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

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25

Aug

2019

Nuclear nations squabble over Shangri La

Author: Jim Taylor

            Hong Kong is a thriving hub of international business. Kashmir is a backwater, even by Indian standards.

            Hong Kong has world-class communications. Kashmir has frequent power failures. Internet communication, iffy at any time, has been shut down completely by Indian forces. So have telephones. And the post office -- you can’t even send out a scenic postcard!

            In Hong Kong, almost everyone speaks English, the result of 156 years of British rule. In Kashmir, only the educated class speaks English.

            And Hong Kong is home to about 300,000 Canadians -- many sent as children to Canadian high schools in the 1980s to provide an escape plan for their parents in case the handover to China went badly. According to Global Affairs Canada, Kashmir has just 12 Canadian residents.

            Therefore it’s natural, even inevitable, that our media would concentrate on Hong Kong and ignore Kashmir.

 


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21

Aug

2019

Community picnics, past and present

Author: Jim Taylor

Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but as summer scrolls towards a closing, I miss community picnics. 

            I seem to recall when every organization had a company picnic, a Sunday School picnic, a team picnic. 

            At times, I’ve been put in charge of these events. I have fond memories of planning games and activities that would build a feeling of family. Softball games, where it was okay to strike the boss out. A tug-of-war. Foot races. Egg and spoon races. Three-legged races. Sack races. Water balloon tosses… 

            At one church picnic, I set up a potato-peeling challenge: the winner had the longest unbroken potato peel. 

            And at a company picnic, I remember teaching people how to make s’mores around a campfire. The most common s’more consists of chocolate and partly melted marshmallow sandwiched between two graham wafers. But even better is chocolate and marshmallow, sealed into a cavity sliced out of a partially peeled banana, wrapped in aluminum foil and roasted in the embers of a bonfire until the whole thing is a drippy gooey mess. 


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20

Aug

2019

The slippery slope of mind-meddling

Author: Jim Taylor

            The case against conversion therapy is based, mostly, on it being aimed at the LGBTQ2 community. Mainly by the most conservative Christian churches, who consider homosexuality a sin, prohibited by the Bible and against God’s divine intention.

            It’s directed mostly at gay men. The Bible has one verse denouncing sex between women, but I haven’t heard of conversion therapy being applied to them.

            Conversion therapy attempts to show these “sinners” the error of their ways, and restore them to the heterosexuals God meant them to be.

I remember when mainstream society openly endorsed conversion therapy. In the 1970s, it was called “de-programming.”

            It was advocated for returning prisoners of war, “brainwashed” in Vietnamese or Russian prisons.

            Also, with good reason, for  cult members mesmerized by charismatic leaders like Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Charles Manson. Manson convinced his Family to murder nine Hollywood celebrities and their hangers-on. Jones took his colony to Guyana, where 900 followers committed mass suicide. Koresh and 80 followers perished in the infamous Waco standoff.

 


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14

Aug

2019

Listening to my inner voice

Author: Jim Taylor

I didn’t read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat Pray Lovewhen it was a bestseller. I waited ten years.

            When I finally read the book this summer, I was interested in the conversations Gilbert had with God -- or something -- by writing out her pain, anger, depression. And something told her hand what to write in reply.

            Psychics might call it “automatic writing”; charismatic Christians might call it “writing in the Spirit.” Whatever it is, it gave Gilbert the assurance that she was okay, she was loved, she mattered.

            One day, I didn’t want to do anything. I had a “to-do” list about a page long. But I felt utterly unmotivated.

            I wondered what would happen if I applied Gilbert’s process myself. I started by typing, “I’ve wasted the whole day.”

            Almost immediately my alter ego, or something, interrupted: “ What do you mean, wasted?”


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11

Aug

2019

“Turn him off! Turn him off!”

Author: Jim Taylor

Three million years ago, a distant ancestor of mine lived in Ethiopia. Since then, we humans have grown taller, stronger, more intelligent and, I would hope, more compassionate.

            After three million years of evolution, is Donald Trump the best we can achieve?

            Trump is the world’s number-one human, the colossus who sits bestride the world (to borrow a line from historian Robert Payne). President of the world’s most powerful nation. Chief executive officer of the world’s richest economy, who can make stock markets around the world crash with a single Tweet. Commander-in-chief of the world’s largest military force, with the biggest nuclear arsenal.

            A while ago, I resolved that I would not waste any more columns on Trump. It’s difficult to keep that resolution, when he declares himself “the least racist person in the world.” Or condemns the entire city of Baltimore as a “rat and rodent infested mess.”

           But I cannot continue to avoid writing about him.


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7

Aug

2019

A time to live and a time to die

Author: Jim Taylor

My pea vines have died. Despite getting the same water and sunshine as the rest of the garden, they seemed to know, somehow, that they had accomplished their mission. Now it was time to go to The Great Compost Bin in the Corner.

            Like salmon, they produce their next generation, and then give up living.

            All living things seem to recognize when their time is running out. Pea vines live less than one full summer; some trees will live thousands of years. But they all die, eventually.

            And so, interestingly, do their individual cells. Cells have their own life spans. Human skin cells die every few days. So do the cells in the toxic environment of your digestive system. Sperm cells survive only a few hours.

            Indeed, without cell death, we wouldn’t be human. A human fetus has webs between its fingers and toes -- a throwback, perhaps, to our  amphibian ancestors -- and those web cells must die so that an infant can be born with recognizably human hands and feet.

 


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4

Aug

2019

Rocky Mountain glaciers “endangered species”

Author: Jim Taylor

According to legend, Paul Revere rode through Massachusetts at midnight shouting his warning, “The British are coming! The British are coming!”

            I would like to ride out of the Rocky Mountains, shouting my own warning: “The glaciers are dying! The glaciers are dying!”

            You can see this for yourself, if you drive the Icefields Parkway that runs from Banff to Jasper up the spine of Canada’s national parks. I’ve just returned from doing it.

            The Crowfoot glacier no longer looks like a crow’s foot. The Angel Glacier does not look like an angel. And the Snowbird Glacier looks as if a coyote got to the bird first and ripped it apart.

            Only by looking at old photos can you appreciate the names given to these glaciers.


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31

Jul

2019

Five things I’m sort of sure of

Author: Jim Taylor

Shortly before her 61st birthday, author Anne Lamott decided to write down a dozen things she had learned from life and writing that she could be absolutely sure about.

            I’m considerably older than Lamott. But I thought her exercise would be worth trying myself. So here are some things that I’m sort of sure of. They all seem to be rejections of things I once accepted uncritically.

            First, I am absolutely sure that I can’t be absolutely sure of anything anymore. Life evolves. Knowledge changes. Sooner or later, everything I’m sure of will require reconsideration.

            This is, at least in part, a spin-off from quantum physics, where particles can be waves, or vice versa, and both are only probabilities. Werner Heisenberg defined his Uncertainty Principle in 1927. Ironically, he then developed a mathematical proof for his hypothesis – thus making uncertainty a certainty!


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28

Jul

2019

Restorative justice -- a better way

Author: Jim Taylor

This is a tale of two men -- one of them attempting to be an axe-murderer, the other attempting not to be his victim.

            I can give the name of the intended victim; Doug Martindale, a United Church minister who spent 21 years as a member of the Manitoba Legislature. I can’t name the perpetrator, because I don’t have his permission. Besides, he’s dead.

            The way the story goes, Doug agreed to paint the cottage of an elderly acquaintance, who owned a 10-acre woodlot. Doug would get some wood; the older man would get his cottage painted.

            But when Doug went up for a weekend’s work, no one told him that another man would also be there -- a second-generation-distant nephew. For simplicity, I’ll just call him “the nephew.”

            The nephew was drunk. 

            Still, the two worked reasonably well together, painting the eaves. Until they got to a bird’s nest with eggs in it. The cottage’s owner would want to preserve the wildlife, Doug thought. 

            The nephew didn’t like being told what to do. Doug tried to calm him, but the hostility escalated. Anger turned into threats. The nephew picked up a double-bitted axe and raised it over his head to strike Doug.

            Doug admits he was more scared than he had ever been in his life.

 


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24

Jul

2019

Ode to a lowly garden snail

Author: Jim Taylor

On a morning walk, I almost missed seeing a small garden snail crawling across a paved road.

            Garden snails don’t belong on pavement. They’re too vulnerable. They carry a shell with them, but it’s no more protective than an eggshell. A car tire, or my foot, would crush it instantly.

            I took a break to watch the little creature.

            Its body was almost translucent. Its front end kept reaching forward; its hind end hung back, until it had to let go and suck itself back underneath that shell.

            I wondered how the hind end felt about being dragged along to an unknown destination. Did it scream, “Whoa! Stop! Where are you taking me? I don’t want to go there!”

            And did the front end, in fact, know where it was going? Can a snail possibly know in advance that lush green dewy grass lies on the far side of a paved road?

           In my fascination with the snail’s mental processes, I failed to note whether this particular snail’s shell was left- or right-handed.


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