Sunday, November 28, 2021

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.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Trick

An older illustrator is called by his daughter to babysit his grandson while she and her husband are away at an academic conference. He runs into challenges watching this 4 year old boy. The boy demands his attention and makes it difficult for him to work. The difficulty culminates when the boy locks him outside on the balcony in the rain. They struggle to find ways to help the boy to call for assistance before finally getting back inside. Eventually, the boy is able to open the door and they return together in the house. 

In the process of these adventures, the older man learns a lot about himself. He had left Naples to seek seek his career as an illustrator in the big city. He thought he had a special gift. However, he sees similar ability in this young child. The child also questions his art. He doesn't see anything special in drawings he does for books. The man learns that maybe he is not so important after all.

There is also the side story of the boy's parents. They are having their marital struggles. They discover a little more about themselves in the process. The boy has characteristics of both of his parents. He inadvertently helps all the adults around him to learn more about themselves. 


Tuesday, November 23, 2021

A History of the World in 6 Glasses

People cannot live very long without liquid. In early human history, humans had to stay near water sources. As people moved away from hunter-gatherer societies different beverages were incorporated into their lives. Standage explores the history through six of these: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola.

Beer is one of the oldest and seems to have arrived in conjunction with agriculture. The natural fermentation helped to kill off microorganisms and make it safer to drink. (Now that people were in one place, waste and water were closer together.) Wine built on this, but became a more complex drink, with different qualities for different classes. Spirits added distillation to increase alcohol content. Rum may have been a significant influence of the American revolution. 

The caffeinated beverages played their role in the globalized society. Both tea and coffee spread from their homeland all over the world. Water was boiled, making it safer to drink without the innebreation of alcohol. The coffee-shop culture became a more "calm" venue for intellectual stimulation than the drinking house. It also served as a news venue. Britain really clung to tea and built up a vast empire to facilitate production. Coca Cola is the modern innovation that has spread all over the world as the US has become a global power.

Today we have gone full circle. Water is making a comeback. Water can be found in bottled form at prices much higher than it would be from the tap. However, "plain water" does not have the baggage of the other drinks.

Too Much Information: Understanding What You Don’t Want to Know

Today we live in a time of abundant information. A single click or tap can get us anything we want to know. But does knowing make our lives better? There are many government initiatives out there that make that assumption. However, they often don't stand up to the results. 

Sometimes the act of reporting can trigger a reaction, even if unjustified. Labeling items as to whether or not the contain GMO ingredients makes it appear that GMO ingredients are harmful and should be avoided. However, most research shows them to be perfectly fine for humans. Other labeling has encouraged change that is helpful (such as trans-fat labeling.)

In some cases, the results can have very different behaviors. Putting calories to the left of food on menus instead of to the right causes different behaviors. The general result of calorie labeling also differs by groups. For some people (often the poor), the labeling encourages seeking out larger calorie counts to get more "food for the buck". Some people may have the discipline to use the calories to reduce consumption. Others may become more stressed out over it and eat more.

Providing information requires effort. The costs involved with producing the information need to be balanced with the benefit received. Government requests a great deal of information. How much of this is really needed? Are there alternatives to collecting it? Many social programs are means tested. In order to reduce misallocation of funds, huge amounts of information are required. This ends up excluding some of the people that are most in need. Would we be better off just accepting that some non-deserving people would receive benefits in order to ensure access to all those in need. (And even better yet, why not just allow everybody to take advantage?) Information requirements is both intentionally and unintentionally a huge barrier to entry.

Excessive disclosures can be useless. (Who pays attention to the multitude of privacy policies?) They can also encourage the opposite behavior. A doctor that discloses an interest in a certain treatment may thus unwittingly encourage the patient to select that treatment. The patient feels an obligation to support the doctor with that treatment. The doctor now feels relieved from conflict of interest concerns. Is this really what was intended by disclosure?

We as individuals and society need to focus on information that provides us benefit. We also need to realize that we are biased to what we have. Could are lives be better with less?

The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin, Volume Two: Outer Space, Inner Lands

In her short story collection Ursula Le Guin has a focus on the relationships. Many of the stories explore matriarchal societies. In some, males are primarily "drones" that serve only for the impregnation of dominant females. Love is completely separate from procreation and not really related to gender. It poses interesting questions about male dominance in societies. Is it in part to compensate for the lack of need of males for human reproduction? After all, a society with a 100 to 1 female to male ratio could reproduce just as much as one with a 1 to 1 ratio. How are men valuable?

Other stories explore different groups of people and even different organisms. Would people be able to understand the communications of other animals? In a society where people can read animal communications, wouldn't reading plant communications be like we see animal communications today?

In the intro, the author expresses concern about being pigeonholed in "speculative fiction." She doesn't like the term and doesn't like any of the "genre fiction" labels. However, much of her work does use future societies to explore social constructs. This gives her just enough distance to ask the tough questions about us.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

AP College football poll by state

In the most recent AP college football poll, the ranked schools represent 19 of 50 states. What states are most represented? I did a simple exercise of dividing total votes received by the population of the state. Oklahoma, Utah and Mississippi came out on top. All had multiple schools in the polls with a relatively small population.


Results from the November 21, 2021 AP top 25 poll.

Statevotespopulationvotes/population
OK22104552.50
UT13323.3403.64
MS11043368.00
AL14234.9290.41
OH285011.7243.59
MI202410202.40
OR8494.3197.44
IN12656.8186.03
IA5383.2168.13
GA155010.8143.52
TX277329.793.37
WI5175.987.63
LA2464.653.48
NC50910.747.57
PA47112.836.80
AR105335.00
SC1015.319.06
CA27339.66.89
KY104.52.22

Rankschoolstatetotal votes
1GeorgiaGA1550
2Ohio StateOH1434
3AlabamaAL1423
4CincinnatiOH1416
5Notre DameIN1262
6MichiganMI1246
7Oklahoma StateOK1209
8Ole MissMS1060
9BaylorTX1046
10OklahomaOK1001
11OregonOR849
12Michigan StateMI778
13Brigham YoungUT771
14Texas A&MTX628
15UTSATX583
16UtahUT561
17IowaIA538
18WisconsinWI517
19HoustonTX516
20PittsburghPA445
21Wake ForestNC344
22San Diego StateCA273
23Louisiana-LafayetteLA246
24North Carolina StateNC141
25ArkansasAR105
26ClemsonSC101
27Mississippi StateMS44
28Penn StatePA26
29Appalachian StateNC24
30KentuckyKY10
31PurdueIN3

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life

The first section of A Swim in a Pond in the Rain drove me crazy. Small sections of a story were read and analyzed. I did not have a chance to get into the story before shifting gears to analysis. Luckily, the remainder of the book presented the entire stories before analyzing them. The works are all by master Russian writers. The author's background is in creative writing workshops. However, the analysis is beneficial for both writers and readers. Since most of these are translated stories, there is also mention of times when some context may be lost in translation.

The storytellers have honed their skills in the pre-Soviet days. There are themes of the struggles of common men. Most are firmly in the realism camp. However, there was one fun story about a person who had lost his nose and had it show up in strange locations. A good story follows an event that changes the life of characters that we care about. Most background and description should help us to know the characters and bring out the story at hand. The story may even behave differently than an author intended. A good writer would let it do what it needs to do.

Friday, November 19, 2021

There There: A Novel

A listened to the entire audiobook without paying attention to the "A novel" portion of the title. I thought it was a work covering people in real life. There were a few random coincidences. However, those would be the ones that would end up the most interesting when distilling hours of interviews. Only after completing it did I realize it was a novel.

There There describes the ordinary lives of urban Indians in Oakland. They understand their "Indianness" in various ways. There are struggles in both integrating with society and accepting their unique identity. Many of them do not live pleasant lives. They have struggled both individually and collectively. Alcohol ends up being the cheapest medication. Alas, it creates its own problems. And alcohol is just one of the many struggles of the urban Indians. The Pow Wow is something of a unifying event for a disparate group of people that have been lumped together. However, even that creates its own type of conflict.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Silk Road: A Very Short Introduction

The silk road is a place and a legend. It brings to mind long treks over barren landscapes to connect Europe and Asia. The area was ancient "flyover country". Central Asia was a place you went through, not a destination. However, the area was more than just pass-through country. Great armies rose out of central Asia and conquered much of the known world. The Genghis Khan and the Mongols conquered a huge swath of the world. Horses were one of the key exports from the silk road region. The landscape has high on area and low on population. The towns that did exist would often have their own markets with a plethora of good traded.

The book focuses as much on the modern central Asia as it does on the ancient silk road. The area from Western China to Eastern Europe remains vast and underpopulated, yet rich with natural resources. The population is still fairly dispersed, with even the urbanized areas remain sparse by world standards.

The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers

An internet in Victorian times? There could not be such a thing. This book makes the persuasive argument that there was - in the form of the telegraph. In many ways the telegraph was very similar to the internet of today. It opened up instantaneous communications over long distances. It enabled new types of commerce and gave rise to immense fortunes. Eventually the initial means of communication were supplanted by the telephone and our current internet. However, it can be seen as one continuous adaptation of technology.

Telegraphs started a few centuries ago. Visual telegraphy involved communicating signals that could be seen over long distances. This was faster than messenger systems. However, it was susceptible to weather conditions. Electronic telegraphs helped provide a better solution. Samuel Morse helped perfect some means of transmitting signals, and more importantly invented a code for doing so. Telegraph companies began to lay more wire to enable communication. 

Skilled operators would hammer out communications in morse code for other operators to receive. (They could even recognize distinct styles of different operators.) The messages were written down on paper and delivered to the recipients. A message may pass through multiple locations on the way to the final destination. This would involve separate transmission and resends. Vacuum tube networks were set up in some areas that received a great deal of message traffic. Different means of encryption and shorthand codes were set up. Attempts were regularly made to regulate these codes, but with limited success. This all sounds very similar to the internet of today.

The job of the skilled operator was gradually automated. Keyboards allowed any person to type out a telegraph message. Phones helped displace the need for telegraphs altogether. Western Union stopped sent the last telegram in 2006. It may be possible to send telegrams in some parts of the world. (Though modern telegrams are often just printed out emails.) The internet really isn't as new as it seems to be.

Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth

The Alamo has always been a curious place. It is a famous tourist attraction. The details of the events that happened there have always been a bit fuzzy. Davy Crockett and a bunch of Texans died there and then somehow Texas became independent. There has always seemed to be more "legend" around the Alamo than actual facts. Forget the Alamo does a great job of documenting all sides of the story, from the actual events to the history and legend that we understand.

Texas was once a fairly disregarded backwater of Spanish America. Once Mexico had achieved independence, they desired to have more people there to help "protect" against the native tribes. Americans were eager to fill the void. They discovered that it was a great place to grow cotton. However, cotton was labor intensive and needed to complete with slave-labor plantations in the deep south. Mexico had few slaves and had outlawed the practice. The Texans did some workarounds to appease the authorities, but they really wanted to have their slaves there. Eventually, more and more Anglo-Americans settled in Texas. They came regardless of legal restrictions and paid little heed to Mexican law. They soon declared their independence and took over the land for themselves. (Perhaps they do know their history well and thus want to prevent the Mexicans from doing what they did to Mexico.)

The Alamo was one of the skirmishes during the process. A number of Texans were bunkered up. Most of them were killed. A lot of Mexicans were killed also. The legend states that they all fought to the death. (Many may have attempted to surrender - and been killed.) As a battle at the start of a war, it was advantageous to use it as a rallying cry. This is how the legend of the Alamo first came into being.

The legend continued to grow over time. It gained more strength after world war 2. Movies and television shows used the Alamo as a rallying cry. Many of the key events that we "know" from the history are from these fictionalized narratives. These also emphasize the "white" vs. other. (In spite of there being non-anglo Texans defending the Alamo.) 

The story of the Alamo as a historic has also had its ups and downs. It was a Catholic mission at one time. It was used for military and religious purposes and a tourist draw. There have been many attempts to revitalize the area, some have succeeded in varry degrees. Ownership has passed from church to state and back a few times. The Daughters of Republic of Texas have controlled it for a while until the state took over. Various ethnicities can take claim to some parts of the Alamo history, including Native Americans, Mexicans. A nearby lunch counter is also important in the history of black desegregation. There are "understood" histories and "revisionist" histories. The real events and the legend share some parts, but also have plenty of differences.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

At first I thought this book was a work of fiction. It seemed to be just a little too off the wall premise. A college-age kid suddenly is taking care of his younger brother. They relocate from Illinois to Berkeley, California. They manage to get places to rent by paying cash with their inheritance. He comes across as a young adult with the mind of 14 year old. Sex and nudity seem to be primary external preoccupations. He is totally not ready to take care of his brother. He seems to prefer that he be a little servant. His brother is not quite in to that. 

Dave does manage to help raise the brother. His siblings make occasional appearances. (They are older, but did not have the ability to take care of the younger brother.) Towards the end, there is more focus on his dalliances with a literary magazine  (he naively bankrolls it and has dreams of success.) and attempts to be on the real world. His "Story" seems to change a little each time it is told. There appears to be some degree of fictionalization in the novel. But don't we all "remember" things different ways? The style is where the work shines. It is very "gen-X".

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Six Events: The Restoration Model for Solving Life's Problems

Stephen R. Covey rose to fame with his Seven Habits book used for self growth and organizational improvement. Six events brings that experience in to the spiritual dimension. Covery fills the book with anecdotes, many based on his experience serving as a Mission President in Ireland. The target audience is members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that want to improve their life and faith in the gospel.

The six events are connected an adverb and a restoration event:

1. Who? The First Vision. Who am I? Who is Christ? How do you feel loved

2. Whose? The Restoration of the Gospel

3. How? The Restoration of the Priesthood

4. Where? Restoration of the Church

5. What? Restoration of the Keys of Salvation

6. Why? The restoration of Temple Ordinances

They are tied together with "When?", an event of personal restoration. (In this he stresses the importance of doing things in order. Just having somebody jump to going to church without a faith in Christ will not lead to a lasting commitment.)

The book straddles the "self-help" and the "religious apologetics" domains. It feels a little bit dated. However, the core message is still works. You must slowly build up a deep faith to have the best personal and religious experience. Bold transformative experiences are nice, but not necessarily lasting. True transformation takes work.


Saturday, November 13, 2021

Masterminds: Payback

Project Osiris involved cloning criminal masterminds and bringing them up in a sheltered environment. This was intended to prove that nurture could overcome nature. A few kids escaped. They were on the run to try to understand themselves. They teamed up in various groups to meet their "original". They did see stuff in common with associated mastermind. Eventually the group meets with the original founder of the project who feels regret. They find the group has moved from New Mexico to the Bahamas and they attempt to break them free. There go through all sorts of adventures before the series reaches the conclusion in this book.

How God Works: The Science Behind the Benefits of Religion

Does religion provide objective benefits to followers? David DeSteno has spent time analyzing religious practices and how they provide concrete benefit to adherents.  Many rituals provide concrete provable benefits of themselves. The act of interacting as a group helps the members of the group. Actions such as praying and meditation also have provable benefit. Benefits accrue to those that actively participate and follow a religion. Merely claiming to be a member of a religion is not enough. 

Rituals for moving to different phases of life are also beneficial. Going through a rite of passage helps one to better feel able to take on new responsibilities. The faith in afterlife helps people to better cope with death. (Though one needs to have a strong faith to benefit. Week followers that question their religion tend to have even more difficulty coping.) Even practices such as ritual heelings have shown to help people to recover from illness. (The placebo effect, ritual and belief all help.) 

Religions have accumulated a long history of actions to benefit their followers. They have also provided a basis for moral behavior. Today, religious adherence has faltered. Ironically, many of the stodgy traditions are what people are seeking in religious practice. Science has shown that having a strong faith is valuable. Many people are attempting to extract beneficial components (like meditation). However, the best benefits accrue to those that take on the whole package.

In Search of Lost Time (Dramatized)

In Search of Lost Time is an extremely long, multi-volume novel. This dramatization distills it down to a few hours. It seems to focus on the romantic endeavors. It was not very engaging. Maybe it isn't worth going through the long original.

Glass Sword

Mare is on the run. She has a "silver" ability to manipulate electricity, but she has red blood. She teams up with similar people. They are trying to find others and help them to harness their powers. They are on the run and infiltrating Maven's kingdom.

Monday, November 08, 2021

The Unwanteds: Unwanteds Series, Book 1

A society has separated itself out from the world. The leader demands obedience and shuns the creative arts. People that make mistakes or act out artistically become "unwanted" and are cast out and killed. At least that is what they thought. A separate group has been rescuing unwanteds and bringing them to a magical artistic utopia. However, they realize they will be found out and train for the inevitable. One of the key characters is a twin. He had actually sacrificed himself and taken the blame for some artistic activity of his brother (in part because he already realized that he had enough marks against him and his brother had none.) Eventually they meet in a magical battle and also discover that there are multiple schemes under way to overthrow the kingdom. 

The book introduces fantasy elements into a post-apocalyptic work, but does not go deep in either of them.

Sunday, November 07, 2021

Arkansas: A Bicentennial History (States and the Nation Series)

If you search for an Arkansas book, you are most likely to find an analysis of the Little Rock Central High integration. The federal troops game in after a defiant governor sought to prevent integration. Ironically, the governor had not shown much interest in integration issues and was able to parlay this into a successful reelection campaign.

Slavery and plantations have had a disproportionate role in the history of Arkansas, despite the lack of general importance to the population. Most residents did not have slaves. Only a small proportion of slaveholders worked on plantations. However, people were willing to fight for their rights. Arkansas was reluctant to succeed from the union. After the US government asked the state to send troops to help defend against the confederacy, the residents were reluctant to fight against their neighbors. Only one delegate voted against secession. (And this person would later become governor.) Later the government continued to support the idealistic needs of plantations, often at the expense of industrial development. (Even though the high plantation society was never really as predominant as other states.)

During the civil war, most residents fought on the confederate side. However, there was a significant amount (especially from the northern Ozarks) that fought for the Union. Alas, most of the hostilities in the state also took place in the north.

After reconstruction, Arkansas devolved to a one-party state. The state decided to follow the lead of Mississippi and adopt voting restrictions and Jim Crow regulations. Following Mississippi is never a recipe for progress and helped continue Arkansas's reputation as a backwater. The northern mountain part of the state was filled with rugged hillbillies, while there were other plantations along river valleys. Urban development took a while to take place, with the state retaining a primarily rural character longer than other states.

Arkansas had served as somewhat as a way station. It was the frontier beyond the edge of the Mississippi. It was also a gateway to Texas, Indian Territory  and further west. River transport was important, yet it never developed a St. Louis or New Orleans. At times the primary export was people.

The book is a brief history of the state written over 40 years ago. It does provide good coverage of the early history of the state into the mid twentieth century. The author came from a journalism background, thus the journalists are given significant say in the story. It is also interesting that though WalMart had existed for some time when the book was written, it didn't merit a mention in key Arkansas businesses.

Friday, November 05, 2021

Gambling with Armageddon: Nuclear Roulette from Hiroshima to the Cuban Missile Crisis

Cuba played an interesting role in the cold war. Castro was not initially a communist. He was naive populist who was focussed on the will of the people. He hoped to bring the United States to his side. However, the "will of the people" involved some things that the US was not too fond of. This led to a general shunning of Cuba. The Bay of Pigs invasion was a disastrous attempt to install a new regime in Cuba without involving US forces. It only served to further alienate Cuba. Castro was driven to greater ties with the Soviet Union and communism. This now gave the Soviets an allie within spitting distance of the heavily populated east coast of the US. It was a perfect place to base nuclear missiles. 

Gambling with Armageddon details many of the chance actions that prevented all out nuclear war during the cold war. The book starts with the lead up to Hiroshima and ends with the calming of tensions at the end of the Cuban missile crisis. While there were many big players involved (Stallan, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Kruschev), it was often little regarded underlings that did the most to prevent nuclear destruction. Some were under orders to fire nukes, but decided against it. Other chance encounters also helped to reduce tensions.

America had initially hoped to use the nuclear weapons to become a super power. The Japanese bombings were in part a way to show that the bombs were real. They also served to end the war more quickly to prevent further Soviet territorial claims. There were some in the US that desired to share the technology with the Russians in order to calm relationships. They were overruled by those that sought to hold on to the advantage. Alas, the advantage was only short term. Soon the USSR had their own weapons. There were also US hawks that were clamoring to use nukes on many occasions. These were often overruled.

Intelligence gathering on both sides was also quite well done, with the other side often having details. (There were times when Russia knew about things before the US president did.) The Soviets thought they could sneak missiles into Cuba without the US knowing. But, alas, US intelligence did find out. Some factions were arguing for an all out attack. There were various requests from the Soviets, but eventually things did calm down.

It is interesting to read how close the world did come to war. The book is very thorough, with many layers of detail. It can get a little slow at times, but does a good job of expressing the many challenges of nuclear weapons and the luck that has saved us from their widespread use.