This year’s presidential contest may be shaping up to be more tepid than titillating, but watch out! Here comes 11 and a half inches of flesh-colored plastic and a pair of tiny red high-heels to heat up the action. Go home, Gore. Beat it, Bush. Barbie’s running for president!

Decked out in a snazzy blue suit and an oh-so-chic single strand of pearls, the little doll with the big . . . ideas is shifting her sites from the Dream House to the White House. In April, the manufacturers of the nation’s top-selling über-doll unveiled “President 2000 Barbie Doll.” She’s fighting it out, not at the podiums and convention halls, but in thousands of shiny red, pink and blue cardboard boxes.

Determined to seat a plastic doll in the Oval Office, Mattel thrust its newest Barbie into the political fray with the help of some heavyweight backers. Two high-profile nonprofit organizations, the White House Project and Girls Inc., as well as megastore Toys “R” Us, are joining forces to recast America’s favorite doll as the leader of the free world.

And never mind the feminist criticisms — the decidedly non-Darwinian bust-to-waist-to-hip ratio, the anatomically disproportionate beanpole legs, the yellow plastic hair. Barbie for President is running on a platform of empowerment for women. She has her own press release, her own party (the Party for Girls), her own Girls’ Bill of Rights and Action Agenda, compiled from the views of over 10,000 real girls across the nation in response to a questionnaire posted on

But it’s a doll-eat-doll world, and Barbie’s entry has sparked another plastic candidate. Vanessa, the spunky African-American doll from doll company, has thrown her hat in the ring, and has challenged Barbie to a presidential debate. And faster than you can say “Think pink,” the mudslinging has begun.

“We are against dolls that focus their achievement on looks and wardrobe,” sneered Vanessa’s campaign manager, Jennifer Baker.

“Whether they get it from Barbie or another doll, the more achievement-oriented messages that can be sent to girls the better,” rebutted ever-cool Barbie spokesperson Julia Jensen.

Vanessa has a vice-presidential running mate, a secretary of state and a surgeon general. Barbie has alter-ego “Convention Barbie,” slicked out in red suit and convention pass. Mattel plans to hand out one Convention Barbie doll to each delegate at both the Republican and Democratic convocations. Gore may have the Internet, Bush may have his Dick, and Vanessa may have career-based activity play sets. But Barbie has a red satin Inaugural evening gown. Does Barbie know something we don’t?

“Let’s just say, we’re not worried,” Jensen laughs in her well-practiced, media-friendly voice. If the first woman in the White House is about to be a plastic one, we have one bit of advice: Somebody better get to work molding those handsome Intern Kens, pronto.

—Gendy Alimurung

Dodger Ball

If Manager Davey Johnson’s nicknames for his Dodgers are any indication of his talents, you can kiss this season goodbye. Gary Sheffield is “Shef,” Eric Karros is “E.K.,” Mark Grudzielanek is something like “Grudz,” Kevin Brown is “Brownie” and Shawn Green is “Greenie.” OffBeat doesn’t know what he calls Devon White, but for White’s sake, we hope Johnson broke the pattern.

Meanwhile, the baseball-trade deadline has passed, and once again, the club has shown a decided lack of imagination. Last week they brought back former pitcher Ismael “Boo-Boo” Valdez, who in only 12 games for the Cubs (to whom the Dodgers traded Valdez because, well, they didn’t think he was doing well enough) had pitched just 67 innings, with a record of two wins, four losses, and an ERA of 5.37. The often-blistered Valdez’s innings total is just slightly higher than that of Dodger rookie middle reliever Matt Herges, whose record is 8-0, with an ERA of 3.00. Hmmm . . .

Another thing the Dodgers don’t get is irony. This week, former Rookie of the Year Todd Hollandsworth was shipped out to Colorado for yet another former Dodger, outfielder Tom Goodwin, whose 39 steals are second in the major leagues. Hollandsworth had struggled this year (averaging .234), at least in part because he was forced to bat leadoff precisely because the Dodgers had traded speedsters Eric Young and Delino DeShields. Young, whom Johnson didn’t like, is now third in stolen bases in the majors, with 34. DeShields, with 27 for Baltimore, is fifth. And then, of course, there’s former Dodger right-fielder Raul Mondesi, with 22 stolen bases at Toronto (tenth in the M.L.). That’s a combined 83 stolen bases — 27 more than the entire Dodger team (excluding Goodwin)! Tack on the 17 from former prospect and current Houston Astro platooner Roger Cedeno and, well, you get the picture . . . But here it is in black-and-white stats (as of August 1): a team of ex-Dodgers that would make any rotisserie player proud.


.Avg. Hits/ HR/ RBI/ SB

Mike Piazza (NYMets)      .345/ 113/ 29/ 85/ 3

Charles Johnson (Bal/ChiWS)     .294/ 84 /21/ 55/ 2

Paul Konerko (ChiWhtSox)      .301/ 108/ 13/ 66/ 0

Raul Mondesi (Tor)        .272/ 104/ 24/ 67/ 22

Roger Cedeno (Hou)       .258/ 42/ 4/ 19/ 17

Eric Young (ChiCubs)       .298/ 122/ 6/ 34/ 34

Delino DeShields (Bal)       .291/ 102/ 6/ 47/ 27

Todd Zeile (NYMets)        .301/ 110/ 15/ 59/ 2


Collectively, this team beats the current Dodgers in each statistical category — and we haven’t even included former Dodgers Pedro Martinez, the best pitcher in baseball, and John Wetteland, who has the second highest save total in the A.L.

Still, there is some good news: Valdez is batting .286 . . .

Speak Loud but Carry a Skinny Stick

Activists gearing up for the Democratic National Convention would do well to heed the lesson of Pamelyn Vlasak. On August 2 of last year, Vlasak, an animal-rights activist, got 30 days in jail for violating section 55.07A of the Los Angeles Municipal Code while protesting Circus Vargas’ treatment of animals. The ordinance forbids anyone “participating in any demonstration, rally, picket line or public assembly” from carrying “any length of lumber, wood, or wood lath unless that object is one-fourth inch or less in thickness and two inches or less in width.” If the stick is not “generally rectangular in shape,” its thickest point cannot exceed three-quarters of an inch. The ordinance is not often enforced, but it could be used selectively, which means that street protesters carrying puppets, and demonstrators with tall signs that need sturdier sticks for support, are vulnerable to law enforcement’s whims. One could even imagine that performers on stilts could be legally detained under the ordinance, and although such an interpretation would be creative, it isn’t unthinkable: Vlasak wasn’t carrying a sign at all, but a 31-inch-long, 1-and-a-half-inch-thick “bull hook” used by trainers to prod performing elephants.

Don White of Los Angeles CISPES, an organization concerned with corporate globalization in El Salvador, recommends adhering to the law whenever possible, and even suggests searching the hardware stores for “a picket-sign stick” specially made to conform with the ordinance. But three out of four local hardware stores surveyed — Anawalt, Rompage and B&B — had never heard of such a thing. Only George Garcia, a sales associate at that merchant of old-growth wood, Home Depot, came up with an alternative to the sliver-giving lathe sticks. Garcia suggests carrying your sign on molding, which comes cut 1-and-five-eighths-inch wide and one-quarter-inch thick with a smooth, easy-on-the-skin finish. Home Depot has promised to leave old-growth alone by 2002, but environmentalists could still be in an awful quandary: They could find themselves protesting the cutting of trees with a slice of the very wood they’re trying to save. —Judith Lewis

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