More Things

The first is Vietnam. Yeah, sometimes I am stuck there, but it is something I know deep in my gut, the lessons we have still not learned. There has been some attacks on the press for loosing the war by reporting on it and what they saw. There is a good editorial defending Walter Cronkite for his editorial against the war after the Tet Offensive. But even that misses the point. In the piece we get this:

It was not a war that could be won by firepower, even overwhelming firepower. Edward Lansdale, the country’s foremost expert on counterinsurgency, and one with long experience in Vietnam, had counseled as much from the beginning. As the military historian Max Boot writes in his superb biography of the man, “The Road Not Taken,” Lansdale told Defense Secretary Robert McNamara on their first meeting in 1961, after dumping a sample of the relatively primitive weapons and rubber sandals and equipment used by the Vietcong on his desk at the Pentagon:

“The people that are fighting there on our side are being supplied with our weapons and uniforms and shoes and all of the best that we have, and we are training them. Yet, the enemy is licking our side. Always keep in mind about Vietnam, that the struggle goes far beyond the material things of life. It doesn’t take weapons and uniforms and lots of food to win. It takes something else, ideas and ideals, and these guys are using that something else. Let’s at least learn that lesson.”

Boot has argued that the war could have been won with different tactics. I would argue that is nonsense. It was a civil war about reuniting the country and you can’t win someone else’s war for them. Sometimes, they have to solve their own problems. I have no idea how tactics solves the massive corruption in the South, or the idealistic dedication of the North. Also I would argue define winning. We could still be there today trying to change hearts and minds. In that kind of a war, we are the problem. Enough said. You can draw your own conclusions about Afghanistan.

I would like to add a little more to the fight for humanistic secularism. Science is not political. Science is not value based. Science is about a method to just find what is after removing all your biases for what you want it to be. Politics is just the opposite. People who think global warming is a hoax have no understanding of what science is or how it operatives. But the politics are clear. Se the tobacco companies for the strategy cast doubt among those who do not understand science. These are the same people who want to deny evolution because it does not fit into their ideology. Science does not care about ideology, only what is. My example here is an experiment to detect the early signs of the universe. In an amazing discovery, a group of scientists think they did, but here is then how the process goes:

To ensure their signal was real, rather than a quirk of their instrument or a fluke in their data, Bowman and his colleagues spent two years considering and discarding a range of alternative explanations. They repositioned the antenna, tested it in the lab with simulated radio sky, even built a copy of the instrument to demonstrate that the experiment was reproducible. So far, they haven’t been able to prove themselves wrong.

You see politicians trying to prove themselves wrong? You get the difference? It is never a he said/she said idea or a politicized outcome, it it a peer reviewed and sometimes viciously attacked proposition to get to the truth. Our current administration is about not just denying science and data, but discrediting it because it does not support their point of view. It is the stuff of religion and the Dark Ages of our past.

I will say one other thing about science and it shows I have a strong bias. I am alive because of it. By all measures I should be dead of advanced stage prostate cancer by now. I have had it for over two years and it was a highly aggressive form of the cancer already metastasized, hence the term advanced stage. There is no cure. Enter science in the form of medicine and new drugs. Today I am healthy, happy, and well, with few symptoms, except from the drugs themselves. It won’t last forever, maybe five years, maybe longer, but today is what is important. And in five years, well, maybe we will have a new way to attack it. A plan D as my doctor and I like to call it. Five years ago there was not the Plan C that I am on today. Science is has given me a miraculous gift. But that raises that other thing I rant about, rational thought, critical thinking. What if there is not Plan D? What if this is it?

Using my ration and planning mine, I have to face that prospect. Last weekend I almost got hit by a head-on driver passing on a curve, so who knows how all this will end. I live in a state where when the end gets near, it is in my hands when to call it quits. This was brought home to me the other day when my great friend of 15 years, my Golden Retriever Sophie, just could not get up any more. She had been leaving us for some time, with long stares into nowhere, sometimes not aware we were in the room, rapidly advancing weakness in her hips, and now a large abscess on her leg that probably was not going to heal. But she had her good days too. I decided it was over and called my vet. As is her want, she kind of perked up at the vets, but she really wasn’t quite there any more. It killed me to put her down, think about this as her last day on earth, sniffing around at the vet, eating treats, and then nothing. I cried throughout. The responsibility of that decision to decide when her life was over still weighs on me.

And realistically, in this world of rational decision making, I may have to make that decision for myself. And of course that decision is really not about me, it is about the people around me. For Sophie I could play god, although it cost me. If I have to someday realistically decide that the quality of the life left to me is not worth it, I may not be able to play god with their lives. Is it selfish or kind? I would think I would like to pick the day instead of the degradation of slowly loosing what I hold so dear, my quality of life. I know for Sophie my selfish need to have her to still be here was a price in pain and rapid deterioration I was not willing to pay anymore. It was time. I wonder if I can be as sure for me. Rational choice that comes with knowledge and science also comes with a huge responsibility and burden. Back in the day it was just some mystical being. Now it is mine. I wonder if I am up to it? It just seems like every gift we have, being able to love, laugh, reason, and think, always comes as a double edged sword. It puts us in charge of our fate and some of those choices are the most painful choices of all.

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