Archive for the ‘Bah Humbug’ Category

Woman asked to take down Christmas lights to avoid offending neighbors

A housing association employee in the UK has asked a British woman to remove her outside Christmas lights because, hold on to your hats, they might be “offensive to the community” !

Dorothy Glenn goes through great trouble every year to make her house as festive as possible.

Apart from Christmas lights the outside decorations include a wonderful Christmas tree as well as a 4 feet Santa Claus.

“I put the lights up in the first week of November and then recently a uniformed housing worker was outside, and it looked like he was counting my decorations.

When I went outside he said that the lights were ‘offensive to the community’. If I was offending anyone I could understand why he was telling me, but nobody has complained.

My neighbours are Bengali and Chinese and I know that they love the lights, the children will always point them out when they walk past.

I told him that I am far from a racist and that I wouldn’t be taking the lights down. I’m shocked, annoyed and upset. At the end of the day, it’s the festive season and they’re staying.”

Faced with the onslaught of international press coverage of the faux pas both the town and the association have made their apologies and stress that there’s no applicable policy even.

“Every year this woman puts her Christmas lights up and I know how popular they are. It’s great when people make an effort to decorate their houses.

It’s this kind of nonsense that sets race relations back 20 years. That woman did nothing more than decorate her house to celebrate Christmas.

We would like to make it clear that South Tyneside Homes is happy for residents to put up Christmas lights to decorate their homes.

Christmas lights bring a bit of festive cheer to everybody and we are delighted to see examples of tenants and leaseholders across the borough taking so much pride in the appearance of their homes.”
South Tyneside Council

Caroling Girl Scouts Banned For Being “Health and Safety Risk”

For more than a decade to the group of little girls in the UK has been singing for pensioners at the special late-night Christmas shopping event.

Not this year…

This year Carol singing brownies from the Girl Guiding UK West Herts division have been banned for being a “health and safety risk”…

“It’s such a shame because the girls enjoy the singing and the elderly people like seeing them.
“It’s a long tradition and has always been a good opportunity for the girls to give some service to the community.”

We weren’t even told that we couldn’t attend. I went to ask what date it was and that’s when I found out.”
— Gill Oxtoby, Division commissioner

The shopping center’s management says that the new Christmas tree position outside surrounded by a number of trade stalls means there is no place for the group of hundred singing girls.

After consideration the management is willing to accept no more than 20 girls, something the leaders of Girl Guiding UK West Herts division find unfair to the others.

Police: Santa Violates City Code – Threatens Fine

The owners of the Daytona Beach store LaBosco has been warned by code enforcement police officers that if they allow Santa Claus to leave the store to walk outside, they will be fined.

The police considers the Santa Claus a form of animated sign solicitation which would be a violation of city code.

“Santa Claus is not an animated figure standing out there on the street. He’s a real person, and he’s communicating and bringing some spirit down here that we need so badly.

They want to take something away from the children. I wonder if the city is going to have a Christmas parade — maybe Santa should not be on the Christmas parade or none of this parade should happen.

It’s ridiculous. Next, they’re going to take away our freedom of speech. It’s unfair and it’s unacceptable.”
— Sheila LaBosco, LaBosco Manager

Latest report have it that police are backing down from their Santa Claus threats.

Donated Christmas Lights “Too Dangerous”

The English town of West by Fleet has bitten without Christmas light since 2002. But this year’s things would be different. The walking borrow counsel last week pulled down that it has spare Christmas lights that it wants to donate.

But close inspection shows that the Christmas lights are “too dangerous” to install. The town’s business Association can have them, but would have to pay for their “repair”.

We do have some Christmas lights, which are surplus to our requirements.

“We would be very happy to donate them to the West Byfleet Business Association at no cost, provided it can ensure that they meet safety standards.

The town businessman has now taken it upon themselves to light up the city themselves. They have received what they call an acceptable quote from a contractor that wants to sell the lights and install them.

The Christmas lights will cost a little over US$2000. Installing them will be whopping $5000.

The lights should last for seven or eight years so they will get a good run. Hopefully, from now on we can build on the lights we have, year on year.

We are looking for people or businesses to sponsor the lights. There are three or four in the pipeline so hopefully people will come forward. All the local council representatives have been very good, which is positive. We are grateful for the support they have given us.

If all goes to plan, we could see the lights up by the start of next month so now we are just waiting to see. It will be a boost for the businesses in the village to have the lights.

Study Show Christmas Shopping Health Risk

A British health study decided to crack the limelight by hooking into the Christmas season. Yes, Christmas shopping may be bad for your health!

Bad for my health, you ask.

Yes, bad for your health.

The crowded malls. Crowded malls means long lineups. If there are a lot of people at the mall they had to get there somewhere so; a lot of traffic, difficulty finding parking.

And it gets “worse”! There is a continuous Christmas music playing in the background.

Altogether a cold tribute to rising blood pressure, pounding hearts. And those mounting stress levels in turn can lead to headaches, panic attacks and even stroke and heart disease!

The “study” found that no less than 50% of shoppers are overwhelmed and stressed out during the Christmas season.

No money for Pinner Christmas

THE future of Christmas celebrations in Pinner is in jeopardy as businesses struggle to fund the event.

The annual Pinner Pantomime evening has been running for years, paid for by traders and the Pinner Association, but recently organisers have been struggling with donations.

If the event goes ahead there will be Christmas lights in High Street, Pinner, and choir singing by pupils at local schools, but if the money cannot be found a local tradition will be lost.

Dee Davis, a High Street trader, said: “We’ve been the first to pay most years because it’s a lovely evening for children, it’s really good fun. There are the fireworks and face painters.

“I used to dress up for it. I do know that many of the local traders are struggling with cash flow at the moment.”

Businesses are expected to donate around £80 but recently sales have been much slower in High Street than in previous years and many traders say they simply cannot afford the fee.

But financial problems are more complicated than that and some shops say losing the pantomime event, which is an important source of income, would have a far greater impact.

For traders who stay open during the event it is an opportunity to sell to people who may not otherwise go to Pinner – and spread awareness of their products.

Mark Cuggy, owner of The Village Gallery, said: “We were the first people to pay our contribution. It’s quite a sad state of affairs really. It’s not much money and it’s a really good kick start to the Christmas period.

“We’ve got too many shops shutting down in the High Street as it is to risk missing out on this.”

Hussein Syed, a member of the committee that runs the pantomime evening, said: “If people see it as a community event then it doesn’t matter whether people are trading or not.

“There is also an issue with some traders who pay and open while others open but refuse to pay, and a lot of people are upset about the unfairess of this.”

He said there is less money available because some shop owners who used to donate have ceased trading.

Christmas parade canceled, other events still planned

South Milwaukee’s Old Fashioned Christmas Parade has been canceled for this year, and a lack of volunteers could endanger the celebration’s other activities, said Bob Pfeiffer, Old Fashioned Christmas Committee chairman.

“We just don’t have the money, nor do we have the volunteers to do (a parade),” Pfeiffer said.

Old Fashioned Christmas began about 10 years ago with family activities at City Hall. The parade became part of the festivities about five years ago, but weather and volunteer numbers have made it difficult to put on, Pfeiffer said.

Funding for Old Fashioned Christmas is provided entirely through contributions. The committee still has enough money for family activities, provided enough people volunteer to run them, Pfeiffer said.

“We’re going to use those funds, the little money we have left there, to put on the activities at City Hall, the tree lighting and fireworks,” Pfeiffer said.

There also will be crafts and food.

Don Bulley, a former parade Santa Claus and husband to the current Mrs. Claus, said it is sad to lose the parade.

“It was either that or cut out the rest of the program. There will still be a Santa Claus and a Mrs. Claus. We’re saving the most important part.”

This year’s celebration will be Sunday, Nov. 30, at City Hall, 2424 15th Ave. The committee has not yet set an exact time.

If enough money and volunteers can be found, Pfeiffer said, there could be a parade next year.

“We’ll probably need about $8,000 (for next year),” he said.

Mayor Thomas Zepecki said ongoing economic turbulence may continue to impact funding for events like Old Fashioned Christmas.

“It always depends on the amount of contributors and the ability and wherewithal of the private industry and commercial people to invest in those types of things,” Zepecki said. “Certainly you’re not going to put government money in it.”

Candy tossing seen as parade danger

Organizers say they may have to crack down on people being “naughty” in the Rutherford County Christmas Parade.

Despite rules designed to stop it, children running into the street to grab candy tossed from floats was a problem again this year, said Angie Walker, who organizes the parade every year with her mother-in-law.

“Children were just a few feet from the floats,” she said. “It’s so scary.”

Sunday’s parade was a success, with a great crowd and no injuries, but safety is still a real concern, Walker said.

Parade rules already state that candy cannot be thrown from floats and must be distributed by people walking alongside the floats. Unfortunately, about 80 percent of the participants ignored that rule, Walker said.

“There are reasons why we have the rules that we have,” she said.

Ideally, Walker said parents should keep their children from running into the street, but that isn’t what has happened in the past.

“We just really want to get the word to spectators to please keep your children out of the street,” Walker said.

The discussion hasn’t been made, but Walker said she would like to modify parade rules so if a participant disobeys the rules they would be prohibited from participating the following year.

Kelli Adams, a Murfreesboro mother who attended the parade with her 6-year-old daughter, said she didn’t see much of a problem, “but I kept a hold on my girl’s hand.”

She said tossing candy from floats was an old tradition that she enjoys.

“I remember catching candy when I was a kid,” she said. “It was fun then, and still is now.”

Adams said allowing people to hand candy out seemed like a reasonable compromise.

To Scott Perkins, owner of City Cafe in downtown Murfreesboro and a parade participant with a float from his business showing a small diner scene, said people on his float didn’t throw candy because of the rules, but other floats around his did.

“I can see both sides of the issue,” he said. “To me it comes down more on the parents — to be aware of their children.”

Perkins said that while throwing candy is a tradition, safety should be a priority.

“It’s supposed to be a fun thing, and nobody wants to see any kids get hurt,” he said.

Santa putting children’s information at risk, warn experts

Santa Claus could be breaking privacy laws in his collection and use of data about British children, experts have warned. Yuletide cheer-bringer Claus could be putting the personal data of millions of children at risk.

Data protection laws lay down strict conditions for the use of personal data and there is no evidence that Claus has an adequate compliance programme in place.

Children across Britain who write letters to Claus with a list of gift requests are not told for how long that data is kept, or if it will be used for other purposes such as marketing by third parties.

The Data Protection Act stipulates that data should not be kept for longer than necessary, which would mean 25 December, though Claus may argue that he needs to keep the letters for six years to use in any gift-related lawsuits.

“There is a stream of questions Santa has yet to answer,” said William Malcolm, a data protection specialist at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM. “Is this information used for anything other than present giving? Information passes out of the EU, so does Santa check the letters for unambiguous, specific and informed consent to this overseas transfer?”

OUT-LAW’s attempts to put the questions to Claus were hindered by the lack of an office chimney. Eventually, the questions were put up a domestic chimney but no response was received by time of publication.

The Data Protection Act says that you must inform someone when you are collecting data about them, and tell them what the purpose of collection is.

“What about the naughty/nice database?” said Malcolm. “Are children given notice that behavioural data is being collected about them throughout the year? And does it qualify as covert monitoring, which would breach Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights?”

People can make a subject access request of databases holding their personal information, but the database operator has 40 days in which to respond. Children are now too late, therefore, to find out before Christmas if they are on the naughty or nice section of the system.

Wal-Mart is bringing Santas back to its stores

Two years ago, Wal-Mart Stores substituted the word “holiday” for Christmas references and encouraged store greeters to do the same, in line with other retailers’ removal of “Christmas” from advertising and stores.

Now, after criticism from religious groups, Wal-Mart is getting back in the Christmas spirit. For the first time, the retailer is bringing Santas into its 3,407 stores. And, following an experiment at a few locations last year, the retailer has set up a “Christmas Shop” in each of its 1,500 outlets with garden centers.

“This is still a nation where the majority of the people consider themselves Christian,” said Patricia Edwards, a portfolio manager in Seattle at Wentworth, Hauser & Violich.

Last month, Lowe’s, a home improvement chain based in Mooresville, North Carolina, apologized for referring to “Family Trees” instead of Christmas trees in a catalog.

Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, has produced a Christmas concert by the Salvation Army brass band and its own choir that will air in stores along with remarks from Pastor Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Life.”

Retailers are vying to draw shoppers burdened by defaults on mortgages and higher food and fuel costs. Customer visits this year have declined at Wal-Mart compared with 2006.

On Friday, shares of Wal-Mart fell 25 cents to close at $49.02 on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares have gained 6.1 percent this year, compared with an 11 percent decline for the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock retailing index.

Wal-Mart’s shoppers were “loud and clear” that they wanted more references to Christmas, a company spokeswoman, Christi Gallagher, said. “It’s really just a direct response to what our customers have told us” in comments to store managers and on the company’s toll-free phone number, she said.

Wal-Mart resumed using the word “Christmas” in stores and advertising in 2006, a year after the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights started a boycott in response to the retailer’s approach to the holiday. The boycott ended after one day following an apology from the company, according to the group’s Web site.

Bringing live Santas into its stores this year can generate good will that might increase sales, said Burt Flickinger, managing director at Strategic Resource Group in New York.

Wal-Mart on Thursday said that sales at stores open at least 12 months rose 1.4 percent this year through Nov. 30.

“Hopefully Santa can help the situation, because not much else seems to be working for the boys down in Bentonville,” said Flickinger, who added that he owned shares of the company.

Comparable-store sales are considered a key gauge of retail performance because they track only results from established locations.

Gallagher, the Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said she was not aware of any negative reaction to the changes. “The message that we’re giving to spread Christmas in the stores is one that really resonates with all our shoppers, regardless of religious affiliation,” she said.

The American Family Association was among conservative groups that last year threatened a boycott of Wal-Mart following Thanksgiving and after the retailer joined the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

The association, based in Tupelo, Mississippi, canceled the boycott after Wal-Mart said it would not make contributions to “highly controversial” groups or issues. The group has also assailed retailers, including Wal-Mart, for omitting the mention of Christmas in stores and marketing.

This year the group turned its attention to Lowe’s, the second-largest home improvement chain after Home Depot.

Lowe’s received 119,000 e-mail messages last month after the association posted a message to members urging them to protest the retailer’s use of the phrase “Family Trees” in a catalog, said Karen Cobb, a Lowe’s spokeswoman.

Lowe’s has always used Christmas in its marketing and was not trying to depart from that policy, Cobb said. Lowe’s issued an apology. “It was not our intention to try and be politically correct or to try to take the significance of Christ out of Christmas,” she said.

Australian Primary school chooses Madonna over Christmas carols

A PRIMARY school has scrapped its Christmas carols concert in favour of scaled-back shows featuring nursery rhymes and Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach.

Disenchanted parents have written to Premier John Brumby – who called on schools to embrace the festive season last month – seeking his intervention.

The latest furore follows attempts to ban some shopping centre Santas from shouting “Ho Ho Ho”, as fears grow that Christmas is under threat.

Ringwood East’s Tinternvale Primary prompted the anger after replacing the long-running concert with individual class productions.

Songs in the new-look mini-performances include a reworked version of Papa Don’t Preach – a song about illegitimate pregnancy.

The parents claim the change was prompted by school bosses’ fears Christmas celebrations would offend a Jehovah’s Witness student.

Principal Lorraine Gamble confirmed the concert had been replaced with smaller performances.

But Ms Gamble categorically denied the format had been changed to appease some parents, saying children could sing carols at the end of their performances.

“The parents have absolutely nothing to worry about,” she said.

The change was driven by a shift in artistic direction, she said.

Parents last week did not accept the reasons, saying the school had taken the focus off Christmas.

Until this year the school had gathered to sing yuletide hymns, they said.

A letter from one grandparent to Ms Gamble, obtained by the Sunday Herald Sun, accused the school of being “culturally fragile”.

“This was a simple good-natured event of goodwill and inclusion that showed Australians at their best,” it said.

“I can think of no other culture that would want, or permit, such flagrant disregard for its traditions on such flimsy reasoning.”

Opposition education spokesman Martin Dixon urged the school to reassess its decision.

“Celebrating Christmas in the traditional way is a long-established practice,” he said.

“To me there is no reason whatsoever that should stop that.”

UK School bans Christmas cards in class

A school has banned children from giving Christmas cards to their friends, claiming they cause ‘tears and tantrums’. Instead, staff at Healey Primary, Rochdale, told parents of pupils aged five to seven they should send one card, addressed to the whole class, to avoid upset. They claimed some children can be left with hurt feelings if they are missed off Christmas card lists.

The school sent out a note after some parents asked teachers for a list of pupils in their children’s class – a request they refused, saying it was against data protection laws.

A spokesman for the school said that giving out cards wasted valuable teaching time and they have plenty of other Christmas activities planned.

The note said: ‘Please could parents send just one Christmas card to the whole class rather than asking school for a whole class name list. This is to avoid tears and tantrums which often occur when Christmas cards are distributed.’

One parent said: ‘For small children, sending cards is a big part of Christmas. It should be a lovely time for them, but this makes me think the spirit of Christmas has gone.’

A school spokesman said: ‘The cost of so many cards is prohibitive for some families and we feel that children are often pressurised to act in the same way as their peers.

‘Some children are missed out and feel very upset when this happens.’

Swedish teacher bans Santa

A Swedish head teacher has decided to take Santa Claus out of Christmas this year, at least for in-school festivities.

“Father Christmas is, after all, based on the Christian St. Nicholas,” Peter Norlin told Blekinge Lans Tidning.

Norlin said all schools in the Brakne-Hoby area in southern Sweden should also avoid overtly Christian services. He plans to preside over his school’s celebration instead of bringing in a Christian minister and to ban any songs featuring Santa Claus.

He cites National Agency for Education guidelines on avoiding favoring any religion in school and making sure children of other faiths are not made uncomfortable. But the agency does not go as far as he does.

“As long as the celebrations focus on the ceremonial aspects, traditions and togetherness, it is up to individual schools to decide what songs they want to sing,” Maria Lilja, a lawyer for the agency, said.

Ho ho ho Santa – you’re sacked

A 70-year-old man working as Santa Claus says he was sacked from a Cairns department store for saying “ho, ho, ho” and singing Christmas carols.

In a case of political correctness seemingly gone mad, retired entertainer John Oakes says he was fired from his job at Myer for his rendition of Santa’s famous laugh.

His employer, Westaff, last month sparked national outrage when it ordered its Santas to say “ha, ha, ha” instead of “ho, ho, ho” because it could be derogatory to women.

Towns cautioned to avoid decorations linked to religious themes

When Millville bought new holiday decorations for its downtown, it opted for lighted snowflakes to hang on streetlamps along High Street.

Mayor James Quinn said it was a safe decision, as the snowflakes were a generic, secular decoration that wouldn’t offend anyone who might otherwise raise a legal stink over the city opting for something related to the season’s religious holidays.

But on two corners, the streetlamps have lighted Santas, which are designed to welcome people to the High Street business district. Those seemingly harmless displays have Quinn worried.

“That may be offensive,” he said.

Quinn isn’t alone in worrying about the ramifications of how municipalities decorate for the holidays: The New Jersey State League of Municipalities is warning local governments that the wrong decision can get them into legal trouble.

Citing a number of lawsuits in New Jersey and other states filed by people or organizations opposed to municipalities using any kind of religious decorations for the holidays, league officials say local officials should get a legal opinion if there’s any doubt about what they intend to display on public property.

The league is providing some guidelines, but there’s a still a lot of potential problems because “the law remains unsettled in this area,” according to league Executive Director William Dressel.

“Municipal holiday displays that are limited to more secular images, like Santa Claus and Christmas trees, are likely to survive constitutional scrutiny,” he said. “However, it is still unclear under what circumstances more religious symbols, like creches, menorahs, or in related cases, copies of the Ten Commandments, may be displayed by a municipality or on municipal property. It is hard to formulate any set of rules to ensure that a given display is constitutionally permissible if it has any religious symbols in it.”

The fear of a lawsuit has municipalities going more generic and less extravagant on holiday decorations during the season when Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa all converge. Some organizations and people believe decorations linked with those events are offensive and don’t belong on public property.

In the past decade, New Jersey courts have ruled on several lawsuits stemming from how municipalities decorated for the holidays. League officials say the outcome of those cases varied and were based on everything from what message the decorations were intended to give to the court determining whether the plaintiffs had enough exposure to the display to be truly offended.

Municipal decorations are now more generic. Gone are years when creches, or Nativity scenes, were set out in front of Wildwood’s municipal building, and signs saying “Merry Christmas” were common outside of municipal buildings.

Ocean City Director of Community Services Mike Dattilo said the resort’s decorations are now very broad: There are white lights on streetlamps and a tree in front of City Hall. A giant card on the front lawn of the municipal building is designed for “the season in general.”

Egg Harbor Township workers Monday put a wreath on the doors of the municipal building. That will be joined by a lighted tree.

Township Administrator Peter Miller said the decorations are part of decision by township officials to keep the display “seasonal and not religious.”

“Elected officials didn’t feel strong about having a religious theme,” he said.

Linwood will decorate City Hall as it has for the past several years: An electronic Santa Claus will waves to passers-by. There will also be a dreidel.

Linwood Public Works Superintendent Hank Kolakowski said the city feels safe in using the Santa Claus and dreidel decoration because nobody has complained about them.

“Everybody seems to be pleased,” he said.

League officials acknowledge that not everyone will be pleased, and some people will pressure local governments to include religious themes on the argument that not doing them violates free speech provisions of the First Amendment.

Giving in to that argument could be dangerous, league officials argue.

“There is a real danger to the municipality accepting that argument, since that would effectively render the area where the holiday display is placed a public forum,” Dressel said.

“Once that occurs, it will be extremely difficult to prevent other displays that individuals or groups wish to see at that location in order to convey their particular message. That could include groups or individuals who want to put up signs for political candidates, advocate a particular political position or advocate on any side of such controversial issues as abortion, racial diversity, war and peace, etc.”

Going on the offensive

The holiday season is here, so it’s time to engage in the time-honored Christmas tradition of objecting to every time-honored Christmas tradition. Australia is a gazillion time-zones ahead of the United States — it may even be Boxing Day there already — so they got in first this year with a truly fantastic headline: “Santas warned ‘ho ho ho’ offensive to women.”

Really. As the story continued: “Sydney’s Santa Clauses have instead been instructed to say ‘ha ha ha’ instead, the Daily Telegraph reported. One disgruntled Santa told the newspaper a recruitment firm warned him not to use ‘ho ho ho’ because it could frighten children and was too close to a ‘ho,’ U.S. slang term for prostitute.”

If I were a female resident of Sydney, I think I would be more offended by the assumption Australian women and U.S. prostitutes are that easily confused. As the old gangsta-rap vaudeville routine used to go: “Who was that ho I saw you with last night?” “That was no ho, that was my bitch.”

But the point is the right not to be offended is now the most sacred right in the world. The right to freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of movement, all are as nothing compared to the universal right to freedom from offense. It’s surely only a matter of time before “sensitivity training” is matched by equally rigorous “inoffensiveness training” courses.

A musician friend of mine once took a gig at an elevator-music session, and, after an hour or two of playing insipid orchestral arrangements of “Moon River” and “Windmills Of Your Mind,” some of the lads’ attention would start to wander and they would toot their horns a little too boisterously, and the conductor would stop and admonish them to bland things down a bit. In a world in which everyone is ready to take offense, it’s hard to keep the mood Muzak evenly modulated.

For example, when I said the right not to be offended is now the most “sacred” right in the world, I certainly didn’t mean to offend persons of a nontheistic persuasion. In Hanover, N.H., home to Dartmouth College, an atheist and an agnostic known only as “Jan and Pat Doe” (which is which is hard to say) are suing because their three schoolchildren are forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Well, OK. They’re not forced to say it. The Pledge is voluntary. You’re allowed to sit down, or, more discreetly, stand silently, which is what the taciturn Yankee menfolk who think it’s uncool to sing do during the hymns at my local church. But that’s not enough for “the Does.” Because the Pledge mentions God, their children are forced, as it were, not to say it. And, as “Mr and Mrs Doe” put it in their complaint, having to opt out of participation in a voluntary act exposes their children to potential “peer pressure” from the other students.

U.S. courts have not traditionally been sympathetic to this argument. The American Civil Liberties Union and other litigious types might more profitably explore the line that the Pledge is deeply offensive to millions of illegal aliens in the public school system forced to pledge allegiance to the flag of a country they’re not citizens or even legally admitted tourists of.

Let us now cross from the New Hampshire school system to the Sudanese school system. Or as the Associated Press headline put it: “Thousands in Sudan call for British teddy bear teacher’s execution.”

Last week, Gillian Gibbons, a British schoolteacher working in Khartoum, one of the crummiest basket-case dumps on the planet — whoops, I mean one of the most lively and vibrant strands in the rich tapestry of our multicultural world. Anyway, Mrs. Gibbons was sentenced last week to 15 days in jail because she was guilty of, er, allowing a teddy bear to be named “Mohammed.” She wasn’t so foolish as to name the teddy Mohammed herself. But, in an ill-advised Sudanese foray into democracy, she let her grade-school students vote on what name they wanted to give the classroom teddy, and as good Muslims they voted for their favorite name: Mohammed.

Big mistake. There’s apparently a whole section in the Koran about how if you name cuddly toys after the Prophet you have to be decapitated. Well, actually there isn’t. But why let theological pedantry deprive you of the opportunity to stick it to the infidel?

Mrs. Gibbons is regarded as lucky to get 15 days in jail, when the court could have imposed six months and 40 lashes. But even that wouldn’t have been good enough for the mob in Khartoum. The protesters shouted “No tolerance. Execution” and “Kill her. Kill her by firing squad” and “Shame, shame to the U.K.” — which persists in sending out imperialist schoolma’ams to impose idolatrous teddy bears on the youth of Sudan.

Whether the British are best placed to defend Mrs Gibbons is itself questionable after a U.K. court decision this week: Following an altercation with another driver, Michael Forsythe was given a suspended sentence of 10 weeks in jail for “racially aggravated disorderly behavior” for calling Lorna Steele an “English bitch.” “Racially aggravated”? Indeed. Ms. Steele is not English, but Welsh.

Still, at exactly the time Gillian Gibbons caught the eye of the Sudanese authorities, a 19-year-old Saudi woman was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in jail. Her crime? She had been abducted and gang-raped by seven men. Originally, she was sentenced to 90 lashes, but her lawyer appealed and so the court increased it to 200 and jail time. Anyone on the streets in Sudan or anywhere else in the Muslim world who wants to protest that? Cue crickets chirping “Allahu akbar.”

East is East and West is West and in both we take offense at nothing: Santas saying “Ho ho ho,” teddy bears called Mohammed. And yet the difference is very telling: The now annual Santa suits in the “war on Christmas” and the determination to abolish even such anodyne expressions of faith as the Pledge of Allegiance are assaults on the very possibility of a common culture. By contrast, the teddy bear rubbish is a crude demonstration of cultural muscle intended to cow and intimidate.

When East meets West, when offended Muslims find themselves operating in Western nations, they discover that both techniques are useful: Some march in the streets Khartoum-style calling for the pope to be beheaded, others use the mechanisms of the West’s litigious, perpetual grievance culture to harass opponents into silence.

Perhaps somewhere in Sydney there is a woman who’s genuinely offended by hearing Santa say “ho ho ho” just as those Hanover atheists claim to be genuinely offended by the Pledge of Allegiance. But their complaints are frivolous and decadent, and more determined groups use the patterns they’ve set to shut down debate on things we should be talking about. The ability to give and take offence is what separates free societies from Sudan.

Surgeon General vs. Santa Claus

Popular Christmas movies would have you believe that Santa’s biggest problem is people who stop believing. (See Miracle on 34th Street, The Year Without a Santa Claus, Elf, etc.) But today it’s the believers who are causing Saint Nick so much grief. When announcing on Friday that role models have an obligation to promote healthy lifestyles, U.S. Surgeon General Steven Galson explained to the Boston Herald: “Santa is no different.”

But Santa is different. For starters, he’s not … well, you know … [Ed.: “Hey! My kids read this!]

Galson’s comment is merely one in a long string of outrageous accusations by health officials that show just how far removed from reality the anti-fat movement has become. Each preposterous claim seeks to place the blame for obesity on anyone other than ourselves.

Attacks on Santa highlight the absurdity and hypocrisy of many nutrition zealots. Over the years, food cops have lobbied for warning labels on milk, chips, menus, salt, and countless other foods. But now, that’s precisely the notion they’re arguing against. On the Fox News Channel this weekend, publicist-turned-food-cop Meme Roth commented on one soft-drink company’s use of Saint Nick on soda packaging: “I see a warning label. Drink this, and look how your body will look.”

Roth claims the time-honored tubbiness of Father Christmas sets a bad example: “We’re talking morbid obesity, which is not jolly.” Take her comments with a grain of government-rationed salt: Roth previously grouped voluptuous singer Jordan Sparks and wives too big for their wedding dresses into the same fat-and-unjolly category. But as recent studies demonstrate, Americans who carry a few extra pounds have the lowest mortality of any weight group.

Just look at Kris Kringle. He’s beaten the average life expectancy by over a thousand years without the help of Grinch-like food regulations.

Serial killer proves hit on German advent calendar

A German advent calendar for children has become a hot seller since word got out it has a picture of a notorious serial killer on it.

The cartoon calendar shows Fritz Haarmann, who murdered 24 young men and boys in the 1920s, lurking under a tree with a hatchet next to the door for December 1. Below him, Santa Claus hands out presents to children in a festive-looking Hanover.

A local tourism office included the serial killer alongside 23 other celebrities in the northern city, including philosopher Gottfried Leibniz and hard rock band The Scorpions.

Haarmann’s depiction featured in last year’s edition, but this year it is attracting wider attention because top-selling newspaper Bild questioned whether the use of the murderer in a children’s calendar was in good taste.

“People are queuing up to buy the calendar now,” said a surprised Hans Nolte, director of the city’s tourism board.

Nolte said he expected the initial 20,000 copy run of the calendar to sell out soon as orders were pouring in from Berlin, Vienna and other parts of Austria. Proceeds from the sales are going towards a local charity for children with cancer.

“It’s part of our history,” Nolte said.

Nonetheless, the serial killer, who was beheaded in 1925, will not appear in next year’s edition, Nolte said.

Red & Green Christmas Lights to be Banned as “too religious”

A special task force in a Colorado city has recommended banning red and green lights at the Christmas holiday because they fall among the items that are too religious for the city to sponsor.

“Some symbols, even though the Supreme Court has declared that in many contexts they are secular symbols, often still send a message to some members of the community that they and their traditions are not valued and not wanted. We don’t want to send that message,” Seth Anthony, a spokesman for the committee, told the Fort Collins, Colo., Coloradoan.

He said the recommended language does not specifically address Christmas trees by name, but the consensus was that they would not fall within acceptable decorations.

What will be allowed are white lights and “secular” symbols not associated “with any particular holiday” such as icicles, unadorned greenery and snowflakes, the task force said.

The group was made up of members of the city’s business and religious communities as well as representatives from some community groups. Members met for months to review the existing holiday display policy, which allowed white as well as multi-colored lights and wreaths and garlands.

In previous years, there also was a Christmas tree at the city’s Oak Street Plaza.

A vote on the proposal will be coming up before the city council on Nov. 20, officials said.

“As far as I’m concerned, the group ended up in a very fair place in which primarily secular symbols will be used on city property,” task force member Saul Hopper told the newspaper.

Anthony told WND that there actually would be colored lights allowed.

“Colored lights would be allowed as part of holiday display inside city buildings, and as part of the multicultural display at the museum. Our recommendations allow wide latitude as far as what can be included in those displays, which are the displays the public sees and interacts with the most,” he said.

However, a copy of the actual proposal said for city building exteriors, “white lights” are allowed, and for city building interior common areas, such as lobbies, hallways and conference rooms, administrators should follow the guidelines that include allowances for “snowflakes, snowmen, snow balls, ice skates, skies, penguins, polar bears, white lights, etc.”

The new guidelines include no provision for colored lights.

The existing holiday display rules were adopted in 2006 after a rabbi requested that the city display a menorah.

The only apparent exception to the completely secular rule would be at the Fort Collins Museum, where a “multicultural display” of symbols and objects would be collected to represent Diwali, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Christmas among others.

“I expect criticism from people who feel like we are taking Christmas away. And I expect we will get criticism from people who think educational display endorses religions,” Anthony said. “(But) to the extent we can, recognizing that offending no one will be impossible, we want to be inclusive.”

City officials touted their own efforts.

“I am really delighted to see us taking this step,” Mayor Doug Hutchinson said when the task force was being assembled. “I think Fort Collins is a great city, and I think great cities are inclusionary.”

In a forum for the Coloradoan, outrage was pretty evident.

“Let’s spend our CHRISTMAS money somewhere that believes in CHRISTMAS!” wrote barbie333. “Where does the ‘PC-ization’ stop? Maybe if the town leaders realize that we do not live in Boulder (or California)!?”

Added “Stick,” “No Virginia, there is no Santa Claus, he is dead from lack of political correctness and the elves have all been sent to China to make toys.”

“Seth Anthony says, ‘Some symbols, even though the Supreme Court has declared that in many contexts they are secular symbols, often still send a message to some members of the community that they and their traditions are not valued and not wanted. We don’t want to send that message.’ Guess what, Seth? That’s EXACTLY the message you sent me!” added “notpc.”

“If the city council decided to not acknowledge Christmas on public grounds this year then all city offices should be open for business on Dec. 25th, white lights shining! Don’t want to offend anyone by stopping city business for a day to celebrate a holiday not everyone believes in,” added Amidon.

Red tape turns off a second UK town’s Christmas lighting

ANOTHER North Wales town will be stripped of traditional street lights this year because of new health and safety red tape.

Disappointed Pwllheli town councillors said they will only be able to cover the Maes area with festive decorations because of rising costs.

They blamed tight new health and safety regulations for depriving the town of its usual Christmas street colour lights display.

Councillors said they could not afford new lights to go across streets to meet new red tape standards.

Last month Criccieth town councillors had to abandon their street lights for the same reason, meaning only a Maes area will be illuminated there over Christmas.

Expressing bitter disappointment Pwllheli deputy mayor, Coun Evan John Hughes, said: “Over the past 220 years the council has taken pride in the colourful displays to celebrate the festive season.

“But not any more, because we just cannot afford to comply with the new regulations that would mean spending several thousands of pounds.

“During those years we have worked closely with local voluntary organisations, the result being that our lights attracted praise from a wide area,” he added.

“But in recent years the condition of the lights deteriorated to such an extent that we have been spending heavily to try and keep up with the regulations.

“We have now reached a situation that we cannot afford to invest in new lights because the cost of meeting new regulations is prohibitive.

“It is most important that we convey to local people that it is no fault of ours that the usual streets will not be lit up this Christmas.

“Regrettably the lights will be confined to the Maes, supported by a lit up Christmas tree.

“We find ourselves in a very sad situation indeed, but every effort will be made to light up the Maes, and particularly the tree.

“Tradition is now behind us as far as our street decorations are concerned, as we find ourselves in the same situation as many other towns, including nearby Criccieth, across the country, who have been forced to abandon their Christmas lights.

“As far as I can see there is no way out on this one, bearing in mind the extra fees imposed upon us, coupled with the fact that the cost of insurance is becoming prohibitive.”

Members agreed that a sum of £4,000 would be allocated to cover the cost of lighting up the Maes.

This would include the cost of buying the Christmas tree.

Fury at plans to sell Christmas lights

A TOP business figure has threatened to chain herself to railings if a Suffolk council sells off its Christmas lights.

Although the Christmas lights will be shining this year, Bury St Edmunds Town Council has given interested parties until the end of February to come forward and take the town’s Christmas lights off its hands.

If nobody comes forward the lights will be sold. Next year, the town council’s involvement with the lights will end.

Chrissy Harrod, president of Bury St Edmunds Chamber of Commerce said she would be “absolutely appalled” if the council gave the lights away or sold them to the highest bidder and threatened to chain herself to the railings of the council offices in Guildhall Street if it pursued its plan.

“I am not being flippant,” she said. “It is public money which has paid for them and it would be an irresponsible use of public money to sell them off for peanuts or give them away.

“I completely understand why they have relinquished responsibility for the lights. The problem with the lights is they are very expensive – in testing, fixings and insurance. However, the town council took responsibility for Christmas lights and it is a responsibility they hold.”

Mrs Harrod called on the council to seek other organisations, including St Edmundsbury Borough Council, the chamber of commerce, which might be able to work together to lay on the lights in future years.

She added business in the town would be unlikely to want to pay for the lights themselves because many town centre traders were already struggling in the face of high rents and rates.

A borough council spokeswoman has said “A report about Christmas lights will go to the Bury St Edmunds Town Council working party later this year.”

Town council leader Roy Bebbington said the council simply could not afford to keep running or looking after the lights.

He said: “It is just a spiralling expense. Mrs Harrod can do that (chain herself to the railings), but this is a case of needs must. They are very expensive to store and we are not planning to keep the offices forever and alternative storage would be in the region of £5,000 a year.”

He said the second lights had been valued by a number of firms at between about £10,000 and £20,000 but he feared the three-year-old set would fetch considerably less than that.

As a result, he said, it could end up being cheaper to give them away than pay the £5,000 a year storage costs. “The town council was unwise to clamour for these lights when the borough council got rid of them.”

UK: The Law Decided What I’m Doing Totally Illegal

There could be a glimmer of hope for Gloucester fundraiser Dick Sheppard after the plug was pulled on his charity festive lights display.

Every Christmas for the past 15 years, Mr Sheppard has decorated his house and garden to bring joy to hundreds of children and families.

But this year, the 77-year-old said he would not be lighting up Stroud Road with his spectacular scene because new Government regulations meant it would be too costly.

Mr Sheppard said the new laws meant he must get every one of the 150 extension cables he used checked by a qualified electrician. At a cost of up to £25 each, he could face a bill of £4,000, which he cannot afford.

However, Gloucester City Council is now looking into the matter to see whether the new regulations apply to his display and a spokesman said he might only have to pay little more than £250 to get the necessary checks carried out.

But until further notice, Mr Sheppard has a sign in his garden saying: “No more Christmas lights due to Government restriction.”

He said: “I’m absolutely gutted. I’ve just finished cutting up my Victorian carousel that is usually in the garden and one of the saddest parts was disassembling the clown that cycles up the lawn. I’ve been quoted between £5 and £25 for each connection and I will have to have it done every year.”

Mr Sheppard has been putting on his own winter wonderland for the past 15 years and has raised more than £40,000 for charity.

He said the only thing that was cheering him up at the moment was that a plaque was about to be unveiled in the children’s ward at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital thanking him for his donations.

He said “I rewired my house from top to bottom when I first got it and I have never had any problems. I also have an iron fence all the way round the garden so no child could come in and touch anything unless I released the gate.”

After spending his whole life entertaining people, firstly as a stuntman and more recently spreading his festive spirit, Mr Sheppard said he was completely heartbroken.

“The law has decided to make what I am doing totally illegal,” he said. “I get letters from children addressed to the Christmas House thanking me and saying how wonderful it is. But now it’s over.”

Last year’s winners of The Citizen’s Christmas Sparkler lights competition, Harry and Marlene Phillips, said they would continue with their tradition this year.

Mrs Phillips said: “We already get all the electrics checked, but our son is an electrician, so he can help us out. We have quite a few extensions and we have to make sure they are all safe as otherwise it could be dangerous.”

A spokesman for the city council said the buildings regulation department was looking into the rules.

He said: “We are checking whether the regulations apply to this type of installation. Rules were set up to prevent rogue builders completing shoddy work.

“If it is the case that Christmas lights are included, all Mr Sheppard would have to pay is £250 plus vat to get a city council contracted worker to check the connections.”

Common sense call as bureaucrats ruin Christmas lights

Health and safety experts have hit back against accusations that their regulations look set to lower the number of Christmas lights displays this year.

The Federation of Small Businesses has claimed that the crushing weight of health and safety compliance is putting more and more local councils off dealing with Christmas lights, which traditionally adorn high streets up and down the country during the festive season.

FSB spokesperson Stephen Alambritis said that Christmas was looking “darker and bleaker year on year” because of “spiralling costs and exhaustive safety concerns”.

Ray Hurst and Neil Budworth, president-elect and former president of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health respectively, argued on this morning’s Today programme that this was far from the case.

Mr Budworth indicated that the latest dispute over councils not being able to put up Christmas lights because insurers will not cover them, was down to an “insurance issue” rather than a health and safety matter.

“A health and safety advisor would give competent advice on how to do that properly, not say: ‘Well, let’s not do it’.”

He went on to argue that the IOSH get blamed in a lot of stories in the media that are in fact complete fabrications.

Referring to an incident several years ago when a British school was told to ensure its students wore safety goggles when playing conkers, Mr Hurst insisted that this was an unnecessary precaution.

“When it comes to things like conkers, come on – let’s have an outbreak of common sense,” he said.

“[Health and safety] is about making sure that people at work go home safe at the end of the day, they’re not injured, they’re not killed.”

The IOSH is sponsoring this year’s World Conker Championships to publicise its campaign against a “kill-joy” image.

Pensioner’s Christmas light show stopped by nanny health and safety laws

Pensioner Dick Sheppard has pulled the plug on the spectacular Christmas lights display he has arranged at his home for the last 17 years – blaming ‘nanny’ Government legislation.

Dick, 77, has delighted the neighbouring children every Christmas since 1980 with his amazing garden grotto, made of up of ten thousand bulbs and ninety animated dolls and animals.

But after learning that to carry on the charity fundraising venture he would have to get a charity licence and spend a fortune on having the electrics tested to comply with new safety laws, he has put an end to the tradition.

“It has broken my heart but I can’t see how I can continue with all the restrictive laws there are these days,” said Dick, of Stroud road, Gloucester, who is also disappointed with the negative attitude of the police to his annual display.

“This government is controlling everything we do, everything we say, every movement we make,” said the former garage owner and vehicle stunt display team boss.

“They are taxing us and grinding us down in every way and this is just another example of how they are taking all the fun out of living.”

Dick said he realised last year – when the lights display raised £5,000 for charity – that it would be difficult to keep it going without a lot of extra time and expense.

“I was a bit worried last year when I heard that four other private displays had been closed down by the authorities for not having proper tests on the extensions,” he said.

“I mentioned it to one or two people who work in electrics and building and I had four different promises that they would do all the new statutory tests for me free of charge.

“But one by one they have fallen by the wayside and not turned up.

“To get the testing work done would cost, I’m told, between £5 and £25 per extension – and I have 150 extensions!

“The bill could be as high as £3,750 and that would take a big chunk out of the money my wishing well raises for local charities.

“The tests are only valid for a year so I would have to spend that sort of money every year to keep the display going. It is just ludicrous.

“On top of that, the authorities are now getting very tough on people who collect for charity – they are insisting on us having charity licences.

“I could get one – but there again you have to have a book keeper, an accountant, keep records and open a bank account.

“It is enough work putting up all the decorations and lights and keeping them running without having to sort out all that as well.

“So sadly I have put a sign out in the front garden with a santa sitting on top which says ‘No more Christmas lights due to Government legislation.'”

Dick, a former stunt motorcyclist and driver who used to run the Stuntorama display team, reckons his displays have made £40,000 for local charities over the last seventeen years.

Delighted spectators – who stop for an average 20 minutes ot gaze at the dazzling array of lights and moving Xmas characters – throw cash into a “high security wishing well” which he has installed in his front garden.

“I reckon my display has been the best over the past few years because so many people have shown their appreciation with donations in the well,” he said.

“But thanks to this nannying Government there will be no more.”

His recent displays have even included a snowstorm every hour – and a working mini fairground.

“I started doing it when I lived in Florida but when I moved back to Gloucester eighteen years ago I carried on here. It is part of my natural showmanship.

“People started flocking from miles away to see the house and then they started making donations for me to give to charity.”

Dick said that as well as being beaten by Government legislation he has also found security a problem – partly because of lack of police interest in protecting his display and the donations it raises.

“I had the donations stolen twice in the early years when the money was put in a bucket in the garden,” he said.

“Since then I have invented the wishing well with steel bands and chains around it to protect it and a surveillance camera pointing at it.

“But when I told the police about that they said: ‘Don’t even bother to bring the video in if someone steals the money because we won’t be interested.

“‘Our advice is that you shouldn’t put Christmas lights up in your garden because it invites vandalism!’

“I really am in despair – what has this country come to?”

Christmas lights banned on UK street

Some traders in Clevedon cannot put up Christmas lights because of new health and safety guidelines.

North Somerset Council said it was unsafe to attach lights to columns in Hill Road because they are not load bearing.

Bob Hughes, from the local Traders Association, said traders had raised £3,500 towards the lights and that the council had “gone over the top”.

“These rules and regulations are pretty draconian and probably unnecessary.”

But a spokesman for the council said: “There is a code of practice which has to be followed regarding installation of Christmas lights for health and safety reasons.

“The lighting columns in this particular location at Hill Road, Clevedon are made of concrete and for safety reasons it is not possible to attach lights to them, as they are not load bearing.

“We do permit Christmas lights in other locations and work with organisations across the district to support festive activities.”