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.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Electric trains for Auckland now seem assured

Last Wednesday, Auckland's long-awaited $1 billion rail electrification project was given Government funding approval for a fleet of of up to 114 electric multiple unit (EMU) railcars. Transport Minister Steven Joyce announced the Cabinet had approved $500 million for electric rolling stock to start running in 2013. That is on top of a commitment of $500 million the Government inherited from the previous Labour Government to electrify Auckland's railway tracks south to Papakura and west to Swanson.

Being able to accelerate and brake faster than the diesel units they will replace, the EMUs should allow 10-minute service frequencies and, naturally, cost less to run.
But the Auckland Regional Transport Authority may still have to lease up to 13 electric locomotives to pull existing refurbished British SA carriages along the southern line.

Although the Auckland Regional Council originally sought 140 railcars, Mr Joyce said the proposed units would be longer and the overall fleet capable of carrying an equivalent number of passengers. They are expected to be more cost-effective and efficient, although numbers and dimensions remain to be finalised. $45 million of "essential" spending will include lengthening station platforms.

Electrification of the Auckland rail network was first planned in the 1940s and came closest to being realised with the Rapid Rail plans from the mid-1970s, before the Muldoon government axed them in 1976.

According to Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee in an interview last year, “Electrification will build on the remarkable momentum achieved in Auckland rail over the past five years in which patronage has grown from just over 2 million to over 7 million passenger trips per year. We are set to overtake Wellington’s rail patronage of about 11.5 million passenger trips in the next two to three years.”

You can only wonder why railway projects in Auckland seem to take ages to be actioned. The Britomart station project is probably the best known example of a highly successful project which unfathomably took several years to happen. And these works will still leave a lot of the Auckland Region unserviced by rail. In our book the Railways of New Zealand: a journey through history we included a map of the proposed rapid rail system from the 1970s - that would have covered a much greater area including the North Shore and an airport link. Oh well.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

20 years since our book "The Golden Era of Fiat Railcars in New Zealand"

To mark this occasion we have produced a computer mousepad using a scene (above) which was left out of that book, as it was received past the printing deadline. This is available for $15 in our shop. These railcars at different times served all provincial centres in New Zealand (except Westport and Alexandra) from the mid-1950s until they were withdrawn in 1978 - a true halcyon era in NZ rail passenger transport history. 

 And on the subject, why is it that a small number of railfans in NZ refuse to call them Fiats and instead insist they be called Drewrys? True, the order was placed with the Drewry Car Co. of England, but this was a sales organisation for most of its life and used sub-contractors to do the actual constructions. The bodies were built at Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Co. with the engines from the Fiat company of Italy, and hence the origin of the most popular unofficial name. NZR only ever referred to them as the articulated railcars, and therefore Drewry has no more legitimacy as a name than Fiat. 

Another railway example of a popular unofficial name resulting from only a part of the equipment used was the 'Oerlikons' of the London and North Western Railway. These electric multiple units were built by Metropolitan-Cammell in Birmingham, but the name came from their electrical equipment which, after the outbreak of WWI, had to come from Oerlikon in Switzerland rather than from Siemens in Germany. One of these sets is now in the British National Railway Museum in York.

Friday, November 27, 2009

30 years since the Mt Erebus disaster

On 28 November 1979, Air New Zealand Flight TE901, a DC-10, took off for a scenic flight from Auckland, proceeding over the South Island, the Auckland Islands, Baleny Islands and Cape Hallett to McMurdo in Antarctica. The flight would then return via Cape Hallett and Campbell Island to Christchurch and then Auckland. It got as far as the slopes of Mt Erebus (slightly higher than NZ's highest mountain of Mt Cook/Aoraki) on Ross Island in Antarctica.

What happened was not the subject of any controversy: Approaching Ross Island it appeared that the area which was approved by the operator for VMC [Visual Meteorological Condition] descents below 16,000 feet was obscured by cloud. The crew decided to descend in a clear area to the (true) North of Ross Island in two descending orbits. The aircraft's descent was continued to 1,500 feet on the flight planned track back toward Ross Island for its next turning point, Williams Field, McMurdo. The aircraft, however, was actually flying 1.5 miles East of its flight-planned track. Shortly after reaching 1,500 feet the Ground Proximity Warning System sounded. Go around power was applied but the aircraft struck the slope of Mt Erebus at 1,465 feet. The aircraft broke up and caught fire. All 257 on board were killed, making it New Zealand's worst recorded disaster, even though 57 of the victims were foreign nationals.

Why it happened was the subject of considerable controversy, however. It was quickly established that the crash had nothing to do with the aircraft. An accident investigation report by the Chief Inspector of aircraft accidents came out in May 1980. The probable cause according to this investigation was: "The decision of the captain to continue the flight at low level toward an area of poor surface and horizon definition when the crew was not certain of their position and the subsequent inability to detect the rising terrain which intercepted the aircraft's flight path."

Needless to say the pilots' families were not happy and following much public demand, the NZ Government announced a further one-man Royal Commission of Inquiry into the accident, to be performed by judge Justice Peter Mahon. In April 1981 he released his report. He concluded that: "The dominant cause of the disaster was the act of the airline in changing the computer track of the aircraft without telling the air crew." He continued: "In my opinion, therefore, the single dominant and effective cause of the disaster was the mistake made by those airline officials who programmed the aircraft to fly directly at Mt Erebus and omitted to tell the aircrew. That mistake is directly attributable, not so much to the persons who made it, but to the incompetent administrative airline procedures which made the mistake possible. In my opinion, neither Captain Collins nor First Officer Cassin nor the flight engineers made any error which contributed to the disaster, and were not responsible for its occurrence."

In his report, Mahon claimed airline executives and management engaged in a conspiracy to whitewash the enquiry, famously accusing them of "an orchestrated litany of lies" by covering up evidence and lying to investigators. Air New Zealand and the Civil Aviation Division were ordered to pay the costs of the inquiry, and the airline had to pay an extra fee of $150,000.

Air New Zealand appealed against Mahon's findings to the Court of Appeal, which set aside the costs order against the airline. Mahon in turn appealed to the Privy Council in London. His findings as to the cause of the accident, namely reprogramming of the aircraft's flight plan by the ground crew who then failed to inform the flight crew, had not been challenged before the Court of Appeal, and so were not challenged before the Privy Council. His conclusion that the crash was the result of the aircrew being misdirected as to their flight path, and was not due to pilot error, therefore remained. But the Board held that Mahon had acted in excess of his jurisdiction and in breach of natural justice by going on to make findings of a conspiracy by Air New Zealand to cover up the errors of the ground staff. In their judgment, delivered on 20 October 1983, the Law Lords dismissed Mahon's appeal and upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal.

Air New Zealand has long been known as an airline which has excellent front-line staff (flight and cabin crew etc) and atrocious management. On the cover of our book on the airline and its affilates' aircraft, we indirectly paid tribute to the victims of the disaster by putting one of Air NZ's DC-10's on the cover (but not the one which crashed). This book is available from our shop.

Post Office First Day Cover for the first flight to Antarctica on 15 February 1977.  The last was on 28 November 1979.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

another forgotten word

In response to our post on words that have come and gone, a customer has sent us this advert from 1956. Who now would have any idea what "flashmatic" meant? The remote control technology for TVs etc is of course standard nowadays.

As an aside, how does that beginning price of $US 150 compare now? About $US 1,192 according to the US inflation calculator (about the price of a full HD 42" flat screen model now) while the de-luxe model pictured at $US 400 is today the equivalent of $US 3,179.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A message for the corporate greedy

"The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls" - Paul Simon

Sunday, November 22, 2009

100 Years of the Little Yellow Train

A notable survivor of the numerous narrow gauge trains that used to criss-cross France is the Petit Train Jaune or little yellow train which climbs into the Pyrénnées mountains in French Catalonia.

More than just a rail link from village to village, the line of Cerdanya is undoubtedly an integral part of the regional identity. The metre-gauge line connects Villefranche-de-Conflent and the international station of La Tour-de-Carol on the Spanish border, 62 km away, with 22 station halts. The track rises to almost 1,600 metres altitude and serves the highest station in France: Bolquère-Eyne. There are also impressive examples of railway engineering traversed, and just as impressive is that the 100 year old electric trains are still in use. Needless to say it is a popular tourist attraction, and the popularity has necessitated additional new trains, although the charme of the century old rolling stock can't be replaced.

Books on this topic are naturally available in the transpress on-line shop.

anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe grows

As the inevitable backlash to terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists within Europe, popular sentiment is hardening there against Muslims in general. The fiercest debate has been over the 'voile intégrale' or all-over female veil, which many find intimidating as well as an obvious disguise for criminals. The Dutch have already banned it in public and many French want to do the same.

The latest manifestation of anti-Islamic sentiment is the Volksabstimmung or referendum in Switzerland to stop the building of any more minaretts on mosques, due to be held on Sunday 29th November. Switzerland has about 400,000 Muslims, co-incidentally the same number as in the state of Texas, USA.
The feeling, however, is that the referendum will be defeated, not just because existing town planning laws regarding visual nuisance should be enough, but because the Swiss don't want to be seen intolerant of religious freedom.

The poster used by those in favour of the ban is shown as well as a photo of Muslim response.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The real Burt Munro

Most people have seen or at least know about the movie "The World's Fastest Indian" starring Anthony Hopkins as the amateur motorbike racer Burt Munro of Invercargill, who with his home-modified Indian motorbike broke speed records at the Bonneville salt flats in Utah in the early 1960s.

Roger Donaldson here presents an impressive collection of colour and monochrome photos of the real Burt Munro in the events that the movie recreated. As a bonus you get a DVD of extra footage from the movie and Donaldson's original documentary on Burt Munro.

The 288 page landscape A4 format book is available for $55 from the transpress on-line shop.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Will there be an Eric Watson Mask?

The most popular Halloween mask in the US this year was Bernie Madoff, the big time confidence trickster who cost US investors hundreds of millions of dollars and was sentenced to 150 years jail.

New Zealand's equivalent, Eric Watson, is still indulging his lavish lifestyle in the UK, San Tropez, etc, with his ill-gotten gains, as no one here has prosecuted him thanks to the toothless NZ Securities Commission.
In 1997 the American Securities and Exchange Commission came close when they found him guilty of insider trading, but let him off with a "cease and desist" warning. It is a real shame they didn't go further.

Meanwhile auditors KPMG reported on Tuesday that his Hanover Finance money-raising vehicle lost $283 million in the year to June.

And yesterday Allied Farmers threw their hat into the ring by offering to swap Watson and co-conspirator Mark Hotchin's Hanover debt for shares in themselves. Although seemingly farcical, it's unlikely Watson and Hotchin's victims will be any worse off from it, after they severely compromised their ability to chase Watson and Hotchin for it last December. Watch this space.

The Rangatira's bell comes back to Wellington

The Rangitira was one of New Zealand's most famous inter-island ferries and the last to carry passengers overnight between Wellington and Lyttelton in the 1970s. Needless to say, it has extensive coverage in the new transpress book Strait Crossing: the ferries of Cook Strait through time by Victor Young. One souvenir of the ship, the bell, is now home and will be on display in the Museum of Wellington City & Sea on Queens Wharf.

The following report is from the website as is the photo:


Twenty-four years [actually 23 years] after being spirited off the Rangatira while it was docked in Britain, the bell of the former Wellington ferry is to return home.

Its voyage has seen it secreted in a port, hung in British pubs and rung in a Scottish home. Now its "liberator" and "caretaker", former Wellington wharf policeman Ross Auld, has flown it back to New Zealand to donate it to the Museum of Wellington City and Sea.

Mr Auld, 54, who lives in the Bay of Islands between international diving contracts, acquired the bell from the Rangatira one night in 1985 at Falmouth, in southwest England.

He had remembered the ship, which sailed between Wellington and Lyttelton under the flag of the Union Steamship Company in the 1970s, from his days as a member of Wellington's wharf police in 1976.

Mr Auld was working on a salvage ship out of Falmouth in 1985 when he was made aware of the Rangatira's presence.

"I was with two Kiwi mates. When we came back in to port [Willie Bullock] said to me, 'There's the old Rangatira over there'.

"In the bars that night the locals told us the ship had been there for nine months and was up for sale.

"It had been down to the Falklands. My mates went on the boat the next day and had a look around. Willie came back and just happened to mention the Rangatira's bell was still on the boat."

Mr Auld boarded under cover of fog one night and hacksawed the 23-kilogram bell's fastenings from the ship's bow.

He wrapped it up and spirited it under the gangplank, where it lay for six months.

"One night my mates and I shifted the bell into the boot of our car. We souvenired it to ensure the bell returned to its true home in Wellington."

While in Mr Auld's care the bell had several homes. It spent 12 years in a pub in Essex before moving on to become the official pub bell in the Ship Inn in Johnshaven, Scotland.

"It hung there until about 2004. After that a mate looked after it for me in Aberdeen."

Mr Auld returned from London this week with the bell.

"It was the right time to bring it home. It's going to go to the Museum of Wellington City and Sea. It belongs to the people of Wellington. I'm coming down to Wellington to give it to the museum in the next couple of weeks."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

60 years of Wellington Trolley Buses

Strictly speaking, Wellington's first trolley bus was a single 20 kW one from 1924 which ran along the Hutt Road for a while. However, the main fleet of trolley buses began in 1949 with the arrival of 10 Crossley/Metropolitan Vickers 78 kW examples (another 4 of this model also went to New Plymouth). The first route they were used on was was Oriental Bay where they shared the road with trams for 15 months. After this they slowly took over from trams on all routes. Wellington is now the only New Zealand city which uses them, enhancing its clean-green image.

Those who want more information with nice pictures of Wellington trolley buses (along with trams and trains) will find them in the transpress book Wellington Transport Memories available in our shop, which features a cover painting by Wallace Trickett who also painted this montage.

One word from 60 years ago that came and went

Advertising is a big source of new words, but not all last the distance.

If you're interested in classic car books, check out our shop.

New words in circulation

Language is not and never has been static - new words come into use while other words drop out of use. Oxford University Press has produced a list of words that it is adding to its US dictionary, given below. But first is a list of some of the new words and terms from the earlier part of this decade. Those interested in more will find some on our webpage for The New Gobbledygook (our main website, not the shop site where it can be purchased) and of course a lot more are in the book itself.


BLAMESTORMING: Sitting in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible.

SEAGULL MANAGER: A manager who flies in, makes a lot of noise, criticizes on everything, and then leaves.

CHAINSAW CONSULTANT: An outside expert brought in to reduce the employee headcount, leaving the top brass with clean hands.

CUBE FARM: An office filled with cubicles.

IDEA HAMSTERS: People who always have their idea generators running.

MOUSE POTATO: The on-line, wired generation's answer to the couch potato.

PRAIRIE DOGGING: When someone yells or drops something loudly in a cube farm, and people's heads pop up over the walls to see what's going on.

SITCOMs: (Single Income, Two Children, Oppressive Mortgage) What yuppies turn into when they have children and one of them stops working to stay home with the kids.

SQUIRT THE BIRD: To transmit a signal to a satellite.

STARTER MARRIAGE: A short-lived first marriage that ends in divorce with no kids, no property and no regrets.

STRESS PUPPY: A person who seems to thrive on being stressed out.

SWIPED OUT: An ATM or credit card that has been rendered useless because the magnetic strip is worn away from extensive use.

TOURISTS: People who take training classes just to get a vacation from their jobs. "We had three serious students in the class; the rest were just tourists."

TREEWARE: Hacker slang for documentation or other printed material.

XEROX SUBSIDY: Euphemism for swiping free photocopies from one's workplace.

GOING POSTAL: Euphemism for being totally wacked out, and losing it. Makes reference to the unfortunate track record of postal employees who have snapped and gone on wild rampages.

ALPHA GEEK: The most knowledgeable, technically proficient person in an office or work group.

BROWNMOSIS: The process by which some people seem to absorb success and advancement by kissing up to the boss rather than working hard.

CHIPS & SALSA: Chips ? hardware, Salsa ? software. "Well, first we gotta figure out if the problem's in your chips or your salsa.

YUPPIE FOOD STAMPS: The ubiquitous $20 bills spewed out of ATMs everywhere. Often used when trying to split the bill after a meal, "We each owe $8, but all anybody's got are yuppie food stamps."

CLM - Career Limiting Move: Used among microserfs to describe ill-advised activity. Complaining about your boss while he or she is within earshot is a serious CLM.

ADMINISPHERE: The rarefied organizational layers beginning just above the rank and file. Decisions that fall from the adminisphere are often inappropriate or irrelevant to the problems they were designed to solve.

DILBERTED: To be exploited and oppressed by your boss. Derived from the experiences of Dilbert, the comic strip character. "I've been dilberted again --our boss revised the specs for the fourth time this week."

GENERICA: Features of the American landscape that are exactly the same no matter where one is, such as fast food joints, strip malls, subdivisions. Used as in "We were so lost in generica that I forgot what city we were in."

OHNOSECOND: That minuscule fraction of time in which you realize that you've just made a BIG mistake.

FLIGHT RISK: Used to describe employees who are suspected of planning to leave a company or department soon.

PERCUSSIVE MAINTENANCE: The fine art of whacking an electronic device to get it to work again.

UNINSTALLED: Euphemism for being fired. Heard on the voice-mail of a vice president at a downsizing computer firm: "You have reached the number of an Uninstalled Vice President. Please dial our main number and ask the operator for assistance. *(Syn: decruitment.)


The 2009 Word of the Year is: unfriend.

UNFRIEND – verb – To remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook.
As in, “I decided to unfriend my roommate on Facebook after we had a fight.”


HASHTAG – a # [hash] sign added to a word or phrase that enables Twitter users to search for tweets (postings on the Twitter site) that contain similarly tagged items and view thematic sets

INTEXTICATED – distracted because texting on a cellphone while driving a vehicle

NETBOOK – a small, very portable laptop computer with limited memory

PAYWALL – a way of blocking access to a part of a website which is only available to paying subscribers

SEXTING – the sending of sexually explicit texts and pictures by cellphone


FREEMIUM – a business model in which some basic services are provided for free, with the aim of enticing users to pay for additional, premium features or content

FUNEMPLOYED – taking advantage of one’s newly unemployed status to have fun or pursue other interests

ZOMBIE BANK – a financial institution whose liabilities are greater than its assets, but which continues to operate because of government support

Politics and Current Affairs

ARDI – (Ardipithecus ramidus) oldest known hominid, discovered in Ethiopia during the 1990s and announced to the public in 2009

BIRTHER – a conspiracy theorist who challenges President Obama’s birth certificate

CHOICE MOM – a person who chooses to be a single mother

DEATH PANEL – a theoretical body that determines which patients deserve to live, when care is rationed

TEABAGGER - a person, who protests President Obama’s tax policies and stimulus package, often through local demonstrations known as “Tea Party” protests (in allusion to the Boston Tea Party of 1773)


BROWN STATE – a US state that does not have strict environmental regulations

GREEN STATE – a US state that has strict environmental regulations

ECOTOWN - a town built and run on eco-friendly principles

Novelty Words

DELEB – a dead celebrity

TRAMP STAMP – a tattoo on the lower back, usually on a woman

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Whitcoulls, Borders go from bad to worse

Reports are that Whitcoulls, Borders and Angus & Robertson, which now go under the collective title of REDgroup and run out of a glass tower in Exhibition Street in Melbourne, Awstrylia, have a new CEO coming from a supermarket background, while the Category Manager for New Zealand book stocks has been let go and replaced with a General catagory manager.

You can imagine the following conversation between the new appointees:

CEO: "I was looking at the feegures, mate. Strewth, we don't sell many books nowadays do we?

Category Manager: Books, nah, Who reads them? Sheesh, mate, I haven't read a book since I left schooul.

Me neether, I just play with me Play Station.

Do you play with it as well as or instead of?

Hah, funny, mate. What about New Zilund?

Nah, they're not interested in books, eether. They just root sheep over there don't they?

Exactly, mate. I don't know why these publishers over there think Kiwis are interested in reading, wasting time with their submissions.

Yeah, beats me. I theenk we should take the books out and put in sweets and beer.

Good theenking, mate. Hey, why not grab a V6 slab and we'll have a chat about the footy?

Kingston Flyer auction details announced

The text of the auctioneer's press release follows. While it is unlikely that the train will be running this summer/autumn season, hopefully it will be back in action next year as it is certainly New Zealand's most iconic vintage steam train operation. Those interested in the transpress book The Kingston Flyer Line: a history by Tony Hurst will find it in our on-line shop.

Full Steam Ahead For Kingston Flyer Tender Process

Monday, 16 November 2009, 3:29 pm
Press Release: Bayleys

The assets of Kingston Acquisitions Limited which owned the historic Kingston Flyer are now on the market in a receivership sale.
Kingston Acquisitions Limited was formerly headed up by property developer Dan McEwan. The company’s assets include two highly collectable steam trains towing up to seven fully refurbished carriages, as well as extensive tracts of development land around the township of Kingston, 35 kilometres south of Queenstown.

The Kingston Flyer train is an iconic part of New Zealand’s pioneering and rail history - embracing all the romance and mystique of the steam engine era.
Dating back to the early settler days of the South Island gold rush, the Flyer – rumoured to be so-named because of the sensation passengers got as it ‘flew’ along the tracks – initially ran between Invercargill and Kingston.
Since the early 1980s, the train has operated as a summer tourist service on 14 kilometres of track between Fairlight and Kingston in Southland
The train, track, station, associated buildings and nearly 80 hectares of surrounding land are being taken to tender by leading real estate company Bayleys Queenstown on behalf Prudential Mortgage Nominees Limited. The announcement of the mortgagee sale brings to a head speculation and uncertainty that has surrounded the Kingston Flyer since it ceased operating three months ago.
Bayleys Queenstown sales consultant Barry Robertson said the offering encompasses a sizeable tract of land that was destined for a comprehensive commercial and residential development.
“There are 13 parcels of land up for tender with some of the titles linked to the steam train - including a station and tavern, storage shed, and the railway corridor to Fairlight and Fairlight Station. Other titles include residential sections and development blocks, one of which has consent for a 15-lot subdivision,” Mr Robertson said.
“The mortgagee is willing to look at offers for the entire package, – including the rolling stock and plant. To say that opportunities like this come up once in a lifetime is an understatement… how often do you get the opportunity to purchase a fully operational vintage railway operation with all the services and infrastructure?”
Interest for the Flyer assets is expected to include both train enthusiasts and local /national tourism companies. Other property assets will appeal to a wide range of potential home owners, investors and developers.
The two locomotives in the Kingston Flyer sale – the Ab 778 which entered service in 1925 and the Ab 795 which started service in 1927 – are Pacific class locomotives, made in New Zealand. The 778 was built at the New Zealand Railways’ Addington, Christchurch yards while the 795 was built at the Railways’ yards in Hillside, Dunedin. The Ab 795 once pulled the New Zealand Royal Train and both are among the last Ab class coal-fired locomotives still functional today.
Chugging behind are seven 1898-vintage steam-heated wooden carriages - including passenger cars and kitchen van - featuring wood panelling, leather seats and brass trims. The Kingston Flyer rolling stock and railway are included in the Queenstown Lakes District Plan inventory of protected features.
“There is a lot of sentimentality around the Kingston Flyer and the place that it has cemented in the hearts and minds of people down here. We are very mindful of that, and hope that by offering it for tender, the ultimate outcome may be that it will be running again in due course,” says Mr Robertson.
Queenstown Lakes District mayor Clive Geddes has previously said that while the council “can’t write cheques, we will ensure that it (the train) stays in the district, and will provide every little bit of help we can to any prospective purchaser.”

Stopping those telemarketers

Nearly everybody is familiar with the scenario: you have sat down to your evening meal and the phone rings. On the other end is someone with an Indian or Philipino accent: "Good evening sir, we have got great deal for you on the Gold Coast. For only one hundred and fifty dollars you can stay a week in any apartment you choose..." Sometimes what is being sold is legitimate and sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it is reconnaissance before the approach: "We are Acme Research and we are doing a survey on energy companies ... what don't you like about your present energy company?" You may say something like "they don't offer Fly Buys points". A week later: "Good evening, we are XY Energy and we have got great deal with Fly Buys points for our customers..." People hustling on commission for charities was common, but after word spread that only about 10c in the dollar went to the charities and the rest to the hustlers, those calls diminished.

Business to business salesmen play an important part in the economy but mass consumer telemarketing using cheap third world labour has to stop. One way to avoid it may be to have an unlisted number although these operators probably have computers dialing every number and see who answers. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs needs to maintain a mandatory "do not call" list which every telemarketing operation needs to consult and when they don't they or their hirers are committing an offence. That won't stop those based in other countries but people will automatically know (if they don't realise it already) that these are scams.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Unfortunately we don't have this manual in stock

We have other manuals but not this one.

Would a "London Review of Books" work here?

This is a question that one of our customers raised in response to our post on a NZ equivalent to the Danish publishers on-line magazine.

The London Review of Books is a prestigious literary magazine known for fresh thinking on fresh subjects, and has very high editorial standards.

The idea for a NZ equivalent is appealing but there are problems with it. The obvious one is that not many books published here measure up to the standard of what is in the LRB and, more importantly, there are even fewer book reviewers who do. The main factor is undoubtedly that the market in NZ is only one fifteenth that of the UK and if you factor in the market in Ireland and North America which is also reached (to a lesser extent) by the LRB, then the economics here are not favourable. One of the best attempts but which still failed was the Quote Unquote magazine. One which still exists but is primarily orientated towards art is Landfall and its literary content is directly allied to Otago University Press.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New encyclopedia on New Zealand and the Sea

Instigated by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage and published by David Bateman, this book contains articles written by Ministry scholars covering the full gamut of topics involving the sea that totally surrounds New Zealand - the challenges of maritime transport in both pre- and post-European times, harvesting seafood both commercially and recreationally, the coast, including navigation and map making, ports, shipbuilding (and yes, beach culture) - and seawater sport.

The cover is fairly insipid as are the wallpaper type photos used in introductory pages (one can't help but contemplate what a renowned photographer like Philip Plisson of France could have done) but once you're past them, there are many interesting and enjoyable illustrations from both history and the present, all expertly arranged by Bateman's art team.

It is unlikely that people who pick the book up will be interested in everything in it, but there is plenty to appeal to those who follow the history of sea vessels and shipping. The endmatter contains a comprehensive list of further reading on each topic, although some important volumes are notably omitted.
The book is available for $69 from the transpress shop.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Watson and Hotchin's victims realise they've been had

Last night on TVNZ's Close Up program shareholder's association chief Bruce Shepherd explained what was behind the latest announcement by Hanover Finance's directors that the 100% payout of principal over 5 years they promised last December, when their creditors agreed to not put the company into liquidation, has suddenly been reduced to 70% : the company's two shyster owners Eric Watson and Mark Hotchin haven't put in the $96 million they promised they would. $96 mil as a percentage of the $527 mil Watson and Hotchin owe people? - oops, that's 18 cents in the dollar gone. The other 12 cents? Well, they will want their directors fees and dividends of course (Watson and Hotchin siphoned $91 million out of depositors' funds in the 2 previous years) - hey, they need to keep throwing their million dollar parties.

A pithy but no doubt accurate comment on the National Business Review website is reproduced below. A recent picture of Watson who now lives in London is above.


From the outset, the DRP [debt restructuring plan] sounded like nothing more than a feel-good plan to mollify investors. 100's of poor trusting buggers gathered at various spiffy locations around NZ to listen to Hotchin waffle on about how much he cared about them. Uh-huh! Watson (who never fronts up for anything) & Hotchin never intended to part with more than a couple of dribbles anyway, before throwing up their hands and saying "sorry, guys, the coffers are empty". Now they've been delivered a bonus in the form of a market that's refusing to stabilize (or so Hanover would have everyone believe!), so it almost sounds reasonable that they can't deliver on their original promise. The adjustment of that original 100c down to 70 (and how come United get an extra 20c?) is just cushioning the blow when they finally spit the dummy and "admit" that they're unable to pay out any more at all. Hanover should have been wound up, and whatever money at that time made available to investors. Even if it was 50c, which Hotchin said would not be a great outcome for investors. No? A darn site better than 6!! By allowing Hanover to operate for another 9 months or so, that's given them time to squirrel more cash away, and cooking the books even further before winding up in their own good time. If they miss 2 payments to investors, the company gets wound up, so does anyone want to guess how many more payments will be made? The government should have stepped in yonks ago and sorted this whole mess out, but they didn't and probably never will. And that's a disgrace! The investors were hoodwinked by Hotchins' smooth patter, and now they're suffering as a result of that and many lives have been ruined. That's another disgrace! All in all, it's a pretty disgraceful episode in NZ's history.