Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Merry CHRISTmas! If Jesus was born today, in the United States. A speculation.

If the Christmas story happened today, in the United States...

Conservatives would demonize the girl for her loose values and would not expect Joseph to stick around for someone else's kid. They would pressure Mary to consider adoptive options because an unmarried teen mother is surely unfit to raise a child.

Mary would be considered a teen mom and might be offered a slot on the MTV reality show. She would be turned down, however, once she told the story of the immaculate conception - can you say CRAZY? After this, she decides not to talk about the Father.

Jesus would be born in a hospital where no one but immediate family and close friends could visit. Because her family is shamed, she is alone.

As a single mother, Mary would live in a poverty stricken area. Mary would take a minimum wage job working as many hours as she could to make ends meet.

Due to lack of access to nutritional foods, Jesus would become an obese and sickly child. Because he is an ethnic child, he is discriminated against and bullied in school, often being labeled a "Middle Eastern Terrorist."

Jesus would not be taught a trade. Instead, he would take a night job working at the local 7-11 while attending high school during the day. His academic grades would suffer and eventually he would drop out by age 16.

The rest of the story is pretty much what one expects of a child raised in poverty who does not complete his education.

We should all stop and think before we pass judgement on those less fortunate, especially during the Christmas Season. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I'd Like to Forget

I write this because it's September 11th, now some sort of weird celebratory memorial of something horrendous that happened 10 years ago. I "do" remember it vividly - I was mildly traumatized by the events having been a new Mom with a kiddo at daycare and seeing jets fly over my house in Western PA like Armageddon had begun. To this day, I believe I witnessed Flight 93 flying over our home then in Sharon, PA. It truly was a horrific for people everywhere - our illusion of security was brought to the ground - literally. 

But what is more memorable to me is the events that followed. When we watched the Presidential addresses that would follow, it became clear the attacks were being used [abused] as a smokescreen to wage war. This sticks out in my mind more vividly than anything else that happened. Rather than secure our borders and make our nation safe, we would wage more pain and suffering on what was now "the enemy" (defined as anyone who didn't support our war mongering). But in effort to suppress our insecurity, the president would create a puppet cabinet from which the director, Tom Ridge, would eventually resign when the incumbent asked him to raise the nation's terror alert right before the elections, presumably to help secure a second presidential term. The Department of Homeland Security became laughable as our "Terror Threat" remained "yellow" with no real measure of reason.

When Iraq was formally brought up as a source of Al Qaeda, it became crystal clear that our nation's leadership was no longer concerned with "we the people."

Today, thousands more have died and are still are dying. This to me, is what we should never forget. One day's tragedy has turned into a lifetime of suffering and loss for people all over the world. I will never forget September 11 because today, the horror of its aftermath still continues.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

From Cafe Press - Autism Awareness month update

Autism Awareness month update: "Over the past 24 hours we’ve received messages from the community expressing concern for our decision to donate a percent of proceeds from Autism related products to Autism Speaks. The response we’ve received takes us a bit by surprise, as this is our third year partnering with Autism Speaks and the first year we’ve heard [...]"

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How to Profit from Your Enemies - by Autism$peaks

NOTE: 4-8-2011 Update Follows at End of Article- Cafe Press' Response

During my morning Facebook check in routine, I stumbled on a post by a fellow advocate, Paula C. Durbin-Westby. The post stated simply,
If you have a Cafe Press site and have the word "autism" in your product name or line of products, 10% of the final sales purchase will be donated to Autism Speaks. If you don't like your site being used in that way you can contact Cafe Press.
For those unfamiliar, Cafe Press is reseller of personal logo-wear and accessories. Every day "joe's" can upload their logo and have their own store front. Cafe Press keeps the profits, but stores are encouraged to mark up prices as to make a small profit on everything they sell.  As a member of non-profit who hosts a logo shop at Cafe Press, I was a bit curious as to how this Autism Speaks campaign could possibly work. I went to their blog where they give the details

Here you find the details of the promotion.
* An amount equal to 10% of the final purchase price for all products tagged with “autism” and sold through Marketplace during April 1, 2011 through April 30, 2011 will be donated to Autism Speaks
Key in the promotional guideline is this - for all products tagged with “autism." Store owners use tags to help market their products. For instance, if you search for autism at the site, Cafe Press will return results with this tag. I probably do not need to tell you that anyone can use any tag whether its to help or hurt a cause.

Perhaps Cafe Press is unaware of the millions of dollars Autism Speaks rapes from the people in the name of helping those with Autism. Thing is, they are a grassroots organization in name only. They do not "give back" to the communities who fund them. They profit and divvy that profit up among their high paid executives. In 2009, Autism Speaks paid out more to their internal employees than all that they spent on research and advocacy. Their IRS 990 form is here. I'm no mathematician but thankfully others are better. Here's a nice breakdown of how Autism Speaks spent their money from a fellow blogger:

That's just the tip of the iceberg, really considering they have now surpassed popularity of other Autism organizations who preceded them. I can only imagine what 2010's 990 will look like.

But lets look at a bigger problem. Autism Speaks does NOT support self advocacy. Autism Speaks has gone as far as to sue a 14 year old Autistic teen over a blog that denounced them. That story can be found here:

The gist is that a teen made a parody site called NT Speaks that denounced intolerance. And though she did not use Autism Speaks logos, she designed the site to be similar in look and feel. And though this is not considered a copyright infringement according to law (parody sites are exempt), their high-powered attorney used intimidation and threats and made her destroy the source code for the web site.

There's more. Over the years, Autistics have been trying to sit on Autism Speaks board of directors. They will NOT allow someone with Autism to infiltrate the organization. That says it all to me. Autism Speaks who has been notoriously vocal against the very people it supposedly supports, has found a way to profit from them.

So, if you shop at a store that promotes Neurodiversity you are inadvertently donating to Autism Speaks. If as a store owner you have tagged any of your items with "autism," they are getting 10% of the sale. 

I posted a rather to the point comment on their blog that has been awaiting moderation for roughly four hours and counting. I'm not the only one. Others have posted comments that are either being ignored or sat on until the smoke clears. [update: Cafe Press did not approve my comment as of 4-7-2011, it's no longer pending or there. No one else's comments exist either].

Perhaps Cafe Press is now scrambling to undo the mess. Or perhaps they have a vested interest in Autism Speaks. But I for one, am considering cutting business ties with them. No matter how or why they chose this campaign, it was in bad form to presume that their clients would happily contribute to an organization.

4-8-2011 Update
I received this response from Cafe Press regarding the issue:

Thank you for your blog comment; we appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts on our Autism Awareness program. Over the past 24 hours we’ve received many other messages expressing concern for our decision to donate a percent of proceeds to Autism Speaks.

The response we’ve received takes us a bit by surprise, as this is our third year partnering with Autism Speaks and the first year we’ve heard concerns voiced about specific organizations or their approaches. That said, as a community-based business we feel it is important to listen and respond to our users’ concerns. You helped us to understand an adjustment to this program is needed. We have learned a lot about Autism in the process and feel privileged to be a part of the national conversation about supports for individuals and families facing the challenge of Autism.

For this year we’ve already made a commitment to Autism Speaks, and we do not want to go back on our promise to them, but we do want to add another charitable organization to split the money donated and balance our support to other Autism related good works. We’re asking our community to choose the specific Autism support charity that will receive ½ of the money raised through sales of Autism related goods.

If you’re interested in voting on this additional charitable initiative, or want to suggest one not on our list, please visit

While we know this may not answer or solve all of your concerns, we hope it helps to show our commitment to the community and to a dialogue about Autism support. Please know that we have nothing but the best intentions with our Autism Awareness donation plan and we hope you find our changes to the program palatable.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Avoiding Scams, Haters and Bullies on Facebook

A recent "war" on a common Facebook group prompted me to write my own PSA (public service announcement) based on my findings and experience. About five years ago, I was approached by a scam artist who claimed to be a powerful lobbyist and the father of an Autistic child. My contact happened due to a Yahoo group. That was just the beginning of much more to come.

Once Facebook came to be the popular media it is now, this scammer appeared under so many different fake profiles, I lost count. Today, he still continues this crime while preying on desperate families and their wallets.

There are at least a couple of "real" parents of Autistic children who on their real profiles, advocate. Yet, they too, have fake profiles where they stalk, bully and badmouth others. Why? I can only speculate - mental health issues themselves, anger at life in general? Who knows.

There's another trend on Facebook. People with odd fetishes can be found faking their identity in order to find individuals who will play into their hands (aka fetish fantasies). Often these folks disguise themselves as being disabled or a big fan of something in order to infiltrate a group. They attempt to engage others in odd fantasy. Often, these folks appear to have personality disorders and like to stir up controversy. They choose very hardened sides and claim to be victims of the other side. This method works wonders at getting people to interact with them (I'm so sorry so-and-so is treating you this way. I'll be your friend!). The victim thinks this person is really hurt and tries to help. What the victim doesn't know is that he/she is playing right into the hands of a scam or fantasy seeking individual.

Then of course there are the real people, with real anger who thrive on controversy. These people spew hate speech and blame others for their own plight. They often libelously label real people. They slant truths and propagate lies. These are severely unhappy people.

Others are what I refer to as "the collective." They are desperate to find answers, seek understanding and are easily sold snake oil. They throw away their past values and thinking and exchange it for the ideals of the group. The more the group discusses issues, a phenomenon called Groupthink happens. Groupthink is defined as a mode of thinking that occurs when the desire for harmony overrides a realistic appraisal of the situation. This phenomenon is fed by overconfidence of group members, conformity, self-justification and polarization. When a member of the group questions the ideals of the group, they are usually ostracized from the group or punished in some social manner. To explain the toxic behavior of the previous innocent member, psychology also notes "the foot in the door phenomenon." This is the tendency for people who have first agreed to small requests (i.e. do not associate with group x any longer) soon will comply with larger requests (i.e. badmouth group x members publicly). This phenomenon explains how seemingly typical parents can often become venomous when the ideals of their group (collective) are challenged.

What can you do to protect yourself from the above?

Fake Profiles

Be wary that fakes are out there. Do not blindly accept friend requests on Facebook. Do a little research first. You can often see the Facebook Walls of scammers - they rarely lock down their fake profiles. What's on their wall? Most real persons will have conversations about more topics than just one. We often comment on the weather, the week we had, something exciting in our lives. We often have friends and family commenting on mutual subjects. What we do not have is narrowly focused posts on one topic.

Fakes often have a lot of friends making them seem legitimate. Even some mutual friends. Do not be fooled. These people put a lot of time into creating fake families with real photos. They often accumulate friends by playing Facebook games and of course, asking for friendships to anyone and everyone with a common interest (Autism, for example). When in doubt, do not "friend" someone. Better safe than sorry.

Once you find a fake - block them! Do not engage them. They are for sure, looking for any interaction, positive or negative. Remember, any public feedback whether negative or positive makes them appear so much more real.


Click - Account - Privacy Settings - Edit Block List. Add them. Enough said. You will not, cannot and certainly should not try to convert these people.

The Borg (aka Collective)

Just steer clear. There is little you can do here as well. They have found an "accepting" group who has promised to love them as long as they fulfill the group's mission. If they become toxic, do not respond. Block them if necessary. Do not friend them or remove them if they are already on your friends list.


There are multitudes of scams, fakes and haters on Facebook. Responding to any of them, in any manner only helps their agenda. We can effectively stop Facebook bullying by ignoring it. Though they may be spewing misinformation, engaging them will only help them further their mission. Fight misinformation with real information. But do so in a way that does not engage the person who misinformed.

My mother always said "kill them with kindness." I say, "kill them with apathy."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Save the Inhabitants of Planet Earth

The year 2012 has all sorts of mystery surrounding it. Though it has apparently become "much ado about nothing" as far as scholars are concerned, the public has held fast to theories from Biblical end of days to a visitation by our alien ancestors. And really, who could blame us for anticipating a change of such grandeur? The world is a mess. So here is my proposal to change the outcome of 2012. Let's quickly fix the mess we're in and stop the end of the world or an alien revolution. We obviously can't fix everything alone. But if each one of us takes on once small piece of responsibility, things will change.

This is my list of things (in no particular order) that I feel must change in order for us to coexist on this planet for longer than the impending nine months.

Treat People Like You Want to Be Treated
Sound familiar? It should. And no, the left-wing liberals did not create this saying. Though it is usually associated with he Christian Bible's Book of Matthew, it has been around much longer. The history on this way of thinking goes back to ancient Babylon. Here's the Wiki on it for you diehard historians. Bottom line is, if we all stopped to think for just one moment about treating each other decently, 99% of our world problems would cease to exist. Stop comparing your life and choices to others'. Everyone's situation is different. Period. Stop looking at others as lazy or defunct just because they are different. Just stop. Focus on your own problems and deal with them.

Reality Television
These televisions shows glorify stupidity, human suffering, exploit children and cause our brains to shrink. These shows desensitize us to human suffering and make exploitation exciting. Some exploit the mentally ill. Others value people as no more than a casual prize. Criminally negligent parents parade their three years old's in makeup and bathing suits to win pageants. "Can you say pedophile, Virginia?" And by all means, stop following Charlie Sheen! The man needs mental health help. It's sad, I know. I'm not talking about documentaries, talent competitions and adventure or educational shows. I'm talking about the shows that exploit people. The ones who follow housewives, bachelors and tiara wearing toddlers. These shows vote people out in some sort of sick human competition or worse, simply follow dysfunction around to entertain us. Stop watching these shows. They are hard to resist. For some reason, watching others suffer in unrealistic existences can often help us forget our own problems. But there are other ways to find entertainment. Ah, but you say "that's all that is on TV now!" There's a catch. If we stop watching, the networks will stop airing. There's no rocket science involved. Read a book, rent a movie, or a board game with the family. Not so hard.

The News Media
Everything we see is tainted. It tainted with opinion, speculation and formatted by whomever pays the media the most. Stop believing everything you hear. Think rationally. Think for yourself. Instead, read the newspapers and journals. Compare slants on stories and formulate your OWN opinion instead of taking on someone's perspective. Yeah, it takes more time. But if you are living in a virtual reality, what's the point of living?

Stop Worshiping Money
There's just not a whole lot more I can say about this. Money is a necessity in life to a point. But we've lost sight of the real meaning of life. We don't "need" HD televisions, digital TV, smart-phones, movie rental subscriptions, or luxury cars. We do need food, water, shelter, oxygen and sunlight. Choose your needs over your wants.

To sum it all up, I'm hoping humankind can redeem itself. I'm hoping that by 2012, we'll have seen the light somehow. If not, then bring on the aliens. I'm ready for some earthly enlightenment.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Overcoming the Stigma of Vaccination

Public health organizations are doing a poor job of advocating for vaccination. Conversely, anti-vaccination groups are successfully spreading misinformation and discouraging vaccination. In Michael Willrich's New York Times editorial, Why Parents Fear the Needle, he argues that health organizations are doing little to counter misinformation and reassure the public about safety.1 It is possible that his argument is valid. Though a 2009 study showed immunization of U.S. infants remained at about ninety percent2, in 2010, forty percent of U.S. families postponed or declined vaccines for their children.3 Fear is usually the driving force behind refusal to vaccinate and is mostly caused by ignorance. Lack of clear and accessible information about the real risks of vaccines increases suspicion and makes the public susceptible to deceitful practices. The absence of good information appears to cause families to depend on more readily available nonsense.

As Willrich points out, vaccines have always been a subject of public scrutiny. The smallpox vaccine, developed in the late 1800s, began a surge of fearful and angry anti-vaccination groups. The concept of injecting a living disease into a healthy person seemed a foolish way to fend off illness. Anger was largely due to government health organizations forcing vaccination on the public without assuring public safety.4 These organizations did not tell the public about benefits and risks, yet forced them to submit to vaccination. Adding to public fear, a handful of citizens contracted tetanus after receiving the diphtheria vaccine in 1901. This caused a nationwide panic and a halt to vaccination for some time. Later, it was found the infections were due to an exposure to tetanus at the injection wound site.5 Though found unrelated to the actual vaccine ingredients, the outbreak added to the public's already damaged perception of vaccines.

Willrich fails to mention two important issues affecting today's vaccination rates. Complacency and boundless exposure to media opinion have contributed to the anti-vaccination movement. Most citizens no longer fear contracting deadly epidemics such as polio. Numerous serious diseases have ceased to exist thanks to vaccination. Immunity, however, has caused the public to become over-confident and forget.6 Complacency and media exposure create a perfect mix for conspiracy theorists. Many believe there is a conspiracy to poison citizens in the name of profit. Despite this seemingly new trend, however, celebrities and media have long been a source of anti-vaccination rhetoric. In the 1900s, George Bernard Shaw publicly declared vaccines a "filthy piece of witchcraft." 7 After the premier of the smallpox vaccine, political satirist, James Gillray, published a cartoon depicting vaccinated people morphing into cow-like creatures.8 In more recent times, actress and former Playboy model, Jenny McCarthy faulted childhood vaccinations as the cause of her child's Autism. McCarthy co-authored a book on the matter, entitled Healing and Preventing Autism.9 Though not completely new, misinformed celebrities and complacency have endorsed the anti-vaccination mentality.

Another aspect, Willrich seems to omit, is the power of the anti-vaccination groups. Such groups continue to perpetuate fear using arguments very similar to those of the 19th century's groups.10 Today, however, these groups are highly visible thanks to the Internet. The multitude of deception on the Internet has increased public suspicion. Deceivingly harmless advocacy organizations, such as Age of Autism and the National Autism Society, have an expansive presence on the World Wide Web. These anti-vaccination groups thrive on misinformation and label scientific study, that does not support their mission, as tainted. Groups sometimes accuse families who vaccinate of being part of a large conspiracy. Groups such as these appear to prey on desperation, confusion and ignorance. In some cases, groups use deceit and fear for profit. Corrupt groups often promote alternative and sometimes dangerous treatments with hefty price tags. In most cases, treatments are not medically approved and hence, not covered by health insurance. Families frequently shell out thousands of dollars in a month to receive questionable treatments, unproven herbal drugs, and other alternative medicine. These families are led to believe they are healing vaccine injury.11

Misinformed and corrupted science also adds to current fears. Fueling the fire for the anti-vaccination movement, in 1998 British researcher, Andrew Wakefield claimed to have found a clear link to the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and Autism. Though countless scientific studies around the globe could find no correlation, Wakefield declared to have proof. Since no other researcher could duplicate his results, Wakefield's study was highly scrutinized. It was this intense examination that uncovered a falsified report. Soon after, Mr. Wakefield's motives became apparent. He had been working on developing his own variety of the MMR vaccine. Add to this, he hand-picked his test subjects using anti-vaccination groups who not only financed the study, but had planned grandiose litigation once the study was complete.12 Despite the very public exposure of Wakefield's crime, one in five parents still believes that vaccines cause Autism.13 His crime left a legacy of misinformation and helped increase the public's fear of vaccines.

It is clear that a good deal of information exists to help us understand the reason for public fear of vaccines. On the other hand, as Willrich notes, reputable and clear scientific information on vaccination risks and benefits is not as available. In the recent past, the heath organizations have mostly remained silent and relied on health care providers, such as pediatricians, to persuade their patients and families to vaccinate. While on the surface this appears a reasonable approach, a recent survey showed that though eighty-seven percent of doctors said they talked about vaccination with all their patients, forty-seven percent of patients claimed their doctor never mentioned vaccines.14 This leads us to wonder how confident even the doctors are in recommending vaccination to their patients. It is obvious, the health organizations need to take a firm step toward better education for all the public, including health care providers.

The health organizations need to use an accessible approach to teach the public about vaccine safety. Willrich affirms that they must use the power of the Internet. And though the health organizations may argue that they do, the current information on the World Wide Web is mostly incomprehensible to the average citizen. At the Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization websites, documentation reads much like a sophisticated medical journal. In order to foster a better understanding, the health organizations must use language that clearly and effectively gives citizens a chance to comprehend the benefits and risks of vaccination. These organizations must find ways to make information accessible for all walks of life. Until the health organizations prepare and widely distribute information that is accessible, the conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccination groups will continue to grow.

Health organizations have begun fighting misinformation with more rhetoric as another ineffective way to promote vaccination. Willrich says it very clearly. "Why waste another breath vilifying the anti-vaccination minority when steps can be taken to expand the pro-vaccine majority?"15 Indeed it appears, that rather than ignoring the misguided messages of the anti-vaccination movement, the health organizations seem bent on fighting fire with fire. Opinion pieces do little to make the public feel safer. Better the health organizations should promote scientifically proven risks and benefits of vaccination. Another problem with this method is, by acknowledging the misinformation, they are also lending some validity to the argument. As Shakespeare's Queen said, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."16

Michael Willrich sums up the argument, nicely. "Until officials realize that, and learn how to counter such deep-seated concerns, the paranoia - and the public-health risk it poses - will remain."17 Lack of accessible information, complacency due to eradication of many deadly diseases and public suspicion will continue to keep some from vaccinating. Until the world health organizations change their methods to an educational approach, ignorance and misinformation will continue to reign.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Adventures in Psychology 100 and Human Development 129

So, because this inferno infused mother didn't have enough on her plate [insert sarcasm], she decided to go back to school this month. And of course, because I live in a house of psycho-babble, it was a natural choice to select Psychology as my focus.

What I've found in just a couple weeks of study is pretty interesting. First of all, we can pretty much write off all those surveys and correlation studies we see everyday. Correlation does not equal causation. What a simple concept that is so completely ignored by modern media. You might find it reassuring knowing that our children's TV viewing habits likely did not "cause" ADHD and divorce probably does not cause our children to commit suicide. Correlation does not equal causation!

As far as surveys are concerned, it is clear that wording can lead the participant to select a premeditated answer. For instance, a question such as "Did your child experience any Autistic symptoms after receiving the MMR vaccine?" could lead a lot of parents to answer "yes" despite showing any correlation. The question didn't ask if parents noticed those Autistic symptoms before the MMR vaccine and doesn't note how long after they noticed. The end result might show 100% of parents noticed their child was Autistic after the MMR vaccine. Yet, perhaps 95% noticed symptoms before or only years later. Surveys are easily manipulated using wording strategies.

So, I'm thinking that 5th dentist may have really been onto something. I mean 4 out of 5 chose Trident for their patients who chew gum. But what about those who don't chew gum? And what was the other choice? Ju-Ju Fruits? Sugar Cubes? Broccoli? I can only imagine that dentist #5 may have thought that chewing gum with saccharine(as it was back then) was worse for your body than the other choices. Who knows?

But more intriguing to me is how infantile the study of human development and psychology is. Psychological theories are changing every few years. Even more fascinating, is how some of the antiquated theories are still in practice today.

Behaviorism and Psychoanalytic theories are old school. We now know that a persons personality has multidimensional influences such as biological, cognitive, social, and cultural. But today we still see behaviorism in practice in Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). While behaviorism does gives us some insight to purposeful behavior, it nowhere comes close to understanding the cognitive, environmental, social and cultural aspects of behavior. Nor does it take into account actual neurobiological differences in cognition. For this reason, it's no longer a current theory. But it still being used on Autistic's everyday.

Psychoanalytic is mostly associated with Freud. You know, "Tell me about your mother". But even more so, it's about looking backward to figure out the beginning. Freud's theory was based on Adults he studied. Yet the theory was that these adults were "ruined" by their parents during infancy and preschool years just by how the parents reacted to the young child's sexuality. Yeah, you read that right. Infantile sexuality. Moving on.

Yet today, we do hear some claim Autism is a form of an attachment disorder - Mom didn't hold the baby enough, Dad wasn't responsive to baby's needs...blah blah blah. While attachment disorders do exist and some symptoms overlap, most people with Autism do not have this disorder. Attachment disorders are primarily found in children who were orphaned during infancy. Most children who are adopted at birth, attach to the adopted parent.

So why are we so backward? Why is science moving forward, yet the common implementation is years, sometimes decades behind? I can only speculate that "old habits die hard." I, for one, plan to use my newfound knowledge of what is considered scientifically useful, for good.