Friday, December 26, 2008


This book is very good narrative history; in parts, it is truly excellent.

The period of English history from the Restoration of the Stuarts in the person of Charles II, 1660, to the Glorious Revolution, the overthrow of James II, younger brother of Charles in 1688, is a fascinating one, and the events of this book take place during a portion of that period.

The immediate background to these events includes the English Civil War and the rise and fall of the Cromwells. It is a time marked by an extreme turmoil over religion, Protestant versus Catholic, in the affairs of state. Ironically, the period covered was also one of considerable and fairly open decadence in English society, showing once again how little religion has to do with morals.

This book has as chief characters Samuel Pepys and one of the lesser-known nasty pieces of work in modern history, John Scott. With a cast like that, you almost cannot miss.

Pepys, famous for a diary, which is a fact-filled look at part of the period's society and a somewhat salacious record of its morals, was an able and conscientious (at least after the Restoration) civil servant who rose to high rank. The important part of his career was associated with the Royal navy, going from Clerk of the Acts to the Navy to Secretary to the Admiralty Board and finally to Secretary for the Affairs of the Admiralty.

Scott was a lifelong fraudster, murderer, and opportunist who rose up and fell down several times in several countries. With "the gift of the gab," a talent for forgery, and great energy in his schemes, Scott was almost certainly a psychopathic personality. He crossed paths - and as it happens, swords - with Pepys virtually by accident. His unquenchable hatred of Pepys apparently was sparked by a random event in which Pepys, just doing his official duty, thwarted one of Scott's high-flown schemes for gaining fame and fortune. His intense hatred was then harnessed by those interested in the overthrow of Charles II, especially Lord Shaftsbury, himself a considerably larger-than-life and rather grotesque figure.

Pepys was charged with being a secret Catholic and being part of a plot to kill the King and see a Catholic Monarchy installed. The main accuser was the psychopathic John Scott. A modern reader might think that this seems such a simple matter to clear up - especially the part about being a Catholic, which Pepys was not - but there was an atmosphere thickly charged with paranoia and suspicion in England at the time, and it was being actively added to by people like Shaftsbury, himself interested in turning over the existing monarchy.

Because this period was also one of a rapidly changing balance of power between Parliament and the Crown, the King and his brother - the future James II - were not in a position to simply lift a loyal public servant from extreme danger. Pepys spent a long and exhausting period fighting charges that already had seen notable prisoners hung, cut down alive, castrated, disemboweled, and drawn-and-quartered - the contemporary penalty for treason, a penalty which itself tells us something of the frenzied paranoia of the time. He was in and out of prison, had many court dates, and spent a small fortune collecting evidence and trying to understand the precise nature of the plot against him, although he had understood immediately that it was part of some unknown larger effort to get at the Stuarts.

Ultimately he was victorious, but only because he was smart, had considerable resources to employ, and enjoyed a few lucky brakes with past associate or victims of Scott's coming forward from various countries, and, most importantly, the King finally felt comfortable enough reaching down with limited but indispensable help.

The first part of this book reads like a rip-roaring crime novel, but it may be enjoyed on several levels. The English paranoia of the time and the dark operations of the courts in matters of treason remind one very much of the insane swirl of events in America following 9/11. Pepys could almost be an American secret prisoner under the deliberately misnamed Patriot Act. The almost unbelievable career of John Scott reminds one of the way career killers and abusers are so rarely caught even today before they have done immense damage to others. The meek definitely do not inherit the earth still.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


A Contemporary Christmas Tale

John Chuckman

It was only a matter of time before Santa Claus himself came under the Neanderthal-eyed scrutiny of American intelligence. After all, Santa’s citizenship is unknown, and he crosses borders with no passport or other form of identification. No one knows whether he even has a valid pilot’s license.

Although his image is well known, there is no official photograph on file with American border control, and he has never been fingerprinted or body-searched. Most disconcerting of all, he delivers parcels to children all over the world, including the children living in the Axis of Evil. His intentions with this activity are not understood beyond some fuzzy generalization about kindness and generosity to all. Clearly, here was the world’s largest unplugged pipeline to potential terrorists.

It was only after receiving no response to several urgent letters from the State Department requesting an immediate meeting in Washington that a decision was made to approach Santa’s North Pole solitude. As usual in such matters with the people now running America, a wing of America’s most lethal killing machines was employed for the purpose. You never know what you might encounter in such a forbidding place.

As the planes first zoomed over the icy silence of the North Pole workshop, one of the pilots decided to swoop down for a closer look. He was one of those daring fly-boys, and his tail struck the only wire for thousands of miles around, the North Pole Telegraph, sending his plane hurling into the workshop in a ball of flames with tons of ammunition and missiles exploding.

Santa and Mrs. Claus rushed out of their snow-blanketed gingerbread house to see what was happening, trying to calm the terrified reindeer running from their stable at one end of the house. The elves, too, scurried towards the stable, trying to stop the reindeer from running or flying off.

Above, in the dark vault of sky, the other pilots observed the explosion and saw missile trails smoking into the air. They also saw the frantic activity below and quickly concluded their comrade had come under anti-aircraft attack. So they swooped down in attack formation, rapid-fire canon tearing into everything ahead of them.

Most of the reindeer fell in the snow, spurting warm blood across the bluish-white surface. Most of the elves, too, fell gasping for life. Mrs. Claus received a wound in the head and instantly fell limp. Santa tried heroically to reach his wife but realized the situation was hopeless and turned, running into the darkness accompanied by Prancer, the only surviving reindeer.

The only witness to the massacre is one surviving elf now living somewhere in Canada under an assumed identity, fearful for his life. It is only from his testimony that we know anything about Santa’s fate.

Realizing the horrific mistake they had made, the pilots dropped white phosphorus bombs with the intention of incinerating all evidence. The entire North Pole lit up and Santa and Prancer could be seen in the distance on a huge block of ice drifting off into the dark sea, the ice everywhere cracked and weakened by the combined effects of white phosphorus and years of global warming.

Within in a few hours, the beating sound of a black helicopter approached Santa and Prancer. The elf, from his hiding place in a snowdrift, could only make out intermittent sounds across the howling coldness, but it seems armed men emerged from the helicopter, shot Prancer and shackled Santa, shoving him into the dark, beating machine. The elf heard a word that sounded like Guantanamo and Santa has not been heard from since. Reports of his fate reached the International Red Cross and organizations like Amnesty International, leading to inquiries, but these have been met only with silence from American authorities.

Saturday, December 20, 2008



2 pounds of Ground Beef

1 Large Sweet Red Pepper – diced

2 Cans Re-fried Beans – Herdez from Mexico is my favorite

A Couple of Handfuls of Frozen Corn

A Couple of Handfuls of Grated Cheddar Cheese

1 Can La Victoria Mexican Enchilada Sauce (Hot variety)

A Couple of Tablespoons of Chipotle Concentrate – available in many supermarkets

1 Package Knorr Au Jus – Prepared according to package


Lightly sauté Beef along with Chipotle concentrate. Place in the bottom of a medium-sized, buttered casserole pan.

Pour half of La Victoria Sauce over, and pour all of prepared Knorr Au Jus over.

Let cool a bit. Spread Corn and Red Pepper over evenly. Salt lightly.

Using a table knife or spatula, spread Refried Beans evenly over top, just as you would mashed potatoes with traditional Sheppards' Pie.

Spread Grated Cheese evenly over top.

Dribble second half of La Victoria Sauce on top.

Bake about half an hour at 350º.

Serve with plain yogurt. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro if you like.