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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Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter

James and his daughter Aria. With each generation comes the potential for the Phoenix to rise from the fire and ashes of previous generations.

On Monday last, I went to the Black Lives Matter encampment in front of the Governors Residence in St. Paul, to see for myself what was going on, to talk to some of the folks and take some pictures. I did this and returned home to write this post. For the following four days I’ve tried to marshal my ideas. Every day something would happen to add yet another complexity to an already daunting situation. President Obama’s speech at the memorial for the five murdered police officers set off a storm of protest. The police and some protesters thought that what he said had in some manner betrayed or minimized the losses that each group had suffered.  I kept trying to write but nothing sounded right; nothing felt right.

I’ve decided to post my first draft because it seems closer to what I feel. Here it is.


I drove over to the Governors Residence in St. Paul to get a firsthand look at the Black Lives Matter encampment. The day was hot and humid with skies overcast, the kind of weather that breeds thunderstorms and tornadoes.

Black Lives Matter had occupied the sidewalk and street in front of the governor’s mansion. The wrought iron fence that separated the public from the mansion was covered with signs and banners. Both the US and Minnesota flags at the residence flew at half-staff. Bob Marley was on the PA. About 50 people were scattered about, involved in the mundane daily routine of political action. No drama.


Supporters, many white, have provided supplies for the protesters.

They were there to demand justice for a young man, Philando Castile, who had been shot to death by police during a traffic stop. Philando’s death came just two days after another black man, Alton Sterling, was shot to death in Baton Rouge. In both instances Alton and Philando were carrying guns, one illegally the other legally with a permit. In both cases citizen videos showed men dying under questionable circumstances without weapons drawn. The following day, in response to these deaths, a young black man opened fire on police who were monitoring a peaceful Black Lives Matter march in Dallas. Five officers were killed, another seven wounded, along with two civilians. The following night, protesters in Minneapolis attempted to shut down a portion of the freeway. What began peacefully, ended with 21 police officers injured and 46 protesters arrested.  Protests continue all over the nation. Everyone is uneasy. This situation could escalate into a summer of even greater violence.

I parked my car on a side street within a block of the encampment. The Governors Residence is on Summit Avenue, a tree-lined boulevard with beautiful large homes from another era.  Direct access to the Summit Avenue was blocked by police squad cars and saw horse barricades. A group of black officers were talking and drinking bottled water. Under their blue shirts they wore bullet proof vests, the kind that provide protection from pistols and knives but are useless against military style weapons like the one used in Dallas. I approached them and offered my condolences for the police that had been killed.

Halfway down the block was the Black Lives Matter camp. This was a vigil commemorating the death of Philando Castile. At the same time it was also a statement of faith in justice and the belief that the future could be made better. Why would people march in protest unless they believed that their voices would be heard and that meaningful change would occur?

A black woman with hennaed hair approached me and asked if I was with the media. I said no, that I was a local blogger, and that I had come to see for myself what was going on. She said that Black lives Matter had prepared a statement. Her voice changed to an official tone and she said, “We have a duty to fight for our freedom. We have a duty to win. We must love and protect one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

How often have I heard a declaration like hers over the last half century? Each time it has signaled another painful, incremental step toward greater equality, greater justice. That’s what a peaceful revolution is all about. Small steps, never enough but headed in the right direction, until after decades there is a noticeable change. There are always grievances that remain, that in time, will ignite another fire of protest and another small step in the direction of justice. This is the life blood of democracy; injustice leads to protest which leads to change.

It is easy for me to take the long view. I don’t know the people dying. I don’t feel like my neighborhood is under siege. I don’t feel personally threatened. I can only partially empathize with the grieving families. I have experienced death and crushing grief. But, none of my losses were the result of violence. I have no idea what it feels like when someone I love is killed through the actions of another. That is a layer of pain I hope that I will never endure. Yet daily, families across our nation are forced to live with it.

Death through violence is devastating. Death at the hands of someone you are supposed to trust, like the police, is worse. It is betrayal.

Among the posters on the fence was a rain stained placard with the following poem by Jeffrey Joseph Young.

20160711-01-044-1w        Jeffrey Joseph Young and Crypto.

Because of my skin

Because of my skin I am worthless.
Because of my skin I am judged more than those of the fairer.
Because of my skin you are uncomfortable.
Because of my skin I feel devalued and unwanted.
Because of my skin you are quicker to react in a more violent manner.
Because of my skin your approach is more cautious.
Because of my skin I receive a less friendly greeting at the grocery store.
Because of my skin I was pulled over because I fit the description of a suspect.
Because of my skin you squeeze your purse tighter as I walk by.
Because of my skin I am dehumanized and thought of as savage.
Because of my skin I was forced out of my homeland and made your slave.
Because of my skin I was passed around and thought of as not human.
Because of my skin I do not have a name, I am only a nigger.
Because of my skin you beat, raped, murdered in cold blood, sic dogs on and hung my brothers and sisters.
Because of my skin I get shot with my hands up.
Because of my skin I get choked harder when I said I couldn’t breathe.
Because of my skin I get my license to carry but am still terrified to carry my gun.
Because of my skin I get shot when I told you that I had my license to carry.
Because of my skin I get tackled and murdered while selling CDs.
Because of my skin I am shot first and asked questions last.
Because of my skin I can’t answer your questions because I am dead.
Because of my skin you are the oppressor and I am the oppressed.
Because of my skin I get your brutality and not your humanity.
Because of my skin I see the lack of democracy and the real hypocrisy.
Because of my skin my life doesn’t matter.
Because of my skin I do not matter.
Because of my skin …
Because of my skin?
Because of my skin.

I met the poet, Jeffrey Joseph Young and his dog Crypto. He is a gentle young man with black and white parents. He straddles both worlds. The fact that I need to describe him as such simply underscores the continuing power of race in America.  We still live in a nation where skin color is history and destiny.

Later, I met another young man, James, and his 7 month old daughter, Aria. He told me that when he was a child, his father had exposed him to bad influences which had resulted in a troubled youth. Now he was showing his daughter a positive world of community and engagement. Later, when I looked at the picture of James and Aria I thought, “From the fire rises the Phoenix.”

At last the weather got to me and I headed back to my car. Along the way, I encountered more police, standing in the shade and drinking water. Again I offered condolences for the officers killed in Dallas. Violent death is violent death and its effect on family, friends and community is devastating.

I found it all confusing. Protesters and police separated by violence and yet bound together by fear and grief. I hope that all of the deaths this week will be the catalyst to meaningful changes. Peacefully seeking justice and understanding will lead us all from this darkness.



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Face of the Machine

Face of the Machine

I’ve begun to simplify my life by getting rid of the clutter of 69 years.

Because I have no siblings, wife or children I have no one to whom I can leave the jetsam and flotsam of my life. So rather than dumping a huge load of shit on my brothers-in-law, I’ve decided to get rid of unused or unnecessary things. I tend to move slowly on projects, so I figure I’d better get started while I still have some good years left. It’s going to take years.

Looking at all this stuff is like time travel on steroids. Each image carries not only the memories of taking the picture but also of the time surrounding it; little bubbles of life captured in the amber of photosensitive silver. It’s an amazing experience to discover that my memory hasn’t flat-lined but still works great. Just don’t ask me what I had for breakfast.

I’ve been reviewing my accumulated work and trying to get some control of my 55 years of photography. I’ve got 100,000s of negatives and slides; most of which have never seen the light of day. Like Vivian Maier, I’ve documented my life through photography and squirreled it away. Unlike Vivian, I’ve occasionally shown a few of my images and now, I am working to get my art out into the world rather than die and leave it all to the vagaries of chance.

This is not a somber task. Each day I find treasures.

When I take a photo I have two simultaneous thoughts. One is conscious composition, weighing the context, drama, shapes, light and shadow. The other is subconscious, a clearer eye that sees beneath the moment and imparts meanings that I’m not aware of at the moment. It is only later as I work with the image in Photoshop that the two thoughts merge into a cogent whole. Each image surprises me.

While creating an image I often enter a meditative state. Often it leaves me feeling enriched. I used to get the same feeling working in the darkroom. However, Photoshop is more rewarding. I am able to see my ideas come to life almost instantly, not requiring long hours in the darkroom exposing, developing, washing, and drying before there is a proof to evaluate. In addition, Lightroom and Photoshop offer capabilities that only the most sophisticated photo labs could offer.

I’m having fun and using my brain. Perhaps in the process I’ll create pictures that will tell a story.

Eventually, what will become of all this stuff? Haven’t a clue. As I separate the wheat from the chaff I am looking for those images that are either of artistic or historic interest. Perhaps at a later time, I’ll find a historical society or museum who will give them a home.

Technical Note

I’m scanning the the best of the keepers at 6400 dpi which creates huge files that allow me to make prints 13″ x 19″ or larger. I’m also using an Access database to list and describe what I’m keeping.

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Photo is from 08/21/2015 when smoke from western forest fires transformed Minneapolis sunsets.

This morning, I woke up early. My subconscious alarm, that reptilian part of my brain that automatically warns me about ancient threats, had gone off. Something was wrong and I could smell it. Smoke. I got up and went through the house sniffing for the source: nothing. The campfire smell was coming from outside. Sunrise confirmed it with a molten red sun.

Smoke from two forest fires, the gigantic fire in Alberta, Canada and a blaze up north near Bemidji are pumping vast amounts of CO2, particulate matter and noxious gases into the atmosphere. I can still smell it at mid day. A pale high altitude haze mutes the power of the sun.

Preoccupied with the endlessly repeating of the presidential campaign’s non-news, the media has given little attention to the fire in Alberta, even though it is a disaster of historic proportions. A city of 90,000 people has been evacuated; one of the largest evacuations in North America in 100 years. Some of the vast oil sands pit mines, refineries and pipelines are threatened. Over 25,000 acres of northern forest, vital for sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere and combating climate change have been destroyed.

What we are witnessing is another example of global warming and the future problems that we need to begin preparing for. Fort McMurray is a product of the oil boom. In the 1950’s it had a population of about 1,000 people but today it was 90 times that size until the fire. People from all over Canada and the world flocked to Fort McMurray for work and a chance at a better life. What survives of Fort McMurray is a ghost town.  Now what are they going to do? How can you rebuild a city if its people have been dispersed, businesses and infrastructure destroyed?

A lot of people will not return to Fort McMurray. The tar sands oil boom is over and the army of workers once needed to build the mines, refineries, pipelines, housing, and associated infrastructure are no longer needed. Some of the smaller tar sands mines are closing down completely. Fort McMurray was already feeling the impact of lost jobs before the forest fire but, now the situation is far worse. The fire has taken many service jobs as well. The Alberta and Canadian economies will feel the effects of this fire for years to come.

The majestic old growth trees that made this area beautiful are gone. An area of over 390 square miles has been stripped of its ecosystem. When the rains eventually come there will be mud slides and flooding. It will be decades before a forest returns and it will be scrub and not the majestic old growth. Even if you lived in Fort McMurray for your entire life, would you return to the desolation?

What happens to the 90,000 or so refugees fleeing the fire? Where will they live temporarily and in the long-term? What will they do? Will they have resources to rebuild or relocate and start fresh or will they be condemned to poverty? Will there be long-term psychological support for those that are injured or traumatized? These are the questions that will come up again and again as climate change forces people from their homes and livelihoods.

To deal with climate change effectively we must also create sustainable social programs and institutions that address the dislocation of large numbers of people over a long period of time. Otherwise, all of us face a very uncertain future; just one climate event away from poverty and homelessness.

It’s time to open our minds and think creatively. Our future depends on it.


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