SVALBARD’S 10 STRANGEST STORIES OF 2018: Russians linked to polar bear porn video connected to Trump meltdown while Norway’s royal family gets trashed

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Pretty much all of the news in Svalbard is strange compared to anywhere else.

Which means perhaps the strangest thing about this rant that’s our favorite annual year-end feature (voted “The Best Media Listicle on Earth” seven straight years*) is the truly strangest story of 2018 isn’t actually on the list (along with probably the silver and bronze winners, plus a couple others in the top ten).

While the whole world made fun of us for our first-ever (bungled) bank robbery, the utter failure of “the ultimate doomsday vault” to survive a few rainstorms and being polar bear pimps for (wannabe) rich tourists, none of those are in the list below. As always, it’s because they’re already on the more journalistically substantive “Svalbard’s 10 Biggest Stories of 2018” – meaning they’re being published for substantially more than polar porn’s sake.

But speaking of sex, be prepared for a stimulating threesome of that many more titillate tales as Icepeople presents, in no particular order, the never-to-be-questioned-for-all-eternity “Svalbard’s 10 Strangest Stories of 2018.”

(*Prove we’re wrong by finding someone else who’s won the award.)

Polar bear sexcapades arouse humans’ lust for dirty images and dirty deeds

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Polar perverts: That’d be us, not them…unless you’re the type who posts your sexual encounters online and consider it normal behavior. Photo by Ted Torfoss.

Shocking revelation: there are hundreds of polar bears waddling around Svalbard TOTALY NAKED engaging in UNPROTECTED PREMARITAL SEX in wide-open public spaces!!! Clearly clueless cold-bodied citizens were fascinated to learn such depravity was happening in their pristine back yard, since pictures, videos and criminal caper tales about the bears-and-the-bees procreated like seahorses (sorry rabbits, but their 2,000 vs. your 12 after a few weeks’ pregnancy makes you amateurs) once posted online. The most graphic was a full Penthouse Letters spread of a “Hopen to Get Lucky” couple caught on camera by staffers at the namesake meteorological station who published a full-spread photo shoot of the boinking bears from teasing courtship to bloody post-coitus seal meal. For those moved by motion, there was the polar porn video posted around April Fool’s Day by Yann Rashid during a snowmobile trip to Pyramiden. For those who find the quality a bit fuzzy because he kept a discreet distance (yeah, that’s a contradiction when filming a voyeuristic sex video), we’ll just say fur off. Which is what a man in his 50s should have done when he illegally drove onto the sea ice and within about 50 meters of coupling bears in the same area (maybe the same ones, maybe not). In addition to whatever Hail Marys he had to say, he was punished for his sins in court with a 30-day jail sentence and the loss of his driver’s license for eight months.

Polar bear ransacks food storage room at Isfjord Radio

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Pickled predator? We’re not saying never fear the furious furries, but if they happen to ransack the wine, chocolates and other luxury-lodge consumables it seems like hapless humans start looking like a much less mouthwatering meal.  Photo by Marit Devik.

Sex safely sells (as opposed to selling safe sex), but last year’s premier polar bear payoff involved another craving of the senses as the King of the Arctic turned into a common petty thief and broke into the storage room where food is kept at Isfjord Radio at the beginning of June. It spent a couple of hours eating chocolates, shredding bags of food waste, crushing wine bottles and shattering windows before it was finally scared off by a rescue helicopter, according to officials and observers. The station, which in addition to collecting weather data serves as a high-priced wilderness lodge on the coast, was the scene of a huge number of sightings during the year, including one staffer who saw 14 in one day during an overnight trip to a nearby cabin. But the timing of the break-in bear’s visit was particularly, um, timely. Joining the five employees for the weekend were ten guests including the editor of The Local Paper of Record Republishing Revenue, and her dramatic photos and narrative quickly went viral worldwide (and the pictures kept getting used all year to illustrate bear-related stories having nothing to do with the break-in and/or Svalbard). During a year filled with actual viral polar bear drama in the form of one that got shot by cruise workers, not the mention the sexcapades, the break-in wasn’t just That Paper’s top creature feature – it was the most-read story for all of 2018.

Mount Trumpmore: Giant ice sculpture of The Donald to be a monumental meltdown:

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My very, very large brain:’ Also, his hair is just as big as legend suggests in this Totally Actual Size likeness. Image courtesy of Melting Ice.

The Very Stable Genius has decreed his backpfeifengesicht deserves to be on Mount Rushmore along with the Fab Four, which seems to have inspired some greenies wanting to offer a warming tribute before such feelings are set in stone. The Finnish group Melting Ice is planning to carve a a 115-foot-high (the same size as the Mount Rushmore carvings) likeness of Trump’s face on an iceberg in Svalbard so they can watch it melt to gauge the impacts of climate change.“We want to make his dream come true,” a title card on a video promoting the proposal dubbed “Project Trumpmore” states before it fades out and is replaced by one adding “Kinda.” The carving and melting will all be livestreamed online if all goes according to plan. While global reaction online is the usual love-or-hate Trump/warming prattle, the near-universal chilly reaction from locals ranged from “this is really f*cking stupid” to “keep the moron in chief out of Svalbard” to “no iceberg on Svalbard is big enough for his ego” to “they could sculpt his hands, I’ve heard they’re pretty small.”

Silence of the quails: Greenhouse owner forced to kill dozens of illegally hatched birds

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Fowl fate: They say a really good compromise leaves nobody happy. That theory is for the birds, as there was no compromise in the command all these quails be suddenly and quickly put to death, but everyone still ended up feeling lousy about it. Photo courtesy of Polar Permaculture.

Strangest doesn’t always mean funniest and, during a year full of misfortunes affecting humans, this had to be Longyearbyen’s saddest animal story of the year (not necessary Svalbard’s due to misadventures involving polar bears, reindeer, foxes and other species). Benjamin Vidmar, a man of many improbable dreams with his Polar Permaculture project (plenty of which have been more successful than “reasonable” minds imagined), achieved another seeming success when he put some quail eggs from the mainland under an incubator and got some of them to hatch. Over the course of a year the number of birds in his cages grew to about 80, and his eggs were popular both among local restaurants and customers at Svalbardbutikken. Just one problem: he never obtained government permission, which was almost certainly never going to happen because of a ban on importing livestock to Svalbard due to disease fears. After some back and forth letters and discussions the government ordered him to destroy his birds within a few days, which he did to the outrage of many who followed his two terrible nights on social media. But there were some who felt it was hypocritical for a sustainability advocate like Vidmar to be keeping birds in cages, while others inclined to be sympathetic toward his overall project said his breaking of the rules couldn’t be overlooked. Ultimately the only thing sadder than that night might have been the meal prepared with the carcasses of the birds he froze – although as he said at the time it was a far more fitting ending than throwing the birds out as waste.

Migrants make multiple ministers involved in Svalbard oversight muck things up

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Lipstick on a pig = perfume on a pol? Whether you see this barrage of bloomsters as heartfelt thanks to a true defender against invading Muslim terrorist children or the effort of a bunch of wingnuts to own the libtards, it still raises quite a stink. Photo courtesy of Sylvi Listhaug.

Replacing the “ruler” of Svalbard’s three times in three weeks while Norway’s government teeters on the brink of collapse seems an obvious pick for the “10 biggest stories” list – if only those bosses said or did anything of actual significance instead of merely being a part of the political clown car. It all started in March when Sylvi Listhaug was named Norway’s new minister of Justice and Public Security, the ministry which has oversight of Svalbard (which means trifling stuff like setting our budget, appointing our governor, etc.). Given Svalbard’s “open borders” policy it’s hard to imagine a better choice since Listhaug is well-known for raging anti-immigrant/Muslim screeds, including one around the time of her appointment suggesting her political opponents supported the rights of terrorists over citizens. That prompted Parliament to schedule a no-confidence vote against her, which some politicos suggested it could start a domino reaction toppling Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s Conservative-led government coalition. Listhaug’s was quickly replaced on an “acting” basis by Per Sandberg – exactly why is a reasonable question since he also had a history of controversial statements – and physical actions – involving migrants, Muslim and integration. Solberg finally righted the ship somewhat soon afterward by giving the job to Tor Mikkel Wara, who traded a promising young political career for the private sector more than 25 years ago, who’s only controversial drawback is he’s not in Norway’s national population registry (almost certainly an administrative glitch in the spelling of his name, but enough for the turmoil to earn a final bit of ridicule).

Fictional fiasco ‘Fortitude’ finally finds Svalbard, but final season is a four-episode flop

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Surreality TV: So what’s worse: a “reality” show that gets all kinds of little stuff annoying wrongi n a mediocre attempt to create a plotline or a fictional show that gets all kinds of stuff spectacularly wrong in an awful attempt to create a plotline? Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

“It all went wrong for Fortitude, I reckon, somewhere in that first pitch meeting.” That opening line for a review by The Times of London a TV series about a Svalbard Community That Totally Isn’t Longyearbyen is the best succinct summary we’ve seen. Everything about the sci-fi psychological thriller was insanely wrong from the opening scene. Whether it’s the portrayal of Svalbard (Tree-lined streets? Celebrating Christmas weeks after the polar night ends?) or the show’s plot (a governor with a Trump-brained scheme to build a luxury hotel inside a glacier? A town where “it’s illegal to die” that nonetheless has enough dead bodies to require a mortuary?), everything was bad-weird in way suggesting the show gurus couldn’t locate Svalbard on a map, let alone bother to visit. “Fortunately” for the third and final season, however, the crew and cast came out for a few weeks in March to film the first scenes here ever and (presumably) pick up a few tidbits of reality in the process. The shoot was probably far more fun for many locals who participated as extras, allowed their roofs to be used for stunt scenes and chatted with “celebs” such as Dennis Quaid, compared to the visitors who spent very long days in cold far below the typical -5C of their outdoor shoots in Iceland. And it was all maximum effort for minimum (screen) exposure, as the final season was a mere (and miserable) four episodes. While the 12-episode first season got some OK reviews and 10-episode second season fewer of them, the final season was pretty much universally deplored as deplorable. From the opening lines of yet another review: “I’m not putting that in my notebook,” declares police officer Ingrid Witry (Mia Jexen), as she interviews a key witness in Fortitude. “It’s nonsense.” It’s a feeling that many may well share as Sky Atlantic’s Arctic thriller reaches it third and final season.”

Drunk idiot blacklisted from all places with booze

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Tip – the guy in the rightmost picture is not a role model: Getting intoxicated at a bar isn’t news, even (sometimes) when you’re a minister in town for a visit. Local innkeepers getting a bit intoxicated on their self-appointed powers because you were a disruptive drunken idiot, however, is a different (and newsworthy) story. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

If you can be officially exiled from Svalbard for raising hell with alcohol (i.e. trying to burn down an apartment building while drunk), consider this the unofficial policy of persona non grata for raising heck. A guy who got too confrontational after a few too many at Karlsberger Pub early this fall found himself not just tossed from the premises, but quickly banned from all establishments serving alcohol in Longyearbyen under what might be called an “anti-gentleman’s” agreement. That pact among pubs (plus practically every restaurant, special event and even coffee cafe) may not be enough to make one self-deport, but it means most others won’t/care if he has or hasn’t. Of course, when that many people know about one of your misadventures. “It is important to set an example,” the guy’s boss told The Official Local Paper of Rogues. “We cannot accept such behavior.” But the guy “regrets it very much and is ashamed of his own behavior.”

Entire Norwegian royal family takes amazingly invisible summer vacation here, greeted by governor with gift of trash bags

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King’s ransom: While the royals are customarily greeted by little girls bearing flowers, King Harald and Crown Prince Haakon were greeted during their summer vacation here by a couple of boys hoping to sell them custom-made polar bear neckties (a higher power nixed mooching moolah from the monarchy). Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

We’re really not into the royalty tabloid beat, even if we joined the pack in mentioning Prince Harry obsessing about the fate of his testicles when he visited several years ago. But far from having to play paparazzi when rumors of the Norwegian royal family visiting Svalbard this summer arose, perhaps the strangest thing that could have happened was we and the rest of the press pack…basically did nothing. The rumors themselves got a bit of space in some publications and we heard tales about folks aboard a nearby boat docked in the harbor getting to amply share spirits with the royals’ crew on their boat that we didn’t bother mentioning (oops, I guess we just did), but the three generations of sovereigns used to having every moved scrutinized spent a week or so having a startling normal cruise along the west coast for anyone lucky enough to have a boat capable of such a trip. They did stop by the governor’s office upon arrival because, protocol and all, where they were presented with not-exactly-princely gift of large empty trash bags (but, hey they were really sturdy trash bags). Actually, it was kind of princely since Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit have made a concern about ocean trash a thing lately, so having the family join in the rapidly growing effort to clean up trash on Svalbard’s shores was another surprisingly normal holiday pasttime. The family did finally make a “public” stop in Longyearbyen right before returning home, but it was a short invitation-only talk with students and staff at The University Centre in Svalbard and a tour of the adjacent museum (with the media hoards finally in tow). In the end the only commoners to see the family was about 15 random folks who happened to get word of the visit and watch the departure across the street from the parking lot.

The Russians are invading! The Russians are invading! The Russians are…oh for f*ck’s sake – are they here yet?

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Rorschach pest: Is this the real Russian “P” scandal, a sock puppet masquerading as a military megamind’s master plan or jus the track of a bomber jet that makes disturbingly non-circular adjustments in direction?  Image courtesy of MilRadar.

Lots of places are irritatingly ensnared in their own Russian Scandal from serious (poisoning spies) to silly (pee tape), and Svalbard is in the midst of a long-running sideshow on that front. “Front” being the operative word since it always seems to be about boundary or territorial control skirmishes, whether it’s about where to fish or where the paratroopers and tanks will establish a beachhead. Among this year’s “Arctic Cold War” weirdness was a U.S. bomber conducting a flight around Svalbard and Franz Josef Land in mid-September followed by Russian bombers, possibly in response, simulating an attack on Norway. No laws appear to be broken by either side, but Norway – hardly on the side of the innocents in the spy-vs-spy misadventures, did a nice job of arousing the suspicions of Enquiring Minds by hush-hushing the West’s explorations. A few days later Norway made the first modern-era arrest of alleged Russian spy in Oslo, prompting experts to fret this might finally be The Thing triggering Russia’s lust for enlargement. “They may choose to step up their presence in Svalbard,” a professor of Russian studies Oslo Metropolitan University said. “They can expel Norwegian diplomats, abstain from talks and affect Norwegian business interests.” Eventually everything looks like a nail to a hammer-and-sickle savant, with the “truly-strangest-yet-ineligible-for-this-list” bank robbery offering a fitting year-end finish, as some questioned if the fact the man was a Russian was somehow behind a larger political plot. Not exactly the grassy knoll, although that’s not saying much since we don’t have a lot of grass.

Failed four-approach flight leaves passengers and pros loopy

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Time/space warp: If you’re a passenger or pilot, following this plot feels like a seeming eternity. If you’re a child with a Spirograph, it feels like boredom set in within seconds. Image courtesy of Flightradar24.

Sort of like picking the person for the last lifeboat seat on the Titanic (the guy in the dress or the infant in a poopy diaper –ick to both), it’s hard to pick the last entry among the many nominees still remaining. So in a weird departure from our supposedly independent media minds, we’re going with what took the silver medal in Svalbardposten’s most-read list (hey, always nice to know what normal residents who have a clue find freakish compared to what freakish residents like ourselves find normal). Plus it shows those Scheming Russia Scardycats what a truly loopy flight around our little islands looks like compared to the militant map above. The map to the right is the ultimately-not-final stage of an Olso-Tromsø-Longyearbyen SAS flight in May that attempted to land four times, but was thwarted by poor visibility. Repeated approaches are common enough (hence the likely interest of many contemplating their fellow citizens contemplating insanity), but a failed foursome with those far-out detours not so much. Fortunately fuel got low enough that a return to Tromsø was prudent…just in time for the sky to clear shortly afterward.

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