Friday, July 28, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Nordic Night, by JD

And now, a selection of music for listeners-in to the northern light programme, from JD...

Monday, July 24, 2017

NSU: The End Of The Road, by Wiggia

Sometime ago I mentioned in a small piece that was an adjunct to a quiz on what make my first motorbike was, that the company had an illustrious history in motorcycle racing and motorcycle production.

NSU, an abbreviation of the town of Neckarsulm near Stuttgart, originally started its life in 1873 as a producer of knitting machines. After rapid growth they started making bicycles and by 1892 bicycles took over all the production. The first NSU motorcycle appeared in 1901 and the first car in 1905.

They never managed to break through with their car production so that by 1932 under pressure from the banks the car factory at Heilbronn was sold to Fiat for assembly of Fiat cars in Germany. The company continued to make an increasing range of motorcycles, some innovative including supercharged race models up to the Second World War. During the war they made a half track motorcycle that saw service mainly on the Russian front; this was continued in civilian form after the war:

Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-725-0184-22, Russland, Soldaten auf Kettenkrad.jpg

It was after the war that the company regrouped and the totally bombed out factory started production of the pre war models, but in ‘49 the new designs starting with the Fox appeared These were revolutionary, using a pressed steel monocoque frame. In ‘53 the Max appeared with a 250cc four stroke engine that had the overhead cams driven by con rods and by ‘55 NSU was the biggest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. Many will remember the original moped, the Quickly, that sold Europe-wide in huge numbers.

At the time of the Max coming on stream NSU were breaking world speed records for motorcycles at the Bonneville salt flats and in ‘56 an NSU became the first motorcycle to top 200mph. In the same period they entered Grand Prix racing with a very advanced 125 and 250cc twin cylinder Rennmax machines that were at the time in a class of their own. This is the ‘53 250cc Rennmax  - the later racers had full “dustbin” fairings:

In ‘54 NSU stopped factory racing but had developed a race version of the single cylinder Max known as the Sportmax that in a private rider's hands became the only production racer to win a world championship. Only 32 were ever made and went to selected riders with a spare engine. They became the mainstay of the 250 class for many years, and alongside many road going Max’s were converted to racers with Sportmax parts; these too had many successes in club and international racing.

Sadly by ‘63 motorcycle production finished for NSU as the drive towards car production was seen as the way forward for the company, plus by then the ominous presence of the Japanese companies was beginning to be felt.

To complete this short section on NSU's racing pedigree, one of the selected riders to become a Sportmax owner was John Surtees. He won numerous races on his and set many class lap records. His lap record for the old Crystal Palace circuit stood for over twenty years, something unbelievable in today's racing: he also won the 1955 Ulster Grand Prix on his version.

In 1957 Surtees' father, a friend of Mike Haiwood's father, was pressured to sell the bike for Mike to ride.He took it to SA for a winter's racing and won every race he entered, setting many lap records. In ‘58 aged 18 he won 25 races with the Sportmax and his first world championship points and his first TT podium.

Surtees was known to always want to retrieve the bike for his collection but it sadly never happened: in 2014 the motorcycle was sold at auction for £69,000, a record for the marque. It must have a unique pedigree with the two owners being two of the greatest of all time on two wheels.

Here it is in all its glory with the Hailwood team colours:

So in ‘68 NSU ended its association with making motorcycles. In ‘57 NSU had re entered the car market with the Prinz, a small car with a doubled up version of the Max engine. This as a small runaround was fairly successful and was produced until ‘68 but in the meantime NSU was preparing for something totally different, a car with a rotary engine designed by Felix Wankel.

In ‘64 NSU offered the public the world's first rotary engined car, the Spyder:


A version of the Prinz followed, one having a twin rotor engine. At the time many believed this was the dawning of a new age in automobile propulsion but under the surface problems were already beginning to emerge: unreliability in the rotary engines was mainly caused by unsuitable materials to seal the rotor tips and rapid wear was causing failures and the warranty bill was rising.

It was in ‘67 with the unveiling of the company's first hopefully mass production car with a rotary engine that the clouds of failure started to gather. The NSU Ro80 was a very modern design with independent suspension and disc brakes and the twin rotor engine giving 115bhp and for then a very modern design one that has stood the test of time.

Virtually every car manufacturer in the world had taken out licenses for the rotary engine, though only Citroen who had share of the hopeful engine plant built a rotary car. The model was aborted. NSU had had great hope that royalties would pay for their investment in ever increasingly costly development, but it was not to be: there were several prototypes built by other companies including a Corvette by General Motors with quad rotors, but nothing went into production.

Despite winning the car of the year award in ‘67 and several design awards, the car had slow sales:

- and the increasing heavy costs of engine replacements even at low mileages was sinking the company. In ‘69 the company was taken over by VW who used the factory for Audi production though the Ro80 staggered on until the last NSU was produced in ‘77. The name was never used by Audi after that time.

The only other company to produce a rotary engined car was Mazda, in fact under license they pre-dated the Ro 80 as a mass production car with the Cosmo, a sports car that stayed in production for twenty years:

Mazda have persevered and improved the rotary unit over many years, even largely overcoming the main problem rotor tip sealing using ceramics. In 1991 Mazda won Le Mans, the only Japanese manufacturer to win Le Mans; they had overcome reliability problems with earlier race efforts:

Le Mans promptly banned the rotary engine from competing again, though the ban has since been lifted, to late to save a unique exhaust note.

Mazda have of course until recently persevered with the rotary and the last model the RX – 8 had overcome most of the reliability issues and this lovely car deserves a successor, but the fuel economy was still poor compared to peer cars and the emissions , that are now such an issue were also sub standard,  Mazda stated that they would come back with a rotary engined car in 2019, but that is with the charge towards electric and hybrid vehicles now in doubt.

So now all that effort to produce a better fuel driven power unit for automobiles has come to naught, save a very prestigious Le Man win which Felix Wankel would have been ecstatic to see as proof his design worked; for NSU it was a very costly venture.


Some years back I saw a Rs80 on the road when I lived in Essex,:very modern and distinctive in style, many of the cars having used up their engines were converted to Ford V4s the engine being short enough to fit in the smaller rotary engined bay, it was probably one of those.

Friday, July 21, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Screamin' The Blues, by JD

In a previous music post featuring some of the original Blues artists I had included Screamin' Jay Hawkins but then changed my mind because he was more than a Blues singer.

He was hoping to be an opera singer but instead turned to popular music, presumably to follow his idol Paul Robeson.

It is also possible that Opera was too 'serious' for him. Starting out as a straightforward blues singer and piano player he soon developed his own style which was less than serious: very theatrical shows with great humour and, above all, a wonderful sensational voice. His most famous song is the first one here "I Put A Spell On You" which has been covered by everyone from Nina Simone to Bryan Ferry. But he could be serious when he wanted to as the final video here proves.

So fasten your seat belts and pin back your ears to be 'assaulted' by the most electrifying and outrageous performer I have ever seen. I saw him in the sixties in one of those dingy, sweaty beat/jazz clubs and these videos do not do him justice!

Friday, July 14, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Let's Go To Le Hop, by JD

Ce soir, c'est musique 'jazz' des grenouilles:

We hope you enjoyed these cloves of Gallic.

Pour le dessert - these are not French, they are Italian but alors... que faire?

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Car manufacturers force everyone to switch to electric vehicles after June, Part 2 - by Wiggia

The forerunner to this piece was posted on June 24th. (*) The speed with which manufacturers  are heading towards the land of silent cars and emission-free cities grows apace.

Nothing of course is really that easy, but the story that Volvo will not make any more diesel or petrol vehicles after 2019 is the first sign it is going to happen, come what may. 

However the headlines - as in this from the Telegraph: “'End of the road for fuel as Volvo goes all-electric” - are being slightly disingenuous, because the hybrid cars they will produce will not only make up the bulk of production for some time but of course employ petrol engines alongside the batteries. Nonetheless despite the protestations from the motoring press the end is nigh, just not as soon as the headlines make out.

The Volvo statement that they sell 40,000 plus vehicles a year in the UK however does point out one glaring problem for this country, something I have indicated along with others many times,.Volvo state that they do not consider the UK to be a prime market for electric cars as it has the worst infrastructure to accommodate them in the European marketplace: basically no charging points and no signs that they are about to magically spring up even in the no-go zone for gasoline-powered vehicles many of our major cities are soon to become.

Infrastructure has been a subject for ridicule in this country on a general level for decades and is not getting any better, so installing charging points (unless the motor industry itself is going to intervene) will be a long and slow process and you would have to ask, if the government of the day decided to make it a priority, why? when so much else is falling apart or is in short supply or no supply at all.

We can all form our own opinion of the merits of electric vehicles, in a perfect world we would be hastening the coming of such, but we aren’t. As I pointed out before, the governments of the Western world are already back-pedalling on the "electric is cheap and clean" push. As regards the cheap part, they have already drawn up plans to claw back the impending loss in fuel revenue, the incentive schemes are dwindling fast and in the long run there will be no difference in costs to running an electric vehicle as against one powered by oil, however that clawback is managed.

The cost factor is being diminished as manufacturers give sight of plans to make “affordable” electric vehicles. Logically pure electric vehicles should be cheap: after all, they are only the descendants of milk floats, relatively simple mechanics and a simple motor as against ever more expensive oil-driven engines with their cumbersome emission controls. We are assured in the future they will fall in line price wise; we shall see.

As regards hybrids they can never be as cheap as a single-engined vehicle, two propulsion units and expensive batteries make that impossible, and the advantages of hybrids are slight: emissions may be better but consumption figures are not that much better, weight being a factor here, for a lot more layout,  one you are unlikely to recoup.

So in the long game it is electric only that will prevail, all of course if the basic handicaps of today's electric vehicles are overcome, the infrastructure is provided and there is sufficient energy supply to charge them all. So we are nowhere near that point at the moment, in fact a surge in all-electric vehicle sales could end up with the buyers being very frustrated and feeling short changed as they queue for hours at the only available plug in, something I saw the beginning of recently at a motorway services, with only five vehicles involved all requiring thirty minutes for a “quick” charge.

And don’t forget in the event of a major energy failure the motorways could look like the set of a disaster movie with electric vehicles out of juice like the opponents of the Duracell bunny and the RAC unable to help with a can of petrol to get you home Over the top? Maybe.

In reality the range for electric vehicles will improve but at the moment only the likes of Tesla have a range that is approaching the range of a tank of fuel in an orthodox oil powered car, the smaller models are nowhere near that and unless you are a second car owner using one for town use where they make sense, you have problem if you actually cover a higher mileage.

All the manufacturers are going electric, even petrol stalwarts such as Ford and VW now have hybrid models in their popular ranges and will expand the options, but again at this moment in time it is going to take a leap of faith for the man in the street with one car to go this route and not be constrained and disillusioned with the reality over the spin in that which he has parted a lot of money for. As with all things revolutionary the first to buy are the guinea pigs, the ones who will get their fingers burnt; it was ever thus.

* Sackerson says: the "forerunner" was intended as a spoof, aimed at Microsoft for forcing us to buy new computers because of their refusal to continue supporting Windows Vista. It hadn't occurred to me that the powers that be would be sufficiently crazy to try to force such a rapid, radical switch in the car industry!

Friday, July 07, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC (and not for the shockable!): Singin' Slutty, by JD

You think the modern female pop singers are vulgar and 'slutty'? Well it is a long tradition in popular and folk music but these vintage performers show how to do it with great panache!








Sunday, July 02, 2017

"What is the purpose of work?" by JD

Today's essay follows on from JD's earlier post:

- and the two together are a response to Sackerson's piece on capitalism vs socialism:


Apart from the production of necessary goods, what does the worker get by working? What does 'useless toil' do to the psyche of the worker?

Brian Keeble's book (cited in part one of this discussion) has the title "God and Work" That title was a deliberate choice and is explained in the introduction and in the preface:

"The words God and Work are seldom closely associated in the modern mind. The former denotes something remote from daily affairs, even unlikely and outmoded for a significant number of people. Work, on the other hand, concerns only what comes to hand in the expenditure of time and effort required to secure a livelihood. Is this division healthy? Is this division inevitable? We spend the best part of our lives at work. Are we to conclude that during all those hours of using our mental and physical faculties there is no reason to connect our effort with possible answers to those persistent questions we have concerning our identity, place and purpose in the world?"

We must go back again to the beginning of the machine age after which the 'division of labour' became part of the process of speeding up production. The idea of 'division of labour' is a traditional one with its origins in the Perennial Philosophy. It is the root of the caste system in which some are born to rule, some are born to serve, others are born to the priestly class or the warrior class or the mercantile class etc.

And whatever you may think of a caste system, the idea of a division of labour has a valid natural justification. We are all inclined to follow a career path which matches our inner sensibilities. In the past people would follow their vocation and work as 'artisans' in a trade or profession according to their ability and temperament. That was the traditional way of life up to and even into the industrial/machine age.  Work, in the traditional sense, is about husbandry and caretaking. Work  involves the co-ordinated use of the hand, the eye, the mind and the heart in following the chosen trade or profession. To work in this way is to concentrate on the task at hand with the care and discipline necessary to do it well. And such concentration causes the 'monkey mind' to fall silent, to cease the endless chatter that goes on in our heads. As the mind focuses on and becomes absorbed in the task then work is transformed; laborare est orare, to work is to pray.

"The tradition of the handicrafts as instruments of livelihood, conceived and elevated to the level of a spiritual discipline, allowed man to live for millenia in harmony with himself, in harmony with his fellow men and in harmony with nature."

That may sound strange, alien even, to the modern secular mind but it is nevertheless true and the idea of division of labour following a natural order is expressed in the Bhagavad Gita -

 All mankind
Is born for perfection;
And each shall attain it
Will he but follow
His nature's duty.

The ignorant work
For the fruit of their action:
The wise must work also
Without desire
Pointing man's feet
To the path of his duty.

That division of labour was steadily further sub divided with the introduction of the 'production line' as a means of producing more goods in less time. Work was divided into tasks and the tasks were sub-divided and with each division the worker was further distanced from his or her own particular skills. Eventually the worker's skilled input was reduced to merely carrying out a task designed by others. At this point the worker has become part of the machine and because time was now the governing factor of production the worker had become little more than a galley slave; don't think, don't stop, time is money!

Where work had once been vocational it had now become repetitive and boring and tedious. The worker thus has no outlet for creative energy but that energy does not disappear, it will be transformed and manifest itself as dis-ease as outlined in this video by Terence Mc Kenna (apologies for the unnecessarily overloud music in parts of it)

McKenna mentioned how we now have shoddy products in the shops and that is partly a consequence of divorcing the worker from the craftsmanship that was needed for work in days of old. As stated above, the worker now carries out a task designed by others. That applies equally in the office environment as it does in the production line. Those previous skills, being no longer required, become atrophied and eventually disappear. The result is that, as time passes, the average worker loses the ability to discriminate and can no longer tell the difference between a well-made product and a badly made product. Hence the shoddy goods in our shops.

This inability to discriminate has been encouraged by an educational system which has itself become a sort of production line, the end product being the piece of paper or certificate of competence in whatever discipline. Such certificate does not guarantee the recipient is competent, it merely tells that the recipient has been 'approved' by the
"pharisees of verbal orthodoxy" as Aldous Huxley called them in his many essays on the educational process.

We now call it 'dumbing down' but it has been predicted for many years; Huxley saw it coming and so did T.S.Eliot -

"Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"

 -from "The Rock."

Were Eliot alive today he would have added another line thus "...and where is the information that has disappeared into the black hole of data processing?"

The politicians and business 'leaders' continually speak of the 'skills shortage' without ever specifying what these missing skills are. They are blind to the atrophying of the skills we used to have, stolen by a mindless production process and an equally mindless education system.

And the future of work? Do we continue on this path or do we go back to 'the old ways'?
I don't know the answer to that question. The politicians do not even ask that question so the long predicted financial crash is inevitable. When it happens our western 'civilisation' will collapse. But vast areas of Asia, Africa and other parts of the 'primitive' world will not collapse. They will continue with their lives, living as they have always done. They might even improve after a, no doubt temporary, absence of interference from the West. And there are large parts of our western world where people will very quickly pick up the pieces and continue. The older generation, those of us with practical knowledge, those who were of the 'make do and mend' generation, the rural and farming areas etc will survive; the smartphone generation in the big cities will be well and truly

In the old traditions it is said that the end times are the most enjoyable of all so, eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!

That is the fatalist view, that nothing can be done. Politicians are famous for doing the same thing again and again expecting a different result; a well known definition of insanity.

The alternative is to go back, to stop worshiping the false god of progress. It is not as if we came blindly to this impasse. "Coming events cast their shadows before" (cf Thomas Campbell's poem Lochiel's Warning)

Those shadows are first 'seen' by artists, particularly poets and the more percipient of scribes. Think of Huxley's "Brave New World" or Kafka's "The Trial" or perhaps Pete Seeger's "Turn, Turn, Turn" adapted from Ecclesiastes. Think of McKenna's optimistic outlook in the above video and think of Hamilton Camp's song - Pride of Man:

Turn around go back down back the way you came.
Shout a warning to the nations that the sword of God is raised.
On Babylon that mighty city rich in treasures wide in fame.
And it shall cause the towers to fall and make of thee a pyre of flame.
Oh thou that dwell on many waters rich in treasure wide in fame.
That bow unto a god of gold thy pride of might shall be thy shame.
Oh God the pride of man broken in the dust again.
And only God can lead the people back into the earth again.

It is not too late to pay attention to Ralph Waldo Emerson who wrote:

“Just to fill the hour – that is happiness. Fill my hour, ye gods, so that I shall not say whilst I have done this ‘behold an hour of my life is gone,’ but rather ‘I have lived one hour.’”

That is the way it used to be, that is the way it ought to be and that is the way it can be if so desire.

Reading list:

The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times
-René Guénon

Revolt Against The Modern World
-Julius Evola

Art: For Whom and for What?
-Brian Keeble

Bhagavad Gita
-Sir Edwin Arnold (tr)

A Guide for the Perplexed
-Ernst F Schumacher

La rebelión de las masas
-José Ortega y Gasset

The Perennial Philosophy
-Aldous Huxley

The Perennial Philosophy; a critique
-Jules Evans

The Holy Science
- Sri Yukteswar Giri

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
- Robert M Pirsig

- Walter Scott (tr)