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

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11

Nov

2018

The cost of war also paid by the living

Author: Jim Taylor

Today is Remembrance Day. And it’s a special Remembrance Day -- the Armistice that ended the War to End All Wars came into effect exactly 100 years ago. At 11:00 a.m. on the 11thday of the 11thmonth of 1918 the guns fell silent.

            If only we could say that they had stayed silent.

            They haven’t. They’ve gotten more lethal. With the Second World War. Then with the Korean War and the Vietnam War, both of which I think of as outbreaks of the first World Civil War, with an incessant parade of people taking up arms against their own people. In Yugoslavia, in Rwanda, in Kashmir, in Sudan…

            And then there are the eruptions where outside forces get involved in local conflicts: Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen…

            To mark this special anniversary, the Canadian Legion erected 240 crosses in Kelowna’s City Park -- one cross for each Canadian soldier from this area who died in the two World Wars.

            I applaud their effort. But I think by focussing on the fallen, we miss something important.

 


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7

Nov

2018

Beyond my understanding

Author: Jim Taylor

At this time of year, the trail that I walk daily with my dog along the shore of Okanagan Lake is littered with long brown pine needles. 

            They lie on the ground looking like that old game of Pick Up Sticks. Pine needles lie on top of each other in crazy patterns, pointing every which way…

            As I crunch those needles underfoot, I find myself wondering about the chances that the pattern of fallen needles in any one square inch (okay, 2.54 cm squared) might exactly duplicate the pattern in any other square inch. Vanishingly small, I’d guess.

            I find big numbers – really big numbers, I mean – meaningless. The U.S. federal deficit, the chance of winning a Power-Ball lottery, the diameter of the universe – are all incomprehensible. 


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4

Nov

2018

Superstitions still harm people

Author: Jim Taylor

Every now and then, I run across news reports that make me feel sick. (No, I’m not referring to Donald Trump.)

            Last summer, I read a report from Malawi, in Africa. You may not have heard much about Malawi. It always ranks near the bottom on Africa’s poverty scales, for a variety of reasons.

            First, because Malawi is land-locked. It has no seaports, no way to access world markets except through other countries.

            Second, because it has nothing to market. 

            But Malawi does, apparently, have something that people in other parts of Africa covet -- albino babies.

            By some genetic quirk, it seems, Malawi and its nearest neighbours to the north and south, Tanzania and Mozambique, have a higher-than-usual proportion of albino babies. That is, black babies with white skin.

For -- brace yourself -- their body parts.

 


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31

Oct

2018

The comfort of familiar ways

Author: Jim Taylor

Tonight is Halloween. Or Hallowe’en, if you’re a pedant about spelling. Or even All Hallows’ Eve, if you’re obsessive about religious history. 

            Traditionally, All Hallows’ Eve was the night preceding All Saints’ Day, the dark night when the ghosts of the dead – the “hallowed” ones – returned to earth. All Saints was a time to honour the dead; All Hallows Eve was, in a sense, their time to take revenge on us still-living souls by scaring the bejabbers out of us. 

            I don’t know anyone who still believes that the souls of the dead flit among us on Halloween night. But we still enjoy the dressing up, the parading door to door, the make-believe world of ghosties and goblins. 

            It’s a comforting kind of ritual, a dip into a warm bath of familiarity. These emotions cling, long after reason takes over.

 

 

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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Rituals, Habits

28

Oct

2018

Hondurans are fleeing, not invading

Author: Jim Taylor

Last year, we saw endless lines of thousands of Rohinga refugees filing out of Myanmar into Bangladesh. This year, it’s similarly endless columns of 7,000 refugees marching ten abreast up a highway towards the U.S. 

            Trump, without so much as a shred of evidence, denounced the Honduran exodus as a “National Emergy” – apparently he can’t be bothered to spell “emergency” correctly – filled with criminals and agitators from the Middle East.

            I wonder how he would have described the biblical Exodus. Certainly there were fugitives from justice in that migration. Moses himself was considered a criminal. So was any person fleeing from slavery. And they were all – all -- Middle Eastern malcontents.

            “We’re not migrating, we are fleeing,” a man called Timothy from the city of El Progreso told a reporter.


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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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