Monthly Archives: February 2012

Science versus liberal values

By Roger Scruton, NYT, Feb 24 2012

HUMAN beings are diverse and live in diverse ways. Should we accept that we are diverse by nature, having followed separate evolutionary paths? Or should we suppose that we share our biological inheritance, but develop differently according to environment and culture? Over recent years scientific research has reshaped this familiar ‘nature-nurture’ debate, which remains central to our understanding of human nature and morality.

For much of the 20th century, social scientists held that human life is a single biological phenomenon, which flows through the channels made by culture, so as to acquire separate forms. Each society passes on the culture that defines it. And the most important aspects of culture – religion, rites of passage and law – both unify the people who adhere to them and divide those people from everyone else.

More recently, evolutionary psychologists have begun to question that approach. Although you can explain the culture of a tribe as an inherited possession, they suggested, this does not explain how culture came to be in the first place.

What is it that endows culture with its stability and function? In response to that question, the opinion began to grow that culture does not provide the ultimate explanation of any significant human trait, not even the trait of cultural diversity. It is not simply that there are extraordinary constants among cultures: gender roles, incest taboos, warfare.

Culture is also a part of human nature. We do not live in herds; our hierarchies are not based merely on strength. We relate to one another through language, morality and law; we sing, dance and worship together. All these things are comprehended in the idea of culture – and culture, so understood, is observed in all and only human communities. Why is this?

The answer given by evolutionary psychologists is that culture is an adaptation, which exists because it conferred a reproductive advantage on our hunter-gatherer ancestors. According to this view, many of the diverse customs that the standard social science model attributes to nurture are local variations of attributes acquired 70 or more millennia ago, during the Pleistocene Age, and now ‘hard-wired in the brain’. Continue reading

Advertisements

Blackface controversy: race issues

By Andy Ho, Straits Times, Feb23 2012

 Credit: Straits Times, sourced from Facebook 

AT A Bollywood-themed dinner for United Overseas Bank (UOB) staff recently, at least five Chinese males appeared in ‘blackface’ and traditional Indian garb.

Their pictures appeared on someone’s Facebook account, which a Chinese woman saw and e-mailed to The Sunday Times. Reacting to the paper’s story, the bank quickly offered a perfunctory apology and the pictures were immediately taken down as well.

All’s well that ends well? The woman who alerted the newspaper said ‘appropriating someone else’s ethnicity and treating it like entertainment’ offended her.

Photos of men in “blackface” appeared online, offending some. But perhaps it was speaking to a cultural anxiety underpinned by racial fantasies that may be circulating here. –

 BACKGROUND STORY: Race is a socially constructed notion that becomes ‘real’ as we unselfconsciously perform it every day in our social interactions with others of various races.

Counsellor P. Dinesh said it was ‘thoroughly unacceptable (for it was) no different from referring to someone of Indian descent as Black’.

However, other readers felt that the ‘blackface’ get-up should not cause offence here as we do not have the United States’ reprehensible history of slavery and racial segregation. It was just a company function where workers were supposed to let their hair down, they argue.

A reader, Mr Raymond Koh, said: ‘We do not find skits of a non-Malay wearing a songkok or a non-Sikh wearing a turban offensive or inappropriate.’ At the UOB function, non-Indian women without blackened faces were pictured wearing saris, which obviously caused no offence.

Another reader, Mr Cheang Peng Wah, felt it was unlikely that ‘any reasonable Chinese Singaporean would be offended if a few Indian Singaporeans were to paint their faces yellow to take part in a Shaolin gongfu-themed event’.

As a blogger noted, Kumar, a cross- dressing entertainer, ‘routinely rattles off racial jokes about Malays, Chinese and Indians’ with impunity.

Was more going on than the obvious racial mimicry, however clunky the comic device? Perhaps it was speaking to a cultural anxiety underpinned by racial fantasies that may be circulating here today.

On the one hand, political correctness dictates that we all tip-toe around any race issue as if we were walking on eggshells. On the other hand, officialdom insists people identify themselves apodictically as Chinese or Malay or Indian or Others. (Now the bicultural person may declare a hyphenated race but it must still be in terms of these chiselled-in-stone categories.) So there is this racial unconscious pervading every space here.

One notes also that besides the blackface, the Indian garb that these amateurs donned was not the humble dhoti but opulent ones redolent of the Maharajah era. Perhaps they were also taunting the ‘foreign talent’ in their midst, with the CEOs of a few banks here being foreign Indians?

The Government habitually urges voters to accept that, given our small population and low fertility rate, foreign workers of many grades are needed. Yet, it also feels compelled to respond to voter discontent with the over-competition that the ‘foreign talent’ policy has led to.

Its response has come in the form of fine-grained policy differentiation between the non-citizen, permanent resident and citizen. But this signals its own ‘double bind’ in being torn between attracting foreigners and pushing them away just a little. All this has engendered the seeping into our daily conversation of that not-so-subtle question of national origin.

These issues likely trickle down into our sense of identity, which is tugged this way and that by race and national origin. Perhaps the UOB caper was so jarring precisely because it was a full-frontal exposure of all these usually subterranean currents trickling through our collective subconscious.

One may assume that none of the UOB ‘blackface’ individuals thought through these issues per se before staging their act. But their infelicitous representation of the Indian was a gesture towards the ‘otherness’ of ‘them’ as opposed to ‘us’, however inchoate their notion of ‘them’ and ‘us’ might have been.

And ‘otherness’ in any culture always generates fear and fascination, which is why their facile buffoonery seemingly had so much cultural heft.

Perhaps this episode is uncomfortable in a more subtle manner as well, in that it destabilises the racial identities of locals. We have been made to identify ourselves as being of a certain race all our lives, so we feel we are naturally – biologically – of that particular race.

In fact, there are no genetic markers of race at all. That is, there is no biological basis to race. Instead, race is a socially and politically constructed notion. But this was not obvious until this amateurish blackface minstrelsy revealed publicly what cultural critics call ‘the performative nature of racial identity’.

Race is a socially constructed notion that becomes ‘real’ as we unselfconsciously perform it every day in our social interactions with others of various races.

But blackface makes the notion more obvious for, if a Chinese in blackface (and Indian garb) performing blackness can perhaps pass for an Indian, then the Indian in ‘yellowface’ (and Shaolin garb) performing yellowness could arguably pass for a Chinese too.

The blackface gambit shows how socially malleable, unstable and changeable racial categories can be. Now, if it also makes us realise the absurdity of our divisive racial ideologies that many may hold privately, then some good might still come out of the brouhaha.

Singaporeans’ attitude: Not in My Backyard (Nimby)

Urbanites must share scarce spaces; city planners their plans

 

 

 

By Goh Sui Noi, Straits Times, Feb 23, 2012)

SINGAPOREANS are not alone in their Not in My Backyard (Nimby) attitude towards projects that could potentially be disadvantageous to them personally.

Last spring, a clean-up effort after the nuclear meltdown crisis in Fukushima came up against a Nimby challenge. In Koriyama, a city 64km from the stricken nuclear power plant, contaminated soil was scraped from schoolyards to reduce the level of radiation. The city authorities had planned to truck the contaminated soil to a landfill. But those living near the landfill objected.

Farmer Akiko Murata, 50, has three children and opposed the plan. ‘They said they’re worried about the schools in the centre of the city, but we have schools near here too,’ she told Bloom-berg. In the end, each school buried the tainted soil under school grounds.

In China, where protesters are often farmers affected by land grabs or underpaid migrant workers, thousands of Xiamen residents took to the streets in 2007 to protest against the building of a petrochemical plant. They said it threatened their health and the attractiveness of their port city.

Health, personal safety and economics are some of the more common reasons for residents’ objections to projects near their properties. Sometimes, it is mere snobbery.

In New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s plan for a new entrance to ease congestion at a subway station’s exits in the Upper East Side has been held up by residents living in the vicinity. The increase in pedestrians will destroy the bucolic charm of their street, residents complained, with one explaining: ‘People to the west don’t take the subway. Not to be elitist, but they don’t.’

Nimby cases are more often sad than ridiculous. The non-profit organisation Drenk Behavioural Centre in New Jersey has resorted to setting up its facilities stealthily. Whenever it has publicised its facilities, which include homes for troubled teenagers, it has met with resistance and hostility. Continue reading

Global integration, Act II

By Samuel J Palmisano, Straits Times, 25 Feb 2012

AS EVERYONE knows, the world has been ‘flattening’ for the past three decades. This has opened the door for dozens of nations and billions of people to enter the global economy. What many do not realise is that this era is coming to an end.

Not that global integration is over, or even slowing down. Far from it. But the developing world has reached the end of its rapid path to rising gross domestic product and per capita income. Some call this the ‘middle-income trap’ – the idea that it is a lot easier to go from a low income to a middle-income economy than it is to jump to the next level.

As if that weren’t challenging enough, this shift is happening at the same time all around the world. Every market is now in a competitive race with all the others, which have also been sprinting for the last 15 years to arrive at this same spot.
Simply put, these growth markets have plucked the low-hanging fruit of Global Integration, Act I. Now they face a radically more competitive arena, requiring higher degrees of regulation, higher standards and higher expectations for everything – from product and service quality to working conditions to protection of intellectual property and the rule of law.

Note: ‘higher’, not ‘lower’. The playing field is still flat, but now it isn’t at sea level. The game is moving to a higher plateau.
Despite the gloom and doom one hears, this moment actually presents exciting new opportunities for the developed world. Many of the capabilities and skills sought by an innovation-based global economy are deeply engrained in Europe, Japan and the United States. However, these economies – and in particular their government leaders – must also tackle some very big challenges if they are to compete successfully in the years ahead.

That’s because over the past three decades, something has been going on in addition to global integration. The world’s mature economies have been piling up massive deficits – not just financial, but deficits of competitiveness: ageing populations, rusting infrastructures, out-of-date education systems and antiquated regulations.

Just as all emerging markets are facing the middle-income trap at once, so the developed world finds itself having to address all of its huge structural overhangs, and with great urgency, thanks to the ongoing financial crisis. The new ‘great game’ of global competition will not wait to start play while we get our house in order.

How to do that? Let me suggest three broad steps.

First, we must invest in the future. We need increased investments in areas like infrastructure, education and deep research, along with greater flexibility through smarter labour and trade regulations. We cannot simply cost-cut our way to competitiveness. To pull that off, we will need both balanced fiscal policies and far deeper collaboration among government, business and all of civil society. Continue reading

The empowering quality of cities

WHAT is the big story of our age? It depends on the day, but if we count by centuries, then surely humanity’s urbanisation is a strong contender. Today, more than half of the world’s population live in cities, compared with less than 3 per cent in 1800. By 2025, China alone is expected to have 15 ‘mega-cities’, each with a population of at least 25 million. Are social critics right to worry about the atomised loneliness of big-city life?

True, cities cannot provide the rich sense of community that often characterises villages and small towns. But a different form of community evolves in cities. People often take pride in their cities, and seek to nourish their distinctive civic cultures.

Pride in one’s city has a long history. In the ancient world, Athenians identified with their city’s democratic ethos, while Spartans prided themselves on their city’s reputation for military discipline and strength. Of course, today’s urban areas are huge, diverse and pluralistic, so it may seem strange to say that a modern city has an ethos that informs its residents’ collective life.

Yet the differences between, say, Beijing and Jerusalem, suggest that cities do have such an ethos. Both are designed with a core surrounded by concentric circles, but Jerusalem’s core expresses spiritual values, while Beijing’s represents political power.

And a city’s ethos shapes more than its leaders. Beijing attracts China’s leading political critics, while Jerusalem’s social critics argue for an interpretation of religion that holds people, rather than inanimate objects, sacred. In both cases, despite objections to the ruling ideology’s specific tenets, few reject the ethos itself.

Or consider Montreal, whose residents must navigate the city’s tricky linguistic politics. Montreal is a relatively successful example of a city in which Anglophones and Francophones both feel at home, but language debates nonetheless dominate the political scene – and structure an ethos for the city’s residents.

Hong Kong is a special case, where the capitalist way of life is so central that it is enshrined in the Constitution (the Basic Law). Yet Hong Kong-style capitalism is not founded simply on the pursuit of material gain. It is underpinned by a Confucian ethic that prioritises caring for others over self-interest, which helps to explain why Hong Kong has the highest rate of charitable giving in East Asia.

Paris, on the other hand, has a romantic ethos. But Parisians reject Hollywood’s banal concept of love as a story that ends happily ever after. Their idea of romance centres on its opposition to staid values and predictability of bourgeois life. Continue reading

Investigations Reveal Long Trail of Abuses at Apple Suppliers

By Matthew Deluca, Newsweek , Jan 27, 2012 4:45 AM EST

Recent reports, including The New York Times’ gripping series, shed new light on the abusive treatment of workers at the tech giant’s Chinese suppliers.

Millions of people who have never been to China carry a piece of Longhua in their pocket. The city in the southern province of Hainan is home to one of several plants run by Foxconn Technology Group, a company that has gotten attention as the manufacturer in whose facilities poorly paid Chinese workers make iPhones and Dell computers, among other hot tech items.

This is hardly the first time reports of abuse have emerged from the closely guarded secret of Apple’s supply line. But in recent weeks, investigations, including a shocking series from The New York Times, have brought the slow-simmering waters of public opinion to a boil as they reveal the lives of the Chinese workers who labor at low cost and high risk to produce the ever-sleeker, ever-slimmer devices for which the world clamors

1. Long Hours, Low Pay: A year before the debut of the iPhone, a British newspaper drew attention to allegations of abuse of workers at the Foxconn plant, reporting that 200,000 of the manufacturer’s workers clocked 15-hour days and were paid $50 a month to make iPods. The news grabbed attention on Mac blogs, causing the company to say that it would investigate the alleged abuses. “Apple is committed to ensuring that working conditions in our supply chain are safe, workers are treated with respect and dignity, and manufacturing processes are environmentally responsible,” Apple said in a statement at the time.

2. A Raid, A Suicide

It was a nightmare come true for Sun Danyong, a product manager in one of Foxconn’s Apple units. A prototype in his care, one of 18 beta N90 iPhones, was missing. As the Nanfang Daily reported, Sun grew increasingly upset, texting his girlfriend and another friend as he tried to find the device. The 25-year-old ran out of time and luck when Foxconn security came knocking at his door, looking for the missing iPhone. The next day, Sun killed himself by jumping out the window of his 12th-floor apartment.

China Foxconn Explosion
Protesters outside an Apple store in Hong Kong in May of last year., Kin Cheung / AP Photo

 

3. Password Protected

An expansive industrial city, complete with sleeping quarters, cafeterias, and even banks and a post office, all locked up behind a security edifice that included metal detectors and fingerprint recognition. That’s what reportersfound when they visited the Foxconn plant in Longhua in 2010. Trucks came and went, dumping raw materials and lumbering out laden with haute technology. While working on the article, a Reuters reporter found out firsthand what happens when one draws the unwanted attention of Foxconn security. While taking pictures outside a plant in the nearby city of Guanlan, the reporter was grabbed, kicked, and threatened by guards.

African American Stars Remember Whitney Houston

By Allison Samuels, Newsweek, Feb 20, 2012

Why Whitney Houston’s fans never stopped rooting for her.

With Whitney Houston’s death in a Beverly Hills bathtub, bottles of prescription pills found in her room, it was hard to escape the reality of addiction that dominated her later years. On Fox & FriendsBill O’Reilly announced that the star had “killed herself” with decades of drug use, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fought off critics who said an addict didn’t deserve flags in her native state flown at half-mast.

 

whitney-houston-nb30-samuels
From left: Whitney Houston singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in 1991.; Houston on the cover of “Seventeen;” Houston with Kevin Costner in “The Bodyguard.”, From left: George Rose / Getty Images; no credit; Warner Brothers / Courtesy Everett Collection

 

Despite Houston’s demons, her fans—2 million of whom tweeted about her in the hour after her death was announced—never stopped rooting for her. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman, a black woman, receive the type of attention and nonstop press Whitney has these last few days,” says former Motown president Clarence Avant. “Everything stopped when the news of her death hit. It seemed the world paused and took note of the loss.

If the response was unprecedented, it was in part because Houston’s life and career were also unprecedented—and unmatched even today. Houston wasn’t just an incredible singer with sky-high cheekbones. She wasn’t just a charismatic modeling, music, and film star. Houston was a New Jersey–born “girl next door” who, for a short period in time, changed the way the world viewed beauty, style, and fame.

Houston instantly altered several industries when she emerged in the early 1980s. When her smiling brown face, complete with a close-cropped Afro, appeared on the cover of Seventeen in 1981, she was one of the first African-Americans to grace the cover, and the industry took notice. When she belted out a chilling and soulful version of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the 1991 Super Bowl, the world sat back in awe of her poise and calm. And in an era when African-American actresses are often given film roles portraying them as destitute, unloving, unlovable, or just “the help,” Houston played the love interest of Kevin Costner, a white Hollywood superstar.

“Movie studios were actually creating roles for Whitney,” says noted African-American film historian and author Donald Bogle. “That really never happened for black actresses then, and it doesn’t happen now. They didn’t even do that for Diana Ross. Whitney had that something they knew people of all walks wanted to see.”

Houston could be all things to all people. She could don bright leggings and a fluffy sweater and become the quintessential “round-the-way girl.” Just hours later, she could put on a gown and dazzle the queen of England. Her uncomplicated beauty always left audiences wanting more.

“She was both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time,” recalls the Rev. Al Sharpton, a family friend. “You saw her beauty, but you weren’t overwhelmed by it because she wasn’t arrogant. You heard her talent, but you weren’t envious of it because she felt like a friend.”

“How could you not listen to that voice or look at that face?” says Denzel Washington, who costarred with Houston in her third film, The Preacher’s Wife. “The audience was drawn to her in a way that’s hard to explain.”

Of course, other African-American women have made their mark on the entertainment industry, but not in quite the same way. Halle Berry won an Oscar for Monster’s Ball but hasn’t achieved the box-office success Houston had. Some say Beyoncé is Houston’s obvious successor, but she has not yet found Houston-level audiences.

“You can’t compare Whitney Houston to anyone,” says Bethann Hardison, who represented Houston for a time in her modeling career. “Whitney was not exotic-looking in the way that Halle Berry or Beyoncé are. Whitney was just a pretty black girl from Jersey with a little Afro. She was just Whitney. No one is around today that even comes close to having what she had.”

Jeremy Lin Makes Us All American

The only Asian American in the NBA is not just breaking stereotypes, he’s also redefining his country

By Eric Liu, Time, 13 Feb 2012

Getty Images

GETTY IMAGES

After watching my first World Series in 1977, I wanted to be Reggie Jackson. I bought a big Reggie poster. I ate Reggie candy bars. I entered a phase during which I insisted on having the same style of glasses Reggie had: gold wire frames with the double bar across.

As a 9-year-old son of immigrants, I was claiming Reggie and, through him, this country. Every time I imitated his explosive swing, every time I adjusted my glasses like he did, with a thrust of the chin, a touch of swagger, I imagined that my family had been American as long as the Yankees had. Such an act of imagining, in its own little way, is what any of us means when we call ourselves “American.”

I thought about that on Friday night when, for the first time, I saw Jeremy Lin play basketball. Lin, as anyone not in a cave now knows, is a point guard for the New York Knicks, a backup who has become a Twitter-age supernova. Friday he faced off against Kobe Bryant’s Lakers and prevailed, reeling off 38 points in the victory. Saturday he led them to their fifth consecutive win. Who knows how long this sensation can keep scoring. But another sensation — the feeling of awakening Lin has inspired across the country — is real and seems likely to last.

(MOREIt’s Official: Jeremy Lin is For Real)

In the stands Friday some fans wore Lin’s visage on cardboard masks. You couldn’t tell what age or race they were. You could see only how they wished to be seen: as a 23-year-old second-generation Taiwanese-American Harvard grad from Palo Alto, Calif., of late with a golden touch. These fans, first-, second-, or 10th-generation, cheered the underdog newcomer and strummed anew those chords of narrative in which anyone with grit, talent and a little luck can make it in America.

Their embrace of Lin has made millions of Asian Americans feel vicariously, thrillingly embraced. Not invisible. Not presumed foreign. Just part of the team, belonging in the game. It’s felt like a breakout moment: for Lin, for Asian America and, thus, for America.

Context is everything. Earlier this week a Senate candidate in Michigan unveiled a campaign ad using Chinese-accented broken English to suggest his opponent was doing China’s bidding. (“Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs,” says an actress bicycling through rice paddies.) Friday night in Madison Square Garden a fan waved a crude red and yellow poster with the clichéd Chinese restaurant font made of jagged brushstrokes. A sign like that could have been used to mock, to make the Asian an outsider. Instead, it was used to worship. EMPEROR LIN, it proclaimed.

There have been, in recent years, many Asian American pioneers in the public eye who’ve defied the condescendingly complimentary “model minority” stereotype: actors like Lucy Liu, artists like Maya Lin, moguls like Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. They are known, often admired. But Lin is something new: an Asian American whom millions of other Americans want to be.

Identity in America is complicated but it’s also simple: it’s about whom you identify with and who identifies with you. Lin is the only Asian American in the NBA today and one of the few in any professional U.S. sport. His arrival is surely leading other talented Asian American athletes this week to contemplate a pro career. Just as surely, though, it’s leading many non-Asian non-athletes to expand their identities; to redefine, just by their rooting interest, “American.”

Jeremy Lin the point guard might transform his team and his sport. We shall see. Jeremy Lin the citizen has already changed his country.

Where’s the ‘bread, freedom and social justice’ a year after Egypt’s revolution?

By , The Guardian,25 January 2012

Things are getting worse rather than better for people who took part in Egypt’s revolution last January, and the new government doesn’t seem to be a stabilising force

MDG : Egypt : Muslim girls walk past a donkey-pulled cart in the village of Sol, province of Helwan
Has life changed for ordinary Egyptians since the revolution last year?
Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

When people took to Egypt‘s streets in January 2011, they were bound together by a deep hatred of the Mubarak regime rather than a common vision of what demands for “bread, freedom and social justice” would mean in policy and practice. A year on, the situation is worse economically, political space is more constrained than ever, and social justice is framed in even more exclusionary terms.

For there are now two contending sources of legitimacy: parliament and the street. Some say that it seems that one predatory coalition (corrupt businessmen and Mubarak’s ruling party) has been replaced with another (the Muslim Brotherhood, who emerged as the biggest party in the recent election, and the military). The difference, of course, is that the Muslim Brotherhood came to power through the ballot box. Yet this is unlikely to displace the legitimacy of the excluded, who engage through unruly politics.

It is to be expected that any country undergoing a rupture with the status quo is likely to experience turbulence, and any transition process is likely to involve severe economic, social and political instability. Yet the question is: for how long?

It has been a year now, and matters seem to be deteriorating, rather than stabilising. Let’s take bread: food riots have continued after the revolution with inflation reaching new peaks and basic necessities moving further out of reach for whole communities. Egypt is experiencing a severe shortage of petrol, which is not only affecting middle-class car-owning commuters but a bulk of the working class who rely on minibuses for transport. The closure of many private sector factories, capital flight, and a drop in domestic and foreign investment as well as a weakened tourism sector have led to the loss of many livelihoods in the formal and informal sectors.

Continue reading

Ending world hunger is possible – so why hasn’t it been done?

By Duncan Green, The Guardian, February 2012

Some 850 million people go to bed hungry. If the right decisions are made now, we can feed the world and address inequality

Malnourished children in Malawi

Malnourished children in Malawi. Photograph: Martin Godwin

Save the Children is to be applauded for reminding us all of one of the most extraordinary and humiliating aspects of living in the modern world: child hunger. Drawing a parallel with the fight to abolish slavery, the Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah recently asked what future generations will condemn us for. One sure candidate is the needless human carnage wrought by hunger. Some 850 million people(one in eight of the world’s population) go to bed hungry every night. Many of them are children, for whom early hunger leaves a lifelong legacy of cognitive and physical impairment. The human and economic waste is horrifying.

Such hunger is not due to a shortage of food – globally there is enough to go round and if (a big if) we make the right decisions now, we can continue to feed the world despite population growth and climate change. By some estimates, stopping the waste of food after harvest due to poor storage or transport infrastructure, and then in our own kitchens, could free up half of all food grown. The number of overweight and obese people in the world, suffering their own health problems, including a sharp rise in heart disease and diabetes, is roughly equal to the number of hungry people. That highlights one of the underlying causes of hunger – extreme levels of inequality, both within and between countries.

Ending hunger is entirely feasible (indeed, once achieved, the only question will be why it took us so long). It requires action at several different levels. At a national level, progressive governments in Brazil and Ghana have shown how to cut hunger sharply, through cash transfers to poor people, raising the minimum wage and investing in smallholder farmers (especially women), who both produce food, and are some of the poorest and hungriest people in the Alice in Wonderland world of a brutally unfair farming system.

That focus on national decisions and national politics highlights how fast the world is changing. In many cases, aid is no longer the main story – countries like India, growing at 8% a year and with a mushrooming middle class, need to take responsibility for their hungry masses, introducing proper taxation and effective social services to end hunger and malnutrition. Oxfam is working with people’s organisations within the country to bring that about. Elsewhere, though, international food aid remains essential, but should be improved, for example by ending the waste and delay of transporting food thousands of miles from donor countries and giving cash instead.

Beyond supporting aid for food and agricultural investment, what else can we in the well-fed countries do? Start by putting our own house in order. The rich countries are part of both the solution and the problem. Europe and America’s push to reduce their dependence on imported oil and gas has led them to introduce targets and subsidies for biofuels, but these compete directly with food production, forcing up prices for poor people. Rich country greenhouse gas emissions are driving climate change at a pace that outstrips even the most pessimistic projections of the climate modellers, and there are few signs of governments agreeing (still less achieving) the kinds of reductions needed to avoid catastrophic temperature rises that will particularly harm tropical agriculture. We urgently need an international effort to find a way to feed the planet’s growing population without destroying its ecosystems, yet current investments are feeble.

Hunger is both a cause and a symptom of poverty. Damaged bodies and brains are a moral scandal and a tragic waste of economic potential. That hunger exists at all shows the urgency of redistributing income and assets to achieve a fairer world. Providing the additional calories needed by the 13% of the world’s population facing hunger would require just 1% of the current global food supply. That that redistribution has not already taken place is truly something to be ashamed of.