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

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9

May

2018

Save someone’s life today

Author: Jim Taylor

My wife would probably be dead by now, if it weren’t for blood donors. 

            I can’t prove that assertion, of course. It’s almost impossible to prove that something didn’t happen, that could have happened. Safety regulations can argue that traffic controls reduce the total number of accidents; they can never claim that they prevented a specific driver from having an accident.

            But consider the facts. 

            Ten years ago, my wife was diagnosed with leukemia. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, to be precise. In those ten years, she’s had seven different chemotherapies. Six have failed; her white cell counts came down, for a while, but they wouldn’t stay down. 

            Here’s a vastly oversimplified explanation of a very complicated process....


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6

May

2018

The ways we make flooding worse

Author: Jim Taylor

Flooding has hit British Columbia again. News reports overflow with stories of property owners sandbagging their homes, their farms, their businesses. Oliver, Kaleden, Tulameen, Cawston, Cache Creek -- the chorus of afflicted communities swells day by day.

Mudslides close highways. Culverts wash out. Hundreds of homes are ordered evacuated. 

            And I haven’t even heard about what might be happening farther east, in the Kootenays. Or farther north, along Highway 16. 

            I heard a politician pontificate, “It’s a one-in-70-year event.”

            Really? Weren’t we saying the same thing during last year’s floods?

            Connect the dots, people! Connect the dots!


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2

May

2018

How to respond to tragedy

Author: Jim Taylor

Sixteen members of a hockey team dead in a bus crash in northern Saskatchewan. Ten strangers killed on a sidewalk in Toronto. My mind reels. How do the survivors, the families, the friends and lovers, get their minds, their emotions, around these and countless other tragedies?

            A caveat -- I write this column as a personal expression.

            What do you say to someone who has just experienced a massive loss? What do you do?

            Some responses are less than helpful.

            The students at Marjorie Stoneham Douglas high school in Florida rightly told President Trump to keep his meaningless “thoughts and prayers” – instead, to do something about gun violence.

            That doesn’t mean you can’t offer prayers, or that you can’t feel sympathy. Given a choice between someone offering prayers, and someone NOT offering prayers, I would certainly choose the former. But platitudes are too often a way of avoiding getting involved. And you have to get involved. Even at some personal pain. 


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Losses, helping

29

Apr

2018

Let’s hear it for unsung heroes!

Author: Jim Taylor

This has been a good week for heroes. We even know the names of some of them.

            For example, the cop who arrested the driver of the rented van , the man who drove down Yonge Street in the north end of Toronto, knocking over people like bowling pins. The officer was alone. He faced a man who made threatening gestures, as if he were drawing a handgun and pointing it at the officer. He yelled, “Shoot me! Kill me!”

            But the police officer, Constable Ken Lam, didn’t.

            I’ll repeat that, in case you missed it -- he didn’t shoot!

            Const. Lam said afterwards that he was just doing his job, the way he had been taught.

            I suppose something similar may happen in the Excited States, sometimes. But I’ve never seen it on TV. Have you?

            But there was another hero, in the mass shooting at the Waffle House restaurant in Nashville. James Shaw Jr. wrestled the shooter’s rapid-fire assault weapon away from its owner. (I’m deliberately not naming the perpetrators in these two incidents -- they get too much publicity already.)

            Shaw said, “I was just trying to get myself out. I saw the opportunity and pretty much took it.”


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25

Apr

2018

Start small to make a difference

Author: Jim Taylor

My father was a pretty good painter. While at university in Toronto, he took lessons from A.Y. Jackson and others of the famed Group of Seven. But as the years passed and his life got taken over, more and more, by academic studies in psychology and religion, he grew more and more cautious in his use of paint. 

            One day, a friend who was also a painter dropped in. She watched him working with fine brushstrokes and tiny dabs of paint. She squeezed flaming magenta onto his palette. She took his brush. She slapped a blob of magenta onto his canvas. 

            It stood out like an erupting volcano. 

            “There!” she commanded. “Paint to that!”

            To his credit, my father did. A single blob of vivid colour changed that painting. And all the paintings\ he did thereafter. 

 


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22

Apr

2018

One Earth Day a year is not enough

Author: Jim Taylor

My office window looks out onto an orchard. On this particular morning, my neighbour the farmer is spraying his trees with something toxic. He’s garbed from head to toe in impervious yellow plastic, and wearing a gas mask over his face, as he drives his tractor up one row, down the other.

            I keep my window closed. I don’t want any of it on me.

            I know the spray kills certain pests. I wonder what else it kills. How does it affect the bacteria in the soil, the worms, the fungi that serve as nerve endings for tree roots?

            Not all farmers use these sprays. I know other farmers who don’t spray their trees. They encourage worms. They compost their wastes. They thin blossoms by hand. But they pay a price for their commitment -- more hand labour, uncertain sales, lower profits.

            I can’t blame my neighbour for trying to grow perfect fruit. He knows how fussy consumers can be. I wonder why we consumers think that only unblemished fruit is worth buying. We pick through the bins in our supermarkets, rejecting apples that have a tiny scab, peaches with a small bruise, grapes with even a trace of shrivelling.

            Does it ever occur to us that a chain of consequences leads directly from our shopping preferences to a farmer swathed in a hazmat suit to protect himself from his own toxic sprays?

            Probably not. Yet that’s the whole point of Earth Day, marked around the world today.


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18

Apr

2018

Earth Day and goddess worship

Author: Jim Taylor

This coming Sunday, April 22, is Earth Day. Not to be confused with Earth Hour, back in March, which promoted turning off surplus electric lights for one hour, causing a wave of darkness to sweep all around the earth. Earth Day has a larger focus this year, to “End Plastic Pollution.”

            “Plastics,” says a promotion piece, “poison and injure marine life, disrupt human hormones, litter beaches and landscapes, [and] clog our waste streams and landfills. The exponential growth of plastics now threatens the survival of our planet.”

            I don’t disagree. But I see plastics as a symptom of a deeper malaise. We didn’t have plastics until we made them out of fossil fuels. And our use and abuse of fossil fuels reflects the belief that this planet is a lifeless landfill site where we humans can dump our waste products forever.

            Basically, we don’t care much about the earth that gives us life.


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15

Apr

2018

The people who work at making bad things worse

Author: Jim Taylor

There hasn’t been this much news about chemical weapons since Saddam Hussein didn’t have them after all.

            First it was the Skripals, father and daughter, apparently poisoned by some kind of nerve agent in Britain. More recently, it has been Syrian civilians, hundreds of them, including children and elderly.

            In both cases, the perpetrator hasn’t been conclusively proven. The U.K. holds Russia responsible for the attack on the Skripals, possibly as revenge for his having betrayed his own government by providing secret information to British Intelligence.

            Similarly, the western nations blame Syria’s ruler, Bashar Al Assad, for the poison gas attacks on civilians in a suburb of Damascus, one of the last stands of Syrian rebels.

            In all this finger-pointing, I see very few media commentators examining the nature of the weapons themselves.

            So here’s a brief history -- Chemical Weapons 101, perhaps.


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11

Apr

2018

The ‘Word of the Lord’ often isn’t

Author: Jim Taylor

Remember the Ebola virus? The first cases were reported in West Africa in 2013; it became an epidemic in 2014; it faded from prominence by 2016. In between those years, it killed about 11,300 people. 

            Although it had a 70 per cent mortality rate, Ebola was actually less lethal than the Spanish ‘flu in 1918, which took over 50 million lives – more than all the deaths caused by World War I. The Black Death of the 1300s killed even more, wiping out half of Europe’s population. 

            Ebola didn’t even exceed the deaths from car accidents and gun violence in the U.S. – each taking around 33,000 lives that year alone. 

            Nevertheless, Ebola evoked terror.

            And a few people capitalized on it.


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8

Apr

2018

Not what was done, but why

Author: Jim Taylor

Facebook has taken a lot of criticism recently in the media -- enough that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg bought some very expensive full-page ads in newspapers across America to defend his company. He’s expected to testify before several U.S. Congressional committees; he has refused to testify to a British parliamentary investigation.

            Perhaps Facebook deserves its criticism; perhaps it doesn’t. But I think the critics have missed the point. They’ve concentrated on what’s called “data mining,” as if it were intrinsically wrong. They’ve focussed on what was done, not why it was done.

            I contend that there is nothing wrong with data mining itself.

            The difference is the purpose for which the data is used.


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