China and the Hollywood Squares

China and the Hollywood Squares

American celebrities could learn from the example set by China's neighbors in the wake of the Sichuan earthquake, writes Tom Plate

By Tom Plate
Pacific Perspectives Columnist

Friday, May 30, 2008

Los Angeles --- So now it's Sharon Stone.

Before her, it was Steven Spielberg.

And before him and her -- and it sometimes seems now and forever -- there was Richard Gere.

These are America's High Pontificators -- the Hollywood Squares of the world situation. They like to offer their special wisdom on what China is doing wrong, especially in Tibet. They like it so very much when people all over the globe actually take them seriously and listen to them. And they especially like it when China takes them seriously by getting furious with them.

As for us ordinary Americans -- well, whatever would we do without the Hollywood Squares?

Ms. Stone -- looking rather fetching, we must admit, in her skintight leopard dress at the Cannes Films Festival -- offered the Cannes crowd this in-depth analysis of the tension in Tibet: "I'm not happy about the way the Chinese are treating the Tibetans because I don't think anyone should be unkind to anyone else. And then the [Sichuan] earthquake and all this stuff happened, and then I thought, is that karma? When you're not nice that the bad things happen to you?"

Wow, what a great thought! Stone has this new theory that earthquakes are caused by bad government policies. Now -- please, and you know who you are! -- stop laughing so hard. It is just theoretically conceivable that she is right. If she is, let us consider for a moment the enormously consequential implications.

For example, I live in Southern California, also known as Big Earthquake Country. We all sit around our pools, barbeques and Jacuzzis waiting for the Big One. We assume that some day it will come. While we're waiting, we smoke or drink different things to ease the pain of the future shocks.

But maybe -- just maybe -- if we had better government policies, we'd have fewer quakes here? Maybe if we pulled out of Iraq and finally improved our public schools and were whatever to immigrants .

If this is the case, then why are the Hollywood Squares wasting their advice on China and its earthquakes? What about California and our earthquakes?

If Sharon -- and for that matter Steven and Richard -- would just for once turn the focus and policy-brilliance on what America (and specifically California) is doing wrong karma-wise, then perhaps we can avoid having to endure Mother Nature at her meanest old witch worst.

I mean, why go through what the poor Chinese have had to endure these past few weeks?

In addition to warmly welcoming Ms. Stone's advice about counter-productive karmic government policies here (or warmly welcoming her input on anything else she wishes to brief me on), I'd like to widen that invitation to all the Hollywood Squares who have advice for foreign governments.

However, my advice is this: Maybe we Americans ought to work harder to get our own backyard in really good shape before we start nagging faraway neighborhoods about their shortcomings.

Look at Japan. It is most interesting that the Japanese, who actually live in China's neighborhood, managed to resist the temptation to hurl stones at China as Sharon did. Perhaps that's because many Japanese, unlike many Americans, have really good memories. They vividly recall their own Kobe quake of 1995. They recall that they reacted very poorly then -- about as ineptly as the U.S. government reacted to the Katrina hurricane of 2005 that almost washed away the theretofore bustling metropolis of New Orleans.

Instead, the Japanese sought to light some candles in China rather than curse the darkness that could be arguably attributable to misguided China's policies. Most laudably, Tokyo responded instantly to Beijing's surprising request for Japan's Air Self Defense Forces to fly relief teams and equipment into the province of Sichuan. This was the first time since 1945 that Japanese military aircraft landed on Chinese soil.

This is not to suggest that Hollywood's High Pontificators are cheap to dish out the charity. The whole world's heart has been touched by the tragedy. But as an editorial in the Taiwan Journal, the official weekly newspaper out of Taipei, put it: "Political disagreements and contentions between nations were relegated to the backburner as human survival prevailed over all other contending issues." Like China-rival Japan, even Taiwan (officially dubbed a runaway province by Beijing) lost no time in coming to China's aid.

The fact of the matter is that the Hollywood Squares are just too quick to dish out unwanted advice and judgments, and sometimes at the worst possible time. Sharon of all people should recall the New Testament warning (John 8:7): "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."

The views expressed above are those of the author and are not necessarily those of AsiaMedia or the UCLA Asia Institute.