Tag Archives: absolutely totally one hundred percent serious definitely

A Like Indignity

“Hey Capulet, want to make Montague disown his only son?”

“Um, YES. That idea sounds like what sliced bread is going to be the greatest thing since. What do I do?”

“The kid wants to marry your daughter. He’s totally down with the whole ‘deny my father and refuse my name’ plan, but I figure you’d rather make his old man kick him out of the family tree. You announce tomorrow that you’re fine with her marrying Romeo Montague, and suddenly he’s the biggest embarrassment Lord M has ever seen.”

“Hm, and I don’t even have to follow through with the indignity of marrying Juliet to a Montague if Romeo’s not a Montague anymore! But I was going to have her marry Paris….”

“Wealth, power, whatever. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give your arch-nemesis humiliations galore.”

*

“Hey Montague, want to mess with Capulet?”

“I do that 24/7, what’ve you got?”

“He’s about to have his daughter marry Paris. Count Paris. The cousin of the guy who rules Verona. The incredibly wealthy cousin of the guy who rules Verona. I’m not saying he’d get a political advantage that your family never recovers from, but let’s just say you probably want to stick a spoke in his wheel.”

“So, what, I send in some guys with a wheelbarrow and a holocaust cloak?”

“Close. Call the CPS. Or if that’s too nonexistent for ya, get Paris to leave town angry. Start a couple of nasty rumors that this whole thing is against Juliet’s will and that she’s already secretly married to her True Love, Romeo.”

“ROMEO? With capital letters and everything? I’ll—”

“You’ll what? Marry him off to some rich noblewoman he can’t stand? I guarantee you won’t get more for him than Capulet just proved he can for Juliet. You’re not gonna get another chance to stop that threat. Unless you want Prince Escalus to start taking his new family members’ side in every little dispute…”

*

“YOU! You promised me Montague would disown his kid over this! And then he goes and allows it! What are you playing at?”

“He’s gonna. Look, Romeo’s got a bit of a reputation. This time last week he was all gooey-eyed over some Rosaline character. Montague probably just expects him to change his mind again. Otherwise, he’ll step in before the wedding. Or possibly during if he wants to be dramatic. And then Romeo’ll make him keep escalating the threats until he can’t escalate any more.”

“Fine, I’ll play for time. I’ll pretend to be all modern and say she can’t get married until she’s at least fifteen. But you better not be wrong!”

*

“We got rid of Paris, the rumor about them already being married got proven false; what do we need the actual wedding for? I’m not having any daughter of Capulet’s in my family if I don’t have to!”

“Just think of how much Capulet hates this. The dude’s a politician. Going from Paris to Romeo? No offense, but you’ve, like, met Romeo. You know Capulet wants to veto this, but the whole ‘publicly announcing otherwise’ thing kinda means he has to think twice. And he doesn’t want it to be him  who everyone sees breaking up the happy couple. He’d rather have it be you.
There’s still no way he’ll actually let it go through. Probably just waiting for the last minute. You know, so you’ll give in and do it first.”

“OK, I won’t stop the wedding until after he does, but you better not be wrong.”

[Wrongness ensues.]

*

I am not claiming that this would work, for any definition of “work” that excludes “everyone dies.” I’m just waving a hand in a general direction while loudly implying “look over there.” I bet there’s some way to convince one or both antagonists that this is a good idea solely to spite the other guy.

Advertisements

Omniscience by Contract

Most of this has already happened on Tumblr, but right now I’m the only one with all the information and that needs to be fixed.

There’s a species of monster that can only be harmed by inherited silver. You might recognize it if you’ve read Fool Moon, the second Dresden Files book. Purchased silver has no effect, but borrowing someone else’s inherited silver without owning it does work. (If you think it shouldn’t, just assume that after each maybe-sale it’s the original owner running the test instead. It’ll still depend on the right thing.)

The problem here is that “ownership” isn’t exactly an innate feature of, well, anything. Reality does not include microscopic flags saying “this molecule of chair is the property of Jorge F. Hardoy,” even when it’s true. This is why garage sales aren’t considered a subfield of chemistry. Except that in a universe containing that werewolf, property rights are an intrinsic fact about property. All that common sense stuff goes out the window. (Unless of course the defenestration process might break a window that belongs to someone else. Apparently the universe tracks that kind of thing.)

If it weren’t for the fact that it only applies to things made of silver, this could have all kinds of uses. And we can work around that. It isn’t necessarily clear whether we should care about the opinion of the laws of physics, but everyone would want to know whether the Tree That Owns Itself can actually own things. And does the inheritance requirement track clinical death, legal death, or some other thing? It’d be very weird if it’s the information-theoretic version. These need to be tested.

But there’s one best thing to try. (I wish I could say I came up with it, but someone else did.) We know the Inexplicable Magic Ownership Sensors can distinguish between silver that has been sold and silver that hasn’t. So you write a contract that says the sale only takes place if [literally any statement goes here] is true. If the owner sells it to the user under that contract, then the werewolf can be harmed by the silver if and only if the statement is false.

The limitation here is that it’s not obvious whether such a contract would be valid. You’d essentially be contracting for “one of us owns this, but nobody knows which.” A real-life judge, who can’t see ownership by magic, would have to assign it to someone. And either option would mean it doesn’t depend on whether the arbitrary statement was true. An invalid contract is good news from a self-preservation point of view, but bad news for attaining omniscience.

I asked my Contracts professor this, and apparently when a contract depends on something that is already either true or false (as opposed to something that might happen but is not certain, which is what a “condition” properly means), the actual condition is the verification. If the silver affects the beast, then we know that either the statement is true or the contract was invalid. Yes, this runs the risk of an “it’s invalid because it’s invalid” loop that doesn’t give us any information. But if it doesn’t affect it, then the contract is valid and the statement is false. And if it is possible for the contingency to occur, then the contract is valid. So there’s no risk of that loop after all, and we will find out one way or the other.

Also, the professor—who in addition to being a professor at a top law school is also the sort of person who had to reschedule class a couple times because she was speaking to the U.N.—said it was an interesting enough question that she’d ask some colleagues. I don’t know who, but I assume they’re similarly credible. Anyway, more information!

One source, a Realist, says that this doesn’t work. The plan is assuming that there has either been a sale or there hasn’t. But there isn’t a well-defined answer to that question unless a judge has decided or clearly would decide one way. There’s no Platonic realm of Actual Contractness that affects vampires but not us. (In the first email I got, my professor said vampires instead of werewolves; I didn’t correct that because it’s the same in every way that matters, so that’s what got forwarded. It’s vampires now.) And, well, this Realist point of view is true. Property is a social construct almost as much as money is. But in that case, how does the vampire know? Its skin is detecting something when it decides whether or not to burn, and that probably isn’t “what would a judge say.” Common sense, window.

The other person responding kind of surprised me by saying that the existing legal system is already equipped to handle this. They also included the excellent line, “Is the student unaware of the magical powers of judges?”

This is just an ordinary(ish) case of burden of proof. If for some reason a legal dispute turned on whether Richard III had a severe spinal condition, a judge would listen to historical evidence and testimony from the team that found his skeleton. If it’s the same question about Joe the Random Fifteenth-Century Peasant, the plaintiff would just have a much harder time meeting the burden of proof. Sometimes there are statutes saying what to do if there’s no evidence, like if multiple family members die in the same accident and who gets the inheritance depends on who died first, but having to rule on an undecidable question is a thing that is known to happen.

For our purposes, this is great. It means that whether there was a sale really does depend on the question we want it to.
I’m not actually sure whether this was meant to imply “fortunately, in this case it’s being decided by magic and isn’t limited by what could be proven in court.” If so, we win. But even if the validity does depend on what a judge would say if it went to court, we still win.
If the answer to the question the contract depends on could be proven in court the normal way, then testing the silver on the vampire would just be a really powerful shortcut.  If the answer can’t be determined, and there’s no ordinary evidence, then the burden of proof might be met just by whether the silver affected the vampire. So it still depends on the right thing.
Either way, anyone who inherited a bunch of silver can get any question answered and more or less take over the world at their convenience. They just have to deal with vampires and lawyers to do it.

But don’t go signing these contracts just yet. There are a bunch of pitfalls I ignored here.
—A contractual condition might technically have to be a future event. (The relevant hornbook says this, but two experts said it probably wouldn’t ruin everything.)
—If there’s any ambiguity, an alleged condition will be interpreted as an obligation. For what we care about, this would be bad.
—It smells kind of like a wager, and those aren’t valid contracts according to the Statute of Anne. (Yes, Queen Anne. Yes, that Queen Anne. Yes, this law is from 1710.)
—There may be consideration problems. One of the Actual Competent People mentioned this case.
—It might get interpreted on other grounds, like “both people are acting as if there was a sale, so there was.”
—You have to capture a vampire, and keep it captured indefinitely.

And those are just the ones I know about. These are all solvable if you’re careful and know what you’re doing, but just remember to consult a lawyer before trying any contract-based divination.

One last thing: To keep exams anonymous, students aren’t supposed to write anything that would tip a professor off as to who wrote which set of answers. This hypothetical is pretty identifying. I wasn’t the only person who knew about it, but when I asked it after class the other students present heard me say “werewolves.”
And that is how I got banned by the Student Disciplinary Code from talking about vampires in a Contracts exam.

When He said that no man knew the day or the hour, I hadn’t done the math yet.

Every so often, a church leader speaks up and predicts with certainty the date of Christ’s return. It’s almost always in the near future. I, like everyone else, laugh at them, so imagine my surprise when I snapped awake early in the morning picturing an equation based on Biblical prophecy. Needless to say, I wrote it down immediately and later calculated that the Second Coming occurred at three o’clock this morning. (And how often do the predictors show their work?) I, however, am sufficiently confident that I know whether this is true that I’m writing it out for everyone to see.

It starts with Jesus’ statement in John 2:19, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The obvious meaning here is that the temple is His earthly body, which was dead for three days between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. But it’s common for Biblical prophecies to refer to multiple fulfillments. In the secondary interpretation of John 2:19, the three days refers to the length of time not between Jesus’ death and resurrection but between His First and Second Comings. Of course a day doesn’t need to be a literal twenty-four hour period, especially when dealing with prophecy. The question is what length we ought to use, and the answer is obvious. The Number of the Beast, 666. This number is famously important in End Times theology, and is in fact specifically stated as being intended for use in calculations (Revelation 13:18).

Three days, where each metaphorical day is six hundred and sixty-six years, results in a period of one thousand nine hundred and ninety-eight years.
But we reached that result by multiplying by three. That is, we combined a time and times. Readers familiar with Biblical prophecy will notice that there’s a missing half a time. (Daniel 7:25, 12:5-7, Rev. 12:14…it’s a thing, OK?)
But what length do we divide in half? Not the same six hundred and sixty-six year period. Even in its original context, the three uses of “time” were not meant to have consistent units. Following the Biblical principle of “whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him” (Mark 4:25, in a parable specifically about Jesus’ Second Coming), the “time” that is halved should be some shorter length than the others. The obvious candidate, since we’re calculating the time until Jesus returns to Earth, is the length of his first life on Earth.

Jesus died on Friday, April 3, A.D. 33, at 3:00 in the afternoon. This was calculated by historical and not numerological methods, but when you see the string of theologically significant threes you can’t doubt that it’s correct. The beginning of His life on Earth is of course by definition the beginning of the Anno Domini era. Therefore, the “half a time” that needs to be added to the time and the two times is half of thirty-three years and ninety-three days. This gives us sixteen years and six months, plus forty-six and a half days.

Now we have enough information to calculate the exact date. 3:00 April 3 + 3*666 years + 16 years + six months + 46.5 days = November 19, 2014, 3:00 a.m. As I write this, it has been less than twelve hours since the world ended. Did I expect that result? No, but it was almost exactly twenty-four hours after I scribbled down the equation in the middle of the night. Coincidence? How can there be any such thing?

But the revelation doesn’t stop there. We started this with a metaphor from Jesus about the destruction of a temple. The literal Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar when he sacked Jerusalem in 586 B.C. We add to that number the four hundred years that God’s people were to spend in captivity (Genesis 15:13). Incidentally, there was a prophecy about God judging people at the end of that time, extremely reminiscent of the Second-to-Last Judgement that we all slept through. The number 400 also symbolizes the four hundred years between the Old and New Testaments, the boundary between the two most important eras so far. Since the destruction of the world by fire this morning marked the beginning of the next dispensation, the applicability is obvious.

2 Peter 3:8 states that with the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day. Remember that Jesus promised to reinstate His kingdom three “days” after the Temple was destroyed (586 B.C.). Taking the four hundred into account, we find the following:
3000-586-400=2014
This morning’s apocalypse is a much more literal interpretation of 2 Peter than anyone expected. And since it happened at three in the morning, it satisfies the statement that the Lord’s return would come, like a thief, in the night. (1 Thessalonians 5:2).

As every scholar of the Left Behind book series knows, the Rapture occurs seven years before the Second Coming. We now know this means 19 November 2007. It was on this date that the Lord took unto himself both people whose theology was exactly correct. Needless to say, the world at large completely missed it, and we only know about it now because it was seven years to the day before angels declared the return of the King in earthshakingly loud voices.

I admit that I still don’t fully understand all the recently fulfilled prophecies. The seven-headed beast from the sea, for instance, ruled the world for 42 months until the Battle of Armageddon this morning. As for who he was, there aren’t any obvious candidates. VISA credit cards and Monster energy drinks both have the major disadvantage of not even being people.

The exact interpretation of that prophecy, along with the remainder of the Book of Revelation, is left as an exercise for the reader.

Ten sonnets

I asked for people to tell me some philosophical positions which I’d then write sonnets in favor of, because taking requests is much more fun than just writing. Here’s every sonnet I’ve written so far, in more or less chronological order.

Request: Dualism.

If my beliefs were wholely chemical,
I’d have no reason to suppose them true.
I cannot hold that process credible
Which need not tell me one and one is two.
A physicalist’s brain cannot include
Such abstracts as “emotion,” “reason,” “fact.”
But merely microscopic clockwork. Who’d
Believe a theory where belief was lacked?
As anyone who’s been a human knows,
Your mind-states have subjective qualities.
Though physics’ scope has been far overblown,
Mere atoms have no mental properties.
If you can disagree with all of that,
Then tell me what it’s like to be a bat!

Request: Deontology

Morality comes from obeying rules
Of duty, obligation, and good will.
To treat another person as a tool
And not an end cannot their ends fulfill.
The proper rules are universalized:
If everyone obeyed it, would you keep
Consistently the maxim you devised?
If not, irrationality runs deep.
The acts of moral worth are only those
For which the agent freely does decide
To trust their reason when it duty shows.
And use that reasoned duty as their guide.
To make exceptions from the rules you want?
The only answer then is no you Kant.

Extra sonnet: Regular Utilitarianism.

Morality must live in this our world
And work to help as much as can be done
By satisfying preference in full
And sacrificing those of few or none.
The trolley problem’s switch, proponents say
Will save the most from underneath the wheels.
To those who will not press it shall I say
The four lives saved can far outweigh your feels.
Though cold and calculating it may seem
To weigh the good of one and find it small,
To implement such average-helping scheme
O’er iterations benefits us all.
Though fiction’s villains cite “the greater good,”
So too the volunteer who donates blood.

Request: Rule Utilitarianism.

As all utilitarians agree
Utility, not duty, we fulfill.
To help more people, as I’m sure you’ll see,
Is more important than the mind’s “good will.”
Yet if you think, you’ll find rules have their place.
Since human reason biases infest
If we ran calculations case by case
Utility would be far from its best.
We’d all rob banks to give to AMF
And murder organ donors right and left.
But since to Rules we aren’t completely deaf
We stick to strong heuristics like “no theft.”
The rightness of an act comes from the rule
From which it came. Thus spoke John Stuart Mill!

Request: Whether 1+1=2. (This request was itself a sonnet, which is awesome. But I didn’t ask if I could copy it here, so I didn’t.)

There’s no one claims that in arithmetic
The sum in question’s not precisely two.
The problem’s whether we would be too quick
In saying that it’s absolutely true.
But if the universe itself obeys
The rules that we derive math’s statements from,
Our theorems, from Hairy Balls to Bayes’,
Must all still follow from those axioms.
It cannot be shown true beyond all doubt.
No argument is infinitely strong.
But if it’s only false in worlds without
Noncontradiction, I’ll not say it’s wrong.
Unless you can contest Peano’s tools,
Then all the cosmos bows before math’s rules.

Request: Transhumanism.

The human lot is not immutable.
There was a time when humans lived in caves.
That we’ve progressed is indisputable
With words we read, and medicine that saves.
And we ourselves have capabilities
Beyond the things innate to humankind.
Eyeglasses, and external memories
In books or hard drives. From the human mind
Come more and more improvements on the state
Of nature. As we heal the sick and blind
And seize control of our own human fate
Why should we stop improving our own lot
By the techniques that humankind has wrought?

Request: Immortalism

By all the tenets of the humanists
We value humans’ goals and agency.
Transhumanism says that that persists
Beyond the normal contexts that we see.
As one case, over decades we lose health:
A fatal curse we can at best delay.
But we oppose all mandatory death:
No minds and bodies should be forced to fade.
Our life span might increase with no fixed end
As our technology advances on.
If you’d endorse the limits nature penned
Then tell it to the ghost of smallpox gone!
And know that in the past few centuries
We’ve more than doubled life expectancies.

Request: Is science socially constructed?

To be constructed means that science could,
(Contrary to perception) possibly
Have not existed in some other world
With very different books of history.
The scientific method just describes
A way of learning facts empirical.
But many different nations, tongues, and tribes
Have known things with no tests statistical.
While Thales, Bacon, Ibn al-Haytham may
Have helped the world by starting science on,
It could have also not been made that way.
But that in no way makes our science wrong.
A world deprived of science would be one
Where knowledge and accomplishments are gone.

Request: Solipsism

It seems to me I think therefore I am.
I can’t imagine that might not be true.
But I can’t know if all the rest’s a sham.
Most possibles of me don’t have a you.
Consider then the famous Boltzmann brain.
He pops into existence, has a thought,
And then he dies. But ere he wanes
He thinks he all of history was taught.
I’ve seen the Matrix—I know that he could
In that brief instant think himself on Earth.
But by a quirk of physics, I conclude
Of brains that aren’t like Boltzmann’s there’s a dearth.
Once I decide my sense can be misled
I’m probably a brain without a head.

Request: Italian sonnet, theory of forms.
Request: Should we keep helping pandas mate even though they are too lazy to reproduce just because they’re enormous cute fuzzballs?

We say that we have knowledge; it is true
That we can comprehend particulars.
Instantiations are familiar.
But universals—Can we look on through
The sky or sea and see the Form of Blue?
Or something that, though thought inferior,
Is the Platonic perfect lump of fur
Perfection that most likely knows kung fu?
The answer’s that our knowledge is informed
When things to Forms are somewhat similar.
Not many things on earth are absolute.
But pandas are ideal! It’s been confirmed:
We ought to help them mate because they are
The Form of The Enormous Fuzzballs Cute!

How to run indefinitely and breathe underwater in three easy steps

Disclaimer: I am neither a doctor nor a professional theologian, and all information is from Wikipedia. I’m not even Catholic.

Let’s assume you’re a distance runner or some other kind of endurance athlete, and also the Pope. Since low oxygen is the limiting factor on how long you can keep running—even if you’re Pope—increasing the amount of oxygen in your blood when it gets low will increase your endurance.

Here’s how.

Step zero: Become Pope.
Several people have accomplished this throughout history. It is therefore doable.

Step one: Water to wine.
As Pope, you get to abuse your power. One of the better-known possible miracles is turning water into wine. Nowhere in Catholic theology does it say that the Pope can do miracles at will, but come on. Just look at that hat.

As it happens, slightly under half your blood usefully carries oxygen. The rest is water. That’s what you’re going to turn into wine.

Warning: This will kill you. You’ll wind up with a BAC of five. Not 0.05. 5. It’ll depend on the wine, but we’re somewhere in the territory of “legally intoxicated, and multiply that by sixty.” Some lucky people have been known to survive a BAC of 1, but you’re way past that. So you’d better do the next step quickly.

Step two: Transubstantiate.

To do this, it is necessary and sufficient to say “this is my body, this is my blood.” The alcohol poisoning would kill you, of course, but it probably won’t kill you instantly. So you can squeak out a couple words and the wine goes away. This is where the good part happens.

The blood of Jesus is often described as “scarlet” or “crimson.” Those are both bright red colors, and bright red means highly oxygenated. Neither of those is applied to the relevant blood by the Bible, but scarlet is the official color according to the Catholic Church. So if it’s the Pope doing it, then by golly the blood is going to be oxygenated.

According to the best source in the world, if you run until you’re exhausted your blood may contain as little as 15% of its maximum oxygen. You just transubstantiated a bunch of fully oxygenated arterial blood already in your body. Adding more arterial blood won’t change the saturation of oxygen in your arteries much (that stays above 95% anyway), but it will in your veins. So, for purposes of numbers, all oxygen percentages from here on out refer to its saturation in venous blood. (To clarify, the percentage is relative to how much oxygen the blood can hold. It’s not saying that scarlet blood is literally made of 99% oxygen.)

The blood in your veins isn’t normally that oxygenated. Having just come from dropping the oxygen off where it needs to be, it’s typically down to 75% at rest. In your case, half your venous blood is even lower than that and the other half, which normally contains none because it’s water, is instead at 98-99% because it’s the scarlet blood of Christ.

Your venous blood is at 55% oxygen saturation, which isn’t great but it’s far better than before you did the miracle. Unfortunately, that’s still dangerously low over the long term. Luckily, there are still some tricks up your sleeve.

What you’re doing is called blood doping and is banned from most sporting events. Of course, usually people do this by giving themselves transfusions of their own blood so they can hold more oxygen on game day. Simply creating the blood has not yet been banned. Technically.

Doing this has some obvious problems. Your blood is half water for a reason, and if you’re turning that half into regular blood, and the quarter that’s still watery into blood, and the remaining eighth and so on, then you will 1) eventually run out, and not have any water left in your bloodstream to turn into oxygen-bearing blood, and 2) die. It’ll get thick and unwatery enough that your heart won’t be able to pump it. The trick we need is a miracle to turn blood back into water.

Surprisingly, this is never explicitly done by any Biblical prophet or, as far as I know, Catholic saint. But we can sort of infer that Moses did it: In Exodus 4, God gives him the at-will abilities (for purposes of proving he’s a prophet) to turn his staff into a snake and back, his hand leprous and back, and water into blood. There’s no “and back” stated, but, you know, parallelism. Therefore you the Pope, as Keeper of God’s Authority on Earth and Wearer of the Really Cool Hat, ought to be able to turn blood into water.

(You may ask why, if Moses could do the transformation both ways, we’re bothering with the wine step at all. The answer is that he had to pour it out to turn it to blood and you’re not in a position to pour out the water you want to transmogrify. Also I didn’t think of him in time. MOVING ON.)

Step three: Blood to water.

Use this on two thirds of the blood in your body. After you’ve done the transubstantiation thing once, your blood is ¾ water where it’s supposed to be ½. This just resets it to normal thickness, but it doesn’t change the fact that you tripled the concentration of useful oxygen in your veins. You have now completed a cycle.

In order:

Regular blood: 50% water, 75% of venous oxygen capacity.
After running as long as you can: 50% water, ≥15% oxygen.
Water to wine: 50% wine, 15% oxygen.
Wine to blood (remember, blood is half water and half useful stuff): 25% water, 55% oxygen.
Blood to water: 50% water, 55% oxygen.

The other problem is that this amount of oxygen, while high enough that you’re not about to collapse, is low enough that over the long term you’d need medical intervention.

So you do another cycle: 50% wine, 55% oxygen saturation.
Wine to blood: 25% water, .5*55+.5*98.5=76.75% oxygen.
Two thirds of the blood to water: 50% water, about 75% oxygen.

That means if you run until a marathon runner would drop and then you do two cycles of this, you’ve got as much oxygen going to your muscles and organs and things as you would while sitting in an armchair. And there’s no reason you have to wait that long. You’ll get less extra oxygen per cycle if you do it more often, but you don’t exactly have a limit on how many times you can do it.

Let’s go to the extreme. If you do this continuously, you can replace breathing.

A given blood cell, if it’s going all the way down to your toes, can take 20 seconds to leave the heart and lungs and come back. Let’s give you ten, since most blood doesn’t have that far to go. If you completely replenish the oxygen every ten seconds, it will be every bit as effective as the usual situation with lungs and everything.

The only one of these that takes actual time is the transubstantiation step. You need to say “this is my body” and “this is my blood,” but the Church has placed no limit on how long you need to take to do that. Or in what language: If you’re underwater and don’t want to have to exhale, you could use any of various sign languages.

That would allow you to stay alive and active, without breathing, as long as you want to. Of course, there has to be a catch. The catch is blood type. You’re turning the wine in your bloodstream into blood, but it’s Jesus’ blood. According to the Catholic Church, Jesus’ blood type was AB. (Seriously! They have an opinion!) So if you have a different type, this will kill you.

Of course, you’d need the ability to perform miracles in the first place. And if you’re Pope, you’re probably surrounded by devout and vigilant people who would frown on the idea of using it to give yourself superpowers. You’d have to get away from the spotlight before going out to fight crime as Aquaman, and has anyone seen Benedict?

Cleanliness is next to COOKIE!

A Facebook friend of mine posted a question about whether, under the Levitical law, Cookie Monster would be considered a clean or unclean animal. This is a surprisingly arguable question.

Both sides agree that it is highly unlikely that there is a specific exception for Cookie Monster one way or the other. Aside from the exceptions, the general rule in Leviticus 11:3 is that an animal is usually clean if it both chews the cud and has cloven hooves.

Start with the part about the divided hooves. This is a difficult question due to the fact that Cookie Monster is in fact a puppet. The most common portrayals of the mythical beast have no legs at all, so we may have to make a guess about the biology of the animal itself.

Since Sesame Street doesn’t answer this important theological question, there are other options. Consider another creature from the same source:

See those hooves? They can’t get more divided than that. And if the great and powerful wizard Frank created such a being once, it’s reasonable to suppose that the same applies to Cookie Monster. Not certain, but at least reasonable.

Here the opposing side may interject that that’s not a fair assumption. This is serious business, and we don’t want to hazard an answer based on a guess. Besides, simply from looking at any of the Cookie Monster toys that have been sold it is obvious that at least some people think the species has feet, not divided hooves. But those toys are apocryphal, and their canonicity is disputed. The short answer is that we don’t know whether Cookie Monster has hooves, but there is a factual answer even if we don’t know it. It could reasonably go either way.

The other requirement refers to how a creature chews its food. Whether Cookie Monster’s method of eating cookies counts as chewing a cud is a subject of intense debate among theologians. The phrase used in most contemporary English translations of Leviticus is “chews the cud,” which is far too specific. While Cookie Monster’s method of eating does not fit the strict definition as used by modern biologists, we don’t really care about the current definition.

In fact, mentioning a cud at all is a bit of a mistranslation. Cud-chewing is what ruminants do, where they swallow their food, regurgitate it back into their mouths, chew some more, and swallow it again into their nuclear-powered adamantium extra stomach. That is not what cookie monsters do. But it’s not what rabbits do either, and Leviticus 11:6 clearly states that rabbits count.

According to the people who argue about this kind of thing, one of the Hebrew words in question is “ma‘alat,” meaning “chew.” In the Hebrew, it’s a participle form of the word ” ‘alah,” an extremely broadly used word meaning “to bring up.” (Allegedly, anyway, I don’t know Hebrew and this is coming from people with a vested interest in Cookie Monster being considered clean under this verse.) Supposedly ” ‘alah” is used in pretty much any context: Raise a sword, raise a child, flood a river, even carry a box horizontally.

The other word is “gerah,” meaning something along the lines of a thing that has been chewed.  Literally it means something that scrapes the throat, which clearly does happen when Cookie Monster eats a cookie. This word never appears in any other context, so there isn’t a lot of information on it. But it’s clear that a cow chewing and swallowing, then unswallowing and chewing some more would definitely fit this description, hence the cud translation.

The standard argument is that rabbits count as cud-chewers for the purposes of the book of Leviticus because they engage in a disgusting-to-humans process most politely referred to as—pardon my Greek—caecotrophy. Eating the same matter twice is apparently enough to satisfy the requirement of “bringing up the thing that has been chewed.”

And if that’s a small enough stretch to be reasonable, then Cookie Monster definitely counts as well. The proof is seen in this documentary footage of a wild cookie monster’s mastication process. Almost every crumb of what gets chewed gets brought up, thereby ending any debate.

See? Absolute proof.

Capes and Masks

“Way I see it, having a local team of superheroes is like having a sports team.  Everyone’s rooting for them, they make for great media that isn’t about wars or the water crisis or whatever, there’s merchandising and tourists… all good shit that the local government loves.” —Lisa Wilbourne, aka Tattletale, Worm.

Unfortunately, that’s not remotely close to true. A typical world with superheroes has property damage is in the high billions, and offscreen civilian deaths are way too high. It’s worse off than if there were no superheroes at all.

That’s really too bad, so let’s see if we can construct an exception. A situation where it might actually be to the city’s benefit to have capes and masks running around wreaking (controlled amounts of) havoc. It won’t be much better than regular Earth, but it won’t be worse.

You’ve got what Tattletale calls full-contact cops and robbers, where people dress up in costumes and run around throwing superpowers at each other. The heroes get to say they’re doing it to protect the public, the villains say they’re in it for the money, but really they’re all just playing for fun.

If people get seriously injured, it’s not fun. So everyone on both sides goes out of their way to avoid hurting people. The guy with the power to disintegrate organic matter by pointing at it doesn’t go into crimefighting. And definitely not crime. He’d get arrested and charged with lots and lots of murder. He goes into medicine instead and zaps people’s cancers or something.

The powers that get used by the people in masks are more oriented toward containing their opponents, or defeating them in any relatively harmless way. If Mythos messes with Relentless’ perception of time during a fight, everybody’s OK with it as long as she puts it back afterward. There are also people with powers like explosions and lasers, but nothing that can’t be set to stun gets used in a fight.

As you might expect, since people are running around (or flying as the case may be) and hitting each other, injuries do happen. No deaths or anything classified as catastrophic, but there are a lot of concussions. This is recognized to be a problem, but the average fan doesn’t really care.

A typical cape fight looks nothing like a crime in progress and more like an improvised stage production. A villain group announces that they’re going to, say, rob a particular bank that weekend. On Sunday the bank is closed and there has been plenty of notice for bystanders to get out of the way—except of course for the people who bought tickets. At the prearranged time, the villains arrive and pose dramatically for the cameras before walking toward the front door. The heroes drop from the sky and start the fight.

If the bad guys fight their way in, they break into the vault and get out with as much as they can carry. It’s all covered by the bank’s villain insurance, along with any property damage. If the heroes win, the villains get captured and left shouting phrases like “Curses! Foiled again!” until the actual police arrive. There usually aren’t charges pressed, because everyone knows it’s all part of the game. The bank was never actually in any danger of losing anything, and the endorsement deals are good for business. In any case, everything is back to the status quo pretty quickly.

The villains are obviously playing along. If they really wanted to rob the bank, they could just not tell people ahead of time. But then it’d be treated as a crime instead of a sport, and nobody wants that. Besides, they’d lose all their fans.

Obviously, this wouldn’t be able to work without a powerful industry backing it up. That’s where the money comes in.
There are the ticket sales, and people might pay through the nose for that, but you can only fit so many people around the site of a bank robbery. It’s not like superheroing takes place in a baseball stadium. The real money comes from merchandising. If people will buy a T-shirt that looks like Peyton Manning’s jersey, they’ll buy one that looks like Enforcer’s costume. They’d do it for golf if that were the sport that everyone cared about, and I guarantee superheroes are at least as interesting as football players. From selling things with their logo on it, the National Supers League could probably bring in, oh, at a random guess let’s say $2.1 billion per year.

Ticket revenue is pretty much negligible next to that, and advertising will be less than it is for current sports. There may be just as many people watching it, but when superheroes fight supervillains it’s not exactly a predictable length with scheduled commercial breaks.* Call it a billion and a half in advertising.

Selling the rights to televise the matches could bring in another three billion dollars, and I’d imagine there’s a lot to be made from movie deals as well. The Avengers made a lot of money, it would have made a lot more if they could have marketed it as “based on a true story,” and that means more money for the superhero teams.

The fans, meanwhile, enjoy being able to follow their favorite franchises.  There are rumors that Captain Anvil might leave the Defenders and move to a different city? Well if that happens, you’ll have to start rooting for the villains over there! He’s supposed to be on our team! It’s hard to imagine a sport that’s better designed for rivalries than this one.

There’d also be all kinds of non-fight-based events. If the fans have been arguing over whether Atalanta could outrun Speedster over a long enough distance, organizing a race means free publicity for both heroes and a great advertising opportunity for the NSL. But the main events are always the classic heroes-vs-villains match-ups.

You might not like the idea of a giant entertainment industry built around watching people hit each other. But a lot of people enjoy watching it, and there aren’t all that many people being hurt and they aren’t being hurt that badly, so it’s fine. Right? Anyway, if you’re in favor of the continued existence of football you should probably consider these superhero fights a good thing for the same reasons. You can’t tell me it wouldn’t be entertaining.

*Usually it’s over more quickly than a normal sporting event. With some exceptions. When Vortex dueled Chronomancer, they both got mistaken for statues of themselves. Eight hours in, Chronomancer won with the first punch, and those two have avoided each other ever since.