Friday, December 31, 2010

Another Starving Writer


Not long ago, a friend I worked with many years ago decided to take a year off and write a novel. Then yesterday, an old high school pal asked me what it takes to write a novel. Since I have four published novels floating around in the ozone somewhere, I sent them this advice.

1) To write a novel, you must be a persistent self-starter with thick skin and high self-esteem. You need to work at it every day until your fingers lock up and your brain bleeds. Once you start, you can never quit.

2) You should have a unique premise or idea or twist for a novel. There’s no point writing something that’s already been written. It’s called a novel because there’s something novel about it.

3) Almost all novels have a distinct structure. There are three acts – a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning usually opens with an enticing (exciting or mysterious or bizarre or whatever) hook to compel the reader to continue past the first line and first paragraph and first page. Then something happens (plot point #1) to propel the narrative into act two, the main conflict. A second plot point eventually occurs to launch the story into the third act, the resolution. All scenes and dialogue should advance the plot line or help define the characters; if they don’t, they should probably be deleted.

4) It helps if the characters are three dimensional, rather than stereotypical or predictable.

5) It helps if the dialogue is authentic and unique to the characters, rather than stereotypical or predictable.

6) It’s best to throw the main characters into a situation and let the story evolve from there. Sometimes the story line will take an unexpected turn based on the “authentic” actions of the characters. This way the story becomes much more realistic because it’s driven by the reactions of the characters themselves.

7) Once you’ve finished writing the novel, you’ve only begun. You must rewrite and rewrite and rewrite until it flows in a fluid, poetic manner. And you must not hesitate to remove a favorite line or two if they don’t fit -- it may break your heart but the integrity of the final product is more important than the brilliance of a single moment within the text that doesn’t belong there. It takes a ton of work to get it just right. Just as a good actor doesn’t appear to be acting, good literature reads as though it wasn’t even written, much less rewritten.

8) You must know when to quit. Every time you read it you’ll find little things to change or fix. At some point you must pronounce it finished. This is very hard to do but you must be decisive.

9) You must strive for perfection. You can’t hand a manuscript to a publisher or a literary agent containing errors or coffee stains. When you spend a zillion hours attempting to create something worthy enough to present to the literary world, it must be presentable. A sloppy product suggests sloppy writing.

10) The finished product is only the end of phase one. Phase two is getting it published and phase three is stimulating sales. Getting it published isn’t easy. Only one out of about 200 novels submitted to publishers ever gets published. Your odds are somewhat better getting published if you sign with a literary agent but finding a good one who will represent you is just about as hard as finding a publisher. Self-publishing has become easier these days with print-on-demand technology but most people will spend more money than they will ever take in.

11) Even if you manage to get a novel published, only about one in twenty published novels makes enough money to break even for the publisher. Writers get a percentage of sales, based on retail price. A percentage of very little is less than very little. Only a small percentage of published writers actually makes a living at it and very few of them ever get rich. The true riches come from the self-satisfaction of accomplishment.

12) If it’s in your twisted mind to write a novel then do it and don’t quit until you get it done. Don’t worry about what others think of your stupid plans. You’re writing because you’re a writer and that’s what writers do. Let the rest of the world go about their boring nine-to-five business. You’re above such petty nonsense.

It is better to be a starving writer than wishing you were a starving writer.

Novels by Bret Burquest:
THE DOGMAN OF TOPANGA -- romantic suspense/thriller
A BAD RUN OF FATE -- psychological mystery
GOOMBA IN MONTANA -- coming-of-age suspense/thriller
THE ELEVENTH SAGE -- metaphysical mystery

Quote for the Day -- "It is better to fail in originality than to succeed it imitation." Herman Melville

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where starving writers dine on hickory bark. His blogs appear on several websites, including

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Ordeal of Jeffery MacDonald

This is an article I wrote a couple of years for another website. Just thought I'd post it on one of my blog sites too.


At 3:42 AM on February 17, 1970, dispatchers at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, received an emergency call from Captain Jeffrey MacDonald, M.D., a Green Beret group surgeon, concerning an incident in his residence on base.

Upon arrival, responding officers discovered a gruesome scene.

MacDonald's wife, Colette, who was pregnant with their third child, was dead on the floor of her bedroom. She had been severely battered, both arms were broken and she had been stabbed 37 times with a knife and an ice pick. The word "pig" had been written in blood on her headboard.

Daughter Kimberly, age 5, was found in her bed. She had been battered in the head and stabbed 8 to 10 times in the neck with a knife.

Daughter Kristen, age 2, was found in her bed, having been stabbed 33 times with a knife and 15 times with an ice pick.

MacDonald was found alive but unconscious, requiring mouth-to-mouth resuscitation at the scene by a military policeman. He had various cuts and bruises, 3 contusions on his head where he was knocked out and at least 17 stab wounds, one of which was life threatening that deeply punctured his lung, causing the lung to partially collapse by 40 percent. He was released from the hospital after one week.


MacDonald told investigators that he had been sleeping on the living room couch because his youngest daughter had been in bed with his wife and had wet his side of the bed. He was awakened by screams from his wife and oldest daughter.

As he rose from the couch, three male intruders attacked him with a club and an ice pick. His pajama top was pulled off in the struggle and he used it to ward off thrusts from the ice pick. Eventually, he was knocked unconscious in the living room at the hallway leading to the bedrooms.

One of the male intruders was a black man wearing an army field jacket with E6 stripes. The other two males were white.

During this struggle, MacDonald claimed there was a white female in a white floppy hat observing the attack while holding a lighted candle and chanting "Acid is groovy. Kill the pigs."


Jeffery Robert MacDonald was born on October 12, 1943, in Queens, New York. In high school, he was voted most popular and most likely to succeed. He won a scholarship to Princeton University and married his high school sweetheart, Colette.

Three years at Princeton was followed by attending Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago. After a one year internship at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City, MacDonald joined the U.S. Army. He was appointed to the Green Berets in 1969 as a group surgeon and stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.


The crime scene had been examined by the army's Criminal Investigation Division (CID). They found some inconsistencies with MacDonald's account of what happened.

The murder weapons, which were MacDonald household items, were found outside the back door. Fiber's from MacDonald's torn pajama top were found under Colette's body, but no fibers were found in the living room where MacDonald claimed he had struggled with the intruders. Although the coffee table and a plant were overturned in the living room, CID investigators didn't believe it showed signs of a struggle.

Plus, the CID investigators found an issue of ESQUIRE magazine in the living room. In it was an article about the Manson Family murders that had taken place the previous summer. The investigators theorized the article was where MacDonald got the idea of blaming crazed druggies attacking his family and writing "acid is groovy, kill the pigs" on the wall in blood.


An army Article 32 hearing convened in July of 1970, overseen by Colonel Warren Rock, to litigate the incident. MacDonald was represented by Bernard Segal, a civilian attorney from Philadelphia.

The defense concentrated on two aspects of the case – the improper management of the crime scene by the CID and the existence of other suspects.

Segal presented evidence that the CID lost critical evidence, including skin found under Colette's fingernails.

In addition, Segal claimed to have located the woman MacDonald witnessed in the floppy white hat at the scene. Her name was Helena Stoeckley, the daughter of a retired army colonel, and she was a well-known drug user in the area of Fort Bragg. Several witnesses claimed that Stoeckley had admitted to them that she had been involved in the crime. Plus, several witnesses remembered Stoeckley wearing similar clothing during the time frame of the incident just as MacDonald had described.

During a six-week pre-court marshal hearing, Col. Rock learned that Helena Stoeckley had made statements suggesting she had been involved in the killings. It was revealed that Stoeckley was a narcotic informer for army military police and local law enforcement.

Stoeckley admitted to army investigators that she had been wearing a floppy hat, blonde wig and boots on the night of the murder. She later admitted that she had burned the hat, wig and boots, fearing they would incriminate her in the crime. She also claimed she was on drugs at the times of the incident and had no alibi for that evening.

According to military policeman Kenneth Mica who had responded to the crime scene, a woman fitting Stoeckley's description was seen standing at a street corner on the army post, three blocks from the crime scene, as they drove by.

In October of 1970, the military proceeding issued a report dismissing all charges against MacDonald on the grounds that the allegations were "not true" and recommended that civilian authorities investigate Stoeckley.


After the Article 32 hearing, Macdonald returned to work as a medical doctor. After a brief stint in New York, he moved to California where he became an emergency room physician at the St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach.

In April of 1974, Alfred and Mildred Kassab, Colette's stepfather and mother, filed a formal complaint against MacDonald for the murders of their daughter and grandchildren.

A grand jury was convened in August of 1974 in North Carolina to look into the matter.

On January 24, 1975, the grand jury indicted MacDonald on murder charges. Within the hour, MacDonald was arrested in California.

On January 31, 1975, MacDonald was freed on $100,000 bail pending disposition of the charges.


July 29, 1975 – District Judge Franklin T. Dupree Jr. denied MacDonald's motion against double jeopardy and speedy trial motions. The trial date of August 18, 1975 would stand.

August 15, 1975 – The Fourth Circuit of Appeals stayed the trial.

January 23, 1976 – A panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2 to 1 decision, ordered the indictment dismissed on the grounds of being denied a speedy trial.

May 1, 1978 – The U.S. Supreme Court, in an 8 to zero decision, reinstated the indictment on behalf of the Government.

October 22, 1978 -- the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected MacDonald's double jeopardy appeal.

March 19, 1979 – The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to reject MacDonald's double jeopardy appeal.


On July 16, 1979, the murder trial of Jeffrey MacDonald began in Raleigh, North Carolina, before Judge Franklin T. Dupree. Attorney's Bernard Segal and Wade Smith represented MacDonald.

Judge Dupree refused to allow into evidence a psychiatric evaluation of MacDonald submitted by the defense suggesting MacDonald was incapable of killing his wife and children.

However, Judge Dupree allowed the prosecution to introduce the 1970 copy of ESQUIRE magazine, containing the article about the Charles Manson murders in August 1969, into evidence. Government attorneys maintained this is where MacDonald got the idea of blaming a crazed hippie gang for the killings.

The prosecution presented MacDonald's pajama top as evidence. In contained 48 small, smooth, cylindrical ice pick holes. MacDonald's wife had been stabbed 21 times by an ice pick. The prosecution demonstrated that by folding the pajama top a certain way that all 48 holes could have been made by 21 stricks with an ice pick. Their theory was that MacDonald had stabbed his wife 21 times through the pajama top while the pajama top was lying on Colette's chest.

The audio tape of the April 6, 1970, military investigation interview of MacDonald was played for the jury. In it, MacDonald explained his version of the incident in a very "matter-of-fact" manner. It was an unemotional recitation of events, damaging MacDonald's case. However, MacDonald was a Green Beret and an emergency room physician – his normal demeanor under stress would be calm and precise.

The defense called Helena Stoeckley to the stand. Just prior to her testimony, Stoeckley was interviewed by the defense and the prosecution, during which time she denied ever being in MacDonald's apartment. She testified that she could not remember her activities on the night of the murders because of excessive drug use.

The defense attempted to introduce into evidence testimony from other witnesses who claimed that Steockley had confessed to the killings. However Judge Dupree refused that evidence because of Stoeckley's history of long-term drug abuse.

The defense called forensic expert James Thornton. He attempted to demonstrate that the pajama top was wrapped around MacDonald's wrist by conducting an experiment whereby a similar pajama top was placed over a ham, and moved back and forth on a sled while being stabbed with an ice pick.

The defense called several character witnesses, then MacDonald took the stand as the last witness where he tearfully denied committing the murders.

On August 29, 1979, MacDonald was found guilty of one count of first-degree murder, in the death of Kristen, the oldest daughter, and two counts of second-degree murder. Judge Dupree sentenced MacDonald to three consecutive life sentences.


During the trial, the prosecution claimed that all of MacDonald's wounds were inflicted by Colette, during a violent confrontation, except for the single wound to MacDonald's lung which was self-inflicted.

However, all six doctors who were consulted at the Army Hearing testified that a self-inflicted wound in such a manner could not have a predicted outcome, even by a doctor inflicting the wound on himself, plus the liver could have been damaged, resulting in death.

Due to a mix-up at Womack Hospital, where MacDonald was treated after the incident, no photographs of MacDonald's wounds were ever taken.

At Womack Hospital, Dr. Paul Manson and Dr. Robert McGann observed (and testified) that MacDonald had a "large contusion" on his forehead and another one over his right temple.

Army officer Ron Harrison, a friend of MacDonald, told Army investigators he observed the bruises on the front of MacDonald's head, and also noticed limps on the back of his head. He further observed numerous wounds on MacDonald's chest, arms and abdomen, and what he believed to be ice pick wounds to the neck.

At the Army hearing, Dr. Straub testified that he "spread apart" an abdominal wound whereby he observed that it "had gone through a great deal of the muscle of the abdominal wall."

During grand jury testimony in 1974, Dr. Severt Jacobson of Womack Hospital testified that he observed cuts to MacDonald's hand and forearms "from a very sharp object." He further described four puncture wounds to the upper chest and multiple puncture wounds to the arms and abdomen.

Upon admission to Womack Hospital, Army surgeon Dr. Frank Gemma noted "several small puncture wounds that may have come from an instrument such as an ice pick."

All in all, MacDonald was stabbed at least 17 times and had multiple contusions to the head. The wound to the lung required a chest tube and two surgeries.


On July 29, 1980, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2 to 1 panel decision, reversed MacDonald's murder conviction on the grounds violating the Sixth Amendment to a speedy trial.

On August 22, 1980, MacDonald was freed on $100,000 bail and returned to St. Mary's Medical Center in Long Beach at his old position as Director of Emergency Medicine.

On December 18, 1980, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 5 to 5 decision, allowed the earlier decision of a reversal of the murder conviction to stand.

On May 31, 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6 to 3 decision, ruled that MacDonald's rights to a speedy trial had not been violated.

MacDonald was immediately re-arrested and returned to prison.

On August 16, 1982, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed MacDonald's convictions based on the remaining points of his appeal.

On January 10, 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court refused a further appeal from MacDonald.

On March 1, 1985, Judge Dupree rejected all motions by MacDonald for a new trial. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Judge Dupree's ruling and refused to reopen the case.

On October 6, 1986, The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In July of 1991, Judge Dupree heard arguments that MacDonald should be granted a new trial based on prosecutorial misconduct. Judge Dupree denied the petition.


In 1971, Helena Stoeckley was administered a polygraph test by the Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) in which she denied being at the crime scene. She failed the polygraph test.

On January 12, 2006, MacDonald was granted leave from prison to file his fourth appeal. This petition included a sworn affidavit from a retired U.S. Marshal named Jimmy Britt who worked the civilian trial.

Britt stated that he overheard Helena Stoeckley admit to the prosecutor, James Blackburn, that she had been present at the MacDonald residence at the time of the killings, and that Blackburn then threatened her with prosecution if she testified.

Also, during her retention as a material witness during the trial, Stoeckley had contacted Judge Dupree, claiming she was terrified of Bernard Segal, the lead defense attorney. Consequently, when she met with the defense council prior to the trial she told them she had no recollection of the night of the murders.

Jimmy Britt died on October 19, 2008.


On April 16, 2007, MacDonald's attorneys filed an affidavit with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals wherein Helena Stoeckley's mother stated that her daughter twice confessed to her that she was present at MacDonald's residence the night of the murders and that she was afraid of testifying to that fact for fear of prosecution.

Also included in the latest appeal was the newly discovered evidence of alleged threats against Stoeckley by the prosecution and recently completed DNA results.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals granted MacDonald's motion and remanded the matter to the District Court Eastern Division for a decision.

In November of 2008, Judge Fox of the District Court Eastern Division denied the motion regarding Helena Stoeckley's mother's statement, denied the motion regarding Britt's statement, and denied the motion regarding the new DNA results. The denials were based on technicalities, whereby MacDonald's attorneys had not obtained the required authorization from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to properly submit the motions to the District Court Eastern Division. The court stated that MacDonald must file a separate motion regarding DNA results and would need pre-authorization from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to do so.


Greg Mitchell was Helena Stoeckley's boyfriend. He was a soldier and a heroin addict, now deceased. Prior to his death, Mitchell confessed to the crime to his boss, his pastor and various other people. Several of these people have signed sworn statements of witnessing this confession.

Mitchell stated that on the night of the incident he and his friends were strung out on drugs. They went to the MacDonald home because they were upset that MacDonald would not provide them with methadone, a substance utilized by drug addicts. He further stated that things went bad and they all scattered when the phone rang.

Two independent coroners have concluded that some of the injuries on the victims are consistent with a left-handed attacker. MacDonald is right-handed. Mitchell is left-handed.


During the trial, the defense attorneys requested to review laboratory notes, but the prosecution insisted that nothing found at the crime scene supported MacDonald's story. The judge refused to order the prosecution to turn over the notes.

Over the years since the trial, MacDonald's attorneys have used the Freedom of Information Act to discover evidence that was withheld by the prosecution prior to and during the trial. Fibers and fingerprints found in the apartment were never matched to anyone known to have been in the apartment prior to or after the murders.

For example, a bloody adult palm print was found on the footboard of the master bed, near Collette's body. The print did not match MacDonald or anyone known to have been present at the crime scene.

For example, black wool fibers were found on Colette's shoulder and mouth, which would potentially point to an intruder, but this evidence was deliberately withheld from the defense. These black fibers did not match any items in the MacDonald household.

For example, A 2-inch pubic hair was found between Colette's legs. It did not match MacDonald or any other known source.

For example, a blue acrylic fiber was found in Collette's right hand. This material could not be matched to any items in the MacDonald household.

For example, a blue acrylic fiber was found where MacDonald had been rendered unconscious. This material could not be matched to any items in the MacDonald household.

For example, two identical 22-inch blonde synthetic wig hairs were found in a hairbrush on a table in the living room where MacDonald had been attacked but that evidence was never disclosed to the defense.

For example, A brown hair, with root intact, was found under Kimberly's bloody fingernail. This hair did not match MacDonald.

For example, a bloody hair, with root intact, was found under the fingernail of Kristen's fingernail. Source unknown.

In the aftermath of the trial, all of MacDonald's claims of suppression of evidence were rejected by the courts. The rulings cited that even if the suppressed evidence would have been introduced it would not have been enough to have changed the verdict of the jury.


In 1997, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed MacDonald attorneys to pursue DNA testing on limited blood and hair evidence.

In December of 2000, DNA testing began, conducted by the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory.

On March 10, 2006, the lab released the results. No DNA was found to match Helena Stoeckley or Greg Mitchell, Stoeckley's companion. However, three hairs were found that did not match any of the MacDonald family members. One was located on a bed sheet, another one was found in Colette's body outline and another one was found under Kristen's fingernail.

To date, these DNA results have not been accepted by the court because there was no pre-authorization for what should have been a separate motion for DNA results.


MacDonald passed two polygraph tests. One was administered by Dr. David Raskin, a leading expert in this field. The results were examined by two other experts. In all cases, the findings were "no deception."

Helena Stoeckley was administered a polygraph test whereby she denied involvement in the murders. The results were "deception." She was later given another polygraph test whereby she admitted her presence during the murders The findings indicated "no deception."


Two independent witnesses heard a group of people approaching MacDonald's building around 2 AM and leaving in the opposite direction some time later.

A fingerprint was discovered on an empty glass that had contained chocolate milk. It could not be matched to any of the MacDonald family or friends or investigators.

According to defense attorneys, Helena Stoeckley was able to describe items within the MacDonald residence, including a broken rocking horse in one of the children's room and a jewelry box in the master bedroom.


While MacDonald's explanation of events may seem strange, a group of drugged-crazed hippies attacking him and his family in the wee hours of the night, the government's scenario is equally full of holes.

They would have the world believe that Dr. MacDonald brutally murdered his wife and two small daughters. They would have you believe that Colette inflicted multiple wounds on MacDonald, with a club, a knife and an ice pick, during a violent confrontation.

His wife, Colette, was repeatedly beaten with a club, both arms were broken, and she was stabbed 37 times with a knife and an ice pick. This would require MacDonald to change murder weapons, from club to knife to ice pick.

His daughter, Kimberly (age 5), was clubbed in the head multiple times and stabbed in the neck between 8 and 10 times. Once again, MacDonald would have to switch murder weapons, from club to knife.

His daughter, Kristen (age 2), was stabbed 33 times with a knife and 15 times with an ice pick. Once again, MacDonald would have to switch from knife to ice pick.

Then MacDonald would have to dispose of the murder weapons outside his back door and write "pig" in blood on the bedroom wall.

Next, he would have to stab himself, deep enough to puncture a lung, call on the phone for help and render himself unconscious before help arrived.

It simply doesn't seem very plausible.


On May 10, 2005, MacDonald had a parole hearing where he refused to admit guilt. Parole was denied, with a recommendation that he serve another 15 years before being eligible for another parole hearing.

Jeffrey MacDonald has been incarcerated for over 27 years and currently resides in a federal prison in Cumberland, Maryland, where he remains steadfast in his innocence.


Book – Fatal Justice by Jerry Allen Potter and Fred Bost (presents evidence withheld by prosecutors)
Website 1 –
Website 2 –

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Bret Burquest is a former award-winning newspaper columnist and author of four novels. He has lived in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, Kansas City, Memphis, the Arizona desert, and is now retired in the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Red-Nosed Reindeer


Christmas, like many other holidays, has its share of historical inaccuracies and myths.

For example, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was not one of Santa’s reindeer and didn’t live on the North Pole. In fact, he was invented in 1939 by Robert L. May, a copywriter for Montgomery Ward department stores, as a promotional gimmick.

By 1946, a total of 6 million copies of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer booklet had been distributed to Montgomery Ward customers.

May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, developed the lyrics and music for a Rudolph song which was recorded by Gene Autry in 1949. It sold 2 million copies that year alone and went on to become the second best-selling record of all time, second only to “White Christmas.”

However, May’s original story differs from the song lyrics. According to May, Rudolph lived in an ordinary reindeer village considerably south of the North Pole. Even though he was taunted for having a shiny red nose, his parents were not embarrassed. They brought Rudolph up in a loving home and gave him a high sense of self-esteem. Santa delivered presents to their house one night during a thick fog. Impressed by the glow of Rudolph’s shiny red nose, Santa chose him to lead his team of reindeer to complete his rounds.

This brings to mind other Christmas myths.

MYTH #1 -- Santa Claus is a fat man in a red suit.

Not true. He's fairly thin and usually wears boxer shorts with a tank top around the house. He just dons multiple layers of clothing to keep warm in late December, when zipping around the night sky in an open sleigh. Santa’s delivery outfit is bright red to protect him from trigger-happy sportsmen – he doesn’t want to be mistaken for a flock of geese.

MYTH #2 -- Santa Claus lives at the North Pole.

Not true. He lives in Canada, halfway between Medicine Hat and Moose Jaw. The north pole is a large block of ice, populated by three polar bears and a wayward penguin. Canada is a lot like the North Pole – it's cold and nobody ever goes there.

MYTH #3 – Santa has a bunch of little helpers called elves.

Not true. They're mostly vertically-challenged (short) Swedes.

MYTH #4 -- Santa Claus climbs down chimneys to deliver his presents.

No longer true. He once did climb down chimneys but got stuck several times in Colorado where legislation in 1969 required all chimneys to contain filters. In 1970, Santa reverted to using doors and windows, but he was busted in 1972 in Hackensack, New Jersey, for breaking and entering. Ever since then, Santa has used the Star Trek method of teleportation whereby his molecular structure is disassembled on the rooftop and reassembled directly in front of the Christmas tree. This way he is guilty only of entering but not of breaking, usually a misdemeanor in most places.

MYTH #5 – Santa Claus likes to have some cookies and milk waiting for his arrival.

No longer true. In 1983, he developed a gastrointestinal infection while hovering over Thailand. Too much curry, causing a bad case of diarrhea, which can be quite a dilemma while flying through the air in an open sleigh.

MYTH #6 – Kids will get presents that reflect the latest craze.

Not true. There is no latest craze. Remember Cabbage Patch dolls, Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtles and Tickle-Me Elmo? They were the latest craze for about fifteen minutes. By the time the kids open presents, the latest craze will become a closet relic. If you want to give your kids a gift that has some worth, give them something that will get them out of the house, like a bicycle or a chainsaw.

MYTH #7 – Santa knows who has been naughty and nice.

Not true. That's the CIA, FBI, NSA, NWO, DEA, IRS, ATF, CFR, KGB, MI6, MJ12 and the Jehovah Witnesses who are keeping tabs on everyone. Santa has enough to do without spying on you.

MYTH #8 – Santa’s reindeer are named Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen.

Not true. Actually, those are only nicknames to make it easier to come up with Christmas jingles. Their real names are Fox Maulder, Elmer Fudd, Sponge Bob, Snoop Dogg, Joe Sixpack, Clark Kent, D. B. Cooper and Dweezle Zappa.

Quote for the Day – "Humans live through their myths and only endure their realities." Robert Anton Wilson

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where myths are facts until proven otherwise. His blogs appear on several websites, including

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Santa Dimension

When I was about five years old, I was excited to learn that Santa Claus was going to appear at my house early on Christmas Eve to personally hand Christmas presents to my little brother and me. My parents explained that Santa was doing this as a special treat for us since we didn't have a chimney.

Sure enough, Santa showed up.

Although he was an hour late, according to my mother, I was thrilled to see him. I rushed outside in the cold Wisconsin night but stopped several feet short. Something wasn't right. Santa was clearly wearing a mask on his face.

I asked him why he was wearing a mask and he told me it was to keep warm.

Later that holiday season, I overheard a conversation between my parents whereby I learned it was my grandfather pretending to be Santa and that my mother was very upset with him for showing up late and drunk.

When my mother realized I had discovered the great Santa deception, she explained that Santa had so many houses to visit that evening that he didn't have time to make special stops and that my grandfather was just pretending to be Santa to make us happy.

Once again, being a young innocent squirt, I bought the explanation. My grandfather was always a great guy, drunk or sober, and I appreciated him for stopping by on such a cold night just to please my brother and me.

A few years later, in the second grade, I was hanging out with a couple of my buddies during recess. Usually we would shoot marbles behind a big oak tree so our teacher couldn't see us. Mrs. Halverson didn't like it when her boys would participate in games of chance, especially when marbles would change hands.

Instead of playing marbles, we got into a discussion about Santa Claus. There had been some speculation that Santa Claus didn't really exist so the three of us tried to figure it out logically.

Duncan Jones was the brains of the group, Vinny Gagliardi was ever so inquisitive, while I was more action oriented, preferring to play marbles rather than attempting to fathom the unfathomable.

It all started when Vinny came up with a series of intriguing questions. How does Santa visit so many houses on a single night? How can he get all those presents in his sleigh? How can reindeer fly? How does a hefty guy like Santa manage to slip down a chimney and get back to the roof? What does Santa do when there is no chimney? How does Santa know whether you were naughty or nice? And so on and so on.

Duncan made some quick calculations. He figured if there were a billion houses and Santa took only a minute per house, or 60 houses per hour, it would take about 17 million hours, not counting flying time.

Then there was the flying reindeer problem. Duncan and I were fairly certain reindeer couldn't actually fly but Vinny wasn't so sure. He had seen an elephant fly in a Disney cartoon and it looked feasible to him.

Soon a light bulb went off just above Duncan's head.

Suppose there was a parallel universe. Santa could pop in and out of our reality almost instantaneously while doing most of his work in a parallel dimension. This would impose an anomaly in the continuum of time and space whereby a few seconds of our reality could be a year of Santa reality.

This could also explain the reindeer problem. They don't actually fly; there're merely transported to our reality directly onto the roof and disappear the same way. Santa makes his way into the house in the same manner. It's simply a matter of hyper-dimensional travel between simultaneous planes of existence.

The bell rang and we had to go back inside where Mrs. Halverson made us print the alphabet all afternoon. She wanted to make sure we slanted our letters at the proper angle. Mrs. Halverson always emphasized penmanship and seating posture, but had a phobia about teaching math. Numbers greater than 20 made her nose bleed.

It's strange how so many parents are unaware of parallel dimensions. They tell their kids the most ridiculous tales to make up for their lack of knowledge about the anomalies of the continuum of time and space.

I left a plate of cookies out for Santa last year. The next morning the plate was empty. I'm not exactly sure what happened though -- my dog had some cookie crumbs on his whiskers and didn't eat much that day.

Happy Holidays.

Quote for the Day -- “I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.” Shirley Temple

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where Santa always leaves a lump of coal under my tree. His blogs appear on several websites, including

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Being Born of a Virgin

In the fourth century, the Romans and Persians celebrated the birthday of their sun god, Mithras, during the last week of December. The sun "dies" at the winter solstice, its lowest position in the sky in the northern hemisphere. Three days later, on December 25, the celebration of the "birth" of the sun takes place.

The Catholic Church felt this celebration by a rival pagan religion threatened the existence of Christianity so they decided to conduct a festival of their own during the last week of December which would force a competition with the pagan festivities.

Even though the Catholic Church believed the actual birth of Jesus Christ was in the spring, they chose December 25 as the official birthday and thereby began a tradition of holding Christ's Mass during a time frame where it would interrupt the pagan celebrations.

Over time, "Christ's Mass" eventually became "Christmas" and December 25 became known thereafter as the day Jesus Christ was born.

A man named Nicholas was born in Turkey in 280 AD. He was very pious from an early age and devoted his life to Christianity. He eventually became a Christian priest and later became a bishop.

Nicholas had a reputation as a kindly, wise soul who was generous toward the poor. He was a rich young man who didn’t like to be seen giving gifts. He traveled the country helping people, always at night after the children were asleep.

The most famous story about Nicholas is when he learned of a poor man who had no money to give to his three daughters on their wedding day. Nicholas dropped bags of gold into the stockings the girls had left to dry by the fire. Ever since, children have hung stocking by the fireplace in hopes that old St. Nick would drop by and fill the stockings with goodies.

Turkey was part of the Roman Empire at the time. In 303 AD, the Roman Emperor, named Diocletian, demanded that all of his subjects worship him as god.

Nicholas would not allow his conscience to betray his religious convictions so he refused to worship the Emperor, landing him in prison. Conditions were harsh, including torture, but the 23-year-old Nicholas held to his beliefs.

In 313 AD, when Constantine became the new Emperor of the Roman Empire, he released Nicholas and other Christians from prison. Nicholas returned to his post as Bishop of Myra, where he continued his good deeds.

Constantine later became a Christian and convened the Council on Nicaea in 325 AD. He appointed Nicholas as a delegate to the Council, the purpose of which was to create statements of beliefs and canons of doctrinal orthodoxy, thereby contriving a unity of beliefs for ecumenical (worldwide) Christendom.

Nicholas died on December 6, 343 AD.

In 394 AD, Roman Emperor, Flavius Theodosius, banned all pagan rites. This decree ended the practice of worshipping the sun god, Mithras.

In 800 AD, Nicholas was officially recognized as a saint by the Eastern Catholic Church. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, the patron saint of children, the patron saint of Sicily, Greece, Russia and other countries.

In the 1200s, France began to celebrate December 6 as Bishop Nicholas Day.

By the end of the 1400s, St. Nicholas was the third most beloved religious figure, after Jesus and Mary. There were more than 2,000 chapels and monasteries named after him.

Holland kept the legend of St. Nicholas alive in the 1500s, as Dutch children would place wooden shoes near the fireplace to be filled with treats. The Dutch spelled St. Nicholas as Sint Nikolaas. The name later became corrupted to Sinterklaas. Eventually, the English version of the name became Santa Claus.

And that's how all of the Christmas nonsense evolved.

St Nicholas was a man of strong convictions, having spent many years in prison merely for holding to his religious beliefs. Such courageous moral fortitude, whether or not one agrees with such beliefs, is a divine example of an individual soul remaining steadfast in a world of petty tyrants who demand the right to enforce their version of heaven on Earth.

Ironically, the pagan worship of the sun god included such notions as Mithras being born of a virgin in a cave on December 25. His birth was attended by shepherds. He was considered to be a master and a teacher. He traveled with 12 companions, performed miracles and promised immortality to those who believed in him. Upon his death, he was buried in a tomb and rose again after three days on March 25 (Easter).

The religion of Mithraism preceded Christianity by approximately 600 years.

Religion is a curious thing.

Quote for the Day – "Bah, humbug." Ebenezer Scrooge

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where Wiccans frolic on the Winter Solstice. His blogs appear on several websites, including

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Monsters of the Id

If our subconscious thoughts were pleasant, we wouldn't have to bury them so deep.

The "id" is one of three categories of the human psyche. Completely unconscious, it is the source of psychic energy derived from instinctual desires -- the subconscious mind. The other two categories are ego (consciousness, perception of reality) and super-ego (sense of morality, guilt).

According to Sigmund Freud, the id is "the dark, inaccessible part of our personality.... striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle."

In other words, the id is lurking deep within us, remaining hidden from our conscious thoughts, driven by primal instincts.

Actor Leslie Nielsen died on November 28. 2010, at age 84. He had appeared in over 100 movies. Known primarily for his comedic roles in movies such as AIRPLANE and NAKED GUN, he was featured in the 1956 MGM classic science fiction movie THE FORBIDDEN PLANET as the commander of a spaceship on a rescue mission, only his second film.

The plot and characters of THE FORBIDDEN PLANET were inspired by William Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST. The thrust of the story-line includes a "plastic educator" device which advances one's intelligence. However, it also has the capacity to create "Monsters of the Id" -- manifesting malevolent beings that kill the subjects of the subconscious anger of the person utilizing the device. Thus, the monsters are an extension of the id of the person unknowingly creating them.

Sometimes, so-called reality is stranger than fiction.

In October of 1943, the U.S. Navy conducted a Top Secret exercise in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard that attempted to render a vessel (the USS Eldridge) invisible to radar detection. Part of the experiment also dealt with investigating possible military applications of rotating magnetic fields applied to humans, as a potential psychological warfare tool. It was part of an operation called "Project Rainbow," later dubbed the Philadelphia Experiment. The results were unfavorable to catastrophic, depending upon which version you read.

According to various sources, researchers from the Philadelphia Experiment met in 1952-53 whereupon they obtained approval and funding from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a weapon that would induce symptoms of psychotic disorders and schizophrenia. It was called the "Phoenix Project" and initially began operations at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, New York. For several reasons, it was soon moved to a nearby decommissioned U.S. Air Force Base at Montauk, New York.

By 1967-68, all the equipment and operations had been moved underground beneath the former Air Force base. In 1969, the surface area became a wildlife refuge, while everything underground was designated a "D1 Base" and property of the U.S. Air Force.

Many experiments were conducted as part of the Montauk Project. These supposedly included time travel and contact with intelligent beings beyond Earth.

In 1983, one of the resident psychics (Duncan Cameron) sat in the "Montauk Chair" and visualized a monster. The monster then materialized and went on a rampage. Described as 25 feet tall, the monster developed a mind of his own and began destroying everything in its path.

It was a real-life creation of a "Monster of the Id" and it apparently got everyone's attention in a hurry. Scientists hacked away at equipment with axes until the power finally went down. The Monster then dematerialized and the project was soon abandoned.

Beware of what you visualize -- it may come storming angrily out of your id into reality and scare your cat.

I have a friend in California who had a very serious Near Death Experience (NDE) in 2002. Ever since, she has experienced elevated psychic abilities, plus a much wider visual and auditory sensory range than before. Everything we see is made up of a vast array of frequencies (vibrations). Human senses are based on frequencies. The frequency range of human sight and hearing is exceedingly small compared to what exists all around us.

My friend's sensory frequency ranges have expanded. She now has the ability to see "entities" drifting into and out of and near by other people. She continually sees them around us in our daily lives. Perhaps these are Creatures of the Id, being formed in a nearby dimension (frequency). My friend senses they are with us always, yet out of our sensory range of frequencies. Some are malevolent -- perhaps Monsters of the Id. Others are angelic -- perhaps spirit guides. And many seem to be benign -- perhaps observant watchers.

Everything we perceive in our material world is made up of atoms -- electrons orbiting a nucleus of protons. It's an assembly of energy, not solid matter. And it's more than 99 percent empty space. Basically, everything we perceive as solid is merely a glob of energy. We are not objects, we are perceivers of objects. In fact, there are those who believe the entire universe is manifested by a collective consciousness.

Creatures of the Id are almost certainly globs of energy as well, surfacing when compelled by another frequency (the host) or whatever.

Delving into the mysteries of the universe and beyond is not for the timid. I don't know all the answers, but I do have a lot of the questions.

In the movie AIRPLANE, when told, "Surely, you can't be serious." -- Leslie Nielsen uttered the famous line, "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley."

R.I.P. Leslie Nielsen -- Shirley, you will be missed.

Quote for the Day -- "Our subconscious minds have no sense of humor, play no jokes and cannot tell the difference between reality and an imagined thought or image. What we continually think about eventually will manifest in our lives." Robert Collier

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where Creatures of the Id fear to tread. His blogs appear on several websites, including