Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lily White at MSNBC

Recently Keith Olbermann of MSNBC thought he'd score a few points on his Countdown show by somewhat unctuously challenging the tea-partiers to explain why there are no minorities at their events. The Dallas Tea Party turned Mr. Olbermann's criticism rather cleverly back upon him in this ad:

The best part is the "Have you no shame, sir?" line which is one of Olbermann's favorite rhetorical cudgels. He uses it often against whomever it is he wishes to disgrace on a particular day.


No Wonder

Stories on the assault on Marjah in Afghanistan are reporting that it's going slower "than expected." Little wonder that that's the case when you read about another battle in Afghanistan at Ganjgal. If the situation in Marjah is like it was in Ganjgal it's a wonder that the operation is making any headway at all.

Four Marines lost their lives in Ganjgal largely because the artillery support the commanding officer requested when they were ambushed was denied because the Rules of Engagement forbade using artillery if civilians might be killed. As a result four Marines and nine Afghan soldiers died:

Four U.S. Marines were killed Tuesday, the most U.S. service members assigned as trainers to the Afghan National Army to be lost in a single incident since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. Eight Afghan troops and police and the Marine commander's Afghan interpreter also died in the ambush and the subsequent battle that raged from dawn until 2 p.m. around this remote hamlet in eastern Kunar province, close to the Pakistan border.

Dashing from boulder to boulder, diving into trenches and ducking behind stone walls as the insurgents maneuvered to outflank us, we waited more than an hour for U.S. helicopters to arrive, despite earlier assurances that air cover would be five minutes away.

U.S. commanders, citing new rules to avoid civilian casualties, rejected repeated calls to unleash artillery rounds at attackers dug into the slopes and tree lines - despite being told repeatedly that they weren't near the village.

"We are pinned down. We are running low on ammo. We have no air. We've lost today," Marine Maj. Kevin Williams, 37, said through his translator to his Afghan counterpart, responding to the latter's repeated demands for helicopters.

If you go to the link be sure to click on the video.

It is certainly proper that we do all we can to limit civilian casualties, but we should not be sending our young men into combat if we're going to be so punctilious about harming civilians that we sacrifice our sons rather than give them the support they need. If these are the Rules of Engagement our President is going to set then it is morally reprehensible of him to put Americans in the line of fire at all. He should withdraw them from Afghanistan immediately or explain why, as in the case of the battle of Ganjgal, these men were denied the cover they needed.

While he's at it he might also try to explain to the American people why anyone should join the military when the politicians are unwilling to do everything they reasonably can to insure their safety.


Brian Cox on the LHC

While reflecting on an earlier post (see Dawkins' Non-Answer) one of my students, a fellow named Quinn, suggested I watch a video of particle physicist Brian Cox explaining the purpose of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The lecture really is very good - simple and easy to understand (as long as you've had high school level physics). Cox gives us a good primer on what particle physics is all about and the significance of the Higgs Boson which is the quarry the LHC folks are seeking.

Quinn also makes a good point about the end of the video, but watch it first and then read his comment below. Cox's lecture is worth the fifteen minutes it takes to watch. Better yet, read Dawkins' Non-Answer then watch the video, and then read Quinn's thoughts.

Quinn writes:

Cox makes a startling claim: Using Newton's Standard Model, physicists can calculate "everything other than gravity that happens in the universe," even the shape of DNA, and although the equation does not work because particles required for the equation to be useful have not been discovered, he provides commentary on the "beauty" of physics. In essence, he describes the forces of physics as Dawkins' "blind watch maker." He discusses how any change in the weak force would prevent the stability of elements necessary to life.

I find it interesting that Dawkins', Cox, and other naturalists who describe the power of the "natural order" to produce things as complex as DNA and the human eye fail to understand the implications of such orderly processes. What Cox fails to note in his discussion on particle physics is why the forces of physics are the way they are. Why should the weak force not be any different than it is? It seems like the complexity of particles and orderliness of forces would point to a divine "watchmaker" just as much as the complexity of the eye itself.

On top of all this, I would suggest that the forces of nature, natural selection, etc. working as a "blind watchmaker" take much more faith to accept than a God. The odds of dust particles combining in such a way to form living matter, living matter evolving in such a way to form thinking beings with complex organs like eyes, and those thinking beings having the ability to look back on the process that created them seems a lot less likely than a God.

And so we come to Freud's idea of wish fulfillment that accurately (I think) reflects the fact that what individuals claim to take based on fact they really take based on preference. Dawkins, because he wishes for there to be no God, in fact turns himself into his own "blind watchmaker" as he ignores his own faith and theorizes a system so improbable and complex that Brian Cox describes it, rather ironically, as a "creation narrative in its own right."