Painting by the Number$

This painting sold for half a billion dollars the other day.

Now you might be saying to yourself,

HALF a WHAT ????

And you’d be right to do so.  Mostly because every other person on Earth who heard this news said the same thing.

Is the painting that good?  Is the artist that famous?

No, the painting isn’t that good.  The guy who did it would never value it that highly.

The guy who did it is very famous.  Leo da Vinci.  Nice guy.  Smart guy.  Way ahead of his time.  His stuff hangs in museums, public and private.

But is his painting worth half a bill?

Guess what?  It depends.

If you wanted to have something pretty on your wall, or in your own museum, and you had an extra billion sitting around, what could you do?

You could buy this painting.

And that’s the point.  Someone DID buy this painting.

Here’s where the behavior bit comes in.

Someone, SOMEONE, had an extra bill burning a hole in their babushka.

Someone else, someone who already owned this painting, needed a few extra mills to keep the fires lit.

One sells, the other buys.  Everyone is happy.

Or are they?

Something * might * be wrong with society if it allows one person to amass so much money that there is a burning billion hanging around, not being very productive in general.

There is also the chance that something is wrong when so much money can be transferred, anonymously, legally, between two very rich people.

The vast majority of us live here in the lowest rungs of the economy.  We work, we spend money carefully, mostly, and dream about what we’d do with a million dollars.

There is a very small proportion of people who hold vast amounts of wealth.  Their decisions can help sway society, but do they make the best decisions?

In this case, the decision was made to hang a painting for a whole lot of money.  For all we know this was actually part of a money laundering scheme.  There is no way to know for sure.

When something with a small value suddenly acquires such a high price tag, we should open our eyes.

After all, that’s the only way to appreciate great art.

 

Dating for Fun and Profit

Seriously, dating can be for both Fun and Profit.

How can I be serious about something I haven’t done for so long?

I choose to be serious.  I also choose to be funny.  It helps the medicine go down.

Hearing about dating disasters from my single parent neighbors, reading about direct accounts on social media, and seeing all the crazy dating services available tells me that the current dating world is way crazier than it was 30 years ago.

That’s too bad, because dating can be fun.

There was a time, you see, when dating had a few extra rules.  Rather than restricting us, the rules helped make things go easier.

This is going to sound fuddy-duddy, but one of the rules was that the man pays for the date.  All of it.  He also was in charge of thinking it through.

Feminists will flounder on this one, but hear me out Ladies.

The woman has far more to lose in the short run.  She’s got the biological clock.  She’s got the high standards society has set regarding appearance.  She’s got the bigger up front investment in clothing and accessories.  And she’s got an economic disadvantage in that her pay rates are usually lower than a man’s.

What does this rule get her?

She gets to see a lot more of HIS character.  How does he pay?  How does he tip?  How considerate was his plans?  What were his plans, were they things that you like, or places and food you’d rather never see again?  Were all his actions respectful, or did he treat you like a “regular guy” straight out of the gate?  Is he willing to travel great distances to see you?

Ladies, I’m sure you get the point.  In general, you are way smarter than he is.  I urge you to reinstate the rule.

Guys, there’s something in this for you, too.  You see, as a guy, I know of what I speak.

Let’s face it, you want to take her out because she’s, well, she’s got it.

Making you do all the work, making you spend all the money; that sounds cruel, doesn’t it?  You’re thinking to yourself, all this money, all this work, is it really worth it?  After all, almost all of you are just as broke as her.

I’m asking you to step back a moment and look at the older men around you.  There are those who found the right woman, and those who haven’t.  Which group do you want to be a part of 40 years from now?

Being the perfect gentleman gets you a great look into her character as well.  You’re in the planning stage, did she drop you some gentle hints?  (Think hard on this one.  Women are famous for dropping hints that guys can’t see.)  Was she ready at the time you set to meet?  When you open doors for her, does she say thank you?  Did she appreciate the places and food you made available, or did she register her disappointment?  Did she help the conversation along, or talk the entire time?

Gentlemen, I know this all sounds fairly complex, but here’s the deal.  Getting what you want as cheaply as possible just doesn’t pay off in the long run.  Look at your divorced friends and see how much it’s costing them today.

Start thinking about romance like an investment, a business proposition.  You want dividends to increase over time.  You want your business to grow, and maybe even have spin-offs.

So start thinking long-term.  Start thinking quality.  And start thinking about bringing back some of the old rules.

Let me know if you want to hear more.  I’m tired of hearing my neighbor whine.

 

How Much Does a Harem Cost

The wonders of technology FINALLY include an upswelling of women speaking out against sexual predators.  From movie moguls to MPs these disgusting men are being ferreted out, and it’s about time.

My personal thanks goes out to those women of #MeToo who are taking that very courageous step of standing up for yourself, for others, and for all of our daughters,

THANK YOU thank you thank you.

That said, even these disgusting events can teach us something.

First, as dispassionate observers of behavior, let’s appreciate how far most men have come.

We used to live in caves.  Like today, many wives were met at clubs.  Literal clubs.  Lack of hygiene and clothes required that most men use a club to knock their wives unconscious.  In all fairness, a few husbands may have been acquired this way.

Through the eons men have learned some manners, from those very same wives no doubt.  The Etruscan society may have been the first to practice sexual parity, but the Romans stamped that out.  None the less, concepts like the sanctity of marriage and monogamy became official, if not popular.

Not to say that there wasn’t some fraying around the edges.  We have lots of stories of people fighting the whole monogamy “fad.”  The funniest parts of the Canterbury Tales have to do with wives and husbands rethinking their relationships.

Today, the vast majority of men appear to respect the humanity of a woman.  On average, giving her room to move and grow; giving her respect to explore and create.

Second, part of us is primal.  All of us.  For men, that means they want women, all the time.

Sad to say, the largest industry on the internet is very likely pornography.  The vast majority of that is satisfying the appetite of “normal” men.  I try not to judge, but I wish it wasn’t.  Get a hobby!

This primal urge usually gets satisfied without anyone getting hurt, directly.  There are a few men who can’t handle the virtual world.  So they do nasty things and reveal themselves as monsters.

Those monsters without resources do things that we hear with horror: abductions, murders, mutilations.

Those monsters with resources are the ones we are starting to hear about today.  And here is where the harem comes in.

Third, being primal bears a cost.  For those without resources, this cost is being born by society.  We spend money and time and emotional turmoil in order to root out these monsters.

For those with resources, the cost is being delayed, or can be found in their payments to those women they have harmed.  The payment could be made immediately, in cash or in the form of a job or promotion.  The payment could come later, also cash, or abortion, or child care, or as a court case.  In the case of the movie mogul, his costs also include the loss of his career, and a number of legal cases being pressed against him.

Those with resources include the late Hugh Hefner, the man who helped define the modern version of popular pornography in his magazine and on his estate.  It appears that he actually maintained his own harem on his estate, sharing those assets with male guests.  Was that harem a cost center?  Of course!  Was it on his financial statements?  Very likely.

Finally, consider the harems of history.  One Pharaoh sired a century of sons.  We should assume there were an equal number of daughters.  Scheherazade saved many of her sisters by entertaining the Shah with a thousand stories.  As a member of the harem, she knew that he was killing one of them each day, yet still had a ready supply.  Lastly, the Emperor of China may have set the record.  The Forbidden City concubines were organized into levels and platoons.  There’s a good chance they had their own HR department with formal training programs.  Seriously.

Conclusion.  Whether they are a Saudi Prince, North Korean Dictator, or modern real estate president, the point is that men with resources will expend resources to have many women.  How much they are willing to spend is a real question that we should be asking ourselves.

How much women as a class, especially poor women, and society in general, are willing to put up with this, is a whole separate topic.

Thanks for reading.

 

Another Tale from the Midwest

What should be yesterday’s post wasn’t much of a tale.  It was more of a setup, talking about the midwestern work ethic.

For some reason, many people are afraid of work.  Sitting around while others work is a growing specialization.  I know because I’ve hired a bunch of people like that.

My brother in law, Bil, isn’t like that at all.  He likes to work.  He’s not afraid of it.  He’s always looking for a challenge.

One day, in a past life, he was working on a big project involving making a complicated piece of equipment.  Even though it was a big project for his big company, it was a small part of a huge government contract.

As a reward for his hard work, Bil’s company let him go along to the integration meeting, where several other companies would come together and put all the different pieces together.

As it turned out, this meeting was on one of the coasts, and involved lots and lots of people in suits, and engineers with fancy equipment.  Much to everyone’s horror, when all the pieces were lined up to be bolted together, the holes didn’t match up!

Eeek!  Eegads!  Such confusion and horror?  What are we to do?

First, Bil checked his components against his prints, confirming that his holes were exactly where they were supposed to be.  Then he sat back and watched the performance.

Yes, performance.  Because for a full four hours, all the other participants sat around blaming each other for the mistake.  They focused on who to blame.  They read the contracts to see how much money this was going to cost.  They worried that it would somehow impact their bonuses.

Bil was amused.  No one seemed interested in figuring out how to solve the problem.

Around lunch time, one of the younger engineers walked over to Bil and asked him if he’d thought of the problem.  Bil said yes.  He asked him if he thought he could fix it.  Bil said yes.  He asked how long it would take.  Bil said about 1/2 an hour.

All the other biggies took a lunch break.  A real long one of course, on the government’s dime.  When they got back all the holes lined up just fine.

Bil didn’t tell me if he got any extra thanks for his work.  But he did mention that one of the coasters came up to him later and made this interesting comment:

You Midwesterners work too hard.

That was it.  Bil didn’t quite get it, and neither do I.  But for that guys information, both Bil and I intend to keep working as hard as we can for as long as we can.

After all, who’s going to pay the taxes for that guy’s medicare?

 

Vote Against the Evil Empire

Voting isn’t just when your government says it is.  Voting isn’t stuffing the ballot box and hoping the least worst politician gets into office.

No.  Voting is your eyeballs.  Voting is your feet.  Voting is the apps on your device.  And voting is your dollars.  Especially your dollars.

I have a cousin who’s an uppity up doctor, taking care of kids.  The other day she came to visit and used one of the new ride sharing companies to come out.

Here’s the problem.  For one, I know that the ride-sharing companies are effectively building their empires on the backs of people who 1) need ready cash, and 2) don’t take the depreciation of their vehicles into account.  Basically it’s a hidden subsidy operation, and history has shown that this kind of business model never lasts very long.

The biggest problem is number 3; this particular company has a history of exploiting women.  In fact they have some big problems with women they have trampled in the few years they’ve been in business.  Certainly my cousin knows this.

But she voted for them anyway.  She’s busy, doesn’t have time to worry about the hidden details behind all those layers of management.  And I certainly was not going to be the person to tell her.  After all, I’d much rather enjoy our short time together talking about her and her family.

Think about what you’re buying.  Think about who you’re buying it from.  And think through the implications.  It’s one thing to say we’re green and love the environment.  But to turn around and vote for those very same organizations that want to tear it apart seems a bit confused.

 

Flipping Odometers

As a child, I enjoyed watching the car’s odometer count the miles.   I awaited the moment when all the nines would line up and then, holding my breath, watched them roll into all zeroes.  Ah, the simple joys of youth.

I also imagined the future.  There would be a colony on the moon, and ray guns, and smart robots.  Again, simple joys.

I did not imagine I would grow up in a world where people were afraid of the odometer.  In 1999, the odometer rolled over to 2000.  This was termed the Y2K problem.  People were afraid there would be anarchy, electricity would fail, and airplanes would fall from the sky.

Of course, none of these things happened.  Instead, our government spent billions working to solve the Y2K problem.  It was an imaginary problem, yet cost money.

You are now growing up in this world.  Instead of looking forward to visiting your friend on the moon, or taking a vacation on a space station, you are worried about imaginary problems.

Where did we go wrong?

We stopped working towards a better world and began paying more attention to entertainment in all its form.  Reality is no longer more interesting than entertainment.

What are some imaginary problems?

Our imaginary problems are those our politicians like to hold up in order to inflame our emotions and influence our votes: abortion, terrorism, military threats are a few.

Want more?  Just ask and I’ll go into details.  Thanks for reading.

 

 

Putin and Murdoch

Hello Friend,

A few days ago I threw out the idea that maybe there was a conspiracy about the Zika virus.  It was all in fun, because the chances of nefarious governments trying to decrease world population seems far-fetched.

Like you, I pay too much attention to the news.  The happenings around Trump’s white house are getting more ridiculous.  I even read where a House committee wants to reopen investigations into Hillary Clinton instead of digging into Trump’s Russian connections.  Of course, this sort of slant is loved by everyone’s favorite hateful news network – Fox.

And that got me thinking.

The Russians have always dealt with the cold war difgerently than Americans.  We spent money on technology and armies.  They spent money on spy networks and prostitutes.  Putin was one of their best.

We now have ample evidence that Russian hacking rings have been responsible for massive influences around the globe.  Facebook has admitted that there were 70,000 fake profiles set up in France in order to both destabilize the Macron campaign and bolster his radical opponent, La Pen (she’s a Trump clone).

Here’s the conspiracy.  The single greatest force that has been effectively destabilizing our democratic process since 1996 is Fox “News.” (Sorry, I can’t say this with a straight face, or without putting it into quotes.  Forgive me, Gentle Reader.)  That date is important, because that’s when Clinton (Bill) won his second term, and the Republicans were already preparing to put another Bush in power.

What if Rupert Murdoch got help from Putin?  What if they helped him in terms of supporting the network, making sure he got ad money, maybe even helping fake how well it was doing in the ratings?  All of these things are done on computers now, and we know how good the Russian hacking rings are.

Just think of the possibilities.  Putin hardly has to raise a finger.  Murdoch is doing the dirty work for him!  Creating whole new categories of “fact” and “alternative reality.”  Putting pretty women in front of lots of old white men, and then groping them behind the scenes.  That is pure Russian mentality.

Need some evidence?, besides this pretty darn good crazy thread of a theory?  Here it is.

If Fox “News” is so dang conservative and old-fashioned, where is the pure outrage against all the Russian influence we’ve uncovered since before the election?  Hacking into voting systems, spreading viruses, and leaking sensitive emails of Hillary and others.  What about the outrage we should be hearing even now?  Don Junior’s meeting with Russian agents?  Don Senior’s business dealing with Russians?  Perhaps that’s the real reason why he refuses to reveal his tax returns.

You can take it from here.  As far as I am now concerned, the conspiracy theory has hit its peak.  Fox “News” is a front for Putin and Russian influence in our society.  I know we’ll prevail, because we are far tougher than they are.  But now knowing there’s a Russian handler sitting behind every pretty Fox face gives the channel a whole new look.

Dasvedanya Tvarisch.

Yes, that’s Russian for goodbye comrade.  If you like Fox “News,” you should start learning the language.

 

 

 

Money Talks, again

Hello Friend,

The last time I talked about money talking was with respect to the velocity of money.  Velocity is another way of saying we hold onto our money for some amount of time before we spend it.  Someone who is very poor spends money within hours, days, of getting it.  Someone who is rich and wealthy may hold onto it for years, decades, before putting it somewhere else.  Today the government tracks this “stickiness” indirectly.

This time the talking money is speaking directly to us.  Yes, in this high-tech information age of electronic funds and stateless money (go check out bitcoin) the money that you will have in your electronic wallet is going to be able to tell all about itself.

From the moment that it’s “born” into the world of commerce, that piece of money will know who owned it and what it was traded for.  Did the owner buy lunch?  Tasty.  Did the restaurant buy food.  Good choice.  Did the cheese vendor pay her truck driver?  Good move.  Did that driver buy drugs illegally?  Got you!

Talking money will do more than make our real wallets lighter.  It’s going to enable an enlightened government to find and shut down operations that injure society.  Not only will it be able to track the drug dealer on the corner, but find his supplier, HIS supplier, and eventually all the people who are part of the operation.

Tax dollars being wasted?  Your money will be able to find that as well.  If there’s a general getting a lucrative consulting fee for doing almost nothing, your money will know it.  Politician spending campaign contributions on a luxury hotel room for two, while his wife is spending money at home for groceries?  The money will know.

Notice that I highlighted “enlightened” above.  A government that is so inefficient, so corrupt, or so focused on its own success rather than that of society in general, that kind of government can’t be considered enlightened.  And that government will do everything possible to keep the money from talking.  And if the money talks, the government can make sure no one asks it any embarrassing questions.

Here’s the good news.  If technology continues, and if our society doesn’t succumb to some other great disaster (see tomorrow’s post), talking money will be inevitable.  And if there is only one enlightened government in this world, then it’s very likely they will show the way for the rest of us.

The sad news is that we could be doing this today, if we really wanted.  I want.  Do you?

Thanks for reading.

 

Brilliant Suffering

I finished Larry Brilliant’s autobiography today, and enjoyed it immensely.  If you read his book, you know what I mean and can skip the remainder of this paragraph.  If you haven’t read this, I recommend it highly.  His life truly begins as he joins the love of his life in pursuit of the meaning of life.  Germinating at the feet of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, nourished by the Summer of Love and hardened by the abuses of that era, Larry becomes a radical doctor helping those no matter who they are.  His soul-mate decides their shared paths go through India, and to India they go in pursuit of enlightenment.  Guru Maharaji determines that Larry’s dharma lies in helping others, and that his karma yoga is through work.  The ultimate prize is eliminating killer smallpox, a disease that killed over half a billion people in the 20th century alone.  That’s more than all the wars and famines and tragedies all put together.  The adventures, the successes, and the failures are enjoyable told and hold many lessons.

Larry asks the ultimate question that every compassionate soul has asked through the ages: Why does suffering exist?  He typically pondered this while holding the body of a dead child.  I am going to answer this question in terms that rely on what we know of biology and ecosystems and philosophy.  I’m going to keep it as short as possible, so that much detail may be lacking.  And I’m going to answer it in such a way so that it addresses a related question: What is the best way to relieve suffering in the world in the long term?  Most recently, Jeff Bezos has asked this question, inviting his twitter followers to submit their suggestions as to how he focuses his charity.

However, neither Larry Brilliant or Jeff Bezos, or even most people are going to like the answer here.  For the truth is raw and uncompromising, much as Mother Nature shows Herself to be when in her full glory.  We tend to forget that to Mother Nature, all forms of life and death and joy and suffering, are all aspects of a single existence.

Moreover, when you look closely at the holiest of all holy texts in every religion, you see that they agree on that fundamental truth.  Life and death, joy and suffering, are all part of the same thing.  You can’t have one without the other.  A Tibetan monk explains to Larry, when he asks the question yet again, that suffering will always be part of the human condition as long as ignorance and obsession exist.  In the same scene, Larry is blessed for the simple fact that he is fighting a great scourge of humanity, and to alleviate any suffering is an act to strive for.

This is not an argument against charity, but an answer to the question “How can I be most charitable?”  At the same time, I hope to explain why suffering exists in any form, and why our best charitable efforts may in fact not appear to be charity.

Suffering may come from many sources, from outside ourselves, but also within.  We generally agree that some suffering is good for the soul, for it makes us tougher, makes us more willing to take risks.  But when is suffering too much?  Who is to decide?

Nature decides, using the most fundamental rules possible: life and death.  When she unleashed smallpox upon humanity, a third of its victims would die a gruesome and painful death.  Another third would be permanently handicapped.  The remaining third?  Survivors.

Now that we have eliminated smallpox, we will not know what made those survivors different from the rest.  What kind of world would this be if smallpox still existed?  Would it be a better world?  We simply don’t know.

And that’s the point.  For those of you who are spiritual and wish to second guess God, you can feel angry about the death of an innocent baby to such a gruesome disease.  But if God is playing the game for all of humanity, and not only that one baby or her family, then who are we to be critical?

Suffering exists, and we must learn from it.  As long as ignorance exists there will be suffering.  Such is the wheel of life.  No matter what your religion or how you talk to your God, fundamentally they all say the same thing.  Sub ek, all one.

Which brings us to the final point, how then do we best spend our precious charitable resources?  If you are moved to help someone read a book, buy groceries, or weed their garden, then you should.  However, if you have access to billions more resources, then consider this.  You should be pushing mankind further, higher, faster.  For Jeff Bezos, every last bit of his energy should be directed to making his dream of colonizing space a reality.  Spending even a few moments on any other endeavor may make him more popular, but only increases the risk of getting humanity off the ground.

Improving humanity means greater knowledge, and that automatically means less suffering.  It’s not the same thing as putting silver into a beggar’s hand, but it is far more lasting.

Namaskar

 

May all beings have happiness and the cause of happiness.
May they be free of suffering and the cause of suffering.
May they never be disassociated from the supreme happiness which is without suffering.
May they remain in the boundless equanimity, free from both attachment to close ones and rejection of others.

 

President Trump

What goes through your mind when you hear these words?

President Donald Trump.

My brainy and / or more liberal friends shudder.  Then they gag.  Then laugh, hug each other, cry, and finally acknowledge that it could happen.

Quite a few other people are counting on it.  In fact, they plan to vote for him.

And why not?  Who’s to say he won’t make a great president?

The sad news is that our country doesn’t have any standards for what make a president good or bad.  Popularity got George Washington in for two terms and he’s voted our best president ever.  But the second-most successful president was also one of the least popular; Abraham Lincoln.

So Trump may become president, and he may be a great one.  At least, by his standards.

We have a pretty crazy country going on here.  It’s run by millionaires for one thing.  And those millionaires take lots of advice from very rich friends who make lots of money off the rest of us.

Anyone can be president in the USA.  Of course, certain conditions apply.

So, my advice to all of you who may be feeling a political chill, is to put on a sweater and deal with it.

Should you still be afraid?  Sure.  But not because Trump got in.  He’s just the symptom.

The reason someone like Trump gets elected (or any other idiot you’d like to nominate) is because not enough of us ordinary people care.

The reason Trump may be president is because there are too many special interests who are allowed to spend as much money as they want.

The reason our government feels like it’s going to hell in a handbasket is because it mirrors exactly what is happening in our society as a whole.  Yes, our poor government is also a symptom of our disease, not a cause.  What is that cause?

We’re getting older.  We’re getting poorer.  We’re getting dumber.

Perhaps worst of all, we are all of us getting tired of fighting the tide.  We don’t want to stand up in public and debate the issues.  We don’t want to demand better performance out of our candidates, out of our government, and out of our journalists.

I’m also getting older.  And poorer.  But I’m fighting the dumber.  And I haven’t given up fighting, not yet.

This is my weapon; the pen, and education.

So, to all of you who also haven’t given up as yet, get up and get out there.  Fight!

If you don’t, you’ll have to live with the alternative.