You’re under arrest

Police lay witchcraft charges after Toronto man billed $101,000 for evil spirit removal

So, uh, why do we still have a law against witchcraft? Couldn’t you arrest Wiccans under this law? This appears to be one of those zombie laws that are probably going to be purged from the Criminal Code, along with laws against crime comics and duelling.

Though looking into it further, the law appears to be against fraudulently practicing witchcraft, so I guess if you can actually transform a prince into a frog you’re in the clear.

The relevant part of the Criminal Code is this:

Canada Criminal Code – Part IX Offenses Against Rights of Property (False Pretences)

Pretending to practise witchcraft:

365 Every one who fraudulently
a) pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration,
b) undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes, or
c) pretends from his skill in or knowledge of an occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything that is supposed to have stolen or lost may be found

is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

A summary offence is apparently a minor crime so you’re not looking at a life sentence here. And if you’re wondering what a “crafty science” is as referred to in c), then according to this Washington Post article, it’s an archaic legal term for fortunetelling and spell-casting. The legal phrase itself dates back to the time of Henry VIII of England, where a specific law punishes

all . . . idle persons going about in any countries or abiding in any city borough or town, some of them using divers & subtle crafty & unlawful games & plays & some of them feigning themselves to have knowledge in physic, physiognomy, palmistry, or other crafty science whereby they bear the people in hand, that they can tell their destinies deceases & fortunes & such other like fantastical imaginations to the great deceit of the King’s Subjects . . .

However, it was used colloquially in The Canterbury Tales to refer to alchemy. Also, this isn’t just a Canada thing – the town of Joplin in Missouri has an ordinance stating that

Any person who shall advertise by display of a sign, circular or handbill, or in any newspaper, periodical, magazine or other publication, or by any other means, to tell fortunes or reveal the future, to find or restore lost or stolen property, to locate oil wells, gold or silver or other ore or metal or natural products, to restore lost love, friendship or affection, or to reunite or procure lovers, husbands, wives, lost relatives or friends, or to give advice in business affairs, or advice of any kind or nature to others for or without pay, by means of occult or psychic powers, faculties or forces, clairvoyance, psychology, psychometry, phrenology, spirits, mediumship, seership, prophecy, astrology, palmistry, necromancy or like crafty science, cards, talismans, charms, potions, magnetism or magnetized articles or substances, oriental mysteries, crystal gazing or magic of any kind or nature shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor.

Do you notice the part where being a therapist who helps patients with relationship troubles legally means you can be arrested for witchcraft in Missouri? I like that part. I gotta say, this is just such an interesting rabbit hole to fall into.

Black Series

Holy shit you guys, Série noire on Netflix is hilarious. It’s a Quebec show about two halfwit screenwriters whose incredibly dumb legal thriller is somehow renewed for a second season. Their show has high ratings but is intensely hated by the critics, mostly because the writers only know of the world through Hollywood:

“You should get a legal expert. It looks like you just started writing after reading The Firm.”

“We didn’t read The Firm, we watched The Firm. The Firm is a movie!”

So they decide that they need to do research and they start committing crimes to add realism to their writing.

Anyway, I really like how well the two protagonists portray idiots. One of them even gets replaced by a failed novelist and we think, okay, she teaches literature at a college so she’s probably smarter, then it turns out her novel clearly steals ideas from Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Bottom line, the show starts gloriously stupid and stays that way.

I unfortunately can’t find a trailer with English subtitles. It’s too bad because there’s this one hilarious scene from the fictional TV show which was submitted when the writers won an award for best product placement in a TV show, about serial killers arguing about which brand of garbage bag to suffocate a victim with: “No, that’s a cheap generic brand, it’s just going to rip and tear!”

By the bye, the title is a French expression for a series of disasters.

How to sell out

From McSweeney’s:

NOAM CHOMSKY EXPLAINS WHY HIS LECTURE SERIES ON THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT’S HISTORY OF INTERVENTION IN CENTRAL AMERICA IS SPONSORED BY MICHELOB ULTRA

Some of you are asking yourselves, why is a lecture from Noam Chomsky, whom the New York Times once called “the most important intellectual alive,” sponsored by Michelob Ultra? The answer is simple: I need the cash because I bought a boat . . .

No, I am not, as some joker in the front row rudely shouted out, a “fucking sell out.” I’m 88 years old, for Christ’s sake. Let me have my boat! . . . I’m one of the founders of cognitive science, for crying out loud. If I have to hawk some booze to enjoy my twilight years in the Florida Keys, then so be it . . .

How dare you say this is the worst lecture of all time? I am Noam Fucking Chomsky — I could take a dump on stage and it’d be the most insightful political commentary you’ve ever seen.

Just read the whole thing already.

Korea in space

I started reading Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit because Ann Leckie said she liked it. So far, I like it too.

This Korean sci-fi novel most resembles for me a non-moronic version of Warhammer 40,000. You see, in the novel’s far-flung future, the repressive Hexarchate controls its vast territory with weaponized astrology. Through total obedience to the social order, devotion to a strict calendar of feast days, and ritual torture of enemies, the state can manipulate the very laws of physics. (And yes, this sounds like North Korea in a space opera setting, though the calendrical sacrifices as a means of controlling the cosmos also reminds me of the Mayans).

But like all empires, this one is obsessed with maintaining its power. Observing alternate calendars directly weakens the state’s power, and thus a vast military machine is tasked with destroying heretics. One cog in this assemblage is Kel Cheris: a captain, a footsoldier, and a literal brainwashed fanatic.

Having evinced an aptitude for heretical mathematics, she is charged with capturing the Fortress of Captured Needles lest the hexarchate itself fall. Her primary weapon is an undead military genius and traitor who she probably shouldn’t trust.

In the backmatter copy Stephen Baxter describes the book as Starship Troopers meets Apocalypse Now, which so far in my reading seems accurate. He doesn’t mention that the book is also compulsively readable. There are some wonderfully inventive ideas all over the story, and even the names of the weapons are deliciously odd: the catastrophe gun, the neglect cannon, the abrogation sieve, the calendrical sword.

I hope I won’t stay up too late tonight reading this book, but it’s a very real possibility. If you want to try out a brand new talent from an underrepresented corner of the sci-fi world, I suggest picking this up.

Attack of the giant pile of bullshit

Remember that part in Ghostbusters where they’re spewing soft-headed pseudoscientific hogswaddle as they battle the fantastical and the supernatural? Imagine that in book form and you get the novel MM9.

The book is set in a world where giant monsters – kaiju – have always existed in human history. Big Ben and London Bridge, for instance, were destroyed by a sea monster in 1952 while the US Army fought giant ants during the Cold War (and yes, his kaiju are the ones from monster movies like Them!). The author is clearly a geek of the first order and gleefully mashes together various science fiction works in service of the story, as he explains in an interview.

Being regular creatures that are part of the order of the world, kaiju are treated as natural disasters. The study of these monsters falls under the discipline of meteorology, and it is the men and women of the Monsterological Measures Department who devise counter-measures for the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in their fight against the kaiju. I rather like how the book makes clear that the anti-kaiju agency are merely public servants, who are eternally worried about getting receipts for their taxi rides and have to deal with dumb questions from the media while they’re desperately in the middle of the latest attack. It’s kind of like if Pacific Rim were about the scientists instead of the robot jocks.

MM9 is nothing but pure and excellent bullshit. It’s quite short and a breeze to read, so I most heartily recommend it.