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

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24

Oct

2018

What did you say?

Author: Jim Taylor

Sometimes I hear people insist that Jesus was the Son of God, or God fully embodied as a human. And because God, to be God, must know everything, therefore Jesus must also have known everything. About everything. Including his own forthcoming death and resurrection.

            Let’s play with that idea. Let’s imagine that we have a time machine. And we can go back 20 centuries, and listen to Jesus talking to the crowds that have come out to hear him.

            He’s standing on a hilltop. 

            “You think that this rock I am standing on is solid,” he tells the crowd. “I tell you, this rock consists of billions of electrons and protons -- far tinier than a mustard seed -- which are not things at all, just positive and negative electrical charges, which you don’t know about yet, which can only be defined as probabilities. In fact, there is nothing under my feet, and nothing under you, except what you imagine is there.”

            Fast forward a few decades. (Our time machine has split-screen capabilities.) The disciples are trying to reconstruct what Jesus taught them. 


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Jesus, time machine

21

Oct

2018

The revenge motive for imprisonment

Author: Jim Taylor

Recreational cannabis is now legal in Canada. Whoopee. I’m already sick of listening to the endless pros and cons about what cannabis will do to the fabric of our society. Cave dwellers probably had the same debates about how fermented grape juice would change history, if and when anyone got around to writing it.

            Instead, let’s talk about recreational killing.

            That’s what I said -- recreational killing.

            In hindsight, that seems to be the only adequate description for the actions of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homulka, 26 years ago. The two of them abducted, drugged, tortured, repeatedly raped, and murdered four girls, one of them Karla’s own sister.

            They did it for fun.


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17

Oct

2018

Seasons of the year, and of life

Author: Jim Taylor

As I sit at my computer, typing these words, falling leaves drift by my window. And I can’t help thinking about the song penned by Johnny Mercer back in 1945 about “autumn leaves of red and gold…”

            Mercer wrote his words as a love song: “I see your lips, your summer kisses… but I miss you most of all, when autumn leaves start to fall.”

            But I think the song’s haunting quality derives from its universality: “Soon I’ll hear old winter’s song…” 

The days are clear and bright, the temperatures temperate, the nights brisk. Here in the Okanagan Valley, we don’t get the flaming colours of Vermont or Ontario. But the golden leaves of aspens, back-lit by low sun, framed by the dark greens of spruce and fir, still make me catch my breath.

            Part of the beauty, though, comes from knowing it can’t last. 

            This is a precious time, as “the days dwindle down to a precious few” (Anderson and Weill, September Song). I remind myself, as I walk the dog these autumn days, to savour every bit of beauty, every moment of enchantment.

            Because it won’t last, can’t last. 


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14

Oct

2018

Dysfunctional system penalizes the victims

Author: Jim Taylor

Imagine that you’re a child, let’s say ten years old.

            Now imagine that you’re being abused. By someone you trust. Or fear. Perhaps an older sibling. Perhaps an uncle or aunt or your regular baby-sitter. Even perhaps, to tie in with historic children’s tales, by a wicked stepparent.

            Imagine what kind of courage it takes to speak out. To accuse someone that the rest of your family regards with respect.

            Now imagine having to tell the story of your shame and humiliation. Over. And over. And over again.

            First, probably, in the intimidating environment of the police headquarters, sometimes in the back seat of a police car, to an officer who you have never met before. 

            Then to medical staff at the hospital emergency ward, if they have to repair any physical wounds.

            And if there’s a possibility of criminal charges, you have to go to Kamloops for a forensic examination. Driven there by your parents, or your relatives – the courts don’t provide transportation. Imagine spending two hours in the back seat thinking about what lies ahead because the facilities for this exam don’t currently exist in Kelowna.

            But none of those agencies can change the family situation that made you a victim. The provincial Ministry of Children and Family Development can move you a safe place, to protect you. So you’ll have to tell your story all over again, once more reliving the trauma. 


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10

Oct

2018

A distorted view of Canada's history

Author: Jim Taylor

I’ve been reading Conrad Black’s 1106-page history of Canada, Rise to Greatness.I can’t recommend it. For two reasons.

            First, because it’s written at a level of turgidity rarely achieved since the Victorian authors. The friend who loaned me the book said he had to read it with his dictionary open beside him. 

            Second, though, because this book is not really about Canada – it’s about Black’s obsession with high-level leadership, an elite to which he thinks he belongs. So although there are voluminous references to Sir John A. Macdonald’s speeches to parliament, there is not one word about the actual building of the transcontinental railway that linked a fledgling Canada “from sea to sea.” Alexander Mackenzie’s journeys to the Arctic and Pacific Oceans get shrugged off in two sentences. David Thompson’s mapping of the Columbia river system gets a single line.


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7

Oct

2018

Witches’ brew of economic contradictions

Author: Jim Taylor

"Double, double, toil and trouble,” Shakespeare’s three witches chant in the opening of Macbeth. Although Shakespeare didn’t intend his lines to describe modern economics, they seem appropriate. 

            For the last year, Canadian news reports have included regular updates on trade negotiations between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. Donald Trump repeatedly threatened to cancel the existing North American Free Trade Agreement. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Christia Freeland repeated her mantra – negotiations are proceeding in good faith. 

            Fires burned. Cauldrons bubbled. Delegations met. Endlessly.

            And then, at the last minute, just before a U.S.-imposed deadline – where did NAFTA grant the U.S. the privilege of imposing unilateral deadlines? – someone threw in “eye of newt” and someone else withdrew a “lizard’s leg,” and just like that, we had a new trade and tariff agreement – USMCA, a.k.a. the U.S., Mexico, and Canada Agreement. 

            Poof! The ugly toad turns into a charming prince. 

           That was on Monday.


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3

Oct

2018

Choosing between unequal forces

Author: Jim Taylor

If you swing a bucket of water over your head, centrifugal force keeps the water in the bucket. But your arm keeps the bucket from flying off. 

            You’ve just illustrated Isaac Newton’s principle of two equal forces working together, commonly stated as, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

            The principle explains not only buckets of water, but also the motions of planets in their orbits, satellites circling the earth, and galaxies in space. 

            Newton was not the first to recognize the truth of paired forces. The Chinese identified it centuries before – essentially, stating that beauty requires two contrasting elements. It could be smooth and rough, as in rocks. Or vertical and horizontal, as in lakes and trees. Or hot and cold, sweet and sour, shiny and dull…

            I find this recognition of two forces oddly comforting. Especially in a world that is decidedly not stable. 


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30

Sep

2018

Sexual predators incapable of hearing ‘No’

Author: Jim Taylor

The week opened with genial father-figure Cliff Huxtable -- better known as Bill Cosby -- named a “sexually violent predator” and sentenced to three to ten years in prison. In a Pennsylvania court, Cosby was found guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault for drugging and sexually assaulting a Canadian woman, Andrea Constand,

            The same week, Christine Blasey Ford, professor at Palo Alto University, testified before a U.S. Senate committee that she had been the victim of attempted rape by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, 36 years earlier.

             Also, former media celebrity Gian Ghomeshi published an essay in the New York Review of Bookswhitewashing his own sexual escapades. Although Ghomeshi was acquitted, Ontario Court Justice William Horkins made clear that he was not saying that “these events never happened.”

           Three threads run through this sorry tapestry.


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26

Sep

2018

Salmon and the great circle of life

Author: Jim Taylor

The conference hall was packed full. Five hundred people leaned forward to watch as an elder from a First Nations community along the B.C. coast moved down the aisle towards the microphones on stage. His red-and-black blanket cloak swished as he walked; the mother-of-pearl buttons adorning it flashed back at the spotlights following him. 

            This happened long before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for better relationships with Canada’s indigenous peoples. But the church, my church, was making its first tentative moves towards that goal. 

            The old man – he may not actually have been old, but he was older than I was, and he had a deeply weathered face – climbed the stairs onto the stage. He took the microphone from its stand. He held it to his mouth. 

            We waited, breathlessly, for his words of wisdom. 

            “We are the salmon,” he said. 

            Then he put the microphone back, and left the stage. 


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23

Sep

2018

How to write 1000 columns

Author: Jim Taylor

This is my 1000th Sharp Edges column. At around 50 columns a year, that’s almost 20 years of writing a weekly column! 

            “How do you find something to write about every week?” people ask me. 

            That’s easy – by paying attention. To the world around me. To my own reactions. To what other people are saying. 

            Given the number of issues in the news each week, the problem is not finding a topic, but selecting which topic to focus on. 

            But there is a second step. If a local story grabs my attention, how does it connect to a larger topic? If an international story, how does it relate to life here in the Okanagan Valley. Or closer still, in little Lake Country. Or even in my own home. 

            There’s no point in raging about Donald the Dump – or lobbying for an endangered salamander in the Congo – if it isn’t relevant in some way to life here and now. 

            Macro and micro, universal and particular, belong in the same picture. I don’t care whether I zoom out or zoom in; the big picture and the small picture belong together. 


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Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: Writing

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