Mar 15

Returning Fighters

As the war against ISIS comes to an end, the media and politicians have been discussing how to deal with the return of those who fought for  ISIS. What fewer people are aware of is that there were also volunteers who chose to embed with Kurdish units fighting against ISIS in northern Iraq and Syria. In some respects, as I discussed in an earlier blog, the conflict in the Middle East has resembled the Spanish Civil War, in that it drew in foreigners from around the world, who were motivated to join an ideological conflict. I’m not the first person to have that insight, which was also recently discussed in a documentary titled, “The Fight Against Islamic State – Robin Hood Complex.”

The man who made this film, Emile Ghessen, served in the British military in the Middle East. He then became fascinated by the people who made the decision to travel to the region to fight as volunteers in the war against ISIS. The central question of the documentary was “what motivated these people.” What he finds is a collection of people from different backgrounds, who rejected what they viewed as the apathy of the West, and were determined to do their part to stop ISIS. He also examines the internal battles and personal interests that shape the volunteers decisions. As these people now return, some are being charged upon arriving home, even though they were fighting against a terrorist group.

The video is available for free on YouTube, where it appears to have been posted by Ghessen himself, otherwise I would not recommend it. It makes for compelling viewing, and provides another look at the widespread impact of the Middle East’s recent conflicts.

Shawn Smallman, 2019

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2019/03/returning-fighters/

Mar 08

Spring class at Portland State University

Map of Europe

Image above: Map of Europe, National Library of Ireland, Flickr Commons

For those of you who live in the Portland, Oregon area, I’m writing to recommend Dr. Evguenia Davidova’s spring class, “The European Union.” This is a thoughtfully designed face to face class with wonderful readings, as you can see from the book covers below; just looking at the reading list makes me want to join. Please see the details here:

INTL 452: The European Union
Evguenia Davidova
Mon/Wed 8:15 – 10:05
CRN: 65131
The course deals with the history of the European Union and focuses on  dramatic current developments, such as:
  • Brexit
  • The recent migration crisis
  • Catalonia/Catalunya’s bid for independence
  • Greece’s financial crisis
  • Expansion of populist parties in the EU countries
  • The New EU members from the former Eastern Bloc
The readings include essays by British immigrants, a memoir from the former East Germany, and a critical history of the European Union.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2019/03/spring-class-at-portland-state-university/

Mar 05

France’s Yellow Vest Movement

I generally try not to simply repost articles on this blog, but Noelle Lenoir’s recent post, “France’s burning hate” does a good job placing France’s Yellow Vest movement into context. Her perspective is sympathetic to Macron. In this depiction, the Yellow Vest movement is an increasingly violent force, which hearkens back to the anti-Semitism and hatred of the 1930s. What is particularly interesting in her description of how establishment figures have adopted the Yellow Vest movement for their own ends. Lenoir is clearly sympathetic to Macron, and says that he is gaining legitimacy by his principled and restrained response to the crisis. I think, however, that the voices of the protesters are missing from the piece. Her essay could have gone into greater depth about their demands, and the grievances that have fueled the movement. In her depiction the Yellow Vests seem more an atavistic force than a reflection of deeply held beliefs.

As in discussions of populism in the United Sates, Lenoir points the finger at the impact of Russian fake news, which incites popular unrest. Last week in my Cyberwar and Espionage class my students discussed Russia’s fake news and propaganda efforts. Collectively, they made a few points: foreign influence in politics and elections is nothing new; outside actors could only have an influence when the U.S. is deeply divided, and the apparent success of the Russian troll factories -which are quite real- may overshadow other political forces driving discontent. While Russia is certainly trying to sow dissent and protest in the West, I also believe that its efforts have become a convenient scapegoat to explain protest movements and unrest. Does Russia really have the influence ascribed to it? If so, what are the weaknesses in Western societies that permit this? And how many people in the United States or France are really following RT, or consuming fake news on social media?

Despite the gaps in the piece, I do think that Lenoir’s piece provides a useful perspective on the Yellow Vest movement, which is well worth reading.

Shawn Smallman, 2019

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2019/03/frances-yellow-vest-movement/

Mar 01

Diet and Global Health

What is the single most important factor in shaping global health in the developed world? Interestingly, it does not appear to be access to the most technologically sophisticated medical technology. In the chapter on health in our textbook, I start by saying: “Chile, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Guadalupe, Hong Kong, Israel, Malta, Martinique, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates are a diverse set of nations and territories. Yet they all have one fact in common: their citizens live longer than those of the United States, as do the citizens of many developed countries (Smallman and Brown, 2015, p. 236). Lee Miller and Weilu have an article titled “These are the World’s healthiest nations” in Bloomberg (February 24, 2019) which looks at global health statistics. The methodology looked at a number of factors -not only life expectancy- to rank countries. The top five countries were Spain, Italy, Iceland, Japan and Switzerland. There are many such rankings, and each one has methodological questions or choices. But all such national rankings of health can leave you questioning what you think you know, particularly about the role of diet in health. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2019/03/diet-and-global-health/

Feb 15

Bolsonaro and democracy in Brazil

When I wrote my book on military terror in Brazil (please ignore the ugly cover if you click on the link to the left. #uglybookcovers) I thought that the processes and events that I described were consigned to history. Then as well I believed that my articles on torture described a political practice that had passed in Latin America, and certainly in the West. My confidence proved to be misplaced after 9/11, which brought the U.S. crimes at Abu Ghraib, and the CIA’s adoption of waterboarding. Similarly, authoritarianism and populism have moved to the forefront in Brazil, as the nation has elected a former army officer (Jair Messias Bolsonaro) best known for his outrageous political rhetoric. And his vice-president -another former military officer, Gen. Antonio Hamilton Mourão- makes even more extreme statements than he does. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2019/02/bolsonaro-and-democracy-in-brazil/

Feb 04

Tools to learn Chinese

What are some of the best tools and resources to study Mandarin? One of the hardest tasks when learning another language is to remain motivated for the long term, which is why it it’s helpful to have a goal. The HSK (Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì) is a standard Chinese proficiency test, which is administered by the Chinese government. I’ve been studying Chinese through Portland State University’s Confucius Institute, and plan to take the HSK 2 this summer. I really want to thank both PSU’s Confucius Institute and my teacher for helping me to learn this beautiful language. 谢谢 Based on my experience, I wanted to explore tools to learn Mandarin.

View of the ocean in Hong Kong. Photo by Shawn Smallman, 2017

If you are studying Mandarin there are a wealth of free resources and websites to help you, and here are a few that I recommend. To be clear, I don’t know anyone at any of these sites or companies, and I haven’t received any gifts or funds for these endorsements. I also haven’t included subscription based services (like Skritter) because I’d rather buy something outright than have to pay by the month. I’ve also generally avoided apps that require you to share an email address to register, such as HSK online. These are all apps and programs that I’ve used myself for countless hours. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2019/02/tools-to-learn-mandarin-chinese/

Feb 03

The Venezuelan Disaster

French television has a recent documentary, “Dancing with the Dead” which captures the terrible collapse of that country. It begins by looking at popular religion in a cemetery, where people worship dead thieves. One follower of the group says “They weren’t like today’s thugs.” When people become sentimental for the criminals of the past, you know that things aren’t going well. Within the cemetery the graves are trashed by grave robbers looking for gold, rings and body parts that they can sell. Even the former president’s casket has been raided. For me, the moving scene was one in which a long-suffering priest performed a funeral for a homicide victim, while knowing that the people he buries will soon be dug up.

Still, the scene that I’ll most remember was when two ambulance attendant brought a thief to the hospital who had been shot in the hand. The hospital employees asked the ambulance medics if they wanted the hospital to treat his wound, with a touch of amazement or frustration in their tone. One would think that was an obvious question. But then they told the ambulance drivers that the hospital didn’t have the resources for this treatment, and that they should take him somewhere else, because he could lose his hand if they didn’t act quickly. The ambulance attendants asked rather plaintively where they should take him, but didn’t seem to receive an answer before they drove off into the night.

One point that you can’t miss viewing the video is how painfully thin many of the poor are. This film is highly recommended, but be forewarned that it does have disturbing images.

If you are interested in Latin America, you might want to read my book on the HIV epidemic in the region, or the history of military terror in Brazil.

Shawn Smallman, 2019

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2019/02/the-venezuelan-disaster/

Jan 30

Measles and conspiracy theories

An outbreak of measles in Clark county Washington has led to at least 36 confirmed cases, and quite possibly a dozen more. A recent Oregonian newspaper article by Molly Harbarger had the title “Vancouver-area measles outbreak costs county $187,000 so far.” While we now view measles as a childhood disease, some historians have suggested that it could have caused the Antonine plague that devastated ancient Rome (165-180 AD). Globally, in 1985 nearly 1.2 million people died from measles annually (see slide 3), and many more patients suffered from pneumonia or were left with damaged hearing. Of course, measles is easily preventable with a regularly administered vaccination. This vaccination not only protects the person who receives it, but also babies too young to receive the vaccine, or patients with weakened immune systems, such as people receiving chemotherapy or living with HIV/AIDS.

The outbreak in Clark county was entirely preventable. Too few people had received the vaccination for herd immunity to work. It’s a sign of a larger problem, which is people’s refusal to vaccinate their children against diseases such as Whooping Cough, which is making a come-back in the United States. Public health authorities suggest that one of major factors driving these outbreaks are the conspiracy theories regarding vaccines spread through social media, YouTube and the internet. Interestingly, outbreaks of these vaccine-preventable diseases are no longer primarily happening amongst the poor and marginalized, but rather amongst the educated and privileged. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2019/01/measles-and-conspiracy-theories/

Jan 15

History’s decline

Why are so many history department’s struggling? Many people may have read the New York Times article by Mitch Smith: Students in Rural America Ask, ‘What Is a University Without a History Major?’ The article described how the The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point is eliminating its history department. Although totally closing a department is extreme, other departments are losing funds for adjuncts and summer classes; in other cases faculty who retire are not being replaced. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2019/01/historys-decline/

Jan 01

Developing an online program: tips for administrators

How does a university put classes, programs, and degrees online? What are the key points that administrators should know? Three years ago I wrote a successful internal grant to create an online track in International and Global Studies at PSU. Since then my colleagues and I have successfully moved core classes online, and we have many students completing their degree virtually. I do all of my teaching online now, and I’m the lead adviser for our online track in my department. Although I have a deep interest in pedagogy, particularly Universal Design and the negotiated syllabus, that’s not what I want to explore today. Instead, I want to talk about an administrator’s perspective (having been a dean and a department chair) regarding how to put programs or degrees online, based on this experience. Here are my top tips: Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: https://www.introtoglobalstudies.com/2019/01/developing-an-online-teaching-program/

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