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

June 18, 2018 in Blog

 

Notes From My Journal: , the “boy wonder” who once rocked the academic world

I get an email from someone named Dr. Mardy once a week. He provides brief biographies of interesting people along with clever or insightful things they were quoted as saying.

Some of them are downright inspiring. Here’s a good example:

When Robert M. Hutchins died in 1977 at the age of 78, he was one of higher education’s most influential (and provocative) figures. He was also one of America’s great defenders of democratic institutions.

In 1928, at the age of 29, Hutchins made headlines when he became Dean of the Yale University Law School. A year later, the “boy wonder” became president of the University of Chicago. He served as president until 1945 and chancellor until 1951. During his tenure, he established many controversial reforms, including abandoning intercollegiate football, attempting to ban fraternities, and using comprehensive exams rather than classroom time to measure academic progress.

He made few friends with alumni and students when he announced:

“Football, fraternities, and fun have no place in the university. They were introduced only to entertain those who shouldn’t be in the university.”

Hutchins was a fervent believer in Classical Education and, along with philosopher Mortimer J. Adler, believed a college curriculum could be built around great books. Their efforts ultimately resulted in the Great Books of the Western World, published by Encyclopedia Britannica in 1952.

During the McCarthy era, Hutchins aroused the ire of many by opposing loyalty oaths and vigorously defending academic freedom. At a news conference in 1951, a combative journalist asked with disdain, “Is Communism still being taught at the University?” Hutchins, who was used to dealing with loaded questions, replied calmly: “Yes, and cancer at the medical school.”

He authored a number of other observations that have made it into my personal quotation collection. Here’s a sampling:

* “Whenever I get the urge to exercise, I lie down until the urge passes.”

 

* “It is not so important to be serious as it is to be serious about the important things.”

 

* “My idea of education is to unsettle the minds of the young and inflame their intellects.”

 

* “The college graduate is presented with a sheepskin to cover his intellectual nakedness.”

 

* “Great books are great teachers… showing us every day what ordinary people are capable of.”

 

* “We can put television in its proper light by supposing that Gutenberg’s great invention had been directed at printing only comic books.”

 

* “This is a do-it-yourself test for paranoia: You know you’ve got it when you can’t think of anything that’s your fault.”

 

* “The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.”

 

Sometimes it takes an entire biography to feel you understand someone. Reading just these few facts about Hutchins’s life and, more importantly, these quotations, makes me feel not only that I know him but admire him.

 

  Click to continue… One Thing & Another

One Thing & Another

June 16, 2018 in Blog

Notes From My Journal: Giving Harassment a Pass

Number One Son told me that his company (he’s in the movie biz) brought in a lawyer/expert in workplace conduct to lecture on “correct” business/social protocol post #MeToo. The expert said that anyone considered “special” – which apparently includes women, racial and ethnic minorities (sorry, white men), the physically and/or mentally disabled (including drunks and drug addicts) – have special protection under the law.

What does that mean? According to the expert: You cannot make them feel uncomfortable.I repeat: You cannot make them feel uncomfortable.If you do, it’s harassment. Which raises the question: How is one expected to read the minds (or hearts) of one’s fellow workers?

There is no answer for that. But if the victim is not special, you can say pretty much whatever you want to him with impunity. Bullying, the expert said, is not harassment, so long as it is not targeting a special group. In other words, so long as one’s victim is a white male.

 

Today’s Word: restive (adjective)

Restive (RES-tiv) means impatient, nervous or fidgety. As used by E.M. Forster in A Room With a View: “Such music is not for the piano, and her audience began to get restive.”

 

Fun Fact

Blueberry Jelly Bellies were created especially for Ronald Reagan.

 

 

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

The Zen Concept of Satori– What It Really Means to Be “in the Moment”* 

The German philosopher Eugen Herrigel spent time in Japan studying kyudo (archery) under Awa Kenzo. Kenzo, a kyudoand Zen master, called his teaching approach Daishadokyo. Unlike the learning systems that were popular in the West at the time, it was internal and spiritual.

In Zen in the Art of Archery, Herrigel explains how Daishadokyoworks. The idea is that, after years of practice, the kyudomaster no longer consciously controls his movements. The skill of archery becomes effortless. It is this intuitive level of  awareness toward which the student aspires.

Zen Buddhists call it satori– a state of enlightenment that is achieved when the practitioner is fully “located” in the present moment. They describe the experience as a harmonious flowing together of the mind, body, and emotions.

To get to this level of awareness, the kyudostudent must rid himself of the conscious awareness of “self.” In other words, he must rid himself of the conscious awareness of the movement of his arms and shoulders, the conscious contemplation of the target – everything that the beginning student cannot help but focus on.

The student renounces the desire to hit the target but he does not renounce the intention of hitting it. He finds, through repeated practice, that he can accomplish his goal more quickly and more efficiently by not desiring it.

In Zen Tennis: Eastern Wisdom for Western Sport, Paul Mutimer writes, “It’s important to remember that satoriexperiences don’t have to be linked to great achievement. Often, they can occur at very simple natural moments. I would consider that I experienced some very special moments hitting tennis balls early on spring mornings. The air was crisp and invigorating, my body relaxed and alert and I felt a great sense of well-being.”

This particular aspect of Zen teaching works so well because the concepts at play – desire and intention, to name two – are easy to understand. They are instantly and unambiguously comprehended. That is the measure we must demand in our pursuit of a uniform theory of life. The idea of Yin and Yang does not meet that requirement. But the idea of expansion and contraction does.

* 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 our knowledge of the universe and our experience of living can be understood by the metaphor of pulsation – of contraction and relaxation – and that such an understanding might be helpful in succeeding in life and accepting death.

 

Read This and You Won’t Have to Read the Book

Sometimes – as in this case – I start reading a book and realize that, for whatever reason, it doesn’t merit a lot of my time. So I scan through it, identify the gist, and record that in a few short sentences.

 Here it is…

Bringing Up Bébé

By Pamela Druckerman

2014, 432 pages

The author moves to France, with family, and is surprised to find that the local restaurants rarely feature “kid” meals. Children are expected to eat adult food (e.g., cabbage and dill sauce). This leads to the startling (to her) discovery that contemporary American culture may be harmful – in body and in mind – to our youth.

 

One Thing & Another

June 14, 2018 in Blog

Notes From My Journal: 2 Unexpected Estate-Planning Issues

In my ongoing effort to find a path through the dense and dangerous jungle of estate planning, I’ve been meeting with experts, talking with friends, and reading everything that looks the least bit relevant.

Most books are not worth the paper they are printed on because their intent is to sell ideas (and/or services) rather than discover problems and solve them. One book that is different is Beyond the Grave. I’m mentioned it before. https://www.markford.net/one-thing-another

Last night, I read another chapter. It helped me identify two potential estate-planning problems I was not aware of. According to the author:

 

  1. If any medical bills for the parent are covered and paid for by Medicaid, the state will seek to recover those payments after death.

 

  1. You can’t avoid the death tax by giving your house to your children before you die. Upon your death, it will be taxed as a gift. The gift tax will be based on the value of the house when given. Your children will also pay capital gains tax on the appreciation of the house since then.

 

It may, however, be possible to avoid the lion’s share of these taxes by setting up a QPRT (Qualified Personal Residence Trust). When funded, it takes the property out of the estate.

More on this anon.

 

Today’s Word: mammothrept (noun)

A mammothrept (MAM-uh-thrept) is a spoiled child. Example, from the historical novel Master and Commanderby Patrick O’Brian: “And having seen the parents I am impatient to see this youth, the fruit of their strangely unattractive loins: will he be a wretched mammothrept? A little corporal?”

 

Fun Fact

The Harry Potter Economy –I knew it was big, but it’s bigger than I imagined. Two parts of it: 500 million books worldwide and $7.7 billion in worldwide film sales.

 

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

The Power of Being Mysterious (and Why You Shouldn’t Do Too Much of It)

In his Oracles, the 17th Century Spanish writer and Jesuit priest Baltasar Gracian advises those who want power to “keep matters in suspense” because “mystery causes veneration.”

There’s a good deal of truth in that. People that speak quickly are frequently seen as rash or impulsive. People that tend to hold back a bit before making comments are sometimes seen as thoughtful and wise.

When BB, MN, and I talk about business (which is often), I’m the first to voice an opinion. BB rarely beats me to the gate, but he will respond to my statements right away. MN waits until we’ve both exhausted ourselves.

This gives him a distinct advantage. His comments are always inclusive of the thinking that has been already advanced.

Each of our habits derives from our individual mentalities: I’m a fast but sometimes incautious thinker. I’m always trying to solve the problem immediately. BB doesn’t like to waste time talking more than is necessary. But he also knows that since I’m going to be shooting first, he’ll have a chance to bounce his ideas off of mine. MN attaches less value to speed. He prefers being right.

As a threesome, our different approaches works very well. But I’m quite sure that if I didn’t have BB and MN to consider and then refine or even reject my ideas, I’d be much less inclined to try to solve problems so quickly.

In Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman argues that both types of thinking are necessary to make good decisions. Thinking fast is rapid, intuitive, and emotional. Thinking slow is more deliberate and logical but consumes lots of time.

It’s really a good book, the product of a distinguished career of work and study in what’s nowadays called behavioral science. I’ll review it for you sometime.

But for today, I want to discuss just one aspect of it. Not the advantages and/or disadvantages of either “system” of thinking, but the emotional impact of voicing thoughts quickly or holding them back.

As I said above, slow speakers enjoy the advantage of making statements that are less likely to be dead wrong or illogical. And so their comments are usually given some degree of consideration based simply on the fact that they appear to be the product of careful ratiocination.

But when their comments do not prove out to be more insightful or more logical than those of the fast speakers, they are judged more harshly. As in: “It took you all that time to come up with that?”

If this happens routinely, the impression will no longer be, “This guy is a careful thinker.” Rather it will be, “This guy wants me to believe he’s a careful thinker, but he’s not. He’s simply afraid to voice his thoughts quickly because he doesn’t have any.”

I’m sure you know people like that. They listen to you with a certain sense of skeptical reserve. If you make a joke, they refrain from laughing. They love long pauses, as if they are restraining themselves from telling you what a dolt you are. They seem like intellectual snobs. What’s worse, they seem less interested in solving the problem than in positioning themselves in terms of the dynamics of interpersonal power.

So, yes, as the venerable Jesuit said, “Keeping matters in suspense” can give you some temporary power in a given conversation. But if you don’t use that extra time to advance the conversation, you aren’t fooling anyone. And eventually, they will start wondering if you can think at all.

I’ve managed to have a good business career by barking out my ideas as soon as they come into my head. But I recognize that many of my early statements will be rough at best and, at times, dumb. So I’m ready to change my opinion on any matter in a moment if I hear another one that makes more sense.

If I had a political mind, I’d make an effort to be more withholding in conversations. But to succeed at that, I’d be taking a risk. I’d have to ask myself: Is the power I might get from acting mysterious, superior, etc. worth the trust I might lose by seeming to be manipulative?

And the answer would be a definite “no.”

As for you… you have to find a speed of speaking that works for you. You should recognize the advantages and disadvantages of each approach. But most of all, I think the speed of your speaking should match the speed of your thinking.

If “solutions” to problems pop into your head before the problem is even fully stated, you should recognize that as a gift and be comfortable speaking early. But keep in mind that many of your thoughts will be premature. Don’t feel you have to defend them if a slow speaker comes up with a better idea. Jump on it. Because the conversation isn’t about power, it’s about solving the problem.

If you tend to be a slow thinker, feel comfortable waiting to speak until you’ve had a chance to think about what the fast talkers have said. But if, after thinking slowly about their ideas, they still seem smart, say so. Then move on to the next problem.

Most importantly, when it comes to important decisions, don’t make them alone. If you are a fast thinker, run them by a slow thinker. If you’re a slow thinker, invite a fast thinker to the party.

Then talk and think only about solving the problem. Everything else would be a silly, political power play. And playing for power is a sure way to help any business fail.

One More Thing…

All of the fees and royalties I get from my writing go towards charitable endeavors. I’m on the board of and personally involved in most of them, such as FunLimon, a community development center in Nicaragua. That’s because I believe that “helping” people is risky business that often comes with unintended consequences, such as feelings of entitlement and the weakening of character and ambition by creating dependency.

But there are some large non-profits I contribute to simply because the work they do seems both noble and impervious to negative side effects. One such organization is the Innocence Project.

Here’s a sample of the work they do…

https://www.innocenceproject.org

 

One Thing & Another

June 12, 2018 in Blog

Notes From My Journal: How much exercise do you really need? How about 4 minutes?

In a study published in the journal PLUS One, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology attempted to delineate the minimum amount of exercise required for appreciable gains in health and endurance.

Volunteers were asked to perform high-intensity workouts for 4 minutes, take a 3-minute rest, then repeat three more times.

Their total meaningful exercise, then, was 16 minutes.

A follow-up study by Arnt Erik Tjonna, a postdoctoral fellow at the university, pushed the metric back further. Tjonna gathered 26 overweight and sedentary, but otherwise healthy, middle-aged men and randomly assigned them to one of two groups.

One group performed a supervised exercise routine based on the original study. After briefly warming up, they ran on a treadmill at 90% of their maximal heart rate. (A tiring pace, said Dr. Tjonna, at which “you cannot talk in full sentences, but can use single words.”) They did this for four 4-minute intervals, with 3 minutes of slow walking between, followed by a brief cool-down. The workout was performed three times a week for 10 weeks.

The other group did only one strenuous 4-minute run on the treadmill. They, too, worked out three times a week for 10 weeks.

At the end of the study, both groups had increased their maximal oxygen uptake (endurance capacity) by an average of 10% or more.

Metabolic and cardiovascular health likewise had improved in both groups. Almost all of the men now displayed better blood sugar control and blood pressure profiles, whether they had exercised for 16 or 4 minutes per session.

I’m seeing more and more evidence that the intensity of the effort seems to be the most important factor in achieving any goal. And this substantiates the results I’ve experienced with my own self-improvement program https://www.markford.net/the-60-second-self-improvement-solution. I came up with my program  because I’m always pressed for time and striving to get the most out of every minute. Much to my surprise, it helped me maximize my gains as well as my productivity.

 

Today’s Word: ursine (adjective)

Ursine (UR-sine) means relating to or characteristic of a bear. As used by journalist Maureen Dowd in a NYT column: “Usually, spring in Washington finds us caught up in the cherry blossoms and the ursine courtship rituals of the pandas.”

 

 Fun Fact

“Almost” is the longest word in the English language with all the letters in alphabetical order.

 

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

My Dumbass, Chicken-Shit Strategy for Beating the Stock Market

Even a passing acquaintance with investment literature is enough to tell you that it is very difficult to beat the market over time.

There will always be investment “experts” (and analysts) whose portfolios perform spectacularly for several years or even a decade. But studies show that most of them give back all or most of their gains when Mr. Market reverses course or sets off in a new direction.

If the professionals do poorly, amateurs do worse. The typical investor enjoys less than half the net ROI of index funds, which are meant to track the market but return a bit less than that because of charges and fees.

I invest in stocks, but I’ve never had any interest in the stock market. It looks like a fool’s paradise to me. And since I recognize my inclination to act the fool, I developed (with the help of Tom Dyson and other top Agora analysts) a stock portfolio whose goal is to meet (not beat) historic market averages while minimizing risk.

I call it my Legacy Portfolio. And it has worked out very well for me.

Click to continue… One Thing & Another

One Thing & Another

June 10, 2018 in Blog

Nicaragua

Notes From My Journal: I made it out… barely

In 1948, Shortly after their wedding, my parents moved to from Washington, DC, to Guatemala City to begin their married lives. They’d barely settled in when a long-simmering revolution boiled over and there was war in the streets of their adopted city. Their apartment building was shelled. My father baptized Denise, my older sister, under the kitchen table.

As a child, I loved hearing that story. What an exciting way to start a marriage, I thought. And wouldn’t you know it? K and I began our marriage in similar circumstances. I had been teaching at the University of Chad as a Peace Corps volunteer for 9 months. K had been living in her hometown in Long Island. After nine months of separation, we decided to get married. We flew to Paris, took a week-long pre-nuptial honeymoon, flew back to N’djamena, and got married at the mayor’s office, along with 13 other couples. K was the only woman married without a dowry that day. (You could feel the disapproval.)

That very evening, an assault broke out in the president’s compound, which was perhaps two hundred yards from our apartment building.

Grenades exploding. Tracers lighting up the dark sky. The metallic spattering of machine gun fire. We were frightened at first. But after a while, we realized that the fighting wasn’t going to get any closer. Eventually, neighbors came over to watch the action with us. One brought a bottle of Johnny Walker Red. (JWR was as common there as Coca Cola.) And our moods brightened even as the chaos continued through the night.

Back then, being a foreigner – and particularly a white American – in Africa gave me the feeling that I was somewhat immune to the physical dangers of a local war. Killing the natives was part of – no, it was the idea of – the game. But killing a foreigner? And an American at that? That would have been playing with fire.

I’ve had the same feeling of immunity this week in Nicaragua. The kill count is said to be up to about 100, with thousands injured and some number missing. But I felt that if I had to return by car to Managua, my chances of getting through safely were good.

At least that’s how I felt yesterday.

Then this morning, I heard that an American was killed. But hold on. He wasn’t white. Not exactly. He had dual citizenship: American and something else. Something less protected. Something Latin American.

I’ve been talking to everyone I meet about what’s going on here. I want to try to understand the potential for the situation to escalate and get a sense of how long it might last. And although Rancho Santana is out of the action (for now, at least), the trouble has been spreading: from Managua to Masaya to Granada and then Leon. Last night, there were reports of gunfire in Rivas, the nearest city to Rancho Santana, about a half-hour away.

I haven’t met anyone that is panicking. Our employees are worried but not terribly. At the request of the resort’s managing director, I threw a cocktail party at my house last night. The idea was to show my face and, therefore, somehow lift the morale of the workers and my fellow homeowners. I’m not sure my face had any positive impact, but the event was a success. If, that is, one measures the success of a cocktail party by the number of people that came (60, which is about 80% of the workers/homeowners that were at the resort), by the bottles of booze that were emptied (22), or by how late the last straggler stayed. (He never left. He was still there this morning.)

One thing I’ve learned from this experience: Though you may be able to accurately judge the level of the danger you are in at any moment, you cannot know how quickly the violence might escalate and spread. That’s no doubt why, in almost every armed insurrection, a portion of those that could leave never do.

There were two small prop planes at Esmeralda airport offering rides for 20 passengers. Nearly 30 people were waiting to board, which means that 10 didn’t make it. I did, and so did another 10 folks that had been staying at Rancho Santana. I expect more will be leaving soon.

 

Today’s Word: tippler (noun)

A tippler (TIP-uh-lur) is a person who drinks liquor regularly, usually socially and in small amounts. As used by Emily Dickinson:

Inebriate of air am I

And debauchee of dew

Reeling, through endless summer days,

From inns of moulten blue.

Till seraphs swing their snowy hats,

And saints to windows run,

To see the little tippler

Leaning against the sun!

 

Fun Fact

Every five days, the sun provides the earth with as much energy as all proven supplies of oil, coal, and natural gas. If humanity could capture just 1/6000 of the available solar energy, we’d be able to meet 100% of our energy needs.

 

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

 “Hey… I’m Just Saying”

There’s an episode of Seinfeld about what you can get away with saying to people so long as you append your statement with, “Hey… I’m just saying.” (You might have seen it fairly recently in re-runs.)

“Don’t you think those pants make your butt look a little chubby?”

“What?!!”

“Hey… I’m just saying.”

Seinfeld doesn’t tell jokes, but he’s funny. He’s funny because he sees the ironies in life and is smart enough to get a laugh out of them.

I’ve said a lot of things that have provoked indignation, and I’m often surprised when that happens. “Hey,” I want to say. “What’s the big deal? I’m just saying.”

Still, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that some people – even some very smart people – have that reaction. They have committed themselves to ideas that they take very seriously. And when those ideas are challenged, they don’t like it.

I should understand that. But I don’t know. It’s just so much fun to make them feel a little bit uncomfortable.

And anyway…I’m just saying…

 

Watch This…

 https://biggeekdad.com/2015/04/duo-paradise/

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