Meeting Wadhamites

2005-09-27

in Daily updates, Oxford

Inside the dome at Rhodes House

This afternoon, I spent a good stretch of time with Bilyana: the Bulgarian mathematics student who showed us around Jericho earlier. She showed me her master’s thesis, on an esoteric kind of planar graph theory. Apparently, only ten people in the world are doing work in the area. Suffice it to say, I understood not a word, though I was suitably impressed. Having just finished her previous degree a week ago, she has been propelled into her D.Phil program almost immediately. She showed me a good little coffee shop (The Alternative Tuck Shop) a block up from the side gate of the college, left up Hollywell Street. She also led me to Rhodes House, which is quite a handsome structure, though quite depopulated when we were in it. She has invited me to dinner in the MCR on Friday, which I look forward to quite a bit.

Outside, between the main quad and the library, I met Houston: the social coordinator of the MCR committee. He and Bilyana know each other and, after she headed off to the library to do some reading, I spoke with him for about half an hour about Oxford, Wadham, and such. My already considerable excitement about Wadham social events has been increased by his descriptions of them. As has been the case with almost everyone here, he was very welcoming and helpful. At this point, I don’t think anything could diminish my enthusiasm for the year ahead.

Getting laundry done at Wadham is quite the affair. To begin with, you need to pay £10 just for the card (around C$22), which then needs to be charged with at least £5. You then need to descend to the most concealed, unsignposted, and smelliest part of the undergraduate area, where you will discover that there is no laundry soap to be had for love or money. Also, the dryers are so inadequate that I’ve set up a clothesline in my room, rather than putting more money into them. Unfortunately, taking the bus to North Vancouver in order to do my laundry is an unlikely option from here.

The Hollis and Smith book contains a lot of matter about the philosophy of science: for instance, Sir Karl Popper’s ideas about conjectures and refutations. I suppose that so long as IR is walking around pretending to be a science, such discussion will be necessary. As that sentence indicates, I don’t buy it for a moment. Maybe finishing the book will make me less confident in that belief. It just strikes me as daft to look for objective laws in something as complex and self-influencing as international organizations: a term that has itself become more and more of a misnomer as non-state actors have gained influence. Issues directly related to IR aside, Kuhn’s theory of paradigms is interesting and compellingly expressed.

This evening, Nora gave me a CD of Led Zeppelin songs as a gift. Many of them, I don’t think I have ever heard before. I explained to her last night, during our long conversation, how my brother Sasha’s relationship with Led Zeppelin is somewhat akin to mine with Pink Floyd, which is to say one of considerable appreciation. Perhaps this CD will rebalance my opinion towards the one that Nora and Sasha share. While it’s far too early to determine my final opinion of the music, it has made an enjoyable and amusing backdrop to my reading.

Despite standing invitations to go hang out with other Library Court residents at The Lamb and Flag, on St. Giles Street, as well as to go for a walk with Nora, I think I will just read a few more chapters and go to sleep early. All day, I have been feeling less than perfectly well. Despite large-scale consumption of 3 for £2 bottles of Sainsbury’s orange juice, things seem to be worsening rather than improving. Given that I am meant to be at the Examination Schools at 9:30am tomorrow to begin graduate student orientations, a good dose of sleep may be just the thing.

PS. Something anonymously linked on Tristan’s blog has made me even more distressed about the parlous state of liberal democracy in America today. In what I can only take as an ironic endorsement of the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, it seems that the FBI is re-prioritizing from counter-terrorism to something much more unconstitutional and worrisome.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan Laing September 27, 2005 at 11:31 pm

Well, you can be thankful that Popper was, in essence, wrong. Kuhn’s “Structures of Scientific Revolutions” is an easy read, and as I think I can say from having taken a course in which it took the middle place, does a good job of placing itself within the debate. Needless to say, it is the most important work in philosophy of science this century. Other important work, such as the Edinborough school movement, may be less important for you – such as questions of to what extent does someone have to be inside the research community to criticize it? (This is how feminist readings of science are often rejected, but I doubt the same issue would be present in IR, it’s not that kind of science).

I would like to formally apologize for somehow believing that your friend subscribed to the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

Anonymous September 28, 2005 at 5:45 am

Your photograph, it bears an uncanny resemblance to the hall where Jesus spoke to us in the Mormon welcome centre. You remember, with the decor style ala california airbrush auto stylists.

Milan September 28, 2005 at 8:38 am

The picture is of the entrance hall of Rhodes House. While most of the photos I have taken have been of people, I have been hesitant to post them so far. That’s because I don’t know how much they would appreciate having their likeness splashed on a strange web site, as well as descriptions of their dealings with me.

@Tristan

The origin of the Ayn Rand talk came when someone suggested that I read some of her work in order to get charged up with arguments against capitalism.

B September 28, 2005 at 1:31 pm

Unrelated, but wicked cool.

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