Empires and Vampires 

This month's East Bay book news.

A conservative in crisis: For lambasting gay marriage and skewering affirmative action on his national radio show, now headquartered at San Francisco's KNEW-AM, Michael Savage has made his share of enemies. The mainstream press gives him and his new book The Enemy Within (Thomas Nelson, $27.99) a wide berth -- "I don't even think we're going to get any cable coverage," Savage tells Press Here.

Yet with The Enemy Within debuting at #8 this month on the New York Times best-seller list and with some ten million listeners tuning in to his show every weekday, Savage is hardly a lone voice in the wilderness.

Callers typically wait for hours to get onto the air and discuss news events with the UC Berkeley graduate who begins his show with the greeting, "Hello-o--o, infidels." Many dub him their hero, their idol, a true patriot, Moses in the desert. It's not just liberals who incur his ire -- not just members of the party he likes to call "Demon-rats." The president's new amnesty program for undocumented workers made Savage feel sorely betrayed by Republicans as well: "That's why I'm calling for the ouster of George W. Bush." In a topsy-turvy world, this Jack Kerouac fan and railer against Ritalin, international terrorists, and outmoded Marxist ideologies began demanding, in mid-January, an impeachment.

A week later he retracted, announcing on-air that his impeachment plea had merely been a wake-up call aimed at "saving the presidency." Whoever wins, Savage cringes to think of the nation's future resting in the hands of "the most brainwashed generation in American history -- the least able to do any analysis. I don't even think they know how to reason." Those who "dismiss me as a right-wing Neanderthal," he tells Press Here, "do so at their own risk." If Bay Area intellectuals "are as literate as they say they are, then they should be open to all kinds of ideas and to an educated man. Instead, what they want to do is deny my Ph.D from Berkeley, my two masters' degrees, my twenty books, my twenty years of research in ethnobotany, alternative medicine, and herbal medicine -- fields they claim to own." Those who "just say my book is a screed without even looking at it could dismiss anything without looking at it. How tolerant is that?"

Bad-News Bears: Cal alumni -- you just can't keep 'em down. In 1996, UCB student Arvind Balu won a free trip to Clearlake in a radio contest and brought along a classmate. That jaunt ended in Balu's arrest -- he was charged with having cut an adolescent girl with a knife at the Konocti Harbor Inn and drank her blood as his friend raped her. This is far from the grossest moment in Sondra London's True Vampires (Feral House, $16.95), whose hundreds of accounts range from human cutlets on sale at a Siberian meat market to a string of Colombian exsanguinations. The book is illustrated by Parisian grave robber and convicted killer Nicolas Claux, whose fridge was stocked with bags of human blood upon his arrest.

Formerly linked romantically with another killer -- "Gainesville Slasher" Danny Rolling -- London began as a technical writer before becoming a true-crime icon.

"Crime turns out to be sordid and depressing, as topics go, but finding an exclusive story, developing it and protecting it against incursions by the running dogs of the establishment press has turned out to be quite a sport." As for those legions of middle-class poseurs worldwide who file their teeth and ape the undead, "I don't expect those who play vampire games recreationally to appreciate my efforts, because they often say that true vampires are 'giving vampires a bad name.' My book deconstructs the glamour rather than enhancing it."

London met Claux after he declared himself her fan.

"I was able to talk to him by way of a transcontinental three-way phone hookup with his sidekick, Igor." She introduced Claux to Rolling, "to their mutual delight. They exchanged portraits of each other, as Nico has done with other killer artists. I have encouraged Nico in his artwork and watched him improve markedly over the years. I have found this 'ultimate vampire' highly intelligent and exceptionally well-read."

A matter of degree: Every school has its problems. A few years ago, UCB public-policy professor David Kirp writes in Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line (Harvard, $29.95), a Pennsylvania women's liberal-arts college was in dire straits, failing to attract enough students to stay afloat. Duh. Its name was Beaver College. An identity switch: now it's called Arcadia University, it offers a hot spring-break program, and enrollment is rising.

The fierce competition among colleges to attract students and other sources of income led Kirp around the country investigating what he calls "the marketing of higher education." He was in for some surprises, even close to home at the Fremont branch of DeVry University -- a national, 25-campus "chain" of business and tech schools that advertises heavily on late-night TV and happens to graduate more African-American engineers than any other university in the country. Kirp couldn't help but be impressed.

"I started this little voyage as someone who'd spent his entire academic career in what you'd call elite universities. Harvard, Berkeley -- you can't get more blue-chip than that. Then you get to DeVry." It looks like a Silicon Valley business park, but it works, finding career-level jobs for some 95 percent of its graduates.

"I wouldn't want the world to look like DeVry," Kirp says, "but it's a school that knows what it wants to do and does it. Don't let prejudices get in the way. If it's a choice between, say, Hayward State, Laney, and DeVry, then DeVry ought to be a serious candidate."

Which card was that? PBS introduced its 2003 series Race: The Power of an Illusion by declaring that "race is not biological" but is, instead, simply "a powerful idea." UC Berkeley anthropology professor emeritus Vincent Sarich and Skeptic magazine's Frank Miele beg to differ. Drawing on the newest DNA data to provide the requisite evolutionary framework for their new book Race: The Reality of Human Differences (Westview, $27.50), coauthors Sarich and Miele probe the racial differences among modern humans scientifically and urge readers to recognize the importance of those differences.

The PBS programs' race-doesn't-really-exist premise reflects "the mainstream position in the media and social science in general," Sarich and Miele tell Press Here. "As a reaction first to the horrors of the Holocaust, and then as the conscience of the country acknowledged our own record of slavery and discrimination, some thought the best way to abolish racism was to abolish the study of race, the concept of race, even the word itself." Anthropologist Alan Goodman, who called race a "myth" and announced that "whiteness is a cultural construction" on the PBS series, "argues that we should not study race as a biological phenomenon because it must inevitably lead to the practice of racism," Sarich and Miele say. "This is an ethical judgment -- one that we reject vehemently. In our opinion, truth will eventually out and a society like ours must be based on allowing citizens to have access to it. ... Simply changing vocabulary does not change reality."

Another no-race proponent was the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, whose claim that fifty thousand years was not long enough for evolution to have produced biological races in humans "was just an armchair assertion that was not based on any examination of actual human racial variation," say the authors. "Gould's claim was flat-out wrong. There is actually more variation in physical craniofacial features among human races, which separated from each other no more than fifty thousand years ago, than there is, for example, between the two chimpanzee species --common and pygmy chimpanzees -- which separated some 1.5 million years ago."

Those who claim the concept of race evokes Hitler's policies ought to remember, the authors note, that Stalin and Mao also killed millions, although in their cases it was in the name of "racial equality."

The authors, who will be at Cody's Southside on January 28, muse that many scholars and students "take the path of least resistance -- saying that, in fact, science and morality are independent activities, and, by implication, that one can in fact therefore act as if they actually were. The problem is that if the human sciences, including, especially, the evolutionary perspective, are to be separated from advising us on morality and ethics, what is to replace them?"

The emperor has No-Doz: Sure, there's a never-ending string of new books about George W. Bush, and "never has so much been written about so little," says ex- Berkeleyite filmmaker Saul Landau, who has just written one of his own -- The Pre-Emptive Empire: A Guide to Bush's Kingdom (Pluto, $24.95). "An alcoholic semiliterate connives his way into the presidency and proceeds to take some of the worst aspects of American political culture to reaches no one would have dreamed. With his elflike expression, he pronounces policy after policy as part of an unremitting war against the poor at home and abroad," says Landau, who will be at A World of Books in San Leandro on January 30 and who won an award at Cannes a few decades back for Qué Hacer, a Brechtian musical about spies in Chile, with roles played by Country Joe McDonald and Salvador Allende himself.


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