Lifestyle

Forty Days, Forty Nights and Zero Substance

The widespread Mardi Gras celebrations have died down – and for many Christians, they’ve been replaced with the grueling 40 days and nights of sacrifice known as Lent. Whether this means abstaining from junk food, swearing or masturbation, generally it is not a time practitioners of Lent look forward to. It’s not hard to see why most wouldn’t look forward to Lent. According to UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, there has been a nearly 20-percent increase in consumption of alcohol by college students since the 1980s. This is merely one example of the increasing prevalence of vice. But despite this trend, self discipline shouldn’t apply only to those of faith, nor should it be reserved only for special seasons such as Lent. To put it simply, Lent is a time of alms giving, fasting and increased worship. It’s best known for the requirement to give something up for the entirety of the season, lasting from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday – symbolic of the same 40 days Jesus was tempted by the devil but resisted. This is supposed to be a time for sacrifice and self reflection, during which sin is discarded. The main ideology of the tradition is embodied by the difficult sacrifice Jesus made by giving his life up for the salvation of sinners. More than just his bravery, Lent is about recognizing the ideal for which he stood – that it’s possible to sacrifice sin and instead help your fellow man. Sadly, however, Lent is commonly misunderstood. The religious practice is deeper than a bunch of Christians acting their best for 40 days and nights – it’s a symbolic season encouraging everyone to take a stand against hedonism. The time should be spent reflecting on the vices in life and striving to understand the trivial nature of such vices. Take the vice gluttony. At one point or another, most students at UCSD have looked in the mirror and wanted to lose a few pounds. Their goals, however, would likely be more tenable if they instead attempted more self-discipline. Instead of focusing on selfish interests and thus encouraging materialism, Lent should be a time reach out and help others. According to a study conducted by HERI, volunteer work has dropped over 44 percent among college students since 2003. It’s clear that altruism is a dying ideal in the midst of a society where materialism and individualism are emphasized. With this in mind, the problem with Lent is that it is viewed as a temporary ordeal – almost a chore. It’s as if being moral has been manifested as something undesirable. Society has reached a point where immorality and lack of discipline is the norm (just take a look at the lyrics in contemporary rap music) and altruism has to hold some reward to encourage practice (extracurricular activities for college admissions for example). Feats of altruism have become extraordinary while vices such as pornography have become rampant. In other words, there is a trend to sacrifice ideals and replace with them with depravity. Sure, one could argue that life is too short to spend constantly abstaining from indulgence – but honestly, at what point is the excess just that? We were raised with the false notion that substance abuse, sex and other superficial ideals to be happy are acceptable practices. The innocence of happiness has been lost and the simplest things have lost their meaning. Society is increasingly becoming enslaved to the depravity created by manmade media, and ideals such as Lent are now revolutions against such hedonism. We shouldn’t wait for Lent to remind us about the value of sacrifice and altruism. It shouldn’t be a burden for us to sacrifice our vices for 40 days and the ideals of Lent should be integrated into our daily lives – Christian or not. The core ideals of Lent are not reserved just for the pious but for the secular as well and should be observed all 365 days of the year, not a mere 40 and perhaps finally people will be able to lose those extra five pounds they’ve been putting off. ...

The Week in Live Hip-Hop

Before Curtis “”50 Cent”” Jackson started dropping quarters into his piggy bank, before Mike Jones held his dentist at gunpoint to chisel little diamonds into his grill, before crews gave themselves names like Cash Money Millionaires – before $100 bills grew on screen-imbedded trees, there was Erick and Parrish Making Dollars. The underdogs of the funkier, rock-fueled strain of hip-hop that kick-started in the late ’80s, EPMD often get side-noted to simultaneous groundbreakers Run DMC and Public Enemy. But the rough-edged smooth of Strictly Business, their first, and definitely most awesome, record, has stood the test of time as the untouchable godfather of money-minded raps. And after five more albums, all with “”Business”” in the title (yes, that’s called overkill), EPMD are still around to teach the blinged-out crazies a thing or two about the original hustle. Joining the pair is the more recently famed duo People Under the Stairs, known to pop a few wisecracks and bounce skits off the audience in between the heavy, labyrinthal beats and rhymes of their live show. EPMD will perform live with People Under the Stairs at the Belly Up Tavern on March 14. There actually is something better than Akon and Bubba Sparx – but just as catchy – to blast at your dorm room dance party Sunday night! Diplo, short for Diplodicus (even wordly DJs had childhood dinosaur fetishes), chooses no favorites, weaving anything that catches his fancy – from foreign beats to UK garage/grime and top-40 – into the bumpin’-est bangers this side of Timbaland. Diplo can also be credited for the synthey dancehall of M.I.A.’s Arular, the straight-up sexiest dance album of the last two years. Diplo will perform live at the Casbah with Blondo do Role on March 11. JDilla’s art has seen more light in the mourning period since his 2006 death than life ever gave him, between countless live tribute sets and the release/re-release of everything he ever touched. Stones Throw Records has been a key player in this memorium, now reissuing the DJ’s most experimental release – 2003’s Ruff Draft – over two discs, including orginal rejects. Now imagine if he’d been shot! Stones Throw will hold a listening party for the reissue of Ruff Draft at Kava Lounge on March 9. ...

The Money's for Nothing Even if the Therapy Is Free

I suppose it should come as no surprise that I’ve been a customer of the campus’s psychological services. As the youngest sibling of three, my persona draws from a childhood spent tableside and bedside, ears open to stern, long-winded and often conflicting advice from elders. I’ve since been a walking sponge of sorts, drinking in all the counsel and input possible in preparation for an unforeseen day when I’m asked, “”Do you understand yourself?”” So, contextually, it makes sense that later in life, I would find my comfort zone in an easy chair, in front of another adult telling me what things mean and what to do about them. This month, I will have spent a year away from that chair and the shrink across from it. So, in therapeutic fashion, this piece is meant to chronicle a trek across years of psychological development (or regression, if you want to be mean about it), and hopefully provide some amount of useful introspection for other furniture-familiar students – and there are many. In 2004, UCSD Psychological Services served 2,000 students (a figure pulled from an article this newspaper published on issues of staff shortages and budgetary deficiencies). A year later, a university-commissioned report on students’ mental health formalized the problem: UCSD, specifically, had about 11.5 full-time employees at the time, a ratio of one psychologist to every 2,300 students. In some cases, the picture was even darker for other UC campuses, most of them reeling from the same state and administrative budget cuts that racked our campus in 2003-04. Modern-day politicalization of all things is inevitable, though it is truly sad when such a mindset is applied to health care. A personality becomes a number, and the intangibilities that we enjoy about life become demarcated in a colder, more definable manner. Revelle College then-sophomore Tracy Ho, an interviewee for the previously mentioned Guardian article, was one of many statistics forced to wait weeks for one appointment. Ho was then referred to UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest, after her on-campus counselor told her there were not enough staff to accommodate her longer-term needs. I was luckier. My own campus therapist was both earnest and excitable, always pushing mental homework – which included forced conversation, Excel charts scribbled with daily emotive discourses and physical exercise. My give-to-get mentality kept me in the program week after week, but throughout it I realized, “”Man, mental health is hard to sustain.”” It’s a hard world out there. The hermit archetype is all but dead; it’s impossible to drop all things to wander into the desert alone, Biblical-like. Today’s world is a primitive one, where we are forced into moral fights as we sit and deal with our problems, our spouse’s problems, our neighbors’ problems, our children’s problems – the list is infinite. I often reflect on my own therapist’s investment in me (he extended me past the 12-session limit and continued the meetings until I cut them off), and realized further that other students lack such a luxury. Even a small deterrent – i.e. having to take a weekly bus trip to Hillcrest – is enough to stymie a student from seeking help for mental health issues. The last of my regular sessions occurred in the campus’s newest offices, in a collection of buildings that emanated an unsettling dead-tech, postmodern ambience. It was an unabashedly cold design for an environment meant to fit every warm, welcoming, couch-laying typecast. By the tail end of my therapy, I concluded that there was something self-serving about paying to talk about yourself – sessions became, for me, something unbecoming and shameful. But because departmental fees are divvied up to make on-campus psychological care free, students can enjoy one more degree of separation from embarrassment, and I can stop prying conversations with the “”hey, it’s free”” defense. But are psych services “”free,”” in the word’s strictest sense? Students pay mandatory fees, which have been directed to other campus units in previous years. But this is no whine-fest, stumping for psychological services while cutting down Student Affairs officials (who dole out fee money); this is a sincere reflection on the street-level impact of budget movers and shakers. I’ll be forever indebted to my therapist’s devotion, though such an extended experience in therapy is an anomaly for the cash-strapped state and university. But even just one session offered me a memorable epiphany: There is a gaping abyss between self-awareness and self-improvement, and I’m still trying to build a bridge to the latter. The issue of mental health, in all its sensitivity, can be supported by even a simple act, such as enrolling in one session. A simple slight, however, can be damaging on an equal level, and staffing and funding shortfalls are in no way simple. ...

The Closing Scenes of a Labored Love

What’s a cowgirl like you doing with such a small truck?”” asks Jim, the head honcho at the Media Checkout. He smiles at us tying down dolly tracks protruding from the already-overstuffed bed of my truck. It’s Friday morning, and this is the last time Devin, Randy and myself (the small Friday crew) will pick up equipment and head out to Temecula before the rest of the cast and crew arrives. I am inwardly ecstatic. Rewind to a few years ago: me, terrified of going inside the Media Checkout – I don’t know what the equipment is called or what it’s for, and the gruff student employees have no time for newbies. “”It’s OK to be ignorant,”” says one of my film professors. “”But you must work to bridge that gap of ignorance.”” Skip back to this Friday: I waltz in with my cowboy boots on, I don’t have to say my name or what I am here for, because the people at checkout already know. I smile mischievously at the students just beginning, clutching their checkout forms while we stand next to our truck, roped and weighed down with hundreds of pounds of equipment. These are the kind of moments that interest me – moments of aftermath, where scenes drip with that invisible ghost of action that has led up to this moment. You can see the traces of movement, the invisible marks of my hands on the windowpane, Randy’s sweat on the truck bed and Devin’s fingers tying the rope, all intangibly marking the struggle that preceded this end product. This is, in part, what the world of my film is about: characters living in an aftermath. But this is also a parallel for the process of filmmaking. Film is an end-product, nothing more than two-dimensional ghosts existing in a frame, referencing the moment that existed at one point in time when these images were recorded on tape. Cut to a few hours later, in Temecula. I hold the camera while Randy and Devin throw logs into the water to simulate the truck crashing in – but the log keeps floating back into frame like an albino alligator. “”We should just drive the truck in the water,”” says Randy. “”Yeah, I guess we could,”” I respond. Ten minutes later, the back tires are spinning out of control, hopelessly stuck in the mud. Back up five days: Paul is spraying a violent storm of white powder from the fire extinguisher to put out the fire creeping up the side of the wooden shack we’re filming. Fast forward one day, Steven is yelling on top of the truck because I’ve slammed his hand in the closed truck door. Rewind a few hours and the sound of shattering glass rings in the canyon as Josh does a somersault down the side of a rocky hill. Fast forward to six days and five guys with hardhats are pushing the Volkswagen van up a hill; it’s my crew, my dad and my cousin, acting the role of construction workers, but we are not filming. We can’t get the key in the cantankerous ignition, so for every take where the van goes downhill, they must push it back up under the midday sun. Skip to the last Sunday. “”Dad, what’s the best way to cut a glass bottle evenly?”” A moment later my dad is raising an axe up while I hold a glass bottle against cement. Skip back to a quarter to midnight on President’s Day, and we have been rehearsing and setting up lights in an old abandoned house for hours. Everyone has gotten very little sleep in the past two days, and it is starting to show; the camera operator is nodding off, the assistant director has his eyes closed, the actors are falling asleep in between takes. Coffee keeps coming in, but is having no effect. I am shouting and trying to pretend I could go on all night. I pick up a c-stand and it drops limply out of my hand. Every glance I get and word I hear is asking me to utter those three pleasant words … that’s a wrap. A slow fade in to an empty field. It’s Saturday a week later, after the last shoot. I am back in Temecula by myself, filming forgotten shots. Holding the camera in one hand, a rock in the other, I am trying to scare some quails so they will fly up in front of the camera. It’s so quiet, you can hear the wind in the grass and the distant sound of children playing. The clothesline has fallen down. The plates are all askew inside the van, next to paper shreds gnawed by mice, and outside I can see a tiny piece of purple fabric stuck in a cactus. It’s another moment of comedown, of aftermath. No more Devin, no more Randy, no more Paul, Steven, Tricia, Mom, Dad, Tom, Josh, Jake, Norbert, Christie, John, Salomon, Adam. Just me in a field with a camera. Filming is done and now what’s left to show for all the action are seven Mini DV tapes, holding all our efforts in their tiny digital ones and zeros, like phantasms trapped on electronic tape. This is film, a 2-D memory. ...

Tuition Fee Policy Needed to Guard Student Interests

When the UC Regents meet on March 14, millions of dollars of student money will be in their hands. In Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s January budget proposal, he recommended that undergraduate student fees be raised 7 percent for the 2007-08 academic year, with some UC law and business programs facing 10-percent hikes. However, California’s nonpartisan fiscal adviser, the Legislative Analyst’s Office, urged that fees only be increased 2.4 percent for all programs, arguing that given the absence of an explicit policy on student fee increases, fees should continue to cover the same share of educational costs. The LAO’s increase would account for inflation. It is time for the regents to formulate a fee policy that is more transparent than their current “”compact”” with Schwarzenegger, which stipulates that fees always rise in accordance with California’s per-capita income (not inflation rates) in addition to increases (up to 10 percent total) that the board feels the UC system needs. Essentially, this means that under the compact, the regents can raise student fees up to 10 percent per year with very limited accountability. It’s no secret that the regents and the state of California have been leaning on students to subsidize the university’s bills at their discretion. However, an explicit fee policy from the board that protects student interests in the face of much more powerful political actors would reflect an attitude of respect toward the population that gives the university its leverage as the premier educator of California’s future. ...

Attack of the 50 ft. Virus

Whether it’s the rubber costumes and visible zippers in the good ol’ days of “”Godzilla”” and “”Creature from the Black Lagoon,”” the cartoonish, computer-generated imagery of modern horror films like “”The Relic”” and “”Anaconda”” or the cliched casts of dashing heroes, brilliant scientists and savvy female reporters, it’s hard to take a monster movie seriously. But with his latest romp, acclaimed Korean writer/director Joon-ho Bong doesn’t ask us to do so. Instead, he embraces the slapstick action and absurd heroism that most moviemakers try to disguise, resulting in what might be the most fun – and most honest – monster movie ever made. Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures To give the creature feature a fresh angle, Bong replaces the undefeatable monster with a clumsy animal and the dashing heroes with a family of buffoons. His clear affection for the genre spills into his work, adding an unabashed sincerity and that helps him bridge moments of terrible tragedy with campy comedy – a pairing that has rarely, if ever, been executed so successfully. But the emotional grip of the story never eases either, as one of the monster’s victims, a young girl named Hyun-Seo, struggles to survive in the sewers while her family desperately tries to find and rescue her. The family of half-witted protagonists is comprised of the genial grandfather, who runs a convenience store; his daughter, the bronze-medal-winning Olympic archer; his son, the unemployed grad student; and his other son, the half-retarded father of Hyun-Seo. When she’s abducted by the beast, the government is too inept and the community too paranoid to do anything to help, so the endearingly flawed family of underachievers sets out to rescue her themselves. Bong provides the film with an unflappable sense of humor, even amid the story’s most grim moments. Soon after the monster emerges from the Han River and abducts Hyun-Seo, a mass funeral is held. While her family is sprawled on the ground in wailing grief, crying her name to the heavens, wallowing in abject misery and surrounded by the grieving families of countless other victims, the mourning is interrupted by a loudspeaker announcement asking the driver of an illegally parked car to please come to the parking lot. Then, a government official wearing a yellow hazmat suit steps in to announce the quarantine of everyone at the scene – as if things couldn’t get any worse. But before the official goes in another word, he slips and falls – probably in a puddle of the tears from the bereaved – right on his ass. It’s a strangely comfortable mix of sweltering pity and Marx Brothers humor. Even the monster slips and stumbles in its pursuit of prey. And as the SUV-sized creature trips over its own feet, onlookers throw beer cans and government soldiers scramble to secure the quarantine, more concerned with containing any potential diseases the monster might carry than capturing or killing the ravaging beast. There are only three Americans in “”The Host,”” all of whom are quite blunder-prone: the environmentally callous mortician in the opening scene (who creates the beast by dumping hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde into the drain simply because the bottles were dusty), an American sightseer (one of only two people ever to confront the monster) and a cross-eyed U.S. official who wants to perform brain surgery on Hyun-Seo’s mentally deficient father because “”maybe that’s where the virus is.”” Bong’s film is more than a monster flick. It’s a spoof on global hysteria and our relentless fear of an ever-approaching apocalypse in one form or another. As the four pathetic protagonists struggle to find the missing girl, they pass through a crazy world of frightened citizens clinging to surgical masks and bumbling government officials more frightened of pathogens than of the monster itself. Every character, flawed to the core, seems to fail in everything they do, but it’s impossible to stop rooting for them. At times unbearably heavy – yet incredibly light-hearted too – Bong’s satirical monster action/horror/comedy is a rare treat. ...

Bear Gardens Merit Praise, but Council Work Remains

This year’s A.S. Council deserves credit for taking a cue from the Undergraduate Student Experience and Satisfaction report and making an effort to revive beer gardens. And the accompanying advertising campaign hasn’t been too shabby either, with plenty of high-visibility posters and even a Facebook group to get the word out. The price of success: a 20-minute wait at the door of the last Bear Garden, followed by an hour-long wait in line for your plastic cup of booze. With such a wait, students might as well pick up a minimum-wage job for an hour and spend the money they earn on a pair of pints at Porter’s Pub, which has a far wider selection of brews, far fewer rent-a-cops and practically no line. But the popularity of this year’s beer gardens – and the lack of disturbances at them – drives home two important points. For one, including booze at on-campus events actually does encourage participation. Administrators should consider this when they decide whether to allow alcohol sales at the RIMAC Annex. More importantly, the gardens show that with careful planning, UCSD can host wet events and still ensure student safety, assuaging the administration’s long-standing and completely understandable concern. With a year of positive experiences, the door should be open to slowly expand the Bear Gardens, maybe through finding a new venue or streamlining the current one. It wouldn’t hurt to bring in bands, either, like at the Thank God It’s Fridays of yore. With a little compromise and responsibility on both sides, the UCSD experience can be made far more memorable and special than it is now. ...

Currents

Two Arrested for Body Part Trading at UCLA The UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine has suspended its program for accepting donated human bodies in the wake of a discovery of illicit body-part trading. An employee of the school and an independent tissue broker are alleged to have used UCLA resources in order to supply body parts for various biotechnology firms and research institutions. Henry Reid, director of the program, was arrested on March 6 on charges of grand theft. He is suspected of allowing tissue broker Ernest Nelson to remove and trade the body parts of nearly 500 cadavers from the university over a period of six years, generating a profit of over $700,000. Reid was coincidentally hired by UCLA in 1997 to correct such problems in handling cadavers. University officials say they are now deciding how to compensate for the university’s loss of access to human specimens. Biotechnology companies and academic institutes use body parts for medical research and training purposes. Though the sale of human body parts is illegal in the United States, firms profit by charging to cover the costs of supplying specimens, which can run up to thousands of dollars for a single human body. Similar instances have occurred in the past decades at medical facilities at UC Irvine and UCSD. Attempts to enact stronger state and federal regulation are often hindered by institutions lobbying for ready access to tissue. UC Irvine Opens Hydrogen Fuel Station On Feb. 27, UC Irvine celebrated the grand opening of its automobile hydrogen fueling station. The station is the first in California capable of dispensing hydrogen at 700 bar, or the equivalent of 10,000 pounds per square inch. In some cases, this nearly doubles a vehicle’s driving range. The station provides the latest in fueling technology, meeting the demands of vehicle development programs directed by automakers Toyota, Nissan, Honda, General Motors and Daimler Chrysler. “”The world looks to California as the testing ground for next-generation automobile technologies,”” UC Irvine’s National Fuel Cell Research Center Director Scott Samuelsen said in a press release. “”The shift to a hydrogen economy is … a dramatic and fundamental shift in the way that individuals will operate their vehicles in the future.”” The emissions from a hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicle contain only water vapor. Today, hydrogen can be produced from nonpetroleum gas sources, potentially reducing our current reliance on petroleum for the future. The facility looks similar to a gas station, with stand-alone dispensers delivering pure gaseous hydrogen. According to the California Fuel Cell Partnership, 23 hydrogen stations exist in California, with 14 more planned. Automakers say that they may begin selling fuel cell vehicles by the year 2010. ...