Observations On The Bizarre Slavery Photo Lawsuit Against Harvard

It would be nice if this grandstanding lawsuit engineered by professional race-baiting lawyer Benjamin Crump was summarily thrown out of court as the junk it is, but unfortunately, too many judges, when woke sentiment beckons, bend over backwards so far that they can lick their heels.

Here is the gist of it:

Tamara Lanier filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts claiming that she is a direct descendant of Renty and Delia, two slaves who were the subjects of a harsh photo session as part of an anthropological inquiry into the differences between blacks and whites. The images of the father and daughter were commissioned by renowned  Harvard professor Louis Agassiz 170 years ago,  and are now stored in  the ancient Peabody  museum on the Harvard campus. (Full disclosure: I love the place, and spent many afternoons as a kid wandering through the exhibits.)  The lawsuit claims the images are the “spoils of theft,” because as slaves Renty and Delia were unable to give consent to being photographed., and that Harvard is illegally profiting from the images by using them for “advertising and commercial purposes.” By keeping the photos, the lawsuit claims, Harvard has perpetuated the hallmarks of slavery that prevented African-Americans from holding, conveying or inheriting personal property.

Observations:

  • I’m sure—aren’t you?— that Mrs. Laneir came up with this wild Hail Mary lawsuit all by herself. Her lawyer, as I already note, is Benjamin Crump, a legal racial shake-down artist who excels at creating public pressure that forces defendants to pay copious settlement money to his clients who often don’t deserve it. He represented the family of Trayvon Martin, and in so doing poisoned the public narrative so thoroughly that the actual facts of Martin’s death are permanently distorted in the nation’s collective memory. he represented the parents of Michael Brown, ensuring them a big pay-off because their angelic son charged a police officers and got himself shot. Ben Crump helped promote “Hands up! Don’t shoot!,” the lie that is still poisoning race-relations to this day. He’s a mission lawyer, someone who uses the law to pursue an agenda: he is to race relations what Gloria Allred is to feminism. He profits by stirring up discord, whether there’s really an injustice or not.

That doesn’t mean that some of his crusades won’t have merit. I only means that there is just cause for suspicion if he is involved.

  • “It is unprecedented in terms of legal theory and reclaiming property that was wrongfully taken,” Crump says. I guess that’s one way of putting it. It’s unprecedented because no previous lawyer had the gall to try such a stunt, but with Democrats and progressives beating the hollow reparations drum again, he cleverly chose a good time to take a flyer. “I keep thinking, tongue in cheek a little bit, this has been 169 years a slave, and Harvard still won’t free Papa Renty,” said  Crump. Good one, Ben! Except that Renty is long dead, and a photograph isn’t a human being…

Yet give him some credit:  Crump is explaining why this isn’t a technically frivolous law suit. If a litigant and the litigant’s lawyer are arguing for a new legal principle, knowing that under existing law the claim is dead, then the action isn’t frivolous. Horrible and dangerous Crump’s lawsuit is; frivolous it isn’t.

  • Harvard and other universities set themselves up for this by caving to historical airbrushing demands by the students they have helped indoctrinate, such as when Georgetown University established a policy giving an edge  n admissions to descendants of slaves who were sold to fund the school. I would say they have this coming and let them sleep on the bed of nails their laziness and cowardice has made, but therein lies a real danger. Harvard, which of late has been devising and defending one bad progressive idea after another (like discriminating against Asian Americans as Harvard’s own way of helping African Americans get admitted to the college), might just decide to be woke rather than responsible, and let Mrs. Lanier take the photos, thus setting a precedent with endless potential to cause havoc.

I wouldn’t bet against it.

  • Lanier’s (that is, Crump’s) lawsuit is an extension of the Mao/Soviet Union -style historical airbrushing and re-writing tool of social change that  21st Century progressives have adopted as they march inexorably toward beneficent totalitarianism. If we don’t like the laws our ancestors put in place, let’s just declare that  they weren’t laws at all. If applying legal principles that have been in place and effective for hundreds of years doesn’t assist the social change we desire, than suspend those principles. Make the law a subject to “the ends justifies the means” whenever it’s convenient.

I’m sorry to be blunt, but if you don’t comprehend the existential danger inherent in this approach, you’re an idiot.

  • Legal problems? What legal problems? Well, let’s see: 1) Renty’s lack of consent to the photos is irrelevant, because under the laws of the time, he had no right to consent. That may be unfair, and wrong, and cruel, and horrifying, but the way society works is that laws, even bad ones, are valid until they are repealed and replaced. Without that certainty, no law can function, and the rule of law becomes impossible. 2) The theory that Harvard is profiting from slavery because of the value of its photograph of a slave would mean that the owners would be profiting from war crimes because of the value of a photograph like this…

(And no, I don’t think those half-dead Andersonville prisoners were capable of giving meaningful and valid consent to be photographed either.) The lawsuit is designed to open the door to censorship of history and historical records that “offend” anybody. 3) The distant relatives of the subject of a photograph are the real owners of the photograph, not the photographer, and not the individual who commissioned the photograph, even if the original subject  gave legally valid consent to be photographed or received compensation for such a photograph if a court at any time in the future deems that such consent was invalid under current law, or the compensation is similarly deemed inadequate.

Brilliant.

4) If this theory prevails, then wouldn’t Ken Burns, and PBS, and everyone who profited from showing Burns’ “The Civil War” be required to pay damages for “profiting” from the use of slave photos similarly taken without consent? Would that segment of the documentary, which is crucial to Burn;s narrative, have to be excised?

  • Then there’s this little problem: it is virtually impossible to determine with any certainty that “Renty” really is Tamara’s Lanier’s ancestor.

Yet Harvard may capitulate anyway—to signal its virtue, to be able to publicly condemn slavery, to be “woke, ” and mostly to avoid pickets in Harvard Yard. Ben Crump is no fool…a race-hustler, sure, but he’s no fool.

Ethics Dunce And Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month (Yes, Even More Than Virginia’s Gov. Northam!): Dearborn, Michigan Mayor Jack O’Reilly

Henry Ford was an important industrialist, innovator and inventor, and a towering figure in automotive history. Nobody, however, mistook him for nice guy. In addition to many ruthless tendencies, Ford was well documented anti-Semite, even by the ugly standards of his time, when that particular form of bigotry was generally considered reasonable. However, when the city-funded Dearborn Historian included a article documenting Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism, the city’s mayor, Jack O’Reilly, killed the issue, ordering the museum that produces the magazine not to mail it out.

Dearborn is where Ford was born, where his estate is, and where he built his flagship motorcar factory. For some reason that apparently means to O’Reilly that the folks who live there should know less about their town’s most famous and accomplished resident that everyone else. Ford’s hatred of Jews is, after all, hardly news: he was open about it when he was alive; there are books about it; and his family has been trying to live down the shame of that part of his legacy for decades.

Oh, never mind all that: the false lesson being pushed on our society in recent years is that inconvenient history disappears if you erase the record of it. This is the message of all the screeching and crunching metal sounds from The Confederate Statuary Ethics Train Wreck, and all the other attempts to airbrush the bad stuff from industrial, local, national and personal histories. O’Reilly is a true believer that Henry Ford’s not-exactly-good name will be cleansed by making sure as few citizens as possible know what a creep he was when he wasn’t revolutionizing American industry and changing lives of Americans for the better. He is, in other words, a censorious fool. Continue reading

Demanding Blindfolds

From the New York Times:

“Netflix said on Thursday that it would not edit its movie “Bird Box” to remove footage of a disaster that killed 47 people in a Canadian town, rebuffing calls from town leaders who called the use of the video insensitive.”

Good.

This has got to stop somewhere, and “Bird Box,” the sensationally popular sci-fi horror film about Sandra Bullock and her children wandering around a forest blidfolded so they won’t see whatever it is that is driving everyone crazy and making them kill themselves, is a good a place to make a stand as anywhere.

In the movie, some things, or demons, or vibes cause insanity if they are seen: people really aren’t safe if they see them. Images that raise unpleasent thoughst and memories in real life are different, but somehow the idea was pawned that people have the right to expect to be “safe” from thoughts, memories, sights, symbols and ideas that might bother them. Thus “woke” college instructors felt compelled to give students “trigger warnings.” This principle, a really bad one that mistakes censorship for sensitivity, quickly metastasized into historical and artistic airbrushing. The National Park Service banned Confederate flags and their images from battlefield  gift shops—might remind some people of the Dylan Roof church shooting. Or slavery. Or racism.  Then the statues started coming down, because, as Carol Folt, blessedly outgoing chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill explained about why the terrifying pedestal of now toppled “Silent Sam,” a campus statue of a fictional Confederate soldier, must be destroyed:

“The presence of the remaining parts of the monument on campus poses a continuing threat both to the personal safety and well-being of our community and to our ability to provide a stable, productive educational environment. No one learns at their best when they feel unsafe.”

Unsafe! Continue reading

Fire Lisa Mars

I usually hesitate to call for anyone to be fired, though there have been exceptions. In this case, however, the call is mandatory on ethical grounds. It is unethical for a school dedicated to the arts to hand oversight to an gross incompetent who doesn’t comprehend the arts she is supposedly responsible for teaching; it is unethical for someone to take on this responsibility who is wildly unqualified for the job; and it is unethical for that individual to act in a way that undermines the mission of the school she heads.

I have just fairly described Lisa Mars, currently the principal at the Fiorello LaGuardia High School, the high school “of music, arts the performing arts” made famous in the movie and TV show, “Fame.”

On opening night of a school production of “The Sound of Music,” she ordered all Nazi-themed props and set pieces struck. They are offensive, you see. Never mind that the show is set during Germany’s take-over of Austria as the Third Reich was expanding. Never mind that Nazi Germany and its officers are major elements in the plot, or that the plot is based on the real-life escape of the singing Von Trapp family from the Nazis. Never mind that theater is a representational art form. Stage deaths are not real killings, stage rape isn’t really rape, stage racism isn’t really racism, and stage representations of Nazi symbols do not promote fascism. Most grade-school actors can grasp this basic principle, but not the head of a school for the performing arts.

“This is a very liberal school, we’re all against Nazis,” one sophomore said. “But to take out the symbol is to try to erase history.” Yes, that too. “Obviously the symbols are offensive,” he added. “But in context, they are supposed to be.”

Make him principal. Continue reading

Animal Crackers Ethics

Yes, PETA really did protest the mistreatment of “Porgs” in “The Last Jedi.” Of course it did.

The Animal Crackers box has been re-designed in capitulation to a really silly campaign by PETA, though not silly by PETA standards. Mondelez International, the parent company of Nabisco, revealed the new packaging this week. The old packaging, which harmed no animals living or doughed, looked like this:

PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals, the all-time  most unethical group with ethics in its name) has been harassing Nabisco over the box design since 2016.  “Given the egregious cruelty inherent in circuses that use animals and the public’s swelling opposition to the exploitation of animals used for entertainment, we urge Nabisco to update its packaging in order to show animals who are free to roam in their natural habitats,” PETA said in a letter obtained by the New York Post.

I know, I know, packaging is redesigned all the time. The old Animal Crackers design was both clever—see, the cookie animals are in those boxes, just as real circus animals were kept in those wagon-cages long, long ago—and a touchstone with the past, something that the Left finds increasingly unbearable if values have changed and mind-control can be achieved. The new inoffensive design…

is self-contradictory. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/7/2018: Back in the USSR

Good Morning!

1. Self-Promotion Dept. I’m heading off to New Jersey today, to present one of my musical legal ethics seminars—3 hours!—for the New Jersey Bar Association. The real star is my long-time partner in these shows, New York-based singer/musician Mike Messer, who channels Freddie Mercury, Bob Dylan (with harmonica!), Paul Simon, even Johnny Cash in the various song parodies.  This one is called Ethics Rock Extreme, and ends, like all of my musical seminars, with a sing-along. Yes, we get lawyers to sing the chorus of the “Piano Man Parody”…

Sing us the Rules, you’re the ethics man
Sing us the Rules tonight!
We’re stuck in an ethics dilemma here
So tell us what’s wrong and what’s right!

(No, “Back in the USSR” is not one of the songs we do.)

2. First Amendment for me, but not for thee: In an embarrassing episode that is also telling, the Newseum has capitulated to a storm of protests from journalists and will no longer sell its popular “Fake News” mercahndise…like this shirt…

online or in its gift shop. “We made a mistake and we apologize. A free press is an essential part of our democracy and journalists are not the enemy of the people,” the Newseum announced Saturday in a groveling blog post. “Questions have also been raised regarding other merchandise. As an organization that celebrates the rights of people from all political spectrums to express themselves freely, we’ve historically made all types of political merchandise available for our guests to purchase. That has included former and current presidential slogans and imagery and merchandise from all political parties. We continue to do so in celebration of freedom of speech.”

Translation: “In celebration of free speech, we will acquiesce in the censoring of a particular expression of opinion on a humorous T-shirt, because it hurts journalists’ feelings.”

Again, I ask: why does anyone trust journalists and the organizations they represent? Continue reading

Correction: No, The White House Did NOT Try To Airbrush Away A Key Q & A In The Helsinki Press Conference…

 

Call this not “Fake News,” but “Confirmation Bias Leaping To Conclusions News.”

Many sources prone to assume the worst of anything related to President Trump, including MSNBC and my source here, Jonathan Turley, reported  that the White House had intentionally excised a question asked of Russian President Vladimir Putin during last week’s news conference in Helsinki and his answer.  Maddow gleefully reported in her best “gotcha! you bastards!” tone,

“We can report tonight that the White House video of that exchange has also skillfully cut out that question from the Reuters reporter as if it didn’t happen!”

Ah, but the good, MSNBC-allied, “resistance”- friendly Washington Post also had posted the same transcript, and set about putting Maddow et al, straight, as much as it must have hurt.

“No, the White House didn’t intentionally edit a question to Putin out of a video,” explained the Post’s usually Trump-a-phobic Phillip Bump: Continue reading