Finally reading something non-technical, I’ve spent some kid crying (= no sleeping) time with Stephen Ambrose’s To America, a sort of synopsis of many of his previous history books.

He’s a great storyteller, but what has struck me most is his assessment of many historical figures as awesome yet deeply flawed people. It takes a wise mind to construct an overall judgement of a person whose actions and attitudes in context are complex and contradictory, and not just to slap on coat of thought varnish with a simple “hypocrite”, “good”, “evil”.

I wonder how much reticence this justifies about current figures though. There is so much silliness in what various leader types do, and so much cynicism about the few things they manage to get right. But we can’t wait for the judgement of history in making elections and alliances. This is frustrating. Maybe (Toronto’s current mayor) David Miller is not a lying power-crazed intellectual twin of Belinda Stronach. Maybe Paul Martin does something at work other than protecting his position. But even if contrary evidence appeared from the wormhole news sieve of the media, how to weigh it?

This conundrum is probably why leader types advertise themselves (and assassinate each other) on character qualities, as if that were more easily proven to a television audience than, say, their voting record or list of accomplishments.