Aug 07

Canada, Saudi Arabia and the CBC

As one of my colleagues often states, there is no escaping media studies in International and Global Studies, because the news media is how most of us receive information about global issues, even in an era of Twitter and blogs (OK news on the U.S. Presidency might be an exception). It’s interesting, therefore, to look at how different publications cover the news. As Colin Dwyer described in an article on the NPR website, Canadian diplomats denounced Saudi Arabia’s arrest of multiple human rights activists. Dwyer details how Saudi Arabia responded to the statements by denouncing Canada’s actions as meddling, recalling its ambassador, and freezing all new trade investments. Now Saudi Arabia has announced that it is withdrawing students from Canadian universities.

Then there was one truly horrifying tweet -now deleted- which denounced people who meddle in other affairs. The words were superimposed on Toronto’s skyline, with an AirCanada jet seeming to fly towards Toronto’s iconic CN Tower. This allusion to a 9/11 style attack on Canada drew world-wide media attention. The Washington Post and other major media global outlets provided detailed articles on this dispute, and the shocking tweet. But there was one media outlet that seemed to ignore this issue, even as Saudi Arabia announced that it was terminating flights to Canada: the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

It was not that Canadian media outlets were uninterested by this issue. The right-wing National Post led with a story by Janice Dickson headlined: “Getting tough on Canada: Saudi Arabia’s expulsion of ambassador and suspension of trade sends a message, experts say.” The prestigious Globe and Mail led with an article by Stephen Chase titled “Saudi Arabia withdrawing students from Canadian schools, suspending flights.” The Toronto Star’s article by Adam Taylor focused (understandably) on the tweet depicting a plane flying into the CN tower. Taylor’s article provided a detailed and intelligent discussion of the source of the tweet, a non-profit foundation for Saudi youth, which allegedly is backed or supported by the Saudi government. Taylor’s account is worth reading for the context that it provides around the Tweet.

And then there was the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, a crown corporation funded by the national government to provide nation-wide news coverage. I went to the CBC news website this morning seeking to find more information on this dispute, and expecting to find interviews with experts in the field, the thoughts of diplomats, and a discussion of the economic issues. Instead there was nothing on the main page. As of August 7th in the morning, the lead story on the website was an article by Pete Evans, “Flair Airlines, Air Transat join Aeroplan loyalty program.” This business topic seemed a little ephemeral to be the lead story, given that not only was Saudi Arabia suspending flights to Canada, but also at least one other Gulf State was threatening to do so as well. Even if business news merited the lead, why would this particular story come first? There was an article on the main page related to Saudi Arabia titled “Saudi Man fears being separated from family as deportation looms,” which described how man’s asylum claim had been rejected by the Canadian government. While this account focused on one individual, there was no discussion anywhere on the main page of the national level confrontation.  While this omission was startling, what was more remarkable is that if one clicked on the “World News” tab, one found no reference to the dispute either. This is probably the major foreign policy issue in Canada at the current moment, and the largest issue in Canada’s relationship with the Middle East in many years. Nonetheless, it’s as if some Orwellian censor had decided to erase this event from public notice.

I have no idea why the CBC has chosen to omit coverage of this major event, but I have to think that this was a conscious decision rather than an accident. How I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during the CBC’s editorial discussions about what stories would be covered on August 7, 2018. At a time when global and Canadian media were giving this topic extensive coverage, the Crown corporation dedicated to covering Canadian news chose as for its lead news story on its home page a piece about an airline loyalty program. My favorite news story would be one that looked at who within the CBC made that decision and why.

Shawn Smallman, 2018

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2018/08/canada-saudi-arabia-and-the-cbc/

Aug 01

Fracking and Canada’s Oil Sands

Syncrude Mildred Lake Plant. “This is a picture of Syncrude’s base mine. The yellow structures are the bases of pyramids made of sulphur – it is not economical for Syncrude to sell the sulphur so it stockpiles it instead. Behind that is the tailings pond, held in by what is recognized as the largest dam in the world. The extraction plant is just to the right of this photograph and most of the mine is to the left.” By TastyCakes is the photographer, Jamitzky subsequently equalized the colour. (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In 2003 I wrote an article, “Canada’s New Role in North American Energy Security,” which examined Canada’s growing importance to U.S. energy security. This paper was written in the context of 9/11, and looking back I wish that I had talked much more about the environmental costs of this resource. In the years since, so much has changed. Canada’s oil has become a stranded resource. Indeed, Alberta is so unhappy with the opposition to an oil pipeline by its provincial neighbor, British Columbia, that it briefly banned the sale of B.C. wine.

The fundamental issue, however, for the oil sands is not the pipeline policy of BC, but rather the underlying economics. The fracking revolution has remade the finances of oil. It’s true that Canada remains the top oil exporter to the United States. Still, the financial value of its exports fell 47.5% between 2016 and 2017 (this is the dollar value, not the number of barrels shipped). Indeed, the drops in the value of petroleum sales were even larger for other major oil suppliers to the United States. Venezuela, the third largest oil exporter to the United States, saw it’s sales fall a staggering 71.8% during the same period, while Mexico’s fell 79.3%, according the website “worldstopexports.” The truth is that focusing on pipelines to the Pacific is rather like improving buggies to compete with Ford as the auto industry developed, which no less true for being a meme.

The Tyee is an online newspaper with good coverage of West Coast politics and society in Canada from a left-wing perspective. Mitchell Anderson has a wonderful article titled “Only Fantasies, Desperation and Wishful Thinking Keep Pipeline Plans Alive.” While Anderson’s article reflects the paper’s ideological leanings, the overall analysis shows the folly of trying to rely on this resource, at a time that global energy markets are undergoing a massive change, and coastal regions are trying to plan for sea level rise. With the rise of electric cars, the falling costs of utility scale batteries, and the growth of fracking, the energy landscape has change dramatically from 2003. No ban on BC wine is going to undo the dramatic changes in U.S. oil demand, and the United States will remain Canada’s main energy market internationally. While Albertans must rethink and diversify, they are only one player amongst many, which are struggling to adapt to new global realities.

Shawn Smallman, 2018

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2018/08/canadas-oil-sands/

Jul 13

Globalization and Globalism

Last spring one of my students asked me to explain the difference between globalization and globalism. This is what I said, but I am curious to hear how other people would have answered the question:

“There are many different definitions of globalization, but it’s generally understood as the flows of people, ideas, culture, funds and biology at a global scale, which connects disparate parts of the globe. Globalism is often (not always) defined as the policy and ideas of those people/nations that support globalization, which is frequently equated with neoliberalism. Globalism is a sometimes politically loaded term, because it is frequently used by those who oppose globalization, to critique the policies of elites that favor financial and political globalization. It’s also a more complicated term to define, because different groups use the word in varied ways.” Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2018/07/globalization-and-globalism/

Jul 07

Peace Treaties and Ancient China

Map of the Chinese plain, 5 century BC. Start of the Warring States Period. By Yug [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Although we think of arms control and peace treaties as relatively modern concepts, they have ancient roots. I’ve been reading Richard Louis Walker’s book, The Multi-State System of Ancient China, which was published by Shoe String press in 1953. He describes major negotiations that followed a period of devastating warfare during the Spring and Autumn period, as contending states struggled for primacy in China. Interestingly, his description of how the ancient states of China interacted would be all too familiar to a scholar in the modern Realist School. The idea of a Balance of power dominated Chinese politics in this distant time period in the same manner that it did in Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In the sixth century BC a Sung statesman named Hsiang Shu (p. 56) lobbied the courts of multiple Chinese states, to try to reach an agreement to end the perpetual warfare. Even states that had little interest in negotiations found that they had no choice but to at least pretend to take part:

“The states had, of course, at least to pretend an interest in his idea. A Chin leader said, “War is destructive to the people, an insect that eats up the resources of a State, and the greatest calamity of all small States. If any one try to put an end to it, though we think it cannot be done, we must sanction his proposal. If we do not, Ch’u will do so, and proceed to call the States together, so that we shall lose the presidency of the covenants.” (Walker, 56).

As Walker describes (56-57) fourteen major states took part of in the discussion. Predictably, once an agreement was reached there was a dispute between the two most powerful states over who should sign first (57). The negotiations had gone so poorly that during the meetings “the Ch’u representatives even wore armor.” (57). In the end, even though an agreement was reached to end warfare, many states refused to sign, while the signatories ignored it (57).

As for statesman and peace-maker Hsian Shu, he sought a reward from the Prime Minister of Sung, to whom he presented a signed copy of the treaty. The Prime Minister responded with scorn, in a speech that deserves to be as frequently remembered in International Relations studies as the Melian Dialogue recorded by the Greek historian Thucydides. According to the Prime Minister of Sung, war was an inevitable tool of statecraft. To seek to abandon these tools was a delusion. He told Hsian Shu that he was lucky to have escaped without punishment, but now he was coming to him looking for a reward. The Prime Minister cut the copy of the treaty to pieces and threw it away (58).

Without the signature of all major states the peace treaty had no power, and the bitter wars continued.

Shawn Smallman, 2018

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2018/07/arms-control-and-ancient-china/

Jul 01

A book review: A Great Aridness

Colorado River Basin Map. By Shannon1 (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

DeBuys’ book, A great aridness: climate change and the future of the American southwest, examines how the West will adapt to drying and warming in an era of climate change. Despite the complexity of the issues involved, deBuys is able to convey his key ideas in poetic language, while never oversimplifying his topic. This is a book written by someone with a deep knowledge and love of the southwest. He begins his work by discussing the earlier peoples of the Southwest -such as the Ancestral Puebloans/Anasazi and Hohokam- and their own experience of drought and water management. He then moves on to discuss the central issues of water distribution in the modern era. Why are Arizona’s water rights junior to those of California, so that that in a crisis California will receive its allocation of water, while Arizona’s will be cut? The answers are as fascinating as they are strange.

The central theme of denial runs throughout this work. People don’t want to know the details of how they receive water, or how vulnerable Lake Meade may be. Real estate developers in particular do not want an informed community discussion of this topic. Meanwhile, pragmatic water managers are working to build a water intake drain at the very bottom of Lake Meade. While the book focuses on the American southwest, its central issue is that of climate change, which is why I am reviewing it in a course on global studies. The American southwest is a case study for the future, with applicability from Portugal to Iraq.

The U.S. southwest faces sustained warming and drying, even as more people move into the sunbelt in coming decades. The environment that these people enter will change drastically within their lifetimes. In Chapter 2 “Oracle: Global Change Type Drought,” deBuys examines the impact that climate change will have upon entire ecosystems. On page 46, deBuys has a map of Western forests that are being decimated by the spruce beetle, the mountain pine beetle, and the Piñon Ips beetle. The damage extends as far north as the Yukon. My own family lives in British Columbia, where entire swathes of the north have turned red with the needles of dying trees. De Buys describes what may lay in store for the north: Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2018/07/a-great-aridness/

Jun 25

Global Warning: a CNN documentary

CNN’s documentary “Global Warning: Arctic Melt” examines the issue of climate change by focusing on the Greenland ice sheet. Reporter Clarissa Ward first visits Greenland, where she interviews climate scientists against stunning backgrounds of fjords, glaciers and ice sheets. She then travels to south Florida, where she interviews Miami’s former mayor about the impact that sea level rise is already having upon his community. The video is brief at 26 minutes. Nonetheless, it is both visually engaging and thoughtfully written. It would be a good documentary for an “Introduction to International and Global Studies” class. Recommended.

Shawn Smallman, 2018

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2018/06/global-warning-a-cnn-documentary/

Jun 15

Mexico and Safety

Panoramica Bahia de Acapulco. By Microstar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Date rape drugs are a problem in many different nations. A recent article in USA Today, however, reveals systemic issues at Mexican resorts. Raquel Rutledge’s well-researched piece, “Mother’s nightmare at Mexico resort: ‘There is more to this deeper, darker story than we know,'” reveals the inability or unwillingness of Mexican authorities to investigate the use of date rape drugs at these resorts. On a personal note, about six months ago I heard a second hand account from one of my students, who described a case of a husband and wife, in which the wife was raped after they were both given a date-rape drug. I can’t know if this story is true, since I did not speak to one of the people who were drugged. But what was disturbing to me about this particularly story was that this case allegedly took place not in a resort, but rather in a restaurant in Mexico City. Again, this story was not first-hand, and I cannot attest to its veracity. Still, Rutledge’s piece suggests that travelers to Mexico should exercise caution, and that Mexican authorities should thoroughly investigate all such cases, which should include medical examinations for rape, and blood testing to identify the drugs used.

Curious to read more about drugs in Mexico? You can also read this post. I also recommend this Propublica piece “How the U.S. Triggered a Massacre in Mexico” by Ginger Thompson, which covers this topic in much greater depth than my initial blog post.

Shawn Smallman, 2018.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2018/06/mexico-and-safety/

Jun 10

Russian Hackers

I believe that in a 100 years people will believe that digital globalization was as an important a trend in the twenty-first century as financial, political and economic globalization. Cyberwarfare, artificial intelligence, cyber-currencies, the sharing economy, drones and robotics are fundamentally reshaping our world. In this context, hackers have become not only a security threat but also part of pop culture. But how do hacker’s themselves think about their culture and their activities? You can learn more by watching the BBC program, “The Hackers of Siberia,” which focuses on the “SiBears” of Siberia.

Shawn Smallman, 2018

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2018/06/russian-hackers/

Jun 01

Maps and Reality

I’ve written about maps many times before on this blog, because they have so much power. A website called The True Size is designed to allow people to compare the relative size of nations. To use the website, you enter the name of a country. Then you can drag and drop the country over any part of the world that you wish. The website quickly makes you realize the extent to which northern countries are magnified. Canada looks huge if you place it over Russia. It’s scale looks very different when placed over Africa. If one moves Australia over Europe it stretches from northern Finland to central Turkey, with Tasmania in the Mediterranean. In the west it covers Great Britain, while in the east it nearly touches Kazakhstan. There is something slightly hypnotic about manipulating the map.

Shawn Smallman, 2018

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2018/06/maps-and-size/

May 25

Book Review: Retreat from a Rising Sea

Citation: From the public domain source, the US EPA (2014): “This figure shows average absolute sea level change, which refers to the height of the ocean surface, regardless of whether nearby land is rising or falling. Satellite data are based solely on measured sea level, while the long-term tide gauge data include a small correction factor because the size and shape of the oceans are changing slowly over time. […]The shaded band shows the likely range of values, based on the number of measurements collected and the precision of the methods used.
By US EPA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pilkey, Orrin H., et al. Retreat from a Rising Sea : Hard Decisions in an Age of Climate Change. Columbia University Press, 2016.

As I’ve worked on the previous editions of our textbook with Kim Brown, I’ve become increasingly convinced that it’s important for educators to recognize that our task is not only to teach about how humanity can prevent global warming, but also how humanity will need to adapt to climate change. There is now so much additional CO2 in the atmosphere that we are committed to global warming for generations to come. Perhaps no environmental impact will affect people as much rising sea levels, which is the central theme of Retreat from a Rising Sea. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2018/05/book-review-retreat-from-a-rising-sea/

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