Posted by: Mark Nielsen | November 8, 2016

Citizen Cub – On Baseball, Politics and American Values

Kris Bryant, after making the last put-out of the World Series. He smiled from the moment the ball was hit to him.

Kris Bryant, after making the last put-out of the World Series. He smiled from the moment the ball was hit to him.


Cubs win.

Everyone wants to feel like a winner in this life. Even by association. So yes, this is big.

Cubs win. The Chicago Cubs are World Series Champions.

Say it again. And again tomorrow. The Chicago Cubs are World Series Champions!

(I am putting this out there for the record… inscribed here proudly as a permanent, non-Facebookian personal place-holder… on Election Day in the USA… at 9:25am… in case somebody –maybe one of my descendants– is reading this in a post-apocalyptic, nightmarish future world and wondering just when things started getting REALLY weird. Or in case I get Alzheimer’s disease and forget.)

This did not happen in some alternate universe –as I suspected last Thursday morning when I woke up– but in our universe.

All the dark mythology –including goats and black Santo cats and September slides and Miracle Mets and Broglio/Brock trades and Bartman boners and Baker’s b.s. and Durham’s 1984 error and Garvey the Goon’s  gutting (a walk-off homer to win the NLCS,  in that same game in ’84) and all the rest– ALL of that can now take a back seat to a lighter, finally “freed up” New Reality.

Cubs win.

In answer to all the decades of the weirdest “blame game” in all of sports, THIS is the Cubs’ rebuttal –and dang, is it SATISFYING! Second City is finally first. All former scapegoats can now be released, all superstitions put in the trash where they belong.

But this –what you’re reading now– is not just a fanboy shout-out. Yes, it’s about the Cubs, but hopefully a whole lot more.

For me, it’s about History– the “story” of it as we all live it each day (and now a bit more joyfully). Human history occasionally has a decent pay-off and a “happy ending”. A noble struggle is worth it, in this case at least.

If you ever wondered why documentarian Ken Burns once spent ten episodes looking at America through the webbing of a baseball glove (more than for The Civil War, or WWII, or Jazz, or any of his other subjects, I think), it’s because of moments like this. [By the way, next up for Burns: Vietnam, in Sept. 2017. Brace yourself. ] The history of baseball is the history of modern America in a nutshell, if not modern life in the West overall. Race and class and unions and government and broadcasting and advertising and alcohol and drugs and sex and spectacle and heartbreak and entertainment and poverty and wealth and controversy and fear and hope. It’s all there. George W. Bush was once a part owner of the Texas Rangers… what more proof do we need that MLB still matters?

So this victory should feel slightly gratifying not only to my hometown, but hopefully it can buoy the spirits of the entire nation. It’s a whole lot of NICE, in a nasty election year that has left us all feeling more battered, bruised and disillusioned than ever before. [Full disclosure, I’m a Democrat, even verging on socialist, but all bets are off when things get as desperate as they feel in the whole world right now… we’re falling apart, not coming together.]

= == ! == =

The individual player stories here are phenomenal, first of all. The stuff of Hollywood movies:

  • Kyle Schwarber missed the entire season due to injury, then came back to make an impact in the WS, both emotionally and with his bat.
  • Anthony Rizzo, who was drafted by Theo Epstein’s Boston team while still in his teens, who beat Hodgkins lymphoma in 2008, and who met fellow cancer survivor and current teammate John Lester at that time, …before he was even in the major leagues. Rizzo is the spiritual leader of this team, at the ripe old age of …27!
  • Series MVP Ben Zobrist, a local guy from Eureka, IL –who was under the radar with scouts and experts all his life, who considered going to seminary instead – and who has just appeared in his third World Series… and won his second. Always in the right place at the right time, that guy. Let’s keep him around.
  • Jason Heyward, who struggled all season himself, yet he was the one veteran with enough selflessness, respect among his peers, and presence of mind to use the short 17-minute fluke rain delay to call a players’ meeting and get them to regroup. Then they came out of that break with a roar. Heyward deserves some credit for showing leadership and persistence when it counted. He’s under contract for several more seasons, and whether he makes a comeback or not, just that speech (and his great defense and baserunning in the Series) is worth all that money the Cubs paid him. That he’s African American, in the era of #BlackLivesMatter– this is relevant as well. On October 25, 2016, Heyward, along with teammates Addison Russell, Dexter Fowler, and Carl Edwards, Jr. became the first African-Americans to play for the Cubs in a World Series game.
  • Kris Bryant… well, we all know a bit about him.
    The moment Bryant--and everyone else-- finally knew things are never as dark as they seem.

    The moment Bryant–and everyone else– finally knew things are never as dark as they seem.

    The play here – a shot taken just before that top photo — tells us plenty about Bryant. Probably the next Ted Williams, that kid. But even Ted never won The Big One. On the other hand, if Bryant becomes the next Barry Bonds (Oh God, I hope not!), we will still have this.

  • The starters: like a Murderers Row of fierce competitors… Lester, Hendricks, Arrieta, Lackey, …and Jason Hammel, who didn’t even play in the World Series (and became a free agent right afterward), but was better than most teams’ #2 or 3 starters during the season.
  • Not to neglect all the less-discussed rookies and second-year guys, either (who are only slightly overshadowed by Schwarber and Bryant). Willson Contreras, Javier Baez, Addison Russell and pitchers Carl Edwards, Jr. and Mike Montgomery are leading the pack. And more to come. The future of the Cub youth movement and minor league development system bodes very well.

= == ! == =

I hope I’m not sounding overblown in suggesting this particular World Series wasn’t just business as usual. This is news. Hard news. Good news.

There is no ISIS, no al Qaeda , no Taliban, no Iran, no Axis of Evil, no Russia, no neo-Nazis or alt-right misogynists, no embassy attack or bankrupt casino, not even a wealthy, cheating Yankee team crassly buying their championship — there is nothing to be spoken bitterly of here, except by the envious, or by natually bitter and overly smug fans of other teams (hello, St. Louis, you listening?).

This is a triumph of training, athleticism, planning, creativity, flexibility, kindness, effective teamwork, and common sense. Finally. It was not perfect. It didn’t have to be. It was simply GOOD ENOUGH.

For millions– even for non-Cub fans who care very little about baseball—THIS YEAR things seemed to work out the way they are supposed to work out, for once. Planning, pain, talent and money go in, and then out comes victory and profit and restored hope at the end of it all. And a little more dignity than before, dignity to be shared and multiplied for everybody, even shared with people who didn’t pay a nickel to see a game, nor experience the decades of agony that their forefathers (and mothers) felt in the first place.

Furthermore, that victory (with dignity, honor and decency) means we don’t HAVE to sell our souls just to win. Not a baseball game. The same is true with a successful marketing campaign, a presidential campaign, or even a war. Those who sell out their fellow man do it because they want to, not because they have no choice. We don’t have to hate. Or rub it in. None of that, either.

Play hard, play fair, no one gets hurt… just like the slogan says. (Dang corporations sometimes stumble on good ideas despite themselves…) Maybe it stings for the Cleveland Indians and their fans, but we all know they’re tough. They’re also Browns’ fans, scraping together a lving in a post-industrial city that once boasted a river actually catching fire. And their team will get its turn, soon enough. Meanwhile, as a city, Cleveland has much bigger problems, causing more real pain, than the wins or losses of any sports team can solve. The Cavs won their first last year, but nothing much changed after that for regular folks in Cleveland, did it? It never does, and it won’t change much for down-on-their-luck Cubs fans, either. But at least we had our day.

Yes, personally I’m down-on-my-luck these days, too. At least in terms of career. But I sincerely believe I’ll be back somewhere in the middle, winning a few small victories of my own, soon enough. I never stopped hoping… not in the Cubs, not in grace (no, not Mark Grace, silly), not in myself, not in the people I personally love and can count on, and not in a benevolent nation, either… no matter who is elected the so-called “Leader of the Free World”.

It has already begun, in fact. Dread is trying to win out, but Hope always survives. We are a civilized nation, in a world that has moved well beyond the Stone Age. The Big Picture is still being painted. So this is my Walt Whitman-esque “prodigious yawp”.

I win.

I’ve lost some battles, and will likely lose some more. I probably started some battles I never even needed to start. So what. Moving on. I’ll buy my enemies a hot dog at a baseball game next year, no matter what their nationality, political party, or what they ever did to me personally in the past.

Beyond baseball, nowadays we have many more scapegoats in America (and the Middle East, and pretty much everywhere) than we do meaningful ways to choose unity again. We’ve given in to our worst, most immature instincts. We’ve tolerated or indulged in a whole lot of nasty, and it’s been toxic. We are extremely disillusioned in most areas of public life, and it’s our own fault. Optimism, which was an American hallmark for hundreds of years, has been on life support since the early days of the Culture Wars (which ramped up just as the Cold War was supposedly winding down). We have let our perceived enemies –enemies within and without– define us, …while the planet crumbles under our feet.

Since we needed a life-preserver this badly, therefore yes, one ballgame IS rather important and helpful –at least for me and millions of others. Not even a majority in America. I’m not that naïve. Nevertheless, this is enough of a sample size that one sporting event matters a great deal (the 5-million-strong Cub rally in Chicago Friday was the #1 biggest single gathering of humans in the U.S., ever!… and 7th all-time on the worldwide list).

It’s helpful to keep believing in something bigger than myself. There’s God –who I do recommend, being Christian myself, …but of course you can take Him/Her/Etc, or leave Them, it’s your choice, this is a democracy after all. That’s the fallacy which conservative Christians and Muslims have bought into, that a theocracy is even possible, let alone a good idea.

Or you can go a bit smaller, and more concretely. Do you still believe in Love? Or in democracy, or  American business (getting hard, I know…), or improved race relations, the youth of tomorrow (I do, if this classy young Cub team is any indication), or authentic compassionate conservatism (as represented by the Cubs’ Republican owners), and/or the power of a community unified by a common cause– even if the estranged and legitimately angry community members agree to peacefully disagree on some of the particular Culture War battleground territories and borders.

I still believe in all of that. Mostly. Enough to get theough the day, anyway. My damaged, flailing faith is slightly restored by this World Series –faith in humanity, in sport, in America, even in God.

And although I know people will quibble with me on whether God should even be mentioned, or cares about the winner of any game… I don’t care what those cynics think anyway: what God does care about is hope, and suffering, and community, and cooperation, and compassion, and generosity, and gratitude. The Cubs represent all that very well. So much fan and citizen faith has been given a huge dose of good, clean, necessary medicine by this team.

Redemption happened, or at least it has begun.

Game 7 of the 2016 World Series was also the most watched single baseball game in the past 25 years. The public has voted: this is big. The NFL may have eclipsed MLB in popularity and profit, Super Sunday will likely continue to be the biggest dog-and-pony show, but MLB is not down and out just yet. A great American institution lives on.

= == ! == =

Former Cub manager Leo Durocher was finally proven wrong:

Nice guys don’t always finish last.

It takes quirky players to play the games, though. Flawed human beings. Yet all the maddening but important “personal character” discussions about athletes (not to mention politicians, bankers, CEOs, national leaders, etc.) can now perhaps have a new high-minded tone to them, if we want to have that new tone. The good guys finally won a BIG one.

When, for example, the retiring Cub catcher David Ross can redeem himself from a costly error earlier in the game –and redeems old war horses everywhere– with a crucial homer in his final MLB game, then anyone who doesn’t recognize that as a universally good moment is just cold and heartless.

Americans discuss, every year, our fascination with overpaid train-wreck athletes who are personally dysfunctional, or spoiled, or cheaters (hello, I’m talking to you, Sammy Sosa, not to mention two of Fox TV network’s skeevy blowhard postgame commentators in this series: Alex Rodriguez and Pete Rose).

Yet with a couple of obvious exceptions (like Aroldis Chapman, see below), taken in aggregate, these 2016 Cubs are rife with character. They’re great citizens, apparently decent fair-minded employees, probably good dads and husbands, too. All of that is very meaningful to me. We tend to like our heroes humble, thoughtful and authentic here in the Midwest. We do not suffer fools, or at least not as much as they do on either of the pretentious coasts, or in the backwater towns where long-outdated thinking is still trying to drag too, too many of the next generation back down into some awful un-civilized swamp again.

[Or am I just kidding myself about Chicago being above such shallowness? Come to think of it, Mike Ditka became a caricature of himself eventually, and he still has plenty of fans in the region. And Michael Jordan was always known to be pretty jerky. Michael has lost some lustre, but no one has literally turned on him. So… do I contradict myself? Yes, I suppose so.]

Regarding character, I noted this year that reputed domestic abuser Aroldis Chapman (the mercenary Cub closer, and likely a “rented” free agent, soon to move on to another payday) had written onto his cap the initials of a coked-up and recently deceased former teammate, Jose Fernandez. Fernandez died a few months back, in a boating accident, while under the influence. A tribute by a friend? Ok. But neither guy will ever be celebrated for their moral fiber.

My more discerning (or cynical) attitude is this: the Cubs admittedly did  sell out by acquiring Chapman in the first place. It was a “business decision”. Oh well. Can’t win ’em all.

So, no surprise, some schmucks will still go on being schmucks, and even still get paid despite their personal bad behavior. But there don’t seem to be many such shady characters on this Cub team, and hopefully that reality will set a different standard for all teams everywhere, and for player behavior at every age. I hope they haven’t pulled the wool over my eyes. I want to believe these Cubs are actually decent.

Don’t let us down, guys. Don’t become primadonnas. Don’t let the swift-coming paydays deceive you: you still need to keep your eye on the ball, as human beings.

Don’t let the pleasure make you crack under pressure. 

= == ! == =

Speaking more positively, of character, the businessmen and women who built this team have a lot of character and wisdom, too. The Ricketts/Epstein business plan, and the Maddon Bro-gram, actually worked, from 2009 all the way up through today.

Their philosophy: Find and hire people who are good at their job, then get out of their way and let them do it. Right? Completely reasonable, yet such wisdom has been undervalued in baseball and in business for far too long. But not here, not anymore. This is a less dysfunctional organization than it used to be, and the arrow is pointing up, with good evidence that the Cubs’ internal culture has been updated and improved, forever. Despite all the bad past business decisions, bad on-field management decisions for decades; despite all the supposedly good young Cub prospect players that never panned out, even despite Maddon’s own weirdly uncharacteristic and risky choices in the last two games of the Series, THESE Cubs still got over the hump.

Plus when it came down to playing the actual games, the objectively best team won. That does not always happen in this life. Those other Cubs, in other years, were sometimes (though not often) also the statistically  best team– but they could not go all the way. That mysterious Something was missing. According to season record, statistics, most measurable evidence, the present Cubs should have had an easier time throughout this postseason. But, as they say: That’s why they play the games! Stats and strict science do not carry the day. Psychology, history, unpredictability and in-the-moment player and coach behavior are why sports are so exciting in the first place, even to those who never picked up a bat, threw a football or kicked a soccer goal in their lives.

= == ! == =

Cubs win.

Chicago Cubs are the World Series Champions. I will say it again, to keep convincing myself that the world is maybe, possibly, despite much evidence to the contrary, MAYBE getting BETTER instead of WORSE. I will say it again, on the eve of the most controversial political election of my lifetime.

The Chicago Cubs are World Series Champions.

Sure, other things matter more than baseball. But at least a whole lot of us have this World Series to hold onto, for decades to come. American life doesn’t HAVE to be as ridiculous as the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago again– or the 2000 debacle of an election, or the present campaign that ends on Tues. Nov 8, 2016 .

What the Cub win meant to me, in part, is this:


We have to. We humans, we can overcome our faults, our foes, our past failings (or of those with whom we are associated).

Despite this present team’s actual underwhelming performance, numerous times, throughout the playoffs, …Cubs win.

Despite being down 3-1 in the World Series, which made the staunchest fans doubt them, becuase we’d seen it all fall apart too many times before …Cubs win.

America’s last great Lovable Losers, finally, did not disappoint. Everest has been surmounted.

So instead of crowing, I’m simply grateful. 3333 words worth of grateful! (or so says my computer here… Thanks for staying, anyone who’s still with me…)

The heroes of my youth came through in the clutch. Just in time.

Yet I also think of friends who didn’t live to see this (including my recently departed best friend during adolescence, Chris, who I met playing little league). As I think of my father and my grandparents, at whose knee I learned to suffer over these same Cubs (and over jobs, and illness, and all the tiny dramas of everyday life), I am grateful for the Cub bond I shared with them, too.

Now let’s get back to work on the more important stuff of life, only now with a little spring in our step and a smile on our face.

Cubs win!

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | November 1, 2016

Roger Waters on The Dark, Dangerous Men Behind Locked Doors


Roger Waters, with brilliant conversationalist Marc Maron

The podcast in question:


Comedian/podcaster Mark Maron interviewed Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters on his one-of-a-kind “WTF?” podcast this fall, and as usual, both men were brilliant (and both “dark”–again as usual). Maron just posted the audio-only interview online on Halloween, the absolute best day to post some socio-politically scary stuff.

For any who know Waters’ philosophically dense work, you will not be surprised by the content of his comments: besides a few personally enlightening, hopeful and funny (if cryptic) anecdotes, most of Waters’ discussion featured an appropriately “scary” indictment of the horrors of post-modern life, how war is conducted, how governments have failed us around the world, and other dehumanizing social developments.

What got me stirred up most was the long, rambling but powerful poem that Waters read aloud, written by him in 2008. After reading it, he reflected upon Obama’s presidency:

“His legacy will be looked upon with pride. He did his best. It’s just that his hands were tied, obviously, and we’re not quite sure by who[m]. Somewhere in those back rooms, somebody is tying the hands of good men—and we’ll maybe never know. But that’s why it’s so important to applaud Edward Snowden, for instance, as a great hero of the republic –in that he gives the rest of us a slightly fairer chance to examine what is going on behind the locked doors, and to not abrogate our inclusion in the process. ”

I generally agree with Waters about Snowden, and about Obama… though I’m also disappointed that Obama’s government has not been much more transparent than other prior administrations. He did not fulfill that campaign promise, nor the ones about closing Guantanamo.

Regarding national security overall, I’m sure a cogent argument can be made by well-intentioned conservatives –and even fearful liberals– that Waters’ comment above is just elegantly defending a traitor (Snowden). Snowden simply blew the whistle (about spying on our own people) on the Department of Defense and the U.S. government overall.

Reformer or disgruntled employee?  Defender of true freedom (and genuine safety), from those within our ranks who oppose it? Or traitor? I say Snowden’s a courageous and conscientious hero… I think. But I won’t claim to be an informed expert. It’s just my instincts talking, instincts about the human race and the powerful forces at work here.

The fact that such spying happens here in the U.S. apparently doesn’t much scare those who trust OUR dark men, because these same cowed citizens are in even  greater fear (probably with good reason) of even darker men OVERSEAS. But still, the ends don’t justify the means in the new cyber arms race. Eye for an eye still is leading to a world gone blind.

The fact that other governments do what we do, and worse (invasion of privacy, collusion, corruption and cronyism –even with criminal elements, secretive war profiteering, etc.) –does not excuse lying or letting down us rank-and-file citizens, whose children are bleeding and dying to defend this sham of a democracy.  Worse yet, those on OUR side who want their secrets kept, want that secrecy not for reasons of security, but to ensure their own bottom line or to protect their power.

As for whether Candidate Trump (who Waters also criticized sharply in the interview) is actually in business with these same dark foreign forces (knowingly or not), that is the biggest, scariest question of all. The New York Times, Slate and others are digging up good evidence of this, even as we speak (and even as Trump’s Russian “contacts” try shredding it). However, it may be too late, or too muddy, to affect the election.

But win or lose, I’m fearful for my own son’s future, in this terrifying Wild West of 21st century cyber-spying and uber-lying. However, I’m also glad the new Marons, Waters and Snowdens are out there for my son–in the arts, in journalism, and maybe even in the big multinational corporations, in the military of various nations, and in government.  As long as these new watchdogs are on the lookout (whoever they are– that’s a subject for another day) we may have a chance. That is, if the environmentally compromised planet itself survives.

So take a lesson from your elders, all you new kids. Go play some Pink Floyd, or Music From Big Pink (i.e. The Band and/or Bob Dylan), or Pussy Riot . Listen to the actual words. And finally, don’t go down without a fight, but instead arm yourself with the best ideas and information that you can.

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? 

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »


%d bloggers like this: