Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Thoughts on Vegas. . .

After years of not taking a vacation, and under orders from one of my bosses, I finally went on a short vacation - four days - and headed off to Las Vegas.  Although Vegas is a common tourist destination, I'm not a big fan of gambling and I'm not good at it.  Still, Vegas looked better than all the other contenders for what was potentially a rainy weekend, so I went.

And I had a fabulous time.  Seriously.  Rather than stay on the strip, I stayed at the Golden Nugget Hotel in downtown.  Had drinks at the Griffin, a truly phenomenal bar on Fremont East, saw a band at the Beauty Bar, and enjoyed coffee at the Beat and even did some gambling at the Golden Nugget - won $100 a blackjack.  Oh, and there was this:

That's right, its an aquarium.  With sharks.  And that tube you see, its part of a 30 foot water slide. . .through a shark tank.  Even though it was not pool weather (I think the temperature topped out at 65 degrees), I had to give it a shot.  Luckily the pool is heated, but it was still very, very cold. 

Anyway, the whole trip got me thinking - the downtown Las Vegas hotels are doing it wrong.  Right now, the key market for Downtown hotels been the budget conscious tourists and locals, which could give the whole place a sleazy vibe.  However, the Fremont Street Experience, which connects most of the Downtown hotels in a walkable neighborhood is fantastic, and a lot less sleazy than parts of the Strip. . .and MGM Grand, I'm looking at you. 

At the same time, the hotels are pretty damned cheezy.  The Golden Nugget, which is a pretty decent hotel, couldn't help but pimp this guy:

That's me in the bottom. . .anyway, everywhere I looked, I saw posters for "Gordie Brown" and the Golden Nugget was pimping this guy like he was the lovechild of Sinatra and Wayne Newton.  Whatever.  By the end of the trip, and this took all of three days, I would say "Gordie Brown is sooo dreamy. . ." every time I passed by his poster and crack up my traveling companion.

But back to my point - there is a niche market that the downtown casinos are leaving untouched.  Rather than continue to cater to the older and/or budget conscious crowd, Downtown could cater to the younger, more independent-minded professional crowds who find the Strip nauseating.  Here are my tips for any hotel that follows my advice (all I ask is that you comp me a room the next time I go):
  1. Get a kickass pool - seriously, everyone, even hipsters, love pools.
  2. Skip the Starbucks, and get a real coffeehouse.  Seriously, you're making enough money from the gambling, get your own coffee.  Seriously, the best coffee I had in Vegas came from a hipster coffeehouse and a coffee cart.  You can, and should do better.
  3. Put in a dive bar, a lounge and a kickass bar - with all three, you can reach all aspects of the hipster going out.  At the dive you can offer PBR on tap, put on punk bands, etc., the lounge can offer decent DJ's and dancing, and the bar. . .well, the bar has to be old school.  Dark, dank, classy, and offers GOOD liquor.  Its something to do for a long weekend.
  4. Have a vintage clothing store.
  5. Free internet access. Enough said.
  6. The art should be local - I get the feeling that there are plenty of local artists who could and would be happy to display their latest artwork at a hotel - turn the whole place into an art gallery (and allow the guests to buy artwork they like).  And if there aren't enough artists in Vegas at first, there will be really, really soon.
  7. Ease up on the decor.  Seriously, my hotel room was ugly - nice, clean, comfortable, well laid out, but ugly.  Go minimalist. 
Until a hotel gets religion and does these things, I'll remember to cobble together pretty good times all over Vegas.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Grading the Contendahs: 2012 GOP Pres Candidates

Now that the 2010 midterms are passed, we're now into an interesting part of the election cycle where the various contenders come out and show themselves. In 2007, I was blogging on MySpace about the 2008 elections, so its about time I kick things in gear. Anyway, here are my thoughts:

Dead on Arrival

Newt Gingrich: Sorry Newt fans (all three of you), the former Speaker and leader of the conservative takeover of the House in 1994 may run for President, but he isn't going anywhere.  Yes, he's smart, and a ruthless politician, but like all ruthless politicians, he has A LOT of baggage.  There's the dumping of his first wife when she was in cancer surgery.  Then, the financial scandal that drove him from the House, and then dumping his second wife, and so on.  Anyway, I get the feeling that conservatives have more or less moved on.

Rudy Giuliani: Again, totally DOA and the world has moved on without him.  Plus, Biden's remark about, "a noun, a verb and 9-11," pretty much ended his schtick.  Also, he's too liberal for the GOP base.

Tim Pawlenty: For a guy who's been talked about as a Presidential contender for the past three-four years, Pawlenty has yet to make an impression on me.  No, wait, there's his blatant pandering to the right wing.  Not Romney blatant, but still. . .speaking of which

Mitt Romney: There was a time when Romney scared the hell out of me.  He was so. . .smooth.  Telegenic, a pretty good to great speaker (seriously, his voice is almost Reaganesque), Romney has all the tools.  But. . .there's no there there.  Seriously, the guy flip-flops on every issue to the point of erasing sections of his book to comply with modern conservative ideology.  He's also very, very weird - to the point of the more you get to know him and his family, the more you want to run the hell away.

Rick Santorum: Telegenic, conservative as all get out. . .but he got his ass kicked in his last race, and has a huge, huge Google problem.  Plus, he's just not that compelling.

Donald Trump: He flirts with running for President every four years, but never has jumped in.  He might now, but if he was too liberal for the base in 2008, he's WAY too liberal for the base in 2012.

Mostly Dead, But Influential

Mike Huckabee: The old Huckster is back with his folksy racism charm and whatnot.  Huckabee, unfortunately, could have been the most dangerous Republican in the field in 2012. Imagine a candidate running to Obama's left on economic issues (jobs), but running to his right on social issues.  Of all the GOPers, Huck is the guy to do it. . .if he hadn't spent the past three years moving to the right on economic issues.  Still, he'll keep pushing the group to the right on social issues.

Ron Paul: Like Huckabee, Paul is not going to win the nomination, but his candidacy will keep the rest of the group on their toes when it comes to economic issues.  He has a solid base, and that's enough to stay in the running.

Mike Pence: Another economics guy.  I don't see him holding much promise and its virtually impossible to get elected from the House to the White House.  Not happening, but he will push economic issues.

Interesting in Theory

Mitch Daniels: No idea who he is, but if Indiana is in any decent shape in 2012, he's a contender.  
John Thune: Again, I don't really know who he is, but the establishment likes him, and that says a lot.

John Huntsman: Sort of a rich man's Mitt Romney.  A conservative technocrat, willing to serve his country even under a Democratic President, Huntsman looks good on paper.  But will the base like him?  No idea.

Jeb Bush: Jeb might run, but he's the brother of one of the most unpopular Presidents in recent memory, a guy who can't travel overseas for fear of being arrested on crimes against humanity.  I kinda wonder if Jeb looks back at the 2000 elections with some degree of regret.  Let's say for the sake of argument, that Jeb ratfucked his brother, ordered all the votes be counted, and that lead to Gore's victory.  That sets Gore up for 2000 and maybe 2004, and Jeb can run for President free and clear of Dubya's screw-ups.  Moreover, he would be the guy who screwed his brother for the good of the country.  And in many respects, Jeb is the guy the GOP should have at the top of the ticket.  He would move the Republican Party away from its xenophobia and move it towards a party based on social and economic issues, make huge inroads with minorities, etc. Instead, he's probably not going to run for President. . .phew.


Michele Bachmann: There are two levels of crazy when it comes to people in the public eye - "Charlie Sheen" crazy, where the person in question does something incredibly odd, or has a breakdown caused by drugs; and, "Ron Artest" crazy, where the person in question is legitimately mentally ill.  It took Ron Artest jumping into the stands in Detroit for everyone to understand that he needed help (which he got, thank God), but that leads me to this point: Michelle Bachmann is Ron Artest crazy.  I'm not even joking about this.  There is a delusion in her eyes that is absolutely terrifying.  

And here's the problem with the GOP of today - Bachmann's got a legitimate shot at the nomination because so many Republicans are equally delusional.  A majority of Republican voters believes that Obama is a secret Muslim who was born in Kenya, that global warming is a hoax, and that evolution has never happened.  That's why Glenn Beck makes so much money hocking gold - there's a whole lot of delusion on the GOP side.  Yikes.

Sarah Palin: Unlike Bachmann, Palin has the advantage of not being crazy.  Palin strikes me as an opportunist.  She has come into the fold because there's a vacuum at the top and she's more than willing to fill the leadership gap.  At this point, I don't think she'll win the nomination, but she will deeply influence the primary.

Final Thoughts

I have, no doubt, missed a few names, but by and large, I think I've gotten the big names out there.  Right now, there really is no front runner.  What's interesting to me is that for the first time, the GOP is starting to look a bit more like the Democratic Party, where the base is starting to push the old guard aside.   That's going to make for a rollicking primary. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Reality Show Blogging: The Horror, the Horror. . .

In the past few months, I've actually moved beyond random dating, and met someone who not only can I stand to be around for more than a few hours, and who (more importantly) can stand me for more than a few hours. And, as you might guess, I'm happy about this. However, one of the unfortunate aspects of being in a relationship for a lot of straight men is having to watch "The Bachelor." For some reason, my significant other is enthralled by this show and being the dutiful boyfriend requires me to watch with her. Of course, this obligates her to watch all the crap I like as well.

Anyway, in my entire life, I have watched two episodes of the Bachelor, and its still not my cup of tea. The Bachelor is. . .dull. Sure, he's got a six-pack, etc., but wow, is this guy dull. Apparently, he was on before, and in a surprising act of honesty, didn't pick either of the finalists. Given that none of the other Bachelors have ever married their picks, much less dated them for any length of time after the show ended. For refusing to take part in the charade, he became a hated man. Still, he strikes me as a decent human being, but completely disinteresting.

What is interesting, and is always interesting in these shows, is how competitive the women get. The first season of "Flavor of Love," where women fought over the affection of Flavor Flav for no apparent reason other than being on television, is a prime example. But given the distinct lack of any discernible personality of the current Bachelor, this season of the Bachelor is right up there. In a few short weeks, numerous women have proclaimed their intense love for the Bachelor, and the cat fighting has begun. The biggest surprise is that the woman who wore fangs in the first episode left the show because she realized she was on it for the wrong reasons.

Anyway, last night's episode made watchable by the crazy antics of a hairdresser from Utah named Michelle. She talked ill of the other contestants and by all appearances, seemed much more interested in the Bachelor than anyone else. Indeed, when on a group date, she actually attacked the poor man for bringing other women along repelling down a cliff or something. She then went to his room and tried to get the Bachelor to change his mind about several other women. All the while, she gave interviews with the producers that screamed, "crazy."

So, I have to admit that at the end of the show, I felt like I was watching a horror movie, wanting to yell out to the Bachelor, "Watch out Brad, she CRAZY!!!" The last 15 minutes, were therefore enjoyable. As for predictions - the woman who's husband died and then she bore his kid is a mortal lock for the finals.

Top Chef:

It occurs to me that I haven't blogged about Top Chef All-Stars yet, and I need to fix that, particularly in light of last week's episode surrounding Rao's Restaurant. As an Italian American, the episode was of particular interest to me because I could actually make a lot of the food shown.

The biggest mistake, of course, was the pasta course, where two contestants tried to make fresh pasta, and one attempted to make risotto. All were. . .less than ideal. Here's the thing about Italian food - its made by home cooks. Unlike the French, there was no King or nobility to really impress (well, there were, but they didn't last that long), so Italian food developed with family in mind. Indeed, Italian women develop power in their communities based upon their cooking abilities.*

That's not to say that Italian food is easy to cook - its not, because everyone cooks it slightly differently. Its also really easy for chefs to screw up because Italian cooks are all self-taught, whereas most chefs are trained in professional kitchens. And that's what we saw in the last episode.

The big sin was the use of fresh pasta over dried pasta. In the Northern part of Italy, where the wheat is soft, people make their own pasta. But in the South, where the wheat is hard, everyone cooks dried pasta. For my money, dried pasta is more consistent, better quality, and holds sauces better than fresh pasta. The only time I use fresh pasta is when I make a stuffed pasta like ravioli. But to make fresh pasta without any stuffing was madness. Had I been one of the chefs, I probably would've gone with manicotti - crepes stuffed with ricotta and baked in tomato sauce.

Tre's risotto was apparently an even worse sin against Italian food. Even though I didn't grow up with risotto (its a Northern thing), I have since learned how to make it, and the best risottos are loose, creamy, and contain only a few ingredients. The whole thing is a trick - its a way to make a cheap ingredient (rice) taste like a more expensive ingredient (cream).

I do think that Antonia winning for a steamed mussels dish was a bit of a stretch, but again, Italian food is all about the home cook and the relationships that people make with the home cook. So, if her mussels tasted like Grandma's** she was going to win.

*I'm not even remotely kidding about this. My Grandma became fiercely competitive with my mother after learning that Mom can cook - even refusing to teach her how to make manicotti. See, the best cooks have everyone over to their house for dinner and become the hub of all social activities.

**Actually, as far as I know, my Grandma didn't make mussels, though given her abilities in the kitchen, she probably could.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sad Truths (hopefully, vol. 1)

As Bogart has repeatedly pointed out, I'm a pretty big firebomber when it comes to politics. That said, I would really would like to have a legitimate conversation about politics and policy in this country, and try to come up with solutions to problems. With that in mind, the following includes sad truths that conservatives must accept. I invite my conservative readers (all three of you - which is about half of my regular readership) to pen a similar post, and I will post it on this blog. So here goes:

Sad Truths That Conservatives Must Accept

1. Obama was born in the United States

Sure, Obama has a funny name, a weird personal history, and all that. But let's be clear, his birth certificate says he was born in Hawaii, the local papers announced his birth as being in Hawaii back in the 1960's, and the Governor of Hawaii (who was friends with Obama's parents) remembers visiting Obama's parents in a Honolulu hospital. The dude was born in the States. Get over it.

2. Obama is a Christian

Look, I'll concede that Obama's father and stepfather were, at least in theory, Muslims, but its also clear that Obama was raised by his Christian grandparents, and by the time he was starting out as an organizer in Chicago, he was pretty much agnostic. He then converted to Christianity, not for show, but for real. Remember the whole Jeremiah Wright thing? Obama credited the guy with converting him, which is why he didn't immediately throw Wright under the bus - and instead gave one of the most reasoned, impassioned speeches on race in America, ever. If you listen to his speeches, he refers to the Bible (the Christian Bible) over and over again.

3. Evolution is Real

For those of you out there that think that evolution is "just a theory" keep this in mind - evolution, the process by which organisms change to suit their surroundings has been observed thousands of times in thousands of conditions. In other words, species evolve. The only theoretical part about evolution is the how. Does it occur all at once or gradually? What are the mechanisms that cause it to happen? Why do some species evolve and others do not? But there is no question whatsoever that evolution is real, and that its occurring.

4. Global Climate Change is Real

First of all, as a San Diegan who went through an entire summer where the Sun did not come out at all, I can tell you that the weather is totally bizarre lately. We've seen bigger than ever storms, severe droughts, crazy shit all over. Now, what's causing the craziness? The overall temperature of the Earth is warming, which means there's more heat than before, and heat is energy, and energy makes shit go crazy. That's physics 101. So, what's causing increase in heat? Well, there's more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than before - something that has been measured by scientists over the past 50 years, and studied by measuring the carbon dioxide levels in air trapped in glaciers. So, what's causing the carbon dioxide? Well, let's see: carbon dioxide is created when carbon burns, and in the past 150 years, human beings have gotten really, really good at burning carbon, and the population of humans has quadrupled. All of this comes from science. Not science paid for by oil companies, but from independent scientists. And here's the thing, before a scientist can publish his results, he/she has to make sure everything is perfect so that other scientists can reproduce his or her results. In other words, a good scientific paper is like a cake recipe - its worth is in being able to show the same findings over and over again.

5. Fox News is Lying to You

Fox News likes to tell its viewers that its news is fair and balanced. Its not. On a regular basis, Fox tells its reporters and on-air personalities to shade the truth. Check this out. The whole, Obama is a socialist meme is fake. If anything, Obama is a cross between a New Deal Democrat and a Clintonian, pro-business Dem. Anyway, this makes sense because Fox News' business model is all about giving news a conservative spin. That is different from CNN because CNN's business model is all about being an objective purveyor of the news (which they suck at, and thus, CNN is unwatchable, but that's another story). So, Fox News doesn't get viewers by being accurate, it gets them by riling them up. The more of you who believe Obama is a socialist and the anti-Christ and a secret Muslim hell bent on destroying the country, the more of you watch Fox to gather updates on the impending doom, the more money Fox makes.

6. All Corporations are Amoral

This is one that I have to teach liberals as well. Corporations are not evil, but they're not good either. Rather, corporations exist for one purpose only - to make money. Not to save the environment, or to protect puppies, or to instill good, Christian values, but to make money. They may make money by helping people, or by screwing people, but they must make money. If they don't, their shareholders will get pissed and fire everyone. The only thing that distinguishes corporations is how they make money. Ford makes money by selling cars, Google makes money by selling internet advertising. But ultimately, they exist to make money.

I bring up this point because as a result of this single-mindedness, corporations will do both good and bad things. They will produce products we all want, but may use sloppy and dangerous methods to produce the products. They hire employees, but seek to pay them as little as possible. And corporations have shown no qualms about killing their customers with their products so long as it does not affect the bottom line. At the same time, corporations drive the economy, make cool shit, and put money in our pockets.

So, the way I think of corporations is like how I think of my dog - he provides great companionship, is friendly to humans and dogs, gets my ass off the couch, and is a good watchdog. But he has an intense desire to kill small furry animals - cats, squirrels, rabbits, etc. - and so when I walk him, I have to keep him on a short leash. Similarly, regulations have to exist to some degree to prevent corporations from leg-humping or worse. But liberals have to keep in mind is that we have to give corporations some ability to operate.