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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Henry V at Folger Shakespeare Libary



Ah, finally, a young American stage actor who rivals the English. Zach Appelman is very young (I don't know how old he is but he graduated from Yale Drama School's Class of 2010), but his interpretation of Henry V stands up well in comparison with Tom Hiddleston's. (I don't like Kenneth Branagh's at all.)

This production, directed by Robert Richmond for Folger, differs from Thea Sharrock's TV production for BBC's The Hollow Crown mini-series in many key points. In some ways I prefer this version. I suppose it is impossible to have a British production of Henry V that is not (unconsciously or otherwise) slanted toward "patriotic pageantry" (words from the playbill's discussion of the play). Plus Sharrock's fangirl tendency toward Hiddleston inevitably "prettified" the role of Henry V, cutting some of the more brutal and unsavory scenes in the play.

Richmond's interpretation is rather ... American, in a way. He really played up the contradictions and contrasts and conflicts in Henry V. My God there are so many scenes switching from one extreme to another and so full of irony, thus giving me repeated whiplashes all night, that my neck felt broken by the end! One moment Henry was all lovey dovey with his "band of brothers," the next moment he orders the execution of his old pal Bardolph. One moment he gave a soliloquy on his doubts and weariness of leading his people into their deaths. The next moment he was rousing his troops with the St. Crispian Day speech. One moment the French lords told dirty jokes about horses and whores to each other, the next we were plunged into the battlefield with tens of thousands dead. One moment he threatened the French town under siege with rape and murder of their women and children, the next he ordered the execution of Bardolph for stealing.

Richmond also highlighted --- rather than toned down --- Henry's brutality and ruthlessness. Falstaff died off stage, but Bardolph did so on stage in a rather realistic and shattering hanging scene, both thanks to Harry. Appelman conveyed this quality with a youthful callousness that's both convincing and a bit scary.

This was my first visit to Folger, which is next door to the Capitol Hill. It's quite beautiful inside. The theater is small and intimate, and old --- old wood panels and floor and stage. I thought it was a bit too small for the marvelous production. Hope it expands to Broadway.

(Later I found out that this "uglier" take on Henry V was started by Michael Kahn in 1969 as an antiwar statement against Vietnam. Kahn, of course, is now the artistic director at Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company. So my instinct that this approach seems American is not off the mark.) 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Whitey Bulger Bio

昨天在广播上听到这个访谈,访问两个记者,他们写了一本书报道波士顿黑帮大佬 Whitey Bulger 的生平事迹,包括他兄弟在政界的建树和 FBI 与黑帮的亲密关系。真是太有趣了。

听着这个访谈,我立刻联想到 Law and Order (mothership series) 系列中 Brother's Keeper 这一集的剧情十分相似。这一集拍摄于2001年,而 Whitey Bulger 在2011年才落网,这是生活模仿艺术么?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Helsinki Bus Station

Saw Oliver Burkeman's new article about Arno Minkkinen's Helsinki Bus Station Theory of creativity. Whether it reveals something to me about creativity I don't know, but it damn near makes me want to get up and visit Helsinki now just to check out their bus station!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Oblivion by Piazzolla


有时候会心血来潮想吃巧克力,或者冰淇淋。今晚忽然心血来潮想听 Oblivion,是皮亚佐拉作品里我最喜欢的一首。于是在油管上乱翻,听了几个版本,忽然翻到一段用这首歌做伴奏的探戈舞。看得热血沸腾,心脏砰砰乱跳,恨不得立刻把某同学叫过来 ... 可惜某同学正在电话上跟他爹妈通话 ...

Peter Brook

差不多两星期前在电视上看见 Charlie Rose 访问 Peter Brook,本来我根本不知道这老头是谁。回头查了查,fascinating,很想看看他拍的 Mahabharata 电影,但是 Netflix 上没有租的,要看就得买 DVD,于是在油管上看了一点视频片段。现在心里后悔上大学时没去泡个印度裔男友什么的,好好了解学习一下 Mahabharata。

另外 Brook 说了句有趣的话。Rose 问他现在的美国电影还有无可能拍摄他当年拍的那种电影,他侧面回答说好电影转移到小屏幕上去了,一些电视“小说”的质量已超过了电影。当然这个说法别人也有提到,最近我忽然产生自身的体会,好几个月都没看电影了,提不起劲去看,也没有特别吸引我的出品。奥斯卡奖是早就不关注了,提名的片儿里只看了 Argo,觉得很奇怪,这么普通而 pleasant 的片子居然狂受好评,可见眼下电影的整体水平。可是如果 Mad Men 明天开播第六季我肯定开追,Game of Thrones 第三季下个月底开播,也让我期待(虽然我对第二季很不满意)。

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Barrayar 50% 感慨一下

写故事的秘诀就是:
...
...
...
...

给主角制造各种各样的麻烦,一波又一波的麻烦!(这个秘诀在别处见过,忘记出处了。)人生追求一帆风顺,故事追求不停折腾。

级别低点儿的麻烦来自外界命运;级别高点儿的麻烦来自人物性格。 所谓高低之别,并非竞争打擂台拼比,而是难度的差别耳。当然,其实没有纯粹的性格导致命运,最多是内外因素混合制造的麻烦。

Monday, February 18, 2013

Passion

OMG, 刚刚发现居然有好心人把 Passion 全剧整本都放上了油管。感激涕零中。

两个钟头从头哭到尾。I don't remember the last time I cried so hard and so savagely.

He cuts you open and lets the deepest things inside you spill out on the floor in all their messy and brutal bloodiness. 

Sunday in the Park with George

好想看这个剧。这是一个关于创作和艺术的故事,比任何长篇大论的“这就是艺术创作”的论文都要真切与准确,一针下去鲜血四溅。让站着甩腮帮玩理论不动手的学者们都失去了生存的必要。但又如此幽默和动人,让你哭让你笑。

Move On (Mandy Patinkin & Bernadette Peters)

Color and Light (Oh the piano prelude!)

Sunday in the Park with George (the humor and the orchestration, ack!)

Finishing the Hat

Putting It Together (笑死了)

另一个不在此剧中但是相关的歌, Anyone Can Whistle ,也是关于艺术和创作的。

不记得是 Christoph Waltz 还是谁说的, Stephen Sondheim 就是我们时代的莎士比亚。真的,绝不夸张。

Moran, Monk, etc.

Jason Moran posted a video of his playing on YT. I find it rather lovely. I can see the influence of Thelonius Monk. Heck, who doesn't want to imitate Monk? He's so coooooooool. I once happened on a video in which Oscar Peterson commented that Monk was a great composer, but his techniques were questionable. Under the video were many indignant protests in defense of Monk's technique. Peterson is probably right, but still, Monk is so cool!

I can listen to this stuff all day. Besides the dissonant melody, it is the "swing" that fascinates and animates me.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Barrayar

开始读 Lois McMaster Bujold 的 Vorkosigan 系列第二部,据说当年获得 Hugo 最佳小说奖。看了15% 的时候还觉得节奏太慢,且男性人物略有妇人之仁的嫌疑。然后她忽然就来了一段空手肉搏戏,挖,快速而狠辣,不含糊,好看。打斗戏其实挺难写的,我不爱看长篇累牍的打个没完,这种短平快而热血沸腾的节奏正好。

昨天跟某同学聊天是说到男作家和女作家的视角有根本差别,难以互相替代。女性视角比较不明显(未必 superior)的女作家我想到的是 James Tiptree,Bujold 和 Connie Willis 都是很女性的口吻(未必 inferior)。说起来直男作家对女性视角和人物一般也写不好。联想起最近读的 The Windup Girl,跟女读者聊起来,大家纷纷表示小说本来不错,中间来一段 graphic rape scene 实在倒胃口。说不定,要模仿直男口吻的关键是动不动来段强暴戏。

直男作家写出比较 authentic 的女性视角/口吻, 我能想起的第一个是 GRRM 写的 Sansa Stark。

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Ha! (Must Link)

When I first saw the headline of Burkeman's blog post, "For every subject, there are Two Things you really need to know," I though hmm, that's a bit reductionist.

Then I read it and laughed. Reductionist, yes, but also pretty awesome.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Fats Waller

在油管上翻了一阵,找到了一个很好的 Playlist,赶快保存一下链接。 Ah how it tickles the senses.

Unfortunate Comparison

Hunter Hayes

Why would I, a horrible snob, post a photo of a teenage pop singer on my blog, you ask? I didn't even know who the hell he was until I heard someone on NPR joke about Hunter Hayes today (in the context of the Grammys) that made my ears prick up. What was the joke then?

Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
I rest my case. :)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fake It Till You Make It

I met a medical writing manager in pharma recently. An interesting specimen. Occasionally something she says would make me wonder whether she knows what the hell she's doing. One particular incongruous observation is rather subtle: She seems to pay little attention to details such as grammar or spelling when she writes e-mails, and some of her decisions suggest a lack of forethought. I wonder whether a person can pass for a medical writer for over a decade in the industry without having these qualities dissolved in your blood. I suppose it is not impossible.

I'm not saying I write perfectly with nary a mistake, either. In fact I often make mistakes if I don't go back and re-read my e-mails and postings. My errors are most often related to jumping thoughts --- as in missing words or even phrases --- and stupid errors like "garbage words" left in a sentence, incomplete train of thoughts, and inconsistent verbs and nouns near each other, because I mentally go back and forth to edit myself while writing. I have the terrible habit of nonlinear thinking and editing myself while typing. My mind literally hops around all the time. Perhaps my nature is closer to an editor than a writer, and when both instincts mix I end up with a mess.

However, in this particular person's case, her errors and omissions are typical of people who are not writers. Writers' errors look different in some ways from nonwriters' errors, although I can't quite put my finger on it. Her spelling errors are clearly from someone who can't be bothered to google a word, yet a professional editor or writer cannot bear to type a word that looks "off" without looking it up. The grammar is sloppy, more like the way people talk.

So I looked her up on LinkedIn. Her job history lists several titles as a manager or director of medical writing in some company. Most interesting is a period of nearly 10 years at an organization with a name that's suspiciously generic. I googled it and found nothing. Of course that does not prove this organization does not exist. Still, the smell of rotten fish hangs in the air. 

What if she has faked her resume? Her current employer appears to be a company in chaos. I suspect it is not hard to fake your way into such a place. She also appears to have taken some steps to protect herself by hiring remote contractors who are unable to observe her closely or share their thoughts with others in the company. I wonder how long she will last without exposing herself. Faking a medical writer is not as difficult as faking a surgeon, I presume. On the other hand, the more specialized the role you're faking, the fewer people can spot you.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series

去年在 National Book Festival 上,被某同学拉去听 Lois McMaster Bujold 的演讲。虽然之前我完全没听说过她,实际上她在科幻界多次获奖,名气颇大,在场的书迷们纷纷表达热情和忠心。当然引起了我的好奇心,从某同学那里借来她的两部早期作品,Shards of Honor 和 Barrayar。刚开头看着似乎没什么特别的,相当传统的 space opera,让我联想起阿西莫夫的 Foundation 系列之类。特别之处在于女性视角。但是,读到30%处开始,情节忽然速度加快,高潮迭起,actions 连续不断,让人欲罢不能。怪不得她有一群忠实的读者群!不靠奇突诡异的概念和设定,而是 good old-fashioned story telling,靠可爱的人物和紧张起伏的剧情,倒是让我想起了大仲马。

目前刚把 Shards of Honor 读了一半多,上网查了查,发现 Vorkosigan 是个很长的系列,后面有一大堆续集。

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

End of Phase 2

Phase 3 drug development may be the expected climax of a long story, but phase 2 is where the seeds are sown and the ending is set in motion. By the time phase 2 is half way through, one would have a pretty good idea about whether the drug would theoretically work. In other word, the concept is proved or disproved.

Yet, theory and reality often slip away from each other like two pieces of iceberg in the middle of an undercurrent. Any tiny or potential glitch --- a seemingly insignificant side effect, or a slightly messy or low receptor binding profile, for example --- could be blown up exponentially in phase 3 clinical trials, when many more subjects present many more real-life variations on the controlled laboratory/clinical environment. Some may have other clinical or subclinical conditions or genetic predispositions that negate the efficacy of the drug. Some may throw away the study drug and report they have complied with all instructions. Some may be hypochondriac and report every little discomfort as a side effect. Welcome to the real world.

The crux at the end of phase 2 is whether to abandon a drug or move it into phase 3. In today's pharmaceutical environment, the psychological incentive is overwhelmingly biased toward moving it along rather than letting it go. Look, it is easier to throw out a molecule when you've only spent a million dollars in animal studies or tens of millions in phase 1 trials. But when you've already sunk fifty million into the molecule, your psychological scale is inevitably tipped to the side of success. Of course, if the drug is clearly a dud in phase 2, the choice is easy if painful. Many times, however, the choice is just not clear. The drug might look good on a couple of efficacy endpoints but fail in another endpoint. Or the overall efficacy is no better than placebo, but it beats placebo in a couple of biomarkers. To phase 3, or not to phase 3, that is the question.

I have heard one theory that is unproven but rings true. In most companies, the same team fosters a molecule from start to finish. They feel psychologically invested in the drug after years of development and tons of their sweat and tears. By the end of phase 2, they see the drug less as a molecule, but more like a baby --- worse, their own baby! How can they resist throwing another hundred million dollars (often more) into phase 3 trials to see if the baby would turn out just fine?

If you do the math though, a few hundred million dollars could have run a few more molecules through phase 1 and phase 2 and potentially home in on one that works unequivocally. On the other hand, this could mean a delay in the rush-to-the-market arms race. Again, the mind is biased in favor of pushing into phase 3 despite all the doubts and questions.

To abandon a possible dud by the end of phase 2 makes everyone look bad. For a large company, it's an ugly truth that would send Wall Street analysts into a selling frenzy. For a small company, it could mean survival or bankruptcy. Thus all the more reason to put on a happy face and throw more good money after bad. 

Perhaps this is why we are seeing so many phase 3 flops lately --- the financial stakes are higher, the scrutiny is tighter, and the hypes more unrealistic. The chips are stacked against objective, ruthless decisions.

Monday, February 11, 2013

资本主义

In the past week I had three lunches with people I had worked with in the pharma industry. Although I should not have been shocked, I was nevertheless shocked all over again. ALL of this company's monoclonal antibodies in clinical development 7 years ago, for which I wrote many clinical trial protocols and study reports, are dead. Not one has reached approval. This company was and still is surviving on one drug, which has been on the market for over a decade. Thousands of employees, several manufacturing sites in operation, billions of dollars made on one drug and spent on the  research and development of at least a dozen new products, and thousands of patients in and out of clinical trials around the world. Nothing to show for.

This is the current state of pharmaceutical industry. Expensive failures plague companies large and small. However, small companies and large ones fail in different ways. For the small company, any kind of setback or delay could kill a promising molecule or the company itself, such as a disagreement with FDA on how to measure efficacy, or a couple of serious adverse events --- which may or may not be actually related to the drug --- or the bad luck of hitting a general recession. In large firms, molecules no better than placebo could eat up a few hundred million dollars before flopping spectacularly in Phase 3. It is commonplace to throw good money after bad until someone puts a hopeless candidate drug out of its misery. Last year Pfizer was sitting on $24 billion cash with nary a worthy molecule to spend it on.

I am tempted to believe that, in a free market, no other industry can get away with such outlandish inefficiency and absurdities and still survive for three decades, like the pharma industry has done. But then perhaps I'm wrong. At least the movie industry has been on a similar trend since 1975. Like the pharma industry, in which a few blockbuster drugs (hint: someone picked up this cross-sector term for a reason) support a huge infrastructure of waste, Hollywood has been operating with the same mechanism. The institution of waste has grown ever larger and more elaborate, because there is enough money to support it, until the money finally dries up and the whole party collapse onto itself.

Perhaps Parkinson's law, "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion," can be applied to not only bureaucracy but also corporations: The size and complexity of a corporation expands so as to fill the money available to support its existence. 

As different as they are, Hollywood and pharma have another similarity: Both are hugely complex systems that require a substantial amount of creativity. It has been noted by some that efficiency in a complex system requires conformity, which is incompatible with individuality and creativity. Therefore, one might deduce, reducing the system's complexity may be the only way to improve creativity. Hence the campaigns in favor of "flat organizations" and for corporations to pretend to be start-ups. Does it work? I doubt it. I have heard from more than one person that, while the upper management tries to eliminate layers of management immediately underneath, new layers of managers are created from the bottom.

One may argue that drug development (or movie-making, perhaps) is inherently complex and cannot be simplified. I'm not convinced. Movie-making CAN be cheaper and simpler without necessarily neglecting quality --- see independent movies and most movies made before 1975. The question is to construct an infrastructure that makes this profitable. Actually, that is exactly what's happening in television, which has seen good writing and high quality shows flourish on cable and video streaming. Hollywood, on the other hand, is being cannibalized from within by people like Michael Bay.

Can the small pharma players --- namely start-up biotechs --- find similar success as AMC or FX or Netflix? It's hard to predict. One player that sucks the air out of the room is regulatory agencies (not just FDA), who have neither the incentive nor the ability to help lower the cost of drug development. Still, other reforms are tried. Big pharma companies have cash. Sometimes I wonder whether they would have done better if they were simply converted to venture capitalists and stay out of R&D altogether. You want efficiency? Let CROs do all your clinical trials. You want innovation? Let small biotechs do the discovery. You just do your due diligence before throwing billions at a molecule. Break up this complex system into smaller sectors, like how the IT sector has separate subsectors in hardware, software, and telecommunication. Let each subsector stay small and specialized and competitive.

Alternatively, we can wait for the behemoth collapse and watch small new seeds grow out of the ruin. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Hughie by Eugene O'Neill

好吧,我承认这个剧基本没看懂。


演员 Richard Schiff 倒挺有名的,在 The West Wing 里曾担任主角。

Friday, February 1, 2013

Where he stood

PBS is going to put on BBC's 4-part Shakespeare history plays "The Hollow Crown" in a couple of months and is showing the educational series "Shakespeare Uncovered".

The more I think about it, the more I am inclined to believe that his sympathy lies not on the side of Henry V or his war. I mean, he made it as ambiguous as he could without getting his head chopped off. What more can we ask him of? He was a subject of the king and the queen, and had to sell tickets to patriotic English audience who wanted entertainment and thrills. Do you really think he would tell them outright dying for your king is a waste?

Among his contemporaries, Sir Walter Raleigh got his head chopped off for treason, and Christopher Marlowe was accused of heresy and then stabbed to death. Do you really think Shakespeare would openly proclaim his disdain for the senselessness of royal obedience and the causes of kings and nobles? I almost believe that he harbored contempt for honor and glory not unlike "the Hound" Sandor Clegane.

Of course he had humanized and hero-ized Prince Hal, so much that his audience cannot help but side with him, despite the reality that such a man would drive you to your death and betray you in a blink ("I know thee not, old man."). But he is also charming and heroic, and mingles with the bottom-feeders with ease. You don't even need to cast the lovely and irresistible Tom Hiddleston in the role to make people fall at his feet. Such a leader can be more dangerous than an ineffective fool.

Timon of Athens

During the intermission of Timon of Athens at Folger, I eavesdropped on a discussion among the 3 persons (who looked like a mother with t...

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