new internationalist
issue 181 - March 1988


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Wasted food and wasted money
Cover of the NI issue Congratulations on Wisdom and Wealth (NI 180). One statistic that deserves further attention is the 715 million children without places in school. Although the wastage of talent that this represents is universally acknowledged, by all accounts the figure is set to grow larger. When economies have to be made, education is a prime target. For example, in 1984 Zaire dismissed 7,000 teachers to make budget cuts. In 1982 an increase in school fees in Nigeria led to a drop from 90 to 60 per cent in primary enrolment. Meanwhile there is anecdotal evidence that the unemployment on the Filipino sugar estates, which resulted from EEC sugar policy, has had a devastating effect on school attendance of children whose parents cannot afford the modest school fees. The linkages between European agricultural policies (policies described by the UK Minister of Overseas Development as obscene), and the failure to meet the basic right of every child to education, need to be made plain.

Andrew Hutchinson
Education Officer
Save the Children Fund London, UK

Gay frivolity
A number of us gay men would like to comment on Gary Dowsett's article Queer fears and gay examples in the Masculinity issue (NI 175). His celebration of the most frivolous, materialistic and consumer aspects of gay male life in some of the Western industrialized countries does no justice to the broader and more important issues concerning liberation. And who does he think he is speaking for when he says 'the idea that sex should be a private act between two people is constantly subverted by gay men'?

We would like to know who exactly is doing the subversion. His shallow analysis and frivolous style is further underlined by his comment in Second Look about the leather clone: 'gay macho has meaning for gay men only'. For this gay man the arrogant adoption of quasi-Nazi symbols means the usual masculine vanity. It has little chance of leading us to liberation. We commend you for approaching this issue, but in future could you find contributors with more political substance and depth of analysis?

Mark Deasey
North Fitzroy, Australia

Unite with gays
Five of the letters printed in the Olympics issue (NI 179) were homophobic in their reaction to the Masculinity issue. Readers of a magazine dedicated to exposing and combatting prejudice and oppression all over the world should not be contributing to the general over-reaction to homosexuality. Your Masculinity issue was a brave and refreshing encouragement to men to free themselves from the shackles of traditional macho sexist roles and was in no way an 'encouragement of homosexual acts'. I appeal to the authors of those letters to put aside the fears that block their capacity to reach out to their gay brothers and sisters, to join the quest to end all oppression and express our humanity freely.

Andrew Powell
Cambridge, UK

Thatcher's patriarchy
I notice that three of the anti-homosexuality letters in the Olympics issue (NI 179) are from British readers. Presumably they are pleased by the continuing moves of the Thatcher Government to strengthen existing discrimination against homosexuals, to limit their rights, deny the validity of their relationships and to silence their expression. And it is this Government which, as Melissa Benn points out in the same issue, is causing international concern by its erosion of civil liberties and support for repressive regimes elsewhere.

If some of your readers can't see the connection between right-wing patriarchal government and sexual oppression, they clearly need more consciousness-raising. They should start by reading the history of Nazi Germany.

Frankie Green
London, UK

Christian sop
Would you print a letter from a South African businessman justifying apartheid? Of course not. Then why do you print letters from Christians who use their outdated beliefs to justify the oppression of homosexuals?

Andrew Halliday

Heanor, UK

Battling behemoths
I liked most of your article Rebuilding the City (NI 178), but it is unwise to rely on rail transport. It may be energy-efficient to use rail, but it puts the nation at the mercy of a huge monopoly confronted by an equally huge union. This could be a social disaster.

More in keeping with the small is beautiful' slogan would be the use of lorries, coaches and canals. Although lorries are noisy, smelly and dangerous, stricter controls and new road grids separating them from cyclists and pedestrians would answer the problem.

I'd like to suggest that all pedestrian and cycle paths should be covered over against bad weather.

Dave Womersley
London, UK

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Colonial Jews
Supposedly writing in support of the indigenous people of Palestine, Dan Leon larded his article with inaccuracies in the Land issue (NI 177). He asserts that Zionism itself is not racist, but only the lunatic fringe. Recent surveys have shown that 60 per cent of Israelis want some form of apartheid or deportation of Palestinians. Ninety per cent of the land confiscated from the refugees is vested in the Jewish National Fund. No Arab is allowed to buy or lease any of it. Nearly 400 Palestinian villages were destroyed to create 'Jewish Only' areas. These are the policies of the Zionist Government and they are racist.

Neither Dan Leon, nor any other Jewish Zionist colonial immigrant could be called remotely 'indigenous'. They can therefore claim no right to any part of Palestine.

For an issue supposedly devoted to indigenous people, the inclusion of Dan Leon's article is sheer hypocrisy.

Don Kjestrup
Auckland, Aotearoa

Grief and choice
Bravo! The issue on population was superb! Very thorough and very moving, Kathleen McDonnell's remarks on letting in the fetus, in At cross-purposes on abortion (NI 176) were particularly fruitful. I see three consequences of acknowledging the human reality of the fetus: it permits us the catharsis of grieving; it recognizes the pregnant woman as a parent with responsibilities which bring choices; and it calls for anger. We can call attention to the unjust social structures which oppress women and give them no alternative to the destruction of life within them.

Many women have been cruelly torn between the right-to-life movement which depersonalizes women, and the pro-choice movement which dehumanizes the fetus. They are looking to feminists for an affirmation of the sanctity of life. Once we let in the fetus we can be both pro-choice and anti-abortion.

Gail McMillen
Burlington, Canada

Moaning Melissa
A vote of censure for Melissa Benn's article The enemy within in the Olympics issue (NI 179). She bemoans the fact that the present Government was elected on only one third of the vote. But which other party got more? She complains that the trades unions are the key targets for the present Government. But this was advocated in the Tory election manifesto. People voted for it presumably in reaction to trade-union power in the 1970s. Certainly it is a disgrace that our newspapers are owned by so few. But in the 1970s there were eight million trade-union members. They had real power and failed us. So don't bother moaning.

W Lewis
Aberavon, UK

CND birthday wishes
This year is the 30th anniversary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and as part of the birthday celebrations, the London region of CND is organizing an exhibition of memorabilia charting all aspects of the movement's history. We are especially interested in photographs, diary entries, letters, leaflets, posters and pamphlets, from the earliest days to the present.

We would like to appeal through your magazine to readers for loans of material for the exhibition. They can be accompanied by a brief note of explanation. Should anyone have exceptional material with which they are reluctant to part, we would urge them to contact their regional office to discuss special arrangements which might be made.

The address for all enquiries is London Region CND, 6 Endsleigh Street, London WC1H 0DS.

Joseph Nicholas
London, UK

By George!
A solution to the connection between land rights and poverty already exists in the writings of the economist Henry George, who argued that land monopolisation lay at the heart of the world's problems and that the solution lay in governments charging rent for land and replacing all other taxes. His solution was expounded in Progress and Poverty. Why not resuscitate this major economist whose system could save us all?

S Lifschitz
West Pymble, Australia

Aboriginal inquiry
Further to your Briefly column in the New York issue (NI 178), please note: the Australian Government announced in mid-October 1987 a Royal Commission to investigate aboriginal deaths in custody. Justice Maitland commenced hearings in Adelaide on 27 January1988.

Richard Sarre
Rosslyn Park, Australia

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

Letter from China

[image, unknown] Rise and shine
The dawn chorus, and a lot more besides,
start up with the sun's first rays in the
Yangtse River Valley. Sue Robson
takes an early morning excursion.

I woke up well before six to take a look at early morning China - and found the little world outside my door was awake well before me. People scurried about in the pale dawn light down the narrow lane edged by cucumber plants that everyone grows over domestic walls. While a few old ladies held wide-eyed babies in their arms, others rooted in huge communal dustbins to salvage cardboard and waste paper. People carrying thermos bottles of hot water from home to home stepped in time with military music already blasting from loudspeakers.

From every small courtyard came delicious breakfast smells. High above, mothers cooked on the open balconies of modern apartment buildings. Chairs and old bricks were piled around their stoves and pots of crimson geraniums and cacti stood on the ledges. When a balcony collapsed recently onto the one below, China Daily moralized: 'People who overload their balconies contribute to such accidents.' But in a country where space is at a premium, few are likely to listen.

Yet beyond the homes already coming to life, the broad roads are almost silent. Chinese roads are quiet anyway; apart from the occasional roar of a truck, the only sounds are of tinkling bicycle bells and the swish of a hundred cycle tyres. This morning crowds of joggers mingle with the bikes. The runners and cyclists swerve around pedestrians who cheerfully ignore enormous billboards directing, 'Pedestrians should keep to the pavements.' Junctions are a mess of cyclists, runners and strollers, with rattletrap Liberation trucks veering through the lot. For at this hour the traffic lights are still switched off for the night.

When I reached the deep green canal in the centre of the town and looked through the drooping willows to the red and gold pavilions, I found people on the opposite bank working intently on their breathing and their health. Facing the rising sun, which glowed red over the roofs topped with strange stone beasts, were crowds performing graceful tai chi movements. Dozens of hands reached up into the misty air, then spiralled sideways in graceful circles. A pair of white-bearded men stopped their exercises to chat, but swivelled wrists in supple circles while they talked. More old gentlemen simply sat watching and listening peacefully to the songs of pet birds they carried in cages.

Back on the road, I cycled through the dust raised by weary farmworkers who had risen early to pull carts laden with sweet potatoes into town. Wheels rattled on the tarmac as women passed by with trolleys filled with white eggs. A red-faced peasant hauled a vast cart full of baskets topped with his wife and big-eyed daughter. Women wearing the bright green and orange headscarves of countryfolk pulled oil-drums mounted on wheels and filled with the foul-smelling products of city latrines - en route to be used as fertilizer in the fields.

But faster than I could watch it all, China was waking up. Soon the streets were filled with schoolchildren, each with a knotted red scarf around her neck - that revolutionary symbol used as a badge of the Young Pioneers. On every corner street vendors were selling breakfast deep-fried bread; sesame-topped rolls baked in oil drums beside the road; dough smeared with salt, herbs and garlic, folded and tossed in oil.

I rode back up the hill in a smog of morning coal fires and the traffic's diesel fumes, waited at traffic lights newly switched on, and saw that all the schoolchildren, the tai chi practitioners and the songbirds had disappeared.

Sue Robson is a teacher of English at a small-town university in the Yangtse River Valley.

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New Internationalist issue 181 magazine cover This article is from the March 1988 issue of New Internationalist.
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