New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 125

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[image, unknown] LETTERS

[image, unknown] TERRITORY[image, unknown]

Cartoon by R. K. Laxman. Space to fill
I was surprised to see an article on space affairs (NI 123). Though respecting Worldwatch publications, I find Daniel Deudney off target.

There are no known technical problems likely to prevent the building of huge visionary space habitats within thirty years, at plausible initial cost. The economic stakes in space are obvious enough: one small nickel-iron asteroid could make all the minerals on the Pacific sea bed seem unimportant.

The worst enemies of most space colony enthusiasts are their own political naivety and the ease with which they can be exploited by other interests. Do they think cheap energy from space will make the world a better place? They should read American history in the era of cheap gasoline. Who expects mineral multinationals to build beautiful cities in the sky, or encourage the growth of independent self sufficient communities? Maybe they will, but experience in such countries as Chile, Bolivia and Jamaica suggests that they wilt need a lot of persuading.

Michael Fletcher
Reading, Berkshire
United Kingdorn

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[image, unknown] EDUCATION[image, unknown]

Healthy Learning
In the short time I have been in Nigeria, two points have come to my notice. Firstly, the number of useless subjects taught at school —‘Government’ is a favourite and secondly, the absurdity of a health system which spends money on a new hospital and drugs and yet turns out its patients to streets with open sewers, piled high with festering refuse and to houses with little or no water supply.

Besides the more obvious (and costly) improvements, such as building proper drains and waterworks for which the political will seems to be lacking a simple change would be to introduce ‘Health and Hygiene’ into the school curriculum from an early stage.

Health education could help the immediate development of the poor world far more than most of the Western-based subjects currently taught — and do more for health at a far smaller cost than all the hospitals and indigenous pharmaceutical industries currently planned.

Edward Barrow
Benin City, Nigeria

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Questioning Back
Traditional teaching methods and a syllabus which reflects academic achievement above the real needs of the people certainly exist in Ghana, as in many other countries. But I feel your picture in the centre-page feature (NI 122) and the caption ‘In Northern Ghana, only the teacher asks questions’ is an over-generalisation, helping to perpetuate the stereotyping criticised elsewhere in the same issue.

When teaching in North Ghana, I found students as enquiring as their fellows in Britain and far more militant in questioning the way their school was run. For example. an incompetent or lazy teacher would have far more trouble from students in North Ghana than in the UK!

Mike Hayes
Redland, Bristol
United Kingdom

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[image, unknown] PEACE[image, unknown]

Murder pact
Your March issue (NI 121) made a telling distinction between ‘non-wars’ and peace’. But how useful is it to define our corporate participation in global violence as a ‘suicide pact’? Few of the 30 million who have died in wars since 1945 were ever invited into any ‘pact’: their fates were simply decided for them. And the handful of government ministers and military strategists who play war games (with our lives) have no intention of committing suicide. Laughable though it may seem, they actually plan to survive a nuclear holocaust, in the comfort of their own bunkers having got rid of the rest of us in their exercise of mass murder. This murder pact receives our intellectual and political support through such rationalisations as deterrence, mutually assured destruction and limited nuclear exchanges. It is as hostages to this ideological blackmail that we must withdraw our consensus and fill the vacuum with active peace-making.

Deborah Eade
Calle Rio Ebro # 74
Mexico 5, D.F.

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Prophet of Doom
Reading ‘Cain testifies’ (March - NI 121) was like looking in the mirror and seeing Dracula; with the result that one either tried to disprove the accusations or excuse them.

Instead I would like to make two comments:

Firstly, the writer has used the word ‘war’ too broadly; some of the time ‘violence’ would be more accurate, at others ‘selfishness’. Both are the causes of war but not synonymous with it.

Second, the total effect of the piece is self-loathing followed by despair. A self-knowledge which finds no assets will lead to self-destruction. The writer’s description of the black side of our human nature was true enough, but only part of the truth: love and self-sacrifice do still exist and are not as ineffectual as he implied.

A prophet must show us the evil of our ways, but if he cannot point to a better route his words may hasten the very end he seeks to prevent.

Ilse Bell
Bungay, Suffolk
United Kingdom

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Government mouthpiece
I must take issue with Peter Gould’s letter (NI 122) where he asserts that only extremists of left and right criticise the bias of the BBC. On the contrary a large number of people like myself who were previously proud of the BBC’s record of integrity and lack of bias have been appalled at the way they have fallen so far from grace.

It is clear that the intense pressure from the Government and attempts to undermine its financial security have led to its wholesale transformation into a Government mouthpiece. Sadly the network is now little better than can be found in other countries with State controlled broadcasting. Standards in programmes have also fallen, with a lack of experimentation and almost total reliance on tried and tired formulas and cheap American imports.

All those concerned with the reputation of the BBC whether at home or abroad should help the campaign to restore It to its previous eminence.

David I. Willis
St. Austell, Cornwall
United Kingdom

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Cloak and Dagger
We are all getting just a bit weary of the BBC’s ‘not left, not right, but centre’ claim.

Serious, detailed accusations have been made against the BBC, whose party line response always seems to take two forms. One — the critics know nothing of broadcasting, and two — the critics are just right/left extremists.

The first is just silly. The second — well, we all know what to think of people who respond to criticism by abusing the critic, do we not?

It would not matter if BBC bias was of the same crude kind as on the commercial channels. What is so insidious and malign is the BBC’s continuously-fostered myth of its impartiality.

It is not widely known but the BBC works in close co-operation with the British Government’s secret communications headquarters (GCHQ), with Radio Free Europe and Voice of America — which are hardly unbiased organisations. The nature of its co-operation with GCHQ and other intelligence gathering centres had better, perhaps, remain undescribed in your correspondence columns.

C. and D. MacNamara
Dawlish, Devon
United Kingdom

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Crumbs of comfort
It is regrettable that the New Internationalist has succumbed to the mass of quotations contained in Oxfam’s Tony Jackson’s potentially useful but excessively one-sided and unconstructive book criticizing food aid. The World Food Programme does not claim that all its projects in 113 countries have been outstanding successes, but it is highly misleading to pick out unsuccessful projects, ignore the good ones, and go on to condemn the whole concept of project food aid.

Fortunately the picture is not as grim as Mr. Jackson would have us believe. In my country of assignment, we have made dramatic improvements in our assistance over the last year, with the result that food is reaching the intended beneficiaries, stimulating agricultural production, and enhancing the lives of thousands of women

and children in rural areas. Space precludes me from refuting Jackson’s criticisms one by one. They have been answered in "The Case for Food Aid" in WFP News obtainable from WEP, Via delle Terme di Caracalla, Rome.

David Fletcher
World Food Programme
P0 Box 872
Bangui
Central African Republic

Tony Jackson replies: If WFP News answers the criticisms in Against the Grain, then the moon is made of soy-fortified sorghum grits. It is good, however, to have a report of a rare food aid success story.

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Holiday camps?
How interesting to know that there are still people who believe in moral superiority of East European governments and freedom of travel for their subjects (Letters NI 122).

Wouldn’t life be simpler if only the unfortunate inmates of the ‘camp of peace and progress’ could forget about their real life experience and share the beliefs of your reader daydreaming naively in the safe refuge of Torquay.

L. A. Kosinski
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Canada

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Arno Peters Map

Mathematically-inclined readers will have noticed a discrepancy between the two statements of scale on the map published last month. It is the second which is correct. The first should read — 1:1,230,000,000 million.

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