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They Forged Ahead: A Cautionary Tale by Nigel Roth


In the middle months of 1824, a man called Lozier woke with an idea. Where it came from is uncertain, but it formed in his mind like jello in an ocean.

In the middle months of 1950, Lothar Malskat woke with an idea too. Percolating for several days, it had finally made its way to the front of his mind, and presented itself as a brilliant thought.

Both men were trying to accomplish something that was somewhat impossible, but rather than accept that fact, they forged ahead. The problem with forging ahead, of course, is that when the chance of success is low the end is often disastrous, however strong the forging is.

Lozier jumped out of bed, grabbed his coat, hitched up his brown breeches, and strode vigorously to the coffee shop to sup his morning brew and refine his plan. Then, with a paper neatly folded under his muscular arm, he walked outside, threw down an upturned milk crate, cleared his throat loudly, and began describing what he intended to do with the island of Manhattan, to anyone who would listen.

Lothar Malskat arose that morning, and hurried to Marienkirche cathedral through the Lubeck drizzle. His perfectly-cut suit stayed fairly dry and he arrived feeling dapper and confident. He gathered his colleagues around him, and began describing what he intended to do with those awkward frescoes.

Lozier received many agreeable nods, and buzzing with confirmatory praise from everyone from uptown brownstones to Five Point dwellings, set a perfect date, then went directly to the ironmonger and ordered the largest saw possible.

Lothar Malskat finished describing his plan, and his colleagues were sufficiently convinced. They grabbed the whitewash they’d been saving for any large wall that might be erected, and sloshed it all over the inside of the cathedral. Having done that, Malskat set to work.

The challenge was that both plans were dubious, to say the least - one was completely pie-in-the-sky, the other ridiculously fraudulent - yet both Lozier and Malskat ploughed ahead because they had already committed to them. Whether at some point the idea that expectations could be reset, ideals reassessed, thoughtful counter-arguments acknowledged, or potential disaster scenarios internalised ever crossed their minds is pure speculation. Certainly, both would have benefited from facing up to the truth of the moment and adjusting their plan accordingly.

But, like so many before, more since, and a few at this very moment in time, they forged ahead.

So, on a bright morning in New York City, a crowd gathered at the appointed place and time to see Lozier cut Manhattan in two, tow it out into the Sound, spin it fully around, and reattach it, in order to stabilize the island and save it from sinking.