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

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17

Jun

2018

When writers don’t know what to write about

Author: Jim Taylor

           If you’ve ever wondered what writers write about when they don’t know what to write about, that incident might give you a clue. 

            We retreat into the commonplace world, the world we actually know about from personal experience, and hope to connect with larger events. 

            The problem is not having nothing to write about. The problem is having too much to write about. 

            Take this last week, for example. 

            Boatloads of refugees get sent back to sea in the Mediterranean, by nations unwilling to assume responsibility for disasters that they didn’t create, while the nations that caused the problems stay a comfortable distance away. 

            Volcanoes demonstrate that they can have different personalities. The one in Hawaii is relatively benign – dangerous, but not explosive. The one in Guatemala erupts explosively, searing its victims in hot ash and gases. The one in Washington… well, enough said. 

            The G-7 summit in Quebec, that became the G-6 summit after Russia got kicked out, became the G-5 summit when everyone was out of step except one man.

            And then the world’s two most unpredictable national leaders met in Singapore, to hatch a vague commitment to make the world safer.

 


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13

Jun

2018

Work together for the good of all

Author: Jim Taylor

Being polite isn’t always the best policy. 

            I’m not suggesting that it’s good to be rude, harsh, contemptuous, or difficult. Not at all. But if being polite, being nice, gets in the way of true cooperation, social manners may need to take second place. 

            I doubt if my father ever said an angry word to another human. He was the kind of person who tried to see the best in everyone. Who would never push his way to the front of a line. Who always let someone else go through the door first. 

            But there were occasions when the usual rules of courtesy didn’t work.  Entering Lion's Gas Bridge in Vancouver, for example, where eight lanes of traffic have to merge into two,

or sometimes into one. 

On one occasion, though, my father couldn’t break the habit of being polite. When it was his turn to mesh, he gestured to the car on his left to go ahead. 

            The other driver jammed on her brakes, expecting my father to slip into his slot. 

            Dad waited for her. 

            Both cars came to a standstill, waiting for the other to make the first move.


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10

Jun

2018

We could have made flooding worse

Author: Jim Taylor

The flood danger seems to have passed, at least for this year. Okanagan Lake has peaked. Grand Forks is drying out. A half million people in the lower Fraser Valley, who had been bracing for the worst flooding since 1948, can relax.

            But things could have been worse -- much worse -- if a couple of political ploys in history had been carried through.

            The difficulty, you see, is that God -- or plate tectonics, if you prefer -- didn’t design the land west of the Rocky Mountains very efficiently. Highways, railways, and lines of communication run east/west. But the valleys and rivers mostly run north/south.

            Only the Fraser and Skeena river systems lie entirely within B.C. Every other major river ignores national boundaries. Especially the Columbia.

           In negotiating the Columbia River Treaty, General MacNaughton brought in diversion as a bargaining chip. Unless the Americans agreed to a fair deal for Canada, MacNaughton threatened, Canada could divert the Columbia into the Fraser, leaving three U.S. states high and very dry.


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6

Jun

2018

Friendships need maintenance too

Author: Jim Taylor

Last week, I attended my high school class reunion – 64 years after graduation. We didn’t bother with reunions for a long time. Perhaps we were too busy carving out careers for ourselves. Or rearing children. Or paying off mortgages. 

               We had our first reunion – if I remember correctly – in 2012, a multi-class reunion with several grades above and below us. We enjoyed that occasion enough that we have had a class reunion every two years since. 

               I’ve noticed something about the nature of our conversations. 

               The first couple of times, we talked about the old days.  This time, though, the talk wasn’t as much about the distant past, but about current concerns. About how our lives are changing. About downsizing into smaller housing that requires less care. Into apartments or condominiums. About getting rid of a lifetime of accumulation that our children and grandchildren don’t need, don’t want, and won’t know what to do with anyway.


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3

Jun

2018

Not much hope for common sense

Author: Jim Taylor

John Horgan and Rachel Notley, look what you’ve started!

               Once, you were the kiddies having a spat in the sandbox. Horgan blocks Notley’s pipeline; Notley blocks B.C.’s wines. You hit me; I hit you back.

               More recently, the sandbox has become the law courts. As an opinion piece in the Vancouver Sunnoted earlier this week, Horgan could have lawyers arguing two different sides of the same coin, in two side-by-side courtrooms. In one courtroom, that a province has a legal and constitutional right to restrict the shipment of petroleum products; next door, that a province does NOT have the right to restrict shipment of petroleum products.

               But now the sandbox squabbling has escalated.

                The laughing-stock president in the White House just dumped a big bucket of sand on Canada -- and on Mexico, though the Canadian media have largely ignored Mexico. Steel and aluminum imports into the United States are now subject to hefty tariffs.


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30

May

2018

The awesome power of a volcano

Author: Jim Taylor

For weeks, I’ve watched the pyrotechnics on television of Kilauea volcano in Hawaii. Fountains of lava squirting up to 300 feet into the air – the length of a football field set on end.

               Generally, I gather, reddish-coloured lava is about 900 degrees Celsius (about 1,600 Fahrenheit). Orange is hotter, about 1100 C. Yellow goes up to 1250 C.

               And it’s even hotter underground. The magma – the name for lava before it erupts to the surface -- is under pressure, which raises its melting point. When the lava is released from that pressure as it surfaces, it bubbles like champagne. It is actually boiling.

               This is rock we’re talking about, folks. Rock. The stuff mountains are made of. 

               If you tried to heat rock to those temperatures on your kitchen range, most of your range would melt before the rock did!


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27

May

2018

You can’t do that anymore!

Author: Jim Taylor

The video went viral – as so many videos do nowadays, especially when we wish they wouldn’t. Over a million people watched Kelly Pocha of Cranbrook, B.C.lean over the back of a booth in a Denny’s Restaurant in Lethbridge, AB, and yell at the inhabitants of the next booth, who appeared to be of Arab origin. 

            Her comments were clearly racist. She told them to go back to their own country. She said they didn’t belong here. She threatened physical violence. 

            To her credit, she later went back to the restaurant, and apologized to the manager for causing a scene. And on the media, she apologized to the subjects of her harangue. “If I could rewind and take it back I would, but I can’t,” she said. That's just not who I am."

            Pocha learned a hard lesson – you can’t do that anymore. Along with a lot of other things.


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23

May

2018

The prophets of our times?

Author: Jim Taylor

I love poetry. I don’t read it often enough. 

            Most of my reading is factual stuff. I want to know more about the origins of a movement. The mysteries of the universe. How plants communicate. 

            So I skim. Some call it speed-reading, but in fact, it’s mostly training my eyes to look for relevant keywords. 

            I can’t do that with poetry. Poetry, really, needs to be read aloud. Because reading aloud forces me to slow down, to savour the sounds of each word, to measure the musical rhythm of vowels and consonants, of rests and highlights…. 

            I read aloud, so that I can feel the poet’s message resonating from my vocal cords into both head and belly.

            Because poetry is not about facts, or arguments, or even about story. It’s about feelings. Poets try to evoke feelings with the fewest possible words. Which means that mental images get compressed, juxtaposed, overlapped. As they mesh, they create new connections, new images, new insights.


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20

May

2018

U.S. embassy move misreads the Bible

Author: Jim Taylor

This week, the U.S. moved its embassy from Tel Aviv on Israel’s Mediterranean coast to Jerusalem. The move fulfilled one of President Donald Tweet’s campaign promises. The president sent his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to represent the American Empire. 

            Jerusalem epitomizes all that’s wrong with U.S. foreign policy.

            Kushner had no foreign policy experience at all, prior to being appointed the White House’s “Senior Advisor” with particular emphasis on Middle Eastern issue. But he is Jewish. 

           U.S. foreign policy treats the Bible as the final word on anything related to Jews. And, by extension, to anything related to the Middle East. 

           Let’s be clear – the Bible does state that the legendary King David chose Jerusalem as the capital of the new nation he had formed from the warring tribes descended from Jacob’s sons. That’s a selective reading, though. It ignores the Bible’s own testimony that David chose that site specifically because it did NOT form part of traditional Jewish territories. 


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16

May

2018

An invention that challenged unexamined ideas

Author: Jim Taylor

This is a busy weekend. In addition to Mother’s Day on Sunday, we’re celebrating Limerick Day, Train Day, and Odometer Day on Saturday; Frog Jumping Day and International Belly Dance Day on Sunday; and Chicken Dance Day on Monday. 

            On top of all that, May is Photo Month, officially recognized by the U.S. Congress in 1987. For no apparent reason, other than industry lobbying, it seems. 

            Too bad, because photography marks an important shift in human thinking. It enabled us to “fix” – yes, that’s a darkroom pun – a moment in time. 

            In effect, photography freezes time. Even the much-maligned selfie asserts, “This is what I looked like,” at a particular time and place that’s now in the past. 

            Most families have boxes of old photos handed down through several generations. Some of the people in those pictures we can still recognize. Others are unidentified, unidentifiable. 


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