Opinion

Letters the Editor

Editor: You know them well … or at least you should know them well. We write our checks to them for fees, parking tickets and on-campus housing. Of course, I am talking about the UC Regents. The regents are the ultimate decision-makers in the University of California, and their next meeting is Nov. 15 to Nov. 16 at the UCLA campus. This meeting is important for many people and especially important for students. At the November meeting, the regents will review and pass the annual budget for the university. The budget will detail the base expenditures and a list of initiatives the universities has planned if the California legislature provides the required financial resources. After this meeting, the real fun begins. Chancellors, administrators and UC lobbyists use the budget approved in November to pressure elected officials to allocate enough funding to make everyone in the university happy. Not surprisingly, students are often left out of the UC budget process. Although our needs are great, student concerns and budget priorities are often overlooked. This year, the University of California Student Association, a coalition of student government associations, has developed a unique budget proposal for the UC Regents to consider. The budget proposal asks the university to increase the financial support to student retention services by $30 million. This proposal would not increase student fees, as opposed to funding these services through a student fee referendum. Student retention services are vital programs that greatly improve the quality of our education and increase the retention rates of underrepresented students. Student health centers, multicultural centers, disability resources centers and counseling services are all excellent examples of student retention services. The services have not seen any substantial new funding increases in over 10 years. Insufficient funding threatens the existence of these programs and limits the amount of resources these services can provide. In addition to assisting students with course work and helping new students make the transition into college life, student services play a key role in recruiting students of color, women and low-income students for the University of California. In the absence of affirmative action, the university must take concrete steps to make our campuses a welcome place for all students. It must increase support to campus retention services by $30 million. Contact the Associated Students to get involved with the UCSA’s retention services campaign at (858) 534-0474, and urge the regents to include $30 million for student retention services in their 2001-2002 budget. — Dylan de Kervor Associate lobbyist director A.S. external affairs office ...

Despite Good Times, Some Will Try to Steal

In an era when gas prices are hardly manageable and movie ticket prices have almost tripled, consumers have resorted to breaking the rules. Cheating: It is a word that has come up time and time again, whether in school, relationships or even in the White House. But the term “”cheating”” has taken a phenomenal turn with many well-off people nowadays. With the economy in full bloom, more and more people are, for some twisted reason, taking advantage of the system by cheating at their own convenience. For some time, Americans have been involved in what is known as “”petty cheating.”” With such acts as stiffing the bill at a restaurant, returning already-worn clothes, sneaking into movie theaters and crashing expensive golf courses, people have increasingly decided to cheat the system yet gain its rewards. Though we have all been known to break the rules at one time or another, the concept of breaking the law has never been a problem for those who feel the repercussions are worth it. While some do it to protest the high prices that have surfaced recently for staples such as gas and food, others feel that paying is nothing compared to the thrill or satisfaction of taking what they feel was theirs to begin with. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, one man would sneak from coach to first-class seating in airplanes: “”The humiliation of getting sent back to coach was nothing compared to the thrill of a free upgrade.”” While petty cheating has always existed, it has been reported that there has been an increase since the recent economic boom. This, however, is the ironic point of the issue at hand, and quite a bothersome one at that. While many have reaped the benefits of this economic boom, they are the same people who are resorting to petty thefts and cheating. This begs the question: Why? The anger and frustration of paying endless taxes and being shortchanged after the economic boom has driven most to cheat the system, not necessarily by stealing, but rather by trying to get back what they feel they deserve. According to the Wall Street Journal, “”In an era of $3 greeting cards and $2-a-gallon gasoline, a surprising number of consumers feel entitled to cheat.”” With “”entitled”” being the key word, consumers are finally putting their foot down, and it seems that they are doing so just in time. It is only fair to say that it is Americans that are being cheated, not organizations cheating Americans. Although stiffing the bill at a restaurant and sneaking into first class are not suitable ways to get back at the government for high prices, people nowadays seem to have no other choice. Americans are slowly beginning to feel the pressure of the high prices and the enormous strains they have to go through in order to get what they want. For instance, going out to a single movie today costs an average of $8 for the ticket, not to mention another $10 for popcorn and drinks — $20 to see a single movie, when only 30 years ago, it cost $2 at most. With these numbers, it is no wonder that Americans have resorted to cheating the system. By taking back what they feel was taken from them, Americans are fighting back. It may seem as though these so-called “”cheaters”” are getting away with what they want; the truth is that they are. Businesses today are more lenient than they once were because competition is increasing and the satisfaction of the customer seems to be first on the list. Again, the concept of the economy and high prices have resulted in a different mode of expectations. Clothing stores have loosened their policies on returns. Restaurants believe that a happy customer is a paying customer. While all of this may seem like it would discourage cheaters, it has unexpectedly enticed them to behave even more badly. In a sense, that is the problem: While most businesses stand to complain about these cheaters, they do not take the necessary actions to stop them. With businesses failing to act out on the problem, the problem is getting worse. What is interesting in this game of cat and mouse is that people are cheating in situations that have very little worth. Well-off, middle-class consumers are willing to get caught saving $5 on a movie ticket by sneaking in, rather than opting to be civil citizens and obey the laws, despite the fact that they have more than enough money to pay for a movie ticket. One way or the other, it seems that the thrill of being “”naughty”” and going against businesses is a way in which consumers can get back at a system that has continuously cheated them. Breaking the rules has been a continuing backlash against a government that the American people believe to be unjust. It is evident that there should be something done on the side of both the government and the people in order to reduce the continuous stealing that has developed. Since the economy is at such a high, the government could take some of its surplus and use it to reduce prices of goods such as gasoline. People could also do their part by refraining from taking away from businesses and cheating the system. Although there might not be one solution to this disillusioning problem, there are ways in which it can be handled with peace. With the cooperation of both sides, petty cheating could be greatly decreased. Crime could decline steadily. While it may seem like the people are cheating the system, it is the system that is actually cheating the people. Naturally, there is no excuse for how people have been behaving, but it should be taken into consideration that this is America, and once a movement has started, it is difficult to stop. As long as cheaters feel free enough to do what they want, and as long as America is known as “”the land of the free and the home of the brave,”” the door of opportunity is wide open. ...

Prop. 36: A Threat to Society

Proposition 36 is a dangerous and misleading initiative that will only compound our growing drug epidemic. The proponents of the initiative argue that since the war on drugs failed and nonviolent drug criminals are overcrowding the jails while violent criminals are released early, drug diversion programs are the only solution. Yet Proposition 36 will inflict irreparable harm on society by prohibiting the option of jail for individuals convicted of using heroin, crack, PCP, methamphetamine and other illegal drugs. According to the summary prepared by the attorney general on the initiative, if a person is convicted of the possession, use, transportation for personal use or being under the influence of controlled substances, that person automatically receives probation and drug treatment. Under these Proposition 36 provisions, the drug offender would not be sent to jail for using illegal drugs. This rigid inflexibility by the initiative does not leave room for a judge’s or the district attorney’s interpretation of the facts or whether the history of a defendant should warrant another course of action other than the mandatory treatment. Another factor to take into consideration is that not all drug offenders are responsive to treatment, and many drug abusers pose a real threat to society if they are let back on the streets after “”treatment.”” Proposition 36 allows potentially dangerous drug abusers to remain on the street because the initiative’s safeguards are not strong enough. Although the initiative bars from automatic diversion criminals previously convicted in California of serious or violent felonies, this does not apply to out-of-state convictions. Therefore, according to the analysis by the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation on the initiative, “”someone with out-of-state convictions for rape or drug-related murders must be diverted without regard to the obvious threat to public safety of keeping such a person on the streets.”” The most shocking part of the initiative is the fact that the drug conviction will be expunged from the record of the criminal once treatment is completed. It is obvious that the intent of this initiative is not to stop the usage of illegal drugs, but to decriminalize drugs. “”Their agenda is clear,”” said executive director of the California District Attorney’s Association Larry Brown. “”They want to legalize drugs.”” This initiative is sending a very loud and clear message: “”Go ahead and use drugs, for you will get free treatment from the state, and we also will make sure your record is cleared so that it appears your conviction never took place.”” I cannot believe that if people break the law by using some illegal drug, they will have their records wiped clean once treatment is undergone; yet people who drink and drive will never get a conviction of driving under the influence of alcohol expunged from their records. Why the double standard? Our society could tell individuals who receive a DUI that if they undergo treatment successfully at Alcoholics Anonymous, their records will be expunged as well. However, our society does not see that solution as an acceptable punishment. Drunken drivers will, for years, have the record of a DUI as a reminder that their actions were wrong, and that they are forced to take responsibility for their illegal activities. Yet, under this initiative, drug abusers are given a “”get out of jail free”” card, and with treatment, a lily-white record. Unfortunately, there are loopholes in this proposition to keep addicts addicted and the drug cycle going. For instance, a drug user has three chances to try to get clean before probation is revoked and he is put in county jail for 30 days. The language of the initiative clearly displays that the authors care more about the possible monetary savings rather than what is best for society. The authors profess that the drug abuse should be a health problem, not a legal one. Yet the drug problem becomes society’s problem when the user becomes a danger to himself or others. Proposition 36 is not the way to fix the drug epidemic. Clearly, the initiative is the wrong medicine for what ails our society. If Proposition 36 is passed into law, the drug abusers will thank us and then laugh at our stupidity, for we would have made their job easier by eliminating the threat of jail time, and instead, giving them probation and the option of volunteering. My, isn’t that a really harsh punishment? ...

Prop. 38: Referendum on the Future of Schools

This November, Californians will be able to vote for a change in the education policy of our great state. If passed, Proposition 38 will give all Californians the chance to send their children to high-quality private schools. For any child, parents can receive a $4,000 voucher every year to be spent on school tuition. Currently, California spends over $8,000 per student on public education, so vouchers will actually save the state money rather than cause an increase in taxes. This public infusion of cash will increase parents’ available funds to spend on education and consequently increase the demand for a better education system. It is the goal of the proposition that the increase in demand for education will not only encourage the opening of more private schools but also force the public education system to greatly raise its quality of teaching. At issue here is not whether something needs to be done in California to overhaul the state’s abysmal education system. California ranks 49th in the nation in math proficiency, 50th in class size, 51st in teacher to student ratio (yes, that would be behind Puerto Rico, folks), and 51st in computers per student. These statistics are not too impressive for a state that, if were it to be a sovereign nation, would have the eighth-largest economy in the world. Obviously, something has to be done to change this. State-run public education in this state is simply embarrassing. It has been left in the hands of the government for far too long, and it is time to take it back. One word permeates when big government is referred to: bureaucracy. Anyone not familiar with this word need simply walk into any administration building on this campus and witness the complete and utter inefficiency and incompetence of the government at work. Simply put, government institutions are inherently bureaucratic and public education is as bureaucratic as it gets. A decision of any significance made by a public institution must pass through so much red tape, paperwork and political bumblings that it is impossible for our public school system to be responsive and cutting-edge. How can we expect our children to keep pace with a society moving forward at an astounding rate if public schools are just now beginning to concede that children of all ages need to have access to computers? The availability of school vouchers to every parent in California will empower the public and give parents the ability to choose who will educate their children. The parents can take this choice away from some bureaucrat in Sacramento who sees their child as a number, a cost and a future constituent. Private schooling will no longer be a privilege set aside for the rich. Instead, the children who need help the most will get the boost they need to reach their goals. In examining any public policy, one must look at who the proposition is meant to help. While Proposition 38 will indeed give all parents the ability to take advantage of $4,000 per year for private school, it is the economically underprivileged who truly stand to benefit from the introduction of vouchers. Inner-city and other areas of poor economic standing have, by far, the worst public schools in the state. In Los Angeles, the closer children live to downtown, the worse their public schools get. Within a 10-mile radius of the center of Los Angeles, 22 elementary schools received an “”A”” school rating in the year 2000 based on their Academic Performance Index score, an aptitude test taken by all students and averaged for the school as a whole. Reduce it to a five-mile radius and you get only one school who received an “”A.”” If a person is brave enough to go within a two-mile radius of downtown, one “”D-“” tops a long list of “”F’s.”” Compare this data to that of Palo Alto where within a 10-mile radius of downtown, 40 schools have “”A”” ratings, and within two miles, 16 schools received “”A’s”” in 2000. There is an educational divide in this state and the line is clearly drawn along racial, ethnic and socio-economic boundaries. For families living in the inner city, parents have no choice but to send their children to schools like Lincoln Elementary in the Compton Unified School District, where only 13 percent of teachers have full teaching credentials. Our society cannot be content with this being parents’ only choice for their children’s education. It is, however, futile to argue that inner-city schools are not in need of some serious change, so let us focus on what can be done now to help kids growing up in such deplorable schools. We do not need a government program to increase funding slowly over the next five years. We need a fix now. Children who will be starting kindergarten next fall need to have the choice to attend a school with qualified teachers, sufficient supplies and an environment in which they can flourish and avoid following the same path as this year’s kindergarten class at Lincoln. As income distribution in the United States, and especially in California, becomes increasingly skewed, we cannot continue to let education do the same. The one true way to start to chip away at the economic gap in this state is to start at the bottom. Better educated 5 year-olds means better educated 12-year-olds who will become better educated 18-year-olds getting into better colleges and making a life for their children better than it was for themselves. School vouchers and the empowerment of parents will accomplish this goal. The issue at hand here is choice. Pure and simple, parents deserve a choice when sending their kids to school. If they do not want to send their child to the local public school for whatever reason, they should not have to. Parents have a choice in virtually everything concerning their children; why not education? The government has had its chance to educate children and it has failed. In a few years, when we have children of our own, we will have the luxury of choice as a result of an education system designed to benefit us. What about those whom the system is designed to ignore? Will the government still choose for them? Now is our chance to ensure that all children will have the chance to grow up with the opportunities and choices they deserve. School vouchers take power from the few and give it back to those from which that power is derived: the people. ...

Props & Flops

Thumbs up to the Chargers for not losing during the byeweek. Thumbs down to Yassar Arafat. Telling Barak to “”go to hell”” isn’t exactly smooth. Thumbs down to Student Health Center for being closed on weekends. Injuries don’t wait until the work week to occur. ...

Fee Increase Will Help Students

Vincent Gragnani, Editor in ChiefBill Burger, Managing EditorJeffrey White, Copy EditorTom Vu, Opinion EditorLauren I. Coartney, News EditorRobert Fulton, Sports EditorDavid Pilz, Photo Editor Last May, Vice Chancellor Joseph Watson formed a committee to discuss a proposed $75-per-quarter increase in student fees. Most of the money from the increase would go toward expanding the University Centers and funding athletic programs. The increase would fund other campus improvements as well as student organizations. Accomodating the anticipated 40-percent increase in students at UCSD will take a lot of careful planning, and we feel it is best to plan ahead for the upcoming surge in enrollment numbers. We also feel that it was a wise move on Watson’s part to include students in the process of drafting the fee referendum. We will be voting for the fee increase and we will be paying the proposed $225 per year. The lack of organization in forming the committee, however, has led some students to be wary of it, and rightfully so. At the second commitee meeting, many students brought up issues such as the fact that Tom Tucker, an associate vice chancellor, was one of the co-chairs of the committee. Fortunately, Watson removed Tucker as co-chair. Additionally, students were concerned that many administrators served on the committee as advisers, yet students were not represented on the panel. However, the solution arose when Arash Kolahi, a UCSD student, was appointed as an adviser. Kolahi had previously prepared a book for students outlining past fee referendums at UCSD and other universities. His presence on the committee will add a new perspective to the issues being discussed. The Guardian feels that if student fees are going to increase by such a large amount, students should be involved in the process. We applaud the students that attended last Monday’s meeting, and we hope they continue to make their presence felt. Administrators also need to realize that if they want students to pay more for services, they need to involve students in a system that is fair. We feel that after last Monday’s meeting, Watson’s committee is now on its way to accomplishing its goal. ...

Stereotypes of Gays Persist in College and Beyond President Administration

A couple of weeks ago, on a Revelle TV show someone went too far. He crossed the line, vague as it may be, of being overly homophobic. A friend of mine who was hosting the show received a call. The caller yelled homophobic insults into the phone about “”Mike,”” as we will refer to this friend of mine. The caller labeled Mike gay, for, of all things, crossing his legs while sitting down and wearing shorts. Not only was Mike’s fragile male ego greatly offended, but if affected me as well. It sparked several questions in my mind: If Mike looks “”gay,”” what image has society constructed of the gay culture? Do we all look the same? What do gay men, for instance, look like? Do they cross their legs and wear shorts? Although college is supposed to be a place where people of all kinds can live harmoniously together, it still seems like this issue needs to be addressed. I could probably guess most of the obvious stereotypes that straight people have of gays. These stereotypes would include: Gay men are feminine looking and great dressers; lesbians generally look masculine and could not dress themselves to save their lives. The UCSD-supported pamphlet “”Straight Talk About Homosexuality”” recognizes the stereotypes “”effeminate man and masculine woman”” as existing, but disregards them as being generally false for much of the gay population. I am not so sure of this. Most of the gay people I know relatively conform to these stereotypes. They do this either naturally or feel like they have to reconstruct themselves in order to fit in with their sexual orientation group. There are exceptions to this rule of conforming to sexual orientation though. Actually, there is a whole spectrum of appearances for gays and lesbians. For men, it ranges from the raving queen to the Abercrombie, pretty-boy, masculine look to the ultra-masculine, often-bearded but always with a five o’clock shadow. For women there is the stereotypical butch dyke, to those who are androgynous, and then on to the “”lipstick”” lesbian, who is ultra-femme and can pass for straight easily. By just defining these categories, I am giving stereotypes myself. Why do gays have to appear different than straight people? Some say it is for sexual survival. Human beings are naturally monogamous and inherently yearn for a significant other. Having distinguishing features such as short hair for lesbians and feminine qualities for guys can be a sexual invitation to the general public. In a society where gays are repressed, this is an easy and inconspicuous way of achieving such results. This behavior often attracts the types of people that gays are looking to be friends with, if not potential significant others. If one accepts such people despite their obvious nonconformity to society, one is probably a prospective friend for them. Homosexuals have stereotypes of themselves as well. The other night I was in Hillcrest hanging out with friends when a lesbian couple walked by. One of my friends commented, “”Ah that’s sad, they look so straight.”” It made me angry inside to hear that from someone who I thought would be so understanding of other types of people. It is ironic how the group that is discriminated against most discriminates against differences in its own kind. I feel that there is definite friction between different subcultures of each sex of the gay community. By fulfilling certain stereotypes such as cutting one’s hair or getting piercings, one is reaching for a fuller acceptance of the lesbian subculture. My guy friends tell me “”don’t give in, keep your longer hair and your femininity.”” In the next sentence, they’ll jokingly say “”so when are you gonna cut your hair?”” I understand that they are being sarcastic, but at the same time they are serious. I think they assume it is only a matter of time before I give in and chop my locks off. As a concerned college student, I would like to question the stereotypes discussed in this article. Many students such as myself dislike these stereotypes and resent feeling peer pressure to conform to them. In doing what some consider rebelling against society, a lot of young people are actually reconstructing themselves to fit the social norm. With such actions, these stereotypes are ingrained deeper into our society and subsequently allow less room for individual thought and freedom. For clarification, I am speaking to straight college students as well as queer ones. Straight college students want to conform to stereotypes just as much as gay ones do. Why shop at Abercrombie? Because you are trying to complete that look, the one everyone yearns for. Why cut your hair? It’s what all the other lesbians are doing. Only by rejecting the stereotypes expected by society can college students create their own identities without fear of discrimination from the general public. By conforming to expected stereotypes we make discrimination possible. Sadly, targets of discrimination are usually those who distinguish themselves the most from the general population. With this topic, another issue emerges: Where do you draw the line in terms of avoiding discrimination? Where do you stop sacrificing your individual freedom for the greater good? Personally, I am in favor of individual expression. Diversity is a beautiful thing; it’s what makes this world worth living in. But when a certain group of people typecast themselves through appearance, it makes it difficult for them not only to avoid discrimination, but it also causes more friction within their subculture toward those who do not model themselves as such. In conclusion, I do not mean to alienate those who choose individual forms of expression for purposes of fulfilling their natural identity. But for those of you who socially construct yourselves to fit in, just remember, you do not have to. In saying this I do not mean to discourage diversity, but the opposite; I mean to encourage diversity and accordingly discard harmful stereotypes. ...

Speaking With 49th District Congressman Brian Bilbray

With the elections just two weeks away, the race between incumbent Congressman Brian Bilbray and challenger Susan Davis for the 49th Congressional District is so close that every vote counts. The student vote has become a highly contested commodity. For once, students have the chance to influence the outcome of an election that will determine which party controls Congress. Since I am a political junkie, I wanted to interview Bilbray to discover whether he is worthy of being re-elected and to find out if he is in touch with the issues that concern college students. Being a natural-born cynic, I prepared a full slate of student issues with which to hit Bilbray. I had planned to interview Bilbray in person last Tuesday, but the Congressman is one busy person, juggling simultaneously his responsibilities for the people of San Diego in Washington, D.C., his re-election campaign and his obligations to his family. My long-awaited face-to-face interview turned into a phone interview. The first thing that surprised me about Bilbray is his unbending stance on the issue of abortion. Unlike many of his Republican counterparts, Bilbray supports abortion rights. “”I am absolutely pro-choice,”” Bilbray said. “”I think anyone who believes in the Constitution has to look at the fact that a woman’s right to choose her reproductive choices is not only a right, but a responsibility that she bears alone, and no one, especially big government, can supercede that.”” With many left-wing politicians claiming the only way to ensure a woman’s right to abortion is to vote for Democrats in the coming election, Bilbray’s protective stance on abortion is not only refreshing but provides voters with a viable alternative. Another issue of concern to many college students is the environment, which Bilbray has a proven track record of protecting. Bilbray has established a reputation as a leader not afraid to take needed action on behalf of the environment. “”I’m probably the only member of Congress who has had their Miranda rights read to them over the pollution problem,”” Bilbray said. “”I’ve been fighting sewage problems along the border since I was 24 years old.”” In 1980, when federal authorities denied requests by local officials to build an emergency wall in the Tijuana River Valley to block raw sewage from flowing into the United States, Bilbray, then mayor of Imperial Beach, took direct action before the health of area residents was endangered. Bilbray mounted a skiploader and personally constructed the wall in defiance of federal bureaucrats. Bilbray’s leadership and commitment to the environment has been displayed time and time again during his three terms in Congress. Bilbray authored the Otay Mountain Wilderness Act of 1999, which designates 18,500 acres of Otay Mountain as federally protected wilderness. Bilbray’s Beach Bill was recently passed into law and creates universal standards of water quality testing in recreational beaches across the nation. What struck me during the interview was Bilbray’s obvious sincerity and the deep commitment he has for the people of San Diego. “”My first priority is to represent his district, not special interests,”” Bilbray said. “”When I went to Washington I promised to reform welfare, balance the budget, fix Social Security, take care of the environment, improve education and pay down the debt. I want to finish that.”” The biggest reason Bilbray sees for why students should vote for him and not his opponent,is because he has already accomplished what his opponent is promising. “”I have delivered what Susan Davis is promising,”” Bilbray said. Bilbray also said the people of San Diego need a leader who can bring both Republicans and Democrats together for the good of society. “”I’ve been working with Democrats and Republicans to make things happen, like the Beach Bill, Clean Air Bill, the Wilderness Bill,”” Bilbray said. “”You need someone to work with both sides, and I’ve proven I can do that.”” When I asked Bilbray what the one thing was that he wanted students to know about him, he did not even pause before answering. He chuckled as he said, “”That I’m a better surfer than Susan Davis.”” Bilbray urged students to exercise their right to vote, saying the student vote is critically important for the outcome of the race. Bilbray hopes students will realize that what is being voted on today will affect what happens in 20 years, when students are adults. “”Students may not think it will affect them, but it will affect them more than anyone in society,”” Bilbray said. “”So actually, young people have more to gain or lose in this process.”” It is clear that the political fate of our state and nation rests in our hands. With just the student populations of UCSD and San Diego State University, we can turn the tide of an election. It may be true that one individual cannot make a difference with just one vote, but our collective student vote can wield enormous political power. The power to influence the political process is just a vote away, come Nov. 7. After interviewing Bilbray, I was moved by his genuine concern for the welfare of his constituents and his impressive leadership abilities on the issues. I believe that Bilbray is a candidate worthy of being reelected. ...

Oscar-Worthy Shows Their Perfomances

The third presidential debate has come and gone, as useless and devoid of any contact with reality as the previous two: debates in which the color of a shirt, the fit of a jacket or a posture behind a podium were more important than what the candidates had to say, which was preciously little anyway, and in which the main rhetorical exercise was the endless repetition of scripted and dull sound bites (“”fuzzy math, fuzzy math,”” “”fight for the people, fight for the people.””). of just the right length to be inserted the next day in the prime-time news, plagued by chronic attention-deficit disorder. Are these two individuals the best that America can offer in A.D. 2000? Three weeks before the vote, both candidates are such prisoners of the race to the center that it is almost impossible to get an unscripted word out of them, and the only political art they seem to have mastered is that of dodging questions, uttering blurbs on their favorite topics in lieu of answers. For the rest, the whole question seems to hinge on “”leadership qualities”” or, to put it in another way, on how good they look on TV. The world is watching, at times appalled, perplexed or downright incredulous. The idea that a political debate should have a winner, like a cheap sport game or a “”Mr. America”” pageant, leaves the world masses bedazzled. The concept that, for one of the two candidates it will be a considerable success just to get through the debates without making a fool of himself, is outright comic. The fact that citing programs and details, calling bills by names and citing data is considered a minus, while talking by hazy generalities, of principles and, in general, “”looking presidential”” without saying anything substantial is considered the real winning strategy, leaves the world in a mystified stupor. Reading the foreign press these days, the embarrassment is palpable of the Washington correspondents trying to explain to their readership that knowing what one is talking about, or even just talking about something, is considered a losing strategy. In a serious political system, George W. Bush would not even be considered for the local Parent Teacher Association, and Al Gore would barely make it as a mayor in a mid-sized city. Yet, here they are, hat-in-hand, asking the electorate to trust that they will do a good job as leaders of the most complex country in the world. Gore is credited to have the competence to do the job (he might as well have: after all, he’s been around the White House for eight years), while, by admission of his own supporters, Bush might not. This statement has been repeated so often in the last months that we have grown numb to its monstrosity: About half of this country is ready to give the White House to an incompetent frat boy who almost flunked college and made it only because of his dad’s name. I am not sure what it says about the state of our democracy, but it cannot be good. A few days ago, I was watching an interview with Ralph Nader on UCSD-TV. Answering the question of how he would reduce the military budget, he started citing specific programs and military orientation that, according to the experts of the Pentagon, are a waste of money and are doing nothing for American interests. He then proceeded to show how these savings could amount to $100 billion, even using part of the savings to increase the pay of the military personnel, and still not affect national security. He showed, citing data and statistics, how this money could be used to reduce the gap between the few rich and the many poor in the country. You may disagree politically with Nader about the desirability of government intervention in certain areas, but you must admit that he knows what he is talking about. You will not hear him on network TV, because an analysis such as his cannot be compressed in a three-second sound bite. You can probably find him on C-Span, so judge for yourself. You would be hard- pressed to find any of these facts in the presidential debates. All we could deduce from the debates is that Bush is no friend of English grammar (he has some very personal ideas on the agreement between subject and verb) and that, instead of administering the surplus intelligently for the times in which the economy will not be so good, we should squander it on a tax cut for the wealthy, and gamble the country’s retirement safety net on the stock market. Gore responded with that terrible statement, which I wish I had never heard coming from a Democrat, that the whole Kosovo campaign had been resolved without a single human casualty. Evidently Serbs, Kosovars and Albanians are members of some subhuman race. He corrected the statement to say “”no loss of American lives,”” but too late and to no avail: His Christian upbringing should have taught him that a Serb or an Albanian life is as precious as an American life. The truth is that we have not seen three debates between two politicians: We saw a duel between two actors, with completely scripted parts, looking for the right occasion to repeat the same sound bite over and over: “”fuzzy math, fuzzy math.”” and, fortunately, Bush’s coaches dug out the term “”fuzzy;”” I doubt he could have pronounced a term like “”indistinct”” or “”obscure.”” The candidates worried that the color of their shirts would look good on TV and went on trying to pull the next trick from a well-stocked bag. One thing is clear from the presidential debate: Reality has completely left the political arena. In the age of TV everything is reduced to the same mish-mash of entertainment, glitter and fantasy. Nader and libertarian candidate Harry Browne — the latter with opinions I personally disapprove of but, then again, disagreement is supposed to be the juice of democracy — deal with reality, and therefore they had no place in the debates or in the current political panorama. We look at the debates as we look at the Oscar ceremony: with an eye to the clothes, another eye to the after-ceremony parties and an almost complete disregard for cinema. Modern elections are the political Oscars: the glitter attracts viewer, we want to see whether the politicians look good, if they look tired or if they put on weight. The underlying political activity does not really matter, as long as it provides the material for a good show. Unfortunately, if the polls continue to go this way, this year the Oscar will go to Forrest Gump. ...

Adoring Mr. Joseph Lieberman

Recently, I’ve been burdened by something I desperately need to get off my chest. I have a crush on Joe Lieberman. That’s right. The democratic vice-presidential candidate with a charming smile and a winning personality strikes me as just the type of guy I should have taken to prom. That’s why, when I was recently offered a ticket to hear him speak at a local high school, I could hardly contain my delight. Here was my chance to prove to the world that I could score an interview with a charming, funny and intelligent man who may very well be the next vice president of the United States. I knew I had many obstacles to overcome if I wanted to have a one-on-one conversation with Lieberman. For one, I figured that as soon as security saw me, they would haul me somewhere in the middle of the desert, where they could easily dispose of my body. Second, I needed a disguise that would give me the illusion of being a mature and hip journalist. The latter was quickly ruled out when I realized my chubby cheeks make me look four years old, and the only tools I had to question Lieberman with would be the notebook and pen I bought from the UCSD bookstore, instead of the microphones and Palm Pilots allotted to real journalists. But, being the stubborn hairy goat that I am — I am a Capricorn, after all, and I haven’t waxed my eyebrows in a week — I decided “”what the hell”” and quickly drove to the high school, my heart throbbing as I realized my eyes would soon feast on Lieberman’s magnificently adorable face. When I arrived there, I was confronted by a noisy crowd of political junkies clad in black and tough-looking special agents. As if that wasn’t daunting enough, I soon saw a sea of adolescents approaching the crowd. My heart, which, up until this point was throbbing happily, was suddenly replaced by a paralyzing fear as I recalled one tactless teen-ager who called me a “”hairy, toothless wolf”” in junior high. Anyway, I tried to calm myself down until a questioning stare from one student behind me frightened me again. He was staring at my legs. This was not a compliment, as I looked down and realized I had only shaved the front of my legs and had forgotten the back. How was I going to catch the eyes of Lieberman now? I pushed that thought aside, though, as the line began to move toward the door. If you thought line-cutting at Disneyland was bad, think again. You should have seen the adults try to cut in as they attempted to get good seats. I glared at one lady as she tried to sneak in front of me, only to later see her at the front obnoxiously waving her VIP ticket at the guard as if she were the Queen of the United Kingdom. Little old me, on the other hand, only had a “”regular”” ticket. I looked like a loser while the guard investigated my chocolate-stained Snoopy bag for bombs and other impractical materials that only an idiot could manage to hide in a purse as small as my dwarf rabbit, Coco. After I was finally jostled in, I couldn’t believe how many people were standing in the hall. There were no seats to sit in and I simply could not stand the whole time. Not that I’m a diva of any sort, but I haven’t worked out at RIMAC at all this year, so I couldn’t depend on brain-leg muscle coordination. My dilemma was quickly solved, though, when I saw a large area separated from the rest of the room by a wall just high enough so I could see the raised podium, but not the heads of everyone sitting down. I plopped myself down amid a plethora of kids and clung to my Snoopy bag like Linus to his security blanket. In front of me, there was a large screen where the unfortunate souls who couldn’t snag a seat in the adjoining room could view the second presidential debate as it was being televised. The rowdy crowd soon became even rowdier as Lieberman, who was supposed to give a speech before the debate, arrived literally minutes before the debate began. I stood up on the chair waving desperately, screaming, “”Joe! Joe!”” but to no avail. I think he may have seen me, but then again I may have been delusional and blind; I did not have my glasses. Anyway, I quickly quieted down when I noticed the kids were looking at me like I was some sort of raving lunatic — which I was, but were weird looks really neccesary? As the cameras all around me flashed and television cameras zeroed in on Mr. Congeniality, I struggled to maintain a feeble sense of dignity. Sure, I don’t have Cindy Crawford’s legs and perhaps I’m not as intelligent as Bill Gates, but I was a love-sick teen-ager, and in this cruel world it must have meant something, I thought. Yet, my vain attempt to regain my self-confidence was dashed when Lieberman flashed a smile (not to me, of course) but to the audience beyond the wall, said a few words, and got off the stage. I couldn’t believe it. Not only had I not been able to get a seat with the elitist political crowd and see Lieberman up close, but my ears weren’t even blessed by his humorous dialogue! As the lights went down so everyone could watch the debate, so too did the emotional high I had experienced just a few moments before. Luckily, I escaped my pain when I sneaked over to some computers in the hall (It’s called High Tech High, after all) and checked up on my horoscope. My forecast said it all when it implied that I had about a 1.5 percent chance of a good day. After all the hooplah was over and Al Gore and George W. Bush concluded their lackluster second debate, I heard someone say over the microphone that if we wanted to stay 15 minutes or so to hear Lieberman speak, we were more than welcome to do so (translation: Joe’s gotta shake the hands of Democratic party donors so all of you middle-class little people and students in the way back of the room, seperated by that handy partition, can wait if you want to, but we doubt 15 minutes is all he’s going to take). With a faint glimmer of pride still resonating deep, deep within me I decided I would leave. Sure, I might blow the opportunity of making a fool of myself by rushing toward Lieberman to ask him what he really felt about Gore, only to get the wind knocked out of me when security crushed me and my Snoopy bag, but I figured there were always other opportunities to embarrass myself. I was a bit disillusioned by Lieberman, too. I don’t think he looked as cute in person as he does on television. Come to think of it, maybe it’s time to move on. I wonder if George Stephanopoulos is single. ...