Saturday, November 17, 2012

From ‘Dreams of the Dragon's Children’ by Navroze Contractor

The Chinese are as noisy in the mornings as we Indians. I was woken by sounds of people expectorating, gargling, spitting, buckets being dragged, mugs falling, taps running, coughing and more coughing and plenty of talking.

In South China people eat everything, and that includes snakes. We decided to try it. The proposal was shot down by our Chinese friends. They were all from north China and thought the southerners were barbaric in their eating habits. ….

The resentment between north and south in China is as old as its history. Under dynastic rule, the ‘business’ community was considered the lowest and was often banished to the south. In those days the southern men, unlike their northern counterparts, had long hair, wore earrings and dressed in strange ways.

We had noticed that when the Chinese travelled they ate, talked animatedly and then, all of a sudden, just fell asleep.

More from the China Daily:
A senior party functionary was caught hoarding rations in his house and reselling them at higher prices with forged documents. He was executed in public with a bullet paid for by his family
Ian Botham’s century is ‘deliberate’ as Australia is on the verge of winning the third cricket test

Another bucket had the white powder ajinomoto, or MSG. In India we were all against MSG, but in China they use it by the handful. I never stopped being amazed at the speed with which they chopped vegetables and meat.

The Chinese are loud eaters. They slurp and suck at the chopsticks and the ceramic spoons.

……Shenzen …..It was an animal market. Pigeons, chicken, duck, sparrows, eagles, hawks, parrots, some other unidentifiable birds, and crows. Everything was for sale and everything was being cut and feathered. Women and men stood around bargaining and the sellers would cut the birds up, feather them, skin them and stick them in front of faces that nodded approvingly. Further on there were dogs, mongoose, snakes, pigs, cats, rats, and monkeys, anything that crawled or ran was being sold and slaughtered. The shocking thing was that after a bargain was stuck a limb would be cut off or some other part carved out without first killing the animal. There were screams from animals all around – dogs yelping and howling in pain, rats squealing and monkeys shrieking. It was horrifying. I had never ever seen so much cruelty towards animals.

We had seen no birds during our two weeks in south China.

During the difficult period after the Revolution, food shortage plagued the country and people had been forced to eat anything they could lay their hands on. Since they didn’t have guns and enough sling shots to shoot the birds, they used to make a collective din using drums, vessels and wood boards and not let the birds rest. The birds fell down from the sky in exhaustion.

The best country in the world to be a child is probably China. Since they have a very strict one-child policy, children are spoilt all out of shape. We had seen children create havoc in restaurants and no one ever said a word. They were adored, cajoled, cuddled and loved like they were going out of fashion. When they cross a busy road all traffic stops, and passers-by stop and clap.

When you see a Chinese child smile you simply crack up.

China can make you romantic and Mao had mastered the art of making an entire nation seem romantic. Chinese films depicted smiling peasants working in the fields, smiling workers toiling away. In 10,000 kilometres of travelling I never once saw a peasant smiling in his field or a worker smiling when he worked. But on the other hand I never saw starving, hungry, groveling people either. So it is easy to become romantic about China and lose your hold on reality. The greatness of Mao lay not in the fact that he romanticized work but in that he had instilled an incredible pride in the workers and peasants.

No matter how great a nation China is, by trying to remove other cultures and systems it has become boring. All mono-culture eventually destroys itself.

When children wake up, the sounds everywhere in the world are the same.

A conversation between mother and daughter began ………

But Mama, in the city there are so many things to see and do.
There are so many people, they spend all their time pushing others, trying to get ahead …
In the city I am never bored, there are cinemas, shops, restaurants, libraries, parks, museums …. whatever you want …..
Yes, yes, they have everything but people don’t care about you, no one knows anyone else, its so lonely …
That’s the best part, you can do what you want and no one will bother ….
Even if you drop dead on the roads ….
Who’s going to drop dead, for heaven’s sake ….
If not you, an old one like me may do …
Ma, you wont have to sit and make wan-tans at home for New Year; you can go and buy them from a shop …
Then I will have to do something else to have money to go and buy wan-tans from a shop, so I will have to do something …..
You could do something more meaningful ….
What is more meaningful than feeding people ….

….a Chinese saying: ‘One who turns disaster into victory, earns the help of men. One who lives modestly, earns the help of the earth. One who overcomes vanity, earns the help of the heavens.’

In China, if you are in a queue you are going to be pushed, then sqeezed and shoved and have to protect yourself from being crushed. The difference is there was no agro, it wasn’t meant to be rude. No one got mad and nobody broke the line except children. ….. I didn’t see a single parent reprimanding their kids, they were allowed to run amuck. I remembered what Mao had said: ‘If you want to plan two years ahead, grow rice. If you want to plan ten years ahead, grow trees. If you want to plan forever, have children.’

….ET…. said he had come very close to the Indian border ….. He remembered excitedly that there had been so many dogs and monkeys. They were considered a delicacy in China, but roamed in such abundance in India and nobody ate them!

In the old days the Emperor gave five punishments. For a lesser offence the crime you’d committed was tattooed on your forehead. Then your nose was cut off. Then your genitals were cut off. Then your legs were cut off so there would be no chains used on you and for the most heinous crime, after these punishments, your head was cut off. …. Till the nineteenth century in England there was death penalty for stealing anything more than five pence worth. I didn’t want to be in the old England or the new China, I wanted to be back in India.

We reached the check-in counter and the girl behind the desk gave us a big smile. We were shocked because no official had ever smiled at us.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

From ‘In the Hot Unconscious. An Indian Journey’ by Charles Foster

‘We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us, and call that handful of sand the world.’
-          Robert M. Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)

….After all, Christianity is an Eastern religion that just happens to speak Greek
-          Charles Foster

‘The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth,” and so it goes away.’
-          Robert M. Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)

The Self, said the Buddha, is the source of illusion, and its creatures. Destroy it, and one has cleared away the scum on the lake of the world. Then one can see Reality, glittering sharply, with fabulous multifaceted beauty, at the bottom of all experience. ‘Now I have found you,’ said the Buddha, when he burst through Enlightenment. ‘Never again will you build the house of Self.’

Sleep was elusive; I chased it and it wore me down.

He vomited as tidily as any duchess as we lurched round the bends into the clouds

The gardener stomped muddily down the corridor and kicked at my door ……showed me his earwig trap behind the potting shed. I was grateful, of course, but it was a flimsy foundation for friendship.

I sat, throwing out the thoughts as I’d been taught, and again, never wondering who was throwing them out.

There’s no question, though, that aloneness is a fine tool for exposing the multifacetedness of things: you simply have more time to turn over and over the toys we call facts. You can see how they glitter in the light of quiet.

That patch of sky over india had a musty, homely smell, like an old exercise book. It should have had inkblots and spelling corrections.

Pulling on a crumpled roll of marijuana in Varanasi, a sadhu said: ‘The truth is within you. Everything you search for is there. Its your own obsession with the “I” which blocks your view of those truths. Why do you look outside?’

‘What could anything on paper ever tell you that the tree which has been destroyed to make it could not? Nothing. Nothing at all.’

There are four life stages in the Vedic ashram system. The first is Brahmacharya, the stage of dedication to the great quest – to realize Brahman in oneself. It is entered into by bright-eyed youths……Then there is Grihastha … the stage of settling down. Wives and mortgages are acquired, children are born, cars are polished, lawns are mowed, businesses grow, fortunes are made. Then when the children fly the nest, the wives sag, and the machinations of the firm become unbearably grey, there is Vanaprastha. The Hindu goes into the forest, and begins to prise from his soul the deadly things that have stuck to it over the years of domesticity. He pays off his debtors, and tries to pay off the demons too. He has been dying since he was born, and now is the time to do something about it. The house is sold, the business is given to the sons. He takes with him into the forest only the sacred fire, the cultic implements and, optionally and unusually, his wife. He lives off wild food; his hair and nails go uncut; his capacity for delusion is gradually ground down by austerity and meditation. Eventually he may see clearly enough to go into the final stage – sannyasa. Then he will wander alone through India, begging. The ties with the old life and the old self will have been severed, he will be teethering on the edge of enlightenment, or living in it……..
It is a stern system, now rarely followed. It has generated immense spiritual wealth.

‘I think what I really mean when I speak of the unconscious is the substance of the soul, the “centre” where all the faculties, sense, feeling, appetite, imagination, intellect, will, have their roots. Here all are merged in a deep, simple unity, open at once to God and to nature. Primitive man lives from this centre and that is why he is so “natural”. With so much grace and spontaneity in body and soul, so open to God and to the infinite, and yet so readily turning astray into immorality. As the faculties develop, especially the intellect and will, man grows out of this centre; he becomes specialized, one part is repressed at the expense of another, he becomes “unnatural”, complicated, disunited, yet develops a strong “moral” character to keep things in control. (This is typical of the British in India) ….’
-          Bede Griffiths (Letter, 1956)

She sat on a rock for an hour in the lotus position, completely still, and brought the stillness back with her to the hut. It was not the sort of stillness that you interrogate, but the sort that interrogates you.

There was sun somewhere up there, but so far away that it didn’t seem to matter. Eventually it went away, and then it did matter.

Santoshi Mata is a new Hindu goddess………. She was cheap to propitiate, and needed no elaborate rituals or professional priests. She was intensely practical. She did not insist that busy housewives stop scrubbing their potatoes and work instead on understanding that they and the potatoes were identical with Brahman. She responded quickly and sympathetically to requests for electric mixers, sons or television sets.

Many people sat and looked at a cross that sweated blood during Mass several times between 1551 and 1704, and waited for something. India is superb at waiting.

‘Who sees all beings in his own Self, and his own Self in all beings, loses all fear. When a sage sees this great Unity, and his Self has become all beings, what delusion and what sorrow can ever be near him?’
-          Isa Upanishad

…..Upanishads…..they are the products of well-integrated men – powerful codifiers, adept in linear logic, but sublime poets and frontier-pushing mystics too. There have never been many such writers ………The earliest Upanishads were composed between 800 and 400 BC. Most of the Upanishads are later thatn the four Vedas – the foundational texts of Hinduism. The Vedas are hymns containing detailed accounts of Hindu mythology, passionate exhortations to religious observance, bleak verdicts on the irreligious, and dazzling, kaleidoscopic performances by writers schooled in ecstasy and close to the heart of joy……
Literarily wonderful though they are, the Upanishads are rathe sniffily middle class towards the Vedas. They see the Vedas as the province of the uneducated and unwashed peasants who would never dream of listening to Bach or reading the New York Review of Books. They are plainly embarrassed that many Hindus take the colourful myths so literally, and want to put them right. The authors clearly regard themselves as having been favoured with special knowledge, which they might well have been.

The authors of the Upanishads were religious revisionists. They were the early Cromwells of the Hindu world…..systematically smashing up the idols of the Hinduism that they saw as outdated and primitive. ……….Give me wild Vedic Hinduism any day instead of the slightly self-satisfied University Hinduism of the Upanishads.

Hinduism can and should remind the Christians what their faith is meant to be about. Probably most worthwhile learning is actually anamnesis: unforgetting. Hinduism can help to remind everyone, eloquently and beautifully, that there’s a massive part of ourselves which we neglect at our peril, and which Christianity has neglected to its peril. It’s a detailed map of the seething Unconscious; of the raging sea of the psyche; of the myths from which we can never escape. It’s the book of the elemental.

Can anything be a ‘satisfactory blueprint’ for something as majestic as the whole of a human life?
The answer, obviously, was no. Existence is far too big, colourful and complex to be capable of being governed by any statement of belief. The greatest Christian creeds have explicitly recognized this, acknowledging …..the dismal inadequacy of language and accordingly creeds themselves…..
All great creeds end by asserting that creeds won’t do. That’s what you’d expect. If they cant even tell us satisfactorily what God is like, they are bound to fail to tell us adequately how to relate to Him, Her, Them or It.

…..the great Ranganathaswamy temple….. You feel the competition for temple colour and temple size between neighbouring villages. They are a lot more interesting than the thatched huts in which everyone lives. Regardless of my theology, if I lived in one of those villages, my eyes would want to go to the temple everyday for some relief. The temple statues speak of epic possibility in a world where there’s no possibility at all. Their attraction at all levels must be immense.

Kanyakumari’s a happy, tacky, carnival place. Most people are on a holiday lightly disguised as a pilgrimage

‘I see you looking at my book. Perhaps you are searching?’
‘Aren’t we all?’
‘Very true. Very true. What do you look for? Perhaps I can take you there?’
I came to like this very much indeed about India – that you could go in a single sentence from asking a name to asking one’s life purpose. In London it would have taken years and a dozen drunken dinner parties.

………India’s a theatre of cruel slapstick. Wherever you look, emaciated men in loincloths are falling off bicycles, vanishing down holes in the road, being pulled screaming behind auto-rickshaws, absent-mindedly putting their hands into flailing machinery, being savaged by dogs or stepping barefoot in the piles of human dung that are everywhere.

On the bus going out of Kanyakumari there was a dazzlingly lovely girl with flowers in her hair, immaculately made up, earnestly highlighting a handwritten handout called ‘Human effluent: the basics’. Its impossible not to like this country very much indeed.
So why are all the long-term Western travelers here worn, harassed and running in a way that’s unusual amongst travelers in Asia? There’s more transcendental calm in Disneyland than in the backpackers’ doss-houses backing onto the big pilgrimage sites of India. Whatever they’re looking for, they haven’t found it, or if they have, its not doing them much good, and they’d be better off asking in a New Jersey mall.

I sat on the laughably named Super-Express Deluxe bus, watching fat men woo and win beautiful women on the subtitled video. ‘If she becomes an ice cream,’ counseled one singer, in quarter tones, ‘become a spoon.’ ‘A satellite knows about the earth’s fertility,’ a moustachioed Romeo assured his beloved, as he leapt unwisely between some Mogul battlements, ‘my palm knows your features.’ It seemed to work as a chat-up line, for she immediately urged him, ‘Come to dash your nose with mine.’
Randy…….clambered onto the bus and slung himself beside me. I pretended to be asleep, but the video was too fascinating, and he found me out. A few miles down the road he tried to rummage through my soul, and when I said no, took his out and started talking me through it.
He’d been in India a good deal. He knew a lot of the language of Hinduism, and sprayed it incontinently around.
………I looked longingly at the video, where a couple were skipping round a tree singing, ‘You are my first rain. You are the first tide in my heart, I was a dry leaf until you touched me. When you touched, I grew wings.’………. The video relationship had hit rocky times: ‘We asked for flowers,’ the weeping girl was moaning, ‘who threw these pebbles? I want to pull down the cloud, spread it in a basket, and sleep in the sky.’ I knew how she felt.
…The bus stopped at the Asia Big Chicken Centre, a roadside shack that sold tea and bananas, but not chicken.
……He swelled with the peculiar, and peculiarly emetic, pride that that comes when someone is about to be humble and self-deprecating.
……the video couple were united…..They had given way to a sterner, more philosophical pair, who were assuring one another……..that ‘our caste differences are because of our ancestors.’ Once they’d got that out of the way, they felt able to move on quite quickly to the magnificently mixed romantic metaphors of Tamil cinema: ‘A flower comes with swaying arms. Your eyes started to blaze. Why this heat in the vicinity of your eyes?’ And then to the very legalistic bottom line: ‘If you give consent we can exchange our bodies.’

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

From ‘Smoke and Mirrors. An Experience of China’ by Pallavi Aiyar

Given that 375 million Chinese were ostensibly learning English I felt mildly surprised that I hadn’t as yet encountered any of them.
The women themselves seemed unable to grasp that I did not speak Chinese, convinced that if only they spoke slowly and loudly enough, long dormant Mandarin abilities would awaken within me.

Private ownership of cars went from virtually zero in the 1980s to 70 per cent of all cars on China’s roads by 2005. People no longer needed permission from their work units to travel or marry. These were heady, liberating times.
Of course, you could still be jailed for criticizing the government. You could have your land summarily expropriated by the powerful and be imprisoned without trial for daring to protest. You could be charged with a crime, sentenced to death and executed within the space of hours. This was the nasty flip side to the broad roads and shiny buildings that lined Beijing and Shanghai. China jailed more journalists than any other country in the world. It executed more people than any other country in the world.
These were facts never mentioned in the state media.

The two major differences between learning Chinese and most other languages were its tones and characters. Mandarin lacked an alphabet and used instead more than 4000 characters or ideograms. Compared to the twenty-six leters of the English alphabet Chinese characters were an ocean of plurality, but when it came to actual sounds the range of the language was one of the narrowest in the world.
It was a phonetically poor language resulting in an abundance of homonyms distinguishable only by their tones, of which there were four in Mandarin.

The fact of my being Indian was most often met with an outburst of song. ‘Abala Gu’ sang fat drivers and skinny ones, tall drivers and stocky drivers ……
………my brother had told me of his having picked up the Awara Hun riff even on the streets of Lima in faraway Peru. Nonetheless, the ubiquity of the song’s popularity in Beijing, was unexpected to me……

The tensions within Chinese society had little release so that the whole country was like a pressure cooker, calm on the top but boiling inside. India with its riots and strikes appeared on the surface to be far more chaotic and unstable but in the long run had developed the institutional mechanisms that enabled it to create, albeit creakily, a slow, broad-based consensus.
………India in fact enjoyed the kind of social stability that was for the Chinese authorities a paramount but elusive goal.

China was a country where ordinary people were offered few opportunities for the release of their frustrations…..

……..Jawaharlal Nehru in Discovery of India, where he said India was an ‘palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed and yet no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously.’

Many times it was authoritarian China that seemed to offer greater social justice for its people, freedom for its women, protection for its poor. China’s people may have lacked a ‘voice’, but so did most Indians. India’s poor had a vote, but this did not always equal a voice.

……..Indians and Chinese were in fact largely culturally untranslatable to each other.
Nowhere was there less mutual comprehension than in attitudes to food. In India, elite Brahmins delineated their status by increasingly finickier food choices:  no meat, no garlic, no onions, no non-vegetarian in the kitchen. In China, the greater the variety of things you could afford to eat, the meatier and the weirder, the higher was your status.
In India, even non-vegetarians would only eat certain animals and then only certain parts of those animals. So chicken was okay, but not chicken feet. Lamb was fine, but not the intestines. Prawns were good, but not octopus. To an average Chinese such discrimination was deeply mystifying.

Watching their Indian guests sniff suspiciously at their soup for traces of animal stock, harried trade officials would lean across to me and wail in distress, ‘You Indians. You don’t eat anything!’ A few minutes later, having just been confronted with chicken feet …….one of the Indian delegates would…..whisper in disgus in my ear, ‘These Chinese. They eat everything!’

The Chinese capital’s airport was also the only one I had seen in the world where the security check, complete with manual patting down, was performed on both male and female passengers by women.

…..the one-child policy was a two-sided coin, particularly in a country with a deep traditional preference for male children. ……in the countryside ……it meant the regular aborting of female fetuses by parents hell-bent on ensuring that their one child was a boy. Most analysts in the field agreed that China’s sharply distorted sex ratio of 117 to 119 boys for every 100 girls was in no small measure the result of the Chinese state’s attempt at demographic engineering.

‘Jes is just expressing an opinion. Don’t take it personally,’ I smiled. ‘In countries like Indian and Denmark people often openly disagree with each other on a topic and that’s okay. They can still agree on many other things,’ I said.
‘I know,’ replied Xiao Yan with a toss of her head. ‘But in China it’s different. We must all think the same thing.’

Diversity did not frighten New Delhi in the same way it seemed to Beijing, given that the only majority in India was in fact the experience of being a minority. In China this was a concept that was not only alien but almost incomprehensible.

In short, to be a Christian Naga who spoke no Hindi in India was a happier prospect than being a Tibetan Lama who spoke no Mandarin in China. In China non-conformity made you suspect; in India it was simply the norm.
The two countries were thus like mirror opposites of each other. One provided roads, schools and electricity but stifled diversity, criticism and participation; the other allowed diversity, criticism and participation, yet achieved little in improving livelihoods and providing economic opportunities.

……Chinese society remained deeply anti-intellectual. More a product of a political and educational system that discouraged criticism and encouraged grop think than any primordial characteristic, this was the aspect of China I personally found most wearying.
It was the absence of passion for ideas, the lack of delight in argument for its own sake, and the dearth of reasoned but brazen dissent that most often gave me cause for homesickness.

But then I would return to Delhi for a few days and almost immediately long to be back in Beijing where a woman could ride a bus or even drive a bus without having to tune out the constant staring and whispering of the dozens of sex-starved youth that swarmed around the Indian capital’s streets at almost any given time.

China’s economic achievement over the last thirty or so years may have been unparalleled historically, but so was India’s political feat. Its democracy was almost unique amongst post-colonial states not simply for its existence but its existence against all odds in a country held together not by geography, language or ethnicity but by an idea. This was an idea that asserted, even celebrated, the possibility of multiple identities ……… India’s great political achievement was thus in its having developed mechanisms for negotiating large-scale diversity along with the inescapable corollary of frequent and aggressive disagreement.

From ‘The Path of Self-Realization. A compilation of Spiritual Teachings of Paramhans Swami Madhavnath’ by Dr. Sushma Watve and Dr. Swarnalata Bhishikar

As long as the mind is disturbed with ripples of thoughts, Atman does not reveal itself. So, one has to rise above mind i.e. get in ‘Unmani Avastha’. (No mind state …..). Later, divine bliss takes the place of that void.
Mind is nothing but an incessant flow of thoughts.

After the mind is made to concentrate on the rhythm of the breath for some time; one should slowly take the awareness upwards from navel to the brow centre (Ajnachakra). The Ajna chakra is the place above the meeting point of the eyebrows where ladies put ‘kumkum’. One should sit quietly focusing one’s attention in this region. The eyes should be lightly closed. One should not look upwards with the eyes but one should focus the mind there.
Then one should take the role of a witness or an onlooker and observe, with detachment, the thoughts lessen and it is possible to witness a gap or interval between two thought impulses. As the practice of meditation becomes regular, one reaches Shunyavastha – ‘No Mind State’.

As the Sadhak progresses in meditation, he learns to stay in Shunyavastha for longer periods. When this state lasts for more than 15 minutes, its Yoga-Samadhi. When this yoga samadhi is experienced for several years, it results into the state of Bliss, which is self-realization.
When this state of bliss or self-realization gets stabilized over years, it results in Jnana-Samadhi. Jnana-Samadhi is not restricted for the period of meditation, it pervades all twenty four hours. It stays with the Sadhak in all circumstances. After Jnana-Samadhi the self-realized soul becomes Divinity incarnate.

……Asana. Unless you are able to sit for reasonably long time in a position where your back, neck and head are in a straight line; you cannot progress in meditation.

From ‘50 facts that should change the world’ by Jessica Williams

  • The average Japanese woman can expect to live to be 84. The average Botswanan will reach just 39

    During the Roman empire, life expectancy was just 22 years. By the Middle Ages in England, some 1,500 years later, there was only a little improvement – people could expect to live about 33 years, and not necessarily healthy years either. The threat of famine was ever-present, and medicine was limted to a few brutal surgical techniques. Epidemics of typhoid and leprosy were common, and the Black Death, which swept Europe between 1347 and 1351, killed a quarter of the population.
    The dramatic improvement in human life expectancy didn’t start until the Industrial Revolution, which began in England in the 19th century and spread quickly throughout Europe. Since 1840, the average life expectancy in the longest-lived countries has improved steadily – rising by three months every year ….
  • The US and Britain have the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world

    For every 1,000 American women aged between fifteen and nineteen, there were 52.1 births – compared with 2.9 in Korea and 4.6 in Japan. An estimated 22 per cent of American twenty year olds had a child in their teens………….

    Advertisements for the most innocuous products – yogurt, car insurance, multivitamins – bombard viewers with sexual messages, and the TV programmes in between are often even more explicit. To a teenager battling through the tricky seas of adolescence, it must seem that everyone in the world is having sex.
  • China has 44 million missing women

    ……..For every 100 baby girls born in China in 2000, there were 116.6 baby boys……. In South Korea, the sex rations are starting to even out: whereas in 1990 there were 117 boys for every 100 girls, by 1999 that had declined to 110. Younger generations are becoming more economically independent of their families, and so the perceptions of sons as providers and daughters as burdens are slowly being worn away.
  • Eighty-one per cent of the world’s executions in 2002 took place in just three countries: China, Iran and the USA
  • One in five of the world’s people lives on less than $1 a day

    ……Today the world’s richest one per cent receive as much income as the poorest 57 per cent
  • More than 12,000 women are killed each year in Russia as a result of domestic violence

    …..Contrast this with America, where 1,247 women were killed by an intimate partner in 2000
  • In 2001, 13.2 million Americans had some form of plastic surgery

    …..commentators point to an increasing emphasis on physical perfection in popular culture. Music videos and the so-called ‘lad mags’ …… constantly display beautiful, scantily clad women. Their bodies may be altered by digital manipulation, but the message is clear: the perfect female body is large-breasted, long-legged, blemishless.

    ……there is a danger that by submitting so readily to the scalpel’s siren call, we are starting to consider our natural state as ugly, and ageing as a disease. Might we one day see a world where we have to fit into an ageless, plasticized definition of attractiveness to be considered successful? Will we lose the ability to choose to grow old gracefully? And what of those who can’t afford to keep up?
  • People in industrialised countries eat between six and seven kilograms of food additives every year.

    ……..Nowadays, less than one per cent of food additives by weight are used to preserve food. Ninety per cent are what’s known as ‘cosmetic’ additives: flavourings, colourings, emulsifiers to make food feel smoother in your mouth, thickeners, sweeteners. …….By disguising bland and low-quality raw materials, substances like these can convince us we’re eating something that’s better than its constituent parts.

    ……cost. While it costs around six pence to sweeten a litre of soft drink with sugar, the biggest-selling non-sugar sweetener, aspartame, costs just two pence.
  • The golfer Tiger Woods is the world’s highest-paid sportsman. He earns $78 million a year – or $148 every second.

    …………..Tiger Woods is paid $55,000 a day to wear Nike caps; a Thai worker is paid an average of $4 a day to make them. Nike may have hired Woods to ‘sum up everything we say about ourselves’, but in doing so, they’ve unwittingly found the perfect illustration of the queasy realities of modern marketing.
  • Seven million American women and 1 million American men suffer from an eating disorder

    ……..This prevalence of eating disorders seems sometimes like the bitterest irony of our culture………Anorexia…. ‘the relentless pursuit of thinness’ ……It would be easy to blame the mass media……… Top fashion models now weigh 25 per cent less than the average American woman.
  • Nearly half of British fifteen year olds have tried illegal drugs and nearly a quarter are regular cigarette smokers.

    ……..Young people feel that they are unique in the world and that no one will every understand them. They may view themselves as special, marked out for greatness, invulnerable. And this may encourage them to take risks, not believing that any harm can come to them. Increasingly, it seems, teens find a source of both rebellion and comfort in drugs and alcohol…..Britain’s teenagers are drinking twice as much as they did a decade ago…….taking drugs or drinking may affect decisions a teenager makes about some other risky activities.They may decide to get in a car driven by someone who’s drunk or high. They may be pressurized into having sex- or, like nearly a quarter of sexually active American teens, into having sex without a condom.
  • There are 67,000 people employed in the lobbying industry in Washington DC – 125 for each elected member of Congress

    ……is it a clear attempt by powerful and wealthy interests to buy influence
  • In Kenya, bribery payments make up a third of the average household budget

    …….When corruption becomes endemic in a society……. Something subtle happens to the way people feel about it. People ….bribes……come to accept them as part of daily life
  • More than 150 countries use torture
  • Every day, one in five of the world’s population – some 800 million people – go hungry

    ……..Nutritionists consider that a healthy diet provides 2,500 calories of energy a day. In the USA, the average person consumes 3,600 calories a day. In Somalia, they get 1,500 ……. Famines may threaten the existence of a democratic government, but where democracy is absent or compromised, the government will often lack the motivation to tackle the problem…..Armed conflict also places a major strain on food security….In times of war, a government will divert resources away from food production in favour of the military effort ….Rwanda in 1995, war displaced three out of four farmers and cut the harvest in half.
    Hunger is also, callously, used as a tool of war. One side may try to starve the other into submission, seizing or destroying food stocks and diverting food aid from the needy to the armed forces. Lands may be mined or water sources polluted…….. Armed violence in Southern and Western Africa and Central America has left generations of young people without any farming skills at all – the only reality they knew was conflict, so the only training they have is in the art of fighting.
    This disappearance of traditional farming techniques is also happening in areas hit hard by the HIV/Aids crisis….. When a country is already weakened by epidemics or war, natural phenomena like droughts or floods become far more difficult to overcome. Corruption, mismanagement and bad government mean that the country may lack funds to import food when its needed – so a food shortage can very quickly turn into a famine.
    Having enough to eat is a basic human right ….. there are huge surpluses of food in the rich West – so much so, in fact, that food is sometimes destroyed in order to keep prices buoyant.
  • Black men born in the US today stand a one in three chance of going to jail.

    ….In June 2002, the number of people behind bars hit 2 million, and the US became home to the world’s largest prison population – overtaking Russia. One in every 37 Americans has spent time in jail – up from one in 53 in 1974………Of those children born in 2001, a white male has a one in seventeen chance of going to prison. For Hispanic males, there’s a one in six chance, and for black men, it’s one in three. When you consider that black people make up 12.9 per cent of the American population, you can start to see the scope of the problem. A sixth of all African-American men are current or former prisnors, compared with one in 38 white men…….In Britain, one per cent of the black adult population is now in prison. African and Caribbean people make up two per cent of Britain’s population, but sixteen per cent of the prison population. In 1998-9, black people were six times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people……
    Some criminologists believe that the US could be reaching a ‘tipping point’: when more than one per cent of a population is in prison each year, social networks are paralysed, and crime becomes impossible to keep under control.
  • The world’s oil reserves could be exhausted by 2040
  • Ten languages die out every year.

    Imagine, just for a moment, that you are the last native speaker of English. No one you know speaks your language. You don’t see any point in teaching it to your kids, because no one will ever speak it to them, either. Imagine the loss you would feel. All those untranslatable English language ideas – a stiff upper lip, a stitch in time …. – would disappear. No one would ever sing ‘baa baa black sheep’ ….. All those minute clues about history, culture, collective memory – all gone.
    There are around 6,000 living languages in the world – and at least half of those are under serious threat…….Professor Steve Sutherland of the University of East Anglia calculated that the past 500 years have seen 4.5 per cent of languages die out – compared with 1.3 per cent of birds, and 1.9 per cent of mammals……..Ten major languages are the mother tongue of almost half the world’s population. But the median size for languages in the world is just 6,000 – so half the languages in the world are spoken by that number or fewer……Only a very few – Basque, Greek, Hebrew, Latin among them – have lasted more than 2,000 years……
    the Ethnologue, a database of all the languages spoken in the world, claims that 417 languages are spoken by so few people that they are in the final stages of becoming extinct…..
    Speaking an internationally recognized language is a clear advantage for people who want to make the most of the opportunities contact brings. Eventually,  people may not realize their children are not learning their native tongue…..
    Up until the 1970s, Aborigines in Australia were forbidden to speak in their own tongue – which once numbered more than 400. Now……only about 25 Aboriginal languages are still commonly spoken…..
    Hebrew ceased to be used as a spoken language in about AD 200, but continued to be used by Jews as a ‘sacred tongue’. In the late 19th century, a revival movement headed by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda aimed to re-establish Hebrew as a spoken language to provide a common tongue for Jews. …..Now Hebrew is spoken by more than 5 million people, 81 per cent of Israel’s population
  • More people die each year from suicide than in all the world’s armed conflicts

    ….In the US….there were 1.7 times more suicides than homicides…….In the past 45 years, suicide rates have grown by 60 per cent worldwide….
    Since 1950, suicide rates for English and Welsh men under 45 have doubled. ….. ‘the society in which young people live has changed in such a way that a number of things that may have protected young men against suicide are now less present: for instance, a stable job or secure marriage’….
    Women are more likely to attempt suicide, but men are more than four times more likely to die……..By 2020, WHO predicts that depression will be the second-largest contributor to the global burden of disease
    The poet and philosopher George Santayana once wrote: ‘That life is worth living is the most necessary of assumptions, and were it not assumed, the most impossible of conclusions.’
  • In 2003, the US spent $396 billion on its military. This is 33 times the combined military spending of the seven ‘rogue states’
  • Americans discard 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour
    ……..In the US……almost a third of the waste produced is made of product packaging…… China produces and discards more than 45 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks every year, and cuts down 25 million trees to do it………..the US recycles about a tenth of household rubbish…..Britain….with eleven per cent……. Swiss households recycle some 56 per cent of their waste
  • Some 120,000 women and girls are trafficked into Western Europe every year

    ……….In the Netherlands, where prostitution is legal, one study reported that 80 per cent of women working in brothels had been trafficked from other countries.
  • A kiwi fruit flown from New Zealand to Britain emits five times its own weight in greenhouse gases
    Increasingly, our food is coming from further and further away, and we’re becoming more and more dependent on the fuel it takes to get them to us…..
    Despite the UK’s cool climate being perfectly suited for growing apples, nearly three-quarters of the apples eaten in the UK are imported, and more than 60 per cent of Britain’s apple orchards have been destroyed in the past 30 years…..
    Countries export large amounts of a product while importing a similar amount of the same thing – a bizarre and hugely wasteful practice….the milk trade….In 2001 the UK exported 149,000 tons of fresh milk and imported 110,000 tons. …. While this well-travelled food may look as fresh as the locally grown equivalent, its unlikely to pack the same nutitional punch. Research has shown that the further food travels, the more the vitamin and mineral content deteriorates
  • Children living in poverty are three times more likely to suffer a mental illness than children from wealthy families

    …..Britain….is the world’s fourth largest economy, and yet it has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the industrialised world…… one in every three – live in poverty