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Universal grammar?

December 19, 2014

Vyvyan Evans pushes back against Chomsky’s famous thesis of a universal grammar. Which always seemed a bit too neat to me. And biology never is that neat. As Evans points out, adaptations evolve piecemeal. And parts of the cognitive machinery for language are all too apparent in other animals.

A good time for the “mathematically precocious”

December 18, 2014

This study of two cohorts of “mathematically precocious” teens from the 1970s shows how important that was in the last fifty years. And likely, in the next fifty.

Puerto Rican drama

December 17, 2014

Puerto Rico, reeling in debt, is looking to attract the rich, doubly so if they ailing and in need of medical treatment. They had better beware. The Koch brothers, infamous for their support of anti-science propaganda mills, have targeted the commonwealth.

Bah! Humbug!

December 14, 2014

Well, that didn’t take long. The Republican Senate hasn’t yet been seated, and already we see the dismal effect. The Canadian Navy is forbidding alcohol to its sailors. Britain is removing spanking from its internet porn. This nonsense must be reversed.

Cusp of revolution

December 12, 2014

An article in the Harvard Business Review looks at the impact of the second economy:

To be sure, technological progress has always displaced workers. But it also has created new opportunities for human employment, at an even a faster rate. This time, things may be very different – especially as the Internet of Things takes the human factor out of so many transactions and decisions. The “Second Economy” (the term used by economist Brian Arthur to describe the portion of the economy where computers transact business only with other computers) is upon us.

Torture vs. liberty

December 11, 2014

One of the sillier right-wing tropes has been the constant cry of “tyranny” over Obamacare. Now, yes, being required to purchase health insurance is some intrusion on liberty. But there is no indication that universal healthcare and its impositions cause nations to slide into authoritarianism. Nations such as Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, and the UK have had that for decades, while remaining free and open societies. In contrast, using torture to acquire or create intelligence long has been the hallmark of authoritarian regimes. An American Conservative article highlights the cognitive dissonance in those who pretend an interest in limited government and liberty, while defending a policy of torture:

[T]he case for limited government is weakened when those making it ignore or defend torture, testicle-crushing, and waterboarding, complaining only about big government when someone proposes spending taxpayer dollars to help people. .. It is difficult to take someone seriously who thinks the imprisonment of human beings in cages and the behavior of government agents with guns have less impact on personal freedom than the capital-gains tax rate.

US torture policy was justified by the ticking bomb scenario. And immediately was turned to its traditional use where it is accepted, to look for or generate desired intelligence, in this case, for the mythical collaboration between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.

Andrew Sullivan discusses how the adoption of torture by the US government has shifted popular opinion of its legitimacy. John McCain remains the lone Republican upholding American tradition on what never should be at issue here. He deserves three cheers for his unwavering opposition to torture.

“Get off my lawn!”

December 8, 2014

off-my-lawnA sociology professor recounts the ways that today’s youth are better behaved than my generation. Which fits my own observations. Why that might be, isn’t clear. My own suspicion is that it has a lot to do with the fact that social expectations today, for both children and parents, are more broadly propagated.

Though maybe some social programs help. The question, of course, is which ones help, and which are just a waste of money? Without measurement, there is no telling. Ron Haskins, a fellow at the Brookings Institute, explains how they are more being measured, with examples of which ones succeed and which ones fail.


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