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Friday, April 30, 2010

Work Your Synapses!

Contrary to popular belief, the mental decline older people experience (I'm one of them) is not due to the steady death of nerve cells. Instead, it results from the thinning out of the so-called dendrites, the branches on nerve cells that receive and process information from other nerve cells. Dendrites receive information across connections called synapses. If connections aren't regularly switched on, the dendrites can atrophy. Growing new dendrites was long thought to be possible only in the brains of children. More recent work has shown that old neurons can grow dendrites to compensate for losses. So let our nerve cells keep communicating!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lost Love

Musicals of noble aspiration always were a hard sell on Broadway. In 1948, Kurt Weill's Love Life barely ran out a season. Two years later, his Lost in the Stars, adapted by Maxwell Anderson from a novel of racial strife in South Africa, closed after just a few months. It did not help that the reviews were enthusiastic. Alan Jay Lerner called the score deeply moving and the title song a touching and heartbreaking blend of music and lyrics. The failure of Lost in the Stars literally broke Kurt Weill's heart.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Elizabeth's Mystery

Elizabeth I (1533-1603) impressed herself more vividly on the memory of the world than any other monarch in the history of England. She successfully established and maintained power while refusing to bow to the wishes of those who believed that no woman was fit to occupy the English throne. One of the mysteries that surround her is her stubborn refusal to marry. Some historians believe that she made a vow already as a teenager to remain single when a romantic love affair ended unhappily. Others think she was shocked by the fate of her mother, Anne Boleyn, who was executed by her husband, Henry VIII. It may well be, though, that she simply wanted to prove that she could rule without a king at her side.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Revolution

"The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing their inner attitudes of their minds can change the outer aspects of their lives."
William James

Monday, April 26, 2010

A New York Story

On the way to the subway after work in late February, Leonard Shaver found a digital camera in the snow. He brought it home and checked to see that it worked. There were tourist pictures of New York City on the camera: a gentleman smiling at Times Square, Lincoln Center, the Empire State Building, etc. And, there was a photo of the Novotel hotel sign. On a whim, Mr. Shaver called the Novotel and explained to a somewhat perplexed front desk employee that he might possibly have the camera of one of their guests. He persuaded them to take his telephone number in case anyone should inquire. At 1 a.m. Leonard Shaver got a call from a Frenchwoman, apologizing for calling at such an hour, explaining that she had lost her camera and hoped that he had it. The next day, a grateful couple retrieved their camera on the way to the airport. They were heading home to Paris. They gave Shaver some paté de fruits from Fauchon. Lesson learned: Take a picture of your hotel on your digital camera.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Indisputably The Best

"In the world of American musicals Stephen Sondheim is indisputably the best, brightest and most influential talent to emerge during the last half-century. Even when his shows have been commercial flops, they are studied, revered and eventually reincarnated to critical hosannas. No other songwriter to date has challenged his eminence, and it seems unlikely that anyone will in his lifetime. It is even possible, if sadly so, that he may be remembered as the last of the giants in a genre that flourished in the 20th century and wilted in the 21st."
Ben Brantly (New York Times, April 24th, 2010)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Moby Dick Opera


On April 30, The Dallas Opera presents the world premiere of Moby-Dick by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer, based on Herman Melville's iconic American novel of 1851. Tenor Ben Heppner stars as Captain Ahab. Jake Heggie has said that Melville's book is not only operatic in scope: music virtually rises from its pages. "There is so much music with the sea and the wind and that sort of universe that Melville created, the ship floating on the ocean just as the planet floats on the universe. There were bells on the whaling ships, the whales themselves made very percussive noises." As he and Scheer worked to distill a huge, classic book into a two-act, three-hour operatic story, the composer felt "the musical world reveal itself" with grand orchestration and a 40-voice men's chorus.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Writer's Sigh

"Screenwriting? There must be a better way of not making a living."
Paul Jarrico

The Pizza Problem

"When you write a script, it's like delivering a great big beautiful plain pizza, the one with only cheese and tomatoes. And then you give it to the director, and the director says, "I love this pizza. I am willing to commit to this pizza. But I really think this pizza should have mushrooms on it." And you say, "Mushrooms! Of course!" And then someone else comes along and says, "I love this pizza too, but it really needs green peppers." - "Great," you say. "Green peppers. Just the thing." And then someone else says, "Anchovies." There is always a fight over the anchovies. And when you get done, what you have is a pizza with everything. Sometimes it's wonderful. And sometimes you look at it and you think, I knew I shouldn't have put the green peppers onto it. Why didn't I say so at the time?"
Nora Ephron

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Awards

"Awards are like hemorrhoids. Sooner or later everyone gets them."
Billy Wilder

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Power Of Words


A psychologist named John Bargh asked a few hundred people to make a so-called scrambled sentence test. On a sheet of paper they had to make a sentence out of words such as worry, old, silence, gray, forgetful. The participants thought the test would be about their ability to form sentences or their way of thinking. But what Doctor Burgh was interested in was the how his visitors left his office after the test and how they backed down the hall. He could prove that all those who had made the test, no matter how old they were, walked slower away as they came. Unconsciously the words they had read induced their brain to imagine being old. The whole thing also worked the other way round. Giving the participants words suggesting youth made them act younger than they actually were.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Power Of Habit


John Henderson was much admired in the latter half of the eighteenth century for his incredible memory. His skills were tested by a Professor Dugold Stewart. In his presence, Henderson took up a newspaper, and after reading it once, repeated each portion of it by heart. Professor Stewart was amazed. Henderson said modestly: "If you had been like me - obliged to depend during many years for your daily bread on getting words by heart, you would not be so astonished at habit having produced this facility."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Illusions


"Don't part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live."
Mark Twain

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Apology


"Of course, my confessions probably aren't nearly as interesting as yours."
(WARP in "The New Yorker" April 12, 2010)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Failure


"Show me a thoroughly satisfied man - and I will show you a failure."
Thomas Alva Edison

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Purpose Of Brick Walls


"Brick walls are there for a reason. They are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. It we want it enough we have the power to surmount the barrier."
Randy Pausch

Thursday, April 15, 2010

No More Promises, Promises!


Burt Bacharach and Hal David were one of the most successful songwriter teams in the history of pop music. They had a style entirely of their own. Songs like Only Love Can Break A Heart, Walk On By, Close To You, Make It Easy On Yourself and A House Is Not A Home are unforgettable. It came as no surprise that Bacharach and David also tried their skills at a musical. As to be expected, their Promises, Promises, based on Neil Simon's comedy The Apartment became a solid Broadway hit. Even the critics were unanimous in their praise, and the public loved it. It ran for four years! The one person that did not enjoy the show was Burt Bacharach. An unforgiving perfectionist, he found the minor irregularities that occur in theatrical performances extremely nerve-racking. He could neither stand nor understand that a stage production is something one single artist alone can't have under total control. So he decided to keep away from the theater forever and for good. Too bad! He could have become a second Richard Rogers.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Self-Deception


"If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail."
Abraham Maslow

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tiger!


A cat called Tiger has repeatedly attacked the postal workers in a town near Leeds in Northern England. Tiger jumps through the cat door and threatens to bite them when they approach. Mail drops have been discontinued. Tiger's owner Tracy Brayshaw told the BBC she can't imagine the 19-year-old cat misbehaving. Meanwhile, she continues to pick up her mail from the nearest mail office. Everyone knows a dog who might lie in wait, but a cat gaining celebrity status as the postmen’s nemesis is something new.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Writers


"Writers should be read, but neither seen nor heard."
Daphne du Maurier

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Wayarnbeh The Turtle


Oolah, the lizard, was out getting yams on a Mirrieh flat. She had three of her children with her. Suddenly she thought she heard some one moving behind the big Mirrieh bushes. She listened. All of a sudden out jumped Wayambeh from behind a bush and seized Oolah, telling her not to make a noise and he would not hurt her, but that he meant to take her off to his camp to be his wife. He would take her three children too and look after them. Resistance was useless, for Oolah had only her yam stick, while Wayambeh had his spears and boondees. Wayambeh took the woman and her children to his camp. His tribe when they saw him bring home a woman of the Oolah tribe, asked him if her tribe had given her to him. He said, "No, I have stolen her." "Well," they said, "her tribe will soon be after her; you must protect yourself; we shall not fight for you. You had no right to steal her without telling us. We had a young woman of our own tribe for you, yet you go and steal an Oolah and bring her to the camp of the Wayambeh. On your own head be the consequences." In a short time the Oolahs were seen coming across the plain which faced the camp of the Wayambeh. And they came not in friendship or to parley, for no women were with them, and they carried no boughs of peace in their bands, but were painted as for war, and were armed with fighting weapons. When the Wayambeh saw the approach of the Oolah, their chief said: "Now, Wayambeh, you had better go out on to the plain and do your own fighting; we shall not help you." Wayambeh chose the two biggest boreens that he had; one he slung on him, covering the front of his body, and one the back; then, seizing his weapons, he strode out to meet his enemies. When he was well out on to the plain, though still some distance from the Oolah, he called out, "Come on." The answer was a shower of spears and boomerangs. As they came whizzing through the air Wayambeh drew his arms inside the boreens, and ducked his head down between them, so escaped. As the weapons fell harmless to the ground, glancing off his boreen, out again he stretched his arms and held up again his head, shouting, "Come on, try again, I'm ready." The answer was another shower of weapons, which he met in the same way. At last the Oolahs closed in round him, forcing him to retreat towards the creek. Shower after shower of weapons they slung at him, and were getting at such close quarters that his only chance was to dive into the creek. He turned towards the creek, tore the front boreen off him, flung down his weapons and plunged in. The Oolah waited, spears poised in hand, ready to aim directly his head appeared above water, but they waited in vain. Wayambeh, the black fellow, they never saw again, but in the waterhole wherein he had dived they saw a strange creature, which bore on its back a fixed structure like a boreen, and which, when they went to try and catch it, drew in its head and limbs, so they said, "It is Wayambeh." And this was the beginning of Wayambeh, or turtle, in the creeks.

Australian Legend

Friday, April 9, 2010

Wisdom


Treat the earth well.
It was not given to you by your parents,
it was loaned to you by your children.
We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors,
we borrow it from our Children.

Ancient Native American Proverb

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Shadow


Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.
Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Growing


"The experience of surprise is a sign of one’s readiness to grow. Amazement and wonder signify that one’s concepts of self and of the world and of other people are ready to be re-formed. When we can be dumbfounded at which comes out of us or what others are capable of disclosing, we are growing persons."
Sidney Jourard

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Clustering


Gabriele Rico, a professor of English and Creative Arts at San Jose State University, urges us to use the simple act of writing to discover who we are and what we think. Her widely-acclaimed "clustering" technique is largely a Design mind process. This non-linear brain-storming encourages playfulness, wide instead of narrow attention, and mental flexibility. By letting Design mind associations spill onto the page, clustering makes this non-linear search for patterns visible, manipulable, and so, teachable and learnable—long before the Sign mind steps in. Once both sides of the brain have a say in the writing process, the creative potential inherent in all of us is activated. The resulting writing flows quickly and easily. She also covers the science of chaos, patterns in chaos, randomness and unpredictability as essential to the creative process, creativity as collaboration, risk-taking as a definition of creative human beings, using polarities to explore the mind, and much more. Her classic Writing the Natural Way, which sold over half a million copies, is out in a newly revised second edition.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Reasonable Doubt


"It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this."
Bertrand Russell

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Eggs Feed The Brain

Eggs are a good source of low-cost high-quality protein, providing 5.5 grams of protein (11.1% of the daily value for protein) in one egg for a caloric cost of only 68 calories. The structure of humans and animals is built on protein. We rely on animal and vegetable protein for our supply of amino acids, and then our bodies rearrange the nitrogen to create the pattern of amino acids we require. Another health benefit of eggs is their contribution to the diet as a source of choline. Although our bodies can produce some choline, we cannot make enough to make up for an inadequate supply in our diets, and choline deficiency can also cause deficiency of another B vitamin critically important for health, folic acid. Choline is a key component of many fat-containing structures in cell membranes, whose flexibility and integrity depend on adequate supplies of choline. Two fat-like molecules in the brain, phosphatidylcholine and sphingomyelin, account for an unusually high percentage of the brain's total mass, so choline is particularly important for brain function. In addition, choline is a highly important molecule in a cellular process called methylation. Many important chemical events in the body are made possible by methylation, in which methyl groups are transferred from one place to another. For example, genes in the body can be switched on or turned off in this way, and cells use methylation to send messages back and forth. Choline, which contains three methyl groups, is highly active in this process. Choline is also a key component of acetylcholine. A neurotrasmitter that carries messages from and to nerves, acetylcholine is the body's primary chemical means of sending messages between nerves and muscles.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Meet Rodney


Rodney, a British rabbit with hanging ears, has conquered a worldwide fan-club. Daily animal friends from Australia, China or America watch Rodney how he spends his days. As the "Daily Mail" reported, the eight month old rabbit owes this global excitement to the internet. When Clare Strafford from Manchester bought the rodent she installed a webcam at his cage at home. With this she also could watch him at work. But it looks like Clare wasn't the only one visiting the homepage of Rodney. Over time people from all over the world visited the website and now watch attentively Rodney and his preferred occupation: eating carrots, hopping around, cleaning his ears and especially sleeping.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Nailing Down Ideas

I am at a time in my life when a number of potentially useful thoughts occur when I can't easily write them down. Since I don't have a traveling (or any other) assistant to take dictation, the next best thing is my little Olympus digital recorder. (It's the WS-311M model - I'm sure the is a newer one on the market by now.) Great little work horse. I use one of those lanyards for backstage badges to carry it with me in case - you never know - a great idea hits me unexpectedly. Back home I just plug it in my computer, listen to it and put it in the waste basket or add it to my ideas file.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The German Enigma


"One of the anomalies of art and culture, enigmatic and inexplicable, is that the Germanic peoples who, with Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart and Wagner, have produced the world's greatest music, should also have the most dolorous record in barbaric militarism since the dawn of Christianity. Not only in the 20th century, but as far back as Attila the Hun, it almost seems as if there has been an Anti-Christ gene in the Germanic heritage. Then whence the music? A mere handful of poets dominated by Goethe; a meagre contribution to painting; one novelist, Thomas Mann, great but not on the same shelf with Balzac, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. But music, yes. Genocide, yes. I repeat, enigmatic and inexplicable."
Alan Jay Lerner