Tag Archives: vampires

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.


Vegetarianism: Some numbers

“If God had not meant them to be eaten, he would not have made them out of meat.”
—Zorblax the Malevolent, Eater of Men, Women, and Small Furry Creatures from Alpha Centauri.

Last week I was thinking about the ethics of vampirism (as one does) and calculated how many cows you’d have to farm and drain in order to maintain your immortal superpowered life. (3.8) Then I realized it’s kind of stupid that I hadn’t done the same calculation for real life.

Before I go any further, stop and ask yourself how many animals you’re OK with having farmed and killed to support your ability to eat meat. Come up with an actual number, or at least a factor of ten. Is the number different for cows and pigs than it is for turkeys and chickens? Do you care more about them suffering, or dying? Those can change your results.

Oh, and “farmed” is kind of a euphemism. For the animals that end up being part of my diet at least, I think it’s fair to say the word “torture” applies. The question is how much of that you’re willing to tolerate. Since the animals wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for this purpose, the choice isn’t about giving up meat to save animals. It’s about giving up meat in order for there to be fewer animals in that kind of existence.

Try to come up with a number such that you’re probably OK with there being X animals tortured for their entire existence to enable your omnivorous lifestyle, but for 10X you’d give up meat if it would somehow let you put them out of their misery. (Assume no consequences like them being replaced; we can argue about that later.)

You might think the animals are better off being tortured than never existing. If so, the question does not apply and you ought to increase your meat consumption as much as you can. Instead, I’m going to assume X is some positive number.

Have you figured out values of X yet? If not, stop reading until you have some.

OK, nobody stopped reading. Oh well. If you dislike any of my decisions, say it out loud or write it down so your mind doesn’t change it on you.
I arbitrarily decided the following:
—I care some about animal suffering but don’t really care about animal death.
—I am probably OK with an average of one cow or pig being tortured at a time if that’s what my meat-eating takes, but I’d rather be vegetarian than have it happen to ten.
—For chickens and turkeys it’s more like I don’t mind ten but do mind forty. (I don’t actually trust my mental image of forty as distinct from thirty or fifty. Seems like an important caveat.)

This is the weakest part of the exercise. It’s based on nothing more than me asking myself the bolded question and going “Hm, that seems acceptable.” I could be completely wrong about anything from how sentient cattle are to just how bad the conditions are. Feel free to correct whichever mistake is the most outrageous.
Then I looked up the numbers.

The average American (in 2009) ate 120.2 kg of meat. (The chart cites the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N., but I linked to this instead because it’s much easier to read.)
Using the numbers from this awesome chart, that .72 pounds per day (pretending all of it’s beef), is 1.6 cows every thousand days. Beef cattle get harvested at 18-22 months, so say they live for 600 days. In that case, there’s an average of .96 cows being farmed at any given time to support the average American’s meat eating.

That number is uncomfortably close to my range that I’m questionably OK with. It’s technically on the right side of my arbitrary line, but keep in mind that the numbers are extremely approximate.

That was assuming the entire average meat intake was beef. If it’s pork, the number is instead
(.72 lbs/day)(1 pig/140 lbs)=5.14 pigs every thousand days. Wikipedia says 4-12 months for the age at slaughter, with animal rights sites rounding off to six. (5.14 pigs/1000 days)(180 days/lifespan)=.92 pigs at a time being farmed for the average American. Or .46 pigs and .48 cows, or whatever other distribution if you eat more than one type of meat.

It’s pretty much the same as the number for cows, but remember what it’s not saying. That number does not mention the fact that pigs are being farmed and killed off faster than cows. These numbers are about the number of animals suffering at a time, not the number of animal deaths. For the second thing, I’ll refer you back to the awesome chart.

If it’s chickens instead,
(.72 lbs/day)(1 chicken/5lbs)(42 days/chicken)=six chickens being farmed at any given time. Notably, this has more of a margin of error than the cows and pigs did, since I said I was fine with up to ten.

Numbers on turkeys were less Googleable for some reason, but it seems like they’re about five times the weight of a chicken while alive, and 2-2.5 times the age at slaughter. In which case, the average American’s meat intake could be satisfied with only about three turkeys being tortured at a time. If, like me, you care about poultry suffering somewhere on the order of a tenth as much as cattle suffering, this is where the best deal is.

Personally, I don’t average anything like .72 pounds of meat a day. I don’t keep track (probably should), but I’d be shocked if it’s above .5. With the numbers multiplied accordingly, I conclude I don’t need to become vegetarian until someone corrects my assumptions.

I am going to eat more turkey, though, as compared to the other meats. I wasn’t expecting one to be significantly more acceptable than the others, but may as well take advantage of it.

Phoenix Tears and You

So, you’ve just found out that there’s a species dependent on your tears to stay alive.

Wait, what?
It’s true. Your tears can cure any illness or injury they ever get. Anything short of death.

Yes. They’re called “humans,” and they consider your species legendary beings.

Because of the tears thing?
Because of the tears thing. Well, that, and the burning to death and being reborn at regular intervals, and all the flame-themed magic, and stuff like that.

So is this why humans keep asking me to cry?
Yes. It’s pretty understandable, actually, since they usually have someone they want you to cure and when humans die they don’t just light themselves on fire and come out younger.

What? Why are there any of them left?
There are always new ones. Sometimes there are more of them and sometimes less; it’s kind of weird. 

So it doesn’t really matter if they die?
It matters to them. It’d be nice of you to help them out.

And by “help them out” you mean “cry on them to keep them alive.”
Or save the tears in a jar or something. Can you cry at will? I can recommend some acting lessons.

This is weird and kind of creepy.
Yeah, probably. But I promise it’s worth it to the humans.

I don’t like the idea of my tears being in someone else’s body. I’m not doing it.
I’m pretty sure all the humans would agree you have an ethical obligation to do it.

Not doing it.


So, you’ve just found out there’s a species that needs your blood to live.


Wait, what?
Yep. They’re called vampires, and they starve without human blood.

I heard you talking to that phoenix. You’re about to try to convince me to feed the vampires.
Pretty much.  It’s inconvenient but safe, and it’ll save someone’s life.

A vampire’s life.
It’s not their fault they’re a vampire! That’s racist. And they have literally no ethical source of food other than human volunteers.

Aren’t they just going to need to feed again later?
Usually it’s a one-time thing. There are exceptions. But even so, so what? 

It sounds painful.
Kind of. It’s a lot less painful than starving to death, though.

And dangerous.
It’s actually not. It’s not like anyone will go crazy and try to kill you for your blood, and modern sanitation makes vampirism not contagious.

And disgusting. I don’t like the idea of my blood in someone else’s digestive tract.
How do you think they feel about it?

Look, you’re obviously crazy and there is no way I’m doing something that disgusting.
You’re OK with people dying for your feelings?

Go bother someone else.
You know, a phoenix just refused something easier than this. How would you like to be able to tell people you’re more ethical than a phoenix?

OK, I’m in.

So, you’ve just found out there are people who need your blood to stay alive.

Hey, you’re that vampire guy! I’m not letting any vampires use my blood.
Why not?

Um, they’re disgusting and cannibalistic and evil and stuff?
I’d argue with you, but it turns out calling people racist isn’t very effective at convincing them.
What if they weren’t disgusting evil creatures? Would saving someone nicer be worth something  approximately that degree of weird?

Well of course. I’m not a psychopath, so of course I’d take a few minutes’ inconvenience to save the life of a centaur or a unicorn or whatever.
In fact, wouldn’t you agree you have a moral duty to do that just as much as a phoenix has a duty to save people?

Well, not as much, because with the phoenix it’s less effort and it’s saving real human people….
Good news! It works on humans, too.

Really. You go slightly out of your way and have a moderately unpleasant part of your afternoon, and it saves someone’s life. This is totally within your power as a normal human and doesn’t have to involve any fantasy creatures whatsoever.

Oh, you’re talking about blood donations. No, I don’t do that.


 I’m always annoyed at people in fiction continually missing really obvious solutions to things. And then in some cases the same thing works even better in real life, and people still don’t do it. I don’t know if it came across, but the point I was trying to get at is that if you think phoenixes should cure everything then you should probably be a blood donor.

Vampire Population in the Buffyverse

If you’ve ever watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you’ve always had one question. How many vampires are there, anyway? Fortunately, that’s sort of answerable.

First thing: Assume the vampire population is more or less constant. Maybe Buffy’s driving them extinct. But I think the evidence supports the assumption that it is actually constant. From the subjunctive episode (you know the one), we know that if Buffy Summers had never come to Sunnydale then that town would be apocalyptically unpleasant and there would be more vampires and demons worldwide. In other words, she’s in the best possible place and routinely saving the world and barely maintaining the status quo. Most likely, every other Slayer before her did the same.

Google tells me that apparently the equilibrium numbers in a closed system are eighteen vampires and the population of Sunnydale. But keep in mind that it’s not a closed system. Vampires and other nasties are continually arriving there for plot reasons that were actually justified, and they’re also being killed off because it’s a TV show and the good guys have a tendency to win.

To find the vampire population, the first step is find how fast they’re dying off. Since the show only follows the protagonists and doesn’t show continually updated demographic information, the best we can do is find a lower bound on this.

In the name of research (and for no other reason; it definitely wasn’t just an excuse), I watched about half the episodes. About 1.7 vampires get turned to dust per episode, but that doesn’t help much because we need number of vampires per unit time. The better method is to look at how many vampires Buffy stakes per hunt. It’s tricky because it only shows a nonrepresentative sample of the slayings. Most of the routine vampire-slaying takes place off screen along with the routine-vampire slaying.

We can pick up some clues from season 2 episode 11 (“Ted”). Buffy says that she killed three vampires, and implies that that’s an unusually high number for a single night’s hunting. A few days later, Buffy is out of commission so Giles has to go patrol instead. That’s important because it means that missing a single day is a problem. So based on that episode, somewhere between zero and three vampires die in Sunnydale every day or two.
(OK, “die” is probably the wrong word under the circumstances. Whatever.)

Assume there are 365 days in a year and Buffy goes on patrol one out of every three days. (It has to be frequent enough that her missing a day means that someone else has to do it, but infrequent enough that she can still do normal highschooler things occasionally when the plot demands it.) Rounding the average down to one vampire per patrol, that means that a minimum of 122 vampires die per year. Actually more, because remember this is only in Sunnydale. Presumably vampires do die outside there; maybe they can slip on a banana peel or something.

So to find the number of vampires at any given time, we’d just need the average age of a vampire. If the life expectancy at conversion is, say, ten, then there must be a vampire population of 1220 in an average year. Of course, vampires are known for living much longer than that. 

The Master is supposed to be one of the oldest known vampires, and is old enough that his appearance changed into something unusually ugly even for a vampire. He’s hundreds or thousands of years old, and nobody knows how many of either. He’s just one data point and probably won’t affect the average much, but the fact that vampire appearance changes with time might be useful. According to Spike (age: ~150), vampires often claim to have been present at the Crucifixion. They’re usually lying, of course, but that at least means that a not-obviously-ancient vampire could plausibly be two millennia old. They’re probably not in the habit of telling lies that can be seen through at a glance.

So 2000 is old but plausible, and the youngest is of course “staked while in the process of climbing out of the grave.” Most of the vampires with stated ages are in the 100 to 300 range. Spike is considered young. And Buffy sometimes identifies vampires by fashion: If someone is dressed like they’re from the 1890s, they probably are from the 1890s. If that works reliably, it implies that most vampires have been around a while. 

If we take 150 for the life expectancy, then there would be about 18,250 vampires at any given time, at minimum. Remember that this is assuming that no vampires die ever except for those killed by the Slayer.

Does that number make sense? Maybe. It’s never established how often vampires feed, but it would probably be a lot of unexplained disappearances. Say it’s once a month. (Though it’s probably closer to once a day.) Then it’s 219,000 vampire-related deaths per year. Judging by the incident with the Anointed, they sometimes disguise their work as an accident, but they usually don’t bother. 

I’m going to look at just the U.S. from here on, because the statistics are easily available. It has about 4.5% of the human population, so if it has the same vampire-to-human ratio as everywhere else then that would be at least 9,800 casualties of the vampires. It also has hundreds of thousands of missing persons. But fortunately, not many of those stay missing: in 2011 out of six or seven hundred thousand people reported missing there were 2,079 who were not found within a year. 

So no, the Buffyverse’s numbers do not check out. There’s not even close to enough missing persons to sustain the minimum vampire population. Even if every single missing person and every single victim of an unsolved murder was killed by a vampire, that would total about 8,000, which is less than the vampire population would kill. 

And that was with all conservative assumptions. Buffy is not in fact the sole cause of vampire death, so there would be more vampires not counted in these numbers. If vampires have a life expectancy of more than 150 years, then there would be more total vampire-years and more humans murdered. Vampires probably kill more often than once a month. Buffy probably patrols more than once every three nights; this would mean more vampires killed and that would mean more victims from when they were alive. Er, ambulatory. Those would all result in more people disappearing, a statistic that is fortunately not demonstrated in the real world.

So this was a lower bound. For an upper bound, it’s harder to say. There are few enough vampires that one Slayer can make a huge difference (citation: that subjunctive episode) but enough to justify some kind of world-spanning shadowy organization of Watchers devoted to taking notes on them. But the point is that even the lowest number is very definitely ruled out by the lack of people being murdered.

Therefore, I am pleased to announce that you ARE NOT being stalked by vampires in anything like the numbers depicted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or at the very least the show exaggerated the danger.

Sanguine v. Westley School for the Undead

Sanguine v. Westley School for the Undead,  283 F.3d 203.

STOKER, Circuit Judge.


In this action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Vlad Sanguine seeks monetary damages to compensate him for the 2008 decision of the Westley School for the Undead to expel him from high school after he was found carrying a cross to school. Sanguine argues that the School’s action violated his right to expression of religion; the School argues that its action was necessary for school safety.

The district court’s judgement is AFFIRMED.


In the fall of 2008, Vlad Sanguine was a student at the Westley School for the Undead. On October 30, he came to school carrying a five-inch wooden cross with the inscription “Cathedral of St. John Calvin.” Sanguine testified that he received the cross from a friend and he himself had never been to that cathedral, as he cannot set foot on hallowed ground.

The School expelled Sanguine for bringing a dangerous weapon to school in violation of their zero-tolerance policy. State law encourages such policies, requiring schools to institute procedures that “impose swift, certain and severe disciplinary sanctions on any student” who “brings a dangerous weapon” onto school property, or “[p]ossesses a dangerous weapon” on school property. The parties have stipulated that a cross may cause intense fear to many of the students at the Westley School if they see it, and physical pain on contact.


In April of 2009, Sanguine’s sire and guardian initiated an action on Sanguine’s behalf in the United States District Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. After reaching legal majority, Sanguine was substituted as the plaintiff. Sanguine claimed that his expulsion violated his right to free expression of religion.

The School moved for summary judgement, on the grounds that Sanguine, like many of the more vampiric students and faculty at the Westley School, is a thing of Satan and therefore cannot be a Christian, meaning that the religious belief Sanguine expressed is not one that he sincerely held. The district court granted this motion.

Sanguine appealed this judgement, and this court held that it was in error. The statement that something is “of the devil” is a theological question, which it is not the function of the district court to answer. After the case was remanded, the district court found that while the belief was sincerely held, this is outweighed by the fact that the School’s decision was necessary to maintain safety of its campus. On appeal, this court agreed to review that question de novo.


Precedent has established in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist. that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” It is against this background that we turn to consider the level of First Amendment protection accorded to Sanguine’s actions in inflicting a dangerous object on a high school attended by hundreds of students who could have been harmed.

It has been affirmed repeatedly that students’ rights are more limited than those of adults. As Justice Burger wrote in Bethel v. Fraser (478 U.S. 675),

“In New Jersey v.T. L. O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985), we reaffirmed that the constitutional rights of students in public school are not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings. As cogently expressed by Judge Newman, “the First Amendment gives a high school student the classroom right to wear Tinker’s armband, but not Cohen’s jacket.””

If a school can prohibit a student wearing a jacket with an obscene message even if that message is political in nature, then it must also be acceptable to prohibit expression of a religious message if that message is itself intrinsically dangerous.

A Westley School disciplinary rule prohibits “conduct which significantly interferes with the educational process.” Similar rules have been upheld in courts (Bethel v. Fraser, supra.) Sanguine’s conduct was in bringing a cross to a school full of children who would be put at risk by it. It is uncontroverted that that religious symbol of self-sacrifice and eternal life causes harm to undead creatures who prolong their own existence by draining others’. Where many of those individuals are students, this would necessarily put those students in danger and disrupt the school environment.

In addition to their duty to educate, schools act in loco parentis. Given this enormous responsibility, and the potentially devastating consequences of weapons on campus, a strict weapons policy can be a necessary measure to protect students. In this case, while the cross was not intended as a weapon, it could easily injure some of the students or disrupt classes by its mere presence. For the reasons set forth above, we AFFIRM the decision of the district court.


Sanguine v. Westley School, Supreme Court of the United States, PER CURIAM.


Vampires don’t exist. Reversed.

NOTE: Philosophy won’t let me claim credit for all of this, because since I am a lazy person some parts of this have been taken directly from actual court cases (especially Seal v. Morgan and Bethel v. Fraser.) Those parts are mostly ones that don’t involve vampires. Since I am a lazy non-lawyer, this should not be taken as any kind of representation of what an actual court would say. Before bringing a cross to a school full of vampires, consult a lawyer.