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NI star rating system. Books

Global Spin
The corporate assault on environmentalism
by Sharon Beder
(Green Books/Chelsea Green Publishing, ISBN 1- 870098-67-6 in UK, 1-890132-12-8 in US).

Road Raging
Top Tips for Wrecking Roadbuilding
by Road Alert!
(Road Alert!, ISBN 0-9531852-0-6)

Clean and Competitive?
Motivating environmental performance in industry
by Rupert Howes, Jim Skea and Bob Whelan
(Earthscan ISBN 1-85383-490-4)

Global Spin If you care a fig for either democracy or the environment, then Global Spin is a book for you. It is a thorough – and thoroughly shocking – account of the sophisticated techniques being used around the world to undermine environmentalism and reset the agenda to status quo.

Sharon Beder, a senior science lecturer at the Australian University of Woolongong, details a wide array of strategies. For example, the use of specialized PR firms to create environmental front (or ‘astroturf’ groups) to further corporate causes By manipulating politicians, the media, and community groups, the anti-green spin doctors weave their subtle and invisible webs. Beder cites an alarming plethora of examples from North America, Australasia, Britain and other European countries and reveals the links between green-sounding bodies and their corporate backers and creators.

So, the National Wetlands Coalition with its flying duck motif is, we learn, funded by Mobil and Shell; the Clean Air Working Group is formed by coal companies, and the Australian Mothers Opposing Pollution group, whose prime purpose is to oppose plastic milk bottles, is run by a PR company boss who also happens to be a consultant to the Association of Liquid Paperboard Carton Manufacturers.

The covert power of corporations is making itself felt at every level, from government to the street – as US citizen Betty Jane Blake discovered. When she opposed developer Terra Homes Inc. who wanted to cut down some trees in her street, she found herself faced with a $6.6 million law suit from the company for defamation, interference with business and trespass. Her crime: she had put up signs saying ‘This neighbourhood will not be Terrarized’ and tied red ribbons around the tree trunks. The company also sued all residents who attended a protest meeting and who, through fear, then abandoned the campaign.

This is absurd yet depressing stuff and it leads the author to the inevitable conclusion: ‘A new wave of environmentalism is now called for that will engage with the task of exposing corporate myths and methods of manipulation.’ Or in the words of one Earth Island Journal writer: ‘We’ve simply got to get the hogs out of the creek. As Aunt Eula knew, this is not a chore to undertake with your best trousers, politely pleading: “Here hog, here hog... pretty, please”. To get hogs out of the creek, you have to put your shoulders to them – and shove... Yet most national environmental organizations today are indeed dressed in their Sunday trousers, engaged with soft-hands work of lawyers and lobbyists in Washington, sincerely but futilely attempting to negotiate the relative positions of hogs...’

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Road Raging One group of people who cannot be accused of wearing their best trousers and saying ‘pretty please’ to pigs, is Britain’s anti-road campaigners. Road Raging tells you really everything you need to know about how to do a direct-action campaign and is equally applicable to stopping any kind of destructive development. It ranges from how to defend yourself in court to how to build a toilet up a tree.

And there’s something here for everyone, everywhere, from the hard edges of dealing with police violence to stopping the traffic in your city by taking part in a ‘critical mass’ cycle ride to just enjoying a ‘reclaim the street party’.

This is a clear, well thought-through, easy-to-use guide, which manages to be practical, sensible and inspirational. Direct Action isn’t only about chaining yourself to trees. It can also, and more appropriately be about targeting politicians and attending shareholder’s meetings.

Road Raging is available by mail order from Road Alert!, PO Box 5544, Newbury, RG14 7YB, England or on the Worldwide Web at http://www.hrc.wmin.ac.uk/campaigsn/ef/rr/index.html

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Clean & Competitive? Taking quite a different tack is Clean and Competitive? This is definitely a ‘Sunday trouser’ job. The underlying premise seems to be that industry must be worked with, not against, to be ‘greened’. The study finds that some ‘patchy’ progress has been made towards sustainability, while issues like climate change remain unaddressed. In the end one is left with a sense of some shift in attitudes but little concrete evidence of real change. Rather, perhaps, a sense of a group of people ‘sincerely but futilely attempting to negotiate the relative positions of hogs...’

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All That Jazz: the Best of Ute Lemper
by Ute Lemper
(Decca 458 931-2CD)

The Seven Deadly Sins/Berlin Theatre Songs
by Lotte Lenya
(Sony Classical MHK 63222CD)

Ute Lemper, elegantly defiant It’s hard to resist any song that declares, with Ute Lemper’s typically grand flourish, ‘I am a vamp!’ before going on to detail some of the items – men apart – the vamp in question has in her collection: ‘the Weimar constitution / also Hitler’s first moustache’.

‘I am a vamp’, a risqué cabaret song dating from the period that was described by Christopher Isherwood’s stories and Bob Fosse’s Oscar-laden film Cabaret, is just one song on Decca’s essential Lemper compilation. Although the release of All That Jazz is tied neatly to Lemper’s current starring role on the London stage in the musical Chicago, this is the latest album in which the blonde chanteuse works her elegance around the 1930s Berlin cabaret and theatre songs. She looks like Dietrich; detractors might even say that she’s made a career out of it.

That’s unfair, of course. Lemper has a formidable presence which, coupled with her dramatic and subtle musicality, makes up an undeniable talent. Yet her success in delivering Berlin-orientated material begs certain questions about just why pre-war Berlin exerts its pervasive fascination over Western culture. From the safe distance of time, pre-1933 Berlin is infused with a seedy glamour in which life is dangerous and sexy. The word most often used is decadence – yet decadence, with its connotations of decline – is misleading. The Nazi’s themselves used to define ‘degenerate’ (entartete) art and Decca have an immensely fine series of records to prove it. What Kurt Weill and Bertholdt Brecht’s music celebrates is a culture of upheaval. Berlin was seething with ideas about sexual liberation – check Lemper’s gay-friendly ‘The Lavender Song’ or ‘When That Special Girlfriend’ – and art, as well as politics. With such a vibrant concentration, it’s little wonder that the place is remembered as the site of that special, naughty party that nobody went to at the time. Its modern day attraction perhaps really lies in a nostalgia for sensation. Lemper’s songs capture this sense of loss well: they are infused with all the gestures of defiance. Indeed, that’s what they are: gestures sung by a siren.

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Recorded in the ruined Berlin of 1956, Lotte Lenya’s re-released album Seven Deadly Sins tells a different story. Lenya left Germany soon after Hitler’s rise to power, accompanied by her husband Kurt Weill, who, as both a Jew and a composer using the jazz idiom, was doubly ‘degenerate’. The occasion of this recording marked her return several years after Weill’s death in the US. Lenya is the definitive voice of Weill’s songs: it’s possible to see the stage’s characters – the forlorn woman of ‘Surabaya Johnny’ or the vicious picture of Mack the Knife – for the street creatures they are, people whose struggle with economic and moral reality is recognizable still. Weill’s songs take human emotion as their themes and it’s possible to see in Lenya’s renditions the defiance and spirit that the Nazi’s feared. Electrifying.

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More Books

‘Exterminate All the Brutes’
by Sven Lindqvist
(Granta Books ISBN 1-86207-017-2)

Exterminate all the brutes. Taking as a starting point the Joseph Conrad novella The Heart of Darkness, Lindqvist attempts to relate Kurtz’s horrific words ‘exterminate all the brutes’ to history.

But this is no simple reading-room hatchet job. Lindqvist travels by bus and four-wheel drive across the Sahara Desert from El Goléa in Algeria to Zinder in Niger. He disappears into the desert armed with only a laptop and a library of a hundred disks containing ‘knowledge’. But, as his opening words declare: ‘It is not only knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions.’

The knowledge he draws on comes from politicians, historians, explorers and journalists from the seventeenth century onwards. He charts the imperialist tradition of European Empires, the ‘progress’ from the first mass extermination in the Canary Islands to the Jewish holocaust. And Lindqvist draws conclusions. He turns the accepted understanding of Conrad’s work – the author’s social racism – on its head. The journey into the Heart of Darkness becomes a journey into the annals of European history: where Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection validates genocide, where mass extermination is euphemistically described as the civilizing influence of commercial enterprise. European ‘heroes’ become glory-seeking murderers. Conrad’s novella consciously described these things.

Stylistically, this book integrates criticism, cultural history and travel writing in a very original format. This may sound a paradox, and I have no intention of reducing the subject matter to mere content, but ‘Exterminate All the Brutes’ is beautifully written. Lindqvist succeeds in totally engaging the reader with the horrific poetry of his prose.

A book like Lindqvist’s – one that re-explores texts through history – is the way literary criticism has been heading for some time: away from the ironic and playful contradiction of post-modernism. There is no room for irony and play when discussing the wilful and deliberate annihilation of whole peoples by Europeans for economic gain. ‘Exterminate All the Brutes’ is, above all, a work of scholarship with no pretence to academic objectivity.

Objectivity, as Edward Said has pointed out, belies ideology and ‘truth’. This book should be school curriculum material for every child. It might also make Western history teachers question the inherited narrative of the subject they lecture.

How do you discover the book you have always wanted to read, but had no idea had even been written? Tucked on the bottom shelf of the Africa Travel section, Sven Lindqvist’s ‘Exterminate All the Brutes’ should stand on the same shelf as Said’s Orientalism. It is a more direct, more passionate piece of writing: ‘My stomach is being filled with a great blood blister. My whole belly is full of black blood.’

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Reviewers: Louise Gray, David Deemer, Vanessa Baird
Reviews editor: Vanessa Baird

T H E[image, unknown] C L A S S I C
Ice-Candy-Man / Cracking India
...being the book that precisely captured a decisive moment in history.

I remember the envious intellectual sniffing among Bombay’s literati that in 1988 greeted Ice-Candy-Man, Bapsi Sidhwa’s rambunctious novel about the partition of India. Here was a book that was fresh and funny, completely unpretentious, which nevertheless reached out to the pain of a subcontinent and held it in its tenacious little clasp without so much as a beg your pardon.

For me Sidhwa’s book precisely captured that decisive moment in history when ‘one day everybody is themselves – and the next day they are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian’, when identities that existed side-by-side get sharpened like swords against each other. It is a story which has been repeated in various attempts at genocide and ‘ethnic cleansing’ the world over, and which, in the case of India and Pakistan uprooted seven million Muslims and five million Hindus and Sikhs as they fled from massacres to cross newly-created borders. The legacy of this tumult is the continual chafing of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, with periodic eruptions of violence stirred up now – as then – by political interests and local gangsters. So supposedly sensitive is the issue that government media in India will often demurely speak of ‘attacks by members of one community against members of another’. What hope then for a book that attempts to tell it like it is?

Ice-Candy-Man is inexplicably neglected. It’s compelling, brimful of anecdotes rendered in Sidhwa’s caustic, unfussy style. She’s a superb storyteller, sprinkling the book with tersely-captured vignettes, which increasingly knit together into a story of passion and betrayal, ‘the unscrupulous nature of desire’ and ‘the pitiless face of love’. Unavailable for a while, it’s re-emerged with an awkward new name – Cracking India.

Sidhwa’s narrator is Lenny, a Parsi girl with a ‘truth-infected tongue’ who turns eight on the day partition is announced. Lame in one foot and indulged by her reasonably well-off parents, Lenny is ferried around Lahore by her beloved Hindu Ayah (nanny) whose ‘spherical attractions’ draw a varied group of suitors eager to dispense ice-lollies, silk doilies, massages and other gifts. Here’s how we first meet Lenny:

‘Lordly, lounging in my briskly rolling pram, immersed in dreams, my private world is rudely popped by the sudden appearance of an English gnome wagging a leathery finger in my ayah’s face. But for keen reflexes that enable her to pull the carriage up short there might have been an accident: and blood spilled on Warris Road. Wagging his finger over my head into Ayah’s alarmed face, he tut-tuts: “Let her walk. Shame, shame! Such a big girl in a pram! She’s at least four!”

Cracking India

He smiles down at me, his brown eyes twinkling intolerance. I look at him politely, concealing my complacence. [...]

“Come on. Up, up!” he says, crooking a beckoning finger.

“She not walk much... she get tired,” drawls Ayah. And simultaneously I raise my trouser cuff to reveal the leather straps and wicked steel callipers harnessing my right boot.

Confronted by Ayah’s liquid eyes and prim gloating, and the triumphant revelation of my callipers, the Englishman withers.’

Lenny’s deformed foot sets her proudly apart from other children, spares her the tedium of school – she receives private tuition by the odorous Mrs Pen – and gives her entry into the world of adults. Cared for by Ayah, she observes her romances and admirers as well as the lives of other servants and relatives. There is Cousin who thinks he has turned into a honeycomb when he discovers ejaculation and is besotted with Lenny, or Dr Manek who can fart on cue.

With her throng of characters, Sidhwa paints a microcosm of Pakistani society, filtered through Lenny’s irreverent and innocent eye which values people regardless of their social standing and rejoices in their lusts and longings. Born into the tiny Parsi community, Lenny is outside the communal frenzy that follows, but emotionally torn by the violence engulfing her friends. If Sidhwa is partisan, it is in her contempt of politicians pursuing separatist agendas, dividing maps in state rooms.

The vortex of violence that soon follows sucks up Ayah and her Muslim admirer Ice-Candy-Man just as it rips apart other lives. But Sidhwa stays true to her characters: they refuse to give up on life, stop joking or turn into tragic symbols. All of which brings home the horror of what they survive. As men lose their senses, raping, killing, and looting, women reveal their strengths, building links across the divided communities, sheltering survivors, insisting on continuity.

Ice-Candy-Man is a great, thronging bazaar of a book, bustling with riches. With plans afoot for a film, it deserves to be better-known.

Dinyar Godrej

Ice-Candy-Man by Bapsi Sidhwa is now available as Cracking India through Milkweed Editions (ISBN: 0915942565).

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New Internationalist issue 301 magazine cover This article is from the May 1998 issue of New Internationalist.
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