Monday, February 27, 2006

Surreal...But Nice

I had a wonderful evening yesterday. Following Evensong at Teddy Hall, where my dad was preaching, I enjoyed a quality dinner and hospitality in the SCR.

What I really enjoyed about it was the surreal and combination of people; I certainly never expected to be dining with my physics project supervisor and the Bishop of Rochester (Michael Nazir-Ali) at the same time. The conversation flowed and included a very interesting dialogue on Free Speech, which I think I will post about another time. To my delight, dessert in the SCR included the classic combination of port and fruit that posed the question of 'how does one eat that?' In this case, I'm not even sure what the fruit was. It was small and orange, and apparently has a name which "sounds like Syphillis" according to one of those gathered. And yes, that comment was made in front of two vicars and a bishop.

It's been very busy recently - hence the lack of posts. Largely this has been down to lots of work, but I did enjoy time with my brother at the weekend. I also enjoyed the 'Top Gear Forum' at The Union on Thursday at which Jeremy Clarkson and the producer, Andy Wilman were speaking. Again there was some interesting (and quite funny) discussion on Free Speech and Political Correctness but I'll save that for another time. I've got to get back to my work...

Monday, February 20, 2006

What's in a name?

I see that the Kaiser Chiefs did well at the Brits this year. Good for them; I quite like their music. However, I have not bought their album, and neither do I plan to.


Because I am quite a stickler for the Commandment "do not take God's name in vain". It annoys me when people use "oh my God" as an exclamation and though the song with that title is (irritatingly) catchy I don't get on with it lyrically. To say I find it offensive might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I certainly don't want to endorse it.

I guess that in a world of free speech people can sing about what they like. There are doubtless many Christians and Jews who find The Kaiser Chiefs' song offensive, but who just get on with life quietly. But would the reaction be the same if the song was about Mohammed for example, or would we see more extremists inciting murder and burning embassys?

The lack of respect for God's name which has developed is quite interesting; no-one ever exclaims "oh Buddha!" if they do themselves an injury, and no-one ever invokes Mohammed's name when they receive bad news. So why is it acceptable to treat God (or Jesus, or Christ...) as a swearword?

On another note, Ian popped up for dinner last night, and it was a quality evening, and good as ever to catch up.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

How do you eat yours?

I had another 'only in the Oxford Bubble' moment on Friday; I was at Choir Dinner and was confronted at dessert (which comes after pudding) by the problem of how to eat a kumquat. The answer, apparently, is whole - and very nice it was too.

I was slightly 'under the weather' unfortunately but I didn't let it spoil what turned out to be a superb evening.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

It's Life Jim, But Not As We Know It

I had a quality interlude yesterday morning; Ian's Blog came in to my RSS reader and I noted he was in Starbucks in Oxford. So having confirmed that he was still there I nipped out to see him. It was a great (albeit brief) time and we were both amused by the slightly random way in which the Blogosphere had caused an off-chance meeting.

Anyway, Ian had recently been to lunch in Christ Church and commented on how there was much more to Oxford than the shopping streets and buses which meet the eye. This got me thinking; I know that I've posted here before about the randomness of life within the Oxford Bubble (like the time no-one batted an eyelid at the dude with fairy wings) but I feel it's time for me to share a few more thoughts.

When I visited Sam in Leeds we were passed in the street by some girls, one of whom proclaimed loudly that "Evolution is s**t". Sam confirmed my suspicions that there was club in Leeds called Evolution, and I couldn't help thinking that if it had been Oxford the default assumption would be that this girl disagreed with Charles Darwin.

Now in most places, students usually only get in to trouble for things like vandalism or very anti-social behaviour. (Or, in Leeds' Bodington Hall, fireworks are evidently perceived to be a problem). Yet here in Oxford I was reminded the other day that one of my contempararies landed himself in trouble for "holding an illegal communion service". Need I say more?

Thanks to Sam (again) for this link to the Facebook Song. It's awesome!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


I went to a fascinating debate at the Oxford Union last night, entitled "Darwin & Humanity: Can we rid the mind of God?".

The two speakers were Alister McGrath and Susan Blackmore, and the forum focussed largely on the idea of Memes. One of Richard Dawkins' creations, "Memes are habits, skills, songs, stories, or any other kind of information that is copied from person to person". The concept of God is merely a meme, apparently.

The idea, it seems, is that human beings are merely machines who replicate information or 'memes'. To be fair Dr Blackmore did have something of an uphill task given that she had to explain memes before she could infer why they meant we could rid the mind of God - but her argument lacked coherence and was less than convincing. The theory of memes has evidently evolved, leading to a distinction between those who follow 'Dawkins A' (memes can be objects) and those who follow 'Dawkins B' (memes are all in the mind). Dr Blackmore said that she was in the 'Dawkins A' camp.

What I found very interesting is that she had to admit that there might well have been a creator, though such a creator need not have anything to do with the Universe after its conception. This came about when someone quizzed her on her "information comes from information before it" argument and asked where the first information came from. I also found it very interesting that she has come to the conclusion that the whole Universe is pointless and we are purely meme-replicating machines. Something she admitted she struggled with, but it was her conclusion nonetheless. Not very satisfying from my point of view. Dr Blackmore was also unable to give any sort of answer about absolute morality, and why if we are simply pointless machines there is a concept of right and wrong.

I thought I would browse Dr Blackmore's site for more information and was intruiged by what she had to say about Zen. She is not a Buddhist and she has not signed up to any beliefs - yet she has been practising Zen for many years. I find this a little strange, but what gets me the most is her fear of the memes of Buddhism. If we are all just meme replicating machines then surely she has no choice in the matter. To say that we are all pointless machines and then imply that she has choice is somewhat contradictory.

Alister McGrath talked about the fact that he was once a convinced atheist and is now a practising Christian. He enthused about his faith and the fact that his life has meaning - he was restless until he'd found it apparently. His viewpoint was far more satisfactory.

So. Will religion die out as people move away from inheriting their parents beliefs? - as Susan Blackmore would have you believe. Or, as Alister McGrath thinks, has atheism (a faith in its own right) had its day?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Another Black Mark for The Oxford Bus Company

Following my trip last month on The Airline, on which I was told that student discount is only available for Brookes' students I wrote to the Oxford Bus Company, asking why this was the case and enclosing a copy of my NUS card - which is just like the ones issued to Brookes' students.

They replied this morning, explaining that the Brookes' discount is due to mutual agreements made with the University, something which they've not managed to acheive with Oxford University at this present time. Fair play, I guess.

But then they assume that they can make it all better by informing me that "Senior Citizens travelling on the Airline receive a 50% discount as a result of a government initiative to reimburse coach operators for the difference in fare".

A difference in fare compared with what, exactly? And how is their treatment of old people meant to compensate for the lack of student discount? Given that without discount the Airline is somewhat pricey my boycott of the Oxford Bus Company continues and I will endeavour to use other ways of getting around, such as the train.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Cool Britannia

In some ways I'm quite a fan of the monarchy - I think that Prince Philip and The Queen are both rather cool in their own special way.

In that vein I thought this snippet from The Times is worthy of a mention:

Her Majesty and a battle of the bards

Ray Davies of the Kinks, who was shot during a mugging in New Orleans last year, was shocked when the Queen told him: “I hope they catch the b****** who shot you.”

Davies claimed the Queen said the rude but quite cool thing while he was picking up his CBE insignia at Buckingham Palace, according to GQ magazine. A Buckingham Palace spokesman has denied the quote, saying: “I think it’s highly unlikely she spoke in this manner.”

So what did the Queen say? Obviously, as an elder statesman of rock, Davies’s hearing has taken a high-decibel battering over the years, so it must have been something that sounded a bit like “b*****”. “Last bard”, perhaps — the Queen assuming that Davies, as a fairly forthright individual, has had many “run-ins” with fellow rock stars, or “bards”, and that this mugging was merely the latest.

I'm not sure what's more amusing - the fact that the Queen said what she did or the random and slightly eccentric reason the writer of the article gives to explain what she must have said instead. Of course the Queen would never use language like that...