For too long our country has been in a horribly divisive state. It was worse during the Vietnam era, which was second only to the Civil War. That period was so divisive they fought a war!

On a divisive scale of 1 through 10, I’d say we’re currently around 8. I was hoping that with Obama things would be more bipartisan. No such luck. I questioned many things about George Bush — lack of judgment, intellect, curiosity and inability to pronounce “nuclear” — but I never questioned whether he was born in the U.S.

I occasionally feel this divisiveness from readers. It seemed like whenever I wrote columns against the war in Iraq I’d invariably get e-mails calling me a Communist. When I wrote about UCLA’s basketball struggles I got called a liberal loser. (I failed to see the connection but I thanked her for reading my columns nonetheless.)

When I wrote in favor of the outdoor smoking ban, I got called a fascist. (Which is more insulting, liberal loser or fascist?) As it happens, a proposed smoking ban is back in the news, but first, Saturday is the big football game between USC and UCLA.

As a UCLA alum, I’m not overly optimistic. During the past 10 years the Bruins have won a grand total of once, and that was something of a miracle. Mary Olivier, a former Santa Monica schoolteacher, e-mailed to remind me that before that UCLA had won eight in a row. (Maybe the pain of losing overshadows the joy of winning? Or, worse, maybe it’s just me?)

During these past 10 years the Bruins have been outscored 337-155, largely at the hands of three different Heisman Trophy winners, all of which prompted two head-coaching changes at UCLA. But, as they say, tomorrow’s a new day. (Check with me late Saturday afternoon.)

USC enters the game with a 7-3 record, while UCLA is 6-5, but supposedly UCLA has all the momentum. I say “supposedly” because, while Bruins have won three straight Pac 10 games, it’s only the second time they’ve done that in the past decade!

And yes, USC has lost two of their last three games (how sweet they were). But they’ve had two weeks to rest and think of nothing else other than ruining my Saturday. (OK, maybe I’m personalizing this a bit.)

While there’s a bitter divide in the country between liberals and conservatives, and in Los Angeles between USC and UCLA fans, in Santa Monica there’s one brewing between smokers and non-smokers. SC-UCLA will be settled tomorrow, but the smoking controversy in Santa Monica has to wait until Dec. 3. That’s when Rent Control Board member Robert Kronovet plans to sponsor a ban on smoking in apartments that share common floors or ceilings with at least one other unit, including patios and balconies. Things could get, as comedian Arte Johnson used to say, “very interesting.”

The arguments will probably be pretty much as in the past. Smokers will contend that their rights are being infringed upon, while “clean air” advocates might present study after study that proves second-hand smoke is highly dangerous. What may be different this time is Mr. Kronovet’s strong belief that the time for this regulation is now.

In the past, the City Council has passed smoking bans. But many victims of second-hand smoke considered them politically correct, half-measures to avoid alienating smokers, while giving the appearance of protecting public health.

Kronovet’s not in favor of “grandfathering” current smoking tenants, or phasing the ordinance in over time. However, landlords would be able to designate smoking areas as long as they are more than 20 feet away from doors and windows used by the public.

In 2006, the council passed a smoking ban for restaurant outdoor dining areas, and at bus stops and ATMs. But in the past three years I’ve never seen a single sign. Why?

There’s also a smoking ban on the beach. But, this past summer, the trash cans were missing the attractive dolphin-adorned stickers that posted the ordinance. When I called they said that this year they “didn’t have time.” That’s simply unsatisfactory. Sara Bayles, who founded the beach clean-up organization at www.thedailyocean, reports that cigarette butts are still among the most prevalent items of litter (not to mention those that wind up in the ocean).

Back to the proposed ordinance. Violations would not be grounds for eviction, nor would the police be involved. A complaining neighbor would have to put the smoker on notice and, if the smoking continued, could sue in small claims court. The fine for first convictions would be $100, second would be $200, and the third would be $500.

So two big days, Saturday and Dec. 3. It’s a toss-up which I want more, a UCLA victory or the smoking ban. Whoops, here come the e-mails.

The public is invited to speak at the Rent Control Board meeting, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. at City Hall. Jack can be reached at

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