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

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Published on Saturday, May 8, 2021

Visualizing invisible dangers

Thursday May 6, 2021


The Kelowna Art Gallery is hosting a show about nuclear exposure, until July 18. 

            The gallery’s promotional leaflet says, “BOMBHEAD is a thematic exhibition organized by guest curator John O’Brian that explores the emergence and impact of the nuclear age… encompassing the pre- and post-war period from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 to the triple meltdown at Fukushima Daachi in 2011.”

            It’s not just about nuclear war, although the visual images do include mushroom clouds and flattened cities.

            It’s also about the invisible threat of nuclear radiation.

            In my younger years, we feared nuclear attacks. We were drilled to get down under our desks and tuck our heads between our knees – so that, as we small boys always smirked, “you can kiss your ass goodbye.”

            I took the nuclear threat seriously enough after reading Neville Shute’s On the Beach that I applied to emigrate to New Zealand. I reasoned that it would take radioactive fallout longer to reach there than anywhere else.

            I have to admit that nuclear dangers had largely slipped from my mind, pushed aside by climate change and the global pandemic. And, for four years, the Trump presidency. 

            BOMBHEAD reminded me that the dangers of nuclear destruction and radiation have not gone away.


Head not heart

            At the same time, I have to say, I felt that the exhibit failed. 

            BOMBHEAD is a visual arts display. But how does an artist portray something invisible?

            What you can’t see CAN hurt you. 

            Even as I viewed the galley, I knew that I might be breathing radioactive particles left over from the nuclear testing of the 1970s. 

            In infinitesimally small quantities, true. But because they’re infinitesimally small particles, I can never know if I have just inhaled a Strontium-90 or Cesium-137 atom. Which, lodged in my lungs, could cause a cancer, that could kill me. If I don’t die first.

            Ha! I have become Schrodinger’s cat!

            Pigment on paper, no matter how skillfully applied, is necessarily static. There is no shock value in a symbolic diagram of a radioactive atom. Statistics overwhelm the mind, but not the heart. 

            Only one display piece elicited a sense of shock for me – an animated video tracing Canada’s complicity in nuclear development, from the Manhattan Project that developed the first atomic bombs, to the present. 

            The video lit up sites where the uranium that went into Fat Boy and Little Boy were mined, transported, and processed. Port Radium in the Northwest Territories. Uranium City in northern Saskatchewan. Port Hope refinery in Ontario.  Chalk River, the first nuclear reactor outside the U.S. -- and the first to suffer a meltdown. The diamond necklace of nuclear power plants strung across southern Ontario and out into New Brunswick.

            The video worked, because it included an element of surprise.

            Drama could do the same. So could music. Possibly poetry.

            BOMBHEAD moved me to anger. But not to tears. 

            It seems to me that we humans are complacent when facts hit us only in our heads. We have to be hit in the heart to get out of our comfortable ruts and start changing the world we live in. 

            I wish BOMBHEAD had hit me in the heart.


Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.

            To comment on this column, write jimt@quixotic.ca





You see, I knew it – the guy-readers sent letters about their cars!


John Shaffer: “My first car was a 1957 Ford. I drove it fast twice.  The first time was just to find out how fast it would go.  On a deserted (thankfully) country road, the miles went by quickly at 100 MPH.  The second time was on a trip in Canada.  My friend and I had tickets to a play at Stratford (Ontario) and somehow we realized time was one hour different than we had anticipated.  We had tickets and I was determined not to waste them.  Fortunately, the Mounties were not out looking for me on that day.  We got to the play on-time.”


Randy Hall: “I'm 68 years old and I currently own my 29th vehicle.  I have owned two at a time for about 30 years, originally having an old van to use hauling around church youth, then church not-so-young.  I switched to old trucks 16 years ago for lawn mowers and moving kids, then building my log house.  Now I have a nicer truck for hauling stuff and some travel.

            “I haven't bought a new vehicle in over 40 years, only used.  My main car since 2015 is a Toyota Camry Hybrid which currently has 120,000 miles.  I'll drive it until it drops dead or when the infrastructure for electric vehicles makes [long] distance travel possible.  But it will be a used one that I can somehow justify owning!”


Tom Watson: “My first new car was a 1959 Plymouth. Big tail fins. Mohawk Rust (think orange) bottom with a white top. Flashy monster. Two months after I bought it, I met Janice on a blind date. I think it was the car that hooked her. Any guy who'd have a car such as that had to have a lot of...I don't know...something.”


Bob Rollwagen: “I started with a Honda 350 but moved to a 1966 Ford Econoline  Supervan, two seats with the engine between them, ‘Jai Guru Dev’ in big letters written up front under the windshield and mattress and two chairs in the rear!  Great memories. Drove it to LA, up the west coast to  Vancouver and back north of Superior picking up hitchhikers -- starting in Toronto and the last one dropped in Toronto coming home. 

            “Dodge Dart for my job hunting year, Fiat 124 Sport Coupe (‘Fix It Again Tony’) until I could not afford the repair. Pontiac two-door Sedan. Moved up to the Wagon for early family travel. Remember Station Wagons? Many minivans during my kids’ sports years.

            “And five more I don’t recall since then. [For me} a car has four weeks, radio and steering wheel. I never got beyond the functionality.”


And after I made fiun of pastel-coloured Nash Metropolitans, Dave Bryson wrote, “My first car was a 1953 pastel-coloured Nash Metropolitan.  My second car was a 1957 red MGA with full chrome package, only six months old, bought and sold with limited mileage by Montreal’s most popular (high income) disc jockey. 

            “My third car was a 1961 Nash Rambler station wagon. By then I had married Phyl, and with her two sons, the red MGA was inappropriate as a family car. 

            “Like you say, if you want to get a guy to comment on your news feed, simply ask him about his first car!”


A couple of female readers said that the column give them a good laugh. Janie Wallbrown was the only woman to write anything extended: “I think it's true. Men's cars mean more to them than they usually do to women.  Somehow it reminds me of a Frank Sinatra song where he sings of the various stages of women he goes through in his lifetime. Men in my acquaintance remember every car they have ever had. I don't remember mine. 

            “I DO remember needing to buy a car when I divorced my first husband. My parents were home on furlough. I had never bought a car on my own; always joint venture with husband. I asked Daddy to come with me. I believe I had in mind something like a Ford Mustang convertible. Something fast and sleek. Something that represented my newfound freedom from an abusive husband. Daddy was horrified. To him that thought represented a ‘loose’ woman. I ended up with a car I hated. A Duster? Practical. Daddy approved. 

            “The cars you mention? O Lordy! I haven't even heard of them.”




Psalm paraphrase


Psalm 98 comes up every third year for Christian Family Sunday, which the rest of the world calls Mother’s Day. 


1          How different God's creation is from human society.
The clamor of human conflict creates a cacaphony
like orchestras competing with their conductor. 
Dysfunctional families sacrifice their favorite songs,
And nations murder each other's melodies. 

2          But God plays other music. 

3          The colors of nature never clash with each other.

4          In a garden, every shade of leaf and flower joins a joyous chorus;
bare branch and bonsai provide a counterpoint
balancing the beauty of blossoms. 

5-6       In the depths of the jungle,
the sounds of termite and tiger weave a wondrous harmony;
eerie descants echo through the ocean's deeps. 
The rhythm of life throbs in every cell,
and the seasons swell and ebb away.

7-8       From the farthest nebula to the tiniest atom,
all creation dances to honor its choreographer.

9          God applauds each performance. 
But God detects the discords, too.
And God does not applaud for them. 


You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalmsavailable from Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com.






If you want to comment on something, send a message directly to me, jimt@quixotic.ca.

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            I write a second column each Sunday called Sharp Edges, which tends to be somewhat more cutting about social and justice issues. To sign up for Sharp Edges, write to me directly, jimt@quixotic.ca, or send a note to sharpedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

            And for those of you who like poetry, please check my webpage .https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry I posted several new poetic works there a few weeks ago. If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to poetry-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca (If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)






To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have blocked my posts because they’re suspicious of some of the web links.

            Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!

            I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.

            Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



            I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)



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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Art, BOMBHEAD, nuclear threat



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