Saturday, December 04, 2021

What Makes Love Last?: How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal

What makes a relationship successful? It seems like something that you would just know. However, Dr. Gottman set about studying the details. The book has a series of "tests" to analyze the relationship. Some parts are simple. Do people focus on the good or the bad? Are their positive past recollections even when times are currently difficult? Or are the past experiences colored with negativity?

He also provides details of choosing an appropriate therapist when needed. One that encourages people to just "get over" past challenges is not helpful. If there has been some harm or betrayal, this must be fully understood and worked through before getting "over it".

The physical relationship is also an important part of a good relationship. This is an area that is often rife with miscommunication. People have different goals and feelings regarding intimacy. It is important to bring these out in the open and not assume the partner feels the same.

A relationship will never be perfect. However, people need to continual work together to improve it. It would be interesting to strap on some of the monitors that he talks about to evaluate conversations in the process. Maybe we can apply scientific analysis to ourselves to better understand what we are feeling "in the moment". (Then again, watching our recorded "fights" may be especially cringe-worthy.)

Balkans: A Short History

The Balkans are rarely heard of except when something bad happens. World War I was kicked off by an assassination in the Balkans. More recently there was a long drawn out conflict after Yugoslavia disintegrated. What is going on there?

The Balkans were slow to develop due to their geography. The mountains made travel challenging. The rivers were not easily navigable, and seemed to flow off in to the wrong direction. It was not an area that rulers would concern themselves with. 

The region also did not have a strong ethnic identity. The population adopted Christianity, yet was ruled by Muslims. It also had an active Jewish population. These groups tended to live together without much problem. They were often willing to adopt the parts of the religion that best suited the population. Some people would switch religions as they would benefit. The population was predominantly rural and due to geography did not have significant interactions with others.

The concept of the "nation state" was somewhat forced upon the Balkans. The concept of the state came first. Then people were encouraged to join the group that fit them. People were not "Bulgarians" or "Romanians" until the country came about. However, these identities later became a nice excuse for battling those that somebody did not agree with.

The implied message from this book is that people of the Balkans largely want to go along living in peace. However, when the world decided they needed to play "state games", they obliged and set about fighting each other.

(I also find it interesting that I had read this same book a decade before without realizing it.)

Friday, December 03, 2021

The Exiled Queen: A Seven Realms Novel

The second book in the series function in typical second book fashion. It starts in the middle of the action and ends demanding more to happen. This book is mostly the "away at school" interlude. The princess is at military school (in disguise). Her would-be suitor (Micah Bayer) happens to be nearby in wizard school. The "street thief that will feels like should be her love interest" is also in the school. The sister of the would-be-suitor has a thing for the street-thief turned wizard. There is also the guy that is supposed to protect the princess. They love each other, but cannot enter into a relationship. It is all one big bizarre love polygon. There is also sneaking over to visit each other at schools. kidnapping and a lot of magical pranks. The author tries to say that Micah Bayer is a balanced character, but he keeps getting worse and worse over the course of the novel.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Martha Peake: A Novel of the Revolution

Martha Peake did not originally want to leave England for America. However, she gets pregnant and takes off to America. She has some adventures and is killed. Later people respect her and Thomas Paine as they are fighting. The story is told from a narrator looking back. The setting is colonial New England, however it feels more like modern times with a bit of revolutionary-era name dropping.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Demon King: A Seven Realms Novel

There is a princess that wants to go out and see the world. She kids kidnapped by a street gang leader. Rather than abuse her, he treats her nicely. You know that he will come back to play an important role. The princess seems to be courted by everyone. She even uses these presents to help the poor. Alas, the marriage will need to be for political purposes rather than love. However, there are some wizards that have other ideas. They would like for her to be connected to a wizard. They use some magic to help force her on somebody. They convince her mom, but she managed to run away. They eventually discover the secret of the street gang leader.

This novel is set in some remote world with magic and distant realms. However, it feels very much a product of today. The characters all have sensibilities that would fit right in with modern people. The fantasy aspect is just a facade. Thus does make the book easily accessible. However, it also feels like it is just borrowing common bits from other stories. There is an important 1000 year history in play along with plenty of palace intrigue. However, these details are not nearly important as the relationships among the young characters.

Sunday, November 28, 2021


I found myself confused with the messaging in Dopesick. The first part of the book argued that Purdue pharma had forced the opioid epidemic on an unwitting middle-america. It argued that they kept on coming up with "better" opioids that were not as addictive as the previously addictive opioids. Unfortunately, they were over prescribed and ended up being just as addictive. The later part of the book argues that we need better support for treatment options and these treatments should include drugs to help successfully wean people off the drugs. But wait, isn't a "better drug" how we got into this mess in the first place? I do understand that research now shows that the treatment drugs are not addictive. But what if we show later problems?

Aside from this messaging, the book has a scary portrayal of rural America. It gives the impression that these are areas to be avoided. They are just filled with people that are addicted to drugs. They regularly steel and commit other crimes in order to fulfill their drug habit. People from these small towns work their way up from pain relief subscription to drug addict to drug dealer. Once a dealer is knocked out, another one comes into place to fulfill the need. Rural America sounds a crime zone that must be avoided. To add to the misery, there are few job opportunities available and companies are unwilling to move in due to the poor state of the working population. (These regions also often have large number of "non-working" people on disability.)

Big pharma is portrayed as the evil player that thrust this on the people. The drug company reps encouraged doctors to prescribe these medicines to reduce pain. The reps lavished various premiums on the doctors to continue prescribing more. However, the problem is even deeper. "Pain relief" was seen as something similar to a right. The American medical system continues to be based on a system of instantaneous relief without effort. Drugs that can provide this solution are the ideal solution. They are cheaper than therapy or other efforts that require more effort on the part of the patient. The desire for a quick, cheap drug solution helped lead to the big problem. 

Current attempts to address the problem miss the mark. Reducing the drug company monetary  incentives for doctors to prescribe certain drugs is a step in the right direction. However, this is just a small part of the problem. There also needs to be overall reform of the current medical system. There needs to be an incentive for the system to maintain overall health, rather than just look for the quick fix. We also need to make sure people do not slip through the cracks without getting access to treatment they need. The book is a strong advocate for long-term treatment (mentioning the 5 year treatment plans for people such as pilots.) This will be helpful for those already addicted. Though without reforms in the front end, it will be an endless battle with more addictions (and the associated crime, homelessness, despair, and other issues.)

With Fire and Sword: Arkansas, 1861-1874 (Histories of Arkansas)

Arkansas had an interesting role in the US Civil War. The state was reluctant to secede from the union. They initially voted not to. Even as other states were separating, they wanted to remain. However, as soon as the federal government demanded troops to fight against the southern rebels, the state changed its mind and only one person remained in favor of the remaining in the union.

The sentiments were not felt uniformly throughout the state. There were many pockets (especially in the north) that rebelled against the rebels. When caught, some of these were executed, while others were required to serve in the confederate army. (You can just imagine how great these soldiers would have been!)

There were many battles that took place in Arkansas. Plenty of destruction took place in the land, but very little had a significant impact on the course of the war. Arkansas was primarily the place in between Missouri and New Orleans. There were land and sea skirmishes to protect the trade routes. The confederates seemed to do ok at first, but then the federals got the upper hand. When the confederates finally looked like they were going to have some success, troops were called away as reinforcements in other theaters.

Reconstruction was a mess. There was plenty of reports of voting irregularities. (Many of these were in the name of the "good guys" enforcing reconstruction.) There was a time when the "old" prewar leaders seemed to return to their leadership position. That was quickly quashed by the radical reconstruction. During reconstruction, huge amounts of money were spent with some results (such as railroads), but no enough to justify the expense. It was a common case of idealism and "somebody else's money". There was plenty of graft to go around. 

There were some gains for the former slaves. However, these were gradually whittled away as the the old guard took power. Most former slaves ended up as sharecroppers. The old landholders had land. They had labor. The groups worked out a relationship. Alas, the crop prices took a dive, and few of the sharecroppers managed to gain their own land.

The end of the civil war was not the end of hostilities in Arkansas. There were plenty of people that were fighting for their own reasons. The Ku Klux Klan gained popularity and was especially strong in some counties. A state militia was brought up to defend the government. There were spies and casualties. Later there was a contested election for governor that lead to physical battle lines being drawn in Little Rock. There just did not seem to be an end to fighting.

Friday, November 26, 2021

When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order

When China Rules the World looks at the rise of China and how the rise of China will impact the rest of the world. Key in this analysis in the difference between Western and Chinese thought. There is a general understanding in Western circles that the basic principles such as democracy and human rights are common to all mankind. However, Chinese culture does not necessarily conform to these. China had created a strong culture without democracy long before Western democracy came into being. The Western view of human rights is also quite different than what China sees. While the west may criticize China for clamping down on protestors, China may view them as rebels that need to be stopped. 

China has a different view of race and racism than the west. China is predominantly one Han Chinese race. They are all viewed as the same (despite differences in appearance.) The minority groups in China are usually seen as backwaters that China must build up. Thus, China is doing a great service in Tibet. Racism is typically seen as a western problem. (Even though Chinese will often look down at Africans.)

The concept of a "nation state" is also something very different in China. The country has been one large civilization. The systems and boundaries do not change the fact of the civilization. Hong Kong and Taiwan will remain part of China regardless of what political system is in place. China has always been an interconnected land-based civilization. The unified culture can be traced back through millenia.

China has exerted a strong influence in areas important to it. The other Asian states are part of its realm. Africa and South America are key areas of natural resources. China is more willing to provide investment without "strings" that western nations have attached.

China is also a young player on the global stage. Though it has existed for a long period of time, it has primarily exerted its influence on nearby regions. As it starts to play a greater role in the world as a whole, there are bound to be many changes. This is somewhat similar to how the United States grew to overtake Britain as the key world power. The difference is that the US and Britain both came from the same background. China is coming into the role with a very different background. We are bound to see some changes.

Daisy Jones & The Six: A Novel

I admit that I missed the "A novel" portion of the title. I thought this was an oral history of a famous 70s band. I was going to go check Spotify to see if I could find the song. How could I have not known about their hits? I guess 70s era pop could easily have slipped through without me realizing it. Then as I went to Google, I discovered that it was really just a work of fiction. D'oh!

The novel provides an oral history of the Los Angeles band that went on to become Daisy Jones and the Six. Daisy Jones was a starlet born into an artistic family. She was addicted to everything and managed to eventually get a recording contract. The Six were a slightly more established band. They had gradually grown to some local acclaim. Eventually the two would record a song together and then go on toe merge their bands. They produced grammy award winning, chart topping songs. However, things fell apart. Substances and relationships took their toll. There were challenges of marriages while being on the road. There was also the inevitable conflict among two "leaders". The whole story was very much in the vein of other rock oral histories and done well enough to make it appear real.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music

Dave Grohl is comes across as one of those friendly, but not very popular artistic kids that would be hanging out smoking and would use profanity as word fillers. Many would end up "getting a real job", but some would continue to nurse the passion and try to continue to live as an artist. Most of those would still need a day job to support themselves. Only a dedicated few would actually be able to support themselves as a musician. Dave is one of those "few". 

Grohl's career has had a number of lucky breaks combined with a willingness to take risks. He enjoyed going to a jazz club and dared take the stage and play drums despite minimal experience. He later spotted an advertisement for one of his favorite bands (Scream) needing a drummer. He auditioned and followed up later after not hearing back. Even thing he at first did not take the plunge to join, only to change his mind and drop out of school to join the band. He toured with the band for a few years, only to be stranded on the west coast as the band broke up. A band called Nirvana was in need of a new drummer. He was recruited and joined the band. He continued living a life of bare subsistence as he continued to focus on music. Nirvana hit it big, allowing him to finally enjoy some more financial success. However, the band broke up after Cobain's death. Grohl continued to focus on his music and put out a demo of some of his songs. This lead to the Foo Fighters and continual musical success. Even with success he would stay down to earth and be focus on the music.

The Storyteller is primarily a collection of anecdotes documenting key events in Grohl's life and career. There are tales of the struggles on the road as a starving artist. There are also many incidents of being in the right place at the right time. In one case, his band happened to be at a venue where Iggy Pop had a release party and he was recruited to play in the band. There are many other stories of chance encounters with his musical idols.

There are also stories of Grohl as a family man. One year he was in Australia at the same time as a school daddy daughter dance. He managed to rearrange the concert dates to get two days off to fly back to California, attend the dance and return. (And to make things more interesting, he had food poisoning on the trip back.) His friendships with other musicians also led his daughters to have interesting experiences, like a pajama party with Joan Jet or a piano lesson with Paul McCartney.

Through all the experiences, Grohl portrays himself as a friendly, energetic guy that is just ready to roll with whatever life throws his way. He would take chances to meet people that he had idolized, and is willing to spend time with his fans. In a concert in Sweden, he fell off the stage and broke his leg. After receiving medical attention, he returned to finish the concert - with a medic holding his leg in place. After cancelling only a few shows, he returned to tour, sitting in a "throne" to support him with his leg in a cast. The show must go on.