A frequent theme of this blog is that our natural desire for tonal balance in a photograph influences the way we perceive disharmony elsewhere. For recent readers, I will recap by saying that we are talking about the histogram; a graph showing the distribution of pixels in a photo from pure black on the left to pure white on the right. The most satisfying images present tones that fall somewhere between the extremes.

             When conduct is imbalanced, there are repercussions much the same as in our reaction to a picture that is washed out or so dark we can barely discern its content. Instead of causing a psychological reaction (“I hate that snapshot,”) the conduct disequilibrium may have consequences that are political, economic or legal.

             Here are some examples, with my thoughts on cause and effect.



Anything Wrong with this Picture?



Apple sets strict terms for software companies wanting to provide applications for the iPhone.


“App” designers have little negotiating leverage. Your phone is in “jail” unless you “jail break” it to allow installation of unauthorized applications, thereby voiding your warranty and maybe rendering the device inoperable.

Market dominance. If the “app” developer wants to reach iPhone users, it is a take-it or leave-it proposition.

Less competition. The only apps are Apple-approved. Apple to an extent defines public standards, because their device provides no choice. I don’t know if Apple’s choice is necessarily the same as mine. I think I would prefer to choose for myself.

Wal-Mart makes large wholesale purchases.

Wal-Mart may negotiate lower prices than anyone else.

Wal-Mart buys in greater volume. After all, they are the World’s largest retailer.

Wal-Mart can dictate prices and manufacturing parameters. Smaller stores may be driven out of business.


I like Wal-Mart. But look what happened when creative real estate investments ran wild and we had to bail out institutions too big to fail. Am I complaining about too much white in the photo of a blizzard?

Texas politicians dictate what historical figures may be mentioned in history books purchased by Texas public schools.

Publishers can either create separate editions for the Lone Star state, or re-write history for all public schoolchildren.

Texas purchases such a substantial percentage of schoolbooks sold nationwide that its criteria cannot be ignored.

What students learn may depend more on politicians than on historians. This is not good for kids.

Greece, Ireland, Portugal, New York State, California, and the City of Los Angeles are catastrophically short of revenue. These are the worst trouble spots, but 48 states in the U.S. face deficits.


They cannot pay all their bills on time. They spend more than they bring in.

Revenues declined precipitously while expenses increased.

Greece is receiving a bailout from the European Union. Other governments are borrowing, furloughing, or cutting back services. Politicians try to avoid raising taxes and eliminating jobs because those steps alienate voters. This can be a major impediment to economic correction; as we observed in the partisanship of the health care debate. Self-interest can worsen a crisis over time; just look at the moribund Kansas City School Board eventually having to close half its schools.

NY Governor David Paterson allegedly received Yankees tickets without paying for them; and may have attempted to discourage the girlfriend of a close aide from pursuing a charge of domestic violence.

He is a lawyer, and lawyers are supposed to avoid the appearance of impropriety, even in their private lives. But if he is comparing himself to former NY Governor Eliot Spitzer and the prostitute; he may believe his own behavior is not that bad.

It seems to involve the authority of elected office or a grandiose self-image.

Dark deeds are a problem for most people. But for some who are powerful or feel so, their own conduct appears just fine. They diminish respect for our political system and betray the public trust.