Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Claudia Schiffer sparks race row after posing in afro for Karl Lagerfeld shoot

Supermodel Claudia Schiffer has been accused of being racially insensitive after she posed as a black woman, complete with afro, for the cover of a magazine. Schiffer's skin was covered in dark foundation for the shots, which were taken by celebrated fashion designer and photographer Karl Lagerfeld.

The images, which were taken in 2007 for a Dom Perignon advertising campaign, were among six shots of Miss Schiffer used by German fashion bible Stern Fotografie to celebrate its 60th anniversary. Another one of the photographs shows Schiffer, 39, made up to resemble an Asian woman.

While some fashion and photography critics have hailed the monochrome photographs as creative and clever, the image of Schiffer "blacking up" has also been branded insensitive and offensive.

Shevelle Rhule, fashion editor at black lifestyle magazine Pride, said the images were tasteless.

She told the Daily Mail: "It shows poor taste and it's offensive.

"There are not enough women of colour featured in mainstream magazines. This just suggests you can counteract the problem by using white models.

"I don't believe they deliberately set out to offend, they obviously see it as being arty and feel that they are pushing boundaries.

"But clearly no thought has been given to the history behind what they have done and the comparisons it draws with minstrel shows."

Representatives of the model claim the pictures are intended to show the model as a variety of fantasy figures and were "taken out of context".


The ‘Costs’ of Free Speech

Last year the Obama administration updated Washington’s official position on what forms of expression are legal. “Whether a given category of speech enjoys First Amendment protection,” Solicitor General Elena Kagan argued in U.S. v. Stevens, “depends upon a categorical balancing of the value of the speech against its societal costs.”

In April the Supreme Court treated this cost-benefit approach to the Bill of Rights’ very first proscription on federal power with the derision it deserved. Writing for an 8-to-1 majority that overturned a 1999 law restricting depictions of animal cruelty, Chief Justice John Roberts called Kagan’s argument “startling and dangerous.” The First Amendment, he explained, “does not extend only to categories of speech that survive an ad hoc balancing of relative social costs and benefits. The First Amendment itself reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the Government outweigh the costs.”

Kagan’s claim was a timely reminder that government, everywhere and always, seeks to balance controversial speech against various counterweights: national security, concerns about the influence of money in politics, the desire to protect society from the coarsening effects of obscenity. And if a child plays any role in the cost-benefit calculation—when school safety is supposedly at issue, or in a custody battle—the counterweight is deemed very heavy indeed.

Many, perhaps most, restrictions on speech are popular when they’re enacted. The reasons aren’t hard to understand. When your overriding goal is to prevent something most decent people find abhorrent (child pornography, corporate malfeasance, terrorism), and when distasteful speech is seen to obstruct that goal, that’s when people start to say, “Normally, I’m a First Amendment absolutist, but…”

So it was that the putative free speech champions on the New York Times editorial board praised the Supreme Court’s “respectful treatment of the First Amendment” in the Stevens case but in the very same editorial pilloried the Court’s 5-to-4 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which rejected federal censorship of a political documentary produced by a conservative group organized as a nonprofit corporation. Why the support for crush videos but not for corporate-sponsored political speech? Because legalizing the latter “opened the floodgates for big business and special-interest dollars to overwhelm American politics.” And catastrophic floods are no time for arcane constitutional debates.

Fortunately, the Framers understood that political passion too often trumps principle and that the natural reflex of people with power is to accumulate more. That is why the courts’ enforcement of constitutional restrictions is so important.

If you read one article about the Supreme Court this summer, make it Associate Editor Damon W. Root’s cover story, "Conservatives v. Libertarians." While the mainstream press continues to shoehorn all legal philosophies into a right-left spectrum, Root explores an underappreciated but equally important fault line: the split between conservatives who champion “judicial restraint” and libertarians willing to toss out even decades-old precedents if they flout the Constitution.

As Root’s article details, the tensions between these two tendencies can be found not only between established wings of the conservative legal movement but even within the minds of individual justices, especially Antonin Scalia. How those struggles play out on the Roberts court—including the unsettled question of Roberts’ own appetite and justification for overturning precedent—will go a long way in determining legal safeguards at a time of enormous government expansion.

This battle has repercussions far outside the courtroom, with echoes every time someone offers a consequentialist argument for limiting our freedom of expression. The patron saint of conservative judicial restraint, Robert Bork, shares an important trait with The New York Times and other censorious voices on the left: a belief that citizens are powerless to protect themselves from the consequences of unpleasant speech.

“Liberty in America can be enhanced by reinstating, legislatively, restraints upon the direction of our culture and morality,” Bork wrote in National Review in 2005. “Censorship as an enhancement of liberty may seem paradoxical. Yet it should be obvious, to all but dogmatic First Amendment absolutists, that people forced to live in an increasingly brutalized culture are, in a very real sense, not wholly free.”

Seeing individuals as powerless in the face of choice, or as empty vessels too easily overwhelmed by nefarious content, is a key component of paternalism. This view denies citizens their basic agency and autonomy, reinforcing the long-discredited but still popular notion that mass behavior is dictated from the top down.

“What we are facing,” President Barack Obama hyperbolized about Citizens United in early May, “is no less than a potential corporate takeover of our elections. What is at stake is no less than the integrity of our democracy.” It was a gross if common overestimation of corporate influence on our minds, and a grosser underestimation of the American people’s ability to think for themselves. Such a mindset explains how MSNBC blowhard Keith Olbermann could say something as profoundly stupid as his comment that Citizens United “might actually have more dire implications than Dred Scott v. Sandford.”

A similar note has been repeatedly sounded during the last two years of liberal anxiety over Tea Parties and allegedly resurgent right-wing violence. In April, on the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, former President Bill Clinton wrote a New York Times op-ed that echoed his unforgivably cynical reaction to the bombing when it transpired. Then as now, he linked the murderous act with the words of nonviolent political commentators.

The bombers, Clinton wrote, “took to the ultimate extreme an idea advocated in the months and years before the bombing by an increasingly vocal minority: the belief that the greatest threat to American freedom is our government, and that public servants do not protect our freedoms, but abuse them.…As we exercise the right to advocate our views, and as we animate our supporters, we must all assume responsibility for our words and actions before they enter a vast echo chamber and reach those both serious and delirious, connected and unhinged.”

Such talk doesn’t just serve the partisan purpose of marginalizing political opponents. It reflects an unseemly condescension to the consumers of political media, and it suggests a path toward censorship. Time’s Joe Klein has accused several critics of Obama—including Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Fox News in general—not just of “hate speech” but of the more legally serious “borderline sedition.” After Coburn warned that some citizens might be saying, “‘I give up on my government,’ and rightly so,” Klein charged that the senator’s statement “comes dangerously close to incitement to violence.” Needless to say, Klein wasn’t talking about criminalizing dissent back in the Bush-Cheney years.


'A Living Icon of Journalism'

The Society of Professional Journalists honors Helen Thomas. Still!


Among her many honors, Helen Thomas, who "retired" yesterday as a columnist for Hearst Newspapers, in 2000 received the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Society of Professional Journalists. As the SPJ's website explains:
The Award is named after longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas, a living icon of journalism for her dogged pursuit of the truth in a career that has spanned almost 60 years.

We've been calling Thomas "American journalism's crazy old aunt in the attic" for years, and the events of the past few days should have laid to rest any question of which description is more accurate, ours or the SPJ's. We wondered, then, whether SPJ planned to continue giving out the Helen Thomas Award, and last night we emailed Lauren Rochester, the society's awards coordinator, to ask.

"I'm going to refer [you] to Kevin Smith, SPJ national president," she replied first thing this morning, helpfully supplying us with an email and two phone numbers. We emailed Smith this morning and left messages on both numbers just after noon Eastern time. We have not heard from him.

Smith did, however, find time yesterday to talk with David Weigel of the Washington Post, who reported that the society "may rename" the award:
Kevin Smith, the president of the SPJ, tells me that members of the executive board have been in touch with one another over "whether we need to consider this."

"I'm not personally inclined to advocate for this," Smith said. "Helen Thomas has been a member and supporter of SPJ for a very long time, and do we throw all that away for this last transgression? On the other hand, if you were Jewish and given this award, would you go up and accept it? Without taking a knee-jerk approach, you need to consider other perspectives."

Smith told me that the SPJ's board will meet in late July to discuss other issues, and that's when the subject of renaming the award--which was first given to Thomas in 2000--could come up. "But if this thing escalates," Smith said, "we won't wait until then."

And after all, these guys are only professional journalists. It's not as if they're in a business in which they routinely have to deal with fast-breaking information.

OK, we couldn't resist, but that was a cheap shot. Kevin Smith teaches at West Virginia's Fairmont State University. He's a professor of journalism, which sounds a lot like "professional journalist," but there's a huge difference--trust us.

The really appalling thing about Smith's interview with Weigel is this line: "On the other hand, if you were Jewish and given this award, would you go up and accept it?" How about if you were a decent human being? (There are at least a few among the ranks of professional journalists--trust us.) The notion that only Jews would take exception to Thomas's call for ethnic cleansing--or to the SPJ's crediting her with "dogged pursuit of the truth"--is obtuse, to say the least.

Nine journalists other than Helen Thomas have accepted the Helen Thomas Award, perhaps because they were unfamiliar with her work. Now, though, no one has such an excuse--which means that if the SPJ decides to keep the award going, it may have trouble finding someone willing to collect it. But we can help:

The obvious choice for this year's honor is Patrick Buchanan, a syndicated columnist and commentator for MSNBC and "The McLaughlin Group," who has a long history of practicing journalism in the spirit of Helen Thomas. And he's definitely not Jewish!

But we'd like to suggest a dark-horse contender: Paul Craig Roberts, also a syndicated columnist (and late-1970s veteran of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page). In September 2002 Roberts put forward this proposal, in a column you can still find at, a usually anti-immigration website:
Terminate the Middle Eastern conflict by inviting the 5 million Jews in Israel to settle in the U.S.

The entire population of Israel amounts to no more than two years of illegal Mexican immigration. The Jews can function here, if they wish, as an autonomous ethnic enclave just like all the other enclaves created by our shortsighted immigration policy. . . .

Trying to create a small Jewish state in a sea of Muslims was a 20th century mistake. Trying to reconstruct the Middle East would be a bigger mistake.

Why not recognize the mistake, evacuate the Jews, leave the Muslims to themselves, and focus on saving our own country?

Meanwhile, reports that Michigan's Wayne State University, from which Thomas graduated in 1942, may remove her name from the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Awards reception. But Ben Burns of the Wayne State journalism school, went "on to say the university will continue to offer a Helen Thomas journalism scholarship." Something tells us they'll have to pay some kid to take that off their hands.


Gaza flotilla: invasion of the moral armada

Everyone talks about the siege of Gaza, but a more profound problem today is the intellectual, moral siege of Israel by the Respectable World

Many people are understandably concerned about the siege of Gaza by Israel. But the flotilla incident this week confirms that there’s a more pressing, profound and almost completely unquestioned problem today: the intellectual, moral siege of Israel by the Respectable World. There is nothing remotely progressive, far less radical, in the transformation of Israel into the whipping boy of a motley crew of Western moral entrepreneurs, radical Islamists and momentum-seeking left-wing activists. In fact it is fuelled by a quite intense hypocrisy and political opportunism, and it is warping the political dynamic in the Middle East, making life worse for Israelis and Palestinians.

Of course the invasion of the flotilla by the Israel Defense Forces, during which at least nine people were killed, was a deplorable and foolish act of violence. But few people have asked what is the real purpose of this ‘humanitarian flotilla’. The activists claim they’re only interested in delivering essentials to beleaguered Gazans. Critics describe the flotilla as an ‘armada of hate’, which is delivering materials, and possibly even weaponry, to Hamas. Both sides are wrong. These boats, which have been sailing to Gaza for the past two years, are best understood as a pompous, moralistic armada, fuelled by the self-righteousness of Western and Islamist activists keen to advertise their superiority over the new pariah state of the chattering classes: Israel.

The moralistic armada is a physical manifestation of the shallow Israel-bashing that has become utterly unexceptional and uniform in respectable Western circles in recent years. These ships combine the narcissism, self-promotion, pro-interventionism and, ultimately, the pro-imperialist bent to the anti-Zionism that is now widespread in polite society. The narcissism is captured in the fact that one of the ships is called the MV Rachel Corrie, named after the 23-year-old American activist who became a hero of the Western liberal media after she was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer during a Palestinian-pity trip to the West Bank in 2003.

The self-promotion is captured in the fact that some of the great and the good have sailed on these boats, including writers, thinkers and Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. Bizarrely, Swedish writer Henning Mankell, creator of the popular Wallander detective series, was on the flotilla invaded by the IDF. So was a Swedish MP. There were 28 Britons on board the ships. Earlier ships have featured such luminaries as Lauren Booth (who built a career in journalism on the back of being the sister-in-law of Tony Blair), European MPs and a former US colonel. Does Gaza really need writers and celebs to offload food at its ports? This is naked self-promotion, the cynical depiction of oneself as a superior, humane, international-law-abiding citizen by standing, Kate Winslet-style, on the deck of a ship that is Against Israel. (The respectability of contemporary anti-Israel rage is demonstrated by the fact that the flotilla violence means Mankell will now miss his appointment to discuss the ‘Palestinian humanitarian odyssey’ with Jon Snow at the Guardian Hay Festival.)

And the pro-Western, pro-militaristic thirst behind modern-day anti-Israel sentiment is clear from the fact that many of the flotilla activists and their supporters are now calling for the ‘international community’ to punish Israel. Because Israel has crossed a ‘boundary of civilisation’, says one writer, it must have sanctions imposed upon it by the United Nations. Others are calling for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be put on trial for committing a ‘war crime’. A Guardian editorial says NATO should be sent to Israel.

These demands that the powerful institutions of the West reprimand, isolate and possibly even attack Israel give the lie to the idea that anti-Israel sentiment is a form of peace activism. It is better understood as a ramshackle, informal campaign for the assertion of Western might over a disobedient state, where no weapon in the ‘international community’s’ armoury – from sanctions to military invasion – is considered beyond the pale in the need to punish the Israelis. The response to the flotilla incident shows that some are extremely keen that their fashionable disgust with Israel be backed up by brute sanction or physical force. They are effectively demanding the punishment of Israel to satisfy their own puffed-up moral outrage against what they have decreed to be the World’s No.1 Pariah State.

The fact that the flotilla to Gaza, with its weird mix of hippy, Islamist and imperialist sentiment, was powered by an underlying desire for Western punishment of Israel does not, of course, justify the IDF’s reckless actions. But it does help to explain why Israel did what it did. These are fundamentally hostile boats – no, not because they purportedly harbour weaponry for Hamas or are packed with wannabe suicide bombers (though some on the boats have expressed their desire for martyrdom), but because they represent, fundamentally, the existential anti-Israel outlook that has manifested itself in the West in recent years. There is no nation on Earth that would not be at least concerned about the arrival of an intervention-demanding force near its shores.

The flotilla incident confirms that for many bereft and confused politicians and activists over here, supporting Palestinians has become a shortcut to discovering a sense of urgent purpose and moral meaning. Palestinians are turned into the playthings of moral charlatans, some of whom even wear the keffiyeh, in a PC version of blacking up, or go to live with Palestinians and act as ‘human shields’. In Europe in particular, shallow pro-Palestinian pity / anti-Israel sentiment is widespread, for various but always self-serving reasons. It unites the far left and the far right, with the left hoping to conjure up some profound feeling of anti-imperialist rage and the right trotting out the usual old rubbish about ‘evil Jews’. It unites radical Islamists and mainstream politicians, where Islamists sustain virtually their entire off-the-peg victim identity by pointing to Israel’s ‘genocide’ of a section of the ummah and politicians can score some easy points, especially with the influential liberal classes, by denouncing Israel.

And, as demonstrated by the UN’s unusually speedy condemnation of the flotilla incident and the Lib-Con government’s expressions of outrage, anti-Israel sentiment is extremely useful for Western governments and international bodies, too. It allows them to take the moral highground on the international stage at a time when, post-Iraq, it is increasingly difficult for them to do so. It allows them to brush over their own acts of aggression, both in the past and in the present, by going along with the idea that Israel is a uniquely colonialist, belligerent nation whom they, being whiter than white, have the right to lecture and hector. When Israel is continually said to have crossed a ‘boundary of civilisation’, governments can conveniently pose as civilised by posturing against it. This opportunity to recover some Western authority, to rehabilitate the say-so of powerful governments over ‘pariah states’, has been handed to the international community by the supposed peace activists of the anti-Israel lobby.

I don’t support Israel. I think Palestinians ought to enjoy full national independence. But I want nothing to do with the orgy of moralism directed at Israel today by a mish-mash of dinner-party liberals, radical Islamists and clapped-out left-wingers. Most dangerously of all, this rise of respectable anti-Zionism is having a detrimental impact on the ground in the Middle East, causing Israel to become increasingly isolated and its relations with surrounding Palestinian territories to become increasingly tense. When you treat a state as a pariah, it is more likely to think and act like one, to become insecure, unpredictable, to lash out violently.

These flotilla activists fancy themselves as a modern-day version of the individuals who went to Spain during the Civil War to join international brigades in fighting for a Spanish republic. Yet those individuals were driven by a thirst for freedom, by positive visions of the future, by a willingness to take serious personal risks, and above all by a belief that people alone – and not powerful, self-serving institutions – could change mankind’s destiny for the better. Not a single one of those admirable traits was present on the ship of fools sailing to Gaza.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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