Going historical, going pirate, adding a blog

As some of you know, I have a string of degrees, some even in related subjects, to follow my name when I bother to use them. (I rarely bother, though when I’m feeling snooty, I sometimes insist on being called “Doctor.”) The last one was in history, and I’ve taught it at the college level. For various personal reasons, I’m taking a different tack for the near future. I’ve decided to try teaching history that will be fun as well as educational, and teaching it to adults who want to learn about it, to at least some level. So I’m planning to teach a non-credit course on pirates for the local adult education program.

Flag used by only some pirates, including Bellamy (Source: Wikipedia/WarX)

Flag used by only some pirates, including Bellamy
(Source: Wikipedia/WarX)

Why pirates? Well, they’re entertaining. But they’re also serious history, providing an entry point into discussing everything from European power politics to 18th century economics. Besides, I’ve already tried doing this once. Back a few years ago, when I was teaching a course on European History, 1500 – 1815, to summer college students, I threw in a running course thread on piracy. We used Capt. Charles Johnson’s 1724 book, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, the source book for most of what people believe about pirates. (Anyone who has read Treasure Island should know that Robert Louis Stevenson lifted quite a few ideas from Johnson’s book, including the name of the pirate Israel Hands.) It actually worked quite well, serving as a counterpoint to the drier material in the standard textbook we were using for most of the course.

Anyhow, to prepare for the course, I’ve started up a new blog, appropriately called SillyhistoryAnd the first (well, second) post is on a visit E.J. and I took to the museum devoted to the only recovered pirate ship and its treasure, the Whydah Pirate Museum on Cape Cod. Go over to the new blog and take a look!

What does this mean for historical content on Sillyverse? Well, if it’s related to courses I’m preparing or teaching, it will be on Sillyhistory. If it’s related to my fiction, it will continue to be here. If it’s related to neither . . . well, we’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.

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Chapter 27 of Prophecies and Penalties, and an apology

Alex Bancroft is not in a good mood. He dislikes what Hannah Wyatt, the Instrument of the Divine, did to the head of the High Council. And Emily Fisher isn’t contributing to his good humor, not at all. So it is no wonder that “The Prophesied One is upset,” chapter 27 of Prophecies and Penalties, my weekly serial about a murder investigation at a Vermont religious commune. If you’re not already reading the story, you can start here.

My apology that there was no post earlier this week. Some events following upon a personal matter I mentioned in a previous post ate up a lot of my time this last week. And the post I was preparing kept getting put off, incomplete, day after day, until I realized Wednesday night that it simply wasn’t going to get out this week. By that time, it was pointless to tell you all there would be no early-week post. Anyhow, I’m hoping to get back on track this next week, with a twist. You’ll see.

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Chapter 26 of Prophecies and Penalties

An Instrument, the Prophesied One, and the Chairperson of the High Council walk into a bar . . . oh, wait, getting ahead of myself. We left Emily Fisher watching Hannah Priest Wyatt, unofficial Instrument of the Divine, make the “unofficial” part of her title pointless. So now what? Well, Emily’s going to help Hannah take a bath. Because “The Divine works in mysterious ways,” chapter 26 of Prophecies and Penalties, available now, yes, right now, for your reading pleasure.

(WARNING: There are two spoilers in the above paragraph. But don’t worry: neither of them will make any sense until you read the chapter.)

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Freedom of the blog

Zenger's trial

Zenger’s trial

It was on this date in 1735 that a jury, in contravention to established law, acquitted Peter Zenger of libel against the colonial governor of New York, on the grounds that the so-called libels were actually true. It’s a celebrated moment in American history (and deserves a place in British history as well). It was one of the powerful precedents for our concept of freedom of the press.

One of the realities of the press, from that day to this, is that the press consisted of a limited number of outlets. In Zenger’s day, you needed some capital and the skills of a printer. A century ago, you needed larger amounts of capital to build or buy the presses that would run off your paper. Even the advance of broadcast television didn’t change that much, because the channels were few and expensive to buy and run.

The Internet’s early advocates hailed it as a democratic platform, in which every voice could be heard. It wasn’t quite true, one needed technical skills to build a presence on the Web, but certainly the Internet opened up more opportunities for people to communicate news and opinions at a relatively cheap cost. Otherwise I’d not be posting this here today!

Ah, the smell of the ink from these things takes me back to junior high school!

Ah, the smell of the ink from these things takes me back to junior high school!

Still, after more than two decades, we see that the Internet’s promise as a democratic system has not been fulfilled. It may be a different set of companies and names, but Big Media controls most of the content of the Internet, when one factors in frequency of access. Most bloggers are in a similar position to the people who used to publish mimeographed ‘zines several decades ago: marginal figures, not the “real” press.

However, today’s bloggers have a reach that the old zine publishers could only dream about. My own blog has been viewed by people in about 100 countries (though I have to wonder what the solitary viewer in Antigua and Barbuda was looking at). With that sort of exposure comes new issues. Can I be prosecuted in a foreign country for something I said that’s legal here? How does copyright work for posting something up on a blog? Am I in any sense running a “press” here? And whatever the answer to that last question, what rights, duties, and protections do I have?

I haven’t seen a well-thought-out philosophy for bloggers as yet. It seems that our most important obligation as things stand today is to adhere to the usage rules of our blog hosts. But those are a guide only to the legal and economic needs of the hosts, not a general view of the value of bloggers in a free and democratic society.

So I’m hunting for a persuasive statement of the value of bloggers and their role in our society. Anyone who knows of one, or who has ideas, feel free to discuss them in the comments. Because if we don’t have a good philosophy to guide us, then we’re likely to get stuck with a mishmash of laws and court decisions that will not work to our collective benefit.

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The trial, Chapter 25 of Prophecies and Penalties, and Queen Caroline’s trial

It was a different scandal, and a different court, but it was still a trial

It was a different scandal, and a different court, but it was still a trial

The trial is on! Defendant: Emily Fisher. Charges: Demonolatry, corrupting the young. Court: the High Council of the Children of the New Revelation. Prosecutor: Harold Lewis, of the High Council. Defender: Sonia Hoopes, Treasurer, Milltown council.

In the eyes of the Prosecutor, the lands sacred to the Divine have been sullied by the demons Emily has introduced among them, and he means to drive them all out. The Defender has the near-impossible task of trying to explain why the evidence of demons is not what it seems.

But there’s a danger in calling upon the Divine or demons to prove your point.

They may answer.

Find out who answers, and just what sort of answer they give in the “Trial,” chapter 25 of Prophecies and Penalties.

Prophecies and Penalties is my weekly serial about a murder in a religious commune and the strange events that confront Emily Fisher when she investigates the murder. If you’re not already reading it, you can start here.

Oh, the trial in the picture? The picture’s title is The Trial of Queen Caroline and it was painted in 1820 by George Hayter (1792 – 1871). Caroline was the wife of British King George IV. The couple was, shall we say, not close; George rather ungallantly claimed that they’d never had sex after the second night of their marriage. Well, not sex with each other. Lovers, on the other hand . . . George had already contracted an illegal marriage, and Caroline went wandering across Europe in the company of a servant whom she took as a lover.

And then in 1820, George’s mad old father died, and George became king. He wanted to divorce Caroline for adultery, as if he were some shining model of virtue instead of a fat old philanderer. So he actually had a bill introduced in the House of Lords to deprive Caroline of her title as queen and divorce her. In effect, the hearings on the bill became Caroline’s trial. George won passage of the bill in Lords (he was, after all, king), but the margin was so slim, and popular sentiment was in favor of the queen, so he never tried to introduce the bill in Commons. And that was that. Caroline remained queen until her death the next year.


Posted in History, Prophecies and Penalties, Writing fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Caring for a parent

I’ve just had to cancel a trip today to go take care of my mother. She’s 89. We’re not exactly a long-lived family, so she’s now outlived her siblings, her husband, and his siblings. And while she still lives by herself, she needs to see her doctors regularly, takes an amazing variety of pills every day, and sometimes needs additional medical care.

My mother was brought up the old-fashioned way when it comes to illness. One can complain about one’s ailments, but there’s no point in bothering to see a doctor about them unless you’re having a near-death experience. And it had better be a real near-death experience; you must actually have seen the grim reaper hovering nearby before you qualify.

So we have phone discussions like this.

“Brian, what are you doing?”

“Oh, just about to leave for a trip to New York.”

“Oh, that’s too bad. I’m in the hospital and I was wondering if you could come up.”

“WHAT? When did you go into the hospital? What’s happening?”

“Yesterday. I was feeling so bad I checked myself in. The doctor was just here and says I need [a major medical procedure].”

“When is this going to happen?”

“Oh, it might be tomorrow, or Wednesday, or . . .”

“Well, I guess I’d better cancel my trip.”

“No, no, you don’t need to do that. I can get someone else to take care of me. Besides, when are you getting back?”

“I was planning on coming back Thursday . . .”

“Oh, that will be fine.”

“Don’t be silly. You don’t even know what day they’re going to operate, or how many days you’ll be at home before I get back. I’ll have to cancel my trip and figure out how to get up there.”

“Well, that would be nice.”

Now all this, you must understand, is as reliable as a script, and yet at the same time is perfectly honest. Such are the complexities of parent-child relations when the parent is elderly and wants to stay independent and the child is allegedly a responsible middle-aged adult. My mother doesn’t like to trouble her children with minor problems like being hospitalized and facing surgery, really does feel badly about my canceling my trip on her account, and yet is also quite happy I’ll be coming up to take care of her. And I will be regretting the canceled trip, so I’m no angel, but will be there at her bedside in a few hours.

Anytime I’m bothered by this arrangement, I think back to when I was in third grade. I had to have eight teeth pulled, because my baby teeth weren’t dropping but my adult teeth were coming in. This was a serious problem because, my reputation to the contrary notwithstanding, I do not have a big mouth. So the dentist decided to do this as in-hospital surgery. Really. Insurance companies let you get away with things like that, back when “Flower Power” was not an ecological slogan. Well, anyhow, I had the surgery, which was my first time in the hospital since I had been born. And I was lying there in bed in the evening, feeling lousy. Then my mother came in. And she sat down on my bed, and gave me a present: a chocolate ice cream soda, fresh from the fountain at the local drug store, my absolutely favorite beverage in those days. Forget pain, sore gums, and the like. I had a chocolate ice cream sodaAnd my Mom had brought it for me.

And she came to watch me get my doctorate, too!

And she came to watch me get my doctorate, too!

That mattered a lot when I was 9. Now that she’s 89, my showing up is what matters, so that’s what I’ll do.

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Chapter 24 of Prophecies and Penalties

Reading is fundamental (to demonolatry)

Reading is fundamental (to demonolatry)

Emily Fisher is going to be tried by the Children of the New Revelation for corrupting the young and for being a demonolater. She is confined to her residence, not by the High Council, but by her half-sister to protect her from mob violence. While she frets and fumes, she has three visitors: an alleged demon, an alleged holy man, and someone who deliberately evades the guards set at Emily’s door. What do such portentous visitors want? Find out in “Visitors,” chapter 24 of Prophecies and Penalties.

Prophecies and Penalties is a weekly serial about an investigation of a murder at a religious commune that is spiraling out of control. If you haven’t been reading it before, you can start here.

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