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Pink Cheeks. Black Lashes.

Sometimes I wonder if there is a correlation between drab times and the amount of colored cream or powder humanity applies to its faces. I sure found a lot of pink when walking through PDX and approaching these young beauties with requests for photographs. I was also aware last time I visited NYC how many young men were dripping with mascara.

No drab times for the make-up industry though, which has finally figured out a way to make half of the population which was so far unreachable become consumers of beautification products. Check out the short video below and see for yourself how young men are starting to buy and apply make-up.

It would have been amusing were it not for the prejudiced protestations of the protagonist that he was not gay, just into make-up, and for my fear that the peddling of useless goods is just another way of emptying people’s pockets, now young boys’.

For someone whose currency of felt appreciation has changed across the years from being smiled and whistled at to the number of replies to a blog segment, make-up plays no longer any role. But I understand the need of youth to soothe self doubts and insecurity. I have certainly nothing against gender equality, going in both directions.

I just hope that the horrific pressure towards being normatively beautiful that girls have experienced forever, is not going to be there for boys now as well.

One day you worry about pimples, the next day you feel too fat. And body image troubles have now reached young men in frightening numbers as well.


  • In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or EDNOS [EDNOS is now recognized as OSFED, other specified feeding or eating disorder, per the DSM-5] (Wade, Keski-Rahkonen, & Hudson, 2011).

Worries about a focus on external beauty today has been brought to you by the color PINK.

Me? Irrational?



I really, really like the coastal town of Astoria, Oregon, home to one of the best photographic galleries on the West Coast,, various engineering feats like columns and bridges, a number of quirky characters and an even larger number of sea lions.


It is a down to earth, community oriented, working class town filled with the descendants of the Finns who worked in the fisheries and the Chinese who slaved in the canneries until the industries disappeared in the 1980s. It has seen its share of tragedies (burnt to the ground twice) and economic hardship, it breathes history and is home to an ever increasing number artists. My kind of place.

I would NEVER move to Astoria. My decision is heavily influenced by emotions. In this case a disproportional dread of a watery death. However likely or unlikely a mega earthquake with subsequent tsunami might be, the fear it evokes in me is enough to influence my assumptions of likelihood and thus my decision to stay far away. Thus strong affect misleads with regard to judging probabilities.

“Better be safe than sorry” captures a fundamental truth of decision making: we want to avoid regret at all cost. We use gut feelings, so called somatic markers, that appear when thinking about something negative or positive, a slight arousal that we register without necessarily being conscious of it. These markers, often derived from correctly remembered earlier experiences, will drag us away from negative feelings. (This is research done by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio and colleagues, incredibly interesting work. Those deprived of these gut feelings, due to neurological brain damage, are paralyzed when it comes to making even simple decisions, like choosing a place to eat.

And yet: however accurate we are in remembering our feelings, we turn out to be lousy at predicting them, which further complicates the picture of decision making. In a nutshell, during this “affective forecasting” we overestimate both how much we will regret sup-optimal choices, and how long that regret will last. The same holds for positive emotions as well – we often predict that we feel in the future what we feel now, that it brings us enormous joy and will last for a long time. All, alas, not true. So think hard before you buy that expensive toy that right now seems so overwhelmingly desirable!



 Astoria mural

Utility? What Utility?

· Framing outcomes, questions and evidence ·


You’d think people would make their decision based on some rational utility model, deciding what’s best and then sticking with it. Well, at least economists thought so for the longest time. Yesterday we discussed how consistency is blown to the wind when you frame outcomes with focus on gain or loss, respectively. Today I am sorry to report, we’ll learn that the same is true when it comes to how you frame questions. 

Let’s say you have to decide in a messy divorce case to whom to award sole custody of the kids. One parent (A) has average income, health, working hours, good report with the children and a stable social life. The other parent (B) has above average income, very close relationship with the children, extremely active social life, lots of work related travel and minor health problems. People overwhelmingly award custody to parent B. If, however, you instead ask the question who should be denied custody, people overwhelmingly again chose parent B, so A gets the kids. You read that right: the same person is first awarded and then denied custody, depending on how the question was framed.  What’s going on here?

When you try to make a decision you attempt to justify your reasoning. To award custody to someone, they must be deserving. Clearly parent B has stronger bonds with the children and more money, so these positive factors would justify the decision. If someone is denied custody you also need justification – so you go and look for negative factors that might bolster this outcome – and again find them in – relative to A – the factors of work related absence from home, social butterfly, and potential health hazards for parent B. Think of what clever lawyers can do with these findings….

Segnung copy 3

The same holds for how you frame the evidence – would you accept your doctor’s advice to try a treatment that has a 50% success rate, having run out of other options? Would you try the same treatment if s/he tells you it has a 50% failure rate?

The justification process becomes increasingly difficult if we are offered too many options. In fact, here is a scary real life example. Let’s offer a medical doctor two options, surgery or medication, for a particular patient, both having a number of benefits and costs, both being effective. Docs split prettily evenly between the two, half choosing to cut, half choosing to poison…..Offer doctors three options, surgery, medicine 1 and medicine 2, guess what they choose now? Overwhelmingly surgery! Somehow choosing between the medications affords no easy justification for either one, so they don’t chose between them and go for surgery instead.

Clearly people are affected by multiple psychological influences when making decisions, leaving utility theory in the dust. A purely economic model simply cannot account for the data of people making 180 degrees turn in their choices.  Kahneman, by the way, won the nobel prize in economics for this work. One of the more embarrassing moments of my life was when my then 6 or 7  year-old son picked up the phone when Kahneman called (questions about a conference paper). We were out in the yard and my kid leaned out of the open window, phone in hand and yelled, “Guys, the Nobel dude wants to talk to you!”


Art in Hiding

· Freeportism as a tool of speculation ·


When I first came across the term Freeportism I wondered what it could possibly mean. Finding out made my heart sink. Did someone say curiosity kills the cat? The word was coined by Stefan Heidenreich, Professor at the Art Academy Düsseldorf, and refers to the practice of storing artworks in locations that are free from customs duties and taxes around the world, so called free ports. Millions of artworks. Geneva alone has a storage site that holds up to one million pieces, all in temperature controlled racks, carefully packed in wooden boxes, ready to be shipped to auction. Or not – depending on the current and future market prices.

IMG_4498There are whole empires of these free ports, from Luxembourg to Singapore, allowing art to be un-seen. Why on earth, you might ask? The answer is of course: money. And I am not just talking about hedge funds, derivatives or futures applied to art collection. Rather, art out of view is the perfect way to launder dirty money since there is no transparency.

Hito Steyerl, one of the first to recognize this threat to artists’ self-legislation, wrote: “conditions of possibility are no longer just the elitist “ivory tower,” but also the dictator’s contemporary art foundation, the oligarch’s or weapons manufacturer’s tax-evasion scheme, the hedge fund’s trophy, the art student’s debt bondage, leaked troves of data, aggregate spam, and the product of huge amounts of unpaid “voluntary” labor—all of which results in art’s accumulation in freeport storage spaces and its physical destruction in zones of war or accelerated privatization.”

We have a luxury goods market of a trillion dollars of which art comprises about 5%. Not many people who collect modern art any longer look at the inherent value of a piece – it has become a commodity of speculation, hidden in wooden crates so the market is regulated against flooding. Maybe the only way to see art in the future is on the street….


Read about it in more detail here: And weep.


I am inclined to report that I have a freeport of my own that holds my stacked works in fantasies of future buyers: it is called my closet…..


Linnaeus’ Desire

· Tulips Galore ·


A few years back I worked on a montage series called Linnaeus’ Desire. You can see some samples on my other website This series paid hommage to the 18th century Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus. He was the first to frame principles for defining natural genera and species of organisms and to create a uniform system for naming them (binomial nomenclature.)

In particular, it was the botanical section of Systema Naturae that built Linnaeus’s scientific reputation. After reading essays on sexual reproduction in plants by Vaillant and by German botanist Rudolph Jacob Camerarius, Linnaeus had become convinced of the idea that all organisms reproduce sexually. As a result, he expected each plant to possess male and female sexual organs (stamens and pistils), or “husbands and wives,” as he also put it.

This “sexual system,” as Linnaeus called it, became extremely popular, though certainly not only because of its practicality but also because of its erotic connotations and its allusions to contemporary gender relations. You could now talk sex when you pretended to talk about gardens!


French political theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau used the system for his “Huit lettres élémentaires sur la botanique à Madame Delessert” (1772; “Eight Letters on the Elements of Botany Addressed to Madame Delessert”). English physician Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin, used Linnaeus’s sexual system for his poem “The Botanic Garden” (1789), which caused an uproar among contemporaries for its explicit passages. My montages combined photographs of plants with representations of the human body, hoping to recapture some of Linnaeus’ passionate imagination.

Tulips lend themselves to illustrate Linnaeus’ points; in addition, the desire for them – Tulpenwoede or tulip mania – caused something akin to a sexual frenzy, and ruined many a Dutch life in the 1600s due to failed market speculation. High noon in the tulip fields…..(yes, your’s truly.)


Or so I thought, until I read this, realizing now how capitalism’s mechanisms struck once again…..


Here is Jan Brueghel the Younger delivering a satire on tulip speculation: count the monkeys….1c886c3380a77a03c98870150f22b778