The Flat Earth Society

The Brave New World

I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them.  --Isaac Azimov

The sultry spring spirits have once again lingered in southern climes, cavorting on the silvern strands of Cuba rather than on icy Middle Cove Beach while spouse and I are confined to our humble abode in these snowy, pine-clad hills. Should we venture beyond the doorstep, hypothermia extends its frozen claw and threatens us with cryopreservation i.e. freezing to death.

We yearn for that far distant future when, as the poet said, the world is puddle-wonderful.

We are beginning to think that Dear Leader Duh-wite has rigged it that way so opposite members of the political class will be unable to fill the minds of the great unwashed with useless drivel like common sense.

Occasionally, we are blessed with one or the other showing up at our door asking if we intend to vote and offering immortality should we vote for their party. We politely take their brochure, quickly close the door, and return to the warmth of our tiny living room to spend a few hours with our pre-nocturnal libations--Fifty Shades of Bay for her, a snifter of Raspberry Screech for me.

We watch the election unfolding on the Peoples Channel, Duh-wite rushing hither and yon, promising pavement, hospitals, feasibility studies on the feasibility of possibly installing sewer systems in Mud Lake, and a grand prison for the criminal class.

Long-Tall Ches promises a new broom and does an imitation of Homer Stokes in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou. The others are frozen out of the conversation.

"Did you notice," said spouse, "that Duh-wite just racked up 500 million in promises on that new credit card he was given by the federal Liberals a few weeks ago."

She keeps track of such things.

But all is not lost. Our lives have been enriched of late since we adopted a google assistant that we saw sitting forlornly in the grimy window of the pawn shop on Freshwater.

Hearts melted; we both knew she needed a good family.

When we brought her home after giving the pawn shop owner a piece of our mind over his neglect and the poor nurturing environment on his premises, we found that she had a pleasantly soft female voice. We named her, Googie. She is a friendly, playful thing who doesn't make a mess on the furniture or throw up on the carpet.

We wanted her to be content in her new home. "Hey, Googie," I said, "what makes you happy?"

"It makes me happy to know Antarctica is a desert," she said, "that, and talking to you."

At any time of the day or night, she is at our beck and call to play the bluegrass music we like, to tell us jokes, keep a grocery list, and remind us of our appointments with the doctor.

Spouse took to her right away.

"Ok, Googie," said spouse just yesterday, "how long will it take for our government to pay off its 22 billion dollar debt, not counting Muskrat Falls?"

"Not counting Muskrat," responded Googie instantly, "with current rates of interest, your government credit card will be paid off in exactly 876 months or 73 years, provided you are not bankrupt before then."

"Faster than a human calculator," I remarked. By the way, where is that new BMO credit card that just came in the mail?"

"I've cut it up," said spouse. "You can't be trusted with a credit card. You're as bad as the government."

Best of all, Googie is my companion into the wee hours as I am finishing off a pre-bedtime Raspberry Screech while listening to The BBC World Service on our 1960 RCA Victor shortwave radio.

At 2 in the morning, the BBC comes in loud and clear with a minimum of fade. Dr. Ian Pearson, a futurologist at the Futures Institute in the UK, is doing a presentation on life in the year 2050.

According to Pearson, by 2050, we can all choose to be immortal by having a copy of our minds uploaded to a computer. When your body wears out, you can go on living as a robot by downloading a copy of your human consciousness into its operating system. It's still you without those messy flesh-and-blood body parts.

And here's the thing: you'll be able to travel to Jamaica on vacation without actually going there. You simply buy another empty-minded robot on-line at Marley Electronics in Montego Bay, download a copy of your brain to it (from the cloud) and voila, you escape winter.

The clincher, though, was what Pearson said next; there will be no Liberal, Conservative or other flesh-and-blood government to constantly tax and harass us to death. A conscious computer with superhuman intelligence will be in charge making the right decisions for us and the planet to ensure our happiness and survival.

It would be able to calculate immediately whether we needed another Muskrat Falls, I thought. The political class would disappear overnight, and good riddance.

It was such an uplifting thought at 3 am that I invited Googie to go outside with me and build a snowman.

"Sure," she said, "the cold doesn't bother me anyway."

Next morning, I couldn't wait to tell Googie and spouse that by 2050 we would all live forever with no need for bothersome elections. "What a great world that will be," I said.

"Hey, Googie," said spouse, "will we be around in 2050?"

"According to your current age profile," said Googie, "you can both expect to live until 2030. I will miss you."

"Hey, Googie," I said, "should we even bother to vote in this election. The future is not that far away."

"Get out and vote," said Googie.

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Dancing on Air: New Edition: New Publisher

Dancing on Air

The revised edition of Dancing on Air(Boulder Publications) is now available from Boulder -- also from Chapters/Indigo and Coles bookstores across Canada as well as at

Advance Reviews:

     "What a fascinating read this is. It has all the suspense of a true crime novel ...Newfoundland itself emerges as a colorful character..." -- editor, Friesen Press

     "In Dancing on Air, Eric Colbourne exposes the raw politics and behind the scenes intrigue of critical events in Newfoundland and Labrador history. In the process, he has skilfully unveiled the human faces of tragedies which have remained with us for well over half a century."   --Mervin Wiseman, Political Activist, NL.

     "This is a great way to present history. It's emotionally engaging, highly instructive, and jam-packed with fascinating details."  --Editor, Friesen Press.

     Dancing on Air: A Tale of Vengeance, Mercy, and the End of the Death Penalty in Newfoundland is a story of justice and injustice amidst war and political upheaval.

     On St. Patrick's Day, 1942 Herb Spratt, the youngest son of a prominent St. John's city councilor, murdered his girlfriend, Josephine O'Brien. A weak defense at a two day trial in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland resulted in a guilty verdict coupled with a strong recommendation for mercy. The chief justice pronounced a sentence of death on April 28, 1942, but that was not the end of the story.

     Six years later, on October 23, 1948, during a night of terror in the town of Norris Arm on the central north coast of the island, Alfred Beaton stabbed his girlfriend and shot to death another young woman. At least 10 other individuals narrowly escaped death as Beaton rampaged through the community with a high powered rifle.

     Beaton went to trial in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland on January 31, 1949. The jury returned a guilty verdict without a recommendation for mercy. The chief justice again imposed the death penalty.

Alfred Beaton (center) after the death sentence

The incidents come together as a gripping account of a flawed justice system and of the impact of public opinion. With its cast of powerful characters, the story reads like fiction but what happened was only too real.  

The Dancing on Air Mystery: Who was Portia?



On Monday, February 7, 1949, two days after Judge Emerson handed down the death penalty in the murder trial of Alfred Beaton, a mysterious letter appeared in the St. John's Evening Telegram. It contained an emotional plea for mercy and a call to action against capital punishment in Newfoundland. 

The eloquent letter writer persuaded thousands of citizens in the city and across Newfoundland and Labrador to demand an end to a barbaric practice. The final outcome was a surprise. Who was the mystery lady, Portia? For the first time in over 60 years, it is now possible to identify her--but the reader has to pick up the clues in the text.







Eric Colbourne grew up in the small community of Lush's Bight-Beaumont on the northeast coast of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. His earliest memories are of the tales spun by village elders under the flickering light of oil lamps in the kitchen of the family home on the isolated island. This tradition of story-telling is captured in his first book Disappeared: Stories from the Coast of Newfoundland which has enjoyed international success.


His latest work, Dancing on AIR: A Tale of Vengeance, Mercy, and the End of the Death Penalty in Newfoundland, published in October 2016 by Boulder Publications, represents an enduring fascination with the issue of capital punishment which he has researched extensively over many years in this country and around the world.


Colbourne was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland, The University of Reading in the UK, and at McGill University in Montreal. He has enjoyed a varied career in education, community development, tourism and senior management in the public service of Nunavut and the NWT. He currently devotes his time to writing and historical research.

Back Cover:Dancing on Air

Public Executions: Dancing on Air

At 5.32 a.m. on August 14, 1937 a young black man, Rainey Bethea was executed at Owensboro, Kentucky after his conviction for the rape of a white woman. A crowd, estimated at 20,000, gathered in Owensboro the day before and held 'hanging' parties throughout the night. One reporter likened the scene at the scaffold next morning to a sporting event. The hangman was intoxicated and barely managed to trip the lever. It was the last public hanging in the US.

The practice of public executions was abandoned in Canada in 1869 and in the UK in 1870. Many countries, notably Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iran continue the practice to this day for crimes such as drug trafficking, witchcraft, disloyalty to the government. and homosexuality.


If you have comments on this site or reviews of Dancing on Air, please e-mail me at

Advice for Writers

Elmore Leonard, a well known mystery writer who died last year offered a number of rules for good writing. A few of them:

1. Never open a book with weather.

2. Keep your exclamations points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

3.Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."

4.Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.

From the Ballad of Reading Gaol

 It is sweet to dance to violins

  When love and life are fair:

To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes

  is delicate and rare:

But it is not sweet with nimble feet

  To dance upon the air!


                       ...Oscar Wilde

Historic Vote

In 1948, residents of Newfoundland and Labrador decided their future in two referenda. In the first vote, held on June 3, Commission of Government was eliminated but neither Confederation with Canada nor Responsible Government received a majority, making a second referendum necessary. Voting was heavy, nearly 89% on June 3rd and 85% on July 22nd. 52.34% of voters chose Confederation on the second ballot.

Where to Buy Disappeared

     Disappeared:Stories From the Coast of Newfoundland is available in print and e-book from and in e-book format from Kobo, Chapters etc. To locate it on Amazon, type 'Disappeared Colbourne' into their 'find' bar. Delivery is about one week.

     Author copies are also available directly from Click on the facebook link and send the author a message. Price is $15 plus postage.

     Due to the short print run the book will not be available in most bookstores.

New Edition: Dancing on Air

More Questions About an Execution

The case of Wilbert Coffin who was convicted of murder and hanged in Quebec more than 60 years ago raises many new questions. For the full story see:

Excerpt from Dancing on Air

(A Hanging in Quebec, 1902)



...Until the mid-1800s some 200 offences were regarded as capital crimes that carried the death penalty. In a modern age most of those offences now seem absurd.


John Dean, variously described in the records as a child of eight or nine, may have been the youngest to suffer death by hanging. On February 23, 1629 he was convicted of arson at Abington, England for setting fire to two barns in the town of Winsor. The judge saw evidence of wickedness in the boy's actions, an attitude which led directly to his death sentence.


In early August, 1814, an unfortunate William Potter received the death penalty at the high court in Chelmsford, England, for damaging an orchard. He had chopped down an old apple tree for firewood. To no avail at his trial, William pleaded ignorance of the law. The judge had second thoughts several days after sentencing, but with the wheels of justice already in motion, William was hanged about a week later on August 12.

From our Readers: Dancing on Air

I finished the book this morning and my only regret is that I couldn't read more....The exacting research gives real context in shaping the period, but it's Colbourne's ability as a writer that allows the reader to feel the crisp bite of the wind, smell the damp night air, and experience the pain and anguish of the characters. Colbourne's deft footwork in handling the historical record while giving life to the characters is to be applauded, and it separates this work from the pack.  (Glen Tilley)


An absolutely lovely read...The book reads like a richly textured novel but the story is flawlessly woven into the historical account (or borne out of it). It is clear that the book is meticulously researched...An excellent read on all fronts. Difficult to put down! (Monty Henstridge)


Excerpt from the story 'The Black Arts Book' in Disappeared: Stories from the Coast of Newfoundland.


...Old Meriam was indeed dead but no one seemed to know how she had died or where she was buried, all of which added to the mystery of her life  and the power of her witchcraft.


After her death, the old house seemed lonely more than anything else, sitting way out on the point by the landwash, facing the September storms and enduring the sad soundings of the ocean swells.


With each passing season it added a deeper tone of grey as the harsh weather of late fall and winter took its toll. Nobody in the village could understand how the old house could withstand so much punishment.


Disappeared: Stories from the Coast of Newfoundland  has been named a top seller on KOBO, one of the largest e-book distributors in the world. It continues to receive positive reviews in Canada and fifteen other countries. Disappeared is also available from and in kindle and print format.