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Currents

Issue 330

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Photo: Chris Moss
Taking it to the street - director of the
magazine Patricia Merkin (left) with
volunteers and homeless Argentinians.

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New street papers for
Argentina and Brazil

The first attempt to introduce a non-religious, non-charity street paper sold by homeless people into South America has been made with the launch of Hecho en Buenos Aires (‘Made in Buenos Aires’) on the streets of Argentina’s capital. Patricia Merkin, who spent much of 1999 at the British headquarters of street paper The Big Issue in London, sees the Argentine version as ‘a combination of the tried and tested strengths of The Big Issue and a realistic approach to local idiosyncrasies.’ These include a massive slum population, unemployment that rises to 30 per cent in some suburbs of the capital and no widespread public idea of what being homeless (sin techo) really means.

‘Currently, most social programmes are run by official government departments or international organizations,’ says Merkin. ‘It is time to create a more participative society and leave behind the “aid” model which only perpetuates the problems of the socially excluded and their state of mind.’

Merkin is positive about the prospects of Hecho en Buenos Aires, pointing to the success of homeless street papers in other countries: ‘It’s a proven experience in countries with diverse social and political conditions and different levels of exclusion. It is perhaps an experience that can show the other side of globalization. If McDonalds and Coca-Cola can be international, why can’t The Big Issue?’ Referring to Buenos Aires’ burgeoning informal economy – a response to unemployment and under-employment – she adds: ‘The street model itself is a standard formula in Third World countries to solve economic problems, as street selling is a very common source of income for excluded people.’

Meanwhile in Brazil, Luciano Rocco and a small team of volunteers are working to launch their own equivalent, Mutirão, early in 2001. ‘We are following The Big Issue as a model for Brazil, but I’d like to see as much balance as possible between pages edited by the vendors and non-vendors,’ says Rocco. ‘Actually, I’d like to see the vendors running the whole business in the long run. Our concern is to give them control over their image and voice. Besides a “street lights” section, for instance, we see them editing letters from the readers to be published in the magazine, from the very beginning, like an open dialogue.’

Chris Moss

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Glass ceilings
Women account for fewer than two per cent of top executive positions and even in these positions they earn less than men. The International Labour Organization estimates that at the present rate of progress it would take 475 years for parity to be achieved between men and women in top-level managerial and administrative positions.

International Labour Organization

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British child poverty boom
Britain has been singled out as having one of the worst records on childhood poverty in the industrialized world according to UNICEF. Nearly 20 per cent of young Britons live in families that are below the official poverty line compared with 3.9 per cent in Norway. The British rate is worse than Turkey, Poland and Hungary and of the 23 countries surveyed only the US, Italy and Mexico have higher rates of child poverty than Britain. The UNICEF report singles out five areas of concern: high rate of child poverty, the number of single-parent families suffering from poverty, workless households, people on low wages and people on low benefits.

UNICEF

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Gone but not forgotten
A landmark court decision has turned a dog called Lucas into a cause célèbre among animal-rights activists and like-minded Colombians. Lucas died of third-degree burns in one of the many informal garages in Suba. Two men were found responsible for the dog’s death and received three months’ detention and a fine equivalent to 35 grams of gold. ‘Legally this is a watershed,’ says the judge, Elsa Lucia Romero, ‘as it is the first time that people have been found responsible in a court of law for cruelty and unnecessary pain inflicted on an animal.’ Lucas had no owner to claim compensation or damage in the traditional legal sense. But still people felt his loss, says Romero. ‘I considered when sentencing that the death of the dog upset the local residents – he was a familiar sight in the neighbourhood.’

Martin Dayani / Gemini News Service

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Plastic dinosaurs and computers are
national enemies, says Army leader

While members of ex-President Milosevic’s regime run for cover from aggrieved Serbs, Yugoslav Army spokesperson Colonel Svetozar Radisic can take comfort in his paranormal powers. Radisic is a self-proclaimed expert in ‘neo-cortical war’. This warfare employs ‘various methods to influence the brain’s cortex with the aim of deforming the related areas,’ says Radisic. ‘This allows for the manipulation of groups of people or whole nations, inducing them to accept certain ideas against their real interests.’

In his latest book, Neo-Cortical War, Radisic expounds on the ‘satanic elements’ contained in some of the toys, especially the plastic dinosaurs, distributed to Serbia’s children in McDonald’s ‘Happy Meals’. Children’s video games are another example of neo-cortical warfare, he says. Radisic’s extensive analysis of these games revealed the presence of ‘satanic messages and symbols’. Hence Radisic’s profound opposition to computers, which he claims are ‘satanizing Serbia’s children’.

Word corner

Avocado
Similar-sounding familiar words are often substituted for difficult foreign words. This is called folk etymology. The Aztecs called the avocado the ahuacatl (testicle) because of its shape. The Spanish substituted the more pronounceable avocado (which kept its original meaning advocate or lawyer), perhaps influenced by bocado (titbit). In English, avocado became alligator pear, which remained in use until well into the twentieth century when avocado was re-introduced as a more marketable term.

Susan Watkin

His most recent printed article pinpoints the US’s devious ploy of conducting international negotiations at its own military bases. Here the US military could more easily manipulate the participants’ cerebral cortices, Radisic explains. He adds that Yugoslav ex-President Slobodan Milosevic could have been subjected to such electro-magnetic magic during the negotiations at the Wright Patterson military base ahead of signing the Dayton Peace Accords.

Radisic has a long association with the mysterious Group 69 – a small collection of people who claim to down enemy aircraft and rockets using the ‘power of their minds’. The group also creates a ‘psychological shield’ over Serbia to ward off the Pentagon’s parapsychological attacks.

In a recent interview with the Nedeljni Telegraf, Radisic complained that the high command of the Yugoslav Peoples Army (JNA) failed to take him seriously for many years: ‘There was no understanding for it [mind-control] in the JNA. Ten years later and the Army has changed its stance on this phenomenon.’

Many now see Radisic as part of, or a consequence of, a broad propaganda campaign, which aimed to constantly consolidate Milosevic’s position by engendering ever-greater xenophobia and paranoia among the Serbian people. Radisic’s theories would have been at total odds with service in a ‘normal army’, comments a retired Yugoslav Army officer: ‘This fantastically fits into the model of xenophobic Serbia, which was convinced that Milosevic defended the country from the “dark forces of the West”.’

Istvan Molnar / Institute for War and Peace Reporting: www.iwpr.net

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Million-dollar mice
TG2576 is probably the most expensive variety of mouse in the world – a breeding trio of males is said to be worth up to one million dollars. Also known as Hsaio Mouse, after its creator Karen Hsaio-Ashe, TG2576’s genes are tailor-made so the mouse will contract Alzheimer’s disease. When these transgenic mice are ten months old they begin to get senile and become valuable both to researchers trying to find a cure and companies seeking to sell it. As neuroscientist Steven Younkin explains: ‘Let’s take a figure of $2 million [for a mouse]. Do you think any firm working seriously on a treatment with a potential annual market of $150 billion is going to stop for $2 million? It’s a drop in the bucket.’ But it is not just Hsaio mouse that is attracting attention. Figures from the Home Office in Britain state that the number of procedures on transgenic mice soared from 48,000 in 1990 to 500,000 in 1998. Never have scientists talked so much about mice, says researcher Dr Denis Alexander: ‘At conferences people are constantly swapping their mice around and arranging marriages between mice.’

Guardian Weekly Vol 162 No 18

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Taking more than photographs
Tourists are destroying ancient sites in Egypt’s Western Desert warns Rudolph Kuper of the University of Cologne. In the Wadi Sura (Valley of Pictures), paintings dated from 7,000-5,000 BC in the two main caves, which were featured in the film The English Patient, are flaking off because tourists pour water over the figures to make them more visible. The Cave of Djara is also being degraded. ‘Inside the cave, tourists are breaking the stalactites. Outside they are collecting the artifacts,’ says Kuper who calls for UNESCO and the European Commission to fund protection of the sites.

New Scientist Vol 166 No 2233

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Sapphires create chaos for
rural communities

Madagascar is in the grip of a sapphire rush that has led thousands of poor farmers to abandon their fields. People from all over the country have flocked to the south, around Sakaraha and Ilakaka, which have been transformed from tiny settlements to Wild West-style frontier towns. ‘It’s phenomenal,’ says Dr Koto Bernard, head of the Sakaraha office of the global environment agency WWF. ‘The town of Sakaraha has completely changed in the space of a year.’

No-one knows the extent of the gem deposits in the region, where savannah and red earth conceal rich reserves of sapphires in yellow, pink and blue. Informal estimates put the amount circulating in the precious-stone market each day at more than $1.4 million: a staggering sum in a country that had a gross domestic product in 1998 of $234 per person.

Environmental and social groups have raised concerns about the safety of those involved. Digging is largely unregulated and done by hand by groups of people who scoop out holes ten metres or more in depth, sifting the earth in water in order to reveal gems. They say the work is hazardous, with a constant risk of tunnel collapses.

Another cause for concern is the influx of professional gem dealers from countries such as Sri Lanka and Thailand. Ismael, a former student who acts as an intermediary between the diggers and the merchants, says it is hard for miners to secure good rates for their gems. ‘The problem is the prices,’ he says. ‘All the foreigners buy as they like.’

Sapphires have brought with them social difficulties, with both students and their teachers leaving schools to hunt for gems. The stones offer people the prospect of swapping lives of agricultural subsistence for wealth beyond their wildest imaginings. Despite government promises to crack down on sapphire dealers, as an interpreter to a group of Thai businessmen, puts it: ‘It’s the sapphires that rule.’

Michael Peel, a Financial Times journalist, visited Madagascar on a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust fellowship.

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Running out of time
Global warming could fundamentally alter 35 per cent of the Earth’s existing natural habitat by the end of this century, according to a new report. ‘Plants and animals will have to migrate permanently to find suitable habitats and some will not be able to move fast enough,’ says co-author of the report, Dr Jay Malcolm. ‘In large areas, species would have to move ten times faster than they did during the last Ice Age merely to survive.’ The report’s predictions are based on a moderate estimate that concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will double from pre-industrial levels during this century. Some projections suggest a three-fold increase in concentrations by 2100 unless action is taken to rein in the inefficient use of coal, oil and gas for energy production.

David Suzuki Foundation: www.davidsuzuki.org/climate_habitatrisk.htm

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Monsanto’s greener grass
Monsanto and its corporate partner Scotts are hoping that genetically modified (GM) grass will be a sensation in suburbia. Scotts predicts that the market for GM grass could sprout to a whopping $10 billion. The two companies are developing genetically altered, slow-growing (‘mow-me-less’) variety and grass in designer colours. But the American Society of Landscape Architects is petitioning the US Government to destroy fields of GM grass because of the potential ecological contamination. According to one expert, GM grass pollen can migrate up to 1,000 metres, and can cross-fertilize with other strains.

Rural Advancement Foundation International: www.rafi.org

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Big Bad World by Polyp
Big Bad World cartoon.

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