Reading: The Character of the General

Washington was a human being, and the cherry tree story was a myth. But behind the myths lies a man of profound character.

I am not sure I could or should emulate Washington in detail, but his character provides an outline, a rough template, that offers a lot to emulate.

The more time that passes since reading the book, though, the more I find that its examination of Washington, his life, and his character moves me. By bringing the General down from his marble pedestal, Ron Chernow has done us all a great service: he has shown us that greatness is less bestowed than it is found, less innate than it is built. It is a mantle that is not assumed: it is rather, conferred by others after long and careful evaluation.

And, perhaps most important, if the great are imperfect, then it is within the grasp of all who are imperfect to be great. The lesson Chernow teaches us, then, is that the Founding Fathers did more than democratize power: they democratized prestige, importance, and social standing, stealing it from the privileged, the noble-born, and the royal and setting it in the town square for anyone to earn.

Verily, we need to look no further than Washington’s forty-fourth successor to witness that there is a downside to the democratization of prestige. Yet one does not have to look for long to find among the heirs of George III evidence that hereditary monarchy is little better – and arguably worse – at selecting heads of state than our own system.

But if there is a failing in our system, it begins with us. In a democracy it is we who choose the great. Our failing is in holding the good men and women who would hold office to a standard even George Washington could not match, leaving us only with Potemkin heroes and abject scoundrels from which to choose our leaders.

Chernow’s lesson is, thus, most important when understood in this context. Do not demand or expect perfection from your leaders. Demand an expect only that they are good and trying to be better. Such was George Washington, and, I daresay, such was the lot of every man and woman who we today revere as Great Americans.

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Last Call, 2037

Global warming will kill Las Vegas. A half a mile above the high-tide line, the city has nothing to fear from melting polar caps and rising seas. But it is built on cheap gas, cheap food, cheap water, and cheap electricity.

The party will end when the Indians and Chinese drive up the cost of food, the end of fracking drives up the cost of cheap gas, and global warming sucks all of the water and power to the cities and customers willing to pay full price.

Fifteen, maybe twenty years. And the Strip will either shrink back to a size more like it was in 1960, or the town will become a cheap, ugly version of itself, pandering to planeloads of nongming and busloads of retirees.

It will be an ugly end to the place, the megahotels going to seed, closing, crumbling, waiting for the demolition teams and the wrecking balls; the strip malls becoming gang hangs for the ignored offspring of VR-addicted divorcees scraping out a living in an America torn between anger and hubris.

When I drive down the streets of the subdivisions far from the strip, seeing the homes, the schools, the neighborhoods, I stop thinking that Sin City deserves its fate, and start wondering where these people will go and what they will do when the neon goes out on the Boulevard, and the desert returns.

In the Navajo Nation

A once great people live among these mesas and canyons, living among the ghosts of the Anasazi, and I wonder if they realize how close they came to things going a very different way.

It is troubling to contemplate that their decline began with climate change. In this their lot is both an admonishment and a warning.

There is an alternate history story here someplace. Another reason for me to hang up at least one of my PR spurs and grab hold of the pen that mocks me from the pewter cup on my desk.