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. 🙂