Saint Jake – Survivalist

The razor-wire fence was mostly rust. A sign advised that trespassers would be shot without warning. Jake was inclined to respect such warnings, but he needed water pretty desperately, and he hadn’t seen any other habitation for miles. So he stepped through the gap where the fence had long ago rusted through and “sprung,” put both hands in the air, and shouted “Just visiting,” every few steps.

He spotted an old, rusty pump-handle in the middle of a small dip in the ground. He’d have missed the bunker entirely, camouflaged and dug into the hill, had the door not been ajar. A desiccated hand clutched the ground outside through the slit-like opening, picked clean by birds of all but a few leathery scraps of skin.

Jake carefully pulled the door wide. The owner of the hand lay just inside, face-down, dressed in Army camo fatigues. There was no smell — the man had been dead for a long time, and the dry air had sucked all the moisture out of the remains. This part of the West had become a dry, barren land, and any scavengers big enough to scatter the bones were long-gone.

Tatters of a dark-stained bandage around the extended hand told the story: he’d likely died of blood poisoning, from a cut. Dragged himself out of bed in a fever to catch a final glimpse of sky before he died. Hadn’t quite made it.

Jake returned to the pump and worked the handle until he was rewarded by resistance. After a few more strokes, clear water cascaded from the spout, and after tasting it, he drank his fill and then filled his water bag.

He left the body and the bunker alone. No point in disturbing the spirits of the dead. Besides, there was likely nothing in the bunker that he wanted. Guns and explosives, for sure — not something he wanted to be caught on the road with. Canned food, but after all these years, it was anyone’s guess if it was fit to eat.

But the real issue was booby-traps. Guys who’d built these sorts of places were usually not quite right in the head: like this fellow, building his razor-wire fence right out to the road, advertising there was something worth protecting to any passersby. Jake had heard of survivalists who’d blown themselves up because they’d booby-trapped the food, then forgotten to disarm it one morning before breakfast. There were people who knew how to get stuff out of these places, and made good trade selling it. Good luck to them.

He turned and walked back toward the road, whistling.

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Saint Jake – Romance

Miranda stared at Jake in perplexity.

“Florida?” she said. “Where’s that?”

“Far to the East, and to the South,” Jake replied. “All the way to the other ocean.”

“Why on earth do you want to go there?”

Jake thought about the question as they walked the empty freeway. The idea of walking to Florida hadn’t crossed his mind until the moment he’d said it. He turned the idea over in his mind a few times as they walked.

He’d filled out in the decade since his twenty-first birthday. Towns were on a more substantial footing these days, and had discovered that travelers were a valuable source of news, and a dangerous source of plagues if you let them die of hunger on your doorstep. Most communities had returned to a staple diet, which could be produced cheaply enough to give away food to wanderers, so long as they were inclined to move on after a night or two.

“I want to see the Blue Lady,” Jake said at last.

Miranda, today’s walking companion along with Brood and Scowl — those were the names he’d given them, since they’d not spoken a word since he’d joined them — looked up at him with wide eyes.

“The Blue Lady? Do you think she’s real?”

“I don’t know,” Jake said. “That’s what I want to find out.”

Miranda shuddered. “If she’s real, then so is Bloody Mary. I sure wouldn’t want to meet her.”

“Maybe so. But if the Blue Lady is real, I think she’s worth the risk.”

“You want to join her army of angels?”

“If she’ll have me.”

Miranda’s eyes glowed. “Tell me the story about the Dungeons of Thoom. Where you met your first Dragonlord.”

Jake smiled. He’d been telling tales about his battles with the Dragonlords to pass the long hours walking with various road-companions, and his stories had been racing in all directions up and down the road, all by themselves. His meeting with Dragonlord Eris in the Dungeons of Thoom was one of the most popular. He spoke in a well-practiced voice, with broad gestures, and he could see that even Brood and Scowl were listening closely.

“I want to come with you to meet the Blue Lady!” Miranda squealed when he had finished. Brood and Scowl grew suddenly more surly.

Brothers. Cousins. Lovers. Trouble, whoever they were.

Jake stopped and looked Miranda straight in the eye. She gazed back, and a light was in her eyes. She was maybe eighteen, and pretty, and he was just over thirty. He’d been with other women, a few times, but in these days of irregular birth control and frequent maternity deaths, sex was complicated and more often than not ended with a lot of angry screaming. In his experience, the pleasure wasn’t worth the painful aftermath. After a decade on the road, he had no desire to settle down anywhere and raise a family. And the road was no place for a child, intended or otherwise.

He put a hand on her shoulder, to keep her from moving in and kissing him.

“Miranda, I wouldn’t dream of stopping you from searching for the Blue Lady. Maybe we’ll meet someday in her Garden. But you can’t come with me. This is a journey I have to make on my own.”

“But why? Why do you have to go alone?” Tears quivered in Miranda’s eyes.

“I have many… amends to make, before I meet the Blue Lady,” Jake said. It sounded pretty good, once he’d said it aloud.

“Oh, Jake!” The tears spilled over, but she was smiling. She shrugged off his hand, threw her arms around him, and held him tight. Brood began to scowl, and Scowl took a step toward him. Jake shook his head slightly, meeting Scowl’s eyes. Scowl stopped.

“Now,” Jake announced, gently disengaging from Miranda’s embrace, “I need to meditate, alone. Please, the three of you continue without me. Be mellow.” He gazed straight at Scowl as he said this, and Scowl nodded almost imperceptibly.

He sat on the hot concrete of the highway, and watched the three of them walk away until they vanished in the distant heat-haze.

No choice now. You don’t want to run into them again, not even by accident. Scowl will slip a knife between your ribs.

He thought about it. Why not give Florida a try? It would be something different.

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Saint Jake – The Road

Jake approached the fire warily. Food wasn’t regular, nor always healthy, and he seemed more bone than meat. He’d been drawn to the fire by the light and the smell of something cooking, and sat carefully, hands in view, across from the person heating a can of Dinty Moore stew over the fire.

“Hungry?” the other man asked. Like Jake, he was painfully gaunt. There were patches of gray in his rough beard.

“Powerful,” Jake answered.

“Aught to trade?”

“A little weed.”

“You mean ditchweed,” the other man answered, with a grimace of disgust.

“No, good stuff,” Jake answered. “Purple haze.”

The man’s eyebrows went up.

“No shit? Lots better company than I had last night.” He gestured to the empty stretch of fallen log beside him.

Jake rose and walked around the fire to sit beside the older man.

Wariness on the road was habitual, but of necessity had resolved into a kind of courtesy. Robbery was rare — people on the road these days had little to nothing, and it wasn’t worth taking a scratch or a bite over nothing. Food was shared regardless, which blunted the main reason for theft. But trade was expected, if the other person had anything to trade. Jake had been robbed only once when he’d just started walking the road, three years ago, and the fellow had sat him down afterward and taught him the rules. So it wasn’t even a proper robbery, more an object lesson.

Jake slowly pulled his pouch of purple haze from his pocket, and offered it to the older man, who raised it to his nose and sniffed. A softer expression crossed the man’s face.

“That’s good,” he said, and handed the bag back. “Dessert, then.”

“Jake.”

The older man nodded, once. “Robert.”

When the stew started to bubble, Robert set it on a rock to cool, and they both watched stars appear in the cerulean evening sky. When the can was cool enough to hold, Robert took a spoon from his pocket and took the first bite, then handed the can to Jake. Jake had his own spoon ready, and took a bite, then handed back the can. They passed it back and forth until the can was empty and scraped clean.

Jake took the pouch back out of his pocket, and put a generous pinch into the tiny pipe Robert had pulled from a different pocket on his vest, then placed a pinch in his own pipe. Jake heated a twig to a coal in the fire, and lit his pipe: the sweet stench of burning marijuana filled the air. He inhaled deeply, and passed the coal to Robert, who lit his own pinch and drew until the glow in the pipe flickered out. He held his breath for nearly thirty seconds before he slowly exhaled.

Monosyllables melted into easy conversation. Life histories had been polished by the road into smooth, elegant gems as terse as an old-world resume.

Robert, once married with two children, software designer and good at his job. Laid off, turned to drink, wife left him and took the kids. Stayed in shelters for two years, then got restless and hit the open road. Wouldn’t think of going back.

Jake, teen-age slacker and video gamer, mother died in a fracking quake that destroyed his house and almost got him. Hitched to the Pacific coast and then found himself on the road. Sometimes missed his mother, and desperately wanted to finish the last video game he’d played, the Dragonlords of Sym.

“You played Dragonlords?” Robert asked, one eyebrow raised.

“Almost finished it,” Jake replied.

“I worked on that game,” Robert said. “Just a bit, at the beginning, before they laid me off. Looked good.”

“It was awesome. Best AI on the market, and you could actually talk to the characters in the game.”

“You almost finished it? I thought it wasn’t supposed to end?”

“Yeah, that’s what they said. But someone on-line said you could force an ending if you backed all of the Dragonlords into a corner at once. Kinda like a checkmate in chess. I was that close.”

“Tell me about your favorite battle.” Robert’s gaze was far-away.

“That would be the Arena of Fate,” Jake said, his voice taking on timbre and excitement. “They stripped me of all my weapons, except my fleschette rifle, and all twelve Dragonlords were there….”

Jake’s voice rose and fell, and Robert listened with rapt attention. When Jake finally fell silent, Robert slowly brought his hands together in deliberate applause.

“You are the best entertainment I’ve had in a month of Sundays,” Robert said. “It’s just a damn video game, but you tell it with such passion. I’m in your debt, Jake. Thank you.”

They fell silent after that, individually contemplating the night sky and the vagaries of fate. Then Robert wished Jake a good night and curled up on the ground close to the fire. Jake watched the coals for a few more minutes, then curled up and fell asleep.

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Saint Jake – In the Beginning

Jake should have felt the rumbling ground, but he had his X-Box Infinity turned up, and the subwoofer always made the ground vibrate. Plus, he was pretty high. He insisted it improved his reflexes. The frantic action on the screen occupied his full attention, until the power went out.

“Aw, SHIT!” Jake shouted into the darkness. “MOMmmm! Power bill! Again?”

Then he remembered that today she had a shift at the clinic. He grumbled, unfolded his lanky frame, and shuffled through the cave-dark room, wincing every time his bare feet clipped a dirty dish or cup. There was an open pizza box, somewhere, and he didn’t want to step in it.

Something crashed above, marking the death of some glass trinket. The house was full of them. Mom’s hobby had once been collecting glass figurines, back when they could afford it, and she was going to blame him and have a fit.

He reached the stairs before he stopped to wonder who had knocked over the figurine. He was supposedly home alone.

He stood, openmouthed, at the bottom of the steps, wondering if he should just stay down here. Then the ground rumbled again, and he heard several more crashes.

Holy cat, an earthquake. Here?

He tried to remember whether it was safe to be in a basement during an earthquake. Or was that just tornados? He decided he’d be better off outside, where the only thing that could fall on him was the sky. He pounded up the stairs, threw open the basement door, and stopped, blinded by the late afternoon sunlight pouring through the back windows.

As his eyes adjusted, he saw broken glass all over the kitchen tile leading to the back door.

Shit. Good thing I didn’t run across that in my bare feet. Be mellow, man.

The rumbling ceased. He made his way across worn carpet in the other direction, grabbed his Crocs from where they lay near the door, and threw the deadbolt on the front door. As he stepped through the door, the ground lurched under his feet, and a rush of dust-laden air pushed him forward onto his face as the roof caved in behind him.

He rolled over onto his back. Nothing above but clear, blue sky. The front wall of the house still stood, just beyond his feet, the top edge roofless and ragged against the sky.

Maybe I should get away from the house.

He decided to roll, rather than walk, and stopped halfway across the yard. Several more rumbles shook the ground, none as bad as the jolt that had knocked him down, but the front wall of the house collapsed inward with stately grace. The door and doorframe remained stubbornly vertical.

A door to nowhere, man. Been that way for a long time.

He lay quietly on the dead stubble of lawn and the few spiky patches of natural xeriscaping where the desert weeds had blown in and Mom had let them grow, because they had pretty blooms in the spring. It was the only beauty left in the yard. The water table had dropped, and most of the trees in the neighborhood were gone. At first, they’d been cut down and hauled out, and people had planted new trees, which had not thrived. Later, as the economy dove into yet another recession, people had cut down the dying trees themselves for firewood, leaving stumps in their yards. Eventually they had just let the dead trees stand as they abandoned their houses. Water restrictions made irrigation too expensive for decorative greens, so the crisp Kentucky Blue lawns died, gradually displaced by hardier, drought-resistant species. They greened up for a couple of weeks in the late Spring, but then went brown, just like the hills that surrounded the town.

Another rumble shook the ground, and he heard the house collapse into the basement.

When Jake finally dared to stand, he walked back to the still-standing door, and looked at the pile of rubble that had been his home.

Jesus. Now what am I going to do?

He scratched his nascent beard, then turned and walked in the direction of the clinic where his mother worked.

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Saint Jake – Prologue

Rudric gripped the shaft of his hayfork more tightly, and swallowed with a dry mouth. He could see the dust raised by the horsemen ahead, and a few of the lead horses, manes flying in a full gallop. No telling how many more rode behind in the dust, but there would be many. All battle-trained and armed with real weapons.

He glanced to his left and to his right. The village and all the nearby farms had turned out, armed with whatever they could find, mostly farming tools, nearly three hundred strong. His hayfork was one of the better weapons. One of the two Jakes had organized the villagers, and had nodded when he’d seen the hayfork and asked others to bring as many as they could find. There were an even two dozen hayfork wielders, packed tightly in two rows in the center of the line, with the Jakes astride their horses on the slope right behind them. Drop low, plant the butt of the fork in the hillside, and keep the tines high and pointed directly at the horse. Let the horse do all the work.

Not that any of them would likely survive. A thousand pounds of racing muscle and bone was not something you could fend off with a pointed stick. Their job wasn’t to survive. It was to protect the Jakes for the few critical moments they needed.

None of them would survive if they didn’t fight. These weren’t annual raiders, come for food and women. They were part of a terrible army from Washimore, on their way to fight the equally terrible armies of the Linahs, and they slaughtered people and burned the fields as they went; should they lose the battle, their enemies would need to cross a dead zone to strike back.

Rudric’s work-callused hands began to tremble. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and recalled the Prayer of Saint Jake to mind.

Be mellow.

He thought of Saint Jake’s campaign against the Dragonlords, standing alone in the Arena of Fate, the fate of his people riding on his victory against impossible odds, and his hands steadied.

I can do this, he thought. Saint Jake, give me strength of spirit and mellowness of soul, and should I die here today, receive me into your company of the blessed.

He opened his eyes, and watched the lead horsemen race toward him.

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Gun-Toting Patriots

I was raised in Wyoming. It is the quintessential “square state” — a big patch of beautiful nothing in the middle of nowhere, populated by 300,000 people, and wind.

Wyoming is also a gun-totin’ Red State. My father was a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, and made the kids in the neighborhood some of the best wooden guns I’ve ever seen. Our neighbor across the street was a serious gun collector. A lot of people hunted game in the fall — typically deer and antelope — and the ranchers all had predator issues for which a gun was simply a convenient and appropriate farm implement.

As a young man, I believed — as my Wyoming upbringing taught me — that the point of the Second Amendment to the Constitution was to allow The People to defend themselves against their own government, should it turn to tyranny, and found that my callow political sympathies lay with neither the Republicans nor the Democrats, but with the Libertarians.

Then I grew up.

I really can’t put it any more delicately. This view of the Second Amendment is juvenile at best. For anyone who wants to disagree, I have just three questions.

Envision a situation — any situation you like — where you believe in your heart that The Time Has Come. The Government has turned to tyranny, and it is the hour for all good men and true to kick off their man-slippers, step out of their man-caves, and start kicking some ass. It’s time to do your duty, and Defend America. Lock and load.

First question: Do you know who your CO is? That’s Commanding Officer, just to be clear.

Don’t tell me who it is, since if you’re going up against a national government gone sour, I’d certainly hope your CO’s identity is need-to-know. The question is, do you know your CO? If not, do you at least have a reliable means of knowing when you’ve been called to leave your home and family, and report for duty and (probably) death in the glorious cause of Freedom?

I’m guessing you don’t belong to any chain of command whatsoever. You’re a private citizen with privately-owned lethal weapons. No one gets to tell you what to do. That’s what freedom is all about.

That means you are, at best, no different from an armed vigilante in a city-wide riot. You are surrounded by other armed and dangerous hotheads freshly arisen from their man-caves, and also by lots and lots of unarmed fellow citizens — you call them “sheeple” — who are most certainly not going to man up and grab a gun. In fact, they’ll take pictures of you on their iPhones and rat you out to the authorities.

Your revolution is over before it even starts.

So let’s assume you are in the small minority of armed citizens who are also part of a volunteer militia with a clear chain of command and a sworn oath of duty.

Second question: Who is backing your revolution?

It takes an 18-wheeler full of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) to keep a fighting force of 1000 well-fed for ten days. You need a constant resupply of ammunition just for training: if every patriot gets to practice with one shot per day, it’s 1000 rounds of ammunition a day. What about clothing: shoes, coats, hats, gloves? Body armor, helmets, shovels, and mess kits? Kitchen equipment? Vehicles? Spare tires? Gasoline?

What about shelter? Where will you winter? Where will you hide 1000 men, and is your secret base proof against infrared satellite imaging, drones, air strikes, and old-fashioned betrayal? Or are you going to embed yourself in a civilian population, and implicitly use them as hostages?

Do you have smart, seasoned tacticians in your organization? Do you have strategic planners? Do you have a path to winning this war you’re about to start your militia of 1000 men, good and true, pitted against the sworn and ready Armed Forces of the (now-tyrannical) United States Government?

I know you are all enamored of the American Revolution and how it turned out, but I hope you understand that without financial support from France, and without an entire ocean between Britain and the colonies, the American Revolution would have been nothing more than a short-lived riot, swiftly put-down and its leaders hanged. It very nearly ended at Valley Forge. It might well have failed had not King George been afflicted with the madness of porphyry during the critical phases of that war.

It was a near thing.

In the modern world, you are aware, are you not, that every single “patriotic resistance” (or “radicalized terrorist group”), from ISIL to the FARC to the Shrouded Whatever, is — as it must be — supported by a solvent government that wants to see a rival government fall? So which hostile foreign government is going to supply, support, and guide your militia? Will you be working for the Russians, or the Chinese, or for someone else?

I’m going to guess that it never occurred to you to think about any of this, and I’m going to further guess that your CO, and his CO (if he has one) has not thought about it, either.

Your revolution will end when your forces are pinned down by the FBI and the National Guard, besieged, and start to get hungry.

So let’s take this to the final step. Let’s assume that somehow, after weeding out all the sheeple and the snowflakes and the Democrats and the Godless Liberals and the women and the children and the cripples and all the rest of the worthless dross that never has and never will stand up and fight for freedom — that somehow, there are still enough of you, good men and true, under some kind of brilliant strategic command, with support commitments from at least one major government hostile to the tyranny in Washington, DC, to actually make war on the United States Government. That there are enough of you to potentially defeat the sworn and duty-bound soldiers and high command who remain loyal to the US Armed Forces, and force the corrupt US government to its knees.

Third question: How do you really expect this to play out?

I hope you understand that you are starting a war against an established government that is, however corrupt you believe it to be, still the lawful government of the nation.

I hope you understand that you will be immediately branded as foreign-led terrorists on US soil, vilified by the US media, shunned by a terrified US public, infiltrated by spies and traitors to your cause, and will be engaged in not only a military struggle, but a propaganda struggle to capture the hearts and minds of this nation of television-drugged sheeple.

I hope you understand that you will no longer be a member of a militia. This is war. You will be a soldier in a full-scale army. They will feed you. They will clothe you. They will train and arm you. They will give you orders, and hang you if you disobey (not shoot you — they’ll want to conserve ammunition). They will do all the thinking for you.

As for your privately-owned weapons: if this insurgent army has any interest in them at all, it will be to confiscate and distribute them to their sharpshooters and special operatives. You’ll get standard issue.

No one can say who would eventually “win” such a civil war, but one thing is guaranteed: we will all lose our freedom.

Here’s the bottom line.

No government cares about your guns. Your guns are not a threat to the government. Your guns have never been a threat to the government. Your guns will never be a threat to the government.

On the other hand, if your guns make you a sufficient annoyance, they will put out an arrest warrant, hunt you down, starve you out, and — if necessary — fire bomb you out of existence. You will be a terrorist shot while trying to escape.

And if it’s really a tyranny you are up against — a real, honest-to-God tyranny — they’ll take out the entire area around you, without hesitation or qualm, even in the middle of a heavily populated city. You think your assault rifle is going to stop a stinger missile?

Your privately owned guns are a hobby. Your band-of-patriots doing calisthenics in the woods is a hobby.

Private gun ownership does not “protect the liberty of America.” It never has, and it never will. This is one of the most ridiculous Libertarian myths to have come out of people who’ve lived too long with the maddening moan of Wyoming wind in their ears.

So what is the Second Amendment all about? Glad you asked.

Turns out — and I didn’t know this until a couple of years ago — it was a negotiating point that the Southern states demanded in return for their ratification of the Constitution. The “militias” they refer to so mysteriously in the amendment weren’t mysterious at all in 1778: they existed, and were a matter of common knowledge in both the North and the South.

The militias were informally known as “slave patrols.” These were armed citizen militias in the southern states with mandatory service requirements for every able-bodied white man — with explicit exemptions for various occupations, like ministers and politicians. Their purpose was also a matter of common knowledge: it was to control the negro slave population, through oppression and fear.

The new Constitution explicitly established a continental army, and the Southern states feared that this national army would supersede the authority of their slave patrols, and that the Northern states would use this authority to gradually absorb and phase out the slave patrols. The Northern representatives argued that this was nonsense (they were most likely lying). The Southern representatives held fast: they believed (almost certainly correctly) that they would lose control of their slaves without the militias, and without slaves — if they were forced to pay their laborers a living wage — they believed the Southern economy would collapse.

The Second Amendment is about preserving slavery, and the slave-economy of the Old South.

If you want to take issue with this “theory” of the Second Amendment, then I’ll ask you a final question. We know the writers of the Constitution were worried about the unwashed masses, the people the Romans and later historians referred to as “the mob.” They were worried enough that, although they gave citizens a House of Representatives and a vote, they initially restricted the definition of “citizen” to landowners. They also established a separate Senate composed of members who were originally appointed to their office by the State governments. They further protected their fledgling government from the mob by establishing the Electoral College, to filter the popular vote once more.

Given all that, do you really think they were interested in giving the mob a way to blow away the government they had tried so hard to create? By simply pulling a trigger?

That makes as much sense as hair on a cue ball.

Now, I don’t begrudge anyone for not knowing the two-century-old politics behind the Second Amendment; it certainly isn’t taught in school.

But if you’ve been thinking your gun ownership has ever had anything to do with protecting the US against tyranny under our own government, let me make it clear: you are thinking like a child.

Like those Bundy boys, who took over a government bird sanctuary in Oregon, got on the government-created, government-protected Internet to beg for food, took for granted that it would be delivered promptly to their door by the government-run Postal Service, and expected any outcome but public humiliation and a prison term.

I, for one, am sick of hearing this gunslinger fantasy from grown men. Newsflash: you are neither Shane, nor Batman.

Grow up.

Jesus Saves

Here is the current state of our public dialogue.

“Jesus Saves,” as we all know.

So an American entrepreneur opens the Jesus™ Savings and Loan, Inc. Their motto: “Jesus Saves, and so can YOU!”

The business is a huge success, particularly among the ultra-religious Christians.

The first CEO is well-aware of the irony of it all, and doesn’t care, he’s getting rich. He thinks he’s brilliant.

The second CEO is aware of the irony, but isn’t interested, as he has a serious business to run. He thinks he’s responsible.

The third CEO is not aware of the irony: he is of the generation whose parents banked with Jesus™ S&L, and he believes in his heart that he is doing the Lord’s work by charging interest on loans, and foreclosing on “deadbeats” who missed a house payment. Hard work, but it’s his cross to bear. He thinks he is righteous.

After all, Jesus saves. Right? Which means Jesus clearly understands the power of compounding interest, and doesn’t have a problem with accumulating wealth.

Someone comes along, now, and says, “The love of money is the root of all evil.”

The CEO of Jesus™ Savings and Loan responds, “Atheist! Blasphemer! Anti-christ!”

This is the state of our current public dialogue.