Monday, December 28, 2009

top books of the decade

The top book of the decade in the General Interest category we have already posted as being The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright.

In the general Pictorial Scenery category, Yann Arthus Bertrand's La Terre vue du ciel, or The Earth from Above as it was published in English, clearly stands out as the major work. It accompanied a series of programmes for French TV with the same title which is available on DVD. Like most landscape and nature photographers he is an active environmentalist and this is a strong theme in all his books and documentaries.

In the category of transport in other countries, we vote for Le Monde du Petit Train on the narrow gauge departmental railways of the Tarn. A meticulously produced book with great design, graphics, photographs, colour maps of everything, scale drawings in colour of front, side and rear elevations of of locomotives, railcars and rolling stock, stations, bridges, tunnels, and other buildings. And with 440 pages bound in hardback it is a substantial tome. It is the sort of book we would like to be able to produce if the market here was big enough to support the production budget required, but sadly it isn't.

In the category of books on New Zealand transport, other than those published by us, we vote for the 50th anniversary history of New Zealand's National Airways Corporation by Richard Waugh and his two assistant authors. Even though the printing standard wasn't quite as good as it could and should have been, it is a very solid reference work and pictorial history.

In the category of military history it is hard to go past Antony Beevor. His books on Stalingrad, D-Day and the Downfall of Berlin could all be picked, but as WW2 is a well published subject, we have decided instead to pick The Battle for Spain on the Spanish civil war of 1936-1939, simply because it is a subject that has received much less attention than it should have.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

150 years of Darwinism

Just over 150 years ago the first edition of Charles Darwin's book On the Origin of Species was published. It quickly sold out and a second edition was published on 7 January 1860. Although it avoided the subject of human evolution this was, and has been ever since, a major topic of discussion, with the belief that apes and humans evolved from a common ancestor.

Darwin's book has understandably become a kind of 'New Testament' for atheists, some of whom like theoretical biologist Richard Dawkins use it as the basis of a crusade against theists (believers in God). Given the way many religious fundamentalists behave, particularly Islamic extremists and the 'Christian religious right' in America's Bible belt, it is easy to sympathise with Dawkins' views. However, there are major problems with the adequency of Darwin's theories, for example, recent fossil evidence that points to spontaneous mutation. While Darwin's theories are good at explaining how species evolved, they are not when it comes to explaining how species came to exist in the first place. Clearly Darwin deserves a celebrated place in the history of science but his writings do not deserve the holy reverence which people like Dawkins pay them.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

Like many other firms, this year our sales dived and - thanks to Dymocks' boss - our bad debts jumped, which caused us to put some projects on hold and reconsider others. It is tempting to think that things will improve next year as the economy climbs out of the trough, but in reality it may not be of much significance.

Some sectors of the economy do well in tough times, though - lawyers (as people seek to boost revenue through litigation), liquor outlets, fast food vendors and the el cheapo retailers.

Regardless of your circumstances, we wish all customers and readers a happy, relaxing and rejuvenating Christmas break.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Best books of the 0's

About now lots of people will be contemplating the fin de la décennie and, among other things, producing their best books of the decade lists. We don't intend to come up with a long list, as for every one that you put on a list there are 2 or 3 equally deserving.

However, the most important book of the decade in our opinion, as it deals with a subject that is going to be with us for at least the whole of the coming decade, is Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower on the history of Islamic terrorism.

Otherwise we prefer to acknowledge the top upmarket books on the subjects that we concentrate on, and will post a list of these within the next few days.

Monday, December 21, 2009

80 years of the Mighty Civic Theatre

For 80 years the Civic Theatre on Auckland's Queen Street has been an Auckland landmark. The grand and ornately decorated theatre, famous for its stary ceiling, opened on 20 December 1929 and is one of only seven surviving atmospheric theatres in the world.

The Civic was originally built as a picture theatre for the people of Auckland and was the pride of Auckland for many years. After a $42 million restoration in 2000, The Civic was lovingly restored to its former glory.

The flat ceiling was cleverly painted to resemble a dome, with thousands of lights as the stars. The night sky is a representation of a Southern Hemisphere sky at 10 p.m. on an April evening. The design style of The Civic is of a Moorish garden at night, with turrets, minarets, spires and tiled roofs and, of course, the famous Abyssinian Panthers.

The Civic seats 2,378 people on two levels and is host to a range of events including visiting international musicals.

Information on the Civic will be found in the books Celluloid Dreams and Celluloid Circus in our online shop.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

50 years of the Consumer's Institute

This month's issue of Consumer marks 50 years of its existence and a gallery of its front covers over the years is here. (We note the complaint about high-handed bnz tactics on the cover of the December 1978 issue - that bank's bad behaviour goes back a fair way!)

The magazine has provided comparative test results on different consumer products on the market, and advice on the full range of services that people are going to want at some stage from government, professionals and tradespeople.

It hasn't always made recommendations we agree with, or for that matter always got its facts right, but it does provide useful pointers and guidelines on what to look for and take into account. Certainly strong consumer watchdogs like this and the TV programs Target and Fair Go are needed to ensure a free market works the way it should.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hanover victims vote to transfer Watson/Hotchin's toxic assets to Allied Farmers

Victims of corporate scumbags Eric Watson and Mark Hotchin who "invested" in their finance companies voted today in favour of the $396 million deal to transfer the finance companies' assets to Allied Farmers in return for shares in Allied Farmers.

The vote was close, with Hanover Finance secured depositors voting 75.45% in favour and United Finance investors voting 79.48% in favour. The other investor classes, including subordinated noteholders and Hanover Capital investors were more supportive, voting 97.47% and 88.33% in favour.

The deal required 75% approval from each class.

Most of Hanover’s "performing" assets will now be transferred to Allied Nationwide Finance business while the "poorer ones" will transferred into an “asset hospital” to be managed through to maturity.

Allied Farmers made a $34 million loss itself last year, the result of goodwill writedowns and "impairments and tough trading" in the rural sector.

One investor at today's meeting praised Hanover co-owner Mark Hotchin "for at least having the guts to front up. Better than that chicken-livered Eric Watson." Another described Mr Watson as a "shyster."

In September 2006, transpress's directors were invited to an address by the chief economist of one of the major banks. One of the questions asked there was what the bank thought of the finance companies - the answer was "we think most of them are toast." At about the same time the Retirement Commissioner was telling people that "the return of your money is more important than the return on your money."

So why did people want to invest with crooks like Watson and Hotchin? Were they just a little bit greedy themselves, wanting a higher return than what the registered banks were offering them? Undoubtedly. But that does not excuse in any way Watson/Hotchin's atrocious behaviour.

We can only hope that anyone who can help ensure that the lives of these crooks are made as much of a misery as they have made the lives of their victims, until they repay what they owe, will do so.

The photo shows Watson at a high society party in New York with Swedish model Lisa Henreckson.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Billions more to be spent on roads

Decisions announced today should delight the trucking industry.

A new four-lane highway will be built through the Kapiti Coast, along the western link road designation. The New Zealand Transport Agency announced this morning that it would build the Sandhills Expressway along the contentious Western Link Road route, running beside the coast from Raumati South to Peka Peka. It will cost between $380 million and $500 million, and will affect between 20 and 50 properties. The current State Highway 1 will become a local road.

And that old much vaunted "grand project", the Transmission Gully bypass, has also been given the green light. Along with improvements around the Basin Reserve and new Wellington tunnels, a total of $2.2 billion will be spent.

Well, despite the fact that the Transmission Gully route involves some pretty steep gradients, it will please the trucking industry no end. For car users, it is a mixed blessing. On the one hand the four lanes involved will mean they will be able to get past the many trucks that clog this section of State Highway 1 more easily. On the other hand, it will be them who will be massively subsidizing the truckies.

If $2 billion was spent instead on improving the rail system... ah yes, much fewer trucks on the State Highways, less road repairs, fewer accidents, less fuel imported, less trucks imported, less carbon emissions, less pollution generally. A beautiful dream and that's all it is going to remain by the look of it.

We should point out that we are not against the trucking industry, and in fact we make a lot of use of it moving our books around the country. We know that road cartage charges are proportionately much cheaper in NZ than what they are in Australia and margins aren't great. Obviously trucks are necessary when it comes to short distance haulage; they should be much less necessary than they are now for long distance haulage, however. What we are against are misleading and distorted economic arguments based on partial considerations. It isn't a question of state versus private enterprise either. In much of Europe the state owns both the roads and the railway lines (and in the west maintains both to high standards), but private operators have their own freight trains. We want honesty and fairness.

40 years since Paris Bastille closed

The station, that is, on the "glacial" night of 14 December 1969. The station served as the terminus of the 54.1 km long line to Vincennes and Verneuil-l'Étang. The line was opened initially to serve the Fort de Vincennes and was extended in 1859 to La Varenne and in 1874 to Brie-Comte-Robert. The line finally reached Verneuil-l'Étang in 1872 and connected to the line to Mulhouse.

The line was doomed with the inauguration of of the RER line A two days earlier on 12 December 1969 into which part of this line was included 5 years later on 14 December 1974. The station was demolished in 1984 and in its place the Opéra de la Bastille was built. Until the end the station was served by steam locomotives hauling rakes of carriages in vert foncé (dark green) through the suburbs. Photos of the station in the last years published in books have a particular atmosphere about them.

This has been the second Paris "grande Ligne" station closure, the first being the Gare d'Orsay in 1939 which now houses the Musée d'Orsay. Six mainline stations remain: Nord, Est, Lyon, Montparnasse, Austerlitz and Saint Lazare, each the terminus for lines stretching to different parts of France.
Three metro lines pass through the Place de la Bastille underground.

Books on French railways are available in our shop.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thomas the Tank Engine blasted ... is nothing sacred?

Oh dear. A Canadian academic, Shauna Wilton, a professor of political sciences at the University of Alberta, has criticised Thomas the Tank Engine for its "conservative political ideology" and failure to adequately represent women. The show's "right-wing politics" shows the colourful steam engines punished if they show initiative or oppose change, Ms Wilton found. A "class divide" sees the downtrodden workers in the form of Thomas and his friends at the bottom of the social ladder and the "wealthy" Fat Controller, Sir Topham Hatt, at the top.

She was also critical of the fact the show only has eight female characters out of the 49 who feature.

Obviously she hasn't read New Zealand Railfan magazine whose editors insist that all locomotives are feminine and must be referred to as "she".

As for the rest, well it was very much like that in the communist countries too, sweetness.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A little knowledge...

Using English words and phrases in brand names and advertising has become not just fashionable, but almost an obsession in Germany and Austria. Sometimes it's apparent, however, that not everyone knows what they mean.

The last line here says "or also to take away".

Friday, December 11, 2009

Variations on a theme

Is Dan Brown on to it?

What roads in Eastern Europe look like

Before you start thinking "aren't we well off here", it needs to be pointed out that rail traffic in Eastern Europe, both passenger and goods, is proportionately much higher than in NZ. When financial resources are scarce it makes much more sense to invest money in rail infrastructure over roads.

In NZ the opposite happens - billions of dollars are spent on roads and very little on the railways. The result - trucks smash up the roads and lots more money needs to be spent on repairing them, a kind of vicious cycle. And if the Treasury Wallers had their way and closed down the railways completely, our roads would all look like this very quickly.

Britain, France to get tough on banker bonuses

BRUSSELS, Dec 10 (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and France's President Nicolas Sarkozy are in complete agreement on moves to levy taxes on bankers' bonuses, Brown's spokesman said on Thursday after the two leaders met.

'Obviously they shared their thoughts on that and they are both completely aligned on the importance of that sort of scheme to ensure that going forward we don't repeat the same mistakes of the past and move towards an era of more responsible banking,' Brown's spokesman said.

He said Brown and Sarkozy met for around 30 minutes before an EU summit, holding what he described as 'tete-a-tete' talks on their initiative, which in Britain's case involves imposing a 50 percent tax on bonuses above 25,000 pounds ($40,600).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

50 years ago this was a little slice of England .... where??

It is hard to believe that this postcard was taken in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, every vehicle visible a British Ford. What happened to the V8 turnpike cruisers that American Ford was producing at the time? When petrol was cheap, the roads were wide and big, why would Americans have bought English rather than American Fords?

In fact quite a few dinky little European cars were imported into the USA, including from Eastern Europe. The most successful, as in New Zealand, was the Volkswagen. Very few American cars were sold in the UK, however, the reasons for which become obvious when you drive there: roads are narrow, shoulders are rare, and parking is always at a premium.

Click the pic for a larger version. Several books on cars and trucks in all countries are available at our shop.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

new book on New Zealand's first airline

The latest book from New Zealand's most prolific aviation author, Rev. Richard Waugh, looks at the history of Air Travel (NZ) Ltd, founded in 1934. Its route of Hokitika to Haast on New Zealand's rain forest covered West Coast against the backdrop of the Southern Alps could scarcely be a more scenic route for any airline.

The book covers some of the subject matter of Richard Waugh's earlier book When the Coast is Clear, but this is specific to Air Travel (NZ) Ltd occasioned by the 75th anniversary, and includes considerable previously unpublished material. As usual he has assembled an impressive assortment of details about the company, its services, aircraft and anecdotes of those who were involved, as well as great photos and items of memorabilia. There are forewords from the Mayor of Westland and Anand Satyanand ('Who?' The Governor General. 'Oh.' Remember now?)

The book has been printed with colour on every second page spread, and like Richard Waugh's previous 10 books, the production is the work of Craigs of Invercargill. They have a most able art director although several of the half-tone photos are rather flat and would have benefited from more contrast.

The title is available in both hardback and softcover editions from our on-line shop.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Telecom breaches Fair Trading Act again

Telecom has pleaded guilty to 17 breaches of the Fair Trading Act. The breaches related to the company's advertising of its Go Large broadband plan and 'unleashed' broadband plans in late 2006

From August to November 2006, Telecom and Xtra undertook an extensive nationwide advertising campaign to promote the Go Large broadband plan and made a number of representations such as “unlimited data usage and all the internet you can handle” and “maximum speed internet”.

Yeah right.

In December 2006, the Commerce Commission launched an investigation following complaints from Xtra customers who found that the internet speed was constrained, in some cases to dial-up speed and others also found they experienced slower speeds on their new Go Large plan than on their previous plans. The overall impression of the campaign was that the Go Large plan was unique in that it would offer unconstrained faster speeds and no data caps.

However, further details available in the fine print of advertising and on Telecom’s website gave the disclaimer ‘as fast as a user’s line will allow’ and outlined the possibility of constraints which included a ‘traffic management policy’ for use during peak times and for those using peer-to-peer applications, such as downloading music and movies.

The Commission established that a change made in early December 2006 to how the Go Large plan was administered meant that the traffic management policy applied at all times and across all applications, not just to peer-to-peer traffic. This meant that in some cases customers were not experiencing unconstrained speeds.

Are we surprised? Hardly. The only surprise is that people still want to use Telecom and its subsidiaries.

Do we need the British honours system?

About now a list of recipients of honours to be announced on New Years Eve will have been decided upon.

Back in March, Prime Minister John Key announced that orders of chivalry would once again be awarded to recognize services to New Zealand. Knighthoods were abolished by the previous government and titles were replaced by the honours Principal and Distinguished Companions of the Order of New Zealand. Mr Key said the replacement honours had no resonance with the public and it was a "pleasure" to reverse the move.

Undoubtedly for most people The Order of New Zealand means about as much as The Order of Guatemala, but do we need British Sirs and Dames? They represent an olde worlde 'old school tie' syndrome and basically you got a knighthood for being where you were, rather than for what you had actually done. With a few notable exceptions (for example, Ernest Rutherford, Edmund Hillary, Howard Morrison) most NZ recipients of knighthoods have been fuddy-duddies at best, crooks at worst (e.g. Messrs Fay & Richwhite).

Order of the Bath, Order of St Michael and St George, Order of the British Empire, Order of the Companions of Honour and Knight Bachelor.... er, yeah, real New Zealand isn't it? Phil Goff, who replaced Ms Clark as leader of the Labour Party said at the time, "It seems odd that we move back to having sirs, madams and dames when we thought that that was part of an English colonial system, not one that reflects New Zealand as a truly independent country."

And by the way, if you happen to hold an honour from any other country, you're out of luck: the official rules state: "New Zealand does not recognize foreign titles of nobility (other than those previously recognised by the Crown under a British Royal Warrant dated 27 April 1932). A foreign citizen holding a title shall cease to use the title in question on becoming a New Zealand citizen."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Hell parks outside Hotchin's $30 mil house

Hell Pizza, that is, a special new pizza named Greed in their honour. And who can deny that NZ's top crooks Mark Hotchin and Eric Watson deserve the other form of Hell?

Needless to say, Hotchin put his lawyers, Chapman Tripp, on to Hell Pizza - the response? "Hanover and Chapman Tripp Go To Hell".

Gotta love those one liners.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

new book - Los Angeles: portrait of a city

"Driving down your freeways
Midnight alleys roam
Cops in cars, topless bars
Never saw a woman so alone"
- LA Woman by The Doors

"Sad sad town, sad sad town
In the burning desert
Shanty town, shanty town,
Shanty town of the millionaire"
- Lost Angeles by Colosseum

As those who are familiar with their books know, the German publisher Taschen doesn't do things by halves. We thought our book Wellington: A Capital Century was a solid historical-pictorial portrayal and it certainly is the biggest and most impressive book that anyone has yet published on a New Zealand city, but this tome on LA makes it look small.

LA, a.k.a. "The Big Avocado", "Carmaggedon" and "Lala Land" is a city people love to hate, but yet have a fascination with. This book presents its growth from near desert to the biggest city in California, and geographically the most expansive in the USA, along with all the glitz, glamour, folies, excesses, transport problems (some self-inflicted) and growth pains. Even the industry that city nurtured and is most identified with - movies - regularly depicts it being trashed, most recently in 2012.

Taschen know that people like big photos and the extra large page format, as well as the number of pictures contained in its 572 pages, should satisfy most who pick it up (and just be prepared for its weight).

the Christmas spirit is not what you drink

Over the next few weeks alcohol sales will double as the country indulges in an orgy of parties, boozing and eating. The person whose birthday this is nominally supposed to be celebrating would not be impressed.

So what is the Christmas spirit? Suffice to say it is opposite to the attitudes found among the bosses of bnz, Telecom etc:- concern for others, selflessness, doing the right thing by others. Remember that there are people (and animals) out there who are less well off than you and could use your help.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

the Swiss vote to ban minarets

Contrary to expectations, the referendum held in Switzerland last Sunday to ban the construction of minarets on mosques was passed by 57.5%, with only the cantons of Geneva, Vaud, Neuchâtel and Basel City voting against the ban.

Some Swiss now fear that the country's embassies and consulates abroad will be the targets of Muslim violence such as that which was inflicted upon those of Denmark following satirical cartoons published in 2005 by the Jyllands Post newspaper.