Monday, June 24, 2019

I'm quite mad you know.

After stephen (pissing-in-the-closet) harper was found to have won his majority government through election fraud (on an election that was called because of his demonstrated contempt of Parliament) I came up with a ludicrous notion of a campaign to force him to resign and have a new election called to be fought on the basis of respect for parliamentary democracy. It involved establishing the case that harper's right to govern over us was illegitimate; a months-long grassroots, door-to-door/in the streets, public outreach program asking people to join a campaign against harper, to an escalating series of protests, occupations and strikes.

I had this stupid belief that if you're going to ask why people aren't in the streets, "doing something" about harper, then you, yourself, should have a plan that you could suggest people try. Especially if (as it turned out) nobody else was really proposing anything. Obviously, trying to put meaning into the slogan "Educate! Organize! Resist!" was a completely moronic idea and saner heads prevailed. My proposal went nowhere.

[I've just recalled another instance of my pathological compulsion to put meaning into otherwise empty statements! And I blogged about it here but can't seem to find it. If I find it later I'll attach a link right "HERE." Anyway, I was on fazebock and someone posted a link to a news story about a current instance of police brutality in the USA. One of my fazebock frendz commented words very similar to "And the same thing will happen in Canada unless we do something." I asked him what he meant by "do something." He said that well, he wasn't qualified to make suggestions. I told him that as an adult citizen of Canada OF COURSE he was qualified, so what did he suggest? And he essentially said that we should all just keep pointing these things out and then a critical mass will develop and from out of that, SOMEBODY ELSE would suggest an actual plan. And then the problem would be addressed.]

So, as a result of the failure of my shit-for-brains strategy to stand-up against harper and his throrough abusing of our pseudo-democracy, and for a bunch of other asinine reasons (the inability of so many progressives to recognize that people such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau are monsters) (the way otherwise intelligent people allowed themselves to be swept-up in the utter insanity of "Russia-gate") I've become rather despondent lately.

"His mania for his mad schemes ending in (inevitable) frustration, the patient becomes listless, dissipated."

But, you know, at least I wasn't frothing at the mouth babbling about how the Left should actually DO SOMETHING rather than bloviate when we're faced with a challenge. At least I wasn't letting my delusions of omniscience cloud my mind and prevent me from realizing that petitioning corrupt psychopaths and holding afternoon rallies to DEMAND that our governments of corrupt psychopaths obey us OR ELSE NOTHING!!! really are productive exercises that achieve real results. It's just that I can't see these results and all the lefty-writing I read keeps saying how things are getting worse.

But sadly, I've had a relapse. As you know, Doug Ford got elected as premier of Ontario with a majority government. His election platform was practically non-existent (he'd put beer in corner stores and he'd cut taxes). But, to dispel the paranoid fears of all those centrists and leftwards voters he explicitly promised that nobody (presumably meaning those working for the provincial government) would lose their jobs.

Just like his dearly-departed, shit-for-brains, international laughingstock, homophobic, racist brother Rob had said (in the campaign for mayor of Toronto), Doug Ford essentially said that there were oceans of "gravy" of wasteful provincial spending (including municipal spending paid for with provincial transfers) that could be eliminated, thereby allowing him to provide tax-cuts and while still guaranteeing no cuts to provincial services.

Of course, everybody knew that this was bullshit. Everyone knew that upon becoming premier, Doug would pretend to find BILLIONS more provincial debt than the previous Liberal government had said there was; and that he therefore HAD NO CHOICE but to enact painful cuts. (But, obviously, he would still carry out his tax-cuts because those would spur economic growth ... except that they don't.) And, what makes this even more nauseating is that (as I said above) this all happened with his brother Rob and his yammering about all the "gravy" at Toronto City Hall. Rob Ford paid a bunch of outside consultants to go over the city's accounts and they informed him that there wasn't a lot of waste at all. Maybe he could fire the gardener who watered the plants on city property. Then the city could save about $100,000 and have a bunch of pots filled with dead ferns to show the public, but that was about it. Shamelessly, even though Doug Ford went through this exact same process 8 years ago, he was now imposing this insanity on the province, on Toronto, and every other municipality in Ontario, stupidly babbling about how he'll give them time and outside help to let them balance their budgets.

I could go on about Doug Ford's cruelty and stupidity and the genuine dangers for the future health of the people of Ontario but it's not hard to find other sources that can tell that story. Many of those other sources are written by the same sorts of people who fulminated about stephen harper for nine fucking years without ONCE proposing any serious plan to get rid of him. Even after he was found guilty of contempt of Parliament and exposed as having committed election fraud.

Yes! Yes! You can sense that my madness is consuming me once more! You're right! I'm quite mad you know! I'm convinced that a premier with such a sickening, dangerous agenda, elected by morons on a campaign of stupidity and lies, and who has a disapproval rating of 75%, SHOULD AND CAN be taken down. If only progressives could stir themselves to take steps to do so. Call me crazy. (That's what I'm doing.)

Apparently somebody on Fazebock called for a "general strike" against Doug Ford on May 1st, which was then about a week or two away. (I'm hazy on the timeline but I know it wasn't a great deal of time.) In response, literally thousands of people in cities across the province had their little rallies. Thousands of people! In a province of 13.6 MILLION. Or (to put it another way) 1,000's out of 13,600,000. In other words; "the usual suspects" plus dozens more. I went to a union rally the day before at Queen's Park to "defend" public health care. This "defense" consisted of the usual rigamarole of busing-in thousands of union members who got the day off to stand on the Queen's Park lawn and listen to criticisms of government policies and shout "SHAME!!!" every once in a while for a couple of hours and then, when it's wrapping-up, somebody announces how "We've sent the Premier a message today!" as well as instructing people to take the "struggle" back with them to wherever it is they're going.

As I've been saying for this entire post, I'm so bonkers that I see such obviously productive activism as an almost complete waste of time! And, furthermore, being the megalomaniac that I am, I feel compelled to force my harebrained schemes for doing something else upon innocent fellow progressives since I'm blind to the genuine, focused, strategically brilliant activism going on all around me.

And so, in yet another bout of frenzied, maniacal delusion, I concocted [once again] a plan to go beyond the [inarguably] brilliant strategy of whining on the internet and milling about in peaceful crowds on a public square shouting "SHAME!" for an afternoon.

It should go without saying that the fruits of my labours were stupid and insane. They don't even bear talking about if the subject is serious "resistance" to a dangerous, cruel, deluded government. But since the topic is how mad I am, I'll regale you with the wacky details:

  1. Write an "omnibus petition" demanding that Doug Ford cancel his entire agenda of destructive policies
  2. Have all the activists all across the province who would ordinarily turn-out for an anti-Ford rally (anti-poverty activists, union activists, parents of autistic children, public transit advocates, environmentalists, etc.,) and have them actually go [in pairs for moral support] to the people (pedestrians on the street/door-to-door to people in their homes) armed with the petition, information about how Doug Ford's policies hurt ordinary Ontarians, and a questionnaire. [Estimate that in Toronto perhaps 3,000 to 5,000 out of 2.7 million people. Hamilton, 300-500 people. Sudbury 100-300. etc.,]
  3. The questionnaire will be used to gauge the level of support for action against Doug Ford's agenda, up to and including participation in a province-wide general strike. It also includes circulating the petition themselves among family, friends, co-workers, going door-to-door themselves to try to build a "snowball effect."
  4. Have the petition completed by the summer. Ontario has 13.6 million people. It has 10.2 million eligible voters. Ford's disapproval rating is 75%. Imagine the impact of a petition with 6-7 million names calling on Ford to cease and desist?
  5. To the extent that Ford tries to ignore the petition conduct protests, occupations, etc., while calling outright for a general strike. 
  6. If Ford's response to the petition and the protests is disappointing enough (say, by October), set a date for a general strike. (Perhaps the end of November?) Have people told to wear something signifying their willingness to participate in a general strike. Make it known that employers who punish workers for participating in a general strike will bring down a world of hurt upon themselves. Communicate to the business-class that supports Ford that they should tell their boy to stand-down.
  7. Have the general strike. See what happens. 

Now, obviously, I can understand why an ordinary person (like the healthy, well-adjusted ignoramuses I described in my last post) would find this absolutely insane from the get-go. But these stupid fuckers will be found pumping the last drops of gasoline from the pumps into their SUVs to try to flee the apocalypse that global warming will bring to them in a few years. Obviously their first reaction to all of this all at once is going to be a mixture of incomprehension and vague disapproval.

What surprised me (and only because I'm insane and couldn't have known better) is that anti-poverty, pro-labour movement activists would look at my plan and also find it completely ridiculous, without a shred of credibility, rotten nonsense from start-to-finish. You know; so CRAZY that the best response is no response at all. I mean, where to begin? Right? An all-encompassing petition? Going out and talking to people to educate them and find out where they stand? Introducing a concept like a "general strike" and getting as many ordinary people to warm-up to the idea first? What's a sane person supposed to do when faced with such drivel?

Last time (with my anti-harper stupidity) I reached out to groups like the Council of Canadians, precisely because they were NOT fire-breathing socialist radicals, but, rather, the sorts of ordinary, white bread, "respectable" Canadians who make up the bulk of our population that I felt were needed to construct an actual mass-movement. But (besides being insane) I guess my plan was also too militant for such gentle souls. So this time I decided to bring my plan first to a local anti-poverty activist who has decades of experience. He's done lots of good work on issues of housing and benefits for poor people and from his fazebock posts and other writings is a genuine socialist.

So I sent him a simple message saying that I was calling him out of the blue but I wondered if I could have 30 minutes of his time to lay-out a plan to stop Doug Ford. He said sure. Meet next week at this restaurant. Great. The day before the meeting he messages to apologize that he's sick. Can't make it. No problem I say. Get well soon. (From his fazebock activity I got the impression that he wasn't sick but that's probably my insanity talking.) So a week goes by and I message to ask if he's feeling better and can we meet. (I also take the time to explain in greater detail who I am, about my anti-harper ideas and their fate, and why I've reached out to him personally.) He says sure. So we meet and I spew-out the same gibbering insanity I've described above.  He says it sounds good and he'll bring it up to his organization at their next meeting. That's all I could expect from him at that point so I thanked him and said goodbye.

More than a week goes by. I message and ask him if there's been any response to my idea. He tells me the group had just met the day before I spoke to him and meets up every two-weeks. He'll be bringing it up the coming Tuesday. Well, that Tuesday was over a week ago and nothing. I didn't even bother to enquire. As is the point of this post, I'm dimly aware that I'm mad. Quite mad. Starkers. So bonkers that I came up with a political campaign that is so stupid that it should have gone without saying. Obviously I'm too fucked-up to understand exactly WHY it's ridiculous, but I'm able to read the embarrassed silences of others to know that in some way it's totally irredeemable. Total shit, through-and-through. The poor man has wasted enough of his time listening to my ravings. To pester him to the point where he's forced to embarrass me would be cruel.

However, still in the grip of my mania, last week I also emailed a more detailed description of my insanity to someone from the Ontario Federation of Labour, whose job it is to conduct political activism campaigns. (Which, up to this point, consists of the sorts of rallies I describe so disparagingly above.) Obviously, I've heard nothing back from this individual either. I'll give her two weeks. But I'm starting to grasp that the best response to an insane screed from some unbalanced nobody is no response. Because some of these crazies crave attention. And even a negative response will encourage them to continue with their time-wasting drivel.

If only I were a sane man! Then I'd be able to understand why it makes perfect sense to ignore a plan such as mine while at the same time posting on your Fazebock wall stuff like this:

"Boos are not enough. Empty the workplaces and fill the streets."

That was part of a short post referring to Doug Ford getting loud boos when he appeared at the Toronto Raptors Victory Rally.  It was written by the anti-poverty activist who had just blown me off. As I say, if I wasn't a lunatic I'd be able to grasp how getting a core of activists to actually talk to people and plant ideas for a general strike in their heads months ahead of actually trying to conduct one is utter insanity, but posting vague calls-to-arms to your 2,000 followers on Fazebock isn't. If I wasn't so kookoo-bananas I'd be able to understand that the best way to lead a general strike is to tell 2,000 of your friends to immediately leave their place of work and go outside into the streets. (I suppose he meant "right away" because otherwise, ... DAMN! If only I could figure it out!)

The fact of the matter is that, in my desire to understand, I actually commented on his post asking how we could bring that about. (He didn't answer.)

Not long afterwards, (on some political group somebody else signed me up for) another left-wing radical (who is a "friend" of some of my closer Fazebock "frendz") posted the following:

"As the resistance moves to general strike/dual power ..."

In my narcissistic cocoon of half-baked theories and delusions of grandeur, I apparently have been missing the "resistance" and its building momentum not just to an actual general strike, but DUAL POWER!

  • Dual Power is both a type of institution and a strategy to change the world. Dual Power means new, independent institutions for people to meet their own needs in ways capitalism and the government can’t or won’t. Unlike nonprofits, where a board of directors (and usually wealthy donors!) makes the decisions, Dual Power institutions are created and controlled by the people they benefit. By developing them, people create a second kind of social, economic, and even political power, separate from government and capitalism. (That’s what the “dual” means, in duality with the current system.) These new community institutions then govern themselves using participatory democracy, which means that everyone plays an active part in decision-making.
Wow! Holy Christ! The Revolution is farther along than I'd realized! Doug Ford's reign of thuggery and error has galvanized Ontario's working class into constructing its own independent institutions of self-government and employment and social programs!

Not being able to grasp the realities that are right in front of me, I asked the gentleman whether it was really true that "the resistance" was going in the direction he said it was. He informed me that "a lot" of people in the labour movement were thinking this way. That the only question was whether we were going to demand that Ford change his policies or that he actually resign. The same thing had happened in the 1990s in the "Days of Action" against Mike Harris. Having participated in the Hamilton and Toronto actions I was aware that the Ontario unions carried out one-day general strikes in cities across Ontario between 1995 and 1998. And that nothing really changed after each one-day strike in one city. Harris stayed in power from 1995-2002.
Between late 1995 and 1998, Ontario unions called eleven "Days of Action" that were, in effect, political strikes against the provincial Conservative government of Mike Harris. The Days of Action were a series of rolling, one-day general strikes in different towns and cites, involving not only unions but also many social movements and community organizations.
Eventually Ontario's unions called hundreds of thousands of workers into the streets, shutting down many private businesses and public agencies, while also holding mass demonstrations and rallies throughout the province. While they did not succeed in bringing down the Conservative government, the strikes did challenge the Conservatives' anti-worker onslaught, and they helped develop a new group of labor and community activists.
Did I tell you about the time I "challenged" Evander Holyfield to a boxing match? My goal was to be the world heavyweight boxing champion. And while I didn't achieve everything I was after (he broke my jaw and knocked me out in the first 5 seconds of the first round) nonetheless, I "challenged" him and more people knew of my existence afterwards than did previously.

Sadly, as a result of my mental afflictions, these Fazebock statements by these two radical dudes appear to me to be stupid, deluded nonsense. As if it is not I who is the insane party, but rather, them. I apparently see things mixed-up and reversed. When Doug Ford is swept from power and the institutions of the working classes' "Dual Power" are up and running (I don't know when that will be because they haven't given me a timeline) perhaps then I'll be able to piece the clues together after the fact and slowly begin to grasp how it all came about.

[I think it needs to be pointed out that these statements were also made in the context of OPSEU's president saying they wouldn't protest at the upcoming "Ford-Fest" because they didn't want to "kick him when he's down." If OPSEU is part of the "resistance" they're obviously in the more conservative wing. Which makes you wonder who is leading the radical "general strike/dual power" wing. Argghh.]

Okay. Sarcasm time over. Lord help me but I can't see that these online yammerings about spontaneous general-strikes and "dual power" are anything other than stupid, childish, deluded nonsense. Gawdammit! I can't bring myself to believe that the Left's continued reliance on petitions and afternoon protests isn't Einstein's definition of insanity: "Doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result each time." I'm sorry, but I really don't see how it's insane to go out and talk to people to try to bring them over to your side. Leftists are always complaining about how the corporate media filters out opposing viewpoints. It's obvious from the internet that the mere existence of, and easy access to, Leftist analysis has improved that situation (which is why the oligarchy is trying so hard to block/discredit/smear alternative news sources) but not to a significant enough degree. Well, instead of impotently complaining about that; DO SOMETHING! Take your message directly to the people! And when you do, ... for FUX'S SAKE! ... have a plan for what you want to do with them!

This seems so blindingly obvious that I'm completely at a loss for the smug, stupid, lazy-assed refusal of these other "geniuses" to even want to discuss it.

So there you have it. Last post I talked about how brain structure and life experiences create the fearful, wretched creatures that are "conservatives." As well, I speculated on the mental make-up of apolitical types, saying that maybe their prodigious production of serotonin kept them self-centered, selfish, and incurious of the wider world around them. And, in this post, I appear to be talking about the mental incapability of the last piece of the puzzle: Those who know there's a problem and who want to solve the problem but seem totally incapable of even being able to begin thinking about the realities of HOW to solve the problem.

And all of this navel-gazing has made me think: I'm a pessimist but I'm not a "conservative." I would rather focus on the good things in life. I would rather have a good time. I don't like slasher movies or hospital dramas because the idea of teenagers being mutilated and people dying of disease doesn't entertain me. Nor do I enjoy zombie movies. I'll be dead myself one day. And while I don't want to be venerated I also don't want people to think of me as some potential brain-eating, stinking, rotting monster.

I'm a pessimist. Too many people are optimists. For no reason. Perhaps their fear of the reality of failure is what keeps them from looking seriously at what needs to be done. They sense the job is vast. Perhaps beyond them. So they'd rather content themselves with doing what they've always done. And that includes empty, posturing statements about "revolution" and "general strike" and "the people, united, will never be defeated!" and "hey-hey/ho-ho/[insert-name-here] has got to go!"

I can't escape the impact of politics on my life. But I can remove myself from actually caring about whether things will change. Given the incapacities of the progressive movement I honestly believe we're doomed. I'll continue to write, but just for my own diversion.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Humanity is Doomed: Part 3,672

First off, there was something I'd meant to say in my last post reviewing the two books about Canadian soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. It was that in both of them soldiers mentioned how they wanted to go to war because that's what they were always training for. They wanted to see how they'd hold-up in combat. They wanted to see if they were effective soldiers. Now, this is understandable on some level but it's also evidence of how dangerous a militarized culture can be. Imagine a foreign policy built on the desires of people champing at the bit to go and shoot at people!

But, anyway, ... onwards!

Lately I've been thinking about the consequences of "conservatives" supposedly being more fearful, with larger amygdalas. Reports on these studies sorta came and went with a little jeering about how right-wing chest-thumpers are actually wussies and that was that. But maybe we should think more about this. Now, it's possible that people are simply born with big amygdalas. In which case, they're just more fearful, end of story. But the brain has been found to be a constantly developing organism. Maybe it's the case that people subjected to trauma (especially childhood traumas) would develop larger fear responders than they ordinarily would have. Maybe you're born with a large amygdala and on top of it, an abusive childhood makes you even more fearful.

In which case, many of the "conservatives" shrieking about dangerous Muslims, scary Black people, scary changes to their world, etc., are the victims of childhood trauma. Isn't it ironic that "conservatives" are so opposed to social welfare programs that would reduce childhood poverty, stressful homelives, etc., that would all go to mitigating the factors that made them such fearful creatures?

I guess this is because "conservatives" fixate more on negative things. From that first link in the second paragraph:

In a 2012 study, liberal and conservative participants were shown collages of both negative and positive images on a computer screen while their eye movements were recorded. While liberals were quicker to look at pleasant images, like a happy child or a cute bunny rabbit, conservatives tended to behave oppositely. They’d first inspect threatening and disturbing pictures—things like car wrecks, spiders on faces, and open wounds crawling with maggots—and would also tend to dwell on them for longer. This is what psychologists call a “negativity bias”. If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. When attention is biased toward the negative, the result is an overly threat-conscious appraisal of one’s surroundings. Essentially, to many conservatives the world looks like a much scarier place. This would seem to explain why so many major conservative viewpoints tend to be rooted in irrational fears—like fear of the president, immigrants, Muslims, vaccinations, etc.

This being the case, "conservatives" will fixate more on people abusing the system, thereby cheating them, than they do on the very real benefits that such programs bring (this cynicism and paranoia extending even to programs that would benefit them personally).

Anyway, the thing that progressives should do is to continue to fight for policies that reduce trauma in society. (That is, the opposite of the neo-liberal/austerity nightmare we're presently in.)

There's more that could be said about this but I want to move on to my next point.

Humanity is doomed because, on average, we are focused mainly on our own immediate social circles and the practical realities of our everyday lives. A terrifyingly large number of us really are incapable of caring about people outside of our networks of family, friends and other intimates. We are incapable of empathizing with people from far away who act slightly different from us. Just think about all the people you know who have zero clue about what's going on in the world. The people who never think about the poverty that exists in the city they walk through. And here I'm not talking about "conservatives" who believe that refugee applicants at the US -border are all drug-mules/"reconquistadors' or that poor people are all scammers and criminal drug-addicts. I'm talking about people who don't even notice the sufferings of others nearby and have no interest in finding out about events going on beyond their immediate line of sight. (Although it is the case that many "conservatives" demonstrate an inability to care about something unless it affects them personally. Like a finance minister who allocates funds for a particular disease because his one of his own children has it.)

So they lack empathy. And they lack curiosity in the wider world. They are focused. I believe they have very vigorous and robust production of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter thingamabobby that does a lot of things but one thing it does is block-out stimuli that your brain has decided is unimportant for you to be able to function. Serotonin deficiency is a factor in depression, energy, etc..

What I'm getting at is that many human beings are simply wired to care only about themselves and their immediate family and friends. And their focus in life is on how to best SUCCEED in obtaining the resources to provide a life for themselves and their immediate loved ones. So, those seemingly happy people working at some uninteresting job, driving their nice cars to their nice homes without a care in the world? That's who I'm talking about. They've figured out how to personally succeed and they are completely incapable and uninterested in understanding the big picture. They can't maintain an interest in people starving in Africa, or First Nations' children committing suicide, or refugees fleeing wars and calamities in South America or the Middle East, because they're not wired to.

Now, all of these people I'm talking about; Can they still be "good people"? The person who was traumatized as a child and who is hard-wired to view most things as a threat; the airhead who works in marketing and finance buying a monster home out in the suburbs and commutes to work in a SUV; ... are they "good" people still?

That's why I've always tended to shy away from the words "good" and "evil." There are things that we like and things that we don't like. That's it. So, for the most part, some fearful "conservatives" ... (I don't know why I'm putting that word in quotes. I think I started this with the notion that an actual conservative has a developed body of ideas whereas they people I'm talking about have visceral responses to their environments.) .... can be quite friendly to people of their own kind, and even to "others" who have proven themselves to be non-threatening over a longer period of time. (Like a Black person or a Muslim who they work with and have decided that they're not a threat.)

Few of these types of people will actively seek the destruction of strangers or passers-by. So, by that indicator, they're "good" people and not "bad" people. And, to the extent that they have no control over their ideas and actions, to their fear, selfishness, insularity, etc., etc., ... can they really be accused of being "bad"?

But here's the thing: This is a big reason why nothing changes. Something from one-quarter to one-third of our society is comprised of people who self-identify as "conservative." They're afraid of terrorism. They're afraid of deviations from traditional moral values. They desire an authoritarian father-figure to protect them. They're afraid of crime. They're afraid of change. We can't do anything about changing these people other than to try to figure out how to keep them from getting angry while still advancing our own progressive agenda.

I have no speculation about the numbers of the second group of people; the healthy, seemingly happy, focused, prosperous ignoramuses. But I'm pretty sure it's vast. They're successful members of the species. They know how to play the game and survive. But if the rules change, they might be put-out. Sure, they'll be better at pushing others out of the way to get the emergency rations. They'll adapt (if they're intelligent enough) with greater relative success to the new rules in the crumbling of civilization than will progressives who are not as focused and selfish.

But it's the blissful ignorance and complacency that makes society's downfall so inevitable. We have one-third of the population convinced that Global Warming is a commie-hoax designed to enslave them and another large group (one-third to sixty percent of the population) that hardly thinks about it and contributes to the problem through their excessive consumption of resources.

We were designed to obtain food and shelter and to procreate. We became quite successful as a species at doing so. But in so doing, we've created an ecological monstrosity. And it is my belief that, as a species, we're simply not equipped to recognize the problem and respond to it in time. In short; Humanity is DOOMED.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Canada in Afghanistan Reading Round-Up

A while ago I did a survey of books by or about Canadians in the war in Afghanistan. That post consisted of links to various reviews or publishers' blurbs. This post is the start of my own reviews of books that I have read myself (and eventually studies and reports on the war and its impacts) for a book that I may or may not write.

So, at the "Deer Park" branch of the Toronto Public Library system I found two books. The first one I read is by Jamie MacWhirter entitled A Soldier's Tale: a Newfoundland Soldier in Afghanistan. (2013) MacWhirter job in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) was in transport. He was a truck driver. He was in Afghanistan in 2006. On more than one occasion this involved driving a fuel truck in support of the artillery close to the front line. (This would also make him vulnerable to roadside ambushes and IED's.) At one point in his book he discovers that the infantry soldiers he's with have nicknamed him "Fireball" because of his willingness to drive a large tank of gasoline into a war-zone. The fact that the infantry considered him brave surprised him because he felt he was just doing his job. Obviously the infantry soldiers probably think that they're just doing their jobs and don't pause to consider the enormity of respect other soldiers like MacWhirter have for them.

I don't think MacWhirter would object to being described as a simple man. His universe appears to revolve around friends and family and his job and he doesn't appear to speculate about the wider purposes of Canada's role in Afghanistan beyond some vague notions that we were there to "help" and that the Taliban was clearly the problem that the USA and its allies were there to solve.

The book is very much MacWhirter's own, focused entirely on his own personal experiences. But these are valuable in their own way. From the Afghan contractors who "cleaned" the offices at the main Canadian base camp using such filthy water that the place smelled worse than before they went in. To the Afghan truck driver who dove into a tank of gasoline to retrieve a lost wristwatch (and emerged successfully if barely alive). To the elderly Afghan man who enraged him by begging (with a large number of others) at the camp's fence with a baby strapped to his front that later turned out to be dead. Another time he was about to leave the camp in a convoy but the whole thing was inexplicably delayed. He sat in his truck for forty minutes getting increasingly irritated when he sees a stretcher team carrying a bruised and bloody adolescent boy back from the main gate towards the camp's health clinic. From another soldier he later learns that the boy had arrived at the camp gates after having been gang-raped and left for dead. And then there was this:

A few kids from the village next to us decided to come up and see what we were doing. We gave the kids some water and what food we had. Adam was even playing catch with a little girl. He would lightly toss a small rock to her and she would giggle and toss it back to him. It was so good to see Afghan ids laughing and enjoying theselves. Having fun with these kids made me think of Avery. I can't wait to see him and see if he has changed since I last saw him. This moment with the kids almost made me forget about this horrible place I was in.
Off in the distance a small white car had pulled up onto the road and was facing us. The car caught the eye of our officer and he told us to keep an eye on it. Within seconds of him saying that the driver of the car pressed down hard on the gas pedal and came right at us. Our officer quickly fired a few shots at the driver of the car and the shots must have hit him because the car began to slow down. But when the car came to a complete stop, it exploded. The blast blew Adam, Larry and me into the air and we all landed close to each other. We were knocked out from the blast. I sat up, but I was not sure where I was. I was in a daze and I just sat there, a little dumbfounded by what had just happened.
I noticed Larry on the ground knocked out, and I saw Adam on his feet, but just standing there like he was lost. Adam had blood on him so I knew I should get to him to see if he was okay. But when I stood up I saw there was blood on me too. I started to check myself over to see if I was injured but I couldn't find anything wrong. I stood up and took a step towards Adam to check on him and that's when I saw something on the ground.
I was stepping on a child's arm. I stared at it in shock and horror for a minute. It was like what I was seeing was not registering in my brain. I looked at Adam again and this time I took notice of everything. We were both standing in children's body parts and blood. The suicide bomber had killed all the Afghan children who had been playing with us. That is why I was covered in blood, because of the children; it was their blood that was all over me. I walked over to Adam and could hear crunching under my feet with every step. I knew it was body parts I was stepping on. When I got to Adam he seemed to be okay. Just in shock like everyone else.

MacWhirter makes no effort to empathize with how lifetimes of grinding poverty, decades of war, and myriad instances of personal abuse might make the people of Afghanistan act differently from the way Canadians tend to behave. These people have all gone through their experiences with no hope of being able to eventually go home. Because they're already home. And there will be no anti-depressants, or counselling, or quiet retreats for them to access and work through their issues. Obviously, the raping of young boys (and the purchasing and raping of female child brides), using a dead baby as a prop for begging, and driving a car full of explosives into a group of children, ... these are all barbaric. But it is disturbing how western soldiers will insert themselves into situations like this and come to hate the people that live there. In the case of Afghanistan, the government we were defending was brutal and corrupt. Many Afghans joined the Taliban because that was the group that was resisting. And the Taliban's original rise to power was based on its being the best alternative to the corrupt and brutal warlords who dominated after the Soviet-allied government fell. So, some of the people we thought we were helping were on the side of the Taliban. That would make them "enemies." It is the hatred and paranoia that leads to dehumanization that leads to massacres as was documented at My Lai in Vietnam (and which many Vietnamese and critics of war happened numerous other times during that conflict).

We've read about victims of a violent assault who suffer PTSD. MacWhirter describes several situations where, even though he was "just" a truck driver, he was in life or death situations. Perhaps it was the case that being able to return to the relative safety of the main Canadian base made going back outside the wire more of psychologically difficult than might have been the case for soldiers who stayed out at the front for longer periods of time. Whatever the case, MacWhirter does a good job of describing the onset of the PTSD that would eventually plague him after his tour of duty was completed. Towards the end of his tour some of his fellow soldiers begin to crack and he himself finds his hands shaking and he only continues to accept assignments because he's ashamed to think of someone else being forced to do them if he refuses.

MacWhirter takes perhaps a quarter, but more like a third of the book talking about his return to Canada. He describes his paranoia. His anger. His awareness that he's now "different" from the person his loved ones saw leave Canada. He expresses his frustration at how the CAF transfers the mental health professionals he finally begins to see to deal with his issues. Anytime he met one he connected with and liked they'd be sent somewhere else. Almost all of them are quick to recommend pharmaceuticals. And all of them want to start again at square-one and get him to explain what's angering him. He accepts a transfer to his home province of Newfoundland & Labrador and finds that this is a greater benefit than anything the military did for him. He now does a lot of work helping fellow soldiers manage their PTSD.

So, that's the first of two books for this post. Be sure to check back for the other review. Or not. I'm mainly doing this for myself.


The second book I read was Chris Wattie's Contact Charlie: The Canadian Army, The Taliban and the Battle that Saved Afghanistan. (2008) Wattie was a war correspondent for The National Post. Evidently he's also a reserve member of the CAF. His book deals with Afghanistan during the same period as MacWhirter's book. 2006. Except Wattie attempts to tell a bigger picture. His story is that a Taliban leader, Mullah Dadullah Akhund had a plan to break-up the NATO alliance in Afghanistan by inflicting heavy casualties on a US ally and by briefly taking the city of Kandahar for propaganda purposes. (This would be akin to the propaganda victory achieved by the NLF in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive.) Wattie has Mullah Dadullah telling Taliban head-honcho Mullah Omar that unlike the US government, the governments of its NATO allies were weak and would quickly leave if they ever suffered large numbers of killed and wounded. (This is probably the deleterious impact of the namby-pamby peace-activists.) It just so happened that it would be the Canadians who occupied Kandahar and who would bear the brunt of Dadullah's offensive. Wattie describes the men and women of the CAF and how they managed to thwart the Taliban's plans.

That's essentially it. There's very little analysis of the origins of the conflict. Of the causes of the resistance to the western-backed government in Kabul. Of the resilience of the rebels. In Wattie's writing, CAF members are angry when people shoot at them and their brothers-and-sisters in arms. They become even more enraged when their friends are wounded or killed. Wattie doesn't bother to speculate about the thoughts of Taliban fighters. What are their thoughts about people coming from foreign countries to shoot at them? How do they respond to the deaths of their comrades?

The book is interesting for describing the details of small scale combat (generally at the platoon level); how the CAF patrolled an area, the weapons they used, the strategies they employed, the cooperation of other NATO countries' air-support. (French "Mirage" jets; US "Apache" and "Blackhawk" helicopters and drones). I was a little mystified as to why NATO would use ground-troops to take Taliban strongholds. There's a couple of encounters, especially at a place called "the white schoolhouse" where the CAF takes casualites and calls in air-strikes or artillery, which (after the various groups of Canadian soldiers retreat to a safe distance, tended to obliterate the targeted buildings and everyone inside. I mean, if you're trying to keep your own casualities to a minimum, wouldn't it make sense to just identify the stronghold and call in the big guns at the beginning. (You have to wonder about the courage ... or the ignorance or insanity ... of the Taliban fighters who don't have body armour, artillery, helicopter evacuation, etc., etc., )

At one point the Canadians can't get any artillery or air-support because some desk-rider back at headquarters worries about damage to civilian buildings nearby. If that happens once in a while it seems to be an anomaly, because numerous sources refer to civilian casualties and destroyed villages.

At the end of the day, Wattie's book needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It tells a very one-sided story of an important part of the conflict. I don't doubt the courage of any of the Canadian Forces soldiers who fought in Afghanistan. I've encountered enough soldiers (mostly through their writings but a few I've met personally) to know that there are some good people among them. Which is why I find their involvement in Afghanistan to be such a tragic waste. Let's review:

The Taliban rank-and-file was prepared to take their guns and go home at the fall of their regime but the US-backed Afghan forces decided to take advantage of rewards and bounties and began capturing former Taliban and handing them over to be tortured by the Americans.

The Karzai government and its warlord allies behaved abominably to the mainly Pashtun people who occupy much of former Taliban area. The Afghan police are brutal, corrupt or even murderous.

Our military activities create volunteers for the Taliban.