Lady Forced to Delete Pix of Kids (Not Hers) with Mall Santa

Hi Readers: Is there some way we can convince Americans (and then the world, and then the galaxy) that taking pictures of a child who is out and about in public is not the same as sexually violating them? Because the fact is:  Most people taking pictures of kids are not doing it to get off on ’em. And for those few who are, dare I ask: So what? It’s like that disclaimer at the end of a movie: No child was harmed in the making of this photo.

I think the hysteria about kiddie picture taking stems from a lot of sources:

1 – The belief that anyone interested in kids other than their own MUST be a pedophile. (And what a lovely notion that is.)

2 – The deep-rooted fear that a picture really DOES capture the soul.

3 – The conviction on the part of some parents that their kids are SO preternaturally attractive that they are going to be singled out by everyone, including talent scouts, college admissions officers, and perverts.

4 – The idea that, “I once heard something about a picture of some kid that ended up on the Internet and…” I.e., some half-baked urban myth that doesn’t even make SENSE, but rattles around in the collective consciousness.

So here’s the story of a middle aged woman who wanted to take some sweet Christmas photos at the mall (I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms to some of us). She shot some photos of kids talking to Santa, and the kids’ mom kicked shot her dead.

Well, not quite. But the mom certainly killed the photographer’s Christmas spirit. So did the security guard who demanded she delete the photos of the kids.

Now the weird twist is that the photographer lady is actually a former West Virginia State Senator. And in a column she wrote about the mall/photo experience she says:

The woman who had stalked me through the mall did not know that I am a former state legislator who initiated and succeeded in creating strict laws against pedophiles in the West Virginia legislature. To me, the random child in my picture was simply a representation of a special moment in a human life and an innocent attempt to capture the magic of Christmas.

I just wonder how her “strict laws against pedophiles” dealt with other folks just trying to capture a special moment. Let’s hope her laws were measured and sane. And let’s hope that what we all get this season is the gift of calming down and connecting, instead of fearing everyone and everything. — L.

The REAL Miracle on 34th Street

Hi Folks! Just got this note about what happens to be one of my favorite movies of all time. As a kid, I even had the novelization of it! (The movie was so popular, someone wrote it up as a book.) Who knows? Maybe watching it made me Free-Range! Anyway, this little analysis comes to us from Elizabeth, a 29-year-old social worker in Boston. Enjoy! L.

A mom and two potential pervs?

Dear Free-Range Kids: This Thanksgiving, I watched Miracle on 34th St. with my family, which is a tradition for us.  I had never noticed how different the attitudes towards men being around children were in this movie compared to today.
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At the beginning of the movie, the mother meets her later love interest after finding out that this stranger has been babysitting her daughter Susan, age 6,  for the day.  Instead of being horrified and calling the cops and a child psychologist to evaluate her for abuse, the mother is very thankful to the kind man for watching her child.  The only thing that bothers her is that he took Susan to see Santa Claus.
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Later in the movie, Kris Kringle stays at the mother’s apartment and puts the little girl to bed.  It’s a heartwarming scene where she tells him what she really wants for Christmas is a house.  Again, there is no question about why this old man is in a little girl’s room.  The audience doesn’t question it either, after all, he’s Santa Claus!  I should point out that at this point in the movie, the mother is still questioning whether Kris Kringle is clinically insane.
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Now, I’m not saying that we should all behave like we’re in a 1940s movie.  But I was saddened to think how a movie like this would be perceived today.  I’m sure the mother would be reviled for being irresponsible, or it would be considered unrealistic that the little girl was never abducted or molested.  And what about a old guy who dandles moppets on his lap all day? Don’t ask! – E.F.

Good News! Beloved, Fired Santa Triumphs

Hi Readers! Remember Santa John, the guy we were talking about here yesterday, fired for an “inappropriate” joke or two he told some ADULTS? Here’s the update, from a San Fran gal named Kathlin:

I wanted to share some good news in reference to this story!  It was on the news last evening that there was some real surprise and outrage in the community regarding this incident.  “Santa John” has now been hired by a restaurant called “Lefty O’Douls” which is a tourist attraction right near “Macy’s”.  And, get this…he has been hired at “TWICE HIS SALARY.”   Apparently, he was also living in a sketchy area while he did his Santa stint.  He now has a room at the Westin St. Francis.  So, it does take a village to right a wrong!   If you are in San Francisco, please stop by and see “Santa John” at “Leftys” as it is on the cable car line.

P.S. And here’s the story (it’s great!)  from the San Fran Chronicle.

Outrage of the Week: Beloved Santa Fired for a Joke

Ho Ho Grrrrr, Readers: If I had a sleigh, I’d be on my way out to the Macy’s in San Fran which just sacked its beloved Santa, despite the fact he’d been doing the gig for 20 years. Some folks even made special trips just to visit the man known as “Santa John.” But then he did something unforgivable! According to this report in sfgate.com, he was booted after an adult couple complained about a joke he’d cracked:

The joke has been in his Santa bag for decades. But after thousands of tellings, the 68-year-old retired caretaker for the elderly finally hit the wrong recipients – apparently an older woman and her husband, who considered it inappropriate.

Toomey – who stays in Oroville most summers and winters in San Francisco while he does the kiddie-on-the-knee gig – said he’d never had complaints before about the joke, which he saves for the occasional grown-up who visits him.

“When I ask the older people who sit on my lap if they’ve been good and they say, ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘Gee, that’s too bad,’ ” Toomey said Monday.

“Then, if they ask why Santa is so jolly, I joke that it’s because I know where all the naughty boys and girls live.”

The kids who sit on his lap, he said, get only his trademark laugh and questions about what toys they want.

Macy’s spokeswoman Betsy Nelson said the store cannot comment because the matter involves personnel.

But several workers used words including “devastated” and “overreaction” to describe their take on Santa John being booted from his throne at Santaland on the seventh floor. They all asked not be named because store policy forbids them from speaking publicly about such matters, but their un-yule-ish gloom was palpable.

“People make a pilgrimage to see him every year, some for as long as 15 years,” said one worker. “Everyone loves him. Everybody’s just heartsick about this.”

I can’t wait to see the movie about this story: “Miracle on Stupid, Paranoid, Everyone’s-a-Predator Street.”  In these touchy times, I guess you can dandle thousands of delighted kids on your knee, but make one piffling joke that some uptight adult finds “inappropriate” and that’s enough to scare the (Santa) suits. Out into the cold you go, Mr. Kringle, and here’s a lump of coal for those two decades.

Personally, I love Macy’s here in New York City. I love its parade, its building, its wild hum of humanity. But this firing out in San Fran brings to mind  the “Miracle on 34th Street” exec who booked Santa into Bellevue.

Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to, so please repeat after me: “I believe that at some point America WILL regain its sanity. It’s silly, but I believe. It’s silly, but I believe…” — L

Santa Claus is coming to town. Oh no!

If a Man Photographs Your Kid with Santa Should We Arrest Him?

Hi Readers — Here’s the latest story of a guy, a camera, a warm little Santa scene at the mall…and an arrest. Apparently Scott Rensberger, an award-winning news photographer who has covered conflicts as far away as Bosnia, was at his local mall in West Virginia with the camera he always carries with him. He snapped some pix of Santa and the choir, whereupon a couple of dads insisted he delete the photos because their kids were in them, which he did.

This already gets my goat. (Or reindeer, perhaps.) Why do dads think they are being “safe” and “smart” when they insist on no photos of their kids — in group shots, not less? What nefarious scheme do they imagine those fully clothed photos are going to be used for? Why are we so paranoid and self-righteous all the time when it comes to our kids?

Anyway, after doing some shopping,  Scott was back near Santa’s village, whereupon two of the dads from before pointed to him out to a cop. The cop approached and, according to Scott,  manhandled him. Scott tried to take his picture and ended up in a holding cell.

Enough of this kind of proactive “safety”! We are so worried that all men are perverts and that all children are about to be exploited, that we have lost our  minds.

Kids are part of the world. Taking their pictures is not taking their souls —  I though we established that a while ago. This season, when it comes to fearing for our children every second of every day, even when they’re standing a few feet away from us at the mall,  let’s do like the temperature and CHILL! — Lenore

North Pole Back In Business

Hi Readers — Here’s a happy holiday gift: Santa sanity from the child-overprotecting world. You may recall last week’s story about  the closing of the North Pole Santa effort for fear of pedophiles mailing themselves to unsuspecting tots. (Or whatever the exact, irrational  “rationale” was.) Enjoy this well-written post about how it all turned out, from the blog  Strollerderby. — Lenore

Outrage of the Week: Saving Children From Mrs. Santa Claus!

I don’t know if this is quite the right expression but: Oy vey! A town in North Carolina has BANNED MRS. CLAUS from its  X-mas parade. Why?

To quote the local News Observer: “…John Odom, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association, which runs the parade, said it’s confusing for children to see two people in Santa suits. He said it’s a policy that only Santa may wear the official outfit.”

That’s right: it is too CONFUSING to kids to see a lady in a red, Santa-like outfit. Which, for the record, is a DRESS. Is the local Mr. Claus wearing a red dress, too? Perhaps there’s some other kind of confusion going on.

My favorite line in the story is this: “It was unclear how common youthful confusion of Santa and Mrs. Claus might be, and what harm might result from the misapprehension.”

But hey — better safe than Santa! — Lenore

Dear Santa: Are You A Sex Offender?

Hi Readers — What’s Christmas without a little overkill, this time at the hands of the U.S. Postal Service? It is acting to keep our children “safe” — and joyless! That’s the true spirit of the season, the way things are going.

The Post Office is afraid of sex offenders responding to childrens’ letters to Santa– admittedly a concern, but compared to having volunteers answer  mountains of letters from needy children? As they have for decades? And what are the chances a Santa letter to a child along with some toys would wind up a horrible tragedy?

To me it’s another case of “protecting” kids that leaves the vast majority far worse off — just like when we take  all the merry-go-rounds off all the playgrounds just in case someone, somewhere could fall off. We’ve “protected” the kids, yes. Mostly from a joy.   Here’s the story, from the Associated Press:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – Starry-eyed children writing letters to the jolly man at the North Pole this holiday season likely won’t get a response from Santa Claus or his helpers.

The U.S. Postal Service is dropping a popular national program begun in 1954 in the small Alaska town of North Pole , where volunteers open and respond to thousands of letters addressed to Santa each year. Replies come with North Pole postmarks.

Last year, a postal worker in Maryland recognized an Operation Santa volunteer there as a registered sex offender. The postal worker interceded before the individual could answer a child’s letter, but the Postal Service viewed the episode as a big enough scare to tighten rules in such programs nationwide.

People in North Pole are incensed by the change, likening the Postal Service to the Grinch trying to steal Christmas. The letter program is a revered holiday tradition in North Pole, where light posts are curved and striped like candy canes and streets have names such as Kris Kringle Drive and Santa Claus Lane . Volunteers in the letter program even sign the response letters as Santa’s elves and helpers.

North Pole Mayor Doug Isaacson agreed that caution is necessary to protect children. But he’s outraged North Pole program should be affected by a sex offender’s actions on the East Coast—and he thinks it’s wrong that locals just found out about the change in recent days.

“It’s Grinchlike that the Postal Service never informed all the little elves before the fact,” he said. “They’ve been working on this for how long?”

The Postal Service began restricting its policies in such programs in 2006, including requiring volunteers to show identification.

But the Maryland incident involving the sex offender prompted additional changes, even forcing the agency to briefly suspend the Operation Santa program last year in New York and Chicago .

The agency now prohibits volunteers from having access to children’s family names and addresses, said spokeswoman Sue Brennan. The Postal Service instead redacts the last name and addresses on each letter and replaces the addresses with codes that match computerized addresses known only to the post office—and leaves it up to individual post offices if they want to go through the time-consuming effort to shield the information.

Anchorage-based agency spokeswoman Pamela Moody said dealing with the tighter restrictions is not feasible in Alaska.

“It’s always been a good program, but we’re in different times and concerned for the privacy of the information,” she said.

Moody stressed that kids around the world can still send letters to Santa Claus. The Postal Service still runs the giant Operation Santa Program in which children around the world can have their letters to Santa answered, and the restrictions do not affect private organizations running their own letter efforts.

But what will change are the generically addressed letters to “Santa Claus, North Pole” that for years have been forwarded to volunteers in the Alaska town. That program will stop, unless changes are made before Christmas.

Those letters will still be forwarded to volunteers but it’s unclear yet if anything will be done with them. Those intercepted by the postal service will probably eventually be shredded.

 

NEW NEW NEW:
Hi Readers: Here’s a little update.
The elves up north are fighting back.