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We have seen some spectacular examples of herd behavior in 2020. They remind one of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, first published in 1841, Charles Mackay’s account of four infamous financial manias. But the 2020 versions, such as anti-mask, actively endanger others.

Popular delusion is indeed the operative term but let me start with crowds and build up to this everyday pathology.

The most familiar example of herd behavior can be seen by looking up at birds flying in flocks. All it may take to organize that flock formation is an inborn tendency to stay surrounded by…


Contributed by Will Howard

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Many of the things that Trump says off-script do indeed sound incoherent — the ideas just don’t hang together, though he sounds more normal in a well-rehearsed two minutes of debate, as in reading a prepared answer. Here’s a transcript from early September that far exceeds the political norm for mere rambling:

If you get the unsolicited ballots, send it in and then go, make sure it counted, and if it doesn’t tabulate, you vote. Just vote. And then if they tabulate it very late, which they shouldn’t be doing, they’ll see you voted and so…


The only form of climate action that anyone seems to talk about — most experts included — is emissions reduction, the equivalent of going on a carbon diet. A familiar analogy is “cutting back to one pack a day.” It is an action to prevent trouble; often, once problems develop, treatment demands a different type of action.

It sounds logical — and it was, 50 years ago, before overheating began 45 years ago. We should, however, have been suspicious of it as a main strategy because diets so often fail. As this one has. …


While our climate problem has fossil fuel emissions as its root cause, it also has knock-ons such as extreme weather. These secondary processes may threaten civilization on a much faster time scale than does the underlying overheating. Here I evaluate this risk landscape and what it implies for effective climate action.

Surges in five types of extreme weather a decade ago

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Note that in the US, most of the big wind and rain events are east of the Rocky Mountains, in the region where cooler, denser Arctic air meets the warm, moist air mass of the monsoon circulation from the Gulf of Mexico, producing frontal systems. The fires are to the west. The hurricanes, however, are not sustained by occluded frontal systems in the manner of severe storms; hurricanes spiral because they can suck heat out of warm surface waters.

The extreme weather of the last twenty years has featured five sustained surges, where an aspect of extreme weather suddenly got much worse. And stayed that way. None have flipped back.


Your country may need you.

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There are unparalleled challenges facing us within the next twenty years, if only from extreme weather surges and the sea level rise that threatens all coastal cities. The usual occupational backgrounds[1] for those serving in Congress are heavily weighted toward law and business; they often worked their way up through serving in local government and state legislatures.

Nearly all members of Congress have college degrees, many have advanced degrees; they are not lacking in broad educational backgrounds. Nor do they lack experience, as their average age is about 60.

Our prospects, however, suggest that government…


Contributed by Will Howard

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[WH: This is Part Two of Destabilizing America. It uses parody, which may feature statements the opposite of what the author values. Please do not quote out of that context.]

Machiavellian Strategies, Inc. Our motto is “Politics is a ruthless business, requiring leaders to do things their private conscience might abhor.”

__________SUPER CONFIDENTIAL _________

Report to client on manipulating the US to ensure continuation of client’s imported food supply following an American crop failure like the one Russia suffered in 2010

We first make the following observations about Trump’s spectacular success story, as they illustrate the manipulating opportunities far better than quoting from Niccolo Machiavelli 500 years ago. …


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As of summer, 2020. Kansas (KS) had a governor’s mask proclamation but nearly all counties opted out.

Will it become easier to get the public to follow expert advice before the next pandemic spreads out of control? Or will they become more likely to approve climate action against the five sustained surges in extreme weather that occurred about ten years ago?

Perhaps the public in some countries will, but recall that 70 million Americans still voted to re-elect a President who regularly ignored and belittled the experts in public, both for pandemic action and climate action. The cost of ignoring the pandemic for four months was quite visible throughout 2020 as we sheltered. Other countries were able…


Translating science into effective action has always been a complicated business. For technology transfer, it took two centuries before Newtonian physics spread to engineering safer bridges and buildings. It took two generations to ban smoking in crowded places. But occasionally there are dramatic results that ought to create respect for expertise.

Last spring, we worried about a double hit on hospitals when the flu season arrived in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, a “twindemic.” There was, of course, a chance that pandemic precautions would also reduce the flu load — indeed, Covid precautions seemed to cut short the 2019–20…


Contributed by Will Howard

I’m an analyst. To analyze something is to see below surface appearances, identify a system’s components and how they function, and then try reassembling the parts in one’s mind to see if that trial assembly achieves the observed functionality.

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Narcissists are a good choice for a puppet, given how easily they can be manipulated by flattery.

Some people suspect an evil genius behind a problem — or even a conspiracy of puppet masters. In this tale analyzing an American vulnerability, I start out doing exactly that — but only because it is such an easy path to get across the underlying functionality.

Scientists do this all the time, a famous example being the…


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Under what circumstances are you likely to be infected by a Covid carrier? The advice has changed since last March when, lacking experience with the Covid virus, the experts were giving generic advice based on what was important for the yearly influenza virus. Ten months later, we know that half of new Covid infections come from asymptomatic “carriers” that temperature-taking misses, that most of the spread is via aerosol microdroplets rather than surface transfers, that preventing super-spreader events is an important strategy, and we accept family-sized pods as exceptions to the six-foot rule (shared responsibility to keep the others healthy)…

William H. Calvin

Professor, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle. Author, “The great climate flip-flop” in The Atlantic, 16 books. President, CO2Foundation.org.

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