Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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30

Jan

2020

Questions of life and death

Author: Jim Taylor

’m not sure what I believe about life after death. I’m quite sure that I don’t believe in life before life.

            When I was about ten, my mother told me that my father had proposed to another woman, before he met my mother.

            He had finished his Master’s degree. He had signed up to go to India as a missionary with  the United Church of Canada. He invited this other woman to go with him.

            She said no.

            By a fortunate coincidence for me, my mother went to India about the same time, as a Presbyterian missionary from Northern Ireland. My parents met at language school. Six years later they had me.

            Even at the age of ten, it occurred to me that if that other woman had said “Yes,” I wouldn’t  be who I was. I would be someone else. Maybe even –horrors – a girl!


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23

Jan

2020

Not worth worrying about

Author: Jim Taylor

Flakes of winter snow sift down outside my window as I write these words. Millions of them. Billions of them. Burying the bird feeder. Burying my driveway. 

            I go out to shovel. Each snowflake weighs next to nothing. It’s amazing how much a shovelful of next-to-nothing can weigh. 

            No two of those snowflakes are identical, I’ve been told. 

            Maybe it’s true. Maybe it isn’t. The only way to prove it, either way, would be to examine every snowflake that has ever fallen. 

             But if you lived in Australia these days, who cares? When summer temperatures soar above 50 degrees Celsius, when fires create their own weather systems, a snowflake wouldn’t have, umm, a snowflake’s chance in hell of surviving long enough to  be examined. 

            So many of the things that we humans argue about, divide ourselves about, even go to war about, are what a friend calls “head stuff.” Interesting, but irrelevant. 


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Rituals, Chesterton

19

Jan

2020

Defeating imaginary opponents

Author: Jim Taylor

The first phone call came at 7:05 a.m. I picked up the phone. “Dear Customer,” a recorded message began. “This call is to advise you that we have deducted $399.99 from your account to cover the renewal of your service policy. To approve this transaction, press one. To speak to a service representative, press two…”

            I hung up instead. 

           I’m always tempted to talk back to recorded messages, the way I talk back to contestants on Jeopardy who know nothing about Canada. I’m even tempted to “press two” to see if I can tie the service representative’s mind into knots.  

            In philosophical circles, this practice is called the “straw man argument.” 


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18

Jan

2020

Midwinter

Author: Jim Taylor

 Here in the Okanagan we had nothing like the storms that have hit Newfoundland, or the American Midwest. But temperatures down to -20C, and snow that has fallen every day for more than a week, propelled my creative juices a little. 

            This is what musicians call “variations on the theme by…” Chopin or Mozart or…. In this case, the familiar Christmas carol by Christina Rossetti. 


 In the bleak midwinter

grey snow shrouds the ground

bare branches claw the sky while

overcast clouds crush spirits

 

Frosty wind made moan

arctic vortex strikes 

a coiled serpent sinks 

icy fangs into bare flesh....

 


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16

Jan

2020

The mark of moral progress

Author: Jim Taylor

The progress of civilization is not measured by democracy or economics, by health or wealth, nor by art or architecture. It’s measured by our reduction of cruelty.

            I needed to state that thesis up front. To discuss it, I have to cite instances of cruelty that will turn your stomach. If I started this column with them, you’d probably quit reading.

            Let’s start with Genghis Khan, who reputedly killed 40 million people in his 30-year reign. He executed one enemy by pouring molten silver into his eyes and ears.

            Which is probably characteristic of his time. A rival tyrant boiled captured generals alive. Victims may have been conscious for several hours as they cooked.

            Scottish explorer James Bruce became the first European to enter the mountain kingdom of Ethiopia. The emperor and his vizier entertained their visitor by putting out the eyes of a dozen slaves while they ate dinner.


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