Friday, 28 September 2007

Bush's supreme hypocrisy (Part 345)

The US president, George Bush, today announced new sanctions against Burma amid threats by the country's military regime to crack down on anti-government protesters.

Addressing the UN general assembly in New York, Mr Bush urged its members to join the US in employing "diplomatic leverage to help the Burmese people regain their freedom".

He said the US would tighten economic sanctions on leaders of Burma's military junta and its financial backers, imposing visa bans on those responsible for human rights breaches and their families. (1)

In translation, that says "We've been quite happy to do business with them up till now, but the connection is a bit embarrassing now." Just another example of the massive, corrupt hypocrisy of US politicains (and others, of course, but the political oligarchs of the USA are remarkable in their venality). The Reagan White House killed off the Prevention of Genocide Act, which would have imposed Sanctions on Iraq, post-Halabja. Apparently, Reagan and his acolytes thought action a regime that had just slaughtered 5,000 civilians with poison gas might be premature.' (2)

The article continues:

Mr Bush said Americans were "outraged" by the military junta's "19-year reign of
fear". (2)

This begs the question why the USA has only thought to do something about it now. Bush I & II and the usurper who came inbetween had every opportunity to do something before now.

He accused the regime of a range of abuses including the persecution of ethnic
minorities, forced child labour, human trafficking and the detention of "more
than 1,000 political prisoners". (3)
Wait a minute, this sounds familiar. Isn't this rather like our valued trading partner and soon-to-be Olympic hosts in the PRC? Still, Burma isn't quite as important as the PRC, so Bush can make some noise about how terribly wicked the Burmese junta is, as it won't hurt the USA in the pocket.

1 - "Bush announces new sanctions against Burma," by Haroon Siddique in The Guardian, 25th of September, 2007. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/burma/story/0,,2176876,00.html)
2- "One Man's Battle to Stop Iraq," unattributed CBC article/transcript. (http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/kurds/battle.html)
3 -Siddique, op. cit.
4 - ibid.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill

This is an older book by Reginald Hill, but you will appreciate, after reading what follows, why I won't be scurrying out to by the new one, especially since it doesn't follow through on its promise to kill Dalzeil. Beulah? Bah!

I'd previously read Singing The Sadness by Reginald Hill and though I wasn't uncritical, I generally quite liked it. Knowing that Hill came in for heavy admiration, I figured that the intrusive jokiness I detected was a purposeful affectation, perhaps even a character trait - maybe Joey Sixsmith really does think everyone he meets looks like a star from the golden age of Hollywood. On further investigation, I am sad to report this is not the case. It is no stylistic affectation. 'Tis ingrained, as Shakespeare had it.

On Beulah Height is a book about child murder, which is a very serious thing to write about. Hill uses the killing of children to make crap jokes. Its not that he is an atrocious writer - when he writesstraight exposition he is streets ahead of Ian Rankin, for example. But he butts (sorry) into his narrative with supposedly clever asides with irritating regularity. It is intrusive as it disrupts the flow, and offensive, because this is a book about dreadful things.

For Agatha Christie, a bodywas simply a pretext for a smug bourgeoise 'tec to demonstrate how clever he or she was in solving the mystery (and hence how clever Christie was for pulling the wool over everyone's eyes). She did it very well, and her murders had a innocence about them - murder was an after dinner game for adults, it was never sexual and never involved children. Christie's books were so removed from the real world that it is churlish to criticise them as exploitative and cruel. At the other end, writers like Hammett and Chandler also made murder into entertainment - but it was always something grim and nasty, carried out by depressingly real people for horribly mundane purposes.

Hill writes about the nastiness, but in a supercilious and annoying way that makes me angry. As stated, he can write competently enough, though I note an irritating fondness of the exclamation mark and the elipsis, villans of punctuation best left behind with short trousers and acne. Dick Scott describes being warned off the exclamation mark by experienced journalists, who had dubbed them dog's pricks. Hill over-writes to an extent that would make Iain Banks blush. Sometimes it is almost impossible to work out what he is actiually trying to convey, he is so busy showing us how clever he thinks he is. Key scenes are ruined by throw-away jokes and snide comments.

Hill's characters seem thin and uninteresting. Characterisation is done with a sledgehammer - a character from Newcastle is not only called Geordie (fair enough, people might call him that), but his speech is littered with clunky 'Geordie-isms.' Hill also seems peturbingly concerned with his female character's sex lives - we are told a great deal about Mrs Pascoe's stupendous breasts and we meet Shirley Novello in the confessional, owning up to having shagged some bloke five times. Pascoe himself is a dull prig. Even the bloated and buccolic Dalziell is only intermittently interesting or convincing, but even his would-be gargantuan presence he is obscured by what seems to be a cast of thousands. The plot is spread thinly between a half dozen protagonists, and that is only the 'goodies.' Gone are the days of the mercurial loner stalking the mean streets in endless rain. I know that modern police work is not about one brilliant individual engaged in a philisophical quest disguised as a murder story - but if we have to spend so much time with all these folk, at least make them better company.

The books flaws don't end there, however. There is a structural weakness. The problem is that the central event of the book - the murder of a little girl - is witnessed, no by one person, but by two. One of these people immediately and conveniently lapses into a coma before they can give the game away, and the other simply bites their tongue, for no convincing reason. Hill then brings the first witness out the coma, just in time to resolve everything and paper over the holes in the plot. Worse, he used exactly the same device in Singing The Sadness - putting a crucial witness incommunicado until it becomes absolutely necessary for them to speak - because Hill can't think of any other way to sort out his stew of red herrings.

But wait - there's more. Thinking about the second plot strand of On Beulah Height, I realised that for the 15 year old mystery to remain unsolved required YET ANOTHER character to have remained unconvincingly silent all these years. Sorry, but no, this just doesn't wash. This isn't a mystery, it is a mess. Yet it is acclaimed as a fine novel, an exemplar of the modern mystery genre. It is not. It is mince.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Mattel grovels to China

Mattel has issued a mea culpa and apologized to Bejing (1) for suggesting China produced shoddy, dangerous toys. It turns out - apparently - that the fault lay with Mattel all along:
"Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people, and all of our customers who received the toys," Thomas A. Debrowski, Mattel's executive vice president for worldwide operations, told Li. (2)
This isn't quite the same as saying China doesn't produce shoddy, dangerous toys, of course, rather it suggests that the shoddy, dangerous toys aren't in breach of Mattel's safety standards, as suggested previously.

The vast majority of the toys recalled were due to design flaws - the tiny, swallowable magnets that can tear children's stomachs to pieces (3) - but there were some two million units (4) recalled because of use of lead based paint. Though Mattel said the recall of the latter had been "overly inclusive" (5) (murdered English for "too many") they didn't say how many were dangerous and how many weren't. Meanwhile, the role-call of products being recalled continues: "On Friday, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced it is recalling 1 million cribs made in China and marketed under American brand names, due to a potentially lethal safety problem." (6)

A cynical voice in my head wonders if - now that the PRC has been found Not Guilty by Mattel, will the new safety standards the company promised be quietly forgotten? An even more cynical voice wonders if the safety standards will be forgotten because someone in Bejing pointed out that Mattel needs China far more than China needs Mattel.

The bottom line is this. Whether or not Chinese manufactured goods violated safety standards in this instance, there have been innumerable instances when they have been in breach, sometimes fatally. There will be more breaches in the future as contracors stuggle to deliver orders as cheaply as possible -they want to make money on the deals as much as the brand name companies placing the orders do. You can not care about the human rights of peons making consumer good dirt cheap so you can enjoy a higher standard of living in the West, but if your toothpaste is going to kill you, it is more piquant.
1 - "Mattel apologizes to China over recalls," unattributed Associated Press article on MSNBC, 21s September, 2007. (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20903731/)
2- ibid.
3 - "Additional Reports of Magnets Detaching from Polly Pocket Play Sets Prompts Expanded Recall by Mattel," product recall notice from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 14th of August, 2007. (
http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml07/07273.html)
4 - "Mattel and China Differ on Apology," by Renae Merle and Ylan Q. Mui in the Washington Post, 22nd of September, 2007. (
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/21/AR2007092100330.html?hpid=topnews)
5 - ibid.
6 - "Why Mattel Must Save Face With China," by Daniel Gross, in Forbes, 24th of September, 2007. (
http://www.forbes.com/home/manufacturing/2007/09/21/china-trade-mattel-biz-manufacturing-cx_newsweek_0921gross.html)

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Nuclear Power: British government practices to deceive

The British government, the same one that is using climate change as a bogey-man (1) to scare people intoaccepting GM foods is now trying to trick people (2) into thinking they want nuclear power as well:
An academic observer of Britain's nuclear consultation has said that
information given to the public was biased and incomplete, casting fresh doubt
on whether the the government has followed a court ruling to present both sides
of the argument.

Paul Dorfman, senior research fellow at the National Centre for
Involvement at the University of Warwick, said the exercise 12 days ago in nine
cities around Britain was designed to come up with a popular mandate to proceed
with nuclear power. (3)
Given this is the spawn of the government that lied its way into the Iraq war, made spin a household word and failed, spectacularly, to deliver on its 1997 manifesto pledge to "clean up politics ... and put the funding of political parties on a proper and accountable basis" (4) I would be disingenuous if I said I was surprised.

I don't like nuclear power, but I'm willing to accept its necessity. Places like China and India are cramming a century's worth of development into a generation. It pains me to admit that the power required to achieve this can't be supplied by wind farms and solar panels. Providing it through burning fossil fuels is not an option, for there won't be much left of the planet once the Chinese and Indians complete dirty industrial revolutions.

Nuclear power has a role to play, but it can't be imposed by stealth and trickery. Nor, incidentally, should developed countries be shipping their radioactive waste off to third world countries. Your mess, you clean it up. And your children, and your children's children, who may have extra fingers and toes, or superhero powers. Peopel shoudl be consulted fairly, and their wishes should be heeded.

Nuclear power can't be considered a panacea, however, and I'm scared this will happen. It is one option that may have some utility, but it should not be allowed to crowd out other means of generating power. This is what I fear will happen as big business latches on to the money making opportunities in climate change, as we are seeing biofuels stymie development of other technologies. And we shouldn't fool ourselves by thinking that biofuels, nuclear power and whatever else we may come up with relieves us of the responsibility of looking at the way we live and making the changes necessary to preserve the planet as a fairly pleasant place for life.
1 - as described previosuly on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/09/climate-change-trojan-horse-for-gm.html
2 - "Public fed biased information on nuclear power, says academic" by John Vidal in the Guardian, 20th of September, 2007. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/nuclear/article/0,,2173017,00.html)
3 - ibid.
4- Pledge 9 of the 1997 manifesto of the Labour Party. (http://www.psr.keele.ac.uk/area/uk/man/lab97.htm)

Tamaki's plans to RULE THE WORLD put on hold ...

Brian Tamaki's latest neo-facist cult, sorry political party, has fallen apart (1) in what may be a record for for political ungluing.
Wrangling over the co-leadership of a yet to be formed Christian party has taken another turn as both leaders accuse the other of breaching good faith.

Independent MP Gordon Copeland said he could not work with Richard Lewis from the former Destiny New Zealand party just two days after it was announced the two would co-lead a new pan-Christian political party. (2)
The poor thing didn't even have a name before it came unstuck. I feel this is a great shame and wonder if anyone has any suggestions for a suitable acroym? Perhaps Definitive Incorporation of Christian Kindred Souls Converting Aotearoa To Christian Hope? D.I.C.K.S.C.R.A.T.C.H. for short.

According to Lewis, the co-leaders were selected by some shadowy force operating behind the scenes:
A "measured" decision about the co-leadership had been made by people other than Mr Copeland and himself, Mr Lewis said on Radio New Zealand. (3)
I sense that Copeland is discovering that Destiny are nly using him as a means to get an M.P. in parliament. He's a useful idiot for their medieval agenda, nothing more. If he expects to have real influence in a party controlled by the blackshirts of Brian Tamki, he's naive.

Tamaki has said he envisions Destiny controlling the nation in the near future:
"I predict in the next five years, by the time we hit our 10th anniversary - and I don't say this lightly - that we will be ruling the nation." (4)
That was said in 2003, so he's running short of time to meet his deadline for turning New Zealand into something like Afghanistan under the Taliban. And it won't happen, because Destiny is the fringiest of the fringe of the radical right of neo-conservative Christianity, big on judging and condemnation, low on forgiveness and tolerance.

This latest squabble shows they are incapable of working with anyone that doesn't subscribe to their fundamentalist bullshit dogma, and accept Bishop tamaki as a being somewhere between Kim il-Jong and a Chinese Empreror in omnipotence and authority. Anyone helping this deluded and dangerous man is a fool, or a danger, or both.
1 - "Speed wobbles hit Christian party plan," unattributed
NZPA article, on Stuff.co.nz, 20th September, 2007. (
http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/4208556a11.html)
2 - ibid.
3 - ibid.
4 - Brian Tamaki, quoted in "Is Destiny destined to rule?,"
unattributed article on tvnz website, 3rd of October, 2004. (
http://tvnz.co.nz/view/news_national_story_skin/451171)

Monday, 17 September 2007

Climate change: Trojan horse for GM crops

GM crops are to be promoted as a potential way of combating climate change in Britain. Ministers are hopeful the terror of climate change will overcome the fear of GM food:
Government ministers have given their backing to a renewed campaign by farmers and industry to introduce genetically modified crops to the UK, the Guardian has learned.

They believe the public will now accept that the technology is vital to the development of higher-yield and hardier food for the world's increasing population and will help produce crops that can be used as biofuels in the fight against climate change. (1)
Astonishingly, it was only in 2004 that the government announced there would be no GM crops in Britain for the "foreseeable future" (2). Clearly, that only means three years, a useful piece of information which should be retained.

As for the suggestion that it will somehow save us from global warming, that is patent nonsense. If Britain's climate is going to change so much that non-GM crops (aka crops) won't grow, then the planet will be so screwed that other problems will overwhelm us. Bio-fuels offer no solution and only serve to divert attention from more fruitful avenues of development.

1 - "Return of GM: ministers back moves to grow crops in UK," by Alok Jha in the Guardian, 19th of September, 2007. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/sep/17/gmcrops.politicalnews1)
2- ibid.

Friday, 14 September 2007

What a joyous day ...

Not only is Ahmed Zaoui free (1) , but Riverbend has made her first post on Baghdad Burning (2) since late April, when she told us her family was going to leave Iraq. They are now in Syria.
How is it that a border no one can see or touch stands between car bombs, militias, death squads and… peace, safety? It’s difficult to believe- even now. I sit here and write this and wonder why I can’t hear the explosions.

I wonder at how the windows don’t rattle as the planes pass overhead. I’m trying to rid myself of the expectation that armed people in black will break through the door and into our lives. I’m trying to let my eyes grow accustomed to streets free of road blocks, hummers and pictures of Muqtada and the rest… (3)

The sun might not be shining here in Palmerston North, but I feel radiant, today.

1 - 'SIS gives Ahmed Zaoui the all-clear,' unattributed NZPA atrilce in the Dominion Post, 13th of September 2007.
2 -
http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/
3 - ibid. From the post 'Leaving Home ...', 6th of September, 2007.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Sensing Murder: Insult II

I confess. I am one of the intanglible forces haunting Nigel Latta. After his appearance on Sensing Murder: Insight, the poor man must have received about 15,000,000 emails from every self-proclaimed sceptic, cynic, doubter, nay-sayer and scourge of the paranormal in New Zealand. I was one of them, in fact, I was two of them as I replied to his short - but courteous - response. Probably, the man is wondering why the legions who have responded to his appearance on one ludicrous TV show don't appear at his seminars on parenting, or buy his books.

Understandably enough, Latta didn't answer everyone individually, or all the questinos that were thrown at him. Instead, he published an account of his experiences on his website (1). He says he's pretty happy with the way that the Sensing Murder team presented his views. Though I was surprsied to read that, after afew moments reflection it made sense. After all, if you are going to let a smart, observant fellow like Latta watch you work, with the express intention of exposing any funny business, you're going to think carefully before trying any of that funny business. Equally, they would have had to have been foolhardy to try to manipulate or misrepresent Latta's comments. He would have been alert to that, and would have made sure that the deception was exposed. So they played it straight.

This doesn't answer important questions, however. True, they played it straight on this occasion. There are plenty of instances in other episodes when they have been seen to be guiding the psychics and breaking their own rules, however. In an earlier post (2) I linked detailed examinations of a couple of episodes. Here's a couple of gems from the much longer transcript (3) of the episode concerning the death of Alicia O'Reilly:

Kelvin: She's also talking about 'What Now?', as in the program, so 'What Now?', I've got to go into the eighties.

Rebecca: Alicia was murdered in 1980.

Rebecca's short concise statement implies that Kelvin's prediction is spot-on. What Rebecca and the production team deviously omit to tell the viewer is that the kid's TV program 'What Now?' did not go to air until 1981. Alicia was murdered one year before it began so it can never have been a show she watched. Never.

...

Kelvin looks at Alicia's drawing of a four storey house:

Kelvin: It's almost as if this girl's drawn her own life, before she's gone. It shows her house…

However Kelvin's guess is wrong, but we are not told this. Alicia lived in a single storey house. He continues:

Kelvin: It shows… her animal by the look, her dog, by the look of it.

A member of the production team is heard to respond very quietly:

Woman on production team: Cat.

Kelvin: Oh, cat is it? [Kelvin looks up at the person who said "cat" for confirmation and smiles]. She talked about the cats earlier. Oh it is too.

This is a blatant example of cheating. The production team not only tells the
psychic that they are wrong, they also give him the correct answer. (4)

Which shows that they do cock up, continually, and that the Sensing Murder team aren't always as scrupulous as they were when Latta was present. That is just a couple of examples of blatant guiding. There are plenty of others, and also instances where the production team may have unintentionalyl have guided the 'psychics.' Though long, the two transcripts are well worth a read.

Which brings us back to the queastion of how Weber was able to perform so well. I can't answer that. As I pointed out yesterday, the story of Margaret Walker has been publicised. It is reasonable to wonder if Weber had been aware of it beforehand, through the 20/20 program on it or the activities of Walker's son. Weber has a professional interest in unsolved murders, after all. It is possible she was familiar with the case. Even if the Sensing Murder production team were keeping everything above board, and Weber had no idea what case she was investigating, it would have been easy enough to identify it from a cold reading. It is even possible she didn't consciously recall the case, but her unconscious memory provided enough detail to give an impressive reading.

Latta goes further, pointing out that the 'psychics' have managed to identify information known only to police, and even identify suspects. I'm not convinced by either claim. In the case of Olive Walker, Weber prepared a fairly generic photofit of the supposed killer. If this was shown to police, along with firther clarifying information, it might have yeilded some sort of a match, but it proves nothing, except that there is a person who looks vaguely like the photofit and has a history of violence against women. Doubtless, an entirely different photofit would also have yeilded results. There are plenty of violent bastards out there.

As for Latta's claim that the 'psychics' came up with "specific names that were persons of interest to the Police but were never made public" (5), we'll have to take his word for it that these were specific, identifying names, not vague suggestions that the killer might have been called "Mike." Though even then, we're left with the fact that these "persons of interest" were not charged or arrested, and the killers remain unknown. And consider this: if the psychics unwittingly stumbled on something that the police were trying to hold back, one of these pieces of evidence that is known only to them and the culprit, and they felt this evidence might be signifigant, would they endorse the psychic's 'findings'? I think not.

1 - "Sensing Murder: Some Answers," by Nigel Latta, on http://www.goldfishwisdom.co.nz/, viewed 5th of September, 2007. (http://www.goldfishwisdom.co.nz/?t=46)
2 - As described previously on lefthandpalm:
http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/09/sensing-murder-insult.html
3 - "Sensing Murder Episode: A Bump in the Night," unattributed analysis of the episode on Silly Beliefs. (
http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~nogods/murder-1.html)
4 - ibid.
5 - Latta, op. Cit.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Mattel ...

Guess what, yup, Mattel are recalling yet more toys (1). This is the third major recall in a month. This begs the question - why aren't the other toy companies doing the same? Are they squeaky clean (I feel a Tui billboard moment coming on ...) or are they simply hoping no-one will look their way?
Mattel, Inc. announced today that, as a result of the company's ongoing investigation of its toys manufactured by vendors in China, the company has voluntarily recalled 11 toys globally, including eight pet and furniture playsets sold under the Barbie(R) brand and three Fisher-Price(R) toys, due to impermissible levels of lead. No Barbie(R) dolls are included within the recall. In total, there are 522,000 affected toys in the U.S., and 322,000 affected toys outside of the U.S. Mattel has completed the testing program for the majority of its toys, including all of its toys currently sourced from vendors. (2)
Astonishingly, Mattel might come out of this mess looking like the good guys, because of much mea culpa-ing, breast beating and pledges of putting child safety first. Which is a bit like lionising a burgular for saying he was sorry after he was caught. Mattel doesn't deserve praise for dragging its safety standards up to a barely acceptable minimum. It deserves to be excorciated for not having them all along.

Bottom line, predictably is that Mattel showed a cavalier attitude to labour rights and human rights by decanting their operations to the third world. Unions making it too difficult by demmanding (Damn them!) a reasonable wage and decent working conditions? No problem. There are peons in China who'll do the job for a fraction, and their used to be beaten and exploited, and their government doesn't regard that sort of thing as a naughty. But in doing that, Mattel - and the rest of them - also played fast and loose with our safety as consumers.

It is an measure of our selfishness and disregard that it is only when our safety was endangered that the issue of third world manufacture became important. But now that people are wking up to it, they have to accept that the issues that have lead to these recalls are inextricably linked with the factors that prompted the relocation of manufacturing to the third world. For all the abject apologies and promises of good behaviour in the future, the fundeamental dynamic hasn't changed. At some point, the need to maximise profit will erode whatever standards and checks Mattel have put in place, and the cycle will repeat.

1 - "Mattel Announces Recall of 11 Toys as a Result of Extensive Ongoing Investigation and Product Testing," unattributed PR Newswire article, on cnnmoney.com, 4th of September, 2007. (http://money.cnn.com/news/newsfeeds/articles/prnewswire/LATU17804092007-1.htm)
2 - ibid.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Sensing Murder: Insult

The news that Sensing Murder was returning filled me with dismay, but not surprise. The mix of psychic tomfoolery, murder mystery and graphic 'recreations' could hardly fail, and by making the programs look like CSI style drama, the producers may have quietened concerns about their shameless recycling of real pain and death and grief as entertainment.

I watched part of the previous series, and wrote a critique (1) of the episode featuring the murder of Olive Walker. Others have provided very detailed eviserations (2) of two other episodes from that series.

The new series was preceded by a special episode, titled Sensing Murder: Insight. It promised two things, First, a sceptic would witness the filming of a Sensing Murder case, featuring star Aussie psychic Deb Weber. Second, we would be up-dated on the progress of cases featured in the last series. The programme was astounding.

The most astonishing thing was the identity of the sceptic - what was Nigel Latta doing in this schlocky tabloid absurdity? Latta is a respected criminal psychologist, known for working with some of our most dangerous young killers (3) and with child abusers. He's a professional, sensible chap, with keen insight. I can't underastand what prompted him to lend crediblity to this balderdash.

His presence was especially odd, given the reservations he expressed about the honesty of the producers, suspecting - as I do - that a lot of footage is left out, and only the occasional correct guess is left in. The producers are also guilty of manipulating and distorting what the psychics say to try to make it credible, as shown in the Olive Walker case (4). Why Latta thought he would get a fair showing from people with a vested interest in protecting the program's shaky credibility is unclear.

Offered access to the filming, Latta should have insisted on the right to producing his own commentary, with control over content and context, rather than allowing the producers to pick what they wanted. Perhaps he made a trade off in the hope of being able to do a seperate expose. The producers suggested he wasn't able to account for what he witnessed, and was left with his scepticism severely tested by the end of it. I'd like to hear his side, unmediated by the producers of Sensing Murder.

At one point, he said that he thought Weber was genuine, and though he was clearly meant that he didn't think she was manufacturing a performance, the producers presented this so that it seemed he was endorsing her supposed psychic powers. Similarly, it seemed that many of his comments were cut off. I wondered how many but's or however's were left out. We don't know how long Weber spent communing with the spirit of the dead woman. We don't know how many false leads she followed before getting lucky. She managed to spell out part of the dead woman's name, but this was could have been little more than hangman style guessing, retaining correct guesses and discarding the incorrect.

Perhaps by watching for signaling - concious or unconscious - between Weber and the producers, Latta was looking in the wrong place. Perhaps the truth was simpler. The case Weber was 'investigating' was the murder of Margaret Walker. This had previously been featured on New Zealand television, on 20/20. The son of the dead woman has maintained - in spite of police findings of accidental death - that she was murdered by an unknown party. He has campaigned for the case to be re-opened (5). So the case is not obscure and it is reasonable to wonder if Weber may have been familiar with it. This would account for what Latta found most puzzling - Weber's ability to lead them straight to the house where Walker died - though if Weber was communing with the spirit of Walker, why the need to go walk-about at all? (6)

Once Weber was inside the house, I noticed that something interesting happened, or didn't happen. In the hallway where Walker died, after (according to the police) falling down the stairs, Weber walked straight up the stairs to describe how Walker went to the toilet before she met her death. In doing so, she passed right over the spot where Walker's body was found, without a moment's hesitation. It is surprising that the shade of Margaret Walker felt the pressing need to tell us about her bladder, before telling us about how she met her death. Maybe the dead have different priorities from the rest of us. If Weber was familiar with the case, it would also explain how she 'sensed' the death wasn't a murder. Naturally, the producers claimed was dramatic confirmation of the police version, though it confrimed nothing at all. I can stand in a hallway and declare whatever I like. It doesn't make it so.

The remainder of the program reviewed the six cases of the previous series. We were told that the police were investigating new information as a result of the series. They didn't explain - though it was apparent from comments made by a policeman interviewed early on - that this new information had arisen from the boost given to the cases by the programs, not from the 'leads' provided by the psychics. So, at best, you could say Sensing Murder is a tacky sort of crimewatch, encouraging people to come forward with information that might be helpful.

As it is, none of the cases featured in the previous series have been solved. Sensing Murder's producers claim they have managed to identify suspicious individuals, where descriptions or photofits have lead to a name being suggested, but police investigations have not lead to any arrests. Some of the details given by the psychics were clearly wrong - it was suggested the killer of Olive Walker had a distinctive tattoo. Police identified someone they already had in custody, based on the photofit composed by Weber. But no confirmation that he had the tattoo. Surely, with the person incarcerated, it would be fairly easy to check? So presumably, no tattoo.

The bottom line is that Sensing Murder has failed to provide any information that has lead to arrests. The six cases still remain unsolved. The psychics failed. The series, a nasty, tacky, exploitative piece of tabloid junk, should be shunned as an insult to the memory of the murdered people, and because of the insult it offers to their grieving kin, seeking comfort in the falsehoods and lies peddled by the program-makers and the so-called 'psychics.'

1 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/02/sensing-murder.html
2 - A general over-view otf the series, highlighting its flaws, and then two detailed examinations of the episodes 'A Bump in the Night' and 'A Fallen Angel' are available here: http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~nogods/murder.html#heading-1a
3 - As described previously on lefthandpalm:
http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/07/bailey-junior-kurariki-applies-for.html
4 - See note 1, above.
5 - "Mother's Mysterious Death Haunts Son," unattributed One News article, 16th of September, 2005. (
http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/411365/611552). The 20/20 clip is available at the same web address.
6 - Weber hasn't always been so assured. The analysis of 'A Bump in the night' (see note 2) includes a descrption of Weber standing in the street, pointing at houses, one after the other, saying "That one?" until the 'positive statement' is confirmed by the production team, who also helpfully point the camera at the house before she has identified it. The other psychic on the case, Kelvin Cruikshank, was even less successful, eventually having to be told which house was the right one. Doh!

Monday, 3 September 2007

More on that Guardian report ...

I've posted this seperately because I wanted to get the general rant agaisnt the timidity of the media off my chest first.

Some of the stories recounted in the Guardian (1) make you feel ill. Here are some of them:

  • Garment workers fclaimed they were forced to work 'overtime' of 6-18 hours per week.
  • Employees claimed they were made to work without pay to meet unattainable production targets.
  • Female workers were harassed by male superiors.
  • Security guards patrolled the toilets to bully workers to get back on the production line.
  • Workers berated over PA system.
  • Workers dismissed for missing work due to illness.
  • Workers collapsing through over-work, stress or bad working conditions, and needing medical attention.
  • One female worker, a mother of two young children, hanged herself because of the pressure to meet targets. She had only been working at the palnt for 20 days and had been refused permission to leave the day she committed suicide.
  • Another female worker, 9 months pregnant went into labour, and had to spend an hour and a half filling out forms before she could leave the factory. She eventually gave birth in the street and the baby died. Astonishingly, her employeers claim the baby died because she dropped it. (2)

The classic response to people who express unease about the explotatitive side of globalisation is that the people who are being 'exploited' are benefitting from the process, being given jobs, opportunities and advantages they would not have enjoyed, and earning more than their fellows. They accuse the dounbters and critics of being naive, but they are the ones who are guilty of naivety - or dishonesty. In the continual drive for profits, there is no space for unions or workers rights. the gulf between production cost and profit has to be kept as wide as possible.

The report details workers who earn £1.13 for a nine hour day. The Bangalore trade unions estimate that a living wage for workers would be just £2.50 per day (3). That is all. The workers could be paid a living wage, the companies could still make a healthy profit, and the consumers could stil enjoy cheap products. But it seems that is too much to ask.

The anonymous woman whose baby died returned to work after three months paid leave. She explained, "I need the job. If I have no job, I have no food." (4)

1 - "The sweatshop high street - more brands under fire," by Karen McVeigh in The Guardian, 3rd of September, 2007. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/supermarkets/story/0,,2161301,00.html)
2 - ibid.
3 - ibid.

4 - ibid.

Guardian launches noble crusade, ten years too late

This (1) shouldn't be news, of course.
Two of Britain's major high street retailers launched inquiries last night into allegations that factory workers who make their clothes in India are being paid as little as 13p per hour for a 48-hour week, wages so low the workers claim they sometimes have to rely on government food parcels.
...
The investigation, which follows our report in July in which Primark, Asda
and Tesco were accused of breaching international labour standards in Bangladesh, has uncovered a catalogue of allegations of Dickensian pay and conditions in factories owned by exporters who supply clothes to the UK. India's largest ready-made clothing exporter, Gokaldas Export, which supplies brands including Marks & Spencer, Mothercare and H&M, confirmed that wages paid to garment workers were as low as £1.13 for a nine-hour day. This fails to meet their basic needs, according to factory workers and Indian unions and so falls below the minimum international labour standards promised by the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), a code of conduct which sets out basic rights for employees across the supply chain. Marks & Spencer is a member of the ETI, as are Mothercare, Gap and Primark. (2)
The Guardian has run several stories about third world exploitation (try here (3)) recently, which is obviously a good thing. It begs the question why this is only news now - this has been going on for a long time, and it hasn't even been a secret.

The Guardian might say that they are simply responding to media interest, and stories like this wouldn't have attracted much attention before. That's a pretty poor defence, however. I appreciate that The Guardian is a commercial concrn - it has to attract readers in sufficient numbers to appeal so that advertisers will pay enough to keep the paper going. But a newspaper - particularly one like the Guardian - has a duty to lead public opinion, not just respond to it.

A story like this ten years ago might have been commendable. Now, the paper is just pandering to the vague unease about globalisation felt by its middle-class readership.
1 - "The sweatshop high street - more brands under fire," by Karen McVeigh in The Guardian, 3rd of September, 2007. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/supermarkets/story/0,,2161301,00.html)
2 - ibid.
3 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/07/supermarkets-slammed-over-3rd-world.html

Would Orwell have been a blogger?

An amusing piece (1) in The Observer, by Robert McCrum. Should be followed by reading Orwell's essay, Politics and the English Language (2) , which is referred to by McCrum.

It is probably unfair to point out McCrums's occasional slips into un-Orwellian vagueness. He indulges in some bloated writing which probably wouldn't impress Orwell: "the democracy of the web is in danger of becoming a cacophonous nightmare ... there are a score of half-baked rants: ignorant, bilious, semi-literate and depressing." (3) Are four adjectives necessary? Why not just say they are badly written?

1- "Would Orwell have been a blogger," by Robert McCrum, in The Observer, 2nd of September, 2007. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2160684,00.html)
2- "Politics and the English Language," by
George Orwell. (
http://www.george-orwell.org/Politics_and_the_English_Language/0.html)
3 - McCrum, op. cit.

Prediction

There's nothing stupider on the internet than putting down your thoughts in an indisputable form.  So that, of course is what I am going...