The China Daily, an English-language newspaper aimed at the international business community, is not noted for hyperbole or melodrama. But within its pages this week lies one of those little dramas that brings a touch of human reality to the banner headlines and big-picture narratives found in most American newspapers.
The lead article is terse and reads almost matter-of-factly: "NATO Bombed the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia. U.S.-led NATO brazenly used three missiles from different angles to attack the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Yugoslavia on May 8, which killed at least three Chinese and injured more than 20. The building of the embassy was seriously damaged."
The photographs below the text set the tone. The ruins of a bombed-out building with wires dangling haphazardly from a concrete shell, which could easily be the Federal Building in Oklahoma City: the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. A man in a jacket and tie, looking very young as his hair falls softly over his forehead: Guangming Daily reporter Xu Xinghu. A young woman in a flowered blouse, smiling shyly at the camera, her long hair hanging down her back: Xu's wife, Guangming Daily employee Zhu Ying. A mature woman with short dark hair, wearing what looks like a dark down jacket: Xinhua News Agency reporter Shao Yunhuan. She looks cosmopolitan and confident.
A series of reports in the paper tell the story.
The China Daily article quoted at the beginning concludes: "Plane to Carry Victims Home. China will send a plane to Belgrade to bring back the personnel killed and wounded in the bloody NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, officials said late last night."
The numbers are in and NBC is very grateful to Monica Lewinsky, whose appearance on "Saturday Night Live" was a ratings winner during the crucial May sweeps period.
Also, results from a Gallup poll indicate that most think Monica is funnier than David Spade. But, then again, Madeleine Albright is funnier than David Spade.
Word has it that Paula Jones --- you know, a luminary of some scandals ago --- will lend her name to a psychic telephone operation. I sure hope she actually goes on the air with one of those late-night infomercials:
Paula: "Say, honey, are you sleeping with a married man?" Caller: "Uh, gosh, er, uh, how did you know?" Paula: "It says so on the TelePrompTer."
Actress Camryn Mannheim, of ABC's "The Practice," is getting lots of ink these days. Her new book --- about the tribulations of being a full-figured woman in show biz --- is called "Wake Up, I'm Fat!"
Meanwhile, America breathlessly follows the drama unfolding in Pamela Anderson Lee's life following the removal of her breast implants. This courageous tale will be on book shelves, too --- "Wake Up, I'm Flat!" And Amy Fisher, released from a New York prison after serving seven years for shooting the wife of boyfriend Joey Buttafuoco --- the couple now live in Los Angeles --- has no immediate plans except to write a book, "Wake Up, I'm Moving to LA!" All of which brings us to rising Hollywood starlet Angelina Jolie --- daughter of John Voight --- as she explains to Premiere magazine why her body is marked with scars --- an X on her arm, a slice on her stomach, a nick on her neck: "You're young, you're crazy, you're in bed and you've got knives, so shit happens."
Anna Nicole Smith --- you know, a luminary of some scandals ago --- fell flat the other day...flat on her face outside a bar in the Marina District. She was followed into the street by some hale and hearty fellows who proceeded to "moon" passing cars and pedestrians. That's rather passé --- so to speak. Anna seemed to be better behaved when she was hanging out here with the Hell's Angels. Also, hereabouts: Mike Gillespie was in the Grassland bar in Chinatown recently when two young men nearly came to blows. The argument? Who was better on television, San Francisco newscaster Malou Nubla or her younger sister, San Francisco traffic reporter Christine --- both on the same station, KRON.
Noted in passing: Senor Wences, the great ventriloquist, who died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 103. His act, with Pedro, the voice in the box --- "Easy for me...hard for you. S'awright. Cloze zee box" --- reflected the closeted notoriety of an earlier era. Ed Sullivan loved Wences. He was on Sullivan's show innumerable times. Ed ran a tight, respectable operation: Showing Elvis from the waist up, making the Rolling Stones sing, "Let's Spend Some Time Together," instead of the original lyrics. Sullivan was no boy scout, though. He once held Walter Winchell's head in a urinal at the Stork Club men's room --- and flushed it repeatedly as Walter sobbed.
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Jonathan Reynolds' play, "Stonewall Jackson's House," comes to SF's Eureka Theater May 15. The satire on political correctness was a big hit in New York. It offers engaging lines such as, "The chief responsibility of the artist has become to not hurt anyone's feelings." The definition of a liberal, I once suggested, is someone who likes to sing along with "We Shall Overcome," but dreads hearing the message, "We shall come over."
Appropriately, Pat Holt sends along an account of a woman nursing her baby under folds of clothing in the children's section of Borders Books. A clerk commanded, "You can't do that in here. There are children present." The woman, novelist Kerry Madden-Lunsford, says the clerk fell back on that nauseating and invidious corporate-speak that's permeating the culture: "It's a comfortability issue." "When the store manager and a male employee ('hovering bouncer-like nearby') attempted to move Madden-Lunsford to the bathroom," writes Holt, "she collected her family and left, the manager trailing afterward, cooing, 'Oh, isn't your baby cute! She's so cute! What a beautiful baby!'" At last report, Madden-Lunsford was nursing her child in her lawyer's office.
Actress Joan Chen, who lives here in San Fran, has been denied permission to shoot a new film in China. She broke the rules during production of her last movie by filming in a restricted area. But what really irks the Chinese authorities is that the film, "Xiu Xiu: A Sent-Down Girl," was a big hit in Taiwan. One official says the film "traces the dark side of life and has a negative effect on the Socialist system." Not his cup of tea, he confesses: "Wild women dressed in tight khaki, carrying bayonets, screaming party epithets --- that's what really turns me on."
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I have to agree with Reid Collins. The Cinco de Mayo festivities simply took us by surprise this year. "How these things sneak up on us!" Reid complains with bewilderment. "I haven't done a damn thing. Isn't there a Seis de Mayo? Can't we have another day to prepare?"
This Mexican holiday comes around almost as often as the Country Music Awards. "Sure it does," a friend said, as he picked the cactus spines out of his gums over the canapés at Los Borachos restaurant. "The Country Music Awards happen to be on TV tonight." And so they were. Where's Mary Robbins, now that we need him to sing about Rosie's Cantina? "One little kiss and Felina, goodbye..."
My amigo ordered a Mescal with extra worms in it. He's really a macho bloke. I'm not drinking these days, so I just had the worm --- on the side. Not too bad with salsa.
Many gringos are still convinced that Cinco de Mayo marks Mexico's independence from Spain. Not so. It's all about France. On the 5th of May --- all those years ago --- the French occupying Mexico discovered they were out of Perrier and had to go home. Even then, nobody drank the water down there.
The party was a lot of fun. We gave the piñata the old bastinado with a baseball bat. It held fashionably-filled locally-flavored items --- such as clean needles and condoms. They rained like collateral damage over the crowd. The margaritas flowed and flowed. The revelers got so snockered, they forgot the Alamo.
In Civic Center Plaza a cold wind flaps the flags noisily, like a washerwoman folding sheets.
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At the Supervisors meeting, the sun streams through the west windows, enlivening the old mausoleum. Public Health director Mitchell Katz finishes his State of the City report --- revenues are down, patients are up; HIV/AIDS is down, hepatitis C is up --- and begins to field questions. Barbara Kaufman rises, hair golden in the sunlight, cream-colored suit gleaming.
"On the subject of substance abuse, I've asked several people, 'How many do you actually cure?' They all answered that, even in residential programs, the cure rate is only 3--5 percent. We're spending millions. Can you tell us what we're getting for our money?"
Katz suggests the correct rate is closer to 20--25 percent. "We're beginning to see addiction as an illness, a chronic illness with ups and downs. Users often make repeated attempts before they see any results." But when, he adds, the Number One diagnosis at SF General Hospital is substance abuse --- often in the form of abscesses or pneumonia or HIV/AIDS --- the costs are so tremendous that even a 20--25 percent success rate saves money.
Kaufman apparently thinks the last word wins. "What does treatment on demand mean if we're not getting results? I'm concerned that we keep spending money without results."
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A man and a woman, each over 200 pounds, lean against the wall of the library. "You know why I got busted? It was him. If it wasn't for him, I wouldna got busted."
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About 50 people converge on Glide for a meeting on homelessness sponsored by the North of Market Planning Coalition. An earlier meeting ended so enthusiastically that, the Flier reported, even "the supervisors got into the act. Leslie Katz: I concur. We have a problem, a crisis. Let's hear the audience's suggestions and begin to take real steps. Amos Brown: No, the supervisors should be the ones to start. Leland Yee: Yes, the politicians are the ones with political clout. Let's use the strong relationship between the mayor and Sacramento.
"But the audience upped the ante. Tenderloin resident Roger Langford: Let's set a date right now for our next meeting. St. Anthony's Father Louis Vitale: The city isn't responsive. This is a crisis situation.
"The last word had hardly formed in the good priest's mouth when Amos Brown cut in. 'It's time for action. I invite this group to hold Supervisors Yee, Katz and Brown accountable for their leadership in getting the needed resources through a three-pronged approach at the federal, state and local levels. Let us meet here again in two weeks, when we will have an action plan to present to you.'"
Two weeks later, Michael Blecker from Swords into Plowshares, Chance Martin from the Coalition on Homelessness and Anita Valentine from Glide sit at the front of the room, ready to engage the audience. NOMPC president Garret Jenkins roams the room with a microphone, trying to direct the speakers into constructive directions, but they're not having any of it. Rob Norse of COH sounds the keynote for the meeting: "I find it ironic that the people I wanted to address questions to aren't here to receive them."
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Union Square, sunny and warm, welcomes happy sunbathers. Two men walk briskly past the steps. "They used to call 'em bums, but now they're called homeless."
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At the Supervisors' Committee on Transportation and Land Use, a young traffic engineer --- who shall be nameless --- presents a plan for bike lanes on Polk and Arguello. "Nitty-gritty" is the word of the day, as first the supes and then more than 20 members of the public offer warnings and encouragement: Business will suffer. Children will be endangered. Bikers will be safer. Traffic will be calmer.
What to do? Leland Yee opposes the 6-month trial, which he says threatens to "make one situation worse to make another better." Leslie Katz and Michael Yaki waver. Yaki asks the crucial question, "When will it start?" "It's not clear, probably around the end of the year."
Gasps. The heat is off. If there are problems with the plans, the engineer submits, he can "look closer and see alternatives that can address some of the concerns raised by the schools at the public hearing." The supervisors agree, 2-1, to what Yaki calls a "very flexible approval. The primary goal should be safety for everyone. Come back to us again if necessary." The DPT-man says he'll be monitoring the process very carefully. Yaki's voice turns to thunder: NOT MONITORING! BEFORE!
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10:10 a.m. The Civic Center parking garage is full. A line of would-be parkers slowly exit and make their way back onto McAllister, there to disperse in search of spaces.
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At the Finance Committee, budget analyst Harvey Rose bends over the podium like a conscientious grasshopper. He's annoyed: Redevelopment director James Morales hasn't given him adequate information. Morales steps up to the mike. Right hand in an unexplained cast and jacket draped over his shoulder, he sidesteps the criticism, proffering no apology and posing the need for quick action.
The issue is how to undo a faulty step taken in the 1970s, when the city was younger and more naive. Then San Francisco sold a number of low-income residences to private developers --- in the case of the Golden Gate Apartments, under consideration at the meeting, for $36,000 --- to manage for 20 years. Lo and behold, in the 1990s those owners want to sell the buildings to create market-rate housing. And evict the present tenants.
The city's solution? To buy back the apartment house and sell it to nonprofit developers, but only lease the land underneath. Any default and the city, as the landlord of the land, can find another developer. An ingenious solution to a bad situation. The first of how many?
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Outside, in Civic Center Plaza, two women lie on the grass as the wind sweeps over them. The blonde rests her head on the brunette's stomach, their supine bodies forming a giant T.