Popes, Perps, and Pills 

In this month's East Bay book news: When bards die, and gravy goes uncooked.

Incensed: Benedict XVI "is not our pope," declares Rosemary Radford Ruether, a feminist-theology prof at Berkeley's Graduate Theological Union whose fans call her a pioneer and whose critics call her a dangerous revolutionary. Ruether, whose nearly three dozen books include Faith and Fratricide (Wipf & Stock, $29) and Sexism and God-Talk (Beacon, $21), has made waves since the '60s by advocating a female priesthood and writing famously that the "mythology about Jesus as Messiah" should be dismantled. Reviling the former Joseph Ratzinger's anticontraception, anti-gay-marriage stance, Ruether notes in a new National Catholic Reporter article: "The other night a group of seminarians at the Graduate Theological Union ... was preparing a bonfire for a cookout on the campus. As I walked by, one invited me to share the meal, calling out cheerfully, 'We're going to burn Ratzinger in effigy. '"

Goodbye is the saddest word: Witnesses say retired UC Berkeley speech prof and poet Robert Beloof -- once a friend to both Robert Frost and e.e. cummings -- didn't look into the street before stepping off a sidewalk in Portland, Oregon, where he was struck and killed by a VW van on July 5. The 81-year-old author of The Performing Voice in Literature, a 1966 classic for thespians, began publishing poetry in 1956, shortly before joining Cal's faculty, and was anthologized alongside Richard Brautigan, Ray Bradbury, Alan Watts, and William Carlos Williams. The van's driver was not charged or cited. Local reporters described how after the ambulance came and went, Beloof's hat and one of his shoes remained in the street. A police spokesman said Beloof probably never knew what hit him.

Hell on wheels: Union City boy James Daveggio is on San Quentin's Death Row because, among other crimes, he and gal-pal Michelle Michaud kidnapped churchgoing insurance agent Vanessa Lei Samson as she walked to work in Pleasanton; then they raped her, abused her with two pairs of customized curling irons, and killed her in a specially outfitted torture van. The pair is included in Carol Anne Davis' Couples Who Kill (Allison & Busby, $25.95). "The case is darkly memorable," Davis tells Press Here, "because Michelle Michaud had numerous opportunities to free the victims," yet freed none. So much for sisterhood. "She once even entered an unemployment office to collect her welfare check, leaving Vanessa Samson trussed up in the van. One word to the authorities, and this exceptional young woman could have been freed. I've seen this same remorselessness in other killers, but the horror of it never palls. They essentially trade your life for their orgasm." Daveggio also raped his own teenage daughter and Michaud's daughter; Michaud participated. That both perps have several kids each doesn't shock Davis: "When the going gets tough, the weak tend to procreate."

Stove patrol: Grilled cheese isn't on the raw-food diet; nor are eclairs. But raw-food caterer Gabrielle Chavez makes a case for fruits, nuts, uncooked gravy, and immunity boosting in The Raw Food Gourmet ($14.95), new from Berkeley's North Atlantic Books. "Raw gourmet is not all or even mainly salads," Chavez says. "The great thing is that the desserts are delicious, filling, and so good for you -- some are even made with vegetables." She offers a recipe for cake icing made from avocados, salt, vanilla, half a cup of carob powder, and half a cup of honey (or agave nectar, for an anti-apiarian twist). "Process briefly," she instructs, "until creamy and chocolaty brown."

Salute the kernel: We've got to stop abusing corn, demands another North Atlantic Books author. In an article for the TruthOut.com Web site, forest-protection activist Kelpie Wilson -- whose novel Primal Tears is due out from the Berkeley press this fall -- writes of noticing an ad for a corn-burning stove. In a hungry world, "burning food does not seem respectful," Wilson laments. Not to mention the food industry's overdependence on fattening high-fructose corn syrup, and American corn growers' plans to expand into Mexico, by which "corn is being used as a weapon to subjugate the underdeveloped world, which relies heavily on income from sugar cane." Not to mention the white-clad, airborne "corn mother" of ancient European lore, who "would pass by the fields of any farmer who sinned and his corn would wither and die."

Honey, I've got something to tell you: A summer fund-raising campaign is underway at the Straight Spouse Network, an El Cerrito-based outreach outfit supporting het husbands and wives with gay and lesbian partners. "Few therapists understand their issues of sexual rejection, betrayal, and identity crisis," asserts SSN executive director and The Other Side of the Closet (Wiley, $18.95) author Amity Buxton, who spent 25 years with her gay husband -- who came out to her twenty years into the relationship. SSN has been deluged with requests for information from straight spouses in the months since married New Jersey Governor James McGreevey came out. While a gay partner feels liberated as the closet door swings open, Buxton says, the straight spouse goes into shock -- and into a different sort of closet, with no idea how to explain the big news to kids, friends, and other relatives. One wife quoted in Buxton's book muses: "Sometimes I think it might almost have been easier, but not better, if Dave had died. Then there would be one grieving period, not something new each month." Ouch.

The Trib makes history: She was one of Britain's first black female newscasters; now the queen has honored her as a Member of the Order of the British Empire and she's the author of a new book -- and Jacqui Harper credits her success to the Oakland Tribune. During a college year abroad at UC Berkeley, the Sussex native worked at the Trib, and saw African-American print and broadcast journalists everywhere -- though back in the UK, such a sight was still rarer than rare. Mentors at the Trib convinced Harper that when she went home she could change all that, and she did. Twenty-plus years later, the Voices of Experience (How To, $24.75) author -- who hosted the BBC London morning and evening news and her own talk show -- insists it wouldn't have happened if not for her continental shift.

Fingerpainting frenzy: Channel the boundless energy and insatiable curiosity of kids at risk for ADHD diagnoses into art projects, urges Fremont mom Stephanie Vlahov. In The Active, Creative Child: Parenting in Perpetual Motion (Hohm, $12.95), she cautions parents: "Observe the activities to which your child is drawn in his free time. Contrary to popular belief, adult organized activities are not vehicles for an insight into your child's creative passion." So much for puppet shows. ADHD "has become a catch-all diagnosis for unruliness," Vlahov says. "Drug companies' profits have soared. We as a society have gone overboard with the panacea of the magic pill."

Get this: Jack London sinks, "smashed under by the great San Pablo whitecaps, and strangled by the hollow tide-rip waves" as "the strange sucks" nearly drown him in Tales of the Fish Patrol ($11.95), an early adventure-memoir newly reissued by Berkeley's Heyday Books. ... A plucky Oakland mom discovers a corpse in Edited to Death (21st Century, $23), a new mystery by Lafayette's Linda Lee Peterson. ... And the protesters who vowed to boycott Cal State East Bay's commencement because Richard Rodriguez was to be its keynote speaker changed their plans and attended anyway after Rodriguez withdrew. Quoted in the Sacramento Bee, the Hunger of Memory author explained his withdrawal by saying that all grads "deserved a sunny and happy event, without the Chicanistas turning the day into a witch-burning."


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