New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 194

new internationalist
issue 194 - April 1989

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

Wacky ways
Cover of the NI Issue 193 Some of us remember the old days when the NI was gloriously unpredictable - one month a short story taking up the whole magazine, the next a cartoon issue and then a bit later a fold-out world map. These days you are so efficient that the magazine even arrives on time! And much though I appreciate your relentless exhumation of the world's injustices month by month, I find myself hankering after the wacky old days.

So thanks for the Peters' Atlas wallchart (NI 193). It may have been designed to give you lot a rest but some of us readers needed a break too.

Gavin Jones
Swansea, Cymru

Scribble happy
It is easy for journalists to sit behind their word-processors and criticize what others are doing. How often do they roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty?

Your Mozambique issue (NI 192) epitomized this dichotomy between the scribblers and the doers. Mozambique's plight is pitiful - as the magazine well illustrates. In such a difficult situation mistakes are bound to be made. What good does it do to knock foreign governments and aid agencies who are at least trying to help (Keynote and The new missionaries)? What, I wonder, would the writers of these pieces do if they had to co-ordinate an aid programme for Mozambique?

And what course of action would the Mozambican journalists who criticize their Government's policies (Political puzzles) take if they suddenly found themselves in the hot-seat of a country in chaos?

I understand that criticism and controversy make for more interesting articles. But in the face of the devastating effects of South African aggression - is it really fair?

Jane MacIntosh
Dundee, Scotland

Sharp tongue
Regarding Language Lives (NI 191), here is a word from the dead. Making passing references to the poor, the black and to women does not make one a radical or even a liberal. Consider Billy Brace's letter (Letters.) which says of Gaelic: 'We rarely lament the loss of those languages now'. What typical English imperial condescension. Fel llawer o'm cyfodwyr mi ddysgais Gymraeg ar lin fy mam. Mae'r iaith yn hen and mae yn iaith fyw! (Like so many of my fellows I learned Welsh on my mother's knee. The language is old, but the language is alive.)

Meurig Hughes
Bristol, UK

Easy talk
Peter Stalker's dismissive comments on Esperanto (Keynote NI 191) ignore two facts. It is an auxiliary language so people speak it as equals - and it can be learned fluently in a couple of weeks. It is also wrong to say that 'Esperanto hasn't made it anywhere yet'. There was a time when every major rail station in Europe had Esperanto signs and some Esperanto-speaking staff - while several European radio stations still give regular broadcasts in Esperanto. This language was crippled by the nationalism it was designed to side-step. Before the war when the League of Nations was set to endorse Esperanto, the French blocked it because they wanted French as the international language.

For more information contact The Esperanto Centre, 140 Holland Park Avenue, London W11, UK. Elsewhere, see your phone book.

L Clarke
Middlesex, UK

Food for thought
If a woman's place is in the home doing the cooking (Letters NI 191) - how come most of the top chefs in restaurants are men?

Sharon Wildon
West Yorkshire, UK

Geometrical vegetables
How does Arnold Jago (Letters NI 191) make the logical leap from Dr Dianne McGuiness's research-findings to his conclusion that a woman's place is in the home? If men naturally enjoy mathematical stimuli more than social stimuli then I would have thought they were at least equally well equipped to deal with the socially isolating position of working at home - and possibly better equipped to deal with everyday geometrical shapes such as vegetables, kitchen sinks and washing machines.

Eileen Sephton
Merseyside, UK

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Banking on men
Maybe it is true that the differences between women and men are genetically determined as suggested by Arnold Jago (Letters NI 191) - and it does seem to be men who cause all the wars, poverty, oppression and are now causing the destruction of the planet - so perhaps Mr Jago would agree that there is no hope but to get rid of the lot of them. I'm sure that sperm banks will keep the species going.

M. Cumming
Nottingham, UK

Dad deal
As a 43-year-old man who would like to marry and have a family, I feel for women who also long to have children. However I could not become a sperm donor (Letters NI 189), especially if this would mean I would never know my child or the woman who bore it.

My father was always very distant with me - so that when he died I felt I hardly knew him. It took me years to come to terms with this. Knowing the effect this had on me I could never conceal myself from a child of mine.

However if any woman reading this is looking for marriage and parenthood, I would certainly be interested in corresponding with her. I'm healthy, vigorous and like bush-walking. Please write to: 35 Goodlet Street, Ashfield NSW 2131.

Michael Glass
Ashfield, Australia

Cancer scandal
I read with dismay Lori Heise's article on cigarette selling in Asia (Updates NI 190). I was a pathologist in Zimbabwe from 1983 to 1985, and saw many tissue specimens of lung cancer.

A Ugandan pathologist studying African cancer trends was sceptical of Zimbabwe's high lung cancer figures compared with other African nations until he had checked our records for himself. The difference is attributable to the low price and ready availability of cigarettes in Zimbabwe where tobacco is one of the main crops and a major foreign currency earner.

A Zimbabwean tobacco-farming friend who was tackled about the wider implications of his livelihood, claimed that 'people are old enough to look after themselves' - a view which is quite unjustified in view of the tobacco industry's ugly marketing techniques.

Dr CPE Naylor
Brisbane, Australia

Soviet sexism
In response to the article on women in the Soviet Union (Silent Sisters NI 190), I found Ms Feldmann's conclusions insulting. Because she cannot find Soviet women marching for abortion on demand she concludes that there is no women's movement. This shows an ethnocentric arrogance which ignores the thousands of Soviet women working for peace and to free Soviet Jews. Women get together and discuss the lack of hot water and other domestic issues which also signals their awareness of sexism. Such meetings are comparable to the consciousness-raising groups of the 1960s.

The attitudes ascribed to Soviet women in general could just as easily be observed among Western women. Most of these consider feminism a dirty word and aspire to a happy and long-lasting marriage. Economically this is still a rational choice. If Soviet women choose to ignore men's dinner-time conversation it is not necessarily because they lack education: it may be that these women too have difficulty getting a word in and risk being verbally assaulted by men's sexism.

Monica McQueen
Toronto, Canada

Debt threat
In an otherwise superb issue on Debt (NI 189), you miss the opportunity to indicate that the increasing global reliance of capitalism on debt is a basis for internationalism. Thus we should emphasize the point that the debt of North American working people is not a way to finance new extravagances but the only way to maintain their lifestyles in the face of wage cuts and unemployment.

How will banks and other financiers manage to collect three thousand billion dollars in outstanding US household loans over the 1990s? Already many grass-roots activists in the US are attacking the biggest banks on issues as diverse as their continued business with South Africa, their indirect exploitation of the Third World's people and their close ties to union-busting corporations. Our slogan in the next decade should be 'Borrowers of the world, cartelize'.

Patrick Bond
Institute for Policy Studies,
Washington, US

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

Letter from China
 

[image, unknown] Popgoesausterity
Jazz nights in Shanghai show Sue Robson that
fashion and popular culture are looking up.

It was amid the monumental art-deco of Shanghai's Peace Hotel that I first saw the resident jazz band three years ago. They had played in the Peace Hotel before the Revolution but had been abruptly exiled for years, only to be recalled in old age to play jazz-inflected 'muzak' again. They played seriously, heads down, not looking at the audience.

When I saw them again last summer, they zipped into each number including a piece of committed swing - and grinned at each other as they improvised. Joyously they took requests on beer mats, and urged the women to dance.

Wild jazz nights in Shanghai are still only for foreigners and the wealthy who, as they enter the chandelier-lit and woodpanelled room, are presented with a wine and cocktail list - minus prices. When I asked the prices in English the elderly waiter merely snapped: Expensive! Expensive! Too expensive for you!' He wasn't far wrong either - as I discovered when, jollied along in Chinese, he finally quoted them.

Like the ageing jazz musicians, a youth and pop culture in China is just starting to raise its head. But there is still little room for a specifically youth culture. When train loudspeakers and Government-run radio play middle-of-the-road ballad-like pop music, young and old alike sing along.

Young people in China grab at the chance to make their own entertainment. But they still use instruments popular throughout society. And for Westerners who rely on hi-fi technology for musical entertainment, a Chinese party comes as a bit of a shock. All of a sudden you have to show some talents - for singing, dancing, telling jokes or playing the game of 'crosstalks' where a pair compete to out-boast each other with increasingly excessive claims. Suddenly entertainment is creative, not merely there at the push of a button - and we Westerners are out of our depth.

For as long as such things have been permitted, Chinese young people have followed Western modes - with a ten-year time lag. High fashion in China today means flares, platform heels and broad lapels. Just recently young women who have dared to prance around in tight black ski-pants have incurred both curious stares and outright hostility from elderly women who see themselves as society's moral guardians. Fashion in China is supposed to be almost unchanging in a country still free of the buying frenzies the fashion industry encourages in our own throwaway society. Fashion here in China means something as broad as red being in one year, yellow the next.

All of that might change soon: at least in the view of the publishers of the women's magazine Elle, recently launched in a Chinese version from Shanghai. With a cover price almost half the average weekly wage, the images of those glossy Western women get passed from hand to hand. In a country where round-eyed white-skinned Westernized figures are depicted on posters carrying even the most ideologically correct Chinese messages (such as 'it is good to have only one child') one woman's reaction to the new Elle magazine was not surprising: 'I think those Western fashion models are very beautiful,' she said. 'I'm collecting some of the best ones to pin up on my bedroom wall, so that I can admire them every night before I go to sleep.'

But before Western marketing specialists gloat over China's tentative opening to the outside world there might be a few shocks in store. When the fashion magazine made its way round our local art and design college, one dress designer's reaction was: 'I think our fashion designers' success lies in an ingenious combination of Chinese and Western. That means I can make the most fashionable clothes myself now.'

Sue Robson is an English teacher at a small-town university in the Yangtse Riser Valley.

 
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