Wednesday, September 30, 2009


So the lesson learned from reading online municipal election results is that it is also not all that good for my health either. Oh sure, there was some small pleasures, like see Ron Ellsworth lose and Keith Coombs lose. That gave me momentary pleasure. But then again, Simon Lono lost as well.

And that kind of sucks, but I wasn't shocked by it. A lot of people don't like Simon. And it's not because he's not smart, filled to the brim with good ideas and would make an excellent voice on council. No, it's because he's a Liberal. And in Newfoundland, and especially in St. John's, that's a condemnable offence with certain people. So I knew it was going to be an uphill battle.

Still, he polled respectably. If people in St. John's had more sense they certainly could have punted Gerry Colbert off council and the world would be a no poorer place. The moment I knew Colbert was just bloody coasting on his name recognition to get him re-elected? When I read this questionnaire by the Scope. The one where Colbert couldn't be bothered to submit answers to it. If that's not the height of laziness and an indication of what kind of councillor you're going to get, I don't know what is.

But no, what really set the old blood pressure off was the Clarenville race. It's no secret that I don't like Mayor Fred Best. And the race see-sawed back and forth all evening. But with challenger Lisa Browne up by 20 votes with one poll left, I thought she had it. But then, unbelievably, he pulled off 88 more votes than Browne in the last poll to win 1225-1157.

And honestly, when you read his preliminary comments after winning - "Lisa made a good showing, but the people spoke," said Best following the final count. "I got into this late - I only had a three-week campaign while Lisa had a three-year campaign." - how can you not want to smack him....repeatedly.

I actually had to go and walk around the apartment for a few minutes. If I had sat down to blog about this last night, there would have been a pounding on the door this morning around 6 am from some nice men in uniforms. The conversation probably would have went something like this.

"Sir, did you write online last night that you wanted everyone in Clarenville dead to prevent their cracked gene pool from spreading to neighbouring communities and thereby infecting them with their stupidity and that the whole town should be burned to the ground and the ashes and rubble pushed into Trinity Bay?"

"Er, I might have. I was pretty upset last night when Fred Best won again, meaning the people of Clarenville will have had that unbelievable git as mayor for 31 years in a row, when all is said and done."

"Yeah, you need to come with us now."

(Trust me, that's the deeply edited version of what would have run last night)

Candidates have to be graceful. Candidates have to say things like "The people have spoken and they know best." Whereas I can be slightly more bitter and say the people are, just as often as not, morons.

This to shall pass. Thank God I left Clarenville when I did, though. If I was still living there I'd be looking for sharp objects this morning.

Last Five
1. Sick muse - Metric
2. The hill - Marketa Irglova
3. Dancing choose - TV on the Radio
4. Neon tiger - The Killers
5. The future is X-rated - Matthew Good Band*

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Quick hits

So a quick hit kind of morning. I might try and write something more substantial later, but I'm actually back to writing my novel again, so that might take away some of my focus.


1. It's municipal election day in Newfoundland. If you live in St. John's then I strongly encourage you to vote for Simon Lono in the Councillor-at-Large race. And on the off-chance you happen to live in Clarenville, I strongly recommend you vote for Lisa Browne as mayor (oh, and Eph Carpenter as a councillor, but that's because he's the father of a good friend of mine).

I reiterate the same point I always make in elections....they are your certificate to bitch and complain about that level of government until the next election. So go out there and vote.

2. Stats Canada came out with their quarterly population numbers for Canada. I always find numbers like this fascinating. I think I would have liked a job at Stats Canada if only I didn't suck so completely at all things math related.

Anyway, Canada's population is up 33,739,859; that's about 100,000 more people than in April (the survey went from April 1 to July 1). But the numbers that most interested me were, of course, Newfoundland and Nunavut. Shockingly, Newfoundland and Labrador was up about 1,400 people to 508,925. I'm not going to sing hymn of praise quite yet. I've seen bumps in those population numbers before only to have them crash later. And hey, I know of at least three other people (and a pretty evil looking cat) who have moved to Newfoundland since then.

As for Nunavut it gained 218 people and the population of the territory stands 32,183. Also interesting is that the Yukon only has 1.500 more people than Nunavut and this territory's population is growing at a rate more than double the Yukon's. So at some point in the next decade, I suspect, Nunavut will no longer be the smallest territory in terms of population.

Which is lovely and all, we just need to be able to handle all of those extra people up here. So far, let's just say efforts to address that have been...shaky.

3. Your cheap shot of the day - Pamela Anderson is denying she's broke and deeply in debt. God, I hope she won't have to do anything demeaning to make that money up.

Yes, it is a cheap shot and I try to do better than that. But I have special hatred in my heart for her. I also don't understand the appeal. She was cute for 5 minutes 20 years ago before she became Frankenstein's monster. Anyone who would find that...thing attractive is severely touched in the head. And yes, I know you can love someone for their personality. However, this is Pamela Anderson, so you know, personality?

4. I suppose I should stop doing entertainment based posts, since no one really seems to care much about them. I base that on the lack of comments on the last few posts. But the Roman Polanski case is proving to have more depth to it than I thought. I'd never cared much about it one way or another. I thought it was pretty open and shut. He raped a 13 year old girl and fled the United States rather than face jail time. And pleas for clemency from supporters using excuses that he'd already been through so much in his life - from escaping concentration camps and the murder of his first wife by the Manson family - fell on deaf ears with me. Lots of people have horrible things happen to them. That doesn't give you carte blanche to do terrible things.

"My wife was murdered, so it's all right if I drug, rape and sodomize this 13 year old girl." Nooooo, I don't think so.

But reading this New York Times story does putting a grayer shade on things. His victim has long since forgiven him. The US has had other chances to grab him and never had until now. And he fears LA judges are corrupt and biased against him, especially since he's convinced one was going to change his mind on the plea agreement from the 70s. I don't know about that seems a bit weak.

Still, I think he has to come back to the US and face the music. If the woman in question wants to stand up and say I forgive him and don't want him to go to jail, well, I think that carries some weight in his sentencing. But he's dodged this bullet for too many years. Maybe it is more complicated than it first appears, but I still think he needs to stand up in court and explain himself.

Anyway, we shall see. But I don't think I would let him out on bail. That's just silly. If you ever wanted a poster child for "Flight Risk" I think you have one in Polanski.

Last Five
1. If you love someone, set them free - Sting
2. Accidents will happen - The Von Bondies
3. Highway girl - The Tragically Hip
4. Run - Snow Patrol*
5. Camalina - The Pursuit of Happiness

Monday, September 28, 2009


I swear to God I would watch Craig Ferguson more often if only he wasn't on so bloody late. And yes, I am unemployed and can stay up late, but I think sleeping in every day is not a good thing to do during this lull in my employment status.

So anyway, for those of you at work on a Monday and thinking to yourself, dear God, I could really use something to cheer me up, here is Ferguson doing my absolute favourite They Might be Giants song, "Istanbul".

(h/t to The Beat for pointing it out)

Last Five
1. The story so far - Flogging Molly
2. Hands of time - Ron Sexsmith
3. Danse les belles filles communistes - The Kremlin
4. I'm sticking with you - Velvet Underground
5. Wild honey - U2

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Season so far

So we're a week or so into the new TV season. Let's see what I think of the shows I've caught so far, both old and new.

House - It was a pretty good season premiere, but certainly having an actor of the calibre of Andre Braugher to work with helps. I'm disappointed that he doesn't appear to be an occasional guest star for the rest of the season. I hope that changes, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

The thing is, House has done "changes" before and they never seem to stick. They manage to find a way to bring it back to the status quo. Well, I'm hoping this does stick. House is off drugs, his pain seems to be under control and he acknowledges that he's tired of being miserable and wants to be happy. The show ought to change from this. And it needs to, especially given how bad the last half of Season 5 was. So here's hoping, because my patience for the show is running a little thin.

Castle - All right, I have to admit it, I have a bit of a man crush on Nathan Fillion. I wish he was still working on Firefly, but that's not happening. Castle is as light as air, but it always makes me smile. The chemistry between Castle and Beckett is also holding up nicely.

NCIS: Los Angeles - I'm sure it'll be fine, but much like I can only watch one CSI at a time. Besides, when your big character development is that one of the leads doesn't know his first name because he was abandoned as a kid, it just screams of the writers trying too hard.

The Good Wife - Look I will grant you that Julianna Margulies and Chris Noth can act and the premise of the show, a woman going back to practicing law to provide for their family after the husband gets caught in a sex scandal, is intriguing. But God, I just don't know if I have it in me to watch that week in and week out. It's a TV movie, maybe. But a full year or even years of that? No thanks.

The Forgotten - I'd comment on the show except A. I watched 10 minutes of it and was bored and B. Christian Slater looks like he's bored and C. I fully expect it to be cancelled in a few weeks. Is Slater that hard up for cash that he keeps doing this crap?

Mercy - I actually caught the rebroadcast on Saturday night. Again, the idea of a nurse who served in the Iraq War coming back to the US and trying to work in a New York hospital even though she's pretty messed up is intriguing. But the first episode was unpleasant people being unpleasant to people and thinking they're being funny while masking their inner pain. Again, if you want to be entertained for an hour, why would you watch something this unpleasant?

The Beautiful Life - I never watched the show. Odds are you never watched the show. And you will never watch the show, as it has been cancelled after two episodes. So it wins the award for first show of the new season cancelled. Although really, they ought to amend that to "First Show of the New Season Cancelled on a Network Other than the CW."

Can someone explain to me why the CW still exists when "fringe" cable networks like TNT and AMC can produce shows like The Closer, Leverage, Mad Men and Breaking Bad which all draw more people than anything the CW has on the air?

Glee - When I don't want to punch it in the head for its "Very Special Moments", I'm laughing at its dark humour (a coach cutting off a pair of cheerleaders from tanning privileges for the semester after failing to sabotage Glee Club) or, God help me, really enjoying a cover of a Bell Biv Devoe song. I'm going to have a love/hate relationship with this show, but so far the love is winning.

Eastwick - Sticking close to the Witches of Eastwick movie with Paul Gross filling in as the Devil. It's pretty much going to be Desperate Housewives means Charmed, so if you like that sort of thing, go crazy. I like Gross from his time on Due South, so it's the only reason the show got a look. It likely won't get a second.

Cougar Town - God help me, I laughed several times when I caught the rebroadcast on Saturday. It felt deeply wrong. The show feels like a What if Chandler realized Monica was nuts and dumped her, she moved out south and magically acquired an easily humiliated 16 year old. Courtney Cox is essentially playing Monica again, but I laughed. There's funny bits in there. I may have to watch this again just to see if it can keep the momentum going.

Bones - Seemingly bouncing back from one of the most awful season finales I've ever seen. Cathy loves this more than I do. I'm finding the formula a bit repetitive at this point. I get the feeling if it lasts, Castle is going to look something like this in five years time. How long can they keep the "will they/won't they" between the two of them going? It doesn't appear to be ending any time soon.

Fringe - The new season had me hooked the instant a shape changing assassin walks into a special room with nothing but a typewriter and a mirror. He types, it's reflected in the mirror. Then an answer is typed on his keyboard from....somewhere.

Fringe is pretty much deeply accepting its inner X-Files this season, what with the second episode about a doctor who performed genetic experiment on his unborn son years ago using scorpions so the baby could survive even though his wife had lupus. So we have Scorpion Boy digging around in rural Pennsylvania killing people. Oh yes, bring it on, you glorious weirdos. Give me more.

FlashForward - You know exactly what you're getting a few minutes in when the show's creators stick a sign up for Oceanic Airlines in the background of a scene. Yes, if you liked Lost, you'll like this. The thing is, Lost lost me in the second season, when it just started getting ridiculous. And I fear FlashForward could be another one of these silly and needlessly complicated shows. And my brain only has room for so much of that.

It's a great premiere, don't get me wrong. The confusion and chaos works well. How people handle their visions of the future is intriguing. So we'll see if I can catch it, but with it being up against Bones, unless it's a rebroadcast, I suspect the show is going to slip out of my grasp pretty quick.

The Mentalist - My problem with the show is the lead is interesting as a damaged man, but the rest of the cast is as exciting as watching paint dry. And really, there's only so many geniuses who are so far ahead of their colleagues shows you can watch at once.

Numb3rs Ah, good old reliable Numb3rs. I can go months without watching it, step back in and know pretty much only a little has changed, that math will somehow save the day and the characters are shallow, but still entertaining. It's the perfect show to watch when there's nothing else on.

And there you go...the season so far. The Amazing Race is this evening, and I'm looking forward to that. I'll update if any other show catches my eye as the season goes on.

Last Five
1. You can call me Al - Paul Simon
2. Lawyers in love - Joe Jackson
3. C'mon - Blue Rodeo
4. Vow - Garbage*
5. Down among the wine and spirits - Elvis Costello

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ahhhh, Fall

So a couple of weeks ago it started to snow on Labour Day weekend. Now, this really shouldn't have caught me off-guard. Snow happens up here. We live in arctic. Snow is not exactly an unusual occurrence. I think the only month we can reliably not expect to get some snow in this part of the world is July. And even then, I wouldn't want to take bets on that happening.

Still, there was some whining, angsting and general bitching and moaning. Parts of Ontario were getting a late season heatwave; we were getting flurries.

However, a good friend of mine in town put it in perspective. Apparently tiring of the general freaking out taking place among Iqaluitmuit on Facebook and Twitter that day did a collective slap across the face and told people to "get the fuck over it."

Which, you know, fair point. It was just a few flurries, after all. It melted quickly enough. I figured it was going to be Thanksgiving at least before we saw any significant snowfall actually stick around. Hell, it's not unheard of for the snow to hold off staying around until November. No need to freak out.

Besides, there's the Iqaluit Early Warning System when it comes to snow. Generally, you look to the hills off on the other side of the bay. When the tops of them are covered with snow for a few days, you can give yourself two weeks, give or take a few days, before you know you're going to get snow that's sticking around until June.

Yeah, so much for plans. It started snowing Thursday night and next thing you know on Friday, we're getting a heavy snowfall warning. And the winds are kicking up nicely so there is a genuinely unpleasant day happening outside.

Then we wake up this morning to a winter wonderland. Probably about 15 cm of snow. There's a drift where the truck was parked over night. This is the view from our windows.

Oh well, at least one member of the household seemed to enjoy the return of the snow.

And just because I had the camera and was feeling artsy, one more. I suspect a few boats might be pulled out of the water this weekend.

It could melt in a few days, of course. It's milder today and getting slushier. But I don't think it's all going to go. So welcome to the view out my window until June. Well, except the bay is going to start to freeze at some point in the next few weeks, of course.

So for those of you down south grousing about temperatures dropping below 10C.....bite me.

Last Five
1. Lucid dreams - Franz Ferdinand
2. Stepping out - Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies
3. Of angels and angles - The Decemberists
4. Let down - Radiohead*
5. Burma-shave - Tom Waits

Friday, September 25, 2009

No house for you

So I've hinted there were things a brewing up here the past week, adding to the general feeling of chaos. And I guess now I can tell the tale.

We nearly bought a house. Nearly. And it certainly wasn't from lack of trying on our part on why we don't have one right now.

I mentioned last week that a friend of mine had sent me a poster for the house her and her husband were trying to sell. On a lark, Cathy and I decided to go down and see the house on Saturday. We honestly weren't in the market for a house. Cathy's been getting itchy feet the last few months, but we figured it was going to be the spring before we started doing some serious sniffing around for one.

But we went and looked at their place on Saturday. While I won't say it was love at first sight, we fell surprisingly head over heels for the place. It wasn't perfect, no house is. Cathy could certainly make a solid of list of things she was going to fix or change. However, the couple had already put a lot of work in the house over the past few years. The outside might not have looked like much, but the inside was very nice. Plus, it had a view of the bay, a fireplace, a library and a deck. Oh, and it was in nice neighbourhood and on the Utilador, which is a big bonus. I don't really fancy having water delivered and sewage removed if I can help it when we buy a house. I know simply too many people who have had problems.

The place was also about 25 years old. Which I liked, actually. I've heard horror stories about some of the new houses built in Iqaluit. About how they were built too quickly or not on solid enough ground so after a few years there's massive cracks happening in the ceiling or walls as the foundation shifts. This place was solid.

So we came home and looked at each other in shock because trying to buy a house was not on the list of things to do. First of all, we knew nothing about how to go about doing this. Thus began a crash course that weekend on mortgages and how to buy a house without looking like an idiot and getting taken for a ride.

Then we had to figure out how to do an Offer to Purchase, worry about lawyers, find the money for a downpayment and get into a bank. For that matter, there is the little matter of me being unemployed. Cathy is making good money, but I didn't think it was a lock to give us the money with only one salary.

Finally, we knew there was a lot of interest in the place. The other thing that drew us was the price. At $360,000 it might seem like an insane amount of money for some, but in Iqaluit, that's very reasonable. The couple was also just trying to sell the house on their own. No Realtor. Nor did they want a bidding war. They just wanted to sell their house with as little fuss as possible.

The first hiccup was one that I should have expected given that we live in Nunavut. I went to our bank - CIBC - to make an appointment with their mortgage specialist. However, it seems she was away on vacation. Now, I don't begrudge someone going on vacation. Apparently it was her first in three years. However, they didn't have anyone at the branch who could cover her duties. So while she was away, the bank could not do mortgages.

I've banked with CIBC for 35 years. Now I'm beginning to wonder if giving them my money is such a bright idea when you can't plan to have someone cover off your only mortgage specialist so the poor woman can go on vacation.


So we had to go to Royal Bank. But they couldn't meet us until Tuesday. And because of that, we were essentially too late. By the time we got the financing - Royal Bank gave us just a silly amount of money - and got our offer in, someone had put in a similar one ahead of us. So the couple decided to go with that one.

So that was disappointing. I think they did it in a very fair manner, it's just the way these things go sometimes. I told Cathy the odds of buying the very first house we've ever looked at as a couple was astronomical. But we really did start to think we had a chance. We were planning a housewarming/Christmas part in December.

And then poof. Ah well.

So what did we learn from this experience?
1. Apparently we can get a huge amount of money from banks with no problem.
2. It was reassuring to know we could whip up a $70,000+ downpayment pretty easily. Nice to know we've been doing more than travelling around the world and buying lots of books over the past four years.
3. I now have a better idea of what an Offer to Purchase is and I'm not quite so fearful of it if we have to do another one.
4. We have the names of several lawyers should we need them in the future.
5. At least we know now what we're looking for in a house. We would like a view. We want to be on the Utilador. We would prefer a house five years or older so we have an idea if there's going to be problems with the place. We want a balcony. And, you know, a little bit of quirkiness. It was nice to look at a house that was obviously not Plan #32456 from some housing plan book.

Anyway, we're back to the waiting game. Things might change, but I suspect we'll start looking again around March or April. Still, it was an interesting experience to go through, even if it didn't end the way we had hoped.

Last Five
1. Dancing in the street - Van Halen
2. Scenes from an Italian restaurant - Billy Joel
3. Deep blue sea - Grizzly Bear
4. Search and destroy - Peaches
5. Better than this - Keane

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Three stories

Today's been very much one of those days where I've not been completely certain what to write about. For that matter, even though it's not the nicest day in the world out, I decided I was going a bit batty inside and went for a couple of long walks with the dog. Normally a good walk kind of helps me crystallize any thoughts I have rattling around my head for a blog post.

Not so much today.

Granted, part of that is my thoughts are back home as my grandfather is being buried today. So I can be forgiven a bit for that. Still, the blog is a hungry beast and I try to feed it every day whenever I can.

And so, like a trio of archangels, three of my friends either mailed me links, or put them up on Facebook that gave me ideas. So thank you Sara, Ron and Simon for helping to save the day.

Sara contributed this fascinating story about the only woman to ever serve with the French Foreign Legion. And it is, remarkably, not even close to the most interesting thing she did in her life. Certainly worth a read.

Then Ron sent me a link to the story that I'm sure everyone is talking about in Newfoundland today - Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is spending the night in St. John's on his way back from New York. I have no earthly idea why he can't just hop on a plane from New York to Libya, but there you go. Your surreal moment of the year.

Now, the cheap joke is that Gadhafi could also meet with the Premier Danny Williams and get some tips on being a dictator. I'm willing to bet I'm not even the 1,000th person today to have even had that passing thought. And lord knows I've had my problems with the premier and the way he chooses to do things. But that's a low blow by nearly any standard. Although I did read some quips about Danny having an opening in his cabinet...

It's just deeply weird. Not as weird as when Joel Smallwood and Geoff Sterling went to Cuba to meet Castro, but still pretty odd.

And finally, this last item was on Facebook. It read like something from The Muse, but I can't find a story on their site about it. And that is MUNSU, the student union at Memorial University of Newfoundland, lost an absolutely mindblowing $100,000 on the recent Snoop Dogg concert.

I'm quoting from Christopher Bruce, who I think is a member of the council. These are the numbers on the show:
- The event cost $288,000 to put off
- We lost $106, 648 +/- 5, 000 (some money has yet to come back in)
- 50% of the tickets were sold, or, 2,560 tickets
- 1,000 comps were given out
- $10,000 was paid to get Snoop Dogg to come to the bar for "no less than 60 min"

Once upon a blue moon I served on the student council at MUN. Back then it was called the CSU - Council of the Students Union - and I spent a year as Arts Rep. I recall we lost $20,000 on a 54-40 show and I thought we were going to be all hung from the ceiling of the gym on the second floor of the TSC. I can't conceive of standing before the council or the student body, given the shaky finances of the council over the years and go "ummm, we just lost $100,000 on bring up a washed-up and dubiously talented stoned rap star who only played for an hour (so I've heard).

I would be looking to embezzle any money they have left over to book a ticket out of the country. Then again, Gadhafi is going to be in town next week. Perhaps they can hitch a ride to Libya.

Last Five
1. Sailor's rest (live) - Stan Rogers
2. Won't get fooled again - The Who
3. All at once - The Fray
4. Come together - The Beatles*
5. Please forgive me - David Grey

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cloudy with a chance of dust

You know, we get the occasional dust storm in Iqaluit. Nothing too severe, but during the summer if we go a week or so without any rain and then the wind kicks up, well, it can be unpleasant trying to make your way around town. "Soil" is one of those very flexible concepts up here. We have rock, we have sand, but in terms of soil where things can grow...well, we have a little bit less of that around here.

Although what we experience is nothing like what people in parts of Australia are going though. I didn't think it was possible, but I'm glad to not be living in Australia right now. This story talks about the massive dust story blanketing most of New South Wales, including Sydney, and parts of Queensland, including Brisbane. All places we were visiting only a few weeks ago.

This video also gives you an idea of what it's like trying to live in Sydney during the last day or so.

I suspect we've all had moments like this. You go and visit a place and then something terrible or weird happens shortly after you leave. It's very odd to look at pictures of the Sydney Harbour Bridge or the Opera House and see them covered in this red and orange haze from all the dust being blown from the Outback. It feels like we were there just yesterday.

Nobody appears to have been seriously hurt, which is good. It's just one of those deeply weird looking things. It's also a reminder of just how dry things are in Australia. I'm not sure if they're recycling programs are top of the line, but when it comes to matters of water conservations, Australians seemed ahead of the curve to me. That doesn't mean they don't have serious drought problems, as this dust storms seems to illustrate.

Next up, and closer to home, there is the big new in Iqaluit...we might get a traffic light, which would be the territory's first. The Four Corners is the busiest intersection in town, so it does make a degree of sense. Although having spent time in Australia and, I admit, freaking out a bit over roundabouts, they might make some sense for that intersection. However, Canadians simply aren't used to the idea and wouldn't have a clue what to do with them.

Although the picture of a ski-doo using a roundabout does put a smile on my face.

Someone in the comments section jokingly suggested putting in a traffic cop to direct traffic. You know, I loved the traffic cop they used to have in St. John's at the intersection of Duckworth and Prescott. One of the worst things the city ever did was put a traffic light there and get rid of the cop. Traffic at the intersection is still terrible and the cop was a nice touch of character for downtown. I always thought when growing up that would be a pretty fun job. I suspect in reality it wasn't, but still...

I'm not suggesting it would work in Iqaluit, by the way. The idea of making someone stand up in the intersection and direct traffic when it's -50C is inhumane. But I still think sticking a traffic light at the Four Corners is going to be one of those things that may not work as well as some planner thinks it will.

Hmmm, I read the CBC story and then found this better story on Nunatsiaq that addressed the roundabout issue. Typical. I don't even know why I bother with the CBC website half the time for local news.

And finally, speaking of Nunatsiaq related things, I noticed Jim Bell on his Twitter feed linked to this really excellent review from the Village Voice about the new White Stripes documentary Under the Great White Northern Lights. There's lots of specific references to Iqaluit, so it's worth taking a look at.

The only frustrating thing is there's still no word on when its being released, either to theatres or out on DVD. I was really looking forward to it before I read this review, but having heard that it's something more than just another behind the scenes thing as a band goes on tour, my interest is way up. I just hope it's out before Christmas.

Because if things progress as they are right now, that DVD might be all we can afford for Christmas.

Last Five
1. The mother who bore you in pain - Ron Hynes*
2. Mari-Mac (live) - Great Big Sea
3. I've gotta try - Sloan
4. Plan A - The Dandy Warhols
5. Creepin' up the stairs - The Fratellis

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day after

Thanks to everyone for the phenomenally kind comments. That was not the easiest blog post I've ever written, both because it was very personal and because I was worried what my family might thing when they read it. So far I've actually not heard from the family about it, but honestly that's not a surprise considering they have more important things to worry about and deal with than reading my little blog.

It's a bit frustrating rereading it, there are a few typos and grammatical errors that I'm tempted to go back and fix. There's anecdotes I'd forgotten to mention and ways I would have organized it differently. But it was written from the heart and I'm not going to go and mess around with it now.

And I am sincerely touched by the comments. It's always nice to read these things and know that people care. Blogging is an odd thing, but it's a wonderful community. I'm glad that post touched people.

There really is more happening up here and going on with our lives right now, but in lieu of what my family is going through I'm going to hold off for a few more days. In the meantime, I'll try and figure something else to blog out for tomorrow.

Last Five
1. If there's a rocket tie me to it - Snow Patrol
2. A pair of brown eyes - The Pogues
3. The view from the afternoon - Arctic Monkeys
4. Bohemian rhapsody - Queen*
5. God put a smile upon your face - Coldplay

Monday, September 21, 2009

In memorium

My grandfather, Jim Welsh, passed away last night.

I strongly suspect it's not the way he wanted to go. For the past four or five years he'd been growing steadily weaker. He wasn't able to go out in the woods anymore. Then he couldn't drive anymore. And then he had problems getting around with anything other than a walker. The comment in the family was that we always expected him to go out into the woods one day to cut a load of birch and simply never come back. That they'd find him lying next to a tree, looking quite content.

I think that's the way he would have liked to have left this life, rather than quietly fading away in a pallative care bed, essentially letting it be known that he was just done and wanted things to be over with.

I'm not entirely sure my grandfather and I understood each other very much. I am the eldest grandchild. The next is Penny, who is three years younger and then Randy who is six years younger. And then a grouping in their 20s and more younger than that. So I think their relationship with him was different than mine. When I was growing up he was still a young man, in his late 40s and 50s. He was a man who worked hard, either driving the trucks for Department of Transportation or in cutting a load of wood or helping run the convenience store and campground he and nan ran. When they were growing up, he'd settled down a bit. That and his heart meant he had to start taking things slower when they were growing up, even if he did it begrudingly.

He also liked to have a drink. I think I horrified my father a few years ago when I said that most of my early memories of pop were of the yelling matches between him, nan and the rest of the family when he came home after drinking too much. It was as if, somehow, I'd managed to miss all the good he had done. And I think I had. But when you're eight years old, certain impressions stick and it can take a lifetime to shake them.

So I managed to bury or skim over all the good he did for me. That at the end of a trip around the bay there was always a $20 bill slipped to me, a princely sum in the 70s. That he certainly paid a disproportionate amount of money for a couple of blueberries. That there was always a hug and a scruffy kiss waiting whenever I first entered the house and one when I left.

I'd forgotten that there were always dogs around the house because he loved them so much. There were a few horses too and he even let me name one of them. What he thought of me naming a horse "Kitty" I never knew, but it was her name right up until the day he sold her. And there were his always dangerous trips to Carbonear where there was always a chance he would come back with a new pick-up even if he had bought one a year or two ago. He loved a good new pick-up.

(My grandfather, second from the right, at our wedding in 2005)

He was a good man and he loved me. And I loved him. I never doubted that. But, as I said, I'm not sure he ever really understood me (for that matter, I'm not sure most of my family has a really good grasp on me either. They're an outgoing, sociable bunch and I am....not). He was a man used to do a hard days work. I grew up to become a writer. There's a gap there I think we never managed to close.

I tried to do a bit better as I got older and saw he was starting to get sicker. Last October I flew home for about 10 days to see him and nan, fully knowing it might be the last time I'd get to see them. Nan isn't doing well these days either with a series of strokes taking their toll. Seeing her now as to when I was growing up, a woman who always made the best homemade bread, who always a full jar of chunky peanut butter and a fresh bread waiting to where she is now is heart breaking.

But anyway, I went and saw them and I'm glad I did. I went and sat with them and, as I figured this might be my last chance to ask some questions, asked about where all the land they owned came from, what kind of farming they actually did and other questions about his life.

It was good. It took him awhile to warm up to the questions, but I think he liked doing that more than having people come in, well meaning, and ask about his health and relay the latest gossip of friends and family either dead or sick. He was old, get more frail and depressed by it. News of death is perhaps not what he needed.

I won't be able to go home to attend his funeral. Even a bereavement fare is astronomical and there are things happening up here right now that prevent me from being able to go home for a couple of weeks. The family understands and dad has reassured me repeatedly that he'll be fine.

It's been a hard day. I know they understand, but still...

Anyway, I miss my grandfather today.

Last Five
1. Blind Willie McTell - Bob Dylan
2. It's my fault for being famous - The White Stripes*
3. Presentation cheque - Sean Panting
4. Dig a pony - The Beatles
5. Cetennial highway reel/Cooley's reel - Figgy Duff

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Best Photo #1

So this is my favourite photo that I've ever taken. And there's a lengthy story behind it, so I hope you will indulge me a bit.


When I joined The Packet in 1998 I thought of myself as a reporter. I could take photos, but it was the lesser of the jobs I had to do with the paper. Yes, I knew good photos were important, but good copy was more important. If I had to spend my time focusing on one rather than the other, it was going to be on my interviewing and writing.

So one day Barb, my editor, sends me out to interview this group of ladies. I honestly forget what the story was about, but I grabbed a quick picture of the five of them standing on some steps. They were all smiling brightly. I developed it in the darkroom and thought no more of it.

Barb hated the photo.

"You shot it from too far away," she said. "I can barely see who they are. Go shoot it again."

I balked, but realizing I had no choice called the ladies up, said there was a problem with the photo, got them together and shot it again, this time I stood closer to them.

Barb hated the photo.

"You still shot it from too far away. And this photo tells me nothing about them. Go shoot it again."

Horrified, I called the ladies again, who were now quite annoyed with me, and they agreed to stand for one more picture. This time I carefully composed it, made sure I was close enough that you could see their faces. Although they were not smiling this time.

Barb still hated the photo. But we close on deadline and so, with some disgust, ran the picture.

"Yes, you can see their faces, but what does this picture tell me about the story? About who they are and what they're trying to do? It's five of them looking crooked on the steps. You've got to tell a story with the picture. You've got to get people looking at the photo and make them want to read the story, just based on the picture and you haven't done that here."

I was suitably mortified. It was a pretty useless picture. So I had my small epiphany that I needed to do better in the future with my pictures. Mainly because I didn't want to take the same photo three times in a row and piss off Barb again, but she'd also made her point about the importance of a good photo to the story.

This would have been about November 1998. Jump ahead to August 2000. My pictures were much better now, or at least to the point where Barb was no longer yelling at me about them. I got up early on a Sunday morning and drove out to Come By Chance to do a photo feature and quick story on a mountain bike race taking place around the community. I didn't particularly want to get up at 8am on a Sunday and drive 30 minutes or so to Come By Chance, but I knew I would get some good pictures of bikers bouncing through hills and mud.

And I did. Lots of them. I was pretty happy as the race was drawing to a close that I had some nice shots.

And then it happened. The guy who was ahead by a mile was pumping up the final hill towards the finish line. I forget his first name...I think it was Michael or Andrew, but his last name was Cleary, because his dad was (and still is) a doctor in neighbouring Arnold's Cove. And then, about 50 feet from the finish line he pulled up short and screamed in agony.

A charlie horse. Well, two of them. One in each leg. And man, he was in serious pain. But he knew the finish line was close so he essentially hopped himself and the bike the last agonizing 50 feet or so to the finish line and then collapsed.

And while he was recovering from the pain of the simultaneous charlie horses and generally hating that bike is when I snapped that photo.

I was kind of scared shooting that one, actually. It felt like I was intruding on a very personal, and painful, moment. But I did click it, figuring I had a pretty good after the race shot.

When I was developing the shots I showed the sheet of photos to Barb to figure out which shots were best. I believe she uttered a small curse, said "this one...crop out some of the background people and focus on him. And we're going to blow this one up large."

And so we did. People loved the picture. The Clearys asked for a copy of the photo. Technically I was supposed to charge them, but it felt wrong to charge them for the photo. I always had a problem with that RB/Optipress/Trancontinental policy. If the subject of the photo asks for a single copy of the picture, and for non-commercial purproses, then I had no problem giving them one.

Anyway, they got their copy of the picture. And, about 9 months later it won the first, and only, photojournalism awards I've ever won - Best Sports Photo at the Atlantic Community Newspaper Association Awards and third place, best sports photo for a paper circulation under 10,000, at the Canadian Community Newspaper Association Awards.

Some journalists I know mock journalism awards. And yes, much like sausage, once you learn how they're made it can curb your appetite for them. However, I'm still ferociously proud of them.

So there you the space of two years I went from causing my editor despair to taking an award winning photo. And one that nearly 10 years later I still love and think is the best thing I've ever shot.

Oh, and for the record, it was shot using a Pentax K-1000. Also, this is obviously a photo of a photo, so it's not perfect. The look on his face is a touch fuzzy in this picture, and you're not seeing how much mud he's covered in. But hopefully you get the idea.

Last Five
1. My body is a cage - The Arcade Fire
2. I wanna be around - Tony Bennett and Bono
3. Love like that - Mark Bragg
4. Goodnight, goodnight - Maroon 5
5. Stop - Ryan Adams and the Cardinals*

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Best photos #5-2

So here are the next few pictures in the grand countdown of Top 10 photos I've taken in my life. Thanks for the kind comments on the first five.


This is a flawed photo, I think. But I deeply love it and, having spoken to other photographers and explaining to them what I was trying to do, this is as good as it was going to get.

The set-up: In early August 2004, Cathy went away to Rankin Inlet to teach for a year. Not for a second am I going to compare what I went through those first few days to what she went through. It was infinitely more scary and depressing for her leaving home and going to Rankin than for me getting to stay home. Still, I was depressed and I missed her something fierce those first few weeks (actually most of the time she was away). The first weekend she was gone, there was both the St. John's Folk Festival in Bannerman Park and the first annual Busker Festival taking place downtown. So I threw myself into work. I think that one weekend I took in excess of 600 pictures.

And it was just like theft. There were so many good pictures I had a hard time picking my favourites when I was putting together a photo spread for The Express. This one was taken at the Folk Music Festival. Basically it's a picture of a young girl dancing to the music at night, swinging around a pair of glo-sticks. I was trying to capture the wonderful swirling arcs of the glo-stick and catch her dancing, and get all of that with her in focus.

Not really possible, so I'm told. Still, I think this is as good as you're going to get. She's a bit ghost-like, but not badly. And I still love the shot. Taken with my Sony DSC F717.


I said no friends photos yesterday when talking about what pictures qualified for this. But I think this one works so nicely that I'm including it. Plus, it is a beloved picture among my circle of friends.

So this fine fellow is a guy named Mark Dyke. I find it amusing, by the way, that this is the picture he still uses on his Facebook profile. It was taken at one of our friend's annual New Year's party. I'm guessing it was around 1998 or 1999. I was playing around with The Packet's Pentax K-1000 (the most indestructible camera ever) and using black and white film. Mainly because I could use the paper's darkroom to develop the pictures myself. I grabbed this shot of Mark cuddled up to his beloved bottle of Scotch, after he nodded off around 4am.

I remember laughing out loud in the darkroom when I saw what I had. Just the peaceful look on Mark's face as he cuddles his bottle of Scotch, the lighting, everything makes me so happy. This is actually a scan of the original, so it doesn't completely translate, but I still love this picture.

It's also one of the first times I had people literally begging me for copies of a photo I'd taken, because if you knew Mark, then you would know just how much this photo captures who he is...or at least who he was at that time.


Remember a post from a few days ago when I said I've wanted to kill editors before. This picture is probably as close as I've come to doing just that.

Understand, I knew the second I took this picture it was a gem. I didn't even need to glance down at the camera's screen to check. I just knew. The composition was perfect. It looks for all the world that the girl is just falling from the clear blue sky and the only think stopping her from going splat is her partner, getting ready to catch her. The colours pop. I even got the added bonus of the two of them being reflected in the mirrored glass of the Scotia Building in the background.

When I went back to the paper with all the photos I had, I was hoping for two pages, full colour. I thought I had the photos to justify it. A pipe dream, as it stands. Full colour is expensive and two pages as unlikely. What I got was about 80% of a page (a banner ad ran on the bottom) in black and white. That was disappointing, but what set me off was when my editor showed me the layout for the page.

In his defence, I should have done the layout myself, but I didn't. I don't know why, I think I was swamped finishing stories, but I didn't. He used this photo, but he cut the background out. So all you had was a guy holding his arms out to catch a girl with no context.

I recall having to leave the office to compose myself, I was so mad. If I had spoken to him the moment I saw the page, I'm pretty certain I would have been joining Cathy in Rankin in short order, because he would have fired me. And because we were so close to deadline, there was no time to change the page. I tried, but no go.

So I love this picture, but it also remains one of the most frustrating I've ever shot, because it was never seen the way it was meant to. It was one of those photos I think I could have won awards for if I had taken the time to shepherd it through the production process properly. Ah well. Taken with the Sony.


The amusing thing about this photo is I don't know exactly where it was taken. I have a pretty good general idea, but that's about it.

In 2006 Cathy and I were driving down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to San Diego. Along the way we decided to stop a Hearst Castle at the recommendation of friends. And they were right, Hearst Castle is one of those surreal places you really ought to make the effort to see if you can.

We decided to spend the night in a community near the castle rather than trying to go any further down the highway. After supper, we were taking a walk and enjoying a stunning sunset so I stopped to grab some pictures. I was so focused on the sunset that I missed this guy walking down the beach, carrying his surfboard. At the last moment, before he wandered out of range, I noticed him and grabbed this quick photo. Yes, I could have shifted position, but it wouldn't have worked as well.

I've always wondered if the picture would have been better if I had caught him earlier, when he wasn't so far down the beach. But I like this a lot. I think it works as is, where he is. The colours of the sunset, the dude in shadow, walking off the screen after a long day of surfing.

And honestly, there is something just so....Californian about the shot.

Tomorrow, #1.

Last Five
1. Take your love out on me - Tracy Bonham
2. As much as I ever could - City and Colour
3. The complex - Blue Man Group
4. Somebody's baby (live) - Jackson Browne*
5. Momsong - The Be Good Tanyas

Friday, September 18, 2009

Best photos #10-6

Sorry about the delay, but going through 4,500 pictures can take a bit of time. So 10-6 tonight, 5-2 on Saturday and #1 on Sunday.

All of these pictures were taken in the past 10 years or so. I did take photos before that, obviously. They are in photo albums and remain unscanned. However, most of them were pictures of friends, which are fun at a personal level, but beyond my friends, I'm not sure how many would appreciate them. A picture of a bunch of my friends smoking cigars at a pub or shagging around at a Christmas party are a lot of fun and I love them, but I don't know they are my "best" pictures.

Also, I only really came into my own as a photographer when I joined the Packet in 1998 (more on that in a future post). That was also right around the advent of digital photography becoming popular. That meant taking far more pictures because the cost of developing to see what you had taken was removed from the equation. You could experiment and see what worked and what didn't and delete the junk. So here's what I have.


This picture has appeared on the blog several times before. It's of former Deputy Premier Ed Byrne the night the 2003 election was called. The Liberals hogged the cameras for longer than expected so the Conservatives and nobody thought to pull the candidates off the stage and away from the lights.

The result is you getting Byrne looking like this - sweaty, flushed and decidedly shady looking. Ironic given how things turned out for him. The picture was taken using a Sony DSC-F717 for The Express.


I think this was at some Easter event that Newfoundland Farm Products put off at the Science Centre. Parents and kids could come and look at eggs incubating and little baby chicks. The best part was that after the kids and oohed and aahed over the chicks, they got coupons for a discounted Big Crunch at KFC later. Getting kids to love chicks and then giving them coupons to eat them in a few weeks takes a special kind of moxy, I believe.

I just liked the lighting on this, with the kid looking at the chick and the chick looking straight at the camera. It's nothing earth-shattering, but it has its charms. Taken with the Sony for The Express.


I say I probably have several hundred pictures of Cathy and Boo combined. But this is one of the first ones I ever took of Boo, and I still think it remains one of the best. This was either the first or second day we had him back in Iqaluit. Cathy was still over the moon to finally have her puppy and Boo was doing his usual puppy thing. It's just a nice reaction shot I happened to grab. Nothing fancy, but it works. Taken with the Sony.


I took by all accounts around 900 pictures in Italy. Photos of the Vatican, the Colosseum, Venice, Tuscany and staggering works of art. But the photo I love the best is this one, grabbed when wandering down a side street in Venice when we were lost (which was nearly always in Venice). I grabbed it quickly, because Cathy was already moving off. But the combination of the door, the flowers and the sunbeam hitting at just the right angle works for me. It makes me happy in ways I can't really describe.

It was taken with my Pentax K10D


Cathy joked I could do a top 10 sunset photos and I probably could. I've got nice ones of St. John's, Iqaluit, Australia, the Caribbean, California and Italy. However I like this one, even though it breaks a rule.

The rule is that phone or electrical poles are evil. They ruin pictures. I had editors tell me if I ever brought them a photo with a pole coming out of the back of a person's head or a wire bisecting them, they would harm me. Yet, this shot of the raven sitting on a pole with another spectacular Iqaluit sunset in the background works. Granted, mother nature did most of the harm work...the colours are amazing. But I just like that black, almost shapeless omen sitting on top of the pole. It works, I believe.

It also remains one of the few nice shots I have of a raven. The damn things are hard to photograph. It's like the absorb all light in the area. Taken with the Pentax.

Last Five
1. Lost control - Grinspoon
2. Rose coloured glasses - Blue Rodeo
3. The captain - Colleen Power
4. Wondering where the lions are (live) - Bruce Cockburn*
5. Again & again - Keane

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tune in tomorrow

So I had this clever idea of doing a couple of blogs based on my favourite pictures that I've taken.

"This shan't take long," I thought. Of course, going through the 4,000 odd pictures on my hard drive does take a bit of time and after awhile you become goggly eyed and need a break. Sadly, I kind of committed to the idea for today and have nothing else to blog about.

So tune in tomorrow when I will have a list of my top 10 day favourite photos that I've taken will debut. Or at least pictures 10-6.

Last Five
1. Take a look - Liz Phair
2. Sacrifice - Oh Susanna*
3. Silver bulletts - Ryan Adams and the Cardinals
4. The real Slim Shady - Eminem
5. Don't let the sun go down on me (live) - Elton John and Billy Joel

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Run them down

I'm not saying unemployment is good, but now that I'm no longer with my former employer, I can now occasionally vent about things like this:

(Copyright the Globe and Mail)

For years I've ignored seal hunt protesters for a couple of simple reasons. One was work related, but the more important reason was due to my determination to not have one of these bastards be the cause of my death when I stroked out in the middle of a rant. Which was going to happen one day.

However, when you see a picture like this in the middle of a story of Mr. Harper's trip to Washington, well, it's kind of hard to pass it up. I believe Washington police stopped traffic, gathered up the protesters, handcuffed them and marched them off to jail. Now, that's not my preferred option. My preferred option would have been to have left them there. From what I understand of the traffic situation in Washington, the situation would have rectified itself soon enough, as I doubt these idiots would have held up traffic for too long.

Barring that, I at least hope they threw them in jail, handcuffed, and still wearing those outfits. I think that would be amusing as well.

Other, less generous friends of mine, when I mentioned this on Facebook, had other suggestions. Seal hunt protesters really do bring out the worst in Newfoundlanders.

On a more amusing note, and closer to home, a friend of mine in town dropped me a note last night to let me know that she and her husband are in the process of selling their house. On a lark, she sent me the poster they've done up.

And the thing of it is, the place looks awesome. Three bedrooms, plus a library. A view of the harbour. And other perks. Oh, and the price is quite reasonable for Iqaluit.

Soooooo....we've dropped her a note, letting her know that we could be interested in coming up and taking a look at the place. Just to satisfy our curiosity, you understand.

Ever feel like you're standing on the edge of a very tall cliff and realize the ground isn't quite as sturdy as you thought it was a few minutes ago? That's what this feels like.

Finally, for no good reason other than it made me smile and I realize I have a few zombie fans who lurk around this blog, I give you "Jesus hates zombies" by Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night and Fell among others). He's a great artist and this is a fun piece of art.

Got to say, if anyone in town is planning on dressing up as a zombie for Halloween, I could be persuaded to dress up as a zombie-smiting Son of God with a hakapik. That could be fun.

Last Five
1. Gimmie a sign - Ryan Adams
2. The pretender - Foo Fighers
3. The giant of Illinois - Andrew Bird
4. True love will find you in the end (live) - Matthew Good*
5. Little shadow - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Nothing coherent, alas

When you're writing every day for a blog, not every day is going to be a diamond. Today is one of those days.

Normally when I'm having one of my befuddled days when I can't think of anything to write about, or I'm having a problem getting an idea to jell, I go for a walk. It's worked any number of times when I was with The Packet and The Express. Fortunately I have a little dog who excels at looking up at me with sad, pitiful eyes if I'm spending too much time on the computer and not enough time out walking him.

But even two long walks today didn't help get the thoughts organized. The few ideas I had never really moved much beyond that stage.

I had the idea of writing about what happens next if we get a house...which is we're going to end up with another dog.....and that was it. Nothing really further to go with that.

All right, time to go to the Globe and see that an election might be delayed because the BQ is going to support the Conservatives. God, I so couldn't care less. I don't want an election, but I hate every single party and leader currently in Ottawa. And yet, with that hate comes a beat down feeling. I'm so uninspired by the lot in there right now, I can't even muster up the necessary hate to rant about them.

So that one fell to the wayside. Next.

Pop over to Entertainment Weekly. Kayne West and Taylor Swift...let me see, I couldn't name one of his songs if you put a gun to my head. Nor Swift's. And it was over a best video award given by a station who doesn't show music videos anymore. Or there was Jon and Kate rackets, who I couldn't care about. A couple that got in over their heads, made a deal with the devil and became demons. Ta da.

Um...Patrick Swayze...I think it's interesting that women mourn the loss of the guy who did Dirty Dancing and Ghost. Guys miss the dude who did such cheese classics as Red Dawn, Point Break and, of course, Roadhouse. But that's it for me. This isn't one of these shocking or tragic things for me.

So yeah, nothing coherent, just idle ramblings. Even this took two hours, on and off, to finish. I'll try and recharge and come up with something better tomorrow.

Last Five
1. Daniel - Elton John
2. Been a son - Nirvana
3. Stand up guy - Mark Knopfler*
4. 4th of July, Asbury Park (live) - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
5. My life as a wrestler - Dear Leader

Monday, September 14, 2009

In need of a good editor

If you've been a writer long enough odds are you've wanted to kill an editor at some point.

From my time with the Muse right up until my last job, there have been times when I've looked at copy I've written which has been altered and homicide has raced through my mind. Any number of times parents, former girlfriends and Cathy have seen that look - that someone fucked around with my copy, made things worse and now clearly I was going to have to kill somebody.

It's been all sorts of things...quotes altered, pull quotes used that gave disproportionate weight to what someone said, changes to paragraphs that made them nonsensical, photo spreads fucked with, changes to copy so that it resembled how the editor would have written the story had I not been around and useless changes made just so some editor can say they did their job. They didn't do their job well by improving the copy, but they changed it in some way to justify their existence, so that's just as good.

Oh yes, just evilness all the way around. I'm not so vain as to think what I've written is gold. The frustrating thing is there have also been any number of times when editors have saved my ass. Boneheaded grammatical and typing errors, libelous statements, paragraphs that were not as clear as they should have been, crap photos that did nothing but occupy space on a page.

So yes, I understand editors are a necessary evil, I really do. My favourite story of an editor saving my ass came with The Express. I'd written a column celebrating the news that my old high school was being closed. To say that I hated my time with Booth Memorial would be an understatement. If it burned to ground, firemen would have found me dancing in the smouldering rubble, rubbing ash over my naked body, cackling madly. That's how much I hated Booth.

So I wrote a column saying good fucking riddance, let me know when they're selling tickets on blowing it up with demolition explosives, I'll buy them all. Or at least that's what was printed in the paper. The original draft might have contained suggestions that, oh, perhaps a perimeter of barb wire should be put around the school and the grounds laced with landmines just to make sure no one got out.

The editor called me into the office.

"This is funny, but a little over the top. You might want to cut this bit."

"No, it's funny and honest. It needs to stay in."

"Not unless you wanted to be lynched at high noon on their school grounds. Cut it."

And so on and so forth. Eventually, with much anger and resentment, I cut the offending paragraphs. As it stands the column was so hated at Booth that the principal called the publisher and demanded my head, a chunk of the student body wrote letters to the editor informing me I was an asshole and my heritage of a dubious background. Also, a couple of former teachers got a hold of me, personally hurt that I hated them so much.

I can only imagine what would have happened if the original draft had been printed. My ass may very well have been canned if it had seen print.

All of this is to say that editors have their purpose. I hate the useless ones, but good ones will save your ass day in, day out.

There are times when I wished I had one for this blog so that I would not make some of the stupid mistakes that I make. And not just the grammatical goofs that I know happen here, but the ones that could actually hurt someone.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post endorsing Simon Lono in his bid to win a councillor-at-large seat on St. John's City Council. Simon's a good guy, smart as a whip and a friend. I hoped the residence of St. John's might make one of those rare leaps in logic when it comes to city politics and elect someone who would good at the job.

If I had just written that, it would have been good enough. It would have been fine. But no, I had to be clever. I had to throw in the story about how I voted in the last election even though I wasn't living in St. John's the last time. Any editor even remotely on the ball would have looked at that blog post and went "nice endorsement and all, but why don't you kill the bit on voting in the last election." And then I would have looked at it again and went, "yeah, that's probably for the best" and would have killed that section.

But I didn't. And Simon, because he is a good guy, linked to that post on his blog. Because hey, he was proud and happy that I said nice things about him. I doubt he was under any illusions that it was going to bring him votes, but he linked it anyway, which I thought was both amusing and cool.

Except today, in a story in The Telegram about candidates using technology in the municipal election, someone pointed out that Simon's character was obviously flawed and showed a lack of judgment because he linked to a person who may have committed electoral fraud. And then the anonymous hacks started jumping on it.

I honestly feel terrible right now. If Simon were, God forbid, to lose by a handful of votes I'm going to feel awful for a very, very long time. Because that was a stupid thing I wrote. Any decent editor would have spotted that.

I will say one thing, though. If Satan ever wants to reorganize the Inferno, then I hope he puts aside a spot in one of the rings for chickenshit assholes who rip people on news websites and don't have even the smallest amounts of courage to sign their real name to it.

That said, I'm still feeling pretty bad. I've told Simon if he wants to pull the link, I completely understand. If nothing else, I need to start checking my copy closer before hitting the "publish post" button.

Last Five
All from Hunter, Hunter by Amelia Curran

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Crazy season

As I said recently, I've been ignoring US politics for awhile now. Barrack Obama is president of the United States. I'm not saying all is right in the world and that he's going to be the perfect president. But the world is a much better place than what it was a year ago. So you're more inclined to just let the world be, relax a bit and not worry quite so much about what's happening south of the border.

However, the collective losing of shit over a health care proposal is pretty perplexing from a Canadian perspective. I'm not saying what's in Canada is perfect, but it's a damn sight better than what's in the United States. We've occasionally thought about moving to other parts of the world over the years. We certainly loved our time in Australia and there were a couple of Caribbean islands that we would have no problem living on.

However, we've never thought about living in the United States. And it's not that it's a bad country or filled with crazy people (OK, probably about 25 per cent of the country is deeply crazy). It's just because the health care situation there is so completely fucked, why take the chance? At least in Canada you know what you're getting.

In the US, I'm pretty sure my grandfather would have been dead years ago, or my family considerably poorer for his treatment. Cathy's convinced she would be dead or her family bankrupt if she had been born in the US.

So I don't pretend to understand or to have completely followed what it is President Obama is trying to do in the United States. But surely God it has to be better than the mess that currently exists in the United States.

So that's why images like the ones below, from a protest march in Washington yesterday, just baffle the hell out of me.

I mean, dear God, really? You don't like the president, I get that. But this is the tactic you're going to take? This is hate and kind of language you want to bring to the debate?

I keep reminding myself that there were people who likely said worse things about former President Bush. And while I don't like him or pretty much anything he did during his presidency, I can understand there would be people who would be offended by some of the things said about him. Probably the same people who are carrying signs like this about President Obama.

But this is the best you can bring to the debate? This level of unconstructive bile, lies (there's no way Obama is on the same level of Hitler and Stalin. No one is) and just unwillingness to engage in any kind of debate. It would have been foolish for the Left when Bush was in power, even if Bush was far more likely to completely ignore people who opposed him. At least the current president has shown some willingness to talk and listen.

This kind of unreasoning hate is always baffling to me. I suspect it's probably just as well.

Last Five
1. Women and men - Josh Rouse
2. We are nowhere and it's now - Bright Eyes
3. Dirty knife - Neko Case
4. Play it all night long - Warren Zevon
5. Dublin in Vigo - The Chieftains

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tick tock

So, in the last couple of weeks, Cathy's internal clock, which started ticking last year, began to become much louder. Now, at first I was content to ignore it, figuring it might be just a phase she was going through.

But it didn't. It just kept building and then, once we came back from Australia, it pretty much exploded. So yeah, I guess we're just going to have to deal with it.

Cathy wants a house.

What? You were thinking kids? Nooooooo....we have too many other things in our lives that we want to do right now. There are still too many countries we want to visit and places to see and things to do. It's not impossible to do those things when you have kids. Our friends Chris and Lisa brought their little girl, Kitty, to Australia this summer and had a grand time. But I think we're going to hold off on the children front for another few years.

But the house? Oh, the house is looming large for Cathy right now. She first started thinking about one when the walls in our old apartment started to feel like they were closing in on her. The new place, and the increase in space, decreased the urges for a bit. However, as I said, they started to grow again.

But what really got her going was when two of her co-workers bought houses in the last month or so. And that at least one of them has mortgage payments lower than what we're paying in rent. So that was that, really. We're looking at staying up here for the foreseeable future, we're wasting money on rent and Cathy would like a place that has more space. A place where she can have walls a colour other than white. A place that has two, perhaps even three bedrooms so that we might be able to invite friends and family up for a trip if they want.

I confess, there is some appeal to it. It would be nice to have some extra space. And yeah, I guess at some point you have to stop renting apartments and actually settle into a place. Cathy's working on me slowly on this issue, knowing that it takes me awhile to come around.

The two things holding me back from taking the plunge? Well, the first is obvious...I don't have a job. I think most banks are going to frown a little bit about that sort of thing when you're going to to get a pre-approved mortgage. So even though we have a fair amount of money saved, until I land something full-time, getting a house isn't going to happen.

I also have to do a ton of research because honestly, I don't know the first thing about buying a house. Considering I can spend weeks researching what computer or camera to buy, you can imagine the research that's going to go into a $350,000 or so purchase.

Finally...I kind of like the place we're in right now. Silly, I know. It's not perfect by any stretch. But it's a secure building, in downtown Iqaluit, near the stores and it has a simply amazing view. I love the view. I love being able to watch planes swing down, fly over the bay and land at the airport. I like watching the barges carry cargo from ships floating in the bay to the beach, or snowmobiles come back into town on the sea ice after a day out on the land.

Yes, a new house may offer all these things. We can certainly hope. I just like this apartment right now. It's the best place we've had since we left our Bond Street house back in 2004.

Anyway, I imagine we'll end up buying a place up here in the next year. Cathy would prefer next week, but I'm sure we'll figure something out. Besides, if we wait until next summer, she can go to Ottawa, have a little IKEA shopping spree and ship all the furniture up on next year's sealift. That should hold her off for a few months at least.

Last Five
1. Man burning - Josh Ritter*
2. 1979 - Smashing Pumpkins
3. Fleeting trust - The Trews
4. Goodnight goodnight - Maroon 5
5. A day in the life - The Beatles

Friday, September 11, 2009

Escape from Clarenville

I know today is the anniversary of September 11th attacks, but I honestly don't have it in me to write about it again. I honestly do feel bad about that, but I've written about that day and my experience before and after awhile, you just have to move on. It was a horror of a day, but I honestly feel no urge to want to relive what I went through. And what I experienced was the merest fraction of the horror and terror that other went through.

So let's move on to things of a lesser importance and hopefully you'll forgive me for being frivolous.

So, a couple of events in Iqaluit worth mentioning. For those in town and who don't already know about it, Saturday is Mass Registration at the Cadet Hall from 11am to 2pm. It honestly is one of the most important days of the year in Iqaluit. Just about every sports organization, social group or whatever will be there trying to lure the unwary into their group.

I'll be there, manning the curling table and trying to lure a few new people into the sport. Actually, I've done pretty good already. Jordan and Stephanie have expressed an interest in joining and Cathy has convinced several of her co-workers into entering a team. Which would be very cool.

Cathy can't curl on the same team with me. We love each other and really, why murder someone over curling? I think her preference would be to not even curl the same night as me, but as I'm trying to cram as much playing time in as possible between the start of the season and the Dominion at the end of November, that's not a luxury she has, alas.

Also up is the Sealift Sale at Arctic Ventures. It's not as good a deal as if you did your own sealift, but it's a nice way to pick up a few bulk items if you need them. And hell, as our sealift hasn't arrived yet - it was supposed to be here in mid-August - there's actually a few things we could stand to top up on. So that's on the agenda.

We're also in the middle of city council election season. There's the one in Iqaluit which, thanks to some revelations over the past few days of attempted bribery and the punishing of a councillor, has entered high drama. The election isn't until next month, but one gets the feeling that it's going to be an entertaining next month once things get going full tilt.

Then there's the St. John's City Council elections which, so far, I remain pretty uninterested in. Oh sure, I want Simon Lono to win a seat and I'd like to see Mark Wilson win as mayor, but I'm not getting a sense of high drama from that election. I don't see any blood in the water.

No, the municipal election that caught my eye this week? Clarenville.

Bloody Clarenville municipal politics.

It's one of those things that editors don't tell you when you're a reporter. Because if you knew the truth, you would never take the assignment. That once you cover a city or town council, you're locked into them for life. You'll always check back to see what's going on and if they're being as stupid as you remember (in case you're not picking up what I'm saying, Chris, you're fucked). And from 1998 to 2001, I covered Clarenville Town Council.

Let's just say it wasn't always a happy relationship. I had the bad habit of reporting all the stupid things they did, which they never appreciated, but at least didn't take personally. On the other hand Mayor Fred Best, who did volumes of really stupid things, took it very personally and hated me.

OK, granted, dubbing the story where he borrowed city equipment to use his property Fillergate (he was knocking back a load of fill), might have been over the top. But it was funny. And in my defence, I never came up with the name. I believe a certain crown prosecutor acquaintance of mine was first to coin the phrase.

Anyway, Fred was inclined to hate me anyway because he hated The Packet, the paper I worked for. He also didn't care much for the paper's editor, Barbara Dean-Simmons. Which only goes to show the man's judgment as far as I'm concerned. I'd walk through fire for Barb. Easily the best editor I ever worked for, a wicked sense of humour and a hell of a nice woman. You have to have something wrong with you not to like her.

This is all a long preamble to this point - Fred is running for mayor of Clarenville - again. He's been mayor for 27 years and on council for 30. If he was a horse they would have made him into dog food years ago. Now, I haven't lived in Clarenville for years, so I really shouldn't care. But here's the thing...I'm convinced Fred and Barb are in a death match to outlast the other. Barb has been with The Packet for nearly 30 years, 20 of them as editor. I don't think one is going to quit until the other drops dead.

And I like Barb. I don't want her to drop dead. I'd like to see her actually do something other than The Packet, to be honest, because being an editor for 20 years will do things to your brain after awhile. Terrible things. Then again, I can't imagine the damage inflicted after being a mayor for 27 years. I'm surprised he hasn't tried to rename the town after himself.

Mercifully, there's actually a good candidate running against Fred this year - Lisa Browne. I only met Lisa a handful of times when I was there. But she struck me as smart, organized and never lacking good ideas. She also knew how to communicate those ideas, which is a rarer skill than you might think.

So Clarenville could have someone like that...or Fred Best.

I realize I might have exactly three readers from Clarenville on this blog, but on the off-chance they care about my opinion, or others know someone who lives in Clarenville, I endorse Lisa Browne for mayor. Go forth and vote for her.

Last Five
1. Watching the detectives - Elvis Costello*
2. Speaking confidentially - Cowboy Junkies
3. Turn into - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
4. Bad kids - Black Lips
5. Film noir - The Gaslight Anthem

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Graphic novels for junior high

Reader Submitted Question (sorry, I'm robbing this from you, Megan): I am teaching grade 7 & 8 language this year and I would like to assign a graphic novel book report. I was wondering if you could give me any recommendations for graphic novels that might appeal to 12, 13, 14 year old boys and girls and that are NOT based on or derived from the comic book world. About the only one that I ever come across is 'Bone'. Thought you might be able to help and I appreciate any input you have. Any ideas for assignment parameters couldn't hurt either if you're feeling ambitious/bored.

Despite the fact that I have thousands and thousands of comic books, this is actually a much harder question than I thought at first glance. First of all, I have no concept of what's appropriate for a Grade 7 or 8 class. When I was that age I was reading Spider-Man, X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Novel wise I was reading Arther C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Stephen King.

There are websites I can recommend. The American Library Association has a nice list for the past three years of graphic novels that are worth taking a look at for teens. Scholastic has this PDF on teaching graphic novels, with one that focuses on Jeff Smith's Bone. Abebooks has a list, although I disagree with some of their selections, considering them to mature to be used in a junior high setting (Black Hole being taught to 13 year olds? Uh, no).

Just typing the phrase "graphic novels for teens" into a Google search will get you any list of recommendations.

But what do I like? What do I think someone in Grade 7 or 8 might like? Here's a few of my suggestions. Although the person said nothing derived from the "comic book world" - I assume he means standard super hero comics - I'm going to include a few that I think are worth taking a look at.

1. Bone is pretty much the gold standard. You have to be not right in the head to dislike the comic. The story of the three Bone cousins who get stuck in a strange valley with dragons, princess and stupid, stupid rat creatures. It's bright, fun, scary and vastly entertaining.

My only reservation is that I think it might be a touch too "young" for a junior high class. I think it's one of those books you love when in elementary school and then don't realize exactly how brilliant it is until you go to university. For teens, it's touchy.

2. Maus by Art Spiegelman is the one I'm sure would be all right for junior high. For one thing, Scholastic sells it. At its most simplistic, it's the story of a father telling his son what he went through as a Jew during World War II. The Jews are all mice, the Nazis are cats. And that doesn't even begin to cover the wonder and the horror of this story. It also won a Pulitzer Prize.

I remember when I saw Schindler's List and a lot of my friends couldn't handle it. A couple walked out part way through and those that made it were crying and pretty shaken up. I'm not saying I wasn't, but certainly not the same as them. When someone asked why I wasn't as affected I simply said, "I read Maus six months ago. This experience was easy after reading that."

3. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is the story of her experience in growing up in Iran before, during and after the revolution. Like Maus it is black and white, and a historical biography. There was also an animated movie adaptation a few years back that was nominated for an Oscar.

It's also funny and poignant. It shows the struggles of a girl trying to deal with an oppressive revolution and also what happens when she finally gets to live in the west for awhile. It's been years since I've read either Maus or Persepolis, but I have positive memories of both and I think they would work in a classroom setting.

4. If you want some Canadian content, then Louis Riel by Chester Brown is also worth a look. Yes, I seem to keep coming back to historical biographies, but Brown's story of Riel's life is surprisingly captivating. And it's also in black and white. However, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

5. Runaways by Brian K. Vaughn and Adrian Alphona is a Marvel super hero book, but by god it's a got a great high concept kick that teens will love. Many teens think their parents are evil, but what if one day you discovered your parents were actually super-villains out to destroy the world. What would you do?

The concept is great, but Vaughn's story also ticks along nicely, the dialogue is believable, the characters are very human (if you don't love Molly there's something wrong with you) and the art is beautiful. Yes, Captain America and Wolverine make an appearance at one point, but honestly, the super heroes are few and far between. It's fun and worth a look.

6. Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai is the story of a ronin rabbit wandering around feudal Japan getting into misadventures. And if that sounds silly and not your thing, then you are honestly missing of the greatest comic books of the past 25 years. This series is beloved in the comic industry. Sakai is a machine who keeps putting out this beautiful and deceptively simple comic year in and year out. It's practically a guide on how to tell a story in graphic form. Not to mention a wonderful introductory guide to Japanese history, folklore and culture.

My only reluctance is that, well, it's a rabbit with a sword. He kills people. It's never particularly graphic, but it is something to keep in mind.

7. Amelia Rules by Jim Gownley is a series I love and I'm happy I got to meet him, and get a sketch, in New York last year. I suspect the series will be more popular with girls then boys and that it might be like Bone in that 8-12 year olds will love it, and then rediscover how cool it is when they're 20.

Amelia has just moved to a new town after her parents divorce. So she has to deal with that, weird new friends, her cool aunt, boys and other things. It's really funny (a sequence in gym class still cracks me up after the 20th read). But you also get quietly devastating stories like one of Amelia's new friends dealing with her dad being deployed to Iraq.

8. I really, really want to recommend something by Alan Moore, who is perhaps the greatest graphic novel writer alive. But stuff like Watchmen, From Hell or even League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are all too mature with language, sexuality or themes.

I think it's skating the very edge of appropriate, but if you can get away with V for Vendetta then give it a try. It still has language, nudity and violence, so I don't know. But my god it's a stunning book. Forget the movie, which was fine for what it was, the book has much deeper themes. The movie pretty much eliminated the idea of anarchy, which was a central theme to Moore and Lloyd's graphic novel.

Read it first and see if it's appropriate, but it remains one of my all-time favourite books.

9. Blue Beetle by John Rogers and a host of artists is a super hero book. But during the 24 issues Rogers wrote or co-wrote the series, he turned in a little gem in the field of teenager becoming a super hero. Yes, there is a bunch of appearances by the Teen Titans, Batman and others. Still, it's a nice take on what happens if you're a 16-year-old who suddenly finds himself with super powers.

The nice twist is that his parents and best friends know and they're all trying to deal with this change as well. It's smart, funny and has lots of themes of trying to be responsible when given great power.

10. I'm staring at my bookshelf now, trying to find a 10th. I mean, there are lists that recommend books that I think could do the trick, such as John Thompson's Blankets or American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. I've heard nothing but good things about them, but have never read them.

And then there are books I like, such as Courtney Crummin, The War at Ellesmere or the Scott Pilgrim series, but I'm not sure if they would work in a school. But they're certainly worth taking a look at.

The person who asked this question was from Toronto. I really recommend going to The Beguiling on Bloor Street. It is one of the best comic stores in Canada with a tremendously knowledgeable staff. Tell them what you're looking for and I have no doubt they can point you in the right direction.

Finally, you'll notice the absence of Manga on this list. Simply, I know very little about Manga. There is, I'm sure, a ton of age appropriate Manga out there that would be excellent for the classroom, but I just don't know enough about it to make any recommendations.

If anyone else has any suggestions about graphic novels they think would work in a classroom setting, by all means leave a comment. I'd love to hear what you think.

Last Five
1. Substitute - The Who
2. Guided by wire - Neko Case
3. Rhythm and soul - Spoon
4. You won't find me - Amelia Curran*
5. Take this waltz (live) - Leonard Cohen