Archive for April 2013

Earth Day + 2   Leave a comment


“We are one brief generation in the long march of time; the future is not ours to erase.”

from the Declaration of Interdependence

At this time, we are living through the midst of the Sixth Great Extinction.

“So what is the Sixth Extinction? When is it coming? And what is its cause? “It’s the next annihilation of vast numbers of species. It is happening now, and we, the human race, are its cause,” explains Dr. Richard Leakey, the world’s most famous paleoanthropologist. Every year, between 17,000 and 100,000 species vanish from our planet, he says. “For the sake of argument, let’s assume the number is 50,000 a year. Whatever way you look at it, we’re destroying the Earth at a rate comparable with the impact of a giant asteroid slamming into the planet, or even a shower of vast heavenly bodies.


Earth Day +1   Leave a comment

Spring flowers in the forest

Spring flowers in the forest

“This we know:

We are the earth, through the plants and animals that nourish us.
We are the rains and the oceans that flow through our veins.
We are the breath of the forests of the land, and the plants of the sea.
We are human animals, related to all other life as descendants of the firstborn cell.
We share with these kin a common history, written in our genes.
We share a common present, filled with uncertainty.
And we share a common future, as yet untold.”

 from the Declaration of Interdependence, 1992

For the complete text, visit:

The Paradox of Modern Violence – Jim Taylor   Leave a comment



By now, the news video is seared indelibly into our memories. A flash, a boom, a billow of smoke. Runners tumble to the pavement. Emergency personnel race into action. On stretchers, on makeshift carts, sometimes in their arms, they carry injured and maimed victims to medical care.
This was, of course, the Boston marathon, 2013.
For once, the mainly U.S. media showed commendable restraint. They did not rush to blame foreign terrorists, Islamist fanatics, or world-government conspiracies.
Unfortunately, most of them also did not put the Boston bombings into any kind of context. One of the few who did was Erin Niemela of the Common Dreams alternative news network. “Americans will remember Monday, April 15, 2013 as a day in which unspeakable violence took the lives of three people and wounded at least 153 after bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon finish line,” she wrote.

Thousands of miles away, Iraqis will remember this same Monday as a day in which violence claimed the lives of at least 31 people and over 200 injured after multiple car bombs detonated in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, and several other areas. Afghans will remember this Monday as a day in which a ghastly roadside bomb in the Zabul province killed seven and wounded four other human beings.” And these, Niemela concluded, are only the deaths documented by the news media for a single morning.

That’s the paradox of the modern world. The news is filled with what Niemela called “unspeakable violence.” And yet scholars like Stephen Pinker argue that violence is decreasing.
In his 2012 book, The Better Angels of our Nature, Pinker documents exhaustively the likelihood of people dying in violence. Essentially, he argues that in past centuries, the vast majority of humans could expect to die violently — whether from local quarrels, repression by their rulers, or invading armies.
Today, by contrast, most people can expect to die in their beds, of old age or illness.
We may be living, he asserts, in the most peaceful times our species has known.
Now, you may not agree with Pinker’s thesis. Certainly, his book has received some scathing reviews. But it’s hard to challenge over 700 pages of graphs, charts, and statistics.
I think he’s right. When I consider the utterly mindless cruelty perpetrated in past years in the name of God and King (or any regional equivalent to those terms) I consider myself fortunate to live today and not during the centuries when human life was, in the words of philosopher Thomas Hobbes, “nasty, brutish, and short.”
In North America, official police statistics tend to support Pinker’s view. The incidence of violent crime has been steadily decreasing.

And yet the crimes themselves become steadily more violent. Think of the massacres at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, Columbine High in Colorado, Virginia Tech, the theatre in Aurora, Colorado… Think of Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the federal office building in Oklahoma City, or the fiery deaths in Waco, Texas…
What has happened, I suggest, is that even as our cultural reliance on violence has declined, the technology that enables violence has improved.
Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite and its successor gelignite, foresaw this possibility. He made explosives safer to handle; he also greatly increased their power. After a French newspaper labelled him “the merchant of death,” Nobel established his Peace Prize as an intellectual counterpoint to his contribution to destruction.
Attila the Hun’s horsemen were legendary for their ruthlessness. But even they could only kill one person at a time. And that person could fight back — sometimes successfully.
Today’s killing technology, by contrast, let an Adam Lanza murder 26 cowering victims with an assault rifle. Timothy McVeigh caused 168 deaths with a single truck bomb. A paranoid Osama bin Laden — if, in fact, he did mastermind the September 11, 2001 attacks — destroyed the World Trade Center and 3000 human lives.
Not even Attila’s hordes achieved the killing capability of ballistic missiles, remotely controlled drones, or nuclear bombs.  Reliable statistics are hard to find, but one group claims that the U.S. has carried out 422 strikes in Pakistan and Yemen alone, the majority by remotely oontrolled drones, resulting in roughly 3,000 deaths.

And that’s what makes modern killing technology — including the bombs at Boston — so terrifying. The victims never know who hit them. Or why. They cannot confront their attackers.
By the time an improvised explosive device detonates, or a drone completes its “surgically precise” mission, the perpetrators could be miles away in the local Starbucks enjoying a cup of coffee.
Car bombs don’t choose who they’re going to maim. Drones have a specific target — we’re told — but have no idea who else may be present. The gunmen in Newtown, Aurora, Virginia Tech, and Fort Hood didn’t care who they shot — they killed for the sake of killing.
Did Harry Truman know even one of the 100,000 or so people he incinerated in Hiroshima?
We have all become “collateral damage.”
That’s what makes the Boston bombings (and their more sophisticated kin) so disturbing.

Copyright © 2013 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Posted April 21, 2013 by allanbaker in Canadian society, Politics

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Democracy in Canada   Leave a comment

How does one define “democracy”?

The Green Party here in Canada has sent me a note which illustrates the trend towards less democracy, as I know it, here in Canada. The letter from the Greens, in part, reads:

“Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline runs straight through major Canadian cities, including Sarnia, the GTA and Montreal, passing 9.1 million people, and nearly 100 towns and cities.

“Installed in the mid-1970s, this aging pipe system is set to be modified. A proposal is in place to reverse the flow of this pipeline and expand its carrying capacity.

“But if you are one of the millions of Canadians along its route who wish to communicate legitimate concerns about this project to the National Energy Board (NEB), you will have to apply for permission to do so.

“New rules implemented due to the rewriting of federal environmental assessment law in omnibus bill C-38 last spring mean Canadians are required to submit a 10 page application, including a resume and references within a two week deadline, just to ask permission from the NEB to submit a letter of comment on pipeline proposals.

“Permission will only be granted to those deemed “directly affected” by the NEB, which has restricted public comment even further by adding its own deadlines.”

Is this the “democratic process” that Canadians dream of? Do we want a “democracy” where citizens are:

“required to submit a 10 page application, including a resume and references within a two week deadline, just to ask permission from the NEB to submit a letter of comment on pipeline proposals.”

Each of us has an important patch on the quilt of creation. We are all directly affected by decisions on pipelines, pollution of the air and water, and econotheism.

Who gets to decide which citizens can participate in making the pattern for us, and the next generations? Is this the new “democracy”, or is it doublespeak?

Easter economics 4   Leave a comment

Chicago in April 2011 027“For all of us, social justice is about how to think and act with others to support conditions where one’s own and others’ well-being are simultaneously possible.”

Marilyn J. Legge – Emmanuel College Newsletter, Winter, 2007

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Jesus – Luke 6: 31 (NRSV)

Easter economics 3   Leave a comment

In Toronto, Canada, there is a proposal to establish a large casino in the heart of the city. Unfortunately, most of the debate is based on “economics”, rather than the more fundamental moral issue of what gambling does to the soul. That being said, an inter-faith group has recently asked the citizens of Toronto to consider the question of gambling as a moral issue.

In The Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King, an English professor at the University of Guelph writes (page 179) about casinos and “gaming” on reservations – such as “Casino Rama” here in Ontario:

“I’m not particularly happy about gambling as a fiscal base for Native people. That kind of money generally brings out the worst in folks, Native as well as non-Native. But after several centuries of economic oppression, and given the lack of alternatives, professional gaming, for many tribes, holds the most potential for the least effort. Still, apart from raw cash and jobs, industrial strength gambling contributes little of value to the world.”

I offer the words above, from Thomas King, for your reflections.

  • Does gambling bring out the best in people, or the worst?

  • Are there economic alternatives to build a better city here in Toronto?

  • Apart from “raw cash and jobs”, what contribution would “industrial strength gambling” make to life in our city?

Wisdom for life   Leave a comment

Coffee mug wisdom

Coffee mug wisdom

Posted April 13, 2013 by allanbaker in Inspiration

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