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Politics in the Age of the Coronavirus. What can we learn from the Italian Elections? 

Politics in the Age of the Coronavirus. What can we learn from the Italian Elections?

Sep 20, 2020. The president of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, votes at the Italian regional elections. In these elections, the first in the age of the COVID, the victory went to the Left largely by means of over a better strategy in managing people’s perceptions of the epidemic. Here, I report some personal considerations on how this result may tell us something about the coming US presidential election.

The regional elections of this weekend in Italy were held after a debate still dominated by the COVID epidemics. Although the virus itself was not mentioned so much in the speeches and in the political programs, the rest of the debate was shallow and lacking ideas on both sides. The Left was unable to propose anything better than “restarting growth,” and the Right little more than vague talks of “Italexit.”

So, the COVID epidemic hovered like a ghost over everything that was said and done. The Left coalition, the parties supporting the current government, had placed their bets on appearing tough on the epidemic. The government-controlled media tried to reinforce this perception by doing their best to terrorize citizens with daily catastrophistic reports. This strategy had a risk: if the elderly were to stay at home for fear of being infected at the polling station, then a disaster was looming for those parties that relied on their vote: in particular the Democratic Party (the former communists).

The Right, instead, never found a coherent strategy on the epidemic. Sometimes, it tried to convince its electorate that the epidemic was brought to Italy by black immigrants from Africa, but that worked only on people already convinced that all evils in Italy arrive from Africa.

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Famines as Military Weapons: Is Europe in Danger?

Famines as Military Weapons: Is Europe in Danger?

 A Dutch girl photographed at the time of the “hongerwinter”, the famine that hit The Netherlands in 1945, during WW2. 

In the West, we tend to think of famines as events of the remote past that will never return, a view typified by Steven Pinker in his 2011 book The Better Angels of our Nature.” This attitude is often accompanied by sneers at Paul Ehrlich who, in 1968, had predicted extensive worldwide famines that were soon to occur. Even when famines are discussed as a real possibility, they are seen as affecting only those remote countries where hordes of dark-skinned or slant-eyed people already live in near-starvation conditions.

We forgot how close in time was an age in which hunger was a fact of life and famines a common occurrence. The last important famine in Europe was in the Netherlands in 1946 — that was less than a hundred years ago, not in the Middle Ages. Our lack of historical memory is the reason why we see books such as “One Billion Americans” by Matthew Yglesias, where the author happily neglects the problems involved with supplying food and energy to a U.S. population three times larger than it is nowadays.

The real problem with assessing the possibility of future famines is that they are often man-made, that is actively created by human actions. Starving an enemy is a time-honored strategy that works beautifully. We have a detailed report of how it was put into practice by the Romans at the time of the Siege of Jerusalem of 70 AD, but it is surely much older than that. In recent times, the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, threatened Iran in 2018 by saying that they must listen to the U.S. ‘If They Want Their People to Eat.’  Clearly, the temptation to starve another country into submission never completely disappeared and it may returning.

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The lure of imperial dreams: What are our leaders going to do to us?

The lure of imperial dreams: What are our leaders going to do to us?

Donald Trump is often represented wearing some kind of imperial garb. Actually, his presidency may have been less imperial than that of his predecessors. Yet, his style as president is very much “imperial” and his winning slogan in the 2016 elections, “MAGA,” (make America great again) has a deep imperial ring to it. Earlier on, Benito Mussolini, the leader of the Italian government between the two world wars, was destroyed (and with him Italy and not just Italy) by his Imperial ambitions.

When things get tough, people seem to think that they need tough leaders and this is a clear trend in the world, nowadays. It is a deadly mechanism that tends to bring dangerous psychotic personalities to the top government positions. I already noted in a previous post how imperial ambitions coupled with incompetence (both common conditions in high-level leaders) can destroy entire countries.

Here, let me examine an interesting feature of how Benito Mussolini (1883 -1945) ruled Italy. Despite his warlike rhetoric, during the first phase of his government he pursued a moderate foreign policy, avoiding wars. Then, the second phase of his rule was characterized by a series of disastrous wars that led to the destruction of Italy (and not just of Italy) and to the downfall of Mussolini himself. Whether this story can tell us something about a possible second term for Donald Trump as president, is left to the readers to decide.

Benito Mussolini and the Italian Empire: How Leaders’ Absurd Decisions Lead to Collapse.

Benito Mussolini ruled Italy for 21 years after the “March on Rome” of 1922. Many things happened during those years but, on the whole, you could think of the Fascist rule as having two phases: one before and the other after the turning point that was the invasion of Ethiopia, in 1935.

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How Poor Leadership can Create Collapse or Make It Faster: Lessons from European History

How Poor Leadership can Create Collapse or Make It Faster: Lessons from European History

The damage that a bad leader can generate is simply fearsome, especially if that leader has a lot of power and he is nearly impossible to remove from his position. If then that leader controls a large military apparatus, even including nuclear weapons, then the disasters that can happen are beyond the imaginable. If you, like me, doubt the competence of our current leaders, there is plenty to be worried about.

The problem seems to be that our system of choosing leaders guarantees to propel to the top all sorts of power-mongering psychopaths. And as the power we manage increases, going from nuclear weapons to the control of the Web, the chances for truly disastrous damage created by an incompetent leader also increase.

Maybe there should be a science of incompetent leaders that might be a branch of the more general “science of evil.” In this post, I propose a brief exploration of this field that starts with the idea that the past is the way to understand the future. So I repropose a theme that I had already examined: that of Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III) (1808-1873) one of the best examples we have of an incompetent leader who ruined the state he was leading. At that time, fortunately, there were no nuclear weapons available and Luis Napoleon himself was not so aggressive and bloodthirsty as other famously bad leaders. Nevertheless, the damage he generated was considerable and we can learn something from his story.

Napoleon 3rd: how to destroy an empire in the making.  

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The Triumph of Catastrophism. How Greta Thunberg Carried the Day

The Triumph of Catastrophism. How Greta Thunberg Carried the Day

Disclaimer: I am NOT saying here that the Covid-19 does not exist nor that people didn’t die because of it. If you react with the term “denialism” you are only showing that you have no rational arguments to produce.


Do you remember that weird girl from Sweden? Yes, the one with the braided hair. What was her name? Greta something…. It is strange that so many people seemed to pay attention to what she was saying about things like climate change. Why should anyone be worried by that? Nobody cares about climate change anymore when there are much more important matters at hand with the great pandemic sweeping the world? And yet, strangely, nowadays people are doing exactly what Greta had told them to do

Not long ago, I published on Cassandra’s Legacy a post titled “The Great Failure of Catastrophism.” In it, I argued that some 50 years of warnings from scientists had been completely ignored by the powers that be. I also argued that a relatively minor perturbation, as the one caused by the Covid-19 epidemic, had been enough to consign all worries about climate to the dustbin of the silly ideas that nobody should care about. 

 

But things keep changing and I am now amazed to see that humans are acting exactly as if they had listened to Greta Thunberg. Do you remember? She said we shouldn’t use the plane, that we should travel less, use less energy, consume less. Exactly what’s being done.

People are not flying anymore so much, they stopped most of their long distance traveling, the mass migration called “international tourism” seems to have disappeared for good.

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How does it feel living in a crypt? Impressions after one year

How does it feel living in a crypt? Impressions after one year

 In “The Outsider” (1926), H. P. Lovecraft tell the story of someone who lives underground and who discovers his true nature only when he comes out of his crypt and sees his own image in a mirror. That’s not exactly my case, but it is true that I have been living underground for more than a year, by now. It has been a good experience

Last year, I published a post on Cassandra’s Legacy describing my experience with living in an underground apartment in Florence, chosen as my new home with the specific idea of resisting to the summer heat waves, intensifying every year because of global warming. After about one year, I can confirm that it was a good idea and I can add some more details. Below, I reproduce last year’s post. 

First of all, I can confirm that an underground apartment is way better than any other kind of homes in the hot summers of central Italy. This year, summer is not being so terrible as last year, but we are in the midst of heat wave that will last at least one more week, probably more. Right now, the thermometer inside my apartment marks 26.2 C, which is a nice temperature. Outside, it is hot and damp, a climate unsuitable for human beings. 

Then, of course, I also spent a winter in this apartment. It is not very small, about 140 square meters, but it was possible to heat it at a very reasonable price using the existing gas-powered system. Nothing fancy, here, but the apartment has three sides against the rock of the hill, so there was very little dispersion of heat. 

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The Corona Crisis: Fighting the Authoritarian Response

The Corona Crisis: Fighting the Authoritarian Response

At least 20 thousand people (some say many more) marched in Berlin on August 1st 2020 to protest against the restrictions imposed by governments against the Covid-19 epidemic. Unanimously branded as “criminals,” “neo-nazis,” and “idiots” by the Western media, their presence is nevertheless an indication of a growing movement of resistance against the authoritarian crackdown in Europe.

As I am writing, the Covid epidemics has been over for at least two months in Europe. In the US, instead, the epidemic is over only in the large cities while it is still ongoing in the central states, only recently showing signs of abating. The result is a different perception of the situation. In the US, the progressive movement is still trying to use the epidemic as an anti-Trump weapon, accusing the president of not having been authoritarian enough and not having imposed even more draconian measures. In Europe, instead, the public is starting to perceive that nobody is dying of Covid-19 anymore and that their governments are terrorizing them about a threat that has ceased to exist. It is still an embryonic movement, routinely demonized and criminalized by the government propaganda machine, but it is clearly rising. The recent manifestation in Berlin of tens of thousands of people (perhaps many more) is a clear indication of this trend. Earlier on, we had seen something similar in Italy.

You will be probably baffled by this interpretation of the Berlin demonstration, especially if you live in the US, or if you routinely watch TV or read newspapers in a Western country. But there is a logic in everything that happens and the general perception of the coronavirus is rapidly changing. As an example of this growing interpretation of the situation, let me report, below, a few paragraphs from the book “The End of the Megamachine” by Fabian Scheidler, at present in press in the English version.

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Fighting Overpopulation: Ten methods to exterminate most of humankind

Fighting Overpopulation: Ten methods to exterminate most of humankind

First of all, a disclaimer: I am not advocating the extermination of anyone! This post is just an attempt of mine to place myself in the boots of the bad guys who could think of doing such a thing and examine how they could do it. Could these scenarios occur for real? I don’t know but, as I say at the beginning of this blog, “always plan for the worst case hypothesis”

You know that there are people whom we call the “powers that be” (PTB) who can do things that we commoners can’t even dream of doing. Obviously, they can’t miss the fact that for decades the world’s best scientists have been speaking about a coming collapse of the global ecosystem, mainly because of climate change. So, would they act on this knowledge? And, if so, how?

Like everybody else, the PTBs think in terms of their personal survival and some of them reacted to the threat of the collapse of the ecosystem by buying desert bunkers and stockpiling food and weapons in there. But what if some of them decided to take a more proactive stance? When the PTB decide that something is to be done, they usually succeed by a combination of propaganda, money, and sheer force. Not being scientists, they may well reason in simplified terms: what is the cause of the coming collapse? Those pesky humans, of course. Then, an obvious solution is to get rid of most of them.

The bad guys who plan the extermination of humankind are a classic element of science fiction, but large scale exterminations are a constant of real history. So, what shape could a large scale extermination plan take, nowadays? In the following, I tried to provide an answer.

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What if your government has decided to kill you? An interpretation by Antonio Turiel

What if your government has decided to kill you? An interpretation by Antonio Turiel

In the 1976 movie, “Logan’s Run,” the law is that everyone must die when they turn 30. And everyone accepts that law. 

“Necroeconomics” is a concept used by some economists to describe the results of the collapse of the Soviet Economy, in the 1990s. Apart from the pure economic disaster, the collapse led to a trend of population decrease that, in some cases, is continuing to this day. The term may have a more general meaning and Warren Montag discusses how a purely market economy might deal with workers in a situation in which there are no sufficient resources to keep all of them alive. The idea that the state might decide that some people need to be eliminated has been called “necropolitics.”

These concepts do not necessarily imply that your government has decided to kill you. The extermination may be the unwanted result of wrong policies or one of the unavoidable consequences of the overexploitation of the resources that make people live. But what if the government secretly decided to eliminate a fraction of the population, judged to be a useless burden for society? We all know that it happened in some states in a non-remote past. What form could it take today?

This idea has been explored by Antonio Turiel of the “Oil Crash” blog in a story published in Spanish two years ago and titled “Good Vibrations.” When I read it the first time, I found it fascinating but hardly prophetic. It seemed to me just farfetched that people, anywhere in the world, would meekly accept to be ordered by their government to take a drug that they knew would kill them. But, today, I think that Antonio may have been more prophetic than he himself could have imagined. So, I translated the story into English, and here it is. Not for the faint hearted!

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The End of an Age: The Failure of Catastrophism

The End of an Age: The Failure of Catastrophism

Colin Campbell, the founder of the association for the study of peak oil and gas (ASPO) explaining the essence of oil depletion.

The considerations below originate from a post by Michael Krieger where he describes how he is so dismayed by the reaction of the public to the current epidemic that he is closing his blog to rethink the whole matter over. You can read of similar feelings in a post by Rob Slane of the “Blogmire” and of Chris Smaje on “Resilience.” Many others are dismayed at how badly the Covid-19 crisis was managed: a threat that was real but by all measures not so terrible as it was described. Nevertheless, it generated an overreaction, more division than unity, political sectarianism, counterproductive behaviors, and it ultimately led people to accept to be bullied and mistreated by their governments and even to be happy about that.

The “peak oil movement” was started by a group of retired geologists around the end of the 1990s. You could call us “catastrophists,” but catastrophe was not what we were aiming for. We were not revolutionaries, we never thought to storm the Bastille, to give power to the people, or to create a proletarian paradise. We were scientists, we just wanted society to get rid of fossil fuels as soon as possible, although we did think that the final result would have been a more just and peaceful society. 

But how to reach this goal? Of course, we understood that humankind is nothing homogeneous, but we saw no reason why the people in power shouldn’t have listened to our message. After all, it was in their best interest to keep the economy alive. So, the plan was to diffuse the message of resource depletion as a scientific message, not a political one.

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On the Edge of the Cliff: We need a new way of seeing the world

On the Edge of the Cliff: We need a new way of seeing the world

A new blog by Ugo Bardi, “The Proud Holobionts”
Long-term predictive models don’t have a very good record, but some turned out to be prophetic. One case is that of Hubbert’s 1956 prediction of a peak in the production of fossil energy shortly after the start of the 21st century. He was optimistic about the possibility of replacing fossil fuels with nuclear energy, but, apart from that, he was right on target. Now we are on the edge of the cliff and we have to take a different attitude toward the ecosystem that supports our existence. The concept of “Holobiont” may help us a lot in this task. We are holobionts, the ecosystem is a larger holobiont, we must find a way to live together. 

The American geologist Marion King Hubbert deserves the credit of having been the first to see the main trends of the 21st century, nearly 50 years before it were to start. In his 1956 paper, Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels, he presented the figure above: a bold attempt to place the human experience with energy on a 10,000 years scale.

Of course, Hubbert was overly optimistic about nuclear energy which, in reality, started declining before fossil fuels did. But, with this graphic, Hubbert had laid down the human predicament, several years in advance with respect to “The Limits to Growth” (1972). Catton’s “overshoot” (1980), and many others. Without a miracle that could replace fossils well before they would start declining, the human world as it was in the 20th center was doomed. Nuclear energy was not, and could not have been, that miracle.

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The Energy Transition: Who has the right to speak?

The Energy Transition: Who has the right to speak?

Italy is not a windy country and it relies mainly on the sun for its renewable energy. Nevertheless, some spots of the Appennini mountains are swept by enough wind to make it possible to build wind plants. In the picture, you see the wind farm of Montemignaio, not far from Florence, where one of the first large wind plants in Italy was built, already in 2001. It has been working beautifully for nearly 20 years. Other wind plants are planned in Italy, but a strong local opposition and a lack of long-term vision at the national level make their construction difficult and slow.


While the ecosystem starts showing signs of collapse, we desperately need to do something to promote the renewable energy transition. But we seem to be stuck: blocked by science denial, political polarization, sheer ignorance, and slick propaganda. Mostly, what we need seems to be a new way of seeing priorities in a world dominated by financial profits only. But, as the situation becomes worse, we seem to be retreating more and more into obsolete views where everyone sees nothing but their personal short-term interests. In the text below, you can find the transcription of a speech given by Professor Andrea Pase of the University of Padua in an ongoing debate on the advisability of building a wind power plant on the Apennines, in Italy. Pase masterfully identified a key element in the question: scale, both spatial and temporal. The same concept applies to many other public utilities. Who has the right to speak about a new, planned infrastructure? It often happens that the inhabitants of the affected territories engage in defending what they see as “their” land.

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The epidemic in the US: a comment by the virologist Guido Silvestri

The epidemic in the US: a comment by the virologist Guido Silvestri

Many have noted the spike in the number of coronavirus cases observed in the United States. The fear is, obviously, that this increase will result in a corresponding spike in the number of deaths after some delay. The virologist Guido Silvestri wrote a comment in Italian on Facebook about the situation and I thought it was interesting to translate it in its entirety and post it here. This translation is made by smoothing a Google-translated text and it remains rough, but I verified that it maintains the meaning of the original. This text was written a few days ago and, so far, we saw no large changes in the trends of cases and deaths in the US. But, as Dr. Silvestri himself says, we need to wait a few more days in order to see if the spike will continue and result in an increase in the number of victims. On this subject, see also this post by Chuck Pezhensky.

COVID-19: SITUATION IN AMERICABy Guido Silvestri
June 28 at 7:51 AM

Many ask me to talk about the situation of the COVID-19 epidemic in the US. I try in these lines to start from the data, without making political considerations. Science, always science, and very strongly science, as you and I like it 🙂

First of all, I would start from the curve that you see in the graph, above. Today (28 June), it was the second-highest day in terms of number of cases (yesterday was the highest ever). So it is clear that we are in full pandemic with many new cases diagnosed, especially in the large southern states (CA, TX, AR, FL, GA etc). Not that it is a subject not discussed at length, but it is good to start from these data.

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You are What you Read: How to Manage your Personal Echo Chamber

You are What you Read: How to Manage your Personal Echo Chamber

Mr. Trump has often being accused of “lying” in his many speeches and tweets. For sure, much of what he says can be said to be “contrary to fact.” But is the president really lying or is he simply stating what he thinks truth is? One man’s lies are another man’s truth. And the problem is that people tend to see the world according to the different echo chamber in which they live. Everyone seeks for facts that support their opinions. We badly need to take control of the information flow that we receive and I think we can do that. Let me show you how I try to do it by disclosing my personal information bubble.

Not long ago, I stumbled in a comment on “Quora” for the question, “Why do some people deny climate change? Here is a shortened version:

CO2 levels of 400 ppm being dangerously high are not accepted by scientists I find credible. There is no significant sea rise. The temperature has not changed by even 1 degree C. over the past century. Climate Change has not increased hurricanes or their intensity. I may rethink this if there is an undoubtedly measurable change in the level of the seas, or a decade long temperature rise.

Now, if you are an average reader of “Cassandra’s Legacy” you’ll agree with me every statement in this paragraph is wrong in the sense of being “contrary to fact.” But I am sure that the writer of this paragraph is a good person. He signed with his full name and I could see his profile. I think that if he were a neighbor of mine we could be good friends (as long as we would avoid discussing climate science!). He truly believes in what he says and he thinks his vision of the world is the right one.

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A question you always wanted to ask but you never had the time to: Is the “EROI” of energy studies the same as the R factor in epidemiology?

A question you always wanted to ask but you never had the time to: Is the “EROI” of energy studies the same as the R factor in epidemiology?

There is a certain logic in the way the universe works and so it is not surprising that the same models can describe phenomena that seem to be completely different. Here, I’ll show you how the same equations describe chain reactions that govern such different phenomena as the spread of an epidemic, the cycle of extraction of crude oil, and even the nuclear reaction that creates atomic explosions. All these phenomena depend on the efficiency of energy transfer, the parameter that’s known in energy studies as EROI (energy return on energy invested), related to the “transmission factor” (R) of epidemiological models. Above, a classic clip from Walt Disney’s 1957 movie, “Our friend, the atom.” 

You may be surprised to discover that epidemiological models share the same basic core of peak oil models. And it is not just about peak oil, the same models are used to describe chemical reactions, resource depletion, the fishing industry, the diffusion of memes on the Web, and even the nuclear chain reaction that leads to nuclear explosions. It is always the same idea: reinforcing feedbacks lead the system to grow in a frenzy of exploitation of an available resource: oil, fish, atomic nuclei, or people to be infected. In the end, it is perhaps the most typical way the universe uses dissipate potentials. As always, entropy rules everything!

Modeling these phenomena has a story that starts with the model developed in the 1920s by Vito Volterra and Alfred Lotka. They go under the name of “Lotka-Volterra” models or, sometimes, “Prey-Predator” models. This heritage is not normally recognized by people in the field of epidemiology, but the model is the same: the virus is a predator and we are the prey.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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