The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Horror in the Museum

It's tough for me to get a finger on the pervasiveness of the corporatist mindset in this country. As the 80s wound down, I was in high school and the word 'yuppie' had long since become a punchline. The corporate scandals of the decade -- Ivan Boesky, the Keating Five S&L fiasco (starring a Bush brother and John McCain), and the DeLorean guy-- replaced the advent of the CEO-as-hero mindset and brought lots of hand-wringing about the consumerist lifestyle and the corruption in big business. Then it was all Generation X, fed up with commercialism, onto Park Avenue's every trick.

But something big was happening in the nineties. Those nefarious scammers and robber barons hadn't been dealt with at all. In fact, they'd multiplied, finding new homes in higher education and the arts. And at the Smithsonian, where a business model no more sophisticated than Enron style get-rich-quickery has carried the day, resulting in fat paychecks for those causing the problems, and blocking the truly committed and passionate from having any say in the matter.

This was awkward in part because the owner, Lawrence Small, was head of the Smithsonian, one of the nation's premiere cultural institutions. And then there was the problem of his shifting stories. In December 2000, Small told Architectural Digest that he had legally purchased many of the artifacts while traveling through South America in the 1980s. But, when wildlife officials questioned him less than a year later, he claimed he had bought the bulk of his collection from an anthropologist in North Carolina in 1998 for about $400,000. After months of sifting through over 1,000 Amazonian artifacts, ornithologists and mammologists from the agency discovered that over 200 of the objets d'art contained feathers from protected birds, including the crested caracara and the roseate spoonbill. On January 5, 2004, a U.S. attorney in Raleigh, North Carolina, filed charges against Small for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Small pleaded out to a class B misdemeanor; a federal judge ordered that he serve two years probation and 100 hours community service.

The entire article is well worth reading-- it's a carbon copy of the Bush administration, writ small but still looting the treasury and contributing nothing but incompetence and ruin.