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Three questions with Rob Mrowka
by Launce Rake | posted June 18, 2014

An elevated perspective

Rob Mrowka near Mount Wilson

Rob Mrowka was born in Buffalo, New York, but he has worked for decades on issues of natural resources in the West and Southwest. After five years with the Air Force, he got a master’s in forest ecology from Washington State University, then spent 28 years with the U.S. Forest Service, including five years as supervisor of the Fishlake National Forest in Utah. Mrowka then worked for five years as an environmental planning manager for Clark County, and for the last six years as a conservation advocate and senior scientist for the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting endangered species and natural habitats through legal action, scientific work and grassroots activism. Mrowka recently announced plans to retire to upstate New York. We asked him a few questions.

What is your takeaway from more than a decade working in Las Vegas and many more years working on natural resource issues?

I’ve worked 38 years in the field of natural resource science in federal and county government, as well as with a private nonprofit, and from coast to coast, so I’ve been fortunate to accumulate a fairly broad perspective of how things work, warts and all. My Vegas experiences have shown me that growth does not pay for growth, politicians are generally gutless and unwilling to address critical, long-term issues, and water flows uphill to money.

How has the discussion and debate over natural resources evolved over time?

Over my tenure in Southern Nevada, environmental issues have generally shifted from the impacts on the natural environment from sprawl and rampant growth to the even larger question of how a human community can survive and be sustainable in the driest desert in North America, with an emphasis on the issues of water and renewable energy. There has been a profound shift in that time. Local governments once wanted broad, grassroots solutions. Today, government often turns to the growth and development complex, developers and other profit-motivated actors, for public-policy direction.

What lies ahead for Southern Nevada?

The impacts from climate change loom large for Southern Nevada, and unless our elected officials take heed and apply even a basic understanding of biology, the community will ultimately face collapse. There is such a thing as carrying capacity and limits to growth. Las Vegas is only possible with the addition of huge and extremely expensive human subsidies — where would we be without widespread air-conditioning? We are already experiencing the increasing heat and drought that is the new normal. The real problem is the failure of elected officials across the board to engage the community in a discussion of the impending doom. It is dereliction of duty and a failure of their roles as community leaders. Despite the myths to the contrary from local officials, water should, and ultimately will, limit growth. A Southern Nevada Water Authority proposal to build a $16 billion, 250-mile pipeline, bankrupting the community to bring limited water from ancient aquifers to fuel growth in Las Vegas, is not an intelligent answer. Growth management and living within the current development footprint, increased conservation indoor as well as outdoor, and long-term planning to bring desalinated water to the valley are the only hopes. Larger and finer civilizations have failed and disappeared when faced with choosing between personal greed and community good. We’re facing the same sort of existential crisis.


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Worry globally, warm locally
by Heidi Kyser | posted May 21, 2014

In a bittersweet coincidence, the National Climate Assessment was published just as wildfire season made its early debut in California, and, closer to home, the National Park Service announced it was modifying boat ramps to respond to sinking water levels at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. These are exactly the kind of conditions that the assessment, overseen by a 60-member federal advisory committee, warned readers to expect with increasing duration and frequency as the globe warms. We called up Thomas Piechota, UNLV Interim Vice President for Research and the lead author on the section of the assessment that covered the Southwest, and asked what else Nevadans can expect and what it all means.

DC: What’s the scope of this assessment?

PIECHOTA: This is a compilation of all the studies done that feed into a consensus of what the science says for climate change impacts. I don’t have the exact number, but for the Southwest chapter, it’s probably on the order of 100 relevant studies, when you think of all the different areas that are being touched on – whether it’s water, wild-land fires, public health, and so on.

DC: How is it different from all the other climate change studies we hear about?

PIECHOTA: Rather than an individual study asking if Lake Mead will be dry in 20 years, the assessment asks, in what direction are all the relevant studies pointing? That’s what decision-makers like to see.

DC: It’s meant primarily for policy-makers, then?

PIECHOTA: Yeah, but most decision-makers are public officials; they get put into office by the public… It also highlights the importance of everyday life decisions we all make, from how we use water at home, to the types of vehicles we drive, to whether we recycle or not. All these make a difference, whether it’s mitigation or adaptation. We make choices at a very local level, but they have global impact.

DC: The assessment concludes, overall, that human-induced climate change is causing increasing impacts across the country (emphasis added). Is this still a controversial statement?

PIECHOTA: The science shows that humans have impacted climate in the modern era. That’s what the statement alludes to … When I talk to our students and other people about this, I say they need to understand the evidence behind this. It allows them, when they go back to the longer-term records, such as ice cores, to put what’s happening now into the context of larger climate cycles.

DC: Give me a local example.

PIECHOTA: With water supply, sometimes, in tree-ring data, you see a longer-term drought cycle. What Lake Mead looks like today is our barometer for water supply in the region. When you overlay those two, that’s when you get low lake levels – certainly because of drought and warming conditions over the last 15 years, but also because of growth of the region. Projecting out over time, the models show that the region will likely continue to experience a gradual warming over time. Precipitation is harder to say, but even just the warming by itself would be enough to impact snow pack and water supply in the region. We have to think about how we mitigate that.

DC: So, the focus is on impact more than on cause-and-effect?

PIECHOTA: It wasn’t focused as much on causes of climate change or variability. It was more focused on what things will look like and what the impacts will be, given that we know climate’s going to look different in the future. People who want to make decisions around climate want to understand the vulnerability of systems.

DC: So there’s an impact mitigation component to it too?

PIECHOTA: Yes, mitigation and adaptation. The mitigation piece is, how do you reduce the things that are changing our climate, such CO2 emissions. The adaptation piece is more, how do you change infrastructure to respond to the changing climate.

DC: The report cites many impacts Southern Nevadans can relate to – longer, hotter summers; shorter, warmer winters; more severe seasonal allergies; wildfires that start earlier, burn longer and consume more acreage. How do we begin to adapt?

PIECHOTA: I think there’s a real need to identify vulnerable populations. If you look out over time in urban areas, for instance, where you have the urban heat island effect, they will have warmer summer days. Homeless people can’t always get into a conditioned space; people living in poverty may not have the means to (cool their homes). Native American populations may rely on local water supplies and have no ability to tap into new sources. Those are the ones you talk about.

DC: What’s the top priority?

PIECHOTA: For our region, water really drives a lot of what we do. It drives the economy of the region, and there’s a lot we can do in that area. You see this playing out in our region already with some of the inter-state cooperation on the Colorado River. I think that’s where we’re going with adaptation: How the states and other entities work together.


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Titus talks federal pot laws
by Heidi Kyser | posted May 8, 2014

Medical marijuana has occupied a constant corner of local news for months now. The national debate is snagging headlines again too, such as this morning’s report about Colorado’s financial alternative to the U.S. Treasury Department. On her last visit to Las Vegas, Congresswoman Dina Titus sat and shared what she’s up to at the federal level.

DC: You’ve been making some moves on the medical marijuana front lately. Why?

TITUS: If it happens in Nevada, it's going to happen in District 1. We are the Strip, the airport, the university, the Arts District and downtown. This is where that action is going to be, so we want to be sure that we do it right.

DC: Broadly speaking, do you support the development of this industry here?

TITUS: I do. I supported it when it first passed a dozen years ago overwhelmingly – like two-to-one Nevadans in favor of it. And I hear all kinds of stories, most often from veterans, because I'm on the Veterans Committee, about PTSD and pain management and nausea with chemotherapy. I think if it helps and a doctor thinks it helps, and you think it helps, I don't want to be the one to stand in the way of that.

DC: Things are happening at the local level, with Clark County already receiving more than 200 medical marijuana business license applications. At the federal level, what can you do?

TITUS: There are a number of business operations that can't take place because people are worried about it being illegal. One of the main ones is banking. No other small business wants to operate without banking. That means it's cash-and-carry. There's no accountability. If you're going to regulate it, if you're going to tax it, you need that banking structure in place. So, I'm co-sponsoring legislation at the federal level to say that banks can do legitimate business in those states where medical marijuana has been legalized.

DC: Anything else?

TITUS: The second part of that is that people don't want to be in this business at the state level and make an investment if they're afraid the federal government is going to swoop in on them. So, the other bill that I'm co-sponsoring would just say that if you are an individual or a business operating in a state where it's legal, you can't be pursued by the federal government.

DC: In other words, that would prevent prosecution, but it wouldn't actually move marijuana from being a [DEA controlled substance] schedule 1 narcotic to a level 2 or 3.

TITUS: No, not at this point.

DC: Is there any movement in that direction?

TITUS: There's some possibility of that, but I think that will be harder to get passed than either of these other two.

DC: It sounds like a piecemeal approach. Are you chipping away at road blocks in order to get to the ultimate goal?

TITUS: I think that's right, and you've already seen this start to take place. The President has already announced that it's not a priority; the Attorney General isn't going to be prosecuting these cases. But the President's only there for two more years. Who knows what's going to happen after that? You need the security of legislation, because this is a big business.

DC: How would the banking legislation affect the states that don't have medical marijuana laws and may not approve of it? Some of those banks may be based in those states.

TITUS: Well, I've talked to the bankers about this, and they appreciate the legislation, because they know this is big business, and they want to be part of it. I think they would see themselves as doing it in the states where it's legal, not in states where it's not legal. … I believe you'll find that more and more states are moving in this direction. You see it on ballots, talked about in legislatures. There are 22 states where it’s legal now, but this is moving pretty fast.

DC: A marijuana consultant recently told me that he believes Nevada will be the pot capital of the U.S. and that recreational use is on the horizon. Can you see that?

TITUS: At this point, medical marijuana is what's legal. It's going to be here by the end of the year, so that's the focus now. But I think pretty close on the heels of this you'll see some movement in the retail use of marijuana too, like you see in Washington and Colorado.

DC: Within your district is our biggest state industry – casinos, hotels, entertainment. Are you getting any pushback from them about this, since anything illegal is taboo in gaming?

TITUS: So far, the gaming industry has stayed out of it. I think they want to look and see what's happening in Washington and Colorado. But, I think they are looking at how this changes the market. Because if it comes, it will have a great deal of impact on our whole tourism industry, and on our entertainment, on marketing, on restaurants. So, at this point, they're kind of in a "Let's wait and see" stage, but they haven't aggressively opposed it.

DC: Some people feel the FDA is standing in the way of this industry's development. Is there anything you can do on that front?

TITUS: Up to now, the FDA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse have only been willing to give out some of the product to be tested to show its bad effects, not the potential benefits. Last week we sent a letter to them saying, "Don't stand in the way. We need more research. We want to do this the right way, and we need the scientific evidence to be sure what ailments it helps and which ones it may not be good for."

DC: And how about the VA, as another medical institution?

TITUS: I'm glad the VA is studying it, to look at its potential effects on PTSD. We want to be sure that VA doctors can prescribe it in states where it's legal. We had a big debate on the floor about this just last week. [Representative Earl] Blumenauer offered an amendment to the VA bill, and I spoke on the floor about it saying if it's legal in a state, don't keep a VA doctor from at least talking about the possibility of it. They can't even tell you NOT to do it right now. Somebody local here would have to prescribe it.

DC: Driving to your office, on Charleston I saw a green building with a sign on the street that had a big marijuana leaf and the words, "Get legal, $275." This may be a natural part of any boom, but do you worry that some people will get swindled?

TITUS: There's an app called WeedMaps. It gives you a map of all the dispensaries, but they're little operations like the one you described, and once those licenses go into place, law enforcement is going to shut those places down.

DC: Anything else you want to tell me about this?

TITUS: Just that it's a state's rights issue. So many states want it; the federal government shouldn't be standing in the way of that. The support for it is going to build in Congress. The more people who see it work, the more states that bring it online, the more pressure there is from veterans and seniors, the more you'll see people outside Colorado, Washington and me get behind this.

 


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A train in a car: An exchange with artist Mark Brandvik
by Scott Dickensheets | posted May 6, 2014

Ferdinand

Floating in the darkness of an unlit warehouse, Volume Control, Mark Brandvik’s solo show at VAST Space Projects, is both accessible and rigorous. It wouldn’t hurt, for example, to bone up on your Bernini before you behold its wooden phone-booth-style installation piece, though it’s not strictly necessary; I didn’t, and I still enjoyed its interplay of light and shadow. But it got me wondering — as I do with so many shows for which I neglect to bone up on Bernini — how a viewer whose brain hasn’t been finely calibrated in art-stuff can engage with works of serious intent. So I asked Brandvik about my own unschooled reading of a piece in the show.

SCOTT: I’d like to ask you about a single piece in Volume Control — “Ferdinand,” the rusty, busted Porsche with the train set circling inside. When I saw it, my first thought was that it dealt with time: the short-term human notion of time, as represented by the junky and now obsolete Porsche, set against a longer, perhaps cosmic sense of time, as represented by the train whisking around its infinity loop. I also wondered if it had something to do with beauty or desire — the decrepit Porsche demonstrating the shelf-life of culturally constructed notions of beauty vs. the purity of the train’s more organic, elemental circle. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if it was possibly a visual koan on a more spiritual theme: finding traces of “the infinite” (whatever that might mean to a viewer) in anything — and therefore everything — no matter how broken-down or cast-aside, the way Bob Dylan, in his Christian phase, sang that he could “see the master’s hand” in “every grain of sand.” Further, if you think of the car as a metaphor for us — car body = human body — it suggests that if such a thing is true for a rusty old Porsche, it might also be true for a rusty old viewer. I’m not an especially spiritual person, but it didn’t take me long to arrive at this reading of “Ferdinand.” (Even the title sort of prompts a human-centered response from the viewer.) Lastly, dialing it back a little, I wondered if, more broadly, you had created a piece on the idea that everything contains its opposite and were content to let people read into it what they would. (Which I clearly have done.)

So, what's my question? This: Without asking you explicitly “what it means,” do any of my interpretations register anywhere near what you were thinking as you created this piece? What I’m really getting at, I suppose, is the process by which a viewer with a dicey grip on art history and theory — guilty!, though I often pretend otherwise — can still think his/her way into a piece, and the pitfalls, pratfalls and satisfactions that can result. (It was certainly fun for me.)

Your thoughts? (Don’t be afraid to tell me I’m dead-stupid wrong, either. Having raised three sons, I’ve heard it before.)

MARK: I’ve been thinking quite a bit  about your interpretations and questions. You definitely touched on some ideas I was thinking about as “Ferdinand” came together.

My initial concern was about the overall installation. I already had the idea for the piece, but placement was a challenge. I wanted an element to beckon viewers across the space as they negotiated that large, dark volume. Lighting and sound were  key. I was thinking of subtly cinematic but elusive lighting. Also, assuming ambient noise was at a low level, the kinetic element of the piece would create a barely audible metronomic heartbeat that might draw viewers  through the space. (After the install, I couldn’t get “The Tell-Tale Heart” out of my head.) I thought of each piece in the show in a similar way — like planets in a galaxy, with magnetic pull and orbits of influence.

I was thinking of scale and scale-shift as the work was more closely encountered. The relatively small car in the vast space could be reimagined as a separate universe against the scale model. Horton Hears a Who, Powers of Ten-type of thing. The element of surprise was also in play. The train is a bit absurd. Maybe my early art-school fascination with dada and surrealism is resurfacing. I really liked your thoughts about spirituality and time relative to this idea. Finite and infinite. Temporal and eternal. Decay and life. Sort of like happening upon a dead animal, only to discover that it’s crawling with maggot life. (Thinking out loud here.) Perhaps those notions were somewhere in the deep recesses as the work was coming together.  

I think the piece, as well as all the work in the show, is also somehow attached to memory. Not even sure if it’s my own memory. Fleeting, elusive. I still feel a sense of detachment from the show. An out-of-body type feeling. Not sure what any of it really means. I went with my intuition on much of this. I just had to see a toy train moving around in a beat up Porsche.

SCOTT: Indeed, the dada whimsy of a train in a car is definitely reason enough to see “Ferdinand.” I wonder if non-art-trained people grasp that — that you can skip the kind of heavy-duty over-reading I did (time, spirituality, all that) and just enjoy a piece like “Ferdinand” visually, as a previously nonexisting object that does an unusual thing, without having to probe it for meaning.

Still, when someone like me does read a bunch of significance into a piece, stuff you may not have intended it to have, how do you react?

Another question: You talk about the piece, and the show, having to do in some elusive way with memory, though perhaps not your own. Now, that Porsche belongs to VAST owner Sam McMackin. She remembers zooming around LA in it, her dog hanging out the window — she told me you could still see his drool stains on the side if the space wasn’t so dark. So a lot of pleasant memories reside in that old heap. Do her specific memories add anything to the piece, in your eyes? Or is it more diffuse and nonspecific than that?

MARK: It’s always great to have an astute observer make connections the way you did. The same is true for a viewer who has a purely visual or visceral experience.

As for intent, I think all of the stuff you read into the piece is completely valid. I certainly wouldn’t dismiss it as heavy-duty over-reading. My intent and hope is for the work to resonate on many levels, and it’s exciting when it does so in ways that I might not have thought about.

The Porsche does belong to Sam McMackin,  but I can't speak to her history with the car. Her specific memories don’t add much to the work for me personally. An interesting footnote, perhaps. My history with that Porsche only goes back a few weeks. However, its use in the overall installation seemed to evoke a much deeper but diffuse history and sense of time, as we discussed earlier. Even though I could imagine a similar work staged with a different vehicle and context, it would be difficult to rise to the level of serendipity present in the development of “Ferdinand.” Perfect vehicle, perfect place, perfect time.

For more on Volume Control, go to vastspaceprojects.com.


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Don't fence them in
by Heidi Kyser | posted April 18, 2014

Before the press published photos of armed militiamen – who’d come from all over the country to stand with embattled Bunkerville, Nev., rancher Cliven Bundy – pointing their guns at BLM officers; before the BLM capitulated and gave back the cattle it had seized from Bundy as punishment for his not paying grazing fees; before Senator Harry Reid called the militiamen domestic terrorists and urged the BLM not to drop the matter … Before all that, there was the First Amendment Area controversy. Remember that? The BLM’s putting up impromptu fences and designating protest areas was the first reason critics seized on to chastise the BLM for mishandling the situation. Governor Brian Sandoval himself called on the bureau to dismantle the offensive pens.

First Amendment areas – originally called “free speech zones” when first implemented in the peace protests of the 1960s and’70s -- are used to for protests all over the world – even right here in Nevada, just a couple hours’ drive north of Bunkerville, at the former nuclear test site. Anti-nuke demonstrations there were once so regular that the Department of Energy installed permanent fencing, and would also set up impromptu restrooms and water stands when groups would arrive, to accommodate them.

Why do First Amendment areas seem to make some people mad and not others? We asked UNLV political science professor Michael Bowers, who specializes in civil rights and liberties, to explain.

Have First Amendment Areas always been as hotly contested as today?

I do not recall them being quite so controversial as they are now. Perhaps that is because they were used against groups that were unpopular, such as hippies, and yuppies and middle-aged folks didn't much care. Now the zones are being expanded to include others.

What’s the government’s argument for using them?

The argument is one about keeping the public safe. Sometimes, it is about keeping a VIP such as the president safe by separating him from protesters.

How are they supposed to promote safety?

The idea is to keep the VIP and the protesters physically separated in order to avoid someone taking a shot or engaging in other potentially injurious behavior. 

Intuitively, it does seem obvious both that free speech should be allowed anywhere and that the government has a duty to keep the public safe in potentially explosive confrontations (such as the one between Bundy’s supporters and the BLM). Are these interests inherently at odds?

Public safety and the First Amendment aren't inherently at odds. Those who assemble and express their opinions in peaceful ways are not a danger to public safety. It's when they become violent or engage in illegal behavior (which is not protected by the First Amendment) that public safety is threatened.

Would something in the Bunkerville situation make the idea of these areas particularly inflammatory?

[Bundy supporters’] opposition to the federal government would certainly inform their opinion of anything it did in a negative way. This is just one more thing it did. 

If not in a First Amendment area, then what is the right way to protect the public?

The way to do it right is obviously to have sufficient protection so that those on both sides are allowed to express their opinions. That is more difficult in some situations than others, of course.

 

Get more insight into Nevada's history, and how it shapes its politics, in Bowers' book The Sagebrush State.


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Long-distance information
by Andrew Kiraly and Scott Dickensheets | posted April 16, 2014

SCOTT: I see from the Romenesko media-news site that Journatic — a “low-paying hyperlocal content provider” that serves various newspapers, and which suffered a fake-byline scandal a few years ago — has renamed itself LocalLabs and carried on. And one of its clients? The View community papers published by the RJ. More visionary penny-pinching by Stephens Media. It’s a win-win scenario! A win for the bottom line, and a win for the demise of newspapers.

ANDREW: And a win for irony, since The View newspapers are Stephens’ hyperlocal backyard-journalism stalwart — now with content-chum provided by far-flung contributors in Chicago, New York and — if Journatic’s old practices live on at LocalLabs — India. It’s well-known that newish Stephens CEO Ed Moss has a rep as a cost-cutter — under him, apparently, there’s been a blood harvest of copy editors and midlevel production functionaries — but don’t you feel like there’s a whiff of treachery to this move — to the community the paper serves, to the practice of journalism? That sounds pious and melodramatic, but I’m trying to articulate the troubling lame-itude of this development.

SCOTT: Absolutely. In ideal theory, Stephens would temper its reasonable desire to make bank with a strong commitment to spend a sizable chunk of that cash on quality newsgathering, for the benefit of this community — an informed citizenry, a more vigorous civic life. All those J-school verities that seem so quaint now. But as Stephens shrinks its notion of a sizable chunk, amid the layoffs and talent drains, one begins to wonder if there isn’t a Potemkin-journalism aspect to the operation — a facade of actual news production propped up by a desire to maximize executive bonuses — and this remote-content business feeds grimly into that, even if it hasn’t infected the RJ mothership yet. (Yet!) The inevitable erosions in quality, the inability of typists in Chicago to backstop their long-distance reporting with real local knowledge — these are small but crucial subversions of a newspaper’s contract with the community, IMHO.

Now, before I’m overcome by scorn, I should note that (1) there is still good work being done at Stephens, and I don’t want to underplay this; and (2) some newspaper functions can (theoretically) be done from afar. Listings: At most publications they’re compiled by workers in hamster wheels who mulch press releases and web searches. Nothing says the hamster wheel has to be in Vegas. In that narrow case, the loss of community knowledge seems rather minimal, no? But otherwise, it’s an affront to the promise of locally sourced journalism.

ANDREW: Or maybe Ed Moss is unwittingly … on the cutting EDGE Edge edge edge … ? Your second caveat inspires a thought experiment informed by the blurring line between virtual and reality, the increasingly fuzzy nature of thereness: Could a dogged, determined View reporter based remotely in India, deploying all of today’s globe-flattening, distance-compressing tech and research tools, do a better job than a lazy View reporter based in Vegas? I could imagine that. (Great premise for an alt-future dystopian novel about journalism!) But even if that were the case, there’s still some violation of the unspoken principle that a local paper should fundamentally live in the community it serves. But, these days, believing in that may be as naive as believing that newspapers still matter.

SCOTT: Aren't we already in a dystopian novel about journalism, generally and locally? I mean, I’d hate to be the Stephens Media morale officer these days — “The writers and editors are upset, and raised concerns, but they’re also resigned to their fate,” a source within the company told Romenesko — particularly with the arrival of each quarter’s profit-and-Moss statement, as the hallways echo with the clack of the front-office abacus. (In dubious fairness, such anxieties pervade most newsrooms.) As for newspapers mattering: Maybe Vegas has experienced peak journalism, with the Sun’s Pulitzer and the RJ’s “Deadly Force” series, and what’s ahead is a long bleed-out of revenue and talent, replaced by a frantic shuffle of “innovation,” clickbait, rear-guard actions and Plans B (The Sunday, this week with $659 in coupons!). So, yeah, perhaps irrelevance beckons. Sadly, this LocalLabs thing doesn’t fill you with confidence that a turnaround is coming. Too bad. Because (conventional-wisdom alert!) without newspapers, who's gonna foot the bill for the next “Deadly Force”? Or even the volume of day-to-day coverage the, ahem, informed citizenry gets now, under-resourced as it is. Sad face.

ANDREW: Guess we’ll have to hold out for the Jeff Bezos/Washington Post-Pierre Omidyar/First Look Media mogul-philanthropic-hobby model. Maybe Ed Moss can convince Elaine Wynn that the Review-Journal is, in fact, an obscure and unusual Francis Bacon painting.

(Full disclosure: Both Andrew Kiraly and Scott Dickensheets have worked for Stephens Media, though not under the current executives.)


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A poetry anecdote, just in time for Poetry Month
by Scott Dickensheets | posted March 31, 2014

Poetry Month begins tomorrow, so we asked poet Lee Mallory, transplanted here from Orange County not long ago, what he, with his fresh eyes, saw as the health of the local poetry scene.

Nov. 12 marked the oddest featured reading of my life. That was at Silver Sevens Casino (the old Terrible's), and I mention it because in microcosm it surely represented the uphill fight poetry faces in this city. That is, when a Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter warned me that Vegas was a "show-centric" place, I still had no idea what a tough sell poetry would be.

To a poet who's trying to help make some sense of this crass, stressfully disjointed but wonderful world, "show-centric" means getting poetry some attention against nearly impossible odds: from laughable Britney to sublime Celine to ultraviolet DJs, jugglers, acrobats, rodeos and NASCAR, what chance does the poet have? There are more razzle-dazzle shows here than I can afford to see in three well-paid lifetimes, and getting press to raise a poetry audience is next to unheard of. This is especially a problem, for doing so without press just attracts the same handful of coffeehouse aficionados, half of them poets themselves. Result? An entirely incestuous scene that never takes poetry to the wider public it deserves. This struggle also bumps up against poetry's branding of being boring and irrelevant to our lives.

So there I was at 5:30 on a dark casino stage. I was the more so anxious because I'd sold the marketing director on letting me read there without any precedent. I recall him asking, "What's your poetry gonna do for the casino's bottom line?" Add to that Norm Clarke a day earlier, asking his readers if they'd ever seen a poet on a gambling hall marquee. Given that, I remember thinking, "What the hell am I doing here?" (You see, all my life's benign coffeehouses, library rooms and sterile classroom encounters could never have prepared me for this.) 

Meanwhile, I was on a raised stage, with a bar and all sorts of drinks and money being exchanged between me and the audience — all this to the rapturous hoots of slot players, with bells, whistles and sports screens all around me. This would not be singing to the choir, but rather a desperate attempt to capture the attention of gamblers, drinkers, lovers, every one of whom could be doing something else. 

So I simply warned them at the outset that folks would be talking about them next morning at the watercooler, saying things like, "I heard Sally was at a poetry reading last night. How weird is that?" Then I worried again that everyone there could be doing anything other than listening to poetry. Lovers could be pairing off in the rooms, or singles might be betting on their next pairing, or the next big game. You see, there's always a bigger game in town than poetry, so what could I do..?

I just started to read like hell, to sex everyone up with the excitement and inspiration of the best poetry I had. I'd try like mad to give them something real in that netherworld of fun and artifice. Try to bond, with more celebration than cerebration, and make them cry for more. In fact, the place was fuller than ever, and we did bond. But that one 50-minute sell was the challenge of this poet's life, and there, in small scale, is what each Vegas poet's up against. Distractions, amusements and an audience with many other things to do. And the poet, as usual, crying out to be heard ...

Lee Mallory will present "Creativity and the Word," a poetry reading and discussion of the creative process, at 6:30p, April 22, at the Whitney Library, 5175 E. Tropicana Ave., free, lvccld.org


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The simple truth
by Andrew Kiraly | posted March 20, 2014
Two living rooms. Ryan Nicodemus’ condo had two living rooms. Who needs two living rooms? Not Ryan — after all, he lived by himself. (Which raises the question: Why did he have two bedrooms as well?) On the cusp of his thirtieth birthday, the young telecom executive realized he had a lot of things — fat salary, spacious condo, expensive clothes, a new car, the latest gadgets and gear — but little happiness. He was stressed out, overworked, in debt and empty inside. Like a modern-day Buddha, he realized that his attachment to material things was causing him misery. He wised up, pared down and — like a modern-day Buddhapreneur — launched a business dedicated to preaching the minimalist lifestyle gospel. Today his motto is: “Love people and use things — but the opposite never works.”
 
Billed as The Minimalists, Ryan Nicodemus (pictured left) and longtime friend and co-minimalist Joshua Fields Millburn (right) stop in Las Vegas 7p March 22 at The Arts Factory as part of their tour promoting their latest book, Everything That Remains. We had a brief chat with Ryan from the road. 
 
How does your average person get started on the path toward a simpler lifestyle?
I had the same question when I started: Great, I’m a minimalist, now what do I do? I don’t want to spent eight months paring down items. So, we came up with the idea of a packing party. The idea is you pack all of your belongings as if you’re moving — everything. When I did it, I boxed up my clothes, towels, TVs, frames, even furniture. Then, for the next 21 days, I unpacked only the items I needed right then — so, say, my toothbrush, my bed and bedsheets, furniture that I actually used. After 21 days, I had 80 percent of my stuff still sitting in those boxes. I couldn’t even remember what was in most of them! I donated or sold just about all of it.
 
Was there anything you found it tough to part with?
The thing that was difficult for me to get over was “just in case” syndrome — keeping things just in case you need them. For me, it was cables. I wanted to hold on to all my cables in case one broke. But I got rid of them, because I realized that stuff I was holding on to “just in case” was stuff I could replace for less than 20 dollars in under 20 minutes — and that rule has really worked for me. 
 
What about sentimental stuff, like photo albums? We don't "use" those but they're nice to have, right?
When I was packing, I came across this shoebox filled with high school mementos — pictures of me and my date at homecoming, cuff links from senior prom, letters from my mother. It was really difficult to let go of that, but what I did was make myself a deal. I told myself I’d pick one letter out of the shoebox and throw it out, and see how it feels — would I feel horrible? I woke up the next morning and felt fine. I walked over to the box and threw it all away, even the cuff links. I did scan some of them, but most of them, I threw out. I realized the memories weren't in those photos; the memories are inside me.
 
How many pairs of pants do you own? Are your walls in your house totally bare?
I can answer that, but I want to be clear that this is never about deprivation. It’s not about starving ourselves to see what happens. I have one pair of jeans, a couple pairs of shorts. I snowboard, so I have gloves, a hat, snowpants. And I do have pictures and paintings. The point is that everything I have adds value to my life or brings me joy. Our second book, All That Remains, talks about this. Instead of focusing on money, accumulating stuff, the next promotion or the next new car, now I’m focused on five things: health, my relationships, cultivating something I’m passionate about, growth, and contribution.
 
Do you feel there are emotional, perhaps spiritual, benefits to embracing this lifestyle?
Josh and I have radically different beliefs, but I feel I’ve definitely changed spiritually. It’s funny, at every event, there’s always someone who’ll say, “It’s so nice to see two young Christians spreading the message of Jesus!” and then three people later, it’s, “It’s so nice to see young Buddhists spreading the message of Buddhism!” We got an email the other day from someone who said Mohammed is the original minimalist. It’s great we can connect to people from so many walks of life. At our events, we’ve had Occupy Wall Street people and the CEOs of major corporations asking the same questions. It's really struck a chord.

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Charge your engines!
by Heidi Kyser | posted February 14, 2014

On Wednesday, I got the news that MGM Resorts was installing 27 electric vehicle charging stations at its Las Vegas resorts and corporate headquarters. It wouldn’t have caught my eye if, in the preceding week, I hadn’t already stumbled on three parking lots with EV charging stations — at Clark County Government Center, Las Vegas City Hall and Las Vegas Cyclery — and gotten at least one other press release about a recent installation, at Desert Research Institute. But I had. And so, being the curious type, I had questions…

What’s going on?

This: The Nevada Electric Vehicle Accelerator (NEVA). In 2011, a public-private partnership shepherded by the nonprofit REA250 undertook the job of facilitating a well-networked electric vehicle infrastructure in Nevada. MGM, the City of Las Vegas and DRI are collaborators in the initiative.

Is the demand there? Do we really need this many charging stations?

Tough to say, as far as Las Vegas in particular goes. (Closest thing I could find is this indication we’re not a top market for hybrid sales.) Nationally, however, electric car demand is on the rise. According to the Electric Drive Transportation Association, 15.5 million electric cars were sold last year in the U.S., up from 14.4 million in 2012. They represent 3.8 percent of the total vehicle market share, and that number is on a steady upward climb (chart alert!).

Could I buy an electric car without the fear of being stranded, powerless, in the hinterlands of Clark County?

Pretty much. This map reflects fair citywide saturation of charging stations, with some 50 of them spread across the valley.

So, which one should I get?

In my dreams, this one. In reality, more likely to be this.


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SUNDAY, muddy SUNDAY
by Andrew Kiraly & Scott Dickensheets | posted February 12, 2014

ANDREW: So, the much-hyped-and-superlatived-by-Brian-Greenspun SUNDAY landed on our desks yesterday. First impressions?

SCOTT: Decidedly mixed. The overall strategy doesn't strike me as horrible. If, as many believe, the daily Sun will fold soon, a smartly done newsweekly might not be the worst bad Plan B in a market that — rest in peace, CityLife! — no longer has one. Especially if they can bring to it some of the rambunctious Sun mojo from its Pulitzer days. But the first issue, which they've had plenty of time to fine-tune, is a bit chaotic, even schizo in parts — did you notice how the business mag, Vegas Inc., now exists as its own distinct paper within THE SUNDAY, kind of an ingrown sibling, wiggling Kuato-like in THE SUNDAY’s chest cavity? I’m not sure why they decided to Franken-stitch parts of the Sun and Vegas Inc. together instead of merging both brands into one creamy-smooth, fresh new entity. Otherwise, there's some good journalism, but there's too little storytelling, and the whole thing needs to cohere around a clearer sense of its mission.

Did you find anything to like about it?

ANDREW: File this under "Damning with faint praise," but I liked how they at least seemed to propose to be a design-forward publication, which reveals a glimmer of awareness about the importance of readability in an ADHD age. The graphically driven featurettes, such as the youth sports story and homebrewing service piece, took an acceptable stab at some alternative storytelling. Execution is, alas, another question altogether: Unfortunately, the cover package on youth sports (breaking news: It's not cheap, and kids sometimes get concussions!) was a clamorous, eye-punching riot of scare stats that weren't really that scary when you parsed them.

SCOTT: At the opposite end of the ADHD scale, check out the story about dancer Debbie Flores Narvaez — beautiful, tempestuous performer disappears, is found dismembered, allegedly by her ex-boyfriend. There's so much about this that cries out to be written, in an expansive, magazine style full of narrative and character development, community issues and walloping reader impact. Instead, it’s pretty much a Sun-style slab o' facts. Missed opportunity. But let’s not blame the writer. Let’s blame whichever editor didn't say, This is for a glossy-wrapped, magazine-style weekly, and you need to kick it up a notch. Indeed, what I find disappointing about this inaugural issue is that it doesn't feel like an event, and it should — not just another place to read standard, daily-paper kinds of stuff. This doesn’t strike me as a small issue. With a weekly, you gotta show the reader a good time, even in the serious reporting. If the Sun is going to have a spirited post-JOA voice in the Vegas mediascape, it’s something I think Brian should take seriously.

I do agree that some of the design elements are promising, and they suggest there’ll be more creative thinking in the future. I'll put it this way: They've got a chassis they can build on.

ANDREW: Yes, he should take it seriously, which I think gets to a more subterranean disappointment of mine. Maybe this is naive of me, but I must confess to having had high hopes for THE SUNDAY. I was imagining some spark of spiritual connectivity to the Sun at its best — the depthy, gutsy, engaged, Pulitzer-grabbing Sun — would catch fire here and manifest in blazing fashion. I mean, if you think about it, the idea of a weekly version of the Sun aligns well with the kind of the reportage they were pumping out after the 2005 refitting of the JOA with the Review-Journal — longer-form, deliberative, exploratory and investigative journalism that had impact. I had visions of Brian being visited by the ghost of Hank and galvanized with soulfire! Which isn't to say there isn't the potential for THE SUNDAY to become that best self. But what we have here is a less a reinvention than a repackaging.

(Disclosure: Scott Dickensheets worked for the Greenspun Media Group for a lotta years.)


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