Novel Coronavirus outbreak in China

Fighting SARS Memorial, Hong Kong, These busts and plaques commemorate health care workers who volunteered to fight SARS, and then sadly were infected and died. Photo by Shawn Smallman

As I write this blog post all travel has been banned in Wuhan, and two neighboring cities (Huanggang and Ezhou) in China. The cause for this travel ban is a novel coronovirus, which is currently called nCoV2019, although it will likely receive a new name soon. Coronaviruses are a virus that causes respiratory diseases, such as SARS in 2003, and MERS in the Middle East. SARS was a bat virus that passed through a civet cat at a Wet Market, and then jumped to humans. Although the outbreak was ultimately brought under control, it was contained at a very high cost. The Fighting SARS Memorial pictured above commemorates Hong Kong health care workers who died while serving their patients. Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2020/01/novel-coronavirus-outbreak/

The South China Sea

Are you looking for an online resource that students might use to quickly understand the South China Sea dispute between China and its neighbors? You could do much worse than this brief video that was shared on Twitter. I know that we sometimes think of Twitter as the host for emotional oversharing, Russian bots and disinformation campaigns, but @9DashLine and @SCS_news are good feeds to follow if you want to keep abreast of the latest information on the South China Sea issue.

Shawn Smallman, 2020

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2020/01/the-south-china-sea/

Rick Steve’s The Story of Fascism in Europe

Adolf Hitler.
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H1216-0500-002 / CC-BY-SA [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Xenophobia and populism have been on the rise globally, from Brazil to the United States. Even European nations have not been immune to these trends, despite the continent’s painful history with the far right and fascism. Rick Steve’s has a new documentary, The Story of Fascism in Europe, which provides a concise study of this movement, which might be useful for an introductory class. The documentary begins with an examination of Mussolini’s rise to power, then moves to the tactics adopted by Hitler. Simplistic solutions, the promise of rapid change, economic growth funded through public debt, attacks on unions, rhetoric that emphasized peoples’ fears, the use of intimidation, and the othering of minorities  proved to be a successful political strategy. While the majority of the documentary deals with Europe’s history, the final five minutes makes a link to the present.

Shawn Smallman, 2020

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2020/01/rick-steves-the-story-of-fascism-in-europe/

Facebook, Twitter and Security

Image of globe on light, Arts Building, McGill University. Photo by Smallman

Last quarter I was  teaching a fully online course Digital Globalization, while this quarter I am teaching an online class on Cyber-warfare and espionage. In these courses we cover topics such as  Snowden, Wikileaks, Anonymous, white and black hat hackers, NSA, zero day exploits, the Panama Papers and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. What’s interesting is the division within my students regarding privacy. There are a minority of students who are unconcerned about the issue because they feel that if they haven’t done anything wrong, why should they worry? But there is a much larger group of students who feel that this is a significant anxiety in their lives. Although they worry about the government tracking their activities, they are even more concerned about how their lives are tracked by businesses. Every time they go on social media, have a sensitive conversation near Google Home or Alexa, or text message a friend, they wonder a little about how their digital lives make them vulnerable.

Whats amazing is how little security is built into many online platforms. But few platforms have faced as much criticism as Facebook. To help understand why, you might read this post by Krebs on Security: Facebook Stored Hundreds of Millions of User Passwords in Plain Text for Years. As the article explains, this meant that Facebook’s employees could have accessed peoples’ accounts over a very long period, although Facebook says there is no evidence that they did. Since people often reuse passwords, this was a terrible security breach. Facebook is key to many peoples’ social lives. But given its flaws, it’s worth remembering never to reuse passwords, especially with Facebook. It also wouldn’t hurt, to enable two-factor authentication on key accounts (such as your bank), and always use a VPN on public wifi.

Of course Facebook isn’t the only social media tool that has security vulnerability. One of the best ways to keep in touch with digital issues is through Wired magazine, which had a recent article
Twitter Insiders Allegedly Spied for Saudi Arabia. In this case, what happened was that two employees were able to access accounts, and to pass on this information to Saudi Arabia. Social media is a wonderful tool. But one of the key concepts in my digitally focused classes is that there is no absolute privacy online, only relative privacy. This fact cannot be escaped by using the Dark Web, as the Egotistical Giraffe exploit with TOR showed. Remember what happened on the Silk Road with the Dread Pirate Roberts (yes, named after a character in the movie, the Princess Bride). Even the most savvy digital user leaves breadcrumbs. No software tool, VPN, or hardware can elide this fact. And in the age of the Internet Archive, nothing online truly disappears. This doesn’t mean that social media can’t be a wonderful tool. But its worth remembering when you use social media to convey sensitive information, or politically loaded content. And we collectively need to hold the giant social media companies (as well as as other corporations with data, including health records)  to account for lax security. And if you can bear it, just delete Facebook.

Shawn Smallman, 2020

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2020/01/facebook-and-security/

The cost of education globally

Years ago I lectured in Germany at the University of Trier. While I was there these German students asked me about the cost of tuition at my school, a public institution in Oregon. At the time, my university had by far the lowest tuition rate in the state. But when I told my students what a year at my institution would cost students in tuition they were horrified. Many of them started laughing. They all gathered around me to tell me how outrageous that charge was.

In Germany at that time (about a decade ago) individual states set tuition policies. In most states tuition was free. In others there would be very low; perhaps as little as two hundred dollars. Of course the university was starved for funds. But the students were exceptional, and received an immense amount of hands-on time with their faculty. The program was rigorous, even though funding levels were much less that an American institution.

Now when I talk to my American students the subject of their student debt is always there. It shapes the majors they choose, and their career plans afterwards. Twenty years ago I would ask students in my “Introduction to International Studies” class what career path they preferred. Ninety percent of my students or more would raise their hands when I said “non-profits.” Only one or two would say business. Now that is reversed, and easily ninety percent of my students want a career in international business when they come into my introductory class. I think that is wonderful, and I want to support their career aspirations any way I can. I supervise internships, may connections to local businesses, and encourage students to do a business minor. But I wish that the choices that students made reflected their personal interests as much as their familial and financial pressures.

It is possible to create a different system. In Quebec, Canada, the in-province tuition at Concordia University would be under $3,000 a year U.S. But even that is higher than many European institutions. James Melville recently tweeted a video about how higher education is free in Denmark, and some other European nations.

I have some colleagues who hate when I talk about university finances, because they say it is part of the “business model” for higher education. There is some truth to what they say. But it’s also the case that the way we offer education in the United States imposes incredibly high costs on both our students and their families. We need to rethink our education system from the ground up. And both state and federal governments have to stop the disinvestment in higher education that has taken place over the last twenty years. At many private universities in the United States tuition alone costs over $50,000 a year. That’s without books, fees, room and board. So it might cost a student $70,000 a year to go to a private institution.

Teaching at an institution that has a tuition perhaps less than a sixth of that cost, I know that the private institutions aren’t six times better. But higher education is not a rational market because parents often feel that they cannot discuss the cost of education with their children. At the same time the perceived differences between universities is so great that students fear going to a lower level state institution. Of course, these perceptions are often wildly inaccurate. But they reflect inequalities in funding that have been taking place over a long time.

The higher education system in the United States is highly unequal, and provides a massive disincentive to education for lower-income families. Of course, student loans help many students complete college. But these funds not only saddle these students with immense debt, but also create a huge debt bubble. Ultimately, the loan-based system is part of the problem, as it papers over the fact that the business model for higher education is bankrupt. We need as a society to create institutions that charge students a fraction of the current amount. That will entail more online programs and offerings. But it should be done with tenured faculty, who are paid a living wage. It should not be done on the backs of adjuncts, who have no job security and often teach at multiple institutions for miserable wages. Universities have to drive down costs. But I don’t think that there is any way for tuition in the U.S. to drop dramatically without returning to the funding levels for state institutions that we saw in the 1980s.

Denmark, Germany and other European nations offer higher education for free. Their schools create a highly educated citizenry and workforce, which benefits the entire society. How high do tuition costs in the United States have to go before parents and students say enough; we have to make a fundamental change? What will be most difficult is that Wall Street makes immense profits off of student loans, which have been securitized. So it will be a third rail, much like talking about the public option for health care.

When I first began my career, one of my colleagues in Joplin, Missouri told me that his student loan debts were greater than his mortgage. That was in 1995. I can only imagine the pressure that today’s graduates may face. The United States doesn’t need to become Denmark, but can we find some inspiration and ideas from these models?

Shawn Smallman, 2019

 

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2019/12/the-cost-of-education-globally/

The Spider’s Web- a documentary

“The Spider’s Web: Britain’s Second Empire” is a documentary produced for 4,000 pounds, which traces how the City of London manages tens of trillions of dollars. The City of London itself is a bizarre structure, separate from the London with which we are all familiar. This strange subset of the city has its own governmental structure, which is largely dominated by financial interests. This well-researched and engrossing documentary explains how -after Britain’s empire collapsed in the 1960s- financial corporations based in the City of London created a series of secrecy areas or tax havens in U.K. territories from the Cayman Islands to Jersey. The result was a neo-colonial system, in which vast sums of money flowed by illicit means to the City. Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2019/12/the-spiders-web/

Curious Creations by ElleWildStudio

 

Raven Scarf at Curious Creations by ElleWildStudio on Etsy

My sister is a novelist and artist who lives on a mountain-side on Salt Spring Island, off the coast of British Columbia. In her small art studio, overlooking the rainforest, she creates amazing ink images of animals, mythical beings and nature. If you are looking for a unique gift for the holidays, please check out her shop on Etsy, called Curious Creations by ElleWildStudio. Where else can you buy a Raven scarf, a siren tote bag or a Jackelope pillowcase? And if you need a book for the long, winter nights, you might check out the award winning mystery Strange Things Done, which is set in Canada’s Yukon.

Shawn Smallman, 2019

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2019/11/art-etsy-and-ellewildstudio/

How to become a Digital Nomad?

I was talking with a student recently who said that they wanted to create a life where they could live in different locations or even nations. When I asked the student if they had ever heard the term Digital Nomad they said no. But when I began to explain the term for this movement, they said that they felt a chill. I’ve talked about digital nomads before, because every year I come to know several of them through my online classes and advising for my department’s online track.

In week ten of my Introduction to International Studies course we focus on careers, using the “Where to Go Next Chapter” in our textbook. But I’ve also added some other content now addressing Digital Nomads; I’ve also created a discussion prompt (its an online class) around this topic. You can see both the week’s content and the discussion prompt below:

Week 10, Careers and International Travel

Watch: No videos this week.

Listen:  Podcast on International Careers

View: the PSU Career Center website.

Read:

Chapters Twelve and Thirteen: Where to go from here and Conclusion.

Smallman (2017), “Digital Wanderers.” Blog post, Introduction to International and Global Studies.

Nomad List, website.

Beverly Yuen Thompson. (2018). Digital Nomads: Employment in the Online Gig Economy. Glocalism: Journal of Culture, Politics and Innovation, 2018(1), Glocalism: Journal of Culture, Politics and Innovation, 01 June 2018, Vol.2018(1).

Do: Complete your first discussion post by Wednesday at 11:59, and respond to another student by Friday at 11:59.

Week 10 Discussion Prompt:

This week you read Smallman’s blog post about Digital Wanderers. Could you see yourself as a Digital Wanderer/Nomad? Why or Why not? If you were one, where would you wish to live? Why? Do you know any Digital Wanderers? Or if you are one, do you have any tips?

I’ve also asked my students for the career advice that they’d like to share with their peers. This is what they said:

Don’t let your education get in the way of your learning

Show up when others won’t

Take any experience that you can get

Your major does not determine your career

Be patient. You will find your career.

Stay open to opportunities because the unexpected can happen.

Shawn Smallman, 2019

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2019/11/digital-nomads-2/

Rethinking the Vela Incident

It’s always surprising to see which blogs people read. One of the blogs that attracted the most comment was on a nuclear mystery called the Vela Incident. The short version of the story is that on September 22, 1979 an aging American spy satellite detected a powerful flash of light deep in the planet’s southern oceans. For decades people have debated whether this may have been an illegal nuclear test, and -if so- which state may have been responsible. Other theories have also been advanced for the blast, which range from a lightening super-bolt to a meteor. There have been no clear answers. Now Foreign Policy has a special issue about just this topic. If you are interested in mysteries, espionage or number stations, this edition presents a series of arguments that Israel was the responsible party. According to one section by Victor Gilinsky, the United States knew who was responsible, but chose to keep silent.

Shawn Smallman, 2019

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2019/11/rethinking-the-vela-incident/

Death in Ice Valley

Two of the viking stone ships (burial grounds) at Badelunda, near Västerås, Sweden.
By User:Berig (User:Berig. Transferred from en.wp) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Every year on Halloween I cover a suitable topic, such as a haunted house in Hong Kong, or a mystery ship in Canada. This year I want to briefly mention “Death in Ice Valley” which is a joint production between the BBC World Service and NRK. This particular podcast examines the mystery that surrounds the Isdal woman, an unidentified person who was found murdered in strange circumstances in a Norwegian valley in 1970. While there was considerable evidence that the woman was a spy, her identity has remained a mystery for all these years.

The mood of the podcast is set at the start of each episode by the sound of the drizzling rain and a haunting vocal. The degree of research that went into this production is simply staggering. The two reporters -one British, one Norwegian- travel from the remote fjords of northern Norway to the home of an aging crime reporter in Spain. They find the woman’s jaw, do DNA testing, and locate a secret file. And with every discovery a new door opens, and more questions surface. As the story progresses, we become swept into the Cold World era. The tale is worth of one of my favorite fictional characters, George Smiley. While there are no supernatural elements to this podcast, it is a haunting, atmospheric puzzling production. The podcast is available everywhere from iTunes to Overcast.  Highly recommended.

If you are interested in a tale of the Northern supernatural, you may also want to put on the kettle, and read my book Dangerous Spirits. But it’s best not to do it in the midst of a Canadian or New England winter, especially if there is a blizzard, and the raccoon is making those sounds in the attic again.

Shawn Smallman, 2019

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2019/10/death-in-ice-valley/