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new internationalist
issue 187 - September 1988


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 : [email protected]

Double standards
Cover of the NI Issue 186 There are too many myths surrounding native peoples living in harmony with nature (NI 186). In the past Australian Aborigines and New Zealand Maoris decimated their environments, and still continue to do so. Today Australian Aborigines hunt endangered animals which other people would be jailed for killing. They resist all attempts to hunt rabbits - Australia's greatest desert-creating pest, for the same reason that politicians ignore environmental problems: the abused earth of tomorrow is someone else's problem.

Let's bury the noble savage image. Destruction of the environment is as old as mankind (sic). Justifying or ignoring the damage caused by Australia and New Zealand's oldest inhabitants is hypocritical. No Aborigine or Maori would starve today if the hunting ceased: yet still the slaughter of endangered species continues.

David Kemp
Lightening Ridge, Australia

Passing the buck
Although I applaud your decision to highlight the devastation of the world's forests (NI 184), the article by Sue Shaw confuses what needs clarifying.

The scientific management of forests is based on the concept of sustained yield: a long-established principle. It means removing from the forest a quantity of material equal to that which can be replaced by natural growth in a short period. This way forest resources do not become run down. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with forestry providing sustained yield is adhered to. The fact that in many cases it is not, and that commercial benefits which result from forest operations are not fed back to those groups of people with a right to them, is vilification of exploitative political systems, not of commercial forestry generally. Trained foresters take environmental issues very seriously. It is the 'cowboy' loggers seeking a fast buck that are the real problem.

Peter Branney
Shendi, Sudan

Similarity breeds contempt
In your recent Trees issue (NI 184), an article by Peter Cox drew an analogy between the clearance of a rainforest and rape. The accompanying picture of clearance in progress was also captioned ('Rape of a forest . . .'). While we do not wish to understate the importance of the rainforest issue, we feel this analogy is insensitive. Rape is a horrific act of violence and too many women and children are subjected to it. To compare the felling of trees with such an appalling crime is to trivialize this obscene act in a way that we find highly offensive.

Name and address not supplied

Paper tiger
A pox on your desire to have quality photographs! I know that you want to make ecological knowledge widespread by enticing the posers rather than by preaching to the converted, but by not giving a moral lead, your magazine merely gives ammunition to the scoffers. Use re-cycled paper. Show that it can be done - before we all suffocate for ever under piles of brand-new, silicone-coated, C02-generating pap.

Paul McKenna
London, UK

Editor: We are still investigating the possibility of using recycled paper.

Bin ban
Very pleased to see your issue on trees (NI 184). I advise you to continue printing the magazine on quality paper. At least it is read and probably kept by most people. Most newspapers are thrown straight in the bin.

Malcolm Samuel
Portstewart, UK

Blinded by science
I was interested to read S Gould's letter under the title 'Muddled thinking' (NI 184). The author says 'Science is a technique for explaining the world, the most efficient technique we have yet found.' I understand how S Gould explains 'the physical world' and 'the human race' through science. But is this really how she explains her own existence? Science certainly isn't muddled thinking but it is very straight and narrow and misses a great deal along the way.

Wayne Beldome
Adelaide, Australia

Photo flit
There were glaring omissions in the Photography edition (NI 185). Where was the picture of the plump white hand holding the emaciated black child's hand - controversial because of its implicit donor-receiver racism? What happened to the photo of the pack of photographers surrounding a starving Ethiopian child, waiting for it to die? And why didn't you publish the image of the young Vietnamese girl running towards the camera with her back ablaze with napalm? These three photos bring in stereotyping, ethics and the power of images: without them any magazine on photography and world development appears badly researched.

Ian Chandler
Bath, UK

Cartoon: Cath Jackson
Cartoon: Cath Jackson

Israel's shame
We are told that shame
is self-hatred
and that we must not feel it.
We are told that shame
belongs only
to other religions.
We are told that shame
means weakness
and we can be blackmailed.
We are told that shame
leads to madness
which we cannot afford.
But I am ashamed of the men
of my people
and their brutal minds.
I'm ashamed that I didn't
try then to stop
what I'm seeing now.
I'm ashamed that my son
is the same
as the others around him.
And I'm ashamed of the fear
for ourselves
that makes us not care.

Nancy Nachum
Jerusalem, Israel

Tough stuff
J D Simnett (Letters NI 185) complains that using the term macho to imply 'male sexist' is racist I cannot agree. As a Uruguayan translator I come across the word in many contexts. In its neutral sense macho indeed means male, though it is generally applied to animals. However it can also mean a tough guy or someone admired (in certain quarters) for his sexual exploits. Male sexist or chauvinist may not be an entirely accurate translation but neither is it too far-fetched. Let us stop quibbling over this word and concentrate on the real issues. There are plenty of them.

Ana Ransom
London, UK

Burning issue
Richard Butchin's Update on Israeli Tactics (NI 182) is very misleading. Israel is fighting a war of survival against Islamic aggression: a war in which Palestinians are the unfortunate victims. The country is doing everything possible to resettle and improve the lot of the Palestinians. But Islamic/Arab nations want to keep the Palestinians as impoverished refugees, to use them as pawns in a political propaganda war. It is also worth noting that stones thrown by rioters kill people and petrol bombs bum people to death. Israel has been forced to use controversial measures to save lives and keep the peace.

Phil Lumley
Surrey, UK

Counting costs
The Bolivian Ministry of Education has released alarming statistics on educational levels in Bolivia. Of every 1,000 children that enter school in urban areas, only 493 ever complete primary school, 393 finish middle school and 211 realize the full 12 years of education. The figures for rural areas are even more tragic. Of every 1,000 children entering school, only 140 finish primary school, 13 complete middle school and 5 manage the full 12 year term. Can you wonder why Bolivia is the poorest country in South America?

Bruce Harris,
Director, Save the Children Fund,
La Paz, Bolivia

Crossed wires
Your Housework issue (NI 181) did a brilliant job of conveying the extraordinary complexity of the 'entity' so foolishly referred to by many social scientists as 'the status of women'. You avoided this trap by presenting the expectations placed upon Western women in historical context, and by debunking the myth of the oppressed, down-trodden women in poor countries as compared to the liberated ones in rich countries. Given such sensitivity, how can you continue to express the Position of Women on a simple, five-step scale in your Country Profiles? Doesn't this deny such complexity its richness and context?

Michael Billig
Lancaster, US

Sticky fingers
Vanessa Baird exemplifies sensationalism and parochialism in 'Our Future in Their Hands' (NI 182). She fails to distinguish between science and its application. I think it is irresponsible to criticize science per se; surely even Ms Baird wishes to stay off the path of misology (hatred of reasoning). To look at the socially disruptive aspects in science, of which there are plenty, one should point a finger not at science itself but at the deleterious pair that habitually have their dirty hands in the cookie jar of enlightenment: government and big business. Ms Baird touches only lightly on this connection, preferring instead to take science as her scapegoat.

Tim Colvin
California, US

[image, unknown]
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

Letter from China

[image, unknown] Jumping the queue
Any social connection can be a ticket to ride in China. Sue Robson explains how one favour begets another.

The first time I travelled alone in China, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to buy a train ticket. I was in Harbin station near the Russian border on a dark January afternoon and outside the temperature was falling towards 40 degrees centigrade. There were three ticket sellers' windows, and above two I read my destination, 'Qiqihaer' As I joined the first long queue, railway workers were busy scrubbing out the characters and when I reached the head of the line I was waved aside to the next window. I queued again under another 'Qigihaer' sign. Soon workers erased this too, and I was abruptly told to join the third queue. I did so but the ticket seller sent me back to the first and the whole process began again.

My nearest friend was 1,500 kilometres away, and I was desperate. I left the crowds and found a gold-braided railway official hovering near the entrance. 'Comrade,' I said in my baby Chinese, 'how do you buy a ticket? Here none, there none, there none.' He asked where I wanted to go, and when; he took my money, opened the door to the ticket sellers' office, and went round the back to buy my ticket from the clerk at the first window.

In China, people use figurative back doors all the time because there is simply too little of everything to go round. For a ticket to Beijing, the Chinese either queue several hours, or find a 'friend-of-a-friend' who works at the station to phone down the line and reserve a seat or sleeper. The Chinese 'back door' is the way to find decent housing, get your children into university, buy a superior brand of bicycle or even procure a delicious fish. One girl I knew never so much as bought a long-distance bus ticket. 'My father is Professor So-and-so', she used to say, and get on free.

Guan xi or 'having connections' is frequently used to help friends or relatives. It mainly works as a regimented system of exchange. Ask someone to buy you a ticket, and they'll expect you to translate something, write a letter or sell hard currency. Everyone uses their guan XI The university uses it to encourage factories to donate much-needed machinery. My own over-friendly students will suddenly ask for a preview of their marks or a guaranteed exam pass. When lotus root, oranges and lettuces are harvested, teachers can buy them cut-price and in return the university drafts bright graduates as farm labourers. The barter of commodities includes a trade in people.

Yet almost everyone condemns this institutionalized queue-jumping. The papers complain daily that to get permission for building sites, to run a business, even to change jobs you must give elaborate presents to bureaucrats; hospital patients pay a fortune getting treatment. Officials whose bribes run into hundreds of thousands of yuan are imprisoned. A few notorious wheelers and dealers in a nearby town are about to be investigated by regional government inspectors, but in usual style these jokers will probably wine and dine the investigators and send them away happy.

In the West the equivalent of guan XI mainly operates at either end of the social scale, with the old boys' network at one end and 'the lads' at the other. But in China the system is spread throughout society. Whilst I see guan XI as the inevitable result of a lumbering planned-economy in which everyone is supposed to wait their turn and no-one wants to, the Chinese often describe it as an unfortunate habit left over from feudal times. 'Guan XI and the back door system will die in time,' a friend told me. 'As we get richer and facilities improve, people will be able to buy things more easily and guan XI will go. As for seeking out the friend-of-a-friend to phone another friend to ask for a ticket - well, we simply won't have time'.

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

[image, unknown]

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New Internationalist issue 187 magazine cover This article is from the September 1988 issue of New Internationalist.
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