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

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The persuasive power of stories

Author: Jim Taylor

She looks happy. A smile wreathes her face, which is smudged with charcoal. So is her frilly pink dress. She’s on her hands and knees inside the fireplace, one small hand raised in greeting. 

            Our daughter Sharon was eight months old when we moved into our dream home in North Vancouver. The rest of us were busy carrying boxes. Sharon was too young to carry anything, so we parked her inside and carried on carrying. How much trouble can a still-crawling child get into in an empty house?

            Then my wife asked, “Where’s Sharon?”

            No one had seen her. We scattered through the rooms, searching frantically. Panic rising in our throats, we gathered in the living room. 

            That’s when we heard the happy gurgle coming from the fireplace.


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Categories: Soft Edges

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What you say, and how you say it

Author: Jim Taylor

Last year, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided that he could not stand proudly for the U.S. national anthem played before every game. During a post-game interview, he explained: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

            Kaepernick himself has experienced profiling. Although he is wealthier than any of the officers who have pulled him over on suspicion. 

            For black people, America is not the “land of the free.” Never has been.

            This year, he chose to kneel during the anthem – kneeling being a symbol of respect – instead of sitting. Many other athletes joined him. “Taking the knee” during the national anthem spread throughout the league.

            The President called the athletes “sons of bitches” and wanted them all fired. 

            Which would probably reduce NFL telecasts to referees blowing whistles at each other.

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How the mighty are fallen

Author: Jim Taylor

Robert Mugabe is gone. The man the news media called “the world’s longest serving dictator” resigned this week, thus heading off both impeachment and forcible removal from office by Zimbabwe’s army.

            My first thought: “How the mighty are fallen.” The quotation seems oddly apt. The legendary Hebrew King David uttered those words as a lament for the death of a man who had once been his closest friend, and then became his adversary. 

            King David and Robert Mugabe have more in common than you might think. 

            Both started as rebels. Today they’d be called traitors, or terrorists. Both started with enormous promise. Both initially led their nations to success. Both had extra-marital affairs with a younger woman. 

            And both overstayed their welcome. Both ended up weak, feeble, incompetent. In one of his final public appearances, 93-year-old Mugabe needed help finding the right page in his speech.

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Beware of destructive emotions

Author: Jim Taylor

Writing about the quagmire of lies, distortions, allegations, and denials that beset the news media these days, William Rivers Pitt, syndicated columnist and Senior Editor for the alternative news agency Truthout, commented, In this line of work, despair is not an emotion we can indulge ourselves in.

            He’s right. Despair leads only to a desire to pull the covers up over our heads and hope the world will go away.

            But his advice applies to much more than just despair.

            Because a number of emotions are cancerous. They tend to destroy their host.

            Anger, for example. And hatred. Hate generally harms the hat-er much more than the hat-ee. Contempt, too. Jealousy. Helplessness.

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Lynch-mob mentality around the world

Author: Jim Taylor

Theyre called cow vigilantes  and no, they are not Lone Ranger wannabees roaming Wyoming in search of cattle rustlers. Theyre fanatic Hindu fundamentalists in India, hunting Muslims suspected of killing cows.

            You haven’t read anything about “cow vigilantes” in the western mass media, because American journalism -- so derided by Donald Trump as the “fake news” media – are just as single-mindedly focused on “America first” as he is. 

            Canadian media (and, I suspect, the European and British media) take their cue from the American media about what’s newsworthy and what isn’t. 

            India simply doesn’t show up on their radar, unless there’s a flood, an earthquake, or a refugee crisis.

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Don’t even think about infinity!

Author: Jim Taylor

My last few columns have been heavy-duty stuff -- planetary consciousness, divine intervention, the nature of reality. This week, I want to tackle a more lightweight subject: Infinity.

            Granted, most people have never thought much about infinity. Except maybe in astronomy, assuming loosely that the universe goes on forever. In fact, we don’t know where the outer edges of the universe are, because those outer edges are now moving away from us faster than the speed of light. If their light, or radio waves, or whatever, can never reach us, we can never know if there’s anything out there at all.

            A few religious people profess a belief in infinity, although they’re more likely to call it “eternity” -- endless time, rather than endless space.

            My cousin the mathematician will probably disagree with me, but it seems to me that infinity is a logical impossibility.

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Congress and gun-makers, accessories to murder

Author: Jim Taylor

The diagnosis of mental illness took a great leap forward this last week. From the far side of the Pacific Ocean, Donald Trump was able to determine that Devin Patrick Kelley was mentally ill.

            Of course, Kelley was white. 

            No one excuses mass killings as mental illness if the killers happen to have Arabic-sounding names, or have immigrated from an Islamic country. Such people are automatically classed as cold-blooded terrorists, who knew exactly what they were doing. 

            The excuse of mental illness seems to be offered only to white male Americans. Devin Kelley, who murdered 26 people inside a Baptist church last Sunday morning in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas. Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary.

            They obviously can’t be in their right mind if they shoot fellow Americans, can they?

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How humans gave the earth a lobotomy

Author: Jim Taylor

You’ve probably seen pictures of human nerves – a central neuron with axons and dendrites radiating out from it like the roots of a tree. (If not, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuron)

            The neuron is the trunk, the central core, that contains the cell’s nucleus. The axons and dendrites are the extended arms that connect with other nerve cells to transmit information.

            The resemblance to tree roots may be more than coincidence. UBC-Okanagan forest ecology professor Suzanne Simard has proven conclusively that trees communicate with each other through their roots.

            Dig into the soil of any forest, and you’ll find a network of tree roots, overlapping, inter-weaving. You probably won’t see the second component of communication, the invisible filaments of fungi.

            Simard’s research demonstrates, beyond dispute, that trees send messages, and food, to each other through their roots, with those fungal filaments bridging the gaps in much the same way that synapses work in the human brain.

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Institutional inertia changes slowly

Author: Jim Taylor

A throwaway line in a newscast caught my ear. Guy Ouellette, a member of Quebec’s National Assembly, had been briefly arrested by the province’s anti-corruption unit. Apparently they suspected him of leaking information on the unit’s investigations.

            Of course, Ouellette, for about 30 years a member of the provincial police force, defended himself. He accused the anti-corruption unit of being corrupted by its own policies and powers.

            He said, if I heard him correctly, “The culture itself needs to be changed.”

            Ouellette’s charge about the culture itself needing to change sounded remarkably like what I’ve heard recently from other sources.

            Former RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, for example, apologizing for ongoing bullying, intimidation, and sexual harassment in his forces.

            Or a series of high-ranking officers in the Canadian Armed Forces, talking about entrenched sexual harassment of its female members, and humiliation of new recruits.

            Or David Vigneault, Director of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service responding to a $35 million lawsuit by former CSIS members, alleging endemic racism, sexism, and homophobia.

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The infinite options of flow charts

Author: Jim Taylor

I forgot to set my alarm when I went to bed on Wednesday night. I woke up Thursday morning, too late to go to my usual Rotary breakfast meeting.

            I took the dog for her morning walk instead.

            And on that walk, I met a neighbour who was just taking her dog Jessie for what she was afraid might be its last walk. In a few minutes, the two of them were going to visit a canine specialist, to get the verdict on something filling her dog’s lungs.

             Her dog normally moves on an invisible trampoline, touching the ground just long enough to launch another sub-orbital trajectory. This time it walked. Slowly.

            “I’m a nurse,” my neighbour said. “This sounds terminal to me.”

          If I had gone to Rotary, I would have missed that encounter.

            Some, I’m sure, would explain those coincidences as evidence of divine planning. God intended me to forget to set my alarm, so that I could be there at that moment, on that morning.

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