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Posted by on Aug 6, 2013 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas | 25 comments

Should You Give Money to Street Beggars?




There’s been an alarming uptick in the number of street beggars around lately, especially at major intersections.

A typical scene goes like this.  The panhandler hoists a cardboard sign desperately pleading for help.  He (or increasingly — she) approaches the driver’s window of cars waiting at red lights.  Once traffic comes to a stop, the beggar exits curbside, walks into the street, and begins parading between rows of cars, constantly on the prowl for kindhearted drivers willing to fork over a buck or two, or some loose pocket change.

These exchanges seem innocent enough.  However, they’re also troubling for a few reasons.

First, there seems to be more beggars now than ever before — particularly working Las Vegas street corners.  I lack data to prove this.  It’s just a casual observation based on my daily routine and what I’ve observed around town.  Sometimes, multiple beggars work the same intersection.

I once (mistakenly) thought that panhandling was a reflection of the economy.  Boom economy = less beggars.  Bad economy = more beggars.  But the unemployment rate and general economic conditions don’t seem to impact the numbers of panhandlers and frequency of begging.  Otherwise, Flint (Michigan) would be the begging capital of America.  Fact is, you’re more likely to see beggars working the street corners of affluent areas of town.  Here in Las Vegas, lots more panhandling goes on in Summerlin and Green Valley (richer areas) than the poor sections of town.  I suppose beggars are simply flocking to where the money is.

A far bigger concern is wondering how many of these beggars are, in fact, who they claim to be.  Moreover, will the cash handout go towards food or be used to buy drugs or alcohol, usually the two vices that created homelessness in the first place?  I suspect this fear is what makes most of us reluctant to give money to someone to claims to be in dire need.  We don’t want our generosity abused.  What’s the point of giving money, if it goes to feed the cycle of self-destruction? [Footnote 1]

Let’s try and establish some common agreement.  I think most of us really want to help the less fortunate.  If someone is so destitute that they’re forced to beg for a meal, then common human decency demands that we try and help them, even if they contributed to their own misfortune from abusing drugs or alcohol.  No one (anywhere) should starve.  Period.  No one wants to see bodies collapsing in the streets from hunger and thirst, no matter what the contributing circumstances.

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Posted by on May 26, 2013 in Blog, Travel | 0 comments

New Orleans Short Stories (2): The Mugging that Didn’t Happen




Short Story #2:  The Mugging that Didn’t Happen

New Orleans has a serious crime problem.

Most of the time, in the areas most visited by tourists, visitors are safe.  But crime is essentially a numbers game.  If you play the take-a-risk roulette wheel long enough — that is, if you repeatedly put yourself into dangerous situations — the number “13” will eventually come up back to back and you’ll end up as the latest crime statistic.

I chance fate not because want to.  But rather because I have to.  I have no choice given the line of work that I do.

I’m up a weird hours, mostly in big cities, around casinos and bars and parking lots — or walking back to my hotel.  I’m what you might call “the perfect target.”  Except that I’m broke most of the time.

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Posted by on Apr 26, 2013 in Blog, Politics, What's Left | 5 comments

It’s Time to Charge the Bush Administration with War Crimes



War Criminals


I used to believe the campaign to prosecute top Bush Administration officials as “war criminals” was a farce.

Now, I’m convinced they have a point.

Consider the revelation earlier this week which reveals (former) President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld each knew full well that many — in fact a majority — of the detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp were (and are) completely innocent.

Not a few of the detainees.  A MAJORITY.

If Bush Administration officials were aware that even a single person was innocent of involvement in acts related to terrorism, but despite knowing so still demanded the individual be held for years without due process, that disclosure alone would be scandalous.  But the allegations these top officials knew that most detainees languishing behind bars inside a military prison, some being subjected to aggressive interrogation tactics, were in fact innocent isn’t just an appalling desecration of authority, but a miscarriage of justice which demands full prosecution.

A good starting point here is to expose the facts which are now known.  An article in this month’s The Atlantic magazine written by Conor Friedersdorf makes it abundantly clear that top Bush Administration officials knowingly violated the rights of hundreds of innocent people.  Accordingly to sworn testimony in federal court now coming to light, most of the more than 700 people imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay “had never seen a U.S. soldier in the process of their initial detention and their captivity had not been subjected to any meaningful review.”

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Posted by on Apr 19, 2013 in Blog, Politics | 1 comment

Names to Remember, Faces Not to Forget




If there’s a downside to the capture of the Boston Marathon bomber, it’s that the world will be forced to endure hearing his name and seeing his face over and over again.

Each time his name gets mentioned or his image is shown, we’re forced to relive the horrors.  We become captives of a twisted biography.  We’re given no other option but to surrender the most precious commodity we have, which is our time, and bestow it upon someone so utterly undeserving — someone who caused so much senseless pain, misery, and death.

We all become his victims, by the millions.  By making us bear witness to his unfathomable acts which are certain garner news headlines over the next several months, we’re robbed again and again.  He steals away moments when instead we should be living and enjoying life.  He’ll distract us from very real problems and issues that demand our attention.  Perhaps worse of all, his lasting presence in media coverage forces the victims who suffered the most to relive the most horrible moments of their lives.

There are other victims, too.  While a motive still remains unclear, if indeed these bombings were motivated by political or religious ideology, his actions most certainly damage whatever cause he believed in.  Yes, some causes are worth fighting for.  Some might even justify the use of violence.  But it’s difficult to think of any cause, no matter how noble, worthy of the murder of an eight-year-old boy.  Someone please justify that.

We’ve also came to learn something about the bombers’ family.  Based on comments widely reported throughout the day on Friday, the father and mother appear to be far beyond simple bereavement.  In fact, they are disgraceful people, worthy of our universal repudiation.  Any potential for a public outpouring of sympathy for the parents of the two bombers was shattered when the mother launched into a baffling verbal attack on the F.B.I. while authorities were in the midst of a manhunt for her son.  She even alleged her two sons were “set up.”  It turns out the father was a real prince too, calling his boys “angels.”

Listening to the two parents speak and try to explain themselves was nauseating.  They don’t deserve any sympathy.  They don’t even deserve our pity.  Based on their comments, they’re way beyond any capacity to feel shame.  So let’s just call them both out for what they are — worthless pieces of shit who bred and raised two turds.

The bombers names will not be listed.  The parents names will not be listed.  They do not deserve any recognition.  Instead of posting their names, or the surname of that disgusting family, instead let’s use this space more constructively to remember some other names.

Ladies and gentlemen, those who follow are names worth remembering.  By all accounts, these are the names of four wonderful people, each with bright futures and full lives ahead of them, cut short in a senseless and selfish act of horror.  These are the names deserving of remembrance and celebration, along with more than 180 innocent victims who were seriously injured — some who lost arms and legs all because of two dysfunctional losers whose names deserve to be forgotten forever.

Here are four people with names worth remembering, and faces we should not forget:



 Krystle Campbell



 Martin Richard



Lingzi Lu



Sean Collier



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Posted by on Apr 17, 2013 in Blog, Travel | 0 comments

My “Bay to Breakers” Moment




I hope those of you who read Kevan Garrett’s wonderfully inspirational e-mail yesterday had a chance to do some soul searching and think about your own “Bay to Breakers” moment.

It’s unfortunate that it sometimes takes a terrible tragedy to remind us of the precious opportunities we all have.  Accordingly, we must seize those opportunities and make the most of them.

After reading about Kevan’s passionate deviance and his determination to run the the Bay to Breakers race, I was moved way beyond my usual capacity to express emotions.  This was especially the case after reading that several other people we mutually know will be joining Kevan in the race.  Some friends are reportedly flying in to the Bay Area just for this occasion, from places as far away as Colorado.  Just because of something they read from Kevan and a need to find and ultimately fulfill their own moment.

Regretfully, I’m in the opposite time zone right now.  There are no races here.  Nonetheless, I did manage to find my “Bay to Breakers” moment to be in solidarity with those who suffered in Boston.

Yesterday, I pondered the many options open to me here in the Nation’s Capital.  When it comes to honor and sacrifice, no city in America displays more reminders of who we are and more importantly what we aspire to be — both as people and as a nation.

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