Weekly Passport: Polarizing Politics, Apocalyptic Art, & Social Stars in Washington

1. Alone in Aone

Photograph: Sasaki/The Washington Post
Photograph: Sasaki/The Washington Post

50 miles outside the vast city scape of Tokyo lies Aone, a small mountain village. The principle of the Aone elementary school watches over a mere six kids, a vast contrast from her experience as vice-principle of over 900 students. This tiny village is one of many in Japan where the average age is 62. The youth of Japan flock to the urban setting of Tokyo for more opportunity, with almost a this of the country’s population living there. Japan faces a rapidly aging society, which leaves children in shrinking schools with little to no options. Being a tech-driven society, the idea of joint classrooms with neighboring schools via virtual lessons has become a focus of small schools such as the one in Aone.

“If schools follow government-approved curriculums, some activities can only be done in a [bigger] group. IT can be a way to create a bigger group of children and have them be more active.”


2. Us vs. Them

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The intricacies of American politics can be polarizing, especially when it comes to personal ideology. In a country with the freedom to express yourself culturally and religiously, Americans sometimes pin all their values and ambitions onto political figures belonging to one of two parties. In an opinion piece for TheWeek.com, author Damen Linker describes the dangers of boiling politics down to “Us” or “Them”:

The consequences are more than a little worrying — with each victory by one side energizing and intensifying the antagonism and aversion of the other side. “No, that’s not me! That’s not who I am! That’s not how I see America!” In that vaguely ominous way, our electoral system is conspiring with our cultural divisions to produce ever-greater discord and mutual antagonism. 


3. Apocalyptic Art

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Photograph: Bass Museum of Art

Miami Beach faces a major impending crisis with sea levels on the rise. Sinkholes and out-of-control flooding causing massive construction sites (not to mention headache-inducing traffic) in a city packed with tourists. Local Miami Beach artists Reed van Brunschot and Francisca Twiggs teamed up with the Bass Museum of Art to display an installation calling attention to climate change and the rising sea-levels in the form of a Walgreens store window. Their work, It’s like the River, De Nile (on display until June 30th), features an “apocalyptic scene” where “everyday objects like a basketball and a plastic chair are strewn alongside seaside junk like empty bottles and discarded beach umbrellas.”

“It was important to us that we present a daunting topic in a more commercial and visually appealing way,” says Twiggs, “after all, it is a commercial window. We didn’t want the idea to become too abstracted and lose its theatricality. This was a way to present a seemingly scary topic in a lighter way as a means to educate the viewer/consumer and create a dialogue.”


4. Cold War Tensions

US military jet in Estonia. Photograph: Associated Press
US military jet in Estonia. Photograph: Associated Press

After the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, the US has diverted forces to Estonia in response to nervous NATO allies and their distrust of Russia. While some believe these exercises to be a dangerous gamble (what if an over-eager captain jumps the gun, so to speak), those in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are happy to see American military in their countries. The numbers of US troops station in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are nowhere near as high as they were at the height of the Cold War, however their presence alone creates a sensitive situation in a sensitive area.

“They [Russia] want to intimidate the Baltic states, Poland, Ukraine and Romania, country after country. And the question is, do you let the bully get away with that or do you stand up and say ‘no, you can threaten, but we will not allow you to run over us’?”


5. Voluntourism Douchery

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International volunteering can be a complicated thing. Feelings of frustration, satisfaction, hopelessness, and pride fuse together to form an intricate and unique experience for those who take a trip to help abroad. Volunteerism, however, is more often than not slanted towards the making the helper feel better about themselves while not really helping the community they set out to “save.” End Humanitarian Douchery sets out to reverse this system by teaching those about to set out on a service trip about the importance of research, practical impact, and service seen from eye-level rather than top-down. By addressing the problems of the service industry with their Seven Sins of Humanitarian Douchery, millennial founders Christina Guan and Kaelan McNeill hope to change perceptions about the western approach to service work.

Knowing they probably weren’t the only ones hesitant about committing big bucks to a programme that may not be helping, they’re aiming to crack down on irresponsible voluntourism by spreading the word about what separates a good placement from a bad placement.


6.  Teenage Empathy

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Studies linking the development of empathy to teenage years have been presented, changing the belief that empathy is cemented during childhood. As empathy continues to grow through adolescence, it can bring about a decrease in aggressiveness and lead to less conflicts between the teenager and their parents.

Low-empathy teens tend to become less empathetic from early to mid-adolescence, perhaps because conflict makes them less sensitive, says the study, led by Caspar Van Lissa, a researcher at Utrecht University, Netherlands. Teens high in empathy tend to develop better skills.


 7. Social Stars go to Washington

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Every year, the White House welcomes guests of every celebrity stature at the White House correspondents dinner. While the guest list traditionally includes easy to recognize actors and musicians, the Huffington Post has changed up their invitees this year to include stars of the social media world. They may not be immediately recognizable, but they hold “celeb” power based on followers/retweets/regrams/etc. Some of these guests include Sarah Koenig of the cult hit podcast Serial, Napster creator and former Facebook president Sean Parker, and twitter famous astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson.

“There’s a new power center, ” [Ariana] Huffington says. “People whose names you might not have heard of have tremendous power — and we want to know them.”


 8.  Wireless Weakness

United Airlines

Cyber security researcher Chris Roberts made the mistake of tweeting about the fact that he could easily hack into United Airlines onboard computer system and cause the oxygen masks to deploy. When he then attempted to board one of their planes this past Saturday, he was stopped by corporate security and stripped of all his electronics. Roberts has spent recent weeks discussing airline computer safety and the vulnerability that is exposed with the addition of onboard wifi.

“Quite simply put, we can theorize on how to turn the engines off at 35,000 feet and not have any of those damn flashing lights go off in the cockpit.”


 9.  Solving the European Migrant Crisis

Photograph: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
Photograph: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

A recent tragedy off the coast of Italy bought about the death of about 800 migrants attempting to get into Europe from various countries. When the former fishing trawler lost balance and began to capsize, migrants on the two lower levels of the ship began to panic, some running for the top of the ship, others jumping off. Only 27 people survived. The Guardian looks at the root of Europe’s current migrant increase and breaks down the ways in which this could be quelled, if not solved. Their list includes Reinstate Search-and-Rescue, Agree on Standardized EU Asylum Rules, Deal with Lybia, Improve Conditions in Transit Countries, Tackle the Smugglers, Speed Up Visa/Asylum Processing Times, Establish More Legal Routes in Europe, Establish Transit Camps in Africa, and, most importantly, Deal with the Root Causes.

…EU policymakers face a tangled knot of “push factors” – war, economic crisis, political repression and environmental degradation. They also need to deal with the “pull factors” – the muddle of disparate EU policy approaches that encourage migrants to take their chances.


 10.  Revoking an Eye for an Eye

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Ameneh Bahrami is sadly one of many victims of acid attacks on women. After turning down a suitor a few times, the suitor ambushed Ameneh and poured a bucket of acid over her head, blinding and disfiguring her. She fought for the right to use Iran’s eye-for-an-eye legal policy, and after seven years, she was granted the right to blind her attacker in one of his eyes using controlled drops of acid. When she arrived at the hospital to be present for the procedure, she shocked everyone by telling them to stop, and that she forgives her attacker.

I am an optimist. I compare myself to my brother, who committed suicide months ago: I was the one who was attacked and lost her eyes, but it was my brother who became depressed and lost his enthusiasm for life. I used to tell him that if I had his eyes I would go out to see the beauties of the world. All the sorrows I have endured have empowered me.


“Weekly Passport” is a series curated by Everyday Ambassador writer Victoria Freyre. Every Tuesday, we will post a round-up of meaningful media tidbits and Everyday Ambassador must-reads. To stay current with our latest edition, follow #weeklypassport on our other platforms, and check back for updates.



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