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Thursday August 19, 2021
Everything is personal. Everything. Even whatever happened 13.8 billion years ago -- if it weren’t personal you wouldn’t be here to read these words.
Or, to put it another way, there is no such thing as impersonal information. Abstract terms describing theoretical concepts -- like civil rights, climate change, government corruption, and foreign aid -- take on meaning only in a personal context.
Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not advocating personal attacks on someone’s appearance or morals. Rather, recognize that whatever you say, the person you’re speaking to will take it personally.
If they don’t, they’re not listening.
Categories: Soft Edges
Tags: communication, Language, personal
Sunday August 15, 2021
Another school classmate died last week. David Scott died in Washington DC August 5.
David and I went through our first six grades together at a school in the foothills of the Himalayas. Then we lost touch.
I left India with my parents, and have only been back briefly. David, on the other hand, spent most of his working life in India -- four decades with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. He was professor of history of religions in theological colleges, a chaplain, and a study-center director.
I didn’t get to know David again until I attended a school reunion some 40 years later.
Other classmates were much closer to him. So I don’t write this column deep in grief. I write it because David’s death brings into sharp focus the harsh reality of growing older. We lose friends.
Categories: Sharp Edges
Tags: aging, David Scott, friends, loss
Thursday August 12, 2021
Over the transition from July to August, I spent about ten days on Vancouver Island. Five times, I went hiking in old-growth forests. Massive trunks soar upwards, 200-300 feet, so straight, so vertical, that they might have been laid out by an engineer with a spirit level. At the top, the canopy of branches opens out into a fretwork vault, lacing the sky with a canopy of needled embroidery.
I took pictures, of course. But pictures cannot capture the awe engendered by an old-growth forest. I need Emily Carr’s exuberant brush strokes, her explosive splashes of colour, to bring out the sacredness of these trees.
But it’s not all about the cathedral image.
Down below, fallen giants nurse new seedlings. Young hemlocks, mostly. One such nurse tree had become a day care for over 30 young hemlocks growing along its length,. The death of an old matriarch had opened a trapdoor of sky to let the light in.
I wondered what that forest might say to us, if it could speak.
Tags: wisdom, forests, Wohlleben, Simard
Sunday August 8, 2021
Seventy-six years ago yesterday, the world’s first atomic bomb seared the city of Hiroshima in Japan. Writer Tom Englehart makes Hiroshima personal.
In a column in TomDispatch, he described a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which, he says, “can obviously offer a visitor only a hint of what it was actually like to experience the end of the world, thanks to a single bomb. And yet I found the experience so deeply unsettling that, when I returned home to New York City, I could barely talk about it.
“While it’s seldom thought of that way, climate change should really be reimagined as the equivalent of a slow-motion nuclear holocaust. Hiroshima took place in seconds, a single blinding flash of heat. Global warming will prove to be a matter of years, decades, even centuries of heat.”
Tags: climate change, Hiroshima, Englehart
Sunday August 1, 2021
Along with a majority of Canadians, I’ve had my second COVID-19 vaccination. I’d like to go back to hugging my friends and shaking hands with those who might become close friends.
It ain’t gonna happen. Evolution – which is just another word for “change” – doesn’t work that way.
The dinosaurs probably thought evolution had gone into reverse when the asteroid hit the Yucatan peninsula and they all died of hypothermia. They had, after all, been the dominant product of evolution for 170 million years.
But in fact, evolution speeded up. The great annihilation was the great acceleration. It opened up new frontiers for mammals (which includes us) and birds.
How long have we humans dominated life on this planet? I’d guess that until about 10,000 years ago we had no discernable effect at all. Only since we enslaved technology have we turned into the most invasive species this planet has ever known, surpassing even insects.
Tags: Evolution, change, Kurzweil, Moore's Law
Thursday July 29, 2021
Long long ago, I had a Baby Brownie camera. It had no settings at all – just point and click. But it let me take grainy black and white pictures.
As time went on, I graduated to a 35mm camera that would do almost everything for me except choose my subject. It would set the aperture. Choose the shutter speed. Auto-focus on whatever I had on the screen.
Except that one of its dials sets “picture mode,” in which the camera automatically amends its settings to suit special circumstances -- portraits, landscapes, close-ups, etc.
Not long ago, I took a series of photos of our Rotary club picking up litter along a popular walking route. Somehow, I bumped that dial from “Auto” to “Art.”
I got grainy black and white photos that I might have taken with my old Baby Brownie.
Tags: aging, letting go
Sunday July 25, 2021
“A teenage girl who stabbed a boy to death in downtown Kelowna was sentenced to one day in custody after pleading guilty to manslaughter.”
That was the first sentence of a story in Wednesday’s paper.
It took me aback.
One day? Especially when that one day was the day she appeared in court?
Part of me says that murder, even an unpremeditated murder like this one, deserves punishment. No one should get off with a verbal reprimand.
That is, of course, the principle behind what’s called retributive justice. Make ‘em suffer for that they did.
Tags: justice, rehabilitation, mental health
Thursday July 22, 2021
Smoke cloaks the Okanagan Valley, as it does much of North America. With wildfires burning all over B.C. and through the western states., smoke can’t help drifting through this valley.
It hangs like frosted glass between me and the far shore of the lake.
To the north and south, water sky and hills merge into an opaque curtain.
There are no horizons.
Smoke is becoming a new normal. As extreme weather patterns come tumbling one after another, we can expect more heat domes. More droughts. More smoke.
Tags: sacrifice, Smoke, Solomon
Sunday July 18, 2021
COVID-19 cases have started surging again, in places like Brazil, India, Indonesia, and the U.S.. Reports blame the rise on anti-vaccine movements, distrust of authorities, misinformation, and government incompetence.
If I were a coronavirus, I’d be celebrating all of those.
As a virus, I have only one goal – to get inside the cells of as many humans as possible, so that I can take over their cell mechanisms to make more copies of me, so that I can get inside more cells of more humans.
We viruses run the ultimate assembly line. All we need is victims.
Tags: COVID-19, coronavirus, allies
Thursday July 15, 2021
Some sources will tell you that the “rule of threes” derives from trench warfare in World War I. Two soldiers could safely light their cigarettes off a single match. But if you kept the match alight long enough for a third soldier to light up, enemy snipers had time to aim. One dead soldier.
But the rule of threes surely goes back far before that.
Threes are endemic in Christianity. The Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In baptisms, people are dipped or sprinkled three times. Everyone knows that there were three Wise Men – although the Bible itself never cites that number. Resurrection came on the morning of the third day. Peter denied Jesus three times; Jesus countered by asking Peter three time, “Do you love me?” Jesus rejected three temptations in the wilderness…