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

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18

Apr

2018

Earth Day and goddess worship

Author: Jim Taylor

This coming Sunday, April 22, is Earth Day. Not to be confused with Earth Hour, back in March, which promoted turning off surplus electric lights for one hour, causing a wave of darkness to sweep all around the earth. Earth Day has a larger focus this year, to “End Plastic Pollution.”

            “Plastics,” says a promotion piece, “poison and injure marine life, disrupt human hormones, litter beaches and landscapes, [and] clog our waste streams and landfills. The exponential growth of plastics now threatens the survival of our planet.”

            I don’t disagree. But I see plastics as a symptom of a deeper malaise. We didn’t have plastics until we made them out of fossil fuels. And our use and abuse of fossil fuels reflects the belief that this planet is a lifeless landfill site where we humans can dump our waste products forever.

            Basically, we don’t care much about the earth that gives us life.


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15

Apr

2018

The people who work at making bad things worse

Author: Jim Taylor

There hasn’t been this much news about chemical weapons since Saddam Hussein didn’t have them after all.

            First it was the Skripals, father and daughter, apparently poisoned by some kind of nerve agent in Britain. More recently, it has been Syrian civilians, hundreds of them, including children and elderly.

            In both cases, the perpetrator hasn’t been conclusively proven. The U.K. holds Russia responsible for the attack on the Skripals, possibly as revenge for his having betrayed his own government by providing secret information to British Intelligence.

            Similarly, the western nations blame Syria’s ruler, Bashar Al Assad, for the poison gas attacks on civilians in a suburb of Damascus, one of the last stands of Syrian rebels.

            In all this finger-pointing, I see very few media commentators examining the nature of the weapons themselves.

            So here’s a brief history -- Chemical Weapons 101, perhaps.


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11

Apr

2018

The ‘Word of the Lord’ often isn’t

Author: Jim Taylor

Remember the Ebola virus? The first cases were reported in West Africa in 2013; it became an epidemic in 2014; it faded from prominence by 2016. In between those years, it killed about 11,300 people. 

            Although it had a 70 per cent mortality rate, Ebola was actually less lethal than the Spanish ‘flu in 1918, which took over 50 million lives – more than all the deaths caused by World War I. The Black Death of the 1300s killed even more, wiping out half of Europe’s population. 

            Ebola didn’t even exceed the deaths from car accidents and gun violence in the U.S. – each taking around 33,000 lives that year alone. 

            Nevertheless, Ebola evoked terror.

            And a few people capitalized on it.


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8

Apr

2018

Not what was done, but why

Author: Jim Taylor

Facebook has taken a lot of criticism recently in the media -- enough that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg bought some very expensive full-page ads in newspapers across America to defend his company. He’s expected to testify before several U.S. Congressional committees; he has refused to testify to a British parliamentary investigation.

            Perhaps Facebook deserves its criticism; perhaps it doesn’t. But I think the critics have missed the point. They’ve concentrated on what’s called “data mining,” as if it were intrinsically wrong. They’ve focussed on what was done, not why it was done.

            I contend that there is nothing wrong with data mining itself.

            The difference is the purpose for which the data is used.


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4

Apr

2018

The bubbles of our own realities

Author: Jim Taylor

I’m sitting in a chair. No, that’s not quite right. I think I’m sitting in a chair, but quantum physics tells me there’s really no chair there at all, just infinitesimal packets of energy whizzing around that can only be described as probabilities… And of course, I’m also just a collection of probabilities. So there’s no me sitting in something that isn’t a chair.

            It makes me wonder who or what is the “I” that’s wondering all these things. 

            At the other end of reality, I learn about a universe that’s some 14 billion years old, and more than 28 billion light-years across. Like an ancient psalm writer, I wonder, “Who am I, that anyone should think I matter?”

            I can’t comprehend a billion of anything, whether time or distance.


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1

Apr

2018

The biggest religious event in the world

Author: Jim Taylor

Today is Easter Sunday. All around the world, millions of Christian congregations will celebrate the Resurrection (with a capital R) of Jesus of Nazareth.

            It is the single biggest religious celebration in the world – bigger than Islam’s hajj or Hinduism’s mela, which garner much greater media attention. So how could I avoid writing about it?

            You know the story -- Jesus went to Jerusalem, upset the local authorities, was arrested, tried, tortured, and was put to death. As the historic Apostles’ Creed puts it, he “was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again…”

            In the majority of Christian congregations, the preacher will treat the Resurrection as a literal, physical, honest-to-gawd fact. 

            The narratives were intended to offer legal proof of their claim -- under Jewish law, two eye-witnesses were considered sufficient proof. The Bible offers dozens of witnesses; thousands, according to Paul. 

            Legal proof does not equal scientific proof. In science, the results of an experiment can only be considered valid if they can be replicated. One-shot results are either accidents, or frauds.

            Clearly, the Easter Resurrection is a one-time-only event.


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Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: Easter

28

Mar

2018

All organizations rely on rituals

Author: Jim Taylor

I write these words while Wheel of Fortune flickers on TV. I’m not paying attention, but I’m dimly aware of the rituals being acted out on the screen. Spinning the wheel. Applauding on cue. Groaning when someone goes “Bankrupt.” Standing on the right spot on the floor for the final challenge, when exactly the same letters will come up every time.

            Meanwhile, Vanna White pretends to turn blank squares turn into letters -- even though everyone knows she’s only there as eye-candy. 

            The formula is so predictable, it could be hosted by a robot. Maybe it is. 

            And audiences love it.

            Yet people claim to dislike rituals. Typically, they call them “meaningless.” Especially in the religious context.


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25

Mar

2018

What kind of animal would Donald Trump be?

Author: Jim Taylor

If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?

            Those who are unable to think metaphorically won’t even understand the question. But some of the organizations I worked with, years ago, used that question to help members understand a little better their relationships with the people they worked with.

            For example, I tend to think of myself as a donkey – a creature that carries whatever gets piled onto its back without complaint.  But a colleague described herself as a hedgehog – an indication that when things got rough, she would figuratively curl up into a tight little ball protected by prickly spines. (Another called herself Miss Piggy, giving me a warning that it might be all about her.) 

            Obviously, I can’t ask world leaders what kind of animal they think they would be. But I get some wry satisfaction from imagining them as animals.


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21

Mar

2018

Checklists, to take and to leave

Author: Jim Taylor

           I have to admit that I’ve reached the age where I need checklists. I don’t remember things the way I once did. I’ve lost track of the number of times I have forgotten my wallet. Or my hearing aids. Or my house keys. 

            I could print up some all-purpose checklists and fasten them to the wall at the foot of the stairs. Just to remind me of things I might have forgotten on my way out. 

            Have I taken my cellphone, in case of emergencies?

            Do I have my sunglasses?

            And did I remember the list of the things I’m supposed to do while I’m out, so that I don’t have to make a second trip later?


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14

Mar

2018

The real miracle of the “Miracle Mile”

Author: Jim Taylor

Earlier this month, news came that Roger Bannister had died.

            I turned 18 the year Roger Bannister became the first human to run a mile in less than four minutes. A mile – you may remember those things, a quaint anachronism consisting of 5280 feet, each containing 12 inches. Only the U.S. still uses those funny dimensions, although it has long given up other measures of the mile – eight furlongs, 80 chains, 320 rods…

            Back in 1954, though, the mile was still a standard measure. We measured fuel efficiency in miles per gallon, speeds in miles per hour. 

            And the four-minute mile was still considered impossible for mere humans. 

            It turned out to be a psychological barrier, not a physical one.


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