Saturday, November 8, 2008

My big poker story

My big piece on poker's efforts to figure out how to pivot from fad to mainstream runs in the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times this weekend in time for the resumption of play at the 2008 World Series of Poker. Read the piece here.

Black and Jack's Great Adventure

Events got in the way, but I've been meaning to post some too-cute pictures of Black and Jack on our big road trip two weekends ago to Los Angeles to see our friends David and Jeff be wed in nuptials that may now be invalid. (See David's now-tragic Newsweek essay on the event.) That's a total bummer, but it was still a fun trip and everyone loves looking at pictures of cute animals on the Internet, right?

We'd never taken our dogs anywhere in the 3-plus years since we got them from the pound. (They were named Cheech and Chong then. Miles thought Black and Jack was more Vegasy.) So this was an experiment.

We rented a little SUV to make the trip more comfy, and we set up the back seat with a big blanket for them to relax on.

At first they just wanted to be up front, but they got used to it. When we got out, they got to hop in front, as you can see with Jack here.

Don't worry -- it wasn't hot, we didn't leave them in there for more than a few minutes if it was necessary at all to leave them and they had plenty of water.

They really didn't know what to make of the hotel room... when we didn't crate them for the night, they were largely upon me as usual.

All in all, it was a lot of fun. On the way home, we stopped in Baker at the tourist trap Mad Greek for their famous strawberry shakes. Well, Miles got a coffee one.

The puppies just got Milkbones. They didn't mind.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Perez Hilton, Gay Hypocrite, Gets Served

It couldn't happen to a nastier waste of human flesh! The New York Post reports that Little Mario Lavendeira, aka Perez Hilton, spent weeks avoiding being served on a plagiarism lawsuit and got tricked into it at a Halloween party!

That seems like a lot of work, but it's good to know that I'm not the only one who believes his material has been ripped off wholesale by Little Mario. I'm sure Little Mario will taunt his persecutors with claims that they're just trying to use his fame for their benefit, which was his sole answer to me as well. Of course, that's hilarious considering that Little Mario's prominence is only attributable to his ability to use the fame of others for his benefit.

But while we're on the topic, Little Mario has been commenting in the New York Daily News and blogging about how terrible it is that Californians re-banned same-sex marriage by passing Prop 8 on Tuesday. Weeks ago, he also praised Apple for giving $100,000 to fight the effort. That's all fine, except Little Mario doesn't put his money where his mouth is. For all his fame and fortune, he didn't give a pink cent to the cause, according to the filings of the California Secretary of State.

Nice. The No on 8 folks were begging and pleading for weeks for money to combat the gazillions the Mormons and others were pouring into the effort to scare the bejesus out of Golden Staters and write discrimination into the California constitution. Little Mario could have used his massive forum to solicit donations and make an example by giving up some of his ill-gotten gains. That, of course, would require Little Mario to think of someone other than himself.

The Petcast is LIVE tomorrow

We're recording three new shows tomorrow from 10 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. PT at LVRocks.Com. Join us in the chat and listen live or wait for the podcast versions. Your call. Here's the lineup:

10 a.m.: Election special with Jennifer Fearing of the Humane Society of the US talking about the passage of Prop 2 in California, the Obamas' future puppy, the Massachusetts voters' ban on greyhound racing and Barney's big bite.

10:30 a.m.: Arlene Blum, author of an L.A. Times essay on how her cat was poisoned by her furniture.

11 a.m.: Dr. John Wright, a cat and dog behavior therapist from Mercer University in Georgia.

See ya there!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

My LVW Col: Wanda's Wisdom

Please don't hold the headline against me. I don't write 'em! But this was an especially fun column, especially the bizarre twist that occurred after the jump. So enjoy this week's "The Strip Sense" installment...

What Happens With Wanda...
Notes on a complete stranger who loves Criss Angel

This column was supposed to be about Criss Angel’s new theater. I didn’t want to waste my space on a review of the illusionist’s show itself, because so many other writers have chimed in with essentially the same message, which is that it’s terrible.

So instead, I was going to write about how un-Cirque-like the showroom for Criss Angel Believe is. I even got a quote from Cirque du Soleil CEO Guy Laliberte halfheartedly defending the decision not to make this theater the transformative, enveloping venue that his other five on the Strip are. In short, the theater also is terrible.

No, this column is about Wanda.

You see, my friend Trevor and I waltzed into the showroom for Angel’s big Halloween premiere as if we do this all the time, because, in fact, we do. My partner, Miles, doesn’t like these outings, so Trevor comes along. He knows how this works: bypass the red carpet, sit in always-great seats, spot some celebs, view the show, head off to some elaborate afterparty.

Then, before the show’s start, Wanda and her daughter bounced into the seats to my left. She could not contain her excitement, which was confusing because these audiences are filled with people as jaded as we are.

“Oh, I can’t believe this,” she told me. “This is just unbelievable.”

See, Wanda had been standing around the theater entrance hoping to spot some stars when some angel walked by and asked her if she wanted a pair of free tickets. She suspected the tickets were fakes, but here she was in the 12th row.

Wanda had never been to Vegas before. She had accompanied her husband, a rancher from Midland, Texas, who raises bucking bulls and was hobnobbing at the Professional Bull Riders Association events, hoping to become a supplier. A 43-year-old kindergarten teacher with a newborn back home, Wanda is a huge Criss Angel fan and had paid the night before to see Believe. Those seats, she said, were “way, way back. These are so much better!”

Wanda asked where we were from. When we told her we lived in Las Vegas, she said, “You must see a lot of celebrities all the time, then, huh?”

Actually, we told her, she was in the presence of many right now. We’d seen Penn and Teller and Carrot Top out in the lobby; Neil Patrick Harris had just passed our aisle; Mike Tyson was gnawing on something somewhere behind us.

Wanda’s eyes widened. “Are you a celebrity?” she asked me.

I giggled at the thought. “Uh, no,” I said.

“Well, what do you do?”

Trevor jumped in. “He’s a writer,” he said. “He writes for magazines and newspapers.”

“Have I ever heard of any of them?” Wanda asked.

I felt silly, so Trevor answered. “You might have. He writes for Newsweek and USA Today sometimes.”

Wanda’s eyes got even wider. “Well, then, you are a celebrity!” she gasped.

Read the rest HERE

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

ELECTION: PresidentMcCain.Com Silliness

I'm taking a breather having filed a bunch of material on voters just now for Newsweek and I went to look at what you'd find at PresidentObama.Com and PresidentMcCain.Com. It's interesting, actually. Go to PresidentObama.Com and you're routed to a Google search for Barack Obama.

But PresidentMcCain.Com leads you to, uh, something else altogether. I don't know how long this will be there, but there's this totally perverted -- but not obscene or x-rated, so it's work-safe -- 2-minuteish cartoon. Here are a couple of frames:

OK, so McCain in a diaper is somewhat obscene. Fine.

Back to work...


After my post yesterday, the George Wallace folks did some research and determined that giveaways in exchange for votes is against federal law, as I wrote and as Starbucks and others realized.

So here's the new deal: Go to the Flamingo box office between now and Nov. 11 and ask for a free ticket. Period. That's all you have to do. According to Laura Herlovich, spokeswoman for Wallace, that's all it takes now. No need for an "I Voted" sticker or to say you voted or anything else. Just walk up and ask for a free seat. I'm assuming this would apply for that night's show and that if that night's audience is full then you're out of luck. But otherwise, it's a great opportunity. Too bad Jennifer Holliday's not performing with him anymore, though.

Anyone who tries this, let me know. And enjoy the show.

Monday, November 3, 2008

ELECTION: P-Ho's Brilliant Idea, Geo Wallace's Illegal One


(Update: It's been brought to my attention that George Wallace did announce his ticket giveaway during early voting. OK. But it's still, evidently, against federal law.)

The Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood will air CNN's live Election Night coverage starting at 3 p.m. PT on Tuesday on the 130-by-40-foot LED video screen outside the mall. There'll be full sound, too.

As a journalist about to plunge into coverage of this election for three different national outlets, I cannot overstate how smart this is. Does it even matter if many tourists on the Strip will be riveted? They probably will be, but who cares? The worldwide media will be seeking an unusual visual, of course. What could convey the importance and worldwide obsession with this news event quite like the notion that it has swept up even the most unserious people on Earth, vacationers on the Strip in Sin City? I predict Planet Ho should get quite a lot of what they call in the business "impressions" from this entirely free move.

Meanwhile, on the flip side, Flamingo comic George Wallace announced today he's giving away one free ticket to his show to each person who brings in an "I Voted" sticker to the box office by Nov. 11. That sounds like a nice idea, except for two things. First, Starbucks just abandoned its plan to give away free tall coffee to just voters on Election Day because of fears that that could be in violation of federal election law because it's illegal to reward people with stuff for voting. Starbucks spokeswoman Valerie O'Neil issued a statement tonight that said: “To ensure we are in compliance with election law, we are extending our offer to all customers who request a tall brewed coffee." So free coffee for everyone, folks!

But the other reason why Wallace's idea is just a cheap promotional stunt: He announced it today instead of, say, two weeks ago. In Clark County, 53 percent of eligible voters have already voted. Only 80 percent are expected, so about two-thirds of those planning to vote are done. And very few of them still have their "I Voted" stickers. Fewer still are the tourists who will bring theirs from points unknown. I'm betting that fewer than a dozen people, if that, take him up on this offer.

P.S. I'm scheduled to be Dave Berns' guest on KNPR at about 10 a.m. PT Tuesday for a little while talking about what I'm finding at the polls, so you can listen live at I'll also be Twittering throughout the day, but may not be able to blog. My Twitter updates appear to your left on this blog, in case you haven't noticed that before.

Jubilee! Outsells Criss Angel?

Uh, wow. In addition to being ripped apart limb by limb first by the scary bunnies on stage and then by both the Review-Journal's Mike Weatherford and the Sun's Joe Brown for essentially the same reasons, Criss Angel is now ranked 10th -- below Jubilee! and Danny Gans! -- on the most recent weekly ranking from TicketNews.Com.

The Cirque folks insist the show has a $5.5 million advance sale. But if tickets are reselling this weakly right at the start and word-of-mouth is going to spread rabidly as reviews like those are published, this is a pretty bad deal.

On the upside, though, the party on Friday night was just swell! I actually didn't take that many photos because I was taking video that I might turn into a special video podcast, although I don't really have the time right now to deal with that. The bash was held around the Luxor pool area and, as usual, Miles didn't want to come so here's Trevor behind one of the bunny masks they handed out.

As always, there was tons of food and drink, but it was too dark to shoot much of it. Here's a couple of bits:

I did go all "Lost" fanboi on Dominic Monaghan and get my photo taken with him:

He looks very friendly but actually, he was kind of annoyed by the attention. Oh well. Sorry, hobbit.

This being Halloween, many people were out in costumes. The second one below is for my friend Amy, who loves that Raisin' Canes place.

Oh, wait. That's not a costume. They really got married. I asked. And then, surprised, I recomposed myself to offer my congrats. I hadn't realized there was anything more tacky than getting married in Vegas on Valentine's Day, but if there is, it would be getting married on Halloween, no?

And finally...

Why? Why? WHY? Why would parents be schlepping their costumed kids around late into the evening in the mall connecting Mandalay Bay and Luxor on Halloween night? Why? No, really. Why?

LIttle Election Bits From Swing-State NV

I just thought I'd share a few sights and notes of the season as we wind down to the end of the Greatest Reality Show Ever. Want to know how contentious this whole thing is? Well, I just heard Rush Limbaugh begin to suggest that Obama's fixed the election. This after an Associated Press piece detailed several devious Republican voter suppression efforts. There were none to speak of for Democrats.

But, anyhow, here's another sign. Look at what I saw the other day in northwest Las Vegas:

Yikes. Meanwhile, I was up real early this morning with a little insomnia and saw that the well-oiled Obama web machine had allowed -- gasp! -- a grammatical glitch...

But, true to form, they caught it and fixed it hours later:

Oh, and in fairness I need to follow up on the Poker-for-Obama post from Friday. I interviewed Doyle Brunson, the poker legend, on Saturday. He's for McCain. He wouldn't say why. Both Phil Laak and Antonio Esfandiari said they're pro-Obama.

Finally, this morning I received my Review-Journal in a Porter For Congress bag paid for by the National Rifle Association. That is, I don't live in Porter's district. Also, I already voted as did more than 53 percent of registered voters in my county.

So my question is: Is it a partisan act if I use that bag to pick up after my dogs? Or should I wait until Wednesday just to be sure?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Weirdest House in Vegas

If you've paid any attention to the quirky characters that dot the Las Vegas landscape, then surely you've heard of former Lt. Gov. Lonnie Hammargren, the retired neurosurgeon and all-around happy-go-lucky wackjob. Most notably, you've heard of his wild house, actually three connecting homes overbuilt and stuffed with an absurd amount of memorabilia, scale models, weird shop projects and other junk.

Hammargren opens up that house each year around Nevada Day, which was this past weekend. The New York Times was desperately seeking some lighthearted non-political news to balance out all of our intense pre-election obsessions. Thus, I wrote this piece, which runs on Monday.

I took a number of photos for this blog and also so that when I sat down to write I could remember what I had seen. Walking through the place is intimidating, baffling, repulsing, amusing, fascinating. Just take a look at some of these, then magnify this clutter into dozens of rooms over three floors and three connected backyards...

Not sure what you're looking at? Well, imagine if you had to try to describe it in 900 words for a national audience? I know that the train above is Big Bertha, which I describe in detail in the beginning of my piece. Those chairs came from the Landmark, Lonnie thinks. The white things on the upper level deck has something to do with Hammargren's fascination with astronomy.

I remember that he's building a half-sized replica of Stonehenge in the photo below...

...and some version of the Thomas & Mack at UNLV...

...and this, below, is supposed to be replica of the Fremont Street Experience. Uh, yeah.

Throughout the house there are these cutouts guiding people from area to area...

Here's a car from a former ride atop the Stratosphere.

In this image, that's Lonnie explaining something to me. I must say that, as I explained in the piece, you kind of want to hook Hammargren up to an IV of ritalin when he starts to speak because he just goes and goes, from one thing to the next with no rhyme or reason to it. It may sound like fun, but actually when it actually caused me panic attacks this morning as I was trying to distill it and make something coherent out of it.

Then I took a moment to listen to KNPR's "State of Nevada" host Dave Berns spending 15 minutes with Hammargren on the air on Friday. Berns made an bemused observation about how difficult it is to follow Hammargren and how the jumble of his weird collection is an apt reflection of the jumble of his weird stream-of-consciousness utterances. Just hearing Berns deftly managing him made me realize that, with Hammargren, the details aren't as important as how he says it. You should take a moment to listen to Berns' conversation here.

Here are some more odd sights...

Doesn't just looking at all that stuff exhaust you? If not, you can be Lonnie's MySpace friend here and see some cool stuff that our friend Sparky of Las Vegas has pulled together for Lonnie. Also, here's a little YouTube action: