About Charlie Hebdo, Briefly

If an American magazine made similar ‘jokes’ about Jews or Christians or black people we’d be up in arms. However, in a free society we allow people to say stupid and hurtful things. I like it that way.

charlie-hebdo-s-est-deja-attire-les-foudresWhat a godawful tragedy in Paris. Horrible.

And to justify murder by saying you’re defending God? Seriously, isn’t God capable of dealing with this on her own?

Charlie Hedbo has been called a satire magazine. Maybe so. One man’s satire is another man’s hate speech. Some of their cartoons were definitely hateful, others patently racist.

If an American magazine made similar ‘jokes’ about Jews or Christians or black people we’d be up in arms. However, in a free society we allow people to say stupid and hurtful things. I like it that way.

Free speech has limits. You can’t yell “Fire” in a crowded movie theater. Most everything else is OK.

I wish Charlie Hebdo hadn’t tweaked the Muslim community as they did. Some of their satire was mean spirited. That was their choice. It is a right afforded to all in France, as it is in the US. It doesn’t come close to justifying what happened in Paris yesterday.

To radical Islamists, non-believers are infidels. Asking them to respect the beliefs of others is a non-starter. Reasoning isn’t an effective strategy. I don’t know what is.

Free speech isn’t needed to protect popular ideas. Free speech is there for the outliers. Even if I found some of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons offensive (and I did), I still defend their right to publish them.

This is all so senseless. What has been accomplished? When will it end?

Je suis Charlie.

A Vegas Night Out For Fabulous Food

Score one for the waitress and manager who made that magic happen. That was an above-and-beyond move. I’d recommend this place just for that–but there’s more.

This blog entry is dedicated to my daughter Stefanie–fashionista and now tour guide. It was her idea to have dinner outside on Las Vegas Blvd. That is so touristy. It was perfect! Maybe there’s a lesson here. Just because tourists do it doesn’t make it wrong.

We set out with my cousins (it was after all their car) to Paris, midway down the Strip. From there we walked to the Planet Hollywood Casino.

planet-hollywood-entrance.jpgPlanet Hollywood is a great example of rebranding. Previously known as the Aladdin and with a Middle Eastern theme, it had a mid range target. As with many of those immense hotels Aladdin had a mall. The Desert Passage was a long, circular affair. The few times I was in it was empty.

Now Planet Hollywood has turned this closer to a ‘mall’ mall than the upscale shops at Caesars or Venetian. There were people roaming last night.

Two quick notes:

1) Jerry Springer is a headliner at Planet Hollywood! He emcees the America’s Got Talent stage show.

Who knew?

2) There’s a fat guy with a beard dressed over-the-top as a woman who stands on the street outside the PH. He takes photos with tourists working solely on tips. He might be the richest man in Vegas. He was crazily busy last night.

Considering the weather, he was also very cold!

We headed back to Paris and into Mon Ami Gabi&#185, a French bistro attached to the Paris Hotel on Las Vegas Boulevard.

bellagio-fountains-from-paris.jpgWe wanted to sit outside on the patio… and did at Table 138. We were right on Las Vegas Blvd with a great view for people watching and to see the fountain show across the street at the Bellagio.

At one point my Cousin Michael asked if the propane heater could be moved closer to the table. Fire regs–it could not. But about five minutes later another heater was hoisted from the street and placed adjacent to our table.

paris-and-eiffel-tower-las-vegas.jpgScore one for the waitress and manager who made that magic happen. That was an above-and-beyond move. I’d recommend this place just for that–but there’s more.

The menu had some French flare but it was obviously designed for American audiences. Before the meal we were brought hot baugets. Not warm–hot!

There was a lot on the menu to choose from. Stef said her French onion soup was the best she’d ever had. I enjoyed my potato and leek soup.

For dinner I had a brie cheeseburger. It was excellent on a tasty bun. The french fries were plentiful, though so thinly cut there was little substance. Helaine had a hanger steak. No complaints on the main course.

entrance-to-paris-hotel-las-vegas.jpgThis is Vegas and a tourist destination, but the prices seemed reasonable. We are non-drinkers all, so that kept the check in check. As it was this was an anniversary treat from our cousins. That was very sweet though totally unnecessary.

We were too full for desert! In fact the past two night’s meals will probably affect what we eat for the rest of the trip. It’s easy to have too much–and we have.

&#185We had pronounced Gabi, “Gabby.” The waitress pronounced it “Gah-bee” with the accent on the second syllable. I never did well in French.

Something Fox News Is Doing Right!

Today Fox News Channel, MSNBC, The Washington Post and others have positioned themselves and their coverage away from the middle. That puts them under the microscope as political opponents scour for weakness which can be used to embarrass them.

fnc-logo.jpgWelcome to journalism in the 21st Century. The ‘right down-the-middle’ mantra of the last half century is gone. We’re back to journalism practiced by partisans.

Yeah–back to. This is how it used to be.

Here’s a little Wikipedia refresher on William Randolph Hearst. I suspect you’ll be surprised!

As Martin Lee and Norman Solomon noted in their 1990 book Unreliable Sources, Hearst “routinely invented sensational stories, faked interviews, ran phony pictures and distorted real events.” This approach came to be known as yellow journalism, named after the Yellow Kid, a character in the New York Journal’s color comic strip Hogan’s Alley.

Hearst’s use of yellow journalism techniques in his New York Journal to whip up popular support for U.S. military adventurism in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines in 1898 was also criticized in Upton Sinclair’s 1919 book, The Brass Check: A Study of American Journalism. According to Sinclair, Hearst’s newspaper employees were “willing by deliberate and shameful lies, made out of whole cloth, to stir nations to enmity and drive them to murderous war.” Sinclair also asserted that in the early 20th century Hearst’s newspapers lied “remorselessly about radicals,” excluded “the word Socialist from their columns” and obeyed “a standing order in all Hearst offices that American Socialism shall never be mentioned favorably.” In addition, Sinclair charged that Hearst’s “Universal News Bureau” re-wrote the news of the London morning papers in the Hearst office in New York and then fraudulently sent it out to American afternoon newspapers under the by-lines of imaginary names of non-existent “Hearst correspondents” in London, Paris, Venice, Rome, Berlin, etc.

Hearst is just the easiest example of what’s certainly a long list. Rupert Murdoch is a lot less of an outlier than he’s portrayed.

Today Fox News Channel, MSNBC, The Washington Times, New York Post and others have positioned themselves and their coverage away from the middle. That puts them increasingly under the microscope as political opponents scour for weakness which can be used to embarrass them.

Jon Stewart has mastered the art. He often shows FNC on both sides of the same argument, depending on the political winds at any given moment. Recently he showed Fox using video from one event as coverage of another more sparsely attended event.

Last week Fox did it again. Sarah Palin video from the presidential campaign was used as B-roll for a book signing appearance. An anchor talked about the “huge crowds.” Oops.

Maybe, even for Fox, enough is enough. Here’s an internal memo passed along by MediaBistro’s FishbowlDC.

Subject: Quality Control We had a mistake on Newsroom today when a wrong book cover went on screen during a guest segment, the kind of thing that can fall through the cracks on any day with any story given the large amount of elements and editorial we run through our broadcasts. Unfortunately, it is the latest in a series of mistakes on FNC in recent months. We have to all improve our performance in terms of ensuring error-free broadcasts. To that end, there was a meeting this afternoon between senior managers and the folks who run the daytime shows in which expectations were reviewed, and the following results were announced: Effective immediately, there is zero tolerance for on-screen errors. Mistakes by any member of the show team that end up on air may result in immediate disciplinary action against those who played significant roles in the “mistake chain,” and those who supervise them. That may include warning letters to personnel files, suspensions, and other possible actions up to and including termination, and this will all obviously play a role in performance reviews. So we now face a great opportunity to review and improve on our workflow and quality control efforts. To make the most of that opportunity, effective immediately, Newsroom is going to “zero base” our newscast production. That means we will start by going to air with only the most essential, basic, and manageable elements. To share a key quote from today’s meeting: “It is more important to get it right, than it is to get it on.” We may then build up again slowly as deadlines and workloads allow so that we can be sure we can quality check everything before it makes air, and we never having to explain, retract, qualify or apologize again. Please know that jobs are on the line here. I can not stress that enough. I will review again during our Monday editorial meeting, and in the days and weeks ahead. This experience should make us stronger editorially, and I encourage everyone to invest themselves one hundred and ten percent in this effort.

The memo has a message for all newsrooms of all political persuassions: Content trumps presentation.

If the reason for these most recent screw-ups is a rush to make the broadcast look pretty or flashy the emphasis is wrong. Facts need to be correct before worrying about production values.

This isn’t going to change FNC’s slant. They’ll continue to cover news from a right-of-center perspective. I actually have little problem with that. It just looks like the effort will be made to sell their points from a more factual base.

Of course it’s also possible the memo was leaked to provide easy political cover while nothing changes! We’ll have to wait and see.

We Went To See Julie And Julia

Movies are among the last of our experiences with exacting attention to detail. Movies are meant to be examined through a magnifying glass. The good ones hold up.

julie-and-julia.gifHelaine and I went to the movies yesterday to see Julie and Julia. This is the movie about Julia Child and separately Julie Powell who decides to spend a year preparing and blogging about every recipe in Child’s seminal “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

365 days. 536 recipes. One girl and a crappy outer borough kitchen.

How far will it go? We can only wait. And wait. And wait…..

The Julie/Julia Project. Coming soon to a computer terminal near you. – from the opening entry in Jule/Julia Project blog

On a sunny afternoon on the Labor Day weekend you might expect the movie theater to be empty and you’d be right. The sparse crowd was decidedly older. “All the handicapped spots are filled,” I noted as we walked in.

The presentation began with the most inappropriately chosen trailers ever matched to a movie! First up Tyler Perry’s upcoming “I Can Do Bad All by Myself.” It went downhill from there. There were scary movies and guy movies, but as far as I remember no other chick flicks were promoted to this lily white assemblage of mainly senior citizens.

I loved the movie. Truly.

Meryl Streep is effortless as Julia Child, ex-pat wife of a Paris based diplomat (Stanley Tucci–who is the 3-in-1 Oil in Julia’s life ). She is drawn to a cooking school out of boredom with her life. Streep is probably our finest living actress and there’s nothing in this performance to show otherwise.

JJ_wallpaper_07_800x600.jpgAmy Adams was sweet as the Child obsessed chef/blogger. I’ll call her effortless too, though for most of the movie her character kept her emotions out in full view.

An admission. When Helaine kicks me out (sooner or later she will) I intend on moving in with Amy Adams. Amy doesn’t know that yet. Don’t tell. I don’t want to spook her prematurely. She fills the role formerly held by Marianne of Gilligan’s Island.

Set primarily in 1950s Paris and modern day New York City the movie is a character study… or studies. Julia and Julie’s lives are interconnected though they never meet&#185.

As the film was playing I thought about what makes movies so special (and so expensive). Movies are among the last of our experiences with exacting attention to detail. Look at the sets and costumes. Movies are meant to be examined through a magnifying glass. The good ones hold up. This was a good one.

Call me a heretic, but we left the movie and had dinner at IHOP. Julia Child is rolling over in her grave.

&#185 – Nora Ephron is also responsible for “Sleepless in Seattle” in which the primary characters didn’t meet until the very end.

It’s Happened Before

Though Ahmadinejad is loud and the Iranian leader most seen by the west the real power is vested in religious leaders, specifically The Supreme Leader of Iran: Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

On Twitter CNN’s Jack Cafferty wonders, “Can protesters ever prevail in a country like Iran?” The simple answer is yes. I am sure because it’s happened before.

From Wikipedia: The overthrow of the Shah came as a surprise to almost all observers. The first militant anti-Shah demonstrations of a few hundred started in October 1977, after the death of Khomeini’s son Mostafa. A year later strikes were paralyzing the country, and in early December a “total of 6 to 9 million” — more than 10% of the country — marched against the Shah throughout Iran.

iran protesters.jpgI remember a 60 Minutes piece at the time on Ayatollah Khomeini. He was in exile in Paris. His message moved through Iran via audio cassette tapes. Today communications are faster and more effective.

I am no Iran expert, but it’s dangerous to think the current protesters want anything more than to remove Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Even they think he’s nuts. Though Ahmadinejad is loud and the Iranian leader most seen by the west the real power is vested in religious leaders, specifically The Supreme Leader of Iran: Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The current Iranian opposition, the folks who probably had the election stolen from them, support this Islamic government. That’s important to note.

What is happening in Iran is simultaneously interesting and scary. We have to be careful not to think it’s something it really isn’t.

Two Guys Two Drinks

I asked if I could take their picture. They liked the idea.


I know I’ve been publishing a lot of photos recently. Indulge me one more.

While Helaine and I were in Vegas I ventured out one night by myself for a little picture taking. As I was walking back on Las Vegas Blvd in front of Paris I ran into these two guys. They were feeling no pain.

I asked if I could take their picture. They liked the idea.

It’s a real low light shot. I took it with a 10mm lens which enlarges and distorts the foreground. It was handheld, 1/8 second, f4, ISO1600.

For me it’s quite an unusual shot.

What’s On TV At 3:15 AM

I was sitting in my office, playing on my computer, when Steffie walked in. It was 3:15. She, unfortunately, has inherited my nocturnal nature.

“Do you see what’s on TV,” she asked?

I followed her back into her playroom. E! was on and the programming was live. Paris had been released.

I asked her to look at “my channels,” and she tuned through Fox, CNN, Headline news and MSNBC. Two of the four were also in breathless, helicopter heavy, live coverage.

Reporters were speculating where Paris might end up should she take one freeway over another.

You don’t take a network that’s normally re-playing shows overnight and flip a switch to go live. They had to pre-position staff inside and out. That’s a hell of an undertaking at 3:15 AM.

If you’re looking for perspective in how important this story is considered, look at this from MediaBistro TVNewser.

Both Saturday and Sunday, HLN aired obsolete and outdated editions of Nancy Grace.

The shows covered “the search for Jessie Davis even though it was reported at 6pm EDT [Saturday] that her body had been found,” ICN says.

By Sunday, suspects were in custody. Still, HLN replayed the repeats, using a lower third to update viewers:

Unfortunately, CNN didn’t do that for Glenn Beck, whose show precedes and follows Grace’s.

This weekend it was too expensive, or difficult, to allow old news to be replaced by new news. Overnight last night it was not.

So, Paris is free at last. Personally, I think her career is over – though I was more sure of that opinion before this coverage.

Classier Audience Than I Deserve

I look forward to some public appearances more than others. Tonight was a ‘look forward to’ event. I was asked to introduce an operatic performance on the New Haven Green.

Scratch the Green. Too chilly. The New Haven Symphony Orchestra doesn’t perform outside when the temperature drops below 65&#186. Can you blame them?

Unfortunately, that shrinks the house somewhat.

This was to be part of New Haven’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas. Though some ‘big’ commercial acts play, it is mostly smaller performances across many genres.

A crowd of thousands sees these opera performances on the Green. Tonight, we were moved inside to Yale’s University Theater – one of many performance spots on the Yale University campus. The theater sits a little over 600.

With my leg still sitting inside the Velcro fastened boot, I asked for special parking dispensation. The organizers of the event had no pull, but the Yale Police (yes, they have their own police department – guns and everything) was extremely helpful. A motorcycle officer blocked off a space right alongside the theater with a wooden sawhorse.

An opera crowd is quite eclectic. They are likely to know what they’re getting into. I sense there are few casual opera fans and many rabid ones.

By the time I arrived, a line had already formed, stretching down York Street toward Broadway. This part of New Haven, surrounded by the Yale campus is really beautiful. The buildings are very stately… very Yale.

As the crowd stood, a group of street performers from the Meter Theater began to put on a show. I was too busy taking pictures to really follow what was going on, but the crowd got into it.

Finally the doors opened and the crowd moved in. I headed backstage, standing with (but having no contact with) tonight’s performers. I knew who they were by the tiny stage mics which curled from their ears.

On stage the New Haven Symphony was tuning up. This is quite an accomplished orchestra and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy watching them get limber by playing exercises and running scales.

A live performance of classical music is so powerful, even someone who is not a fan will still enjoy. I can’t explain it, except to say it can be unexpectedly overpowering.

The curtain was scheduled for 8:00 PM, but as is often the case, it was held for 8:05. I walked to the front of the stage, crossed the apron and walked down a few stairs to the narrator’s microphone. There was a polite smattering of applause.

I welcomed them to Opera on the Green and then looked around at the surroundings. “Damn weatherman,” I said. Nice laugh.

I read a little from the prepared script I’d be given and then looked up for some remarks of my own. I don’t have my exact words, so let me paraphrase.

“I’m thrilled to be with you tonight, but I am a little embarrassed. I mean, it’s wonderful to see this great opera… but I accepted this thinking I was introducing Oprah.” Big laugh.

That little joke had been a bone of contention in the Fox house and at work where my friends and family were sure it would bomb. I told it anyway. I’m glad I did.

I did the rest of the intro for the performance. Most of it had been written by others, but I threw in a little mention of Milton Cross, who used to host the Texaco Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts, and who I knew this crowd would relate to. I also added some historical context to the actual operetta to be performed, “Orpheus in the Underworld,” which was originally panned by the critics back in 1858.

As I walked toward the back of the house, the actual narrator took his place and the orchestra began to play. Though the opera was written by Offenbach, a German by birth, it was written in French and first performed in Paris.

As the singers, all Yale students, performed, an English translation flashed on a huge screen behind the orchestra.

I’m not going to claim to be an opera fan. But, what I saw tonight was very entertaining, especially an amazing young soprano singing the part of Eurydice. I have searched everywhere, but cannot find her name nor the names of anyone in the cast!

With two more newscasts to go, I had to leave while the performance was underway. I was sorry to go… even if Oprah wasn’t there.

Oh Paris

I’ve got MSNBC on the TV now. It’s a live shot, split screen. That means two live cameras, one from a copter, to two satellite transponders, as we await Paris Hilton’s return to the ‘system’.

I’ve tried desperately to avoid this story – not just here on the blog, but in person. It’s impossible. It’s too juicy.

“I want to see the house,” said Helaine, speaking directly to our TV screen.

The all-female MSNBC anchor team is starting to get a little catty. Did Paris have a party planned for tonight? Did she need hair and makeup before returning.

Is there anyone rooting for Paris anymore? She is the poster child for spoiled rich kid. Incarceration in your mansion is not the same as serving jail time.

Uh oh… MSNBC, CNN and Fox News have pulled away to cover Defense Secretary Gates’ press conference. Where are their priorities&#185?

OK – don’t answer that.

Neither E! nor CourtTV is covering the re-incarceration. Now we’ve got problems.

Luckily KCBS-TV in Los Angeles is streaming the video live! And you thought my vast knowledge of call letters was worthless!

This is unreal. Live, on TV, as Paris was being spirited away, a gaggle of press photographers swarmed the car. I was amazed no one was hurt!

This story has drawn me in. It’s jumped from ‘celebrenews’ to real news. Even those organizations who’ve attemped to keep about the fray will have to add this story to their news budget. I’m talking about you NY Times&#178 and PBS News Hour.

She will always be notorious. The question is, will this be the end of Hilton’s commercially exploitable celebrity?

&#185 – Uh oh – I’m starting to think like TMZ.com! Take a look at this entry they posted at 1:06 PM. I’m not proud of that.

&#178 – Late this afternoon the Times bit the bullet and ran the story.

A Few Words About The MGM Grand

This hotel is huge… and beautiful. It’s not as beautiful as the Mirage, but close.

Most of the permanent fixtures – carpeting, lights, wall covering – are subdued. The bright lights are garishness is limited to the slots.

There are a multitude of bars throughout the place, including one near the poker room where the staff dances atop the bar from time-to-time.

Our room is spacious with a very nice bathroom. Good water pressure – always a plus. Las Vegas has hard water, which makes it more difficult to rinse after a shower.

The view out our window is spectacular. We are looking north, up the strip. We can easily see the Stratosphere, which has to be a few miles away. Also in sight are Paris, Bellagio, Casers, a bit of Mirage, and the Monte Carlo.

We’ve got tickets to Gordie brown this evening. Once again we’ll take the monorail.

Fr most Vegas visitors, the monorail seems out of the way. With a station right here at MGM, one at the Hilton and another not too far from the the Venetian (where Gordie Brown plays) it has made lots of sense for us.

About 1/3 of the MGM Poker Room las vegas 3-2007
Dancing on the bar at MGM Grand las vegas 3-2007
Slot tournament at the MGM Grand las vegas 3-2007
View from our window las vegas 3-2007
View from our window las vegas 3-2007
Viper I didn’t win las vegas 3-2007
Ground floor elevator lobby las vegas 3-2007

We’ve Arrived In Las Vegas

We live in a wonderful time. You can get in a plane (or two) and fly cross country. In the history of the world, that’s only been possible for a few decades. Still, 12 hours door-to-door is a little much – and five hours on the leg from Baltimore to Las Vegas was brutal.

My folks had no idea we were coming last night. My cousins told us where they were all eating and we walked in and surprised them… and they were surprised.

We were all very tired, so Helaine and I got settled and went to sleep as soon as we could. First, we looked out the window.

We are on the 25th floor. We have a view looking south down the Strip. Caesar’s Palace covers a significant portion of our view, but we see the Eiffel Tower at Paris, The Rio and Palms, Flamingo and MGM Grand.

Unpacking the bags brought an unpleasant surprise. Either at Bradley or BWI, our bags must have been left outside, uncovered. A few of our suitcases were soaked.

This morning, in the Las Vegas air, they are dry. We’ll have to look one-by-one to see if they’ve been injured.

It’s a football day, and we plan to watch at the Sports Book here at the Mirage. Other than that, our early arrival has left us with little in the way of plans.

Phishing For Dollars

I got an email from PayPal this morning. It was a receipt for a purchase I’d made.

Dear PayPal member,

This email confirms that you have paid MICROBAZAR $175.85 USD using PayPal.

This credit card transaction will appear on your bill as “PAYPAL MICROBAZAR.*”

Thank you for your purchase!

Of course I didn’t make that purchase.

My first reaction was anger.

I read on to see it was for the purchase of a Nokia cellphone and got angrier. That was what was supposed to happen! The sender wanted me to click the link, sign on and lodge a complaint.

Since the destination of the link was this phishing scammer, they would get my username and password. Pretty sneaky, right?

I’m pretty sophisticated about the web, but for at least a few seconds I thought this was real. I also know there are lots of others who never make that connection and click the link, trying to clear their name and giving up their account information instead.

As a, sort of, public service, I’m putting a copy of the phishing message here, so you can see what I saw that tipped me off.

First, the return address. It looks like came from some a strange domain: jumpy.it, in Italy. Tracing headers, it looks like it really came from Belgium. Bottom line is, all PayPal’s mail comes from paypal.com.

The website you get to after clicking the link is in France, assigned to:

role: AMEN NOC

address: AMEN – Agence des Medias Numeriques

address: 12/14, rond-point des champs elysees

address: 75008 Paris, France

phone: +33 8 92 55 66 77

The second tipoff was the link on the email. It didn’t match what showed up in my status bar. If that toolbar is off on your PC, you should go into the view section of your mail program and/or browser and turn it on now.

There should probably be some ‘truthing’ built into browsers and mail programs to discern when what you see is not what you get. Instead, it’s easy to get fooled by a clever phisher who has done a good job of socially engineering his bait.

Is the phony PayPal site you’re sent to a zombified computer? Possibly. Did the thieves wait until it was closing time in France on a Friday afternoon before hatching their plot? Probably.

There was a time you couldn’t walk through Times Square in New York with your family. It was sleazy, scuzzy, unsafe. Over time, that changed. I hope the Internet can be effectively policed as well.

Another Day in Paradise

The phone didn’t ring at 4:00 AM. No balloon trip again. I’m not sure I understand, because a glance at the weather observations show low winds. Helaine is upset and we’ll attempt to get our money back because it’s now too late. What a shame.

We took a group of 9 to breakfast at Paris. Max, Steffe and Ali all said they were tired, so we drove – though it’s a pretty short drive. Melissa led the way and brought us into the self park garage. That was fine, but I realized it was probably the first time I had ever parked my own car in Las Vegas.

Isn’t that strange.

Valet parking is so common, and always free. I has never thought about doing it any other way. The 6th level of the garage gave me a different photo perspective of the city.

Speaking of valet parking, Helaine and I have a theory that the best legs seen in Las Vegas aren’t on showgirls but valet parking attendants. They are constantly sprinting everywhere and it shows. Originally, when Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun opened in Connecticut, I expected to see the same thing – but didn’t.

It’s funny. No matter how much building there is, no matter how many people say the market is saturated – or near saturated, building continues. I’m not talking about little additions. These are substantial buildings with huge cranes and loads of activity. These is more construction activity today in Las Vegas than there has been in my twenty years in the New Haven area.

If you were going to pick a location to model you hotel after – a place Americans would flock to, it probably wouldn’t be France. Forget my terrible 7th grade experience in Mme Gobstein’s French I class at Campbell JHS. America just doesn’t get along with France and vice versa. We both look down our noses at each other – especially on matters of taste.

Paris is modeled after France in nearly every obvious way. Outside the hotel are models of the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower. Inside the hotel, the corridors are made to look like quaint French villages, with blue skies and sparse cloud cover.

We ate at the buffet, also looking like a French village – though there usually isn’t a display for Keno numbers on real French walls.

The food, especially for breakfast, is very good. My favorite part is the freshly made crepes. I had the mixed berry crepe with apricot sauce. Atkins be damned this week! I was surprised they only had mini bagels, which are inappropriate for cream cheese and lox.

After breakfast, Helaine, Steffie and Ali headed out to shop at the Aladdin Hotel’s Desert Passage. The rest of us went back to Mirage, where my parents and Michael met up with Molly and Abie – old friends from New York City who are part of the immense non-native population which dominates Las Vegas.

Before I go, a few quick observations.

This is a service oriented community and most employees have insurance and other benefits, even in positions that usually don’t get those, like food service employees. It is a city where a working family can actually buy a home. Most workers I come in contact with are happy in their jobs, or at least understand that making me, and others like me, happy is an important part of their jobs. Everyone says hello. Everyone says thank you. Everyone seems interested in helping me have a good time.

I used to think I would, someday, retire to Florida. Now I’m not so sure. The more I experience this climate, the more I like it. Even my folks, Floridians beyond a doubt, find this scorching weather easy to deal with than the hot and oppressively humid conditions they deal with 4-5 months a year.

Finally, this is a wide open town. If there’s any question about that, just look at the ads on the tops of taxi cabs. There a few inhibitions or worry that kids might be looking. The photo on the left is relatively innocent compared to what is handed out on Las Vegas Boulevard… even to 17 year olds like my daughter.

Blogger’s note: I continue to add photos to the gallery for this trip. You can see them by clicking here. The whole Vegas trip has its own category, which means you can link to these stories specifically by clicking here or read about the 2003 Vegas trip here.

Convicted Killers I’ve Known

I don’t think of myself as traveling in a rowdy or criminal crowd, yet there are two killers I’ve known in my life.

One was a friend from college, George. I lost touch with him only to receive a letter years later after I had appeared on Good Morning America. He was watching from prison.

George did his wife in and then buried her under a freshly poured cement basement floor. Considering the crime, and considering he was convicted of manslaughter and not murder, there must have been extenuating circumstances.

This seemed very out of character for George. I had never known him to be threatening or violent – ever.

The other killer in my life is a little more notorious, Mumia Abu Jamal.

I knew Mumia on the late ’70s when he was a newsman and I was a disk jockey at WPEN in Philadelphia. I remember him as being very soft spoken with a beautiful deep voice. His copy was very well written. He was lacked any knowledge of sports. For heaven’s sake, he was asking me for sports pronunciations and background.

Because of the station’s format and our “naming convention”, Mumia was forced to have a more Anglo first, middle and last name and became “William Wellington Cole.”

You can’t make this stuff up! In retrospect, that was embarrassing.

I have no idea whether he killed the policeman he was convicted of shooting, but my guess is, he did. He had become more radical over the years and, I suppose, angry.

This is all brought to mind since he was made an honorary citizen of Paris today.

I believe the French have really honed their revulsion toward us and our society to a fine, sharp point. This is just another way to tweak us.

It must be sad for them to live in a country that is no longer an important member of the international community. I’m not saying we have foreign policy geniuses running the show, because we don’t, but our opinion, muscle, and money still count for something. France, on the other hand, is a marginal player at best.

C’est la vie.

Continue reading “Convicted Killers I’ve Known”

Friday, and my luck changes

All week long I had played poker and lost. It was getting a little distressing. After all, I had told everyone who would listen that poker was a game of skill, and though I didn’t have the skill of the locals, I wasn’t bad. There would be enough money more ‘stupid’ than mine for me to win.

I was going to keep a detailed running tab. But after getting to Friday, down as I was between $500 and 600, I gave up. Of course Friday was the day I started winning. Not much a first, but I had gotten back around $100 by the end of the day.

Meanwhile, Friday started with breakfast at the Paris buffet. It’s excellent. The buffet dining room is made to resemeble a small French town. There are omlet and crepe stations. Everything is fattening.

Though we’ve eaten at Paris a bunch of times over the past few years, I don’t believe I’d played dollar one. It’s a nice looking casino and certanily a striking hotel with the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, outdoor cafes and beautiful fountains. And, unlike the ‘real’ French I never felt I was being treated with hostility. I’m not sure why I hadn’t played, I just hadn’t.

So, Helaine and I sat down and played blackjack and I won $100. But I was as bored at blackjack as she claims to be at poker. We left.

I spent the rest of the afternoon playing poker at Mirage, making back the money I wrote about earlier. The Mirage poker room is large by anything but Connecticut standards. In the lower area there are normally $1-5 and $5-10 Stud and $3-6 and $6-12 Hold’em games. I played mostly $6-12 on this trip.

Upstairs are higher limit games like $10-20 and $20-40. I’m not sure how someone gets into a game like that, but there’s too much money won and (more importantly) lost to allow me to play. If you have to think about the money when you make a bet, you shouldn’t be there. It will affect your game.

For dinner we went to the Mirage buffet. This has been a staple of ours since we’ve been going to Las Vegas. Helaine had read that the buffet had deteriorated over the past year. Still, it was Friday, the night they serve fried shrimp. Everything seemed as we remembered with no degradation. However, Helaine took one bite of the shrimp and realized there was cocoanut in the breading (as a child she had swelled up after eating coconut and has avoided it ever since).

She had been looking forward to the shrimp, so this was a major disappointment.

The evening’s entertainment was across the street at Harrahs at the Improv. Three comedians. Pretty good, not great. Unlike Carrot Top and Rita Rudner, this was not close to being sold out. Of course, the economics of a comedy club with three young (aka – cheap) comdeians means you can get away with this sort of thing… even on Friday nght.

On the way to and from Harrahs we got a look at Casino Royale. Here’s a place that’s an anachronism on the 21st century Las Vegas Strip. The lights are beautiful, but inside it’s an old, small, low ceilinged casino. Considering the competition nearby, it’s probably a faciility that makes too much money to sell or close, but not enough to improve or expand.