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

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23

May

2018

The prophets of our times?

Author: Jim Taylor

I love poetry. I don’t read it often enough. 

            Most of my reading is factual stuff. I want to know more about the origins of a movement. The mysteries of the universe. How plants communicate. 

            So I skim. Some call it speed-reading, but in fact, it’s mostly training my eyes to look for relevant keywords. 

            I can’t do that with poetry. Poetry, really, needs to be read aloud. Because reading aloud forces me to slow down, to savour the sounds of each word, to measure the musical rhythm of vowels and consonants, of rests and highlights…. 

            I read aloud, so that I can feel the poet’s message resonating from my vocal cords into both head and belly.

            Because poetry is not about facts, or arguments, or even about story. It’s about feelings. Poets try to evoke feelings with the fewest possible words. Which means that mental images get compressed, juxtaposed, overlapped. As they mesh, they create new connections, new images, new insights.


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20

May

2018

U.S. embassy move misreads the Bible

Author: Jim Taylor

This week, the U.S. moved its embassy from Tel Aviv on Israel’s Mediterranean coast to Jerusalem. The move fulfilled one of President Donald Tweet’s campaign promises. The president sent his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to represent the American Empire. 

            Jerusalem epitomizes all that’s wrong with U.S. foreign policy.

            Kushner had no foreign policy experience at all, prior to being appointed the White House’s “Senior Advisor” with particular emphasis on Middle Eastern issue. But he is Jewish. 

           U.S. foreign policy treats the Bible as the final word on anything related to Jews. And, by extension, to anything related to the Middle East. 

           Let’s be clear – the Bible does state that the legendary King David chose Jerusalem as the capital of the new nation he had formed from the warring tribes descended from Jacob’s sons. That’s a selective reading, though. It ignores the Bible’s own testimony that David chose that site specifically because it did NOT form part of traditional Jewish territories. 


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16

May

2018

An invention that challenged unexamined ideas

Author: Jim Taylor

This is a busy weekend. In addition to Mother’s Day on Sunday, we’re celebrating Limerick Day, Train Day, and Odometer Day on Saturday; Frog Jumping Day and International Belly Dance Day on Sunday; and Chicken Dance Day on Monday. 

            On top of all that, May is Photo Month, officially recognized by the U.S. Congress in 1987. For no apparent reason, other than industry lobbying, it seems. 

            Too bad, because photography marks an important shift in human thinking. It enabled us to “fix” – yes, that’s a darkroom pun – a moment in time. 

            In effect, photography freezes time. Even the much-maligned selfie asserts, “This is what I looked like,” at a particular time and place that’s now in the past. 

            Most families have boxes of old photos handed down through several generations. Some of the people in those pictures we can still recognize. Others are unidentified, unidentifiable. 


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16

May

2018

An unintentional parable

Author: Jim Taylor

I was driving north, up the main highway. As I came down the hill into town, traffic slowed to a standstill. The truck ahead of me turned on its four-way flashers. 

            Something was happening, but I couldn’t see what. 

            I peered through the gap between the vehicles ahead of me. 

            And I saw a woman, walking backwards across the four lanes of traffic, beckoning to something or someone with her hands, encouraging them to come on. 

            Then I saw what she was encouraging. A pair of geese. Canada geese. Big birds. When they spread their wings and hiss, they can be terrifying. 

            But these two waddled along following the woman. And right behind them came a pair of goslings, balls of fluff on toothpick legs.

            And finally, behind them all, came a man pushing a bicycle, making sure no one got left behind. Or run over.


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: trust, Geese, parables

9

May

2018

Save someone’s life today

Author: Jim Taylor

My wife would probably be dead by now, if it weren’t for blood donors. 

            I can’t prove that assertion, of course. It’s almost impossible to prove that something didn’t happen, that could have happened. Safety regulations can argue that traffic controls reduce the total number of accidents; they can never claim that they prevented a specific driver from having an accident.

            But consider the facts. 

            Ten years ago, my wife was diagnosed with leukemia. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, to be precise. In those ten years, she’s had seven different chemotherapies. Six have failed; her white cell counts came down, for a while, but they wouldn’t stay down. 

            Here’s a vastly oversimplified explanation of a very complicated process....


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6

May

2018

The ways we make flooding worse

Author: Jim Taylor

Flooding has hit British Columbia again. News reports overflow with stories of property owners sandbagging their homes, their farms, their businesses. Oliver, Kaleden, Tulameen, Cawston, Cache Creek -- the chorus of afflicted communities swells day by day.

Mudslides close highways. Culverts wash out. Hundreds of homes are ordered evacuated. 

            And I haven’t even heard about what might be happening farther east, in the Kootenays. Or farther north, along Highway 16. 

            I heard a politician pontificate, “It’s a one-in-70-year event.”

            Really? Weren’t we saying the same thing during last year’s floods?

            Connect the dots, people! Connect the dots!


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2

May

2018

How to respond to tragedy

Author: Jim Taylor

Sixteen members of a hockey team dead in a bus crash in northern Saskatchewan. Ten strangers killed on a sidewalk in Toronto. My mind reels. How do the survivors, the families, the friends and lovers, get their minds, their emotions, around these and countless other tragedies?

            A caveat -- I write this column as a personal expression.

            What do you say to someone who has just experienced a massive loss? What do you do?

            Some responses are less than helpful.

            The students at Marjorie Stoneham Douglas high school in Florida rightly told President Trump to keep his meaningless “thoughts and prayers” – instead, to do something about gun violence.

            That doesn’t mean you can’t offer prayers, or that you can’t feel sympathy. Given a choice between someone offering prayers, and someone NOT offering prayers, I would certainly choose the former. But platitudes are too often a way of avoiding getting involved. And you have to get involved. Even at some personal pain. 


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Losses, helping

29

Apr

2018

Let’s hear it for unsung heroes!

Author: Jim Taylor

This has been a good week for heroes. We even know the names of some of them.

            For example, the cop who arrested the driver of the rented van , the man who drove down Yonge Street in the north end of Toronto, knocking over people like bowling pins. The officer was alone. He faced a man who made threatening gestures, as if he were drawing a handgun and pointing it at the officer. He yelled, “Shoot me! Kill me!”

            But the police officer, Constable Ken Lam, didn’t.

            I’ll repeat that, in case you missed it -- he didn’t shoot!

            Const. Lam said afterwards that he was just doing his job, the way he had been taught.

            I suppose something similar may happen in the Excited States, sometimes. But I’ve never seen it on TV. Have you?

            But there was another hero, in the mass shooting at the Waffle House restaurant in Nashville. James Shaw Jr. wrestled the shooter’s rapid-fire assault weapon away from its owner. (I’m deliberately not naming the perpetrators in these two incidents -- they get too much publicity already.)

            Shaw said, “I was just trying to get myself out. I saw the opportunity and pretty much took it.”


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25

Apr

2018

Start small to make a difference

Author: Jim Taylor

My father was a pretty good painter. While at university in Toronto, he took lessons from A.Y. Jackson and others of the famed Group of Seven. But as the years passed and his life got taken over, more and more, by academic studies in psychology and religion, he grew more and more cautious in his use of paint. 

            One day, a friend who was also a painter dropped in. She watched him working with fine brushstrokes and tiny dabs of paint. She squeezed flaming magenta onto his palette. She took his brush. She slapped a blob of magenta onto his canvas. 

            It stood out like an erupting volcano. 

            “There!” she commanded. “Paint to that!”

            To his credit, my father did. A single blob of vivid colour changed that painting. And all the paintings\ he did thereafter. 

 


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22

Apr

2018

One Earth Day a year is not enough

Author: Jim Taylor

My office window looks out onto an orchard. On this particular morning, my neighbour the farmer is spraying his trees with something toxic. He’s garbed from head to toe in impervious yellow plastic, and wearing a gas mask over his face, as he drives his tractor up one row, down the other.

            I keep my window closed. I don’t want any of it on me.

            I know the spray kills certain pests. I wonder what else it kills. How does it affect the bacteria in the soil, the worms, the fungi that serve as nerve endings for tree roots?

            Not all farmers use these sprays. I know other farmers who don’t spray their trees. They encourage worms. They compost their wastes. They thin blossoms by hand. But they pay a price for their commitment -- more hand labour, uncertain sales, lower profits.

            I can’t blame my neighbour for trying to grow perfect fruit. He knows how fussy consumers can be. I wonder why we consumers think that only unblemished fruit is worth buying. We pick through the bins in our supermarkets, rejecting apples that have a tiny scab, peaches with a small bruise, grapes with even a trace of shrivelling.

            Does it ever occur to us that a chain of consequences leads directly from our shopping preferences to a farmer swathed in a hazmat suit to protect himself from his own toxic sprays?

            Probably not. Yet that’s the whole point of Earth Day, marked around the world today.


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