Sep 17

Spies of the Balkans: A book review

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Heinkel He 111 during the Battle of Britain. This file comes from Wikipedia Commons.

Heinkel He 111 during the Battle of Britain. This file comes from Wikipedia Commons.

We live in a time obsessed with spying. Wikileaks and Snowden have shown that non-state actors are now important actors in espionage, while also raising fundamental questions about the right to privacy. Now the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are talking about building their own undersea cable, in order to evade U.S. eavesdropping on their transmissions. This would enable South America to communicate directly with Europe without passing information through the U.S. We now know that the U.S. recorded even German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone conversations. Other nations are outraged, but they might do the same if they had the capability. Spying seems to flourish more now than at any time since the end of the Cold War. In this context, the espionage genre is not fading away.

While spying proliferates now, the stakes are not as high as during World War Two, a period that novelist Alan Furst has returned to in a series of novels set in different European nations. One of his recent novels, Spies of the Balkans, is set in Salonika, Greece shortly before the German invasion. The protagonist is a police detective in a unit dedicated to solving political cases, such as when the mayor’s girlfriend arranges to have him shot. Furst’s lead characters tend to be less ambiguous than in some other spy novels (le Carre), and Constantine “Costa” is no exception. At first the novel seems to meander, but this novel is tightly plotted, and few details are left to chance. Costa is asked to help well-to-do Jews to leave Germany. When he agrees, he starts down a path that leads him from one European nation -and disaster- to the next.

As in all Furst novels, the author shows an impressive mastery of historical detail, which leads people to wonder “how did he know that?” He uses this detail to evoke a mood, and the verisimilitude contributes to the atmosphere of tension in the work. The reader has a sense of claustrophobia, whether he is describing Jewish travelers fleeing Europe by train, or the atmosphere in Greece before the German invasion. The novel is not perfect. Costa is a resourceful but not complex character, and his main love interest seems unconvincing. Most characters, however, are likeable and engaging, perhaps none more so than the elderly man who serves as Costa’s mentor. At the core this work is a thriller, and the suspense is masterfully done. At a time when war seems possible in Ukraine, and migrants risk their lives to cross the Sonoran desert into the United States, the themes in the work remain germane. Highly recommended.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2014/09/spies-of-the-balkans-a-book-review/

Sep 10

Kwame Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism, A Book Review

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"Glass Globe" by suphakit73 at freedigitalphotos.net

“Glass Globe” by suphakit73 at freedigitalphotos.net

Kwame Anthony Appiah’s Cosmopolitanism is an engaging, well-written examination of the idea of cosmopolitanism, which will lead students to think deeply about the meaning of global citizenship. At the core of the book is Appiah’s question, what obligations do humans have to each other? I used the book last year in my “Foundations of Global Studies Theory” class, and had the opportunity to read my student’s reflections on the work in their book reviews, which has shaped this review. Based on their feedback and the class discussion, I think that this book would be an excellent choice for an “Introduction to International and Global Studies” course.

Appiah’s work is deeply shaped by his own bi-cultural upbringing, with roots in both Ghana and England. One of his strengths as an author is the ability to make students see how these issues apply to their own lives by relating philosophical questions to his own experience. He also frequently uses case studies or thought experiments to make his point. In both my student’s book reviews and the class discussion my students tended to refer to these examples, which led them to remember his arguments. Appiah’s writing style was clear, jargon-free and accessible, another boon in my class where students were reading authors such as Marx and Chakrabarty. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2014/09/kwame-appiahs-cosmopolitanism-a-book-review/

Sep 10

Lost Franklin Expedition Found

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John Rae, the great explorer, who learned the fate of the Franklin expedition from the Inuit.

John Rae, the great explorer, who learned the fate of the Franklin expedition from the Inuit.

In all the annals of Arctic exploration, there is no disappearance so famous as that of the lost Franklin Expedition. In 1845 Captain John Franklin led 128 men and two ships to search for the North West passage to Asia through the Arctic. Not a single man survived to be seen again. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the British admiralty and Lady Franklin sent out expedition after expedition to find out the fate of lost ships. In the end, it was an explorer on land, John Rae, who learned from the Inuit that the ships had sunk, and that the men had been so starving during their escape overland that they had resorted to cannibalism. For this discovery, he was ostracized by many of his peers, because Victorian gentleman would never eat one other; as such, he had insulted the dead.

This history has become part of Canadian identity. It’s a staple in Canadian literature and poetry, as Margaret Atwood discussed in her book, Strange Things. Stan Rodgers, the great Canadian folk singer, sang about Franklin in his iconic song the Northwest Passage. The only traces of what happened from the crew were two notes left in a cairn, miraculously discovered in the high Arctic. What happened to the crew after they left this record in April 1848? Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2014/09/franklin-expedition-found/

Sep 09

Ebola and “exponential growth”

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WHO: Map of Ebola Cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone as of 6 September 2014

WHO: Map of Ebola Cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone as of 6 September 2014

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has not received the resources it merits, in part because other Ebola outbreaks proved relatively easy to contain. Those epidemics, however, tended to take place in a rural context, and Africa has changed profoundly since the 1970s. The urbanization and transportation networks that are remaking the region have also meant that it is far easier for diseases to spread. The current outbreak is expanding exponentially. The latest map on the Ebola outbreak by the World Health Organization makes clear the scale of the challenge that the global community now faces. When you look at this map, keep in mind that these are confirmed cases. So this map is an underestimate. According to some calculations, there may be 100,000 cases in Africa by December. Without rapid and massive international aid, this outbreak will not be controlled. On Twitter? I recommend following Laurie Garrett (Pulitzer prize winner for her writing on public health), who has a great commentary on the outbreak, which includes key documents such as this map.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2014/09/ebola-and-exponential-growth/

Aug 30

Ebola update

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"3d Rendered Virus" by chrisroll

“3d Rendered Virus” by chrisroll

There is a great deal of news today about Ebola, which has now spread to Senegal, the fifth country in West Africa to be affected by the outbreak. The nation has tried to protect itself by banning flights from affected countries, but this is unlikely to be effective given that most people cross the border by ground transport. In Liberia the government has lifted the quarantine on the slum community of West Point, after widespread media reports that the quarantine was being flouted by people who bribed police to leave. At this time, quarantines do not seem to be effective in dense urban environments in developing countries; they are difficult to enforce, and the social costs are high. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2014/08/ebola-update/

Aug 27

Nuclear Sabotage in Europe

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"Nuclear" by luigi diamanti at freedigitalphotos.net

“Nuclear” by luigi diamanti at freedigitalphotos.net

In a previous article, I discussed how the French government has sought to suppress evidence regarding the massive costs that a nuclear accident would entail. But an accident is not the only danger facing nuclear reactors as a recent incident at Belgium’s Doel 4 nuclear reactor makes clear. Some person -most likely an employee at the plant- deliberately damaged an oil drainage system from a turbine, which caused so much damage that the plant will be closed until after the New Year. Now Belgium may face blackouts if winter demand for electricity is particularly high. The Doel 4 incident is particularly worrying because the plant is located in a heavily populated part of Europe.

Remarkably two other reactors are also offline in Belgium, because cracks were found in reactor casings, which means that Belgium has lost more than half of its nuclear capacity. While people often argue that renewable power is too intermittent to be relied upon, events in Belgium again make the point that there are also major risks in relying on nuclear power. In this particular case, we know very little about the sabotage. Was it carried out by an isolated individual? If so, what was their motivation? Clearly threats to to the integrity of nuclear reactors do not always come from outside the plant. Currently the case in Belgium is being investigated by the Belgian police. Do these forces have the expertise to investigate nuclear crimes? The Belgian case also should make security experts and plant owners question their practices. How carefully are plant employees screened, and what monitoring systems are in place? Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2014/08/nuclear-sabotage-in-europe/

Aug 20

Ebola and Culture

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"Wallpaper World" by Salvatore Vuono at freedigitalphotos.net

“Wallpaper World” by Salvatore Vuono at freedigitalphotos.net

A crowd of men recently overran an Ebola clinic in Liberia, after which 17 patients disappeared. One of the factors driving this event may have been a sense of denial that Ebola exists. Such concerns led to an improbable new pop culture hit in West Africa: a song titled “Ebola in Town.” In recent article on NPR (titled “`Shadow and `D-12′ Sing an infectious song about Ebola”) John Poole describes the emergence of this unlikely piece. At first, there would seem to be few things more inappropriate than a pop song about a fatal disease. But the song emerged from local concerns that people did not believe in Ebola, or understand how to fight the spread of the disease. For this reason, the song informs people about the appearance of Ebola, its spread through physical contact, the importance of social distancing and the dangers of bush meat. All with a catchy beat. Click here to read Poole’s article and hear the song. And bravo to NPR in general for their great coverage of the outbreak. Want to read more about the epidemic? One great source is Ian Mackay’s blog, Virology Down Under.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

 

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2014/08/ebola-and-culture/

Aug 17

Ebola and Denial in Liberia

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"Virus" by ddpavumba at freedigitalphotos.net

“Virus” by ddpavumba at freedigitalphotos.net

Today a clinic in Liberia that cares for Ebola patients was overrun. The looters even stole a bloodied mattress, while patients left the facility. Everyone receiving care at the center had tested positive for Ebola, and seventeen of them had disappeared after this tumult. According to Elise Zoker and Caroline Chen’s piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, one of the attackers said that they did not believe in “this Ebola outbreak.” To many readers, it may seem inconceivable that people would choose to take people infected with a deadly and communicable disease back to their families or neighborhoods. It’s perhaps equally unthinkable that people would walk unprotected through a facility drenched in a virus so deadly that it should be contained in a biohazard level four facility, and then take an item soaked in the blood of an Ebola patient. But such strange behavior is not new; denial has always been a part of major disease outbreaks. When I read this news, it reminded me of the early history of HIV. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2014/08/ebola-and-denial-in-liberia/

Aug 10

A book review of Dehner’s Global Flu and You

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The Spanish Influenza. Chart showing mortality from the 1918 influenza pandemic in the US and Europe. Wikipedia commons.

The Spanish Influenza. Chart showing mortality from the 1918 influenza pandemic in the US and Europe. Wikipedia commons.

In 2009 people globally learned of the appearance of a new strain of influenza named H1N1A or “swine flu” in Mexico. By June the World Health Organization had declared the outbreak to be a pandemic, the U.S. and European governments were spending billions of dollars on vaccines and medications, and the tourism industry in Mexico was devastated. For most Americans, vaccine became available only after influenza had already peaked in their communities. Predictably there was an outburst of anger when the mortality rate proved to be low, as people felt that they had been misled by authorities, and frightened unnecessarily. Conspiracy theories regarding the WHO, pharmaceutical companies, and national governments abounded on Youtube and Twitter. While the mechanisms for communication were new, the problem faced by governments was not. Indeed, the U.S. had faced a similar situation in the 1970s. A historical perspective on influenza can provide some much needed context for policymakers and health authorities. George Dehner’s recent book, Global Flu and You: A History of Influenza, is a concise, well written organized overview of influenza’s history, which can help us to better understand contemporary health issues. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2014/08/a-book-review-of-dehners-global-flu-and-you/

Jul 30

A syllabus for a hybrid Modern Brazilian history class

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This fall I will be teaching a modern Brazil class, which is cross-listed between International Studies and History. I’ve decided to offer the class as a hybrid, because there are so many great resources available on-line, and I believe that it makes for a more active class. I hope that this may give some ideas to those of you who may be considering teaching a similar course.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2014/07/a-syllabus-for-a-hybrid-modern-brazilian-history-class/

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