Saturday, March 31, 2007


In the mid-1980s when I was a talk show host, I met a local film collector with whom I was a friend for the better part of 10 years. He had been exchanging prints of films with Alex Gordon, the film producer and archivist who at that time was working for his boyhood idol Gene Autry.

When my friend learned Alex was going to be in Syracuse NY for a film festival called “Cinefest,” he rounded several of us up for a day trip to meet Alex.

It should be noted that driving for the better part of four hours, visiting the show for a few hours and then driving back was not a lot of fun, but the trip accomplished two things: it introduced me to one of my favorite events and to the Gordon brothers, Alex and Richard.

Alex was dumbfounded – rightly so – that we had driven all the distance just for a few hours. One of our car mates, a devoted Bela Lugosi fan, once introduced to Alex wanted to know who was a better actor: Boris Karloff or Lugosi. I can’t remember Alex’s answer except at the time I was greatly embarrassed by the pure fanboy-ness of the question.

In the years that followed I tried to go to Cinefest every spring. I know I missed two, but I think I’ve turned up to all of them since 1985 or ’86. The rest of my initial group long since stopped due to shifting interests and friendships.

Unlike Chiller Theater or comic cons, Cinefest is about one thing: watching films, primarily American to British films from the silent days to about 1948. Collector and archivist bring their 16mm prints to be screened and there is a 35mm presentation in an impressive restored film palace in downtown Syracuse.

You simply can’t see some of the films that unreel at Syracuse anywhere else. That’s what makes it so special.

There’s a small dealers area, which despite its size always has some great finds and bargains. Unlike so many conventions that have become niche flea markets, Cinefest holds true to its mission of being about movies.

Occasionally there have been celebrities at the show, aside from Alex and Richard. Director Radley Metzger is a regular as is film historian Leonard Maltin. The late film historian William K. Everson was also at the show every year. However these guys are there just to watch and talk movies and not sign autographs. Unless you know them by sight, you would probably never realize they are there.

There have been a trickle of authors who come to sell a book, but the organizers of Cinefest have always acted as if they sort of don’t know what to do with them.

This year was an exception as former 1930s child star (and a member of Our Gang), Jerry Schatz “Tucker” presented a slide show of his career and one of his best Our Gang short “Hi Neighbor” was shown. Schatz is a very nice guy and it was a pleasure to see him again (I had seen his presentation at a Sons of the Desert meeting back in the 1980s.)

This year Cinefest had its share of neat little discoveries and films I can’t say were particularly good, but were well worth watching. Here’s a run-down:

I Was a Spy: A 1932 WWI spy drama based on the life of Belgian woman who risked her life getting information to the Allies. Despite dumpy Herbert Marshall as the male lead, this film was a treat. Of course I’ll watch almost anything with the accomplished German actor Conrad Veidt who played the German commandant in the film. Veidt could have simply turned in a standard dirty Hun performance, but instead gives it a human quality that gives the film a welcomed complexity.

The best scene in the show is when Madeleine Carroll, playing the spy, accompanies a group of German soldiers out to field for an outdoor mass. She has tipped off the Allies and they bomb the gathering, which included wounded men. Her grief at what she had done mixed with the victory against the Germans portrays the true horrors of war.

Beau Brummel: John Barrymore (Drew’s grandfather) made a number of big costume dramas for Warner Brothers. They were the prestige productions for the company prior to “The Jazz Singer.” This one tells the story of the rise and fall of, for lack of a better term, a dandy. Brummel sets the fashions of London until he angers the Prince of Wales and he falls from grace. Although impressive in its look and performances, it was a bit of a downer.

White Savage: Now here’s the antidote for a downer. Holy smoke! This cotton candy Technicolor South Seas romance is an amazing example of escapist entertainment, especially considering it was made in 1943 at the height of World War II.

Maria Montez stars as the queen of an island and Jon Hall is the shark fisherman who wants permission to fish in the island’s waters. Naturally there are complications with bad guys and a volcano god! It appears this is the only part of the Pacific not affected by the war. With attractive leads, lush color photography and a very silly plot, this film was a highlight of the show.

Amateur Daddy: Cinefest seems to a have a soft spot for Warner Baxter, the actor best known for playing the director in “42nd Street,” and have a Baxter film almost every year. This year, there was an actually moving, if somewhat improbable, film in which Baxter’s character takes over rearing the kids of a dead co-worker. Baxter puts in a great performance and how could I not like a film with Frankie Darro is a prominent supporting role?

Things to Come: Science Fiction author H G Wells had one foray into filmmaking and this 1936 film featured both social commentary and, for the time, some amazing visuals. I hadn’t seen it since college and the print presented at Cinefest was one edited together from several sources to attempt to show the film was it might have originally looked. The film is actually quite involving until the last segment at which Wells gets onto a rickety soapbox. Still it was very worth watching.

Hal Roach expert Richard Ban showed a number of rarities from the studio that gave us Laurel and Hardy, among others, and while from an academic sense I was happy to see these shorts, many of them were just painful to sit through.
The Harry Langdon short shot in Spanish showed once just how unfunny a 45 year-old man can be while continuing a screen persona that calls for him to be an arrested infant. A Charlie Chase golf short, this one in French, went on and on and on. I had to leave. There was a great Max Davidson short that featured a very young Gordon “Wild Bill” Elliott before his cowboy days and an interesting entry in Roach’s The Boy Friends” series that starred stuntman great David Sharpe.

While Paris Sleeps: This 1932 drama starred a very subdued Victor McLaglen as a French convict who escapes from prison when he receives a letter from his wife shortly before her death imploring him to try to do something to help their daughter. The daughter, by the way, thinks her father dies a hero in WWI. This is a weepie, but one with some pretty hard edges. It was quite good, though.

Once in a Blue Moon: Oh, my, God! One of the best parts of Cinefest is having the opportunity to see a film that is a train wreck, a forgotten failure. This romantic comedy was written, directed and produced by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, titans of the American stage and was one of three films they made on the east coast through the Astoria Studios. The plot involves a group of Russian aristocrats who were attempting to get out of revolution Russia and not be executed by the Communists. They happen upon a traveling clown who has lost his theatrical troupe. He adopts them and they make their way – with some peril – eventually to Paris. Jimmy Savo plays the clown in a manner that would suggest his character was the unholy love child and Harry Langdon and Charles Chapin. It was such a cloying, saccharine mess I couldn’t tear my eyes of the screen. Boy, do I want this on video or DVD for further study!

There were other films I saw (a very funny jack Benny film “Man About Town” and the booze-soaked “The Captain Hates the Sea, among others) and I’m looking forward to next year’s show.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Thursday, March 29, 2007

I was afraid I'd get bushels of angry letters about this column, but I've received nothing so far. I really do believe that eliminating things such as class rankings wind up hurting kids rather than helping them.

To me this is perfect example of overly "liberal" thinking. We need to prepare our kids and support them but not coddle them.

Life isn't pretty for many people and we lie to our kids enough as is.

Leigh Catchepaugh, one of our graphic artists and all around smart guy, noticed in last week's rant a similar tone to a typical Andy Rooney screed the slightly out-of-touch geezer who is complaining about the mundane aspects of life.

I'm afraid that this week's column might also seem as if I'm stealing Rooney's shtick.

The decision of the Hampden-Wilbraham School Committee to phase out class standings for the class of 2010 is just plain silly. The idea is that ranking students in order of their academic achievements by percentile (top ten percent, top twenty percent, etc.) rather than number is supposed to force colleges to look at the whole student and not just grades.

The folks in Hampden and Wilbraham aren't the only people who have made this change. School officials in Amherst and Longmeadow have also switched.

Well, it if was good enough for me when I was in high school, wading through three-foot drifts to get to that one-room school house where I would dip Mary Lou's pigtails into the inkwell dang! There's Rooney again!

Many colleges already have admission procedures that consider more than grades, SATS and MCAS. Every parent who has a child currently in college knows a variety of factors come into play to jump over admission hurdles.

One of them is whether or not a college is desperate. Let's face it folks, when admissions are on the decline, colleges stretch their rules a bit. Don't ever forget that higher education is a business and they have to keep those class seats filled.

What I fear is this is further erosion of introducing young people to the fact that the playing field of life is not level. When it comes to issues such as race, religion and gender everyone must be equal, but that equality cannot and should not extend to abilities and performance.

When I was in high school (Class of 1972, Granby Junior-Senior High School), there was one honor roll. Either you were on it or you weren't. Now there are "high honors" and "honors" distinctions that are more inclusive.

The theory is by creating a lower tier schools can encourage more students to do better by affording them some academic recognition.

I don't buy that. I think the inclination is if a student makes the lower honors that may be good enough. It's time to pull up a comfy laurel to rest upon.

Life is built on perceptions and people use shorthand methods to form those perceptions. A grade point average and a class standing doesn't tell the whole story there are plenty of book-smart people who are real life morons but they are useful indicators.

What's next? No grades? Handling out As and Fs is too repressive and creates an unnecessary distraction? I hope not.

The goal of education should be to guide a student to find what is right for him or her. That kind of discovery can mean some tough times for a young ego, but that's okay with the right support from family, friends and school officials.

In an increasingly competitive world, we need more guidelines to help students achieve and not less.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

There is a whole bunch of television series making their way on DVD and into this week's column.

Secret Agent/Danger Man: The Complete Series

A&E Home Video has received all 86 episodes of the under-appreciated spy drama staring Patrick McGoohan. Popular culture in the 1960s was filled with spy movies, televisions and novels that were undoubtedly fueled by the Cold War.

The James Bond films and novels led the pack and many of the properties inspired by Ian Fleming's creation put greater emphasis on the sex and gadgets to the point of silliness.

The British production of "Danger Man" took a different tact. In well-written half hours, John Drake (played by McGoohan) used few gadgets or even guns to accomplish his tasks given to him at first by NATO, and then later by a somewhat sinister boss.

Drake was not above arguing with his bosses and wasn't afraid to allow people to see him sweat. This much more realistic approach created a show that was far different than the splashier "Man from U.N.C.L.E."

The show was expanded from a half-hour to an hour and the last two episodes a two-parter were shot in color.

After his run on "Danger Man," (which was known as "Secret Agent" when aired in this country), McGoohan went on to write and produce "The Prisoner," which many people saw as the unofficial sequel to the series.

These are shows that stand up to the test of time and, if you're a fan of "The Prisoner," they are must viewing.

For more information, log onto

The Hee Haw Collection

Now let's talk a series that doesn't stand the passing of years. "Hee Haw" was supposed to be a countrified version of "Laugh In," but it far surpassed "Laugh In" in longevity. "Hee Haw" was on the air as a syndicated show for more than 20 years.

By that measure it was certainly successful, but for non-country music fans the show was hard to take. Corny, stale jokes delivered by some dubious talent were the show's hallmarks that and a tremendous amount of exposed skin for a family show.

This release is one 50-minute show from 1983 and the highlights include performances by George Strait and Statler Brothers. Again, this a plus for country music fans, but for anyone else it's a snooze.

For more information, log onto

Whose Line Is It Anyway? The Original British Series Uncut and Uncensored

This four-disc set presents the origin for one of the most popular comedy series of recent years and covers the years 1988 to 1990.

The improvisational show lives and dies on the strength of its cast. Some people are much better than others and as such some half-hours are funnier. The earlier episodes are well worth watching, but seem a little ragged as the talented comedians were getting familiar to the show's format and with working with one another.

The show started out with an all-Brit cast and some, such as Tony Slattery, John Sessions, and Josie Lawrence are standouts. In this set, North Americans Greg Proops, Mike McShane, and Ryan Stiles were introduced.

One challenge some viewers will have is the use of British slang and references. As the series matured, or with the introduction of American and Canadian cast members, the local material seemed to be less prominent.

A very funny show, this set is something anyone who enjoys fresh comedy will appreciate.

For more information, log onto

© 2007 by G. Michael Dobbs

Monday, March 26, 2007

Here in Springfield, the majority of people drive or walk by the site of an event that was a turning point for our nation and never realize it. In January, the anniversary of Shay's Rebellion was noted here. I wrote the following piece for the papers I edit.

I really believe we live in very dangerous times. We have a president bent on unjustified war. We have a Congress lacking the will to stop him. Corporations control more and more of our daily lives. The era of the American middle class appears to be almost over. More and more people are working poor with little real hope for economic advancement.

We need a rebellion. Not with guns, not with violence, but with a re-affirmation of what this country represents. We need to bring jobs back to this country. NAFTA should be repealed. We need to protect American manufacturing with tariffs. We need a tax code that is fair to everyone. We should realize that new jobs must come out of the effort to address the conditions that have caused global warming. We need to protect ourselves by actually attacking the root causes that create terrorist activities.

I don't think it's too late for this nation, but the clock is ticking.

It's hard to believe that a Burger King stands almost on the spot of one of the most significant events in American history, but the fast food restaurant at the corner of State and Federal Streets is about where a group of angry farmers and Revolutionary War veterans made history.

It was there that Daniel Shays and his group of rebels were marching to take over the arsenal at the Springfield Armory. Although they failed, Shays's action proved to be the catalyst for the call for a Constitutional Congress and the drafting of the American Constitution.

Shays's place in American history was recently examined by a two-day symposium on Jan. 27 and 28 sponsored by the Springfield Armory National Historic Site and Springfield Technical Community College (STCC).

Richard Colton, the historian for the Armory museum, recently took this writer on a tour around the STCC grounds and where Shays's army made history.


Colton began the tour in the archives of the Armory museum. There he used several books from the collection to explain why Shays and his followers took the step of armed rebellion.

In one almanac from 1780, Colton pointed out a chart showing the inflation of the paper currency from the time of the Revolution to that year what had been $100 just a few years before now was $4,000.

The severe decrease in the value of money was coupled with high taxes to pay off the cost of the war, he explained. Actions by the Massachusetts Legislature had disenfranchised many residents taking away from them the ability to vote and make legal changes.

Colton said the Massachusetts Constitution, the oldest printed constitution, stipulated that one had to own property in order to vote and run for office.

"The true elite were unresponsive to the common people," Colton said.

With hard economic times, the state's courts were seizing farms and throwing people into debtor's prison.

"People thought the courts were out of control," Colton added.

The Articles of the Federation, Colton added, had not resulted in creating a nation, but instead "13 little countries" bound loosely together. Each state, for instance, produced its own currency.

Shays was one western Massachusetts resident who decided to take steps to correct matters. A Pelham farmer and landowner, Shays was a highly decorated Revolutionary War veteran who left the military with the rank of captain.

The deteriorating conditions of the early Commonwealth promoted Shays to band with others who felt the need for a new revolution and on Jan. 25, 1787, Shays led a makeshift army of about 1,200 to the federal arsenal in Springfield.

The arsenal, Colton said, had more guns, artillery and ammunition than anyplace in New England. Colton said if Shays had captured the arsenal he could have made Springfield his base camp for a longer challenge to Boston's power. He could have even established a new capitol here.


It is a numbingly cold day on the STCC campus and one wonders if it was as cold when Shays led his army down what was then called Boston Road, but what is now known as State Street. Shays had assembled his forces in the east and was marching from Wilbraham to the federal arsenal.

As Colton led me across the green in the center of the campus, he pointed out that this is not the complex Shays would have been approaching. Even though a number of the buildings are well over a century old the West Arsenal building built in 1808 is almost 200 years old none of them were standing when Shays and his men came.

Walking toward the entrance of the college, Colton said a militia force had been called to protect the arsenal from Shays. Although roughly the same size, the militia had the advantage of field pieces or cannons.

Colton said that Shays was hoping to rout the arsenal's defenders simply by intimidation of his forces, however, when Shays was fired upon by the cannon, the battle was over.

Old Boston Road had a curve to it and Shays had placed his most experienced men in the front of his formation. The cannon fire did not hit them but fired over them and struck the less seasoned fighters who were marching around the curve.

The green troops fled and Shays's army had to retreat. Shays had a price on his head and fled to Vermont. He eventually settled in New York where he received a pardon and died in 1825.

Colton said that contemporary historians did not treat Shays very well and wrote accounts of the rebellion with a pro-government slant. Even with that bias, Shays's actions pointed out the inequities that existed the need for a stronger federal government.

The symposium attracted historians from throughout New England to address the rebellions and its impact.

In a letter to James Madison on Jan. 30, 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote about Shays's Rebellion: "I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. Unsuccessful rebellions, indeed, generally establish the encroachments on the rights of the people which have produced them. An observation of this truth should render honest republican governors so mild in their punishment of rebellions as not to discourage them too much. It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government."

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, March 25, 2007

My buddy Mark always wants input on our new governor. Here's the latest I wrote.

There are many things in life that I do not understand.

For instance, I've noticed of late that everything has to be some sort of food flavor. Billboards on I-91 for Yankee Candle have proclaimed new scents that are actually food flavors, such as honeydew melon.

We're in the midst of the "flavorization" of America.

My wife recently bought toasted vanilla shampoo and a pink grapefruit body wash. When I was a kid, there was one flavor of lip balm wax with undertones of petroleum jelly. Now, there are dozens of flavors.

There's even flavored floss for cleaning your teeth.

No wonder I have trouble losing weight there are food reminders all around me!

For the life of me I don't know why women want to wear sweatpants with slogans across the seat. Why is Paris Hilton still famous? Why do some people pay for O.J. Simpson's autograph? Why don't people like Shemp?

And I don't understand why people are up in arms about Governor Patrick's declaration of wanting to take care of his wife during her treatment for depression and exhaustion.

The issue is so polarizing that my friends Brad Shepard and Bo Sullivan on WHYN sounded as if they were about to go at one another the other morning. Thank goodness, John "Binky" Baibak was there to stand between them. Whew!

The issue with any elected official who suffers a health emergency, either personally or within his or her family, is whether or not the duties of the office can still be performed.

As far as I can tell, Patrick has simply expressed concern for his wife's health and well being as any concerned spouse would. He has not said that he is taking a less active role in government or that he is turning over duties to others such as Lt. Governor Tim Murray.

He just wants to have some time, evenings and weekends, for his wife.

Of course that doesn't stop the hate-mongers such as Howie Carr from using this issue as fodder on his radio show.
According to Carr's web site, the question is whether or not a governor should have "flex time."

I thought Carr was supposed to be a smart big city media guy just oozing wisdom. All mayors, governors and presidents are on flextime Howie. How could you miss this one?

Did Carr and other critics count how many days their boy Romney was out of the state on his own agenda during his term?

The interesting thing is the people who hate Patrick are using his wife's illness as a means to bash him.

It's not fair.

If they want to bash him, they have too many real issues, the most recent being his misstep over making an inappropriate political phone call supporting ACC Capital Holdings' efforts to a loan from Citigroup.

I'm not pleased that a lawyer as smart as he is couldn't tell this was none of his business.

I still believe that Patrick was a good choice for governor and that he still has the potential to effectively lead the state. He has to get his act together, though, to build the political capital needed to make meaningful change.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Two new films are featured in the week's DVD column.

Casino Royale

Toss out nearly all of the sex. Delete the double entendres. Leave the gadgets at home.

The producers of the latest James Bond film are asking audiences to forget almost everything they know about the venerable spy character. In "Casino Royale" we all start from scratch.

Their new approach to the material is a fast moving highly entertainment action picture.

Bond (Daniel Craig) is a headstrong brutish British agent who has just earned his "license to kill." He has little respect for his boss "M" (Dame Judi Dench) who, in turn, has little respect for him.

The pair finds they do need each other as Bond tries to track down a financier of international terrorism. To trap Le Chiffre, (Mads Mikkelsen) Bond intends to bankrupt him by beating him at a high stakes poker game. Le Chiffre's terrorist clients won't let him live if he loses the money they've given him to invest.

Accompanying Bond to the game Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) a British treasury official who is essentially Bond's banker. Since Bond is playing with $10 million of government money, Lynd is supposed to keep her eye on him.

"Casino Royale" is an origin film for the Bond character and it is clearly designed to set the tone for future Bond films with Craig.

In many ways, the filmmakers have taken a page out of Hong Kong action movies to revitalize the series. Many American action films rely upon guns and cars to drive the thrills. Hong Kong films have used athleticism of their stars (and stunt doubles) as their base.

Although there are guns and cars in this film, the shift has been away from technology and to what Bond can do all by himself. The opening sequence, in which Bond pursues a suspected terrorist bomber through a construction site, is breath taking. The sequences can boast of great stunt work, exhilarating editing and a conclusion that speaks volumes of Bond's character.

There is also a welcomed departure from the classic "Bond girl," the alluring heroine, supporting character or villain whose main purpose was to add sex appeal to the picture. Eva Green's character, while providing some romance and sex appeal, is not there merely as scenery.

The two-disc set includes a couple of great extras including a documentary on "Bond girls," and an analysis on how key action sequences in the film were realized.

For more information, log onto

The Holiday

Normally, I wouldn't waste the limited time I have on this Earth watching a film that I suspect from the trailer would be formulaic, but "The Holiday" hooked me with the prospect of seeing Jack Black as a romantic leading man.

Most comics are seldom satisfied with simply making people laugh. They want to be taken "seriously." So we have Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey the latest in a long line of funnymen tackling dramatic roles to show their range as performers.

Granted I think successful comedies are among the most difficult films to produce and people in the business would agree. The British actor Donald Wolfit once said, "Dying is easy; comedy is hard."

That does not stop folks from trying and in "The Holiday," Black is pretty successful making us believe Kate Winslet's character could fall in love with him. Dressed in black and looking slimmer, Black has very of his characteristic manic mannerisms.

The movie is about two women trying to distance themselves from the pain of a bad relationship by exchanging houses over the Christmas vacation. Winslet swaps her English country house for Cameron Diaz's Los Angeles mansion. Naturally, both women meet men who heal their hurts and love and hilarity ensues.


Well, director and writer Nancy Myers doesn't understand how the element of surprise can be used to make a film entertaining. Instead she is quite content trotting out standard romantic comedy elements that we have seen a million times.

The fast-forward button comes in quite handy with this film.

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© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Everyone is always yapping these days about losing rights. It used to be when I was a mere boy and beardless youth that it was conservatives who were concerned about losing their freedoms. Conservatives led the march against fluoridation. They said that people should receive some sort of compensation for sending their kids to private school. And goddamn it, they won't stand for helmet laws or seatbelt laws or bottle bills.

"Don't make me do something that's good for me. I want the right to act stupidly!"

It's funny how so many people who identify themsleves as conservative had a hard time with equal rights for women or breaking down color barriers. Make them wear a helmet so their brain don't splatter on the sidewaltk though and thems fightin' words!

These days it's been many liberals who are concerned about their loss of rights through the Patriot Act and other Bush inspired legal actions. It's funny that not too many conservatives don't talk about the erosion of habeas corpus. They don't speak about warrantless searches. Nope, that kind of freedom loss doesn't seem to bother them. Old Rushie and his ilk don't allow talk about that.

Oh, but it's okay to out an undercover CIA agent because her husband embarassed the Regime. That freedom of speech is just fine.

The beauty of America is that one person's freedom is not necessarily important to another person. If your ox isn't being gored then so what? Right? Aren't we supposed to protect the Constitution and the public good?

The rant I wrote below probably confused some of my readers as I really support the rights of private clubs to participate in lawful activities and smoking for adults is lawful. I do think that public health board are acting in a hypocritical manner. Banning smoking should now lead to a prohibition of tobacco, booze, McDonald's fries, lap dances, corned beef sandwiches, and all candy.

I wonder if liberals and conservatives could find middle ground on those "freedoms."

I'm not much of a smoker. I've never tried cigarettes. I have a cigar a couple of times a year outside where it won't stink up the house. My father had quit smoking before I was born and my mother never smoked.

My wife doesn't smoke. My foster daughter doesn't and I hope my grand daughter never starts.

All of this is to say I'm not an advocate of smoking at all and yet I think Springfield's Public Health Council and the corresponding bodies in Holyoke, Chicopee and Agawam did something with which I can't agree: they all banned smoking in private clubs.

The argument I heard the other night was that the health dangers of smoking trumped the rights of individuals who are members of private clubs. Smoking creates severe health problems, the members of the Council all said. A ban would help protect club employees from second hand smoke as well.

Now I'm all in favor of seat belt laws. I think recycling bottles is just fine, too. A lot of people in the Commonwealth fought both measures despite the public good these laws created.

I think that laws that govern how one person's behavior can affect the public are mostly good for us. Yeah, I'm a liberal.

I do think, though, that laws that dictate private lawful behaviors cross a line.

I don't care what you do in your own house, as long it's legal. Don't tell me what to do in my house, either.

And private clubs should be treated in the same way.

Maybe now I'm a libertarian.

No one holds a gun to your head and tells you to be an Elk. If you're interested in joining you know that part of that experience might include smokers in the bar at the Lodge. Your membership is consent to activities such as smoking.

If you really don't like smoking, you probably wouldn't join and would seek another activity. There are plenty of ways to seek fellowship and do something positive for your community.

Adults can smoke. It's legal in certain places. No one at last week's meeting expressed any opposition to the idea that smoking has been banned from workplaces, bars, restaurants and other public areas. They just wanted to be allowed to smoke in their private members-only clubs.

Here's the great unsaid: our society includes behaviors that are dangerous and stupid, but are so ingrained they are legal. No one wants to debate the overall legality of smoking, knowing full well a prohibition would be a disaster.

So we must tolerate the habit. Kids shouldn't be allowed to smoke and taking it out of the public arena makes sense. Allowing in private areas makes sense, also.

The decision now politicizes the issue. It has become an argument of "rights."

Here is what I would have done if I had been a member of a Board of Health in one of these communities: I would have met with representatives of the various organizations and asked to run smoking education and other health programs at their locations.

I bet they would have agreed. Perhaps some would have considered going smoke free.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Friday, March 09, 2007

Getting Personal
You want personal? Here's a photo from our foster daughter's wedding reception of our dog, Lucky the Wonder Bichon, in his tux.

I've started a new blog, Animation Review (see the link over yonder) where I hope to build up a community of animation fans carping about the bad and touting the good in animation these days.

Why start another blog? Since I’m not a famous type whose fans hang on his or her most mundane of activities, I’ve seldom written about anything truly personal. I mean who the hell cares about me, my wife, our foster daughter and granddaughter, etc. except our family and circle of friends?

Hey I’m not on the cross here…I need the wood, too. I just don’t want to fall into the category of blogging that one of former staffers disparaged so much: personal stuff.

And because I work for a company sensitive about their image, I’ve been reluctant to write anything much about myself. There are always topics that I would like to explore that I cannot for fear of severe reactions from a variety of folks.

This year I will hit age 53 and I will have been a professional writer for 32 years. I’ve have been very lucky. I’ve interviewed people I’ve admired and have had the chance to work in radio, run a nationally distributed magazine and teach college classes. I’ve had a lot of fun. I’ve made crap for money, but I’ve had fun. And fun counts pretty large in life.

I’m on the downhill slide of my life span and I’ve got a lot of stuff I still need to accomplish. So, I’m trying to write more, set up a film festival and complete a couple of books.

So no trophy wife for me (I already have one of 28 years). No fancy car. No plastic surgery. No comb-over. My middle age mania is getting stuff transferred out of head and files and onto pages.

End of personal stuff. Check my four blogs regularly as new posts will pop up more often.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, March 07, 2007's my first ever purchase from e-bay! A trade ad for Tom Tyler's second series of westerns from F.B.O. studios in the mid-1920s. Regular readers may recall my fascination with Tyler, a B-western hero who broke the shackles of the genre by becoming a character actor in A films.

Only one of Tom's F.B.O. films stills exists, "Texas Tornado" and it's available from Sinister Cinema. It's very well made and entertaining. The company was owned by Joseph Kennedy ( yes the fathe rof the president and senator) who made a deal that created RKO at the beginning of the sound era.

F.B.O. was a silent version of Republic Studios and turned out many low-budget westerns and other action films. When the new RKO management took over they junked stars such as Tyler and the output of the studio gradually faded away.

The kid in the ad is Tom's co-star Frankie Darro (or Darrow, he was billed both ways) who later turned in a great performance in "Wild Boys of the Road," one of the best Warner Brothers "torn from the headlines" Depression films.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Saturday, March 03, 2007

My buddy Mark, a fellow Massachusetts resident, has asked me repeatedly to give the new governor, Deval Patrick, a report card. In many ways it's too soon to tell about substantive issues, but he has had a little public relations flap about hiring a $72,000 a year assistant for his wife and wanting a more expensive car than the former governor.

PR mistakes are relatively easy to fix if you can get to doing the job you were elected to do: bringing about real change in the state's government. Has he done that? Not yet. Proposals are just proposals. He has to convince the Legislature that his plans are politically sound...not financially sound, not realistic...but will aid the legislators politically.

So I give him a C- in pratical PR, and a B+ for his budget. To get the A he has to get some of his ideas passed. To get on the honor role, he also will have to tackle some issues such as auto insurance reform and unemployment insurance reform.

I like the guy and have high hopes he won't flunk out.

Has Patrick Governor Patrick is heading into first big test with the release of his
proposed state budget. It’s a dual-layered test at that. He needs to impress
the public with his planning and he needs to convince the Legislature that
his ideas are valid.

The first might be a lot easier than the second.

Patrick’s on the tightrope. He must please the people who elected him by
instituting some of of his campaign promises, while at the same time appear
to be fiscally responsible.

He had to close the budget gap of $800 million to $1 billion (depending
upon who is speaking), as well.

So Patrick had to cut, find economies and reallocate funds.

Well, let’s see what you think. Here are some highlights:

• 46 percent increase in funding for Kindergarten Expansion Grants for a
spending total of $39.5 million.

• A $200 million increase in Chapter 70 education aid, enabling every
operating public school district to receive increased funding. Total Chapter
70 spending: $3.71 billion.

• 5.5 percent increase in Local Aid (including $77 million for School
Building Authority). Total Local Aid spending: $6.04 billion.

• Doubled funding for Extended Learning Time Grants. Total spending: $13

• Direct property tax relief through Homeowner Circuit Breaker for 100,000
qualified households.

• The start of a community policing initiative by funding up to 250 officers
and training. Total spending: $33.7 million.

• Adds $2 million for a new, year-round employment program for at-risk
youth. Total spending: $6.7 million.

• Provides $4 million for Expedited Permitting Program.

• Fully maintains and funds health care reform expansions in MassHealth
benefits, eligibility, and rates. Total spending: $514.4 million.

• Includes $472 million for Commonwealth Care Insurance to allow nearly
150,000 residents to enroll in the program for FY08.

• $24.8 million increase for Universal Immunization Program, covering three
new vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to prevent
young people from contracting serious illnesses. This funding will provide
71,334 infants with the Rotavirus vaccine, 108,188 children with the
Meningococcal Conjugate vaccine, and 72,126 girls between the ages of 9 and
18 with the Human Papilloma Virus Vaccine (HPV). Total spending: $61.6

• More efficient delivery of services to assist homeless families or
families at-risk of homelessness by consolidating 11 line items into two
line items for one purpose. This facilitates the transfer of funding to
greatest need. Total spending at Health and Human Services: $122.1 million.
Total spending at Department of Housing and Community Development: $37.9

• Shifts salaries for 158 workers in the Executive Office of Transportation
from the capital budget to the operating budget to save 60 cents on every
dollar in interest costs. This begins to address the problem of the more
than 1,800 state employees who are funded through bonds.

• Funds FY08 retiree health benefits liability (OPEB) and makes a down
payment on the FY09 liability by investing proceeds from 1990s tobacco

Massachusetts is, in many ways, broken. Well maybe not broken, but we’re
limping along on the shoulder. This is not the time for the Legislature to
grandstand for power. This is the time of people working together seeking
common sense solutions for our problems.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs