Death of the Roman Republic and Birth of the American One

It was 5am on the Sunday before Christmas. I just dropped off family members at the airport. My car’s dashboard beeped as I got back to our driveway, “Out-Temp 37F”. Chilly pre-dawn darkness surrounded me. Original plan of going back to bed was scraped, I poured myself a cup of coffee, pulled out last night’s SNL and watched them again. The Weekend Update segment in SNL has become my new favorite lately, last night’s installment was no exception: Civil Wars Episode II: revenge of the south, brilliant! Notification of douban.com alerted me someone re-shared and liked my item on “finished reading John Adams”, which led me to re-read my previous note on “finished reading Dictator”. Laughters was quickly replaced by tears.

痛哭失声! 从Cato的自杀,Cicero给他写的悼文,到Cicero最后模仿Gladiator亮出脖颈求死。。。所有感动我的豪言壮语之中,最温暖的是Cicero关于搬家的一句话“I have put out my books and now my house has a soul.”

 

Weeping uncontrollably at the end. From Cato’s suicide, Cicero’s eulogy to Cato, to Cicero’s own death where he chose the Gladiator’s way of baring his throat to the killer…among all the words that moved me, this little passage about moving in to a new house warmed me profoundly “I have put out my books and now my house has a soul.”

Since the shocking results of election on Nov. 8, 2016. Amidst all the grief and disbelieve, I turned to reading. I’ve finished the following so far, mostly about the end of Roman Republic. One on the founding of the US.  I thought they would give me answers.

  • Rubicon by Tom Holland, on the last years of the Roman Republic
  • Cicero trilogy by Robert Harris: Imperium, Conspirata, Dictator
  • John Adams by David McCullough.

And they did.

1. Why read on Roman Republic in 62BC instead of Germany in 1933?

I actually didn’t know why i zoomed in on the Roman Republic when i started on my reading spree 5 weeks ago. Now with some basic information gleamed from these books, I think maybe because today’s US and Rome in 62BC were equally superior in its dominance of the world. Unlike Germany in 1933, there is no external force can threaten the US today, or Rome 2000+ years ago. Rome imploded. and the US looks like is on its way to follow suit.

The Sibyl’s Curse (for Rome)
“Not foreign invaders, Italy, but your own sons will rape you, a brutal, interminable gang-rape, punishing you, famous country, for all your many depravities, leaving you prostrated, stretched out among the burning ashes. Self-slaughterer! No longer the mother of upstanding men, but rather the nurse of savage, ravening beasts!”

-Rubicon, Tom Holland

Lacking a crystal ball that tells the future, reading the end of Roman Republic seems the next closest thing.

2. People can normalize anything

Ever since the election, the media has been abuzz daily about all the unbelievable behaviors of the president elect and the GOP. But last years of the Roman Republic demonstrated how adaptive citizens were. People were capable of normalize anything, and there were no reason to doubt we have lost any of those adaptability. Baptized by the bloody WWI and WWII, we are probably even more adaptive than the Romans from 2000 years ago.

During my schooling years, I developed a very efficient way of cramming maximum amount of information in my memory right before an exam and promptly forgetting all of them right after I turned in my finals. As a result, i remembered very little about history. I remembered “Rubicon and Caesar”. but I didn’t remember a thing about Lucius Cornelius Sulla nor his marching on Rome 40 years prior to Caesar crossed Rubicon.

With immense fascination, I read on…

In 91BC there was an “Italian war” because not everyone in Italy were given Roman citizenship. Unsatisfied to stay second class citizen, a few “alliance cities” of Rome in Italy revolted, led by Samnium. Sulla was the general who led Roman legions that put down the revolt swiftly, and trapped the last of rebels in Nola. The victory earned him one of the two spots of consulship, the highest executive power of Rome at the time, in addition, he was rewarded a commission to lead the war against Mithridates in the East, the most lucrative assignment all generals were drooling over. After securing the commission. Sulla returned to his army camp that’s still trying to finish off rebels cooped up in Nola. But in his absence, that Eastern command was maneuvered out of his hand in Rome’s politics, and the lucrative commission was given to Sulla’s mentor and rival Gaius Marius instead.

Up to this point, Roman legions had always answered to SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus – Senate and People of Rome) instead of any general. So following normal procedure, an officer of Marius was dispatched to Sulla’s camp to retrieve the command.

Sulla, first in consternation and then in mounting fury, retired to his tent. There he did some quick calculations. With him at Nola he had six legions. Five of these had been assigned to the war against Mithridates and one to the continued prosecution of the siege—in all, around thirty thousand men. Although much reduced from the numbers Sulla had commanded the previous summer, they nevertheless represented a menacing concentration of fighting power. Only the legions of Pompeius Strabo, busy mopping up rebels on the other side of Italy, could hope to rival them. Marius, back in Rome, had no legions whatsoever.

The math was simple. Why, then, had Marius failed to work it out, and how could so hardened an operator have chosen to drive his great rival into a corner where there were six battle-hardened legions ready to hand? Clearly, the prospect that Sulla might come out of it fighting had never even crossed Marius’s mind. It was impossible, unthinkable. After all, a Roman army was not the private militia of the general who commanded it, but the embodiment of the Republic at war. Its loyalty was owed to whoever was appointed to its command by the due processes of the constitution. This was how it had always been, for as long as the Republic’s citizens had been going to war—and Marius had no reason to imagine that things might possibly have changed.
– Rubicon, Tom Holland

So the unthinkable happened, Sulla became the first citizen ever led legions against his own city. To all frantic embassies sent his way trying to persuade him to turn back, his answer: he was marching on Rome “to free her from her tyrants.” This line made me laugh out loud. Every single rebellion that ended up overturning one Chinese dynasty and starting another almost all used that exact same slogan, “清君侧!”

…after Sulla’s coup ‘there was nothing left which could shame warlords into holding back on military violence – not the law, not the institutions of the Republic, nor even the love of Rome.’
-Rubicon, Tom Holland

But this slogan worked. Even though Sulla’s army defied all rules of the Republic and fought its way into the unarmed city of Rome, killed one of his enemy and forced another fleeing to Africa, declared all his rival’s legislation invalid, and put in place his own. Senate passed all his requests with his army looked on. Throughout all these Sulla insisted on his coup was aimed to “protect the constitution”.

The Republic, in the eyes of its citizens, was something much more than a mere constitution… To be a citizen was to know that one was free–“and that the Roman people should ever not be free is contrary to all the laws of heaven.” Such certainty suffused every citizen’s sense of himself. Far from expiring with Sulla’s march on Rome, … Yes, a general had turned on his own city, but even he had claimed to be doing so in defense of the traditional order. ..For all the trauma of Sulla’s march on Rome, no one could imagine that the Republic itself might be overthrown, ..
So it was that, even after the shocks of 88, life went on. The year of 87 dawned with an appearance of normality.
-Rubicon, Tom Holland

Comparing to Sulla’s march on Rome, what are the new cabinets selections? or Trump’s crazy tweets? If people could normalize a military coup in Rome during later years of Roman Republic, what couldn’t we normalize in today’s US?

3. Who would Trump be during Roman Republic?

Rubicon’s author Tom Holland likened Trump to Caligula . Since I haven’t read much on the Roman Empire, I will keep quiet. But someone on douban.com likened Trump to Publius Clodius Pulcher. After my limited reading thus far, I’m whole heartedly agreeing. Clodius came from one of the richest and noblest line in Rome, yet, he positioned himself as the spokesperson for the Rome commoners (plebeian), rallied a mob terrorized the streets of Rome, forced ex-consul, one of most prominent senators Cicero into exile, then Clodius led his mob to storm Cicero’s house and torn the place to nothing brick by brick.

What’s more, “The Good Goddess” scandal and trial for incestum played out just like Trump’s ascend during this election year. The shocking outcome was also incredibly similar to the election result for the US. It was a shocking revelation that common decency no longer mattered to “the people”.

4. “We’re going to go through your Cicero books again to check what happens next.” “Nothing good.”
I quoted this tweet conversation between author Robert Harris and one of his readers in my previous blog on Conspirata.

Harris’ response is very accurate. “Nothing Good” happened after the ascend of a candidate that swore to overturn the “corrupted elite.” But you maybe surprised how it turned out. I knew I was.

The eventual conflict that led to Civil War actually didn’t erupted between the two sides that contested the election, i.e. it was not between the rational Elite and the irrational Mob’s leader. Instead it was another implosion within the power that was in charge.

In other words, if the US were to follow the Roman Republic step by step, the next conflict to watch out for will happen within the Trump Administration. During Roman time, there were two Triumvirate period. Both failed and ended in bloody civil wars. One was among Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus; another was among Octavian, Mark Antony, and Lepidus.

It is still to early to tell who were the ones really in charge in this upcoming administration. But at least we know what to watch out for.

5. An revolution by a mob always ends in an authoritarian state
It is shocking to see how alike Clodius’ mob terror was to Chairman Mao’s Culture Revolution. Caesar’s original bill that tried to divide up the public land for the poor was strikingly similar to how Mao earned popularity in his early years, too.
Mobilizing the mob seemed to be eternal method to start a revolution, from the dynasty change in China’s long history, to communist success, to French revolution, to Roman Republic’s demise.

All the labels matter not: communists, republic, capitalists, imperialists, colonial. The fundamental social change engine has always been the same, the polarization of society, the obscene aggregation of rich to the top 1%。不患寡而患不均。 The disenfranchised rose up like a tide, and delivered the shrewd to his/her throne, and demolished whatever social order there was. Misery, war, and death were the reward to the masses.

After the endless civil war and misery, eventually the people will settle for whoever can bring peace, even at the price of lost freedom. and tyrant/authoritarian can always bring peace more decisively than a democracy. Because they are more efficient.

We’ve seen this happening again and again throughout history, and these were only those that I know of. I’m no where near being a history buff.

– 221 BC, Qin Dynasty unified China after “Warring Period” started around 400BC, and thus kicked of the everlasting Unified and Authoritarian China till this day.
– Every Dynasty shift since then was a replay of exactly the same script, polarization of society, mob uprising, shifting to a new dynasty. Repeat.
– 27BC, Establishment of Roman Empire after ~20years of civil war started by Caesar and Pompey that ended Roman Republic founded in 509BC
– 1799 Napoleon’s coup following the French Revolution started in 1789
– early 1900s, Mao ZeDong’s rise and eventual defeat of Chiang Kai-shek after long period of civil war after Qing Dynasty’s collapse.

6. Great Man can’t change history
Reiterate my previous conclusion:”The last years of Roman Republic is truly the age of giants. Cicero alone delayed the death of the Republic by a life time, his life time. Yet, just like Caesar’s assassination couldn’t turn back the clock and revert Rome’s fate. Having one Cicero is not enough either. Maybe if there had been an army of Cicero, they could have kept Roman Republic alive and find a way for the Republic come out of the corruption and rule the world instead of an empire. But genius like Cicero only comes once in a lifetime of a republic. Like Obama. History will move on its own course, regardless of giants. It was fully illustrated in the aftermath of Cicero and Caesar. Mark Anthony and Octavia, as diminished as they seemed comparing to what came before them, they ended up “wrote” history its decisive chapters in that age.”

7. But there is always hope
I’m so glad that I returned to “John Adams” after my reading of the Roman Republic. Despite all the grim talk and conclusions above. Reading David McCullough’s Pulitzer award winning biography and watching the Emmy studded HBO 6 part mini-series, filled me again with hope and inspiration.

“Declaration of Independence” from 1776 moved me to tears.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

A really good highschool friend of mine introduced me to many of Chinese ancient history and stories. Despite Chinese government’s current purge of free flow of information for its citizens, my friend remained optimistic about China’s future. She firmly believes that no one can turn back time. The whole world is progressing in the large scheme of things. So will China.

In one of the darker times of American history, I find my friend’s optimism reassuring.

some encouraging signs i have seen are:
1. more people are paying for good journalism since the election: Washington Post is profitable! New York Times subscription going up after thump bashing. That’s a good start!
2. Lego ends its alliance with UK’s Daily Mail siting latter’s role in spreading lies during Brexit campaign.

“What do you give your kids if you can’t give them hope? — Michelle Obama”

Founding Fathers

johnadamsReading John Adams this morning, and came upon the passage when John Adams was serving as the first Vice President of the young republic, a friend told him the southern aristocracies held him in contempt because he had no “advantage of pride and family”. Adams promptly disputed it by saying he couldn’t be prouder of his family, and started counting up the lineage of his family in Braintree,

The line I have just described makes about 160 years in which no bankruptcy was ever committed, no widow or orphan was ever defrauded, no redemptor intervened and no debt was contracted with England.

This passage made me laugh and thought of colbert’s tweet from yesterday above. Founding father rolling in their graves, indeed.

Rubicon, Cicero

55% into Conspirata (2nd installment of Robert Harris’ Cicero Trilogy). Cicero ended his consulship on a high note. foiled Catilina’s conspiracy and executed the traitors. Catilina died in battle in Gaul.

Reading Rubicon and this series constantly reminded me of “Guns, Germs and Steel”‘s conclusion: great people don’t change history, people, great or small, only serve as history’s instruments.

The last years of Roman Republic is truly the age of giants. Cicero alone delayed the death of the republic by a life time, his life time. Yet, just like Caesar’s assassination couldn’t turn back the clock and revert Rome’s fate. Having one Cicero is not enough either. Maybe if there had been an army of Cicero, they could have kept Roman Republic alive and find a way for the Republic come out of the corruption and rule the world instead of an empire. But genius like Cicero only comes once in a lifetime of a republic. Like Obama. History will move on its own course, regardless of giants. It was fully illustrated in the aftermath of Cicero and Caesar, Mark Anthony and Octavia, as diminished as they seemed comparing to what came before them, they ended up “wrote” history its decisive chapters in that age.

what is history in store for us?
imperiumconspirata

dictatorrubicon

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The Third Time

The first time a political event traumatized me so much that i was teary eyed days on end happened June 4th 1989. I remember holding on to our short wave radio, listening to VOA, and my tears would just pour out.

The second time was after September 11, 2011.

and now.

During previous two occurrences, I could still hold on to American Democracy as the shinny beacon on a hill. This time, I understood that expression of British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey on the eve of Britain entering WWI. “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time”.

The weekend before the election, I was watching an episode of Bill Maher Realtime, where he was begging Millenniums to go out and vote for Hillary on Tuesday. He said otherwise, a dictator will be elected and he could destroy our democracy and stay dictator for his lifetime. When i was watching that, i thought, either Bill Maher didn’t think Trump would win, or he didn’t believe Trump will be as bad as he described. Otherwise, if the consequence was really that dire, that existential, he wouldn’t just sit there and talk about it.

While I was contemplating that question, I realized I didn’t have an answer. What do you do if you knew with certainty a dictator, once elected, would destroy the democratic system?

The Roman senators assassinated Caesar, that certainly didn’t work. Roman republic ended anyway.
Turkey’s Ataturk setup a military intervention mechanism that was looked down upon by the west as barbaric and not real democracy.

What should a real democracy do when you know a candidate will post clear and present danger to the entire system?

Is there a rule? I can’t find it in our constitution.

Hillary and Obama chose the high road by giving him the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think they are convinced they did the right thing though.

So there must not be a rule. Everyone is just hoping our founding fathers continue to surprise us like they have in the past 227 years.

That, is scary.

Dark Times

I didn’t undertand Europe’s “Right to Forget” law until i read this article in the New Yorker back in 2014. Always meant to blog about it, but kept on forgetting. With yesterday’s election result, it is time i highlight this. All Tech companies should take notes and learn from Europe. They have been there.

THE SOLACE OF OBLIVION by Jeffrey Toobin, Sep. 29, 2014 Issues of the New Yorker
-In Europe, the right to be forgotten trumps the Internet.

in “Delete” he describes how, in the nineteen-thirties, the Dutch government maintained a comprehensive population registry, which included the name, address, and religion of every citizen. At the time, he writes, “the registry was hailed as facilitating government administration and improving welfare planning.” But when the Nazis invaded Holland they used the registry to track down Jews and Gypsies. “We may feel safe living in democratic republics, but so did the Dutch,” he said. “We do not know what the future holds in store for us, and whether future governments will honor the trust we put in them to protect information privacy rights.”

Bay Area Camping and 15 Years Ago Today

Went camping in a Redwood grove at Memorial Park of San Mateo (near Pescadero) with Noah’s 1st grade cohorts. Everyone had a blast. San Francisco Bay Area has so many amazing nature resources that are so close to us. I kept on forgetting.
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Digging through our old camping albums, i came cross a trip i did with Gui and Matthew almost exactly 15 years ago today. It was such a wonderful trip! And boy I couldn’t believe this was my writing!

“Steinbeck Country” – Labor Day Weekend, 2001

“The Salinas Valley is … a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains.
I remember that the Gabilan Mountains to the east of the valley were light gay mountains full of sun and loveliness and a kind of invitation,
so that you wanted to climb into their warm foothills almost as you want to climb into the lap of a beloved mother.
They were beckoning mountains with a brown grass love.
The Santa Lucias stood up against the sky to the west and kept the valley from the open sea,
and they were dark and brooding –unfriendly and dangerous.”
– John Steinbeck, East of Eden (1952)

Santa Lucias – Big Sur and Nacimiento Road, Sep. 1, 2001
So we visited Steinbeck Country. Starting from the formidable Big Sur to the west, we rested in the redwood forest of Pfeiffer State Park, admired McWay Falls plunged onto a secluded beach at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, drove over Santa Lucias via the incredible Nacimiento Road while a sea of fog lingered beneath us; Santa Lucias looked golden and seductive under the setting sun. If Steinbeck had seen what we have seen, would he have had a different opinion about this mountain range? Eventually, we descended onto Salinas Valley as a red moon rose over the peaceful land of oaks.

Salinas Valley – Pinnacles and Fremont Peak, Sep. 2, 2001
We woke up in Soledad, a sleepy farming town with unusually wide streets. Everywhere we looked, vineyards were extending to the foothills of mountain ranges on both sides of the valley. Driving toward Pinnacles, we passed two Mexican Cow Boys by the field. They waved at us and bowed slightly, sitting high on their handsome horses.
Hiking on the sun-baked Balconies Trail, and climbing Chokestone Dome helped us to return to the time and space we were familiar with. However, once we left the park, the Chalone Winery amist more vineyards on the gentle rolling hills slowly but surely transferred us back to Steinbeck’s time, Steinbeck’s country. The gracious host, Mr. Dale, who greeted us at the tasting room was as wise as Adam’s housekeeper/friend/cook/philosopher Lee from East of Eden. When we asked whether the towns we have passed – Greenfield and Soledad – had seen better days. He laughed, “It is the better days!”
Still dazed and deliciously drunk from the aroma of the lovely Salinas Valley, we stood on Fremont Peak at San Juan Bautista, watched the Gabilan Mountains turned golden then red in the setting sun and the day slid to a comfortable darkness…

Pokemon Go

“Pokemon Go” first caught my attention right after the Dallas Police Shooting. Specifically this tweet.


And this was the screenshot embedded in the tweet.
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I kept on returning to this little story. Especially after i did a little read on what the game was. I liked it so much that i translated it into Chinese so i could post it on my WeChat.

The release of the game and Dallas Police Shooting coincided it. It was an coincident. But it was such a life saver. To see something so harmless and simple, yet it has the ability to bring the best out of everyone, seemed so appropriate in the midst of so much carnage, chaos, and craziness in the real world.

Sarah Jeong wrote a lovely article for New York Times: “Pokémon Go Connects Us to Our Cities and Neighbors“. I started following Sarah on twitter after she started live-tweeting the Oracle-Google java API trial. She was so into this game, initially i was merely watching her plan by following her tweets. She cracked me up when she started naming pokemons that she caught with Silicon Valley notables.
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I didn’t start playing until a week later, purely by accident.

I was having lunch with a few co-workers outside of our office building. They were wondering what Pokemon Go was. So i started telling them based on what i knew and pulled out my phone to show them. Only then did I realize there were SO MANY pokemons wondering around campus! I caught three while sitting there eating my lunch!

SFMOMA

SFMOMA has been closed for three years since the summer of 2013. This May, it reopened its door. I finally had a chance to visit today. I’ve read the New Yorker article on the Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta. I’ve devoured all the local newspaper articles on the new design. I even subscribed to SFMOMA’s instagram. I was fully prepared to love the new space.

But i didn’t.

Many have detailed how the new design will “open up” the lobby by removing the original zebra stripped granite stairs. When Mi went there a few weeks earlier, i was eager to find out his first impression of the lobby. “The Lobby? it looked the same.” He wasn’t sure what i was hoping he would have found.

The same?! how could it be the same?

Then today i saw it and I knew. It was not the same, but the new design definitely did not “open up” the lobby. Maybe the new architect underestimated the power of the dark granite floor, the entire lobby was just as dark as before. Worse, removing the zebra stripped stair cases actually removed the focal point of the entire building. The stair used to connect the lobby all the way to the giant diagonal sky light above. The stairs kept the visual element flowing from the stripped dark granite lobby to the stripped airy skylight above, It was a transition and linchpin, going from dark to light.  With that gone, the giant sky light floating high above, and the dark brooding space weighted even heavier on the visitor’s visual experience. Now there was nothing to connect or transition the two.

That dark brooding feeling stayed with me almost the entire visit, all seven floors(2 floors more than before) of it!

The newly added side stairs that connected all seven floors were somewhat hidden from view. Itself was very airy and bright. The geometrical style, the narrowness of it, and the visual interconnectedness from floor to floor reminded me of both de Young and New York MOMA. But one has to appreciate it when you are in it, very unlike the zebra stripped granite stair case, it contributed zero visual element to the entire building. It is functional and pretty. But somewhat disconnected from the rest of the museum. Often I had to look at the floor map to locate it.

When i look back on the photos i took, i noticed i took a photo of the large square window almost at every floor. It reminded me of the windows in SuZhou Museum. These windows were all designed to frame a very different view of the city or the museum itself. It also became a magnet to the visitors. I personally feel my being drawn toward the windows was because the rest of the museum was so dark and heavy. I really needed that light from each window to breath.

The exhibition space also didn’t flow quite right, either. It felt like a disjoined odd rooms laid around randomly. I constantly had to look around or double back to see if i missed any room completely. Maybe it has something to do with all the current exhibition were pieces from the museum’s own collection. There currently isn’t a significant new exhibit.

The much raved white rippling backwall couldn’t be viewed at its entirety by any visitor. It was meant more for some drones flying high outside at certain angle. As an visitor, you get to see pieces of it here and there.

The giant living wall with Calder’s mobile sculpture was very lovely. But i don’t understand why the cafe inside wasn’t extended to the living wall so we could enjoy a cup of hot chocolate while admiring it. Instead, you could either drink coffee inside the dark space on the other side of the floor, looking at fluorescent screens displaying modern art, not even has a view to the living wall. Or you could taking selfie of yourself freezing to death with the massive, super lovely green living wall and the colorful sculpture.  You couldn’t even take your coffee into that courtyard while you taking the selfie. urgh!

During my previous visit pre-renovation days, the giant skylight was never far from one’s view. But this time, when i happened upon it on the 5th floor, i was so surprised. until i turned that corner, i totally forgot about its existence. And once I finished walking pass the darling sky bridge. I promptly forgot about it again.

I went back to read the 2013 New Yorker article again. It described the firm’s specialty as to manage “Pschology of space”, removing frustrations from people’s movement inside a public space.

It sounded very nice then. Now looking at the new museum, i started to wonder whether they spend too much energy trying to direct human foot traffic like guiding big school of fish in the sea, but they didn’t pay enough attention on the visual pleasure that also matters to these human “fish”.

We used to enjoy walking around in SFMOMA because the architecture element was fun and we enjoyed taking random photos while we were in it. But after seeing its public spaces once, Mi didn’t even want to go back in with me today to see the exhibit. “Somehow the whole architecture just turned me off. I have no desire to go back unless there is a brand new big show that i really want to see.”Mi said this morning.

Looking through the old materials from the museum’s own collection, glimpse of single pieces from the old masters reminded me of all the showed i enjoyed viewing it here before. Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Diane Arbus, Robert Bechtle, George O’Keeffe. I hope SFMOMA could put up new great shows like they did before. Then maybe we would have a chance to learn to love the new architecture space of the museum itself.

Until then, I will probably not be coming back.

 

SFMOMA 2016

Maker Faire 2016

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We took Noah to Maker Faire on Saturday (5/21/2016). It was the first time for all of us.

We decided to park at S. SF Caltrain station and took the train south to Hillsdale station. Mainly because Noah wanted another train ride. It turned out to be not the best choice of transportation. We will opt for driving and then shuttle instead the next time. S. SF Caltrain station has probably the worst road signage we’ve ever experienced. We drove around in circles three times before we finally decided to take the unmarked entrance.  Coming from San Francisco, exiting from Grant Ave. left at the end of off ramp, and then left at the first light (Marked as Grant Ave.), THEN, took the first left, follow the unsigned road to the station parking lot right underneath the overpass.

Walking from Hillsdale station to San Mateo Event center is actually pretty long, approximate 12 minutes. It was okay in the morning. It was a complete nightmare at the end of the day when everyone, especially the little guy was dead tired.

We took the 9:31am train from SSF(turned out to be 5 minutes late). 90% of the seats were taken, but we managed to find some empty ones that were reverse facing (the last coach). Arrived at the door around 10:15am.

It was a little overwhelming for us since we had no idea what it will be like.  There were booth that were shooting flame into the air right by the door. ZM took Noah to visit a friend’s booth. I went back to the door to get us wristband. We didn’t get the child tracker since there were two of us and Noah is in general a cautious kid who won’t run off on his own.

Later we realized that we should have make a round through all the big company sponsored booth to pick up freebies.  There were some googlers giving out protective goggles at the door (we entered from South Gate/Zone 1). That became the only schwag we got for the day. Later in the day we saw some people carrying this black nylon sack with Intel logo. ZM went by their booth and found out it was long gone.

Initially we wondered around and let Noah decided what he liked to watch and play. As a result, four hours into the day, we still haven’t made past Zone 2!

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While Noah was building his little lego battle ships, ZM went off to explore the rest of the ground. Reporting back how many great stuff we haven’t seen, Mi dragged Noah off to get more over-stimulations and sugar rich food.

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We did a whirl-wind tour of the remaining ground in another 2 hours. It was 4:15pm, 6 hours after we arrived. Noah still didn’t want to leave. But he was noticeably tired and getting cranky.  We half threatened half coerced him out of the place. ZM carried him on his shoulder to the train station. We longingly looked at all the people who got on the shuttle at the door. Next time!

Noah’s favorite activities: paper trax, building cars, NIMBY bowling, Lego models of aircraft carrier, building his own lego battle ship, Dark Room activities, Spider robot, Drone racing, cardboard Robots. We didn’t go see the battlepond cuz we got there late and the line was super long.

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Only in San Francisco…

Our five-year-old started going to a San Francisco Public School last Fall. He has been enjoying his year in Kindergarten. Doing Kindergarten stuff: Pokemon Card, Legos, soccer practice, Star Wars (his favorite character is Darth Vador), they recently made up a game where he and a bunch of his fellow K kids running around the school yard during recesses pretending to be chipmunks searching for food, and trying to trick bad guys (cats). He loves to draw battle plans, flowers, rainbows and hearts. The normal K stuff.

Then came the surprise this morning. On his way to school, Noah told his Dad in the car, with a very serious face, “Don’t vote for Donald Trump!” His Dad was surprised cuz we rarely talks about the election in front of him. He asked Noah why not. He said the Kindergartners have been talking about the general election among themselves. Their conclusions were Trump “destroyed people’s lives in his town, and not a peace builder. Therefore, he is not a good person. ”

I know San Francisco is a very progressive town. And I know quite a few of Noah’s classmates parents work in law and/or government, one of them is a senator. But I have never expected a bunch of five and six-year-old took their civic duty so seriously!

I wonder what will the Kindergartners think next if voters of this country disappointed them?

 

Succulent Fever

I got infected with “Succulent fever” about a year ago.  San Francisco’s Mediterranean weather seems so tailor made for succulent growth, it is very easy to get addicted. It is one of the most satisfying gardening experience i’ve had because such a vast varieties of succulent can grow so well with next to zero effort from the grower. Nature takes care of it all!

Spring seems to be the time that Succulent loves to bloom.

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more blooms are on their way.

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1453 the Book

I recently finished reading this wonderful book: 1453 by Roger Crowley. It was deeply moving how heroic the Greeks and the Italians who defended Constantinople have been. It also blew my mind how insignificant Byzantine has fallen in today’s history lessons. Western history doesn’t seem like to mention it despite its lasting over 1000 years in the world history. Comparing to that, we seemed to have formed unfounded confidence of today’s world order. The US history is merely 240 years. How could we be sure we would fare better than the Byzantines in the long run? Reading history definitely makes one feel humble.

Now i understood why i loved Aya Sophia so much when i visited it back in 2004. It has accumulated so much history and was created out of such a splendid empire. Every stone of that structure was saturated with human emotions and stories. It has seen so much!

Another fun revelation was that GRRM’s Kings Landing was emulating Constantinople. The Blackwater battle lifted so much detail out of all the sieges Constantinople has suffered and repelled. From the Greek Fire (wild fire in A Song of Ice and Fire) to the chain that ran across the narrow opening of Golden Horn (Tyrion’s chain!).

Yet, just like western history lessons rarely spending much time on Byzantine. Those fans digging through the histories behind A Song of Ice and Fire never mentions Constantinople. What’s up with that?!

Tweaking WordPress Archive

I know it has been a long time since i’ve updated my English blog. I will start with something geeky.

I noticed recently some of the image links have been broken on my site. I’m not too sure whether it is because picasa/google photo change or WordPress upgrades that have been auto performed on these blogs(the latter seemed more likely).

I finally had time to fix some of these for Mom’s blog.. While getting her old photos to me to fix her site, Mom asked me if i could also change her archive pages to list all the blog title with links instead of paginated pages with a few full blog content on each. That should be easy i thought, clearly remember the same functionality i saw on blogger.com. Where user can click on a month on the sidebar and a list of blog title will expand under that month.

I went to the WordPress admin page looking for a setting checkbox to check. To my surprise, there is no such function. I started googling and realized that wordpress users have been asking/begging for such a feature since 9 or 10 years ago but there is still no official support!

Eventually i found a few ways that can be used to do what i want. Documenting them here in case someone else is looking for such a feature.

After getting a full archive page for Mom, i liked it so much, i updated both of my English and Chinese blog’s archives page as well.

1. a full archive page for Mom: Create a custom page template for Archive Index.
1.1 First the page template must has the following in its file. I think the most important is the “Template Name: ” line. It will be consumed by the WordPress Page creation UI, and it will use your mypagetemplate.php as a drop down that you can choose when creating a new page.

[php open tag]
/**
* Template Name: Full Width Page
*
* @package WordPress
* @subpackage Twenty_Fourteen
* @since Twenty Fourteen 1.0
*/

1.2 in the page template use wp_get_archives() with a filter to include dates along side the post title. per this discussion thread. wp_get_archives(‘type=postbypost’) function will give you a list of all your post title, but my mom wants a date next to each title, thus the filter.

2. My own Category Archive Page. Adjust category.php and make use Smart Archives Reload plug-in function to display a list of post title for one category. Per this discussion thread. except i didn’t add a content-archive.page and remove the content of the post and keep the title since i don’t like the pagination that method inherits. the function call i made to smart archives repload is

smart_archives( ”, ‘category_name=’.$category_name );

3.I also added an “All Archive” page for my own blog. But instead of using wp_get_archives(), i used Smart Archives Repload plugin again, but this time used its “format=both” arg since my blog has been around longer than mom’s. A giant list might seem too unstructured. So i make use the year and month block format. It also shows which month i didn’t blog (that’s how i realized i haven’t blogged that long here!)
The function call i used in the page template here is:

smart_archives(‘format=both’);

4. I’ve also created Child Theme to do all three above, it is surprisingly painless. and also ensures they won’t get overwritten once wordpress auto update itself again.

It seems fitting to start the re-blogging with a post that makes my Archive page looking better. It gave me some perspective on how long I have been blogging. Especially in today’s world, where so few still do. and even if they do, they do it in the most trendy site such as medium or tumblr. So why do i bother to keep tweaking this wordpress site? I think one reason is because i could do tweaks like this. I can fix things to my liking.

Then why haven’t I blogged for so long? Well actually I have been blogging, just not in English. I’m still able to find interesting blogs to read, interesting personalities to follow on the Chinese part of the net. But i haven’t been able to find the same in the English side. It seems everyone who used to blog in English are all busy twittering or slacking or somewhere i no longer can venture into… 🙁

I myself is just as guilty. So I will try to write more in English. We shall see. 🙂

J.M.W. Turner Show at de Young Museum

Went to see J.M.W. Turner show at de Young last Friday.
I didn’t know much about Turner beforehand, the introduction on de Young site looks interesting because they amassed 60 of his paintings!

Afterwards my feeling was mixed. In general, his watercolor had much better quality and consistency than his oil paintings. But he did paint some amazing ocean scenes in Oil. “You can’t do this in watercolor.” Gui explained to me.
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turner_snow_storm_-_steam-boat_off_a_harbours_mouth_exhibited_1842

Other than the ocean scenes, most of his other oil were pretty blah. The curator tried very hard to find something nice to say about them, but the words couldn’t help the paintings themselves being so unremarkable.

On the other hand, i liked almost all of his watercolors.
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The entire exhibit allowed viewer to photograph all the paintings except two watercolors from private collections. Ha. One of them i really liked. It was called “Lake Lucerne, the bay of Uri from above brunnen 1842”. As i pulled out my phone to type this title into my phone, the security guard was on high alert and stood right over my shoulder to make sure i won’t sneak a photo of it.

I didn’t think i would be able to find it on-line. but i was wrong! here it is! 🙂
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Walking the City

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By pure accident, we started walking San Franciscan streets this weekend.

Usually on weekends we drove Noah to various places to keep him entertained: a few city playgrounds that we alternate, California Academy of Science, Exploratorium, Discovery Museum, SF Zoo, Lands End, Ocean beach, Fort Funston, Aquatic Park, etc.. Sometimes we took the MUNI if we have a prescribed routes with specific destination(s) in mind.

On Saturday, i suggested Randall Museum which Noah and ZM have been once but i have not. Noah loved the train set there. We thought we would drive since last time they went by MUNI and noticed there was a parking lot and not full. But right before we headed out, we decided to stick to MUNI because it was such a nice day and all of us wanted some exercise.

The climb to the Museum was steep, but it was a pleasant walk. I just became interested in succulents lately and started taking notice of various front door gardens along San Francisco streets. The weather was so beautiful, too. Sunny but not too hot. Breezy but not too cold. Unfortunately by the time we climbed up the steep hill, we were greeted by a “closed for renovation sign”. No train set no museum. We admired the gorgeous view from the picnic area around the museum, then went downhill to the little playground, where Noah seemed to really enjoy those old fashioned play structures that have become increasingly rare in the City.

It was obvious that Noah has more energy left unspent, so we thought we could stop by Dolores Park playground to keep him going. As i was checking for directions on Google Map I found out it was only 16 minutes away on foot, 13 minutes if we wanted to take a bus. As I mentioned this option to ZM, he immediately decided it was best if we walked there. so off we went.

What a great walk it was! We took a little staircase from the bottom of the Randall hill to Douglass Street and walked to 18th, then it was a straight shoot from there. We promised Noah with the Bi-rate icecream as we made the long walk. He took a couple of breaks sitting on the sidewalk. I didn’t mind at all, enjoying the sunshine and the various lovely front door gardens along the way. Noah also had his first encounter with a naked man sunning himself on the sidewalk in front of a cafe on the 18th. I was a little nervous that Noah might stare. We walked past him as nonchalant as i could muster. Noah didn’t stare, he walked with me as if nothing happened. I was very relieved. Half block down, he turned to me and said, “That person didn’t wear any cloths. But he wrapped his peepee to prevent leaking, right?” I was dumbfounded. So he did notice, but it took him half a block to work out a reason. I thought his explanation was better than any i could come up with. So i nodded yes, probably.

Miraculous, there was no line at bi-rate!

We picked up a Gyro on Castro, so sitting on the wooden bench outside of Bi-Rate, the three of us shared the giant Gyro, and two icecream cones. Fed and sugar high, we walked the two blocks north along Dolores to the playground.

J train was right by this playground, so we headed home around 2:30pm. Noah was still energetic enough that he didn’t fall asleep on the train.

We all loved this walk so much that we did it again on Sunday afternoon after Noah’s swimming class and lunch at home.

This time we took J to Duboce Park around 2pm, checked out the playgrounds there, then walked to Lower Haight. At Duboce park, i took notice of the sign atop of the N train station right by the playground, “EAST PORTAL”. It took me a little while to realize the symmetry with “West Portal”, which was a well known neighborhood in the south side of the city. It was where the light rail trains enter a tunnel. So the exit of the tunnel is here in “East Portal!” and interesting that this neighborhood end up being called Duboce instead of East Portal. ha.

None of us had walked the lower Haight before, so we really enjoyed the change of scenes. Originally i thought we could end up in Hayes valley, checking out the Octavia playground, but I over-estimated Noah’s energy level in the afternoon. Luckily that the walk from Duboce to Van Ness were all Downhill. We ended up having three-twins icecream on Fillmore, then took bus 49 on Van Ness and headed home. This time, Noah fell asleep almost instantly on the bus and slept the full 20 minutes.

Noah also seemed to prefer these walking/Muni trips over driving. I think it is because we interacted a lot more during the trip than if we were driving. Driving really projected a false sense of intimacy, especially for young children who prefer physical interactions over a conversations. Physically we were isolated in our own little spaces even though we were physically not too far inside the car. But walking and Muni rides means i was holding his hand all the time, he could sit on me, dragging me around, pulling my hair, kissing me or hugging me, or talk to me face to face.

I need to pick out more routes for the coming weekends. getting to know more neighborhoods, stores, gardens, playgrounds, and buses. Best of all, to see what other explanation that Noah will come up for this bizarre and beautiful city of ours.

One City, Two Flower Delivery Startups

I’ve always thought that flower delivery service such as 1-800-flowers was a marketing trick. Why should i pay so much more money for something i can grow in my backyard? Occasionally (once a year maybe?) I will buy a bouquet of sun flowers from the farmer’s market or trader joe’s for $5.99. Sometimes on Mother’s Day, ZM would buy me roses from those lone latino vendors wondering the Mission street a couple of blocks from our house.

All these changed when i got this little bundle from my co-workers last month while i was home recovering from a nasty pneumonia.

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There were roses (white, pink, and champagne), peony, ranunculus, anemone, snapdragons, and freesia. The container is a paint can wrapped in burlap strings. The arrangement was so beautiful that I couldn’t stop myself from snapping photos of it left and right. Further more, I could take some of the flowers from the bouquet and make my own single or double rose arrangement for other places in my house.

It was from a San Francisco based startup company called bloomthat. Their specialty was any day of the week between 8-7, your flowers can be delivered within 90 minutes of your on-line order submission.

I fell in love with their specialty arrangement in the paint can (bloomthat calls this style “the shortie”).
shortie

After the flowers wilted, i reused the paint can and made a little herb arrangement using what i have from my backyard.
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While browsing yelp, i found out their actual claim to fame is actually normal bouquet of flowers wrapped in burlap (donated by a local coffee roaster). “Cute presentation!” not sure how many happy customers said that in their review.

So i got one burlap wrapped bouquet for myself today. It was $20 cheaper than the bouquet shortie my co-worker got me earlier. But it still has roses, tulips and ranunculus. I definitely like it better than the traditional dozen roses. How could i not? not only it was wrapped in recycled coffee burlap, but also came with a kale!
bloomthat

Today I saw someone posted a bouquet that was even more pretty, also wrapped in burlap, but it came from a different company. I thought, “what the heck. Everyone is wrapping flowers in burlaps now? I thought bloomthat was original!”

So i looked up the new company “farmgirlflowers“. It was also SF based! So i wanted to find out the difference between the two.

1. Variety
bloomthat has a limited design (three long flower bouquets in burlaps, and two shortie arrangements), they refresh them every month.
Farm Girl had a very different approach. Their flowers arrangement changes everyday depends on the flower supply from their local farmers. But they will only have one design a day, and customer won’t know what it is beforehand. They sell them in different sizes (S, M, L). They also has flowers come with vases instead of burlaps (also three sizes, S, M, L). They guarantee the number of flowers included into each size and they guarantee they look great. Customer can browse their sites for arrangements from the past. For special occasions such as V Day, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, they will design one special arrangement.

Here are some of Farm Girls’ past arrangements.
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For large, impressive arrangement or creativity of each day’s creation Farm Girl wins hands down. For personal small token of joy and predicability bloomthat.

2. Delivery
bloomthat focus on speed, they deliver everyday of the week, and guarantee 90 minutes delivery within order. But bloomthat is expanding city by city. Right now they have San Francisco, quite a few cities on the peninsula, and LA.
farmgirl currently delivery to the entire state of California. But only same day delivery in SF (provided the order is received before noon), next day delivery for the rest of California including bay area outside of the City. SF delivery was done by bicycle messengers.

bloomthat is definitely faster.

3. Price
bloomthat flowers starts at $48 and no delivery fee.
Farm Girl starts at $30 but charge a $15 delivery (for SF at least, not sure for the other areas)
So for SF residence, the price is about the same.

4. Burlap wrapping
bloomthat’s burlap was donated by a Marine Coffee roaster.
Farm Girl got their burlap from four different coffee houses in SF. As an exchange, Farm Girl provided free flower arrangement to the coffee houses each week.
This was the most interesting part. Who started the burlap trend? Apparently Farm Girl. Since they were ~ two years ahead of bloomthat in existence. After bloomthat came along and stole their wrapping idea, Farm Girl was mad. So mad that they first applied for “burlap-wrapped bouquet” as a trademark in 2013 (same year when bloomthat came into existence). And filed a lawsuit against bloomthat end of year 2014, shortly after their trademark was approved.

In the lawsuit, Farm Girl claimed that bloomthat having burlap wrapped flowers confused many customers who thought bloomthat and Farm Girl were from the same company. And that bloomthat’s lower quality damaged Farm Girl’s brand. Some of the comments i saw on line also claimed Farm Girls’ flowers were more fresh and lasted longer than Bloomthat. That piqued my interest since the two deliveries i got from bloomthat were gorgeous, but i did notice some flowers were damaged in both instances. and they barely lasted a week.

I would definitely try Farm Girl when i want flowers the next time, and see for myself whether there is a difference in quality.

Meanwhile, i’m super interested in the outcome of the lawsuit. I wonder how each of the two startups will fair in the long run. They each has their own specialty: bloomthat’s speed of delivery, Farm Girl’s brand new design every day with local sourced flowers. Will both of them survive? Will they be able to disrupt the big guys in the industry?

When I first fell in love with the bloomthat bouquet a month ago, i definitely didn’t expect finding out about a lawsuit behind those gorgeous flowers. What a fascinating time to be a San Franciscan!

“Wolf Hall” Reading Notes (1)

Half way through “Wolf Hall”. In love with Mantel’s writing.

In the Paris Review article, Mantel told the interviewer that when she was a teenager, for a while, she used to compose in her head the perfect paragraph for that day’s weather. She would work on it silently all day until she got it right. Now i read “Wolf Hall” and thought back to that teenager Mantel. No kidding. She could convey so much with so little and with such precision and beauty.

A wash of sunlight lies over the river, pale as the flesh of a lemon.

Rafe’s smile flickers, the wind pulls the torch flame into a rainy blur.

Katherine: he likes to see her moving about the royal palaces, as wide as she is high, stitched into gowns so bristling with gemstones that they look as if they are designed less for beauty than to withstand blows from a sword.

He would like her to shorten her account, but he understands her need to tell it over, moment by moment, to say it out loud. It is like a package of words she is making, to hand to him: this is yours now.

He took a linen towel and gently blotted from his face the journey just passed.

…the room felt so empty it was empty even of him.

It is a wan morning, low unbroken cloud; the light, filtering sparely through glass, is the colour of tarnished pewter. How brightly coloured the king is, like the king in a new pack of cards: how small his flat blue eye.

At Austin Friars, there is little chance to be alone,…Every letter of the alphabet watches you.

The light is fading around them while he talks, and his voice, each murmur, each hesitation, trails away into the dusk.

It was snowing at dawn on the day of the raid of Lion’s Quay, but soon a wintery sun was up, scouring windowpanes and casting the panelled rooms of city houses into sharp relief, ravines of shadows and cold floods of light.

More, Tyndale, they deserve each other, these mules that pass for men.

Lord Chancellor respects neither ignorance nor innocence.

The day is too mild for a fire. The hour is too early for a candle.In lieu of burning, he tears up Tyndale’s message. Marlinspike, his ears pricked, chews a fragment of it. ‘Brother cat,’he says. ‘He ever loved the scriptures.’

Pearls of Roman laughter unfurled into the Roman night.

The sun has declined; birdsong is hushed; the scent of the herb beds rises through the open window.

Also came across this article by Mantel in the Guardian on Cardinal Wolsey.
The other king“Hilary Mantel was researching Thomas Cromwell for her new novel when she opened a biography of Cardinal Wolsey and fell in love with the haughty charmer at the ‘golden centre’ of Henry VIII’s court.“
If you don’t have patience to try out “Wolf Hall” yet, then try this short article by Mantel first.

Sometimes you buy a book, powerfully drawn to it, but then it just sits on the shelf. Maybe you flick through it, the ghost of your original purpose at your elbow, but it’s not so much rereading as re-dusting. Then one day you pick it up, take notice of the contents; your inner life realigns. This is how I came to George Cavendish’s book Thomas Wolsey, Late Cardinal, His Life and Death.

I knew whose career I would like to follow – Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell. I couldn’t resist a man who was at the heart of the most dramatic events of Henry’s reign, but appeared in fiction and drama – if he appeared at all – as a pantomime villain. What attracted me to Cromwell was that he came from nowhere. He was the son of a Putney brewer and blacksmith, a family not very poor but very obscure; how, in a stratified, hierarchal society, did he rise to be Earl of Essex?

I needed to know Wolsey to understand Cromwell. But what was Wolsey? A great scarlet beast, I thought, a pre-Reformation priest who belonged to the old world, not the fierce, striving, dislocated society I wanted to write about. I thought of him as a means to an end; I imagined I would dispose of him quickly to get to the meat of the plot. Then the day came when I opened Cavendish’s Life; the author leaned out of the text and touched my arm, keen to impart the story of the man whose astonishing career he saw at first-hand: “Truth it is, Cardinal Wolsey, sometimes Archbishop of York, was an honest poor man’s son … ”

It is fascinating to know that in such an hierarchal society as England , one could rise from nowhere like Cardinal Wolsey, or Thomas Cromwell to be “the other king” or the King’s most powerful minister.

Hilary Mantel and Her “Wolf Hall”

I read New Yorker’s profile of Hilary Mantel in 2012 after she became the first female writer to win two Man Booker Prize. I was very intrigued by Mantel then, and put “Wolf Hall” on my to-read list. But never got around to do so.

BBC’s 6 episode “Wolf Hall” mini TV series was out earlier this year and i heard lots of praise. It is said that the screenwriter adapted Mantel’s work very nicely and captured the essence of the book.

PBS started broadcasting this series last Sunday.

I fell in love with it after watching Episode one.

The custom, setting, lighting were so well done, every frame looked like a painting.

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Ep3

The acting was marvelous as well. Even though most of them were not familiar to the US audience. But supposedly all of the main characters were seasoned stage actors in England, and it showed.

Some interesting comparison between the actors in the TV series and their actual portrait from the 16th century. Mostly by Hans Holbein the Younger, who was the official painter for the court of Henry VIII.

Cardinal Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce)
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Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
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Thomas More (Anton Lesser)
more_actorHans_Holbein,_the_Younger_-_Sir_Thomas_More_-_Google_Art_Project

Henry VIII (Damian Lewis)
HenryVIII_actor640px-Hans_Holbein,_the_Younger,_Around_1497-1543_-_Portrait_of_Henry_VIII_of_England_-_Google_Art_Project

Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy)
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Jane Seymour (Kate Phillips)
janeseymour_actor640px-Hans_Holbein_the_Younger_-_Jane_Seymour,_Queen_of_England_-_Google_Art_Project

Apparently the soundtrack of the TV series was also a hit in Britain. Too early to tell how it will fair in the US. I myself really loved the music.

The Guardian had episode by episode explanation of the story line, it was very helpful for people who is not familiar with the Tudor history (such as myself), which was pretty complicated.

I went back and re-read the New Yorker profile of Mantel and was mesmerized once again. She is such a fascinating author! So the main character Cromwell had always been depicted as an evil man in most of historian’s record. Mantel thought otherwise.

Before she began to write, she spent a long time learning about Cromwell and reading deeply in the period. She had always been intrigued by Cromwell’s villainous reputation. Among both his contemporaries and historians, he was widely thought of as practically a sixteenth-century Himmler, and previous literary depictions—Robert Bolt’s 1960 play “A Man for All Seasons,” Ford Madox Ford’s “The Fifth Queen”—had taken this view. Even his own biographer hated him. But, beginning in the nineteen-fifties, Geoffrey Elton, a historian at Cambridge, had argued that Cromwell was a farseeing modern statesman who had transformed the English government from a personal fiefdom of the king to a bureaucratic parliamentary structure that could survive royal incompetence and enact reforms through legislation rather than through fiat. In so doing, he helped to bring about the English Reformation without the kind of bloodshed or descent into absolutism that took place in much of the rest of Europe. By the time she began to read about Cromwell, academic fashion had moved on and a new generation hated him again, but she found Elton’s arguments persuasive.

Despite all the hatred, very little information was known about Cromwell. Historian had still not determined his birth year. So Mantel had to do lots of research and to fill in lots of blanks. Even though Cromwell Trilogy(“Wolf Hall”, “Bring up the Bodies” and the upcoming “The Mirror and the Light”) had been labeled as historic fiction, Mantel said all characters (hundreds of them) but one servant of Wolsey were real, she didn’t like to make things up.

She couldn’t always be sure that a character was in the place she said he was in at the time she put him there, but she spent endless hours making sure that he wasn’t definitely somewhere else.

Some other interesting quotes from the New Yorker article:

One of Cromwell’s advantages at court was that he did not underestimate women—neither their usefulness as informants nor their cunning as enemies.

Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning, and when you come back that night he’ll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks’ tongues, and all the jailers will owe him money.

She believes that there are no great characters without a great time; ordinary times breed ordinary people (of the sort—dull, trapped, despairing—who inhabit modern novels).

Some say the Tudors transcend this history, bloody and demonic as it is: that they descend from Brutus through the line of Constantine, son of St. Helena, who was a Briton. Arthur, High King of Britain, was Constantine’s grandson. He married up to three women, all called Guinevere, and his tomb is at Glastonbury, but you must understand that he is not really dead, only waiting his time to come again.

It is necessary to understand that the dead are real, and have power over the living. It is helpful to have encountered the dead firsthand, in the form of ghosts.

The most recent issue of The Paris Review (Spring 2015) had an interview with Mantel. But one would have to pay $20 to read more than just the excerpt. I couldn’t find The Paris Review from SF on-line Library catalog last night. So i dropped by a bookstore this morning to read it. Since her teenager years, she liked not only to read, but also to analyze the structure of writing and to figure out how the author “did it”. Mantel had some interesting thing to say about which authors she liked. Her favorite writing is “Kidnapped” by Robert Louis Stevenson, she thinks it is the absolute perfect piece of work. She liked “Jane Eyre” when she first read it as a teenager because Mantel believed herself was also “an very unchildlike child.” But later she couldn’t re-read “Jane Eyre” since she constantly tried to edit it. “Kidnapped”, on the other hand, could be re-read and re-read and remain perfect in Mantel’s eyes.
(Paris Review only keep the new issues from been published on their website. One year later, you can now read the interview at its entirety.)

Interviewer: Did you read Middlemarch?
Mantel: Not until I was grown up. I’m not fond of Eliot. And I’ve never made my way through a virginia Woolf book. I can’t. I can read her essays, and I can read about her, and I can read all around her. I can’t read her novels. You know, it sounds terribly disrespectful to Virginia, but I like books in which things happen.

I’ve started reading “Wolf Hall” the book, finally. I’ve picked up a copy of “Bring Up the Bodies” at the bookstore. Looking forward to the publishing of “The Mirror and the Light”.

Reading David Mitchell

So impressed with his latest novel “The Bone Clocks(2014)” that i’m in the process of reading all of David Mitchell’s past works. I read “Cloud Atlas(2004)” shortly after seeing the New Yorker article on the movie back in 2012. I’ve just finished reading his first novel “Ghostwritten(1999)” today.

Found a Paris Review interview with Mitchell that I really like.
The Art of Fiction No. 204, Summer 2010.

Also this little article on Mitchell by The Atlantic,
David Mitchell on How to Write: “Neglect Everything Else”, Sep. 2014.
It quoted Mitchell’s favorite Poem by James Wright.

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
BY JAMES WRIGHT
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

Michael Crichton’s “Travels”

s4273393I first read Michael Crichton’s “Travels” shortly after college graduation. His adventurous travel held a strong appeal to me: climbing of Mt. Kilimanjaro, night diving, wreck diving, diving with sharks, living with the natives, safari in Africa, etc. For many years, this remained one of my favorite books.

Gui mentioned this book to me this weekend when we were discussing the medical profession. “Michael Crichton talked about his medical school days in his ‘Travels’.” I totally forgot about that part of the book!

I reread it again during the last couple of days. Crichton didn’t just go to any medical school. He graduated from Harvard Medical School! What’s more, he actually went to Harvard wanting to be a writer but kept on getting C for his writing. This episode was hilarious.

I had gone to college planning to become a writer, but early on a scientific tendency appeared. In the English department at Harvard, my writing style was severely criticized and I was receiving grades of C or C+ on my papers. At eighteen, I was vain about my writing and felt it was Harvard, and not I, that was in error, so I decided to make an experiment. The next assignment was a paper on Gulliver’s Travels, and I remembered an essay by George Orwell that might fit. With some hesitation, I retyped Orwell’s essay and submitted it as my own. I hesitated because if I were caught for plagiarism I would be expelled; but I was pretty sure that my instructor was not only wrong about writing styles, but poorly read as well. In any case, George Orwell got a B- at Harvard, which convinced me that the English department was too difficult for me.

So Crichton switched to pre-med instead and got in Harvard Medical school. He was writing thrillers to pay for med school. One of his earlier books got bought by Hollywood while he was doing clinical rotations in hospitals and he decided to quit Medicine and moved to Hollywood after graduating from Medical school.

The Medical School years weren’t the only ones i forgot that was in the book. Almost more than half of the book was on his experience with psychic and paranormal phenomenons, which I had also erased from my memory, i suspect i might not even bother to read most of those stories during the initial read.

It is interesting to re-read this book i used to love so much. I appreciate the medical school stories a lot more than before. The adventurous travel stories were still interesting, but less thrilling than when i first graduated. I could also sympathize with his psychic experience a bit more and less skeptical about them than before.

“Lawrence in Arabia” – a Mesmerizing Read!

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I started reading Sunday evening and could not put it down. Entire week, I’ve devoted all my spare time to it.

I just finished it this morning on my shuttle to work.

The entire book was a rather delightful experience, but my tears rushed out so suddenly at the end, I couldn’t do much but sit in the lovely winter sunshine by the shuttle window  and cried for a while.

Churchill’s eulogy was rather more loquacious: “I deem him one of the greatest beings alive in our time. I do not see his like elsewhere. I fear whatever our need we shall never see his like again.”

After i watched “Lawrence of Arabia” for the first time, I tried to get my hands on more background stories about T. E. Lawrence. I remembered trying to fight my way through the Seven Pillars of Wisdom for probably half a year but eventually gave up (probably 30% into the book?).

Scott Anderson’s “Lawrence in Arabia” is exactly the book i’ve been looking for all these years.  In addition to Lawrence, he also included a German spy, an American Oil man, and a Romania Jew who settled in Jerusalem during Ottoman’s rule and eventually played a big role in the formation of Israel.  All four of them were in their late 20’s or early 30’s. None of them had formal military training, yet they all contributed greatly to the event in Middle East during and after WWI.

The book illustrated the relationships among the empires and their people. Andersen is a great story teller and a wonderful historian who explained the intricate relationships so clearly.  He was also funny.

Suez operation had seemed to underscore the old maxim that war can kill all things except bad ideas.

On the incompetence of the American intelligence community, after William Yale (the lone American intelligence officer in Middle East during WWI) sent to the State Department, Anderson says:

“He was establishing a tradition of fundamentally misreading the situation in the Middle East that his successors in the American intelligence community would rigorously maintain for the next 95 years.”

On the incompetence of British military during WWI:

after all, repeatedly smashing up against the enemy’s strongest points had bcome something of a British World War I tradition by now

On the tragedy created by WWI and its aftermath:

…it’s hard to imagine that any of this could possibly have produced a sadder history than what has actually transpired over the past century, a catalog of war, religious strife, and brutal dictatorships that has haunted not just the Middle East but the entire world.

 

…four wars between the Arabs and Israelis; a ten-year civil war in Lebanon and a twenty-year one in Yemen; the slaughter of ethnic minorities in Syria and Iraq; four decades of state-sponsored terrorism; convulsions of religious extremism; four major American military interventions and a host of smaller ones; and for the Arab people, until very recently, a virtually unbroken string of cruel and/or kleptocratic dictatorships stretching from Tunisia to Iraq that left the great majority improverished and disenfranchised.

On why Lawrence rejected his former life so absolutely after the war:

As a boy, he had been obsessed with the tales of King Arthur’s court and the chivalric code, had dreamed of leading a heroic life. In the reality of war, however, Lawrence had seen men blown to bits, often by his own handiwork, and left wounded behind to die, and had ordered prisoners to be killed. Just as any thoughtful person before or after him, what Lawrence had discovered on the battlefield was that while moments of heroism might certainly occur, the cumulative experience of war, its day-in, day-out brutalization, was utterly antithetical to the notion of leading a heroic life.

Some of Lawrence’s writing that Anderson quoted were truly lovely. Maybe it is time for me to pick up “Seven Pillars” and give it another try.

I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands
    And wrote my will across the sky in stars
To earn you Freedom, the seven pillared worthy house,
    That your eyes might be shining for me
                                                                when we came.
Death seemed my servant on the road, till we were near
    And saw you waiting
When you smiled, and in sorrowful envy he outran me
    And took you apart:
                                                                 into his quietness.

…two months into his retirement, “at present the feeling is mere bewilderment. I imagine leaves must feel like this after they have fallen from their tree and until they die.”

 

 

In one of his interview, Anderson said that even though “Lawrence of Arabia” the movie got many facts wrong, but it managed to tell a bigger truth when it comes to Lawrence as a person. I couldn’t agree more. The movie and this book seem to be a great complement of each other. I love both.

Amazon vs. Publishers, Little Fish vs. The Whale?

Earlier this year, I read “Cheap Words” on the New Yorker, “Amazon is good for customers, but is it good for books?” by George Packer.

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Bezos is right: gatekeepers are inherently élitist, and some of them have been weakened, in no small part, because of their complacency and short-term thinking. But gatekeepers are also barriers against the complete commercialization of ideas, allowing new talent the time to develop and learn to tell difficult truths. When the last gatekeeper but one is gone, will Amazon care whether a book is any good?

I wanted to write about it but didn’t.

This morning I just read “The War of the Words” on the Vanity Fair, by Keith Gessen. It is on the same topic, Amazon vs. Publishers. It did a great job documenting the evolving relationship between Amazon and Publishers, and summarized the conflict of today.

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Amazon’s self-published authors’ books were particularly inexpensive, and also something else: they were a particular kind of book. In publishing terms they were known as “genre” books: thrillers, mysteries, horror stories, romances. There were genre writers on both sides of the dispute, but on the publishing side were huddled the biographers, urban historians, midlist novelists—that is, all the people who were able to eke out a living because publishers still paid advances, acting as a kind of local literary bank, in anticipation of future sales. Some pro-Amazon authors boasted of the money they’d earned from self-publishing, but the authors of books that sometimes took a decade to write knew that this was not for them—that in an Amazon future they would be even more dependent on the universities and foundations than they already were.

As a reader, the question is do i want to continue reading the serious book written by authors spent a decay research and produce?

It is actually a very similar argument seen in today’s world that’s filled with 140 characters sound bites.  They are fast-food culture. They are amusing. They keep me entertained every seconds of my day. But what if i still want to have the option to read serious biography, history, or great novels by the masters of words.

Kindle and Amazon’s efficiency did get more people back to reading, thank god. But reading what?  Do we want a world with only genre entertainments?

It reminded me of a conversation from Giovanni’s Room that i loved. It is on the topic of America vs. Europe.

   “Anyway,” he said mildly, “I don’t see what you can do with little fish except eat them. What else are they good for?”

“In my country,” I said, feeling a subtle war within me as I said it, “the little fish seem to have gotten together and are nibbling at the body of the whale.”

“That will not make them whales,” said Giovanni. “The only result of all that nibbling will be that there will no longer be any grandeur anywhere, not even at the bottom of the sea.”

“Is that what you have against us? That we’re not grand?”

I loved the Keith Gessen article on Amazon’s efficiency when he visited Amazon’s wearhouse.

So much ingenuity had been deployed to solve the problem of “reading”—in their different ways by the Kindle engineers, by the warehouse-software specialists, by Otis Chandler at Goodreads. And I remembered something a book editor, one of the best I know, had said to me about the Amazon situation. “They’re always talking about inefficiency,” he said. “Publishing is inefficient; print is inefficient. I mean, yeah. But inefficiency, that’s human. That’s what being human is.” The Kindle really is an extraordinary device—the fulfillment centers are wonders of undeniable efficiency. They too represent a remarkable human achievement. But art by definition is something for which there is no practical use.

What put a cold shiver down my spin is how close the future that Amazon is peddling resembles China.  The books are super cheap in China. No one, not even the most popular writers can afford to live on writing along. Only writers who can earn a decent living are those who joined the state sponsored “writer’s institution”. They are paid a regular salary by the government. All through Chinese history, the great books were either written by genius who died of poverty (“The Dream of Red Chamber”), or by state supported historians (“The Records of the Grand Historian” 史记).

I don’t want a world where published words can only go through Amazon. Yet, i don’t want a world that can only go through the old publishing house either. During my involvement during the Ping Fu scandal. I saw the worst of the elite publishing house world.  Amazon was the only place allowed “little fish” to speak up.

I want a world where little fish and the whale can co-exist somehow. Is that possible?

 

 

“May the force be with you.”

Noah’s initial encounter with R2D2 happened a couple of weeks ago, when he has yet to be introduced to Star Wars story line. I set off to correct that right away.

So far Noah has watched the first two episodes from the original trilogy–“Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back”. R2D2 becomes his favorite character. He knew who Luke is. He was mesmerized by the ending sequence when Luke and his comrades piloting fighter jet to destroy death star. He laughed when Yoda appeared for the first time, and quickly commented that “he was hungry” when Yoda sneaked a bite off Luke’s food. He knew Luke got the saber from “the good old man 好人爷爷” (obi one kenobi). He was very troubled when i first tried to explain the revelation that Darth Vador (“The bad guy 坏人”) is Luke(“The good boy 好人小哥哥”)’s dad.

When i watched the two episodes with him, I sometime would repeat the line “May the force be with you” when the heroes going to battle. Noah never repeated after me. If he understood what it meant, he didn’t let it show. I just thought it went over his head. Whenever he talked to me about the movie, he usually talks about R2D2, explosion, spaceship, etc. Never “the force.”

Last night after dinner. We sat together on the sofa and flipped through a few issues of recent “The New Yorker” magazine together. Noah liked its cartoon cover and the cartoons inside. He especially liked a recent cartoon depicting Mrs and Mr Potato Head, whom he had known from Toy Story trilogy and his own toys.

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Then i flipped past a photograph of someone wearing a long black robe standing in the dark. Noah said, “May the force be with you.” I couldn’t believe my ears and doubled back, “what did you say? say it again.” He repeated it, “May the force be with you!” I was astonished! ZM didn’t understand what it meant (he never watched Star Wars before i showed it to Noah recently), so i had to explain to him. Noah listened with a knowing smile on his face.

Now Noah is a true star-wars-fan. “May the force be with you!”

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Saw this outside a cafe at work

The Generation Gap

On Saturday morning we walked through Lucasfilm campus in Presidio and ran into a small filming crew with an R2 holding flowers.

We’ve never played any Star Wars movie for Noah before. So he didn’t know who R2 was, but he knew it was a “robot”. Nevertheless, he was immensely interested and patiently sat down on the ground waiting for the filming to begin so he could watch “robot!” walk.

We waited for about 30-40 minutes, when the filming finally began, the black R2 was unveiled and two droid started moving and “talking”, Noah’s first comment was, “wow, just like Wall-E!”

Green Apple Books and Music – 2nd Store

Green Apple Books and Music – My favorite bookstore in San Francisco – just opened their 2nd store near Golden Gate Park.  ZM and I used to love the original store on Clement for the books that we care about(ZM: Photographer Monographs, Me: used book of certain author i happened to be fascinated with at the time).
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Recently we started taking Noah there and found out they have an amazing children’s book selection, too. It became one of Noah’s favorite places to visit after dinner on weekends.

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First visit with Noah back in April. He picked up a great copy of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”


We visited the new store over the weekend. Fell in love with the children’s section. Noah even picked up a book.
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After we left the bookstore. I walked across the street to pick up some macaroon, and told ZM and Noah to continuing back to the car and i will catch up. Noah was so eager to get going with his new book, they ended up sitting down at a sidewalk garden one block from the bookstore, and Noah started “reading” under street light.

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Green Apple’s co-owner talks about how they thrive in the age of amazon, a fascinating read. 

This is my favorite passage from the interview:

But numbers don’t tell the story. Within our walls are real human interaction (sometimes for the better, sometimes not so much): parents read to their kids in our store, couples meet for the first time, Robin Williams and Dave Eggers once connected over our bargain bins, Tom Waits recently told us which book about him “really sucks,” a man had a heart attack and died in our military history section, a drunk lost control of his bodily functions in poetry, every day a lost soul finds someone to talk to, and it was at Green Apple that I was set up with the woman who became my wife.

Green Apple Books and Music
2nd Store: 1231 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122
Flagship Store:506 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94118

The Last Day of Summer

In San Francisco, the real summer temperature only occurs during Spring or Fall.

The entire September has been sunny and relatively warm, and we even got hit by a heat wave starting middle of last week. Temperature rose to the 90’s in the east bay. I dug out all my short sleeve shirts and managed to wear them all.  I even wore a skirt yesterday!

The children section of the new Green Apple Books is awesome!

The children section of the new Green Apple Books is awesome!

Tonight we checked out the new Green Apple Bookstore in the inner sunset after dinner. The street was filled with people. Lovely days. Even though one could already feel a hint of chill in the breeze after the sun set.  Tomorrow will likely to cool down. Goodbye, Summer!

“In Summer”

by Josh Gad, “Frozen”

 

Bees’ll buzz, kids’ll blow dandelion fuzz
And I’ll be doing whatever snow does in summer.
A drink in my hand, my snow up against the burning sand
Prob’ly getting gorgeously tanned in summer.

I’ll finally see a summer breeze, blow away a winter storm.
And find out what happens to solid water when it gets warm!
And I can’t wait to see, what my buddies all think of me.
Just imagine how much cooler I’ll be in summer.

Dah dah, da doo, uh bah bah bah bah bah boo

The hot and the cold are both so intense,
Put ’em together it just makes sense!

Rrr Raht da daht dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah doo

Winter’s a good time to stay in and cuddle,
But put me in summer and I’ll be a — happy snowman!

When life gets rough, I like to hold on to my dream,
Of relaxing in the summer sun, just lettin’ off steam.

Oh the sky would be blue, and you guys will be there too
When I finally do what frozen things do in summer.

Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George

Before today, when I thought of O’Keeffe, I thought of sensual flowers, abstract paintings, New Mexico, subdued color tone. Everything about her was cool, collected and quiet.

The Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George show at de Young changed everything. Her work could actually be so vibrant, colorful and warm. There were so many paintings I have never seen before and they were all so good!

She painted so many beautiful trees! Why isn’t there a Georgia O’Keeffe’s book of trees? I would never grow tired of looking at them.

Modern Nature- Georgia O'Keeffe and George Lake

And amazing landscapes and even barns.

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And her still life could totally stand up to Cezanne’s. Look at those rich and saturated colors!

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Under comparison, her signature petunia and abstract almost seemed boring.

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The show also quoted many of her own words, which were so beautifully written. Now I’m curious to read more of her writing (e.g. My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz)

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After snap this photo, i’m told there is no photo allowed. So i had to type them down her words on my phone.

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way… things i had no words for.

I had a garden at lake George for some years. The growing of corn was one of my special interests–the light-colored veins of the dark green leaves reaching out in opposite directions. And every morning a little drop of dew would have run down the veins into the center of this plant like a little lake–all fine and fresh. 1976

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Corn, No.2, 1924

March 17, 2014 The New Yorker – Lydia Davis, the Sandy Hook Killer, and Noah the Movie

A good issue again.
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(Noah named everyone in this cover a friend of his at his pre-school class. He named the little boy on the bottom left wearing a “I HEART NY” tank top himself, and little beard dude to his right Daddy).

Long Story Short – Lydia Davis’s concise fiction, by Dana Goodyear
I’ve never heard of Lydia Davis until this article. She won the 2013 Man Booker International prize. She was also Paul Auster’s first wife. She sounds like a very interesting person. I’m not exactly sure i will like her stories, but I’m curious to read them.

The Reckoning – The Sandy Hook killer’s father tells his tory, by Andrew Solomon. Enough said. The only lesson i could draw as a parent from this article is never to keep a child in isolation with his/her parent only. Adolescent might be painful. Isolation is deadly. Children have to learn to adapt to their environment. But then again, in Adam’s case, if his parents had forced him to try harder, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference for Adam himself. Just to force his demon to surface sooner and maybe detected by more people earlier, at least there might be a chance to avert the mass murder at the end.

Heavy Weather – Darren Aronofsky takes on Noah, by Tad Friend.
This is my favorite of the entire issue. I’ve only seen two of Aronofisky’s films (The Wrestler, Black Swan) and didn’t felt too strongly about either. But Noah sounds interesting.

I’m fascinated by this custom-built desk of his.

Aronofsky writes his films on the second floor of his place in Manhattan’s East Village, at a custom-built desk of Bastogne walnut, inlaid with responsibly harvested macassar ebony and pink ivory. Twenty-five puzzles are concealed within it, cunning locks and springs and slides, and the front houses an octave of organ pipes you can play by sliding drawers in and out. As you solve the puzzles, you find hidden pieces of wood, each of which displays a few musical notes. When you put the pieces in order and play the resulting tune on the organ –an Irving Berlin song that was the first thing Aronofsky learned on the piano–it opens a secret safe: the final prize. It took him six weeks to pop the safe, and he had the plans. David Blaine told me, “The desk is a very cool thing that’s a lot like Darren himself–there’s always another twist and turn.”

An interesting anecdote.

 In the mid-nineties, Arnofsky wrote down ten film ideas he wanted to pursue. All six of his films have come from that list, and all have been informed by his early years: the stress and the bloody toes his sister incurred in ballet practice became Nina’s in “Black Swan”; his parents’ cancer scares informed Izzi’s cancer in “The FOuntain.” After he wrote a prose poem about Noah for his seventh-grade English teacher, Vera Fried, he got to read it over the P.A. system — “The rain continued through the night and the cries of screaming men filled the air” — and was transformed from a math geek into a writer.

Then there is the celebrity gossip that i didn’t know before. Aronofsky was engaged with Rachel Weisz for five years and had a son together. Then they broke off the engagement, Rachel started seeing Daniel Craig, whom she later married.

A Valuable Reputation

Sunday night, I finished reading A Valuable Reputation from the Feb. 10th issue of the New Yorker. Once again, i felt so lucky to have not stumbled into any of these inherently evil fields: Tobacco, pharmaceutical, military contracting, etc. Freshly out of college, if I had been given a job by one of these big corporations. I had a high chance of taking it. and then 10 years down the line, I could have become one of those employees in the article plotting to destroy a scientist systematically because he spoke the truth.

shudders.

 

The New Yorker Tech Issue Nov. 25, 2013

It is a pretty decent read. I read most of the tech features within a couple of days of time.

The cover reminds me of Noah’s current favorite cartoon series Octonauts.
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1. Rocket Man: The Youtube weapons inspector, by Patrick Radden Keefe
I find this to be the most interesting piece of the entire issue. How an armchair amateur, Eliot Higgins from Leicester, London, broke so many Syria news than most professionals (from journalists to spy agencies). All he does was scanning uploaded youtube footage by Syrian locals, and using Google and Facebook to find answers to all the weapons show up in those footage.

It is a mind blowing story. What is to come for professional journalism as well as spy masters? should those work be outsourced to passionate amateurs like Higgins? Look at what Higgins has accomplished, it seemed unnatural not to tab into this source of talent who work mostly for free!

2. Auto Correct – Google’s self-driving car, by Burkhard Bilger
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As amazing as the technology seemed, the stalemate with Auto industry seems the most important fact to note. What will happen to all these fascinating technology development? iPod end up being amazing because Jobs manipulated record industry in signing the deals with Apple. Who will be the Jobs for self-driving cars?

3. Naked Launch: the digital economy’s new corporatism. by Nathan Heller
This article reads more like a silicon valley bibliography. and a good list of books to avoid. Otherwise the theme of the article is rather mundane: despite how the New technology companies paint themselves, at the end of the day “Company doesn’t hire company, people hire people”, and all people are greedy.

4. The Love App: Virtual keepsakes and real romance in Seoul, by Lauren Collins
Seoul described in the opening paragraphs sounds so fascinating. As if lifted out of sci-fi novels. But it is real! wow!