Friday, February 26, 2010

Hitler is unhappy with the Telecom dummkopfs

Have a little laugh at the expense of the Evil Empire a.k.a. Telecom NZ and watch this hilarious spoof!

Catching up with Australian incomes

According to statistics, per capita income in Australia is about a third higher than in NZ, compared to the early 1970s when the figures were about the same. Needless to say this has been a cause of political debate between the two main parties, not to mention the exodus of New Zealanders heading to Australia, about 35,000 a year. A significant part of this difference on paper is, of course, due to the movement of the $A /$NZ exchange rate in that time - in the 1970s the rate was close to 1 for 1, now it is more like 1.27 to 1.

The Governor of the Reserve Bank says that Australia's good fortune is due in large part to its mineral wealth which lies easily accessible in areas where no-one will complain if it is strip-mined. This is certainly the case. One major resource which Australia is short of, however, and New Zealand is not, is water. Add to that a hostile climate (and a lot of hostile fauna!) except in the coastal areas where the big cities are located, the overall low population density and a high bureaucratic cost structure (caused in no small part by the unnecessary existance of the States) and there are downsides to Australia too.

Basically, you don't get your cake and eat it too.

This doesn't mean, however, that New Zealand can't improve its productivity - it needs to. The Government needs to dismember Telecom as a matter of priority (see previous post) as well as remove much petty bureaucracy of central government, and lower GST back to 10% to match Australia, not increase it. The objective is not to work harder, but smarter.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The slow death of the news

In their book, The Death and Life of Journalism in America, Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols point out the alarming facts about the crisis of American newspapers:

In a nutshell, media corporations, after running journalism into the ground, have determined that news gathering and reporting are not profit-making propositions. So they're jumping ship. The country's great regional dailies--the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer--are in bankruptcy. Denver's Rocky Mountain News recently closed down, ending daily newspaper competition in that city. The owners of the San Francisco Chronicle, reportedly losing $1 million a week, are threatening to shutter the paper, leaving a major city without a major daily newspaper. Big dailies in Seattle (the Times), Chicago (the Sun-Times) and Newark (the Star-Ledger) are reportedly near the point of folding, and smaller dailies like the Baltimore Examiner have already closed. The 101-year-old Christian Science Monitor, in recent years an essential source of international news and analysis, is folding its daily print edition. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is scuttling its print edition and downsizing from a news staff of 165 to about twenty for its online-only incarnation. Whole newspaper chains--such as Lee Enterprises, the owner of large and medium-size publications that for decades have defined debates in Montana, Iowa and Wisconsin--are struggling as the value of stock shares falls below the price of a single daily paper. And the New York Times needed an emergency injection of hundreds of millions of dollars by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim in order to stay afloat.

This article (which includes a video) states that at least 10,000 of the 60,000 journalists in America in 2001 have lost their jobs and there is no evidence that any have re-employment on the Internet in 'digital newspapers'. Where is it all heading? The Propaganda State, they say.

It effectively repeats the gloomy analysis contained in the book Flat Earth News about the state of UK news media (see our post from 21 October last).

In New Zealand most newspapers and current affairs magazines are now owned by the two Australian media giants Fairfax and ACP, whose policies of severe cost-cutting have seen editorial standards plummet and coverage of current events and issues (to say nothing of arts and culture) curtailed.

Thus the book's analysis (and the authors' prescription for salvation) applies to a large extent here too.

What will happen to the evil empire?

From the NZ Herald of 12 January:- "The Commerce Commission's Fair Trading Manager Graham Gill said while Telecom had co-operated in the investigation, the commission was becoming increasingly concerned at the number of occasions on which Telecom has acted in breach of the Fair Trading Act. He said since 2003 Telecom had been the subject of Fair Trading Act convictions, settlements or warnings on at least eight occasions."

"The only morality they recognize is what will further their cause, meaning they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat, in order to attain domination"
~ US President Ronald Reagan

Although Reagan was referring to the then Soviet Union in 1981, he could easily have been referring to present day Telecon aka Telecom NZ. With the clear outburst of pent-up anger this week from the public about this organisation's behaviour, it is the opportune time for the Government to step in and dismember it legislatively. As we have commented in previous posts, this organisation has for more than 20 years been a big bullying monopoly, willing to extract from its customers (read victims) anything it has felt like charging them. And when competition began appearing on the scene it did everything it could to put obstacles in their way to preserve its monopoly. Effectively, Telecom has been an enemy of the free market, not just by its attacking competitors, but by its deceitful advertising and the various extra charges tacked onto its customers/victims' bills in small print.

Worst of all, Telecon has retarded technical development in this country by getting rid of most of its engineers and technicians and by spending as little as it possibly can on infrastructure.

It is clear that it must be split up and any key monopolistic parts of its infrastructure be put back into public ownership.

Shed Jokes

From the joke of Telecon's XT to jokes of another kind - except that these ones are funny.

In 1998 Jim Hopkins' book Blokes and Sheds was published, featuring pictures of blokes, i.e. men, at work on their hobbies inside sheds, usually involving carpentry, metal-working and machinery. Now Random House NZ has published a book of Chris Slane's cartoons on the same theme. They are a mix of pencil sketches and colour drawings (acrylic we think). If you have a partner who spends a lot of time in a shed making things, he's sure to appreciate this book! Available in our online shop.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Reynolds holds a press conference to explain

"Och aye, the Board of Telecon, oops I mean Telecom, invited me to be the new public face of the company. They figured that with my good looks and Scotch accent that I would soothe the poor suckers, oops I mean customers, who pay Telecom heaps for service that Telecom doesn't deliver. And for that they said they would pay me $7 million a year. That's more than double what the CEO of France Telecom gets! I thought these Board members were on another planet, but only a looney would turn that down? So I got a first class seat on the plane to Nioo Zeeland you know. Soon I'll have enough money for my own lavish castle and estate in Scotland, and I'm really looking forward to it. Satisfied?"

Telecom's XT crashes yet again

So here is a solution for them - have a network of third world telemarketers sitting on poles relaying people's messages.

Monday, February 22, 2010

British lighthouses in old postcards

Postcard collections from 100 years ago (when postcards were used as e-mail is today before telephones became widespread) have been appearing in book form regularly over the last few years and this new book is devoted to the topic of British lighthouses. As is usual, the cards came in a variety of b/w, sepia toned and colored (as distinct from colour) versions. Although a small number of people expect old photos to look like they were taken yesterday, and can't understand why they don't, the 'olde-worlde' charm of vintage postcards is what gives them their appeal. Most of these lighthouses still exist today, although some have had ugly helicopter landing pads added to their tops. There are interesting stories attached to some of them.

We like lighthouses wherever they are, and have a large number of models in our offices. In 1989 we co-published New Zealand Lighthouses and plan to bring out an updated e-book edition of it later this year. There are also two NZ lighthouse films as bonus features on our New Zealand Maritime Memories DVD.

For the retroporn fan

One of the more interesting new additions to German publisher Taschen's book catalogue is this special mini-size box set of compiler Dian Hanson's selection from the Swedish Private magazine during the 1970s. The magazine was established in 1965 and steered for the next 25 years by Stockholmer Berth Milton (1926-2005), called the father of modern hard-core pornography. The first seven issues featured girls displaying their parts (even that was daring at the time), but issue 8 in 1967 heralded a spread of a copulating couple, introduced by an editorial with 3 gruesome scenes from the then current Vietnam war, asking what was obscene - war violence on the nightly TV news or lovemaking? Competitors soon appeared, particularly the Theander Brothers of Denmark with their Color Climax Corporation, and modern porn was in full steam.

Never content, Berth Milton continued to push the envelope and although he stayed mainstream (unlike the Theanders who had no qualms about catering for every perversion), as the seventies progressed Private became less exotic and more debauched. In 1990 his son Berth Milton Junior took control, and sensing that Swedes were not that comfortable with the reputation they had, moved the operation to Barcelona.

In Patricia Bartlett land, of course, it was all banned until the 1990s, so Private and the like were largely unknown. This little set of five books in a box is a nicely produced and presented selection of Dian Hanson's choosing from the original transparencies, swapping some photos that weren't used for some that were, and - given the subject - reasonably tasteful. Apparently the original magazines from the time now change hands on the Internet for significant sums. For those who were denied it all at the time, here is a solid sampling of that era's licentiousness.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Railways in popular literature

The latest issue of the London Review of Books has a page listing a few of the many books which have used trains as a setting for adventures of different kinds.

In the UK and Europe where trains, both long and short distance, have been an integral part of life for a century and a half, this is no surprise. Charles Dickens' classic ghostly short story The Signalman is well known as are the railway settings of several Agatha Christie and Georges Simenon detective novels, while Emile Zola's Rougon-Macquart cycle has been adapted for the screen several times, most famously in La Bete Humaine from 1938. Other books the LRB lists are Closely Observed Trains, turned into an Oscar winning Czech film in 1966, while non-fiction includes Death Ride from Fenchurch Street and other Victorian Railway Murders by Arthur and Mary Sellwood, books about real haunted trains, and travelogues by the likes of Ian Marchant, Matthew Engel and of course, the notorious Paul Theroux. Closer to home there is Australian Colin Taylor, whose Traincatcher was published by us in 1996.

As these popular (as distinct from technical-historical) books tend to be stocked by big 'mainstream' bookshops, we tend not to compete with the same stock, although we carry some of them.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Westpac too miserly to install branch sprinkler system

Westpac, like the other Australian-owned banks, makes hundreds of millions of dollars in profits a year, but (no surprise) can't be bothered spending a little money on fire safety.

An early morning fire at Coastland’s Westpac Bank in Paraparaumu on Wednesday has been catastrophic for both the bank and surrounding businesses.

The fire, which fire-fighters believe was caused by an electrical fault, has obliterated the public downstairs area in Westpac and caused extensive heat and soot damage upstairs.

Next door, the Breaden McCardle Chubb Law Solicitors’ offices and the Windmill Cake Shop were extensively damaged by smoke and heat.

Mr Thomas Thomas, from the Windmill Cake Shop, says he found out about the fire when he went to start work at 4.30am. He has lost all of his stock, products and equipment. “Nothing was salvageable,” he says. “We will have to start from scratch again.”

Paraparaumu Fire Station Officer Steve Hudson says it’s thought the fire started in the centre of the Westpac bank between 1am and 2am. A bank employee said that an electrical fault may have been to blame.

Because the building was closed up, with no oxygen getting in, the fire smouldered for some time before becoming an inferno.

The bank did not have a fire alarm connecting it to the fire station and the only indication that something was wrong was when Police heard the bank’s burglar alarms going off.

The first fire crew arrived on the scene at 2.20 am and had problems with excessive heat. First fire-fighters unable to go in inside and had to leave the building and make it safe before any fire fighters could go inside.

It took 10 fire appliances, 8 pumps, two special fire appliances from Wellington and Avalon — and 40 fire-fighters to get the blaze under control.

Mr Hudson says it is “highly recommended” buildings have an alarm attached to their sprinkler systems, thus notifying the fire station early that there was a fire.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Kingston Flyer update

A customer has asked in respect of our post of 17 November, what has since happened to this premier preservation railway in Southland?

As far as we know, none of the 7 tenders received in December met the $4.7 million that lender Prudential Finance wanted to clear the size of its mortgage - so nothing has happened and the operation is mothballed. This company even refused to allow the train to be used in a Bollywood movie that was scheduled for filming in January. Our understanding is that the railway assets are under a heritage order and can't be moved from where they are. Local government, central government or both, could step in, but the likelihood of the central government doing anything is slim, despite the tourist appeal, and ratepayers of the local councils in the area probably aren't keen either.

It therefore seems that until Prudential is willing to accept a write-off of some of the debt owed to it, wheels won't move.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Recalling the glory days of railways

Britain had some lovely steam trains in the old days - both locomotives and carriages - and their spirit lives on with the country's many preservation lines. Unlike steam locomotives in continential Europe which were nearly all black, those of Britain came in a mix of black, dark green, maroon and occasional dark blue.

The Bluebell Railway (15 km in length) is one of the earliest and best known museum operations in the UK and what it may lack in scenic highlights (compared with, say, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway) it more than makes up for with the variety of locomotives and rolling stock. This is also the only railway that is 100% steam.

This book is one of a series of colour portraits of these preservation lines from photographer Matt Allen which demonstrate why steam railways attract so many followers.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

and now the Bridgecorp crooks ...

Arch-crooks Eric Watson and Mark Hotchin may have gotten away with their nefarious conduct, but the Bridgecorp bosses haven't been so lucky. The following is from the website:

Bridgecorp staff were instructed to lie to investors who called the company asking why they hadn't received their regular interest repayments, Auckland District Court was told yesterday (15 February).

Bridgecorp collapsed into receivership on July 2, 2007, owing 14,500 investors about $459 million. Investors are expected to recover no more than 10 cents in the dollar.

Prosecutor Brian Dickey told the court that at one point before it failed, Bridgecorp had a bank balance of just $16,000.

One staff member said in an internal email four months before it collapsed that maybe investors could be told: "We have no money, can't pay our bills, are holding back payments, (and are) lying to investors". Faced with a cashflow and liquidity crisis, which it had failed to disclose to the market, the company was repaying only the noisiest and most persistent investors in the months leading up to receivership.

Unbeknown to most, Bridgecorp had been defaulting on investor repayments since February that year. Between February and June 2007, there were 44 separate defaults involving nearly $21m, prosecutor Brian Dickey told the court.

"It appears that staff were directed to lie to investors who contacted the company asking why they had not received their full payments on the relevant due date. The late or non-payments were attributed to computer errors, bank errors or accounting department errors."

The court was also told Bridgecorp's in-house lawyer emailed various staff members on March 8, 2007, seeking comment about proposed amendments to its December 2006 prospectus. One wrote back: "Maybe we could tell them that we have no money, can't pay our bills, are holding back payments, lying to investors and brokers about why their money hasn't been paid and I'm not confident that we can meet the March interest payments to investors."

Five former Bridgecorp directors – Rod Petricevic, Rob Roest, Bruce Davidson, Gary Urwin and Peter Steigrad – each face 10 charges brought under the criminal provisions of the Securities Act. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of five years' jail or a fine of $300,000.

The charges allege the directors lied to investors in the offer documents registered on December 21 2006. These "untrue statements" included claims about Bridgecorp's credit approval practices and its financial position.

All five appeared in court yesterday for a depositions hearing that will last all week before being adjourned, part-heard, until March. A High Court trial date is at least a year away.

A major issue at trial will be what the directors knew, or should have known, about the company's financial position before registering its prospectus and investment statement, and before the prospectus was amended in March 2007.

The court was told yesterday that Bridgecorp faced a liquidity crisis and was within two months of defaulting on investor repayments when the December 2006 offer documents were registered. None of this was disclosed to prospective investors; nor were they told that three months earlier a cashflow crisis had forced Bridgecorp to borrow $8 million from a competing finance company, St Laurence Ltd, at 23 per cent interest, in order to meet investor repayments.

The interest rate was raised to 30.5 per cent when Bridgecorp extended the loan in December 2006 – around the time its prospectus and investment statement were registered.

Mr Dickey said Bridgecorp's financial position was "pretty much shot" and the company was "in a freefall of deteriorating circumstances" in September 2006, three months before its prospectus was registered. By October 2006, cashflow was being monitored hourly.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Pictures of a lost city

Berlin is of one Europe's major cities, but its appearance today has little ressemblance to that of 100 years ago. This book takes a journey back in time before bombs, artillery shells, and cold war division destroyed what was manifestly an enchanting city, even if Hitler felt it didn't measure up to Paris and with Albert Speer developed his own plans for it.

The book Berliner Plätze features over 100 large photos like that on the cover of the open areas (places or squares in English), some famous like Alexanderplatz and Potsdamer Platz, most less well known, that will delight those into cityscapes of the old imperial era. Some buildings have survived but the vistas have not.

This and books like it are to be found in our shop.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

taxes - the Government is doing it wrong

"In my opinion, the least bad tax is the property tax on the unimproved value of land, the Henry George argument of many, many years ago."
─Milton Friedman (1912-2006), winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, 1976

Q. Is there no tax you like?
A. Yes, there are taxes I like. For example, the gasoline tax, which pays for highways. You have a user tax. The property tax is one of the least bad taxes, because it's levied on something that cannot be produced — that part that is levied on the land. So some taxes are worse than others, but all taxes are bad.
— Milton Friedman in an interview with Scott Duke Harris, published in the San Jose Mercury News, Sunday November 5, 2006

Milton Friedman had impeccable right wing credentials and was a darling of the Reagan and Thatcher regimes of the 1980s. But when it came to taxation he certainly had the right ideas. Wouldn't a land tax be bad for those who want to preserve the natural environment? Well you simply create zero ratings based on district zoning for these things.

Will the Government heed Milton Friedman's ideas? Don't be silly.

beat the Government's increased Tax on food by growing your own vegetables

If you have a patch of ground that is only growing grass, weeds or both - why not use it to grow your own vegetables? Soon New Zealand will have one of the highest tax rates on food in the World (only Denmark will be higher), but you don't need to pay the tax on everything.

We have our own citrus trees and a plot of ground is used to grow vegetables. This book, written for New Zealand conditions, is highly recommended. Some supermarkets carry it (ironically perhaps), and you can get it through our shop.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

New book on doublespeak, euphemisms and gobbledygook

In 2004 we published Peter Isaac's book The New Gobbledygook, a dictionary and guidebook to newspeak; now an Australian, John Croucher, has published an equivalent book with helpful, amusing and - shall we say - rather cynical interpretations of fancy words and phrases that you see in Real Estate Ads, Job Ads, Management Proclamations and the like.

Some examples:-

Real estate euphemisms

"low maintenance lot" - it has no backyard

"wildlife nearby" - there are snakes in the nextdoor property

"uninterrupted views" - there are no trees

"cross ventilation" - there's no glass in the windows

"country living" - it's too far to drive to work

"storybook cottage" - it has a pitched rather than a flat roof

"olde world grandeur" - nothing has been repaired since it was built

Jobs and the workplace

"paradigm shift" - what we're doing isn't working, we're going to try something else

"blue sky thinking" - you have no idea what you're doing, neither do we

"make internal efficiencies" - remove all the things that make your job worthwhile and possibly starting firing people

"cost containment procedures" - same as above

"you can put your hat into the ring" - you've got no chance of being successful

"adherence to guidelines will be a factor in your periodic review" - if you don't do what we tell you you'll be marked down

"information session" - we tell you and you listen only

"being a team player" - no original thoughts are allowed

"applicants should apply in person" - we need to see if you're fat, ugly or old

Both books are available in our on-line shop.

Government to increase GST (i.e. VAT)

It is perhaps inevitable that the Government would do this - after all no-one expected that the increase from 10% to 12.5% back in July 1989 would stay at that level - 15% is the obvious "rounding up" stage.

As everyone knows, this type of tax is regressive - in other words it bears heaviest on those who earn the least. For that reason it tends to be most popular with right wing political parties as they know that those who earn the least tend not to vote for them. But as everyone also knows, this type of tax reduces people's inclination to spend - and there are problems with doing that in the middle of a recession. When Margaret Thatcher came to power in Britain in 1979 she bumped up VAT from 8% to 15% and that combined with a soaring value of the £ created a huge increase in unemployment during 1980. In fact the current British government actually reduced VAT last year for this reason (it went back up again at the beginning of this year).

How will this affect NZ retailers? Basically it will be the death knell of CD and DVD retailers - people can order these on-line from overseas websites now and get them delivered GST free (postage on these small lightweight items is not great), retailers find it hard enough to compete now, let alone when their selling prices have to go up again.

For booksellers, the big increases that post offices in various countries have made in the last few years have helped offset the tax-free aspect as far as people importing books from offshore websites is concerned - BUT with locally published books - oh dear, another kick in the guts for publishers it will be.

Monday, February 8, 2010

What are New Zealand's best drives?

A series - highly recommended - currently screening on the Living Channel is Britain's Best Drives, 6 half-hour episodes in which actor Richard Wilson takes one of six classic cars of the time on a spin along what were regarded as the best drives in Britain in the 1950s, in a bid to not only portray the present scenery and townscapes along the routes, but also to find out how life has changed in Britain over the last 50 years with interviews and side tours.

The answers in NZ to the last aspect would be fairly similar - among other things, immigrants have flooded the big cities, native Britons now solely populate only the smaller places, crime is well up, people now have little respect for each other, traffic has massively increased, as has the pace of life and with it stresses and tensions.

But what are NZ's best drives? Back in the early 1990s one of our associates proposed a book covering what he considered the top three - the West Coast Highway (Arthur's Pass route), the Te Anau - Milford Sound Road and the Desert Road (Waiouru - Turangi). This never eventuated, but we would like to hear from people on what they would include.

new book of photos above Scotland

Similar to Random House's book from 2009 of old aerial photos taken above New Zealand, but this time mostly in colour, is Above Scotland.

One of the significant differences, of course, is that while NZ has never been what can be called an industrial society, this is not the case with "old world" countries such as Scotland. Significant factories which manufactured products that came to New Zealand such as ships and locomotives were based there, but today most of this has shifted to Asia and Scotland is now what is termed "post-industrial". This is particularly poignant with the double page spread of the former Singer Sewing Machine factory in Glasgow, once a huge complex that has today completely disappeared.

Outside the cities the landscape of Scotland looks essentially the same as it always has, however, and people often compare it to New Zealand. High, rugged peaks look down on the rounded hills of the southern uplands. Wild moorlands run into fertile flood-plains. The coastline ranges from soft sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters to jagged cliffs battered by the fierce waves of the Atlantic.

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) holds the national collection of aerial photography for Scotland with millions of images dating from the 1920s to the present day. These photographs - many of which have never been published - show a remarkable history from stone circles, Roman remains and ruined castles, to the growth of villages, towns and cities, the rise and fall of heavy industry, the country at war as well as the once proud engineering, and modern architecture. For the first time in one volume, RCAHMS has brought together some of the best images from its collection in a very nice 224 page hardback book.

Friday, February 5, 2010

new book of high calibre photography

The Photographic Society of New Zealand has chosen 181 exquisite, arty and inspirational photos from its members and put them in this 160-page hardback coffee-table style book.

In an age when several websites are devoted to photography with examples from thousands of contributors, why would you pay $69 for a book? Well that goes to the essence of the tactile nature and visual quality of a book versus a computer screen.

It's certainly a more intriguing book, with its vast range of subjects and styles, than the standard "glossy New Zealand scenery for visitors" type, and would enhance any café or waiting room literature table. Although only about 10 photos have a transport theme we have it available in our online shop.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Telecom offers piddly compensation to cellphone customers

Telecom (or Telecon)'s compensation to its XT mobile customers based south of Taupo affected by last week's massive XT mobile outage will cost it about $5 million.

Meanwhile, Taranaki Telecom mobile customers were hit again today by a separate problem which knocked out service in some areas.

Telecon's package:

* $10 credit for prepaid customers whose service suffered on Wednesday 27 January.

* One week's worth of plan charges for postpaid customers whose service suffered on Wednesday 27 January.

* $20 credit for prepaid customers whose service suffered between Wednesday 27 January and Friday 29.

* Two weeks' worth of plan charges for postpaid customers whose service between Wednesday 27 January and Friday 29.

Well, in the bad old days when we had no choice but to use this Mafia-styled organisation, we can think of three occasions when our landlines were down (the first time for three days) which cost us at least hundreds of dollars - and how much compensation did Telecom offer us? Zilch - not even a refund of the line rental for those days. Needless to say, as soon as we were able to, we switched to their competitors, something we urge everybody else to do.

Government acts on Paw Justice petition

Further to our post of 3 January - the Government has now taken up the private member's bill which was the subject of the petition, and will be increasing the prison sentences in the Animal Welfare Act for those who abuse and cause suffering to animals - excellent!!

As we said in that post, everyone should be vigilant on this issue and report all offenders.