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

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Published on Friday, May 13, 2022

Pow! How Batman led me astray

Thursday May 12, 2022


We all know about life’s major decisions. Buying a house. Buying a new car. Taking your first international vacation. Becoming parents, by birth or by adoption.

            You do research. You discuss the decision with friends, family. You talk to your bank manager. Because you know this decision will affect you for the rest of your life. 

            I am only realizing, late in my life, that smaller decisions, things I didn’t bother thinking twice about at the time, can also affect the rest of one’s life. 

            When I was ten, I regularly went to a barbershop a couple of blocks away. He kept a stack of comic books for his customers to look at while they waited. 

            I got hooked on Batman. He was a human being – unlike Superman – but smart enough to use modern technology. 

            I loved the way he dispatched his foes with a single mighty uppercut that came all the way up from the floor. Ka-Pow! Blam! Smash!

            My family moved away from that barbershop, but I never lost that mental image of Batman’s invincible fists. 


In real life

            So I used to imagine myself as Batman, knocking the school bullies flying with a single devastating blow. 

            Reality soon taught me I wasn’t suited to be Batman. I didn’t have the size or the muscles. I practiced avoidance, not combat. 

            But I never gave up my Batman mindset, I realize now. I transferred it into the one area where I excelled – words. 

            I cultivated ripostes that would skewer any adversary. I pounced on weaknesses in another’s argument. I watched for opportunities to deliver a verbal uppercut. 

            Of course, sometimes I didn’t think of that knockout punchline in time. So I practiced it all the way home. 

            If I was going to a meeting where I might have to confront contrary views, I rehearsed my retorts. I had a parry-and-jab ready for almost anything anyone might say. Even though the audience was rarely as hostile as I had imagined. 

            As I grew up, I honed my linguistic skills. I learned that I could write thoughtful, nuanced, persuasive letters --  missives that earned respect. Approval.

            Unless I felt backed into a corner. Unless I felt someone had harmed my reputation or had attacked me unfairly. Then I tended to come out swinging. 

            Like Batman, still. 

            When I retired from Wood Lake, the publishing house I had helped to found 20 years earlier, the staff threw a roast for me. For laughs, they dug out some of my old memos. 

            Listening to my own words, I didn’t laugh. I winced. Even if I was right, this was not the way to prove it.


Better tactics

            I’ve learned, tragically late, that defeating someone is not the way to build consensus and collaboration. An honest exchange beats a roundhouse bomb. Because then, everyone learns.

            Even if we can’t reach full agreement, at least we have listened to each other. 

            Knockout punches and howitzers may win battles, but they don’t make friends.

            Batman has a lot to answer for. He may have taught me some lessons about being on the side of rights and justice. But he taught me the wrong way to achieve them.


Copyright © 2022 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





In last week’s column, I contended that the moon is an inert object that has no effect on anything earthbound, such as wolves howling. 

            Frank Martens disagreed.  Lunar cycles DO seem to have certain effects: “Menstrual cycles are also aligned with the tropical month (the 27.32 days for a lunar orbit) … suggesting that menstruation is also affected by shifts in the moon's gravitational pull.”


Isabel Gibson spoke to my main point: “Yes, confusing causation and correlation is one of the great logical fallacies -- probably because it's so common. To navigate the world, we are tuned to see patterns and to infer causation. But like most things we do, we overdo it and jump too quickly.

            “Maybe we need the (Goldfinger) quote, slightly amended: Once is happenstance; twice is coincidence; only three times counts as enemy action.

            “Given what I know of the ability of birds to navigate amazing distances by celestial cues, I'd be willing to believe that coyotes could have an internal clock tuned to the moon. But since the studies and your own observations agree that they don't howl only at the full moon, I'll park the occasional correlations as coincidence.”


Ruth Buzzard shared her own experience of howling: “When my kids were young we had a New Year’s Eve tradition in Whistler.  About 11:00 pm we would walk down a snowy path to Alta Lake where my neighbours had cleared an ice rink and built a fire. We’d skate for a while by moonlight, then, at the stroke of midnight we would all line up on the shore and howl in the New Year.  Most years we would get answering howls from the other side of the lake.  It sounded like wolves or coyotes answering, but it could have been dogs and party-goers.

            “I shared this tradition with a bunch of Australians several years ago on a ship approaching the Suez Canal.  We went up to the top deck and howled in the New Year for about 10 minutes.  Several said it felt ‘freeing’. Anyway everyone let off a lot of steam and said they would carry on this ‘Canadian tradition’ when they got home. Everyone else on board thought we were crazy. Nobody howled back.

            “I agree with you that a rock fight inside a greenhouse could be a shattering experience.”


Ralph Milton has a great imagination: “Coyotes howl because they like music. They use a highly developed version of barbershop harmony. Our western diatonic system is much too limiting for coyotes, especially when they are using close harmony as in barbershop.  Coyotes use a variation of the 12 tone pelog of Java which has an elastic tonality. It allows you to sing between the notes, not unlike many church choirs. The coyote tonal system has been around much longer than the one we're familiar with. It is thought to have originated with the historic Carlos Coyote, who first sang in Coyote Pelog when visiting Piapot, Alberta. Carlos sang the highest note ever recorded in Pelog when he peed on an electric fence. Recent research has shown that coyotes use only the amygdala when they sing, and humans, trying to use more advanced parts of their brain, miss the subtle harmonies and delightful overtones that so delight coyote musicians. So stop analyzing. Just lie back and enjoy.”


Tom Watson offered a dose of reality: “One of my daughters and her husband farm in southwest Manitoba. There are a good number of coyotes around. The most common time to hear them howling, or yipping, is just before dark. The next most frequent time is between 1 and 3 in the morning. You rarely hear them during the daytime.”


Wilma Davidson: “I always understood that the howls of coyotes was their way of communicating to the pack that ‘dinner is ready’. Sometimes the next morning we, or our neighbours, would miss some chickens, a calf, lamb or a goat.  Or perhaps it was a rabbit or other wild game that appeared on the coyote’s dining room table. It is a wonderful conception.  We as humans are led to believe that we have dominion over all earth’s bounty. However we could not survive without the help of all living creatures.” 


I don’t get many comments on my psalm paraphrases, but Robert Mason called my paraphrase of Psalm 23, “So appropriate for tomorrow, Mother's Day.”




Psalm paraphrase


I’m not sure why the lectionary assigns Psalm 148 to this coming Sunday, but I love the message anyway. 


1          Jubilation, exaltation, celebration, one and all! 

2          Within the womb of the heavens, the orb of earth leaps to praise its Creator. 

3, 4      As the pearl necklace of the planets swings around the sun,
as the shining oceans embrace the continents,
so do all living things praise the giver of life. 

5          For God expressed a thought, and the thought took life. 

6          God wanted to speak, and the Word became flesh and lived among us. 

7          In that Word was holiness,
the spirit that makes every life more than the sum of its chemicals.
From the tiniest plankton in the sea to the great whales,
from the ants that burrow in the dust to the eagle that soars in the heavens --
all owe their existence to God.


8          Fire and hail, snow and frost, sun and drought, wind and rain -- 
in God, all things work together for good. 

9          The mighty mountains erode into rich silt;
fruit trees and cedars aerate the atmosphere.

10        The dung beetle depends on the wastes of cattle;
birds and breezes carry seeds to new orchards.

11        No one is cut off from the energy of God,
neither presidents throned in offices nor derelicts huddled under bridges. 

12        For in God there is neither male nor female, old nor young, black nor white. 

13        All have been equally created by God;
their lives all witness to God's grace.

14        With profligate generosity, God scatters new life among weeds and rocks.
And all creation responds with rejoicing. 


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: wisdom, Batman, cooperation



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