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:

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

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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 »

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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 »

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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

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May 15

The new energy reality

“A petrochemical refinery in Grangemouth, Scotland, UK.” User:John from wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

When Kim and I reworked our textbook for the second edition, the energy chapter perhaps underwent the greatest change. In 2011 the peak oil movement was receiving a lot of media attention, and websites such as the Oil Drum were a powerful force. Matthew Simmons, Twilight in the Desert, received a great deal of media attention, with its warning that the Saudi oil fields were entering into an irrevocable decline.

In 2013 the Oil Drum closed, North Dakota was booming, and the United States was moving towards energy self-sufficiency. Fracking had changed the global energy landscape. By 2016 oil prices were in a steep decline, that they have only recently begun to recover from. Coal was waning because of the low cost of gas,

In 2017 Toshiba’s Westinghouse has entered bankruptcy because of the high cost of building new nuclear reactors in the American South. It’s not at all clear that it is technically possible to stop the radioactive contamination of water in Fukushima, at any cost or within any timeframe. There are grave doubts that the Japanese government is being forthright about this challenge. With the exception of China and France (and to a much lesser extent, Great Britain) the nuclear industry is in decline.

Tesla is now worth more than GM (although critics say that its valuation is a bubble), and the company is diversifying into batteries. The price of wind power is now competitive with many other sources, and the offshore wind industry has finally begun to produce power in the United States. Perhaps even more important, the price of solar energy is falling at a staggering rate. In the long term, technology breakthroughs are promising to create solar panels that are far more efficient than the current technology, which is approaching its theoretical limit. If solar follows the same economic trajectory as wind power, the changes within our energy infrastructure will be profound. Read the rest of this entry »

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May 07

Can you trust Wikileaks?

“Gun camera footage of the airstrike of 12 July 2007 in Baghdad, showing the slaying of Namir Noor-Eldeen and a dozen other civilians by an US helicopter.” Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons at

During the last U.S. presidential election campaign Wikileaks drew extensive news coverage, as it released data from the Democratic National Committee shortly before the election took place. In March Wikileaks released a massive amount of data regarding CIA’s espionage capabilities. But how does Wikileaks fact-check its data? Can you trust that what it posts is real and not a hoax? If you’ve ever wondered about this, then you might want to listen the BBC World Service podcast, the Inquiry, which has an episode titled “Can you believe what you read on Wikileaks?” You can also find the episode on Stitcher here. What’s fascinating about this podcast is that the journalist interviewed disillusioned members of Wikileaks itself. The bottom line is that the data released to date has been very reliable. At the same time, Assange has nearly total control over what is released, and so his agenda determines Wikileak’s decisions.

There has recently been a great deal of discussion regarding whether Wikileaks has released information obtained from the Russian state. Assange has denied this. Still, it’s also perfectly possible that the Russian state may be running a false-flag operation -an idea as old as espionage itself- in order to pass on information to Wikileaks. More important, however, is the fact that Wikileaks is very much defined by the decisions of a single individual. The podcast discusses Assange’s history, motivations and relationships, to try put Wikileaks into context as a political actor.

Shawn Smallman

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May 01

Statistics on the Global Drug Trade

“Major Trafficking Routes,” by CIA Employee (CIA Employee) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This quarter I am teaching a class on the Global Drug Trade, as a fully online class. One question is where can students find reliable statistics on the drug trade for their project. With many thanks to the PSU library, here are a couple of reliable sources of information:

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report, 2016.

U.S. Department of State, 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. This is a two volume document, which has statistical information embedded into it in the form of charts and tables.

Do you know of another good source of statistics on the Global Drug Trade? Please let me know at

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

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Apr 15

Cities, Size and China

As my colleagues in Urban Studies point out, when we speak of global issues we often focus on nation states, but some cities can be nearly as influential as states regarding trade, political stability or cultural impact. Nowhere is urbanization of greater importance than in contemporary China. A new webpage titled “The City-nator” at Chinaskinny allows you to type in the name of your city and see how many cities in China have a greater population. For example, when I entered my city of Portland, Oregon (there was no option for Portland, Maine, which was under the one million minimum) the website showed a list of 219 cities in China of greater size. These cities combined spend more than three trillion dollars are year on goods and services. According to this website, there are 223 cities in China that are larger than Vancouver, Canada.

But how accurate are these figures? In the case of Portland , the website said that the city’s total population is 2.34 million. In fact, the city’s population is 609,000, but the website’s figure probably would be accurate for the greater Portland area. So the numbers appear reasonable, based on a quick survey of a few U.S. cities, but you can explore the page further. As the webpage points out, there are 112 cities in China “with more people than New Zealand.”

Shawn Smallman

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Apr 07

Pandemics and Information

Colorized transmission electron micrograph of Avian influenza A H5N1 viruses. By Photo Credit: Cynthia Goldsmith Content Providers: CDC/ Courtesy of Cynthia Goldsmith; Jacqueline Katz; Sherif R. Zaki [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There have seldom been as many times over the last 100 years when the world has faced such a diversity of emerging infectious diseases. For this reason, I want to review some of the best websites and blogs for tracking pandemic threats. Michael Coston has a wonderful blog titled Avian Flu Diary, which tracks emerging infectious diseases, particularly avian influenza. I particularly recommend his March 13, 2017 post “Avian Flu’s Global Field Experiment.” In this post, he describes in detail the diversification and geographic expansion of avian influenza threats over the preceding six months. Although the blog post is written for the lay reader, its information is scientifically sound and based upon a deep knowledge of influenza.

For the dangers that we face, and what we need to do to face them, it’s worth reading two articles. The first is Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s, “The big one is coming, and it’s going to be a flu pandemic.” It’s also worth reading Crawford Kilian’s, “A War We Should All Support — But Probably Won’t,” in the Tyee.

If you are interested in tracking news related to influenza, you’ll also want to follow the Virology Down Under blog. Ian Mackay often provides the best numerical analysis available regarding outbreaks. The Bird flu report collects tweets regarding avian influenza by experts in the field. is not a visually engaging site, but it collects detailed information on avian influenza, which is organized by world region. Finally, for influenza the H5N1 blog is one of the best sources on the web. The page also has links to almost every other valuable website regarding influenza and global public health. Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr 01

Hope and Fear in the Amazon

Macaw in the Amazon, taken by Shawn Smallman

Macaw in the Amazon, taken by Shawn Smallman

In the 1980s the global media gave extensive coverage to deforestation in Amazonia. Over the last thirty years, there has been a significant decline in media attention to this topic, which partly reflects very real progress that Brazil and neighboring countries have made in slowing deforestation. Still, the problem remains. In 2014, Brazil decided not to sign a UN agreement to defend forests.

I’ve been teaching a course on Amazonian history for 20 years, and I’ve never found such a good classroom resource on the topic as this storyboard by the Council on Foreign Relations. The storyboard combines small amounts of text, with imagery and short videos to place the issue into historical context. Many of the pages are dynamic; that is, there is movement in the background. Some of the maps are excellent. I also particularly liked the successive aerial shots of forest in the Brazilian state of Rondonia over ten year increments.

One weakness is that the storyboard focuses only on Brazil. While Brazil is the country that on its own has the largest Amazonian territories, it would have been useful to have more information on Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela as well. I also personally believe that dams are perhaps the greatest environmental threat in the region, and would like to have seen more coverage of this issue in the storyboard. Still, for any class that addresses environmental issues, this would be a great link in a course shell.

Shawn Smallman, 2017

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