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The headline of a small article on page five of the newspaper reads: "MASSACRE IN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO KILLS 320". Directly above it, with a big colour photograph, is an article twice as long on state anti-graffiti programs.

Over breakfast I read that almost a billion people go hungry every day. Something like that is difficult to understand. I don't think the human mind can fully understand the real size of a billion, and I don't have to see their faces or know their names when they're half a world away. I feel sorry for those people, I say, "that's terrible", and I turn the page.

On the train I read about the mismanagement of economic stimulus handouts, rising house prices and Fashion Week. A full page is devoted to a bomb that failed to explode in Times Square. On page 11 is a little article about reports of torture in secret Iraqi prisons. I ask myself if this means something.

I feel as if I need to do something to help, because I am privileged to be free from fear of violence and death in some backwater country that tourists wouldn't want to visit. I think about how fortunate I am, and I want to help. I remind myself to donate to Amnesty again, then I watch T.V. and forget about it.

In the end, I'll tell myself that the world is improving, that people are genuinely good, that massacres and famines are once-off events that couldn't have been stopped, like an earthquake or a tidal wave. Although I read about them every day, they all just add to the big, fuzzy idea that there are some bad things in the world, but they're far away from me and my life. And I would never even know about those anonymous, impoverished, dying masses of people if I didn't believe everything I read in print.

I would like to do good in the world, I would like to stop terrible things happening, but I'll probably just say that there's nothing that I can do about it and go back to bed.

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