Todd and the Book of Pure Evil

Todd and the Book of Pure EvilNetflix highly recommended a Canadian television series to me, Todd and the Book of Pure Evil. I was skeptical, but I figured I would give it a try. After all, Netflix has a good track record with me. Plus, it was recommending the series because on my interest in John Dies at the End. And I was pleased. Todd is very much like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but with a sense of humor. In fact, that was the big problem with that show: somehow Joss Whedon forgot that the idea of Buffy was a joke. Todd has no such problem: it is straight comedy. In fact, it’s quite silly.

The basic story is that there is this eponymous Book of Pure Evil that is hanging around the high school. It feeds off people’s desires by giving them what they want. But just like the curse of the claw, the dream is twisted into a nightmare. For example, the eponymous character Todd wishes to play the guitar really well but it causes people to bleed out of various orifices. (Did I mention the show also has a fair share of coarse humor?) By the end of the second episode, four students have formed a gang to stop the Book of Evil. There is stoner Todd, who is perhaps the least interesting character. There is Jenny whose father disappeared while reporting on the Book. Todd has a huge crush on her. There is Curtis, Todd’s one-handed best friend who gets most of the best lines. And there is science geek Hannah. Both her parents are dead, so I assume that was due to the Book. She has a crush on Todd.

This gang of high school kids do battle not only with the book but with guidance councilor Atticus. While wearing a polyester suit, he commonly meets with a group of satanists wearing beautiful, heavy robes. Once, when Atticus was being called by the head satanist, the picture of the satanist with his hood covering half his face shows up on the phone. Funny stuff. Also among the adults is the janitor Jimmy who seems much like Todd will be in 20 years.

Perhaps the best part of the show is a group of three head bangers who hang out in the school parking lot smoking pot. They give Todd advice in the form of riddles. They are, of course, a great homage to Macbeth’s three witches. Why not? Plot some Shakespeare into the middle of a “horror” film. Works for me.

Thus far, I’ve just watched the first two episodes which I think are supposed to work as a kind of pilot. And it is quite entertaining. It certainly isn’t up to the standards of John Dies at the End. For one thing, it is produced on a pretty low budget. There are very few locations. Little set dressing. Few extras. Dodgy lighting. But the acting is good and all the production works to tell the stories. So I’m interested to see how the series goes. But it is definitely worth checking out.


There are a couple of other films Todd and the Book of Pure Evil reminds me of. One is the very good Tucker & Dale vs Evil. The other is the not so good but fun The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu.

Alexander Fleming Saved My Life!

Alexander FlemingBefore we get to birthdays, I’d like to talk about war. On this day in 1915, the final push by the British at Gallipoli, the Battle of Sari Bair started. Gallipoli has an earned reputation for being a pointless battle within a pointless war. There were roughly a half million casualties at Gallipoli and over 30,000 during the two week battle at Sari Bair alone. And then exactly 30 years later, the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on the civilian population of Hiroshima. As many as 166,000 people were killed. We waited all of three weeks between the first successful atomic blast and dropping a bomb on Japan. Without getting into my feelings about culpability, this is all just a total fucking shame. In the most important ways, we have not evolved at all past ants. The intelligence that allowed us to land the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars one year ago today seems powerless to stop us for killing each other.

The great early Baroque composer Barbara Strozzi was born on this day in 1619. Here is a beautiful performance of Che Si Puo Fare:

French religious philosopher Nicolas Malebranche was born in 1638. He thought God made everything happen. I pretty much agree, but my concept of “God” is so broad as to make me an atheist. Given Malebranche’s theodicy, I think he may not have been that different from me. The discoverer of palladium and rhodium, William Hyde Wollaston was born in 1766. The great English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson was born in 1809. Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona was born in 1895. Here is an impressive performance of Malaguena by Roy Clark (one of his signature pieces, apparently):

Actor Lucille Ball was born in 1911. I was never that fond of I Love Lucy, but I’m rather fond of her as the “Queen of the Bs.” Face it: she was kind of annoying with that whinny voice on the show. But she was always a honey! The historian Richard Hofstadter was born in 1916. He is famous for books like Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1860–1915 and Anti-intellectualism in American Life. He was a great man. Actor Robert Mitchum was born in 1917.

White supremacist, cofounder of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and murderer Samuel Bowers was born in 1924. According to Wikipedia:

Bowers was a mastermind of two notorious murder events of civil rights activists in southern Mississippi: the 1964 triple murder of Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney near Philadelphia, for which he served six years in federal prison, and the 1966 murder of Vernon Dahmer in Hattiesburg, for which he was sentenced to life in prison 32 years after the crime. He also was a mastermind of bombings of Jewish targets in the cities of Jackson and Meridian in 1967 and 1968 (according to the man who was convicted of some of the bombings, Thomas A. Tarrants III). He died in prison at the age of 82.

That means for all of that crime, he ended up spending only 14 years in jail. And he lived to a ripe old age. People who believe there is a loving God are kidding themselves. Good people live short, brutish lives. And people like Bowers live long happy lives. I suspect that in prison he was a hero to all of the white supremacists, so even that was a fairly pleasant experience.

Screenwriter Norman Wexler was born in 1926. Artist Andy Warhol was born in 1928. Political scientist Chalmers Johnson was born in 1931. Another great man, he is notable for his understanding that the United States had created a new kind of empire. He said, “A nation can be one or the other, a democracy or an imperialist, but it can’t be both. If it sticks to imperialism, it will, like the old Roman Republic, on which so much of our system was modeled, like the old Roman Republic, it will lose its democracy to a domestic dictatorship.” We’re more than half way there. I’ve been arguing for years that eventually (possibly in my lifetime) the countries of Europe will have to go to war with the United States. As our economic power decreases, we will use our military in ever more overt ways to prop up our failed (increasingly fascistic) economic policies. Go team!

And the truly independent director Paul Bartel was born in 1938.

Actor Frank Finlay is 87 today. He is best known for playing Porthos in those great Richard Lester Three Musketeers films. Cocaine smuggler George Jung is 71. He was played by Johnny Depp in the film Blow. That movie, like most drug films depressed me greatly. But there is good news. He is slated for release in November 2014. So hopefully he will at least not die in prison. And M. Night Shyamalan is 43. Look, I know people like to dump on him. But the truth is that as far as major Hollywood films go, he is really good. Few people make films as good and thoughtful as he does. I know when I see one of his films that it will at least be a worthy effort.

The day, however, belongs to biologist Alexander Fleming who was born on this day back in 1881. You see, I had to give the day to him because if it weren’t for him, I would likely be dead. He is the man who discovered penicillin. He actually did quite a lot more during his long career. But that was quite enough for any man. Here is the story:

Happy birthday Alexander Fleming!

The Press and Public Opinion

The PressIn the development of opinion, newspapers play an indispensable part. Without them, democracy could not endure in large countries like the United States and Canada, for, aside from local areas of small population where events become a matter of common knowledge through the personal intercourse, people are almost entirely dependent upon the newspapers for political information. “The newspaper is,” says Walter Lippmann, “in all literalness the bible of democracy, the book out of which a people determines its conduct. It is the only serious book more people read. It is the only book they read every day.” Nearly everyone has a favorite paper upon which he relies for information and from which, perhaps without knowing it, he borrows his opinions. It may, among serious-minded people who have made a wise choice, become a household institution, an intimate friend capable of inspiring personal attachment and strong regard. Great indeed is the power of the press—and the responsibility that goes with power. In the past its influence, exerted on behalf of self-government and social justice, has often seemed vital. There are many papers today that possess and merit public confidence. But on the whole a feeling of distrust and apprehension has somewhat shaken the credit of the press.

—Howard R. Penniman
American Parties and Elections (1952), pp. 86-87

Surveillance Data Use Creep

Drug Enforcement AgencyWhat did I say? You remember: back in June. I was angry at Lindsey Graham telling Fox News that we shouldn’t be upset about the NSA spying on us because they were just going after the terrorists. He said, “I’m a Verizon customer; I don’t mind Verizon turning over records to the government, if the government’s gonna make sure that they try to match up a known terrorist with somebody in the United States. I don’t think you’re talking to terrorists; I know you’re not. I know I’m not so we don’t have anything to worry about.” You know, I hate Martin Niemoller’s poem “First They Came…” It isn’t that it is bad (although as poetry, it is). It is just that people overuse it and apply it to ridiculous things. For example, a lot of people used it when the government was talking about closing the gun show loophole in the gun registration law. Sorry: that wasn’t what Niemoller was talking about. But in the case of surveillance, I think it applies. Oh, how it applies!

As I wrote back in June, “We don’t know what the government is doing with those records. For another thing, data use creep is a well known phenomenon. I can well see the definition of terrorism creeping from ‘people who bomb us’ to ‘people who sell drugs to us’ to ‘people who cheat on their wives.'” Well, step one was already fully underway when I wrote that. According to John Shiffman and Kristina Cooke at Reuters, Exclusive: U.S. Directs Agents to Cover Up Program Used to Investigate Americans. They write:

A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

And then they tell those local authorities to cover up the fact that they got the information that way. So via an illegal wiretap, the local authorities are told of a cannabis grower. Then the local authorities just happen to pull the grower’s car over because he, “didn’t use his turn signal.” And of course, they just happen to have a drug sniffing dog with them. You get the idea.

Now you may not like cannabis growers, but that hardly matters. There are a couple of issues here. One is that our intelligence services are illegally misusing data. Another is that people’s fundamental Constitutional rights are being denied without them ever finding out about it. Yet another is that they won’t be able to mount a good defense should they even attempt to do so. But most of all: this is data use creep. If you think this same thing will not happen to political groups, than you are hopelessly naive, evil, stupid, or all of the above.

This is an outrage and it has me really angry. But while the story is getting a decent amount of coverage, I don’t expect that Americans will be too concerned about it. Just as with Lindsey Graham, they’ll think, “I have nothing to worry about because I’m not a drug dealer.” And they’ll keep saying that right up to the point where it directly affects them. And then they’ll write some shitty poem about how first they came for the terrorists.

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Trust Funds, Hedge Funds, and Slampieces

Trust Fund BabiesYesterday, I was in a pretty good mood. But this stopped suddenly for an odd reason: the Jezebel article Banker Bro Now Hiring Frat Dudes with Hot ‘Slampieces’. If you aren’t familiar with it, the article is very much “dog bites man.” It contains a letter from one fraternity guy to all of his “brothers.” He has been unable to find a job, “Fuckin’ Obama’s fault for strangling this economy.” So he got his father to allow him to access his trust fund early, which is worth “mid 7-figures.” And now he’s going to start a hedge fund!

Three times in the email he refers to “slampieces.” From what I can tell, these are women who are beneath you but who you fuck on the sly. He also mentions hiring secretaries for the men to ogle “and possibly slam.” So he’s a real charmer and doubtless so is his whole fraternity. Of course, his main pitch is that he and his brothers will become “filthy rich.” And doubtless he’s right. Ezra Klein certainly thinks so, Why Hedge Funds Run by Idiots Can Do Well. For Awhile. Money begets money, but even if he screws up and loses all of the money, I’m sure his father will bail him out. As it is, he is explicitly depending upon his father’s connections to make the fund successful.

When I first saw the letter, I thought it was a prank. The writer of the article, Anna Breslaw attests to its authenticity, saying that she’s checked out the undisclosed writer and his powerful father. So if there is a prank, it would be on Breslaw, not by her. But my time on earth has indicated that in the vast majority of these cases, things that look like satire are not. This guy, who must be in his early 20s, shows the maturity of a 13 year old boy. Or rather: the immature of a 13 year old boy.

The rich are falling down on the job. It was once the purpose of college to refine the young rich. But the fraternity system seems to allow young men to go off to school and become even more insular and silly than they went in. These are, after all, not people who have lived on the streets. They have never wanted for anything. Yet all that life is about is being filthy rich so that they can attract lots of “slampieces.” It is nice to think that this kid’s father would find out about the letter and rescind the offer. After all, it doesn’t sound like sonny is mature enough to get his 7-figure trust fund. But I suspect that daddy is much like his son with his own slampieces.

Beyond all that, the letter is a great example of how the rich think. Privilege drips from every word. In the sense, the letter is not sexist; I suspect this young man sees all people as objects for his personal amusement. But given his trust fund, he could do anything. Let’s assume this guy has $5 million. If he invested that and made 2% above the inflation rate, that would net him $100,000 per year. That’s a decent income for doing nothing. And it would allow him to leverage his privilege into doing something of some value for society. But instead, he wants to start a hedge fund—which does nothing for anyone except those in the fund itself. Check out this graph from Business Week (via Ezra Klein) that shows that hedge funds do worse than the market as a whole:

Hedge Funds Do Worse Than the Market

So this guy wants to make money by providing yet more useless investment opportunities to the filthy rich. And yet it is “Fuckin’ Obama’s fault for strangling this economy.”