Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thirty years ago today, as I write this, I was at our wedding reception. It was quite a party with dramas that only a wedding reception could have. I won't go into them as to protect the guilty.

But there are some folks who should pay me hush money!

Today is our wedding anniversary and we've made it to the 30 year mark. Considering the state of the institution of marriage in this country, we've beat the odds so far.

When I met Mary she had no idea who Max Fleischer was. She had never milked any sort of animal or been much on a farm. She had no idea why someone would see value in, for example, the cinema of Ted V. Mikels.

I made the mistake of referring to her as a native of England (She's Scottish and raised in Glasgow). I had never heard of Billy Connolly. I didn't know haggis from bridies.

Over the years I learned from her and she from me. We moved into our home, got our first puppy and acquired a foster child all in the same month. We've seen friends come and go, seen business arrangements crumble and lost people close to us.

Such is life.

We're now grandparents to two wonderful girls. Our foster daughter – who is our daughter to us – is happily married. I have a nephew who seems to actually like my stuff – that's a relief to Mary. Our karma is being adjusted by Lucky the Wonder Bichon on a daily basis. We have six cats. And that's the limit. I'm putting my foot down.

Through it all she has put up with me. I'm sure it hasn't been easy.

We do have some rules. We've never gone to bed angry with each other – well, hardly ever. We always talk about big purchases or allocation of cash. We don't take each other for granted. We give each other some space.

I hope we make it to another 30. At least 20. We'd like to be invited to our granddaughters' weddings.

Monday, December 29, 2008

C. Bagley Beetle, the villain of the second Fleischer feature, "Mr. Bug Goes to Town."

About a week ago a writer from "the Villager" in NYC called me for an interview as he was writing a piece on Sammy Timberg, the composer of many of the tunes and scores heard in the classic Fleischer cartoons. It was a lay-out day, which meant as I was speaking with him, I was laying out pages for three of our four newspapers.

His story is here and please go take a look.

After he concluded his interview, he thanked me profusely but didn't reference me once in the story. Naturally. Note to the reporter: I've been in this business since 1975 and here's a good rule to follow – don't waste some one's time with an interview and then not reference the source in some way. It's rude.

Well, such is life. The reason for the story is the screening in NYC at the Film Forum is a 35mm print of Mr. Bug Goers to Town. I wish I could go as the film looks magnificent on the big screen.

Although the film has some flaws, I think it's a great animated feature that shows the evolution of the Fleischer style. Despite being in Florida, the hearts and minds of the Fleischer studios were definitely stuck in New York City and this feature shows it.

It carries on several key Fleischer elements: the urban setting, the use of pop music – several of the songs by Hoagy Carmichael were hits – the big versus little theme and a 3-D model. its use of rotoscoping to clearly identify the bug world from the human world is done much better than in "Gulliver's Travels."

Hoppity may be a bland hero, but the villains are a lot of fun as are the supporting characters.

There is one "fact" repeated in the story about Timberg referring to Mr. Bug's release and the sinking of the Fleischer Studios and that's the oft-quoted idea that Mr. Bug was released on Dec. 7, 1941, the day that Pearl Harbor was attacked.

First we have to understand how films were released at that time. The way a film is opened wide didn't exist then. The studios didn't make up thousands and thousands of prints and blanket the country at the same time. They were far more conservative with the number of prints and released a film in a far more gradual basis.

Films worked their way through cities and states. "Freaks," now considered a horror classic, for example, was released slowly throughout the country before it hit New York as MGM was fearful new York critics would hate the film. Their reviews could contribute to its premature box-office demise.

Take a look at this ad for Mr. Bug that appeared prior to the films release:

Look at the bottom where interested movie patrons were asked to inquire at their local theater about when the film was going to be playing.

Variety reviewed the film at a Dec. 4, 1941 trade screening and I have to wonder if the first public screenings came just three days later.

I wonder if there is a record of movie grosses at the time of the attack – did they drop across the board? I would imagine if there had been a trend it wouldn't have applied to just one movie.

I do know the New York Times didn't review the film until its Feb. 20, 1942 edition. Time magazine put in a review in its Feb. 23, 1942 issue.

A Christmas time release had definitely been originally planned as one Minneapolis department store its window display centered around the movie, Variety reported.

A February release couldn't capitalize on the school kids being out on Christmas break. Nor could a February release help sell the merchandise tie-ins as limited as they were.

Now whether or not Paramount sabotaged the film's release in order to tighten its hold on the Fleischer Studio and to fire Max and Dave was the reason for the delay in releasing the film – the NY Times and Time reviews would have come out to coincide with the film's general release – has often been the subject of speculation. It's interesting to note that Paramount brass would have been willing to lose its investment in the film just to make sure Max didn't stage some sort of financial recovery.

Remember there were no ancillary markets for motion pictures in 1941. You had a first run, a second run and then into the vault. If a truly successful film could warrant a re-release as RKO did with "King Kong" several times.

What saved Mr. Bug from oblivion was the sale Paramount made to the theatrical arm of NTA, the company that bought television rights to many of the Paramount shorts, including the Betty Boop cartoons. Paramount also sold rights to "Gulliver's Travels" to the company and both films were re-released to theaters.

Re-named "Hoppity Goes to Town," the film was in theaters in 1959. In the VHS era, NTA released the film on tape. The film, to my knowledge, has not received a legitimate DVD release. Amazon carries a version titled "Bugville."

If you're in the NYC area, catch a showing of this film.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, December 22, 2008

Just in time for the holidays is this screed from the folks who worship in the Church of Self. Read on:

By Leonard Peikoff

Christmas in America is an exuberant display of human ingenuity, capitalist productivity, and the enjoyment of life. Yet all of these are castigated as “materialistic”; the real meaning of the holiday, we are told, is assorted Nativity tales and altruist injunctions (e.g., love thy neighbor) that no one takes seriously. In fact, Christmas as we celebrate it today is a 19th-century American invention. The freedom and prosperity of post Civil War America created the happiest nation in history. The result was the desire to celebrate, to revel in the goods and pleasures of life on earth.

Christmas (which was not a federal holiday until 1870) became the leading American outlet for this feeling. Historically, people have always celebrated the winter solstice as the time when the days begin to lengthen, indicating the earth’s return to life. Ancient Romans feasted and reveled during the festival of Saturnalia. Early Christians condemned these Roman celebrations--they were waiting for the end of the world and had only scorn for earthly pleasures. By the fourth century the pagans were worshipping the god of the sun on December 25, and the Christians came to a decision: if you can’t stop ’em, join ’em. They claimed (contrary to known fact) that the date was Jesus’ birthday, and usurped the solstice holiday for their Church. Even after the Christians stole Christmas, they were ambivalent about it.

The holiday was inherently a pro-life festival of earthly renewal, but the Christians preached renunciation, sacrifice, and concern for the next world, not this one. As Cotton Mather, an 18th-century clergyman, put it: “Can you in your consciences think that our Holy Savior is honored by mirth? . . . Shall it be said that at the birth of our Savior . . . we take time . . . to do actions that have much more of hell than of heaven in them?” Then came the major developments of 19th-century capitalism: industrialization, urbanization, the triumph of science--all of it leading to easy transportation, efficient mail delivery, the widespread publishing of books and magazines, new inventions making life comfortable and exciting, and the rise of entrepreneurs who understood that the way to make a profit was to produce something good and sell it to a mass market. For the first time, the giving of gifts became a major feature of Christmas.

Early Christians denounced gift-giving as a Roman practice, and Puritans called it diabolical. But Americans were not to be deterred. Thanks to capitalism, there was enough wealth to make gifts possible, a great productive apparatus to advertise them and make them available cheaply, and a country so content that men wanted to reach out to their friends and express their enjoyment of life. The whole country took with glee to giving gifts on an unprecedented scale. Santa Claus is a thoroughly American invention.

There was a St. Nicholas long ago and a feeble holiday connected with him (on December 5). In 1822, an American named Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem about a visit from St. Nick. It was Moore (and a few other New Yorkers) who invented St. Nick’s physical appearance and personality, came up with the idea that Santa travels on Christmas Eve in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, comes down the chimney, stuffs toys in the kids’ stockings, then goes back to the North Pole. Of course, the Puritans denounced Santa as the Anti-Christ, because he pushed Jesus to the background. Furthermore, Santa implicitly rejected the whole Christian ethics. He did not denounce the rich and demand that they give everything to the poor; on the contrary, he gave gifts to rich and poor children alike. Nor is Santa a champion of Christian mercy or unconditional love. On the contrary, he is for justice--Santa gives only to good children, not to bad ones.

All the best customs of Christmas, from carols to trees to spectacular decorations, have their root in pagan ideas and practices. These customs were greatly amplified by American culture, as the product of reason, science, business, worldliness, and egoism, i.e., the pursuit of happiness. America’s tragedy is that its intellectual leaders have typically tried to replace happiness with guilt by insisting that the spiritual meaning of Christmas is religion and self-sacrifice for Tiny Tim or his equivalent. But the spiritual must start with recognizing reality. Life requires reason, selfishness, capitalism; that is what Christmas should celebrate--and really, underneath all the pretense, that is what it does celebrate. It is time to take the Christ out of Christmas, and turn the holiday into a guiltlessly egoistic, pro-reason, this-worldly, commercial celebration.

Dr. Leonard Peikoff is the foremost authority on Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. The Ayn Rand Center is a division of the Ayn Rand Institute and promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead.”

Now granted that few people in America have even heard of Ayn Rand, but they certainly have heard of "greed is good" and the trouble we find ourselves in today is a result of that "I've got mine, fuck you" attitude that has trickled down from the 1980s.

Although I defend his right to write this claptrap, I find it distressing that a celebration of selfishness is touted as a viable way to build a society.

© 2008 By Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I started recording a "video rant" this week for our newspaper's Web site as my boss wants more original content for the site. At first it was suggested that I simply read my written editorial column, but that is exactly the opposite of what I hope to accomplish, which is to bring a camera out into the communities to provide footage for my comments.

I'm hoping as well in this age of "viral video" that my non-TV looks and delivery will be accepted. People who've lived in the Springfield area for a while might remember when the owners/general managers of the NBC and ABC stations actually delivered nightly commentaries in an idiosyncratic style.

The idea of plugging a community this way has been replaced in the local TV news format by endlessly telling us faulty weather forecasts, presenting us with every bit of crime news they can find and recycling bits from national sources.

Well, I shouldn't be too harsh as many local stations are under budget restraints and they are going to be attracted to the low-hanging, provocative, fruit. The stations are often run by corporations with no feel for a local market and are staffed by people who are seeking temporary employment there until they can get to a larger market. There are exceptions to this characterization, but I'm afraid they are becoming more difficult to find.

So anyway, with a face built for radio here I am....and yes, I should have combed my hair.

I haven't posted DVD reviews for a while so here are some:

M Squad

I vaguely remember seeing "M Squad" when I was little -- the half-hour crime drama ran from 1957 through 1960 -- a time I was more concerned with cartoons and "Howdy Doody."

Now Timeless Media Group has brought out the entire 117 episodes in a 15 DVD set -- a pretty daring movie for a relatively obscure television show.

"M Squad" is a procedural police drama that spends more time showing the cops pounding the pavement and in the crime lab in order to solve a crime than firing their guns. The show is clearly a reaction to "Dragnet," Jack Webb's highly successful police show.

There are key differences here. One is that " M Squad" is centered in Chicago and exteriors were filmed there. Another is use of jazz for the score's show -- Count Basie wrote the theme music for the second season. The tone of the show is more film noir-ish and gritty than other police shows at the time.

And then there was the star, Lee Marvin. Marvin was coming into his own as actor and his portrayal of Lt. Frank Ballinger was far more interesting than Webb's straight-laced and straight faced Joe Friday.

Marvin plays his cop as both a committed public servant and someone who has seen it all. In the first episode, he is seen checking out a pretty girl while investigating a murder -- something most cop characters wouldn't have done at the time.

The half-hour shows move fast and I was surprised in this time of multiple "CSI" franchises to see just how much footage was devoted to forensic investigations.

Marvin's characterization probably will seem more modern and naturalistic to today's audience than those from other cop dramas of the same era. He walks an interesting line between appearing not to care and obviously caring very much.

For serious crime drama fans who don't mind dropping a chunk of change, this set from 51 years ago will provide some fresh material.

Harry Langdon: Three's a Crowd and The Chaser

Of all of the great silent comedians -- Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Harry Langdon -- it is Langdon who has had the hardest time establishing a new audience in the home video age.

Landon was a vaudeville star whose film persona was that of the "man-boy" a physically mature male who nonetheless has the emotional maturity of a seven-year-old. This type of character has certainly been a popular one in American film. Lou Costello, Huntz Hall, Jerry Lewis and Adam Sandler have all had their take on this shtick.

Langdon's character was often described as having the maturity of an infant. He seems almost incapable of dealing with the world. Made by the right hands, Langdon's films were highly popular, but Langdon himself directed the two films in this double feature and that was clearly a mistake.

Langdon's waif in "Three's a Crowd" is a mover's helper who finds a pregnant woman staggering about during the winter in the slum where he lives. He takes her in and cares for her only to see his heart broken when she reconciles with her husband.

In "The Chase," audiences are asked to accept Langdon as an errant husband chasing women and partying to his wife's disapproval. A judge makes Langdon stay at home for 30 days and take care of the house while wearing a dress. Many of the gags revolve around suicide.

I love silent films and am a huge fan of silent comedy, so I wanted to give Langdon another try, but I just couldn't understand why his character was so popular. I just want to shake him!

These two films from KINO on Video can boast of great scores by Lee Irwin and good-looking restored prints.

Mr. Bean: The Ultimate Collection

Okay, if you're a "Mr. Bean" fan this is your dream collection. The seven-disc collection has all of the television episodes originally aired on HBO, the animated series, and the two feature films.

That's a lot of beans.

If you're not familiar with Mr. Bean, you should know he is the first largely silent comic star developed since the advent of talking films. He can be an incredibly resourceful but also amazingly mischievous.

Rowan Atkinson was already a comedy star here and in his native Great Britain when he developed Mr. Bean with writers Richard Curtis and Robin Driscoll. In an informative documentary in the set, "The Story of Bean," Atkinson and his fellow writers describe how the character was developed, which partly came from Atkinson's youth.

The star described Bean as a nine-year-old boy who operates under the rules as long as they suit him.

I love the "Mr. Bean" series and I think the shorter productions are those in which the character is best suited. The animated cartoons are not my cup of tea and the first feature film "Bean: The Movie" was a mixed bag, I thought.

The extras here are a lot of fun with several Bean skits seen in the United States for the first time: "Torvill & Bean," in which Mr. Bean takes to the ice with the British skating star, was a hoot!

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Several weeks ago, I attended my 36th class reunion. No, the odd number didn't mean anything. The class reunion was part of a multi-class event covering the years 1970 to 1979 of Granby ( MA) Junior Senior High School.

I've attended every reunion we've had and have helped organize several of them. Aside from the first one, I've always found them to be very interesting and even fun.

I've told members of the staff and students I've taught that a reporter has to be, at his or her core, a gossip – a damn good gossip. Reporters want to hear dirt before anyone else and then tell other folks. I don't think more pious members of my profession would approve of this characterization, but screw 'em.

Perhaps that's why I enjoy going to the class reunions. It gives me plenty of opportunity to satisfy that "whatever happened to..." vibe that all reporters and gossips have.

What I also like is that going to a class reunion is the closest one can come to see a rift in time and space. Everyone who attends a reunion has changed in some way – either physically or emotionally or both. We know we've changed, but we see each other at least initially as we were in school.

That assessment usually wears off pretty quickly – it's hard to ignore grey hair, 50 extras pounds and other ravages of time. But for a few moments you're seen as you once were.

The fact that it does wear off in a matter of seconds is essential as I doubt that many of us actually want to be the person we were in high school.

Of course, in my case I was a geek – I published my own fanzine on horror films and comics – then and a geek now. Only my geek tendencies has helped pay my bills!

I'm always wary of the person who talks about high school as if that was the best time of his life. I'm equally concerned about people who say that college was the best time of their lives. Four years long ago being the pinnacle of an existence is sad.

The best moment of this reunion – as it has been for me at other reunions – is seeing someone whom I really want to see. I prepared for the reunion by looking through the year book and wondered almost aloud to myself about one guy who was a hippie iconoclast whom I liked even though I was sure he thought I was some sort of square, which of course I was.

I wondered if he was still alive.

When I saw him, He said with a big smile, "I bet you thought I was dead!" I confirmed that and we had a fun conversation.

I'm happy to report the members of the Class of '72 seemed like well-adjusted adults heading toward their AARP membership. Hey, just four more years to our 40th!

Sorry about the ikky color, but the print I scanned was not very well balanced.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, December 15, 2008

During the Christmas season, one of the things I look forward to the most is hearing from people through Christmas cards and letters.

And my thoughts frequently turn to the people who were part of our lives but who are no longer with us.

I'm re-organizing my Fleischer material for yet another attempt to find a publisher and came across the holiday cards sent to us by Myron and Rosalie Waldman which featured original artwork by Myron.

I've posted three of them to give you a taste of the Waldman charm. Although these cards were quickly done, they are fun and heart-felt and show what a wonderful artist Myron was.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

My presentation at the Pine Point Library went very well as I had about 30 people crammed into the space and sold 14 books!

What was great is that members of the audience offered up information on the city's history that was new to me.

For those of you who missed it – the library folks would like me to do it again in a few months at a different library – here's part of what I did. I took images from my postcard history of Springfield and then paired then with contemporary views.

I also spoke of parts of the city's history that are now missing. For example, this famous marker erected in 1763 to denote the location of the road to Boston stood at the intersection of State and Federal Streets when I was a kid living in 16 Acres. Although it had been removed, it was not lost – nor did it turn up at the Brimfield Flea market for sale. Apparently one of the Masonic Lodges in town have it and I can only hope it will be part of the new Springfield History Museum that will be open in the fall of next year.

The corner of Sumner and Forest Park Avenues at the turn of the 20th century and today. I love that the house in the postcard is still standing.

Very close to our house is the other part of the U.S. Amory – commonly known as "The Water Shops." As a child growing up at 104 Navajo Rd. in 16 Acres, I never really knew the actual name of this body of water is Lake Massasoit. It was always Watershops Pond.

The building is filled with small businesses and the water stills flows through the complex although I'm know sure if it is generating power like many of the factory buildings are along the canals in Holyoke.

Here's the marker at Court Square denoting where Parsons or Washington Tavern once stood.

Here is a postcard of it but it is clearly not in Court Square. Local historian Jim Boone figured out the building had been moved to Water Street and then later demolished. In the 9130 and '40s the term "Washington slept here" as a historic designation became a joke as so many places were do described. It's a shame that Springfield's claim to having the "Father of the Country" rest here is long gone.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Take a look at this vintage postcard and tell me what's wrong.

Shameless plug time: I will be appearing at the Pine Point Library on Boston Road in Springfield Thursday Dec. 11 at 6:30 p.m. for a presentation called "Springfield Then and Now," as well as a signing for my book on Springfield history. I'll also bring a copy of two of my animation book as well just in case someone wants both of my highly Christmas-givable tomes.

Friday, December 05, 2008

I've been checking my work e-mail while on vacation – something I've never done before, but I get very paranoid about taking time off.

Years ago when I was an ad salesman at the Daily Hampshire Gazette I took my first vacation as an adult worker bee. I came back and found a guy sitting at my desk. He looked up at me and said, "You must be the guy who is going to train me."

My boss then whisked me into the conference room and informed me that my sales were down and I was fired. While on vacation they had hired this guy and I had a choice: I could walk out then or I could stay for two more weeks and get a severance package.

I stayed and I trained this guy as well as a salesmen who was being canned for lack for sales could. I saw him many years later at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast and we had a laugh about it.

The event marked me though and I get very nervous about taking time off. Of course I need to take time off, especially of late when my stress levels have been through the roof.

So I have been reading the e-mail just to be aware of some angry letter that would surprise me come Monday and I see the following from pollster John Zogby.

I like Zogby's attitude here. Despite now living in one of the worst periods in American history – a near depression coupled with a two-front war – Zogby has hope.

I do too. Do you?

Hey, maybe I won't find myself fired on Monday.

Here is his column:
The following column was previously published on Forbes.com.

I'm not naturally an optimist. And I'm saying that because my latest book, The Way We'll Be, is very optimistic. I guess having lived my entire life in upstate New York, where downturns have been so numerous, doesn't make you a natural-born optimist.

When I first thought of writing this book 10 years ago, I set out to write a completely different book, almost a dirge, focused on the tens of millions of Americans who had given up on the American Dream. That's because what I had been capturing since the late 1980s was the steady number of people I polled who were giving up eating meals for an entire day because of a lack of money to buy food; and also the growing phenomenon of Americans working at a job that pays less than their previous job.

From the early 1990s to the time I wrote the book, I saw that percentage climb from 14% to 20% by the late '90s, and to 27% in late 2007--and this is all prior to this recent official recession.

But instead, as I probed deeper, I found a renewed spirit, a survival instinct, a readjustment of life's expectations and a redefinition of the American dream. I have found for years now that more Americans say the American Dream has more to do with spiritual fulfillment and leading a genuine and honest life than with the attainment of material things.

To be sure, there are still about a third of us who do define our American Dream in material terms, like owning a home in the suburbs, going from rags to riches or having our dream job. But the simple fact is, in the last decade more than 40% of people consistently relate to the American Dream primarily in spiritual terms. I call them "Secular Spiritualists." We're already a religious nation, but this is something more.

What are the sources of this secular spiritualism? First, it's the 27% of Americans and growing who work for less, who have been downsized, outsourced, eliminated, thrown aside, who generally have been thrown lemons, but have learned to make lemonade. They are the new consumer and the new voter. With a shrinking dollar in their pocket, they are less apt to fall prey to pitches of fantasy and the abstract.

Don't try to sell them a truck just because it has an American flag, and don't try to pitch a product with a supermodel when consumers look like real women. These are people who trade down on a daily basis, and who populate the checkout lines at Wal-Mart, Costco, dollar stores and even Target. They want the best quality for the best buck.

The second source of this secular spiritualism can be found on the other end of the economic spectrum: the 9 to 10 million Americans who actually have made it and who are now saying, "I have too much, I don't need any more. In fact, I can do with a whole lot less."

There is an active and engaged simplification movement in this country that is very informal and is composed of people who say: "I don't really need the next iteration of the iPhone. The one I bought six months ago did not make me a better person. I don't need to put an addition onto my humongous home. I already have too much."

Baby boomers are the third source of secular spiritualism--I call us "Woodstockers." We are a group that peaked in our late teens and twenties. Too much was made of us--we feel we changed the world but now, later in life, we're in need of a second act.

Give or take a few years either way, add all of us together and we will be the first age cohort to have 1 million of us achieve age 100, which means that as we contemplate retirement many of us will have 25 to 35 more years of healthy living ahead of us.

This leads to a very important question--now what are we supposed to do? With that group of Americans just older than us, the group I call the "Privates," we will redefine old age. We will be working and heavily engaged in what historian Robert Fogel calls "volwork,"--meaning we want to teach, mentor, coach, travel and learn in pursuit of more fulfillment.

And the fourth source of this secular spiritualism is a confluence of technologies and events. More Americans are ready to make sacrifices to live in a world of limits, and more are ready to be aware that we are not the only people on this earth. I have noted this phenomenon over and over again, that Americans' greatest moments and victories have come when we've sacrificed together. Winning World War I and World War II are the most obvious, but we also need to be reminded that in the 1970s two different presidents, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, asked us to save energy, wear sweaters and turn down the thermostat--and we did.

The earliest work I did as a pollster in the 1980s revolved around local communities, recycling, restricting smoking and littering. In every case I was warned by local government officials that Americans were selfish. But in every case Americans told me that if there is leadership that requires change, a cause that has a higher purpose and the pain is shared by everyone, then they are ready to serve.

So today we all recycle, we don't litter our streets and highways, and if you want an idea of how little we smoke, travel to Europe. Americans just made history. We elected an African-American who defeated a woman and a septuagenarian. Great changes lie ahead, perhaps more to do with the transformation of the American Dream and character than we have experienced in the last decade.

John Zogby is president and CEO of Zogby International and the author of The Way We'll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

My wife and I have lived in the Maple High -Six Corners section of Springfield since April 1990. It is an inner city neighborhood with working class and working poor residents that has, frankly, clearly bothered some of our friends and relatives.

It hasn't bothered us, though.

The threat of crime has remained largely a threat. We feel pretty safe here. We've had a basketball hoop stolen off the garage and a plant off the porch, but other than that, nothing.

Our biggest worry is abandoned houses as they usually fall prey to vandalism and fire.

That's why when I groggily turned on the television the other morning I couldn't really connect to what I was seeing on the tube – the news that cops had cornered a guy on the roof of a nearby house took a while to sink in.

"That's just up the street," I eventually realized.

Here are the details from Sgt. John Delaney:

"At 6:50 A.M. the Springfield Police Fugitive Apprehension Unit (FAU) led by Officers Robert Bohl and John Leonard went after a fugitive from justice at 98 Florence Street. The unit was attempting to arrest a...
Barry Luther Rowe age 20 of 144 Catherine Street.
Mr. Rowe had outstanding warrants for ...
1) Armed Robbery
2) A&B Dangerous Weapon
3) Assault With a dangerous Weapon
4) Discharging a Firearm with 500 Ft. of a dwelling
5) Carrying a Firearm
6) Poss. of Ammo Without FID
The FAU obtained information that Mr. Rowe was staying at his girlfriend's house at 98 Florence Street third floor. The team of officers entered the dwelling and Rowe ran out the rear door and climbed up onto the roof. Mr. Rowe was observed having a firearm in his waistband of his pants. Mr. Rowe refused to come down and threatened the officers. He would not answer to commands and was verbally abusive to all the officers. Mr. Rowe put himself in great danger. Lt. Charest called for the TRU and the hostage negotiators in to assist in taking Mr. Rowe down safely. Until that team was able to arrive Detective Dennis Prior engaged him in a conversation and was able calm him down. Mr.Rowe did not have shoes and was jumping around the roof almost falling several times. The roof was three stories high and a steep pitch. It's amazing he did not fall according to officers on the scene. The officers talked him down and placed him into custody without injury to anyone. The officers on scene did an outstanding job in the recovery and arrest. Lt. Kevin Wood who was in charge at the scene went into the cellar and recovered a .380 automatic handgun that Rowe was observed to have dumped down the chimney.
Rowe has been charged with the above warrants along with...
7) Carrying a Firearm Without Permit
8) Resisting Arrest
9) Carrying Firearm in Commission of Felony
Mr. Rowe will be arraigned in Springfield District Court this morning."

Lucky the Wonder Bichon and I watched the last part of the drama as we took our morning walk. The Springfield Fire Department was on the scene with a ladder truck to examine the chimney to make sure a weapon hadn't been placed there. WWLP was the only news crew on the scene.

In our neighborhood, the things that drive us nuts are the quality of life issues. The blare and boom from car sound systems, the callous but apparently legal treatment of dogs – keeping them chained outside 24/7 with no exercise and little shelter – the collection of dead cars on property, litter – God, I'm tried of picking up trash in front of the house – and other issues brought on by absentee landlords and people who don't seem to care.

If we were to move it would be due to those reasons and not the idea that we weren't safe.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

I'm keeping my fingers crossed this week.

In my newspaper column this week I wrote the following:

Now the bulk of religious Americans believe in only one God, but sometimes I think we divide our deity of choice into subsets.

Certainly as students we sent prayers to the subset in charge of final exams, SATs and prom date answers. As adults we cluster our requests around getting a warning from the cop who stopped us instead of a ticket; making sure that drink we had at lunch doesn't put us asleep at 3 p.m.; and hoping the IRS doesn't realize we're sending our taxes a day late.

Well, I send prayers to the part of the Almighty who is charge of garbage pickup in the city of Springfield. Granted, that must be a very small part of the Supreme Being's attention, but for my wife and I it is a very important part.

My wife is the world's great recycler. She actively looks for refuse to sort into one of the four bins we have on the back porch. She carefully washes the cans and jars so the two opossums who like to forage in our back yard aren't tempted to go through the cans. She checks the bottom of plastic containers to make sure it is the type of plastic that can be recycled.

But getting rid of this stuff hasn't always been easy. And that leads me to believe perhaps we aren't praying hard enough.

We have no problem with the priests of the other trash deities. The acolytes of the Being That Is The Big Green Can take our offerings regularly and on time. Their colleagues serving the Bulk Pickup God always take our dead sofas, broken tables and cat-clawed chairs as long as we make the right monetary donation to their cause.

It is Those Who Serve Recycling with whom we have problems.

For a while we couldn't get them to pick up our stuff, even though they were picking up the cans, bottles and paper from the few other neighbors who were recycling as well. I made an inquiry and was told we weren't separating the trash properly. I was puzzled how we were to separate items in a single container and decided it had to be a Divine Mystery.

Instead of pondering that riddle, we acquired containers for each class of recyclable and every other week we bring out our bounty of offerings.

Only this past time, we were passed over.

Our neighbors with their single boxes were collected and my wife and I wondered just who we had offended: the Recycling Deity or his servants.

We brought our offerings back from the curb after waiting two days for a special pick-up but it was useless. In order to hold the next two week's quantity I bought more containers, each in the proper blue color with the holy triangle on them.

So my question to the Springfield Church of the DPW is what have we done wrong? We sort. We have separate bins and yet our offering was rejected.

I pray for answers.

Now this time I've once again carefully separated the trash I can recycle into its own bin. In fact we bought a new bin to handle the four week's worth of items.

Now we wait.

For those of you who don't live in Springfield, you need to understand that you can be fined if you don't recycle. The DPW trash police slaps a sticker on your big green can proclaiming your violation. Mayor Domenic Sarno wants to the city to increase its paltry eight percent recycling rate. I'm all in favor of getting that participation up as it's good green policy and it can make the city some money.

However if I don't get my stuff picked up this week I will either have to buy more containers or throw the stuff into the trash. Well, at the very least I will be calling to the DPW and screaming at someone.

I'll keep you posted.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Bought this movie in my favorite NYC Chinatown DVD store.

Will let you know how it is!
Well, the cooperative blogging effort of which I'm proudly a part received a nice piece in the Valley Advocate this week. Go read it and come back.

The goal of Pioneer Valley Central is to try to create a blogging center for local voices that will hopefully make us a little money in the future. Like any publishing effort all of us expect it to take time and to be the subject of constant adjustments.

I'm concerned the Web will devolve into yet another corporate controlled medium. Corporate ownership of television, radio and newspapers has literally sucked the life out of local news and commentary and frankly I can't imagine why the Web won't eventually become the same. Anyone who believes the inherent democratic nature of the Web won't be the subject of corruption and control isn't much of a student of media history – especially of the last 40 years.

In my mind the only way to help prevent that is to build sites that foster local issues. I do some of that here, but more is done over at Pioneer Valley Central.

If you're blogging in the Pioneer Valley and would like more info on how to become part of the group, drop me a line at mdobbs at crocker.com.