The makers of standardized tests have become so cautious about including anything that might offend people that all but the most inane topics are now off-limits, reports the Wall Street Journal.

For example, Educational Testing Service, producer of the SAT college-entrance exam, will not use a phrase like "settlers and their wives" because it "downgrades women's contributions to settlement."

ETS' guidelines also caution against portraying the elderly as "dependent" or blind people as "handicapped," and warns against assuming that Western culture or Judeo-Christian morals are the norm. ACT Inc. even has guidelines on family structure: It urges test writers to show single-parent and one-child families.

One man who wrote for a Texas testing company last year says he was cautioned that there shouldn't be any mention of the military in the reading passages, and that backyard swimming pools or other symbols of affluence were no-nos. Instead, he wrote about a boy who orders orange juice at the ballpark. "If anyone was shown consuming anything," he says, "it had to be vegetables and juice."

Sometimes the content is changed to appease those leaning to the right. In Michigan, conservative parents fought a reading passage about a boy whose mother wouldn't let him have him a puppy, but relented after he proved how faithfully he would care for it. Parents complained that testers were advocating using subterfuge to overcome parental discipline. Another passage that implied a dog has a soul had to be removed after a religious group complained.

It's Demeaning, Eh?

A Canadian cheese ad featuring a taxi passenger referring to the driver as a "schizo" denounced by schizophrenia rights groups as "demeaning and stigmatizing" was pulled from the air and changed by its sponsors, reports the Toronto Sun.

The creators of the ad, part of the Dairy Farmers of Canada's "Say Cheese" campaign, initially refused to pull it when it first came under attack last fall. The group has since relented and removed the segment in question, despite the fact that Canada's Advertising Standards board deemed it inoffensive.

"We were quite pleased with the outcome," said Joan Montgomery, CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, whose Ontario chapter complained about the ad. "It was serious enough that a great many Canadians were concerned and they acknowledged that."

Smackdown on the Left

A speech at PETA's annual animal rights convention comparing the "shape" of the animal rights movement to the "shapes" of a Hollywood actress and a beauty pageant winner generated angry cries of sexism from feminists in the audience, reports CNSNews.com.

As many as two dozen conference-goers stormed out of the dinner in protest, and another 10 people from the audience jumped up on stage and disrupted the proceedings during the July 2 event.

The problems surfaced when the master of ceremonies for the Animal Rights Hall of Fame Awards Dinner, Howard Lyman, a former rancher now turned animal advocate, welcomed Miss World USA Natasha Allas and animal rights advocate and NYPD Blue actress Charlotte Ross to the event.

Lyman reportedly said, "There have been a number of speakers at this conference who have alluded to the shape of the movement ... I would like to introduce you as the ideal shape of the movement," in reference to Miss Allas.

Bye-Bye Baby

Officials at California's Caltrain are pushing to change the name of the rail line's future express service, tentatively dubbed the "Baby Bullet," because the moniker evokes violent images, reports the Oakland Tribune.

"The Baby Bullet name is a loaded gun," said Sam Shank, a member of Caltrain's citizens' advisory committee. "We live in a world of violence right now — why have a bullet?"

But the move has pitted them against Democratic state Sen. Jackie Speier of San Mateo, who chose the Baby Bullet name and authored legislation that cobbled together $127 million for the project. 

Satan Dead Ahead

A couple of parents in Cromwell, Conn., want two Newberry Medal-winning books removed from the middle school curriculum because they say the books promote witchcraft and violence, reports the Hartford Courant.

The parents have circulated a petition urging school officials to remove The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, and Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.

The petition urges the school board to "... eliminate the study of materials containing information about witchcraft, magic, evil spells or related material, now and forever. ... We believe this material is satanic, a danger to our children, is being studied excessively and has no place in our schools."

The Witch of Blackbird Pond is the story of a girl accused of being a witch after she befriends a woman believed to be involved in witchcraft. Bridge to Terabithia is about a boy and a girl who become friends and create an imaginary kingdom in the woods.

Mailbag:

Kristin H. writes:

With regards to the singer, Chad Brock, stating his belief that immigrants should learn the language, I couldn't agree more with him. Expecting someone to learn the language of the country in which he/she resides isn't bigotry. Saying that someone who comes from another country can't learn the language (because of stupidity, or what have you) is bigotry. 

When did our country become so PC that we must use multiple languages on forms, television, as well as public institutions? If I were to move to another country where English is not the primary language, I would be expected to learn its language, not vice versa.

Michelle E. writes:

I was boiling mad when I read about singer Chad Brock's remarks that he made at a Colorado Fourth of July celebration. When are racist bigots like Mr. Brock going to realize that America is not just populated by blond-haired, blue eyed, white-skinned people anymore? I'm sure that if he traced his ancestry back a couple of decades that he would find out he has some people that came to this country speaking a language besides English as well. 

Ed E. in Caracas writes:

I have been living in Venezuela for almost three years. When I came here I expected to have to speak the language spoken here. It only seems logical for those who go to live in a different country that they should anticipate and expect that they will need to learn to speak the language of the country in which they are planning to make home. That is not racist, it is simple common sense. 

Cedric D. in Manassas, Va., writes:

What the hell does a song like "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody" have to do with being patriotic? This issue has nothing to do with political correctness, but everything to do with moral correctness. How can you link someone objecting to a song popularized by an idiot in blackface to political correctness? Should we have been singing "Dixie" in the aftermath of Sept. 11 also? It's things like this that keep conservative blacks such as myself from completely trusting other so-called conservatives. What's right is right, and what's wrong is wrong. Knee-jerk conservatives are just as bad as knee-jerk liberals!

Randy M. in Carrollton, Texas, writes:

Since the implication of pet ownership is obsolete and we are simply the guardians of said pets, we must also remove the laws that require us to pay property tax upon said pets. Do you think that the IRS will allow me to claim another dependent as an additional deduction?

Greg T. in Melbourne, Fla., writes regarding the Monty Python item:

What happened? I know the movie, and it has some vulgar scenes I wouldn't approve of for a formal social gathering. If this was "after-class" and in somebody's dorm room, perhaps. But what happened? I won't weep for this one.

Rodney K. in Lubbock, Texas, writes:

Your characterization of the Air Force Academy Dining-In as "similar to an office party" demeans this long time military formal dining event. The Dining-In originated in the British regiments and uses humor and minor fines/punishments to teach proper dining etiquette and promote unit morale. I suggest that you ask some of the retired military officers that you use as consultants for background on this type of event before writing about them in the future. 

Dan D. in Oronoco, Minn., writes:

I am the son of a beekeeper. Perhaps the vegans ought to think about the fact that bees rob one another — a strong hive will steal honey from a weaker hive if it can. Bees exploit one another.

As for queen bees being "raped," do they have any idea what happens to drones after mating? They die. And come winter, the drones in the hive are pushed out of the entrance. Unable to fend for themselves, they crawl around in front of the hive for awhile until they expire.

When a new queen emerges from her cell, the first thing she does is find the other queen cells and sting her sisters to death. If two emerge at the same time, they fight until one is dead. Sometimes both die.

Moths, ants and other insects rob honey, as do bears, badgers and other wild mammals. Tracheal mites grow in bees' "throats" until they cut off their oxygen and they are asphyxiated.

In bad years, when the foliage won't support the bees, beekeepers feed them. Wild colonies simply starve.

Honeybees live in a violent, highly competitive world, and the idea that they are innocent victims of human exploitation is laughable.

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