Chapter 29 of Prophecies and Penalties

It's that kind of day for Emily, again

It’s that kind of day for Emily, again

After her encounter by moonlight with the spooky Stacia Fletcher, Emily Fisher faces the light of day with new enthusiasm and plans for tracking down Stephen Nash’s killer. She’s going to need that enthusiasm. It’s not just that she’ll have to lie, face death, and be taken for a demon. No, Emily’s real problem is that she must go among “The damned and the demented” in chapter 29 of Prophecies and Penalties, my serial about a murder on a Vermont religious commune.

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Coffee house or donut shop?

Source: Wikipedia/Julius Schorzman

Source: Wikipedia/Julius Schorzman

I’ve been confronted by the great dilemma of our times: do I want good coffee, or do I want good pastry? Because I have a lot of trouble finding both.

Chocolate chocolate-chip muffins? YES!

Chocolate chocolate-chip muffins? YES!

Recently, I’ve had to temporarily live away from home. This has shaken up my habits. Among other things, I’ve had to go find a place nearby to get my daily coffee and pastry fix. And for me, pastry has to include a substantial amount of chocolate as an option.

In this neck of the woods, Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks dominate the landscape, with the occasional Au Bon Pain or Panera, as well as the independents. Dunkin’ has a broad range of coffee, and even their regular isn’t that high in caffeine, so that’s all to the good for me. But their signature donuts and muffins tend to be soft and sugary. They’re good for a few days, but then I get to feeling I’m going to become a diabetic when I visit them. Starbucks, long known for their bitter coffee, has finally seen the light with lighter blends, but their pastry case usually leaves me cold. I find the only time I frequent them by choice is when I visit a Barnes & Noble bookstore in the late afternoon or evening, and want to curl up with a book, a big, soft, chocolate-chip cookie, and a latte.

When it comes to pastry, especially for the morning, I like the independent bakeries the best. My last hometown before this one, Amherst, Massachusetts, has the Henion, which offered a decent range of coffee along with their drool-worthy pastry case. I’m checking out a new bakery in my original home town, and so far the pastry is good, but they’ve got only one flavor of coffee (admittedly in regular and decaf). Maybe I’ll have to drop a word in their ear.

I like my coffee house decor a little more subtle than Van Gogh's depiction of one

I like my coffee house decor a little more subtle than van Gogh’s depiction of one

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Chapter 28 of Prophecies and Penalties


Alex Bancroft has just told Emily Fisher that she is the Prophesied One of the Children of the New Revelation. As far as Emily’s concerned, that is sheer poppycock, just one more unnecessary complication in her screwed-up investigation into Stephen Nash’s murder. Yet it unsettles her. And so Emily decides to go to the source of so many of her problems. See what she finds “On top of Sacred Mountain,” chapter 28 of Prophecies and Penalties.

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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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