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

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Waiting for a resurrection

Author: Jim Taylor

Today is, officially, Holy Saturday – the empty space between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It might better be called Holey Saturday. It is a hole, a hiatus, an abyss between the two strongest days of the Christian calendar. 

           Unlike Christmas – which has very little biblical evidence to support a date of December 25 – the date of Jesus’ crucifixion can be quite precisely identified. It happened at the Jewish Passover, which came about according to a 1000-year-old formula based on the spring equinox and the full moon.

            The crucifixion is also one of the few facts in the Bible that cannot be challenged. Every gospel, every letter, agrees that Jesus was crucified. No other world religion claims a leader who was executed as a criminal. 

            And the traditions agree that on the “third day” – counting Friday as Day One, because the counters didn’t have zero, yet – on Sunday morning, he was no longer in his tomb. 

           But Saturday is the day between. When nothing happens. 

            Because nothing could happen. Saturday was the Jewish Sabbath. The laws of Moses made it a day of rest. Jews were commanded to emulate God, who – according to Genesis – created the universe in six days, then rested on the seventh day. That’s why the women had to wait until Sunday morning to come to the tomb, 

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Breaking an ancient taboo

Author: Jim Taylor

By the end of this year, all B.C. schools will have to provide free menstrual tampons and pads for students.

            The announcement begins to end a prejudice that seems to have been around as long as civilization. The Bible, an authority for three world religions, considers menstruating women unclean. They must be segregated. Anita Diamant built that exclusion into her best-selling book, The Red Tent.

            Half of human population have, or have had, menstrual periods. Yet it remains a taboo subject.

            Although most schools do make pads and tampons available for emergencies, “many young women feel awkward asking for menstrual products at a school office,” said Rebecca Ballard, a Grade 11 student in the New Westminster school district. 

            And if that’s the situation in Canada, imagine what it must be like in more traditional countries like Uganda.

            Erika van Oyen went to Uganda in 2008 as a volunteer. She quickly realized that many girls got short-changed on their education. Unable to afford disposable sanitary supplies – indeed, often unable even to afford underpants – they missed a week of schooling every month.

            “Before we started this program,” van Oyen says, “schools taught about women’s biology, about menstrual cycles. But a girl in her period is ridiculed. Teased if she soils her clothes. Humiliated. So they stay away. They fall behind in their classes, and eventually they drop out.”

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Out of the frying pan and into the fire

Author: Jim Taylor

The first thing budding writers learn is to “avoid clichés like the plague.” Unfortunately clichés sometimes describe the current political situation better than a host of well honed words.

            In Ottawa, Justin Trudeau has spent weeks stuck on the horns of dilemma.

            On the one horn, he represents a Montreal riding. He has a right -- even a duty -- to lobby for his constituents, many of whom work for SNC-Lavalin. He also needs SNC-Lavalin’s services for his $187 billion infrastructure renewal program.

            On the other horn, he should not pressure Justice Minister and Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to interfere in a criminal case.

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“We are one. They are us.”

Author: Jim Taylor

 I feel that someone from New Zealand needs to respond and let you and your readers know that what you propose as a new way of thinking is exactly what is happening here.

            On 15 March, the day of the shootings in two Christchurch mosques, but before anyone knew how many had been killed and injured, our Prime Minister, 38-year-old Jacinda Ardern, told the nation "We are one. They are us." That theme has been echoed in the ten days that have followed, by all who have the opportunity to speak publicly -- other politicians, journalists, church and civic leaders. Thousands of people throughout New Zealand have attended prayer vigils and special services, alongside our Muslim brothers and sisters. Human chains have been formed around mosques to symbolize standing together to protect each other. Non-Muslim women, including the Prime Minister, have worn the hijab in solidarity.

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Hate crimes don’t yield to reason

Author: Jim Taylor

Hate strikes again! In New Zealand/Aotearoa of all places. The whole country has less than ten gun-related murders a year; only 35 murders in the whole of 2018. 

            Then in a single afternoon, 50 people dead. Another 40 or so injured, some requiring amputations to save their lives. And hundreds who will suffer post-traumatic stress for months. 

            Just because they were Muslims, worshipping at two mosques in the city of Christchurch. 

            As I write these sentences, one suspect has been arrested – 26-year-old Brenton Tarrant. 

            In a 74-page manifesto, Tarrant declared himself to be a right-wing white supremacist. I’m almost grateful to him for being honest. I’ve long argued that the primary threat to peace does not come from left-wing radicals, but from the far right. Even the FBI, long obsessed with Joe McCarthy’s anti-communist paranoia, now admits that fact. 

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Regime changes don’t work

Author: Jim Taylor

I hesitate to write anything at all about Venezuela. I don’t speak Spanish  (beyond dos cervesas por favor).I haven’t lived there. I have no inside informants. 

            In trying to sort out the confusion, I turn to an unlikely source – Franciscan priest Fr. Richard Rohr. Rohr’s speciality is religion, not international politics. But I have found his process for understanding Bible stories helpful in deciphering complex secular issues. 

            A story needs four levels of analysis, Rohr argues. 

            There is, first, the literal level. No interpretation, “just the facts, ma’am,” as Joe Friday used to say. 

            In Venezuela’s case, the literal level is complex enough. President Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded former President Hugo Chavez, got re-elected in what many consider a fraudulent election. He consolidated his power by creating a constituent assembly, made up of his supporters, to replace the existing National Assembly, which is controlled by his opposition. In the absence of what it considers a legitimately elected president, the National Assembly declared its Speaker, Juan Guaido to be Maduro’s constitutional successor. 

            By analogy, imagine Donald Trump creating an alternative Congress composed of his fans, while the existing House of Representatives declares Nancy Pelosi to be the rightful president. 

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Imaginary games with imaginary money

Author: Jim Taylor

It just vanished -- $190 million. But was it ever there?

            The $190 million was in crypto-currency, controlled by a Canadian firm called QuadrigaCX. The best known crypto-currency is probably Bitcoin -- an imaginary currency invented, appropriately, by an imaginary person who used the name Satoshi Nakamoto,just ten years ago.

            QuadrigaCX, once Canada’s largest crypto-currency exchange, was founded by Gerald Cotten, a resident of Nova Scotia. Only Cotten knew the encrypted passwords required to access the company’s digit assets.

            As I understand crypto-currencies -- and I don’t -- they’re supposed to be an unhackable way to store wealth. It can’t be touched by governments, banks, or internet thieves, because its security depends on a “block chain” of computers, all of which have to be convinced that a transaction is legitimate before it can go ahead.

            When Cotten died, his crypto-keys died with him. Hmmm…Maybe you can take it with you?


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Symbolic gestures can make a difference

Author: Jim Taylor

I wore a pink shirt last Wednesday. Pink is not my colour. It makes me look like cotton candy with a beard.

            But Wednesday was anti-bullying day, so I wore pink.

            It feels like a futile gesture. After all, what difference will it make if one old man wears a pink shirt for one day? School yard bullies won’t see it at all. Neither will patriarchal males in India and Africa who think of women as something inferior, to do with as they please. Nor will my pink shirt influence the behaviour of egocentric rulers in Riyadh or Moscow, Washington or Damascus.

            Short answer -- no difference at all.

            So why bother?

            I hear that response often, when I get into discussions about the state of the world. 

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Haiti’s woes as a parable

Author: Jim Taylor

Rioting in the streets of Haiti makes good video; the reasons for the riots don’t. 

            It’s been 40 years since I was last in Haiti. Recent news reports suggest that no much has changed. Haiti is, and was, a poster child for the effects of poverty and corruption. For at least a century, Haiti has been the poorest country in the western hemisphere. 

           Inspired by the revolutions in America and France, the Haitian slaves revolted -- the first successful slave rebellion anywhere in the world. Haiti became independent in 1804.

            But in one of the recurring ironies of history, Haiti’s black masters proved just as brutal as the French had been. Since independence, Haiti has had 32 coups.

            News reports blame the current riots on corruption in government. That’s too easy an answer. Every Haitian government has been corrupt. The only debate might be over which one was least corrupt.

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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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