Truth, Art and the Environment Under Attack. . . Again!

  1. Silly me! I made the mistake of reading this Sunday's Times Union newspaper. The Art section, no less!

    I'm trying to keep my blood pressure within normal limits. At least around 170/90's. Now, I'd say it's about 200/100. Maybe posting this article of in today's 5/18/2003 Times Union will be cathartic for me.

    It's about censorship, really. Censorship in the Smithsonian Institution, of all places! I'll let you all read the article. Maybe it won't effect you as much as it did me. To be honest, I worked last night, went to church this morning (I'm an organist and choir director for a local Lutheran Church), just came home to relax and read the newspaper (the Art section. . . normally benign for my nerves), and now I'm hopping mad. Well, just mad. I'm too tired to be hopping around.

    Read away.


    Politics Storms the Museum

    By TIMOTHY CAHILL, Staff writer
    First published: Sunday, May 18, 2003

    Truth is the first casualty of war, and right now the country is in the middle of a blitzkrieg against our nobelest ideals. There seems no end to the measures the powerful will take to bend the people and our institutions to their will.

    Consider what's happening right now at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Earlier this month, the National Museum of Natural History opened "Seasons of Life and Land," an exhibit of wildlife photographs by artist-naturalist Subhankar Banerjee. The pictures are the result of more than a year Banerjee spent documenting the animals, plants and people of the Artic National Wildlife Refuge, a harsh, remote wilderness in the far northeast corner of Alaska.

    The show's 48 color photographs of caribou and ptarmigan, wildflowers, landscapes and Inupiat natives were meant to cast light on a part of the world few of us will ever see. Instead, they have become an unlikely and distressing cause celebre.

    If you go to Washington, you'll find the show hung in the museum's Baird Ambulatory Gallery, essentially a basement hallway installed with lights. Just two months ago, however, it was prepared to run in a more complete form in a premiere gallery on the museum's main floor, alongside a major exhibit of botanical paintings. What happened?

    This story, which has stirred an intense controversy in the national media, has ramifications well beyond Washington. In conversations last week with the Smithsonian, Banerjee and others, a distressing tale of coercion and censorship emerged.

    Before this year, Banerjee was largely unknown. He was championed by the Smithsonian's Robert Sullivan, associate director for public programs, who saw the 34-year-old photographer's arctic images and quickly offered him a show. When Sullivan wrote Banerjee this past Jan. 16 to confirm the show, he noted that the exhibit "will not only present spectacular images, but will provide visitors with an opportunity to learn more about the ecology and inhabitants of the region."

    Banerjee worked with the Smithsonian staff to choose the images for display. He also consulted with editors at the institution to prepare text captions that would not only identify each picture but give detailed information for background and context. In February, a Smithsonian designer sent Banerjee a detailed floor plan of the exhibit that showed 71 images arranged in four groupings, reflecting the four seasons of the arctic year. The design included a glass case to display Banerjee's book on the wildlife refuge, also called "Seasons of Life and Land."

    The volume is an amazing synthesis of art, natural history and environmental awareness. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, recognized it as a powerful weapon in a political fight to save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Known in Washington as ANWR, the sanctuary is the object of the country's most incendiary environmental debate.

    On one side of the argument, big oil interests and their allies, including the likes of President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, who want to drill on preserve. In the other camp, environmentalists and political supporters like Boxer. The environmentalists argue that the ANWR wilderness is a delicate and unique ecosystem that should be protected. Proponents of drilling have called the refuge "flat, white nothingness," and contend that little would be lost by letting oilmen sink their wells.

    In March, as the Senate debated ANWR, Boxer cited Banerjee's book to refute claims it was a barren ice field, and mentioned the upcoming Smithsonian exhibit. Stevens stood before the senators and declared, "People who vote against this today are voting against me -- and I will not forget it." As head of the Appropriations Committee, Stevens controls the Senate's money, including funds that go to the Smithsonian. In spite of the threat, the drilling bill was defeated.

    Three weeks later, the Smithsonian contacted Banerjee to advise him that his exhibit would be shown in the basement hallway, between the loading dock and the elevators. Also, the detailed informational captions would be reduced to one-line titles. The captions were too ideological, said one museum official. No, said another, they were too sentimental. What prompted the changes? Could it be that powerful influences with certain non-renewable-energy connections objected to the exhibit, and exerted political muscle to squelch it? Oh no, the Smithsonian said when the story hit the news. Yes, alternative venues were considered, but we "always envisioned" Banerjee's pictures hanging in the basement.

    Never mind that to make way for the show, the Smithsonian had to remove an already installed display of Korean photographs from the Baird gallery. And where did those Korean pictures end up? Upstairs, in the main hall that had been designed for the ANWR images.

    You don't always need a smoking gun to figure out who did what to whom.

    An investigation spearheaded by Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin will attempt to learn more about what happened at the National Museum of Natural History, but the case seems pretty clear. The sad truth, as Durbin put it in a phone interview, is, "I think the Smithsonian has compromised its integrity. They bowed to some pressure; I don't know if it was internal or external."

    Sadder still, it's hard not to see the incident as part of a relentless assault on free speech, free thought and dissent that has spread like a cancer since the 2000 election. There is a terror at large that wants to control what we see, think and know. Truth lies bleeding. Nobility is missing in action.
  2. 12 Comments

  3. by   jnette
    That's really too bad, Ted. I understand your disappointment.
  4. by   pickledpepperRN
    More lies!
    Why do the majority of people believe the lies?
    Maybe they just don't care.

    Being a cardiac nurse it seems most of the people are in denial.
  5. by   Brownms46
    Originally posted by spacenurse
    More lies!
    Why do the majority of people believe the lies?
    Maybe they just don't care.

    Being a cardiac nurse it seems most of the people are in denial.
    You don't have to be a cardiac nurse to see there are people in denial! I have decided you the ole saying has never had more meaning. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make em drink! If you want to believe something you will..... no matter how much the lies stinks!

    Playing two ends against the middle has always been a dangerous position to play...but that didn't stop us did it?
  6. by   Mkue
    Controversy Brews in Senate over Smithsonian's ANWR Photo Exhibit

    Smithsonian representatives say that changes to the exhibit were made during the normal review process and that no museum official was pressured by political interests.

    "Nobody told us what to do," Randall Kremer, spokesman for the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, says. "Anybody who tried to do that with us would not get very far, and anybody who thinks otherwise is nave."

    According to Kremer, the lower-level gallery currently housing the exhibit was the space originally reserved for the show and the first floor space was only briefly considered. Kremer says that curators decided on the current location because it was specifically designed for photography and fine arts. It has better light, lower ceilings and still gets about 80% of the traffic that the first floor space does.

    Hmm I don't know which lie to believe, in this article the Smithsonion states they were pressured by NO ONE and the art work actually has a much better location specifically designed for photography and fine art.
  7. by   Spidey's mom
    Thanks mkue . . . I found the following paragraph interesting too.

    "On April 5, however, Banerjee was told by a supporter at the Smithsonian that the museum was considering canceling his show because the book-- which displays the same photos and shares the same name as the exhibit-- had been politicized. Instead of canceling the show, however, officials decided to alter the exhibit to ensure that it adhered to the Smithsonian's policy of non-partisanship."

    Depends on your perspective I guess. Funny how two articles on the same subject have completely different slants. More below:

    Last edit by Spidey's mom on May 18, '03
  8. by   Spidey's mom
    One more . . ..

    Romance Overrules Reason In ANWR About-Face -05.16.01

    "That part of the (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) is one of the bleakest, most remote places on this continent, and there is hardly any other where drilling would have less impact on the surrounding life."

    "It is hard to see why absolutely pristine preservation of this remote wilderness should take precedence over the nation's energy needs."

    No, these comments about Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge aren't advance excerpts of President Bush's energy plan to be released this week. Nor are they from editorials in National Review, The Weekly Standard or The Wall Street Journal. They aren't even from Pave the Planet Digest.

    They're from The Washington Post and The New York Times, respectively. You see, back in the late 1980s, the elite conventional wisdom held that dependence on foreign oil was bad, so domestic oil exploration was good - and exploration in a "remote wilderness," in the words of the Times, was great. Back then the Times editorialized "the likely value of the oil far exceeds plausible estimates of the environmental costs."

    But by last January the Times succumbed not just to amnesia but to complete revisionism: "Mr. Bush's plan to open (ANWR) is as environmentally unsound and intellectually shaky as it was when Ronald Reagan suggested it 20 years ago and when Mr. Bush's father suggested it a decade ago." The Times concluded, "Finally, as this page has noted many times before, the relatively trivial amounts of recoverable oil in the refuge cannot possibly justify the potential corruption of a unique and irreplaceable natural area."

    What explains such a bizarre, and arrogant, flip-flop? After all, in the dozen or so years since then, oil-drilling technology has improved by leaps and bounds while ANWR has remained the same. How could it be "bleak," according to the Post less than 20 years ago, and a "unique, wild and biologically vital ecosystem" as of a Post editorial last December?

    It is, I suspect, the spirit of Mrs. Jellyby coming a-calling.

    Mrs. Jellyby was the do-gooder from Charles Dicken's "Bleak House," whose concern for a problem was always inversely proportionate to her distance from it. Thus, she was obsessed with the plight of the African "natives of Borrioboola-Gha on the left bank of the Niger," but entirely oblivious to the needs of her children, particularly her injured son. Truly, a limousine liberal ahead of her time.

    Mrs. Jellyby's spirit thrives in the debate over ANWR. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is impossible to reach for 99.99 percent of the U.S. and world populations. Nine months out of the year it is covered in ice, snow and round-the-clock darkness. If you had to pick an impact point in Northern America for a huge meteor, ANWR is about as ideal as it gets.

    And yet, ANWR has achieved an almost metaphysical role in our imaginations - as some sort of pristine land that time forgot ,which we must preserve for everyone to enjoy in their fertile imaginations but not at all in their real lives.

    We even have our own version of the Borrioboola-Gha: the so-called "gentle the Gwich'in people," a native tribe that lives 150 miles away from the proposed drilling site. These folks, who often come to Washington D.C. for photo-ops in full tribal gear, are the poster children for the leave-ANWR-alone coalition.

    The Gwich'in say, with soundbites provided by the environmental community, that exploring the estimated 2,000 to 10,000 affected acres (about the size of Washington's Dulles airport) out of the 19 million acre area (about the size of South Carolina) will permanently destroy the ecosystem, the caribou's migration patterns and, hence, the Gwich'in's blissful premodern relationship with nature.

    Faith Gemmill, a Gwich'in leader, explains on the National Wildlife Federation Web site that "the Gwich'in have lived in harmony with the caribou for hundreds of generations."

    Of course, what she leaves out is that the Gwich'in authorized oil drilling on their own tribal lands until the wells came up dry. We also don't see on the nightly news the Gwich'in using all-terrain vehicles, high-powered rifles and snowmobiles to chase caribou into the river and shoot them in large numbers.

    Regardless, the fact remains there's no solid evidence that oil exploration is bad for caribou. In fact, the only data we have says the reverse. Since the massive, and more invasive, Prudhoe Bay installation was launched, the Central Arctic caribou population has increased fivefold. Some say the caribou like to put their bellies on the pipeline for warmth.

    The real motive behind preserving ANWR is psychological. Environmental romantics like the (ital) idea (end ital) that such a place exists, even though they will never go there.

    For example, President Carter, who passed the law preserving ANWR, wrote recently in The New York Times that drilling of any kind is unacceptable because the sound of it "would pollute the wild music of the Arctic." This is a true case of romance trumping reason, since no one is there to hear that music in the first place.

  9. by   fab4fan we should go ahead and drill in ANWR because we can, and because it's an area most people will probably not ever see. I didn't realize that a clean environment was like a high school popularity contest.

    Is it really necessary to scarify one of the last pristine places on Earth, just for a questionable amount of oil? Once that is done, it's a bell that we cannot unring. So, we drill there, and cross our fingers and toes and hope that nothing bad happens.

    I guess the real issue is that flora and fauna don't vote (and if they did, they'd probably vote Democratic, anyway, which would make them just a bunch of liberal troublemakers). So the principle of "NIMBY" must apply here: As long as I don't have to see it, or be personally affected negatively by it, it doesn't matter to me. And if it means I save a couple bucks gassing up my SUV, hey, even better.

    Instead of arguing that we should drill in ANWR to help reduce our dependence on foreign oil, why not invest in developing alternatives to fossil fuels altogether? Too bad the sun and wind don't have powerful lobbyists on their side.
  10. by   Spidey's mom
    Fab4 . . . . I guess this old former liberal is just trying to avoid the knee-jerk responses which can come from either side of the issue. Which is why I love writers like Thomas Sowell, who thoroughly documents and footnotes his sources/facts/stats. There is a great book recently released from a former GreenPeace environmentalist who had the courage to see some of the purely emotional responses of the organization he worked with that were not based on fact. He is sort of a "whistleblower" of the far left environmental movement. There is no shortage of hypocrisy (the left lies too) - no one is immune. See the link below:

    Here is another one:

    I guess my point would be that the things we hear in the media are blown out of proportion and that ends up hurting the environmental movement, because then no one takes the truly serious issues SERIOUSLY.

    After reading the links in my previous post regarding ANWR, it seems clear to me that there is no harm in drilling for oil there. You read it different. . .

    And this just bears out my previous interest in everyone's perspective . . .it just depends on where you are coming from. That place colors how you see evidence. And I try to take off my rose-colored glasses. And look at just the facts.

    In peace, steph
  11. by   Ted
    To me, it's an issue of values. We shouldn't be drilling for oil in Alaska.


    Rather, we should be exploring less caustic ways of "powering" our nation. . . and promoting ways to become more power efficient. . . and depending less on companies making $$$$ on power. . . and promote pro-environment policies because in the end it's the environment that keep us alive both physically and spiritually. . .

    And promoting open government. . . and having government represent people and not corporate interests. . . and values people over big corporations. . . and promoting policies that actually benefit the health and education of our citizenry. . . and is willing to share wealth and power. . .

    This ain't happening with this current political regime.

    My knee is jerking as it readies my lower leg and foot to kick the bottom end of the Bush Administration come Election 2004. "Boot 'Them' Out of Office" is my new Hollywood-style moto!

    "GRRRRRRRRR" . . . the sound of an angry American who cares deeply for his country and the world equally.
    Last edit by Ted on May 19, '03
  12. by   fab4fan
    Steph...instead of sweetly insinuating that I haven't done my homework on this issue, why not just say know, call a spade a spade.

    I've done more than my share of reading on this matter, and could engage in more of those "Take that!" posts where one puts up a link to refute another's opinion. I don't play that way.

    Thomas Sowell...yes, I am familiar with him, and totally unsurprised at the position he'd take on this matter. And any major organization is bound to have its share of disgruntled former members...big deal. Drilling in ANWR is not a "far left" issue, either (apparently, to some conservatives, any mention of protecting the environment smacks of radical liberalism).

    Yes, some of the activities of these groups go a bit too far; then again, how far should we go to fight for clean air, water, land? I imagine God just shaking his head at what man has done to the earth...kind of like if you had a nice house and invited some guests to use it while you're away on vacation, and when you come back, the place is trashed.

    ANWR is just another example of the "me first" mentality...not caring what happens years down the road, as long as my needs are taken care of right now. Years ago, people thought that a little "developing" in the rainforests wouldn't have that much of an impact...we know now just how wrong that thinking was. I'm afraid that the same selfish thinking is going to do the same to another little understood environment.
  13. by   Spidey's mom
    Gosh Fab4 . . . I wasn't meaning to insinuate anything and my apologies if you felt offended.

    I don't think this is an all or nothing debate . . .that if I think it wouldn't hurt to drill for oil in Alaska that doesn't mean that I want dirty air or polluted streams or garbage strewn streets. Or that we shouldn't conserve or look for new technology. There is room in between for healthy debate and there are scientists on both sides of the issue. If anyone is using faulty information or outright lies to bolster their views (either side), then I just think they need to rethink that. And that is why I posted the link to the former GreenPeace gentleman. He makes some good points.

    Guess this is something I'll just agree to disagree with you.

    And isn't that what makes America great!


  14. by   fab4fan