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Stateside With Rosalea: Clumsy Rhino, Hidden Mynah

Ess Eff's patron saint of journos, Herb Caen, once wrote: "A true Californian is someone who knows that the hills are naturally a golden brown which is interrupted briefly in winter by the appearance of a greenish scum, which soon disappears, returning them to their natural glory."

Lucky not yet to fit that definition of a true Californian, I've spent the past two weekends as a scum-dweller exploring regional and city parks around the Bay Area in the beautiful spring sunshine. It is wildflower season and besides the California poppies and blue lupins that flourish along the sides of freeways, the hills are alive with marvels large and small such as Johnny-jump-ups, bush monkeyflowers, purple owl's-clover, Johnny Tucks, chamise, royal larkspurs, suncups, mallows, California goldfields and miners lettuce.

I can't help but think how nice it would be if, instead of spending their time thinking up ways to fill several billion heads with unnecessary and unwanted dislike of each other, American and Chinese leaders got themselves and the human race into perspective by going out for a nice walk in the garden. Can all the money and might in the world create one perfect bloom out of soil, air and sunshine? No, so get a grip on yourselves, and resolve this amicably.

The image conjured up by the events over the South China Sea last weekend is of a rhinoceros surrounded by the mynah birds with which it has a symbiotic relationship. The shocking thing about what happened isn't that it happened but that this spyplane stuff was going on at all. As one columnist in the SF Chronicle put it: "Why are we spying on China? That's right, I forgot. We have to scout out sites for Wal-Marts and McDonald's."

The first I learned of what happened last week was a brief statement at the beginning of one of the Sunday morning talk shows. By Tuesday the local broadcast TV channel was reporting that the local Chinese-language cable TV station had assigned 6 of its 9 reporting teams to cover it. By Friday, the SF Examiner had a front-page archive photo of Asian immigrants in a detainee camp on Angel Island. On Saturday night we saw footage from Chinese tv showing the tearful wife of the missing pilot and a translation of a letter she reportedly wrote to Bush calling him cowardly. And today the entire program of the same Sunday morning talk show is devoted to what is and isn't being done to resolve things.

It's scary what jingo and lingo can do. The largest population of Asian-Americans live right here in the Bay Area and contribute enormously to the financial and educational well-being of the nation, not to mention their making up a very large part of the research community that has enabled the state of California to have the seventh biggest economy in the world. It is downright wearying to think how jump-up-Johnnies, of whatever ilk, can put a strain on everyday people's everyday relationships in the blink of an eye.

"Every man is, more or less, the sport of accident; nor do I know that authors are at all exempted from this humiliating influence." So wrote James Fenimore Cooper, possibly America's first best-selling novelist, in a letter to his publisher when submitting the manuscript of "The Pioneers". These days you're likely to find this book among political science text books because of its depiction of life in a new settlement in New York state in the closing years of the eighteenth century. And if you substitute 'politician' for the word 'author' in the quotation above you maybe get to the nub of what's happening in these opening years of the twenty-first century.

Let's hope that politicians, militarists and media organisations on both sides don't also substitute 'fortuitous' for 'humiliating'.

Lea Barker
Sunday, April 8, 2001

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