Search the KHIT Blog

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Two years in Baltmore

Two years ago on April 15th, 2019 we pulled up to the curb at our new digs in the Baltimore Homeland District after an 8-day 2-car overland convoy shlep from California, dogs and cats in tow. Having lost both of our daughters to cancers, we wanted to be close to Matt, our surviving child, who has settled here and has now married.

My subsequent Twitter banner.

Today our new Grandson Calvin is 15 months old.

Three days a week now we run the in-home Calvin Archer Gladd Graycare Center. Heart Happy Family, indeed. What a total joy he is.


We now have a new resident nesting on our front porch, in one of Cheryl's hanging flower pots..

Right by our front door. Nice.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Amanda Ripley hits one outa the park.

"High Conflict," meet "High Resolution."

Saw a CBS Sunday Morning segment featuring the author last Sunday.

Bought the book. Of course. 's how we roll here.

Riveting. It moved me on so many levels. Were I in charge, I'd likely decree it to be required reading. With an exam at the end.
When we are baffled by the insanity of the “other side”—in our politics, at work, or at home—it’s because we aren’t seeing how the conflict itself has taken over.

That’s what “high conflict” does. It’s the invisible hand of our time. And it’s different from the useful friction of healthy conflict. That’s good conflict, and it’s a necessary force that pushes us to be better people.

High conflict, by contrast, is what happens when discord distills into a good-versus-evil kind of feud, the kind with an us and a them. In this state, the normal rules of engagement no longer apply. The brain behaves differently. We feel increasingly certain of our own superiority and, at the same time, more and more mystified by the other side.

New York Times bestselling author and award-winning journalist Amanda Ripley investigates how good people get captured by high conflict—and how they break free…

People do escape high conflict. Individuals—even entire communities—can short-circuit the feedback loops of outrage and blame, if they want to. This is a mind-opening new way to think about conflict that will transform how we move through the world.
[Amazon blurb]
I joke these days of being "a life-longer unlearner." Well, the disabusement curriculum just ramped up materially. Gonna have to re-think (and mitigate) my frequently hair-trigger irascible suffer-no-fools-gladly snark reflex.

Stay tuned. 
apropos of the topic (in particular as it goes to my riffs on so-called "Deliberation Science"):
Decisions always involve both facts and values, whereas most science communication focuses only on facts. If science communication is intended to inform decisions, it must be competent with regard to both facts and values. Public participation inevitably involves both facts and values. Research on public participation suggests that linking scientific analysis to public deliberation in an iterative process can help decision making deal effectively with both facts and values. Thus, linked analysis and deliberation can be an effective tool for science communication. However, challenges remain in conducting such process at the national and global scales, in enhancing trust, and in reconciling diverse values.

…In the 21st century, the scale of human activity will expand substantially (3⇓–5), as will the power of our technology. Social learning is the basis both for the unprecedented scale of human activity and for the power of our technologies. If we are to avoid serious adverse consequences from these changes, we must accelerate social learning for sustainability and for governing technology (6). Our growing capabilities in nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, cognitive technology, and robotics (NBIC) will be a special challenge. They add to the already daunting problems of sustainability and the long-standing issues of violent conflict and poverty. Without continuous and effective social learning, we are ill equipped as individuals, as a nation, and as a global society to make sound decisions about these complex matters. We need social learning about facts so that our beliefs about how the world works are well aligned with reality. We also need social learning around values to think through the emerging implications of major social transformations…
[ "Bringing values and deliberation to science communication" ]
"Learning?" ahhh..."Education?"

Recall the Greek root of "education"—"e-ducere," to draw out, to elicit, induce. Differs from instruction, training.


A cool way to begin.

Confirmation bias.
The human tendency to interpret new information as confirmation of one’s preexisting beliefs.

Conflict entrepreneurs.
People who exploit high conflict for their own ends.

Conflict trap.

A conflict that becomes magnetic, pulling people in despite their own best interests. Characteristic of high conflict.

Contact theory.
The idea that people from different groups will, under certain conditions, tend to become less prejudiced toward one another after spending time together.

Crock pot.

A shorthand term for the issue that a conflict appears to be about, on the surface, when it is really about something else.

A simple online ball-tossing game created by researchers to study the effect of social exclusion.

Fire starters.
Accelerants that lead conflict to explode in violence, including group identities, conflict entrepreneurs, humiliation, and corruption.

Fourth way.

A way to go through conflict that’s more satisfying than running away, fighting, or staying silent, the three usual paths. Leaning into the conflict.

Good conflict.
Friction that can be serious and intense but leads somewhere useful. Does not collapse into dehumanization. Also known as healthy conflict.

High conflict. 
A conflict that becomes self-perpetuating and all-consuming, in which almost everyone ends up worse off. Typically an us-versus-them conflict.

A forced and public degradation; an unjustified loss of dignity, pride, or status. Can lead to high conflict and violence.

Idiot-driver reflex.
The human tendency to blame other people’s behavior on their intrinsic character flaws—and attribute our own behavior to the circumstances we find ourselves in. Also known as the fundamental attribution error.

Illusion of communication.
The extremely common and mistaken belief that we have communicated something, when we have not.

La Brea Tar Pits.
A place in Los Angeles where natural asphalt has bubbled up from below the ground’s surface since the last Ice Age. A metaphor for high conflict.

Looping for understanding.

An iterative, active listening technique in which the person listening reflects back what the person talking seems to have said—and checks to see if the summary was right. Developed by Gary Friedman and Jack Himmelstein and detailed in their book Challenging Conflict.

Magic ratio.
When the number of everyday positive interactions between people significantly outweighs the number of negative, creating a buffer that helps keep conflict healthy. (In marriage, for example, the magic ratio is 5 to 1, according to research by psychologists Julie and John Gottman.)

Paradox No. 1 of High Conflict.

We are animated by high conflict, and also haunted by it. We want it to end, and we want it to continue.

Paradox No. 2 of High Conflict.

Groups bring obligations, including the duty to harm—or, at other times, the obligation to do no harm, to make peace.

Paradox No. 3 of High Conflict.
No one will change in the ways you want them to until they believe you understand and accept them for who they are right now. (And sometimes not even then.)

Power of the binary.
The dangerous reduction of realities or choices into just two. For example: Black and White, good and evil, Democrat and Republican.

Saturation point.

The point in a conflict where the losses seem heavier than the gains; an opportunity for a shift.


The use of superficial shortcuts (like clothing or hair color) to quickly figure out who belongs to which group in a given conflict. A term used in Northern Ireland.

The thing the conflict is really about, underneath the usual talking points (see Crock pot).

Ripley, Amanda. High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out (pp. XI-XII). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
I'm a big fan of outset definitions of key terms. See my 1994 grad school argument analysis & evaluation paper (PDF).

high conflict

This is a book about the mysterious force that incites people to lose their minds in ideological disputes, political feuds, or gang vendettas. The force that causes us to lie awake at night, obsessed by a conflict with a coworker or a sibling or a politician we’ve never met.

High conflict is different from the useful friction of healthy conflict. That’s good conflict, and it’s a force that pushes us to be better people. Good conflict is not the same thing as forgiveness. It has nothing to do with surrender. It can be stressful and heated, but our dignity remains intact. Good conflict does not collapse into caricature. We remain open to the reality that none of us has all the answers to everything all the time, and that we are all connected. We need healthy conflict in order to defend ourselves, to understand each other and to improve. These days, we need much more of it, not less.

High conflict, by contrast, is what happens when conflict clarifies into a good-versus-evil kind of feud, the kind with an us and a them
[pp 3-4]

A Great read. Timely, in light of the adversities and controversies confronting us these days. Like, say, these...
Lots more to say about this compelling book. Stay tuned to this Bat Channel. In the interim, how about some David Eagleman?

Actually, that David Eagleman quote deserves broader contextual explication per the "conflict" topic here.
…If you’ve ever doubted the significance of brain plasticity, rest assured that its tendrils reach from the individual to the society.

Because of livewiring, we are each a vessel of space and time. We drop into a particular spot on the world and vacuum in the details of that spot. We become, in essence, a recording device for our moment in the world.

When you meet an older person and feel shocked by the opinions or worldview she holds, you can try to empathize with her as a recording device for her window of time and her set of experiences. Someday your brain will be that time-ossified snapshot that frustrates the next generation.

Here’s a nugget from my vessel: I remember a song produced in 1985 called “We Are the World.” Dozens of superstar musicians performed it to raise money for impoverished children in Africa. The theme was that each of us shares responsibility for the well-being of everyone.

Looking back on the song now, I can’t help but see another interpretation through my lens as a neuroscientist. We generally go through life thinking there’s me and there’s the world. But as we’ve seen in this book, who you are emerges from everything you’ve interacted with: your environment, all of your experiences, your friends, your enemies, your culture, your belief system, your era—all of it. Although we value statements such as “he’s his own man” or “she’s an independent thinker,” there is in fact no way to separate yourself from the rich context in which you’re embedded. There is no you without the external. Your beliefs and dogmas and aspirations are shaped by it, inside and out, like a sculpture from a block of marble. Thanks to livewiring, each of us is the world.

Eagleman, David. Livewired (pp. 244-245). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Ran across Dr. Sherry Turkle's new book. Also fits with the topic here.
“I’ve explored the human effects of science and technology since I arrived at MIT from Harvard in 1976 with a doctorate in sociology and psychology. My subject is the “inner history” of technology, how it changes our relationships, including our relationship with ourselves. Over the years at MIT, I have been able to see how easy it is for a fascination with technology to take well-intentioned people away from empathy and its simple human truths. So technologists become invested in the promise of electronic medical records and forget how important it is for physicians to make eye contact with patients during their meetings. Engineers become fixed on the idea of efficiency, and soon it seems like a good thing to prefer texting to face-to-face talk, because on screens we can discuss personal matters with less emotional vulnerability. Talking to and through machines makes face-to-face exchanges with people seem oddly stressful. And less necessary. These days, our technology treats us as though we were objects and we get in the habit of objectifying one another as bits of data, profiles viewed. But only shared vulnerability and human empathy allow us to truly understand one another.”

The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir by Sherry Turkle
What a book.

 I've watched every day of the televised trial thus far. Now (below) this happens.

From my little Excel sheet. So much for the 3rd wave decline (trendline is a 7-day moving avg).


Saturday, April 3, 2021

While we're stll all occupied with the pandemic

anthropocene adversities advance.
My recent and current reads.

In addition to helping with "graycare" for our grandson Calvin, I've spent the entire week reading, and watching the Derek Chauvin murder trial in the wake of the death of George Floyd last May. Beyond the painful social justice implications of this case, I have a long-abiding interest in legal reasoning and trial court process.

I've finished all of the foregoing books except for Second Nature, which I've just begun. It resonates:

We live at a time in which scientists race to reanimate extinct beasts, our most essential ecosystems require monumental engineering projects to survive, chicken breasts grow in test tubes, and multinational corporations conspire to poison the blood of every living creature. No rock, leaf, or cubic foot of air on Earth has escaped humanity's clumsy signature. The old distinctions—between natural and artificial, dystopia and utopia, science fiction and science fact—have blurred, losing all meaning. We inhabit an uncanny landscape of our own creation.
I got turned onto the Nathaniel Rich book via a review in Science Magazine.
My Amazon review of Dr. Mann's book.
I have read quite a number of the top books dealing with climate change, beginning with Tim Flannery‘s “The Weather Makers.“ I highly recommend this one by Dr. Mann. I like that he names names, and does not equivocate. While I am not a “scientist,“ I did cut my white-collar teeth in a forensic level environmental radiation/mixed-waste laboratory in Oak Ridge as an analyst and programmer in the 1980s under the eminent Dr. John Auxier. Michael E. Mann has done us a great service here with his comprehensive debunking of the myriad incumbent “inactivist” fallacies, and his rational proposals for a sane way forward. Yes, it will be extremely difficult, and as he writes, “I am only one scientist.“ Nonetheless, we have no moral excuse to ignore the problem. Read this book carefully.
Lots to consider. Stay tuned. Below, interview with Dr. Mann:


Cited Elizabeth's Extinction book here. BTW, see also my related random riff on increasing US drought.

Oh, and we must not forget "The Naomis"


I read this a number of months back. Good read. Sound argument.

This urgent and eye-opening book makes the case that protecting humanity's future is the central challenge of our time.

If all goes well, human history is just beginning. Our species could survive for billions of years - enough time to end disease, poverty, and injustice, and to flourish in ways unimaginable today. But this vast future is at risk. With the advent of nuclear weapons, humanity entered a new age, where we face existential catastrophes - those from which we could never come back. Since then, these dangers have only multiplied, from climate change to engineered pathogens and artificial intelligence. If we do not act fast to reach a place of safety, it will soon be too late.

Drawing on over a decade of research,The Precip
ice explores the cutting-edge science behind the risks we face. It puts them in the context of the greater story of humanity: showing how ending these risks is among the most pressing moral issues of our time. And it points the way forward, to the actions and strategies that can safeguard humanity.

An Oxford philosopher committed to putting ideas into action, Toby Ord has advised the US National Intelligence Council, the UK Prime Minister's Office, and the World Bank on the biggest questions facing humanity. In The Precipice, he offers a startling reassessment of human history, the future we are failing to protect, and the steps we must take to ensure that our generation is not the last. [
Amazon blurb]

Well worth your time.

Oh, yeah, from the book now in process...

Forgot to mention this one. Tangentially apropos of the topic:
The Nobel Prize–winning scientist’s elegant explanation of the fundamental ideas in biology and their uses today.


The renowned biologist Paul Nurse has spent his career revealing how living cells work. In What Is Life?, he takes up the challenge of describing what it means to be alive in a way that every reader can understand.

It is a shared journey of discovery; step-by-step Nurse illuminates five great ideas that underpin biology―the Cell, the Gene, Evolution by Natural Selection, Life as Chemistry, and Life as Information. He introduces the scientists who made the most important advances, and, using his personal experiences in and out of the lab, he shares with us the challenges, the lucky breaks, and the thrilling eureka moments of discovery.

Nurse writes with delight at life’s richness and with a sense of the urgent role of biology in our time. To survive the challenges that face us all today―climate change, pandemic, loss of biodiversity and food security―it is vital that we all understand what life is. [Amazon blurb]

 This one was a really fun read.


Interesting idea. Click the image.