Monday, May 07, 2018

25 years after Guyville

My iPod currently holds 13,372 songs. And while I love music and I'm constantly poking around looking for new stuff, I confess I've gotten into a bad habit. I tend to buy albums, throw them on my iPod and then hit shuffle.

Now, I love the shuffle function. I've never been much one for creating playlists unless it's something to play at the gym. I like being surprised by the next song. It's a little radio station of songs I like. And yes, I know there's streaming. You understand I live in Iqaluit, the land where Internet comes to die, right?

I love my iPod Classic. It's a miraculous black slab of music. When Apple idiotically discontinued them, I immediately went out and bought another one as a back-up. I'm still on the first one and it's still working. I can't even tell you how many years I've had at at this point. The Classic was discontinued in 2014 and I've had that one a couple of years before that. I use it pretty much every day, either in a Bose station at home or sitting on my desk at work with my noise cancelling headphones.

But as much as I love it, I get lazy with it. I rarely, very rarely, listen to an album from start to finish anymore. I can buy a new album and it can be months before I go "huh, I don't recognize that song" and then check to see it was something I bought 6 months earlier. I kinda miss that. At the very least I should get back into the habit of listening to an album a few times before it gets lost in permanent shuffle.

I'm rambling about this because there are only a handful of albums I can remember where I was the first time I heard them. Transformative albums. Many, many years ago I used to be Entertainment Editor of the Muse, which meant dispersing music. A lot of it was crap, but every now and then you'd hit gold. Pretty sure I gave Nevermind by Nirvana to someone to review. I can't remember if they actually did. Giving away the music was easy; getting the reviews back required a hefty amount of death threats.

I recall giving the cassette (they were almost always cassettes. CDs were too expensive to waste on student newspapers) Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos to my friend Jaap. He came into the office the next day, dragged me into an office and made me listen to the tape on a battered ghetto blaster, proclaiming it was of the greatest things he'd ever heard.

(Jaap would probably say it still is one of the greatest things he'd ever heard. I wouldn't argue with him. It's a remarkable album).

Picking up An Irish Evening by the Chieftains at a college radio remainder sale in Halifax in 1994 and listening to it so much my roommate at King's begged me to stop. It quickly became an expensive quest while in Halifax to own everything by the band.

I remember buying Neko Case's Furnace Room Lullaby at Fred's after hearing a song on CBC's Definitely Not the Opera and driving around around St. John's for hours afterwards listening to it on repeat by myself because I'd never heard a voice like that.

And then there's Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville.

It is, god help me, the 25th anniversary of the album. Which means, of course, there's a special remastered edition of the album. Pitchfork, which hates almost everything, gave it a 10, which surely means the end is near. I normally curse on anniversary editions of albums because they're silly or make me feel old. But hearing the album is now 25 slams the specific moment I heard it for the first time.

I heard it at 3:30 in the morning at a house party (pretty sure it was Sherry Russell's place) after a night downtown. My friends Chris and Lisa were trying to convince others to let them put on the CD. I was deeply skeptical of it because at this time both of them belonged to the cult of Cub, a band they loved and tried to convert everyone too. I loathed the band and had grown to deeply distrust their musical sensibilities at this time.

But they won out and the CD eventually made it on, but in a bedroom so everyone else didn't have to listen and could continue on with what they were doing. I was roped in because, well, Chris is Chris. And it was jaw-dropping. It's that moment when you realize you've never heard anything like it before. I was a 23 year old guy when I heard it, so I wasn't exactly the target audience she was singing to. I was pretty much everything wrong in the world that she was singing about. But the honestly, purity and rawness made an impact. Again, next day I went out to buy it....and couldn't find it. Eventually Fred's got it in and I paid some silly amount of money for it. Worth every penny.

Others will, and have, written more eloquently about the album. And again, I think if you're a woman hearing that album it hits you in much different ways than if you're a guy.

There's been a segment of critics that have always been disappointed that Phair never lived up to the "potential" of Exile but I quite liked her next few albums. Whip-Smart  was quite good and Whitechocolatespaceegg had some moments of pure pop wonder like 'Polyester Bride'. Hell, even a song like 'HWC' has a humour and brashness that I can admire. They're not Exile, but hell, very few artists get one of those kinds of albums in a career. Asking to do it a bunch of times is insane.

So yeah, dig it out if you haven't listened to it in awhile. And if you've never listened, hop into your time machine to the early 90s and enjoy. You may have heard people try to duplicate it to some degree, but the original still holds all the power.

Last Five
1. The Parts - Manchester Orchestra
2. Who do you love - Lily Allen
3. Boogie Street (live) - Leonard Cohen
4. Trip my wire - Garbage
5. Extraordinary - Liz Phair*


Sunday, May 06, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War (spoilers)

Here there be Spoilers. So don't read if you haven't see the movie...
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There's a key moment for me in Avengers: Infinity War. And it's not one that's been particularly focused on when I read a lot of the commentary about the movie.

It's the scene at Knowhere, the wonderful (and hopefully rebuilt) mining colony inside a dead Celestial skull. Thanos is trying to wring the location of the Reality Stone out of the Collector when Gamora attacks and kills Thanos, before breaking down weeping. This is when Thanos pulls back the curtain to reveal that he is still alive and already has the stone. After a brief and terrifying fight, he takes her away.

Two things occurred to me at that moment.

1. Marvel are clever, devious, lying bastards. In all the promo material it ever only showed Thanos with two of the stones. This scene shows him with three. That means Marvel had spent a solid year deceiving people. The movie wasn't going to be about Thanos trying to get the stones to form the Gauntlet and the Avengers trying to stop him. 

No, the movie was going to be about him actually using the Gauntlet to wipe out half the universe.

I honestly felt like clapping at that moment. I'm not mad at Marvel. Good for them. Fans are insane. Every inch of footage and still pics were examined in a way that would make the CIA want to start recruiting analysts at Comic Cons. If lying meant that people got a surprising cinematic experience, I'm happy for them. But this leads to....

2. The only way you could know this was coming is if you were a comic book reader. Liking Marvel movies and reading the comics are hardly mutually exclusive. Marvel and DC go quietly insane over movies that can make $1 billion at the international box office but the comics they take the material from are lucky to sell 100,000 copies a month.

I have no way of proving it for sure, but I'd be surprised if 10% of the audience at Black Panther or Avengers: Infinity War had read one of those comics in the last 6 months.

So for me an other comic book readers, we'd probably figured out what was coming, had an hour to brace for it, wonder how it was going to play out and how they're going to reverse it the next movie. Because they will, because there are no pearly gates in super hero afterlife, merely a revolving door.

But for everyone else, including Cathy, the last five minutes or so were an absolute gut punch. They didn't see it coming. The heroes lost and half the universe gets wiped out. Characters they love died. And as one clever critic I read mentioned, you were not given a glimpse of hope at the end of this.

The Empire Strikes Back is considered a massive downer of a movie, but it still ends up an upbeat note. Luke is back with the Rebellion, he has a new hand, and there's a plan underway to rescue Han. They got their ass kicked, but there's still hope.

There is not a glimpse of hope in that ending. Not a whiff of it. It is an astonishing final act to drop on audiences. Maybe later you go "Well there's no way they're killing Black Panther and Spider-Man - they have movies coming out." But at that time, it's an audience not familiar with comics and its tropes, who might not read all the fan sites, watching characters they love get wiped out is devastating. I've read reports of all kinds of reactions to that scene. Dead silence. Crying. Gasps. Apparently people have fainted, but that's unconfirmed.

It's as ballsy a thing you'll see in a franchise movie in quite some time.

Now, does that make it a good movie? Well, allow me to quote Warren Ellis, who has written a whack of these characters, for a moment....

"It is not a movie. It is a brand manifestation that wants to have prolonged, eager and reasonably skilled cultural sex with you. It wants your experience with its content™ to be satisfying and it hopes you are pleased enough to return for further interaction with the Brand.  This is a very 21C thing.  I like it for that alone, to be honest."

It is as weird a movie as I've ever seen. Completely non-sensical if you haven't watched the 18 previous movies. And yet if you have, it pays off in dozens of different ways throughout if you have. Funny, yet massively heartbreaking. It's the second-to-last episode in the most expensive season of TV you've ever seen. It's a remarkable achievement that might never be duplicated again. 

Seriously. Marvel's skill is in making this look flawless and easy. So easy others crash on the rocks trying to duplicate it.

I need to see Infinity War again before I can properly assess and place where it falls in the grand scheme of things in the Marvel series. Probably Top 5, but I've thought that about others and they don't hold up to repeat viewings. And with a movie with this many easter eggs, twists and everything else, it'll be interesting to see how it holds up to repeat viewings. 

Still, all those involved deserve a round of applause. And probably lots of booze. Ten years ago, after walking out of Iron Man, if you had asked me if a movie like this could exist I would have laughed. And here it is. Remarkable.

Top 5
1. You are what you love - Jenny Lewis
2. Let the lord shine a light on me - Noel Gallagher and the High Flying Birds
3. Sweetest goodbye - Maroon 5
4. Beautiful - Blue Rodeo
5. DOA - Foo Fighters

Monday, April 30, 2018

Snowguard and Champions

One of my favourite stories of last week had the rare meeting of comic books and the North. The CBC reported that a new Inuk super hero is being introduced by Marvel Comics and joining one of their super teams - The Champions.

Nunavummiut got a bit of a hint this was coming a few weeks ago. Champions #19 came out and someone posted a page on Twitter showing the issue started with a couple of Inuit characters investigating a mysterious base just outside of Pangnirtung. It was a couple of pages of set up, then going back to the main team in New York who are getting themselves reestablished after a rough period. They decide to investigate a disturbance in Nunavut. Cue action sequence when they're attacked and a dramatic cliffhanger.

It was an interesting discussion on local Twitter about it. Aside from the small oops of putting trees in Nunavut and Pangnirtung, it's a solid little issue. The issue also featured the debut of a new creative team with Toronto-based Jim Zub writing, South African Sean Izaakse on pencils and Marcio Manyz on colours. So they're trying to do something different to shake up the book. I've been collecting Champions in trade paperback since it launched with Mark Waid writing. Waid's one of the best, don't get me wrong, but the concept he was aiming for - a group of idealistic teen superheroes who want to change the world and help people rather than getting into a super villain of the day fight - just never completely materialised. I think I read an interview where he even admitted that.

Zub might be the guy to do it. He's coming off a well reviewed run on Avengers that he co-wrote with Waid and Al Ewing. I've enjoyed his Image series Wayward, which features teenagers challenging old mythological powers. So he's a good fit. Izaakse's art is new to me, but I like his style.

Both were on Twitter talking about the book when the Nunavut conversation was going on. I was pretty excited and others enjoyed the idea as well. However, there was concern about appropriation of Inuit culture in the comic and how accurate it was going to be. For example, there was sadness that the character of Amka Aliyak wasn't wearing a nice traditional parka or some kamiks. Or that maybe it would have been nicer if Marvel had hired Inuit to write or draw the comic.

Zub also alluded, cryptically, that he consulted with someone from Nunavut. Plenty of locals offered to provide help (guilty as charged) if they needed it. Nunavut doesn't make it into mainstream comics every day. We'd like for it to be accurate. They were both pretty gracious about the Northern geeks offering to help.

The CBC story broke that open, with Nyla Innuksuk being consulted on the character's origins, powers and design. And it wasn't just a consultation....it was a paid consultation. I think everybody was very happy about that. The creators seems very determined to get this right and aware of the sensitivities involved. Good for them.

Snowguard
A lot of how this is going to play out remains to be seen. Amka has only been in a few pages. The publicity push right now has to do with boosting orders for #21, where she makes her costumed debut, as the cut off for ordering is coming up shortly. Plus, well, Champions could use a sales boost. Last I checked it's on the mid to lower end of sales for books Marvel publishes. Or at least the best guess. Marvel and DC are zealous about guarding their sales figures.

Despite being a Nunavut-based character there are limited options for people reading her adventures. To my knowledge nowhere in Nunavut sells comics anymore (Arctic Ventures used to and stopped. Stuff 2 Do, which sold toys and comics closed last year). You can read it digitally through Amazon, but there can be challenges with that as well in Nunavut (Crappy internet. Not everyone has a credit card). The trade paperback collecting the stories won't be out until November. I confess if the Nunavut Public Library system doesn't buy it, I might buy a bunch and donate them.

And there's a lot to like about her design. I love the amauti design of her costume. And the tattoos, particularly the facial ones, are a big bonus. Not 100% wild about her name; something in Inuktitut would have been nice, but that might have been a bit much for Marvel to swallow. Her powers are also a bit derivative of another Marvel Canadian hero - Snowbird. We'll see how that works. Besides, as much as I love Snowbird, man is she an awkward character in a modern context. An Inuit demi-goddess with the power to change into any Northern animal who is....white. And blonde.

Also, new characters are hard to launch. Almost exactly four years ago DC made a very big deal about a Cree character from Northern Ontario named Equinox in a Justice League series. Her creators were Jeff Lemire and Mike McKone, two very prominent creators. She appeared in a handful of issues and then vanished. To my knowledge she's not currently being used in any series.

Snowguard may well be different. I hope she is. There needs to be more indigenous characters and creators in comics. Representation truly matters in comics and pop culture. If you need proof of that, look at the reaction Black Panther had when it hit screens. And Champions is a good book for her to be in. The characters are young, but also ethnically diverse and feature more females than males.

Zub has said as long as he's writing the book, she'll be a part of it. Here's hoping Champions has a long run. Selling comics is not an easy gig either. But as long as Amka is around, I'll keep giving Champions a look....

Last Five
1. Do you want to - Franz Ferdinand
2. Jejune stars - Bright Eyes
3. Born losers - Matthew Good*
4. Look of love - The Jezabels
5. Zero results - Hot Hot Heat

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Packet at 50

I got tagged by my former editor Barbara Dean-Simmons a few weeks ago. The Packet's 50th anniversary was coming up on March 28 and would I, and some other former staffers, like to write a brief note about our experiences with the paper.

I laughed because my writing at The Packet could be described as many things, but rarely was it brief. So Anyway, my... ahem... award-winning column normally clocked in around 1,000 words. The travel pieces I've been writing for Barb the last few years normally coming in around the same length despite her frequently pleading that 300 words or so is more than enough.

I like writing long when I write for Barb. What can I say.

But then some numbers started jumping out at me. If it's The Packet's 50th anniversary, that makes it Barb's 38th year of working with the paper. Which is a feat as remarkable as it is marginally masochistic. It means she's been editor of the paper for 28 years, which honest to god probably has to be a record for journalism in Newfoundland and Labrador and might be up there across Canada.

It occurred to me to send Barb a friendly mocking note about these numbers when it dawned on me that it means this year marks the 20th anniversary of when I joined the paper.

Ahhhahahahaha.....oh god.

I ended up writing 300 words for Barb and spent about an hour cutting and crafting to get it just right. And 300 words is nothing. In the depths of my hard drive is a failed attempt at a first novel. Its fictional but anyone who spent time with me at The Muse or The Packet would certainly have no problem recognizing people or events. And before it died about three-quarters of the way through that first draft was 120,000 words long.

So yeah, I can write a little bit about my time there.

I'm not saying The Packet saved my life, but it certainly changed it significantly for the better. My 20s were a mixed bag. As awesome as my time with The Muse was, I probably stayed a year longer than I should of (glad I did, I would have missed some amazing people), then I struggled at King's (15 stitches in your lip, strep throat, the flu and almost having to have emergency dental surgery in the space of 6 weeks will wreck some serious havoc on your academics),  followed by unemployment, short term contracts, a mildly disastrous attempt at being an English teach in South Korea....

By the time I was 28 things were grim. Journalism wasn't working out and I was considering going back to school....law school. Gah.

So the offer from The Packet was a big deal. Well, as big a deal as making $18,200 a year can be. As horrifying as that number is, it could have been much worse. Community newspaper reporters in the prairies were making less than $15,000 a year and expected to have their own car and camera. The Packet had a work mini-van and cameras (the glorious Pentax K-1000s. I was nearly murdered by one. More later.)

I have limited photos of Barb. This is the one least likely
to get me murdered.
I'm sure I was a cocky townie and came out with attitude. Barb, to her credit, didn't kill me, but did set me straight. I have many Packet stories, but perhaps the most important one came early when I went to take a picture of five women for a story. She hated it. I shot them from too far away (pre-digital, remember). So I had to call them, ask them to gather again and retake the picture. Barb still hated it and made me call the same five women and take another picture. They, quite rightly, thought I was an idiot. I was furious at the time.

But Barb was right. The photos were lazy and shit. You can be assured they got better after that.

And that's where things shifted with me. I hate to say I grew up, but I stopped being....complacent. I think I've always had some writing talent, but I was lazy with it. Talent is nothing if you don't develop the discipline to utilize it. At that point in time, I needed more structure. And I got it. I was a much better person and reporter when I left the paper in 2001 then when I joined in 1998.

As for Packet stories....

1. Barb and office manager Roz Smith "ambushing" me in the interview with the hardball question if I would mind using the Packet van to drop off papers on Mondays. It's a community newspaper. It's all hands on board. In turns out the Clarenville to Southern Harbour and all stops between run was one of my favourite things.

2. Going to use the only washroom in the paper's office to discover a metal sign that said "Women" and underneath, a sticky note that read, "And Craig". Just so I knew my place.

3. Tea breaks at 10:30. Religiously. Jokes and horrific puns included.

4. After my lamenting the quality of drivers in Clarenville (they're awful) and baymen in general, our ad agent Bonnie Goodyear responded with a venomous "you...miserable...townie... bastard." I recall not being able to breathe from laughing so hard. And so, a minor legend was born.

5. Barb calling me and asking if I could pick her up some Mary Browns and bring it up to the hospital to her. You see, she'd just given birth and was putting the final touches on the paper's editorial that week and was hungry. Yeah.

The photo I won my award for. 
6. Winning journalism awards. Reporters get cynical and downplay them, but I remember getting so excited by them. I had produced content that was good enough to win an award. I was proud of the times my column won awards because I worked hard at it. I was proud of the business journalism award because it came with a $500 check that I really needed. And when I won a national journalism award for....sports photography...I think even Barb got a laugh out of that one.

I kept winning them for the Packet even after I left. In 2014 I won an award for the travel stories I was writing for the paper. Huge smile on my face. Felt as good as winning the first one.

7. My running war with then Mayor Fred Best. God that was fun. A tip of the hat to my friend Pat for coming up with the phrase "Fillergate" during a particularly epic run of stories involving the mayor using municipal equipment to work on his private property.

8. When I found writing a weekly column challenging, Barb came up with a fantastic solution - we'd alternate weeks. She'd write one; I'd write one. And we'd be constantly trying to top each other. It brought out the best in both of our writing.

   A. One week when both of us were driving back from the set of The Shipping News which was filming near Trouty I made a....poorly thought out remark concerning actress Julianne Moore and that it was hard to believe she was still that hot at 40, which was around Barb's age at the time. Barb told me later, "I thought about slamming on the brakes and just sending you through the windshield but you had your seatbelt on. Then I thought about beating you to death with camera (Pentax K1000!) but I love that camera and your thick skull might break it."

Instead she achieved her revenge by writing about the incident for her column in the paper. For months, every woman in the region over 30 shot me dirty looks or huffed as a walked by.

   B. A tea break debate over Coronation Street spilled out hilariously into our columns as I argued it was a British soap opera and Barb countered that it wasn't but was, in fact, a long running daytime British drama. Which was totally different. The amount of reaction we got to those columns was hilarious. I still maintain I won that one.

9. Our unofficial Letters to Santa Claus contest.

10. And dozens of more things. The mad dash on Fridays to get copy for deadline. Chatting with Kathy over the top of our cubicles. Getting to talk to people, interview, and tell their stories. Occasionally you got to help people with the stories you wrote. That is a feeling you always remember.

I left The Packet in 2001 and I still have some mixed reaction to that. On the very big upside I met Cathy three months after I moved back into St. John's. So that worked out well.

But the reason I was leaving was we simply couldn't get the publisher to give me a raise. There does come a point where you'd like to move up from sharing a basement apartment and running a dehumidifer 24/7 gets tiring. So a little more money would have been nice. What was more frustrating was The Express in St. John's was able to give me a job with the raise I needed and more. I know it bugged the crap out of Barb.

Plus my time with The Express never worked out right. It was a different atmosphere and environment there that never clicked with me. I liked Donnie, Westcott and Stephanie, but I was never comfortable. It was with relief I left the paper in 2005 and moved to Iqaluit. Also, a good dose of timing. The paper folded less than two years later.

I left in no small part, by the way, by having a conversation with Barb who told me I just needed to move on. Nothing wrong with recognizing it wasn't working. You're not a failure, you just need to do something different that you like. It was like a 10 tonne weight had been lifted off my chest when she said that.

Anyway, I have a lot of fond memories of The Packet. It's a great community newspaper. One of the best in Canada, I would argue, but I am biased. But I don't even know where they store all the journalism awards at this point. And Barb remains one of the best bosses I've ever had the pleasure to work with.

So here's to 50 more. Although, please God, retire by then will you, Barb?

Last Five
1. Don't answer me - The Alan Parsons Project*
2. Travellin' - Matt Mays and El Torpedo
3. Squeeze Box - The Who
4. Songs of love - Ben Folds
5. New Years Day (live) - U2


Monday, March 26, 2018

Five graphic novels to read

Occasionally I'm asked what graphic novels I would recommend to people. I try to keep in mind not everyone is in the mood to deal with decades of bizarro-land continuity. So the recommendations below are not from Marvel or DC and are (mostly) not super heroes. I also like making them reasonably kid friendly.

So here are some highlights for you to read.

1 Giant Days (Allison, various artists) - I am going to keep telling all of you to read Giant Days until you actually listen to me. Three young women facing university in England and all the craziness that goes on with trying to figure out your place in the world. Esther is a goth with a catastrophic drama field; Daisy is dealing with university after being homeschooled most of her life and realizing she might prefer girls over boys; and Susan, the "grown up" except for when it comes to an ex her life that makes her slightly insane.

I can't emphasize enough how funny this book is. But none of the leads are perfect. They do stupid things because they're 19 and that's what you do when you're 19. I love this series as much as anything being published right now. Volume 7 is being published next week, but it's an easy series to get caught up with. Trust me, you'll burn through the books.

2. Delilah Dirk - Written and magnificently illustrated by Tony Cliff, it's the kind of book you would hand to a pre-teen girl, and they would come back in an hour and demand all the books. Sadly, there's only two - Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant and Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling. The good news is the third book ...and the Pillars of Hercules comes out in August.

Delilah is, in no particular order and adventurer, expert swordswoman, thief, hero, petulent, stubborn and sometimes a little too self centred. She's accompanied by Mr. Selim, who she kind of rescued after getting him in trouble in the first place. He's still finding his adventure feet, tends to get himself in trouble, but his heart is in the right place and he makes really excellent tea.

It's old fashion, massively over the top adventure set in early 19th century Europe. Indiana Jones is sometimes cited, but it's more of a weird buddy book as well. Perhaps a bit of Tintin in there as well. I'd actually be massively disappointed in Delilah and Mr. Salim hook up. Their friendship, for all the frustrations with the other, is much more fun. I will cite this one complain - First Second, the publisher, is doing Cliff's art a massive disservice putting it in a smaller, digest format book. I really hope at some point they reprint them in an oversized format to give his art a chance to shine. It's also been optioned for a movie.

3. Goldie Vance (Larson, Ball, Haynes) - Goldie is a 16-year-old who is supposed to be a car valet at the hotel her father manages in South Florida during the 1950s. But she's clever, nosey and has aspirations of being a detective, which tends to get her in trouble.

Goldie, like the previous women mentioned above, are not perfect characters. I'm actually sensing a theme as a write it. Goldie's certainly smart and trying to do the right thing. But that drive often gets her, and people she cares about, in a lot of trouble. It works out in the end (it's still an all ages book), but it's interesting to see how her she tries to learn from her mistakes.

The other really interesting thing is the setting and the characters. It's 1950s South Florida and its an ethically diverse supporting cast. No one makes a big deal. Goldie has a girlfriend. Nobody bats an eye at it. Sometimes the biggest win is just showing different non-white, non-straight characters in normal settings and no one acts like this is revolutionary.

The first three volumes are out now. The fourth is out in May. It's also been optioned for a movie.

4. Injection (Ellis, Shalvey) - My token Warren Ellis, but oh so good Warren Ellis. To my knowledge it hasn't been optioned to be made into a TV show or movie, but like most things Ellis, it's tailor-made to make the leap. Injection is when five very clever people in England came up with a terrible idea to stop the future from becoming boring and then implementing it. After all, what could go wrong with developing an alien AI, infusing it with magic, and injecting it into the internet to see what happens.

The series is them trying to contain the fallout. But it's also Ellis playing with tropes and digging into weird English folklore. Book one is Dana Scully going not so quietly mad with guilt. Book two is Cumberbatch's Sherlock, except he's black, a bigger asshole, knows what human flesh tastes like and is omnisexual. Book three is Dr. Who except she's black from Ireland and says fuck a lot. There are still two books left to come.

I have a deep and abiding love of Ellis, simply because he has so many clever ideas, but his characters simply work. A few lines and you know who they are. It also helps to have an artist as good as Declan Shalvey who illustrates the madness with flair. Unlike the previous three, maybe you don't give this one to your kid.

5. The Wicked + The Divine (Gillen, McKelvie) - You know you're on to something when the blurbs on the back have fellow creators cursing you for coming up with the concept. Every 88 years Gods return to the Earth. They merge with teenagers and then become incredibly famous and incredibly powerful. In this case, they're all music stars.

Oh, and you're dead in two years. Guaranteed.

There's a lot unpack here. The Gods tend to look like popular musicians. Lucifer looks like 80s Bowie. Amaterasu looks like Florence Welch. Woden like Daft Punk. There are questions about exactly how much are you willing to sacrifice to be famous. Are you willing to die at 19 knowing that for two glorious years you're famous and will become culturally immortal?

Plus, they're gods. So there's sex, drugs, in-fighting and death. Imagine Fleetwood Mac but you gave them super powers. What could go wrong?

All of the books here are well drawn, either cartoon-style like Goldie Vance and Giant Days, or more "serious" art like Cliff and Shelvey. But it's worth saying that McKelvie (and Matthew Wilson on colours) are what make or break the series. The books are gorgeous and it's possibly the best colouring of any comic on the market.

There are six volumes out, with two more (at least) to come. Be warned, Gillen is a bastard at cliffhangers. The one at the end of volume 6 had people screaming at him for weeks afterwards.

Last Five
1. Spring haze (live) - Tori Amos
2. Sailing to Philadelphia - Mark Knopfler*
3. PrimeTime - Janelle Monae
4. Daughters - Lissie
5. Night drive - Tom Petty

Thursday, March 15, 2018

How to fix the Brier

For a lot of years I gave Brad Gushue crap. He was undoubtedly a fantastic curler, but his ability to make the Brier play-offs but being unable to close the deal was frustrating. Even winning the Olympic gold medal....there was an element of luck there and I think he's admitted that himself. Having Russ Howard there to help guide the team over the finish line was always going to be an element to that win. I thought he was going to be one of those players who could never get it done. There are plenty of athletes who, as great as they were, never won championships. Gushue was feeling like that.

But two Briers in a row? No, that cements your ticket into the Hall of Fame. They looked absolutely in control every game I watched. Even the last couple of ends of the Final, when they let Alberta back into it, they didn't crack. Five years ago they would have found a way to choke on it. So congrats to him and his team. It's a hell of an accomplishment.

But the other thing Gushue did last week was express his displeasure at the format change this year. Instead of the standard round robin where you play every team, there were two pools, and then a crossover playdown, then playoffs. A lot of curlers grumbled about it but it was devised so that every province and territory could compete. And to balance things out, a Team WildCard was created. And the old standards of Northern Ontario and Team Canada. So 16 teams overall.

Gushue didn't like the format, didn't like Team WildCard, didn't like Team Canada (even if he was Team Canada) and wasn't exactly subtle in expressing his annoyance about the quality of competition. This was a not so thinly veiled shot at teams from Yukon and, more particularly, Nunavut.

I can't link to them because they're behind a paywall, but News North didn't like Gushue's comments. No less than two opinion pieces politely told Gushue to shove it. That Nunavut has the right to be at a national championship along with every other province and territory. And that the only way Nunavut curling will improve is to go to these events and get better.

Also probably riling them up was curling reporter Terry Jones of PostMedia taking shots at Nunavut being at national events. I mean, every single piece he wrote leading up to and during the Scotties and the Brier contained a shot about Nunavut being undeserving of being there. I'd get annoyed too.

(How can I possibly know this? Because part of my job involves putting together a news scan. Take a guess at how much I love doing this during the Scotties and the Brier when the number of stories featuring keywords like Yukon, NWT, and Nunavut effectively doubles. Also, I fucking hate the band the Arctic Monkeys.)

So, a couple of things to unpack here.

First, good on Gushue for actually having an opinion. He's one the premiere curlers in the country and the world right now. It's easy to be quiet and just take the endorsement money, but he doesn't like the format and has no problem letting people know it. I'm sure Curling Canada would prefer he shut up about it, but he's speaking his mind. I rarely have a problem with athletes speaking their mind intelligently on a subject.

As for Nunavut being at events like the Brier and Scotties...

Look, this sounds a touch egotistical, but if I hadn't gone into semi-retirement from curling a few years (that's another story) I might have been good enough to have been on that team. I was, by Iqaluit standards, pretty good. Teams I skipped won league finals, I won bonspiels, I shot second stones on the first men's team to compete at a national level event - The Dominion (a national championship for "rec league" curlers) and we finished 3-3.

So yeah. Maybe I could have gone to the Brier. That would have been cool. But getting whipped almost every single game (they did almost beat Yukon)? Getting outscored 80-28 over the course of the Brier? I'm not sure how much fun that would be.

I know one of the guys on the team. I really must remember to ask him what the experience was like. Maybe it was a blast and he can't wait to go back next year.

Going to the Brier or Scotties annually is never significantly going to improve teams from Nunavut. The skill gap is simply too vast. There are plenty of logistical challenges for developing curling in Nunavut that I'm not going to get into here. Perhaps they're underway. As I said, I'm semi-retired from it.

But the way you get good is regularly facing high level competition. It's why teams from Europe and Asia come over and play in Canada for six months. Because they get higher levels of competition. They get better by playing better teams on a regular basis.

So how does Nunavut get good? Four players, out of the territory, who travel a lot and play a lot of Ontario and prairie bonspiels. For several years. If you do that, then maybe you get a team that can win a few games and pull off a surprise.

But I can't see that ever happening because I can't even imagine the financial commitment that will take. Your team winning $5,000 at a cashspiel isn't really going to cut it. We're talking, ballpark, $100,000 for four players for a season (and that's probably low). Travel, accommodations, meals, time away from work. And it's not like Nunavut is a cheap place to travel from and live in.

So no, I can't ever see it happening. And I can't see how much benefit Nunavut curlers get from having your ass kicked. And watching adults get whipped isn't exactly inspiring the next generation.

So my suggestions:
1. Nunavut should absolutely send curlers to national events. But they should be the juniors, mixed, seniors and similar championships. That's a good experience and there's less pressure and spotlight at these events than at the Brier and Scotties.

2. If the Brier is interested in my opinion (they're not)....there's a territorial playdown between NWT, Yukon and Nunavut. Winner goes to the Brier. There was a version of this before, but Curling Canada never did enough to support Nunavut teams to go the event, or the other teams were unwilling to go to Nunavut. Help support it financially.

3. Curling suffers a real outreach problem in Indigenous communities. They're trying with their commercials to get more, well, non-white people involved. But a bunch of communities in Nunavut had curling rinks and they were closed due to lack of interest. The ship has probably sailed, but if you're serious about growing the sport, you have to be serious about improving outreach in the North. A Nunavut team of all Inuit players gets more Inuit interested in the sport. Right now it's barely on the radar.

4. At best nobody minded the Scotties and Brier format this year. But nobody loved it. So a Territories team is fine. But as long as we're pruning, get rid of Team Canada. It's always been a terrible idea and they rarely defend the title. Gushue defending this year is an anomaly. Team WildCard actively annoyed me. And, while we're at it, get rid of Northern Ontario. If Nunavut getting a team is annoying to some in Southern Canada, Ontario getting two teams is annoying to most Canadians.

Do that and you're back to an 11-team bonspiel. Delightful.

There you go. I have solved the curling crisis in Canada.

Last Five
1. Behind blue eyes - The Who
2. Arnie's song - Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies
3. Working on the highway (live) - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band*
4. Dance hall days - Wang Chung
5. No jokes-fact - Hot Hot Heat

Sunday, February 25, 2018

When home doesn't want you

I've been struggling with a couple of blog posts, including a review of Black Panther when I got one of those small gifts from the gods....

A story showed up in my Facebook feed on Friday about the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador trying to figure out why people are leaving the province. And if that seems like a joke, it apparently isn't. On any given day I think an easier survey may well be "On a scale of 1-10 how big of a masochist are you for staying?"

But no, money has been spent, admittedly a small amount by government standards, about why expats leave and what it would take to entice them back. And because I'm a curious sort and was, admittedly, looking forward to leaving some really sarcastic answers in response, I clicked the link to take me to the survey.

These are the first three questions:

Are you:

1. Residing outside of Newfoundland and Labrador

2. Between 19 and 44 years of age

3. Not a full time post-secondary student

I am residing outside the province, I'm not a student, however I'm also older than 44 years old. When I didn't check that button I got "Thank you for completing this survey."

I interpret this as meaning if you're 45 years of age and older, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador would like you to fuck off and die somewhere on the Mainland. They don't care why you left, and they certainly don't want you to come back. And they really, really, really don't want you to retire there.

I can almost respect the honesty in that. The province's finances can be charitably described as cataclysmic. When I was in St. John's over Christmas there was the palatable feeling of waiting for the hammer to fall. Open Line shows spoke about when, not if, the province is going to go bankrupt.

I realize that creative political leadership is about as rare as unicorn sightings in the province, but there is again, an overwhelming sense of despair that there is nobody to lead people out of this mess. Not the current Liberals, not the Conservatives and the NDP have never been taken seriously for more than 30 seconds. There is nothing there that passes for leadership.

A few years ago I wrote that I was in favour of a return to Commission of Government, which was a period in the 1930s and 40s when Newfoundland and Labrador was run by a group of commissioners from England. So we have a history of cocking things up and having others clean up the mess. During my more cynical moments I'm in favour of just evacuating the place and nuking it from space. It's the only way to be sure.

(Although if I'm honest, no, that probably wouldn't work. People would land there in protective suits with iodine pills and build cabins by the irradiated sludge that used to be a pond.)

However, I am a kindly sort. Here, for free, is why we left Newfoundland and what they would have to do to get us back.

It should be noted that under current conditions Cathy and I would take a huge pay cut to return. Now, my base salary is standard across Canada. I'd lose certain benefits from living in the North, but that would be the same if I moved to Toronto or Edmonton. So I'm good. However, as a teacher, Cathy would lose approximately two-thirds of her salary. So overall we'd lose about 50% of our income.

Second, there are tax benefits to living in the North. So we only pay GST. That means 5% sales tax vs the ridiculous 15% in Newfoundland. There's a Northern Tax Credit we get each year for helping overcome the higher costs of living. So we wouldn't be making half as much as we have now, it'd probably be closer to 40% of what we make now.

But wait, that assumes we could actually get a job, which....hahahahahaha.....no. I might with some dumb luck, but there are no teaching jobs for Cathy and I doubt she wants to spend the next 10 years subbing her way in. If things were bleak for us professionally in 2005 then they extra special grim right now.

I always found it offensive that there is a view that if you're staying in Newfoundland employers can get away for paying you less. "You love this place and want to stay. Let's take advantage of that fact."

"Ok, sure, but you could retire there maybe one day..."

Well, as you saw above, they don't want us to retire there. Because whatever benefits we might bring to the economy with our pensions and whatnot, would likely be more than offset by the impending tsunami of elderly hitting the province that are going to require extra medical and home care. I will bet you money there's a plan somewhere to export elderly people to a third world country, or a consultant's report that reads "A Cost Benefits Analysis for Displacing Older than Average Residents to Temporary In-Transit Ice Developed Accommodations".

Or perhaps just an outright ban on anyone travelling to Newfoundland who is order than 44 without proper documentation assuring that you're going to leave, and not try to retire there.

Plus, by time time we retire we will have likely spent 25 years living in Nunavut. We love Iqaluit....you don't last if you don't. But when we retire we're moving to a place that has palm trees gently swaying the breeze 365 days a year.

So, to sum up for any Government of Newfoundland officials reading this:

Why We Left
1. Under employed and under payed.
2. Could not envision a future where that would change.
3. Better professional development and personal development opportunities elsewhere.
4. Over-taxed for the quality of services received.
5. Taken advantage of for wanting to stay.

Why We're Not Returning
1. Our life is in every measurable sense much, much, much better in Nunavut than if we were still in Newfoundland. It is a sure bet the travel we've done in the last 12 years would not have happened. Or buying and nearly paying off a house. Or that we're in a good financial position to retire before we're 100.
2. No opportunities for career development that does not involve a 50% pay cut.
3. Significantly higher taxes with services that do not match.
4. Lack of political leadership, Or common sense.
5. The province is doomed and everyone knows its doomed. It's like asking if we would like tickets on the Titanic an hour after it hit the iceberg.
6. They don't want us. Not really.

What You Could do to Entice us Back
1. Find a fountain of youth near Fogo since I'm 48 years old and they don't want me.
2. Import a bunch of Scandinavians to run the place. Seriously, they can really run a country.
3. I got nothing else, really. Because even if a new, magic source of revenue presented itself, I have every faith that the current political leadership in the province would find a way to squander it and fuck it up.

Being able to see the few family and friends that have not fled elsewhere and 10 days of nice weather in September is not the lure it once was, oh government officials.

That's what it boils down to....the Government is asking people to sacrifice a lot to come back to a place that's not functioning, and they not only don't have a plan to fix that, but believe that a cheap survey is a solid way to start.

I'll say now what I've been saying for years....find a place somewhere else and go. Get out while you can. Because it's not getting any better anytime soon.

Last Five
1. Anti-Pioneer - Feist
2. Protest song - Broken Social Scene
3. Somewhere else - Lynda Loveless
4. We are the champions - Queen
5. Walk away - Tom Waits*