Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Of being a Human Guinea Pig

It might not surprise some of my more regular readers to learn that yesterday I wound up at the Psyciatric Dept. of the hospital. Even now I can sense the relief that some of you feel knowing that the men in white coats finally caught up with me.

Well, sorry to spoil the party, but I'm afraid that any relief will be short lived - I was there as a volunteer for a Decision Making Study.

I saw an advert earlier on in term which wanted volunteers for a study looking at "how the brain makes decisions" and I applied. At the time I was considering postgraduate study in Artificial Intelligence, which also seeks to know how the brain makes decisions and I figured that it might be relevant.

Well it wasn't - for a start I am no longer seriously considering doing a course in AI, but even so it was never really going to be of any use from that PoV.

Still, it was very interesting, and I did earn myself some money.

The day before the study I had to be on a proscribed low protein diet, which wasn't great. Lunch, for example, was just lettuce, tomato, carrot, Hula Hoops and an apple. It's amazing how much of an effect diet has on your ability to stay alert and focussed and by the end of the day I felt terrible. I do wonder how much of that was psychological, though.

Yesterday I arrived at the hospital at 8.30am and, after having a blood sample taken, I was treated to an amino acid drink (which may or may not have contained one specific protein, and tasted seriously bad) and given 5 hours to myself. Imagine that - being paid to work, read the paper, watch Cannonball Run II... - it wasn't bad, really. I was plied with water and given a low protein lunch and then, after another blood sample, I was set various tasks. There were some computer games, based around gambling, and various other things to complete, and it was all quite fun.

By mid afternnoon however I felt terrible again, and wanted nothing more than a nice cuppa. I tell you, I have hardly ever looked forward to dinner in hall as much as I did last night - even if it had turned out to be Pork Cordon Bleuggh (it was some nice salmon, in fact) it wouldn't have mattered.

Whereas it was interesting, it did take a lot out of me. The effect of the diet really did prevent me from getting on as normal and I felt so dazed yesterday evening. Would I do it again? Probably not, but it depends what the study was...Am I glad I did it? Yes. I even suppose that being a medical guniea pig might feature on my imaginary list of things to do before I am 30, and I can now tick it off.

And so to lectures...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

It's A Beautiful Life

Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm in a good mood. I've just come out of a tutorial, which went really well (better than I'd hoped) and I really enjoyed it. There is live jazz on Cornmarket, and I now have my second Christmas Dinner to look forward to. Mmmmmm.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Christmas Dinner

Happy Christmas!

Given the fact that we are nearing the end of term, we have to have our Christmas Dinner sometime and tonight was the first of three this week (given that the hall is so small, they have to offer more than one). Only in Oxford...

It was a quality occasion, and the kitchen staff proved that they can actually produce a decent meal. It was a three course affair, starting with tomato soup, then turkey and all the trimmings (including sprouts, ladies and gentlemen) and followed up by Christmas pudding. Mmmmmm. Thanks must also go to William (our Spanish waiter) for providing me with a delicious Orange Torte from High Table.

The hall had been properly decked out and we even had crackers to pull at the beginning. I had the pleasure of some good company and really enjoyed myself. Nice.

Another Quote

I was catching up on the BBC News page this morning, and I came across this gem:

'Matthew Wilson, 18, said he had come to see Charlotte Church, because she was "a good role model."'

Hmmm.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Quote of The Day

Earlier this evening I enjoyed a very pleasant drink with my friend Hugo in the Union, and he came out with a comment which I rather liked. With his permission I will now take this opportunity to share it with all who visit this corner of the Blogosphere.

"Falling in love is like falling down a well. It's fun until you hit the bottom, and getting out again is a nightmare".

Profound. Possibly.

Monday, November 14, 2005

"I'm on the train"

When travelling on a train it's often quite interesting to hear how people follow up the stereotypical "I'm on the train" when talking on a mobile. I think one of the most random things I've heard was the woman earlier who said "I'm reading about the Flat Earth Theory."

Currently I'm en route to Exeter and having spent quite a bit of time on a train in the last couple of days I have discovered a new pet hate.

I have been irritated several times by those people who stand in the vestibule of a coach by the sensor for the sliding door in to the seating area and thus keep the door open, or worse cause the door to open and shut incessantly. I'm amazed by the number of people who remain oblivious to the fact they are responsible for that infuriating 'open-shut-open-shut...' of the door in question but I want to give special congratulations to the joker this morning who continued to stand by the sensor even after he'd been asked to move.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Blogworthy Sign

This weekend has been quality - I went with Josh to join Ollie and Richard in Cardiff for Richard's birthday. We went out for an Italian last night, and although the food was nothing special it was an awesome evening. The company was great, and the banter didn't disappoint.

Staying at Richard's meant that we got to enjoy some time relaxing in the peaceful village of Cefn Cribwr, and the hospitaliy we received from his parents was just fantastic.

Anyway, on our travels I came across a sign at Reading station which amused me. If I had too much time on my hands I would probably have photographed it and posted the result here. But I don't, so I will just have to quote - I'm sure it will get the point across.

It was posted at the entrance to the Gent's and read "This Facility Is Attended To By A Man/Woman".

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Experimental Cooking and Noises In The Night

After the rather heavy last post I feel the need to return to being a bit more light-hearted.

It's been a fun week, with lots going on. I've also been working quite hard in the Radcliffe Science Library - not the nicest of places (you could probably survive a nuclear attack down there) but conducive to working nonetheless.

Anyway, last night my friends from Magdalen (Chris and Hugo) invited a group of us around for dinner. We were promised some "experimental cooking" to "broaden the culinary horizons" and I'm pleased to say that they delivered.

Hugo bought a fish from the Halal Shop (a freshwater fish, we think, but who knows what. Apparently it had a "prehistoric head"). He apparently attempted to microwave it, before gutting it, boiling it and serving it in some soup with courgettes and Spanish Sausage. Lovely.

It actually turned out to be really nice, and was followed up by a delicious pasta dish Chris produced. All in all, a successful meal.

One of the things about my current room is that I can hear conversations on the street below. This can get quite frustrating when I am lying in bed and think I can hear someone I know, or think that the conversation sounds so interesting that I wish I could join in. On the whole it's quite funny - so long as it doesn't keep me awake.

So far this term I've been treated to several fights, a discussion on whether "alcohol or caffeine causes more shrivelling" (the mind boggles) and drunken renditions of "I would walk 500 miles" and "Night Fever".

As an observation I would also like to point out that you know when you live near the Oxford Union when you overhear someone interrupt his mate with "on a point of information". Yes, really.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Gay Bishops

EDIT: This post was written in response to a debate at the Oxford Union. Feel free to comment below, and join the discussion but please note that although I have shared some of my feelings on the issue I think that there are far more important issues for the church to grapple with. If you are new to my corner of the Blogosphere please don't let some of the heavy discussion put you off.

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Last night the topic of the weekly debate at the Oxford Union was “This house believes that a homosexual lifestyle is no bar to becoming a bishop”. Controversial, perhaps, especially given that the speakers included Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire.

I decided to go along and enjoy the debate – I live next door to the Union, after all – and I will attempt now to give some form of report back from it.

I am obviously not able to sum up 2 hours of debate here, and I fear that anything I say will fail to do it justice. But throwing caution to the wind I would very much like to share a few of the thoughts and ideas that emerged from what turned out to be a very interesting evening.

Aside from Gene Robinson, the other guest speakers included Rev Richard Kirker (president of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement) in proposition of the motion and Rev Dr Andrew Goddard (Tutor in Ethics, Wycliffe Hall) and Right Rev. Colin Buchanan (former Bishop of Woolwich) in opposition.

After the usual ceremony at the beginning of a Union debate – including the reading of the librarian’s book list for the week – the debate kicked off. Two Oxford students introduced the motion, and in a bit of a twist the guy in opposition was a practising homosexual and an agnostic.

Things started off well when the proposition speaker introduced the debate with a request that it was a serious debate above the petty arguments and cheap shots that so often characterize the topic. I’m pleased to say that that turned out to be largely the case, but this particular speaker let himself down almost immediately by then introducing his side as “angels” and the opposition as “fallen angels”. How hypocritical, and sadly, rather typical of such self-righteous ‘liberal’ types.

The main theme which came across – particularly from the proposition – was the need to separate the idea of the wider acceptance of homosexuality from the question of whether a ‘homosexual lifestyle’ was a bar to taking on a senior position within the church. As Andrew Goddard said, backed by others, homosexuality is not a bar to becoming a Christian.

The difference, it seems to me at least, between being a Christian and being a Bishop is that a Bishop has a much more prominent position which should ideally involve leading a life of example. This idea emerged last night. Everyone has fallen short of God’s ideals, but I do believe that those called to leadership roles are particularly called to do their best to live exemplary lives in the way God desires of us. I don’t wish to single out practising homosexuality though – I would struggle with an unmarried heterosexual Bishop who was sleeping with his partner, for example.

The homosexual agnostic who kicked off the opposition pointed out that in a truly liberal society, groups such as the church should be able to select who they want, and don’t want as leaders. Any society which doesn’t allow that freedom is not liberal, but tends towards a society in which everyone must conform to set opinions and beliefs.

If the church was denied such freedom, perhaps the next step would be to suggest that you don’t have to be a Christian to be a Bishop? Would you suggest that to be an Imam you don’t have to be a Muslim?

Interestingly, it was pointed out during the course of the evening that to suggest a homosexual lifestyle is a bar to becoming a leader is common to all major monotheistic faiths. Yet in my observation at least it is once again only the Christians who have come under fire.

Richard Kirker’s speech annoyed me greatly on the whole. He rambled on in a smarmy manner, sucking up to Gene Robinson at every opportunity and failed in some ways to grapple with the debate. Yet he did come out with one or two interesting points. One point which struck me was the need for honesty – he pointed out that many gay clergy have thus far been living a lie. In my mind this is wrong, and it is important to encourage openness and honesty. Andrew Goddard acknowledged this too, but he did point out that being honest about something doesn’t make it acceptable. If someone were to admit to living in an adulterous relationship, would it make it acceptable?

In opposition, it has to be said that I was also less than impressed with Colin Buchanan’s speech. He bumbled about and didn’t make many new points. He did however affirm a lot of what had already been said – that the decision to ordain gay bishops in the US went against an overwhelming majority for example. He also backed the view that 2000 years on, today’s leading Biblical Scholars still interpret the passages about homosexuality as negative, adding that Gene Robinson’s point about homosexuality today being different to that 2000 years ago and not what scripture talks about was “not a nuance, but a 180 degree turn”. For the record, it was pointed out that passages about sexual immorality are not just confined to laws in Leviticus, but are consistently found throughout both the old and new testaments.

In some ways I felt that Gene Robinson missed the point. He questioned what it meant to be a practising homosexual, saying that ‘celibate or not, everyone is practising’. I felt that to be wide of the mark, but a lot of what he said was worth listening to. I might not agree with his consecration as a Bishop, but I do feel that in his role he seeks to reach and serve others.

At that perhaps, is a good point. I’m finding it hard to come to some sort of conclusion here – I do not think that a practising homosexual should become a Bishop, but I also feel strongly that our task is to love God with all our heart, mind and soul and our neighbour as ourself. So let’s not join in with the debate which the powers that be in the church need to grapple with but instead let’s try and adhere to the task in hand.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Blackwell's

I had to go to Blackwell's last week to collect a book for my dad. Not the most exciting thing for me to blog about, you might think. Well, if it's excitement you want, perhaps not. But I do feel that my experience is worth relying here.

The book in question was an obscure book on Parochial Church Councils, so I worked my way through the shelves containing thousands of books to the enquiry point.
"I'm looking for a book by MacNorran," I said.
"Are you sure you don't mean MacMorran?" came the reply.
"I don't think so," I said.
"Well there are no books by MacNorran. What's the book about?"
"Parochial Church Councils."
"Ah yes, you mean MacNorran. This way - we have one copy left."

And so he led me straight to one of the shelves and from the myriad of books pulled out the one I was after. I was seriously impressed and left wondering how on earth he'd got such knowledge of all the books sold by Blackwell's - he didn't look at a computer once during our encounter, it was all done from memory.