Friday, October 30, 2009

Wellington Airport is 50 years old

The current terminal, that is. There was a very limited airport in the same area created in the late 1920s, but which wasn't up to the needs of the postwar boom in aviation, so from 1947 to 1959 passengers had to use Paraparaumu airport some 60 km away. The airport will have historic displays on Sunday.

Those interested in films from New Zealand's aviation history including Paraparaumu and the Wellington airport opening in 1959 with fly-bys of aircraft of the time, will find them on the transpress NZ 3-DVD set Classic New Zealand Aviation, available for $50 from the transpress on-line shop. There are some historic photos in the book Wellington Transport Memories, likewise available there.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

NZ Post Book Awards gets slimmed down

Next year the number of shortlisted works in the NZ Post Book Awards – formerly sponsored by Montana wines – will be reduced by 10 and the number of categories cut from 8 to 4 although the same amount of prize money will be handed out. The shortlist for fiction works has been reduced from five to three, and a new Book of the Year prize will be awarded to the judges' choice across all categories - poetry, fiction and non-fiction works.

Booksellers New Zealand chief executive and awards committee spokesman Lincoln Gould said the cuts had been made to streamline the awards, which had become cumbersome and difficult to understand.

This last comment might be true if bookbuyers had the intelligence of monkeys.

Getting shortlisted in book awards is important to publishers and authors as many bookshops make a point of making a prominent display of the nominees, and can be the first time that the books involved have been displayed at all in some bookshops. For winners, of course, it means a huge increase in sales. Now the chances of getting shortlisted and winning have been cut in half. If the same total amount of money is being handed out, then why?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

how Treasury officials think

This letter to the editor in today's Dominion Post is a typical example of how the country's Treasury officials who occupy the building at 1 The Terrace in Wellington think. It may not be a Treasury official, of course, this could just as easily be a trucking industry lobbyist; however, it is how the glass tower accountants who occupy Treasury think, and unfortunately is a very real precursor to all Government funding for the Railways ending.

The first response that should be made to this is, why should the railways be considered differently to the highways? The highways gobble up billions of dollars in cash every year. Does this person think that the Government should stop funding roads too?

Secondly does this person know how much large trucks smash up the roads every year, requiring money to be spent repairing the roads? You only need to drive between the Kapiti Coast and Wellington any day of the week to encounter a procession of huge dangerous logging trucks and trailers, each one of which causes the road wear of 200,000 cars - parallel all the way to the North Island Main Trunk railway. If this traffic was instead shifted onto the railway, it would mean less spent repairing that road, less expensive diesel fuel imported, less pollution, less congestion and safer driving conditions. The same applies right around the country.

Certainly the Clark/Cullen Government wasted a golden opportunity to buy back the Railways in 2003 - when the Fay Richwhite gang had to make a hasty exit because of their shonky financing and insider trading - at a much cheaper price than what they paid Toll Holdings last year, but now that the Railways are a public asset again, in every sense, shouldn't the public be enabled to get good use out of the railway system rather than simply having it shut down for them as this person wants to do?

This person claims that no country operates a successful railway system, and that New Zealand doesn't produce a high enough volume of goods to support a viable railway system: both statements are obviously ill-informed nonsense but unfortunately that's the Treasury.

This person ends with a parting claim that the Government subsidizes "trainspotters", but he clearly has no problem with the massively greater amount that the Government spends subsidizing truck spotters.

Telecom goes haywire

At least that's what people will assume from their new logo. A nice fat fee for some lucky PR firm, and of course, some good business for printers and signwriters...

SUV crashes into car on motorway in Japan, as it happens

SUVs are known for their instability. What caused this, a schoolrun mother being distracted by her kid, changing a CD, something rolling on the floor....?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Archeology of the 20th century

One of the tragedies of war is that towns and cities suffer as well as people. This book takes a wistful historic tour along the Baltic Sea coast with pictures of places that were German until 1945, but which were destroyed in the hostilites at the end of WWII and then reallocated by Stalin to Poland, Lithuania, and of course, Russia. The Germans were expelled and the above nationalities took their place. Beginning with Swinemünde (now Świnoujście) furthest west, the book continues through Pommerania and Prussia as far as Memel (now Klaipeda). The two main cities now in Poland are Stettin (Szczecin) and Danzig (Gdansk) while the city of Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad and made part of Russia. In Danzig the Poles put some effort into restoring the historic centre, but in the rest of these places only a few key buildings were restored, the rest replaced with drab communist architecture (not that post-war architecture in the west was much better). Today the countryside between them looks depopulated and neglected. The Germans' Drang nach Osten up until 100 years ago was reversed after WWI and, of course, massively after WWII. Even in the former East Germany the postwar movement of population to the west that was halted by the Berlin Wall resumed after the wall came down.

Thus this book provides a look at what these lovely towns and cities once looked like, and would no doubt still look like, if it had not been for the totalitarian madness that saw them ruined.

Book on great New Zealand engineering

It is rare for a book on technology in New Zealand to sell out promptly and require reprinting within weeks, but this book is one such case. It is essentially a book - in landscape A4 format - of pictures of bridges, dams, viaducts, notable buildings, locomotives, industrial installations and the like, with brief information on the topic on the facing page. We have been critical of picture books, however, given the subject one can only applaud Random House for taking the punt.

Matthew Wright is a well known "author for hire" and researches non-ficton subjects for the larger publishing houses. He is not noted for accuracy, however, and the first double-page spread this writer got upon opening the book at random (no pun intended) was pages 72-73 for which the caption says the photo was taken at "Cross Creek, the bottom of the [Rimutaka] Incline". If Mr Wright had used The Railways of New Zealand: a journey through history as one of his reference sources, he would have known that it was taken at Summit, the top of the Incline.
The full page photo treatment is welcome, in contrast to the treatment that some publishers like of cramming as many pictures as possible into pages. Reproduction quality is good, but unfortunately all in monochrome despite some photos being available in colour.

The book costs $45 at the transpress shop.

Useful news service about fraudulent investments

A customer has pointed out the following website called Mis-sold investments, which sends alerts about the latest "investment" scams around the world.
Mis-sold Investments
their News service

Saturday, October 24, 2009

AIG's shameful bosses get their pay slashed

Kenneth Feinberg, the US Treasury Department’s special master for executive compensation, has ruled that the bosses of American International Group Inc or AIG have had excessive pay and has now slashed it.

A total of seven American companies, including New York-based AIG, that got “exceptional” aid from the Treasury’s $700 billion rescue fund are involved. Cash salary reductions announced yesterday were about 90 percent and total compensation was cut an average of 50 percent. AIG, which got U.S. aid valued at $182.3 billion, ignited a backlash in March after giving about $165 million of retention bonuses to employees winding down the derivatives unit blamed for pushing the company to the brink of collapse. President Barack Obama called the bonuses an “outrage,” and then-CEO Edward Liddy asked employees getting more than $100,000 to return half. But four of five managers in the Financial Products unit hadn’t made good on pledges to return the retention bonuses as of August, Feinberg said in documents released yesterday. The fifth employee hadn’t made a promise. AIG’s proposal to pay the five a total of $13.2 million this year was rejected.

Instead the bosses are going to get $200,000 ($NZ 267,000) a year each, still a lot more than the many victims of their greed-driven excesses ever got as salaries.

This scurrilous organisation operates in New Zealand as AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL ASSURANCE COMPANY (BERMUDA) LIMITED with NZ companies office number 583021. It's likely, given that Bermuda is a known tax haven, that these bosses will use it as a means of circumventing the US Government's ruling. Details of the official filings including financial statements are downloadable free at the NZ Companies Office website. The last set of financial statements is about a year old, but still makes interesting reading. There are a lot of unanswered questions, of course, particularly in regard to the tens of millions of dollars shipped offshore.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Road piggies

The entrance to our Wellington property is next to an entrance for Churton Park primary school, and you always know when it is school start and finish time - the street gets jammed with cars driven by mothers on school runs. Back in the good old days, schoolkids used to get to school by walking, cycling or taking the schoolbus. Not anymore - today it's by car. One estimate is that a third of all traffic between 8:30 and 9:00 am, and between 3:00 and 4:00 pm is school runs!

Particularly apalling is that many kids get driven in SUVs. One we notice which regularly parks next to our driveway is a huge black 3-ton monstrosity driven by a chubby ginger haired woman in sunglasses who not only takes her kid to and from school in the morning and afternoon, but also at the start and finish of lunch time. That's four round trips a day ... how much fuel does she burn in that thing, how much pollution gets pumped into the air, how much weight is her kid putting on by doing no exercise? (We can see how much weight she has put on). For the moment we shall retain your anonymity, lady, but that won't be for long if you keep showing up - a picture of you will be going on this blog...

In the meantime all are encourged to watch this 8-minute animated film SUV City

NZ from the air - as it used to be

This new book published today presents a selection from the archives of Whites Aviation's aerial photos of NZ taken between the 1930s and 1960s. Since these were taken, most towns and cities have got bigger with new buildings and roads, although some smaller towns have got smaller, and generally landscapes have stayed the same as you would expect. The book begins with a history of the company and aerial photos in NZ generally, and then the book takes the standard tour from north to south.

For anybody this a nice collection of quality photos (all b/w) printed full page in landscape format, but you need to know a bit about how the places look now to appreciate what we have gained and what we've lost. In nearly all cases it's more traffic on the roads and less on the rails, and some towns - like Methven on the cover - have since lost their railway completely.

This book is available from the transpress shop.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Swastikas and Flat Earth News

On Monday all three main TV channels in NZ led their evening news bulletins with an item about a group of Auckland high school boys who while visiting a WWII display in the Auckland Museum, posed in front of a Nazi flag bowing to and saluting it, and then posted their photos on Facebook. "Some pictures were too lewd for us to show," proclaimed Prime TV. To this writer the photos seemed more like mocking the flag than praising it, but of course that is not how the TV channels presented it - they proceeded to imply that Nazism is rife in that particular school at least, if not in every other.

You can't help but wonder the basis of news editors' priorities and how much you can trust news media to report what is really significant and important. Clearly the TV news is seen as "sex shock scandal horror probe" entertainment, thus ensuring good ratings.

The point is examined at length in the book Flat Earth News by Nick Davies, who makes an indepth analysis of how much "news" in the UK is triva, distorted and manufactured to make good reading - and how much really important news is ignored, and the reasons behind it all. The scene is disturbing to say the least, and don't think it is any better here - it isn't. This highly recommended read is available from the transpress shop.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Clever advertising

This magazine advertisement (click for a larger view) for Sweden's Statens Järnvägar or state railways subtlety and effectively makes the point: railways are much more friendly to the environment than highways. Apart from the fact it requires only a quarter the amount of diesel to move a load along a railway as a truck does on a road, the railway roadbed uses little space, unlike a highway. In the magazines the point is made by the railway line neatly fitting into the gutter.

In Europe most people recognise this, but not here in NZ. More on this to come.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Will the kiwi be dethroned?

As (almost) everyone knows, the kiwi is New Zealand's national symbol, although some wonder whether a cute but flightless bird that pokes around in the dark is really the ideal symbolism. The question is discussed on this Forest and Bird Society blog.
Being nocturnal and endangered, it is a bird that very few people actually see in the wild.

Next in the ranking if the kiwi was dethroned, and definitely a bird that is thriving, is the tui. This beautiful dark green-black forest bird utters quite a range of calls which immitate sounds it hears, some say even telephones and radio jingles. It has a distinctive tuft of white throat feathers and a pattern of thin white 'lace' around its neck. It can be aggressive towards other birds, including other tuis, near its food sources. As a brand name the tui adornes beer, fertilizer and campervans. In our Kapiti property we see up to 10 tuis on our puriri and kowhai trees, but even in our Wellington property we usually see one or two.

Another lovely bird, which is Bob Jones' pick, is the kereru, the native wood pigeon (top photo). This is a large bird, and feeds on native berries. It does not seem to utter a call. In our Kapiti property we often see one or two sitting high on the trees.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

'et revoilà le bonus'

"Those who fail to learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them" - proverb

In the period of rapid deregulation in the mid-1980s in NZ known as Rogernomics, the share market became a kind of wild west for business cowboys. Any group of mates could put a "Corp" at the end of a name, float a public prospectus, and suddenly be listed on the stock exchange with millions of dollars to play with. Then Stock Exchange chairman David Wale said in 1987 that despite his position, even he didn't have a clue about what some of the new companies did. Fueling it all was the Bank of New Zealand or bnz as it now calls itself. The shonky deals of Fay Richwhite weren't enough; executives were paid bonuses to go and lend lots of depositors money to the new corps. Following the share market crash of October 1987 the house of cards that bnz had created come tumbling down. In his book "View from the Top", incoming Prime Minister Jim Bolger in 1990 relates how he found himself immediately having to deal with the bnz crisis. His immediate reaction was to just let bnz fail, but Treasury officials were horrified - with its 40% of NZ trading bank business, the effects on the NZ economy would be dire. So the new government had to bail bnz out.

Fast forward a couple of decades and the same sort of thing was going on in America - not so much with corporate machinations this time (although there was plenty of that too) but with so-called sub-prime mortgages. In other words banks and other lenders were fueling the property boom by giving anyone who wanted it, including unemployed, 150% mortages to go and buy houses. And that house of cards has come tumbling too.

According to France 2 news, the total annual bonuses that were being paid to executives of failed big financiers such as Lehman Brothers, Freddic Mac, Fannie Mae and AIG exceeded the French national defence budget. But the banker bonus is now making a comeback. Oh dear.

The Dutch government has decided to put a hefty extra tax on any bonus paid to a finance executive over 500,000 Euros (sorry, Rabobank girl) and the French want to do similar. It would be in all our interests if this became a general thing through the developed world, but whether politicians are aware enough to implement such here, and in Australia, is doubtful.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Battling construction crooks

One of the more interesting shows which screens on the Living Channel is "Holmes on Homes" which features Canadian guru builder Mike Holmes, who in each episode, with his crew, fixes up shoddy and dangerous renovation jobs done by bad tradespeople.
In the book he says that there are three types of tradespeople - the good (about 20%), the bad (about 70%, the ones who don't know or care enough) and the ugly (10%, the ones who are out to swindle you, taking your money and running). It's probable that these ratios apply everywhere. In New Zealand, the website is a starting point to see who fits in which category, but the general principles in the book are applicable.

The book also contains a lot of helpful information on how things should be done when it comes to the various aspects involved in building and renovating. Much is specifically relevent to Canada (and the USA) and less relevent here because of a different climate, different materials on the market, different building codes and some different terminology (e.g. drywall = plasterboard, thinset = tile adhesive), but again general principles apply. This first book was published in Canada 2 years ago, and was followed by an equally useful manual on pre-purchase inspections of houses (don't just reply on what a house inspector tells you, like all occupations there are good and bad ones there too).