I have superpowers. Ask anyone. Maybe people won’t agree one hundred percent on which powers I have, but almost everyone will agree I have them.

Some powers I have I was born with. For instance, I have a heck of a memory and my brain is really good at cataloging similarities and differences, which together make me a pretty good problem solver. Scientists will probably discover soon the biochemical basis for the ability and then market it in pill form. Until then, though, I’ll have a bit of an edge. I also have an above average imagination—another bonus for problem-solvers—but that’s probably just latent schizophrenia.

Does all that count as a superpower? It’s arguable. If you are likely better at something (useful) than anyone else in a randomly selected sample of a thousand or ten thousand people, then the argument could be made. Especially if you’re the type of arguer who’s a fan of The Shadow and The Green Hornet.

If that does count, then so do trained skills, like observational techniques and martial arts. Meditation techniques to focus concentration can certainly help develop mental powers. Exercise and training can provide nearly superhuman strength, flexibility, stamina, and muscular control.

I’ve studied a couple of martial arts. I can now fall down without being guaranteed of breaking an arm or a hip and I can stand on one leg in the shower while I wash the other one. Anyone who has seen me try to seal a cardboard box with a tape gun has probably seen the limits of my physical dexterity and muscular control. (We can possibly make an exception for my facility with origami, though, except in extreme circumstances, that is no kind of martial art.)

Prosthetics are making amazing advances. Soon you’ll be able to have a limb or other portion of your anatomy replaced or supplemented by a kind of machine that will work better than the original. Computers are already firmly in this category, supplementing powers of memory and communication and—for those who can tell useful information from bullshit—reason.

I don’t know if spotting bullshit is a superpower (ditto for spouting bullshit), but it’s certainly trainable. Here, for the purposes of review and discussion, are two pages excerpted from Source magazine put out by Flag Service Organization, a religious retreat in Clearwater, Florida, for Scientologists. (These images are a bit chunky and not very readable. If you click on them, however, you’ll get larger, higher-resolution versions.)

I invite you to read this piece. There is a bit of jargon, most of which is decipherable from context. Give it a go.

Scientology gives you superpowers!Scientology gives you superpowers!

It appears to me that these people are offering the use of a facility to train up superpowers in the attendees—in particular the senses and powers of observation necessary to (translating here to the Judeo-Christian for the sake of not losing my audience) spot demons and demonic influences and perform exorcisms.

I’m not precisely sure how the NASA astronaut trainer/carnival vomitorium pictured is useful for that. I say this as someone who has an above average imagination and is a pretty good problem solver. I’m also not precisely sure why there’s tough-to-clean crevices and steps all around it. Some padding to fall over on and some astroturf you can hose down is just about what I’d recommend. Apparently I lack the perceptions and reasoning ability that would make it make sense.

But what raises the bullshit flag faster than anything is the last paragraph on the second page:

And it is the Cornerstone Members whose contributions and dedication are making it all possible and who generations to come, we will look upon as those who decided to make a new world. Become one of the elite as a Cornerstone Member.

Basic grammar, punctuation, and general communication skills aren’t among the powers to be granted it seems—and that’s to be expected if you’ve ever read any of the epic science fiction atrocities written by Scientology founder Lafayette Ron Hubbard. No matter. If good writing were a tool for changing the world, we’d have seen it done already.

My point is that the English translation of the last two sentences reveal the entire purpose of this facility. “Give us money, and we will worship you and make you powerful.”

Participation in these programs cost tens of thousands of dollars per, and the “perceptic” training in this “Super Power rundown” is only one of a dozen or so tracks. Money sinks. You aren’t even allowed to know the details of the program for which you’re hoping to become eligible until you’ve made large enough donations. I suspect there’s a whole team of project developers devoted to just finding new ways to take Tom Cruise’s money (as John Travolta has found unique ways to throw his away before they can get their hands on it). All you get is a $60,000 blow job and a pat on the back. And the ability to make videos where you sound like a raving loon.

Again, this is not to say that I don’t think that superpowers are trainable, given a modicum of aptitude and a decent program of instruction. But the hoopla of making people a member of an elite club of do-gooder superheroes in exchange for ridiculous amounts of cash is suspect in the extreme. If you’re really in it for making the world a better place, then just make people superheroes and screw the “elite club” nonsense. Take your $60,000-per-head donation and, instead of building the set of Star Trek: Clearwater, build an academic course in critical thinking and offer it to all comers.


January 20, 2008 · Posted in Everything Else  

So I was talking with the wife this morning (well, technically yesterday morning at this point) as to why it’s tough for me to talk and write. And it is tough for me, no matter how easy I can make it look.

Remember if you are just seeing what I write, those are beads on a string. You see them all at once, or in a swift one-after-another kind of way. That says absolutely nothing about how long it took for me to string them.

When I stop talking, it’s quiet in my head. I don’t hear my own voice in my head, just nattering away, unless I make a conscious effort to rehearse something to say. Well, that’s not completely true. Frequently it’s just a roaring noise, less like a seashell held up to your ear and more like your head stuck inside an enormous seashell. There might be parts of words or the occasional word-like sound audible against the background, but I’m not sure that counts.

I don’t know whether this is common or uncommon. I suspect it’s one of those things people just don’t talk about much. We just assume the inside of everyone else’s head is just the same as our own. It’s the kind of thing that gets you into your thirties without having heard the word synaesthesia when that word pretty much defines how you see the world. (I’m not talking about myself here, but about someone close to me that thought that kind of crosstalk between the senses was the norm.) I hear talk about people’s internal narrator and have only recently started to wonder why mine’s so quiet. I suspect he’s just looking out of my eyes in horror at what he sees me doing….

Anyway. Stringing the words together is tough. I prefer writing to speaking because it’s easier to make sense when I can spend some time on it, go backwards and forwards, skip around, delete, insert, and paint with bold and italics. It’s a lot like sculpting. You throw a mound of muck on the wheel, you squish it until it’s soft, you squeeze and shape, you pinch some off and throw it away, you add some more, you smooth it out, you spin it until it’s symmetrical, paint it with glaze, and then upload it to the internet to bake. And then you wash your hands.

It’s really hard to do that on the fly.

Analogy and metaphor are pretty much my only tools here, so I’m going to trot out a few more.

My native language is the language of grunts and gestures and facial expressions that cavemen used to communicate with each other when they were out hunting and trying not to make too much noise. Tim Allen’s old stand-up comedy routines have it pretty much nailed for me. Not that I really see myself as a testosterone-drenched thug. I just speak and understand that language really really well. If you need more than that from me, I’m going to have to do some work.

If your language center is a room in your house, mine is an outbuilding somewhere out on the grounds and I keep forgetting where the key is. It takes me a while to get out there, find the light switch, blow the dust off of everything, and make the place comfy. If this room is a workshop for most people, filled with whatever little tools for sculpting and whittling and such, and for the high-grade professionals, all the best in tablesaws and routers and mitre-boxes and drill presses and such…I just have the chainsaw.

I’m sure you’ve seen the work, if only on television, of the kind of artist that starts with some old log and whittles something fairly clever (or at least recognizable) with an old diesel chainsaw. You look at the piece, you look at the rustic buffoon with the chainsaw, and you justifiably think you’ve seen something amazing. Take away the chainsaw, however, and you just see a man holding a wooden sculpture, and you think, that piece sure could use the benefit of a smaller chisel here and there and quite certainly needs a happy half-hour with some 100-grit sandpaper….

Sorry. I just have the chainsaw. And it’s heavy. And my arms get tired.


January 13, 2008 · Posted in Everything Else  

FBI Wiretaps Dropped Due to Unpaid Bills


WASHINGTON (AP) — Telephone companies cut off FBI wiretaps used to eavesdrop on suspected criminals because of the bureau’s repeated failures to pay phone bills on time, according to a Justice Department audit released Thursday.


And at least once, a wiretap used in a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act investigation — the highly secretive and sensitive cases that allow eavesdropping on suspected terrorists or spies — “was halted due to untimely payment.”

“We also found that late payments have resulted in telecommunications carriers actually disconnecting phone lines established to deliver surveillance results to the FBI, resulting in lost evidence,” according to the audit by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine.


They won’t cut off wiretaps because it’s illegal or unconstitutional, but they’ll sure as hell cut ’em off for nonpayment of bills.

If your client is willing to use your services to participate in a criminal act, what makes you think they’ll actually pay you for the privilege?


January 10, 2008 · Posted in Everything Else  
January 2, 2008 · Posted in reviews