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

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Living with a stopped clock

Author: Jim Taylor

My watch quit, at seven seconds after 5:16 p.m. I can be absolutely precise about the time, because I consulted my watch several times over the next few hours.  I can’t imagine why I kept checking my watch, when I knew it would give me the wrong time, but I did. Time seems, for some reason, to be important for me. 

            Finally, I gave up fighting the inevitable; I went to a watch store and got a new battery. My watch is working fine again. 

So why, I wonder, do some church-goers prefer to live with their clocks stopped? Why won’t they do, for their faith and doctrine, what they do for their watches?

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Beware of politicians quoting Bible verses

Author: Jim Taylor

For a hundred years, the Canadian government took children from their parents and incarcerated them in Indian Residential Schools. For their own good.

            The feds have since issued apologies. They’ve paid around $5 billion in compensation. And all governments have paid many billions more in welfare, prisons, and social assistance.

            In the 1950s, the B.C. government took Doukhobor children away from their families, and locked them up in a prison camp in New Denver. For the children’s own good, of course.

            In the 1960s, various governments did the Sixties Scoop. Once again Indigenous children were separated from their parents and placed with white foster families. For their own good, of course.

            We’re now reaping a bitter harvest of alcoholism and drug dependency, of depression and suicide, of adults who don’t know how to be parents.

            And then the Trump administration set a policy of removing children from parents who enter the United States illegally, and locking the children up in detention centres.

            Can’t we ever learn from past mistakes?

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Free will changes all futures

Author: Jim Taylor

“If I could only go back and do it again,” I hear people lament. “If I only knew then what I know now, I would have done it differently.”

            But, says logic, if you went back in time, you would still make the same decision, for good or ill. Because at that time you acted on the basis of the knowledge you had. All of the knowledge you had. And if you went back, that would still be the same. Because you can’t take 50 additional years of experience and learning back with you. 

            You were what you were. And your decisions were determined for you by your experiences. 

            All of this depends on an underlying assumption – that we humans are nothing more than a product of our environment.

            Or, to put it in more traditional language, that we have no free will. 

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When writers don’t know what to write about

Author: Jim Taylor

           If you’ve ever wondered what writers write about when they don’t know what to write about, that incident might give you a clue. 

            We retreat into the commonplace world, the world we actually know about from personal experience, and hope to connect with larger events. 

            The problem is not having nothing to write about. The problem is having too much to write about. 

            Take this last week, for example. 

            Boatloads of refugees get sent back to sea in the Mediterranean, by nations unwilling to assume responsibility for disasters that they didn’t create, while the nations that caused the problems stay a comfortable distance away. 

            Volcanoes demonstrate that they can have different personalities. The one in Hawaii is relatively benign – dangerous, but not explosive. The one in Guatemala erupts explosively, searing its victims in hot ash and gases. The one in Washington… well, enough said. 

            The G-7 summit in Quebec, that became the G-6 summit after Russia got kicked out, became the G-5 summit when everyone was out of step except one man.

            And then the world’s two most unpredictable national leaders met in Singapore, to hatch a vague commitment to make the world safer.


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Work together for the good of all

Author: Jim Taylor

Being polite isn’t always the best policy. 

            I’m not suggesting that it’s good to be rude, harsh, contemptuous, or difficult. Not at all. But if being polite, being nice, gets in the way of true cooperation, social manners may need to take second place. 

            I doubt if my father ever said an angry word to another human. He was the kind of person who tried to see the best in everyone. Who would never push his way to the front of a line. Who always let someone else go through the door first. 

            But there were occasions when the usual rules of courtesy didn’t work.  Entering Lion's Gas Bridge in Vancouver, for example, where eight lanes of traffic have to merge into two,

or sometimes into one. 

On one occasion, though, my father couldn’t break the habit of being polite. When it was his turn to mesh, he gestured to the car on his left to go ahead. 

            The other driver jammed on her brakes, expecting my father to slip into his slot. 

            Dad waited for her. 

            Both cars came to a standstill, waiting for the other to make the first move.

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We could have made flooding worse

Author: Jim Taylor

The flood danger seems to have passed, at least for this year. Okanagan Lake has peaked. Grand Forks is drying out. A half million people in the lower Fraser Valley, who had been bracing for the worst flooding since 1948, can relax.

            But things could have been worse -- much worse -- if a couple of political ploys in history had been carried through.

            The difficulty, you see, is that God -- or plate tectonics, if you prefer -- didn’t design the land west of the Rocky Mountains very efficiently. Highways, railways, and lines of communication run east/west. But the valleys and rivers mostly run north/south.

            Only the Fraser and Skeena river systems lie entirely within B.C. Every other major river ignores national boundaries. Especially the Columbia.

           In negotiating the Columbia River Treaty, General MacNaughton brought in diversion as a bargaining chip. Unless the Americans agreed to a fair deal for Canada, MacNaughton threatened, Canada could divert the Columbia into the Fraser, leaving three U.S. states high and very dry.

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Friendships need maintenance too

Author: Jim Taylor

Last week, I attended my high school class reunion – 64 years after graduation. We didn’t bother with reunions for a long time. Perhaps we were too busy carving out careers for ourselves. Or rearing children. Or paying off mortgages. 

               We had our first reunion – if I remember correctly – in 2012, a multi-class reunion with several grades above and below us. We enjoyed that occasion enough that we have had a class reunion every two years since. 

               I’ve noticed something about the nature of our conversations. 

               The first couple of times, we talked about the old days.  This time, though, the talk wasn’t as much about the distant past, but about current concerns. About how our lives are changing. About downsizing into smaller housing that requires less care. Into apartments or condominiums. About getting rid of a lifetime of accumulation that our children and grandchildren don’t need, don’t want, and won’t know what to do with anyway.

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Not much hope for common sense

Author: Jim Taylor

John Horgan and Rachel Notley, look what you’ve started!

               Once, you were the kiddies having a spat in the sandbox. Horgan blocks Notley’s pipeline; Notley blocks B.C.’s wines. You hit me; I hit you back.

               More recently, the sandbox has become the law courts. As an opinion piece in the Vancouver Sunnoted earlier this week, Horgan could have lawyers arguing two different sides of the same coin, in two side-by-side courtrooms. In one courtroom, that a province has a legal and constitutional right to restrict the shipment of petroleum products; next door, that a province does NOT have the right to restrict shipment of petroleum products.

               But now the sandbox squabbling has escalated.

                The laughing-stock president in the White House just dumped a big bucket of sand on Canada -- and on Mexico, though the Canadian media have largely ignored Mexico. Steel and aluminum imports into the United States are now subject to hefty tariffs.

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The awesome power of a volcano

Author: Jim Taylor

For weeks, I’ve watched the pyrotechnics on television of Kilauea volcano in Hawaii. Fountains of lava squirting up to 300 feet into the air – the length of a football field set on end.

               Generally, I gather, reddish-coloured lava is about 900 degrees Celsius (about 1,600 Fahrenheit). Orange is hotter, about 1100 C. Yellow goes up to 1250 C.

               And it’s even hotter underground. The magma – the name for lava before it erupts to the surface -- is under pressure, which raises its melting point. When the lava is released from that pressure as it surfaces, it bubbles like champagne. It is actually boiling.

               This is rock we’re talking about, folks. Rock. The stuff mountains are made of. 

               If you tried to heat rock to those temperatures on your kitchen range, most of your range would melt before the rock did!

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You can’t do that anymore!

Author: Jim Taylor

The video went viral – as so many videos do nowadays, especially when we wish they wouldn’t. Over a million people watched Kelly Pocha of Cranbrook, B.C.lean over the back of a booth in a Denny’s Restaurant in Lethbridge, AB, and yell at the inhabitants of the next booth, who appeared to be of Arab origin. 

            Her comments were clearly racist. She told them to go back to their own country. She said they didn’t belong here. She threatened physical violence. 

            To her credit, she later went back to the restaurant, and apologized to the manager for causing a scene. And on the media, she apologized to the subjects of her harangue. “If I could rewind and take it back I would, but I can’t,” she said. That's just not who I am."

            Pocha learned a hard lesson – you can’t do that anymore. Along with a lot of other things.

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