Bananas and Vengeance

This month's East Bay book news.

Mike country, ’tis of thee: Around the same time that Berkeley’s California Landmark Theater scored higher opening-night profits for Fahrenheit 911 than any other cinema nationwide, David T. Hardy and Jason Clarke‘s new book Michael Moore Is a Big Fat Stupid White Man (Regan Books, $22.95) hit the stores. Its authors call Moore a lying narcissist who, among other trespasses, cuts up footage of speeches and reassembles the bits out of order — evinced by seemingly instantaneous costume changes, and by clocks in the background apparently running backward.

“Collecting information about Moore, I was troubled to discover a gigantic record of documented inaccuracy and distortion which was largely missing from his own carefully controlled public persona,” Clarke says.

“Narcissism is exemplified by self-hatred, which is blatantly evident in the disdain Moore shows for others exactly like him: rich white males. Another aspect of his narcissism, a massive ego, shows itself in the conspiracy theories he lobs at nearly every critic who dares to question him.” Among these was longtime Berkeleyite Pauline Kael. Skewering Roger & Me in The New Yorker, Kael noted that events it purported to document hadn’t actually happened. Although Moore admitted to a reporter that they hadn’t, in fact, actually happened, after reading Kael’s review he declared on his Web site that “establishment leaders” had evidently conspired to pressure “an elderly lady penning her last reviews.”

Learning that an organization linked with Hezbollah offered to market Fahrenheit 911 this summer in the Middle East — an offer Moore’s distribution company, Front Row, didn’t refuse — Clarke reckoned that Moore himself hadn’t personally made “this decision to accept Hezbollah’s overtures, but given his considerable influence and part-ownership of the film, he could’ve easily taken five minutes to speak out against the partnership, effectively ending it. The fact that he remained silent while one of the companies authorized to distribute his film accepted help from a known terrorist organization perhaps says more about Moore’s political leanings than his films ever could.”

Zap: On the heels of his Oscar nomination for the Ghost World screenplay, Oakland cartoonist Daniel Clowes reteamed with conominee Terry Zwigoff on a new script. Filming started this month for Art School Confidential, featuring John Malkovich and based on a story originally published in Clowes’ Eightball #7, in which a pretentious art student seethes with envy. New this month is #23, the first Eightball in more than two years; it introduces Andy, a teen with a yen for his grandfather’s housekeeper. He also has supernatural killing powers, triggered by nicotine.

_Pacific whim: Shopping-mall America makes fads of Asian things. “This commoditization of Asian culture,” Gil Asakawa laments, ranges from Pokémon to “Asian women … objectified in Western sexual fantasies” to all-you-can-eat sushi buffets where “the sushi often isn’t very good, and it just doesn’t feel right to snarf down sushi by the handful with no regard to the delicate presentation of a Japanese meal.”

New from Berkeley’s Stone Bridge Press, Asakawa’s Being Japanese American ($14.95) blends pop culture, history, and anecdotes to create a sourcebook that the author hopes will entice “the general JA population to connect with our heritage and start thinking about our identities. (Among myriad other tidbits, he reveals that a founding member of the Black Panthers was an Oakland-bred third-generation JA.) Identity is no cinch. Asakawa, a former country-rock DJ, remembers being dubbed a banana: yellow outside, white inside.

“One of the saddest fallacies that many JAs have lived by since the internment years is that race doesn’t matter, and that if we keep our heads low, don’t make waves, and just be good Americans, we’ll be accepted just like white folks, and that we’ll never be rounded up and imprisoned because of our heritage again.” All the more reason, then, for Asakawa to have hated Lost in Translation:

“It was so clumsy and stupid about its use of Japan as a cultural foil … such an easy shot; it’s like making fun of Deadheads. … I thought the industry’s fawning over Sofia Coppola was ridiculous — the filmmaking wasn’t special at all, and if you watch the extra stuff on the DVD, it’s clear she got lucky with the film, because it looks like she doesn’t have a clue what’s going on and what she wants.”

Broad banned: Even in ’66, even here, you could still get busted for selling sexy books. That fall, cops raided City Lights and the Haight’s Psychedelic Shop for selling The Love Book, a slim volume in which poet Lenore Kandel references Krishna, Radha, lingams, volcanic eruptions, and much more, making free with the f-word and both c-words. (Kandel was a Beat-era fixture who later shared a stage at the Human Be-in with Jefferson Airplane.) Clerks at both stores were arrested; obscenity charges spawned the city’s longest-running trial ever. The book was officially banned after the State Supreme Court upheld the conviction in ’67.

Instigating the fracas was “an illegal covert police force organized by then-Governor Ronald Reagan to target the ‘hippie problem,'” says Oakland poet Joe Pachinko, whose Superstition Street Press has republished The Love Book ($20). A federal district court judge rescinded the ban, but City Lights has refused to sell the new edition, “citing the fact that ‘poetry doesn’t sell right now,'” he marvels. “But anyway, Ronnie’s dead, and the book he helped ban is back in print. I kind of like that.”

That’s about $90,000 a glass: While researching dot-com-era wealth in the wine country for his book A Tale of Two Valleys ($14.95), new in paperback from Broadway, Alan Deutschman sampled a $500,000 bottle of Napa red. “I won’t try to assert whether the berry flavors were really blackberry or cassis or whatever,” the author demurs, saying he hasn’t the nose for that task. “I enjoyed drinking it at lunch with a good meal, and it harmonized well with the cuisine. But it didn’t haunt me. I didn’t dream about it. I wasn’t in a frenzy afterwards, plotting and scheming about how I would get to drink some more of it. It didn’t change my life.”

The book probes cultural clashes between Napa and its funkier neighbor Sonoma, a longtime magnet for ex-Berkeleyites including Free Speech Movement helmsman Mario Savio, who became a professor at Sonoma State. Chez Panisse’s Alice Waters shows up too, striking a deal with a pair of organic farmers whose son is named Marius: “She took this as a sign, since Marius is a character from Marcel Pagnol‘s novels and Alice loves Pagnol,” says Deutschman, who in all the excitement once spent $100 on a half-bottle of sweet dessert wine, then “wondered whether I was crazy. But at least it wasn’t a half-million.”

Dickens would weep: Those onions in your quiche: Who picked them? Could have been a six-year-old, as David Bacon reveals in Children of NAFTA: Labor Wars on the US-Mexico Border (UC Press, $27.50). Some three thousand kids under fourteen participate in one Mexican valley’s green-onion harvest alone, with as many as 2.5 million nationwide toiling in fields rather than attending school. Launched ten years ago, the North American Free Trade Agreement made companies richer but laborers poorer as jobs moved south of the border, asserts veteran Berkeley journalist Bacon, who conducted hundreds of interviews to make this impassioned case for workers’ rights.

Settling scores: UC Berkeley grad Chandra Adams was spurred to write a novel after “getting fed up with the lack of eligible black men.” Too many — some 30 percent — are in US jails, have been there, or are headed there, according to the Human Rights Watch World Report. Far fewer African-American males attend college than African-American females. And Adams cites US Census Bureau statistics indicating that two-thirds of black-white intermarriages in America comprise a black husband and a white wife.

“I grew up in a college town where cultural diversity is considered the norm,” the Vallejo author says. “Taking that into account, black males are a lot more inclined to seek out partners from other races and backgrounds than their black female counterparts.”

The three heroines of her new thriller Shades of Retribution (Adrolite, $14.95) want — well, retribution, and they’ll do anything to get it, even if this entails the use of a .44 Magnum, nunchuks, and a meditation mat.

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