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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Scars on Southern Nevada's landscape and lifestyle

What went wrong with Las Vegas?

Greed? Jobs and the promise of the American Dream? Politicians taking favors from out of state (and in state developers), an unpredicted (by locals anyway) international Great Recession, a rapid shift in demographics (age, race, ethnic group and most importantly economic level), people wanting a land terraformed to look like "back home" and never considering themselves truly Nevadans?

All are true, along with the greed of cookie cutter development put up to maximize sales per acre instead of considering our desert heat, subsidence, lack of shade and even the direction of the sun itself. Urban environments in a suburban setting, and even the term "suburb" itself, were imported from east coast developments without the identity and enmities eastern communities have.

KNPR contributor, and UNLV professor Dr. Robert Fielden was one of several sources in a Las Vegas Sun tour of the scared and depressing Las Vegas Valley, where brilliance and true innovation are dwarfed and sometimes ruined by the quest for the dollar and indifference to existing structures and landscape.

Even UNLV is mentioned as having ruined what could have been an academic escape, respite and magnet for Southern Nevada. Building that open to parking lots, greatly differing architecture, desert landscaping where there should be open land for students to meet, great and play together...and the giant concrete area by the library that attracts heat and "could be a runway for McCarren."

From the Las Vegas Sun:

Boom-bust era leaves valley 

with architectural scars

Architects say the Las Vegas real estate bubble had wildly distorting effects on the behavior of developers, architects, consumers and elected officials. “Everything was moving so fast, no one stopped to think about what they were doing,” Fielden says.

The mania for land and the hyperinflation of construction costs set off an economic sickness in which what seemed rational at the time, in hindsight, looks like folly.

This manifested itself in many ways.

• It seemed any project, no matter how preposterous, could make money. Thus, Vantage. Any number of condo and hotel projects on the Strip could also fit in this category.

• Rampant overbuilding. Those with land felt the need to build, and build now, and build with the highest possible density. They built with the assumption that growth in the valley — of residents, tourists, consumers — would lead to profitability. But the building continued even after the growth stopped and everyone ran out of money, both on the Strip and in the community. That has left us with the overhang that plagues the local economy.

• Foolish consumers. Investors thought they could make a quick buck, while families who merely wanted to own a home thought they had to buy now, lest they be left out in the cold. They were like people in a food line who gorged themselves on whatever the developers fed them, fearing this was the last meal, or fearing that the next meal would be unaffordable. So they ate and ate and ate, and then borrowed more money to keep eating, until they got sick.

• Elected officials, who loved the ever-growing tax revenue and the bottomless bag of campaign donations from developers, were usually quick to approve even harmful development. For instance, they allowed subdivisions with housing density to match major East Coast cities, but without any of the amenities of urban density.

Photos, and much more on this study of the architecture and scars that are "post recession" Las Vegas are in today's edition of the Sun (inside the Review Journal) and on-line (click here).


Sunday Morning News and Views, Part II

Can you judge a book by its cover? CBS Sunday Morning's report indicated that you can. Book covers are the new "album covers" (for those enough to remember large "statement" covers). Of course the covers need to change or vary by the culture they are being sold in. Mysteries are dark, usually with a weapon showing or implied. Women's books may show clothing, are colorful and often minimalist in design. Romance novels usually show the embrace, often in very revealing ways. War books tend to show a lone solider,or a helmet, or the inference of battle. Book covers were created to protect books, until the mid 19th century, when covers became more ornate (for example Walt Whitman designed the "imprint" for "Leaves of Grass") and by the 1880's "dust jackets"came in as more than just a way to protect the books. They are part of the feeling, marketing and culture of the book, and later (if successful) be used for the movie. Will electronic books do what file sharing did for music, make the covers less important? Not really. Notice that iTunes and other services have had to add the covers as part of the display or directory for e-music.

Speaking of music have you ever heard "The Fruitcake that Ate New Jersey", one of many lost Christmas season releases? Look it will be disappointed.

I recommend the Jib-Jab 2010 Year in Review, featuring puppets of President Barack Obama and VP Joe Biden. You can find it on-line at Jib Jab, or for a limited time at the CBS Sunday Morning's web site.Keep watching for other CBS news features (and ads).....For other "jibjab" annimations click here.

Speaking of smoke, mirrors, politics and circus's...On this date, December 19, 1918, the New York Globe began to publish "chaps and strokes", the illustration that later became "Ripley's Believe It Or Not." In 1933 he opened his first museum at the Chicago Worlds Fair, hosting his own radio show from Chicago and later New York. He was a consummate promoter, parlaying a print cartoon into a chain of "museums", paying for movies of his "adventures", cataloging oddities around the world himself and paying others to do so with the credit going to Ripley himself. He was in the planning for a television program when he passed away of a heart attack at the age of 58 in 1949.

Major General Richard Mills of the US Marines, commander of combat operations in Helmand Province, says hard fighting is ahead of any progress in Afghanistan and the prospects for troop withdrawal. Mills says the military will push the offensive against the Taliban through the winter, when the insurgency usually breaks away from fighting to return home during the harsh Afghan winter. Do not let them rest or regroup. Meanwhile the BBC reports that insurgents who are being controlled if not defeated in the south have moved into all areas of the country and are fighting the same sort of heated war as Afghans did against the Russians, one soldier or unit at a time. This morning attacks were launched against a police training facility and a military recruitment site, both as large numbers of recruits arrived.

The US Senate is making the most of the final days of its post-election lame duck session. Senators met all day yesterday and will meet again today. Ratification of a nuclear arms treaty with Russia is on today's agenda; yesterday, the Senate voted on two other big items: a bill granting citizenship to some illegal immigrants, and a measure to roll back the policy of Don't Ask Don't Tell, which bars gays from serving openly in the military.One fell short, the other passed with greater than expected support, including 8 Republican Senators who crossed over to vote with the Democratic majority on the Don't Ask Don't Tell issue.

Tomorrow is the 150th anniversary of South Carolina's secession from the union. The war of words over the Civil War continues to this day. The Sons of Confederate Veterans are being criticized for controversial TV ads in Georgia and a "secession gala" in South Carolina to mark its break from the Union on Dec. 20, 1861. In advance of the sesquicentennial. The accepted historic reality is that confederates,with their state's approval, fired on Ft. Sumptner in an effort to stop resupply of American forces (Union forces if you are from the south) by sea. It was the second time they fired on the US, as prior to Lincoln taking office, South Carolina fired on a civilian ship to keep it from supplying the fort. At the time of the second attack, the fort was manned by 80 starving soldiers. None of the pomp and circumstance of the Gala, television ads and Sons of the Confederacy campaign mentions slavery. The group equals the secession to the Founder Fathers and the US Revolution. On this date in 1860 South Carolina was the largest slave holding "nation"in the world. The state not only had a majority of its occupants slaves, it was the highest in percentage of slaves in the country. South Carolina held the hardest line of the Confederacy on their "right" to choose to not be a part of the "Union".

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Eastern Europe, Theatre and the arts are under attack. A key goal of art is to reflect, mirror, question or rebel against society. As the eastern European nation of Belarus heads towards a presidential election today, one of the few signs of opposition is on stage. President Alexander Lukashenko, who's been in power since 1994, is expected to win easily, thanks to a vote that is all but certain to be tainted, western observers say. Rival candidates have been refused airtime on state-controlled television. Election monitors have been refused full access to the polls. But raise the curtain on performers from the Belarus Free Theatre, who have been using their plays to highlight Lukashenko's human rights record and demand democratic freedoms. The acting troupe is unregistered and illegal, so they send text messages to audiences just a day or two ahead of time to announce the secret location for their performances. Security services broke up one of their shows. The cast has lost their day jobs in the government.

Sunday Morning News and Views. Part I

Singing dolls that interact with each other, plush toys with microchips...this isn't your mothers Christmas anymore...or is it? Money is tight, so many people are going back to the basics. Still there are changes, as any modern kid would want.

Dolls are getting larger, electronic and interactive, yet the hottest selling dolls remain Barbie and soft plush dolls not much different than what Grandmother use to play with.

The nurf-blaster, which shoots soft nurf-balls at far too high a velocity, lead affordable boy's toys (just under $12, as low as $5 at some locations).

iPads and Kindles lead the adult toys (not to be confused with X-rated toys), with flat screens and other highly discounted consumer electronics items filling in the top ten.Blue Rays are down, but discounted DVD's are selling well at locations from Costco to Walmart, given increased floorspace during the holiday season only (some "experts" say it is a last gasp).

Cell phone sales are going strong, with iPhones leading on the high end but most sales being the mid to lower level "smart" phones (lower resolution, fewer aps, slower speeds or simply telephone calls, texting and limited Internet services).

We are in for a wet week for the pre-holiday week in southern California, all of Nevada, parts of Utah and Arizona. Some of it, if you live at higher elevations, will be snow.

England is recovering form 8 inches on snow. That may not sound like much, but the country is not set up for heavy snow. Roads are being cleared, some people are stranded in the country, and airports are at a crawl. The BBC reports that Heathrow in London has only a handful of flights,where-as the usual rate is one or more planes every ten minutes taking off. Runways are clear, but planes remain frozen at their gates ("slots" as the English say it).

While shoppers shop, UPS and Fed Ex join the Post Office in the full fury of delivering packages and mail, for many this is the season for religion and hope, not celebration and spending.

Nationally there remain 6 applicants for each open job, as many as 600 qualified applications for every job opportunity. Those figures could be as high as 12 for each job and far higher for professional positions here in Las Vegas.

Employers are not going to hire after seasonal layoffs in January and February, reluctant as they wait to see what the new Republican majority in the house does, how the retail and home markets does,
if there are reasons to invest in the US rather than the high return potential of investing overseas, and test the waters on the potential for market growth at home.

Jobs and housing were the top stories of 2010, statistically upsetting the heated and way too expensive national election and the BP oil spill in most media coverage (Pew Trust and CBS polls). Toyota took a hit, as did BP and other corporations. The US auto industry made strong financial rebounds, but at the price of layoffs, retooling and shipping production overseas. Inflation has been low, however prices have gone up in key consumer areas such as gasoline and food.

Have Americans changed their view of the American Dream? Is buying a home a key part of it? Are larger homes a thing of the past? How about muscle cars, large pick-ups, boats, off road vehicles and other "luxuries".

Meanwhile the attitude toward marriage has shifted, with scientifically done polls showing that fewer young Americans are getting married, that traditional heavy marriage groups of working class and religious are among the highest in preferring "living together" to formal marriage, and that adults are waiting for a sense of financial stability before having children. Of course teen pregnancies and other issues remain, but the statistically attitudes toward children at younger ages has shifted to waiting until late 20's or even middle 30's to have a child.

No one is neutral about controversial net neutrality rules that are set for a vote at the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday. Public interest groups say the rules favor giant phone and cable companies that spend millions lobbying the agency and Congress. Unless there are big changes between now and Tuesday's vote, many net neutrality backers are urging the FCC to reject the rules. The two Republican appointees on the FCC have already declared their opposition. That leaves commissioner Michael Copps, a longtime supporter of net neutrality, with the decisive vote. Large corporations are lobbying the commission heavily not to regulate the net, which means they can limited service, charge sliding scales, provide high speed access to preferred companies or customers and pay for the expansion of new technologies. Amazon, Netscape, Skype, NetFlix and others want the FCC to protect them from being at the whim of the "hard" carriers (Internet Service Providers) and to make sure that there is open and fair access for all over the net. Meanwhile AT&T, Comcast and other favor "toll roads" on the Internet, so that they can control who uses their infrastructure. Both Republicans say they will vote "no" on net neutrality, in favor of the large corporations who feel they need to be unregulated so they can invest in the technologies that consumers want. Meanwhile on the agenda of the Republican Majority in the new congress is cutting off any funding for FCC enforcement of any rules to support an open access Internet.

Meanwhile how safe is the net. This past week I was "phished", as were dozens of friends and family, by what seemed to be a real post from a close friend about a video posted (being an actor, I wanted to know who had pirated my image). It quickly spread with phone calls, e-mails, and yes, Facebook posts reporting to me that the screen was blank when they tried to open it, or that they were being virally sent over the Internet by the bug "I" gave them. Facebook is not safe phishing." Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher describes his family having their privacy in his column this week describing the burglary at his home and the thief's subsequent posting of a picture of himself, with the spoils, on Mr. Fisher's son's Facebook page.