Category: In the news

Plague Year redux

Shades of Defoe in this Ebola story out of Dallas:

The four family members who are living there are among a handful who have been directed by the authorities to remain in isolation, following what officials said was a failure to comply with an order to stay home. Texas health officials hand-delivered orders to residents of the apartment requiring them not to leave their home and not to allow any visitors inside until their roughly three-week incubation periods have passed.

Welcome to Contagion fall ’14

I’m looking forward to meeting a new round of students for this class on Sunday. I hope you’re all enjoying the opening sequence of King Oidipous, which you should be reading for our first meeting. Think about how the plague is invoked there — what purpose it serves Sophocles’ drama and how it may offer us a set of ideas to consider about the relationship between disease, language, and narrative, or the use of disease as a metaphor for personal or social disorder.

The other morning I led a discussion of Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell, which you’ve all also read and discussed. Someone in that discussion actually raised Ebola as an example of a kind of natural disaster that might defy Solnit’s description of people coming together altruistically in order to rebuild new societies. It was a useful connection to the material from this class, much of which represents strangers fearing one another or fleeing the sick rather than offering assistance. “Communication” becomes a loaded metaphor in an epidemic situation because people fear — and sometimes it is, in fact the case — that conversation can be deadly, if the disease is communicated person-to-person. I acknowledged that Ebola would, indeed, pose quite a challenge to Solnit’s theory of utopian responses to disaster. Shortly after the discussion, though, a colleague showed me this video, which I thought might serve as a useful touchstone for our discussions this semester. I have a feeling Ebola might very well be the disease that haunts any number of our discussions this semester. I’ll be eager to hear what you think about this when we meet. See the link to the related article for more on these “burial boys.”

In the news

I’m thinking that next time around I may add a course role or assign one person a week to do a little news roundup on contagion topics. I keep seeing things I mean to post here. This, for example, from the Times on the WHO recent designation of Polio as a global health crisis.

Or this, also from the Times this weekend, on the relationship between HIV/AIDS rates in Africa and another disease nicknamed snail fever.

I also kept seeing references this weekend to dengue fever risks at the World Cup in Brazil.

And, closer to home.

All this makes me wonder if our semester’s reading has made us better consumers of news reports like these. What patterns or narratives or tropes are we now more apt to notice than we might have been a few months ago?

Black Hole on Film…and in sound

Here is a short film version of Black Hole by Director Rupert Sanders. Following our discussion in class today, I think we could talk about the way the short film tackles the page in the graphic novel with the juxtaposed images of the frog being dissected, the cut on Chris’ foot, Chris’ skin coming apart on her back, and Eliza’s hand covering her genitals.  

Also, a friend sent me a link to this webpage about astronomers who have captured sound waves from a black hole. Not exactly what I imagined a black hole would sound like…


Gao Yaojie

A New York Times article about AIDS activist Gao Yaojie; she has been advocating for Chinese authorities to address China’s AIDS crisis, and as a result had been put under house arrest multiple times between 2003 and 2007 to prevent her from receiving international awards for her work.


“But for a Communist Party intolerant of public dissent, embracing grass-roots AIDS activists is a different matter. They often complain loudest about inadequate care and official corruption. And few people have complained louder, or with more influence, than Dr. Gao, who gained fame for helping expose the tainted blood-selling operations that spread H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, in central China in the 1990s.”

‘“Luckily I am still clear in the mind, or I could have been fooled by the government into speaking for them, telling untrue tales,” she said. “It does not matter to me at all whether I can go pick up the award.

“I think my absence at the ceremony will be more influential than me being there.”’

7-Year-Old Colorado Girl Contracts “Black Death” Bubonic Plague

From yesterday:

(CBS/AP) DENVER – A 7-year-old girl is recovering in a Colorado hospital after being diagnosed with the Black Death, scientifically known as the bubonic plague.

The parents of 7-year-old Sierra Jane Downing thought she had the flu when she felt sick days after camping in southwest Colorado.

When she had a seizure, her father rushed her to the local hospital in Pagosa Springs. The emergency room doctor who saw Sierra Jane for the seizure and a 107-degree fever late Aug. 24 wasn’t sure what was wrong either, and called other hospitals before the girl was flown to Denver.

A pediatric doctor racing to save the girl’s life at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children got the first inkling that she had bubonic plague. Dr. Jennifer Snow first suspected the rare disease after factoring in the girl’s symptoms, a history of where she’d been and an online journal’s article on a teen with similar symptoms.

“If she had stayed home, she could’ve easily died within 24 to 48 hours from the shock of infection,” Snow said.