New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 325

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Letters

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Large-scale solutions
Cover of the NI Issue 323 The article by Peter Rosset in your issue on pesticides (NI 323) was one of the best that I have read in your magazine for several months now. This is because it actually offered some large- scale, constructive solutions with surprising information instead of the usual articles which just illustrate and decry a problem or offer small-scale stories of hope involving the courage and resilience of individuals.

I didn't know and wouldn't have guessed that traditional farming methods which clearly minimize the use of chemicals while avoiding monocultures and so fostering biodiversity, also produce ten times the value of crops per hectare. However, the article does not explicitly make the next, seemingly logical point. We all know that capitalism seeks to maximize profits; why then would investors choose a system which is ten times LESS productive? The only possible answer is that, despite the increased productivity, profitability is still lower.

employing more people is a way of redistributing the wealth created by agriculture

Why is this? The use of pesticides is another (economic, never mind environmental) cost. Offsetting these additional costs and lower productivity can only be through increased labour costs. On a polycultural farm large combine-harvester-type agricultural vehicles cannot be used and many more people need to be employed. However this employment is a way of redistributing the wealth created by agriculture. Therefore the only impediment to more efficient (in real terms rather than the limited economic terms currently used), more environmentally friendly and more socially beneficial agriculture is the profit maximization that our current economic system fosters. This is something that we need to change.

David Crawford
Edinburgh, Scotland

Global nonsense
I am shocked at some of the shoddy logic applied to the issue on global warming (NI 319 Gathering Storm). From the keynote, in regard to temperature fluctuations the editor states: 'Take the sub-Saharan Sahel region where summer highs have doubled in some cases.' What exactly is that supposed to mean? That, in the Sahel, if the normal average summer temperatures over, say, the last 100 years were 40-450C, they are now 80-900C? If he wishes to speak of temperatures doubling, then he should refer to the Kelvin scale, based on the concept of absolute zero, and not the Celsius scale where zero degrees is actually some 280 degrees Kelvin (give or take a few degrees - my high physics are a bit rusty here).

In the very next paragraph he then states, 'The world's weather today is more unpredictable than it ever was, showing its violent side far more often.' Tell that to the dinosaurs who many believe were wiped out by rapid global cooling, or if that's not enough, hearken back to the halcyon days of the earth's formation when presumably, by either scientific or biblical accounts, the world's atmosphere consisted of turbulent storms.

Argue if you must against the dangers of global warning, but please don't distort the facts.

Steve and Bev Swartz
Alice Springs, Australia

Opened eyes
As a student in my final year of school studying economics in Australia, your edition on Fair Trade (NI 322) opened my eyes. The current economics syllabus that unfortunately future generations are learning, makes no mention of issues such as fairness, environmental and human rights considerations when teaching the topic of free trade. In all the textbooks, 'free trade' is the holy grail of economics and we are fed the propaganda that it benefits everyone down from Bill Gates to your poorest farmer in the South.

I'm worried though. Not all my peers read the NI and consequently they still believe the free-trade myths taught to them. Realistically, fair trade will only become a worldwide phenomenon if the generations that design and build this millennium are made aware of its merits. Let's spread the word.

Joanna Mascarenhas
Sydney, Australia

No opposing voices
I was very interested in your issue on Fair Trade (NI 322) but somewhat concerned when I discovered that all the articles viewed the subject favourably. Activists as eminent as Andre Gorz long ago questioned 'fair trade' as being a prolongation or even an exacerbation of the inability of people in the developing world to feed themselves by encouraging the orientation of their economies towards commodity production in the first world.

Unquestioning enthusiasm for 'fair trade' and a failure to question the current global utilization of agricultural resources leaves us with a politics which suggests that we should accept the role of consumer (albeit an ethically discriminating variety) rather than ask fundamental questions about what is produced, for whom and why?

Mihail Dafydd Evans
Oxford, England

Will to change
Cover of the NI issue 322 I feel Rob Buchanan's letter in the April issue (NI 322) needs an answer. The action in question related to Greenpeace campaigns to stop new oil exploration in the Atlantic Frontier and the Arctic. If the oil companies concerned did as Greenpeace asks and shifted from fossil fuels to renewable energy, there would be no need for 'gas-guzzling inflatables' to be out protecting the oceans. Research has shown that a switch to clean renewable technologies is economically and technically feasible. All that is needed is the will to change on the part of industry and government.

Greenpeace has pioneered green technologies and production techniques from 'greenfreeze' refrigerators to PVC-free credit cards.

It is ludicrous to suggest that an immediate ban on all fossil fuels is practicable. Does Rob Buchanan think it would be effective to go to sea in a wooden rowboat and no lifejackets? If he can source eco-friendly inflatables and lifejackets Greenpeace will, I know, offer him one of their organic cotton T-shirts!

Liz Baker
Falmouth, England

Kosovo stance
Lorna Diggle ('Lies and fraud' Letters NI 322) claims that 'the atrocity stories used by NATO to justify the bombing of Serbia are proven unfounded. The bodies are not there.. this has been established.' But she provides no grounds for believing these assertions and disregards the many reports by equally independent European journalists of massacres and mass graves in Kosovo and Sanjak dating back at least to 1997. She also fails to explain what 'perceived economic advantage' NATO was pursuing in bombing Serbia, an action which in fact did considerable economic damage to several NATO members, notably Hungary and the Czech Republic.

please don't present this as the
triumph of citizens' truth

I can understand why the NI finds room for this letter, which is entirely consistent with the magazine's own stance against the Kosovo intervention. But please don't present this as the triumph of enlightened citizens' 'truth' over those duped by cynical superpowers' 'lies and fraud.'

Alan Shipman
London, England

Colonial discourse
In the 'Worldbeater' profile on Rupert Murdoch in NI 322 you attribute his unpopularity with 'educated classes' to him denying Enlightenment ideals such as understanding and knowledge.

In my experience, he is vastly more unpopular in Britain than he is anywhere else I have been. The fact that this rich, powerful man is of Australian origin seems to be the cause of significant amounts of criticism of him. You get the feeling that should Richard Branson decide to buy up all of Rupert's media holdings, Britain's 'educated classes' would find it a lot easier to cope with.

The portrayal of white Australians as crass, brash and cultureless means that when a white Australian holds significant power in the world, many of those from colonial Britain see it as an affront. Colonial discourses continue to affect representations of people from 'other' cultures, even when those people are white. Isn't this worth acknowledging where it occurs? Even if in the case of Rupert Murdoch racist stereotyping is clearly not interfering too much with his pursuit of ever more power and influence.

Sandra Dickson
New Zealander living in London, England

Letter from Lebanon

Inspiration Point
Reem Haddad helps to scatter the ashes of an
American couple in the mountains they loved.

It took 12 years but Harry and Olive Snyder's wish finally came true: their ashes were scattered over a small rocky edge in the majestic mountains of Dhour Choueir. They called it their 'inspiration point'.

It was here that the young couple stared down at acres of pine trees and faraway villages as they shared their most intimate dreams and thoughts with each other. And now, more than 70 years later, I stood at the same place and watched their 60-year-old daughter, Carlene Howland, scatter her parents' ashes over the very same trees which hid them as they sat on a nearby ledge and discovered their love for each other.

Closely gathered around Carlene were her husband, daughters and son who read out the couple's favourite poems and scripture.

I was handed a flower and, imitating the family, I threw it over the ashes. I didn't know Harry and Olive Snyder but somehow at that moment I felt I did.

'They always told us that after their death their wish was to be brought back to Lebanon,' said Carlene. 'This is where their heart was, this is where they fell in love, got married and this is where they would like to come back to.'

For the past 12 years, she has kept the urns containing her parents' ashes in a chest at home and watched Lebanon from afar waiting for a chance to come.

When the war ended, she began planning her family's visit to Lebanon.

'I finally feel that they are where they want to be and back in nature again,' said Carlene. 'I am happy now.'

Prompted, she tells me the couple's romantic tale.

Illustration by Sarah John The year was 1927 and Harry, a 21-year-old university graduate eager to explore the other end of the world, had just arrived to Beirut from Wisconsin to take up a teaching position at the American University of Beirut. As he was making his way out of the ship, he saw two young women running to greet each other. Suddenly they both slipped and fell on the deck. Unable to contain himself, Harry burst out laughing - earning him a severe frown from the women.

'Well, I certainly don't like him and don't want to meet him,' thought one of the women as she stood up.

Although of Scottish descent, Olive Somerville spoke perfect Arabic. Her grandfather, an engineer, came to Lebanon in 1848 to install machinery in silk mills. He fell in love with the country and its people and with his wife settled in Lebanon. They had four daughters, one of whom was Olive's mother.

During War World One, however, famine and sickness spread through the country. Olive's mother contracted pneumonia and died when Olive was only 13. As her father was then working abroad, Olive and her brothers moved in with their aunts in the Evangelical Missionary Compound on the Dhour Choueir mountain.

Not long after the couple's first unsuccessful meeting, Olive was invited to attend a welcoming party for new staff at the American University of Beirut. Formally introduced to Harry, the young woman refrained from mentioning their former embarrassing encounter. In time, however, they began dating.

Both avid hikers, the couple used to walk hours through acres of forests and villages all the way from the center of town to the Missionary Compound in the mountains. It was there that they adopted the rocky ledge as their 'inspiration point', overlooking picturesque villages and the distant mountains.

'This is where they fell in love,' said Carlene, recalling the story her parents told her time and time again. 'And they decided to get married in the chapel of the missionary compound.'

On 8 April 1928, Harry and Olive said their wedding vows and walked over to gaze out from inspiration point.

Two years later, they went to live in the US. But their love for Lebanon never disappeared and their memories of inspiration point remained.

A few weeks after Carlene and her family returned to the US, I went back there. It was no longer just a rocky ledge overlooking beautiful scenery. It was a special niche where young love bloomed, where two lives intertwined and dreams were discussed.

As I smiled at the thought, I could have sworn I heard Harry and Olive laughing.

Reem Haddad is a reporter for the Daily Star in Beirut. E-mail reem.haddad@dailystar.com.lb
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