Cultural Comment: Hobson's choice

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The Independent Culture
Life expectancy of babies born in Zimbabwe five years ago: 61

Life expectancy of babies born this year in Zimbabwe, due to the prevalence of HIV: 39

Percentage by which the amount consumed by an average African household has fallen in the last 25 years: 20

Number of deans of faculty at the University of Belgrade replaced before their terms had expired under a recent law brought in after demonstrations against the Serb coalition government: 16

Number of deans of faculty at the University of Belgrade newly appointed from members of the parties that form Serbia's coalition government: 15

Number of mortgage lending programmes set up by Russian banks during the last seven years of economic reform: 0

Amount of Imelda Marcos's outstanding US tax bill: $5m

International sales of American software and entertainment products in 1996, making popular culture America's largest industry: $60.2bn

International circulation of Reader's Digest: 28 million

Age at which David Hahn attempted - with relative success - to build a nuclear reactor in his mother's potting shed in Golf Manor, near Detroit, USA, as part of his Boy Scout's merit badge project: 15

Number of injuries each year, out of a total of 2.5 million domestic accidents in Great Britain, caused by decorative candles and aromatherapy burners: 1,450

Percentage of customers of call centres who hang up when greeted by an automatic response: 82

Number of times a second the Autonomous Observer, a small mobile robot being developed at Stanford University in California as a prototype for surveillance systems that can follow people, updates its 3D laser rangefinder map: 4

Number of disciplinary proceedings launched a year, by the awarding body in France, against holders of the Legion of Honour and the National Order of Merit on the grounds of "dishonourable acts": 100

Compiled by Will Hobson

SOURCES: New Scientist(x2). UN Human Development Report, The Contemporary Review(x2), New Republic, Time, Contemporary Review, International Herald Tribune(x2), Harpers, Focus(x2), Marketing Direct, New Scientist, The Guardian.