Tag Archives: corona virus

Checking Our Sources, Knowing Our Contexts

Checking Our Sources, Knowing Our Contexts   —by Jinny Batterson

As the pandemic caused by the corona virus drags on, amid increasing conjectures about how to respond, increasing finger pointing about whose “fault” it might be, I can feel emotionally overloaded. So far, no one close to me has died of the infection, though several friends and relatives have had cases of varying degrees of severity. The small enclave where I live stays mainly quiet, those of us retired or furloughed staying pretty close to home, those still in the paid workforce adjusting work routines to stay as safe as practical.  

More of us live more of our lives in virtual spaces—emails, virtual meetings, social media posts. It can be tempting to get all of our input filtered through some electronic medium or other. My biological and intentional families are politically diverse. In these fraught times, we sometimes avoid discussing politics, but it can be nearly impossible not to be influenced by what we see, hear, and read. When discussions get especially heated, I try to remember some of my history teachers, including my part-time historian mother. 

“Check your sources,” they would repeatedly caution. “Everyone has an angle. Why did this particular source frame this particular event in this way? What advantage did they gain from telling their story from this viewpoint?”  

It’s disturbing to me that a fair amount of “information” these days is murkily sourced, if sourced at all. Lots of groups with high-sounding names have turned out to be unreliable at best, malicious at worst. Conspiracy theories abound.

It’s unclear where the virus causing covid-19 originated. It’s unclear exactly when it first spread among humans. It’s unclear all the ways the virus may be transmitted. It’s unclear why some people have few or mild symptoms, while others with similar backgrounds can be severely affected.  Given these uncertainties, it’s natural for us to form theories about what’s happening. What’s not natural is for so many of us to be so adamantly certain of “answers.”

I try to vary the sources of information I review, to filter out the obviously bogus. I know, too, that I respond to content in part from the contexts in which my life has unfolded so far. During my childhood, polio was a crippling pandemic that tended to reappear each summer, impacting both children and adults in seemingly random fashion. In some years in the early 20th century, as many as 6,000 Americans had died. Most Americans knew that president Franklin Roosevelt had contracted polio as an adult during the 1920’s and never fully regained the use of his legs. At its maximum in the U.S., in the early 1950’s, there were nearly 58,000 U.S. cases annually, with nearly 3,000 deaths. Swimming pools closed. Parents restricted their children’s friendships. 

Eventually, medical researchers tracked down the source of the illness and developed successive vaccines. I remember when I was in elementary school being part of a large-scale medical trial in which many of us got doses of an oral vaccine. In 2020, polio infections exist in just three countries globally, with fewer than 200 annual cases. Global health workers do their best to detect and isolate pockets of infection, often in war-torn areas, and to make sure at-risk children get vaccinated against the disease. 

At some future point, this novel corona virus that is spreading illness and death will yield to research and to more effective responses. Until that happens, it behooves us humans, whatever our political leanings or backgrounds, to check our sources and to be as aware as we can of our contexts.   

   

Power, Shared

Power, Shared   —by Jinny Batterson

It’s been an unsettled week for those with putative power. While various autocrats and autocrat wannabes strutted before stadium crowds, riots broke out elsewhere in the capital city of India. In the U.S., Democratic Presidential hopefuls stood behind podiums and yelled at each other. Despite posturing by those who want us to believe in their power or leadership potential, for the moment evidence points to a microscopic organism known as “Covid19,” or just “the corona virus” as the most powerful living entity on earth.

Since an initial outbreak began in central China a couple of months ago, the virus and the serious illness it can cause has spread to every continent except Antarctica, with the biggest outbreaks outside China in Italy and Iran. Over two thousand have died, with over 80,000 sickened enough to require hospitalization. Entire regions have been on lockdown, global commerce has been dented, stock markets have plunged. 

U.S. media attention has also focussed on former media mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was convicted in New York of rape and sexual assault. He’s facing a prospective prison sentence of at least five years, as pundits weigh the significance of his conviction for other victims of sexual assault. Future Weinstein appeals and trials loom. 

Meantime, this year’s Black History Month is drawing to a close. It seems likely that our current national powers that be will do their best to ignore it. Meanwhile, here in North Carolina, early voting for next Tuesday’s March 3 primary election will end along with February on Saturday, “leap day.”  

In American politics, it is a recurring mantra that the power of the ballot is supreme. Struggles to gain and exercise voting rights have ebbed and flowed throughout our history. History reminds us that the oppressed will continue to use both overt and covert means to subvert the systems oppressing them and to gain access to power. History teaches that no solitary or absolute power can last forever.

A bit before the current corona virus outbreak, news outlets in early 2020 covered U.S. and European approval of a vaccine against the ebola virus, which had caused a major epidemic in western Africa in 2014. An article traced the international cooperation and lucky connections that capped generations of work by scientists and public health workers across three continents and at least a generation to create and distribute the vaccine (https://www.statnews.com/2020/01/07/inside-story-scientists-produced-world-first-ebola-vaccine/). Many of those involved in the project gained little in fortune or fame, but simply believed in what was to them a worthwhile cause. They helped produce another tool for the public health response to any current or future ebola outbreak.  

So, when we bother to pay attention, recent weeks may also remind us of the immense shared power of a voluntary, uncoerced “yes.”