Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ken Silverstein Adds Another Attempt at Myth-Making to the List

Ken Silverstein, here quoting James Pethokoukis of U.S. News & World Report ("a double major in Soviet politics and American history") adds another attempt at myth-making to the list:

The Great Oz Predicts

Originally published November 17, 2008 in Washington Babylon on Harpers.org

A bold prediction from James Pethokoukis of U.S. News & World Report (a double major in Soviet politics and American history and 2002 Jeopardy! champion, according to his bio), in a column titled “Why Obama Looks Like a One Termer”:

That’s right, the “O” in “Obama” may stand for “One Term.” For starters, there’s a strong chance that when voters head to the polls on Nov. 2, 2010, they likely will still think the economy is awful. Not much debate about that. (Good chance the Democrats’ two-election winning streak comes to an end.) And while voters may be somewhat patient for two years, patient for four years? Really unlikely. If history is any guide at all, voters may still be terribly cranky about the economy when they cast their ballots on Nov. 6, 2012 and thus likely choose the 45th president of the United States — be it Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal or some other Republican without “Bush” for a last name. Once again a “change” election for an impatient America. The same bad economy that doomed John McCain in 2008 will have sunk Obama, as well.

That’s right–this is empty twaddle from someone who is hoping to say “I told you so” in 2012 and who knows that no one will remember what he wrote now if Obama is re-elected.

And here's Stephen Jay Gould on the death of reductionism:

Humbled by the Genome's Mysteries

By Stephen Jay Gould

Excerpted from an article originally published February 19, 2001 in the New York Times

The implications of this finding cascade across several realms... The social meaning may finally liberate us from the simplistic and harmful idea, false for many other reasons as well, that each aspect of our being, either physical or behavioral, may be ascribed to the action of a particular gene "for" the trait in question.

But the deepest ramifications will be scientific or philosophical in the largest sense. From its late 17th century inception in modern form, science has strongly privileged the reductionist mode of thought that breaks overt complexity into constituent parts and then tries to explain the totality by the properties of these parts and simple interactions fully predictable from the parts. ("Analysis" literally means to dissolve into basic parts). The reductionist method works triumphantly for simple systems — predicting eclipses or the motion of planets (but not the histories of their complex surfaces), for example. But once again — and when will we ever learn? — we fell victim to hubris, as we imagined that, in discovering how to unlock some systems, we had found the key for the conquest of all natural phenomena. Will Parsifal ever learn that only humility (and a plurality of strategies for explanation) can locate the Holy Grail?

The collapse of the doctrine of one gene for one protein, and one direction of causal flow from basic codes to elaborate totality, marks the failure of reductionism for the complex system that we call biology — and for two major reasons.

First, the key to complexity is not more genes, but more combinations and interactions generated by fewer units of code — and many of these interactions (as emergent properties, to use the technical jargon) must be explained at the level of their appearance, for they cannot be predicted from the separate underlying parts alone. So organisms must be explained as organisms, and not as a summation of genes.

Second, the unique contingencies of history, not the laws of physics, set many properties of complex biological systems. Our 30,000 genes make up only 1 percent or so of our total genome. The rest — including bacterial immigrants and other pieces that can replicate and move — originate more as accidents of history than as predictable necessities of physical laws. Moreover, these noncoding regions, disrespectfully called "junk DNA," also build a pool of potential for future use that, more than any other factor, may establish any lineage's capacity for further evolutionary increase in complexity.

The deflation of hubris is blessedly positive, not cynically disabling. The failure of reductionism doesn't mark the failure of science, but only the replacement of an ultimately unworkable set of assumptions by more appropriate styles of explanation that study complexity at its own level and respect the influences of unique histories. Yes, the task will be much harder than reductionistic science imagined. But our 30,000 genes — in the glorious ramifications of their irreducible interactions — have made us sufficiently complex and at least potentially adequate for the task ahead.


Silverstein posted an earlier attempt at myth-jacking. Earlier on the 13th, he posed a very troubling question.

"Either way, the more important question is not 'who?' but 'how?' How do we fix an intelligence community when the 'talking dogs' are in charge?"

Voter-Fraud Meme, Minnesota Edition

Originally published November 13, 2008

As Norm Coleman’s lead shrinks in the Minnesota Senate race (now down to 206 votes over Al Franken) his campaign’s claims of voter fraud have become more and more boisterous. But is there any truth behind the noise?

One story in the Wall Street Journal described how “Minneapolis’s director of elections [forgot] to count 32 absentee ballots in her car. The Coleman campaign scrambled to get a county judge to halt the counting of these absentees, since it was impossible to prove their integrity 72 hours after the polls closed. The judge refused on grounds that she lacked jurisdiction.”

David Brauer at MinnPost.com looked into the story. It appears to be an urban myth.

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