Posted by: Mark Nielsen | October 25, 2016

The Walking Dead: New Creation Myth for Our Times

From Mark, a once-and-future tv professional, plus a former English teacher…darrel

Some thoughts about The Walking Dead:

While I’m frustrated by it, nevertheless I respect it because it’s the ONLY popular “place” in North America that’s well-positioned to take on (though usually just indirectly) thorny philosophic, theological and political subjects.

I’m talking here about subjects like :

1) just war theory ;

2) vigilantism and rugged individualism (the concealed-carry personal “arms race”);

3) what does it mean to be human? (Survival and self-interest at all costs, or cooperation/culture/rule-of-law);

4) are we more “animal” than we’d like to admit;

5) do we prefer strong leaders, or kind/careful leaders,

6) what is just punishment?, and is true rehabilitation (change of one’s character) even possible?

7) sexual and relational ethics, i.e. what’s love (or lust, or power) got to do with all the above (romantic love, familial, friendship, self-respect etc)…

Basically, the “what would YOU do?” questions arise naturally, because it’s sort of a modern Creation parable: how would we rebuild human civilization if it all fell apart?

Star Trek (especially Next Gen) used to do that. So did Law and Order’s “ripped from the headlines” courtroom scenes. But the gore factor with TWD is what presents problems for many people. TV special effects people –and bloodlusty regular Joes/Janes –like creating/seeing new ways to kill/die. I don’t. But I take the bad with the good.

Saving Private Ryan, Alien and other good material is almost as bloody, but slightly restrained by comparison. Meanwhile horror movies (and comics, which is what TWD started out as) took off their “good taste” training wheels way back in the Sixties.

So don’t hate TWD for being good at what they do: retelling Frankenstein and Genesis and Shakespeare and The Godfather in high style, and otherwise scaring the s#%t out of its audience. Yes it’s manipulative, …but Dickens wrote scary cliffhangers like Great Expectations and published them serially over 200 years ago. And Oedipus gouged his own eyes out onstage long before that.

People like scary stories, and for better or worse they like them bloody. Cuz the REAL monsters– like corporate profiteers who rape the land, or aspiring political dictators, or some Saudi religious goon who DOES ACTUALLY cuts people’s heads off –those monsters are out of our reach, but they do still scare us. We need an outlet to deal with those fears.

TWD: It’s not an abusive relationship any more than Jerry Springer or the CBS News or neighborhood gossip. Everyone is fascinated by train wrecks, …it’s how you approach them (with reckless abandon or cautious skepticism) that makes it healthy or unhealthy.

When fake (and potentially real) stories about Killer Clowns and ISIS atrocities (and perhaps Navy Seal “atrocities”) are vying for our attention, a little fiction about zombies and marauding clans are simply how some people choose to cope. It isn’t the best strategy, but it does give a sense of power to the powerless, a sense of family/community to those who maybe have none (not unlike soap operas once did), and it offers something trivial to talk with strangers about when we can’t talk about our actual problems in this life.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | October 10, 2016

Office Pirate: “Go Cubs, …Take Down Chinatown!”




Jake Arrieta, playing angry in Game 3 of the NLDS. It’s going to be exciting.

Hopefully no one’s nose gets busted.



Posted by: Mark Nielsen | October 7, 2016

Office Pirates Bleed Cubby Blue


If ye has any doubts, I also read de blood spatter pattern on de ground after slayin’ de goat. Full confirmation o’ de Cubs’ good fortune –but de part about an apocalypse to follow (in November)????

…Dat be mighty confusin’ …

“Let’s get some runs!” -H.C.



The Office Pirate Revolution Primer. Volume 1.

If ye wants t’  joins me crew’, th’ above actions shall be yer initiation. Only dem what presents that there stolen mug or cake knife shall be allow’d  t’  board me personal and mos’ feared clipper ship, Th’ Paper Tiger.




The item above IS a call t’ arms!!! … ‘specially fer those who be wantin’ a message in keepin’ wit’ current events. “Th’ only way they’ll take away me dagger is by pryin’ it from me cold, dead hands…” (Hey! Anyone who wants ta put that motto on a bumper sticker t’ sell –an’ also gimme a thirty percent cut, o’course– jus’ send me a message an’ we’ll cuts us a deal today!)




If ye has an original thought when yer part of me crew, ye keeps it t’ yerself if ye knows what’s good fer ye. Chances are if ye shares it, I’ll be stealin’ it, ye scurvy knaves!



I doan’ wanna be hearin’ from ye animal rights activists, now. We pirates is okay witt bein’ held t’ a lower standard.

Besides, a dead pigeon beats a live parrot any day o’ th’ week. Who’s witt me on dis?



I’ll see ye across the bay to divvy up our booty. An’ if ye don’t know the password, it’ll be a mighty wide an’ bloody smile ye will go t’ yer grave witt.

Yer Ol’ Trustworthy Mate,

Cap’n Lilac Beard

Bridgetown, Port of Barbados





Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 12, 2016

My Father’s Tools – original poem by Mark Nielsen

My Father’s Tools      (9-12-16, by Mark Nielsen)



"Made in the USA." As if I didn't already know that...

“Made in U.S. of A.”   As if I didn’t already know that…


I need a phillips.

I keep one in Dad’s old toolbox

in my car trunk.

I go get it,

then still hold it briefly in my hands

after I’ve used it.


These objects define him, in a way–

and yet could not possibly do so entirely.

They merely stand in for him now,

which is all they ever did.

They say he was here.

He fixed things. He made things.

He changed things.


That light on the porch at our house?

He put that there–

using this pair of “Kleins” to cut the wire,

that Craftsman screwdriver to attach the wires,

that keyhole saw to cut a circle in the wallboard.

We don’t live there anymore,

but he left something behind there,

forever, …or till they tear it down.


I could buy a newer, sharper saw,

as some have suggested.

But why would I?

These tools have the spirit of old things

–and of eternity—

infused into them.


A wood-handled screwdriver?

Wood? Who does this anymore?!

It still has my father’s sweat and skin oil

embedded somewhere deep in the woodgrain,

just like I have something of him

somewhere deep within me,

especially at times like this.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 4, 2016 and the Decay of America

The non-virtual Amazon is under siege, while an Internet behemoth has its way with us.

I turned 51 a few weeks ago. In a way, I always wondered if I would actually make it this far. But I did. [High five!]  Thanks to all who have kept me safe and (relatively) sane over the years.  I’m feeling good, so I plan to stick around awhile longer –if you’ll have me. [Knock wood…]

Also, since by now I have earned the standard-issue “old fogie’s right of complaint”, let me get a few things off my chest about what is bugging me these days.

Firstly, despite what our shallow United States (or “developed world”) opinion-makers would have us believe, the world is not a marketplace, and I am more than the numbers on my weekly pay stub, or what I buy with that money. 

I’ve been discussing the whole question of what, why and how Americans buy stuff for decades now. I do it occasionally on the blog, and Facebook– but I ain’t got a big cadre of followers, so you may have missed those posts. Most recently (like the past six years), I’ve just privately traded stories with a few close friends or family, and presently pretty much just with my fiancé Susan. Nobody else seems to care about my amateur sociology and economic critique anyway, so I mostly don’t rant about consumerism and corporate hypocrisy as much as I used to.

However, the small incident last month that brought it up again was yet another errant purchase of a defective item from : a DVD Susan got me for my birthday. It was a sealed two-disc set of the remastered “Singin’ In the Rain”, plus all the bonus material. I opened the case a few days later, and there was only a bonus disc. No movie. 

That makes at least six problem products –out of about eight total purchases– which either went “bad” immediately or else had delivery problems. That’s in just the three years since she and I have been together. Not a good average for Amazon, right?

Mostly it has been shoddy (probably all Chinese) consumer electronics, manufactured by third-party companies: two small “hybrid”  laptops with detachable touchscreens (one by ASUS and one by Acer), one phablet style smart phone. Then there was a full-spectrum light therapy light that arrived damaged, a crafting desk/cabinet for which the third-party freight company screwed up a *scheduled* delivery, and now the DVD.

When Amazon started, books and DVDs were their bread and butter. (That was in 1994,  …yes, the Dark Ages as measured in Internet Time…)  Now they sell everything, while their Borders Books and Circuit City competitors are mostly bankrupt. But they get more than half of it wrong. The UPS Store guy confirmed yesterday (when we returned the DVD) that their biggest volume is from Amazon returns.  So apparently Amazon is big enough now that they need not care about quality anymore. They get the repeat business anyway, …or else make better money instead by selling us virtual products made up of 0’s and 1’s (streamed content, ebooks, and the like). 

There were once anti-trust laws that reduced this level of “monopoly/collusion” bullshit, but those laws have no teeth anymore. Same goes for consumer protection and Quality Assurance laws (if they ever did have an impact, which I doubt). So now, unless a product is literally killing people, manufacturers can cut corners all day long, knowing we will just buy a new one in a year when the present item breaks. 

When’s the last time you had a pair of shoes repaired professionally?

I’m not sure who to blame here. But I will think twice about buying from Amazon from now on, just as I started doing with Wal-mart a long time ago, over similar quality issues, plus their unfair labor practices. 

Susan and I may be just two Davids in the face of these Goliaths, but even a gnat can get the better of a clumsy, lazy lion almost every time, if we are to believe that old fable from Aesop.

But when it comes to governance, commerce and an ethic of fairness… Where is that Ancient Greek wisdom now, when we need it most? Who’s minding the world’s biggest store?

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | August 30, 2016

Hindsight Is Hell -a protest song

(Neil Young, in a simpler time…)

Below, my first attempt at a Dylanesque or Neil Young-ish modern protest song (chords to follow… maybe). Blurted onto the page in about 20 minutes.
_Hindsight Is Hell_ (working title)
The hippy honcho now takes his orders 

from the red-faced dwarf who closed the borders.

Seawater’s warm and the bees are dying,

But the green party fairies just waste their time crying…

While Sambo and Rambo both tapdance a tango

To the ratatat tunes of Mr. Bojangles.

I ain’t seen you, girl, since that night in the hills 

When we worked it all out (except who’d pay the bills).

And it’s 2020 and hindsight is hell.

The past few decades ain’t gone so well.

I still sing for my supper, and business is good.

But I cant go back to my old neighborhood.

I kept up the fight, though my sword is dull.

Seems I just can’t get nothing thru Jonesy’s thick skull.

But Smith and Wesson, they’re doing just fine,

Though it’s ’cause of them Jonesy’s back doing time

For being wheel man to some bank-Robbing Nazis.

Now They’re all in a prison that feeds inmates matzoh.

Time travel’s a bitch. We can never get home.

It’s all gone now, like the fall of Rome.

I saw you last week on your way to church,

On Sunset and Vine, in that tangerine hearse

With Ontario plates –there’s a sight for sore eyes–

Then I followed you in, which was far from wise,

‘Cause you made my ears bleed with your Caterwaul Choir.

You used to get high, now you try to get higher.

But you crashed on the rocks, then rolled out of that joint.

I was still in the pew, but I’d lost the point.

        Chorus x2


Home is where the heart is,

But home is where it’s hardest. [Repeat last two lines, x3 to end]

— —

inspired in part by Marc Maron’s podcast interviews with the black comedian Godfrey and with musician Neil Young

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | July 8, 2016

Joe The Racebaiter Walsh & His “Real America”

I’m sitting here in the so-called Heart of America, in central Illinois, and I can see the plaque on our arteries plain as day.

This is said in the wake of this week’s shootings of unarmed black men/boys by white police in Minnesota and Louisiana, and the seemingly retaliatory shootings of armed white (or all races?) police in Dallas last night.

Let me first add my voice of grief and frustration to the near-useless cacophony, to the shrill echo chamber, that Facebook especially has become. The public discourse is devolving quickly, especially in mass media during a presidential election year. I can do very little to counteract that trend. But I won’t stand silently by, either.

It should be obvious that :

1) all lives matter, especially to God 

2) black and brown lives are statistically more at risk (of violence, poverty, racism, starvation, imprisonment, addiction, ignorance, nationalism, illness, neglect…all the Love of Power’s wicked children). 

This is simply scientific. Look at mortality rates, CDC numbers, census stats, and firmly established history.

That black/brown/minority lives are more at risk of violence is also true not just in the U.S. but thoughout the world, which has been dominated by armed white Europeans and our progeny for going on, like, 5,000 years now. 

It does not make me a cop-hater to point out the obvious. Shootings by police or of police –regardless of race– are really about the legacy of power/fear dynamics in human civilization. All the rest is just context, or irrelevant noise.
But guns as a constitutional, ideological, criminal justice, media-debated and yes, racial hot potato: that’s unique to *America*.

We used to love all them ol’ Western Cowboy shoot-em-ups, dint we, Vern? So in my view, we’ve been trying to work out the whole pros/cons gun violence and law-and-order thing since well before the Civil War, if not since the American Revolution itself. 

We (especially whites looking to preserve the status quo) are conditioned to react fearfully with violence, and skin color is simply the easiest way to define the “other” whom we have been subtly or overtly coached to fear.

So… How are we doing in this crucial dialogue, lawmaking, and enforcement? Not so well, I’m afraid –since it seems to be getting worse here, especially for black and brown people. By the way, all our military actions overseas nowadays are against various Brown Others, too. 

Speaking of war, blowhard former congressman and sometime radio pundit Joe Walsh declared a race war just last night. So all the above is also said in the wake of blustering and ridiculous tweets by former IL congressman Joe Walsh. For the details on that story, the Washington Post has done the legwork for us here.

For those who don’t click thru, Walsh’s most incendiary tweet went like this, just before midnight, a tweet which he has since taken down:

  “This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.”

I think Philando Castile’s life mattered. Does that make me a punk? You coming after me, Joe? But I’m white. And I don’t have a gun, in fact I’m a true pacifist–wouldn’t use one even to defend myself (though I might hunt with a gun if I had to, or felt like it).

You going after President Barry, Joe? But he’s half white –and the other half is really Kenyan, not what the majority thinks of as “black” when discussing U.S. racial politics. 

You going after “punks” (in the musical/rebellious sense of the word)? Most of them were/are white, and a good number are even conservative like you. Well, maybe not asses like you, just working class whites unhappy with the socio-political system that you represent. I’m that kind of punk.

Most importantly, who/what is this Real America of which you speak? I want to be able to see them coming.

This war of words is getting bloodier by the hour. But I don’t even know what side I’m on, when all the shootin’ starts. Can you help me out, Joe? 

Where IS this mythical Real America anyway? Because I’m sitting right here in the middle of the Corn Belt, with decent, hardworking, seasonal Latino factory workers sitting right over in the next room, but I can’t find YOUR America around here to save my life, Joe. Here, they are the majority, I am the minority, …and I am not one bit scared of them.

Your Illinois is not mine, and it’s certainly not that of those blacks, Latinos, Muslims and “others” with whom I stand in solidarity (even if I DO have to compete with them for a job now and then).

I also can’t find those racist tweets you took back down from your Twitter, either. Don’t you stand behind what you’ve said anymore? What kind of weak-ass warrior and propagandist are you? 

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | July 8, 2016

White Owl (a song by Josh Garrels)

Read the lyric, stream the track –>
“White Owl”
by Josh Garrels:
White Owl 

When the night comes, 
and you don’t know which way to go 

Through the shadowlands, 

and forgotten paths, 

you will find a road 
Like an owl you must fly by moonlight with an open eye, 

And use your instinct as a guide, to navigate the ways that lays before you, 

You were born to, take the greatest flight 
Like a serpent and a dove, you will have wisdom born of love 

To carry visions from above into the places no man dares to follow 

Every hollow in the dark of night 

Waiting for the light 

Take the flame tonight 
Child the time has come for you to go 

You will never be alone 

Every dream that you have been shown 

Will be like living stone 

Building you into a home 

A shelter from the storm 
Like a messenger of peace, the beauty waits be released 

Upon the sacred path you keep, leading deeper into the unveiling 

As your sailing, across the great divide 
Like a wolf at midnight howls, you use your voice in darkest hours 

To break the silence and the power, holding back the others from their glory 

Every story will be written soon 

The blood is on the moon 

Morning will come soon 
Child the time has come for you to go 

You will never be alone 

Every dream that you have been shown 

Will be like living stone 

Building you into a home 

A shelter from the storm  

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | June 21, 2016

“What I Did at Work Today”, by The Terminator

I stopped a sad, circling-the-drain drunk/high young man who got fired yesterday (and had the EMTs called) from trying to re enter his former workplace. I treated him with dignity, he appeared to be unaware he was fired, but he left quietly.  
I often wish life was less interesting than it is.
But as long as he doesn’t come back armed, I’ll be okay.

Will he be okay? Not without the Higher Power he won’t.


It’s a temp assignment for me anyway. I may even apply for this poor kid’s job (a better fit for my skills and my nature than security work will ever be).
Last week, the drama was a heroin withdrawal patient and other lost souls (not all, but too many) coming in at a hospital ER in Peoria.

When I’m tempted to think I’m in a bad place, for awhile to come, now I’ll probably remember the man I sent packing today, and his long walk home back across the parking lot (he had no car).

As a friend of mine once said, the Good News makes a lot more sense when we see and admit the bad news is often pretty bad.


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