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

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17

Feb

2019

Loss of privacy marks societal change?

Author: Jim Taylor

I bought a Fitbit a couple of weeks ago. It tells me things I never thought I would want to know. How many steps I’ve taken each day. How many hours I’ve exercised. How many stairs I’ve climbed – 35 floors worth, apparently, the result of living on a steep hill some 300 feet above the lake. 

            And my heartbeat, of course. (At my age, I need constant re-assurance my heart is still beating.) My Fitbit tells how many times it’s beating per minute, right now. Also my average heart rate over the last week. And the highest it went.  

            Each week, Fitbit congratulates me on my progress. So far, I’ve received three award badges. Obviously, my little black wristband relays information to an anonymous computer somewhere.

            I can’t help wondering how many other people also know about my heart rate, my exercise hours, and my sleep habits. 



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13

Feb

2019

The yin and yang of social movements

Author: Jim Taylor

On Thursday, our mountain ash tree was burdened with bright red berries. Globular blobs of berries hung at the end of every branch, weighing the branches down, bending the twigs.

            By Saturday, the tree stood bare against a grey sky.

            The Bohemian waxwings had returned. Every year, about this time, they come back. Maybe the timing has something to do with the birds’ migration patterns; maybe it depends on fermentation within the berries themselves. Whatever the reason, the waxwings show up in their thousands.

            They start as a distant smudge on the sky. The smudge grows larger, becomes a coiling, roiling, boiling ball of dust motes, displaying the infinite possibilities of fractal math. And then whoosh, the birds arrive in a mighty flitter-flutter of wings, ravenous as a plague of locusts.


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10

Feb

2019

CPR crash leaves difficult questions

Author: Jim Taylor

We’re not getting the full story about the CPR train crash just east of Field, in the Kicking Horse Pass.

           According to reports, Train #301 had been safely stopped for over two hours before it started down the hill towards Field. It could not have been stopped without its airbrakes working.

            While it stood still, a new operating crew took over.

            And then, unaccountably, the train started to roll. “It was not anything the crew did,” senior investigator James Carmichael assured the media. “The train started to move on its own.”

            That seems to contradict the basic laws of physics. As Isaac Newton theorized, centuries ago, things do not move on their own unless a force is applied to them.


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6

Feb

2019

When the masks come off

Author: Jim Taylor

I was walkin’ along, mindin’ my business, when I spied a man sitting on a park bench, staring out across the lake. I was going to pass by, but he said, “Hi, Jim.”

            I recognized the voice, even if I hadn’t recognized the back of his head. It was a neighbour, Derek. 

            Some impulse led me to sit down beside him. I thought he might like some company to stare at the lake. 

            He wanted company, but not for that purpose. “I lost Charlie last week,” he blurted. 

            Charlie was the kind of dog I once thought of scornfully as a “small furry object suitable for punting.” A low-slung, yappy, bundle of hyperactivity. That was before I knew Charlie personally. Charlie was always up for a walk, a game, a cuddle. 

            And he had been Derek’s companion for ten years. 

            For half an hour, as we sat on that park bench, Derek poured out feelings about his relationship with Charlie. I think he needed to. Talking helped fill the hole that his furry friend had left. 

            Or at least it helped him map the edges of that hole.


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3

Feb

2019

Three stories that made my week

Author: Jim Taylor

I don’t often say kind words about the modern mass media. Unfortunately, as dollars get tighter, publishers can no longer afford to have a writer spend days, weeks, even months, researching the nooks and crannies of a complex story.

            But this week is an exception. This week three stories renewed my faith in the written word.

            The first came from Maclean’sonline. (I don’t know if it will appear in the print version.) Shannon Gormley wrote about the cave rescue in Thailand, last July. It seems so long ago now, doesn’t it?

            But instead of a dry recounting of wet facts, Gormley searched the personalities involved, got inside their emotions, enabled us to feel their fear in the absolute blackness deep inside that mountain.

           The second story, in the on-line newspaper, 

The Tyee,

told of a father and daughter trapped on Saturna Island by the great windstorm last December. Sofia Osborne tells the story without any poor-me histrionics. Without moralizing. But the story packs an emotional punch as strong as that December gale.

           And few stories could pack the emotional punch of the impact statements made by the families and friends of the Humboldt Broncos victims, last summer.

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30

Jan

2019

Religious rituals that boggle our minds

Author: Jim Taylor

The biggest religious event in the world is taking place right now, and I expect you haven’t heard a word about it. It’s the Kumbh Mela, where 130 million Hindus will purify themselves by plunging into the Ganges River. 

            Stop! You didn’t let that figure sink in -- 130 million! That’s equivalent to gathering in one place the entire populations of metropolitan New York, Shanghai, Tokyo, Mexico City, Cairo, and London – every man, woman, and child. 

            Or more than three times the whole population of Canada, gathering on a mud flat at the junction of two sacred rivers, the Ganges and the Yamuna.

           What do all those Hindus do at a Kumbh Mela? I don’t know; I’ve never been there in person. Even if I did go, I expect it would be meaningless to me, an outsider. 

            Certainly, nothing connected to the Ganges River suggests purification to me.

 

 

 

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27

Jan

2019

Legislative officers milked the public teat

Author: Jim Taylor

Everyone knows what a “per diem” payment is. Per diem means, simply, “each day.” Corporate bodies -- whether public or private -- use the term to identify the amount that an employee may be repaid for meals, local expenses, and accommodation paid out of pocket.

            Of course, hardly anyone pays for those expenses out of pocket any more. They go directly onto the corporate credit card.

            So, theoretically, there should be little need for per diem payments.

            Unless those employees feel entitled to receive those payments, regardless of what they didn’t actually spend.

            Per diem payments exemplify, to my mind, the underlying issue in the scandal involving two senior officers of the B.C. Legislature, Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz.

            Speaker Darryl Plecas noted that both claimed full per diem compensation for occasions where meals had been provided by their British hosts.

            And they had also claimed, on their expense accounts, $1000 suits. Jewelry. Luggage. Souvenirs.


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24

Jan

2019

Reading life below the surface

Author: Jim Taylor

There was a time, I seem to recall, when a handshake was worth more than a legal contract. The hand-shakers had reached an agreement; they would stick to it, come hell or high water.

            But in literal fact, a handshake is simply a momentary meeting of palms.

            The example of a handshake came up during a discussion of a blog posting by Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest who heads the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico. Rohr wasn’t writing about handshakes, of course. He was writing about how people read the Bible. Or any other sacred text.

            “While biblical messages often proceed from historical incidents, the actual message does not depend upon communicating those events with perfect factual accuracy,” Rohr suggested.

            “Spiritual writers are not primarily journalists… Scripture can be understood on at least four levels: literal meaning, deep meaning, comparative meaning, and hidden meaning.”

            He explained, “The literal level of meaning doesn’t get to the root and, in fact, is the least helpful to the soul and the most dangerous for history." 

            It occurred to me that the same approach might enrich our understanding of everyday events. Like handshakes, for example.


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20

Jan

2019

School buses risk our children’s lives

Author: Jim Taylor

I’ve had seatbelts in my cars since 1966. They didn’t come with the car; I had to install them myself.

            My friends scoffed. “I’d rather be thrown clear in a crash,” they declared.

            I can only say that if it weren’t for seatbelts, I wouldn’t be writing this column today.

            While seatbelts were still controversial, magazines like Popular Scienceand Popular Mechanics invited readers to conduct their own experiments. Tape an egg securely inside a cardboard box and drop it on the floor; the egg will usually survive. Put a loose egg inside a cardboard box and drop it; the egg will usually break. Drop an unboxed egg, the equivalent of being thrown clear in a crash; the egg will always smash. Always.

            It took another ten years for the first Canadian province to make seatbelts mandatory in new cars.

            Today, we take seatbelts for granted. An estimated 91 per cent of Canadians use seatbelts whenever they enter a car. Only Japan and Sweden rank higher.

           Seatbelts have become the norm.

            Except in buses. Especially school buses.


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16

Jan

2019

Singing is breathing together

Author: Jim Taylor

The most radical thing that churches do these days is not their social justice programs, their housing for the homeless, or even their political lobbying. It’s their singing.

            Have you noticed that the younger generations don’t sing? Oh, they’re never without music. They have music -- or at least what they consider music -- pumped into their ears constantly by their Bluetooth earbuds. They have audio systems in their cars that can rattle windows a block away.

            But they don’t sing along. They kinda grunt and twitch along.

            Increasingly, I think that singing is a counter-cultural phenomenon. And it happens mostly in churches.


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