Newspaper column: Give books about Nevada and by Nevadans

With Christmas rapidly approaching some of you may still be confounded by the question of just what to give that Nevada friend or family member. May we be so bold as to suggest a gift that endures — books about Nevada or by Nevadans. The choices are as varied as Nevada’s people and its landscapes. 

These can be found in your local bookstore and online from several book retailers in hardback, paperback and electronic versions.

A book that will open the reader to the wonders of Nevada and the Southwest is Deborah Wall’s expanded 2nd edition of “Base Camp Las Vegas,” a guide to 101 hikes in the region. Packed with photos, the book tells one how to get there, when to go, how to prepare, what to expect and what to avoid. It is a must for the explorer.

Just in time for holiday giving, Range magazine has published another of its gorgeous coffee table books — “The Magnificent American West,” which features colorful, award-winning photographs along with the wit and witticisms of Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain.

At rangemagazine.com one can also find several other books about Nevada and the Western lifestyle, including collections of cowboy poetry and art such as “Brushstrokes & Balladeers” and “Reflections of the West,” which include poems by Nevadan Waddie Mitchell.

Of course, no Nevadan’s library is complete without a copy of Twain’s “Roughing It,” which recounts his sojourn in Nevada during the Civil War and his misadventures in newspapering as a reporter and briefly as an editor. He claimed his editorials prompted no less than six invitations to duel. 

To learn more about the truth-stretching Twain, one could pick up a copy of Andrew Hoffman’s biography, “Inventing Mark Twain,” which relates how Sam Clemens really came by his nom de plume.

“People who knew Sam in Nevada said that he arrived at the pseudonym by entering a saloon and calling out in the leadsman’s singsong intonation ‘Mark twain!’ — meaning the bartender should pour two drinks and mark them down on the debit ledger,” writes Hoffman.

From the same era comes Twain’s editor’s reminiscences about “The Big Bonanza” — Dan de Quille’s foray into the goings-on during the days of the Comstock Lode.

In a similar vein comes Robert Laxalt’s “Sweet Promised Land,” which reflects on Nevada’s formative years and his father’s visit to his native Basque homeland. 

 Sally Denton’s “Profiteers: Bechtel and the Men Who Built the World” recounts the engineering feat that produced the landscape altering Hoover Dam.

The newest addition to the list of books by Nevadans, if not necessarily about Nevada, is so new it will not be available in print until March, but one may order it now and put a printout of the book cover under the tree. Longtime Nevada writer, editor, investigative journalist, essayist and shirt-tail historian A.D. Hopkins has penned a fictional account from his boyhood home in western Virginia during the Eisenhower era called, “The Boys Who Woke Up Early.” It looks at the seamy side of life through the eyes of high school boys.

Longtime Nevada editorialist and columnist Vin Suprynowicz also has added fiction to his list of books. The latest is a science fiction, libertarian-leaning tale called “The Miskatonic Manuscript,” a follow-up to his “The Testament of James.” His non-fiction collections of essays include “Send in the Waco Killers” and “The Ballad of Carl Drega.”

For a look at how Nevada corporations edged out the mob to take over the gaming racket, there is longtime newspaper columnist John L. Smith’s “Sharks in the Desert.” One might also peruse his books about gambling execs Steve Wynn and Bob Stupak and mob attorney-turned Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman.

We also recommend Colorado-based writer David Philipps attempt to answer the question about what to do about the West’s burgeoning wild horse population in his book “Wild Horse Country.” The book sweeps across a span of time and landscape as vast as the range of the wild horse, delving into views and suggestions from horse-huggers and horse-disparagers alike, turning more than a few colorful similes and metaphors along the journey.

To span the human history of Nevada, there is prolific Nevada chronicler Stanley Paher’s retrospect on the state’s first 150 years with “Nevadans: Spirit of the Silver State,” which takes the reader from the earliest explorers and emigrants through the mining and ranching eras to modern times.

May your friends and family appreciate you and your gifts.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Bad optics vs. fiduciary responsibility

Window from which shots were fired into crowded concert. (Pix by Jeff Scheid for NVIndy)

The pro/con format lives at NVIndy.

The online donation-funded news site today features columns by John L. Smith and Elizabeth Thompson taking differing stances on MGM’s decision to try to legally limit its liability for the Oct. 1 shooting that left 58 concert goers dead and hundreds more injured.

Smith makes a cogent argument that the legal maneuver — technically a suit against the victims — is tone deaf and damaging to the brand.

“The legal questions will be determined, but the fallout from the filing of the litigation against shooting victims still in various stages of physical and emotional recovery seems downright cruel,” Smith states. “It’s also terribly risky, and something more than money is at stake.”

Thompson argues that MGM should not be financially liable for the acts of a madman firing from the windows of his 32nd floor room in Mandalay Bay, any more than a convenience store should be liable if someone is shot on its property.

“It is easy to say MGM ‘should have’ noticed (Stephen) Paddock’s activities and prevented his crime,” she writes. “But it is not fair. An unfathomable act was perpetrated. None of us could initially believe it, even as it was happening. One cannot anticipate the unthinkable.”

Frankly, I think she missed a salient argument that MGM bears a fiduciary responsibility to its stockholders and employees to protect the bottom line from financial hemorrhaging. Money if fungible. What goes to cover legal liabilities is not available to pay dividends or wage hikes.

But Smith is right. The damage to the brand can also be costly.

Though MGM clearly bore far greater liability as a result of the 1980 fire that killed 85, Kirk Kerkorian’s rush to settlement may have been both good optics and sound fiduciary responsibility.

By the bye, both columns contained the obligatory disclaimers about MGM being a donor to the website.

 

 

 

Familiar writer tries his hand at poetry and shows his hand


It is a thin tome,

Just 44 pages

Of 17 themed poems

Devoted to a road trip

To find love and commitment.

 

Devoured it in one sitting

With a plate of leftovers

And a goblet of Rioja.

A satisfying repast.

 

It is “Card Trick

By longtime Nevada writer,

Philosopher, commentator

And humorist John L. Smith.

 

John puts his heart on his sleeve,

Sticks it out the driver-side window

Of his high-milage Subaru

And sallies forth,

So to speak.

 

This is no platonic tonic.

While there are pecks on the cheeks

There are also ruffled sheets —

From Tonopah to Kingman,

From Santa Fe to Baltimore,

From Chloride to Goldfield.

 

Names, places and events

All sound quite authentic.

His canvass is splattered

With verbal impressionism

With dollops of winks and nods,

Elbows to the ribs

And a groaner or a dozen.

 

Like: “it’s not the roses that I love.

“If you’re searching for symbols,

“remember that bunch come April

“after the final snow melt,

“and know that spring hopes eternal.”

 

Like the actor who said

His face was like five miles

Of bad Irish country roads,

John says his is straight

From Rand McNally.

He exaggerates … a bit.

 

He hears songbirds sing.

He smells the sent of lilacs.

He feels “carnivorous tenderness.”

He drinks from the hose

And tastes the salad days.

 

He finds not just affection

But a blonde bond

With a lady who, too,

Is of the writerly persuasion.

Longtime Nevadans can and will

Unlock the secret from his hints.

 

It is no card trick, John.

Just shuffle the deck

And shuffle again

Until at last

You draw a pat hand.

 

Plug in “Card Trick” on Amazon,

Pony up $2.99 for Kindle

Or $6.99 for paperback

Plus shipping, of course.

 

Perhaps it will inspire you

To keep dealing the cards

Until you are dealt a pat hand, too.

Or to better appreciate the hand

You’ve already been dealt.

Newspaper column: Give the gift of knowledge about Nevada and the West

Christmas is coming and you’re still scratching your head over just what to get for that special Nevada friend or family member. How about a gift that will keep giving for years to come — a book, specifically a book about Nevada and/or the West?

A couple of the newest additions to this narrow genre are David Philipps’ “Wild Horse Country” and Range magazine’s “The Good, the Bad and the Bovine.”

Philipps explores the history of the wild horse in the West with a number of stops along the way in Nevada. He also addresses the issue of feral horse overpopulation and delves into the various options for solving the problem. It is thought provoking and informative.

In November, Range published a collection of articles and photos from its archive of thorough coverage of the people, places and issues touching on ranching and farming on the rangeland of the West. Titles include: “Don’t Fence ’Em In,” “The Ultimate Recycler,” “It’s in the Breeding,” “Cow Pie” and “A Ranger’s Reflection” — dispatches from the empty quarter.

Range boasts of the book, “The hardcover coffee-table edition is a not only a photographic tribute featuring works by some of the best ranch and wildlife photographers in the country, but there are some meaty stories penned by prize-winning writers.”

The magazine also has available on its website other books from recent years. Two of my favorites are “Brushstrokes & Balladeers” and “Reflections of the West.” Both are coffee-table quality books packed with insightful poetry about life on the range and eye-popping paintings that stand up to favorable comparison to Remington and Russell. The wink-and-a-smirk doggerel of Elko’s Waddie Mitchell is worth the cover price alone.

Then there are the books from the dawn of the state’s history that should be on every Nevadan’s bookshelf. These include’s Mark Twain’s “Roughing It,” of course, about his sojourn in Nevada during the Civil War and his misadventures in newspapering as a reporter and briefly as an editor. He claimed his editorials prompted no less than six invitations to duel.

From the same era comes Twain’s editor’s reminiscences about “The Big Bonanza” — Dan de Quille’s foray into the goings-on during the days of the Comstock Lode.

To learn more about the truth stretching Twain, one could pick up a copy of Andrew Hoffman’s biography, “Inventing Mark Twain.” My personal favorite insight is Hoffman’s busting the myth that Sam Clemens took his pseudonym from his steamboat days.

“People who knew Sam in Nevada said that he arrived at the pseudonym by entering a saloon and calling out in the leadsman’s singsong intonation ‘Mark twain!’ — meaning the bartender should pour two drinks and mark them down on the debit ledger,” writes Hoffman.”

For insight into the people who invented modern day Nevada, there are books such as Dallas Morning News reporter Doug Swanson’s “Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker.” The book takes the reader from Benion’s humble beginnings in Pilot Grove, Texas, to dangerous Deep Ellum in Dallas, until he drifted and grifted — and reportedly killed — into downtown Las Vegas.

Former Las Vegas newspaper columnist John L. Smith writes about a number of Nevada notables in “Sharks in the Desert,” covers the rise of casino owner Steve Wynn in “Running Scared” and tells of the mob lawyer-turned-Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman in “Of Rats and Men.”

Sally Denton reveals the company and the men who built Hoover Dam in her thoroughly researched book “The Profiteers” about the Bechtel Corporation.

Denton and Roger Morris also penned a book titled “The Money and the Power” about the making of Las Vegas since World War II, offering insightful peeks into the likes of gangsters Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, politician Pat McCarran and newspaper publisher Hank Greenspun.

For those who would like to climb out of the armchair and go visit on foot some of the gorgeous landscapes in Nevada and neighboring states, there is travel writer Deborah Wall’s “Base Camp Las Vegas,” which details how to get to and how to explore 101 hiking trails — from Arches to Zion National Parks, from Death Valley to the Ruby Mountains.

Many of these are available in local bookstores. All can be found online with the aid of a search engine.

And finally a blatant plug. If you’d like to keep your Nevada friends and family informed in the future, you can always give a subscription to this newspaper.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Walters goes in one day from millionaire winner to loser

Billy Walters arrives for court in New York (Bloomberg pix)

His winning streak is over.

As John L. Smith reports in a column for The Nevada Independent, Las Vegas sports bettor and golf course developer Billy Walters, having beaten several investigations and indictments, has been convicted in New York of insider trading.

As Smith relates, “He collected pliable politicians and malleable reporters like posies, and nearly always managed to get the best of it. Even law enforcement, which in the past three decades had suspected him of everything from illegal bookmaking to money laundering, could never seem to bust him out.” Until Friday, when a jury convicted him in an insider trading deal that netted him $43 million.

Smith has been keeping an eye on Walters for years and in 2011 got a chuckle and a newspaper column out of a “60 Minutes” swooning interview with the smooth-talking Kentucky-born gambler and huckster.

Of course, the columnist took the opportunity to tell the story that “60 Minutes”missed:

Walters was a founding member of the infamous and feared “Computer Group,” the breakthrough collective of gamblers, handicappers and investors who processed the day’s sports schedule at such a high level they consistently produced better odds than those on the wall of your local sports book. The Computer Group banked millions, and the bookies took a beating. The Computer Group spawned a generation of imitators, some of whom pounded the sports books to pieces.

But the FBI and Metro were watching, and indictments followed. A trial came later, and Computer Group lawyers mopped the floor with the feds. The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office were so embarrassed they put gambling cases on the back burner of their list of prosecutorial priorities.

Walters & Co. seemed to have the opposite effect on Nevada gaming regulation. The sports book industry was so routed it sought protection against Walters from the Gaming Control Board. That led to big rule changes, but Walters managed to adjust.

One of my favorite Walters stories is the time he scored an uncanny, and statistically improbable, winning record at roulette at the Golden Nugget. Casino bosses were sure he had to be cheating. So they had the wheel analyzed by engineers, who found nothing wrong with it. And the legend of Billy Walters grew.

Some of Walters’ biggest scores have come in the chambers of local government. His golf course land proposals at the city and county were tailored like Sinatra’s suits to fit his needs. The fact the public didn’t get the best of it rarely crossed the minds of mesmerized members of the City Council and County Commission.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Daffy souls who hoped to see Walters embarrassed or exposed on television surely were disappointed. They should have known better.

Billy Walters always gets the best of it, and his “60 Minutes” valentine is just another example.

One of those tailored deals was the lease of land from McCarran International Airport for Walters’ Bali Hai Golf Club for 10 years without paying a dime in rent. McCarran was to receive 40 percent of the course’s net profit, but there was no profit because Walters paid his own company a management fee of $6 million.

Walters, 70, now goes from being worth $500 million, the owner of seven homes and a $20 million jet, to facing a cramped jail cell.

Smith accepts induction into Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame with grace and humor

The best line from John L. Smith’s acceptance speech after being inducted into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame came after he recounted how the most famous member of that august hall left town — either to avoid a duel or being brought up on charges of arranging a duel. Smith noted it is easier to “spin a yarn if no one is threatening to shoot you or sue you into bankruptcy.” This was followed by knowing laughs.

Smith also claimed he could out drink Twain, perhaps forgetting just how Sam Clemens got that nickname. Upon entering the bar in Virginia City after a thirst-inducing deadline he did not shout to the barkeep to put two on his tab, instead he called out: “Mark twain.”

Some things just don’t seem to hold their value — such as induction into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame

Some things just aren’t as significant as they used to be.

I’m sure there was a nice story and photo in the paper back around the turn of the century when Review-Journal Publisher Sherman Frederick was inducted in the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame. That was before electronic archives.

When longtime R-J investigative reporter A.D. Hopkins was inducted into the Hall in 2010 there was a nice writeup in the paper and I penned a column on the topic.

When R-J capital bureau chief Ed Vogel was inducted in 2012 there was a glowing account of his storied career. I mentioned Vogel’s Hall of Fame status in a blog once.

In 2014, the induction of Dave Sanford, whose family ran the Mason Valley News in Yerington for decades, and Brian Greenspun, editor and publisher of the Las Vegas Sun, warranted a sidebar in the paper.

But in 2015 when the late R-J political reporter Laura Myers was inducted the news was fully contained in the third paragraph of a story about the paper’s Nevada Newspaper Association awards. AP carried a short story. I defended Myers’ reputation in a blog earlier this year and remarked on her passing at the time.

On Sunday the paper reported the induction of former, 30-plus-years columnist John L. Smith. The news was contained in the third from last paragraph of an awards story: “John L. Smith, a longtime columnist for the Review-Journal, was inducted to the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame.”

Talk about deflation in value. I wonder why that is.

Smith doing commentary at KNPR

John L. Smith doing commentary at KNPR

 

Laura Myers

Laura Myers

 

Ed Vogel

Ed Vogel

 

A.D. Hopkins

A.D. Hopkins

 

Sherman Frederick

Sherman Frederick