2020 InfoMullet Year in Review

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TLDRUpFront: Our 2020 coverage began in January with the death of General Soleimani, Impeachment, and COVID19 and continued through domestic unrest, the Presidential election and a few wars overseas. So catch up with what you may have missed with the Top 15 InfoMullet Blog Posts & YouTube Clips of the year by popularity. Also check out the “Editor’s Pick” for the most important Blog Post & YouTube Clip of the year, the Most UnderReported Event of 2020, and the Most Useful Advice of 2020.


Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear. But the road ahead isn’t much better. 



In 2019, as I went into my All-But-Dissertation phase of PhD I had three career paths: seek tenure-track professorship at a University focusing on studying violence & instability with system dynamics; seek employment at a government think tank like Sandia National Laboratories, or start my own consulting firm.  I chose the last in part because I felt that in the “years ahead” I wanted to have the freedom and independence to be seen, heard, and felt in the market place of ideas. I just didn’t realize that those “years ahead” would arrive as soon as 2020.  Despite my firm getting crushed in the first wave of COVID19, and myself getting infected and hospitalized, I’m still glad I chose this path. Although I’ve been doing the InfoMullet and it’s predecessor version in various forms going back to 2002 – this year was the first year where I really felt that making our voices heard wasn’t just a matter of analysis and commentary, but an essential act of humanity in these times where it seems so often we’re losing the humanity around us.  And if I were to sum up one quote that for me encapsulates what 2020 was like for myself, it would be this, which I wrote in early April:

“Be three months in the future to prepare people two weeks ahead of their today to help them navigate policy choices made by those two weeks behind.”

Below are the Top 15 Blog Posts and YouTube Clips by popularity, followed by an “Editor’s Pick” (from yours truly) of what I thought the most important Blog Post and YouTube clip respectively were. It’s interesting to see how the lists differ.


The most popular blog posts focused more on providing deeper context and forecasts than the YouTube clips. Obviously a majority ended up relating to COVID19, but the first two parts of our three part investigation into systemic misconduct in gaming organizations also ranked very highly. Breaking down archetypes and methodologies of asymmetric conflict also were very popular.

15          Trump Brings in Closer November 22nd, 2020 (SATIRE)

Washington, DC (AP) With his lead attorney in quarantine and after Saturday’s dismissal of a key lawsuit President Trump brought in a renowned ‘closer’ to shore up his post-loss election campaign.

14          Ashes to Ashes (pt3 of 4) March 31st, 2020

TLDRUpFront: The third of a four-part series as the United States, and the world, begins tipping-over from COVID-19. As worries about pandemic related violence and instability increase the InfoMullet forecasts the next 12 months across six types of violence. Unlike the pandemic or the economy, our forecast of violence is positive with declining rates in 5 of 6 categories. But the reasons why are counter-intuitive and expose common misunderstandings of the causes of violence in public perception.

13          Coda to Act I & Intro to Act II in the Aftermath of Soleimani January 9th, 2020

TLDRUpFront: A week out now’s a good time to review what’s happened in the aftermath of the strike against Soleimani. In this post I walk through how erroneous mental-models caused so many to miss Iran’s de-escalation signals, what those signals were, and leveraging what we now know to make a forecast of what may happen next.

12          A Backgrounder on General Soleimani   January 3rd, 2020

TLDRUpFront: A quick backgrounder on General Soleimani, commander of Iranian’s special forces and cornerstone of Iranian foreign policy, killed by a US military strike last night outside the Baghdad Airport. Possessing once-in-a-generation capabilities crossing military strategy and diplomacy both across state and non-state actors. Removing him creates a question as hard to answer as asking ‘what course the American Revolution would take if Washington and Franklin had been killed by  the British during the war?’ No one knows what happens next.

11          CoronaVirus Mass Ejection        January 26th, 2020

TLDRUpFront:  The outbreak of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan province of China has resulted in 2,000 confirmed cases and as many as ten times that number may remain undiagnosed. China has quarantined 50M people in an effort to halt the spread even as the country is on the move for the New Years. As alarming as all this sounds – its important to understand the structure within which viruses operate and take this information in context. We’ve included links to two analytics dashboards tracking both confirmed cases and risk of contagion, as well as an interactive educational simulation of a virus’s behavior.

10          Canceling OK is the Wrong Approach – Here’s a Better Idea February 12th, 2020

TLDRUpFront: The OK hand-sign meaning “white power” started as a hoax but became self-fulfilling as hate groups began appropriating the ubiquitous hand sign. In response some seeking to counter hate-speech are trying to cancel OK, and though the concern about radical or violent non-state actors is legitimate, the approach of canceling is in this case wrong. The battle over OK is one worth fighting for. And understanding how to win it can shed light on effective strategies for countering hate-speech in other areas as well.

9            Principles of Unrestricted Warfare         July 29th, 2020

TLDRUpFront: As China continues to exert pressure on multiple fronts its important to understand a tenet of their strategic doctrine. “Unrestricted Warfare” advances a state-actor strategy of asymmetric conflict based on the principle of additive complexity that seeks to cause a seizure of complex systems. The strategy seeks to bridge combat power disparity between two conventional actors. But it’s inherent asymmetry has seen it’s tenets increasingly adopted by both civil and violent non-state actor protests and leaderless resistance movements globally. The full text is publicly available and reproduced here with limited commentary on the eight key principles

8            The Dictator’s Dilemma – Hong Kong Case Study              March 30th, 2020

TLDRUpFront: Even as the wildfire of COVID19 rages we look ahead to what the world will look like after the first wave. Originally published in November, the Dictator’s Dilemma uses the Hong Kong protests to illustrate a crucial dynamic: how small initial calls for reform over legitimate grievances can escalate into mass civil protests, violent street battles, and instability. Understanding the Dictator’s Dilemma helps understand a dynamic that will repeat in the world that emerges from the first wave of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

7            Pocket full of Posies (pt2 of 4)   March 23rd, 2020

TLDRUpFront: The second of a four-part series as the United States, and the world, begins tipping-over from COVID-19. The next nine days are going to be hairy. This InfoMullet focuses on the intermediate economic impact preparing the mental model of readers for what’s going to become apparent between now and March 31st .

6            Leaked internal White House report indicates concern they’ve spent last year trying to undermine the Democratic candidate least capable of winning an election. February 13th, 2020 (SATIRE)

An AP Reporter assigned to the press pool in the White House has obtained an internal document indicating new tensions in the West Wing arising from President Trump’s 2020 election campaign.

5            Was it Sam Adams or Black Lives Matter?           May 29th, 2020

TLDRUpFront: During protests, riots, or other actions amateur-historians contrast “these” actions to “those” actions of our Founding Fathers leading to the American Revolution. This InfoMullet quiz challenges our understanding that pre-Revolutionary agitators were any less radical than their modern equivalents. If he were alive today, Sam Adams might share more common cause with Black Live Matters than the so-called “patriot” groups appropriating his name and likeness, if not his radical legacy.

4            Ring Around the Rosies (pt1 of4)            March 21st, 2020

TLDRUpFront: The first of a four-part series as the United States, and the world, begins tipping-over from COVID-19. The next ten days are going to be hairy. This InfoMullet tries to prepare the mental model of readers for what’s to come by making several forecasts of what happens between now and March 31st, and what we can do to mentally prepare and organize for what comes after.

3            Revealing MESconduct (pt1 of 3): Balancing survivor privacy, community education, and community safety concerns.           September 22nd, 2020

TLDR UPFront:Part 1 of a 3-part series on revealing serious misconduct in volunteer-run organizations within the gaming community. Part 1 focuses on the tension between survivor privacy, community education, and community safety in handling sensitive information and our methods.

2            Revealing MESconduct (pt2 of 3): Investigations & Lessons Learned             October 20th, 2020

TLDRUPFront: A review of 11 alleged perpetrators and 180 accusations of misconduct across six pools investigated 2016-2018 in a volunteer gaming organization. Each pool describes the warning signs, challenges, and lessons learned from the investigation of the type of reported misconduct volunteer organizations face.  (Because of the need to cover the Presidential election fallout and COVID19 Wave 2 we’ve pushed back Part 3 into Q1 of 2021.)

1            Adjusting our Mental-Model of COVID-19           March 2nd, 2020

TLDRUpFront: A growing fear in the United States is that COVID-19 may kill millions. This fear is based on an incomplete mental-model of how viruses work fed by COVID-19 reporting that highlights facts in isolation from context and triggering our cognitive biases in how we evaluate risk. This InfoMullet provides a mental model for understanding virus contagions, even within uncertainty, to help understand a variety of scenarios in the United States. The scenarios forecast COVID-19 remains a cause for concern, especially among vulnerable populations, but not panic. Especially when that panic leads to actions that are harmful to self and the community.

Countdown Top 15 YouTube Clips

I’ve put together a playlist of these which can be found here: TOP 15 YOUTUBE PLAYLIST

Unlike the blog posts – national coverage dominated the YouTube clips. Partly this is because every time I cover a country, their nationalists come out of the woodwork to tell me I’m wrong. And although foreign conflicts in Ethiopia, Libya, Armenia & Azerbaijan and other nations featured prominently, the long-running conflict I’ve had with Sweden Nationalists over their failed pandemic response of Induced Herd Immunity plays out across the most popular playlist.

15          My Moderate Case of COVID19  May 2nd, 2020

Even my “Moderate” case of COVID19 resulted in a 5-day hospital stay and weeks of slow recovery. Of course being an analyst I logged my experiences and created charts! COVID19 is not “like the flu”, it’s a novel virus that defies simple comparisons.

14          Context for the Armenian v Azerbaijan War              October 10th, 2020

Helping explain the century long background of conflict between Armenian and Azerbaijan.

13          The Dictator’s Dilemma June 4th, 2020 (Mullet Clipping)

A shorter version, focused just on the Dictator’s Dilemma archetype, from the longer Full Episode below.

12          Sweden has canceled complacency and the US should too. November 18th, 2020 (Full Episode)

The Thanksgiving holiday travel and shopping season is beginning this weekend. Right as Wave 2 continues to climb in the United States. In Sweden, after months of making a death-pact with their first pandemic response strategy the country has finally taken necessary steps to try and contain the outbreak.  Whether they will be adopted or not after such a protracted effort to misinform the public on the risks of the pandemic will be a good test of the vaunted Swedish “culture” of ready compliance to public health officials. Such measures are unlikely in the US, unfortunately, and even if they were made significant portions of the population would not comply.

11          Media Literacy: Recognizing Explanatory Truths April 11th, 2020

A quick overview of three different kinds of truths, and their utility in evaluating information about complex systems. Use this information to better evaluate the news sources you’re reading and whether the theories they offer are rigorous to scrutiny. (This is also the Editor’s Pick for YouTube clip – see below for why!)

10          Can the President Delay the Election? What happens if there’s no election?       May 27th, 2020

Shortly after the Wisconsin election in May, a Mulleteer asked the question on whether the Presidential Election could be delayed, and if it was what were the Constitutional scenarios and risks of instability.

9            Ethiopian Civil War         November 18th, 2020

The escalating tensions in Ethiopia in the Tigray Region have grown into a civil war. Ethiopian federal forces are seeking to advance on Mekele and Tigray has launched ballistic missiles at Ethiopia’s capital Amsara in an attempt to draw their traditional rivals into the conflict, and potentially stave off a rumored military intervention. Sudan and Egypt also have interests in the conflict as they are in the midst of tense negotiations over the Grand Renaissance Dam. Although not in the direct region of fighting, the construction of the Dam has caused diplomatic instability in the region for several years and may get pulled in as a bargaining chip as the African Union calls for a ceasefire.

8            Seeing the Iceberg – the systemic funnel of disparate policing June 10th, 2020

One of 11 clips in a series called #SeeTheIceberg. This clip starts the series by presenting the concept of an “iceberg” of systemic disparity in policing. We may only see the ‘tip’ of the iceberg, when police shoot unarmed Blacks. But the reality is an entire funnel and pipeline of disparate police interactions lead to that outcome. Subsequent clips examined the role municipal courts and fine-based policing play in creating the iceberg. As well I covered some of the more common “well what about?” questions that come up. Check out the whole #SeeTheIceberg playlist!  

7            Turkey Creates New Crisis in Mediterranean              September 4th, 2020

I’m here to tell you that the international affairs in the Mediterranean have me concerned. And it’s not often I get concerned in international affairs. We need to be paying more attention to what’s going on. Turkey’s territorial ambitions across the Mediterranean, just like China’s ambitions in the South China Sea, are going to be major foreign policy issues the next President is going to have to address.

6            Egypt Threatens Intervention into Libyan Civil War (JUNE 2020)       June 24th, 2020

An update on Turkey’s intervention into Libya that risked drawing in regional actors such as Egypt into the Libyan Civil War.

5            Our Dictator’s Dilemma June 3rd, 2020 (Full Episode)

This full episode, recorded just days after the Battle of Lafayette Park where President Trump illegally deployed Federal law enforcement and military personnel against peaceful protesters covers a range of crucial issues. I walked through the Dictator’s Dilemma system structure, originally explained in a case study of Hong Kong (see Blog Post #8 above) and how it applied to the #BlackLivesMatter protests and President’s/Governors actions. I also did Legal & Constitutional analysis on President Trump’s attempt to designate domestic terror groups and invoke the Insurrection Act. It was a jam packed episode delivered at a time when all of us were uncertain which way the DoD would go.

4            MulletClipping: Comparing COVID19 Respones US Sweden Germany and South Korea         July 25th, 2020

Comparing per capita death rates and infection rates show how the US and Sweden are performing worse against their peers for failing to select the right pandemic response.

3            New Research on Sweden Shows No Herd Immunity Gained  August 28th, 2020

The herd immunity strategy wasn’t limited to Sweden. But Sweden is the case study of the country that chose a path that if you were going to see herd immunity, it would be there. And in an alternate universe, Sweden may have made the best choice. In an alternate universe Charles XII may have captured Moscow and defeated Peter the Great. But that’s not the universe we live in. Any pandemic response, whether it’s the US “thoughts and prayers”,Swedish approach of herd immunity, any national strategy – you cannot make a death-pact with your first strategy. You have to be willing to change and adjust it based off the evidence.

2            Comparing COVID19 National Responses Sweden US Germany South Korea    August 13th, 2020

Part of Sweden’s benefit is that the neighborhood it’s in is managing the pandemic much better than Sweden is. So there’s no reservoir to reinfect Sweden from its neighboring countries. But the problem in the US is we have a lot of reinfection reservoirs regionally. So as we lower the outbreak in one area, we get reinfected from another. And that’s the real challenge for the US in Wave 1.5.

1            Ceasefire in Armenian v Azerbaijan War November 18th, 2020

As forecast, the Armenian v. Azerbaijan war has ended with a ceasefire that yields the territorial holdings of the autonomous Republic of Artsakh to Azerbaijan. Armenian residents have until December 1st to exit the enclave into Armenia. Both Russia and Turkey have sent troops into the disputed region to secure the ceasefire. This continues the role both regional hegemons played leading up to and during the war itself.


Editor’s Pick: Favorite Blog Post

I selected my favorite blog post for three criteria. It wasn’t the accepted wisdom at the time, it foresaw events no one could’ve predicted, and demonstrated utility even in those unusual conditions. The blog post was Canceling OK is the Wrong Approach – Here’s a Better Idea from February 12th, 2020.  I know February seems like a lifetime ago but this was before we realized COVID19 was about to hammer the United States, before the protest movements erupted. And although we’d been dealing with violent non-state actors and hate groups, the concern wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it became during the election. So doing an article on “asymmetric communication strategies” full of technical details may have been a bit of a stretch. But since publication I’ve continued to receive feedback from readers who have been able to employ these tactics successfully against hate groups. And we saw a global test when the #ProudBoys hash-tag was “counter-reified” in epic fashion after the Presidential debate.

Editor’s Pick: Favorite YouTube Video

Media Literacy: Recognizing Explanatory Truths April 8th, 2020

This video clip means a lot to me. It was filmed on April 8th, 2020. Although viewers weren’t aware the time I began experiencing the onset of COVID19 symptoms just as I went on air. I was completely nauseous the whole time I filmed with a finger hovering over the disconnect button. Eight days later I would be heading into the hospital for a five-day stay. But the topic of this clip is also, in retrospect, perhaps one of the most important ones I’ve done this year. In it I try and lay out a method of recognizing what I call “Explanatory Truths.”  These are truths in the complex systems we live in that, even though we may never be able to logically prove them without a doubt (like an essential truth), or empirically prove them through repeated experiments (like an objective truth) are the kinds of truths that are most important for guiding our lives and making decisions. And in an environment rife with disinformation and shoddy reasoning skills – knowing how to evaluate and identify a useful explanatory truth is probably the most important contribution I could make. And delivering this nugget of philosophy while sick from the pandemic is definitely one of my most #OutlawPhilosopher plays of the year.

Editor’s Pick: Must UnderCovered Event of 2020

Without a doubt the most overlooked and under-covered event of 2020 for me was the near unanimous rebuke of President Trump by senior military leadership the evening of June 3rd. It was around 8:15pm, just hours after I concluded the live broadcast of “Our Dictator’s Dilemma” episode (see above), and only two days after the President had threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act after Lafayette Park. I was formatting it for YouTube when I began seeing the breaking news: first from the Secretary of Defense. And then in a blizzard came official statements from all the Joint Chiefs of Staff (who are also the Chiefs of Staff of the Services), Service Secretaries, Senior NCO of the Services and even the most recently-former Secretary of Defense. This unified wall of military leadership made a very clear statement to President Trump that in threatening to invoke the Insurrection Act he had gone too far, and they would clearly neither support nor follow such an order if it came.  Although most civilians may have overlooked this – what it did was set a clear line. If the President was going to invoke the Insurrection Act, he’d have to fire the entire leadership of the US Armed Forces to implement it.  And this line held for the rest of the year up to and through the threats by the President’s followers that he should use the military to overturn the 2020 Presidential election.

Editor’s Pick: Most Useful Advice

As a system scientist I began seeing what was about to unfold in mid-March. During the week of March 16th several system scientists associated and flowing around the Santa Fe Institute of Complexity Science Facebook group began conversing in chat. “Are you seeing this? Tell me I’m seeing this wrong?” And we were all seeing the same thing.  I can crystalize to an exact moment, Friday evening March 20th, when I realized what was about to happen to the United States in regards to COVID19, and how badly it would effect us.  The next morning I began a four part series trying to prepare readers for what was about to come. And buried in Ring Around the Rosies (pt1 of4)  (see above) were some practical advice on “Coping Strategies for When You’re Watching the World Go to Shit.”  These were techniques I learned while deployed in Afghanistan and I shared them as an afterthought to the main thrust of the post, but they became probably the most shared piece of practical advice that, I hope, has helped people cope with the last 8 months and the months we have ahead of us in 2021 as we continue to struggle through this pandemic.

  • Navigate your five stages of grief and don’t get stuck until you reach acceptance
  • Embrace the suck and don’t add to it
  • Recognize the Universe no longer Revolves Around Your Needs
  • Find meaning, then find humor, alternate and repeat.
  • Organize for Entertainment
  • Establish your Routines
  • Mind your Health
  • Ask for Help if you Need It
  • If you need to scream at the universe do so.