Archive for January, 2011

Mass communications began after a German goldsmith named Johnannes Gutenberg in 1439 borrowed money to produce souvenirs to sell at a religious festival only to have the festival postponed for a year.

Unable to repay his investors, Gutenberg (left) offered to share the proceeds of a “secret” with them and during the next 10 years devised a printing press that used movable type. The invention led to the printing of the Gutenberg Bible and eventually mass-produced books in general, as well as newspapers and magazines.

The first newspaper in the American colonies was Publick Occurrences, published in Boston in 1690. Its first and only issue was printed on a hand-powered press like Gutenberg’s. The newspaper, however, had not been officially authorized, and it was immediately shut down, its press run confiscated, and its publisher arrested.

The first paper to survive was The Boston Newsletter founded in 1704 by the postmaster. In the 1720s, two other newspapers were launched in New York.

By the start of the Revolutionary War, there were a couple of dozen newspapers in the colonies. By the end of the war, there were 43.

Virtually all were weeklies with circulations of roughly 500. Using Gutenberg technology, that was about all that a print shop could produce in a week. When the First Amendment guaranteed Freedom of the Press, newspapers such as these were what the Founding Fathers had in mind.

By the 1830s, improving technology allowed for creation of mass-circulation newspapers, and by the 1890s, two New York City papers, The New York Journal and The World, were each selling half a million copies per day. The day after the 1896 election of President William McKinley, each paper sold 1.5 million copies.

Then along came radio broadcasting, which began in Holland in 1919 and in the US in 1920. Suddenly newsmakers and entertainers could speak directly to audiences everywhere. Radio, of course, was only the beginning. From 1928 to 1931, the first television stations began broadcasting in different parts of the US.

Back when I was studying Mass Communications in college half a century ago, the news media consisted of magazines, newspapers, radio, and television.

The next medium to come along was, of course, the World Wide Web, which was launched in 1990. Soon organizations ranging from small businesses to the news media were creating websites to promote themselves. Meanwhile individuals such as I began putting blogs online. (The word blog, by the way, comes from web log in the sense of a ship’s log.)

In 2004, a new type of website devoted to “social networking” went online when Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook. Facebook allows users to post vast amounts of text and photos online at no charge. The company makes its money selling advertising on the site.

It all sounded simple enough at first. Friends and relatives used the site to let each other see what they’d been doing and read what they’d been thinking about. But then some strange things started happening. For example:

Last August it came to light that a wife in Cleveland, Lynn France, had suspected her husband was having an affair with another woman, Amanda Weisal, so she logged onto Facebook and typed in Weisal’s name.

John France and Amanda Weisal France on the Today Show.

Not only did she find photos of her husband with Weisal, the pictures showed the two of them getting married. Lynn France then accused her husband of bigamy. John France, however, denied it, claiming his marriage to Lynn in Italy back in 2005 was invalid although he acknowledged fathering two children by her.

Now that’s social networking. Or how about this?

Last November, a 51-year-old Antioch man halted westbound traffic on the Oakland Bay Bridge for an hour when he stopped in the slow lane and told officers via a cell phone that he was armed with guns and explosives.

Craig Carlos-Valentino (at right in CHP photo) also threatened to jump off the bridge. Eventually he surrendered to authorities. No explosives or guns were found in his car, and his 16-year-old daughter, who had also been in the car, was unharmed.

Carlos-Valentino is now in jail awaiting trial, but what in the world was going on? The suspect told officers he was upset that his wife was going to leave him. And why did he think that? She’d revealed it on Facebook.

Nor is the issue merely a matter of indiscreet postings. Much in the news this past three weeks has been the 1987 kidnapping of Carlina White. A woman posing as a nurse had stolen White, then a newborn, from a Harlem hospital.

The kidnapping suspect, Ann Pettway (at right in a North Carolina Department of Identification photo), had raised the girl as her own.

But Carlina White came to wonder if she were really the woman’s daughter and eventually found her actual parents via a missing-children’s website.

With all the publicity over the girl’s being reunited with her true family, Pettway disappeared for 10 days, but on Sunday, she turned herself in to Bridgeport, Connecticut, police. And how was that arranged?

Sunday happened to be police Lt. David Daniels’ birthday, and when he logged onto Facebook to see who had wished him a happy birthday, he found a message from Pettway saying to call her.

Communications have come a long way since Gutenberg, but so far I’ve declined friends’ and relatives’ invitations to stay in touch with them on Facebook. To me it just seems like a waste of time since I have no plans for bigamy, leaving a spouse, or surrendering to Connecticut police.

It’s not that I have no interest in self-promotion. While talking with my friend Lynn Axelrod Saturday evening, I began balancing a cup of coffee on my foot. To my disappointment, she failed to notice, so after 10 minutes I finally pointed out my balancing act.

Lynn quickly snapped a photo with her cell phone, and now the world can see that I too have a story to tell. It’s not, however, sordid enough for Facebook.

Great blue herons are the most widespread variety of heron in North America, and one of them has taken to frequenting the field around Mitchell cabin.

Great blue herons typically weigh 4.5 to 8 pounds and measure 36 to 55 inches from their heads to their tails. Their wing spans are huge, 5.5 to 6.5 feet. As birds go, their stride is also impressive, usually around nine inches in a straight line.

A Great blue heron and a Blacktail doe take a late-afternoon stroll together in my pasture.

Although herons do much of their hunting in shallow water, where they prey on small fish, crabs, shrimp, and insects, they also hunt in fields such as mine, where they dine on rodents, frogs, snakes, and even small birds. Great blues swallow their prey whole and have been known to choke on oversized morsels.

In other matters, if you have not yet seen the YouTube video of a “flash mob” in the Antwerp, Belgium, train station, you really ought to.

As people walk through the bustling station, a recording of Julie Andrews singing Do Re Me from The Sound of Music starts playing. Dancers young and old gradually emerge from the crowd until roughly 200 of them are prancing in the center of the lobby, much to the delight of onlookers.

Most of us know the song: “Do, a deer, a female deer; re, a drop of golden sun; mi, a name I call myself; fa, a long, long way to run…” The tune was running through my head yesterday, so I began singing it for my friend Lynn Axelrod.

When I came to “ti, a drink with jam and bread,” however, she was surprised. “I always thought it was ‘a drink with German bread,’ Lynn laughed. “Julie Andrews’ enunciation must not have been very good.”

I’d add that it’s just as easy to spot something else that probably contributed to Lynn’s misunderstanding. In the musical, Julie Andrews as a governess teaches the song to the von Trapp family children to mitigate the Austrian-military-style parenting of Capt. von Trapp.

As it happens, there is a word for mishearing a lyric the way Lynn did: mondegreen. It comes from people misunderstanding a line in an old Scottish ballad, “Thou hae slay the Earl of Murray and laid him on the green,” as “Thou hae slay the Earl of Murray and Lady Mondegreen.”

Other notable mondegreens include a line from a hymn, “the cross I’d bear” being heard as “the cross-eyed” bear.” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “There’s a bad moon on the right” has likewise been misheard as, “There’s a bathroom on the right.” (Please see the 1st and 3rd comments regarding this one.)

But my favorite mondegreen is confusion over a lyric from the Beatles’ song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. On occasion, “the girl with kaleidoscope eyes” has been been misheard as “the girl with colitis goes by.”

Western Africa. Ghana is in the center at the bottom of the map.

I used to wonder who the viewers are of all the beauty and wisdom this blog imparts each week, so I checked. Although numbers vary from day to day, the largest group of readers consistently comes from the United States, particularly California.

They’re followed (at the moment, which is fairly typical) by: Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, India, Australia, and Mexico. Somewhat to my surprise, however, were the many regular visits this blog has been receiving from the geographically small country of Ghana on the west coast of Africa.

Of the roughly 200 countries on earth, Ghana was recently 9th in visits, is currently 15th, and has consistently been in the top 25.

These are not the robotic visits of computers making contacts with this blog for only an instant. Typical visits last from 45 seconds to nine minutes, and often they come from people who have never visited this site before.

By African standards, Ghana with a population of 18 million is not unusually impoverished thanks to gold, oil, diamond, bauxite, and agricultural exports. Its literacy rate has been steadily improving, and if its residents keep getting information from this blog, it could become among the most-sophisticated countries in sub-Sahara Africa.

Before long, no Ghanaian will mishear the Beatles’s She’s Got a Ticket to Ride as “She’s got a chicken to ride.” (I suspect this mondegreen originated in the United States where some people have trouble understanding English accents.)

Among the many friends and relatives paying tribute to Missy Patterson during her memorial reception in the Dance Palace was former Point Reyes Light reporter Janine Warner, along with me.

As we were  telling what Missy had meant to us, Janine’s husband Dave LaFontaine, unknown to me at the time, shot a video, which he has now edited. Here it is it for the benefit of those who were not able to be present, as well as for those who were.

Missy Patterson Memorial Service from Artesian Media on Vimeo.

Janine Warner and Dave Mitchell speak about their cherished memories of West Marin matriarch Rosalie (“Missy”) Patterson during her memorial reception at the Dance Palace in Point Reyes Station.

An earlier posting describing the memorial reception and mass for Missy can be found by clicking here.

Planned Feralhood, which uses humane methods to keep the local feral cat population under control, needs financial help for the coming year. The organization’s Trap/Neuter/Return program has become a model for other communities, and it’s worthy of our support.

Planned Feralhood, which is headed by Kathy Runnion of Inverness Park, has been taking care of West Marin’s feral cats for eight years, and for the past four years, Kathy told me last year, no kittens have been born in the targeted areas. Colonies of feral cats that were exploding in size eight years ago are now stable and healthy, the cats living out their lives without reproducing, she said.

Kathy Runnion of Planned Feralhood feeds cats at their new shelter in a barn near Nicasio Reservoir.

Volunteer feeders help keep the colonies localized. Between these colonies and the cats in its shelter, Planned Feralhood has been taking care of an average of 75 cats a day, Kathy added.

When Planned Feralhood was faced with finding new quarters last year, donations made it possible. There are now two shelters for the cats: one at Kathy’s home and one in a well-maintained barn near Nicasio Reservoir. I urge readers to support them.

Checks should be made payable to ASCS. The Animal Sanctuary and Care Society is Planned Feralhood’s IRS 501C (3) fiscal sponsor. Please mail your tax-deductible contributions to Planned Feralhood, PO Box 502, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956.

West Marin’s Gray fox population is steadily growing. Nowadays they can be seen in places as public as downtown Point Reyes Station. A year ago, Kathy, who is also a postal clerk, spotted this pair out the back window of the post office and called me, so I hurried downtown and photographed them. The foxes were sunning themselves on the roof of a Toby’s Feed Barn lean-to that adjoins the Building Supply Center lumber yard.

At Mitchell cabin, as has been noted, two or three foxes show up most evenings. In years past, I’ve seen the number of foxes and raccoons in West Marin occasionally soar only to have epidemics of distemper or some other disease cause their populations to crash.

A curious family of raccoons steps inside to inspect my kitchen.

Obviously the more raccoons and foxes there are in a region, the easier it is for disease to spread from one to another. I just hope nothing like that happens anytime soon.

Eight deer and a cat in the field below Mitchell cabin.

Unlike foxes and raccoons, West Marin’s blacktail deer are able to live in large groups without spreading diseases among themselves. The only significant exception has been infrequent outbreaks of bluetongue, a viral disease spread by a small, biting insect called a midge.

Bluetongue gets its name from the fact that the lips and tongues of  animals with the disease swell, giving a blue appearance to the mouths of some of them.

Western gray squirrels are also vulnerable to insect bites. In other parts of the West, epidemics of mange, which is spread by mites, is a major cause of death among gray squirrels. This squirrel at Mitchell cabin, however, is starting the new year looking healthy.

And may you too have a healthy, happy new year notwithstanding the squirrely folks you may run into.