New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 180

new internationalist
issue 180 - February 1988

Letters

The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity.
Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : ni@newint.org

A trivial game
Cover of the NI issue 179 Your trivialization of important issues is getting way out of hand. First in your Country Profile section you started giving star ratings for people's life expectancy and women's oppression. Then you set up a review section which reduces books about famine and war to a star rating for entertainment. And now you devote a whole issue (NI 179) to a ridiculous game - giving gold medals to the countries you approve of and dumping on the countries you don't.

Okay, so you 'consulted experts in the field' before delivering your judgements. But isn't the NI always telling us to distrust the authoritative views of experts, especially when they are pontificating about the Third World? What makes these 'experts' different - the fact that they think the same as you?

Robin Hailer
Montreal, Canada

Action please
The temporary success of Greenpeace in preventing the dumping of noxious wastes in the North Sea by actually boarding the dumping vessel is an object lesson to those still locked in the non-violent action syndrome, like those in the campaign to close US bases in Australia and the anti-uranium movement

The bases will not be closed until a sufficient number go in and dismantle them, and uranium will be exported 'til the opposition is strong enough to physically prevent it.

C M Friel
Alawa, Australia

Off the shelf
Your debate on masculinity (NI 175) is an essential part of the debate on gender relations which is usually left to the feminists to pursue. Recently while looking for a book on masculinity I was advised by the assistant to look under 'women's studies'!

But I was disappointed by the absence of any exploration of the notions of hierarchy and competition so deeply imbedded in our male-dominated society. The deficiency was further illustrated by the reference to one co-author as a professor and the others as 'working in the same department', a perfectly male way of expressing the relationship.

Rajah Jarrah
Recite, Brazil

Ungrateful feminists
'Not another issue on male-bashing' I groaned, flipping through Masculinity (NI 175), but I was pleasantly surprised.

There was, however, one odd problem which was not discussed. It frequently happens that feminist women have relationships with men who are sensitive, communicative, share emotional and domestic chores and are committed to feminist ideals. But often the woman becomes distant, loses interest in sex and sometimes even goes off with more traditionally masculine men. This leads me to believe that the questions surrounding male/female relationships are not simple,

and we have a long way to go before we can simply pursue the 'if only men would' formula. Maybe we need more humanism and less feminism if we are really going to unravel the solution.

John Pyl
Toronto, Canada

NI frisson
Neutrality on a subject like male prostitution (Masculinity NI 175) and child abuse ('men bring their 12-year-old sons to try out a travesti') is a political cop-out.

To give an entertainment rating to books dealing with economic exploitation or hideous human rights abuses, is obscene and evidence of a de-humanized mentality.

It seems NI extracts a frisson from contemplating exploitation. We must now add 'entertainment' to Herbert Gans' list of the 'Uses of Poverty'.

Anne Buchanan
Ramnad, Aotearoa

No South Vietnam
Thank you for printing my letter (Chinese aggression NI 171), but I must ask you to publish the following correction: Claire Culhane, Quang Ngai, South Vietnam, should read: Claire Culhane, Vancouver. There is no longer a designated area called South Vietnam in the present Socialist Republic of Vietnam. I used to be the administrator of the Canadian Tuberculosis Hospital in Quang Ngai.

Claire Culhane
Vancouver, Canada

Plant room
Though sharing many of the concerns aired in the Population issue (NI 176), rm still disturbed by the complacency about the rising population. The prospect of the Kenyan population swelling to only 120 million, with vast areas of arid land, is devastating. A world population of 10 billion is equally cataclysmic, if we believe in co-existing with animals and plants and the right of future generations to a healthy environment

Paul Buckley
St. Aibans, UK

Cartoon: Cath Jackson

Stateless Brit
Thanks for letting me use your page to publicize a human-rights abuse in the UK.

I was born to a British mother and a father serving in the British Army in Malaysia during 1963. At six weeks I was brought back to Britain, and spent the following 24 years here. The Home Office has refused me British citizenship. My Member of Parliament responded to my appeal by pointing out that their refusal is in line with the law. I say the law is racist, sexist and inhuman. I am fighting to change it and minutely, perhaps, the world in which we live.

Any help or support will be gratefully received. My address is available.

Steve Kelly
Coichester, UK

Cop-out
Your magazine is not Internationalist, it's a cop-out! Where's the issue on British imperialism in Northern Ireland? And you seem to have debased the idea of personal politics to group therapy for affluent liberals trying to feel less guilty. Go away and eat quiche!

Hal MacDermot
Leeds, UK

Batting order
Your accepted batting order of the people responsible for appalling rises in the cost of housing - financiers, builders and landowners - could plausibly be reversed (NI 177). At least financial agencies have some pressure to provide funds at competitive rates, and builders to guard against pricing themselves out of the market, but landowners just have to sit on the land until they get the price they demand.

One way of halting this tyranny would be a tax on unused, unprotected land.

D Redfern
Eastbourne, UK

Russia bashers
The article attributed to Natasha, USSR, in the Population issue (NI 176) was astonishing. Having recently spent a holiday in the Soviet Union I saw streets crowded with animated, healthy, well-dressed people. Yes, I saw them queuing for tomatoes, but the stall was still well-stocked the next day. Yes, there is austerity - broken pavements, grubby old buses, but 'life is very hard. You cease to be human' is melodramatic, dishonest rubbish!

You can do better than that.

Ken Edge
Nantwich, UK

Muscle girls
'Straining for an ideal of sensitivity is a sight more constructive than imitating Arnold Schwarzenegger,' This quote from the Masculinity issue (NI 175) enraged me as did the sexist stereotyping of bodybuilding. Arnold Schwarzenegger is an outspoken advocate of women's equality, wrote a training programme in bodybuilding for women, and has always drawn attention to the fact that women's powers of physical endurance are superior to men's. Muscle mags these days are full of women.

Sydney Ray
Birmingham, UK

Silent minister
Thanks to the hundreds who wrote for information following our article Women wealth (Update NI 172). Women-wealth is still unfunded so we can't respond individually or put out a catalogue to open up the market for our women's products.

Again we have asked Christopher Patten (Minister for Overseas Development) for support, reminding him of the Government's obligation to follow the agreed recommendations of the UN Decade for Women. We pointed out that in Holland, America, Scandinavia, Canada or Italy a unit such as ours would receive support from the national aid ministry. We have had no response. Should the situation change we will let you know.

Margaret Owen
London, UK

Of otters and eagles
While your issue on Population (NI 176) led me to adjust my thinking, I remain convinced that overpopulation is the Third World's worst problem. But a reduction in the First World is also essential. Specifically it would be good news for women, otters, German forests, Stonehenge, eagles, cyclists, Spanish beaches, cave paintings, the Parthenon, dolphins and trails in the Himalayas.

David Willey
Manchester, UK

Private Scotland
Of Scotland's 8.7 million hectares, overwhelmingly rural, 50 per cent is held by 579 landowners, 40 per cent by 269, 30 per cent by 134, 20 per cent by 49 and 10 per cent by 13. I wonder how many of your readers realize that this represents the most concentrated pattern of private land ownership in Europe. I was struck by the fact that it actually compares unfavourably with many Third World countries you touched on in your Land issue (NI 177).

Malcolm Kerr
Isle of Arran, UK

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The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

Letter from China
 

[image, unknown] The 18 Course banquet
In this new series of letters, Sue Robson will be writing to us from a small-town university in the Yangtse River Valley, China. She starts by telling us of her welcome.

China has changed since I was here two years ago. In Beijing shops are stocked with increasing quantities of expensive electrical goods. Working mothers ignore more traditional staples to buy the newly arrived white sliced bread. Even at a quick glance there are signs that social divisions are growing. Well-dressed older men now pay the higher fare to travel through Beijing by minibus avoiding the slow, jammed and steamy busses on which the youngest and strongest men fight their way to a few rickety seats. That leaves mothers, children and older people behind in the mad scramble for the doors when the bus arrives, to stand packed together jolted and elbowed for the long slow journeys.

But when we left the capital with its taxis playing Strauss over Beijing Radio and travelled on the diesel train through the countryside, we found that in the rural areas change comes more slowly. Big black pigs still snuffle around as women scrub their clothes in muddy pools; chickens pick around mud-bricked homes whose elaborate tiled roofs are adorned with stone beasts. The golden sweetcorn still hangs out to dry.

As the train pulled into our urban destination, seen dimly though the coal fire smog, our future academic colleagues lines up to greet their strange and jet-lagged guests. We were escorted to our accommodation. It was a Soviet-built apartment with a walk-in wardrobe and red velvet curtains partitioning rooms. We found it embarrassingly palatial. An in a city feeding largely on rice and noodles in a thin soup of stock and vegetables, we learned our hosts were planning a splendid welcoming banquet.

Abundance, even superfluity, is the key to Chinese hospitality. Our university hosts led us into a room bedecked with tinsel and flashing fairy lights, and seated us around a circular table covered with elaborate cold starters. As young waitresses brought in a series of unfamiliar hot dishes, our hosts used their own chopsticks to fill our bowls again and again. Between 18 or so delicious courses, as our hosts turned the revolving centre of the table to urge more of this dish or that, compliments were tossed back and forth. Greetings became elaborate as the leader indicated the four glasses in front of each of us. 'This red wine is to wish you a warm welcome. This mao tai (strong spirit) is to your good health.' Someone pointed to the fourth glass - Chinese Cola - and asked what that was for. He looked nonplussed for a moment, then improvised fast. 'And this, to your safe return home.'

At times there were shocks. 'Have some of this,' our host urges ladling out generous portions. 'It's delicious. It's monkey brain.' There was a gasp, as we stared at the cream-coloured glutinous substance floating in a thin gruel. 'It's a kind of mushroom. We call it monkey brain because it looks that way.' Quite the opposite happened with the 'sea cucumber': slimy, chewy, sweaty black and fed to us in quantities - then redefined as 'sea slug'.

As one course followed another we began to wonder whether the meal would ever end. A whole fish in a rich sweet-and-sour sauce came as a relief to those of us who knew that fish tends to come near a banquet's close. By the time the waitress had brought an extra course of fruit in deference to Western tastes, the banquet had done its work. We had been plied with hospitality so great that no one could go away hungry. Indeed when our hosts tried to press still more on a woman's plate and she blurted, 'I can't - I'd be sick,' they looked quite delighted.

 
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