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

July 18, 2018 in Blog

Delray Beach, FL

Notes From My Journal: Is This Really a Problem?

American children are in grave danger of going to bed hungry. At least that’s the conclusion of two university professors writing in the NYT. The issue is a new regulation that tightens the requirements for receiving food stamps.

I didn’t know this but, according to the professors, food stamps are practically a constitutional right. US taxpayers have been providing them to lower-income people since the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The first program (1939-1943) was credited to FDR’s Secretary of Agriculture, Henry Wallace.

One of Bill Clinton’s welfare reforms in 1996 was a requirement for adults without dependent children to either work or do 20 hours a week of work study to qualify for food stamps. And now, the same prerequisite is being made for parents of school children.

The authors characterized this as dangerous and damaging. They cited the oft-repeated “fact” that 1 in 8 Americans “go to bed hungry.”

Two questions for anyone opposed to stricter regulations for food stamps:

  1. If you ask someone to do something – like work or develop a skill – in return for food, is that a bad thing? Is it dumb? Is it futile? Is it unethical? Or is it proper and respectful? Giving that person the opportunity to earn what he/she is given?

If there is one thing I’ve learned from my charitable activities at Fun Limon in Nicaragua http://funlimon.org, it’s that one should never give away anything for free. Giving away stuff for free – except in emergency cases – creates dependency and feelings of entitlement.

2. When you say that people are going to bed hungry, what, exactly, do you mean?

I’m assuming you mean hungry as in the person hasn’t had sufficient calories to maintain health. And if that’s the case, how you do you explain the fact  that as many as 40% of food stamp recipients are obese. One study found that food stamp recipients were actually twice as likely to be obese as eligible non-recipients.

This tells me that the whole idea of “going to bed hungry” is an idiotic myth. We are talking about obese people that are probably poorly nourished because the food they buy with their food stamps – for themselves and their children – is junk.

So if we required food stamps to be used only to buy nutritionally healthy food, would that be a bad thing?

I realize that some of my readers are going to say, “What right have you to dictate what people on food stamps eat?”

My answer: I have the right because I am responsible for how my tax dollars are spent.

 

Today’s Word: concupiscent (adjective)

Concupiscent (kon-kyoo-PIH-sunt) means lustful or sensual, filled with strong sexual desire. As used by David McCullough in Truman, his book about our 33rdpresident: “To the writer Edward Dahlberg everything about the Kansas City of 1905 was redolent of sex and temptation… a wild, concupiscent city.”

 

Fun Fact

There are more than a million animal species on earth.

 

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

The Myth of Positive Thinking

One of the most popular myths about success is the power of positive thinking. The idea, in a nutshell, is that you can change your life by changing the way you think.

Promotors of positive thinking are everywhere, and the message has appeared and reappeared in countless books, seminars, and speeches. Its appeal is easy to understand: If success depends merely on the way you think, it is both easily and instantly possible. If I want to be a better father or negotiator or basketball player, all I have to do is put the right thoughts in my head. Then, presto! I am what I wish to be.

This is an idea that was popularized in the 20thcentury, but it actually dates back at least 2500 years.

Some people – perhaps some of the Sophists – were making the case for positive thinking in ancient Greece. If not, why would Aristotle have found it necessary to point out that we are what we repeatedly do? That excellence is not an act, but a habit?

Aristotle was right. In my experience, successful people do the things that success requires:

 

* They dream about being successful.

* They set goals.

* They get to work early.

* They do important rather than busy work.

* They network.

* They have a bias for action.

 

And what do failures do?

 

* They dream about goofing off.

* They try to do as little work as possible.

* They shirk responsibility.

* They watch a lot of television.

* They blame their failings on others.

 

The secret to success is action, not attitude. It doesn’t matter what your attitude is. What matters is what you do with your time. If you do the right things, you will be successful regardless of your emotional condition or mental attitude. If you do the wrong things, no amount of positive thinking will save you.

If you want to succeed in life, don’t spend any time looking at yourself in the mirror and shouting affirmations. Don’t bother singing happy songs or walking on coals. Don’t even spend much time reading about positive thinking. Instead, start doing something positive.

Set some goals. Break them down into monthly, weekly, and daily objectives. Then get to work.

 

 Recommended Reading

 The Worship of Jackals by Jackasses

By Christopher DeGroot in Taki’s Magazine http://takimag.com

American democracy, said H.L. Mencken, is “the worship of jackals by jackasses.” This definition is as harsh as it is colorful, but Mencken was a kind of philosopher, and his judgment is consistent with philosophy’s tradition of profound skepticism about the value of democracy.

That skepticism is quite justified, recent events suggest. Consider, for instance, the immigration question. It is intractable, and the reason appears to be the human mind itself. For plainly there are many Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, who are either unable or unwilling to entertain two conflicting ideas at once: a sense of duty to needful immigrants, and the need to enforce the southern border and protect the national good generally.

Immensely complicated, the first idea comes into conflict with other goods, and therefore must be negotiated. For however much pity we may feel for the peoples of Mexico, Honduras, and elsewhere, the reality is that excessive low-skill immigration is not good for our own working class or Americans in general. There are only so many jobs in landscaping, construction, and other blue-collar industries, so it’s undesirable for there to be millions of people who will work for wages that don’t meet the expectations of 21st-century Americans, because the presence of such persons entails fewer jobs and lower wages for native citizens.

It’s estimated that around 50,000 illegal aliens enter the country each month. Sixty-two percent of all illegals receive welfare. Needless to say, this is not a sustainable situation. Nor is it fair. “The Trump administration,” according to Bloomberg, “plans to pay a Texas nonprofit nearly half a billion dollars this year to care for immigrant children who were detained crossing the U.S. border illegally.” Says Ilana Mercer:

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One Thing & Another

July 16, 2018 in Blog

Delray Beach, FL

Notes From My Journal: Women, Work, and Babies

According to the NYT, American companies have spent years “rolling out programs aimed at retaining mothers, but many large corporations still systematically sideline women who are pregnant.”

The proof?

They cite a study which found that each child cuts 4% off a woman’s hourly wages. Men’s earnings, they say, after controlling for other factors, increase by 6% when they become fathers.

I don’t buy it. What I’d bet they’d find out if they really studied those “controls” is that these discrepancies are the result of decisions mothers make. Decisions about opting for less-demanding jobs that allow them to do what’s more important to them: taking care of their kids.

 

Today’s Word: cleave (verb)

Cleave (KLEEV) is the only word with two synonyms that are antonyms of each other: 1. adhere, and 2. separate.

Examples:

  1. “Search men’s governing principles, and consider the wise, what they shun and what they cleave to.” (Marcus Aurelius)
  2. “In time small wedges cleave the hardest oak.” (Thomas Kyd)

 

Fun Fact

The body uses 300 muscles to balance itself while standing still.

 

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

“What’s Your Business Management Philosophy?”, Part 2

 As I said on Monday, [LINK TO JULY 16 ESSAY], there are four broadly different management styles: bullying, babying, being charismatic, and disappearing.

Let’s take a look at them now…

 The Authoritarian

The authoritarian is the manager that knows just what should be done at every moment and who should be doing what. Some achieve their authority through diplomacy. Some through bureaucratic micro-managing, and some by acting the bully.

Sometimes the bullying is direct and obvious. The manager might actually say, “You’ll do this because I tell you to or you’ll be fired.”

I recently spoke to an executive who told me that before hiring a candidate, he tells them, “When you work for me, you work for no one else. If I call you on a Sunday and you are having a birthday party for your kid, I expect you to drop that and come to work.”

This guy’s approach is militant and the atmosphere in his office is like a bootcamp. You’d think such a management style would eventually blow up. But he has been successfully building his business, increasing profits fivefold in less than seven years. And his employees are extremely loyal.

Other times, the bullying is more passive.

Another executive I know, for example, is meticulous and polite in her conversations with employees. She never says anything that on paper would seem untoward. And yet she manages, by innuendo and non-verbal means, to let her employees know that they have two choices: her way or the highway.

And she, too, has been extremely successfully, growing her business from next to nothing to more than $100 million during the time I worked with her.

Bullying – whether active or passive – is the primary management strategy for training and developing soldiers. It’s also the primary strategy for just about every business on Wall Street.

So… though it is indubitably noxious, it is frequently successful. How can that be?

I would say this: Successful bullying requires offsetting abilities and tactics.

One of them is the ability to inspire underlings to believe that they are part of a cause that is greater than their bully bosses. Soldiers, for example, are willing to put up with bootcamp abuse they wouldn’t tolerate elsewhere because they feel that they and their sergeants are serving a higher purpose. They submit to the humiliation to serve that higher cause.

Another is the creation of a sort of fraternity house atmosphere. New recruits understand that the bullying is just part of a process of bringing them inward and upward in the organization. And that later it will be their turn to bully others.

Perhaps the most common way to make bullying work is to pay employees considerably more than they could get in a similar job. If you are making 20% to 50% more than you could make working for a gentler and kinder competitor, you might very well think, “Nah. I can take the bullying. I like the money here.”

The downside of bullying, though, is significant. Although the bully can get a great deal of good work from his employees, he is working with people who fundamentally don’t trust and don’t like him. If an equally well-paid (or better) job opportunity comes along, they will leave without a moment’s regret.

That said, if you want to adopt this style of management there are some guidelines to follow:

* You can’t be an effective bully manager unless you have employees that are comfortable with being bullied now and then. So you have to be frank with them in the beginning. You have to make it clear during the interview process that your business culture is demanding and sometimes humiliating. If the candidate can’t tolerate that, he should withdraw his application.

* Make the pay scale attractive. If you are going to regularly push people beyond their natural limits, you must be willing to pay them more. How much more? That depends on your industry. But I would say that the average compensation should be at least 10% and more likely 20% higher than industry standards, with unlimited potential for some positions.

* Identify the mission. Explain how and why it is extremely important.

* Never forget that even if you’ve established a larger-than-thou goal for the business and you are overpaying your workers, they will eventually come to resent your bullying. And that although you may have captured their best and most productive hours, you will have lost the loyalty in their hearts.

 
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One Thing & Another

July 14, 2018 in Blog

Delray Beach, FL

Notes From My Journal: A Bit of Navel Gazing

Am I a Poet or What?

I write poetry. I’ve written poetry on and off since I was 12. In the past 15 years, I’ve written more than a thousand poems. But I am haunted by doubt. Am I a poet?

I’d like to think I am. But I don’t write poetry like WB Yeats did. Or Charles Bukowski. I’ve had only a handful of my poems published in legit literary magazines. The bulk of them are stored in my computer. Several hundred have been printed in books I’ve more or less self-published.

Lots of poets self-publish, I tell myself. But usually only their first works. So am I a poet? Or a wannabe? Or a fraud?

I can’t say. I can say with some confidence that I’m a writer since nearly a dozen of my books were published by major publishing houses. And several of them sold well.  Two were NYT bestsellers.

I can’t say that about my poetry books. I publish them because my hit-and-miss efforts to find a publisher failed. Had I tried harder, perhaps something would have happened. But I suspect at least part of the problem is that my poetry is not all that good.

But so long as I write poetry, am I not a poet? Is a mediocre plumber not a plumber? That’s what I’d like to think.

But is it correct?

So I continue to write and I continue to wonder: Can I call myself a poet?

 

Today’s Word: congeries (noun)

Congeries (KON-juh-rees) is an assemblage. As used by the writer Cynthia Ozick: “I’m not afraid of facts. I welcome facts but a congeries of facts is not equivalent to an idea. This is the essential fallacy of the so-called scientific mind. People who mistake facts for ideas are incomplete thinkers; they are gossips.”

 

 Fun Fact

When the moon is overhead, you weigh slightly less.

 

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

Buying Real Estate in a Declining Market

On Thursday, I told you a story about how I lost money by “land banking.” Today, I’ll tell you a story with (for me) a happier ending.

“I can’t change what you think,” I said to JP.

We were talking about the little cottage next to my house. I had been renting it from JP and using it for storage for years. I wanted to buy it, but every time I tried, JP said he wasn’t interested. Then one day – at the height of the real estate bubble market (the end of 2006) – he decided to sell. But the price he was asking, $2 million, was considerably more than I felt it was worth.

“Let me ask you,” I continued. “Did your broker suggest you could get $2 million?”

“He did,” JP admitted. “But so what?”

Overestimating a property’s value is a trick some brokers use to get listings. They tell the homeowner what he wants to hear: that his property is worth a lot more than it is, i.e., more than other brokers have suggested. Feeling good about the higher price, the homeowner signs the listing agreement.

Once the broker has the contract, he sits back for a while and does nothing. He knows that the house won’t sell at the price listed. But he can’t say that to the owner after just getting the listing by saying the opposite.

Weeks go by and there is no action. The owner gets increasingly nervous. Eventually, he calls the broker and suggests they lower the price. The broker “reluctantly” agrees. This process continues until the house is priced to sell. Then the sale is made and the broker gets his commission.

“Nothing,” I said. “I was just curious.”

I thought about ending the conversation right then but decided to make him what I considered was a fair offer: $1.5 million. (Actually, it was a very good offer, considering the property had been worth less than half of that five years earlier.)

But $1.5 million wasn’t good enough for JP. He was positive that prices were going to keep on moving upwards. So I moved my stuff out of the cottage, still hoping I’d be able to make a deal with JP and move it back in.

Meanwhile, I had to figure out where to put everything. Julio needed access to the gardening equipment and tools, so we decided to put them in the garage. To make room, I rented a long-term storage unit for the Christmas decorations that I had been storing there.

I felt bad about the way things had gone. But since I knew JP was caught up in the delusion that real estate prices in our area would keep climbing, I didn’t actively pursue the purchase.

As the weeks went by, I continued to see evidence that the big bubble – though not yet bursting –was at least leaking. So sometime that following spring, I called JP and restated my previous offer.

“Not interested,” he said. “In fact, we’re thinking of raising the price.”

“There’s a reason you haven’t had a single offer,” I said. (I didn’t know that. I was guessing.) “The market is dropping. This is probably the best offer you’ll get.”

He hung up the phone. That pissed me off. I waited another month. More evidence of leakage. I called him back.

“Here’s the deal,” I said. “I’ll buy it today for $1.5 million. If you don’t take this offer, I’ll come back next time with an offer for $1.4 million. If you don’t take that, I’ll wait a while and offer you $1.3 million. And we’ll keep playing this game until you sell.”

He hung up again.

About six weeks later, I offered him $1.4 million. He declined. But by then, even he could see that the market was falling.

I did what I said I would do. Three more offers. Three more refusals. I bought it finally for $1.1 million, $400,000 less than he could have gotten had he accepted my first offer.

 What’s the takeaway?

 

  1. Don’t rely on brokers to tell you what your property is worth. It’s easy to figure it out on your own by going online and seeing what similar houses in the area are selling for. (Not being offered for, but actually selling for.)

 

  1. Property prices, like all prices, move up and down. But they don’t pop up and drop down like stock prices do. So when prices start dropping, it’s sensible to assume that they will keep dropping for a while. If you want or need to sell, it’s smart to price the property attractively so you can sell it as soon as possible.

 

  1. Because of the way prices move, it is considerably easier to “time” property investments than it is stocks or even bonds. You can and should consider price movements to determine buying and selling decisions. But don’t try to time tops and bottoms. That’s a loser’s game.

 

 

Recommended Reading

 

Just Kids

By Patti Smith

2010, 320 pages

A memoir of the author’s relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe – from when they met as kids in the West Village until the artist/photographer’s death in 1989.

The only thing I knew about Patti Smith before I read this book was that she is probably the least-successful singer songwriter in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. (Her bestselling song “Because theNight” made it only to 13 on the Billboard Hot 100chart, and it was co-written by Bruce Springsteen.) So I started this book with a prejudice against it, which was reinforced initially by lots of name dropping, some flowery/pretentious language, and the author’s unquestioned assumption that she was always the most interesting person in the room. I kept asking: How did this win the National Book Award, the most prestigious literary prize in the USA?

But eventually, the book won me over by the stories themselves. Not the stories that center on the author and how precocious she was/is, but those that give the reader glimpses of some of the other characters that came into her life during that period: Mapplethorpe primarily, but also Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Grace Slick, etc.

I’d recommend Just Kidsto anyone interested in having an inside view of how the Beat Generation evolved into the Woodstock Generation. In other words, I’d recommend it to anybody my age or anyone that wants to understand people my age.

One Thing & Another

July 12, 2018 in Blog

Rome, Italy

Notes From My Journal: A Quick Side Trip for a Business Meeting 

Back in Rome tonight after a few days in France. The taxi driver was a maniac. He got me from the airport to my hotel in half the time that it usually takes. I showered and dressed and went to the rooftop terrace for a drink and to write this. I’ll have pasta for dinner — delicious, homemade, al dente pasta.

The trip to France was business. But when I arrived in Paris, I had time to spend a very pleasant several hours walking through the Jardins de Tuileries and Champs-Élysées.

The meeting was at Chateau de Courtomer, two hours north of Paris in Normandy. A handsome 12th century structure rebuilt in the 18th century that we bought 10 years ago and use now and then for company meetings like these.

We had invited some of our top global marketers to spend two days with Rich Schefren, the digital marketing “guru of the digital marketing gurus.”

Rich is also a good friend, We’ve spent many a night together over the years smoking cigars and talking. Rich teaches business strategy and marketing techniques, but when no one else is around we talk theory.

It’s commonly said that our business is a “what” (happened) business, not a “why” business. And most marketers are happy with that approach. But for Rich and me, entrepreneurship, business management, and marketing would be bo-o-o-o-ring without theory to plump them up.

Among the many things I took away from Rich’s presentation, the most important was his conviction that you cannot expect to be competitive in business today unless you are absolutely up to date on digital technology.

It’s no longer possible to build a business — to attract and develop valuable customer relationships — if you cannot communicate with customers at will via all sorts of media simultaneously. This was impossible 10 years ago. It was a goal five years ago. Today, it’s as easy as making purchases via Amazon Prime.

It’s also no longer possible to be strictly a direct marketing business, as we have been since the beginning. Because of social media, every business must be concerned about its brand.

Most of what is written about brand marketing is bullshit. It’s difficult and very rare to build a sizable business that way. But you can’t expect to represent your business properly unless you devote at least some attention to countering the fake news on social media.

I do prefer Rome over Paris, but I can’t argue that it is more beautiful after seeing Paris once again. Paris has the advantage of being a planned city. The way the boulevards are laid out and the way the neighborhoods (arrondissements) are situated give the city a spectacular charm.

So I was happy to have that promenade in Paris. But I’m really excited about eating Cacio e Pepe tonight.

 

Today’s Word: abrogate (verb)

To abrogate (AB-roh-gate) is to abolish, annul, or treat as non-existent. As used by Doris Kearns Goodwin in Team of Rivals, her book about Lincoln and his cabinet: “The abrogation of slavery was their [the Liberty Party’s] principal goal.”

 

Fun Fact

According to some genealogists, Oprah Winfrey and Elvis Presley are distant cousins.

 

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

How Not to “Land Bank”

I got the tax bill for our Canadian property just before I left for Rome.

Twenty-three hundred bucks. How long have I owned that property? It must be 20 years. That’s about 50 grand in taxes. Plus the cost of maintaining the island’s one road over the years. Maybe another five grand. So, $55,000 in total. Add that to the $55,000 I paid for the land, and my current investment – not counting the cost of money — is $110,000.

And what is this land worth today? I don’t want to know.

But I should know. So I checked. And it was worse than I feared. Maybe $35,000!

Land banking is a term applied to investments in raw land whose value one expects to increase over time. Generally speaking, owning raw land is a lot cheaper than owning property with a structure on it, because both the maintenance and the taxes are relatively low. Sometimes de minimus.

Plus, land is tangible. Therefore, in theory, it cannot be easily stolen and will provide a hedge against inflation.

That’s what I told myself when I bought it. But it hasn’t lived up to its promise.

The touted benefits of land banking were certainly the elements of my rational. But we know that buying decisions take place in the emotional, not rational, regions of the brain. So what was I feeling when I bought it?

Let’s see. I had just made 10 times my money investing in raw land on the Pacific coast of Central America. I bought it along with three friends and colleagues. One of them bought us out five years later, which doubled my money. But as part of the deal, the first investors also took individual lots. It was the value of those lots that brought my total return to 1,000%.

That raw land had been found for us by RG, a young man that we’d hired to find it for us. So when he came to us with a smaller but seemingly similar offering in Canada – five acres of a barrier island along Canada’s eastern shore – I felt I should go for it. Notice: Felt.

I rationalized the Canadian purchase by calling it land banking. I’d had one good experience already. I felt good about that. So my impulse was to do it again.

Two of my previous partners went in on the Canadian property with me. They were both hard-core land bankers. RG told us the island was beautiful. And he reminded us that “they’re not making any more waterfront property,” a cliché I have heard many times.

I never gave a thought to what it would cost me to own the property. I figured, correctly, that maintenance wouldn’t be much. But I didn’t take taxes into consideration.

I’d like to blame my decision to keep the property on ignorance and naiveté. But I can’t. I knew better. Yet I held on.

I can only explain it by relating it to the stock investor who makes a big investment in a stock that tanks and refuses to sell. He’d rather bootlessly hope for a miracle than accept that his original decision was wrong.

In other words, I used the same part of my brain to make the decision to hold on to the property that I had used to buy it in the first place.

Let that be a lesson to you!

No, let that be 7 lessons:

Rule 1.Always remember that what you pay for something – be it a house or a car or a tract of land – is only one part of the total cost of possessing it.

Rule 2.Be honest with yourself. Accept the fact that most of your buying decisions are driven by emotion.

Rule 3.Don’t use your brain to rationalize buying decisions. Use it to figure out the ways your emotional decision might be foolish.

Rule 4.If, after doing the former, you are still set on making the investment, create a Plan B – a strategy to minimize the financial costs of your bad decision.

Rule 5.Make sure that strategy includes a “stop loss” point – i.e., a point at which you will bail out of the investment even if you don’t “want” to.

Rule 6.It you can’t create a Plan B, don’t invest.

Rule 7.If you can’t create a Plan B and still want to invest, get comfortable with the possibility that you will lose every penny.

Had I followed rules 1,2, and 3, I would not have bought that land in the first place. Had I ignored those rules but followed rules 4 and 5, I would have long ago sold it for a modest loss.

Since I did none of those things, I have nothing but rule 7 to follow: I have to admit I made a foolish mistake.

 

Watch This…

 https://biggeekdad.com/2015/05/the-biggest-building-in-the-world/

One Thing & Another

July 10, 2018 in Blog

Rome, Italy

Notes From My Journal: Controlled Chaos on Rome’s Streets

On Sunday, I gave you many reasons why, for me, Rome is one of the greatest cities in the world.

Most of what I said would not surprise anyone who has spent any time there. But what I might like best about Rome are things the casual tourist might not notice. Like the elegant way businessmen dress. Like all the hidden and neglected sculpture and paintings on back alleys. Like the preponderance of water fountains.

And like the lack of stop signs and traffic lights.

You can walk for hours in Rome without encountering a single traffic light or stop sign. If the eternal city had as many traffic lights per square mile as the Big Apple, there would be thousands of each. They do have them, but very, very few. It feels like less than a dozen.

Instead of throwing up a light at every busy intersection as we do in the States, the Romans use white-striped pedestrian walkways. And the law is that pedestrians have the right of way.

That means you can walk across the street at any crosswalk, however heavy the traffic, and every vehicle will stop for you. You don’t need to push a button or wait for green. From a New Yorker’s perspective, it’s amazing.

We do have pedestrian rights-of-way here and there in the States. There are about a half-dozen along Ocean Boulevard in Delray Beach, where I live. And they work pretty well. Except that because drivers are not familiar with them, a person crossing the street can get run over if he’s not alert.

But in Rome, you cross the street when you want to cross the street. Even if a stampede of cars is roaring towards you, they will stop if you have the courage to step out in front of them. You feel safe and even powerful. It’s quite different from Madrid, for example, where drivers seem to want to bump you off.

And by the way, Rome’s less-is-more system is better for drivers, too. They have to stop for pedestrians. But the moment the pedestrian has passed, they can go on their way. They don’t have to wait stupidly at a red light when there are no pedestrians in sight.

I’m not sure how or why this happened, but I think I see chaos theory at work here. The part that can be applied to the laws that govern traffic. The idea, according to Edward Lorenz, the pioneer of chaos theory, is to use the present to determine the future. It’s very common, for example, for universities to wait until students have worn paths in the grass by trotting from building to building before deciding where to put paved walkways. And in Finland, they use paths left by skiers after the first winter snowfall as a guide for establishing new trails.

In Rome, city planners apparently looked at the way people (pedestrians and drivers) were actually using the streets, and then made decisions to facilitate the natural flow of traffic. As a result, traffic signals were installed only where and when they were actually necessary.

By the way, several cities in Europe experimented with getting rid of traffic signs completely. As they expected, it forced drivers to be more cautious, and accidents declined dramatically.

It just goes to show you that the instinct to solve every problem with a regulation should be resisted unless evidence for regulation is overwhelming.

 

 Today’s Word: defenestrate (verb)

To defenestrate (dee-FEN-ih-strate) is to throw someone or something out of a window. (The Latin word for window isfenestra.) I remember reading that the term originated in Prague in 1618 when a group of bureaucrats were assassinated that way. This incident – known as the Defenestration of Prague – led to the Thirty Years War.

A great word! I’m always looking for a way to work it into conversation. Rarely succeed.

 

 Fun Fact

Pope John Paul II was the world Scrabble champion in the over-70 division.

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