The Tokyo metro.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As I walked with my wife onto the platform of the Tokyo metro, I was reminded of the current impasse in talks with the Palestinians.
A simple question, which only the Japanese have answered correctly, is: why does the railway authority check your train ticket before allowing you on the platform? I have asked many people this question and have never had the right answer.
Nearly everyone will tell you that it is to make sure you have a valid ticket.
This is the wrong answer; the railway authority has no interest in passengers with valid tickets. In Japan, they have come up with the right answer – they look for passengers with invalid tickets.
Meaningless semantics, I hear you say, but there is a very practical difference.
A passenger with a valid ticket requires no action while a passenger with an invalid ticket has to be denied access to the platform. So, in Japan, the ticket barriers are normally wide open and the holder of a valid ticket walks straight through. An invalid ticket, or no ticket, causes the barrier to slam shut and sets off a siren with flashing red lights and gets the sleepy controller out of his comfortable booth. This allows a much quicker flow of passengers than the usual stop, check ticket, open barrier, close barrier routine used in nearly every other country. With some million passengers passing through Tokyo’s metro each day, the time saved in getting passengers through the ticket check is significant.
I had a valid ticket and walked quickly through the open ticket barrier without let or hindrance, as a British passport demands. Standing on the platform, I was still thinking about the issue of a Palestinian state when I saw a large rubbish bin divided into several sections: plastic, paper, PET bottles, aluminum and glass. To my horror, there was a separate large bin for newspapers. Yes, that’s right, in modern, green, environmentally friendly Japan they were still recycling newspapers.
I am sure that most Jerusalem Post readers are aware of the many negative effects of this appalling practice so I will mention only the worst of them. For a start, the recycling process itself produces a lot of pollutants – from the exhaust gases pouring from the recycling trucks that collect the waste newspaper, to the fossil fuels that are burnt to produce the electricity used in the recycling plants.
Then we have the real problem. The newspapers to be recycled are all mixed together into a pulp. This pulp must be washed and cleaned, before it can be pressed into new sheets of paper. During this process, waste material from the newspapers like paper fibers, inks and dyes, together with the cleaning agents, detergents and caustic chemicals such as chlorine, are filtered out into one giant pudding known as paper sludge.
This sludge must be disposed of and is usually sent to a landfill, where many toxic chemicals and heavy metals leach into the groundwater.
And lastly, recycling paper reduces the demand for trees, so fewer will be cut down. This might sound good but actually means that fewer new trees will be planted. As a result, our forests will age, and old trees are much less efficient than young trees at absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. (Young trees take in carbon dioxide, use the carbon to make wood and throw out the unused oxygen. Old trees have stopped growing and do not need the carbon.) What has this to do with Palestinian demands for statehood? We have seen from these two examples that the obvious answer to a simple question is not always the right one. Should the train company check if your ticket is valid? No. Is newspaper recycling good for the environment? Definitely not. These answers are not at all what we would have expected.
Waiting for the next train, my thoughts returned to the question of a Palestinian state. We often ask ourselves: do the Palestinians really want their own state? The obvious answer is, yes, of course. But we now know that the obvious answer is not always the correct one. We have often heard from US President Barack Obama and from US Secretary of State John Kerry that this is the Palestinians’ highest priority, but we have yet to hear from PA President Mahmoud Abbas. There have not been many signs from the Palestinians themselves that they are preparing the institutions and mechanisms required for a functioning independent State of Palestine.
I must have missed something, I thought to myself. Let me list all the positive signs that the Palestinians have given us to show that we can come to a mutually agreed resolution of the current impasse. But this was Tokyo: there is a train every minute, and before I could start my list we were swept up with the crowd of commuters and squeezed onto the train. A couple of very burly “helpers” with white gloves pushed us inside and made sure that the doors could close.
Perhaps the current peace talks also need a couple of burly helpers. The writer is a retired physicist. His overworked imagination has created a novel: Snow Job – A Len Palmer Mystery, available for Amazon Kindle.