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The Sci-Cop Story, or ...

Gravity: it's not just a good idea --

We have police to enforce traffic laws, police who enforce drug laws, police who enforce gun and alcohol laws. But who enforces the laws of nature? Who's there to protect you from thermodynamic impossibilities? Who works night and day to keep our streets free of perpetual motion machines, anti-gravity gangs, and time-traveling thugs? Who puts their neck on the line to ensure that every action has an equal and opposite reaction? I'll tell you who: it's SCI-COPS, a crack team of scientists turned law enforcers. That's who!

SCI-COPS was founded in the late 1940s, during the heyday of perpetual motion mania, jump-started with a generous grant of money and technical manpower from several large oil companies who wanted to ensure that no one broke the laws of physics by inventing automobiles that could, say, get 100 miles per gallon. Sci-Cops has always been top secret, though one Sci-Cop agent, known in the force as "Agent Zeta" for his unorthodox use of zeta-potential measurements, has posthumorously left us his memoirs. We applaud his courage in providing this valuable information about an organization that has done so much good for galactic stability. His memoirs will be published this fall by Random Number House under the title, "Memoirs of a Sci-Cop: 101 Things I Did To Save the Earth." A few excerpts follow.

Excerpt from Memoirs of a Sci-Cop

Madame Zelda and the Spurious Data Point

Tuesday, May 15, 1979. Had been a dull day in Chicago - the way we like it. Chance to get caught up on our reading, maybe order a few lab supplies. Me, I'm a colloids guy, specializing in interfacial chemistry. Aqueous double layer interactions with cationic polymers used to be my bread and butter, but my bread kept landing butter side down. As a Sci-Cop, my specialty isn't exactly in high demand. We don't face many crimes in interfacial chemistry, so I've branched out into gravitational physics, chromodynamics, a little nonlinear optics, and herbal medicine. Can't stagnate in Sci-Cops, or you're out on the street, writing proposals again just to survive. I've been there, and I'm not going back. Anyway, I was zipping through a few issues of the Journal of Quantum Gravity when a 207 was called in. That's telekinesis - the unlawful use of mental power to move objects. You never know what it's going to be when a 207 comes in. Once it was an old man who could knock over his cat just by staring. One teenage geek made dental floss tie itself into a knot. And once I caught a cafeteria worker who could make lettuce wilt just by thinking of Elvis. Weird. Really weird. I think she's still doing time.

This time, though, it was easy - or so it looked at first. I went with my partner, Chuck "The Spectre" Manning. (Used to be a good spectroscopist from CalTech. We recruited him - like so many others on the force - when he was denied tenure. Had some kind of political run-in with the Dean - something to do with a Nd-Yag laser burning a hole on the back of the Dean's suit. Accidents happen. )

The call was for a third-floor apartment on National. A little sign on the door said it all: "Madame Zelda: Let the Power of The Mind Work Miracles in Your Live." (Sic.) Yeah, she spelled "life" wrong. Criminals of her ilk don't care about grammar. Orthography means nothing to them, entropy means nothing, conservation of mass and energy mean nothing. All they want is a buck - forget the rest of the universe. These people are dangerous - that's why I put my neck on the line every day to stop them.

We approached in the standard way. The Spectre kicked the door open, then I rushed in with my lab book and camera. Document, document, document - the only way to make sure a case holds up to peer review. Madame Zelda was an old Russian lady, 80, maybe 90. Looked like the kind of woman you could trust your kids with. But when I saw what she was doing, I felt sick. I pray that my kids never get exposed to the garbage I saw taking place on that table. There were two customers - both men, each about 50 and overweight - staring at a big pile of nails under a glass cover. Madame Zelda had her eyes shut, looking like she had a bad migraine. The nails under the glass were moving. First one way, then the other, as if possessed by supernatural power. I took three successive photos to capture the motion while the Spectre was scribbling at top speed in his lab book. The customers stood up right away, but it took a few more seconds for the Madame to realize she'd been busted. We flashed our badges. "Sci-Cops. You're under arrest. What are you doing here?"

The Madame did the standard routine - acting shocked that we were here, claiming to be outraged, demanding an explanation, threatening to call the police. She was no amateur, let me tell you. The men - they were dupes. Hadn't seen this kind of action before. They were nothing to worry about. Maybe we'd do a little 'technical lecture' for them later on in the back alley, teach them a few things about equal and opposite reactions, maybe instruct them on Fourier's law of heat transfer with the help of a few hot cigarettes. Lecturing wasn't really our thing, but dupes had to be taught.

But the Madame, she was our real concern. The kind of woman that could bring the whole galactic house of cards down if she got out of control. She answered my question: "I am demonstrating ze power of ze mind. Now you will leave, or I will have you all arrested."

"Power of the mind? You mean moving these nails by pure thought? You admit to having telekinetic potential?" the Spectre quipped.

"Yes, of course," said the Madame. In a flash, I had the cuffs out. Nothing better than a fast confession. The Spectre had it all on his tape recorder. And so it looked like the case was about to be closed.

I'll admit that some people - the few outside scientists that know us - have trouble with our tactics. Let me tell you, we're dealing with the laws of nature here. Stuff that holds together the universe and earth as we know it. You let people tamper with the laws of nature, and you might as well just kiss this whole cosmos good-bye. For this kind of crime, you can't fuss with warrants and rights and juries. You gotta act fast, hit hard, write up an article for publication (in our exclusive Sci-Cops Technical Bulletin - you bet it's good!) and get on. Sure, we've got peer review after the fact from our fellow Sci-Cops, and sometimes our methodology gets slammed, sometimes we get reprimanded for errors, faulty assumptions, inadequate literature review in our report, whatever. But we're doing the best we can - and usually, our best is pretty good. You want to know why your streets are free from perpetual motion machines and anti-gravity gangs? Because we have the power to do what it takes to stop crime. Forget about juries. We try, convict, and sentence on our own. (BATF and IRS? Kid stuff - and they're real wimps, if you ask me. Deterrents? Give me a break.)

Being secret is a mixed bag. We miss the public glory that could be ours - but then we don't get held up by the petty rules that society puts in the way of other agencies. No one has ever heard of us - and Uncle Sam denies that we exist, even though a lot of Republicans have been asking questions. But our work goes on - and we do it well.

An entire block at San Quentin belongs to us - but no lawyer or ACLU freak has any idea that it's there. For the mild crimes, you might get a few years and then be released - but you'll always be watched, and you know you better not talk. Some criminals are in for life - perpetual motion gets you life, for example. And some - well, let's just say some crimes against the laws of nature are so bad that the universe would be at risk as long as the criminal was alive. Time travel is like that. Violates too many laws, creates too many paradoxes. Our first prosecution was a guy who traveled back in time and shot himself as a child so there was no record that he existed. Part of an elaborate scheme to avoid income taxes. The IRS wanted him first - but we resolved the paradox in our own way. Time travel crimes are extremely rare - thanks to Sci-Cops.

Anyway, back to Madame Zelda. Telekinesis - it's a felony. Minimum five years. Could be life if you're moving something big enough (over 500 grams) or from a distance of over 10 meters. Like the others, this lady acted surprised to be arrested for telekinesis. She started crying - distracting the Spectre long enough that he didn't see the two dupes slip out the door and run for it. (Oh well, skip the lecture.) Madame Zelda was still doing the standard routine. Said she had only been in the States a couple years, claimed that she didn't know all the laws in the U.S., had no idea that telekinesis was illegal. Yeah, right. The laws of nature are laws, no matter what country you're in. We caught her in the act and she had admitted to using mind power to move objects. A 207-D felony. Case closed.

And then the Spectre spotted it. An electric cord running into a leg on the table. We both knew what this might mean - and it confirmed our suspicions: this lady was no amateur. He grabbed a marble statue of a cat and smashed a hole in the surface of what was a hollow table top. Just as we feared! Her table had been prepared with an electric motor that moved a pair of magnets just below the surface. We'd seen this once before in two cases of moving ferrous objects. The criminals claimed that they didn't really use telekinesis, but used hidden moving magnets to move the metal objects. In that case, the mysterious motion would be due to forces fully in compliance with the laws of nature. We had been burned by this before - the criminals had to be released after nothing more than a 'technical lecture' on the stupidity of appearing to violate physical law. Yes, Madame Zelda was a pro, all right. She had prepared an ironclad alibi in case she were caught. I could anticipate what she might say next: "You see, it wasn't really telekinesis at all. I'm just a fraud!"

But one thing was on our side. We already had her confession. All the evidence we needed was on tape, in lab books, and on film. What about the data from the gimmicked table? We looked at each other and nodded. This data point was an outlier. (We'd both been brushing up on statistics - and now it paid off.) No need to record it or consider it in our subsequent analyses. Drop that outlier and everything fits into one, solid, cogent whole that would pass peer review anywhere. Our publication of this case in the Bulletin was not going to be ruined by a single spurious data point. I took the table out to the dumpster. Madame Zelda may be a pro - but she was going to do hard time. After we took her in to Central, I took the bag of nails we had confiscated over to Analytical and weighed them on a Mettler PM1200 balance. 478.2 grams. Not quite enough evidence for a life conviction - but a few more data points from Ace Hardware would tip the scales of justice in our favor.

The 1982 raid on Mahandra Swami's Levitation Clinic.

An excerpt:

We did the standard entry thing and rushed in, weapons drawn. This kind can get real violent, so you've got to bring your piece. (Ballistics - now there's a science for real men.)

The Crystal Meditation Room was empty. We cased the other rooms and found nothing - not a soul. A couple of orange robes in a closet, about five gallons of yogurt in a pail, some beads, crystals, badly worn writings of Woody Allen - all pretty typical for an occult hangout. But no swami, no cultists, nothing. A false alarm. A real let down.

The Spectre and I had just holstered our weapons and were about to make an entry in the lab book, when I decided to take one last look in the huge meditation room. Then I heard it - a rustling noise. I looked up - and instantly snatched my weapon. "Freeze, you floating freaks! Sci-Cops!" I'll spare you the gruesome details, but whoever dressed these people in orange robes sure wasn't thinking of what they would look like when viewed from 15 feet below. Not a pretty picture.

Luckily, most of these guys were cooperative. A couple dropped like lead balloons when I broke their trance. Most just floated down without suffering major fractures (there would be time for that later during the lecture). But the swami, he was so in to it that he couldn't come down, even when we fired a few shots into the ceiling. Had to get up on a ladder and drag him down.

I've been humiliated a few times in my life, but nothing like that day when I had to tug a freaking floating swami on a rope the full 26.3 meters from our parking lot to the front doors of Central. People stared and laughed and screamed - and kids thought I had some kind of helium balloon. Wouldn't have been so bad if the swami hadn't started singing: "Up, up and away in my beautiful..." Sarge gave me two days off with pay. Guess the stress was showing. But the swami was busted - and the law of gravity had been enforced once again. Like I say, gravity is more than just a good idea - it's the law. You let people break it, and someday the whole face of the earth might just up and float away. You want to play with those odds?

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And don't forget to get your own Gerry Mooney Gravity Poster with the motto: "Gravity: it's not just a good idea --
IT'S THE LAW.". Thanks to creator Gerry Mooney for letting me know about the origins of that famous phrase.
This page was featured in the magazine Yahoo! Internet Life, July/August 1996, p. 114, listed under the header "Really Strange." Go figure.

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