Friday, August 22, 2003

Save the planet, off the people

The campaign against SUVs got particularly ugly today, as the Earth Liberation Front apparently orchestrated several incidents of vandalism and arson at four L.A. area auto dealers. The damages exceed $1 millon.

This week, ELF also took "credit" for torching a five-story residential complex in San Diego Aug. 1, causing some $50 million in damages and endangering the lives of three construction workers who were sleeping in the building. To give you an idea of the level of intellectual nuance we're dealing with here, consider this:

Near the scene of that blaze, firefighters found a 12-foot-long banner bearing the hand-lettered message: "IF YOU BUILD IT -- WE WILL BURN IT -- THE E.L.F.'s ARE MAD."

As my friend Virginia Postrel points out, no response to date from SUV-bashing California gubernatorial candidate Arianna Huffington. Also no response from the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Foundation, or any other more-mainstream environmental group. In a column she wrote for Forbes five years ago, Virginia argued that the longer "respectable" greens refuse to distance themselves from acts of terrorism and violence, the more difficulty they'll have making common cause with normal people.

A forthcoming editorial in the Review-Journal (link not yet available) will make the same point. The Sierra Club may prefer to use clipboard-wielding bureaucrats rather than bomb-toting anarchists to deny people their rights, but by failing to denounce terrorism, the Clubbers sure seem to be straying from the noble goal of enhancing stewardship and enabling the advocacy of something quite dangerous -- and indefensible, among civilized people, anyway. Imagine some crazed anti-abortion zealot systematically murdering doctors at abortion clinics. How long would the Catholic Church remain silent about the actions of a madman who could ultimately discredit the pro-life cause?

Hip-hop gets the blues

I saw a weird and wonderful performance last night by guitar whiz Rick "L.A. Holmes" Holmstrom at the best intimate venue in town, The Railhead lounge at Boulder Station casino. (Free blues shows from national touring acts, every Thursday from 8 to 11; if you're in town, you've gotta check it out.)

Holmstrom spent much of the past decade as lead guitarist for the hip and swinging SoCal quintet Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers before stepping out on his own last year with a statement-making CD, Hydraulic Groove (Tone-Cool Records). Holmstrom's previous work as a solo artist, as a Mighty Flyer, and on two wonderful collaborations a decade ago on Blacktop Records with harmonica ace Johnny Dyer, was firmly rooted in the Pee Wee Crayton/Tiny Grimes jump blues of the '50s. For the new CD, he hired producer Rob Schnapf (Beck, Foo Fighters, R.L. Burnside) who took that sound, threw in a lot of extra reverb, added sampling, tape loops, back masking, drum machines and riffy organ licks to come up with a feeling that's somewhere between Lightnin' Hopkins, Jimmy McGriff and James Brown. Holmstrom tours with a bass player, another former Flyer, drummer Steve Mugalian, some interesting electronics, and the fattest archtop guitar you'll ever see.

It's a completely modern take on traditional jump blues and swing.

I had a blast, and that may be the problem. I have weird tastes (just ask my wife, our families, and most of our friends). My musical interests are so eclectic that anyone outside the mainstream I like is almost certainly destined for commercial obscurity. As with the other oddball guitar whizzes I find irresistible -- Junior Brown, Little Charlie Baty, Junior Watson, Duke Robillard, the late Danny Gatton -- Holmstrom is trying to bridge so many different styles that he may have a hard time finding anything other than a cult audience. Junior Brown sticks close enough to country that he can get away with covering the occasional Jimi Hendrix song. Little Charlie sticks with jump blues, and his band the Nightcats (fronted by vocalist/harmonica player/first-class clown Rick Estrin) has been playing 250+ dates a year in clubs for a quarter century and is finally gaining a decent nationwide following. Robillard has figured out that he shouldn't mix too many genres on a single record, so he'll make a swing album, a traditional blues album and then a rock album. Watson (Holmstrom's mentor) earned a living sitting in with Canned Heat at county fairs for the better part of two decades before striking out on his own. Gatton didn't want to move from rural Maryland to Nashville or Austin or L.A. to be a session man, so he killed himself.

Anyway, check out the sample tracks available from Hydraulic Groove ("Pee Wee's Nightmare" and "These Roads" are wonderful), buy a CD or five, see L.A. Holmes when he plays in your town. Support off-the-wall traditional music.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

What's next ... a plague of locusts?

The floods that hit parts of Las Vegas yesterday may go down as another case study of the failure of government planning. You may recall that after the "100- year flood" hit the city in 1999, local infrastructure experts accelerated plans to divert runoff to designated detention basins and flood channels. The local flood district has spent about $750 million over the past two decades on flood-prevention projects and claim that the job's only half done.

The problem is, yesterday's flood hit a part of town that's supposed to have been "fixed." Water that flooded streets, stranded motorists and damaged homes (in relatively upscale neighborhoods, BTW) missed detention basins and other runoff channels by only a few yards. And another inch or more of rain is expected today.

Of course, it's possible that at the rate the rain fell -- a few isolated areas recorded nearly 3 inches of rain in about 90 minutes -- no diversion projects could have prevented the flooding. But if the same areas of town get more precipitation over the next couple of days, and more damage occurs, some pointed questions need to be asked.

Fortunately, we were untouched by the flooding. The advantage of living in a far-flung burb on high ground, I suppose. Our house is about 12 miles west of and a few hundred feet above the valley floor. Our house is also elevated and oriented in such a way that even if there werea two- or three-foot river of water in the adjacent street, we'd be OK.