Dec 15

CWD, Fear and Food

“Chronic Wasting Disease in North America.” By USGS, National Wildlife Health Center [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the mid-1980s a new disease, Bovine Spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) appeared in Britain. Better known as mad-cow disease, this disorder attacked the brain of first cattle, and later a small number of people who had consumed their meat. The most likely manner in which the disease was introduced into the food chain was through processing cattle into feed for other cattle. Only by converting cattle into unwitting cannibals -in order to  to take advantage of waste products from abbatoirs- was the prion that caused the disease introduced into humans. In Britain the images of quivering, drooling, staggering cattle on television unleashed a public panic. (1)

BSE was a classic example of an iatrogenic disease, which is an illness created by humanity itself. The disease is caused by a prion, which is not a living thing. Prions are strange. It’s believed that they are malformed proteins, which can trigger other proteins to similarly mis-form. This creates a terrible cascade that impacts the brain, thereby causing neurodegeneration. They are also incredibly resistant to heat, so they do not readily break down during cooking, which would eliminate the risk of most pathogens and helminths. Once a living organism such as a person is infected, there is no known treatment for the disease. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/12/chronic-wasting-disease-in-canada/

Dec 01

Hope, Fusion and the Future

“This image shows the Sun as viewed by the Soft X-Ray Telescope (SXT) onboard the orbiting Yohkoh satellite.” By NASA Goddard Laboratory for Atmospheres and Yohkoh Legacy data Archive [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As a kid growing up in Southern Ontario in the early 80s, I enjoyed listening to a science program called “Quirks and Quarks,” on CBC radio. Imagine my surprise to find that -thanks to the wonders of podcasts- I could still listen to this program, which is as good as it ever was. One recent episode, “Let there be Light,” compares two different approaches to fusion. In France, ITER is a $20 billion project which has entailed 35 years of cooperation amongst multiple nations. The reason why this investment makes sense is that fusion would create a virtually limitless supply of energy, without the danger of either nuclear meltdowns or the long-term storage of nuclear waste. In contrast, a Canadian start-up has a radically different and smaller plan. What’s most interesting to me about this brief podcast (14:08 minutes) is the scientists discussion of the level of resources required to develop fusion. They contrast this amount with the $200 billion that Qatar may spend to host the World Cup. There is hope for a radically different energy system, if we as a civilization are prepared to make the required investments.

Shawn Smallman, 2017

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/12/hope-fusion-and-the-future/

Nov 24

The secret deal in Raqqa

Destroyed neighborhood in Raqqa. By Mahmoud Bali (VOA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

By the summer of 2017, the city of Raqqa in eastern Syria was the last remaining stronghold of ISIL in the Middle East. The U.S. backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) launched a major attack on the city beginning in June. On October 17, 2017, these forces announced the fall of the city and the utter defeat of ISIL. The BBC, however, had reporters on the ground, who reported a shocking twist to the story of the city’s fall. Members of the attacking forces had cut a deal to allow hundreds -perhaps thousands- of fighters to escape from the city. In a video titled, “Fall of Raqqa: The secret deal,” the BBC reporters traced the convoy’s path as far as Turkey, where they interviewed smugglers who took ISIL members across the border. Amongst the people who escaped were many foreign fighters, who threaten their own country’s security when they return. France, in particular, seems to be a target. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/11/the-secret-of-raqqa/

Nov 21

The Dogs of War

Image of the Persian Gulf from the CIA World Factbook

Recently, there have been a series of articles pointing to the signs of war in the Middle East. Of course, given the ongoing civil war in Syria, the chaotic situation in Libya, and the current blockade of Yemen, it’s also true that war is already ravaging the region. Still, many observers are pointing to the real risk that the region might slide into the equivalent to World War One. The long-standing tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia pushes the region towards unrestricted and massive warfare.

Of all the articles on this topic, I particularly like Michael Coren’s on the CBC News website, “Ominous signs that the next war in the Middle East is coming, and it won’t be pretty.” Coren points to particular signs that suggest that a conflict may be impending. What struck me in particular was the fact that 2,245 people had commented on this piece, which suggests that many people were as impressed by this brief analysis as I was. Highly recommended.

Shawn Smallman, 2017

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/11/the-dogs-of-war/

Nov 20

Human Rights and Language

My colleague Kim Brown is teaching a fantastic new online class on “Human Rights and Language.” Besides being the co-author of our Introduction to International and Global Studies textbook,  Kim also has perhaps won more teaching awards than any other person in our department. If you are interested, you can see how to register for the class as a non-degree student here. The main text for the class is also an e-book, which helps to keep down costs. Questions? You can reach Kim at dbkb@pdx.edu. And you can see the syllabus here.

Shawn Smallman, November 2017

 

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/11/human-rights-and-language/

Nov 15

Digital Nomads

An Opte Project visualization of routing paths through a portion of the Internet. (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5) via Wikimedia Commons.

One thing that I have noticed teaching entirely online is that some of my students are digital nomads, which are sometimes also called digital wanderers. These are people who live their lives and careers in multiple countries, typically while self-employed. I believe that two different phenomenon served to drive this trend. First, the financial crisis of 2008 was followed by a boom that left out many younger workers, who faced student debts, jobs with poor wages and pensions, as well as rising real estate costs. At the same time, improvements in software and digital connectivity made it increasingly easy to work from outside the country. People realized that they could live well in Thailand, and make their living online doing everything from building websites to data entry in health care. As my department has created an online track, there are always a few of these students in my classes, and they bring an interesting perspective when they discuss global issues. These people build their entire lives outside of a particular place or nation.

It’s not always easy to be a Digital Nomad. One needs to deal with visas, health care, local regulations, taxes and broadband access. For that reason, one great resource is Nomad List, which is a website that allows people to search for the best city in the world for them to work. One can search cities using headings such as clean air, near a beach, nightlife, female safe, and fast internet. Of course when you do a search for cities and city icons come up, they always prominently display the typical broadband speed. Once you click on the city’s icon, a plethora of rankings appear. Right now, it looks like it’s hard to beat Budapest, Hungary and Chiang Mai, Thailand. But who knew that Richmond, Virginia would also score so high?

Aveiro, Portugal. By Gabriel González from Pontevedra, España (Aveiro – Portugal) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Anyone who truly wishes to be a Digital Nomad should also investigate the subreddit r/digitalnomad. The discussions may bring a touch of reality to the romance. I do sometimes wonder if the barriers to becoming a digital nomad haven’t increased over the last five years. How many people can really make a living marketing items on Amazon, or working as a web designer?

If you are intrigued by the idea the website Nomadic Notes might be helpful. The Remote Year site is getting attention for its idea of bringing people together in 12 difference cities for one year. Mike Elgin has an article titled The Digital Nomad’s Guide To Working From Anywhere On Earth, which has some practical tips. Lastly, travel blogger Aileen Adalid has a blog post titled The Ultimate Guide on how to become a digital nomad, which is well done. If nothing else, it might be fun to fantasize about life in Portugal or Cambodia for a while. Aveiro anyone?

Are you you interested in teaching about all things digital? Check out my syllabus for an online class on Digital Globalization.

Shawn Smallman, 2017

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/11/digital-nomads/

Nov 04

Fake News Resource

We all try to instill critical thinking through our classes, particularly the ability to evaluate information. As one of my colleagues often says: “How do we get information about what’s happening globally? Through the news.” His point is that an understanding of the media is essential to any International and Global Studies class. And evaluating the media is particularly difficult in the current era, as more information has become digital, and there are fewer gatekeepers to information.

Kimberly Pendell at the PSU library has developed (with help from Beth Pickard) an amazing ‘fake news’ resource, which is itself an adaption of one created by librarians at Loyola Marymount University. You can find this great teaching resource here. The website talks about what is fake news, provides examples, and helps students to factcheck and contextualize information. It also provides key definitions, such as for the terms confirmation bias and click bait. I particularly liked the examples that the website gives, which help students to think more critically about the media. Over the last few years I’ve done a great deal of work around conspiracy theories, from the alleged murder of the investigator Alberto Nisman in Argentina (a paper that I wrote with Leopoldo Rodriguez), to competing narratives about the 2009 influenza pandemic. For this reason, my favorite example was #3, which showed how sources that peddle conspiracy theories can make themselves appear to authoritative. Finally, the resource has an embedded clip of Stephen Colbert discussing “truthiness.” Of course. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/11/fake-news-resource/

Nov 01

Global Debt

The website Visual Capitalist has a chart that shows how much of the world’s debt is owned by individual countries. The image is a giant circle. What immediately strikes one when looking at it is that half of the worlds debt is held by only two nations, the United States (31.8%) and Japan (18.8%). Some nations on the list are surprising. Is it really possible that Italy’s debt (3.9%) is roughly twice that of Spain’s?

The debts are color-coded, so that the nations with the highest debt to GDP ratios are in yellow. With this approach Japan is the clear standout, a giant block of yellow on a mostly mauve chart, with the lone exception of Greece. According to this chart, Japan’s debt to GDP ratio is currently 239.3%, the highest of any major nation. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Russia is only responsible for .3% of the world’s debt, which places it in a similar category as oil powers such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Nigeria. One often hears that Russia is suffering because of low oil prices. It’s also important to have the context that Russia has the lowest debt of any major power. Of course, with $20 trillion dollars in debt, the U.S. is by far the largest global debtor. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/11/global-debt/

Oct 26

Halloween, drugs and Vancouver

English Bay, Vancouver. By No real name given [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

There is an area in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver so ravaged by drugs and homelessness that it’s become an icon in popular culture and Canadian literature. This was the hunting grounds of Robert Pickton, a serial killer who may have killed 49 women. Many people believe that he managed to evade arrest (I won’t say detection given the case of Wendy Lynn Eistetter) for so so long because many people didn’t care about the prostitutes from the East side streets. Books such as Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach have depicted the hopelessness of this area. There is even a new graphic novel called the Dregs, which depicts this area as a feeding ground for wealthy cannibals in a dystopian future. So this is not a place that you would expect to find whimsy or hope. That would be especially true around Halloween, which has a reputation amongst first responders for bringing out the strange in people. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/10/happy-halloween/

Oct 09

Supernatural China and the Ghost House

A highrise in Macau, seen through the ruined 17th century Church of St. Paul. Photo by Shawn Smallman.

Every Halloween I write a blog post about the supernatural or the mysterious, from a book review regarding a Russian mystery, to a description of the best podcasts to make you afraid.  Last summer I did fieldwork on public policy and infectious disease in southeastern China, during which I traveled to Hong Kong, Macau and Shenzhen. I was delighted by the ancient temples in Hong Kong, and fascinated by the enduring strength of traditional religion in the region. In fact, I was very disappointed to find that I was leaving Hong Kong one day before the “Festival of Hungry Ghosts” began on August 25th. But I was surprised to find that even urban and energetic Shenzhen is haunted by its past. This is surprising since the city has a population of perhaps 12 million people today, while it had a population of at most 30,000 in 1979. When I visited the Shenzhen Museum (which is both free and excellent, if you are interested in urban development) they had pictures of neighborhoods in the 1980s that were little more than fields. These pictures were juxtaposed with photos of Shenzhen currently, where developers compete to build the highest skyscraper. There can have been few places where development has so quickly erased the past. The city is filled with sweeping avenues, towering sky-scrapers, world-class architecture and graceful parks. It was painful to contrast the new public works in Shenzhen with the sometimes antiquated state of subways, bridges and roads in the United States. Yet even here, the city is haunted by disturbing memories. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2017/10/supernatural-china/

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