Before we leave, let me make absolutely clear that Fred Rogers is not a member of the travel party. You’re probably thinking, of course not, he’s dead; but that isn’t the real reason. The last person we need on this trip is a sane, eminently well-mannered Presbyterian minister who talks about shit like emotional intelligence and how to run a pickle factory. We don’t need no edumacation, and we certainly don’t need no old-school Pittsburgh noblesse oblige from a guy who’s standing by to send a trolley to pick us up when shit really gets weird.

At this point you’re probably thinking: Bullshit. That dude ran a goddamn trolley between his living room and a puppet village; clearly he was living well within the Port Authority Crazy Loop. But again, no: Mr. Rogers knew exactly he was doing. He enjoyed childish things, but not our present childish things. We’ll do better without any grownups on the crazy plane. This isn’t your average flight of fancy. It’s more like a chartered 727 full of glamorous young alcoholics with a dose of the clap and blue-haired pensioners on nasal oxygen. Your flight crew today will be Captain Eddie Compass, assisted by First Officer O.J. Simpson and Flight Engineer Nicole Polizzi. My name is James Carville, and I’ll be your purser today. If there’s anything I can do to make your flight more comfortable or to murder your seatmate, please don’t hesitate to let me know. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

That was pretty florid, but it wasn’t as outlandish as one should hope. James Carville may just look like a Cajun mob hitman, but murder for hire isn’t a practice strange to New Orleans’ finest. Nor is beating a man bloody for criticizing the gumbo during a private detail gig at a politically connected French Quarter restaurant. Y’all best not come down to N’Awlins and get insolent about our Cajun cookin’, now, y’all hear?

To be fair, our other current whipping boy, Las Vegas, isn’t nearly as violent. It’s more just seedy, as long as you stay away from O.J. Simpson and his fucking stuff. Oh, and you might want to stay away from the cops: the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is much more troubled than you might assume on the basis of national wire reports or, God forbid, CSI. Still, notwithstanding any official corruption that may be behind it, an LVMPD beatdown doesn’t have that lovable local color, that unique, unmistakable Cajun spice. It’s closer to an honest, civic-minded, corruption-free assault under color of authority at the hands of the old LAPD. Notwithstanding the increasing corruption on the force, a Vegas police beatdown is performed with that clipped Mountain West patois by the kind of thug whom Davis or Gates totally would have hired and Parks totally would have retained as a routine matter of cowardice but who would very reasonably freak out Bratton or Beck.

Of course, this isn’t the kind of resort community culture that one sees on TV. The stage management of America’s resort areas is fastidious. Think for a moment about their weather: Las Vegas has the summer climate of a convection oven; Orlando, that of a dim sum steamer; and yet each attracts hordes of summer visitors, not just from Barstow or Ocala, but from across the country and from abroad. Bizarrely, Las Vegas and Orlando get large year-round streams of visitors, respectively, from Los Angeles and New York. These are people who leave their hometowns to spend their vacations in uglier places with shittier weather, but as they’ll inevitably tell you, they’re doing it for the magic. Or, if not for their own selfish magical aggrandizement, for that of their improvident spouses or whiny, media-addled children.

These places continue to get huge volumes of tourists, so I have to assume that few visitors return home with stories of their self-evident awfulness. It’s hard to imagine the tourist traffic in these cities not dwindling to a trickle if business were based on the firsthand observations of sentient visitors. This analysis, unfortunately, is based on two unsupportable premises: that the tourists are exposed to anything but the local Potemkin villages, and that they’re sentient in the first place. Neither premise is reasonable for the high schooler who returns from a trip to Disneyworld and, when asked by her teacher, says that she has no idea where she and her family changed planes.

Such people exist. It isn’t a matter of stupidity; many a retard, I’m sure, has returned from Disneyworld with wide-eyed stories about the glittering terminals in Atlanta. It’s just obliviousness. It isn’t the sort of attitude one would hope for in a people responsible for self-government.

Never mind. We aren’t citizens; we’re consumers. Our role isn’t to discern truth from falsehood, good from evil, wisdom from folly, and then, empowered by what we have discerned, do our best to edify ourselves and our fellow man; it is rather to devour whatever our corporate overlords have laid before us without regard to its wholesomeness, like pigs snorting their way through so much slop. As far as our rulers are concerned (particularly the ones Lewis Lapham described as our “permanent government”) there’s nothing wrong with our having all the civic consciousness and initiative of Freight Train. In fact, it’s more convenient that way, for them and for us, although it may not be clear at first what they mean when they say that they want to serve man.

Every “glamorous” or “exciting” American shithole is supported by a vast infrastructure of propaganda. Formal, explicit advertising is but one part of this infrastructure. Mind you, the big tourist traps are careful to hire advertising firms that can really pull it off. This is one of the reasons that their PR is more effective than, say, the usual idiotic promotional material for every dubious prairie crossroads between the Appalachians and the Rockies. Good examples of the latter include, I shit ye not, “The Legend: Life in Southwest Kansas,” several copies of which I have in storage somewhere (one noteworthy Legend of Southwest Kansas: a geezer who prunes trees a generation younger than himself); bad examples include whatever the hell American Way is running this month about the latest American Eagle destination that you don’t want to visit. If you have to bet on the quality of Chamber of Commerce PR, though, be sure to bet that it sucks balls; chances are that it does. Some booster dipshits in Lebanon, PA, for example, used to run a radio advertisement with a horrendous jingle: “Lebanon’s looking up!” That happy horseshit, of course, was just another data point indicating that Lebanon was doing nothing of the sort. Fittingly enough, the music store on Cumberland Street was called Loser’s; the staff will be happy to correct your pronunciation, but I won’t.

Not being a Loser, by any phonetic spelling, requires not just quality but quantity. This is one of the things that Vegas and Orlando understand. You need to beat your audience over the head with the message, endlessly. American Way won’t do the trick; even if it weren’t hopelessly shitty it wouldn’t have anything that could be properly called a readership. You need to hit the big time, and hit it hard. That way, the American Way contracts can be training projects for the interns, to be used the way a fire company might use a condemned shack on the edge of town. In fairness, though, the interns probably won’t fuck anything up too badly with their shitty copy, since it’s nigh impossible to fall short of American Way’s editorial or graphic standards. Any goobers you can bamboozle in flight are just gravy. If you’re planning to stake it all on inflight rags, however, you might want to check with the Dubuque Chamber of Commerce about what that did for tourist traffic.

These PR protips leave a big unanswered question: how is your town/amusement park/outlet mall/creation museum doing with unpaid product placement? This, not what you can buy quid pro quo from the formal mercenaries, will call for the most joyous songs of praise in Pig Hebrew. Paid publicity is groovy and all, but the free kind will give you a bowl of 3:20 big enough to impress even Joel Osteen.

The Walt Disney Company does this masterfully. Its very structure is a daisy chain of product placement. It uses its trite, sappy princess movies to advertise its character-infested theme parks, which in turn are used to advertise the company’s shitty movies. Better yet, it gets its customers to pay for both rounds of advertising, as well as any overpriced princess gear (probably made in a princessly country like Honduras), i.e., walking advertisements, that their whiny daughters may demand as souvenirs from their trip to the Magic Kingdom. When Pat Robertson hears about this, he’ll be speaking in tongues he hasn’t used since he tricked Operation Blessing donors into paying the start-up costs for his diamond mines in the Congo. Yes, Debbie, that’s some ish-kabish-ka-mad-cash; amen to that!

Disney gets mad outside free publicity, too, merely by virtue of its being a cultural juggernaut. Because Disney is so popular and well-known, its properties are favorite destinations for radio stations looking to give away free vacations to their listeners (i.e., looking to hold their audiences hostage with coquettish prize offers through hours of hideous drive-time advertising). At the same time, these giveaways subtly burnish the reputation of Disney properties as compelling travel destinations. It’s a virtuous circle, as long as the virtue in question isn’t the prudent management of household finances. One of the reasons that a Disney vacation package seems like such a generous prize is that Disney’s resorts are gigantic money sinks. The nominal value of park admission, lodging, food and airfare doesn’t necessarily correspond to the rational value of being shaken down with a song and a dance for the opportunity to stand in line an hour and a half for a five-minute ride.

Actually, I shouldn’t refer to rationality at all in a discussion of Disney customers, since they have none. My bad, they aren’t customers, they’re “guests.” This is absurd. Disneyland isn’t a big birthday party to which they were invited because they’re special, in contrast to the sorry bastards who presumably crashed the party and can only hope that the hostess is gracious enough to let them stay. Not at all. Getting into Disneyland is like getting onto the 43 bus: you pay the appropriate fee at the entrance, then as long as you aren’t openly violent or Sweet-Lordy-batshit crazy (and don’t mind being squeezed by the huddled masses), you can stay until closing time, or until the bus reaches Triangle Square. (For those of you who aren’t from the Orange Bubble, that’s a real place; I didn’t make it up.) We aren’t exactly talking about scoring a jumpseat ride with John Travolta on his 707.

Then again, it should come as no surprise that Disney would abuse the English language in that fashion. Linguistic exactitude and honesty aren’t the only casualties of the campaign to make the middlebrow forget the banality of their own lives as a way of robbing them. It’s that search for fleeting transcendence that compels people from Northern California to drive halfway down the state on I5 instead of going to Marine World or Great America. The rides at Disneyland are different but not, with rare exceptions, in any way better. It’s also safe to assume that at least some of Disneyland’s visitors are classic NorCal chauvinists, obnoxious shits who take pride in hating on the Southland because—well, just because. It’s a real pastime up there, but not one that necessarily overrides the visceral attraction to SoCal tourist traps (or to Coachella). It isn’t the loftier impulses that draw the Northern Californian to Disneyland. The occasional NorCal traveler who actually appreciates the Southland for its charms probably isn’t inclined to spend his trip in a dump like Anaheim. (Or, for that matter, Hollywood, an allegedly glamorous neighborhood that is in fact seedy and infested with druggies, sign-flying mooches, and all manner of pretentious losers—although it does also have hella good cheap Indian food and a subway line.)

Regardless, you can bet that Disneyland’s visitors didn’t just happen to be in Anaheim to watch the city’s surprisingly Anglo police force implement Mexican Jim Crow at gunpoint. They came down south not to observe such unpleasantness, but to ignore it, just as visitors to Disneyworld come to Orlando to blithely ignore the soul-sapping awfulness of International Drive.

You may ask why I don’t think parents ought to make their children happy by taking them to Disney parks. How could I deny children such a wonderful, happy experience? Am I just a spoilsport who’s bitter that his own parents didn’t take him to Disneyland when he was little? In the interest of full disclosure, my dad did take me to Disneyland when I was nine, and I had a lot of fun that day, except for the part where I tripped on a threshold getting off the Autopia, sprained my wrist and spent four hours in an emergency room in Garden Grove. I’m not arguing that parents ought to be dourer than Gordon Brown and scare their children into walking upright in the sight of the Lord. I’m not arguing that parents ought to forbid their children to frequent Godless dens of idolatry and faggotry like Disneyland and set their parental control settings so that the little ones can’t read this blog. (The vocabulary and organizational style alone are enough to keep many adults from reading this blog.) What I am arguing is that parents should just keep in mind that amusement resorts like that are really fucking expensive and often located in eminently shitty municipalities, so they ought to seriously try to discern whether their children’s interest in such an expensive getaway is worth indulging to the full or whether they’re just being emotionally blackmailed by brainwashed little brats. That also goes for things like the sugary cereals that your little prediabetic snowflake sees advertised on the Saturday morning cartoons.

I’m just sayin’. If you don’t like my advice or think a childless bachelor like me ought to shut his damn mouth, you can always go back to getting your parenting advice from Dr. Phil.

That’s a lot of childish things for one essay. It’s time to channel Admiral Yamamoto and call the adults’ hour. This means that Cpt. Compass needs to doublecheck the approach path to McCarran; Flt. Eng. Polizzi needs to, like, check the fuel levels again to make sure they can, you know, make it to the airport and stuff; and it’s time for FO Simpson to take an aspirin and put on his black leather flyin’ gloves. Flight attendants, please prepare for landing, and for murdah.

Even thinking about putting these clowns in charge of a 150-passenger trijet is off-the-charts psychotic. So is Las Vegas. Vegas proves that there’s no limit to the psychic sickness, moral rot or idiotic policy that a people as addled as the Americans will consider perfectly normative by virtue of the sheer repetition of its goodness.

For starters, greater Las Vegas has a population of over a million in the middle of a fucking desert—speficically, one of the hottest, driest, most botanically barren, and truly godforsaken patches of desert in the United States. Before the white man came it was a useless basin populated by perhaps the sorriest, most hardscrabble Indian tribe in the Lower 48.

Here’s a follow-up trivia question: Among arid and semiarid cities in the American West, what does Las Vegas not have in common with Reno, Boise, Denver, Colorado Springs, Grand Junction, Albuquerque, and El Paso? The answer, which will hopefully make some sense, is that the latter cities are all located on at least one yearround river. Salt Lake City, one of the exceptions to this rule, is located in a relatively wet basin fed by an adjacent alpine watershed.

Besides Las Vegas, this leaves only two glaring exceptions: Tucson and Phoenix. All three of these cities are large, dry, and far from alpine watersheds. Las Vegas and Phoenix both rely heavily on water pumped uphill from the Colorado River, the most overallocated river in the United States (and in Mexico, which was graciously cut out of any allocation at all).

At this point, I’d be remiss not to mention the elephant in the room, the Los Angeles megalopolis. LA has gotten a terrible rap for stealing other people’s rivers: the Sacramento, the San Joaquin, the Colorado, and, for Chinatown fans, the Owens. LA certainly isn’t blameless, but at the same time it wouldn’t be as collossally fucked without these faraway sources as some of its critics suggest. In an average year, the City of Los Angeles gets more precipitation than any other major city west of San Antonio at its latitude, and it’s bordered on the north and east by an even wetter mountain watershed including the Big Bear Basin and the San Gabriel Mountains. Its water needs are also moderated by one of the most temperate climates in the US.

This is also true of Orange and San Diego Counties, but strangely, although these counties are less water-secure in absolute terms than Los Angeles County and are major end points for the crossstate aqueducts, they get almost none of the flak that LA gets for hogging other people’s water. What little criticism is directed at Orange County from outside on this count seems to be the result of its reputation as a de facto annex of LA, while San Diego gets off practically Scot free.

Some weird cultural resentments seem to be behind this dynamic. Is it just a coincidence that San Diego is swarming with military personnel and their dependents and that its most famous politician is the hardass Pete Wilson? These aren’t godless Hollywood faggots, cokeheads and sluts; them thar’s real Americans. From a PR perspective, it’s also crucial to remember that it was Mullholland and his men who committed the first provocation by diverting the Owens River to the City of Los Angeles, years before every city from Ontario to San Diego was hooking up to the state aqueduct system. First in time, first in line applies not just to water rights, but to media abuse rights, too. Generations have passed since the first diversion, and the courts have now provided relief to the Owens Valley, but to this day the Chinatown incident remains a source of great butthurt in flyover country, not to mention a cause for righteous glee on the part of sanctimonious Luddite greens the world over.

Another point worth making is that the LA neighborhoods that piss everyone off are anything but representative of the megalopolis. Saying that the strip from Hollywood to Beverly Hills is the essence of LA is like saying that the Tenderloin is the essence of San Francisco. These are mere aberrations. The reason that fancy-pants Angelenos are able to misrepresent themselves in the royal third person as all that matters in Los Angeles is that they own multinational media conglomerates, while Tenderloin crackheads must content themselves with a partial stake in C. W. Nevius’ column in the Chronicle.

Both neighborhoods are magnets for disorder, albeit a of patrician sort in the Hollywood Hills and of a plebeian sort in the Tenderloin. When you’re rich, you can afford rehab and a clean place to shower, not to mention freebase and a handle of Grey Goose instead of a crack rock and a forty of Olde English. You can also afford to broadcast your degeneracy to the world as the gold standard of how to be fucked up, or get your buddies to do it for you as a matter of “networking.” They’ll be glad to cravenly do a friend a solid because they “love your work.” On the other hand, if you’re an Eddy Street wino having DT’s in front of the police station, you just don’t have Charlie Sheen’s connections. Nor will Bob Seger write a song about your life experiences the way he did about that poor Midwestern fool who got his heart broken after he got mixed up with that fast SoCal broad who liked to take him out in her droptop on Mulholland and PCH.

Actually, it’s a rare addict in the Tenderloin who doesn’t make Jim Croce’s underworld characters look like Calvinist deacons. So, yeah, there’s a little coherence problem that makes that ilk less “relatable” than, say, a Vatican warlock cokehead living in common law bigamy with two hookers. Put as much stress as you like on “little,” but keep in mind that slick presentation can make all the difference, and that Hollywood is masterful at slick presentation.

Also keep in mind that Hollywood is full of lazy, unimaginative hacks who draw solely on stuff they found in the neighborhood. Maybe the boundaries of their neighborhood should be extended to include Marina del Ray and Malibu (but definitely not Stinkin’ Lincoln), since they draw on a lot of stupid beach motifs that can’t be found in Hollywood or Beverly Hills per se. A lot of them have homes in Malibu, the better to harass surfers for their lawful use of public waters. Much of the SoCal-themed material that makes the pop culture bigtime is gotcha pranks on the famous, rubbernecking of celebrity train wrecks, or grotesque caricatures of the help in LA’s wealthiest neighborhoods.

That’s how we end up with travesties like Pamela Anderson playing an ocean lifeguard on television. Bizarrely, this spectacle is much closer in tone to what I’ve seen of private pool lifeguards around Philadelphia than to the ocean guards I’ve met in Huntington Beach. I know guards in HB who are preppy as shit and seemingly moneyed but not the slightest bit snotty about it, and I’ve yet to meet one of any socioeconomic class who’s a manifestly shallow ass like some of the specimens back east. Many of my Philadelphians, by contrast, are all about donning the high hat and trying to impose their preppy social control mechanisms on their fellows. This is despite their much lower rate of aircraft and sailboat ownership.

Farther west, in places like Wyomissing and Lancaster Township, it gets really disturbing. The parents at my high school were dominated by wealthy, stick-in-the-ass sourpusses whose pastimes appeared to be golf, telling their daughters to keep their legs shut, and sucking lemons with George Will. People like that have tremendous cultural sway over much of the country, but one hears nothing of them. Judging solely from hologram sources (“mainstream,” “conservative,” and “Christian” alike), it’s unimaginable that such people have any sway at all over a country that is being led to ruin by wealthy Left Coast hedonists.

But as I mentioned before that bewildering detour, these things are aberrations. Los Angeles has a real economy behind the scenes, a very real economy, in fact, but you haven’t heard about it because the Hollywood types are too cool for Commerce or Industry. These aren’t just concepts or activities, but municipalities in the LA Basin. This is the sort of nomenclature that one would expect of the business types who run cul-de-sacs through cornfields and call them “Innovation Drive,” but in LA’s case, they denote the genuine articles as well. LA has a huge, versatile, diversified, very productive dull-normal economy. It’s the kind of stuff that bores the everloving shit out of the sheltered mental defectives who fancy themselves reporters in this country, but it works.

Another reason you don’t hear about it is that it has never had a spectacular collapse. LA never became a real company town, so it never had the opportunity to turn into a postindustrial wasteland like Detroit. Photojournalists find abandoned, structurally unsound factories much more photogenic than the operational kind.

(San Diego allowed itself to become a company town for the US Military and military contractors, exposing itself to immense cyclical instability—and to hordes of shallow, stupid women who will only date Marines.)

The upshot is that all this water, stolen or not, isn’t all wasted on Hollywood pool parties. It also supplies the oil industry, commercial bakeries, railroads, and manufacturers of electronics and medical equipment. Other stuff, too. And regardless of the happy horseshit in the in-flight magazines, no regime of tax breaks and regulatory streamlining will enrapture the Southland’s industry wholesale and drop it in Fort Wayne or the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Many executives are hesitant to move away from their customer and supplier base and set up shop in some shithole just because it’s an Enterprise Zone. On some level, I think, the Franchise Tax Board realizes this.

Las Vegas has recently tried to get in on the flyover country sport of poaching California industry with move-in specials. It’s had limited success, mainly with electronics manufacturing and warehousing. It has also had a housing and construction bust that has put it in the exclusive company of the California Central Valley and parts of Florida. In effect, Las Vegas decided to strike it rich in the national real estate pump-and-dump racket, then got shafted when housing prices in more desirable places dropped back in the direction of sanity. Las Vegas was like a trailer park manager’s special that looked really good until mortgages became affordable again.

Of course, the people who really got fucked in the deal weren’t, for the most part, the same ones who spearheaded the stupid, greedy policies that brought them to ruin. Las Vegas isn’t run by unemployed construction workers facing foreclosure. These guys are just temp workers who were given a share of the racket in exchange for providing muscle, only to be left on the curb with last week’s garbage. Much of the office staff in Clark County real estate (realtors, assistants, etc.) got lured into the same trap. The city fathers were much less exposed. They weren’t the ones who were last in, first out.

This magnficient housing bubble and its subsequent explosion were just another manifestation of Las Vegas’ profoundly fraudulent default economic development model. The economic model in the industrial parts of Southern California is to make money by producing and selling useful things. The Vegas model is to lure the gullible and the desperate in from out of state and sell them a bill of goods. In fact, this is effectively the official economic model for the entire state of Nevada, where even grocery stores and motor lodges have slot machines. The thinking is that since Nevada is too barren to produce anything of value, it might as well just suck wealth out of other states and countries for its sustenance. It suckles heartily at the federal tit as well, although you wouldn’t know it to listen to the rhetoric about Western self-reliance and free enterprise. This self-reliance is often just code for smooth-talking hucksterism and influence peddling. Clark County, home to nearly three quarters of Nevada’s population, would be another metropolitan Barstow if it weren’t for a combination of out-of-state mob racketeers, PR men, and federal water diversion projects.

Similarly, huge parts of the American West owe their settlement to federally subsidized railroads or their survival to the federal water infrastructure. Many of these places, however, make discernible contributions to the project of civilization. They may be using federal subsidies to grow alfalfa on land better suited to sagebrush, but the fact that they’re producing livestock forage demonstrates some awareness of civilization’s fundamental material needs. This is a much more adult worldview than the Las Vegas consensus, which holds it honorable for an entire city to make a living fleecing tourists with grotesque spectacles of irresponsibility. There’s a difference between wasting water with inefficient agricultural irrigation and wasting it in a network of swimming pools, faux Venetian canals and hundred-foot fountains designed for the bamboozlement of vacationing vulgarians.

No sane, principled nation would waste its treasury on subsidies for a profligate scam like Las Vegas. One would think that a federalist nation like the United States could leave the funding of extravagant, gluttonous waste of scarce resources in furtherance of fraud as a local option, something that a state, county or municipality would be free to undertake on its own if it were really that degenerate and foolish. One would certainly expect that of a country with America’s self-proclaimed can-do spirit and love of individual initiative. Our version of federalism, after all, isn’t one in which the federal government is emotionally blackmailed by a sullen minority of Flems or Quebeckers, nor do we fall for Swiss socialist bullshit like local communal management of pastures and forests. Hell, no. John Wayne can damn well pull his own ass up by the bootstraps.

That’s a national conceit on par with an Orange County BBW waiting for a handsome Marine to take her to Disneyland. Just because it’s been suggested on Craigslist (and, to be fair, probably on the San Diego personal boards, even if I don’t mind doing some gratuitous ragging on the OC) doesn’t mean that it’ll happen. You may eventually get a dude to accompany your fat, socially awkward ass on Splash Mountain, but don’t expect Robert Acosta.

Or self-reliance. Instead of a federalism in which the states are given autonomy with all its rights and responsibilities, we have a federalism in which every influence-peddling freeloader from Morgantown to Fairbanks demands a quid pro quo from every other elected sleaze in the national legislature. The result is a policy monstrosity that provides corn ethanol mandates for Iowa, white elephants named for Robert Byrd for West Virginia, and heavily subsidized water for places whose settlement isn’t particularly advisable all over the West. This is the same process that turned military base realignment into such a politicized fiasco; their noisy proclamations of patriotism notwithstanding, what the stakeholders really wanted wasn’t national defense, but a permanent, federally mandated make-work entitlement for their towns.

The conceit gets even weirder than that, and sicker. This unwieldy, deeply corrupt appropriations process is supported by a combination of ballooning sovereign debt and surpluses of federal revenue over federal expenditures from disproportionately coastal and disproportionately liberal states, the same states that are routinely accused by inland demagogues of being parasitic. These demagogues carry on the venerable political tradition of just making shit up, while most of the victims of their slander are too meek to object. The fourth estate, our ostensible watchdogs, are too timid to challenge the lies, ever fearful that they’ll lose access to manipulative politicians and their staff. The tacit agreement is that if a journalist speaks truth to power, power will retaliate by casting the journalist outside, where there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth. That’s one of the reasons that no matter how brazen the lies, it’s the rarest of interviewers who says, “Come on, Mr. Romney, that’s rubbish.”

Our obsequious, cowardly press is an important enabler of every power center of American hucksterism, aided by the plain old sheltered ignorance of a passive public. This is how, until Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans so effectively maintained its reputation as a theme park for drunks, all Mardi Gras and no Lent, on the basis of a handful of functional downtown neighborhoods in a sea of unspoken urban decrepitude. The national press paid little attention to the severe squalor, corruption, poverty and violence plaguing the outlying neighborhoods because—hey, look, beads and titties! Since Katrina, the Lower Ninth Ward has become a crude shorthand for urban dysfunction in the South, a byword bandied about by outsiders who know nothing of New Orleans, but at least New Orleans’ reputation as a mere theme park for what Spengler called “louche hedonism” is shot. Outsiders may still not know many of the details, but at least they know that the city has a frightening underbelly.

Which indeed it has. It has historically been one of the most corrupt cities in the country, and Louisiana one of the most corrupt states. Louisiana has a long history of packaging the feral depravity of its official criminal class as “Cajun culture,” something in which outsiders foolishly saw an idiosyncratic charm. People who never saw any charm in Richard Daley or Jon Burge, nor in Whitey Bulger or John Gotti or Howard Safir, and who would have been horrified to think of the Hell’s Angels executing and burying an enemy in a Visalia orange grove, somehow saw a charming “local color” in the “Cajun pride” of any sociopathic thug who happened to speak in a N’Awlins drawl.

These are often the same fools who find Rudy Giuliani “authentic” and a “leader.” Giuliani proves that if you want to get away with abusing your position as a federal prosecutor, mismanaging your city, and alienating the police force by making cops put on a song and dance for asshole commissioners whom you promoted on the basis of pure politics after firing Bill Bratton on account of a minor pissing match, the way to do it all is with a lowbrow New Yawk accent and a tough-guy sneer. With the right accent and affect, you can make idiots think that your vulgarity, rudeness and vindictiveness are cardinal virtues because, look, I’m from Brooklyn, so fuhgeddaboudit. If you really pull it off, you can be the Donald Trump of municipal politics. Rudy was.

The press corps that enables assholes like these isn’t merely credulous or timid. It’s also corrupt. Much of the corruption is subtle, and the average viewer is disengaged enough not to notice the brazen, almost overt tricks that the media use to manipulate their audiences. Other forms of media corruption, such as the product placement on “The Biggest Loser,” are unabashedly crass, suggesting that the audiences of these programs are terminally stupid and venal. If a television network can attract an audience of millions with a glorified infomercial in which skinny drill sergeant wannabes yell at fat people, there’s something very wrong with the audience. The same thing goes for “Dateline NBC’s” predator traps and for “The Apprentice,” whose raison d’etre is to allow a managerial fuck-up with a history of Chapter 11 filings to fire his employees as rudely and with as much public humiliation as possible. You can’t expect anything good from media that glorify that kind of sadism, or from an audience that eats that kind of shit and begs for seconds.

Las Vegas is a power center for pretty much everything that will bamboozle a PR flack who fancies himself a journalist. The only obvious exception is the lack of charming local accents. The real old-timey home-on-the-range twangs, the ones spoken by people who sound like Harry Reid, only more so, are mostly found out in the sticks, where the beautiful people don’t think to venture. The Mountain West accents in Vegas, by contrast, are too generic and subtle to be adorable.

What Clark County loses in Western earnestness, however, it gains in Mid-Atlantic fuck-you, supplied by a disconcertingly large population of sleazes with vaguely New York accents. Some of these sleazes were raised back east, while others seem to have acquired the accent from their neighbors in Vegas. If I may speculate, a few of them probably affect it as a way of proving their high-class dirtbag street cred and differentiating themselves from prim Mormons killjoys like Harry Reid. It’s a way of saying, “Hey, I’m not just a goody-two-shoes who promotes the interests of his slimeball constituents as a matter of political expediency; I’m the real deal, bitch.” These people are the inverse of John Tesh, whose career, and particularly his voice, is a decades-long exercise in pretending that he’s from San Francisco, or maybe Omaha or Denver or St. Louis, but definitely not from Long Island. Where John Tesh occasionally lets a stray nasal syllable or dropped R into his broadcasts, the Vegas sleaze speaks at a rapid-fire pace with erratic inflection on purpose (not, as they say in California, “on accident”), as a way of impressing his companions that he’s kind of an asshole, like Trump or Giuliani, and that if they try to pull a fast one on him, he and his buddies just might take them up in the hills, tie them to a palo verde, and let the EMTs treat them, and their shattered kneecaps, in the morning.

Mind you, this intention is rarely expressed candidly, so it’s hard to prove the low moral character of those who affect to be New York hustlers on the make out west. All one can do is claim to have a hunch. Paradoxically, this is a very productive and prudent tack for Vegas scum to take, both as a matter of overall cultural influence and as a matter of positive press. It’s easy for lowlives to go too far. The kind of people who report on hustlers in the disreputable parts of the press, and their audiences, fancy themselves decent people. There’s nothing decent about biker gangs having a mass-casualty armed bar brawl at a hotel in Laughlin. That ilk shows its true colors too readily, allowing genuinely decent adult observers to immediately point out everything that’s wrong with a bloodbath at a family resort. This forces the coy, shifty sort of depravity junkies to concede that, yes, that sort of behavior is beyond the pale and shocks the conscience. Many of the denuniciations may come from people who don’t have much of a conscience to shock, from people who secretly get off on underworld shootouts, but aside from the few loose cannons who are promptly expelled from allegedly polite society when they can’t hide their grins in the aftermath of a human disaster, these sickos are astute enough to recognize the unspoken line separating acceptable depravity from the unacceptable sort. A Laughlin gun brawl is to biker gangbanging what the Holocaust was to European antisemitism. A sporadic series of gangland executions of biker lowlives and their associates in the sagebrush might be tolerable, as might a sporadic series of locally organized pogroms in the old country, but Birkenau is not. Some crowd of thugs goes too far, and suddenly it’s no longer cool to be a circuit-riding sociopath out for blood, or to periodically beat, kill and dispossess your village’s Jews.

This is why the Joisey wannabes in Vegas are smart to keep it toned down. Indirectly, it’s also why they’re smart to adopt the accents that they do; by settled popular convention, gangland sociopathy is horrendous when practiced by a grizzled desert cracker in denim, but totally adorable in the suave hands of any Italian from the Northeast. This has nothing to do with conduct or personal ethics and everything to do with outward appearance. If you’re the kind of loan shark who handles accounts payable by body-slamming a tweaker against a lodgepole pine and then going to a dive bar in Winslow for some Corona longnecks and a pack of Camels, you’re scum of the earth, a scourge of civilization; maybe someone ought to call the sheriff. If you’re the kind of loan shark who body-slams a cokehead with a modest trust fund against one of the mighty chestnuts of Central Park, Holden Caulfield-style, and then retires to a Midtown lounge for a Cuban cigar and a glass of Chianti, you’re a misunderstood man of honor trying to hack it in a mean world under an unorthodox but intriguing value system, an underappreciated community leader, source of homespun wisdom, and preserver of Italian culture.

Similarly, if you don’t always drink beer, but when you do, you usually drink Dos Equis, you’ll probably get a pass for whatever you did for Chilean intelligence. They’ll love you for being interesting.

Actually, Holden Caulfield didn’t get manhandled by a mob loan shark in Central Park, but if he had, he might have spent less time complaining about his ennui.

Vegas exists in a happy medium: not square, unthreatening and hence dismissible as boring like Salt Lake City, but also not infested by the kind of criminal element that would make foreign consulates issue travel warnings. The creepiness is just exciting enough to give bored visitors a rush from brushing up against the underworld, but not exciting enough to provide probable cause for arrest. It helps, of course, that gambling is legalized in Nevada. In most of the United States, running an elaborate, large-scale confidence scam and enforcing an arbitrary set of “rules” with a goon squad of amoral, mercenary security officers who belong on a POST do-not-hire list would land a sleazeball in prison. It also helps that this sort of creepiness is normalized, in Vegas and elsewhere, by the “entertainment” press, the same press that promotes “exclusive” clubs in Hollywood on the basis that their cruelty towards the uncool is a sign of advanced social evolution. This is a world in which every asshole who made high school suck, every secretly bulimic gossipy bitch and roided-out meathead thug, gets paid to be antisocial and pass it off as an avant garde virtue.

Rarely does any part of the press seriously critique this kind of gratuitous, official meanness. More often, the press promotes it as a sign of superiority. It’s really a subtle form of neofeudalism, in which the fortunate show their fortune by oppressing the unfortunate, the consensus being that it’s a morally sound system for no other reason than the occasional (and wildly exaggerated) rise of some peasant into the nobility, where he may freely wield the whip hand over his former peers. Cue Yaakov Smirnov to enthuse about what a great country is America.

There’s one other major thing that Las Vegas has in its favor: its reputation as an outlet for sexual impulses that are repressed elsewhere. Oddly, Clark County has acquired this reputation largely from the reflected glow of the less populous counties, also excluding Washoe, which are the only ones where Nevada law allows prostitution. Another paradox is that despite Nevada’s legalized brothel regime, something like two thirds of the state’s whores work in the black market. But, as P. J. O’Rourke might say, that’s a paradox for the stupid. One could reasonably expect closer to ninety percent of Nevada’s whores to work on the black market in either Clark or Washoe County for the same reason that one could reasonably expect ninety percent of Nevada’s physicians or bakers or beer distrubutors to work in one of these counties: because there’s, like, nothing anywhere else. This is a state where Battle Mountain and Eureka are regional market towns.

It’s a window into the American soul. Only one state legislature out of fifty has been mature enough to legalize prostitution instead of trying to enforce it out of existence (but really just into dirty parts of the underworld), and this legislature is too squeamish to allow brothels to locate near their customers.

Vegas’ promoters have, of course, capitalized on these muddied waters. Clark County has more or less the same prostitution regime as any county out of state, so that any sanity has to come from the cops either turning a blind eye or taking a cut in a reasonably gentlemanly fashion. Nonetheless, “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” This is obviously meant to subtly assert that visitors won’t get into trouble for drunken sexual indiscretions in Las Vegas the way they would back home. It may also have a limited application to mere drunkenness, at least to those who see some degree of shame in getting shitfaced in Manayunk or having a Saturday night knife fight in downtown Medford, but shame isn’t necessarily the consensus in either of these drinking districts. Honey badger don’t care about Officer Cromwell’s glaring disapproval; honey badger also notes with satisfaction that golden boy Greg Lemhouse has been exiled into “consulting” and uncomfortable service in municipal elected office for tarnishing the badge, and that a number of Philadelphia’s finest are too lazy to jump a fence in pursuit of a gutter drunk.

Sex is a different matter. You can’t just ask for some the way you can ask a bartender for another PBR. Granted, even if it were considered merely uncouth, not creepy, to solicit sex in that manner, a combination of basic manners and an understanding of the potentially fraught emotions surrounding sexuality might be reason enough to be tactful about soliciting casual sex. It might be embarrassing to angle for a hookup the way the Honorable Rod R. Blagojevich angled for graft, no matter how fucking golden it is.

That said, American reticence about sex isn’t just about manners. Not by a long shot. It isn’t considered nearly as impolite, for example, to intrude into a new acquaintance’s education level or socioeconomic status, or to do the most vulgar sort of business networking at a social event. This repression is one reason that so many people won’t make moves even on someone they find attractive until they’ve donned their beer goggles. Asking around about who the slutty or whorish girls are, or who the man-whores are, is also generally considered a grave breach of etiquette—this, in a nation awash in “Two and a Half Men.” Put that kind of shit on prime time television, charge an arm and a leg for the advertising, keep Charlie Sheen up to his eyeballs in blow, and you’re a legend of American entertainment, a role model for aspiring businessmen everywhere; discreetly maintain an informal clearinghouse to sort out the monogamous girls from the sober sluts from the drunken sluts from the mercenaries, and you become a dodgy fucker who is probably skirting the edges of the underworld.

One of the reasons that Vegas has such a draw is that it is widely regarded as the foremost sexual release valve in a country where many sexually frustrated people have no idea how or where to find an outlet, and where those who have figured out how to navigate the hookup/friends-with-benefits scene to their own satisfaction are regularly besieged by butthurt (and often secretly resentful) busybodies. This is fundamentally why the “stays in Vegas” rubbish has any resonance at all. The obvious implication of this slogan is that the promiscuous in Clark County have the virtue of discretion, which the promiscuous in America’s three-thousand-odd other counties do not. This is patently absurd to anyone with a rudimentary appreciation of human nature, but that’s not the demographic that Vegas pitchmen target. They’re looking for the kind of people who find it compelling when they’re told, in effect, “Our sluts aren’t a bunch of kiss-and-tell head cases like the sluts in your town.”

Lordy. Send the trolley after me, Mr. Rogers. Take me home, Port Authority. I don’t trust the flight crew.