Archive for Mexico

Occupy Mathematics

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza, Revolution with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 8, 2011 by rgwallace

I gave the following talk at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in New York City October 17 as part of a Festschrift for my father, and collaborator, Rodrick Wallace. A Festschrift is a symposium held–and a book published–in honor of a scholar, often on his or her 70th birthday. As opposed to a Gedenkschrft, held in memoriam (though there are some scholars who deserve the latter long before they’ve left for the great e-journal server in the sky).

I’ll start off with an old joke about Rod, in the de rigueur Boston accent. The joke runs like this: Equation 1. Equation 2. Equation 3. “We can see here an apartheid state entrains both oppressor and oppressed into a synergy of plagues.”

Equation 4. Equation 5. Equation 6. “It follows then that public health can be saved from a catastrophic vortex if and only if we smash the apartheid state.”

All kidding aside, we would make a mistake assuming Rod’s conclusions arise from his formalisms alone or—winky wink—vice versa. Instead, we should say they arise “and vice versa” and honestly so. Or better yet, inextricably so.

That’d be shocking if only because it would imply cultural and political precepts underlie mathematical mechanics. That the field’s formalisms are as much historical objects as many of the phenomena they address, as a number of commentators, including Wittgenstein and the ethnomathematicians, have ventured.

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Grainmorrah

Posted in Ecological resilience, Influenza, Organic agriculture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2010 by rgwallace

I gave the following presentation Friday night at Give & Take, an interactive show and tell happy hour held monthly at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis. Both informative and a lot of fun. Even our ancestors, without a smartphone among them, played like kids on the harvest moon. But fair warning: history has shown the most innocuous festival can turn rebellious when its partisans’ longstanding grievances have been ill-addressed in the workaday.

We’re going to play a game called Grainmorrah. Unlike tic-tac-toe we can’t just jump right in as we don’t already know the game’s premise. So we’re going to run through a few slides for a little background.

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Pigs Do Fly! Implications for Influenza

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , on December 3, 2009 by rgwallace

The influenza genome is segmented. Eight pieces of single-stranded RNA encode for 11 proteins: PB2, PB1, PB1-F2, PA, HA, NP, NA, M1, M2, NS1, and NS2. The segmentation allows influenza of different subtypes infecting the same host to trade segments like card players on a Friday night. Most of the resulting viruses will express phenotypes for the worse, but a small subset may be transformed into strains more infectious in their usual hosts or to a new host species.

This reassortment accounts in part for the origins of this year’s pandemic. Livestock pigs have long hosted their own version of seasonal H1N1, evolutionarily related to our own. From 1930-1998 the pig version evolved only slightly. But starting in 1998, the virus was subjected to a series of reassortment events. In North America, an aggressive swine H1N1 emerged with internal genes of a human H3N2 virus and an avian influenza. That virus subsequently spread across pig populations, with limited transfer to humans, usually to farm workers, who routinely offer the influenza virus human test subjects every step in its evolution.

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The Hog Industry Strikes Back

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2009 by rgwallace

Swine flu H1N1 appears at one and the same time moving full-boar and on its cloven heels. The World Health Organization reports 15,510 official cases in 53 countries, with new countries regularly reporting in. An order or two more cases are likely unreported and together represent an atypical spring surge for influenza. At the same time, the strain’s virulence appears presently no more than along the lines of a bad seasonal influenza.

One of the mistakes we need avoid is to assume we’ve been victimized by a media-fueled hysteria. Given the mortality rates reported at the beginning of the outbreak in Mexico—exceeding that of the 1918 pandemic—it looked like we were in for it. Previous pandemics teach us that preparing for the worst is the prudent option. Imagine the reaction if only feeble preparations were made in the face of a truly deadly pandemic. The cost of a Type II error, thinking no pandemic possible with one imminent, is catastrophically greater than that of its Type I sibling, thinking a pandemic imminent with none in the offering.

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The NAFTA Flu

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2009 by rgwallace

Cases of swine flu H1N1 are now reported in Honduras, Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina, Austria, Thailand, Israel, etc. Can’t keep up at this point.

H1N1 is making its way across the world by hierarchical diffusion. By the world’s transportation network it is bouncing down a hierarchy of cities defined by their size and economic power and their interconnectedness to Mexico City, the international city closest to the initial outbreak. It’s no coincidence that New York and San Diego were among the first cities hit. The virus is also engaged in contagious diffusion, spreading out within each new country hit.

For the most part only a few cases have been reported in countries other than Mexico. But as influenza, unlike SARS, can transmit before symptoms show, there may be no way to stop H1N1 now. New York now reports hundreds infected.

What is clear is that the more countries affected, the more likely the virus will find chinks in the world’s epidemiological armor. The new strain may develop the right epidemiological momentum once it reaches those countries whose public health infrastructures are underdeveloped or undermined by structural adjustment programs. On the other hand, that may have happened from the start. Since the early 1980s Mexico has been subjected to IMF-specified truncations in animal and health infrastructure.

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The Agro-Industrial Roots of Swine Flu H1N1

Posted in Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , on April 26, 2009 by rgwallace

Mexico appears ground zero for an outbreak of deadly human-specific H1N1.

Of the over 1400 people that have been reportedly infected there so far, 86 have died. Short chains of transmission of the virus have also been reported in California, Texas, Kansas, Ohio, New York City, Canada and New Zealand. The virus has been identified as a new recombinant of influenza A (H1N1).

The World Health Organization has labeled the new strain potentially pandemic and the US has declared a public health emergency. Of great concern, and perhaps a marker of the seriousness of the outbreak, the deaths in Mexico, as in pandemics of eras past, appear concentrated among the young and healthy. In contrast, the mortality associated with most seasonal influenzas falls heaviest upon infants and the elderly.

Researchers have over the past several years hypothesized that a healthy and responsive immune system may explain the greater mortality among patients 20-40 years infected with highly pathogenic influenza.

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