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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 9 (January 1, 1930)

World Affairs

page 59

World Affairs

Where are Wheels Taking Us?

If, during the year, the outside world has not taught how to cure unemployment, has it any lesson in the control of modern traffic? The British Government has brought down a Transport Bill that sets up, for the licensing and control of public service vehicles, eighteen traffic area authorities, instead of about a thousand local authorities. New Zealand still has a local authority licensing system; but in the opinion of the British Royal Commission, on whose investigations and report the Bill is based, such a system is archaic and chaotic. According to the Commission's recommendations, the new licensing authorities, subject to the British Ministry of Transport, should be empowered to fix routes and fares, eliminate unnecessary road services, and establish a “controlled monopoly.” Although this report is made to a Labour Government, it is by no means a Labour Commission, and those who swear by “controlled monopoly” are by no means composed of men who bow the knee to State socialism. So the report indicates how far along the road of public control of private services even the greatest individualists are nowadays forced to go. The Commission recommends abolition of speed limit except for certain heavy vehicles whose speed must be limited to protect the roads; for the protection of road-users it is proposed to rely on prosecutions for “dangerous driving” not for breach of speed limit. The report and the Bill contain many things that ought to provoke thought. Not by any means so clear-cut is the evidence provided by Australia's two greatest cities on the perplexing subject of car-parking. Melbourne City Council has a by-law under which it allots parking space to motorists on payment of a fee ranging from 1/- a day to about £10 a year; in short, it sells public space, and employs men to supervise parking. But Sydney cabled under date 9th December that “owing to severe congestion of Sydney's narrow streets, the police department has prohibited car-parking in the chief thoroughfares.” In New Zealand the municipalities seem to be puzzled as to what to do about parking, and the New Zealand Town Planner again asks for limitation of height of buildings to prevent the streets being completely deadlocked.

* * *

Science Bridges Gap between Scott and Byrd.

On 12th December, 1901, Signor Marconi received at St. John, Newfoundland, the first wireless signal sent across the Atlantic; it came from the Poldhu station, Cornwall. So 12th December is a redletter day. If one dates wireless from 1901, the motor car may be said to have been born a few years before it, and flying (facilitated by motor car engine development) a few years after it. From this trinity the twentieth century has derived much of its peculiar character; two of the trinity (radio and flying) mostly bridge the immense gulf between Scott and Byrd. In thirty years the world's technical progress, thanks to invention and to the application of science to industry, has been dazzling.

In this evolution not only distance-killing transport and communications, and great and ever-increasing trade combinations, have played a part. The cinema (which figured in the cablegrams on the same day as Marconi) has been a profound social-industrial factor too. According to the League of Nations figures (Geneva, 13th Dec.) page 60 the cinema industry is third in the United States (foodstuffs first, motor-building second) and represents a world capital of 800 millions sterling, half of which is in the United States. Britain's investment totals 70 millions. Popular opinion in New Zealand impatienty awaits an effective British contribution to the new talking and sound development. Geneva says that American cinemas accommodated a hundred million spectators a week. Assured of the money of their huge home audience. American producers often fail to purge the screen talk and the screen titles of Americanisms offensive to non-American ears. Paris (8th Dec.) reports a demonstration of a French audience in a French theatre against a talking picture that “spoke English,” but this is just what some American screen artists fail to do. Owing to technical problems New Zealand depends on older countries for the cinema, and it is one of those new aids to civilisation with regard to which smaller countries have to accept fashions set elsewhere.

* * *

The Tail's Influence on the Dog.

In conformity with the scale of relative quantities, New Zealand must necessarily take her cue, to a great extent, from the economic experience of more populous and older countries. Generally she must look to their lead in most branches of the application of science to industry, and in the supply of technical equipment. Also, she must, as mentioned lower down, take such motion pictures as they choose to send her. Yet it is also true that many men who are leaders oversea are New Zealand born. This Dominion breeds and trains clever men, who go oversea to find their scope, and the retiring Governor-General, Sir Charles Fergusson, offers the opinion that New Zealand should be as proud of these New Zealanders who do the work of the Empire elsewhere as of those who do it at home. Of such is Mr. Norman D. Nairn (a wanderer momentarily returned), and his brother Gerald. After war service in Palestine, Mr. N. D. Nairn stopped in Syria and took a big hand in re-opening the world's oldest transport route, by putting on motors between Beirut and Bagdad. From four-wheeled to six-wheeled vehicles the service has ascended, and the modern Alexander now plans to conquer the air with Damascus-Bagdad twelve-passenger aeroplanes. New Zealand's oversea legion is too numerous to particularise, but among those links-with-the-outside-world are “the New Zealanders in the Royal Air Force, numbering ninety,” who dined in London on 1st December with Major Wilkes and Captain Findlay. At the same time twenty Wellington College Old Boys met in the metropolis at a reunion dinner. The world is both very large and very small. Another New Zealander, the radio airman McWilliams, of trans-Tasman and round-the-world Southern Cross fame, looked in during December at the land of his birth.

* * *

Independent v. Inter-dependence: Briand and Foch.

Is a portent to be found in the fact that the year 1929 closes with something of a clash between the spirit of Briand and the spirit of Foch? “There was a dramatic incident in the Chamber of Deputies” (reports a cablegram of 27th December) when a Deputy read a document, signed by the late Marshal in 1926, opposing evacuation of the Rhineland before the date fixed in the Versailles Treaty. M. Briand, now Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Tardieu Government, said he was ignorant of the document's existence. No one is ignorant, however, of the fact that Foch sought for France the Rhine frontier. He blamed the Clemenceau Government for not putting it in the Treaty. And, if the greater includes the less, how could Foch have been expected to condone premature evacuation of territory that he considered should never have been regarded as evacuable? But though there seems to be no reasonable ground for surprise at the Foch relic, the incident is none the less symbolic. All transport progress (sea, land, air) tends to annihilate distance and create a smaller world; economic evolution and the inter-locking ramifications of modern commerce tend to drive races, castes, creeds, and colours together; but the counterdrive of nationalism, based on history and racial traditions, is directed to maintaining the gap. Amid mighty centripetal and centrifugal forces, Briand dares to propound his United States of Europe. But the U.S. of Europe is not an issue. Disarmament is. The first question in 1930 is this: Can Briand lead France into a naval reduction scheme on the scale contemplated by Britain and the United States? French concessions in the Versailles Treaty were given on the understanding that President Wilson could secure from the United States Congress guarantees for France. That hope the Senate killed; and France has not forgotten. The goods Clemenceau bought at Versailles were never delivered. What consolation will France claim when the English-speaking seakings come before her in their new mood of naval self-denial?