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

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Apologies need teeth

Author: Jim Taylor

           So what’s with apologies, anyway?

            Over the last few years, we’ve heard lots of apologies. 

            In June 2008, then Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a formal apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools, on behalf of the government and people of Canada.

            The United Church of Canada formally apologized – twice, in 1986 and in 1998 – for failing to respect traditional indigenous values and beliefs. All other major denominations have done something similar, confessing their complicity in an unjust system that they failed to question.

            Maple Leaf Foods apologized for producing meats tainted with listeriosis. 


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You can’t reason yourself out of pain

Author: Jim Taylor

I started writing this column on Thursday morning, as I emerged from a haze of pain and pain medications. The day before, Wednesday, I had plastic surgery on my face to remove pre-cancerous basal-cell lesions brought on by too much sun in my youth.

            This was my third session. Originally I had seven spots removed. Then I had to have four of them done over, because the first session didn’t get all the suspicious cells.

            As surgery goes, these were minor -- certainly when compared to organ transplants and amputations. As pain goes, though, these surgeries were an eye-opener.

            Another writer once sent me this line: “There is no such thing as a pain thermometer.”

            That is, there’s no objective way to measure the pain someone is feeling. 

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Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: pain, morphine, surgery




Shift focus onto Covid transmitters

Author: Jim Taylor

           I pulled some figures from the BC Ministry of Health webpage. I correlated them with B.C. population figures from the last census..

            Surprise, surprise! The elderly are NOT the most at risk for infection.

            Certainly they’re most at risk for death. As of a month ago, three-quarters of all deaths were among those over 70.

            That shouldn’t be a surprise. They’re already on their last legs. I suspect the same would hold true if I took statistics for almost any disease, illness, or disability.

            But not for infection. The infection rate among those over 60 is significantly lower than for younger adults. Among those over 60, the infection rate is about 1.4 per 1000. Among the 20-29 age group, the infection rate is more than twice as high -- 3.5 per 1000.

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Garden-variety ‘poison pen’ letters

Author: Jim Taylor

Lots of people don’t like Donald Trump. But few dislike him enough to mail him an envelope containing a powder identified as ricin. 

            Ricin, despite the sound of its name, has nothing to do with rice. It comes from castor beans. Also the source of castor oil. If your mother gave you a dose of castor oil to cure various ailments when you were a child, you may consider that quite toxic enough. 

            But castor oil itself contains no ricin. The ricin is refined from the stuff left after all the oil is squeezed out of the crushed beans. 

            And it can be deadly. 

            Experts lined up on TV to remind everyone that a single pinhead-size granule would be enough to kill you. At one time, both the U.S. and Canada considered developing ricin as a chemical weapon. It’s as deadly as sarin, the nerve gas developed by the Nazis and used in terrorist attacks in Tokyo subway system  in 1995.

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Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: poison, ricin, Ferrier




Another casualty of Covid-19

Author: Jim Taylor

I sing in a church choir. Correction: I used to sing in a church choir. Further correction: I used to sing, once upon a time…

            Singing has fallen victim to the Covid-19 pandemic. When health regulations prohibited large gatherings, and when physical distancing precluded even small groups from getting together, choirs everywhere had to shut down.

           My church chose to move its Sunday services to Zoom. Zoom is a wonderful platform. But you can’t sing together on Zoom. 

           On our first attempts at singing over Zoom, some singers ended a full line after the pianist had finished. It was chaos. Definitely not a unifying effect.

            So we tried having just one person singing the words, while everyone else had their microphones muted. A few weeks back, I was the congregation’s “designated singer.” I did not like the sound of my voice. It felt raw, uncertain. I struggled to stay on key.

            I realized I hadn’t done any vocal exercises. to warm up. I should have done at least ten minutes.

            More than that, I hadn’t done any singing at all for several weeks. Not even in the shower.

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The shoe on the other foot

Author: Jim Taylor

Black people in the U.S. Indigenous people in Canada. Jews in Germany, during Nazi rule. Japanese on the west coast during WII. Doukhobors in the 1950s. 

            If you’re not one of them, it’s almost impossible to imagine what it’s like to be one of them. 

            But suppose people who share your faith and your beliefs were being persecuted? Could you identify with them?

            Such as Christians in India. 

            In Canada, we treat Christianity as the norm. 

           But what would it feel like if the Christian culture you take for granted turned you into a persecuted minority

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A tale of two conventions

Author: Jim Taylor

Over the last ten days I have watched -- reluctantly, I admit -- parts of the Democratic and Republican national conventions in the U.S.

            Long ago, I had to write essays to “compare and contrast” Shakespeare’s sonnets with, say, Wordsworth’s. Or John Milton’s metaphors versus T.S. Eliot’s.

            It can be an illuminating exercise. But it’s easier when you can lay out two manuscripts side by side.

            I wish technology enabled me to compare the two political conventions side by side. Perhaps with 30 seconds of this audio, then 30 seconds of that one. So that I could flip back and forth, instead of relying on memory of two separate events.

            Still, the most obvious difference was visual. The Republican convention paid lip service to the COVID-19 pandemic, but its body language didn’t. During the speeches by both Melania and Donald Trump, Republican dignitaries sat cheek-to-cheek, buttwise. No physical separation. No masks that I could see. Lots of handshaking and back-patting.

            The Democratic convention didn’t have masks either. But they didn’t need them. No one else in the room – they actually practiced isolation.


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Food left rotting in fields

Author: Jim Taylor

On Thursday, federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced a $50-million program to get surplus perishable food products to vulnerable people during the pandemic.

            According to a CBC news report, “Bibeau said 12 million kilograms of food that otherwise would have been wasted, including one million fresh eggs, would go to families.

            “Surplus fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood was generated because the COVID-19 crisis shut down much of the restaurant and hospitality industry, leaving producers with unprecedented surpluses.”

            Sounds good. Except that a lot of that surplus isn’t in a warehouse somewhere, easy to access. It’s still on the ground. 

            Another report, from Global News, says. “The Okanagan agriculture industry, especially orchards and farms, is struggling to find enough workers to harvest their crops.”

            Fruit left on the trees will not even enter Bibeau’s program of getting food to families and food banks.

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Horror over mass atrocities

Author: Jim Taylor

Carlton Street in Toronto starts at Yonge Street’s frenzy of retailing. Carlton then moves west, crossing Church Street’s gay bars and the former upper-crust mansions along Jarvis Street. Past the tropical greenhouses of Allan Gardens, the stone fortress of St. Luke’s United Church on Sherbourne Street, and Bleeker Street where, in the early 1990s, prostitutes flashed breasts and crotches at passing drivers.

            It is, like Canada, a mosaic of cultures. 

           But one building stood out.

           The original brick had been painted white. It had massive iron bars on all its windows. A heavy wrought-iron fence. High powered lights. A security camera over the front door.

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Making statistics more real

Author: Jim Taylor

Dying is never fun. I think I can safely say that, although I suppose there may be people who gather together for some kind of final bacchanalia as they expire. 

            As Peggy Lee sang, long ago, “If that’s all there is, my friend, then let’s keep dancing. Let’s break out the booze, and have a ball…”

            But such a party would, I imagine, be only a way of suppressing their fear of dying.

            Those who have been close to a dying person know what it’s like. Pain, even with constant medication. Helplessness. Loss of independence. Loss of control. Loss of memory. Bewilderment. Confusion. Sometimes calm resignation, sometimes anger and bitterness. 

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