So glad to be home after a lengthy tour of the Pacific. BBC foreign trips are held to be the most glamorous piece of a media life, but are nothing but stress and toil. It's not that I don't like Asia and the West Coast, but working 12 hour days in the 37 degree Tokyo heat is no fun.
I recommend Japan, nevertheless. People expect it to look like Blade Runner, and find it more like Switzerland.
But let me share with you a striking phenomenon I was alerted to there - the 'parasite singles'. These are young single women, working for reasonable wages and living at home with their parents. It's a large group in Japan, as more than half the women at 30 are still unmarried. Daughters tend to be treated by their parents as more dependent than their sons; they pay no rent and get looked after. Everything they earn is discretionary income, to be spent as they please.
No wonder that in a recession-prone economy, the parasite singles succeed in keeping sales of designer labels and luxury goods so high.
I haven't had time to investigate the discreet charm of the parasite singles closely, but I wonder if the existence of this group is a consequence of high property prices (keeping them at home) and the fundamentally conservative attitudes towards gender. If so, let's be careful in Britain not to allow the high cost of housing - with its implication that kids will stay at home longer - to get us into the same situation.
I found myself on the tour filming at a bankrupt stock auction in Silicon Valley. Such events are all the rage out there as dot.com debris goes up for sale. Hi-tech at low prices. For filming purposes, I bought an office chair for dollars 1, as a vivid illustration for Newsnight viewers of the low values now being attached to the assets accumulated during America's recent investment boom.
What we did not show on Newsnight was the other office chair I accidentally bought for dollars 50 (we thought viewers would recoil at such a clear waste of licence payers' money). It was an accidental purchase as I thought I was bidding only dollars 25, but by the time I had waved my hand it had doubled in price. The episode gave me a new insight into how the telecoms companies must have felt after the 3G auction last year.
My producer and I could only wonder whether auctioneers deliberately create a momentum that induces overbidding in the heat of the occasion.
What would happen if an auctioneer proceeded at a slow and leisurely pace, without shouting like a horse-racing commentator describing the last furlong of the Derby?
Am I allowed to use obscenities in this column? Probably not, but it may just be worth telling you about my new favourite web site - a gossip forum that I was alerted to by a contact in Silicon Valley. It's called f***edcompany.com. (I'm afraid you can't type the asterisks into your Internet Explorer, you have to type the letters they replace).
On the site, disgruntled employees from the hi-tech downsizing businesses that dominate the economic landscape out in California and beyond spill the beans on the absurd things managers say and do. It's a great place to read company memos. (For example, what would someone mean by opening a memo with 'I am writing to you today to share information about our business and our plans to ensure its healthy and rewarding future'? Answer: 'I am about to announce pay-cuts of 5% to 10%, and a bunch of redundancies.') Or use the site to brush up on rumours that some bankrupt firm managed to auction off its computers, having forgotten to wipe confidential client information off the hard drives. I recommend the site but I don't vouch for the reliability of any information contained therein.
Talking of swearwords and US web sites, I'm much amused by the site of US Senator Mike Crapo (www.senate.gov/~crapo). Sorry for my schoolboy sniggers, but he includes the sub-section 'How do you pronounce Crapo?'.
Most of us would not feel it necessary to draw attention to the name, but the senator explains: 'My last name is of French origin and can be confusing to pronounce for the first time. There are many members of the Crapo family in eastern Idaho, so many Idahoans already know how to say it correctly. But for those who are not familiar with it, it is pronounced CRAY-poe.' For me, the message of this piece of prose is: when you are standing on vulnerable ground, try to deploy a bit humour to bolster your position.