Friday, September 28, 2007

Take the test!
The other day I was reading one of my favorite Web sites,, and I came across a post about a short film at

A filmmaker in Austin, Texas, asked 36 people at random the following four questions:

• Who is the vice president of the United States?

• In what year did the 9/11 attacks occur?

• What is the First Amendment?

• Who is the Secretary of Defense?

Out of the 36 people asked, only four people got all four questions correct. That’s right, just four people.

Take a look at the film yourself. Log onto

Finding this video coincided with the release of a study by Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s National Civil Literacy Board. That group gave 14,000 college students at 50 colleges and universities a test of 60 questions concerning history and government.

According to the report, “The results were disappointing. The average senior score was a failing 53.2%; the average freshman score was 51.7%. After nearly four years of college, the gain in knowledge was trivial. Not one college could claim its seniors averaged even 70%.”

Harvard was the best with 69.56. UMass Amherst received a 46.66 grade. St. Thomas University won the lowest score with 32.5.

Here are several of the questions:
• Jamestown, Virginia, was first settled by Europeans during which period?
a) 1301–1400
b) 1401–1500
c) 1501–1600
d) 1601–1700
e) 1701–1800

•The Puritans:
a) opposed all wars on moral grounds.
b) stressed the sinfulness of all humanity.
c) believed in complete religious freedom.
d) colonized Utah under the leadership of Brigham Young.
e) were Catholic missionaries escaping religious persecution.

• The Constitution of the United States established what form of government?
a) Direct democracy
b) Populism
c) Indirect democracy
d) Oligarchy
e) Aristocracy

• Which battle brought the American Revolution to an end?
a) Saratoga
b) Gettysburg
c) The Alamo
d) Yorktown
e) New Orleans

• Which of the following are the unalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence?
a) Life, liberty, and property
b) Honor, liberty, and peace
c) Liberty, health, and community
d) Life, respect, and equal protection
e) Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

• Which of the following are in correct chronological order?
a) The Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation
b) Fort Sumter, Gettysburg, Appomattox
c) Cuban Missile Crisis, Sputnik, Bay of Pigs
d) Mexican-American War, Louisiana Purchase, Spanish-American War
e) Prohibition, Boston Tea Party, Reconstruction

• In 1933 Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed a series of government programs that became known as:
a) The Great Society.
b) The Square Deal.
c) The New Deal.
d) The New Frontier.
e) supply-side economics.

•The end of legal racial segregation in United States schools was most directly the result of:
a) the Civil War.
b) the Declaration of Independence.
c) the affirmative action policies of the 1980s.
d) Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
e) Miranda v. the State of Arizona.

• The Manhattan Project developed:
a) urban enterprise zones.
b) equipment to decipher enemy codes.
c) fighter planes.
d) the Apollo lunar module.
e) the atomic bomb.

Is there any wonder why this country is in the shape it is in? Too many of us clearly don’t pay attention to what is going on now that actually affects our lives. And there is also a chunk of our population who is clearly ignorant of our nation’s history.

You can’t understand why we live the way we live unless you know how we got there. That’s the value of history.
Perhaps people would score better with the following questions:

• Who is not a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars?”
a) Marie Osmond
b) Dan Buendo
c) Wayne Newton

• What is the name of Britney Spears’ former bodyguard who is testifying against her?
a) Joey Bagodonuts
b) Biggie X
c) Tony Barretto

• Lindsey Lohan has been in rehab how many times?
a) Once
b) Twice
c) More times than there are grains of sand on Cape Cod

• Bonus question: The name of my dog (mentioned frequently in this column) is:
a) George
b) Spike
c) Lucky the Wonder Bichon

Hey, I love pop culture, but with a presidential election coming up, a continuing war, global warming, a failing dollar, and more jobs shipped overseas, don’t you think people should spend some time paying attention to real issues? Just a little, please?

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Just call me Kreskin and let me select a scratch ticket

A few weeks ago, I predicted that Governor Patrick would come out for some sort of casino gambling plan. He finally did recently, so I feel my psychic powers are now at their peak so maybe I should buy a lottery ticket this week.

According to "The Boston Globe," liberals who backed Patrick feel "betrayed" by his pro-casino stand. Having covered the campaign, I never heard Patrick condemn or endorse casinos. He always took a middle ground of wanting to hear more before he made up his mind.

These liberals who feel betrayed ought to feel a little pain toward their legislator who hasn't been supporting their governor of late. I love a guy like Sal DiMasi, who represents the same number of people as any other state rep, pontificate about gambling he'll listen to the governor, but he doubts he'll change his mind.

Okay, Sal and for that matter, allow me to also address our local delegation how are you going to create a revenue stream to increase local aid? How can we lower our local property tax burden so the Commonwealth is a more livable state?

We're not getting a lot of alternatives from the General Court in terms of new ways to generate income for municipalities. The Legislature won't give cities and towns the flexibility of having a local hotel or meals tax. A number of mayors have begged the Legislature to give them this option.

Hey Sal, what do your constituents think about casino gambling? Do any of them buy lottery tickets? Do they go to Foxwoods? Las Vegas? Do they play bingo at their church? So are their gambling habits ethical and moral, but a local casino wouldn't be?

I love the raw hypocrisy this issue is exposing. If gambling is wrong than why allow it at all? Answer, Mr. Speaker?

According to a Sept. 7 poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports, 58 percent of those polled said casino gambling should be legalized; 31 percent said it shouldn't and 11 percent were unsure.

I don't think any casino should be shoved down the throat of a community that doesn't want it. There are communities that would welcome a casino.

Personally I don't care if we have a casino or not. I hardly ever gamble. I only care about the growing problem we have here of a state that is becoming so expensive we are driving out young people.

If the Legislature opposes casinos they should do so based on having an economic plan to create new revenues that doesn't involve new taxes. Their decision should also reflect their constituents' overwhelming opposition to casino gambling.


I attended an interesting meeting the other night concerning how Pittsfield and Worcester have been using arts and culture as economic engines to help revitalize their cities. Here's the story:
Jeremy Cole, the chair of the Springfield Cultural Council, said that what is lacking in transforming the city's art and culture institutions and organizations into an economic driver is cooperation and a city official designated to implement a mutual marketing plan.

Cole was one of about 30 people who attended "Culture Lead the Economy," a panel discussion funded by an Adams Grant at the Central Library on Wednesday. The John and Abigail Adams Grants are awarded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) to foster and promote cultural assets as a economic development tool.

The attendees heard how artists and city planners in Pittsfield and Worcester have utilized arts and culture to bring in new revenues into those cities.

Barbara Garvey, who was representing Mayor Charles Ryan, explained at the forum that during the administration of Mayor Theodore Dimauro, she and Shera Cohen, who organized the panel discussion, both worked in the Mayor's Office for Cultural Affairs. It was during that time that Riverfront Park was developed, she added.

The Mayor's Office for Cultural Affairs has long since been eliminated from the city government, but Cole believes that it's time to have a person in charge of a cooperative plan for the city's diverse arts and culture scene is "exactly what we need."

He told Reminder Publications that while David Panagore, the city's head of economic development, is doing a "great job, he is spread too thin."

Cole said the problem in Springfield isn't the city not having arts and cultural attractions; it's a lack of cooperation. He said that some of the organizations do coordinate activities with others, but not with all.

Michael Kane, representing the Mount Auburn Group, told the audience the consultants recently completed interviews with 25 people in the local arts scene to assess what are the city's needs. They are working with the city on a proposal to the MCC to fund a large-scale strategic plan for the city.

Kane said at this time in Springfield the major arts organizations are very well known, while the second and third tier groups are not. There isn't an "artistic infrastructure" to help support the efforts of these groups and that there are too many organizations "chasing too few dollars."

A challenge for the city is looking at the two separate demographics in the downtown arts, culture and entertainment scene. The arts and culture institutions draw a primarily white, middle class, and older audience, while the entertainment district attracts a younger, more racially diverse group.

The growing number of downtown restaurants would also be a part of a cultural plan for the city, Kane added.

He questioned if there was a way to make the arts and culture offerings from the city's colleges more accessible and noted there are opportunities for cultural development with the State Street Corridor project, the new Federal Courthouse, the redevelopment of the York Street Jail and the Union Station.

Erin Williams, cultural development officer of the Economic Development Division of the city of Worcester, did admit that trying to get artists to work together in cooperative enterprises is not unlike "herding cats."

She said the Worcester effort came out of 14 arts organizations banding together in the late 1990s to lobby the city for funding and after some initial success the city created the position in 1999 that she now holds.

Williams detailed the projects undertaken by the city include filling vacant storefronts with displays of local artwork; creating "WOO," a special discount card for cultural and arts events distributed to 12,000 college students in the city and developing a new signage system for the city to guide people to institutions and neighborhoods.

"Everyone gets lost in Worcester," she said.

She said the creation of a Web site,, as a clearinghouse of activities in and around the city has also drawn young audiences to events.

Deanna Ruffer, of the Department Community Development in Pittsfield, described the city of 40,000 as a "bleeding town" thanks to the departure of General Electric and 13,000 jobs over 20 years ago.

Ruffer said the effort to use art as a force for change started with a grassroots effort by artist Maggie Mailer to fill empty downtown storefronts with artist studios. Over 50 artists took advantage of the program.

James Ruberto, the mayor of Pittsfield, has been both a "visionary and a salesman," according to Ruffer. Under Ruberto's administration, the Colonial Theater was restored, creating an unique performing space, the acclaimed Barrington Stage Company has been brought to the city, and the city has been branded as "Creative Pittsfield."

The results of those developments and events have brought 1,200 to 1,800 visitors to the city's downtown.

Ruffer cautioned the effort hasn't been without its challenges. City officials have worked to create a zoning overlay to plan the redevelopment of the downtown including making sure there is affordable housing.

Safety perception issues are important, she said. She advised making sure streetlights have stronger bulbs wattages in many cities were lowered to save money and to ask businesses to turn on lights at night.

Roughly, both cities started their efforts with a grassroots approach and then formalized it by forming coalitions of their various arts groups with the city government.

It's time we did that here. We need a person in the city government to begin the type of work these other two cities are doing.

We've got great arts groups. They need to work together under a plan to maximize their economic potential for the city.

It would be a wise move for the Finance Control Board to begin working on creating and funding such a position.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Hey, we went to Cape Cod recently with our friends Steve and Marj Bissette and we had a great time.

Me, Marj and Steve on the beach...I'm talking to my mom on the cell, sharing the sound of the shore with her.

My wife Mary is seldom more happy than walking barefoot along a beach

Here's a scorecard: the hotel (the Americana) had a 'fridge that froze our milk, had drained the whirlpool bath on us, and had television remote controls that wouldn't control the televisions. However excessive amounts of chocolate from the Cape Cod Chocolatier just down Route 28 saved the day. We were too blissed out to notice how deficient the suite was... sort of!

We hit a couple of great bookstores...Tim's Books in Hyannis and Titcomb Books in Sandwich.

And we ate copious amounts of seafood. Thumbs up for Seafood Sam's for taste and value. Thumbs up for Hearth and Kettle for the same reasons. Thumbs up for the biggest damn Irish breakfast on the Cape at Keltic Kitchen (don't ask what's in the white pudding, I said don't ask!), but thumbs down for dinner at Salty's. Sorry Salty's, but Marj and Steve had lousy meals.

At Salty's I wanted to take a photo of Steve wearing his lobster bib. He looked so damn cute, Mr.Horror Movie did. However he refused to cooperate citing some sort of aversion to having pictures taken of him eating. Naturally, this was a challenge. Aided by my wife, I sneaked this shot at McGee's, an ice cream shop in Hyannis (thumbs up the way).

Mary and I had such a good time, we took Lucky the Wonder Bichon the next week so he could walk on the beach with us! We have a dog with expensive tastes...he likes fried oysters!

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

I just got a press release about carbonated squeeze fizzes! Undoubtedly a sign of the end times...anyway here's a quick post. I'm going to post a more hulking entry tonight, including a very controversial and provocative photo...It's hot, baby! It might change the course of mankind as we know it.

I do love the Eastern States Exposition, a five-state fair that is among the 10 largest such events in the nation. It attracts over a million visitors during its three-week run. The following is my contribution to our multi-reporter written story.

I love The Big E because it is one of the few places where raw showmanship and bally hoo still exist. There are still guys who make their living trying to sell us "miracle" knives, irons, mops, laundry products. There are still people who have the world's biggest pig and the smallest and largest horse and we can see them for just one thin dollar. There are still attractions and exhibits that are designed to make us stop and gawk.

In this very cynical been-there, done-that world in which we live, I revel in the relatively few moments when we are reduced to mouth agape children, staring in wonderment at something. We need more amazement in our lives.

Speaking of amazement, shown above is a display of Mexican wrestling masks a vendor had at the fair. Nothing says new England state fair better than buying a wrestling mask! Naturally I wanted one, but I resisted as the price was $25!

WEST SPRINGFIELD – The annual Eastern States Exposition is in the middle of its run and my team of reporters and I went to the fair and left no corndog unturned to find the truth.

The truth is the fair maintains its dizzying mixture of exhibits and features that underscore the agricultural side of the five New England states and unapologetic old-fashioned showmanship.

Where else could you see a line of cows being milked and then celebrate your Irish heritage by hoisting a Guinness? There are few places you could then buy not one but two different "miracle" irons, see a butter sculpture, watch a guy interact with a shark, and pick up a knife that can perfectly slice tomatoes after they've cut through a soda can and a gizmo that makes putting masking tape on a window ledge a breeze.

You can challenge your stomach to an assortment of sit-down dining experiences as well as every walking-around food item imaginable. No matter how many London-broil sandwiches, hot sausage grinders, fried vegetables, pierogi, milkshakes and smoked turkey legs you down, you must leave room for the fair's signature food item, the Big E cream puff.

Don't worry, there is plenty of medical help available after you collapse into a food coma.

The state buildings always offer something interesting and this year was no exception.

In the Connecticut Building, Mel Gancsos of Fairfield, Conn. was handing out free samples of his Mel's Hellish Productions hot sauces and salsas. Llewellyn, suffering from a head cold, eagerly went for the chance to clear her head, and although the salsa she tried was tasty it wasn't hot enough for her.

Gancsos said that was his hottest product, of which he was temporarily out. Gancsos knows hot, though. His products have been first place winners in the Scovie Awards, the annual industry competition for spicy food item.

Gancsos said that his concoctions have heat, but most importantly, they have taste. He said that people put them on everything from salmon to cheesecake.

For more information, log onto

Over in the Maine Building, the case of the sought-after baked potato remains a mystery. People had filled the overflow tent area outside of the building waiting for their chance to customize their potato.

It's just a baked potato for goodness sake, albeit a big one you could load with cheese, sour cream and bacon. You can do that at home, though.

There was square dancing outside the Rhode Island Building and inside there were the usual seafood and candy offerings. There was also an artist dedicated to saving little bits of Americana. William MacGregor, Jr. of Johnston, RI, sees the beauty of diners, donut shops, amusement parks, and junkyards and creates watercolor paintings of those subjects for prints and T-shirts.

MacGregor said he tries to be as realistic as possible with his nostalgic paintings of scenes from Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

There are more of his images on his Web site,

And what would the Massachusetts Building be without Western Massachusetts? The Beekeepers of Hampden County, Rollie's Sodas from Holyoke, Koffee Kup Bakery of Springfield, the Granville General Store, the Charlemont Inn, the Chili Station from Ludlow, Blue Seal products from Chicopee and the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners were all exhibitors.


I miss the carney aspects of Big E from many years ago. I vividly remember an attraction in which a young woman was changed into a gorilla before my eyes. Another booth touted a South American "giant rat" that pulled dead bodies out of graves. The "rat" was a thoroughly benign capybara.

My favorite sideshow was one in which there was a reproduction of the famed "Minnesota Iceman," allegedly a Big Foot found encased in a huge block of ice. The show at the Big E many years ago was a reproduction of something that was undoubtedly a fake to begin with. I loved that showbiz logic.

Those days are long gone. This year's edition has a giant pig, a giant horse and a small horse in three different booths all on view for $1 each. I peeled off a single to cast my eyes on the giant pig. I'm here to say there was a very large pig snoozing away.

The Live Shark Experience provides some of those carny thrills in a wholesome and politically correct setting. The free show runs three times a day during the week and has a fourth show on the weekends.


Victoria Taranowicz was hard at work at the fair. The young woman was making cigars at her family's booth Connecticut Valley Tobacconist. The cigar company, located in Enfield, Conn., has been in business for 11 years and at the Big E for 10 years.

Taranowicz was making the inside of the cigars. Her mother, Karen, explained they used Honduran or Dominican tobacco for the centers and Connecticut Valley broadleaf for the wrapper.

Victoria admitted she thought cigar making was easy before she tried it, but it took her two months to learn how to make the center and another six months of practice to wrap the cigars.

Once she rolled the center she placed them in molds that use pressure to firm up the centers before they are wrapped.

Karen said the company's standard cigars range in price from $5 to $7, while their signature battleground line of cigars cost between $6 and $10.

For more information on their company, go to

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Friday, September 21, 2007

Local stuff to consider or not depending upon who you are and why you read this blog....Oh, on a personal note, I've signed a contract with Arcadia Publishing for a Springfield postcard history book. It should be out later next year. My Fleischer book is being considered by a publisher even as I type this. Please say a prayer!

Over in Agawam, the men and women who patrol the streets of that city are seeking a new contract. The Patrolmen's Union has been in official negotiations since May and casual talks since January.

It's now mid-September and there is no resolution. If I was an Agawam resident I'd be a little concerned.

I live in Springfield where the police officers went years without a contract, a problem the current administration inherited from the previous one. Needless to say, the morale of the officers was frayed for years.

Mayor Richard Cohen released a statement on Wednesday that read in part, "I am a tough negotiator. I am very mindful of what our public safety personnel and out employees do for our community; I also have to be cautious over what our residents can afford. I am sure some of our residents have not even seen a cost of living [increase] in their jobs this year. As the mayor, I will continue to be fair to not only the residents of the Town of Agawam I represent but also to the employees of the Town of Agawam as a tough negotiator."

What might complicate these talks is the mayoral race in Agawam. I don't know if Cohen's opponent Susan Dawson has a stance on the police contracts, but this issue could be a point of contention between the two candidates.

Frankly I hope it isn't as the contract shouldn't be about politics, it should be about public safety.

I'm not going to apologize to our conservative readers but while I had the chance I had to ask Congressman Richard Neal about the possibility of impeachment proceedings taking place against President Bush.

I know the 25 percent or so of the people who still support the president don't want to hear such things, but it's a valid question.

Neal said that with a year to go in Bush's term, impeachment wasn't a possibility.
As a card-carrying liberal – I carry a MasterCard, a library card, a Pioneer Valley AAA card – I want to see someone in the Bush administration to be forced to go through a trial questioning their actions in our war in Iraq.

Republicans put Bill Clinton through an impeachment for crimes far less severe than involving this nation in an unnecessary war. I disowned Clinton for his actions that led to the impeachment much less for his signing of NAFTA, a dark day in this nation's economic history.

Clinton's actions that led to his trial didn't cost a single American their life. It didn't throw our nation and another into conflict.

My fear is that members of the Bush gang will get fat book contracts, go under contract with FOX news as consultants and commentators and profit from their actions. I'd hate to see people profit even more from this war than what has happened already.


In Springfield the mayor's race is heating up a bit and City Councilor Domenic Sarno took a shot at the proposed request to the Finance Control Board that $1 million be set aside to pay for overtime for police officers.

Sarno issued a press release on Wednesday that criticized this action, saying it was a "band-aid for a much bigger and long-term problem that has hurt the image of Springfield for several years."

He said he would advocate the governor, if elected, for more funding for additional officers.

"There is an issue with what the facts are or alleged to be. If, in fact, crime is decreasing in our city as has been reported by and through Mayor Ryan's office, then why would we ask for $1,000,000 for additional overtime pay? Has crime decreased or not?" Sarno asked in the statement. "The voters need the facts and facts are indisputable when reported accurately. Crime is out of control."

There are several questions this release raises. One is whether or not Sarno is accusing Ryan or Police Commissioner Edward Flynn of cooking the books. Flynn took over a department that was criticized for having out-dated crime reporting procedures and modernized them.

If Sarno is accusing either one of them of manipulating the statistics, what are the correct ones and how does Sarno know they are correct?

The other question is how is Sarno as mayor going to get the permanent increase in state aid needed to pay for more police officers? Part of the problem of the previous mayoral administration is that it hired officers with an influx of federal money. When that money was gone, we had considerable lay-offs. Would the Legislature go along with more money for Springfield?

Inquiring minds want to know!

@2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In this week's DVD column, there's an American original, challenging comedy, a great new documentary and a very sad finale for a marginal show business personality.

Spike Jones: The Legend

When I received the advisory from Infinity Entertainment that they were releaseing a three-DVD and one-CD set featuring classic television appearances of the great iconoclast of American pop music, I wrote back saying, "Sign me up!"

For the age-impaired, let me say that Spike Jones entertained this country much in the same way has "Weird Al" Yankovic has done with clever send-ups of popular music only Jones did it with a big band and a troupe of dancers, jugglers, acrobats and comics.

His recordings of "Cocktails for Two, "All I want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth," and "You Always Hurt the One You Love," among others, have withstood the ravages of changes in pop culture taste they're still hilarious.

Log onto and search for Spike Jones videos if you've never seen him before.

Paramount Home Video had released three tapes of Jones' television shows from the early 1950s years ago, and although Infinity Entertainment didn't send me the full set, the screener disc they assembled showed some classic Jones bits. The quality of the video and sound were great.

The complete set has two radio recordings as well as four one-hour television shows.

I know I'll be getting the complete set myself.

Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus

Scientist and filmmaker Randy Olson has put together a very informative, well-rounded and informative movie about the intelligent design movement. In fact he balanced his film so carefully the intelligent design advocates he interviewed liked it!

Intelligent design is a scientific theory that has replaced creationism. Proponents of the idea believe that the fossil record has significant gaps and to explain how species have made unexplained leaps forward they point to unseen force, namely God.

Intelligent design fans want their theories to be taught along side evolution, something more traditional scientists and civil libertarians have opposed.

If this sounds like a dry social and political debate, you'd be mistaken. Olson is able to make this clash funny and shows the flaws on both sides. I think this film should be shown to high school and college students to help them grapple with the subject.

The DVD's extras show sequences that were cut and Olson explains why. Most of the sequences actually tilt the film closer to Michael Moore territory and although I'm glad to see them, I think Olson was right to cut them from the finished film.

For more information, log onto

Upright Citizens Brigade: the Complete First Season

I've always sat on a fence over whether or not I actually liked the Comedy Central series "Upright Citizen's Brigade (UCB)." Aired from 1998 to 2000, the series starred Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh as the members of the UCB, an underground organization dedicated to spreading chaos through society. They do so by setting pranks and schemes and they monitor the results from their underground lair. The four stars also play just about every other character in the show.

In many ways, UCB is similar in tone to "Monty Python's Flying Circus" and "The Firesign Theater" in that its comedy was not always inviting, but instead challenging. This was comedy that required you to be engaged. Normally I love that kind of material, but sometimes UCB was so cold, I just didn't care.

There are some laugh-out-loud moments such as a sequence in which new homeowners have to deal with "the Bucket of Truth" in their living room forcing all of their guests to face the ultimate truths in their lives. I also liked the bit involving a tyrannical school bus driver who controls her passengers by sitting on them. There are others that don't work as well.

If you're up to the challenge, then check out this two-disc set.

For more information, log onto

Illegal Aliens

I've watched a lot of bad movies in the past 30 years of being a film fan. Sometimes I've gone into them unknowingly and sometimes with my eyes wide open. There are bad films I've embraced for their wonky entertainment value, and others that have been a terrible train wreck.

"Illegal Aliens" falls into the second category, but I was surprised at just how bad it was.

The film was the final production starring the late Anna Nicole Smith and produced at Edgewood Studios in Rutland, VT. Although Smith was scarcely an actress, she was notorious and landing this production was definitely a feather in the studio's cap. Smith's name ensured a certain level of attention would be directed to this straight-to-DVD film regardless of its final quality.

The film is a classic example of an exploitation film. It doesn't have the budget the story deserves director David Giancola relies on three major stock footage sequences from other films to realize the terrible script but it does have an exploitable element: Smith. For decades, low-budget producers have relied on having something in their films that could take the place of a good script or big stars. In the past exploitation films have relied on monsters, violence, special effects, sex or a members of the cast famous for something other than acting to draw in an audience.

"Illegal Aliens" is not any different. The script is a mish-mash of "Critters," "Men in Black, and "Charlie's Angels," with Smith playing one of three shape-shifting aliens who have pledged to protect the earth. Joanie Laurer, the former wrestler, is the villain of the film.

The film's release was held up by the death of Smith's son and then by Smith's death.

Smith's utterly unappealing performance in the film is a very sad end to a tawdry life.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Here's what our local member of Congress had to say about the recent update on the 'progress' made in Iraq.

Congressman Richard Neal said at a press conference in his Springfield office on Wednesday that he intends to work in the upcoming weeks on lobbying his colleagues to find a bipartisan solution to redeployment of the American troops in Iraq.

"It's time to withdraw the troops and force the Iraqis to take responsibility," Neal said.

Neal's comments came after the congressional testimony of General David Patraeus, the commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq on whether or not benchmarks set for progress in winning the war and with the development of the Iraqi government have been met.

Although Neal said the general's presentation was "very professional," he was not impressed with its content.

"What he proposed is much more of the same," Neal said.

Neal noted the general's proposed withdrawal of troops would only return the American fighting force back to levels before this year's escalation or "surge."

Neal said this plan amounts to "an unlimited commitment" and " a change of course is absolutely necessary."

He believes there has to be a time-table for re-deployment of the troops. In their place he suggested the United Nations organize a peacekeeping force that would be composed in part by soldiers from other Arab nations.

Neal said that one way to force the Bush Administration to re-assess its strategy would be to deny the supplemental funding request for the war that is pending. Neal said he believes the House will "put the brakes on it," but the Senate might take a different tack to the issue.

"I hope that everyone would acknowledge that more of the same is not acceptable," he said.

Neal pointed out the latest National Intelligence Assessment on the war runs counter to statements made by Patraeus. The report, which was released in August, reads in part: "There have been measurable but uneven improvements in Iraq's security situation since our last National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq in January 2007. The steep escalation of rates of violence has been checked for now, and overall attack levels across Iraq have fallen during seven of the last nine weeks. Coalition forces, working with Iraqi forces, tribal elements, and some Sunni insurgents, have reduced al-Qa'ida in Iraq's (AQI) capabilities, restricted its freedom of movement, and denied its grassroots support in some areas. However, the level of overall violence, including attacks on and casualties among civilians, remains high; Iraq's sectarian groups remain unreconciled; AQI retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks; and to date, Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively. There have been modest improvements in economic output, budget execution, and government finances but fundamental structural problems continue to prevent sustained progress in economic growth and living conditions."

Neal added that according to studies conducted by the General Accounting Office, "Iraq is not closer to self-governing than it was three years ago."

The cost of the war so far has been 4,000 Americans killed, 30,000 wounded and a cost of $650 billion, Neal said. He added estimates to pay for medical services through the Veterans Administration might reach $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion.

Neal was one of the members of Congress who did not vote for authorizing the war.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Friday, September 07, 2007

What a treat is was to talk with "Mystery Science" and "Film Crew" member Kevin Murphy! He's a very bright articulate guy and his book should be read by any serious film fan.

Kevin Murphy admitted with a laugh last week that he has “an odd peculiar talent.”

Murphy is one of handful of people who have carved out a true niche career in show business by making fun of bad movies – first as a writer and cast member on the late and much lamented television series “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and now as part of “The Film Crew.”

Murphy, who was puppeteer behind Tom Servo on “Mystery Science,” has reunited with fellow cast members Mike Nelson and Bill Corbett on a new project, “The Film Crew.” The premise is that Murphy, Corbett and Nelson are three working class joes hired by eccentric billionaire Bob Honcho to provide commentary tracks on movies that have never before been given a commentary track.

“The Film Crew” DVDs continue the career Murphy started in 1988 when he started working on “Mystery Science,” then a local program on an independent UHF station.

“That’s a dang long time to be making fun of movies,” he said.

Three films have been given “The Film Crew” treatment so far include:
• “Hollywood After Dark,” a disastrous cross between a serious drama, a caper crime films and exploitation film with strippers starring Rue McClanahan;
• “Killers from Space,” a science fiction film featuring Peter Graves, alien invaders with, literally, ping pong balls for eyes and scene after scene of stock footage;
• And the newest release, “Wild Women from Wongo,” a 1958 film about ugly and good looking cave people worshipping alligators and trying to find love or something close to it.

The three films have been released on DVD by Shout Factory and a fourth film, a Steve Reeves sword and sandal epic, will be released later this year.

The result, in this reviewer’s opinion, has been three DVDs I want to watch over and over again.

Murphy described “Wongo” as a film that was supposed to be “a caveman sex romp” and should appeal to anyone who grew up thinking “Betty Rubble was hot.”

“‘Wongo’ is a train wreck, yet in another way it's wistful,” he added.

Murphy explained the new premise allows the emphasis to be placed on the commentary or “riff.” “Mystery Science” was about a guy marooned on a space station by an evil scientist who wanted to torture him by forcing him to watch bad movies. The former series required a team of six to 10 writers not only coming up with the commentaries but also with the gag-laden framing sequences.

He described the premise of the new show as a “paper thin fiction.”

For the new incarnation, Murphy, Corbett, and Nelson each write a third of the script. Murphy lives in the Minneapolis, Minn., area, Nelson is now on the west coast and Corbett has been busy commuting to Los Angeles – he has co-written the script for the new Eddie Murphy film “Starship Dave.”

They then do a re-write as a group, rehearse it and shoot the framing sequence and commentary in a studio in Minneapolis.

Murphy said the writing process works so well he dared anyone to try to tell where one writer ended and another begins.

Murphy said the area is a “great town” for film production – the “Mystery Science” shows were all produced there.

“Nobody needs to go to Hollywood to produce stuff,” he said.

The films themselves come from Sinister Cinema, a company that sells movies that are in the public domain. Murphy said each film must go through a process to make sure it’s not under copyright before production begins.

He said the best films are “earnest but inept,” have an audible soundtrack and “the camera’s in focus.”

Murphy had been producing commercials for KTMA in 1988 when comedian Joel Hodgson had the idea of a movie program in which the host of the film stays with the audience through the duration of film.

His involvement with the show until the of its run in 1999 was “stunning.”

“How many people get to work on a TV show that much of their career?” he asked.

Murphy has done other things, though. His book “A Year at the Movies: One Man’s Filmgoing Odyssey” was a critically acclaimed recounting of his going to a movie every day of 2001.

During that time he went to theaters in several countries, tried to exist one week on concession food and even sneaked his Thanksgiving dinner into one theater.

He said the result of the exercise was “I think I have more patience now [with movies]. One thing I never do is to walk out [of a film].”

He said it’s more difficult to sit through a bad independent film than a mainstream Hollywood offering because the Hollywood films “coat the stomach with a layer of slickness.”

He said seeing that many films in a year allowed him to “expand my cinematic palette.”

Another result was that he grew to like the theater experience less and less in this country. He noted with expectation that an up-coming vacation to Italy will include a trip to a theater there with a considerably better environment than that of American multi-plexes.

Murphy, Nelson and Corbett are also expanding their critical talents to rifftrax where their fans can download commentaries for current films for replay on their computers or MP3 players.

Murphy said making fun of movies such as “The Lord of the Rings” and “300” is “a different beast.”

“It’s a little scarier, but fun,” he said. He added the group actually likes some of the films they lampoon.

And with hundreds of films under his belt, what was the one that induced the most headaches for Murphy?

Murphy said that “Mystery Science” favorite “Manos the Hand of Fate” was difficult because “nothing happens in the film.”

The Vermont-made science fiction feature “Time Chaser” was unusual in that it was the only film the filmmakers actually wanted the “Mystery Science” crew to demolish.

The most challenging film for Murphy, though, was “Red Zone Cuba,” a 1966 bargain basement drama about three ex-convicts who get involved with the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

The film “looked horrible” and director, star and writer Coleman Francis was a “horrible man,” Murphy said with conviction.
He noted the team cut out a rape scene from the film.

“There are snuff films that are more refined,” he noted.

“I needed to take a shower [after working on that film],” he said.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A local and national political column here...The governor has still to announce whether or not he's going to support casino gambling so my prediction could still be correct. I'm a little worried as I'm no Criswell!

There is a real buzz in the air. No, it's not kids anticipating a return to school. And it isn't the end of vacation season and the return to work (Who does this anyway? Don't you work through the summer?)

And it isn't the upcoming political races, either. Wait another week or so and that will officially be on the front burner.

No, the only thing that is causing hearts to race is the decision the Governor will make about casino gambling.

Will he or won't he? Will he or won't he? The announcement is due after Labor Day.

By the time this paper hits your eyes, he may have made up his mind.

Well, color me Kreskin, but I'm going to make a prediction: Deval Patrick is going to come out in favor of casino gambling for one simple reason we need the money.

Let's face it. Property taxes can't go up much more or more people will be leaving Massachusetts. The state lottery doesn't have a way of earning more money. We want businesses to stay so we better not tax them to desertion either.

No one wants to pay more in income tax as well.

What can we do? Thanks to the waste that has been associated with Massachusetts government for decades culminating with the most shameful boondoggle in American history, The Big Dig, we are between a rock and a hard place.

What else can Patrick do other than roll the dice with some casino money?

I don't want one in downtown Springfield. If voters in a neighboring town want one there, than God bless them and full steam ahead.

The majority of the last couple of generations of elected officials in this state have either done too little too late in retaining businesses to keep our economy afloat or have been serving up so much pork to their constituents they've not seen the big picture.

My biggest fear is too many people will see casinos as the only way out of our mess. They won't be. If we have casinos, the dollars they bring in and the jobs they create must be leveraged in such a way to make a deep positive impact on this state.


Two years ago the folks living in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast went from residing in America to surviving in a third world nation.

Our fearless leader spoke there on Aug. 29 issuing a report card of sorts and various platitudes. Bush said, "But let me talk about the school system. There is nothing more hopeful than a good school system. And I firmly believe that excellence in education is going to be the leading edge of change for New Orleans.

"Margaret Spellings, who's the secretary of education, understands this concept. The government has provided Louisiana with more than $700 million in emergency education funds to help not only the public school system but also the parochial school system. And that's money well spent."

The Southern Education Foundation in Atlanta, Ga., issued a report on federal funds spent on restoring schools and came up with the following facts:

"As of the start of the 2007-2008 school year, the federal government has committed approximately $2.5 billion for relief and recovery relating to education after Katrina. Yet, the federal funds for education after Katrina constitute barely two percent of all federal funding committed to address the disastrous aftermath of the Gulf Coast hurricanes. For every $2.5 billion spent for other purposes over the last two years, the federal government has found only $1 to spend for Katrina-related education."

"The estimated cost of hurricane-related destruction in K-12 and higher education in both states is approximately $6.2 billion, but the federal government has provided only $1.2 billion for education for this purpose. New Orleans colleges and universities suffered the lion's share of the material losses in higher education but have received a comparatively smaller amount of federal funding for damage recovery. In fact, foreign nations essentially have matched federal funding for restoring higher education in Louisiana. K-12 schools along the Gulf Coast received considerably less assistance from the federal government than they have needed. Some schools continue to require substantial funding. For instance, New Orleans had almost 50 public school facilities damaged beyond repair, and the average school building is 70 years old."

For the rest of the report, go here.

Heck of job there, Georgie.
© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Hey, wanna feel old? No? Chances are if you read this blog, you're no spring chicken! Wanna understand why whippersnappers these days look at you as if you're speaking a foreign language when you're only talking about things every one should know?

Well, check the following out. Each year at Beloit College, a list is prepared for the staff and faculty alerting them to the life experiences of the in-coming class. This list is a sort of Rosetta Stone enabling geezers to understand the pups. Armed with that knowledge the old-timers can gently and effectively ease topics into discussions allowing the students to catch up.

I've printed this list out for study at work. Today I used the word "hip" to describe something and was greeted with chuckles from my youthful staff. The word is "hot" I was informed. I kept my mouth shut. I didn't want to be corrected any more.

The interesting thing is I'm embarassed by my ignorance, but they never are. I had one staffer – now gone – who would look at me and say "whatever" in response to being informed or corrected on something.

They better watch out – one day they'll be the geezer!


Most of the students entering College this fall, members of the Class of 2011, were born in 1989. For them, Alvin Ailey, Andrei Sakharov, Huey Newton, Emperor Hirohito, Ted Bundy, Abbie Hoffman, and Don the Beachcomber have always been dead.

What Berlin wall?

Humvees, minus the artillery, have always been available to the public.

Rush Limbaugh and the “Dittoheads” have always been lambasting liberals.

They never “rolled down” a car window.

Michael Moore has always been angry and funny.

They may confuse the Keating Five with a rock group.

They have grown up with bottled water.

General Motors has always been working on an electric car.

Nelson Mandela has always been free and a force in South Africa.

Pete Rose has never played baseball.

Rap music has always been mainstream.

Religious leaders have always been telling politicians what to do, or else!

“Off the hook” has never had anything to do with a telephone.

Music has always been “unplugged.”

Russia has always had a multi-party political system.

Women have always been police chiefs in major cities.

They were born the year Harvard Law Review Editor Barack Obama announced he might run for office some day.

The NBA season has always gone on and on and on and on.

Classmates could include Michelle Wie, Jordin Sparks, and Bart Simpson.

Half of them may have been members of the Baby-sitters Club.

Eastern Airlines has never “earned their wings” in their lifetime.

No one has ever been able to sit down comfortably to a meal of “liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”

Wal-Mart has always been a larger retailer than Sears and has always employed more workers than GM.

Being “lame” has to do with being dumb or inarticulate, not disabled.

Wolf Blitzer has always been serving up the news on CNN.

Katie Couric has always had screen cred.

Al Gore has always been running for president or thinking about it.

They never found a prize in a Coca-Cola “MagiCan.”

They were too young to understand Judas Priest’s subliminal messages.

When all else fails, the Prozac defense has always been a possibility.

Multigrain chips have always provided healthful junk food.

They grew up in Wayne’s World.

U2 has always been more than a spy plane.

They were introduced to Jack Nicholson as “The Joker.”

Stadiums, rock tours and sporting events have always had corporate names.

American rock groups have always appeared in Moscow.

Commercial product placements have been the norm in films and on TV.

On Parents’ Day on campus, their folks could be mixing it up with Lisa Bonet and Lenny Kravitz with daughter Zöe, or Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford with son Cody.

Fox has always been a major network.

They drove their parents crazy with the Beavis and Butt-Head laugh.

The “Blue Man Group” has always been everywhere.

Women’s studies majors have always been offered on campus.

Being a latchkey kid has never been a big deal.

Thanks to MySpace and Facebook, autobiography can happen in real time.

They learned about JFK from Oliver Stone and Malcolm X from Spike Lee.

Most phone calls have never been private.

High definition television has always been available.

Microbreweries have always been ubiquitous.

Virtual reality has always been available when the real thing failed.

Smoking has never been allowed in public spaces in France.

China has always been more interested in making money than in reeducation.

Time has always worked with Warner.

Tiananmen Square is a 2008 Olympics venue, not the scene of a massacre.

The purchase of ivory has always been banned.

MTV has never featured music videos.

The space program has never really caught their attention except in disasters.

Jerry Springer has always been lowering the level of discourse on TV.

They get much more information from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert than from the newspaper.

They’re always texting 1 n other.

They will encounter roughly equal numbers of female and male professors in the classroom.

They never saw Johnny Carson live on television.

They have no idea who Rusty Jones was or why he said “goodbye to rusty cars.”

Avatars have nothing to do with Hindu deities.

Chavez has nothing to do with iceberg lettuce and everything to do with oil.

Illinois has been trying to ban smoking since the year they were born.

The World Wide Web has been an online tool since they were born.

Chronic fatigue syndrome has always been debilitating and controversial.

Burma has always been Myanmar.

Dilbert has always been ridiculing cubicle culture.

Food packaging has always included nutritional labeling.