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

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3

Feb

2019

Three stories that made my week

Author: Jim Taylor

I don’t often say kind words about the modern mass media. Unfortunately, as dollars get tighter, publishers can no longer afford to have a writer spend days, weeks, even months, researching the nooks and crannies of a complex story.

            But this week is an exception. This week three stories renewed my faith in the written word.

            The first came from Maclean’sonline. (I don’t know if it will appear in the print version.) Shannon Gormley wrote about the cave rescue in Thailand, last July. It seems so long ago now, doesn’t it?

            But instead of a dry recounting of wet facts, Gormley searched the personalities involved, got inside their emotions, enabled us to feel their fear in the absolute blackness deep inside that mountain.

           The second story, in the on-line newspaper, 

The Tyee,

told of a father and daughter trapped on Saturna Island by the great windstorm last December. Sofia Osborne tells the story without any poor-me histrionics. Without moralizing. But the story packs an emotional punch as strong as that December gale.

           And few stories could pack the emotional punch of the impact statements made by the families and friends of the Humboldt Broncos victims, last summer.

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30

Jan

2019

Religious rituals that boggle our minds

Author: Jim Taylor

The biggest religious event in the world is taking place right now, and I expect you haven’t heard a word about it. It’s the Kumbh Mela, where 130 million Hindus will purify themselves by plunging into the Ganges River. 

            Stop! You didn’t let that figure sink in -- 130 million! That’s equivalent to gathering in one place the entire populations of metropolitan New York, Shanghai, Tokyo, Mexico City, Cairo, and London – every man, woman, and child. 

            Or more than three times the whole population of Canada, gathering on a mud flat at the junction of two sacred rivers, the Ganges and the Yamuna.

           What do all those Hindus do at a Kumbh Mela? I don’t know; I’ve never been there in person. Even if I did go, I expect it would be meaningless to me, an outsider. 

            Certainly, nothing connected to the Ganges River suggests purification to me.

 

 

 

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27

Jan

2019

Legislative officers milked the public teat

Author: Jim Taylor

Everyone knows what a “per diem” payment is. Per diem means, simply, “each day.” Corporate bodies -- whether public or private -- use the term to identify the amount that an employee may be repaid for meals, local expenses, and accommodation paid out of pocket.

            Of course, hardly anyone pays for those expenses out of pocket any more. They go directly onto the corporate credit card.

            So, theoretically, there should be little need for per diem payments.

            Unless those employees feel entitled to receive those payments, regardless of what they didn’t actually spend.

            Per diem payments exemplify, to my mind, the underlying issue in the scandal involving two senior officers of the B.C. Legislature, Clerk of the House Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz.

            Speaker Darryl Plecas noted that both claimed full per diem compensation for occasions where meals had been provided by their British hosts.

            And they had also claimed, on their expense accounts, $1000 suits. Jewelry. Luggage. Souvenirs.


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24

Jan

2019

Reading life below the surface

Author: Jim Taylor

There was a time, I seem to recall, when a handshake was worth more than a legal contract. The hand-shakers had reached an agreement; they would stick to it, come hell or high water.

            But in literal fact, a handshake is simply a momentary meeting of palms.

            The example of a handshake came up during a discussion of a blog posting by Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest who heads the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico. Rohr wasn’t writing about handshakes, of course. He was writing about how people read the Bible. Or any other sacred text.

            “While biblical messages often proceed from historical incidents, the actual message does not depend upon communicating those events with perfect factual accuracy,” Rohr suggested.

            “Spiritual writers are not primarily journalists… Scripture can be understood on at least four levels: literal meaning, deep meaning, comparative meaning, and hidden meaning.”

            He explained, “The literal level of meaning doesn’t get to the root and, in fact, is the least helpful to the soul and the most dangerous for history." 

            It occurred to me that the same approach might enrich our understanding of everyday events. Like handshakes, for example.


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20

Jan

2019

School buses risk our children’s lives

Author: Jim Taylor

I’ve had seatbelts in my cars since 1966. They didn’t come with the car; I had to install them myself.

            My friends scoffed. “I’d rather be thrown clear in a crash,” they declared.

            I can only say that if it weren’t for seatbelts, I wouldn’t be writing this column today.

            While seatbelts were still controversial, magazines like Popular Scienceand Popular Mechanics invited readers to conduct their own experiments. Tape an egg securely inside a cardboard box and drop it on the floor; the egg will usually survive. Put a loose egg inside a cardboard box and drop it; the egg will usually break. Drop an unboxed egg, the equivalent of being thrown clear in a crash; the egg will always smash. Always.

            It took another ten years for the first Canadian province to make seatbelts mandatory in new cars.

            Today, we take seatbelts for granted. An estimated 91 per cent of Canadians use seatbelts whenever they enter a car. Only Japan and Sweden rank higher.

           Seatbelts have become the norm.

            Except in buses. Especially school buses.


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16

Jan

2019

Singing is breathing together

Author: Jim Taylor

The most radical thing that churches do these days is not their social justice programs, their housing for the homeless, or even their political lobbying. It’s their singing.

            Have you noticed that the younger generations don’t sing? Oh, they’re never without music. They have music -- or at least what they consider music -- pumped into their ears constantly by their Bluetooth earbuds. They have audio systems in their cars that can rattle windows a block away.

            But they don’t sing along. They kinda grunt and twitch along.

            Increasingly, I think that singing is a counter-cultural phenomenon. And it happens mostly in churches.


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13

Jan

2019

Don’t blame charities for drop box deaths

Author: Jim Taylor

Recently, a woman got trapped in a donation box in Toronto and died. A week earlier, a man died in a West Vancouver donation box. The media found that since 2015, eight people have died trying to get inside these clothing bins.

            Critics called the bins “death traps.” A witness to the Toronto woman’s death said, “She was just utterly pinned in there… It was like an animal trap designed not to release her.”

            In a collection of panicky responses, West Vancouver ordered all donation bins in the city locked. Vancouver considered banning them completely. Diabetes Canada decided to retrofit all of its 4000 clothing donation bins across the country. Burnaby called for the removal of all bins.

            All of which seems to imply that hundreds of charities – national, regional, or local – are at fault for risking the public’s health.

            No one seems to be asking why the public is getting into the bins anyway.


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9

Jan

2019

Dealing with life’s disabilities

Author: Jim Taylor

My dog is going deaf. At thirteen and half, she’s earned it -- that’s a ripe old age for a Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

            First we noticed that she no longer came running to greet us when the garage door opened.

            Then she didn’t hear the doorbell ring.

            And she didn’t come when I whistled.

            When a Chessie doesn’t respond to the word “Food!” we knew something was seriously wrong with her hearing.

            Her deafness has affected our relationship. She now ignores commands that she used to obey, if reluctantly. Then she looks puzzled about why we’re upset with her. She apparently never developed the skill of lip reading.

            Once, when we had conversations on our walks, she didn’t know what I was saying. Now, she doesn’t even know I’m saying anything.

 


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6

Jan

2019

No joking about bombs

Author: Jim Taylor

On New Year’s Eve, as 100,000 rain-soaked revellers gathered in Times Square to watch the giant ball descend at midnight, someone at the U.S. Strategic Command headquarters in Nebraska posted a Twitter message.

            The tweet, accompanied by a video clip of a B-2 bomber dropping nuclear warheads, declared: “"#TimesSquare tradition rings in the #NewYear by dropping the big ball...if ever needed, we are #ready to drop something much, much bigger."

            Three hours later, a more senior person posted an apology: “Our previous NYE tweet was in poor taste & does not reflect our values. We apologize. We are dedicated to the security of America & allies.”

            Those tweets were inevitably followed by hundreds of replies --  roughly divided among

a)    thanking Strategic Command for keeping America safe,

b)   insisting that the whole thing was supposed to be humorous, and

c)    wondering why anyone who thinks nuclear weapons are a joking matter should be trusted with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.

 


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2

Jan

2019

Don’t depend on definitions

Author: Jim Taylor

I’ve made my New Year’s Resolution. I hereby resolve that I will not participate in arguments based upon definitions. 

            A definition, by definition, defines. More precisely, it de-fines. Note the prefix. If you look up “de-” in  a dictionary, you’ll find it means to remove, reduce, lower… In other words, definitions narrow any discussion. They shift the focus from lived experience to someone else’s wisdom, frozen into print. 

            Once, in an early essay, I used the phrase “by definition.” My instructor scribbled, “Whose definition?” 

            Because definitions change. 

           Many people, I suspect, don’t realize the un-examined definitions they’re working with. 

            A friend yearns for mystical experiences. It won’t happen. Because, under pressure, he admits that an encounter with God requires getting knocked senseless, blinded -- or at least blind-sided -- and ordered by a disembodied voice like Paul Robeson’s to change his life.



 

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