I was reading an entertaining list of the 50 Most Loathsome Americans of 2010 (H/T to the ever-present PZ Myers, who writes as much and as well as I one day hope to do). Sure, some of my personal favourites were missing from the list, but for the most part, it's a thoughtful examination of some of the more repugnant figures of the last year.
At Number 23 was the lamentable Joe Barton, best known in 2010 for apologising to BP CEO Tony Hayward (a classic wide boy if ever there were one) for the Obama Administration having had the temerity to ask that BP put money aside to pay for environmental damage caused by their [allegedly] negligent pouring of
But apparently, Barton, who whatever his faults does hold a degree in engineering, and who also worked for oil and gas company Atlantic Richfield (ARCO) back in the 1980s, before their purchase and eventual dissolution by BP America in 2000, revealed in a hearing in 2009 that... wait for it... that he didn't know where oil came from. And, further, that he doesn't understand one of the foundational notions of geology: plate tectonics.
Okay, lots of people don't necessarily know where oil comes from, or even assume that it is the product of dead dinosaurs, which is mainly the fault of cartoons (I never found 'The Flintstones' funny anyway) and those damned Sinclair dinosaurs. Hell, Keith Olbermann made that slip on one occasion, and I didn't get too bothered. It's a popular misconception. It happens.
But not only that: Barton didn't understand anything about where oil and gas came from. To quote the article:
"Chu and other administration officials are testifying today before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Barton, the top Republican on the committee and a recipient of $1,330,160 in oil money, was flabbergasted by the concept of continental drift. After Chu explained that “oil and gas is the result of hundreds of millions of years of geology and in that time also the plates have moved around,” Barton questioned whether oil didn’t actually reach Alaska through a secret Texas pipeline:
[Barton:]"Isn’t it obvious that at one time it was a lot warmer in Alaska and on the North Pole? It wasn’t a big pipeline that we’ve created from Texas and shipped it up there and put it under ground so we can now pump it up?"
I don't know enough about the man to be able to tell if he was trying to be funny, or if he's just an unmitigated ass. Let's leave my suspicions unspoken, shall we?
And further, Barton, who apparently didn't learn anything at school, thought that he had "baffled" Dr Chu, a physicist, as revealed in this tweet:
I seemed to have baffled the Energy Sec with basic question - Where does oil come from? Check out the video: http://bit.ly/O4m0p #tcot
No, you cussing prang-warbler, you didn't baffle Dr Chu, except perhaps in the sense that he was baffled as to how in the seven levels of hell that you, Mr Barton, ever became a member of a House Committee dealing with anything more important than sandwich fillings in the Congressional cafeteria. If anything, you gave him six seconds to answer a question that needs more time to answer, and you didn't comprehend the answer as far as he was able to get. The failure to understand, obviously, was yours, and not his.
Which leads me to my real question: what the hell is this man doing on a Committee that deals with the exploration for and exploitation of energy resources? It's been almost two years since this happened, and he's still bloody there. If that doesn't frighten you, just a little bit (even in a world of frightening things, many of them with an "R" after their names), then you, mon ami, are impervious to fear.