Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich, top-drawer New York lawyer Marc S. Dreier, and South African zoology student Jo van Niekerk have something in common. They acted out a giddy, delusional invincibility of superior knowledge and power, bringing about their own destruction.

You might not have heard of Dreier or van Niekerk.

Mr. Dreier allegedly sold millions of dollars in promissory notes that he had forged and backed up with phony financial statements and bogus audit reports. He also introduced himself into corporate sanctums where he had no business by exercising “a kind of reckless bravado”, according to the criminal complaint.

The AP reported Mr. van Niekerk’s smuggling arrest last month for attempting to leave Madagascar with 388 live animals, including about 100 lizards and frogs in the lining of his jacket.

All three individuals attempted to place people, commercial paper or animals where they did not belong, in outrageously excessive conduct and blindness to the law. We expected them to know better from their education or position of trust.

This reminds me of a problem that is correctable in Photoshop®. Tonal range is graphed with total black on the left, total white on the right, and mid-tones in the middle. Excessive areas of solid black or solid white diminish the attractiveness of a photograph; so a common image correction in Photoshop is to reduce the “blackout” and “whiteout” each by ten percent. When sliders are moved towards the center on each extreme of the tonal range, areas that were formerly all-black or all-white become something in between.

Now, here is my analogy: The all-out egomaniacal conduct attributed to these three individuals is like the tonal extremes of a photograph. They display no moderation; their conduct is unaffected by law or morality.

Think of the prosecutors’ “black and white thinking” in the double-murder trial of Gary B. Cone of Tennessee, where the defense was amphetamine psychosis and PTSD. They admitted withholding evidence Cone appeared “drunk or high” and then arguing in closing that Cone “doesn’t even use drugs”. SCOTUS will decide if the withheld evidence could have changed the outcome.

The tonal-range analogy does not just apply to the individual situations described above (which are a sort of business-context borderline personality disorder). It also applies to larger issues such as our collective frenzy in recent years to trade near worthless paper in mortgage finance — or acquire SUV’s and other non-competitive motor vehicles. Our national challenge is return these sectors from little or no value (think “black”) to a place where their stock-in-trade has value again (think “gray”). Allowing major sectors of our economy to collapse would move too much of our national “photograph” out of the tonal range, by permitting too much unemployment and business failure.

Thus it is clear that individuals and groups can display similarly aberrant behavior, and both can create a defective “picture”.