Feb 17

Cracking the North Korea Puzzle

I want to thank Dr. Mel Gurtov for the following guest post:

Donald Trump inherits an intractable problem in Asia: North Korea’s determination to modernize its weapons arsenal and, absent a better deal from the United States, continue working toward an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability. The North’s latest missile test—one with intermediate range of perhaps 2,000 miles—should be understood in the context of weapons modernization. According to the US Pentagon, the test represented progress for North Korea in several respects: it was a ground-based launch rather than a submarine launch; it used solid fuel technology; and it flew farther than other IRBM tests, the four most recent ones having all failed at launching.

Over the past year, North Korea has carried out over 25 ballistic missile tests and conducted its fifth nuclear-weapon test as well. All these tests are in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions that ban and condemn them. Each resolution has led to harsher sanctions, but sanctions have had little if any effect on Pyongyang’s behavior or rhetoric. Even China’s criticisms, which have grown more severe in recent years, have not moved North Korea to change course. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/02/cracking-the-north-korea-puzzle/

Feb 15

Love, hate and novels

When I talk about globalization in my introductory class, it’s common for my students to think immediately of economic globalization, rather than other aspects such as cultural globalization. Yet to be a global citizen entails making connections between our worlds and that of others, and one of the best forms to do this is through music, art and literature, which make an emotional tie to other cultures. I recommend this interview with Indonesian author Eka Kurniawan, in this article “The Profound Reason we should all Read Internationally, not Locally.”

Shawn Smallman, 2017

Permanent link to this article: http://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/02/international-literature/

Feb 01

The Danger to you of Bitcoin

One of the great mysteries of the 21st century is the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin. While his creation of the blockchain and a new cryptocurrency was an immense achievement, Bitcoin itself is only one of a diverse array of emerging currencies. Still, when I taught my Digital Globalization course last winter, I learned from my students that in my city (Portland, Oregon) there was an ATM at the local mall (Pioneer Place) where you could convert Bitcoins to cash, bars where you could buy your drinks in Bitcoin, and even apartments were you could use it to pay your rent. The reason for this rapid adoption has been the many promises that Bitcoin makes. Need to send money? There is no need for Western Union. Are you concerned about the security of banks? Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are not a fiat currency (created by a sovereign government) and hence beyond the reach of the Federal Reserve or the banks. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/02/bitcoins-perils/

Jan 25

Innovation and hope in Europe

Europe is currently facing myriad challenges, including a wave of migration from the Middle East and Europe, bank debt in Italy, the enduring financial problems of Greece, as well as Brexit. Still, at the heart of many of these challenges has been the deep economic inequalities between Europe’s north and south. A better understanding of these differences can be gained from these maps of “Innovation in Europe” in the Washington Post. What I like is that these maps not only break down innovation to the regional level, to show that the differences within countries are as profound as those between them, but also that it shows how the level of innovation has changed (and declined) in the recent past.
Shawn Smallman, 2017

Permanent link to this article: http://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/01/map-of-innovation-in-europe-draft/

Jan 14

One life, Suffering and Pīnyīn

This letter written by Mi Fei. By 米芾(べい ふつ、1051年 - 1107年、中国の北宋末の文学者・書家・画家) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This letter written by Mi Fei. By 米芾(べい ふつ、1051年 – 1107年、中国の北宋末の文学者・書家・画家) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The New York Times today has a magnificent article by Margalit Fox, “Zhou Youguang, Who Made Writing Chinese as Simple as ABC, dies at 111.” I’ve been studying Mandarin for a year now, and like all new learners I am using Pīnyīn. Zhou Youguang led the effort to create Pīnyīn, the romanization system that allows Chinese to be written without characters. There were other previous efforts to create an alphabet for Chinese, but after the Chinese government adopted Hànyǔ Pīnyīn, all the others quickly fell out of favor.

What struck me about the article, whoever, was less Zhou Youguang’s intellectual achievement in helping to create Pīnyīn, but rather the breadth of his life. Here is someone who lost a daughter to appendicitis during the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, and who was sent to the fields to harvest crops during the Cultural Revolution. Yet he published ten books after the age of 100.

While remarkable, Zhou Youguang was not unique. The Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer continued to design major buildings well after he turned a 100. And the Brazilian poet Cora Coralina was born in 1889 (the year the Brazilian empire ended, and one year after the abolition of slavery) but did not publish her first book until 1965. Of course she had been writing for most of her life, but she flourished after this book was published at the age of 76. Without question, she is one of Brazil’s canonical poets. Our culture celebrates youth, including in academia. Forbes has a “30 under 30 list” of young entrepreneurs; literary competitions seek to identify new talent; mathematicians who turn 30 begin to wonder if their best years are behind them. And yet, some of the world’s most insightful and creative poets, thinkers, and designers do their best work in their senior years. How much talent is lost because people assume that older people can no longer be creative?

Cora Coralina described a deep personal change when she turned 50, which she described as a “loss of fear.” Similarly, Zhou Youguang became a well known critic of the Chinese government, whose age made him almost untouchable. For these thinkers, there was a freedom that came with time, which enabled them to speak truth to power, and to create work without worrying what others thought. Zhou Youguang’s father served in the last Chinese dynasty, and he lived through the Second Sino-Japanese war. Out of a life that knew suffering he crafted a new writing system, which has helped hundreds of millions of people learn Mandarin. May we all remember what is possible if we have the good fortune to have a long life, and the wisdom not to see aging as only a loss.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/01/one-life-suffering-and-pinyin/

Jan 02

Corruption in the Venezuelan Military

By Sparkve (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Please note the territory in red, which belongs to Guyana but is claimed by Venezuela. In 2015 Exxon discovered oil in this region.

Topographic map of Venezuela. By Sparkve (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Please note the territory in red, which belongs to Guyana but is claimed by Venezuela. In 2015 Exxon discovered oil in this region.

Years ago I published an article on the history of military corruption in Brazil. In many ways, this was a more challenging topic to investigate than my dissertation work on military terror. In Brazil the military has long defined its role as being the “nation’s savior,” which it has used to justify its intervention in civilian affairs. At the same time, officers have publicly denounced the corruption of civilian politicians. Nonetheless, the armed forces themselves suffered from corruption, which even became so severe as to undermine their capability during military operations, such as during the 1912 campaign against a millenarian movement in southern Brazil. At first such corruption was typically confined to procurement. During President Vargas’s Estado Novo in the 1930s, however, the military became deeply involved in economic development. And the more engaged in economic affairs it grew, the more corruption spread within it. This corruption took place not only to benefit particular generals, but also to create networks of patronage on behalf of military factions. By the 1950s, the shared economic interests of civilians and generals permitted military factions to evolve into true political parties that had allies outside the institution. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/01/corruption-in-the-venezuelan-military/

Jan 01

Why they must flee to the forest

Macaw in the Amazon, taken by Shawn Smallman

Macaw in the Amazon, taken by Shawn Smallman

I’ve written before about how there aren’t truly “uncontacted tribes” in Amazonia, but rather refugees from a long history of slave-raiding, disease, missionary work, and development. Partly for this reason, the term now used in Amazonia for these populations is “Isolated Peoples.” This term makes clear that these peoples are separated from the dominant culture by choice, rather than only because they live in some pristine environment preserved from contact. For some nation-states, particularly Peru, the existence of these peoples has sometimes been controversial, because they limit the state and corporations’ ability to extract resources from Amazonia. Still, there are Isolated Peoples remaining in Latin America and elsewhere; Amazonia likely has more than any other region of the world.

Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/01/isolated-peoples/

Dec 14

The law, hope and pot in Canada

By Cannabis Training University (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Cannabis Training University (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Currently, only Spain and Uruguay have legalized marijuana at the national level. Now Canada is about to as well, which has launched a national policy debate. The issues involved are complex, as we’ve seen in the U.S. states that have legalized marijuana: Should edibles be legal, and if so should there be restrictions on their appearance so that children don’t eat them? What should the age of legal use be? Should people be able buy pot through the mail, or should it be restricted to government run shops? What should the tax regime be?

What is certain is that a roughly $9 billion Canadian industry is emerging from the shadows, and that major corporate interests wish to engage. For a good summary of the issues involved, it’s worth watching the first 6 minutes of Canada’s most-respected news program, the National, for December 13, 2016. Please be warned that a 30 second advertisement may play before you can view the news report. Whatever happens in the United States under the new administration, Canada is unlikely to be the last country to legalize pot.

Shawn Smallman, 2016

Permanent link to this article: http://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/12/the-law-hope-and-pot-in-canada/

Dec 06

Maps, surprise and the globe

Danny Dorling has a great TED talk that shows how data can be used to create maps that change how we perceive our world, called “Maps that show us who we are (not just where we are).” The maps convey information about migration, population, demographic change, trade, water, food production, and history, in about a 14 minute video. I think that this video would be a great resource for an introductory class, to show how maps are tools, and are always based on assumptions.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/12/maps-surprise-and-the-globe/

Dec 05

Conspiracy Theories and Murder

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President of Argentina in her role as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, carrying a Rechkemmer. Presidencia de la Nación Argentina [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President of Argentina in her role as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, carrying a Rechkemmer. Presidencia de la Nación Argentina [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

On January 18, 2015, Natalio Alberto Nisman was found dead with a single bullet shot to his right temple. Nisman was the lead investigator in a 1994 terrorist attack on a Jewish Community Center in Argentina. He had been scheduled to address the Argentine Congress the following day, to denounce the President’s actions related to the investigation. His death unleashed a media firestorm, as opponents of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner argued that he had been assassinated, while her supporters advanced their own conspiracy theory, which pointed the blame for his death at the nation’s security services.

Academics dislike conspiracy theories, which are typically omitted in social science theory classes, even though they are far more influential than the theories of Gramsci, Weber and Durkheim. There are many reasons for academics’ distrust of these theories, not the least of which is their historical association with political and ethnic persecution. At the same time, conspiracy theories are true “theories,” in that they provide an overarching framework for understanding the world. While they don’t have foundational writers, they also have their texts. They also emerge from the folk and not from intellectuals, and accordingly provide insight into popular attitudes, beliefs and fears. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/12/conspiracy-theories-and-murder/

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