Map Monday: this sovereign nation called Ukraine — Robby Robin’s Journey

As the world watches in horror as a megalomaniacal tyrant re-enacts what our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents lived through in Europe in the last century, it’s impossible to contemplate writing about anything but the travesty – the evil – that is unfolding in Ukraine.  How foolish we were to think that this couldn’t happen again. […]

Map Monday: this sovereign nation called Ukraine — Robby Robin’s Journey

The Gym

I can certainly relate to this being of a very similar body composition, thanks for sharing with us.

Older Eyes

My Dad was thin for his entire life even though he ate pretty much whatever he wanted.  My Mom struggled with her weight continually.   Through high school and college, I was trim and muscular, if I do say so myself, even though I ate (as my mom would say) like a horse.  Watching me as I lifeguarded at the local beach, our next-door neighbor once remarked that the more clothes I took off the better I looked (Embarrassing but flattering to a 16-year-old).   I assumed, therefore, I had my Dad’s metabolism.  I was wrong.   Once I was married and working, I began to gain weight.   When we drove to our new home in California, my wife Muri snapped a photo of me sitting on the hood of our car in the middle of the desert.   I was wearing a bright purple shirt and I looked like a giant grape.  Thus…

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Our shared reality – and the knowledge that undergirds it – is being assaulted

Andrew Coyne







The blockades that paralyzed Ottawa and various border points have been removed, at least for now. But the blockades are merely the symptom. The disease is disinformation.

We are discovering for ourselves what until now we had observed at secondhand: large numbers of our fellow citizens can be made to believe almost anything. This is a challenge to our democracy orders of magnitude greater than the disruptive possibilities of a few strategically placed trucks.

It is a challenge, in part, because we are so reluctant to consider it. If so many people are so upset about something, we think, surely there must be some basis to it. There are two sides to every question, we are taught, and by and large this is a good rule to follow. Too many people nowadays are too ready to declare too many debates “closed.”

But we should not fall prey to the opposite mistake, of assuming any belief is worth discussing, simply because lots of people believe it. There are not two sides to whether the Earth is flat, or whether Donald Trump won the 2020 election. And yet millions of people believe both.

It was possible for a reasonable person to worry, circa December, 2020, whether the vaccines developed in such relative haste against the coronavirus might pose some risk to human health. Fourteen months and 10 billion safely delivered doses later, it is not. Valid health exceptions are well known and accommodated; unanticipated adverse events are vanishingly rare.

And yet thousands of people were persuaded that vaccines, and vaccine mandates, pose such a monstrous threat to their health or freedom as to justify occupying the national capital and menacing its citizens, in defiance of the law, for weeks on end. Hundreds were willing to risk arrest rather than obey a police order to disperse. This is not normal.

Opposition to vaccine mandates was not by any means the only idea behind the occupation, or the strangest. Protest leaders appear to sincerely believe, inter alia, that vaccines contain RFID chips, that the governor-general can rule by decree, and that Canada has a First Amendment. This is a movement in opposition not merely to vaccines, but to science, authority, expertise of all kinds: in a word, knowledge.

What is at work here is not a series of individual deficiencies, but a collective failure of socialization. These are people who appear to have detached themselves not only from the behavioural norms of civil society, but from the whole transmission chain by which knowledge is spread among the population.

Knowledge, that is, is a social process. We form our beliefs about the world, not in isolation, but with the help of those around us. We learn from people with more knowledge, experience and judgment than we have, and through them absorb the accumulated wisdom of society. We have to. We cannot individually relitigate every elementary fact of human knowledge every day.

But what happens when that breaks down? What happens when knowledge is transmitted, not vertically, as it were, but horizontally? Then you have what we have witnessed over the past few years. It has been described as a class war, but it is a class war of a particular kind, in which the dividing line is not money or birth but knowledge.

Previous generations of class warriors wanted to smash capital, first physical then financial. But in an age in which capital resides in knowledge, the objective must be to smash knowledge itself, together with its repositories – the universities, the courts, the media. All are not merely fallible but hostile, enemies of the people, filled with lies – which is to say, with facts they refuse to believe.

In their place, the new class warriors must attempt to make sense of the world unaided. They are “doing their own research,” via the internet, and sharing their findings with each other, via social media. They are, in short, defenceless, vulnerable to any number of bad actors looking to manipulate them.

This is the other discovery we have made of late, far more disturbing than the first: not just how easily a certain section of the population can be made to believe the most outrageous lies, but how willing a certain section is to tell them. The latter know exactly what they are doing. They know that they are spreading falsehoods, validating lunacy, crossing lines previously considered uncrossable. They just no longer care.

How long would the Ottawa occupation have lasted, had certain members of the Conservative Party not given it their enthusiastic support? How much comfort did the occupiers take from their enablers online, as quick to minimize their misconduct (“peaceful protest”) as to exaggerate their mistreatment (“police brutality”)? How healthy can our democracy remain, under this combined assault on reality?

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Our next Prime Minister?

Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Everything, has big plans for Canada’s economic future








In an alternate universe, you would know Chrystia Freeland only as a writer and journalist, as an eminent authority on Vladimir Putin and the oligarchs who feed off him, perhaps eventually as the editor-in-chief of this newspaper or the Financial Times. You would see her on talk shows, on the lecture circuit, publishing another award-winning book examining the ways of wealth and power. That was the train she was on in 2013, when she decided to jump the track and enter national politics. Since being elected in 2015, she’s become known as Justin Trudeau’s Everything Minister, his one sure bet, parachuted into critical jobs at crucial junctures—minister of international trade, of foreign affairs, of intergovernmental affairs, deputy prime minister and, lately, minister of finance. In every job, she has delivered. Her next assignment is a federal budget that will carve a path forward for a nation facing multiple challenges. She spoke to us via Zoom from Ottawa, in front of a quartet of Canadian flags. Frequently during the hour, Freeland would lean forward to make a point, toward her computer’s webcam, and strike the surface in front of her, the rattling of pens becoming the sound of her certainty.

You’ve been Finance Minister for a year and a half. It’s been a pretty challenging time for the economy. What’s working right now?

Broadly, Canadians have done a remarkable job dealing with COVID-19 and the recession. I will take you back to when COVID first hit and we had those immediate lockdowns. That was the worst economic experience for Canada since the Great Depression—17% drop in GDP. Three million people lost their jobs. That is just a huge, devastating blow. And as we are speaking at the end of January, 108% of jobs recovered. Jobs recovery in Canada is the strongest, as of this moment, in the G7. (1) GDP, as of this minute, is almost fully recovered. And even that doesn’t tell the full story, because Canadian households, on average, have more savings and less debt than they had before the pandemic struck. Canadian small business has been remarkably resilient. As of this minute, the number of bankruptcies are lower than before the pandemic, and there are more active businesses today than before the pandemic.

Inflation is higher than it has been in 30 years, at 4.8%. How does that match up with your expectations?

I am very focused on affordability for Canadian families. And I know that is challenging for a lot of people right now. This is clearly a global phenomenon. And actually, inflation, while elevated in Canada, is lower than in many of our peer countries—the U.S., 7%. The U.K. is higher than Canada, Germany is higher than Canada. So, there are some global pressures bearing down on us. Things like supply chain. Things like energy prices. I will also say I have a great deal of confidence, as should all Canadians, in the Bank of Canada. We thought very carefully and worked closely with the Bank on its mandate renewal and were very clear about the pre-eminent focus on the inflation target. So, people should be really confident, as I am, that the Bank will do its job. When it comes to affordability, we are making investments to help with that challenge. I’ll point to childcare. Fees are going to come down by 50% this year for a lot of families.

Since 2019, the federal deficit has gone from 1% of GDP to 15%. Has there been a sea change in how governments consider the notion of debt and deficit?

The extraordinary investments the federal government made when COVID hit to keep the economy going are, I think, fully justified when you see the results. (2) Going forward, our government remains committed to a declining debt-to-GDP ratio, as we were before the pandemic hit. I do believe government has a role to make investments for the long term that can increase the economic capacity of the country, and to run deficits to do it. In the green transition, for example. Those are investments that pay off.

You mentioned concerns around affordability. That is a real issue in housing. It’s pretty obvious Canada is in a prolonged and extreme housing bubble. So—

I am not so sure I would agree with that characterization, Trevor. But carry on.

The U.S. housing market corrected with the 2008-09 crisis. Canada’s market never did. Now many Canadians are struggling to participate in home ownership. You’re suggesting you don’t see the problem the way I do. What’s your view?

I would urge us, as I do on many issues, not to do something which is all too easy for Canadians to do, which is to think we’re Americans. We live in the same media space. We speak their language, as it were, and it can be easy to think their problems are our problems.

But our problem is much greater than in the U.S.

Well, the structure of the Canadian economy and Canadian society are very different, and that includes housing. Our banking system, and the way our banking system approaches risk, is very different. Another really important difference is that Canada has the fastest growing population in the G7. Having said that, the core of your question I absolutely accept. People need to be able to afford homes for our economy and our society to continue to grow and flourish. So, I absolutely see housing as one of the core issues we’re looking at as we go into the budget. I do think supply is at the heart of the challenge. (3) We need to build homes for a growing country.

The supply issue is not just in houses to buy, but also homes to rent. Even those aren’t being built.

I totally agree. The federal government has an important role to play, working with municipalities and provinces, in increasing supply, including a mix of rental supply. I think now is the time for new energy in the building of co-ops. We also need to do things in terms of the financialization of housing. We need to see housing as homes for Canadian families and not a financial asset. I want to be very clear that our government has absolutely no intention of altering the position on capital gains on the principal residence of Canadians. That is a very important part of how Canadian society works. Where we need to be thoughtful is in foreign money flowing into Canadian housing and turning that into a financial asset. That’s not what Canadian houses are meant to be for.

Regarding capital gains tax: You’re not going to change how it affects principal residences. What about the equity markets?

No intention to go there.

Great. So—

Can I say one more thing about our economic thinking?

Go ahead.

I really feel now that what Canada needs is a very positive, optimistic growth agenda. We need it because we all know that we have ahead of us the green transition, which is going to be really challenging. (4) So there is an imperative to deliver growth. The starting blocks are the kinds of social infrastructure policies we are really going to be driving. Things like early learning and childcare, the Canada workers benefit, investments in education, in housing, in an immigration policy which allows us to grow the labour force. I really see this suite of measures as a very powerful pro-growth agenda, which Canada, I think, is uniquely positioned to enact. Because we’re a country that is able to embrace immigrants, because we are a country that is still a society that works and believes in investing in people.

Let’s move beyond Canada. How would you characterize our relationship with the Biden administration in the U.S.?

I would characterize it as very good.

Should we be happy the Build Back Better bill didn’t get passed? That was going to hurt our EV industry.

Well, the Build Back Better bill is a question for the United States. I believe they are still debating it. When it comes to EV incentives, that is something we have been very focused on. I’ve been working with Brian Deese (5) and with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. The Americans absolutely do understand that any protectionist action that runs contrary to NAFTA (6) is something Canada would respond to forcefully. Our approach there is, hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

Is that your approach to growing political instability in the U.S.?

Again, that characterization of the U.S. was yours and not mine, Trevor. I think Canada needs to work very hard to have an effective relationship with the U.S. administration, no matter who is in office. But also with the legislature, on both sides of the aisle, and with people in state houses and with mayors. We need to be working with U.S. unions and U.S. business.

What’s to be done regarding our increasingly troubled relationship with China?

Well, let me first say how happy I am that Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are home. As foreign minister, I got to know their families. I think all Canadians felt their pain and the dignity and courage with which they conducted themselves.

Can we keep it on an economic level?

A hundred percent, Trevor. Although the arbitrary detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor is a fact and a reality that all Canadians should bear in mind in our ongoing relationship with China. That’s why I started there. I think we need to be very clear-eyed about the challenges China poses to Canada, to the world and to its own people, including the Uyghurs. We need to remember that China does not hesitate to throw its weight around, particularly dealing with a middle power like us. And we need to be very thoughtful about the human rights issues in China. It is also a huge force in the global economy. China is a very important actor, therefore, when it comes to climate change, which is the pre-eminent existential issue for human beings. So, we need to be prepared to stand up to China.

Your government is discussing an investment deal with Taiwan. How do you anticipate China will react?

I learned, in the NAFTA negotiations, not to answer hypotheticals and also to leave others to answer questions about their own actions.

Does the increasing isolationism we’re seeing in other parts of the world suggest Canada should strive to make its economy more self-sufficient?

I wouldn’t necessarily describe what we’re seeing always as isolation. What I think we are seeing is protectionism, maybe neomercantilism—a kind of reversion to a 19th-century-type world of great powers and big trading blocs trying to throw their weight around. In that kind of world, Canada needs to be smart. It is a very different world from the one we’re accustomed to, either with Pax Britannia or Pax Americana. I think we have to do three things: We have to continue to build an alliance of like-minded democracies. We have to think about what our economic vulnerabilities are, and that does mean we need to think about resilience in supply chains. We learned that during COVID, trying to buy things like PPE, vaccines and so forth. And we need to think about it in areas like batteries for EVs, semiconductors and solar panels. That work is happening. Finally, we need to have a strong defensive game. Take out those insurance policies, invest in resilience, try to look around corners. But I think there are some real opportunities for Canada, as well: critical minerals and metals, the whole EV supply chain. We have the capacity to be a really key player.

Is there a danger that Canada remains a resource economy, if you’re focusing on what’s coming out of the ground?

First of all, I don’t believe in talking down natural resources. Canada is fortunate to be richly endowed. That’s a strength to build on. Second, when I talk about a critical minerals and metals strategy, I think about it in terms of something that starts with what we have in the ground and looks to build something that goes all the way up the supply chain to a finished car. And by the way, we do manufacture cars in Canada, too.

At least for now.

Oh, we’re gonna continue. And I know you know this, but it’s perhaps less known than it should be: We are becoming a real technology hotspot. Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal—these are places that are seeing stronger growth in the tech sector than Silicon Valley. We are creating jobs, and we are creating companies. I see the export of Canadian services as a real area of growth. A politician I look back to is Sir Clifford Sifton, maybe because I grew up on the Prairies. He thought about Canadian growth as people plus railways plus land equals a growing Canada. For me, it is people plus homes plus education—I would add early learning and childcare as part of that—equals a growing Canada. With Sifton, it was a quarter-section. (7) With some new Canadians, it’s gonna be a tech company. That’s a reality.

Speaking of childcare, you’re a working mom with three kids at home. How have you managed over the past couple of years?

Much more easily than anyone working in a long-term care facility or a hospital or a grocery store, or any of those really hard jobs so many people have been doing. Having said that, I bet I have loaded more dishwashers than any Finance Minister in Canadian history, hitherto. And that does give you some perspective on the challenges working mothers face. And for sure, I have been really focused on making life easier for working parents, especially mothers. I want them to be able to fully contribute, and I want young women not to feel like they have to make a choice between being a mother and having a great job or going to school. You can do both.

You had a very heady career as a journalist and writer in front of you, and you chose to go into politics. Why?

My dad told me I had to. My dad and my husband. (8) I grew up in Alberta in the age of the Alberta Heritage Trust Fund, which provided generous scholarships. And I got a whole bunch of them. My dad said to me, “Canada has invested a lot in you. You might win, you might lose. But you owe it to Canada to give it a try.”

1. According to government figures, as of Dec. 14, 2021, Canada had recouped 106% of jobs lost in the pandemic, compared to 83% for the U.S.

2. The Economist ranked Canada’s economic performance 10th among OECD countries during the pandemic, tied with Australia and one spot behind the U.S.

3. Freeland referred to research published by Scotiabank in May 2021 showing Canada has the lowest number of housing units per 1,000 residents of any G7 country.

4. Freeland mentioned a report from the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions and the Bank of Canada. Published in mid-January, it said, among other things, that income for oil and gas companies could fall by 80% by 2050, while their probability of debt default could rise by some 200%.

5. Deese is director of the National Economic Council and an authoritative voice on the U.S. auto industry.

6. Technically the new deal is called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, which Freeland negotiated. But the name hasn’t caught on in Canada.

7. In an effort to populate and develop Western Canada, the Dominion Lands Act of 1872 allowed individuals and companies to obtain land grants of a “quarter-section,” or 65 hectares. (It should be noted that treaties with First Nations peoples required them to surrender their land to the Crown.)

8. Freeland’s father, Donald, was a farmer and lawyer. Her husband, Graham Bowley, is a British New York Times reporter.

Map Monday: Population growth – and shrinkage – over the millenia

An interesting look at populations over the centuries, thanks Jane.

Robby Robin's Journey

We all know – well, most of us know – that the human species has roamed the Earth for a very long time. A fascinating interactive population map at Our World in Data provides us with lots of data to show us where centers of population have flourished, and then sometimes decreased, over thousands of years. These maps are another way of looking at mankind’s history on our planet.

I’ve taken screen shots at various points in time to give you a flavour of the ebbs and flows of population growth throughout history. The online interactive map actually starts way back in 10,000 BCE, but there’s not much action prior to 6,000 BCE, except, interestingly, not only what is now Israel and Lebanon but also what are now parts of Nepal, Bangladesh, and Mexico. If you go to the interactive map you can also scan the map with your mouse…

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Angry Men

Angry Men

Posted: 18 Feb 2022 04:03 AM PST

There’s no solidarity in the ‘sovereign citizen’ protests now taking off around the world, only incoherent rage.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 16th February 2022

When a group in black fatigues called Alpha Men Assemble began practising paramilitary manoeuvres in a park in Staffordshireat the beginning of this year, it looked pretty threatening. These men, we were warned, were about to launch an insurrection against vaccines and in favour of “the sovereign citizen”. Since then, silence. It wouldn’t be surprising if the group had dispersed: a society of self-proclaimed alphas is bound to fall apart.

This was just one example of the incoherent protests now sweeping rich, English-speaking nations. Others include the truck blockade in Ottawa and its duplicates in Australia, New Zealand and the US, and the angry men outside the British parliament, waiting to pounce on passing politicians. By incoherent protest, I mean gatherings whose aims are simultaneously petty and grandiose. Their immediate objectives are small and often risible, attacking such minor inconveniences as vaccine requirements and face masks. The underlying aims are open-ended, massive and impossible to fulfil. Not just politically impossible, but mathematically impossible. Listening to these men (and most of them are men), it seems that every one of them wants to be king.

The “sovereign citizen” theory is a powerful current running through these movements. Its adherents insist that they stand above the law. Some of them refuse to buy vehicle licences, or pay taxes or fines. They believe they are exempt from public health measures, such as lockdowns and vaccine passes.

In other words, they arrogate to themselves sovereign powers that not even the monarch enjoys. They produce elaborate pseudo-legal documents to justify these claims. The “memorandum of understanding” published by two of the leading organisers of the Ottawa blockade, which makes impossible legal demands of the government, looks like a classic of the genre. It was supposedlysigned by 320,000 people before the organisers withdrew it.

What explains the appeal of this movement? Such claims of individual sovereignty arose in the 1970s with an antisemitic, racist agitation called Posse Comitatus. They appear to surge in hard times. Some people believe they can annul their debts or tax arrears by renouncing their citizenship. But I suspect it’s about more than money. The promise of capitalism is that one day we will all be alphas – just not yet. It is a formula for frustration and humiliation. The less equal the economic system becomes, the wider the gap between the promise and its fulfilment yawns. Humiliation, as Pankaj Mishra argued in his excellent book Age of Anger, is the motor of extremism. Noisy assertions of sovereignty look like an obvious attempt to overcome humiliation.

There was a time, in the rich nations, when it seemed as if we could all triumph. From the second world war until the late 1970s, general prosperity rose steadily. The top 1% captured a decreasing proportion of total income. But then, in the US, the UK, Canada, Ireland and Australia, the curve suddenly turned, and the 1% began to grab an ever greater share. The trend has continued to this day, sustained by the neoliberal doctrines that were first imposed in the rich world by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

The ultra-rich have gained most: since the beginning of the pandemic, the world’s 10 richest men have doubled their wealth, while 163 million people have been pushed below the poverty line. Wages for many people in the Anglosphere have stagnated, but the costs of living, especially housing, have soared.

But even during the “glory years” (1945 to 1975) the universal triumph capitalism promised was an illusion. The general rise of prosperity in rich nations was financed, in part, by poor ones. Decolonisation was resisted by the rich world with extreme violence and oppression, then partly reversed through coups and assassinations (such as the overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran in 1953, the crushing of Jacobo Árbenz’s government in Guatemala in 1954, the murder of Patrice Lumumba in Congo in 1961, Suharto’s coup in Indonesia in 1967 and Augusto Pinochet’s in Chile in 1973). Today, such extreme measures are seldom required, as the transfer of wealth is secured by other means. The rich world’s wealth continues in large part to rely on the exploitation of black and brown people.

Incoherent protest movements tend to be infested with racism and white supremacy. Some of the key organisers of the Ottawa action are reported tohave a grisly history of racist statements, and some of the protesters have flown swastikas and Confederate flags. When black and brown people assume positions of power and authority, and appear more alpha than those who expected tribute from them, this is perceived as an intolerable reversal. The current wave of incoherent protest began in the US with the reaction against Barack Obama’s government, and soon evolved, with the encouragement of Donald Trump and others, into undisguised white supremacism.

Some of the Ottawa organisers also have a history of attacks on trade unions. The “independence” they demand means freedom from the decencies owed to other people, freedom from the obligations of civic life. In pursuing these selfish freedoms, they reinforce the neoliberal policies – such as the crushing of organised labour – that helped cause the impoverishment and insecurity suffered by those they claim to represent.

Canadian truckers, for example, especially immigrant workers, now suffer from wage theft, unsafe conditions and other brutal forms of exploitation, caused in part by a loss of collective bargaining power. But the protest organisers seem uninterested. Sovereignty and solidarity are not compatible.

Does draft beer actually taste better?

I also really love a good beer and especially different craft beers, of which we have a large choice in the Annapolis Valley

A Better Man


I love beer. There you have it. Compared to wine, it is my preferred choice. Especially after a hard day’s work on a very hot day. I have had people exclaim that the first sip is akin to the first kiss. It might not be too chic as compared to wine but as usual, things are changing, brought about by craft beer. And I always go for an outlet that has it on draft. But does it really make a difference? Or is it only in the mind?

Today’s craft beer scene is overwhelming. Even for those with a grasp on hop varieties and local breweries, combing through a tap list can induce decision paralysis. But if there’s one thing that should guide an order, it’s freshness. Draft beer has long been heralded as the best option, whether for mouthfeel, pressure control or a foamy head. Now that so many…

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New Zealand’s parliamentary protest and the lessons of 1848 Europe

I think we are very comparable to NZ at this stage of development.

Matthew Wright

The occupation of New Zealand’s Parliament grounds by a disparate group of protesters – ostensibly over the Covid mandates, but representing a multitude of causes and apparently without a single organiser – follows similar occupations in Canada and elsewhere. It’s a disturbing development. Protests usually focus on an issue. They are usually led and organised around that issue. This one isn’t, although reports last night (Friday) made clear they were becoming more organised within themselves. Still, to me that diversity suggests there is something far more socially significant driving the whole thing.

New Zealand’s Parliament grounds back in 2019.

My take is that the protest proxies deeper dismay at the failure of government to replace New Zealand’s neo-liberal framework. Back in 2017 the government led by Jacinda Ardern was elected with a great deal of hope. People weary of two generations of ‘Rogernomics’, ‘Ruthenasia’ and ‘Jennycide’ – the local terms…

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Trauma and the body

Another book to add to my reading list, thanks Barry.

I can't believe it!

In the early 1980s I read the then-popular book Bodymind by Ken Dychtwald, on how the psychological/emotional effect of events in our lives are reflected in the body, and increasing body awareness can help in addressing the residue of these. It all made sense.

Science, and particularly neuroscience, has move a long way since those days, so it was interesting to come back to this scene with Bessel van der Kolk’s book The Body Keeps the Score – the title says it all. The subtitle gives the particular focus of the book: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma.

Over the years I’ve been involved in various ways with counselling and had an interest in the talking therapies, but it has been evident that there are problems that these simply cannot reach, trauma being a major one of these. Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk has specialised in…

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