“I’m the commander—see, I don’t need to explain—I do not need to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing about being president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don’t feel like I owe anybody an explanation.”
—George Bush, quoted in Bush at War
In accordance with the laws of the cosmos and the Observer calendar, we depart from our regular format and welcome 2003 with the Winter Books Issue, a collection of essays and reviews that allows our writers still another opportunity to do what they do best: examine the culture of politics and the politics of culture. We begin with “Comandante W.,” by contributing writer Robert Sherrill. Sherrill takes on veteran Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, whose most recent book chronicles life in the War Room. Admittedly “chronicles” may be too docile a word to use here, since Sherrill describes Bush at War as “a cluttered, go-nowhere, pretentious piece of ‘pseudo-investigative’ journalism.” And yet, as he concedes and the passage quoted above reveals, Woodward’s latest book is not entirely without educational value.
Gabriela Bocagrande is a native Houstonian now based in Washington, D.C., who regularly files dispatches on multilateral malfeasance for the Observer. (We’d like to thank her for coining the term “IMF’ rs.”) In this issue, she takes Nobel economist and former Clinton official Joseph E. Stiglitz to task in a review of his much-lauded Globalization and Its Discontents. Stiglitz is a World Bank insider who finds dysfunction at the heart of “the IMF and other international economic institutions,” leading to what Bocagrande calls “appalling policy errors … with everlasting repercussions in the lives of millions.” Unfortunately, Stiglitz couches his analysis in a timid passive voice, with plenty of reference to “mistakes,” and “misunderstandings.”
From dysfunction in the family of multilateral economic institutions, we turn to our dysfunctional culture and everyone’s favorite dysfunctional family—The Sopranos. Then it’s on to gas guzzlers, the subject of one of 2002’s finest books, High and Mighty: SUVs—The World’s Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way, by Keith Bradsher. And, as former Observer editor Geoff Rips writes, there’s also “the feel-good political book to read if you’re still waiting for the hangover of the 2002 election to dissipate,” a now ironically titled tome, The Emerging Democratic Majority by John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira.
Among the other articles in this issue are those that pay tribute to the unacknowledged legislators of the world: the poets. Paul Christensen and Daniel Durham remember the late Jim Cody. Contributing writer Dave Oliphant reviews an anthology of the work of Homero Aridjis, Mexico’s finest living poet.
Finally, we’d like to acknowledge the artists whose work is featured in this issue. Terri Lord created the cover collage of the Commander-in-Chief, while Kevin Kreneck contributed the art that appears with Sherrill’s “Comandante W.” Penny Van Horn did the woodcut drawings that accompany the Afterword, David Romo’s “psychogeographical” meandering through the streets of Juárez and El Paso.
Staff photographer Alan Pogue’s back page photo was first published in The Layers of Our Seeing (Plain View Press) along with the full text of Susan Bright’s poem, “Girl With Fragment.” As he so often does, Pogue manages to remind us with a single photo just why attention must be paid, why explanations are indeed needed. -BB