Time lapse of a rare Ring of Fire total eclipse of the Sun

Time lapse of a rare Ring of Fire total eclipse of the Sun (theorange.co)

A rare “Ring of Fire” total eclipse of the Sun will occur April 29, 2014. Unfortunately, it will most likely be seen only by folks in eastern Australia, some penguins and a Tasmanian Devil or two.

Please note that April 29 is “local time”. But, for example, in the western United States – where the eclipse won’t be seen at all – it occurs late on the evening of April 28.

This type of eclipse is also known as an “annular” eclipse, because it involves the darkened new moon passing between the Sun and the Earth at such a precise distance – in this case, when the moon is close to its farthest distance from the Earth, making it too small to cover the sun completely – that it leaves a fiery ring of sun visible behind the Moon. In a “total eclipse, when the Moon is closer to the Earth and so the Moon’s shadow is bigger, and it completes obscures the Sun.

Who will get to see the whole eclipse?

According to Space.com, the best place in the world to see it is a small area in Antarctica. But, partial phases of the eclipse will be visible in other places, including the southern Indian Ocean, Tasmania and eastern Australia. Sydney, for example, is right in the track of the full eclipse, but the Sun will set below the horizon shortly before the whole thing can be seen. In Sydney, the eclipse will begin at 4:14 p.m.(“local time”) and the Sun will be 52 percent covered at 5:15 p.m. Sunset occurs two minutes later.

In Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, the eclipse will begin at 3:51 p.m. (0551 GMT). Maximum eclipse will be at 5 p.m. (0700 GMT), and the sun will set at 5:17.

Red line denotes path of the “Ring of Fire” Eclipse on April 29 (Space.com)

Perth and other parts of western  Australia will be able to see the eclipse’s end. In Perth, it starts at 1:17 p.m. (0517 GMT), is at maximum (59 percent) at 2:42 p.m. (0642 GMT), and ends at 3:59 p.m. (0759 GMT).

It’s a busy year for eclipses in general, with lunar eclipses earlier in April and again October 8. A partial solar eclipse occurs October 23. The next widely visible total eclipse of the Sun will be March 20, 2015.

Jerry Garrett

April 24, 2014

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | April 22, 2014

Why Did Tesla Skip The 2014 New York Auto Show?

Tesla Motors' Model S electric car: MIA at NYIAS

Tesla Motors’ Model S electric car: MIA at NYIAS, but not Auto China

NEW YORK

Tesla Motors had no stand, no personnel and no vehicles on display at the 2014 New York International Auto Show.

Why not?

Tesla’s absence at such an important exhibit of the auto industry’s latest offerings may have seemed odd to some, but when looked at from a different perspective, it is more understandable.

American auto shows, like the one in New York, are put on by auto dealers. Tesla, as a manufacturer, attempts to sell its cars directly to consumers, without going through dealers as middlemen. So, existing franchise dealers and Tesla often find themselves in conflict.

To make a Bibical analogy, for Tesla to be exhibiting at the New York auto show, it would be akin to Daniel venturing into the lion’s den.

But a spokesman for the show said Tesla would not be prevented from venturing into that lion’s den, if the company desired to do so.

“Tesla has never exhibited at the New York Auto Show. It’s always been their choice not to,” said Chris Sams in an email.

Tesla, for its part, through spokeswoman Shanna Hendricks, said, “We chose not to participate based on our own marketing plans for the year.”

The New York show specifically is staged by the Greater New York Auto Dealers Association, an organization that recently reached a rather uneasy truce with Tesla Motors over its right to do business in the state.

Under an agreement reached late last month between Gov. Andrew Cuomo, legislative leaders, Tesla Motors, the GYNADA and the New York State Automobile Dealers Assocation, Tesla would be allowed to continue to run its five existing stores in the New York City area. But Tesla would be prevented from opening any additional locations unless it goes through a strengthened franchise law intended to require Tesla to sell its cars through a franchised dealership.

While that might seem rather Draconian, Tesla is receiving greater accommodation in New York than it is currently receiving in New Jersey, where as of April 15 Tesla stores had to stop selling cars. The Paramus location, for example, remains open for vehicles displays, information, test drives and service; actual sales, transfer of money, and vehicle deliveries are referred to the nearest Tesla-owned store in New York – in Manhattan’s Chelsea area.

What, exactly, is Tesla’s beef with dealers?

Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, stated in a March 14 blog post concerning the New Jersey situation that ever since Tesla began selling cars in 2008, dealers have “sought to force us to sell through them.”

He added, “The reason that we did not choose to do this is that the auto dealers have a fundamental conflict of interest between promoting gasoline cars, which constitute virtually all of their revenue, and electric cars, which constitute virtually none. Moreover, it is much harder to sell a new technology car from a new company when people are so used to the old. Inevitably, they revert to selling what’s easy and it is game over for the new company.” He also said “an even greater conflict of interest” exists in dealers making “most of their profit” from selling parts and service from new cars that break down.

In response, Lou Roberti, a Westchester dealer who is president of NYSADA, said the franchised dealer system “serves the public well.”

He added, “Franchised dealers provide price competition, a ready source of trained technicians and parts for repairs and recalls, and create a market for trade-ins. Franchised dealers also provide thousands of good paying jobs in communities throughout the state.”

When the New York the show opened to the public on Friday, Mr. Musk was not in attendance; he was, in fact, in Hawthorne, Calif., presiding over the successful launch of a rocket by another of his companies, SpaceX, with supplies for the International Space Station.

If there was a wound that salt could be rubbed into here, it was that Mr. Musk then jetted off to Auto China 2014, the competing auto show in Beijing the same week; there he announced Tesla would not only be inaugurating sales of its Model S in the Chinese market for the first time – but also that Tesla would soon would build a manufacturing facility in China.

Jerry Garrett

April 22, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | April 15, 2014

Did You See It? April 14/15′s Blood Red Eclipse Of The Moon!

The Moon turned blood red during a full eclipse April 14/15, 2014 (Jerry Garrett Photo)

The Moon turned blood red during a full eclipse April 14/15, 2014 (Jerry Garrett Photo)

ICYMI, here is a shot of the blood red eclipse of the Moon on April 14/15, 2014.

A blood-red moon - a total lunar eclipse - will occur on April 15. (Space.com)

A blood red moon – a total lunar eclipse – will occur on April 15. (Space.com)

There is some confusion as to when you should start watching the total lunar eclipse – known as a blood red moon – that is listed as occurring on April 15, 2014. Actually, in most places where it will be visible, you should start watching on April 14 – that’s Monday evening!

The confusion around the timing is because the official times listed for the eclipse are based on Eastern Daylight Time – even though the best viewing of the eclipse will be west of that time zone. So – officially – the eclipse’s start time is just before 1 a.m. EDT on April 15. Got that, New Yorkers? (Actually, NYC and the Eastern time zone as a whole is not the greatest spot to be trying to watch the eclipse; it is right on the eastern edge of the viewing area.)

But if you are watching in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Honolulu, etc, the eclipse starts before midnight on what is still Monday evening, April 14. To be clear: For L.A., and other points in the Pacific time zone, the eclipse will begin and reach totality just at the stroke of midnight on Monday night, and then continue into the wee hours of Tuesday morning!

Those “official” times exactly:

Onset: 12:53 a.m. EDT, April 15. (9:53 p.m. PDT, April 14)

Actual Eclipse Begins: 1:58 a.m. EDT, April 15. (10:58 p.m. PDT, April 14)

Totality Begins: 3:06 a.m. EDT, April 15. (12:06 a.m. PDT, April 15)

Darkest Point: 3:46 a.m. EDT, April 15. (12:46 a.m. PDT, April 15)

Totality Ends: 4:24 a.m. EDT, April 15. (1:24 a.m. PDT, April 15)

Party Ends: 5:33 a.m. EDT, April 15. (2:33 a.m. PDT, April 15)

You won’t see much for the first hour, but then into the second and third hours, the moon will darken gradually until it becomes a totally reddish disk. Then the process starts to wane, and about two to three hours later, it will be over.

The eclipse will be visible in much of the Western Hemisphere, including North America, Central America, the western half of South America and the islands of the Pacific Ocean*.

Why does the moon appear red? It has to do with the bending of light rays in the atmosphere. Eclipses occur when the Earth moves exactly between the Moon and the Sun; the Earth’s shadow covers the Moon. Most light is blocked, but some red bounces past, and seems to project itself, like a sunrise or sunset, coloring the Moon.

“The exact color that the moon appears depends on the amount of dust and clouds in the atmosphere,” according to NASA scientists. “If there are extra particles in the atmosphere, from say a recent volcanic eruption, the moon will appear a darker shade of red.”

 

Prime viewing area for the April 15 blood red moon - a total lunar eclipse

Prime viewing area for the April 15 blood red moon – a total lunar eclipse (Space.com)

If you miss this eclipse, don’t despair; another one is coming October 8, and that one will be visible in much of the same area – although the prime viewing area will shift a bit to the west, so that it includes some of Asia.

Of special note with this April 14/15 eclipse: Thus begins a series of four consecutive blood-red moons, called a tetrad – each separated by a period of six months which is, according to legend, a sign of the coming of the Apocalypse. Check back here in two years, and we’ll see how that turned out.

Jerry Garrett

April 9, 2014

(*The eclipse will also be visible in Australia and New Zealand).

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | March 29, 2014

RUSH Trivia: Who Played JOCHEN MASS?

 

Who was that masked man?

Who was that masked man?

A production assistant, assigned to work on the end-of-movie credit roll, was making the rounds on the set of the movie “Rush“, as the crew filmed at the Nurburgring race track in Germany, in fall 2012.

“Excuse me,” she said to a man in a racing suit that said “Jochen Mass” on it. “What is your name?’

“Jochen Mass,” he answered.

“No, I know that’s who you play in the movie,” she said. “But what is your name?”

“Jochen Mass,” he said again.

Jochen Mass, in reel- and real-life

The PA looked flustered, “No your real name. What is your real name?”

“Jochen Mass.”

The PA went off in search of someone who spoke German, because she was sure the man was not understanding her question.

“She couldn’t believe it,” the man – the real Jochen Mass – explained recently at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in Florida, where he was honored as grand marshal.

McLaren teammates Mass & Hunt.

McLaren teammates Mass & Hunt.

Yes, that really was Jochen Mass, driving the #12 Marlboro McLaren in the movie. That really was Mass passing stuntmen portraying Niki Lauda and James Hunt (Mass’ teammate) in a key scene at the 1976 German Grand Prix. It was perhaps the fictional but realistic racing movie’s one moment most anchored in reality.

That sequence was filmed at the same track where it happened, the Nurburgring, by the way, (Hunt won, Mass finished third, Lauda nearly died in a fiery crash).

Ron Howard, the producer, asked me for technical assistance on the movie,” Mass explained. “And that’s what led to me driving the replica of my car in the film.”

Mass, now 67, enjoyed a decade in Formula 1 racing, from 1973 to 1982, won the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix – his only F1 triumph, and the 1989 24 Hours of Le Mans. Although he retired from competitive driving long ago, he still races the occasional vintage car event. He’s fit, and managed to emerge pretty much unscathed from his career.

Mass was the only person to play himself in the movie, although Mario Andretti said he would have been interested in participating, if asked.

“I never heard from Ron Howard,” Andretti said. “I would have done it.”

Mass said it was a memorable moment, to be able to re-create history, and to turn back time – even for just a few frames of a movie.

Jerry Garrett

March 29, 2014

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | March 28, 2014

Before RUSH, There Was BOBBY DEERFIELD

This was, despite appearances, no racing movie.

The 2013 movie, “Rush“, depicted events of the 1976 Formula 1 Grand Prix season. But it wasn’t the first movie to deal with that subject. Before “Rush,” there was the much misunderstood and almost forgotten “Bobby Deerfield.”

The weekend of the United States Grand Prix in Watkins Glen, N.Y., in October 1977, someone invited us to attend a special world premiere of a new movie. It was in an odd venue: A small old theater in a nearby town. We sat down in old red velvet-covered metal chairs, our feet stuck to the gooey floor, and watched with great anticipation as the movie, “Bobby Deerfield” flickered up on the screen.

We hadn’t heard much about the movie, except that it was supposed to be a racing movie, made in cooperation with Formula 1 and the Brabham team then run by Bernie Eccelstone. It featured the cars and drivers of the 1976 Formula 1 season – yes, the real life James Hunt, Niki Lauda, Mario Andretti, Jochen Mass, Jean Pierre Jarier, Tom Pryce, Carlos Pace and others were all in it, in their actual F1 cars. Wow! Was this going to be the first decent racing movie since the iconic “Grand Prix” in 1966? There was much anticipation.

Misguided Marketing

Misguided Marketing

About two hours and two minutes later, we all – and there must have been several dozen of us – left the theater thoroughly disappointed.

“Racing movie?” a friend said contemptuously. “The worst love story since ‘Love Story‘. Get out your hankies. What crap!”

“Absolute crap! And it went on and on. For-ev-errr. Jesus!” said another. “Who do I talk to, to get that two hours of my life back?”

You wondered how a movie with that much talent attached to it could disappoint so badly. It starred Al Pacino, who had just been nominated for four straight Best Actor Academy Awards (“The Godfather” I & II, “Serpico” and “Dog Day Afternoon”). It was directed by two-time Oscar winner Sydney Pollack (“Out Of Africa”), scripted by another two-time Oscar winner Alvin Sargent (“Julia” and “Ordinary People”), and adapted from a novel by Erich Maria Remarque (“Heaven Has No Favorites” – for which Paul Newman originally owned the movie rights), who also wrote the immortal anti-war novel, “All Quiet On The Western Front“.

The movie flopped at the box office. It grossed barely $9 million. Although Pacino received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance, it was shut out of all other consideration. The little-known female lead Marthe Keller, who became romantically involved with Pacino during filming, was trashed so badly it probably hurt her career.

“Critics panned Bobby Deerfield as an over-the-top melodrama with a plodding story line,” notes a film guide. “Audiences reportedly laughed at scenes intended to be dramatic.” New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby panned it as “the year’s most cynical movie, made by people who know better.” Cynical? How? (Roger Ebert loved it, btw.) Racing fans were especially bitter – feeling that the movie was such a bomb, it poisoned Hollywood on attempting other racing flicks for years.

Time has not been especially kind to Bobby Deerfield, either. Rotten Tomatoes rates it at 22. Cheeky Time Out magazine dissed Pollack (who died in 2008) as being a “classic example of a Hollywood director being struck down by a lethal ‘art’ attack as soon as he sets foot in Europe” to make a film.

One reviewer said the movie’s most redeeming feature was “the French countryside is captured beautifully.”

Idiots! What are you talking about?!?

That wasn’t the French countryside! That wasn’t a racing movie. That wasn’t a bomb. It was an under-appreciated classic.

Which pedal makes it go?

Which pedal makes it go?

First off, most of the movie was filmed in Switzerland and Italy. I can almost name the places, because I’ve driven all around there. In the film, Pacino (who had no driver’s license, and didn’t know how to drive, prior to the start of filming) motors around in a gold 1976 Alfa Romeo Sprint Veloce – a time machine in and of itself.

Much of the film is shot in the Swiss spa town of Leukerbad, and Florence, Italy. There are a series of absolutely wonderful drives filmed in loving detail, down through the Valais, onto the auto train that goes through the Simplon Tunnel, across Lake Como on the ferry to Bellagio, and down into Tuscany and Florence. (Note to self: One day, write a Bobby Deerfield Travel Guide.) The scenery is just unforgettable – and it is charming to see that so little has changed along the route in the intervening 37 years. A heartrendingly gorgeous travelogue for anyone, especially those who have been there.

There are really only two racing sequences of any consequence – and they are each expertly shot – in the movie, and when I saw it for the first time, I couldn’t place exactly where they were. The script mentions one of them as “Jarama” (with a hard “J”) in Spain. But, in re-watching the movie recently, I realized it was actually le Circuit de la Sarthe – the 24 Hours of Le Mans race track (where, ironically, there is no Formula 1 racing) in France. I went to Le Mans in 1976, and saw all those same pit boxes, paddock lots and grandstands you see in the movie; sadly, they’ve have all long since been bulldozed into oblivion.

One particular line in Sargent’s generally very fine script, I think, is the key to understanding what the movie is really all about. Keller’s character Lillian sums up Bobby as being “so busy avoiding death, you aren’t living life.” (Or something like that.)

In Remarque’s book, everybody (spoiler alert) either dies or is doomed to die. The movie is actually more about making the most of life than it is about the capriciousness of death. (On that subject, the film is dedicated to racers Pryce and Pace, who doubled for Pacino in racing scenes; each died in 1977 before the movie was released.) Deerfield is also obsessed dissecting anything he doesn’t understand, whether it be racing, magic tricks or the enigmatic Lillian.

I won’t tell you the plot, except to tip you that Lillian is ill (no, idiot reviewers, it is not tuberculosis; your hair doesn’t fall out with that). I encourage you to watch it yourself. Or re-watch it, and give it another chance, if you were among the original disillusioned throngs.

Screen Shot 2014-03-27 at 6.28.52 PM

Last road trip

In my latest viewing of it, I thought Pacino’s acting was exceptional, especially in the second half (personally, he rates it as among his favorite performances). And Keller’s acting was actually quite affecting. Their chemistry is undeniable. It you take the time to watch it when you are in a certain mood, perhaps on a gray, quiet afternoon, when you are willing to give in to it and let the movie transport you at something less than Grand Prix speeds, it can be quite moving.

Bobby Deerfield should get credit for getting one thing absolutely right about racing: It was a bloodbath, back then. Enough to give even an emotionally stunted Deerfield pause.

Bobby Deerfield was, however, no racing movie. And the marketing genius who tried to sell it as such was a real jackass.

Jerry Garrett

March 27, 2014

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | March 7, 2014

Where Is THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL? Not Buda? Not Pest!

The real Grand Budapest Hotel, sort of

HOLLYWOOD

Where is the Grand Budapest Hotel?

Sadly, it doesn’t exist. Not fully, anyway, except in the mind of the man who created it, Wes Anderson, the eccentric director of the movie, “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

But where did they film it?

Answer: Mostly inside a real-life building that was once a department store in Görlitz, Saxony, Germany.

Görlitz is reputed to be the easternmost town in Germany, on the border with Poland. For the record, it’s 683 kilometers – and several countries – away from Budapest.

“We needed a spa town, and Görlitz is a spa town,” said Anderson, noting that he considered, but ruled out the real Budapest, in favor of Görlitz. “It even has thermal baths.”

When it was still a department store...

When it was still a department store…

Anderson said the building he used for the movie’s interiors was pretty much vacant, after the department store had gone bankrupt. The economy in Görlitz isn’t great, although it has been enjoying its new-found fame as a movie location and tourism stop for movie fans.

The building’s exterior shots are actually of the Görlitz city hall, embellished with so many computer-generated fetishes that it almost didn’t matter what building they used. (A tip that the exteriors were shot using a different building than the one used for the interiors? The roof of the interior building is glass. Look at the roof of the building in the movie poster above: It is black slate, with 18 gables, topped with wrought iron bric-a-brac to keep the pigeons off.)

The city hall building’s center section exists, with its gingerbread house style roof crown. But the rest of the rococo facade is added, like frosting on a cake.

For instance, the matching end sections with the parapets on the corners of the building aren’t really there. A computer added them.

The front entrance of the hotel was a plywood box built by the prop department and grafted onto the real building.

From a bygone era of elegance

From a bygone era of elegance

There are no alpine-style mountains anywhere near Görlitz (or Budapest). No craggy rocks with stags perched upon them, and no bridal veil-style waterfalls. But the tableau that Anderson creates is such an indelible fantasy that makes you want to believe it is real. And maybe there is something eerily similar, to be found someplace – on some old linen postcard, or an art nouveau or art deco luggage sticker, with saturated pastel coloring – declaring: “Greetings From The Grand Budapest Hotel”.

Fact is, there are buildings, and hotels, and snow-capped Alps and all those things, to be found in almost every resort town, all over Europe. (For instance, doesn’t every alpine getaway have a “Hotel Belvedere”?) It’s that all those features Anderson that conjured up don’t all exist in one, particular, spectacular grand dame of a hotel. And many of the great old hotels that could evoke a comparison to the Grand Budapest are falling into disrepair, closing, and being torn down.

Pity. And I guess that is the point the movie tries to make.

Jerry Garrett

March 6, 2014

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | March 6, 2014

Pic-Pic: Geneva’s Only Automobile Manufacturer

Is that a Hispano-Suiza? Or a Pic-Pic? (Jerry Garrett Photo)

Is that a Hispano-Suiza? Or a Pic-Pic? (Jerry Garrett Photo)

GENEVA, Switzerland

Was that a Hispano Suiza shuttling VIPs around the 2014 Geneva Motor Show? Well, it had what appeared to be a Hispano-Suiza hood ornament, and a prow-like Hispano-Suiza radiator shell and grille from the pre-World War I era. Anywhere else in the world, it would most likely be identified as a Hispano-Suiza. But in Geneva, it wears the name of another auto company. What was it?

The mystery car bears the badge of “Pic-Pic”, an obscure model from automobiling’s turbulent early years. The city of Geneva claims Pic-Pic as its one and only hometown auto maker.

The company, or companies behind Pic-Pic were in business from 1906-1924. But few cars badged as “Pic-Pic” are known to survive.

Piccard-Pictet memorabilia, including an old ad poster.

Piccard-Pictet memorabilia, including an old sign and advertising poster.

Brothers Charles and Frederic Dufaux, aspiring race car drivers, came up with the idea of producing an automobile, around the turn of the 20th century. They drew up designs but didn’t have the expertise or equipment to build anything. So they farmed out the construction to an industrial equipment manufacturer, Piccard-Pictet & Cie. Hence the origin of the “Pic-Pic” nickname.

Paul Piccard hated the whole idea of the automobile and bowed out of the project, but his partner Lucien Pictet was gung-ho. In 1905, Pictet started a marketing company, Societe d’Automobiles Geneve (S.A.G.), the name under which he intended to market the cars turned out by the Piccard-Pictet works.

He planned to build from the Dufaux brothers’ designs. But he was acquainted with the Swiss engineer Mark Birkigt who had gone to Spain to work with Emilio de la Cuadra on what became the Hispano-Suiza. Pictet liked what Hispano-Suiza was doing. So much so, Pictet went to Barcelona and met with Birkigt and worked out a deal to sell Hispano-Suizas under license in Switzerland.

So Pictet showed a Hispano-Suiza, wearing an S.A.G. badge, at the 2nd annual Geneva Motor Show in 1906. The cars wore S.A.G. badges until 1910.

S.A.G. started having Piccard-Pictet produce some of its own engines of various sizes, in four, six and eight-cylinder configurations.

1914 Pic-Pic

1914 Pic-Pic

It’s not exactly clear exactly when the Pic-Pic badge started showing up on S.A.G.’s Hispano-Suizas, but the oldest surviving one wearing a Pic-Pic badge and designated as a “MIV” (for Model 4) is a 1914 model; that car is being displayed in the Palexpo convention center’s lobby at this year’s Geneva show, with signage touting its “100th anniversary”.

The annals of racing show that cars entered as Pic-Pics won a few grands prix in the years leading up to the start of World War I in 1914. Many Pic-Pics were ordered by the Swiss Army during the war, because they were known for their workhorse engines. But after the war, Piccard-Pictet went bust. So in 1920, Gnome et Rhone, a French aircraft engine manufacturer, took over constructing what was left of the company’s stocks of spare parts – which was mostly Hispano-Suiza stuff. The last car to wear a Pic-Pic badge was a 1924 model shown at the Geneva show that year.

And that car – or one just like it – survives, and is reputed to be the one puttering around at the Geneva show this year. Identifying it was sort of a chore, since it was actually a parts-bin mongrel, comprised of many Hispano-Suiza parts from the pre- and post-WWI models. And so ended the Pic-Pic saga.

Probably not what the long-forgotten Dufaux brothers originally had in mind at all.

Jerry Garrett

March 5 , 2014

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | March 4, 2014

Newest Model From Audi? A Ducati

The new Ducati Diavel, courtesy of German automaker Audi. (Jerry Garrett Photo)

The new Ducati Diavel, courtesy of German automaker Audi. (Jerry Garrett Photo)

GENEVA, Switzerland

When Audi acquired Ducati for about $1 billion in 2012, many automotive industry observers wondered, “WTF?” Was it just a trophy acquisition for Volkswagen Group honcho and motorcycle enthusiast Ferdinand Piech, who had passed up the chance to pick up the iconic Italian motorcycle manufacturer on the cheap back in the 1980s? Or would VW Group try to resuscitate the perennially cash-poor company, like it had with Lamborghini, Bentley or Bugatti?

The old Diavel was wicked, and not in a nice way. (Ducati)

The old Diavel was wicked, and not in a nice way. (Ducati)

Looks like, under Audi’s aegis, Ducati is getting ready to kick it up a notch. A sneak preview of that was provided here March 3 when a newly redesigned Ducati Diavel motorcycle was introduced along with Audi’s new automotive models at the swank Geneva Motor Show.

The original Diavel had only just come out when Audi bought the company, so a statement is being made, by investing heavily in a revision of a very successful motorcycle, after little more than three years on the market. By comparison, Yamaha waited 23 years to re-do its V-Max – a motorcycle that is considered a pioneer of the muscle cruiser genre.

How does the new Diavel differ from the old one? Well, here is how Cycle World once memorably described the original Diavel:

“The Diavel is a hot-chili-oil gel-cap suppository up the rectum of all that is sedentary and conventional, and as more than one of us has observed, it’s going to get somebody arrested.”

Okay. That’s a lot to live up to! The original Diavel offered 162 horsepower in a package that weighed little more than 400 pounds. It ranked among the fastest production motorcycles ever built, with a 0-60 time of 2.6 seconds. But the experience of riding it that hard was more terrifying than satisfying. It was a raw, rough-edged ride; power came on like a sledgehammer between the eyes. Top speed is an unlisted number you are never likely to call.

The new Diavel has a more finished look; the old one looked like some parts had blown off.

The new Diavel has a more finished look; the old one looked like some parts had blown off.

Ducati’s mission was make the new version every bit as quick – and maybe even a tick or two quicker – but “smoother and more enjoyable” to hammer. Think “ride-ability”.

The 90-degree, four-valve, liquid-cooled, 90-degree, 1198cc V-twin engine has been completely re-worked, Ducati says. Peak horsepower from is now reached at 9,250 rpm, instead of 9,500; torque has been maximized from 94 pounds-feet to 96.2. Part of the power-burst comes from new pistons with a 12.5:1 compression ratio – up from 11.5:1 – and a “radical” adjustment in cam timing.

But one of the biggest performance enhancements is in how the bike breathes, through revised intake and exhaust ports, and an improved air box and freer-flowing exhausts.

Three adjustable throttle settings allow full power for sport riding, maximum power with an added degree of that “ride-ability” for rider and passenger for touring, and a moderated 100-horsepower mode for urban use and for riding in wet conditions.

That's one big ass rear - tire, that is.

That’s one big ass rear – tire, that is.

Despite the huge 240 section rear tire, Ducati promises that along with engine improvements to make the Diavel accelerate faster and with greater smoothness, and stop quicker with improved brakes, it will also handle with more agility.

Visually, the new Diavel still looks like a plumber’s garage sale, with exposed pipes, tubing and ductwork twisted, threaded and woven around every inch of it. But there is more integration and sophistication evident; it even appears to be a bit more comfortable and ergonomically friendly to ride. And no sign of that odd license plate holder that used to hover over the rear tire.

And while we await an actual test ride to benchmark Audi/Ducati performance claims for the new Diavel, I’m happy to report that even in mostly black Dark Stealth livery, it still looks red hot.

Jerry Garrett

March 3, 2014

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | February 9, 2014

MONUMENTS MEN: Who Sings Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas?

 

LA CAÑADA, California

One of the most affecting moments in the movie, “The Monuments Men,” happens when one of the characters, Bill Murray’s Richard Campbell, receives a recording from home, with his granddaughter singing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”

Who is really singing?

16-year-old Nora Sagal

16-year-old Nora Sagal

An absolute unknown, Nora Sagal – at least at the time she recorded the former Judy Garland standard.

Who is she?

Nora, I’m proud to say, is from my hometown – La Cañada, California! She was only 16 at the time she recorded the song, and she is the daughter of Warner Brothers executive David Sagal.

Actor/director/screenwriter George Clooney told a fanzine site how Ms. Sagal was selected: “We wrote this Christmas scene knowing that we were gonna be using that piece of music. A good friend of mine, his 16 year-old daughter is just an insanely talented singer. I had her record that at her school and we just used it. It was spectacular.”

Check out the fanzine’s page on this, plus a bonus clip of Ms. Sagal singing, “Fever.”

Boffo.

Not to take anything at all away from Ms. Sagal, but “Merry Little Christmas” has been used as a tear-jerker in a war movie before, with arguably even greater effect. Frank Sinatra’s gut-wrenching version in” The Victors” (1963), is played out against an execution inspired by the death by firing squad of Eddie Slovik – not to be confused with the nearly-as-powerful “The Execution of Private Slovik” (1974) which Sinatra once owned the film rights to. Slovik was the only U.S. soldier executed for desertion in World War II- or actually since the Civil War. The Victors was so disturbing, more than 40 years later, it’s hard to find a version of it on VHS, CD or DVD.

Jerry Garrett

February 9, 2014

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | February 8, 2014

What The MONUMENTS MEN Really Found! The Weird, Wacky & Wild

Monuments Man at Work: George Stout made a pulley to pull Madonna of Bruges from an Austrian cave. (National Gallery)

Monuments Man at Work: George Stout made a pulley to pull Madonna of Bruges from an Austrian cave. (National Gallery)

In the movie, “The Monuments Men“, a motley collection of (mostly) American artists, sculptors, choreographers and architects foil evil Nazis bent on looting and destroying Europe’s precious art treasures. They find secret caches and troves of looted art as they chase the retreating Germans in the closing stages of World War II.

Some of that is true, but the whole truth is much more complicated – not to mention more fascinating and separate tale worth telling.

The Monuments Men often recovered hidden treasures from German museum collections.

A lot of what the Monuments Men found was not just French, or Belgian or Italian art treasures, but also priceless Bavarian and Prussian artifacts, stored by concerned Germans themselves; dedicated men and women who hoped to protect them from conquering hordes like the Russians, Americans and British bearing down on them – and even from the Nazi hierarchy bent on stealing them.

In a 1978 interview, near the end of his life, George Leslie Stout (the inspiration for George Clooney’s character Frank Stokes in the movie) described in detail what was found, at what location, and by whom.

At Merkers-Kieselbach, for instance, the Monuments Men found what the Germans had hastily stashed of their own treasures – from museums around the Third Reich, Berlin in particular, to safeguard them against destruction from Allied bombings.

“I think early April of 1945, and there had been a last minute evacuation of works of art from Berlin,” Stout said. Curators of German museums had been among those organizing the evacuation. “Besides the works of art from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the museums in Berlin, the Kaiser Friedrich Museum [now Bode Museum] and the other museums – the Ancient Museums. There were also scores and costumes from the Berlin Opera and there were deposits from the Bank of Germany,  and a wide variety of foreign currency notes and notes on the Reichsbank.”

After the war, the impoverished residents of the area grabbed the opera costumes and wore them daily – since their own clothes were in tatters.

Imagine the villagers dressed something like this!

Imagine the villagers dressed something like this!

Stout, who also confirmed the grim discovery of barrels full of gold filings from concentration camp victims, said it took 40 ten-ton trucks to move the Merkers finds to nearby Frankfurt for safe-keeping (Allied soldiers were often found to be just as likely to loot anything of value as any enemy soldier or sympathizer). Also found at Merkers was 250 tons of gold bullion – which stole any headlines the artistic discoveries might have otherwise received.

The most interesting find in Merkers, from Stout’s standpoint, was the famous Nefertiti Bust, which had been discovered by German archaeologists in 1912 and kept in the Altes Museum in Berlin.

Another important Monuments Men find – not mentioned at all in the movie – “was at a place called Bernterode, which is not very far from Weimar,” Stout recalled, “and that was a repository containing what were the old Prussian treasures from Potsdam.”

Friedrich the Great’s flag-draped coffin (U.S. Army)

He explained, “It was a miscellaneous collection and included tapestries, a large number of books, with relatively fine bindings, volumes, editions, a group of maybe a hundred or more paintings, the old standards of the old Prussian regiments with all their medals stuck on the staff.”

But perhaps the most astonishing discovery was that of four embalmed bodies: Paul Von Hindenburg, the former field marshal and President of Germany (and Hitler hater), who had died in 1934; his wife Gertrud, who had passed away in 1921; and the remains of King Friedrich Wilhelm I – dead since 1740, and his son King Friedrich the Great (officially, Friedrich II) of Prussia, who had died in 1786. The bodies were in huge ceremonial caskets, with orbs, scepters and crowns. It took Herculean efforts to winch the lead-lined caskets out of the deep salt mine caves.

Vermeer’s “The Astronomer” found in Alt Aussee (USArmy)

The third big find, Stout recalled, was in Alt Aussee, Austria, which was pretty much as depicted in the movie, although Austrian art treasures comprised a significant part of the find..

“There were some pretty prime things there, the Ghent Altarpiece, for example , the fine Michelangelo [Madonna] from Bruges,” he said. “I won’t try to run down the list.” He couldn’t resist adding, “and that great Vermeer from Vienna from the Czernin Collection. That’s a little sample.”

Besides those treasures, the labyrinthine mine was full of fine antique furniture, sculptures and even draperies – about 10,000 items in all.

The mine had been rigged by Germans to be blown up, but under what circumstances, there is some debate. “Hitler’s orders were somewhat confusing,” Stout said. “One order was, ‘This must never fall into the hands of the enemy,’ and there were others that weren’t quite clear.” What was clear, however, was that the Austrians sabotaged the demolition plans – but not because they were art lovers, concerned about the loot stashed in the mine. The Austrians were concerned about damaging the mine, which for seven or more centuries had largely funded the town’s way of life.

To the Austrians, Stout said, the demolition plan amounted to nothing less than “the destruction of their entire life, their whole manner of living, and they were not going to put up with it.”

The villagers pulled off their acts of sabotage right under the noses of many members of the Nazi high command, including Adolf Eichmann, who were holed up there – it was one of the last redoubts of the so-called “Alpine fortress” – through the end of the war.

Monuments Men rescue Madonna de la Gleize in Belgium. (Walter Hancock)

Stout was generous in praising the many unlikely heroes who, wittingly or unwittingly, helped the Monuments Men in their quests to find, preserve and repatriate the spoils of war – insofar as art was concerned. But he wanted to emphasize one point – often lost in discussions of this subject:

“I would just like to make clear that this whole activity was not an undertaking on the part of the United States to save works of art,” he said. “It was an undertaking under the Hague Convention and under the Rules of Ground Warfare, which require that all educational properties in combat areas or other areas of occupation must be regarded as private property, exempt from exploitation, seizure, and so on.”

He added, “That’s why it was done. It was done as a routine necessity by the United States Army and it had been done prior to our arrival in the European theater.”

Stout also applauded thanked an unlikely ally in the struggle to preserve and protect art: The enemy!

“It had been done very faithfully and with great correctness by the Monuments Service of the German army,” he noted. “They were very, very conscientious. Of course, they had nothing to do with what the men far above them were able to steal. But as to protecting monuments and works of art in the combat area of the German army, they had done a very, very good job.”

That might story make an interesting movie in and of itself.

Jerry Garrett

February 8, 2014

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | February 7, 2014

Is Your Bargain-Priced Cashmere Sweater Really Rat Fur?

100% Virgin Rat? (Telegraph.co.uk)

100% Virgin Rat? (Telegraph.co.uk)

Authorities in Rome have busted five Chinese-run businesses there, and accused them of manufacturing and selling fake cashmere goods – some made instead of rat fur!

Britain’s Telegraph newspaper reported today that more than a million garments were seized and 14 Chinese-born individuals were arrested.

A year-long investigation of the business practices of Chinese-run companies in Rome found that acrylic, viscose and “fur from rats and other animals” was used in the manufacture of cashmere coats. Also found to be made with materials other than what was claimed: “Merino wool” sweaters and other items, “silk” garments and “pashmina” scarves.

The Italian authorities said the garments were distributed in Rome, Livorno, Florence and other Italian cities. And although the Chinese were found guilty of making the clothes and distributing them, the Italian cops said they weren’t able to identify who was selling them at retail. Really?

My advice to the Guardia di Finanza: Check your flea markets.

Jerry Garrett

February 7, 2014

 

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