Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Moving to Iqaluit FAQ

Note - an updated version of this FAQ can be found here. Thanks.

I promised ages ago to do a Moving to Iqaluit FAQ and then it simply slipped my mind. Well, with things being quiet here at this time of the year I do have some extra time to get into it. Although a few caveats. At this writing, I've lived in Iqaluit for about 3.5 years. While I'm knowledgeable about living here, I'm hardly an expert. If someone who has lived here 20 years tells you something that contradicts what I've said, odds are they have a better idea.

While much of the advice can be used for the rest of Nunavut, this is specific to if you're planning on coming to Iqaluit. Adjust accordingly if you're heading to other parts of the North.

If you have any suggestion or advice of your own, please feel free to leave in the comments section.

And, you know, don't blame me if I say something and it turns out to be wrong or have changed in the intervening time since I wrote this.

Question #1. Should I move to Iqaluit?
Answer. Why not? There are certainly challenges to living here, but there are perks and advantages as well. It's a nice place to live, there's a good sense of community and the place is growing quickly. It's a lot different now than what it was even five years ago. The challenges, however, are a bit different than what you might find in other cities in Canada.

Question #2. So what are the main challenges?
Answer. There are 5 things, right off the top, you need to know.

A. It's cold up here. No kidding, but people still fail to take it seriously sometimes. I've seen people walk off planes in February wearing a leather jacket, which is insane. The coldest I've experienced is -62C with windchill. Every day you get warmer than -30 from December 1 to April 30 is a gift. So make sure when you come up here you have the proper winter gear. More on that later.

B. The daylight up here can mess with your mind. It doesn't get completely dark in the winter, but during the darkest part of the year, you're only looking about six hours of daylight. During the summer, the sun does set, but it never gets truly dark. All that daylight can mess with people as much as all that darkness. So if you are sensitive to these things, take it into account. The darkness can make people tired, cranky and depressed. All the daylight can make people wired insomniacs.

C. Things are expensive. A case of a dozen Pepsi is about $14. A large bag of chips is $5. A smallish honeydew is about $10. Gas is about $1.60 a litre. A mechanic will run about $100 an hour. A return plane ticket from Iqaluit to Ottawa costs about $1,800. There is that shock the first time you walk into Arctic Ventures or North Mart. But odds are you're making good money working up here anyway. And there are ways to save some money on food. More on that in a minute.

D. The amenities you're used to in the south are likely not here. There is no Wal-Mart. There is no book store (but there is a library). There is no full time vet. And there is no Tim Hortons (but several non-chain coffee shops). Nor are they coming here anytime soon, so you can forget about getting a franchise from them. And there is a very limited number of restaurants. So if you like those things, well, you're going to have to adjust or reconsider coming here.

E. You are isolated. There are only two ways out of town - boat and plane. You're not getting to another city by skidoo. And the bay is frozen seven to eight months of the year. So airplane it is. Montreal and Ottawa are three hours away by plane and a normal ticket these days is $1,800. There are seat sales, but even then, a ticket is still around $1,400. So unless you're rich or work with the airlines (who give huge discounts to employees), you're not popping down to Ottawa for the weekend.

Question #3. And the good things are?
Answer. There's a nice sense of community. For a small city (forget Stats Canada estimated of 6,400, the population is between 7,000 and 7,500) there's a decent arts scene. If you love the outdoors and can't stand cities anyway, then there's a lot to be said for Iqaluit. Hop on a skidoo for 15 minutes and you're in the middle of nowhere. It's a growing community and there's lots of opportunity.

Question #4. Do I need a car?
Answer. It wouldn't hurt. Iqaluit is a bit of a sprawl and it's hilly. You can certainly get around walking, but when it's -50C, ask yourself how much walking you really want to be doing. There are no buses, but there are taxis, which run at a flat rate of $6 per person. Taxis will stop for multiple people, so don't be surprised if you're sharing a cab with three or four people.

Question #5. How can I get one?
Answer. You can buy new and used cars up here. There are plenty of posters kicking around offering ones for sale. The best time for buying one tends to be around June, when people are most likely to move south (end of the school year). Or you can buy one down south and ship it up. This will cost at least $1,500 and probably more, depending on the size of the vehicle. Make sure you have a block heater and a battery blanket installed. Vehicles are normally shipped up on the sealift out of Montreal. You don't need a 4x4 or anything, but many of the roads in town are still not paved and the potholes during spring (ie. June) can be huge. So do get something with a bit of clearance.

Also remember that this level of cold is hard on vehicles. Get used to being friends with your local mechanic and get used to the idea of large bills for simple things. For example, an oil change, which you can get done in Wal-Mart down south for about $25 will likely cost about $100 or so here.

Question #6. What's a sealift?
Answer. The sealift runs from approximately June until November each year, which is when there is no or little ice in the bay. Boats run up all kinds of supplies and if you wish you can ship things up this way. Furniture, cars, building supplies and food just to name a few. Many people in town take advantage of the sealift to ship up a year's supply of dried goods. It's a way to save some money by buying in bulk. There are a number of businesses that will help you with that. A Google search should do the trick, although here's the one for Northmart.

The sealift is also interesting to watch. There are no real port facilities in town and the tides can vary by as much as 10 metres. That means the vessels anchors out in the bay and, at high tide, barges run back and forth between the vessel and the beach. It's a bit odd to watch.

Question #7. I'm a vegetarian. Can I still be one in Iqaluit?
Answer. Yes, but it will be a bit more expensive. Both North Mart and Arctic Ventures get fresh produce in on a regular basis and both cater a bit to vegetarians by offering some soy and veggie foods. Fresh produce is expensive, but after awhile you'll learn to ignore it. There is also Food Mail, which can help out.

Question #8. What's Food Mail?
Answer. Recognizing that healthy, fresh food can be a expensive in the North, there is a program run through Canada Post in which healthy food can be shipped up from Montreal at a subsidized rate. It can only be healthy food, so if you want cans of pop, you're out of luck. But if you want fresh peppers or milk, then you can get it. The deadline for ordering is usually Saturday and then you pick it up at First Air Cargo the following Saturday.

We don't use the program much because we've found it to be a bit erratic in terms of how much money we save and the quality of food you get. But others swear by it. It's worth experimenting with once you get here. Ask co-workers and they'll give you the name of a couple of stories in Montreal that take part in the program. Here's the government's take on the program.

Question #9. How easy is it to get a job in Iqaluit?
Answer. Depends. Crappy answer, but it depends on your skills. If you're a nurse or doctor, you will be welcomed with a ticker tape parade. If you're curious about the jobs available go to the Government of Nunavut site, Nunatsiaq News or News North.

It's also worth remembering that some places, and I'm thinking specifically of the GN, but others follow it as well, having hiring priority procedures in place. For example, with the GN, land claim beneficiaries get first crack at all jobs. If no one is qualified in that "first tier" then the next tier is long-term northerner (ie. people who have lived in Nunavut for at least one year) and then it's pretty much everyone else. So just because you see a job that you think you're really qualified for it, don't believe you're a lock for it.

Some jobs will come with perks, such as relocation costs being covered, air fare, housing, etc. It never hurts to ask, but don't go in expecting all of these things. There are still plenty of positions that need to be filled, but they're not scrambling quite so hard to fill everything these days.

Question #10. How hard is it to find housing?
Answer. Again, depends. If you get a job with the federal government, then odds are they provide it for you. If you get one with the GN then some jobs come with housing. Remember it's easier to get housing if it's just you or your spouse. When you start involving kids, pets (a lot of the apartment buildings up here refuse to allow dogs), etc, it gets that much harder to find housing. Still, these position will give you a house/apartment and rent will be deducted from your check, but the GN does pay for a portion of it.

Also, the GN is increasingly getting into offering a housing subsidy. What does this mean? It means they won't find you a place to live, but they will give you $400 per family towards rent or a mortgage. Go here if you want to learn more. Please make sure which they are offering you, as I've had some emails express confusion.

If you're coming up here to work on construction sites or with a local business, odds are they're not giving you housing. Which means you have to find it on your own. A small, one-bedroom apartment will set you back roughly $1,700 a month. A 2-bedroom apartment cannot be found for under $2,000. Check this site for some of the rental proprieties available. And if you want to take the plunge and buy a house, average cost is around $350,000. But it can be a complicated business, what with land leases (you do not own the land your house rests on), water trucks, etc. So go into that carefully. This site lists some of the proprieties for sale, among other things.

Question 11. Are there banks in town?
Answer. CIBC and Royal Bank both have branches with ATMs in town.

Question 12. Is there high speed internet service in town?
Answer. Yes...sorta. It's very slow high speed, certainly slower than what you're likely used to down south. Northwestel and Qiniq both offer internet. Keep in mind that it is expensive. Northwestel charges $79 a month, Qiniq around $60 a month. There are also caps on usage. NWTel has a 10 gig a month cap, Qiniq around 2 gigs. So if you're used to downloading all your TV shows and movies and 20 records a month, well, that's not happening. Or, it can happen but it could get very slow or expensive once the penalties kick in.

Our phone bill is around $140 a month. That's internet, regular service and our long distance calls. It's not great, but all right.

Question 12. Are there bars in town or is it a dry community?
Answer. There are several bars in town - The Storehouse, the Kicking Caribou and the Legion (which is supposedly the most financially successful one in Canada). Several restaurants also serve alcohol. Neither myself nor Cathy are big drinkers, but $5 for a can of beer (no bottles nor any kegs. Which means no Guinness) is around par for the course. There is no liquor store, so if you want to order beer, wine, hard liquor, you need to order it and it will arrive several days later from Rankin Inlet. You can also order beer from the Sea Lift. This link gives you some ideas.

Question 13. How safe is it in Iqaluit?
Answer. I tend to be a touch anti-social, but other than some petty vandalism, neither of us have had any problems. I think Iqaluit is reasonably safe as long as you're not stupid. If you get drunk and belligerent at the local bar, well, yes, you're going to have trouble. Single women should follow the same precautions they take if they were going out in Toronto.

A lot of the violence you hear about, and I hate saying this, the victim and the attacker tend to know each other. And yes, there are also drug problems in the city. But I don't consider it extraordinary, nor do we feel any less safe than when we lived in St. John's.

Question 14. Are there things I really need to bring with me before coming up?
Answer. You can actually get most things you need either in Iqaluit or buy ordering online. There are also good yard sales, especially in the spring, from people selling things as they head south. However, I recommend buying your cold weather gear down south if possible. It is expensive up here. And buy proper warm weather gear. What will get you through a Newfoundland winter, for example, won't cut it up here. Get coats, boots and gloves that are rated for temperatures around -70C. And your coat's hood should be fur trimmed. It makes a huge difference in keeping your face warm

Clothes selection is somewhat limited, but you can order online. People will quickly give you their recommended sites for order, but we've ordered from Eddie Bauer, Land's End and l.l. bean with no problems. Furniture is also expensive, but you have to weigh that against the cost of shipping it up. Be careful shipping anything with glass in it up here, as glass tends to not travel well. The Source is here if you need electronics.

I would bring enough entertainment to keep you amused for a few months until you get settled in. So if you like video games, bring them along. If you like books, bring some of your favourites. If you like movies, bring some of your favourite DVDs.

We brought plants with us up here, which was silly because stores sell plants. We brought lots of books, which was silly because there's a perfectly good library here. Not to mention Chapters and Amazon offer free shipping over $40. Whatever you don't take with you, odds are you can get it here or get it sent to you.

Bring an open mind. It helps. Iqaluit is about 60% Inuit, 40% non-Inuit (and of those, most are Newfoundlanders, Quebecois and Ontarians). It's a different culture and way of life.

Finally, bring your patience. No kidding, things operate at a different speed up here. This is still a growing, developing territory and government. Things work at a slower pace. If you want things done right now a lot, you will lose your mind because it's not happening.

Question 15. What about medical issues?
There are no private medical clinics, so odds are you're going to Public Health or the hospital to see doctors. There are a couple of dentists. There are several pharmacists. And there is a brand new hospital in town. Serious medical cases are normally sent to Ottawa. We've both been fortunate to not need any real medical attention, so I can't speak a lot about it. However, this one of these things where, unless its an emergency, a bit of patience goes a long way.

Question 16. What about entertainment and sports?
Answer. It's not Toronto with its options, but there is lots to do. There's a hockey rink, and possibly even a second one once they get it fixed up (long story). There's a curling rink (and as a member, I encourage you to join as well) a racquetball club, the Atii Fitness Centre, a swimming pool (which might close soon as it is very old). Each September there is something called Mass Registration where you can sign up for everything from ball room dancing, to speed skating, judo, the greenhouse society, etc. The City of Iqaluit lists most of the recreational activities on their website.

There is also a movie theatre - two screens normally showing four movies a week. There are several video rental stores. Cable and satellite is available here, although the cable sucks (55 channels, $75) and the satellite can be a touch unreliable. There are things to do; it's just a matter of going out and doing them. If you want to be kept busy, there's plenty of people willing to help you do just that.

Question 17. What are the schools like?
Answer. That's a touchy one and at least partially because my wife is a teacher. There's no doubt that some parents do not like the school system and move down south because they believe their children can get a better education there. On other other hand, I've met a lot of hard working teachers doing their best. There are opportunities for travel and programs that might not be easily accessible in other parts of Canada. The high school has been making great strides in improving its graduation rate and offers some unique programs. And the government pays for one year tuition at any Canadian university for every five years your child attends school in Nunavut.

But yeah, there are problems. There's stuff that can break your heart. Does that make it any better or worse than some places in southern Canada? I can't really say.

Question 18. Any other tips
Answer. Avoid being a racist is a nice start. Sadly, you still get some of that up here. Avoid giving the impression that you're just up here to make a few bucks to pay off your student loan or mortgage and then getting out of town. Go figure, people who live and work here, trying to build the territory, take it kind of personally. Avoid the attitude that you know better on how things should be done. Just because things are done differently up here than you're used to doesn't means they're wrong. Oh, and if you have issues with fur products - like sealskin gloves or fur coats - I'd lose them or keep it to yourself. Many people where fur because it's warm and comfortable. You can get some very nice things up here at a reasonable price.

And get out there and try things. It's a different world and culture in Nunavut, in all likelihood completely different than anything you've experienced before. So try some seal or caribou. Get out on the land if given a chance. Talk to an elder. Do stuff.

Finally, we both think it's important to treat yourself. It can be hard for some people to live here and living an austere life doesn't help. I'm not saying going out and blow your paycheck every week, but do make sure you take care of yourself and do things for your mental health. Cathy and I like to travel and we go on at least one large trip a year - Italy in 2008, Australia in 2009. It does wonders for your mental health. Travel might not be your thing, but whatever it is, do it. It helps.

Question 19. Do you like it up there?
Answer. We still wouldn't be here if we didn't. That's not a flippant answer either. The one thing about Iqaluit is that you will know within a couple of months if you're going to like it here. There are people who only came up for a few months and 20 years later are still here. And there are people who come up for 1 year contracts and don't last three months.

We like it here. We're comfortable and happy and considered buying a house for a bit, until we landed our snazzy new apartment. We came up here with a five year plan that would have taken us to 2010. We're now looking at staying here well beyond that. We have friends, we like our jobs, we're paid well, the cold doesn't bother us much (unless it gets silly cold, like -50C or so) and we're comfortable. We have more freedom to live and do things we want by living in Iqaluit than if we had stayed in Newfoundland.

And that's all I have for now. If you have any further questions or can think of something I miss, please feel free to add it to the comments section.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

But I understand

I've been a fan of Chris Rock for years and he remains in the upper tier of stand-up comedians in America. Any man who can plunge head first into issues of race and sex the way he does and not only survive, but make it funny and insightful has got some serious brains, and balls, happening.

I have on my iPod a collection of his "greatest hits" from his stand-up routines. And one of them is about OJ Simpson. He tears a strip of black people for being happy and excited about OJ getting acquitted for murdering Nichole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman as if it were some great victory for black civil rights, which is a fair point. But that's almost easy, really. Rock then goes for the hard laugh, which is to say that he kind of empathizes with OJ. Here's the bit that gets the big laugh.

"So you gotta think about OJ's situation: $25,000 a month, another man drivin' his car, fuckin' his wife, in a house he's still payin' a mortgage on. Now, I'm not sayin' he should have killed her...but I understand."

Some will be offended by that and, well, I understand. But I laughed. Because I think we've all been confronted by or read about horrible situations, things we would never dreaming of actually doing, but some part of you goes "oh yeah, I completely understand that."

So I would be lying if I hadn't thought at some point of doing the exact same thing this guy did when he shot a noisy man in the middle of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I love movies and I love going to theatre. Every single time I go down south I try and catch a movie on the big screen. If at all possible, I try and see an IMAX movie. I love the experience of being overwhelmed by something larger than life that seeing a good movie on a proper screen can give you. I consider a good movie theatre something like a cathedral...a place where you sit and the only time when it's permissible to make a noise is when you're told to by what's happening on the screen. Laughter, sobs, screams, moans and cheers are about the only acceptable noises in a movie theatre once a film starts.

You should be enjoying what's happening on the screen in front of you. If you're not, if you're bored or would rather be somewhere else, well, there's the door. Feel free to use it. I don't know what it is about theatres that makes it acceptable to be rude and disrupt other people's viewing experience, an experience they've also paid money for, but far too many have no problem with it.

The sheer volume of times I have wanted to commit murder in a movie theatre simply cannot be counted. Cell phones ringing, checking text messages, laser pointers, giving away plot points, philosophical discussions, criticism, big hats, kicking the back of my seat, gossiping and at least one couple who I thought were going to have sex right in front of name it and I have in all likelihood experienced it at a movie theatre at some point.

Movie theatres really do tend to bring out some of the rudest things in humanity. I saw Quantum of Solace recently and was in a bad enough mood anyway because the movie was severely failing expectations, when a couple walked in 15 minutes late, sat behind me and talked through the film. At one point, when Bond ends up Bolivia, the woman began a discussion as to whether or not they spoke Spanish in Bolivia.

That was the part where I was physically gripping the arm rests to prevent myself from turning around and asking them to go home and look it up on Wikipeida.

So, it was a bad thing this man did. You shouldn't shoot someone over a disagreement on how much talking is happening at a movie theatre. You really shouldn't.

But I understand.

Last Five
1. We might as well be strangers - Keane
2. Loose translation - The New Pornographers*
3. He lied about death - Stars
4. Cologne Cerrone Houdini - Goldfrapp
5. Eyes - Tracy Bonham

Monday, December 29, 2008

It's a hobby, folks

It's not exactly a secret that I love comic books. I have for 30-plus years and the love shows no sign of going away any time soon. Yes, I love super heroes and what with Batman, Hellboy and Iron Man, this was a pretty good year (The Incredible Hulk wasn't bad, and certainly a step up from the previous movie). But there's simply something about the combination of writing and images that appeals to me. A lot of people I meet think comic book writing must be easy, but it's not. I've never even really tried because I'm not sure I could do it.

Mark Waid, who is one of the best in the business, has been talking a bit about comic book writing over on John Roger's blog and it's worth taking a look at for those interested in the subject. It's a lot about the economy of words and showing, not telling. So it has more than a bit in common with screenplay writing, which again is not the easiest form of writing in the world.

And thanks to the sketches I got at the New York Comic Con, I've become more interested in owning some original comic book art, either pages or sketches. Although you would never say there was a recession on, judging by the way I've been constantly sniped on eBay auctions.

So yes, I love comic books. But understand, that I've never, in a million years, considered doing anything like this.

I don't know, there's something about people dressing up in costume and "fighting evil" that bring out my cringe factor. And yes, we have "Polar Man" here in town, but I consider that almost harmless. He's a mostly nice guy with a few issues. I don't even mind the people who show up to conventions in costumes. Mostly I'm impressed with the time and work they put into them and the guts in going out in public.

But these guys, dressing up in costumes, coming up with their nick names and "fighting crime" just makes me want to pound my head against something. Super heroes are fantasy. I like gaudy costumes and morality plays with big fight scenes and I'm all right with that. But running around in spandex and coming up with code names....dear God. You want to do something good to help out the world? Go and volunteer for something. But unless you've magically developed a suit of armor (in which case the US government will be knocking on your door shortly) or suddenly find yourself able to fly and deflect bullets (in which case, once again, the US government will be knocking on your door shortly), please spare me the infantile power fantasies.

To paraphrase from The Truth About Cats and Dogs - "It's ok to love your hobby, just don't love your hobby, if you know what I mean."

I shouldn't rise to the bait. Despite words like "buzz" and "growing network" there's always been this kind of thing happening. And this the media doldrums, where reporters will grasp at anything with a pulse. Given the enormous popularity of super hero movies this year, I'm surprised it took this long to get around to writing stories like this.

I love my hobby, I really do. But there are times....

Last Five
1. Sugar mountain (live) - Neil Young
2. Mesmerizing - Liz Phair
3. The swamp - Brendon Benson
4. Accelerate - REM*
5. Here it is (live) - Jenny Gear

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Greatest Hits

You know you're having a slothful weekend when the only thing you can think of to blog is where you would rank the Pixar movies. This is coming to me after seeing WALL-E over the weekend. I liked it when I saw it the summer, but I wasn't over the moon about it for some reason. No idea why, just the mood I was in. The crowd in the theatre were talking, I was in a bad mood and despite the movie's many charms, I just wasn't won over.

Then I watched it again over the weekend and was just wowed by it. I have no idea why I didn't love it more the summer, but it's just a fantastic movie. There's some talk of the movie being nominated of a Best Motion Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards (that it's going to be nominated and win for Best Animated Movie is pretty much a given). I wouldn't have a problem with that. At all. Aside from Pixar's usual stellar animation, this is one of the more clever screenplays I've seen for an animated movie in quite some time. The way of communicating things without using words is impressive.

Having said that, I still don't think it's my favourite Pixar movie, but that's because the top ones are just that damn good. If I had to pick my Top 5, it would be these:

1. Monsters Inc.
2. The Incredibles
4. Finding Nemo
5. Ratatouille

Monsters Inc. wins because aside from it being a lot of fun, it's also the movie that myself and Cathy met at when we were set up on a blind date. So yeah, that's always going to win. The Incredibles gets it because it's the movie the Fantastic Four should have been. But WALL-E might creep up over time.

And for those curious, here's Cathy's picks.

1. Monsters Inc.
2. Finding Nemo
3. The Incredibles
5. Ratatouille

You know, I saw an article on CBC this evening talking about the tricks Hollywood is getting ready to use to wow audiences, including new 3-D technology. When you look at that list, and when you consider that Pixar has had very, very few misfires...maybe the studios might want to focus on telling really entertaining stories. Radical idea, I know, but worth a shot.

Last Five
Greatest Hits - Fleetwood Mac

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas sloth continues

I'm not sure how a day where I had nothing to do managed to go quite so fast and that the few things that I needed to get done there didn't seem to be time for. I was going to get some writing done on the novel. Didn't happen. I was going to write the Moving to Iqaluit FAQ. Didn't happen. I was going to load a bunch of pictures on the digital picture frame we got for Christmas. Never happened.

About the only thing accomplished was playing on the Wii Fit for about half an hour, where I magically managed to go from a Wii Fit age of 45 yesterday, to 24 today. Alas, it's a pity that the real world doesn't work in quite the same way. Then again, as I recall, being 24 was not a good time for me.

There's nothing wrong with this level of sloth. It is the holidays, after all. Still, this amount of time off and ability to just lounge around the penthouse is a luxury. And I hate to waste it. So yeah, Saturday and Sunday I really should plan out and do a few things.

Although not much outside. It was -53 with wind chill today. Gah.

By the way, one of the weird things I forgot to mention yesterday that Arctic Ventures was open. So was the Snack. Remember when nothing was open on Christmas Day? You were lucky if you could find a gas station open. It seems like there was a few things open here yesterday. Must have sucked to have had to work. I hope they at least got paid well for it.

And now, I will go and watch WALL-E. And, you know, try and do something productive tomorrow.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas aftermath

So I'm just getting this post in under the wire. It's not like I haven't had time to post today, more like just enjoying the sloth. Yes, I understand Christmas is a time for families, but I've done Christmas back home with family. And I love them dearly, but there is also much to be said to spending the day in pjs, lounging around the apartment and watching movies. Oh, and Clare, I seem to have acquired a new Bluray player from Santa. So I must have been a good boy this year.

Actually, the level of gifts this year is a bit silly. I attribute this to myself and Cathy deciding to splurge a bit on ourselves and our parents apparently being concerned we would have a barren tree Christmas morning. No, not so much. The tree before.

And the tree afterwards.

And while we are feeling some measure of guilt over this level of excess, this was still significantly less expensive than a trip home. And given the absolute nightmares involved in travelling this holiday season, I think we made the right choice.

Although I will be working overtime the next few days reading instruction manuals. I like to think I'm reasonably intelligent with manuals, but some of these things are testing the depths of my intelligence.

Anyway, it was a good Christmas and I hope you all had the same, no matter where you are.

Oh, and because they were entertaining me for awhile this afternoon, another raven picture. I think we live in raven central or something. They're always dive bombing off the side of the building or conspiring on the telephone polls. I just like this shot. The odd lights are Christmas lights in the window.

Last Five
The Bells of Dublin - The Chieftains

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas, friends and lurkers

Well, the internet is already starting to curl up and go into hibernation for the next day or so...well, at least until people begin scouring online for any good Boxing Day sales. A word of advice on that...skip Best Buy and Future Shop if you live in the north. Out of curiosity Cathy hit one of those sites as a test for their shipping. Season 3 of Bones costs about $50. Shipping is an additional $35.

Just saying, might not be your best place for deals for those of us living in this part of the world. But if you spot any good Boxing Day sales online, drop a line in the comments.

Anyway, I'll still be throwing up posts over the next few days. If I could manage to blog every day while on a cruise ship in the middle of the Caribbean last year (Christ, that was a year ago. Time flies.) then I can certainly find a few minutes sitting in the Penthouse as we plan on having a very low key Christmas. Not sure what I'll be writing about yet, but if this blog has proved nothing else over the past three years or so, I do have the ability to ramble at length.

Still, I hope every one who swings by this blog has a Merry Christmas, that you got to where ever you were supposed to go to safely and on time and that you get something nice for Christmas.

And hey, if you're here, wish the silent and patient partner on this blog a happy birthday. It's Cathy's birthday today. She's already received nice gifts (in non-Christmas wrap), flowers and cake. She's having a good one, but well wishes are always a good thing.

Anyway, take care and try not to drink too much eggnog this evening...

Last Five
1. No words - Neil Diamond
2. Don't look back in anger (live) - Tori Amos*
3. Play the game - Queen
4. Sailor's rest - Stan Rogers
5. Even better than the real thing - U2

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Newspaper Armageddon

This hasn't been a particularly good year for newspapers...and I'm not talking about the quality of the editorial product, because there has been some fine journalism done this year. I'm talking about their ability to continue to exist. Sales are down, both in ad revenue and circulation. And if those things are down in election years, then you're in trouble. I don't have the link handy, but the old grey lady, the New York Times, is in deep financial trouble. There were few media outlets producing more important stories on a regular basis in the last US presidential election than the Times, and yet its future is uncertain. And I'm far from the only one who thinks this. Here are a few examples.

There are a lot of consequences to this. Staff are being dumped all over the place. The Sun newspaper chain purged a chunk of its staff a week or so ago, causing at least one student journalist I know to do a small freak out. And hell, I have a great deal of empathy for them. It was a bitch when I was starting out in '95 and I can't imagine how hard it is for a student journalist striking out in the world today, what with newspapers cutting staff, the beginnings of a recession and far too many people disdainful of your chosen profession. I'd be looking at grad schools as a place to hide for several years until the world became less scary. Actually, it wouldn't surprise me at all if universities are one of the big winners in the coming economic troubles as people go back to school.

Along with reporters, the other big causalities are two positions that are near and dear to my heart. One is movie reviewers, which are among the first professions to go. When I was young, I loved Siskel and Ebert and wanted to be a movie reviewer when I grew up. When I joined the Muse back in '90 and realized I could review movies, well, I was a happy man that day. I still have tremendous respect for good movie critics, of which there are few and their numbers are decreasing all the time. Reviewers are among the first positions cut from a newspaper because there are so many syndicated ones to replace you. Plus, there's the growing feeling that people don't pay as much attention to reviewers as they once used to.

The other position taking a beating? Political cartoonists. Which is again a pity. I obviously have a fondness of cartooning, and good political cartoonists can achieve in one image what a talented political writer can spend thousands of words on. I mean, the image below, which I'm shamelessly swiping from Peter's blog, who shameless swiped it from the Seattle Post-Intellegencer, sums up absolutely everything about the Bush years.

(Oh, and in case you felt the urge to strangle President Bush starting to ebb, what with him having less than a month left in office, read this. You're welcome.)

But according to Journalista!, a really good comic (not just super-heroes) website, 2008 has been political cartoonist Armageddon, with papers all over the world laying them off.

I think, if all the doom and gloom we're here about 2009 comes through, things are going to be a lot different when we come out the other side of it - which will be in 2010 if you're an optimist or sometime about 2013 if you're a cynic. Newspapers are going to be one of the things most changed, I think. I hope for the better, but they're going to look significantly different in a few years time.

I read seven papers on a regular basis - The Telegram, The Globe and Mail, The Star, News North, Nunatsiaq News, the Scope and the Muse. I probably read another dozen or more on an infrequent basis, like the Times. None of them are read in hard copy. They're all read online. And in a few years time, I wonder how many will still be printing paper copies. I know this type of thing has been said before - that newsprint was going to go the way of the dodo. But a deep recession has a way of changing the landscape. We'll see what they look like on the other side.

Last Five
1. Shadow of a man - Bedouin Soundclash
2. Nautical disaster - The Tragically Hip*
3. Save me - The Donnas
4. The heart of the matter - Don Henley
5. Dandelion wine - Ron Sexsmith

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas #1

So I was watching CBC News last night and a story popped up that Leonard Cohen's song "Hallelujah" is the Christmas #1 in the United Kingdom. It's also #2 and #36.


I first heard about the particularly big deal it is to have the #1 song at Christmas from the movie Love Actually. It's the song that sells the most copies during Christmas week. And this year, a version sung by Alexandra Burke, is the #1 song.

Here's the problem. Her version of the song is monstrous. And while there are songs I frequently don't like, I don't drag out words like that except for special circumstances. And this is a special circumstance. Burke is the winner of the X-Factor competition in the UK - basically the same thing as American Idol. It even has Simon Cowell involved in it. I'm not a fan of these shows to begin with. Geoff Meeker, media columnist with the Telegram, asked me to write a few words about the recent "death" (please God let it be permanent) of Canadian Idol which you can read here, if you wish.

But this is evil. I reserve those words only for covers of songs that never should have been made. You know, like Madonna's version of "American Pie". This, this is just....she has back-up dancers in the video, for Christ's sake. For "Hallelujah". There should be no back-up dancers for a video of this song. I mean, just watch this thing and tell me you don't want to physically harm every one in the production of it.

So amidst this Christmas despair, is there any good news? Well, several actually. First, enough people in the UK shared my horror over the popularity of this song and tried to get other version to chart. And so it was that Jeff Buckley's classic cover of the song made it to #2. And in a nice twist Leonard Cohen's original also charted, making it as high as #36.

So there is some hope for taste, I guess.

But Cohen is the real winner. Because while Burke might get the fame and glory of a Christmas #1, Cohen actually owns the rights to the song, so he gets most of the money (or so I thought. This story makes me wonder). Which does put a bit of a smile on my face. And it is nice to see Cohen reach a new, younger audience at this stage in his life. And the English as just fascinated by this strangeness, with no shortage of articles about the song. Here's one of the better ones.

I just wish it was a better version of the song. I mean, if you have to listen to a young woman wailing away at that song, may I humbly suggest Allison Crowe's stellar version of the song instead?

Last Five
1. Hallelujah - Leonard Cohen*
2. Hallelujah - Jeff Buckley
3. Hallelujah - Allison Crowe
4. Hallelujah - John Cale
5. Hallelujah - Rufus Wainwright

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Longest night

So, welcome to winter, where the temperature right now is -36C and the winds are calm. It's kind of nice, really. The cold is quite manageable, it's the wind that makes things uncomfortable in a hurry.

And as this is winter solstace, it also means this is the longest night of the year. I like to think we're in a part of the world where that actually means something. Further north around Arctic Bay, well, it's dark pretty much all the time. This day does have its significance as they're beginning the long crawl towards seeing the sun above the horizon in a few weeks time. And further south the days are noticeably shorter, but not quite so dramatically.

Anyway, sunrise today was 9:22 am and sunset was 1:43 pm, so it was a whopping 4 hours and 21 minutes of the sun above the horizon. Add another hour on each side of daylight and we're getting about 6.5 hours of daylight, 17.5 hours of darkness.

And, you know, every now and then you get cool sun dogs like these. They are a bitch to photograph, though.

But yeah, we now begin the slowly climb towards more normal amounts of daylight. That's why you tend to celebrate these things.

And now, one more photo. My friend Jaap send me some weird glasses along with a Christmas card. But they refract light in cool ways when you put them on. So on a lark I tried putting them in front of my camera lens to see how they would work. As it turns out, not so bad at all.

Back to work tomorrow while Cathy lounges around at home. Which kind of sucks for me. Then again, I suspect work will be pretty laid back this week. And it's only for 2.5 days.

Last Five
1. This protector - The White Stripes
2. Back to me - Kathleen Edwards*
3. Heavy metal tears - The Pursuit of Happiness
4. This is such a pity - Weezer
5. Learn to live with what you are - Ben Folds

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Come on up

I got to say, while it's the most expensive haircut I've ever had, which is ironic given the amount of hair on my head these days, there is something nice about sitting down and have a chat with Scotty, the local barber.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, a hair cut is $25, and I always tip an extra $5 - so it's $30 for about 15-20 minutes work.

Previous discussions have been about vacations or politics, but today's topic was Westjet's decision to start flying from Edmonton to Yellowknife for a whopping $376 return, and that includes all taxes and surcharges. Not to be outdone, Canadian North and First Air promptly dropped their flights from about $600 return to $273 return.

Granted, Westjet is only flying to Yellowknife from the beginning of May to the end of October. Still, it's a big move and one that a lot of people in the north are watching closely. Even those of us who live in the Eastern Arctic.

I don't think anyone in Iqaluit would really be expecting a $375 return flight to Ottawa, but we could certainly go for a $800-$900 one, no problem. There's a lot of grumbling with the northern airline right now. Granted, people often tend to be crooked with them, but First Air did itself no big public relations favour by giving its board of directors a massive series of bonuses for no good reason.

People have a degree of understanding that it's expensive to operate in the north and will cut you some slack...right up to the moment you give yourself huge bonuses and appear to show no remorse over it. Then all bets, and loyalty, are off.

So with Westjet going into Yellowknife a lot of people around town seem to be hoping that they might find their way from Ottawa up here. And yes, the northern airlines are "threatening" to reevaluate the way they do business by giving "free" blankets, towels, meals, etc with this increased competition.

Look, it's a three hour flight from here to Ottawa. All I require from that plane is the following - that it leave on time, that it get to its destination safely and on time, that I have a bit of legroom and the seat be reasonably comfortable. That's it. The rest is nice, but hardly requiring a $1,800 ticket price. Oh yeah, prices don't seem to have dropped back much from when oil was $140 a barrel to where it is now, closer to $40. Funny how that works.

So yeah, I'd love to see Westjet give Iqaluit a try. I'd support them even when Canadian North and First Air would do the predictable - undercut them by $100 or so. Because they're hoping you do the greedy thing and go with the cheaper fare and drive away the new competitor. If the new guy gives up, well, you're back to $1,800 plane tickets again.

This is all speculation, of course. Westjet hasn't said they're coming here. But boy, there sure seems to be a lot of people hoping they give Iqaluit a try. Maybe I should go and drop them a line...just to give them a bit of encouragement.

Last Five
1. The hardest part - Ryan Adams and the Cardinals*
2. Saint Simon - The Shins
3. Shame on you - Hot Hot Heat
4. Finest work song - REM
5. Neighbourhood #3 (Power out) - The Arcade Fire

Friday, December 19, 2008

Better off where we are

We're not going anywhere this Christmas and I think I'm glad about that. Aside from simply being able to relax and take it easy, the weather seems particularly dicey for travel this year. One of my best friends is travelling by herself from Ottawa to St. John's with two small, sick children today. And given the weather that's happening down south, I hope she manages to get back to see her family safe, sound and with no fuss and delays. I'm also glad that we're not going through that this year. You could see a lot of tense people around town today, worrying about their travel plans. Because if you miss a flight, it could be days before you get where you were supposed to be.

I don't want to say we're having weird weather this year, because I think each year has its share of strange happening. And this is just a bad blizzard in central Canada in December. It's not really strange, just bad timing.

Now, this is strange.

Yeah, that's a picture of Vegas on Wednesday, where they got snow. Go here and see plenty more photos of this truly strange event. But I saw that earlier the week and thought, "who needs to spend thousands of dollars and the stress of trying to travel this year when there's snow in Vegas." Because if they're getting it there, who knows where else might get snow. A guy in town I curl with is heading to Vegas with his wife next week. I imagine he is less than thrilled.

Now, this will change, I'm sure. Next Christmas we might be itching to get out of town. And hell, I had no complaints last year when we were in Florida and on a cruise. But right now, this Christmas, staying put works for me. Besides, it's going to be almost like we have the town to ourselves. Over this weekend Iqaluit is going to hollow out. Between people heading south for the holidays or Inuit heading to their home communities for a break....well, I don't know how many people will be left in town by Tuesday. If there are approximately 7,000 people in town, I wouldn't be surprised is that number is cut by 40% or more.

So we're happy right where we are. Which says we must getting used to the north if you're happy spending the holidays when it's hovering around -40C.

Last Five
1. Rock lobster - B-52s
2. San Jacinto (live) - Peter Gabriel*
3. So far away - Blue Rodeo
4. I make the dough, you get the glory - Kathleen Edwards
5. Sea of a million faces (live) - Allison Crowe

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Regents purge

Just when I think I'm out and not commenting on Memorial University of Newfoundland again, they pull me back in.

I actually fired off a quip to Ed about how Premier Williams might try to expropriate Memorial University in much the same way he was doing with the mill in Grand Falls/Windsor. His response? "Already done." Depressing, but not inaccurate.

So let me wrap my brain around this. A few weeks before Christmas, when absolutely no one at MUN is paying the slightest bit of attention to the Board of Regents because staff and students are up to their eyeballs with just trying to get through exams so they can get to Christmas...

... that's when the government decides the Board is in need of a "renewal" and purges four more members. And no, their terms on the Board weren't up. Hell, two of them must have been appointed this year since their term would have been up in 2011 and appointments are for three years.

And gosh, look at that, Mary Broderick was one of the ones who must have been past her best before date, because she just got renewed right off the Board. And hey, look at that, it happened right before she was about to present a report to the Board of Regents recommending "changes to the Memorial University Act to ensure autonomy for the institution, especially as it relates to the role of the provincial government in the appointment of a president."

But it's pure coincidence that the Board was in need of renewing at this time.

As for the new members of the Board - Mary Cormier of Corner Brook, Michelle Day of Grand Falls-Windsor, Noreen Greene-Fraize of St. John's and Debbie Singleton of Happy Valley-Goose Bay - I have no idea who they are. Can someone let me know who they are and their connection to Williams? I'm willing to bet you won't have to use Six Degrees of Separation to figure that out.

That Williams is making a Machiavellian power grab to control the university should be fairly obvious at this point. Students are being bought off with cheap tuition, the Board of Regents are being brought firmly under his control. I suspect senior management have probably been warned about getting too vocal about their concerns. And given how many professors I tend to see on the news supporting whatever Williams is up to these days, there doesn't appear to be much resistance in that quarter either.

And perhaps it's not a big deal. Maybe everyone at the university is happy and this is a good thing. Perhaps the government having that much control over the university will revolutionize the way education is conducted. I'm not sure a government having that much control over the province's main institute of higher learning is necessarily a good idea. But I'm only half clever and perhaps people smarter than me can see the benefits of the premier stomping all over the campus like a saggy jowled Godzilla.

I just view it as perfectly scary. Both in why the premier is so determined to control the university and why the university is so content to curl up into a ball and go "please don't hurt us."

Unless I have my history wrong, there was a time when universities legitimately had to worry about their local ruler getting annoyed with them and sending men with sharp, point objects on to the campus to do terrible things with those objects. And yet, many stood up to them, risking their lives for what they believed in.

Danny Williams is only a local politician with a massively inflated ego. He's not a king. He doesn't have a scary army of men with swords. He has an army of losers with nothing better to do than call crappy open line radio shows. If you're happy with what's happening with MUN, well God bless and God speed.

If you're not, well, then may I humbly suggest people might, just might want to do something about this. Because this is now getting ridiculous.

Edit - Well, one of the four has been outed - Debbie Singleton is the Labrador Area Vice-President of the Progressive Conservative Party. Next?

Last Five
1. 22 steps - Andy Stochansky*
2. Only son - Liz Phair
3. Away - Jenny Gear and the Whiskey Kittens
4. Luno - Bloc Party
5. Bone of song - Josh Ritter

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Frost nipped

Well it took nearly three and a half years but I finally managed to frost nip myself. Rather stupidly as well, I might add. One of the tires on the truck has a slow leak. Nothing serious, but every two weeks or so it starts getting a bit soft and needs some air. So today it was only -40 or so, naturally making it an excellent time for me to be holding metal in my hands without gloves. I was in a rush and not thinking. I figured it will only be a minute or so of me handling the air nozzle to pump up the tire. What's the worst that could happen?

Yeah, there's a reason my bachelor's degree is in history, kids, and not physics or biology.

Still, it's only a nip and it'll heal up fine in a few days. Besides, it was a cheap and only mildly painful lesson to be not quite so stupid in the future. Count yourself lucky up here when you get these lessons on the cold quite so cheaply.

Although I am going to have to get that damn tire fixed. And the truck will have to go back in the garage again this week or next to get a new remote starter put in.

When I was growing up, there was never any doubt I was going to university. None. The mere idea I would graduate high school and then go work full-time or even go to trades school was a non-starter. I wasn't even allowed to discuss it. I was going to university.

Now, I'm sure my father would have preferred I graduate with something other than a history degree (business and pharmacy were pushed, although he was happy with the journalism degree), but he was still glad that I was the first in our family to graduate from university.

Why am I mentioning this? Because if we ever have kids and one of them graduates high school and announces he or she is going to become a mechanic and then move up here, I will have the calm of knowing they will never hurt for money for the rest of their days.

$100-plus an hour. Getting a new door handle installed, a new remote starter put in and probably getting a tire fixed is probably going to cost in excess of $1,000. If anything serious happens to this truck, that's it for motorized vehicles and us in Iqaluit for quite some time.

There you go, from frost nip to a little family history and a gripe about mechanics. That's quite the journey for one evening.

Oh, one last thing. An anonymous posters complained and wanted to know what kind of bastard I was talking about Christmas decorations and music. I've taken that to heart and resolve to try and be more of a bastard, at least online, in the New Year.

In the meantime, should you need an immediate fix, I recommend wandering over here, where Elvis is being a decidedly grumpy, scrooge-like bastard. Bravo, Sir. A high quality rant indeed.

Last Five
1. I melt with you - Modern English
2. Haiti - The Arcade Fire
3. Speak the word - Tracy Chapman
4. Toast - Tori Amos
5. Silver lining - David Gray

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas songs

So I gently teased Cathy for listening to the Roger Whittaker Christmas album while decorating the other day. But the fact is, it's the soundtrack to Christmas for her. Growing up, this was the record that her parents played a lot during the holidays, but especially when decorating the house. And while I have only done a few Christmases with their family, they do go all out, especially with the tree. Practically every ornament has a story about where it came from.

We're not quite at that level yet, but we're slowly building our own story. These things take time. But so far our story seems to involve a lot of Disney ornaments or ones made by the local jewelry school. Which is all good.

Anyway, I was making fun of Roger Whittaker, but I thought I would put up my favourite Christmas songs. I make fun of Christmas music and don't listen to much of it because, really, so much of it is just awful. And I'm not being a cynical bastard. If I was, I'd hate all Christmas music, but I don't. But if the ratio of a good song to a bad one is 1:50 (a number I'm pulling out of a hat), then Christmas music has the odds even more stacked against it. The ratio has to be 1:500 or something.

The fact I can pick 10 favourite Christmas songs is a sign of that. If you asked me to pick my Top 10 all-time favourite songs, couldn't do it. No idea where to even begin. It would be a nearly impossible task.

But here's my Top 10 Christmas songs. Once you get out of the Top 5, it gets pretty arbitrary, but the first five are pretty solid.

1. St. Stephen's Day Murders - The Chieftains and Elvis Costello. Yes, the title sounds particularly grim. And yes, the song is about contemplating murdering your family during the Christmas holidays. And yes, the song's narrator seems pretty joyful over the prospect of doing it. But it's a fun song about really loving your family, even with all the quirks. And even if, like nearly all of us, you're desperately ready for them to leave by the time St. Stephen's Day (Boxing Day) rolls around.

2. Fairytale of New York - The Pogues and Kristy MacColl. All right, this one is depressing, no two ways around it. But it's classic, haunting and sad. And it never hurts to have a reminder that not everyone is having a merry Christmas.

And honestly, I can think of few lyrics that hit me as hard as these sung between Shane MacGowan and MacColl:

I could have been someone
Well so could anyone
You took my dreams from me
When I first found you
I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can't make it all alone
I've built my dreams around you

3. The Rebel Jesus - The Chieftains and Jackson Browne. I could put pretty much the entire Bells of Dublin album on this list, as I love it. But I'll stick to these two songs. This one just a reminder that perhaps there's more to Christmas than sales and to try and do better.

4. The Holly and the Ivy - Pamela Morgan and Anita Best. The entire album wobbles a bit and I'd love to hear Morgan and Best do an album without youth choirs and what not. But The Holly and the Ivy just shines, with two of the finest female vocalists in Newfoundland harmonizing beautifully.

5. Maybe this Christmas - Ron Sexsmith. Every blue moon someone comes out with such a simple, pretty Christmas song that it make you ache and wonder why more people can't do this. And then you remember that the really good songwriters make it look effortless.

6. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Barenaked Ladies with Sarah McLachlan. That the Barenaked Ladies can groove out a Christmas song and have some fun is no real surprise (sorry Laura), but it's always so refreshing to hear McLachlan sing something that doesn't sound like she's in mourning.

7. Song for a Winter's Night - Sarah McLachlan. Having said that, when she does it right, and you're not numbed by every single song sounding the same, she can do a pretty, slow and sad Christmas song (although it wasn't originally released as a Christmas song, it's been co-oped into one). I will also commit the sacrilege and say her version is better than Gordon Lightfoot's original. Sorry.

8. Snoopy's Christmas - The Royal Guardsman. Despite being absolutely played to death over the years, I still have affection for this song, which I loved as a kid. Although I remember being deeply puzzled and annoyed that the rest of the songs on the album were just standard Christmas songs and not more about the Peanuts gang and Christmas.

9. Gabriel's message - Sting. It's totally over the top and overly dramatic, but I do like it. It's one of the few Christmas songs that remain on my iPod year round.

10. I saw three ships - Bruce Cockburn. There are likely thousands of versions of this song. I just like Cockburn's guitar playing and the comfort of his voice.

Any favourites of yours that I should consider? And don't bother suggesting anything by Mariah Carey or I'll have to come over there and slap the life clean out of you. Seriously.

Last Five
1. There's a fire - OK Go
2. Two - Ryan Adams
3. You make lovin' fun - Fleetwood Mac
4. The man with the child in his eyes - Kate Bush
5. No surprises - Radiohead*

Monday, December 15, 2008

Oozing on out the door

It can almost be easy, in the last miserable days of his presidency, to forget that George W. Bush is a prick. He's been doing public appearances and acting more like a clown than a president. And yeah, he had shoes thrown at him in Iraq yesterday. And let's face it, the visual of the man ducking flying shoes is funny.

And then he pops up and makes a quip that they're a size 10. Almost amusing. Until you read this report about how the president authorized torture. Then you're amazed it was only shoes that Iraqi journalist threw.

And yeah, the US economy is in freefall and there's word that America's debt has doubled in the eight years this idiot was in office. There are some who are grumbling that the White House isn't doing anything to help during this economic crisis, but really, I think most people are glad that Obama appears to be the de facto president right now. About the worse thing in the world to happen would be Bush standing up and saying "Doncha y'all worry none, I'm the Decider...yor Commander-in-Chief, and I've got this under control."

The previous freefall would be nothing in comparison.

So you figure that surely God that must be the icing on the cake of his presidency. Ducking flying shoes, a report making him complicit in torture, acting like an ass, a massive debt and a crashing economy. Surely there is no more one man can do when eking out the final miserable days of his presidency. Right?


So it seems Bush is giving Obama a going away gift of a bunch of "Midnight Regulations" - a bunch of stuff for supporters of his that he's ramming through at the last minute, that he doesn't need Congresses approval of. You know, like make it easier to dump coal waste, being able to build coal-fired plants next to national parks, allowing people to carry concealed weapons in national parks, opening up areas for new oil drilling, etc.

Rolling Stone pretty much nailed it by calling it Bush's final "Fuck you" to America in general, and Obama specifically. I was a touch skeptical on the story because Rolling Stone hates Bush with the fire of a thousand suns, but the Guardian is on it now, and with any luck other media might jump on this and hopefully embarrass Bush into stopping this.

Yeah, fat chance.

Can Obama overturn most of these regulations? Sure, but it'll take months, it won't be easy, damage will be done in the meantime and, hey, the man has bigger fish to fry. His first term is pretty much going to be all about fixing the mistakes Bush made before this latest crap onslaught. To do more now, well, just in case you had any further doubts about Bush being the most massive prick you will ever see in your life....

I'm not even American and I hate him so much I can taste it. I agree with Jon Stewart...can he go now, please?

Last Five
1. Zero down - Sean Panting
2. I've gotta try - Sloan
3. Only the good die young - Billy Joel
4. Our motto - Dear Leader
5. Pride (in the name of love) (Live) - U2*

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The penthouse at Christmas

We've had a few requests, mostly from family members, about what the inside of the Penthouse looks like. And seeing as how we decorated for Christmas today (and listened to Roger Whittaker's Christmas album twice), I figure the place looks pretty spiffy right now. So here are a few pictures of the place, our Christmas tree and a few close ups of some of the ornaments. Just because I happened to like some of them.

I must say, I'm liking the idea of getting to celebrate Christmas in Iqaluit this year. Don't get me wrong, if someone offered us a free Caribbean cruise tomorrow, I think we would be trying to find ways to get there. But it's nice. It's not stressful at all, it's fun to finally be able to use all the Christmas ornaments we've bought the last couple of years and to be able to buy gifts for Cathy.

Anyway, a few pics...

Last Five
1. I saw three ships sailing - The Chieftains
2. Play it all night long - Warren Zevon
3. Sweet revenge - Sean Panting
4. Walk like a man - Bruce Springsteen*
5. We can work it out - The Beatles

Saturday, December 13, 2008


I've spent about 10 hours at the curling club today, so I'm hurting now, but I suspect that's nothing compared to what I'll be feeling tomorrow.

It was a bit of a different bonspiel...not a seriously competitive one, with only eight teams. However, one didn't show up and a couple of teams were short players. So it ended up being something a bit different. Six teams doing a round robin. Each game was only four ends. Which worked out surprisingly well, actually.

And it has nothing to do with the fact that we went 5-0. Yes, the revamped Team Shattered Dreams is doing well this year. With a bit of help today from a couple of spares who helped out. I am, obviously, feeling pretty happy with the days results. We all played well and had fun. So all was good.

Plus there was a prize table at the end and as winners we got to have first crack. So from our glorious curling victory I have provided my woman with a sandwich maker. Because I guess that's what a man does...spends all day curling and then brings something home for his woman. Because really, who doesn't want a sandwich maker?

Well, the sandwich maker seemed like the best option. And hey, she used it to make a grilled cheese sandwich this evening. So mission accomplished.

Anyway, we had fun. That was the big thing. And barring weirdness, that's your last curling up date for the year.

Last Five
1. The sickbed of Cuchulainn
2. So she's leaving - The Trews*
3. Everybody knows - Ryan Adams
4. Floorplan - Tegan and Sara
5. Let your loss be your lesson - Allison Krauss and Robert Plant

Friday, December 12, 2008

Look up

Well perhaps that's why I've been feeling so out of sort the past few days. I can blame it on the moon (as opposed to the bossa nova or the rain).

Tonight will feature the biggest and brightest full moon of the year. I'd been noticing the last few nights when I was out that the moon seemed more spectacular than normal. The moon is at its perigee this evening, according to NASA. It will also be the closest lunar perigee since 1993. Granted, at 356,566 kilometres, it's still a good distance away. And, as you can tell, there's a bit of difference in the moon's appearance from its closest point to when its at it furthest point away.

There will also be high tides, but I'm not so much worried about that, what with the bay frozen solid and all.

If I recall, 1993 was a pretty weird year for me as well. I thought there might be any number of factors for that, but I really hadn't counted on the moon in my deliberations. Maybe I should have.

I'm kidding, of course, but only a little bit. Clare can chip in from a law enforcement point of view, but being married to a teacher, I can assure you that Cathy subscribes enthusiastically to the whole "full moon brings out the crazies" theory. Hearing that this is the biggest and brightest full moon in 15 years just has her nodding her head, as if that explains everything of the past few days.

Hopefully as the moon abates, so will the craziness and crankiness.

By the way, one last thing. It occurs to me that I was a touch whiny yesterday and you can always trust The West Wing (at least the first four seasons and most of the 7th) to help put things in perspective. In this case, it was Donna trying to console Josh after he lost a vote on a foreign aid bill. And in consoling she quoted a corrupt New York politician with the wonderful name of 'Fish hooks' McCarthy who went to church every day and offered up the same prayer.

"O Lord, give me health and strength. We'll steal the rest."

I'm not saying their words to live by, but they're not bad ones to get you over a hump.

Last Five
1. Till it happens to you - Corinne Bailey Rae
2. Love reign o'er me - The Who
3. Pale slice of moon - Jenny Gear and the Whiskey Kittens* (honestly)
4. Sugar mountain (live) - Neil Young
5. Wake up call - Maroon 5

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Neither myself of Cathy have been in much of a fit mood the last couple of days. We haven't been taking it out on each other, but we both recognize that we're not exactly rays of sunshine. We are both, for lack of a better word, grumpy.

I think we both know where Cathy's is coming from. It's getting near the end of the school semester and things are starting to get crazy. It's stressful time of the year and things can wear on your nerves. I think she'll be happier once the Christmas concert and that stress is over with.

But me, I'm not quite so sure. And it's not like I haven't a had few good things things happen. Had a good game of curling on Wednesday. Came back from a 5-2 deficit after five ends to win 8-5. And I like the team I'm with this year. I joined team Shattered Dreams and it's fun. Brandon is doing well, with the right motivation - ie. I told him if he threw another rock light the sweepers were going to kill him.

Lo and behold, perfect draw weight on his next two shots. It's all about the proper motivation.

And Steph is doing great. Aside from playing well, she's mostly keeping me from getting annoyed with my shot making by chatting about different stuff.

So it's good, and yet, I'm still annoyed. I thought finally going to see Quantum of Solace this evening might cheer me up. Not really as the movie kind of frustrated me. I wasn't expecting it to be as good Casino Royale - that's a Top 3 all-time Bond movie. But I wasn't expecting something this...disjointed. There were a few nice moments, but far too many frustrations. I mostly blame the director, who has no sense of how to handle an action scene, although the screenplay did him no favours either.

It's like the lesson they took from Casino Royale was all the cool action sequences and forgot the quiet moments. My absolute favourite scene in that movie was the one on the train where Bond and Vesper meet for the first time. There was none of that in this movie. Which is too bad. A deeply missed opportunity.

So yeah, the movie didn't do much to improve the mood.

It's a funk and these things happen. Hell, it could just be the full moon this evening. And I'm sure it will pass. But right now, just not a happy camper.

Last Five
1. Rich girl - Hall & Oates
2. Four winds - Bright Eyes
3. Trouble braids - Tom Waits
4. Kitty - The Pogues
5. London calling (live) - Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello*

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

All about the coulda, not the shoulda

You know, every time I read one of these stories about a new record being set for the oldest woman to give birth, I think of Patton Oswalt.

Which is something I'm sure he deeply appreciates, being associated with deeply weird shit like this.

And I could editorialize on this. I can editorialize on anything as you may have noticed. But there are times when you simply bow to the master. And I don't think anyone has done a better take than Oswalt on how deeply weird this is right now, let alone with the kid gets old enough to start asking some questions. Y'know, assuming the parents live long enough to answer questions about the bird and the bees, that is.

Anyway, here's the audio of Patton Oswalt on "The Miracle of Childbirth." It's the first 2:30 of this clip, although the rest of the clip is pretty funny as well.

Last Five
1. Lawless Avenue - Jackson Browne
2. Grounds for divorce - The Wolf Parade*
3. Why God why - Mo Berg
4. The ascent of Stan - Ben Folds
5. Lust - The Raveonettes

Boo and other assholes

So for those of you who guessed that Boo had a problem with his anal glands, well, you win a prize. Not really sure what kind prize you want for winning, but there you go.

We were lucky that the vet was able to come over to the Penthouse first thing this afternoon, dragging along her cart of medical joys. This one of the things I guess you have to love about Iqaluit. Yes, we don't have full-time veterinarian with his or her own office. But, for now, we do have a nice woman who, from 1-4 pm on weekdays, will swing by your place and tend to your pet. Assuming there's nothing drastically wrong and beyond her abilities to handle.

So yeah, it also leads to some improvising. No metal tables to perform the procedure on, for example, but rather the kitchen floor. No assistants to help out, but rather the two of us trying to wrestle a surprisingly determined 13 pound dog. But everything appears to be better with Boo right now, although he was deeply unhappy with the whole process. Given what was involved, I can't say I'm surprised. He also has a shaved butt and antibiotics.

So give him two weeks and he should be fine. The downside is that this "draining" might have to become a regular occurrence. We're going to have the vet back towards the end of February to check on him again. We should have a better idea of how often this fairly gross procedure needs to be done then.

And now to move onto something completely different. I'm going to be a touch vague on some of this, because it involves family and a local business.

So my in-laws run a nice retirement business. They operate out of their house and, once a week, go to an area flea market to sell their wares. They're not getting rich off of this, but they are retired and it's nice for them to earn a few extra dollars and keep them busy.

So they've been going to the same area flea market for years with no problems. However, last week they got a call from the people who run the flea market. A local company who shares the building that runs the flea market is upset with them. The local company is in the same business as the in-laws and were upset that they were taking part in the flea market and wanted them gone. They viewed the in-laws as competition.

So the owners of the building kicked the in-laws out. Called them in for a meeting, gave them two days notice to attend the meeting, and then were banned from the flea market. The in-laws kind of understood the company's position, so all they asked was to be able to attend the flea market one last time to let some of their customers know what happened. They also had people coming by to pick up items from them that week. The company opposed even this, and so the in-laws were tossed, a mere couple of weeks before Christmas.

They were understandably a bit upset with this Scrooge-like treatment, but there wasn't much they could do.

They went and popped into the flea market that weekend, basically to hand out a few cards and put a sign on a neighbouring table letting people know what happened. It was really all they could do. When they got there, a person from the local company that had them kicked out was standing up in front of their old table handing out sales fliers to customers coming to look for them.

Yes, there was nothing illegal about it. Yes, maybe it's even aggressive business practice. But I can't help but think it's also more than a touch prick-like. It's the kind of thing that makes me glad I'm not actually back in St. John's, as I might be tempted to walk through that company's doors and let them know, in person, that they're pricks. And perhaps stand outside their business to point out to customers how vastly over-priced their product is compared to any of their other competitors in town.

I take some small comfort that they'll likely be bankrupt inside a year if this is the way they conduct business. If you do this to some fairly harmless mom and pop operation, you get the feeling that perhaps they're not nice people to deal with on any level.

I'm not naming the business. I'm not naming the relatives. It's tempting, but the in-laws would just as soon put this behind them and move on. I, however, have a touch more of the vindictive in me. If you live in town and are curious, I could be persuaded to give details in email.

Last Five
1. Diamond mine (live) - Blue Rodeo*
2. Go easy - Ryan Adams and the Cardinals
3. Run (live) - Kathleen Edwards
4. Celebration guns - Stars
5. Open all night (live) - Bruce Springsteen

Monday, December 08, 2008

Lucky bastards

If you want the very definition of being lucky, I think these two guys might very well be it.

Surviving a plan crash is one thing. Surviving one where your plane apparently lands on ice in the Arctic Ocean (it might actually be the North Atlantic, but it is the very, very, very fucking far North Atlantic, all right?) is another. Doing this in December and then surviving an additional 18 hours in a life raft while waiting to be rescued?

Unreal. I mean it, deeply, seriously unreal. When I first heard about the crash this morning my first thought was "I hope they manage to find the bodies for their families." And they did. It's just that they still had a pulse.

I don't toss the phrase "Christmas miracle" around too much, but stuff like this is almost enough to make me believe in a higher power. Of course, miralces are somewhat aided when it seems this guys had the proper equipment to survive. A life raft, life jackets and neoprene survival suits helps the miracle along quite a bit.

Still, lucky, lucky bastards. And Merry Christmas.

Last Five
1. A single explosion (live) - Matthew Good
2. Don't pass me by - The Beatles
3. A martyr for my love for you - The White Stripes
4. Love you to - The Beatles
5. The Frug - Rilo Kiley*

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Small problems

So a mostly quiet here at the Penthouse. We hit yet another craft fair in town, which I'm beginning to think is becoming a dangerous past time. Cathy bought enough jam to tide her over for a nuclear war. I bought a snazzy looking inukshuk Christmas ornament, a t-shirt to support the college's metal and jewelry making class and a few other odds and ends.

It was a nice craft fair if, for no other reason, we didn't have to wait for 40 minutes to be let in from out in the cold. And they even had chairs for us to sit on. Snazzy.

God, the things you think are cool after living up here long enough.

The other bit of excitement this weekend came from Boo. He's fine, so no worries there. However, I now know more about dog's butts than I did before the start of the weekend. And that I want to know about....ever.

Little did I know before this weekend that dogs have little sacs around their butts. And sometimes, if you're deeply unlucky, they get infected or swollen, which can cause problems. Now, as the many, many vet websites I've consulted this weekend have told me, this problem can be fairly easily fixed by draining the sacs. The downsides?

1. They generally recommend getting a vet to show you how to do it first.
2. It can be messy and very gross.
3, Apparently the smell from a skunk is perfume in comparison.
4. The dog is normally deeply unhappy during the whole process (go figure) and lets you know all about it.

So this would be awkward and annoying to try and do on our own, but we've managed to track down the vet's phone number in town. She's a different kind of vet. She doesn't have a clinic, nor does she have a surgery of any kind. If your dog is that kind of sick, well, your best option is to get your pet to Ottawa somehow.

But if you need vaccinations or a check-up, then she's your woman. I also hope that extends to helping little dogs with butt....issues.

I do love living up here, but every now and then it's these little annoyances and inconveniences that do get to you sometimes. Under different circumstances, it's a simple trip to the vet to get this taken care of quickly. Up here, it's a whole other thing.

Anyway, updates as they warrant.

(And yes, it's a Sunday evening and I have nothing to write about. Can you tell?)

Last Five
1. Little terror - The Beatles
2. I want you - The Beatles
3. Never tear us apart - INXS*
4. Execution day - The New Pornographers
5. Make this go on forever - Snow Patrol

Saturday, December 06, 2008


There was a kerfuffle earlier this week among some northern blogs about some writings from a person down south. Now, I'm from Newfoundland, so I have some experience in dealing with these matters and this person in particular.

You must be zen. Or, as the Dude might say, abide.

Look the human reaction is to lose your shit a little bit in the face of these things. I know better and I still had a five minute moment of weakness where I fired off a few emails to friends when I read what it said when I really shouldn't have. But you must do the hard thing. And that's not to take the high road. That's to completely ignore its existence. It is no longer part of your world. You do no acknowledge it's real. Ideally, if you reach a suitable state, you shouldn't even notice it whatsoever.

It's hard, I know, and takes years and years of practice. But Newfoundlanders have had decades of experience. We might not have achieved Nirvana, but we've learned the trick to ignoring its existence. Really your life is much better.

"But this person is racist, and it's lying and crazy and..."

Stop right there. You hit the nail on the head with the last point. Crazy. No rational person pays any attention to what it has to say. No one. It makes a lot of big noise, but not one takes it seriously. It makes no real difference in the world, contrary to what it might believe.

I really do understand the urge to stand up to lies and injustice. To fight back against untruths and set the record straight. I've done it my fair share of times. It's a noble cause. But there are times when you have to assess the situation and realize that this is not a person to be taken seriously. No one really takes this person seriously, especially people who are of any influence in the world. This is like arguing with a conspiracy theorist. At some point you simply have to go "Why am I wasting my time arguing about this shit?"

You diminish yourself by engaging in the argument. No kidding, you really do. You only give the person your attention and draw the attention of others. Essentially you're helping the person by giving it the attention it craves, which is really the last thing you want.

So, dudes, abide. Seriously.

Last Five
1. Secretarial - A.C. Newman
2. My blue Manhattan - Ryan Adams
3. Well it's true we love each other - The White Stripes
4. Athena - The Who
5. I only want to be with you - Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies*