Sunday, September 03, 2006

Repetitions of History ad nauseum.....
Cliches about history like, "Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them," or "What we learn from history, is that we don't learn from history," may seem trite, but what is really frightening is that they are so true and that they are ignored so routinely with such horrific consequences!
Recently a friend gave me a publication called, "The Monthly Review," from April of 1989, because a deceased relative of his, Leo Cawley, had written a book review of Neil Sheehan's book, "Bright Shining Lie," and he wanted me to read it. Leo had been in the Vietnam war and was subsequently a journalist covering the Westmoreland/CBS trial when he issued this review of the book.
I remember reading "Bright Shining Lie," about the incredibly brave and legendary John Paul Vann, who after a distinguished service record came to Vietnam and concluded that the US government and the military brass were fighting this guerrilla war all wrong. Vann who immersed himself in the culture of Vietnam and got to know the people and came to realize how much they despised the government of S. Vietnam and how inept the army of S. Vietnam was, soon realized that the massive bombing tactics being used to win the war by the Pentagon were worse than useless, they were counter-productive. In Vann's view the best weapon in a guerrilla war was a knife and secondly was a rifle. Airpower was too indiscriminately destructive of civilians to be used at all. Vann was subsequently drummed out of the military for his impertinence about questioning the military brass and eventually returned to Vietnam as a top civilian advisor in 1965 and appeared to mute his criticisms of the war so he could stay and gloat as the body counts rose.
While Vann turned out to be something less than a heroic figure, the Sheehan book was more than just the story of one man fighting the wrongheadedness of the military high command. It was the story of how the US government acted with arrogance and self-delusion about subduing a small country and stifling a national uprising by peasants and poor people. It is also the story of how the US military presumed an easy victory because of it's greater manpower but especially because of it's far superior fire-power, particularly with air-strikes.
According to Leo Cawley, David Halberstram wrote a more comrehensive book about the folly of the US government and the military brass in Vietnam with his, "The Best and the Brightest," but Sheehan's book looked deeply into the class struggles that occurred within these institutions and within the country of Vietnam itself, and through Vann's eyes he saw therein the seeds of destruction of the American empire.
Today we have history repeating itself in Iraq. We have the same presumptuous follies being perpetrated by the US government and it's military chiefs. We have the same wanton destruction of civilians and the same colossal ignorance of the culture we invaded.
But this time the American empire is being taken to the breaking point and instead of just walking away as we did in Vietnam with no "falling dominoes" or other long-term consequences, the Iraq war will leave in it's wake an aroused and vastly increased jihadist movement, which will counter any attempt for American dominance in the Middle East for the foreseeable future and might even bring the taste of terror once again to the shores of America.
Maybe someday we'll learn the lessons of history. Maybe someday we'll learn the limits to military power. Maybe someday we'll have a government of, for and by the people ..... but given our history, I doubt it.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

My two year diet study.
In June of 2005 I was invited, along with thousands of other Boston/Cambridge residents, to participate in a diet study that was being conducted by Harvard University.
I thought I was in pretty good shape, although I had a slight paunch and was carrying 195 pounds on my 5' 11'' frame. I was actively engaged in an exercise program at my local health club and I also played singles tennis at least three times per week. But I decided that I would like to lose some weight and volunteered for what they called "The Poundslost Study."
I met with the staff of the study in a building in Boston near Fenway Park. A young woman took my blood pressure and asked numerous questions about my health and what, if any, prescription drugs I was taking. I later discovered that people who were taking anti-depressant drugs or who had any serious health problems were not accepted into the program. Since I was free of those issues, I was passed onto a female dietician who evaluated me and made sure I knew what I was getting myself into.
Clearly the diet I would go on would be a draconian departure from what I was used to. Like most Americans, I was raised with the belief that I could eat anything I wanted, anytime I wanted and in any quantities I wanted. Which is why I was about 25 pounds overweight for my height or according to the terms of the study, my BMI was too high for my height (Body Mass Index).
The dietician also told me that the study would involve frequent tests of my blood, urine, bone density and blood pressure over the two year period that was involved. They also wanted me to attend a couple of one hour meetings every month with a dozen fellow study-participants and a dietician who would be assigned to the group.
Let's say I had the time and the interest to enter the study and was intrigued to see if I actually could lose weight. Shortly after agreeing to participate, I showed up at the designated time at Brigham & Women's hospital for the battery of tests that would be performed. While there I ran into a young woman who had been in the study for about six months. I asked her how she had found it and she was very upbeat and positive. She had lost 20 pounds and was feeling great. I asked her if she had given up drinking alcoholic beverages during the course of the study and she said, "No." She drank an occasional beer or glass of wine and found that it was easily incorporated into the diet. This was good news to me as I dearly loved my glass of wine or bottle of beer with dinner!
My wife was supportive of my decision to enter the study but many of my friends and family were somewhat skeptical and some wondered why I wanted to do it at all. The truth was I had never tried to diet before in my life, but I felt that with Harvard medical conducting this study and with all the structure that was built into the plan, I would have a chance to get down to my optimum BMI and enjoy better health and so I plunged ahead.
The diet I was assigned to was called, "the moderate fat, average protein diet." Once I saw the actual amount of meat, fish or cheese I could eat each day it sure didn't seem like the "average protein" of any American that I ever knew. Basically they wanted me to increase my fat consumption and lower my protein consumption, which was precisely the opposite of what I had previously been doing. They actually wanted me to limit my meat or fish intake each day to about 5 ounces!
A can of tuna is about four ounces, so if I ate that for lunch as I had in the past, then I would be left with 1 ounce of chicken or steak for dinner! Hardly an appetizing situation if you know what I mean! And let me clarify the fat intake too. There is what they call "good fat" (gf) and "bad fat" (bf). Gf are things like olive or other oils (canola, peanut, etc.), avocados, nuts and even mayonnaise and margarine, provided they are free of trans-fats.
I was also to be limited to a calorie range of 1800 to 1900 calories per day. In addition, I was provided with access to the Poundslost webpage so I could enter my actual food consumptions on a daily basis. This website not only showed you at the end of each day how many calories you had consumed, but it also showed whether you were meeting your goals of the key macro-nutrients, such as protein, fat and carbohydrates. In addition I was asked to record how much time I spent on vigorous exercise each day and to weigh myself daily and report that figure as well.
At first I found this to not only require a significant amount of time, but it was tedious as well, but as I got into the program and started to see results, I could see how all of these things worked together to promote the discipline required to make a success of the diet and how they enabled me to see the results of what I ate on a daily basis.
The fact was that from the first week into the program my weight began to drop and it reinforced my commitment to the program and to myself.
In my next installment of this subject I will talk more about my diet, my exercise and the group meetings that followed.