New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 253

new internationalist
issue 253 - March 1994

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

One man’s view
Cover of the NI Issue 251 Imagine a serious news and comment medium whose entire content – facts and interpretation – were under the control of one man. Not too healthy, eh?

Yet the Mexico issue (NI 251) appears to be just that, even including most of the photography.

I have long enjoyed the balance that the NI has brought to my reading, but tempered my views with the knowledge that you start out with fairly firm and fixed opinions. However erudite, honest and thorough David Ransom may be, the credibility of the NI is seriously threatened by one person’s total control of one subject.

Sandy Hedderwick
Leamington Spa, UK

No fairy tales
In his review of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (NI 251), Macdonald Daly seems to be disappointed not to find a simple clear resolution of human problems. To me this is like expecting a fairy-tale ending where some new idealistic socio-political system solves all the problems.

Perhaps cynicism is creeping up on me as I grow older, but the search for a perfect, flawless system, whether it be political, cultural or religious is, like the search for a perfect man or woman, certain of only one conclusion: disappointment.

If Macdonald Daly sees Waiting for Godot as trapped between the conservative and radical positions, this, to me, is not an adverse criticism. It is, I suspect, one of the concepts Beckett was trying to get across. Real life is full of unresolved ambiguities, but we ought to find this stimulating rather than a cause for despair.

If we can at least recognize some of them, then we may be less prone to being naively misled by the more simple-minded idealists and able to see the good that can be found in the imperfect.

Mike Fuller
Calderbridge, Cumbria, UK

Myths and muddles
In an otherwise excellent issue on AIDS (NI 250), the page on the myths and theories surrounding the disease contained a confusing muddle of nonsense and half-truths.

It is highly plausible that HIV comes from the similar virus SIV found in monkeys. Talk of a ‘missing link’ is irrelevant and harks back to outdated pseudo-science which has unnecessarily confused the general public for many years. There is also no need to invoke ‘bestial sex’; infections could occur, for example, when monkeys are kept for food or as pets.

Similarly, the connection between the emergence of HIV and mass vaccination is plausible. The phrase ‘mutated from polio trial’ is very misleading. The suggestion is that needles were not sterilized between repeated use, which could spread HIV in just the same way as it is spread among injecting drug-users.

David Balding
London, UK

On your bikes
Your article on cars (NI 249) was strangely imbalanced. The way in which cars are seen as liberty was described, yet the liberty to walk to the shops or cycle to work was not mentioned.

Cars restrict the freedom of everyone who happens not to be in one at the time, and the freedom they give their owners is largely illusory. As Ivan Illich points out in Energy and Equity, ‘the typical American male...spends four of his sixteen waking hours on the road or gathering his resources for it’.

In the last paragraph of the NI article the author asks: ‘What if we were to take the same genius and wealth, the same vast human and material resources that we invest every day in the construction of armies and weapons of destruction, and apply them instead to the construction of the safest, most convenient, energy-efficient and environmentally-benign transportation system that humans have ever known?’ Do we really not know the answer to this one? Can there really be someone writing for the NI who has never even heard of the bicycle?

Daithí Ó hÉalaithe
Co Átha Claith, Ireland

VIV QUILLIN cartoon
Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Implicit agenda
The treatment in the AIDS issue (NI 250) took me into the minds and hearts of people the world over, increasing my awareness and empathy for those who suffer from the disease.

I was very disappointed, however, in the apparent lack of awareness of your own agenda in approaching the issue. This implicit agenda of ‘sexual revolution’ causes you to ignore and even ridicule one otherwise obvious way to significantly reduce the risk of contracting or passing on the disease; namely, having or at least trying to have, one lifetime sexual partner.

Dave Pankratz
Winnipeg, Canada

Massive gulf
With your magazine on Liberty (NI 249) you exposed the massive gulf that exists between sensible debates and demagoguery on this subject. It seems that you are on the latter side.

The article by Catherine Itzin uncritically supported Andrea Dworkin’s lies and vilification. If this is an example of the scholarship of Ms Itzin then her research fellowship should be revoked.

Furthermore, your artist, Korky Paul, was surely a student of Dr Goebbels. Reducing Camille Paglia to a crude caricature (to quote Andrea Dworkin ‘dehumanized as a sexual object...who enjoys humiliation’ – or was the cartoon meant to be ironic?) accompanied by an out-of-context quotation was a piece of Nazi-like propaganda.

Eric Topp
Isabella Plains, Australia

Unwilling pupils
I read your edition on Education (NI 248) with interest. I thought I should add a few words to the current debate. I think too much is taught to mostly unwilling pupils. The basic subjects need to be taught, but with the opportunity for study at a later time when we become more self-motivated.

In other words, less time at school (which would probably help the unemployment registers), and expand resources for those in later life who are able or willing to educate themselves.

Jim Williams
Isle of Wight, UK

Real history
I felt that your contributors in the issue on History (NI 247) continually made the mistake of confusing contemporary happenings with real history. Where you put the dividing line is obviously a matter of debate, but a couple of generations is not enough to get rid of the bias that flavours all accounts of contemporary happenings. Real history gives us the opportunity to use the tool of comparison. How can we learn lessons from the rise and fall of countries, empires, religions and ethnic groups unless we have recourse to studies made from various sources and from different points of view?

Why didn’t any of the articles re-affirm the truth that the majority of bad things that have happened comes from human greed, political ambition and religious intolerance whilst most of the good things come from human generosity, political altruism and religious fervour, and that we have a good deal of all within us?

Eric Dormer
Hayling Island, UK

Owning up
The Multinationals magazine (NI 246) looked at one of the most serious issues confronting humanity – the attempt to establish a Hegelist, élitist, global economic control which requires the subjugation of all people and the loss of existing national sovereignty. There was one major omission: the asking of the question: ‘Who owns and controls the multinational corporations?’

The answer to this opens up the secret world of the international banking system without consideration of which very little sense can be made of many of the events in the world today – the oil crisis of the 1970s, the Gulf War, the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union, the sale of national assets to foreign owners, the assassination of President Kennedy – to name just a few.

Neville Pearce
Napier, Aotearoa/New Zealand

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

Letter from Lagos

Siren values
The only children in Nigeria who learn practical skills at school are the ones
who don’t need them. Elizabeth Obadina reports from a traffic jam.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY ‘Would you believe it Mum? Mum! Listen now! It just blew up!’

At last Nike, my thirteen-year-old daughter, has my undivided attention. I stop trying to force my way into the unending stream of traffic at the crowded junction by her school and park by the roadside to wait for the road to clear.

‘What blew up, Nixie?’ I ask.

‘Don’t call me Nixie! And Muuuuu-um how can you stop just here? What an embarrassment! Please I beg you, don’t TALK to ANYONE! I’m going to DIE! Please Mum, MOVE!’ Nike is cringing in the back seat willing the earth to crack open and swallow her up. Even her much less sensitive 12-year-old brother Jide shows concern.

‘Look Mum, the ‘yellow fever’ is sorting out the jam. Let’s try to get out,’ he pleads.

Obligingly I start up the car and nudge my way forward. I set all my flashers flashing, a signal to the orange-shirted traffic warden – the ‘yellow fever’ – that I want to go straight across the junction and not turn right into the heart of the traffic chaos. Helpfully he forces a Mercedes to back up and a BMW to shift forward and ever so carefully I squeeze between their gleaming bumpers through to the empty road ahead.

‘Thank you,’ I call to the saluting ‘yellow fever’ before accelerating away with a tractor-like roar and a clatter of dangling exhaust pipe.

‘I’m dead,’ moans a little voice from the back seat.

‘What blew up, Nix?’ I return to her first concern. ‘Have you been hurt?’ I strain into the rear view mirror to see if I have missed evidence of a terrible injury. She seems intact.

‘I’m destroyed! When are you going to get a new car? This one’s beyond a joke. I’ve never been so EMBARRASSED.’

Ah, my poor rust-ravaged, much-dented, hardy little 1979 Toyota is going to be verbally savaged again. It’s just one of many equally decrepit old wrecks out on the highways of Lagos. But there is a better class of traffic jam around Nike and Jide’s school. Most pupils are picked up by their parents’ drivers and most parents are ‘made-it’ politicians, bankers and sundry professionals. Army ‘made-its’ have their own military schools. There is no kudos at all to be had from being collected by one’s mother in a jalopy.

‘Most children in this country have to walk to school. You are both lucky...’ I stop my well- rehearsed diatribe as I catch sight of Jide sawing away at an imaginary violin. ‘So what blew up?’ I ask yet again.

‘My technology project,’ wails Nike.

‘What? A bookshelf?’ I am puzzled.

‘No! No! No! We’re not doing carpentry any- more. I told you ages ago. It’s my SIREN that blew up. We all have to know how to build a siren, and mine blew up when I switched it on, and now I have to go to school on Saturday and start again.’ Nike is fuming.

On the list of skills important for survival in Nigeria, teaching teenagers from the country’s élite how to build their own siren is probably one of the more important.

Anyone who is anyone – or any bank clerk shifting cash between banks – is accompanied on their way by official cars with sirens blaring and policemen hanging out of car windows thrashing motorists who don’t move aside quickly enough with a koboko, a form of cat o’ nine tails.

What other practical skills could wealthy teenagers learn? My mind leaps to laundering. My first ‘laundering’ thought was prompted by the acres of crisply-starched robes worn by both men and women of substance which get changed at least twice daily and more on special occasions when one changes for every stage of a social function.

Laundering of the other variety might also be a useful skill to learn. Nigeria must be the only country where the disgraced Bank of Credit and Commerce International, BCCI, continues to flourish under a changed name.

But let me not pillory my poor children’s school. Ironically I sent them there precisely so that they would experience a full curriculum, especially the practical aspects dropped from the overcrowded, underfunded state school curricula. In addition to siren-making, my children have hoed up a productive little farm, learnt chicken- and rabbit-keeping, made concrete blocks, and learned a range of skills from cooking and cleaning using traditional methods to computer technology and adire cloth-dying.

The irony is that the Nigerian secondary curriculum, meant for all and emphasizing the vocational practical skills desperately needed for development, is only enjoyed by children of parents with enough money to pay for the better private schools.

Elizabeth Obadina is a freelance writer and journalist living in Lagos.

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