Milk — liquid innocence. If milk lets you down, what won’t? It looks healthy, tastes healthy — surely it is healthy? Appearances, we know, are deceiving; still, this particular illusion dies hard.

Whose earliest childhood memories do not include a parent admonishing, “Drink your milk so you’ll grow up big and strong!” Who, having grown (big and strong or not) to parenthood, did not in all innocence lead their own children similarly astray?

The Swedish research claiming to debunk the milk myth has been questioned, so maybe it’s all a bad dream after all. One voluble skeptic is Taku Eto, a former farm ministry vice-minister who tells Shukan Post magazine, “I’ve been drinking milk since I was a kid; I’m 181 cm tall … I do karate and play baseball and have never broken a bone in my life.”

Likewise his three children — athletic and brimming with health. The Eto household consumes 8 liters of milk daily and without a qualm will continue to do so.

“One reason the postwar Japanese have been so healthy,” Eto asserts, “is the milk that’s served daily in school lunches. The Swedish research is simply not convincing.”

Maybe not, but it’s certainly impressive. It observed more than 100,000 subjects during 11 years, and found that heavy milk-drinkers on average not only broke more bones than light or non-drinkers, but died younger. True, milk is ultra-rich in calcium, which should build strong bones, but as early as 2002 the World Health Organization noticed what it called the “calcium paradox”: It should, but often doesn’t seem to. Then, in 2008, Japan’s health ministry surveyed 43,000 men aged 45-74 and found higher rates of prostate cancer among heavy milk-drinkers.

Maybe it’s stupid to be shocked — by this or by anything. The notion of yesterday’s knowledge being obsolete today and laughable tomorrow is so familiar to us by now that the theme is boring — what else is new? Well, this: The weekly Spa! polled 1,000 male company employees, aged 35-45, and found more than a third of them, 36.1 percent, want to quit their jobs.

That suggests a level of dissatisfaction hardly compatible with the bright promise of a dawning new age, but Spa!’s research goes deeper. Among the 63.9 percent of respondents who don’t want to quit their jobs, less than half — 42.57 percent — say it’s because they’re happy where they are. Not far behind are the 37.4 percent who say changing jobs is discouragingly stressful, or the 23.32 percent who fear a new job would mean a lower salary.

There is, in short, a lot of discontent in the workplace, and since the workplace is where most people spend most of their waking lives, that means a lot of discontent period. That’s not new either — but the point is that so much else is new. Why should chronic discontent alone be constant?

You can learn a lot about a society by studying its trivia — an underlying theme of this column. Here, then, is a bit of trivia; let’s see what we can make of it: There’s a fashion going around, notes Shukan Shincho magazine, called “kirakira names.” “Kirakira” means glittering, flashing, like a shop window at Christmas. What does that have to do with names? Imagine naming your children Girishiya and Torino, the way Upper House Rep. Seiko Hashimoto has with her two sons.

That’s nothing compared to some of the other examples. Maybe sympathy is misplaced. Maybe it’s great to grow up with the name of a country (Greece) or a city (in Italy). But Shukan Shincho comments, not implausibly, concerning some of the other kirakira names it lists, “It’s like hanging a sign around a child’s neck reading, ‘Please sexually harass me.’ ” For instance (seriously): ‘Rabuho’ (love hotel), ‘Anaru’ (anal, intentionally or not).

What does this have to do with milk and changing jobs? Maybe nothing, or maybe the sense that no truths are immutable and no amount of progress brings real satisfaction stimulates a craving to fly in the face of what would seem the most elementary common sense, or rather to show that one has understood there is no such thing as common sense, even where our own defenseless children are concerned.

Kirakira names tend to be written with whimsical and unreadable kanji, some of them rather clever, if perversely so: “Adamu,” for example, written with the character “otoko” (man) — Adam does in fact mean “man” in Hebrew — or “Riida” (leader), written with characters meaning “world” and “guidance.”

Clever it may be, but one educator Shukan Shincho speaks to calls this “a ‘respectable’ form of child abuse.” Another notes a tendency toward self-consciousness and lack of confidence in children with kirakira names.

Small children, sadly, are not our only defenseless fellow-citizens. The very old join the very young in that category, and have in fact surpassed them numerically. Dementia, a tragic farewell to life, is an increasingly familiar one. In our prime we might find ourselves involved as care-givers; looking ahead, we fear for ourselves, wondering, perhaps, “What if I fall under the care of the sort of person who names a daughter Anaru?

The fear is real enough, but it’s pleasant (and reasonable too; we haven’t gone completely to seed, after all!) to end this story on a hopeful note. The weekly Shukan Asahi takes us to the city of Omuta in Fukuoka Prefecture — a former coal-mining town where young people left en masse after the mine closed in 1997, leaving behind a population that is one-third elderly (65 or over), against a national average, itself alarmingly high, of one-quarter.

In Omuta, then, on a blazing hot midsummer day in 2012, a 13-year-old girl noticed an elderly woman wandering around as though lost. She immediately approached: “Are you all right?”

“I can get home from Enmei Park,” the woman said. The girl took her there, but the woman’s confusion persisted.

“Come, we’ll go to a police box,” said the girl. Fortunately the woman was able to give her name and address — as many elderly wanderers are not — and the police got her safely home.

“The woman did not just happen to meet a sympathetic young girl,” Shukan Asahi explains. “Haikai drills” — “haikai” means wandering, and refers lately to the bewildered wandering of people with dementia — have been held in Omuta for the past 10 years. The whole population is primed to be helpful. There is talk now of Omuta being a model for the nation as a whole.

Michael Hoffman blogs at www.michael-hoffman-18kh.squarespace.com.

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