New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 290

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

Extinction
Cover of the NI issue 289 on Ethics. Perhaps we should encourage people to use more fossil fuels. When fossil fuel is exhausted the earth will have reached maximum pollution. Some species will become extinct but new species will evolve that can thrive in the new conditions.

Perhaps humans will become extinct but I doubt it. People who by force of circumstance have developed a simple sustainable lifestyle, especially those living in warm climates, will notice little change.

What will become extinct is the comfortable, highly industrialized lifestyle we enjoy in the West today, which is powered by fossil fuel. We will lose our fast cars, our rail, air and sea transport and our multitude of consumer goods manufactured by the excessive expense of energy.

We will also lose our advantage in technical weaponry – no bombers or helicopter gunships, no tanks or rockets – and where will we be then? We will, however, have the comfort of knowing we have only ourselves to blame.

Charles Phillips
Bromley, England

Bhutanese refugees
We would like to draw attention to one major inaccuracy in your Update ‘Crisis..what crisis’ on Bhutan (NI 288). The exodus of refugees from Bhutan reached a peak in 1992. By the end of that year UNHCR-administered camps in Nepal were sheltering some 80,000 refugees. Up to 1995 a trickle of refugees arrived at the camps following explusion fom Bhutan, but it is not true to say as your article does hat ‘there is no sign of it [the explusion] abating’.

What is now at issue is the absence of progress towards a solution to the crisis. Although the governments of Bhutan and Nepal have both agreed that a process of verification of the status of Bhutanese refugees is the next necessary step in moving to a resolution, bilateral meetings between the two governments have so far failed to make this happen.

The principle of a verification process was endorsed as recently as January 1997 by the Bhutanese Foreign Minister in a letter to Asiaweek.

Thousands of refugees are now in their sixth year of exile and it is a matter of urgency that their situation be addressed and that they be allowed to return to their country in safety.

Bhutanese Refugee Support Group
Dublin, Ireland

Mothers dying
It is unfortunate that Peter Adamson (‘Mothers dyingNI 287) did not mention the Inter-Africa Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (IAC).

The general objectives of the IAC are to reduce the morbidity and mortality rates of women and children through the eradication of harmful traditional practices related to delivery, female genital mutilation (FGM), nutritional taboos, forced feeding of women and early childhood marriage; and to promote traditional practices which are beneficial to the health of women and children. IAC affiliates in 25 African countries conduct FGM-prevention campaigns. MATCH International Centre is the only Canadian non-governmental organization that supports the IAC.

A good question to ask always is: will this information help stop mothers dying?

Robert Harnum
Halifax, Canada

Better world
A sequence of letters has occurred as a result of disagreement over just one sentence in an article. Is this not rather insulting to José Lutzenberger, the writer of that superb article in Green Economics (NI 278)? I guess that most readers broadly agree with the mission statement on the inside front cover and most would hope that the remaining readers will be persuaded and that changes for a better world will result. So does it do any good for a Christian reader (Tim Viles, NI 286) to insult atheist readers such as me? He tells me arrogantly that he knows our thoughts better than we do! I do not believe in god, nor gods, nor anything at all. Is that clear? And I also have a degree in mathematics and physics if anybody thinks it has any relevance.

Any UK Christian reader seriously interested in morality without religion should contact the British Humanist Association or the National Secular Society.

Peter Lancaster
Essex, England

by VIV QUILLIN
Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Attacking feminism
I was shocked to read Peter Adamson’s completely unwarranted attack on feminism in his otherwise splendid article on maternal mortality (State of the World NI 287). He accuses ‘the women’s movement in industrialized nations’ of complete indifference to maternal mortality in the developing world. Western feminists are accused of reluctance to take on an issue ‘which seems to centre on women as mothers rather than women as women’.

Feminists I know do not make this artificial distinction. It is feminists, in fact, who have tirelessly fought for recognition for the value of housework; public support for breast-feeding, day-care and midwifery, pensions for housewives and dozens of other issues whose chief impact is on ‘woman as mother’.

Furthermore, the feminist movement is frayed, beleaguered and all but silenced in most places. Adamson might more justifiably attack African and Asian governments or world agencies like WHO, UNDP and UNICEF for ignoring this horrible information.

I welcome his powerful revelations with as much vigour as I reject his spurious and mystifying attack on feminists. If we have been largely silent on this issue it is solely for want of the information he now provides.

Michele Landsberg
Toronto, Canada

Greenhouse effect
I was disappointed to see NI peddling the usual misconception about the greenhouse effect (State of the World NI 287). You say that ‘the release of carbon dioxide through burning fossil fuels... creates a greenhouse effect’.

The fact is that the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is a natural process which does not depend solely on the burning of fossil fuels. The Earth benefited from the greenhouse effect for many years before people ever started to burn fossil fuels. So-called ‘greenhouse gases’ trap heat from the sun and prevent it escaping back into space. Without the greenhouse effect the earth would be too cold to support life of any kind.

You rightly say that the effects of a warmer world could be very serious, so pressure to take action needs to be brought to bear in the right quarters now. But such pressure must be based on a full understanding of the problems we are facing, which includes not confusing the greenhouse effect with global warming.

Michael D Foster
Harare, Zimbabwe

Radical-left angst
Although there are always interesting snippets within your magazine I generally find the tone more irritating than informative. It is a shame that your magazine is one of the few vehicles for the opinions within it, as it seems that each article is so devoted to showing an ‘alternative viewpoint’ to mainstream capitalism that any commitment to impartial reporting is lost.

Surely the IMF does some good, sometimes? World trade may have inbuilt injustices but even so it brings benefits as well as costs to developing countries.

Why do you have to polarize issues in a way which will only alienate those who need to hear most: employees, economists and product developers for multinational companies?

I would like to encourage rather than to criticize the only magazine in a vital niche but I feel I have a duty to other potential subscribers who wish you to tone down the radical-left angst.

John Broxis
Bedford, England

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

[image, unknown]
L E T T E R [image, unknown] F R O M [image, unknown] R U S S I A

Doing business
Olivia Ward explores the seamy side of life through the travails
of her friend Galina, a university professor.

The grand high official overseeing crime and corruption was in fine form as he addressed his audience of journalists. Corruption, he drones, would be fought in places high and low, ferreted out of its slimy burrows. And before you know it, the country would be leading a ‘normal civilized life’.

I recounted this inspiring scene for Galina, my closest Moscow friend. Not surprisingly, at the end of the recitation, she laughed.

‘And how exactly are we to begin leading this normal civilised life?’ she asked.

There were, of course, no answers. Least of all from the grand high official.

For four years now I had watched the steel net of corruption spread over the country, strengthening and thickening since described a century ago by Nikolai Gogol in his classic chronicles of malevolent officialdom.

Life copies art, and less gloriously. Nobody in this country is safe from falling victim to corruption, not even Galina, a university professor who works long hours for little but the satisfaction of the job.

illustration by SARAH JOHN

Keeping up with Galina’s travails has been a breathtaking journey through the dark side of the new Russian system.

In one of the latest woes, she spent her life savings on a third-hand car to transport her gravely ill mother to and from the country. But that was only the beginning.

‘I paid $1,000 for driving lessons,’ she said grimly. ‘I’d been warned it would be expensive so I bought the cheapest possible Lada and held some money back.’

It wasn’t enough. After the first hour’s lesson the instructor – a slovenly man who was equally indifferent to her and the road – began to complain bitterly.

‘Time’s up,’ he declared. ‘That’s all you paid for.’

She had paid, she thought, for the two-hour lessons written into her contract. But only a ‘gift’ would force him to continue.

Her funds exhausted, Galina rebelled. Gritting her teeth, she continued the shortened lessons, and with the help of a friend managed to scrape together the hours needed to pass the test.

‘You’ll need to hire a guide if you want to get through,’ said the shameless instructor.

More palms would have to be crossed with roubles. Again Galina refused. The licensing official was not amused. Was he expected to live on his meagre salary just because some stubborn woman held back on the ‘bonus’ he usually split with the instructors?

Broke and defeated, Galina left without her licence.

‘It’s not entirely the money that infuriates me,’ she said. ‘It’s the horrible business of dealing with those petty criminals.’

Bigger horrors were to come.

Looking out the window of her cosy suburban apartment one morning Galina saw a wrecker’s truck approaching an identical block across the street. The old building was to be razed to make way for an expensive high rise.

‘I knew I would be next,’ she said with a shudder. ‘I asked the city what I should do. They said I would be relocated, but the laws are so loose they can be interpreted any way officials like.’

Which meant any way they were paid to like.

Too poor to play the game even if she chose, Galina could only retreat and hope for the best. Now she lives in fear that any day the flat she and her late husband lovingly bought and renovated will be reduced to rubble, and she forced to share a one-room flat with her mother and 25-year-old son.

Then, just as Galina was wondering how she could possibly make ends meet, an answer arrived.

‘Some worried parents came to see me because their Kolya was failing. I explained that he never studied and he was one of the laziest kids I ever taught.’

The parents were undaunted.

‘Yes, yes,’ they told her. ‘It’s a real problem. That’s why we think you could give him some “special help”. Of course we would be very grateful.’

The ‘gratitude’ could be in four figures. And it would include a good passing mark.

Galina was appalled.

‘The university is the place where your values are formed,’ she scolded. ‘How can you set an example for the younger generation like this? How will Russia ever escape from this cycle of corruption?’

Kolya’s father shrugged impatiently.

‘We’ll transfer him to another class,’ he said. ‘Some of your colleagues know how to do business.’

Olivia Ward is bureau chief for the Toronto Star in Moscow.

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