Posted by: Mark Nielsen | February 7, 2016

World Economic Forum On Income Disparity (aka WEF:wtf?) 

Warren Zevon – Economics 101 (click for a great live Letterman performance of Lawyers, Guns and Money)

I’m the innocent bystander/ Somehow I got stuck/ Between the rock and a hard place/ And I’m down on my luck” –Warren Zevon (Lawyers, Guns and Money)

The World Economic Forum happened in January 2016, but chances are (if you’re anything like me), election coverage ad nauseum –plus attending your kid’s chorus concert — prevented you from finding out what the next 8-80 years will actually look like if the world’s so-called leaders have their way.

So thanks, Huffington Post, for some decent coverage that I only now am discovering. Below you will find excerpts from one of the better articles, interrupted by my highly biased and probably under-informed (and parenthetical) opinion about the implications of various content in that article:

How Widening Economic Inequality Could Shake The Whole World

By Jo Confino, Executive Editor, Impact & Innovation, The Huffington Post …on 1/20/2016

Experts say that rapid advances in technology are pulling the world in opposite directions and that the way that policy makers, businesses and civil society handle the extraordinary pace of change will determine the direction of human society.

On one side we are seeing that technology is creating greater transparency and stronger global networks. The recent unprecedented global agreement in Paris to seek to limit runaway climate change is also being hailed as an example of the ability of the world to act with one voice.

But on the other side of the equation, there are increasing numbers of people who feel disenfranchised and angry at the widening inequality between rich and poor, exemplified this week by Oxfam’s report

<; that the richest 62 people are as wealthy as half the world’s population

“Those people being left out have no interest in the ongoing march of globalization, and we are likely to experience a bumpy ride in the years to come,” Lacy added. “How we manage the next 10 years will determine whether we see a greater pace of fragmentation or the ongoing benefits of globalization.”

Business leaders across the globe also worry that the world is once again in danger of fragmenting.

A new survey <;

of 1,400 CEOs from 83 countries by professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers showed that three-quarters expect increasing regionalization in trade, 83 percent predict differing fundamental belief systems underpinning societies, 59 percent expect multiple economic models and 81 percent see increasingly divergent systems of laws and liberties.

(We may have fewer dictators than ever, but what about the destructive and presumptuous IDEOLOGIES that they wield? [Including the implicit assumption that capitalism is ONLY good and capitalists will always play fair.] Those ideologies, plus the increased destructive/disruptive power that trickles down to disgruntled and weapon-supplied pawns and foot soldiers in the developing world, are enough to keep us bogged down, possibly forever. Furthermore, what are the unforeseen consequences of these “culture wars” that CEOs don’t want us to know about, or don’t know about themselves? For example, what’s the relationship between the war in Afghanistan [where illegal poppy plants are practically the only global asset they have, over 52% of the GDP] and the record-breaking increase in heroin abuse throughout the West since the “Taliban” war began?)

PwC says that the complexity faced by business leaders “isn’t just being shaped by economic and geopolitical trends. We believe there is a more fundamental shift taking place, namely from a globalizing world to one with many dimensions of power, growth and threats — a transition that we call multi-polar.”

(I call it chaos, just barely contained, and contained only by a lack of access to real power for the poor majority. What happens when they decide that neither the West’s nor China’s nor the average Muslim thug’s version of “law and order” has worked out for them? If their standard of living is still literally medieval in its severity, and they’re still locked out of the process for achieving the prosperity promised by all this so-called modernization, then why wouldn’t they be interested in tearing it down?)

…Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, also says that we live in a time of great promise and great peril.

The WEF, writing about Schwab’s new book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, points out


that “[t]he world has the potential to connect billions more people to digital networks, dramatically improve the efficiency of organizations and even manage assets in ways that can help regenerate the natural environment, potentially undoing the damage of previous industrial revolutions.”
(???!!! Really? And how is that “undoing” going to happen? Just because you want it to happen and believe with a religious fervor that technology can solve every problem? Science is science, and yet human error/bad public policy/corruption is something else entirely. Meanwhile, we’ve passed the tipping point on climate change. Doubling down on technology as an “asset” won’t clear the already ruined air. Plus, if your CEO survey from this same World Economic Forum says that the #1 concern of company leaders is OVER-REGULATION [presumably including EPA-style limits on such anathema as fracking], then giving them the keys to Dad’s swiftly disintegrating Planetary SUV will only wreck the planet quicker.)

“However, Schwab also has grave concerns,” the WEF goes on to write, “that organizations might be unable to adapt; governments could fail to employ and regulate new technologies to capture their benefits; shifting power will create important new security concerns; inequality may grow; and societies fragment.”

(OK. So you can at least be honest about the potential roadblocks to universal economic development. Good. Now where’s that same honesty when it comes to admitting that your kind of development has historically been at the expense of the poor, and of the planet, and that the whole capitalist/competitive system is designed to perpetuate that disparity and inequality? When will people stop equating capitalism [economic “freedom”] and democracy [political freedom] ? When my powerless self-interest (in equality) is competing with the powerful elite’s interest in national security, or an imbalanced tax policy, or cheap international labor, then whose agenda will triumph? When Mexican heroin production is up 600% in the past 10 years, and drug lords rule the provinces, why don’t we talk about illegal Mexican immigrants as “refugees” in the same way we talk about refugees from non-democratic nations or Islamist regimes?)


Any thoughts, dear ones? I for one am just disillusioned… If not terrified.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | February 4, 2016

Paczki is Polish for Paradise

            Can you say Sugar Rush?

I put this out on Instagram today:

“In #Poland, #pączki are eaten esp. on Fat Thursday (Tłusty Czwartek), the last Thursday prior to Ash Wednesday/Lent.” -promotional gift/food swag… delivered by a local bakery to the #cbsradio stations at #prudentialplaza while I worked Thurs morning. First I got to play the #DonutFairy, and then these extra #donuts were for my security staff. #niceworkifyoucangetit ”

More from Wiki in the Wonders of Whoa-nuts made by Poles:

“The common English pronunciation /ˈpɔːntʃki/[6] (pawnch-ki) imitates the Polish phonology,”

“…pączki are made from especially rich dough containing eggs, fats, sugar, yeast and sometimes milk. They feature a variety of fruit and creme fillings and can be glazed, or covered with granulated or powdered sugar. Powidl (stewed plum jam) and wild rose hip jam are traditional fillings, but many others are used as well, including strawberry, Bavarian cream, blueberry, custard, raspberry, and apple.”

“Pączki are usually covered with powdered sugar, icing or bits of dried orange zest. A small amount of grain alcohol (traditionally, Spiritus) is added to the dough before cooking; as it evaporates, it prevents the absorption of oil deep into the dough.”

The Spiritus is willing… But the flesh is weak! Mine was utterly bursting with awesome raspberry filling. Here, gimme another one of those before the next shift arrives. I’ll skip lunch. 

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | January 31, 2016

Not an Impostor, Just an Imp

MN Sen. Al Franken as America’s Chief Executive Affirmation-Giver, Stuart Smalley


This thing– this feeling that “I’m an impostor, and everyone will find out any moment now.” –is true for so many people in all walks of life. 


Dana Carvey as the Master of Disguise… in this case, Turtle Man

 In my younger days, I used fancy psychobabble terms like “performance orientation” to explain why I’m *worthy* not because of what I DO (or have done in the past), but just by being the loved, lovable, loving, *blessed* and still-growing person that I AM. I still feel that way (most days, anyway), but I’ve mostly left the psychobabble behind. Now I simplify: “I’m important. I belong. Most importantly, I don’t need to prove it to anyone.” 
Blogger/novelist John Scalzi’s take on this below resonates for me, as an aspiring writer and former “prodigy” who STILL has not arrived at that “I’m a writer” place (as a career outcome) even by age 50. I may yet get there. I might not. The point is I don’t HAVE to be that — or do that– for my life to mean something. 
But for anyone who feels that deep insecurity of feeling like an impostor, just because you’re imperfect and human, don’t be deceived. You’re the Real Deal when it comes to being you. You don’t have to earn a doggone thing. Like that restaurant slogan says: “When you’re here, you’re family.” Furthermore, ol’ Senator Stuart Al Franken​Smalley was not wrong when he reminded us way back when that “You’re good enough; you’re smart enough; and gosh darn it, people like you.”

Impostor Syndrome, or Not

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | January 29, 2016

Parker Palmer (and me), on the lessons of depression


  1. Palmer on Power vs. Powerlessness (short YouTube)
  2. Educator and Quaker spirituality author Parker Palmer, on the “small fruits” of his period of clinical depression:

I could not think my way out of this. My intellect was useless. My ego was shattered. My emotions were dead. Depression is not “feeling sad”. Depression is being unable to feel anything. And my will was so miniscule as to hardly be noticeable. But way back in the thickets of my life, I could feel a little strirring like a wild animal, that little spark that made me think ‘I can make it one more day. I won’t kill myself today.’ …What came to me as I emerged from my depression is that The Soul is like a wild animal in two respects: 1) It’s very resourceful, it’s very savvy.It’s very sinewy and strong. It knows how to survive in places where there is very little to eat. and 2) But at the same time, like a wild animal, it’s very shy. And we know that if we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is go crashing into the woods shouting for it to come out. And yet a lot of our institutional life is like ‘Put it on the table, folks. Cross-examine it. Share or die.’ So the safe space is where the wild animal can put in an appearance.”

I have never quite had clinical depression of the crippling variety that Parker discusses above. But it has clearly hampered me my entire adult life, both with and without drugs or therapies. 

There is no magic bullet. But community, and family, and people (often my community of faith) who listen, further creating that safe space, … those do more than any doctor or self-justifying, ego-based sense of purpose ever could. People, often equally broken in their own way, hopefully but not necessarily empowered by God to grant mercy and consistent love– they are the way forward. 

I don’t do it alone because I don’t think we are meant to, despite my shy, slow to heal soul. We’re not built to go it alone. But on the other hand, I don’t automatically mistake the cacophony or “conventional wisdom” of my social situation for “community”. Community is something quieter and more delicate. We don’t make it… We make room for it. And occasionally we facilitate or recognize it when it’s there.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | January 28, 2016

Psalm 23.481 (orig. poem by Mark Nielsen)


So far they fly, on such thin wings…


Psalm 23.481

You are my barking Hound of Heaven,
Nipping at my heels.
You are my hiding place,
Which I run to,
And the Rock in my shoe
That slows me down on the way.
Yea, though I run through the valley of the Shadow,
I will fear no evil,
For Your bark is better than your bite.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | January 22, 2016

Miami Chad -a short short story

imageMiami Chad Read More…

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | January 15, 2016

Bowie’s cryptic Blackstar: What is the ‘villa of Ormen’?


In my ongoing quest to unlock the Secrets of the Universe, there’s a first line in the new Bowie song Blackstar that I’ve been looking into:

” In the villa of Ormen “…



See the re-blogged item above for another blogger’s suggestions that the word Ormen may refer to such varied ideas as a viking Christian crusader/king/killer (i.e. a profession or renunciation of faith, by one king or the other), or else a serpent, a maggot, and/or a region of Norway.

Additionally, there’s an award-winning 1966 Swedish film called ” Ormen” (Serpent) that may portray a villa in it ( a film that Bowie perhaps has a stray memory of).

Lastly, spelling it as  “Orman” leads to another possible locale, in Turkey, that does in fact feature vacation rental villas near the sea (maybe a spot Bowie’s been to?)

This morning I posted the following at Facebook, with a link to the official music video:

There are no atheists in foxholes. Considering this song and video (prominently featuring three men on crosses, and other biblical imagery), plus his song and video for “Lazarus”, Bowie had Jesus on his mind when he was staring mortality in the face. And if I may, I’m sure God had and has Bowie (and us) on His/Her/Their mind as well. “Heroes”? I’ve had a lot of them over the years. David Bowie is definitely in the team picture. So let’s take his lead and listen to our bandleader, manager, venue owner, True Friend, etc…the one who called himself The Son of Man, …the One who’s always seeking us, and calling out the chord changes, who didn’t just compose the song but literally invented “sound and vision”.

We shouldn’t have to be dying to consider what it means to live with a greater purpose in our minds and hearts. Follow up on your hunger for significance, for a divine connection, for answers to the Big Questions. David had the guts to keep at it. (And I’m glad you “fell to earth”, brother. Many thanks, see you when I get there.)

Then looking into that vague reference led me as well to a study of David Bowie’s life, death, and symbology/mythology over the years (and especially on his final album). There’s sometimes been a whiff of the occult (people like Alistair Crowley) in his lyrics, and in interviews, since the early 7Os. But this shape-shifting writer/performer may have just been “playing a part”, using such ideas for their thought-provoking power or public shock value, while not actually subscribing to them in full.

Over the years we see also Christian symbols (on this album alone: Lazarus,  “prodigal son”, “virgin”, “atonement”, “Great I Am”), Jewish Kabbalah, modernist philosophers and painters, and all manner of other ideas, many rooted in the Romantic poets of the early 1800s, and/or early 20th century “mystics” like poet William Butler Yeats.

I’ve now also read through all the lyrics for the whole album (which can be found here) and Ormen seems one of only a few proper nouns he even used on this swan song project. Ever-evasive, he likely wanted it all left to a listener’s own subjective interpretation.

On the far end of the nutty spectrum, there are a few Illuminati/apocalypse-watchers who are calling the album prophetic, foretelling the coming of a mysterious Planet X, and a major shift in human existence during 2016. Since they said the same thing about 2012, I think we can relax about this one.

Star Man, wherever you’ve gone, thanks for blowing our minds while you walked among us.


Posted by: Mark Nielsen | January 1, 2016

Random Resolutions, Regrets and Reboots


I’m just going stream of consciousness here, people, with as little self-editing as possible, since after a crazy start at midnight it’s finally become a quiet night at work, and I feel this potent combo of silliness and existential angst bubbling up trying to express itself.

Dear Diary:

It’s New Year’s Day, and I’m looking back over the past year (or even the past 50 years, though that dam of denial seems to be holding back the nostalgia and regret pretty well today, with my finger stuck in the dike quite firmly).

2015 was year one of my engagement to Susan, year two of our relationship, year four in my cozy/dinky Chicago apartment, year five (though legally only year three) of being a divorced dad, year 29 of my struggle to figure out “what I want to be when I grow up”, and year 32 of my alternately leaping, staggering, dancing, crawling, limping, walking, but always remarkable journey in the Way of Jesus.

I’m looking for signposts along that Way today, but my vision feels blurred by fatigue, depression and busy-ness. I’m not lost, but I don’t feel especially “found” either.

So I keep searching. Or what is faith for, if not to give stamina and hope when certainty is in short supply? At the signpost I spotted last night, I listened to a favorite public radio program  –“On Being, With Krista Tippett”. The show always features some terrific, going-deep interview with a public figure on their life and work, and especially the spiritual roots of their life and ideas. Recent “On Being” broadcast/podcast offerings have featured L’Arche founder Jean Vanier, Quaker educator Parker Palmer, Buddhist contemplative Thich Nhat Hanh, Jesuit astrophysicists building a beautiful but tenuous bridge between faith and hard science, actor/activist Martin Sheen, and the late Irish Catholic poet John O’Donahue. But my hand-picked selection from the archives for this week was a show featuring the King and Queen of Banjo, Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn (who are married).

The radio show hit all the sweet spots for me: 1) art and/or music (with and without lyrics) as God’s spiritually hard-wired second language; 2) exploration and human connection (as opposed to ego) as the reasons for any creative endeavor (if not any endeavor, period); and 3) simple, loving relationships (like this musician couples’) as the foundation of all that is or ever could be right with the world.

But I’m sort of melancholy now after the show– since if I’m being honest, all is not right with the world… not on the Big Blue Marble, and not in my tiny little world either. Yes, I’m in love (which helps a lot), and I have lots of great things going on in my life, but I’m still disillusioned and tired of this waiting around for who knows what, so that when it “arrives” I can feel satisfied instead of feeling like a loser living in a dinky apartment and working a graveyard shift as a security guard while working on a half dozen creative projects that will never be completed (let alone published or distributed). I’m nowhere near as “actualized” as Bela or Abigail. And I’m sort burnt around my edges by now, much more tentative than I thought I would be at this age. If knowing who I am is to be self-actualized, then perhaps I’m not even as enlightened or actualized as Archie Bunker.

But then I swing the pendulum back toward optimism, and I get over my stupid American exceptionalism where I think I deserve a comfortable life, and I can say I’m doing just fine. So then the question is, when I have to make a choice (like changing jobs, my current hope for the next six months), is it right ENOUGH? Am I at least heading toward my intended destination? As the wise man once said: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” So with that in mind, detaching from a sick expectation of perfection, and valuing what (and whom) are good and viable and “close enough”, is a smart place to start for 2016.

Susan and Mark, our first photo together, New Year's Eve 2014

Susan and Mark, our first photo together, New Year’s Eve 2014

Since this week marks the second anniversary of when Susan and I first met, that #3 item above has been on my mind a lot lately anyway. Without getting into too many personal details, we’re at a sort of crossroads together. And while that sense of possibility for us is usually exciting, sometimes it has us scared shirtless, as if the crossroads we’re at is the corner of Sesame Street and Mad Max’s Fury Road. With an eighth of a tank of gas.

Suddenly the image of Clint Eastwood comes to mind, in Every Which Way But Loose, telling the best simian actor ever: “Right turn, Clyde.” So… I’m gonna stay wide, well out of range of that orangutan’s right cross, and go ‘head and make that right turn, see where it takes me. It beats standing still.

Love, re-marriage and career reboots at age 50 (for both Susan and I, not to mention a total transplant to a giant, road-raging new city for Susan) will be nothing like the easy, unencumbered, optimistic, energized way that we took on these challenges in our twenties. Yes, St. Paul said that love casts out fear, and it’s true. What he didn‘t say, however, is that it may take decades for that love to marinate and sink down into the deep tissue of my soul, where that fear lives and hides and does not WANT to just dissolve without a fight. It’s only the rare person who gets one of those big epiphanies that eliminates all fear and self-doubt. For the rest of us, it’s the old “fear and trembling”, until we master the art of love (of both ourselves and of others).

None of that above came out as clear, honest or brave as I had hoped it would be. But vague yet hopeful, indecisive yet prayerful, worried yet persevering is all I can manage these days.

My one resolution for this year is pretty simple: to better plan my vacations and overall leisure time off work– in order to enjoy my loved ones while I can, maximize resources, and reduce stress and confusion (especially for others) about what the plan actually is. And the plans may still not turn out as we had hoped, but at least we won’t have as much blind last-minute grasping,  and missed opportunities, which we still have far too often with “half-assed” as my default setting for future goals and reasonable timelines.

If you see me along the way this year, flag me down and let me know if I’m still on-course. I’ve had enough detours in this life. If I ever get to where I want to be, where I feel I belong, hopefully some of you will be right alongside me.


Posted by: Mark Nielsen | December 19, 2015

God’s Own Morse Code (orig. poem by Mark Nielsen)

The pilleated woodpecker in winter.


God’s Own Morse Code (The Truth Draws Close) – 4-17-14


I listened, and I watched,

and the pilleated woodpecker set me straight:

“Do not be deceived.

For there are those to whom the truth draws close,

and yet understanding is not quite achieved.”

In God’s own Morse code she tapped it out.

She was seeking only a bug for breakfast,

and yet in her eating she fed me:

“There are beautiful lies in the universe–

or at the very least lies wrapped in beautiful clothing,

made by us, or by our enemy

slyly hiding in the brush.

He waits and waits,

and soon, most creatures take the bait.”

And I began to let go of some of my own lies–

the ones my childlike monkey mind made up,

or others that my brothers told me, or sold me,

which even now they still think are true.

Lies are our inheritance,

just as much as truth.

Except one binds us while the other sets us free.

The one leads to life,

while the other eats and is eaten,

and thus when we believe it we are beaten.

“They had completed a human being’s first duty: which is to think about himself until he has exhausted the subject. Then he is in a condition to take up minor interests and think of other people. This changes the complexion of his spirit, generally wholesomely.” -Mark Twain, “Was It Heaven or Hell?”

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | December 17, 2015

Star Wars: The Celtic Monks Awaken

The Skellig Michael monastery’s “beehive” style prayer cells, as featured in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”.


While reading a article about Star Wars: The Force Awakens last night, I came upon a small reference to Skellig Michael, a rugged island in Ireland featuring a 7th century Christian monastery:

Beyond that, the very ending — more like a coda, really, which was filmed on the extraordinary Skellig Michael off the western coast of Ireland — is wonderful and sets things up perfectly for the next installment.

On the basis of that one word, “extraordinary”, I did a search for photos of Skellig Michael, and I predict that –for better or worse– the wild popularity of this renewed Star Wars franchise will result in a major (if perhaps short-lived) renewal of interest in Christian monasticism and Celtic mysticism. Not to mention a big tourism boost for County Kerry (the closest mainland area) and for the visually stunning monastery site featured in Episodes VII and VIII of the famed movie franchise.

The stairs at Skellig Michael monastery, off the western coast of Ireland.

A quick review of Skellig Michael’s write-up at Wikipedia reveals some facts and/or guesses as to the history of the site and its former inhabitants. But aside from the site’s historic significance, I especially hope that the sculpted-by-God look of the island’s geography– along with the beauty of those unique dry-built corbel arch “beehive” cells at the monastery– will capture the imagination of various cultures worldwide.

Why would people care again about a place so remote and ancient? Why compare the mystical Celtic Christian tradition that it represents to the pseudo-religious fictional order know to us as the Jedi? Why even bother with the various groupings of a scant 6-12 monks, who scraped out a living and held the world in prayer there for upwards of 500 years? Because I believe we in the West have been soaked with so much technology, crass commercialism and modernity that we crave more than ever the rough beauty to be experienced and the godly contemplation possible at sites like this.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia. 11th century Hindu temple, later used by Buddhists and even as a fortress.

Whether it’s Angkor Wat in the jungles of Cambodia (where a major new archaeological discovery was announced just five days ago), or at desert sites where Pueblo Native Americans lived in Colorado’s cliff-carved caves, or at Skellig Michael, these type of sites –which the Celts called spiritual “thin places” where God seems closer– remind us of the earliest days of mankind’s civilization, where humanity’s God consciousness, creativity and sense of awe was first emerging.

Pueblo cave dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, U.S.A.

It makes sense that Star Wars would arrive here. We live in an overly mediated and processed, inorganic age –not to mention the sheer volume of everyday images and sounds that drown out the “still, small voice of God” — where these unsatisfying factors drive us out into the wilderness like moths to a flame. When we attend to the fierce beauty found there, we sense that it was in those days, at these sites, that we were still “close to the land” and thus potentially closer to a wild, majestic but seemingly skittish God who often hides out on the very edge of our sensory experience. Or what else is faith for? — if not to discover little by little over a lifetime He who is unknowable in all His aspects, yet nevertheless present and holy in all that surrounds us. The challenge and the blessing of contemplation, meditation and the mystical tradition is to create sacred spaces –both deep within ourselves and in out-of-the-way places out in the world. We always come back around eventually to seeking the spaces which can ground us and connect us to the divine… that is, if we know how to pay attention.

As for the movie: for all its grandeur and its monumental budget, it still cannot match the symbolically powerful example of devotion and discipline that 500 years of rain-drenched and wave-battered communal living at Skellig Michael represents. Nevertheless, I commend J.J Abrams and the other filmmakers for recognizing and publicizing this symbolic location, and thus I will forgive their attempt to ride on the coattails of the Cosmic Christ in their own classic good vs. evil blockbuster parable. I only hope that the increased tourism at Skellig Michael won’t ultimately spoil the place.

Any other predictions? No, don’t worry. I won’t do the movie spoiler thing. (Not that I could… the secrecy surrounding Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been legendary.) Let’s just pray that enough people don’t entirely miss the point: that God is not in some galaxy far far away, but is always close at hand, neither entirely secret nor ever fully known.


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