Archive for August, 2012


Holy Places

Today we had class inside of Christ Church Cathedral. As cathedrals go, it’s quite small. Nevertheless, it’s an absolutely gorgeous structure, with numerous impressive stained glass windows and a spectacular display behind the altar.

More importantly, it’s a holy place. It’s not a museum, or an archaeological site. It is a fully functioning Church, where people come to worship on a daily basis. It may be one of the most popular sites in Oxford for tourists, but it still functions as a site where people go to practice their faith.

And to that end, I think it deserves a little respect – as do all holy places. It doesn’t matter what religion you practice, if any. When you enter a space that others consider holy, you ought to act in a respectful manner. That means staying quiet (or altogether silent),  not touching anything that you’re not supposed to touch, and respecting the rules of the place (e.g. removing your shoes if necessary).

Imagine my horror and disgust when two giggling girls entered the cathedral, and proceeded to walk towards one of the tombs. One of the girls handed the other her camera, and thereafter she leapt upon the tomb and sprawled out in a dumb pose. *FLASH* went the camera, and the girl jumped off the tomb, checked to see if the picture was satisfactory, and then the two continued on their merry way. Absolutely outrageous. I’m not an Anglican, but I was incensed by this show of utter disrespect and stupidity.

It goes without saying that when you’re in a holy place, you should not try to emulate these two girls.

Even without the blatant sacrilege of jumping on top of a tomb, I’ve always felt awkward about taking photographs in holy places. Some places prohibit photography altogether, but even in those that don’t I think it’s a little rude. First of all, cameras make noise. Second, you can never really capture the full magnificence of a holy place in a photograph, and so I feel like photos cheapen the experience somewhat. Third, I just feel it’s a little disrespectful in the same way that I feel pulling out a cell phone and texting in a holy place would be disrespectful. You may not be making any noise or disturbing anyone, but you’re certainly not showing respect to the place you’re in.

The first rule is to always ask whether or not photography is permitted. If there are no signs, don’t assume that it’s okay. The second rule is that if you’re going to take photos, do so in the least obtrusive way possible. Take as few as possible, avoid taking photos if it’s crowded around you, and please, please turn your flash off.

All of this is very, very easy to follow. It’s not rocket science, after all. It’s just common sense. And like a lot of common sense, the vast majority of people get it. Most people, be they religious or atheist, know how to act when they’re in a holy place.  The few that don’t should avoid them altogether.

RANT #22: Oversleeping

There are a ton of excuses which people might use after they’ve failed to show up at a certain place at a certain time. “I was sick.” “Traffic was horrendous.” “My cat threw up.” “I had to finish with some house/homework.”, etc. Some of these excuses are more legitimate than others. But there’s one excuse which I simply cannot stand: “I overslept.”

And the reason I can’t stand it when people tell me they’ve overslept is that I can’t understand how it happens accidentally. In order to oversleep, you have to make a conscious decision to not give a fuck about the event planned for the next morning.

Let’s go through the various reasons why a person might oversleep, and I’ll show you what I mean.

Scenario A: The person overslept because they didn’t set their alarm. 

This implies that the person either didn’t bother to set their alarm, or simply forgot to. In the first case, it’s willful negligence. The person knew he had to be up at 8:00 the next morning, but decided to rely on his body’s internal functions to wake him up before then. In the latter case, it’s mere forgetfulness, and it’s the one scenario which I deem forgivable – but not if it happens regularly.

Scenario B: The person set their alarm for the proper time, and the alarm woke them up, but they then hit the snooze button seven times. 

Here we have a prime example of not giving a fuck. If you have to be somewhere, you don’t hit the snooze button. You drag your tired ass out of bed, splash some water on your face, and get moving. The snooze button is a wonderful device, but not when you have somewhere to be in 15 minutes.

Scenario C: The person slept through their alarm!

This is my favourite excuse of them all, because here the person who has inconvenienced you has the gall to paint himself as the victim. Imagine that!

Look.

Let me explain to you what an alarm does.

An alarm has one purpose, and one purpose only: To wake you up at a specified time.

That’s it.

If the device you’re using as an alarm – be it an alarm clock, or a clock radio, or a cell phone – fails to perform this solitary function, it is useless to you as an alarm. Simple as that.

It’s like having a pen which fails to perform its sole function of putting ink onto paper. It’s useless as a writing implement, so you go out and buy something that will satisfy this purpose.

You may have a really great phone, but if the alarm on it isn’t loud enough to wake you up, you need to get yourself something else to use as an alarm. I have these really great rubber gloves. They keep out hot water and prevent electrical shocks. But they’re entirely unsuitable for taking trays of delicious muffins out of the oven. So I also have these oven mitts, which are far more suited to the purpose.

 

Being a light sleeper, perhaps it’s not my place to judge the heavier sleepers out there. Perhaps I don’t know what it’s like. But I find it very interesting that here in Oxford, where we’re required to be in class at 8:45 every morning on threat of expulsion, not a single person has overslept once. Very curious indeed.

Off We Go

In just a few hours I’ll be off to the UK for the second time. I won’t return to my home country until September 2nd.

As I mentioned before, this is scheduled to be the longest I’ve ever been away from home, but I’m not too worried about that. I’ve already made friends with a number of people in my course, so it’s not like I’ll be isolated there at all. And I’ve already planned a few awesome trips on the weekends, so even if the course were to end up being terrible, I’d still have those to look forward to.

The course itself will be interesting, I think. It’s on the social history of 16th century Britain. Social history isn’t my cup of tea – My focus is on the acts of kings, queens, and politicians rather than how the rank and file lived their lives (unless they’re revolting, of course). But, the fact that this course is being taught on location, the fact that we’ve got field trips to museums and notable locations lined up (including a trip to Stratford to see a Shakespeare play), and the fact that we’ll be studying directly from primary source documents (ie, documents actually written in the 16th century, as opposed to textbooks written in 2008), makes this much better than your average social history course.

I’m a bit worried about this professor though. I had him before during my first year at U of T, and it wasn’t the best experience. For one thing, he’s a bit of a technological dinosaur – he uses overhead projectors, for fuck’s sake! You can make the argument that he’s entitled to teach the course however he sees fit, but I think it’s embarrassing to see a professor teaching at one of the top 25 universities in the world using obsolete technology in class.

Not only that, but his class remains to this day the lowest mark I’ve ever had in any academic institution, with the sole exception of Grade 3 art (I was bad at colouring within the lines, okay?). That’s somewhat troubling.

With that said, there’s a bright side to both of these problems. This course is a seminar course, not a lecture course. This means smaller classes and more discussion amongst the class. It’s highly unlikely that he would use overhead projectors here. Plus, it’s Oxford University, one of the top ten schools in the world. Surely they’ve discarded all their old technology by this point.

As for the marks, it’s true that the professor himself never marked anything I did in that previous class. It was all done by my TA. The professor has some input, but the TA determines the mark. It’s possible that I just had a bad TA. The fact that the class average as a whole was 8% lower than the majority of U of T classes would mean that either BOTH TAs were cruel, or the professor himself was responsible for that anomaly. I’m hoping for the former. Otherwise, I’ll just have to content myself with knowing that this is an entirely different style of course, and that any preconceptions are going to prove useless. I should just go in like everyone who hasn’t had this professor before, with an open mind.

One final piece of good news is that I’ll have my computer with me while I’m away, and so for the first time ever I’ll be able to post from another continent. Crazy stuff.

So, is Summer ’12 over, or is it just beginning? I’ll find out soon. Wish me luck.