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

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10

Oct

2018

A distorted view of Canada's history

Author: Jim Taylor

I’ve been reading Conrad Black’s 1106-page history of Canada, Rise to Greatness.I can’t recommend it. For two reasons.

            First, because it’s written at a level of turgidity rarely achieved since the Victorian authors. The friend who loaned me the book said he had to read it with his dictionary open beside him. 

            Second, though, because this book is not really about Canada – it’s about Black’s obsession with high-level leadership, an elite to which he thinks he belongs. So although there are voluminous references to Sir John A. Macdonald’s speeches to parliament, there is not one word about the actual building of the transcontinental railway that linked a fledgling Canada “from sea to sea.” Alexander Mackenzie’s journeys to the Arctic and Pacific Oceans get shrugged off in two sentences. David Thompson’s mapping of the Columbia river system gets a single line.


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7

Oct

2018

Witches’ brew of economic contradictions

Author: Jim Taylor

"Double, double, toil and trouble,” Shakespeare’s three witches chant in the opening of Macbeth. Although Shakespeare didn’t intend his lines to describe modern economics, they seem appropriate. 

            For the last year, Canadian news reports have included regular updates on trade negotiations between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. Donald Trump repeatedly threatened to cancel the existing North American Free Trade Agreement. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Christia Freeland repeated her mantra – negotiations are proceeding in good faith. 

            Fires burned. Cauldrons bubbled. Delegations met. Endlessly.

            And then, at the last minute, just before a U.S.-imposed deadline – where did NAFTA grant the U.S. the privilege of imposing unilateral deadlines? – someone threw in “eye of newt” and someone else withdrew a “lizard’s leg,” and just like that, we had a new trade and tariff agreement – USMCA, a.k.a. the U.S., Mexico, and Canada Agreement. 

            Poof! The ugly toad turns into a charming prince. 

           That was on Monday.


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3

Oct

2018

Choosing between unequal forces

Author: Jim Taylor

If you swing a bucket of water over your head, centrifugal force keeps the water in the bucket. But your arm keeps the bucket from flying off. 

            You’ve just illustrated Isaac Newton’s principle of two equal forces working together, commonly stated as, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

            The principle explains not only buckets of water, but also the motions of planets in their orbits, satellites circling the earth, and galaxies in space. 

            Newton was not the first to recognize the truth of paired forces. The Chinese identified it centuries before – essentially, stating that beauty requires two contrasting elements. It could be smooth and rough, as in rocks. Or vertical and horizontal, as in lakes and trees. Or hot and cold, sweet and sour, shiny and dull…

            I find this recognition of two forces oddly comforting. Especially in a world that is decidedly not stable. 


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30

Sep

2018

Sexual predators incapable of hearing ‘No’

Author: Jim Taylor

The week opened with genial father-figure Cliff Huxtable -- better known as Bill Cosby -- named a “sexually violent predator” and sentenced to three to ten years in prison. In a Pennsylvania court, Cosby was found guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault for drugging and sexually assaulting a Canadian woman, Andrea Constand,

            The same week, Christine Blasey Ford, professor at Palo Alto University, testified before a U.S. Senate committee that she had been the victim of attempted rape by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, 36 years earlier.

             Also, former media celebrity Gian Ghomeshi published an essay in the New York Review of Bookswhitewashing his own sexual escapades. Although Ghomeshi was acquitted, Ontario Court Justice William Horkins made clear that he was not saying that “these events never happened.”

           Three threads run through this sorry tapestry.


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26

Sep

2018

Salmon and the great circle of life

Author: Jim Taylor

The conference hall was packed full. Five hundred people leaned forward to watch as an elder from a First Nations community along the B.C. coast moved down the aisle towards the microphones on stage. His red-and-black blanket cloak swished as he walked; the mother-of-pearl buttons adorning it flashed back at the spotlights following him. 

            This happened long before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for better relationships with Canada’s indigenous peoples. But the church, my church, was making its first tentative moves towards that goal. 

            The old man – he may not actually have been old, but he was older than I was, and he had a deeply weathered face – climbed the stairs onto the stage. He took the microphone from its stand. He held it to his mouth. 

            We waited, breathlessly, for his words of wisdom. 

            “We are the salmon,” he said. 

            Then he put the microphone back, and left the stage. 


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23

Sep

2018

How to write 1000 columns

Author: Jim Taylor

This is my 1000th Sharp Edges column. At around 50 columns a year, that’s almost 20 years of writing a weekly column! 

            “How do you find something to write about every week?” people ask me. 

            That’s easy – by paying attention. To the world around me. To my own reactions. To what other people are saying. 

            Given the number of issues in the news each week, the problem is not finding a topic, but selecting which topic to focus on. 

            But there is a second step. If a local story grabs my attention, how does it connect to a larger topic? If an international story, how does it relate to life here in the Okanagan Valley. Or closer still, in little Lake Country. Or even in my own home. 

            There’s no point in raging about Donald the Dump – or lobbying for an endangered salamander in the Congo – if it isn’t relevant in some way to life here and now. 

            Macro and micro, universal and particular, belong in the same picture. I don’t care whether I zoom out or zoom in; the big picture and the small picture belong together. 


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Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: Writing

19

Sep

2018

Learning how to learn

Author: Jim Taylor

           Of course, we did learn specifics. The inexorable logic of Euclid’s geometry theorems, for example. How to conjugate Latin verbs. Memorizing famous monologues from Shakespeare. The difference between a rabbet and a dado joint. The periodic table of chemistry elements. 

            But more importantly, we learned to learn. It was not just WHAT our teachers taught, but HOW they taught it. They gave us a safe environment in which to make mistakes, and to learn from those mistakes. They had faith in us, as learning beings, even when we made fun of them. 


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16

Sep

2018

Learning to distrust everyone

Author: Jim Taylor

The scammers are getting smarter. 

            We’ve all received those emails that tell us there is $27 million waiting for us in an unclaimed Nigerian bank account, haven’t we?

            One arrived the other day, from “Miss Vivian Ibrahim Coulibaly, only child of my late father, Late Chief Sgt. Warlord Ibrahim Coulibaly…” Miss Vivian needs my help, because her wicked stepmother – of course! – is trying to swindle her out of her father’s illegitimately acquired fortune. 

           The same day, I received a second email that assumed I had fallen for scams like Miss Vivian’s, headed FRAUD ALERT: “This letter is to notify you about your compensation as one of the scammed victims…”


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12

Sep

2018

Maligning my lifelong friend

Author: Jim Taylor

On my last visit to Vancouver, I took a walk along False Creek.

            Vancouver's waterfront is open to everyone, regardless of age, ethnic origins, or income.

            And the Parks Board has thoughtfully placed benches along the way, where passers-by can sit, catch their breath, enjoy the view, or just meditate.

            Most of the benches have small bronze plaques attached -- memorials to a family member or friend. I read them, casually, as I strolled along. Until I got to one that offended me.

            It eulogized a child who had died. It described how wonderful she was. And the last line said, “Jesus always picks the finest flowers first.”

            And I found myself instantly angry.


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9

Sep

2018

Brazil’s national lobotomy

Author: Jim Taylor

The video images of flames shooting skyward out of the National Museum of Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, stabbed me in the heart.

            I spent close to 20 years alternating between president, secretary, and grunt volunteer with the infinitely smaller Lake Country Museum. I know from personal experience how hard it is to document the past, especially from societies that maintained no written texts. 

            Every artifact, every letter, every story, is like a clue in a mystery novel. Clue by laborious clue, a museum puts together a coherent picture of what life was like, back then -- whenever “then” was. 

            The Rio fire, in effect, ripped out almost all the pages from the novel about South America. 

            How can you read a novel that isn’t there any longer?

 

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