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

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Shift focus onto Covid transmitters

Author: Jim Taylor

           I pulled some figures from the BC Ministry of Health webpage. I correlated them with B.C. population figures from the last census..

            Surprise, surprise! The elderly are NOT the most at risk for infection.

            Certainly they’re most at risk for death. As of a month ago, three-quarters of all deaths were among those over 70.

            That shouldn’t be a surprise. They’re already on their last legs. I suspect the same would hold true if I took statistics for almost any disease, illness, or disability.

            But not for infection. The infection rate among those over 60 is significantly lower than for younger adults. Among those over 60, the infection rate is about 1.4 per 1000. Among the 20-29 age group, the infection rate is more than twice as high -- 3.5 per 1000.

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Watching the winds make waves

Author: Jim Taylor

In the Okanagan Valley, summer winds are predictable. The south wind blows up the valley. The north wind blows down the valley -- “up” and “down” depending on how you orient a map, because a lake surface has no up or down.

            In spring and fall, we also have west winds, which ride over the Coast Mountains and gather speed as they whoosh down the slopes to the lake.

            They hit the lake like a physical punch. The lake reels. Its surface darkens. Waves form, long lines of foaming combers, marching in formation across the lake.

            I’ve often wondered what’s happening at the front of the gust, at its intersection with the existing airflow.

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The importance of keeping tools sharp

Author: Jim Taylor

All my tomatoes ripened at once. One day, the vines were loaded with green tomatoes, only three showing red. The next day, it seemed, every tomato was huge, red, and already overripe. 

            I picked about 30 pounds of them. Some were so ripe, they were starting to split. 

           I thought I remembered Joan, my wife, cutting them up and freezing them for future use. For tomato soup, spaghetti sauce, or chili con carne. So I washed the remaining tomatoes, quartered them, cut out the stem core, and popped them into freezer bags. 

            For I don’t know how long, we’ve been using paring knives that go back, well,  I don’t know how long. They may be been my mother’s. Or Joan’s mother’s. The blades won’t hold an edge any more. 

            So, recently, I bought a new self-sharpening paring knife. I used it on those tomatoes. 

            What a difference an edge makes! 

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Garden-variety ‘poison pen’ letters

Author: Jim Taylor

Lots of people don’t like Donald Trump. But few dislike him enough to mail him an envelope containing a powder identified as ricin. 

            Ricin, despite the sound of its name, has nothing to do with rice. It comes from castor beans. Also the source of castor oil. If your mother gave you a dose of castor oil to cure various ailments when you were a child, you may consider that quite toxic enough. 

            But castor oil itself contains no ricin. The ricin is refined from the stuff left after all the oil is squeezed out of the crushed beans. 

            And it can be deadly. 

            Experts lined up on TV to remind everyone that a single pinhead-size granule would be enough to kill you. At one time, both the U.S. and Canada considered developing ricin as a chemical weapon. It’s as deadly as sarin, the nerve gas developed by the Nazis and used in terrorist attacks in Tokyo subway system  in 1995.

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Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: poison, ricin, Ferrier




Another casualty of Covid-19

Author: Jim Taylor

I sing in a church choir. Correction: I used to sing in a church choir. Further correction: I used to sing, once upon a time…

            Singing has fallen victim to the Covid-19 pandemic. When health regulations prohibited large gatherings, and when physical distancing precluded even small groups from getting together, choirs everywhere had to shut down.

           My church chose to move its Sunday services to Zoom. Zoom is a wonderful platform. But you can’t sing together on Zoom. 

           On our first attempts at singing over Zoom, some singers ended a full line after the pianist had finished. It was chaos. Definitely not a unifying effect.

            So we tried having just one person singing the words, while everyone else had their microphones muted. A few weeks back, I was the congregation’s “designated singer.” I did not like the sound of my voice. It felt raw, uncertain. I struggled to stay on key.

            I realized I hadn’t done any vocal exercises. to warm up. I should have done at least ten minutes.

            More than that, I hadn’t done any singing at all for several weeks. Not even in the shower.

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Expectations rarely measure up

Author: Jim Taylor

A month or so ago, I was watching a TV program where aging artists sang the songs that made them famous, and somehow they sounded just as good as when their vocal cords were 60 years younger.

            I have a particular affection for the music of the 1950s and early ‘60s. I was young then; I was healthy; everything was possible; the whole world opened up before me.

            I embodied the Les Paul and Mary Ford song, “I’m sittin’ on top of the world.”

            So I ordered the six CD set.

            I was disappointed. 

           My disappointment, I realize, rises not from the discs themselves, but from my expectations of them.

            Indeed, when I think about it, most of my disappointments in life have resulted from flawed expectations. 

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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: music, pop songs, 1950s




Blessings from the past

Author: Jim Taylor

 What good are memories when there’s no one who shares them? Or cares about them? And yet roses do bloom in December, because memories are sometimes just as real as reality, and so my mother’s knitting needles still click as they knit my sweaters and socks. My dark road unfurls ahead, leading who knows where, over the hills and far away, because the granddaughter who once rode my ankle to the bounce of a cock horse going to Banbury Cross has gone away too, and my empty arms can still feel rocking her through the black pit of an Ethiopian night.

            My baggage brims over with memories, transcending time. Some hurt. Still, I’m grateful each time the wisps of fog pull aside and let me re-live the past.


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: memories, fog




The shoe on the other foot

Author: Jim Taylor

Black people in the U.S. Indigenous people in Canada. Jews in Germany, during Nazi rule. Japanese on the west coast during WII. Doukhobors in the 1950s. 

            If you’re not one of them, it’s almost impossible to imagine what it’s like to be one of them. 

            But suppose people who share your faith and your beliefs were being persecuted? Could you identify with them?

            Such as Christians in India. 

            In Canada, we treat Christianity as the norm. 

           But what would it feel like if the Christian culture you take for granted turned you into a persecuted minority

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Out of disorder, a new order

Author: Jim Taylor

I had my 84th birthday earlier this week. It’s a privilege to have lived this long.

            Franciscan priest Richard Rohr has written several books about the process of aging. Basically, he suggests, the first half of life is about acquiring -- possessions, wealth, friends, family. The second half is about letting go -- of our acquisitions, our ideas, eventually our lives.

            Recently, he’s been writing about a pattern of spirituality. He calls it Order, Disorder, and Re-Order.

            In his terms, we inherit from our parents, our friends, and our social culture an understanding of the world we live in. That’s the Order. We don’t question it; we just accept it.

            Then as we mature, we discover that the old Order doesn’t work as well as it should. So we reject bits and pieces of what we used to take for granted. 

            And then eventually, we re-organize our lives and our understandings into a new Order. 

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A tale of two conventions

Author: Jim Taylor

Over the last ten days I have watched -- reluctantly, I admit -- parts of the Democratic and Republican national conventions in the U.S.

            Long ago, I had to write essays to “compare and contrast” Shakespeare’s sonnets with, say, Wordsworth’s. Or John Milton’s metaphors versus T.S. Eliot’s.

            It can be an illuminating exercise. But it’s easier when you can lay out two manuscripts side by side.

            I wish technology enabled me to compare the two political conventions side by side. Perhaps with 30 seconds of this audio, then 30 seconds of that one. So that I could flip back and forth, instead of relying on memory of two separate events.

            Still, the most obvious difference was visual. The Republican convention paid lip service to the COVID-19 pandemic, but its body language didn’t. During the speeches by both Melania and Donald Trump, Republican dignitaries sat cheek-to-cheek, buttwise. No physical separation. No masks that I could see. Lots of handshaking and back-patting.

            The Democratic convention didn’t have masks either. But they didn’t need them. No one else in the room – they actually practiced isolation.


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