Friday, April 3, 2009

Lackland: The List

He must be his Big Brother's Little Brother. In anticipation of his first weekend of relative freedom when he graduated last week from Air Force boot camp at Lackland AFB, Jamie made up a list of things he wanted to eat while he was permitted. Remember, this is an 18-year-old who had just endured eight weeks of a strict military diet. But, still, it's notable that almost everything on the list contained sugar. (Click on it to see it more clearly.)

I've already shown you Jamie's reaction to a helping of Baskin Robbins at the BX and the frustration that the first Burger King we went to on the base had no burgers. Well, we remedied the BK thing...

...and a whole lot more. There was IHOP...

...and Sun Chips...

...and Shamu-shaped pretzels and funnel cakes at SeaWorld...

We made it to Rudy's, a classic San Antonio-area BBQ place that many readers suggested.

Jamie's girlfriend actually has some great shots of Jamie over a messy plate of food covered in his mother's jacket to avoid sullying his Air Force blues but has yet to share 'em with anyone. His fastitidiousness was comical; this kid never before gave a darn about getting messy!

The only rule that Jamie had to adhere to was that an Airman in uniform evidently never eats or drinks standing up. So he took a seat for some Monster...

...but I was under no particular rules at all, as you can see.

And what goes well with all those goodies? How about some video games in his mom's room at the hotel!

As you can see, Jamie looks good and dignified at every turn. Not like SOME people.

Funny. Fingernails weren't on Jamie's list.

The PETCAST is LIVE on Saturday 10-11:30 a.m. PT

Now that LVRocks.Com has a spiffy new studio, we're back on track with The Petcast as well! Join us to listen live and visit in the chat room at LVRocks.Com on Saturday, 4/4, from 10-11:30 a.m. PT. If you're there, you get to ask our guests questions through us. This week's planned lineup includes:

10 am: Gary Roma, documentarian of "Puss in Books" on library cats.
10:30 am: Mutts cartoonist Patrick McDonnell (see above)
11 am: Dr. Tony Woodward, a Colo.-based vet dentist

Join us or catch the podcast. You can subscribe in iTunes for free.

The Show is UP: Marie Osmond, Part I

Off to the tax lady now. Enjoy the show! Click on the date below to listen or right-click and save to your computer. Or subscribe (it's free!) via the iTunes link or via the Zune link. Enjoy.

April 2: Marie Osmond, Part I

She’s a little bit country and a little bit, well, you know the rest. But she’s also now a big bit of a Strip headliner. Marie Osmond, she of the gigantic gleaming smile stretched across the Flamingo, joins us this hour to talk about show business nepotism, performing with everyone from Groucho Marx to Snoop Dogg and the night she and Donny performed their Vegas show in the dark.

In Banter: Freaks at O'Sheas, MGM drama, Follies bye- bye, Vegas impersonator jailed in Suriname.

Links to stuff mentioned:

Tickets for the Donny and Marie show
The 2009 results of the R-J’s Best of Las Vegas survey
The VegasHappensHere.Com post on the mayoral chips for Airmen
The website for SeaWorld’s Military Program
Sites for Minskoff and Mandalay theaters, both of which now house The Lion King
KNPR, the Las Vegas NPR member station
A Las Vegas Sun piece on Freaks, a gross new show at O’Sheas
VegasHappensHere.Com on MGM making their payment
MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren’s letter to employees
News on Hooters, Riviera and Bally’s closing its sportsbook until September
Mike Weatherford’s coverage of the closure of Folies Bergere at the Tropicana
Gaming Today’s Monti Rock III on Bobby Slayton’s Trop deal
Norm Clarke’s coverage of the Toni Braxton impersonator jailed in Suriname

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Nicely done, Mr. Knapp!

I don't ordinarily wade into commentary about the local TV news because my partner, Miles, is the executive producer at KVBC, the NBC affiliate here. That makes it difficult and awkward and, happily, the Review-Journal's Steve Bornfeld has his "Mediaology" column analyzing the topic so I don't have to.

But it's a pretty big deal that George Knapp of KLAS, the local CBS affiliate, has won a George Foster Peabody Award this week for their special, "Crossfire: Water, Power and Politics," a hard-hitting analysis of the impact of growth on the southwestern U.S. You can view all seven parts via this LasVegasNow.Com link. Also honored was Knapp's photojournalist, Matt Adams.

To get an idea of what a huge deal this is -- it's the equal to the R-J winning a Pulitzer -- consider who else got Peabody honors this year: ABC for "Lost," HBO for "The Gates" and "John Adams," NBC for its Beijing Olympics coverage, PBS for "Washington Week With Gwen Ifill" and CNN for its coverage of the presidential primaries.

Congrats, Mr. Knapp. Let's hope your station can continue to spend this kind of money on this kind of journalism in these, you know, tough economic times.

They Can Call It CityCenter Station!

The Wall Street Journal reports today that MGM Mirage may have a new sugar daddy, Colony Capital. These are the folk who own the Las Vegas Hilton but, more importantly, own 75 percent of Station Casinos which, from what we've been hearing, is about to go into bankruptcy itself. They also own Resorts Atlantic City, which is facing foreclosure.

So I'm baffled. Why is Station going into bankruptcy if its major owner has money to invest in another risky project on the verge of bankruptcy? Is it all, as we've always suspected, just Monopoly money after all? The WSJ says that Colony has raised $1b in capital to invest in distressed assets. Shouldn't they invest it in the distressed assets they already own?

On a similar but different front, I continue to be confounded by the dollar figures involved with CityCenter. Dubai is a 50-50 partner with MGM Mirage. MGM Mirage said last week that the project cost is $8.7 billion, although the WSJ used $8.6 billion today. Either way, the WSJ says Dubai World has already kicked in $4.3 billion. Why does Dubai still owe anything? Or is the $8.7 or $8.6 billion figure inaccurate? If Dubai still needs to give more, then MGM Mirage must know the project will cost more than $8.7 billion. Or maybe the WSJ is wrong and Dubai has not yet actually kicked in $4.3 billion? ACK!

Am I the only one confused here?

This week's LVW Col: When The Fun Stops

Here's this week's Strip Sense column, trying to make sense of last week's MGM-related events. Enjoy, and hat tip to Hunter at RateVegas.Com for letting me poach this headline.

When The Fun Stops
Is MGM Mirage Nevada's AIG or GM?


“Pardon me for asking, but if a company is too big to fail, maybe—just maybe—it’s too big, period.” Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich

Having evidently learned a little something from the hundreds of acrobats who perform astonishing death-defying feats nightly in its Vegas resorts, MGM Mirage last week leaped headlong into the open air, held the world in terrified suspense as it twisted and turned to avoid a hail of fiery spears and then, at the last possible moment, grabbed the bar and swung to relative, if momentary, safety.

Yet rather than supplying the raucous applause that greets such moments in the theater, the world just heaved a sigh of relief. Unlike the safe distance we feel watching, say, a aerialist, where we know it’s only his neck that will be broken should he fall, the experience of last week wasn’t a mere spectator sport.

No, that wasn’t just a large casino company flying without a net in the face of oncoming doom, it was each and every Nevadan.

We came to realize with sobering clarity this week, in fact, that MGM Mirage in general and its $8.7 billion CityCenter development in particular are the closest things for this state to entities that are “too big to fail.” Nobody from MGM Mirage would use those four specific words because companies that are TBTF—AIG and GM are usually the ones mentioned—are so important that their significance is what justifies taxpayer-funded bailouts.

But just because a company’s not TBTF on a national level doesn’t mean it’s not TBTF in a local sense. And last week’s events were so frightening precisely because we were told repeatedly that CityCenter’s collapse would reverberate in the worst possible ways throughout the entire Silver State economy.

Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lackland: The Quirky Side of the USAF

As you might expect, with my fresh never-before-exposed eyes, I saw lots of weird things at Lackland Air Force Base last weekend when I witnessed my Little Brother, Jamie, graduate from boot camp. This probably-unauthorized, gunned-up "Hello, Kitty" T-shirt, for instance, caught my eye.

This incredibly tasteless patch, too:

For $149, you can have an uber-patriotic bench...

...or for a lot less you can get a pair of these...

At the major Base Exchange shop, I was amused to find that there was this shelf with this shield to avoid exposing minors to Adult Reading Material. But notice that that's not Playboys and Jugs up there. They're counting novels by Jackie Collins and Nora Roberts amongst the smut!

To appreciate the next oddity, take note of what normal people wore to the graduation, which was outside in chilly, windy weather at 9 a.m.:

And then there was what this woman wore...

...and you can't even see the horrifying bra-strap tan line or chunky shoes. Eek. At least she didn't expose everyone to her and her Airman's most embarrassing cutesy nicknames like the Gal With The Yellow Ribbon In Her Hair did...

We never did find out who was Moo-Moo and who was Punkin.

I kinda liked this T-shirt, seen on someone at SeaWorld because Saturday was Christian Families Day:

I didn't realize military underwear was museum-worthy, but these knickers were in a display case at the orientation building in case some proud Air Force momma wanted to know what Johnny wears under those blues, I guess. At least now we know they're not wearing camouflage-printed Booty Camp shorts, huh?

I did wonder -- and never found out -- what goes on here...

...since Jamie never set foot in the place. Is it some sort of punishment to have to go here and make pottery and watercolors of butterflies and rainbows? Maybe some angry someone who was forced to do so also painted this, in the stairwell of Jamie's dorm:

I have no idea what Jamie and his friends are doing here, but I hope our newest troops aren't playing rock-paper-scissors about what country we ought to bomb next:

And, alas, I can take a ribbing, too. First I'm caught blowing bubbles with Jamie's girlfriend, Melanie...

...and then later I've got a WTF look on my face.

Oh, NOW I remember what that was. I had gotten a text message from someone named Punkin. Or was it Moo-Moo? Either way, you can understand my consternation.

The Strip is LIVE tonight w/ Marie Osmond, Part I

Really this time. Except that we're only playing the first half of our Marie Osmond interview on this episode because it's long, there's other stuff to deal with including the Review-Journal's annual Best of Las Vegas results, and our most recent shows have been very long.

Join us at 6:45 p.m. PT at LVRocks.Com for the live show and chat.

Also, for those of you wondering where the Anthony Marnell III episode is in your iTunes, something went awry with the RSS feed and we are moving it to a different service. That should all be completed later tonight and you should be receiving it immediately. I'll postpone dropping this week's show into the feed until Friday to let y'all catch up. You can also download it directly from TheStripPodcast.Com.

Anywho, Marie provides a good, lively conversation, as do Miles and I. So join us in chat tonight. If it's anything like last week, you won't want to miss the outtakes.

Monday, March 30, 2009

R-J's Parent May Buy Austin Newspaper

Stephens Media, the parent company of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is in serious talks to buy the Austin American-Statesman according to staffers who have written to VegasHappensHere.Com asking me to tell them what sort of management the R-J has and what they might expect. The staffers said their owner, Cox Enterprises, has been open about it and, in fact, there was a Feb. 13 piece in the American-Statesman itself describing four groups looking at buying the newspaper.

To answer the question, I needed to assess what the AAS is. The paper has about the same circulation as the Review-Journal, about 175,000, and serves a metro area of similar size, about 1.7 million people. The AAS, however, has long been a far more ambitious newspaper, with bureaus overseas and reporters embedded with troops in Iraq. Those bureaus have been closed as their circulation has plummeted. The AAS looks like it has about double the staff of the R-J.

So what, my AAS colleagues, might you expect from the insightful leadership of Publisher Sherman Frederick? Well, it is hard to tell because I can't remember Stephens ever buying a paper this large or with this good a reputation before, one that could actually outshine the R-J as the company's flagship.

Still, if this is any indication, Frederick led a newspaper whose circulation was stagnant at best for a full decade despite an influx of more than 1 million new residents into the readership area. The R-J is a newspaper with several excellent but criminally overworked journalists who are far too busy getting the next day's news out to think in broader strokes. Investigative reporting over there, probably because of how much everyone has to do, is usually reduced to grabbing some public documents and writing about them. The R-J has never aspired to be more than what it already is. It's evidently a sound business plan, if not one likely to produce Pulitzer Prizes.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I don't see any way the Stephens crew won't immediately lay off bunches of journalists and perhaps cut benefits, regardless of what reassuring pfaff Frederick may say when/if he picks up the keys. I have to assume that Sherm is looking at the AAS and thinking, "Why would they possibly need a team of education writers? Why, back in Vegas we only have one hardy soul covering the nation's fifth largest school system and we do just fine!" If Frederick wants to buy it, it's because he thinks that it could be making more money with a few sacrifices here and there.

On the other hand, the AAS has been in an apparent circulation freefall for quite a while and just had a round of buyouts. The Review-Journal appears to be largely financially healthy, with some cost-saving measures -- benefits cuts -- that are modest given the state of the national and local economy. No layoffs or buyouts have come along yet here. That's nothing to sneeze at; Las Vegas' economy has been harmed far worse than the Austin metro area's in the past year or two. Maybe mediocrity is the path to fiscal stability for the news business!

The biggest weakness for the R-J is their web operation, with its baffling and counterintuitive website and a "web guru" who seems mostly to discover new applications a year or so after everyone else but with breathless excitement when he does. The purchase of the AAS might even change that; maybe Frederick sees that the AAS site is more user-friendly and modern (although nothing all the special from what I can see) and could task their web people with improving the Review-Journal.

Hoo-boy. That was a good one, huh? Sherm learning from others? Hah!