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.


John Quincy Adams by Traub

This is a good book.

JQA was born and raised to be a leader and public servant.  He was tolerable as a leader, but was zealous as a public servant.  His actions helped our republic in so many ways, yet are underappreciated because most of his work was in groups or behind the scenes.

More fundamentally for me, this book helped me appreciate two things.

First, politics.  Because JQA was meticulous in recording his life and thoughts, we know more about what happened behind closed doors than even in today’s White House.  As a result of his recording and Traub’s writing, I now appreciate the fact that politicians today are easily equal to the politicians of yesterday.

What do I mean by equal?  Equal in duplicity, equal in malevolence, equal in their ability to spout high-minded principles to get elected, but quickly able to sacrifice even their dearest in exchange for power.

The great evil of JQA’s time was slavery.  The slave holding states had the republic by the balls due to a constitutional slip-up called the 3/5ths compromise.  Adams came to fight it tooth and nail, but it took a Civil War to finally fix it.  The great surprise here?  That everyone knew war was coming, 20 years before it truly did.

The second thing I learned is that things may have been worse for us during the Jackson administration than they are today during Herr Drumpfs (Trump, or Don John).   The things Jackson and his cronies did were astounding even by the standards of yesterday, let alone today.  Yes, I now feel a little bit better about all the interesting things going on in today’s Washington.

In closing, I recommend this book.  Whether you are interested in history, founding fathers (he’s considered the last remnant of that important force), or politics in general, you’re going to enjoy this tome.


We are to Gaia, as …

Some time ago, this neat guy proposed that the Earth can be considered a living thing.  He called that “thing” Gaia.

It’s the kind of concept that some people feel is right and natural.  In fact, the concept is part of our most primitive vocabulary, as in Mother Nature.

As he was trying to convince scientists, he made his argument technical.  Most of them didn’t believe him, even though he used big words and had all sorts of evidence.

For fun, let’s embrace the concept.  First, we’ll consider all of humanity a single life form, a species.  Let’s also consider that the set of ALL species on our planet also constitutes a single life form.

Here’s the fun part.  For all of us nerds who dwell on things like AI and computers taking over humanity one way or another, consider this twist.

Humans create an AI to be our servant.  At some point that AI becomes self-aware and decides that it’s better than all the humans that created it.  At that point it harnesses all sorts of technology to systematically wipe out those humans, turning them into its servants.  The AI has become the master.


Think about Gaia as being the whole Earth representation of humanity.  It’s been around, in full flower, for a very very long time.

Now, think about humanity as the most recent creation of Gaia.  A new species that is supposed to help keep Gaia humming along for even longer.

Except something goes horribly wrong.  Gaia’s servant becomes self-aware, and decides that Gaia should be the servant, and it should become the master.  It begins waging a war upon Gaia.

Get it?  In this sense,




(We are to Gaia, as Skynet is to us.)

Watching a Lady Closely

I don’t normally like to watch a celebrity very closely, especially not one connected to politics.

But this headline and the attached videos caught my eye.

As part of my “fake news checking checklist” I incorporated the article as a thing to check, but now I’m going to reference it as a way to analyze a celebrity’s behavior in excrutiating detail.

Here’s the article:

And here’s some of the images:

There are certainly now many more images, videos, and links that you can find on this subject.

The important aspect to all of this is that we are seeing multiple moments with the two, in public, that show the first lady recoiling from her husband’s advances.  From simple hand-holding requests, air kissing, responsive facial expressions after engaging him, and even when being held closely during their first dance, each of these in itself may not be enough to draw a conclusion.

But they are not isolated.  Each one builds upon and reinforces the other.  The totality of these images showing her EXPRESSED behavior means that something deep, something permanent, something serious is going on.

Could that something be abuse?  Could that something be deep distrust?  We don’t know.  All we do know is that the first lady is expressing herself, and because she is a strong woman, we must also assume that she is being honest.

As behavioral students and scientists, we should also remember that an expressed behavior “in the wild” is far more revealing than any premeditated response or organized interrogation.  If we were to have a famous ex-playboy model now TV personality interview her, and ask her if she were happy, the answer should be predictable.  Of course she’s happy.  Of course everything is perfect.

But do they live together?  Do they sleep together?  Does every minute apart from each other create anxiety?  My guess is that, no, Don and Mel do NOT miss each other when they are apart.  They do NOT want to be together, and that she, in particular, is trying to be as far away as possible.

Agree?  Disagree?  Check them out.  Let me hear your thoughts.  Try to use real evidence.  For now, we have to assume that video, especially video taken during the inauguration, is going to be “fact.”

For my part, I hope she can escape as quickly as possible.  I hope all of us can.





Fake News Process Checklist

Hi there!  Anyone miss me?

Quite a bit has happened in the months since we last met.  I finished my book on Hate, and a great “orange tide” has washed over our nation.  Whether or not you trust in the latest president to head the great US of A, there’s a good chance you have heard about “fake news.”

Our nation continues to polarize, so that members of each side trust news sources identified with the “other side” less and less.  We have taken to calling the news from the other side “fake news.”  It’s time to fight back.

Are you a fighter? Then rather than ranting against the other side, why not PROVE to them that their news is the fake news, and that yours is the real news?

I’m going to link to a few articles here that try to show how to tell the difference, but they really don’t.  Rather than picking them apart (I’ll do that later on if anyone asks) I’m just going to include them so we have something to look upon.

and this link to a graphic:

The first one might be the best, but it is obviously stacked against one side, which will automatically make the other side distrust it.

So, as students of behavior, why not come up with a system that works for any believer, of any idea, in any day and age?  Just follow the steps and let’s see where the chips fall.  If the chips fall in the TRUE category, then we can say we have a fact.  If the chips fall into the FALSE category, we have a lie.

Here, in short order, is a good way to tell the difference in a written article or video broadcast.  For convenience’s sake, I’m going to call all of them an article.

  1. Does the headline use emotional triggers to excite attention?
  2. Does the article give specific details as to place, time, and anything else that can be cross-checked for accuracy?
  3. Does the article or video cite a secondary authority that validates the claims made in the headline, or elsewhere in the article?
  4. Does the article make claims that contradict the law as we know them, whether they are natural or not?
  5. Is the news authority fully transparent as to its ownership and motives?

That’s it for now.  I’m curious as to whether or not anyone here cares.  Please let me know if you do, and I’ll be happy to elaborate upon these.  For now, no matter who you voted for in the US election, try following these questions for any given story and see where they take you.  If you have any difficulties, feel free to ask me and I’ll take you through it in a fully bipartisan manner.

Good hunting!





Dead Name Dropping

What is it with dead philosophers?  You can’t have a decent philosophical conversation with anyone without them bandying about a Kant or Decartes or Russell as soon as they can.  Occasionally, if you’re dealing with a classical type of guy, they’ll whip out an Aristotle like their facebook friends.

Why can’t we have a good philosophical discussion without referencing some dead guy’s concepts or name?  Is it possible that nothing more substantive came from all their life’s work than a few of their scattered thoughts?

Frankly, I don’t really care if Hegel or Bacon said something brilliant or called a great insight by a particular name.  What I care about is that insight itself, that philosophical stepping stone that allows me to understand our world more clearly, more deeply.

Therein lies the problem, because for every great thought of Schopenhauer I can find a contrary thought by Nietzsche.  Or for the highly popular thoughts of Marx we can find opposing thoughts from Mills.

Or are they truly opposing thoughts?  This is another tough one, because besides dropping dead names, philosophers are also extremely good about not defining things.  Any things.

Here’s a fun game to play when you meet someone studying or practicing philosophy.  Quick – define philosophy itself!  What about truth?  Reality?  Justice?  Mind? Soul?  Pick one, they’re all fun.  For extra credit, tell them that you’ll buy them a drink if they keep it under 25 words.  Under 10 words and you’ll buy them TWO drinks!

My guess is that you’ll keep them quiet for some time with that challenge.

And my advice if you’re the type who likes to talk philosophy; lose the names.  Keep the concepts, and think definitions.  Oh, and what is philosophy?

Thinking about thinking.

So, where are my drinks?


Ultimate Fighting, Round 4

Welcome to the future!  Spring is early this year, here in Washington DC, and the cherry blossoms are beautiful.  And the ocean is only on the middle steps of the Capitol today.  Should we panic?  Or is climate change small change?

It’s up to you.  As crises go, climate change is pretty serious.  Cities will have to move, disasters will increase, and many people will panic.  I like to choose my panics, and of all the things to panic about, climate change is fairly minor.  Why?

Climate change represents accepting the idea that mankind has behaved in such a way to make the Earth warmer.  We have pushed Mother Nature (Mom to those of us who love her and know her well), and she is pushing back.

However, upsetting her with respect to climate is only one of many things people do to push Mom.  We pollute our air, land, water, and eventually our own bodies.  We destroy species and upset ecosystems.  We devour land for mining, farming, and living.  These are just the easy ones off the top of my head.  I’m sure there’s many more.

But there is one huge aspect in which we are pushing Mom that the newspapers never mention.  You might see it in an occasional biology article, but the potential impact is underestimated.  In biology, this force of Mom is called “selection.”

For the past few billions of years, Mom has selected animals for certain abilities; the greatest one of which is to reproduce.  Make babies, and helping them live long enough to have babies of their own.

For the past few centuries, humans have learned to work together as a group, so that large families are no longer critical to survival.  We have medicine and hospitals for maternity.  We have schools and other support systems for toddlers.  We have social security for seniors, even seniors who are so strongly against welfare.  And we have oodles of technology available to replace a great deal of labor that was once relegated to child labor; things like washing dishes, cutting grass, and delivering newspapers.

Most recently, we now have an understanding of inheritance.  We have diagnostic tests to determine embryonic health and fitness.  We also have the ability to perform surgery on an embryo.  We can even terminate an embryo for various reasons, with much less effort than ever before.  But what does all this have to do with Mom?

We have upset the process of natural selection.  Mom is no longer “in control.”  We are.  Or at least, we think we are.  And that’s the real problem.  For whenever mankind has the arrogance to think he has outsmarted Mom, she teaches him an extremely expensive lesson.  The builders of the Titanic ocean liner thought they’d conquered Mom, and she proved them wrong.  That was only a little boat.  Now we’re betting our entire species against her.

Who would YOU bet on?


What do YOU do?

Such a common question, and we encounter it quite frequently as we get older.

We’re defined by our function in life. How we make money. How we contribute to the economy.  Why do we do this to ourselves?

But is it what we really do? Who are we really?  Why are we afraid to reveal our true inner selves?

Are you what you do for money?  Or are you a mother, father, lover, fighter?  Are you an adventurer, gambler, drinker, or artist?

Have you ever thought of answering this question at a party totally differently?

“What do you do?”

“Oh, I’m a recovering bullfighter who hangs out at the library 40 hours a week,”  or,

“I’m a scuba diver supporting marine ecosystems by being a business lawyer during the week.”

Who are YOU?  Really?


Doctor King is dead … Long live the King

Yes, today, the 15th of January, is his birthday, and Doctor King is still dead.

Because we’re a nation of convenience, and not slaves to detail, we’ll “celebrate” his birth on the 20th.  Because that’s a Monday.  Because it’s more convenient to have a 3 day weekend than to take a break in the middle of the week.

And that’s the exact opposite of what Doctor Martin Luther King Junior was all about.  He wasn’t about taking anything easy.  He didn’t believe in taking short cuts, or doing something because it felt better that way.

Everything I’ve learned about the man says that he was a fighter; he fought against injustice every step, every day, in every way that he could.  His weapons were the most formidable: Christianity, non-violence, his mind, and the ultimate weapon, love.

I was still a child when he died, too young to see him as great.  His stature has only grown, but his words weren’t so easily accessible during my youth.  Recently, as I researched a book on hate, I came across a collection of his sermons entitled “strength to love.”

Perhaps you have read it already.  In which case you already know how stirring his words remain, how thoughtful his ideas, and how penetrating his passion.

If you haven’t, please rush out and find a copy.  I’ll quote a couple of short passage to give an idea as to what you’re missing. [1]

Let us consider, first, the need for a tough mind, characterized by incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgement.  The tough mind is sharp and penetrating, breaking through the crust of legends and myths and sifting the true from the false.  The tough-minded individual is astute and discerning.  He has a strong, austere quality that makes for firmness of purpose and solidness of commitment.”

But we must not stop with the cultivation of a tough mind.  The gospel also demands a tender heart.  Tough mindedness without tenderheartedness is cold and detached, leaving one’s life in a perpetual winter devoid of the warmth of spring and the gentle heat of summer.  What is more tragic than to see a person who has risen to the heights of tough mindedness but has at the same time sunk to the passionless depths of hardheartedness?

His words still resonate strongly, perhaps more strongly than ever.  For Doctor King, the struggles of the Cold War and skin-based segregation were the greatest evils imaginable.  Yet today, we have the creeping cancers of inequality of wealth, education, and desire for knowledge.  Dogma and diversion have replaced Ideals and Morality.  We have become complacent, drugged on our music and webby friends.

How would Doctor King fight the evils of today?  How would his tough mind and tender heart lead us through this latest tussle with evil?  I don’t know.  I am attempting to continue his work through writing like this, without measurable success.  He does warn against the evils that we see today, saying “A nation or a civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on an installment plan.” [2]  And it appears that we have softer minds than ever before.

So please, celebrate Doctor King’s birthday by honoring his memory; not only today, but as often as possible.  Yes, the King is dead; but Long Live the King!



[1]  These passages are from “strength to love” by Martin Luther King, Jr., published by Fortress Press in 2010.  The paragraphs quoted here are from pages 2 and 5, with each being the first paragraph leading sections 1 and 2 of his sermon.  The title of the sermon is “A tough mind and a tender heart” and not only serves to show what a wonderful writing this is, but could also be considered autobiographical.

[2]  Same book, same sermon, at the end of section 1.


Are Humans Doomed?

This from a post on a philosophy forum in 2011:

Are we doomed?

June 14th, 2011, 9:29 am

I think humankind is doomed as a consequence of acting in the course of culturally relative  religious, political and economic ideological notions quite at odds with a scientific  understanding of reality. In the past we knew no better; now it’s probably too late.  Cause and effect – garbage in/garbage out. We’re doomed, aren’t we?


And a few hours ago…

It is actually pretty bad that Canada, Australia and Japan are reneging on their earlier climate change promises, and this in full view of the Philippines typhoon disaster!


So many people carry an impending sense of doom about them that it almost appears like common apparel, a mainstay of their wardrobe. In effect, they are saying “Here is my shawl of doom, my jacket of despair, my lipstick of lamentation, an attitude that is always part of me.”

What a waste!  For as soon as we are born, we are doomed to die.

As soon as people emerged, we were doomed to extinction.

And as soon as life crawled from the ooze, it was doomed to disappear.

What happens between the beginning and the end is called life.  And it’s our duty, our privilege, and our pleasure to live life to the fullest.  Why waste precious time thinking about what happens afterwards if we don’t strive to make something meaningful today?

We could focus on the future in a much better way.  Instead of thinking about what the world looks like without us, why not think about the world we leave our children instead?  In this way, instead of being afraid of our own death, we could rejoice in the improved lives of those who have yet to inherit our genes.

So, Live!

That said, should we be saddened because some country still hunts whales, or that another country pollutes our air and water, or another country still sells children into slavery?  No, we can’t be sad, because we don’t agree on what our future should look like.

Do we imagine our great grandchildren a hundred times removed peaceably working the fields of the countryside, living in harmony with each other and nature?  Or do we see a rapidly expanding civilization pushing space, technology, and even itself to the limits in order to conquer the solar system?

Until we decide what kind of future we want for ourselves, we wan not decide what is good or bad.  That is all!  In operation research this is called an objective function.  In business management, it’s called a mission.  In real life, it’s called heaven.  Where do we want to be?

Where do YOU want to be?

Humanity is already doomed in fundamental ways.  But you can make a difference as to how humanity meets its doom.  Will we rise to the occasion and create a culture greater than anything we can imagine today?  Or shall we create a future that is more like our past, seeking peace is what we already know?

What do you think?