The Christian Science Monitor tells us that the original Santa Claus, or Sinterklaas, is under fire in his native Holland because he has a dark-skinned sidekick named Black Pete (Zwarte Piet) who some are calling racist.

There's debate as to whether Black Pete is dark because of all the chimneys he goes up and down delivering presents or whether it's because Sinterklaas picked him up en route from Spain when it was still under Moorish control. The tradition has been around since the 12th century.

Either way, some recent immigrants to the Netherlands — among them an African-American musician named Patrick Chapell — say they are offended and wish Piet would fade into history.

Unclassy

A columnist with the Indianapolis Star is among those in that city unhappy with a local leader's characterization of a woman as a "classy dame."

John Ketzenberger writes that a couple women in town found businessman Mickey Maurer's reference to outgoing Commerce Secretary Patricia Miller inappropriate, sexist and out of touch.

Maurer says he didn't intend the comment "in any derogatory way."

"Folks that take issue with that need to move on and find something else to take issue with," he said.

Painful Truth

A French parliamentarian who remarked publicly that people who aren't physically able to procreate could be a threat to the future of the species is the first person to be charged under new laws against homophobic speech, reports London's Daily Telegraph.

Christian Vanneste, a member of the ruling UMP party, could face jail time and thousands of euros in fines after being convicted of defaming homosexuals last week. Vanneste insists he did not say homosexuality was dangerous "only that it is inferior to heterosexuality and could, in extreme circumstances, become a danger to mankind."

The charges were leveled after three French gay rights groups called the remarks repugnant and said they could lead to physical attacks on gays.

Surprise Surprise

A California man explicitly denied entry to a national conference of social workers because of the color of his skin is not finding many people to champion his cause of discrimination, according to the Bakersfield Californian.

Brian Parnell complained to the IRS and the federal Department of Health and Human Services after he was turned away from a meeting of the National Association of Black Social Workers in New Orleans. Members of the group told him, after he flew across the country, that white folks were not allowed to attend the meeting.

But no one seems to care, he said, and he remains frustrated about his "inability to do anything about what was an obvious instance of racism." He wonders why an organization created to combat racism feels "justified in exercising racism themselves."

Discomfort

A former Oregon state legislator is in hot water for writing "white/male" on a form that asked whether he had any disabilities, reports the Oregonian.

Neil Bryant was filling out affirmative action paperwork related to his pending appointment to a university advisory board and says he meant the wise crack to be a joke.

But state officials, among them Gov. Ted Kulongoski, were not amused. His appointment to the board was withdrawn, and Bryant was forced to apologize.

"I sincerely and profoundly apologize for any discomfort I have caused," Bryant said.

And to All a Good Night

Hope you had a very Merry Christmas*.

*Legal Disclaimer: "Merry Christmas" (hereafter "The Greeting")... this announcement is not intended to offend, alienate, foster hate or be a precursor for any egregious acts(legal or illegal), thoughts, words or deeds. "The Greeting" is made only in the context to which it may be legally received, if in fact, it is received at all. It is not intended to be nor should it be, in any way, connected to any other type of greeting, real or imagined, past, present or future. No references to any persons, things or substances, animate or inanimate, real, fictional or otherwise should be assumed by the reader or receiver of the greeting (hereafter, 'the greetee'). The greeting is not being made to (nor will tenders be accepted from or on behalf of) nonbelievers in 'The Greeting' in any jurisdiction in which making and or accepting the greeting would violate that jurisdiction’s laws or feelings (also refer to local statutes and ordinances related to 'The Greeting'). In any jurisdiction in which perceived 'greeting' is not welcomed nor agreed upon by all 'greetees', then the 'greetor' of 'The Greeting' will be held harmless in this life and the next, including all issuing posterity both now and forever. 'The Greeting' may be made by a licensed 'greetor' and any liability assumed or created by the 'greetee' shall be the sole responsibility of said 'greetor'. If you have been aggrieved, offended, waylaid, parlayed, filleted or delayed in any way, either real, imagined or perceived by said 'Greeting' and or by 'greetor' as the result of receiving said 'greeting', you can call toll free 1-800-CHRISTMAS to speak with legal counsel."

(With a special tip of the beanie to the Rev. William Devlin of the Urban Family Council for this last Christmas word.)

For more doses of politically correct nuttiness, head on over to the TongueTied daily edition.

Mailbag:

Joshua H. writes:

I object to your characterization of the policy of the Madison, Wisc., school administration, in reference to collecting funds for the Salvation Army, as "political correctness run amok." Elementary students who are on school time have no business working with a religious organization.

There are many ways that they could raise funds and help the less fortunate in our society without putting them in contact with a proselytizing group like the Salvation Army. Giving back to the community and helping the poor are certainly traits we want to instill in our youth, but without any religious overtones. If the group they had been working with had been Muslim, or really any religion other than Christian, there would been an outcry from your network. It galls me that you portray Christians, who are the overwhelming majority in this country, as under assault or threatened. This could not be farther from the truth!

Brent M. writes:

I totally agree with the decision by the Madison, Wisc., school administration regarding third-graders not ringing bells for the Salvation Army. No, I'm not a militant atheist or ACLU member. I'm a conservative Christian pastor. Certainly, the Salvation Army does a lot of good, especially at this time of the year. But the fact is, the Salvation Army is indeed a religious denomination. If the children were ringing bells voluntarily, after school, that would be fine. But to have an entire class ring bells for the Salvation Army as part of the school day is wrong. If a bus-load of public school third-graders came to assist my congregation in its ministries and activities, you can bet there would be all sorts of complaints, and rightly so.

Joe N. writes:

Regarding the school caving in to the complaint of one parent. As a long time volunteer with the Boy Scouts, I've often encountered individual parents complaining about what we were doing for a certain activity. I always turn to them and say, I think that you are right, would you like to take charge of the event so we can do what you would like? This always shuts them up.

In the Wisconsin case, since the community service is an obligation and was already planned and coordinated, I would have liked to seen the school principal turn it back to the one set of parents and tell them he'd be glad to cancel as soon as they were ready to take charge of an alternative service project. If the parents called his or her bluff then they are none the worse. I think the result would have been the parents deciding they had better things to do. But that would take a little backbone on the principal's part…something missing from many school administrators.

Claudia A. writes:

If Amanda Alpert didn't like the McDonalds sign, too bad. What about freedom of speech? I guess to her that applies to everyone but Christians. If a Christian reference on a sign offends her, then don't look at the sign and don't eat at that restaurant.

Joe E. writes:

Funny that Arabs should be offended by the proposed billboard. If they want to be offended by something, they should be offended by the fact that most, if not all, of the terrorist acts being committed are being committed by people of Arabic lineage. Why are they not speaking out against those who commit murder of innocent people?

If I sound as if I am prejudiced, let me put that to rest. I lived for some years in Saudi Arabia and Egypt and met many good people of Arabic lineage. It is just an unfortunate fact of life that a few extremists have given the majority a bad name. If the majority want to lose this bad name, they must voice a strong opposition to the acts of these few. I've seen pictures of the proposed billboard and, in my mind, it does not target Arabs in general, but does target those who would practice terrorism.

Mark writes:

Are Christians aware of the fact that many of the symbols and practices associated with Christmas are of Pagan origin? Holly, ivy, mistletoe, yule log, the giving of gifts, decorated evergreen tree, magical reindeer, etc., and that celebrations timed with the coming of the Winter Solstice were common among many ancient societies? The Christians are the ones who have hijacked the Winter Solstice Celebration. I much prefer the phrase Happy Holiday, or Happy Winter Solstice. I and many others enjoy celebrating the holiday, but don't wish to be associated with the hateful beliefs of Christian Mythology.

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