Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Las Vegas Tree Killers

Someone in Las Vegas recently discovered that trees are good! Two weeks ago, the Las Vegas City Council approved $500,000 for an urban forestry program to plant trees in West Las Vegas. I think that’s fabulous. I also think one way to foster an urban forest throughout Las Vegas would be to encourage people to stop cutting down trees in the first place. I would think that would require cooperation from landscapers and home owners associations. Maybe they could adopt a motto: Don't be a tree killer.

If you live in an HOA-controlled area, as so many of us do, your HOA has the final word on what happens to the landscaping in all common areas, including the removal and planting of trees. I’m fortunate to live in an area that loves trees; when my HOA had to remove hundreds of cottonwoods because of their property-damaging, water-hungry roots, it replanted with equal numbers of water-appropriate trees.

However, should you happen to have an HOA like my mom-in-law’s, you get to watch helplessly as the HOA ruins the landscaping. When she originally purchased her condo, the common-area landscaping was lush and inviting. I thought it was a good idea when the HOA announced it was getting rid of the grass. It seemed like an easy conversion because the complex was full of mature mesquite, African sumac, and palo verdes – all desert-appropriate trees that can live on scarce water. A line of about fifteen mesquite trees shaded the sidewalk and the buildings at front of the complex; the trees were probably ten years old. One day I drove past a line of fifteen severed trunks. The mesquites had been decapitated by a landscaping crew that took the rest of the week to reduce the area to scraps of twisted roots and dirt. What replaced those beautiful trees? Scrawny pines. So the rumors went, one of the HOA’s board members didn’t like desert trees of any kind and wanted all of them removed. After years of an on-going onslaught, from whoever initiated it, just about all the desert trees are gone. Most of the few remaining trees have been trimmed into grotesque shapes that make them look like torture victims.

My mom-in-law’s complex is by far the worst example I’ve seen of tree stupidity, but I would have to say most tree killers I’ve met just don’t grasp the importance of trees in a desert city. News flash: trees are a good way to spend your outside water dollars because they provide SHADE. Shade, if you have not noticed, is an important thing in the desert. In case you don't care about comfort, perhaps it would help to remember shade helps lower your power bills. You don’t have to have lots of lush, green turf to have trees. If you're after water savings, then tear out your turf. The Water District offers excellent rebates. Kill the grass, my friend, but leave the trees.
Photo information: Top: My photo of the cottonwoods behind my house. They were already sucumbing to disease when this picture was taken, just a few months before they were cut down in 2004. The grass (mostly) remains.
Within the text: My picture of the palm tree stump left after landscapers cut down a 50-foot palm down at my MIL's complex.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

More Las Vegas Stereotypes and Other News

Now that Election 2008 has left town, it’s time to sort through my pile of clippings for other Las Vegas news:

…Joe McGinniss, Jr. just released a book set in Las Vegas, The Delivery Man, featuring a teenaged lady of the night and a painter with artistic issues. Can anyone write about Las Vegas without a prostitute as a main character? I mean, realistically speaking, with 2 million people living here, just how many call girls can we possibly have?

…Now that Bank of America is buying Countrywide, do you think Countrywide will stop sending me offers for loans that would clearly result in me owing more on my home than it will be worth at the end of the year? Perhaps Countrywide’s marketing people haven’t heard all that nasty news about falling house prices in Las Vegas?

….The Las Vegas Sun reported that former Family Court Judge Terrence Marren plans to launch a campaign for a return to the Family Court in November. Marren moved to Mesquite ten years ago, but now hopes to return to the bench in Las Vegas. Reporter Brian Eckhouse says that in the 1990s “the Nevada Judicial Commission hand-slapped Marren for failing to resolve a few divorce cases fast enough,” but Eckhouse did not mention Marren’s involvement in other controversial cases. In 1998, RJ Reporter Carri Geer wrote about Marren and the case he presided over that awarded a 16-year-old girl to her boyfriend’s parents. I only vaguely remember that case, but I distinctly remember the Chantel Leavitt/James Kerr custody case since I knew the Leavitt family well at that time. I thought there were plenty of questionable actions on all sides, although a complaint filed against Marren over the case was dismissed. In my opinion, the real losers in the case were the grandparents of the 4-year-old girl in question (not to mention the confused child herself who didn't understand being taken from her mother). Leavitt’s mother and step-father mortgaged their home to raise money for the legal battle, although the deep pockets of Kerr and his family meant Leavitt’s family was outgunned from the start. The little girl was Leavitt’s only child and her parents’ only grandchild. You can read the 1997 article, also written by Geer, for yourself: “LV child custody battle garners national attention.”

…The RJ reported on January 12 about the government’s new Real ID program. Those people born after December 1, 1964, don’t have to have the new, ultra-secure ID cards until after 2014. Why? Because people over 50 are so much less likely to be terrorists, illegal immigrants, or con artists. Let me see if I understand: ethnic profiling = bad; old people = fine upstanding legal citizens. Okie dokie.

…Photographer Allen Sandquist has been hard at work documenting Las Vegas' rapidly disappearing buildings. Kristen Peterson from the Sun wrote about him on January 9, and you can see his pictures at mondo-vegas.com, classiclasvegas.com, and roadsidpeek.com. Without people like Sandquist, our meager history would be utterly gone.
Photo courtesy of Sinead McEwen at http://www.sxc.hu/photo/659096

Monday, January 21, 2008

Caucus: More Than Just a Funny Word

How many people stomped out of your caucus because of disorganization? At my Democratic caucus, we lost three (3) Obama supporters who just couldn’t take it anymore. According to the news reports I’ve heard and read, a fair number of people from both parties found the process frustrating, poorly planned, and chaotic.

I would have stayed all day, if necessary, to make sure my vote was counted. I insisted that the attention-impaired, patience-challenged people who came with me had entertainment. I got there early to get a seat, and I made sure that I found the bottled water supplies early on. The Boy Scouts are really onto something with that whole “Be Prepared” thing, you know.

Because even the Democrats didn’t believe their own party’s optimistic predictions for voter turn-out, we ran out of everything – chairs, preference cards, patience. Two precincts were squashed into one room, and just hearing the instructions about what to do was difficult. Then, as we were getting ready to split into our little groups, the leader of our precinct announced: “Obviously, everyone here is probably for Obama or Clinton,” which caused the ten of us who were supporting either Edwards or Kucinich to shout at the curly-headed, soft-spoken woman. We found she liked the word “obviously,” as in “obviously, we have way more people than we thought, so, obviously, we’re running out of things.” Obviously.

While I was hopeful that Edwards would make a strong showing, or even come from behind to win a dark horse victory, I have to say that his dismal numbers (at least at my caucus) might have been a reflection on the fact that no one from the Edwards Campaign (or Kucinich’s, for that matter) was there to rally supporters. Five of us initially supported Edwards, but quickly walked over to the Obama side when our group was pronounced “unviable.”

The Obama people were fired up after they gained most of the Edwards/Kucinich supporters. “O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!” chanted our group. The Hillary supporters, by contrast, put me in mind of a phrase sometimes used by the enthusiastically religious to describe sedate church-goers: The Frozen Chosen. After more counts and re-counts than I can recall, the precinct went to Obama by six (6) votes.

Personally, I liked the caucus experience. I enjoyed seeing my neighbors (it’s always refreshing to find out you’re not the lone Democrat). But while I appreciated the chance to “re-align” my support to a viable candidate, I have to wonder if Edwards would have made a better showing in a regular primary.

Only one thing made me uncomfortable at the caucus: an attempt to pass the hat, so to speak, to raise money for the Democratic Party. Sorry, folks, but that was a real turn-off. I understand that donations are needed, but please don’t ask me for money at the same time I’m voting. It looks bad, no matter how you spin it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Edwards And The Economy

This post was originally titled "Why Edwards Make Take Nevada." As it turned out, Senator Edwards took only 4% of the vote in Nevada. Now, all the candidates have discovered the economy.
Although the mainstream media coverage of the Democratic candidates in Las Vegas could be called “All Clinton and Obama, All the Time,” John Edwards is running a strong campaign here. Polls show the race will be a close one between the three candidates. Almost every Democrat I know is planning to caucus for John Edwards. Why? For the same reason Mitt Romney is pulling ahead on the Republican side. It's the economy, stupid. In fact, if you look at the reasons this phrase was so effective against President Bush The First, we’re in a similar situation today.

Nevada has been hit hard by the housing crash. Now that people are finally starting to use the dreaded “R” word – recession – I’ve even read that the “experts” think Las Vegas already may be in one. Welcome to the party, people! With few exceptions, my friends, family, and business associates have been struggling for months as the Las Vegas economy has withered. Rite-Aide has gone out of business here. Z-Tejas is closed. CompUSA, Levitz, Tweeters – all going or gone. God help the poor people directly engaged in real estate – the agents and mortgage professional, like my cousin. They’re going belly-up faster than they can take the names off the buildings. If you do have a job, better hope it offers insurance. The only person I know who feels health care is just hunky dory is the one (1) person I know who still has an employer-paid plan. Energy costs have become heart-stopping. My husband owns and operates a big-rig dirt truck for a living. Can we say $700 for a fill-up? And while we’re talking energy, how about those $300 and $400 power bills in summer? Isn’t it such fun to open your power bill and immediately experience angina?

Edwards is the one candidate talking the most about these issues. Clinton and Obama aren’t ignoring the economy, but Edwards is talking toughest. I don’t agree with him on everything, but I like hearing someone repeatedly acknowledge how hard times have been for the middle class. I believe Edwards’ willingness to put the spotlight on the economic plight of the many may give him a surprise victory in the Silver State.
Photo courtesy of Sufi Nawaz at http://www.sxc.hu/photo/865435

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

John Edwards At The Egg & I

John Edwards shook hands and briefly spoke to the media today at The Egg & I, a restaurant on West Sahara here in Las Vegas. My son managed to edge in close enough to shake Senator Edwards' hand. "What did he say?" I asked Cameron. The crush of people was too great for me to see him.
"He said, 'Hello, young man,' " Cameron said.

"What did you say?" I asked.

"I didn't say anything! I was speechless!" he proclaimed.

Photo information: I took these just after Edwards arrived. Before going inside, he was surrounded by the media. He briefly answered questions (so softly that it was hard to hear him) before breaking away from the reporters. Once he got inside the restaurant, he stopped at tables to shake hands and meet people. It looked like a darned difficult thing to do with the media trailing behind him.

The Vegas Girl On The Go

Since last Friday, I've been from end of the Valley to the other, and I'm on my way back out shortly. John Edwards is scheduled to be at the Egg and I for a meet-and-greet at noon. For a homeschooler, an election year offers some of the best hands-on type of instruction. Now that Nevada actually matters to the political powers that be, we can even meet some of the people in the running for leader of the free world. And what better way to introduce a kid to politics than by hearing former President Bill Clinton speak? That's how we kicked off our day yesterday.

On Friday we visited the DaVinci Exhibit in Henderson and the Clark County Heritage Museum:

I'll have more on my treks all over Las Vegas as soon as I'm parked back at my desk!


My photo information: Top - former President Clinton speaking to the crowd at the Centennial Hills YMCA; first pic on bottom - The DaVinci Exhibit, which brings to life many of Leonardo's sketches and ideas; second pic on bottom - the Ghost Town area at the Clark County Heritiage Musuem.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A New Homeschooler

When my son was a toddler, he attended gymnastics class. One of the hot topics for the mommies in the waiting area was the Clark County School District. Nobody had anything good to say, and I chalked it up to snobbishness. I graduated from Las Vegas schools. In my opinion, school was what you made of it. The gymnastics moms frequently traded information about the various private schools – costs, uniforms, curriculums. They talked about explaining to relatives back East that the expense of private school was simply unavoidable if you lived here because the schools were so dreadful. At that point, I’d already made some calls and knew that private schools were running about $10,000 a year. Homeschooling, which I considered the province of the deeply religious and somewhat anti-social, was not on my list of educational possibilities.

Then my son started school, a lovely little place within easy walking distance of our home. I’ll call it Mayberry Elementary because it’s a great school. It turns out it’s just not the right school for my son, but that’s another story. Here’s the bottom line in Las Vegas: if you want alternatives to our public schools, your options are limited. And our public schools are stretched wafer thin. They’re doing the best they can, and they’re full of dedicated professionals, but they’re facing challenges on several fronts (now including massive budget cuts). Private schools are still about $10,000 a year. Clark County’s virtual schools, which look very promising, are still in their early phases. Their enrollments were closed in November, when I checked, but they’ll be accepting applications in March. That left homeschooling. Since I’m a writer who primarily works at home, I felt obligated to at least give it a try.

Honestly, I thought my son would quickly loose interest when he found out this wasn’t going to be some kind of edu-tainment experience featuring loads of TV and video game playing time. Instead, he quickly adapted to the new routine and, six weeks or so into our test period, he’s doing well. He’s accepted that math will be a part of his life, no matter where he goes to school. He’s not real happy about that, but lately he doesn’t complain much.

While your options for alternative modes of education are limited in Las Vegas, if you do elect to homeschool, Nevada is an excellent state in which to do so. In Nevada, the parent decides what curriculum to use, the teaching method, the hours of instruction, and most other details – you assume full responsibility for your child’s education. When you notify the school district that you’re homeschooling, you must agree to cover the basics of reading, writing, math, and so on and supply at least a basic lesson plan. Homeschoolers aren’t required to submit to state oversight or additional testing. No NCLB here. Homeschooled kids in the upper grades, just like any other teens, face a battery of tests for college placement and scholarship eligibility. One of the drawbacks is that a homeschooled student doesn’t receive a regular high school diploma from the school district, but you can enroll in accredited distance programs that offer diplomas. Homeschoolers who want to re-enter Clark County public schools for middle school or high school must demonstrate proficiency and competency in all their studies, and may be required to pass examinations or other evaluations. Virtual school students receive regular diplomas because although they attend school at home, they are still attending a public school.

Homeschooled kids are still eligible to attend classes and participate in activities like sports at public schools. You must submit a form to the school district to request to participate in school programs, and you also need to contact the principal of the school your child would attend. I’m currently waiting to find out if my son has been approved to attend his old Gifted and Talented classes at Mayberry; he’s been missing his GATE teacher. His new Mom-Teacher, so he says, is kind of tough. But we don’t have a dress code and snacks are allowed, so I think it’s kind of a wash.

If you’re interested in homeschooling, check the Nevada Homeschool Network’s web page at http://www.nevadahomeschoolnetwork.com/.
Photo courtesy of Sadiya Durrani at http://www.sxc.hu/photo/398272

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Vegas Girl Confuses Google

Poor Google. When I signed up for their ad-generating program, Adsense, I felt certain that the title of my blog pretty much explained the content. If you don't know, the principle behind Adsense is that it examines your site and generates ads relevant to your content. I thought it would be a no-brainer (if we can even use that cliche in reference to some behemoth computing system) for anyone to deduce that I write about Las Vegas. What other city could I be writing about with a title like "Vegas Girl"? Events in Las Vegas, news in Las Vegas, and people in Las Vegas - I thought all those occurrences of "Las Vegas" in titles and posts would supply all the information that the automated, ad-generating gizmos needed. I was wrong. Today, my site is running ads for volunteers in Honduras, gun training, and personality tests. Not that anything is wrong with any of these things, and who knows, maybe loads of my blog readers have been waiting for more information on acupuncture and self defense. Can it be that even the automated web crawlers cannot compute "intelligent commentary" in conjunction with "Las Vegas"? That seems to be a problem no matter if you are machine or human.
Photo courtesy of Yaroos Konkret at http://www.sxc.hu/photo/669432

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Goodbye, Lt. Willis

I’m now at that age where I read the obituaries because, sadly, I keep seeing names I know. Just a few days ago, when I turned to the obits, I was so shocked I almost dropped the paper. A picture of one of my old bosses, Odis Willis, was smiling at me from the bottom of column three.

Odis was the second lieutenant whom I worked for at Metro PD. The first was Gene Smith, who was a cop of the Larger Than Life variety. Odis was a different kind of cop. He was the quiet, sneaky, you’ll-never-know-what-I’m-really-up-to kind of cop. He was also a good man with a kind heart who wasn’t afraid to admit he was wrong and apologize, which is a rare thing anywhere you work, but even more so at Metro.

I remember his daughter’s wedding – heck, I even remember one of his weddings. Like many cops, he’d had more than one. Odis had a sly sense of humor and loved a well-done practical joke; he laughed wickedly when he told us about the tricks he used to play on one of his ex-wives. He was originally from Oklahoma, where he’d had a hard-scramble existence growing up. He never lost his love of Southern food, and he rarely turned down lunch at N’Orleans, a former restaurant at Spring Mountain and Decatur that served the best fried catfish, collard greens, and red beans (Yes, even better than Hush Puppy).

When my dad was late to my wedding, Odis was drafted to be on stand-by to give me away. (Thankfully, Dad showed up, but Odis is still there in my wedding pictures, smiling knowingly.) A year later, when Dad was desperately ill, Odis called me into his office one afternoon. I thought he was going to get after me for all the time I was spending at the hospital. I steeled myself for the reprimand. Crying was an absolute no-no. When he said, “You take all the time you need to take care of your dad, don’t worry about a thing,” I had to leave his office immediately because tears overwhelmed me. I wasn’t prepared for kindness.

So long, Lt. Willis. Heaven always has room for another guy like you.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone as we sail into 2008! The Vegas Girl has been on "vacation," but I'm back this week. The Christmas holidays slammed into me like a head-on collision on a two-lane moutain road, but I'm in recovery now. Now that we're officially past the season of joy, I'm happy to be back to sifting through my pile of clippings and personal notes. Check back with me tomorrow for a tribute to my old boss, Odis Willis, who recently passed away. Later this week I'll have a post on homeschooling in Las Vegas, since I recently jumped ship from the school district. Unless you have $10,000.00 a year for a private school, your options are limited.

Here's to a 2008 that sees stabalizing home values, gas prices that don't make us faint, and a drought-ending snowpack in the Rockies. Hey, what can I say - I think big!