Principals Blog: Early March 2020

blogBowerscrop1Welfare lunch:
We had a terrific presentation at our regular Welfare lunch from our Supernumerary Fellow Prof Russell Foster on 25 February about sleep. As usual he gave a virtuoso performance with wonderful slides. He reminded those present that we spend an average some 36% of our lives in sleep. He frankly stated that some sixty years of research about sleep has not told us much about sleep. What we do know is that disrupted sleep in the middle years of life is an indicator of possible dementia later on. He emphasised the need for good sleep for making decisions and the difference between sleepiness which can be corrected and fatigue which cannot and is harmful. He said that whilst napping for up to twenty minutes in the afternoon was good, longer was not. As always, I felt privileged to listen to him.

Ackrill Lecture:
This John Ackrill Memorial Lecture was given by Prof Tad Brennan of Cornell University who spoke on “Plato on Desire in the Symposium” in the Amersi Foundation Lecture Room on 25 February. This was the 12th in the series and was on 'Desire in Plato's Symposium'. Every year since 2009, a distinguished scholar of ancient philosophy is invited to college to deliver a paper in honour of John Ackrill -- Brasenose Fellow from 1953 to 1989 and a towering figure in the 20th century revival of philosophical interest in Plato and Aristotle. In his lecture, Prof. Brennan argued that, according to Plato in the Symposium, it is impossible to desire something that one already has, and so desire is directed only towards future states of affairs. Paradoxically, then, there is a sense in which our desires are never satisfied.

Dr Jayne Birkby:
We are delighted that Dr Jayne Birkby has been elected to the Fellowship in Physics (Exoplanets). She gained a first at Durham University and then completed a PhD in Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge. She is currently a Lecturer at the University of Amsterdam. She will join us at the start of the next Academic year.

Ale Verses:
Our wordsmiths were in great form for Ale Verses on Shrove Tuesday, 25 February. This excellent Brasenose tradition goes back to the days when the assembled company were gathered round braziers in Hall, with smoke floating in the open timber roof. I understood most of the contents of the ditties which were set to the tune of modern artists such as Adele. Subjects included the statue in our Front Quad (God of the Forge) which I understand is not universally popular with students (eg “Please just something but not this statute, boo” was one of the more moderate lines in the verse which won); the Dean (always a popular character); and the possible naming of a College drink (which mysteriously did not happen as requested). The clear winner “Angels of the Forge” was set to Angels by Robbie Williams and had the immortal line at the end of a verse “And go to Lincoln instead”. It was penned by the very talented duo of Jacob Green and Bill Freeman.

I was surprised (nay shocked) to see Mark Wilson, the Dean, described as “His face was rather fearsome and his voice was rather mean” although I think this was included just to make a rhyme. It was so difficult to restore order in the Hall so that my gavel broke!

Thanks in particular to the Dean, Director of Music and our two excellent organ scholars, Bethany Hughes and Scott Hextall for a magnificent event.

Unfortunately I missed blurbs where the SCR speaker was Professor Daniela Bortoletto, who is a Senior Kurti Fellow here at Brasenose and the Head of the Sub Department of Particle Physics. Her work takes her regularly to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN  in Geneva. Our HCR speaker was HCR President emeritus, Matthew Speight, DPhil student in Interdisciplinary Biosciences at the Department of Zoology. The title of his talk was 'Why Do Whales Exist? Understanding Cancer Resistance across the Animal Kingdom'. The reason I missed blurbs was because I was en route to my home town of Grimsby to visit schools. I met representatives of Havelock School and Franklin College, which was especially poignant for me as I knew Jack Franklin, a local councillor after whom the sixth form College is named.

On 3 March, I went to hear Rebecca Corbett Investigations Editor of the New York Times give a lecture for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at LMH. She spoke in particular about their investigations into Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump and the challenges these present for the teams of journalists involved. She also explained the particular difficulties of investigating Pres Trump given the polarisation inn American politics.

I have nearly completed Seth Abramson’s excellent book about Trump and Russia called Proof of Collusion. I have also been reading Cherry by Sara Wheeler about Apsley Cherry Gerrard, an English explorer of Antarctica. Sarah will be our Royal Literary Fund writer in residence next year.

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