your Miraloma Life … online – February 2006

    • Teresita Traffic Update
    • Picturing Miraloma Life
    • Postcard from a Miraloma Park Expatriate
    • A Wrangling of Species on Mount Davidson
    • Landscaped Gardens Contribute to the Health of the Environment
    • A Tree Falls on Molimo
    • Legal Ease
    • City of Angels
    • Of General Interest
    • Sunnyside History Fair and Sunnyside Elementary School Reunion
    • Spring Festival: Volunteers Wanted
    • Miraloma Elementary School Spring Festival
    • Do Not be Misled!
    • The Court of Public Opinion
    • Free Information (411)

    Teresita Traffic Update

    by Gary Noguera
    On January 11 more than 65 neighbors attended a meeting hosted by the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Also attending were Supervisor Sean Elsbernd and two representatives from the SF Police Department. The overwhelming turnout at traffic meetings at MPIC continues to demonstrate how important pedestrian and auto safety is to our community.

    MTA gave an update about the pending traffic calming plan for Teresita and associated side streets such as Fowler. Here are some of the highlights: The Fowler “Y” traffic flows and signage configurations may get revamped. The immediate neighbors will be invited to another MTA meeting to give input. The time and place will be announced in Miraloma Life. There was strong participation at the meeting from people in the “Y” area, as well as from those on lower and mid Teresita.

    Along Teresita, MTA will use “chokers” also known as “neck downs”. These are 4 x 4 foot structures that are constructed 2 feet from the curb. They will be installed at about 200 feet intervals at strategic locations. The idea is to reduce the feeling of a wide-open street that encourages speeding. By adding a vertical element (trees in the neck downs), the overall effect will be to seemingly narrow Teresita, forcing drivers to slow down. We will be one of the first neighborhoods in the city to try this approach. The area near Bella Vista is being looked at for calming treatment, but the solution is still under study.

    No funding for any of this is available until July 1, 2006 and it will take a year and a half before results will be seen. Teresita is considered near the top for funding. The neighborhood will have the final say on whatever plans is proposed. Each RESIDENCE [not resident] on Teresita will vote on the plan. Homes that face Teresita, but have side street addresses, will also get to vote. Formal ballots will be sent in the next 6 months. A 20% response, with a positive 50% plus one vote must occur, or the project will be tabled. Regular updates will be made in the newsletter. When voting time approaches, we will “get out the vote” (meetings, special mailings, ringing doorbells?).

    We received mostly positive feedback about the new stop signs at Stillings. SFPD has issued numerous citations in that area and will continue enforcement. For more information contact the livable streets program at 415-554-2398 or Gary Noguera of MPIC at 415-281-0892

    Picturing Miraloma Life

    by Jacquie Proctor

    This 1940 “Miraloma Park Pictorial,” signed by the Meyer Brothers Sales Manager, Dewey Blade, features “News and Views of San Francisco’s Close-in Fine Home Center where individualized, 5 room homes sell for as little as $5450. Wide green lawns, trees and shrubs flank Miraloma Park’s curving streets. Note the absence of street light poles.” The Number 7 Forest Hill – Rio Court bus is pictured with the caption, “Two municipal bus lines now serve Miraloma Park residents, bring homes like these within 23 minutes of The Emporium.” Thanks to the efforts of the Miraloma Park Improvement Club, Mayor Rossi piloted the first 36 bus from Forest Hill station on July 23, 1939. Nine subdivisions had been approved for building in Miraloma Park by 1931 but the depression slowed down their completion. When the government stopped all home building in 1942, Meyer Brothers was dissolved. In 1947, building of homes was resumed by Miraloma Realty, created by Dewey Blade and Edward Anderson, who got the last two subdivisions approved in 1959 and 1960.

    Postcard from a Miraloma Park Expatriate

    by Phil Laird
    I’m writing you from our temporary home in the Inner Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco. Neither crabby neighbors nor Hurricane Katrina drove us from our long-time home in Miraloma Park, but rather years of dense fog, non-stop dry rot, and décor that in 1960 was dernier cri but in 2006 is premier rire, that have forced us to remodel while we still have the energy.

    They say that travel is broadening. And I can assure you that four months living two blocks from Clement Street and its restaurants is definitely broadening. The Clement Street shopping district is a colorful mix of shops of every variety and ethnicity. Except for Walgreen’s, the large chain stores have not intruded into the local economy. Rather than the same stuff you get in every shopping center, stores here feature imported teas, out-of-print books, boutique fashions, designer lamps, and more.

    If Janis had lived here, she would have sung: “Freedom is another word for nowhere left to park.” To park on the street during the day requires a residential parking permit (annual cost: $60). Weekly street cleaning forces us to play a game of musical parking spots: every Monday we move our car off the street and lurk until the street sweeper passes. Then we race with our neighbors to park on the street near our apartment.

    One of them likes to park his car in the center of a space large enough for two cars, ensuring thereby that no one can park behind him or in front of him. A good week is one where we foil his selfishness by parking in front of his house; a bad week is one where we come back late in the evening, park six blocks away, and walk home in the rain carrying four bags of groceries.

    Richmond is a large neighborhood, second in area only to the Sunset. Major development in the district began after the 1906 earthquake. The arts-and-crafts style popular at the time dominates the residential architecture. Our apartment still has the capped pipes in the ceiling where gaslight once shone. On our street most of the houses are duplexes with upstairs and downstairs units—an arrangement that worked ell in 1906 but contributes to the serious parking shortage today. Because so many households in our neighborhood consist of families, weekday mornings are crowded with school buses, and streets are clogged as parents drop off their children in front of the many schools.

    After school, these children contend with the density and traffic to find a place to play. Tagging seems to be the most popular sport. Diversity is perhaps the defining element of our neighborhood: Irish, Asian, Russian, and other ethnic groups have settled this area by turns and in the process infused the cultural terroir. Political diversity followed. In District 1, housing and transportation are the hot issues for Supervisor Jake McGoldrick. While not a loyal member of the “left flank” of the Board of Supervisors, McGoldrick’s progressive leanings win support from renters and opposition from businesses and homeowners. He supports reserved bus lanes along the Geary corridor used by the #38 bus, the most heavily used bus route in the state. He opposed Care Not Cash and supports Public Power and the Housing Element. And recently he sponsored a new ordinance to protect “significant” trees on your property (from you).

    But diversity may also be partly responsible for a lack of community planning in the Richmond. Without a community association such as the MPIC, Richmond has instead a collection of small issue-oriented groups, some effective, others bootless. The compact Richmond YMCA hosts free food pantries for low-income and senior residents and a sizeable homeless population. Other interest groups advocate for libraries, schools, traffic control, the environment, earthquake preparedness, youth programs, and Mountain Lake Park. Graffiti is a ubiquitous problem but relegated to the Department of Public Works for removal.

    When at long last we move back to Miraloma Park from our home in exile, we will miss many of the delightful aspects of our new neighborhood: fog-free days; a park shared harmoniously among people, children, dogs, and the occasional alligator; the mellifluous sounds of the Richmondese dialect wafting from the local markets. But as the sun sets in the Sunset and we bid adieu to the colorful Inner Richmond, we will be glad to be back in Miraloma Park, where front yards have plants instead of cars, where we don’t count the days until we need to move our car, and where the community has a real sense of community.

    A Wrangling of Species on Mount Davidson

    by Geoffrey Coffey
    The northeast slope of Mount Davidson supports a wonderful population of native wildflowers, grasses, and shrubs that, when planted at home, can enrich Miraloma Park gardens with a sense of local identity. This is also a botanical battlefield where mankind only recently has joined the fray.

    Rocky soil and high winds mean only the toughest plants survive here. Stalwart coyote bush and close-growing huckleberry struggle for primacy in the shrub community, with tassel-blossomed Ribes sanguineum and golden-orange Mimulus aurantiacus bearing up between them. The massive bunchgrass Calamagrostis nutkaensis holds its ground against vigorous Festuca californica, while checker blooms, blue dicks, yellow violets and shooting stars patiently endure the siege of summer drought, emerging again after winter rains in kaleidoscopic color.

    Of particular note to color-hungry gardeners, Dodecatheon hendersonii ssp. cruciatum (our local variety of shooting star) emerges in early spring, with spectacular primrose flowers of purple and yellow held aloft on foot-long reddish stems. Shooting stars remain largely unknown to mainstream retail nurseries like Sloat and the garden section of Home Depot, but specialty native plant nurseries often carry them – try Bay Natives (www.baynatives.com) in San Francisco and Yerba Buena (www.yerbabuenanursery.com) in Woodside.

    California huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) bears a wealth of white urn-shaped flowers throughout the summer, maturing into edible dark-blue fruit (the most deleicious of all our native berries) beautifully set off against the reddish-green luster of its evergreen leaves; it grows 2-6 feet tall and prefers well-drained, acidic soil. This is an easy, beautiful, and low-maintenance shrub that will thrive in both sun and shade, a no-brainer for the native plant garden.

    Today, only 20% of Mt. Davidson remains native – the rest is a forest of blue gum eucalyptus, the result of massive plantings by S.F. mayor Adolph Sutro in the 1880s. An import from Australia, the blue gum quickly grows to 100 feet or more, swift to establish itself and often spreading into adjacent territory. Aficionados say the towering aromatic trees remind them of cathedrals; critics call the blue gum “California’s tallest weed.” Either way, the eucalyptus forest effectively crushes its competition, eliminating native plants from its domain like an occupying army.

    But on the fringe between the Australian forest and the Californian grassland grows our native Coast Red Elderberry, the hardy Sambucus acemosa. This is a large bush or a small tree, depending on conditions, with egg-shaped clusters of tiny cream-white flowers maturing into scarlet berries much prized by the local birds. A deciduous plant, the elderberries on Mount Davidson are just now leafing out; these proven survivors make a proud statement in any Bay Area garden.

    At the base of Mt. Davidson, where native grasslands meet the houses of Miraloma Park, a yellow snarl of entrenched Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius) fights its way uphill. Broom ranks among the Bay Area’s most noxious and damaging weeds: this prolific invader can produce 60,000 seeds per mature plant per year, with each fallen seed remaining viable in the ground for over 50 years. Where broom is allowed to maraud unchecked, it sweeps over the land like a pack of bloodthirsty Huns, engulfing everything in its path.

    Native plant enthusiast Sue Smith has led efforts to eradicate broom from Mt. Davidson’s lower slopes. One day, with her group of volunteer weed-pullers, she was approached by Ted Kipping, a respected local arborist who lives in the neighborhood. He asked if she might end her team for an assault against a division of aggressive blue gum seedlings encroaching from their established sovereignty in the eucalyptus forest and moving into native shrub and grassland territory. Sue replied that her city permit was only for pulling broom, not for cutting blue gum. Ted decided to bring his own work crew and, at his own expense, spent three days taking down every eucalyptus sapling in the disputed area. He was hailed henceforth as a local hero.

    The path to Mt. Davidson’s native grassland and shrub community begins at the southern end of the park, at the intersection of Dalewood, Myra, Lansdale, and Sherwood Streets. A number of paths branch off into the forest, leading around the mountain, through the eucalyptus, and up to the peak. S.F. Recreation and Parks sprays these paths with herbicide against the weeds Ehrharta erecta and Oxalis pes-caprae, two pernicious interlopers from South Africa.

    Follow the path to the top of Mt. Davidson, and you will find a concrete cross 100 feet tall. Inaugurated in 1934, the city-owned monument eight years ago was declared a violation of church-state separation. San Francisco voters approved a measure to sell the small parcel of cross-bearing land to a private buyer: the Council of Armenian-American Organizations of Northern California. The Armenians memorialized the site with a bronze plaque at the base of the cross, which reads: “Cared for in memory of the 1,500,000 victims of the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Turkish government from 1915 to 1918.” Below that, in English and Armenian, is a quotation from writer and educator Avedis Aharonian:

    If evil of this magnitude can be ignored,
    if our own children forget
    then we deserve oblivion
    and earn the world’s scorn.

    In the 120 years since eucalyptus was first introduced to Mt. Davidson, many generations of trees have grown to full maturity; today the tall alien forest obscures the enormous cross almost completely from view. Many citizens of San Francisco have no idea it is even there.

    Geoffrey Coffey is the director of Madroño landscape design studio and a principal of Bay Natives nursery. Coffey writes for the San Francisco Chronicle, Planet magazine, Bay Nature, and other publications.

    Landscaped Gardens Contribute to the Health of the Environment

    Among the many benefits of landscaping is the positive effect it has on our environment. Planted gardens create a valuable wildlife habitat, improve our air quality, and help minimize pollution in our waterways by absorbing storm-water that would otherwise run off concrete and into our sewer systems. These environmental benefits of landscaping your property are seldom appreciated or given appropriate value.

    They are frequently over-shadowed by the obvious benefits of personal pride and satisfaction, natural beauty and increased property value.

    Living in an urban environment, we cannot rely and depend on large expanses of surrounding pristine land to help cleanse the pollution from our environment. The original developers of Miraloma Park designed many of our homes with front and back areas dedicated for gardens and plant life. By staying true to this original plan and dedicating as much of your exterior property as possible to plant life, you will contribute to the quality of the air we breathe. Trees and shrubs have a tremendous capacity to purify air by serving as filters which absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. One tree can remove 26 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually, equaling 11,000 miles of car emissions. Landscape plants, including shrubs and turf, remove smoke, dust, and other pollutants from the air.

    Providing landscaping on your exterior property is also essential in providing for the natural infiltration of storm water into the ground. The combination of hilly terrain and paved surfaces in our area can result in large volumes of storm runoff in short periods of time, causing a risk for back-up. Also, rainwater that is not absorbed into the ground runs over concrete, picks up pollutants, drains into the sewer system, and is potentially hazardous to the environment. San Francisco has a linked drainage system which deposits both sewage and storm-water into city lakes, the bay and the ocean after treatment. Although the city has upgraded its wastewater treatment facilities in recent years, lingering sediments and periodic rushes of fresh water into salt water can disturb the natural marine life habitat.

    The Miraloma Park Improvement Club urges all of our neighbors to think consciously about the sensitive eco-system we live in, and dedicate as much exterior property as possible to plant life. It will beautify your surroundings, help balance the natural rejuvenation processes of air and water, and provide a natural habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

    Please contact us at 281-0892, or email us at www.miralomapark.org if you would like further information, or assistance in locating a landscape professional who can recommend low-cost and low-maintenance ways to tend a garden.
    Mike Naughton
    Karen Wood

    A Tree Falls on Molimo

    by Dan Liberthson
    At 6:15 AM on Saturday, December 31, Chris and Deborah Cunningham of 269 Molimo were sleeping soundly in their back bedroom, having enjoyed the previous Friday evening with visiting relatives. Deborah awoke to what she thought was thunder, which would have been consistent with the heavy rains that had saturated the holidays, accompanied by high winds. Sleepily, she peered out the front window and saw that a huge pine tree had torn free of its mooring and fallen across Molimo, toppling a telephone pole on the way down and burying cars in heavy branches as it struck ground, missing by less than one foot the window of the room in which their guests slept. Luckily, at that hour no one was about and so no one was hurt, but the vehicular casualties were a mint-condition early 70s Cutlass Supreme (heavily dented rear end), a Toyota van (crushed roof), and a totaled motorcycle.

    By mid-morning, Rogelio and Norman of Asplundt Tree Service, at the request of the city of SF, were busy chain-sawing away branch after branch and freeing up the roadway, which was cordoned off by yellow caution tape not only because of the tree but also because of live wires on the ground. A small crowd of neighbors, including Jerry Azzaro of 3 Bella Vista, from whose rear yard the tree had fallen, watched from a respectful distance. Two Miraloma Life delivery-carriers puzzled out how they were going to get around the roadblock and deliver the newsletter to upper Molimo. We complimented them on their diligence, took pictures, consoled the cars’ owners, and heard the story told from all viewpoints.

    Like the bi-annual visit of the goats to the reservoir, this tree-fall had generated an audience and had become something of a community event, which avoided being a tragic one only by good luck, chance, or divine intervention, depending on your belief system. There are a couple of lessons to be learned from this incident, in any case.

    First, if you have a large tree or trees in your yard, it’s a very good idea to get it (or them) inspected every few years by a certified arborist, before wet and windy conditions and soggy ground increase the risk to trees, to make sure that they are balanced, healthy, and not likely to topple.

    Generally, an unbalanced tree, with a greater weight of branches on one side than another, and a tree on a steep slope, will be more likely to uproot than a tree on flat land and one that is balanced. Thus, every three of four years, as advised by a certified arborist, it is also a very good idea to have the tree limbs thinned (so that wind resistance is lessened and the tree is less likely to be blown over) and balanced. This involves some expense, but helps preserve the tree(s) for your enjoyment and that of others and for the considerable value mature trees add to your property. Unless a tree is diseased, leaning, or unstable in a way that cannot be repaired by an arborist’s attention, there is no reason to cut it down, which generally involves even greater expense as well as loss of esthetic and property value.

    As with your spouse, your kids, your house, your pets, your car, and most other valuable things in life, what’s generally needed for trees is appropriate care and attention—not removal.

    A second important lesson is to be sure that your home and auto insurance coverage is robust enough to cover such unexpected damages as your vehicles or your home being hit by a downed tree, whether it comes from your own property or a neighbor’s. It’s a good idea to review your policy at least once a year with your agent to make sure you are well-protected by comprehensive insurance. Otherwise, there may be unpleasant surprises when your claim is reviewed—which could add significantly to the nastiness of having your car or house squashed by a wandering tree early on a stormy morning.

    Legal Ease

    by Steven Solomon

    Q: What are some new consumer protection laws in 2006?

    A: The Car Buyers’ Bill of Rights became law – now, a used car costing $40,000 or less sold by a dealer can be returned within 3 days & the contract cancelled. Also, dealer-sold “certified” used cars must meet minimum standards.

    The small claims court filing limit rose to $7,500. Old bank account numbers must wait 3 years from when closed to be used again. The power of attorney form no longer requires a social security number. It became a crime to steal the identity of a military serviceperson. And criminal penalties were added for internet phishing & spamming.
    Steve Solomon is an 18 year resident of Miraloma Park. He just relocated his law office to West Portal where he continues to represent consumers and business groups in a variety of legal issues.

    City of Angels

    School of the Arts (SOTA), San Francisco’s acclaimed public arts high school, announces its annual gala musical theater production, “City of Angels,” with six performances in early March – here in Miraloma Park. Set in 1940s Los Angeles, “City of Angels” is a film noir story with murder, mystery and sex. SOTA is located at the old McAteer campus, 555 Portola at O’Shaughnessy. “City of Angels” performances will be on the mainstage, with convenient free parking on site.

    Performances will be held: Thursday, March 2, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 4, at 2:30 p.m.; Thursday,

    March 9, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, March 10, at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 11, at 2:30 p.m. Tickets and information: www.sfsota-ptsa.org or 415/695-5720.

    Of General Interest

    According to Sue Kirkham, the San Francisco Assoc. of Realtors has created a new website to serve the public – http://www.sfbaywindow.com

    The website contains information and contacts for household, neighborhood and city issues. There are many links to government and non-government offices, as well as telephone numbers.

    Sunnyside History Fair and Sunnyside Elementary School Reunion

    If you’ve ever attended Sunnyside Elementary School or are interested in the history of Sunnyside neighborhood, please join us on Saturday, Feb. 11 Noon – 3 PM for this exciting event. We are encouraging participants to bring old photos or memorabilia of Sunnyside School or Sunnyside neighborhood to the fair. If you would like to exhibit your items, please call Jennifer Heggie at 415.412.5548 or email us at historicsunnyside@yahoo.com.

    Admission is free and the event is co-sponsored by the Sunnyside Elementary School PTA and the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association.

    Sunnyside Elementary School, Dr. Margaret

    Spring Festival: Volunteers Wanted

    Would you like to get more involved in the Miraloma Elementary
    community? We are seeking volunteers to help staff the Miraloma
    Elementary Spring Festival on May 6th. We need people to staff games, serve food, and help clean up after the event is over.
    Interested parties should contact Kathleen Wydler at 863-5737 or at kath@blackketter.com.

    Just interested in attending? That’s fine, too! Mark your calendar.

    Miraloma Elementary School Spring Festival

    Food, fun and entertainment for the entire family! May 6, 2006
    Oddly enough, the following missive, found hanging from my garbage pail handle, was written in berry juice on eucalyptus leaves bound with ivy stem. The calligraphy was extremely angular, excitable, and jumpy, as you would expect given the author, and it took a long time to decipher. In fact, I got so absorbed in the work that I missed the fourth quarter of the last 49ers Game. I hope you appreciate the sacrifice. – Ed.

    Do Not be Misled!

    As lifelong members of the SBS (Squirrels for a Better Society), we implore our neighbors in Miraloma Park not to be MISLED by the nefarious and abysmally shifty Coyote who now resides in and degrades our formerly classy park. His grasp of the Squirrel language is minimal at best, as you’ll note in the last issue of this estimable newsletter, as he translated my description of him as “Fur-face” when I distinctly said “Fur-butt.” (Of course, in his case, the difference is slight.) Furthermore, he spoke from the wrong end when he swore to you that because he cannot listen in on your un-American thoughts you need not fear his reporting them to the NSA (Nasty Snooping Agency)—for although he cannot directly read your mind, he can penetrate those of your dogs, cats, rabbits, turtles, canaries, finches, parrots, gerbils, etc., who of course understand (and exploit) your every hidden urge and temptation. Oh, he is a sly one, this W. Coyote, interested only in his own stomach. Whatever pretense he makes to civic betterment and good will toward humankind, the naked facts are that he will do anything to get a better dinner, including spy on your innermost thoughts and report them to whoever will satisfy his insatiable lust for meat. Shame, shame, shame, you greedy beastie!

    Let me assure you that I speak from direct experience, for I have lost several cousins, once close and now removed, down the gullet of this atrocious carnivore. I have seen him convince one of the dimmer brains of our generally brilliant squirrel collective, the gentle and much lamented Elmer, that if he only removed a sliver of bone that had lodged in that treacherous Coyote’s gum, that the poor squirrel would be treated to a feast of every known nut and seed on the West Coast. Poor, deluded Elmer, beset by greed and sympathy combined, was no match for the wiles of this wretched predator, and was made a snack of even as he tried to relieve the beast’s feigned pain. And then there was my Uncle Chipper, who actually trusted Mr. W.C. so far as to accept an offer of a free ride on his snout, only to find that there was quite a stiff price after all (toss, gulp!). This may sound as dimwitted as could be, but that’s why I warn you: the guile of this Coyote, with his shady smile and crocodile tears, knows no bounds, and can deceive any but the sharpest among us. The phrase “Stay alert, stay alive,” first coined by my great great Aunt Myrtle, has never applied more accurately to dealings with any creature. Human friends—when you hear us screech, don’t be annoyed, for we only tell you, the Coyote comes, the danger grows. Watch your thoughts. And don’t give your right name, no, no.

    All the very very best, Seymour Squirrel, Sitting Secretary, SBS

    The Court of Public Opinion

    by Jim O’Donnell

    With the advent of 24/7 cable news over the past 20 years, the need for more content to fill time has been a constant for these networks. The easiest way to fill that voracious need is to have fewer stories that have longer legs, hopefully with the audience ratings to go with it.

    The most recent example is the Natalie Holloway case that dominated Fox, CNN and the other cable news networks last summer and into the fall of 2005. A ratings bonanza for Fox News, there are still “updates” by news anchor Greta Van Susteren for those of you that are still following the story. As a result of the ubiquitous news coverage, many Americans now think that the island of Aruba and site of Natalie’s disappearance, is a haven for murderers. There must also be an incompetent police force that is “protecting” suspects connected with the disappearance of the party-hearty teenager. Unfortunately for finding either Natalie or the people responsible for her disappearance, the early arrival on the scene last June of her mother and step-father actually interfered with the police investigation. Unable to follow their usual procedures, the police released the primary suspects within three months for lack of evidence. The local police and the rest of Aruba are not on speaking terms with Natalie’s family, and, of course, unhappy with the effect upon their global image and tourism as a result of being “convicted” in the court of public opinion.

    The previous template for the Natalie Holloway media coverage was the Chandra Levy case in 2001. Congressman Gary Condit, for whom Levy worked and had an affair, was ruined politically by being the focal point of interviews and accusations that he had something to do with her disappearance. In the 1990’s, who can forget the O. J. Simpson case, where it became the latest soap opera as millions of people followed the trial on television. In the early part of the 20th Century, the Charles Lindburgh baby kidnapping case in the 1930’s, a news reporter wrote a telephone number on the apartment wall of primary suspect Bruno Richard Hauptmann, later attributed to the suspect and helped to convict him. Documentaries on the case show Hauptmann being involved with laundering ransom money but not definitively connected with the actual kidnapping. He was convicted and executed. The media circus surrounding the case set the stage for all subsequent handling by the media to the present.

    There was a time, however, when many people preferred to have their case heard in the “court of public opinion”. Eighteenth Century colonial America was just such a time. The British justice system featured almost a hundred crimes for which the death penalty could be applied by a magistrate. Creditors could haul debtors into court and demand payment or a prison term. Many of these prisoners would come to America as indentured servants for seven years, many of whom had been victims of the justice system. Daniel Morgan, later a Revolutionary War hero, struck a British officer who had insulted him during the French and Indian War. He received 500 lashes with a whip, a punishment that only he and few others are known to have survived.

    The court of public opinion in colonial days had its own form of punishment, more brief and less lethal than being convicted in a real court of justice. “Tarring and feathering” and “run out of town on a rail” were two of the most popular public punishments. It might take you weeks to get all the tar and feathers off and days to get over the bruises of the rail ride, but your punishment was mainly humiliation from your fellow citizens. Specific bad behavior that affected the entire community could result in these draconian measures, but you could still tart up in another location as a free person as long as your behavior did not lead to more public wrath and more of the same.

    Contrast this relatively brief pain and public humiliation to that which could be meted out by the official criminal justice system: death, confinement in prison or a whipping that left you permanently scarred. Under these conditions, the former punishment rather than the latter meant that your personal public image could be resurrected over time. In today’s court of public opinion that now covers the globe, however, victims usually stay “convicted” and the punishment can be a lifetime of humiliation. But unlike colonial days, you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, just ask former Congressman Gary Condit…

    Free Information (411)

    Cell phone companies are charging $1.00 or more for 411 Information calls when they don’t have to.

    When you need to use the 411 information option, simply dial 1 800 FREE 411 or 1 800 373 3411 without incurring a charge at all except for the minutes required to make the call. Works on home phone also. www.Snopes.com verified that this is a free service.