Pigeons and Nuclear Weapons

Image “Wood Pigeon” courtesy of James Barker at freedigitalphotos.net

After the last serious post on lost nuclear weapons, you might wish to see a less serious take on warfare and espionage.  Check out Lucas Martell’s brief video, “Pigeon Impossible,” to see how one determined bird helps prevent catastrophe. You’ve got to love the scene with the Washington Monument.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Broken Arrow: Lost Nuclear Weapons in Canada

Image of Boeing B-52H by Tim Beach courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Within the U.S. military, the code term for a lost nuclear weapon is “Broken Arrow.” There have been many such incidents, from the dangerous accident in Savannah, Georgia, to the four nuclear weapons lost near Palomares, Spain. But what many people may not know was that the first nuclear weapons were lost in Canada. On February 13, 1950 a U.S. B-36 bomber, Flight 075, traveling from Alaska to Fort Worth Texas, had three engines catch fire, from what was later discovered to be a design flaw. The plane carried a Mark Four nuclear weapon, which was made with uranium but had a core of lead. The captain made the decision to jettison the bomb off the Canadian coast, after setting the weapon to airburst at 3000 feet. The bomb vanished in a conventional explosion, which rained uranium down onto the coast. The pilot then changed course back over land, where 16 crew members bailed out around midnight near Princess Royale Island. The plane itself flew on into the dark using auto-pilot. The bomber ultimately crashed into a mountainside in Northern BC. By this point, Strategic Command knew that they had lost a plane and a nuclear weapon, and the search was on. Twelve of the bomber’s crew were found alive. The bomber itself was only found in 1953 on the slopes of Mount Kologet. To this day, how the plane was found 200 miles from where the crew jumped, at a higher elevation, and in the opposite direction to that set on autopilot, remains a mystery.

International Studies Blog

My colleague, Professor Tugrul Keskin, has created a blog for his “Introduction to International Studies” class. The blog posts articles and videos (such as the Hayek versus Keynes rap), and provides links from everything from newspapers to think tanks. It’s a good tool for students trying to find global news or perspectives, or for faculty looking for some classroom material.

Prof. Shawn Smallman

The Strange Life and Death of Walter Benjamin

“Books” by Healing Dream at freedigitalphotos.net

Last week in my “Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies” class I discussed Critical Theory and the Frankfurt School. Of course, this meant discussing Walter Benjamin, an eclectic yet influential theorist. Benjamin was born into a well-to-do Jewish family in Germany in 1882. He was horrified by World War One, and left the country to study in Switzerland, where he received his doctorate from the University of Bern in 1919. He had difficulty finding an academic job after he returned to Germany, but he continued to write in a wide range of fields, including art, translation, poetry, history and literature.  He also considered himself to be a psychonaut, and carried out extensive experimentation with hashish and morphine. Given his background as a failed academic, he might have appeared unlikely to become an influential figure, but his critical ideals in the humanities, and skeptical vision of modernity, led him to become important not only in literary criticism but also Critical Theory. …

The Christmas Truce of 1914

I follow a number of blogs in Latin America, of which my favorite is Historias Inesperadas by Daniel Balmaceda, who focuses on the unexpected aspects of Argentina’s past, from the first parachute jump in Latin America, to the early life of San Martin. As the nights grow longer in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s good to have a positive story to think about. So I loved this video clip on the blog, which tells the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914, through the song “All Together Now,” by the Farm in 1990. As the First World War entered its first winter, German and British troops declared an unofficial truce in the trenches of Belgium, during which they fraternized, shared cigarettes, and played soccer. The officer corps on both sides were horrified by the outbreak of peace, and managed to prevent this truce from happening again. The pictures with this version of the video are evocative, and although you probably don’t need the subtitles in Spanish, they suggest how this story has inspired people in many countries. To watch the video scroll down until the subtitle “Tregua de Navidad” here.

Shawn Smallman

Mystery Epidemic In Central America: CKD

Image of Sugar Cane field from freedigitalphotos.net

In an earlier post, I talked about some mystery diseases globally. None, however, may have affected as many people as a strange kidney disease impacting sugar cane workers in Central America. As a recent article states, the suffering in some communities in the region has been immense: “In the past 10 years, it’s believed that hundreds, if not thousands, of residents of Chichigalpa — mostly male sugarcane workers — have died from chronic kidney disease, or CKD. That in a city of nearly 60,000, roughly the size of Ames, Iowa.” One study of a farming community in El Salvador found that one quarter of men were suffering from signs of CKD. In another community, La Isla, Nicaragua, allegedly seventy percent of men have the disease.

At this point people are blaming a host of different factors for the disease: pesticides, dehydration and arsenic. Unsurprisingly, the sugar industry denies that its actions could be responsible in any way for the illness. One spokesperson told Kerry Sanders and Lisa Riordan Seville at NBC News that the root of the problem might be alcohol or volcanoes: …

The Globalized Arctic

Image of Polar Bear thanks to freedigitalphotos.net

This month’s issue of National Geographic has an article, “Vikings and Native Americans,” which focuses on archaeologist Patricia Sutherland’s work on Viking sites in the Canadian Arctic, particularly at Tanfield Valley. Sutherland has found a number of sites in the Arctic that contain Viking items. Other lines of evidence now suggest that there was a long trading relationship between the Dorset peoples of the Canadian Arctic and the Viking settlements in Greenland. These exchanges may have included genes, as is suggested by evidence for First Nation’s ancestry amongst a small number of modern Icelanders. The most likely explanation was that a Native American women came to Iceland around 1000 AD, about the time that the Norse first traveled to the New World.  Peter Schledermann’s chapter, “Ellesmere: Vikings in the Far North,” in Vikings: the North Atlantic Saga details other evidence that the Norse traders left in the Canadian High Arctic. …

In Honor of Halloween: International Ghost Stories

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In this field, we often have to address dark topics, from  the indigenous experience of colonialism in the Americas, to the threat of emerging infectious diseases. But in my class and in my writing I always try also to touch on art, culture, music and literature. After some of my more recent posts (such as the recent ones on highly pathogenic avian influenza and the Mexican drug war) I wanted to touch on something less serious. So, in honor of Halloween’s approach, I’ll discuss international ghost stories.

My favorite short story writer is M.R. James. Although not prolific, he wrote a rich collection of late Victorian and Edwardian English ghost stories. As a successful academic, who wrote extensively on medieval and biblical history, his stories have an antiquarian touch. They are often set in libraries, or deal with archaeology, so that the past defines the story in a deep way. For any Anglophiles out there, they capture the social reality of Britain before World War Two, and an academic culture now long gone. I thought of him while at Oxford a few weeks ago (although he taught at Cambridge), and thought that physically there are still many places that don’t look very different from the England he knew. A gay man in an oppressive culture, he was Victorian in his character, but there are hints of his struggles in his stories. Perhaps his most famous story is “Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,” but my favorite is “Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook.” …

The Zetas: a Flawed Victory in Mexico’s War on Drugs

Earlier in this blog, I’ve discussed the Mexican drug war and the narco-blogs that have covered it. Calderon will leave Mexico’s presidency at the end of the year, but the drug war appears to continue unabated. As someone who began his career studying the Latin American military I have followed events closely. One of the aspects of the conflict that has struck me has been the extent to which the Mexican armed forces have relied upon the navy in the conflict, likely because the drug cartels have extensively infiltrated the army. Indeed, perhaps the most powerful cartel, the Zetas, emerged from within the armed forces itself. Now we have truly remarkable news coming out of the Mexico, that marines managed to kill the head of the Zeta cartel, Heriberto Lazcano. If true, this represents a striking victory for the government. Or it would, except that heavily armed members of the cartel promptly stole the body from the funeral home. If the armed forces cannot even provide security for this body, how can they impose order on society? Still, despite this strange loss, the Zetas have suffered from a series of deadly blows over the last year, and their power is waning. Lazcano’s death would surely accelerate this process. Still, this victory seems unlikely to change fundamentally the dynamic of the drug war, which grinds on. In the meanwhile, check out this excellent piece by the New York Times on Lazcano’s death, and the disappearance of his body.

Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies: Exam Questions

I am teaching a class “Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies” this quarter. It’s a challenging course for the students, and my class is currently wrestling with Dipesh Chakrabarty’s book, Provincializing Europe. I’ve chosen the book so that students think about such questions as: How do we understand modernity in a non-Western context? How applicable are social science theories developed in Europe or North America to other world regions? To what extent do Western social sciences implicitly accept models based on historicism, in which other cultures and societies are expected to pass through the same stages as Europe? What is the meaning of modernity? How do the social sciences approach the study of religion? Next quarter I am teaching the same class, but plan to use Edward Said’s Orientalism, which I think most students will find to be a more accessible text. Still, I think that Chakrabarty is a key text to any conversation about the meaning of modernity. …

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