New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 310

new internationalist
issue 310 March 1999

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 them to : helenp@newint.com.au

Reading Donald
Magazine no.308 - Disney It is surprising to find no reference in your Disney issue to the Marxist critique Para leer el Pato Donald (How to read Donald Duck) by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart. This first appeared in Chile in 1971 and has since been published in several other countries and languages. The Disney corporation asked the US Government to prevent distribution of an English translation in 1976; while the request failed, it did restrict distribution in North America. An extract explains that the ‘threat’ of Disney ‘derives not so much from their embodiment of the “American Way of Life” as that of the “American Dream of Life”. It is the manner in which the US dreams and redeems itself, and then imposes that dream on others for its own salvation, which poses the danger for the dependent countries. It forces us Latin Americans to see ourselves as they see us.’

A further observation: Jeremy Seabrook in the same issue describes how the public’s reaction to the death of Princess Diana ‘suggests a vast reservoir of exploitable emotion’. I would give priority in this role to John Kennedy, whose death also had a worldwide impact. For example, in Bern, Switzerland, a traditional annual market was cancelled for the first time in more than 550 years as a mark of respect.

Martin Davey
Toronto, Canada

Disney’s defence
I read with interest the edition on Disney (NI 308) but felt it had one glaring problem – a lack of comment from Disney. By devoting an entire magazine to a subject, New Internationalist has the chance to look at all sides. In this case it did not.

I have read that Disney’s positive attitudes towards gay and lesbian employees led to a boycott in the American Bible Belt – surely this is an issue which shows the company in a positive light and should have been pursued. I am not defending Disney – I am saying the company should have been allowed a defence.

Diane Parkes
Walsall, England

Human corrosion
I read with a mixture of incredulity and anathema the letter from ME Barlow (NI 308) on world population numbers. He/she writes about the necessity to ‘reduce’ the population as if it were some kind of pest whose numbers must be kept under control. Why should anyone, in the first place, stigmatize and judge those who, by having more than two or three children, are exercising a right and choice to procreate? To say that all people should follow a certain specific is to standardize the human race, and in so doing, corrode what it is to be human. I wonder whether it is accidental that Barlow’s quota of two or three children is also the typical number of most Western families? Many Southern people do indeed have more children but the reasons for this are many and have nothing to do with selfishness. The only harm a large population causes is to the environment and as all NI readers should know, it is the minority world of the West that has caused the greatest damage to the environment with our rapacious – some might say selfish – use of its resources.

Anita Nagarajan
London, England

Reef damage
In your ‘Reef Requiem’ (‘Update’ NI 307) no mention is made of the growing concern about coral bleaching due to slight increases in ocean temperatures caused by global warming. So far the Great Barrier Reef has not suffered as much as other reef areas due to differences in ocean currents. We seem to produce our share (or more) of damage anyway, through agricultural and other development practices.

Joan McVilly
Rathdowney, Queensland, Australia

Celebrating old ladies
In her letter (NI 307) referring to the ‘Letter from Mongolia’ (NI 304), Margo Whitehead insinuates that the essay suffered from ageism and sexism and that the author was guilty of some sort of egomaniacal assumption that the foreigner is always something of interest.

Ms Waugh likely knew that these women were talking about her because she speaks and understands the language. Moreover, in many countries in the South, the indigenous term for ‘old ladies’ marks them out as women to be listened to and respected by the communities in which they live.

I might also add that in many East Asian languages (Lao, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and certainly Khmer among them), second-, third- and often first-personal pronouns are based entirely on age and sex as they relate to the speaker: Grandmother, Uncle, Younger Sister are just some of the family relationships that are conferred on friends. In Khmer ‘old lady’ is simply how one directly addresses elderly women, a word synonymous with Grandmother.

Surely the fact that Ms Waugh has chosen not to exclude the writer from this linguistic and cultural reality in a publication like the NI is to be celebrated rather than denigrated.

Kiri Schultz
Siem Reap, Cambodia

Forced crisis
I was pleased to see that your issue on money (NI 306) questioned the common orthodoxy that the East Asian crisis was brought on by corruption and inefficiency in the states involved.

Economic liberalization forced on the countries by international bodies such as the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the WTO (World Trade Organisation), which created a build-up of short-term debt, was much more significant in the precipitation of the crisis.

Jon Davis
York, England

Offended
As a teenager, I wait with anticipation to receive your magazine in the post every month. But as a migrant from both India and England I was a bit offended by a statement in your issue on Migration (NI 305), which read ‘people were surprised by Hanson’s popularity, given that 40 per cent of Australians are migrants or children of migrants.’ I consider myself to be an Australian, but I think the problem with many Australians is that they don’t realise that we are a country of immigrants. The British, who came in 1788, and all who have come since are migrants or their children. It is the Aboriginals who were here first. Also, to update readers, Hanson’s party polled third in the Federal Election and failed to win a seat in the House of Representatives, and only won one on the Senate.

Joanna Mascarenhaus
West Pennant Hills, Australia

Thumbs down
Your issue on cocoa (NI 304) was outstanding in the material it covered, and showed the humanity behind the cocoa bean. However, on page ten you use the expression ‘rule of thumb’. I would request that you no longer use this term as it is what remains of an old English law that allowed a man to beat his wife with any stick that did not exceed the width of his thumb.

Pummy Kaur
Ocean Park, BC, Canada

Real Utopia
Paul Bennett’s idea about abolishing money (‘Letters’ NI 308) is obviously a good one but the implications are enormous. It would need an entirely different view of life than acquisitive capitalism breeds in us, a communal rather than an individualistic ethic. But then if it is true that the end of the profit motive would liberate vast resources for use and distribution, as Paul Bennett suggests, then perhaps even the pursuit of individual needs and ambitions would be possible. In any case, it’s hard not to agree that this is a valuable idea which does deserve more space, especially in a magazine like the NI which surely believes that today’s Utopia can be tomorrow’s reality. Who knows? Perhaps this is the next stage in human social evolution.

VIV QUILLIN illustration
illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Howard Moss
Swansea, Wales

[image, unknown]

A frozen world
Louisa Waugh experiences Mongolia’s winter.

I wake up and my world has frozen. Everything, and I mean everything – my water, tomato paste, soap – is encased in thick, milky ice. I light a candle, stand up in my sleeping bag and pull on another layer of clothing. Shivering, I take a knife to the water bucket and hack at the ice until bubbles rise to the surface. Lighting my small stove is tough because the wood, which was damp, is now frozen.

By the time my smoky fire is finally crackling and heating the water and ice in the kettle, the outside temperature has risen to -25o Centigrade. I’ve never been so cold in my life. I know the mountains surrounding my village will be drenched in fresh snow and the sun rising late, but I can’t see anything because my window is coated in thick ice.

On this dark, freezing winter morning, venturing to the communal outside toilet is quite an endurance test. But, after two cups of steaming black coffee I am bundled up and off to work, just as the sky is gradually brightening.

My school is a ten-minute walk alongside the Hovd river which flows through the village. The river is now so solid that horses are being ridden and cars driven over it. Everything but my eyes is concealed from the freezing air – my gloved fingers pushed down into my pockets.

‘Louisa – off to work?’ calls my neighbour Sansar-Huu. ‘Don’t worry,’ he teases me, ‘it’s quite warm today – just wait till it gets really cold!’

Our school has no electricity or running water, but each small classroom is heated by a wood-burning stove. This morning we all wear our coats during lessons. Wind-burnt children from herders’ settlements outside the village board at the school 12 to a dormitory. Their parents pay the fees in meat and wood.

At break we jostle to be near the staff-room stove and my colleagues pull their fur hats back on. ‘You sit by the fire, Louisa – you must be freezing,’ offers Sansar-Huu’s wife Gansukh, my fellow English teacher. I am.

After our classes Gansukh and I cross the street to the post office, which is crowded as the weekly post has just arrived. Beaming and clutching two letters I walk home with Gansukh and a couple of our students, passing herders trading camel, sheep, goat and wolf skins. We stop en route for bowls of tea at a friend’s house.

At home, I need more water. Armed with a bucket I lift the creaking lid of the well opposite our yard. But the water is so frozen I can hear the rocks I fling down the shaft ricochet off the ice. Taking the axe I set out for the nearby river to forge my own well.

That afternoon it snows heavily as Sansar-Huu and I saw logs in the yard. ‘How long will it be this cold?’ I ask him as I stand panting, my face flushed and numb. ‘Oh, it gets as low as -48 here,’ he tells me, grinning. ‘But we need this snowy winter. Even by October it’s really too cold to live in a felt ger here – so the herders in the mountains move up into their winter log cabins. Their livestock live on hay and the herders melt snow for all their water. They slaughter sheep and cows for food at the start of winter, when the animals are still fat, and the ice stores the meat till the end of spring.’

‘So, if the snow comes late, like it did this year, what then?’ I query, resting on a white log. ‘That’s when the steppe gets overgrazed, which means spring will be very tough. Remember those trucks loaded up with ice driving way into the mountains?’ I nod.

‘The ice was for herders who didn’t have enough snow and weren’t near the rivers.’ Sansar-Huu pauses to wave and call greetings to a local who trots past, his horse crusted in frozen sweat. I look around me at the snow-scape – silent mountains on all four sides, pack camels weighed down with flour and hay, children skating on the river – and the deep, untrodden snow.

I pick up the axe and raise it to my shoulder just as Sansar-Huu turns back to me. ‘You know,’ he says, ‘the herders are fine now – the snow is here for the winter. Oh, we’ll be waiting for spring and warmer weather to arrive – but hopefully not too soon.’

Louisa Waugh lives and works in Mongolia and is writing a book about Mongolian life.

 

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