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new internationalist
issue 189 - November 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]

Cloud cuckoo land
Cover of the NI Issue 188 Here we go again, I thought. With its headbanging title, your issue on the Politics of Greed (NI 188) seemed to promise the usual hellfire and damnation about the iniquities of Thatcher, Reagan and Co. I thought I'd end up feeling frustrated by you staying on your moralistic high horse without ever offering any concrete political proposals.

Instead your lengthy debate between editor and a 'reader' left me feeling the opposite. We're supposed to be inspiring people with our vision of how things could be different. And what's inspiring about a treatise on who can own brown rice stores and how many people it takes to make up a windmill construction co-operative? Thatcher never laid out her ideal world for everyone to shoot down - she and her cronies unveiled it bit by beautifully packaged bit. So why are you jumping through all these self-imposed hoops?

And if your modern drawing of Sancho Panza has been 'liberated from the master-servant relationship' why does he/she/it end up with the donkey?

Hywel Evans
Cardiff, UK

Animal passions
I would like to add two points to your issue on violence (NI 187). First, many chemicals cause sudden uncontrollable rages: notably lead, the chemicals used to tenderize burger meat and certain food additives. There are also a vast number of chemicals in food which have been recently introduced, the effects of which are unknown.

Second, much violence in the West results I believe, from a sense of impotence. Many of us have as much control over our lives as animals in a zoo. The more centralized, urbanized and mechanized a society becomes, the less control we have and the more violence is bred. Your issue concentrated too much on women deploring male violence: if men are to become less violent, women must stop requiring them to enslave themselves to the industrial machine in order to support a family.

Edith Crowther
London, UK

Native protection
In his letter concerning 'native peoples' (aren't we all?), David Kemp argues that destruction of the environment has always occurred (NI 187). True - but only recently has technology made it possible to destroy life faster than it can be replaced. I have recently returned from the tropical rainforests of South East Asia where the almost negligible cutting down of trees by 'native peoples' caused no real destruction over millions of years. Now unscrupulous logging companies assisted by corrupt officials are destroying forests at the rate of 50 million acres a year.

Ronald Ransom
Cheltenham, UK

Palestinian pain
Phil Lumley writes that 'Israel is fighting a war of survival against Islamic aggression' (Letters NI 187). It beats me how he can describe opposition to military occupation as 'aggression'. Would he call the activities of black South Africans seeking freedom, as aggression or legitimate struggle?

Could Mr Lumley tell us just how Israel is trying to 'resettle and improve the lot of the Palestinians'? Is he referring to the deportations, or does he mean that by making life so miserable in the refugee camps people will leave voluntarily?

I have been to the Holy Land twice this year and have seen the appalling conditions Palestinians are living under. In their position, I have no doubt that anyone would throw stones and anything else one could lay hands on in order to change the situation.

Ibrahim Hewitt,
The Islamic Organization for Media Monitoring
London, UK

Sexual feelings
Regarding your issue on Personal Violence, (NI 187), can you or any of your readers tell me how to differentiate between erotica and pornography? When can the pictorial depiction of the sexual act be called art - or would you ban it completely? And what about writers like D H Lawrence who made their reputations and sometimes their livelihood from describing sexual experiences? These questions are not addressed by the simplistic rhetoric of 'Porn is the theory, rape is the practice'.

I suggest that pornography, like anything else people devise for their pleasure, is simply a tool. Like alcohol or money, it is capable of vast abuse by those who exploit it for financial purposes. But I have read and enjoyed 'pornography', just as I have been aroused by the pictorial depiction of sex - and I refuse to feel guilty for it. The simple-minded conclusion you arrive at - that people must not use pornography - does not address the complexity of this social phenomenon.

Jan Clarke
Oxford, UK

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Banking on sperm
I represent a group of women wanting to have children by men prepared to be semen donors. Some require anonymous donors who perceive their role as similar to that of blood donors. Others prefer men willing to be known, at least by name, to the child. A few wish the father to develop a relationship with the baby. If any NI readers are interested please would they write to: P0 Box 164. Brunswick East, 3057.

Jan Mackien
Fitzroy, Australia

Black gap
The editor who replied to the letter which protested at the lack of blacks on the magazine's editorial board (NI 185), has hung himself (sic) with his own belt. I quote: 'By far the best candidate has been white'. Surely a journalist of NI caliber must realize that 'best' is a subjective term. Your reply reminds me of my son paging through the brochure for George Washington University. When he asked about the lack of black faces, he was told that no blacks had qualified for the university because of the institution's high standards.

Ann Morris
New York, US

Mega-flop protest
Your article Mega-flops: Sri Lanka (NI 183), was factually incorrect. There were five dams built, none of which had to undergo frequent repairs, and the total expenditure incurred by the project up to the end of 1987 was $1.4 billion, not $14 billion as the article asserts. It is also quite untrue to say that any foreigners obtained land. All of the newly irrigated land has been allocated to Sri Lankan farmers and their families in plots of one hectare. Finally whilst it is true that prices and costs did increase between 1978 and 1987, none of this was directly attributable to expenditures on the Mahaweli Project, which was financed by outright grants and concessionary loans from friendly governments: basic social services and food subsidies were never curtailed. In undertaking such a vast development programme as the Mahaweli Project, it is perhaps inevitable that unanticipated problems arise. The challenge is to over- come them, and this we have done.

K H S Gunatilaka
Director General,
Mahaweli Authority, Sri Lanka

Editor: First we must apologise for an error of a decimal point which grossly distorts the real expense of the project. However our concern about the' social, environmental and economic impact of the scheme on Sri Lanka's poor remains. The Mahaweli project - the largest foreign aid program to date - will affect one third of the Country's land mass and lead to the relocation of 10 per cent of the country's population. It will both radically alter the ecology of the region and shift rural producers from subsistence farming to chemically intensive cash cropping. It marks a decisive shift on the part of the Sri Lankan government to sacrifice self reliance for the possibility of increased foreign revenues.

Boxing back
Regarding your cartoon of Pandora opening the box of science (NI 184) - it was Epithemeus, Pandora's jealous husband who done it! He released all the evils into the world. The myth of a woman taking the blame to protect the male foible should not be perpetrated.

Ted Gray
Winnipeg, Canada

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

Letter from China

[image, unknown] Trashing the past
Old skills are junked as China moves
towards being a throwaway society. Sue Robson
ponders the loss in a changing land.

The vegetable market closes at dusk. People hurry home with bits of meat loosely wrapped in squares of brown paper, leaving the ground littered with straw rope and abandoned baskets. There is very little waste paper and no plastic, for foodstuffs are not prepackaged here but sold from a farmer's barrow or the back of a bike. A flimsy paper bag costs as much as a Chinese pound of bean sprouts But the hand-woven wicker baskets used to carry oranges, lotus root, carrots and green celery from the countryside are dismantled in the market place, usually to be flung into the river.

These beautifully crafted panniers would sell for high prices in the West, but hours of labour and generations of skill are treated casually here. Everywhere in China sophisticated hand-made tools are used, and the Chinese assume that because anyone can make such things they have less value than, say, a plastic bag.

So a friend was embarrassed when I wanted to examine every object his family had made: the weathered pitchforks crafted from branching joints of trees; strong rope twisted from straw; bundles of sesame-seed stalks used as firewood after the seeds had been eaten; hand-woven winnowing baskets, and heavy clay pots for keeping water cool in hot summers. There was even a deep cellar under the chicken run that served as the family's fridge.

Chinese family economies are generally more adaptable and ingenious than those of Western households. A woman who farms land all year can make straw rope, pots and pitchforks in slack periods; she can cook noodles for the local factory; she grows her own cotton to stitch into winter padded jackets; and - unlike most of her Western counterparts - can strip down and mend her bike.

The same ingenuity applies to farming methods. The Chinese are expert at land use: they feed a quarter of the world's population on seven per cent of its arable land in a country littered with vast deserts and mountain tracts. A single piece of land may have rice growing in water, fish farmed amongst the rice, and ducks swimming on top eating the parasites that prey on rice.

While understanding technology in the West is usually a specialist's job, in China everyone is expected to understand the principles behind homespun machinery. The vendor at our market weighs the vegetables carefully in hand-held scales. He tells you the price per Chinese pound and then merely points to the scales to show the weight. Sometimes he calculates the price on an abacus and then indicates the total.

Another really good piece of basic, practical machinery whose workings are accessible to everyone, is the bicycle standing outside my front door. Like all Chinese bikes, it is an all-purpose workhorse: so strong it will probably go on and on, until like most other bikes on the road its seat leather is worn right through and every part has been patched by street-corner bike repairers. It bears little resemblance to bikes popular in the West, which was ruefully noted by Shanghai Bicycle Factory recently. They are now sacrificing durability of their traditional line to manufacture a good-looking, light version aimed at an export market where people trade in bicycles regularly.

There are many other examples of the same thing. It looks as if this non-specialized homespun world which requires so many skills from so many people, is about to change towards glossy factory-made consumerism. Indeed, the government recently criticized those resourceful street-corner repair shops, where a spare part be created with the most basic of equipment rather than from a factory. It is finally uneconomical to go on and on repairing the sturdy Liberation trucks, the government argued: far better to stimulate the economy by buying a glossy new vehicle, and throwing away the old.

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

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New Internationalist issue 189 magazine cover This article is from the November 1988 issue of New Internationalist.
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