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The Monitor Leftovers

Posted in Uncategorized by mrochele on September 8, 2010

Monitor leftovers

(Matt Rocheleau, Aug. 29, 2010)

Each week for 44 years The Christian Science Monitor’s Washington reporters have hosted a special weekly meeting with major public figures to discuss American politics. They call itThe Monitor Breakfast.” I call this – a bunch of reporting I did during my Monitor internship that was cut for the web to keep things succinct or cut for print so things would fit – The Monitor Leftovers.

Maybe some of it’s useful, maybe none of it is, but at least my mom will be happy I’m finally not letting leftovers go to waste.

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How this works:

Below, the additional information not used in their original stories is organized into sections by date starting with the most recently published stories first. Each section begins with the headline of the story the unpublished reporting was done for. Below the headline, the opening paragraph or two, along with the link to continue reading the original story in its entirety, should provide any background that may be necessary to help make better sense of what is in each section.

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Mosque debate: Behind America’s anxiety over Islam

September 3, 2010
Controversy over the New York and other mosques underlines the struggle to balance values of religious tolerance with fears, real and imagined, in an age of terrorism.”
Read Full Original Story

Unpublished:

When asked if the current backlash against Muslim Americans was more or less concerning (or perhaps not comparable at all) to what happened to Muslim Americans after 9/11, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Media Relations Director Ahmed Rehab said, “It’s more concerning now because it’s becoming a visible, organized movement.”

“Before, [in the weeks and months following 9/11] it was more of a knee-jerk reaction,” he said in a late-August phone interview. But now, there are organized protests and rallies, political and religious leaders and other public figures are involved.

….

EEOC: Charges Based on Religion-Muslim

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Charges Based on Religion-Muslim
Received From 10/01/1999 thru 09/30/2009
Alleged Issues FY2000 FY2001 FY2002 FY2003 FY2004 FY2005 FY2006 FY2007 FY2008 FY2009 10 Year Total % of Actual No of Charges
Advertising 1 1 2 0.04%
Apprenticeship 1 1 0.02%
Assignment 9 11 13 19 4 16 16 13 42 34 177 3.15%
Benefits 1 5 11 10 2 3 3 5 11 10 61 1.09%
Benefits-Retirement/Pension 1 1 0.02%
Benefits-Insurance 1 2 1 1 3 2 10 0.18%
Waivers 1 1 0.02%
Severance Pay Denied 2 2 0.04%
Constructive Discharge 19 26 37 44 13 30 29 23 41 20 282 5.02%
Demotion 12 16 18 16 9 10 6 17 13 16 133 2.37%
Discharge 143 158 423 274 207 233 256 243 340 445 2,722 48.48%
Discipline 37 49 76 62 25 39 68 47 86 105 594 10.58%
Exclusion 1 1 5 2 1 2 12 9 33 0.59%
Filing EEO Forms 2 2 1 6 5 16 0.28%
Harassment 87 120 269 226 141 150 167 220 190 291 1,861 33.14%
Hiring 27 28 58 68 45 54 93 53 64 53 543 9.67%
Intimidation 14 10 40 22 6 8 9 11 28 26 174 3.10%
Job Classification 2 2 1 2 3 10 0.18%
Layoff 6 5 31 21 21 8 9 5 10 21 137 2.44%
English Language Only Rule 3 1 1 1 1 7 0.12%
Other Language/Accent Issue 1 2 1 1 4 1 10 0.18%
Other 8 10 31 11 9 10 10 12 37 29 167 2.97%
Promotion 22 20 44 38 33 23 28 31 51 27 317 5.65%
Posting Notices 0 0.00%
Qualifications 1 1 2 4 0.07%
Recall 2 1 3 1 1 1 9 0.16%
References Unfavorable 3 3 2 1 2 4 5 1 21 0.37%
Referral 1 1 6 2 2 2 1 15 0.27%
Reinstatement 2 1 2 4 1 1 1 2 2 16 0.28%
Retirement-Involuntary 1 1 1 1 1 1 6 0.11%
Reasonable Accommodation 35 47 62 48 27 61 69 91 84 117 641 11.42%
Recordkeeping Violation 2 2 1 5 0.09%
Segregated Facilities 1 1 2 0.04%
Seniority 1 2 2 1 1 1 8 0.14%
Sexual Harassment 7 6 14 5 1 3 6 3 3 48 0.85%
Suspension 7 14 34 13 12 19 37 16 26 36 214 3.81%
Tenure 1 1 1 1 1 2 7 0.12%
Terms/Conditions 74 92 227 140 125 114 128 146 188 185 1,419 25.27%
Testing 1 1 1 3 0.05%
Training 2 5 6 4 2 7 5 9 11 51 0.91%
Union Representation 3 2 3 13 2 1 10 1 35 0.62%
Wages 25 22 32 40 10 17 14 21 31 28 240 4.27%
Total Allegations 557 658 1,463 1,090 697 808 964 974 1,304 1,490 10,005
Actual No of Charges * 284 330 720 598 504 507 594 606 669 803 5,615
* Charges may have more than one alleged issue.

Islam in Europe and Americas

U.S. Russia Germany France U.K. Spain Canada World
Total population 310 million 142 million 82 million 64 million 61 million 45.5 million 33.3 million 6.8 billion
Muslim population

(2009)

2.4 million 16.5 million 4 million 3.5 million 1.6 million 650,000 660,000 1.57 billion
Muslim percent of total population 0.77% 11.6% 4.88% 5.6% 2.62% 1.43% 2% 23.09%
Number of mosques (2009) 1,900 4,000 2,666 2,300 850 to 1,500 468 200 ???
Mosques per every 10,000 Muslims 7.9 2.4 7.6 6.5 5.3 to 9.4 7.2 3 ???
Mosques per every 1 million of total population 6.1 28.2 32.5 37.1 13.9 to

24.6

10.3 6 ???

SOURCES: CENSUS BUREAU, WORLD BANK, WORLD FACTBOOK, PEW CENTER, CAIR, NETWORK OF EUROPEAN FOUNDATIONS

Charges filed by Muslim American individuals to US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, (EEOC):

Fiscal years 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997

1998 2000 2001 2002 2003
Total charges 72302 87942 91189 87529 77990 80680 79591 79896 80840 81293 79432
Religion charges 1388 1449 1546 1581 1564 1709 1786 1939 2127 2572 2532
Religion charges percent of total 1.9% 1.6% 1.7% 1.8% 2.0% 2.1% 2.2% 2.4% 2.6% 3.0% 3.1%
Fiscal years 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009

Total charges 79432 75428 75768 82792 95402 93277
Religion charges 2466 2340 2541 2880 3273 3386
Religion charges percent of total 3.1% 3.1% 3.4% 3.5% 3.4% 3.6%
SOURCE: EEOC

Civil rights complaints reported by Muslim Americans to CAIR:

2008: 2,728

2007: 2,652

2006: 2,467

2005: 1,972

2004: 1,522

2003: 1,019

2002: 602

2001: 525

2000: 366

1999: 322

1998: 285

1997: 284

1996: 240

1995: 80

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Top 4 ways to get a flight attendant to go Steve Slater

August 11, 2010
After an altercation with a passenger, JetBlue flight attendant Steve Slater quit his job on the spot and made a heroic (albeit possibly criminal) slide from an exit hatch. Yes, passengers can be incredibly obnoxious. Here’s a list of what annoys flight attendants most.”
Read Full Original Story

Unpublished:

Other annoyances:

  • Fliers that keep their headphones (especially noise-canceling ones) on while they try to talk and listen to flight attendants
  • Travelers that put their bags in overhead bins far away from their seat, often near the front of the plane so they don’t have to carry it further down the aisle
  • When passengers say “I fly more than you do” to flight attendants
  • Nail-clipping, finger-nail-polishing, nose-picking and snoring passengers
  • Passengers that ask flight attendants for a pen
  • Travelers that either can’t find the button to flush the toilet or just outright don’t flush at all
  • People who demand they be allowed to bring their pet onboard or sneak it on anyway
  • Parents who change a babies diaper in an empty seat or on the galley floor without putting a blanket underneath their child.
  • Parents who let their children play and wonder throughout the plane and let them make a mess
  • Forgetful passengers with a bag on floor the seat in front of them who feel they must wrap the arm of their luggage around their ankle – creating a safety hazard for themselves and others – so they don’t exit the plane later without it.
  • People who are standing for reasons other than going to the restroom
  • Travelers with using virtually anything in reach as a footrest (tray tables, walls, other seats and armrests – empty or occupied)
  • Fliers with over-regulation-sized carry-on luggage who try to sneak it on the plane and shove it in an overhead bin, or worse, ask for help from a flight attendant to get their bags to fit.
  • Passengers that put luggage in places other than the overhead bins or below the seat in front of them

Remedy for all of the above ‘other annoyances’:

Simply, don’t do those things. Not doing the above acts is not really asking a lot of the passenger.

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Billionaires pledge $125 billion to Bill Gates charity drive

August 4, 2010
Forty American billionaires have pledged at least half of their wealth to charitable causes – a combined value of at least $125 billion.
The offerings came at the request of some of the country’s best-known billionaires, Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. The trio worth a combined $100 billion convinced 40 families and individuals on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans to sign onto their Giving Pledge campaign.”
Read Full Original Story

Unpublished:

Reasons some of the country’s wealthiest gave for not joining the pledge included a dissatisfaction with government, some had more “dynastic ideas about wealth,” while others hurried off the phone because they were too busy or had a plane to catch, Warren Buffett said in a conference call to reporters.

“When people tell you why they’re going to do it, they always give you an honest answer, when they tell you why they’re not doing it sometimes they’re just trying to get you off the phone,” said the 79-year-old chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, who has pledged 99 percent of his $47 billion net worth to charity.

“Sure, everybody that’s wealthy wants to leave their kids enough money so that they will never be destitute, but I’ve always wanted to make sure that you also don’t leave them so much that it ruins their lives,” said founder of Bloomberg L.P. and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the conference call. “You want them to work hard, to be proud of what they’ve accomplished, and not just to say ‘well I was a member of the lucky sperm club,’” continued the man worth around $18 billion, according to Forbes. “I’ve always though your kids get more benefit from your philanthropy than from your will.”

The number of high net worth individuals (those with at least US$1 million not including their home(s)’ value) in the US grew 16.5 percent last year, from 2.46 million 2008 to 2.86 million in 2009, however despite the number of the US and world’s highly wealthy growing, the global economic recession has slowed philanthropy in recent years, particularly in North America, said the Merrill-Capgemini 2010 World Wealth Report

Breakdown of 40 billionaire’s worth, philanthropy

2010 world billionaire rank Name Net worth (in $ billions) Minimum pledge (50%) State Notes on rank/worth
2 William and Melinda Gates 53 26.5 Washington
3 Warren Buffett 47 23.5 Nebraska
6 Lawrence Ellison 28 14 California
23 Michael R. Bloomberg 18 9 New York
37 Paul Allen 13.5 6.75 Washington
52 Ronald O. Perelman 11 5.5 New York
64 George B. Kaiser 10 5 Oklahoma
80 James and Marylin Simons 8.5 4.25 New York
132 Eli and Edythe Broad 5.7 2.85 California
148 Pierre and Pam Omidyar 5.2 2.6 Hawaii
154 Michele Chan and Patrick Soon-Shiong 5 2.5 California
212 Laura and John Arnold 4 2 Texas
316 George Lucas 3 1.5 California
374 William Barron Hilton 2.5 1.25 California
374 David M. Rubenstein 2.5 1.25 Maryland
400 Jeffrey Skoll 2.4 1.2 California
437 David Rockefeller Sr 2.2 1.1 New York
437 Julian Robertson Jr 2.2 1.1 New York
488 Peter G. Peterson 2 1 New York
536 Walter Scott, Jr. 1.9 0.95 Nebraska
556 Robert Edward “Ted” Turner 1.8 0.9 Georgia
582 Ann and L. John Doerr 1.7 0.85 California
616 Tashia and John Morgridge 1.6 0.8 California
655 Bernard and Billi Marcus 1.5 0.75 Georgia
721 Alfred Mann 1.4 0.7 California
828 Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg 1.2 0.6 New York
828 Joan and Irwin Jacobs 1.2 0.6 California
880 T. Boone Pickens 1.1 0.55 Texas
937 Elaine and Kenneth Langone 1 0.5 New York
937 Jon and Karen Huntsman 1 0.5 Utah
N/A Vicki and Roger Sant 1.7 0.85 Washington D.C. (as of 2001)
N/A Jim and Virginia Stowers 1.6 0.8 Missouri (as of 2000)
N/A Sanford and Joan Weill 1.5 0.75 New York (as of 2006)
N/A Herb and Marion Sandler 1.2 0.6 California (as of 2006)
N/A Tom Steyer and Kat Taylor 1.2 0.6 California (as of 2008)
N/A Bernard and Barbro Osher 1 0.5 California (as of 2006)
N/A Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest 0.9 0.45 Pennsylvania (as of 2002)
N/A Shelby White (widow of Leon Levy) 0.6 0.3 New York (as of 2007)
N/A Thomas S. Monaghan 0.55 0.275 Michigan (as of 2004)
N/A Lorry I. Lokey N/A N/A California N/A
RANKINGS/WORTH SOURCE: FORBES

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Offshore drilling: industry rates its own equipment substandard

August 11, 2010
Even as it opposes the Obama administration moratorium on offshore drilling, the oil industry has doubts about the quality and long-term viability of equipment that it uses to extract oil from deep-water wells, such as the one at the center of the Gulf oil spill.
In arguing for a moratorium, Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar has said that “fundamental questions about deep-water safety” remain. The offshore industry counters that the amount of crude spilled and the number of spills hit a record low this past decade.
Yet both industry experts and managerial personnel acknowledge that the technology used to remove offshore oil from its reservoirs – particularly in deep water – has been outstripped by engineers’ ability to find and drill for that oil.
That has left members of the oil industry dissatisfied with the tools they need to work in one of earth’s most challenging environments. While there is no evidence yet that equipment was to blame for the Deepwater Horizon blowout, some industry experts say the quality of deep-water extraction technology is increasingly becoming a concern.”
Read Full Original Story

Related stories:

Unpublished:

Adding to poor equipment dilemma

Oil companies’ dissatisfaction with subsea equipment and materials is “exacerbated by the rapid growth of the sector over the last several years, which has caused some suppliers to spread thin their organizations as they attempt to service greater numbers of projects globally,” said the EnergyPoint report.

EnergyPoint says the lack of satisfaction with subsea equipment expressed by oil companies is particularly noteworthy because the industry reported high satisfaction with overall offshore service, including drilling, safety and environmental matters in particular.

Experts also worry about the human factor, University of Southern California petroleum engineering professor Iraj Ershaghi said.

According to a report published in late May by University of California, Berkeley Professor Robert Bea, who organized the Deepwater Horizon Study Group, “Previous studies of more than 600 catastrophic failures … show that approximately 80 percent of the catastrophic failures are rooted in [human or organizational error].”

“Approximately 80 percent of these failures develop during the system operating and maintenance phases,” added Bea’s report.

Training is down by over 25 percent from 2008 and quality trainers are in short supply, said Greg McCormack, director of the University of Texas Petroleum Extension Service (PETEX), in a June testimony before Congress. A knowledge gap in rig safety and rig operations “was caused by inconsistent hiring during periods of low oil and gas prices,” Prof. McCormack said.

“Training is a critical component of this industry. As we drill deeper in more remote locations, the need for technology has become greater along with the need for training to apply technology safely and effectively. … Unfortunately, training is looked at as a cost and not an investment,” he said.

It is not that there are not enough workers.

“The problem is not one of filling the gaps. There are sufficient numbers of people entering the workforce to do that. The problem is one of ‘experience attrition,” McCormack added. “We should not expect that in replacing a retiring person with over 30 years of experience with an entry-level person that performance would not decline without extra efforts to replace years of experience with a significant increase in training. I don’t see this situation being addressed.”

However, Bea’s report also said, “The studies show that more than 60 percent [of failures] develop during the design phase, including concept development,” meaning there is a high potential for human error leading to the design of subpar or faulty equipment.

“The inadequately trained personnel is just as much an issue for the suppliers as it is for the customers,” said Douglas Sheridan of EnergyPoint. “In other words, suppliers need to do a better job of designing their equipment so that it is not so difficult to operate and maintain.”

Better training personnel to install, operate and maintain equipment, “is an absolute must, he added. “However, going forward, there also needs to be changes made to the next generation of subsea products that will be used for projects beginning three to five years from now.  To keep selling and installing the same equipment that has resulting in the industry’s dissatisfaction with subsea products would be a real mistake in my opinion.”

James Pappas, vice president at the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA), agreed.

When accidents happen, “Inevitably you’ll find out that someone made a mistake,” he said. “[But], the training and development is probably further along than the equipment, in my opinion.”

Common causes for human error can include inexperience, inadequate training, improper equipment use, poor oversight, mathematical errors, fatigue, poor judgment – often attributed to the high-pressure environment, and intentional violations, according to a 2006 report on the human factors of oil spills.

The effects from inadequately trained workers will only grow worse as companies continue to tap into deeper wells.

“There will be an intense need to hire the brightest and most technically competent employees to meet the future challenges,” he added. “The industry cannot afford to be seen as an unstable workplace.”

Accidents caused by human error could be avoided by instituting better operator training and oversight under improved managerial and safety conditions, or by using remotely monitored computerized systems that can control rig operations automatically, Ershaghi said

Offshore drilling, including looking for oil in previously unexplored areas, is a fast growing industry, particularly in the Gulf.

Consolidation has turned already large oilfield companies into bureaucracies that experts fear have become prone to unintentional but riskier decision making over time due to a lack of focus, not to mention pressure to move quickly.

The highly competitive industry regularly represents a bulk of the world’s most profitable companies, including oil company Exxon-Mobile, which claimed the top spot a year ago with profits nearing $20 billion. But high margins mean high costs as well, and in a business where one-day delays can easily cost companies millions of dollars, a lack of industry regulation can be a cause for concern.

2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill figures

(Last updated August 15)

Some of the below stats are pulled directly from government (Unified Command/DOI/MMS) documents or data, while others had to be sorted and calculated from those government documents and spreadsheets.

According to estimates provided by The National Incident Command’s Flow Rate Technical Group (FRTG) on the Unified Command Center website, www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com:

Most accurate estimates released Aug. 2 (uncertainty of plus or minus 10 percent)

  • April 20* (2 hours) at 2,583 barrels per hour = 5,166 barrels
  • April 21 – June 2 (43 days): at 62,000 barrels per day = 2,666,000 barrels
  • June 3** – July 14 (42 days): at 53,000 barrels per day = 2,226,000 barrels
  • July 15*** (14.5 hours) at 2,208 barrels per hour = 32,016 barrels
  • Total: 4,929,182 barrels or 207,025,644 gallons

Former maximum estimates (prior to Aug. 2 update):

  • April 20 (2 hours) at 1,666 barrels per hour = 3,333 barrels
  • April 21 – June 2 (43 days): at 40,000 barrels per day = 1,720,000 barrels
  • June 3 – July 14 (42 days): at 60,000 barrels per day = 2,520,000 barrels
  • July 15 (14.5 hours) at 2,500 barrels per hour = 36,250 barrels
  • Former max. total: 4,279,583 barrels or 179,742,486 gallons

Former minimum estimates (prior to Aug. 2 update):

  • April 20 (2 hours) at 525 barrels per hour = 1,050 barrels
  • April 21 – June 2 (43 days): at 12,600 barrels per day = 541,800 barrels
  • June 3 – July 14 (42 days): at 35,000 barrels per day = 1,470,000 barrels
  • July 15 (14.5 hours) at 1,458.33 barrels per hour = 21,145.785 barrels
  • Former min. total: 2,033,995.785 barrels or 85,427,823 gallons
*Rig exploded, spill began at 10 p.m. CDT on April 20.
**On June 3, a cap was placed on the leak, however as part of that cap placement, a damaged riser pipe had to be cut causing the flow rate to rise.
***On July 15 at 2:25 p.m. CDT, BP placed a containment cap to completely plug the well. It is not yet known if the solution will last until the believed permanent fix – the relief wells – is complete, but thus far, no oil has leaked from the well since the cap was put in place.

U.S. offshore spills in a historical context

Since a 1969 spill in Santa Barbara, Calif., “there have been relatively few major oil spills from offshore oil and gas operations in the U.S. and around the world … [which] has led many to view these operations as safe,” according to a May 27 Department of Interior Report compiled by oil industry experts.

The amount of chemicals spilled by oil companies between 2000 and 2009 into outer continental shelf waters from incidents of 50 barrels or more was significantly higher than the previous two decades, but much lower than in the 1960s and 1970s, according to the Minerals Management Service (MMS)* Database (Direct download of Excel spreadsheet on MMS spill data). Figures for the amount of oil spilled per barrel produced followed that same trend. Meanwhile, the number of spill incidents was more than three-and-a-half times larger than any decade prior.

*MMS was renamed in late June to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE).

However, these figures do not paint a clear picture of which chemicals were spilled, where each spill originated and what is likely to have caused each spill.

A recent article by the nation’s most circulated newspaper, the USA Today, stated the number of offshore spills in the last 10 years had more than quadrupled any decade prior. Yet, as a subsequent Wall Street Journal column pointed out, the USA Today figures included spills from subsea pipelines and spills of chemicals other than crude. Most notably, the figures did not reflect the abnormal number of spills with causes relating to severe weather in the Gulf in recent years.

An overwhelming majority of the spills in the last decade were caused by hurricanes, like Ivan, Katrina, Rita and Ike, which pummeled the Gulf. Previous decades have seen a significantly lower percentage of weather-related spills, likely due to a combination of there having been fewer offshore wells, especially deep wells, in the past, (see section below: “U.S. offshore drilling in a historical context”) as well as fewer hurricanes and tropical storms in U.S. waters. On average, 11 tropical systems reach storm strength in U.S. waters each year with six of those becoming hurricanes and two reach major hurricane status, according to a 2007 National Weather Service report with data dating back to 1851. Those storm activity figures have risen steadily over the past century and a half, and from 1997 to 2006, the annual averages were 14.5 tropical storms, 7.8 of which became hurricanes and 3.6 six of those that became major hurricanes.

The figures are startlingly different when all weather-related incidents, all spills of non-crude chemicals, and all pipeline incidents are taken out of the equation. Instead of a dramatic rise in spill incidents, the figures show a record low number of spills, a record low amount of oil spilled and a record low amount of oil spilled vs. produced.

However, the enormous jump in water depths at spill locations is concerning some experts who expect that as depths continue to increase going forward, the risk for equipment failures and operator errors that lead to spills will rise as well.

And, of the past four and a half decades’ 50 spills, 88 percent have causes that include equipment failure, while spills with causes that include human error account for 32 percent of those spills.

OCS oil and chemical spills, 1964-2009

(Includes crude oil, refined petroleum, synthetic based fluids and other chemicals from platforms and pipelines.)
Time Period OCS Oil  Production (Thousand Barrels) Spills Barrels  Spilled Produced per  Barrel Spilled (Thousand Barrels) Average water  depth at spill site (feet)
1964-1969* 1,460,000 22 275,391 5.3 105
1970-1979 3,455,000 49 140,367 24.6 137
1980-1989 3,387,000 47 28,947 117.0 214
1990-1999 4,051,000 40 44,338 91.4 805
2000-2009** 5,450,000 172 61,520 88.6 1,550

Non-weather-related OCS spills excluding non-crude oil chemicals, pipeline spills, 1964-2009

(Only includes crude oil from platforms.)
Time Period OCS Oil  Production (Thousand Barrels) Spills Cause:  Equipment failure*** Cause:Human error*** Barrels  Spilled Produced per  Barrel Spilled(Thousand  Barrels) Average water  depth at spill site (feet)
1964-1969* 1,460,000 9 8 2 87,332 16.7 87
1970-1979 3,455,000 20 17 6 102,057 33.9 92
1980-1989 3,387,000 9 9 3 842 4,022.6 160
1990-1999 4,051,000 8 7 4 1,835 2,207.6 139
2000-2009** 5,450,000 4 3 1 437 12,471.4 1,765
Note: Data only cover spills of 50 barrels (2,100 gallons) or more.
*Only a five-year span. Earliest data available from MMS is 1964.
**Just to clarify, the ongoing Gulf spill, which began April 20, 2010, is not included in the 2000-2009 data.
***Each incident can have multiple contributing causes (i.e. spill may be caused by both equipment failure and human error as well as other factors).

“While the rate of blowouts per well drilled has not increased, even as more activity has moved into deeper water, the experience with the BP Oil Spill illustrates the significant challenges in containing a blowout in deepwater, as compared to containing a blowout in shallower water,” said the Interior Department report. “The BP Oil Spill has underscored that as drilling activity moves increasingly into very deep water environments, it is important to reevaluate whether the best practices for safe drilling operations developed over the years need to be bolstered to account for the unique challenges of drilling in deepwater.”

U.S. offshore drilling in a historical context

With nearly 7,000 active leases, 64 percent of which are in deepwater, The Gulf of Mexico accounts for 97 percent of the United States’ federal outer continental shelf (OCS) production, according to a May 27 Department of Interior Report compiled by oil industry experts. There are 675 active leases in a single joint state-federal field in Alaska, no OCS production in the Atlantic, and only 49 active leases in the Pacific, all of which were sold before 1984, the report said.

Over 50,000 wells have been drilled in the federal Gulf since 1947, and the approximate 3,600 structures there last year represented the second highest annual oil production for the region accounting for 31 percent of all oil produced domestically in 2009.

“Since the first major deepwater leasing boom in 1995 and 1996, a sustained and robust expansion of deepwater drilling activity has occurred, largely enabled by major advances in drilling technology,” said the report.

The country’s deepwater oil production surpassed shallow water production in 2001 for the first time, and last year 80 percent of offshore oil production occurred below 1,000 feet of water – up 52 percent in 2000. From 1985 through 2008, deepwater oil production has increased from year to year by an average 16.7 percent. In 2007, a record 15 Gulf rigs were drilling for oil and gas in water depths of at least 5,000 feet.

OCS oil and gas operators have paid around $200 billion in lease bonuses, fees and royalty payments to the federal government over the past 57 years, including $6 billion in leasing revenue – the US government’s second largest revenue source – last year, the report said. Direct employment from offshore operations is estimated at 150,000 jobs. The OCS encompasses 1.7 billion acres.

Comparing U.S. offshore spill, drilling history to 2010 Gulf disaster

Figures from a government-assembled team of scientists calculating the flow rate of the Gulf catastrophe show, with uncertainty of plus or minus 10 percent, around 4.9 million barrels of oil have spilled thus far. That 207 million gallon total is more than 25 times larger than the amount of non-weather-related, non-pipeline, crude-only spills in the country’s entire outer continental shelf (OCS) in the past 45 years combined (192,503 barrels). The gushing Deepwater Horizon well was plugged, at least temporarily, using a containment cap on July 15.

The nearly four-month-old Gulf disaster, which spewed oil for 85 straight days, is the largest offshore spill in U.S. history – 19 times larger than the second biggest spill (Exxon Valdez, 1989, 257,000 barrels). If the government’s estimates are accurate, the Gulf spill has released about 1.6 million more barrels than the 3.3 million barrels released during Mexico’s Ixtoc I oil spill of 1979 to become the world’s largest offshore accidental peacetime spill ever. Only one other offshore spill has released more oil than the 2010 Gulf spill – during the Gulf War in 1991, between 5.7 million and 8 million barrels of oil were intentionally released from tankers by Iraqi troops retreating from their occupation of Kuwait.

Had none ever spilled, all of the 50 million to 100 million barrels of oil estimated to exist in the reservoir below the Macondo well site would have been worth between $4.6 billion and $9.2 billion based on the highest per barrel market price of crude since the spill began (as high as $91.67 on May 3 – crude hit a low of $71.04 on May 25 and was around at $75 as of Aug. 15). The rig’s operator, BP, has pledged $20 billion will be set aside for damage claims and has spent upwards of $4 billion in efforts to cap, contain and clean the spill thus far.

The Macondo well that has gushed record amounts of oil into the Gulf is 52 miles from shore, below nearly 5,000 feet of water and drilled about another 13,000 feet below the seafloor – or about 3.4 miles from the water’s surface.

Other Deepwater Horizon spill facts

There are 10 companies with known involvement in the rig at the time it exploded on April 20. All of the following, except Schulmberger, are “parties-of-interest” in the Deepwater Joint Investigation* being conducted by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Homeland Security. The investigation is meant to uncover what might have caused the accident and then relay that information along with conclusions and recommendations to the appropriate federal entities who may then fine or criminally charge any company or individual that may have committed some violation or crime:

  • BP p.l.c. (public limited company), which is based in London, England, was the Deepwater Horizon rig’s operator. BP had a 65 percent stake in the Macondo well.
  • Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, which is based in The Woodlands, TX, had a 25 percent stake in the Macondo well. Anadarko was a non-operating investor of the well with no employees working on the rig.
  • Mitsui Oil Exploration Co. Ltd. (MOECO), (aka: MOEX USA) which is based in Japan, had a 10 percent stake in the Macondo well.
  • Transocean Ltd., which is based in Switzerland, owned the oil rig.
  • Cameron International Corporation, which is based in Houston, TX, was the manufacturer of the well’s blowout preventer (BOP), the device designed to prevent such spills, but which failed in this case.
  • Dril-Quip Inc., which is based in Houston, TX, was the manufacturer of the wellhead, a device built that seals the top of the well hole at the sea floor and connects to the blowout preventer (BOP).
  • Halliburton Co., which is based in Houston, TX, was working on cementing the Deepwater Horizon’s oil well about 20 hours prior to the accident.
  • Weatherford International Ltd., which is based in Switzerland, was the casing subcontractor, according to testimony given during May 11 congressional hearings.
  • MI-SWACO LLC, which is based in Houston, TX, was the well’s mud engineer subcontractor, according to testimony given during May 11 congressional hearings.
  • Schlumberger Ltd., which has headquarters in Paris, France, Houston, TX and The Hague, Netherlands, was contracted by BP and had a crew onboard the Deepwater Horizon to conduct wireline services. That crew left the rig 11 hours prior to the April 20 explosion, according to a statement released by Schlumberger.
[Of the 126 people working on the Deepwater Horizon, 79 were Transocean employees, six were BP employees, and 41 were contract workers, including four Halliburton employees and five from MI-SWACO.]
*[In addition to the nine companies that are “parties of interest” in the joint investigation, five Transocean employees – Jimmy Harrell, Offshore Installation Manager; Curt Kuchta, Master of Deepwater Horizon MODU; Douglas Harold Brown, Chief Mechanic on Deepwater Horizon MODU; Steve Bertone, Chief Mechanic on Deepwater Horizon MODU; and Mike Williams, Chief Engineer Technician on Deepwater Horizon MODU – and two BP employees – Patrick O’Bryan, Vice President of Drilling and Completions and Robert Kaluza, Well Site Leader – are also “parties of interest”.]
[Also there are other investigations being carried out – at least nine according to The Washington Post – including a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice which the Post reported on July 28th is focused on BP, Transocean and Halliburton.]

Historic spill figures by company

Non-weather-related OCS spills excluding non-crude oil chemicals, pipeline spills, 1964-2009

(Only includes crude oil from platforms.)
1964-1969* 1970-1979 1980-1989 1990-1999 2000-2009** Totals: 1964-2009
Chevron Oil Company 1 4 1 1 0 7
Continental Oil  Company 2 4 0 0 0 6
Shell Offshore, Inc. 2 2 0 0 0 4
Chambers & Kennedy  (C & K) Petroleum, Inc. 0 3 0 0 0 3
Gulf Oil Corporation 1 0 1 0 0 2
Union Oil Company of  California 1 1 0 0 0 2
Mobil Corporation 1 1 0 0 0 2
Amoco Production  Company 0 1 1 0 0 2
Exxon  Corporation/Humble 0 2 0 0 0 2
Elf Exploration, Inc. 0 0 0 1 1 2
Pan American Petroleum  Corp. 1 0 0 0 0 1
Placid Oil Company 0 1 0 0 0 1
Signal Oil & Gas  Company 0 1 0 0 0 1
Ocean Production  Company/ODECO 0 0 1 0 0 1
Conoco, Inc. 0 0 1 0 0 1
McMoRan Oil & Gas  Co. 0 0 1 0 0 1
Texaco,  Inc./Rutherform 0 0 1 0 0 1
Sandefer Offshore  Operating Co. 0 0 1 0 0 1
Atlantic Richfield  Company 0 0 1 0 0 1
Atlantic Richfield  Company 0 0 0 1 0 1
Pacific Operators,  Inc. 0 0 0 1 0 1
Mesa Operating Co. 0 0 0 1 0 1
Coastal Oil & Gas  Corporation 0 0 0 1 0 1
Vastar Resources, Inc. 0 0 0 1 0 1
Newfield Exploration  Company 0 0 0 1 0 1
Murphy Exploration  & Production 0 0 0 0 1 1
Ocean Energy, Inc. 0 0 0 0 1 1
BP Exploration &  Production Inc. 0 0 0 0 1 1
Annual totals 9 20 9 8 4 50

Note: Data only cover spills of 50 barrels (2,100 gallons) or more.
*Only a five-year span. Earliest data available from MMS is 1964.
**Just to clarify, the ongoing Gulf spill, which began April 20, 2010, is not included in the 2000-2009 data.
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‘A million here, a million there’*

Posted in Uncategorized by mrochele on June 9, 2009

After writing 100+ articles, I unveil my total annual journalism income

Sorry for the delay between posts. I’ve been too busy counting my piles of cash as I’m sure any fellow journalist can relate to.

I consider my official career in journalism to have begun in June 2008 when I started my summer internship for The Sun Chronicle in Attleboro, where I was first published. Since then, over the course of one year, I’ve had 106 stories published in print and online – 33 for The Sun Chronicle, 40 for The Massachusetts Daily Collegian at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and 33 for The Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton. The Gazette still has several others I’ve written which should be published by mid-June or so, not to mention the various briefs, photos, multimedia pieces and other contributions I’ve made to each of the three newspapers in the past 12 months.

Forty dollars is all journalism has earned me so far. Subtract the out-of-pocket cost of hundreds of pens, a dozen or so reporter's notebooks, over 100 newspaper copies, food and other miscellaneous expenses and the net result is more likely just some spare change. But, I couldn't be happier. (Matt Rocheleau, June 9, 2009)

Forty dollars is all journalism has earned me so far. Subtract the out-of-pocket cost of hundreds of pens, a dozen or so reporter's notebooks, over 100 newspaper copies, food, coffee and other miscellaneous expenses and the net result is more likely just some spare change. But, I couldn't be happier. (Matt Rocheleau, June 9, 2009)

Now, let’s breakdown my annual compensation:

Total earnings from The Sun Chronicle: $0

Total earnings from The Collegian: $0

Total earnings from The Gazette: $40

So, $40 is the grand total from June 2008 to June 2009. The first time I was ever monetarily compensated for journalism netted me 40 bucks for one freelance article I wrote on a Saturday in May to cover the Goshen town election for The Gazette.

Average earnings per article: $0.37

That’s right. Thirty-seven cents per story. And who said journalism can’t be a lucrative career?

But, in all seriousness, I’m not complaining, and the majority of student journalists I’ve worked with – who work as hard, if not harder than I do – aren’t either.

I think that’s the real point. We get paid next to nothing, or in most cases nothing, but we still do it. And, we do it with enthusiasm and passion. As the industry and our future jobs collapse around us, I think a lot of us are excited to have a chance to reinvent the way news is reported.

In late April, I wrote a story giving an inside look at what several Boston Globe employees were thinking as their paper was under threats to close by May 1.

At 135 Morrissey Blvd. in Dorchester, Mass., The Boston Globe, the country's 14th largest newspaper, reported a $50 million loss in 2008 and is on track to lose $85 million more this year. It faces being shut down by The New York Times Co. unless it makes $20 million in concessions.

At 135 Morrissey Blvd. in Dorchester, Mass., The Boston Globe, the country's 14th largest newspaper, reported a $50 million loss in 2008 and is on track to lose $85 million more this year. It faces being shut down by The New York Times Co. unless it makes $20 million in concessions. (Matt Rocheleau/ The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, April 27-29, 2009)

Deputy bureau chief Joseph Williams of the Globe’s Washington D.C. bureau summed up – in what is perhaps my favorite quote I’ve ever reported – why I maintain optimism about the future of journalism.

He said, “people don’t get into journalism to make money and they don’t get into journalism to have nice careers or to be stars. You get into it for the work. You get into it because this is what you want to do. You get into it because you’d do it for free.”

I see it every day among some of my closest friends and colleagues – most of whom are unpaid – at The Collegian. We’re worried about our futures. We’d be idiots to think otherwise. We nervously joke and laugh about how we’ll all be poor, jobless and still living at home with our parents in five years because we just fell in love with the wrong field.

Yet, we are up into all hours of the night putting out our campus’ newspaper and updating the paper’s Web site. We give up time spent going to parties or hanging out with friends because something came up at The Collegian. The majority, if not all, of the few editors who received weekly paychecks volunteered to give up their pay for the final weeks of the spring semester to help keep the paper’s costs down.

We’re excited because we have a chance to make a real difference as we venture into the field, and there’s no way in hell we’d give up our dreams of becoming quality journalists without a fight. Though I only earned $40 all year from reporting and writing, I am undeniably thankful for the experience I’ve gained and the fun I’ve had so far.

If someone would pay to keep me fed, I’d sleep in the newsroom of any newspaper that would let me write for them, free of charge, for the rest of my life. However, it appears The Boston Globe will allow me to avoid that scenario, at least for now, as they have agreed to pay me from June to December during a six-month co-op working for The Globe West bureau in Framingham. Yet, before I even started my first legitimately-paying job in journalism, my wage was cut by 23 percent as part of a slashing that affected all members of the Boston Newspaper Guild (BNG), which represents around 700 Globe staff, including the co-ops.

I’ll miss UMass and The Collegian terribly while I live at home, two hours from campus, during the fall semester; but hopefully I’ll be able to help out if I can, or at least keep in touch, through the Internet and the occasional weekend visit.

I must also mention that journalism indirectly helped me earn the first two scholarships I’ve ever received. I was given $900 from The Gazette and UMass through the Milt Cole Award and another $1,000 from UMass through the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Dean’s Opportunity Fund Scholarship.

*(A special thanks to rap/rock artist Lil’ Wayne for the title to this post which comes from a line in the GrammyAward-winning single “A Milli” off his album “Tha Carter III” released in 2008.)

Prepared to go down with the ship

In between classes and work for The Collegian and The Gazette, during essentially the entire month of April, I worked on a feature story about The Boston Globe as it was in the midst of threats to close if the paper could not meet The New York Times Co.’s demands to cut $20 million by a 30-day, May 1 deadline.

I was fortunate enough to spend a day with Globe photographer George Rizer while he was out

Veteran Boston Globe photographer George Rizer stands on the already-dented hood of his Buick to get a better angle of B.C. High School's Good Friday Walk. Rizer's last day of work is scheduled for June 26, when he will leave The Globe after accepting a buyout package prior to The Times Co.'s threat to shut the paper. (Matt Rocheleau/ The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, April 27-29, 2009)

Veteran Boston Globe photographer George Rizer stands on the already-dented hood of his Buick to get a better angle of B.C. High School's Good Friday Walk. Rizer's last day of work is scheduled for June 26, when he will leave The Globe after accepting a buyout package prior to The Times Co.'s threat to shut the paper. (Matt Rocheleau/ The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, April 27-29, 2009)

on assignment, which also allowed me a chance to get some photos inside the newspaper’s headquarters.

The tension in The Globe’s newsroom was hard to ignore. I constantly had the feeling, and in fact I was told so on several occasions, that because I was reporting about the Globe’s situation for another newspaper that I wasn’t supposed to be there. Rizer would sneak me in and out of the newsroom as we went from one of his assignments to another. He let me take pictures inside, but only at 6 a.m. or so before most of the staff were around.

For the story, about 200 of The Globe’s 300-person editorial staff were e-mailed in mid-April requesting their thoughts on the paper’s circumstances and its uncertain future. Twenty-five of them responded, 18 of these declined to comment, commonly citing such reasons as being too busy or being uncomfortable to speak on the topic.

However, six Globe staff members – reporter Brian C. Mooney, sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy, chief imaging technician John Ioven, an editor who requested anonymity, deputy bureau chief Joseph Williams and foreign policy reporter Farah Stockman, both from the Washington D.C. bureau – were kind enough to speak with me over the phone and share their thoughts on The Globe’s present and future situation.

I was also able to interview Daniel Totten, president of the BNG, a union which represents over 700 of The Globe’s employees, and former Pulitzer-Prize winning Globe columnist Eileen McNamara. I spent an afternoon at Faneuil Hall in Boston to cover a “Save The Globe” rally hosted by the BNG. Catherine Mathis, senior vice president of corporate communications at The Times Co. declined to comment for the story.

At Faneuil Hall in Boston, the crowd clapped, chanted and cheered as 14 speakers took the stage for a "Save The Globe" rally organized by the Boston Newspaper Guild on April 24. This young girl lets a sign do the talking.(Matt Rocheleau/ The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, April 27-29, 2009)

At Faneuil Hall in Boston, the crowd clapped, chanted and cheered as 14 speakers took the stage for a "Save The Globe" rally organized by the Boston Newspaper Guild on April 24. This young girl lets a sign do the talking. (Matt Rocheleau/ The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, April 27-29, 2009)

As concerned as I was during the negotiations I couldn’t imagine what it was like for those with so much more at stake. So, thanks to everyone who helped me with this story.

The story was published in a three-part series in The Collegian on April 27, April 28 and April 29 and by The Gazette online at GazetteNET.com on May 1. Some of the photos were also used by AmherstWire.com in a special multimedia package called “13th hour reprieve.” I additionally compiled photos and recorded interviews from this story for a podcast/slideshow for a final project in my photojournalism course.

Since this story was written, The Globe’s situation and outlook remain uncertain. It took the entire 30-day deadline and some extensions, which included several late nights and long days down the stretch, of intense negotiations between The Globe management and the newspaper’s various unions before a potential Globe-salvaging deal was reached at 3 a.m. on May 6.

During the extension period, it even got to the point where The Times Co. said they planned to file the paperwork required to provide the Massachusetts government with 60-day notice that the business would close. If it had been filed the paper would have been shut down on July 1 – or two days after my co-op is scheduled to start.

An initial proposal from the BNG the largest union involved in negotiations, called for cutting The Globe’s internship and co-op programs altogether, which, combined, cost the paper about half a million dollars annually. Fortunately, the proposal was rejected, and a couple of days later a deal was reached that did not include my job among the list of concessions.

However, the BNG rejected the proposed deal in a union vote on June 8, causing Globe management to announce they will cut employee salary by 23 percent, which raises more questions and potential scenarios.

The Globe's newsroom is quiet and empty at 6:30 a.m. on a Friday. If the Times Co. follows through with its threats, this scene could become permanent.

The Globe's newsroom is quiet and empty at 6:30 a.m. on a Friday. If the Times Co. follows through with its threats, this scene could become permanent. (Matt Rocheleau/ The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, April 27-29, 2009)

Will the union will try to renegotiate with The Times Co.? Will the union take Globe management’s pay cut to court or before the National Labor Relations Board? Will The Times Co. reignite their threats to shutter the paper?

For now at least, the threats to shut the paper completely have been put to rest. According to The Globe, the Times Co.’s spokeswoman, Catherine Mathis said in a statement. “Because we have achieved the $20 million in savings we needed, we do not foresee closure at this time and are focused on executing the Globe’s turnaround plan.”

Which of course raises the bigger question here. What is that ‘turnaround plan,’ and will it work?

Stay tuned to Boston.com, including a special section dedicated to stories on The Globe’s future.

(Links to stories on DailyCollegian.com were removed from this post because the site has since been completely redesigned which has altered the link paths to these stories, and not all of the archives have transitioned over to the new site yet.)

A breath of fresh air

Posted in Uncategorized by mrochele on March 22, 2009

There’s nothing like a stroll through a trace portal to start spring break

Spring break starts with a ‘slap’ in the face from airport security

It was around 4:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 14, when I walked into Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. I was exhausted; but, it had little to do with the time of day. If you read through this entire post – which I don’t recommend you do in one sitting – then you might get a glimpse as to why I was so fatigued.

I had been to this airport several times in the past year on trips to visit my brother, Chris, who graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst last spring and got his first job out of college in Dallas, Texas managing a greenhouse. I was headed there again to spend some time with Chris during spring break.

My flight was scheduled to leave by around 6 a.m. so I arrived at the airport at around 4:30. Now, having not slept all night, I was not in a fully conscious state of mind as I made my journey through airport security.

I had to do the usual routine. I took off my shoes and belt, emptied my pockets, filled up three different gray, rectangular bins of my stuff and temporarily abandoned it on the X-ray machine’s conveyor belt, while I tried my luck in the metal detector.

However, things took an interesting turn. Instead of grabbing my belongings, redressing and heading towards the gate like I had always done, I stumbled into what I at first believed was a some high-tech version of a metal detector.

What is that guy standing in? Well, if you don't know then don't expect to be forewarned by airport security when it happens to you. (Courtesy: Whitehouse.gov)

What is that guy standing in? Well, if you don't know then don't expect to be forewarned by airport security when it happens to you. (Courtesy: Whitehouse.gov)

It was almost like a telephone booth with glass doors on the other side, which were closed so people would know they had to pause inside and not just walk through.

I lined up my shoeless feet on top of the two foot-shaped markings on the machine’s floor and stood still waiting for the device to reconfirm I was metal-free and then open its doors. But, it wasn’t that simple. The weird machine began declaring the instructions I had to follow. I wish I remembered the exact wording because quoting a machine has always been a dream of mine. It said something like remain still and keep your hands at your sides and wait for my results. The one things it forgot to mention was what it was testing for and that I was about to get unexpectedly blasted in the face with several loud, strong puffs of air.

I was startled, but apparently kept still enough for the machine to give me the green light.

It turns out they are called explosive trace portals, which “analyze for trace amounts of explosives,” according to the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Web site.

But, what about larger than trace amounts of explosives?

Nonetheless, the rest of my trip went well as I shared relaxing and spending time with Chris.

An hour with Chancellor Robert C. Holub

The day before my airport security fiasco, I sat down with UMass Amherst Chancellor Robert C. Holub to interview him for a profile piece published in The Massachusetts Daily Collegian and potentially use the interview as part of an end of the semester project in my magazine writing course.

UMass Amherst Chancellor Robert C. Holub (Courtesy: UMass.edu)

UMass Amherst Chancellor Robert C. Holub (Courtesy: UMass.edu)

I asked Holub several questions related to the budget, but the focus was more on him. I wanted to find out who he is, what else he does as chancellor besides working on the budget, how he likes his job, what he was like growing up, what he does in his spare time, why did he come to UMass, etc. And, over about an hour and 15 minutes, I learned a lot about him as he answered every one of my questions.

I think what struck me the most was how busy this man is. He told me about how he’s had at least 50 meetings on budget issues alone. His spring break was spent at development meetings in Florida. He’s often traveling back-and-forth to Boston to meet with top administrators from all five of the University’s campuses. He generally works from 8 a.m. to 6:30 or 7 p.m., goes home for dinner, checks his e-mail again, goes to bed and does the same thing the next day. His weekends are more relaxed, but rarely are they completely free. He frequently attends UMass sporting and fine arts events. Oh, and he lives on campus with his 86-year-old mother, his wife and three daughters – ages eight, six, and two – and he has a 30-year-old son from another marriage who lives in California.

Somehow he was able to squeeze me in to talk to him just a week after I e-mailed him my request to do so and then write a story about him. To keep on par with theme of how busy he is, our interview actually went a bit over the scheduled time and was broken up by his secretary who notified him that the next group of people wanting to see him was waiting outside his office.

UMass students protest possible fee increase, meanwhile Holub attempts to clarify fee increase confusion

Signs posted on the steps of Machmer Hall in protest of what was a proposed $1,500 student fee increase, which was passed several days later (Matt Rocheleau/Collegian)

Signs posted on the steps of Machmer Hall in protest of what was a proposed $1,500 student fee increase, which was passed several days later (Matt Rocheleau/ The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Feb. 25, 2009)

My plan was to head back to my apartment for a mid-afternoon nap before my next class, however a group of around 50 protesters standing atop the steps of Machmer Hall changed that.

Like what happened earlier this year with the library fires and would happen again later – which you can read about if you scroll down to the next section – I reached for my camera, notepad and pen and began reporting for The Collegian.

The students were holding signs, passing out flyers and talking into megaphones in an effort to delay a vote by the Board of Trustees on whether or not to raise student fees by $1,500. The vote was scheduled for that Friday, and the protesters were trying to rally support to join them on a bus trip to have their voices heard at the board’s meeting at UMass-Dartmouth.

Within several hours of the demonstration, the chancellor sent a campus-wide e-mail aimed at attempting confusion over who exactly would be affected by the fee increase and how.

Protesters aim to gather support for a bus trip to UMass-Dartmouth to protest before the Board of Trustees during their vote on the fee increase (Matt Rocheleau/The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Feb. 25, 2009)

Protesters aim to gather support for a bus trip to UMass-Dartmouth to protest before the Board of Trustees during their vote on the fee increase (Matt Rocheleau/The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Feb. 25, 2009)

So, initially I thought I could tie the two into one another in one mega article; however the e-mail was rather lengthy and complex, and deserved its own article separate from the protests. It turns out, according to University spokesman Ed Blaguszewski, the day’s protests were not the direct cause of the e-mail, which had been in the works for several days. Rather, he said, it was meant to address general concerns the administration had been made aware of.

Ironically, the cost of the protesters’ three-hour bus ride to and from Dartmouth was being paid for by several Registered Student Organizations (RSOs), which are funded by student fees.

The trip apparently did not have much of an impact on the board members as they voted to pass the fee increase for next semester. There is a possibility that students may be reimbursed depending on how much money is given to state higher education through the federal stimulus package. According to The Boston Globe and other sources, Gov. Deval Patrick has said he wants to focus on education when he allocates the stimulus money, but no word yet on how much will be given to higher education.

UMass football squad recruits for bone marrow donor registration

Why did I decide to subject myself to an impromptu bone marrow test kit?

Well, as one student put it so accurately, “I was recruited by a large football player.”

Additionally, I was intrigued as to why there was a bunch of guys dressed in football jerseys walking up to apparent strangers in the Campus Center, and I’m a journalist.

The players were recruiting anyone walking through the building’s lobby – which is quite a lot during the middle of the day – to participate in the bone marrow donor registration drive.

Sophomore quarterback Octavious Hawkins helps students use their test kits during the football team's bone marrow registration drive. (Matt Rocheleau/The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Mar. 11, 2009)

Sophomore quarterback Octavious Hawkins helps students use their test kits during the football team's bone marrow registration drive. (Matt Rocheleau/The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Mar. 11, 2009)

The test was rather quick and simple. I had to fill out some paperwork, which took me about five minutes, then swabbed the corners of my mouth with four different cotton swabs. Those were sealed up in an envelope to be sent to a lab for testing to see if I’m a match for someone in need of a bone marrow transplant by entering my info and test results into a national database.

The best part of this whole story was the players’ game-time-like motivation.

Head coach Kevin Morris came up with the idea to have the players not only compete with other schools in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) conference, but also with one another. Morris divided his players up into groups, which were named after NFL teams, to see who could sign-up the most people at the drive. The players would bring the people they managed to recruit and shout out their group’s name – like “Steelers” or “Lions” – as they walked by Morris who kept score on his clipboard.

Granted the team was likely also motivated by helping out a good cause, but a little friendly contest never hurts.

Students abuzz over new brew

A new kind of brew debuts as two local companies, Ridebuzz and Dean's Bean's Coffee, join forces (Matt Rocheleau/The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Feb. 24, 2009)

A new kind of brew debuts as two local companies, Ridebuzz and Dean's Bean's Coffee, join forces (Matt Rocheleau/The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Feb. 24, 2009)

What I regret most about this article is not getting to try the coffee that was debuted to students in a UMass marketing class as Dean’s Beans Coffee and Ridebuzz announced a business partnership.

I was juggling a notepad and camera, and the line was rather long.

Most of the students I spoke to there said the coffee tasted OK but was not really anything special. Some even said it was sub-par. Though I later heard from someone else that the coffee was some of the best they had ever tired, and they drink the stuff on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.

All of these different opinions make me feel that much more left out for having not tried one of the free cups of joe.

But, I can’t complain because the partnership was announced in my marketing course allowing me to kill two birds with one stone by writing a story and shooting photos for The Collegian, while attending my class.

Annual Goshen meltdown draws interest from afar

Bob Labrie places among the most interesting characters I’ve spoken to in my reporting career.

A firefighter in the small western Mass. town of Goshen, where Labrie lives, he started this betting competition five years ago to help raise money for a different cause of his choosing each year.

Bob Labrie, the Hammond Pond superintendent, stands with a rescue boat near the concrete block used for the 2008 Meltdown. (Courtesy: The Daily Hampshire Gazette, Carol Lollis)

Bob Labrie, the Hammond Pond superintendent, stands with a rescue boat near the concrete block used for the 2008 Meltdown. (Courtesy: Carol Lollis/The Daily Hampshire Gazette)

In mid winter, when the ice is safe enough to walk on, Labrie lugs a 69-pound block into the center of Hammon Pond. He places it on a wooden pallet and attaches a golf flag on top so the block’s location can still be known should snow cover it.

Locals then pay $1 per entry to guess the exact date and time the block will collapse through the pond when the ice melts. However, what Labrie called “the Price is Right rule,” the winning guess must come closest without going over. The winner receives half the proceeds.

This year the other half of the money being raised will go to the Northampton Survival Center’s Hilltown Pantry, which serves Goshen and surrounding towns.

I was constantly laughing during the lengthy phone call I had with Labrie. Part of the reason was the whole contest was as odd as it was intriguing, and Labrie was not afraid to speak his mind. He had a great sense of humor, acknowledging that the whole thing was “kind of hokey” as he put it in the Gazette piece I wrote.

Nonetheless, he seemed to genuinely enjoy the work that goes into setting up the contest each year, which includes taking photos of the block, updating his Web site, www.goshenmafire.com, and sending out weekly e-mails to anyone who subscribes to his updates.

What excited him most was not just that the event raised money for a good cause, but also that he was able to get members of the surrounding community involved and it seemed to put a smile on people’s faces to help them get through the finals months of what tend to be long winters.

“It’s got to be fun or I wouldn’t be doing it,” he said. “A lot of my friends tell me they would buy tickets to see when the ice won’t be strong enough to hold Bob anymore when he goes out there with his 70-pound block.”

Through Florence Savings, 37 nonprofits share $50K donation

Northampton's Friends of Forbes Library was the top recipient for the first time. The library is shown. (Courtesy: The Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Northampton's Friends of Forbes Library was the top recipient for the first time. The library is shown. (Courtesy: The Daily Hampshire Gazette)

For this Gazette article I wrote basically I was supposed to list the nonprofits who received donations from Florence Savings Bank, how much they received and how the decision was made on which organizations were funded and to what amount.

It seemed kind of boring at first, but it turns out the bank had its customers vote either at one of the branches, by mail or online to determine how donations were allocated. And, after receiving money in six of the seven years the donation program has been around, this year’s top recipient was the Friends of Forbes Library in Northampton.

PVTA lands $16.2 million stimulus windfall

Guess around how much this bus costs ... If you said anything less than a whopping $370,000, you're wrong - like I was. (Courtesy: UMass.edu)

Guess around how much this bus costs ... If you said anything less than a whopping $370,000, you're wrong - like I was. (Courtesy: UMass.edu)

The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) was given $16.2 million from the federal stimulus package to help purchase new buses.

You would think that would be enough money to buy a whole busload of vehicles. Well, not exactly.

Try 29. The buses cost around $370,000 each, according to a PVTA official cited in the story for The Gazette.

Next time, I think the PVTA should use the money to buy some decent cars for around $10,000 a piece and tie them to one another so they are more bus-like, because 1,073 cars for $16.2 million sounds a lot better to me than 29 buses.

Now, I know this solution is not very eco-friendly, but it would help the auto industry, and maybe it would cause bus-makers to reduce their prices low enough so that I could afford a bus. I’ve always wanted one.

As solar power rises, WMECO proposes UMass site

Being a UMass student who expects to dish out a cool $1,500 extra in fees next semester, I can’t help but root for this project.

The Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECO) listed UMass among eight possible host locations for a large-scale solar energy program, as this Gazette story says.

It’s not really a matter of whether I think solar power is cool or not or if it’s efficient or not. What excites me is it could help reduce the cost of electricity for both UMass and my nearby apartment, and best of all, if it all goes according to plan, WMECO would pay UMass to lease the roof of the Fine Arts Center so they could install some panels to do their solar energy experiment.

It’s a win-win for UMass. They have basically no responsibility to help WMECO with the project, they get paid to allow it and it adds to a list of the University’s attempts to become more Green.

Beer pong linked to herpes – wait, never mind

One of the best photo's I've ever taken was part of an accidental hoax article written by another Collegian staff member. (Matt Rocheleau/The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Feb. 24, 2009)

One of the best photo's I've ever taken was part of an accidental hoax article written by another Collegian staff member. (Matt Rocheleau/The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Feb. 23, 2009)

I swear; I only took the photo to go along with this article.

Several weeks ago, we at The Collegian accidentally published a hoax story based off of another article on UWire, a college newspaper wire service. However, we were not the lone victims.

Several other college papers – including The Lantern at Ohio State University who first published the false article before UWire picked it up – and TV networks – including FOX News and Los Angeles NBC news affiliate KNBC – fell for the story.

The day the story was published, we became aware that the article we had seen on UWire was a hoax and promptly removed the online version and ran a long correction in the following day’s paper explaining the mishap.

One bright side to the story was the sweet picture I took to go along with it. It took me a couple of tries, but I finally got the shot I wanted, and it turned out to be one of the better photos I’ve ever taken.

Off the record: the Ed Blaguszewski profile piece

Similar to my interview with Chancellor Holub, I recently sat down with the University’s Director of News and Media Relations, Ed Blaguszewski to write a profile story.

However, I will stop myself there since Blaguszewski and I agreed that what he said would only be for me to use for an assignment in my magazine writing class. I tried to persuade him a bit to allow me to publish it in either The Collegian or The Gazette, but he politely declined.

I have a lot of respect for things said off the record. So, unless he calls me up and decides he would like the piece to be published – which I highly, highly doubt – then my lips are sealed. You can now regret wasting your time reading that last four sentences, and this one, too.

The Boston Globe co-op

I’ve always loved to write, and I’ve always lived in Massachusetts, about an hour or so outside of Boston.

With those two things coupled together, I’ve always thought it would be pretty cool to see my name someone where in The Boston Globe – the biggest of my hometown papers and well-regarded throughout the nation.

And, after being accepted to a six-month co-op program for the Globe West bureau in Framingham, Mass., fortunately my name will debut in the place the Globe reserves for writers and not the places reserved for crime stories, obituaries and other bad news.

This also marks the first time in Matt Rocheleau’s journalistic career that he will be paid for his work.

How the hell did that happen? Here’s a recap of the road toward me getting paid to write:

My fifth grade teacher Mrs. Gazaille was my first really good English teacher. Along with many other things, I remember learning that year that a lot is two words and not “alot.”

My eighth grade teacher Mrs. Flansburg was a stickler for grammar and helped me truly understand, not just memorize, things like direct objects, indirect objects and prepositions.

In my sophomore year of high school, Mr. Smith was the first teacher to really criticize my writing. I never enjoyed the comments on my paper much then, but now I appreciate him not holding back to tell me which areas of my writing sucked.

Then came Carson Cistulli. In the second semester of my first year at UMass, he taught me more about writing and creativity, while making me more confident in my work, than any other teacher. If it weren’t for his freshman year English Writing course, I would have never realized how much I enjoy writing, I would have never chosen a career path in writing and I would have never joined the journalism major a semester later.

Since then, George Forcier’s News Writing and Reporting course gave me the most useful skills in journalistic writing than any other course. In two courses with Ralph Whitehead, I’ve learned so much about the on-going crisis for print newspapers and he’s made my writing clearer.

The staff at The Sun Chronicle gave me my first shot at published writing. The Collegian didn’t know who I was, let me write and then made me an editor. The Gazette gave me experience at both the sports and news desks.

So, thanks to everyone mentioned above, but no you won’t be getting a cut of my pay.

(Links to stories on DailyCollegian.com were removed from this post because the site has since been completely redesigned which has altered the link paths to these stories, and not all of the archives have transitioned over to the new site yet.)

Hard to forget Obama’s inauguration

Posted in Uncategorized by mrochele on January 21, 2009

But, will all of the preemptive celebration and talk of change pay off?

When I sat down Tuesday evening to try and write about what I did on Inauguration Day, I couldn’t – which is why I waited until now.

It wasn’t that I had writer’s block or that I did not have anything to say; rather, I was just tired of the whole thing.

Reporting for The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, I had spent most of the morning and early afternoon covering several local gatherings where people, mainly Obama supporters, joined to watch the telecast of the inauguration festivities in Washington D.C.

My last stop of the day, but most notable, was at the University of Massachusetts’s screening where an estimated 1,000 people watched network coverage of the inauguration, according to event planner Kevin Libby, a senior majoring in Social Thought and the Political Economy.

The turnout was much greater than the 50 to 100 originally expected and event organizers opened The Hatch food court to make room for those who could not fit in the packed Cape Cod Lounge and Student Union Ballroom. If you don’t believe me, there’s video footage from The Collegian to prove it.

Hundreds wait for the doors to open at the screening of Tuesday's inaugural telecast at the Academy of Music in Northampton. (Matt Rocheleau/The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Jan. 26, 2009)

Hundreds wait for the doors to open at the screening of Tuesday's inaugural telecast at the Academy of Music in Northampton. (Matt Rocheleau/The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Jan. 26, 2009)

Prior to going to UMass, I had started my morning in Northampton where it was a full house at the Academy of Music. By the time I arrived at around 10:30 a.m., hundreds were lined up outside waiting to watch the inaugural broadcast. About 800 people had packed into the theater by the event’s scheduled start at 11 a.m., according to Debra J’ Anthony, the venue’s executive director. Another 600 showed up for the rebroadcast at 6 p.m., she said.

After leaving Northampton, I headed to Rafters Sports Bar & Restaurant in Amherst where an inauguration get-together was also held. Inside, it was tough to find a table or place to sit with still about an hour before Barack Obama’s swearing in and subsequent speech at noon.

A packed crowd at Rafters Sports Bar & Restaurant in Amherst gather to watch the broadcast of Barack Obama's inauguration Tuesday afternoon. (Matt Rocheleau/The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Jan. 26, 2009)

A packed crowd at Rafters Sports Bar & Restaurant in Amherst gather to watch the broadcast of Barack Obama's inauguration Tuesday afternoon. (Matt Rocheleau/The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Jan. 26, 2009)

When I finally returned to my apartment I turned on the TV and began working on the article. Of course, what was on but NBC’s inaguration coverage that I had watched for a short time before I headed out that morning.

I’m a big fan of “NBC Nightly News” host Brian Williams and an ever bigger fan of his predecessor, Tom Brokaw who stepped down in 2004. So, when I saw the two were seated side-by-side covering the ceremonies in D.C., along with other recognizable NBC reporters, I decided to watch for a little while. And, I must say that Williams & Brokaw are an unstoppable punch when teamed up like they were on Tuesday.

Then, during what seemed like the only 15 minutes of the day where cameras weren’t fixed on Obama, Sen. Ted Kennedy collapsed during a lunch with the newly appointed president and other political leaders. Kennedy reportedly suffered a seizure and was whisked away to the hospital. So, I stayed tuned as all of this news was breaking.

Later, Obama, his wife and two daughters rolled along on the parade route through downtown D.C. Brian Williams kept mentioning how much security there was and called the city the safest place to be. Naturally, the more he talked about it the more concerned I got that he was being overconfident in his assessment, which kept me watching.

All in all, I had heard the word inauguration and the name Barack Obama way too many times. The whole thing was a bit much for me.

Many of his supporters have painted this man as the savior our country has been waiting for. He has become, in many peoples’ eyes, a world-renowned, rock-star-esque figure incapable of making a mistake.

Our new president should be commended for his historic victory in the November’s election, but amidst all of the praise, celebrating and patting one another on the back, we can’t lose focus of our responsibility to hold him and the rest of the country’s leaders accountable for their choices makes.

I don’t doubt that Obama can make a difference and improve things in the U.S. However, he will disappoint us at times like all leaders, and humans in general do. And, based on what I saw on Tuesday, I worry that some of us have fallen so in love with this man that we will fail to our job.

(Links to stories on DailyCollegian.com were removed from this post because the site has since been completely redesigned which has altered the link paths to these stories, and not all of the archives have transitioned over to the new site yet.)

Pats, Sox, C’s and B’s — and a pirouetting robot

Posted in Uncategorized by mrochele on January 15, 2009

Recent success for Boston sports teams shows no signs of slowing down

Besides holding a football from time-to-time, there seems to be no explanation for why Fox uses "Cleatus" as their TV mascot during sporting events

Besides holding a football from time-to-time, there seems to be no explanation for why Fox uses "Cleatus" as their TV mascot during sporting events. (Courtesy: MySpace.com)

As I watched the broadcast of this Sunday’s NFC Divisional playoff game I was annoyed. It was bad enough listening to monotonous announcer Joe Buck and stuttering color commentator Troy Aikman call the game. Then that damn Fox Sports robot kept popping up and dancing around like an idiot before and after ever commercial break.

Fox is notorious for having immature, unpopular mascots. Remember ‘Scooter’ the talking baseball introduced in a recent postseason? He would talk about how different pitch types are thrown with this ridiculous voice by the same guy who does Sponge Bob Square Pants. Scooter’s oversimplified the explanation so much that it made Tim McCarver’s comments sound ingenious. But, at least I understood the connection between the squawking baseball and the World Series.

So, with my laptop nearby, I searched online to find out what the hell this Lou Ferrigno-shaped robot had to do with football or sports in general.  After several searches on Google I found  no one has the slightest clue as to why the machine named ‘Cleatus’ even exists. And, it turns out, I am not alone in having a grief with this character.

Some dislike it because they feel its physique is part of a conspiracy to subliminally promote steroid use. Others are appalled at Cleatus’ dance moves, which includes “the swim” and pirouettes. But, most are just perplexed as they try to solve the mysterious robot-football connection.

What’s more bewildering is that it appears to its his own MySpace page and has been made into a 10″ posable action figure sold for $19.95 plus shipping and handling.

Perhaps this metallic mascot is what distracted New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning causing him to throw two costly interceptions in his team’s 23-11 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. So, obnoxious as it may be, if Cleatus caused Giants kicker John Carney to miss two field goals, wide receiver Steve Smith to fumble or any part of the defending Super Bowl champions to make an early exit from the playoffs, then I guess he’s OK with me.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

As a Massachusetts native and Boston sports fan, the only thing more enjoyable than seeing any team from New York or either one of the Manning brothers get defeated is watching the hometown team win, especially since they tend to air on the robot-free CBS.

Unfortunately, the New England Patriots fell just short of reaching the postseason this year after reaching four out of the last seven Super Bowls – and winning three of them. They did manage, however, to set themselves up for a potentially productive offseason.

According to ESPN’s sources and other news outlets, the Pats will use a franchise tag on QB Matt Cassel to keep him from becoming an unrestricted free agent in March.

NFL.com)

The Patriots are expected to use a franchise tag on quarterback Matt Cassel. It is likely they will keep Cassel if QB Tom Brady does not recover from his injury in time for next season. However, if Brady is healthy Cassel will likely be traded. (Courtesy: NFL.com)

For now, as The Boston Globe reports, it seems all is well with QB Tom Brady’s recovery from the season-ending injury he suffered just minutes into week 1 of the regular season. But, if Brady has any setbacks during his rehab and cannot start next season, the Patriots have a reliable insurance policy by franchising Cassel who proved to be a great QB and offensive leader.

In an ideal scenario,  Brady will be healthy and Cassel’s impressive performance thus far will make him a valuable trading chip for one or more high draft picks.

Though some of the Pats front office and coaches may be elsewhere next season, Belichick, the s0-called mastermind behind the team’s championship success, will still be on the sidelines and their injury-riddled defense should be back on the field at full strength.

With all the adversity they faced this season, the Patriots played at an outstanding level. If injuries weren’t enough, the Pats were simply unlucky becoming the first NFL team with an 11-5 record to miss the playoffs since the Denver Broncos in 1985. Despite a disappointing end to their season, the Patriots’ have an exciting offseason ahead and they are likely to be a top Super Bowl contender next year.

BOSTON RED SOX

So, what about the Red Sox? Are they likely to be World Series contenders in 2009?

Well, the rival New York Yankees are making it tough. If there was ever a team that has truly tried to ‘buy a championship,’ the Bronx Bombers’ 2009 roster is guilty. So far this offseason, they have spent $423.5 million on free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira and starting pitchers C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. After missing the postseason last year for the first time since 1993, New York will be a front runner to win the World Series in ’09.

However, the Sox are not as far behind as some may think. The lack of blockbuster signings or trades should not worry Boston fans. Consider how some of the team’s biggest offseason moves over the past few years have not met expectations in their debut season:

  • In 2006, Josh Beckett was acquired to be the ace of the rotation, and though he won 16 games, his inconsistency resulted in 11 losses and a 5.01 earned run average.
  • After hammering 20 homers and getting 100 runs batted in with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006, J.D. Drew has struggled to match those numbers with the Sox. Even with a $14 million-a-year salary, he had just 11 four-baggers in 2007 and 19 in 2008, while knocking in only 64 runs each year.
  • Amid all the hype that came with leaving Japan to join the Red Sox, Daisuke Matsuzaka often struggled with his command, posting a 15-12 record and a 4.40 ERA in 2007.

What this offseason has featured is several low-key, low-budget signings with big potential; and, moves like these have played out nicely in the past for general manager Theo Epstein & Co:

  • With everyone’s eye on Dice-K, a lesser known Japanese player stepped up, exceeding everyone’s expectations in 2007.  Reliever Hideki Okajima has been one of Boston’s most reliable arms out of the ‘pen earning 50 holds as a setup man over the past two seasons with a solid 2.41 ERA. Making just over $1 million per season, his performance has given Boston great bang for their buck.
  • Few thought there was much left in the tank for 31-year-old Florida Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell when he hit a dismal .236 with 8 homeruns and 58 RBIs in 2005. But, taking a chance on Lowell paid off for the Sox as he hit 20 homeruns in his first season with 80 RBI and a .284 average. In 2007 he launched 21 moonshots and drove in 120 runs while hitting .324.
  • And, you can’t forget Boston’s biggest bargain of them all – Big Papi. Designated slugger David Ortiz was signed in 2003 for $1.25 million and has belted out 30+ hrs and 100+ RBI in every season since except the most recent as he battled a wrist injury. He won the American League’s Silver Slugger Award from 2004 to 2007 and has had more highlight-reel, clutch hits in recent memory than nearly every other player in Major League Baseball.

So, as some Sox fans and others in the baseball world roll their eyes when the Sox sign players like John Smoltz, Brad Penny, Takashi Saito, Rocco Baldelli, Josh Bard and Mark Kotsay, you have to consider how deals like these have fared in the past for Boston.

The 2004 Red Sox team celebrates after winning their first World Series in 86 years by defeating the St. Louis Cardinals. General Manager Theo Epstein's moves have been questioned at times, yet they have brought success to Boston and the fans hope this offseason's decisions will bring more of the same - even if they don not land any big name players. (Courtesy The Boston Globe/Jim Davis)

The 2004 Red Sox team celebrates after winning their first World Series in 86 years by defeating the St. Louis Cardinals. General Manager Theo Epstein's moves have been questioned at times, yet they have brought success to Boston and the fans hope this offseason's decisions will bring more of the same - even if they don not land any big name players. (Courtesy The Boston Globe/Jim Davis)

Furthermore, consider the cost. These six players agreed to one year contracts combining to just around $15 million, though each player could earn more if they reach certain incentives. Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez makes nearly double that at $28 million.

But, A-Rod is one of the best players if not the best player in the game so he deserves that kind of money right? He hit .302 with 35 homeruns, 103 RBI, a .392 on base percentage and .573 slugging percentage in 2008, which are outstanding numbers but he’s way over paid. For $3 million, Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis hit .312 with 29 homers, 115 RBI, a .390 OBP and a .569 SLG in the same season. Would you pay an additional $25 million for 6 more homeruns?

The Red Sox have also developed and introduced some great young prospects in recent years. Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jed Lowrie, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jonathan Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen are examples of that. And, according to many baseball experts the talent in Boston’s farm system is growing and these young players should contribute to the big league club for some time.

On a somewhat related side note, former outfielder Jim Rice came up through the club’s farm system, played for the Sox for his entire career from 1974 to 1989 and was elected to the MLB Hall of Fame earlier this week. Congrats!

So, back to the upcoming season, take an already very talented ball club, add the bargain free agent signings and some upper-level, low-cost minor league prospects, and Boston has a good shot at making the playoffs, while still competing with New York for the division title in 2009.

BOSTON CELTICS

AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Boston Celtics captain Paul Pierce puffs on a cigar while holding the championship series MVP trophy during a victory parade in Boston last June to celebrate the team's first NBA championship since 1986. (Courtesy: AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Coming off their first NBA title in 22 years, the Celtics came out strong to start the season which included a record-setting 19-game win streak. That streak ended several weeks ago when they fell to the Los Angeles Lakers.

After that game, the team struggled losing 7 out of 9. However, they have one three straight since and still hold the fourth best record in the NBA – just percentage points behind the Orlando Magic and a half game behind the Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers. They are 12 games ahead in the Atlantic Division.

Now, at the halfway mark of the regular season, head coach Doc Rivers and the Celtics certainly have some consistency issues to work out before they can adequately defend their championship. However, they have time and a very talented, experienced starting five on their side – not to mention a chance to add some talent before the Feb. 19 trade deadline.

BOSTON BRUINS

Can the Bruins make Boston a hockey town again?

Well, it’s likely they’ll have to share the limelight with the other local sports teams who have already won over many of the city’s sports fans; however, the B’s are making a strong push to join the Pats, Sox and C’s.

Another win tonight improves the Bruins record to 33-7-4 and puts them at 70 points, one point ahead of the San Jose Sharks for the top spot in the NHL and a whopping 11 points up on the Washington Capitals to lead the Eastern Conference.

Though they are dealing with injuries to some of their top players, the B’s have held it together so far and are shaping up to be the team to beat for the Stanley Cup.

GREATEST SPORTS CITY OF ALL-TIME?

I think the data at the bottom of this post, courtesy nuttyaboutsports.com and verified on ESPN.com, speaks volumes on the historic success Boston has experienced across the four major professional American sports. Compared to New York, which has an extra team in every sport but basketball, Boston looks like the more successful and well-rounded city.

When you look at these numbers you have to consider how successful the Pats, Sox and Celts – and now the Bruins – have been all at the same time over the past six years. Boston has won three Super Bowls, two World Series and one NBA title since 2002. And, I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see the number of championships rise over at least the next few years.

Perhaps the only strike against Boston is a lack of interest in college sports. However, schools like Boston College and the University of Massachusetts are still competitive whether they get the local recognition they deserve or not.

And, I know a lot of people would be upset if I did not mention anything about soccer when talking about major sports. So there, I mentioned it. But seriously, if soccer were popular enough in this country then I’m sure the New England Revolution would dominate just like every other Boston team, because this is the greatest sports city of all-time.

Sport Boston New York
Baseball Boston Red Sox – 3rd New York Yankees – 1st
New York Mets – 13th (tie with 6 other teams)
Basketball Boston Celtics – 1st New York Knicks – 7th (tie with 4 other teams)
Football New England Patriots – 4th (tie with 4 other teams) New York Giants – 8th (tie with 3 other teams)
New York Jets – 11th (tie with 7 other teams)
Hockey Boston Bruins – 4th (tie with 1 other team) New York Rangers – 6th (tie with 3 other teams)
New York Islanders – 6th (tie with 3 other teams)

There’s more than meets the eye

Posted in Uncategorized by mrochele on January 4, 2009
Tom Maguire, The Sun Chronicle staff)

Brian and Dawn Fitzgerald are in the second phase of restoring Wrentham's Proctor Mansion, which was built in 1861 and is now an inn. (Courtesy: Tom Maguire, The Sun Chronicle staff)

Wrentham’s Proctor Mansion  Inn restored

On an assignment last Sunday, I visited The Proctor Mansion Inn in downtown Wrentham.

The Victorian-style building, that was in rough shape less than a decade ago, is being restored by local residents and owners Brian and Dawn Fitzgerald. The restoration began in the spring of 2007 and all major repairs are expected to be complete by 2010, the couple said. The inn welcomed its first guests in late September and currently have three bedrooms available to rent.

Besides people spending the night, the couple has hosted several small functions including the inn’s first Victorian tea party which was held while I visited the mansion and interviewed the Fitzgeralds.

I’m not normally one to care much about what made this building so special. I do not have much of a sense of appreciation for anything historic; nor does old, detailed architecture catch my eye. Fancy hand-painted walls and ceilings aren’t really my ‘cup of tea,’ and artwork often bores me.

However, as Brian Fitzgerald showed me around the 147-year-old building, built by wealthy entrepreneur Thomas Proctor, I was actually quite impressed.

It was not that I suddenly recognized some beauty for a collaboration of things that would normally  not care to see, but I immediately noticed that Fitzgerald and his wife had a genuine interest in the history of this building, and their stories drew me in.

On a historical tour, going from room-to-room I listened to some interesting tales Mr. Fitzgerald told me about what life might have been like when the house was built during the mid-1800s.

The Proctor Mansion Inn)

In the inn's formal dining room, the seat closest to the steam-heated fireplace was the warmest and where Thomas Proctor would have sat. Below the table was a small button he could tap to call one of his 10 servants. (Courtesy: The Proctor Mansion Inn)

For instance, beneath chair where Thomas Proctor would have sat at the dining room table, a small button was on the floor which Proctor could tap with his foot to call for one of his 10 servants who lived in the mansion.

Tom Maguire, The Sun Chronicle staff)

A room with a view One of the mansion’s bedrooms overlooks Wrentham Common and has a great view of the Original Congregational Church's steeple. (Courtesy: Tom Maguire, The Sun Chronicle staff)

Additionally, each bedroom had buttons which could be pressed to signal servants to their room. The buttons were hooked up to different bells with distinct sounds so the servants would instantly know which room was calling them, said Fitzgerald.

The quarantine room on the first floor was where sick people were kept and is where at least seven deaths and 12 births took place.

Many of the rooms have fireplaces which are not actually used for fires, but were built as a decoration and as a sign of wealth and social status. The fireplaces were, however, a source of steam heat.

The Proctor Mansion Inn)

A circular, red window at the rear of the Proctor Mansion may signify the house once participated in the Underground Railroad, speculated owner Brian Fitzgerald. (Courtesy: The Proctor Mansion Inn)

At the rear of the house between the second and third floors is a circular, red window. At the time when the home was built, colored glass and glass cut in a circle, or with rounded edges, was very expensive because they required a lot of skill to make. Because the window is in the back of the house, it is an odd location for such an expensive piece of glass to be displayed. Also, the house was build during the height of the Underground Railroad and red was a common color to signify where slaves fleeing from the South could seek shelter in safe houses. All of these factors caused Fitzgerald to speculate the home may have been a safe house at one time.

Fitzgerald also told me about how several documents and an old portrait of who is believed to be Thomas Proctor has been found beneath the floor boards during the restoration process.

One of the bedrooms has a special closet with about a dozen wooden bars running across the top which were used to hang gowns from women visiting the mansion for a ball. The women would have their dresses hung up so high to make sure they would stay clean and wrinkle-free as they put on their makeup and prepared for whatever the event would be in the ballroom downstairs, Fitzgerald said.

I was just awestruck by the a mount of research the Fitzgeralds must have done to know all they did about the house and the time when it was built. Every story and theory about what might have gone on nearly 150 years ago was captivating, which is saying a lot considering I’ve never enjoyed learning about history.

As we walked around the third floor and were wrapping up the tour, Fitzgerald got a call on his cellphone; the women who were having the tea party in the ballroom were now waiting in the parlor and ready to start their own tour of the mansion.

Tom Maguire, The Sun Chronicle staff)

The Proctor Mansion Inn's parlor showcases the style of furniture popular in the Victorian era and offers a view through arched doors to L'Enfant Ballroom, where a Victorian tea and historical tour were in progress. (Courtesy: Tom Maguire, The Sun Chronicle staff)

By that time, the photographer had already left to cover another assignment, and Fitzgerald had to go start the next tour. So, he told me I could go up the final set of stairs myself if I’d like.

I did, and it led me to a small, enclosed balcony-like room at the level of a fourth floor. Fitzgerald told me the room was known as a widow’s walk and the windows would often be opened  to cool the rest of the house in the summertime because it allowed the heat to escape.

The view was pretty cool as every wall had windows so you could look out in all directions. It was then I started to notice that I had surprisingly grown to appreciate this building that I never expected I would care for.

That moment reminded me why I enjoy journalism.

Even when you are assigned to cover a tea party at some old house in a small, country town in Massachusetts you can expect to be surprised and it may even turn out to be an experience you’ll remember for years to come.

The price of the Internet

Posted in Uncategorized by mrochele on December 21, 2008

Illegal downloaders no longer face suits, may lose online access instead

Jammie Thomas, left, who accused by the recording industry of sharing music online in violation of copyrights, with her lawyer Brian Toder, talk outside the Federal Courthouse in Duluth, Minn., Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2007. Thomas, a 30-year-old mother of two, is the first of 26,000 people sued by the industry whose case has gone to trial. An industry group and three recording companies claim she illegally offered 1,702 songs for free on a file-sharing network. Collapse (Bob King, Duluth News Tribune/AP Photo)

Jammie Thomas, left, who was accused by the RIAA of sharing music online in violation of copyrights, with her lawyer, talk outside the Federal Courthouse in Duluth, Minn., on Oct. 2, 2007. Thomas, a 30-year-old mother of two, became the first of the then 26,000 people sued by the industry to bring a case to trial. Initially she was found liable to pay $222,000 to recording companies for 24 illegally downloaded songs, or $9,250 per song. In September, however, a judge threw out the verdict, and Thomas was granted a motion for a new trial set for March 9. (Courtesy: Bob King, Duluth News Tribune/AP Photo)

According to an article published Friday by The Wall Street Journal, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) will no longer file lawsuits against the thousands of individuals who allegedly steal and share music illegally on the Internet.

Instead, the article says, they have made deals with Internet-service providers (ISPs) to warn violators if they are unlawfully uploading and/or downloading music. The ISPs will then request that the customer cease the activity. Eventually, the file-sharers who do not stop will have their Internet service either slowed down, or possibly shut off completely.

“Though the industry group is reserving the right to sue people who are particularly heavy file sharers, or who ignore repeated warnings, it expects its lawsuits to decline to a trickle,” the article says. “The group stopped filing mass lawsuits early this fall, … [but] plans to continue with outstanding lawsuits.”

It seems clear that suing those believed to be violating copyright laws was not effective in slowing down file-sharing. Now, the question becomes whether or not denying Internet access for downloaders be enough to get people to pay for music.

Perhaps it could work if everything goes as the RIAA hopes. However, I feel this plan will fail even more miserably than their pricey  lawsuits.

The Wall Street Journal)

With album sales declining in recent years, the recording industry names illegal file-sharing as the cause. (Courtesy: The Wall Street Journal)

There is no place as free and unregulated as the World Wide Web. It will take an enormous fight to impose laws and rules on a medium that is notorious for fostering prohibited activity and is designed for people looking for a loophole.

And, the potential loopholes for the recording industry’s new plan are quite obvious.

First off, there are privacy issues here. Should ISPs be watching their customers so closely that they can monitor whether or not they are illegally downloading copyrighted material? And, if so, then what other sensitive material are ISPs able to access at while trying to prevent piracy?

Another problem would be for users who are wrongly accused. The RIAA already has a less-than-impressive history in determining who is stealing music.

According to a Washington Post article written yesterday, “the [recording industry] has filed numerous lawsuits that have appeared to be faulty, including one now-infamous instance in which it attempted to sue a deceased woman. The woman – who was 83 when she passed away – ‘hated computers,’ her children said.”

One wrongly accused customer who loses their Internet service for an extended period of time would likely counter-sue both their ISP and the RIAA. From there, an ISP would be weary of shutting off a customer’s Internet access until they are entirely sure the customer is guilty of copyright infringement. Not only are false accusations bad for ISPs from a legal standpoint, but also from a business perspective.

There have been attempts to regulate various areas of online activity, but so far none have really amounted to anything. So, to jump from no regulation to close monitoring and the threat of losing access altogether does not seem likely to withstand.

I’d argue there is also an issue as to whether ISPs and the RIAA can legally make such threats. Is access to the Internet, and the wealth of information it offers, protected somehow as a right? If not, should it be? The Internet for some is priceless. It is not just a valuable resource for information, but also for communication.

And, if using the Internet for illegally downloading music would cause someone to lose their right to access, then shouldn’t the decision to shut it off be made by parties with more legal authority than the ISPs and RIAA?

These questions have not been answered to the best of my knowledge, but could prove crucial in the success or failure of the recording industry’s latest attempt to curb music piracy.

Currently, about 19 percent of Internet users illegally share music online, according to consulting firm NPD Group Inc. The recording industry says this figure has remained around 19 percent for the past few years. However, the amount of music files uploaded and downloaded on the Internet has increased, which analysts say is a major factor in why music sales have been declining.

Thus, what can the RIAA do to turn the music industry back around? Well, that Washington Post article provides one idea which I support wholeheartedly:

“The EFF suggests RIAA support a ‘voluntary collective licensing regime’ – basically, a legal peer-to-peer network that’d let music fans pay a small monthly fee for the right to freely trade music. A survey conducted this summer found an overwhelming 80 percent of current peer-to-peer users would be interested in paying for such a system. If organized, it’d put a stamp of approval on a process that’s going on anyway – and, for an inconsequential individual fee of something like $5 a month, the industry would be able to pay rights-holders based on how much their music is being downloaded.”

Shooed away

Posted in Uncategorized by mrochele on December 15, 2008

President dodges foreign footwear

Over the past few days I have been thinking about what exactly I plan to write about on this blog. For now, I’ve decided to focus on news stories I am either covering or just stories I read which are of particular interest.

This entry is on the later, since I am not covering any stories right now.

Today, President Bush kept his cool as he dodged a pair of shoes hurled at him during a press conference in Baghdad when he made an unannounced visit to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The video, courtesy of YouTube and Google News, explains the story in more detail, and I must say I applaud Bush’s nonchalant reaction. (Though not literally, because applauding to your computer is awkward, as is laughing out loud.)

“‘If you want the facts, it was a size 10,’ he joked,” according to the Associated Press, who described the president as not taking the act too seriously.

For all of the criticism Bush has received in his eight years as commander in chief, I think people overlook his genuinely calm reactions to verbal, and now physical, attacks. He is constantly under fire from the public, yet he tends to be understanding of the personal ridicule and keeps a smile on his face.

Maybe this characteristic is part of his declining popularity among U.S. citizens. Perhaps this trait has caused him to ‘stick to his guns’ too often, and make poor decisions for the country. But, in a time where politicians are frequently called out for flip-flopping on issues, being flaky or outright liars, I think Bush has maintained a high level of sincerity and consistency.

I don’t know how I’d react if shoes were thrown at me. It has never happened to me nor has it ever crossed my mind. However, I doubt I’d have such a lighthearted reaction as the president.

I’m not saying Bush’s composure during the ‘shoe-bombing’ makes him a good leader for this country; but it is certainly admirable, as are his ninja-like reflexes.

Things you notice at 4 a.m.

Posted in Uncategorized by mrochele on December 12, 2008

So, I’ve been working on starting up this blog all night.

A lot of work has gone into it so far. I had to make an account and then name the site. I had to write that ‘About Me’ page (which I basically copied an pasted from my Web site). And, most importantly I had to choose the ‘theme’ for the site.

Basically, the theme is how the entire site is laid out and designed. From color schemes, to font, to where the links are, to how narrow or wide the page is. It is all very complex.

I had to choose from 73 different possible themes (if my math is correct). After about an hour of trying out different ones, I settled on the one you’re looking at. I was happy with it and left the blog alone for a few hours.

Now, it’s a little after 4 a.m. I came back to this blog because I wanted to at least post something so it would officially become a blog. I don’t know if what I have right now, a blog with no posts, really counts. I’d hate it if someone actually stumbled upon this creation only to find a blogless blog. The title of this pre-blog would make me a liar and a hypocrite, which are not desirable qualities for my possible future in journalism.

So, in trying to think of what to post here I was initially stuck. The first post has to be good. No one just wants to have a blog, they want a good blog, or a funny blog, or an interesting blog.

I stared at my screen trying to figure out what could possibly qualify for such an important moment in this blog’s brief history.

Then, I thought I saw some dust on my screen. I tried to scratch it off with my finger, but nothing happened. I looked closer and saw a very small, hardly noticable smiley face. I tried to click it away or highlight it and delete it, but nothing worked.

This smiley face is a permanent part of my blog’s theme and now that I know it’s there it’s so hard to ignore. Here I was thinking I was ready to post something, when it may be that I have to pick out another theme.

UPDATE: Today is now Thursday, December 18, and I have changed the blog’s theme. The smiley face was not really bothering me much anymore, however the narrow width of each post was. If I wanted to include a picture in a post, there was no space to wrap text alongside it. I think this new theme just gives me some more options in how I lay out each post.