Catapult the Propaganda

Here’s a quote for ya. George Bush, discussing his plan for Social Security:

“See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.”

Reminds one of a famous quote from Lenin:

“A lie told often enough becomes accepted truth.”


Far From Restless: the Natives that Never Move

They come in all different sizes, shapes and even colours. This is their land and they’ve been here for far longer than we have, but today they are bearing the brunt of modern society’s onslaught of expansion, pollution and destruction. Their numbers are fewer and many are at risk of disappearing altogether.

They’re the native trees and plants of my area, the subject of my first-ever community meeting, entitled “Native Trees and Plants in Your Garden”.

Until now, my gardening hobby has been mostly restricted to growing plants indoors, but since we purchased our first home in downtown Hamilton, I’ve been working on the garden outside. It was a complete disaster when we moved here but it’s improving, slowly but surely. When I got a flyer in the mailbox about this meeting, I couldn’t resist traveling to my local recreation centre to check it out.

Ryerson Recreation Centre is about what you’d expect: brick exterior, interior the same beige paint that adorns the interior of every school and rec centre in North America, posters advertising various community events plastered on the walls. About 15 people showed up, mostly women with a smattering of middle-aged men. I won’t describe the ages of most attendees except to say that when it comes to gardening, there’s no doubt that I’m getting a 30 year head start.

An energetic young woman thanked us for coming and introduced the featured speaker, Paul O’Hara, the owner of a local landscaping business that specializes in native plants. After he was introduced they turned the lights down and he started showing slides of trees and plants in the area. I immediately got off on the wrong foot by asking what he thought of the idea of getting native plants from native habitats, like by digging up or taking cuttings from plants on the escarpment and out in the woods to put in my garden. “Why would you want to ravage the outdoors when it’s ravaged enough already?” he asked me. The elderly woman next to me looked at me disapprovingly. I blushed. He recommended taking their seeds (no more than 10% of them) in the fall and using them instead.

Paul’s activist stance on the environment grew more apparent as he went through the rest of his presentation. After showing many beautiful slides of trees, thickets and gardens (he mentioned that people “ravage” his gardens and steal the plants, I tried to look inconspicuous), he started showing pictures of parking lots, the misnamed Meadowlands complex in Ancaster (a sprawling network of big box stores and parking lots, 99% pure concrete), and then a picture of a towering 170-year-old burr oak in Oakville. “How do I know it’s 170 years old?” he asked. “Because I counted its rings”, he said, flipping the slide and showing the same tree in pieces. “Cut down to make room for more parking at Budd’s Imported Cars”.

There was palpable emotion in the room as these slides flipped past, from the disgust of the burly Burlington arborist to the dismayed wistful sadness of the little white-haired woman in the corner. These images were a sort of public mourning for the sickness of nature. It struck me that so much can be accomplished if you can get people into one spot to speak with them and let them see things. But where is everyone?

As I was leaving a woman approached me and identified me as having just moved into our house on Jackson Street, explaining that she lived across from me. It turns out Pat is an avid gardener who encouraged me to come over to her place and take a look at her garden to get ideas and advice. What do you know – attend a community meeting, meet people from the community. What a novel idea!

P.S. If you’re from the Hamilton area, you can get a free tree planted on your lot’s city property. Just go here.


Did They Flush a Qur’an or Not?

It’s been a raging controversy for days. On May 9, Newsweek magazine published a report that said that American guards had flushed a Qur’an down the toilet and also abused it, in order to distress Muslim prisoners held in Guantanomo Bay. This report used an anonymous military offical for the information. Subsequently, riots broke out in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world, leading to the deaths of several people.

After tremendous pressure from the US government, Newsweek retracted the allegation because they could no longer confirm it with their source. The Bush administration was all over it, criticizing Newsweek, suggesting that the media needed to be held “accountable” for what they said and implying that Newsweek had contributed to deaths. They pointed out that there were guidelines in place since 2003 for ensuring that the Qur’an was treated like “a delicate piece of art” and was not to be desecrated in anyway.

I find it interesting that the US government is appalled that anyone would believe a report about abusing the Qur’an, as though US soldiers have always behaved entirely properly. We’ve seen the pictures from Abu Ghraib. Is it really a leap to assert that people who are willing to stack people up in naked pyramids, attach electrodes to their hands while they stand on boxes, and even beat prisoners to death, probably wouldn’t think twice about flushing a Qur’an?

But there needs to be facts behind stories. As it turns out, for years reports have been coming out of Guantanomo (recently characterized by Amnesty International as a “gulag”) and other American prisons that the Qur’an is being abused and desecrated, including as an interrogation tactic. Last night, the Pentagon confirmed that it had substantiated five cases where the US military at Guantanomo “mishandled” the Qur’an. They claim it wasn’t flushed, just “mishandled”, and they also claim that reports from prisoners about the Qur’an being abused and being flushed are being made up by the prisoners, who are “not a benign group of people”.

As the US backtracks, it’s becoming increasingly clear that whether or not the specific incident Newsweek mentioned happened or not, the allegation they made was at least broadly true. As the truth emerges, something more troubling than a false news story (as Democracy Now! pointed out today, where is the controversy over the lies that really cost lives – WMD in Iraq, for example?) emerges too – the US government’s attempt to muzzle the media when what the media say does not suit their purpose.



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The Shade

Originally written Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Casie and I went shopping yesterday for our new home. We needed some minor household items, like a coat rack, a shoe rack, and a rug for the front hallway. I needed some blinds for my office window, because from about 3:30 to 5:00, the sun shines directly into my eyes, making working on my computer rather difficult.

Casie suggested WalMart, but I disagreed and suggested Zellers instead, because I have decided to never again buy anything at WalMart. I dislike their horrendous polices toward their employees and the environment, as well as the damage they cause to local businesses. I don’t know if Zellers is any better but they can hardly be worse.

Being the design diva she is (in spite of the occasional notable “design crime”), Casie recommended that I not get plain white blinds for my office, but instead purchase an off-white colour. There were none that fit my window, so I purchased a “Decorative Bamboo Shade”, brand “Homestyles”, instead. It looked attractive in the packaging, Casie agreed, so the purchase was made.

I forgot all about it until this afternoon, when right on the dot at 3:30, the sun started to peek out from under my neighbour’s roof and shine into my office. “Time to put up my new blinds”, I thought, so I went at it.

Thus began a battle of epic proportions. The Bamboo Shade scored the first point when I tried to open the packaging. Packaged in a tough resilient clear plastic seemingly suitable for transporting hazardous material, it took multiple stabs with a screwdriver for me to crack its outer shell. As I reached into the package to retrieve the Shade, the sharp edges of the package sliced into my arm and I began to bleed slightly.

First blood goes to the Shade. I retrieved the Shade and its incomprehensible instructions. Two odd metal attachments were included from which the Shade was to be hung, after they were screwed to the window frame. The instructions recommended I use a drill to put holes in the frame, lacking a drill, I was forced to improvise and used a nail to put small holes in first. Standing on top of my office table, sweating as the sun beat down and cursing as I struggled to put the screws into the window frame, I finally managed to securely place each bracket.

Now it was time to put the Bamboo Shade up. As I lifted it, the two cords used to raise and lower the Shade slid out of the Shade and dropped to the floor. “That’s odd”, I thought, “I wonder if they are meant to be unattached like that.” I lifted the shade up. It has a wood frame at the top, with two pieces cut into it that are meant to slide into the protruding metal edges of the supports I had just screwed in. With the Shade fighting me every inch of the way, its end sweeping important papers and bills off my desk into disarray, I struggled to raise it to the correct position…only to realize that it would not fit. The way the brackets were designed meant that you could not attach the Shade to each at the same time – you would have to screw in one, then put the Shade up, then screw in the other.

Naturally, the instructions made no mention of this. In fact, the instructions failed to account for the standard type of window installation I was attempting altogether. Frustrating, but no big deal. I would have to remove one of the brackets. So I grabbed the screwdriver and got to it.

I removed one screw successfully and started on the second for the leftmost bracket. Except that I couldn’t unscrew it for some reason….ah. The screw head has lost its indentation – the act of screwing it in stripped the metal slots from the screw head. I now had no way of removing the screw.

Round two: victor, Bamboo Shade. You’re not going to win that easily, I thought. I grabbed my hammer and got to work smashing and clawing at the bracket. After risking tearing the entire window frame from the wall, paint chips flaking off the joints in the frame and chunks of plaster echoing inside the walls, I finally removed the bracket. Then I started jockeying the Shade back into place. I got it secured on the left – time for the right. I put the bracket back where I wanted it and grabbed the screwdriver. That’s when I noticed that once the Shade was in place, it covered the screw holes. I had no way of reaching them!

Reeling from the Shade’s relentless onslaught of sheer bastardness, I grabbed my hammer and a couple of nails. No more would I even attempt to use the brackets, clearly designed by someone who would benefit from a highschool education. I hammered the Shade into the frame. “Done”, I thought. “I’m done! Now all I have to do is get the cords working…”

I reached for the instruction manual once again. The only mention of the cords was in this paragraph:

“To lower the shade, simply pull the cord to the left to release the cordlock and hold while the shade drops. Allow the shade to drop to the desired height.” Etc.

That the word “simply” even appeared in the instructions was an insult. I saw that the cords flying out of the Shade was yet another insidious Shade tactic. I examined the mechanism that the cord ran through. Two small gears, a pulley, some plastic pieces…it was incomprehensible. I went downstairs to examine a similar shade. A simple mechanism with one pulley showed me with one glance that the Shade had indeed devised a clever strategy to defeat me. I grabbed the longest cord and got to work trying to thread it through the mechanism, my only clue the line in the manual that read, “Pull the cord to the right to lock, pull the cord to the left to release”.

After using a formidable array of weapons, including a nail, a pair of tweezers, some pliers, and very nearly the hammer, I was able to thread the cord through the mechanism and through the second pulley. The remainder of the cord placement was obvious – through a hole in the Shade, through a couple of loops, then tied off at the back. The second cord went faster than the first. Finally, it was done. The Shade was pinned to the wall. After one-and-a-half hours, I was victorious.

Yet the Shade would have the last word. It hung there in front of the window, a handsome addition to my office. I pulled the cords to raise it. It raised in a sloppy mess of folds and stopped two feet before it reached the top of the window. That is as high as it would go. I had just lost 20 percent of my window, permanently. And the 20 percent I had lost was covered in a bulging, amateurish mess of sagging brown folds. I stared at the Shade and it stared back at me. We both knew who the real victor was.

Life, politics, code and current events from a Canadian perspective.

Adrian Duyzer
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