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

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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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5

Jan

2020

Connect the dots, see the pattern

Author: Jim Taylor

Former Bolivian President Evo Morales said that he is "absolutely convinced" the United States orchestrated the military coup that removed him from power last November.

               I believe him.

               Not because I have any inside knowledge of Bolivian politics. Nor because I have back room connections in Washington DC.

               I believe Morales because I have seen too many examples of the U.S. attempting to impose what it calls “regime change” in other countries. Bolivia fits the pattern too well.

               The prime example is probably Iraq.


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29

Dec

2019

Falling forward into the unknown

Author: Jim Taylor

When the streets get icy in winter, I walk more carefully. Especially after the snowplow has gone by, and polished the fresh snow into a surface as slick as anything created by a Zamboni. I can’t take the risk of stepping forward and having my heel skid. 

            The more slippery the surface, the shorter the steps I take. 

            And when I’m going down a slope, I employ something like a curler’s slither. I don’t lift my feet at all. 

            The length of my stride is directly related to my confidence in myself. 

            “Walking,” Paul Salopek explained in National Geographic, “is falling forward.”


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22

Dec

2019

The fundamental need for belonging

Author: Jim Taylor

Today is the last Sunday before Christmas. I can confidently predict that every Christian congregation -- and possibly those of other religions too -- will hear a sermon about the birth of Jesus.

            I can also predict some of the themes of those sermons.

            Some will use Mary’s status to urge people to do something about poverty. Or about justice. Or perhaps about historic discrimination against women. The Christmas story becomes a means of getting at a social issue.

            Others will use a series of carefully selected Bible verses to prove, beyond any doubt, that God Almighty became a helpless crying baby. And/or that biblical prophets knew all the details of an obscure birth that would take place 500 years later.

            And therefore, by extension, that every other word in the Holy Book must also be 100% accurate.

            A friend and retired preacher calls all of this “head stuff.” It’s wonderful material to argue about. But it makes no difference at all to how you drive on the highway. Or how you treat the cashier at the grocery store.

 


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15

Dec

2019

Decoding nativity scenes

Author: Jim Taylor

 don’t see many Christmas cards these days. Between Facebook and email, religious cards with traditional nativity scenes have become less popular. 

            But the scenes themselves haven’t changed much. A mother and child. Sometimes with a father, sometimes not. Sometimes with animals and a stable, sometimes not. Sometimes with shepherds; sometimes with visiting Magi. 

            And the child is always holy. 

            But how does an artist paint holiness?

            It’s easy to draw a baby. It’s not as easy to show that baby as God embodied. 

            The Christian church has historically claimed that God – also known as Father, Almighty, Creator, all-knowing, immortal, unchanging – became a human infant. Who is none of those things. At least, not yet. 


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1

Dec

2019

The day there were no heroes

Author: Jim Taylor

This coming Friday, December 6, marks the 30th anniversary of the deadliest mass murder in Canadian history. That is, if you don’t count attacks on indigenous peoples. They were, after all, just Indians.

            Marc Lepine would probably say the same about his rampage at L´Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. They were, after all, just women. Feminists, studying engineering so that they could steal men’s jobs.

            Fourteen women died. Fourteen more victims -- ten women and four men -- were injured by his bullets. The 15thdeath was Lepine, when he shot himself.

            And there’s no question about his intentions. He left a three-page suicide note, plus letters to two friends, explaining his hostility towards women in general, towards women who wanted to be engineers in particular.

            I won’t attempt to analyze his motives. I do want to trace his actions, and some people’s responses.


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17

Nov

2019

Crossing a line one time too many

Author: Jim Taylor

So Don Cherry got fired. About time. The man has been his own fireworks factory for 38 years. Then he lit one incendiary match too many.

            He failed to realize that once you become public property, you lose the privileges of individuality. You can no longer claim the liberty to speak for yourself.

            Like everyone else, Don Cherry is entitled to express his own opinions -- within his own circle. But Coach’s Corner on Hockey Night in Canada is probably the most public pulpit in the country.

            Cherry has been a fixture on Hockey Night in Canada for 38 years. Initially, having been fired as coach of the Boston Bruins, he limited his commentary to hockey tactics.

            But he soon used Coach’s Corner as a soapbox to sound off about social issues.


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10

Nov

2019

Time to quit the denial game

Author: Jim Taylor

You’re in your car, let’s say. You pull up to the intersection. You stop. You look both ways. The road seems clear. You pull ahead and --

            Ka-wham! An enormous force smashes into you. You’re spun around, tossed like a rag doll in a Rottweiler’s jaws. You look up at the radiator of the logging truck that’s crushing your car, and you, into a cube of crumpled metal. Just before a black wave of pain and shock washes over your senses, you ask yourself: “Why didn’t I see that coming?”

            A car crash serves as a metaphor for other shocks.

            The firm where you’ve worked loyally for 35 years tells you to clear out your desk. Your spouse hands you a package of divorce papers. Your doctor looks at the test results, sucks her teeth, and says, “It’s cancer. Stage IV already…”

            At times like these, your first reaction is often, “Why didn’t I see it coming?” How could I miss the warning signs? How did I kid myself that even if I saw the signs, they wouldn’t affect me?

             Thirty years from now, I imagine a lot of people will look back at the early decades of this millennium and ask themselves those same questions.


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3

Nov

2019

Treat mental illness like any other illness

Author: Jim Taylor

The days have gone, thank God, when we simply couldn’t talk about mental illness. When families had a dotty aunt whom they hid in a suite in the back of the ancestral home. When the errant son who got into trouble was written off, banished, never mentioned again. 

            It wasn’t that long ago, though, when anybody with a disability was shipped off to a separate school for the blind or the deaf. When mental illness wasn’t even considered a disability -- it was a disgrace that reflected badly upon the family. 

            It’s not that way anymore. But yes it still is. 

            When someone breaks a bone, gets an infected tooth, or has surgery to remove an appendix, we don’t think any less of that person for their “illness.” But a diagnosis of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or autism instantly diminishes that person’s value. 


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