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

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31

May

2017

Help wanted: divine intervention

Author: Jim Taylor

Okay, God, I apologize. In the past, I have occasionally argued that you don’t intervene in worldly events. I have even suggested that you cannot intervene to fix things down here.

            I was wrong. I must have been. Because Dan Rather writes in his Facebook blog, “I end each of my days with a silent prayer for my country… I hope against hope as I slip off to sleep that our rapid descent into governmental chaos has hit a nadir -- only to awaken to a new set of incoherent tweets or explosive headlines. I pray again that our Constitutional government, the great gift of our Founding Fathers, will provide a safety net to catch us before everything we hold dear is no more…”

            If a famous news anchor like Dan Rather believes you can do something about the state of the world, who am I to disagree?


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28

May

2017

Non-functioning grey cells

Author: Jim Taylor

Sorry, there’s no opinion column today. My brain cells went dead this week. Not that there was nothing to write about. Trump’s performances in the Middle East and at NATO; the election for a leader of the Conservative party; Okanagan Lake rising to record levels; two men stabbed to death for defending a couple of Muslim women on a train in Portland, Oregon; the governor of Texas jokes about shooting journalists; the Manchester bombing – there was ample fodder there.

            But nothing jelled. Yet.

            Fortunately, a number of letters about last week’s column are worth passing on.


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24

May

2017

Something bigger than ourselves

Author: Jim Taylor

Your average termite is a stupid creature. It's a whitish grub. It has only rudimentary senses; it can't really see where it is going. It can do only two things -- crawl and chew.

            But put a number of termites together and they will immediately start to build a home for themselves.

            The mound that emerges is astonishingly complex.  And the termites do this with no direction. No blueprints. No planning.

            No one termite – especially not even the queen, who is little more than a living ovary -- has the intelligence to direct this construction. None of the termites knew what they were doing when they created it. But it is unquestionably real.

            Nancy Ellen Abrams calls this an "emergent" phenomenon. It derives from the collective activity of those termites. But it is not them. It is more than them.


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21

May

2017

The two-edged sword of cultural appropriation

Author: Jim Taylor

This column will get probably me into trouble. The subject has already cost several professional journalists their jobs.

            The subject is cultural appropriation. A better term might be cultural looting. One culture (specifically, white North Americans) adopts and abuses elements of another culture (in this case, the indigenous peoples who were here l0,000 years before us). White children beat tom-toms or parade in feathered headdresses. Cities name their sports teams Redskins or Indians.

            Appropriation means taking something that rightfully belongs to someone else. The principle is widely recognized in copyright or patent infringement cases. My words belong to me. You cannot “appropriate” them without my permission.

            Now appropriation has made its way into social taboos.


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17

May

2017

Don’t know, know, don’t need to know

Author: Jim Taylor

Donald Rumsfeld made one memorable quotation during his tenure as G.W. Bush's Secretary of Defense: “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.”

            In The Book of Awesome, Neil Pasricha translated Rumsfeld’s abstract theorizing into an everyday context -- learning to drive a car. 

            First, we don't know what we don't know. We think that driving will be easy. 

            Second. we discover how much we don’t know. My first driving lesson, for example, was in an ancient Austin with barely 20 horsepower. But when I dropped the clutch, a ton of metal crow-hopped around a field. I had no idea power could be so uncontrollable....


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14

May

2017

Green Party gets to push someone off the cliff

Author: Jim Taylor

When I was young, we sometimes went to the Saturday movies. In those days, the theatre didn’t consider the main feature sufficient to attract an audience, so they ran a weekly serial as well. The serial always ended with what we called a “cliffhanger.” The hero – or the unfortunate heroine waiting to be rescued – faced almost certain death. The train thundered towards the victim. The snake prepared to strike. The bad guy got his gun out first.

            Of course, we had to come back, next Saturday, we just had to, to see how this crisis resolved itself.

            The makers of those old flicks never built a cliffhanger around a democratic election. But that’s what we have, currently, in B.C.


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10

May

2017

Old technologies, modern markets

Author: Jim Taylor

Change does not depend on modern technology. There’s nothing modern about knitting needles – two sticks, essentially. But knitting needles lifted 45 families in Bolivia out of abject poverty.

            When the rich tin mines in Bolivia closed, in the late 1980s, miners simply left in search of new jobs, abandoning their wives and children. Many of these women ended up on the streets of the city of Cochabamba. All through the Andes, women knit soft alpaca wool into sweaters and shawls.

            These women had knitting skills. But no markets.

            Enter a Canadian connection. Volunteers brought some of their beautiful hand-knit garments to Canada. Where Beverley Edwards-Sawatzky saw them. By organizing annual sales -- in Edmonton, Calgary, Cranbrook, and now here in Lake Country – she has been able to funnel close to $1 million to the women of the Minkha cooperative.

            This is the global economy at work.


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7

May

2017

Who decides what a life is worth?

Author: Jim Taylor

Earlier this week, TV host Jimmy Kimmel told his studio audience, multiplied by millions on line, about his infant son’s emergency heart surgery.

            Kimmel choked up as he described the events. A normal birth. In fact, an easy birth. Then, three hours later, an alert nurse noted a heart murmur, a purplish skin tone. A newborn infant rushed into surgery to repair a hole in his heart wall and a sticking valve. 

            Kimmel made the case for universal medical care when he said, “If your baby is going to die and it doesn't have to, it shouldn't matter how much money you make.”

            Canadians, watching those TV clips, might have felt complacent. After all, we have a universal “single-payer system” that covers those costs. 

              Maybe not. Recently, I’ve been hearing about a drug that B.C. and several other provinces refuse to pay for.


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3

May

2017

An inferior God? Why not?

Author: Jim Taylor

This column started as a casual email chat among editorial colleagues, about the virtues of knowing other languages and cultures. Somehow, it morphed into a discussion about the relative merits of the gods of various cultures, and the way every religion felt that its god was superior to any other god or gods. 

            And someone asked, “Who’d want to worship an inferior god?”

            The concept intrigued me. An inferior god? Why not?


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