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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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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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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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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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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13

Jan

2019

Don’t blame charities for drop box deaths

Author: Jim Taylor

Recently, a woman got trapped in a donation box in Toronto and died. A week earlier, a man died in a West Vancouver donation box. The media found that since 2015, eight people have died trying to get inside these clothing bins.

            Critics called the bins “death traps.” A witness to the Toronto woman’s death said, “She was just utterly pinned in there… It was like an animal trap designed not to release her.”

            In a collection of panicky responses, West Vancouver ordered all donation bins in the city locked. Vancouver considered banning them completely. Diabetes Canada decided to retrofit all of its 4000 clothing donation bins across the country. Burnaby called for the removal of all bins.

            All of which seems to imply that hundreds of charities – national, regional, or local – are at fault for risking the public’s health.

            No one seems to be asking why the public is getting into the bins anyway.


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6

Jan

2019

No joking about bombs

Author: Jim Taylor

On New Year’s Eve, as 100,000 rain-soaked revellers gathered in Times Square to watch the giant ball descend at midnight, someone at the U.S. Strategic Command headquarters in Nebraska posted a Twitter message.

            The tweet, accompanied by a video clip of a B-2 bomber dropping nuclear warheads, declared: “"#TimesSquare tradition rings in the #NewYear by dropping the big ball...if ever needed, we are #ready to drop something much, much bigger."

            Three hours later, a more senior person posted an apology: “Our previous NYE tweet was in poor taste & does not reflect our values. We apologize. We are dedicated to the security of America & allies.”

            Those tweets were inevitably followed by hundreds of replies --  roughly divided among

a)    thanking Strategic Command for keeping America safe,

b)   insisting that the whole thing was supposed to be humorous, and

c)    wondering why anyone who thinks nuclear weapons are a joking matter should be trusted with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.

 


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30

Dec

2018

The death of optimism offers hope

Author: Jim Taylor

Here we are -- like deer on a road, transfixed by the headlights of 2019 bearing down on us. I don’t know anyone who’s looking forward to the new year.

            Is it just me? Or is this a pervasive view in North America?

            Climate change, hurricanes, floods, droughts, volcanoes, tidal waves, crashing stock markets, meaningless mass murders, price-gouging pharmaceutical companies, trade wars, toxic chemicals, crumbling infrastructures, refugees, terrorists, nuclear re-armament, computer hackers -- the news is as bleak as a winter day. And I haven’t even mentioned the White House yet…

            The world, it would seem, is going to hell in a handcart.

            What I am feeling, I think, is the death of optimism.


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23

Dec

2018

A nativity story updated

Author: Jim Taylor

           In those days a decree went out, from the emperors living in their glass houses with closed circuit surveillance cameras and 24-hour security patrols, that all the world should be embroiled in civil wars, so that their spheres of influence might be extended over unwilling populations. 

            And so the imperial forces used remote-control drones to bomb innocent victims in Yemen, and brought 20 million Yemenis to the brink of starvation. 

            And they burned to the ground 400 Rohingya villages in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and forced a seemingly endless line of 900,000 people to seek refuge in Bangladesh, where they lived in bamboo shelters on low-lying land prone to flooding.

            And they bombed prosperous cities in Syria and Iraq into rubble, and turned religious factions against each other, and drove the Yazidi minority to retreat into rocky mountains.

            And they maintained armies of occupation in Afghanistan and Crimea, and confined the residents of Gaza into their own private concentration camp, and built walls to restrict the movement of Mexicans and Hondurans and Palestinians. 

            And behold, the number of displaced people around the world, many of them refugees within their own countries, rose to 70 million. 


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16

Dec

2018

Two books for every religious liberal

Author: Jim Taylor

At year end, many columnists share their reading recommendations. My recommendations are quite short. Just two books.

            I’ve read more than that, of course. But these two left a lasting impression on me: A God That Could Be Real, by Nancy Ellen Abrams, and The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt.

            I like the Abrams book because it takes a totally different approach to discussing the reality — or not — of a divine being. I don’t recall her ever quoting the Bible. Or the doctrines of any church. Or the theories of any theologian.

            Instead of starting with whatever people already know and assume about the nature of God, she starts with science. With what we already know, and we can know, about the universe we live in.


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