Star Trek: DS9 “Destiny” and “Prophet Motive”

I have a particle accelerator shooting out of my brain. Your argument is invalid.

I’ve completed my re-watch of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Now it’s time to start Deep Space Nine! I am much less familiar with this show, though I’m pretty sure I’ve seen about 80-90% of the episodes. It’s been so long that I’m sure it will all feel brand new. My wife has never seen the show. She and I will go through, review every episode, and give commentary and a grade from A-F. There are SPOILERS for each episode below. Without further adieu, here’s:

“Destiny”

Synopsis

A pair (later a triad) of Cardassian scientists arrive on board DS9 to try to set up a way to communicate through the Wormhole. Meanwhile, Vedek Yarka, a somewhat controversial religious leader on Bajor, argues that the Bajoran scriptures prophesy this very event as a calamity that will deeply impact Bajor. Starfleet and the Cardassians press on, however, despite some superficial similarities between this prophecy and current events. When things start to go wrong and it appears the Wormhole is in danger, support for Yarka’s interpretation surges. However, one of the Cardassian scientists finally outs the third, who is revealed to be a member of the Obsidian Order, the Cardassian intelligence group. She was trying to sabotage their efforts. With that out of the way, the plan proceeds and, unexpectedly, some filament science magic happens and the communications are able to be established. Sisko, Kira, Yarka, and others see this as the prophecy being fulfilled in an unexpected way they could not have predicted.

Commentary

I thought this episode was a breath of fresh air. We’ve had Star Trek deal with religion plenty of times before. It hasn’t always done so well. In this one, genuinely interesting questions of interpretation of prophecy are brought forward. Who gets to arbitrate such interpretation? How much should we look at current events to try to figure out what prophecies mean? Can a prophecy really be true? These are just some of the questions briefly touched on in this episode.

What made it so refreshing is that the writers didn’t force answers for these questions. The episode dynamically changed the answers and perspectives for these questions. Most interestingly, at the end, many of the characters take what happened as meaning the prophecy came to its fulfillment.

Okay, a bit more on this one. The plot is fairly bare-bones overall–the meat is spent on the analogues to the prophecy–but it does the job of carrying the episode when it needs to. There is just enough question of whether the prophecy might come true or not that as a viewer you keep wondering which direction it will go. The ending is perfect, showing that we very often read our own perspective onto those things which we read.

Grade: A “I found this a surprisingly good look at how religious groups may interpret their scriptures differently, and how events that are happening here-and-now can change that. It was remarkably balanced in its look at this question, while still delivering a great plot.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A “It was a good combination of new characters and development of a long-standing story thread, plus it was fun to get to know some more Cardassians.”

“Prophet Motive”

Synopsis

The Grand Nagus of the Ferengi shows up once again on DS9, but he’s spreading a message that is utterly baffling to Quark and the other Ferengi. He seems to have re-written the Rules of Acquisition into some kind of rules for being kind to others! What gives? As Quark struggles with the reality that the Nagus might really be losing it, they discover that the Nagus tried to meet up with the mysterious aliens in the Wormhole to exploit them for knowledge of the future–and more monetary gain. The aliens, however, sent him back with a message of compassion. Quark must rush with the help of others to save the Ferengi and the Nagus from certain financial destruction. They do so! Monetary gains all around!

Commentary

Okay, this one was a bit silly, but so fun. I particularly loved the scene in which Quark has convinced himself the Nagus is making these changes as some kind of grand scheme that he can’t possibly comprehend, only to give in to the realization that the Nagus has truly gone off his rocker. It’s funny and delightful.

This kind of lighthearted, silly episode is something that I think DS9 pulls off much better than TNG. TNG takes itself very seriously throughout–often too seriously–so the silly episodes have to be quite excellent to succeed. DS9 just is quite serious–wars and rumors of wars abound, serious topics are constantly explored, etc. Because of this, the silly episodes like this one feel like a kind of breather to give some recovery after serious episodes. I enjoyed this one quite a bit, and love every time the Grand Nagus shows up.

Grade: B “Radically implausible and silly, but insanely fun to watch nonetheless.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B “It was fun. It was also very silly.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: DS9– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

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Star Trek: DS9 Season 3 “Life Support” and “Heart of Stone”

In which Kira turns into a rock. No, seriously.

I’ve completed my re-watch of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Now it’s time to start Deep Space Nine! I am much less familiar with this show, though I’m pretty sure I’ve seen about 80-90% of the episodes. It’s been so long that I’m sure it will all feel brand new. My wife has never seen the show. She and I will go through, review every episode, and give commentary and a grade from A-F. There are SPOILERS for each episode below. Without further adieu, here’s:

“Life Support”

Synopsis

Vedek Bareil is injured on a transport coming to DS9 and Bashir must try to help forestall the potential brain injury that’s happening. Meanwhile, the Bajorans are in important peace talks with the Cardassians, spearheaded by Bareil’s efforts and grudgingly agreed to by Kai Winn. Bareil’s condition continues to deteriorate even as the peace talks enter pivotal phases. Bashir utilizes experimental techniques to keep Bareil alive, but strongly urges him to go into a kind of stasis so they can cure him later. Bareil refuses the recommended treatment and continues to push for more and more dangerous treatments. Ultimately, the peace talks seem to be successful, but Bareil dies, having already had enough treatments to be very little of the man he once was.

Commentary

Wow, this was a tough episode to watch. Somehow you keep hoping that Bareil may just pull through, but it all seems inevitable from the beginning. The ethical dimensions raised here are interesting, but some of the difficult questions they’re dealing with–whether to do treatments that may cause more harm than good, whether the patient is truly the last say so far as which treatments can or should be done, and more.

I genuinely thought Kai Winn must have had something to do with Bareil’s injury, and that the plot would go in the direction of having the peace talks undermined by that very thing, but the writers didn’t go there, and I have mixed feelings about it. It seems like a potential missed opportunity for increasing the nefarious nature of Winn, but it also seems like it would be possibly too much if they had gone that way.

It’s worth mentioning this is also a piece of good development for Kira, who is stuck between the wishes of Bareil and her own.

The secondary plot following Nog and Jake and their different cultures is a good development for them, too, adding another dimension to their relationship that wasn’t there before.

Grade: B “It felt a little like it could have been more, and the questions it raised could have gone father, but it was an interesting character piece with some good ethical quandaries.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “It was good further development of characters we already knew, plus some ethical dilemmas from Dr. Bashir.”

“Heart of Stone”

Synopsis

Kira and Odo crash land on a rocky moon after chasing a Maquis vessel. On the moon, Kira gets stuck in a rock which quickly reveals itself to be some kind of energy shifting organism. Meanwhile, Nog has come to Sisko to ask to get a recommendation for joining Starfleet.

As the two try to figure a way out of the mess, and the rock-energy-organism takes over Kira more and more, Odo begins to open up to Kira more than ever.

Commentary

Odo! Tell Kira already!

The genius of this episode is that it uses Odo brilliantly. Here, we don’t have him using tricks of his own shapeshifting to do something mundane like being a glass on a tray or something. No, he is purely using his powers of deduction to show that he remains as totally awesome as he did before.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty in this episode is the plausibility of having the other Changeling as the villain. It’s not so much that a shapeshifter like Odo couldn’t turn into Kira and look as it did, but the problem is rather that Odo at one points fires a phaser on fake Kira which would, presumably, have greatly harmed the Changeling. Yet there is little-to-no reaction from her. Oh well.

Grade: B+ “Odo being Odo as Odo does best.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “I think it was an interesting look into Odo’s character and fun Nog development, but utterly implausible.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: DS9– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

Perfect Game!- MLB: The Show…. 07

perfect-game-8-4-16-mlbshow07You know when you get a video game that you just love? You know how you keep going back to it even if there are other iterations of the same idea or style? MLB: The Show 07 is like that for me. It’s the most fun I ever had with a baseball game, and I just keep playing it. Yet in 100s of games played, I’ve never once pitched a perfect game. Ever. I’ve been playing this game for 10 years now off and on, but never pitched a perfect game.

The way I play is in the “Road to the Show” mode, in which you create a player, invest points into stats, and keep trying to progress your career. The game is pretty unforgiving. Minor mistakes early on will send you back to the minor leagues, hoping for another chance. Getting that big contract is tough, and requires several seasons before teams trust that you’re actually that good. Anyway, I made a pitcher a long time ago, and I’m in my 5th season (this is probably my 7th starting pitcher I’ve ever made).

I signed on with the Cubs, my favorite team, and started with a 4 seam fastball, slider, and curveball. I invested tons of points into the 4-seamer, knowing it is a great pitch in the game and easy enough to control.

Fast-forward 5 seasons and it happened: I pitched a perfect game with Lucas Wartick (my last name, and a fun first name). At this point, I’d just signed his first big contract (10 million/1 year) with the Cubs and had proven myself last season with a 24-1 record, along with a no-hitter in game 7 of the World Series. Boom.

Shortly after writing this post, I was within 3 outs of another perfect game. I gave up a hit in the top of the 9th, then got a double play, gave up a second hit, and with one out left was pulled from the game. The relief pitcher gave up a home run, tagging me with the runner on first. So it goes.

 

Star Trek: DS9 Season 3 “Past Tense” Parts I + II

Get ready for our future. This is it.

I’ve completed my re-watch of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Now it’s time to start Deep Space Nine! I am much less familiar with this show, though I’m pretty sure I’ve seen about 80-90% of the episodes. It’s been so long that I’m sure it will all feel brand new. My wife has never seen the show. She and I will go through, review every episode, and give commentary and a grade from A-F. There are SPOILERS for each episode below. Without further adieu, here’s:

“Past Tense: Parts I + II”*

*I’ve decided to start combining the scores for 2 part episodes because it is difficult to parse them apart from each other.

Synopsis

Sisko, Dax, and Dr. Bashir are caught in a transporter accident that sends them to the past, San Francisco in 2024. Dax is separated from Sisko and Bashir and the latter are taken into custody and placed into a “sanctuary district,” a kind of slum for non-criminals who have no work and nowhere to go. Dax, meanwhile, meets Chris Brynner, a successful businessman with a kind heart who quickly agrees to help her find her friends. In the sanctuary district, Sisko realizes that they are there just before the “Bell Riots,” a kind of uprising in the sanctuary districts that helped awaken the world to the suffering of the poor.

Commentary

Why does anyone take a transporter anymore? Every time someone mentions fears of transporters, all those surrounding that person say “but they’re so safe, there are almost no accidents, etc.” Yet almost every time this happens, an accident happens. Sorry, if a transporter can just dematerialize me on a whim or send me back in time, I’m not sure I trust that thing to be teleporting me all around the face of the universe.  Also, can we talk about how the transporter literally just destroys you and creates a copy of you somewhere else? It’s not you showing up on the other end; it’s a perfect copy. But the old you was dematerialized–they don’t send that matter to the other end, they just make new matter in the same form pop up. Count me out!

Anyway, now that I’ve cleared that out of my system, let’s talk about the actual episodes. This was a great two-parter. It felt, honestly, like a rather well done B-movie made as a dystopia. It had the cheesy factor with some kind of silly jokes, it had the funky 90s-future outfits, and it had the color palate of a movie like Equilibrium or Gattaca (if you haven’t seen these–run and do so). I can’t help but now have fond memories of the kind of quaint, single-block set that they used for these episodes.

Here’s another thing though: this is disturbingly scary in its seeming accuracy to what some people are pushing for. Shutting up people in certain parts of the city seems reminiscent of the use of sanctuary cities, but with a devious twist that doesn’t seem all that outside of the realm of where we may be going. I mean, the whole two-parter seemed strikingly possible, even to the date (I believe it was 2019 or something). Depressingly close to home.

The real difficulties here are minor, the main one being some pretty big holes left open throughout the double feature’s plot. I found myself not minding so much, because the resolution of it all was so cool. Well done.

Grade: A- “It’s a sort of cheesy near-future dystopia but oh my goodness is it disturbingly accurate feeling right now.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “It was quite a good story, though there were certainly a few holes in it.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: DS9– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

Presidential Biographies: John Adams, #2

Adams was kind of ugly.

My quest to read (at least) one biography per President continues with John Adams, the second President of the United States. The biography I chose with my selection process (reading reviews online and utilizing and  this website- My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies), I settled on John Adams: A Life by John Ferling.

Here, I’ll offer my thoughts on that biography, and proceed to the inaugural DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES!!!!!!

John Adams: A Life by John Ferling

John Adams. Ferling’s biography is exquisitely detailed, minutely argued, and… dry. But I can’t decide if that’s because Ferling’s style is dry, or because Adams’ life was rather dull, for all that was going on. Okay, maybe not dull… but, after Washington, it feels kind of ‘ho hum.’ Let’s take a look.

One of the most interesting things about Adams’ life I learned here is that not only was he a lawyer–and a good one, it seems–but he also was the lawyer picked by his cousin, Samuel Adams, to defend the British commander and soldiers who carried out the “Boston Massacre” (a misnomer, to be honest). Indeed, John Adams was such a good lawyer he got those men acquitted, much to the surprise/chagrin of his revolutionary compatriots. But he survived this potential political firestorm because it was clear he was dedicated to the cause. Of course, that dedication was bolstered by a constant series of intentional appearances at rallies and the like, often orchestrated by his cousin Samuel Adams.

That brief glimpse really helps provide a kind of overview on John Adams. He was obsessed with his image. He never wanted to be seen in a negative light. Hours were spent in contemplation about what it meant to be “manly” and despairing he would not be seen as manly enough. He leveraged relations and friends to help show his dedication to the revolutionary cause. Worry was his constant companion as he contemplated all the things that could go wrong in his political career. Tireless work was his commitment, and perhaps the true sign of dedication to the cause. He went wherever the need was greatest, whenever his number was called.

These points also raise another: Adams was a complex man whose constant effort was both his greatest attribute and his most damning flaw. That tireless work for the Revolutionary cause contributed at least in part to his absenteeism in his domestic sphere. He left his wife almost every time he returned to her. She despaired after him, but he showed little genuine concern for that, as he would come to comfort her only to leave the next time his services were called upon. The same is true for his children, to whom he was probably known as much through letters as in person.

Adams’ primary accomplishments may be his preventing war between France and the United States and making sure that no other nation managed to get the U.S. into an alliance that would turn it into a kind of vassal state. He did this through constant use of a diplomatic sword, which he seemed to be a mixture of brilliant and inept in wielding. Nevertheless, the fact that he did preserve the Union through this difficult, formative time speaks well of him. Another inheritance from Adams were his views on how state governments ought to function, and many states’ constitutions were directly influenced by Adams’ political treatises. He was wise on legal terms and used that wisdom shrewdly.

Ferling’s biography does an excellent job providing this objective look at the life of Adams. Unlike Chernow’s biography on Washington, where the author constantly downplayed some of the major flaws of the President’s character, here Ferling bluntly states that it seems Adams didn’t truly want his wife around, and that his absences from his family were most cruel.

On final analysis Adams was a President whose primary accomplishment was holding the line. That’s what the United States needed at the time, so it’s hard to fault him for that. His actions probably preserved the union from either falling apart on its own or capitulating to some outside power. Moreover, he helped define how states ought to be run. But his preoccupation with his own image, unwillingness to budge on multiple points where it may have benefited him greatly, absenteeism in his domestic life, and weird obsession with ‘manliness’–an obsession all too many pursue today–all count against him.

Ferling’s John Adams: A Life is an excellent biography, if somewhat dry. It provides an intriguing picture into an individual whose achievements have, perhaps, been understated.

THE DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES*

My criteria for ranking the Presidents will be somewhat arbitrary. Random things I’ve thought of so far is whether they improved our infrastructure, how Presidential they acted/looked, whether they got us into any silly wars, and the like. As you can see, these criteria are somewhat… subjective. So you’ll probably end up disagreeing with me. I look forward to your comments!

1. George Washington: Washington basically defined the office of the President for all who followed him. It was left intentionally vague by the framers, so he had to work within those strictures while trying to expand on them. Not easy, but he seems to have done it rather ably, refusing to become a major partisan while still demanding certain powers of the Executive Branch. During his Presidency the national bank was created, the country’s credit recovered, massive trade booms occurred, the Mississippi was opened for exploration, and beneficial partnerships with other countries were being formed. On the other hand, during his Presidency and life generally, slavery was tolerated and even expanded, Native Americans were brutalized, and throughout it all Washington either participated directly or turned his face the other way. It is difficult to underestimate the impact of Washington on the office of the President. On the other hand, we ought not to lionize him or see him as perfection itself.

2. John Adams: There’s something to be said for the fact that Adams basically held the line against all the forces threatening to either break the United States back apart or subsume it under an “alliance” that would turn it into a kind of vassal state. Adams did that, and he managed to keep the US out of another war in its infancy. The political treatises Adams wrote went on to define the constitutions of many states and help clarify the relationship between the state and federal government. Adams did, however, fail to hold his own political party together, whether through inaction or simply not being charismatic enough or willing enough to step into the leadership role he needed to take. Moreover, Adams was an absentee (at best) father and husband.

*Rankings not definitive

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

 

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season 3 “Defiant” and “Fascination”

What the heck is going on?

I’ve completed my re-watch of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Now it’s time to start Deep Space Nine! I am much less familiar with this show, though I’m pretty sure I’ve seen about 80-90% of the episodes. It’s been so long that I’m sure it will all feel brand new. My wife has never seen the show. She and I will go through, review every episode, and give commentary and a grade from A-F. There are SPOILERS for each episode below. Without further adieu, here’s:

“Defiant”

Synopsis

Will Riker shows up on DS9 and shows some interest in Kira. When the latter agrees to give him a tour of the station, including the Defiant, he drugs her and takes over the ship. Turns out he is, in fact, Thomas Riker, who was created by a transporter incident some time ago and is referenced in the TNG episode Second Chances. He’s trying to help steal the Defiant for the Maquis. He and his crew take Kira deep into Cardassian territory, as Sisko partners with Gul Dukat to help track the ship. A member of the Obsidian Order, the Cardassian intelligence agency, monitors the events closely. Thomas Riker is convinced that the system he’s approaching has a secret Cardassian base where they are preparing for an attack on the Federation and specifically the area the Maquis dispute. Kira is unconvinced, but as the Defiant eludes pursuit, it is confronted by a number of Cardassian ships that even Gul Dukat did not know were in the system. Sisko swings a deal that sends Riker to a Cardassian prison camp instead of death in exchange for the Defiant‘s sensor logs, allowing Dukat to learn more about what the Obsidian Order may be up to in the system.

Commentary

Thomas Riker! That came out of left field, though I will say that I just barely called it in advance. I figured Riker was acting too strange to be William and it might be a shapeshifter or perhaps Thomas showing up. But I only thought of that just before he shot Kira, and the only reason I thought of Thomas was because that episode was pretty striking to me.

Anyway, this episode was actually totally exciting. Moreover, it seemed important. It wasn’t just a set piece to throw Riker into the mix. It showed yet another escalation of the Maquis conflict in the Star Trek universe, as well as some nefarious undercurrents with the Obsidian Order and the Cardassians. It set up a lot of stuff later, though I don’t remember how much of it is cashed in on. Moreover, it didn’t feel like a setup episode, because it was exciting and had an interesting plot on its own.

The man and perhaps only problem here is how totally willing Sisko was to share absolutely top secret and vital intel on the Defiant with the Cardassians. Though the ship was intended to combat the growing Dominion threat, I can’t help but think that sharing those secrets with the Cardassians, who are clearly another major rival, would not be okay. Yes, they rationalized it some as preventing all out war with the Cardassians, but it was still tough to completely suspend my disbelief here. If the rest of the episode hadn’t been so good, I may have marked it down even more for this.

But let’s get this straight, this was a great episode. It provided a tie-in to The Next Generation that wasn’t just for the sake of a cameo, it developed the Maquis, it perhaps closed the book on a loose thread with Thomas Riker, and opened exciting new possibilities for the show. Well done.

Grade: A- “Great follow up on the TNG episode, good action. If slightly unbelievable, it was exciting enough that I was able to mostly overlook that.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “It was a good tie-in to an old TNG story and had some nice action.” 

“Fascination”

Synopsis

Lwaxana Troi is back on station, much to Odo’s chagrin. But after her arrival, things begin to go haywire among the crew and visitors. People obsess over each other in ways that are clearly uncharacteristic. Meanwhile, Keiko and Miles O’Brien are reunited (oh yeah, and their daughter is there, too), but struggle because Keiko wants to stay on Bajor even longer for her botany. Miles is jealous of her time and her interactions with a male colleague, and he royally messes up. Ultimately, Bashir manages to isolate what’s happening to the station–Lwaxana’s Betazed abilities have been impacted by a fever and caused the mayhem. She gets treatment and the chaos stops. Miles reconciles with Keiko, offering to resign if necessary to let her pursue her dream. She says he doesn’t need to, and they’re happy once more.

Commentary

Yeah, this episode was silly. Surprisingly, the silliness wasn’t terrible though. It gave a more plausible reason for all the characters to act silly, because we’ve already seen how Betazed/Betazoid (which is correct, anyway?) abilities can impact all those around them. It made for some humorous scenarios to offset the drama among the O’Brien family. It was great to see how Keiko and Miles reconciled.

But speaking of Miles O’Brien, why does DS9 have it in for him so much? It’s like every episode he’s featured in he screws up big time or ends up stranded in some horrible situation. Poor O’Brien.

Another reason this episode gets kudos from me is because it used Lwaxana Troi wisely. It didn’t push her to be something she’s not, and it stayed in character for her without being completely obnoxious. I suspect Odo would disagree on that assessment, though.

Grade: B “Amazingly, DS9 has had Lwaxana Troi on it multiple times and not delivered a series-worst episode. Well done.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “There was nothing particularly special about this one, but I certainly enjoyed it.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: DS9– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

Presidential Biographies: George Washington, #1

I begin my quest to read at least one biography per President at, well, the beginning: George Washington. After carefully perusing reviews online and discovering a pretty cool website in which some guy is reading enormous amounts of biographies of each President (My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies), I settled on the massive (800+ pages of text, more than 900 pages overall) Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. Here, I’ll offer my thoughts on that biography, and proceed to the inaugural DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES!!!!!!

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

I settled on this biography because it seemed to be the right balance between comprehensive and readable. Apparently, multi-volume biographies (with 4 volumes, in one case!) of Presidents exist. Not for me. Yet, anyway. Chernow starts with a rather brief section about Washington’s early life, covers rather extensively his adult life pre-Presidency, segues into an overview of the first Presidency, and closes briefly with a look at the life and legacy left behind.

I found this biography to be quite fascinating. Though the details on Washington’s early life were fairly skimpy, they did help set the stage for the rest of his life. It was very interesting to read about how Washington felt like an outsider regarding the elite among whom he often walked, even practicing his penmanship to try to blend in better.

The story of Washington as soldier and, eventually, revolutionary shed much light on him as a person. He constantly strained against the confines of being a Colonial vs. a British Regular soldier and searched for more pay. He was quite proud. The image we get in school of Washington as invincible is very different from the Washington who suffered numerous bitter defeats in the Revolutionary War. Washington’s interactions with Native Americans and slaves were quite revealing, showing that he was far more brutal than even he wished to paint himself.

The Washington Presidency is unique in that it, perhaps more than any other term, helped shape the idea of what a President of the United States ought to be. He defined the role during his time in office, for better or ill. From what I could tell through the biography, he helped balance a fine line of asserting the power of the executive branch while also balancing partisanship. A great many accomplishments can be set before the Presidency of Washington, perhaps none so important as the peaceful ceding of power to the next President. But apart from that, he helped establish the national bank, bolstered the economy through increased trade, worked to restore American credit, built relationships with other countries, opened the Mississippi for more expansion, and more. It was a highly productive Presidency and he should get the credit that is his due.

That said, we should also not get into the realm of hero worship. As noted, the picture we get in schools in the United States is a kind of invincible lion who was simultaneously beastly in battle and the picture of peaceful rightness when it comes to the moral sphere. But Washington owned slaves (see more on this below), brutalized Native peoples, was full of pride, made wrong choices, lost battles, and pursued a married woman early in his adult life. It is vastly important to have a realistic picture of the man rather than an invented one, and Washington: A Life gives that.

None of this is to say the biography was perfect, however. Though Chernow doesn’t seem to pull punches in showing the ills that Washington committed himself to, he also acts as an apologist at points, particularly in regards to slavery and the First Nations. For example, he writes that “Washington was never sadistic or abusive toward slaves…” but then immediately goes on to discuss how he saw slaves as being in a fair economic exchange with their masters, how Washington mocked a slave who had injured an arm and demanded he still work, and more (495). Moreover, though Chernow continues to object that Washington even knew some of his slaves by name, he also allowed overseers to beat some to death or kill slaves through neglect. He was an absentee owner during his years at the White House, but did nothing to forestall ill treatment of the slaves. Though he wished to free slaves, allegedly, he continued to prioritize his economic well-being over that of other human beings. Indeed, even Chernow comments that Washington hardly saw slaves as truly human; he saw them just as most others of his era did: as property.

Chernow’s irksome comments regarding slavery are mirrored in his discussion of Washington’s treatment of Native Americans. Though Washington allegedly wished for more peaceful relations with First Nations peoples, and apparently understood why they may be angry enough to kill European “settlers” who were stealing their land, he did very little to actually offset these atrocities and showed no hesitation in executing them or burning their crops when it suited him as “just punishment.” The comments about Washington’s desire for peaceful relations ring rather hollow here.

All of this is to say that Washington was a deeply imperfect man. He had a great number of faults. Though it would be unfair, perhaps, to judge him by 21st century standards of morality, a strong corrective to our image of Washington as perfect, peaceful, and the like is also much-needed. I learned a great deal from Washington: A Life and recommend it highly. Be aware of some of the remaining apologetics of Washington, however.

THE DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES*

My criteria for ranking the Presidents will be somewhat arbitrary. Random things I’ve thought of so far is whether they improved our infrastructure, how Presidential they acted/looked, whether they got us into any silly wars, and the like. As you can see, these criteria are somewhat… subjective. So you’ll probably end up disagreeing with me. I look forward to your comments!

1. George Washington: By default, he ends up at the top of the list for now, but that’s not to downplay the greatness of his Presidency. For one, Washington basically defined the office. It was left intentionally vague by the framers, so he had to work within those strictures while trying to expand on them. Not easy, but he seems to have done it rather ably, refusing to become a major partisan while still demanding certain powers of the Executive Branch. During his Presidency the national bank was created, the country’s credit recovered, massive trade booms occurred, the Mississippi was opened for exploration, and beneficial partnerships with other countries were being formed. On the other hand, during his Presidency and life generally, slavery was tolerated and even expanded, Native Americans were brutalized, and throughout it all Washington either participated directly or turned his face the other way. It is difficult to underestimate the impact of Washington on the office of the President. On the other hand, we ought not to lionize him or see him as perfection itself.

*Rankings not definitive

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

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SDG.