Thursday, May 6, 2010

How I Got My Uncle Arrested

Las Vegas Weekly Current Issue

I lied to you people a couple of weeks ago. When had to cancel The Strip on April 24, I claimed it was because Miles had to work. The fact is, I spent the day helping the U.S. Marshals arrest my uncle, a fugitive from Palm Beach County who fled instead of showing up on April 16 to be sentenced on 82 charges of trafficking child porn online.

I wasn't really comfortable talking about this in bits and pieces, so there were no blog posts, no Twitter comments, only the broadest of hints on the podcast. I didn't even tell many close friends. That didn't mean I didn't want to express myself or tell the story, just that this one took some digesting and required me to put the whole thing in the context it deserved.

That's what this week's Las Vegas Weekly cover story is all about. It replaces my regularly scheduled column this go-around. I hope you all find it illuminating.

Sun's Political Team Shake-Up

Some major changes are happening at the Las Vegas Sun right when what's arguably the most important U.S. Senate race in Nevada history is heating up:

* Lisa Mascaro, the Washington correspondent for the paper, is moving over to the Los Angeles Times' DC bureau. That marks the second straight poaching of Vegas talent by the Times for its coverage of national politics; Kathleen Hennessey, formerly of the Associated Press here, was hired last year. What's sad here is that after years of outstanding work, Mascaro's swan song was a painful Sunday top-of-fold puff piece on all the goodies Harry Reid has brought to Nevada. Many inside the Sun newsroom have grumbled over the Greenspuns' blatantly political use of its news reporters in that instance, and it's really too bad that Mascaro's magnificent tenure ended with such a thing. Somehow Erin Neff and her phony journalism watchdog site didn't mind that, but woe be unto the Review-Journal if they had written, say, a feature about something good Sen. Ensign has done for the state.

* J. Patrick Coolican, the lead Vegas-based politics writer for the paper, heads to the Los Angeles Weekly shortly after the June 8 primary. There he will be blogging and reuniting with Drex Heikes, the former Sun city editor who led Alexandra Berzon to her Pulitzer Prize a year ago.

Now what? Well, there's Jon Ralston, of course, but as huge a shadow as he casts over coverage of politics, he still can't be everywhere sitting in on everything. And there's Michael Mishak, who I hear may end up heading to D.C. to take Mascaro's gig. Either way, losing that much of the braintrust -- and to competing publications -- will no doubt harm the quality of the Sun's coverage.

Meanwhile, closer to my heart, my dear Petcast co-host Emily Richmond, by far the most knowledgeable education reporter in this city, is absconding as well, at least temporarily. She departs to the University of Michigan in late August for a eight-month stint as a prestigious Knight-Wallace Fellow. That's amazing and I couldn't be more proud of her, but it also means that the Sun goes into the critical 2011 Legislative Session and possibly a new Clark County School District superintendent search without its ace.

That Knight-Wallace Fellow thing might sound familiar because that's where the Review-Journal's former political beat reporter Molly Ball has been for the past eight months with her husband, former R-J courts scribe David Kihara. Ball, of course, was a frequent fill-in guest-host on The Petcast, which must explain how both of these women landed the gig.

Ball tells me via e-mail they're not coming back to Vegas, but maybe she'd be interested in covering D.C. for the Sun? Trouble is, she already worked for the Sun and then defected to the Review-Journal, so who knows if that door continues to revolve or not. In lieu of that, send Mishak to D.C. if he'll go and then bring back Abigail Goldman or Timothy Pratt, the two best reporters fired in the Sun purge.

Bad idea: Getting an out-of-towner or rookie to stand in Ralston's shadow. I know, I did that once. In 1998, I was a 26-year-old sent by the R-J to cover the county government beat. Ralston was still an R-J columnist then. It was impossible to get traction on the beat in part because I was inexperienced and easy to manipulate but also because Ralston was an institution to be respected and feared by the political machinery of these parts. Inside sources could curry favor with me with minimal benefit as I'd in all likelihood be gone by the millennium (I was) whereas Ralston, they knew, would always be there (and still is). It's a thankless job any which way with this 800-pound gorilla in the midst, but it's important that the Sun's political writers in Vegas be seasoned and savvy enough to earn Ralston's respect as a worthy part of his team.

No word yet how we'll handle Emily's absence on our pet show. Anyone out there who loves parrots and bulldogs and who already has a podcast that's fading want to jump in for eight months?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wynn Resorts Responds to @PhilipBloom

[Update: Philip Bloom just sent me two emails. The first: "You REALLY didnt want to post that blog. You have gone beyond personal. this will not be pleasant for you Steve." The second: "you have gone on a personal attack and said some deeply untrue fucked up things. thank god you have SUCH a litigious society. :-)."]

If you're not on Twitter, you may not be aware that my prior post of Wynn-related bits and pieces set off a firestorm because filmmaking GOD Philip Bloom took umbrage with having his already peculiar version of events at Wynn Las Vegas questioned. It seems he's very, very touchy, and although he has no trouble unloading on the hotel in public and urging his Twitter followers to join in on the bashing, when he is placed under scrutiny, he withers and tells me in a series of private emails that *I* am what's wrong with the Internet.

The background: Bloom, the greatest filmmaker and digital movie pioneer in the history of cinema according to his bizarro followers, got sick when he was in Vegas for the National Association of Broadcasters convention last month. He was rushed to the hospital and later a doctor told him that a heretofore-benign allergy to feathers was exacerbating his throat ailment. He asked the resort to remove all the feather pillows and they did so except that they may have left one (of 8) behind. Bloom realized this on the very last day of his trip and decided to make a federal case out of it. His Twitter followers, in fact, believe the hotel almost KILLED him. Really. They've said that and more.

You can read his version of events on his blog. It's not just that there were inconsistencies in his account and an overall whiny, entitled tone but that when fans of the Wynn tried to represent their good customer service experiences in his comments section, Bloom refused to approve those remarks. He claimed that the pro-Wynn people were attacking him because, in Bloom's world, any form of disagreement or dissent is an attack. Just ask the sycophants who follow/read him.

All the Twitter discussion of Bloom's cowardice and discomfort with anything less than sheer devotion may explain why he did, in fact, approve a comment from Wynn Las Vegas late today. I had asked for a response as well, and I received the same paragraph:

As Mr. Bloom already stated publicly, he was a guest of our resort and had an unfortunate experience. We genuinely take such situations very seriously and strive to rectify any problems with a quick response and action. We respect the privacy of all of our guests and don’t and won’t discuss details of their experiences in public. In this case, while we are tempted to provide context which would accurately reflect what actually happened, we opt to take the high road and not reveal such particulars.

That is what we call a "tersely worded" statement. You can just tell they're dying to tell the world what a pain in the caboose Bloom is and how badly he's mangled the facts of the case. But they're taking the "high road," a notion with which Bloom himself is clearly unfamiliar.

I'm sure there's a germ of truth in Bloom's version of the situation. The trouble is, it's also clear he set out to embarrass the Wynn and felt his army of 12,500-ish Twitter followers was a weapon to be used in his personal dispute. He's clearly a high-maintenance kind of guy with an extraordinarily thin skin for someone in the movie business, and I had a gut feeling when I first read his account that he wasn't telling a complete or balanced story to his readers. Now I know for sure he wasn't but that his readers don't much care about the truth anyway.

Only Bloom and the Wynn folks know the true details and the Wynn would never tell, which is something Bloom clearly is counting on. But for as long as I've been covering this city, I have heard only heroic, above-and-beyond customer service stories about this property. This guy was clearly difficult from the word ahchoo.

Wynn: Andrea Has The "Greatest Butt In The World"

This man and his world...

...are never dull.

I had already planned to mention and link to my appearance on KNPR yesterday in which I expressed extreme doubts about Wynn's plans to move the company to China. Fine. There it is.

Then I thought that this British blogger and filmmaker dude named Philip Bloom's digital diarrhea about how much he is owed by the Wynn Las Vegas because they failed to remove a feather pillow from his room was possibly worth taking apart in this space. He says his feather allergy was exacerbating his laryngitis and he told the hotel to remove all the feather pillows; they missed one, he didn't realize it until his last night and he now claims that he ended up unprovably sicker from it. This infraction, he believed, entitled him to loads of freebies!

Bloom acknowledges no responsibility to double-check the premises for potentially harmful allergens -- especially something as general as feathers that appear in pretty much every top-end hotel on the planet -- and is now angry because the hotel only refunded him half his food and beverage tab. He had received a Tweet from @WynnLasVegas promising him full a F&B refund, so on that count he's right that he should have gotten that. But his whole whiny and entitled demeanor in his blather suggests he probably didn't deal very politely with them, either.

But then Wynn himself went into somewhat shocking detail with the South China Morning Post last weekend about his relationship with Andrea Hissom. The R-J's Norm Clarke reported on it today, so I just read it through. (SCMP.Com has a firewall so I can't link to the piece, but they offer free 14-day trials, so you can sign up and then see it for yourself. It's possible this direct link could work, too.)

What we learn in this fascinating piece by Daniel Jeffreys:

* Wynn is an ass man. To wit: "When we were first going out she would make a comment about space and she'd be dead right. And I'd think, 'Don't tell me that, on top of everything else, besides having the greatest butt in the world, she also has the designer gene!' It's like God made a woman for me. The only thing that stops my world from being perfect is that Elaine is not happy."

* Elaine's response: "I obviously needed a man like Steve for his charisma, passion and enthusiasm and I am sorry we don't have a personal relationship any more. But his character is a very demanding one and I am an alpha female. I found I had to compromise to maintain the relationship and I did that because of our children. ... I am thriving. I am in an enviable place - I have independence and that means I can make a difference, but am I totally satisfied? My dream for the endgame [living out the rest of her life with Wynn] was compromised. I am mourning the loss of the dream as much as the man but I do not feel like a victim in any way."

* Wynn claims to have been separated from Elaine when he met Andrea at a restaurant in St. Tropez and romanced her over the love-conquers-all flick "Gigi."

* Wynn suggested that if Elaine had a boyfriend, then the two couples could double-date. Elaine laughed and then responded: "First, no one should assume that I am not seeing somebody. ... I am not craving to learn somebody all over again. It has been great to be in this fanciful wonderful business but I want to have a more important legacy; I want to be known for elevating consciousness. My activities now [promoting continuing education and reducing drop-out rates] are noble."

* Ex-Gov. and Wynn Resorts Board Member Bob Miller on why Elaine Wynn did not attend the Encore Macau opening: "She's too elegant to be here."

* The reporter actually asked Elaine Wynn if she thought Andrea Hissom could take over Wynn Resorts after Steve's gone. Her answer: "
She has no background in this business. So there would be a technical deficiency. To say more is too personal."

* Wynn on how he prevents doing business with mobbed-up Macanese junket operators: "I always have a former assistant director of the FBI on board, who does reports on all the junket operators. These are sent to the board in Nevada. So far 45 [operators] have been accepted and six rejected."

* Wynn is "incandescent with rage" on behalf of MGM Mirage for New Jersey's decision that Pansy Ho's connections to her father make her unsuitable as MGM's business partner. Could that be because there have been some who have suggested that Wynn himself had mob ties just because his own late father's dealings may have been unsavory?

* Paul Anka broke the news of 9/11 to Wynn.

Jeffreys never, in the course of the discussion on succession, notes that the most likely person to take over is Elaine Wynn's nephew, Andrew Pascal, who is actually running the Vegas operations already. He also doesn't reference Wynn's vision problems.

Still, that's quite a coup for Mr. Jeffreys. I'm just stunned he didn't ask Elaine what she thought of Andrea's caboose.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tuesday Foto Funnies

It has been brought to my attention by my luncheon date today that I've been a blogging slacker of late. When the Las Vegas Weekly comes out this week, you'll find out why my mind has been otherwise engaged, but nonetheless I decided I ought to feed the masses, such as they are, with some of those entertaining images I love to collect.

WTF is that atop? Well, in early March, I was hired by a trade publication to cover the Fun Expo, a big confab for the amusement park and family entertainment center -- "FEC" in the lingo -- industry. And one of the seminars I covered was all about throwing better birthday parties. One idea was a game where two teams stuff balloons inside the oversized shirts of the competitors. Here's the other lady:

And here's the whole room learning the importance of mascots and gettin' jiggy wit it:

Not your typical convention, huh? That's where, by the way, I learned of the automated cotton candy machine that made it into this March 26 version of this blog feature.

I had to get directions for David McKee of LVA's Stiffs & Georges blog to come subsitute host for Miles on The Strip a few weeks back. When I went to Google Maps for the LVRocks.Com studio, I saw this:

That little jog that re-aligns Maryland Parkway is called South Rue 13. Ooh la la, huh? How fancy for a run-down area with a truly gross 7 Eleven! I was sure that it was some sort of misprint, but there's also a Rue 13 street sign, too.

Near Rue 13, by the by, I spotted this inventive deployment of Strip junk:

Speaking of Blogger McKee, he's been busy noting that Harrah's Buffet of Buffets deal, at first $29.99, is now $39.99. Some believe Harrah's always planned to jack up the price, but this...

...proves otherwise. You may recall from magician Nathan Burton's appearance on The Strip, a wrap like that costs $25,000 or more. So for the foreseeable future, it seems, Harrah's will have a knowingly out-of-date or misleading billboard on Bally's. Or maybe someone can get out there with a bucket of red paint and fix that "2"? I mean, yeah, it'd ruin the view from a couple of rooms, but they're not selling out anyway, right?

Here's a Google alert I really wish my parents hadn't received:

I stopped in on Harrah's comic-magician Mac King's 10th anniversary-on-the-Strip party on Sunday, as I Tweeted. He's the homespun guy with Coke-bottle glasses who wears plaid suits, so I guess it makes sense that this appears in his living room:

Mac king's house would have to have this:  on Twitpic

 Chatted w mac king for a bit about his synd comic. Rj droppe... on Twitpic

That's Mac. He's funny. He has a syndicated Sunday comic, but the R-J cut their Sunday comics pages to four pages recently and decided the only Vegas-originating cartoon of the lot had to go. Way to support the hometown hero, Shermy!

It was a nice shindig with all the usual. You know, a little person dudded up like Col. Sanders passing out KFC...

This is not your average party....  on Twitpic

...and the likes of Penn Jillette, Rita Rudner, Vinnie Favorito and other fellow Harrahite stars chilling by the blow-up flume:

Mac kings backyard flume!!! (also, there's @pennjillette)  on Twitpic

It's tricky business letting hoards of people into your home, but this works:

How mac king keeps u out of a room:   on Twitpic

On another note, given all my fascination with the taxi life lately, I spotted this and realized that cabbies clearly don't view the Las Vegas Monofail as competition anymore:

Clearly the cabs here don't regard the lv #monofail as compet... on Twitpic

Remember how I dropped in on Turnberry Towers a couple weeks ago for a blog post? Well, this is what the lobby looks like...

...and this is what the inside of the elevator I took looked like:

Ain't that fancy?

My two favorite license plates lately:

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

And finally, when I'm done with big projects or long blog posts, I play a little Scrabble on And look at what bingo (Scrabble lingo for using all your letters) I got last week:

That enough for ya, Amy? Well, is it? Huh? OK. Time to get get some real bylines now!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Gloria Estefan, the Las Vegas Spectacular?

At her star unveiling on the Strip on Friday, pop legend Gloria Estefan hinted that she would being doing something really big in Las Vegas that we'd all learn about very soon. In my subsequent interview with her for The Strip, she gave up little detail except, "We’re very excited. I think it’s going to be one of the most exciting things we’ve ever done." I asked if it was anything like the Donny & Marie show since we were standing directly below their marquee, and she said:

"No, no, you’ll see. I can’t. I never should have opened that can of worms. You’ll see. I can’t talk about it right now but it’s going to be really different, that’s all I can say."

Well, as with any major new endeavor, there are lots and lots of people in the know. And after I Tweeted about Gloria's tease, I had insiders provide me essentially the same story.

According to them, the Estefans and uber-producer Bernie Yuman are planning a biographical show about Gloria Estefan using her music but not featuring her as a performer. The show is expected to go into the renovated Tiffany Theater at the Tropicana. The timeline is a bit unclear, too. Yuman, Siegfried & Roy's longtime manager, has a long history with the Estefans that includes booking her at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace and recently helping them buy a minority stake in the Miami Dolphins. Yuman is a legendary Dolphins fan who always wears the socks with the team's imprimatur on it.

Yuman declined to comment. The Trop's spokeswoman, Brandie Feuer, said she couldn't confirm this. But nor did either of them deny it, and I've got more than one source.

So it sounds like something of a Latin-themed jukebox musical born in Vegas rather than Broadway. That makes some sense even if I what I really want is for Estefan to pull a Garth and settle down for low-energy, stripped-down acoustical show. She, like Brooks, has the range, the fan base and the musical competence to do it.

That said, I've been revisiting my Estefan CDs in my car lately and wow, that remains terrific pop music. So whatever they can do to bring it back to the fore is fine by me.