Monthly Archives: August 2005

You Don't Know What You Don't Know

Every time I learn a new vocab word it seems to always pop up in something I’m reading. Before I went to Zurich I can’t recall ever seeing anything about the city anywhere. Now, every other person I talk to has some association with Switzerland and they’re always in the news.

The scariest part about ignorance is that you don’t know it. You don’t know what you don’t know. This is why knowledge is one of my core values. By learning new things everyday the world instantly becomes a richer, more complex place with an endless number of things to be interested in.

School Encourages "Fuck" in the Classroom

Why can’t my high school adopt this policy? As Erin O’Connor reports:

An English high school has decided to cope with the problem of student profanity by tolerating it. Beginning this fall, students will be allowed to curse at their teachers, just so long as they don’t say “f–k” more than five times during a lesson. Part of the new policy involves keeping a running tally on the blackboard of how many times the word “f–k” has been uttered during a given lesson–a practice that promises to distract students. If the word is used more than five times during a class–and my guess is that some classes will turn into competitions to see just how many times the word can be uttered–students will be “spoken to” afterward by the teacher. The school’s idea is that this policy will improve student behavior by acknowledging their habitual language patterns while making a reasonable request for modification of those patterns. “The reality is that the f-word is part of these young adults’ everyday language,” the headmaster said. “As a temporary policy we are giving them a bit of leeway, but want them to think about the way they talk and how they might do better.” The school, which was labelled “not effective” by inspectors last year, will also be sending “praise postcards” to parents of students who avoid cursing and who show up on time for class.

Clear Writing, Clear Thinking

An almost humorous article today in the Times about John Roberts’ obsession about grammar and precise writing. I can sympathize with his attention to the proper use of “affect” versus “effect.” Although I occasionally strive for a different style – in emails, say, when conveying tone is particularly challenging – for the most part I try to write with as much clarity as possible in as few words as possible. I once took a personality test online where it asked whether I would notice a grammar error from my (theoretical) girlfriend in the midst of a nasty breakup. Of course I would!

As Ryan McIntyre told me in an email: “If you can write clearly, you can think clearly. I’m not suggesting that those who write poorly are necessarily any less intelligent than those who write well, but expressing oneself clearly and accurately though the written word does betray a certain amount of care and deliberation, which are positive traits in almost any situation.”

Reading a Note to Yourself Written 3 Years Ago

At our senior retreat yesterday, I opened a letter I wrote to myself on September 20th, 2002 at my freshmen retreat. I was more taken by it than I expected (maybe because it was handwritten, unlike my typed journal entries from those years). It wasn’t so much what I wrote – although that was quite interesting – but how I ended it. I wrote "Good luck Ben of ’05! -Ben of ’02"

That really symbolizes a central truth of being a teenager: each year so much changes. Everyone knows about the physical changes, but the more important are the emotional and cognitive. Even now, looking back to what I wrote in 2002 reminds me that since I’ve accumulated more experiences I have greater perspective. What excites me is that I’ve accumulated a tremendous set of one-of-a-kind experiences that should (and does) give me perspective that may be slightly different…in a world of intellectual homogeneity.

Looking for Book Recommendation on Middle East

Besides focusing on the parts of the world in which I have a vested interest (entrepreneurship, local government, software, etc.) I also devote a considerable amount of energy to other things. My interests are eclectic – journalism, psychology, sociology, morality, spirituality, culture/anthropology, philosophy, leadership, nutrition, neuroscience, and more. I also pay close attention to current affairs.

In the realm of current affairs, if you have a day job, it is impossible to stay on top of everything. One could spend every morning just reading about developments in Africa and not have time for anything else. Or one could spend each week reading the Economist and get a broad update on developments without a ton of depth on any one issue. Recently, I’ve focused on domestic affairs as they relate to foreign policy, in particular to War on Terrorism. My opinion on Iraq, 9/11 response, and such are more sophisticated than they were 6 months ago. I’ve also focused, to a lesser degree, on EU developments and while I’m still naive on many matters I am learning more every day.

But my big hole is in the Middle East and the Israel/Palestine situation. I’m simply clueless. If you don’t invest the energy to learn the history of the conflict then all the day to day developments mean nothing. So, I’m going to relax my focus on US foreign policy and think deeply about the Middle East. I’m looking for book recommendations – remember, I’m a dummy. Are there good books that cover the history of the conflict in a clear, accessible manner? If no one volunteers any titles, I’ll resort to The MIddle East For Dummies. Thanks.

Book Reviews: Getting Things Done and Ishmael

Gearing up for an intensive four month stretch, I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done which was a solid refresher on productivity strategies. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year studying spiritual and energy related strategies, so this was a great reminder of all the little, practical things one can do to improve efficiency and lower stress. The most important take-away from the book was the need to always capture those random thoughts that pop into your head. The most stressful moments for me is when I remember something I had to do or an original thought I had a few minutes earlier but didn’t write down. I will renew my effort at always writing down those random thoughts and reminders that fly through my head every day and organizing them on my series of electronic lists and to-do’s sheets. I organize my lists into short-term and long-term to-dos by project, yearly goals, life values and mission, maybe to-dos (someday in the future…) etc.

Next I read a very different book: Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, a novel which is "an adventure of the mind and spirit." It is a readable, engaging look at how the human species views itself in the larger context of the earth’s evolution. It’s based on a teacher and pupil and their conversations which eventually lead the pupil to a conclusion that humans are killing the earth. I’m not sure the story telling format is right for me, but it is for some and I reccomend it if you’re one of those types.

My Inaugural Podcast: From Ben's Mouth

I resolved not to let the summer go by without me doing at least one podcast – after all, I founded a radio station at my high school so how could I not partake in the phenomenon? Well, I completed the feat with less than 24 hours to go before summer is over.

I subscribe to a bunch of blogs of which I do not know the author at all. After awhile, I am curious as to what the person looks like, what they sound like, etc. Based on my stats, there are definitely people who read this blog who I have never spoken to before; maybe you’ll find my voice…more revealing. Hmm.

Anyway, first be sure you are subscribed to my FeedBurner XML feed of this blog. Many of you are not. If so, enclosed in this post will an MP3 version of From Ben’s Mouth that will load right into iTunes.

Again, to listen live to my 10 minute podcast, click the enclosure in your RSS reader or Listen Live Here.

There are two songs – "Jump" from the Love Actually soundtrack and "Dreams" by Gavin DeGraw. There is about a minute of random BS commentary from me on entrepreneurialism (thinking on my feet, you know) and then you’re done! All recorded on the shitty internal mic on my PowerBook and mixed in GarageBand. I doubt I’ll have time to do regular shows, but hey, at least I can say I did it once.

Truth Under Cultural and Conceptual Assault

Chris Yeh pointed me to a very good article in the New Yorker about bullshit, but more importantly, the state of philosophy’s argument over the nature and authority on truth. First, on bullshit, the author Jim Holt reviews several of the academic arguments over the nature of bullshit and concludes that a liar knows what the truth is and leads the other person away from it while the bullshiter is more nonsensical with a perverse indifference to truth.

I have posted before about how "we’re all postmodernists now" and it is increasingly clear to me that it is quite difficult to argue for an objective truth. As much as I love Pope Benedict’s name, I must disagree that the church should impose moral absolutes on its faithful. I myself am more of a relativist – as Holt quotes Nietzsche: "There are no facts, only interpretations." Whether in journalism or otherwise, Holt correctly comments that perspectivism means "we are all condemned to see the world from a partial and distorted perspective, one defined by our interests and values."

With all this "whose truth" talk, promoted by prominent Stanford scholar Richard Rorty, Holt notices that this trend is offering aid to bullshiters. Rorty’s response, which is good enough for me but maybe not for everyone, is that "even though the distinction between truth and consensus is untenable, we can distinguish between frivolous and serious…serious, decent, and trustworthy versus unconversable, incurious, and self-absorbed. Serious people care not only about producing agreement but also about justifying their methods for producing agreement."

Book Review: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Not a lot of time, so I’ll be brief about a complicated issue: Atlas Shrugged was once ranked the second most influential book for Americans behind the Bible. Plus, too many people had told me to read it for me to put it (and its 1,000 pages) off any longer.

The book itself, as Josh Kaufman told me, is highly romanticized, so characters represent ideas more than they do real people. Moreover, there are several long monologues that are basically Rand’s theories on life, not necessarily relevant to that particular place in the book. So, let’s talk about her theories and Objectivism.

According to the Ayn Rand Institute, Rand’s philosophy in essence “is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” What really resonated with me from this and from Atlas Shrugged is the idea that men were built to soar, that full application of one’s talents and abilities is a noble task, and that reason and science should underpin much of society. I also, of course, found liking in her love of capitalism, though not to the extreme of laizze-faire as she does.

Rand’s detractors often cite her belief that selfishness is a virtue and that self should be put above all others as problematic. Kaufman told me in his comment, “Basically, if you want to help other people out, Rand would say that’s great – if and only if you’re doing it because you desire to help and not because you think you have some kind of moral duty to spend your life and resources in the service of others. (David Kelley wrote an entire book on this: Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis for Benevolence) It’s often quite satisfying to know you’ve really made a difference in someone’s life, so benevolence and philanthropy are not out of the question in her view.” So I wonder…how many people really “want” to help other people in need out? It may be satisfying to be philanthropic, but my cynicism tells me that without some higher moral standard instructing us that, yes, community service is good, we wouldn’t get around to feeling an urge to help those in need. Look at where we are now: society looks favorably upon those who “do good,” yet many people still don’t give back at all. They’re passing up on both feeling good themselves and reaping the praise from the higher moral code.

I still don’t know how I feel about objectivism in the context of a larger discussion on epistemology, an area in which I do not have the requisite knowledge to comment on intelligently.

It is the concern about unbridled embracement of selfishness, plus Ayn Rand herself – who, in reading about her life, seemed to be a bit kooky and contradictory even though her philosophy has been worldview-changing for many – that will prevent me from being an Ayn Rand lover. That said, I have great respect for many of her philosophies and will certainly continue to explore her works, attempting to treat them with the seriousness they deserve and not a simplistic write-off.

My Fall Semester School Schedule

In a few days I’ll become a high school senior, and, as always, my ability to juggle a multitude of activities will be put to the test. My schedule will become slightly insane, especially come basketball season. This is where I doubly focus on my health and nutrition to make sure I’m performing day in day out at peak capacity.

I’m lucky that nearly all of the elective classes at my high school are college level courses, often times better than AP classes we don’t even bother following what the College Board outlines. This is what I’ll be spending 19 hours a week doing (plus all the homework, studying):

1. Asian Studies – A look at Hinduism, Buddhism, and other belief systems of India and China. A number of very cool spiritual books which will be right up my alley.

2. Geography – Everywhere I look I read about how an understanding of geography will be critical in the world. I’ve posted about cultural geography, and today I read a book review on how geography is the foundation for many of the most pivotal issues facing our world. I know squat right now, so this will be helpful.

3. Pyschology – A much coveted class, we will be covering the foundations of pycho-analysis, Freud, etc. We’ll also be reading a book that was recommended to me, The Sociopath Next Door.

4. Pre-calculus for the Social Sciences – Math-challenged Ben is still chugging away with an applied math course. Ho hum.

5. What It Is – A novel based English course. Examines the role of reality and intercourse between what is being told versus how it is being told.

I am also exploring ways to independently study globalization and philosophy.

In addition I will be partaking in the following activities on-campus:

The Devil’s Advocate (student newspaper) – I’m Executive Editor, working closely with a couple esteemed colleagues, and a bunch of other smart people. I will be writing a ton, managing our staff and budget, editing, and making sure we kick up lots of dust as a good student paper should.

Men’s Varsity Basketball – I’m returning Captain, working with a senior-heavy team. We’ll be working hard for a league championship!

KUHS Student Radio – The radio station I founded and run – we’ll be moving to an all-podcast format.

So there you go, that will be my life at University High School this fall.