A Starving Polar Bear & Climate Change

A National Geographic magazine photographer Cristina Mittermeier and fellow photographer Paul Nicklen had to explain how their images (video, still photography) of an obviously starving polar bear were  presented as evidence of climate change.

“Photographer Paul Nicklen and I are on a mission to capture images that communicate the urgency of climate change. Documenting its effects on wildlife hasn’t been easy.” “With this image, we thought we had found a way to help people imagine what the future of climate change might look like. We were, perhaps, naive. The picture went viral — and people took it literally.”

As reported by Pauline Dedaj at Fox News: “The image she is referencing shows an emaciated polar bear with hardly any fur covering its bony frame. In a video that was also taken of the bear, it can be seen slowly moving through the terrain, rummaging through an empty can.

By the time National Geograpic shared the video, the message was direct about climate change and the polar bear’s condition. “The first line of the National Geographic video said, ‘This is what climate change looks like’ — with ‘climate change’ then highlighted in the brand’s distinctive yellow. In retrospect, National Geographic went too far with the caption.”

An estimated 2.5 billion people viewed the emaciated polar bear: “It became the most viewed video on National Geographic’s website — ever,” said Mittermeier.

The Fox News article points out the facts, that there could be “a number of reason besides climate change that could’ve led to the animal’s condition, including age, illness or even injury.”

The photographer Mittermeier admits that she couldn’t “say that this bear was starving because of climate change.” “Perhaps we made a mistake in not telling the full story — that we were looking for a picture that foretold the future and that we didn’t know what had happened to this particular polar bear.”

The photographer says that her image became another example of “environmentalist exaggeration,” but added that her intentions were “clear” and that if she had the opportunity to share “a scene like this one” again, she would.

Emaciated Polar Bear

She explained the background in an article, Starving-Polar-Bear Photographer Recalls What Went Wrong,” published in the August 2018 issue of National Geographic.

The lesson learned here is that when you are advocating for a cause–to save the environment, to combat climate change–you must be frank and open about the visual images used to support your cause. Otherwise you can be accused of being too biased or propagandistic in your storytelling.

That’s East Jerusalem, Baby!

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. The older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.          Mary Schmich

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Inas, my friend of 28 years (!), greeted me again at her family home in East Jerusalem in the Wadi al-Joz (Valley of the Walnuts) section. We met during the summer of 1990 when I was the Academic and Program Coordinator for the Fulbright Pre-Academic Orientation Program and she was pursuing graduate studies in engineering as a Fulbright scholar.

I knew when I last saw Inas in her East Jerusalem home in 2011 to come hungry and thirsty for both sustenance and knowledge. My Palestinian family is a highly educated bunch of Ph.D.s, photo journalists, editors, authors, and pediatric dentists, just to name a few. I could go on and on bragging about this exceptional group of humans.

If you do not have a friend in East Jerusalem, your life is poorer for it!

The richness in culture, history, and education led to my spending ten hours over two days eating first at the kitchen table and then drinking tea and coffee in the living room. I ate so much that I ended up on the day bed, and we kept visiting. These pictures are before I went to lay down and sleep off my overeating.

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We sat (or I lay down!) minutes away from where pilgrims around the world come to worship at the holy sites of Greater Jerusalem, including. The Mount of Olives mountain ridge was a neighbor, as was Al-Aqsa Mosque,  the third holiest site in Islam. It is a privilege to be in East Jerusalem and reunite with my longtime friend and her dear family. Just look how happy I am. Photo credit: Inas

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I have been invited back so I guess I didn’t overstay my visit!

Social Media and Diplomacy

I came across this TEDx talk, “How to Make a Splash in Social Media” after I watched another Alexis Ohanian at Oxford video featuring the Reddit co-founder. His 2016 talk at Oxford Union highlights the agnostic (unknowable) quality of the Internet. Anyone, with any content, can go viral online. It’s hard to predict.

There are many memorable points that Ohanian makes, including this:

What we’ve seen in social media the last ten years [2006-2016] has been the cocktail party. It has been the most superficial level of connection. Now, it’s something we need. I don’t say that derisively. We like cocktail parties. As humans we like showing people how cute our pets are, how wonderful our life is. That’s a level of connection that doesn’t go very deep. What we are seeing on platforms like Reddit, Snapchat, is a hunger for the next wave—a demand for authenticity…something that feels more real, that’s not there because of wanting to show a filtered version of yourself, but wanting to show how you really are in that moment.

Ohanian was a history major at the University of Virginia who saw the connectivity value of the Internet early on. His first business idea with his UVA computer science major friend, Steve Huffman (My Mobile Menu or “MMM”) failed to get funding but then they began to think about what web pages they went to every morning and Reddit was born. Btw, Ohanian is a bit more famous these days for being the spouse of a particularly talented tennis player.

Reddit is a social news website supported by a community of users called Redditors who have only one thing in common, shared interests with other Redditors. Reddit’s subreddit on The Donald helps Trump keep support in the White House. Durinf the 2016 presidential campaign, Reddit served as an alternative source of news for Redditors enthusiastic about Trump’s candidacy, including those who were lining up for hours to hear Trump speak in person. I went to Trump’s subreddit community threat regularly and it convinced me that Donald Trump could beat Hillary Clinton.

We Saw This Coming!

The much ballyhooed planned summit in Singapore on June 12 between US President Donald Trump and North Korean President Kim Jong-un is on shaky ground, and not due to any new nuclear weapon tests.

It has become a battle between definitions.

What does denuclearization mean? It depends on where you sit.

  • Peace is complicated
  • Obtaining peace is often an asymmetrical power game
  • Can we expect North Korea to give up its nuclear program unilaterally?
  • What confidence-building measures can the U.S., its allies, or other countries do to contribute to a lasting peace on the penninsula?

Trump & Obama: A Tale of Two Speeches

DONALD TRUMP’S RIYADH SPEECH, MAY 2017


BARACK OBAMA’S CAIRO SPEECH, JUNE 2009

Trump’s Statesmanlike Speech in Riyadh

Elliott Abrams, National Review, May 21, 2017

 … any balanced strategy will require continued close partnerships with our regional allies to expand and improve the effectiveness of counter messaging programs, especially online. The inclusion of the Saudi Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology on the president’s itinerary was a good sign, but since September 11, 2001 we have seen far too many such initiatives fall short…. Although counter-messaging and counter-radicalization programs are not a cure all, they are a vital part of any strategy especially as America invests in its more military-focused initiatives.

Trump Changed His Tone on Islam—Will He Change Strategy?

Michael Leiter, The Atlantic, May 22, 2017

But the President’s address reflected a more substantive break. By focusing on Muslim governments rather than people, and by focusing on terrorism rather than the broader conditions of the Middle East that catalyze volatility and violence, he broke with his two immediate predecessors’ strategies for engaging the Muslim world.

Trump’s Speech in Riyadh Puts Ball Squarely in Court of Muslim-Led Governments to Fight Terrorism

Eric Trager, The Washington Institute for Near East Studies, May 21, 2017

Most important was Trump’s willingness to point to the ideology of Islamism as the enemy. This matters exceedingly for, just as a physician must first identify a medical problem before treating it, so a strategist must identify the enemy before defeating it. To talk about “evildoers,” “terrorists,” and “violent extremists” is to miss the enemy’s Islamic core.

‘This Wasn’t a Speech About Islam’

Mustafa Akyol and Wajahat Ali, The New York Times, May 21, 2017

I’m not a naïve, wide-eyed idealist and I didn’t drink the Halal Kool aid. I knew the bar was exceedingly low, so all Trump would have to do is stay on script, not say anything egregiously offensive and it would be considered an “improvement.” Which it was.  Mustafa Akyol: … I agree that it definitely did not come out as advertised…. This was a more modest, narrow and pragmatic speech, mostly appealing to Muslim leaders — in fact, only Sunni ones — for more cooperation against terrorism. But given Mr. Trump’s earlier views on Islam, it could have been worse!

 

Is America on track to be the Great Satan again?

Is America on track to be the Great Satan again?

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This week I published an essay in The Japan Times about the perception some have of America as a Great Satan. This piece explores the nomination of Donald Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, the largest oil company in the world. Is this a sign of a Trump administration embrace of corporatization of foreign policy? I’ve always been troubled by too much top-down, for-profit focus in American foreign policy. This was the subject of my first book, Propaganda, Inc.: Selling America’s Culture to the World.

Marketing Peace: Japan’s Brand

I published a commentary this week in The Japan Times that explores the use of marketing tools and techniques to “sell” the most wanted concept in our lives: global peace. I participated in the 2016 World Business for World Peace conference in Hiroshima October 14-15, which inspired this article.

Can the ultimate marketing campaign sell peace?

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Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui and Dr. Nancy Snow, March 2016