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

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The biggest religious event in the world

Author: Jim Taylor

Today is Easter Sunday. All around the world, millions of Christian congregations will celebrate the Resurrection (with a capital R) of Jesus of Nazareth.

            It is the single biggest religious celebration in the world – bigger than Islam’s hajj or Hinduism’s mela, which garner much greater media attention. So how could I avoid writing about it?

            You know the story -- Jesus went to Jerusalem, upset the local authorities, was arrested, tried, tortured, and was put to death. As the historic Apostles’ Creed puts it, he “was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again…”

            In the majority of Christian congregations, the preacher will treat the Resurrection as a literal, physical, honest-to-gawd fact. 

            The narratives were intended to offer legal proof of their claim -- under Jewish law, two eye-witnesses were considered sufficient proof. The Bible offers dozens of witnesses; thousands, according to Paul. 

            Legal proof does not equal scientific proof. In science, the results of an experiment can only be considered valid if they can be replicated. One-shot results are either accidents, or frauds.

            Clearly, the Easter Resurrection is a one-time-only event.

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All organizations rely on rituals

Author: Jim Taylor

I write these words while Wheel of Fortune flickers on TV. I’m not paying attention, but I’m dimly aware of the rituals being acted out on the screen. Spinning the wheel. Applauding on cue. Groaning when someone goes “Bankrupt.” Standing on the right spot on the floor for the final challenge, when exactly the same letters will come up every time.

            Meanwhile, Vanna White pretends to turn blank squares turn into letters -- even though everyone knows she’s only there as eye-candy. 

            The formula is so predictable, it could be hosted by a robot. Maybe it is. 

            And audiences love it.

            Yet people claim to dislike rituals. Typically, they call them “meaningless.” Especially in the religious context.

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What kind of animal would Donald Trump be?

Author: Jim Taylor

If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?

            Those who are unable to think metaphorically won’t even understand the question. But some of the organizations I worked with, years ago, used that question to help members understand a little better their relationships with the people they worked with.

            For example, I tend to think of myself as a donkey – a creature that carries whatever gets piled onto its back without complaint.  But a colleague described herself as a hedgehog – an indication that when things got rough, she would figuratively curl up into a tight little ball protected by prickly spines. (Another called herself Miss Piggy, giving me a warning that it might be all about her.) 

            Obviously, I can’t ask world leaders what kind of animal they think they would be. But I get some wry satisfaction from imagining them as animals.

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Checklists, to take and to leave

Author: Jim Taylor

           I have to admit that I’ve reached the age where I need checklists. I don’t remember things the way I once did. I’ve lost track of the number of times I have forgotten my wallet. Or my hearing aids. Or my house keys. 

            I could print up some all-purpose checklists and fasten them to the wall at the foot of the stairs. Just to remind me of things I might have forgotten on my way out. 

            Have I taken my cellphone, in case of emergencies?

            Do I have my sunglasses?

            And did I remember the list of the things I’m supposed to do while I’m out, so that I don’t have to make a second trip later?

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The real miracle of the “Miracle Mile”

Author: Jim Taylor

Earlier this month, news came that Roger Bannister had died.

            I turned 18 the year Roger Bannister became the first human to run a mile in less than four minutes. A mile – you may remember those things, a quaint anachronism consisting of 5280 feet, each containing 12 inches. Only the U.S. still uses those funny dimensions, although it has long given up other measures of the mile – eight furlongs, 80 chains, 320 rods…

            Back in 1954, though, the mile was still a standard measure. We measured fuel efficiency in miles per gallon, speeds in miles per hour. 

            And the four-minute mile was still considered impossible for mere humans. 

            It turned out to be a psychological barrier, not a physical one.

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Jury picking process enables prejudice

Author: Jim Taylor

Something is not just in the Canadian justice system. And I think it has to do with jury selection.

            As everyone probably knows by now, an all-white jury acquitted Gerald Stanley of murdering Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man.

           The root of contention, it seems to me, is jury selection.

            Theoretically, juries are chosen at random from the total population of Canadian citizens.

            Some exclusions apply. But beyond those, lawyers have “peremptory challenges.” Either side can disqualify up to 14 potential jurors -- in this case -- without giving any reasons.

            It might be because the person wears a business suit. Or has a beard. Or, perhaps, looks indigenous.

            In the U.S., judges can demand reasons for peremptory challenges. In Canada, they can’t.

            Although it’s illegal to challenge for gender or racial reasons, the Globe and Mail reported that Stanley’s defence rejected every potential juror who looked indigenous.

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Creating a common enemy

Author: Jim Taylor

Another icon bit the dust recently.

            Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I worked among people who revered Saul Alinski. They took the side of the underdog – any underdog, it seemed. For 40 years, Alinski made a name for himself organizing those underdogs, particularly among the working-class areas of Chicago.

            Alinski summed up his ideology in a book called Rules for Radicals.

He started out as the darling of the leftists who wanted to raise the underdogs. In the strange ways that social change evolves, he ended up as the darling of conservatives who wanted to keep the underdogs under. The Tea Party distributed Rules for Radicals to its members. Donald Trump built his entire presidential campaign on personalizing an enemy. Or enemies.

            What the left initiates, the right will eventually co-opt.

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Nobody has any privacy anymore

Author: Jim Taylor

Once upon a time, people had genies in bottles. I have a disembodied voice in a computer. Her name is Siri. And all I have to do to get her services is to say the magic words, “Hey, Siri!”

            Immediately, she responds, “How can I help you?” 

            But it occurred to me the other day that Siri can only respond by listening for my voice 24 hours a day. That’s very flattering. It’s also a little disquieting. Because Siri is connected to the internet. Which means that the corporate data bank that Siri is connected to can also listen to all my conversations if they choose to. 

            My eavesdropping friend Siri seems a little dated, compared to Google Echo. It conceals someone called Alexa, who will not only provide information, but also turn on your coffee maker, adjust your thermostat, turn lights on and off, start your car, and play your favourite music. 

            But like Siri, Alexa is always on.

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