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the column of lasting insignificance: November 2, 2013
by John Wilcock

“Many people have begun to feel that politics is a game for the rich, and that ordinary people should expect nothing from it. Also, that politics bears no relation to their own interests and problems.”
—Leonti Bryzgalov of the Russian Academy of Sciences talking to the Moscow newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta

A SHORTAGE OF WOMEN was the inevitable result of China’s ‘one-child’ policy which prompted the majority of families to settle for a boy. Now experts claim that the country has between 30 and 40 million more boys than girls (a ratio of 118 to 100) at least half of them facing the prospect of a single life. There have been reports of parents kidnapping girls to raise as partners for their sons. Making the situation worse has been the practice of sex determination before birth—illegal but widely practiced—which has produced a similarly ill-balanced boy-girl ratio in other Asian countries such as India, Albania and Armenia. “Sex selection is a rampant, multi-billion dollar industry that everyone—the lawmakers, the law implementers, doctors and medical companies is benefiting from” gender activist Rita Banerji told the New Internationalist. “That’s what keeps it going. The law in India is so blatantly violated, it’s as good as having no law.” Banerji, a photographer who founded the aptly-named 50 Million Missing Campaign, says sex selection is essentially “greed-based because dowry is paid by the bride’s family… and every son is a way of getting money in, whereas every daughter represents an outflow of wealth from the family”.
    Recently there have been some small signs that the tradition is changing—at least in South Korea which first detected “a demographic crisis” back in 1992 when its ratio of boys to girls reached 117 to 100. A television awareness campaign was one way the ratio was brought down to “almost normal”. Advice on how to conceive a girl is keenly sought on social media sites and one inquirer, Lee Eun-jeong said he asked all his friends who had girls. “They all said they made love at dawn” he reported.
    Even in China attitudes are changing, the NI notes, with the younger generation stating a desire to have daughters (which) “are increasingly providing not only emotional but also heavy financial support for their parents” explains Leta Hong Fincher, author of a forthcoming book on the subject. “The daughter is seen as more likely to take care of the parents in their old age”. Recent statistics reveal that women make up 48% of China’s labor force and includes seven of the world’s top self-made female billionaires.

“China’s environmental challenges may be the single most powerful determination of whether the government can maintain its fragile legitimacy… Increasingly, middle-class Chinese are asking whether their country’s vaunted development success is an improvement over the harsh lives that they knew during the Mao years. Yes, many urban Chinese now have cars, flush toilets, fashionable clothing and cell phones, in addition to personal freedoms that would have been unimaginable only a few decades ago. But they are also afraid to breathe the air, drink the water, and eat the food.”
—Judith Shapiro in Current History

DOWNTON ABBEY’S 4TH SEASON won’t be seen Stateside until the new year but it’s been running in England over ITV since September and the reviews are somewhat sub-par. The Spectator’s TV critic Clarissa Tan called it “disappointing”, opining “It seems the show has decided that instead of drama, what we want is to know about the practical aspects of running an estate—the rent-raising, sheep-rearing and suchlike”. “It's not the most auspicious of openers to the new season of the posh soap” wrote Sam Wollaston in the Guardian. “There's a dustiness and a mustiness about the place, a sense of same-old, same-old. Downton Drabbey. Even Dame Maggie's withering one-liners aren't as sharp as they once were. Dan Stevens' absence leaves an unfilled hole, just as Jessica Brown Findlay's did before. Yes, I do mean there's a dearth of talent about the place, a lack of glamour”.
    The Independent was positive, judging that the first installment of Downton’s new season “justifies its status as an iconic British drama” and the Daily Telegraph suggested it had taken “powers of prescience” with its reference to Mary and Matthew’s baby as ‘Prince George’. For the New Statesman, it was a question of “Why do Americans love Downton Abbey so much?” which they partly answered with, “Because it’s full of fancy English people, is set in the past and airs on public television”. Not everybody, they pointed out, is a fan, quoting Daniel Day-Lewis who claimed never to have watched it “because that is why I left England”.

IT’S NOT OFTEN that somebody is bold enough to express the kind of thoughts that are actually quite common although rarely openly voiced. One such notion, is that although service veterans deserve sympathy—and certainly shamelessly more support than the government presently gives them—on their return from disastrous wars, who’s to blame but themselves for enlisting in the first place? A letter writer in the Los Angeles Times (his name withheld here) says that volunteers were of an age and maturity and had enough access to injured soldiers returning home to be aware that war was not just about cowboys and Indians. Did they, the correspondent asks, ‘just want to kick somebody’s ass because they’re young and aggressive and didn’t know how else to channel their emotions?’ He writes that his perspective may not be agreeable to many people and some people might find him heartless, but suggests that the volunteers “are pawns of a government-controlled by corporate greed and dealers of mass destruction’ and that they bought into it “because of their failure to use common critical-thinking skills”. Phew! The reputations of generals” says a Chinese proverb, “are built on the bodies of 10,000 men”.

WORLD CHESS CHAMPION, 43-year-old Viswanathan Anand defends his title in his Indian hometown of Chennai this month against a Norwegian challenger, Magnus Carlsen who is barely half his age. Carlsen, who at 13 was the youngest grandmaster in history, has been tagged ‘the Mozart of chess’, presumably because the composer was also a child prodigy well before his teens. He will celebrate his 23rd birthday on November 30, less than a week after the championship ends with the dispensation of $2.55m in prizes. Anand, who celebrates his 44th birthday less than two weeks later, became India’s first grandmaster in 1988 and has been undisputed world champion since 2007. Although the U.S. is among 35 countries which includes chess in some school curricula, Americans are not even among the world’s ten top rated players which include an Armenian, a Ukrainian, and three Russians.

THE WILCOCK WEB:People often talk about the Constitution as if it’s immaculate and holy” says the much published legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. “There are a bunch of things in the Constitution that I’d like to change, but on balance it’s better than anything any other country has come up with”……One thing that Bulgaria has come up with is a project called the Pause Campaign. In the center of capital city Sofia, a vending machine set up by Amstel beer asks passers-by to pause in silence for three minutes, monitored by a video camera. Patient standees are then delivered a free can of beer. About 84 users a day, so far …. Katy Perry owes some of her today’s acclaim from having the savvy to decouple her life from that alleged comedian Russell Brand…If all the even barely-known TV ‘stars’ who earn more than a quarter of a million dollars per episode—and there are a lot of them—were to kick in just 10% of one week’s takings (House of Hope Inc., 323-663-1215) thousands of homeless would get at least one decent meal….Even if you just have 99 TV channels, nine of them offer music…It’s shameful (but forever thus) that Big Pharma can block any law it likes merely by bribing the right pols. Drugs from Canada? No thanks, if it means life-saving drugs in this country can be sold at ten times the price…If there’s ever a revolution, the first priority should be to get the insurance companies out of the health biz…..London papers reacted with outrage when the National Lottery doubled ticket prices to £2 so it could give bonuses to its Ronan Farrowdirectors….Mia Farrow, 68, says that the father of her 25-year-old son (right) was probably Woody Allen but he may have been have been Frank Sinatra to whom she was married earlier….The Huffington Post says that about a quarter of the people who join a gym put on weight because they indulge themselves in sweet treats after a workout…..”Force has no place”, declared Herodotus, “where there is need of skill”…. Hard apple cider is getting so popular in the U.S. that sales have doubled—to $162million—in the past year…..”Too often, I think, we elect people who we assume are going to make fundamental changes” says former presidential adviser Robert Reich, “and then we go home and do whatever we were doing before without realizing that an election is just the beginning of the challenge. They need all our help and support if they are going to succeed”….Only idiots text while they drive…..With 11 million illegals already in the Tom-tatocountry, farmers are complaining they can’t get enough workers unless they’re allowed to bring in more…An English plant nursery has developed the Tom-Tato, a plant which grows tomatoes above ground and potatoes beneath….. Brooklyn Brewery, whose brands sell in 20 countries, has teamed up with Sweden’s Carlsberg Group to build a brewery in Stockholm … How sad that Martin Luther King’s greedy children have nothing better to do than alienate and sue their late father’s friends…… “Love is the crowning grace of humanity”—Francesco Petrarch (1304-74)



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