No Strategic Kangaroos: Postdoc opportunity in Australia

If you’re looking for the next opportunity after graduate school, and you are researching either Asian Security or Strategy and statecraft, then perhaps you’re interested in a postdoc at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Bell School, which is housed at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. You can view the jobs call here. The salary is good, ANU is an outstanding university, and it looks like you’d make interesting connections. Be warned though, Canberra is inland so there are no beaches. It does have the National Museum, the Canberra Deep Space Research center and lots of other cultural centers, since it’s the capital. Canberra is also a real college town. You should do this.

Shawn Smallman

Photo of Canberra by Social Estate on Unsplash

Research and parenting in Haiti: a podcast interview

I recently interviewed Prof. Marylynn Steckley about her experience researching food in Haiti for my podcast Dispatch 7. One experience that she talked about was being a mother in the field, and what it was like to give birth, to deal with inequality, and to address race while raising children. She also discussed how she had to deal emotionally with the fact that not only was she getting sick, but also her family was. I’ve long thought that one of the topics that we often avoid in International and Global Studies is personal health. If you go into the field in a relatively poor country for an extended period you are going to get sick. But graduate students are seldom warned of this, much less prepared for it, either practically or emotionally. Personally, I think that every graduate student leaving for a developing country should listen to the stories of someone like Dr. Steckley.

Marylynn’s son Jwasiys in Haiti

Although Marylynn works at Carleton University in Canada now, she was also my colleague for a year at Portland State University in the United States. During that year students flocked to her classes, in part because she had the ability to discuss complex and difficult issues with honesty and passion. In the interview she talked about her experience teaching a class on “Global Craft,” as an online course in experiential learning. In the course she brought together crafts people from around the world to talk about their expertise. Of course, most students at a public institution cannot pay many thousands of dollars for a carefully curated program abroad. As we also discuss in the podcast, some students have children, or disabilities, that limit their ability to travel abroad. But students can have an international experience that is still meaningful by learning from people in other countries. By the end of the interview I was envious that I hadn’t been able to take part in the class. Except for the Finnish showers. Hard no.

Marlynn’s daughter, Solette, with her friends Sarina and Fredjina

Want to hear more episodes from my podcast? You can find it here. The most popular episodes are Rosa David’s thoughts on how to apply to graduate school, Kim Brown’s discussion of tea, and Grace Dillon’s discussion of Indigenous Futurism. If you are interested in international careers, you might want to listen to this episode. Finally, for my Lusophone friends, you might like this Portuguese language episode.

Shawn Smallman

The warning signs in Hong Kong

In 2017 I traveled to Hong Kong to do research for a paper about the pandemic risks posed by wet markets (marketplaces which sold and slaughtered live animals). I traveled to wet markets large and small, and took notes on their practices and clientele. I also interviewed public health experts and doctors about the territories system to control avian influenza in poultry.

Card in a Shenzhen hotel, which explains China’s internet restrictions to guests. Sorry for the bad lighting. Photo by Shawn Smallman

While in Hong Kong, I also traveled to Macau and Shenzhen. When I crossed into mainland China, I was struck by the extent to which information was restricted. It’s one thing to know that China has a separate digital ecosystem. It’s another to no longer be able to use Google Maps, and to know that there’s no point in even trying to use a VPN to connect with websites at home. When I arrived in Shenzhen, I found this card in my hotel. You couldn’t access your files in Google Drive, check Twitter, watch a YouTube video, or see your kids’ posts on Instagram. The Great Firewall of China is  both pervasive and efficient.

While I was in Hong Kong, I also had an opportunity to talk to someone whom I greatly respected. At one point in our discussion they asked me “Do people see what is happening here in Hong Kong? Are they following what is happening here?” I said that no, in my opinion most Americans did not. In the United States people were focused on the new presidency of Donald Trump. She/he seemed very disappointed by my answer, and asked the same question again with slightly different wording. I gave the same answer. In 2017, I don’t think most Americans -and perhaps most Europeans- were carefully following what was happening in Hong Kong. That would change over the next year and a half. …

Taiwan, Australia, and COVID-19

 

Photo by Tommy on Unsplash

This year I am honored to be a Taiwan Fellow, and am planning to travel to National Taiwan University in Taipei, to work on a research project about how Taiwan used digital tools to control COVID-19. I say “planning” because Taiwan recently closed its borders. For over a year Taiwan had controlled the virus, which was ravaging the United States, Europe and South America. How did Taiwan do so well for so long, only for its public health efforts to unravel in the end?

Taiwan’s intelligence services notified the country’s leadership of an unusual outbreak in China relatively early in the COVID-19 outbreak. Taiwan quickly controlled its borders and notified other countries of the danger. It adopted digital tools to enforce quarantines and permit contact tracing. All travelers entered into quarantine hotels. This response worked, and Taiwan was free of sustained community transition for over a year.

Then -as in Australia- the system around quarantine hotels broke down. A local hotel by the airport wanted to find more customers. So they advertised that people could come to stay at their airport hotel, where people could watch the planes take off and land. They even advertised with financial support from local government. The people came and stayed. And then they left and went to museums, tea houses (brothels for an older clientele) and a masonic lodge meeting. Only later watching the local news did they find out that they had paid to stay at a quarantine hotel. While the people had not been hosted on the same floors as the air crews, they were in the same building. …

COVID-19, the Delta variant and “fleeting contact” in Australia

Few countries have done such a good job controlling COVID-19 as Australia, but now the nation is facing a significant test in Bondi. A driver (sometimes described as a bus driver, and sometimes as a “car-for-hire driver) worked shuttling air crews to quarantine hotels, as well as driving the general public. Even though he was a front-line worker, he was not vaccinated. He also seems to have had poor personal protective equipment (PPE). Unfortunately he was infected with COVID-19. While in the contagious phase he went to see a movie, visited a cafe twice, had lunch at a Japanese restaurant, and drove a large number of passengers.

What was most remarkable, however, was his visit to a mall in Bondi (Westfield Bondi Junction). In that mall, he appears to have infected people despite “fleeting contact” which was recorded on store cameras. There were a number of such cases. One woman was sitting outside at a cafe, where he was sitting indoors. Normally the risk of outdoor transmission is believed to be low. But she was infected. In another case he appears to have passed a shopper, in the briefest of interactions, which was captured on CCT cameras. But that person was infected. The old rules -fifteen minutes of contact is required for transmission; outdoor transmission is rare- don’t seem to apply in this case, which is causing some justified worry in Australia. People are lining up in their cars for testing.

Fortunately, people seem to have been isolating as asked, and wearing masks. As of today, there are still only eleven cases. Hopefully, this outbreak will be controlled. Health authorities are currently dealing with over a hundred exposure sites. One of the places people were exposed was on a bus. This incident raises this question: is the unusual pattern of spread the result of the new, more transmissible Delta variant, or was this something particular to this individual patient. Epidemiologists are discussing this question is multiple venues. Currently 3.2% of Australians are fully vaccinated.

Whatever the answer in this case, we may see more examples. As was the case with Taiwan, the critical failing was around quarantine hotels and air crews. All people who work in any respect with air crews (in nations without community transmission) need to be fully vaccinated. And the system for hotel quarantine needs to be improved. And more broadly, here in the US we are still far off our record for one day COVID-19 vaccinations, despite a slight uptick recently. People need to be vaccinated now, as the Delta variant is growing rapidly. Although it was originally thought that it would be the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the US as early as this August, it’s now looking as though that might happen as early this July. If you’re fully vaccinated, you have a good level of protection and don’t need to worry. If you’re not fully vaccinated, now is the time to do so.

Shawn Smallman, 2021

Mexican Gothic

Photo by Antonio Alcántara on Unsplash

Silvia Moreno-Garcia lives in Vancouver, Canada, but often writes novels set in Mexico, such as Gods of Jade and Shadow. In Mexican Gothic she tells the story of a socialite, Noemí, who is both frivolous and strong. When she is not eluding a besotted suitor or attending an elite social event, Noemí’s main ambition in life is to go college, which defies the roles allotted to a 1950’s Mexican woman. But in the opening chapter the family faces a crisis. Her cousin Catalina had married into a family that lived in a remote mountain village. After the wedding she began to make disturbing accusations about her husband. Noemí’s dad didn’t know the truth, and decided to dispatch his daughter to find out. If she would take on this task, he would fund her tuition. 

All Gothic novels are about the past intruding into the future. In this case, this is not only a Gothic novel, but also a post-colonial one. When Noemí arrives in the remote mountains, she soon begins to learn the family legacy that stains every aspect of the strange house. She hears about the mines, and the workers’s suffering. And she learns about the eugenics and racism of the family patriarch, an Anglo-Saxon grafted into Mexico’s mountains. The fact that Catalina’s husband is named Virgil is no accident. It’s no coincidence, as well, that Noemí finds help in an elderly woman and herbal doctor, who draws on the region’s botanical resources and Indigenous knowledge.

Despite its Mexican ambiance, while reading the work I soon wondered if the novel didn’t deliberately refer to a story by the 1930’s author of the fantastic and horror, H.P. Lovecraft. Without giving away too much away, part of the plot seemed to draw on a short story set in one particular house in Providence, which you can still walk by. A little digging let me know that not only had Moreno-Garcia written her thesis on Lovecraft’s work, but also that she named the character Howard in this novel after him. 

Besides evoking Lovecraft, Moreno-Garcia brilliantly describes the claustrophobia and menace that surrounded the house. The key element that defined this space was that it was unwelcoming, from the frigid dame who defined its rules, to the molding rooms within the house itself. The house itself became a character, with a sense of history that appealed to some characters, and menaced others. With its rich writing, odd characters, and tense climax, this book will please everyone who likes horror or Gothic novels. 

I now nominate the author to now write a series of novels drawing on Latin American folklore, which should include El Sombrerón, El Cuco, la Sayona, Amazonian dolphin spirits, as well as the sacred trail, Peabiru. And if Guillermo del Toro should read this blog, will you please option a movie based on this wonderful novel as quickly as possible?

My favorite fun fact about the novel: there is a paper doll kit for the main character on the Random House website. 

Shawn Smallman, 2021

Where things went right: Bhutan and COVID-19

Photo by Kinshuk Bose on Unsplash

After so much bad news about COVID-19 globally, it helps to hear about a place that managed to vaccinate its entire population. Bhutan not only did so, but this remarkable job was done in weeks. Fortunately, this task was completed before the Delta variant of COVID-19 washed over both India and Nepal. But the story of this vaccination campaign -which was timed based on the advice of astrologers and guidance from monks- is a remarkable one, as is Bhutan’s health care system. I want to thank Paula Heimberg, a doctor who volunteered in Bhutan, for this interview in my podcast, Dispatch 7.

Shawn Smallman

Dispatch 7 podcast: a new episode on Post-revolutionary Iran

Robert Asaadi is my colleague at Portland State University, and an amazing teacher, who has won teaching awards in both the Political Science and International and Global Studies department. He recently talked with me about Post-revolutionary Iran, and the future of US-Iranian relations. He also touched on many other topics, including the key question: what are some key Iranian dishes that we should try? You can listen to the episode here. I am trying to move to a more consistent episode schedule, in which I post episodes every second Friday. In upcoming episodes I’ll be talking with doctors. One doctor will discuss COVID-19 in Bhutan (it’s nice to hear good news), while a Brazilian doctor will discuss COVID-19 in their country, including Amazonia. Many thanks to my producer, Paige, not only for all the sound-editing, but also for helping me to get on a schedule.

Shawn Smallman, 2021

Photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash

The strange trip from Chronic Fatigue to long COVID

Every pandemic leaves in its wake people who survived, but were changed by their infection. The most famous example of this is likely encephalitis lethargica, which famously reduced some people to living in a near coma after they survived the 1918 influenza pandemic. For decades some people have been arguing that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (and perhaps chronic Lyme disease) are also caused by viruses and bacteria, which cause immense but hidden damage in the body. These sequelae endure after the initial infection subsides. Over the last several months many people who were infected by COVID-19 have developed long COVID, a syndrome that remains a medical mystery. One of my favorite new podcasts is Unexplainable, which looks at scientific mysteries. Their recent episode, “The Viral Ghosts of Long COVID” paints an unsettling picture of this disorder. The podcast begins with someone describing the long term effects of their Ebola infection, which closely resemble the symptoms reported by COVID survivors. Many people now wonder whether more research on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome earlier might not have made us better prepared to face this new challenge now.

Shawn Smallman

The odd reasons for Taiwan’s COVID-19 outbreak

I am fortunate to be a Taiwan Fellow this fall. I plan to study Taiwan’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak at National Taiwan University starting this September, where I am being hosted by the global health program. I just received my visa to travel to Taiwan last week. Unfortunately, there is currently a growing outbreak in Taipei. I first heard of it last week, when I was talking with my conversational partner in Taiwan. At that time, she said that the outbreak was still relatively small, as it involved perhaps thirty individuals. But this morning I had an email and a text -the latter of which was sent to everyone who recently received a visa- to say that Taiwan is halting all travel to the island, except for residents. I am hopeful that Taiwan will soon have the situation back under control. But what happened?

Taiwan received human intelligence about the outbreak in China in December 2019. Taiwan acted quickly, in part because it’s political leaders remembered the SARS outbreak in 2003. Since that time, it has used digital apps for contact tracing, mandatory quarantine hotels for travelers, and an effective public health system to contain COVID. Then some odd things happened. Angelica Oung has written a fascinating story (How Taiwan Finally Fell) recounting how a Taiwanese hotel decided to offer a tourism package so that Taiwanese could stay in a hotel near the airport and watch the flights land and depart from their rooms. The local tourism board even advertised this. Although the people were housed on different floors from airplane crews, somehow infected pilots and crews spread the virus to the domestic tourists. After nine pilots tested positive the domestic tourists apparently found out that they had been staying at a quarantine hotel by watching the TV news. But by this point some infected people attended a Lion’s Club meeting, went to karaoke, and then attended “Grandpa shops/tea parlors” in which older women sexually catered to a senior clientele. Genomic testing revealed that everyone with COVID-19 had been infected by the same English variant. …

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