Hello! Welcome to MarkFord.net
This is the open-for-inspection half-way home for my writing!
What you’ll find here are essays, stories, book chapters, poetry, and journal entries, as well as words and images from others that I want to share.
The bulk of the essays will be about business, wealth building, and personal productivity. But there will also be things I’m equally or more interested in, such as art, education, economics, physics, philosophy, psychology, neurobiology, fitness, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Since much of what you’ll be reading here will be early drafts of work meant for publication I welcome any comments or suggestions you might have that will help me strengthen them.

One Thing & Another

May 23, 2018 in Blog

Notes From My Journal: Love and Marriage   

K and I have been lucky in love and in marriage. We’ve stuck it through countless ups and downs and have come through it happy with one another and with the best products of our marriage: our three sons.

We’ve also been lucky with their marriages, as they’ve each found a partner who is easy to be proud of and easy to love.

None of them had pre-nuptial contracts. We were largely in favor of that because we saw the willingness to forgo them as a statement of commitment, a commitment to sharing and valuing one another equally. And if there is one thing a marriage needs more than anything else, it’s that.

On the other hand, one never knows what the future will bring.

Which brings me to the subject of today’s essay…

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

“People Change When People Die… or Get Divorced”

When your kids are toddlers, you worry they will kill themselves.

When they are teenagers, you worry they will kill others.

By the time they become adults and show no suicidal or homicidal tendencies, you have less-lethal concerns. But you still worry.

When they get married, you worry that they will get divorced.

And when they have children – when you have grandchildren – you worry about what will happen to them when you’re gone.

If you are fortunate enough to have more wealth than you will likely spend in your lifetime, you may have another concern, too. One that K and I have.

We worry that leaving a significant inheritance might be a spark that razes our children’s marriages, terminates their filial bonds, and gives our grandchildren the wrong idea about money.

K and I have been grandparents for just over two years now. And just recently, our third and final son got married. So I’ve done a lot of worrying about our estate.

Reading Beyond the Grave, a book about estate planning that a book-club friend recommended, has made matters worse. Jeffrey Condon, the author, does a fantastic job of recounting a hundred different ways that leaving money to children can end in unforeseen disaster.

I’ve talked to some of my wealthy friends about my concerns. Some of them are confident that they’ve got everything taken care of because they have wills and trusts and insurance policies in place. Others, like me, have done some estate planning but are not sure they’ve done enough.

The problem is… there are no guarantees. You do your best to create structures that encourage your children and grandchildren to do what’s right by what you leave them. If you are lucky, you have given them some moral values that will guide their decisions. But after you have returned to dust, you have zero direct influence on them.

And you never know. As Joe Gondolfo, an insurance expert that spoke at investment conferences years ago, liked to say: “People change when people die.” To those wise words, I would add, “or get divorced.”

I will report on my evolving thoughts on estate planning in future blog posts. For today, I want to address a single issue: Divorce. Specifically, the question of what happens to inherited money when the couple does not have a pre-nuptial agreement.

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One Thing & Another

May 21, 2018 in Blog

Notes From My Journal: Where Tom Wolfe Got the Title for His First Novel

I always wondered where Tom Wolfe got the phrase “bonfire of the vanities.” On a recent trip to Italy, I found out.

Girolamo Savonarola was a rather “puritanical” Dominican friar who lived in Florence during the Italian Renaissance. He denounced corruption in the church, as well as the evils of secular art and culture. On February 7, 1497, he led his supporters in the first of what they called “bonfires of the vanities.” During these rowdy and popular social events, they burned books, art, musical instruments, and other items deemed “indecent.” What fun!

However, as Savonarola’s influence grew, he made many powerful enemies, including Pope Alexander VI. On May 13, 1497, after an unsuccessful attempt by the pope to win Savonarola over to his side, the friar was charged with heresy and excommunicated. Ten days later, he was hanged and – yes – burned before a mob of less puritanical folks in the Piazza della Signoria, the site of his first bonfire.

 

Today’s Word: peruse (verb)

To peruse (puh-ROOZ) is to examine carefully and thoroughly. As used by Jonathan Safran Foer in his novel Here I Am: “It sounded cool, as she’d written about it in her diary, which he’d removed from her unattended backpack while she was in gym… and perused – a word that means the exact opposite of what most people think it means.”

 

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

 “If you ain’t got nothing…”

I bought it to wear at the reception for my second son’s wedding. I won’t tell you what it cost. Let’s just call it stupid.

Something happened in that shop. How can I explain it? I fell into some sort of sartorial love. I was living in a dream.

It was a beige suit of a lightweight, finely woven, woolen fabric. It fit me well. It improved my appearance. It was made by Brioni – an Italian designer/clothier known for being expensive.

I wish I could say that it had a lasting effect. That when I put it on, I have an elevated sense of self-esteem. But the effect has been different.

Knowing that it cost 400% more than my next-best suit, I put it on with a sense of dread.

A voice in my head mocks me:

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One Thing & Another

May 19, 2018 in Blog

Notes From My Journal: Say “Cheese”!

Why do we feel obliged to smile when being photographed? It often gives the wrong impression – that we were happy when perhaps we were not.

Sorting through old photos of the family today, it looks like we’ve always been ecstatic. Here are photos of the boys during that year we’d all rather forget. Judging by their smiles, you’d think everything was about as good as good can be.

“Look here. I want to take a photo of you in front of the cathedral. Smile!”

We smile, thinking, “Oh no! I look so fat in this sweater!”

It’s interesting…

Have you ever noticed that photographs from the 19th century generally depict people with stern to downright grim facial expressions?

What’s that about?

One might conclude from looking at them that people then were generally less happy than people are today. But I don’t think that’s true. Life might have been a bit tougher – but a tough life isn’t necessarily a sad life. I lived in Chad for two years – where life is really hard – and the people there were pretty jolly.

So I don’t get it. Why do we feel compelled to smile?

 

Today’s Word: reify (verb)

To reify (REE-uh-fye) is to make an idea or abstraction concrete. As used by technical writer Evgeny Morozov: “I want to prevent us reifying ‘the Internet’ as something to be preserved like some people want to preserve the American Constitution as it was written.”

 

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

How to Teach Your Kids to Be Hungry, Smart Readers

“Have you read Siddhartha,” the gray-haired man asked the teenager sitting next to him on the flight from New York to West Palm Beach.

“I don’t read,” the boy said.

“Really?”

“Reading is for old people.”

It may be true that we are moving into a brave new world where most of our learning and even our experiences will be digitally created. And it is certainly true that at least some of the skills children will need to succeed in this new future will be different than those we needed in the past.

But if I were a young parent today, I’d still want my children to know how to read. And by that I don’t mean basic literacy. I’m talking about how to read well and wisely.

In my lifetime, the importance of reading was never questioned. But in recent years, some people, like the boy quoted above, have come to see reading as unnecessary.

But so far at least, the evidence supports the primacy of skillful reading as a tool for success.

One large study I came across followed more than 17,000 people in England, Scotland, and Wales from 1958 to 2008. Lead researchers Timothy Bates and Stuart Richie concluded that those that read well at or around age seven earned, on average, considerably higher incomes. They had better-paid and higher-status jobs, and lived in more expensive, higher-status neighborhoods.

Another study, conducted by Ross Finnie and Richard Mueller at the University of Ottawa, showed that the most important factor in determining whether kids went to college was their grade-school reading scores. These scores, they said, were “by far the best predictor of post-secondary attendance, even pre-empting other socio-economic factors – even pre-empting other socio-economic factors.”

And another study, this one at the University of Maryland, found that engaged readers from homes with few material advantages routinely outperformed less engaged readers from the most advantaged environments.

“Reading can overcome traditional barriers to reading achievement, including gender, parental education, and income, the authors of the study said. “It is the key to economic and social power, regardless of socio-economic class. “

Not surprisingly, what children read is as important as how efficiently they read.

Increasingly challenging texts (standard protocol for virtually all reading programs) provided for greater performance in academic, business, and social arenas and more financial success in life.

Interestingly, although non-fiction literature worked well in predicting future achievement, fiction was as good in most cases and better than non-fiction reading in others.

Recent studies in neuroscience show us that the same regions of the brain that are activated during a real event are activated while reading about it in a story. One of those studies, from York University, concluded that narratives in novels offer a unique opportunity to engage in what is called “theory of mind.”

Keith Oatley, writing in Scientific American, reported that when children are reading fiction, their brain activity stimulates intelligence, character development, and judgment. “Children that read a lot of fiction are better at understanding other people, empathizing with them, and seeing the world from multiple points of view. Literature allows not just learning about emotions but experiencing them. It is a form of practice for real life,” Oatley said.

If all this doesn’t convince you that reading is linked to success in life, I could point you to dozens of additional studies.

I was always hopeful that my boys would become serious readers – and so happy when they began reading seriously at about age 13.

K and I did the usual things that are suggested to get kids into reading.  When they were very young, we read to them. When they were able to read themselves, we encouraged them and provided them with a constant stream of books meant for kids their age. And we not only gave them the books we thought they should be reading, we allowed them to read just about anything that engaged them. (So long as it wasn’t absolutely and clearly damaging.)

I was surprised when number-one son, at age 7 or 8, took a liking to books targeted to girls. I have to say it unnerved me at first. But I reasoned that if there was nothing negative in the content of those books, it made little sense to deprive him of them. For about a year, he must have devoured every Nancy-Drew type book in the library. He then moved to the dungeons and dragons genre and read those books with gusto. (And with the skill that he’d acquired by reading the “girly” books.)

When number-two and number-three sons came along, I was prepared to feed them a wide variety of books until I hit on a subject that grabbed their interest. Then it was just a matter of watching them become addicted to reading and waiting for their taste in books to naturally mature.

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One Thing & Another

May 16, 2018 in Blog

Notes From My Journal: What’s in a Name?

Maybe I’m being cynical, but one of the dumbest ideas of recent memory is that euphemisms improve things for minorities.

I am not sure exactly why this sort of thing rubs me the wrong way. It just seems so phony. It seems as if we’re trying to make the problem of discrimination go away by giving it a pretty name. And that is done under the banner of being sensitive to the needs of those we are talking about.

Did colored people wake up, en masse, one day and say they didn’t want to be called “colored” anymore? Did the same thing happen as the politically correct preference changed first to “black” then to “African-American” and, most recently, to “people of color”?

What about Native American Indians? Did they all object to being “injuns”? Or were a few of their leaders looking to make some point? (“Hey, get this, I have a politically correct spellchecker! It actually automatically changed ‘injuns’ to ‘Indians.’ I had to force it to use the nasty old word.”) And when and why did someone decide that Native American Indian was preferable to American Indian?

I don’t know. If I thought that changing “midgets” to “little people” or “retarded” to “people who have a cognitive disability” would eliminate discrimination against these populations, I’d be all in favor of it. But it seems as if the opposite happens. We give them a nice name and hope they go away.

Nick Ackerman, a senior at Simpson College, has just won the NCAA Division II national title in wrestling in the 174-pound division. He’s listed as 6 feet 4 inches on the roster, but that’s only if you count his artificial legs. When he’s on the mat, he wrestles on the stubs of two legs that were amputated below the knee. I am looking at a photo of him attacking another wrestler. It looks as if he’s standing in water, as if his feet were below the mat’s surface. “Don’t call me disabled,” Ackerman says. When asked what he would prefer, he said, “I don’t know. Call me a national champ if you want.”

 

Today’s Word: redolent (adjective)

Redolent (RED-uh-lunt) usually refers to fragrance – to a place or thing that is especially aromatic. It can also refer to something that reminds us of something else or evokes a strong emotional response. Example from the science fiction writer Bruce Sterling: “In a world so redolent with wonder, how can we allow ourselves to conduct our daily lives with so little insight, such absence of dignity.”

 

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

No Good Turn Goes Unpunished*

You have an idea for a documentary – a look into the life of an acquaintance of yours. You’ve known him as a sophisticated writer of direct response advertising, an old-fashioned sort of writer who was fastidious about grammar and spelling. But you’ve discovered that, 30 years earlier, he was a maker of cult movies. He’s a celebrity in that universe. They call him the “Father of Gore.” The film will document his place in film history by explaining his contributions and celebrating his achievements.

He says he’ll do your documentary if you will produce a screenplay he wrote years ago. You have no interest in making a feature film, but you agree to do it. You had budgeted $100,000 for the documentary. His film will probably cost at least $400,00. You raise $600,000, the bulk of it from your own savings.

He wants to get paid up front for his contribution to both films – $20,000 for the rights to his story in the documentary and $80,000 for directing the feature film.  You can understand why you should pay him 20 grand for the documentary. But the feature film was his idea. You’re putting up a small fortune to back it. You feel he should forgo any fees.

You make that case to him. He rebuffs you curtly. You feel a twinge of anger and also fear. But you remind yourself that he is an old man who has accomplished something significant – that, in his view, he deserves what he is asking for. So you take a deep breath and concede to his demands.You are relatively new to filmmaking – and the project takes, as such projects always do, more of your time than you expected. There are moments when he causes you a considerable amount of frustration. He wants things done his way, which is the way they were done 30 years ago when he was making low-budget movies. He doesn’t seem to realize that things have changed. (Even with your limited knowledge of the industry, you know that.)

Again and again, you calm yourself down and imagine yourself in his position. And thus you get through both films as friends, completing them late but on budget.

When it comes time to market the films, he isn’t at all helpful. He tells you that you are “the business man,” although it is he, not you, who has the experience of selling movies. You do the best you can, but you discover that there is no longer a market for super-low-budget movies. Even those made with big names, much bigger than his, get very limited distribution and rarely make back the money invested.

When all is said and done, the project loses half a million dollars. When you send him the numbers, he replies with a registered letter (copied to his lawyer) that all but accuses you of embezzlement. He demands an audit of the books.

You are insulted. After everything you’ve done for him, including all the money you invested and complying with all his wishes and taking all his bullshit for nearly a year… this is how he thanks you?

You are outraged. You imagine yourself grabbing him and trying to shake some sense into him. You think about hiring a lawyer and fighting him in court. But then you do that thing that you have been able to do since you started working with him. You think kindly of the cranky old genius and allow yourself to relax.

The moment you relax, the anger is gone. You feel compassion for the man. He is old. He is fearful. He is struggling to leave something of himself behind for future generations to remember. Meanwhile, he is still fighting. He’s fighting with you. But it is now something you find sadly admirable.

You forward his letter to your accountant and ask him to comply with it. The moment you send it, you feel yourself calming down. You feel almost happy. You feel – and this surprises you since you have just decided to do nothing – in control.

* In this series of essays, which hopes to become a book, I’m exploring an idea I’ve been thinking about for a long time — that all of existence, or rather our experience of existence, can be understood by the metaphor of pulsation. My theory is that this movement — from expansion to contraction and back again to expansion — is the fundamental pattern of everything we experience and everything we do and could be said to be responsible for all of our technical, artistic, and philosophical achievements as well as all of our hurtful and destructive thoughts and actions.

 

Fun Fact

Dreamt is the only English word that ends with the letters “amt.”

 

Look at This… 

https://www.askmen.com/news/fine_living/america-s-oldest-man-enjoys-cigars-and-whiskey

 

One Thing & Another

May 14, 2018 in Blog

Notes From My Journal: “Scientific Method” and the Ongoing Pursuit of Knowledge

Much of my reading lately has hit upon science. In particular, the controversy about whether the scientific method is the most reliable way to ascertain what’s true and what seems to be true.

“Scientific method” is a term that was coined in the 17thcentury. It refers to a systematic procedure – based on observation and testing – that researchers use to try to understand/explain the mysteries of the natural world.

The method is pretty simple. You come up with a theory about an observed phenomenon. Then you test that theory as precisely as you can. That’s where some misunderstanding occurs.

When you are testing the results of two direct mail campaigns, you must ensure that you are testing only one variable. You don’t, for example, test both price and headline at the same time.

When humans are involved, which is the case with most social and health studies, the test must also be double-blind. Double-blind means that neither the tester nor the testee can know which of the sample groups is the control group and which is the test group. The ancient Greeks were good at the first part of the scientific method: coming up with guesses about why things are the way they are. But they never subjected their theories to experiment. The Muslims, from what I’ve read, were the first to do that.A theory that is proven is not proven for all time. It is simply accepted as true until some further testing finds it incorrect or inadequate. Still, you have to go with what you have. You can’t ignore or deny the existence of carbon dating and fossils simply because they don’t fit into your theory.

 

Today’s Word: bloviate (verb)

To bloviate (BLOW-vee-ate) is to speak or write in a longwinded, empty, pompous way. As used by former U.S. Representative Barney Frank: “I think there is too much bloviating around by politicians.” (He needn’t have said “around.”)

 

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

Sometimes It’s Smart to Shoot for Second Place

It may sometimes seem like I’m always pushing my readers in the direction of becoming No.1 –  of being your own boss and having your own business. And I won’t deny that I spend a lot of time talking about the advantages of entrepreneurship and equity.

But some people are better off in the No.2 position. Some people will have more success, make more money, achieve more, and more fully enjoy their life’s work if there is someone else to whom they feel responsible.

I sometimes believe I am one of those people. I notice that when I negotiate for myself, I’m a pushover. But when I do so on the part of a senior partner or group of people, I tend to be much more aggressive.

When it’s solely my interests at stake, I tend to relax. I have the feeling that I don’t need the best deal, that I can always find another, and so I’m happy to settle. But when I’m representing others, I feel an additional responsibility to get the deal they will like.

It’s an admission I don’t make readily. I’d rather think of myself as more alpha, as the No.1 dog in the junkyard. But if I look back at my business career, I have to recognize that my greatest accomplishments have come out of relationships in which I was No.2.

That’s not to say I was ever comfortable down the food chain of power.  I was never able to spend much more than a few months at a job before I started moving up and taking over.  I was simply unwilling to play a modest role. From day one, I was trying to cut myself in on the action. This impulse was no doubt the driving force in my career.

I presume you have a driving force, too – and your impulse may feel like the need to be on the very top. If so, that’s fine. But if you tend to be more like me, your path may be slightly different.

It is important to understand the difference. Because if you are a No.1 kind of person, you will be unhappy and eventually fail as a second banana. And if you are a No.2 kind of person, you may fail if you try to go out on your own.

The story of Pat Farrah illustrates the point.

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