Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Coal Face

“There’s no stone left unturned when it comes to safety with this company”—CBRM District 8 Councilor James Edwards on Kameron Collieries’ decision to reopen the Donkin Mine, CTV Atlantic News, 14 September 2022

The unfortunate reference to stones—the man is, after all, talking about a coal mine prone to rockfalls—is the least problematic aspect of Councilor Edwards staunch support for Kameron Collieries’ Donkin Mine.

CBRM District 8 Councilor James Edwards

Edwards sits on the mine’s community liaison committee (CLC), an entity established by a previous owner of the mine, XStrata, at the behest of the Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change (NSECC). Someone familiar with CLCs told me they are mandated as part of environmental assessment processes but their value as a check on extractive industry is debatable: companies seem to have a lot of say over who sits on them, they don’t have to make their meetings or minutes public and NSECC only gets minutes when it asks for them.

I found the original, 2006 Donkin Mine CLC guidelines online:



They say the CLC can have as many as nine members, including “six or seven” representatives of the community, although in all the time this committee has existed, I can recall having heard only two of its members speak publicly: Paul Carrigan and Edwards, who is a member because of his status as the CBRM councilor representing Donkin and Port Morien.

The original guidelines made it clear that the coal company had control over what the CLC said publicly:

The CLC may agree to release statements or other information to the media or to adopt other approaches to public dissemination of information, but at all times will comply with the Xstrata Coal Media Policy.

It seems unlikely Kameron Collieries would exert less control over the committee than its predecessor did, which suggests that when Councilor Edwards speaks to the media about the Donkin Mine, he’s saying only what the company permits him to say.

How can that be a tenable position for the elected representative of the people of District 8?


RIP Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed changed me.

Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich, 2006. (Photo by David Shankbone, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons)

I had worked crappy, low-wage, service industry jobs before its publication in 2001—heck, I’d  written about working crappy, low-wage, service industry jobs before 2001—but I hadn’t thought much about the broader implications of such work. I was young and single and never felt like any of these jobs would trap me forever. It wasn’t until I read Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, that I really began to think about what these dismal jobs meant for the people (especially women) who were trapped in them.

Ehrenreich, who died last week at 81, traveled the US, working a series of such jobs—waitressing in Florida, cleaning houses in Maine and working in a Walmart in Minnesota. She set herself three rules: she had to take the cheapest accommodation she could find; she had to take the best-paying job she could find; and she had to “really do her best” at it, as she told NPR in 2001, she “had to see what it would be like if you were actually trying to survive on these wages.”

In that NPR interview, she noted that finding work wasn’t difficult—there were lots of low-paying jobs available in the late ’90s when she was conducting her experiment—but finding affordable accommodations was nearly impossible and she ended up in some pretty grim places.

Critics of this type of participatory journalism say reporters know they can leave and so never truly experience what the people around them are experiencing and I take that point, but people struggling to make ends meet don’t generally have the time to analyze and write about their predicaments. There is value in having an author as talented as Ehrenreich shine a light on your situation. Ehrenreich’s target audience was not people who work low-wage jobs—they know how hard it is—it was people like me who didn’t really get it. And it worked so well that over 20 years later I can still recall scenes from the book.

And it was just one of her books. I have to confess, I have some catching up to do, I haven’t read nearly enough Ehrenreich, but perhaps that’s what I’ll do to mark her passing—although her son Ben had some good suggestions, too. After her death he tweeted:

She was never much for thoughts and prayers but you can honor her memory by loving one another and by fighting like hell.



That’s a joke.

I never feel compelled to cover stories that are getting adequate coverage in the mainstream media and fortunately for me—because I really don’t want to write about it—the MSM is covering the death of the longest-reigning British monarch like the dew.

But I will share my favorite Queen-related saying which I learned from my grandmother:

Even a cat may look at a Queen.

Tenniel illustration of Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland

The Cheshire Cat looking at the King and the Queen. (John Tenniel, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

I looked it up and according to the Word Histories website:

The phrase cat may look at a king means even a person of low status or importance has rights.

It was already proverbial when the English playwright and epigrammatist John Heywood (circa 1496-circa 1578) published A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the englishe tongue compacte in a matter concernyng two maner of mariages in 1546:

cat maie looke on a kyng.

Word Histories notes the same expression exists in German—sieht doch die Katze den Kaiser an—and Italian—un gatto può ben guardare un re.

In Spanish, the cat is replaced by a dog:  un perro puede mirar al rey.

And the French go a step farther and replace the king with a bishop: un chien regarde bien un évêque.

Bottom line: this cat has seen quite enough of the Queen and the King this past week, thank you very much.