Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas kidnapping

The holiday season has rolled around again. Good: the tree-lighting ceremonies are held, donations to food banks and toy drives get a needed boost, nativity scenes (1st image) are set up by community churches. Bad: advertisers start setting all their sales pitches to Christmas carols (this one does make me laugh). decorative lights cause some house fires, and pranksters inevitably snatch baby Jesuses out of their mangers (although some are content to simply vandalize the displays, 2nd image). But several years ago, technology was used to thwart the thieves when GPS tracking devices were embedded in nativity scene figurines. After the baby Jesus had been stolen from the community center creche in Wellington, Florida, 2 years in a row, the signal from a GPS device allowed police in 2008 to track the life-size figurine to the home of a teenager who said he got it at a party and to charge an 18-year-old girl with the theft. GPS trackers are offered free to nonprofit and religious institutions by companies like Brickhouse Security in New York and SpyGadgets in Tucson to protect the centerpieces of their holiday displays. Dozens of churches and synagogues take up the offer every year. "People are very security conscious, and this is simply a precaution. It's sad...but it's the reality we're faced with," says Philadelphia-area rabbi Yochonon Goldman. who protects his religious displays with a GPS and a camera. Deborah Lauter of the Anti-Defamation League explains, "If Baby Jesus is removed, it tends to be seen as a prank. Vandalism or theft of a menorah is just more sensitive. You feel like you're really being targeted for your religion." So far, the high-tech gadgets have not been attached to live animal actors that abscond on their own.

On another holiday note, I received an e-mail suggesting that I include a wounded service member on my Christmas card list this year. I offer the address in case you wish to do the same:

A Recovering American Soldier
c/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center
6900 Georgia Avenue,NW
Washington , D.C. 20307-5001

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