Pseudonym Writes

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Why Superpowers in Worm Feel Different

[This won’t make sense if you haven’t at least started Worm, but doesn’t contain spoilers.]

In the hands of most superhero writers, any Tinker from Worm would be a “super-genius” rather than having specific limits on their specialty mentioned (even if in practice the things they make are the same). Any Alexandria package would be an identical flying brick with maybe one other power. Velocity would be “a speedster”.

And so on.

Any writer could take a superhero like Superman, Captain America or Scarlet Witch and give them firmly-defined limits that actually impact the story.

Superman feeds on sunlight; does that mean he has to ration his power, or that he takes steps to make sure he’s exposed to more sunlight during his everyday life, or that standing in sunlight feels different to him than a human? Captain America has “enhanced skill” that lets him bounce his shield around like a boomerang and dodge bullets and so on; how does that change how he sees the world, and what skills doesn’t it cover (he clearly can’t make Iron Man armour), and how does that alter his training; why doesn’t he use it to bounce bullets around corners instead of a shield? What is Scarlet Witch’s power, exactly, and what can’t she do?

This even applies to non-superhumans, the Black Widows and Nick Furys of the world. Wildbow puts real thoughts into what gadgets the PRT have available, what tactics they use, what political pressures there are on them.

I strongly suspect that Wildbow could take pretty much any mainstream superhero and make a Worm-tier story about them.


Consider the flying bricks in the Justice League: Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, Captain Atom, Hawkman & Hawkwoman, and Icon. (Specifically, that’s the Young Justice lineup; the list in the comics varies.)

These characters are all very different! Superman is powered by sunlight, his durability and strength come from either a forcefield or hyper-density depending on the version, he has super-senses none of the others do, his flight is sometimes stated to come from personal telekinesis or gravity-manipulation. Captain Marvel’s powers come from magic, and he has “the Wisdom of Solomon” and “the speed of Mercury”. Hawkman and Hawkwoman are relatively squishy aliens(?) who fly using wings, and only hit as hard as they do using magic/hypertech weapons. And so on.

Naively, one might expect these things to make them very different in a fight – Superman is an alien with a protective forcefield and telescopic vision, Captain Marvel is a super-genius with the speed of a god, the Hawks are presumably flying much slower than the others.

And yet they feel generic, because their powers are largely treated as identical by the narrative and fight choreography, bar the occasional energy blast.

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Would You Vote for a Rapist?

So I’ve been reading through the Twitter of Kate Harding, the author that awful “as a feminist, this is why we shouldn’t punish Al Franken” twitter essay that was later republished as a Washington Post op-ed.

I could probably write a lengthy blog post consisting entirely of reasons she sucks – and she does – but I don’t really want to pick on her. (Besides, she’s getting more than enough hate-mail at the moment.) No, what interests me more is the line of reasoning:

“Politicians who commit sexual assault suck, but it would be even worse to not get our agenda implemented.”

Kate’s twitter is, of course, filled with discussion of the Roy Moore statutory rape case. And this is, of course, the exact same line of reasoning that allows some people to vote for him (although not enough for him to win, probably):

“I’m torn between voting for a pedophile and voting for a person who believes in abortion.” – [src]

Is this line of reasoning wrong?

Intuitively, it seems monstrous. But from a utilitarian perspective, assuming you accept the premise that one political party is significantly better than the other in term of actual effects once elected, the case seems rather strong.  few lives ruined here and now, in exchange for hundreds, maybe millions of lives improved by the better policies of [insert party here].

My instinct is that “people won’t vote for a rapist” is an important safety mechanism – we have a justice system, sure, but social consequences and risk of being fired are supposed to operate at a level below that.

So it’s really more like: a few lives ruined here and now (although given the increased scrutiny once sexual misconduct has already been revealed, how many?) plus a slightly decreased incentive for elected officials not to sexually abuse people, versus the better policies of [insert party here].

Even so, does the math work out in favour of ousting abusers?

At the end of the day, it depends on how politically polarised you are. How terrible is the other tribe, how glorious our tribe in comparison to their evil?

That’s going to vary from person to person. And political polarization is on the rise.

Ireland is considering criminalizing the possession of smartphones by minors

Seriously.

This testimony saw children’s rights groups [sic] claim that unfettered access to the internet was “among the greatest threats facing young people”.

Daly wants it to become an offence for parents to allow children below the age of 14 to own devices with full internet access. Going further, the bill could make it illegal for shops to sell these products to children of that age.

The West Cork TD told TheJournal.ie: “I do not see this as nanny-state policing, but rather a law in place to assist parents to say no to their eight, nine or 10-year-old”

There’s some suggestion that this bill would criminalize giving children access to the internet altogether:

“The proposed regulation will also force parents to take responsibility for their children’s access to internet,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“It’s not about unsupervised access, we do need to regulate. Essentially you are allowing a child of seven or eight years of age to have a mobile device that allows them to access unlimited pornography of every type, they can go gambling, cyber bullying.”

This insanity is the brainchild of Fine Gael’s Jim Daly, who has just lost my vote in perpetuity.

This is how to contact him, this is how to contact his bosses. Here’s a website to help you contact your own TD and express your disapproval.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

[Content note: this post is aimed at liberals who follow US politics.]

Because intentions govern their policies, liberals show no interest in looking at evidence. Their denial and disregard of evidence is another reflection of their dislike of reality. Evidence is about reality; intentions are about fantasizing and self-indulgence.

-Spectator.org, The Liberals’ Reality Problem

In a time when the Republican POTUS is a guy who claims the streets of New Jersey were filled with cheering Muslims on 9/11 and global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, it’s important to remember that most conservatives don’t hate science or reject the concept of objective truth.

In fact, most conservatives feel the exact same way about you.

They see people claiming biological sex doesn’t exist. They see people openly advocating  genocide, and other people blindly refusing to admit this. They see liberals sharing conspiracy theories and hoaxes and “fake news” that support their worldview, ignoring any debunking, and quietly moving on to the next fake scandal. They see – or at least hear about – obviously rigged studies from the social sciences, and they see climatologists and sexologists and ecologists who openly state that their goal is to manufacture evidence of their political views, and they see scientists who disagree with the liberal consensus ridiculed and denigrated.

They see liberals openly attacking  conservatives for offering “alternative facts”. Imagine that, folks! They admit they don’t want you to see the facts unless they’re their facts, packaged and spun the way the media likes it!

And, of course, they see liberals advocating a bunch of stupid policies that ruin the economy and get people killed – in the face of all the evidence – and when challenged, responding with emotional anecdotes and bad arguments.

***

Yes, there are totally innocent explanations for all those things.

That’s not the point.

When Donald Trump makes what is – to them – obviously a harmless locker-room joke, and see liberals accusing him of rape, they feel exactly the same way you do when alt-righters seize on someone complaining about “white people” and proclaim them a genocidal racist. Because things Donald Trump says are deserving of charity, there’s no reason to think he’s not a decent guy, whereas some SJW is obviously evil and this is proof.

My point is not that liberals and conservatives are “equally right” or just as bad as each other.

My point is that both sides are equally human, and “my beliefs are objective truth and the other side just hate facts” is a natural human response to political disagreement, not necessarily a sign that you’re omniscient.

All Finite Recursions are Infinitely Deep

So Eliezer has argued that all infinite recursions are at most three layers deep.

After all, you can argue about the object level, the rules for arguing, and the rules for arguing about arguing – but any “deeper” argument is still just another form of arguing about the rules for arguing about arguing.

I think the opposite is also true. All finite recursions are in fact extremely deep, perhaps hyperbolically so. And everybody involved has lost sight of the object level so long ago that they’ve forgotten what “object level” looks like, and will only occasionally take a step back from attempting to crack the ceiling and make room for yet another layer of meta to glance at the layer of meta-meta immediately below the current meta-meta-meta-level they’re standing on while congratulating themselves for getting down to basics.

 

Consider the following example.

 

People invented property rights to simplify and organize resources. This person owns that thing, and they get to use it.

Sometimes they could get pretty complicated – that person inherited that thing from his grandfather who stole it from her, but she originally paid for it with money she had no right to anyway, and the current owner is in debt for more money than the thing is worth and they’ve mortgaged it to a fourth party who says they partially own it now until the mortgage is paid – but it’s simpler than allocating everything individually, which only works in groups of a few people.

Because property rights and other rules of society are so complicated, you need a centralized government to run them. After some experimentation, people created nation-states, meta-groups of people who would meta-own an area – and anything in that area – and run the ownership rules, which (as we noted) could get quite complicated.

After a while of these meta-owners (or “rulers”) getting into trouble over things they meta-owned – causing inheritance disputes over who meta-owned (“ruled”) what land, having stuff stolen and starting fights, trying to sell parts of it to cover their real debts and meta-debts they incurred from the previous – they (re) invented democracy, which simplified things to keep track of who was in charge of which place. Everyone would vote regularly, and the people who won the vote would run things.

In order to better organize voting blocks, make compromises, and establish coalitions and common ground, political parties were formed. Pretty soon, these conglomerated into two main groups, which were stable even as every constituent part of them changed and their “real” political positions altered.

Of course, it didn’t take long before people realized that two political parties could form a spectrum; with people who were abhorrent to the other party at the far end, typical members closer in, and people who were unusually palatable to the other group toward the middle.

Cultures and subcultures grew up directly attached to their place on the spectrum – sometimes even after it had moved – and with deep ideological ideas about the nature of the spectrum and it’s place in the universe.

Soon a well-recognized cycle developed; each generation would adopt views toward the edge of the spectrum, which would move toward the centre as they grew and absorbed other groups, eventually scaring the crap out of everyone theoretically on both sides in the middle. This cycle repeated itself and became a well-established fixture; many groups even adopted their identity based on it.

Some people began to complain that they were losing out based on the signalling of their place in the cycle – the Establishment was keeping them down, they weren’t hip enough, etc.

Discussions of this signalling became a major topic of discussion in themselves. Was our media being dominated by faux-conservatives trying to pretend their latest fad was Ancient Tradition? Were progressives ruining everything by insisting everyone stuck to their latest stupid idea?

 

Anyway, a century or so after that, we’re in the middle of a university campus.

Support for Donald Trump (yes, this article, like all articles, is now about Donald) – a wealthy atheist who’s in favour of abortion, gay marriage, and legal immigration; who openly, constantly lies; and whose policies are almost entirely “keep doing things the United States is already doing” – is being called “disruptive to free speech” and “deeply offensive to Latinos”; Trump-ish slogans, posted on a “free speech wall” on campus, have resulted in cancelled events and talk of mandatory sensitivity training.

 

How many layers of meta are we on, again?

Death Rates by Terrorism in France

The attack in Nice killed 84 people. There are 66.4 million people in France.

That’s one in every 790476 people, or about 1.3 in every million. Slightly over one micromort. Given that we’re six months into 2016, that suggests a base rate of round two micromorts per year.

Of course, it would be foolish to base your estimation on one data point. Besides, the year 2016 is an arbitrary human construct, and there’s no reason to believe there will be another attack this year.

Last year, 137 people were killed in the Paris attacks. That’s 1 in 484672, or almost exactly two micromorts.

def52h1s5ooz1png

By way of comparison, this is about the risk you take every time you go bungee-jumping. You experience two micromorts for every twelve miles you drive on a motorbike, and every litre of wine you drink.

Every year, you experience one-fifth of a micromort from the risk of being struck by lightning.

In England, you experience about ten micromorts a year from homicide; in the US, this rises to 48 micromorts a year.

France falls closer to England; in 2014, there were 792 intentional homicides in France – 12 micromorts – of which only one could reasonably be called a victim of terrorism. As such, you are now roughly a sixth as likely to be killed by a terrorist in France than anyone else.

During the Troubles in Ireland, civilians in the North experienced perhaps 45 micromorts a year on average from military and paramilitaries both.

death

Of course, homicide is rare. The three countries, France, Britain and the US, have similar death rates; in which all homicide is essentially a rounding error. People living in the US face an average total of 8100 micromorts a year.

Data-and-World-Map-on-Global-Terrorism-2002-2011-The-Economist

I wrote this article not to “debunk” claims that we should be worried about terrorism. Nor do I write it to demonstrate that terrorism is a real threat.

These are just the facts, and I think we should base our actions on the facts.

We pay a lot of attention to causes of death that are rare. Part of that is that we are fearful and stupid and have no head for numbers.

Part of it is that we are hopeful. Violent crime is on the decline, and we all have ideas for how we might make it decline even further.

Terrorism is not on the decline.

Of course, most deaths from terrorism do not occur in France. Nor do they occur anywhere where people read my blog. It may well be that this is more meaningfully similar to a school shooting or serial killer, a copycat inspired by a similar attack or simply a man who was drunk and angry and went on a rampage. It may well be that our general views on terrorism should not meaningfully be changed by anything I’ve written here.

Nevertheless, terrorism is a form of violence which is not on the decline globally or in the West.

And that’s … concerning.

Surprising Sense of Fatalism Grips Nation

Faced with the abject failure of all their predictions about Donald Trump, Americans are reporting a new sense of certainty in their latest predictions about Donald Trump.
“First it seemed like he would drop out of the race early on, and he didn’t,” said one reporter. “Then it seemed like he would probably be defeated by more establishment candidates, and he wasn’t. Now it seems like he might actually win, so that’s definitely going to happen.”

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This latest campaign has confounded expectations in many ways, including the surprising success of Bernie Sanders, who will definitely stop doing about as well as Clinton and drop out any day now, and remarkable voter turnouts in key states. But it’s unthinkable that any candidate who’s done so well in the early days could possibly face problems later. Many are starting to agree that despite polls predicting Trump’s success among Republicans from the very beginning, the fact that they show he can’t possibly win the election probably really is a statistical fluke.

Capture2.PNGCapture.PNG

“Both Clinton and Sanders have received overwhelming support from their party from the very beginning”, said our usual political columnist, who declined to give his name. “And both poll very well among Republicans, almost as well as Trump does. Sanders actually polls higher, which is unprecedented. But the idea of Americans voting for a woman or a liberal who promises “change” is absolutely unthinkable, whatever the actual voters say.”

Even the man on the street seems to be considering voting for Trump.
“I realize he’s an abject liar who constantly lies about everything, and definitely lied about all the things I disagree with.” Said one man this reporter met on the street. “But I’m pretty sure he’s telling the truth about the issues I care about. Like, he’ll definitely deal with our immigration problem, despite having married two immigrants, one of which he has three kids with. He mentions that he’ll do something about immigration a lot.”
The man lapsed into silence for a minute.
“Yeah, he’ll definitely do something about immigration. And the jobs. He seems like a guy who cares about the working man. He tells it how it is, you know? Not like the liberal media.”

trump's daughter.PNG

Trump’s Daughter doing her best impression of Trump the time he admitted to her they were personally bankrupt. No, really.

“He can afford to say what he wants, because he’s worth, like, ten billion dollars. I heard his campaign is almost entirely self-funded, that’s why it’s important to donate. He seems like a guy who doesn’t care what people think,” said the one guy, who’s probably a representative sample, of the candidate whose campaign is one-third funded by donations and two-thirds funded by a personal loan which his campaign is going to pay back with interest out of donation money, and who obsessively pesters a reporter who called him a “short-fingered vulgarian” with pictures of his hands, facts never reported by a blatantly liberal media who are definitely trying their hardest to take down Trump.

Cb3XxqOUsAApk_8.jpg“Yeah, I’m sure the public will continue to warm up to him,” said the man, who declined to give his name in case his neighbours or family found out he was considering voting for Trump. “He’s bravely told his supporters to beat people up, after all, and then bravely lied to people’s faces, claiming that he didn’t promise to pay for their legal fees when they’re inevitably arrested even though it’s on tape they can run opposite this astounding claim. I wouldn’t have the guts to do that, even if I did have a Secret Service detail.”

 

Meanwhile, experts agree that a non-politician like Trump with no political experience couldn’t possibly win based on sheer charisma, pointing to the examples of Ronald Reagan, Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt etc, and a political tradition dating back to noted politician George Washington.

Personally, I have faith in democracy and the American people, and all this only proves that the American people are idiotic racists for disagreeing with me.

Apocalypse joke!

Some Thoughts on Jesus on Political Correctness

Political correctness is a weird concept.

Donald Trump: “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” says the Irish Times. WikiHow tells us, “‘Politically correct’ is a bit of a misnomer—it isn’t about being right, it’s about being respectful and considerate.”

(Those are the top two Google results I got for “politically correct” that weren’t dictionaries or Wikipedia, by the way.)

As always, in these troubling times, we must turn to the Bible.

Nah, just kidding. But I was looking at Bible quotes (specifically, a list of “Bible quotes on politics”,) and I noticed something.

See, political correctness isn’t new. The term is new, sure, but the actual phenomenon? People dancing around stuff because it isn’t “politically correct”? That’s ancient.

15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?” – Matthew 22:15-17

Now the trap here – as you’re presumed to know – is that it’s politically unpopular to support the occupying army’s right to levy taxes (for obvious reasons); but, for equally obvious reasons, the Roman Army will be gravely displeased with anyone caught preaching that you shouldn’t pay their taxes.

“Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are.”

What is our hero to do?

We all know how this ends. Money is a construct of the State, or of the World, render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, etc etc.

***

Guys, it doesn’t matter which word you use. Seriously, it doesn’t. This is the smallest of small things. You are literally debating over which of the mouth-noises … dear God, people!

Quick question: was I just yelling at liberals, or conservatives?

***

Have you ever noticed that, statistically, you’re probably wrong?

I mean, about half of everyone disagrees with, approximately, the other half. So almost half of everyone is wrong. And it seems, just thinking about history, like the correct answer a lot of issues turn out to be something revolutionary neither side realize, right?

Like, it’s great that you think John the Fourth would make a great king, and they think Edward the Twelfth would make a great king, but actually you’ll all be outcompeted in about a hundred years by mega-states run by a “democracy”, which … uh, have you heard of Athens? It’s like them, only … not, and … anyway, they’ll have a much better standard of living than any unelected dictator has, and …

But of course, you have the facts on your side. Not like all those people who just think they have the facts on their side.

***

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. – Titus 3:8-10

WHAT I’M SAYING IS SHUT UP ABOUT POLITICS YOU’RE DUMB EVERYONE IS DUMB EVEN I’M DUMB NONE OF THIS STUFF MATTERSCrazy Straws

Fantastic; or, Reed Richards is Useless

I never liked biology.

|x|=(TT)

Even before I was a superhero, I was gifted. My intelligence just a little too far outside the bounds of the bell curve. It wasn’t even intelligence, not really; not as I’ve come to understand the term. It was … insight.

When I was eleven, some fellows from the government came to see me. They weren’t interested in the fact that I’d build something that could probably vaporize a city if scaled up correctly in my dad’s garage, which was a surprise; what I’d later realize was the first fumbling steps toward a teleporter. No, they were interested in my science project: enhanced frogs, intended to help the species repopulate and bounce back from the edge of extinction.

I turned them down, of course. I didn’t want to be that guy. But it bothered me that the government – the military, if I was honest with myself – were interested in my frogs.

I turned that same insight that had told me how to mix chemicals so my frogs would grow up big and strong, and have lots of babies, and breed true, on something new. I asked that part of myself why the military guys would be interested in my frogs; at which point, of course, the answer was obvious – trivial, even – and I felt silly that I had ever wondered. Embarrassed, even.

And that might have been the end of it, if I hadn’t kept thinking about my frogs.

I had looked for insights into how to make my frogs stronger. And I’d found them. Now I wondered what would happen, when I released them into the wild.

It was, of course, obvious. I stopped doing much biology, after that.

>=}O

We were all pretty gifted, my little team. We had to be. We were the best, and “the best” has no respect for bell curves.

I had singlehandedly rebuilt NASA. Nobody mentioned it, of course, but it was true. There were maybe five people who could have done that – more now, of course – and I had been the only one to try. I’m still quietly proud, of that.

I’ve long since considered the why of why we were so gifted, of course. It’s hard to get truly solid answers to these things. We were all a little bit … inhuman, I suspect. John was unruly, had difficulty with boundaries; Susan had difficulty in social situations. Benjamin can plot movements, forces and vectors and breaking points, better even than I can when I turn my mind to it – which is saying something, believe me – but he was just a little too quick to use those trajectories and stress points to take someone apart if they go in his way.

And I was … myself, I suppose. It could have been Asperger’s, or ADHD, or simple emotional problems; but it wasn’t.

We weren’t entirely human, even then.

And then we went to investigate a comet that wasn’t a comet, like a cloud of exotic gas skimming the atmosphere; and then we got superpowers, and then everything went to hell in a handbasket.

XO

I’m not actually all that worried about supervillains, in the end.

Sure, we’ve been getting steadily better at human enhancement since the 40s; and sure, pieces of magical god-tech occasionally fall from the sky and give some god-forsaken eye beams or whatever. And sure, some of them will occasionally use that for evil. That’s not what concerns me.

I’ve heard the occasional supervillain rant at me about the Neanderthals, about how my kind or theirs has to be wiped out, because this planet is a small place and supers will inevitably outcompete the others. I’m not particularly worried, honestly. It’s like seeing a disabled person ranting about how it’s them or us, no species can possibly survive in the same ecological niche as an identical species that also has legs.

I’ve never taken military contracts, myself, but I know plenty of people – good people – who have. Heck, I have good friends who were made in military contracts. There’s really only so much ability to kill people a single person can have, and the military already has that power.

No. But let me tell you a story.

Sa

Once upon a time there were two kingdoms in the desert; the Ussians and the Ussars.

Now, the two kingdoms really had a great deal in common, from an outside perspective – even their names sounded similar, and they had similar beliefs and ways of life, although the Ussars were somewhat poorer – but, as is so often the case, they had different religious beliefs, and so considered themselves bitter enemies.

Now, the Ussars were quite worried, because a magician who worked under the Ussians – Alberto – had recently summoned a powerful demon, which destroyed their only mutual enemy, the Naztecs. These Naztecs were thoroughly nasty people – they were aggressive conquerors, and they practiced blood sacrifice of their own people and of captured children – and they were their enemy to boot, so both kingdoms were glad to see the back of them. But still, it was worrying to see that they had so much power.

Indeed, the Ussars feared that the Ussians might summon the demon against them, and it would devour their land, too; so that the Ussians would live alone in the desert, and rule supreme among the desert-dwelling nomads. So they sought out a wizard of their own, and compelled him to learn for them the name of the demon; and they swore a mighty oath, sealed with magic, that should the Ussians attack they would summon the demon themselves and set it upon Ussian kingdoms. And the Ussians swore this oath as well.

And so there was peace, if an uneasy peace; and all was well, but for the petty atrocities all kingdoms commit from one time to another against rebels or the poor.

But one day, two bands of them met in the desert. There was a mountain there, which some said was filled with gold – although in truth some say it was barren, and they were fools – and they quarreled over who had rights to it.

Now the story diverges. Some say that one man drew his dagger and stabbed another; while others said that a snake sprung up from the undergrowth and struck him.

And the chief of the Ussars had to make a dreadful choice; for he was sworn to send at once to destroy the Ussians if they attacked his subjects, and he knew they were sworn to destroy him and his own, if they saw the demon on the horizon. But he truly did not know if they had done so. Was he to destroy them both over a rattlesnake in the desert?

The king slept fitfully that night, and when he awoke, he sent a letter urging restraint to all his men, and forbidding the wizard to take action, for he did not believe the Ussars were such fools that they would do this thing. And that day, the king of the Ussars fell from his tallest tower, and the oath was broken, and both kingdoms swore less binding treaties to hold them to peace – although neither truly wished to give up the power the demon granted them to defend themselves.

Again, uncertainty: some say the king threw himself from the tower, for he saw that such mistakes were inevitable, and his death was the only path that did not end in an empty desert and the demon’s mocking laughter. Others say he was forsworn that day, and the gods hurled him from the tower for breaking his oath. Others still say that the gods saw that he believed the reports that the Ussians had attacked, and they acted to destroy him before he could wipe out his subjects.

Myself? I think his aide wrote the orders to stand down, after hurling his master out the window – before he could ensure both their deaths, and the two kingdoms alongside them.

@

It’s obvious that my genius does not exactly extend to writing. Still … I think it’s a story worth telling. As you’ve doubtless guessed, it’s a true story; it could be based on one of a dozen such incidents from the height of the Cold War. Perhaps I’ll knock together a scriptwriting AI that can polish it later.

The average supervillain is capable, given time and a lack of organized opposition, of leveling a city. Some are capable of less, or of more subtle (but no less damaging) forms of destruction. Some – myself included – are capable of much, much more.

I once fought a man who could call down planet-killer asteroids from the sky. One of my closest friends once created an AI – a flawed upload of his simulated brain – that was quite capable of turning the world’s nukes on us had it not been stopped. I, personally, have destroyed far too many of my inventions after I thought to ask myself whether they could destroy the entire planet and found the answer not to my liking.

The military has, on the quiet, people who can level a city block with their bare hands, or dodge and weave through an entire squadron of soldiers and machine-gun fire, or blow people up or whatever. I don’t really care that much. Sure, a war fought with superpowers could be devastating, but no more so than a war fought with conventional weapons. And if they go rogue, well … it’s not as if treason is a new concept to most militaries

But every day, someone enhanced with some supersoldier formula has a child, or a company brings out a product that makes you a little closer to superhuman, or someone … gifted, like me, has an accident near some hi-tech machinery that makes them a bit more gifted.

And society simply doesn’t know how to cope when civilians can divine someone’s secrets with a few minutes work, or construct a bomb capable of levelling buildings in their kitchen, or 3D print a gauntlet that will let them blast a hole in someone’s chest if they piss them off.

Vigilantism helps hold things together, when there are only a handful of telepaths and geniuses and gods. Now. But every day we all get a little bit more advanced, a little more powerful; and one day we’re going to be powerful enough that we can’t restrain each other.

And then someone will end the world, not because they’re a supervillain, but because of some stupid mistake. And it won’t be their fault. It’ll be the fault of all of us, the scientists and visionaries and so-called geniuses who made everyone a little bit more powerful in exchange for making ourselves a lot more powerful.

Who did you blame, in the story? The soldiers? Or the kings?

.

The government has introduced laws, cracking down on superhumans. They’re right, of course. Obviously right.

But everybody prefers making things just a little worse for everyone, in exchange for making things a lot better for themselves; even when they know that everyone is going to keep making things a little worse until we’re all dead.

Vigilantes work to stop the occasional person who goes out of line. They don’t work to enforce laws, not when any real subset of the population wants to break them. For that, you need policemen; and we don’t have policemen for superheroes.

So I’m turning to biology. I can clone the tissue required for most powers; and I have the insight to build technology capable of replicating anything else.

There’s a god sitting on a slab in front of me. I made him. He’s physically strong enough that he would probably cause a nuclear winter if he hit the ground full-force. He has weapons enough to fry effectively anything that gets in his way. It’ll mostly be equipment, hopefully. I have the insight to tell this one how to beat anyone he needs to. There will be others. They’ll help keep the peace, a stopgap measure until we can get more supers to do the job. And they’ll get rid of anyone too powerful to contain.

I’m not an idiot, even if I’m … not a genius, not really. I know what resentment this sort of thing breeds. Imprisonment without trial, summary execution. Legalities aside, I just became a supervillain who makes other supervillains.

But … I asked myself, once. How can humanity survive the next few decades? And the answer was not like this.

Genie of the Lamp

I’ve failed.

I’ve bent the Sultan’s ear to my words with my petty hedge-magics; and the corrupt palace guards who support him listen to me, if they know what’s good for them. But I’ll never be able to throw the fat sultan from a throne he barely knows the meaning of; never be able to restore justice to Agrabah without the power to overthrow the kingdom! Without the Djinn, the Shining One of gold and frankincense, we are all lost.

I’ve failed my country and my God, and in a thousand years, Agrabah will sink beneath the sands and be forgotten.

***

I had thought myself so clever.

I pored over books and scrolls and legends, sifting the rules and the histories for a key to power. The Fae were bound, long ago; and the places where they walk the earth are wilderness, space and time tortured by their alien favour.

A child turns away a hag’s offer of a gift, knocking at his door, and she rises terrible and gleaming to turn his retinue to clockwork and polished wood. A Good Neighbour, uninvited to a christening, spins green-glowing fire to strike the child with poisoned needles. A dead child, beautiful in her sunlit tomb, kindles love for her in men’s hearts until they burn their queen alive for daring to strike her down.

No. I will find no useful power there.

But in Arabia, our fiends were bound to serve us long ago, with seals and craftiness and magic. They can still grant boons to men, but limited ones, and they cannot curse us for offending them.

The markets here hold things capable of wonders, if you know where to look, and how to ask them.

And so I sought tales of Zion.

***

I wish I could say I was betrayed, misled by prophecy. But I can’t. This is my own doing, in the end.

I had found the Cave, and questioned the cave-guardian. I, a sorcerer, if a mean one, could not enter in search of power and live. Even my usual allies could not approach; consumed before my eyes by a sentry-beast of light and molten rock.

The whole structure was a test. The strong had no need of it’s gifts; and the weak would misuse them. Only someone with inner strength, yet outward weakness, could enter the final trial.

To keep things short – I found a boy. Of poor birth, illiterate, but talented. He was rotting in jail – not for stealing just to eat, but for humiliating the guards while he did it, making them look like fools. A good lad, bright. My auguries confirmed it.

Too good a fit, perhaps. Too poor a boy, one with too much potential. The cave must have tempted him with wealth, and power, a chance to change his station in life, and he took it.

And the cave took him, and sealed, and it took Zion with it. The lamp and it’s boons are beyond my grasp, and Agrabah an everyone in it will wear to dust before another chance such as this come close to the grasp of men.

***

He lives! Oh, praise God! The boy succeeded after all!

The idiot used one of the creature’s gifts to save himself from the cave’s wrath, and take some of it’s treasures with it. Worthless trinkets compared to the lamp, but he can have them.

He’s wasted another to give himself illusory riches, and a way in at the royal court. Not a bad wish, as these things go; he could do some good with the modicum of power it provided, and you can’t wish to increase your number of wishes.

But you can wish for more power yourself. That’s what he missed, what they all missed, even Solomon himself; a spirit can’t do things beyond it’s power, and it won’t give you more than it is bound to do – but it can give you some modicum of power yourself.

Let the boy keep his fairy gold, if he uses it well. I shall be the most powerful sorcerer-king the world has ever known; infinite cosmic power in the hands of a mortal man.

Agrabah will stand forever, shining, perfect and unforgettable.