Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Government increases maximum truck weight allowed on the roads

The "Land Transport Rule: Vehicle Dimensions and Mass Amendment 2010" will allow the maximum weight of trucks operating on NZ roads to be increased from the current 44 tonnes to 53 tonnes as from 1 May. There will also be provision for loads above 53 tonnes but these "will only be granted in very specific instances."

According to Transport Minister Steven Joyce, "New Zealand's freight task is forecast to increase by 70 to 75 percent over the next 25 years and while rail and coastal shipping will play an increasingly important role in meeting the freight task it is expected that the bulk of this increase will be carried on our roads." [our emphasis]

According to him, "this creates an environment where productivity gains in the range of 10 to 20 percent could be realised by using fewer trucks to carry a given amount of freight while enabling the impacts of heavy vehicles to be properly managed. This will help to reduce road congestion, operating costs, vehicle emissions and improve the road safety environment by slowing the increase in heavy vehicle movements on New Zealand's roads.

"Trucks carrying heavier loads will not be any wider or higher than present vehicles, though a limited number may be slightly longer. Roads that are allowed to be used by vehicles will be specified in their permit and road controlling authorities will have the final say on whether routes applied for are suitable for heavier vehicles. Any vehicle issued with a permit to operate at a heavier weight under a permit system will have to meet all appropriate safety requirements."

Well, folks, all this means that while driving along the roads you're going to encounter a lot more longer and heavier trucks in future - how do you feel about that? We thought so.

Here is some important safety advice when you encounter these behemoths in hazardous road conditons...

Driving in winter weather is hard enough, but driving in close proximity to a massive truck in slippery conditions is a lot worse. The normal rules of the road simply don’t apply when you're around one of these gigantic machines. For one thing, when you’re driving either directly in front of or behind a 16-wheeler+, it's important to keep as much distance as possible between your car and the tractor-trailer, because of the longer time it takes for these trucks to stop when braking. Tailgating is inadvisable in any situation, but when the vehicle in front of you or especially behind you is a tractor trailer, it's doubly dangerous.

Always stay alert for signals from the truck driver. For instance, because of its bulk, a tractor trailer will often move to the right first before it makes a left turn because of the wider turning radius it requires. It's important to keep your wits about you at all times, and play close attention to every sign the truck driver makes. Never attempt to overtake a tractor trailer at high speed. Slippery winter roads can increase the risk that you might skid right into the path of the 53 tonne+ monster. Also watch out for bursting truck tyres, a frequent occurrence with these heavy trucks. If a tyre bursts when you are close by, large slabs of sheared rubber can shoot out like rocks, and smash though your windscreen or that of any passenger cars nearby.

If you're driving in bad weather, it's best to slow down and keep as far away from huge trucks as possible.

Bad weather can magnify the effect of the usual causes of huge-truck accidents, like driver fatigue, defective truck parts, speeding, and alcohol or drug abuse by truck drivers, resulting in catastrophic injuries for themselves and other motorists. Even when poor visibility and slick road conditions contribute, there may yet be other factors at work like driver negligence, inattentiveness or speeding that can be root causes of accidents. In any case, drivers of these monsters must be extra cautious in adverse weather conditions to avoid an accident that could be hazardous not only to them, but also to other motorists nearby.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

comprehensive guidebook to Jaguar cars

Following the book on Jaguar racing cars in NZ (see our post from 15 September last) comes this new second edition of Haynes' guide to all the models produced from the pre-war SS models to date, including colour photos, specifications and notes on all the aspects that classic car enthusiasts and collectors want to know such as variations in exterior and interior details.

Jaguar was one of the most stylish marques from the UK (and Europe), even if like nearly all British cars its engineering left much to be desired. It certainly was a popular executive car in New Zealand until the early 1980s. The most famous model of the lot - the E type - has been described as 'sex on wheels'.

Like other transport books it is available in our on-line shop.

Can independent bookshops compete with the juggernauts?

By the juggernauts we don't mean mean Whitcoulls/Borders/Paper Plus - these are variety store chains which happen to sell books as part of their range of merchandise.

By juggernauts we mean the on-line biggies - among others, The Book Depository, Amazon, Tesco, Abe Books - which operate from overseas but because of their range, and often their discounts, are increasingly the first port of call for book lovers in NZ in respect of books published overseas.

As we observed last year, there are no bookshops in New Zealand which offer a good range of books published in NZ ... well, that is something they should do if they had any sense. They aren't many that try to specialise either, although there are some, for example in Wellington, Capital Books specialises in the subjects we do, Unity Books specialises in fiction, society and culture; and Parsons specialises in art and music. Often these three shops direct customers interested in these subjects to the others. Specialisation is again something all independents should do if they want to survive.

This article in The Daily Telegraph (UK) examines the issue in more depth. One thing that New Zealand does not experience much, unlike the UK, is discounting. The Warehouse has been known to pass on much of its massive discount from publishers (55% of the rrp) for hot new releases, and occasionally so does Whitcoulls, but otherwise most shops sell books at either the recommended price or above - as we have discovered to our surprise.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Did you know ... that we actually need fat and cholesterol in our diets?

You wouldn't think so from the messages we are constantly given and have been for the last 4 decades at least.

Following the movie "Supersize Me" aimed at the Fast Food industry, the issue was examined and taken to task in a much less publicised but also much less biased light-hearted documentary called Fat Head which has screened a few times on the Documentary Channel, most recently this past weekend.

For several years people have been told to avoid fat like the plague - so butter, cheese, eggs, nuts, red meat - among other things were out, but common sense is starting to prevail. What are the real villains according to this doco? Trans-fatty acids such as corn oil and soy oil, and excessive carbohydrates (as found in sugar, flour, pasta, potatoes and other things).

Of course we need a solid base of fruit and vegetables too.

The Doco-maker's blog.

Shirtcliffe resumes his anti-MMP campaign

Peter Shirtcliffe (79), the chairman of Telecon NZ in the 1990s, made most news in the early 1990s not for that but for spearheading the Big Business campaign against a change in New Zealand's parliamentary electoral system from first past the post (the British system) to proportional representation (the European system).

At the time Big Business was concerned about the left-wing Alliance led by Jim Anderton forming a permanent coalition government with the Labour Party, although the first election under PR in 1996 actually saw the National Party returned to power in a coalition with the centrist NZ First led by Winston Peters.

Of course Big Business didn't state the obvious reason behind its campaign, instead it came up with a lot of spurious arguments against proportional representation at all (e.g. that FPP was a good old British system and MMP was this dreadful German system). Now the government has decided to put the issue to referendum again at the next election in 2011 at a cost of $28 million and, surprise, surprise, out comes Shirtcliffe and his cronies again.

Among the arguments he now advances are that there are too many MPs in Parliament. Let's have a look at this first. In 1975 the NZ population was 3.1 million and NZ had 87 seats in Parliament. The NZ population is now 4.4 million so in proportion (the word Shirtcliffe hates) we should now have 123 MPs. We actually have 121. So much for that argument.

He claims the existance of a list has reduced local representation. Er, yeah? We still have half the house of representatives being constituency MPs. This frees the list MPs to concentrate on other duties, which for some time included his National Party leader Don Brash.

There is the likelihood, too, that the electorate MP is totally hopeless and/or many constituents don't like him/her. Often lazy MPs in safe seats were guaranteed them for life, as long as they avoided scandals, while good MPs in marginal seats were often at risk of going at the next election.

This doesn't mean that there aren't faults with MMP. In particular the 1-seat rule should go. This means that if a party wins a constituency seat it gets proportionately represented, but if a party doesn't win one, it has to get 5% of the vote to be proportionately represented.

The arguments in favour of the STV system (as used in Ireland and some NZ city councils) as an alternative are compelling, but not all is great with that either. With this people have to put a long list of candidates for multi-member constituencies in order of preference. The temptation for some may be to go the 'donkey vote' way - choose the 3 or 4 belonging to your party and ignore or rank a-z the rest.

In short the objective should be to improve what we have, not return to the bad old days.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Paris during the Occupation

French photographer André Zucca got himself a job as the Parisian correspondent for the Wehrmacht's magazine Signal in World War 2 and this enabled him to not only freely take photos outside after it was restricted as from September 1940, but also to obtain rare Agfa colour film, and took over 1,000 slides of Paris during the German occupation.

Even for the Nazis, Paris was a special place. Hitler made his sightseeing tour on 29 June 1940 and told Albert Speer it was the world's most beautiful city (although his Berlin when finished would be much more impressive). Goebbels came the following month and finding the city to be "un-usefully sad" ordered that everything be done to restore gaiety and animation. It thus became a centre for both French and German culture - music, opera, art, literature as well as cuisine and nightlife, and for the Wehrmacht it was a posting without equal in Europe. Goebbels encouraged that every German soldier be sent there at least once under the slogan "Jeder einmal nach Paris." Following liberation in August 1944, Paris assumed a similar role for Allied troops, particularly as it had survived almost unscathed.

170 of the colour slides plus 6 of the b/w photos that André Zucca took between 1940 and 1944 have been turned into this book, Les Parisiens sous l'Occupation, which together with the commentary from Jean Baronnet, provide a fascinating study of Paris during the war years.

French war graves were constantly tended by the Wehrmacht - this was the charm offensive

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Colonial Railways in Africa

All of Africa was colonised by European powers except Egypt which was briefly a British protectorate between 1914 and 1922.

This book, a reprint of a book published in Germany in 1916, although the text had been closed off in 1914, provides comprehensive information about the railways in each African country at that time in its 450 pages.

The map of Africa has changed in the meantime and some names and borders are now history. In regard to German colonies in Africa, all were taken off Germany in 1919 and given to other colonial masters to exploit. Although in those days books aimed to inform through text rather than pictures, there are plenty of photos and diagrams of track installations, stations, locomotives and trains, as well as technical discussions. Economic analysis features a lot too, for those interested in general African history.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

50 years since the Sharpeville Massacre

One of the most infamous events in South African history occurred on on 21 March 1960, when a group of between 5,000 and 7,000 black people converged on the local police station in the township of Sharpeville, near Johannesburg, offering themselves up for arrest for not carrying their pass books which determined where they could live and work. Many of the crowd attended to support the protest, but there is evidence that the Pan Afrianist Congress also used intimidating means to draw the crowd to the protest, including the cutting of telephone lines into Sharpeville, the distribution of pamphlets telling people not to go to work on the day, and coercion of bus drivers and commuters.

By 10:00 am, a large crowd had gathered, and the atmosphere was initially peaceful and festive. Fewer than 20 police officers were present in the station at the start of the protest. Later the crowd grew to about 20,000, and the mood turned ugly. About 130 police reinforcements, supported by four Saracen armored cars, were rushed in. The police were armed with firearms, including Sten sub-machine guns. There was no evidence that anyone in the crowd was armed with anything other than rocks.

Sabre jets and Harvard Trainers zoomed within 30 metres of the ground, buzzing the crowd in an attempt to scatter it. The crowd responded by hurling stones, striking three policemen, and at about 1:00 pm the police tried to arrest a protestor. There was a scuffle, and the crowd advanced toward the fence. The shooting began shortly thereafter. The official figure is that 69 people were killed, including 8 women and 10 children, and over 180 injured, including 31 women and 19 children. Many were shot in the back as they turned to flee.

Needless to say, this turned world sentiment swiftly against the whites-only South African Government and its policies of Apartheid, although it was to be more than 30 years before it ended. Protests against NZ's rugby ties with white South Africa were a major feature of 1970s and 1980s politics in NZ, with Robert Muldoon's support for them being a key factor in his 1975 and 1981 election victories. They were also a key factor in the boycott by some African countries of the 1976 Olympics. However, the next National Party PM, Jim Bolger, took a quite different stance to Muldoon on the issue of politics and sport.

21 March is now the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

there's something not quite right about Alan Smith

In the film world, the credit of 'Alan Smithee' as the director of a film means that the director wants to remain anonymous. Thus suspicions were aroused when in an issue of Tramway Topics about a year ago, someone reviewing Wellington Transport Memories used the name 'Alan Smith', particularly as this person used significant column space to praise a previous book by Graham Stewart, the god of tramways in this country. This in itself may have been unremarkable, but it was remarkable when a comparison of the two books in question was rather like comparing apples and oranges.

But the mystery has been solved - in the latest issue the editor decided to publish a photo of Graham Stewart, and a few pages later with a piece about Wellington trolley buses, a photo of Alan Smith! A comparison of the two reveals ... you guessed it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

the "Robin Hood tax"

A customer has sent us this video link on an alternative to GST. We like the idea of taking the tax burden off the productive sector of the economy (small and medium business) and we don't like sales taxes except those on specific things which pay for the the cost of repairing the damage caused by their consumption - petrol, diesel, alcohol, tobacco. On that subject it's interesting to speculate how much revenue the Government would get if it legalised marijuana and taxed it - one thing that's certain is that it wouldn't cause any more of it to be consumed.

There is already a financial transactions tax in some Australian states so it isn't such a radical idea.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

new book on the Union Pacific

This latest in Motorbook International's historical-pictorial overviews of American railways covers the Union Pacific, created by an Act of Congress in 1862 for the transcontinental railroad and now the only US class 1 railroad operating under its original name, although mergers and acquisitions over the last 50 years means it is today much bigger, operating over 50,000 route km. Not only that, it is the largest property owner west of the Mississippi River and the second largest land owner in the USA after the Federal Government.

As with the other books in the series it is glossy and colourful, mentioning all the significant events and aspects of its history, concentrating on pictures without going into great text detail in the 160 pages, necessarily because of the economics of achieving a modest selling price. This and other books on railways around the world are in our online shop.

Friday, March 19, 2010

ASB bank picks up tab for employee's $17.8 mil highlife

After bnz and Westpac it is ASB's turn to be in the spotlight after one of its 'investment advisors' was revealed to be a Madoff-style ponzi schemer. Over a decade this person spent $17.8 million, among other things, on flash houses, wine, prostitutes and lawyers.

Will ASB's executives have their bonuses cut this year for failing to recognise that one of its employees had the same level of ethics as used car dealers, lawyers and politicans? Hmmm ... don't count on it.

Some of the lurid details from :-

A prostitute has walked away with $2.5 million spent by a banker stealing clients' money to fuel an extravagant lifestyle of sex, booze and luxury property.

Stephen Gerard Versalko, 52, married with three children, lived the high life for nine years after siphoning $17,763,110.19 off 30 wealthy clients from ASB Bank, where he worked.

Outside of buying property, his biggest spend was on sex – including $3.34 million on just two Auckland prostitutes with whom he had long-term relationships.

One received $2.5 million, the other $791,181. The Serious Fraud Office said both women also say they received further "large cash payments" estimated at $800,000.

Still more was spent at a variety of escort agencies around Auckland. The Serious Fraud Office could not track all the payments because they included cash taken out using seven credit cards that Versalko had.

Yesterday he was jailed for six years on three fraud charges by Judge Chris Field in Auckland District Court. He will be eligible for parole in four years.

His fraud was the biggest employee theft the SFO has dealt with in its 20-year history.

Versalko's lawyer, Stuart Grieve, QC, claimed that one of the prostitutes was blackmailing Versalko over a lengthy period for $1.2 million, but the SFO said it had no information to prove that.

One of the prostitutes bought property with the proceeds and the ASB is suing to try to recover it – her name and more details are suppressed by the courts while that case proceeds.

A clutch of other civil cases are also under way as ASB attempts to recover money, including $4.75 million held in trusts set up by Versalko.

His biggest splurge was $4 million on property, towards a $3.2 million mansion in Remuera's plush Seaview Rd and a $1.8 million beachfront holiday home at Whangapoua in Coromandel. Neither had mortgages, but not all the money used was stolen.

In addition, extensive renovations costing $558,000 were carried out and he owned a range of other properties through a series of family trusts or jointly with his wife.

He racked up $2.2 million on credit cards, including $313,000 for wine bought on an American Express card between 2002 and 2009, and personal travel.

Versalko, a slim, unremarkable man who suffers from Crohn's disease, an inflammation of the digestive tract, was an investment adviser with ASB. He started his fraud after he was made redundant from a $200,000 job – plus bonuses – and racked up $40,000 on credit cards. He was then hired by ASB in 1997, but on a far lesser salary.

He was an expert in futures, options trading and the money markets, but he tried to make extra money by dabbling in property investment. In 1999 he ran into difficulties, needing $70,000 to bail himself out.

He lined up an ASB client with $400,000 in a long-term deposit and carried out his first fraud, convincing her to invest in a scheme promising higher interest rates with no tax, no administration fees and the funds on call. In total, he looted $528,340 from that one client.

From there, 30 others were sucked into his fake investment schemes, largely targeting elderly women living overseas who were unsophisticated about money and did not monitor their accounts online, SFO prosecutor Patrick McCann said.

All their names, and details of how much he rorted from each, were permanently suppressed yesterday.

Mr McCann described Versalko as "clever and charming". He explained away his wealth as profits from personal trading on an online site that dealt with complex derivatives.

Mike Harper, the real estate agent who sold Versalko his Whangapoua house, said he was personable and came across as a man of substance. He used to give an expensive bottle of wine to local shop owners each year.

He was a master of using ASB's computer system to transfer money leaving no trace of the transactions. He also forged account statements which he signed and sent to the victims to fool them into believing their investments were safe.

Of the $18 million he stole, $4.6 million was used to repay fake interest and principal to clients, with $13.1 million raked off for himself. In 2008 alone, he took about $4 million for himself.

The gravy train finally came to a halt in August last year, when one of his elderly clients with $3 million invested with Versalko saw a documentary about US fraudster Bernie Madoff and spotted similarities in the schemes they both ran.

When she contacted ASB Bank Securities to check, she found no record of her $3 million. It triggered an urgent investigation and, on August 25, Versalko was confronted, admitted the fraud and was later sacked.

Putting his hand up so early shaved three years off his sentence, Judge Field said.

Mr Grieve said his client had shown "exceptional remorse". But Mr McCann said Versalko was not fully frank – he tried to hide his relationships with the prostitutes, describing the payments as handouts to two ASB clients down on their luck, on whom he took pity.

The SFO traced the prostitutes through Versalko's phone records. Given his long-term marriage, "I can understand Versalko was reluctant to admit it", Mr McCann said.

Mrs Versalko was not in court yesterday and is understood not to have attended any of his appearances.

The ASB said it had since introduced "additional processes and practices to further strengthen our security and protect our customers so that this situation does not happen again".

It had reimbursed $15.5 million to all the clients Versalko had defrauded and would honour a further $1 million in promised interest payments.

The fraud contributed to ASB's first loss in 20 years, for the first half of the current financial year.

Stephen Versalko's money would have been a great source of intrigue for the working girls he spent it on, Prostitutes Collective president Catherine Healy says.

Sex workers were "usually incredibly discreet" but there was sometimes "chat" about well-heeled regular clients.

"The chat around them is how is this happening? How are they sustaining this amount of spending? Usually when clients become regulars people get to know a bit about their circumstances. Sometimes people would think, `This doesn't feel right – is this guy embezzling?"'

It was very rare for prostitutes to become tangled up in legal cases, but she warned sex industry workers to be on their guard.

"Sometimes there are clients who may be doing something illegal. While it's not [prostitutes'] responsibility, it's something to be aware of because there could be repercussions."

She was taken aback by how much Versalko had spent, though it was not uncommon for prostitutes to have long-standing business relationships with clients.

"The sex workers very often don't regard it as being in a relationship ... but it's also true that some become very attached to their clients."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Kapiti Coast council told not to waste money on orthographical change

Following the ridiculous debate over the spelling of Wanganui last year, the Kapiti Coast District Council decided to waste $100,000 of ratepayers' money (we are one of the ratepayers) on adding a macron over the 'a' in Kapiti.

Now the Maori Language Commission has told the KCDC it doesn't need to change anything as Kapiti is okay without a macron.

The KCDC says it is making the change on the advice of local iwi consultants. In written Maori, macrons are used to indicate when pronunciation of the vowel is long.

"Political correctness gone mad," says one ratepayer whose views were made public.

As we observed in our post on the Wanganui issue last September, Maori as a written language was created by the British in the early 19th century, who for some unfathomable reason decided to spell the F sound as Wh. English has no accents, unlike other European languages, to show vowel pronunication. Dutch doesn't either, but uses a double vowel when the pronunciation is long - the option that the British could have used, but didn't. It all seems rather pointless anyway, when most Maori pronounce placenames the European way. We are all for correct pronunciation, but spelling reforms are an unnecessary means of achieving it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Did you know...

...that if you have the wrong size tyres on your car wheels it will cause your speedometer to over- or under-read, because the wheels need to make more or less revolutions for the speed shown?

Neither did we, until a helpful man at Beaurepaires pointed out that one of our cars should have had different size tyres according to the car manufacturer. According to him, this will cause a difference of about 6 km/h between the speedometer speed and the actual speed.

So next time you get a speeding ticket, check that your car tyres are the correct size. If they are not, get a letter from the garage to that effect and show it to the cops, it might just cause them to relent.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Photoshopping the news

Altering photos for political purposes is nothing new: the communists were notorious, among other things, for removing people who had been purged from official photos, as if they never existed.

Today tens of thousands of people alter the truthfulness of photos by doctoring them with Photoshop, every day.

Reuters was accused of bias against Israel in 2006 when a doctored photo of the capital city of Lebanon was released by the wire service (bottom photo). The photo, submitted by Lebanese freelance photographer Adnan Hajj, shows (badly) cloned smoke and buildings and a darkened skyline onto the original (top photo). Reuters ultimately broke all ties with Hajj, who was accused of retouching other photos as well.

This issue arises, however, with book illustrations, too. Often people want to alter a photo for asthetic reasons, removing something they don't like, adding something they do, changing colours, and so on. Our original reluctance to engage in any form of tampering was, after some discussion, relaxed slightly and our policy nowadays is that it is acceptable provided:
1. It does not alter historical facts;
2. Any removal or addition is only something that would have occured anyway if the photographer had adopted a slightly different camera angle;
3. Any changes in tone or colour are only to restore accuracy.

Different rules apply to 'art' photography, of course. In a nutshell, we won't engage in anything that can be considered unethical; we can only speak for ourselves in this.

still in Auckland in 1971

For Aucklanders more nostaglic about what was on land than on the water, here is a photo taken about the same time as the previous one below: looking down Queen Street to the intersection with Wellesley Street (virtually every town in NZ was given a Queen Street, or a Victoria Street, and an Albert Street - and, as in the case of Auckland, sometimes all three).

Nearly all the vehicles visible are British too - the steady replacement with Japanese vehicles didn't begin until a couple of years later. The trolley buses are now history.

The Theatre Centre visible on the building further down is still there, but no longer run by Kerridge Odeon. The 246 sign further down has gone although the building is still there and the ground level was most recently occupied by the troubled Dymocks bookshop chain until last year.

Books on New Zealand transport history and general history are available in our online shop.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Auckland, 1971

Most Aucklanders will remember the ferries in this view (click for larger version) which have long been replaced. For historic colour scenes like this one inside New Zealand's harbours and around the coastline fom the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, get the book New Zealand Maritime Images: The Golden Years by Emmanuel Makarios, available at our online shop and at better booksellers.

Friday, March 12, 2010

There's plenty of money in being a telco monopolist

We all know about the Evil Empire a.k.a. Telecom NZ, but it ain't the only one in the world. In a country where $US 6 an hour is considered a good income, Carlos Slim of Mexico makes $US 1.25 million an hour. He has just knocked Bill Gates off his perch as the world's richest person.

His wealth has caused some resentment in a country where 40 percent live in poverty and thousands emigrate each year to seek opportunity in the USA. Both the U.S. and Mexican governments have complained that Mexico's economic growth is stunted because large conglomerates such as Slim's have too much control.

From the minute many Mexicans are born - perhaps in one of Slim's Star Médica Hospitals - they begin putting money in his pocket. They use electricity carried by Condumex brand cables, drive on roads paved by the CILSA construction company firm and burn fuels pumped from Swecomex drilling platforms. They communicate through Telmex phone lines, smoke Slim's tobacco, which is sold under the Marlboro brand, and shop at Sears Roebuck of Mexico, a subsidiary of his huge Carso Group.

"It's hard to live a day without buying one of his products," Sandra Morales, 31, said as she ate lunch in the Plaza Insurgentes shopping center - a property owned by Slim - in Mexico City. "He's so rich and powerful and in a country where there are so many poor."

In 1990, Slim made one of his most controversial purchases. The Mexican government was auctioning off several state-owned enterprises, including Teléfonos de México, the state-run telephone company, also known as Telmex. Slim and his partners, France Telecom and Southwestern Bell, beat two other groups of bidders. The consortium paid $1.76 billion for a 20 percent controlling stake.

Since then, the market value of Telmex stock has rocketed from $7.39 billion to $41.2 billion. The company owns about 90 percent of Mexico's phone lines.

After acquiring Telmex, Slim's net worth increased dramatically. He integrated his companies so they did as much business as possible with each other. At the Carso Group, the holding company for many of Slim's investments, Rule No. 6 on the list of 10 corporate principles is: "Money that leaves the company evaporates."

The domination of large Mexican conglomerates such as Slim's chokes off growth of smaller companies, says Celso Garrido, an economist at Mexico City's Autonomous Metropolitan University who studies Mexico's business dynasties.

The resulting shortage of good jobs drives many Mexicans to seek better lives in the United States, says Roderic Ai Camp, author of Mexico's Mandarins, a book about the country's power elite.

Along with Telmex, Slim controls América Móvil, the world's fifth-largest cellphone company with 124 million customers in 15 countries. In the United States, he controls Tracfone, a pre-paid cellphone company that claims 8 million customers.

Business groups regularly complain about Telmex's business phone rates, which are more than twice as high as in the United States. In April 2007, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Mexico would benefit from more competition. Mexican President Felipe Calderón pledged in April to make it easier for companies to enter the telephone market.

Does it all sound rather familiar?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Canadian Booksellers Association doesn't want Amazon

In reaction to the news that Amazon is seeking government approval to expand operations in Canada by setting up its own warehousing and dispatch, instead of using a Canada Post subsidiary as it does now, the Canadian Booksellers Association released a statement demanding that the government reject the online retailer’s application. From the press release:

"CBA contends that allowing Amazon to operate a business within Canada would contravene the Investment Canada Act which requires that foreign investments in the book publishing and distribution sector be compatible with national cultural policies and be of net benefit to Canada and the Canadian-controlled sector.

"CBA President Stephen Cribar argues that Amazon’s entry into Canada would detrimentally affect the country’s independent businesses and cultural industries: 'Individual Canadian booksellers have traditionally played a key role in ensuring the promotion of Canadian authors and Canadian culture. These are values that no American retailer could ever purport to understand or promote.'

"CBA urges the Canadian government and the Department of Canadian Heritage to continue its support of our unique cultural perspective by placing reasonable limits on American domination of our book market and rejecting’s current application."

There isn't much to be surprised about this, the equivalent body in NZ would say the same thing. But isn't it simply an anti-competitive attitude? We can't comment about whether or not "Canadian booksellers have traditionally played a key role in ensuring the promotion of Canadian authors and Canadian culture", but that certainly can't be said about booksellers in NZ (see our post from 24 June last year).

One thing that we have noticed is that a large number of our own mainly older customers don't shop online either because they don't trust the internet or they just don't like using computers. These people shop the traditional way - from paper catalogues or by going down to their local bookshops. If they are looking for the types of books we specialise in, of course, they won't find them at their local bookstore (with a few notable exceptions), and they are just as unlikely to find people in those shops who have any knowledge of or interest in books. There is thus plenty of scope for the dedicated, knowledgeable, specialised independent bookseller in NZ and we daresay in Canada too. The only booksellers who need fear Amazon are those who don't meet this description.

New book on Frichs and Scandia railway products

Last year in a demonstration of how much you can rely on TV news to get facts right, TV3 said that Frichs was a German manufacturer. Well of course, it was Danish, based near Århus.

Scandia (not to be confused with Scania in Södertälje, Sweden, the second largest automotive concern in Scandinavia after Volvo) was a locomotive manufacturer based in Randers, Denmark, later purchased by Adtranz, which itself was subsequently acquired by Bombardier Transportation.

The reason for the mention of Frichs by TV3 last year is that NZR's 9 Vulcan class railcars, built just prior to WW2 and delivered while the war was in progress, had motors and some other componentry supplied by Frichs. Four of these 9 railcars have been preserved and one made a Labour Weekend trip up the old Otago Central Branch as far as Middlemarch, the reason for the news cameras. A colour photo and brief details of the Vulcans are contained in this comprehensive book which is a nicely produced catalogue of all the motorised railway vehicles produced by the two companies between 1932 and 1978, accompanied by plenty of photos and line drawings.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

will Labour actually Axe the Tax?

The Labour Party's bus emblazoned with Axe the Tax - a reference to the Government's forthcoming increase in GST - begins its road trip around the country this week.

When asked if the next Labour Government will lower GST back to 12.5% however, the leader of the Labour Party, Phil Gough, says "I can't say that without knowing what our [fiscal] situation is" which most people interpret as another way of saying "no." Why can't he say "yes"? After all, the British Government was able to lower VAT there to combat the recession last year. Perhaps Gough just wants to be seen as being a little more honest than the National Party who before the last election said they would not increase it in their first term.

While on the subject of politicians, here's a joke as told by former US President Ronald Reagan which we like:-

An evangelical minister and a politician arrived at Heaven's gate one day together. And St. Peter, after doing all the necessary formalities, took them in hand to show them where their quarters would be. And he took them to a small, single room with a bed, a chair, and a table and said this was for the clergyman. And the politician was a little worried about what might be in store for him. And he couldn't believe it then when St. Peter stopped in front of a beautiful mansion with lovely grounds, many servants, and told him that these would be his quarters.

And he couldn't help but ask, he said, "But wait, how -- there's something wrong -- how do I get this mansion while that good and holy man only gets a single room?" And St. Peter said, "You have to understand how things are up here. We've got thousands and thousands of clergy. You're the first politician who ever made it."

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Germany 100 years ago

Further to our post of 15 February on Berlin as it once was, the University of Texas Library has put on its website maps of German regions and cities as they were published 100 years ago in the book Northern Germany as far as the Bavarian and Austrian Frontiers; Handbook for Travellers by Karl Baedeker, Fifteenth Revised Edition, Leipzig, 1910.

The above map of Berlin has features that have since changed significantly. For example the big Kopfbahnhöfe or head railway stations - Anhalter, Potsdamer, Lehrter, Görlitzer and Stettiner - have now gone, victims of the post-WW2 division. Another map on the website shows the inner city in more detail.

Some cities, such as Liegnitz, Breslau, Stettin, Danzig and Königsberg, are no longer parts of Germany, while others such as Görlitz and Frankfurt an der Oder have been divided between Germany and Poland over the 'Oder-Neisse line'.

RIP Tom McGavin

In our post on The Railways of New Zealand: A journey through history (1 March) we neglected to mention the help we received in compiling this book from the late Tom McGavin who died on 5 February. DominionPost obituary.

In fact Tom also helped with other books from the mid 1980s to the early 2000s, inviting us to pour through his archives, or he would research them himself whenever we had a specific question and phone us back. He was always cheerful and willing to help.

He was the founder of the New Zealand Railway and Locomotive Society in 1944 and edited its journal The New Zealand Railway Observer until the early 1990s as well the society's books until about the same time. His editorial standards were high, something that unfortunately can't be said about any of the country's present rail and tram magazines.

Farewell Tom, you are missed.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A book to soothe the soul

From an anger-inducing book to one which has the opposite effect. There have been many books on the landscape of the Scottish highlands, but few have gone above the treeline where the environment is cold and harsh but beautiful.

This hardback book is a collection of landscape photographer Joe Cornish's most alluring photos of Scotland's mountains, fells, tarns, waterfalls and dales, accompanied by text describing the experience of obtaining them. Most are colour, but some are duotone. Although we have an issue with the penchant of those who design this type of book for "artistic white space", an hour spent with the pictures in this book is sure to refresh you, make you better able to face life's stresses.

Gattung's bird book

...except that this book is about herself, and more specifically about how she turned Telecon into a train wreck to use her own term (and on that theme - that cover belongs on the Photoshop disasters website - what's with that chin?).

Well Gattung can't complain about her time as the studious schoolgirl look of the country's most hated company, she got $3 mil a year from 1999 to 2007 and a $5 mil departure golden handshake. Does she need to create any more train wrecks in this country, why doesn't she just take her millions and go somewhere else? She could build a mansion in Alaska alongside Sarah Palin, with whom she has a fair amount in common.

Clearly Random House who are publishing this book figure that her highly negative public profile will sell books, and they are probably right. However, this is one book we won't be stocking - read it in the library.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Living on the fault line

The massive earthquake near Concepcion in Chile last weekend which measured 8.8 on the Richter Scale only serves to remind people in NZ that a similar sized earthquake could hit here too. Chile sits more or less opposite to NZ on the the rim of the Pacific Ocean, and like NZ (and every other country around the ocean) straddles what is known as the 'Pacific Rim of Fire' - volcanoes and earthquake faultlines. The only surprising thing about the Chile earthquake was the relatively low death toll compared to the January earthquake in Haiti. How will NZ fare when the next big one hits?

Details of all NZ earthquakes (and they happen a lot more often than you think) are on the GeoNet website. In general, depending on how deep and close to populated areas they are, earthquakes under 6 on the Richter scale are unlikely to cause damage, between 6 and 7 will cause a limited amount of damage and over 7 will cause a lot of damage.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

More logging truck crashes

As we have commented before, logging trucks are the most dangerous vehicles on the road, as well as the most damaging to the road surface. Last week a logging truck made the national news when it crashed and jackknified on a bridge south of Foxton. Luckily no-one was hurt on that occasion (except maybe the truck driver). Not so fortunate, however, was the victim of another incident, the full story of which is reproduced below from

Why do these trucks need to travel parallel to the North Island Main Trunk railway all the way from the Manawatu to Wellington wharf - why can't the copious quantity of logs travel on the railway? Any answers anyone?


Covered in broken glass and with her "best mate" slumped unconscious beside her, Amiria Maihi had just two seconds to pull her dying uncle's truck to the roadside.

"People tell me it was brave, but it did not save him," the 18-year-old said yesterday, after farewelling Taylor Schouwenaars at his tangi at Waikanae's Whakarongotai Marae.

Mr Schouwenaars, 36, was killed when a three-metre log came loose from a passing vehicle and hit his truck's wing mirror, smashing it into the cab and hitting him in the head.

Miss Maihi was sitting in the passenger seat when the accident happened on State Highway 1 near Porirua about 6.50am on Friday.

She had never driven a truck before, but knew instinctively that she had to act immediately. "I had about two seconds. The glass hit me so I jumped over, got the truck to the side of the road and pulled it up."

She rang emergency services as soon as she stopped the eight-wheeler Big Chill Distribution truck. She could not get any reaction from her uncle.

"Once he was hit, he was pretty well unconscious straight away. He couldn't say nothing, he just bled. I was talking to him but he was not responding. It felt like forever for emergency services to arrive."

As she sat waiting for about 10 minutes for the emergency services, other trucks and cars drove past.

"No-one stopped. I was just doing it all myself with the lady on the phone. Truck drivers just drove past – I was pretty pissed off."

Police say her quick actions prevented further "carnage" on the road.

Mr Schouwenaars was flown to Wellington Hospital in a critical condition and died shortly before midday.

Ms Maihi had been her uncle's cab buddy for about a year. "He was like my best mate. I was able to open up to him. He did not judge me, made sure I was all right, happy – what a normal friend would do."

She would miss him and "love him for always".

Mr Schouwenaars' partner, who gave her name only as Kiri, described him as a marvellous man whose toothless grin lit up other people's lives.

"His face just gleamed `welcome'. He was a man of many people, much loved, a huge attraction to others – the young, teenagers, middle-aged and elderly – he touched everybody.

"He had this charisma about him, that smile and laugh, that made people crack up with him."

The couple had two children – Kararaina, 3 months, and Hinemoa, 2 – and Mr Schouwenaars had two older children aged 9 and 11.

The 20-year-old driver of the truck that lost its log has been interviewed by police, who said he carried on around a corner before pulling over to check his truck.

He noticed the log was missing but did not return to check for any damage or injuries. Police were waiting for results of vehicle and forensic tests before deciding on possible charges.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

another lost city

Before WW2, Dresden was a lovely baroque city often called the Florence of the Elbe. Over13-15 February 1945 massive Allied fire-bombing destroyed it. After the war some key buildings in the centre were restored, but the rest were rebuilt in drab communist style. The city had no military significance and even if it had, as the Germans had demonstrated at Stalingrad, reducing a city to rubble does not remove its military obstacle. What was going on in the minds of Allied High Command is therefore hard to fathom. Another fact that is often overlooked is that for every ton of bombs the Luftwaffe dropped on the UK during the war, the Allies dropped over 100 on Germany. Some will be familiar with the book Slaughterhouse Five, turned into a film in 1972, which had the destruction of Dresden as a setting.

This book which translates as Above the Roofs of Dresden contains about 100 photos taken from the air compiled from the aerial photo archive of Walter Hahn who took them from 1919 to 1943, when the only aerial photography allowed was restricted to military purposes, and thus shows what Dresden used to look like: effectively another book for 20th century archeologists.

Monday, March 1, 2010

New Zealand considered world's least corrupt, most peaceful country

Further to our post on "Catching up with Australian incomes" these two factors may also be significant for some when it comes to a choice of the two countries. On the Global Peace index as posted on Wikipedia, New Zealand came in first place in 2009, and first place also in the Corruption Perceptions Index which is a ranking from least to most corrupt. Australia ranked number 19 and and number 8 respectively.

Denmark was the country in second place in both lists.

20 years since the book The Railways of New Zealand was published

The Railways of New Zealand: a journey through history was co-published by us 20 years ago this month. This was the first book of ours to make the national best-seller list where it stayed for 3 months, which demonstrated to bookshops that there are lots of people out there interested in this country's transport history (although some who have taken over shops since then need to be informed - for example, Te Papa [National Museum] has 116 NZR models in its collection, but how many books on the subject does it have in its shop? You guessed it.)

We have a very small number (about 15) of the second edition of this book from 2001 available in our online shop.