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Channelling 'Bitter Bierce:' Are people stupid or willful?

Date: 7/23/2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

Sometimes I can feel his spirit and I would like to think other reporters and editors have had the same experience.

We feel a kinship with one of our own, a giant in American words — Ambrose Bierce.


Bierce was a Civil War veteran, reporter, columnist, social satirist and short story author whose dark view of life earned him the name of "Bitter Bierce." His short stories about the Civil War are considered classics. His "Devil Dictionary" is quoted often. His exit from journalism always seemed appropriate to me. In his 70s, he went to Mexico to cover Pancho Villa and disappeared in 1913 into the desert without a trace.

There are times during which I give into his delightfully dark side, such as this week.

I've been pondering the question, "Are people just stupid or willful?"

For instance, if you're traveling down Dwight Street in Springfield, you cross over the intersection of Boland Way by the Civic Center Parking garage. Dwight Street has three lanes and at the lights there is a large sign that tells motorists that if they are in the right lane they must turn right. Few people pay any heed to that instruction and continue on their merry way, creating an unsafe situation by passing on the right.

Why can't they do the correct thing?

It's just like the innumerable times I've seen people stop traffic because they've decided to walk against the lights. I frankly despise this behavior. It's a great non-verbal way to tell the rest of us to go to Hell and since running them over is deemed unacceptable, I sit there stewing.

This is why I don't own a gun. I would be tempted to follow people who don't use their signals, drive while text messaging and engage in other dangerous behaviors to parking lots and shoot out their tires.

Not very "liberal" of me, is it? I also want to shoot out the speakers in cars belonging to drivers that want me to hear their music. I don't.

Here's another question: do politicians think we're stupid?

I'm getting to the point of just wanting to pin some of the politicians running for office to the ground and force them to actually say something of substance. For instance, Elizabeth Warren uses the same sound bites over and over and doesn't seem willing to actually sit down for an actual conversation. Scott Brown runs ads about his status as a good father. I'm glad he's a good dad and husband, but please let's talk about real stuff.

They both deserve a hearty dope slap.

And how can Mitt Romney make remarks about the sanctity of "3,000 years" of "traditional" marriage when his own family history is dotted with polygamy?

I was amazed that I received an invitation for a local political fund-raiser for Joseph Kennedy that spun the rationalization this way: "As a kid, Joe Kennedy used to tag along with his Uncle Ted as the senator made the rounds to his favorite spots in the Pioneer Valley. Come support Joe on his return visit to his family's old stomping grounds."

Reality check: The late senator was not a frequent visitor here and I really doubt Joe would consider our area as his "stomping grounds."

This warrants another dope slap.

Do radio talk show hosts think we're mouth-breathers who just discovered fire this morning?

I really loved the slack jaw inducing moment last week during which Rush Limbaugh worked mightily to make people believe that the bad guy in the new Batman movie was a slap at Mitt Romney and some sort of conspiracy. Really, Rush? What pills are you on this week?

The fact that anyone takes this guy seriously now is beyond me. His best years are far behind him.

I am proudly a cynic, which Bierce once defined as "a blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be." Some weeks I just hide it better than others.

Disagree? Drop me a line at or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.