What does it mean that George W Bush, a man who has demonstrated little ability for reflection, who is known to read no newspapers and whose headlong charge into disaster after cataclysm has shown a complete ignorance of history, who wants to throw out centuries of scientific learning and replace it with mythical mumbo-jumbo that he mistakenly calls religion, who preaches Christianity but seems to have never read the teachings of the great anti-war activist, Jesus Christ, is now spending his vacation reading my book, Salt: A World History?It is hard to imagine how many more innuendoes can be stuffed into a single rhetorical question so suffice it to say that none of these innuendoes is backed up by any evidence. One wonders what is required to demonstrate "ability for reflection" - checking into a Buddhist meditation centre perhaps? A non-biased observer might consider that President Bush's christianity could be taken as evidence of reflective ability - what exactly is prayer and bible study if not reflection? But no, that is just mythical mumbo-jumbo and doesn't count, and anyway Mark Kurlansky, who from his description of Christianity would seem to be an atheist, is able as a result of his religious expertise to identify that President Bush is in fact a misguided believer, perhaps even a heretic, in that he is perverting the teachings of Jesus Christ. And "disaster after cataclysm" seems a little strong given the robust US economy, the reduction in government deficit etc. etc. Perhaps by ignorance of history Mark means ignoring of what passes for "Historical facts" in the politically correct ivory towers of academia these days as opposed to, say, history as written by Winston Churchill.
Reading the White House propaganda about what a serious reader he is, choosing books of depth rather than beach reads, it occurred to me that this may be an entirely staff-manufactured hoax, designed to give the president the appearance of having an intellectual depth he clearly lacks. But Warren Vieth, a White House correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, who, bored to the brink of madness in Crawford, Texas where the president was vacationing while the world exploded, interviewed me last week. He assured me that Bush reads books and discusses them in a way that makes clear he has truly read them.Did I miss something? what earth shattering cataclysm happened in the last couple of weeks that failed to get covered in the news I read? Here is my score of "major bad events" during August
So why was Bush reading Salt, and what could he get out of it? Perhaps, if he did pick it himself, it was because he was once in the Texas oil business that began in 1901 when Patillo Higgins and Anthony Lucas ignored the advice of geologists and drilled around a Texas salt dome called Spindletop.
In many ways, oil replaced salt. Before the age of petroleum, geology was largely dedicated to understanding and locating salt. The technology of drilling rigs and wells was primarily about salt. Because only salted food could be traded, it was the basis of economies. Because armies and navies needed it for provisions and to maintain horses and it was the only known way to cauterise a wound, it was considered strategic. Alliances were formed and wars were fought over it. Several revolutions erupted in part over excessive salt taxes. Queen Elizabeth I had warned England of its dangerous dependence on foreign sea salt.I just love that dig about "if he did pick it himself" as if to say that any book chosen by someone else is inherently less valuable. Er so what? How many times has a friend or colleague suggested that you read a particular book? Does taking their advice automatically mean you are stupid? And if Bush did indeed chose the book because of the salt dome drilling surely that indicates that Bush is actually knowledgable about history and therefore not quite as dumb as you seem to think?
All of this furore over common salt seems a little silly today. I hope Bush, with his interest in history, will realise that, in time, the fights over oil will look equally foolish. Could this lead to his abandoning his Texas cronies, realising oil is not worth hundreds of thousands of lives in Iraq, and that government has the ability to foster research and develop existing technology to move the world away from oil?Oh yes how silly of me. The whole War on Terror is actually about oil. This is obviously why Saudi Arabia, which has a large chunk of the world's crude oil, is currently not occupied by thousands of US troops but that Afghanistan, which has no oil to speak of, is host to masses of troops. And Mark, I understand that in the cloistered world of academia we don't always have time to read / listen to presidential speeches and look at boring budgets and spending bills but a quick google on "Bush Hydrogen Investment" turns up 158,000 documents one of which is a White House page on the Bush energy bill which says in part:
The energy bill will promote the use of renewable energy sources with tax credits for wind, solar, and biomass energy, including the first-ever tax credit for residential solar energy systems. The bill also expands research into developing hydrogen technologies and establishes a flexible, national Renewable Fuels Standard to encourage greater use of renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel.Looks to me like a government that is "foster[ing] research and develop existing technology to move the world away from oil".
Doubtless, after this happens the political leaders of the world will be ready to kill for the next big thing. So maybe he should put my book down, walk outside and talk to the grieving mothers of the American youth he wasted, who are camped in front of the ranch.If additional evidence were needed that Kurlansky also apparently doesn't pay attention to the media there is this recent Newsweek story that demonstrates that the Presdent has in fact met many, many relatives of servicemen and women killed in Iraq. Indeed as we all know the President has actually met the "grieving mother" in question and at the time of her own meeting with the President she seemed content. Apparently this is intended to be a rousing conclusion but given that it is based on completely false information all it does is demonstrate that, in fact, Mark Kurlansky probably doesn't know anything about current events and should not be trusted with regard to anything other than salt.