Monday, June 18, 2007

Our Tomatoes Are Very Slow To Ripen

Our Tomatoes Are Very Slow To Ripen

Daughter Cornucopia, age three, came rushing into the house very, very proud of herself. She had a trophy to display: a cherry tomato, fully ripe and glistening red. Through immense self-discipline, she had restrained herself from the temptation to pluck it while it was still an unripe green, and now it was ready to eat.

She ate it.

Her self-discipline had been helped by the fact that we had all spent the weekend up at my mother-in-law's house in Gunma Prefecture, allowing the tomatoes to get on with their lives without worrying about the potential dangers of having one of nature's juvenile delinquents in the neighborhood.

About ten minutes after having eaten the first ripe tomato of the season, Cornucopia went rushing outside to see if any of the other tomatoes had ripened in the interim. They had not. Our tomatoes, I'm afraid to say, are very slow to get with the program.

For the trip up to Gunma, I bought three newspapers. One was the INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE, which, for my money, is the best international newspaper in the world. Another was THE JAPAN TIMES, which I usually never buy because I think that buying it is a mistake. This time, however, I did buy it. And, yes, buying it was a mistake. The third paper was THE DAILY YOMIURI, not as good as the IHT, but a big step up from THE JAPAN TIMES (which wouldn't be difficult.)

All these papers had big articles about the Hamas-Fatah fight in Gaza, and all had articles about the scandal of the child slaves kidnapped to work in brick kilns in central China.

One of them, I think THE DAILY YOMIURI, also had an article about how the Chinese have been selling us poisoned toothpaste, "us" here being "those of us who live in Japan". I think I saw something about this on TV.

As everyone who follows the news knows, some Chinese companies have been adulterating food and medical products with dangerous chemicals, causing a massacre of cats and dogs in the United States, and a certain amount of murder-for-profit in Latin America, the murder victims being human beings.

Now it has transpired that some toothpaste imported for distribution in hotels contains poison. The official line here in Japan has been that this shouldn't be a problem, because people don't eat toothpaste, but, on occasion, all through my life, there have been time when I've ingested a little toothpaste, even though I know it's not on any medically recommended product.

I have now abandoned the practice.

At the risk of sounding xenophobic, if I see any food product in the supermarket that is labeled as coming from China, I won't buy it. This isn't a difficult decision, because such products don't usually show up.

The one I've noticed most often is garlic, garlic from China selling in shops at perhaps a tenth of the Japanese-grown product. And also, on occasion, some giant shrimp from China.

What put me off buying Chinese food is the fact that chemical residues go pretty much uncontrolled in China.

Another article I noticed was one about a paid article about Japanese sex slaves which a group of influential Japanese citizens paid to have published in a major American newspaper. Apparently the message was one of total denial: the Japanese military, according to the article, had nothing, absolutely nothing at all, to do with the forcible enslavement of women.

As far as I can make out, this effort at rewriting history, this attempt to sanitize the history of the Second World War, is part of a drive to have Japan march down the road to war. Again.

Japan's present prime minister, Mr Abe, is the leading light of the "let's go to war" movement. He wants to revise the Japanese constitution to permit Japan to have a proper military consisting of an army, a navy and an air force.

Why he wants to do this is so Japan cane become a "normal" nation, his definition of "normal" being, as far as I can make out, as meaning "The next time the Americans want to go smash up some foreign country like Iraq or Iran, we should pile in and do our best to help make the bloodbath a success."

I'm from New Zealand and, in my lifetime, the New Zealand nation has gradually come round to thinking that, on reflection, our reflexive habit of automatically tagging along behind the British and the Americans any time they're heading to the battlefield is a habit we should break.

Since the 1800s, New Zealand has joined the Boer War, the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War, a war the British fought in Malaysia, the Vietnam War, and the first Persian Gulf War, the one in which George Herbert Walker Bush went head-to-head with Saddam Hussein.

These days, the New Zealand nation is getting a lot more selective, and, in recent years, the only New Zealand military involvements that I am aware of are, first, a deployment to East Timor to protect the East Timorese from lawless militias coming across the border to kill and pillage, and, second, a couple of modest deployments to Afghanistan. (I think an engineering reconstruction team and, additionally, a contingent of special forces experts.)

I've spent quite some time thinking about Mr Abe and why he is (a) in sex slave denial and (b) is beating the let's-go-to-war drum.

My own analysis is that the reason for this is because, in some ways, Japan is in deep doo-doo, and the Japanese government doesn't have a clue what to do about it.

The really big problems facing Japan right now, the ones the government should be trying to solve, are the aging population and the disappearance of career-track jobs for the present high school generation.

Those are Japan's two number one problems, as far as I can make out, but the government has absolutely no idea whatsoever as to how to handle these problems.

And it is for that reason, I think, that there has been a retreat from a confrontation with reality, and this retreat has taken us into the realms of displacement activities.

There has been, over the last year or so, a big push in Japan to encourage the teaching of patriotism in Japanese schools. And also, as noted above, a move to rewrite the constitution, to allow Japan to remilitarize.

These displacement activities I see as the flailings of a regime which is incompetent to face the challenges of reality. But what they can do is try to coerce school teachers and students into singing the national anthem. Or play at war alongside the Americans.

These activities give guys like Abe the sensation that they're doing something, but they're not. They're avoiding a confrontation with reality.

One society which I admire, though it is about the last place on planet Earth that I would want to live, is Singapore. For my taste, it's over-organized, regimented and way too tightly controlled.

Even so, I respect the achievement of Singapore, and their willingness to face up to the challenges of globalization.

For a long time, Singapore prospered by making money by filling high-tech niches, but, in an increasingly competitive globalized economy, that is becoming harder and harder to go.

So, face to face with increasingly difficult circumstances, they've found what may be the path to the future. (Or one part of the path.)

As I understand it, Singapore sees the way forward as being, in part, to become the Switzerland of Asia, a safe and secure place where you can enjoy a high level of banking privacy and enjoy the view from your penthouse window without having to worry about someone pumping a rocket-propelled grenade through the window.

Whether that will pan out for the people of Singapore, I have no idea. But I wish them luck. At least they're trying. They're facing up to the objective realities, not trying to escape into comic book fantasies where everything will just be fine and hunky-dory and teach the kids that it's patriotic to salute the flag and to march to war whenever our great American allies say the word.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

glad you are in remission.

fm singapore

11:38 PM  

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