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COP27: The Reasons for a Failure

COP27: The Reasons for a Failure

The COP27, in itself, wouldn’t deserve a comment. It is over, and that’s it — been there, done that, and nobody cared. But I think it is a good occasion to reproduce this text by Stuart B. Hill that nicely explains why we make mistakes all the time when trying to manage complex systems. The COP27, indeed, has been a good example of the concept of “pulling the levers in the wrong direction” as Jay Forrester, the creator of System Dynamics, explained to us. So, here it is. h/t Thorsten Daubenfeld. 

10 Common ‘Mistakes’ to Avoid, & ‘Needs’ to Meet, When Seeking to Create

Because of the holistic nature of the approach being advocated, all of the areas below overlap & are highly interactive & interrelated. This was written in response to the Commonwealth Government’s announcement of the Australia 2020 Summit in Canberra, ACT (19-20 April, 2008: http://www.australia2020.gov.au/); downloadable as a PowerPoint presentation from: www.stuartbhill.com

  1. Getting the usual ‘experts’ (mostly older males) together to talk & plan
    –       always leads to tinkering with existing (flawed) plans – [‘rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic’]; & being trapped in dominant paradigms
    –       excludes most, including those affected by such plans & their ‘fresh’ ideas

Need
–       involve mostly ‘different’ people, including (if possible) those most affected
–       start by focusing not on plans, but on values, beliefs, worldviews & paradigms
–       then feelings & passions
–       then, emergent from these, hopes, dreams, visions, imaginings, & creative thoughts
–       only then can ‘design/redesign-based plans’ be enabled to emerge (these proactively enable systems [structures & processes] to meet long-term to short-term, & broad to specific, goals, & to make systems as ‘problem-proof’ as possible)
–       then critically analyse, integrate, & flesh these out, etc
–       detail participatory opportunities, responsibilities, time lines, resource & support needs, means for monitoring outcomes (feedback), tracking progress, & for ongoing redesigning & fine tuning

…click on the above link to read the rest…

How to Beat Propaganda: the Grokking Strategy

How to Beat Propaganda: the Grokking Strategy

We CAN beat propaganda, but it takes some effort to avoid falling prey to the simple, yet effective, methods that the powers that be (PTB) use to control us. You need first of all to understand that there is no such thing as an “authoritative source.” All sources can be wrong, and many are there to trick you into believing that something is true when it is not. So, you need to listen to everybody and trust nobody. In this way, you can “grok” your information and not be grokked by the PTB.

I remember how, as a young scientist, I spent long hours at night perusing scientific journals in my department’s library, at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. The administrators wisely kept the library open all night for us, students and postdocs, to nibble at the treasure of knowledge stored there. It was the equivalent of what we do today when “surfing the Web”, it was just slower and more laborious. But it was a great experience: I soon learned that not all the articles found in scientific journals were trustworthy, nor were the scientists who had published them. When I started my career, frauds and lies in science were still rare, but even in “high-level” scientific journals, there were plenty of evident mistakes, unjustified assumptions, sloppy work, or, simply, irrelevant babbling.

It was a different story when I was a student. As a student, you are supposed to be “trained.” The term comes from the Latin “trahere, ‘to pull.’ It implies that your teachers can force you to learn whatever they think you must learn. So, you can pass exams in college without having understood anything of what you regurgitate to your examiners. But things change completely when you become a professional…

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Who is Giorgia Meloni, the Leader of the Italian Right?

Who is Giorgia Meloni, the Leader of the Italian Right?

The Right-Wing victory in the Italian election of this September has generated worries that Italy could be returning to some form of Fascism. But, as it is normally the case, things are much more complex than what you can gather from a few newspaper articles. Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the Right, has no possibility nor intention to return to the dark times of Mussolini’s “Fasci da Combattimento.” She faces an extremely difficult task and I argued in a previous post that she was given a chance to become prime minister with the specific purpose of acting as a scapegoat for the unavoidable troubles that Italy will face this winter. You can find a more detailed analysis in the post below, written by the Italian historian Franco Cardini. I tend to agree with most of the points he makes although, as usual, the future always surprises us and, recently, it has surprised us a lot!   
EVERYTHING LOOKS BAD, BUT MAYBE IT’S WORSE…
They will say, as usual, that I have a weakness for Giorgia Meloni, but she does what she does because she cannot and will not do anything else. It’s her time: she is in the business of politics, she knows that her bus is passing, and it is unlikely for her to have such an opportunity again. It was a beautiful victory: not only, and not so much, for the response of the ballot box, however negatively conditioned by the very high number of non-voters that no politician worthy of the name can ignore or underestimate, but for having played all his opponents with a masterful move. She was the ugly duckling of Parliament, perpetually slapped with the sword of Damocles by the renewed accusations of fascism that she could strike her at any moment. But she managed to score a masterful blow, built little by little and day by day.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What’s Really Happening in Ukraine? The Rules of Disinformation During Wartime

What’s Really Happening in Ukraine? The Rules of Disinformation During Wartime

The front page from the Italian newspaper “La Stampa” on Oct 12, 1941. A good example of wartime propaganda.  

War is a complicated story with plenty of things happening at the same time. Not for nothing there is the term “fog of war,” and it may well be that even generals and leaders don’t know exactly what’s going on on the battlefield. Then, imagine how the media are reporting the situation to us: it is not just a fog that separates the news from the truth: it is a brick wall. Yet, the media remain a major source of information. Can we use them to learn at least something about what’s going on, discarding the lies and the exaggerations?

To start, we can look at how wartime news was reported in historical cases. As an exercise in applied history, I examined how Italians were (dis-)informed by their government during World War 2. I used the archive of “La Stampa” one of the major Italian newspapers of the time, still existing today. The other national newspapers weren’t reporting anything really different. Another advantage is that the archive of La Stampa is free to peruse.

The archive contains a huge amount of material (all in Italian, sorry). I don’t claim that I examined everything, but I did go through the decisive moments of the war, in 1941/43. It is a fascinating experience to imagine people reading the news of the time and trying to understand what was really going on. Could they figure it out? Probably not, at least for most of them. But let’s go into the details.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Age of Exterminations VIII — How to Destroy Western Europe

The Age of Exterminations VIII — How to Destroy Western Europe

US Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau Jr., (1891-1967). He was the proposer of the “Morgenthau Plan” that would have turned post-war Germany into a purely agricultural region, exterminating tens of millions of Germans in the process. Initially approved by President Roosevelt, fortunately, the plan was never put into practice. 

After that Germany surrendered, in 1945, the general attitude of the Allies was that the Germans deserved to be punished. One of the results was that the Allies deliberately limited the supply of food to Germany. Among other things, in the book titled The Death and Life of Germany,” (1959) Eugene Davidson reports how the US military authorities explicitly ordered the American servicemen in Germany, and their wives, to destroy the leftovers of their meals. They wanted to be sure that nothing would be left for their German maids and their families.

This attitude of the Allies predated the German defeat. In 1944, Henry Morgenthau Jr., Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, had proposed the plan that would take his name, the “Morgenthau Plan.” The plan called for the complete destruction of Germany’s industrial infrastructure and the transformation of Germany into a purely agricultural society at a medieval technology level. As a consequence, Germany wouldn’t have been able to import food from abroad and that would have resulted in the death of tens of millions of Germans. The Morgenthau Plan was initially approved by President Roosevelt, and it was even publicly diffused in the press. Fortunately for the Germans, it was later abandoned by President Truman, but it remained active as a practical set of guidelines for the allied policies in Germany until 1948. As a result, untold numbers of Germans died as the consequence of starvation…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Tortuous Way to Nuclear Fusion

The Tortuous Way to Nuclear Fusion

Newspapers make you think that nuclear fusion for electricity production is within reach and that, unlike fission, it is cheaper, cleaner, and safer. Okay, it’s not online yet, it is argued, but it’s up to us how fast it will supply useful energy. Things appear more complicated than that as soon as we take a look at the extraordinary variety of methods adopted by all the initiatives proposed.

Some use fuel from nuclear warheads, such as Commonwealth Fusion Systems, of which ENI is a shareholder. Others use the boron-proton reaction, such as the TAE, financed by ENEL, Tokamak Energy promotes magnetic confinement, and First Light Fusion of Oxford has been inspired by the “claw” of Alpheus heterochaelis, the gun shrimp claw. There are about thirty companies in this market and just as many, very different, methods. For the most part, these methods have been already studied, and discarded, by the academic community, and yet the industry has not decided which path to follow. This confusion indicates how distant the goal is. Let’s revisit the story of fusion and the origin of this explosion of promises.

The inspiration for nuclear fusion came from looking at the sky, it originated with the mystery of the energy that powers the stars. At first they thought of gravity, a non-trivial idea for a body as large as the Sun. Jupiter, for example, a gaseous planet, has a surface temperature twice that of the Earth, powered by gravity while the planet shrinks of a few millimeters per year. Gravity was also Lord Kelvin’s hypothesis for the Sun’s power during a famous meeting of the Royal Society on January 21, 1887. The surface temperature of the Sun made him deduce that our star had been shining for about twelve million years, much longer than the Bible states.

William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin

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All the World is a Stage: How the Global Drama is Being Played Out

All the World is a Stage: How the Global Drama is Being Played Out

The “Commedia dell’Arte” was a form of popular theatre, often played without a script. The masked actors would improvise according to the characteristics of their “persona”, their mask.

There are many ways of predicting the future, and my remote ancestors, the Etruscan Haruspices, would do it by examining the liver of a freshly killed goat. I may have inherited from them my interest in the future, although I don’t usually go around killing goats.

A gentler way of studying the future consists in considering the world as a stage. You know what the characters are, what they want, the way they usually behave. Then, when you put them on stage, they may act and create a drama even without following a script. It was the way the ancient Commedia dell’Arte worked. No script, actors would just play their part, according to their “persona.” a term that in Latin means “mask” and that in our times came to be related to “personality,”

It may also work for states. They have a certain persona, a way to behave that may be predictable. About two months ago, I proposed an interpretation of the current drama patterned on an older drama: the European tragedy of World War 2. The actors, the states, were different, but their masks were very similar, and I sketched out what their behavior could have been.
You see how things are going: the world powers are acting on stage as their masks impose them to do. In particular, the EU is playing the role that was of Italy in 1940. The lack of natural resources forces the EU to depend on foreign sources, in particular on importing natural gas from Russia — which plays the role that was of Britain in the 1930s: that of fossil fuel exporter…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Back to Reality: We are All Children of Oil

Back to Reality: We are All Children of Oil

Colin Campbell, founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO), speaks in Pisa in 2006. Officially, the Powers that Be (PTB) ignored the ASPO message, but it could be that they understood it all too well. That would explain many things about the current situation. For two years, we thought that all our problems were caused by a microscopic, peduncled critter. Now, we are back to reality: we are all children of oil, and we cannot survive without it.

A few days ago, I found by chance on my shelves some documents from the 2006 conference of ASPO (the association for the study of peak oil) that I and others organized in Pisa, in Tuscany. The conference had a certain global resonance: it was sponsored by the Tuscan government, hundreds of people from all over the world came to attend, and the international media commented on it. It was part of a wave of interest on peak oil and its consequences. Just as another example, see the leaflet on the right that I also found rummaging among old documents. It announces a meeting to be held in the Tuscan countryside in 2004, titled, “The Party is Over“, and subtitled “How to exit from the petroleum-based economy“Today, it looks as if these things are a hundred years old. How was it that there was an age in which you could express this kind of subversive thoughts in public and be given some space in the media? And how could we delude ourselves into thinking that we could have convinced that nebulous entity called “humanity” that we were running out of our natural resources, crude oil in the first place? Even more subversive, that we should reduce consumption and move to renewable sources before it was too late?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How we Became What we Despised. Turning the West into a New Soviet Union

How we Became What we Despised. Turning the West into a New Soviet Union

 
For everything that happens, there is a reason for it to happen. Even for turning the former Free World into something that looks very much like the old “Evil Empire,” the Soviet Union. I understand that this series of reflections will be seen as controversial, but I thought that this matter is important and fascinating enough to deserve a discussion.

It all started two years ago when we were asked to stay home for two weeks “to flatten the curve.” Two years later, we are looking, bewildered, at the wreckage around us and asking ourselves: ‘what the hell has happened?’

In such a short time, we found that our world had turned into something very similar to one that we used to despite. The old Soviet Union, complete with heavy-handed police, censorship of the media, criminalization of dissent, internal passports, and the state intruding on matters that, once, were thought to be part of every citizen’s private decision sphere.

Surprising, perhaps. But it is a rule of the universe that everything that happens has a reason to happen. The Soviet Union was what it was because there were reasons for it to be that. It was not an alien world populated by little green men. It was an empire similar to the Western one, just a little smaller, and it concluded its cycle a few decades before us. We can learn a lot from its story.

Dmitri Orlov, born in Russia, was among the first who noted the parallel path that the Western and the Soviet empire were following. His first book was titled “Reinventing Collapse” (2011). Let me propose to you an excerpt from the book where Orlov tells us of an event he experienced in St. Petersburg in the years just after the collapse of the Union…

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How much does it cost to buy a scientist? Less than you would imagine, and it is perfectly legal

How much does it cost to buy a scientist? Less than you would imagine, and it is perfectly legal

Not a long, long time ago, in a region not so far, far away, a private company decided to set up a CO2 extraction plant. The idea was to extract carbon dioxide from the ground and to use it to make effervescent soft drinks and things like that.  Yes, exactly the opposite of the “carbon capture and storage” (CCS) that we are supposed to do to combat global warming.When the story became known, the debate flared on the media. People and associations took sides against the new plant. The university was involved, and several scientists released interviews where they noted the contradiction of extracting CO2 instead of burying it. Fortunately, the public outrage was sufficient to force the regional government to stop the plan. The plant was not built and, with some luck, never will be.

All is well that ends well, but there is a detail in the story that you may find interesting. It happens that I know very well the university of the region I am talking about. In particular, there was a faculty member, a geologist, who was supposed to be an expert on the geological properties of the area where the CO2 extraction was supposed to take place. He was a person who could criticize the story from a soundly based scientific viewpoint. But, during the debate, curiously, he remained silent. And, perhaps not so curiously, I discovered that he had accepted a research grant from exactly that company planning to extract CO2.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Secret of Propaganda: Teaching Obedience

The Secret of Propaganda: Teaching Obedience

A classic example of modern propaganda. It dates from the 1940s and it shamelessly exploits the principle of authority. Note that there is no proof or evidence that a majority of doctors smoked Camels more than any other cigarettes. And there is no proof or evidence that, even if the claim were true, the doctors would be right. But the principle of authority works independently from data and truth and the campaign was a huge success. It is the great power of obedience.

Just a few days ago, I was a guest on a TV discussion on the usual subject* (practically, the only one being discussed nowadays).  At some moment, the discussion veered on propaganda, and the host** said something like, “but isn’t it strange that Germany fell so easily for the Nazi propaganda despite the fact that it was the most cultured society in Europe at that time?” And it dawned on me:

It was not despite. It was because.
Exactly that. Propaganda and education go hand in hand: they are one the consequence of the other. In an instant, my whole career as a teacher flashed in my mind. What are we teaching to our students? Plenty of things, of course, but mostly it is about trusting the authority. Obedience, in one word. 
I experimented at times with the opposite approach, pushing my chemistry students to criticize their textbooks. Many of my students are smart fellows, some of them appreciated the idea, and sometimes they found errors that I hadn’t noticed myself. But most of them found the exercise an annoying interlude in their studies. They were not stupid, either…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Saga of Crude Oil. An Epic Story told by Douglas Reynolds

The Saga of Crude Oil. An Epic Story told by Douglas Reynolds

The “bell curve” of oil production has been popularized together with the concept of “peak oil,” the point of the curve where the global crude oil production reaches its maximum, just before starting its irreversible decline. There is something universal in this curve that may describe much more than just the output of the oil industry. Have you ever tried to look at the curve in narrative terms? If you did, you may have noticed that it describes a typical heroic saga. The hero starts as a young hopeful, grows to be successful in his quest, then faces decline in old age. That’s the way the universe moves and it is not a coincidence that Douglas Reynolds chose the title of “An Energy Odyssey,” linking to Ulysses’ saga, for his recent book on the world cycle of peak oil. 

Every civilization has its founding saga. It is the story of a hero, or a group of heroes, who manage to overcome enormous difficulties, succeed in their task, and then fade slowly, enjoying the fruits of their efforts. The Sumerians had the story of Gilgamesh, the Greeks the Iliad and the Odyssey, Medieval Europe had Dante’s comedy, and there were many others.

What about us? We do not really have a saga that defines our civilization, except rather brutal ones that involve the bombing to smithereens of the enemies of democracy. Perhaps it is because our society is unlike any of the past ones: it was not created by heroes, but it grew over the availability of cheap and abundant sources of energy that no society ever had in the past: fossil fuels.
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Collapsing by Doubling Down: How Leaders Create Their Own Ruin

Collapsing by Doubling Down: How Leaders Create Their Own Ruin

Napoleon won all the battles he engaged in, up to Borodino (1812), which was a non-victory, equivalent to a loss. From then, on it was all downhill from him. Napoleon had engaged in a task too big even for him: invading Russia. It is typical of successful leaders to use the doubling down strategy that leads them to a rapid collapse in their career — another manifestation of the Seneca Cliff. 

Gnaeus Pompeius (Pompey) was a very successful leader during the final years of the ancient Roman republic. Isaac Asimov told his story in 1971, noting a curious detail. Pompey was successful in everything he did up to a fateful day, in 61 BCE. From then on, everything he did was a failure until he was assassinated in Egypt, in 48 B.C. Half-jokingly, Asimov suggested that Pompey’s reversal of fortunes coincided with having desecrated the temple of Jerusalem, that he had just conquered.

Even without desecrating anything, it is a constant of history that “invincible” leaders tend to end their days in the dust after a stellar career. Another case, centuries after Pompey, is that of Napoleon Bonaparte. He won every battle he was involved in until, in 1812, his army faced the Russians at Borodino. Maybe it was a victory, but it weakened Napoleon so much that he didn’t win any more battles again.

There are many more examples. Think of Adolf Hitler: successful in everything he did, until his ill-fated decision of attacking the Soviet Union in 1941 (same mistake as Napoleon). Or of Benito Mussolini. Everything he did was a success up to when he engaged Italy in WWII as an ally of Germany….

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The Rise and Fall of Scientism. Do we Need a new Religion?

The Rise and Fall of Scientism. Do we Need a new Religion?

What is religion, exactly? Hieratic monks singing their hymns? Fanatics performing human sacrifices? Old ladies praying the rosary? Pentecostals speaking in tongues? It is all that and more. And it is not something we can ignore. Religions are not old superstitions, but part of the way the human mind works. They are communication tools designed to build empathy in society. 

You surely noted how a new religion is being born right in front of our eyes. It includes a complete set of sacrifices, canons, saints, prayers, and competition of good and evil. It does not officially include the belief in an all-powerful God, but it worships an abstract entity called “Science.” We may define it as “Scientism.”

I am not a religious person, not at all. But I recognize that religion can be a good thing. It is a life hack that gives you a moral compass, a code of behavior, a social purpose, a certain dignity, and support as you go along the various passages of life. For some, it also provides a path to something higher than the mere human experience in this world. So, I am not surprised that many people have embraced Scientism with enthusiasm.

The problem is that there are evil aspects of religion. Witch hunts, human sacrifices, fanatic cultists, the Spanish inquisition, suicide bombers, and more. Even moderate religions, such as Christianity, can be perfectly evil when they try to scare you into submission, or use force or deception for the same purpose.

So, what kind of religion is Scientism, good or evil? As for everything that moves through the vast virtual entity that we call the “memesphere,” it keeps changing and adapting to an evolving situation in which humankind is facing enormous challenges, from resource depletion to ecosystem collapse…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Science, Forests, Bears, and Clouds

Science, Forests, Bears, and Clouds

Last night at sunset, a big chill, dark red clouds to the west. And the half moon, above the black cypress trees to the right, silhouetted against the fire of the dying sun.

Below  Bellosguardo, that silent little wall where sometimes a black cat walks, and to the left you can see the snow on the mountains, and, below, the city of the old enemy, Fiesole….

We go up towards Marignolle, and Marco recites to me the verses of the mad poet, Dino Campana:

To the ghostly garden of mute laurels

To the green garlands

To the autumnal earth

A final greeting!

Walking between the silent walls that hide the secrets of an occult city, we arrive at the villa of the ancient family.

From one end of the great hall, Abraham looks at us in an eighteenth-century painting, as he prepares to sacrifice Isaac; from the other end, the ancestor of the family looks at us in a portrait, and has the same beard and the same look (and faith) as Abraham. And between the two, the menorah, on the wooden sideboard that bears the date MDCXXXVII engraved on it.

We gathered to hear Anastasija Makarieva, black hair, almond-shaped blue eyes and high cheekbones, from the Institute of Nuclear Physics in St. Petersburg. An institution heir to that other half of the world, which not only managed to build Soviet atomic bombs from scratch, but explored worlds unknown to Westerners.

Anastasija (with the accent on the “i”) doesn’t deal with atomic bombs at all, but with forests.

We’ve all heard of the forests of the Amazon, but we never talk about the perhaps even larger ones that stretch from the Baltic to the Pacific.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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