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Saturday, September 25, 2010

BMW's Ultimate Driving Machine Is a Tiny Little Electric Car - BusinessWeek

BMW's Ultimate Driving Machine Is a Tiny Little Electric Car

BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer knows the future is about more than high-performance suburban status symbols

When former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrived for lunch with BMW Chief Executive Officer Norbert Reithofer in late 2008, she brought along an unexpected guest, Joschka Fischer, a one-time left-wing radical. In the early 1970s, Fischer was fired from GM's Opel unit for trying to organize a communist revolution among his fellow workers, and in 1973 he was photographed clubbing a police officer in a street protest. Later, disavowing violence, he entered mainstream politics, rising to prominence in the Green Party and serving as German foreign minister from 1998 to 2005.
Now he has a new job. After that lunch, Reithofer hired both Fischer and Albright to help BMW win support within the company and around the world for its Megacity Vehicle. Battery-powered, and built of carbon fiber and aluminum, it is meant to win BMW a place in the fastest-growing markets—sprawling urban megalopolises.
"The Megacity Vehicle is a must-have for BMW," says Reithofer at the company's landmarked headquarters in Munich. Reithofer, who has been at BMW for 23 years, is an unprepossessing man of 54, rarely seen in anything but a dark, three-button suit, with all three buttons fastened. He lives in the same modest Bavarian village where he was born. He owns a beagle. But with this new vehicle, Reithofer is attempting something radical, pushing BMW beyond its core strengths of speed and style, and toward solving different problems, like global warming, oil depletion, and the shift in growth from the West to the East. China is, in a sense, the ultimate destination, a land of exponentially growing megacities—and the pollution, traffic snarls, and huge spending power that come with them.
Reithofer's challenge is to secure a place for BMW in this new world without sacrificing its status as a rarefied drive for the open road. "We don't see threats; we see opportunities," says Adrian van Hooydonk, an 18-year BMW veteran whom Reithofer installed as design chief last year. "That's an indication of how this company thinks and the kind of energy that Dr. Reithofer brings to the company. 'It is what you make of it,' that's what he always says."
Inside BMW, the Megacity message didn't immediately resonate with all of BMW's horsepower-driven managers. Their resistance is understandable: BMW is doing quite well as is, building beautiful cars that go fast. In 2005, it bested archrival Daimler's (DAI) Mercedes-Benz in sales, and the company has come roaring out of the recession, expecting to sell 1.4 million vehicles this year, just off its 2007 peak, while raising margins to 6.6 percent. With both the trendy Mini badge and Rolls-Royce's silver lady under BMW control, the Bavarian manufacturer is on more solid footing than at any time in its 94-year history. Despite its success, however, BMW is still a much smaller company than its rivals. It lacks the giant bus and truck operations that allow Mercedes to amortize research costs. Volkswagen, with a stable of 10 brands including Bentley, Porsche, and the aggressive Audi nameplate, sells nearly five times as many cars as BMW and has vowed to topple it as the biggest premium automaker by 2015. "Because of its size, BMW can't allow itself any mistakes," says Stefan Bratzel, director of the Center of Automotive at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany, and a former manager at Daimler's Smart unit. "If the Megacity Vehicle doesn't work, BMW will have considerably less room to maneuver."
Reithofer grew up in Penzberg, a former coal-mining town about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Munich. Living a short distance from the house where he was born, he's stayed in the area to be close to family and the Alps, where he unwinds by skiing and mountain biking. After studying machine tools and operating science under Joachim Milberg, BMW's former CEO and current chairman, he joined BMW in 1987 as head of maintenance planning. Later he moved to South Africa as technical director of BMW's plant in Rosslyn. From 1997 to 2000 he managed BMW's factory in Spartanburg, S.C., where the company manufactures the X5 and X6 lines of sport-utility vehicles. He credits his stint in the U.S. with streamlining his management style.
"In the U.S., I learned to take quick decisions and not hold long speeches," he says. "When I got back to Munich, it struck me right away how long it took to make decisions, but we've changed that now."
Part of his plan for the Megacity project has been to leave some of the long speeches to Albright and Fischer. The two spoke separately to auditoriums filled with hundreds of BMW executives and engineers, discussing trends like urbanization and global warming that threaten to make BMW's athletic sedans obsolete. The result has been a groundswell of enthusiasm for the electric-car program, which came out of Project i, BMW's internal think tank for the future of transport.
Ulrich Kranz, a former Mini developer, runs Project i, and says more people want to work for the unit than he can hire. Project i has grown from a handful of diverse experts in late 2007 to a team of more than 250 people, as BMW readies for the launch of the Megacity Vehicle in 2013. "Reithofer has provided more than 100 percent support," says Kranz. "He is an absolutely enthusiastic motivator."
He's also a listener, and that helped BMW navigate the financial crisis without slipping into the red. In late August 2007, on a routine swing through the U.S., Reithofer met for a light lunch with a half dozen of BMW's top American dealers. The meeting at the carmaker's customer center near its factory in Spartanburg was upbeat; sales were heading for a record that year. When conversation turned to prospects for 2008, however, the salesmen voiced concern about credit markets and warned that problems in the subprime market could spill over and hurt demand.
Reithofer could have been forgiven for ignoring the warning. It was after all more than a year before Lehman Brothers' failure set off the financial crisis. Instead, when he returned to Munich, he started putting crisis plans in place. The early warning helped BMW scale back production quickly, which prevented a glut of unwanted cars eating up cash and depressing prices. The company trimmed 11,000 workers from its payrolls through attrition and buyouts, and reduced hours for another 25,000, but was able to get through the crisis without layoffs.
Reithofer also used the crisis to reduce purchasing expenses and lower development costs, hoping to move profit margins to at least 8 percent by 2012. "The crisis accelerated the process," says Reithofer, who personally test drives competitors' vehicles and visits dealers anonymously to get an unfiltered view of his company. "We're farther along than we otherwise would have been," he says. That progress is reflected in the company's stock performance. The shares have risen 50 percent this year, outperforming Daimler's 20 percent advance and Volkswagen's 40 percent gain.
"Reithofer was very underrated when he came in, but he's since become one of the most respected CEOs in the industry," says Philippe Houchois, an analyst with UBS (USB) in London. "He's not flashy but rather an inside guy who gets the work done."
Reithofer's strategy is based on maintaining BMW's independence, keeping in mind the rescue funded by Herbert Quandt, who had inherited a stake in BMW from his father. In 1959, BMW was losing money and needed cash to develop a mid-market car. Mercedes' parent, then called Daimler-Benz, made an offer for BMW, which was rejected by Quandt because of opposition by the workforce and small shareholders. Quandt scraped enough money together to provide BMW a life line, and today his descendants still own nearly 47 percent of the carmaker. Says Reithofer, "The advantage of our major shareholder is—among other things—that they give us the stability to think long-term."
The long view has pushed BMW to build electric vehicles and the smaller cars that will be needed in the new urban world. BMW staff traveled to Tokyo, Mexico City, and Los Angeles, among others, to talk to mayors, city planners, and even regular folks, whom they followed on their commutes and into their homes to see how they lived and traveled. They determined that a car still had a place in crowded cities as a symbol of individuality and refuge from the bustle, but it had to be sustainable.
Tom Mouloghney, a new kind of a car nut, exemplifies the new BMW culture. Though he has a Porsche Boxster in his garage and a DeLorean in his past, he has gone electric and isn't going back.
"It's my intention to have at least one electric vehicle from now on; I hope the options are available," says Moloughney, who pays $600 a month in the second year of a lease of one of BMW's electric-powered Mini E test vehicles. "I don't see any way around us having to reduce our dependence on oil."
Moloughney installed solar panels on the roof to generate electricity for his daily 60-mile commute between his Italian restaurant in the New Jersey suburbs of New York and his home in rural Chester. Explaining the extent of his commitment, he cites energy independence, cost savings, and environmental concerns.
"What people like about this car is that it has no oil, so it's not hurting the economy, it's not hurting the environment, and it's not supporting countries that are not friendly to the U.S.," says Moloughney, who has a bumper sticker that says "Starve a terrorist! Drive Electric!" on his Mini. His license plate reads EF-OPEC.
There are many contestants, of course, in the race to build an electric car. Later this year, Nissan Motor will introduce the battery-powered Leaf, and General Motors will launch the electric Chevrolet Volt, which extends its range with a gas generator. More of a threat to BMW is Daimler, which has a broader development pipeline. A battery-powered A-Class compact will debut at the Paris Motor Show later this month, adding to fuel-cell buses on the streets of Hamburg, electric-powered Vito vans in Stuttgart, and a test fleet of 1,500 battery-powered Smarts in places such as Berlin, Paris, Rome, and London. The view from Munich is that the rivals are pedestrian.
"Since we're BMW, we don't want to create just any old electric car," says design chief van Hooydonk. "We want to deliver what people so far think is impossible: the combination of joy and zero emissions."
Though the Mini is popular and seems to carry some component of joy, the electric version of the car is nothing special technically. The rushed project pushed out in 2008 is a simple conversion, which placed more than 5,000 laptop batteries where the back seat is supposed to be.
BMW also has a checkered past with alternative fuels. The company spent years developing hydrogen-combustion technology, using hard-to-handle liquid hydrogen, which needs to be cooled to minus 253 degrees Celsius, just 20 degrees above absolute zero, to become a fluid. BMW showcased the technology in 2007 by outfitting 100 of its 7-Series sedans with bulky hydrogen tanks; the fuel, however, boiled away despite insulation equivalent to 17 meters (55 feet) of Styrofoam.
Perhaps the most daring part of Reithofer's plan for the Megacity is that he expects to make money with the car, despite the use of costly materials like lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber. The company has set up a $100 million factory near Seattle, together with partner SGL Group, to make the carbon fiber for the car's passenger safety cell. The use of carbon fiber is key to BMW's strategy for the Megacity, which will be big enough for four people and be marketed under a new BMW subbrand. Because the material is 50 percent lighter than steel, the carbon fiber will reduce the size and cost of the battery needed to move the car. Until now the automotive use of carbon fiber has been limited to Formula 1 race cars and other high-performance autos, where price isn't an issue. But BMW insists it can mass-market carbon fiber components, which will be glued together to form the safety cell. In addition, BMW is preparing a new test vehicle—the ActiveE, a converted 1 Series coupe—which will have lithium-ion battery packs developed by BMW and its partners Samsung SDI and Robert Bosch, as well as new electric motors.
BMW is also planning to expand its conventional business, adding more small cars to its namesake brand and expanding the Mini line with at least a roadster and coupe. It is, too, considering a new factory to support demand in Russia, India, and other emerging economies. All told, the company is looking to sell more than 2 million cars annually by 2020, an increase of 55 percent over 2009.
"I would have decided to produce the Megacity Vehicle even if, contrary to our expectations, it doesn't make money in the first generation," says Reithofer, who hasn't been afraid to break with traditions such as adding front-wheel drive models to the BMW brand, exiting Formula 1 auto racing, and linking with rival Mercedes to save purchasing costs. "As a leader, you can either be an entrepreneur or an administrator. I see myself as an entrepreneur."
When Reithofer shuttles between Penzberg and Munich, he surges down the A95, a speed-limit-free stretch of highway that begs for a car like his 12-cylinder 7-Series. But his view these days looks past the surrounding Bavarian countryside and toward the crowded avenues of Shanghai and Mumbai. Those streets demand a different type of car.
Chris Reiter is a reporter for Bloomberg News.
BMW's Ultimate Driving Machine Is a Tiny Little Electric Car - BusinessWeek

Monday, September 20, 2010

Welcome to the USA

Let’s play ‘Guess where I am?’

By Tyler Brûlé
Published: September 17 2010 22:22 | Last updated: September 17 2010 22:22
It’s been a while since we played Saturday morning quiz on this page so, in the spirit of back to school and sharpening one’s wits, let’s play a round of “Guess where I am?” I’ll start by giving you a clue.
I’ve just come off an airliner and it’s absolute pandemonium. There are gate agents screaming for transfer passengers, there are sniffer dogs, there are loads of immigration officers and there’s a general sense of disorganisation. My fellow passengers look bewildered and flustered after their eight-hour, 45-minute flight from Frankfurt, and there’s a lot of huffing and puffing as we’re divided up into groups of arriving passengers and “connectors”.
The holding pen where we’ve been told to wait is too small to accommodate a full jumbo-load of passengers and those of us at the front of this mass are scolded by security staff and told to move back until our bus arrives to take us to the main terminal. At the same moment, a special bus on stilts pulls up in front of us and, just as we’re about to board, a delegation from an obscure German state is ushered in front and boards the bus first. At first it looks like we’re going be able join the junior ministers in their socks and sandals and saggy French-fry style moustaches, but the doors abruptly close and the delegation rolls away across the tarmac to the distant terminal. Any guesses where I am yet? OK, here’s your second clue.
When our shuttle bus finally arrives, we all board a vehicle that has long benches down either side but no one wants to sit on them. It’s clear that many passengers know the drill, so they stand at the entrance, slowing the boarding process and ignoring the calls for them to move down the vehicle and take their seats. This causes considerable grumbling, and in the process a sweet German granny takes a tumble over a wheely-case and this gives way to a lecture about inconsiderate businessmen. When we finally pull away from the terminal, we pass aircraft from South African Airways, Scandinavian, Qatar Airways and Air France. Care to guess where this is? No? All right, here’s the final clue.
In the immigration hall there’s a corral for citizens of the country I’ve just arrived in and a much larger maze for everyone else. The citizens’ line has about 200 people waiting to be processed, while the other pen has more than 1,000 passengers waiting to be interrogated.I reluctantly join the latter queue and try to gauge how long it will take to reach the processing point. I study the scene for about five minutes and reckon I’m in for at least an hour’s wait. When passengers from a Jeddah flight are escorted to the front of the queue, I quickly revise my estimate to 90 minutes.
As the line inches along, I pass a screen showing that flights have just touched down from Copenhagen, Doha, Paris, London and Geneva. On the wall there’s an annoying poster full of smiling faces and a cacophony of typography welcoming us in various languages but – as most of us have now been in line for close to an hour and a half – no one’s feeling particularly welcome.
When I finally reach the front and am told what booth to stand in front of, I have to remind myself not to say anything smart as I’m likely to be thrown into detention and escorted back to my Lufthansa aircraft. OK, it’s time to make your guess. Where in the world am I?
You might think I’ve rocked up in some shambolic banana republic or poorly managed police state, but I’m actually at Washington DC’s Dulles Airport late on a Sunday afternoon. As I’m about to walk up to the booth for inspection, a voice booms over the public address system with an urgent bulletin – “Attention all officers, attention all officers, anyone who has not signed up for overtime today, I repeat, anyone who did not sign up for overtime can now leave their post”. In a flash a series of officers pack up their stamps and take their super-size slurpy cups and waddle off duty. The 1,000-plus people in line just stare in amazement.
As I approach the desk, I feel like giving the young gentleman a lecture about how bad this whole performance is for Brand USA – particularly on top of a whole week of television reports about the new fee that visitors will have to pay to get a visa and how these funds will be used to create a campaign to encourage more tourism to the US. I want to ask him if he (and his bosses not far away in the District of Columbia) think a 90-minute wait in a dumpy airport is any way to welcome the world and if his department is really that interested in having people visit the US.
I’m all ready to vent but I hold my tongue because I don’t want to be carted off to the naughty room (a place I know very well) and given the third degree because I’m a journalist travelling without a special visa (a requirement for all of my sort visiting the US). I smile at the officer. He nods and asks the purpose of my visit. I tell him I’m in town for a party. “Well, you’ve come to the right place,” he says. Clearly.
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine
tyler.brule@ft.com






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Thursday, September 16, 2010

The 727 that Vanished | History of Flight | Air & Space Magazine

Air & Space Magazine

The 727 that Vanished

A case pursued by the FBI, the CIA, the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security, CENTCOM, and the sister of Ben Padilla.

  • By Tim Wright
  • Air & Space Magazine, September 01, 2010
Seven years after her brother disappeared from Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport in Angola, Benita Padilla-Kirkland is trying to persuade the FBI to re-open his case. She believes she has the “new information” agents told her they require. But she suspects that the agency already has more information than agents will admit to.
Kirkland’s brother, Ben Charles Padilla, a certified flight engineer, aircraft mechanic, and private pilot, disappeared while working in the Angolan capital, Luanda, for Florida-based Aerospace Sales and Leasing. On May 25, 2003, shortly before sunset, Padilla boarded the company’s Boeing 727-223, tail number N844AA. With him was a helper he had recently hired, John Mikel Mutantu, from the Republic of the Congo. The two had been working with Angolan mechanics to return the 727 to flight-ready status so they could reclaim it from a business deal gone bad, but neither could fly it. Mutantu was not a pilot, and Padilla had only a private pilot’s license. A 727 ordinarily requires three trained aircrew.
According to press reports, the aircraft began taxiing with no communication between the crew and the tower; maneuvering erratically, it entered a runway without clearance. With its lights off and its transponder not transmitting, 844AA took off to the southwest, and headed out over the Atlantic Ocean. The 727 and the two men have not been seen since.
Who was flying 844AA? Had something happened to make Padilla take that desperate chance? Or was someone waiting inside the airplane? Leased to deliver diesel fuel to diamond mines, the 727 carried 10 500-gallon fuel tanks and a few passenger seats in its cabin. Less than two years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 727’s freakish departure triggered a frantic search by U.S. security organizations for what intelligence sources said could have been a flying bomb.
Retired U.S. Marine General Mastin Robeson, commander of U.S. forces in the Horn of Africa when 844AA went missing, says word of the 727 “came up through the intelligence network.” According to Robeson, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) considered moving U.S. fighter aircraft to Djibouti on the Red Sea coast, where the Combined Joint Task Force shares a base with the French military. Robeson continues: “It was never [clear] whether it was stolen for insurance purposes&hellipby the owners, or whether it was stolen with the intent to make it available to unsavory characters, or whether it was a deliberate concerted terrorist attempt. There was speculation of all three.”
Speculation that the theft of 844AA posed a terrorist threat ended, though it’s unclear why. Perhaps National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency technicians saw signs of a crash in satellite imagery—debris or an oil slick in the Atlantic, for example—or evidence that a large aircraft had landed on one of a half-dozen unpaved, 8,000-foot runways in the Congo, north of Angola. Agency spokesperson Susan Meisner would not comment, saying that the NGIA was not the lead agency in the case. (A CIA spokesperson also declined comment, as did a spokesperson from the Department of Homeland Security. FBI agents also refused comment, citing national security concerns.) Perhaps the speculation ended more gradually, after weeks without clues or sightings stretched into months. The disturbed hornet’s nest of a global security alert—the searches, bulletins, and interrogations—quieted, and in 2005, the FBI closed its case. I have filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the CIA and FBI and have followed in at least some of the FBI’s footsteps, interviewing the people who flew 844AA to Angola and worked with it there, hoping to understand how a 727 could just disappear.
IT REALLY WAS in beautiful condition,” Keith Irwin says of the airliner he acquired in Miami in February 2002. Irwin, 57, a South African entrepreneur who ran a series of information technology companies and, until 2000, a small tourist airline with flights from South Africa to Mozambique, had come to Miami to pick up a different aircraft altogether. Representing a joint venture with a South African company called Cargo Air Transport Systems, Irwin had arranged to lease a 727 and two flight crews—pilot, first officer, and flight engineer—for a year. The air transport company had signed a contract to supply fuel to diamond mines in Angola, where a long civil war had made transporting goods by road almost impossible. The 727, therefore, was to have been delivered with fuel tanks installed in the cabin. The joint venture was backed by a single investor, who had deposited $450,000 in a U.S. bank. Irwin’s job was to manage the flight operations, but the deal for the airplane fell through. Irwin ended up with fuel tanks and no airplane.
That failure stranded six crewmen who had assembled in Miami. “The guys then were desperate for work,” says Irwin. “Most of those guys had not flown in a long time because of the 9/11 story. I said, ‘Look, I can take you on if we can find another aircraft.’ ” And Irwin met Maury Joseph, president of Aerospace Sales and Leasing, Inc. Joseph owned three 727s that had recently been retired by American Airlines. “All three aircraft were almost in mint condition,” says Irwin. “American Airlines had a very good maintenance program.”
New deal: Joseph sold 844AA to Irwin for $1 million and change. According to his records, he received a down payment of $125,000, and says he stipulated that the balance be paid within 30 days. He agreed to remove the passenger seats from the cabin and to allow Irwin to take the airliner to Africa. Irwin says he cannot remember the details of the agreement, but recalled it to be a lease arrangement. In any case, the joint venture made only two payments and defaulted.
Though the two men now differ over the terms of the contract, they agree on one detail: As a condition of the agreement, Irwin was required to take along one of Joseph’s employees, Mike Gabriel, whose job was to make sure that the deal was concluded. “I gave Mike $10,000 and told him to fly with them,” says Joseph. “Stay with the plane till you get the money, and then come on home, and if not, bring the plane home.”
On February 28, 2002, with most of the passenger seats removed and the 10 fuel tanks loaded, 844AA, still in the livery of American Airlines, with a blue stripe down the side and an AA logo fading on its tail, took off for Africa.
Because Irwin’s partners had not arranged a landing permit, it took two weeks for the crew to make their way to Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport, where they arrived on March 14. Irwin, who had not worked in Angola before, realized immediately that the deal was in trouble. The company hiring his partners for deliveries, Kuwachi Dundo, was supposed to pay $220,000 when the airplane and crew landed, but instead the company’s representative made excuses. (Irwin lost almost $140,000 in the first deal and had burned through the rest of the $450,000 by March.)
The crew endured accommodations in a dismal apartment without electricity or drinkable water, near an open sewer. (Gabriel and Irwin didn’t stay with the crew; they had rented an apartment in the back of a house owned by an Angolan air force general.) The only one of the men not troubled by the circumstances they found in Angola was Mike Gabriel. Gabriel, a dealer in aircraft parts and engines, had spent a considerable amount of time in West Africa, and was accustomed to the AK-47s the men saw everywhere, including stacked up behind the bar of a club they frequented. Most worrisome to the crew was that they were required to surrender their passports on arrival. Irwin explains that Kuwachi needed the passports to obtain Angolan licenses for the pilots and flight engineers.
“I was scared to death. I really thought I was going to die,” says Art Powell, one of the flight engineers with the project. Powell had been to Angola before and had spent a year working in Nairobi, Kenya, but this experience was different. He felt intimidated by the people who had hired the crew for the fuel-delivery job. His anxiety was intensified by the presence of a local “helper” who toted an AK-47. The helper was a guard whom Mike Gabriel says he hired because the crew repeatedly voiced concerns about safety.
When Kuwachi got wind of the crews’ unrest (several crew members have admitted that they were planning to steal the aircraft to escape to South Africa or return to the States), the company refused to return the passports. Irwin and members of the crew went to the U.S. Embassy; only then were the passports returned.
By Angolan regulations, Irwin says, 844AA was controlled by the clients who hired it. Prohibited from flying the aircraft out of the country, Irwin booked airline seats and flew the crew members to South Africa. From there, two of the men immediately flew home to the United States. One says he is still owed $17,000. The other four crewmen, still hoping for the money they’d been promised, stayed on.
By April, Irwin was extricating himself from the deal made by Cargo Air Transport Systems and had found a new backer, an Angolan who arranged deliveries for a different client. Irwin and the remaining crew returned to Luanda and began flying the shipments for the new company. Mike Gabriel placed the total number of flights made at 17.
“It’s the most dangerous flying in the world,” says a crewman who asked that his name be withheld because he fears for his career. A U.S. Air Force veteran, he likened the deliveries to flying into a combat zone. When they approached the airfields, the crew tried to stay at an altitude above small-arms fire for as long as possible, then spiraled down to land.
“I’ve been a [flight deck crew member] for 30 years,” he says. “For me, it was an opportunity to make a couple of bucks... and when everything started falling apart, I probably hung on twice as long as common sense dictated. But I had too much invested at that point to bail out.”
Many of the runways, says Mike Gabriel, aren’t paved and aren’t like the ones U.S. crews are accustomed to. “On some, you land uphill, then go downhill, then uphill again,” he says.
At one airstrip, the anonymous crewman says, just before 844AA arrived, a 727 flying for a competing company crashed on landing and skidded off the runway. Although the crew survived, he says, some local residents were killed. “We gave [the other flight crew] a lift out of there but not before going over to their airplane and stealing some parts that we needed. That’s when I decided it was time to go home.”
Before he left, he says, a “big African showed up with a briefcase full of hundred-dollar bills. It was payday.” Besides paying the crew, the money was supposed to pay off accumulated airport fees and fuel costs.
“After that,” the crewman says, “I created a family emergency&hellip. I said, ‘My mother is sick.’ ” He promised he’d return in two weeks and left. “I had no intentions of going back, of course. I didn’t get anywhere near full pay, but I got enough that I could pay my bills and make it not completely worthless.”
By the end of April, all of the Americans except Mike Gabriel had left.
Irwin hired a local crew and continued to deliver fuel to the mines, but he was ready to leave too. The civil war in Angola had ended. Competition among fuel haulers, Irwin says, had intensified, and he was growing more uncomfortable with the delivery deals. His partners were claiming part ownership of the aircraft, but Maury Joseph had not been paid. Joseph, meanwhile, sent a crew to swap an engine from the 727. Finally, Irwin says, he was being followed—by a local man named Antonio, who, Irwin believes, was working for one of his partners. “I would turn around,” Irwin says, “and spot Antonio watching me from a car.”
Irwin began wedging a chair under the door handle of his hotel room “just like you see in the movies.” One night, he heard a key card slide into the slot on the door. The lock released. “I started yelling and whoever it was ran,” he says. The hotel security guards questioned the night clerk and learned that he had accepted a bribe to provide the key card. Irwin left the country the next day and didn’t go back.
Maury Joseph fired Mike Gabriel some time that spring. “He kept convincing me that next week, next month…,” Joseph says, referring to the outstanding balance owed on the airplane.
In May 2002, the only part of the original 844AA project left at the Luanda airport was 844AA.
THE SON OF A FLORIDA MILLWRIGHT, Ben Charles Padilla Jr. was always mechanically gifted, says sister Benita Padilla-Kirkland, and from the time he was a boy, he loved airplanes. In his mid-20s he learned to fly and became certified as an airframe-and-powerplant mechanic. He lived in south Florida with two children, one his own, and a fiancée of 15 years. (Efforts to contact her were unsuccessful.) Though the two weren’t married, Padilla gave her power of attorney in his absence and made her the executor of his estate, according to Padilla-Kirkland, and left her almost everything in his will.
“He certainly knew the airplane,” says Maury Joseph. Padilla was a freelancer, who had worked for Joseph on two jobs before traveling to Angola to repossess 844AA. Padilla had worked extensively in Africa. He helped Joseph ferry a 727 to Nigeria for a sale and during the negotiations stayed to explain the aircraft systems. “If you said, ‘Go to Cambodia and do this’ or ‘Go to Indonesia and do this’ or ‘Go to South America and do this’ he would do it. [When in Nigeria] I was with Ben daily for a month or more,” says Joseph. “You become fairly close to somebody when you’re with them day and night.” Joseph trusted him.
But another employer formed a different opinion. Jeff Swain, who works near Miami in international aircraft sales and leasing, had hired Padilla in the late 1990s for an airline he was operating in Indonesia—and fired him. “We had certain standards of conduct we expected from flight engineers,” Swain says, adding, when pressed, “He was too involved in chasing the local girls. It was an unstructured environment, and he just went bad.” Swain says that after Padilla was fired, he stayed on in Indonesia for two months and racked up a $10,000 bill that he told the hotel the airline would pay. “We finally had him deported,” says Swain.
Padilla once showed Swain a photograph of a woman with small children and told him it was his wife in Mozambique, but Swain says, “I never believed it was real. Ben was always marveling everyone with his bullshit stories.” One of Padilla’s friends also saw a photograph of a wife, but insists that she lived in Tanzania. Another acquaintance was told that Padilla had a wife in Indonesia.
Benita Padilla-Kirkland says she’s heard the stories, but believes her brother would have told her if he’d had another family. She doesn’t doubt the relationships, but is convinced that Padilla was helping to support people he’d befriended. “There might have been more than one of those situations,” she says.
WHAT IN FEBRUARY 2002 had been a retired airliner in excellent condition had by fall become a junker worth only the price of its engines. And Maury Joseph found a buyer for them: Jeff Swain. Swain says that Irwin and the crews had ruined the airplane. “It would never be of any value again,” he says. “You can’t put water tanks full of fuel in an airplane and expect it to be good. Totally stupid. But it had really good engines on it—maybe 1,000 cycles since new.”
In November 2002, Joseph and Ben Padilla flew to Nigeria to deliver a 727, and Joseph hired Padilla to fly to Angola the following April to pay the outstanding fines and hire mechanics to return the 727 to service. “If [the company that contracted for fuel deliveries] wasn’t paying Mr. Irwin, you can assume he wasn’t paying anybody,” says Joseph. “He probably hadn’t paid the fuel bill. He didn’t pay the navigation fees, the landing fees, and certainly wasn’t paying the parking fees at the airport. So all of those became things that we had to resolve and I had to pay all those.”
Padilla worked with Air Gemini, a Luanda-based airline that operated a repair station. The return-to-service process was progressing steadily, according to Joseph, and in May 2003, acting as Joseph’s agent, Padilla hired a pilot and copilot from Air Gemini to help him deliver the aircraft to Johannesburg, South Africa, where Joseph was waiting with his new customer. A day or two before the aircraft was to leave Luanda, Padilla made plans with Air Gemini to take the aircraft from the company hangar out to the main runway, where he intended to run the three engines up to full power for a systems check.
Late in the morning on May 26, when Joseph and Swain were expecting 844AA to land, Joseph took a call from an Air Gemini employee, who demanded to know why another crew had flown the airplane out of Luanda. “He was kind of hard on me,” Joseph says. After the shock wore off, he telephoned the U.S. Embassy in South Africa to report the disappearance, then called his wife back in Florida to tell her to call the FBI. From Washington, D.C., the Department of State, notified by the U.S. Embassy in Angola, sent a message to every American embassy in Africa: Alert aviation officials that an airliner has been stolen, and call every airport with a runway long enough to handle a 727.
For the U.S. government, fraud was one theory that could explain the aircraft’s disappearance. “Part of the intelligence was that the airplane was in a bad state of repair,” says General Robeson. “That was one of the speculations, that it was an insurance fraud situation. You know, ‘Oops, my plane was hijacked/stolen by terrorists and now I can do an insurance claim on it.’ So, that was probably as valid of an explanation when all was said and done as anything. But we just left it as an unknown.”
Among intelligence officials, the suspicions of fraud may have been aroused by knowledge of an incident in Maury Joseph’s past. During the 1990s, Joseph was CEO of a cargo airline named Florida West (which later went bankrupt). The Securities and Exchange Commission charged him in a civil case with falsifying financial statements and defrauding investors. The court imposed a fine and barred Joseph from acting as an officer in a publicly held company.
But Joseph, when contacted by the FBI, volunteered to take a lie-detector test, and Swain, who was there when Joseph took the call from Air Gemini, is certain that Joseph had nothing to do with the airplane’s disappearance. “Look, nobody was more amazed by this situation than Maury,” Swain says. He describes Joseph as utterly confused by the information that the airplane was gone.
The suspicion that Ben Padilla could have played any part in an insurance fraud angers his younger brother. “If anybody would say to me that my brother was involved with this,” says Joe Padilla, his voice tightening, “they’re full of it. ’Cuz I know my brother. He’s not gonna do nothing crooked. I know that for a fact.” He is convinced that more than one person was already on board, waiting, and that they forcibly took the aircraft, and killed Ben and John Mutantu.
“I keep hoping against hope that maybe he’s tucked away somewhere,” says Benita Padilla-Kirkland. The new information she passed along to the FBI was a possible sighting of the aircraft, one of many reported over the years.
Mike Gabriel believes the airplane crashed in the Atlantic Ocean soon after takeoff. One crew member from the fuel delivery operation thinks the Angolan air force shot it down with a missile. A Luandan pilot says the word there is that the aircraft went north and vanished near Kinshasa, Congo. One of Ben Padilla’s friends says the airplane was disassembled for parts in Bujumbura, Burundi, on Tanzania’s western border.
Picking through the fragments of 844AA’s history, I found a story of broken deals, disappointments, and betrayals, but no real clues to the aircraft’s destination that day in 2003. We may never know for sure where it went. It is the largest aircraft ever to have disappeared without a trace.
Tim Wright is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia.

© Smithsonian Institution

The 727 that Vanished | History of Flight | Air & Space Magazine

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

The art market: Hands up for Hirst | The Economist

Damien Hirst's coup

The art market - Hands up for Hirst

How the bad boy of Brit-Art grew rich at the expense of his investors

IN 2008 just over $270m-worth of art by Damien Hirst was sold at auction, a world record for a living artist. By 2009 Mr Hirst’s annual auction sales had shrunk by 93%—to $19m—and the 2010 total is likely to be even lower. The collapse in the Hirst market can partly be ascribed to the recession. But more important are the lingering effects of a two-day auction of new work by Mr Hirst that Sotheby’s launched in London on September 15th 2008.
The sale was memorable for many reasons, not least its name, “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever”. The first session took place the very evening that Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. No one on Wall Street or in the City of London knew who might be next. Yet within the New Bond Street saleroom, collectors went on bidding, oblivious to the bloodletting without.
The sale was an innovative, daredevil affair. The art market is divided into “primary”, new work sold through galleries, and “secondary”, literally second-hand art, which is often put up for auction. This sale was full of primary material straight out of Mr Hirst’s studio, some of it not yet dry. (Usually the only new art sold at auction is donated by artists to raise money for charity.) According to Frank Dunphy, Mr Hirst’s business manager at the time, the galleries that represent him were very unhappy. Soon after breaking the news to Larry Gagosian, the world’s leading dealer, Mr Dunphy recalled their conversation: “Larry said, ‘It sounds like bad business to me. It’ll be confusing to collectors. Why do you need to do this? We could continue in the old way’.” Mr Dunphy went on: “We’ve had our shouting matches over the years. But there was no shouting that day.”
Sotheby’s was keen to build its own brand around a celebrity artist rather than the usual assortment of inanimate objects. The sale was marketed on YouTube and through the media around the world, part of a conscious effort to broaden international demand for the work. Sotheby’s filled its exhibition rooms with Hirsts. Never had so much of his art been seen in one place. Many art-world insiders saw the sale as an artistic event. Cheyenne Westphal (pictured above, right), European chairman of Sotheby’s contemporary art, says: “Damien’s auctions will become part of his oeuvre. He has done three sales: ‘Pharmacy’ (2004), the ‘RED’ charity auction (2008), and ‘Beautiful’. Fast forwarding, they will be very good provenance.”
Few people were convinced, though, that the market could absorb 223 lots from one artist in 24 hours. Yet an astonishing 97% of the works sold. “Beautiful” brought in £111m ($198m) and expanded the art market: 39% of the buyers had never bought contemporary art before and 24% of them were new to Sotheby’s. Europeans (including Russians) bought 74% of the lots, while 17.7% went to the Americas and 8.3% flew to Asia and the Middle East.
But who exactly bought what? Even Mr Hirst admits, “I’m still finding out.” Dealers acquired some works, but 81% of the buyers were private collectors purchasing directly. Miuccia Prada, an Italian designer and longstanding Hirst collector, for example, spent £6.3m acquiring a trio of Mr Hirst’s trademark animals in formaldehyde: “The Black Sheep with the Golden Horn”, “False Idol” (a calf), and “The Dream” (a foal made to look like a unicorn). “I think it was an incredible conceptual gesture, not a sale,” she says.
Several billionaires from the former Soviet Union also took part. Alexander Machkevitch, a Kazakh mining magnate with a taste for metallurgical themes, bought six lots in the evening sale: a large stainless steel cabinet filled with manufactured diamonds, a pair of gold-plated cabinets containing more lab gems, three butterfly canvasses and a spot painting with a gleaming gold background for a total of £11.7m. Other buyers from the region included Maria Baibakova, Vladislav Doronin, Victor Pinchuk and Gary Tatintsian.
Speculation abounds about who spent £10.3m (including commission) on “The Golden Calf”, a bull in formaldehyde with 18-carat gold hooves and horns. Many thought the garish top lot carried an ambitious estimate, £8m-12m, and would be hard to sell. In the event it proved a nervous moment—there were only two bidders—and whoever acquired it has not been showing it off. The persistent rumour is that the “Calf” has gone to the royal family of Qatar. (Just over a year earlier the emir’s daughter, Sheikha al-Mayassa al-Thani, bought Mr Hirst’s “Lullaby Spring”, a pill cabinet, for £9.65m, the highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist.) When asked about the Qataris, Mr Hirst replies, “I’m sure they did buy things. But it’s all hearsay. I got a call from somebody who said [the Qataris] bought ‘The Golden Calf’ but I think they’re denying it.”
Could any other artist pull off this kind of spectacular trade? Mr Hirst is often likened to Jeff Koons, an American pop artist who overtook Mr Hirst as the most expensive living artist when his “Hanging Heart” sold for $23.6m in November 2007 (see chart 1). Although Mr Koons has a larger-than-life persona and his work enjoys international appeal, he is a conservative market player who issues works in controlled editions of five and concentrates exclusively on the very high end. Nothing could be further from Mr Hirst’s risk-loving manner and his desire to offer work at a range of different prices. “Beautiful” was a success in part because it offered something for everyone.
Mr Hirst, already rich and famous, became richer and more famous. But what of his investors? Two years after the auction, the second-hand trade in Hirsts has slowed to a trickle. Even Sotheby’s, which has had a Hirst in every major contemporary sale in London since “Pharmacy” in 2004, offered none of his art in this year’s evening sale in June. The auction house admits it is avoiding Mr Hirst’s work because it can’t meet its consignors’ price expectations.
The average auction price for a Hirst work in 2008 was $831,000. So far in 2010 it is down to $136,000, a sum that does not even take into account the many lots that failed to find buyers. With prices down to 2002 levels, the artist’s work is outperforming the S&P 500, but is lagging well behind Artnet’s C50 contemporary art index, an industrial average of the 50 most traded post-war artists (see chart 2). The only Hirst pieces that are showing signs of recovery are butterfly paintings, particularly the wing-only works that evoke kaleidoscopes and stained-glass windows. Nine of the ten top trades since the “Beautiful” sale have been butterflies of some sort.
A seller’s disappointment, however, is a buyer’s opportunity. Alberto Mugrabi, a dealer and devoted supporter of most things Hirst, observed the “Beautiful” sale carefully, but bought little. By contrast, he admits to buying 40% of the Hirst paintings that have come up for sale at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in the past year. “I believe in the artist,” he says. The Mugrabi family owns some 110 Hirsts, including an installation that features 30 sheep, two doves, a shark and a splayed cow in formaldehyde. The Mugrabis offered $35m for the artist’s diamond skull, “For the Love of God”, but failed to secure the work that was marketed at $100m and has never sold. “The Mugrabis rarely buy directly from me,” says Mr Hirst. “We can never work out a deal because they want such fierce prices.”
The Mugrabis liken the tumble in Mr Hirst’s secondary prices to Andy Warhol’s in the early 1990s. “In the long term, the market will be more than fine. I couldn’t be more optimistic,” says Mr Mugrabi. Yet they have not invested in Mr Hirst’s latest line of Francis Bacon-inspired skull paintings, saying that they are “not visually continuous with the old work, which we find more beautiful and relevant.” Unlike most of the work, which is made by teams of other people, the artist actually paints these himself. Most of the reviews have been ruthless: “The Worst of Hirst” and “Hirst, Renaissance man, obviously not”.
Americans who did not make purchases at the “Beautiful” sale have recently shown more confidence, buying from Gagosian Gallery’s “End of an Era” show in New York earlier this year. The Broad Art Foundation acquired “Judgement Day”, a giant gold-plated cabinet containing lab diamonds. Millicent Wilner, a Gagosian director, affirms that all 15 new works in the exhibition sold for a total of over $30m.
At the Hong Kong art fair in May a special Hirst stand by his British dealer, White Cube Gallery, was swarming with young people having their photo taken in front of the works. Daniela Gareh, White Cube’s sales director, confirms that it sold to first-time Hirst buyers from Korea, Taiwan and mainland China. “The Chinese respond to branding and Damien is a master brander,” she says. Other Criteria, Mr Hirst’s print business, also did a solid trade at the fair. Photos of Mr Hirst’s most expensive unsold work went like hot cakes. The most popular item was a foot-high image of the artist’s diamond skull, an edition of 1,000, priced at £950.
In 2008 and 2009, Mr Hirst repeatedly made statements like “The first time you sell something is when it should cost the most” and “I’ve definitely had the goal to make the primary market more expensive.” The artist was frustrated by the speculators who were buying from his galleries then quickly reselling his work at auction. Moreover, the acquisition of a package of 12 of his own works from Charles Saatchi for £6m in 2003, far more than what Mr Saatchi had originally paid, may have led to an Oedipal determination to overthrow all the high-rolling dealers and collectors who thought they might lord it over the little artist.
The goal of making the primary works more expensive may benefit Mr Hirst’s personal income in the short-term, but it makes no sense from the perspective of his market. Part of the reason that art costs more than wallpaper is the expectation that it might appreciate in value. Flooding the market with new work is like debasing the coinage, a strategy used from Nero to the Weimar Republic with disastrous consequences. If Mr Hirst were managing a quoted company, he would be unable to enrich himself at the expense of his investors in quite the same way. But Mr Hirst is an artist and, in Western countries, artists are valued as rule-breaking rogues.
Two developments could help Mr Hirst’s secondary market. He has started compiling his catalogue raisonné, a complete list of all the works he has made, which will comfort those who suspect he has made hundreds more spot and spin paintings than he admits to. According to Francis Outred, Christie’s European head of contemporary art, “As with Warhol, this could bring reassuring clarity to the question of volume within each series.” Mr Hirst is also discussing with the Tate a retrospective show to coincide with the Olympic games in London in 2012.
Hirst sceptics point out that the only museum to hold a career survey of Mr Hirst's work was in Naples, Italy, in 2004. From October 28th a private New York gallery, L&M Arts, will show 18 of his earliest medicine cabinets. The changing shape and contents of these pieces are the most intriguing evolutionary thread in Mr Hirst’s work. Indeed, they foreshadow the artist’s drive to assemble objects into auction spectaculars.
Where will the Hirst market go from here? The ball is still in Mr Hirst’s court. “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever” may have been an historic moment in artist empowerment, but such performances risk destroying the delicate ecology of living artists’ markets. Mr Hirst should repair his relationship with his collectors and concentrate on his retrospective. Another “Beautiful” sale could be ugly.


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Check out this great MSN Video: Fast paced work at  World Trade Center site

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Alla Vecchia Bettola

Alla Vecchia Bettola
34r Via Luigi Ariosto Phone ++-39-055-22.41.58 stagimax@libero.it
If you're in Florence, don't miss Alla Vecchia Bettola: eat the penne bettola and the Florentine steak- you will not regret it!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

David Bowie - FT

The importance of David Bowie

By Paul Morley FT.com
Published: September 3 2010 21:59 | Last updated: September 3 2010 21:59
David Bowie on stage in Rotterdam in 1976
David Bowie on stage in Rotterdam in 1976, the year he made ‘Station to Station’
How much do you like David Bowie? You will have to like him a lot to want to spend more than £80 on a deluxe box set edition of his 10th studio album Station to Station (1976), an ostentatious souvenir collection of memorabilia, outtakes, live concerts, photography, essays, remastered versions, exclusive mixes and heavyweight vinyl inspired by the mere six tracks that made up the original record.
It is a mesmerising album, one of Bowie’s best, which is saying something, as he made many, most of them during the 1970s, that were sold as entertainment but contained the moving detail and mysterious, transformative depth of art.
It may well be one of rock’s very greatest, as a comment both on where the smart, neurotic artist who made it was, psychologically, creatively and commercially, but also where rock music itself was, on its compelling journey from Sinatra, Presley and the Beatles to Prince, Jay-Z and Gaga, from the Velvet Underground, the Kinks and Kraftwerk to Madonna, Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails. It is one of those Bowie albums, like Hunky Dory (1971), or Ziggy Stardust (1972), or Low (1977), or Lodger (1979), that are at times my favourite of his, because they demonstrate with such elan what a sparkling, mischievous mind he had, and what ambition, and what a stupendous ego, and how dangerously charming he was.
His impact as a musician, as a brand, as a sign of the times, has been as great as Dylan and the Beatles, his influence as an otherworldly pop star actually greater, and if you just want one example of what he got up to as this erudite pop combination of shaman, singer, thinker and shameless self-promoter, then Station to Station is as good a place as any. But is all of that worth £80? And does wrapping it up inside such technological and geeky paraphernalia clarify its position as a musical masterpiece, or turn it into a banal collector’s item, a nicely designed object of desire for committed Bowie fetishists and connoisseurs?
There’s no obvious anniversary marking the release of the deluxe edition. It’s a non-special 34 years since Station to Station was produced, coming between the Americanised soul-funk slickness of his Young Americans (1975) album and the radiant, challenging Euro-bleakness of Low. He was working on Nic Roeg’s dark film fable The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Peter O’Toole was not available to play Thomas Jerome Newton, an exiled visitor from outer space, a role that seemed perfect for the lost, distracted, preternaturally bright Bowie. Station to Station was a soundtrack that never was to the film as Bowie was strangely not asked to compose the movie’s music. Roeg just wanted the cracked, emaciated Bowie that was falling apart in real life, the wired, burnt-out pop star playing the baffled but brilliant spaceman from the future, part new-born innocent, part ancient guru.
Playing an alien, and having lost sight of his real self after years of relentless shapeshifting, Bowie constructed a new character, the Thin White Duke. Inside six years, since 1970, he’d been a psychedelic music hall singer channelling Syd Barrett and Anthony Newley, a whimsical novelty specialist, surreal folkie, risqué glam rock starman, cosmic wizard, apocalyptic androgynous Diamond Dog and blanked-out white soul man flirting with superstardom. Now, he would play a transparently autobiographical, ghostly, narcissistic, cocaine obsessed, existential adventurer, anxiously yearning for deeper meaning in a superficial, chilling world.
Bowie would kill off the damaged, demented Thin White Duke a little quicker than he killed off Ziggy Stardust, just in case the Duke took over like Ziggy appeared to. The soundtrack to this character showed Bowie withdrawing from his fascination with the expressive, penetrating showmanship of American soul and turning to more enigmatic and forward looking European music. Young Americans, containing hits such as “Fame” and an appearance by John Lennon, was the calculatedly commercial Bowie response to achieving the American fame he had set his heart on. He was becoming so successful he was peering into some form of the middle of the road, a fixed place Bowie wasn’t quite ready for.
Station to Station – feeling hunted, he was moving from place to place, character to character, fixation to fixation, charade to charade – was where he faced his demons, and made a kind of baroque soul music where it is not quite clear if there is soul involved. It retains the iced funk and post disco groove of Young Americans, alongside decaying traces of the kinky folk, metal, glam, and cabaret melodrama he’d passed through in the early 1970s. But it was already anticipating his less obviously commercial next destination, abstract and minimalist European electronic music. Station to Station contains echoes of everything Bowie had done, or was about to do. Previous characters re-dream themselves. It becomes the link, the tunnel, through which Bowie crawled – spent, emptied out – from fraying pop star decadence to the three classic made in Berlin albums he released next. On Low, Heroes (1977) and Lodger, Bowie and close collaborators Brian Eno and Tony Visconti created a stark, pulsating post-pop soundtrack to personal and historical tensions where Bowie broke out into the wider spaces of the universe. On this trilogy, Bowie refrained from entering the worlds himself, and losing himself in all the offbeat theatre. Station to Station was where he recovered himself, or at least enough of himself that he could continue his search for new extremes, and new experiences, and the kind of unusual, unforced new pop music he craved, music that produced worlds all of his own.
. . .
Depending on your age, you might already have bought a few versions of Station to Station. First of all, pretty much on the day it came out, the original RCA vinyl disc, released when the deliciously unstable Bowie dominated the pop planet in a way that makes Gaga, Beyoncé, Florence and co seem a little lightweight. Then, a few years later, the CD version, and then perhaps, depending how much you loved Bowie, a remastered CD version, even a Japanese import. Or two.
Album cover of David Bowie's 'Station to Station'
The original 1976 cover
Digging through my record cupboard, preparing the space for the big box of Station to Station, I find I have the vinyl version, with original black and white cover, and the bright orange RCA label that induces Proustian pangs of feeling for those days when a male teenager could fall in love with Bowie because he seemed so alive, and so scandalously full of himself. I’ve also got a CD version bought at full price, and then one bought for less than a fiver when I thought I’d lost the first one. The music business survived well into the 1990s following a policy of blind greed persuading people to buy albums they already owned all over again on CD. Now, perhaps at the end of its tether, devastated by the arrival of such alternative music sources as iTunes, the music industry is hoping to persuade people to buy once more in a gorgeous new format the same thing yet again, still relying on its back catalogues for sustenance. Or, depending on your point of view, ensuring that in a world where music can be so easily distributed through the air, the album can still exist in tempting solid form, as a tangible thing, something that you can hold, not merely store, and place in a sterile list of your favourite music.
The vinyl version is something that I have clearly held a lot, and loved, and still love, prized like a hardback first edition, now looking strangely oversized and florid in a world where even the miniaturised CD has been replaced by essentially the featureless, soulless, click-click nothing of the download. The CD versions look less powerful, more paperback, and more clinical.
Somehow, an old collection of music that could recently be bought for a few pounds, on the verge of being something you could get on tap, is now on sale, admittedly smartly done up, for almost £90. This is a lavish way of pointing out that a big part of the appeal of a pop record in the last few years of the vinyl era was the combination of the music and the art, the image, the design – the overall story, a constantly developing context – that went with it.
It calls into question just what is going to happen to all those albums that have been made and that artistically deserve to endure now that the era of this kind of vinyl-shaped album is more or less over. What was an album, what is Station to Station, how will we remember it? As a complete, significant work, as a series of loosely connected songs that will just randomly flow off into space and time, separated from each other, available on demand until they just fade away into silence, or some kind of work of art that needs to be celebrated and dissected in this way?
It seems right that David Bowie is at the forefront of such consideration of how vinyl era music – songs and stardom that existed because of the nature of the 45rpm single and the 33⅓ album – will survive this new period in music. He may not have been especially active for the past 20 years or so but he’s never stopped thinking, and plotting, and fastidiously nurturing his image.
After making his extraordinary albums in the 1970s, and inevitably running out of energy in the 1980s, he then settled down into his reputation, his history, with a knowing, Dylan-like acceptance, and an occasional Dylan-like reminder of his unique powers. He wasn’t as aloof and inscrutable as Dylan, but had his own ways of protecting, and projecting, his mystique. In Bowie’s case, this meant not just an occasional good new album, or a memorable tour. It also meant a strategic understanding of how entertainment itself was changing because of the technological progression that meant there would be more and more music, less and less originality, and newer ways of receiving and playing that music. He ended his formal alliances with record labels at the beginning of the century, set himself up as web location, turned himself into a sort of bank, and in 1997 sold his future royalties to the Prudential Insurance Company as Bowie Bonds, leading some wags to suggest he invented derivatives and was directly responsible for the latest recession. A confirmed futurist, he anticipated a breakdown in music industry and media certainties, and prepared himself for the science fiction future he always craved. A future where his 20th-century music could still exist, and still sound contemporary.
Albums such as Station to Station are from the past. Boxing them up in expensive deluxe editions is essentially a commercially based nostalgic act, extending their life as product, to some extent one last mad music industry fling. But the music itself, six songs, expertly weaving their enchanting phantom spell, from the opening title track, an extended montage of despair and determination, lunacy and sorrow, to the final track, a precious, caressing version of “Wild is the Wind” first sung in 1957 by Johnny Mathis, where Bowie appears to repair his self-control, via the tricky, nervily jaunty big hit “Golden Years”, is thus given yet another lease of life. The music is strong and intriguing enough to resist the vulgarisation of being repackaged and resold one more time. Somehow, the ornate deluxe edition of Station to Station says: the album is dead, long live the album.
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From Ziggy Stardust to SpongeBob SquarePants
1947 David Robert Jones born January 8 in Brixton, south London. Shares same birthday as Elvis Presley.
1953 Family moves to Kent. Attends Bromley Technical High School where Peter Frampton, later a rock guitarist, is a friend.
1961 Fight with friend leaves one pupil severely dilated, causing illusion his eyes are different colours.
1963 Leaves school with art O-level. Becomes junior paste-up artist at ad agency.
1964 First release, under the name of Davie Jones, is “Liza Jane/Louie Louie Go Home”. Interviewed on TV as founder of Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-haired Men, he complains, “It’s not nice when people call you darling and that.”
1966 Changes name to Bowie to avoid clash with Davy Jones of the Monkees.
1967First solo album, David Bowie, an odd, jolly mix of pop and psychedelia.
1969 “Space Oddity”, song set in outer space, released to coincide with moon landing
1970 Marries Mary Angela (Angie) Barnett for whom the Rolling Stones song “Angie” was written. Begins unequalled run of 11 studio albums from Man Who Sold The World (1970) to Scary Monsters (1980).
1972 First appearance of glam group Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Produces Lou Reed’s Transformer.
1973 Breaks up Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.
1975 Re-release of “Space Oddity” is first UK number one.
1977 Bing Crosby records “The Little Drummer Boy”, with Bowie, a month before crooner’s death. Appears on old friend Marc Bolan’s ITV music show, duetting on “Heroes”. Bolan dies in car crash two days later.
1980 “Ashes to Ashes” is second UK number one.
1981 “Under Pressure”, with Queen, is third number one.
David Bowie in 'The Man Who Fell To Earth'
In ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ (1976)
1983 Releases Let’s Dance, produced by Nile Rodgers; title track fourth number one
1985 Having won praise as actor in films The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976), The Hunger (1983), Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983) and on Broadway in The Elephant Man in 1980, turns down role in Bond film A View to a Kill. Duet with Mick Jagger on “Dancing in the Streets” leads to fifth number one.
1989 Forms Tin Machine. Critics sneer, live album does not chart.
1992 Marries Iman Abdul Majid in Switzerland.
1996 Plays Andy Warhol in Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat.
1997 Releases internet-only single “Telling Lies”. Predicts time when music will be freely available at click of a switch. Sells back catalogue for $55m, creating Bowie Bonds, planning to pay back money from future royalties.
2003 Declines knighthood.
2004 Suffers heart attack, undergoes triple bypass.
2006 Receives lifetime award at Grammys.
2007 Voices Lord Royal Highness on TV cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants.
2010 Lady Gaga says Bowie is her biggest influence and she wants to work with him
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A Crash. A Call for Help. Then, a Bill.

A Crash. A Call for Help. Then, a Bill.


By CHRISTOPHER JENSEN
NYTimes.com
Published: September 3, 2010


ABOUT a year ago Cary Feldman was surprised to find himself sprawled on the pavement in an intersection in Chicago Heights, Ill., having been knocked off his motor scooter by the car behind him. Five months later he got another surprise: a bill from the fire department for responding to the scene of the accident.
Steve Kagan for The New York Times
VICTIM Cary Feldman paid for the dispatch of a fire truck he didn't request.

“I had no idea what the fire truck was there for,” said Mr. Feldman, of nearby Matteson. “It came, it looked and it left. I was not hurt badly. I had scratches and bruises. I did not go to the hospital.”
Mr. Feldman had become enmeshed in what appears to be a nascent budget-balancing trend in municipal government: police and fire departments have begun to charge accident victims as a way to offset budget cuts.
Ambulance charges have long been common and are usually paid by health insurance, but fees for other responders are relatively new. The charge is variously called a “crash tax” or “resource recovery,” depending on one’s point of view. In either case, motorists are billed for services they may have thought were covered by taxpayers.
Sometimes the victim’s insurer pays. But if it declines, motorists may face threats from a collection agency if they don’t pay.
The AAA opposes such fees, said Jill Ingrassia, managing director for government relations and traffic safety advocacy. “Generally, we see that public safety services are a core government function that should be properly budgeted for with general taxes and not addressed by fees after the fact,” she said.
Ms. Ingrassia says such charges can place an “undue burden on motorists who can’t choose the size or duration of an emergency response,” which means they cannot control the size of the bill they may get. “We also really don’t want to discourage any motorist involved in a crash from calling for police or rescue services if they fear they are going to be billed for it,” she said.
Mr. Feldman received a bill for $200. The Chicago Heights Fire Department told him the fire truck had responded in case there was a fire at the scene.
But Mr. Feldman, 71, had another question: “Why are you charging me? I didn’t do anything wrong. Charge the other guy.”
Neither Mr. Feldman’s insurance company, nor that of the man who struck him, would pay. Mr. Feldman finally paid the bill with some of the money he received from the insurance company of the person who hit him.
“This is my personal opinion: it is a rip-off and a scam,” he said.
The Chicago Heights fire chief, Thomas Martello, referred inquiries to the mayor’s office, which did not respond to three phone messages in early August or to another on Thursday. (Mayor Alex Lopez died of a heart attack on Aug. 27. )
There appears to be no group that tracks the jurisdictions charging such fees or the number of bills sent. But police or fire departments are charging in at least 26 states, said Robert Passmore, senior director for personal lines at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. The group has lobbied against the fees, saying they amount to double taxation. It also says on its Web site, “The role of police and fire departments should be to serve and protect, not serve and collect.”


But Regina Moore, the president of Cost Recovery, a billing company in Dayton, Ohio, that tries to collect the fees for municipal departments, said property taxes paid for fire crews to be “on ready standby” and for police to “protect property and citizens from crime.” She argued that “traffic crash response is outside the scope of the primary function of both law enforcement and fire services.”
The people who cause the problems should pay for such services, she said, not other taxpayers or accident victims who are not at fault.
Jeffrey Johnson, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, said that some fire departments had charged for service calls for years, but that it was happening more often as departments tried to avoid reducing services.
“It is more prominent recently as economic times drive responders to look for ways to pay for their services,” said Mr. Johnson, who just retired as chief of Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue in Aloha, Ore. People are accustomed to bills for ambulances, which are routinely paid by health insurance, he said. “So what we are really talking about is the leap from paying an ambulance fee, which people expect, to paying a first-responder fee.”
Mr. Johnson said the fire chiefs’ association had taken no position on such charges. “We believe that is a local decision,” he said.
But the association does have what it calls a partnership with Fire Recovery USA of Roseville, Calif., another billing company.
In an e-mail, Ann Davison, a spokeswoman for the fire chiefs’ association, said that relationship was focused on helping to explain the pros and cons of the practice to fire departments. Fire Recovery does donate “a portion” of its revenue to the association, she said.
Often departments charging fees are in communities with busy Interstate highways, where crews often respond to crashes involving travelers who do not pay local taxes, Mr. Johnson said.
That is the case with Salina, Kan., which responds to accidents on Interstates 70 and 135. In 2008, the city’s fire department received permission to start billing people involved in accidents to help cover costs, said Mayor Aaron Peck.
In about two years the department has sent out bills for 63 accidents, averaging about $390 each. He said the city sent about $10,000 a year in bills and received payments amounting to about half that much. The rest of the money is lost to the city because some people refuse to pay and some of the money goes to a billing agency.
The billing services make money by taking a portion of the funds they collect. “The average is 10 percent, and if they don’t get paid, we don’t get paid,” said Ms. Moore of Cost Recovery.
Rick Benner, chief financial officer for Fire Recovery, said that for his company about 20 percent would be “a fair representation.”
Billing agencies like these have made it easier for fire departments to charge for services, and that has the effect of encouraging more departments to send bills to motorists involved in crashes, said Mr. Johnson of the fire chiefs’ association.
The insurance industry argues that billing companies trying to drum up new business are a main reason the practice has been spreading.
But Mr. Benner says Fire Recovery is simply trying to help departments avoid service cuts.
Typically, departments send billing firms copies of accident reports and information on how many people and how much equipment responded. On average, the bill is about $200 for police and $600 to $800 for fire departments, Ms. Moore said.
Whether taxpayers are billed for crashes in their own jurisdictions varies by location.
There are also variations in whether the bill goes only to the motorist at fault or to all the parties involved, in which case the billing companies say the insurers determine fault.
If the insurance company refuses to pay, whether the motorist is billed depends on the jurisdiction, Ms. Moore and Mr. Benner said. If the motorist declines to pay, some departments drop the claim. Others take legal action.
Whether an insurance company will pay depends on the language in the policy, Mr. Passmore said, adding, “There are a lot of shades of gray.”
After adopting such programs, some jurisdictions — including Radnor Township, Pa. — later backed off in response to complaints from residents and visitors, news reports and lobbying by the insurance industry. In recent years 10 states have prohibited such collections, according to the property casualty association: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. But some of those prevent only the police, as opposed to fire departments, from charging fees.
Ms. Moore of Cost Recovery says these are examples of “big insurance” working against “innocent taxpayers” and public safety.
The insurance industry says it is protecting consumers and trying to hold down premiums.
The finger-pointing has left cities like Denver trying to figure out what to do. This year, the city considered fees for nonresident, at-fault drivers, said Eric Brown, a spokesman for Mayor John W. Hickenlooper. Mr. Brown said the city stood to recover about $500,000 a year for fire services.
But the proposal was criticized by taxpayers and the media. In an editorial, The Denver Post described the idea as unfair and unwise, saying it would put taxpayers “financially on the hook for supporting emergency services twice.”
The city decided not to decide.
“We shelved it for this year,” Mr. Brown said.

A Crash. A Call for Help. Then, a Bill.

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