Thursday, October 27, 2011

You mean its going to stay that way?

I was thinking about cognitive plasticity - not strictly the physiological neuroplasticity referred to in the link, although its probably grounded there - and the ease or difficulty with which people learn new habits or overcome neurological configuration issues like dyslexia.  Dyslexics learn to read lexically by "rewiring" some appropriate layers of cognitive functioning so they re-perceive the words in their legible order.  You could expect to see, more or less, the same thing happening if the roles were reversed: people who are not now dyslexics would need to read the newly lexical order, and maybe we'd read slower or faster than the basic competence criteria, but we'd learn to read if we were trained or trained ourselves and the people who are now dyslexics wouldn't think there was anything wrong with the world, just with us.

We see all kinds of similar sorts of cognitive plasticity.  Playing guitar is not a natural motion - there's nothing like a sociobiological just-so story you could tell, for example, that shows why evolution would select for fine motor skills in the left hand fingers and repetitive patterns in the right, and then co-create the appropriate neurological control systems.  In fact up until maybe Led Zeppellin started going on tour there really wasn't much of an evolutionary mechanism that might explain why guitar playing was something the universe would select for.  And yet people learn to do this completely unnatural behavior, which requires "rewiring" a whole bunch of physiological systems, all the time.  And some get quite good at it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

RIP John McCarthy

John McCarthy died on Monday.

One of those guys, like Grice, who influenced more by teaching than by writing.  He and Knuth helped define the reputation of Stanford.

Warren vs. Ryan

Ryan debates Warren

Paul Ryan makes the claim that there's soon too many takers and not enough makers, to support the notion that we're on the road to where we make it impossible to rise above the lot you were born to.  Subject, of course, to taking the right side in the outcomes vs. opportunities debate, which is, if you're a conservative, that everyone should have the same opportunity, not the same outcome.  Which is why we've been dismantling the welfare state for the last thirty years, even though at the time we started dismantling it most of it was ten years old; because if you screw up your eyes really bad, you can see the welfare state as impacting outcomes by offering opportunities, and so it must be ended because we're opposed to engineering outcomes.  Causation for thee, after all, and not for me. 

Except social security is older: must keep that in mind.  Delenda Est Carthago, as they say at the Heritage Institute, and though that was the rock that definitively wrecked the Bush administration they must continue to attack it, because they still think FDR was a commie.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A wrench in the works, pt 1

State Rules on Foreclosure 

So the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that if you bought a foreclosed house from a bank, and the house hadn't been properly foreclosed on, you don't own it.

Pretty simple, right.  I mean, this is common law at its most common.  Basic, solid, hard-headed common sense.

Except that any house where the title was processed via MERS, the mortgage clearing-house the banks created to get around paying county assessor fees (thus contributing significantly to the financial ill-health of counties across the US), is suspect.  For reasons described in the Link, but primarily this: some number, n, larger than a breadbox but smaller than every house bought or sold in the US since 1998, may have been processed by MERS, which (a) has no legal standing to process mortgages, and (b) used hired proxies for a variety of banks to sign off on documents to which they claimed personal and verifiable knowledge.  (b) is just fraud: I can't tell you I've seen foreclosure documents when I haven't.  (This is the root cause of the "robosigning" scandal.)  (a) is a problem because the banks have so entwined MERS in their various internal processes, if MERS is ultimately not legitimized somehow, piles of spaghetti will come crashing down from on high on top of bank profits.

Its getting harder and harder to prop up bank practices.  This is potentially trillions, far more than the EU and the Fed can cobble together.

Friday, October 07, 2011

RIP Derrick Bell

I see in the New York Times this morning that Derrick Bell died.  (Some computer guy died the other day too, but lots of posts have been written about him.)  I'm ashamed to say that until I read the obituary, this was all I knew about Derrick Bell.

I must expand my cultural literacy.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

You just get wet

Charlie Pierce is one of those writers who, a hundred years from now, people will rank with Ambrose Bierce and...  maybe just Ambrose Bierce.  More prolific than Bierce but no less cranky, he's been writing insightful and honest opinions about sports and politics for so many years I don't remember a time when he wasn't writing.  And since I'm in my forties, that probably means a long time.  He's associated particularly with the Boston Globe and Esquire, and in both cases he represents a link to the tweedy, smart, New-England-in-Fall past of the 60s when Esquire was super cool and being from Boston meant you were intellectual and working class and understood the intellectual underpinnings of the west coast offense and also how to tie a bowtie.

I'm reminded, every time I read Pierce, of two things.  One is that I can write like him - maybe not as well, or as practiced, but because Pierce writes so easily on so many things, and makes such minor mistakes, and has such an insidiously clear style you think: what's holding me back from writing like that?  Not him specifically but comfortably.  He reports, why can't I.  Etc.