Australia

Coronavirus and Quarantine

Health education poster, Hong Kong. Photo by Shawn Smallman

As I write these words nurses in Hong Kong are on strike to protest the fact that the Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, will not close the border to China. To be clear, the executive has sharply restricted entry to Hong Kong, closed most crossings, and forbidden entry from the most affected Chinese state, Hubei.  But there are still strong calls for a complete border closure coming from within Hong Kong’s medical community.  Similarly, the United States has restricted flights from China to U.S. citizens only; some U.S. airlines had already canceled service to China. All such quarantine measures are controversial.

On social media, such as Twitter, and in the press, a number of experts have denounced all quarantines as being not only ineffective but also in violation of WHO guidelines. These authors worried about panic overcoming good judgement, the economic costs of restricting travel, the stigma imposed on those from affected areas (Chinese in particular, but also all Asia), and the importance of upholding International Health Regulations. These are valid and important points. Some authors have also pointed to studies based on computer models showing that quarantines are ineffective with highly contagious respiratory diseases.

Recently the tone has shifted in the discussion, as it has become clear that some cases of the virus are being spread asymptomatically. The number of cases has grown quickly. Some apparent facts (such as no human to human transmission) that seemed true in mid-January are no longer true. So the stridency of the debate about quarantine has declined, but the debate continues.

So is there any role for quarantines to manage such a pandemic? And is there some other way to make a judgement that relies less on computer models? I would suggest that looking at the past history of respiratory pandemics, such as the 1918 influenza pandemic, might be useful. Can history suggest particular circumstances in which quarantines may work? …

Ancient Migrations: the evidence of Oceania

Moai at Rano Raraku by Aurbina at Wikipedia Commons
Moai at Rano Raraku by Aurbina at Wikipedia Commons

In earlier post I talked about the fact that some places that appear remote -such as the Arctic- have long experienced globalization. Norse traders left their signs in the Canadian High Arctic centuries before Columbus, while an Inuit artist carved a small wooden statue  of a European visitor with a cross on its chest, and European style clothing. But a Chinese coin in the Yukon, and a Viking outpost in Newfoundland, Canada, are not the only relic of these ancient cross-oceanic movements of people and goods.

Perhaps no location on earth is as remote as Easter Island, an island located over 2000 miles to the west of South America in the Pacific. But there has long been evidence that before European discovery in 1722, the islanders had already made contact with the Americas, given that they cultivated sweet potatoes, a crop from the Americas. But now we have more direct evidence, in the genetics of the Rapa Nui, the indigenous peoples of Easter Island. A recent study has found that genes from the native peoples of the Americas entered the Rapa Nui population between 19 and 23 generations ago. In a sense this is unsurprising, because the Polynesians were such incredible travelers that they had settled remote islands throughout vast areas of the Pacific. If they could reach New Zealand -and the sub-Antarctic islands to its south, including the Antipodes- why not South America? If you are curious about learning more about these people -and their amazing navigation skills- please see Tom Koppel’s work, Mystery Islands: Discovering the Ancient Pacific. While people know about the strange statues of Easter Island, they may not be familiar with Nan Madol and other wonders. …

Malcolm Fraser’s Dangerous Allies

"Globe Retro" by vectorolie at freedigitalphotos.net
“Globe Retro” by vectorolie at freedigitalphotos.net

Malcolm Fraser was the Prime Minister of Australia from 1975 to 1983. He has recently written Dangerous Allies with Cain Roberts, in which he analyzes Australia’s grand strategy from the 19th century to the present. At its core, his argument is that Australia has always adopted a policy of “strategic dependency,” first with Britain and then with the United States. Given Australia’s economic and military weakness in the nineteenth century, he believes that this was an inevitable choice. At the same time, this approach has consistently led Australia into disaster. Fraser clearly has no love for Churchill. He describes the losses and perils that Australia faced from Gallipoli during World War One, to North Africa in World War Two. By 1941 Australian forces were far from the home front, which was left vulnerable by the British debacle in Singapore. Overall, Fraser’s depiction of Australia’s relationship with Great Britain is one in which the nation made great sacrifices for little reward. …

Book Review: Sylvia Wrigley, The Mystery of Malaysia Flight 370

Indian Ocean, CIA map from Wikipedia Commons
Indian Ocean, CIA map from Wikipedia Commons

The tragic loss of a Malaysian Flight 370, which was traveling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014 with over 200 passengers, has obsessed people around the world. Sylvia Wrigley, who is a professional pilot, has written a careful study of the disappearance, based on what is now known. In her forward, she says that she “purposely wanted this book to be accessible to my mother and the cleaning lady at the office, to people who were extremely interested in understanding the situation but lacked the aviation background and experience to be able to make sense of all the contradictory reports, especially with the media rush to present half-truths as fact.”  What is remarkable is that a book as factual and reasoned as this work could be written in such a short period of time. This book provides a much-needed balance to some of the wilder material available in the press and other venues. …

A book review of Robert Kaplan’s Asia’s Cauldron

Robert D. Kaplan is a well-known journalist who has authored popular works on international issues, such as Balkan

South China Sea from Wikipedia Commons.
South China Sea by NASA from Wikipedia Commons.

Ghosts and the Coming Anarchy. Kaplan has a knack for writing books on topics about to rise to international prominence; in his most recent work, he has sought to understand the international competition in the South China Sea, which is in the global news this week because of a naval confrontation between Vietnam and China.

Kaplan’s works typically try to show the legacies of history for contemporary issues, and this book is no exception. He begins by describing the historical influence of India upon Vietnam, which he depicts as a kind of cultural shatter zone between two great Asian powers. One of the strengths of his work is that he has traveled widely in Asia while writing it, so he can draw on conversations that he has had from Vietnam to Singapore. He also has read widely in history, so the work is interspersed with allusions to Walter Benjamin, Livy, Machiavelli and Thucydides, which are are generally well-chosen and insightful. It is this ability to put contemporary issues into a broad historical and geographical context that is Kaplan’s strength. …

Hope and New Species

"World Map" by xedos4 at freedigitalphotos.net
“World Map” by xedos4 at freedigitalphotos.net

I just attended an excellent conference on Global Studies pedagogy at St. Cloud State in Minnesota. One challenge that faculty in the field discussed is that that our courses can too quickly adopt a “global problems” approach. This encourages students to become overwhelmed by the scale of global issues, and to view the world as a problematic and dangerous place. This is unlikely to either lead them to want to dive deeper into Global Studies or to do Study Abroad. For this reason, it’s important to focus not only on issues but also solutions. When covering key global problems -such as environmental issues- I try to also include models, such as Curitiba’s urban planning, or Bogota’s amazing bus system. I also think that it’s good to not forget positive news, even when focusing on deforestation or ethnic conflict. Once students have a sense that there’s hope, they are more inclined to focus on environmental issues or conflict resolution. …

Global Warming and Australia

"Cracked Soil" by prozac1 at freedigitalphotos.net
“Cracked Soil” by prozac1 at freedigitalphotos.net

Like many of you, i’ve been following the story of the terrible fires and heat in Australia. The picture of the Holmes family, who escaped a firestorm by fleeing into the water, is striking. The photos with the grandmother clutching the children, not all of whom could swim, in the eerie light from the flames, brings home the human impact of this disaster. Fortunately, the Holmes family’s quick thinking and courage meant that everyone survived. To me, however, these images are less frightening than the news that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has to add new colors to weather maps. It used to be that the top temperature on the map was 50 degrees Celsius. They’ve added purple and pink now so that they can go up to 54 degrees. This is only the most striking aspect of how global warming is already affecting Australia

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