Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Tattoo news

Arm with "Mom" tattooThis week’s story about Mildred Brown’s tattoos raised many questions for me, but one of the first that occurred was: how unusual was it for a working-class woman to have tattoos in 1929? Brown had not one but five, all professionally done.

It’s a subject I hope to take up in a future interview with the researcher featured in the story, Jamie Jelinski, but for now, I will just quote from his essay on Brown’s tattoos (an essay that will appear in an upcoming collection, Museums and the Working Class), in which he states that tattoos were something:

…women—from sex workers to the bourgeoisie—wore by the turn of the century and continued to do so into successive decades. Tattoos, in other words, transcended class but records of these markings have skewed Western tattooing’s history in that they typically come via people whose bodies were inspected by those in positions of power over them, namely lower and middle working class male groupings such as criminals and sailors. Much less is known about tattoos that belonged to normal working class women like Mildred Brown because their bodies were not systematically examined in comparison. Brown’s tattoos therefore straddle this schism: due to her death, we come to learn about one otherwise ordinary woman’s tattoos and, more particularly, one doctor’s interest in them.

The idea of a woman of my grandmother’s vintage sporting tattoos really forced me to reconsider my notions about tattoos. Not in terms of whether or not  I like them — I do like tattoos, the only reason I don’t have one is that I could never commit to a design, I can’t decide what to hang on my walls — more in terms of whom I associate with them.

Anyway, stay tuned, I should have more on the subject in an upcoming issue.


The Greene Old Deal

Has it struck anyone else that both Newfoundland & Labrador and Nova Scotia have reached out to rather similar women for economic guidance?

As I write, Newfoundland and Labrador is digesting what the CBC calls a “no-holds-barred report” laying out “a five- to six-year plan to re-imagine” the province. It’s the work of the Premier’s Economic Recovery Team (PERT), a “volunteer” squad chaired by Dame Moya Greene.

Here in Nova Scotia, our new premier has established his own Economic Growth Council and among its members is NStor CEO Annette Verschuren. Verschuren, who, as a director of the Verschuren Centre and chair of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (a multi-billion dollar federal green tech fund), has Cape Breton’s tech startup up community pretty much in a stranglehold, also serves as chancellor of Cape Breton University. (Scott Brison, the investment banker and former MP who chairs the council, is chancellor at Dalhousie.)

I’m struck by the similarities between Verschuren and Greene — both are local girls who made good and who now, without stooping to anything so low as running for elected office, are playing outsized roles in the public lives of their respective provinces.

Both are being asked for advice by governments on their strength of their experience in privatizing government-owned companies — particularly true in Greene’s case — and their personal success in the private sector — particularly true in Verschuren’s case. Both, you can be sure, will emerge entirely unscathed from any havoc they may wreak with their advice.

Moya Greene and Annette Verschuren

Moya Greene and Annette Verschuren

Greene cut her privatization teeth right here in Canada, overseeing the sale of the Canadian National Railway under Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government (resulting in the incredible situation today in which one of the largest shareholders in that company is Melinda flipping Gates). Her most recent gig was chief executive of the United Kingdom’s Royal Mail. Brought in by David Cameron’s Conservative government in 2010 to oversee the privatization of the over 500-year-old service, Greene’s compensation package hovered around $2 million a year, although I probably shouldn’t be mentioning this — apparently she gets “deeply offended” when people suggest she was overpaid, when it’s obvious to anyone with eyes that she was underpaid. Fun fact: After a public uproar, she had to return a $460,000 relocation bonus.

Verschuren, according to her Wikipedia bio (which carries a warning: “A major contributor to this article appears to have a close connection with its subject”) is best known as president of Home Depot Canada and Home Depot Asia. She left government for the private sector early — after a stint as executive vice president of Canada Development Investment Corporation privatizing crown corporations. These days, her jam — when not running her own company — is overseeing the investment of government money into private sector companies.

I’ve been thinking about these Golden Girls lately because of the headlines generated by Greene’s plan. She’s called it “The Big Reset,” which means either she’s trolling us, has missed the whole QAnon “Great Reset” conspiracy theory (which claims a group of world leaders orchestrated the pandemic to take control of the global economy) or (most likely) is rendering homage to the World Economic Forum’s “Great Reset” plan to build back the economy post-COVID.

Predictably — because to a woman with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail — Greene’s plan involves deep spending cuts, public service “streamlining,” the abolition of Nalcor and the privatization of Newfoundland Hydro. As Unifor, responding to the Greene Old Deal put it:

“Greene’s Big Reset is a Big Failure, lacking imagination or a vision for the future that includes good jobs and strong public services,” said Unifor Regional Director Linda MacNeil. “A framework that starts with balancing the budget and ends with privatization is not a reset, it’s a step backwards.”

“The ‘old fashioned economics’ in this report are textbook austerity measures that have proven to fail time and time again,” said MacNeil. “Moya Greene missed the opportunity to recommend bold action to create jobs, boost the economy and to build back better, instead opting to cut healthcare to the bone, hold a fire sale on government assets, attack pensions, and freeze worker’s wages.”

The strangest aspect of this situation is that the premiers of both provinces are a generation younger than Greene and Verschuren — Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin is 36, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey is 45 (or 46, weirdly his Wikipedia bio states he was “born 1975 or 1976”). You’d think they might be looking for new solutions to problems rather than retreading old ones and yet, here we are…


Cheney and Delaney

Here’s the thing about David Delaney, the Cape Breton Post‘s municipal affairs columnist: while I’ve never been a fan of his writing style (the English language must have done something truly awful to him to justify the pummeling he gives it each week), I sometimes agree with him.

In fact, I was not totally in disagreement with him over the opening paragraphs of his latest treatise — on the CBRM’s new mayoral advisors — which begins during the reign of Caesar Augustus and ends in the George W. Bush era. I was no fan of CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke’s “political” hires — his spokesperson and executive assistant — but I’m not sure transforming them into “advisors” to the mayor on policy and Indigenous affairs is much of an improvement. (Although I will admit, the hiring process has been cleaned up, by which I mean, there is now a hiring process.)

Dick Cheney and David Delaney

Dick Cheney and David Delaney, together at last.

But Delaney lost me completely when, accepting that the “dye” had been cast (he meant “die” presumably, although I guess you could cast dye if, say, you bought a packet of the wrong color and threw it out the window in a fit of rage), he offered his own suggestion for an advisor to the mayor: Dick Cheney.

Did not see that coming.

Delaney is convinced Cheney — who selected himself as vice president in 2000; helped invent intelligence to push the United States into a war that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, displaced millions more, destabilized the Middle East and facilitated the rise of Isis; all while enriching himself and his company, Haliburton — would “advise in real terms on real issues.”

I am trying to imagine what the CBRM would look like with Cheney in its bureaucratic ranks. First of all, I imagine he’d run the place — introduce a novel interpretation of the Municipal Government Act that somehow put the mayor’s policy advisor in charge of everything. Then, I think, he’d introduce waterboarding for anyone with unpaid parking fines. Haliburton would suddenly run all the concession stands at the municipal arenas and take over the heavy garbage collection and I think it’s very possible we’d invade Antigonish.

And while Delaney seems to think that Cheney would tackle “cost-cutting,” I don’t know that his fiscal bona fides are all that strong, given he estimated the Iraq War would cost the United States $100 billion and last two years, and almost 20 years later, the costs continue to mount. (In 2008, economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard University’s Linda Bilmes estimated the cost of the Iraq war at more than $3 trillion, “based on conservative assumptions.”)

Most of all, though, I would object to the municipality simply handpicking Cheney for the job without considering other similarly qualified candidates, like Jair Bolsonaro, or anyone who has ever shot an elephant for sport or Satan.


225, 224, 223…

A reader (you know who you are) suggested I create a countdown clock to mark the waning months of Sydney Harbour Investment Partners’ (SHIP) exclusive contract with the CBRM to promote the Port of Sydney.

I thought this was an excellent idea, so I went back to my coverage of the five-year extension they were granted to their original contract and discovered it was approved by council on 19 December 2017.

So I’ve set my clock — which I will display on the front page of the Spectator — to count down the days, hours and minutes until midnight on 19 December 2021.

A physical clock on the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion would be better, but the virtual one will have to do.  I’ll blame it on COVID, that’s what we’re doing these days with any plan we can’t actually execute in the real world, right?