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

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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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2

Dec

2018

While the planet burns, we bulldoze

Author: Jim Taylor

 The space probe InSight landed safely on Mars last Tuesday. NASA is working on plans to send humans to Mars. When it happens, I hope NASA will include some real estate developers. 

            They would love Mars. It looks exactly like what they do to the earth when they’re building new projects. 

            Mars has no vegetation. No tree-hugging residents to protest about the destruction of their natural habitat. No cuddly animals to arouse the sympathies of sentimental do-gooders.

            For over 20 years, I have taken my dog for walks on the ridge that rises to the east of my home. Although it doesn’t have palm trees and sandy beaches, it’s about as close to paradise as I can imagine. Knee-high grass grows wild among the pines. Sunlight filters through the branches, illuminating the local sunflowers. From a rock bluff, I have a view along the 160-km lake that fills the Okanagan valley. 

            But a developer – I could name the company, but any other developer would do the same – bought that ridge. 

 


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25

Nov

2018

Think twice before saying something offensive

Author: Jim Taylor

Harjit Sajjan is a Sikh, a man with brown skin, a full beard, and a turban. He’s also Canada’s Defence Minister.

            An unnamed member of Canada’s  Conservative Party posted a Facebook message with a photo of Sajjan and the caption, “This is what happens when you have a cabinet based on affirmative action.”

            I haven’t heard much opposition to affirmative action recently. (Clearly, I move in different circles from the person who posted the message.)

            Affirmative action is a process for righting past wrongs. For admitting more Black or indigenous students to universities, because they were previously discriminated against. For hiring more visible minorities on police forces. For promoting more women to management positions.

So when newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in 2015 that his cabinet would be 50 per cent female, there was shock. Fear that cabinet members would be appointed for their gender, not their competence.

            In fact, Trudeau’s affirmative action didn’t stop with gender equality. He also included non-Caucasians in his cabinet. Among them, Harjit Sajjan, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

            The Conservative party’s Facebook post reveals that some of its members still object to affirmative action. 


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18

Nov

2018

Paradise Lost, again and again

Author: Jim Taylor

I can’t help wondering how British poet John Milton would have written about the fires in California. In the opening lines of his greatest epic, Paradise Lost,he describes the Hell into which a rebellious Satan fell:

As one great Furnace flam'd, yet from those flames

No light, but rather darkness visible

Serv'd only to discover sights of woe,

Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace

And rest can never dwell, hope never comes

Still urges, and a fiery Deluge, fed

With ever-burning Sulphur unconsum'd…”

           Milton’s description from 1667 seems prophetic.

           Paradise has been lost again – this time the town of some 26,000 residents in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in central California. As I write these words, 63 people have been confirmed dead; 600 are missing; over 11,000 structures reduced to ashes. 


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11

Nov

2018

The cost of war also paid by the living

Author: Jim Taylor

Today is Remembrance Day. And it’s a special Remembrance Day -- the Armistice that ended the War to End All Wars came into effect exactly 100 years ago. At 11:00 a.m. on the 11thday of the 11thmonth of 1918 the guns fell silent.

            If only we could say that they had stayed silent.

            They haven’t. They’ve gotten more lethal. With the Second World War. Then with the Korean War and the Vietnam War, both of which I think of as outbreaks of the first World Civil War, with an incessant parade of people taking up arms against their own people. In Yugoslavia, in Rwanda, in Kashmir, in Sudan…

            And then there are the eruptions where outside forces get involved in local conflicts: Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen…

            To mark this special anniversary, the Canadian Legion erected 240 crosses in Kelowna’s City Park -- one cross for each Canadian soldier from this area who died in the two World Wars.

            I applaud their effort. But I think by focussing on the fallen, we miss something important.

 


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4

Nov

2018

Superstitions still harm people

Author: Jim Taylor

Every now and then, I run across news reports that make me feel sick. (No, I’m not referring to Donald Trump.)

            Last summer, I read a report from Malawi, in Africa. You may not have heard much about Malawi. It always ranks near the bottom on Africa’s poverty scales, for a variety of reasons.

            First, because Malawi is land-locked. It has no seaports, no way to access world markets except through other countries.

            Second, because it has nothing to market. 

            But Malawi does, apparently, have something that people in other parts of Africa covet -- albino babies.

            By some genetic quirk, it seems, Malawi and its nearest neighbours to the north and south, Tanzania and Mozambique, have a higher-than-usual proportion of albino babies. That is, black babies with white skin.

For -- brace yourself -- their body parts.

 


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