Friday, June 24, 2011

Top Nevada Conservative: Gay Marriage Is Inevitable, Just Do It

As the New York State Legislature works into the night on a track to become the largest state to grant marriage equality to same-sex couples, the effort to make this happen in Nevada may have hit a turning point today as well.

Chuck Muth, the outspoken conservative activist whose wrath is feared by most Republican elected officials in Nevada, wrote this in his daily email blast that goes to GOPers and journalists:

Many, if not most of you won't like this but gay marriage is coming. Nationwide. It's inevitable. It's only a matter of time. It can and will be delayed, but not stopped. And eventually, it will be as acceptable as black/white marriages. The problem isn't letting gays into marriage, but having already let the government into marriage.

As an economy based almost solely on tourism and entertainment, Nevada -- and especially Las Vegas -- should accept reality, embrace the inevitable, repeal the state's ban on gay marriage, and scarf up on the tourism bonanza that would result rather than suck hind teat behind the likes of Hawaii and New York.

I suspect that Muth has uttered similar views before, but it's especially notable because this missive will be read more closely than most as it also announces that the GOP presidential debate he was helping organize has been postponed from July. And I know that Muth has never been all that interested in the Sharron Angle-Richard Ziser wing of the Nevada Republican universe because he doesn't think the guvmint belongs in personal lives any more than in anything else they're in.

But if GLBT activists are wise, they'll ring up Muth and see if they can team up with him on getting the marriage amendment undone in the state constitution. Maybe they can sit down together with Mayor-Elect Carolyn Goodman, who is misinformed about what her own religion says now on this very topic, too.

I will say this, however: As much as I love tempting the right wing with promises of economic bonanzas, my sense is that Nevada has actually missed that boat now -- for good. There was a time back around 2003 when legal marriage for gays was a novelty and there were county clerks all over the country suddenly deciding to issue marriage licenses. Gays were flocking to remote parts of New Mexico and Oregon and certainly San Francisco to get married because it was exciting and felt politically important.

Today, there are five states where it is legal and, by tomorrow, perhaps six. There are major court challenges that are working their way to the Supreme Court which, if it reads the Constitution the way true conservatives like Muth do, will only be able to conclude that marriage bans violate the full faith and credit clause, among other niggling details.

But gay couples today are well aware that the legal marriages they entered into in Massachusetts or Iowa mean nothing in Nevada or Arkansas or Florida. This is something Goodman didn't understand when she suggested that gay couples go to other states to get married and then come back; gays aren't just doing it for the legally insignificant thrill anymore.

So even if Nevada undid its marriage amendment and legalized it -- a process that would take years -- gay couples from other states will not stampede here en masse anymore. Gays, like most minorities, reward the early adapters, not opportunistic stragglers. And in order for out-of-state gays to be able to bring their Nevada marriage licenses home and have it mean anything, marriage equality would have to be federally recognized, most likely via Supreme Court fiat.

All that said, the fact that Muth is being so direct and vocal about this is meaningful and this doesn't mean it's not an effort worth doing. I'd love to see Nevada permit same-sex marriages willingly and affirmatively rather than because what will inevitably be called "activist judges" foist it upon us. I doubt it's a tourism panacea in any measurable way, but it certainly would be nice to know that Nevada still operates on the small government, live-and-let-live credo it claimed but surrendered by approving Question 2 in 2000 and 2002.

The Show is UP: #Celine's Director and More!

Here we go again. It's sort of a two-fer, but instead of one gigantic show, we did two. Enjoy. Click on the date below to play or right-click to save the show. Or you subscribe -- for free -- in iTunes or Zune and you'll always get it first. -sf

June 22: He's Got Celine's Back

EXTRA: Celine's Back-Up (Violinist Philippe Dunnigan)

It was by far the most hyped – and to our minds the best – new show to hit the Vegas Strip this year. Celine Dion has returned to the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in a self-titled production that is radically different and vastly better than “…A New Day,” her groundbreaking first run in the vaunted showroom. Legendary TV producer Ken Ehrlich directed “Celine,” so we spoke to him at length about the intriguing decisions he, the singer and her husband made. Why didn’t they include the closing-number special effects when they opened in March? Was it weird to rehearse Celine’s duet with herself? What’s the story behind that French song that makes her cry every night? Why wasn’t the songstress at the United Center when Ehrlich produced two star-studded final-week shows for Oprah Winfrey last month?

In Banter: Anniversaries! Wynn Politics! TV Show Tapings! Maloofs! Monorail Bashing! and more.

Open & Banter: Start to 24ish
Ken Ehrlich Part I: 24-58ish
Trivia/Poll/Letters: 59-59ish
Ken Ehrlich Part II: 1:00-1:25ish
TSTToTW: 1:25-end

Links to Stuff Discussed:

Ken Ehrlich on IMDB
Philippe Dunnigan's
Tickets for Celine Dion’s show at the Colosseum
VegasHappensHere.Com on the Electric Daisy Carnival drama
The Electric Daisy Carnival’s Vegas website
The audio of Steve Wynn’s I-Voted-Obama remark on Fox
The Street on Wynn in Singapore and Howard Stutz on Wynn and Adelson as BFFs
Wall Street Journal on Shania Twain coming to the Colosseum
It’s anniversary fever on the Strip: Jersey Boys, Phantom, Love, Jubilee!
Steve’s column about the Starkey Hearing Foundation event at the Hilton
Robin Leach’s EXCLUSIVE!!!!!! coverage of the Hell’s Kitchen taping and announcement of Gordon Ramsay restaurant at Paris
Garth Brooks is no longer sold out, according to Las Vegas Advisor
Business Week on the Maloof family now only owning 2% of the Palms
VegasInc on The Plaza’s new look is out as they plan to open by Sept. 1
Steve’s column about the Firefly not returning to Plaza
Adrienne Packer’s fun column about the 81-year-old codger who timed the monorail v walking
A picture from VegasTripping.Com about the wrap of St. Regis at the Venetian
Boyd bought stuff in the Gulf Coast
CityCenter Sales office is going to be a new Star Wars museum attraction thing

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Proof The Strip Is Freaked About Electric Daisy

I just filed a piece for a national publication about the Electric Daisy drama, but there are some things that are just difficult to explain in a traditional piece. You know how I love me some screen shots.

In case you're unaware, Electric Daisy Carnival is a rave that will take over the Las Vegas Motor Speedway from Friday to Sunday with six stages and an expected 85,000-ish attendees daily. It's controversial because two attendees died after the one last weekend in Dallas and a 15-year-old died at one in L.A. last year. In fact, the L.A. Coliseum declined $300,000 to host the thing again this year, which is how it ended up in Vegas.

So here's the YouTube promo, which gives you an idea what this is:

Anyhow, the Strip is being very weird about all this. Them's some huge crowds coming, and it's not like drugs and alcohol overdoses, among other vices, aren't de rigeur on the Strip on any given weekend. And yet the resorts don't seem to be too excited about this bunch, and my favorite Wall Street analyst, Robert LaFleur, suggested in an email this week that they're setting room rates extra high as "defensive moves by the hotels to discourage patronage by these attendees." When the Flamingo sets its room rates at $775 a night, two-night-minimum, you know something gone terribly awry. (See the chart at bottom of this R-J piece for more wacky prices.)

There are various theories why, and John L. Smith of the R-J was especially clever in yesterday's column in which he wrote:

I suspect what makes some officials most upset isn't the drug use or the loud music, but the fact the Electric Daisy devotees don't gamble like fiends and hang out in nightclubs where a bottle of vodka costs more than a car payment.

So what do you call a drug-hazed person who comes to Las Vegas and doesn't gamble? Possible trouble. What do you call the same person who comes to Las Vegas and hits the green-felt tables? A good customer.

Meanwhile, the folks from Insomniac, which produces these events, refuse to acknowledge that they've got the Strip freaked out. Erika L. Raney, the spokeswoman, responded via email to my questions about the skittishness with this:

I have not heard of this issue. All hotel partners that Insomnaic works with have been extremely welcoming and accommodating. We believe hotels in Las Vegas are thrilled to have the business, as some reports suggest the Strip is at nearly a sell-out.

Now, in order for Ms. Raney to not have heard of these issues, she would have had to simply not read any of the copious gobs of media coverage leading up to this weekend. That would strike me as shockingly derelict of any publicist, right?

But hey, let's take a look. And here's what we find on the EDC-Vegas site under "hotels":

That's quite the select bunch, right? Circus Circus, Excalibur, Stratosphere, Luxor and O.J. Simpson's favorite, Palace Station. But here's the best part. Click on any of those except for The Palace, and this is what you get:

Sorry! No rooms at the inns!

But then go to each of those resorts' sites and...there ARE rooms! Look!

Now, granted, Saturday night is still sold out at Circus Circus and Excalibur, but what about the other nights and the other two fine establishments of lodging? And, also, EDC and others are saying the room rates are so frigging high because of overall demand across the city, but then how IS it that the Palace Station is offering rooms for...

just $73? That screenshot also proves, by the by, that the default for the EDC site's hotel links is to search for a one-night stay starting today. And all of these resorts have availability for that. So hmmph.

Look, regardless of what Raney says, this is NOT the behavior or posture of a resort community that is eager to host these people. When I asked earlier today whether there was an official hotel, I was told it is the Cosmopolitan. I called the Cosmo to ask them why they were being so embracing of that which competitors seem to be shirking from, only to get a denial that the Cosmo is actually the official hotel. Welcome, everyone!

Here's hoping the ravers all come and enjoy themselves and go home in one piece. But please don't insult our intelligence by suggesting that this is a normal event and everything is hunky dory. Besides, the media is largely on your side on this; it's great fun to point out when the Vegas resorts are being ridiculous.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

LVW Col: How The Starkey Mission Changed Me

I'm not sure why, but as I head to the end of my tenure as a Las Vegas Weekly columnist, I'm getting more and more personal and emotional in my writing. I hope y'all don't mind. Here's this week's piece. -sf

An afternoon with the Starkey Hearing Foundation
changed (my) life



Ordinarily, I’d be angling for an interview with the luminaries. Soap goddess Susan Lucci stood next to me, preternaturally cheerful The View co-host Sherri Shepherd was nearby and Marlee Matlin, the deaf Oscar winner, had just walked in.

Yet at that moment the only person who fascinated me was 5-year-old Toby Grizzle and those all-important, teary-eyed supporting cast members known as his parents. He’s not a star, although he was encircled by reporters and cameras while a tall, meaty fellow with a bowl of slicked-back hair as white as his lab coat altered his future.

Toby and I have quite a lot in common. He’s a big-cheeked preschooler with significant, unexplained hearing loss, and so was I. He’s got traumatized folks facing the obscene cost of equipment that will help their son, and so did I. He yearns to be normal, to not constantly feel he’s disappointing his parents, teachers and peers. So did I.

See the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com

The Strip is LIVE Tonight W/ Celine's Director

Yes, we are back for a home-stretch of shows before we close up shop in August. Tonight, we feature an in-depth conversation with "Celine" director Ken Ehrlich, the man also behind countless Grammy telecasts. We talk about just about everything, from the all-new effects that close Celine's new Colosseum show to what it was like to film and stage her duet with herself. Also, we learn why Celine wasn't at the United Center in Chicago for Oprah's star-studded sendoff, which Ehrlich also produced.

So here's what we're doing. At 8 p.m. PT, we will begin to play the interview with Ehrlich, and you can hear that and chat with other listeners (and probably watch our dogs frolic/snooze on a couch) on this UStream site. And then, when that's over, Miles and I will do the regular portions of the episode. The podcast of all of it -- in the correct order -- will be available tomorrow some time when I get to editing it.

I hope you'll be there. But if not, I'll try getting the podcast out as quickly as I can, so you can subscribe to The Strip (it's free!) in iTunes or Zune to get the latest show and various specials.

P.S. I also am due to interview "Celine" orchestra leader and violinist Phillippe Dunnigan today. We'll probably issue that interview separately as a special in the podcast feed later this week since the Ehrlich interview is quite long as it is.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Good and bad from the weekend papers

I caught up this morning on the weekend papers, and this stuff is worth your eye:

* Howard Stutz of the R-J puts together the surprising detente between Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson, right down to the suggestion by Adelson that the epic rivals will soon dine together. Oh, to be a fly...

* Tom Gorman of the Sun has a most awesome Q-and-A with Sir Patrick Stewart on his plans to create a Vegas-set version of "The Merchant of Venice." It reminds me of the time I saw "Taming of the Shrew" staged as a Western starring Morgan Freeman and Tracey Ullman and put on by Joseph Papp in Central Park. (Side note: I once considered titling a podcast interview with Adelson as "The Merchant of Venice" but opted against doing so because because the play -- or at least the title character of Shylock -- is so notoriously anti-Semitic. I went with "Mr. Sands Man" instead.)

* J. Patrick Coolican, who has been refreshingly diversifying his columns from the monotony of politics that the Sun is addicted to, gives us a terrific piece on a 25-year-old kid living at Veer for $1,000 a month plus valet parker duties. Money quote to make Jim Murren, who pictured a different grade of humanity living in these units, cringe: "The amenities -- you can't beat 'em." Party on, dude!

* Adrienne Packer geeks out on data collected by an 81-year-old monorail obsessive who has empirically proven that, for the most part, it's faster and cheaper to walk from one casino to another than to ride the ill-placed transit system. What's more, the creative codger's analysis also indicates that the oft-cited panacea for the monorail's woes -- a link-up to McCarran -- won't work, either.

Of course, there are some jeers:

* Why does Sad Shermy still have a column in the newspaper he has legally imperiled and whose circulation he ruined? I'd much rather have seen them hold over ex-editor Thomas Mitchell's columns because at least they were (usually) original and smart meditations on a topic that doesn't get enough press, first amendment matters. Instead, we have Sad Shermy writing the same old predictable babble, only not as well or as thoughtfully as other conservative commentators who actually do some reporting.

* I adore the work of Adrienne Packer, so I hope she doesn't take this the wrong way, but the absence of any coverage of the passage and Sandoval signing of AB511, the bill that makes Nevada the first state to legalize DRIVERLESS CARS for road use, is simple dereliction. This is a major, major legislative and technological development. I understand why Carson City scribes would overlook it because they had the budget and everything else to cover, but transportation writers ought to be all over this. So should technology writers, but neither the R-J nor the Sun have one of any merit, a glaring problem. (I'm trying to get the link to my piece on this from the iPad-only The Daily.)

Check out this YouTube video on the driverless cars for background and some amazing visuals:

This could be real on the roads of Vegas a year from now, thanks to the law. Really.

* Steve Bornfeld of the R-J applied his typical staccato,
sentence-fragment style to his coverage of the Daytime Emmy Awards in a piece that essentially chronicled the construct of the red carpet and the backstage post-win appearances. I do understand the instinct toward media navel-gazing (see this blog post or this whole blog!) and the desire to behave above and apart from the media silliness of such events. But in this particular case, he actually missed the story, which was how offended the audience and Emmy brass were that Oprah Winfrey did not show up for her own lengthy tribute. There was noticeable hostility in the Hilton theater as well as all over Twitter, and I'm pretty surprised that Oprah didn't just snubbed this crowd but also passed up a much-much-much-needed opportunity to plug her flailing network and its unwatched offerings. Didn't Oprah quit so she could focus on that? Also, why did they lie and pretend that Celine Dion was singing live from the Colosseum during the show when Celine's part was taped four days earlier? That sort of stuff would've made an interesting, Vegas-centric wrap-up.

* I'm completely puzzled that (a) this below is front page news, (b) that the paper misspelled the name of its own reporter of 426 years (It's Przybys, not Pyzybys, as it was corrected later online) and (c) that they ran with this thoroughly misleading headline:

What "history" was made? A California woman won a beauty pageant. She's not the first. She's not the last. She's not even all that interesting a woman, except she seems to have acquired a bit of Tudor lust thanks, probably, to Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. If there was some history made -- beyond the fact that every day is technically historic -- then John Pryzyzyzbys didn't tell us what that might've been.

* Journalists really must stop bitching, especially publicly on Twitter, about the quality of the free seats they get at various events. It truly embarrasses to them to behave so openly entitled, and it distracts from the quality of their coverage. Do they think their readers are sympathetic to the complaints of a group of people who seem to expect special treatment? This came up, too, during the opening of Celine's show at the Colosseum. The whiners' lack of self-awareness is kind of unbelievable.

* Finally, where the heck was the print coverage of the Starkey Hearing Foundation's mission to provide 100 underprivileged kids in Clark County with free hearing aids on Saturday? Those hearing aids cost probably $2,500 each, so that's $500,000 in donated, customized equipment alone, but more importantly there were some amazing and heartbreaking stories there. But never fear, I volunteered and I'll be columnizing about that this week for the Las Vegas Weekly. Also, because I know someone at KSNV, they did this:

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Wait . . . Steve Wynn Voted For Obama?!?

[UPDATE: Ben Smith of Politico picked up this item and added that ex-RJ scribe and Politico writer Molly Ball notes it's even more surprising that Wynn claims to have voted Obama because he was the 2008 GOP presidential campaign co-chair in Nevada.]

Steve Wynn appeared for about six minutes on Fox News today in a town hall setting with Republican pollster and savant Frank Luntz. Luntz is an old friend of Wynn's; Wynn had told me long ago that Luntz field-tested Le Reve versus Wynn Las Vegas to decide which to call his resort.

You can hear the audio of that TV appearance by clicking here. Thanks to Hunter at RateVegas.Com for grabbing that for me.

It was really a weird appearance. He spoke of how "only in the control of the people and the better life of my people" does the enterprise flourish, that employees who are uncertain or whose standard of living is in peril won't attend as well to his guests. I get what he was trying to say, but I'm fairly sure Luntz would not have advised the use of the word "control."

But the bit that stunned me was Wynn claiming he voted for Barack Obama in 2008. We know that soon-to-be-ex-wife Elaine was gaga for Barry and that she forced Steve to socialize with the Obamas, where Wynn admitted to being charmed. But is it not a bit of a surprise that in all the many, many rants that Wynn has made to me, to Jon Ralston, to whoever on Fox or CNBC flips on a camera for him, he has never once said this before? He gave not a cent to Obama and the legal limit to John McCain -- and gave the legal limit again for McCain's 2010 Senate campaign, by the way -- but he VOTED for Obama?

I'm not saying it isn't possible. In fact, Wynn and I spoke at length in December 2008 as Encore was opening and he actually told me off the record -- although now that's moot because he has now said it on national TV, too -- that he had, in fact, voted for Obama. But there was something about the moment that rang false to me anyway; it felt like he was trying to seem like he had picked the winner after the game was over. I felt like if he really had, he would say so publicly then when Obama was popular and see what sort of benefit he could derive out of being "in," either genuinely thanks to Elaine or opportunistically on his own, with the White House.

But if Steve Wynn did vote for Hope and Change, why's he so mad about the health care reforms Congress has passed? This was precisely what Obama promised he would do, it was a cornerstone of his campaign; did Wynn think the president was lying about how important this was to him? If anything, the reforms that were passed are less intense and government-driven than those that Obama spoke about on the stump.

And another thing. Wynn said on Fox today that his health care costs had been increasing by 8 percent a year since 2005 and that since the new law -- which has not even gone into effect yet in any meaningful way -- he's up 10 to 12 percent. And then he tells Luntz that what he wants is for the government to "get off health care. Let private enterprise figure it out."

But didn't he just say that private enterprise, the system as it was, was responsible for consistent 8 percent increases in costs every year? That's sustainable? Health costs rising ridiculously faster than inflation is a way to keep his employees' standard of living intact? What? Does any of this make sense? He was OK with 8 percent increases EVERY YEAR but a 10 percent one is suddenly the worst thing that has ever happened?

Finally, and only slightly off topic, I will observe with fascination whom, if anyone, Mr. Wynn supports in our upcoming special Congressional election between Republican Mark Amodei and Democrat Kate Marshall now that Amodei has posted this as his first TV ad:

Can Steve Wynn seriously afford to support a China-bashing candidate for Congress from his own state? China is the reason why Steve Wynn has been able to keep so many of his employees employed! Were it not for the obscene profits in Macau, Wynn surely would have laid off many more people and been as imperiled by the horrific Vegas economy as MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment. It's easy, in fact, to make the case that Amodei's "nightmare" of China kept the official Nevada unemployment rate from hitting 20 percent.

Oh, the political pretzels we twist. What a fun summer ahead!