What could be tastier in a fish filet sandwich than staphylococcal toxin and Vibrio cholerae contamination? This is not good news for the Vietnamese fish export market. Vietnam has experienced a recurring cholera outbreak since 2007. As of 21 July, there were over 600 cases of cholera in Vietnam since March 2008.
Imagine eating for $3/day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that this is the average food stamp for recipients of this federal program. There is no way that a person can eat fresh fruit or vegetables or whole grains (you know, the things that are supposed to be at the base of the new food pyramid?) on that sort of budget. A man my age is supposed to eat three cups of vegetables each day according to the USDA. Forget about coffee or tea. One could imagine eating decently if one had the time to spend on food preparation (legume soups come to mind). However, if you’re a member of the working poor, time is not something you typically have a lot of. The American News Project has a video that discusses the problem of hunger in the United States today. They interview Jim McGovern, Congressman from the Massachusetts 3rd District and a long-time advocate for domestic food security. I am left wondering, how well would I do eating on $3/day?
A new study has found that the structural adjustments that the International Monetary Fund requires of countries to which it loans money increase tuberculosis incidence, prevalence, and mortality. The authors studied tuberculosis epidemiology in countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union that received IMF loans following 1989. This result suggests that there are real health trade-offs associated with the fiscal austerity that follows an IMF loan. This research is very welcome because it adds a reasoned empirical perspective to the often shrill debates over the relative merits of IMF policies. Harvard epidemiologist and political scientist Megan Murray and Gary King have written a companion Perspectives piece in the same issue of PLoS Medicine. There is also a nice news story on it in The New Scientist.
An AP story suggests that, according to the EPA, the value of a human life has declined from $8.7 to $6.9 million since 2004 (in 2008 dollars). That is an annual decline of 5.5%. This means that if this decline continues at a constant rate, a human life will be worth one dollar in just under 272 years!
Nearly half the world’s population relies on rice as its primary food staple. In the last three months, the trading price of rice on international markets has nearly doubled. This is bad news for poor people in Asia and, especially, parts of urban West Africa. One contributor to this dramatic increase in price is the reduced growth in production in places like Vietnam because of viral infections such as grassy stunt virus and tungro and other crop infestations such as brown planthopper. So far, the infestations have not spilled over into China, the worlds largest rice producer, but one worries about the proximity and borders that are notoriously permeable to the smuggling of agricultural products.
So, I’m teaching a graduate-level class in evolutionary theory this quarter. Given my druthers, I would have run a rather technical class in which we would discuss quantitative genetics, optimality models, game theory, multi-level evolution… Stuff like that. Well, we’ve done a bit of that but, due to popular demand, I actually took out two weeks on game theory and optimality models, and instead we are reading Gregory Clark‘s new book, A Farewell to Alms, in which argues that the Industrial Revolution may have its roots in quite recent biological evolution. Nicholas Wade wrote a review of the book in the New York Times that a number of students and I found intriguing. In this review, Wade quotes Clark as saying,
Through the long agrarian passage leading up to the Industrial Revolution, man was becoming biologically more adapted to the modern economic world.
We’ll see… Regardless of what I think of the book (which I’ve not yet read, but will do so along side the students starting next week), it seemed like an interesting case on which to bring to bear our new-found analytical skills in evolutionary theory. More later…