Saturday, December 05, 2009

Last Words

Some weeks ago, I polished off John Gardener's most well-known book, Grendel. It's a retelling of the Beowulf story from Grendel's point of view, but it's...well, weird. It's written in that post-modern minimalist style that is so popular these days, a stream of consciousness wordgasm that is rarely coherent but always vivid.

I couldn't make it all the way through the first time. I had to set it down for a while and come back to it later, when I was better prepared for its pretensions. I mean, sure, it's a retelling of Beowulf, but not like Michael Chrichton's Eaters of the Dead or even Zemeckis's movie, which seeks to add a new and exciting dimension on an old tale. And sure, it's from Grendel's point of view, but it doesn't seek to give us any psychological insight into Grendel, the character.

It just uses all of this --Grendel, his mother, the dragon, attacking Hrothgar's meadhall, Beowulf-- as a means to engage in a very opaque philosophical discussion.

It's not a novel about Grendel the monster.

It's a prose poem about the very nature of our universe, sung in the key of Grendel.

When I got to the end, the very last sentence, it dawned on me that I had just read perhaps one of the best last sentences in literature. It was certainly the best last sentence that I've read in a long time. I'm sure there have been others, with all the books I've read, but there was just something perfect about this one.

It's the last few moments of Grendel's life. He has just been humiliated and mutilated by Beowulf. Grendel is dying. His last words:
“Poor Grendel’s had an accident,” I whisper. “So may you all.”
Now would be a good time to resist the urge to ask, "So what does it all mean?" In the context of the story, and the nihilistic vein throbbing throughout Gardner's prose, I think it speaks for itself.

After reading it I wondered where it would fit on the list of top last lines, as if some esteemed person had reviewed the whole of literature and ranked the last lines on some kind of merit. Surely this one would be on that list, at least, if not in the top 20.

I was right about at least some of that. It is on the list, but it's listed at 50.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


Lately I've been digging on Wolfmother's latest record, Cosmic Egg. The cool thing about it is that much of it is straight up stoner rock, underground style. I'm not talking Queens of the Stone Age. I'm talking Atomic Bitchwax. I'm talking Fu Manchu. Nebula.

And of course, I'm talking about Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin.

Take the song Sundial. The lyrics are silly, the rhymes obvious. And the riff is eerily similar to N.I.B. by Black Sabbath, but you know what? I'm alright with that. (I'm not the only one who noticed, either.)

Derivative? Yeah, but fuck I love it.

I mean, listen to this. You've got the uber-distorted N.I.B. riff for a few bars, then it breaks down into an rock opera-y section of grand sustained power chords accompanied by a piano used almost as a percussion instrument. That goes on for a while...

And then all hell breaks loose as the Riffs of War are unleashed.

The other song that got me, the one that got me first actually, was 10,000 Feet. Again, a victim of silly lyrics and explosive riffage, but this one fulfills the Led Zeppelin requirement for a stoner rock degree.

Owing more than a little to Kashmir, it just builds and builds, one collection of riffs after another. There's even strings, just like in Kashmir! (Listen to it before it goes away.)

Seriously, it's one great riff after another. The last minute or so is a text-book example of how to bring a song to a crescendo.

The Tea Party Rapper

This one goes out to my brother.
I'm a big fan of nerd core, but this guy is no Andy Samberg.

For one, Andy Samberg actually tries to be funny. If lines like this are to be believed, Hi Caliber lives in an irony-free universe of his own creation:
And I have a new hero; his name is Joe Wilson
The crooks in Congress are making a killin'
Um, Mr. Caliber, your new hero Joe Wilson? He's one of those "crooks in Congress."

Two Can Play That Game

This one goes out to my cousin Josh.

The story behind it can be found here.

Monday, November 30, 2009

I Ain't Bragging

But I don't have to work for the next ten days...

And, let me tell you, it's a well-earned ten days.

Denver, We Have a Problem

I found this map at this Denver Post article. I mean, look at this! The map represents the Denver metro area, including Boulder, and the already-approved-by-voters plans for a light-rail system.

The light-blue is what's built now. The dark blue is under construction and the gold is up next, starting construction next year. All the red --the bulk of the planned light rail system-- is in major trouble and may not even happen.

No, let me rephrase. All the lines in red WILL NOT happen.

In its report, BBC questioned whether all these elements — a huge grant from the federal government, "a public-private partnership that has never been accomplished on this scale anywhere in the United States," and "an unlikely increase in sales-tax rates to unprecedented levels" — will coalesce for RTD.
In order for this to happen, we need to get ALL of these things:

A) A federal grant
B) A private company stepping in
C) A sales tax increase

The first point is easiest, because the feds are always handing out money. It will make a lot of people angry, especially the Tea Party crowd, but it's doable.

The second point is ludicrous. A private company is going to finance the construction and operation of a light-rail line...and make money how? From riders? Yeah, right.

And a sales tax increase? Who's going to vote for it? The Tea Party types won't. Folks who are struggling to pay what they already pay won't.

It's just not going to happen.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Message to George Will: Do Not Opine About Things You Know Nothing About

George Will should smoke some pot instead of writing about it, because the dude clearly doesn't know what he's talking about.

His first mistake:
State governments, misunderstanding markets and ravenous for revenue, exaggerate the potential windfall from taxing legalized marijuana. California thinks it might reap $1.4 billion. But Rosalie Pacula, a Rand Corp. economist, estimates that prohibition raises marijuana production costs at least 400 percent, so legalization would cause prices to fall much more than the 50 percent assumed by the $1.4 billion estimate.
How did the Rand Corp figure that out? Sounds to me like they just pulled that out of their ass.

They're comparing production costs in a model that doesn't exist (wherein marijuana is legal and taxed) with a model that does (prohibition)? No shit? It's an estimate based on an estimate, and I'm supposed to be impressed?

But there's more:
Furthermore, marijuana is a normal good in that demand for it varies with price. Legalization, by drastically lowering price, will increase marijuana's public health costs, including mental and respiratory problems, and motor vehicle accidents.
George, George, George. In the past ten years, you've bought more bow ties than bags of weed, so let me clue you into a dirty little secret of marijuana prices.

They are remarkably stable.

A quarter ounce of schwag will cost you about $20 bucks. A quarter ounce of kind bud (the kind you get at the dispensaries...almost all of it locally grown) will cost you about a $100. So it was 10 years ago (20 years?), and so it is today.

The scenario Will envisions, prices going down as the market is flooded with legal weed, is ludicrous to anyone who actually participates in the cannabis market.

Prices will act like prices do on other products that appeal to the connoisseur, with the good stuff commanding a premium (think Starbucks/Lafite-Rothschild wine) and the not-so-good stuff going for a discount (think Folgers/Boone's Farm).

That's how the market will form. Will prices go down? Some of them. But some will go up, too.

As for the negative side effects Will is worried about...bah. Motor vehicle accidents? Fricking motor vehicle accidents?

The majority of motor vehicle accidents are caused by people who are NOT on marijuana. What should we do about them?

And mental and respiratory problems? Look at the bow-tied conservative wanker suddenly aligning himself with the nanny-state that sacrifices individual liberty out of some vague concern for my mental and respiratory health.

I love this, though:
States attempting to use high taxes to keep marijuana prices artificially high would leave a large market for much cheaper illegal -- unregulated and untaxed -- marijuana.
I nothing would change.

Except that you would have the option to buy it legally. Oh the humanity!

Will's not done wanking though:
Colorado ranks sixth in the nation in identity theft, two-thirds of which is driven by the state's $1.4 billion annual methamphetamine addiction.
An alarming statistic, no doubt, but what does that have to do with legalizing marijuana?

Short answer: Nothing.
[Attorney General Suthers] is loath to see complete legalization of marijuana at a moment when new methods of cultivation are producing plants in which the active ingredient, THC, is "seven, eight times as concentrated" as it used to be.
Yeah, I've heard that before. And it's probably true.

But like super-concentrated Tide, with super-THC-concentrated pot, you smoke less of it. Unless you're an idiot like George Will.