Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Remember Him?

     He died from cancer 15 years ago today, at the age of 58. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India, according to Hindu tradition. Surely you remember him, since we still hear his voice all the time.

     He was born in 1943, the youngest of four children, into a household that had no indoor toilet and relied for heat on a single coal fire. His father was a conductor on a bus and his mother worked in a shop. His mother was an enthusiastic music fan and was known for her loud singing voice, which at times startled visitors by rattling the windows in their apartment. Reportedly, when she was pregnant, she listened to the weekly broadcast of Radio India, hoping the mystical sounds of the sitar and tablas would bring peace and calm to her baby in the womb.

     Later on, the boy would become interested in transcendental meditation and Hindu philosophy, and he developed an association with the Hare Krishna movement. But first, he became interested in music, and in particular the guitar.

     His father bought him an acoustic guitar, and a friend taught him how to play. He listened to American jazz and rockabilly music. In 1956, while riding his bicycle, he heard Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" playing from a house, and that song set him on a course of rock 'n roll.

     Before long he had formed his own group with his brother, Peter, and a friend. Then one day on the school bus he met another avid guitar player, Paul McCartney, who was a year older than him. They quickly became friends, and McCartney introduced him to John Lennon. Soon after George Harrison -- for surely, you know by now this is George Harrison -- auditioned for their group called the Quarrymen.

     Harrison was not immediately invited to become part of the band. But he started hanging around with McCartney and Lennon, filling in from time to time, until he became a full-fledged member of the band. He quit school when he was just 16, worked for a bit at a local store, then joined the group on their first tour of Scotland in 1960.

     The rest, as they say, is history. Harrison played lead guitar for The Beatles, but wrote no songs, at least at first. Even later he had a hard time getting his songs on their albums, but eventually some of his work proved among Tthe Beatles most popular selections, including "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Here Comes the Sun," and "Something" which is The Beatles second-most-covered song after "Yesterday."

     He developed an interest in Indian music in the mid-1960s and learned from Ravi Shankar how to play the sitar. As the 1970s dawned he learned the slide guitar and began to work with other musicians such as Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and The Band. After The Beatles broke up, Harrison recorded All Things Must Pass, a triple album featuring his hit single "My Sweet Lord" that topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.

     Harrison went on to organize the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, produce several more albums, and appear in a number of concerts. In 1988 he formed a new group, The Traveling Wilburys, with Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty. The group never performed live, but did record two albums.

     In 1997 Harrison was diagnosed with throat cancer, which he blamed on years of cigarette smoking and drug use. In 1999 a man broke into Harrison's palatial English home, called Friar Park, and attacked Harrison with a knife. His wife, Olivia, subdued the assailant by hitting him with a fireplace poker, but Harrison ended up in the hospital with some 40 stab wounds.

     In May 2001 his cancer came back, this time in his lungs, and then again in his brain. He died a few months later, on November 29, 2001, in Los Angeles. His final album was finished by Jeff Lynne and his son Dhani, and the notes featured a quote from the Bhagavad Gita: There never was a time when you or I did not exist. Nor will there be any future when we shall cease to be."

     The official George Harrison website offers plenty more information if you're interested, and also a link to a Spotify play list of Harrison originals. You can also find on youtube the 2002 Concert for George Harrison which features Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and a great version of Harrison's "A Horse to Water" by Sam Brown.

     Meanwhile, here's my favorite.



         

Sunday, November 27, 2016

What Did You Do Over Thanksgiving?

     We drove up to B's brother's house, outside of Boston, where . . . no, we didn't see any Pilgrims, but it did feel very Thanksgiving-like, with the scudding clouds, cold air and bare-fingered trees. We had dinner with her brother and his wife, their three children and nine grandchildren, then stayed overnight and left the next morning.

     On the way home we stopped for another night in Sturbridge, MA, which features Old Sturbridge Village, a re-creation of a New England village of the early 1800s.

     The docents are dressed in period costume. They do not play the role of their historical characters (like the guides at Plimouth Plantation, who speak in a 17th century dialect). But they do demonstrate some of their crafts, such as this woman who was carding wool.


     B got to try some carding (do you know what carding is?), while I went next door and viewed the loom and the spinning wheel.


     By the 1830s the factories and railroads were starting to transform the way things were done in New England. Still, if you wanted to go from Hartford to Worcester (about 65 miles) you'd get on a stagecoach and, making stops every 12 to 15 miles to change horses, arrive at your destination a mere 12 hours later.


     As you probably know, there were other aspects of 1800s life that lacked the creature comforts we enjoy today. No central heating. No indoor plumbing. We went into one small house, and noticing no bathroom, I asked the guide, "Oh, is there an outhouse?" She shook her head and pointed outside. "They used the trees over there behind the wood pile." I was aghast. "Really? Even the women?" She nodded. "Only the bigger houses had privies."

     We stopped at the bank, which was originally built in the 1830s and later moved here from Thompson, CT. There was no ATM. But there was a modest collection of old coins, a tiny wood-burning stove and a small but very formidable-looking safe.


     After carding, B made a candle; I looked at the old rifles and guns and then visited the printing house. I also was interested in the clock collection -- which has nothing to do with Sturbridge Village except the Wells brothers, who owned an optical company and founded Old Sturbridge in the 1930s, also had a collection of old clocks, some of which are now displayed in the welcome center.


     There is a Protestant church and a Friends Meeting House (I was surprised; apparently there were some Quakers in New England in the 1830s, although Catholics were still frowned upon) and a General Store.


     A few animals roam the grounds -- chickens and . . . I don't what these are, but we got out of there fast!


     So what about you? How did you celebrate the holiday and give thanks for all our progress and all our modern blessings?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Is Thanksgiving Different This Year?

     Some people are giving thanks for the outcome of the election; others are horrified. Many are just thankful it's all over. But we'll get to that in a minute.

     Meantime, Laura Lee Carter gives thanks for her new lifestyle in an article One Baby Boomer’s Dream Come True that was published on The Boomer Cafe website. 

     Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting, like many others, is grateful for her grandchildren. But (it occurs to me) she does the whole thing backwards.

A princess in Florida
     Usually it's the kids who live in New Jersey and fly to Florida to visit grandma. But in Baer's case, it's the grandparents who live in New Jersey and fly to Florida to see the little ones.

     Anyway, this past weekend, as she reports in Spending Time With the Future, they spent four fun but exhausting days with the grandkids -- which provided a change from the less hectic, more laid-back lifestyle of the retiree.

     But if your Thanksgiving involves the appreciation of eating rather than travel, look to Carol Cassera for a simple and yummy stuffing recipe in Easy Chestnut Stuffing.

     Or if you're looking for a bit of nostalgia, Carol recommends an article by Charles Brady, which begins with his short, charming poem Once There Were Peaches. I leave it to you to decide if Brady is entirely serious, or if he has a bit of tongue in cheek.

     Finally, to more serious things. The election.

     On The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, Rita R. Robison is thankful for our consumer protection laws – and expresses her concern that Republicans typically water down regulations and Trump seems to be filling his transition team with lobbyists and insiders, despite his promise to “drain the swamp.” Her latest covers Trump University Fraud Cases Settled for $25 Million. 

     Meanwhile, Kathy Gottberg on SmartLiving365 steps back and takes a more philosophical approach. She begins: "As the dust settles, emotions are running high. Mine included."

     But then she goes on, "It is tempting to make those who see things differently as the enemy, and to self-righteously soothe myself with my so-called intellect and reasoning skills as being morally and mentally superior. But where is the compassion? And what does retaliation do except build a wider chasm in a world in desperate need of unity, peace, and understanding?"

     For her full perspective go over to Is It Possible to Be for Something and Against Nothing? And be thankful that, despite our differences, we can all live together if not in complete unity or understanding, at least in peace and with some degree of compassion.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Roll of Honor

     There's a recent article in The New Yorker "The Enemy Next Door" about how life seems to develop along two streams -- the neighborly stream where we're all friendly and polite to one another and treat any problems in a simple, practical manner; and then there's the political stream which is much more poisonous, where people identify with a particular group, almost like a sports team or a religion, and they are passionate about their sometimes abstract beliefs, they get angry at people who don't agree with them, and believe their opponents are untrustworthy, harmful and downright evil.

     I wonder if a similar dualism takes place within ourselves when it comes to automobiles. I've often wondered why someone who's perfectly nice, who might wave you ahead in the grocery line if you only have a few items, will as soon as he gets in his car, start breaking the law by casually ignoring speed limits and other traffic regulations.

     On the way home from South Carolina we stopped at a rest stop in Maryland. On the way out, we got to our car, and a man sitting in a brown Toyota had his car door open next to me. He smiled. "Oh, you go ahead," he said. "I'm waiting for somebody."

     I noticed he was wearing a Boy Scout uniform, and saw a scouting sticker on his back bumper. He closed his door, gave a little wave, and waited politely as we pulled out of our parking space. As we we leaving, I saw a couple of young scouts climb into his car.

     B and I merged back onto the interstate, and about 15 minutes later I noticed the scout leader in my rear-view mirror. I was doing the speed limit, 65 mph on this stretch of I95. He was coming up behind me in his brown Camry. He moved into the left-hand lane, passed me by, then disappeared down the left-hand lane. The problem? He was doing at least 75, maybe 80, or 10 or 15 miles over the speed limit. With Boy Scouts in the car. So what lesson was this scoutmaster teaching the kids? What would their mothers say if they knew their boys were hurdling down I95 at 80 mph with their scoutmaster?

     Anyway, as a follow up to my last post, I thought it would be interesting -- perhaps a little morbid, but interesting -- to see what famous people lost their lives not to a drug overdose or alcohol, not in a plane crash or some violent act. But from the lowly, boring, but no-less-deadly car crash. See if your favorite celebrity is on this dubious honor roll. Then if you're really morbid, you can get a longer list at ranker.com.

General George S. Patton, in 1945 at age 60.
Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind, in 1949 at age 48.
James Dean, actor, in 1955 at age 24
Jackson Pollack, artist, in 1956 at age 34
Julia Lennon, John Lennon's mother, in 1958 at age 44
Mel Ott, baseball hall of famer, in 1958 at age 49.
Albert Camus in 1960 at age 46
Ernie Kovaks, actor, in 1962 at age 42
Jayne Mansfield, American actress, in 1967 at age 34
Mary Jo Kopeckne, in 1969 at age 28
Duane Allman, in 1971 at age 24
Steve Prefontaine, runner, in 1975 at age 24
John D. Rockefeller III, in 1978 at age 72
Harry Chapin, singer, in 1981 at age 38
Grace Kelly, princess of Monaco, in 1982 at age 52
Jessica Savich, journalist, in 1983, at age 36
Billy Martin, baseball manager, in 1989 at age 61
Dottie West, Grammy winning country singer, in 1991 at age 59
Sam Kinison, comedian, in 1992 at age 38
Wallace Stegner, Pulitzer-Prize winning writer, in 1993 at age 84
Jerry Rubin, '60s activist, in 1994 at age 56.
Princess Diana, in 1997 at age 36
Alan J. Paluka, movie director, in 1998 at age 70
Pete Conrad, astronaut, in 1999 at age 69
Steve Allen, in 2000 at age 78
Linda Lovelace, porn actress, in 2002 at age 53
Lisa "Left Eye" Lopez, American rapper, in 2002 at age 30
David Halberstam, Pulitzer-Prize journalist, in 2007 at age 73
Stephen Covey, author, in 2012 at age 79
Paul Walker, actor, in 2013 at age 40
John Nash, Nobel-Prize mathematician, in 2015 at age 86
Bob Simon, CBS news, in 2015 at age 73
Aubrey McClendon, Chesapeake ceo, in 2016 at age 56

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Go Ahead, Ignore Me . . .

     But only at your own peril.

     The problem is always there, almost anywhere in America, but it is more starkly drawn for me when I drive one of the most perilous stretches of American highway -- which is I95 from Richmond, Va., up through Washington, Baltimore, and on to the Delaware Memorial Bridge.

     It's a problem the presidential candidates totally ignore. So do senators and congressmen. They turn a blind eye to this biggest threat to the American public -- as does the public itself.

     That problem is the lawlessness on the roads of the United States -- the refusal of the American public to obey traffic laws, and the inability of authorities to enforce traffic laws. So drivers speed. They tailgate, pass on the right, talk on the phone, change lanes without signaling. See my recent post Close Call on I78 if you don't believe me.

     They do it all with impunity, and with the belief that they are not doing anything wrong, that they are not hurting anybody -- and besides, they are in a hurry. Some people brag about it, like my neighbor who laughs off the speeding tickets he has received over the years, as he makes a game of trying to cut his commute time from 33 minutes to 31 minutes. Or the woman I met at a recent party who cursed the cops on the Taconic State Parkway because they'd given her a ticket for going 70 mph in a 55 mph zone . . . then she smirked and admitted she was really going closer to 80.

     You may think I'm joking, or just crazy. But the most lethal problem facing us today is not Iraq or Afghanistan. It is not AIDS or terrorism or even guns. It is the American roads. For the roads kill far more innocent people than any of those more-publicized threats.

     According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, traffic fatalities were actually going down for over a decade, due in large part to seatbelt use, the availability of airbags, and the effort to reduce drunk driving. However, between 2014 and 2015 fatalities increased by 7.2 percent, from 32,744 to 35,092. People injured in auto crashes -- including children, old ladies and everyone else -- climbed from 2.34 million to 2.44 million.

     This year the numbers look even worse. For the first half of 2016 auto fatalities went up from 16,100 to 17,775, or an increase of 10.4 percent.

     This death toll dwarfs American casualties suffered in the Middle East. It makes war in the Middle East seem insignificant. There have been 4,800 Americans killed in over ten years of conflict in Iraq. In Afghanistan 2,344 Americans have lost their lives. Of course, any premature death is a tragedy. But why have so much ink and airtime and personal angst gone into the fewer than 10,000 Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, while virtually no one cares about the hundreds of thousands killed on American roads?

     Compare auto deaths to AIDS, which at its peak in 1995 took 41,699 lives. At its worst, AIDS took about as many lives as an average year on the American roads. But then, since 1995, deaths from AIDS dropped to 6,955 by 2013. Would that the automobile epidemic had half as good a cure.

     How do car crashes compare to guns? According to the CDC, between 2000 and 2010, a total of 335,609 people died from guns, including homicides, suicides and accidents. In dramatizing the issue, the CDC points out that is more than the population of St. Louis or Pittsburgh or Orlando. It's more than 85 people every day, killed by firearms.

     But over the same period 444,648 died in car accidents. That's more than the population of Cleveland or Omaha or Minneapolis. Or more than 110 people every day, killed in car crashes.

     So why is everyone up in arms about guns, but they steer clear of the issue of the mishandling of automobiles?

     A couple of years ago I got a ticket for sneaking through a red light in Orlando, FL. They caught me on camera. It annoyed the hell out of me. But maybe it's time to get serious about the traffic laws, even if it does cause us inconvenience, even if it does slow us down a bit. Because  . . . does it really matter whether your commute takes 31 minutes or -- horrors! -- all of 33 minutes?