A Beatles Reunion — Of Sorts

Ringo Starr is coming out with his 20th solo album, called What’s My Name, next month.  The album will feature an intriguing track for the Beatles fans among us.

ringo-starr-paul-mccartney-perform-2014-billboard-1548Sir Ringo will be singing a song written by John Lennon shortly before his death. The song, called Grow Old With Me, was recorded by Lennon on demo tapes for Double Fantasy, Lennon’s last album.  When a record producer played the song for Ringo, who had never heard it before, he was touched by it and decided to record it — and he asked Paul McCartney to play bass and sing back-up.  Sir Paul agreed, so the two surviving Beatles perform together again, on a song written by a third Beatle that includes a string arrangement that quotes from Here Comes The Sun, written by the fourth Beatle, George Harrison.  Ringo’s new album also will feature a cover of the song Money, which the Beatles also recorded and performed.

I’ll be interested in hearing the song, which is as close as we’re going to get to a Beatles reunion these days.  I also think it is pretty cool that Ringo, who is 79, and Paul, who is 77, are still active in performing and recording — and are thinking from time to time about their days in the Beatles and their now-departed bandmates in the greatest musical group ever assembled.

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50 Years Of ATMs

On September 2, 1969, a new machine was unveiled at the Chemical Bank branch in Rockville Centre, Long Island, soon to be followed by similar machines located outside bank branches across the country.  The machine was an ATM — an automated teller machines that allowed users to get cash from their accounts at the press of a few buttons.

atm_fAt first ATMs, like all new technological developments, were curiosities, and most people still got their money the old-fashioned way.  They went into a bank, filled out a paper withdrawal slip, and presented it to one of the human tellers at a window, or they went through the drive-thru bank lane, interacting with a teller remotely and getting their money via pneumatic tube delivery.  But as time passed people realized those ATM machines, once you got the hang of them, sure were convenient — and quick.  You could get money when you needed it and on your schedule, without being at the mercy of your bank branch’s hours.

As their usage increased, the number and location of ATMs multiplied, moving from their initial locations at bank branches to appear just about everywhere.  According to the article linked above, Chase Consumer Banking alone has 16,250 ATMs, and Bank of America has even more.  And as the number of ATMs skyrocketed the functionality of ATMs has increased, too, moving beyond dispensing cash to allow users to perform just about every banking-related service they might choose.  Chase says its ATMs now can do 70 percent of the things its human tellers can do for its customers.

People didn’t focus on it at the time, but ATMs were a precursor of the machine-oriented, self-service movement in American business.  There’s a debate about whether ATMs have ultimately eliminated human teller jobs or have spread them out among more bank branches that have been opened, but one thing is clear:  banking involves much less human-to-human interaction than used to be the case.  Who knows the name of their bank branch manager?  That’s become true in other businesses where self-service machines have been introduced, too.  And in that sense ATMs helped to pave the way for internet-based businesses, cellphone apps, and other consumer-directed options that don’t involve fact-to-face communications with human beings anymore.  We’re conditioned to doing things by tapping buttons on a machine, and there is no going back.

Happy 50th, ATMs!  You’ve helped to change the world, for better or for worse.

Only In France

For all of the talk about globalization, every once in a while we get a reminder that there are still a lot of differences between countries.  One such reminder came this week, in a news story about a court ruling from France.

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It’s a story about the unfortunate Xavier. a security technician who worked for a railway company near Paris.  Xavier was sent on a business trip to central France by his employer.  One night on the trip, the amorous Xavier had an extramarital relationship with a woman at her home one night — and then keeled over, dead, from a heart attack apparently related to the encounter.  A health insurance fund concluded that Xavier’s demise was the result of a work-related accident, making the employer liable.  The employer appealed, saying Xavier should be viewed, instead, as having interrupted his work-related trip for his tryst, so that the company was not responsible for his post-coital death.

Earlier this year a French court rejected the employer’s arguments.  Under French law, any accident that happens on a business trip is considered to be work-related, even if the activity is not closely related to the purpose for the trip.  The court ruled that French law protects employees engaged in everyday activities during business trips, unless they interrupted planned business activities, and the employer couldn’t show that Xavier was supposed to be working when he was having his fatal sexual encounter.  And get this:  the court noted that the insurance fund argued that sex was part of everyday life, “like having a shower or a meal.”

Casual sex with a stranger while you’re on a business trip is akin to taking a shower or eating breakfast?  Only in France.

Rewatching The Best Documentary Ever Made

The other night I was searching for something to watch on TV.  I flipped over to our Roku option, clicked on Netflix, and started to flip through the Netflix offerings.  When I saw to my delight that Ken Burns’ The Civil War was available for free as part of my Netflix subscription, my choice was made.

arthjtf-show-poster2x3-q87qozzFirst broadcast in 1990 — 29 years ago! — The Civil War is, in my book, the best documentary ever made.  And while Ken Burns has made many fine documentaries since then, The Civil War remains his masterpiece.  From the first strains of Ashokan Farewell that began playing at the beginning of Part One, to the lovely footage of cannons at sunset and the sun-dappled pastoral scenes and shimmering rivers on the battlefields that were drenched in American blood long ago, to the historic photographs of generals, privates, politicians, battle scenes, and the dead and the voice-over readings of speeches, letters, and diary entries of the participants, The Civil War is note-perfect from stem to stern.

Of course, Ken Burns had some great material to work with, but his great achievement was sifting through the enormous historical record and capturing the essence of the titanic, nation-defining struggle in an accessible way.  The result is as riveting, as fresh, and as deeply moving now as it was when a nation first watched it, enthralled, during the George H.W. Bush administration.  The Civil War tells a powerful story, and as I’ve watched the early episodes this week I’ve found myself rooting for Lincoln and the Union, and bemoaning the inept and egotistical Union generals and all of the early Confederate victories, just as I did almost three decades ago.

Sometimes TV is better the second — or even the third — time around.  If you’ve got Netflix, The Civil War is well worth a second look.

Bathroom Humor

When I went to the grocery store yesterday, I walked down an aisle and saw, to my dismay, that Halloween stuff was on sale already — even though it’s just the beginning of September.  But I was really stopped in my tracks when I saw this product for sale, right there next to the bags of candy and trick or treat decorations.

It’s a “Jokin’ on the John” motion-activated toilet seat cover.  Put this on, and when the lid to the commode is lifted, you get treated to one of several jokes delivered by this crazy-eyed cackling witch.  It’s one of a number of “Jokin’ in the John” products that can help you celebrate Halloween.  Others include “Flush ‘n Stein,” a motion activated Frankenstein figure holding a plunger who is supposed to be put on top of the toilet and then tells jokes and sings a song, as well as a wisecracking ghost armed with a plunger and a mummy-type figure whose wrapping is toilet paper.

An entire “Jokin’ in the John” line of products, offered by Hallmark, of all places?  Apparently the bathroom, one of the last bastions of peace and quiet and normalcy in an overdecorated holiday world, is viewed as the new frontier for holiday-themed “humor” products.  It’s there, ready to be invaded by cackling witches and other intrusive figures whose handful of allegedly funny phrases would get old pretty darned fast.  And speaking as a representative of the older generation that now has to make more nocturnal visits to the bathroom than they used to, I can’t imagine wanting to have any talking, motion-activated items in there to startle me when I stumble in at 3 a.m.

It’s bad enough that Halloween now gets celebrated for about two full months — can’t we leave the bathroom out of it?

 

Wild Seniors And Urban Myths

The other day I was having dinner with friends.  For some reason the conversation turned to The Villages, an enormous, sprawling, planned retirement community in central Florida, between Orlando and Gainesville, where tens of thousands of seniors live and residents ride around in souped-up and tricked-out golf carts.  And one of my friends mentioned that The Villages is known for something else:  it has apparently got an unusually high rate of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) — higher than in surrounding, non-retiree communities.

hqdefaultI decided to check that out, and learned two things.  First, The Villages is so big it has its own newspaper, at Villages-News.com.  And second, the newspaper views the STD story as sufficiently serious to warrant a recent news story — one that treats the tales of wild sex and rampant STDs at The Villages to be an “urban myth,” attributable to an ill-advised comment by a Villages gynecologist in 2006 and a later book and news stories about individual seniors and their sexual escapades.  The article notes that statistics indicate that there hasn’t been a surge in STD rates in The Villages, points out that in a community so massive — the article says The Villages now is home to 125,000 people, almost all of whom are 55+ and retired — some are going to want to drink and get frisky, and concludes:  “So like any town in the country, it’s going to have a certain number residents who sleep around and acquire STDs.”

Well, okay then!  I’m not sure that the Villages-News.com story fully debunks the STD story, but mostly I had this reaction as I read the story:  who would have thought there is a place in central Florida where 125,000 seniors live together and drive around in cutesy golf carts, and that 125,000 people would view that as the ideal setting for their retirement?

 

Countdown Lists

The other day I drove up to Cleveland.  I tuned in to Sirius XM’s Symphony Hall for the drive, and learned that they were counting down the Top 76 classical recordings, as voted by their participating listeners.  I caught the countdown at number 11, which was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.  I was immediately intrigued by the countdown notion, and then was immediately astonished when the countdown continued and I learned that Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue came in at number 10.  Rhapsody in Blue, over Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony?  Seriously?  In what universe?

1200x600bfBy the time I reached Cleveland the countdown was at number six — Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons — and I was sorry that my drive had ended.  When I got home that night, I checked out the final few songs that rounded out the Top 10.  Beethoven dominated, with three pieces in the Top 10 and the Ninth Symphony coming in at number one, but the more modern composers did pretty well too, with Rachmaninoff, Barber, and Copland — as well as Gershwin — all getting Top 10 slots.  But wait a minute . . . no Bach?  No Handel?  No Haydn?  No Boccherini?  The baroque era and Haydn got horribly short-changed by Symphony Hall listeners, in my view.  You can check out the Symphony Hall list here.

Why are people like me interested in countdown lists?  Those of us who grew up listening to Casey Kasem doing American Top 40 every week, to see which songs were moving up, which were moving down, and who was up there at number one, are pretty much conditioned to pay attention to countdown lists.  But ultimately, the lists are just a way of keeping your finger on the pulse of the world at large and what other people are thinking, and liking.  They don’t really mean much in terms of actual quality or lasting significance — after all, the Pipkins’ Gimme Dat Ding reached the American Top 10 in 1970.  Retrospective lists, like the Symphony Hall list, provide great fodder for argument, though and you might just learn something or try something new as a result.  I’m going to give a listen to some of the unfamiliar pieces on the Symphony Hall countdown list.