May 18

Destroying smallpox stocks

Smallpox has killed countless people over the last 12,000 years. It is difficult now to understand the terror that smallpox evoked in a pre-vaccination era. When smallpox was introduced into new populations the death rates sometimes could even exceed 90%, as was the case with the Mandans in the 1837 Great Plains Epidemic. The virus was finally wiped out in the wild through a massive vaccination program in the 1970s. The last infection took place in 1977. Now what should be done with the remaining stocks of the virus in Russia and the United States? I recommend a video by Errol Morris on the New York Times website “The Demon in the Freezer,” which examines this issue in detail. The interview with the Russian bioweapons scientist is particularly chilling. What I liked about the video was that it showcased voices from both sides of the debate.

Shawn Smallman

Portland State University, 2016

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/05/destroying-smallpox-stocks/

May 17

Summer online courses at PSU

If you are looking to take some online classes this summer, here are some courses in International Studies that you might consider:

2016 INTL Open Summer Courses

You can find information on how to enroll for classes as a non-degree seeking student here.

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/05/summer-online-courses-at-psu/

May 16

Zika in Venezuela

In few countries is the current political, economic and social situation worse than in Venezuela. This is especially dispiriting given that the country faces an outbreak of the Zika virus at the same time that medicines and basic supplies are in short supply. The Institute for Tropical Medicine has been broken into 11 times in 2 months. The offices were cleaned out so completely that the institute was left without any microscopes or key equipment. The situation in Venezuela’s hospitals is catastrophic. The situation has grown so bad that international organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, are now trying to draw the world’s attention to the breakdown in the nation’s public health system. Given that the nation is failing to adequately prevent and treat other mosquito-born illnesses -such as dengue- Venezuela may be on the edge of repeating the disaster that has passed over Brazil. What is frustrating is that this disaster would be needless, because basic public health measures -eliminating mosquito breeding grounds, spraying, screens on windows, mosquito nets, and insect repellent- could do much to limit the damage. Venezuela also faces severe shortages in such common items, including those necessary for family planning, such as condoms. Couples will need these to delay pregnancies until after the epidemic has peaked. Health officials know what to do. Given the countless billions that the country has given away over the last decade, or which cannot be accounted for, it would be a tragedy if there was not a massive effort to stop Zika on the grounds that the country lacked funds. Still, there are grave doubts about even the validity of the health data that the Venezuelan government is sharing. One health group is providing information that suggests that 150 times more people have been infected by Zika in Venezuela than the government has stated. Shawn Smallman

Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/05/zika-in-venezuela/

May 11

A Hidden Wonder in Brazil

It’s not true that the age of discovery is over, and everything worth knowing has already been found. We live in an age of revelations, such as the resting site of one of the ships from the lost Franklin expedition, an immense canyon in Greenland, and an unknown tapir in the Amazon. How can an mammal that travels in groups and weighs 200 pounds have remained undiscovered for so long? What is remarkable is the pace of the discoveries.  A new species of wolf has just been revealed in the Himalaya. Three new species of lemurs were discovered by researchers at the University of Kentucky. Multiple new species were just discovered in the ocean off of Atlantic Canada. Still, all of these discoveries are less surprising than the recent announcement that a coral reef exists at the mouth of the Amazon. The reef is the size of Delaware. Part of the reason that it hasn’t been studied before was that nobody thought that such a reef could exist in the fresh water and heavy sediments that pour into the ocean from the river. If we can miss an ecosystem 600 miles long (965 kilometers) long, what else is out there that we’re missing?

Shawn Smallman

Portland State University, 2016

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/05/a-hidden-wonder-in-brazil/

May 05

Canadian wildfires and planning

Many years ago, I visited Fort McMurray to tour the Canadian Oil Sands. The community is in northern Alberta, perhaps a five and a half hour drive from Edmonton. A few days ago a horrific wildfire began, which has been made worse by the fact that Tuesday this week the temperature was nearly double what is normal at this time of year. The sheer scale of the blaze is hard to comprehend without viewing the videos. This slideshow by NBC gives some sense of the size of what is happening. Citizens have been videotaping their dramatic experiences escaping from the town. Many people have been traumatized trying to flee on the one main highway that connects Fort McMurray to the rest of Alberta. I have read a figure that perhaps 1,600 structures have gone up in flames, but I think that it will be a long time before anyone can know the actual figure. It is heart-breaking to hear people lamenting the loss of their homes as they drive out through a highway with a wall of flames on one side. Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/05/canadian-wildfires-and-planning/

May 05

Global Maps

A recent article in the Washington Post titled “Six Maps that Will Make You Rethink the World,” has great maps of everything from the Arctic’s geography to global population distribution. I think that the map of what might happen in a world that is four degrees warmer is particularly intriguing. Based on the comments, some people viewing the maps viewed them as a critique of the current Westphalian global order; many people commented that language and religion still matter, and were upset that the maps did not sufficiently reflect this. The fact that many people had this response in itself indicates how maps matter to how people view the world.

Shawn Smallman

Portland State University, 2016

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/05/global-maps/

May 01

Area 51 and drones

Dwight John Zimmerman has authored Area 51 in collaboration with artist Greg Scott, to tell the location of this key aeronautical research location in Groom Lake, Nevada. Of course, Area 51 is a favorite of UFO buffs and conspiracy theorists, and both these topics are covered (p. 3-8, 15, 51). These ideas, however, are not the core of this work of graphic non-fiction. Instead, this is a sweeping historical study, which describes the successes and failures that the U.S. intelligence and military services experienced while developing new aviation technologies at Area 51.

What is impressive is the quantity of material that Zimmerman is able to cover in 91 pages. Greg Scott’s realistic style works well with this content. Many of the black and white sketches remind one of period photographs. Scott is equally adept at capturing the look of advanced aircraft or a battle field. The text and images meld well together.

What most interested me about the work, however, was its extensive discussion of drones, particularly their early history (p. 42-50). Today global powers are discussing creating drone submarines, and even drone submarine hunters. In Northwest Pakistan and Yemen the United States has been carrying out an undeclared war. With a recent drone strike in Libya, the scale of the conflict seems to be expanding. This technology has developed with amazing speed.

As Zimmerman discusses, the United States invested vast amounts of time, funds and expertise into drone development in the early 1960s. For example, in 1964 the United States used drones to carry out “160 reconnaissance missions over China” (p. 44). Remarkably, in 1962 the United States began work on a Mach 3 drone, which proved unsuccessful (45). The scale of American investments is fascinating, but in the end Zimmerman argues that the U.S. failed, because the key technology to enable drones to work had not yet been developed.

By the 1980s, the situation had changed. Zimmerman describes (p. 65-73) how the rapid increase in microprocessor speeds permitted the U.S. air force to create a new generation of drones. The first drone was used in a combat theater in 1999 during the conflict over Kosovo. Scott’s images (p. 73) capture the rapid evolution in drones’ capabilities, from being tasked with aerial reconnaissance, to being used to accurately deliver laser guided bombs upon particular individuals. As Zimmerman makes clear, the U.S. is currently developing a host of new drones, which even include helicopters (p. 88).

In an earlier blog post I reviewed the book Ghost Fleet, which described a hypothetical future conflict between the United States and China, in which drones played a central and horrifying role. The groundwork for these robotic conflicts is being laid now. While cyberwarfare -such as the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear program- has attracted the attention of security theorists, I believe that drones merit equal attention or more. Few people are regularly being killed in cyber warfare, but this is not the case with drones. While the United States took an early and impressive lead, other countries are now rapidly developing these technologies, particularly in Asia. The area of the world that is now seeing the most sustained and significant growth in military spending is Asia, and these expenditures are largely being driven by the issue of the South China sea. If one were to see the emergence of a major conflict in which drones played a central role, this would certainly be the most likely location. If so, doubtless some of the drones involved will have been designed in Area 51.

Scott and Zimmerman’s book is well-written, beautifully illustrated, and compelling. Highly recommended for anyone interested in military technology and Area 51. The truth is out there.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University, 2016

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/05/area-51-and-drones/

Apr 27

Corruption in the Brazilian military

Today I gave a talk at the World Affair’s Council in Portland on the upcoming impeachment process in Brazil. Brazil’s Senate will vote in May on whether to initiate a trial against President Dilma Rousseff. A simple majority vote within the Senate will be enough to remove her from power for 180 days, while it considers her case. In that event, the Senate would then have to vote by two-thirds to impeach the President. If this were to happen, what would then occur next? Read the rest of this entry »

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/04/corruption-in-the-brazilian-military/

Apr 23

Impeachment in Brazil

For any readers who live in Portland Oregon, I am giving a talk for the World Affairs Council on Brazil’s move to impeach the President. The session will place next Wednesday, April 27th at noon, and registration is required. You can find more information and register at this page on World Affairs Council website.

Shawn Smallman

Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/04/impeachment-in-brazil/

Apr 23

Careers in the Foreign Service

When Kim and I were writing the textbook, one concern that some external reviewers had was that the final chapter on careers was “too vocational.” I’ve never believed that there was a contradiction between educating students for careers, and educating them for citizenship. Kim and I argued that the chapter was important, and it has remained. Students have often thanked me after the class for having included material on careers in the text. I think that -especially as a greater burden has fallen on students to pay for their own education- we have a responsibility to educate them about the different career pathways open to them, so I always like to share information related to jobs. Here is a link to a great article by Gareth Evans on “How to build a career in foreign relations.”

Shawn Smallman

Portland State University

Permanent link to this article: http://introtoglobalstudies.com/2016/04/careers-in-the-foreign-service/

Older posts «