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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

For Us, No Razor, Please!


"Occam's Razor" is an often used term in American discussions. Relating to the philosophical principle non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem it is used colloquially to state that things should not be complicated more than necessary. Actually, William Occam(1290-1349), an English friar exiled in Munich for many years, did not invent Occam's Razor. He just used the non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem principle in the famous philosophical discussion between the Nominalists and the Universalists. The intellectual razor had been invented twenty years earlier by another monk, the French philosopher Durand de Saint-Pourçain (1270-1334). I think it is symptomatic that the term hasn't become popular with our intellectuals. Multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem always was, and still, is their favorite game.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Maureen's Solution

"Cardinal Ratzinger devoted his Vatican career to rooting out any hint of what he considered deviance. The problem is, he was obsessed with enforcing doctrinal orthodoxy and somehow missed the graver danger to the most vulnerable members of the flock. The sin-crazed “Rottweiler” was so consumed with sexual mores — issuing constant instructions on chastity, contraception, abortion — that he didn’t make time for curbing sexual abuse by priests who were supposed to pray with, not prey on, their young charges. American bishops have gotten politically militant in recent years, opposing the health care bill because its language on abortion wasn’t vehement enough, and punishing Catholic politicians who favor abortion rights and stem cell research. They should spend as much time guarding the kids already under their care as they do championing the rights of those who aren’t yet born. Decade after decade, the church hid its sordid crimes, enabling the collared perpetrators instead of letting the police collar them. In the case of the infamous German priest, one diocese official hinted that his problem could be fixed by transferring him to teach at a girls’ school. Either they figured that he would not be tempted by the female sex, or worse, the church was even less concerned about putting little girls at risk. The nuns have historically cleaned up the messes of priests. And this is a historic mess. Benedict should go home to Bavaria. And the cardinals should send the white smoke up the chimney, proclaiming “Habemus Mama.”

Maureen Dowd

Monday, March 29, 2010

Reinventing Henry VIII













A surprisingly successful tv series, The Tudors, is about to change the common perception of Henry VIII. The role of the fat English king who had six wives, two of them he would have executed, is played by the attractive and sporty Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Understandably every pretty woman he meets gives him the eye. Although that the truth stretches the truth pretty much, Henry does deserve some rehabilitation. He was not the woman-devouring Bluebeard we were taught to see in him. Actually he had only one quest which was crucial for his country's stability: for a son. In this quest he spent his life - and ruined the lives of his wives. By the way, the tv series, conceived, written and directed by Michael Hirst, is the best history flick I've seen in years.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Good Enough

The sun is beginnin' to shine on me /But it's not like the sun that used to be/ The party's over and there's less and less to say /I got new eyes, everything looks far away./ Well, my heart's in the highlands at the break of day / Over the hills and far away/ There's a way to get there and I'll figure it out somehow/ Well, I'm already there in my mind, and that's good enough for now.

Bob Dylan

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Native American Wisdom


"When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice."
Cherokee Proverb

Friday, March 26, 2010

Bad Luck

Being Casanova is not always easy.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Artistic Duty


"Let's just say that I think any person who aspires, presumes, or feels the calling to be an artist has a built-in sense of duty."
Patti Smith

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Russian Fairytale


A long time ago, there was an old widowed hunter named Kokovanya. He was lonely so he adopted Daryonka, a poor little orphan girl. When he took Daryonka into his home with him, he also let her bring her scrawny kitten.

Kokovanya, Daryonka, and the kitten were not rich but they had a good life. While the old man hunted, Daryonka would clean the cottage and cook soup. Her cat kept her company. At night, Kokovanya told wonderful tales, but the girl’s favorite was the one about Silver Hoof, the magical goat. Legend had it that Silver Hoof was a very special goat. Where most goats have two horns, Silver Hoof has antlers with five tines. On his right forefoot he had a silver hoof. When he stamped his foot, a gem would be left there. If he stamped it twice there would be two, but if he pawed the ground there would be a whole pile of gems.

Kokovanya told Daryonka that he had been trying for years to find Silver Hoof and that when Autumn came he would be going into the woods to find him. Daryonka begged the old man to let her go with him, since she would be so lonely in the cottage and because she truly wanted to see Silver Hoof also.

So the old man, the young girl, and the cat headed deep into the woods. By now the cat was a very healthy and hearty cat and could offer them protection. They stayed in a cabin that the old man had there. The hunter hunted many goats, but he never found Silver Hoof. Towards the end of winter, he told Daryonka that he had so many goat skins and meat that he would have to go into town to get a horse to help bring it all home. It would take him several days.

On the 2nd day that Daryonka was by herself in the cabin, she heard a pitter patter outside. It was Silver Hoof! She opened the door and called out to him, but he ran away. On the 3rd day the cat went out to play but did not return. Daryonka was worried so she went outside to find him. There he was in the glade with Silver Hoof. Both were nodding their heads as if they were talking to each other. Then they began to run about in the snow. The goat would run and stamp all around the cabin. Then he jumped upon the roof and stamped some more. Precious stones flashed out like sparks -- red, green, light blue, dark blue, and many other colors.

It was then that Kokovanya returned, but he did not recognize his hut. It was covered in gems and sparkled in the moonlight. Suddenly, Silver Hoof and the cat just disappeared from the roof. They were gone. The old man gathered some of the stones in his hat and then he and Daryonka went in to sleep. They had such wonderful dreams. When they awoke they ran outside to look at the wonder, but all the gems were gone. All they had left were the ones the old man had put in his hat. But that was enough to let them live happily ever after. No one ever saw Silver Hoof or the cat again, but sometimes people still find stones in the glade where the goat played that night.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Idealism


Those who serve a cause are not those who love that cause. They are those who love the life which has to be led in order to serve it - except in the case of the very purest, and they are rare.
Simone Weil

Monday, March 22, 2010

Happy Birthday, Stephen!


This is a very special day for me, because it is Stephen's birthday. Every one of us has his or her heroes, people we admire, try to emulate and learn from. Most of my heroes have been out of reach for me - either because they have passed away long ago or because they are not accessible for a struggling writer from Germany. In some cases that may be a good thing. Heroes tend to lose their luster when seen up-close. I had the good luck to meet Stephen more than once, and my admiration for his work was enhanced by enchantment. He is a kind, helpful, very open person, never condescending though always demanding. The advice he gave made me a better dramatist, and I am a better colleague for the example he set. All of his musicals are masterworks, and his "A Little Night Music" is a gem. Musical theater is a highly collaborative art. Still, if you had to single out the one person who has been its dominant innovator during the past 50 years, it would surely be composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim. May he live happily for as long as he enjoys living and never lose his characteristic smile. Does this sound like a declaration of love? Well, it is one.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

More Important


"It was not being raped by a priest at the age of 14 that shattered my faith; it was the horrifying realization that the Catholic Church had willfully, knowingly abandoned me to it, the knowledge that they had ordained the priest who abused me despite knowing he was a paedophile and set him free to abuse with near impunity, ignoring all complaints."
Colm O' Gorman

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Legend Of The Stone Of Foundation


Enoch, under the inspiration of the Most High, and in obedience to the instructions which he had received in a vision, built a temple under ground on Mount Moriah, and dedicated it to God. His son, Methuselah, constructed the building, although he was not acquainted with his father's motives for the erection. This temple consisted of nine vaults, situated perpendicularly beneath each other, and communicating by apertures left in each vault. Enoch then caused a triangular plate of gold to be made, each side of which was a cubit long; he enriched it with the most precious stones, and encrusted the plate upon a stone of agate of the same form. On the plate he engraved the true name of God, or the tetragrammaton, and placing it on a cubical stone, known thereafter as the Stone of Foundation, he deposited the whole within the lowest arc. When this subterranean building was completed, he made a door of stone, and attaching to it a ring of iron, by which it might be occasionally raised, he placed it over the opening of the uppermost arch, and so covered it that the aperture could not be discovered. Enoch himself was not permitted to enter it but once a year, and after the days of Enoch, Methuselah, and Lamech, and the destruction of the world by the deluge, all knowledge of the vault or subterranean temple, and of the Stone of Foundation, with the sacred and ineffable name inscribed upon it, was lost for ages to the world.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Good Advice


"If life gives you something on the plate - eat it!"
Brian Stokes-Mitchell

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mentor

In his eminently readable book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell describes the figure of the mentor. On every adventurous journey, this smart and wise helper appears to the seeker soon after setting out toward unknown territory. Generally he provides him with amulets to protect him from enemies, with magic weapons to fight off dragons and cryptic advice, which proves to be of incalculable value in decisive moments. Whenever anyone asks me about the role that Harold Prince played in my life, that image occurs to me.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Warning


"Let us not overstrain our talents; for if we do we shall do nothing with grace. A clown, whatever he may do, will never pass for a gentleman."
Jean de la Fontaine

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Miracle Of 51st Street


One of my heroes, Alan Jay Lerner, tells a characteristic story about the idiosyncratic Katharine Hepburn. In late 1969, the Hollywood star Hepburn was already a living legend, holding four Oscars. Only then did she make her Broadway debut in Coco, a musical Alan had written with André Previn. The show was playing at the Mark Hellinger Theater on 51st Street. Across the street was a construction site, and on matinee days the noise was horrendous. One day Kate went to the site. With that unique voice of hers which could be heard for four blocks, she shouted up to the workers to come down. When they realized it was Katharine Hepburn, they dropped everything and assembled around her. "Now look here," she said. "You're ruining my play every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon. In the middle of the first act I have to sing a very tender song called Coco. Now you all know damn well that I can't sing. But whatever sound I produce is drowned by the racket you lot are making. That song goes on at 3:20. If you can't do anything else, for God's sake at 3:20 have the decency and shut up for just five minutes." From that moment on, on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons at 3:20, 51st Street became the quietest thouroughfare in the city of New York.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bless The Child!


I'm not sure whether it's true that the child is father to the man, as the saying goes. But I do know that the child is father to the artist. We're best when we play. If creating art is hard work the result may be impressive, but hardly inspiring. A great pianist does not work the piano, he or she plays it. Mozart and Shakespeare created playfully, like children, their works don't smell of sweat.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Importance Of Making Friends


Once upon a time a woman went to a river to wash clothes. Just then, she saw a peach running with the current in the water. She took the peach home, where she and her husband cut it in half. A boy jumped out of the fruit. They named him Momotaro (the peach boy), and adopted the child. He grew up to be big and strong. One day, demons invaded the village. Everybody was very troubled. Momotaro asked his mother to make his favorite dish, kibidango. "I will go to Onigashima to fight the demons on their own territory". He took the kibidango and left. On his way he met a dog, a monkey and a pheasant. These animals were very hungry, and so Momotaro shared his kibidango with them. Gratefully the dog, the monkey and the pheasant decided tho accompany Momotaro on his dangerous mission. In Onigashima the furious demons attacked them. Momotaro would have been lost alone, but the monkey distracted the demons, the dog bit them and the pheasant pecked them while the Peach Boy fought with his sword. The demons were defeated, and Momotaro and his friends returned to the village victorious.
Japanese Fairytale

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Some Career


Irvin Feld grew up working for his father, who owned a store in Maryland. From high school, he was hired to run a pharmacy in the black section of Washington, DC. When the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People offered to finance his pharmacy, he accepted and used the money to expand his store: He added a record department and started to sell black music. Soon he and his brother owned several record shops around town. Irvin Feld was too ambitious to stop there. He felt he had a knack for recognizing talent. So he started his own record label. He discovered and produced Paul Anka, worked with such artists as Fabian, Chubby Checker, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers, and finally brought the Beatles to America for their first tour. Then he got bored by the music industry and fulfilled a dream he had since being a child. He decided to have his own circus, sold all his companies and bought the legendary Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Quite Obvious


Asked why he robbed banks, the famed robber Willie Sutton answered: "Because that's where the money is."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

An Early Warning (1958)


"We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late."
Edward R. Murrow

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Here's To Edna!


It is difficult today to imagine a living poet achieving fame and fortune. Edna St. Vincent Millay is the exception to the rule. In the roaring twenties she was like a rock star, the Madonna of her time. Thousands flocked to her poetry readings to see the tiny figure with the milky white skin and the bright red hair, dressed in her long, shimmering gown, and clad in a black velvet cloak. Her most famous lines are: "My candle burns at both ends, it will not last a night; but all my foes, and, oh, my friends it gives a lovely light!" The poem, first published in 1918, became an anthem of the Jazz Age, particularly for a new generation of women experimenting with free love, alcohol and drugs. Thomas Hardy said that Millay's poetry, along with the skyscrapers, was America's greatest contribution to the 1920s. In the 30s and 40s she became one of the leading American anti-fascists. This did not enhance her popularity. Her 1942 poem, The Murder of Lidice, inspired by the slaughter of Czech villagers by the Nazis, was criticized as propaganda. Fifty years ago, weakened by drugs, she fell from the top of the stairs at her home, and died.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Theater Work


"Collaboration is the biggest word in the theater. It is the most important element in theatrical success. Not just the collaboration between an author and a composer, but the total collaboration in every play, the convergence and co-ordination of all the different talents, producing, writing, directing, choreography, acting, scene designing, costume designing, lighting, orchestration, theater management, company management, public relations - the mixture of all these ingredients is essential to every theatrical meal that seeks to make itself palatable to the public. To get along in the theater you must enjoy working side by side with other people. You must be willing not only to give your best to them but to accept their best and give them the opportunity of adding their efforts to yours to their full capacities. If you want privacy in your work, and if you want to make your flights of fancy solo, stay away from the theater."
Oscar Hammerstein II

Monday, March 8, 2010

New York Wit

New Yorkers have a wry kind of humor, and sometimes their spontaneous comments are little gems. A middle aged woman who had watched a Broadway show from a balcony seat was was one of the first people out when the performance had ended. She was down the stairs when she remembered she had left her coat on her seat. I watched her turn around and hurriedly run back up the stairs. But by this time, throngs of people were on their way out, and she was swimming upstream against the current. Most fittingly, one of those people turned to her and yelled out, “Salmon!”

Sunday, March 7, 2010

All The Better


"It was previously a question of finding out whether or not life had to have a meaning to be lived. It now becomes clear, on the contrary, that it will be lived all the better if it has no meaning."
Albert Camus

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Good Advice


When Somerset Maugham delivered a drama course at London University, he was asked by a student how to become a successful dramatist. He gave the following advice: "A sure formula for success is to write a tragedy in five acts. Put it away in a drawer for six months, then change it into a comedy in three acts. Forget it for another year. Then reduce it to a curtain raiser. That done, rush right out and marry a rich American."

Friday, March 5, 2010

In Praise Of Self-Reliance


Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser, who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested: "But these impulses may be from below, not from above." I replied: "They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil's child, I will live then from the Devil." No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it. A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if everything were titular and ephemeral but he. I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions. Every decent and well-spoken individual affects and sways me more than is right. I ought to go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways. If malice and vanity wear the coat of philanthropy, shall that pass? If an angry bigot assumes this bountiful cause of Abolition, and comes to me with his last news from Barbadoes, why should I not say to him: "Go love thy infant; love thy wood-chopper: be good-natured and modest: have that grace; and never varnish your hard, uncharitable ambition with this incredible tenderness for black folk a thousand miles off. Thy love afar is spite at home." Rough and graceless would be such greeting, but truth is handsomer than the affectation of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it,—else it is none. The doctrine of hatred must be preached as the counteraction of the doctrine of love when that pules and whines. I shun father and mother and wife and brother, when my genius calls me. I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim. I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation. Expect me not to show cause why I seek or why I exclude company. Then, again, do not tell me, as a good man did to-day, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor? I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent, I give to such men as do not belong to me and to whom I do not belong. There is a class of persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will go to prison, if need be; but your miscellaneous popular charities; the education at college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the vain end to which many now stand; alms to sots; and the thousand-fold Relief Societies;—though I confess with shame I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Self-Esteem


When entering the theatre for the opening of his play, "The Importance Of Being Earnest", Oscar Wilde was stopped by a journalist. "Are you nervous?", he asked. Mr. Wilde replied: "Why should I be nervous? I know that my play is good, because I wrote it. As far as I'm concerned it is a success. The question is if the audience will be a success. They should be nervous. They have to prove that they deserve my play."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Acceptable


According to U.S. Justice Department memos released last year, the government's medical service opined that sleep deprivation up to 180 hours didn’t qualify as torture. It determined that confinement in a dark, small space for 18 hours a day was acceptable. It said detainees could be exposed to cold air or hosed down with cold water for up to two-thirds of the time it takes for hypothermia to set in. And it advised that placing a detainee in handcuffs attached by a chain to a ceiling, then forcing him to stand with his feet shackled to a bolt in the floor, “does not result in significant pain for the subject.” The service did allow that waterboarding could be dangerous, and that the experience of feeling unable to breathe is extremely frightening. But it noted that the C.I.A. had limited its use to 12 applications over two sessions within 24 hours, and to five days in any 30-day period. As a result, the lawyers noted the office’s “professional judgment that the use of the waterboard on a healthy individual subject to these limitations would be ‘medically acceptable.’”

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Understandable


"I think you are even more famous than I am," said Kaiser Wilhelm, when Grock, a once celebrated and still legendary clown, was introduced to His Majesty. Grock answered: "Why not? I am funnier."

Monday, March 1, 2010

No Dream's Lost

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."
Henry David Thoreau