Nurses Debate Controversial New Proposals With NARH
By Nicole Knapp
March 30, 2010

The Massachusetts Nurses Association and North Adams Regional Hospital administrators met recently to discuss 114 new proposals, which included the elimination of raises for nurses and mandated overtime.

Safety was a major concern of the MNA board members, who are all nurses at the hospital. They pointed out that if nurses were required to stay at work longer than their scheduled shift (for example, over twelve hours), it would be dangerous to both nurses and patients. Nurses would be exhausted and wouldn't be able to provide quality care.

According to the U.S Department of Labor, healthcare industry workers sustain 4.5 more overexertion injuries than any other type of worker.

"This strikes the heart - the literal heart - of nurses' lives," remarked Shirley Astle, associate director of the MNA, when the board members went over the proposals.

The hospital administration put forth the proposals because they are concerned about what is financially best for the future of the hospital. They admitted that they can't afford the legacy benefits of the RN contract and that's why they are changing things.

"We [the hospital] didn't make these proposals lightly," admitted Mike Shuey, the hospital's attorney. "We're willing to work with the union and willing to come up with other solutions"

If an agreement is not met by both sides, then further negotiations, and possibly even a strike, could occur.

"The hospital management team honestly believes that the hospital would be better staffed with all part-time, at-will [nurses can be fired with no just reason] employees, no unions involved," explained Ruth O'Hearn, chairperson of the MNA. "We are very, very far apart on what each side believes is equitable."

HVHS Experiences Overpopulation
By Nicole Knapp
April 27, 2010

It was early in the morning when the roof over the technical education classroom of Adams Memorial Middle School caved in.

And as a result, Theresa Raftery, along with other faculty members, watched as 750 students crammed into Hoosac Valley High School in the fall of 2009, in a clearly overpopulated environment.

AMMS had turned 57 years old when the roof collapsed and it needed $24 million dollars in repairs. 6th graders were moved three minutes away to C.T Plunkett Elementary School, and 7th and 8th graders were moved up the hill to Hoosac Valley, causing complications.

"I think that the middle school moving up to the high school building has been both positive and negative," said Raftery, a math teacher at Hoosac since Sept. 2001. "The high school students are getting a chance to be mentors to the middle school students through peer tutoring and being teaching assistants in some of the middle school classes."

Raftery has taught calculus, pre-calculus, and geometry for eight years at the school and there is no doubt to her that the addition of more students has made an impact.

"As far as for the teachers, I think that having the middle school in the [building] allows us to better collaborate between the levels," she said.

"As far as the faculty is concerned," explained Henry Duval, the principal at HVHS, "this is a mixed bag. I think the middle school teachers are enjoying the better facility and technology, but certainly miss their independence at the other school."

Duval has also noticed there is a lack of interaction between the high school staff and the middle school staff. Although he has made a point of keeping the high school students and middle school students separated, he would like to see the two different staffs collaborate more.

The lack of space is a big part of the problem, according to the principal. Hoosac Valley, which opened its doors in 1970, has 37 teachers and 45 classrooms available to its 750 students. The old middle school had 29 teachers and 30 classrooms for 400 students.

"Scheduling and room use have been our biggest operational problems," Duval said. "We simply do not have enough classrooms to make this work in an ideal fashion."

Amanda Meczywor, a junior at Hoosac, hs noticed this as well and sees it every day when she walks down the white-tiled halls of Hoosac.

"It's crowded and there are too many people in one small area," she said. "The middle schoolers tend to wander onto our side of the building and get in huge groups in the middle of the hall, making it difficult for us."

The age gap at the high school ranges from 12 year olds to 18 year olds. Although interactions have been kept at a minimum, there are still inevitable encounters. Duval mentioned that one successful idea has been pairing struggling middle school students with high school tutors. However, there is also a negative side, according to Meczywor.

"There are more middle school girls dating high school boys," she said. "And that's not a good thing."

While the middle school students are following in the footsteps of the high schoolers, the high school itself is slowly following in the footsteps of the middle school.

It needs repairs done and a few different options have been discussed. The district's building committe has considered moving students to a certain part of the building while the other part is renovated, or possibly moving the high school students back down to AMMS and the middle school students to what was once the Notre Dame School.

But could Adams Memorial Middle School hold students once again?

According to the Statement of Interest to the State Building Authority, the building was closed down because it was "structurally unsound or otherwise in a condition seriously jeopardizing the health and safety of school children."

The Statement of Interest describes how the outside brick walls are deteriorating and random bricks have begun to fall out of place. The plumbing of the heating system, as well as the roof, leaks. Tiles and plaster fall from the ceiling. The electrical system was installed in 1952 and is decribed as not fit to run in the current decade. Space is also limited; when the school was operating, art classes were held in the girls' locker room and music classes were held on the stage of the auditorium.

But in the meantime, no further arrangements have been made and Duval is remaining positive while focusing on Hoosac Valley and the future.

"I think the arrangement is working out well for the students," he said. "The 7th and 8th grade students seem to enjoy being at the high school, the facility is in much better shape than the former middle school, and they have more opportunities to utilize the technology in this building."

"Some of the positive aspects are that the students are getting comfortable with the older students and the building," agreed Raftery.

However, the changes and thoughts of how things used to be hover in the air.

Raftery's old classroom had a large window that overlooked the school parking lot, where she was able to witness the massive traffic jam that resulted in students hurrying to leave every day. But the room once known to all students as "Mrs. Raftery's room with the banana tree," is no longer soley hers.

"We have classes in a conference room and some teachers are moving to four different classrooms throughout their day," she said. "This has been the hardest thing for me to get used to."

Mother Helps Local Girls in Daughter’s Memory
By Nicole Knapp
October 15, 2010

Debbie Bolognani is surrounded by approximately 600 prom dresses in a small, former yarn shop in Wilmington, Vt. “I love it here,” she says as she stands in the newly renovated place, which also contains a pedestal, a full length mirror, and a dressing room. It is a place where, by appointment, girls can come in, try on dresses until they find the right one, and then borrow it for their special occasion. 

Bolognani opened Jessica’s Closet in the spring in memory of her eighteen-year old daughter, Jessica, who died in a tragic accident on Jan. 2, 2010. The cause has not only helped Jessica’s family and friends keep her memory alive, but it has also helped many young women in the community find their own confidence in the form of a prom dress.

“The girls who stop by looking for the perfect dress almost always find it and everyone leaves happy!” said Molly Hescock, a friend of Jessica.

Jessica’s Closet is one half of the Jessica Bolognani Scholarship Fund, the other half being Jessica’s Locker, where people can donate sports equipment. Any money raised for the scholarship fund will give kids in local communities the chance to participate in the Valley Youth Sports Program.

“Debbie is offering the young girls from the communities served by Jessica’s Closet the opportunity to feel beautiful on the outside,” said Ruth O’Hearn, a friend of Bolognani, “and to know the inner peace that comes from accepting that who they truly are is on the inside and that everyone deserves to feel good about themselves.”

One of Jessica’s best friends came up with the idea for Jessica’s Closet, an idea that soon became a reality in the spring. It started as literally a closet in Twin Valley High School in Wilmington, from which Jessica graduated in 2009. In April, they started to receive dresses.

“They just started pouring in,” Bolognani remembered, saying that the first 25 dresses came from Stamford. “I kept saying, if we just dress one girl, I’ll be happy.” They opened in May and dressed 90 girls in the three Saturdays that they were open for business.

Eventually, space became limited and the closet door would no longer shut, due to so many dresses in plastic garment bags. That was when they moved to a bigger location, in a building just five minutes from the high school, and entered in the Pepsi Project for a chance to win $250,000 for the Closet.

Bolognani knows that they will not stay in the current building, which was offered to them by a lady who had previously used it as a yarn shop, because they keep expanding. It took them six months to get approved by the Pepsi Project and once voting began, it did not take them long to go from position 1,148 to position 32. They are still in the running and hoping to advance to first place.

“I think that’s the hardest thing, getting the word out,” Bolognani said. “This is for the community, not just for Wilmington. That is the message I want to get out. This is for surrounding communities.”

Bolognani said girls from all over have come to Jessica’s Closet and that the Closet has received donated dresses from Vermont, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine. Two hundred of the dresses still had the price tags on them, never before worn. And young women from different communities are continuing to donate their dresses.

“I just sit here and I can’t even believe this,” Bolognani says, as she looks around at all of the dresses. “I think we’re doing a really good thing. It’s been very therapeutic. I think it’s a very good way to keep her memory alive.”

According to Bolognani, Jessica was into everything, very community-oriented, and she always let people borrow from her closet. She was an athlete who played softball, soccer, and basketball, as well as a volunteer, referee, coach, and a freshman at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. She was the prom queen at Twin Valley last year and she and her friends always dressed for dances together.

“I was the one who had the car full of girls!” Bolognani said. “For me, it wasn’t the expense. I just wanted to spend the day with my daughter.”

As of right now, there are still an additional 200 dresses in Jessica’s room at home, and 50 dresses at the drycleaners. Bolognani said they have spent thousands of dollars in dry cleaning and to help pay for this expense, she sells jewelry at Jessica’s Closet.

“Jessica would be thrilled with everything that has been done in her memory,” said Hescock, “because it is something she would do for these girls if she was still here to do it herself!”

Bolognani knows that Jessica’s Closet will continue to thrive. She has many goals for the Closet, including renting a community building one day (complete with a room for Jessica’s Locker) and bringing in tuxedo fitters so that guys can easily get fitted in the same place as their dates. She also wants to continue to get the word out, to move up in the ranks of the Pepsi Project votes, and to get young women involved.

“That’s what Jess was all about – self esteem,” Bolognani says, looking around the room, where there is a framed picture of Jessica on the wall and custom-made Jessica’s Closet t-shirts and flip-flops near the entrance. “Everyone being a team. That was my kid. She would love this.”

MCLA Board of Trustees Approves Budget
By Nicole Knapp
November 5, 2010

The Board of Trustees approved the operating budget of $24.5 million for fiscal year 2011 at its meeting yesterday.

“It’s been a very challenging couple of years,” said President Mary Grant. “We’re actually in good shape relative to what’s been happening in the environment.”

Jim Stakenas, vice president of Administration and Finance, reported that $850,000 of the budget was federal stimulus money left over from fiscal year 2010 and that $12.3 million was state appropriation, an increase of $300,000 from last year. There will also be an $800,000 gap for the fiscal year of 2012.

Grant said that the budget also included $1 million for student scholarships. The budget will carry through until June 30, 2011.

In other business, the board:

· approved the audit and financial statements of 2010 by the accounting firm O’Connor and Drew;

· were told by Grant that there will be a meeting regarding the new science center at the site on Blackinton Street on Tuesday at 11 a.m.

“It's been a very busy Fall and I don't expect it to slow down any time soon,” said Grant. “It's continued to be a good progression of the academic year."

Biomass Plant Proposal for Pownal Raises Mixed Opinions
By Nicole Knapp
December 6, 2010

A proposal to build a 29.5 mega watt biomass electric generation facility in Pownal, VT, has raised both positive and negative feelings in the surrounding communities.

The plant is planned to be built on the 45 acres of land that was once the Green Mountain Racing Track.

"Every time someone tries to build something there, the town rejects it," said Kate Cote, a Pownal resident. She also noted that it was used for dog racing in the past and most recently, for Bingo nights.

On their website, the Bennington-Berkshire Citizens Coalition, an organization formed by Concerned Citizens of Pownal and Concerned Citizens of Williamstown, stated that Beaver Wood Energy is trying to set their plan into motion by December to be eligible for $80 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

This raises a concern expressed among many community members, including the Bennington-Berkshire Citizens Coalition, that Beaver Wood is rushing into its plan and not giving residents enough time to educate themselves, review the plans, and speak their minds about it.

"A biomass plant of this scale could seriously affect the quality of air, the availability of water, the health of woodlands, the integrity of roads, and the health of community members," Adam Falk, the president of Williams College, said in a letter to Pownal Public Service Board members. "It's conceivable that even the economic impact could turn out to be negative. If these adverse results ensued, they could well affect the region and not just Pownal and Vermont."

Furthermore, there are long term effects to be considered. Protesters are worried that the biomass plant could lead to serious deforestation, traffic congestion, and air pollution in the area, as well as a possible strain on the regional water supply.

Averill Cook, a biomass expert who spoke at MCLA on Thursday, said, "It's a science. It's not something to be taken lightly. It needs structure and it needs guidelines."

The project would not have any effect on the scenic beauty of the area, said David Raphael, principal and owner or Landworks in Middlebury VT, in a pre-filed testimony of the project.

"If no one pointed [biomass plants] out, it would be rare that they would be noticed," Cook added.

Biomass is defined by the Biomass Energy Centre as "biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms." Beaver Wood Energy says on its website that the Pownal biomass plant would be designed to minimize waste and maximize output and efficiency, and furthermore, be the cleanest biomass plant in the entire country.

The new biomass plant would reduce reliance on foreign materials (such as oil and coal), reduce Green House Gas Emissions, and preserve the forests, according to "Proposed Biomass Project," a presentation on the Beaver Wood website. The plant would also create around 900 new jobs, with 50 jobs available at the site and 140 indirect jobs available in forestry, as well as other businesses.

Furthermore, the presentation points outs that there are already two successful biomass plants in Vermont; the Rygate facility in Rygate, VT, has been operating since 1992 and the McNeil station in Burlington, VT, has been operating since 1984.

The construction cost of the project is estimated at $250 million, with construction set to be completed by the end of 2013, according to the Petition for Certificate of Public Good.

"It's not a silver bullet, it's not a perfect world," said Cook. "But I believe we need to start somewhere."

Parking is Still a Problem for Students
By Nicole Knapp
December 10, 2010

Samantha Bruchbacher has gotten three parking tickets during the four years she has been commuting to MCLA.

“I usually come straight from work and do not have time to constantly drive up and down different streets looking for a spot because I will be late for my classes,” she said. “So I park where I can find a spot.”

The parking situation at the college has been a concern to students for many years. It seems like everybody has at one time had an experience where they could not find a parking spot, or have gotten a ticket for parking where they shouldn’t. 

“I think the parking situation at MCLA needs work,” said Brie Gallup, a resident student, who shares a car with her best friend.

Although Gallup has lived on campus for the past three years, when she was a freshman she commuted from Pittsfield.

“As a commuter freshman year I found it very difficult to find a parking space, and would find myself late for class because I had to drive around until a space was free,” she said.

According to Steven King, assistant dean for Enrollment and Director of Admission and Student Records, there are a total of 1,721 undergraduate students currently enrolled at the college; 1,016 are residents and 705 don’t live on campus.

There are currently 626 parking spaces, with 272 resident student spaces and 135 commuter student spaces (as well as 193 faculty/staff spaces and 26 visitor/handicap spots), according to Public Safety.

“You cannot assume that the remaining 705 students are traditional commuter students,” said King. “Some may actually live off campus within walking distance and may not be parking a car in campus lots.”

An online MCLA final report by the Division of Capital Asset Management and Board of Higher Education shows that there were 639 parking spaces as of November 2007. At that time, there were 278 resident spaces and 108 commuter spaces (as well as 230 employee spaces and 23 visitor/handicap spaces).

In 2007, there were about 1,560 undergraduate students. In 2010, there are now 161 more students and 13 fewer parking spots.

If anything, it appears that the commuter students have experienced a bit of a positive shift in the last three years with the addition of 27 more parking spaces for commuters, but these effects are not always felt.

“There is not nearly enough parking for commuters,” said Gallup. “I think the commuter lots should be bigger and in different locations than they are now.”

Another speculation has been that there are not enough parking spots to correspond with parking permits that are sold each semester. “I have paid for stickers in the past,” said Bruchbacher, “and with the time my class is during the day, have never been able to find a parking spot in the designated parking lots.”

According to the Commuter Services FAQ on the college website, “A parking permit provides students eligibility to park on campus, however, it does not guarantee that every permit holder will have a space every time they come to campus.”

“I don’t think that students should have to pay for a parking sticker if they are not being guaranteed a parking spot,” said Bruchbacher, an English major with a concentration in Corporate Communications. “Students should still be given stickers but only to the number of spots MCLA has for its students.”

And with plans for the new Center for Science and Innovation in the works, there is the threat that 80 parking spaces will be taking away from students when the center is built on a current parking lot on Blackinton Street.

“If MCLA takes away a parking lot to put up the science center…the uproar from students is going to be immense,” said Bruchbacher. “If they are going to take down that parking lot they need to make sure they have another comparable area in mind for parking.”

The college recently purchased the Shapiro & Sons warehouse on Ashland Street with the purpose of demolishing part of the building to make additional parking spots.

A statement in the online final report supports this idea: “Parking lots provide opportunities as future building sites or new campus open spaces, but displaced parking will need to be replaced if demand cannot be reduced through policy measures.” 

But in the meantime, there is still the current parking situation to be considered.

“Nothing that I’ve noticed has changed in terms of the parking situation,” said Gallup, who will be graduating in the fall of 2011 with a major in psychology. “Therefore, I feel little if no improvements have been made.” She added that she thought the lot next to Berkshire Towers should be a resident parking lot.

Bruchbacher said that she understands that some students walk a lot further at other colleges and that the school might feel that students should be thankful for the parking that they have.

“But we are not at larger colleges that have students walk awhile,” she added. “We are at MCLA and instead of comparing us to other colleges, they need to fix the problem.”

MCLA Green Living Lecture to Be Held Tonight
By Nicole Knapp
February 2011

The Green Living Lecture "Dams, Flow, and Stream Ecology" will be held tonight in Murdock Hall, room 218, at 5:30 p.m.

According to Elena Traister, assistant professor of environmental science, the lecture will focus on how dams and water withdrawals have effects on stream ecology.

Stream ecology is the interaction between plants, animals, humans, and their physical environment. People store water for many different uses by damning rivers, but dams change many features of water which in turn change the communities of living things.

"A lot of old mill dams in the area are being taken out due to stream ecology," Traister said, explaining the connection to local streams and lakes. "We need to be aware of our water uses so we can limit our impact on them."

The lecture will be presented by Russ Cohen, a river advocate at the Massachusetts Riverways Program. This program provides outreach and technical support for river conservation efforts.

Traister hopes that those who attend the lecture will walk away with an understanding of how our actions can influence local aquatic resources and what we can do to preserve the local natural resources we have.

The lecture is free and open to the public. It is a part of this spring's Green Living Seminar Series, sponsored by the BERC and the Environmental Studies Program.

The Modern Day Child
By Nicole Knapp
February 2011

Jeter Rodriguez is very handsome.

Although he’s a stubborn little man, he is also smart (he understands Spanish) and friendly to everyone, except mailmen and plumbers.  He wore a dashing white tuxedo to his mother’s wedding and if you were to look inside his closet, you would also find an army vest, a fishing vest, and a Sherlock Holmes coat.  He may be starting to go gray under his chin but he still has a good time with his cute little girlfriend, Maddie.  He also happens to be a pug.

The bright, sun-lit kitchen of Helen Bourdon is filled with the sound of clicking nails on the tiled floor, along with pug snorts, wheezing, and the occasional snore.  The sound of slopping fills the room as Jeter drinks from his water bowl, near the sink.

“You’re like a St. Bernard today!”  exclaims Martha Rodriguez, Helen’s daughter, explaining that he is so thirsty because he had turkey earlier.

It is in this very kitchen that Helen makes Jeter his favorite breakfast every morning: whole wheat toast with butter (not margarine) cut into nine pieces and served on a paper towel.  Most of his food is served on a paper towel, with the exception of his Häagen-Dazs ice cream, which he eats off a paper plate.

In the most recent pet owner survey conducted by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) in 2004, 94% of pet owners said that their pet has human-like personality traits.  Dr. Oscar Rodriguez described the relationship between his wife, Martha, and Jeter as that of mother and child, literally.

“That’s her little boy,” he said, with a smile. “Sometimes I think she cares more for the dog than for me.”

In her book Pack of Two, writer and columnist Caroline Knapp explained this kind of close relationship: “Fall in love with a dog, and in many ways you enter a new orbit, a universe that features not just new colors but new rituals, new rules, a new way of experiencing attachment.”

Statistics Say…

“Depending on what study you look at, anywhere from 87 to 99 % of dog owners report that they see their dogs as family members, figures that are certainly borne out by behavior,” Knapp continued.   A number of statistics, old and new, support the growing notion that pet owners treat their pets like children or see them as little humans. 

Martha and Jeter fit into many of these statistics in different ways.  For example, according to the 1995 AAHA pet owner survey, 55 % of owners considered themselves “Mom and Dad” to their pets and 45% of pet owners said their pet listens to them best, more than their spouse or family member.  “I get just as much out of a conversation with Jeter as I do with Oscar,” Martha said.

33 % of people said that they talk to their dogs on the phone or through an answering machine when they’re away.  Recently, Oscar and Martha went away to Mexico for eight days.  Martha would call every day and ask, “How’s my son?  How was his day?” 

Also according to the 1995 AAHA survey, 79 % of respondents reported they give their pets holiday or birthday presents.  Martha recently held a birthday party for Jeter, who turned seven, and decorated the house with streamers.  Everybody wore party hats, sang to him, and brought him presents. They even had a steak cake. 

“People think we’re nuts,” said Oscar, and turned to Martha.“Your father thinks we’re nuts.”

Jeter and Maddie

Jeter is a rare “apricot” pug named after Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees.  His full name is Jeter Rodriguez and from this Martha says she gets the best of both worlds: Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.

“I think that’s the reason your dad doesn’t like him,” Oscar joked.

Jeter’s favorite toys are among the many dog toys sprawled in the corner of the kitchen, including his fox with the five-inch-long nose, Foxy Cleopatra, his long dog, Maurice, and his pet squirrel, Comfy Cozy.

“Jeter is really the best dog I ever had,” Oscar continued, adding that he makes no messes and sleeps all the time.

Jeter weighs twenty-eight pounds and needs to lose at least eight of those pounds.  He is sometimes called Lord of the Rings because of the five rings around his neck and recently went to a neurosurgeon in Albany for a dog MRI for three herniated discs in his neck.

“I was a mess thinking, if anything happens to that dog…” Martha said, trailing off for a moment, before continuing, “We wouldn’t get another dog if we lost Jeter because it would hurt too much.”

“Huh, Mr. Man?” she added, looking down affectionately at her pug.

When asked by the AAHA which health care provider they visited more often, 58% of pet owners said they visit their pet’s veterinarian more than their own physician.  Along with the neurosurgeon, Jeter also recently went to the doggie dentist to get his teeth cleaned and a few teeth pulled out.

The topic of conversation turns to Helen’s pug, Maddie.  Under the kitchen table, Jeter and Maddie are sitting close together.  Jeter is washing Maddie’s ears for her.

“These two are like peas and carrots together,” Helen said of the two pugs.

Maddie is a four-year-old fawn who enjoys playing with her toy duck and walking around the campus across the street, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, nestled in the mountains of western Massachusetts.  Helen says that because Maddie loves attention, she likes to walk there when the students are out. 

“They all talk to her,” Helen said.  “We call it Maddie goes to college!"

Maddie wore a silk, pink dress to Martha and Oscar’s wedding on July 17, one of the hottest days of the summer of 2010.  Jeter wore a white tuxedo with a black bow; both wedding outfits were especially tailored for them.  The pugs were very well-behaved and played in the plants around Martha and Oscar, without getting any dirt or grass stains on their outfits.

“When we were pronounced husband and wife and kissed,” Martha said, “those two were on the side kissing.”

A Lasting Bond
One last statistic by the AAHA shows 57 % of owners would choose to be marooned with a dog instead of a human if they were stranded on a desert island, a statistic that deeply reflects the impact a dog can have on a person.

“Whereas your mother finds comfort in you and your brother and sister,” explained Martha, “I find comfort in Jeter.  He’s just so cool.”

However, Martha added that her two daughters, Bridgit and Bethany, don’t share her level of attachment to Jeter. 

“All my friends know you’re the freak who rides around talking to the dog,” Bethany once said to her, in the days back when Martha would drive her to school and she would sit in the back seat while Jeter sat in the front.

The afternoon grows later and Jeter’s eyes start to close.  After a few moments, soft pug snores fill the room. Although her daughters regard Jeter as just a dog, Martha adds with a knowing smile, “My dog is spectacular.”

Sidebar: Dogs Then, Dogs Now

When people think of the modern pet, the image that usually comes to mind is that of dogs who sleep soundly in their special pet beds, inside the house, with their favorite toy a few feet away.  This is a far cry from what dogs used to be; long ago, dogs hunted in the woods with their masters or sat around the farm outside with the chickens all day.

But that picture is changing and probably has been forever altered.

In her book Pack of Two, Caroline Knapp explained, “Dog owners like me are in closer proximity to dogs these days because we understand them better, thanks in large part to the explosion of information about the nature of the dog, his heritage, and his mind.”  She recalled how in her grandfather’s time, dogs wouldn’t hang out inside with people all day but would live outside most of the time.

Knapp observed that changing technology has contributed to the new ways that people treat their pets.

“My grandfather certainly didn’t spend his leisure time cruising dog chat rooms on the Internet, or investigating canine web pages, or attending on-line veterinary forums,” she said.

The way people treat their pets is still constantly changing.  According to a 2004 American Animal Hospital survey, 53% of pet owners say they spend more money on their pet now than three years ago.  A few more years from now, people may be surprised to see how further domesticated animals might become.

By Nicole Knapp

The music is reversible

                                 But time is not

                   Turn back…turn back…

        turn back…turn back…

                                    -Electric Light Orchestra, “Fire On High” played backward.

It was sometime after midnight on Savoy mountain.  A two-story gray house with a stone gargoyle on the porch sat surrounded by forest; somewhere deep in the back, a forgotten cemetery and most likely a few coyotes and bears stayed concealed by trees.  Everyone was asleep and the house was dark and still, except for a dull light coming from the left hand window.  Here, two best friends sat in the dark, huddled around a glowing computer screen.

I sat there, a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach, as Lizz selected a clip of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and hit ‘play backward.’  And then we heard the secret message.  Absolutely terrified, trying to fall asleep later that night, my twelve-year-old brain couldn’t help but wonder…did Led Zeppelin really put that message there?  And why?

A few months later, my thirteen-year-old finger hovered over the skip button on the CD player when “Stairway to Heaven” popped up on my mix tape.  Although I thought the song was hauntingly beautiful and Robert Plant was a rock god, I couldn’t help but think back to the night I had played it backward with my best friend.  I let it play as I tried not to think of the secret message hidden within it.

Where It All Began

My friend Adam Markland, a 25-year-old who has been a Led Zeppelin fan for nine years, said he remembered hearing “Stairway to Heaven” played backward years ago on a Zeppelin website.

“I thought it was really creepy,” he admitted, explaining that to hear supposed demonic statements being said, the album had to be played in reverse and the rotation speed of the player had to be decreased.  “It caused the background music to be really distorted and eerie sounding and the vocals sounded absolutely demonic, like Robert Plant was possessed or something.”

Adam, Lizz, and I were only three of the probably thousands who listened to the 1971 song backward.  It started in 1982 when a group of Baptist preachers accused Led Zeppelin of hiding satanic subliminal messages in their music.  A committee of the California state assembly listened to “Stairway to Heaven” backward in April of that year and confirmed it.

But we must go back in time to 1969 when rumors began to circulate that Paul McCartney had died in a car crash and the Beatles had replaced him with a look-alike and planted clues on their album covers and in their songs.  Legend had it that if you played certain Beatles songs backward, you would hear secret messages.

Or perhaps even further back, in 1966, when the Beatles began to experiment with their song “Rain,” the first song to contain a backward message and the first time the Beatles themselves experimented with reverse speech in music.

According to Andru J. Reeves in his book Turn Me On, Dead Man: The Beatles and the “Paul Is Dead” Hoax, “With this they also set a precedent of sorts: if they did it once, they might do it again – but perhaps with a motive more sinister than mere playfulness.  To be sure, many cluesters saw the reversals as an important indicator of the lengths the Beatles would go to in order to hide secret messages about Paul.”

How and Why

Playing songs backward and hearing secret messages is referred to as backmasking and there are two different types: engineered reversal and phonetic reversal.  Engineered reversal occurs when a passage is recorded normally and the tape is physically turned around. 

“With speech, the result is usually garbled and indecipherable as language,” Reeves wrote, using “Rain” as an example.  “To reveal the original speech, the record or tape must be played backward.”

For phonetic reversal, one can take a phrase that sounds clear forward and spin it in reverse, resulting in something that sounds like gibberish.  Sometimes, by coincidence, a phrase can come out of it. 

“With practice, a person can learn to ‘speak backwards’,” Reeves explained, using “Revolution 9” as an example. “That is, a desired message such as ‘turn me on, dead man’ can be recorded and then played backward and the listener can then learn the phonetic result.”           

My very first experience with backmasking was in sixth grade, when my middle school music teacher Steven Guerino (known affectionately to all his students as “Mr. G”) taught us the “Paul-Is-Dead” clues, along with which songs contained backward messages.  He still teaches this to his sixth grade students.

“My students love this stuff and usually beg for more,” Mr. G said, explaining that they tell him how they go through their parents’ record collections after learning about it.  “Some students get creeped out but still enjoy it.”

My friend Jenn Golin, now 29, played her dad’s Beatles records backward about fifteen years ago with her best friend, Danielle Buda Whitlingum, after taking Mr. G’s class. They found a copy of the Beatles’ Blue Album and decided to give it a try.

“I had heard a lot of the ‘Paul is dead’ rumors and had wanted to see if I could hear the same things that people said they heard,” Danielle, a Beatles fanatic, explained.  “At the time I was excited because I thought I could really hear a car crash and people yelling, ‘Paul is dead!’”

 “I think it was kind of freaky because you could hear the voices and the words,” Jenn added, “but we kept doing it because we thought it was kind of cool.”  She thought for a moment, before adding, “I almost want to do it again!”

Danielle described how they placed the records on an old record player, put the needle at the end of each song, and then manually spun the record in reverse, repeating for each song.

“We’d just put it on and spin it by hand,” said Jenn, demonstrating with her hands how they used to spin it backward, scratching the records in the process.  “Dad would get mad and say ‘don’t do that!’ and we’d take them back and do it again.”

So Did They Or Didn’t They?

“I don’t know what Beatles records sound like backwards. I never play them backwards.”
- John Lennon, 1969 WKNR interview.

Many bands have been accused of including subliminal messages in their music and it poses the question: so did they or didn’t they?

Most major books on certain bands, whether it be anthologies, biographies or music history books, don’t include any sign that such accusations every occurred.   Although some people believe the messages were put there intentionally (and some were), a few accused bands were angry and confused that such claims were made against the music that they worked so hard to create.  Others chose to ignore it, leaving it to remain as a mysterious rock myth. 

Adam told me that he wasn’t sure if Led Zeppelin intentionally put the backward message in “Stairway to Heaven.”

“I mean, it seems hard to believe that a statement can just randomly appear in a work of music when played backward,” he said.  “But I remember reading an interview with Robert Plant, who wrote the lyrics for the song, and he claimed he didn’t know anything about it and he never intended to place any kind of hidden backwards message in the song.”

The interview he referred to was from 1983, when Robert Plant said, “To me, it’s very sad because ‘Stairway to Heaven’ was written with every best intention.  And as far as reversing tapes and putting messages on the end, that’s not my idea of making music.”

Sometimes I still think of the little twelve-year-old huddled in the dark with her best friend, listening in awe and fear for hidden messages in songs played in reverse. But in the nine years since, although being freaked out has caused me to sell my copy of Turn Me On, Dead Man and spend many nights on the couch,  I don’t believe Led Zeppelin sold their souls to the devil and I don’t believe that Paul McCartney was ever dead.

Mr. G is asked by all his students if the backward messages in Beatles song were placed there on purpose.  “I never give them the answer and try not to influence them,” he said.  “I have them look and listen to all the clues so they can determine their own decision.”

Backmasking, along with the songs and their supposed messages, remain there for new generations to re-discover.  And they too can decide for themselves what they think. 

Try It!

Various bands have been accused of hiding all kinds of different messages in their songs, messages that only reveal themselves if you play them in reverse.  These accusations range from Satanic messages to drug references to something a little more extreme - hiding a rock musician's death.

From bands wanting nothing to do with such accusations to fired-up Baptist preachers and from fans who can hear the messages to fans who think it's ridiculous - it's very difficult to discern if the messages were placed their intentionally, whether seriously or for fun.

In today's time, you no longer need a record player to backmask (but if you do, it's highly suggested you use it).  You can simply go onto Youtube or any other website and the work has already been done for you.

Here are a few popular backmasked messages to explore:

1.  Led Zeppelin "Stairway to Heaven"
2. The Beatles "Revolution #9"
3. The Beatles "I'm So Tired"
4. The Beatles "Rain"
5. Queen "Another One Bites The Dust"
6. Electric Light Orchestra "Fire On High"
7. Pink Floyd "Empty Spaces"
8. The Eagles "Hotel California"
9. Styx "Snowblind"
10. The Doors "Break on Through (To The Other Side)"

Reverse Speech

It's not just music that people claim to hear reverse messages in.  There is also reverse messages in speechs and everyday conversations.  According to the website of David John Oates, founder and developer of Reverse Speech Technologies, "If human speech is recorded and played backwards, mixed amongst the gibberish at regular intervals can be heard very clear statements.  These statements usually appear in short sentence form and are nearly always related to the forward speech."

Visit his website,, to hear backward messages from political speeches, current events, music, and many others.

Visit to upload any file from your computer and play it backward.


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