Musings on overseas trends & U.S. military

By Ron Leir

Ever stop to think about the types of things that drive you bonkers?

What’s the thing that would make you absolutely lose control and make you want to, say, throttle your boss, eat 50 eggs in an hour or live out your days in Walden Pond?

For me, it would be the day they stopped making pistachio ice cream. I’d definitely go over the edge.

Well, over in the Land of the Rising Sun, they have other well-defined priorities and a Nov. 17 story in The New York Times that I’d put aside for days like today when my little grey cells are on strike and I need a column topic to remind me of one such example.

Here’s an excerpt from that story (credited to Motoko Rich and Mikiko Inque): “Living up to Japan’s reputation for being precise as well as contrite, a train company in Tokyo delivered a formal apology … because one of its trains left a station just 20 seconds early [my emphasis].”

Metropolitan Intercity Railway Co. begged forgiveness for “the severe inconvenience imposed upon our customers” as a consequence of its No. 5255 Tsukuba Express train leaving Minami-Nagareyama station in Chiba, a suburb of Tokyo, at 9:44:20 a.m. instead of its scheduled departure time, 9:44:40 a.m.

Incidentally, the train arrived at that station on time but never mind that.

MTA riders, no doubt, would swoon dead away – not because their train left early but because the bureaucrats apologized, right? And even if they did say they were sorry, the passengers wouldn’t be able to understand it over the train P.A. system anyway.

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Only in India, apparently, does it make commercial sense to make a movie about lavatories.

Yes, (thank you, NYT, Sept. 4 issue) the movie, “Toilet, a Love Story,” was a summer Bollywood blockbuster that – while ostensibly a romance – also spoke to a common angst among the country’s 1 billion+ residents.

Seems there aren’t enough commodes to go around. And, boy, I can sympathize ‘cause when you have to go, well, you have to go.

As reported by The Times, India is trying to make up its flush deficit by announcing an investment in commode infrastructure by installing 100 million latrines.

This ambitious goal – if it can be accomplished – should help the country get a handle on the problem of people relieving themselves in public or elsewhere.

The Times cites a UNCEF report that says “around 564 million Indians, nearly half the population, still defecate in the open – in fields, forests, next to ponds, along highway medians and on the beach.

Making matters worse, The Times reported, “A recent study found a troubling correlation between pregnant mothers who had no toilet facilities and low birth weight.’’

One woman in the state of Rajasthan was granted a divorce by a judge, “partly because [her husband] had failed to provide her with a toilet.”

So if you’re considering visiting India, be advised. And if you’re traveling in-country, maybe bring a big roll of toilet paper and a screen. For any emergencies.

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On a serious note: What’s happening with U.S. military operations?

We’re continuing to lose service people in non-combat situations.

In the most recent incident, the Navy’s Seventh Fleet announced last week it was giving up a search for three sailors still missing after their C2-A Grayhound propeller cargo plane crashed in the Philippine Sea 500 miles southeast of Okinawa on Nov. 22. Eight other members of the crew were rescued and are reportedly in good condition.

The transport plane was flying to the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan which was involved in training exercises with the Japanese Navy at the time of the mishap. No explanation has been offered by the Navy for the accident.

On Sunday that week, a U.S. Marine stationed at Okinawa driving a military truck was in collision with a Japanese motorist, killing him. Last month, a transport helicopter had to make an emergency landing in a U.S. military training site, also in Okinawa, after a fire broke out on the chopper.

The Navy fired the head of the Seventh Fleet, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, in the wake of what the Navy characterized as two recent “avoidable” destroyer crashes. Ten fatalities resulted in a collision between the U.S.S. McCain and an oil tanker near Singapore, and seven people died in a crash of the Fitzgerald and a Philippine merchant vessel near Japan. The Navy has said overwork and lack of sleep may have contributed to navigational errors leading to the accidents.

Stateside, something went wrong in a September Army demolitions training exercise conducted at Fort Bragg, N.C., causing the death of a special forces soldier and injuries to seven others, a day after 15 Marines were hurt in a fire during training in California, according to the A.P.

A number of Marines and Army Air crews have been killed in recent years while flying Super Stallion and Sea Dragon military helicopters – crafts acknowledged to be aging but reportedly not being replaced by the Pentagon due to budget restraints, according to reports.

Attention needs to be paid here.

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.