Some obvious and potentially not obvious questions about Volkswagen

The obvious:

1) If VW “did this,” how many other companies are responsible for similar or more egregiously harmful deceits?

2) I look forward to reading more about how the discrepancy was discovered. Was there a whistleblower or whistleblowers?

3) How many people must have been aware of such a deception? The number must be substantively higher than two (programmer and supervisor).

4) How can one calculate the benefit to VW’s bottom line of these lies? What is the market value of being able to claim low emissions while still maintaining 43 mpg in a diesel automobile?

Maybe less obvious:

5) Why the sharp decline in share value in the stock market? Would investors be likely to reward a company that is willing to deceive the public for the bottom line (see 4 above)?

6) Does the tumbling stock price reveal, then, a striking irrationality in the market valuation?

7) Could VW engage in discounted selling that would earn back some of the share decline on volume alone?

8) If buyers were to flock to VW would that reveal a fundamental rationality in the purchasers’ decisions in seeking deals?

Thoughts About Ira Anes: The Union Buster Who Wasn’t. Part I

Dad was born in the Bronx in June, 1931. Here’s what he and my mom looked like at the jumping off point for their later lives – they’d worked hard, achieved success working for other people and clearly wanted more. The passport photographs were taken for their first overseas trip. My Dad was considering starting his own corrugated box business and he’d do so eighteen months later.


Dad & Mom (Louise) in early 1972. He was 40 and she was 38.

They were about to risk everything to be on their own.

A long version of the post title might have been something like My Dad Was a Former Union Buster Whose Own Employees Dissolved Their Union. The specific details of that event (and others) I’ll leave to Part II. For now though, here’s a bit of a natural history of some of my Dad’s personal attributes.

Dad was Senior Class Vice-President at Taft High School in the Bronx and voted most popular student.

2015-05-18 09.52.16

One yearbook commenter said he should “become an honest politician.” In a recent late night conversation (we were up till 11 pm!) he told Heather and me that he would never have been a politician though, and didn’t seriously consider it. The words swell and swellest were used liberally in describing him (I’m not kidding, snapping these only a few pages from each other in a yearbook with 500+ photographs with 15 per page and nothing like an exhaustive search).

20150518_094117 20150518_094107-1 20150518_094041-1 20150518_094219<a
One “new” story he recounted recently; Dad (and other friends) were thrown out of a Greenwich Village club in 1949 because he attempted to find out “who was who” among the performers in a gender-ambiguous show. Apparently Jerry Pearlberg was there and inexplicably chose to immortalize the encounter in Dad’s yearbook.

The 2nd photo from left is Jerry.

The 2nd photo from left is Jerry.

And so vanishes any gender cred I might’ve claimed by inheritance.

Dad went to City College of New York, like so many of his peers. He was a Bachelor of Business Administration student with a slow-starting career. In his 5th college term he took his first departmental class (Principles of Business Administration, Spring ’51) and earned a B. In Summer term ’51 he took his second, Personnel Management, earning a C. (se left side of transcript below).

Dad's early and middle terms  at CCNY

And of all the things Dad’s done, personnel management would be the first way he’d describe himself; not business owner, industrial engineer or union buster although those were roles in which he found himself. He reached a clear groove in personnel management, with quite good grades in related courses later in his career. The more applied the coursework the better he performed. Dad didn’t just like working with people, he liked people.

  • A –  Labor Management Relations
  • B –  Labor Problems
  • B –  Business and Industrial Psychology
  • B –  Time and Motion Study
  • A –  Personnel Training
  • A –  Management and Field Work I
  • B –  Job Analyses
  • A –  US Trade Unions
  • B –  Labor Relations
  • B –  Public Relations
  • B –  Job Evaluation
  • A –  Management Field Work II
  • A –  Personnel Management Problems

The end of Dad's college career

CCNY taught him well.

A note on Kim’s review of Watters & Goldrick-Rab’s review of Carey’s The End Of College

I have not yet read Kevin Carey’s The End Of College (henceforth TEOC).

But I’ve read some of it, and an awful lot about it though, all in a short time. I’ve read a case study in the New York Times which is taken directly from the book, a profile of status-seeking George Washington University

I’ve read a précis of sorts, laying out the book’s major themes, which is also found in the pages of the New York Times

Of all the great written work about the book so far, I encourage everyone to read chronologically;

1) John Warner’s review of the book’s take on economic inequality and how that may or may not be solved by TEOC is great and encapsulates my initial serious concerns far better than I could myself. Read it here:

2) Then came a devastating critique by Watters and Goldric-Rab, called Techno Fantasies, which also touches on the false promise of TEOC solving the economic inequalities of college but which is mainly focused on the highly-(cor)related issues of race and privilege and which takes an evidence-focused look at the effectiveness of MOOCs. If one is in the trenches every day reading higher ed news and literature as many college instructors are, these social justice-oriented and pedagogical critiques are familiar and must be more widely known.

3) Joshua Kim’s review came out the same day as the above; it is here:“-end-college”. I don’t like the salutation but otherwise find Kim’s review relatively balanced. Certainly not as breathless as Carey’s book appears to be.

4) The problem that’s burning up the internet right now is Kim’s choices in responding to the Watters and Goldric-Rab critique – which he titled Criticism vs. Attack, found Most of this response is all about tone policing. I believe that Kim’s position comes from institutional sexism plain and simple. Two must-read pieces on this are by David Perry here: and here:

In fact, from the title to the opening salvo paragraphs, Kim’s address to Watters and Goldrick-Rab is deeply tone policing. He makes serious misstep which others are not really addressing. He says that they don’t seriously engage with Carey’s concerns about the present state of “college.” Let me quote Kim here:

In the case of the The End of College this closing off of the conversation is particularly troublesome, as Carey is engaging in an important critique of our existing higher education system. What I found strange in the Watters and Goldrick-Rab review was no recognition of Carey’s focus on the structural flaws and inconsistencies that characterize much of U.S. higher education. 
If you read The End of College you learn that Carey is very worried about the costs of college, and is concerned about the general quality of student learning on most campuses. Carey spends much of the book trying to understand the roots of the hybrid university system, and how we arrived at a situation where huge numbers of students are excluded from receiving a postsecondary education.  Carey writes that, 
.. As college becomes more expensive, the have-nots are increasingly students from low-income backgrounds. Colleges are taking existing inequality and making it worse”.  (page 85)
I’d be surprised if Watters and Goldrick-Rab don’t share this concern.
So I went back to the Watters and Goldrick-Rab piece to see if they addressed Carey’s accounting of the raft of higher ed problems as espoused in TEOC. Of course they engaged with the problem! They state quite clearly:
Carey’s book comes at a time of rising college costs, swelling student debt and cuts to university courses, faculty and majors. From students to parents to taxpayers, everyone is alarmed about higher education’s most pressing challenges. As an education technology writer and scholar of higher education policy, we are, too.
Later in the piece:
One of Carey’s strongest objections is to the way in which higher education confers enormous benefits on the privileged and powerful (an issue that we agree is a major problem and have each written about time and again).
And still later, describing the role of education experts:
And the story that they tell is quite comforting for many who look at the rising cost of college and the fragile economy and hope that their children will be able to follow the right path toward a more secure future. 
How could Kim have failed to see the plain agreement that Watters and Goldbrick-Rab have with some if not all of the negative preconditions for Carey’s futuristic arguments for disruption? Pretty great example of confirmation bias, to this cognitive psychologist’s eyes.
As for the sexism, I leave that to others. I think David Perry nails that pretty well.

Top 10 Hammond Funk & Soul list in progress


Ray Sharp and the Soul Set – Earthquake


Mickey and the Soul Generation How Good Is Good?


Art Butler – Soul Brother


The Soul Lifters – Hot Funky and Sweaty


Dave Baby Cortez Getting to the Point




Dave Baby Cortez I Turned You On.


The Hunter and His Games – How You Get Higher


Mickey and the Soul Generation Iron Leg

Are “big ideas” taught in grad school now? An appreciation of John Hughlings Jackson.

John Hughlings Jackson was one of the founding fathers of neurology, and he got there they way you had to get there in the 1800s and now; by careful clinical observation and by the deployment of keen inductive powers.

This post is developed in three parts. First, I’ll discuss the observations that led to Hughlings Jackson’s firm belief in the primacy of the brain as a sensoimotor machine; that is his characterization of epilepsy. Next, I’ll cover his writings on the evolution of the brain, which led to key neurological insights such as “positive” and “negative” signs and more generally to an organizational scheme that allows predictions of the consequences of brain damage that we may see at bedside. Finally, I’ll briefly describe a whole host of work, some from much earlier writing in this blog and supplemented by a variety of scientific findings and very recent popular science writing, all of which show that Hughlings Jackson was a total intellectual badass. At the end of this piece, I’ll lament the science writers who can’t apply his work and who can’t even ask the people they interview about it knowledgeably.

I. Epilepsy

Can there be a better illustration of Kantian inference to best explanation (the so-called Transcendental Method) – or a more romantic one – than the following?

Jackson’s beloved wife was epileptic. She died too young, in part because of complications of the disease. One of Hughlings Jackson’s major discoveries was of Jacksonian seizures, the tendency for some types of motor activity such as twitches to “march” from the distal portion of a limb (the arm) toward the face, with no loss or alteration of consciousness. Hughlings Jackson was able to infer the topographic representation of the motor cortex by his observations!  Somatotopy is fundamental and found in every introductory textbook, usually accompanied by a graphic such as this, taken from McGill University:


The way I was taught this idea in my graduate Neuropsychology courses was lovely; he was consistently distraught over his wife’s symptoms and driven to think about her problems, watching her seizures with a total inability to help her. And so his complex sets of ideas grew from watching the harm suffered by his wife.

II. Representation and rerepresentation; the evolution of the brain.

One other major contribution that Hughlings Jackson made was to think of the brain as an evolved organ over time; inner “core” areas of the brain were responsible for functions that would – in phylogenetically-later developing areas – be duplicated. There was an ordinal re-representation of lower areas by higher areas. York and Steinberg have written extensively about Hughlings Jackson, and I quote them here from a 2011 Brain article:

Hughlings Jackson assumed that the cortex was the highest evolutionary level of the nervous system. As such, it controlled and inhibited the function of lower levels so that cortical disease led to two sets of symptoms, ‘negative’ from loss of the controlling cortex and ‘positive’ from the emergence of the lower centre (Spencer, 1855; Russsell Reynolds, 1861; Pearce, 2004). This implied an anatomical and physiological hierarchy of higher and lower centres, with the higher ones suppressing the function of the lower ones. He expresses the physiological relationship between higher and lower functions in Spencer’s evolutionary principles:The higher the centre the more numerous, different, and more complex, and more special movements it represents, and the wider region it represents-evolution. The highest centres represent innumerable, most complex and most special movements of the organism, and … each unit of them represents the organism differently. In consequence, the higher the centre the more numerous, complex and special movements of a wider region are lost from a negative lesion of equal volume-dissolution. (Hughlings Jackson, 1882)

Two common terms used to denote what Hughlings Jackson is talking about here are disinhibition and “unmasking.” Because of the inherent, evolutionarily-derived redundancy of the brain and higher control over lower areas, when higher areas are damaged residual function of lower areas can be revealed.

Unmasking is a useful lens by which to view the operations of the brain. Take blindsight, for example. In blindsight, damage to visual cortex results in blindness in parts of the visual world; these holes are called scotomas. The explanation of residual visual capability in blindsight is that some basic visual information can be processed by an evolutionarily older pathway – the superior colliculus to MT pathway. Ramachandran talks about this and we see the behavior of famous patient GY here:

III. Recent work relevant to unmasking; my previous blogging, the science of learning and memory, and recent popular science missed opportunities.

I’ve already written about this stuff! Here

and also here (although, I apparently didn’t fully finish my thoughts)

In a large scale review of memory formation during sleep, Walker (2005) discusses procedural memory formation by the blockage of GABA inhibitory activity. In several sensorimotor systems, it appears, blocking inhibitory suppression allows latent connections to come to the fore. See page 54 here:

But frankly, I was upset after reading this article in Popsci by Adam Piore.

The article is all about how brain damage has “unleashed” the power of visual and musical artists is such a way that comparisons should be made to savantism. I don’t have a problem with this characterization per se, but I have a problem with not properly grounding these ideas historically, and not realizing scientifically the large-scale context within which we should interpret behavioral effects after brain damage. And I take severe objection with the radical incompleteness in saying the following: “Savants can access raw sensory information, normally off-limits to the conscious mind, because the brain’s perceptual region isn’t functioning.” What?

Unmasking doesn’t require brain damage to be visualized, but perhaps just an extraordinary, intense single experience which can exercise dormant pathways. Again, in a recent gee-whiz kind of science article with little background, we understand that there is a release of stereo depth processing in stereoblind people after exposure. This article by the BBC of course mentions plasticity and even briefly mentions that there may be long-dormant withered pathways that can be reawakened, so in that respect it is much better than the article above.

Why Poland?

I get this question a lot. After all, I’m not a historian, I’m not Catholic. I’m just a regular college professor, cognitive psychologist, who ended up living in Poland for almost a year.

There are so many answers to this question, and they emerge more or less strongly each day. But one theme is consistent; when I think of Why Poland? I think of this picture, of the White March in Krakow in 1981, after the attempted assassination of the Pope, and the events which led up to this point. Image

The Polish Pope first came to Poland in 1979, and the power of his visit, his words, on stimulating the Polish people to action cannot be underestimated. The extent of the crowds who came to see him, despite publicity blackouts, is incredible. Here is a great accounting of the visit:

To quote from his final 1979 speech:

“The human being is free…There is therefore no need to fear. . . . So . . . I beg you: Never lose your trust, do not be defeated, do not be discouraged.”

And so began the ten-year long journey that ended with the Poles being the first country in Eastern Europe to reject communism, with great sacrifice. The Poles have always sacrificed. They love freedom and liberty as few people ever will, ever could.

And so this to me is the answer to Why Poland?