forgotten if they hadn’t been killed? All those times that are now cherished treasures rescued from fading memories.

How often does the grieving think of the war itself? Do they recall the fever that swept the country and led us to battle, the speeches, and flag waving?

What are we remembering this weekend?

Are we remembering that we have been down the war road often? And just as often we mourn promising lives now buried in the ground.

Sometimes in this confused world, war is necessary to protect our values and freedoms. But have all those wars been necessary? Have we learned anything?

On this Memorial Day weekend, I hope that as we mourn our war dead, we also remember why and how they ended up entombed in the earth. Perhaps by remembering, we will be less likely to rush into another conflict.

The best thing that we can do to support our service people is to insure that they are deployed only after all other forms of power have been used and war is the only option left.

This post was originally on Facebook.

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Restoration of the People’s House

Restoration of the People’s House

School children in the newly restored rotunda at the Minnesota State House.

I was at the Minnesota State Capitol, “The People’s House”, a few days ago. On any day when the government is in session, it rings with the sounds of Minnesotans in the chambers and the rotunda, engaged in the ancient ritual of governance.

Itinerant preacher sermonizes to a group of children touring the State House.

I was there to photograph two demonstrations scheduled for the day: Black Lives Matter and a gun control group. It appeared that the gun control group didn’t show which left me with some time to kill before Black Lives arrived. For the next two hours I explored the capitol building. It was time well spent.

Public buildings reflect the prevailing feelings about the place of government in our society. In 1905, when the current capitol building was completed, democratic government was viewed as the pinnacle of human achievement. The newly restored building declares the pride that those people felt in their community, state and nation. Throughout the capitol there are 54 allegorical murals that illustrate democratic virtues mixed with state history. The refreshed colors add an electric jolt to each mural.

In addition there are displays of Minnesota’s commitment to fighting for the Union during the Civil War. Restored battle flags and bronze statues of generals remind us of the sacrifice our ancestors made to defend the United States from the forces of secession and slavery.

Around the capitol there are paintings and bronze busts of people who made important contributions to Minnesota; people like Chief Wabasha III of the Medwakanton Band of the Santee Dakota, Hubert H. Humphrey and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Bust of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Minnesota State Capitol is a celebration of democracy and the ability of people to govern themselves. In 1905 there was an optimism, a belief in a boundless future, and an understanding that government was necessary for that bright future to occur. In 1900, national voter turnout was 73% and in hotly contested 2016 it was 55%.  Things have changed.

The beauty and symbolism of the capitol clearly show that Democracy and governance were sacred to Minnesotans. It’s a far cry from today when many of us consider government an intrusion or obstruction. We have replaced reverence for self-government with the mundane of government as a business.

Back Story

Minnesota has had three capitol buildings. The first was built in 1854 for the Territorial Legislature, at the cost of $45,000 ($1,000,000 today).  On March 1, 1881, the last day of the session, at 9 pm, as a crowd of 300 people watched the legislature struggled to get the last bills reconciled and passed, a fire started outside the chambers. No one noticed until a member of the Senate came into the chamber legislator and began yelling “Fire.”  The only way out was down stairs surrounded by flames or through windows. Incredibly, everyone escaped the inferno that reduced the building to only its outer walls.

The second capitol was completed in 1883. It was a brick structure with an unimposing tower. However, being brick, it was fireproof.  Unfortunately, the building’s poor ventilation and lack of space made it unsuitable for the job.

The situation continued to worsen until in 1892 when a bill recommending the construction of a new building was passed. In 1895 a design contest was held with noted architects from around the country competing. The winner was 35 year old Cass Gilbert with a design strongly influenced by the highly popular 1893 Chicago’s World Fair. On Jan. 2, 1905, after nine years of construction and at the cost of the sizeable sum of $4.5 million, Minnesota’s third capitol building was opened to the public.

From the beginning, people understood that the new capitol was something special. Today, it is recognized as one of the U.S.’s most beautiful public buildings.

Over the next 100 years the capitol underwent remodeling and redecorating, changes that accumulated like barnacles on the hull of a boat. Slowly, Cass Gilbert’s design was being covered up. And there were the maintenance issues of cracked plaster, water damage, and aging infrastructure. The capitol was showing its age.

Restoration – People’s House Reborn

Starting in 1984 the legislature began studying how to repair and restore the capitol. In 2008 exterior preservation of the dome began and in 2011 expanded to other damaged exterior facade. In 2013, a comprehensive program for the restoration of the capitol began and in 2015 the interior was closed to the public. Two days after Christmas, 2016, the doors were opened and the public got their first look at renovation. Some work will continue into the summer. The Grand Opening Celebration is in August.

In the end, the project will cost about $310 million. The restoration of the state house is a clear message ourselves and future generations that in 2017, Minnesotans still look towards the future.

The results are breathtaking. The colors of the restored murals are brilliant and the fine details easy to see. Every surface is either freshly painted using pigments matched to those of 1905 or polished to a fine gloss. Ready for another 100 years of being the People’s House.











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Fellow citizens march down Marquette avenue on their way to demonstrate in front of the Better Business Bureau for a living wage, sick leave, immigration  and other issues.

Last week I attended a march in downtown Minneapolis. It was late afternoon with a clear pale blue sky and a cold wind, like an invisible ocean current, flowing around the buildings. A group of about 100-200 people gathered at Peavey Plaza and then on the street.

This march has its roots deep in American history. It was inspired, in part, by the Boston Tea Party and guided by the timeless examples of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr..  It was an expression of our basic freedoms of speech and assembly.

Demonstrating is at the heart of our democracy. It is a sacred ritual. It is our heritage and our legacy.

As we marched along chanting we were pulled closer together, just as in a church, as when the priest calls to the congregation and it responses en mass. It is a single voice transformed into a mighty chorus. It is the voice of a common consciousness shared amongst strangers. It unifies. It is a moral drumbeat.

Along the march I threaded my way amongst the people looking for images that expressed the moment. The group was diverse with Native Americans, students, young families and seniors. Some came with signs or wore distinctive clothes; one woman was dressed as a holocaust inmate.  These people were dedicated. They showed up despite the late afternoon time and the cold wind.

This was an authorized demonstration with a police escort. In squad cars, on bikes and foot the police made certain that we were safe from the traffic. They redirected traffic so that we could exercise our rights. I was surprised that during the demonstration, even though it was now rush hour, only a couple of cars honked in protest and only one pedestrian loudly objected to the inconvenience.  I didn’t hear a word against the demonstrators themselves or the causes they championed. It made me proud of my city and all of its citizens.

Afterwards, as everyone dispersed, returning to their everyday lives, they carried with them the affirmation that they are part of something greater than themselves and that there are others who share their concerns.

Demonstrations are a natural outgrowth of who we are as humans. We are wired to want to be part of a greater community and to contribute to a greater good. When we do this, our self esteem increases and we are energized. When we do this, we are Americans.


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Solidarity and Hope In Numbers

Solidarity and Hope In Numbers

The Twin Cities Women’s March was led by a Native American color guard. Behind them were 90,000+ people who came to support women’s issues and oppose the newly inaugurated Pretender President.

On Saturday I attended the Women’s March in the Twin Cities. It was the most amazing thing that I’ve seen in decades. The only other time that compared to this was Richard Nixon’s 1973 inauguration. But that is another story.

The weather was overcast, damp and cold. The kind of winter weather that Minnesotans call balmy.

Word of the demonstration supporting the Women’s March in D.C. had been spreading for sometime. By Saturday over 20,000 people had pledged online to march to the Minnesota State Capital in St. Paul. It would be a good turnout if the weather didn’t dissuade demonstrators from coming.

For the last week, I had been doing an informal survey of who was planning to go to the local march.  I was surprised at the number of folks who said they planned on going. I was similarly surprised by an equal number of people who knew nothing of the event in St. Paul. Needless to say, I passed on information and encouraged them to join.

I went to the march with my good friend Kathy. We used the light-rail to get to St. Paul. There was an ever-growing crowd at the train station and the feeling was upbeat. We got onto an almost full car and headed off. By the time we got to the downtown station to transfer to the St. Paul bound train, the entire train was jammed until no one could get on. At the transfer we met with a continuously expanding torrent of people. The ride to St. Paul was even more crowded. The excitement and friendliness of everyone kept claustrophobia at bay.   It was just the beginning to an inspiring day.



Green Line station on University Avenue swamped with marchers.


Marchers coming from bus and light-rail stops pass by state capital on their way to join main group of demonstrators near the St. Paul Cathedral. In an hour they would march back, 90,000+ strong.

As more and more people appeared I began to suspect that the estimated number of 20,000 marchers was correct. However, the torrent of people coming from the bus and train stops didn’t let up. They just kept coming and coming. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  During the speeches the number of marchers was updated to 45,000 and then again to 60,000. Each announcement was greeted with a tidal wave of cheers. The sound of the crowd cheering sent a shiver through me. This was the sound of democracy. This was the sound of the American people standing up against the Pretender President and his cronies.

Lessons Each Generation Must Learn


Kathy holding a Planned Parenthood sign that she carried 12 years ago in the 2004 women’s march in DC.

The crowd was a mix of all ages, races and creeds, each well represented. It was a rich tapestry of humanity. For the first time in years I felt part of something bigger. My optimism has returned.  I have hope.


Looking back from the Capitol towards the Cathedral, a quarter of a mile away.

Every generation must learn the same lessons that their parents and grandparents have had to learn. Since the Vietnam War and Watergate, we Americans have become complacent. We assumed that democracy was a force of nature that would always prevail. We forgot our history. Now we are paying the price with a Pretender President who is intent on undoing 70 years of bipartisan policies and commonly held values.

Democracy is not a spectator’s sport. It only works when each of us takes responsibility for our part in governing. Democracy requires an educated constituency that understands how our government works, each citizen’s responsibilities, and the lessons of human history.

Democracy only works when we are engaged for the long-term. Now, more than any other time in our history, we face an existential threat that took years to evolve and will take years to correct. We have hard work to do.

Let’s rejoice at this opportunity the Pretender has provided us and get to work. In the coming days and months more and more people will come to realize the danger the Pretender and his supporters pose to the U.S. and the world. Opposition will continue to grow and with it a renaissance of ideas, idealism and altruism.

Rejoice for the challenges we face. The future is open for us to write.















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Rest Easy America

Rest Easy America
Creative Commons License
Rest Easy America by Les Phillips is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

American politics in 2016 is very scary.

A large, vocal minority are expressing their anger at our political system by supporting Donald J Trump, a man who has clearly demonstrated throughout the primary and now general election his psychopathic personality.  Lying, threatening, dramatically changing positions for each audience, and promoting a bigoted agenda against African Americans, Mexicans, and immigrants.

Every day brings new assaults on logic and the truth.  At least once a week he says something that in any previous campaign would have killed a candidate’s chances and yet he continues to register about 43% in national polls. Almost half of the electorate supports a man who knows nothing about the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. They support a man who starts out his campaign appearances by threatening the media. On occasion he has singled out specific journalists who later required the Secret Service to escort them out of the hall and to their cars.

The fire of anger, ignorance, and bigotry is being fanned by the Right-Wing media who have, after 30 years of propaganda have prepared the a segment of white America to follow a demagogue who embodies the ugliness they have been broadcasting.

I fear for this country. There are strong similarities between now and the fall of the German Wiemar Republic and the rise of Adolf Hitler.

I could go on and on about how Trump is unqualified to be president and how he is a genuine existential threat to the U.S. and the world, but what is the point?

All that is left is to vote for sanity on Election Day, November 8th.

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