Monday, July 28, 2008

"What the hell was I thinking?"

I get all sort of stuff at the papers I edit that frequently I can't use just because of space. The following is one of those stories that make me wonder if we are truly living in the end times.

Here's the release from the Springfield Police Department:

"At 10 p.m. on 07/24 members of the "Street Crime Unit" of the Springfield Police Department arrested a subject in a "Road Rage" incident in the parking lot of the Burger King at State and Walnut Street. The investigation by the officers showed that a 39 year-old woman assaulted a 74 year old woman because she was driving too slow on Walnut Street. Arrested was:

1) April S. Grange age 39 of 41 Glenn Rd. Apt. #2, East Hartford Ct
a) Assault With a Dangerous Weapon on a Person Over 60
b) Disorderly Conduct

Prior to the arrest a 74 year-old woman was traveling on Walnut Street towards State Street at 9:30 P.M. The woman was driving slow because of the road conditions– there was construction taking place at this stretch of road. April Grange was driving a black sedan following her and was upset because the 74 year-old woman was driving too slow for her liking.

The elderly woman pulled into the parking lot of the "Burger King" at State and Walnut Street. The black sedan followed her. Grange pulled her car to where the elderly woman was and exited her car screaming at her. Grange then returned to her car and went into her trunk and retrieved a large metal pipe and assaulted her with it. The assault placed the elderly woman in fear and she screamed. Police were called and responded immediately. An ambulance from AMR was parked in the parking lot and observed the whole ordeal.

Once police arrived Ms. Grange was not able to control her anger and she verbally assaulted police and would not listen to commands to get her to go back to her car. She was causing a disturbance, yelling and screaming.

Officers calmly went about their investigation, spoke with the victim, found the large pipe used in the assault and then placed Ms. Grange under arrest for assaulting a person over 60 years of age."

Springfield bashers should note this woman was from Connecticut.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I was searching for some animation graphics the other day and found these instead and instantly became nostalgic for UMass, which I attended from 1972 to 1976. The first is an original from Danny Guidera's comic strip that appeared in the "Daily Collegian' called "Nuke the Whales. Guidera was a very talented artist – I'm sure he still is; here is his Web site, I think – and his strips and political cartoons were a cut above the usual level that one found in a college newspaper.

This panel cartoon was done by a guy named McGilvray whose first name escapes me now. Again I always thought his work was superior to most student cartoonists, but he proved to be very controversial when he did a cartoon of Chancellor Randolph Bromery that some thought – including Bromery – was racist.

During my four years at UMass there were a number of cartoonist whose work appeared in the paper including Kris Jackson and Steve Lafler. The most famous cartoonist to come out of UMass is Peter Laird, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Friday, July 25, 2008

I really want to like him. I want him to succeed. My concern, though, is that Deval Patrick may be a one-term governor at best and that he won't be able to accomplish what he set out to do – a energization of the Massachusetts electorate and starting up new programs and reforms that would position Massachusetts as a leader for a new century.

The problem is that too much of the time what I see is politics as usual and that is due in part to Patrick's inexperience and to the you-can't-touch-us attitude of the Legislature.

Patrick was in Holyoke recently with a "town meeting" and what I really wanted to do was to say to him, "Listen, putting casino money into your budget when we don't even have the means to collect it was the worse thing you could do to your crumbling credibility."

The gov gave his enemies a loaded gun, cocked it, pointed it to his head and said "Shoot!" with that move.

What made his town meeting a bit of a joke were the announcements that as many people as possible would get a chance to speak and then cutting it off after less than an hour with only about eight questions posed.

There were some quite irritated people, especially in light of the recent budget cuts that affected many in the audience.

I think Patrick is a smart guy, but he needs to get better advisors. And residents need to question their legislators more. Term limits are definitely in order for reps and senators to try to clear out some of the problems we have. Service in the Gneral Court is a calling not a career.

HOLYOKE Considering the cuts Gov. Deval Patrick has made in line items that affect Western Massachusetts one might think his reception in Holyoke on Thursday night at a town meeting would be cool at best.

If he noticed the signs held by young teens that asked him to restore the funding to Girls Inc, for their teen center, he would have known that not everyone was happy with him.

Funding to Holyoke Medical Center, Springfield Technical Community College, Holyoke Community College (HMC), and The Open Pantry were among the earmarks that Patrick eliminated from the version of the budget passed by the House and Senate.

Officials from at least several of those organizations were in attendance.

And yet, Patrick didn't backtrack from any of the cuts he made. He told Reminder Publications in a press availability after the meeting "if I had an ATM with an unlimited account I would have brought it."

He emphasized that he is trying to be "prudent."

A report issued last week by Revenue Commissioner Navjeet K. Bal said "preliminary revenue collections for fiscal year 2008 were $20.888 billion, an increase of $1.152 billion or 5.8 percent over fiscal 2007 collections. The total is $663million above the fiscal 2008 estimate of $20.225 billion."

However Bal noted, "FY2008 was a record year for revenue collections, but the driving elements of that record year income tax paid on capital gains, dividends and interest, settlement of some large tax cases, and strong withholding tax collections will likely not occur again in FY2009."

Both Chicopee Mayor Michael Bissonnette and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno have told this reporter they have been told to expect reduced state aid for FY10.

The over-flow crowd of several hundred people proved to be a cordial and sometimes responsive audience for the governor, although pointed questions about funding were rewarded with applause.

Patrick spent less than an hour answering questions from the audience and then talked one-on-one with many people.

Before the event started, Sarah Dunton who directs the youth services at Girls Inc. explained the center lost $50,000 in state funding which outs the teen center that serves 1,000 at-risk young women a year.

"We'll have to do some scrambling," she said to find a new source for the funding.

She added the organization has spoken to State Sen. Michael Knapik and State Rep. Michael Kane.

Kane introduced Patrick stating the governor has done "some fantastic work in the Statehouse in Boston." He used the energy and the biotech bills as examples.

Patrick admitted in a short introductory speech that the governorship is a "wild job."

Holyoke Medical Center

Michael Zwirko, vice president of HMC, told Patrick the cut he made to the medical center was to pay for recruitment and training of nurses and other professionals. He said HMC serves some of the poorest patients in the state and recruitment of health professionals can be difficult.

Zwirko questioned Patrick on the fairness of the current way hospitals in the state are funded and what plans does the governor have to make funding more equitable.

"We get the short end of the stick," Zwirko said.

Patrick said that while "I appreciate what you do at Holyoke Medical Center I have to push back respectfully."

"Everybody took a hit because the times are what they are," he added.

Patrick said that HMC has received large amounts of state aid in the past and that Children's Hospital in Boston was cut by $10 million. HMC's cut was $2 million.

The governor said his was "not a happy decision" when it came to the hospital cuts and that his administration would be looking at other ways to assist HMC.

"I'm not walking away from Holyoke Medical Center," he said.

Contacted the following morning, Hank Porten, HMC's president and CEO, explained the funding issue at the hospital is not just about the $2 million cut from the budget but about the larger issue of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement schedules and rates.

Porten said that two Boston-area hospitals did get the money they needed and asked, "Where's the parity? Why is Boston's poor better than Holyoke's poor?"

He said he didn't begrudge the two institutions the money but noted that this kind of uneven funding has "been going on for a long time."

Because HMC has been under-funded for years, it's difficult to replace capital and equipment, he explained. What has enabled to allow the medical center to continue through 19 years of under-funding is instituting greater efficiencies, he added.

"We've been bleeding to death from a thousand paper cuts," he said.

Porten called for a new state system for hospital funding.

Requests from the audience

Patrick had staff members throughout the audience taking down inquiries and issues from people who had concerns but did not wish to voice them.

A teacher from Springfield questioned Patrick on the effectiveness of special education advocacy Patrick offered to set up a meeting with the new Secretary of Education Paul Reville while another woman brought up issues she had with the Department of Social Services.

Joseph Farrick Sr. of Easthampton said, "It's nice to know the governor's office knows the state line doesn't end at Worcester." A Vietnam War veteran, he then asked Patrick why he couldn't buy a second Purple Heart plate for his car. He then said vets should get waivers for fees at state parks and that law enforcement officials should be trained to recognize post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with the influx of service men and women coming from war zones.

Patrick said, "You'll get your license."

He then said that there has been training for police officers to recognize PTSD but acknowledged there is a need for more training.

Former State Rep. Francis Rodgers of Holyoke asked for state help in building a new senior center.

"We can look at it," Patrick responded. "I don't know where we are in supporting it."

Edith Jennings-Cope, director of youth ministries of the United Congregational Church, asked the governor what the state can do in assisting local programs to help teens, especially teens who find themselves homeless at age 16 and not eligible for help from DSS.

"Not all of it" was Patrick's answer. He added the increase for the homeless line item was the largest in the budget and the rules are changing concerning teen homelessness.

He said that his School Readiness Project, which would radically change the way the state looks at education, would provide a "seamless" day by lengthening the school day, providing activities until parents are back from work, and use school buildings and resources to their fullest.

He said the state needs to connect existing programs with schools and non-profit groups to bring these changes about.

"It's a long term thing," he said.

Open Pantry

Open Pantry Executive Director Kevin Noonan attended the meeting and spoke briefly with Patrick after the town meeting. Noonan's organization was cut over $500,000 and he had been hoping the earmark would stand.

Noonan told the governor he was surprised that someone who alternated sleeping on the floor because his family couldn't afford enough beds would have made that cut.

Noonan said that he laid off two employees last week and reduced the hours of the food pantry to Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The pantry is closed on Wednesdays.

In a press release sent out July 18, Noonan also announced there will be cutbacks at the Loaves and Fishes meal program as well, although the details have not been shared.

What's next?

State Rep. Michael Kane said that he has heard from every organization affected by a cut earmark and that he has sent a letter to the House leadership to request a meeting with House Speaker Sal DiMasi in the hopes of having an override vote.

Kane explained that what the governor vetoed returned the Legislature's budget back to a document similar to the one he had submitted to them.

Kane said that based on the revenue report there are "no really big alarms" for changes in capital gains that could affect the current fiscal picture.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, July 21, 2008

I've not posted DVD reviews in a while. I'm trying to juggle the demands of writing local stuff for Pioneer Valley Central, while still doing things here that I like to do.

OUT FOXED: FOX Attacks edition

Well, I can hear the sighs now from conservative readers, but this documentary from 2004 is a revealing look at advocacy media. I hesitate to call what FOX News does as "journalism" as the most popular of its programs are the talking head shows such as Bill O'Reilly's program, which has more to do with punditry than covering various sides of a story.

Director Robert Greenwald has assembled a series of interviews with former FOX News personnel, as well as presenting clips and internal memos that show his own point of view: that Fox News is less about news and more about pushing a conservative political agenda.

For people interested in free speech, this is a thought-provoking film. Considering that for years in this country newspapers took partisan stances there were labor papers, Republican papers, Democratic papers what FOX News is doing is nothing novel. What is different is their sales job to viewers that they are watching "fair and balanced" reporting.

To update this 2004 film, Greenwald has included his "Fox Attacks!" short films designed for the Internet that focus on issues that Fox News has covered. These too are eye-openers.

The problem is that the people one would like to reach conservative voters are the folks least likely to give this film a chance.

I wonder what Thomas Jefferson would say today about an outfit like FOX News. He maintained the American people should be exposed to a variety of opinions in the press and they would be naturally attracted to the "truth." The problem is these days, the "truth" seems to shift depending upon how it is presented.

The Skull

It's difficult for young horror film fans today to conceive of a time when real actors starred in such productions. Today much too much emphasis is placed on a film's concept, special effects and its monster, but not enough on presenting performances that mean something.

Yes, I was raised in the era of seeing Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing on screen I am proud to have interviewed Price and met Cushing, two remarkable gentlemen and these guys were classically trained actors who could bring something interesting to even some pretty weak scripts.

"The Skull" is a film that is a cut above some of the fare Lee and Cushing found themselves in, although it is certainly among their best films. Based on a short story by Robert Bloch, "The Skull" tells the story of two collectors of supernatural artifacts and what happened when the skull of the Marquis DeSade enter their lives.

Directed by two-time Academy Award-winning cinematographer Freddie Francis, the film presents the story more through visuals than dialogue at times.

I liked the film a lot as it still packs a creepy punch, although it maintains the horror film convention of the hero being told not to do something and yet he persists. Let's face it, many horror films would end at the 15-minute mark if the hero simply were sensible!

There are no extras other than the film's trailer.

Comedy Central's TV Funhouse

Oh what a nasty piece of work this is. A parody of sorts of an old fashioned kids shows in which a live action host would interact with puppets and introduce cartoons and short films, "TV Funhouse" enters regions of bad taste that Paul Reubens never did with his "Pee Wee Playhouse" back in the 1980s.

Undoubtedly that is because Peewee Herman was a parody aimed at kids. This show is aimed at adults and adults only. The puppets are venal characters involved with prostitutes, drugs, tapping the spinal fluid of the host, over-eating, gambling and generally abusing themselves and others.

Some of the material is funny in a very dark way, while most of it is shocking to the point of numbing you.

Extras include commentary by the show's puppets and the actual human creators and "dirty outtakes." Yikes!

This may be for many an expedition in comic unknown territory.


My wife and I had wanted to see his film, based on the controversial book "Bringing Down the House," but had missed it in theaters.

I'm glad we did. Although I watched the entire film, my wife realized that she could make phone calls and take a shower and still not lose her place in the story.

That's because the film opens with a sequence that telegraphs much of the general plotline. Director Robert Luketic may understand comedy he directed the mega-hit "Legally Blonde" but he doesn't understand how to handle suspense.

"21" tells the apparently highly fictionalized tale of a MIT professor recruiting a group of students to learn how to count cards and win at blackjack in Las Vegas. Our hero, Ben Campbell (played by Jim Sturgess) is, of course, an overachieving nerd who is looking for some way to make $300,000 for Harvard Medical School and reluctantly goes along when he is asked by his math professor (a smooth villain played by Kevin Spacey), the leader of the team.

Naturally the girl who is the object of his secret crush is a member of the team and naturally he gets all sorts of self-confidence as he begins to win. Naturally, there is a big fall awaiting him.

There are a couple of twists that are supposed to be surprises but aren't really.

Much was made of this film as being a depiction of real events, but the book on which it was based has been highly criticized by the actual members of the MIT blackjack team for inventing characters and events.

The filmmakers themselves proved to be pretty gutless by casting a white guy in the lead role that is based on an Asian-American.

"21" isn't worth your time.

The Extra Girl

You've heard of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd when it comes to silent humor. Perhaps you know who Mack Sennett and Hal Roach were. There's a good chance, though, you've not heard of the era's most successful female comic actor Mabel Normand.

Normand was never as big a star as Keaton or Chaplin who was an early co-star of hers but she was very popular and worked during the start of the film industry with many of its most influential people.

Kino on Video has now released one of the Normand's features, "The Extra Girl," on DVD and while it's not a classic, it's a solidly made, enjoyable comedy starring a woman who clearly knew how to act and how to take a pratfall.

And she was clearly comfortable looking ridiculous.

"The Extra Girl" tells the story of small-town girl who is movie crazy and convinced she could be an actress. By a twist of events she wins a contest with a film studio and skips town for Hollywood just in time to avoid an arranged marriage with a prosperous business owner.

Once in Hollywood, it's discovered the studio doesn't want her as an actress, but is willing to give her a job in the costume department.

This is a sweet little film and one that is well worth discovering. The print quality is very good and as an extra Kino has included a short comedy with Normand from 1913. This short gives the viewer a wonderful chance to see how far filmmaking had come in a decade.

Normand had setbacks both privately and professionally that certainly inhibited her career. Beset by poor health, she died in 1930 at the age of 35.

Once again, if you are an adventurous film fan willing to go back in time to discover a gem, latch onto a copy of "The Extra Girl."

The Spiderwick Chronicles

My wife and I took two young friends then ages 15 and 8 to this film when it in theaters and amazingly, it pleased not only them but us as well.

Based on the popular children's books by Tony DiTeruzzi and Holly Black, "The Spiderwick Chronicles" has the same kind of engaging charm as the "Harry Potter" series. The difference is the Potter series is an epic creating a whole new world, while "The Spiderwick Chronicles" keeps one foot in the fantastic and the other firmly planted in the real world.

After a bitter divorce, the three Grace children move into their mom's family estate, Spiderwick. There, one of the twin brothers, Jared, finds not only the journal of Arthur Spiderwick, but also an invisible world populated by brownies, sprites, hobgoblins and demons. His discovery of the book sets into motion an adventure that not only brings some balance to the unseen world but to his fractured family as well.

This is a very accomplished film with Freddie Highmore giving a great performance as twin brothers as well as Sarah Bolger as their first unbelieving sister.

The two-disc DVD set is loaded with extras on the making of the film that bring insight into the challenge of reacting to cast members who are in a computer rather than on the set.

A superior fantasy film for the entire family, make sure you see "The Spiderwick Chronicles."

The Magic of Melies

The cinema's first international hero was also among its first casualties. Georges Melies came from the world of theatrical magic and was drawn to the novelty of the early cinema literally at the turn of the 20th century. Although his subjects were at first similar to other films of the era short snippets of either street life or music hall gags Melies soon discovered that if he stopped the camera, he could make things appear and disappear.

With his natural attraction to magic, Melies began using the camera to create fantastic illusions depictions of other worlds, recreations and embellishments of magic acts and the earliest science fiction on films.

Melies' career was undone by changes in the film industry and he was forced into bankruptcy. He and his films were rediscovered in the early 1930s.

This disc has beautiful prints of 15 Melies shorts plus a 1978 documentary on his life and career. Anyone who is seriously interested in the origins of cinema should see this collection from Kino on Video.

Journey to 10, 000 B.C.

My buddy Mark Masztal and I had a ball when we saw the fantasy film "10,000 B.C." now out on DVD because it was an old-fashioned-doesn't-have-to-make-any-sense-Ray Harryhausen-style adventure. I mean, how you could not love a movie with cavemen, sympathetic saber-toothed tigers, terror birds and super creepy alien-like Egyptians?

Well, this new documentary from the folks at the History Channel doesn't have any cavemen being forced to build pyramids, but it does try to recreate the world of 10,000 B.C. here in North America.

Although the computer animation of mammoths and other long-dead beasts isn't as accomplished as in the fantasy of almost the same name, the film's facts make awfully compelling viewing. How did the first Americans come to this continent? Why does the geologic record show a time in which humans seemed to be almost wiped out? Why were there such drastic climate changes?

So see the fantasy first, but then make sure you watch this informative documentary.

Vantage Point

This under-rated thriller about a presidential assassination may not have received attention from movie fans when it was in theaters earlier this year, but it is well worth your time if you enjoy an original story told in a unique way.

Although telling the same story from different points of view is not new, writer Barry Levy and director Pete Travis created an revolving format: an American president in Spain for a terrorism summit is shot and the story is told from the point of view of a Secret Service agent (Dennis Quaid), a tourist (Forest Whitaker), a Spanish police officer, and ultimately the terrorists themselves.

Quaid's character is an agent who six months before took a bullet for the president and is considered to be on shaky emotional ground still. His performance strikes just the right note of being a man who is at first unsure of his abilities who comes to realize he is still capable of doing his job.

To write more about the plot would be a great disservice as there are several major twists and turns. A solid, entertaining thriller, this film should be on your viewing list.

Comedy Central's Home Grown

Way back in the dim, dark 1970s, Warner Brothers Records used to have collections of their artists on promotional albums that were very cheap as a way to introduce listeners to new artists and music. That's what I thought of when I received this three-hour collection of sample episodes and segments from several Comedy Central original series.

Since most, if not all, of the shows represented on the disc are already available on DVD, I can't imagine who would want this disc, unless it's aimed at people totally unaware of the Comedy Central programming.

There are complete episodes from "The Sarah Silverman Program" (yeech!), "TV Funhouse" (truly and enjoyable bizarre), "Strangers with Candy" (also quite bizarre, but in a good way), "Lewis Black's Root of All Evil" (very funny), and "Reno 911!" (a classic).

There are also sketches from "Chapelle's Show," "Drawn Together," and one of my favorites, "Viva Variety."

As extras, the disc has an episode of the 1980s PBS staple, "the Joy of Painting," an educational film showing what webs spiders weave when they've been given LSD and several animated shorts from "The Animation Show." There's no particular connection between the extras and the contents of the disc.

It's a fairly inexplicable artifact, but does have some good moments.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Senator Barack Obama is going to celebrate his birthday in the Bay State and we can help! Read on:

At the New England Steering Committee meeting on Wednesday, it was announced that Senator Obama will be in Boston on August 4, his 47th birthday. There will be two fundraising events in Boston that evening at the State Room, 60 State Street. They are expected to be his only fundraising events in New England before the convention and possibly before the election.

- A reception for contributions of $1,000 to $2,300 per person. Doors will open at 4:00 p.m. and Senator Obama will speak at about 5:30 p.m. (maximum: about 800 people). This event is likely to fill up very quickly.

- A dinner for $28,500 per couple* (or $14,250 per person). This includes the reception and a photo line with Senator Obama (expected: about 150 people).

Isn't his campaign about change? Empowerment of new groups of voters? Then we do we have to go through such typical demonstrations of elitism?

Sure I'm going to vote for him, because I've had enough of Republican administrations and I don't want Senator McCain. But I hope that all of this talk about change is genuine and Obama really isn't another Republican-lite like Bill Clinton frequently proved to be.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Friday, July 18, 2008

I was at Governor Patrick's Town Meeting in Holyoke last night...a more in-depth report will follow.

However at the center of the discussion – there were over 200 people there who were given to ask questions of the governors; only seven or eight had that opportunity – was his budget cuts that affect a number of programs in Western Massachusetts.

At a press availability at the end of the meeting, I asked Patrick how it felt to be talking with people whose programs and services he cut. I pointed out that across the canal – the meeting was conducted in front of the Children's Museum at Heritage State Park – was a teen center run by Girl's Inc. that had lost $50,000 of its funding and is now trying to scramble to keep the place open. It serves 1,000 girls a year.

Patrick said that these were no easy decision and that he was trying to be "prudent."

I've heard from several mayors the predictions for the next fiscal year of 2010 are dire with reduced revenues expected. Here is a report that discusses this year's revenues so far and what is expected in the future:

Revenue Commissioner Navjeet K. Bal today announced that preliminary revenue collections for fiscal year 2008 were $20.888 billion, an increase of $1.152 billion or 5.8 percent over fiscal 2007 collections. The total is $663
million above the fiscal 2008 estimate of $20.225 billion.

“FY2008 was a record year for revenue collections, but the driving elements of that record year – income tax paid on capital gains, dividends and interest, settlement of some large tax cases, and strong withholding tax
collections – will likely not occur again in FY2009,” said DOR Commissioner Navjeet K. Bal.

Revenue collections for the month of June were $2.273 billion. The total was less than the collection of June 2007 by $21 million or 0.9 percent, but was $33 million or 0.9 percent above the monthly benchmark.

“For the second month in a row, overall collections fell below the levels seen in May and June of 2007,” Bal said. “May’s drop was partially due to quicker processing of tax returns in April, but with the June numbers we are
clearly seeing a slowdown unrelated to the speed of tax return processing.”

For the year ending June 30, income tax collections totaled $12.493 billion, an increase of $1.094 billion or 9.6 percent, $455 million above the benchmark. Withholding, which increased $433 million or 5.0 percent, was $29 million over the yearly benchmark, but income from tax estimated payments which include capital gains, dividends and interest rose $697 million or
17.1 percent, which was $481 million above the benchmark. Refunds were $1.334 billion, up $38 million or 2.9 percent, $56 million over benchmark. Sales tax, considered a bellwether for consumer spending and confidence, was
$4.086 billion, up only $21 million, or 0.5 percent, $54 million below the yearly benchmark. Corporate and business tax collections of $2.549 billion for the year were up $72 million, or 2.9 percent, $275 million above the
benchmark, with most of the growth coming from several large settlements totaling $218 million received from financial institutions for taxes due in prior years. Without those settlements, all of which represent a one-time
revenue boost, corporate and business tax collection would have been at least $146 million less than last year.

Total tax collections for the month of June were below the benchmark for both income and sales tax but were above the monthly benchmark for corporate and business tax collections.

Income tax collections for June were $1.246 billion, up $27 million or 2.2 percent from a year ago, but $8 million below benchmark. The only income tax type to exceed the June monthly benchmark was income from estimated
payments, $49 million or 10.5 percent more than a year ago, $49 million over benchmark. Withholding tax was down $3 million or 0.4 percent from a year ago, $36 million below the benchmark.

Sales and use tax collection of $349 million was down $3 million, or 1.0 percent from June 2007, $9 million below benchmark.

Corporate and business tax collections of $514 million were down $19 million, or 3.5 percent from a year ago but $49 million above the monthly benchmark.

So is Patrick being smart and preparing for the worse? Will the Legislature take a cue from him and not restore his vetoes? Time will tell. Right now, though there are programs and services that provide a safety net of sorts that will be going away. How will that affect our standard of living as a region?

©2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ann Corio in one of her epics for PRC in the mid-forties. I haven't been able to figure out which one.

Perhaps the best known stripper who ever lived was Gypsy Rose Lee whose life was the basis of the hit musical "Gypsy." An attempt to break into films in the 1930s failed, but she did manage to appear in a number of movies as either the female lead or as a character actress.

Lee's book, "The G-String Murders," which was a highly popular murder mystery, was adapted into the film "Lady of Burlesque." The actor with the odd hat was Pinkly Lee, a burlesque comic who was a popular kids TV show host in the 1950s,

When I was a kid, I remember seeing ads for Ann Corio's "This was Burlesque" show as Corio and her husband owned the Storrowton Music Tent in West Springfield and would occasionally revive the show as part of their summer theater series.

(Do well-known performers tour with summer shows any more? Or is this just another dead form of entertainment? I saw Theodore Bikel in "Fiddler on the Roof," Milton Berle in "The Last of the Red Hot Lovers" – in which he was heckled – Ruby Keeler in "No No Nanette" and Kreskin in well, a Kreskin performance.)

I had little idea what burlesque was except I grew to understand it meant women taking off their clothes to music. It sounded intriguing.

Of course burlesque was much more. During its glory years from the mid-Twenties to the mid-1950s, burlesque shows meant music, variety acts, comedians and strippers. It should be noted the best exotic dancers were known for their acts as well as their figures.

Corio was among the elite of the "peelers," women who commanded a lot of money and did non-burlesque work such as appearing in legit movies – not to be confused with expliotation road shows.

Strip clubs today – even in larger cities – seem to have little inclination to recreate burlesque and it's interesting that a new burlesque has grown out of punk and goth lifestyles as well as an affection for retro entertainment. Google the word "burlesque" and you'll see what I mean.

I was interested when I heard that local dancers were re-creating a burlesque show and I wrote the following:

SPRINGFIELD – In 1962, former burlesque queen Ann Corio brought back the era of the showgirl and the baggy-pants comic in her show “This Was Burlesque.” Rose Bailey is hoping to do the same in 2008.

Bailey is staging a traditional burlesque show on Aug 2. at 8 p.m. in the Bourbon Street section of the Mardi Gras Gentleman’s Club on Taylor Street.

Like Corio’s show – which ran on Broadway and toured for 20 years which included stops in Springfield – Bailey’s production will feature dancers in elaborate costumes, a live band, and comedy. Worcester-based comedian Frank Foley and swing dancer instructor Christopher LaMontagne will also perform.

Bailey said the show will be “very couple friendly” and should appeal to people who have enjoyed shows such as “Cabaret” and “Chicago.”

The two-hour show is “packed with Vegas and Broadway style entertainment,” she said.

With a smile she added, “a lot of flash and a little bit of trash.”

Bailey, who comes from a show-business family and has been dancing professionally since age 16, explained she has been preparing the show for the last four months. The show includes numbers that are salutes to burlesque queens of the past such as Gypsy Rose Lee.

Traditional burlesque, which thrived in various forms from the 1920s to the 1950s, was the training ground for a number of well known-comedians from Abbot and Costello to Phil Silvers. Strippers such as Corio, Lee and Lily St. Cyr all had crossover careers in other areas of show business.

In the past decade there has been an increase in interest in the traditional form with burlesque troupes as the Velvet Hammer in Los Angeles and Le Scandal in New York City.

Bailey said she was motivated to stage the production to show younger dancers what classic burlesque was all about.

Following the Aug. 2 performance Bailey will bring her Bourbon Street Burlesque Troupe to the World Burlesque Convention at the Mandalay Bay casino in Las Vegas from Aug. 25-28. The troupe will perform there and Bailey hopes to secure bookings for the show and tour the country.

Tickets are $25 for the show and $50 for VIP seats that include a meal catered by the 350 Grill, Bailey said. On sale now at the Mardi Gras, Bailey said tickets, if available, would be at the door the night of the show.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, July 14, 2008

There are few things I like better than exploring local history and for this blog ( and the newspapers I edit) I'm going to present a few first-person expeditions into history that is staring us in the face that we pass by almost every day.

CHICOPEE – I was thankful I had lost a little weight as I quickly concluded that if I were just a bit wider I wouldn’t make it up the narrow staircase that runs along the wall of the clock tower in Chicopee City Hall.

Mayoral Aide Scott Szczebak suggested that he and I ask City Messenger Earl Desrochers to give us a tour of City Hall that would reveal a bit of its history. Thanks Scott.

When built in 1871, Chicopee City Hall was designed as a multi-use building – it was the home of the court, the police and the jail as well as various city departments.

The building was so heavily used that in 1929 the annex was built to allow for necessary expansion.

The dedication date is noted in the two white marble and metal plaques that are on both sides of the hall’s Front Street entrance. If you’ve passed by them without looking, these honor the city’s men who lost their lives in the Civil War, still a conflict at the top of people’s minds in 1871.

It was also a social center of the community with its auditorium the site for functions such as dances. It was designed to seat 900 people.

We started our tour from the bottom and worked our way up. Desrochers showed us how his office in the basement was in the location of the former police station. There was a firing range in which the police sharpened their skills that was in use until the 1970s and remains of the lock-up with iron bars still adorning a bricked up window.

The auditorium was the next stop. The large room with two balcony areas hasn’t been used for about eight or nine years, Desrochers said. Part of the problem is the cost of keeping the areas either warm or cool, but a more prominent challenge is the condition of the plaster moldings at the top of the walls.

Desrochers picked up a chunk of plaster that had fallen. It was quite heavy and there is a concern about the safety of the public in the room. There has been work started in restoring some of the plaster especially around the circular stained glass window featuring an eagle on the wall facing Front Street. A large artificial Christmas wreath had been installed there over the window several years ago but the building could not support the the additional weight and nearly tore the window out, he said.

Mayor Michael Bissonnette has told this reporter in the past that he would like to see the auditorium converted into a television studio that could be used as the site of Aldermanic and School Committee meetings, among other uses.

It is said that author Charles Dickens even made a stop in one of his American tours speaking at the auditorium. It’s a great story, but untrue as Dickens died in 1870.

Desrochers explained the current aldermanic chambers were originally the city’s courtrooms.

Desrochers then asked with a smile if we were ready for the clock tower. The tower is 147 feet tall and was patterned after the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence, Italy. The tower has three clock faces that were installed in 1888 and is topped with an eagle weathervane that was made across the street at the former Ames Manufacturing Company. Its wingspan is seven feet.

The staircase is in pretty good condition, although quite narrow and frankly it felt a bit like mountain climbing at times. After a few minutes worth of exertion we poked our heads through the opening on the floor of the clock mechanism.

Now electrically powered, the clock was ticking away on two of its three faces – the third of which had a broken rod between the clock’s hands and its workings. In one corner of the small room – the three of us barely fit along with the clock mechanism – was an open wooden shaft that Desrochers said was for the pulley and weight system that originally powered the clock.

On two walls were souvenirs of the past – names of people who had made the trek of the stairs dating back to the 1930s. Desrochers guessed these were folks who had attended a dance or other social function at the auditorium and sneaked up the stairs to the clock room. Unlike today’s graffiti there were no obscenities – just names and years written primarily in chalk.

There was just one place to go and that was the bell chamber above us. I was game for the task until I saw the ladder. It was perched on a narrow sliver of flooring that had some discomforting give to it. I noticed that the first rung of the clearly hand-made wooden ladder was snapped.

This way to the bell

Doing some quick mental math – how far would an overweight reporter fall when the old wooden ladder he was on gave way – I decided that discretion was indeed the better part of valor.

But Scott came to the rescue, as he knew that Systems Engineer Michael Lareau had ascended into the bell chamber and had photos he took from the small balcony area that is on one side of the tower.

Lareau shared both his experiences – the view was great but he was initially unsure of the balcony structural integrity – and his photos.

The next time you pass by City Hall take a moment to consider what that build could say if it could talk of the changes it has witnessed in the community it serves.
© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Re: Springfield

This just in...The House has made some interesting changes to the loan repayment bill for the city undoubtedly based in part on the testimony heard in the recent and sometimes contentious hearing conducted at City Hall.

Here's the release:

Springfield, MA: Representative Cheryl A. Coakley-Rivera (D-Springfield), House Chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities and the Springfield delegation foresee the passage within the week of the Springfield Financial Stability Bill, H. 4824 entitled “An Act Further Providing for the Financial Stability of the City of Springfield.”

Representative Coakley-Rivera calls special attention to the following changes in the bill:
o The loan repayment to the Commonwealth has been extended from 7 years to 10 years, due in 2022.

o The Mayoral term ballot question, changing the term of office to 4 years from 2 years, will now be on the ballot in 2009 at the “regular city election” instead of this fall. If passed, the first 4-year Mayoral term will begin in 2011.

o The Committee to study the Mayor’s pay will now include a member of the City Council appointed by the Council President instead of a representative of the Chamber of Commerce. This ensures that a resident of Springfield will be on the Mayoral Pay Study Committee.

“We went to the bat for Springfield and delivered a grand slam for our constituents and our city,” said Rep. Coakley-Rivera. “We have safeguarded Springfield’s financial future by insisting on better repayment terms of the state’s loan, ensured that citizens will have the time to learn about and evaluate the proposed change in the Mayoral term, and have input on the Mayor’s salary.”

More to come

Friday, July 04, 2008

Okay, I'm hitting the road a bit with a mini-book tour in two locations on Tuesday July 8.

Here's the official press release:

The Center for Cartoon Studies & Main Street Museum’s ARTifacts Summer Film Series and Left Bank Books presents an evening with animation historian and scholar G. Michael Dobbs in a two-state, two-town event on Tuesday, July 8.

Dobbs will be signing and reading from his new book “Escape!” at Left Bank Books in Hanover, NH at 6:15 PM, followed at 8 PM by an evening lecture and exhibition of vintage animated cartoons at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, VT.

Dobbs, who is currently writing a biography of pioneer animator Max Fleischer, will discuss the Pre-Code Fleischer Brothers animation of the 1930s (Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown, Popeye, etc.) and its influence on the cutting edge work of the 1990s that helped re-define the medium for the 21st Century.

Max and Koko

What rescued animation from the kidvid ghetto in the 1990s? What propelled cartoons from something adults barely admitted watching to a form of entertainment that appealed to multiple generations? “Escape! How Animation Broke into the Mainstream in the 1990s” chronicles the rise of animation with updated articles from “Animato!” and “Animation Planet” magazines as well as new pieces.

G. Michael Dobbs saw the industry change first-hand as editor of those two publications. Interviewing both the rising stars and the vets of the animation industry, Dobbs gave his readers a front row seat to an entertainment revolution.

A writer and former radio talk show host, Dobbs has working Western Massachusetts’ mass media for over 30 years with stints at The Valley Advocate, Holyoke Transcript-Telegram and Westfield Evening News. He's interviewed dozens of personalities as diverse as elected officials such as Michael Dukakis, Eliot Richardson and George MacGovern to best selling authors (Sidney Sheldon, Alan Dershowitz) to film legends (Vincent Price, Lillian Gish) to television personalities (Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Clayton Moore, Elvira).

Dobbs is also a nationally recognized animation authority through his position as editor of Animato! and Animation Planet, two magazines for animation fans. He taught as an adjunct faculty member for 13 years at Western New England College, instructing students in the development of mass communications and the history of film. His freelance writing has appeared national in Video Watchdog, USA Today and Rod Serling Twilight Zone Magazine. He joined Reminder Publications as the editor of the Chicopee Herald and is now the managing editor of the company’s five publications, which reach about 130,000 readers in western Massachusetts.

His second book, a postcard history of Springfield, MA from Arcadia Publishing will be published Aug. 25. He lives in Springfield, MA with his wife Mary, a disobedient Bichon and way too many cats.

Left Bank Books is located at 9 South Main Street in Hanover, NH; for more information on the 6:15 PM signing and reading event, call 603-643-4479. The cartoons and lecture will begin at 8 PM at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction at 58 Bridge Street. The cartoons are all unrated but suitable for all ages; admission for the 8 PM event is $5 per person, free for Museum members and CCS students; for more information, call 802-356-2776. The ARTifacts Summer Film Series will continue through July and August.

Gee, makes me sound kind of important! I know better!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

I find the stuff I get sent to me by the Zogby polling people to be pretty fascinating. Here's the latest. What do you think?

We at Zogby International are always looking for new ways to understand the American voter, and in that endeavor, what we have found is that the old political paradigms just don't work today. For instance, we are thinking that the Red State vs. Blue State phenomenon may pass into history this year, with so many states being in play.

We've said right along--including in this column-that instead, this is a year to watch the swing voter and the centrist voter, who are back after a hiatus. There is evidence that these independent, centrist voters are going to play a big part in the presidential elections, but what does that mean? Who are these people? Have they changed much over the last decade? Who will they support this fall?

The Way We’ll Be by John Zogby

The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream
Available From Random House on August 12th

Pre-order your copy of The Way We’ll Be today from one of these retailers:, Barnes & Noble, Book Sense, Powell’s, Random House

There has been lots of talk about white ethnic voters or the white working-class voters. These are the people who, on the Democratic side of the aisle, gave Hillary Clinton her substantial primary election wins over Barack Obama in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. These are the former Reagan Democrats who had supported Bill Clinton but who have since climbed up onto the political fence to sit for a spell.

Can Obama win this group in November? Well, he didn't this spring, so that's our first clue. Another is the fact that neither Al Gore nor John Kerry won their support. It is a safe guess to say Obama would be in the same situation. If he is to avoid the same electoral fate as was suffered by Gore and Kerry, he must find other voters elsewhere.

But can he find enough voters elsewhere to make up for the loss of that voter bloc? Perhaps. This year we are looking at increased turnout among minorities, including Latino turnout, because of the immigration issue and an expected very large turnout of younger voters.

Incidentally, young people turned out in 2004. They maintained their percentage, about 20% of the total vote, from 2000 and 2004. The problem for the Democrats is that everyone else turned out, too. This time we're looking at young people perhaps to be 22-23% of the total vote and Obama doing particularly well. And I should say they were 20% of 105 million in 2000, 20% of 122 million in 2004 - this year we're looking at 130-135 million voters, so that 22-23% of the total is significant, as is a heightened turnout of blacks and Latinos.

We're working to identify the earmarks of two new kinds of voters - we call them the Equinox Voters, because they fall into two distinct groups: the "Spring-Aheads" and the "Fall-Backers."

The Spring-Aheads are the economic winners in America today, who largely reside in regions that have turned themselves around. They are the reason that southern New Hampshire, central and southwestern North Carolina, southern Florida, Colorado, parts of New Mexico - even growing parts of Wyoming and Montana - may be considered in play this election cycle. These are areas growing in diversity, in the population of the "creative class," and, for the Democrats, these are the areas that are the antidote to the areas mired in economic decline.

Those are the areas populated by many Fall Backers who have suffered at the hands of the changes in the U.S. economy over the past 15 years. They have not been able to recover from the movement from a manufacturing to an information economy. They are working for less money than they made a decade ago, and include those with uncertain futures and those who are concerned about maintaining a middle-class status. Those who fit this bill, historically, are less open to diversity. They are concerned about minorities because they represent a challenge in the workplace and elsewhere.

Fall Backers can be found in central and western Pennsylvania, the northern tier of Ohio, the southern tier of Indiana, and West Virginia. They can also be found in pockets in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, as well as in some parts of other Midwestern states.

The Equinox voters carry with them a political irony. That is that Fall Backers used to be Democrats, because Democrats are supposed to be the party of the people, of the working class. But now, they are identifying in greater numbers with Republican ideas and proposals. Meanwhile, the Spring Aheads would traditionally be Republicans - entrepreneurs and the party of the burgeoning voters on the move.

So what's behind this flip? What's making the Republicans more attractive to the economic losers and the Democrats the party of the economic winners? With an economy that's still in transition, Republicans have still not quite adjusted. In many ways, this is old economy vs. new economy.

I regularly speak to the National Association of Manufacturers; they're Republicans. Old economy is Republicans. You go to Palo Alto or Boston, they're Democrats, that's new economy. That's one part of it. Another factor is that is that when arguments go beyond economy, when people don't have a way of understanding what's happening in their world, there's a tendency to fall backward into tradition, to find scapegoats in immigrants, on race, on gays, or on anything that people perceive is making their world different.

At Zogby, we're asking the kinds of questions that probe this new Equinox Voters paradigm to truly understand this election. Stay tuned for what we find out.