New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 293

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

Disputed cargo
Cover of the NI magazine issue 291 I found the article by Nicholas Faraclas (‘The Turtle’s Cargo South Pacific NI 291) to be informative and well-researched.

However as President of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) International, I took exception to his comments about the work of SIL in Papua New Guinea.

Rather than being fundamentalist-dominated, SIL consists of members from a wide range of Christian denominations. In addition, SIL co-operates with the Papua New Guinea Government as an independent non-governmental organization. SIL’s primary role is as a technical and scientific organization engaged in linguistics, mother-tongue literacy, translation, basic education and development.

I would dispute Faraclas’ unsubstantiated assertion that SIL has a ‘long history of promoting education for slavery around the world’. Our mother-tongue literacy programs respect cultural diversity and give a basis for community-centred development of the kind Faraclas describes.

Frank Robbins
Texas, US

Not very clever Trevor
It is sad to see an article peddling hackneyed misconceptions of mental illness (Endpiece NI 290). It is disturbing that such an article has been written by a psychiatrist. The paragraph on manic depression bears no relation to reality: MD afflicts all areas of society, rich and poor. Far from accumulating fame and fortune, it can tear families apart: at best causing serious but temporary disruption, at worst leaving the permanent tragedy of suicide. And for ‘survivors’ of all mental problems there is a further life-long battle against ignorance, prejudice and a medical establishment that rarely listens enough to its ‘patients’. How does Dr Turner think he is serving the cause of enlightenment on these issues? I have yet to meet a manic depressive who thinks ‘relentlessly positive thoughts’.

Jon Balme
London, England

Newspeak
Anyone who read Peter Singer’s article in your issue on ethics (NI 289) will see that he is confused as to the value of ‘selfless’ acts, or supports them only so far as they bring their own rewards. For him, self-denial is scorned. Liberation from the mindlessness of modern existence, for Singer, comes only through engagement in worthy causes. Selflessness then becomes self-fulfilment.

Singer later qualifies what he means by saying our actions have to be ‘justifiable’. This is extremely subjective, with no possibility of consensus. More worrying still is his conclusion that the world is divided into ‘reflective’ people (such as him) and the larger majority of ‘non-reflective’ sorts. Gee, am I on the right side?

Self-interest as a guiding principle is corrupt. Singer may have scratched the surface of today’s ethical vacuum, but he has quickly covered it over under metres of concrete. Singer’s ‘better world’ is Orwellian newspeak. Whatever happened to your magazine’s ability to be critical of such trends?

Francesca de Silva
Newtown, Australia

A bit simplistic
How are we to live? (NI 289) was an excellent issue but perhaps a bit simplistic. Sure, technology got us into a fix by tremendously increasing human potential and we have the means to interfere in events – but do we know if it is good or bad to do so?

Even our expanded consciousness will not tell us if it is good to feed the starving, to immunize kids, to keep oldsters alive with fancy surgeries, machines and drugs, to stop people killing each other like in Cambodia or Bosnia. Are all actions to save people’s lives on an already overpopulated planet bad in the long run? If one life saved today will cause misery and scores of deaths in the future – what is the ethically correct action or non-action?

Victor Prochaska
Pemberton, Canada

by VIV QUILLIN
Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Technical hitch
I was disappointed by the dogmatic stance taken up by Colin Tudge (Endangered Species NI 288). His failure to grasp the fundamental shortcomings of the present ‘business as usual’ human-centred approach is to avoid facing up to reality, of which he ironically accuses the ‘romantics’. From his article it would appear that the present environmental problems are simply a temporary technical hitch.

Without preserving the integrity of the eco-system there will no longer be a future at all for the vast majority of the human species.

David Storey
Vientiane, Laos

Jumping the gun
My country is primarily known as New Zealand, regardless of what merit there is in the name. The Maori term ‘Aotearoa’ was never a name for the country for all the indigenous nations who lived here prior to the coming of the non-Polynesians. They didn’t need a name for the country because it was never federated by the tribes and never visited by non-tribal people until recently.

The term ‘Aotearoa’ is a romantic late-nineteenth century invention popularized largely by sentimental ex-Britons. Very recently, a minority (largely white) have decided it is more politically correct than ‘New Zealand’ even though the foundation Treaty between the first wave of settlers (Polynesian) and the second wave of settlers (British) used the name ‘New Zealand’ in both the English and the Maori versions.

Until our country’s law accepts that ‘Aotearoa’ is to be our country’s name, it is not. The NI has jumped the gun in unilaterally changing the name at the behest of the few. It is not democratic. I myself would rather have a Maori name for my people than a Polynesian one but language is a construct of majorities and usage pays no heed to earnest (and dictatorial) politically correct zealots.

Catherine Benland
Wellington, New Zealand (Aotearoa)

Timely report
Chris Brazier’s World Report (NI 287) was important and timely. The inequity of the world, although ever-apparent even on a local level, must be covered on a regular basis. People must be reminded that ‘70 per cent of international trade is controlled by a mere 500 corporations’ and that the continued drive to give these corporations even more will leave more and more people looking for work, or even looking for food.

Large Australian corporations shed employees and Australian state and federal governments look to privatization and complete deregulation as the holy grail. One wonders if Chris Brazier’s suggestion of a global compact that could encourage employment and ‘rekindle the fires that once burned at the idea of providing health and education for all’ is about the last thing on the lips of most Western governments that appear hell-bent on maintaining the economic rationalist agenda.

Matthew Clear
Newtown, Australia

It’s proposal time again!
We will be holding our annual meeting in October to decide on magazine topics for the coming year. If readers have any ideas could they please send a short (maximum two paragraphs) proposal in to Nikki van der Gaag at the Oxford office by the end of September.

 

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] U K R A I N E

Descent from Nirvana
Olivia Ward takes a plane to Yalta, the most beautiful spot in the Ukraine,
and is rudely awakened from paradise...

To go to paradise, you have to go through hell. This is not a religious statement. It’s a matter of fact for anyone who has the nerve, or perhaps the naiveté to make the pilgrimage to Yalta, the most hypnotically beautiful spot in Ukraine, the place where the new czars of Europe laid the foundation for its disposal after World War Two.

But like a true pilgrimage, it is a journey back in time. On my earlier visits, day trips from the dusty Crimean capital of Simferopol, Yalta was a veritable shrine of natural delights. Its air, perfumed with lavender, jasmine and wild herbs, mingled with the breeze from the archaic Black Sea, the same smells that teased the nostrils of Greeks, Scythians, Khazars and other vanished tribes more than 2,000 years ago.

Here, for the first time, I would abandon journalism, and simply go tourist. Yalta would be the best reward for my visiting brother who loyally came to see me year after year in Moscow. And, I reasoned, six years past communism this one-time enclave of the Soviet élite must be a tourist nirvana eagerly waiting for guests.

But in the Simferopol airport doubts began to form.

Instead of welcoming visitors to cash-strapped Crimea, the local authorities seemed downright inconvenienced to see us. Two huffy clerks worked the passport desks, pausing to bark at frustrated travellers crowding up to the white line.

The only foreigners, we were pushed from one desk to another to endure the long, hostile stares of both officials. Once through the customs line, we were thrown back into the crowd to fill out an extra declaration: ‘You have too much money,’ snarled the customs man, ignoring the planeload of well-heeled Russians and Ukrainians who presumably had the good manners not to declare theirs.

Illustration by SARAH JOHN

At the exit our diminutive friend Susan was firmly in the clutches of the don of the Simferopol taxi Mafia, who had his own PR man, an off-duty militia officer, standing by. His job was to shove me and my bemused brother into the car before any of us struck a better bargain.

If freedom from authoritarianism bore any fruit in Crimea, it was not at our hotel, the deceptively elegant Oreanda, its Mediterranean-style gardens sheltered by an Italianate courtyard. Surveying the small dim rooms whose attendants had long ago given up the battle against dust, we wondered how it came by its reputation as Yalta’s premier hotel.

‘Everything else is worse,’ a friend later told me after sampling some of the nearby hostelries. The collapse of communism had left the tourist trade in a depression that came close to neurasthenia. But competition was clearly unknown in Yalta, and the prevailing ethic was the Soviet one of monopolizing territory and demanding payment for it.

The following morning, in the hotel’s heavily furnished restaurant, we had another taste of Yaltese hospitality.

‘You must eat it,’ the waiter ordered as I waved away platter of fried meat and cold sausage. But in answer to my plea for more coffee, he peevishly brought only the official kitchen instruction: ‘Each guest is entitled to one 100 gram cup of coffee.’

Tourism was becoming more exhausting than work. So, after a day of wandering around the unseasonably cool empty beaches, breathtaking mountain eyries and the sparsely-visited palatial site of the Yalta conference, we prepared to take our leave.

‘You can’t pay with that,’ said a plump, sullen clerk, rejecting my Barclaycard as though it were a live scorpion. ‘Cash only.’

But had we not asked twice about credit cards and got an affirmative answer? We had scarcely brought enough money to pay a large hotel bill.

‘I don’t believe you,’ the clerk said calmly. ‘Cash only.’

‘Are you actually calling hotel guests liars?’ I asked incredulously.

‘Yes,’ she said without hesitation, going back to her magazine.

As if to leave me in no doubt, she added, ‘What do you expect? This is the Soviet Union.’

In the morning as we left Yalta, the clouds wrapped their feathery fingers around the rocky mountain tops, pressing them into the sea. Below, the town, like the Sleeping Beauty, was slumbering in a vanishing past.

The prince, alas, would not be coming anytime soon. Like us, he would be making other plans...

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

[image, unknown]

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