Mascot Madness

In Philadelphia, police are investigating a complaint that “Gritty” — the mascot of the Flyers hockey team — punched a 13-year-old kid after a photo shoot last year.

hi-res-999ed1323129c7ca5ddd46c81d3a67c4_crop_northThe kid’s father claims that after the kid patted “Gritty” on top of his furry orange head, the bug-eyed creature took a running start and punched the kid in the back, leaving a bruise.  The Flyers say that they conducted an investigation and concluded that “Gritty” did nothing wrong and there was no evidence to support the assault claim.

I suppose one could argue that the combination of circumstances — the fact that the incident allegedly happened in Philadelphia, where sports fans are notorious, involved a goggle-eyed mascot named “Gritty” for a team playing a sport where dropping the gloves and taking a few swings is an accepted part of the game, and a franchise that recently unveiled a “rage room” to allow frustrated fans, and “Gritty,” blow off steam by wrecking various household items — should be factored into the investigation, but clearly we need to let normal police investigative techniques take their course.

The more important lesson here is that all anthropomorphic mascots should be given as wide a berth as possible, whether they are found at a hockey game, a ballpark, or an amusement park.  Unless you’re a “furrie” — that is, somebody who gets his or her jollies wearing a fuzzy or hairy costume depicting some kind of character — being a mascot would be one of the worst jobs imaginable.  You’re stuck in a hot, probably smelly costume with inadequate breathing capabilities, you’ve got the heavy burden of engaging in “zany” behavior at all times, and the fans around you undoubtedly aren’t respecting your personal space in any way.  Pats on the head, and for that matter kicks in the behind, are probably a regular occurrence.

I’m guessing that, in the professional mascot world, “Gritty” isn’t alone in wanting to use a “rage room” now and then.

2020 Fraud

Every year, it’s a struggle to get the subconscious mind to accept the notion of a new year.  If you write a check or date a document after the turn of the calendar, for example, you might reflexively write the old year for a few weeks until your brain finally assimilates the fact that it’s 2020 and no longer 2019.  Such dating foul-ups are just a standard part of the process of moving from one year to another.

writing-2020-checks-hand-860x462-1This year there’s another aspect of dating documents that’s been in the news:  potential fraud.  This story from CNN addresses the issue.  According to the article, consumer advocates, auditors, and police departments all are saying that you shouldn’t use the abbreviation/slash approach to writing the date — like, say, 1/5/20 — on documents because a fraudster could get the document and mess with the year by adding digits to the end, so that “1/5/20” becomes “1/5/2019” or “1/5/2021.”

I get the concept, but I’m not clear on how fiddling with the date could practically lead to fraud.  The CNN article gives two examples.  At some point in the future, you might have a check lying around, dated 1/4/20, that is more than six months old.  A crook could take the check, make the date 1/4/2021, so that the check is no longer more than six months old and difficult to cash.  Left unexplained is why in the world anyone would have an old, dated, but otherwise incomplete check lying around, and how a fraudster could find it and forge the rest of the writing to scam you.

Here’s the other example from the CNN article:

“Or, let’s say you sign a credit contract — an agreement between a borrower and a lender — and date it 1/4/20. Say you then miss a month or two of payments, and the lender goes to collect the debt that’s owed. Theoretically, they could add “19” to the end of that date and argue that you owe more than a year’s worth of payments.”

It seems like this example raises a more important concern — don’t borrow money from crooked entities that would consciously commit deliberate fraud.  I’m guessing that any entity that would be willing to engage in such conduct probably wouldn’t stop at fiddling with the date.  In fact, they might send some burly guys to your house ready to take a tire iron to your kneecaps unless you pay up, now.

The CNN article doesn’t give any more plausible examples of potential fraud, saying that it doesn’t want to give crooks any ideas.  I appreciate that, because fraudsters are a creative sort, and I appreciate the warning.  So when I’m writing the date this year, I’ll write it out in full, and enjoy the fact that by doing so I’m thwarting vaguely defined potential fraud.  Even unlikely fraud is better left avoided.

Living In Spytown

An interesting lawsuit is proceeding in Coral Gables, Florida.  Coral Gables has installed “license plate readers” at traffic intersections, and one of its citizens, Raul Mas Canosa is suing about the amount of data that the city has accumulated about him — and every other car owner in town.

Coral Gables has more than 30 license plate readers positioned at major intersections in the city.  The readers take a photo of the back of each vehicle and record the license plate number and the associated time, date and location.  Thanks to the license plate readers, the Coral Gables Police Department has captured tens of millions of data points representing individual vehicle movements around the city — more than any of the other 26 South Florida cities that use a similar system.  Privacy advocates say that the license plate readers are intrusive and the accumulated data effectively allows the city to track the daily movements of ordinary citizens who are not suspected of any crime.  The city argues that the system can be used to quickly find vehicles that may be involved in criminal activity and could be used to help solve cold cases, too.

The pending lawsuit argues that the license plate readers violate the Fourth Amendment and rights to privacy under Florida law.  Recently the judge presiding over the case denied Coral Gables’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which means the case will proceed into the discovery phase.  The discovery will likely focus on how the city uses the system, its usefulness in helping to solve crimes and apprehend criminals. and whether there is reasonable justification for keeping the data for years.

Should cities routinely track the movements of people going about their daily affairs through the use of cameras at traffic intersections?  After all, traffic intersections are public places where anyone can see who is driving by, and in most major cities there are likely to be security cameras that record movements past particular buildings.  For many of us, being on camera has become a part of our daily lives.  But the problem here is that the city keeps the data for years and presumably can combine it with other information it maintains — like whose car bears the license plate, and where they live — to get a pretty good picture of what people are doing and where they are going from day to day.  That seems pretty intrusive to me.

Police officials are always going to want more data and information that they can sift through in trying to solve crimes.  The question is one of line-drawing, and balancing effective crime fighting with the privacy rights of normal people.  The Coral Gables case is one that will help to start sketching out the boundaries and setting the balance.

Friday Night Hangover

 

When Betty and I took our morning lap around Schiller Park yesterday morning, circling the park, clockwise, on the perimeter sidewalk, we encountered the following, in order: (1) a disgusting pool of vomit that all joggers and walkers were steering clear of but that was of intense interest to Betty and other dogs; (2) an area of a flowerbed where the plants were crushed and uprooted; and (3) a car, which had lost part of a bumper and a hubcap, had white paint scrapes on the left front side, and was parked over the curb with a flat right front tire.

You didn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that some irresponsible person got drunk Friday night, drove when they shouldn’t have, ran into something, “parked” their car at Schiller, toppled into the flowerbed, and then expelled the stomach poisons. I’m just surprised Betty and I didn’t see and smell a reeking figure passed out on the playground or under a tree.

What’s interesting is that, as of this morning when the photo above was taken, the car is still there. Perhaps the offender had a blackout and can’t remember where he/she left the car.  Or, perhaps the car was stolen by the offender, and the true owner doesn’t know where the car is.

So, I’m offering this post as a public service. If this is your car, it’s on the north side of Schiller Park. And if this post helps you retrieve it, how about making a decent contribution to the German Village Garten Club to compensate for the pretty flowerbed that got ruined as part of the entire escapade?

Puppy Fraud

The unfortunate reality is that there are a huge number of scam artists in the world.  There is no fraud too low for them to try, if they think there is money in it, and the internet just makes committing the fraud easier and more anonymous.

block-photos_available-pets_383968525-cropped-small.jpg__320x240_q90_crop_subsampling-2_upscaleThe latest evidence of this is reports of puppy scams that prey upon people, often kids, who’ve saved their money to buy a puppy.  The victims go on line looking for the puppy of their dreams, come across a website that promises to provide them with a cute, furry pet, make contact and wire money to arrange for the delivery of a dog — and then no dogs arrive.  Sometimes the fraudsters even double-down, successfully, on hapless victims by telling them that they need to pay even more money for a kennel crate, or insurance, or to correct a delivery mistake.  People are reporting losing hundreds and even thousands of dollars through such swindles.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone would consciously target dog-lovers — especially kids — in criminal fraud schemes, but apparently there are no lines some crooks won’t cross.  If fraudsters don’t mind cheating senior citizens out of their life savings, or bilking new arrivals who’ve come to this country in search of a better life, why would they hesitate to take advantage of a child who has saved money from their summer job to buy a puppy?

The lesson, of course, is to not assume that every internet web page represents a legitimate business.  If you’re going to buy a puppy — or for that matter, anything else — on the internet, do your homework and pay attention to details.  In the story linked above, for example, the Better Business Bureau notes that scam websites often feature misspellings and grammatical errors that a legitimate business would fix.

But to be as safe as possible, why buy a puppy over the internet in the first place?  Your local dog shelter has real dogs, large and small, that are yearning for a home and that you can see, and touch, and pet before you add a new member to the family.

Anonymizing The Shooters

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, staked out a firm — and interesting — position after a terrorist attack by a white supremacist on two New Zealand mosques killed dozens of people last month.  “[Y]ou will never hear me mention his name,” said Ardern. “He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.”  She added: “He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing. Not even his name.”

anongiftsPrime Minister Ardern is the latest figure to argue that the individuals who commit mass shootings should be anonymized, and that news reports of such crimes should not name the killers.

The anonymity effort traces its roots back to the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School, which produced massive coverage of the American teenagers who did the killing.  The Columbine shootings are believed to have motivated many other mass shootings, both in the United States and around the world, and some observers argue that giving the Columbine shooters publicity and celebrity-style coverage only encourages future attacks.  The New Zealand shooter, for example, was supposedly inspired by a 2015 mass shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

As one criminologist, Adam Lankford, has put it:  “A lot of these shooters want to be treated like celebrities. They want to be famous. So the key is to not give them that treatment.”  Detailed news coverage of shootings can also be used as a guide to would-be shooters who are planning their own mass attacks, and can motivate future killers to try to outdo the death tolls in prior shootings.  It’s apparently a sad, sick reality of our modern world that some people are so obsessed with becoming famous that they will commit heinous crimes against innocent strangers to obtain the publicity they crave.

Should the terrorists and criminals who commit mass shootings be named, or should the news media refrain from identifying shooters while otherwise providing the news about such killings?  There’s no doubt that the names of criminals are part of the news.  Every new reporter learns about the “5 Ws and an H” — who, what, where, when, why, and how — that should elements of any news story.  But members of the news media also are part of society and have always accepted some element of social responsibility in their news coverage — by not publishing ultra-bloody or violent images, for example.  Withholding the names of mass shooters who hope for notoriety is just one additional step down that same path.

I don’t know whether anonymizing mass shooters will help to discourage future tragedies, but I do know that what has been done to date hasn’t worked.  I applaud the stance of Prime Minister Ardern and hope that reporters and editors will start to recognize that providing publicity to such shooters simply makes the new media a pawn in their sick and twisted effort to become famous.

Thoughtless And Hopelessly Self-Absorbed

Sometimes I wonder about if people have changed, or whether there have always been a healthy percentage of seriously jerky people in the American population.  Did the “Greatest Generation” that survived the Great Depression and won World War II to usher in an era of great prosperity, for example, have a significant number of thoughtless and hopelessly self-absorbed members — or is the presence of such people an unfortunate modern phenomenon?

close-up-of-measles-rash-f7cd43Consider this article.  A 57-year-old Wisconsin man stayed in a hotel with people who have the measles — which is one of the most contagious diseases around.  The measles virus is communicated to different people by coughing and sneezing, and the virus is hardy enough to live for two hours in an airspace where an infected person coughed or sneezed.  In order words, you don’t need to be in the same room as someone who has measles at the same time for the disease to be transmitted.  The U.S. regularly deals with measles outbreaks when an infected person appears in a community, some members of the community aren’t vaccinated, and the disease quickly starts to spread.  With more and more people blithely deciding they don’t need to have their children vaccinated, the risks of an outbreak are multiplying.

Because the man had potentially been exposed to measles, officials decided it was prudent to keep him quarantined for 21 days and he was ordered to stay home.  Police officers were even posted outside his home to make sure he obeyed the quarantine order.  But because the man felt that he was “going crazy” inside his house, he enlisted his wife to help him escape.  He hid in her car and went to a gym so he could work out.  A gym, of course, would rank right up there as one of the best places for the measles virus to spread — an enclosed space where people are exercising in close quarters, and therefore breathing deeply of the shared air.

The man says he only stayed at the gym for a few minutes, because he started feeling guilty, and when he and his wife were later found outside by deputies, he apologized.  He’s now been charged with violating his quarantine order, and he points out that he never was officially diagnosed with measles and never thought he was symptomatic.  But, of course, that’s not a decision he gets to make, and now he and his wife are being prosecuted for their stupid and dangerous decision.

I think it would be tough to stay cooped up in your house for 21 days without getting cabin fever, but quarantine orders are for the public good.  You’d like to think that a mature adult would accept such an order and deal with it — but apparently that’s not the case.  I think anyone who would violate such an order and unilaterally decide to go to a public place like a gym, where they could potentially be exposing innocent people to one of the most contagious diseases around, should be prosecuted.  Maybe he’ll learn that the world doesn’t revolve around him, and there’s such a thing as a greater good.