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

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19

May

2019

No guarantees of safety in bush flying

Author: Jim Taylor

The news that two float planes collided in the air and crashed, near Ketchikan, Alaska, took me back to my own exposure to bush flying on the north coast. (Funny how that happens more and more as I grow older.) For about four years in the 1950s and ‘60s, I got flown around northern B.C. by some of the best pilots in the world – which is why I’m still here to write about the experience.

Since the accident, flight companies in Ketchikan have been deluged by people calling to cancel bookings. Or seeking assurances about safety.

                   In bush flying, there is no assurance of safety. Never.

                   Safety depends on the quality of the plane and the skill of the pilot.


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15

May

2019

Shuffling towards an invisible door

Author: Jim Taylor

I woke during the night, a while ago, with my mind racing. It was very dark. Heavy clouds hid the moon and stars. Our rural area has no street lights. And at 3:00 a.m., no neighbouring houses had any lights on.

                   Rather than tossing and turning, and probably waking Joan, I got out of bed, and went to our living room where I could look out the front windows.

                   I could see a few lights across the lake. I could make out the vague reflective sheen of the lake, the darker bulk of the hills on the far side, some humps that might be bushes in our garden.

                   Nothing moved. It was very peaceful. Almost holy.

`                  After a while, calmed and quieted, I decided I could go back to bed.

 


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12

May

2019

A eulogy for Jean Vanier

Author: Jim Taylor

The news on Tuesday that Jean Vanier had died hit me like a punch in the gut. Tears welled up, unbidden. 

                   I can’t claim that I knew him personally. But that’s not quite accurate. Because everyone knew him personally. That’s the kind of person he was. He wasn’t paying attention to the person behind you. He didn’t care if you were a prime minister or a corporate CEO or Mother Teresa — you, as you, mattered. 

                  He was an unprepossessing speaker, by conventional standards. He ambled on stage, almost shambled on, 6-feet-4-inches looking as if he had slept in his clothes, with a great hooked nose that hung over the microphone. 

                   And a smile that stretched from here to eternity. 

                   He talked as if there was only one person out there — and it was you. 


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11

May

2019

Friendship as a way of life

Author: Jim Taylor

                   The late Scottish philosopher John Macmurray once suggested, in a BBC talk, that friendship was an illustration of the ideal “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” that Jesus talked about. 

                   Jesus, Macmurray reasoned, contradicted himself. One time he would tell his listeners, the kingdom is already here. Look around, you can see it. You all know it. Other times, Jesus would say it is not here. Not yet. But it can burst in, explode almost, unexpectedly. 

                   What human situation, Macmurray asked, fits those contradictory conditions? Friendship, he answered. Everyone knows friendship already. Yet we also know that friendship can blossom suddenly, between people who previously were barely acquaintances. 


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5

May

2019

NRA deserves any trouble it gets into

Author: Jim Taylor

In 15 years of writing these weekly columns, I’ve learned that there are three subjects that always get up people’s noses. Anything I write about abortion, Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, and/or gun control provokes a heated response.

                   These responses often come from people who don’t subscribe to this  column, people who live in Germany, or Brazil, or Indonesia. I assume someone has forwarded my words with a comment like, “Isn’t this SoB outrageous? Tell the author what you think of him!”

                   Today's column is about guns. (I can see hackles rising already.)

                   Guns are not the problem. (I expect the National Rifle Association to forward that assertion all over the world.)

                   Gun owners are the problem. (I don’t expect the NRA to forward that part.)


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Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: guns, NRA

1

May

2019

Never take water for granted

Author: Jim Taylor

Every newscast recently seems to make floods its lead story. Floods in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick. Less recently, floods in Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe. Largely unpublicized, floods in Iran and South Africa.

            Understandably, some residents resent having their floods described as “once in a century.” 

            “That’s what they told us last year,” grumbled a resident of New Brunswick’s St. John River valley. “Now we’re having another hundred-year flood this year.”

            I have some sympathy for those people piling sandbags to protect their property. I did it myself, once – but never, I hasten to admit, year after year. 

            I was still at university. A group of us sat around the common room of our student residence. Someone stuck his head in the door and said, “Hey! The Seymour River’s flooding. They’re calling for volunteers.”

            In the pelting rain — which was not easing the flood threat — we worked through the night. We waded through water above our ankles. The rain plastered our hair to our heads, dripped off our noses, fogged our glasses, soaked through our light jackets. 

            But we kept working until the army relieved us about 3:00 a.m. 


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: extremes, floods

28

Apr

2019

The lowest common denominator

Author: Jim Taylor

It’s one week after the Easter Day bombings in Sri Lanka, which killed 359 people. It’s two weeks after the Christchurch shootings in New Zealand/Aotearoa, where 80 people were murdered.

            I hang my head in despair.

            I want to do something about it. I want to lash out, to rid the world of the kind of people who do this kind of thing.

            But I don’t know how to identify “this kind of people.” Media reports claim the Sri Lanka bombers belonged to a fanatic Muslim sect, but I’ve seen no proof -- yet. The Christchurch shooter has been described as a far-right white supremacist, which I suppose makes him nominally Christian.

            Nor do I know how to define “this kind of thing.” Is it more reprehensible to bomb people at worship than to kill them at work, in the World Trade Centre, for example? Is it worse to shoot people at prayer than to blow them up in a classroom or hospital or orphanage -- as happens in Yemen?

            In this storm of wind and fire and earthquake, a still small voice penetrates.: “The real purpose behind these actions is to sow discord and hatred, so that we are all reduced to the same level as the perpetrators of these crimes.”


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24

Apr

2019

Observing ourselves observing ourselves

Author: Jim Taylor

Despite his scornful dismissal of his companion’s intellect -- “Elementary, my dear Watson!” -- Sherlock Holmes was not a brilliant thinker. Rather, he was an astute observer. He noticed things that others overlooked, little things insignificant in themselves but which, when put together, led to a startling conclusion.

            Observing is a key function of survival. It doesn’t refer only to eyes. Dogs observe with their noses. They detect hundreds of scents that we humans miss, scents that feed information about their environment, their safety, their food. Especially their food.

            Birds and butterflies sense the lines of the earth’s magnetic field to guide them on their migrations. Salmon taste their way through a massive confusion of waters, back to their original spawning grounds.

            We humans rely most heavily on our eyes and ears, to observe the world around us. We listen to conversations, to news broadcasts, to public address systems. We watch people clothing, their body movements, their interactions, for clues to what they’re thinking or feeling.


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20

Apr

2019

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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17

Apr

2019

Choose sides for the future

Author: Jim Taylor

Two great forces shape the world today. No, they are not economic systems, like capitalism and communism. Or political systems, like democracy and tyranny. 

            They are Evolution and Entropy (for this essay, deliberately capitalized). Perhaps we’ve always known they existed, but we gave them attributes, like good and evil, light and dark. Or names, like God and Satan.

            Evolution and Entropy are inseparable twins, like yin and yang. Both are irresistible and irreversible. Both are subject to time. But they are mutually contradictory. 

 


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Evolution, Entropy

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