A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a park –

along with an imam, some nuns of various stripes and a few people dressed in Eastern robes. One of these days I should probably learn how to identify a Hindu and Buddhist cleric on sight, as opposed to cosmology. The grouping wasn’t particularly unusual, since I was in an area where marches, rallies and demonstrations for one cause or another are commonplace – in addition to the weekend walks, runs and rides for whatever disease is fashionable this week.

As is usual with these things, no matter what your cause or politics, it feels good because you’re surrounded by fellow travelers, singing, chanting and marching together. Adrenaline’s a fun drug to have running through your system. And there’s even more of it around when you and your friends are making sure the TV cameras are getting good footage. On days like this it’s good to know we’re not alone in our beliefs. Pressing the pavement and flesh is a lot more satisfying than pressing “like” on our keyboard.  I recall watching some nurses clad in local hospital T-shirts enjoying a sociable smoke break with each other after they’d walked for a cancer cure. Read More

Hello, I must be going.

Thank you, North Carolina. You’ve been good to me. I’m pretty sure I’ve returned the favor, but I’m glad to be gone. We’ve each changed over the past 40-odd years. You’ve given me lifelong friends and memories of truly wonderful experiences. But over the past few years your arrogant, selfish political meanness has shown a dark side of yourself I can no longer tolerate.

A few days ago I sold my last business in the state. I’ll soon be filing my final tax return with you. I’m glad my tax dollars will no longer be supporting a racist, power-grabbing, misogynistic legislature. I’m sad to be leaving so many friends and compatriots still in the trenches, trying to reclaim the decency and civility that made you such a wonderful place – a place I used to be proud to call home. My old home was sheltered in one of those urban blue dots you myopically see as a blemish on your gerrymandered crimson maps. One of those places that drive your economic engine. If you’d been a bit more tolerant you might still be getting my money. Read More

It’s summer. Who are all these people in ski parkas?

OK, even though we’ve got palm trees, Ireland hasn’t been near the equator in 300 million years or so. Thanks to continental drift we’re far enough north these days for a lot of 17-hour summer days – and my only T-shirt accessory is a rain slicker. But all these people walking around town dressed for Gstaad in January? I wondered about these wanderers til I realized they were boat people – their ocean liners keep them on the breezy waters at 50+ degree latitudes and when they disembark to invade us in the morning it’s still a bit chilly. Mystery sort of solved.

While ocean liner travel isn’t my cup of tea or coffee, I understand its appeal to others. I’m glad to see these overdressed explorers wandering around town, as opposed to those who are herded onto buses for the Jamieson or Blarney tours before being shepherded back to their boat by sign-waving, clipboard-toting, whistle-blowing tour guides. I just hope things are as good for the truly local economy as the business cheerleaders make it out to be. Too many people appear to disembark, board the big bus, see the big site, then shop in designated spaces before being bussed back to a big meal on board. Read More

I wanted to spend money, but there was nothing worth buying

The Violence of the Dawn, from the Hunt Museum’s exhibition

It took me nearly two hours to go to another city. Add another two-plus hours exploring displays and listening to lectures. Then came the moment, one I’d anticipated with some joy. I wanted to buy another book. Not just any book, but a massive book that could collapse a coffee table. And it would be a book I’d actually pick up to read on a recurring basis. . .And it wasn’t there when I went to buy it. Read More

My Shakespearean Problem

I’ve got a problem. [Duh, don’t we all? And just one? Cue the violins.] Anyway, to use today’s jargon, it’s not really a problem. It’s a challenge, an opportunity, a chance to learn. And compared to all that’s happening in the world, it ranks somewhere less than zero and only slightly greater than nil on the planet’s crises charts.

As you may already know, I’ve been working on a project call Tao-not-Dow, applying ancient Chinese observations to today’s world. If you haven’t seen it, you can check it out at https://tao-not-dow.org/. It’s unlike anything you’ll see in the “inspirational” Taoist posts that clutter our web pages. Along the way I stumbled onto some Taoist teachings that resembled some of Shakespeare’s lessons. So I began another project, called Shakespeare’s Tao. For the most part it’s fun. I know enough about each subject to be dangerous and enjoy the research that goes into creating the images you’ll see on Facebook, Twitter and the website.

But now to my problem. Excuse me, my challenge –

You may recall that Bill the playwright was also somewhat of a propagandist for the Tudors. It was important that he show the correct uses and misuses of royal power on the way to his heroes’ and villains’ just desserts. Lao Tzu, on the other hand, was more of a flower child. Legend has it that he created the book as a gift to a border guard on his way to a self-imposed exile from a corrupt Chinese empire. The Tao’s references to the use of power are thinly veiled cynicism and satire. Come to think of it, so are many of Shakespeare’s references. In each case, “you had to be there” to understand the full import of a speech or verse.

So what’s the big deal? Should I match an out-of-context Shakespearean quote with an out-of-context Taoist quote, just because the ostensible thoughts match? After all, it works in politics. In each case the unlettered, such as ourselves, would be oblivious to the intended meanings of ironic statements. Chinese and English cognoscenti would smirk or groan at my presumed ignorance.

It might take me a little longer, but I’ll do my best to retain the spirit and meaning of Shakespeare and Lao Tzu wherever I pair them. I’ll trust you to differentiate between metaphor and fact. As you’ll see in the My Tao piece on the website, my epigrams are responses to the Tao, not translations.

And if I err? I’ll be in good company, along with those who misquote the Bible, Quran and US Constitution in partisan efforts to arouse the like-minded and antagonize everyone else. Just remember where I’m publishing. As Abe Lincoln told us, you can’t trust everything you read on the internet.

And now for the nitty-gritty –

Shakespeare’s Tao is easy to find as a gallery tab on the tao-not-dow page. I’ll be posting images there on an irregular basis, following my discovery patterns. There will always be more images here than you’ll find in other media.  https://tao-not-dow.org/project-tag/shakespeare-quotes/

The Facebook and Twitter pages will usually see a single post each week, so if you decide to follow me on either site your own page won’t be inundated with Shakespearean profundities.

I you hope enjoy the new project – and will be looking forward to your thoughts.

I was caught in the spin cycle of a bot machine

I’m old enough to remember watching dirt being invented. But that doesn’t mean that every now and then I don’t get surprised – like when I got caught in the spin cycle of the political bot machine.

Over the years I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on the response rate my posts will get on social media. So I was pleasantly surprised when one of my Twitter posts hit its expected two day total in a couple of hours. When I checked back on my page later in the day, my traffic count was over six figures and climbing like kudzu and knotweed. No way was I going to scan the retweets and likes for people I might want to follow. Read More

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.  https://www.jpmaney.com/irish-bankers/

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