Saturday, August 30, 2008

Why Wasilla May Seem Familiar To You

Longtime readers of this blog recall that Miles and I honeymooned in Alaska in March 2007. After Friday's shocker pick of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate, much has been made of the years she spent as mayor of Wasilla, a town with a population smaller than most New York City blocks.

That town name, despite, its obscurity, might've sounded familiar to some of you and you've been trying to recall why. Well, here's an extremely amusing refresher:

Yes! That wacky mattress salesman was one of Gov. Palin's few constituents! Here's a different version:

What a great dance, huh?

While we're on the Palin topic, the minute McCain picked her I said to Miles, "Oh, the editorial cartoonists are going to have a field day with this." And, indeed, Daryl Cagle's Professional Cartoonists Index came through as always with a growing round-up. Many were funny, this one from a cartoonist for the Calgary Sun was probably beyond the pale:

Take a look for yourself at several of them here.

Opening the Cannery

This morning, I joined my friends Walt and Terry, an elderly couple with whom I'm close and refer to fondly as my Fairy Grandparents, for their uniquely Las Vegas ritual: They always go for breakfast at a new casino the Saturday after it opens. So off we went to the newly debuted $250 million Eastside Cannery! The place is in our part of town anyway and seems poised to compete mostly with Sam's Town just to its north.

Overall, it's a cute place, serves its function well as a mid-market value joint with a mid-century aesthetic. Breakfast was adequate; we had decent coffee and shared an excellent breakfast burrito along with a rubbery plate of Frosted Flakes-coated French toast. (I did not do the ordering; Walt and Terry did it before I arrived but then Walt went home before I got there because a neighbor called them to say their poodles had gotten out of their backyard and were wandering the cul-de-sac. Drama.)

Here's the coffee shop, which was jammed at 8 a.m....

...and the sportsbook that was less so.

Terry admired the furnishings, especially these very mid-century tables and chairs at the lounge on the sportsbook's edge...

...and I was amused that so many locals were there at that early hour to stand in line for their players' club cards...

I asked a guy in line if there was any sort of giveaway. Sometimes they hand out coolers or movie tickets or some other such prize to lure 'em in. But, no, they were just standing in line to get their cards so they could start earning points.

Which reminds me...I found these on a couple of the slot machines and had intended to hand them in to somebody but spaced it as I walked outside to take the first photo in this post.

Do you think Marissa Smith or Erlinda Falconer need their cards back? I don't have any of these cards, so I don't know. I assume if they go back, they'll get new ones with the same balance?

Friday, August 29, 2008

First Look: The Vegas Blimp

Are you ready to see this and its massive LED screen hovering over the Vegas Strip?

The M Resort-Spa-Casino, which is young Anthony Marnell III's $1 billion joint venture with MGM Mirage about 9 miles south of the Strip on Las Vegas Boulevard, is unveiling next week the inaugural flight of its M-branded Lightship. (Marnell was discussed in my NYT piece on the young moguls of Vegas; his father is the city's uber-builder and original owner of the Rio.) I didn't really know what a lightship was, so I called up to ask and the PR folks graciously provided these images to share.

Basically, it's a massive blimp with a 70-by-30-foot LED screen on its side that will hover between 800 and 1,000 feet up. Here's what the screen looks like:

The manufacturer is Florida-based Lightships Group (not to be mistaken with the Light Group) and here's a shot of what one of these guys looks like in the air. Their site is here.

As I understand it, there are only two others out there with the LED screens on them; the company has been building blimps with internal illumination systems (they glow, thus they're "lightships") for many years and, in fact, the company website indicates that they even held a wedding over Vegas in the gondola of one a few years back. No word yet if such events will be offered by M.

M unleashes its lightship Sept. 3. It'll fly over the Strip advertising the hotel-casino for hours at a time, several times a week, as well as floating above feeder markets like Southern California from time to time. It's certainly an innovative marketing tactic. The resort is due to open in March, so at first it will advertise that they're hiring and also, one would think, work to gin up awareness of the brand.

Here's some of the factoids offered about the vessel:

• Length – 178 feet
• Height – 55 feet
• Width – 45 feet

• Volume – 170,000 cubic feet
• Length – 175 feet
• Diameter – 45 feet

• Length – 25 feet
• Width – 6 feet
• Cabin Length – 11 feet
• Cabin Height – 8 feet

• 8 – The number of hours it takes to fill the M Lightship with helium
• 12 – The number of months it took to complete the M Lightship
• 18 – The number of crew members for the M Lightship
• 30-35 – The miles per hour that the M Lightship cruises above Las Vegas
• 525 – The number of tiles that make up the M Lightship’s lightsign
• 800-1,000 – The number of feet the M Lightship flies above Las Vegas
• 7,705 – The number of pounds the M Lightship weighs
• 23,000 – The number of square feet of Tedlar material that compose the Lightship’s envelope
• 170,000 – The number of cubic feet of helium that the M Lightship needs to be fully-inflated
• 235,000 – The number of LED lights that make up the M Lightship’s lightsign

I'm still trying to get an estimate on the cost, but it's got to be expensive. According to the Lightships website, these babies require a crew of 16 to fly. Or at least I think I'm reading that correctly.


Virgin Goes Vegas

It's a lousy economic time, as seen once again today by Benjamin Spillman's piece in the R-J about how desperate Vegas hoteliers are to virtually give away rooms this holiday weekend. So here's some happier news: A new airline is kicking off new service to Vegas!

Richard Branson's Virgin America airline starts daily non-stops from LAS to JFK on Sept. 4 with a media event that includes a premiere showing of the first episode of the fifth season of the HBO hit "Entourage" on the inaugural flight from New York to Vegas. That's nice for the NY media, but kinda lame for those of us here! Boo!

Here's part of the press release about the planes and an image of the A320's cabin:

Virgin America's brand new planes feature moodlighting, custom-designed leather seats, and individual touch-screen entertainment systems with movies, videogames and now for the first time -- episodes of Entourage offered free of charge during the initial month of the partnership.

Sadly, the service doesn't seem to be all that reasonably priced. I just checked on fares for a trip we'd like to take to NY in December and the cheapest I could find was $438 roundtrip plus taxes. The same dates and routes, Continental, JetBlows, American, Delta and US Scare all had cheaper nonstops.

Has anyone out there taken Virgin America? Are there any special characteristics to this airline that we ought to know about, that make the higher prices worthwhile?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

It had to happen sooner or later

Many of you are familiar with my distaste for Michael Politz, the publisher of a Vegas food-industry magazine who makes outlandish claims on his blog and is known to view himself as a legitimate journalist despite obvious examples of blatant shilling. He also feuds with everyone from Norm Clarke the the Greenspuns. Everyone's out to get him.

Now Prive, the nightclub at Planet Hollywood, has sued Politz for a panoply of defamation, extortion and copyright infringement claims. You can read the 16-page complaint here. A couple of lawyers have blogged their bafflement over what they view as weak copyright infringement charges here and here.

That may be so, but that's not the really interesting stuff here. No, I like the part where Prive pulls the curtains back a bit on how they believe Politz does business.

According to the complaint, Politz "has originated, written, and/or posted positive reviews and laudatory content on regarding individuals and/or entities doing business in the local entertainment industry who have given cash amounts or granted favors to Defendant Politz, and has originated, written, and/or posted false and damaging content on regarding individuals and/or entities doing business in the local entertainment industry who refused to give cash amounts or grant favors to Defendant Politz."

Wow. That's pretty intense. Also, given what's seen on Politz's site, totally believable. The claim says Politz panned Prive in January after being denied entry -- I'm guessing because he wanted to get in for free? -- then asked the owners for money to get back on his "good side." There's no telling until a trial whether Prive has any actual evidence behind those claims -- a smoking e-mail, maybe? -- but they go on to state:

"In March 2008, Defendant Politz contacted another member of Prive management and admitted to originating, writing and posting negative content in exchange for a cash payment from a competitor to Prive."

Wait! It gets even better! Four hosts quit Prive in the spring and went to work at competing clubs. Prive sued them, alleging they had breached non-compete clauses in their contracts and alleging that at least one of those hosts took a valuable, proprietary client list with him/her.

Politz pounced on Prive for this flap. In early August, he published on his site an anonymous letter he claimed was sent by a former employee to the Nevada Gaming Control Board that contained a long list of outrageous and, thus far, unsupported accusations against Prive owner Justin Levine and manager Frank Tucker.

The letter Politz posted alleged drug use and dealing, verbal harassment of staffers, underage drinking and theft of wages and tips. I'm being deliberately vague and not linking to the letter because it's so bizarre that I fear that even I could be in legal trouble for pointing you to it. (In reality, though, probably not since Prive reiterated all the allegations in their own court filing which is a public document.)

It's probably impossible to prove whether Politz wrote the thing himself as the Prive lawsuit suggests, but there are some clues that something's fishy with it. Among them, it's awfully unlikely a former employee would misspell a name as simple as Levine. It's more likely that whomever fabricated the letter to embarrass Prive did so to make it seem in some way authentic. Further, Politz himself misspelled Justin Levine as Justine Levine in an 8/19 post. These are really easy names so either he's doing in intentionally or he's really, really stupid. Or both! (Misspellings are actually really common in Politz's writings; he referred to Norm in that post I linked to above as having "inadequit" social skills.)

Either way, Politz is responsible for the letter's contents because he chose to publish it. It wasn't even posted as a comment on his blog; it was posted by the owner of the website himself. This is the fundamental principle that he seems to simply deny by claiming he didn't write it.

Politz wrote on 8/18, six days after he initially published this letter:

"I must make this clear to everyone that we don't endorse the anonymous letter or anything that is stated within the letter. The publishing of this letter does not reflect the opinions of anyone working here. We simply put the letter up for our readers to read and judge for themselves."

Uh, no, you yutz. That's not how libel law works, as any journalism-school freshman is taught. Can you imagine what the publishing world would be like if anyone could publish any allegedly anonymous statements and not be responsible for it? The Internet already allows for that to some extent because it's so easy to both publish something and be anonymous about it. But this is clearly Politz's site and he is clearly liable for the content he posts on it. And proving actual malice, the legal standard by which Politz wanted to harm Prive and its reputation and that this wasn't just some inadvertent error, seems exceedingly easy here.

Memo to Prive: Go get 'em, boys. I've never been in your club and I probably wouldn't much enjoy it. Not my thing. But anything you can do to foster more journalistic responsibility amongst schmucks like this who poison the well for the rest of us, I'm all for.

This week's column: What Happens In Beijing...

Here's this week's column in the Weekly. Forgive the headline; I think my editors were tweaking me. (See the WHHSH discussion near the end of the piece...)

What Happens in Beijing...

How a local newspaper squandered a terrific opportunity


Back when I lived in and covered Beijing earlier this decade, I used to have this odd little game I played with my friends.

My core group included women from Des Moines and Brisbane, Australia, and guys from Seattle, Manchester, United Kingdom, and Victoria, British Columbia. From time to time in our travels across the country, we'd chat up native Chinese, usually people who spoke some English, on a train or at a bar or at a restaurant. Two of my friends were becoming fluent in Mandarin, so they were at that stage when they would try out their language skills.

But here was the game: We'd meet these folks, and we'd introduce ourselves. And I would always go last. My friends would each introduce themselves and state their city or nation of origin.

And then it would be my turn, and I'd say "Las Vegas," and the reaction would be instantaneous. Eyes would brighten at those syllables, the interest would always turn my way, and almost without fail somebody would make a motion as if to pull the lever on an invisible slot machine.

Which is a long way of saying that the Review-Journal sent doofus sportswriter Ed Graney to China, and, in the process of providing the idiot's guide to Chinese customs and tourist destinations and some serviceable coverage of the sporting events occurring there, he missed the best story that was waiting for him.

I have to believe it was right in front of him. There was never a time when I was over there that I said "Vegas"—to anyone, including people who didn't speak a word of English—and didn't elicit a reaction. Surely he discovered this. The only indication we have, though, is a silly blog post about what some Australians, who were also other journalists, thought of Las Vegas, and a short bit about encountering a pair of Chinese interns whose wisest observation of our city was, "One dollar, touch butt."

So I decided to do the assignment for ol' Ed.

Read the rest HERE

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Why 40/40 @ Palazzo Was A Bad Idea


The Review-Journal has broken news today confirming longstanding rumors that Palazzo would buy back the Jay-Z sports bar/restaurant the 40/40 Club and turn it into a sportsbook. This blog claims the deal could be worth $44 million to the music mogul.

I'm going to say something very un-PC here, but somebody should. This wasn't a surprise. The surprise was that anybody thought that a place that elsewhere is known for drawing large numbers of black customers would fit in well in a $2 billion resort like Palazzo where the only minorities they're really aiming to please are Asian whales.

Is that a racist statement? I don't mean it to be. I mean it to be an objective look at an inappropriate pairing between the aesthetic of a resort that envisions itself and markets itself as the lap of luxury and a place known for being popular among rappers and folks who like a good chicken wing. Do you think that Palazzo has ever taken out an ad in Jet or Ebony? Hell to the no! They're busy advertising in Conde Nast Traveler and Forbes.

This isn't the first time there has been a poor marriage of this sort. Avenue Q, the Tony-winning Broadway show, could have been a success in Las Vegas. Just not at the Wynn, which is similarly pursuing the middle-aged upper-crust, not the young urban professionals. In a smaller theater at a resort that draws a more liberal crowd -- the Palms or, even more appropriately, New York-New York -- it could have had a long, successful run. But as Wynn realized much too late, it was "an inside piece of business." Ditto to Spamalot; did you really think the mimosas-and-caviar crowd would have a taste for silly, sardonic British humor?

I know there are other examples. Hans Klok might have...oh, wait. Never mind. He would have failed even if he were at the center of a Cirque show.

Of course, there's one other reason why 40/40 failed: Nobody could find it. It's tucked below the front valet and the most the Palazzo could bother to indicate it by signage was to put out foam board signs on easels in the casino. Hard to sell chicken wings, even to the CEO of China Mobile if he's got a hankering, if nobody knows where you are.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

No LIVE Show This Week

Sorry, folks. We lost our engineer -- Mark says he's invented a means of making household air conditioners 40 percent more energy-efficient and a Canadian company is paying him to build it (?!?!?) -- and LV Rocks is training a replacement. The other times LV Rocks offered us don't work for us this week, so we'll be cranking something out from home.

SO - next week we'll celebrate our 3rd anniversary with a new engineer. Wish us luck.

Also sorry the blogging has been sparse in the past couple of days. My aunt left after six days and I've got an OJ trial preview I've got to complete today. I'm just a little tired and trying to get back up to speed.