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.

TMG Yuriko Koike Tokyo Foreign Press Briefing, Two Years From Tokyo 2020

Tokyo 2020, the heat is on. We may associate the North African city of Cairo with some of the world’s hottest temperatures, but on Monday, July 23, Japan’s capital recorded a temperature of 39 degrees Celsius (102 degrees Fahrenheit), one degree higher than the Egyptian capital. With 38 reported heat-related deaths in Tokyo alone this month, it was a tough day to present an optimistic picture of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games that officially begin on July 24, 2020.

Despite Japan’s hottest day of the year, Koike resonated cool confidence, beginning her remarks by cajoling those present to donate our old mobile phones to the Tokyo 2020 Medals Project for use in manufacturing Olympic medals for the Summer Olympics. “Even the mobile phone that you are using is okay,” she joked. The goal is 100 percent recycled content, a first, but the first question wasn’t about where we deposit our old hardware. It was about the weather elephant in the room. With the extreme temperatures outside, she admitted that Japan and Tokyo have felt like “being in a sauna,” but that the New Tokyo would be ready, even if the Olympic Marathon has to start in the early morning hours or low heat-emitting pavement must be used to resurface the roads.

Koike proclaimed the city formerly known as Old Edo the New Tokyo, three cities in one. As she explained to the Cairo Review in 2017:  “I want Tokyo to be a safe city where people feel more secure, more at ease, and can live more vibrant lives; a diverse city where everyone can actively participate in society and lead fulfilling lives; and a smart city that is open to the world, and a leader in the fields of the environment, international finance, and business.”

The Tokyo-based organization, Lawyers for LGBT and Allies Network (LLAN), would like to see Koike further her 2017 statement in support of holding a national discussion on marriage equality. When I asked her if she would promote such a discussion now in order to make Tokyo 2020 the most inclusive and LGBT-friendly Games in Olympics history, she referenced the Olympic Charter, which has condemned anti-LGBT bias as part of its Non-Discrimination Principle. Japan remains the only country among the G7 industrialized nations to not yet introduce a same-sex marriage or same-sex partnership system at the state or national level.

It’s just 24 short months to go and this is a city whose existing charms are already on full display to the world. Anthony Bourdain famously said that if he were stuck in one city forever, he’d choose Tokyo. In 2017 Tokyo was ranked “most livable” by British-based Monocle magazine. The Economist Intelligence Unit ranked it number one among fifty in its Safe Cities Index of 2015. But a mega city of global charms with a renowned mayor must prepare for all scenarios. A reporter from Bangladesh asked about terrorism, a jolt to the senses when just minutes earlier we were being shown a slide of the super kawaii Tokyo 2020 mascots Miraitowa and Someity, selected by school children across Japan.

Koike, an award-winning journalist turned politician, is fully aware of another heat yet to come: the global media spotlight and the eyes of the world. With so much high regard for the city, she knows that just one bad situation—athletes delayed by transportation or overcome by heat exhaustion—and the revenue in global goodwill will evaporate.

“Since becoming Tokyo’s first female governor two years ago, I have pursued a grand reform of Tokyo. With this grand reform, I aim to put the citizens of Tokyo first.” This includes using Tokyo “as an example of a model society, one capable of helping to solve global issues.” This putting-people-first strategy includes recruiting 110,000 Games and City Volunteers to help everything run smoothly during the Olympics (July 24-August 9) and Paralympics (August 25-September 6).

With so many people involved, what can possibly go wrong?

O Little Town and Great Big Wall

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I first sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in the children’s choir at Bon Air Methodist Church in Richmond, Virginia. Along with other favorite Christmas songs like “Away in a Manger” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” my awareness of Bethlehem was strong from a young age. I knew it as the place where Jesus was born. As a Christian, the images of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus and the Church of the Nativity were powerful enough that they made me want to pay a visit to this holy place. I finally got my chance in June when I was visiting Palestine.

Jordan had control of Bethlehem until 1967 when Israel retained control after its victory in the Six-Day War. Bethlehem was returned by Israel in 1995 to the Palestinian National Authority in accordance with the Oslo peace accord. Today Bethlehem is fully controlled by Palestine, but there exists a major eyesore to tourists–the Israeli West Bank barrier or security wall that the Israeli military built during the Second Intifada.

This barrier is often called an Apartheid Wall or Apartheid Fence. I just call it a wall. It is definitely not a fence. When I was with my driver in Bethlehem, he made a point to show me the art and graffiti. The Wall is now a stain on a united holy land, but also a tourist attraction to the millions of religious pilgrims who visit Bethlehem each year, especially at Christmas. You cannot visit Bethlehem without simultaneously confronting religion and politics, as I experienced with my taxi driver:

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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!

Palestine: A Place To Call Home

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Ben Gurion Airport (TLV)

On Tuesday, June 19, 2018, it would have been my mother’s 98th birthday. I chose this day for my outbound flight from Tokyo Narita to Tel Aviv, Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport via Seoul Incheon, as my honor to her memory, since I like to think of her traveling around the world with me. She was supportive, although a bit concerned, with my first visit to the Middle East in 2011. That invitation was from the Dean of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy to teach two sections of a graduate course in “Marketing Foreign Policy” at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, a private Jewish university just outside Tel Aviv. In 2018, I was invited to lecture at the first international conference of the Policy and Conflict Resolution Studies Center at the Arab American University, the first private Palestinian university located in Ramallah and Jenin, West Bank.

Getting invited to lecture in Israel or Palestine is an honor. But trying to explain your acceptance of such invitations can take a little explaining. People want you to have binary thinking about Israel and Palestine. They want you to choose a side, either pro-Israel or anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian or anti-Palestinian. In sports, it’s like saying that you love the Boston Red Soxs and the New York Yankees. That’s incomprehensible. In the case of Israel and Palestine, it’s beyond sports rivalries. If only it were that simple. In the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations, politics is a bloody sport, so if I have to choose, I’ll choose life, humanity, and people. And people like to have a place called home.

Right now there is no state, a permanent home, for the Palestinian people. They remain a stateless people living under occupation in the Palestinian Territories. Palestinian territories or Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are terms often used to describe the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, which are occupied or otherwise under the control of Israel. The world’s majority supports a Palestinian state that can thrive next to the 70-year-old state of Israel.  I hope that I will see this come to fruition.

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My Room View from Grand Park Hotel in Ramallah

To arrive to Palestine, you usually go through Israel, as I did when I landed at Ben Gurion Airport. The trip was quite long–a few hours from Tokyo to Seoul, short layover, and then a 12-hour nonstop to Tel Aviv. An early morning departure at 09:00 placed me in TLV at a little before 21:00. My driver was Palestinian with an Israeli car tag (IL), which gave him authority to pick me up at the airport. Palestinian car tags (P) are not allowed.  When I arrived, I saw my name “Nancy Snow” taped on the barrier that separates international arrivals from the people waiting. I went straight to my sign but there was no driver. So I taped the sign to me and waited for him to arrive. In a few minutes, there he was and off went. Now I thought it might get very exciting, but I was a bit too tired to be worried. I knew that we would have to leave the state of Israel and enter the OPT. But all that I noticed on my 45-minute drive was an empty checkpoint and a series of speedbumps, along with groups of Arab men sitting on chairs in front of businesses and homes. It was all quite peaceful and quiet. My ultimate destination was Ramallah, where I stayed at the Grand Park Hotel for the next four nights. My room was spacious and welcoming. The television had over 3,000 international films on demand, including Pretty Woman. I began to imagine a funny essay I’d write called “Julia Roberts is still young in Ramallah.”

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Desk Space at Grand Park Hotel

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Good Rest is Essential

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Image of Richard Gere in “Pretty Woman”

Air New Zealand and Nation Branding

National airlines are major contributors (and detractors) from a nation’s brand image. Consider the 4-star Air New Zealand. Its award-winning airsafety videos are cheeky, humorous, and drenched in unconventional celebritydom. Let’s take a look:

Filmed at Warner Bros. Studio in Los Angeles.

As the official airline of Middle-earth, Air New Zealand has gone all out to celebrate the third and final film in The Hobbit Trilogy – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

The All Blacks’ video was created in association with Sony Pictures.

Betty White — Safety Old School Style

Golden Girl Betty White proves age is just a number as she gives us the old school version of Air New Zealand’s in-flight safety.

Let Richard Simmons get you fit to fly. Lose the baggage, fasten your safety belt, take a breather and let’s GO!

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!