Turning our back on “the most important product of American culture”

Here’s Nicholas Kristof on the role Americans should play in China:

Nicholas_Kristof_on_Ai_Weiwei

Here’s a counterpoint from Chris Johns, Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic magazine, who evidently considers it a virtue to be a consistent advocate of nothing:

In a world full of shrill voices and agendas, we at National Geographic are committed to an unbiased presentation of facts. … It’s what we’ve been doing [at National Geographic] for more than 120 years. 

This “unbiased” stuff is nonsense, of course. National Geographic has always had a bias — a predisposition either for or against something.

The only thing that’s changed in the past 15 years is that National Geographic would have once stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Ai Weiwei and Nicholas Kristof. But now we go to Beijing and do stuff like this:

Chris & Terry shake hands with our Society’s new publishing partners in the People’s Republic of China (2007).

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson shake hands with our Society’s new publishing partners in the People’s Republic of China (2007).

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate with our new publishing partners (2007).

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate with our Society’s new publishing partners in the People’s Republic of China (2007).

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson stand tall with our new publishing partners in China (2007).

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson stand tall with our new publishing partners in China (2007).

Ai_Weiwei_quote_photo_Beware_of_Images

John Fahey National Geographic

Why the “green economy” can be a death sentence for poor people in the developing world

Green_economy_sustainable_quote_UN_Guernica

That quote echoes very familiar themes: sustainable development… scarcity… environmental risk… economy for the future. Say those words aloud, and you’re practically reading from the National Geographic playbook, with its noble goal “to inspire people to care about the planet.”

But here’s why a laser focus on all things Green — especially climate change — is becoming a life-threatening problem, at least for poor people who live in the global south:

Guernica_modern_tragedy_commons

If you read only one article
about climate change and the environment this year

(and there are only a few days left)
read this one.
It’s an eye-opener. 

You can find the whole piece here.

_____

Dear John:
What are your thoughts
about this environmental dilemma?

John Fahey National Geographic

Related post: Befriending Thugs Who Love The Planet
(OR: Save the trees & to hell with democracy)

“Let your project go”

“Working against the very cause of freedom
is something that you need to approach very delicately….”

The Society’s project
once meant championing the very cause of freedom:

NGMcover_June1945_Ike_letter

Thomas Jefferson, Architect of Freedom

NGM, February 1976

NGM September 1987

NGM September 1987

But then we let The Project go:

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate NGM's new publishing partnership in the People's Republic of China. (2007)

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate NGM’s new publishing partnership in the People’s Republic of China. (2007)

Ai_Weiwei_quote_photo_Beware_of_Images

John Fahey National Geographic

_____

Related posts:
The Elephant in The Room
Befriending Thugs Who Love The Planet
Adventures In Global Media
Thugs, Oppression, Global Media & Democracy

Yu Jie, John Fahey & “the frontiers… we must protect”

TO: John Fahey, Chairman & CEO of the National Geographic Society
RE: Taking your own words seriously

Did you see this news item?

{ Read the whole article here. }

Given your recent public statements about freedom of expression and the First Amendment

… don’t you think Yu Jie’s online project is a perfect fit for the National Geographic Society?

After all, Yu Jie:

We have some great ideas about how National Geographic could become a partner in Yu Jie’s project, which will not only help Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, but will also help you build a secure and sustainable future for the National Geographic Society.

If you’re interested in learning more, please get in touch, or let us know in the comments below.

Free speech is dying in China… but, hey, isn’t that a lovely photo of a cloud?

{ Read the whole thing here. }
____

For those media executives who are willing to play ball,
a different dream lives on: 

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate NGM’s new publishing partnership in the People’s Republic of China. (2007)

Front page of ngmchina.com.cn (People’s Republic of China), September 14, 2012

_____

Political Prisoners in the People’s Republic of China (2010)

Happy July 4th!

Democracy is not a spectator sport.”

Tank Man, uncropped

_____
≡  via i.minus.com  

“‘Tell the world,’ they said to us….”

Then:

From "China's Youth Wait for Tomorrow," National Geographic magazine, July 1991

Now:

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate NGM's new publishing partnership in the People's Republic of China. (2007)

 

Losing our way in China

At a party last weekend, I had a fascinating conversation with a senior National Geographic executive about the relationship between our Society’s support for science — and our Society’s apparent lack of interest in democracy, especially in China.

His view (paraphrased): Science is central to National Geographic’s mission; democracy is not.

I disagreed, citing National Geographic’s (forgotten) history. A few days later, I sent him this 2006 story from The New York Times about Chinese physicist Xu Liangying. Dr. Xu has long embraced Albert Einstein’s dictum that freedom, especially freedom of speech, is a prerequisite for scientific progress.

By championing the cause of freedom in China, Dr. Xu has paid a very high price; by ignoring the cause of freedom in China, National Geographic gets access to a huge new market for cheetah pictures, but fundamentally undermines the future of our society — and our Society.

The story of Xu Liangying is well worth reading, especially on the June 4th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

… If he is not the oldest living Chinese dissident, he is easily one of the most intellectually distinguished, the author of some 200 papers and editor of a half-dozen books. The historian H. Lyman Miller called him an “archetypal figure” in his book “Science and Dissent in Post-Mao China.” The adjective “venerable” seems to attach itself to him the way snow is attracted to the mountains, but he does not seem to have lost an ounce of rebelliousness. …

The love affair between Dr. Xu, who was born in Linhai, Zhejiang, in 1920, and Einstein began when Dr. Xu was in secondary school and read a collection of Einstein’s essays called “The World as I See It.” The book had as much politics as science.

In one passage that the young Xu underlined, Einstein wrote: “The state is made for man, not man for the state. I regard the chief duty of the state to protect the individual and give him the opportunity to develop into a creative personality.”

Dr. Xu said, “I wanted to be such a person.” …

In January 1989, Dr. Xu’s friend Fang Lizhi, an astrophysicist, wrote an open letter calling for the release of political prisoners. That was too limited, Dr. Xu concluded. He and an old friend, Shi Yafeng, a geographer at the academy, then in February drafted their own letter calling for democracy. “We agreed that actually China needs political reform,” Dr. Xu said.

“They need political democracy and need to protect the rights of citizens, and there should be freedom of thinking, speaking and publishing,” he said, “and they need to end the long history of punishing people because of their words. China has such a history, which has lasted for thousands of years.” …

His letter was signed by 42 people, including many scientists.

It and Dr. Fang’s letter helped provide inspiration for students and others who swarmed Tiananmen Square in April 1989 to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang, a purged political activist, and then stayed to protest corruption and the lack of human rights. Many of them were wearing T-shirts that said 

“Science and Democracy,” watchwords of Chinese politics and aspirations since the early 20th century.

On June 4, Chinese troops invaded the square with tanks and killed hundreds of people. …

Dr. Xu is now retired. In 2001 his book “My Views: Xu Liangying’s Collection of Essays on Science, Democracy and Reason” was published by Mirror Books in Hong Kong. He and his wife, who works at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, are working together on a book about the history and theory of democracy.

“Science and democracy are separate concepts,” he said. “They are mutually supportive, but democracy is more fundamental.”

Despite their showy embrace of science, China’s present leaders have not won over Dr. Xu.

Jiang Zemin, who inherited power from Mr. Deng, earned Dr. Xu’s scorn in 1997 when he invoked Einsteinian relativity to justify China’s human rights record, saying democracy was a relative concept. “It’s just nonsense because, first, Einstein’s relativity principle is actually essentially emphasizing the absolute,” Dr. Xu said, referring to the notion that the laws of physics and speed of light are the same for all observers.

“And the other part is democracy and freedom are also absolute because human nature is universal and needs to pursue freedom and equality.”

Dr. Xu said he was optimistic that China’s future would embrace those qualities. He pointed out that when the student leader Wang Dan first tried to start a democracy salon in 1989, only 20 people showed up. But only half a year later, more than 3,000 people joined a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square.

“So I never doubt the power of the youth,” Dr. Xu said.

{ Read the whole thing here. }
_____

Meanwhile, at our Society:
Money for Chinese scientists …

… but not a word about democracy:

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate NGM's new publishing partnership in the People's Republic of China. (2007)

_____

“There should be freedom of thinking, speaking and publishing,” said Xu Liangying, “and they [China’s rulers] need to end the long history of punishing people because of their words.”

John Fahey National Geographic

“The blackness of a chilly winter night….”

Note the language used by the Egyptian judge:

CAIRO — An Egyptian judge on Saturday sentenced former President Hosni Mubarak to life in prison for the killing of unarmed demonstrators during the first six days of protests that ended his rule. …

Reading his decision, Judge Rafaat waxed poetic about Mr. Mubarak’s government and the uprising that ended it. Mr. Mubarak’s rule was “30 years of intense darkness — black, black, black, the blackness of a chilly winter night,” the judge declared, when officials “committed the gravest sins, tyranny and corruption without accountability or oversight as their consciences died, their feelings became numb and their hearts in their chests turned blind.”

“The peaceful sons of the homeland came out of every deep ravine with all the pain they experienced from injustice, heartbreak, humiliation and oppression,” he added. “Bearing the burden of their suffering on their shoulders, they moved peacefully toward Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt’s capital, demanding only justice, freedom and democracy.”

According the judge’s verdict, Mubarak is an “accessory to murder” in the killing of more than 240 demonstrators in the last six days of January 2011.

Here’s Zahi Hawass delivering a passionate and public defense of then-President Mubarak on February 6, 2011:

Which begs the question: Why is Zahi Hawass a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Emeritus — a title which is an honorific?

Wasn’t Zahi’s lack of honor the reason the Society removed him from our payroll in the first place?

John Fahey National Geographic

NO NEW POSTS will be published here after February 6, 2014. THIS IS WHY.