Electronics giant Sony is under fire for an ad for its new white PSP game console showing a Caucasian woman clutching the throat of an African woman, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Minority groups in California and some gaming enthusiasts say the image is racist.

San Francisco politician Tem Leland Yee says the "racially charged ad" is unnecessary and "clearly offensive to many in our community." An NAACP official in San Jose said the ad conjured up images of minstrel shows.

Sony says the ad, current appearing in Holland, is intended to highlight the fact that the PSP now comes in two colors -- black and white. The tagline says, "PlayStation Portable. White is coming."

A writer for the joystiq blog notes that another picture in the series shows the same black woman holding down the same white woman in an aggressive manner. No one has complained about that image.

From another corner, according to the Eurogamer website, Sony is being chided for featuring dark characters as enemies in a PSP game named LocoRoco. A gamer insists the Moja enemies are too similar to the blackface characters adopted by minstrel performers.

Ave Maria

School district officials in Washington State nixed a student bands' decision to play an instrumental version of "Ave Maria" during their graduation ceremony because they thought the song was too religious for the event, reports the Seattle Times.

The 17 students from Henry M. Jackson High School in Everett, Wash. wanted to play the song for their commencement exercises. They chose a version written in 1964 by Franz Biebl that was originally written with lyrics taken from a Catholic prayer, but did not plan to sing or print the lyrics in the program.

The school superintendent, Dr. Carol Whitehead, vetoed the selection, however, saying that the song was "too religious in nature."

One of the students, Kathryn Nurre, has since sued the district, claiming Whitehead's decision was an infringement of her First Amendment rights.

Supporting the Troops

An issue of a children's magazine that has nice things to say about the U.S. military and suggests that teachers invite soldiers to their classes to speak to the kids is getting complaints from teachers who say it is too rah-rah for their tastes, reports the Associated Press.

The latest issue of Cobblestone magazine, published in New Hampshire and targeted at children ages 9-14, features a cover photo of a soldier in Iraq clutching a machine gun and articles on what it's like to go through boot camp, a rundown of the Army's "awesome arsenal" and a detailed description of Army career opportunities.

Classroom guides distributed with it suggest that teachers invite a soldier, Army recruiter or veteran to speak to their classes and ask students whether they might want to join the Army someday.

Francis Lunney, a sixth-grade English teacher in Hudson, Mass., was one of several who complained to the publisher that the issue was too much like the recruitment material distributed at high schools.

Xmas in July

A town council in Connecticut changed the label on a budget request for wreaths from "Christmas wreaths" to "holiday wreaths" because some officials worried that the request might be challenged by anti-Christmas zealots, reports the Connecticut Post.

Stratford Councilman Angelo Stavola changed the wording on the budget item to ensure that the $2,550 expenditure "could not be challenged by someone offended by the use of a religious term to describe decorations that will be used during the holiday season."

He insisted that the city may not have gotten the funds approved if the change had not been made, and said controversy over the change was a non-issue hyped by local media and his political opponents.

Offensive and Divisive

A Tory party politician's criticism of multiculturalism and comments that foreign immigrants should make more efforts to integrate into British society are being called offensive and divisive by local activists, according to the Macclesfield Express.

Writing in the same paper, Sir Nicholas Winterton said he was merely repeating what his constituents were telling him when he blamed multiculturalism for the terror threat now facing the United Kingdom.

"The Australian Government has spelt out bluntly what it expects of its ethnic minority communities and we in the UK should do the same," Winterton wrote. "They should stop politicising dress, such as wearing the hijab and burkha, they should learn English, they should not return to their homelands to get a spouse, cease forced marriages and accept once and for all that the United Kingdom is not, and never will be, an Islamic state."

The director of the local Racial Equality Council, Shantele Janes, said her office was extremely concerned by the article. "We are appalled that someone in his position would be so irresponsible as to make the comments he did, contributing to the climate of hostility towards Muslims in the UK," she said.

The Conservative Party Central Office is also distancing itself from Winterton's comments, calling them his own personal views and not those of the party.

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