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

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22

Feb

2020

Black history is more than words

Author: Jim Taylor

My granddaughter is black – adopted, from Ethiopia. She lives in a mostly white community and school system. 

            Her school, I gather, has largely ignored February as Black History Month. 

            Granted, Black History would not teach her much about Ethiopia. Or even about Africa. Black History, from what I’ve seen, deals mainly with American slavery. 

            Slavery is not limited to American experience, of course. For centuries, all over the world,  slaves were property. The mighty could measure their wealth by the number of slaves. 

            Until recently, the stories of American slavery were not transcribed  into words. They were handed down orally. Just as Indigenous stories were. Just as biblical stories were.


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16

Feb

2020

Billionaires battle for the presidency

Author: Jim Taylor

My wife and I watch Jeopardy, most evenings, for three reasons. Its host is Alex Trebek, a Canadian. It involves knowledge and intelligence. And it has no guns.

            But Jeopardy is not on any Canadian channel in our area. We have to watch it on Seattle’s KOMO. Which means that we’re suddenly seeing several advertisements every hour for Michael Bloomberg’s campaign to become U.S. president.

            Apparently Bloomberg has already spent $350 million U.S. on advertising. That’s about ten times more than Bernie Sanders has spent, so far.

            And there’s still most of a year to go.

 


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15

Feb

2020

My best New Year’s Resolution ever

Author: Jim Taylor

Back in January, I made a New Year’s Resolution, but I haven’t written about it, just in case it turned out to be like so many other resolutions that last only until someone puts chocolates on the table.

            Fortunately, my resolution wasn’t about chocolates. It was about superlatives.

            To put all of this in a grammatical context, we have, generally speaking, three levels of comparison -- good, better, and best.

            One: this is good. No comparison involved. 

            Two: the comparative -- this is better. 

            Three, the superlative: this is best. Or worst, in some cases. Ideally, again, of a number of known choices. The highest score among a specific group of competitors. The fastest time in a particular high school’s track meet. The lowest temperature this winter.

            But that’s not Donald Trump’s style. He chronically uses what I think of as absolute superlatives. Asserting, for example, that he was “the greatest president ever.” Or that something was the “worst trade deal ever made.” Or that Islamic terrorism is “the greatest threat the U.S. has ever faced.”


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9

Feb

2020

For China, even compassion is politics

Author: Jim Taylor

The first airlift of Canadians trapped in the quarantined Chinese city of Wuhan took place on Thursday. A second flight is currently scheduled for next Tuesday, February 10. 

            In the meantime, at least 12 other countries have been able to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan. News reports identify the U.S., Australia, Japan, South Korea, France, Morocco, Germany, Kazakhstan, the U.K., Russia, Netherlands, and Myanmar.

            How come they could do it, and Canada took so long?

            Health Minister Patty Hajdu conceded that the federal government was initially caught off guard and had "a slow start in terms of organizing" the evacuation plane.

            Kazakhstan was better prepared for a health crisis than Canada was? Give me a break!

            Although nobody is saying it out loud, there seems to me a connection between the delays encountered in getting Canadian citizens out of China and the highly publicized court case in Vancouver, B.C. deliberating the fate of Meng Wanzhou.


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6

Feb

2020

The rise of the un-religious

Author: Jim Taylor

Bad news for religious institutions – churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and gurdwaras – the agnostics are winning. 

            The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, a conservative Christian organization, recently completed a poll of Canadians over the age of 18. In summary, they found that “half of Canadians are either agnostic, atheist or unreligious. And only a tenth attend religious services weekly.”

            Like all polls, it’s a sampling of opinions and experiences. It put its questions to 5,000 Canadians, regardless of their brand of religion. So it’s not just about evangelicals. 

             The single biggest finding is that 50% of Canadians no longer claim any religious affiliation. They consider themselves agnostics, atheists, or “spiritual but not religious” (abbreviated to AASN).

            Those who still consider themselves Christian – Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, whatever – make up only 43% of the Canadian population.


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2

Feb

2020

The “laws” we invent

Author: Jim Taylor

In high school, we were taught that there were two immutable laws in nature -- the Law of Conservation of Matter, and the Law of Conservation of Energy.

            Then the atomic bomb blew both laws into anywhere. They had to be combined: the total of matter and energy remains constant -- even if bits of each could be swapped. (Although I don’t think anyone has yet attempted to turn energy back into matter. )

            That got me thinking about a variety of other so-called Laws.

            For example, the Peter Principle, devised by author Lawrence J. Peter with Raymond Hull. It said, in essence, that institutions promote people to their level of incompetence.


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30

Jan

2020

Questions of life and death

Author: Jim Taylor

’m not sure what I believe about life after death. I’m quite sure that I don’t believe in life before life.

            When I was about ten, my mother told me that my father had proposed to another woman, before he met my mother.

            He had finished his Master’s degree. He had signed up to go to India as a missionary with  the United Church of Canada. He invited this other woman to go with him.

            She said no.

            By a fortunate coincidence for me, my mother went to India about the same time, as a Presbyterian missionary from Northern Ireland. My parents met at language school. Six years later they had me.

            Even at the age of ten, it occurred to me that if that other woman had said “Yes,” I wouldn’t  be who I was. I would be someone else. Maybe even –horrors – a girl!


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23

Jan

2020

Not worth worrying about

Author: Jim Taylor

Flakes of winter snow sift down outside my window as I write these words. Millions of them. Billions of them. Burying the bird feeder. Burying my driveway. 

            I go out to shovel. Each snowflake weighs next to nothing. It’s amazing how much a shovelful of next-to-nothing can weigh. 

            No two of those snowflakes are identical, I’ve been told. 

            Maybe it’s true. Maybe it isn’t. The only way to prove it, either way, would be to examine every snowflake that has ever fallen. 

             But if you lived in Australia these days, who cares? When summer temperatures soar above 50 degrees Celsius, when fires create their own weather systems, a snowflake wouldn’t have, umm, a snowflake’s chance in hell of surviving long enough to  be examined. 

            So many of the things that we humans argue about, divide ourselves about, even go to war about, are what a friend calls “head stuff.” Interesting, but irrelevant. 


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Rituals, Chesterton

19

Jan

2020

Defeating imaginary opponents

Author: Jim Taylor

The first phone call came at 7:05 a.m. I picked up the phone. “Dear Customer,” a recorded message began. “This call is to advise you that we have deducted $399.99 from your account to cover the renewal of your service policy. To approve this transaction, press one. To speak to a service representative, press two…”

            I hung up instead. 

           I’m always tempted to talk back to recorded messages, the way I talk back to contestants on Jeopardy who know nothing about Canada. I’m even tempted to “press two” to see if I can tie the service representative’s mind into knots.  

            In philosophical circles, this practice is called the “straw man argument.” 


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16

Jan

2020

The mark of moral progress

Author: Jim Taylor

The progress of civilization is not measured by democracy or economics, by health or wealth, nor by art or architecture. It’s measured by our reduction of cruelty.

            I needed to state that thesis up front. To discuss it, I have to cite instances of cruelty that will turn your stomach. If I started this column with them, you’d probably quit reading.

            Let’s start with Genghis Khan, who reputedly killed 40 million people in his 30-year reign. He executed one enemy by pouring molten silver into his eyes and ears.

            Which is probably characteristic of his time. A rival tyrant boiled captured generals alive. Victims may have been conscious for several hours as they cooked.

            Scottish explorer James Bruce became the first European to enter the mountain kingdom of Ethiopia. The emperor and his vizier entertained their visitor by putting out the eyes of a dozen slaves while they ate dinner.


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