30 June, 2008

Dame Emma Kirkby, Doctoris in Musica honoris causa

Cantatrix lepidissima, quae et permultos arte tua delectavisti et pulchritudinem musicae inprimis antiquae aperuisti, ego auctoritate mea et totius Vniversitatis admitto te ad gradum Doctoris in Musica honoris causa.*

With these words, the Chancellor of Oxford University conveyed upon Dame Emma Kirkby an honorary Doctorate in Music at the University's 18 June congregation.

Kirkby was made DCOBE in the Queen's birthday honors last July, and as I blogged at the time, I believed she well deserved that honor as well as this new one.

Below, I'm posting the encomium* delivered by the Oxford orator:

Is there anything that those who have read Greats at Oxford cannot do? Three years ago we honoured a man who after completing this degree turned to physics and won a Nobel Prize for it, and today we confer a doctorate on a lady who did not devote her whole time to music until she too had made this thorough study of Greek and Latin texts. In those days the vastly learned and formidable Eduard Fraenkel was teaching (or terrorising) his pupils, but she is said to have subdued him by her charm as Orpheus subdued the beasts with his lyre. At all events, in the succeeding years her art has come close to that of Orpheus himself in its power to bewitch the world. A competent critic has described her as the best singer never to have sung Verdi. The beauty of her voice is known to all; some have compared it (quite wrongly, I believe) to a boy's voice, others to a bell, and yet others to a stream of silver. But I suggest that she deserves the greater praise for adding to this God-given talent musicality, technical mastery and historical understanding.

The poets often represent goddesses as jealous and self-assertive; thus Juno in Virgil's Aeneid declares that since she cannot get her way she will raise Hell itself. So I think that there is good reason for celebrated sopranos to be called divas. This honorand is entirely different: with ample reason to boast about herself, she has always remained easy and modest. She has herself said that her recent damehood should be taken as a tribute to the virtues of stillness, clarity and ensemble rather than volume and display. She seeks harmony not only in the music itself but also among the performers; and accordingly she has earned, besides the praise of all, the affection of many.

I present an English nightingale, a tenth Muse, Carolyn Emma Kirkby, DBE, former student and Honorary Fellow of Somerville College, to be admitted to the honorary degree of Doctor of Music.

* At Oxford, the encomiums and admission are delivered in Latin and if you're interested, you can find the original as well as the translation of the Chancellor's admission at the title link...

24 June, 2008

God deals drugs...news at 11:00

Too funny!

God accused of selling cocaine.
Police said a man named God was arrested near a Tampa church for selling cocaine.

Authorities began investigating God Lucky Howard in April, and he was arrested on Saturday. Police said he sold the cocaine to undercover detectives in his neighborhood. When officers searched his home, they reported finding 22 grams more of cocaine and a scale.

Jail records show Howard was charged with several counts of drug possession and distribution, which include increased charges for being within 1,000 feet of a church, a school and public housing.

He was being held on a bond of $86,500.

04 June, 2008

Put a Little Science in Your Life!

Also found via Pharyngula, an op-ed in the New York Times by Brian Greene (U.S. Physicist) on the role science can play in giving meaning to life. It's a fantastic essay and conveys wonderfully the very real need that exists to improve science education in our schools and the overall place that science has in the daily lives of ordinary people:
The reason science really matters runs deeper still. Science is a way of life. Science is a perspective. Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that’s precise, predictive and reliable — a transformation, for those lucky enough to experience it, that is empowering and emotional. To be able to think through and grasp explanations — for everything from why the sky is blue to how life formed on earth — not because they are declared dogma but rather because they reveal patterns confirmed by experiment and observation, is one of the most precious of human experiences.
This goes directly to the heart of the matter. We stand today as inheritors and beneficiaries of the Enlightenment but an increasing tide of irrationality threatens not only to slow our forward progress, but to actually move us backwards, both morally and practically. Faith-based wooly-headedness seeks to limit or quash the rights of women and minorities and distort or hinder the teaching of science in schools. Fanatics possessed by religious delusions seek to destroy the freedoms and lives of those with whom they disagree. Political partisanship and ideological motivations lead to the obfuscation, twisting, or blatant disregard of rational argument and science itself. Even many people who reject dogmatism often turn to superstition and wishful thinking like "pop" spirituality and so-called "psychics". We are swimming in a sea of nonsense and it seems like we're having more and more difficulty keeping our heads above water.

And this is exactly why science is so important. Science can illuminate a road out of this mess: Reason. The scientific method is our only reliable source of knowledge of the external world and as Greene notes, it can help us give context and meaning to our lives. Where dogma and superstition fail, science triumphs.

Derren Brown: The so-called Messiah

Found via Pharyngula: a (what appears to be) BBC show featuring Derren Brown (a British magician/illusionist) in which he travels to the U.S. and presents himself to several "experts" in the world of supernatural/paranormal phenomena as one of their own in the hopes of gaining their "endorsement" of his alleged "abilities". In other words, he fools them into thinking that the tricks he performs are actual paranormal/supernatural phenomena. An excellent example of skepticism in action! See YouTube for all eight episodes.