Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A short story: Moonbeam



Moonbeam

By William P. Lazarus
Copyright 2015

Shortly after Adam Palmer held a small revolver to his head, the Moon told him to stop. 

Palmer distinctly heard the Moon speak to him.  It spoke in a pleasant, almost kindly, yet firm voice.  He had often talked to the Moon, telling it how pretty it was.  He even had a framed image of a gaudy Aztec moon goddess hanging in his Findlay, Ohio apartment.  This was the first time the Moon actually spoke back.

He placed the gun on an end table and stared through the open window.

“Why?” he asked.

“Not now,” the Moon told him.

Palmer thought about the comment for a moment.  Why not?  Searing heat had frazzled electric lines.  No one in the country had any electricity except for people with portable generators, and they provided little relief from the soaring temperatures.  Residents along the coasts could go in the ocean, but dead fish floating in on the tides had thoroughly befouled the beaches.  Dead bodies only added to the pollution.

Rising water from melting ice had swamped coastal communities anyway.  Palmer was far enough inland in Ohio to escape, but lacked fresh water.  Lake Erie was too far north and supposedly had been seized by a small army headed by a self-styled king.  At least, that’s why a stranger said last week while en route to southern Ohio.  The stranger had not stayed.  There was nothing in Findlay anyone wanted.

There certainly wasn’t any food.  Refrigeration was a memory, leading to anarchy in former grocery stores and restaurants.  Pets were either released or devoured.  Palmer’s cat, Tinkerbell, now was foraging in the bushes outside the apartment house.  At first, it scratched to come in at night, but Palmer resisted.  He didn’t want to share the cat food.  Now that his larder was depleted, it didn’t matter.  Tinkerbell brought him a small anole last week.  He ate it gratefully and had not eaten since.
Finally, Palmer walked outside his apartment.  The hallway of the apartment house was littered with debris.  No one was going to pick up the discarded clothes, books and other flotsam of civilization.  Someone had bashed a hole in a wall. Exposed wires dangled harmlessly.  The stench of death lingered everywhere.  Otherwise, there was only quiet.

Palmer knocked on the apartment of the older woman who lived next door.  Mrs. Huddleston had essentially barricaded herself inside with her pet Chihuahua named Precious.  Palmer had talked to her maybe once or twice since chaos had descended two months ago.  He had not tried in a week.  Mrs. Huddleston always kept a pantry full of food and so was well prepared when the power vanished.  However, as Palmer well knew, the food supply would run out eventually.  

No one answered his knock.  Mrs. Huddleston usually quavered a hello, and he would identify himself.  She trusted him, but no one else.  They would talk briefly, mostly lying about their condition.  

He knocked again.  The rap echoed down the hallway and faded away.  Finally, Palmer lowered his shoulder and rammed it into the wood.  The door shuddered.  Then, weakened by the high temperatures, it simply fractured.  The doors were cheap anyway.  The residents in the apartment house used to joke that the locks kept the doors upright.  This time, the chain held only a small part of the wood.  The rest splintered with large cracks creating a jigsaw pattern.

Palmer reached in and unhooked the chain.  The door fell open.   He heard a strange, vicious growl.  Precious looked up at him with fury on its face.  It was next to Mrs. Huddleston’s inert body.  The dog did not charge Palmer, but simply issue warnings that rumbled up its small throat.  Mrs. Huddleston had refused to leave her apartment, fearful that someone might grab her beloved pet and eat it.  Now, Palmer could see, the dog was reciprocating.  It had flecks of meat dangling from its mouth.  As Palmer watched, the dog bit into Mrs. Huddleston again.

Palmer backed out.  That meal would only last so long.

He walked downstairs.  Few people were out.  They were all gaunt skeletons.  Someone had started a fire and was burning something.  A strange aroma had drawn a few scraggly, famished souls from various shelters.  Standing in the darkness of night, they gathered around the fire, hoping for a morsel.

An historian, Palmer knew what was happening.  He thought of ancient sieges where desperate people ate other humans, where mothers put their own children in the fire.  Few would survive this siege to tell such stories.

Silently, his stomach aching, he slowly went back to his apartment.  He did not bother to close the door.  He picked up his gun and walked to his window.  The Moon turned its full face toward him.
“Now,” the Moon said.



Friday, September 18, 2015

Trump Bigotry Belies Past



Trump's father, Fred
Born in Germany, Frederick Christ Trump arrived in North America in 1885.  He didn’t start his life in this country, but opened a hotel in Bennett, British Columbia to host gold miners on their way to Alaska for the Klondike Gold Rush. 

His son, who bore the same name, was born in New York in 1905, an American because he was born in this country of transplanted Canadian citizens.

Now, Donald Trump, their descendant and a Republican presidential candidate, thinks something should be done about immigrants who come to this country to give birth – as his grandparents did – and Muslims, who have been in this country for at least 100 years before his grandfather took the boat across the Atlantic.

Trump
It would all be ironic if Trump were not being taken seriously as a potential nominee.

His sinister views became evident during a recent rally in New Hampshire, when a member of the audience was allowed to say without being corrected that “we have a problem in this country; it’s called Muslims. Our current president is one. We know he’s not even an American. We have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question, when can we get rid of them?”

That question was once asked in Germany, about Jews.  It was also asked in France, about Protestant Huguenots, about Christians in pagan Rome, and, indeed, about any group considered outside the larger culture.

Obama
Trump ignored the lies about President Obama.  In a way, that’s understandable.  Trump is an active “birther,” who, despite all evidence to the contrary, insists Obama wasn’t born in this country.  However, Trump’s silence on the question of Obama’s religion says far more.

Just as significantly, his response to the question was not to chastise, but to agree.  Later, Trump tweeted the following to emphasize his bigotry: "Christians need support in this country. Their religious liberty is at stake."

Really?  From whom?  Muslims.  There are an estimated 3 million to 4 million Muslims in this country, less than 1 percent of the population, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center study.  There are more Mormons (1.6 percent); atheists (3.1) and agnostics (4), none of whom follow standard Christian theology, than followers of Islam. 

Since 2001, the year when Pakistani and Saudi Muslim terrorists attacked this country, there have been 15 documented cases of Islamic terrorist acts in the United States.  The numbers are extremely low for one reason:  every statistical study comparing religion to crime has determined that "religious beliefs and behaviors exert a moderate deterrent effect on individuals' criminal behavior."  Islamic members of society tend to be very religious. 

“An individual with high religious saliency (i.e. expressing the high importance of religion in their life) is less likely to be associated with criminal activities; similarly, an individual who regularly attends religious services or is highly involved in them will be less involved in criminality …” one report found.
Hate crime victim

In contrast, hate crimes against Muslims have jumped dramatically and now represent 13 to 14 percent of all such crimes, according to FBI statistics.  Muslims have endured “nearly 100 anti-Islam hate crimes each year from 2011 to 2013,” the report said.

That is happening although Muslims have lived peacefully in this country for centuries.  In fact, the first Muslim sailors could have arrived on these shores in 1178 when Chinese records show that Muslims sailed to a land they called Mu-Lan-Pi, which we know as America.

Muslim Chinese admiral Zhez He in 1421
Muslims from Africa were documented in Mexico in 1312 en route to the Mississippi River.  Slaves from Africa, many of who were Muslim, first arrived in 1513, brought by the Spanish to work in gold and silver mines throughout Central America and the Caribbean. Muslims are known to have sailed to America prior to Columbus.  

 In 1539, Estevanico of Azamor, a Muslim from Morocco, landed in Florida and eventually crossed the entire continent before being saved by Spaniards in Mexico.

At least some Muslims came here in the early 1500s after being expelled by the Spaniards about 15 years after the Catholic monarchs had kicked out its Jewish population.
Muslim slave Omar ibn Saud in North Carolina

Slaves from Spanish-controlled lands arrived in Virginia in 1619, kicking of more than 200 years of slavery in this country.  At estimated 10 percent of the Africans sent here were Muslim, many of whom were forcefully converted to Christianity.

By 1790, Muslims (then called Moors) were identified in the state of South Carolina and the territory of Florida.  Along with Germans like Trump’s grandfather, in the 1880s, a large contingent of Muslims settled in this country from such lands as the Ottoman Empire, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.  Many of those who followed would eventually find work with the Ford Motor Company in Michigan because they were willing to endure the dangerous and heated conditions inside early assembly plants.

Michigan is still home to the largest number of Muslims in this country.

Since 1952, this country has greeted Muslim refugees from Palestine, Iraq, and Egypt along with Muslims from Southeast Asia and Africa.
Italian Catholic immigrants from the 1890s

Like Frederick Christ Trump, Muslim immigrants in any era have been seeking a better life.  Also, like Donald Trump's grandfather, they were welcomed by the Statue of Liberty and its promise of hope for the “…tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …”

They are no different than Jews from Russia, Catholics from Italy and Ireland, Buddhists from India or Hindus from Pakistan.  

Trump’s blind appeal to bigotry was predicted in a 1935 book by Nobel laureate Sinclair Lewis.  Titled It Can’t Happen Here, Lewis' book described what happened when a hate-filled demagogue is elected president.  In the book, President Windrip “outlaws dissent, incarcerates political enemies in concentration camps, and trains and arms a paramilitary force … to enforce the policies.”  He also cuts women's and minority rights.

Lewis
Windrip initially succeeds because a majority of Americans think that such steps are necessary to rebuilt American superiority.  Eventually, the country descends into civil war when Windrip’s promises fail to live up to reality.

Sound familiar? Have you looked at the polls lately?

Frederick Christ Trump, the immigrant from Germany, would have been appalled by his grandson’s demagoguery.  The rest of us should be disgusted by the avalanche of hate spewing from Donald Trump and bigotry his campaign has unleashed.

It not only can happen here.  It apparently is.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His most recent book is Passover in Prison, which details abuse of Jewish inmates in American prisons.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1





 




Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Devil Has Been Busy Lately


Obama


Having no other explanation for a president who has cut unemployment, reduced the deficit, extricated troops from Iraq, ended more than 50 years of hostility with Cuba, began the reform of the medical industry and did so without a hint of scandal, Republican seers are now claiming that President Barack Obama is the devil.

Their “proof” comes from a picture taken recently when the president spoke about the militant Islamic State from the Cross Hall of the White House.  A curtain behind him contained an odd design that, when Obama was perfectly positioned, looked like he was adorned with horns.

If that was not enough, according to published reports, Obama must be the devil because his name has “three syllables, a triangle has three sides, 9/11 is three numbers,” and soon the nation will mark “the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.”

Bright
South Carolina State Senator Lee Bright has no doubts of Obama’s hellish ties.  He said approval of  same-sex marriage was proof of the devil’s influence. He was supposed to be talking about the removal of the Confederate flag from the state house there, but instead launched into his diatribe against Obama, adding, “We can rally together and talk about a flag all we want, but the devil is taking control of this land, and we’re not stopping him.”

Of course, Satan is always lurking in the minds of our most learned political leaders.  In 2008, for example, former Senator and failed presidential candidate Rick Santorum claimed that the devil was trying to destroy the country – and this was before Obama was even elected to his first term.

Santorum told his audience at Ave Maria University in Florida:  “This is not a political war at all. This is not a cultural war. This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country—the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age. There is no one else to go after other than the United States, and that has been the case now for almost two hundred years, once America's preeminence was sown by our great Founding Fathers.”

Santorum
To Santorum, who represents many people of the same ilk, Satan has already successful conquered academia.  College educated folks were the first to fall victim, led by Harvard, Santorum claimed.  Not surprisingly, polls repeatedly show that better-educated people somehow have lost faith in the devil’s existence.

Santorum then said that the devil conquered Protestant sects and finally politics and government.  Santorum apparently didn’t see any irony to his own claim although he’s a politician.

Of course, the devil has been active in so many other arenas.  Pat Robertson, a minister and another failed president candidate whose inanities are now limited to religious broadcasts, once insisted the Haiti’s founders “swore a pact to the devil,” which explains the devastating earthquakes and other natural misfortunes there.  Actually, the rebels who threw out the French held a religious ritual prior to the 1800s uprising.  However, they followed voodoo, which is a perfectly normal faith despite its reputation and Robertson’s slander.

Cain
The devil can get very personal. Failed presidential candidate Herman Cain was sure God told him to run in 2012, but then three women promptly accused him of having affairs.  He quickly withdrew.  What really caused his failure?  Not his own behavior, of course. Cain, now a minister, knows all too well who was behind his failed bid for the White House: the devil.

 "It made me realize that there was a force bigger than right," he said.

Actually, according to former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2012, the devil has expanded his influence well beyond our borders.   He insisted that the United States and European Union, "have entrusted themselves to the devil."

Netanyahu
The evil one has control of Israel, too. Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “appears to be possessed by the devil … He needs Pope Francis to exorcise it, to become appeased.”

That may not work.  Apparently, Pope Francis is also thought to be the devil in some quarters.

Nor are these folks the only targets of such calumny.

How about George W. Bush?  He was called the devil by then-Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez during a United Nations’ presentation.  “Yesterday, the devil came here,” Chávez said, a snide reference to Bush’s appearance before the General Assembly the day before. “Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of.”

Steyer
Then there's capitalist and environmentalist Tom Steyer, the Democratic Party’s billionaire donor, who was identified as the devil at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at Maryland's National Harbor.

Such claims invariably touch a large percentage of the population.  According to a 2013 survey, “a majority of Americans, especially Republicans, blacks and women,” embrace the idea of the devil.   

Count Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia among that group.  In 2013, he said, “I even believe in the devil. Yeah, he’s a real person. In the Gospels, the devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs; he’s possessing people and whatnot. What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.”
Scalia

Not surprisingly, a small group of Republicans have been touting Scalia as a possible compromise Republican presidential candidate.

He’ll just have to remember not to stand in front of the Cross Hall curtain.  People could get the wrong impression.


Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.net.  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His most recent book is Passover in Prison, which details abuse of Jewish inmates in American prisons.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at http://www.udemy.com/comparative-religion-for-dummies/?promote=1