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

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What you believe affects what you do

Author: Jim Taylor

 “Why do you keep writing about religion?” one of my correspondents asked. “Does anyone care anymore?”

            Statistics support his point. I’ve written before about plunging membership in churches. In the white western world, that is – Asia and Africa seem to be flourishing. U.S. evangelical churches have been the exception, until now, but surveys suggest their decline simply lags about 40 years behind the mainline churches. 

            But that doesn’t make religion irrelevant. It just means that more and more people aren’t aware of what’s pushing their buttons.

            And their buttons are their belief systems. 

            Which may or may not be what’s traditionally called “religious.”

            Author Ayn Rand called herself an atheist, but she believed passionately in every individual’s right to live without government interference. Her ideas permeate the U.S. Republican party.

            David Suzuki professes no religious beliefs. But in interviews, it’s clear he believes passionately in evolution.

            Carl Sagan believed in science; Stephen Hawking believes in mathematics; Sigmund Freud believed in sex.

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Allegations topple big names

Author: Jim Taylor

Thursday morning, Patrick Brown resigned as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario over allegations of sexual misconduct.

            Wednesday night, Brown called a hasty news conference to deny the allegations. “These allegations are false,” Brown fumed. “Every one of them. I will defend myself as hard as I can, with all the means at my disposal.”

            If he wasn’t being honest, he was a damned good actor.

            Don’t misunderstand me -- I am not defending whatever Patrick Brown did or didn’t do. Or, for that matter, what any of the other host of men brought down by the #MeToo revelations may or may not have done.

            The parade of big names knocked off their pedestals grows daily.  But by my reading of news reports, Larry Nassar, former medical doctor for USA Gymnastics, is the only one who has actually been tried and convicted.

            All the rest have been toppled – whether fired, demoted, resigned -- by unproven allegations.

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Humans, the theory makers

Author: Jim Taylor

I was born without a theory. About anything. I didn’t know up from down – literally, since I had just emerged from a watery and weightless womb.

            But from that instant on, I started creating theories to help me make sense of the world I found myself in. Everyone does. We figure out that moms are warm, soft, and soothing. Floors are hard. Smiles make big people smile back.

            As time passes, we develop theories about everything. As we amass more experience, those theories get more sophisticated, better at predicting outcomes. We figure out that compliments generate more support than criticism, for example. That men and women are different. That blue-chip stocks are a safer investment than snake oil or swampland.

            And, for the most part, we modify our theories to take account of new facts as they emerge.

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Minimum wage is not a living wage

Author: Jim Taylor

Tim Hortons is in hot water – and I don’t mean coffee.

            When the Ontario government bumped the minimum wage up from $11.60 an hour to $14.00 an hour, some Tim Hortons outlets slashed hours and benefits for their staff, who ended up getting a pay cut instead of an increase.

            A deluge of criticism followed, in newspapers, and in online petitions.

            Disclosure: I do not own shares in Tim Hortons or its parent companies, Restaurant Brands International and 3G Capital, a Brazilian investment giant. But I am a Tim Hortons customer. And my daughter worked for Tim’s for a few years. 

            The policies that earned scathing editorial comments happened at a minority of Tim’s franchises – perhaps a couple of dozen, all in Ontario.

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Struggling with stereotypes

Author: Jim Taylor

 don’t expect much more snow. Not around here, anyway. Because I just bought a snowblower.

            In a sense, my snowblower symbolizes our social obsession with independence. 

            It starts young. We encourage our children to do things for themselves, instead of depending on their parents. We expect young adults to earn their own way, to plot their own course. We expect older adults to keep on looking after themselves, despite disabilities.

            A group of us guys get together, occasionally, to talk about growing older. We don’t have any choice about growing older, short of expiring. But we agree that we don’t want to grow “old.”

            “Old” implies weak. Helpless. Unable to cope with credit cards or iPhones. Forgetful. Needing someone to supply the word we knew perfectly well when we started that sentence. Needing help to carry bags of groceries out to the car. If we have a car at all. Tripping. Falling. 

            “Old” means losing our precious independence.

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Not everything old is worth preserving

Author: Jim Taylor

Here’s a challenge. What do these five objects have in common -- kryptonite; Sauron’s ring; canned spinach; Thor’s hammer; the sword Excalibur?

            Answer: they were all once associated with super-powers. Sauron’s ring made Bilbo and Frodo Baggins invisible, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series of novels. Thor’s hammer and the sword Excalibur made their owners invincible in battle. And spinach gave the cartoon character Popeye super-strength. 

            Kryptonite also deals with super-powers, but negatively. It robbed power from Superman. It rendered him helpless.

            Those five things also have one other common characteristic. Only an older generation finds them familiar. 

            In a word, they’re outdated.

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One of my relations

Author: Jim Taylor

I have no sentimental feelings about California quail. But in my experience, they make chickens look like candidates for Mensa.

            We joke about chickens crossing the road. Around here, quail move in flocks. Sometimes so many they give an impression of the earth itself rippling in waves. 

            There is no such thing as a single quail. So if I see a solitary quail at the side of the road when I’m driving, I slow down.  That quail will certainly try to cross the road in front of me. At the last possible second. And it will equally certainly be followed by the rest of the flock. They could fly, but they won’t. They’ll erupt from the grass and underbrush like nerf balls, and scuttle on Roadrunner legs across the blacktop. 

            Except that when they’re almost across, they will decide they didn’t want to go there after all; they will turn, en masse, and head back — sometimes actually underneath my car. 

            No, I do not have a high opinion of quail intelligence. 

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A war is not over when a war ends

Author: Jim Taylor

“It ain’t over till it’s over,” New York Yankee’s famed catcher Yogi Berra once said. Berra may be right about baseball; he was wrong about wars. Wars don’t end when someone wins. They end only when the last generation of victims dies.

            That’s what makes the recent UNICEF report on child victims so disturbing. Child victims will live longer than adult victims. 

            UNICEF’s statistics are staggering. 

            The deaths are bad enough: 700 children killed by conflicts in Afghanistan; 135 children forced to act as suicide bombers in sub-Saharan West Africa. But – pardon me for even saying this – at least they’re now dead. They won’t carry their experiences with them for the rest of their lives. 

            Not so the survivors. In Ukraine, 220,000 still play amid landmines and unexploded ordnances. In Yemen, 5,000 children have been injured by war against terrorist factions. In Myanmar, almost half of the 650,000 Rohinga refugees forced from their homes into Bangladesh are children. In the (grossly misnamed) Democratic Republic of Congo, 850,000 children have been driven from their homes.

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Seeing the flow of time

Author: Jim Taylor

very day, the local TV channel fills a few seconds in its parade of commercials with a speeded-up panorama of downtown Kelowna. Clouds skid by, showers form, daylight darkens into night. On the highway through town, headlights blend into a fluid stream that ebbs and flows like waves on a shore.

            When we’re in that stream, we see only the immediate moment. Traffic either hurtles onward, or it goes nowhere. 

            That’s because we live in the “now”. We know there’s a past, through which we have come. We know there’s a future, which will probably arrive sooner than we want. But generally, we’re aware only of this moment in time. 

             The charm of historic sites -- like Barkerville or Vernon’s O’Keefe Ranch -- is that they let us see now, what was then. 


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De-clutter everything but memories

Author: Jim Taylor

Last New Year’s Eve, we welcomed the new year on Mountain Time. At 10:45 here in the Pacific Time zone, someone yawned. Yawns are contagious. (Even just reading this, you’re tempted to yawn, aren’t you?) By some miraculous consensus, we all agreed that if it was midnight in Alberta, that was good enough for us.

             The New Year is traditionally a time for Resolutions. I’ve never had much success keeping my New Year’s Resolutions. Most are hopelessly idealistic, like promising to avoid puns. Or to think kindly of Donald Trump.

            The only Resolution I’ve ever managed to keep was my resolution, a few years ago, to stop making New Year’s Resolutions.

           Now, instead of making rash promises, I look for words of wisdom that might influence my behaviour.

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