Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The way we'll remember him

Express Staff Writer

Historians 200 years from now will not regard George W. Bush as a great president. They will not think about him at all, unless they decide to start imagining a history that didn't end in historians being people whose only job is writing down last year's potato crop numbers with charred sticks on the halls of mud huts. Even then, it will be hard to remember Bush's name. They'll have to give him a name based on rumor, something like Doofus the Second, because the name George will have gone back to one of the broken granite profiles on what's left of Mount Rushmore. Names last longer in stone than on paper, and it's hard to think that anyone could affect history without a name.

History is hard to get right in the aftermath of civilization. Sometimes it's even hard to remember who caused the civilization to collapse in the first place. History is seen as an eddying river of human events rather than the product of individual will.

There will be historians who say civilization ended with the formation of the giant glow-in-the-dark, glass-lined crater in that poisoned and empty place known variously as Iraq or Iran or Israel or Palestine.

Other historians will say it ended with the invasion of the Ill-Eagle Bird-Flu People from Anthraxico, the mythical land beyond the Southern Desert.

Religious authorities, writing history for their own purposes, will claim that a great flood drowned the sinful portion of humanity, which was most of them, but then the Great God P'taah felt remorse, and gave humankind the lush green Eden of Antarctica. It's hard to get there in reed rowboats caulked with melted bits of Interstate, but they think it's somewhere on the other side of the Dead Sea, that band of boiling water that circles the planet just south of Anthraxico. Some of them say that if you worship the Giant Potato on the altar in the Great P'taah Potato Cellar, and faithfully tithe a tenth of your potato crop, you get to go to Antarctica when you die.

Economists 200 years hence will scoff at the idea that there was ever a President Doofus the Second, because they won't believe he had a country to be president of. They will understand the concept of IOUs, but they will regard as absurd the legend that an entire country's financial system could be based on them. It will be a matter of economic faith that every economy has to be based on turnips, squash, potatoes and domesticated ground squirrels. "How can you have a money that people can't eat?" they will ask. "Why would people think it was worth anything at all?" They will roll their eyes. "This Doofus the Second, if he existed, was probably a minor functionary in the ancient Simplot Empire's Potato Flake Division."

Philosophers of 2208 will suggest that Doofus the Second was a concept used to indicate that any human who presumed to talk to the gods would bring disaster to his family and to his village. "The gods are capricious," they will say. "They mess with our potato crops for sport. Only a fool would deliberately try to get their attention."

And yet legends die hard. In 2208, there will be a group of hard-core believers who refuse to believe that Doofus the Second was just a philosophical concept. They will be the shamans and witch doctors in the Ancient Order of Emergency Room Physicians, and they will recognize Doofus the Second as their founding father. "He replaced an entire health-care system with our emergency rooms," they will say. "Finally, there was a place where the tired, tattered, sick, homeless and uninsured could get medical care for free."

There will be others, like the spear-makers and the mud-hut builders, the scavengers of ancient metal, the sellers of bits of highway, and the copper-wire jewelry makers, who will know that He really was a man among men, that Doofus the Second really walked the earth, and that they owe their livelihoods to him. And when they stitch up a spear wound for two potatoes, trade a kilo of asphalt for a zucchini or a bridge rail for seven ground-squirrel carcasses or a copper bracelet for a pumpkin, they will whisper the secret name of Doofus the Second, the name that will last for eternity in all its glory: Bozo.

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