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It is January 20, 2017, the day of the inauguration of Donald John Trump, casino magnate, television personality, and media provocateur as 45th President of the United States of America. Now, bad presidents come and go. The country has had plenty of liars, knuckleheads, perverts, and even a life dictator in the highest office (the life dictator actually turned out to be pretty ok, but we made sure to change the rules as soon as he was dead).  Yet Trump strikes me as something special.

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From now until when he keels over dead, the papers are going to be chock full of Trump’s bloviations, crimes, vulgarities, enormities, and attention-seeking behaviors (I am not sure if Trump will seize permanent hold of the presidency, if mortality will catch him before four years are up, or if he will go on to bigger better things, but I am absolutely sure we are going to hear about everything he does until he moves on to the great reality show hereafter).  This success at attention seeking is the greatest source of Trump’s power. It is how he has built a cult of personality unrivaled by all but our greatest presidents (who were honorable enough to turn their backs on such dangerous and undemocratic personal style). Trump knows that outrage and hate are just as good for his aims as praise.  All of the anti-Trump editorials and essays have helped him. He has discovered that fame in contemporary America is like absolute value in mathematics: it doesn’t matter whether it is negative or positive.

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let a equal publicity

Therefor I am going to avoid hating further on the Donald. It only helps him.  I am going to confront his personality cult indirectly by comparing him to the thing that interests me the most, but which Trump would least like to be—me! a broke nobody artist. I will look at Donald Trump as a human and see if we have anything in common.

I had this idea when I was at the Duane Reade downstairs at the Trump building at 40 Wall Street, Trump’s downtown office (which is next to the title insurance office where I work as a sad little clerk during the day).  Duane Reade posts all of its prices in terms of what you would pay if you had a Duane Reade discount card (which is probably actually a vector for Duane Reade to sell all of your information to insurance companies and drug companies).   Without this horrible card, everything rings up for 20% to 30% more than you expect to pay.

At the beginning of the presidential campaign, when Trump was merely one of many improbable Republican candidates, one of my colleagues ran into him shopping at Duane Reade. Trump was by himself buying an armful of hair spray (honest!), and was nice enough to take a picture with my coworker.  The other day, as I paid 20% extra for my gummy bears and salve, I wondered if Trump has one of these awful cards for his hairspray, or if he too must suffer the same frustration when his goods all cost more than they are marked.

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It made me think of him differently—not as a dictator come to crush America, nor as a gold-orange idol on tv, but as an actual person, and from there, in a rush I realized we share much more than I would like to admit.

Donald Trump and I both came from successful WASP families.  Instead of being merchants and businesspeople, my family are scientists and administrators.  But both groups made their way up by working hard.

Trump and I both went to similar colleges: The University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago.  We are both tall and goofy looking and we both make our money in the same business—real estate– although we could not be at more different places on the ladder (and Trump has recently left for public service).

From there the similarities become more disturbing. We both have a history of failed businesses that have left us with deep scars. We are both straight but can’t seem to make relationships last. Trump and I love New York City unconditionally (even though the city doesn’t seem to love us back).  Each is secretly anxious that he is not actually good enough and so desperate to appear smart that he seems foolish… each is a rather silly man who is terribly, terribly worried about what people think of him.

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Please not the same hair…please not the same hair!

 

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Arrrgh!

I hope you kin that the point of this is not that Trump and I are a lot alike (I actually think we are profoundly different).  The point is we need to stop concentrating on him as a unique personality and start looking at him as another politician. And we need to stop letting him get our goat.

Trump scares me and being scared makes people do stupid things. I have been so angry when I looked at self-satisfied or annoying posts on Facebook, that I felt like breaking off my social interactions with people I grew up with.  I have come terribly close to angrily denouncing everyone in rural America as “deplorables” and swearing off West Virginia. More often than I would care to admit, Trump has filled my heart with blinding rage

My family has a dark saying.  It is counter intuitive (and probably stolen from a ballad or a fifties tv show), but it turns out to be disconcertingly true: “You become what you hate”.  You see it everywhere:  social justice advocates who hate people for the circumstances of their birth, or folks who imagine all of some different sort of people are racists. Look at Trump’s die-hard followers who lambast city dwellers for being selfish and self-satisfied!  Look at allegedly egalitarian city dwellers making fun of people for poverty and a lack of educational opportunities!

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If we go down the path we are on, we are ALL going to be more like Trump than we ever want to be.  We will not have his wealth or his facile ability to manipulate people by appealing to their greed. We will instead have his talent for sewing discord, ruining things, and bringing hatred and fear to the United States with hyperbole and bad ideas. By being afraid and despising him with our whole hearts we will make our fears come true. We will start to hate our friends and neighbors.  Look into your heart and ask how you are already like the president.  I have a feeling you will find more points of comparison than you will be comfortable with.

Donald Trump has not even been president a whole day and he has already divided the country further than any time since the Civil War.   Eris is stealing the crown of liberty in America. The solution is not to concentrate on how hateful he is personally. The solution is to talk about how we can cooperate to actually get things working  and make of our dreams come true. Billionaires don’t dream of killing little kids on the street. Coal miners don’t want the world to cook and choke. Even Donald Trump loves his family and wants a world where his grandkids can grow up safe and healthy (to someday bate the press in their own ways).  We are all more similar than we would like to admit. But that shouldn’t be a shameful admission.  It should make us stronger, smarter, and kinder.

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Escalation of commitment refers to a behavioral phenomenon whereby a group of people who have embarked upon a decision which is producing increasingly negative outcomes continue forward with their course of action despite the accumulating evidence of bad results.  This sounds ridiculous, but it is a very frequent pattern in human behavior.  It is worth casting our minds back 100 years to 1917 when the First World War ground into its 3rd year despite the deaths of millions of combatants on both sides. In economics, a very similar situation is described as the “sunk cost fallacy’: throwing away more and more resources because the idea of losing the time and money already invested is too painful to bear.  One sees this at casinos all of the time, when a punter keeps grinding tokens into a machine waiting for it to pay out.  One sees it in casino owners who build lavish follies with borrowed money even after the gamblers have all been fleeced or given up.  One sees it in institutional investors which will not give up on certain bankrupt debtors because the banks themselves will lose too much money.

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The reasons for escalation of commitment are manifold, but boil down to certain unpleasant fundamentals about human preferences and decision making. Changing one’s mind is difficult because it involves admitting an error. Additionally, it is more painful to lose something than it is pleasant to gain something (a dreadful dictum which explains so much of human behavior). Leadership norms punish seemingly inconsistent behavior more than bad results; if a leader admits a problematic course of action and changes it, they are more likely to be punished than if they just went ahead with whatever idiotic thing they were going to do anyway.

All of this is to highlight that people have an astonishing ability to lie to themselves when they have done a colossally stupid thing.  They will continue onward with such behavior in the face of rational evidence and will fall into certain tribal behaviors which make it even harder to escape the spiral of collapse.

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These factors make terrible decisions particularly dangerous. Historians are always looking back and exclaiming “How could they have kept on with this course of action?”

And, of course, there are counter examples and arguments. It is Impossible to ever reap the rewards of a risky investment if one abandons a project too hastily. Would Columbus have reached America if he had given in to the terrors of apparently endless ocean? Would Thomas Edison have persevered through all of those hundreds of unsuccessful filament materials to the electric lightbulb?  Yet some of those filaments glimmered or shone brightly for a moment.  The Santa Maria did not fall off a giant waterfall at the edge of the world but instead the sailors saw evidence of land.   Evidence should help us escape the dreadful escalation of commitment.

If a leader is behaving erratically, wickedly, and stupidly is it wise to ignore such behavior, in the belief that he will somehow correct himself?   If there is no coherent plan but merely bombast, corruption, and hollow stage-managed cheers, why would you choose to cheer along?

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Once you have invested enough effort in a bad idea or a terrible leader, it isn’t possible to escape.  Human behavior means you must follow…even if it leads to Changping, Verdun, or a bunker beneath Berlin.   If I learned anything from history class (or from my own failed business with a light-fingered dipsomaniac business partner) it is to be on guard for escalation of commitment early. Don’t go down with somebody else’s leaking ship or drink from their poisoned chalice.  Just because you made one bad choice doesn’t mean you have to make more.

OK, we have a lot to get through this week. We have a new president coming along, and even though this charlatan may well usher in the end times, he is certainly known for grabbing ratings (among other things).  Also, last week, I promised to write about why I am having trouble with ‘Romance of three Kingdoms.”  It is a book about deceit, trickery, and cruelty as the tools of leadership. Perhaps now is a good time to talk about its dark lessons.  However before we get to any of that, today let’s take a quick trip off-world to our sister planet Venus (a planet which endlessly fascinates me) where some exceedingly strange developments have been in the works.

Venus is currently being monitored and observed by the Japanese Space Agency probe Akatsuki.  On December 7th, 2015, the probe spotted a huge crescent wave 6,000 miles long in the atmosphere of Venus. The probe lost sight of the massive bow shaped phenomena as it moved through its orbit, and, when it returned to position a few days later, the wave was gone.

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So what produces a 6,000 mile long super cloud on a planet already known for extreme fast moving clouds of sulfuric acid.  Scientists theorize that this was a gravity wave.  Gravity waves are not too be mistaken for the gravitational waves of deep space (which are caused by distortion of spacetime from supermassive objects).  Instead a gravity wave is a wave propagated within a fluid (like air or liquid) through the effects of gravity.  When water flows over a sandbar, gravity restores equilibrium on the other side–which causes a wave effect.  This is a familiar pattern in all sorts of fluid dynamics–including clouds passing over mountains.  It is believed that the giant crescent wave within the atmosphere of Venus originated from the atmosphere flowing over vast mountain ranges on the surface.

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Even if this is not as unfamiliar a phenomena as it might deem when first hearing the name and looking at the pictures, it is very beautiful and it is appearing on a scale hitherto unknown in terrestrial parts (although the supermassive planets have their own bizarre cloud structures which put it to shame.  for now lets just enjoy looking at the huge bow shaped cloud on the closest planet to Earth. Thanks JAXA for making this discovery! What will the strange hot caustic atmosphere of Venus do next?

 

 

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It’s Friday the 13th today and I made a little show of unlucky flounder drawings to celebrate the occasion…unfortunately (or perhaps predictably) after I handed them over to my gallerist, I realized that I had accidentally erased the digital photographs I made.  I only have pictures of the three drawings I photographed for Instagram.  Gah!  this is sad and frustratind, but it is 12:30 AM here, and I am not going to have time to conceive a whole new blog post (not if I want to be able to comprehend infernally over-complicated transactional spreadsheets with any degree of comprehension tomorrow).  So, here are three of the thirteen thirteen-themed flounder.

With its engraving-style lines and elaborate ornamentation (and its green color) the first flounder 9at the top) evokes currency.  the title is “Banknote Flounder” and I already sold it! Yet if you look closely at the ornate margins, you will see they are filled with little parasites and scavengers.  The Latin phrase means (roughly) “fishing using a golden hook” (which is funny considering that I immediately sold this picture…which looks like money).

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The second picture features a lovely leopard gecko and thirteen colorful dots. It has thirteen translated into other mathematical notations (hexidecimal and binary).  the flounder’s back is covered with various spirals, fractal patterns, and chaos scribbles which also denote different systems of order. Here is a second phot of it in different light.

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Finally, just for fun, there is a “Luckyduck Flounder” with a cartoon cat, a good-hearted duck, and a shepherds primitic tally for thirteen.  the flounder is attractively mottled and seems broadly happy.

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Of course there are ten more thirteen themed flounder out there, but you will just have to imagine what they are like until I get my act together and learn to save images to the cloud right away. Although…come to think of it, there is another Friday 13th in October this year [spooky floundery music plays].

Here is a little gallery of drawings and paintings of the Mauritius blue pigeon ((Alectroenas nitidissimus) a charming blue fructivore of the beautiful island of Mauritius (which is in the Indian Ocean, to the east of Madagascar).  You may notice that there are only artworks of the blue pigeon with the yeti ruff and naked smiling vulture head.  That is because the poor pigeon went extinct in the 1830s, a victim if drastic deforestation on the island.  The pigeon went extinct when the fruit trees it relied on for food were cut down.  It looks funny and personable and sad.

 

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Illustration of Venus, goddess of love and beauty

I promised to write about Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a book which I am planning on reading this year (after bouncing off of its deep moral ambiguity once before).  However before we get to talking about great literature and right and wrong and how to cynically manipulate people, let’s indulge in some completely frivolous daydreaming.

Longtime readers know that one of my favorite concepts for the not-so-distant future is the establishment of a floating colony in the skies of Venus.  A variety of considerable factors make this seem more attainable than the Martian colony which everyone is always talking about (plus I like tropical swamps better than Arctic deserts).

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Alas, I am not an engineer, and I cannot bring my dream closer to reality with a slide rule and a spreadsheet full of atmospheric measurements and rocket payloads…or with a thoughtful treatise about making plastics out of the chemicals present in Venus’ thick atmosphere…or with mention of the seemingly inexhaustible thermal energy on its surface.  Yet I am imaginative, and perhaps I can share a powerful passing fantasy with you.  The other day, while browsing goodness knows what on the internet, I came across the picture above and it struck me forcefully as a perfect structural component of Mary Rose or Constance [astronomical convention dictates that all features on Venus be named after women, so I decided to name my cities after my grandmothers…at least until I know what my billionaire partner wishes to call things]. I had to share the image with you, even though I have lost the real context of the actual inflatable structure 9avionic saftey equipment maybe? That doesn’t actually seem so far off).

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Dangit, this found concept art never looks right. I am going to have to draw my own.

First I imagined that this is the lifting body of the colony, which would be suspended underneath…but then it occurred to me that it might be the city (since breathable Earth atmosphere mixtures of gases float on the clouds of Venus).  or perhaps it is an agricultural pod or a park or a laboratory, or a factory.  Who can say what is in the lovely 4/5th torus, until we complete more of the schematics?  At the moment, it is a concept piece…like the whole colony, but the world is filled with clever people, and some of them read this blog.  let’s keep dreaming big!  Imagine this sparkling with lights as a huge yellow storm boils up beneath and a cloud of drones and gyrocopters approach from a nearby fleet of zeppelin buildings…

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I promised a post with New Year’s Resolutions, but we’re already up to January 10th. The year is whipping by fast. What happened?
On New Years Day I looked around to take stock and I noticed that I have become middle-aged and I am a failure on pretty much every level. I have no wife and children. I have no towering art achievements (other than those that hang on my own walls seen by no one but myself). I have no fame. I have no money. I have a new job which takes all of my concentration and plays to none of my strengths. Waking up every morning to go into that thing is like going to…well, there is no need to get into it on this public forum, but let it suffice to say I really have to expand my talents quickly.
I think my blog readership is dwindling, possibly because I write less because of time constraints, but also possibly because my content is slipping or just because my posts are becoming depressing (for example…this one). Not just that! My country is swiftly becoming a fascist failed state. After a few fat cow (fat cat?) years when the masters vote to give everything worthwhile to themselves and break everything else, there is going to be no upcoming boom in the future. Plus, in the not-so-distant periphery of doom, the machines are coming for all of us anyway.

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This is all a bit discouraging. Especially since, in our primate world, people tend to be drawn towards blustery self-confidence even if it is all false and made up.
All of which is a maudlin way of saying that this year’s resolutions are going to need to be really good. Here’s what I have so far, but maybe you can help me out a bit. In 2017, I resolve to:

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1) Finish the Four Great Classics of Chinese Literature: I have actually already read three of the four, so this is almost cheating…except each of these things is a thousand plus pages long. Also, they also all have casts with hundreds–or thousands–of characters (with superficially similar Chinese names) and Chinese literature is almost impossibly sad. But the final one, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, is different than the other four in fundamental disturbing ways. I will flesh this resolution out more in tomorrow’s post.

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2) Get really good at boring transactional work with lots of numbers and pettifogging details. I have always fled from this horrible stuff, but there is nowhere left to flee. Whenever I try something, there is a spreadsheet, or a collections list, or an unimaginably complex tax bill, or some other organizational challenge in the way. It ends now. I have decided to change my attitude. I LOVE my dayjob. I can’t wait to go back tomorrow. I love nightmarish spreadsheets. I thrive on monetary sums and incomprehensible alphanumeric codes. From now on, I am going to be the best at . If you need help doing you taxes or refinancing, you just call me. You have to use the time.

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3) Keep up my art production. Despite less than ideal circumstances, I made an immense amount of art last year. I improved too (albeit in a direction towards beautiful visionary madness rather than towards realism) . This year, I will work even harder and produce even more. And I’m going to take it out in the world and show it to people too (if for no other reason than the fact that my walls are full). Just you watch! Also, do you maybe happen to know anybody in the art world?
4) Speaking of jobs and the art world. I am going to get much better at applications, and I am going to send them out by the score. Last year I resolved not to be upset if my applications were rejected, and I failed at that somewhat (grumble). This year i just resolve to apply more. Who cares how I feel afterwards so long as the darn things get written and go out.
5) Apologize less. for example I was going to apologize for this ridiculously autobiographical post…but 2017 showed that those who apologize for themselves are crushed by society.   What I have written here is unflinchingly honest and nakedly forthright. if life is an emotional roller coaster than so be it.  There are ups and downs, but you can’t doubt who you really are.

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I have not thrown away my sword. I will not lie down in the frozen mud and give up . There are wonders ahead, readers! Come with me. I know there has been some raggedness around the edges these last few years and I don’t pretend the coming years will be any easier. They may be a lot harder. Yet we have come so far, and it was amazing! We cannot let ignorance and greed win out. We mustn’t give in to despair. Life is so beautiful, and we are not so far from all of our goals as it seems. Not at all.
Ahem…cough. Anyway those are my goals (plus eating more vegetables and taking my cat to the vetrinarian). What do you have planned? Please tell me. I know I have been responding slowly (uh, i vow to better about that too), but I really read them all and they mean alot to me. Happy 2017! Come Tartarus or grievous flood, or any other damned challege WE ARE GOING TO  AND MAKE IT GOOD.

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I colored a flounder drawing I made last Halloween with watercolor and colored pencils.  This is “The Sole and the Souls” (Wayne Ferrebee, 2016, Ink, watercolor, and colored pencil on paper).  It features a sole covered with parti-colored fungi swimming through a Roman cemetery of late antiquity.  I think those might be Charun’s snakes in the sky (and his servitor dragging the gladiator into the darkness).

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M-type asteroids are high albedo (i.e shiny) asteroids made partially or mostly of metal. Of all of M-type asteroids currently known in the solar system, 16 Psyche is the most massive.  It is a hunk of iron and nickel (and other heavy metals?) which has a diameter of 250 kilometers.  Psyche orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter and is believed to be the exposed core of a planet approximately the size of Mars which was obliterated by a catastrophic impact.  The asteroid is named after the intrepid mortal who found love and ultimately apotheosis in an “Eyes Wide Shut” type Greek myth of great suspense, horror, and beauty.

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Are you curious to know more about 16 Psyche based on this description?  I certainly hope you are, because NASA has just announced future missions for the 2020s and 16 Psyche is on the list. As currently conceived, the Psyche exploration mission will send a robot probe powered by solar electric propulsion out to the obliterated core to examine the planetoid.  The probe will be equipped with a magnetometer and a gamma-ray spectrometer to find out more about the composition and history of the enigmatic relic.

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Of course other long term aspects of the mission are of interest as well.  Although we have not yet mastered nuclear fusion, safe comprehensive control of such boundless energy is probably only 20 years or so away [winky icon].  What if humankind had sophisticated manufacturing robots and near infinite energy?  In such circumstances 8 million cubic kilometers of steel might come in very handy indeed.  So far the good news keeps rolling in for 2017.  This Psyche mission can’t happen fast enough for my taste.

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OK, time to get 2017 started in earnest! I have some resolutions and ideas–and I’m looking forward to hearing your New Year plans too. But first there is extremely good news in the paper, so let’s lead with that:  the People’s Republic of China has announced that they are shutting down their national trade in ivory by the end of 2017.  The world’s most populous nation is by far the world’s largest ivory consumer: estimates suggest that it accounts for as much as 70% of ivory demand.  The tusks of slaughtered elephants reach the nation illegally and then become part of a vast economy of carvers, traders, dodgy antiques merchants, and suchlike sellers.  All of this is to feed the growing appetite of China’s new middle class, who are hungry for anything which confers status (but who do not necessarily understand just how sapient, compassionate, and irreplaceable elephants are).

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The ban is said to be a direct result of a meeting between the world’s two most powerful men, President Xi Jinping and President Obama, who laid the groundwork for a comprehensive ban when they met in Washington in 2015.  Obama tightened up surprisingly lax ivory rules in America in an effort to save the last proboscideans.  It is a great pleasure to see China’s leadership follow the same path.  The New York Times has noted that the ban is not just sound environmental policy, but also makes sense both politically and economically.  Perhaps other ivory-consuming nations will follow suite! I will be sure to praise their far-sighted leaders as well.

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However elephant conservationists must not pretend the Chinese ivory ban alone has saved our big gray friends. Elephants are in deep trouble. Climate change, habitat loss, and, above all, poaching still threaten the giants. Powerful forces in China (and even here, in the increasingly reactionary United States) will conspire to restart the ghastly trade.  Additionally the mayhem in central Africa which has allowed poachers to flourish is far from over.  Yet this unexpected boon from the Middle Kingdom is a cause for great hope. Let us thank our friends in China for their thoughtfulness and use their fine example as a cause to redouble our own efforts.  If we keep working together we can make sure elephants are still with us not just in 2017 but in all the years to come.

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