The pangolin and Mike Pence

Incredible article and oh so topical.

Robby Robin's Journey

Am I the only one who feels like she’s living in the Twilight Zone, or maybe in a Far Side cartoon?! These past few years have been weird – OK, frightening – but what’s unfolding now offers perhaps the ultimate irony.

Those of us who have lamented the inability – nay, refusal – of world leaders to step up to the plate and lead the necessary revolution in moving the world away from the extraction, processing, and use of fossil fuels before our planet is uninhabitable are watching in astonishment.

Those of us who have watched otherwise mostly responsible governments ignore the opportunity during these heady times of wealth to invest in new technologies using renewable energy sources and less energy – and develop new jobs for all those people who will no longer be able to work in the fossil fuel industry – hadn’t stop to think about what heroes…

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To build bridges, not barricades, learn from the Cree Nations of Quebec

Abel Bosum is the Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees of Northern Quebec and President of the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Regional Government.

Abel Bosum, Chairman of the Cree Nation Government, shakes hands with Quebec Premier Francois Legault, right, after signing a Memorandum of Understanding on collaborative, long-term economic development at a news conference on Feb. 17, 2020 in Montreal.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

If you’ve been watching the news over the past several weeks, you might have the impression that Indigenous rights and the appetite of non-Indigenous society for resources are irreconcilable, that polarization is inevitable, and that Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians are incapable of listening to one another. It doesn’t have to be this way.

The only way to bring down the barricades that separate us is by truly listening to one another. Right now across Canada, when we get word that a barricade is to be going down, even more spring up. The Prime Minister calls for dialogue and patience, and then yields to the lead of premiers. The situation is confusing for anyone trying to find resolve.

For the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee, the situation echoes 2002 – which marked the peak of decades of bitter conflict with Quebec. It was a conflict defined by an unfortunately all-too-common threat posed by large-scale resource development to traditional ways of life, based on hunting, fishing and trapping. We were forced to turn, time and again, to the courts, and to international organizations, to defend our rights. The conflict became so intense that our relations with Quebec broke down completely.

With no end in sight to the conflict, Quebec premier Bernard Landry and our Grand Chief, Ted Moses, agreed to talk and listen to one another as equals. The result of those discussions was the agreement that has come to be called the Paix des Braves. It marked a turning point in Cree-Quebec relations based on mutual respect, establishing a nation-to-nation partnership between the Cree and Quebec in the governance and development of our traditional territory of Eeyou Istchee.

Two leaders having the courage to listen to each other can provide an opportunity, but to have real lasting change, that courage must find its way to the front lines. With new blockades emerging on what feels like an hourly basis and leadership that is unable to provoke an inspiring call to reconciliation, the solution can only come from the individuals that face each other across barricades or negotiating tables.

In 2003, the late Tommy Neeposh, a 90-year-old family leader and master hunter of the Cree community of Mistissini, with no formal western education, was being consulted over a major hydro-electric project that would see hundreds of square kilometers of his traditional hunting lands being disturbed. He and his fellow Cree hunters sat facing an army of engineers and they had the audacity to suggest the construction of a two-kilometre transfer tunnel that would reduce the environmental impact of the project. Astonishingly, the engineers listened to Tommy , understood the ingeniousness of his recommendation and his transfer tunnel came to be built.

Four years later, Sanders Weistche, another master hunter, this time from Waskaganish, was responsible for protecting a sacred community fishing site that has fed our people for thousands of years. He redesigned a riverbed and shoreline to save this critical site, when hydrologists, biologists and engineers were unable to reassure the community that anything could be done. They listened to Sanders and stepped aside, giving him access to the machinery he needed to save this sacred site. Tommy and Sanders were examples to us all. Meegwetch (thank you).

Today, Quebec and Canada continue to benefit from this empowerment because it has now deeply embedded in our people the conviction that we have the power to participate, to improve, to direct, to influence, to decide.

The Cree Nation is no longer relegated to the sidelines as just protesters or agitators. We have become a nation of deciders.

When I first met with Premier François Legault in 2019 to discuss the desire of the Cree Nation to be involved in shaping major transportation infrastructure on our traditional lands, I was not met with dismissive disrespect or even skepticism. Instead, I met a leader who was excited to explore what we could achieve together.

It is the courage of our Cree community members who shared their knowledge, and of the government officials who listened to them, that made it possible for Mr. Legault and I to sign the Grande Alliance, a 30-year development plan for our lands in northern Quebec, on Feb. 17.

To find our way out of the darkness that Canada now finds itself will take the courage of police officers to find peaceful ways of building bridges and for frustrated First Nation community members to find a voice without harming their neighbours.


When the dog looks

Short but definitely worth reading and absorbing.

I can't believe it!

The dog who shares our lives has a hobby. He sits in the garden and looks, just looks. Why would he do that?

Waiting for cats, birds squirrels to appear, to be chased? Maybe. But I think there’s another reason. He’s just assessing the situation, awaiting the inspiration for action.

Take the time he became obsessed with the cat at the back. The vegetation, fencing and screening between the two gardens had deterred two dog generations from venturing into the back neighbour’s garden. But this dog was different. He sat and looked. One day he disappeared, until the back neighbour called and handed him back. He’d bitten a hole in the previously impregnable defences.

More defences were erected. The dog looked. Another day he disappeared, and was handed back again. This became a regular contest, and there was only one clear winner – the dog.

After a summit discussion, a…

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Facts you may not know about the world – in 5 easy maps!

Interesting maps and stats.

Robby Robin's Journey

Curiosities about the world in this week’s Map Monday.

Favourite sports around the world.

The world divided into 7 areas, each colour representing 1 billion people.

Obesity rates around the world.

Global Peace Index 2017 (GPI). Countries appearing with a deeper shade of blue-green are ranked as more peaceful, countries appearing more red are ranked more violent.

What’s special about the countries showing in white below? They’re the only countries that were never invaded by Britain!

Any food for thought there?!

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The Evolution of Restlessness

I think this makes a good premise but I don’t think evolution has caught up to the abundance available to us thus propelling us to become greedy?


When people are asked what they want out of life, quite a few will answer, ‘I want to be happy.’ This is a fairly universal desire, but finding happiness is not so easy. There is the matter of finding happiness and then sustaining it. Everyone has their own story, though we all share one larger story, which is the evolutionary story. There are numerous reasons why happiness can be illusive; I’ve long suspected that our evolutionary past is one of them.

An Old Problem

Let’s go back in time somewhere around 200,000 years ago and imagine what life was like. Modern humans (Homo sapiens) were in their infancy. People lived in relatively small groups and were hunter gathers. This life style was the norm for several thousand years until the birth of agriculture at about 9,000 BC. Agriculture would eventually lead to civilization and the society we have today.


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The coronavirus outbreak – the economic impact

Maybe a little heavy on the technical stuff but oh so true!

Matthew Wright

What worries me about the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak isn’t so much the virus itself. It’s the economic effects of the way people – and societies – have been reacting to it since the outbreak began. Because of the way western economics has gone in the past forty-odd years, what economists call a ‘shock’ can have real-world effects that run far beyond the scale and nature of whatever that ‘shock’ might be.

In economic terms, a ‘shock’ refers to an unexpected shift, usually to do with pricing associated with a commodity. The classic western example is the 1973 oil shock, which sent oil availability plummeting and prices skyrocketing. The resulting economic impact was significantly greater than the scale of the oil embargo that provoked it.

These days, world economies are far more fragile. It’s not just the fact that the ‘General Financial Crisis’ of 2008-10 wasn’t actually resolved. It’s the fact…

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Looking at climate change through world maps

Robby Robin's Journey

Welcome to my first instalment of Map Monday. The maps in this post, and their descriptions, come from a fantastic website at This particular series, called The Carbon Map, actually has an animated visualization of the maps shown below, plus more. I highly recommend taking a look at their site.

I’ll let the cartograms (which we learned about in my recent post on World Maps), speak for themselves.

Population: In this map, Country sizes show total population (2013) – which includes all residents except refugees. Asia balloons enormously, emphasizing that more than half of the world’s people live there.

Extraction: In this map, Country sizes show the eventual CO emissions from oil, coal and gas extracted (2013) each year. Many of these fuels are exported rather than used domestically, but arguably the countries extracting and selling fossil fuels bear a degree of responsibility for…

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Don’t fear the reaper, or the dying


It occurred to me, as I sat holding my mother’s thin hand in the intensive care unit, that none of her stories had been about dying. My mother was celebrated in our family for her stories, many of which sprang from her years as a nurse in a large Catholic hospital. The things she’d seen! The objects lodged where no objects should be. Wrong limbs operated on. The hospital priest much loved by student nurses because he was handsome and could say mass in 10 minutes.

Her patients loved her because she had an unending supply of goodwill, which hid her own sorrows. The stories she brought home from the hospital were hilarious and vivid and grotesque, but they always ended on a high note. The lady and her monkey left the emergency room in harmony. The baby survived.

Dying was one thing she didn’t talk about: Not her own death, and not the ones she’d witnessed. Except once, when she’d told me about a dying patient whose face became suffused with radiance at the very end. When my mother was dying, I kept waiting for that moment, but it never came. She laboured for breath and pulled at her oxygen mask so that she could whisper to me that she was afraid. I know you are, I said.

But there was so much else that was radiant. She trusted me with her fear; it was a gift. The nurses who moved her fragile body with such tenderness, they were a gift. The cleaners who mopped her floor quietly and smiled at her. The junior doctor who took us into a room and shut the door so that we could cry in private when all the options had run out. These days we argue about medically assisted dying, but what can’t be known, until you’re actually there, is how much life there is in death. As the palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke writes in her book Dear Life, “All that is good in human nature – courage, compassion, our capacity to love – is here in its most distilled form.”

And humour, too, if like my family you bend toward the macabre. Christie Blatchford, the great journalist who died this week, was planning to write something funny about the end point; I wish she had, because black comedy is everywhere. Pneumonia had almost robbed my mother of her voice, so the hospital gave us a sheet printed with helpful pictures a patient could point at. There were squares indicating food and TV and even a grinning face that said “happy,” which I don’t think got used very much. “Music” sat right above “let me go.” What if you were asking for a song and your finger slipped?

We wrote the alphabet on a sheet of paper and my mother picked out letters. “She’s not really spelling out ‘wine,’ is she?” my sister asked. But she was, so we smuggled wine in a little plastic bottle that looked like a specimen jar – Mildred, who accidentally once brought home tonsils in just such a jar, would have appreciated it – and dipped in a sponge to swab her mouth with pinot grigio. I made my siblings promise to do the same for me when my time came.

What can we promise each other, at the end? That we’ll be there, through all the boring, painful, transcendent moments. You’ll fall asleep in uncomfortable chairs and drink terrible cafeteria coffee so that if your person wakes up suddenly, panicked and confused, you will be there to take their hand and remind them that they’re loved. You’ll play Luciano Pavarotti through your crappy phone and it will sound good enough. You’ll remember the times you travelled and argued and danced, and laugh about dropping the turkey when it came out of the oven. You’ll apologize for all the times you didn’t call. One of you will talk and one of you will listen, because hearing is said to be the last thing to go.

I understand why people don’t like hospitals, won’t visit hospices, worry about what to say to the dying. We push death to the margins of life so we don’t have to think about it knocking at our own window. The crazy thing is that, if you’re lucky enough to end up at home or in a facility that treats patients humanely, being with the dying actually reminds you of what you love about life. Time folds in on itself, leaving space to think deeply. You become grateful for lungs that still work, and the frozen moon when you leave the hospital in the middle of the night. You remember how much you actually enjoy your family, as they show up with snacks and socks and random useless things, and talk and laugh and reminisce so loudly that a nurse comes and says “shhh” and ostentatiously shuts the door.

Everybody knows what an honour it is to be present at a birth, but what a privilege it is as well to be there at the end, to ease someone’s passing. Of course it’s also terrible, the stabbing beginning of grief, but that pain can be offset with the knowledge that a valuable service has been performed. A service we’ll all need, one day.

We watched our mother’s failing body that had brought four humans into the world, had nursed countless others, had told thousands of stories, had worn red lipstick, had wrung all the juice out of life. We told her we loved her. And then we let her go.


The coronavirus outbreak – the human cost

So well said– fear is greater than reality.

Matthew Wright

As I write this the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has many unknowns, including the actual death rate. I have no doubt that many of those unknowns will be discovered; the fact that the genome has been sequenced (and shared) is a huge step up.

What intrigues me is the way that this outbreak has also acted as a lens on human nature. It’s underscored how inter-connected the world is these days. The fact that it spread so quickly from its putative origin in China’s Hubei province reveals the extent to which air travel intrudes into world activity; and that’s without considering the consequential effects of the clamp-down that followed. The fact that South Korean vehicle factories have had to stop production, for instance, because they rely on Chinese-produced parts, is just one example.

The other lens this event has cast on humanity as a whole is more subtle. It’s revealed a…

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