This Week's Reads

Dale Peterson, Ian Christie, Donald H. Rumsfeld, and Anthony Bourdain.

Doomsday Cuisine

In another decade or two, animal-rights ethicists may convince everyone else to accord the great apesclose cousins who evince almost every attribute once considered uniquely humanthe status of persons. By then, if current trends hold (they'll more likely accelerate), runaway logging and commercial "bushmeat" hunting will have exterminated Africa's chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas. Deforestation will have wiped out Indonesia's orangutans. And we'll lament their passing, too late, as one of the most tragic genocides ever. Not that we're doing much to stop what is, simply, the most urgent conservation crisis of our time, as described in Dale Peterson's Eating Apes (University of California, $24.95). That the world knows anything at all about it is due not to the organizations that should have sounded the alarm, but to a Swiss-expat-hotelier-turned-wildlife-photographer-turned-die-hard-activist named Karl Ammann. Like all who refuse to stay out and shut up when everyone else does, Ammann can be a royal pain. He doggedly tramped the backwoods and city markets of Cameroon, Gabon, and the Congos, documenting a gruesome trade rooted, ultimately, in the hardwood-trimmed homes and tantalum-loaded cell phones of European, Asian, and American consumers. Foreign-owned logging and mining firms rip open African forests, suck out their wealth, and nourish a deadly secondary trade. They provide the roads, the truck transport, the initial markets (armies of unfed workers and their dependents), and even the guns for commercial hunters, who kill everything big enough to skin. Shipped to the cities or smuggled to expat communities, this bushmeat becomes a trophy cuisine. Gorillas are the favorite game, and their humanlike hands the choicest cut. There's a ghastly poetic justice to the way this dietary choice has backfired upon recklessly omnivorous Homo sapiens: Just as eating civets gave us SARS, butchering and eating chimps almost surely put ebola and HIV into human circulation. In Apes, Peterson chronicles the struggles of Ammann and Joseph Melloh, a Cameroonian gorilla hunter recruited as an eco-spy who nearly faced a death sentence for exposing the Euro-bushmeat connection. Despite some repetition and slapdash structuring, this volume burns with fierce outrage, backed by cold, calm cultural and economic analysis. Peterson and Ammann save their sharpest scorn for the rich conservation groups and magazines that have shied away from, and even actively abetted, the slaughter. Peterson recounts how International Wildlife declared the bushmeat issue "simply too disturbing for our audience." Wildlife Conservation said it preferred to "emphasize the positive." National Geographic did just that by showing rescued orphaned chimps without probing the hunting that killed their parents. The mighty Worldwide Fund for Nature declined to press on logging and bushmeat, for fear of rocking the projects it already had floating in Africa. Worse yet, the renowned Wildlife Conservation Society signed a greenwash "partnership" with a wily German logging concern that, as Peterson tells it, brought new carnage to the Republic of Congo's last great wild preserve. Apes opens onto a broader indictment of institutional "feel-good conservation," which can bear any extinction save that of its donor base. But Peterson doesn't stop at despair; he outlines reasonable measures governments and individuals can take, arguing that since apes constitute just 1 percent of Africa's fast-diminishing meat larder, they, at least, can be saved. All you need is the will, the money, and the unvarnished truth. One out of three is a start. ERIC SCIGLIANO Metal Health

Few pop-music genres get as little respect as heavy metal. For three decades, it's been one of the most popular musical styles in the world, but it receives comparatively little coverage. There are far more histories of punk rock than of metal, despite the latter having sold gazillions more records than the former. So the appearance of Ian Christie's Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal (HarperEntertainment, $24.95) should be cause for celebration. Unfortunately, his approach is often as shallow as the music he loves is frequently accused of being. Christie isn't much of a critic beyond proclaiming certain bands "true metal" and others not; incredibly, he lumps Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple in the second categorydespite their pioneering the genre in the late '60s and early '70s. Instead, Christie valorizes Black Sabbath as the style's one-and-only ground zero. Sure, Sabbath does indeed deserve metal's pole position, but Christie never explains why Zep or Purple don't qualifyhe just says they don't, and that's that. This kind of reasoning pervades the book; even the music of the bands Christie approves of is never explained beyond hackneyed, "this riff shreds"-type exposition. (I've read more thorough judgments on eighth-grade folders.) Beast's primary value comes from Christie's deciphering of metal's underground codes: fanzines; dress (particularly the hardcore early-'80s hesher's uniform of denim vest over leather jacket); and logo symbolism (e.g., Iron Maiden's cartoon mascot, "Eddie"). But like the music itself, they're not explained closely enough. Christie is clearly a true believer in this subculture, and that belief is what keeps the book from taking off. He's still so protective of the music that changed his life that he's unwilling, or unable, to step away and look at it with any perspective. MICHAELANGELO MATOS The Pentagon Poet

He's a star. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, aka "Rummy" to his legion of TV fans, has built up a cult following during his tenure in the Bush II administration. No matter how you feel about the Iraqi war (now turned to occupation), Rumsfeld's folksy demeanor is a perfect fit with Dubya's blunt policies; it's like he stepped from MGM's central casting in the '30s. I could almost see him in the Thomas Mitchell role in Stagecoach. Further evidence of his celebrity comes from Hart Seely's Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld (Free Press, $12.95), which rearranges his statements into stanzas and his quotes into quatrains. A sample, culled from a Nov. 14, 2002, interview with The New York Times editorial board, titled "S.T.U.P.I.D.I.T.Y.":

H.D.L.D.

It's high densityNo.

High demand, low density.

In other words, we need lots

of them

And we don't have many.

It's a euphemism for stupidity,

For not buying enough of what

you need.

And so they've got an acronym. Beautiful. It's so e.e. cummings. Ichiro got a similar tongue-in-cheek treatment from David Shields in Baseball Is Just Baseball, as did Phil Rizzuto in Seely's O Holy Cow!. In his echt-academic introduction, Seely writes, "Sometimes comic, sometimes dark, D.H. Rumsfeld's poetry is irreverent but always relevant, occasionally structurally challenged and always structurally challenging." (Frighteningly, many actual prefaces sound as self-parodic without intending to be.) Just one more example, "Gerbil," taken from a May 17, 2002, interview with Armed Forces Radio and Television Service: I feel like a gerbil.

I get on that thing

And I run like hell. I know just how he feels, only I've never said it so well. BRIAN MILLER Mix, Stir, Repeat

The first paragraph of all but one chapter of The Bobby Gold Stories (Bloomsbury, $19.95) tells what Bobby is wearing, where he is, and what he is doing. Celebrity chef and author Anthony Bourdain writes the story of a man who goes to prison, gets out after eight years, goes back to work at his friend's mobbed-up NiteKlub, falls in love, finds out his girlfriend has done something really stupid, and goes on the lam. Bourdain, the executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in New York City and author of Kitchen Confidential and A Cook's Tour, has a formula for exposition and follows it the way a cook might follow a favorite recipe: Make sure there is a solid foundation, then vary some ingredients and flavorings. So 11 of the 12 stories begin with "Bobby Gold . . . ," and the words become a mantra that would be annoying if the book were any longer than its 165 pages. Each of the stories in this novel could stand alone; together, they form a clear, linear narrative. Bourdain takes us to the place he knows besta restaurant kitchenand writes a great story about what goes on there, then adds a dash of sex, drugs, and violence to bring events to a boil. No new territory is charted, and there are few ideas to chew on, but it is easy to pass a couple of hours with Bobby Goldhowever he's dressed, wherever he is, whatever he's doing. JOANNE GARRETT info@seattleweekly.com

 
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