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As bad as salmon
Cover of the NI issue 325 You write (in NI 325) 'for all other seafood, ask questions, get answers and make an informed choice. Alternatively, you could go for a vegetarian diet.'

This is surely good advice, but the reader should be advised that as long as we don't use organically grown crops we will not save the fish. One of the main fertilizers for vegetables is fish flour and to eat vegetables from non-organic sources is probably as bad as eating farmed salmon. Thank you for yet another excellent issue.

Nicolle Morlak 
Coolum Beach, Australia

Ethiopian pestilence
Thank you for your detailed and factual articles on pesticide scandals (NI 323). Here in Ethiopia the Government is still applying DDT and Malathion to fight malaria.

And according to the Ministry of Agriculture, it would cost more than $4.5 million to dispose of the 1,500 tonnes of out-of-date pesticides that exist in our country.

. farmers are forced to use pesticides.

As we understand it, most of our country's lands are actually fertile enough to have no need of chemical fertilizers. Our farmers have their own sustainable methods of cultivation using indigenous knowledge and practices. What puzzles us is why the Government has forced farmers to take pesticides and fertilizers through its credit schemes. In most cases, the farmers do not produce enough crops to cover the credits and are then forced to sell their cattle and other assets. If they fail to repay their loans they will be jailed. So why don't we do as Cuba has done and turn to organic farming?

Our NI Readership Club would like to invite any reader to correspond with us and exchange information on such environmental and related issues. Please write or fax us and we will respond soon.

Yetnayet Bekele,
Coordinator NI Readership Club,
SOS Hermann Gmeiner School,
PO Box 843, Awassa, Ethiopia.
Tel: + 251 06 200434/202181 (school)
Tel: +251 06 200526 (residence)
Fax: 251 06 202181 (school)

Forget fish
The decline of fish numbers worldwide will surely have important survival implications for those small-scale fisher-people who rely on the sea for their sustenance. Given the wanton destructiveness of large-scale commercial fishing and the simple injustice of big business taking more than its fair share of the world's resources, I am very surprised and disappointed to see that in NI 325 you advocate eating fish at all.

Until we overcome our unjustifiable and selfish domination of nature, food shortages and the exploitation of the rights of humans, animals and nature alike will result. In this context, and given the evidence, surely all fish consumption outside of vital needs is wrong.

Kim Stewart
Brisbane, Australia

The World Trade Organization has put the goal of improved trade with developing countries high on its agenda. But whether trade can effectively reduce poverty depends largely on how it is regulated in the sectors in which the poorest people work.

According to the United Nations, developing countries lose about $700 billion a year as a direct result of protectionist measures which penalize Third World exporters. This staggering figure is 14 times higher than the total aid flow to developing countries each year.

Rich nations have set tariffs on imports from developing countries at 30-per-cent higher than the global average. The effect of this is predictable: in 1960, the poorest billion people earned 2.3 per cent of world income. Today, despite vastly increased global trade, they earn 1.1 per cent.

So much for enabling poor people in developing countries to work their way out of poverty!

Blaise Salmon 
Victoria, Canada

What Gulf?
Countries change names, even flags, but I wonder if any name has ever been more misunderstood and misused by people and the media than that of 'The Gulf'?

The stretch of water that has borne the name of 'The Persian Gulf' for thousands of years in ancient historical records - including those of Herodotus - as well as in the official documents of the UN today, often ends up being 'shortened' to 'The Gulf'. This follows the pathetic attempt several years ago by some of the Western governments to undermine Iranian identity and create tension by flagrantly calling it 'The Arabian Gulf'.

I am used to seeing the name and national integrity of a people undermined in many other magazines. However, it was a real disappointment to encounter such a blunder in a magazine like the NI which is celebrated for its journalistic values and is supposed to educate and challenge rather than to contribute to political propaganda. The Persian Gulf was called 'The Gulf' in the country profile of NI 325 and I hope such mistakes will not be repeated in the future.

Hamid R Yazdi 
Toronto, Canada

Pakistan's recipe
Michael D'Souza's article (NI 324 Democracy) correctly analyzes the past political history of Pakistan but says nothing of the plans of the current military Government of General Pervez Musharraf.

On my recent visit I heard the human-rights agenda dealing with many of the points raised in the article. The work on re-establishing democracy is also impressive, with a new electoral register (the first since 1983), more equal constituency boundaries and commitment to equal seats in local councils for women. As Amnesty International has said, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, but so far the recipe seems to give Pakistan its best chance for some time.

Tony Colman MP 
London, England

Organic burden
I would like to mention that I have been paying up to 300-per-cent more, not 20-30 per cent, for organic food (NI 323). This is a considerable difference. I still tend to believe it is better to live a little bit longer and healthier, though also poorer - however, it is a burden.

I pay 300% more
for organic food

Ideally the extra costs of organic, as well as other 'clean technologies', should be paid for out of the profits of the big corporations - not from the pockets of consumers, the salaries of employees or the income of producers, usually in the South. Although the wealth of the Northern countries may allow and justify some extra cost, the whole concept of 'paying a little bit more' - especially when 'a little bit' means 300 per cent - for what should be a citizen's right, is very unfair. After all, there are socio-economic problems in the North as well. At the end of the day I agree with the letter from Anthony Walker (NI 324) blaming capitalism.

Andre Andrade 
Glasgow, Scotland

Flaws in 'direct democracy'
Cover of the NI issue 324 Your magazine is a valuable source of information and ideas not usually found in the mainstream. Your item Festival for democracy (NI 324) offers interesting and utopian recommendations for people-power but misses the mark in the 'govern thyself' comments.

'Direct democracy', well-intentioned though it is, has serious flaws. In the US and British Columbia these processes, together with recall, have become the property of well-financed ultra-conservative special-interest groups. Referenda, in addition, have the potential for a damaging divisiveness, as the Canadian conscription vote of 1942 clearly shows.

Recall is even more damaging, containing as it does the potential for reducing elected representatives to popularity-seekers, guided by poll results and fearful of controversial policies.

I'm surprised the article didn't mention the critical need for an informed electorate, virtually impossible in today's increasingly monopolistic media world.

Peter Sanford 
Courtenay, Canada

Letter from Lebanon

Neighbourly love
Reem Haddad realizes why she likes living in Lebanon.

It took the death of an elderly neighbour to remind me why I am still living in this chaotic country.

That day, I woke up to the wailing of several women. I looked out the window to see a coffin being brought into an apartment just opposite mine. Our buildings are so close that I could easily see the proceedings. Three women were staring in shock at the coffin, holding each other and crying out for the return of their loved one. On the balcony, several men paced nervously and fumbled with their cigarette packs.

Disturbed by the tragic scene, I began to turn away when I noticed almost all the neighbours in the four buildings which make up this small community standing on their balconies, heads bowed. Some were praying, others were wiping away silent tears. Young and old stood in silence.

I vaguely remembered the elderly man and his wife standing on their balcony staring at me and my husband only a few months ago. We were newlyweds and moving into our first home. I found their stare disconcerting and commented to my husband on their perceived rude behavior. Much in the impatient spirit of a young career couple, we pointedly turned our backs to them.

In the days to come, however, I found many of the neighbours' attitudes annoying. I thought that living in a community with buildings so closely facing each other would be rather exciting. Before moving here, I lived in a high-rise apartment and had a lovely bird's-eye view of some parts of Beirut. In this community, however, the view was people staring at us from their balconies.

But as I watched the neighbours standing in silence that day, shaking their heads and weeping over the man's death, they suddenly took the shape of caring neighbours rather than nosy ones. It dawned on me that they stared at us for a purpose. In this closely-knit community, women wanted to know if new tenants posed any threat to their offspring running round the neighbourhood and men needed to study the strangers who might intrude in their families' lives.

I also began to notice other details. Men, for example, came out on their balconies when pedlars arrived.

By now, neighbours had figured out that my husband has late working hours and I am often alone in the evenings. Visitors are dutifully noted.

When a visiting girlfriend inadvertently blocked the entrance of a nearby building with her car and came up to my apartment, neighbourhood boys knew exactly where to locate her - and kindly helped her find another parking space.

Illustration by SARAH JOHN

It was then that it occurred to me that it's the people who tie me to Lebanon. There's the cobbler down the street, for example. When my car was giving me trouble he promptly shut his shop, climbed into the passenger seat and took me to his mechanic nephew. Then there's the grocer. Knowing that I'm still learning how to cook, he picks out the best produce and gives me a new recipe each time - adding a few items without charge 'just to give your stew some more taste,' he assures me.

And there's also the shop owner who runs to take some heavy bags from me and carries them the whole block to my building.

And, just the other day, I was in a hurry to leave for a weekend holiday. I was carrying a big bag filled with blankets and, of all things, my mobile phone. It was only hours later as I opened the trunk of my car that I realized that I had left the bag on the sidewalk and made off without it. Two days later I returned to the scene. I didn't have much hope of finding it. And then I spotted the bag - my bag - on the top of a car.

Next to it an elderly tailor was sewing a pair of trousers.

'Some young people found it on the sidewalk and brought it to me,' he said. 'I thought I'd keep it until its owner turned up.'

I could have hugged him.

When Beirut's heavy traffic, potholed roads, nightmare of bureaucratic government offices (it's too much work even to report a theft), and the inconsistent electricity irks me, I remind myself of the cobbler, grocer, shop owner and the elderly tailor.

As for my neighbours, my husband and I are no longer items of curiosity. The staring from balconies has drastically decreased. We are now officially accepted in the community. However, there are some new tenants who moved into a flat in the opposite building.

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut. E-mail [email protected]

I think I can get a better view of them if I stand on the balcony.

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