According to legend, Canute the Great, the 11th century king of England, Norway, and Denmark, ordered his throne brought to the seashore at low tide. Ruler of an extensive realm, he commanded the incoming tide not wet the hem of his gown. The tide paid no attention. The moistened Canute reputedly chastened his followers, how empty is the authority of kings in comparison with a higher power which alone controls nature.1
We need to be reminded of our limitations. In the face of great strides in medical research, legislators, scientists, and the public are often seduced into unbridled optimism by medical breakthroughs—the hope of cure. Such optimism is impelled by revolutionary therapies and dramatic leaps in understanding, the basis of Nobel Prizes. Similarly, the power of clean water, safe food production, and general sanitation stand as modern accomplishments. But our perception is also driven by publicly waged wars on cancer, drugs, and AIDS, for these wars are backed by presidential prestige and congressional allocations, high-profile stuff.