Jul 18

Venezuela and Zimbabwe

“Food Insecurity in Zimbabwe,” By Mangwanani (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Last weekend 7.6 million Venezuelans voted to reject a new Constituent Assembly called for by President Nicolas Maduro. Desperate to prevent the Assembly from taking place, the opposition’s leadership have also called for a mass strike this Thursday, and may appoint their own Supreme Court. The Venezuelan military is deeply tied to the current regime through corruption, including profits from controlling the distribution of food. All of Venezuela has been in an economic and social free fall, which has profoundly undermined the health care system. In this context, perhaps it is unsurprising that over 98 percent of the people who voted rejected President Maduro’s call for a Constituent Assembly, and called instead for free and transparent elections.

Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/07/venezuela-and-zimbabwe/

Jul 15

Devil’s Breath, reality and folklore

Brugmansia sanguinea. By Paul K from Sydney (Brugmansia bicolor) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This spring I taught a class on the Global Drug Trade, and one of the students in the class shared a Vice News video with the class regarding a drug called Devil’s Breath. Please be warned that this video contains disturbing content, including discussion of rape and violence, as well as profanity. It is also an unusual video regarding drug usage, because Devil’s Breath (scopolamine) is unlike other drugs in that it is not consumed for pleasure. Rather, it is allegedly used by criminals in Colombia in order to take away someone’s will. The drug itself can be created easily from a common tree in Colombia, called the borrachero tree. There are seven trees in the Brugmansia genus, which contain the active ingredient scopolamine. These trees are common throughout northern South America, where they are extinct in the wild, but are sometimes used as ornamental trees because of their beautiful flowers.

According to Colombians who were interviewed in the video, criminals can ask someone to smell the powder, and the drug is so potent that it will take effect when they sniff. The video contains a series of interviews, including a taxi driver who seems to know all too much about the drug, and some people who were victimized using it. Still, the stories were so extraordinary that I couldn’t help but wonder, could this possibly be true? Can victims truly lose their will, so that they will assist a robber to burglarize their home? Or is this partly folklore? Vice’s reporter Ryan Duffy did not appear to be someone with a deep knowledge of Colombia. Nonetheless, the interviews with authorities, including the police and a doctor, were very convincing. Nonetheless,  I wondered how to judge where reality ended and folklore began. After all, this drug is used in Western medicine to treat some conditions such as motion sickness? Wouldn’t this effect be familiar from this usage? Or are there differences between scopolamine and the the drug variant used Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/07/devils-breath-and-colombia/

Jul 01

Teaching Evaluations

“The University of Bologna in Italy, founded in 1088, is the oldest university in the world, the word university (Latin: universitas) having been coined at its foundation.” By Gaspa (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Like most faculty I take teaching evaluations very seriously. Every year I read mine, and rethink assignments and readings based on student feedback. As at most universities, teaching evaluations in my department are also a key instrument to measure faculty performance for promotion and tenure decisions. But what if teaching evaluations are inherently biased?

One of my colleagues recently shared a post at the LSE Impact Blog, which discussed in detail evidence that female instructors rated lower on teaching evaluations. In one particular case, the students were taking classes with a common final exam, so there was a means to evaluate how effective instructors were in teaching the learning outcomes. The bottom line was that female instructors tended to measure more poorly than their male peers on course evaluations because of bias. I think that this particular blog post, and the articles that it refers to, all merit reading and careful discussion. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/07/teaching-evaluations/

Jun 16

Resources for Travel in France

A detail from the month of June, haymaking, in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry An illuminated manuscript, Netherlandish. A devotional book of hours. “The palace is the Palais de la Cité with the Sainte Chapelle rising above the rooftops.” By Limbourg Brothers [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Traveling is difficult work: obtaining a visa, planning the flight, booking the hotels. Then there is all the information that you need once you arrive. For this reason, it’s great to have to have a single source that can provide the essential information that you need. If you are planning to travel to France, my student Katrina Grundman has created a slideshow will give you these key resources all in one location. The slideshow is visually attractive, concise and informative. Katrina just returned from Paris, so it’s based on her own recent experience. I particularly liked the pros and cons about different language apps. She also lists some helpful apps for traveling in France, such as the RATP, which is useful for managing public transport. But Katrina’s slideshow also has a wealth of other great information, such as resources for the Expat community in France, key Facebook pages, and movies that you can watch before you go to inspire you. Bon Voyage!

Shawn Smallman, 2017

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/06/resources-for-ed-abroad-in-france/

Jun 13

The opioid crisis

Harvesting Opium. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2699338

I’ve been teaching a course on the Global Drug Trade this year, and my class recently covered the opioid crisis, including the emerging drugs of fentanyl and carfentanyl. If you haven’t heard of these drugs before, you might want to read German Lopez’s Vox article “How an elephant tranquilizer became the latest deadly drug in the opioid epidemic.” While the epidemic exists in the United States, these drugs are causing havoc in British Columbia, Canada. What is distinct about these drugs is that they are not only dangerous to the user, but also first responders. The crisis has been so serious that it has caused people to rethink how we deal with illegal drugs in a profound manner.

In my class there was a great deal of discussion of whether the broader opioid epidemic is being covered differently in the media because many people using these drugs are middle class, white and older. They are also distinct, my students noted, in that most people who become addicted do so because they received a prescription for the drugs legally. There is no question but that major corporations have pushed these drugs, as this wonderful John Oliver piece describes. The epidemic has deepened, because when people have difficulty accessing legal opioids they have turned to heroin. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/06/fentanyl-and-carfentanyl/

Jun 01

Drugs and Harm

Qat tree, Yemen. By Mufaddalqn (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I am currently teaching a course on the global drug trade, which examines the many public policy and legal issues related to drugs. One of the themes that students have commented on in the course is that the legal penalties for drugs don’t always reflect the amount of harm that they cause. For example, one of my students shared that their father had become addicted to opioids that he had been prescribed for pain. Why were opioids legally available to treat pain, while in many states marijuana was not, even though opioids were far more dangerous? Another student brought up the issue of khat, a leaf that is chewed as a mild stimulant in East African communities, and which is now illegal in countries such as Britain. One of the arguments for banning khat had been that it undermined communities, but my student argued that in fact chewing khat was a means to bring people (usually males) together in African societies. They also suggested that it was far less harmful than alcohol, which is legal in the United States and Britain. The recent decision to ban khat in the United Kingdom had impacts in East Africa.

One of my students shared a graph from Wikipedia titled “Rational harm assessment of drugs radar plot.” The caption stated: “Addiction experts in psychiatry, chemistry, pharmacology, forensic science, epidemiology, and the police and legal services engaged in delphic analysis regarding 20 popular recreational drugs. Barbiturates were ranked 5th in dependence, 3rd in physical harm, and 4th in social harm.” Much of the information on the graph is unsurprising, such as the fact that experts widely agreed that heroin is the most destructive drug. It’s clear, however, that the legal consequences of drug use bear little relation to the harm that they may do. Alcohol, for example, is perceived to be far more harmful than Khat, while barbiturates are judged to be more dangerous than cannabis. Of course, all these drugs also have some form of harm associated with them, and some have devastated individuals and communities. Still, this graph might be a useful tool to frame public policy decisions related to the drug trade.

Shawn Smallman, 2017

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/06/drugs-and-harm/

May 23

Movie funding campaign

An outstanding INTL major named Hannah Latimer-Snell is working this fall on a project through IE3 Global Internships and Portland State University.

This is a self-arranged internship because Hannah found a small non-profit film company called Lime Soda Films in Chennai, India that she wanted to work with. She then “pitched” the idea to IE3 so she could receive academic credit. She will be in Chennai for 4 months working on a documentary about workplace harassment against women.

Here is what Hannah shared with me about this project:

“Here is a link to our website where you can find out trailer and more information about our film and how to get involved: http://butwhatwasshewearing.wordpress.com

Right now our team is made up of three independent filmmakers from India, Germany and the United States of America. Our project is a small budget film but tackles a large and international issue: workplace harassment. Our goal for the film is to expose the systems that continue to perpetuate gender inequality and create the space for women to share their stories.”

The link for the “Go fund me” campaign is at the bottom of the webpage if you are interested in contributing.

Shawn Smallman, 2017

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/05/movie-funding-campaign/

May 23

Reality and the lost city of Z

British explorer Percy Fawcett. Posted by User Daniel Candido on pt.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or less.

I have been teaching a course on the Amazon for nearly 20 years. Part of what draws students to the class, I think, is the perception of the Amazon as an exotic world. Perhaps this interest also helps to explain the success of David Grann’s The Lost City of Z. This book tells the story of the explorer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared with his son and his son’s friend while searching for a legendary lost city in Brazil. This story has interested people for four generations, and has been inspiring authors for nearly as long. For example, Peter Fleming’s Brazilian Adventure was published in 1933, and is a humorous recounting of an early expedition’s efforts to find out what happened to Percy Fawcett. There has probably never been a more self-mocking explorer than Fleming, and his troubled efforts to find Fawcett’s trail.

The Lost City of Z is now a movie; you can see the trailer here. The movie’s concept has received a scathing review by John Hemming, who is perhaps the most famous living Amazonian explorer. Hemming’s own book, Red Gold, tells the story how Brazil’s indigenous peoples fought against Portuguese exploitation and conquest over the course of centuries. For Hemming, Fawcett was a dilettante with strange religious ideals, who lost his life due to his own lack of knowledge about the Amazon.

The legend of the Lost City of Z is based upon a document now held in Rio de Janeiro’s national library, which supposedly was written in 1743; the document claims to tell the history of a group of bandeirantes (explorers and slavers) who found a lost city in the interior. As Hemming points out, these men were almost always illiterate, so the fact that such a document exists is surprising in and of itself. It was also the case that other explorers had been working in Amazonia for centuries by the time Fawcett disappeared, with no other discoveries of such a city. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/05/reality-and-the-lost-city-of-z/

May 21

Courses and Students in Global Studies

Unlike most of my posts, I’ve written this piece mainly for department chairs and program directors in International and Global Studies. This post is unlikely to be of much interest to anyone else, as it doesn’t deal with issues that most of us are passionate about in the field, but rather the pragmatics of running a program. I’ve been a department chair for three terms, and a dean for four years. As at many state-based institutions, our university is moving towards performance based budgeting, which means that there is intense attention to student credit hours (SCH), which is sometimes called the “coin of the realm.” For this reason, I’ve invested a lot of time in thinking about enrollment trends and how to draw more students into classes in International and Global Studies. Here are some thoughts on this issue, which I believe apply to our program, although I don’t know if these observations will be true at other institutions. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/05/courses-and-students/

May 18

Antarctica and Ice Loss

I love storyboards, which combine audio, video photos and maps to cover a topic in an interactive manner. The New York Times has an outstanding storyboard on Antarctica, which would be a great resource for an introductory class. I particularly liked the beautiful maps which showed the direction of ice flow by flowing colored lines, which became animated when clicked upon. In part two, another map reveals how much of Antarctica is actually ice, through a map that allows the viewer to strip away the ice cover to reveals the mountains and bedrock underneath. What had seemed to be a unitary continent is revealed to be a world of islands and peninsulas. The second immersive video, in which they fly past a six mile long iceberg, is also striking. Through the window you can see dramatic imagery, but when you swivel the camera back to the pilots they seem quite bored. The three part series ends with four videos, which are narrated. The first is covers a dive underneath the ice, which has spectacular images of an otherworldly environment, and will allow you to briefly escape your workaday world.

Shawn Smallman, 2017

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/05/antarctica-and-ice-loss/

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