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

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14

Mar

2020

In the beginning was pi

Author: Jim Taylor

This coming Saturday is International Pi Day. No, that’s not a typographic error. Pi, not pie, regardless of flavour. Or maybe pi. Usually represented by π, a Greek letter that looks like a wobbly footstool.

            It’s on March 14, because if you write it as 3/14, or better yet as 3.14, you have the first three digits of pi. Correctly, pi is 3.141592 plus an endless series of further decimals, but for most purposes, 3.14 will suffice. 

            But then, pi can never be precise. Mathematicians have calculated pi to 13.3 trillion decimal digits, and they’re firmly convinced that it will never – no, never – repeat a pattern. Which means that no matter how precisely they define pi, the next digit will be unpredictable. 

            So pi is at once a constant, and a variable. 

            And yet the universe could not exist without it. 


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8

Mar

2020

Terrorized by a tiny virus particle

Author: Jim Taylor

The dominant news story of the last few weeks (aside from the American media’s obsession with the Democratic primaries) has been the spread and effects of the new coronavirus, officially dubbed COVID-19.

            Medically, it’s a relatively minor illness -- far less fearsome than, say, cancer, heart disease, or obesity. As I write this column, in midweek, COVID-19 has spread to 46 countries, but resulted in only 3,100 deaths worldwide.  The whole U.S. has had only 135 cases, with just 11 deaths; Canada, only 35 cases in total, with no deaths at all. (Figures depend on the source and date.)

            There are times when our collective reaction feels like a tempest in a teapot.

            By comparison, the 2009 H1N1 virus caused 12,500 deaths in the US alone. And that figure is annually surpassed by the ordinary, common, garden-variety flu which will kill about 18,000 people in the U.S. this year...


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5

Mar

2020

Beyond the limits of personal experience

Author: Jim Taylor

She came walking down the lane past my window, tall, straight, shoulders squared, moving with confident strides, the picture of health and confidence. 

            She couldn’t possibly imagine what it feels like to be unable to straighten her shoulders. Where moving one leg out of bed requires a conscious effort. As does chewing every mouthful of food. 

            I don’t in any way censure that young woman. She’s kind, personable, empathetic. But we – generally speaking -- cannot imagine what we haven’t experienced, even indirectly. 

            Even if we experience disability as a result of an injury or illness, we tend to see it as  temporary. 


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1

Mar

2020

Why do heroes have to be perfect?

Author: Jim Taylor

This week, I learn that his own creation, L’Arche International, the organization that operates 154 homes for mentally and physically disabled people in 38 countries around the world, released a report that he had had sexual relations with six women.

            None of them, I’m relieved to hear, were among the disabled persons served by L’Arche homes.

            But all six had Vanier as their spiritual director. Which means they were in an unequal relationship with him. Which he exploited.

            The relationships, said the report, were “emotionally abusive and characterised by significant imbalances of power, whereby the alleged victims felt deprived of their free will and so the sexual activity was coerced or took place under coercive conditions.”

            The charges are not mere rumours. L’Arche might be expected to defend its founder’s reputation.


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28

Feb

2020

Wisdom from the mountains

Author: Jim Taylor

How could I resist a book sub-titled, A Tale of Non-Euclidian and Symbolically Authentic Mountaineering Adventures?

            I’ve been a fan of mountain climbing ever since my early years in the foothills of India’s Himalayas. Until you’ve done it, it’s hard to imagine the sheer awe of cresting a ridge and seeing a range of 25,000-foot mountains rising across the sky. 

            But “Non-Euclidian” mountaineering?

            It’s  because author Rene Daumal’s mountain, Mount Analogue, is imaginary. It gives him the opportunity to use mountaineering wisdom to illuminate ordinary life. 


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23

Feb

2020

Hereditary chiefs launch a landslide

Author: Jim Taylor

For a writer, it’s almost freeing to know that anything I say about the Wet’suwet’en affair will be denounced by someone as wrong, misguided, misleading, and/or prejudiced. 

            After all, this single issue combines aboriginal rights, colonial injustice, social stereotyping, racial discrimination, capitalism, fossil fuels, the law, the economy, global warming, global trade, and the rights of nature. How could it help being divisive?

            And yet at the heart of it stand just nine men -- the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en people in northern B.C.

            A natural gas pipeline running from Dawson Creek to Kitimat on the B.C. coast would have to pass through Wet’suwet’en territory. 


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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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