Is uncaring incompetence the new norm?

Or has life always been this way?

Those of you who know me from my home remodeling days may remember my understanding, if somewhat frustrated view of many of the tradesmen I dealt with – the guys from the back of the classroom. Not bad people, but they really never gave a damn about what the teacher in the front of the room was talking about.

Most of them eventually found their place in life, many as carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other tradesmen who use their hands with varying degrees of skill. Many times, their skill was better than mine, so I hired them. Through the years I found that the workmanship of those I could afford left something to be desired – and that I often couldn’t afford the best of them. That’s why I learned to do quite a few things myself.

Anyway, no matter what their skill level, I found that most shared something in common – a desire to make the person they’re dealing with feel good. They’ll tell you whatever they think you want to hear, even if it has very little relationship to reality. As far as they’re concerned, words are just tools without a particular meaning. They’ll give you a timeline and budget without too much thought or any consideration of calendars and costs.

I’ve since discovered that my perception was limited when I restricted my comments to manual workers. It’s easy to add car salesmen and military recruiters to the list, but now I’ll add bankers, phone company reps and helpline/chat line reps to the rogues gallery.

Why? Because they all share the common objective of keeping the customer happy while spending a minimum amount of time with them. They give you an answer that gets you off the phone or away from their desk at the time, without giving any thought to the next step in the process. Usually their answer is incomplete or leads to another problem, but then it’s the next rep’s problem. And these reps treat you in the same manner.

How much of this is driven by corporate policy and how much by a “pay peanuts and get monkeys” philosophy is beyond my knowledge. But I still have vivid memories of dealing with bankers working in this manner.

Today’s story is about an Irish phone company. While I can’t speak to their service levels in their government-owned past, now that they’re privatized it’s easy to see that a speedy customer turnstile is more important to them than speedy customer service. If you’re interested, their modern new name and graphics rhyme with the word “air”.

I walked into their retail store to set up service in the middle of January. My service didn’t start until late March and the billing wasn’t correct until mid-June. I place the blame on a combination of shoddy sales training and the shallow leave-em-smiling approach I’ve outlined above. If you’re used to wasting days waiting for servicemen, listening to wallpaper music on hold and waiting while your chat rep chats with four other customers you can stop here. I’ll understand.

If you’re a masochist for punishment [or work for one of the two phone companies in my saga], read on. Read More

I’m learning another new language

Friends familiar with my lack of a dress code know that by the time I’m done with a piece of clothing it’s barely usable as a painting rag. S-o-o-o . . . when I decided my jeans had more ventilation than is usual for even today’s fashions, I pulled out my passport and ventured out into that strange country known as Retailandia.

I’ve known for years that just because a label declares a comfortable size, it may not be telling the truth. Read More

Are you using or being used by religion? Here’s how to tell.

No matter the tenets of a particular creed, I’m pretty sure we can agree that most religions incorporate two basic purposes: instilling ethics and explaining the unknown.

But church leaders politic for power. Church members proselytize. The poor that we’ll always have with us are targets for market share rather than neighbors in sharing and service. Far too many churches have prostituted themselves to the cause of institutional self-preservation. Read More

Why I spend less time on FB these days

An open letter to all my friends and our big brother, Mark –

Thought you might want to know why I’m spending less and less time on Facebook these days – and not “liking” or otherwise responding to people’s posts as much as I used to.

First, Mark – I know you need to make a living, and that you do this by selling our eyeballs to advertisers. I don’t have a problem with this.

For most of us, Facebook friends are a pretty self-selecting group – people we’ve known for a while as well as those with whom we’ve shared a meal, holiday or similar encounter. We know each other’s likes and dislikes. So…when I open my page and see every commercial and inspirational item my friends have “liked” my eyes glaze over and I log off and move on in my web surfing. Read More

A Tale from Banking’s Dinosaur Days

If you’re one of those who lived in those days the calendar calls BC or BCE. [Before Computer Era], please prepare to explain some things to our younger compatriots. Here’s how – and why – I pulled my own credit check so I could buy a house.

I’d just moved to a new city to take a new job. After the usual house-hunting hassle and mortgage application paperwork nightmare, I went about my business, expecting to close and move into my new place in about a month or so.

Then I got the phone call.

The loan officer told me it wasn’t that I had bad credit, I had no credit file at all. He couldn’t lend money to someone who didn’t have a paper trail. Read More

Trump & friends – where life imitates art

Trump, LePen, Brexit and the rest all share common fertilizer: it’s the disenchanted, disaffected and economically disenfranchised telling the system to f*^k off. Globalisation and its economic cousins have stolen self-respect and economic security from everyday people.

The right wing populism pushing Trump and his cousins into power comes from the movie-generated mythos of striking a blow against unresponsive institutions. Be it Spartacus, Robin Hood, Zapata, Ned Kelly or Butch & Sundance, the image of loners against power strikes a resonant chord among the powerless. Left-wing support for Bernie Sanders and assorted 99% and Occupy movements are different expressions of the same force. Read More

Hearing less but listening more.

A friend observed something interesting about me the other night. It’s not too surprising, since we’re usually blind, deaf and dumb to so much of ourselves. After a wonderful concert I was talking about some interesting things the musicians had been doing. “How come you can hear individual players on stage but have problems with individual voices in a crowded room or pub?” Translation: “How can you hear each of the instruments and talk about chord progressions when you can’t hear a word I say most of the time?” Read More

Book me father, I don’t think I’ve sinned

My past life’s come back to haunt me – and I’m enjoying it.

After years of living in places I filled with shelves and shelves and floors full of books, I dematerialized. I sold my house and gave away most of its contents. “If it doesn’t fit in the flight’s overhead compartment I really don’t need it.” One full room [3-1/2 walls] of shelved books: gone. More shelves of books in the bedroom, living room and office: gone. One last collection – on the Celtic Literary Revival and 1916’s Easter Rising: donated to academia, where I’d used them for myself when I was researching and teaching. But it’s better that they’re living with someone who can use them, which a Colorado storage locker couldn’t do. Read More

Slowly ripping off the dressing – and hair, skin and scab, too.

That’s what it felt like. I’d put it off. Procrastinated. Made excuses. Denied it would hurt.

But it did. And it still does. Saying goodbye aint easy.

I’ve known for years I’d eventually do it. In my soul I knew a part of my life has been over for a while. A part that was good to me [and I hope I was good to it, as well.] But it was time. Actually long past time. But we’re dealing with an emotion-laden memory here, not logic or logistics. It was time to purge myself of the last tangible elements, the last touchstones, the last talismans of a life that brought me to where I am today. Read More


Thank you – several million times – to all of you who’ve been following this blog for the past few years. If you also see it on social media, you’ve probably already seen some of its new features. For the rest, feel free to click on the page to see the new look –

New – The Thoughts section is re-vamped and expanded. To nobody’s surprise, I’ve found that today’s people resonate more with a soundbite than a 400-600-word post. I’ll keep adding items here, but won’t burden your inbox with them. If you’d like to share a particular image, feel free to click on it. You’ll see options for emailing as well as social media.

NewThe Tao. This classic of Chinese wisdom is much, much more than the saccharine “journey begins with a single step” posters that have been inflicted on us for years. It’s an ironic, sarcastic collection of sayings that only fools took literally.

  • When you click on My Tao you’ll see my take on it, which isn’t going to resemble much of what you’ll see in calendars and inspirational books.
  • Clicking on Tao-not-Dow will bring you to images tied to each of the book’s chapters. While they’re currently organized to match the book’s structure, I’ll be re-arranging things by topic and intent as my knowledge and understanding expand. As with Thoughts, I’ll be adding images on a regular basis and you’ll be able to share individual images as you’d like. Since I’m writing multiple responses to each of the book’s 81 chapters, I’ll post them on the site and social media, but not to your mailbox.

Continuing – The blog itself. My periodic venting of whatever opinion or feeling strikes me at the moment. For the most part, they’ll stay as they’ve been for the past couple of years, written for a 2-3 minute reading time.

Again, many many thanks. I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you. And, as always, if you like what you see, please tell your friends. If you don’t, tell your enemies.