“Any fool can make a fortune. It takes a man of brains to hold on to it after it is made.”

Arthur T. Vanderbilt II:

Within thirty years after the death of Commodore Vanderbilt in 1877, no member of his family was among the richest people in the United States, having been supplanted by such new titans as Rockefeller, Carnegie, Frick, and Ford. Forty-eight years after his death, one of his direct descendants died penniless. Within seventy years of his death, the last of the great Vanderbilt mansions on Fifth Avenue had made way for modern office buildings. When 120 of the Commodore’s descendants gathered at Vanderbilt University in 1973 for the first family reunion, there was not a millionaire among them.


“Any fool can make a fortune,” the Commodore had told his son William, whom he still called Billy, shortly before he died. “It takes a man of brains to hold on to it after it is made.”

Fortune’s Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt [Amazon]

The Case for Mars

Robert Zubrin, American rocket scientist and founder of Mars Society:

Where there is no vision, the people perish. The American people want and deserve a space program that really is going somewhere. But no goal can be sustained unless it can be backed up, and not by “rationales,” but by reasons. There are real and vital reasons why we should venture to Mars. It is the key to unlocking the secret of life in the universe. It is the challenge to adventure that will inspire millions of young people to enter science and engineering, and whose acceptance will reaffirm the nature of our society as a nation of pioneers. It is the door to an open future, a new frontier on a new world, a planet that can be settled, the beginning of humanity’s career as a spacefaring species with no limits to its resources or aspirations as it continues to push outward into the infinite universe beyond. For the science, for the challenge, for the future; that’s why we should go to Mars. The only meaningful counterargument against launching a humans to Mars initiative is the assertion that we cannot do it. This claim, however, is completely false.


If the human mind can understand the universe, it means that the human mind is fundamentally of the same order as the divine mind. If the human mind is of the same order as the divine mind, then everything that appeared rational to God as he constructed the universe, its “geometry,” can also be made to appear rational to the human understanding, and so if we search and think hard enough, we can find a rational explanation and underpinning for everything. This is the fundamental proposition of science.

Here’s some intergalactic capitalism to wrap it up:

…whether it’s the United States, NATO, the United Nations, or the Martian Republic, some government’s agreement is needed to give worthless terrain real estate property value. Once that is in place, however, even the undeveloped open real estate on Mars represents a tremendous source of capital to finance the initial development of Martian settlements. Sold at an average value of $20 per acre, Mars could be worth $700 billion. Should Mars be terraformed, these open land prices could be expected to grow a hundredfold, with a rough planetary land value of $70 trillion implied.

Fascinating read and very highly recommended.

The Case for Mars [Amazon]

November 18, 2015  |  

“The top 1 percent…”

Joseph E. Stiglitz:

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this has been something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Often, however, they learn it too late.

The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future [Amazon]

October 16, 2015  |  

“Immigration is the greatest anti-poverty program ever devised.”

Alex Tabarrok:

Even relatively small increases in immigration flows can have enormous benefits. If the developed world were to take in enough immigrants to enlarge its labor force by a mere one percent, it is estimated that the additional economic value created would be worth more to the migrants than all of the world’s official foreign aid combined. Immigration is the greatest anti-poverty program ever devised.

No standard moral framework, be it utilitarian, libertarian, egalitarian, Rawlsian, Christian, or any other well-developed perspective, regards people from foreign lands as less entitled to exercise their rights—or as inherently possessing less moral worth—than people lucky to have been born in the right place at the right time. Nationalism, of course, discounts the rights, interests, and moral value of “the Other, but this disposition is inconsistent with our fundamental moral teachings and beliefs.

Freedom of movement is a basic human right. Thus the Universal Declaration of Human Rights belies its name when it proclaims this right only “within the borders of each state.” Human rights do not stop at the border. Today, we treat as pariahs those governments that refuse to let their people exit. I look forward to the day when we treat as pariahs those governments that refuse to let people enter.

The Case for Getting Rid of Borders—Completely [Atlantic, via MR]

October 14, 2015  |  

“I met you in the rain on the last day of 1972, the same day I resolved to kill myself.”

I met you in the rain on the last day of 1972, the same day I resolved to kill myself.

One week prior, at the behest of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, I’d flown four B-52 sorties over Hanoi. I dropped forty-eight bombs. How many homes I destroyed, how many lives I ended, I’ll never know. But in the eyes of my superiors, I had served my country honorably, and I was thusly discharged with such distinction.

And so on the morning of that New Year’s Eve, I found myself in a barren studio apartment on Beacon and Hereford with a fifth of Tennessee rye and the pang of shame permeating the recesses of my soul. When the bottle was empty, I made for the door and vowed, upon returning, that I would retrieve the Smith & Wesson Model 15 from the closet and give myself the discharge I deserved.

I walked for hours. I looped around the Fenway before snaking back past Symphony Hall and up to Trinity Church. Then I roamed through the Common, scaled the hill with its golden dome, and meandered into that charming labyrinth divided by Hanover Street. By the time I reached the waterfront, a charcoal sky had opened and a drizzle became a shower. That shower soon gave way to a deluge. While the other pedestrians darted for awnings and lobbies, I trudged into the rain. I suppose I thought, or rather hoped, that it might wash away the patina of guilt that had coagulated around my heart. It didn’t, of course, so I started back to the apartment.

And then I saw you.

You’d taken shelter under the balcony of the Old State House. You were wearing a teal ball gown, which appeared to me both regal and ridiculous. Your brown hair was matted to the right side of your face, and a galaxy of freckles dusted your shoulders. I’d never seen anything so beautiful.

When I joined you under the balcony, you looked at me with your big green eyes, and I could tell that you’d been crying. I asked if you were okay. You said you’d been better. I asked if you’d like to have a cup of coffee. You said only if I would join you. Before I could smile, you snatched my hand and led me on a dash through Downtown Crossing and into Neisner’s.

We sat at the counter of that five and dime and talked like old friends. We laughed as easily as we lamented, and you confessed over pecan pie that you were engaged to a man you didn’t love, a banker from some line of Boston nobility. A Cabot, or maybe a Chaffee. Either way, his parents were hosting a soirée to ring in the New Year, hence the dress.

For my part, I shared more of myself than I could have imagined possible at that time. I didn’t mention Vietnam, but I got the sense that you could see there was a war waging inside me. Still, your eyes offered no pity, and I loved you for it.

After an hour or so, I excused myself to use the restroom. I remember consulting my reflection in the mirror. Wondering if I should kiss you, if I should tell you what I’d done from the cockpit of that bomber a week before, if I should return to the Smith & Wesson that waited for me. I decided, ultimately, that I was unworthy of the resuscitation this stranger in the teal ball gown had given me, and to turn my back on such sweet serendipity would be the real disgrace.

On the way back to the counter, my heart thumped in my chest like an angry judge’s gavel, and a future — our future — flickered in my mind. But when I reached the stools, you were gone. No phone number. No note. Nothing.

As strangely as our union had begun, so too had it ended. I was devastated. I went back to Neisner’s every day for a year, but I never saw you again. Ironically, the torture of your abandonment seemed to swallow my self-loathing, and the prospect of suicide was suddenly less appealing than the prospect of discovering what had happened in that restaurant. The truth is I never really stopped wondering.

I’m an old man now, and only recently did I recount this story to someone for the first time, a friend from the VFW. He suggested I look for you on Facebook. I told him I didn’t know anything about Facebook, and all I knew about you was your first name and that you had lived in Boston once. And even if by some miracle I happened upon your profile, I’m not sure I would recognize you. Time is cruel that way.

This same friend has a particularly sentimental daughter. She’s the one who led me here to Craigslist and these Missed Connections. But as I cast this virtual coin into the wishing well of the cosmos, it occurs to me, after a million what-ifs and a lifetime of lost sleep, that our connection wasn’t missed at all.

You see, in these intervening forty-two years I’ve lived a good life. I’ve loved a good woman. I’ve raised a good man. I’ve seen the world. And I’ve forgiven myself. And you were the source of all of it. You breathed your spirit into my lungs one rainy afternoon, and you can’t possibly imagine my gratitude.

I have hard days, too. My wife passed four years ago. My son, the year after. I cry a lot. Sometimes from the loneliness, sometimes I don’t know why. Sometimes I can still smell the smoke over Hanoi. And then, a few dozen times a year, I’ll receive a gift. The sky will glower, and the clouds will hide the sun, and the rain will begin to fall. And I’ll remember.

So wherever you’ve been, wherever you are, and wherever you’re going, know this: you’re with me still.

I met you in the rain on the last day of 1972 [Craigslist]

October 3, 2015  |