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Rope, and six more movies


Rope
(1948)

One of Hitchcock's masterpieces, and arguably his best, this opens on John Dall and Farley Granger as they're finishing the murder of a friend.

Why'd they do it? Only to see what it might feel like. Then they cram his body into a trunk, and serve snacks atop it for the evening's party guests.

One of the guests is their college professor, James Stewart, whose lofty joking comments in class, about people who perhaps deserve to be murdered, is what inspired the young men's act of violence.

The whole movie takes place at the party, with Dall and Granger alternately cracking wise and sweating with nerves, and with Stewart asking questions and beginning to suspect something's up, but never being sure what. 

Rope is a deliciously dark drama with a brilliant script and lots of memorable characters, especially Dall and Granger. Once in a while I'll catch one of them in some other flick, but Rope always flashes across my mind — they're divine as the despicable duo, supposedly based on the infamous Leopold and Loeb. 

Hitch wanted to film this with no cuts or edits, like a play, but film stock was limited to ten-minute reels, so it's a series of ten-minute plays adding up to a very suspenseful movie. With no cuts, it takes place in real time, and there's never a break in the tension. It keeps building, and building...

Dazzling music, too, and Stewart is terrific. He never played a stupid character, but he was never smarter on screen than he is here.

I've lost track of how many times I've seen Rope. It's infinitely rewatchable.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Baraka (1992)

From Ron Fricke, cinematographer of Koyaanisqatsi, this is Koyaanisqatsi redux, but without so much sqatsi — meaning, it's not quite so in-your-face with its message.

It's a wordless documentary look at life on Earth — beautiful, loud, and with hypnotic visuals. With no plot, story, or narration, though, it's un-reviewable without getting all pretentious or quoting the director talking about what he intended, and I'm not gonna do that.

It's a stunning, excellent show, that's all. The music and sound are as big as the movie's imagery.

On three occasions a repetitive noise off the soundtrack became mildly annoying to me, so I fast-forwarded a minute or two. Other than that, it's a hell of a flick, kinda cosmic, and I have no complaints.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Beguiled (1971) 

Don Siegel made many terrific movies. Clint Eastwood made some, too. They're dynamite together, and this one is haunting. 

Eastwood is a Union soldier in the Civil War, but he's wounded behind enemy lines. Instead of being captured by Confederate soldiers, he's found by a student at an all-girls school, who brings him there, to be nursed back to health by a bevy of young women and the all-women staff.

This allows Eastwood ample space to wield his masculine wiles, and that's fun, but if you're expecting a womanizing comedy look elsewhere. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, it is said, and here we have a school full of women scorned.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Bernie (2012)

Bernie (Jack Black) is a master mortician, a bubbly 'people person' beloved by everyone around Carthage, Texas, where he's the assistant manager at the funeral home. Gosh, he's just so friendly and happy and outgoing I know I'd hate him in person, but in a movie he's delightful.

Is he really Mr Nice Guy, though, or is he up to something with the bitchy widow, Shirley MacLaine? Matthew McConaughey plays the straight-laced District Attorney who's investigating.

The movie announces up front that it's a true story, but lots of movies make that claim so I managed to forget it until the very end, when we're briefly introduced to the real characters. That's when it suddenly dawned on me, some of the many people who'd been talking to the camera about Bernie, documentary style, were actors, but some were actual townsfolk talking about the actual Bernie. 

Written and directed by Richard Linklater, this is great from beginning to end. And despite Bernie singing several church hymns, he might be my favorite movie extrovert ever. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Performance (1970)

Mick Jagger stars in a movie called Performance, so I'd always assumed this was a concert film. Nope, it's a crime drama, which first-time co-directors Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg worked hard to make unwatchable.

While other things are going on, the first few minutes has weird boopity-bippity sound effects coming and going for no reason I could ascertain, cross-cut with flashes of nudity and people boinking. When something plot-like starts happening, it's about an instantly unlikable tough guy (James Fox), and we get to watch him conduct a monstrous murder in excruciating and ghastly detail.

By that point I enthusiastically hated this movie, and if it later bloomed into cosmic revelations of the true meaning and beauty of life, it still wouldn't be enough to make up for the first fifteen minutes. That's when I'd had enough and turned it off.

Roeg went on to make several marvelous movies. Cammell made Demon Seed, which has been on my watchlist, but Performance is so irredeemably gawdawful I'm reconsidering that. 

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Puce Moment (1949)

This is a six-minute short by Kenneth Anger, showing a woman choosing what to wear, and then dancing while two songs are performed, and then taking her dogs for a walk.

The songs are simply amazing, and it's hard to believe they're from 1949. My parents were in college then, and I've heard their music and this ain't that. It sounds like very good trippy rock from the 1970s, although the audio is a bit muffled.

Further research reveals that the film was originally scored with classical music, and Anger switched this soundtrack into it for a 1966 re-release.

There's zero information online about the songwriter — Jonathan Halper — which makes me speculate that Halper might be Anger and Anger Halper. It hardly matters, though. With any music Puce Moment would be six minutes of remarkable film.

Also, it doesn't hurt that the woman dancing is gorgeous.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Paul Williams plays a svengali named Swan, who's re-opening a shuddered theater called The Paradise with a rock-n-roll show. He's stolen the words and music from misunderstood maestro William Finley, who's now wearing a mask and haunting the theater.

Yeah, this is Brian De Palma's clumsy rock'n'roll take on Phantom of the Opera

People have told me this is a great movie, so I tried, really tried to find something here.

As always with De Palma, there are some clever visuals.

Jessica Harper is the female lead, and she's adequate and sings nicely.

But every character is either evil, stupid, or very naive, and one of them is a walking gay stereotype.

Finley as the Phantom is more annoying than frightening, never sympathetic, and speaks with an electronically altered voice that's grating.

It's a rock opera, so what about the music? It's hard to judge, because De Palma mangles so much of it — to indicate chaos backstage, what might be a decent song is presented split-screen with angry dialogue overtalking the music. Another song is performed with intentionally distorted audio while Williams fiddles with dials. The songs the director allows us to hear are adequate, but with the exception of Harper's songs, they're poorly performed.

It's just a mess.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Coming attractions:

• Brave New World (1980)
• The Cocoanuts (1929)
• Goliath Awaits (1981)
• Hell on Frisco Bay (1956)
• Raffles (1939)
• The Rain People (1969)
Straight Time (1977)

1/22/2023  

There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twentyplex, you're missing out.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. I try to make these reviews spoiler-free, but sometimes screw up, sorry. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.   

 
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45 comments:

  1. It's funny. For years, I struggled with Performance, mostly because the sound was so muddy and captioning was either non-existent or wrong. At some point, a better print with better sound and correct captioning showed up and I was able to actually follow what was going on. It was still vague in spots and not the snappiest in terms of pacing, but the overall vibe felt right. It feels like every person I've known has lived in a place with that level of strong colors on the wall. In today's beige-on-beige world, it looks ominous. Why are white people so afraid of color? Why do they see it as some sort of lower class thing? I love the look.

    The film's gender-melting, role-reversals look way ahead of its time when you look at the world we now live in. Jagger's "performance" of Memo From Turner sets the tone for many a rock video to follow in the next decade. After years of not being able to understand anything about this movie, the new print cracked it wide open. I don't expect most people to like this film, just as I don't expect most people to like anything I do. I often dislike what other people like. I use SNL for an example. I don't even like the first five years that people swear by. MADtv was miles better but it had no traction.

    What can I say? I love the movie. It's a world of its own. Punks took residence into these buildings later in the decade, with various members of the Clash, the Slits and Sex Pistols among them living sorta together. And now I'm told this is fancy, posh living as the rich always eventually ruin everything that once was cool -- Arden

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    1. I'll never get past the murder scene. It was more my idea of a nightmare than entertainment or art.

      But, shrug. It's subjective. There's no right or wrong. I didn't get far enough into PERFORMANCE to see anything but some general unpleasantness and the boopity-bippity sound and then the murder scene. Only got barely the briefest glimpse of Jagger.

      I've also hated MULLHOLLAND DRIVE, and the Christian Bale BATMAN movies. Loved BLUE VELVET in my 30s, hated it in my 60s. Maybe I'm becoming my fuddy-duddy father.

      Delete
  2. What can I say? I really enjoy the musical combo They Might Be Giants and have for 40 years. When I hear Doug assert, "There is no right or wrong," I am immediately moved to sing XTC vs Adam Ant. Sure, the principals are dated, but the concept lives on . . .

    XTC VS ADAM ANT

    by They Might Be Giants

    X-T-C versus Adam Ant
    Content versus form
    Fighting for their place in rock and roll
    There is no right or wrong

    Just when you think it's finished
    With X-T-C on top
    Ant music, like a phoenix
    Flies back up the charts

    X-T-C versus Adam Ant
    Only one will survive
    Beatle-based pop versus new romantic
    History will decide

    X-T-C versus Adam Ant
    I can't tell you why
    Even the singer from Bow Wow Wow
    Can't make up her mind

    X-T-C versus Adam Ant
    Time is marching on
    X-T-C versus Adam Ant
    There is no right or wrong

    There is no right or wrong

    There is
    No right
    Or wrong


    Songwriters: John Flansburgh / John Linnell

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  3. . . . and the group is named after a movie I like very much. jtb

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    1. I'm struggling to understand what the lyrics are about. Adam Ant is or was a rocker, and I think Bow Wow Wow was too, but they're both from an era when I wasn't listening. I thought X-T-C is an illegal drug, but Google tells me it was also a band. I take it there were rivalries betwixt these fine musicians?

      Delete
    2. It took me some Googling because I'd forgotten the title, but I've definitely seen and liked that movie. George C Scott as Sherlock Holmes!

      Delete
  4. I'm sorry Doug, I wasn't trying to be esoteric or the least bit mysterious. I don't think They Might Be Giants is an obscure musical group and any fan of the group would immediately think of that song when somebody wrote "There's no right or wrong." I keep forgetting how old I am.

    TMBG is probably best known for writing and singing the theme song for Malcom in the Middle, a television program that ran seven years starting in 2000. I've never seen an episode, but it's where Bryan Cranston got famous.(They also wrote the musical theme for The Daily Show With Jon Stewart).

    Even though they topped a few national charts, I suppose TMBG isn't as widely known as either group they wrote about in the song I quoted. I was in middle age when TMBG formed and took Manhattan by storm in the early 80s, and when they issued their first three albums, TMBG, Lincoln, and Flood later in the 80s. They were at the top of a couple of charts I don't follow (alternative and college) for a couple of decades. I suppose their music was confined to FM, but it got played a lot there.

    OK, I know you don't want to hear a bunch of musical criticism about a musical group you're not familiar with. I've lived with these guys so long that I guess I lost track of their relative obscurity, although they were on Carson and The Daily Show.

    The song is about the relative unimportance of Adam and the Ants and XTC, two groups that were popular with the MTV crowd and, I suppose, the hip crowd. You should assume that I was never in either crowd.

    And I thought that, among film buffs, They Might Be Giants would be pretty well known, but I'm not a film buff, so I can't assess how well known my favorite movies are. Maybe I should go back to puffing Local Hero, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Dr. Strangelove, and some of my other favorite movies.

    good wishes,

    John

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    1. I'm aware of the band They Might Be Giants. My wife was a fan, and I've heard an album's worth of their songs.

      MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE was a better than average sitcom, especially the first season or two.

      Googling this morning I am surprised that "Boss o,f Me" won a Grammy as Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. I watched the premiere of MALCOLM, and the song was already familiar to me, so it must've been released before the show came on.

      I needed the explanation of the lyrics, though — thanks. Seems cheeky for one band to be singing criticisms of another band, and I like that.

      Good film. I'd just forgotten the title.

      And thanks for the nudge toward SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER. I saw it years ago, remember it as pretty good, and it's now on my list for a rewatch.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, they beat the shit out of the book and turned "Searching ..." into romantic pap, and I like the movie anyway. And Ben Kingsley can empty ash trays more convincingly than just about any actor in the world. He's great with the kid and better with the parents. Trying to make a chess movie into a family movie was a mistake. Chess is too brutal for family fare. But I like the movie anyway. Ha.

      John

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    3. Douggles, if you're going to resample some TMBG (OK, you're not, but IF) everybody will tell you listen to Flood or one of the kids' albums (if you have a kid or can borrow one), but I'm here to tell you that the album you want to listen to is Factory Showroom (1996). Their best song (Birdhouse in Your Soul) is on Flood, but it's a little uneven. Factory Showroom is the shit. Not a clunker in sight. 42 minutes of your time. Well invested. These two and a half decades later I'm still humming James K. Polk and several other tunes from that fine album.

      This album was also not directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

      John

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    4. Birdhouse in Your Soul is, apparently, a song about a night light. That's kinda cool.

      Moving on to the album, as filler between movies... James K Polk is a very strange song...

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    5. I love the song James K. Polk, and they copied it almost line for line from the Encyclopedia Britannica, changing only the words necessary for rhyme and meter. I mean the real atom-infested, heavy EB. It's entirely historically accurate.

      John

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    6. You might say I'm a fan. Since about 1995, there's been a nightlight in my kitchen on the north (dark) side of the house. It lights up a blue canary. Since I sleep in a recliner close to the kitchen, every time I go to check on a cat riot during the night (often) I see the blue canary.

      Here's a link to the boys performing the song on Carson (with Leno hosting unfortunately). . . .jtb

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zkRjrGmTl4

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    7. Was it ordinary for a band to perform their rock songs with the Carson house band? I don't remember seeing that, and assume TMBG didn't have trombone and trumpet and sax in their ordinary arrangements.

      Doc Severinsen, man. Still kicking at 95. Apparently retired just last year.

      Hail to thee, recliner sleeper.

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    8. No, it wasn't ordinary. The Johns didn't have their first three-man backup band until sometime between 92 and 96, but they really wanted to play with Doc, and Doc had a chance to hit that beautiful high note (I think it's A above high C) and hold it. I played the trumpet's kissin' cousin, the coronet, which is very slightly lower pitched and less sharp than the trumpet, and of course I never got close to that high. Most trumpeters can hit A above high C. Most trumpeters can't hit it and hold it under hot lights on national TV while bandleading. And Doc hits it right in the middle. No sagging or fading or sharping. It's beautiful.

      John

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    9. The *wanted* Severinsen. Of course they did. Who wouldn't? They must've discussed it at length, and I guess Doc wrote the arrangements?

      Carson to Leno (and Fallon) was a big step down, but Severinsen to whoever replaced him and his band was at least as big.

      I bought an album of his, in my 20s or 30s when he would've been in his 50s or 60s. Dude rocked.

      Delete
    10. I'll make this brief to avoid boring the shit out of the intimate multitudes. The show got recorded in the very early evening. Afternoons were for "sound check" and rehearsal. Doc would have written most of the arrangement. He looked like he genuinely enjoyed playing with the Johns. I'm guessing he put a little extra effort into the arrangement. I don't clearly hear the accordion or John's guitar (a member of Doc's band plays the electric guitar as well) -- I suspect John and John's non-vocal mics/amps were turned down some. The Johns are very good musicians, but Doc was used to playing with his band.

      My understanding is that the Johns were honored to get several hours of Doc's time for arranging and an hour of his band's for rehearsing. The Johns were probably playing 75-100 gigs a year in the 90s, but this one was clearly special.

      The impression of most viewers was that Doc's band wasn't working very hard. In fact, they were, and they were as tight a band as you'll find. Behind the zoot suits, Doc had a genuine vision of how a band should sound. He knew who his audience was.

      Well, that's MY idea of brief.

      John

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    11. Only an idiot musician would NOT be honored to play with Doc Severinsen, so what you're saying is, TMBG is not idiots.

      Brief or long, I always get something from it when you write.

      Delete
    12. The little point that I failed to make clearly is that, IMHO the majority of Carson fans took the band for granted -- saw them as background, part of the set. I was just noting that the Johns as musicians, knew greatness when they heard and saw it and fully appreciated who they were playing with that night. They also knew that dashing off an arrangement of a fairly complex song was the work of a master, and they would have appreciated THAT as well. Watch the first 30 seconds again and listen to Linnell man-scream at the beginning of the song. That wasn't in the arrangement. He was screaming for joy and to shake off whatever nerves he had.

      John

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    13. Excellent about the manscream. Hadn't noticed it really, your interpretation seems spot on, and also I love the term manscream.

      As for Carson viewers taking the band for granted — it's been a long time, obviously, since I watched Carson on TV, but I don't remember him ever turning the show over to Doc Severinsen for five or ten minutes of music. We only heard Severinsen and his band as the fadeout and fadein music for commercials, and when they backed a musical guest. That was enough to sell me an album many years ago, but I'm weird. I imagine lots of people didn't much notice the band.

      On Letterman, the host occasionally put the spotlight on Paul Shaffer and his band. More often than Carson did, I think, but maybe I'm mistaken. I watched a lot more Letterman than Carson.

      Delete
    14. At the risk of beating a dead horse, there are two points here that shouldn't be lost: I think they have something to say about our culture of celebrity:

      1) Yeah, we're ten years apart, but part of our shared cultural experience is the ongoing battle of late-night television and its reminder that the good guys usually lose. Just as Carson and Doc had a nice business relationship, Letterman most always introduced the dangerous band as "our good friend Paul Shaffer". It didn't matter whether Shaffer was invited for Thanksgiving dinner: He was treated as a partner in the show, and contributed to the DIY humor. (It's interesting that one of Dave's favorite guests, Warren Zevon was one of the only people in all those years to officially occupy Paul's piano bench, and the first order of business on those occasions was to introduce Warren [with emphasis on the first syllable of his last name always]).

      2) Linnell's primal manscream said in a second and a half, "We've driven the life out of two bandvans and had to piss off a lot of people for a decade in order to get here and we're damn well going to have a good time". It's one of my favorite moments on television and would have been one of Chauncey Gardener's had he been watching.

      It's usually the little things that reveal the big things.

      John

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    15. Always had the impression Dave and Paul were friends. They went ice skating together.

      Was there ever better late night television, night after night, than early-era David Letterman? I don't think so.

      Thanks for nudging me toward They Might Be Giants. That's quality rock'n'roll.

      Delete
  5. > Seems cheeky for one band to be singing criticisms of another band

    Yeah, I think the intent is to question the seriousness with which music fans take musical genres. It happened here (with grunge) and it happened when Garth Brooks was alive (god help us all). TMBG has always ignored genres. They've never actually done country, but they've certainly done everything else (maybe except classical -- there are limits). And they usually insist on adding humor, as in XTC vs Adam Ant.

    You don't care about this shit, but, unaccountably, I do. I should be talking to myself. Maybe I am.

    This comment was not directed by Francis Ford Coppola. All rights reserved.

    John

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    1. "SEXXXY" has some classical-ish touches toward the end.

      Better than my Coppola/Scorsese mistake, when I searched for They Might Be Giants I made a typo which was auto-corrected to They Might Be Gnats.

      I *do* care about this shit, just perhaps not as much as you.

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    2. Nothing on that album I didn't like. My faves are New York City, XTC Vs. Adam Ant, and The Bells Are Ringing. Thanks, man.

      Now back to the Marx Brothers.

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    3. Have I told the story about John and John (TMBG) discovering the song New York City in the Great Pacific Northwest? Seems like I did when I first stumbled into the site, but, strictly speaking, my memory is pretty fucked up. If I didn't or you don't remember it, I'll tell it again. It's only bits.

      John

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    4. Also, thanks for taking time to listen to Factory Showroom and comment on it. It was a gentlemanly thing to do -- no offense intended.

      Johnny

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    5. And clearly Stephanie had great taste in music. You were blessed in many ways by her presence.

      John

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    6. Stephanie had great taste in everything but men.

      Appreciated the albumming. More recommendations welcome, especially before I gotta go to work in two weeks. After that, free time will become a precious commodity, and music and movies will be (comparably) rare special treats.

      I don't remember any stories of They Might Be Gnats in the past between us, which doesn't mean there were none or even that they weren't memorable.

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    7. I know very little about women, but it's my impression that women like to be loved and admired for exactly who they are and want to be friends with their spouse as well as lovers. Based on that, I'd say she made a wise choice.

      We love the things we love for what they are.

      John

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  6. I'm a little surprised that Doug wasn't aware of XTC. I'd think their atheist anthem -- and minor hit single - "Dear God" would've warmed his soul back in 1988 or so. They had a few minor hits in the US. I remember hearing "Sense Working Overtime," "Making Plans For Nigel" and "Are You Receiving Me?" on the radio and then when Skylarking came out in 1988, "Earn Enough for Us" and "Dear God" were around. "The Mayor of Simpleton" from the next album, Oranges and Lemons, may have been their last song heard on mainstream radio waves. Or not. -- Arden

    P.S. I understood what TMBGs were getting at with XTC vs. Adam Ant. Adam was seen as more futuristic pop and MTV-friendly and part of the New Romantic wave while XTC were ugly, intellectual and clearly informed by the Beatles/Beach Boys '60s pop gone new wave. It's a minor but huge difference to those who follow such things and not even a blip to those who don't, which I think is part of the point. Things matter but in some ways they don't at all, except when they do.

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    1. Ooooh, thanks. "Dear God" is terrific.

      Like you, I am more than a little surprised to have been unaware of this fantastic song and the band. Google says the band XTC was formed in 1972. I was listening to the radio in 1972, pop and rock around the clock, but never heard of XTC to my knowledge, probably because by '72 all the commercial rock stations had started refusing songs and bands so smart.

      This band is the music I'm looking for — smart lyrics, set to music that doesn't kick me in the groin.

      I am adding "Dear God" and "Making Plans for Nigel" and "Earn Enough For Us" to my perpetual playlist. And at least until I'm working 40 hours a week, I'm willing and even eager to give a listen to any song or band you recommend.

      Delete
    2. Nice breakdown in the second graph; I think you pretty much nailed it. I've burned up a lot of virtual ink trying to say what you said in your last sentence. Thanks.

      John

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    3. The Googs will be the death of me. Obviously the above? reply was a reply to the previous comment. When ideas are cardinal order doesn't matter; when they're ordinal it kinda does you bastards. (The Googs are the bastards -- the rest of us are just victims).

      John

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    4. Ah, it was out of order like a Coke machine? Guess I'll never know which second paragraph of mine said something coherent, but I can almost promise it won't happen again.

      Delete
    5. I don't think I'd noticed before that the phrase "out of order" is BOTH vague AND ambiguous. I won't recap, either my tires or my prose. Live and be well.

      love,
      John

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    6. Now it occurs to me that younger generations are unfamiliar with recapped tires and won't know what the fuck I'm talking about. I probably shoulda gone to bed last night. I fear it's too late now.

      ha,
      John

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    7. They used to de re-treads on tires, used but with fresh treads. Are those re-treads what you're calling recaps?

      I was tempted to buy a set once when I was poor, but lives are at stake so I bought cheap but new tires instead. Never believed in re-treads.

      Delete
    8. Yeah, retreads is the more common name. They were called slightly different names in different parts of the country. My cousin always got retreads. He worked for the Post Office.

      John

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    9. Did your retreaded cousin who worked for the Postal Service have to wear a uniform?

      Dunno whether they'll want me in uniform or not.

      Delete
    10. Retreads only fail at high speeds, so they work most of the time. I never saw my cousin at work. He was Pierce County chess champion for a couple of years. There was a Post Office culture after WWII that was pretty strange. For a long while, the Post Office employment test was the most difficult in all of civil service. It was a good job with good retirement benefits, so many of the brightest people in the country who didn't bother with trivia like scholastic degrees took the damn test to see how high they could score. The Post Office ended up with these brilliant, dysfunctional employees who found new ways to do their jobs innovatively. The P.O. was years ahead of its time with its Zone Improvement Plan and information technology adoption. They could get a letter from a farm in Maine to a slab house in California in a town you never heard of in three days. Made chess-by-mail more punchy.

      That culture has died (it was murder, not suicide) but there are still remnants if you look closely. They might be mailmen, they might be giants.

      John

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    11. You are a noir novel sometimes. A good one, too.

      When I was a chessman, it was by mail, so my thanks to your cousin.

      Are there no more civil service exams for USPS? I'm "conditionally hired," but nobody's asked me to pick up a pen.

      I'm hoping there's a uniform. Else I'll probably have to buy some clothes.

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    12. Doug, I have no inside information on Post Office hiring practices. My impression is that the USPS has three kinds of employees: Full time, fully vested employees, part time unvested employees, and full time unlikely vested employees. They're hiring so few of the first type that they might as well not be hiring at all. Life extension has crippled the USPS budget with pensions they can't afford to pay. More on this soon.

      My impression is that the USPS is hiring mostly the second type, part time unvested employees. These are employees who don't work 40 hour weeks and are not vested in the pension plan. If they work part time for 50 years they still won't be vested.

      The Post Office is also hiring some of the third type: People who work full time, but are very unlikely to get their asses vested in the retirement plan. I think, unlike the part-timers, the Type 3 employees at least get help acquiring their uniforms if they're going to interact with the public. If not, they likely have to buy their own or wear civvies, but I'm not sure about that part.

      Although the USPS is getting a bright, able employee in you, I suspect the most attractive thing on your application was your age. You'll never burden their retirement system.

      If you can't do the job, you'll fail probation and the USPS will hire somebody else. Since you can do the job, you'll likely continue to be employed and might have the opportunity to take an internal test for promotion. But I wouldn't be expecting a lot of extra perks like a traditional USPS ensemble. I'm willing to be surprised, and look forward to your future sadly sparse posts. I'll miss you. You've become my favorite chessmail friend. [continued...]

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    13. But enough sentiment. The USPS is in deep shit. Unlike the Army and Navy and so forth, who shuffle their retirees over to the Veterans Administration, the USPS, part of the federal government, but sort of not part, is stuck with its retirees. They don't have monthly luncheons with waitresses who call everybody "Pops", but they do send out massive waves of retirement checks every month. (No, I didn't forget that the USPS started hiring women some time ago -- I omitted to include the fact for purely prosaic reasons.)

      So the military generals continue to budget for missiles that will end the world and for the salaries of soldiers and sailors and airpeople. But the enormous retirement costs, including a few WWII and Korean War vets and a shitload of Vietnam era fighters and typists continue to draw their pay from a budget other than the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. Yeah, and the Space Patrol or whatever Trump called that boondoggle.

      The Postmaster General (note the title) is still burdened with the monthly retirement checks of postal workers who retired when there were sixteen teams in Major League Baseball. A reduction in cigarette puffing, a revolution in medicine (statins, cardio bypass, etc), and the result of their surprisingly adept performance at mail and parcel delivery in a baby-boom America has made the USPS a victim of its own success. And they gotta pay these people, who broadly did their jobs well for thirty or forty years, until death do them part.

      If you just look at the operating costs of the Post Office, the place makes money. Not much, but it's marginally profitable. Add the pensions, and the USPS is as underwater as a homeowner in a 2008 security-gated faux-colonial mansion development.

      So there ya go. The current Postmaster General, unemployable anywhere else in America, is continuing to draw his pay and continuing to use a wrecking ball on the USPS' successful response to the Information economy and unfortunate failure to lobby the federal government to take pensions off its hands in the Bio economy.

      I think if you look closely in your first months at work, you'll find the sad remains of a once-proud and fairly efficient descendant of Benjamin Franklin's dream: inexpensive letters, books and chess by mail. Amidst the rubble of the remainder, I wouldn't expect to cop a free shirt, but where there's hope, there's life.

      John

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    14. Man, you write nice. Thanks for the info on what to expect.

      The pension requirement, which is insane, was crafted by Republicans *specifically* to sink the Post Office, and make it ripe for privatization and profitization. Cripes, I hate Republicans, and cripes, Republicans hate the idea of anything that's not making them richer.

      I'd assumed that my age worked against me in job-hunting, but your analysis seems accurate. They're hiring me not because I have all those years of experience with office machines, but because I have all those years.

      Applying at USPS seemed like such a long shot, I didn't save or even much *read* the job description, but I think it said I could be called up to help at the counter in a pinch, so maybe I'll get that uniform I covet so. If not, I have two shirts that aren't abysmally stained, and no pants. I look good in no pants, though.

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