Archive | December, 2010

Doing Small Things With Great Love – by Bill Palethorpe

With as always (but particularly in our age of 24 hour news coverage) so many negative stories making the headlines is it any wonder that people increasingly feel powerless? Some decide not to get up in the morning whilst others turn to a hedonistic life. Well friends, as many Gandhi followers know, we all have the power and talents to act for the common good of other people, our non-human animal cousins and our beautiful ‘on loan’ planet. To quote Mother Teresa

“We can do no great things but we can do small things with great love”.

So with this in mind I would like to share with you three simple and inexpensive events that Eastbourne Quakers, vegetarians, military personnel, town councillors (including the mayor) and others, many of them complete strangers, have recently been successfully involved in.

i) During National Vegetarian Week last September local Quakers, vegetarians / vegans and friends ran two very successful simple outside vegetarian stalls. Organisations such as Viva!, Animal Aid, The Vegetarian Society, The Vegan Society, and Advocates for Animals, gave us lots of very interesting and colourful information and recipes plus posters and stall banners. Also friendly veggie companies were only too pleased to provide food samples as this is a very good form of marketing for them. We even persuaded a butcher delivering meat to local pubs to try several vegan dishes, he declared them all delicious and apologised for his day job! Buoyed up by our success we decided to repeat this event at a big pre-Christmas Eastbourne Street Party in December. Our local health food shop Sunny Foods offered us the use of part of their premises. The stall was extremely popular gaining us lots of contacts and converts with widespread local press publicity.

ii) Last Spring/Summer we had noticed foie gras on sale at the French Market that visits Eastbourne and many other towns throughout the Spring to Autumn months. Foie gras is produced from the diseased liver of a duck or goose that has been forced fed, causing the liver of the bird to swell up to ten times its normal size. A pipe is inserted down the throat of the bird and pulped maize pumped into their stomachs, frequently resulting in severe injury or death. We therefore decided to try and get the product banned from all council land and premises. It is illegal to produce it in the UK and an increasing number of other countries. Due to the free trade EU regulations however it can be imported from mainland Europe.

Duck Foie Gras

We approached Eastbourne Borough Council (EBC) who advised us to write to them with several signatures. On reflection we decided to organise a petition. Within a few days friends, neighbours, sympathetic shop keepers etc. had signed and we presented this in person to EBC. After months of discussion and meetings including providing them with excellent information from animal welfare charities they agreed to debate it at a full Cabinet meeting at the Town Hall on 31st March 2010. Prior to this they had watched a graphic DVD.

Quaker friends attended the Meeting and were amazed at the welcome we received and at the supportive speeches made by council officials and town councillors. Imagine our joy when the vote was taken and the LibDem and Conservative councillors joined forces and voted unanimously for an immediate ban. One councillor regretted that EBC had not already banned it and has now offered to approach trade organisations to influence their members to stop stocking the product at hotels, restaurants and other outlets. We have received a great deal of positive publicity both locally and nationally including a feature in The Herald (2nd and 9th April 2010) the main widely circulated local paper and The Friend the weekly Quaker publication.

iii) Lastly but by no means least a similar group of us in conjunction with the animal welfare charity Animal Aid of Tonbridge agreed to mount a local campaign to enable us to lay a purple poppy wreath in memory of all the millions of innocent non-human animals that have served and died in wars and armed conflicts. Some of us had already visited the beautiful Animals War Memorial in Park Lane central London. This is a powerful and moving tribute to all those brave animals which was unveiled six years ago on the 90th anniversary of the start of WW1.

Our format was broadly similar to our foie gras campaign. EBC agreed in principal to our request to take part in the formal Remembrance Sunday Parade and to lay a purple poppy wreath. However the final decision rested with the Eastbourne Combined Ex-Services Association Wreath Laying Committee. Much to our surprise we started gathering support from many ex-service men and women as well as individual residents and local organisations. These included the local branches of Quaker Concern for Animals; Vegetarian and Vegan Societies; Viva! and Animal Aid plus East Sussex Wildlife Animal Rescue.

Again imagine our delight when in October the Wreath Laying Committee met for the final time before Remembrance Sunday and unanimously voted in favour of us permanently taking part in the official memorial parade with the laying of our purple poppy wreath at its conclusion. Some purists may say that we should not get involved with a military parade but as Quakers say “cooperation is better than conflict”. Once again our campaign produced a lot of good publicity both locally and wider afield. The town centre Sainsbury’s has now granted us the week prior to Remembrance Sunday for selling purple poppies and giving out relevant information.

No doubt many Gandhi friends are involved in similar enterprises to the three examples above. However do please contact myself or the organisations direct (just Google them!) if you care to join any of these particular peaceful campaigns. Good news as well as bad can travel fast nowadays.

You can reach Bill Palethorpe at hobdell@fastmail.fm

Book Review – The Spirit Level

The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett
Penguin 2010
pp347
ISBN 978 0 141 03236 8
£9.99

This is an exciting and important book. The authors draw on a wealth of social research to demonstrate that life would be better if we had much more equal incomes. Intuitively this reviewer has long believed that, but Wilkinson and Pickett are able to show that it is true by presenting the facts in graphical form. Moreover it is not just that lower income people would be better off but those on higher incomes would benefit too – in terms of quality of life.

The countries studied are mainly the most developed – 23 out of the 50 wealthiest in the world (the 27 which were not chosen were because they were either very small or did not have full comparable statistics). The other societies looked at are states of the USA where, because of the federal system, there are considerable variations from state to state. One of the striking things to emerge is that the patterns revealed are very similar across a range of issues – physical health, mental health, obesity, teenage births, educational performance, violence, imprisonment, social mobility. One also finds the same countries in approximately the same positions on most of the graphs (with occasional exceptions). The two extremes are occupied by the USA at one end (the bad one) and Japan (the good one).

Close to Japan are the Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark. Britain usually comes in a little worse than average. One of the striking facts to emerge is that looking at rich and poor countries on the world scale life expectancy increases rapidly as incomes increase but only up to a certain level (where the middle income countries are now) and then it begins to level off. However there are still notable differences among the rich countries when inequality within the countries is used as the measure rather than average income. Using the measure of inequality the authors demonstrate how physical and mental health levels, teenage pregnancy, drug use, crime, educational attainment and social mobility are all strongly determined by the level of inequality in their societies. The authors suggest that the cause of this pattern is due to individuals’ social status within unequal societies and the arising anxiety and long-term stress arising.

Two countries which have shown dramatic increases in income inequality in recent decades are the USA and the UK. In the UK the second half of the Thatcher period saw a steep rise in inequality which peaked in the early 1990s but has fallen little since then. In the USA inequality began to rise in the Carter period and rose steadily until the Clinton period when it levelled off. In both countries the rise in income inequality was about 40%. Countries which did not show an increase in inequality in the 1980s and 90s include France, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Canada, and Japan. In Japan, defeat in WWII followed by a benign occupation by the Americans resulted in a break with the past and a substantially new society which was much more egalitarian. Interestingly the smaller income range there is not produced by large government intervention but by pay rates that are less extreme than in most other countries. Sweden on the other hand uses government intervention to redistribute wealth but the result for both countries is good.

Although not the prime focus of the book, sustainability is also looked at – and how could it be avoided since it is now central to the future of the human race. Using data from the UN and the WWF the authors conclude that only Cuba has a reasonable quality of life without exceeding the biocapacity of the earth. However they also say that more could reach that state by using more environmentally friendly technology including renewable power generation. But a warning against depending on new technology alone is given as they point out that greener technology can be defeated by greater consumption, as has been observed already in some places. Nor would it be sufficient on its own. The aim of sustainability would be greatly aided if the consumerist philosophy of the last 50 years could lose its hold on people. The authors don’t mention Gandhi but I am sure they would approve of all attempts to follow his simplification of lifestyle. As Wilkinson and Pickett write:

“If, to cut carbon emissions, we need to limit economic growth severely in the rich countries, then it is important to know that this does not mean sacrificing improvements in the real quality of life – in the quality of life as measured by health, happiness, friendship and community life, which really matters.”

How far we have to go in the direction of egalitarianism in Britain at least is amply illustrated by the outrageous salaries and expenses and bonuses given to CEOs of many large companies and banks, in spite of a major economic crisis and prospect of a significant reduction in public services.

The authors, who are basically academics, are sufficiently convinced of the importance of their findings that they have set up a campaigning organisation – The Equality Trust – to promote the advantages of egalitarianism. As they say, unless there is a groundswell of public opinion the politicians will not take up the idea.

George Paxton

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