ButWhatFor Four for Friday | No. 029

Time is magic, verbose cuttlefish ink, the biggest returns, and the dead

Welcome to all our new subscribers! I write a weekly newsletter about anything, as long as it’s interesting.

Sundays are for new long reads; Fridays are for sharing. If you enjoy the newsletter, please share it with a few friends/colleagues or click here to share on Twitter to help us grow!

Share


ButWhatFor Four for Friday

  • One Quote: Magic is just someone spending more time

  • One Long: Verbose cuttlefish ink

  • One Short: The biggest return

  • One Extra: The dead outnumber the living


One Quote

Sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect.

Teller, of Penn & Teller

It’s funny to hear a magician say that magic is just practice — but it makes sense. This reminds me of great musicians — often what they are playing seems like magic. Behind that magic are years worth of hours practicing and perfecting.

Don’t forget to put in your own time on things worth turning into magic.

(Share on Twitter)


One Long

Politics and the English Language [1946]

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness…

Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers.

People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements.

Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, “I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so”. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

  • While freely conceding that the Soviet régime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigours which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.

The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. 

“The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism… like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.” That’s a great simile.

(Share on Twitter)

While Orwell is tackling a serious issue, this idea also applies to… less Orwellian… situations — where a writer, often accidentally, is verbose as a way to hide their own ignorance or lack of effort. It is a good reminder to think about every word you write, whether it is needed, and whether you can do with less and get the same message across.

Or, as said by someone much smarter (and concise) than me…

“I have made this letter longer than usual only because I have not had time to make it shorter.” - Blaise Pascal

(Share on Twitter)


One Short

The Biggest Returns [2019]

If we have the same assets and I can earn an 8% annual returns, and you can earn 12% annual returns, but I need half as much money to be happy while your lifestyle compounds as fast as your assets, I’m better off than you are. I’m getting more benefit from my investments despite lower returns…

Outperformance is amazing when it can be achieved, and some can achieve a lot of it. But the fact that there’s so much effort put into one side of the finance equation and so little put into other is an opportunity for most people, companies, and countries…

The hard part is becoming satisfied with spending less. It’s not easy. It’s a behavioral trait, not analytical skill, and investing attracts more of the latter. Some are better at it than others, but virtually everyone is primed to at least assume they’ll be happier if they spent more.

For me it’s been realizing that what makes people happy is having options – doing what you want, with who you want, when you want, where you want. And options come from savings and assets, which are the opposite of spending.

As I get older, the more I realize this is true. The person I aspire to be is no longer the wealthy billionaire with endless access to “things.” Instead, it is the person who looks in the mirror happy to see who they see and sleeps well at night knowing they have enough.

(Share on Twitter)


One Extra

“Harry Truman once said the only new thing in the world is the history you don’t know. Lord Bolingbroke, who was an 18th century political philosopher, said that history is philosophy taught with examples. An old friend, the late Daniel Boorstin, who was a very good historian and Librarian of Congress, said that trying to plan for the future without a sense of the past is like trying to plant cut flowers. We’re raising a lot of cut flowers and trying to plant them, and that’s much of what I want to talk about tonight…”

David McCullough

(Share on Twitter)


If you made it all the way down here, please take a moment to share it with someone that might find it interesting — I appreciate your support greatly!

Share


Have a great weekend,

— EJ


Latest from ButWhatFor

But What For?
Planning the Attack on Pearl Harbor
Welcome to all our new subscribers! I write a weekly newsletter, sent out every Sunday or Monday, about anything, as long as it’s interesting. If you enjoy the newsletter, please share it with a few friends/colleagues…
Read more
But What For?
The Man in the Arena: Theodore Roosevelt's Citizenship In A Republic
Welcome to all our new subscribers! I write a weekly newsletter, sent out every Sunday, about anything, as long as it’s interesting. If you enjoy the newsletter, please share it with a few friends/colleagues…
Read more
But What For?
John Law and the Mississippi Bubble
Welcome to all our new subscribers! I write a weekly newsletter, sent out every Sunday, about anything, as long as it’s interesting. If you enjoy the newsletter, please share it with a few friends/colleagues…
Read more

See here for an archive of recent newsletter articles


But What For? Writing about anything, as long as it’s interesting


Share

Leave a comment