Keeping me company on the Tube these days is "Half the Sky", a book about the horrors of trafficking in women, written by the American journalist couple Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. At the end of a chapter called "Rescuing girls is the easy part", where the authors narrate their experience rescuing two Cambodian girls from the clutches of pimps, there is a beautiful old Hawaiian parable. It is worth keeping in mind because it takes the dispiriting hopelessness out of the statistics on human misery. Here goes:
A man goes out on the beach and sees that it is covered with starfish that have washed up in the tide. A little boy is walking along, picking them up and throwing them back into the water.
"What are you doing, son?" the man asks. "You see how many starfish there are? You'll never make a difference."
The boy paused thoughtfully, and picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean.
"It sure made a difference to that one," he said.