Aug 11

Teaching about the Arab World

After the first edition of our textbook was published in 2011, Kim Brown and I were surprised by how quickly world events required changes to some chapters. For example, when we wrote the first edition, the energy chapter had no mention of fracking. In the space of two years, fracking completely changed energy trends not only within the United States but also globally. In terms of regions, the area in which there has been the greatest change politically and socially over the last fifteen years has been the Arab World, particularly after the invasion of Iraq. The New York Times has a new article, “Fractured Lands: how the Arab World came Apart,” which represents long-form journalism at its best. The work puts the recent political turmoil in the region in a historical context, while using individuals’ stories to convey the experience of nations. It is the kind of writing that takes months of fieldwork to complete, and is all too rare in this age when print journalism is in decline. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/08/the-arab-world/

Aug 09

Strange Things Done

I love mystery novels, and northern mysteries in particular. My sister, Ellen Wild, has a new book Strange Things Done coming out this September. The lead character of the novel is Jo Silver; after a body is found in the Yukon river, she is drawn into a mystery that leads her to fear for her own life. You can hear about the local reaction to the body’s discovery in this brief video. I love the visual look of the website for the book, with the superimposed photos of an old Yukon building and a cemetery. This aesthetic carries through to the trailer for the book, which she filmed in the Yukon. The imagery -the woman’s hair in the river, the ice, Brandy Zdan’s music, the quirky northern bar, the barking dog- create an atmospheric glimpse of a town with secrets. Think a northern Twin Peaks. The book already has won an impressive set of awards:

2015 Unhanged Arthur Award for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel ― Winner
2014 Telegraph/Harvill Secker Crime Competition ― Shortlisted
2014 Southwest Writers Annual Novel Writing Contest ― Silver Winner
2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award ― Longlisted

You can find preorder the book (in the United States for October 18, 2016 or Canada for September 24, 2016) before “the freeze-up hits and the roads close.”

Shawn Smallman, 2016

Strange Things Done, quote by Ian Hamilton

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/08/strange-things-done/

Aug 05

Polish folklore and the Gold train

By M. Swierczynski [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Warsaw, January 1945. By M. Swierczynski [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I love international folklore, and have written about everything from a mystery island in Mexico, to conspiracy theories and the 2009 influenza pandemic. Few instances of folklore, however, have received as much attention over the last year as the “Polish Gold Train.” According to local legends in southwestern Poland, during the waning days of the Nazi regime in Germany, the Nazi party hid a train filled with gold in a tunnel system in what is now Silesia, Poland. Two Polish treasure hunters approached the government in 2015, with an offer to reveal the location of the train in return for a percentage of the value of the gold. When word leaked to the press, the result was a media frenzy. Jake Halpern has a great podcast episode “The Hunt for Nazi Gold,” which describes his own investigation of the mystery, and his travels into the very real tunnels that the Germans created underneath mountains during the war. I loved his interviews with Polish treasure hunters, who introduced him to dowsing, UFOs, and aging witnesses. As with the best folklore research, Halpern also placed the narratives into a regional and historical context, which was defined by the Polish settlement of an area from which the German population had been expelled. This experience, Halpern suggests, had a deep psychological impact on the region that has endured until today. If you’re in the mood for a quirky mystery, you might enjoy the podcast from the New Yorker Radio Hour. You can also read my own book on Canadian Indigenous folklore.

Shawn Smallman, 2016

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/08/polish-folklore/

Aug 04

Zika and the U.S. Congress

Aedes aegypti mosquito in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 2009. Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim, Wikipedia Commons

Aedes aegypti mosquito in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 2009. Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim, Wikipedia Commons

In July 2016 the CDC issued an advisory notice that warned pregnant women -or women planning to become pregnant- against traveling to 45 different countries. With the virus’s arrival in Florida, however, the public in that state is now wrestling with what this means for mothers and their partners. The issue is now becoming a topic in the election contest in Florida, as Mark Sumner described in a (not impartial) recent article in Daily Kos. In the piece he quotes Trump’s vice-chairman for Miami-Dade as saying that Zika was an “insignificant issue,” which was less important than building a wall “to keep the illegals out.” Yesterday Donald Trump himself declined to say that Congress should reconvene to vote on funding Zika research and prevention. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/08/zika-and-congress/

Aug 02

Zika in the continental U.S.

Digital photo taken by Marc Averette. The downtown Miami skyline as seen from I-195 5/16/2008. Wikipedia Commons

Digital photo taken by Marc Averette. The downtown Miami skyline as seen from I-195 5/16/2008. Wikipedia Commons

Zika has already become a significant health issue in Puerto Rico, where there have been more than 5,500 infections. More than 600 of these infections have been in pregnant women. The outbreak has also set off massive public debates on the island regarding everything from insecticides to the structure of local government. It was inevitable that Zika would eventually appear in the mainland United States. Still, it couldn’t help but be surprising to see a CDC warning about travel by pregnant women to two counties (Miami-Dade and Broward) in Florida. It’s important to keep this news in perspective. So far only 14 people have been reported to have locally acquired Zika, in a very restricted geographic area in Miami. Mosquito control activities have gone into high gear in this area. One can hear an audio copy of the briefing about this news here on the CDC website. The CDC also has a dedicated webpage on Zika, which is a helpful site for information regarding the epidemic. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/08/zika-in-the-continental-u-s/

Aug 01

Global Warming in the Arctic

Topographic map of the Arctic by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, at http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/mgg/image/IBCAO_betamap.jpg

Topographic map of the Arctic by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, at http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/mgg/image/IBCAO_betamap.jpg

Many people are aware that the Arctic is disproportionately impacted by Global Warming. I recently came across a web article titled “These infographics show how doomed the Arctic really is.” The graphs do convey in a powerful manner the rapidity with which climate change is transforming the region, particularly by melting the sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean. The particular danger is that there are positive feedback loops associated with climate change in the Arctic. When ice is replaced open water, it changes the albedo of the ocean surface, so that much more heat is absorbed. Significantly, when permafrost melts it releases significant amounts of methane. Accordingly, the Arctic not only witnesses temperatures that are rising much more quickly than at southerly latitudes, but also the region itself may particularly contribute to the planet’s temperature rise. For more articles on global warming and climate change on the blog, click here.

Shawn Smallman, 2016

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/08/global-warming-in-the-arctic/

Jul 30

Wikileaks and Politics

After a military faction recently sought to overthrow the Turkish government by a coup, Turkey’s President Erdogan launched a massive and extreme purge of the nation’s military, academia, and judiciary. Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs, or been arrested. The government even created a separate cemetery for dead coup plotters. While the United States and European governments had condemned the coup, they were deeply disturbed by the extremism of Erdogan’s response. For European governments, the question was particularly difficult because they had relied on a deal with Turkey to end the flood of Middle Eastern migrants to Europe. The country is currently under a three month state of emergency. Amnesty International has denounced the climate of fear endured by journalists. The International Studies Association has denounced the attack on academic freedom in Turkey. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/07/wikileaks-and-politics/

Jul 25

ISIS and encryption

One of my favorite podcasts is Reply All, which covers cyber issues in a creative and clever manner. The hosts recently had an interview (“Decoders,” episode #62) with New York Times’ journalist Rukmini Callimachi, as well as Runa Sandvik, the director of bureau security at this newspaper. In essence, Callimachi discovered a new means that ISIS had adopted to communicate, called Truecrypt. Messages are written in this code, then uploaded to files on a website. For all their sophistication and technical knowledge, however, ISIS also proved to be vulnerable to basic errors, such as failing to check the location of the server by examining its web address. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/07/isis-and-encryption/

Jul 15

Intelligence failures and Vietnam

Marine gets his wounds treated during operations in Huế City, 1968. By Undetermined U.S military photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons . By Undetermined U.S military photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Marine gets his wounds treated during operations in Huế City, 1968. By Undetermined U.S military photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons . By Undetermined U.S military photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Author Malcom Gladwell has a new podcast titled “Revisionist History,” which had a recent episode titled “Saigon: 1965.” The podcast tells the story of the Rand Corporation’s efforts to collect intelligence on North Vietnamese morale through interviews with captured soldiers and guerrillas. In particular, it examines the history of three people deeply involved in the program, who brought their own biases and beliefs to the data that they collected. Gladwell’s point in telling this story is that often the challenge is not to collect the information, but rather to interpret it accurately. Each of the three people had access to an overwhelming amount of information. Still, their vision of the war was shaped less by the the interviews themselves, than by their own biases. In an age of big data, NSA and cyber-espionage, the challenge of how to correctly interpret overwhelming amounts of data remains critical to global intelligence services.

Shawn Smallman, 2016

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/07/intelligence-failures-and-vietnam/

Jul 01

Resources on Zika

By CDC/ Cynthia Goldsmith (http://phil.cdc.gov/phil/details.asp?pid=20541) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Image of Zika virus from the CDC/ Cynthia Goldsmith (http://phil.cdc.gov/phil/details.asp?pid=20541) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There is still so much that we don’t know about Zika. I was recently speaking with a medical historian who wondered if people in eastern Africa and Asia might have resistance to the disease, since it originated in those areas, or whether the epidemic will spread as explosively as it did in South America? Will the rate of birth defects be lower in newly affected countries, because mothers have more information to protect themselves? Which species of mosquito will be able to transmit the virus? How rapidly will the epidemic spread? What percentage of babies born to mothers infected with Zika will have neurological issues, even when they do not have microcephaly?

There are a few useful resources that I’ve found for Zika. Vincent Racaniello is a highly respected virologist, who has a popular podcast called “This Week in Virology” or “TWIV,” and a free online virology course. His lab spent decades working on polio, but recently shifted its focus on Zika. His new blog, Zika Diaries, give a sense of what science is like in an emerging field. Nothing is easy for the lab, from obtaining the virus, to acquiring permission to do experiments with mice.

One of the first tools that I try to create when working on an article is a timeline for events. With Zika, Ben Hirschler at Reuters has already done that work, and created a detailed timeline.

For anyone interested in the early history of Zika’s discovery in Uganda, I recommend Thomas K. Grose’s piece on NPR, which discusses a researcher studying Alexander John Haddow’s records in the University of Glasgow archives. Overall, NPR has outstanding coverage of the Zika outbreak.

Lastly, the CDC website offers practical information on Zika, including those areas where the Zika virus is circulating, and how to protect yourself.

Shawn Smallman, 2016

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/07/resources-on-zika/

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