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

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29

Mar

2020

Isolation causes its own social problems

Author: Jim Taylor

My grocery store has a sign up at its cash registers: “Due to the COVID-19 virus, we no longer accept reusable grocery bags.”  Instead, they’ll give away free plastic bags.

            Not that long ago, the same store encouraged reusable bags, to cut back on single-use plastic bags made from fossil fuels that ended up in landfill sites. Or swirling around the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

            I cite that as a single instance of the way the coronavirus panic is suddenly upsetting -- rightly or wrongly -- many of the notions that we used to take for granted. 


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15

Mar

2020

Serenity in short supply these days

Author: Jim Taylor

           As Scott Gilmore editorialized in Maclean’s, “It’s not the end of the world, it just feels that way.”

            Gilmore recalled his childhood days, reading a framed poem on a church wall. He assumed it must be “a piece of ancient wisdom, a psalm from the Old Testament.”

            It was neither. It was a prayer written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, in the 1930s:

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”

            It’s commonly called the “Serenity Prayer.” Alcoholics Anonymous popularized it. Other self-help programs have picked it up.

            Are prayers the answer to today’s chaos?

 


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8

Mar

2020

Terrorized by a tiny virus particle

Author: Jim Taylor

The dominant news story of the last few weeks (aside from the American media’s obsession with the Democratic primaries) has been the spread and effects of the new coronavirus, officially dubbed COVID-19.

            Medically, it’s a relatively minor illness -- far less fearsome than, say, cancer, heart disease, or obesity. As I write this column, in midweek, COVID-19 has spread to 46 countries, but resulted in only 3,100 deaths worldwide.  The whole U.S. has had only 135 cases, with just 11 deaths; Canada, only 35 cases in total, with no deaths at all. (Figures depend on the source and date.)

            There are times when our collective reaction feels like a tempest in a teapot.

            By comparison, the 2009 H1N1 virus caused 12,500 deaths in the US alone. And that figure is annually surpassed by the ordinary, common, garden-variety flu which will kill about 18,000 people in the U.S. this year...


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1

Mar

2020

Why do heroes have to be perfect?

Author: Jim Taylor

This week, I learn that his own creation, L’Arche International, the organization that operates 154 homes for mentally and physically disabled people in 38 countries around the world, released a report that he had had sexual relations with six women.

            None of them, I’m relieved to hear, were among the disabled persons served by L’Arche homes.

            But all six had Vanier as their spiritual director. Which means they were in an unequal relationship with him. Which he exploited.

            The relationships, said the report, were “emotionally abusive and characterised by significant imbalances of power, whereby the alleged victims felt deprived of their free will and so the sexual activity was coerced or took place under coercive conditions.”

            The charges are not mere rumours. L’Arche might be expected to defend its founder’s reputation.


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23

Feb

2020

Hereditary chiefs launch a landslide

Author: Jim Taylor

For a writer, it’s almost freeing to know that anything I say about the Wet’suwet’en affair will be denounced by someone as wrong, misguided, misleading, and/or prejudiced. 

            After all, this single issue combines aboriginal rights, colonial injustice, social stereotyping, racial discrimination, capitalism, fossil fuels, the law, the economy, global warming, global trade, and the rights of nature. How could it help being divisive?

            And yet at the heart of it stand just nine men -- the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en people in northern B.C.

            A natural gas pipeline running from Dawson Creek to Kitimat on the B.C. coast would have to pass through Wet’suwet’en territory. 


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16

Feb

2020

Billionaires battle for the presidency

Author: Jim Taylor

My wife and I watch Jeopardy, most evenings, for three reasons. Its host is Alex Trebek, a Canadian. It involves knowledge and intelligence. And it has no guns.

            But Jeopardy is not on any Canadian channel in our area. We have to watch it on Seattle’s KOMO. Which means that we’re suddenly seeing several advertisements every hour for Michael Bloomberg’s campaign to become U.S. president.

            Apparently Bloomberg has already spent $350 million U.S. on advertising. That’s about ten times more than Bernie Sanders has spent, so far.

            And there’s still most of a year to go.

 


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9

Feb

2020

For China, even compassion is politics

Author: Jim Taylor

The first airlift of Canadians trapped in the quarantined Chinese city of Wuhan took place on Thursday. A second flight is currently scheduled for next Tuesday, February 10. 

            In the meantime, at least 12 other countries have been able to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan. News reports identify the U.S., Australia, Japan, South Korea, France, Morocco, Germany, Kazakhstan, the U.K., Russia, Netherlands, and Myanmar.

            How come they could do it, and Canada took so long?

            Health Minister Patty Hajdu conceded that the federal government was initially caught off guard and had "a slow start in terms of organizing" the evacuation plane.

            Kazakhstan was better prepared for a health crisis than Canada was? Give me a break!

            Although nobody is saying it out loud, there seems to me a connection between the delays encountered in getting Canadian citizens out of China and the highly publicized court case in Vancouver, B.C. deliberating the fate of Meng Wanzhou.


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2

Feb

2020

The “laws” we invent

Author: Jim Taylor

In high school, we were taught that there were two immutable laws in nature -- the Law of Conservation of Matter, and the Law of Conservation of Energy.

            Then the atomic bomb blew both laws into anywhere. They had to be combined: the total of matter and energy remains constant -- even if bits of each could be swapped. (Although I don’t think anyone has yet attempted to turn energy back into matter. )

            That got me thinking about a variety of other so-called Laws.

            For example, the Peter Principle, devised by author Lawrence J. Peter with Raymond Hull. It said, in essence, that institutions promote people to their level of incompetence.


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19

Jan

2020

Defeating imaginary opponents

Author: Jim Taylor

The first phone call came at 7:05 a.m. I picked up the phone. “Dear Customer,” a recorded message began. “This call is to advise you that we have deducted $399.99 from your account to cover the renewal of your service policy. To approve this transaction, press one. To speak to a service representative, press two…”

            I hung up instead. 

           I’m always tempted to talk back to recorded messages, the way I talk back to contestants on Jeopardy who know nothing about Canada. I’m even tempted to “press two” to see if I can tie the service representative’s mind into knots.  

            In philosophical circles, this practice is called the “straw man argument.” 


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12

Jan

2020

Imagine being a victim

Author: Jim Taylor

It is, perhaps, the most terrifying way to die. No one likes falling, not even off a footstool. But being hundreds or thousands of feet in the sky, and falling helplessly, is everyone’s nightmare...

            But it wasn’t a dream for 176 people aboard Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 earlier this week.

           Fortunately, these disasters don’t happen often. If you’re going to put your life into someone else’s hands, commercial aviation offers the safest, best regulated, way of travelling. Ian Savage of Northwestern University  calculated fatality rates per passenger of various forms of transportation. Airlines came in at 0.07 per billion passenger miles. Bus, subway, and train all ranked below one per billion miles.

            Cars were seven times higher; motorcycles more than 200 times higher.

            Setting aside a plane’s greenhouse gas emissions, you’re safer flying across a continent than walking to the corner store.

            Except that if something goes wrong at 35,000 feet up, you can’t get out and walk home.


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