Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Bernie in coal country

McDowell County, West Virginia is coal country. Although they got into the game a little later than we did here in Cape Breton — their first large-scale mines were developed in the mid-1800s — they made up for lost time and by the 1950s were regularly setting national production records.

We have another tie to West Virginia in that it is the home state of Chris Cline, owner of the Cline Group, which is developing the Donkin Mine. According to Forbes:

As a child in West Virginia this son and grandson of coal miners earned a penny a bag excavating dirt from under the family’s front porch. When the porch collapsed he learned a valuable lesson about the importance of engineering roof supports in coal mines.

I’d lampoon that…but I can’t.

Coal is still treating Chris Cline well, his estimated worth is $1.89 billion, but it has not been kind to McDowell County.

Travis DeWitz, a photographer who visited McDowell in 2012 (and took a series of haunting photographs), described McDowell’s decline and fall this way:

During the 1980’s the central Appalachian region lost more than 70,000 coal mining jobs. Between 1981 and 1992, according to the U.S. Department of Energy and the United Mine Workers union, coal mining employment in the state of West Virginia decreased by more than 53%. No county in the Appalachian region was more severely distressed by these losses than McDowell County. According to the United States Census Bureau, in 1980, the rate of poverty in McDowell County was 23.5%. By 1990, the poverty rate in McDowell County had climbed to 37.7%, the highest rate of poverty for any county in West Virginia. By 1990, 50.3% of all children in McDowell County were living in families below the poverty level, up from 31.2% in 1980.

Their child poverty rates are even higher than ours — and that’s US-style poverty, the particularly cruel and grinding kind that comes when your main industry is dangerous and dirty and you don’t have access to free healthcare.

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes traveled to McDowell County last week with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to hold a town hall-style meeting with residents who, by the way, had voted 76% for Donald Trump in the recent presidential elections.

I found the clip below instructive:

If Trump voters in West Virginia can see that the coal industry is at the end of the line and climate change is real, there’s really no excuse for us.


The Pluck Me

Cape Breton's Magazine, 1973/3/1

Cape Breton’s Magazine, 1973/3/1

On a lighter note, this story from the 1973 edition of Cape Breton’s Magazine (“The Pluck Me: Life and Death of the Company Store“), shows that despite their hardships, Cape Breton coal miners can always find the funny.  It’s a series of interviews done with men whose memories stretch back to the 1920s and ’30s about the role of the company store in their lives and it’s such a great read.  Sample quote, about a raid on a company store in Glace Bay:

The company knew, they had been warned. And previous to the raid the manager and the assistant manager they took the shoes, say a pair of brown shoes, they’d take a size 7 brown shoe and put it in with perhaps a black 8; so people went and grabbed the shoes and ran with the box. Next morning everybody’s going around, Have you got a brown 7? Trying to get the right shoes.



Maggie won

Nova Scotia native Maggie MacDonnell has won The Global Teacher Prize.

MacDonnell, who teaches in the remote Inuit community of Salluit, traveled to Dubai for the awards ceremony. She will receive $1 million which has said she will use to start an NGO for Inuit youth focused on environmental stewardship.

Maggie MacDonnell wins the 2017 Global Teacher Prize. (Source: Varkey Foundation

Maggie MacDonnell wins the 2017 Global Teacher Prize. (Source: Varkey Foundation )

She also, apparently, got a very large gold trophy that requires two people to hoist aloft. Perhaps she can incorporate it into her students’ fitness classes.



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