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MARCH 2015
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All things to all people
Editor's Note
End Note
Notes and letters
Take 5
the guide
upcoming events
Take 5
Jan. 19-Mar. 6. Artist reception Jan. 12, 6-8p. Italian artist Giorgio Guidi’s new sculpture is a design similar to Roman basilicas, the...   
MARCH 6, 5-11P The Vegas Valley’s best poets from the most honored and newest local venues will take the stage and set streets ablaze...   
MARCH 6, 6P Feeling lucky? Rediscover your love of art and perhaps find that perfect piece among the varied exhibits. Enjoy open galleries,...   
Now and then: The art of change
by Robert Beckmann & Brent Holmes | posted March 5, 2015

The top image is a 1999 painting by Robert Beckmann, which captures, with his typical precision, the relatively water-rich state of the Las Vegas Wash some 16 years ago. Earlier this year, Beckmann returned to the same site with Desert Companion designer Brent Holmes, who took a photo documenting the alarming drop in the water level since then. Says Beckmann, "H2Omg!"

The wash


Cubs fans (and others): Escape to spring training!
by Sarah Vernetti | posted March 3, 2015


For families batty over baseball, following the Cubs to Mesa, Arizona can make for a sporting road trip

Major League Baseball is coming to Las Vegas — for a weekend, at least. In mid-March, the Chicago Cubs will make their annual trek to Las Vegas, where they will play two games at Cashman Field. However, one weekend of baseball might not be enough for dedicated fans. After all, this could be an exciting year for the Cubs, a team that hasn’t won the World Series since 1908. During the off-season, the Cubs have welcomed new manager Joe Maddon and signed coveted pitcher Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million contract. Add to the mix an impressive crop of young talent, and the Cubs’ 2015 season could turn out to be a historic one.

If one weekend of baseball in Las Vegas isn’t enough to satisfy your craving for summer sports, never fear. A getaway to Mesa, Arizona provides fans with a fun, budget-friendly way to see a little more Cubs action during spring training from March 3 to April 1.

This will be the Cubs’ second year at their new Cactus League home, Cubs Park (2330 Rio Salado Pkwy., 480-668-0500, Designed to resemble iconic Wrigley Field in Chicago, the ballpark has brick walls adorned with colorful Cubs murals and a large replica of Wrigley Field’s famous red sign. Vendors sell classic baseball treats such as pretzels, hot dogs and beer, and the mood in the stadium is distinctly Midwestern despite its desert surroundings.

On game day, be sure to arrive at the ballpark early. Next to the stadium, you’ll find practice fields where you can take a seat on the bleachers and watch the players warm up. Or grab your glove and head out to the grassy area beyond the fence where you can try to catch a few of the plentiful home-run balls that will be delivered during batting practice. (Just be sure to keep your eyes up!) If you’re in the right place at the right time, you might even be able to snag an autograph or snap a photo with your favorite Cubs players as they walk to and from the practice field.

After the game, visit nearby Riverview Park (2100 W. Rio Salado Pkwy., Located just up the road from Cubs Park, this is a great place for the kids to burn off some energy. The playground features futuristic-looking climbing structures, including a 50-foot tall climbing tower. Visitors will also find a splash pad, fishing pond, walking trails and shaded picnic areas. Riverview Park is open from sunrise to 10 p.m. daily.

Spend your evening in downtown Tempe, which has a distinct college-town vibe thanks to the proximity of Arizona State University. Enjoy dinner and explore the extensive beer menu at Blasted Barley Beer Company (404 S. Mill Ave., 480-967-5887, or opt for the more family-friendly Gordon Biersch (420 S. Mill Ave., 480-736-0033, End your evening with ice cream at Sparky’s (510 S. Mill Ave., 480-921-6228,, a local favorite.

Before returning to Las Vegas, spend the last day of your getaway exploring other parts of the Phoenix metro area. Architecture aficionados will want to take a guided tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Taliesin West (12621 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., 480-627-5340, Tour tickets should be purchased online in advance, since space is limited.

For families, McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park (7301 E. Indian Bend Rd., 480-312-2312, in Scottsdale is an affordable option. Throw on your conductor’s cap, buy some tickets and hop aboard the kiddie train or the carousel. Other unique family-friendly attractions include the Musical Instrument Museum (4725 E. Mayo Blvd., 480-478-6000, and the firefighter-themed Hall of Flame Museum (6101 E. Van Buren St., 602-275-3473,


Travel time to Mesa: By US-93: 4 hours, 45 minutes; nonstop flight from McCarran: 1 hour

Spring Training: March 3-April 1

Big League Weekend in Las Vegas: March 13-14, Cubs vs. Oakland A’s at Cashman Field


Health districts advice on e-cigs: Limit, tax, quit
by Heidi Kyser | posted February 20, 2015

The future of vaping is getting hazier all the time. On Feb. 19, the Southern Nevada Health District put out an e-cigarette advisory containing this unambiguous proclamation on the notion that they’re safe alternatives to conventional cigarettes: “Substituting one disease-causing agent for another is not a healthy choice and hinders public health efforts to reduce the toll of death and disease in Nevada.”

The four-page document details the various health, quality and safety problems that have been uncovered over the last five years with e-cigarettes, and the public laws passed restricting their use. The health district also voices its concern that the tobacco industry, which is getting into the e-cigarette game, will resort to its old trick of marketing to kids to get future customers hooked while they’re young. The solution? Policy-makers, health-care providers and the public should treat e-cigarettes like conventional cigarettes, regulating, taxing and/or avoiding them (or helping patients to avoid them) altogether.

Meanwhile, the Nevada Legislature may grant at least part of the health district’s wish. Senate Bill No. 79 would change existing law on cigarettes and other tobacco products to include liquid nicotine, allowing the state to tax and regulate so-called “vape juice” accordingly. The health district’s announcement wasn’t timed to coincide with the state legislative session, says spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore — but it’s part of a growing wave of skepticism about e-cigarettes.

“There have been some high-profile stories at the national level, some studies, and the FDA’s regulation is pending,” she says. “There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about the health effects, so we thought (the advisory) was timely.”

One study Sizemore is referring to appeared Jan. 22 in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers from Portland State University found that vaping produces considerable concentrations of formaldehyde, a group 1 carcinogen according to International Agency for Research on Cancer standards. They concluded that the cancer risk from long-term vaping could be 5-15 times higher than that of long-term smoking.

“If current e-cigarette trends continue,” the health district advisory notes, “decades of efforts that have made smoking socially unacceptable will be reversed.” 


Air of Controversy
by Heidi Kyser | posted February 13, 2015

Metcalf and Buck

UNLV geology professors Rodney Metcalf and Brenda Buck

Since the Feb. 1 publication of “Waiting to Inhale,” our story about the most recent developments in the controversy over naturally occurring asbestos in Southern Nevada, the issue has received widespread attention.

First, the scientists raising concern about levels of asbestos in the soil — and, possibly, the air — around Boulder City published their latest findings in the peer-reviewed Journal of Thoracic Oncology. Titled “The presence of asbestos in the natural environment is likely related to mesothelioma in young individuals and women from Southern Nevada,” the Feb. 7 paper is coauthored by UNLV geology professors Brenda Buck and Rodney Metcalf, Univeristy of Hawaii epidemiologist Francine Baumann and three other researchers. It concludes that a remarkable percentage of female and under-55 mesothelioma victims suggests that environmental exposure to mineral fibers in Southern Nevada may be contributing to some of these cases.

The New York Times and Earth magazine picked up the story, focusing not only on the potential health hazards of naturally occurring asbestos in the area, but also on the conflict that arose between the researchers and the Nevada State Health Department, which in 2012 accused Baumann of violating the terms of her access to sensitive cancer data. State health director Tracey Green used the violation as grounds to ban Baumann — and, by association, Buck and Metcalf — from further accessing the data.

On Wednesday, Feb. 11, Buck and Metcalf spoke on KNPR’s State of Nevada about the potential risks faced by construction workers on public projects that involve outdoor excavation in the Boulder City area, such as the Boulder Dam bypass for State Route 95 and the planned Interstate 11. This morning, on the same show, Green and Nevada Epidemiologist Ihsan Azzam had their turn, insisting that the state’s rates of mesothelioma are below normal and that public agencies are monitoring projects to mitigate any potential risk.

Clearly, the controversy isn’t over — supporting Buck and Metcalf’s argument that further study, and more transparent dialogue, are needed. 


Best of the City Readers' Poll: Some Additional Results
by Scott Dickensheets | posted February 12, 2015

As you know from mind-melding with your copy of the February Desert Companion, it’s our annual Best of the City issue. As part of that, we hosted an online poll soliciting readers’ favorites on a variety of topics. A small sample of those results appeared in the print edition, but there were more topics than page space. Thus, this teasing, slo-mo rollout of additional poll results. Applying an alien substance known as “math,” we’re slowly, ever so slowly, tabulating more, and we’ll post selected readers' choices (and runners-up) through the rest of the month, so you can be guided by, or argue with, the wisdom of the crowd.



Winner: Bachi Burger

Runner up: In-N-Out Burger

Followed closely by: Smashburger, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Holstein's, Umami Burger Las Vegas, Burger Bar,



Winner: Grouchy John’s

Runner-up: Sambalatte Torrefazione

Followed closely by: Starbucks, Sunrise Coffee, The Beat, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Makers & Finders



Winner: The Neon Museum

Runner-up: The Mob Museum

Followed closely by: Hoover Dam, The Clark County Heritage Museum, Fremont Street/Downtown Las Vegas, The National Atomic Testing Museum


Come back soon for more results!


DRI drone pro takes controls of two Nevada NASA education programs
by Heidi Kyser | posted February 9, 2015

Go, rubber-band car, go!

Craig Sisco and daughter Ashley use a rubber-band car to explore the difference between kinetic and potential energy

DRI scientist Lynn Fenstermaker became a drone guru because of her environmental research. She needed to capture multispectral and color images of test plots from the air, and unmanned aircraft systems fit the bill. Consequently, her work with drones (by the way, she prefers “UAS” to “drone”) made her more and more popular as a guest presenter in schools around Nevada, fulfilling DRI’s educational outreach mission. That, and previous experience working with NASA, made Fenstermaker stand out as the best candidate to take over two NASA programs in the state: the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR, and the Space Grant.

EPSCoR is designed for states, such as ours, that need help improving their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) infrastructure. It provides funding to hire new faculty, help them carry out their research and, in some cases, buy the necessary equipment. This year, NASA has budgeted $750,000 in EPSCoR funding for Nevada, with the requirement that the state match 50 percent, so the total could be $1.25 million.

Every U.S. state (plus the two territories) gets a Space Grant, but directors like Fenstermaker have to write proposals for projects that NASA approves — usually with some tweaks required — for the funding, which is $430,000 the first year and $300,000 per year for the two subsequent years. Fenstermaker hopes to use it improve the STEM pipeline in the state, getting students hooked on these subjects early on and keeping their interest through college graduation.

“These are collaborative efforts to provide materials to kids in Nevada and get them excited about careers that are a benefit to NASA and other groups engaged in STEM research and development,” Fenstermaker says. “We need more people graduating with these backgrounds in the U.S. so that we can remain a global leader.”

One example of a currently funded project is the balloon satellites that two UNR professors developed for school kids to conduct high-altitude experiments. Students can attach different things to the balloons — bugs, cameras — that are then launched high into the atmosphere. After the balloon satellites land, students chase them down and study the changes that have occurred and data they’ve collected.

“What I’d like to do is take projects like these and make them statewide,” Fenstermaker says. “Two came out of UNR and are focused on the school district up there, but with additional resources and input from faculty in the south, it could be more of a statewide effort.”

She started the job, which will take up half her time (the other half will be spent continuing her own research) January 2.


Hanging on for dear fun
by Heidi Kyser | posted February 2, 2015

Hang on!

Cristina Osorio of Las Vegas (photos by Heidi Kyser)

One sport featured a competition this weekend that didn’t involve betting, scandal and bitter rivalry: bouldering. More than 100 people gathered at Las Vegas’ Refuge Climbing & Fitness gym on Saturday, Jan. 31, to cheer each other on in a good-natured competition called The Boulder Blast.

The hip young sibling of the rock-climbing family (move over, sport climbing), bouldering has a low barrier of entry. One needs only a chalk bag, special shoes and a lot of enthusiasm to try this ropeless sport. It involves scrambling up a wall — which is dotted with hard rubber holds arranged in routes of varying difficulty called “problems” — until you fall onto a thick, spongy mat covering the floor below.

Bouldering’s been around for a while, but it’s really picked up steam in the last four or five years, said Jeff Clapp. Last year, he and wife Beth Clapp bought a condo in Las Vegas and opened the Refuge after spending several months looking for a place where they could both live and rock-climb. They closed their Rockreation gym in Salt Lake City and sold its two locations in California to focus on the Vegas operation. The Refuge, which opened in October, is the first new rock-climbing gym to come to the Las Vegas area in two decades, and its first bouldering-only facility.

Last weekend’s Boulder Blast was the Refuge’s first community competition. It drew participants from Arizona, California and Utah, as well as Southern Nevada. Refuge manager Cody Hidler says the highlight of the day was the finals, when top competitors tackled increasingly difficult problems until only one male and one female were left standing (or, hanging on). The winners were, in the female category, Alex Johnson, a well-known climber sponsored by North Face who recently relocated to Las Vegas, and, in the male category, Cody Abernathy, who works at a climbing gym in Phoenix.

The most remarkable aspect of the event to an outsider may have been the way competitors cheered each other on. “It’s typical for a bouldering competition to be really supportive,” Hidler says, “especially a local competition. Everybody is just having a good time climbing together, rooting for people who might have been only doing it for a few months.”

Don't let go!

Kai Whaley, age 8, of Las Vegas


Powder hour
by Heidi Kyser | posted January 27, 2015

As of 7 a.m. this morning, there were 4 inches of new snow at Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort, raising the base to 22 inches. All three lifts are open and nearly half of the 30 runs. A quick check of the live webcam reveals a small crowd of lucky school- and work-ditchers shredding the fresh powder under a low-hanging cloud that promises to replenish the slopes for tomorrow. 

In other words, it’s a good time to head up to Lee Canyon in Mount Charleston — especially for newbs. The snow sports industry has dubbed January “Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month” (undoubtedly due to the likelihood of good conditions), and in honor of the occasion, LVSSR is offering first-timers age 13-plus the Get Started Package with equipment rental, four coaching sessions and four days of lift tickets for $199.  Those who complete all four sessions can also get an unrestricted 2014-15 season pass, normally worth $299 for teens and $599 for adults. 

If you’re the type who craves individual attention but fears commitment, there’s another option: complimentary coaching. Described by the resort as a sample of its ski school lessons, it works like the free chocolates that Godiva workers hand to passers-by at the mall, hoping to lure them in for a bulk purchase. Beginning and intermediate skiers and snowboarders struggling on the slopes can flag down a coach and get on-the-spot tips without having to schedule a lesson. The idea, conceived by ski school director Chris Lange, is to show how great the instructors are at their job, thus enticing students to enroll in group classes. And, Lange says, the program is working like a charm, having quadrupled ski school sales since it began in 2013.

One more thing to enjoy in what’s left of January: the Lil’ Air Comp this Saturday, the 31st, at 1:30. This competition for kids age 14 and under shows off the skills obtained in the resort’s Mountaineers and Freeride programs for skiers and snowboarders ages 3-6 and 7-plus, respectively. Spectators are encouraged, and what could be more adorable than a bunch of preschoolers going all Shaun White on the booter? That I’d pay to see.


We're all Charlie
by Heidi Kyser | posted January 12, 2015

Charlie time

Holding “Je Suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”) placards beneath their umbrellas, more than 150 Las Vegans gathered in front of Paris Las Vegas Sunday around 10:30 a.m. and made their way South down the Strip to New York-New York. There, in the cold drizzle, they sang the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise," to demonstrate their solidarity with the millions of people marching for unity at the same time in Paris.

“It was very moving,” said Christelle Chamblas, of the Francophone Academy of Las Vegas, which organized the local event. “We were proud to be French and touched by the number of Americans who turned out to show their support of our common values of freedom of expression and freedom of religion.”

The marches, which attracted more than 4 million participants worldwide, according to French newspaper Le Monde, were inspired by last week’s ideologically motivated killing spree that left 17 people dead in Paris and its surrounding suburbs. The terror began Wednesday, when Islamic extremists stormed the editorial headquarters of satirical weekly newsmagazine Charlie Hebdo and shot dead 12 people, including cartoonists, editors, police and security staff. Another policewoman and four civilians in a Kosher supermarket also lost their lives before the three suspected perpetrators were killed by French law enforcement on Friday.

“People of many different nationalities, races and religions marched with us,” Chamblas said, reflecting the composition of demonstrations in Paris and elsewhere. “This event has touched everyone who cares about protecting the values of democracy.”

Charlie time


You know best -- now tell us!
by Andrew Kiraly | posted January 9, 2015
Who's got the best pizza in town? The best coffee? Where's the best yoga studio? The best spa? Tell us what YOU think is best in our 2015 Desert Companion Best of the City Readers' Poll. It's fun! It's fast! It's easy! It's filled with exclamation points! And you may just win dinner on us!
Take our online poll now to tell us what's best - from dining and drinking to arts and culture to shopping and leisure. Best of all, you'll be entered to win a dining certificate worth up to $300 at a great local restaurant! Don’t delay — the deadline is Jan. 15! 


What's your bestie? Tell us!
by Andrew Kiraly | posted January 9, 2015
Who's got the best pizza in town? The best coffee? Where's the best yoga studio? The best spa? Tell us what YOU think is best in our 2015 Desert Companion Best of the City Readers' Poll. It's fun! It's fast! It's easy! It's filled with exclamation points! And you may just win dinner on us!
Take our online poll now to tell us what's best - from dining and drinking to arts and culture to shopping and leisure. Best of all, you'll be entered to win a dining certificate worth up to $300 at a great local restaurant! Don’t delay — the deadline is Jan. 15! 


Writing on the wall
by Barry Friedman | posted December 29, 2014

We asked comedian and occasional Desert Companion contributor Barry Friedman if he'd ever spent a New Year's Eve on the Las Vegas Strip. Turns out he had:

In 1993, between Christmas and New Year’s, a German girl I had met in the Bahamas months earlier came to meet me at the Maxim, where I was performing. The club put up the comedians in three rooms — 333, 335, and 337 — all overlooking the hotel’s HVAC. I was in the orange room (the others were brown).

The wallpaper depicted the Strip, circa 1970.

Claudia bought red roses and rented a red Miata.

“I got the flowers from a guy outside Excalibur.”

“What guy?”

“Oh, the car’s at Flamingo.”


“Sweetie, it’s Christmas, I’m a 22-year-old German girl whose virginity I gave you, I flew 112,000 miles, I couldn’t find a florist, couldn’t find the hotel, got lost on the Strip. Why do you Americans make everything so hard?”

“Because we won the war. We’re allowed.”

The following day, we went to the Maxim buffet and ate miniature bagels and omelets, and then we — a German and a Jew — took a Japanese convertible to a matinee of Schindler’s List.

Hand to God.

There were only three others in the theater — check that, four. A woman, a flatulent woman, came in halfway through and sat next to Claudia. Afterwards, on the way to Just for Feet and Ethel M at The Forum Shops, I asked, “So, what did you think of Spielberg’s depiction of the Germans?”

“He was too easy on us. It was a good war for you to win.”

Next day, Hoover Dam ... sort of.

“Sweetie, what are you doing?”

“Parking. Don’t you want to see the dam?”

“I see it,” she said, pointing to it. “I appreciate this, but I hate sightseeing. Let’s go back to the buffet.”

You could fall in love with a girl like that.

That week, we lost big on nickel keno but won $35 on the plastic horse machine. On New Year’s Eve, after the show, we ate pizza in bed and fell asleep before midnight. In the morning, on TV, we noticed there had been a few hundred thousand people on the Strip, partying.

“Oooh,” she said. “We missed.”

Then, thinking about the movie and her and me, I said, “There’s an old saying that every Jewish baby born spits on Hitler’s grave.”

“Maybe our being here does the same,” she said.

It was a good war to win.

On the first day of 1994, a German girl with discounted Reeboks and a suitcase full of chocolate found the MGM marquee in the wallpaper and wrote our names in it.


Throwing shade
by Heidi Kyser | posted December 18, 2014

For the second time in two months, the Public Utilities Commission has rejected NV Energy’s proposal to build the Moapa Solar Energy Center on land it would lease from the tribe about an hour north of Las Vegas. Following the first rejection on October 27, the power company retooled its plan to scale back both the output, from 200 megawatts to 175, and the cost, capping the construction price at $383.3 million and the energy cost at $92 per kilowatt hour.

The Moapa Band of Paiutes was happy; they’d get a solar array on tribal land that was previously polluted by the adjacent Reid Gardner coal-fired plant (in fact, the solar proposal is part of NV Energy’s promise to the state that it would convert from coal to renewable energy within three years). Labor was happy; the deal includes an agreement with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. U.S. Senator Harry Reid was happy; the proposal promised to create as many as 1,000 jobs for his constituents. And environmental groups are happy, for obvious reasons.

But the Bureau of Consumer Protection and the Southern Nevada Hotel Group, which objected to the plan, weren’t happy. They argued that a competitive bid process would yield a better deal for consumers than the one proposed.

PUC spokesman Peter Kostes said, “The revised plan would have required a deviation from a regulation that requires a competitive bid process. There wasn’t sufficient information on record to deviate from that requirement.”

NV Energy succeeded in having this requirement waived for its proposal to put a solar facility at Nellis Air Force Base, but, Kostes said, that project had broad support and no opposition.

“They want something current to compare the price tag of the Moapa project to,” said Barbara Boyle, the Sierra Club senior campaign representative who has been working on the situation with the Moapa Band of Paiutes since 2007. “It’s one more hurdle for the project, which is disappointing, to say the least. But we are hopeful NV Energy will stay committed and see the project through.”

NV Energy didn’t respond to requests for an interview.

Kostes said the Moapa project is not necessarily dead — NV Energy could either amend the project again to show why it makes sense to deviate from the RFP process, or complete the RFP process.

Everything else in the original plan was accepted, including shutting down Reid Gardner in phases, acquiring two natural gas plants and building the Nellis solar array.



De-grease is the word
by Heidi Kyser | posted December 2, 2014

Greasy!You can responsibly dispose of more than just your Christmas tree at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve during the holidays; you can also help degrease the public water system. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 26 through Jan. 15, Southern Nevada residents can take their used cooking oil to the South Parking Lot of the Springs Preserve and drop it off for recycling. It’s part of the Clark County Water Reclamation District’s ongoing Pain in the Drain campaign to keep pipe-clogging fat and grit out of the sewers.

“A big impetus for this program is to reduce the number of sanitary overflows we’re experiencing,” says Julie Chadburn, who oversees the program. “When people clog their drains at home, that’s bad enough, but it’s a much bigger issue when that happens in the street.”

Since Pain in the Drain began nine years ago, overflows have decreased 90 percent, according to Chadburn. Cooking oil has been collected at a few locations during the holidays, when people tend to use more of it (we’re looking at you, deep-fried turkey lovers), but the Springs Preserve has worked well because of its central location and recycling-savvy staff. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Springs Preserve staff collected more than 600 gallons of used canola, olive, peanut and vegetable oil, which program partner Darling International will turn into biofuel.

If you’re looking to earn sustainability karma points, here’s what to do:

Step 1. Dump a bunch of oil into whatever you’re using to render food into a crispy delicacy.

Step 2. Render food into a crispy delicacy and enjoy.

Step 3. Once the oil’s cool, funnel it back into the bottle, jug or other receptacle whence it came, and seal tightly.

Step 4. Drive it over to 333 S. Valley View Drive and hand it over.

The giving need not stop after the holidays, either. Republic Services takes used cooking oil as part of its Household Hazardous Waste collection program. Click here for a schedule and drop-off locations.


Appy trails to you
by Heidi Kyser | posted November 18, 2014

It seems fitting that Neon to Nature launched its mobile app just in time for American Diabetes Month. Both the American Diabetes Association and the organizations behind Neon to Nature would like to see people be more active — although in the case of the latter, the focus is on Southern Nevada; specifically, its 600 miles of trails and walking paths.

Users can download the Neon to Nature app at the Southern Nevada Health District’s website, or in the Apple Store or Google Play. The app offers three options for searching the trails database: by proximity to the user, among bookmarked favorites or according to a custom selection of criteria, such as length and difficulty. There is also a “more info” menu item with a list of useful links.

The app, which was funded by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant, will undoubtedly be a hit with cyclists, dog-walkers and urban adventurers looking for new places to explore. Still in its infancy, however, it has a couple minor glitches, such as the inability to access alternative menus at any stage (in its current iteration, for instance, the app requires users to back all the way out of searches to get to the main page). Another nice addition would be the ability to search trails by zip code or neighborhood.

Nevertheless, it’s another feather in the cap of Neon to Nature, the consortium of public agencies corralled by the Health District and nonprofit Outside Las Vegas Foundation seven years ago for the purpose of getting Southern Nevadans off their duffs and into the outdoors. The group completed its online trail inventory in 2011, and since then has continued to add trails both urban and wild, along with ways to help the public access them. 


Psych board chills out
by Heidi Kyser | posted November 11, 2014

Hypnotherapists: 1; psychology board: 0. Neither side would portray it as a battle, but the recent conflict between the Nevada Board of Psychology Examiners and the state’s practitioners of hypnosis has, at least, the makings of an enthralling public chess match.

As we noted in our November story, License to Chill, the psych board has sent cease-and-desist letters to a range of hypnotherapists — from drug and alcohol counselors to life coaches — telling them they’re practicing outside the bounds of the law. Based on a 2009 Nevada Supreme Court opinion, the board determined that hypnotherapy and biofeedback were the domain of licensed psychologists alone. But the hypnosis community cried “Foul!” Union attorneys and association officials representing hypnotherapists rallied around the cause, and the psychology board asked the attorney general to render an opinion on the law in question.

Now for the update: According to Bud James, who runs a hypnotherapy training school in Reno, the psych board passed a motion at its Nov. 7 meeting that withdraws the cease-and-desist demand. “Now that it is no longer an issue,” James writes in a Yahoo Group post, “we can create steps to forge a working relationship and return to our chosen profession.”

Hypnotherapy and biofeedback practitioners’ return to work is just the next move, not game-over. Las Vegas-based hypnotherapist Kevin Cole noted in a comment on James’s post, “The NBPE definitely wants to see some kind of ‘consumer protection’/licensing for hypnotherapists in Nevada, and at least one of the board members recommended having hypnosis licensed directly under the NBPE.” In other words, the psych board is allowing hypnotherapists to return to work while it continues to negotiate for what it wants.

Will the board succeed in forcing hypnotists to get licensure, or will hypnotists hold their ground on professional certification? That still remains to be seen.


Equality advocates past and present kick off Nevada Makers
by Heidi Kyser | posted October 16, 2014

Just inside the entrance to a half-lit ballroom at the The Mirage Wednesday evening, activist Ruby Duncan glided by on a mobility scooter. She stopped for a few quick hellos as she made her way to a table marked “Reserved” near the front of the room, where judge Karen Bennett was already settling in. Nearby, former water czar Pat Mulroy mingled with breast surgeon Souzan El-Eid, who sipped a glass of red wine. Waving hello to Rose McKinney-James, civil rights attorney Kathleen England paused to remark on the crowd’s collective civic heft. When she arrived in Las Vegas in 1978, she recalled, Nevadans had recently voted down ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment by a margin of nearly two-to-one.

“A lot of women were graduating from law school and moving to cities like Las Vegas for jobs,” she says. “When we got here, we couldn’t believe the way some men would talk to us at work. We’d have to tell them, ‘You can’t do that; we’ll sue you!’”

 The evening, which featured the premiere of documentary series “Makers: Women in Nevada History,” had its share of bad-old-days reminiscing. But the focus was a celebration of the present and rally for the future.

“Gender equality is the foundation of diversity. It doesn't get more basic than men and women,” said MGM head of diversity Phyllis James (pictured) during the event’s opening remarks. “We want to create a company, and have a community and society where women have an equal opportunity with men to achieve quality education, to advance to equal jobs with equal pay without a glass ceiling, to exercise civil rights without discrimination and in general to pursue life, liberty and happiness without confronting artificial and arbitrary barriers.”

Based on the national “Makers” series, which is in its second season on PBS, the local three-part documentary is meant to help people understand the influence women have had in changing the quality of life for all Nevadans, said Joanne Goodwin, who led the academic side of the collaboration — between UNLV’s Women’s Research Institute and Vegas PBS — that produced the project. Besides the films, there are multimedia elements for public use and consumption, added Vegas PBS general manager Tom Axtell.

“A girl reading Nevada history (the way it's written now) doesn't have a lot of female role models,” Axtell said. “This content will be made available to schools, so a child who wants to research an issue will be able to listen to the firsthand narrative reports of the people who made it happen.”

The Nevada “Makers” took more than two years to produce, but comes out just in time to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of women’s suffrage in the state. It airs Tuesdays, October 21-November 4, at 10 p.m. on Vegas PBS (Channel 10), immediately following the 9 p.m. showing of the national series. It will also be available for streaming at the station’s website.


That lake sure knows how to party
by Heidi Kyser | posted October 6, 2014

Q: Which species’ herd is led by a dominant female? A: Desert Bighorn Sheep.

That’s a personal favorite from the list of 50 trivia questions about Lake Mead, assembled by the National Park Service in honor of the National Recreation Area’s 50th anniversary. (Another: What’s the name of the park’s native plant nursery? Song Dog.) 

This favorite local spot of boaters and triathletes was designated America’s first recreation area on October 8, 1964. To mark the occasion, the park service has scheduled a full week of events for the public. The festivities kick off Wednesday, October 8, with a show of music, images and stories by naturalist painter and photographer Sharon K. Shafer surveying the area’s history (space is limited; register by calling 702-293-8990). The celebration culminates Saturday, October 11, in the Cottonwood Cove Eco Dive, where volunteers are rewarded for their work beautifying the marina by lunch, prizes, birthday cake and a special presentation (register online here).

All week long, rangers are reminding visitors of the 50 fun things there are to do on the recreation area’s 1.5 million acres. Organized by activities on the water, on land, by car and on foot, the list encompasses items for newbies (walk through tunnels at the Historic Railroad Trail), seasoned outdoorsmen (rock climb in the backcountry), sporty types (cycle the River Mountain Loop Trail), those looking to relax (fish the peaceful Overton Arm) and even teens (take a selfie at Liberty Bell Arch). Check enough of these suggestions off the list, and you’re bound to spot one of those female-led herds of sheep.


Prepare to be prepared
by Heidi Kyser | posted September 18, 2014

People have scheduled all kinds of September festivities to celebrate National Preparedness Month, showing FEMA they’re ready for any eventuality. On September 10, local chefs used ingredients from nonperishable emergency kits to create gourmet bites at Las Vegas City Hall. The city is also hosting a Twitter chat on September 30 to get government agencies talking among themselves about training for emergency situations.

But the award for most ambitious plan may go to casino corporation Las Vegas Sands and nonprofit Clean the World, which are teaming up in hopes of assembling 100,000 hygiene kits this weekend. Clean the World’s specialty is collecting and repurposing unused toiletries from Las Vegas’ myriad hotel rooms. The hygiene kits that volunteers will put together on Saturday and Sunday will be used for disaster relief efforts both at home and abroad.

“This will have a huge impact,” says Ron Reese, a spokesperson for the Sands. “These kits will be distributed by American Red Cross and during natural disasters around the world, as well as locally at organizations like Shade Tree Shelter.”

Volunteers ages 8 and up will work assembly-line style at the Venetian-Palazzo in two-hour shifts, while organizers keep their spirits up with refreshments, raffles and prizes. As of Thursday morning, 2,300 people had signed up, but Clean the World says there’s room for at least 500 more. For more information, click here or contact Clean the World’s Shae Hagen at  702-221-8777 or


The silent treatment
by Andrew Kiraly | posted September 11, 2014
We all know about diminishing oil, dwindling water, food scarcity and endangered species, but there’s another disappearing resource among us that’s less noticeable: silence. 
Trying to find a quiet space in the modern urban environment is nearly impossible. We live in a noisy world of roaring freeways and blaring ringtones. Even our traditional go-to sanctuaries have brought the noise: Airplanes regularly rumble over our bedrooms, and our libraries have gone all clamorous and interactive.
The scarcity of silence is a topic on the mind (and ears) of Trevor Cox, Salford University professor and author of The Sound Book: The Science of the Sonic Wonders of the World. In this excerpt in American Scientist, Cox seeks out some of the quietest places on the planet — places unpolluted, by nature or by design, with artificial sound. Encouragingly, one of those places is just south of us at Kelso Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve:
While I was on an expedition to record singing sand dunes, I experienced something quite rare: complete silence. The scorching summer heat kept visitors away. Most of the time my recording companion, Diane Hope, and I were on our own. We camped at the foot of Kelso Dunes, in a barren, scrubby valley with dramatic granite hills behind us. Virtually no planes flew overhead, and only very occasionally did a distant car or freight train create noise. Much of the day there was a great deal of wind, but at twilight and early in the morning the winds calmed down and the quiet revealed itself. Overnight I heard the silence being interrupted only once, when a pack of nearby coyotes howled like ghostly babies.
Sounds peaceful. Almost ... too peaceful. Curiously, Cox does find in his research that, yes, there is such a thing as deafening silence, and there is such a thing as the kind of menacing aural absence that can lead to a sensation of ants crawling on your brain. Even in the desert quiet of Kelso, he notices that the absence of sound compels his brain to stage a coup and start supplying its own noise — one theory to explain tinnitus, a chronic ringing in the ears:
Theories of tinnitus abound, but most experts agree that it is caused by some sort of neural reorganization triggered by diminished input from outside sounds. ... In a silent place, or when hearing is damaged, auditory neurons in the brain stem increase the amplification of the signals from the auditory nerve to compensate for the lack of external sound. As an unwanted side effect, spontaneous activity in the auditory nerve fibers increases, leading to neural noise, which is perceived as a whistle, hiss, or hum. Maybe what I was hearing on the dunes was the idling noise of my brain while it searched in vain for sounds.
But the aural mirages inspired by Kelso are a minor annoyance compared to some of the trippy effects induced by even quieter places he writes about — like the anechoic chamber at Salford University in Manchester. Get this: It’s so quiet that its sound levels are measured in negative decibels, which make the room not so much a sanctum of quiet serenity as a sensory distortion chamber that can freak out visitors with a psychic version of nails on a chalkboard:
An anechoic chamber has an impressive silence because it simultaneously presents two unusual sensations: Not only is there no external sound, but the room puts your senses out of kilter. Through their eyes, visitors obviously see a room, but their ears hear nothing that indicates a room. Add the claustrophobic drama of being enclosed behind three heavy doors, and some begin to feel uneasy and ask to leave. Others are struck with fascination at the oddness of the experience. I know of no other architectural acoustic space that regularly has such a strong effect on people. But it is remarkable how quickly the brain gets used to the silence and the contradictory messages from the senses. The magical impact of the first visit to an anechoic chamber is never really experienced again.
Silence is golden — and a rarity in the cacophony and caterwaul of modern life. Maybe we’d all do well to have our own anechoic chambers to gather our thoughts and calm our restless souls. Just don’t stay in there too long.


One to hear: Brittany McKay
by Heidi Kyser | posted September 10, 2014

The opening scene in our Ones to Watch profile of Brittany McKay is taken from this YouTube video, in which McKay’s steamy alto stuns an audience gathered to watch Frankie Moreno perform at the Stratosphere.


To listen to more Brittany Rose (her stage name), visit the YouTube channel of her guitar accompanist and collaborator, John Lloyd, or head to the View Wine Bar & Kitchen in Tivoli Village, where she sings every Thursday, 7-10 p.m. And check out the rest of our Ones to Watch in the September issue of Desert Companion.


Lee Mallory + poetry + the Double Down Saloon
by Scott Dickensheets | posted September 5, 2014

Read on!

“Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted,” Percy Bysshe Shelley once said. But did he ever read his poetry in the Double Down Saloon? Imagine the mirror he’d have to lug into that distortion field! Depending on your tolerance for exuberant grunge, the Double Down, proud home of Ass Juice and “puke insurance,” is either the fabulous navel of our cultural underbelly or the drain at the bottom of the behavioral sink. Either way, while it’s not without its spurts of literary mojo — owner P Moss has authored two collections of gritty short fiction, and plenty of local scribblers have scratched in their booze-stained notebooks at the DD’s bar and tables — it’s not a place you think of when you think of poetry readings. The differences between distorted to beautiful can seem awfully tricky there. “This night will stretch me,” says poet Lee Mallory, who’ll read his verse there Sunday at 8 p.m.

Could be that’s why he picked the place, though. Its rude vitality (Anthony Bourdain loves it!) and the fact that it’s not the sort of place where poetry usually meets its tiny public — not a standard coffeehouse or an academic setting where a tenured professor of Turtleneck Studies might dole out his dense quatrains. (He’s no fan of the academic approach to poetry.) This’ll be harder, stranger. “DD tells you to maximize your bet — for a poet, always a must,” Mallory writes in an email. “If you can't grab readers in the first few minutes, shattering the stereotype that poetry is boring and irrelevant, you're dead. You must savagely bond with your audience. …” So perhaps not a wholly unexpected venue for a guy who frequently cites his friendship with the late poet Charles Bukowski, avatar of the booze-stained notebook. In Ass Juice veritas!

Still, it’s a big change of place for the grandfatherly looking Mallory, and he’s not unmindful of the need to kick it up a bit. Asked what changes he might make in his reading style, he joked: “None except vantage point, audience, image and tone.” He’s known as “The Love Poet,” because much of his work deals with the sexes; for the Double Down, it's likely he'll draw from the racier portions of that oeuvre, offering up a kind of horndog bebop, the better to savagely bond with the DD’s presumably edgier, seen-it-all clientele. “The boss” — Moss — “says the right reading will please customers,” Mallory says. “Where no one is offended, shamed or outraged.” For a guy who says he once spontaneously licked a woman’s leg during a reading, that’s probably a good thing.

In the end, he’s just a “zealot for the word,” going wherever that takes him, however off-kilter the venue. “I really believe poetry will bring us out of our 21st century estrangement — our isolation and the solitary confinement of television, video games and overall materialism. We sense a deep need to rediscover universal touchstones. Poetry can help with that.” A slug of Ass Juice probably doesn't hurt, either.

For the reading, he’ll be backed by musician Nate Segundo and inspired by “muse Stacey Honore.” More at

(Disclosures: 1. I performed a copy-edit of one of Moss’s books; 2. Mallory will read a new poem, “Ass Juice,” dedicated to me: One of my old memories of the Double Down provided the poem’s inspiration —SD.)


Notes from the National Clean Energy Summit
by Launce Rake | posted September 5, 2014

There was a time, not so long ago, when renewable energy, particularly solar power, was considered the realm of the granola and Birkenstock set. Kind of cute, perhaps, if one had a taste for the Whole Earth Catalog and hemp-based textiles.

That, of course, was before scientists formed an almost total consensus that human beings are transforming the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels, and that population growth and economic development were accelerating that transformation. It was before governments and multinational corporations and startup companies began directing tax incentives to efforts to slow the climate changes that already, many believe, are directly threatening the health of the earth and the human economy on which it is built.

And of course, that was before the powerful economic and political interests of fossil-fuel production mobilized huge media campaigns, diplomatic initiatives and electoral warfare to maintain the status quo in an ongoing war of ideas. And it was definitely before the image of pro-renewable power hippies in bell bottoms and tie-dyes — if it were ever true — was replaced by billionaires in pinstripe suits.

Like so many national political struggles, the war over renewable energy has Nevada as an epicenter. This week, an industrial park outside of Reno, as well as the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino convention center on the Strip, were where the action was. As of Thursday, those who endorse the rise of solar, geothermal, wind and other renewable over coal and oil — natural gas is in an in-between category, cleaner than most fossil fuels but not truly clean, either — were in the driver’s seat.

The casino was the site of the National Clean Energy Summit, the seventh annual, a project of Nevada’s Clean Energy Project and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Reid and company, among them Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, started the day with an early morning press conference announcing a $105 million federal loan guarantee that would kick-start a garbage-to-energy biofuels project in Reno. Ordinarily, that would be big news, but the biofuels project was almost completely overshadowed by the announcement that the Tesla electric car company — lured by a billion dollars or more in various tax breaks — would plop its $5 billion battery plant in the same city. The announcement was the fuel for comment by a steady stream of notables throughout the daylong summit, including the keynote speaker, former secretary of state, former first lady, and oh-just-maybe Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Vilsack, among others, noted that Nevada has already invested somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 billion in renewable and energy-efficiency efforts, so the Tesla project would, in one short, sharp shock, effectively double the state’s already significant bet on clean energy.

“Progress has been made in Nevada, but really, the best is yet to come,” Reid said in what was, for the typically dour politico, a fit of enthusiasm. “Tesla is great news for Nevada, but it didn’t happen by accident.”

He noted that one of the world’s few big mining operations for lithium, an element necessary for the battery construction, is in Nevada’s Silver Peak area.

The 6,000 or so jobs that the battery plant would bring, of course, motivated a lot of the commentary.

Some, including Review-Journal columnist (and sometime Desert Companion contributor) Steve Sebelius, couldn’t help but note that the Koch-brothers supported Heartland Institute had chosen the same city, the same casino, and the same conference center and same carpeting for their climate-change-denial-palooza conference just two months ago. (The 9th Annual International Conference on Climate Change did not feature a multibillion-dollar clean-energy plant announcement, however, so many might be forgiven for missing the earlier event on the news.)

The Tesla plant news was not without its detractors, on the left and right. The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (which your author once worked for) criticized the huge tax abatements that Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed for the project, while the conservative Nevada Policy Research Institute, which has channeled some of the climate-change-denial language in the past, said it would be unfair to give Tesla such tax breaks and not other companies.

But those attending the conference uniformly seemed to think the Tesla announcement, which requires a special session of the Legislature (scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 10) for approval, was a pretty good deal for Nevada. Even if granola and Birkenstocks were never mentioned in the official company press release.


Watch him now
by Heidi Kyser | posted September 4, 2014

We knew Perris Aquino was a go for our Ones to Watch feature when we couldn’t take our eyes off his YouTube channel.  There are more than 50 videos on it showcasing his various interests and talents, from break dancing to parcours. And Aquino doesn’t just provide the content; he shot and edited most of these entertaining works, too. We picked this one, his so-very-Perris take on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, to give you a taste:


Check out the rest of our Ones to Watch in the September issue of Desert Companion.


We're all citizens of Lake Mead
by Heidi Kyser | posted September 3, 2014

“One challenge we have economically is the messaging out there. Obviously, we have challenges in the levels of the lakes where we operate. We have problems we need to fix, but when the first line you see in a newspaper is, ‘We’re out of water; the lake is dry!’ it drives customers away. It leaves people to believe they don’t want to book their next trip to the lake.”

That was Rod Taylor, regional vice president of Forever Resorts, speaking on a panel during The Business of Water summit held Aug. 28-29 at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve. Taylor’s view is understandable, given that renting boats and operating tours on America’s lakes, including Mead, is a big chunk of his company’s business. Because of that, Forever Resorts has made a public commitment to environmental stewardship. On its dedicated website, Forever Earth, you can learn how the company reduced emissions and got green hotel and restaurant certification, for instance.

Likewise for other companies represented at the Springs last week. The common impulse to preserve lakes and rivers is partly why a group of business owners got together and formed Protect the Flows, one of the summit’s sponsors, to begin with. It makes sense. If water-based recreation provided your livelihood, then you wouldn’t want the water to dry up. (Protect the Flows’ tagline is, "Protect our profits.") You also, therefore, wouldn’t want Slate to illustrate its coverage of the recent NASA-U.C. Irvine Colorado River basin study with a series of shocking before-and-after photos spotlighting disappearing marinas, withering plant life and the infamous bathtub ring at Lake Mead.

Surely, Taylor and his compatriots understand that the depletion of the Colorado River is news. What they objected to is the lack of an accompanying acknowledgement that, despite the drought, plenty of water remains on which to jet-ski or pilot a houseboat. A generous interpretation of their concern would be that the bathtub ring has become an emblem of loss rather than a rallying cry for conservation, their true goal. A less charitable view would be that the carbon emissions they encourage and generate, as they beef up their bottom lines, are part of the underlying problem. Either way, they have an economic leg to stand on. Protect the Flows estimates that 5 million people recreate on the Colorado River system each year, generating $26 billion in economic output and supporting 230,000 jobs.

But there’s a more interesting facet to the criticism of the media’s drought coverage, as voiced at the summit by Brookings Institution and DRI senior fellow Pat Mulroy, during her presentation:

“As I've been reading news reports, I don't know whether to laugh, cry or shake my head. Hyperbole is one thing, but the kinds of misrepresentations I've been reading lately are more counter-productive than anything I've ever read. For some reason, the notion out there is that the only place that's going to suffer from the decline of Lake Mead is Las Vegas. ... What happens in Lake Mead affects everyone in the basin. As an aside to my friends in California and Arizona, who already realize it, with the completion of our third intake, we'll be able to take water out of Lake Mead at a level beyond that at which there's nothing left to flow downstream. So, when all the other water is gone, we'll still be able to draw from Lake Mead.

It’s doubtful that journalists covering the drought have lied. But Mulroy does point to a legitimate problem: the tendency of reporters who parachute in just long enough to get their story to link declining levels at Lake Mead solely to Las Vegas. The truth is bigger and much more complicated. As Mulroy went on to say in her presentation, the fountains at Bellagio, the almond orchards of the San Joaquin Delta, the alfalfa being exported to China, the snow-making machines in the Colorado Rockies — all are responsible.

And, she offered a solution:

“I challenge you today, as you listen to panels and speakers, to think of yourselves in a different context. We all say, ‘I’m a citizen of Las Vegas. I live in Denver, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City,’ and we identify with the state we come from. But you’re one more thing: You’re citizens of a basin, an inextricably linked group of economies and people whose future is interconnected whether we can get our heads around it or not. What happens in Denver matters in Vegas.”

From this perspective, Rod Taylor’s complaint strikes a chord. The Lake Mead resort industry is part of the Las Vegas economy, which is in turn a component of the larger basin society. We writers and photographers should no more ignore the bathtub ring than we should naively parrot the good-news version of events that people with money at stake try to feed us. Instead, we simply have to remember the great spider web of communities that reverberates with every movement — constructive or destructive — from every sector.


Henderson takes the rainwater challenge
by Scott Dickensheets | posted August 21, 2014

Water from the sky!

As Wednesday afternoon dumped what seemed like 73 inches of rain on my Henderson nabe — bonus weather anomaly: hail! — I pulled over long enough to snap this, and to thank karma for not steering this storm in from Lake Mead. Last thing I need on my commute home is a carpnado.


Conti's troubles continue after his death
by Heidi Kyser | posted August 19, 2014

The “strange saga of Dr. Ralph Conti,” which we wrote about in the July issue of Desert Companion, isn’t over yet, apparently. On Aug. 8, two parents filed a complaint for medical malpractice against Conti’s estate, just before the time for making such claims expired.

The plaintiffs, Franklin and Catherine Heath, say their 9-year-old daughter, Briana, became ill in late March 2012. They called Foothills Pediatrics, the business Conti both owned and worked in as a physician. Despite Briana’s being a new patient, they say, Conti took her symptoms over the phone through an intermediary and prescribed the antibiotic Cefdinir without seeing her.

As recapped by the Morris Anderson Law blog (the firm is not a party in the case), Briana had a severe flu and died three days after her parents contacted Foothills. Their complaint asserts that Conti, distracted by his legal troubles, was negligent in his failure to examine and properly treat the girl. They are seeking a minimum of $10,000 in damages to cover the Heaths’ related medical and funeral costs, in addition to their pain and suffering.

As for the timing of the lawsuit, Morris Anderson’s Tara Young explains that Conti’s wife, Carol Conti, had been issued letters of testamentary on Aug. 15, 2013, for her deceased husband’s estate, which had been in probate since early that year. That started the clock ticking under Nevada law, giving parties one year to file wrongful death claims against the estate. The Aug. 8 filing, then, came in just under the wire — and adding yet another chapter to the Dr. Conti saga.


The nuclear memo
by Andrew Kiraly | posted August 18, 2014
Christened with an atomic explosion nicknamed Able on Jan. 27, 1951, the Nevada Test Site was Uncle Sam’s garage for the nation’s nuclear testing program for more than 40 years. Over that period, it hosted more than 900 of the country’s 1,054 above- and below-ground nuclear tests before the U.S. agreed to an international testing moratorium in 1992. 
The site also hosted hundreds of anti-nuclear protests in which protesters would engage in acts of civil disobedience, trespassing on federal land — and being arrested — to draw attention to the U.S. government’s nuclear obsession. Famous figures who protested at the test site over the years include Carl Sagan, Martin Sheen, Robert Blake and Kris Kristofferson. 
But it’s safe to say that none of these guys has anything on Mike Kirby. I don’t even know if you can call him a protester or a conscientious objector; he’s something else altogether. Starting in 1958, Kirby worked at an atomic weapons depot attached to the Nevada Test Site. He writes an account of his tenure in the July London Review of Books, a bleak, funny and frightening story of a nuclear weapons mechanic who develops a conscience — but doesn’t quite know what to do with it.
To be sure, at first, the job is typical, rife with workplace pranks with a Dr. Strangelove twist:
Kohler, who liked to have his fun with people, sneaked a couple of dummy detonators into a case of live ones, and one day in the middle of the arming sequence, took what he knew was a dummy and tossed it to poor Horpstead, who bobbled it, dropped it and dived for cover, thinking this was it. Kohler just laughed, hah hah. Big joke.
But Kirby’s first glimmers of concern emerge, ironically, from a strong think over the specific engineering of a new bomb they’re working with:
Some time in the spring, a new warhead for the Polaris arrived, the first of many that were to be shipped to the submarine fleet. I went through the warhead manual and found a number of things that disturbed me. This particular warhead was designed for use against cities. It was very compact, a weapon with a small bang and a small cross-section, but its ablative shield was an alloy of uranium, and it produced very heavy alpha fallout downwind. I thought about the world laid waste by these warheads. I wondered if you could be a good soldier and have an imagination.
Kirby’s crisis of conscience is mordant — what’s a military-trained and -bred steward of the nation’s nuclear program to do when he begins to have grave moral qualms about what he’s doing? 
He writes a couple memos. But in these memos are volumes of anguish, worry, obsession and confusion — perhaps twisted reflections of the horrific potentialities humming inside the nuclear warheads in the depot with their unlocked weapons connectors. 


What's in our name
by Andrew Kiraly | posted August 12, 2014
This April 2013 New Yorker piece by John McPhee, “Draft No. 4,” purports to be about how to get over writer’s block. It has some good advice. For instance, personalizing your audience can quell writing anxiety and reignite your enthusiasm for your subject:
You are writing, say, about a grizzly bear. No words are forthcoming. For six, seven, ten hours no words have been forthcoming. You are blocked, frustrated, in despair. You are nowhere, and that’s where you’ve been getting. What do you do? You write, ‘Dear Mother.’ And then you tell your mother about the block, the frustration, the ineptitude, the despair. You insist that you are not cut out to do this kind of work. You whine. You whimper. You outline your problem, and you mention that the bear has a fifty-five-inch waist and a neck more than thirty inches around but could run nose-to-nose with Secretariat. You say the bear prefers to lie down and rest. The bear rests fourteen hours a day. And you go on like that as long as you can. And then you go back and delete the ‘Dear Mother’ and all the whimpering and whining, and just keep the bear.”
The piece is also about the creative promise of digression. In fact, the entire article is one long tap dance of detours and deflections, as McPhee moves from the subject of writer’s block to his habit of consulting the dictionary for inspiration to flashbacks about his tete-a-tetes with the holy officiants of that fabled institution of the New Yorker’s copy editing department. One of McPhee’s digressions is into the subject of demonyms — that is, the name of the residents of a given city or country — which comes up when a New Yorker copy editor questions McPhee’s use of Manchesterians to name the residents of Manchester, New Hampshire.
Mary Norris wrote on the proof, “Would you like ‘Mancunians’?”
It was as if she had handed me a rare gold coin. Five years later, when I happened to be writing about lacrosse in Manchester, England, I worked in the word “Mancunian” three times in one short paragraph. It was the second-best demonym I’d ever heard, almost matching Vallisoletano (a citizen of Valladolid). The planet, of course, is covered with demonyms, and after scouring the world in conversations on this topic with Mary Norris I began a severely selective, highly subjective A-list, extending Mancunian and Vallisoletano through thirty-five others at this writing, including Wulfrunian (Wolverhampton), Novocastrian (Newcastle), Trifluvian (Trois-Rivières), Leodensian (Leeds), Minneapolitan (Minneapolis), Hartlepudlian (Hartlepool), Liverpudlian (you knew it), Haligonian (Halifax), Varsovian (Warsaw), Providentian (Providence), and Tridentine (Trent).
Say them to yourself. Wulfrunian sounds earthy but dignified with a touch of pomp — I sense coarse beards on ruffled collars. Minneapolitan seems to have about it a cheerful Saran Wrap of self-aware pretense — a striver who’ll still have a beer with you. Tridentine? Trent is nowhere near the ocean, but I’m quite readily seeing noble Poseidon-worshippers with wavy blue hair strolling through the dingy brick streets. 
It sent me on a digression, too, thinking about our own, comparatively impoverished demonym: Las Vegan. I don’t know what I get when I swish that around in my mind. It feels matter of fact, with a touch of desert dust and a hint, but only a hint, of Western swagger. But there’s no neon in it, no color, no bedraggled allure or even schmaltz. The same goes for Nevadan. It evokes a noncommittal rusticity, sketches the vague outlines of a some kinda-sorta Western figure who may or may not be a cowboy.
It makes you wonder whether we could do better, and whether doing better might result in some invisible uptick in our collective spirit or self-concept or something.
Vegasite No. We sound like a race of sentient mineral beings.
Vegan Uh, we are not a finicky, translucent people.
Veganite Sounds like a Power Rangers spinoff about heroes with high-handed dietary restrictions.
LVeans Too cute.
Elvees Clearly getting desperate.
Radiants A bit cornily self-affirming, but, hey, it does capture some things about Vegas. The -iants suffix mimics the adjectival convention of a demonym.
Vegapolitan Sounded good in my head, but ... no.
Vegano Like Angelenos, right? Okay, guess not. 
Veganians Like Californians, right? 
Vegusian Too cosmic, goofy
Sinians You know, from Sin City. Okay, maybe not.
Sinizens Citizens of Sin City? Maybe? Maybe in the year 2045 ... in a Michael Bay movie. 
Neonians From neon, but pronounced nee-OH-neans. I admit, I kinda like this.
Lavengian, Lavesian Here, I’m trying to conflate Las and Vegas in a loose, Wulfrunian kinda way, and then give it some demonymic backspin. Has a bit of lift and dignity to it, wouldn’t you say?
Lavengite Sounds like an ancient biblical tribe, or a Quaker offshoot, or a mineral. No.
Elvesian Pronounced el-VEE-zhian; brings in “LV” and a touch of Elvis, but looks too much like elves. 
Vegonian Doesn’t quite have the stiff whiff of, say, Varsovian, but I wanted to see what it looked like.
Vargovian Inspired by “Varsovian,” yes, it wanders a bit too far from its Vegas roots, but, wow, doesn’t it make us seem like a bunch of highborn baccarat sharps who’ve inherited a fallen world. Yes!


Women speaking up
by Heidi Kyser | posted August 8, 2014

MGM Resorts Foundation held its eighth Women’s Leadership Conference this week at the MGM Grand to the apparent delight of Southern Nevada women. The organization had to cut off registration the day before the event started, and during the closing luncheon, a sizeable portion of the 800-plus attendees broke into a spontaneous celebratory performance of the Cupid Shuffle.

These snippets, from the final panel discussion moderated by Edelman executive Gail Becker, hint at the origin of their enthusiasm: two days packed with inspirational stories and calls to action.


“We have two things we have to do as women: No. 1, bring other women along. Every successful woman should find at least two others younger than her in her field to mentor. And No. 2, increase sponsorship. Ten years ago I wouldn't be sitting here because I wouldn't have had the courage to ask for help. Ask for help. Men do it; women should do it too.” — Suzan Kereere, senior VP and general manager, American Express

“To clarify: Sponsorship happens when you're not in the room. Somebody who knows you hears of a position and puts you forward for it.” — Becker


“I would tell my younger self, ‘Live your life. Live the life that’s right for you. Don’t try to live someone else’s life. Be bold enough to ask for what you want and to do what you want to do.’” — Susan Gambardella, former senior marketing VP for Coca-Cola North America

“I wish someone would have told me to remember to take care of yourself. ... You forget about your well-being, emotional, spiritual and physical. In a leadership position, if you're not taking care of yourself, the people around you can see that. I have family all over the state, and we're half Mexican, half Sicilian, so we celebrate everything. I’m more productive back in the work world when I take time to do that.” — Catherine Cortez Masto, Nevada Attorney General


“The third metric came into place for me when my husband and I decided to have kids and that he’d stay home. That allowed me to lose the guilt of continuing to work. Not everybody has that luxury, but it allowed me to think beyond work.” — Gambardella

“This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about, because this is my last term as attorney general. I’ll be out in January, in case anyone’s looking. … In my world, I define success as, have I made a difference.” — Cortez Masto


“How about when you’re sitting in a meeting and you’re formulating a good point in your head, and waiting for the right moment or for it to be perfect, and then someone else makes it? Don’t miss the opportunity.” — Gambardella


“My first week in aviation, I discovered they speak only in acronyms. I couldn't understand anything. I barely knew what FAA stood for. At one meeting, they started talking about vertical transportation. I was 45 minutes into meeting before I knew they were talking about elevators. We laugh about it now. I'm still there, and I'm director.” — Rosemary Vasilliadis, Clark County Director of Aviation


School of Medicine opens Henderson patient clinic
by Heidi Kyser | posted August 7, 2014

This summer, the University of Nevada School of Medicine opened a patient care center on St. Rose Parkway in Henderson. If you didn’t realize the state’s only public medical school had clinics that are open to all, you’re way out of the loop. The Henderson location is UNSOM’s 14th in Southern Nevada.

The new one’s big selling point is coordinated care, provided through multiple services under one roof. In addition to family medicine, pediatrics and women’s health, the more than 30 in-house physicians at the Henderson center cover specialties such as adult allergy/immunology and geriatrics, as well as surgery. In other words, you can go there for checkups, screenings and shots, but also for arthritis, asthma — even breast cancer. There’s also a variety of health-management services, such as nutrition counseling and blood pressure control.

All physicians on staff are board-certified and affiliated with the university. Although third- and fourth-year UNSOM students do quite a bit of their clinical training in Las Vegas, a spokeswoman says they won’t be doing any of it at the Henderson center in the foreseeable future. For now, the focus is on getting the place up and running smoothly.

It is taking appointments, however, and accepts most non-HMO insurance plans (for a complete list, click here).

To read about plans for another public medical school for Nevada, see “The power of two” in the August issue of Desert Companion.


Nancy Houssels' dance evolution
by Heidi Kyser | posted August 4, 2014

Start where Nancy Houssels spoke to Desert Companion for our August feature, “We just had to ask.” Then rewind some three decades to when she helped found the dance company that would eventually become Nevada Ballet Theater. And keep going – back to the early '60s, when she was a dancer herself in the Folies Bergere, where she met her husband, Kell Houssels. And then go just a little further, to when she was Nancy Claire, part of the dance duo Szony and Claire that performed around the world. Now, you’ve arrived at the moment when she performed on “The Hollywood Palace”:  


The med school learning curve
by Heidi Kyser | posted July 30, 2014

For the August issue of Desert Companion, I checked in with the state’s higher ed officials to find out where they are in the ever-evolving effort to get a new public medical school in Southern Nevada. (Check back for that story, coming any moment to this very page.) You can’t talk medical education without talking graduate medical education — aka residencies and fellowships — since both are required to not only train doctors, but also keep them in the state. And getting more doctors is something this state desperately needs to do.

… as Congresswoman Dina Titus pointed out in her conversation with KNPR’s State of Nevada this morning. Titus, who is a member of the Veterans Administration committee in the House of Representatives, was on the program to explain a $17 billion VA overhaul that a bipartisan, House-Senate committee unveiled earlier this week. Turns out, the doctor shortage is a big part of the problem for the VA — particularly in Nevada, according to Titus.

“It doesn’t do any good to push vets into private practice for the care they need if there aren’t enough doctors to see them,” she said. “If you look at statistics for Nevada, we’re 46th in the country for primary care, 50th for psychiatry and 51st for surgeons. That’s why I want to create more residencies.”

She and recently appointed UNLV Medical School Dean Barbara Atkinson are thinking along the same lines. While I was reporting the public medical school story, Atkinson told me that she’s keen on working with the VA, both for possibly housing UNLV’s new medical students until a building gets built and for starting residencies to train those students after graduation. And, she specifically mentioned psychiatry as an area of great opportunity for medical residencies in Southern Nevada.

Meanwhile, the Reno-based University of Nevada School of Medicine and private, nonprofit Touro University Nevada are also working on getting more graduate medical education for their existing students — in primary care and surgery, among other areas.

It’s encouraging to see officials from various factions getting on the same page about how the state can solve its health care crisis. Now, they just have to convince the public to pony up its share of the dough.


The Yucca Mountain hangover
by Andrew Kiraly | posted July 29, 2014
Hey! Want to have a nice chat about Yucca Mountain? Of course you don’t! You’re over it. You’ve had enough. You’re not ready yet. You’re still savoring your luxurious sigh of relief after the Obama administration wrenched the Yucca spigot to OFF, and you really, really just want to fast-forward through this nebulous, woozy denouement we’re living in now, the age of the Great Yucca Hangover. 
You may be done with Yucca Mountain, but, oh, it’s not done with us. Don’t worry (at least not yet!), this isn’t a blog post about some fresh and disheartening reversal in the decades-long saga that sees the high-level nuclear waste dump rearing its ugly half-life again. I’m referring instead to a more metaphorical kind of radioactivity: the ways in which the would-be Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump, in all the troubling majesty of its thorny hypotheticals — an engineered underground nuclear graveyard expected to exist many millenia into and perhaps beyond human history — continues to force us to grapple with tricky questions about human language and culture. For instance, after we build a burial site capable of containing high-level nuclear waste, here or elsewhere, how do we warn the future? Indeed, the nuclear cemetery that never quite was has borne fascinating fruit. 
One of the latest entries is this academic paper slated to be published in Cornell University’s Science & Technology Studies journal, titled “Adjudicating Deep Time: Revisiting the United States’ High-Level Nuclear Waste Repository Project at Yucca Mountain.” Reams have been blogged and written about the challenges — some would say absurd, imagination-staggering challenges — of building a DANGER! KEEP OUT! sign that could last, both physically and semantically, through thousands of years of erosive weather, natural cataclysms, geopolitical upheaval, human evolution, morphing language and who knows what else (alien colonization? hyper-evolved cats? hostile global AI takeover by a sentient Facebook in the year 4039?).
This paper (warning: at times, it’s a dense, punishing bog of opaque academese) considers the superhuman intellectual acrobatics required to impose today’s accepted notions of personhood to tomorrow and beyond. Or, as the paper’s author Vincent F. Ialenti writes, “As such, an anthropologist might see the Yucca Mountain Project as just another site in which humans have drawn upon fragments of the past to reinvent them in the present to serve new purposes in new contexts.” In the legalistic regime of YuccaThink, today's person is bureaucratically recast into the future-flung unknown as a “reasonably maximally exposed individual.”
 The tenuousness of such constructions is laughable; you can almost read them as exasperated code words for a gasping admission of “We don’t know!” Well, it would be laughable if it weren’t utterly headache-inducing — another symptom of the Great Yucca Hangover. 


A shady deal (the good kind!)
by Heidi Kyser | posted July 24, 2014

Sun trees

You might have noticed the occasional slanted, mirror-like roof over a community center or government office parking lot, but the fact that they’re solar panels — or the sheer number of them popping up around town — likely hasn’t registered. These solar parking shade structures are part of the Las Vegas city government’s huge collective effort to attain “net zero” status — that is, to eventually produce as much energy as it uses. Since 2011, the city has installed solar panels at 38 of its facilities, enough to produce six megawatts of electricity.

“If you put all the solar panels in neat rows on the ground, all in one place, they would cover about 30 acres,” says Tom Perrigo, the city’s chief sustainability officer.

The latest project comes with the help of the Governor’s Office of Energy, which gave Las Vegas a 14-year loan with 3 percent interest to build three solar parking shade structures: at the city’s East and West Yard maintenance and storage facilities, as well as the Durango Hills Community Center. Together, they’ll produce 1.2 million kilowatt-hours each year. The loan was for $1.24 million, which brings the city’s total spend on solar to some $40 million. Is it worth it?

Yes, say Perrigo and his boss, Mayor Carolyn Goodman. “Everything we’ve invested pays for itself through savings,” he says, “and nothing has come out of city coffers for it. We’ve leveraged grants, utility rebates and tax-credit financing, so we’re saving more than our total debt service.”

Over time, energy savings add up to a return on the city’s investment. This is because the price per kilowatt-hour is locked in. For instance, on the latest project, the price will equal approximately 5.5 cents per kilowatt-hour over the next 25 years. That’s 2.5 cents less than the current utility rate of 8 cents per kilowatt-hour — a rate that will increase over time, while the solar-production rates stays the same. So, in effect, savings will increase.

“We’re saving just under $6 million on our energy bill right now,” Perrigo says. “Our payback is about seven years.” 

Another way solar pays for itself is by hitting its maximum production during peak periods, when energy use is highest and thus at its most expensive. So the city is reducing demand during peak periods and taking a little energy off-grid.

And then there’s the cut in greenhouse-gas emissions. The three new parking shade structures alone will take 23.8 million pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere during their first 20 years of operation, the city estimates. That’s equivalent to 2,273 passenger vehicles or 985 homes.

Perrigo admits that it takes time to realize these benefits, and that such long-term investments are easier for public entities than they are for private businesses. But he’s hopeful that legislation proposed for the upcoming state session will help commercial properties finance similar investments through energy-improvement districts, because it would provide jobs and address climate issues.

“These projects and investments have helped us reduce our level of greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent,” Perrigo says. “We’re back to what we were emitting in 1997, even though we’ve more than doubled our operations during that time. As a result, Mayor Goodman recently won the national climate protection leadership award form the U.S. Conference of Mayors.” 


Hey, you using that blood?
by Heidi Kyser | posted July 22, 2014

If most nonprofits saw an 8 percent drop in donations over a quarter, they’d be a little concerned. But for the American Red Cross, not having blood for even one patient in need of a transfusion is a crisis. And the organization’s 8-percent shortfall over the last three months amounts to 80,000 fewer donations, causing it to issue an urgent call for donors of all blood types.

“It’s important that people understand: We have to collect 15,000 blood donations every day to meet the national daily demand at hospitals,” says Red Cross spokeswoman Kimberly Houk. “Every two seconds a patient in America needs a blood donation.”

That's a lot of blood. Donations are typically low in the summer, but this year the three-day weekend for Independence Day put a larger-than-usual dent in early July collections. In an average summer week, the Red Cross reports, 4,400 blood drives are on the calendar. The first week of July this year, there were only 3,450.

The organization needs both blood and platelets. To find out if you’re an eligible donor, visit or call 1-800-RedCross (733-2767). Upcoming opportunities to donate in Southern Nevada follow:


July 24, 3:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m.: ITT Technical Institute, 168 N Gibson Road


Las Vegas

July 23, 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.: Kaplan College, 3535 W. Sahara Ave

July 26, 8:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.: Meadows Mall, 4300 Meadows Lane Suite 10

July 26, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.: Spring Valley Hospital Medical Center, 5400 S Rainbow Blvd

July 29, 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.: Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center, 3186 S. Maryland Parkway

July 31, 10:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m.: LVMPD Northeast Area Command, 3750 Cecile Avenue

Aug. 4, 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.: Southwest Medical Associates, 2316 W Charleston Blvd

Aug. 7, 10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.: Valley Hospital Medical Center, 620 Shadow Lane

Aug. 15, 9:30 a.m.-3:15 p.m.: Basch Construction, 6226 S Sandhill

Aug. 19, 10:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m.: Spring Valley Hospital Medical Center, 5400 S Rainbow Blvd

Aug. 20, 8:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Milan Institute, 710 S. Tonopah Drive

Aug. 20, 3:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m.: American Red Cross Southern Nevada Chapter, 1771 E. Flamingo Rd. Ste 206B

Aug. 21, 7:00 a.m.-12:15 p.m.: Danville Services, 9139 W. Russell Suite # 110



Aug. 13, 7:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m.: Primex Plastics, 752 Turtleback Road

Aug. 13, 1:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m.: Primex Plastics, 752 Turtleback Road


North Las Vegas

July 25, 9:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Encompass Care, 6424 Losee Rd

July 30, 4:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m.: ITT Technical Institute, 3825 W. Cheyenne Ave #600

Aug. 11, 10:00 a.m.-1:30 p.m.: Destinations at Alexander, 3949 W. Alexander Rd.

Aug. 15, 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.: North Vista Hospital, 1409 E Lake Mead Blvd



Aug. 12, 8:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.: Affiliated Chiropractic, 2250 E Postal Rd #4





Two reasons to bike 100 miles
by Heidi Kyser | posted July 16, 2014

Bicyclists who were bummed by the cancellation of Viva Bike Vegas, take heart — not only is Viva Bike Vegas coming back after all, but the popular cycling event has some company.

Backstory: In February, we reported that the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada announced that its cyclopalooza, Viva Bike Vegas, was on hold for 2014, potentially never to return. The cost to produce the massive long-distance ride had outpaced the amount of money sponsors were willing to cough up.

Perimeter Bicycling to the rescue! Last month, the Tucson-based nonprofit announced it was taking over production of Viva Bike Vegas, adding the Nevada ride to its growing portfolio of cycling events. This portfolio includes El Tour de Tucson, which – to give an idea of its popularity – charges $145 and up for registration, and attracts 9,000 riders.

But, not so fast… Another ride was already there to fill the void. In its fifth year, Pedal to the Medal, sponsored by Lexus of Las Vegas, was hoping to capitalize on the lack of a calendar-adjacent competitor to sell its scenic route, friendly support and worthy cause: Special Olympics of Nevada. Now, riders have two centuries for their pedaling passion.

Here’s a compare-and-contrast chart:

Pedal to the Medal

Viva Bike Vegas

Sept. 27, 6:30 a.m.-4 p.m.

Sept. 13, 6 a.m.-4 p.m.

25-, 50- and 100-mile options

25-, 62- and 101-mile options

$40, $50, $65, respectively

Complicated cost structure, ranging from free to $145, depending on how much one raises for charity

50- and 100-mile routes include Mt. Potosi; 100-mile gains a total 6,775 feet with two class-1 climbs. All routes start and end at West Career & Technical Academy.

The 101-mile route begins downtown and travels the periphery of the city, with a total elevation gain of 4,403 feet. Shorter-distance routes start remotely along the century route; all finish at the Discovery Children’s Museum.

Route options and free bike rodeo for children and people with special needs

¼-, 5- and 10-mile fun ride also available

Registration includes ride, rest stop support, lunch, commemorative T-shirt and swag bag. (Jerseys are available for a fee.)

Registration includes admission to bike expo, ride, rest stops, electronic timing, route traffic control, SAG support, finishing medal, subscription to Perimeter’s newsletter, Tail Winds.

All proceeds go to Special Olympics Nevada athletes.

A portion of proceeds goes to Discovery Children’s Museum, Easter Seals Nevada, League of American Bicyclists and Safe Nest. The biggest fundraiser gets a treasure chest that includes a bike.

More info:, 702-474-0690, ext. 207

More info:, 520-745-2033





A Center of learning
by Heidi Kyser | posted July 10, 2014

This morning, the City of Las Vegas, the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada and UNLV publicly celebrated a partnership that has resulted in both personal development and for-credit classes being offered at the Center. The first one – Gender & Society, an upper-level, 3-credit course taught by UNLV Women’s Studies instructor Suzanne Becker – starts Monday, July 14.

Distance learning isn’t the only trend in higher education that’s all about taking learning to the people, instead of expecting them to come get it themselves on campus. Lots of universities are doing what UNLV is through its Community2Campus division: enlisting the help of other public entities and private partners, such as the Center, to offer highly localized outlets for their courses.

In this case, the City of Las Vegas, which has an economic interest in educating its citizens, ponied up the $500,000 necessary for UNLV to offer 20 credit hours per week for the first five years – enough time to establish the program in the community, estimates UNLV’s vice provost for educational outreach Margaret Rees. She says similar projects are underway at the 5th Street School downtown and five locations in Henderson.

Who are the classes at the Center designed for? I asked Rees, as well as Community2Campus Executive Director Liz Baldizan and Center Interim CEO Tom Kovach to give composite descriptions of hypothetical students. A few examples based on their feedback follow:

1. The neighborhood adult learner. This person lives within a 1- to 2-mile radius of the Center, works full-time, started a degree 10 years ago and then, as Baldizan says, “life happened.” He or she has hit a professional plateau due to the lack of a degree and wants to go back to school to complete one. Having a community center nearby, where such folks can take a class in the evening, opens the door to their career advancement. The adult learner may also be a continuing education buff, who would rather to take a class nearby than at the main campus.

2. The lost boy (or girl). This late-teen, early 20-something may already hang out at the Center to play basketball or Web-surf on the free computers. He finds the prospect of attending a university daunting, but is nevertheless motivated to better himself, and his job prospects, through education. Kovach says a survey of computer users at the Center found many are updating resumes and searching for jobs, so professional development classes, such as the Job Seeking Skills one that starts in September, are a natural fit.

3. The UNLV student. This full-time academic needs one of the courses being offered at the Center to complete a degree, or is interested in the unique intersection of academics and culture found there. Using the upcoming Gender & Society class as an example, Kovach says a student might extend what he or she learns in the classroom to a hands-on experience by attending group discussions and other events at the Center, where gender expression and identity play an important role in the work being done.

For more information about the classes being offered at the Center, contact Sal Mora, assistant director and nontraditional learner advisor, at 702-895-2025 or


Where the Strip gets its grillin' wood  and you can, too
by Greg Thilmont | posted June 30, 2014

That's the work of, like, a million woodchucks

Owner Jeff Burger (photo by Brent Holmes)

"There’s a load of almond that just came in this morning from California,” says Jeff Burger, owner of Allied Charcoal and Wood Products, pointing out a flatbed of bulky stumps ready to be cut down to size. He’s piloting a golf cart around the huge and fragrant collection of combustibles on his family’s unassuming five-acre plot on a sparse stretch of Nellis Boulevard.

Beyond the almond wood, a downed orchard of flavorful trees fills the lot. “This is oak,” Burger says of a stack of stretch-wrapped pallets. “Pizza ovens around town use it.” There are lengthy cedar logs eventually bound for Mt. Charleston fireplaces and Summerlin patio fire pits. “This is peach and apricot,” he said. “This is sugar maple. This is olive.” Each species of wood in the yard — from acacia to cherry and orange to plum — exudes its particular essence when burned, and different smoke flavors complement various foods: beef, pork, poultry, fish or even cheese and vegetables.

Allied has been supplying wood to burn in the Vegas Valley for more than two decades. About a year and a half ago, the company ramped up from a roadside, trailer-based venture to its huge new warehouse enterprise. The growth was largely due to the more than 20 varieties of aromatic woods Allied sells, which find their way into many of the valley’s restaurant grills and smokers.

It was olive that started Allied on its expansion.

“I got a call from the Rio,” Burger recalls. “They wanted to buy olive wood. So I found a source for some in California and hauled it in with a pickup truck and a trailer.” A few months later, the Rio wanted more product. Other hotels and restaurants soon came calling. Now, Allied supplies heavy hitters such as The Cosmopolitan and the Famous Dave’s barbecue chain, and ships as far away as New Jersey.

The amount of wood Allied moves is impressive. “We have one (semi) in and out every two days,” Burger says. “There’s about 44,000 pounds per load.” This adds up to some 8 million pounds of fuel a year. For a home economics-style comparison, your average backyard barbeque probably takes about five pounds of charcoal to fuel a Saturday get-together.   

Walk into the rustic campus of John Mull’s Meats and Road Kill Grill at lunchtime and two things stand out: long lines of patrons waiting for pulled pork, and the distinct aroma of hickory. “Hickory burns hot,” explains owner Chuck Frommer, as he loads slab after slab of pork ribs into a rotating smoker. He relies on the energy-packed wood and quality Red Oak charcoal from Allied to keep up with the popular demand for his restaurant’s vittles. Likewise, the distinctly Southwestern allure of smoldering mesquite, also supplied by Allied, greets the olfactory bulbs of visitors to one of Vegas’ vintage eateries, Bob Taylor’s Ranch House, before they even get to the front door. There, mesquite embers lend their sharp savor to prodigious cuts of steak and other viands. “We smoke our prime ribs with it, which is definitely unique,” says owner Jeff Special.

While commercial accounts make up 99 percent of Allied’s business, Burger notes that increasing numbers of local home cooks are immersing themselves in the world of serious meat smoking, with some of them making their way to his shop. “We enjoy helping them out,” he says.

To meet this upswing in retail traffic, Allied’s tidy front office sells packages of wood chips for domestic cuisine, in addition to grilling gear and expert smoking advice. But get there early. The shop closes at 3 p.m. Don’t be surprised if you need to walk around back when the front door is locked in the morning — Burger and his staff will be busy splitting delicious smelling hunks of tree.  


Fire on the mountain
by Heidi Kyser | posted June 26, 2014

Smokey dokey!

BLM Fire Manager Michael Haydon

Climate change has transformed the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest into 6 million acres of kindling; with fireworks season a week away, Organized Karma thought the time was ripe for a few fire prevention reminders. The political consulting firm brought together a politician, a fireman, a hike leader-day club manager and a couple community activists for a press conference Tuesday, June 24, at the Resort on Mount Charleston — an appropriate venue for pointing out the dangers of campfires, smoking and other activities in the drought-ridden environs, since the Carpenter 1 fire obliterated 28,000 acres of trees near there nearly a year ago. A few cogent excerpts from the event

The trees have not been this dry in recorded history.” — Bureau of Land Management Fire Manager Michael Haydon

Mt. Charleston is a non-fire-adapted community, Haydon said, meaning fire wasn’t part of the natural landscape as it evolved. Whereas fire-adapted forests may burn naturally every 15 years or so, ours would do so only rarely (more like every couple hundred years, he said) — until human intervention changed all that. To avoid accidentally setting fire to such a fragile, drought-ridden ecosystem, Haydon said, it’s important that people smoke in their cars, forget the campfires during restricted periods and remember that firing incendiary devices is prohibited

Don’t throw your butts around.” ­­— Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani

The commissioner, who has a house on Mount Charleston, described the mountain as the “jewel” of Southern Nevada — a jewel under threat. She advised citizens not only to take fire safety precautions, but also to pressure elected officials to curb greenhouse gas emissions, an exacerbating factor in climate change, through measures such as electric vehicle incentives

We have an industry. It’s a tourism industry.” — Community activist (and Desert Companion contributor) Launce Rake, who emceed the conference

Rake and Giunchigliani noted that 2 million people per year visit Mount Charleston. Their point: Besides being an ecological resource, it’s an economic one. Levon Budding, who leads mountain hikes when he’s not working at the Marquee Day Club, took the point a step further, nothing that both the increasing heat and the decreasing air quality affect the city’s biggest business. Smoke from fires and smog from cars make lounging poolside or taking a stroll unpleasant enough, Budding said, without the increase in heat strokes he’s seen from rising temperatures.

This is not a partisan issue. All elected officials should band together to protect our health.” — Community activist Teresa Crawford

A nurse until she retired, Crawford shared her co-speakers’ concern that climate change is a public-health issue. She cited a joint effort of 120 health organizations — including the American Medical Association, the American Lung Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics — to educate members on the link between climate change, air quality and health. And quoting a Huffington Post article, she noted, “If you’re 27 or younger, you’ve never experienced a colder-than-average month.”

Congress is doing something to fight the problem of forest fires, added Lynn Davis, the Nevada Field Office manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, following the conference. Both the House and Senate have introduced bipartisan bills for the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which is meant to solve the problem of chronic underfunding for fire suppression. As it’s done now, Davis explains, actual costs annually surpass the amount budgeted for firefighting through the Department of Interior and U.S. Forest Service.

“Because (this) funding would come from an emergency account that defrays the cost of other disasters,” Davis says, “the Congressional Budget Office found this method of funding wildfire disaster prevention would have no effect on the federal budget.”


Churros over Vegas! Watching futbol at the swap meet
by Launce Rake | posted June 24, 2014

Futbol fans

Water vapor from the misters blowing 20 feet above the crowd could barely be felt by the sweltering congregation below, but they didn’t care. The crowd of more than 500, pretty evenly split between those wearing green jerseys with white and red stripes, and those wearing red with green and white stripes, was gathered at the Broadacres Marketplace swap meet Monday afternoon to celebrate a national religion: futbol. Or, to the uninitiated, “soccer.” Specifically, the FIFA World Cup, and the Mexican national team.

Broadacres management hosted the event with cheap beer, soda and tasty treats — Broadacres says it’s already the third-largest dispenser of churros in the world — plus nine flat-screen televisions hanging over the crowd. Green, white and red balloons were quickly purloined by parents and tied to their young.

The World Cup usually spikes American interest in soccer — record numbers watched the U.S team tie with Portugal the previous day — but to Latin Americans it’s more than just a game. It encourages frenzied displays of emotion and familial devotion that can be truly extraordinary. Broadacres, for this game versus Croatia, was Little Mexico. Young and old, as many women as men, they hailed from Jalisco and Juarez and the Districto Federal of Mexico City; from Oaxaca and Chiapas and Baja California. And they came from El Salvador and Nicaragua and California and Washington state and, of course, Las Vegas. All cheered the “Tricolorados” of the Mexican team.

The first 45 minutes resulted, as World Cup matches often do, in a stalemate. It was zero-all at half-time.

I asked Ramon Rivera, 22, of Las Vegas, which team he supported in this round. “Mexico!” he scoffed, as if there were an alternative. Ramon is an American citizen, but he’s not Mexican; his family is from El Salvador. “My friends are from Mexico, so, you know, I’m going to be with them,” he said. One of those friends, Eduardo Galavic, 21, was born in California, but his family is from Mexico.

They soon had reason to cheer. Mexico scored at the 72-minute mark, bringing out the swinging jazz combo of drums, vuvuzuelas and wooden clicky things, accompanied by wildly flailing Mexican flags. Mexico scored twice more before Croatia came back with an anemic goal in the final minutes.

With the win, Mexico advanced to the next round. The USA, meanwhile, has (at this writing) a good chance to also advance. Which raises the intriguing, if unlikely, possibility of a Mexico-USA confrontation. That would certainly divide some loyalties in the Broadacres parking lot.

Eduardo and Ramon? They said they’d support the U.S. team.

“If the USA wins, everybody would start liking our football,” Eduardo said. “Everybody would start liking futbol.”


Our economic forecast: partly sunny
by Heidi Kyser | posted June 16, 2014

If it weren’t for gross domestic product, we could take away the UNLV Center for Business & Economic Research’s “cautiously,” and just leave it “optimistic.” Unfortunately, in the first quarter of this year, U.S. real GDP saw its first significant year-over-year drop in three years. Fortunately, the main indicators that predict recession say we’re safe from that recurring nightmare — at least for the foreseeable future.

Such was the seesawing rhythm of the 2014 economic outlook, delivered this morning at the Venetian/Palazzo by CBER Director Stephen Brown. There was mostly good news — a little bad — and the whole thing ended not so much on a positive note as on the promise of a positive note … coming soon.

Here’s your guide to celebrating, sulking and simply biding your time, based on Brown’s analysis.


Real private investment: By the end of the year, the country’s businesses and individuals will again be investing prerecession levels.

Industrial production: U.S. firms are now pushing out product faster than before the recession.

Jobs: Both Las Vegas and Nevada overall have been steadily adding jobs since 2011, and should continue to do so through 2015.

Home values: Las Vegas house prices have risen 44.8 percent since hitting rock bottom in 2012. With less than six months of listed supply on the market, we can expect values to keep going up.

Tourism: Las Vegas visitor volume in March was its highest ever for that month.

“The closer you are to the Strip, the larger the share of growth in visitor volume you get,” Brown said.


U.S. economic certainty: Brown blames turmoil in Washington, D.C., for ongoing angst about the country’s financial future.

Local housing starts: To be fair, the 48.9 percent growth of 2012 was an anomaly, but it sure makes the projected 12 percent of growth of 2015 look puny.

Negative home equity: Nevada is still first in this bad class, although we’ve lessened the pain a bit, dropping from 70 percent of homeowners being underwater in 2009 to 30 percent today.

Gaming revenue: It’s fair-to-middling, but the bad news is, local growth in gaming hasn’t caught up with national growth.

“What we’re seeing,” Brown said, “is a little competition from other parts of the country and world.”


Global economy: Most of Europe’s in recession and Asian economies are sluggish, but the International Monetary Fund expects world economic activity to pick up by the end 2015.

U.S. real GDP: It should reach 3 percent by the end of this year. Although a strong number, that’s 4.3 percent below potential.

Employment: U.S. unemployment is expected to stabilize at 5.6 percent sometime next year; meanwhile, Nevada has the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation.

Visitors’ rooms: Visitor volume is rising, but hasn’t caught up with the room inventory, and probably won’t with more new rooms coming online.

“How does it all add up?” Brown asked, answering, “We’re on the cusp of an acceleration.”


We want you to join the fight against climate change
by Heidi Kyser | posted June 16, 2014

General agreement on climate change

Generals Norman Seip, left, and Stephen Cheney; behind, advisor Andrew Holland.


I’m riding in the back of a dark SUV with former top-ranked military brass, retired Marine Corps Brigadier General Stephen Cheney and retired Air Force Lieutenant General Norman Seip. In the front are energy policy wonk Andrew Holland and our driver. Having gathered provisions, we’re heading into the desert, toward a national landmark, where we’ll rendezvous with other U.S. officials.

Okay, we’re actually eating Einstein Bagels our way to Hoover Dam for a guided tour with some Bureau of Reclamation executives. Still, I feel important. And humbled. To my left on the first of two tan pleather bench seats is Seip, a man who, until recently, was in charge of seven active-duty “wings” (400 aircraft and 33,000 staff), plus reserves and National Guard. Behind Seip and me, in the rumble seat, is Cheney, who offhandedly refers to conversations he’s had with Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

My awe figures into the American Security Project’s plan. The nonpartisan, nonprofit Washington, D.C., think-tank leverages the clout of retired admirals, generals and other high-level government officials, such as Cheney and Seip, to spread its message about national security, which it tackles from several perspectives: American competitiveness, energy, public diplomacy, the oceans, space and — the subject of ASP’s Las Vegas visit — climate change.

“Not only is it real,” says Cheney, who’s been on the board of American Security Project since 2006 and CEO since 2011, “but it’s also a threat to our security, and we know how to fix it.”

For some, the awe stops there. Far-right conservatives, who tend to harbor great admiration for the military, often draw the line at climate change. But Cheney says that’s okay. He’s used to talking to conspiracy theorists, deniers and skeptics, such as the one who asked a question (“Doesn’t increased carbon dioxide in the environment mean more plant growth?”) at the World Affairs Council meeting in Las Vegas on Wednesday evening, June 12.

“We want to hear what people have to say,” Cheney says. “Then, we share what we have experienced.”

This is where ASP gets its chance, however slim, of opening a door most other climate-change groups have slammed in their faces. Like these other groups, the generals have irrefutable climate data on their side. But they also have the things they’ve seen with their own eyes — from airplanes and ships and command posts around the world. In 2013, for instance, the Navy sent an aircraft carrier strike group that was stationed in Japan to the Philippines to offer disaster relief and humanitarian aid following typhoon Haiyan. Extreme weather events, along with drought, floods and wildfires, will only increase as the globe warms, Cheney says. These events — and their corollaries, such as decreased crop production — lead to global instability; and instability is a factor in national and international security.

With this in mind, we arrive at Hoover Dam, where Seip is stunned by the bathtub ring around Lake Mead. Reclamation engineer Mark Cook shows us the spillway, which hasn’t been needed since 1983, then leads us 500 feet down into the bowels of the dam, where the power-generating station hums away. The floor vibrates as a release of water rushes under our feet; gigantic red turbines spin electrons into a commodifiable fury. As we emerge, Seip notes that we live in a great country, capable of such technological marvels as the dam. The implication, obviously: We could muster this capability to reduce CO2 emissions, if only there were enough political will.

But how to make people care? That’s the goal of the grassroots road tour, on which Las Vegas was the last stop before a summer break. It helps, Cheney adds, that civilians are beginning to see and feel the effects of climate change first-hand. While Las Vegans watch the water level drop at Lake Mead, residents of Norfolk, Va. – who live in a zone designated by the U.S. Geological Survey as a “sea-level rise hotspot” – are fighting to keep the Atlantic from permanently engulfing their back yards and churches.

“The temperature in Las Vegas, as tracked at McCarran Airport, has risen 4 degrees since 1970,” Cheney says. “That’s a fact. Explain that away.”

The generals describe the military as the country’s 9-1-1 force, the first responders in world emergencies. Defense dollars, American tax dollars, pay for that service. And sometimes there’s more than money at stake. Las Vegas is home to servicemen and women from Creech and Nellis Air Force, like those who provide air cover for convoys delivering fossil fuel to ground bases in combat zones.

For some, it’s still going to be a tough sell, I realize, as we get out of the car, back at Caesars Palace valet. But these guys have faced worse odds. We step into the lobby to shake hands and part ways, and I notice something Cheney had pointed out to me earlier: “You walk in this place, as I did this morning at 6:15, and every slot machine is lit up, every TV is on, the music is playing. I guess that’s the entertainment business. It’s a cost they’re willing to absorb or you’re willing to pay. Back home, I’m telling my guys, ‘When you leave, turn out the lights, will you?’”


Read me
by Andrew Kiraly | posted June 11, 2014
Remember libraries? Those places where you borrow (remember?) books? Believe it or not, libraries didn’t shrivel up and blow away after the Internet came along; actually, libraries are striving to change with the times, constantly asking what their role is in a world where the reference desk is just a browser tab away. The American Library Association is holding its annual convention in Las Vegas June 26-July 1 to ponder that very question. 
And like the good bibliophiles they presumably are, the association is encouraging attendees to get in the Vegas mindset as only a library association can: With a recommended Vegas reading list that covers everything from literary fiction (The Color of Night, Madison Smartt Bell; Battleborn, Claire Vaye Watkins) to nonfiction (The Money and the Power, Sally Denton and Roger Morris) to sci-fi and fantasy (Last Call, Tim Powers) to mystery/suspense (The Secret History of Las Vegas, Chris Abani — check out our review).
But don't let the librarians have all the fun. The list is worth recommending to anyone who enjoys steeping in a sense of place through literature. If you’re a fan of Las Vegas as a subject, check it out for a strong working list of must- and should-reads. 


Thoughts on art, the inexplicable and Little Green Men
by Jason Defreitas | posted June 10, 2014

Alien ante

Artists contributing to the Little Green Men show in City Hall’s Chamber Gallery were asked to “explore subject matter that relates to life on other planets or in other galaxies, space travel, UFO sightings and the famous Area 51.” Even given such a wide berth for creative freedom, this exhibit mostly relies on rehashed debris from pop culture, television and film. Judging from this show, it seems like the genre has already been defined for us, and there’s very little room left for expanding the boundaries of what we understand about the inexplicable.        

For instance, Kip Noschese’s painting of aliens playing poker probably has more to do with Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Night Café,” and the art of tackiness, than it does with the theme of this exhibit. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The problem of “little green men” is not an intellectual one. It’s a cultural one that changes over the years — the unnatural phenomena that eyewitnesses today ascribe to UFOs, alien abductions or cattle mutilations might well have been seen yesterday as god-chariots, angel visitations or ogres out for a snack of cow rectum. That is, once upon a time we had more romantic views about other worlds and other dimensions. We believed in elves, ogres, genii and dragons. How’d we go from mischievous leprechauns to alien visitors — cold, distant and inscrutable (not to mention sexless and humorless) — in less than a hundred years? Why’d we replace the little green men from Ireland with little green men from Mars? And what’s the deal with these orb-heads, anyhow? Why don’t they have any personality? And how can they just travel around the galaxy without any sex organs?

If the evolution of the unknown is just a reflection of how we ourselves have changed, what does all that say about us?

You probably won’t find many answers in the Chamber Gallery. You will find images about UFO conspiracies and government cover-ups. Ominous robots and adorable aliens. A space damsel in distress. It's a big universe out there, but this spaceship still washes up on the same old Milky Way.

Through July 14, Chamber Gallery in Las Vegas City Hall,


You're hired, my friend (well, maybe)
by Andrew Kiraly | posted June 5, 2014
Zappos has been making so many headlines lately with its unconventional employment praxis — dumping cube-and-office hierarchy for “holacracy,” nixing traditional job postings, pumping employee zany-tude like a corporate socioemotional dress code — that you almost forget the company sells shoes.
Tossing the time-honored practice of job ads — the bane and the manna of the job-seeker — is the latest shoe-obscuring headline material. As Zappos tells it, the old interviewing process was a blurry, messy, inefficient one. "We spam them, they spam us back," talent aquisition head Michael Bailen told the Wall Street Journal. Now, instead of job postings, they’re taking a social media-inflected approach to finding prospective Zapponistas. Meet Zappos Insiders. 
From their revamped careers page — now a smile-beaming portal to possible employment at Zapponia:
Come take a look at the teams Inside Zappos and see what we're all about. Find the one that speaks to you and take a peek inside. Meet our people, get to know us, start the conversation. It's the first step toward becoming an Insider!
It’s brilliant and bruising at the same time. Brilliant because the system works to screen for a quality that rides high on Zappos’ employability wish list, something you might otherwise only get with facetime in the office: cultural fit. They want responsibly riotous outside-of-box-thinkers who can, say, twirl a party favor while commiserating with a customer on line 1 about getting the wrong style of Rachel Zoe flats. And what better way to size up Zappostle prospects than through the unsleeping panopticon of social media? While Zappos Insiders isn’t itself a social network, hopefuls can jack in to the program via LinkedIn and Facebook, presumably so they can score points and curry favor with current employees — who will hopefully remember the job-seeker next time a coveted slot opens up. Though applicants are still asked to upload resumes or CVs, this is supposed to cut out much of the managerial timesuck of slogging through resume slush piles. Displacing the resume from the throne is the new measure: the dynamic profile revealed by the applicant’s online gladhanding. From the Wall Street Journal:
To deal with the new influx, recruiters will use software from Ascendify, a maker of talent-acquisition technology, to help sort the insiders based on skill sets or personal interests, shuffling them into "pipelines" such as merchandising or engineering.
Recruiters instead will spend time pursuing candidates in the Insiders group with digital Q&As or contests, events that they will use to help gauge prospective hires' cultural fit. Freed from sorting through applications, recruiters will also have more time to spend on targeted outreach, Mr. Bailen said, such as following up on employee referrals.
That gatekeeping for cultural fit sounds like a ringing boon for Zappos. But what about job-seekers? Applying for a job the Zappos way certainly seems more warm and personal than firing off resumes to a faceless email addy in the HR department, but at least that has the reassurance of a known and understood process: You apply, you land an interview, you get the gig — or you don’t. Some cultural critics worry that the open-endedness of Zappos Insider’s friendmaking hustle marks a troubling tectonic inching of power away from workers and toward Big Employment. The application process itself becomes a form of labor. Not only are applicants expected to work hard at flattering their would-be bosses like simpering digital courtiers, but it also further erodes that crumbling wall between work and private life. Noah McCormack writes in The Baffler:
Part of the horror this scenario presents is that most people who do this social labor won’t actually be hired. But some probably will—and what of them? They will have expended substantial resources developing online relationships with their new coworkers and bosses before they even arrive. It is difficult enough for a new hire to set boundaries and establish an appropriate place in the workplace, but how much more if your new boss is also an established pseudo-friend?
That the demands of the office are leaking into all parts of our lives is not news. But how much harder will it be to resist dealing with that late-night email from your boss when he or she is already your Facebook friend, and can see your child’s recital ended thirty minutes ago? The transformation of your job into your social life is largely a one-way street: you may become “friends” with your boss, but not with the shareholders to whom your boss owes primary loyalty. Loyalty flows upstream, just like profits.
The happyfication of work is purely intentional among the breed of companies that value the shiny new shibboleth of “workplace culture” solely as a factor friendly to the bottom line: If the employer satisfies workers emotionally, your boss is now your bro. Zappos’ talent honcho Michael Bailen told the Wall Street Journal the traditional hiring process is too “transactional.” He revealed more than he knew. Indeed, in a world where you don’t go to work every day, but rather to a “workplace culture,” you’re no longer just trading your time and talent for pay. Instead, you’re giving them a lot of you — and now you’re doing it even before you’ve got the job. 


Hunter S. Thompson, life coach
by Andrew Kiraly | posted June 3, 2014
In its hallucinogenic mania and high-revving comic frenzy, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas put forth a twisted view of Las Vegas — and of America. What Vegas littérateur can forget this classic passage about Circus-Circus?
Right above the gambling tables the Forty Flying Carazito Brothers are doing a high-wire trapeze act, along with four muzzled Wolverines and the Six Nymphet Sisters from San Diego ... so you're down on the main floor playing blackjack, and the stakes are getting high when suddenly you chance to look up, and there, right smack above your head is a half-naked 14-year-old girl being chased through the air by a snarling wolverine, which is suddenly locked in a death battle with two silver-painted Polacks who come swinging down from opposite balconies and meet in mid-air on the wolverine's neck ... both Polacks seize the animal as they fall straight down towards the crap tables – but they bounce off the net; they separate and spring back up towards the roof in three different directions, and just as they're about to fall again they are grabbed out of the air by three Korean Kittens and trapezed off to one of the balconies.
But the book’s lens of potent, truthful distortion was a two-way lens. Its impact and reputation also nurtured a twisted image of Hunter S. Thompson as some irretrievably manic, addled gonzo shaman. You kind of imagine him as a living Ralph Steadman cartoon
Which is why his 1958 advice letter to a good friend is so bracing and strange. Whoa. What’s this? Here’s a warm, considerate, thoughtful — and thoughtfully uncertain — 22-year-old man trying his best to counsel a friend on that existential whopper: Uh, what do I do with my life? In his letter fizzing with an earnest sense of hell-I’m-still-figuring-it-all-out-myself, Thompson distinguishes between striving for goals and striving for a meaningful way of life. (Note that, even in the tilt and swing of the following sentences, you can hear hints of his later style of spasmic rhapsody.)
... to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.
As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).
 Out of context, that snippet sounds a bit like Thompson's working toward some Beat-inflected take on “It’s the journey, not the destination” — which wouldn’t be a grossly inaccurate gloss. Maybe a more accurate version would be, “It’s the fulfillment of the function, not the satisfaction of the goal.” But if you read the letter in its entirety, the texture of Thompson's thought suggests, perhaps surprisingly, a credibly homegrown, cowboy version of Aristotle’s concept of the well-lived life. Of course, for Aristotle, that entails a life of moderation — not exactly a Thompsonian virtue in the image we've inherited of the gonzo philosopher with a school of thought all his own.


Our gassy energy future could use more sunlight
by Heidi Kyser | posted June 2, 2014

This morning, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed its much-anticipated Clean Power Plan Rule, loosely known to energy insiders as “the carbon rule.” Building on a key section of President Obama’s June 2013 Climate Action Plan, the rule sets guidelines for states to follow in meeting a nationwide goal of carbon emissions that are 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy stressed that the plan was meant to give states the flexibility to respond to requirements according to their own particular circumstances and resources. So, what will it mean for Nevada?

Due to the passage of Senate Bill 123 in the 2013 legislative session, the state is already on the right track. That plan called for the Nevada’s major utility (NV Energy, although it’s not named in the bill) to reduce emissions from coal-fired electricity plants and replace the capacity of these plants with “increased capacity from renewable energy facilities and other electric generating plants.”

Environmentalists have roundly applauded both the EPA’s carbon rule and Nevada’s plan as solid moves in the right direction. But the specifics of the state’s future energy mix remain murky — and potentially leave something to be desired when it comes to renewables.

A state-by-state map developed for the Clean Power Plan shows that, as of 2012, Nevada’s energy mix was 73 percent natural gas, 12 percent coal-fired, 7 percent hydroelectric, 1 percent solar and .4 percent wind. With NV Energy’s plans to shut down Reid-Gardner Generating Station and stop buying power from the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona — both coal-fired — the percentage of coal will go down. But what will replace it?

“We have a lot of natural gas,” says Jane Feldman, chair of Sierra Club's Nevada Energy Task Force. “It does burn cleaner than coal, but it’s a fossil fuel; it’s still not clean. There are fracking problems. And if you don’t have pipelines, you have to use rail cars (which burn fossil fuels) to transport it.”

Sierra Club and other environmental groups are pulling for increased renewable energy development in the state to balance the heavy reliance on natural gas. Nevada is already a leader in this regard, says Clean Energy Project, noting that $500 million in state tax abatements have reaped $5.5 billion in private investment in solar, wind and geothermal resources since 2010.

But there’s much more that could be done, Feldman says, such as removing caps on net metering, which would encourage rooftop solar development.

“We don’t need to take acres of pristine desert and sterilize them for solar fields,” she says. “We need to be moving in the direction of rooftop solar. There are places that have 35 percent solar on the grid, and they don’t have brownouts. We need to stop being so overly cautious and just go with our strengths.”


MAS, covered
by Scott Dickensheets | posted May 20, 2014

From MAS Vegas

From MAS Vegas

It's Saturday, in the seam between afternoon and evening. On the pitted asphalt outside VAST Space Projects, you encounter Max Presneill, a motive force behind MAS Vegas, about which more in a minute. Around you, arty types from Vegas and L.A. chat and drink in the pre-dusk swelter, clustering beside the food truck out front, inside the art-crammed warehouse, by the performance-art BBQ in the back (mmm, tasty brisket of art!). Inside, the walls and floors are packed with such a disarray of paintings, sculpture, video and sound pieces, unclassifiable hybrids — all of it so aesthetically and politically diverse that no theme, scheme or meme could tie everything together — that you overheard two artists debating about which combination of drugs a viewer would need to properly experience it. (LSD and meth, it seems.) There's enough work in there to render VAST's 5,000 square feet decidedly unvast.

Which brings us back to Max: An artist and a curator at the Torrence Art Museum in California, he presents as a convivial Brit, bouncy of demeanor, arriving a tad late, rumor has it, thanks to some footy on the telly. After a brief exchange, you say something innocuous — I really enjoyed this exhibition — and he gently stops you. Your casual use of "exhibition" suggests that you may have missed the point. The fertile variety of the art, the scrum-like muchness of it all, as well as the hey-let's-put-on-a-show style of presentation, is meant to be the very opposite of a curated, filtered, scholarly exhibition. Better phrasing: "A social gathering with art." He nods approvingly. Kick save at the net!

The MAS in MAS Vegas stands for Mutual Admiration Society, and, as explained by artist Mike Dommermuth, onetime Las Vegan, longtime Angelo, it works like this: Max and the other L.A.-based organizers invite a few artists to participate; those artists invite a few more; and so on, until critical mass is achieved. Same thing happens in whichever target city MAS has chosen. Then, the two scenes converge for one night. Later, VAST owner Shannon McMackin will chose 10 of the Las Vegas artists for a show called MAS Attack, in Torrence, in August.

Saturday represented a rather unprecedented mingling of the Vegas and L.A. art scenes, though not entirely out of keeping for VAST, which has repeatedly benefited from McMackin's connection to Los Angeles — 2013's stellar Tenth Circle exhibition being a great example among several. So it was a good exercise in a bridge-building, idea-exchange kind of way. But it also proposed a looser, event-driven way to display art, placing a premium on its social dimension without downplaying its importance. "Like First Friday," someone murmured. "In a good way," someone answered.

The art of MAS Vegas defies easy summary: on the floor, a grid of empty bullet shells (some of them kicked over as the evening wore on); a video of a sobbing woman; paintings of every imaginable description. Out back, at the BBQ station, artist (and Desert Companion designer) Brent Holmes served brisket, accompanied by a video that juxtaposed his own African-American family having a Texas cookout with Cliven Bundy's comments on "the Negro."

Two standout pieces utilized sound. Las Vegan David Sanchez Burr set up a miniature dining-room set, table and chairs, made of gypsum crystal, which would be rattled apart by noise from an adjacent speaker. Draw your own metaphors. Outside, an urgent industrial throb poured from a tiny alcove in the building's front wall. Within, artist Grant Tyler had set up a sound system to play a composition he began writing the day after Philip Seymour Hoffman died. Viewers were invited to tinker with the sound system — plink on the keyboard, twirl knobs on a sound mixer — to add permanent changes to the music. After a couple hours of this, it no longer resembled the initial composition. As the sun sets and the crowd thickens, Tyler tells you he was inspired by something Burr had once told him: "Art made by artists is boring; art made by people using the artist's ideas is interesting." And so it is.

"I loved being in the position of having no control," McMackin said afterward. "You can't and shouldn't choreograph inherent chaos." She plans to keep a selection of the MAS Vegas works on display for a few more weeks.


Huntridge theatrics
by Andrew Kiraly | posted May 19, 2014
At 3p today on the second floor of City Hall, the Centennial Grant Commission will ponder the Huntridge Theater’s million-dollar question — that is, whether the commission will hand the City of Las Vegas $1 million to buy land beneath the historic theater, which would, theoretically, help clinch the sale of the venue to Huntridge Revival LLC and attract investors. Word is that this’ll be a long, crowded meeting, so bring your sleeping bag and be prepared to share your trail mix. Here’s a recap of what happened at the initial May 5 meeting, but watch for these lingering questions to be asked — and hopefully answered — today:
  • If the city buys the property beneath the Huntridge and the sale doesn’t go through, who actually owns the building on top of the land?
  • How likely is the state to drop its lawsuit against the theater’s current owners, the Mizrachi family, for letting the building fall into disrepair in violation of historic preservation covenants? 
  • How does this proposal fit (or not) into the fairly strict rules ’n’ regs that say how much money the Centennial Grant Commission can dole out and who they can give it to?
  • Will any prospective investors speak up?
With any luck, as an homage to the spirit of the Huntridge of the ’90s, there’ll be a lively but cordial mosh pit.


How does Lunt ES's garden grow
by Heidi Kyser | posted May 7, 2014

Kids + plants = learning!

Less with silver bells and cockleshells; more with administrator determination and student elbow grease. Three years ago, Thelma Davis decided Robert Lunt Elementary School needed a real garden. An experiment growing potatoes in wine barrels had proven to the community-minded principal that students would participate and have fun, while learning math and science.

She teamed up with Candace Maddin of school-garden nonprofit Create A Change Now, and they began a funding search. A couple USDA grant denials later, Davis and Madden turned to crowd-sourcing and sponsorships, eventually raising enough money and donations to build six raised beds filled with a variety of greens and vegetables.

After the ribbon on the garden was cut Friday, May 2, students and parents who belonged to the school garden club led dignitaries through the rows of produce, pointing out what they’d planted. The club has met monthly all year to design and cultivate the garden, achieving the neighborhood cohesion that was part of Davis’s plan.

When we started, there was nothing here,” said parent Marta Garcia, amazed by how quickly the produce sprouted. “Now… look at it.”

In coming weeks, celebrity chefs will visit the school and show kids how to slice, spice and sauté the fruits of their labor. First up: Rachel’s Kitchen.


The Huntridge Theater's million-dollar maybe
by Andrew Kiraly | posted May 6, 2014
Should the city spend a million dollars to help reopen the Huntridge Theater? That was the topic of discussion yesterday at the Las Vegas Centennial Grant Commission meeting. 
Short verz: The City of Las Vegas asked the Centennial Grant Commission for $1 million to launch into a public-private partnership with Huntridge Revival LLC, the company that’s trying to buy the property. After gales of discussion — can we legally do this? is it too risky? is this historic preservation or a speculative real-estate venture? — the commission voted to wrestle with it again at its 3p May 19 meeting.
(Disclosure: I wasn’t originally there as a journalist. I was there to ask the commission for a $14,000 grant to fund a series of history pieces in Desert Companion. We got the grant. But then, like, this news happened.)
Longish version: As Huntridge Revival LLC principals Joey Vanas and Michael Cornthwaite told it at the meeting, sure, the Huntridge is a richly storied building, a nostalgic touchstone in a fickle, protean city, a handsome architectural heirloom in a historic neighborhood — boon truths borne out by its successful IndieGogo campaign — but yeah, try selling that story to private investors. Those private investors they’ve been courting to pony up an estimated $6 to $8 million to rehab, revive and poshify the theater, they say, are skeptical about the ROI — oh, and a looming lawsuit is souring their stomachs as well. In February, the state sued the theater’s current owners, the Mizrachi family, for letting the building sag and crumble — breaking the contract that came with state grants. The state says: Give us our $1.3 million back. 
Enter the million-dollar maybe. The reasoning goes that, in this storm of uncertainty, the city’s million-dollar investment would be like a golden anchor: It would signal to the state that Hey, everything’s cool here, so, uh, maybe you can chill on that lawsuit? It would tell investors skittishly toeing the sidelines, Come on in — it’s safe to play! No legal headaches here! And it would give Huntridge Revival LLC some muscle and momentum in closing the deal with the Mizrachis. As the deputy city attorney city redevelopment agency representative making the pitch explained it, the city would use the million to purchase hand-carved archipelagos of the corner parcel that give them access to and control of the theater. Or, as commission Member Bob Coffin said, “If you own the hole, you own the donut.”
The complications: Hemming and hand-wringing! Tense questioning! Some commission members were nervous about the plan. Commission Member Ricki Barlow agreed with the idea in spirit, but questioned the mechanism: Was a complex land purchase really the best way to use grant funds intended for historic preservation? Why not be prudent and patient, and consider injecting the money directly into restoring the physical theater when the time was right? He questioned whether the commission could even dole out that amount of money, citing a $100,000 cap on Centennial Commission grants, and a rule against grants going toward the purchase a historic building. Member Bob Stoldal wondered aloud about worst cases: What would happen if the city bought the land, but the sale of theater fizzled — would the city be stuck with some tasty strips of crumbling asphalt with a dead theater on top? Member Bob Coffin remained bullish on the city-LLC partnership, saying this may be the theater’s last chance to live again. There were a lot of Don’t get me wrongs and I want to save the Huntridge, buts ... — an appreciation of the intent and spirit of the proposal, but deep anxiety about the bolts and gears. 
They’ll take it up again 3p May 19 on the second floor of City Hall, in the City Clerk conference room. 
Correction: A city redevelopment agency officer represented the city at the meeting, not a deputy city attorney.


Bike Month recalls need for infrastructure
by Heidi Kyser | posted May 1, 2014

Peddle to the mettle Happy May Day! For architecture and design buffs in the historic downtown area, today marks the beginning of Historic Preservation and Archaeology Awareness Month. For my SO/personal home gardener, it begins the SNWA’s four-month restriction on watering in response to yet another dry summer. For me, though, May is National Bike Month — well, for me and the League of American Bicyclists, that is.

This year, Las Vegas Cyclery, the Las Vegas Bicycle Club and the Regional Transportation Commission teamed up to produce a special local edition of the awareness campaign. Dubbed Bike Month Las Vegas, it starts with a costumed Elvis ride around First Friday, ends with a Pure Fix bike raffle and includes local group rides and other fun stuff all along the way.

The RTC has been pushing bike month for years in its attempts to induce more two-wheeling in our car-congested valley — with special attention to commuting (Bike to Work Week falls May 12-18 this year; Bike to School Day is May 7). And, as someone concerned about CO2 and climate change, I say, more power to them!

But there’s a missing link in the Las Vegas-Bike Month-bike commuting chain, and that’s infrastructure. Lisa Caterbone, founder of, sums it up this way: “The most common obstacle to biking to work here is infrastructure. The City of Henderson did a really good job with theirs. Instead of sidewalks, they have multiuse paths to connect all the different areas. You can basically get from the M Casino to the River Mountains Loop Trail on these paths.” On the other hand, Caterbone says, the City of Las Vegas has concentrated on recreational cycling. While there are abundant bike lanes and trails on the valley’s periphery, there are far too few safe, designated routes to and from the city’s core to facilitate functional rides.

She’s right. As I mentioned, I live downtown — and I’m a cycling enthusiast. I try to bike to work at least once a week, and now that I’m in an office off of West Oakey Boulevard, that’s doable. When I worked in the southwest valley, however, biking to work was either inconvenient — I’d have to go out of my way to get to and from the bike lane on Pecos — or terrifying: Industrial was the most direct, and most dangerous route. Even on Oakey, which has a wide shoulder, I still get the occasional honk that implies, “Get off the road!”

Like Caterbone, I’m grateful for local government’s investment in projects such as the recently completed Las Vegas Wash trail and the pending Vegas Valley Rim Trail. They’re great for family rides, working out and triathlon training. But they’re not helping those who want — or have no choice but — to ride to work. If we really want every day to be bike-to-work day, we’re going to have to provide safe routes for cyclists to take.


Found in translation
by Scott Dickensheets | posted April 29, 2014

"For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can. Then it stops." Those lines open Vol. 1 of My Struggle, a massive, six-volume remembrance of things past by Norwegian literary sensation Karl Ove Knausgaard. From there the book immediately plunges into an extended and somber philosophical reverie about death — its rituals, its social implications. This, by the way, is a novel. Sort of. It's probably best thought of as an extremely granular, extremely autobiographical strip-mining of the mundanity of everyday life, lightly fictionalized but clearly Knausgaard's everyday life. It's a gutsy move, presuming to interest readers in six volumes about your day-to-day.

If you follow what Terry Southern cheekily termed The Quality-Lit Game, you know that despite all the contraindicators — modernist European author; downer title; six volumes — that gutsy move has made Knausgaard a genuine sensation. The family revelations in his book, and the resulting publicity in Norway, ravaged his family and drove them into hibernation, as detailed in a recent New Republic profile. But as the books dribble out in English — the third volume comes out in May — it's not the nimbus of gossipy drama that makes them notable, it's that they are widely considered a literary triumph, praised in pretty much every corner of the literary universe. Even GQ momentarily paused its litany of mustache grooming tips and chipper plaudits for $3,500 suits to push My Struggle on its readers. "Strangely addictive," the magazine judged; "… the combination of detail and intimacy creates an illusion of being inside somebody else's brain."

"It's wonderful," says outgoing Black Mountain Institute Executive Director Carol Harter, and we're not quoting her at random.

Because, as it turns out, BMI — through its Rainmaker Translations project — is paying to bring out Knausgaard's epic in English. "We've underwritten two, and this year we're underwriting the third volume," she told us during an interview that will appear in the May issue of Desert Companion. "This year's $20,000 goes for that."

Along with its very visible effort to bring notable writers, scholars and commentators to Las Vegas, Black Mountain has this quiet but important parallel program. "We wish it were more well-known, too," Harter says, "although it's starting to be a little bit and people get to know the writers involved." Books by Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury and Salvadoran Horacio Castellanos Moya are among its accomplishments so far. "We've tried to do more than one book by several writers in order to have that overarching responsibility for having helped get those things into English."

She adds that BMI was scheduled to host a Knausgaard event, for which Harter hoped to entice New Yorker book critic James Wood and acclaimed novelist Zadie Smith as co-participants. "But (Knausgaard's) wife tried to commit suicide, and when that happened he decided to cancel all of his stateside activity and just focus on his family." She hopes that now domestic tranquility has been re-established, BMI can one day try again. The struggle continues.


Keeping up with the drones
by Heidi Kyser | posted April 28, 2014

You might not think of drone pilots as a “one of the nation’s most valuable resources,” but that’s what Senator Harry Reid called them in a recent statement. He was reacting to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report giving the Air Force a “needs improvement” grade in its treatment of RPA (remotely piloted aircraft) pilots. 

Regardless of whether you agree with drones’ value to the country, it’s pretty difficult – after reading the GAO report – to disagree that their pilots are operating within a milieu that hasn’t kept up with their specific needs. Responding to complaints from the RPA pilot community, which has tripled since 2008, Reid and Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin asked the GAO to look at the Air Force’s approach to managing these pilots, along with their quality of life and promotion rates. All three areas were found to be lacking.

Here’s an excerpt from the report’s summary on crew ratios:

“Air Force guidance states that low crew ratios diminish combat capability and cause flight safety to suffer, but the Air Force has operated below its optimum (RPA) crew ratio and it has not established a minimum crew ratio. Further, high work demands on RPA pilots limit the time they have available for training and development and negatively affects their work-life balance.”

Similarly, the Air Force appears to be aware of low promotion rates among RPA pilots, which it tracks, but hasn’t taken action to resolve the problem.

But, given the high levels of combat stress-related illnesses currently plaguing military troops returning from wars overseas, the part of the GAO’s report about “morale” is potentially the most disturbing:

The Air Force has taken some actions to address potentially difficult working conditions RPA pilots face, but it has not fully analyzed the challenge pilots face to balance their war-fighting roles with their personal lives. RPA pilots operate RPAs from bases in the United States and live at home; thus they experience combat alongside their personal lives—known as being deployed-on-station—which RPA pilots stated negatively affects their morale. While the Department of Defense has committed to maintaining high morale for service members, the Air Force has not fully analyzed the effects on morale related to being deployed-on-station, and thus it does not know whether it needs to take actions in response.

As Reid suggests, this isn’t just a huge potential problem for the country; it’s a huge potential problem for Nevada, in particular. With Creech Air Force Base a key hub for operating unmanned aerial systems such as the MQ-1 Predator, the pilots who are suffering from the lack of the Air Force’s lack of initiative are our friends and neighbors.

In the forthcoming May issue of Desert Companion, we examine what some researchers and educators are doing to prepare our state for the expected rise of drones in mainstream business and culture. As the governor – with the help of both the public and private sector – focuses on non-military applications of this emerging technology, let’s hope our federal representatives will be equally interested in the welfare of the servicemen and – women already familiar with drones’ benefits, and challenges. 


Getting into the 'eco-sexual' position
by Heidi Kyser | posted April 23, 2014

As Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle wrapped their arms and legs around a tree in UNLV’s Xeric Garden this afternoon and Sprinkle quipped, “We often have treesomes,” it all came together — sexology and ecology, lighthearted lasciviousness and serious activism. The pair of self-described sexecologists was, literally, hugging a tree. And yet, it felt more pornographic than environmental, perhaps because, leading up to the tree hug, they'd already felt up a yucca plant and licked a rock.

I’d been struggling to wrap my own mind around their concept since Tuesday evening’s lecture, “Assuming the Ecosexual Position,” an installment of UNLV’s University Forum series and the first of four Las Vegas events Stephens and Sprinkle are doing in celebration of Earth Day. There, they told a jam-packed room how they met, collaborated as artists, fell in love and — over the course of a 7-year performance project called the Love Art Laboratory — came to be the spokespeople for the erotic environmental movement.

The couple was far more entertaining than the lecture series status quo. Narrating a slide from the day they became domestic partners at San Francisco City Hall, Sprinkle said it happened because “we fell madly, deeply in love.” “Also, I had health insurance at my job,” Stephens added, without missing a beat. The full meaning of the statement would come later in the presentation — during the part about Sprinkle’s experience with breast cancer, which, true to form, she and her partner turned into an art project and meticulously documented on film.

Despite the engaging balance of levity and gravity, though, I didn’t get the point of what they were doing. The art was rich and provocative, but their description of it suggested it was meant to elicit more than shock or introspection; there was a hint of activism — but to what end? I started to grasp the answer during the Q&A following the lecture, when one student asked how their work confronted class issues, something they’d mentioned earlier, in passing.

“We’re trying to involve people who don’t usually get involved,” Stephens said. “Annie (a former prostitute and porn star who has advocated for such workers’ rights) has a whole sex-worker contingent that doesn’t usually get involved in environmental issues. I’m really interested in opening up the conversation to queers. And then there’s artists … Rachel Carson brought her message to housewives who were giving their children milk. Anybody can touch the communities they belong to.”

The message they’re bringing to their community may have come to life during event No. 2: a moonlight wedding ceremony following the lecture in which Stephens and Sprinkle enacted their Vows for Marrying the Earth (e.g., “Every day we promise to taste you and be moved”). Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for that. So, it wasn’t until the “treesome” that I saw, firsthand, what they were all about. And I realized why it wasn’t for me.

Sprinkle and Stephens provide an alternative entrée to environmentalism for people who otherwise might not respect the Earth or lift a finger to protect it – specifically, people who relate to the world through glamour and sex and titillation. I don’t need this entrée, already being someone who respects and works to protect the Earth. The fact that I see it more as a sister than a lover means their approach wouldn’t have drawn me in anyway, but kudos to them for looping in a huge population that the traditional environmental movement has missed. The way things are going, Earth needs all the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and lovers it can get.

The final event of Stephens and Sprinkle’s Las Vegas visit is a screening of their film, “Goodbye Gauley Mountain,” a documentary about mountain top removal mining in Stephens’ home state of West Virgina. It takes place this evening (April 23), 7-9 p.m., at The Center.


An eco-nerd reflects on Earth Day
by Heidi Kyser | posted April 22, 2014

Earth Day in Clark County started with a warning from the Department of Air Quality: 25-35 mps winds are stirring up dust and ozone, making time outdoors a bad idea for “sensitive groups.” It fits with my mood this April 22.

Scanning the press releases I’ve received about Earth Day events, I grow as ill-humored as the weather. Most encourage some type of consumerism, and a couple blatantly capitalize on the holiday with no apparent environmental benefit at all.

If you really must shop, it’s obviously best to use the Clean Energy Project’s “Buy Green List,” released today with 50 purveyors of coffee, insurance, antiques and other stuff by eco-friendly businesses. Or, you could go to Town Square this weekend and learn how to replace disposable products with reusable ones.

Some events – such as the University Forum Lecture this evening at UNLV, “Assuming the Ecosexual Position: Making the Environmental Movement More Sexy, Fun and Diverse” — are at least educational. And a BOGO ticket promotion at the Monorail could entice some Strip visitors to park their cars and try the lower-carbon option of public transportation.

But that’s as far outside our comfort zone as we’re expected to go, apparently. Few of the week’s events and promotions require a truly meaningful effort on the part of participants. And none captures the essence of the original 1970 manifestation, for which millions of Americans, of all political stripes, took to the streets to raise awareness of pollution.  

That’s the kind of agitation I’d expect in reaction to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s March 31 report bearing this cheery news: “The world, in many cases, is ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate… There are opportunities to respond to such risks, though the risks will be difficult to manage with high levels of warming.” Simply replacing your light bulbs, in other words, isn’t going to do the trick.

And we’re capable of much more, as was proven recently in Southern Nevada. For Earth Day 2012, the Moapa Band of Paiutes led a group of Native Americans in a three-day Cultural Healing Walk to protest coal pollution in their community. Just a couple weeks earlier, NV Energy had announced plans to begin closing its coal-fired plants in favor of renewable energy. That’s what I call an Earth Day!

But there’s plenty more work to be done; it’s obvious from the fact that our malls still feel they have to teach shoppers the difference between disposable and reusable products. I’m afraid anyone who hasn’t figured that out yet is a long way from joining the green revolution that today was intended to be.


Music maker shares a taste of her talent
by Heidi Kyser | posted April 17, 2014

Kayla Quijano is one of the four stars in our Kid's Got Talent feature from the April 2014 special family issue of Desert Companion. Hear the K.O. Knudson 6th-grader play a traditional Italian tarantella on her cello in this video, shot March 2014.


Read about Kayla and the other kids -- a golfer, painter and math whiz -- here.


Pat Mulroy's next office? In a water think tank
by Heidi Kyser | posted April 15, 2014

Pat Mulroy has announced her next move, and it’s not in real estate development or politics, as her career trajectory led some to predict. The former general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority has accepted a dual role with UNLV’s Brookings Mountain West, where she’ll spend 60 percent of her time, and the Desert Research Institute, where she’ll spend the other 40 percent.

Mulroy will concentrate on water policy development and research, an area in which she gained deep expertise during her quarter-century at the Water Authority. Both DRI and UNLV are partners in a Governor’s Office of Economic Development project to create a Nevada Center of Excellence in hydrologic sciences. At DRI, Mulroy will hold the Maki Distinguished Faculty Associate position, leading a water resources and technology program, which will feed into the Center of Excellence. At Brookings Mountain West, she'll be a senior fellow for climate adaptation and environmental policy, focusing on challenges that the Southwest U.S. is facing. She'll also be a senior fellow in Brookings' Washington, D.C.-based Metropolitan Policy Program, contributing her expertise to national policy-making.


The Fear is free and there's no charge for the Loathing, either
by Scott Dickensheets | posted April 14, 2014

No point mentioning those bats, I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.

Now you can see them, too, right there at your work desk — click here to read Part 1 of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as it ran in Rolling Stone magazine. As unruly as its creator, legendary madman Hunter S. Thompson, this 23,000-word howl of comic despair has apparently hopped the Stone's firewall and is running loose. (Lock up your drugs!) At its heart a demented, physical eulogy for the fading freedoms of the '60s in the age of Nixon Rising — a subtext that might've lost some of its mojo by now — it's still a hoot to read, "hot, fast and exciting," as writer John Irsfeld once put it, from its infamous opening scenes in the Mojave desert to its hallucinatory visions of Vegas. (Though not everyone agrees. Another Vegas-associated writer, Dave Hickey, writes about Fear and Loathing in his latest essay collection, Pirates and Farmers.* "So, even now, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas feels feverish, famished by amphetamines and genuinely afraid of itself. … Hunter's Vegas tastes like sucking pennies.")

Click now and read for yourself.

*Full, and possibly excessive disclosure: A version of Hickey's essay ran in the Las Vegas Weekly when I edited it.


From the book machine
by Scott Dickensheets | posted April 10, 2014

Book machine

Among the readerly wonders of the Inspire News Cafe — along with the selection of magazines it can be hard to find in Vegas — there sits the Espresso Book Machine Z-2000. Okay, there's no "Z-2000" in its name; I mentally add that because, for someone who's spent his life gathering books the normal way — "forgetting" to return them to libraries — there's an indelibly futuristic quality to the notion of  whipping one up with the push of a button, like a smoothie. You select a book from the menu, pay the appropriate amount, and watch the darned thing assemble the volume for you right there. It's one of the technology-driven changes shaking up the previously staid world of book-delivery, along with e-books and who knows what else. It won't be long until we're vaping Dickens.

But what, we wondered, are people actually printing out on the Espresso Book Machine? After all, there are millions of books available, from classics in the public domain to volumes made available by publishers willing to try this new avenue of distribution. Are there any trends?

Says Drew Cohen, co-operator of the machine (with partner Scott Seeley), "The majority of our print business has been self-publishing, rather than purchases from the commercial catalogue." No surprise, I suppose, and not just because Generation Selfie is ascendant now — for writers of any vintage loitering outside publishing's traditional farm system, their pile of rejection slips growing, it must be encouraging to finally be able to hold an actual physical copy of your book, to give it to friends, to (maybe!) sell a few copies, to mail some to reluctant book-review editors.

Which isn't to say there haven't been sales from the commercial catalogue, and, as it happens, among those there is a curious trend.

"This makes sense," Cohen says, "given that we're sandwiched between mixology bars — among the commercial books, we've discovered that cocktail books have been some of the most popular. We've sold multiples of Just Cocktails: A Bartender's Guide, a gem originally compiled and edited by W.C. Whitfield in 1939. It has lots of goofy illustrations. And then The Café Royal Cocktail Book, originally of 1937, has closely followed. Used copies of these books sell for over $50, so they are great examples of the sort of thing you can find for much cheaper on the Machine. One of our bartenders at Inspire actually bought 10 copies of Just Cocktails in one go."

So, Drew, what are your top three sellers

"Our top 3 sellers: (1) Just Cocktails: A Bartender's Guide; (2) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass; (3) The Café Royal Cocktail Book."

If you're like me, you're thinking, I really SHOULD return Alice in Wonderland to the library. But also, I wonder what other books I can finally get my hands on.


Desert vs. climate change: Fight!
by Andrew Kiraly | posted April 9, 2014
Trees, trees, trees. Everyone is crazy about trees. Okay, I get it. They’re these big, green, leafy things that look pretty, create shade and attract birds and picnickers. They grow fruit — it’s like a vending machine provided by Mother Nature! — and even their blood can be tasty on pancakes. They’re also often affectionately cited as an effective Band-Aid for global climate change, as trees — provided they’re in the right location, such as the equator — sponge up carbon emissions and generate moisture, which in turn helps spawn clouds that act like big reflective windowshades, making for an overall cooling effect. You go, trees. 
Intuitively, you might think it follows that desert — really, if you think about it, the anti-tree — has nothing positive whatsoever to contribute to putting the brakes on global climate change. Deserts just kind of sit around and be all hot and dusty, right? Not necessarily. A new study that considers some research done in our own backyard has found that arid deserts act as sinks or traps for carbon emissions, absorbing a significant amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. From an NBC story on the study:
The findings indicate that these arid ecosystems are "significant, previously unrecognized sinks" for atmospheric carbon dioxide, Evans and colleagues write in a paper published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Analysis of the data indicates that desert ecosystems may increase their carbon uptake in the future to account for 15 to 28 percent of the carbon currently being absorbed by land surfaces. Overall, according to the paper, rising carbon dioxide levels may increase the uptake by arid land enough to account for 4 to 8 percent of current emissions.
The team found that most of the carbon was being taken up by soil microbes that surround the roots of plants. In contrast, forest ecosystems tend to store carbon in the plants themselves.
That’s the good news — that is, uh, if there is any good news in this. The bad news, of course, is that the rapidly accelerating rate of carbon emissions almost renders the sponging effect of deserts — and perhaps even trees — largely moot. 
The effect is "unlikely to ever be as large with gradually increasing carbon dioxide," noted Field, who runs a project where similar enrichment experiments are conducted on a grassland ecosystem. Field is also the lead author of a new Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change report warning that the risks of climate change are rapidly accelerating.
"It is worth noting that, although the sink in this experiment is significant, it is … about tenfold less than typical sinks in young forested ecosystems not exposed to elevated carbon dioxide," Field said, adding that "the bottom line is that deserts will not save us from climate change."


How to turn a science geek into a rock star
by Heidi Kyser | posted April 7, 2014

As U.C. San Diego research scientist Albert Yu Min Lin walked out of a Sandy Searles Miller Academy classroom that had been converted into a science fair space, one fifth-grade girl, who’d just presented her project to Lin, turned to another and whisper-yelled, “He patted my shoulder! Did you see?” The other girl, upon learning from a teacher that Lin would be staying to interact with students some more after lunch, threw her hands in the air and squealed, “This is the best Thursday ever!”

What does it take to get elementary-school kids as excited about a scientist as you would expect them to be about One Direction? Here’s a step-by-step guide, based on what I observed at Sandy Miller on Thursday, March 27:

1. Enlist the help of a relevant institution, such as DRI, which has the means and mission to promote scientific inquiry in the community. DRI named Lin its 2014 Nevada Medalist, an award acknowledging extraordinary contributions in science, and helped the school integrate Lin’s research into its curriculum. Lin’s visit to Sandy Miller coincided with his trip to Las Vegas for the awards dinner.

2. Pick someone like Dr. Lin, a National Geographic explorer whose Indiana Jones-like passion for adventure and discovery make him an appealing figure to kids. When he walked into the multipurpose room filled with first- through fifth-graders that morning, they jumped to their feet and welcomed him with thundering applause. “Who here is a scientist?” he bellowed into a mic, once the kids were seated. Every hand shot into the air.

3. Weave your hero’s work through every lesson. At Sandy Miller, students learned history through the life of Genghis Khan, for whose tomb Lin has been searching for several years; they learned geography and language by studying Khan’s tribe and homeland in Mongolia; they learned science by reading about and watching videos of Lin’s high-tech exploration of the area where he believed the tomb was located.

4. Bring it to life. Sandy Miller students did several hands-on projects building on or replicating Lin’s Genghis Khan work. They staged a mock trial of the 13th-century Asian imperialist, accusing him posthumously of crimes against humanity (he was found guilty); did an archaeological dig on school grounds to see what “artifacts” turned up; learned how to fly a small drone, one example of the technology used in Lin’s quest; and invented tools they believed could help further Lin’s work (one, a crawling robot designed to enter tight spaces and take pictures, was the brainchild of the girl who got so excited about Lin’s praise).

5. Top it all off with a big bash. By the time Lin arrived at Sandy Miller, kids there had been learning about him and Genghis Khan for more than two months. They’d prepared for Lin’s arrival by arranging the science fair, making bulletin-board presentations of the trial and so on. They’d written questions to ask him about his work (Q: “At what age did you start caring about Genghis Khan?” A: “Around your age, actually.”). As teachers tried to usher classes out of the multipurpose room following the assembly, several kids dawdled, still hoping for a chance to get their question in.

“I have been blown away by this school,” Lin told them, “because of your attitude toward science. In all this state, this is the best place I’ve been.”


Run, tortoise, run!
by By Heidi Kyser | posted April 1, 2014

The Nevada desert tortoise faces contemporary foes that are apparently – given the rapid rate of their recent decline in numbers – more daunting than the meat-eating sharks and egg-poaching seabirds that have preyed on their aquatic relatives for 65 million years. For instance: cattle ranchers and solar arrays.

Adding to the fracas over Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy’s refusal to pay for, or vacate, BLM land on which his cattle graze, the Center for Biological Diversity has filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue several federal agencies if they don’t kick Bundy’s herd off the land. The reason? The cows are hogging all the grass. “As they emerge form their winter sleep,” writes an outraged Rob Mrowka, “[the tortoises] are finding their much-needed food consumed by cattle.”

As if that weren’t bad enough, the explosion of solar development in the Mojave Desert is not just driving tortoises out of the natural habitat; it’s also killing them, writes Peter Laufer for High Country News. He says the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System at the California-Nevada border has claimed “several score desert tortoises” as its victims, and that if solar development continues at its current pace, it could wipe out the venerable Gopherus agassizii.

The problem seems to be part apathy, part money. Federal funding for programs to protect the tortoise, once the poster-boy of Mojave conservation efforts, dried up along with development during the recession. The BLM’s Desert Tortoise Conservation Center is scheduled to close in December of this year “due to funding issues,” according to a statement on its website.

One bit of good news: The Las Vegas Springs Preserve is getting a tortoise habitat later this year. The planned 65-acre area may not be enough to reverse the havoc wreaked on the species by development and outdoor recreation, and it won’t be an adoption or drop-off site for wayward tortoises (for that, see the Tortoise Group). But it could, at least, provide some much-needed public awareness. 


Nevada grad schools under the microscope
by Heidi Kyser | posted March 24, 2014

UNLV’s communications office recently trumpeted the seven university programs – business administration, civil engineering, earth sciences, fine arts, law, nursing and sociology – that broke the top 100 in U.S. News & World Report’s Best Grad Schools rankings. Kudos, UNLV!

But wait… there’s more. The full ranking is broken up into several categories and a multitude of sub-categories, some of which go well beyond a top 100. This beast of an analysis, encompassing more than 1,300 programs in all, deserves a closer look, especially considering UNLV’s current push for Tier 1 status, which relies heavily on strong graduate schools with robust research programs.

For instance, UNLV touted its part-time MBA program as being ranked 94th (that’s out of 208 total, whose rankings are published). It’s worth noting that Lee Business School doesn’t offer a full-time program, so the university isn’t included among the 104 of those ranked by U.S. News.

It’s also useful to put the rankings in some context. It would be too labor-intensive to do a full comparison between UNLV and all its out-of-state comparables, such as Arizona State University and Colorado State University. But to start the conversation, here’s a snapshot of how UNLV stacks up against UNR in some main categories analyzed by U.S. News.

·      Business

o   Part-time: UNLV, 94; UNR not ranked (out of 208)

·      Education: UNLV, 147; UNR, 135 (out of 181)

·      Engineering: UNLV not ranked; UNR, 129 (out of 140)

·      Fine arts: UNLV, 93; UNR, 187 (out of 206)

·      Health

o   Nursing: UNLV, 99; UNR, 193 (out of 442)

o   Social Work: UNLV, 130; UNR, 148 (out of 200)

o   Physical Therapy: UNLV, 121; UNR not ranked (out of 172)

·      Law: UNLV, 83; UNR not ranked (out of 146)

·      Medicine: University of Nevada School of Medicine (listed as being in Reno) not ranked  (out of 82)

·      Public Affairs: UNLV, 121; UNR not ranked (out of 166)

·      Sciences

o   Biological: UNLV, 188; UNR, 175 (out of 224)

o   Chemistry: UNLV not ranked; UNR, 131 (out of 148)

o   Earth Sciences: UNLV, 88; UNR, 69, (out of 117)

o   Physics: UNLV not ranked; UNR, 131 (out of 142)

·      Social Sciences

o   English – UNLV, 113; UNR, 125 (out of 134)

o   Psychology – UNLV, 141; UNR, 132 (out of 214)

o   Sociology – UNLV, 94; UNR not ranked (out of 94)


This isn’t a comprehensive list. It doesn’t, for example, include sub-specialties, such as civil engineering, in which UNLV was ranked 99 out of 140, because there are simply too many of them. And some programs (e.g., computer science, economics, math, pharmacy, political science) are omitted because neither school was ranked.

On that note, a cursory review of the report indicates Nevada has far to go in making its graduate STEM education competitive on a national level. If our economic diversification requires a skilled science and technology workforce, as many business developers and economists would have us believe, then that would be a good place to start making improvements.


Green mind
by Andrew Kiraly | posted March 18, 2014
If you ignore the current weather — brute, swooping shears of wind that are turning the hair of the public into hopeless clown frizz — you might have noticed that, otherwise, it’s feeling kinda springy of late. (Yeah, what was up with that 80-degree thing happening the other day? What was up with that sweating thing I was doing in my car? What was up with the sudden neck-tan?) Spring means it’s time to start thinking about getting your garden back in gear. Which means it’s also time for our semi-annual Desert Companion on Tour event at Plant World, featuring Norm Schilling of Schilling Horticulture sharing his wisdom, insight and heartwarming tales of yard-based adventures! Join us 9:30 a.m. Saturday, March 22 at Plant World Nursery on 5301 W. Charleston Blvd.! Coffee! Cookies! Fellow gardeners!
Typically, we gab for a while about spring planting tips, common gardening conundrums and Norm’s favorite plants, after which we take questions from the audience. But, hey, doesn’t hurt to ask ahead of time: What’s on your plants’ minds? We’re open to questions and topic ideas, so feel free to share them in the tiny Facebook-sanctioned box below!


Five fine (non-boozy) Irish contributions to Vegas
by By Heidi Kyser | posted March 17, 2014

The Irish contribute more to Southern Nevada culture than brews and pubs. Yes, they contribute those, too. But if, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, you’re interested in consuming more than green beer, here are some good starting points:

Dancing: At least three schools — Scoil Rince Ni Riada Irish Dance, Sharon Lynn’s Celtic Crown and Carrolier Academy of Irish Dance – teach the spry step made famous by Michael Flatley. Who needs a river? Just dance!

Music: There is Celtic/Irish music to be taken in locally beyond high-profile bands such as Sin E Ri Ra (the house band for Nine Fine Irishmen in New York New York). They encompass a variety of styles, from Killian’s Angels’ energetic rock to the classical bagpiping of Chris Weidner (see him play on a hill above Las Vegas here). Search/book local Irish and Celtic acts at

People: Irish expats, you are not alone. See InterNations’ Irish Las Vegas page to search others of your kind. Or you could go straight to the Irish American Club of Las Vegas or the Las Vegas Celtic Society. For a more historical perspective, check out Michael Green’s chapter, “The Irish,” in the 2010 book More Peoples of Las Vegas.

Rugby!: We have our very own band of tough guys in short-shorts, the Las Vegas Irish RFC (although, judging from its photo stream, the style du jour dictates a hem-dropping under-garment). On its Facebook page, the group says it welcomes all players, as well as those interested in learning.

St. Baldrick’s: This global fight against childhood cancer has a Las Vegas edition, which takes place at McMullan’s Irish Pub (okay, so this one’s indirectly boozy). It’s currently ranked third by the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, with 568 participants raising $419,887.


The friend next door
by Heidi Kyser | posted March 14, 2014

Stop whining about people in Las Vegas being isolated behind their cinderblock walls and cast-iron gates, and start getting to know the folks on your own street! Such is the mandate of, a private, online social network for discrete clusters of homes throughout the country.

I signed up my downtown neighborhood, Crestview Estates, and am anxiously awaiting someone else to join, so we can start sharing dentist and restaurant recommendations, worrying over each other’s safety and gossiping about whose dog barks too much. The process is pretty easy — all that’s required beyond the usual profile information is some knowledge of your neighborhood’s boundaries and an ability to use a basic mapping tool.

I did stumble at first, though, believing my home to be in Marycrest. When I logged on, however, I gave my address and was invited to create a new neighborhood. My address, it seems, is two streets outside the “official” border of Marycrest, which someone else had already created.

This led me to wonder: Who determines the neighborhoods? If mine’s up for grabs, can I name it Heidiland? Or what if I disagree with whoever created Marycrest and want to redraw his boundary to include me?

I called up Frank DeFrancesco, a Nextdoor field organizer, who cleared things up. When someone creates a new neighborhood, he and other Nextdoor worker bees contact them to make sure they’re doing what works for best for everyone involved.

“We use city maps, historical data and talk to users,” DeFrancesco said. “In the downtown area, we try to make sure we get the neighborhoods exactly correct. I just met with someone yesterday from Huntridge Park. They’re set up, John S. Park is set up, Marycrest is set up ...”

He’s the one who told me I’m actually in Crestview Estates, not Marycrest, and suggested I use some street-specific information at to delineate my new domain. Indeed, as soon as I was done, I got a friendly confirmation e-mail from DeFrancesco’s team. (He also suggested using the “help” button for other problems like those I had.)

Another thing set off some alarm bells during the setup process: numerous prompts to give up e-mail addresses of friends and neighbors, bringing others into the fold. DeFrancesco assured me this is only to increase participation (not having members defeats the purpose of a social network), and that the company does not share private information with third parties.

“We don’t want to sell lists to outside parties, have pop-up ads or anything annoying,” he said. “We want it to keep it private. When you sign up, you can’t even see what people in other neighborhoods are talking about, only in your own.”

So ... how will the company make money? DeFrancesco says it’s venture-capital funded to start, but eventually may include a business directory in which neighborhood shops and markets would pay to be listed.

The service recently launched in the top 40 cities in the U.S., and DeFrancesco says Las Vegas has been a little slow on the uptake. Some 100 local neighborhoods are registered out of a possible 400; Summerlin, Desert Shores and Scotch 80s are among the most active users.



Home tweet home
by Andrew Kiraly | posted March 7, 2014

Remember homes? Yeah, those were the boxy things we lived in before 2008, when the economicocalypse swept us all away to Sad Poverty Island on a shrieking wave of robo-signed foreclosures. Okay, the housing crisis is no joking matter, especially given that Nevada is still holding on to its dubious No. 1 trophy in the foreclosure category, and that thousands of Nevada homeowners are still struggling to hold on to their pads. The state launched a program, Home Again Nevada, to help them do just that — as well fix their credit and modify their loans. Funded by the robosigning lawsuit settlement, the free program is basically a one-stop Q&A call-in center where troubled homeowners can find out what kind of non-scammy programs are out there to help. (I just called and, yes, an actual nice human answers, just bursting with helpfulness.)

This evening, though, the Nevada attorney general’s office is trying a decidedly more contemporary way to interface with the public — a Twitter town hall that happens tonight from 6-7p. All you have to do is tweet your question with the hashtag #AskHomeAgain — and social media-savvy housing counselors and credit experts with the Home Again Nevada program will shoot you back an answer. If you’re old school and need to hear a human voice at the other end of your primal howl of frustration, you can always call Home Again Nevada directly at 1-855-457-4638. Like I said, yeah, actual nice humans.


Downtown of the future
by Heidi Kyser | posted March 5, 2014

A new City of Las Vegas website shows just how great things will be when you’re downtown ... a few months or years from now. Called Your Downtown, it’s a compendium of infrastructure construction projects scheduled in the city's core. It’s as straightforward as it is useful, giving succinct names, locations, descriptions and durations of bike lane improvements, median upgrades, sidewalk infills and the like. A keyed, color-coded map summarizes everything tidily

In case you’re wondering – no, other Las Vegas neighborhoods don’t get the same treatment. Why is downtown singled out? Over the next 3-5 years, a majority of downtown streets will be revamped, said Jorge Cervantes, Las Vegas’ executive director of community development. With the area’s redevelopment in full bloom, and concerts, parades, fun-runs and other cultural events going on constantly, the city needed a way to communicate construction plans with business owners and event planners. Cervantes hopes the site will help all those involved work together to avoid headaches before they happen.

For now, there’s no way for the public to comment, ask questions or give tips about scheduled projects on the site, but Cervantes said his office would explore adding a feedback mechanism. As for other neighborhoods, they will soon get an interactive Google-type map showing capital improvements detailed in pop-up boxes. Now, if the city can get to work on an app that fixes potholes ...


Snap it up
by Andrew Kiraly | posted March 4, 2014

Hello! The Desert Companion "Focus on Nevada" photo contest website is now open for your photo-uploading, contest-entering pleasure. This is our second annual contest — and even saying that feels weird, because, frankly, we had little idea of what to expect when we did the first one last year. In an age when the Internet serves as this vast, unsleeping factory constantly churning out images and memes -- which are as rapidly consumed as they are produced -- would the idea of a contest seem somehow out of touch with the tempo of modern life, anachronistic, retrograde? And one whose results appear primarily in print? We shrugged and hit the launch button.








2013 smartphone entry, "Pool," by Ginger Bruner

Well, any unspoken reservations or nervousness we had utterly vaporized when the entries started rolling in -- more than 1,500 total! -- and we began sifting through virtual piles of amazing images, from I-know-breathtaking-is-a-cliche-but-I-really-did-lose-my-breath Nevada landscapes to startlingly fresh portraits of the people of Las Vegas.

2013 honorable mention, professional, "Cowboys," by Antonio Gomez

This year, we're adjusting the recipe just a bit -- you'll notice when you visit the website. Instead of categorizing by skill level (professional, semi-pro, amateur, etc.), we're instead categorizing by theme -- landscapes, people, artistic, etc.; see the website for the complete list of categories. Entrants will still enter their skill level, but this time around, it'll serve more as a piece of wonky supplemental info along the lines of camera type, lens specs, and stuff like that. However, we kept the smartphone category, since it is, really, the de facto everyday imaging devices that's always at hand for creating ad hoc digital eye-candy. (Until we all begin shuffling through the streets as Google Glass zombies.)

2013 second-place winner, semi-pro, "CityCenter," by Susan Link

Also this year, we're empaneling (I always wanted to use that word!) a, uh, panel of judges to winnow the work. As yet unempaneled (!), the judges will include photographers, designers, artists and just people we think have really good taste. Watch the website for updates on the judges and the prizes!

Okay, enough blather. Send us your photos! The deadline is May 5. If you have any questions or the contest website explodes in your face, email us at


Vape virgin
by Heidi Kyser | posted February 27, 2014


In Desert Companion's March issue, due out any moment — stake out your favorite Jamba Juice or Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf now! — staff writer Heidi Kyser examines vaping, also known as e-cigarettes, the buzzy alternative to smoking. (Vape lounges are puffing up everywhere.) As part of her research she tried it herself. Her account:

I examine the guy across the counter from me at Las Vegas Vape Lounge — bad teeth, double-aught ear gauges, trucker cap reading, “I (heart) Haters” — and chicken out.

“No, thanks,” I say, declining his offer to let me try vaping, no charge.

Massive intrepid-reporter fail. I blame the guy, Matt, for springing this on me unexpectedly. It’s my first day reporting a story on e-cigarettes and my first time in a vape lounge, period. I was only planning to check out the scene … not get crazy with the nicotine.

The real reason, though, is my reputation as a health-conscious vegetarian, recreational cyclist and part-time yoga teacher. What would my students and biking buddies (not to mention my nieces and nephews on Facebook) say if they saw a pillar of clean living such as me sucking up a bunch of nasty chemicals?

They’d be less shocked than my friends from L.A., that’s for sure. Unlike most people, I gave up vices when I moved to Las Vegas, rather than making a second career of them. Going out late, overeating and -drinking, smoking, sleeping late — some people associate such excesses with Sin City. For me, they conjure up visions of West Hollywood.

Still, I’m a professional. After a couple weeks of stewing in the fog of e-cigarettes, I face facts: My story won’t be complete until I see what all the fuss is about for myself. So, I carefully plan my foray into vaping. I track down a spot favored by Yelpers, Yosi Vapor Lounge, which is credited with being newbie-friendly. And I recruit Desert Companion photographer Brent Holmes to come along, which is both comforting and mortifying. My smoking will be memorialized in pictures, but at least I won’t be going in the place alone.

Following a crash-course in vape devices and accessories, Yosi’s head of social media, Alan Phu, asks if I’m ready to give it a try. Sure, I say. Hook me up.

As I muster my resolve and straighten my hair for the camera, he explains that he’ll be loading a variable voltage unit, the favored model for beginners (mechanical mods are for aficianados). Based on my preference for fruit flavors, he’ll go with an apricot-flavored juice.

“What’s the nicotine content?” I ask.

“Zero,” he says.

What? I feel a whiff of indignation — not because I won’t experience the effects of the drug, but because I can tell Phu thinks I’m not up to it.

“We always give nonsmokers zero-percent samples,” he explains. Okay, that makes sense; if I’m not a nicotine user anyway, then I won’t know the difference. The insulted part of me gives way to the health nut, and I breathe a sigh of relief.

Then comes the actual puff. Phu shows me how to moisten the coil, sets the device on 4.2 out of 5 and tells me to take a big drag – but not too big. I obey, and velvety steam rolls down my throat, warming my upper chest. I get a split-second taste of apricot streudel, and exhale. Brent fires off click after click as I take a second drag, then a third.

That’s when the hint of chemical burn hits my throat. Something smells funny — like apricots soaked in lighter fluid. Phu says I might not have gotten enough juice in the coil. He examines the vape, asking if I want to try again. No, I’m all set. We thank him, gather our equipment and head out.

The burn in my throat worsens over the afternoon and doesn’t finally dissipate for a couple of days. And that’s not the only reason I won’t vape again. Having given it a try, I sort of get the appeal, but it doesn’t seem justified by the cost.

Maybe I’m too old or too healthy. Maybe I’m just cheap. Either way, vaping won’t be the vice that ruins my virtuous Vegas reputation.


When art is kids' stuff
by Andrew Kiraly | posted February 20, 2014
When is the right time to start exposing your kid to art? My completely unfounded and suspect advice: short of rubbing a Francis Bacon against your distended, baby-rich belly, it’s never too early. Alas, Las Vegas can be a difficult place for putting kids in front of art. First Friday suggests itself as an obvious opportunity ... but then you imagine the terrifying prospect of watching your little one being whisked away on a human Jordan River of hipster beards and Stella bottles. Preview Thursday? Perhaps, though it's happily developed more of an adult, connoisseurish vibe. And sure, there are countless finger-painting and clay-pounding courses out there. But what about something with a bit more ... artsiness? It’s a question worth asking, particularly as urban Las Vegas repopulates with people who presumably value arts, culture and community. Ostensibly, those people would want to spoon into their offspring some kid-friendly portions of the same.
Here’s a promising entry: Toddler Tours at UNLV’s Barrick Museum. It’s part read-along, part art-gazing and part activity hour. Barrick staff read Lucy Micklethwait's book “I Spy Shapes in Art,” employing Brian Porray’s large collage work, “-(\DARKHOR5E/)-” to lead kids in a shape-hunting exercise. (And if you’ve seen this collage, there are a lot of shapes going on.) Then, kids and parents are cut loose to make their own collages from an assortment of pre-cut shapes. It happens 1p on the second Saturday of every month at Barrick.
(And if you’re feeling ambitious and you think you’ve got a budding Matisse on your hands, you can always check out Barrick’s current exhibit, “Art for Art’s Sake,” on display through April 26, as well.)


An offer he didn't refuse
by Scott Dickensheets | posted February 11, 2014

It’s always nice to see a bit of reverse brain-drain when a talented person actually returns to Las Vegas. It's like an intellectual return-flow credit that helps balance all the smart people who’ve left for good. That’ll happen later this month when my old pal Geoff Schumacher comes back to his longtime home to become the Mob Museum’s director of content development, a newly created position.

Need a memory prod? Geoff was a longtime journalist in Southern Nevada — at the Las Vegas Sun; as the editor and later publisher of Las Vegas CityLife (where he hired me as editor), as well as other Stephens Media niche publications. You might remember him as a rare voice-of-reason columnist in the paper’s op-ed cuckoo’s nest, back when it was really squawking. He wrote a definitive volume of local history, Sun, Sin & Suburbia: The History of Modern Las Vegas, and a comprehensive account of Howard Hughes’ Vegas years, Howard Hughes: Power, Paranoia & Palace Intrigue. In 2011, Geoff left to run Stephens’ newspapers in Iowa. But just when he thought he was out for good, Vegas is bringing him back, this time to indulge his love of Vegas history.

So, aside from trying on mob-style nicknames — I picture him weighing “Baby Face” Schumacher against “Pretty Boy” Schumacher — what will he do as director of content development? “The contents of the museum were assembled and fashioned into the current exhibits by expert contractors brought in before the museum's opening,” he explains. “They did a fantastic job, but here we are two years later, and it's time to think about how the museum will evolve going forward. It can't remain static. So one of my key jobs will be to come up with new exhibits and take the lead in determining how new stories will be told in the museum.” He’ll also work on the museum’s website, public events, educational materials and the acquisition and verification of new items for display.

“It’s not that different, really,” he says of the switch to mob scholarship from newspapering, his career for 25 years. “I still will be writing, editing, telling stories. Accuracy remains an essential tenet of this work. I will delve even deeper into history than I was before.”

"We are delighted that Geoff Schumacher is returning to Las Vegas to join The Mob Museum," says Executive Director and CEO Jonathan Ullman. "Geoff will bring a wealth of knowledge, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit to a newly created position leading the development of content for our onsite and online experiences. Geoff is a scholar and an expert storyteller, both of which will translate perfectly into the museum environment."

Says Mob Museum board member and historian Michael Green: “We hired him for his looks.” (Sounds like a vote for “Pretty Boy”! Adds Green, "At least he isn't Scarface.")

Seriously, though, “Geoff has an incredible knowledge of the area’s history, and that includes the roles played by law enforcement and organized crime not just in Southern Nevada, but everywhere else," Green says. "His journalism background means that he knows how to communicate with the public — and that's so important to what a museum like this one does.

"It's also great that he's coming home.”


A seedy idea that just might roll
by Andrew Kiraly | posted February 10, 2014
Sure, robots are going to revolutionize labor, commerce, war, agriculture and industry but, admit it, a lot of us are just looking forward to having a sentient Furby butler that’ll fold all our laundry and make perfect coq au vin. Perhaps our default posture as consumers spoiled by the cult of convenience (“But what can robots do for me?”) and the media’s enshrinement of Silicon Valley as some geek oracle of truth and beauty cloud the abiding fact that technology can, like, solve big problems
Now, we’ve seen all-terrain horse robots, creepy disembodied mouthbots, even test models of the Amazon Prime Air delivery drone (aaah! convenience from above!), and they all, each in their own way, are simultaneously cute and chilling. But — to put a common-good, collective first-person spin on things — what can robots do for us? You know, on a scale of global impact and improving the lives of millions? Enter a robot conceived around that familiar trope of Wild West films and "Road Runner" cartoons: the Tumbleweed. Developed by Shlomi Mir, the Tumbleweed is a passive, wind-blown robot designed to spread seeds in order to halt erosion and combat desertification.
Instead of using solar panels or generators to create electricity to power motors (inherently inefficient), the round shape of the Tumbleweed and the arrangement of the sails allow it to catch the wind and roll in any direction at great speed. While in motion, a kinetic generator produces enough energy to power the onboard computer, sensors, and motor.
Like a hot air balloon, the Rover cannot control its exact path, but can decide when to move with the wind and when to wait for it to blow in a favorable direction. When it reaches an area suitable for planting, it releases the correct type of seeds.
The fact that it looks like an umbrella from the future in a cool cybernetic exoskeleton is no accident: the Tumbleweed is a relatively simple, light machine that uses the wind to power itself. The visual shout-out to that prickly, rolling icon of the desert is a pleasing bonus. Mir continues to pursue development of the Tumbleweed as a tool to fight the agricultural ravages of desertification — and, who knows, given our own region’s chronic drought woes, the Tumbleweed might someday find a reason to roll to work in our own backyard


The outsider syndrome
by Heidi Kyser | posted February 6, 2014

Dear Las Vegas,

It’s been 10 years (officially, as of Feb. 1), since I moved here. When will I fit in? I’ve learned the difference between Lake Mead Boulevard and Lake Mead Parkway. I’ve been here long enough to own an underwater house and remember when First Friday was still cool. But, somehow, I still stick out.

Please help,



Dear Heidi,

Given the high turnover, you’re not the first to suffer from Las Vegas Outsider Syndrome. To help those in your situation, I’ve developed the following checklist. According to local custom, you have another 10 years — the time by which one becomes an honorary native — to complete each item.

Good luck!

Las Vegas

  • Learn the stealth way in and out of every parking garage on the Strip.
  • Adopt a story about “opening” one of the landmark hotels, to tell when it gets imploded. (Remember, simply having been inside the hotel, in some professional capacity, within a week of its opening date qualifies.)
  • Cultivate strong opinions about policy, but refuse to openly embrace any political party.
  • Remember: Rebels basketball, good; Rebels football, bad.
  • Dress like an Angeleno ... from a year ago.
  • Correct a know-it-all visitor or East Coast columnist on this point: Bugsy Siegel didn’t “make” Las Vegas or The Strip; Meyer Lansky did.
  • Feign reverence for the Double Down Saloon as the greatest dive bar on Earth.
  • Complain about the need for better public transportation, but drive your car to the convenience store on the corner.
  • Recall a subdivision as a place where you used to ride your bike when — of course — “there was nothing out there but desert.”


Biking back to the roots
by Heidi Kyser | posted February 3, 2014

The RTC’s annual cycle-fest, Viva Bike Vegas, is on hold for 2014. Long-distance road bikers will have to get their century fixes somewhere other than Las Vegas – at least for the time being. But, in the long run, this may not be such a bad thing.

The ride originated with the Las Vegas Valley Bicycle Club, a community-minded band of bicyclers who devote as much time to advocacy as to spin class. The RTC got involved as a headline sponsor for the club’s Las Vegas Century, and then, in 2008, took over organizing the ride itself. Change ensued – much of it meant to raise the event’s profile. Over the years, the transportation agency changed the name to Viva Bike Vegas, staged it on The Strip, added varying distances (ranging from 17 to 100-plus miles), moved the date to coincide with cycling-industry trade show Interbike, persuaded big-name professional cyclists and bike brands to participate, and enlisted as a platinum sponsor.

It worked. The event grew from a few hundred locals to several thousand people from all over the world. Last year, Outside Magazine picked it as one of the top 10 gran fondos (“big rides”) in the U.S.

But did this make it better? Depends whom you ask. Out-of-town cyclists, who saw the event as an excuse for a trip to Sin City, have expressed disappointment at its postponement. Many local riders, on the other hand, say they won’t miss the overcrowded, overpriced scene that Viva Bike Vegas had become.

I finished the full-distance ride in 2012, my first and only Viva Bike Vegas. When my riding buddies asked if I’d tackle it again last year, I declined, opting instead for a women-only century in Northern Utah. Compared to similar rides I’ve done in Central and Southern California, Viva Bike Vegas is a great route – challenging and picturesque – and the event is well-organized. I simply prefer not having to elbow my way through a scrum of newbies on a major tourist thoroughfare in order to break through to the good stuff.

The RTC says it will shift its focus this year to “community cycling activities and initiatives, including several smaller rides throughout the year.” It doesn’t mention motivation, but, regardless of what’s going on behind the scenes, the end result is the same: a return to the ride’s roots. Here’s hoping the community will embrace the renewed locals focus as enthusiastically as visitors jumped into the gran fondo fray.


A drop of things to come
by Heidi Kyser | posted January 29, 2014

Buried in President Obama’s 12-page State of the Union Address were these few lines: “But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming Western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods. That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.”

This bit likely went unnoticed by most Americans, who are more concerned (justifiably) about the minimum wage, unemployment insurance and other issues the president raised that directly affect their livelihoods. But the POTUS’ nod to the water shortage in cities like Las Vegas caps a wave of attention to the crisis, a few drops of which have hit me already this year.

First, there was Michael Wines’ Jan. 5 piece in the New York Times, which spelled out – in for-dummies style – the growing gap between supply and demand of Colorado River water, with particular attention to the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s role in bridging that gap. Then, this week, came High Country News editor Jonathan Thompson’s more nuanced look at how real live Southern Nevadans experience (or ignore, as the case may be) our vexed relationship with H2O. And now, the State of the Union mention.

At the risk of sounding like an alarmist … oh, wait! I don’t have to sound the alarm; I’ll just quote Kenneth G. Ladd, interim director of the Nevada Center of Excellence on hydrological sciences, who told me over coffee last week, “Water is the next oil.”

If Ladd turns out to be right, you can bet our drought will get more than a half-paragraph in future presidents’ speeches. And, like the more pressing problems that Obama delegated to Congress last night, its solution will require much more than an executive order. New standards on carbon pollution may help brake the runaway train of climate change, but they won’t add a drop of the liquid gold we’ve already lost from Lake Mead.


What ever happened to the Veterans Memorial park?
by David McKee | posted January 22, 2014

It's Saturday afternoon and Heritage Park is deserted, save for a custodian. Three picnic tables sit empty, as does a pockmarked jungle gym. The only sounds are a distant siren and the rustling of the wind in the fronds of the palm trees. Stashed behind the Mormon Fort and the Natural History Museum, Heritage Park seems forgotten. Will anyone care if it's razed to make room for an oversized war memorial? That would be the much-delayed Las Vegas Veterans Memorial, a large-scale tribute to America’s fighting men and women — a war memorial that’s been through a few skirmishes of its own.
The origins of the Veterans Memorial go back to November 2006, when the City of Las Vegas closed Huntridge Park, following a fatal altercation between two homeless men. The next month, gadfly Peter “Chris” Christoff pitched to the City Council that it be converted to a veterans’ memorial. (Much to the disappointment of Kasey Baker, who was behind the park’s whimsical, award-winning 2003 redesign.) Then-Mayor Oscar Goodman and then-Councilman Gary Reese were quickly on board with the idea, while then-Congresswoman Shelley Berkley demurred. In March of 2009, former American Shooters President Michael Millett threw American Shooters’ support behind the memorial, along with that of Performance FORCE Concepts (no longer connected with the project). In three months, four designs — chosen from 200 submissions — were brought before city officialdom. The selection committee, Las Vegas Arts Commission and the city chose the most representational design of the group, by artist Douwe Blumberg. It included 14 larger-than-life military statues representing various American wars. Goodman expressed the hope that it would be ready by Veterans Day, 2011 – excessive optimism, as it turned out: The City Council threw a monkey wrench into Blumberg’s plans when it opted to relocate the memorial to Heritage Park, where it would cover 1.5 acres. This was done to address a lack of parking near Huntridge, as well as other public-access issues. 
But since the shift, the waiting game continues. In August 2011, new American Shooters President Mick Catron was targeting February 2014 for completion of the monument. Blumberg thinks the end of 2014 is more likely and Catron representative Scott Tihano says both “We’re on schedule” and “We’re projecting fall/winter of 2015. We’ve got about five [statues] that have been cast,” with three that are at the foundry. 
“We are probably halfway done,” says Blumberg. “My original schedule called for it to be complete by the end of summer.” Of course, the park will also have to be landscaped, which is outside Blumberg’s remit. However, he expects some “practical differences” in the overall shape, even though the message will remain the same. 
What has never remained the same is the cost. Originally it was posited at $800,000, later settling into the $1.2 million-$1.4 million range. “Part of it is our utter inexperience at fundraising. There is a major learning curve,” says American Shooters Marketing Manager Jeremy Ng. What he thought would be a $2.5 million capital campaign has escalated. “I don’t think anybody is going to call a $5 million fundraising campaign an easy endeavor. We have not done this when there’s not been a recession.”
Tihano allows that fundraising is “certainly slower than we want.” He minimizes the cost – “a little over $5 million” – by saying it includes the value of the land which has been donated to American Shooters (and will, in time, be re-gifted to the City of Las Vegas), plus in-kind donations. He pegs the hard cost as $2.2 million, including a “buffer” for inflation.
A further monkey wrench in the works may be yet another relocation of the monument. “The group that’s putting this together would prefer to have it be directly on Las Vegas Boulevard,” says City Councilman Steve Ross. “We’re not unhappy with the locations that we have,” adds Catron, but he wants higher visibility for the memorial. “There may be some opportunity for site movement.” Indeed, if the Las Vegas 51s relocate to Summerlin, Ross foresees a scenario whereby — as the Cashman Field land is repurposed — the Veterans Memorial migrates to Las Vegas Boulevard. Indeed, the Las Vegas Veterans Memorial is proving to be a moving monument — but perhaps not in the way anybody intended. 


R-J: Less is more! more! more!
by Andrew Kiraly | posted January 16, 2014

Today, in the dank, forbidding well that is usually the Review-Journal editorial section, there's a sunny-side-up editorial -- or maybe more like a happytorial! -- painting a smiley face on the latest round of layoffs that have ravaged the paper since the installation of new CEO Ed Moss. Outtake:

The Las Vegas Review-Journal today announced a sweeping staff reorganization aimed at improving coverage of several topics, including news, sports, features, politics, opinion, entertainment and betting.

We’ll have more reporters on the street covering things people care most about. We’ll provide more expertise and more hard-hitting content by going in-depth in some areas while adopting a more efficient production process.

In the days and weeks ahead, readers will notice changes in most sections of the Review-Journal, as well as improvements in online content. R-J online will become much more aggressive in coverage of betting, politics and Las Vegas entertainment.

It's one of the more aggressively enthusiastic -- nearly manically recitative -- manifestations of the usual corporate "we'll do more with less" mantra-chanting that typically follows a round of bloodletting. But, gotta say, amid all the blushing bromides, there are some indications of some actual thoughtful rechanneling of resources to something like (dreaded bizspeak cliché incoming) ... a leaner and meaner, reporter-focused operation? Could be. Assuming they're not just making stuff from play-pretend bonkersland, there's this:

Local government: Henderson and North Las Vegas: In addition to community news provided by the View newspapers, each of the suburban cities will receive more coverage from Review-Journal reporters.

Education: The Review-Journal now has two reporters assigned to this important beat.

Courts: Family Court has been rocked by scandal in recent months. Our two full-time court reporters will be joined by a third, who will focus on the most important trials and issues from the courts beat.

Transportation: One reporter will be assigned to a consolidated beat, which will include McCarran International Airport, issues related to taxis, the Regional Transportation Commission and Nevada Department of Transportation. The reporter on this beat also will write the Review-Journal’s popular Road Warrior commuter Q&A column.

And more flexibility with features:

Readers of the print edition will notice the biggest difference on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Going forward, those sections will not be dedicated to food and entertainment exclusively and instead will feature stories of all types.

Some things will remain the same. We plan to keep the Friday Neon magazine and the Monday Health section, and to keep popular columns in familiar places. But the topics covered on other days will be less regimented.

More, more, more! Of course, they don't talk about what'll be missing, which should quickly become apparent in the coming months. It's easy to read this and hop on the "leaner and meaner" flight to kumbayaville. But you have to wonder whether what we're seeing is not an evolution of the R-J, but a specific signal shift in a broader devolution in local media. With all the chatter in this dispatch about a renewed focus on news, in-depth stories and a refreshed commitment to features -- and a vow to make more frequent splashes on the Internet with news in a "blog-style format" (ah, the endearing fogeyisms of the R-J...), it almost sounds like the R-J is becoming ... hmmmm ... well, what the Las Vegas Sun morphed into in 2005 after the rejiggering of the JOA led to its insertion in the R-J -- instantly boosting its circulation, removing the onus of being an info-grind daily, allowing a focus on deep newsgathering, and ushering in an all-too-brief Sun renaissance that led to its 2009 Pulitzer -- that is, not a well-staffed, well-funded newspaper of record, but maybe something slightly less -- and interesting kind of less, but still less. The other part of that devolution is, of course, the looming and increasingly likely scenario that the Sun may just relaunch as a weekly paper. More with less, maybe, but that more is, well, less.





Meet the new water boss
by Heidi Kyser | posted January 15, 2014

Before he began speaking at the breakfast meeting of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance on Tuesday, John Entsminger took a drink. He said he had a cold, but the real reason for the sip was the subsequent Marco Rubio joke — a much-needed ice-breaker for Entsminger’s first public appearance since the Clark County Commissioners’ Jan. 7 vote dubbing him Pat Mulroy’s replacement as general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Mulroy’s careful grooming of Entsminger showed in both his close adherence to her agenda and his skillful avoidance of the Big Questions.

He began by reminding the audience that, when demand outstrips supply — as is the case with the thirst of Colorado River Basin dwellers and the river’s flow — there are only three things to do: use less, acquire more and/or make delivery more efficient.

For the first option, conservation, the Water Authority will continue to take aim at lawns, Entsminger said. While rural areas pour their Colorado River water allotments on alfalfa and pasture grass, municipalities dump theirs on fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. Turf, then, is low-hanging fruit in Las Vegas conservation efforts. As for acquiring more water, Entsminger hastily affirmed the continued existence of the “in-state project” (known alternatively as the “water grab”), which would pipe water from the basin and range land of Central and Eastern Nevada south to greater Las Vegas. And making delivery of the water more efficient is the purpose of the Authority’s facilities projects, such as the third intake into Lake Mead that’s under construction.

Entsminger didn’t offer insight into the wrenches recently thrown in his tidy three-wheeled gears. In December, for instance, opponents of the water pipeline won a court victory, when a Nevada district judge overturned the state engineer’s approval of SNWA’s plan. The month before, contractors working on the third intake asked the Authority’s board for funds to get it through a 13-month construction delay.

Of course, as any city dweller who’s had her subway commute rerouted during road improvements will tell you, surprises are in the DNA of public works projects. That’s not the juicy part of what Entsminger left out. This is: If snow-melt from the Rockies hits worst-case-scenario projections,  declines in the water levels at Lakes Mead and Powell could trigger emergency measures among Colorado River Basin states (read: water rationing) within the next few years. What would these emergency measures look like? How would they be implemented here in Southern Nevada?

In a crisis situation, all bets are usually off. It’s safe to assume Entsminger’s three-pronged approach to supply and demand would take a back seat to some fast and furious negotiating with his counterparts in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. That’s when we’d see what the new water boss is really made of.


Your last, "best" chance
by Andrew Kiraly | posted January 6, 2014

It's the last day to vote in our Desert Companion Best of the City 2014 Readers' Poll — so put on your voting hat, or get your voting finger ready, or do whatever you do when you take online polls — and share your thoughts on what you think is the best of the city.

What's the best pizza? The best hair salon? The best pizza served by a hair salon? Take our quick, easy, alarmingly fun poll and tell us.

We'll share readers' picks in the February Desert Companion. Best of all, three lucky survey-takers will win a share of $500 in dining certificates for great grub at some fine local restaurants.

Don't delay — the polls close today. Vote now!


Tell Desert Companion what's best -- you could be a winner!
by Andrew Kiraly | posted December 4, 2013
Who’s got the best pizza in town? What’s the best park? Where’s the best yoga studio? Tell us what YOU think is best in our 2014 Desert Companion Best of the City Readers’ Poll. It’s fun! It’s fast! It’s easy! It’s filled with exclamation points! And you may just win dinner on us!
Take our online poll now to tell us what’s best — from dining and drinking to arts and culture to shopping and leisure. Best of all, you’ll be entered to win a dining certificate worth up to $300 at a great local restaurant. 
Take the survey now! Don’t delay! The deadline is January 6. Happy besting!



A different kind of photo opportunity
by Lisa Kelly | posted October 21, 2013

Join us as we kick off the Desert Companion Photo Exhibit on Tour at Green Valley Library on November 7 from 6pm – 8pm. Come out and enjoy complimentary coffee and cookies, great company, all while you feast your eyes on the fabulous photography. 

The photo showcase event features eye-catching photos from the recent Desert Companion "Focus on Nevada" Photo Contest and brilliant photography from Desert Companion past and present. We had such a great response, we're taking the show on the road. The first stop for our photo showcase is the Green Valley Library. Come out and enjoy the exhibit anytime between November 1 – December 31 during regular business hours at the Green Valley Library!


Before you pick up that rake, listen to this man
by Andrew Kiraly | posted September 17, 2013
Whether you're a hardcore green thumb or a casual gardener, you'll want to join us 9:30 a.m. Sept. 21 at Plant World for our next Desert Companion on Tour event. We'll be talking to horticulture expert Norm Schilling, who'll share expert tips on fall planting, yard care and how to prune like a pro. 
Got a tough gardening question or just want to get some sound advice on great options for fall planting? Come on out, enjoy complimentary coffee, nice weather and take in the infinite, chlorophyll-rich wisdom of Nevada Public Radio "Desert Bloom" commentator Norm Schilling. 
It happens at Plant World Nursery (5301 W. Charleston Blvd., 878-9485, 9:30 a.m. Saturday, September 21.



Too much (Vegas!) TV
by Lissa Townsend Rodgers | posted September 9, 2013
It’s a sure bet your favorite TV show has done its “Vegas” turn. Check out the latest issue for our roundup of classic “Vegas” episodes of everything from “The Twilight Zone” to “Charlie’s Angels” to “The Family Guy” to ... well, fitting them all in was harder than watching a “Silver Spoons” marathon. Here are two we couldn’t wedge in: When Kojak came to town — well, by phone, anyway — and when Vegas appeared in “Crime Story.” 
“A House of Prayer, a Den of Thieves,” Season 3, Episode 13
Original airdate: December 14, 1975
This one opens with a gloriously authentic tracking shot of vintage Fremont Street, from the old big-topped Plaza to the parabolic Mint. We eagerly await the iconic shot of a lollipop-sucking Telly Savalas rolling through Caesar’s, but it does not come. Indeed, Kojak literally phones in most of his role from a NYC office – which wouldn’t be odd if it weren’t for the fact that they did bother to get footage of him at McCarran Airport.
The actual star here is Vincent Gardenia as an ex-Metro detective who’s an old buddy of Kojak’s. This show was obviously intended as potential spinoff fodder: Gardenia’s crotchety detective comes complete with two sidekicks – a wisecracking cocktail waitress and beleaguered pit boss who help — as well as an adorable nephew. The title begs to be attached to a true crime novel or prog rock album and the plot is a bit of a mishmash of counterfeiters, murders and ripping of the collection plate at an evangelist’s revival meeting. But it’s soaked in Vegas atmosphere, from waking up beside a dice clock to 103 degree temperatures to watching washed-up comics audition in the big room. As a guy in drag swings upside down from a trapeze while playing a bass fiddle, Gardenia smiles, sighs and says, “Sometimes this town makes the rest of the world seem very sane.”
Crime Story
“The Battle of Las Vegas,” Season 1, Episode 17
Original airdate: February 6, 1987
This Michael Mann-produced drama told the story of a cop and his mobster nemesis, set in a pink-and-turquoise eighties version of the early sixties. At the end of season one, several episodes moved the narrative from Chicago to Las Vegas as the outfit closed in on controlling the Lucky Star Casino. The Versailles Room may be ersatz, but that really is the El Cortez marquee glowing in the background and the opening is a symphony of glowing downtown neon and shining Cadillac tailfins.
“The Battle of Las  Vegas” refers to mobster Anthony Denison’s attempt to take over the resort workers’ union, and the attempts of cop Dennis Farina — back when only his sideburns were gray — to stop him. As you can imagine, things become heated and whenever a union president gets run over in a back alley, you can see as plain as the whitewall tracks on his back that it wasn’t no accident. A crucial role is played by punk rock icon Lee Ving as a corrupt union executive, having secret meetings and giving crazy speeches in a pompadour and shiny suit — directed to or not, he comes off an awful lot like Robert DeNiro. Crime Story was known for its interesting cameos and in the next episode, Debbie Harry pops up as the most expensive hooker in Vegas – not singing, but alternately imperious, bratty, seductive and frightened enough to be alluring without her siren’s act.


What's your favorite photo? Vote now!
by Andrew Kiraly | posted June 11, 2013
When you’re done oohing and aahing over our June photo issue, take a moment to vote for your favorite photo entry in our "Focus on Nevada" contest. Visit our “Readers’ Choice” ballot online, where we feature the winners as well as honorable mentions we couldn’t cram into the magazine. Voting is free, easy and fun, and you’ll be entered to win a $100 dining certificate at a great Vegas restaurant. Just visit and start clicking. Voting ends June 30.
The photographer with the most votes wins eternal glory — and a $100 gift card to contest sponsors B&C Camera. Get clicking!


An exhibit that'll make you say, "Ah! My eyes!" (in a good way)
by Andrew Kiraly | posted May 21, 2013

Love great photography? We have an eyeful for you! Join us 6 p.m. June 6 at ALIOS Gallery on Main Street. We’ll showcase the winners and finalists of Desert Companion’s “Focus on Nevada” photo contest, give out great prizes — and show off our favorite shots from past issues of the magazine. And don't forget to pick up our June issue to see the fine work of all the contest winners and finalists!

Oh — and don’t forget to vote in our bonus “Readers’ Choice” ballot online, where we feature the winners as well as honorable mentions we couldn’t cram into the magazine. Voting is free, easy and fun, and you’ll be entered to win a $100 dining certificate at a great Vegas restaurant. Just visit and start clicking. 



Woof! And the winner is ...
by Andrew Kiraly | posted May 13, 2013

... Tilly! Tilly is a labradoodle who took top honors in Desert Companion and The District's Next Top Dog contest May 9. After an endless pageant of utterly heart-melting furry cuteness -- to the tune of more than 300 canine entrants -- Tilly took home the grand prize after wowing judges with her perky personality and furry charms. See the pics from the event here -- and congrats to everyone who entered. Also thanks to Carol Riback and Vicki Callahan of the Vegas Valley Dog Obedience Club, who shared eye-opening tips on maintaining a well-behaved pet. 


Don't toss it -- recycle it with us!
by | posted April 9, 2013

Spring is fast approaching -- and that means spring cleaning! The office needs to be decluttered, the garage needs some attention, the recycle bins are overflowing.

Don't worry -- we're here to help! Join Nevada Public Radio and Desert Companion on Saturday, April 27 from 8 a.m. to noon for our bi-annual recycle event. Get more info at the link below.


Some of Norm's favorite plants
by Andrew Kiraly | posted March 26, 2013

In case you missed our recent event with KNPR’s "Desert Bloom" commentator and Desert Companion contributor Norm Schilling, here are some of his favorite plants over which he waxed so rhapsodic. Make your spring planting a snap with these desert-friendly, butterfly-attracting, water-efficient, beautifulness-emanating plants!


Our new neighbor, a slender giantess
by By Andrew Kiraly | posted October 20, 2010

If you haven't seen the freshly unveiled Colorado River Bridge, certainly do -- it's a slender giantess to the Hoover Dam's brawn, a stretch of serene Helvetica in a visual environs marked by bold fonts and spidery serifs everywhere. On that note, be sure to check out our full read on the bridge's architecture in the November issue of Desert Companion. (Don't worry. Our Colorado River Bridge think-hunk is penned by someone far more knowledgeable than me.)

I tagged along with Desert Companion Art Director Chris Smith this morning on a 6 a.m. trek to take photos of the bridge. Not the best day for a shoot: Shocks of rain slapping at us in what was less dawn than a mere shift in the gloom, but the drapes of wet did make for a vibrant, glossy, apocalyptic mood -- which was only helped along by the slick crunch and smack of small rock slides as ridges gave way to aggressive rivulets. Strangely, the water below looked as still as slate:

Dawn eventually broke like it should -- aggressively and without fanfare -- and even I couldn't resist whipping out the cell phone camera for some shots:

Dwarving around the bridge like that only whets your appetite, though, to see it up close and really take its measure. Which leads to perhaps my sole complaint about the Colorado River Bridge, that supple and functional diversion: It's a pretty bridge at just about any angle, but not necessarily at any distance. Its energy is strangely robbed when you drive it, as sizable abutments on either side make next to impossible any vastness-gazing from the car.

Why, you might even forget you're on a bridge and momentarily give in to the illusion you're on some forsaken sliver of the 215 -- little else but you and the blur of asphalt and concrete. It's ironic that a place with such placeness exposes a lack of it in perhaps its most vital part.


The city had Circle Park right the first time
by By Andrew Kiraly | posted October 15, 2010

Oh, one thing I didn't have a chance to yammer about at Oct. 13's fine "Urban Vibe" panel.

Circle Park. Oh, Circle Park -- you shuttered little island brimming with potential urban energy. You source of endless headaches to a sometimes unimaginative city. You unwitting experiment in blending downtown redevelopment with less enlightened policies concerning, say, oh, the homeless.

I suppose the good news is that Circle Park will reopen in 2011. The not-so-good news is that it seems the park's rebirth as a veteran's memorial smacks of a somewhat cynical, somewhat lazy end-run around truly addressing the park's place in its urban environs -- its immediate, noisy, lively, untidy urban environs.

I'm all for public spaces that honor the sacrifices of America's men and women in the armed forces -- spaces of quiet reflection. Circle Park is not that public space. An island parklet surrounded by the constant whoosh of traffic, heavily used strip malls, set in the broader context of a historic neighborhood? The park should absorb and respond to those vibrations.

That's why I loved Kasey Baker's award-winning original design, realized in 2003. It was unserious and engaging, and reflected the restless energy of the area. (The only thing missing: skywalks on either side to make it even more welcoming.) Now she's an implicit object of blame for having created a park that through some unidentified design flaw -- whoops! -- let the homeless in.

Too bad, because the city had it right the first time.


Did I mention the Twitter thing?
by By Andrew Kiraly | posted October 15, 2010

Did I mention? Did I mention you should follow us on Twitter? Did I mention you can just click that button down there on the right and, just like that, receive a dose of 140-character cultural 'n' community Desert Companion content goodness directly to your medulla oblongata? Did I mention it's free? Did I mention it's fun? Did I mention it contains no artificial colors? Did I mention that side effects may include sudden bouts of euphoria and deep personal satisfaction, knowing that you're part of a community of folks who care about Southern Nevada and want to make it a better place to live? Did I mention that part? Did I?


Let's talk about downtown
by Andrew Kiraly | posted October 12, 2010

When I was a younger pup, downtown was where I'd skateboard (slipping beneath the gate at my alma mater, Las Vegas High School, and shredding the ooops-hope-those-aren't-historic-planters), play endless matches of Mortal Kombat (at the former 7-Eleven on Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard) and be violently ragdolled among moshing froths to NOFX (at the Huntridge Theater).

Nowadays: Art! Culture! Martinis! More martinis! As I've (reluctantly) grown up, downtown has too.

Downtown's maturity -- and its growing pains -- are the topic of tomorrow's Symphony Park Lecture Series panel, "The Urban Vibe," 5 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Fifth Street School Auditorium, 401 S. Fourth St. You should come.

I'll be on the panel with an esteemed bunch of culture mavens, including Jennifer Cornthwaite of Emergency Arts and The Beat Coffeehouse, Jennifer Henry of FlockFlockFlock, James P. Reza of Globe Salon, and Desert Companion's very own John Curtas.

Wine at 5, discussion at 6. Rumors grow of an after-type thang at The Beat. See you there.


'Wicked' at the Smith Center: Is six weeks enough?
by Heidi Kyser | posted September 29, 2010

He's 4 feet 10 inches tall, 80 pounds and all of 8 years old, but he' s trouble, as I would only realize a couple hours after meeting Zachary Murray.

"'Wicked' is my favorite show. Or maybe my second favorite, after 'Shrek,'" he told me, as he wiped the tartar sauce off a crab cake during the cocktail hour preceding the Sept. 28 preview of "Wicked" at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. When I asked him what he liked about the show, his hazel eyes lit up: "It's such a great story! Haven't you seen it?"

No, I haven't. And I may never get to, at least here in Vegas, thanks to Zach and the legions of other Las Vegas kids marking their calendars for the phenomenally popular show's Aug. 29, 2012, opening at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts downtown.

See, the show's only running six weeks here. At the announced eight performances per week in the 2,050-seat Reynolds Hall, that's 98,400 tickets total (including comps and season tickets) for all the Zachs out there -- not to mention their parents, like Tanya Murray, who said she was so excited to finally be able to see at home some of the many Broadway shows she and her family have taken in during their annual trips to New York.

For them, the Smith Center landing "Wicked" fulfills the venue's promise to culture-hungry Las Vegans: a place where locals can see adult as well as family-friendly theater performances in their original formats (2 1/2-hour shows like "Wicked" on the Strip are typically trimmed to 90 minutes).

That promise is driven home by one of the debut performances scheduled at the Smith Center. Earlier this month, President Myron Martin announced a series of educational concerts for Clark County School District students following the venue's March 2012 opening.

That's right about the time tickets for "Wicked" will be going on sale.

Which raises the question -- actually asked of Martin and the show's producer David Stone by an audience member at last evening's preview: Is six weeks enough?

"We had a long discussion about that, and we decided it was important for us to do it off-Strip for people who live here, even if we only get it for six weeks," Martin said.

Stone's answer: "We do sell out quickly. In Washington, D.C., we sold out in six hours, and some people were not happy. So, make sure you get your tickets early."

If I should miss that six-hour window, I know one person who will undoubtedly have seats. The only question is, will Zachary Murray sell me his?


Desert Companion travels to Pahrump, emerges with awards, fireworks burns
by Andrew Kiraly | posted September 20, 2010

The smoke from the illegal fireworks has cleared, and Desert Companion has emerged triumphant from the Nevada Press Association's 2010 Better Magazine Awards, held Sept. 18 in Pahrump at the perhaps inauspiciously named Pahrump Nugget. Desert Companion walked away with nine awards in seven categories, including three first-place awards and multiple wins in two categories.

The biggies:

- First place for Best Investigative or In-depth Story or Series, for Phil Hagen and Erika Pope's comprehensive and thought-provoking "25 Reasons for Art Optimism."

- First place for Best Illustration. That would be Joseph Ciardiello's illustration of Elvis in our story about Elvis' Vegas years (a fine piece for which writer Geoff Schumacher won a third-place award for Best Feature Story). Aaron McKinney garnered a third place in Best Illustration for his masterful comic illustration of Harry Reid.

- First place for Best Portrait, awarded to Aaron Mayes for his moody portrait of writer Maile Chapman. (Or maybe it was this playful one of the lovably insane writer Alissa Nutting). Desert Companion Art Director Chris Smith won third place in the category for his multiple-exposure portrait of artist Brian Porray.

We also took second place for Best Explanatory Journalism, for our lively analysis of what makes the valley's coolest buildings so cool, as well as a second place award for Best Multiple Feature Photos for Aaron Mayes' stunning photo essay on Chinatown.


A Halting and Incomplete Report from the Las Vegas Epicurean Affair Written in a Sort of Blissful Gastronomic Hangover
by Andrew Kiraly | posted September 10, 2010

My stomach is finally starting to deflate into some acceptable semblance of normal-stomachitude after an utterly prodigal night of noshing and drinking at the Palazzo Sept. 9. Yes, I hit foodiefest the Las Vegas Epicurean Affair, held at the Palazzo Pools, a beautiful outdoor space that was either enhanced or diminished by go-go dancers skoozling their hams atop pedestals (I still can't decide).

But the food. Oh. The food. Wait. Actually, first: the drinks. Oh, the drinks. Anyone who knows me can attest that I'm not one to turn down a snort of, ahem, [children-safe air-quotes] adult beverage but, man, an hour into the Epicurean Affair, I was flapping my hand in a feeble "Please, no, I will die!" gesture to proffered trays of sweet, soul-numbing, glittering alcohol. But whether it was Laguna Champagne Bar's incredible elderflower concoction or the caramel martinis I vaguely remember lapping up or Canyon Ranch's refreshalicious watermelon rum shooters or LAVO's cups of pomegranate vodka bliss, I propose they rename this thing the Slurpicurean Affair.

Of course, the gourmet noshables -- small bites upon small bites -- on offer were no less mind-blowing. Highlights from last night:

- Okay. I think I'm going to hire a tailor for a custom-made ninja outfit. Then I will put it on, break into Hash House A Go Go under cover of darkness, and steal their recipe for their chocolate and peanut butter bread pudding. It is nothing less than a pure glob of heaven, if heaven were globby and then scooped onto a plate.

- SushiSamba served up the same yellowtail tacos they peddled at last month's Carnival of Cuisine. And you know what? I certainly don't mind. In fact, I don't mind so much I encourage them to peddle these crispy bites directly into my mouth every month in an event I'm calling the Carnival of My Hungry Gnasher.

- Wolfgang Puck's Postrio served a delectable deconstructed slider. Next to that, Puck's CUT served a glistening slablet of maple-glazed pork belly. I could have pinballed between those two booths all night until hustled out by grim, truncheon-wielding security guards.

- Nobu offered up addictive jalapeno-inflected sashimi and . . . was it generously sauced black cod so incredibly tender that it flaked under my mere gaze? I think it was. Frankly, I couldn't hear the nice woman trying to describe it to me over my own somewhat feral peals of anticipatory delight.

- At this point, I gave up taking notes because my hand started shaking uncontrollably due to recurring flavorgasms rolling over my body in successive waves of culinary bliss. One mental note branded on my mind, however: I will be back. Oh. I will.


On the Occasion of the Arrest of Paris Hilton and Cy Waits, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority Slightly Revises Its TV Ad Campaign
by Andrew Kiraly | posted September 1, 2010

IMAGE: Sweeping, slow-motion view of attractive young people dancing in a nightclub.

BACKGROUND MUSIC: Thumping house track.

SEDUCTIVE FEMALE VOICE-OVER: The music. The cocktails. The sexy women. The hot men. The anything-goes atmosphere. Las Vegas is your place to party. To cut loose. To get wild. To let it all hang out.

IMAGE: Close-up of a young woman and young man dancing. She offers him a white pill. He expresses shock and dismay -- until she holds up a harmless box of breath mints. They both laugh.

SEDUCTIVE FEMALE VOICE-OVER: Las Vegas. Your place to party. To live a little. Play a little. Sin a little. But not too much. In a safe, responsible, drug-free environment.

IMAGE: In a dark corner of the club, a shady-looking character in sunglasses flashes a vial of cocaine at an attractive young woman. She shakes her head, emphatically signaling "No." Two large security guards appear out of nowhere to lift the shady-looking character off his feet and hustle him out of the club.

SEDUCTIVE FEMALE VOICE-OVER: Las Vegas. Where anything goes. Where you can stay up all night. Thrill your senses. Pursue forbidden adventures. But only if you're 21 or older. All in a completely drug-free environment. In full compliance with the Nevada Revised Statutes and the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

IMAGE: Young man at nightclub bar, glumly slurping the last of his vodka tonic, looking bored.

SEDUCTIVE FEMALE VOICE-OVER: Las Vegas nightlife. Naughty. Wild. Uninhibited. Unless by "uninhibited" you mean drugs. Come party with us. Let it all go. Unless the "it" you're "letting go" is a fat rail of Bolivian marching powder. What's Bolivian marching powder? Frankly, I don't know and I don't want to know. Or a massive, head-scouring bong rip in the back seat of an Escalade. Come on. Hit the town. Catch the buzz. Feel the high. A natural, adrenaline high, not a chemically induced one that can have both short- and long-term adverse effects on your health. Those kind of highs are bad. Come sin with us and make your wildest fantasies come true.

IMAGE: A nun dancing with a DEA agent.

SEDUCTIVE FEMALE VOICE-OVER: Vegas. No rules. No inhibitions. Vegas. No prohibitions. Aside from federal drug laws and local statutes. It's Sin City. The way you like it. The way you want it. The way you need it. Vegas. Where your secret desires come to life. But with certain rules in place, such as rigid ordinances making prostitution illegal in Clark County.

IMAGE: Entire dance floor filled with nuns and DEA agents dancing.

SEDUCTIVE FEMALE VOICE-OVER: Vegas. They call us Sin City for a reason. Come get a taste. Take a hit. One try and you'll be hooked. Metaphorically speaking. Come be bad with us. Not "bad" bad, as in the way drugs are bad, but "bad" meaning sort of innocuously irresponsible every once in a while. Vegas. Come play. Come sin. Break all the rules. Certain restrictions apply.


Other, lesser-known stipulations in Gov. Jim Gibbons' divorce decree
by Andrew Kiraly | posted July 21, 2010

- Dawn gets Chateau Beauvais living room set, Fairmont Bonaparte dining collection; Jim gets giant inflatable Corona bottle

- Jim to get sole custody of Xbox 360 and recently purchased copy of Guitar Hero 3: Warriors of Rock

- Jim to retain ownership of all political memorabilia, including baby seal skull scrimshawed by Grover Norquist

- Jim to retain custody of all Lunchables, Gogurt and Fruit Roll-Ups

- Both parties agree not to talk publicly about that 2008 Christmas party when Jim drank a whole bottle of peppermint schnapps and ate the fake beard off the hired Santa's face.

- Longtime pet companion Zimbles the cat to be divided equally among divorcing parties

- Upon final dissolution of marriage, Jim to be sedated, tagged and relocated to Stillwater Wildlife Refuge in western Nevada, where he will be monitored indefinitely


"Welcome to the Fremont Street Experience Free Speech Zone" Pamphlet
by Andrew Kiraly | posted July 9, 2010

Welcome to the Fremont Street Experience Free Speech Zone!

This select area has been provided to you as a courtesy of the Fremont Street Experience LLC to allow you to exercise your First Amendment rights. We at the Fremont Street Experience value your expression, and recognize that free speech is a fundamental cornerstone of a free and open society when restricted to certain geographic areas Monday through Friday between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. PST.

We hope you enjoy your free speech today in the Fremont Street Experience Free Speech Zone. We ask that you follow these simple guidelines to keep the Fremont Street Experience a safe and pleasant environment for all.

- Religious tracts and signs are acceptable forms of expression in the Free Speech Zone. However, for the comfort of our guests, we respectfully ask that depictions of Hell and eternal damnation be rendered in good taste and in a manner palatable to families with children. ACCEPTABLE: Cartoon devils. UNACCEPTABLE: Images of wailing people in flames being torn limb from limb by winged demons wielding pitchforks and scythes. ALSO UNACCEPTABLE: Skeletons, dragons, skeletons riding dragons, towering walls of merciless fire, ravening swarms of locusts feeding on the flesh of the wicked. ALSO UNACCEPTABLE: Lava.

- If you are a strolling saxophonist who performs Kenny G songs in a torturous cycle of screeching cacophony, use the Free Speech Zone at your own risk. While the Fremont Street Experience can ensure your freedom of expression, we CANNOT guarantee that you will be safe from, say, a rain of rocks angrily thrown by enraged passersby.

- Be advised that the Free Speech Zone's $20 entry fee is payable with cash only. And remember to join us on select Free Speech Celebration Nights, when you are automatically entered for a chance to win an immediate taxi ride home.

- When expressing your free speech in the Free Speech Zone, for your own safety, please refrain from touching the electrified, barbed-wire Free Speech Zone fence.

- Please do not shout, scream or chant slogans in the Free Speech Zone, as this tends to provoke the Free Speech Zone guard dogs.

- Please do not attempt to remove, alter or damage your yellow Free Speech Zone Identification Number arm band.

- Finally, please avoid unnecessarily or excessively "free" free speech in the Free Speech Zone. What constitutes "unnecessarily or excessively 'free' free speech" is the sole and exclusive discretion of Fremont Street Experience LLC.

(Note to our valued Fremont Street Experience guests: Do not confuse the Free Speech Zone with the Pants-Free Zone. That is a featured room at a nearby downtown adult entertainment establishment, and is not related to or endorsed by the Fremont Street Experience.)

Thank you,

The Fremont Street Experience


Vegas Valley Book Festival announces gigantic, big-name authors
by Andrew Kiraly | posted June 30, 2010

The Vegas Valley Book Festival, that annual bash dedicated to those interactive multimedia things printed on dead trees -- books, we think they're called -- just announced the two keynote speakers bookending the event that takes place Nov. 3-7 at the Historic Fifth Street School.

Kicking off the festival Nov. 3 is author T.C. Boyle, author of 20 novels, including The Road to Wellville and World's End, and more than 100 short stories. (One of my faves is his short story collection, If The River Was Whiskey, a veritable compendium of writerly technique.) Closing it out is Dennis Lehane, best known for gritty, searching crime thrillers, particularly Mystic River and Shutter Island.

Other things in the works I'm hearing a lot of buzz about: the festival's ever-burgeoning Comic Book Festival and "Feasting on Words - A Celebration of Food and Literature." The early word is that one celebrity chef Rick Moonen has something tasty in store for both food- and book-lovers. Check out the bookfest's website for more info.


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