Superior Force: An Inferior Method Of Survival

What becomes of an empire as it sinks into a depraved desire to expand and, ultimately, survive at any cost? This is the question on my mind since I finished Orhan Pamuk’s tome Nights of Plague which some reviewers called a work in three genres: historical novel, murder mystery, and political allegory.

Pamuk lives and writes in Türkiye, rump of the once powerful Ottoman Empire. He’s often in trouble with his government for not depicting their antecedents splendidly enough — as for instance when he acknowledged the Armenian genocide and was placed under house arrest as a result. This time he’s accused of mocking Atatürk, the founder of modern Türkiye. But the events of his new novel, set as the Ottoman Empire sputters out, are as imaginary as its physical setting: an island besieged by bubonic plague.

It was impossible for me to read this book without noticing the many parallels to my own failing empire. 

When spying and surveillance become the way to hold on to power long after rulers have lost the confidence of the ruled, I think of the U.S. Not only informers but technology-based surveillance of every phone call (thank you, Edward Snowden), every email (no thank you, Google), and every social media post is the fuel our sputtering empire runs on. We’ve now seen firsthand evidence that Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other platforms are deeply infested by U.S. alphabet agencies like the CIA, FBI, and NSA — one might even say, controlled by them.

Fake news? Dying empires specialize in it. The inability to reflect on blunders and correct course is baked in to imperial hubris. This guarantees more mistakes and the kind of poor decisions that hasten one’s demise. For example, a series of failed wars in the Middle East and 800+ military outposts in other nations that are economically, morally, and environmentally unsustainable. Extreme weather events batter us while the empire continues pumping greenhouse gasses out at an alarming rate to maintain its self-appointed dominance. And funding failed rocket launches that trash the environment while government entities like the FAA look away.

Inability to manage public health in an atmosphere of suspicion and deliberate misinformation by governments who must proclaim their glory (whether D or R flavored) characterizes our day. When almost no one trusts government at all levels, the only way to get people to cooperate with it is through fear and intimidation. These methods are notoriously bad at promoting healthy outcomes.

Which brings us to torture.

A central conflict is Pamuk’s book is the tension between methods of solving a crime such as murder. The Ottoman method is to decide who the culprits are, then torture them until they confess. The Sherlock Holmes method (the reigning sultan is a fan) is to use deductive reasoning to discover the culprits. Our modern Turkish novelist paints these as “East” versus “West” and indeed this lens was prevalent at the turn of the 20th Century. But is that still accurate today?

Who bombed the Nord Stream pipeline? Only examine the obfuscation and determination not to know the answer to see what “the West” has come to. 

Where did SARS-CoV-2 come from? Many have concluded based on the evidence that it was invented in a lab especially its highly significant gain-of-function ability to be spread via aerosols. The U.S. government in particular has distinguished itself in spreading false information and in punishing those who offer a counter narrative, or even those who wonder aloud if the official narrative is plausible.

Julian Assange is the most visible victim of torture inflicted for telling the truth about U.S. war crimes. His torment is meant as a warning to us all: practice actual journalism and prepare to forfeit your freedom, your health, even your life. As the torturers signal their false respect for press freedom and journalists.

Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo stand as exemplars of torture regimes that even an Ottoman sultan would admire. But once instilling fear in others reaches the level of terrorizing, the information gained is practically worthless.  The cruelty of extraordinary rendition as a fishing expedition for possible future informants and infiltrators is a source of pride for the twisted individuals responsible.

Plausible deniability is also as U.S.ian today as it was once Ottoman. Pamuk’s sultan gets rid of political enemies by making sure they’re murdered far away from the capitol by agents whose actions cannot be traced back to the head of state. Similarly, the U.S./NATO proxy war on Russia via Ukraine has been a huge disinformation success. My venal senator Susan Collins just sent me email claiming we’re there to defend democracy (in one of the least democratic of European nations) and to respond to Russia’s “unprovoked” invasion of the Donbas region.

But sure let’s keep claiming that Russia is the one shelling the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia that they’ve controlled for a year now. By refusing to see the truth that Ukraine is doing the shelling (with U.S. or NATO equipment), we also refuse to understand how to stave off a possible meltdown. 

Our hands are tied by our own lies.

When the application of force is seen as the solution to any and all problems, your society is bound to fail. Because many problems — like pandemics — cannot be solved by force. Education, persuasion, and confidence that leaders can make tough but beneficial public health decisions are the stuff of public health management. In their absence, the infection rages on.

Health Care Workers Who Won’t Get COVID Vax To Be Out Of A Job In Maine

My status updates on spybook seldom get much attention, but lately almost anything about COVID choices gets a lot of comments and clicks (and a gratuitous offer of COVID information I can trust? I’ll pass.) 

Yesterday I had a mildly shocking experience receiving health care and I posted this:

The context here in Maine is that our governor has given health care workers notice that, unless they are vaccinated, they will have to stop working in health care. 

If you think this should be a foregone conclusion, you haven’t been paying attention.

There have already been two protests in Maine cities with hundreds of health care workers marching for their right to get up close and personal to administer health care without being vaccinated.

I have persistently shared my theory that the underlying purpose of COVID was to divide the 99% against one another so that the 1% can continue their reign of austerity for us and obscene wealth for them. That, too, has gotten a lot of clicks and shares so it will probably be taken down as misinformation soon (read it here while you can).

Many of the comments I cannot agree with, but I let the debates rage on because

I’m genuinely curious to know how other people understand this health crisis and the optimum ways to respond.

Both right wingers and liberals tend to be really nasty with the name-calling, insults, and generalized lack of respect for other people. I think that’s sad and I never “like” that kind of language. Every genocide and civil war begins with dehumanizing language aimed at “others.”

I am reminded of a theory I encountered recently: holding demonstrably false ideas in public is a way of signaling loyalty to your group, thus conferring an evolutionary advantage. If true, this explains a lot. Especially how 45 became more popular with his fan base for tweeting lies that everyone knew were lies. If you want to check out this theory, you can read about it here.

A ubiquitous comment from both sides wonders how the others could be so stupid.

This is an ableist comment unless what they really mean is ignorant. No, stupid and ignorant aren’t synonyms. One means unable to use reasoning well and the other means lacking information. People with developmental delays in cognition are not uneducated but they are differently abled. As for what happened with public education in the U.S., don’t get me started.

An anecdote from pre-COVID days:

I once learned how to use an app for making online quizzes. Another learner and I took a sample quiz where one of the math questions depended on knowing the order of operations i.e. PEMDAS. The other learner doubted the answer and it bugged them enough that they brought it up to me later. I explained why I thought it was the right answer using PEMDAS and then added, “______ was a math major and is our IT director so I’m pretty sure if he and I disagree about the answer to a math problem, he’s gonna be correct.” I could tell that this did not resolve the other learner’s skepticism. They trusted my answer — I was a literacy coach — more than his! Possibly because they had a closer relationship with me than with the IT director? Who really knows.

Distrust of experts — even in an education setting — has been with us for a while.

And it can be deadly. 

Maine legislator Rep. Chris Johansen continues to go into crowds unmasked and to fight vaccines and masking requirements for large gatherings despite the fact that both he and his wife contracted COVID. His wife died.

Then there’s the fact that the No Child Behind Act, passed with bipartisan support during George W. Bush’s adminstration, took an ax to both science and social studies education. It did this by preferencing reading and math for the test-and-punish regime that enriched for-profit testing corporations. Science clawed its way back via STEM and other intitiatives from the outside world, but much damage had  been done. And social studies has never really recovered. 

That explains a lot, too, doesn’t it? It’s clear how even many elected officials really don’t know the structures of government or understand their role in that structure. Once big money controlled all three branches of government at the federal level, and many if not all state legislatures, the old civics lesson on “how a bill becomes a law” became a lie anyway.

It would probably be elitist of me to point out that it isn’t doctors or registered nurses (RN) refusing to get vaccinated for the most part. 

Here in Maine it’s the much less educated health care providers who are the refuseniks e.g. certified nursing assistants (CNAs), lab technicians, hospital kitchen workers, group home attendants, and the like.

My sister works at the leading research hospital in northern California as an RN and has for years. I value her information and advice because so far it has been ahead of the curve i.e. the intel that she passes on from the epidemiologists at her hospital anticipates what eventually the CDC gets around to recommending. I’m guessing this is because UCSF researchers care about health rather than about commerce, while the CDC must serve two masters.

Meanwhile, every school district in Maine — and there are a lot of them — has been thrown to the wolves to hold the line for science amid shouts, threats, and jeers of uneducated and/or ignorant parents.

Then there’s the big picture context.


Lies are the currency of the day. Big lies, ones that can kill you.

Well, after all this gloom and doom I feel moved to end on a lighter note. No idea who created this gem: