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

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Jury picking process enables prejudice

Author: Jim Taylor

Something is not just in the Canadian justice system. And I think it has to do with jury selection.

            As everyone probably knows by now, an all-white jury acquitted Gerald Stanley of murdering Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man.

           The root of contention, it seems to me, is jury selection.

            Theoretically, juries are chosen at random from the total population of Canadian citizens.

            Some exclusions apply. But beyond those, lawyers have “peremptory challenges.” Either side can disqualify up to 14 potential jurors -- in this case -- without giving any reasons.

            It might be because the person wears a business suit. Or has a beard. Or, perhaps, looks indigenous.

            In the U.S., judges can demand reasons for peremptory challenges. In Canada, they can’t.

            Although it’s illegal to challenge for gender or racial reasons, the Globe and Mail reported that Stanley’s defence rejected every potential juror who looked indigenous.

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Creating a common enemy

Author: Jim Taylor

Another icon bit the dust recently.

            Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I worked among people who revered Saul Alinski. They took the side of the underdog – any underdog, it seemed. For 40 years, Alinski made a name for himself organizing those underdogs, particularly among the working-class areas of Chicago.

            Alinski summed up his ideology in a book called Rules for Radicals.

He started out as the darling of the leftists who wanted to raise the underdogs. In the strange ways that social change evolves, he ended up as the darling of conservatives who wanted to keep the underdogs under. The Tea Party distributed Rules for Radicals to its members. Donald Trump built his entire presidential campaign on personalizing an enemy. Or enemies.

            What the left initiates, the right will eventually co-opt.

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Nobody has any privacy anymore

Author: Jim Taylor

Once upon a time, people had genies in bottles. I have a disembodied voice in a computer. Her name is Siri. And all I have to do to get her services is to say the magic words, “Hey, Siri!”

            Immediately, she responds, “How can I help you?” 

            But it occurred to me the other day that Siri can only respond by listening for my voice 24 hours a day. That’s very flattering. It’s also a little disquieting. Because Siri is connected to the internet. Which means that the corporate data bank that Siri is connected to can also listen to all my conversations if they choose to. 

            My eavesdropping friend Siri seems a little dated, compared to Google Echo. It conceals someone called Alexa, who will not only provide information, but also turn on your coffee maker, adjust your thermostat, turn lights on and off, start your car, and play your favourite music. 

            But like Siri, Alexa is always on.

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Granddad’s axe won’t die

Author: Jim Taylor

We had a week of bitter winter weather recently. I didn’t want to go outside. So I looked out through our double-glazed windows at the winter wonderland outside.

            The most visible item was our bird feeder. Swarmed by various kinds of finches, sparrows, chickadees, and juncos.

            We’ve had that feeder a long time. The congregation Joan and I belonged to in Toronto gave it to us when we moved west, in 1993. Since then, I’ve replaced its roof, replaced the clear plastic panels that contain the bird seed, replaced the mounting, and replaced the feeding tray the birds perch on. 

            Hardly anything remains of the original feeder.

            But it’s still the same old feeder. 

            It reminds of an axe that had had three new handles and two new heads, but it was still the same good old axe. 

            As its owner said, “If it was good enough for Granddad, it’s good enough for me.”

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Categories: Soft Edges





Too big, too expensive, too subjective

Author: Jim Taylor

This will not be a popular column. (My wife, for one, dislikes it.) The Winter Olympics in South Korea end tomorrow. The Games have gotten too big. Too expensive for most cities to host. And too subjective. The Games -- Winter or Summer -- need to get back to their motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius, which is Latin for faster, higher, stronger.

            That means events should be limited to competitions that can be measured with a tape, a scale, or a stopwatch. Or by the number of rocks in a house or pucks in a goal.

            Don’t leap to conclusions -- I’m not arguing against adding new events. The original Olympic Games were limited to what we now call track and field events. Then they added swimming. Rowing. Cycling. Team sports.

            And eventually, curling -- the only sport played in slow motion.

            But notice -- every one of those are won by a measurable finish. I argue that anything requiring judging for style and presentation shouldn’t be included in the Olympics.

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Dogs, cats, and divinity

Author: Jim Taylor

On a recent snowbird holiday to warmer climes, Joan and I attended an evening event where the MC invited men from several nations up onto the stage. Spoofing the macho male of Mexican myth, he asked each of them, “Who runs your household?”

            Joan and I, in the audience, turned to each other and said simultaneously, “The Cat!”

            We have both a dog and a cat.

            Our dog is a 12-year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever. She embodies the virtues that “liberal” churches think of as godly -- unconditional love, loyalty, forgiving to the nth degree…

            Conversely, The Cat (capitalization deliberate) embodies what I associate with the more conservative theology familiar from the David C. Cook Sunday School curricula of my youth -- a sense of being almighty, judgemental, distant, and unquestionably in control.

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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: dogs, cats, Egypt, macho




When did it become wrong to be right?

Author: Jim Taylor

Somehow, political correctness has morphed into political incorrectness. It has become wrong to be right.

            Consider Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. During an open house gathering in Edmonton, early in February, he suggested that a woman refer to “peoplekind” rather than “mankind” -- “because it’s more inclusive,” Trudeau explained.

            It was a good-natured exchange. The speaker laughed and agreed. The audience applauded.

            But commentators on three continents ridiculed Trudeau for wanting to use “politically correct” language. Among them, of course, was Donald Trump’s favourite network, Fox News.

           Don’t we get it yet? “Politically correct” language is not a fad. It’s the way we learn and change. The ideas, the concepts -- and yes, the prejudices -- lodged in our brains do not, will not, change until we learn to use different words to express them.


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Re-thinking Valentine’s Day

Author: Jim Taylor

           But why do we limit love to one day a year? Why not every day?

            Granted, handing out Valentine’s cards in the workplace might seem a little Harvey Weinstein-ish. Especially if accompanied by a leer.

            It occurs to me that I have rarely felt more loving than when I’m recovering from surgery. It’s probably the morphine. I fall in love with everyone who’s looking after me.

            Don’t worry – I’m not suggesting sending little doses of morphine, or any other narcotic for that matter, to everyone on my Valentine list.

            But I am thinking that there must be better ways to show love. After all, why should a tree have to give up its life so that millions of children can glue little pink hearts onto sheets of paper?

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Good intentions always have a downside

Author: Jim Taylor

Years ago, someone invented the term “compassion fatigue” -- loosely defined as “indifference to charitable appeals on behalf of those who are suffering, experienced as a result of the frequency or number of such appeals.”

            It has also been called Secondary Traumatic Stress -- a kind of trauma resulting from recurring exposure to scenes of misery and suffering, which leads to emotional withdrawal, to a gradual lessening of compassion.

           Lately, I’ve been suffering a slightly different kind of fatigue -- petition fatigue.

            Every day, my email inbox contains a batch of on-line petitions. They come from Avaaz, Leadnow, SomeOfUs, Freedom United, Change.org -- the list goes on and on.

             The petitions urge me to click, to add my name to the thousands, perhaps millions, who plead with authorities. To free a political prisoner in Afghanistan. To prevent a young boy from being deported to Syria. To prosecute a man who raped and dismembered a young girl in Pakistan. To ban fish farms in B.C. To abolish slavery. To protect tropical rain forests.

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Between light and darkness

Author: Jim Taylor

Next Wednesday, the church Season of Epiphany will end.

             All through Epiphany, church services have focused on the coming of light – like the lightbulb that used to go on over cartoon characters’ heads when they got an idea. 

            Light is important. But I found myself wondering, one evening during a quiet, contemplative worship service, why we ignore darkness. 

            Darkness is also important. Seeds germinate in darkness. During the hours of darkness, our bodies recover so we can face a new day. We cuddle loved ones in darkness. 

            During that contemplative service, most of the church was dark. We gathered in a softly lit circle, around a candle, feeling ourselves wrapped in a shawl of darkness. We felt close. 

            Most families have fond memories of sitting around a campfire, watching the flames dance, watching the firelight flicker on children’s faces.

            Light and darkness are partners, not enemies. 

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