Trying to sell my Korg M1 keyboard on Facebook Marketplace. I haven’t used Marketplace much, but I did manage to sell some winter tires and an amplifier on it before, so I didn’t anticipate any trouble.
After getting a few nibbles that never went anywhere, a woman named Zara contacted me ostensibly from Sudbury, initially in French. She had a Facebook profile featuring a single headshot and a banner displaying a photo of a baby. There were a handful of pics and posts of babies and puppies, complete with sporadic comments from alleged friends and relatives. Just enough to make you think that maybe (maybe!) this could be a real person. (She had no actual Facebook friends, though.)
Zara professed interest in the keyboard but was too busy (and presumably too far away) to pick it up herself. She proposed using UPS to both pay me and have it delivered.
I thought this was a bit strange as it bumped up the cost considerably, but hey, whatever. I went along with it initially. She proposed a time the courier would show up with the money and collect the keyboard. Fine with me. Then the kicker: I would have to pay $160 in insurance online upfront. But hey, no prob! She would ensure I was reimbursed once the courier showed up at my door with the cash.
“Heh Heh. I will admit you had me going there for a bit,” I texted her. “Seems like an awful lot of work for $150.” (Unless, of course, she or he was conducting several cons simultaneously, which seems more likely.)
“I don’t understand you,” she texted me back. “Please check your mailbox and spam. ” This was for an email presumably from UPS with directions on how to proceed.
Sure enough, there was the email in my spam folder. Pretty dodgy looking, from the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Need better graphics,” I texted Zara. “And the gmail address is a dead giveaway.”
I provided a few more tips on how I’d conduct the con a lot better, if it were me (not that I’m an expert, but I hate seeing sloppy work).
I blocked and reported her, which doesn’t seem to have accomplished anything. Just checked Facebook Messenger; she gave me a thumbs up, evidently happy with my helpful advice. Her profile page is still up, though her banner displays a Ukrainian flag now instead of a baby.
Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) used to prevent war between NATO and Russia. Now it appears to just prevent NATO from fighting back militarily. So Russia can do whatever it wants without fear of military retaliation from NATO.
A question: were NATO to fight back, would the idea of mutually assured destruction prevent Russia from escalating for the same reasons that make NATO hesitant to intervene more directly? If so, then perhaps NATO should have intervened directly from the outset.
There is also the possibility that Putin will escalate anyway and deploy nuclear weapons out of desperation or impatience (or because he’s suicidal or just plain evil), in which case NATO should also have intervened earlier, because it wouldn’t have mattered. And in such a scenario perhaps there is a chance, however slim, that Putin could have been brought to heel.
Of course, nobody has a crystal ball. We don’t know what Putin will do if NATO retaliates directly, or if Putin becomes desperate. So we’re left with Russia and NATO not just capable of destroying one another but much of the rest of the world, and Russia savaging Ukraine because it suspects it can get away with it aware that NATO will stand by (not entirely helplessly but certainly not bringing all its forces to bear) for fear of Putin abandoning all reason and killing us all (or most of us). Which he might do anyway.
And in this way we are held hostage, made impotent, unable to help Ukraine or prevent future similar aggressions from either Russia or China (e.g., Taiwan) or (insert aggressor of choice here). This is obviously untenable. The problem is that the stakes are so high (back to mutually assured destruction) that NATO can’t afford to get the calculus wrong. On the one hand, with NATO’s current strategy, global bullies will probably continue to ride roughshod over the rest of us and it will just keep getting worse until the final fatality, the final bullet in the final head, as it were, could well be democracy itself.
On the other hand, should NATO opt to intervene directly (e.g., fly over zone) the probability is at least medium that the result will be catastrophic for all of us: a third world war, millions if not billions of casualties, with the survivors looking back wistfully at a mere pandemic as a kind of lost golden age.
Emotionally, I want to intervene directly. I want the no fly zone. I don’t want the bully to get away with it. I want the cavalry to show up, kick the bully’s ass, save Ukraine and democracy, and everyone (except the bully) lives happily ever after.
Intellectually, I know it isn’t going to be that easy. That we have to get the calculus right. That we have to defuse this bomb without blowing everybody up. I believe it to be possible. As Former Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Abba Eban has said (a version of the quote is often misattributed to Winston Churchill), “Men and nations do act wisely when they have exhausted all the other possibilities.” It is a tragic function of the human condition that wisdom does not always (or even often) come first.
Myself, I do not presume to possess the wisdom required to lift us out of this awful predicament. Maybe sanctions will be sufficient; maybe some other action will be required. I don’t know. I have only faith in the collective wisdom of humankind (sadly after much bloodshed, suffering and tragedy) to eventually get the calculus right.
I just finished watching all six seasons of Northern Exposure, a television series that first aired in 1991 about a young doctor forced to work in a small town in Alaska.
Northern Exposure was prestige television before there was such a thing as prestige television. I remember considering it a cut above when I first got into it, though not right away. I’d seen part of an episode when it first aired and dismissed it. My friend Trish insisted I give it a second look. She loaned me several VHS tapes jam packed with Northern Exposure episodes. I watched them with my roommates and we were soon hooked. I watched the first two seasons and thoroughly enjoyed each episode. I continued watching on network television once Trish’s episodes ran out. Then life intervened and I left the country for a while and fell off the Northern Exposure bandwagon.
But I always remembered the spell the show wove, its sensibility, its slightly off kilter humour. When the pandemic hit and I found myself working from (and mostly trapped) at home, I thought maybe some Northern Exposure magic might be just the thing to help get me through. My wife gave me all six seasons as a Christmas present (on DVD; it’s not available on any streaming platforms, as near as I can tell), and I’ve spent just over a year gradually watching them all.
I was surprised to discover how few episodes I’d actually seen. Maybe Trish missed taping a few. Or perhaps I’d completely forgotten some. Turns out I’d never seen any episode beyond the first two seasons. At first I was thrown by the 4:3 (or 1.33:1) aspect ratio, having become accustomed to 16:9 these last twenty years or so, which only became standard after 1996, once Northern Exposure was off the air. 4:3 doesn’t entirely fill a modern television’s entire screen. But after an episode or two the 4:3 aspect ratio stopped bothering me.
I loved re-watching the episodes I’d seen and happily ventured into new territory. The ones I’d seen took me back to a time when I was younger than two of the main characters in the ensemble cast, Joel and Maggie. I was twenty-six when I started watching Northern Exposure the first time around; they were about twenty-nine. Watching the episodes now I found I was closer in age to ex-astronaut turned entrepreneur Maurice Minnifield. So, that was weird. Where has the time gone? (Still younger than the character of Holling Vincoeur, though.)
The first two seasons held up nicely. Much of the magic, I realized, lay in the show’s magical realist elements. The show is at its absolute best when it marries magical realism to bold storytelling (such as briefly breaking the third wall in season two’s War and Peace, or going back in time for a period piece in season three’s finale Cicely). This is not a show with car chases and murders and drama (though death does figure occasionally). It’s a pleasant show, often delightful, shot brightly for the most part, about agreeable, gently flawed people. The music choices are varied, eccentric and entrancing (at least for the first few seasons), featuring artists such as Daniel Lanois, Etta James, Magazine 60, Nat King Cole, Miriam Makeba, Brian Eno and more. It was fun seeing actors like Jack Black, Graham Greene and James Marsters pop up at random. Stars Rob Morrow and Janine Turner are note perfect throughout.
I found the show the perfect anodyne to the increasingly mad world we find ourselves in now. I couldn’t completely escape, though. Unsettinglingly, I heard Trump’s name invoked not once but three times during the course of the series, each instance jarring.
Does it hold up for the entire six seasons? I had read that it doesn’t, but was curious to see for myself. In the middle of the show’s run creators Josh Brand and John Falsey handed the reins over to showrunner David Chase. Chase is famous as the showrunner for The Sopranos, a gritty show about a mob boss, considered one of television’s greatest series. I found this fascinating. Chase admitted not really understanding the premise of Northern Exposure. So this guy, who professed not to understand the premise of Northern Exposure, but who obviously knows a thing or two about making television, wound up running the show. He had other writers (such as Diana Frolov and Jeff Melvoin) to help him, writers who did mostly get the show, so I’m happy to report that the show does indeed hold up. Sort of. Sometimes more, sometimes less. It’s get a bit dodgy around the end of the fourth season and into the fifth, but does eventually find its stride again until near the end of the sixth season.
The sixth season is hit and miss. The season premiere, Dinner at Seven Thirty, is strong, and I thoroughly enjoyed a storyline featuring Joel giving up his medical practice to head north and immerse himself in native culture. Halfway through the season Joel is replaced by another doctor and his wife. The actors, Paul Provenza and Teri Polo, are fine, though little of note is done with them. There’s an episode near the end of the run featuring Ed Chigliak (called Balls) that in my opinion is among the strongest in the entire series (well, one of the episode’s story lines, at least). It provides actor Darren Burrows (Ed) with a material he could sink his teeth into for a change. Another enjoyable episode from season six, Little Italy, curiously presages The Sopranos.
There appeared to be a lack of understanding of some of the characters in season six. Apart from the aforementioned episode Balls, and half-hearted attempts to make him a filmmaker and a shaman, the character of Ed Chigliak gets entirely too goofy over time. It’s a shame; the writers could have done so much more with him. ElsewhereBrian Doan has written (in an essay about Northern Exposure that far surpasses this one in depth) about Chris Steven’s incipient toxic masculinity, and dammit Chris actually does become that a bit. It is painful to watch and a betrayal of the way Chris was presented earlier in the series, when he lived with a self-awareness of his darker side.
Sadly, none of the characters ever live up to their potential. In the first episode of the sixth season (Dinner at Seven Thirty) we see Cynthia Geary as a completely different character. I didn’t even recognize her for half the episode. It was a glimpse of what could have been done with Geary’s character Shelly had the writers allowed the character to grow. And in the final episode of the entire series, Tranquillity Base, which, sadly, bordered on the ridiculous (no, actually was ridiculous), we see Holling Vincoeur as a caricature of himself, more bloodhound than man, while Chris Stevens is ludicrous as opposed to insightful. Still, I like the montage music in the final moments of that episode (Our Town, by Iris Dement), perhaps the only saving grace (one final, parting gift from the series) in an episode that otherwise seemed deliberately designed to make fans repeatedly facepalm themselves.
Although the series ended on a less than stellar note, it was still entirely worth watching. It did not betray my memories of it. And although I will never watch it in its entirety again (unless I somehow become immortal between now and eternity) I fully expect to cherry pick episodes here and there when I feel the need to return to the state of mind that is Northern Exposure at its best.
I’m taking a bit of a liberty by reprinting an article by Saltwire on my father’s first foray into publishing here, mainly for posterity (as these articles tend to disappear after a while, and I don’t want to lose this one).
Thanks so much to journalist Kristin Gardiner for taking the time to interview my father.
Should someone from Saltwire stumble upon this and take exception to me posting it here, simply let me know and I will remove it asap. Of course, I am hoping you will look the other way. See how heavily I’m promoting your site in return? 🙂
SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. — When 87-year-old Tom Mahoney picks up the paperback placed on his coffee table, his name in large font on the front cover, he can’t help but feel proud.
“To see the book there,” he said, “it’s just unreal.”
Publication had never been Mahoney’s end goal when he first sat down at his new typewriter 40 years ago. He never imagined his stories would ever be read by anyone.
Instead, the retired Summerside teacher had merely wanted to practise his typing; stories inspired by his father and his own childhood in Bath, N.B., were a good place to start.
“All the old stories I’d written out in pencil, I had to type them all out,” he said. “What great fun, learning how to type and telling stories at the same time.”
Although Mahoney moved his family to Summerside in 1966 after being offered a teaching job at Summerside High School, the years he lived on the mainland always stayed in his mind.
“When I was a kid, my dad used to sit and tell stories,” said Mahoney. “Then, when I got older, I used to sit and tell stories.”
Some of those tales would have taken place in the recent past – others, 100 years prior. A few were more fictionalized than others, but each one drew from the rural New Brunswick experience Mahoney and his father had lived.
When he thinks back to those days, he remembers his childhood home, a farm without electricity.
He remembers when he and his family would spend much of the day in the forest near the house collecting firewood for the stove. They would pack a lunch while they were out in the woods, telling stories while they ate.
“I had no intention of ever making a book out of them … But my son came home this summer, gathered up all the stories that he could find that I’d written, and he spent the summer putting them into a book.”
– Tom Mahoney
It’s memories like that that Mahoney cemented on the pages that were eventually tucked away in a folder, all but forgotten.
His children knew about them, had even read a few. For the last few years, Mahoney’s son, Joe – who has written a book of his own – was determined to compile them all into a collection for others to enjoy.
“I had no intention of ever making a book out of them,” said Mahoney. “But my son came home this summer, gathered up all the stories that he could find that I’d written, and he spent the summer putting them into a book.”
While he knew what his son was doing, Mahoney pictured the anthology would be more akin to a small pamphlet than the 250-page paperback the 29 stories ended up being.
“It’s unbelievable,” laughed Mahoney.
Connecting through creating
Although it was Mahoney who wrote the stories and his son who got the ball rolling, the whole self-publishing effort quickly turned into a family collaboration.
The cover art – a picture of a deer – was drawn by Mahoney’s granddaughter.
His daughters, as well, each took a turn at copy editing all the stories – including his daughter Susan Rodgers, a writer herself.
“It made me want to just set the computer aside and go spend a lot more time in the woods, you know? … The stories were that real, that you felt like you could just almost walk outside and walk into that life.”
– Susan Rodgers
Although storytelling runs in the family, Rodgers said she hadn’t even known her father was a writer until she began writing in her 40s.
“I don’t think I saw one of (his) stories until maybe around the time I first published,” she said. “So it wasn’t something we grew up with. To us, our dad was always a science teacher … so I think I was surprised when I first discovered that my dad was also a short story writer.”
For Rodgers, she loves being able to share a common interest with her relatives. She and her father have always found common ground in literature – previously more reading than writing – and now, it’s “cool” to know that she can connect with her father over storytelling, as well.
“First of all, we’re just really proud of Dad,” she said. “Second of all … I think I was really amazed (by) how good of a writer my dad actually is.”
As much as she’s excited to have all her father’s tales in one place, what Rodgers loves most is how it gives her a glimpse into what her father’s life was like as a child, teen and young adult.
“It really intrigues me that all those people would want to read it,” said Mahoney. “And then I hear the comments from them. It’s unreal.”
Although the book was completed and ready for self-publishing in the fall, it wasn’t until the tail end of December that Mahoney got to hold a physical copy in his hands.
Now that his work is out there, he loves having something to show for his efforts.
“It feels terrific,” said Mahoney. “I never thought it would happen.”
Kristin Gardiner is a rural reporter with the SaltWire Network in Prince Edward Island.