Steal This Article

On My Mind | 2024.01.12

Welcome to all our new subscribers! But What For? is about anything — because anything can be interesting. History. People. Ideas. Investing.

We have all almost survived another week! Go us! On my end, the little one got sick, and on top of a hectic workload with a couple portfolio companies in need of quick financing solutions, survival is the best I could hope for.

As to these emails, I got some feedback last week that more succinct emails would be preferred. I re-read last week’s email and agree — I went a bit overboard on length — oops! You will see me try to keep commentary valuable but more targeted going forward. Additionally, as opposed to treating the “Long” section as being a longer written section, I will revert back to linking to longer-read articles / books while keeping commentary efficient.

Finally, I was surprised to have another newsletter — much larger than me at 250,000 subscribers — reach out and ask if they could place a paid link in BWF this week. As far as I can tell, everyone here is more engaged — thank you! — than the average email community. Because of that, we stood out on Beehiiv, the newsletter platform I use.

I was torn on how to respond, so I spent a while going through their posts and subscribed myself. If you are interested in picture-based general business news (I found an email from the 8th interesting for picture-based coverage of the Alaska Airlines 737 MAX story), I think it is worth subscribing. Thus, I felt comfortable putting the ad in here, which generates revenue based on the number of clicks. In exchange, I removed the Supporting section from the email this week to not also ask you to become a Supporting subscriber.

This is an experiment, so please shoot me a note if you have opinions on ad placement like this — I would like to know if you find it valuable as long as I ensure good quality or if you have any issues with ad-based approaches.

Thank you!

ButWhatFor? Four for Friday

1. One Quote: I Feel Attacked

2. One Long: Steal This Article

3. One Short: Christopher Hitchens’ Bookshelf

4. One Poll: History. People. Ideas. Investing.

One Quote

“… I feel attacked by the first section!

Sadly, I think you are 100% correct, and I have read somewhere that there are scientific studies bearing it out. Reading something is far and away superior to listening to something. I think it is active consumption vs passive which is all the difference in the world in terms of retention.

That said, listening to a book is better than never being exposed to its contents at all!

W. B. — BWF Reader

Last week, I mentioned that I struggle to retain much of what I hear in any podcast. A BWF reader wrote in to share the same reaction — while it isn’t fun to accept, it sounds like I am not the only one who enjoys listening to something only to find my brain deleted everything it heard shortly after the audio stopped.

But as the reader points out, it doesn’t mean that it is worthless to listen to a podcast or audio book. You just have to know what you are getting into — you are signing up to forget more of the details than you would retain if you sat down and actively read something.

That can be ok — and remembering less of something is better than not having the chance to remember it at all — but I think I am going to try to carve more dedicated reading time out going forward and ratchet back on podcasts unless it is a topic worth only partially remembering.

One Long

Steal This Article (Link)

Where would most of our culture be without borrowing? Cineasts even have a fancy word for lifting, hommage…

A good rule of thumb for young plagiarists starting out in life might well be the one set down by George Moore. "Taking something from one man and making it worse is plagiarism."

To "making it worse" one could add "or leaving it exactly the same."

— Christopher Hitchens

There has been a lot of talk about plagiarism recently — and at least in my Twitter feed, Bill Ackman’s tweets on the topic are ever present. I think we have all learned a lesson about angering a billionaire with a platform.

I don’t think it is all that interesting to jump into the very public debate and fairly vitriolic banter going back and forth on the topic. So I won’t.

However, more interestingly, back in 1996 Christopher Hitchens (see One Short below for more) wrote an article on plagiarism for Vanity Fair, a magazine where he regularly contributed. By taking a look at multiple examples of what some might call plagiarism — personal examples from his own life and diving deep into a few questionable phrases borrowed by Martin Luther King Jr., Julian Barnes, T.S. Eliot and more — he explores an interesting concept: when does a reference become plagiarism?

For example, last week I wrote the phrase “like an Odysseus lacking bonds fastened tight to a mast” and definitely didn’t add a footnote reference crediting Homer for the concept. Was that plagarism? Sounds silly to say so.

One of my favorite of Hitchens’ examples points to how too strict a view of what constitutes plagiarism can also be a negative for the author theoretically being harmed by the plagiarism, in the passage:

A decade ago, watching Ronald Reagan give his famous speech on the night of the Challenger calamity, and wanting as ever to resist his sentimental appeal, I became convinced that I had heard his closing lines somewhere. If you remember, he spoke of the dead astronauts as having "slipped the surly bonds of earth," to "touch the face of God." The White House declined to help me in my search for the origins of this couplet. I finally discovered that the words came from a sonnet, "High Flight," by John Gillespie Magee Jr., which was read out as the regular closedown on Washington's Channel 9 TV station.

Not a bad little story, I thought: Ron falling asleep in front of the TV, dimly catching some rather saccharine verse, adapting it in a hurry for a major address… The only grandeur that Reagan's speech possessed was furnished by this purloined finery.

No property had actually gone missing, so there had been no theft.

A minor poet had become useful on a major occasion.

And that, I think, is a beautiful way to think about it. Part of the reason people write is to add something new into the world. Usage of their writing lets it live on far longer than it might otherwise, and it is hard to think of that theft.

One Short

Christopher Hitchens’ Bookshelf

Following Charlie Munger’s bookshelves shared last week and the week before, I thought I would continue the theme. It was a bit fun tracking down all the different titles — and I have already added at least one new book to my library!

So, for this week, I thought I would take a look at a completely different kind of reader — Christopher Hitchens, a British-turned-American journalist, author, and public debater. Most famous, potentially, for his atheistic views in the mid-2000s, I’ve always enjoyed reading his writing on topics as far ranging as plagiarism (above), Henry Kissinger, Mother Teresa, Agent Orange, etc.

Unfortunately, he passed away in 2011 following a battle lost with cancer.

I have always been impressed with how well he could write. And his eloquence with words didn’t disappear when he was standing in front of audiences answer questions on the fly — just an incredibly educated, well-learned, well-practiced writer.

While I may not agree with everything he wrote — and it wouldn’t make sense to read much from someone if that was the case — I think we should see what we can find here — and as always, please feel free to let me know what I have missed as there is much I cannot identify.

I am also going to consolidate bookshelves here — BWF Famous Bookshelves — and add to it if we keep the trend going.

  • Invisible Nation: How the Kurds' Quest for Statehood Is Shaping Iraq and the Middle East by Quil Lawrence ($)

  • The Music of Pythagoras by Kitty Ferguson ($)

  • Le Mal D'afrique: A Journey into Old And New Africa by Guillaume Bonn ($)

  • Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization by Nicholson Baker ($)

  • Camp 020: M15 and the Nazi Spies by Oliver Hoare ($)

  • No End in Sight: Iraq's Descent into Chaos by Charles Ferguson ($)

  • The Unbearable Saki: the Work of H. H. Munro by Sandle Byrne ($)

  • At Home in the World: A Memoir by Joyce Maynard ($)

  • Live From the Campaign Trail by Michael Cohen ($)

  • Courting Disaster by Marc Thiessen ($)

  • Eco-freaks: Environmentalism Is Hazardous to Your Health! by John Berlau ($)

  • The World’s Most Dangerous Places by Robert Pelton ($)

($’s above take you to Amazon, which are affiliated links, meaning if you purchase them there I get a small commission)

One Poll

On average, what are you more interested in?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Results from last week’s poll:

  • Question: Did you learn about Cambodia's Pol Pot / Khmer Rouge in school before college / university?

  • Results: Only 11% studied it in school!

  • Select Comments:

    • “I was in middle school when it was happening. Not in the history books yet.”

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

Want to start writing online? I use Beehiiv and highly recommend it.

Have a great weekend,

— EJ

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