A new world map

I am perhaps a little obsessed with world maps, and how they shape our perception of the world. I have different apps with globes on my I-pad, and I often take a virtual tour of the world before falling asleep. So I was intrigued that -after all this time- a truly new and more accurate world map had been made? Curious? You can find the map, and learn more, here.

Shawn Smallman

Britain’s vaccine success in the midst of a pandemic

The early story of Britain’s reaction to COVID-19 was an unmitigated disaster, driven in part by uniformed cabinet discussions of herd immunity. Even Prime Minister Boris Johnston himself was infected with COVID-19. As if this story was not difficult enough, a new variant of COVID-19 appeared in Essex towards the end of 2020. We now know that not only is this variant more communicable, but also may be more deadly. In late December this virus came to dominate all the COVID-19 clades in Britain, and caused a remarkable surge in infections.

In spite of this difficult history, Britain has pulled of two remarkable achievements. First, it has conducted outstanding genomic surveillance. While Denmark was also doing so, it was the British tracking which revealed the extent of the threat these new variants posed. Now other nations, such as the United States, are playing catch-up, as they try to create an effective system for genomic surveillance. Even more remarkable, Britain has joined a short list of nations (along with Israel and the United Arab Emirates) leading the global race to vaccinate their populations. How was this success achieved?

Paul Waldie has a remarkable article in Canada’s Globe and Mail, titled “How Britain became a world leader in COVID-19 vaccine distribution – despite other pandemic problems.” In Waldie’s narrative one remarkable woman, Kate Bingham, and the task force that she led, managed to identify the likely winners in the vaccine race, negotiate contracts, and bring vaccine production home to Britain. What is most impressive is how proactive the task force was. Britain has had many missteps and still faces many challenges. Yet when the history of this pandemic is written, I think that -based on Waldie’s description- this task forces’ actions will be held up as a case-study of effective leadership during a crisis.

Shawn Smallman

What you didn’t know about federal jobs

I recently interviewed Joyce Hamilla, the Executive Director at the Oregon Federal Executive Board, about federal jobs. In the podcast, she talked about the many reasons why people should consider applying for federal positions I’ve noticed a clear trend over the last decade in which my students have become increasingly uninterested in working for the federal government. Of course, I think part of that is led to the ugliness of political discourse in the United States. But I also think that students and many other people are poorly informed about the wealth of jobs in federal service, and the opportunities to do work that is truly meaningful.

Joyce spoke to these questions. One of the points that she made is that if you are looking for a work environment that is apolitical, federal service may be the right place for you. She also pointed out that the federal government is hiring accountants, engineers, and people from every other possible background that you can imagine, even a cowboy. She also talked about applying for one of the eighteen different intelligence services in the U.S. government, and why -despite what you’ve seen in the movies- might want to broaden your horizon beyond the CIA. She also spoke about why -contrary to expectations- people often move jobs in federal service, so that’s a great workspace for people who want to explore different jobs. If you’re thinking at all about what do to after graduating, or if you might be interested in a new career, this might be the podcast episode for you.

Shawn Smallman

Two pandemics: Ghosts of the 1918 outbreak

Recently I’ve been reading a book (published in 2004) by Betty O’Keefe and Ian McDonald titled, Dr Fred and the Spanish Lady. The work examines the experience of Dr. Fred Underhill, who was the senior public health officer in Vancouver during the 1918 pandemic. While there had been a host of influenza pandemics through history, the 1918 pandemic killed perhaps 100 million people globally.

What struck me while reading the work was the manifold similarities between our experience of COVID-19 and that of almost exactly a century before. During our current pandemic some countries, such as Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan, acted quickly to enact travel restrictions. But that was the exception rather than the norm. Similarly, in 1918 troop ships brought influenza to Canada, even though during the crossings the ships would have to repeatedly stop for the burial of sea for returning soldiers (O-Keefe and MacDonald, 30-31). In 1918, travel restrictions were not implemented because everyone in Canada wanted to bring the troops home. While understandable, this was also tragic. During COVID-19 there were no effective limits on returning citizens in the United States, likely because there just was not enough public support for this measure. Of course, there were limits on non-citizens’ travel. But since the SARS-Cov2 virus does not discriminate based on citizenship, those countries that did not limit their citizen’s movement, and quarantine them on arrival, have paid a heavy price. …

The five most popular podcast episodes

I started a new podcast last spring, in part because I viewed it as a way to stay in touch with people during the pandemic. If I couldn’t meet people face to face, at least I could talk with them in the podcast. One of my early difficulties was to find a title, as at first it seemed that every possible choice was already taken. In the end, it was one of my students (Kristen Fox) who came up with the title, and it was my students last spring quarter who voted to choose it via Google Form. This was how “Dispatch 7: global trends on all seven continents” was born.

I wanted to share what have been the five most popular episodes:

Applying for graduate schools, Ep. 1. This was a fun episode for me, because I interviewed my former student, past graduate assistant, and now friend, Rosa “Rosie” David. Rosie is now in a doctoral program in Canada. In her interview she spoke about how to apply to a doctoral program. This episode was not only the first, but also has been listened to far more than any other.

The Joy of Tea with Kim Brown, Ep. 2. Kim Brown is not only my friend and colleague, and the co-author of our textbook, but also a ceaseless font of information about tea. I have had many conversations with her over the last fifteen years, in which I’ve tried to persuade her to write a book about tea. That’s failed, but at least she agreed to talk with me about tea in our second episode, which has been the second most listened to on the podcast. It will probably leave you wanting to make a trip to a tea store, as soon as this miserable pandemic is ended.

Career Opportunities in Global Studies, Ep. 9. I created this episode based on a talk that I frequently give to prospective students. I had no intention of creating my own episodes at the time; this was supposed to be a podcast based on interviews. But when the wildfires swept Oregon and California last summer, some of my scheduled interviewees faced major issues and had to delay their interviewees. So I created this episode, which I hoped would speak to International and Global Studies majors.

Indigenous Futurism with Grace Dillon, Ep. 8. This is one of my favorite episodes because of Grace’s warmth. I love to hear her laugh throughout the conversation. When I originally conceived of this podcast, I wanted it to have short episodes. But with Grace the two of us just dove into a longer conversation. I think that everyone who listens to the episode has the same reaction that I did, which was that I wanted to go to the library and pick up several of the novels that she suggested. I am grateful to Grace, who also wrote the preface to a book that I wrote about an Indigenous spirit. Of course, that preface had the same humor and brilliance as Grace had in this conversation.

¡Bienvenidxs a España- A Fulbright Story! | Ep. 4 In this episode I interviewed one of our alums, Chiara Nicastro, about her experience with the Fulbright program. Chiara is an exceptional public speaker, and her energy and humor came through. My hope is that it will inspire other graduates to apply for a Fulbright in the future. I especially appreciated that Chiara also agreed to come and join me again in my careers episode, to talk about why an MA really is required now for many jobs in the field.

I’m hard at work on the podcast still. The next episode will be an interview with Joyce Hamilla about why students should apply for government jobs, and the following one will be about Syrian refugees. I’ve loved talking with all of my guests, and want to thank all of my interviewees.

Shawn Smallman, 2020

Bioterrorism and Chocolate: an “Introduction to International Studies” lecture

Crinipellis perniciosa mushroom from http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/graphics/photos/
Image Number K8626-1
“Spores released from the fan-shaped basidiocarp of this inch-wide Crinipellis perniciosa mushroom can infect cacao trees and drastically reduce yields of the beans from which cocoa and chocolate products are made.” Photo Scott Bauer. Obtained from Wikipedia Commons

I’ve written before on this blog about the strange case of bioterrorism and chocolate in Brazil, and an incredible documentary on this topic. But I’ve also written a lecture on this event for my “Introduction to International Studies” class, which anyone teaching a similar class (Introduction to Latin American Studies or Brazilian history, or perhaps a class on commodities) is free to use.  In the lecture I’ve talked about my own experiences in the Amazon and Brazil, so you’ll have to make some edits. Or if you’d prefer to listen to this story, you can hear a version adapted from this lecture on my podcast Dispatch 7, global trends on all seven continents.

If anyone is interested in similar topics, you can also read my blog post about an alleged bioterrorism plan to target cocaine. 

Shawn Smallman

Bioterrorism and Chocolate

Terms:

Witches Broom

Theobroma cacao

Olmecs

Mayan

Aztecs

Bahia

CEPLAC: Brazilian government agency charged with promoting cacao

Jorge Amado

Wade Davis, One River

Fusarium Wilt: disease of bananas; also known as Panama disease

Sea People- a book review

Lord Howe Island, which was one of the very islands in the Pacific ocean that the Polynesians may not have discovered. Image courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
One of the greatest mysteries in the history of human migrations is how the peoples of Polynesia managed to populate the greatest expanse of any culture in history, from the small islands of Micronesia to Easter Island.  The question has long fascinated people, as have the question of islands that appear to have been populated for a time, but were later abandoned.  Christina Thompson’s recent book examines how outsiders have sought to understand the mystery of Polynesian’s origins from the earliest European explorers, to the experimental archaeologists of the last few decades.

Christina Thompson has a gift for nature writing, and she describes Polynesia’s physical environment evocatively. But the core of the book is a chronological discussion of the different people who encountered Polynesians, and how they sought to understand them. Throughout, this effort is marred by the cultural chasm  between different peoples. When the great English explorer Captain Cook met a Polynesian navigator, Tupaia, he was amazed by the man’s practical skills; his counterpart even created a detailed map of a wide array of islands. But once Cook saw the map, he failed to understand it clearly enough to ask the proper questions that would allow us to interpret it. …

The most popular blog posts

Every now and then I look at Google Analytics to see what posts people typically view. And there is an interesting trend. The most popular posts tend to reflect on the meaning of International and Global Studies in some respect. For example, in November the single most popular blog post (out of approximately 490) considered the contested meanings of globalization and globalism. The sixth most popular post was ‘What is International and Global Studies?” Also in the top ten was a blog post titled International Studies versus Global Studies.

Another post that is always in the top ten -over several years- is my book review of Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe. If I had to guess years ago which posts would be popular in the future, my last choice would have been a book review of a challenging theory text, which is probably best suited to a graduate-level class. Sometimes I will spend a great deal of time on a post or a book review, and only a handful of people ever see it. And then a book review like this will remain popular for years.

I sometimes wonder if I should stop doing book reviews. In an era with GoodReads is there any point? And yet book reviews –such as my discussion of Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach- are always among the top read posts in the blog. So I will try to do one book review a month this year. I want to thank everyone who has visited and used this blog over the nearly ten years that I’ve been writing it. And please also check out my new(ish) podcast, Dispatch 7: Global trends on all seven continents.

Shawn Smallman

Edward Said and a lost Western Civilization

In my Global Studies theory class I’ve always enjoyed assigning the work of Edward Said, as a basis for talking about Orientalism and Exoticism. But I’ve usually been disappointed to find that my upper-division graduate students seem to not have as much interest in Said’s work as I do. Perhaps, I’ve wondered, it’s because his work is becoming a little dated? Or is perhaps because Said takes literature and art so seriously, in an age dominated by social media and digital globalization? To be honest, I think that the Western works that Said engages with now (Euripides? Gibbons?) might seem as distant and alien to many of my students as some contemporary Middle Eastern musicians and authors. The Age of Western Civilization courses is long gone in most liberal arts colleges. I think that my students struggle to read someone who assumes that a reader has a deep familiarity with 19th century European scholars and artists. I always have students in my classes who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, although their numbers are waning. They bring their own perspectives on the Middle East and Central Asia, which have a different framework.

The irony is that on Twitter someone just referenced (I’m very sorry that I don’t remember the name of the person who tweeted it) this 2014 article by Sadik Jalal al-’Azm. On the one hand, the author provides an effective and thoughtful critique of Said’s work. At the same time, he so concisely describes Said’s argument that this piece it also serves as an effective introduction to Said. Of course as the West has diversified, the scholars that Said refers to have receded from the curriculum. A first-generation Asian-American or Latinx student may have a very different take on Said. I still think that the idea of Orientalism and exoticism are important. But reading this article crystallized some of the problems that I found I was having teaching his work, as students themselves seemed to be struggling to express similar points. If you’re teaching Said’s work, I think that this is a great piece to assign with it.

Shawn Smallman

How quickly can you catch COVID-19?

Throughout the last several months, the US Center for Disease Control has messaged that in order to catch COVID-19 you had to be within six feet of an infected person for fifteen minutes. This was reassuring information. But sadly the US was also perhaps in a difficult place to answer detailed questions about COVID cases, because the contact tracing system has been overwhelmed. The US has also lacked a national COVID tracking app, as many other nations (Australia) have had. Realistically, this would have been a political impossibility to implement in the US, given that even masks have been highly politicized here. So, how realistic was the CDC’s guidance?

The CDC itself pointed to a case in Vermont in which a masked corrections officer was infected with COVID even though he never spent more than a single minute with infected prisoners. Instead, he spent perhaps a total of 17 minutes in a day with them over the course of multiple brief visits, all of which were captured on video. He also wore a mask, gown, and goggles. The prisoners sometimes wore their masks, and sometimes not. After this case, the CDC changed its rules to reflect cumulative exposure. Still, the fifteen minute rule still held. But would new information change these guidelines?

In Korea, contact tracing has been highly effective. It turns out that the combination of a digital tracking app with highly skilled contact tracers has been more successful than either purely digital or human tracing would be. And what Korea has learned -in a remarkable piece of scientific work- is that in one case a high school senior was infected after five minutes of exposure and from twenty feet away. The infection took place in a restaurant (which had video recording) and it turns out that an air conditioning unit was wafting air from an infected person towards the student. The quality of the data that the contact tracers obtained -and the history of how they learned it- is remarkable, and well worth reading.

There is nothing magic that happens at the six feet mark from another person. And being exposed to an infected person indoors can be risky even when the CDC’s old guidelines might make us feel safe. In this case, Korea has given us not only important information, but also let us see the quality of information contact tracing can provide. The key message is that neither six feet of distance, or avoiding more than fifteen minutes of exposure to another person, may be enough to keep you safe from infection, particularly indoors. So indoor dining is probably always unsafe.

Shawn Smallman

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