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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

This day in children's literature

The John Newbery Medal was awarded for the first time on this day in 1922.
Named after the 18th-century British publisher and “father of children’s literature,” the award recognizes the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year.
Newbery demonstrated that children’s literature could be profitable, but he also used his books to market other business ventures. In “The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes,” a character dies because “Dr. James’s Powder was not to be had.” Fortunately for the concerned reader, Dr. James’s Fever Powder was widely available at the time; fortunately for Newbery, he inherited the patent.
Newbery believed that children learned best through play. Accordingly, his books were designed to instruct even as they amused. For an additional two pence, his first children’s book, “A Little Pretty Pocket-Book,” above, was sold with a black-and-red ball or pincushion. Children could stick a pin into the red side to mark good behavior or the black side to mark when they were bad.
The first Newbery Medal was awarded to “The Story of Mankind,” a history of the world for children by Hendrik Willem van Loon.
This year’s winner was “Hello, Universe,” a novel by Erin Entrada Kelly about diversity and friendship.
Emma McAleavy wrote today’s Back Story.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Print book sales surge in Britain.

Fiction, cookery and pop culture titles spell success for the retailer, which has become the UK’s fastest-growing bookseller

From the Guardian

For many Britons Blackwell’s is a high-street name forever associated with studentdom and campus stores laden with weighty academic tomes. But, like the students who are currently awaiting exam results, the 139-year-old retailer is keen to graduate from university with honours.
Earlier this month, Blackwell’s chief executive David Prescott hosted the famous bookshop’s first conference aimed at mainstream publishers for more than a decade, a gathering designed to trumpet a sleeper success story in the Amazon age.

In the Georgian splendour of the great room at the Royal Society of Arts, Prescott appealed to executives from publishing houses such as Harper Collins, Penguin Random House, Hachette and Bloomsbury, to back what is now the UK’s fastest-growing bookseller with flexible deals and exclusive editions.

“The vast majority of people still see us first and foremost as an academic bookseller,” says Prescott. “That’s how we made our name and we are very proud of that, but we sell a lot more general books than our publishing partners probably realise.”

Now in the final week of its current financial year, Blackwell’s sales are up 17% as its high-street and campus stores, coupled with a revamped website, enjoy success shifting less highbrow reading material ranging from fiction to books on cookery and pop culture (Prescott, 46, is currently reading Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge by Mark Yarn). Against flatlining demand for academic titles, sales in its campus stores are up 4%.

This resurgence, which builds on a strong sales performance last year, is good news for Blackwell’s 450 employees. With a turnover set to exceed £50m this financial year, it is still a minnow compared with Waterstones’s £400m takings but unlike the latter it will never be sold to a hedge fund.

Owner Toby Blackwell, whose great-grandfather founded the bookshop in 1879, has pledged to hand ownership to staff via a John Lewis-style partnership. But that handover – despite being ensured by a trust set up by the 89 year-old – is contingent on the business meeting financial milestones that have eluded it thus far, most recently when its investment in e-textbook platform Blackwell Learning did not pay off.

“We were getting close when we made the investment in the academic platform but it wasn’t the market we thought it was going to be,” said Prescott, who is five years into his tenure as chief executive.

Based in Oxford, Blackwell’s has 31 stores, 24 of which are on campuses. Last year it opened its first shopping centre store in more than a decade, in Westgate Oxford, the £440m shopping centre that replaced the city’s rundown 1970s scheme. It has also invested in its website, which offers a choice of 11m books, where sales surged 200% in 2017.

While Prescott is at pains to insist the company is not turning its back on academia, he admits students’ reading habits have changed. “We’re not closing down campus branches. The higher education business is hugely important to us and always will be.”

However he adds: “When I started at Blackwell’s in the mid-90s we would sell a lot of recommended textbooks and reading around the subject, secondary recommendations but teaching has become increasingly modular. Custom textbooks exist that have the entirety of that course which has meant we sell a lot less secondary reading [material].”

Of the £1.6bn of books sold by UK retailers last year, some £124m were student texts, according to Nielsen Book Research data. That figure compares well with £114m five years ago, but does not include the vast sums spent by universities and schools.

The decision to stock more mainstream titles has gone down well with shoppers: Blackwell’s sales of general (as opposed to academic) books were up 20% in the first five months of 2018, according to Nielsen, which puts market growth at 1.5%. Within that Blackwell’s fiction sales were up 19%, food and drink titles up 52% and children’s 25%.

Some 190m books were sold in Britain in 2017 but Zoe Mills, retail analyst at GlobalData, expects the market to stand still over the next five years. That calm will mask turmoil for booksellers because physical shop sales could fall by more than a fifth while websites grow by a similar magnitude.

“Over the next five years only the online market for books will be in growth,” says Mills. “The persistent growth in the physical online books market highlights that, like vinyl, there is a nostalgia associated with owning physical books.”

The battle with Amazon has forced high-street booksellers to raise their game with extras like coffee shops, stationery ranges and star-studded author events. The Broad Street shop in Oxford, where a subterranean floor stretches beneath neighbouring Trinity College, is so famous that it features on the itineraries of international tourists chasing the ghost of Harry Potter around college locations that doubled as Hogwarts. But Blackwell’s learned reputation means it can seem intimidating for the average shopper looking for a holiday page-turner. Prescott says he is trying to shake off that reputation for being aloof.

“We have been on the wrong side of that line,” he says. “People not going into our Broad Street store because they think it is not for them. We [in Broad Street] are seen to be gown more than town and don’t want that to be the case. We have to work to change that perception.”

When Blackwell’s accounts are filed at Companies House later this year Prescott expects them to show a substantial improvement on last year’s pre-tax loss of £3.4m. “It’s our job to be in a financial position where we take the business from Toby,” he says. “We’ve been there before with a false dawn so this is not the time to make promises. This is a time to get our heads down and sell as many books as is humanly possible.”

With thanks to Don Gilling

Friday, June 22, 2018

And I thought the headline was about Trump....

How We Elected T. rex to Be Our Tyrant Lizard King

Story by Brian Switek
From snout to tail tip, T. rex was certainly a superlative animal. It lived between 68 and 66 million years ago in western North America, the range of the species extending from what’s now southern Canada through New Mexico. And yes, it was a giant: The largest and last member of its family, a fully-grown T. rex could grow to be 40 feet long and weigh over 9 tons. The ’saur had a jaw powerful enough to crush the bones of other dinosaurs – and, while contested, calculations based on skeletal anatomy and muscle mass suggest that a T. rex in a hurry could have moved at speeds of 17 miles an hour or more.
Few would think to question the generation-defying popularity of our king, Tyrannosaurus rex. In academic journals, galleries of paleoart, and even the now-25-year-old Jurassic Park franchise, T. rex has come to represent the ultimate epitome of dinosaurness. University of Nevada, Reno historian of science Jane Davidson puts it this way: “If you say ‘dinosaur’ to most people, I would bet you that the mental image they have first is of T. rex.” The tyrant even reigns on Twitter, where Sue the T. rex has amassed nearly 41,000 followers.

The old dinosaur hall in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History featured triceratops, diplodocus, and more—but none could compete with the reign of T. rex.(Smithsonian Institution Archives)

Paleontologists were on the trail of T. rex before they even knew it. In the late 19th century, teeth and isolated bones carried back from western expeditions during this time would, ultimately, turn out to be T. rex scraps. These were glimmerings of something fierce, during a time when only a handful of dinosaurs were known and each new discovery had the potential to not only reveal new species but entire families of dinosaurs. The two skeletons that revealed tyrant’s full glory were excavated by famed fossil hunter Barnum Brown in 1900 and 1902, respectively, and later described by paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn in 1905.
There was a bit of initial confusion. Osborn called the first skeleton by the (also catchy) name of Dynamosaurus imperiosus, even accidentally including some ankylosaur armor in his vision of the dinosaur, while dubbing the second, better skeleton Tyrannosaurus rex. He soon realized his mistake, however, and in a follow-up paper said both skeletons should be called Tyrannosaurus rex.
The first, less-complete skeleton went on to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh – where it can still be seen today – and the better skeleton was reassembled in the dinosaur halls of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where it was known as AMNH 5027. Decades before the discoveries of soon-to-be celebrity rexes “Sue,” “Stan,” “Jane,” “the Wankel Rex,” and others, AMNH 5027 became the most famous dinosaur of them all. Casts and reproductions of this dinosaur can still be seen at museums around the world.
Why? Tyrannosaurus was far larger than any other predatory dinosaur found so far (there’s still plenty of debate over whether it still holds the title for the heftiest Cretaceous heavyweight). Moreover, compared to most dinosaur discoveries of the time, including other predatory dinosaurs, the first two Tyrannosaurus skeletons were relatively complete. As if this wasn’t enough to prime Tyrannosaurusfor the big time, it turned out Osborn was the ideal promoter for the dinosaur.
“Henry Osborn was a wonderful publicist,” Davidson says. The paleontologist was thinking big from the start; at one point he even considered mounting both original T. rex skeletons in a single scene, facing off over a carcass. That idea was scrapped in favor of a single mount of the better skeleton, which the local press immediately enthused over. Even when only the hips and legs of the museum’s favored T. rex were up, the New York Times declared the dino “the prize fighter of antiquity.”
Osborn had the bones, the facilities, the funding, and the press attention to make T. rex a star, notes University of Maryland paleontologist and T. rex expert Thomas Holtz, Jr. The dinosaur even appeared as the villain in the 1918 movie The Ghost of Slumber Mountain, one of the earliest dinosaur flicks. The name was surely part of the dinosaur’s appeal, too. “Calling it the king of the tyrant lizards was genius,” Davidson says – a name that was simple, evocative, and immediately told you exactly the kind of dinosaur you were looking at.

Sue (currently on hiatus at Chicago’s Field Museum) is one of the most famous individual T. rex. skeletons, dominating in life and on social media. (Dimitri Carol / Alamy)

But the familiarity of T. rex slightly can obscure the true nature of the dinosaur. “If T. rex had been discovered in the last 20 years or so, we would consider it a weird or extreme dinosaur,” says Holtz. T. rex has extremely large and thick teeth for its skull size, an extraordinarily deep and wide skull, and lumpy ornamentation around the eyes that are more prominent than those of its relatives. Despite being the name-bearer for an entire family of dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus is among the strangest of its kind.
Nevertheless, T. rex has become an ambassador dinosaur, known from over 50 partial skeletons and with a paper trail longer than the carnivore’s body. “But fame comes at a price,” Holtz notes. The huge bulk of literature gives us the impression that we know T. rex well, when, in reality, we’re still getting to know the basics. In other words, Holtz notes, “T. rex has become the Drosophila melanogaster of vertebrate paleontology” — the very measure of almost any question you could think to ask about the Cretaceous period — whether it’s the best study subject or not.
The king is also prone to generating controversy. In the early 90s, when paleontologist Jack Horner proposed that T. rex only scavenged for food rather than hunted, the outcry from other experts and the public alike was louder than a cinematic dinosaur’s roar. (There’s evidence T. rex both hunted and scavenged, like most modern carnivores, with the real question being how much of the dinosaur’s diet was fresh versus carrion.)
More recently, a 2016 conference presentation suggested dinosaurs like T. rex had fleshy lips covering their teeth and spurred debate among T. rex fans; the description of a different tyrannosaur by Thomas Carr and colleagues proposed that these predators had more crocodile-like faces with exposed choppers. Soon thereafter a 2017 study suggesting that T. rex was primarily scaly drew critique from those who think T. rex had at least a partial covering of fuzzy protofeathers. And don’t even get started on the long-running, vociferous argument over whether small tyrannosaur specimens from the same haunts as T. rex should be relabeled “Nanotyrannus.” (Spoiler: they shouldn’t.)
This kind of attention isn’t unique to T. rex. Popular icons tend to stay that way, often following a concept called the 80/20 rule – that is, about 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. In Davidson’s other field, the history of art, she says, “one gets more attention for example if you find a new Leonardo, or a purported new Leonardo, than if you find yet another painting by David Teniers II.” The same goes for T. rex: far more attention is given to a minor revision about the tyrant king than, say, Camarasaurus, or another dinosaur that doesn’t have nearly the same cultural cachet.
In the century since Osborn’s announcement, T. rex has continued to metamorphose. New ideas about the species, as well as dinosaurs in general, have created an entire continuum of T. rex visions, from tail-dragging sluggards to supercharged hypercarnivores covered in fuzz. Even this month’s release of Jurassic World II – which stars a T. rex that was accurate by 1993 standards but needs a few updates – helps highlight how our perceptions of those old bones keep shifting with the times.
Even after all those years, it’s hard for those who study the king to resist its appeal. “T. rex has always been my favorite dinosaur, since I was three years old,” Holtz says. “Originally it was just because it was, in the literal sense of the word, awesome. But as time went by and I began to learn more about anatomy and biology and the nature of science, I got to appreciate the species in new ways.” T. rexappeals to both the high-minded and the visceral parts of ourselves, and, Holtz says, the poetry of the species has a persistent draw.
Think of it, says Holtz: “The giant predator in a wonderful ecosystem which ended in fire and darkness. Who wouldn’t love that?


New Zealand's Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, gave birth yesterday, Matariki.

This delightful cartoon appeared in today's papers.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The little off-road bookstore

Catherine Groenestein

Patrick McKenna always has several books on the go between customers in his Waverley second hand book shop.

Patrick McKenna doesn't get a lot of customers at his book shop and that's just the way he likes it. 

The Book Bank is located in a former bank in the small South Taranaki town of Waverley. 

With just under 800 residents there's not much foot traffic and McKenna gets plenty of time to read his own products.

"This place doesn't make a lot of money, it's more of a hobby, but I'm a pensioner so that doesn't matter. It pays its own way," he said. 

"I'm at the age you don't have to be anybody. Ambition is dead, you are who you're going to be, so enjoy it. If you haven't made it by now, you're never going to."

Prior to moving to Waverley McKenna was an antiques dealer and ran a bookshop in the Wairarapa. He's also a musician.

Patrick McKenna's Waverley bookshop used to be a bank, in 1903.

He moved north with his wife Raewyn after seeing the century-old former bank for sale online in 2016. 

"We liked the idea of a place we could live and work from," he said. 

They live above the shop and can see the sea from the garden behind the building. There are musical instruments in the strong room, and there's no road noise, thanks to the 10mm glass in the windows from the banking days.

McKenna gathers stock from book fairs, op shops and people clearing out a house or downsizing.

"People our age don't like to throw away books, so they bring them here. I got eight banana boxes of war books recently, and they're good ones, from the 1950s. I've sold some already."

Inside the sunny shop, rows of classics including Steinbeck, Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare and Hemingway face shelves of philosophers and tomes on language and linguistics.

A Taranaki section has books about shipwrecks, pioneers and traders, monuments and the mountain.

Nearby there's Maori, history, biographies, war and philosophy, explorers and politics.

In a room to one side books on art, architecture and artists line the shelves around an oak table - McKenna's reading spot.

He likes the stories hidden within the stories.

"Quite often there are little things tucked into the pages of a book you never expect to find - art union tickets, war tokens, photos and flowers."

The inscriptions written into the fly leafs of others hint of their past.
"This room is full of voices and thoughts that people have put down."

When a customer does come in, he's happy to chat, find out what authors they have enjoyed, and suggest others they will like too.

A lot of his customers are older people who love rare and classic books.

One Auckland couple recently detoured through Taranaki en-route to Wellington to visit the shop, he said.

He worries about falling literacy rates, and the lack of reading among younger people.

"You pick up a book and suddenly you drop into that world. We're losing that."

With thanks to Don Gilling

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Scoundrels and Eccentrics of the Pacific -- book launch at Unity Books, Wellington

Lunchtime Event | Scoundrels & Eccentrics of the Pacific by John Dunmore | Thursday 14th June, 12-12:45pm

Scoundrels & Eccentrics of the Pacific

Come and hear author John Dunmore, author of Scoundrels & Eccentrics of the Pacific,  in conversation with Lydia Wevers.

In-store at Unity Books Wellington
Thursday 14th June, 12-12:45pm

Scoundrels & Eccentrics of the Pacific is a collection of tales of the men, and in some cases the women, who sought to benefit from the discoveries of the early explorers.
They were mostly scoundrels and rogues with little conscience but great craftiness, and they left in their wake others who found themselves victims of unimaginable situations.
Here are the adventurers who once made the great Pacific their playground — from likeable dreamers to outright con-men, slavers and pirates, and even one self-titled Queen Emma.
There’s the extraordinary tale of James Proctor who used his wooden leg to trick natives into coming aboard his ship so he could spirit them away as slaves; or the French priest Fr Rougier who used his position to amass a fortune, eventually becoming the ‘King of Christmas Island’.
Along with rollicking tales of the outrageous and bizarre, there are gloomy accounts of those fallen prey to human trafficking, goldfield fever and unscrupulous traders.
It shows that mankind, in whatever period and whatever part of the world, may have its heroes, but always has its villains.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Bolthole for the super rich

Forget the fact that New Zealand is a shaky country.  Forget the fact that there is a long pre-history of devastation wrought by gigantic waves (see the map above).  The super-rich of Trump's America, convinced that apocalypse is nigh, are setting up boltholes in our faraway land.

As a real estate agent observed, we used to talk about the tyranny of distance.  Now, in the minds of the fearful super rich, that distance is a distinct asset.

An article in the New Yorker (January 2017) says it all.  Some extracts ....

How many wealthy Americans are really making preparations for a catastrophe? It’s hard to know exactly; a lot of people don’t like to talk about it. (“Anonymity is priceless,” one hedge-fund manager told me, declining an interview.) Sometimes the topic emerges in unexpected ways. Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn and a prominent investor, recalls telling a friend that he was thinking of visiting New Zealand. “Oh, are you going to get apocalypse insurance?” the friend asked. “I’m, like, Huh?” Hoffman told me. New Zealand, he discovered, is a favored refuge in the event of a cataclysm. Hoffman said, “Saying you’re ‘buying a house in New Zealand’ is kind of a wink, wink, say no more. Once you’ve done the Masonic handshake, they’ll be, like, ‘Oh, you know, I have a broker who sells old ICBM silos, and they’re nuclear-hardened, and they kind of look like they would be interesting to live in.’ ”


By January, 2015, [Robert] Johnson, [managing director of Soros Fund Management] was sounding the alarm: the tensions produced by acute income inequality were becoming so pronounced that some of the world’s wealthiest people were taking steps to protect themselves. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Johnson told the audience, “I know hedge-fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway.”


In the first seven days after Donald Trump’s election, 13,401 Americans registered with New Zealand’s immigration authorities, the first official step toward seeking residency—more than seventeen times the usual rate. The New Zealand Herald reported the surge beneath the headline “trump apocalypse.”

In fact, the influx had begun well before Trump’s victory. In the first ten months of 2016, foreigners bought nearly fourteen hundred square miles of land in New Zealand, more than quadruple what they bought in the same period the previous year, according to the government. American buyers were second only to Australians. The U.S. government does not keep a tally of Americans who own second or third homes overseas. Much as Switzerland once drew Americans with the promise of secrecy, and Uruguay tempted them with private banks, New Zealand offers security and distance. In the past six years, nearly a thousand foreigners have acquired residency there under programs that mandate certain types of investment of at least a million dollars.

Jack Matthews, an American who is the chairman of MediaWorks, a large New Zealand broadcaster, told me, “I think, in the back of people’s minds, frankly, is that, if the world really goes to shit, New Zealand is a First World country, completely self-sufficient, if necessary—energy, water, food. Life would deteriorate, but it would not collapse.” As someone who views American politics from a distance, he said, “The difference between New Zealand and the U.S., to a large extent, is that people who disagree with each other can still talk to each other about it here. It’s a tiny little place, and there’s no anonymity. People have to actually have a degree of civility.”


Peter Campbell, the managing director of Triple Star Management, a New Zealand construction firm, told me that, by and large, once his American clients arrive, they decide that underground shelters are gratuitous. “It’s not like you need to build a bunker under your front lawn, because you’re several thousand miles away from the White House,” he said. Americans have other requests. “Definitely, helipads are a big one,” he said. “You can fly a private jet into Queenstown or a private jet into Wanaka, and then you can grab a helicopter and it can take you and land you at your property.” American clients have also sought strategic advice. “They’re asking, ‘Where in New Zealand is not going to be long-term affected by rising sea levels?’ ”

The growing foreign appetite for New Zealand property has generated a backlash. The Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa—the Maori name for New Zealand—opposes sales to foreigners. In particular, the attention of American survivalists has generated resentment. In a discussion about New Zealand on the Modern Survivalist, a prepper Web site, a commentator wrote, “Yanks, get this in your heads. Aotearoa NZ is not your little last resort safe haven.”

An American hedge-fund manager in his forties—tall, tanned, athletic—recently bought two houses in New Zealand and acquired local residency. He agreed to tell me about his thinking, if I would not publish his name. Brought up on the East Coast, he said, over coffee, that he expects America to face at least a decade of political turmoil, including racial tension, polarization, and a rapidly aging population. “The country has turned into the New York area, the California area, and then everyone else is wildly different in the middle,” he said. He worries that the economy will suffer if Washington scrambles to fund Social Security and Medicare for people who need it. “Do you default on that obligation? Or do you print more money to give to them? What does that do to the value of the dollar? It’s not a next-year problem, but it’s not fifty years away, either.”

New Zealand’s reputation for attracting doomsayers is so well known in the hedge-fund manager’s circle that he prefers to differentiate himself from earlier arrivals. He said, “This is no longer about a handful of freaks worried about the world ending.” He laughed, and added, “Unless I’m one of those freaks.”

But what about New Zealanders, when that apocalypse happens?  Those refugee Americans will want pilots for their private planes and helicopters; they want nurses and doctors, teachers and mechanics.  And, most of all, they will need food and water.  Are we expected to provide all those, at a time when everyone's need is critical?  Just because they are obscenely rich?

Little wonder that it is a major issue for our new government -- one that many Americans would consider unacceptably socialist.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The yacht Equanimity

The plot thickens ...

More on the luxury yacht Equanimity, and the scandal that surrounds her.

Controversially -- like everything else about this murky international affair -- the yacht was legally released from her captors in Indonesia, in April, to be returned to her owners -- on paper.  Meantime, however, there has been a shock election result in Malaysia, and so the plot begins to unravel.

Or maybe not.

From a story by Richard Paddock in the NYTimes

 Malaysia’s new leader is moving aggressively to investigate the apparent theft of billions of dollars from a state investment fund under the previous government, including seeking the arrest of a key figure in the scandal, the financier Jho Low.
The United States Department of Justice estimates that $4.5 billion went missing from the fund, 1 Malaysia Development Berhad, known as 1MDB, which was established and overseen by the former prime minister Najib Razak — including $731 million that it says was deposited into Mr. Najib’s own bank accounts.
Mr. Najib, who denies any wrongdoing, suffered a surprise election defeatlast month at the hands of Mahathir Mohamad, 92, who had previously served more than two decades as prime minister before retiring at 78.
Back in office, Mr. Mahathir has made investigating the scandal and recovering the money a top priority.

Mr. Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, have been barred from leaving the country while investigations continue. Authorities raided residences associated with the couple nine days after the election and confiscated more than 350 boxes and pieces of luggage containing luxury handbags, jewelry, watches and $28.6 million in cash.
Mr. Mahathir told reporters on Friday that the authorities were now seeking Mr. Low over activities related to the fund. Mr. Low, a Malaysian, helped set up 1MDB after its founding in 2009 and, though he never held an official position at the fund, has been described by authorities in the United States as a key figure in moving money out of it.

“We are trying to arrest Jho Low,” the prime minister told reporters. “He is not in the country and we don’t have extradition rights in the country where he is staying.”
When asked what country that was, he said, “many countries.”
Mr. Low was a friend of Mr. Najib’s stepson, Riza Aziz, whose production company, Red Granite Pictures, later used money said to be from 1MDB to produce Hollywood movies, including “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Red Granite reached an agreement in March to pay $60 million to settle an assets seizure lawsuit filed by the United States Justice Department.
Mr. Low, who spent millions of dollars on gifts to celebrities such as the actor Leonardo DiCaprio and the model Miranda Kerr, has been sighted in various parts of Asia in recent years.
In February, the United States asked Indonesia to seize a 300-foot megayacht, the Equanimity, that it said Mr. Low had bought with $250 million from 1MDB. But an Indonesian judge later ordered the vessel released, saying that the authorities had not followed proper procedures.
Mr. Mahathir’s new attorney general, Tommy Thomas, said on Wednesday on taking office that 1MDB would be the government’s “first and immediate priority.”
“We shall institute criminal and civil proceedings in our courts against the alleged wrongdoers,” he told reporters. “All are equal before the law and no one will be spared. There will be no cover-up.”
He said Malaysia would cooperate with the United States, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Singapore and other countries that had been investigating the use of their financial systems to hide the missing money.
Another key figure appointed by Mr. Mahathir is Mohd Shukri Abdull, who will head the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.former deputy commissioner of the agency, he said last month that he had fled in fear of his life and sought police protection in the United States after Mr. Najib fired officials who had raised questions about corruption at the fund.
The commission has called Mr. Najib and Ms. Mansor in separately to give statements, and issued a public appeal last week for Mr. Low to contact it and assist in the investigation.
An international law firm published a reply on Mr. Low’s behalf. It said that he was ready to help investigators, but did not indicate where he was.

Cynthia Gabriel, executive director of the Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism in Kuala Lumpur and a harsh critic of Mr. Najib, praised the new government’s actions as a “remarkable effort so far.”But she noted that the investigation is complex and that Malaysia had only just begun to work with investigators in other countries.

“There are a lot of dots to connect to arrive at the final outcome,” she said. “Investigations are progressing but it could take longer than expected.”

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Bats in the Library

More from the Smithsonian -- and a lot more relevant to The World of  the Written Word, though it still relates to normally repulsive animals.

There are libraries in Portugal, it seems, that welcome the presence of their resident bats.  The bats eat the insects that would gnaw into the priceless old books, and sing in their peculiar way when it is beginning to rain, and are pleasant residents altogether.  There is the problem of their droppings, which are collected by special animal skin covers that are laid over the old, old tables at night, and which have to be shaken and cleaned by the librarians every morning, but it's just part of the job, undertaken cheerfully.