“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.
There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”
― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
We feel safe saying after 2017 we’re now living in an alternate universe.
Obviously things were wacky (a.k.a. seriously scary) in many other parts of the world during the year, but given the number of times the word “doomsday” was associated with the coolest small town on Earth the odds seem to suggest at least one of them happened and we’re all now On The Other Side Of The Looking Glass. As always, there were innumerable (a really stupid word, since what it really means is we were too lazy to actually do a count) number of references to the Doomsday Vault – but this year more dire than usual thanks to the supposedly “flooding” so many saw as a precursor to the end of humanity. And the theory linking the vault to a mysterious planet forecast to strike Earth during the fall.
Then there was the End Of Life As We Know It due to a full-scale invasion of Svalbard by Russia (and did they practice using nukes on us?). And while the West keeps being accused of being weaklings, what were they doing gathering at our top-secret satellite facility which some suggest is a base for NATO/U.S. anti-nuke missile activities?
But we all had to keep living our day-to-day while awaiting nuclear winter…although sometimes it meant doing so without clean cars, toilet paper and Santa Claus (hmm…until the moment we wrote sentence it never occurred to us local politicians might be part of the War On Christmas that Wiggy Trump so bravely fought while comparing his dick size to his non-existent “nuclear button”).
So, during a year which continued the trend of being every-so-more-surreal instead of settling into a routine after nine years, here – in no particular order – are Icepeople’s 10 strangest stories for 2017 (the only “rule” is they can’t be one of the “10 biggest stories” – i.e. the “flooded” seed vault – which will be presented next week):
Town’s only car wash shuts down because vehicles are too dirty
It feels a bit like saying a restaurant going out of business because diners were too hungry – and that might make sense at an all-you-can-eat place full of Homer Simpson customers. But the car wash that opened in 2010 was forced to close this year because there was no practical way to deal with all the muck vehicles accumulated driving around (and since out editor literally had a few centimeters of mud covering his entire car after driving several kilometers on a muddy road with busses splashing him as they passed by in the opposite direction, we get the argument). But the storage containers for muck were full, there was no other place to dump it locally and it would be far too costly to send it the mainland. So the era of those wanting to show off their shinny rides in Svalbard is over – and, since our editor is desperate for money these days, he can testify those hoping to hand wash their cars in the sub-zero weather here is comically absurd.
It was a great storytelling moment: the global March For Science in April made such an impact the participants extended all the way to the North Pole. Or so claimed organizers on their websites showing photos of Bernice Notenboom holding an official event sign at the top of the world for the April 22 event. Only thing is, she was in Longyearbyen participating in the local chapter of the event then – and we have lots of photos as proof. She hoped to be at the Pole for event, but the sea ice conditions forced her to leave early. Which wasn’t a big deal until the claims of being at of the March at the Pole arose on Facebook news reports, and her utterly bonkers reaction when we called her out on it. “It wasn’t April 22, but we did a march for science for a long time,” Notenboom said, regarding her two-degree ski expedition that covered roughly 200 kilometers. “We had an official banner. We flew the banner. We flew it at the North Pole. We just didn’t fly it on April 22. I don’t understand why that is such a big issue for you. It just should not even come out.” It’s not our job to offer advice, so we’ll just say a Facebook post along the lines of “hoped to be at the Pole for the March, but climate change is playing hell with conditions here at the top of the world” would have resulted in entirely different coverage.
We thought for sure this whodunit would be hot news worldwide since it involved a polar bear attacking (or maybe not) an expedition near the North Pole, a guide who incompetently (or maybe not) handled the situation and then failed to report it (or maybe not), and then lied about the details when questions (or maybe not) when questioned by police and other officials. Dixie “Dirk” Dansercoer, a Flemish polar explorer with about 20 years’ experience, was leading a four-person expedition when they encountered the bear near the end of their ski trip to the Pole in early April. He said he gave the order to shoot when the bear got too close to the group after intimidation efforts failed, although another guest who filmed the incident said the bear was not acting aggressively. Dansercoer also said he didn’t know the shot wounded the bear, a claim also questioned by others, and that he reported the incident that evening to an official at the Barneo ice camp that’s the base for expeditions. But the camp’s chief operations officer said there was no notification, meaning other expeditions were endangered because they didn’t know about the wounded animal, and he “misinformed us” about the details of the encounter when he was interviewed several days later. Ultimately the matter ended up in limbo because no police or other agencies in Norway had any jurisdiction in the area (nor does any other country). Meanwhile, Dansercoer noted in a Facebook post in December that his first expedition to Svalbard this spring is already fully booked so a second one is being added.
It’s always funny in retrospect. But seriously, imagine filling your kids’ Easter baskets with raw celery sticks (because if there’s no chocolate obviously the next-best option is the most depraved foodstuff possible). Or feeling the onset of stomach craps and discovering there’s no toilet paper to deal with the aftermath of them. Svalbardbutikken’s shelves seemed to have gaps in various parts of the store for much of the year beginning with a storm disruption in January (which meant constantly playing catch-up, although poor management also took some blame), but it was the two examples above that got nationwide attention. We also noted prices for some food items took freakish jumps during the year, but some were due to market factors (salmon prices went crazy everywhere) and the rest was just probably good old fashion capitalism in supposedly Socialist Norway (a consolidation of grocery chains, meaning less need to be competitive with prices).
We advised folks to bring their tents and camp outside the Doomsday Vault a day or two before Sept. 23 because that’s when Life As We Know It was going to due to a mysterious Planet X striking Earth and wiping out pretty much everything. But obviously the vault was going to be a safe hangout because its backers worked to get it built because they knew a decade ago this day was coming, according to David Meade, a Christian conspiracy theorist getting global coverage for his predictions of global doom. Alas, because we’re lazy-ass muckrakers we didn’t bother to stake out the spot where those who knew about the approaching end of the world were gather so they could live to sow their seeds another day. But we caught a break, since it turned out Meade attributed our continued survival to a math error and that the real doomsday date was Oct. 15. But math covering the galactic scale is hard, so as we celebrate the end of surreal ’17 its worth noting Meade says the real thing will happen in 2018.
Look, it’s not like we didn’t expect to get our asses totally kicked by the Russians since the Norwegian government predicted it would happen a year ago (yeah, it was the military folks saying they needed more money to stave off the threat, but still). But the activist website AldriMer.no totally triggered the Norwegian media in October by reporting a full-scale and one-sided Russian invasion of Svalbard as part of a largest series of exercises (which apparently included some nuclear warfare). Norwegian leaders quickly blew the story off as “fake news” (hint: these days that’s a really bad play), but NATO thought enough of it to quickly call “several crisis meetings between NATO and Norwegian military authorities.” Ultimately, it was just of many chapters during the past several years of Russia pushing the boundaries while provoking various Arctic countries without suffering any noticeable consequences.
NATO assembly gathering in Svalbard (deliberately?) triggers Russians
Then there was Norway’s bit of mischief that resulted in NATO appearing twice of this list of surreal stories about a cluster of islands where military activities are supposedly taboo. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly (not NATO itself, but rather politicians and other officials from member countries) came to Longyearbyen for two days in May to insult the town’s uncleanliness (“coal mining, no solar panels”), terrify us about our rapid climate change (“terrorist groups are already using control of natural resources as a weapon of war”) and taunt Russia (“little Norway pushed back against Mr. Putin in a small but symbolically important way”). Norway, naturally, insisted there was no mischievous intent in offering to host the gathering in Svalbard, but pretty much nobody (and especially Russia) bought it. As a bonus, the gathering wrapped up with a visit to the Svalbard Satellite Station which, according to some Suspicious Types, is a secret base for NATO and U.S. missile defense operations.
Just to be clear; there’s nobody who definitely goes on the naughty or nice list here. But in the end that nearly 10-meter-high Santa’s mailbox outside a simple building near downtown is gone and a lot of tourists – if not locals – will be asking why. The giant red box that debuted just before Christmas in 2013 managed to stay standing for nearly two years after its permit expired– and more than a year after the city began fining owner Po Lin Lee 500 kroner a day for failing to remove it (the finally tally was nearly 200,000 kroner). The city then set a removal deadline this summer (which was pushed back a couple of times), saying they would tear down the mailbox and bill her for the costs otherwise. But it took until the end of October to make it clear the end was near, when the lights on the mailbox were removed by a company hired by the city. A stunned and surprised Lee, upon learning the mailbox itself would be torn down Nov. 20, hired her own workers to disassemble “my home, my friend” beginning Nov. 19 so it could live to be rebuilt another day. But while some city leaders said part of the reason they wanted the box removed was they felt it was unsightly, the lingering irony is there is a still a giant red metal box in front of Lee’s Christmas-themed workshop – the container the pieces of the mailbox are stored in.
Since 2017 was the year of surreality, perhaps it’s fitting that our local “super-premium” bottled water had a pretty good year. It made its debut at the London luxury department store Harrods early in the year, won a couple of awards at a global competition in China and was featured in some wacky online tasting videos. Of course there’s always going to be some cynical headlines and remarks in media coverage of such moments but, hey, super-cool free publicity! But the coverage went from cool to chilly in September in Hong Kong when the water selling for HK$950 per 750ml bottle was pulled from the shelves of a high-end grocery store due to “an icy reaction online” with “the scandal reaching boiling point,” as the South China Morning Post wrote. A spokesperson for the store basically took the “we barely knew each other” approach by saying it was only meant to be a short-term item anyhow. Yeah, that’s something we heard a lot of during the year.
Thanks to Thomas Moretti’s for saving us the trouble of writing a catchy introduction for his titillating quest. The 23-year-old bachelor tells Honi Soit (a University of Sidney publication devoted to the struggles of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation) 23, he’s looking for a significant other to breed with, but he’s painfully aware he hasn’t got much time. “I started to worry about potentially not being able to continue the family line about two years ago,” he ejaculated while scooping the foam off his cappuccino, according to the article. He came across the Doomsday Vault while researching ways to save his own seed and, since two of the three storage rooms are empty, figures they have plenty of space. So he’s been persistent in his advances, although the article notes he isn’t practicing unsafe monosex. “First, he jacks off into a zip-lock bag. Then, ensuring he has pressed all the air out of the bag (‘to prevent oxidation,’ he advises), he seals it and places it inside a padded airmail envelope. Finally, he affixes a label bearing the address of the seed bank and the form needed for international postage.” He sent six samples so far but, alas, “I haven’t ever gotten confirmation that they received it and logged the contents, or that they received it and rejected the contents. Nothing.” While we’re too limp to call the vault officials for comment (no doubt part of the reason we haven’t seen any action ourselves for quite some time), we’ll note that 1) while sperm theoretically can be frozen forever, experts only report a handful of babies being born from samples frozen 12 to 15 years (and one birth from a sample stored 28 years), which means Moretti should be able to wiggle his magic wand then, and 2) sperm banks need to store samples at -127 degrees Celsius (-196F) to preserve them, while the Doomsday Vault operates at -18C – when the power isn’t out due to “flooding.”