Archives » August 27th, 2003

August 27, 2003

Crazytown, Nevada, USA

California shares most of its border with Nevada. And when two neighbors are in such constant close contact, it’s easy for one to contract the same diseases as the other. That has to be the explanation for this story that a group of Nevadans are getting together a petition to recall our governor. They even have a website. My, where would they ever get such an idea from? And it gets even wackier. The governor is a Rebublican. The people sending around the recall petition are Republicans. The people likely to sign and vote in the recall election are Republicans. And it’s all over taxes.

You see, Nevada is kind of a low tax state. There is no personal income tax. Business taxes are pretty low. Sales taxes and gasoline taxes are about average. This is all because we have a huge tourism industry, fueled by the casinos, that pays our taxes for us. And people are always shouting that the casinos aren’t being taxed enough. So, back in 1998, when the governor’s seat was finally vacated after the ten-year term of Bob Miller, Republicans saw their chance. The casinos hand-picked a candidate, Kenny Guinn, who was opposed to raising the gaming tax. And they basically made sure he got elected. The media called him “The Anointed One”, because his election had been virtually guaranteed by big business and gaming.

Skip ahead four years. Kenny is reelected with 70% of the votes, because there is nobody to oppose him. The one person who runs against him isn’t even endorsed by the Democratic party. The legislature convenes in early 2003, and right away there are budget troubles. The budget is too big, there isn’t anything to cut, and there isn’t enough money to pay for it all. The governor calls a meeting, saying there’s only one solution: higher taxes. True to his word, Kenny leaves the casinos alone, and instead taxes everybody else. He even pulls out the old Democratic idea of “sin taxes”, and raises cigarette and alcohol taxes through the roof. [Here’s a funny sidenote: Through an accidental loophole, all the brothels in the state are exempt from the new “sin” taxes.] Now, the Republicans are furious. They had hand-picked Kenny and anointed him governor because he wasn’t going to raise taxes. This new plan felt like a betrayal. Republican lawmakers were outraged, and vowed to vote against any budget that included taxes they didn’t approve of. Without their votes, there wouldn’t be a 2/3 majority. The Legislature was deadlocked for months. Special sessions were called. The Supreme Court got involved, which just made things messier. You could almost smell the smoke drifting through the capitol. And now that a tax plan is finally signed and things have settled down a little, the recall petition has sprung up. The people circulating this are the same people who can’t believe that schools actually need tax money to operate. And they can’t believe that their governor has bought into the heresy. Ten months ago he was their chosen son. Now he’s a backstabbing turncoat.

And you wonder why I don’t get involved in politics.

The recall isn’t going to go anywhere in Nevada. First of all, the number of signatures they need is too high. They have to get 25% of the people who voted in last year’s election to sign it. That’s not going to happen. And even though I voted against Kenny, twice, I’d probably haul my butt down to vote “no” on the recall. It takes a certain level of offense to warrant removal from office. Raising taxes isn’t bad enough. I think most people in the state realize that.

California is a different story. I don’t even know what Gray Davis did, but it couldn’t have been bad enough to warrant a recall. I think it’s just that people with a lot of money are bitter that the man they voted for lost, and once the media picked up on the idea it snowballed. But at least that motive makes a little sense. Over here in Nevada, the same people who voted the governor in now want him out. That’s the kind of logic I can’t get my head around.

Lucky

These days it’s pretty rare to see any actual innovation come out of the Walt Disney Company. The new DisneySea park in Tokyo is one exception, and that’s only because Disney didn’t foot the bill for that one. They were only hired to build it. But the stateside parks are in decline. They never build anything new, and when they do, it’s always a pale imitation of something that’s come before. I think most of this is because Michael Eisner is more concerned about staying safe, keeping costs down, and growing his bonuses than actually moving the company forward. Disney is an aging dinosaur that’s going to become extinct if it doesn’t get some fresh blood.

How fitting, then, that the single innovation they’ve come up with recently is also a dinosaur. An actual dinosaur, or at least a robotic simulation of one. For forty years now, Disney has been at the forefront of using robots for entertainment. But their audio animatronics have always been bolted firmly to the ground, on display from their pedestals. Not anymore. Now they can walk among us. Last week they unveiled their latest generation of audio animatronic, an eight-foot-tall, free roaming dinosaur named Lucky. Lucky can be found walking around California Adventure with his wrangler. And I actually mean walking. Most free roaming robots you’ve seen before have been on wheels, and roll themselves all over the place. Lucky has two feet, and he uses them just like a real person (or dinosaur) would. They solved the tricky problem of balance by giving him a flower cart to lean on. So while other bipedal robots like the Honda Asimo have to step around very carefully so they don’t tip over, Lucky is able to have an actual stride like a real creature would. His head bobs, his tail swings back and forth. He has speakers in his feet that make it sound like the ground is trembling when he steps. And the design is as flawless as any other Disney animatronic. While most other robots look like robots (Asimo, for example, looks like Gary Coleman in a moon suit), Lucky looks like a dinosaur. A slightly cartoonish dinosaur, perhaps, but realistic nevertheless.

It’s things like this that make me realize there is still talent buried deep in Disney. It’s just being crushed by the penny pinchers. When you compare DisneySea with California Adventure, and you remember that they were built by the same people, you realize that the only problem is at the top. And when you see a dinosaur like Lucky walking down the street, you can only imagine what they could build if the budgets weren’t squeezed so tight.