Intl. Notebook Apr 22 2010
ABLE AND WILLING
The story of the desert told.

Photo of the U.S. nuclear test Able. There were many Able tests, but this one was part of Operation Tumbler-Snapper, which took place at the Nevada Test Site, this month in 1952. The smoke trails you see around the blast were created by rockets, which were launched just before detonation, and were used to mark the progress of the bomb's shockwave.

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Intl. Notebook Mar 31 2010
LAKE CONSEQUENCE
Landmark Cal-Neva Lodge shutters gaming operations.

Frank Sinatra made a lot of nightspots famous. His mere presence—along with that of his Rat Pack—sprinkled gold dust on bars and eateries from end to end of the U.S., bestowing places such as 21, Toots Shor’s, and Chasen’s with fame that lasted long after the Rat Pack had died. That fame helped many of those old haunts survive into the new millennium, but now one of the most magical Rat Pack hangouts—the Cal Neva Lodge in Lake Tahoe, Nevada—is on the endangered list as it closes its gaming rooms today due to low profitability.

Sinatra owned the Cal-Neva between 1960 and 1963, his star power drawing Hollywood’s top celebrities, along with mob figures who he reportedly shuttled back and forth to various points around the property via old bootlegging tunnels. He made the Cal-Neva Lodge the jewel of Lake Tahoe, a piece of Tinseltown in what was little more than an alpine village.

But the Cal-Neva’s fortunes have been in decline for decades due to the proliferation of nearby Indian casinos, and the general dominance of Las Vegas. When the recent recession hit, the current owners—who had laid off about a hundred employees since 2006—finally decided they could not keep their gaming rooms in operation. Officially, at least, today’s closure is temporary, but industry insiders note that Rat Pack chic is not enough to draw modern gamblers to an older casino like the Cal-Neva Lodge. If so, it’s quite possible that not only will the gaming rooms never reopen, but that the entire Lodge has begun its final decline.

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Intl. Notebook Feb 23 2010
FLASH IN THE PAN
Light of a clear blue morning.

Photo of the nuclear test codenamed Easy, part of the series Operation Ranger, detonated at Frenchman Flat, Nevada Test Site, February 1, 1951. This was the first nuclear blast shown on television—a news program secretly focused a camera on the desert from the top of a Las Vegas hotel and was able to broadcast a distant flash. 

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Swindles & Scams Dec 7 2009
YOU BET YOUR LIFE
Newsflash: it's possible Vegas casinos help customers get drunk just so they’ll lose their money.

In the U.S. last week, Terrance Watanabe, an Omaha, Nebraska retail king who made millions of dollars selling party favors, filed a lawsuit claiming that two Las Vegas casinos allowed him to gamble away most of his fortune while too drunk to make rational decisions. The arithmetic is astoun-ding. He lost in excess of $125 million, including $5 million during one twenty-four hour stretch in 2007, and his losses represented about five percent of the 2007 profits of Caesar's Palace and The Rio. Watanabe made good on over $100 million in debts, but has balked at paying the rest. In the past he would have ended up in a desert grave with Joe Pesci shoveling sand in his face, but the post-millennial Vegas is a kinder gentler place, and the two casinos instead sicced their legal pitbulls on him, which resulted in his arrest.

But the case is not as open-and-shut as it seemed at first. Witnesses have come forward and testified that Watanabe was staggering drunk most—if not all—of the time he gambled. At both Caesar’s and Rio he had a personal bartender assigned to him, and he also claims the casinos furnished painkillers—the type you’re not supposed to mix with alcohol. Even a Caesar’s security guard has come forward, allegedly telling defense lawyers that he doesn’t remember ever seeing Watanabe in a sober state. These may seem like interesting but irrelevant facts (after all, at most casinos drinks are free for gamers) but it just so happens that allowing a customer to gamble while seriously impaired is against Nevada Gaming Commission rules. And not that this is a scientific assessment by any means, but the guy looks plastered even in his court photos. Basically, he’d be totally screwed if he weren’t rich—not because of his influence, which pales in comparison to a casino's—but because the nature of betting so much money means witnesses are plentiful. Sometimes Watanabe had a crowd around him as he simultaneously played three blackjack hands at the $20,000 minimum tables. The casinos, of course, deny that anything untoward occurred and have mobilized their own army of witnesses. Right now Watanabe is free on bail, and the case goes to trial next year.

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Vintage Pulp Nov 11 2009
COLD MOUNTAIN
Isn’t this fun everybody? Is there anything… b-better than a… b-brisk winter hike?

We don’t have much information about Real West magazine, but we know it first published in late 1957, starting as a quarterly and reaching monthly status by 1973. Unfortunately, that year was its zenith and in 1974 it printed eleven times, in 1975 nine times, and so forth until it finally died in 1988. This issue with its great blizzard cover depicting the struggles of the Donner Party was published in November 1975. If your frontier history is rusty, the Donner Party was a group of settlers who had trouble crossing the Sierra Nevada during the winter of 1846-1847, and sent a smaller party of fifteen for help. That group—ten men and five women—became snowbound and ended up cannibalizing each other. Two men and all five women survived, which proves how effective a disapproving look and dripping disdain can be against guys who happen to be entertaining unsavory ideas. Ladies take note: “Oh, hell no. You better not be looking at me. What? You’re starving? Then eat one of your useless friends. You hang out with them all the damn time, anyway. You want to cannibalize me you should have thought about that when you were partying with your boys all night, leaving me wondering if you were even coming home. Now you’re all like, ‘But baby I need you.’ Uhn uh. Get out of my face. And take that axe with you.”     

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Intl. Notebook Sep 14 2009
NAKED FLAME
At least it's a dry heat.

Photo of the American nuclear test codenamed Fizeau, part of a series of tests named Plumbbob conducted at the Nevada Test Site. This one was fifty-two years ago today.     

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Intl. Notebook Jun 23 2009
LOST VEGAS
Nostalgia for the golden age of Sin City is bigger than ever.


Vintage Las Vegas postcards from the town's glamour days, circa 1965. Collecting these postcards has become a popular hobby for people throughout the world, and you can find hundreds on Ebay.

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Intl. Notebook Jun 18 2009
A STUDY IN SCARLET
Red is the rose by yonder garden grows.


Detonation of the nuclear the bomb codenamed Stokes, part of Operation Plumbbob, which consisted of 29 separate tests at the Nevada Test Site, formerly known as The Nevada Proving Ground, August 7, 1957.

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Intl. Notebook Apr 7 2009
DESERT HEAT


Operation Tumbler Snapper nuclear test, Nevada Proving Ground, 1952. The conical projections seen here are guy wires or ropes extending from the elevated bomb platform vaporizing during the first instant of the explosion.

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Intl. Notebook Feb 15 2009
GREAT BALLS OF FIRE
This is your house. This is your house on nukes.

Nuclear test, Nevada Proving Ground, 1953. House is located 3,500 feet from ground zero, shot by a camera encased in lead.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 16
1943—First LSD Trip Takes Place
Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann, while working at Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, accidentally absorbs lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD, and thus discovers its psychedelic properties. He had first synthesized the substance five years earlier but hadn't been aware of its effects. He goes on to write scores of articles and books about his creation.
April 15
1912—The Titanic Sinks
Two and a half hours after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean on its maiden voyage, the British passenger liner RMS Titanic sinks, dragging 1,517 people to their deaths. The number of dead amount to more than fifty percent of the passengers, due mainly to the fact the liner was not equipped with enough lifeboats.
1947—Robinson Breaks Color Line
African-American baseball player Jackie Robinson officially breaks Major League Baseball's color line when he debuts for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Several dark skinned men had played professional baseball around the beginning of the twentieth century, but Robinson was the first to overcome the official segregation policy called—ironically, in retrospect—the "gentleman's agreement".
April 14
1935—Dust Storm Strikes U.S.
Exacerbated by a long drought combined with poor soil conservation techniques that caused excessive soil erosion on farmlands, a huge dust storm known as Black Sunday rages across Texas, Oklahoma, and several other states, literally turning day to night and redistributing an estimated 300,000 tons of topsoil.
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