This post may contain sponsored or affiliate links

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Gun Rights: Mental Health

This seems to be the perfect time to discuss what's on all of our minds: Guns and Mental Health.  April is considered to the "open season" for shootings in the United States.  It's a terrible way to put it, but it's true.

Mass Shootings In April:
The Shootings in Cincinnati on April 22nd, 2016
The Shootings at Fort Hood on April 2nd, 2014
The Boston Marathon on April 15th, 2013
The Shootings at Oikos University on April 2nd, 2012
The Shootings at the Immigration Center in Binghamton New York on April 3rd, 2009
The Virginia Tech Massacre on April 16th, 2007
The Columbine School Shooting on April 20th, 1999
and sooooo many more...

Do mass shootings happen other times of year?  Yes, unfortunately they happen year round.   All over the United States and all over the World. They happen somewhere every day.  In fact, in the United States there were reportedly more mass shootings in 2016 than there were days in a year.  Yeah, that's a lot of mass shootings.  But WHY do they happen?  What can we do to stop these senseless losses of life?

The debate is never ending.  Some like to blame mental illness (because only unstable people shoot other people).  Some say it's just too easy to get guns (which is certainly true in some situations).  Some say it's poor training (for serious, you don't have to have any training to buy a gun).  Some say it's inadequate back ground checks (the 3 day loophole is un-imaginable but none-the-less a true fact).  And even more say it's just an American propensity to love guns (yes, we love our guns).

The Truth
The truth is this:  IT IS ALL THOSE THINGS.  Consider for a second: your building with blocks with your kids and you put a block down on the ground and it's steady and sturdy and your not afraid it will come crashing to the ground.  But then your kids start willy-nilly stacking the blocks to try to make the biggest tower possible?  While your foundation might be solid, the randomly stacked blocks that don't seem to have any other relationship to each other.  The pile is making your block tower increasingly unstable.

Gun regulations are like this.  At first, our founders gave us this sturdy base.  They gave us the 2nd Amendment: The Right to Bear Arms (never mind the part about creating a militia in the event that our government needs over throwing).  They gave us the freedom to own a gun.  They gave us a fundamental right to arm ourselves.  What they didn't predict was the unpredictability of the greatly diverse society that they were building and what that unpredictability would do to their stable foundation.  Add onto that stable foundation mental illness, untrained weapon owners, children, hormones, racial and economic injustices, and a society that refuses to see reality and you have a very unstable tower.

The Problems
The problem is, we have mentally unstable people who have guns.
The problem is, some people don't have the capacity to use guns responsibly.
The problem is, we have people who aren't trained in any way owning guns.
The problem is, we have dense populations of people struggling in a racially and economically un-just environments.
The problem is, we have people who just don't realize that they need to lock their guns up away from their kids.
The problem is, we have gangs carrying guns.
The problem is, we have scared police officers.
The problem is, we have a black market for illegal purchases.
The problem is, we have have a huge pile of reasons why people shoot other people.

So what do we do?
The answer is fairly simple to me: Take guns away from people who shouldn't have them.  No, don't take guns away from everyone.  No, it's not just certain types of guns or certain additions or alterations you can make to guns.  No, not everyone should face restrictions to their 2nd Amendment Rights.  Only some people.  Take those people's right away until they can prove they can handle a deadly weapon. The complication is how do we as a people decide who shouldn't have guns and who should? I don't think that's an easy question to answer.

What?  TAKE AWAY A RIGHT?! No, no, no!  How could we do such a thing?!  This is our fundamental RIGHT to own a gun! Turns out, we actually have precedent for taking away rights, or even just restricting rights.  Lets take each of the first 10 Constitutional Rights and look at them briefly.

1- Freedom of Speech, Assembly, Free Press, and to Petition the government.  This one is simple and everyone knows where these rights have been infringed.  Can you just say anything you want whenever you want?  No, you can say SOME of what you want.  But you can't say anything that is considered Hate Speech.  You can't say anything that can cause mass hysteria (like yelling "Bomb" in a crowded airport).  You can't assemble without a permit based on your assembly location, the estimated crowd size, and you can't assemble within a certain distance from the president or other specific officials.  The press is free, well kinda... We all know the current state of the situation with the media.  And of course you can petition the government, but only if you get a certain number of signatures, and only if that government website isn't "taken down for maintenance" indefinitely.

2- Right to Keep and Bear Arms.  Turns out this right has actually been infringed upon before.  Felony convicts can't purchase guns legally (thanks to Chapter 44 title 18 of the U.S. Code).  People convicted of under domestic violence or with a protective order against them cannot purchase or own a gun.  You can't buy a gun until your over 18 years old.  You can't carry guns in certain states or in certain places.  You can't wear a gun without a certain permit.  You can't buy a gun without going through a background check (except in certain loop-hole situations).

3- The government can't force anyone to house a soldier.  Turns out, this is still a right that we have that hasn't really been infringed upon.  Yey!

4- Unreasonable Search and Seizure.  The NSA has eyes everywhere.  The government could even be monitoring my blog for all I know.  They can look through our browsing history.  They can find any information they want and use that to make any search and seizure "reasonable".  Who even defines "reasonable"?  That's a good question.

5- Cannot be Denied Life, Liberty, or Property without Due Process.   Yes, police take their right to use lethal force very seriously.  Are there bad cops?  Yes, but there are more good ones.  But we cannot deny the fact that police shootings are a perfect example of when people have been denied life and liberty without due process.  Kendrec McDade, Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley... just to name a few.  These were all unarmed black men who were shot and killed by police officers.  They were denied their right to due process and denied their right to life.  This doesn't even include all of the people who have been detained and denied due process since the 9-11 attacks thanks to President G.W. Bush's Patriot Act.

6- The Right to Know Our Criminal Charges and be Confronted by the Accuser.  Again, the Patriot Act makes it possible for the government to use secret evidence to detain people indefinitely.  

7- Trial by Jury.  Yey!  Another one we have retained!  The problem is, these juries are not always the most impartial, especially in high profile cases.

8- Cruel and Unusual Punishment.   One word: Torture.  Yes, our government uses torture to get information.  This can and is considered a cruel and unusual punishment, but if your being questioned for potential links to terror then the government can infringe on this right, whether you are guilty or not. 

9- Other Rights...  I know, how vague, right? I don't think anyone knows what this really means.

10- Powers not explicitly given to the Federal Government shall be given to the States.  These lines are constantly being blurred and discussed.  Be-it-to-say I don't think any of the State know exactly what they can and can't control and the Federal Government is notorious for stepping in and over ruling states.  This is the age old debate of whether we should have one large all knowing all controlling power that makes every state look and act the same (the Federal Government) or a whole bunch of smaller governments with different rules that make the conglomerate of the United States into a diverse collection of laws and rules that change with each boarder crossing.   I can see benefits in both.   

Let's also consider briefly that not all people are granted the same fundamental rights in our society.  Women, black people, children, prisoners, and many other U.S. Citizens have historically been denied some rights.  In addition to that, non-U.S. Citizens are not granted the same rights as Citizens.  Should people from other countries be able to buy guns in the U.S.?  No, they aren't citizens here and are not granted the same set of freedoms.  Should people who have been convicted of violent felonies be able to own a gun?  No, and they can't (legally).  Should people on the Homeland Security's list of potential terrorist be able to buy guns?  Well, duh!  NO!  Of course there are loop holes and illegal ways to get guns, and those issues NEED to be dealt with.

So if we see through history that we do in fact have the precedent to take away or restrict our fundamental rights, then what makes guns and the 2nd Amendment different?  Well, it's not.  The key is taking away and restricting the rights of certain people without infringing on the rights of others.  This is where it gets tricky.

Gun Rights and Mental Illness
No one disputes the fact that our mental health care system is a disaster.  There are never enough beds.  Never enough funds.  Never enough medical professionals to cover the expanding assortment of mental health needs that our growing population needs.  Here's the issue with blaming gun violence on mental illness: not all mass murders are carried out by are mentally ill and not all those who are mentally ill have the desire or capacity to kill.

We've all heard the whole "momma bear doesn't want anyone messing with her cubs" analogy.  Well, all of us momma bears would kill to protect our cubs.  If my children were in danger I wouldn't hesitate to preemptively stop the person threatening them (even if that meant killing them in the rare situation where the might be necessary).  Sure, mental illness can contribute to a propensity to kill, but so can hormone changes and rage.  We cannot blame mass shootings on mental illness.

So, if Mass Shootings are not all the result of mental illnesses (although some certainly are) why stop the mentally ill from getting guns?  This is two pronged:
1- It's a matter of protecting ourselves.  Take for example the Virginia Tech Massacre.  Seung-Hui Cho had a history of mental illness and a record of admiring the Columbine Shooters.  His high school counselors noted his admiration of Columbine.  His college teachers noted (and reported to the University) the dark and often homicidal tone of his work.  He had a compiling list of incidents that showed his deteriorating mental state.  He had a history that should have prevented him from purchasing guns.  But all of the puzzle pieces weren't put together before he killed 32 people in Norris Hall on April 16th, 2007.   Why should be have stopped him from buying guns?  Because he gave us all indication that he would use them to hurt us.
2- It's a matter of protecting the mentally ill from themselves.  Statistically, those who are suicidal are more likely to succeed in killing themselves if they have access to a gun.  Those who are made to wait, in any way, are statically less likely to actually kill themselves.  Those who try to kill themselves via other deadly force are not successful as often as those with a gun.  Why should we stop these people from buying or owning a gun?  Because it might save their lives.  Also, statistically more people kill themselves with guns than kill others (this could be due to a number of reasons, emntal illness only being one).

What CAN we do about mentally ill people and gun rights?  For starters, we need health care professionals to weigh in to determine which mental illnesses are the most likely to cause homicidal or suicidal thoughts. Then we need those professionals to help screen their own clients to either clear them or determine their need for gun restrictions.

Certainly we can do a better job of restricting the mentally ill's access to guns.  A data-base of those hospitalized with mental illness that have shown tendencies towards suicidal and homicidal tendencies is a start.  A way for communication between back-ground checks and health care systems that can find links in potential mental issues.  We can make the process take longer so that people who are immediately suicidal will have the time to think through their actions.  We can close the under-age loopholes that made Cho's childhood records that detailed his obsession with Columbine not accessible to the University and those selling him guns.

We can hold gun sellers accountable when they sell weapons to people with Mental illness (under the premise that they will be less likely to sell a gun through what is called the Charleston Loophole if they suspect a person might be mentally ill).  Can we completely stop them from obtaining guns?  No, there will always be black markets and back-door ways to get guns, but we can put road blocks in their way and make it much harder to get guns.  And maybe those road blocks will give authorities proper time and evidence to stop them from killing themselves or others.

Certainly there is no end-all that will stop mass killings and prevent people from killing other people with guns.  But there are things we can do to deter people from killing themselves or others.  I would happily wait a few days (or weeks) longer to get a gun if it meant that some others were properly screened.  I would happily turn over my mental health background to a database "watch-dog" if it meant possibly protecting myself and others later.  We all will need to give little in order to get a little.

What are your thoughts and opinions?  Do you think the mentally ill should be restricted from purchasing or owning guns?  Please share your RESPECTFUL thoughts and comments below.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The March for Science

Yes, today there is yet ANOTHER March.  But today we don't march for women's rights.  We don't march in protest of unequal pay.  We don't march in opposition.  Today we march for our planet.  Today we march in support of the scientific evidence that shows the devastating effects that bad energy policy and dangerous environmental policy has on climate change and our planet.

Today's event organizers have coined the march as

"the first step of a global movement to defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies and governments."

Is this really the "first step"?  I think not.  Many of us have been working towards stabilizing climate change, support of restrictions on big coal and oil, and taking steps to lower our impact for years (decades even).  But this is certainly a revitalization of the movement.  A chance for people from all parties, all beliefs, and all stages in environmentalism to come together to say (or yell) that SCIENCE MATTERS.  

Annnnnd, it's raining.  What better way to celebrate Earth Day and the March for Science with a bit of rain.  Pouring.  Drenching.  Thunder Booming.  Lightning Flashing.  Yeah, no thanks.  We did the Women's March in the pouring rain and I'd just like to say "I'm Sorry" to the organizers of the March for Science because I just can't do another march in the rain.  Especially with three kids.  

**if you DO want to march, here is a site that has lists of satellite marches in the U.S.  This website also offers a Virtual March for those who cannot make it to a physical march**

Thankfully, there are marches and rallies being held ACROSS THE WORLD today, so there are plenty of other supporters able to get their feet (dryly) on the ground.  So, I've developed a list...

Ways to participate without marching:

1. Wear Your Science Shirts and Support Clothes.  Support the cause by looking the part!  People will see you at the grocery store or out about town with your Earth Day shirt and know that you support the movement.
2. Post your Support on Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter, etc.  That's right, posting that you support the movement will help to add your voice to the larger masses who were able to get out and march.
3. Add you name to the "list".  Most protests have online registries where you can add your attendance to a list.  Even if you cannot go to your local march because of rain, health issues, or other concerns, add you name to the attendance list so that organizers can account for your support.  Numbers matter! 
4. Talk to your Children.  I'm going to use the day to discuss Climate Change, the importance of Science in research, and the role that Science should play in politics.  I'm going to tell them what the day is about and I'm going to makes sure they recognize it's importance.
5. Share stories of important moments and people within the movement.  My favorite story is about Al Gore.  Yeah, that sounds kinda strange, but I still remember when he was Vice President (and my kids recognize his name from their school learning) and then after running against Bush in the 2000's election he went on to become one of the pivotal political figureheads in Climate Change policy.  Check out his book The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change here: 

6. Thank those that did march.  We need to maintain the connections we have with our allies and make sure that they know their impact on our movement.  Even if you weren't able to march, you should thank those that did for representing you.
7. Email, Call, and Send letters to my representatives.  I've got a long list of all my representatives and they will each get a letter, email, and phone call highlighting my opinions about the importance of science in making policy. 
8. I will hang a poster in my car.  That's right, I going to make a poster and put it in the back window of my SUV.  Everyone will know I'm there in spirit, an I will spread the word to all the people who drive behind me.
9. I'm going to read, read, read...  There are soooooo many articles coming out today and so many websites that are jumping on the bandwagon today.  I'm going to read them and find out the latest research. Here's a website I'm going to peruse that is a great resource for new information International Council for Science
10. I will read the articles, watch the news reports, and keep myself informed about the protest elsewhere.  Knowledge is power and I want to be part of the larger picture.  Staying informed is the best way to do that.

Want to do MORE?  Here is a list of ways you can 
Support the our planet EVERY day:

1. Reduce the Carbon Footprint of your Car. 
You can reduce your average MPG using these 4 habit changes:
- Accelerating slowly and smoothly
- Driving the speed limit
- Maintaining a steady speed
- Anticipating your stops and starts
Amazingly, keeping your tires properly inflated can save 400-700 lbs of CO2/year!  
And of course, drive your most efficient car as you commuting car.  Save the gas-guzzler for short trips and only use it when necessary.
2. Reduce your Travel Footprint.  
By simply following these suggestions:
- Carpool when you can
- Take mass transit (yes, that's what that bus is for, USE IT!)
- Bike where lanes and bike paths are provided (bonus: you'll get in great shape too!)
- Walk when you can
3. Reduce your Home Footprint.
- Program your thermostat to a higher temp in the summer and lower in the winter (this can save you a good bit of cash too!)
- Add weather proofing and weather stripping to insulate your home better.
- Invest in EnergyStar rated appliances
- Unplug things that are not in use
- Upgrade your windows (this will help keep your AC and Heat inside your home and the elements outside your home)
- Move to Solar power!  There are lots of great incentive programs out there!
4. Reduce your Office Footprint.
- Shut down your computer and monitor when not in use
- Print double sided (or not at all if it's not necessary!)
- Carpool to work with your coworkers
- Open the Windows and turn off the AC/Heat on nice days
- Turn off the lights
- Bring your own lunch in reusable containers
5. Reduce your Life Footprint.
- Buy locally (less travel time means your food has a smaller footprint)
- Eat less meat (vegetarians save roughly 3,000 lbs of CO2/year)
- Don't waste food (composting, eating leftovers, utilizing proportions, feed your pets with leftovers)
- Stop the junkmail (just imagine how much less waste your home would produce without Junkmail!)

Do you have other ideas?  Are you marching today?  How are you participating in today's Earth Day events?  Please share your RESPECTFUL comments below.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Marijuana: the Debate

Today is April 20th, or 4/20 for some.  The day of celebration for counter-culture Marijuana supporters.  The history of this day is actually kind of funny and speaks to the nature of the Marijuana culture itself.  It's said that a group of teenage boys in California used to gather at a wall next to their school each day at 4:20 to smoke and discuss plans to find a hidden treasure trove of Marijuana.  After many failed attempts to find this treasure trove, the boys continued their tradition of gathering ans smoking at 4:20.  This tradition has turned into an international phenomenon celebrated in many location around Northern America.

We all know that there is controversy surrounding the recreational and medical uses of Marijuana, but what is the controversy about and how does it effect each of us?  I have no idea.  So I decided to do what I do best: scour the internet for information.  Here's what I learned...

Some History
 Hemp production was actually encouraged in early U.S. colonization and settlement.  Surprisingly, in 1619 the Virginia Assembly actually passed a law REQUIRING farmers to grow hemp and it was considered legal tender in 3 colonies (Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland).  In the 1800s marijuana was a common ingredient in many medicinal products and was sold opening in pharmacies.

While it's uncertain if any early settlers utilized the dried leaves and flowers from the hemp plant for anything other than medical uses, recreational use became wide spread in the early 1900s.  Due in part to the immigration of large numbers of Mexicans after the Mexican Revolution of 1910, American's were beginning to see the recreational benefits of the Hemp plant.  With the onslaught of the Great Depression, American anxiety over Mexican immigration lead to wide spread outlawing of recreational Marijuana use.  By 1931, 29 states had formed legislation banning it.  Further anxiety over anything to do with Mexican immigrants led to rash stereotyping of anything considered potentially Mexican in origin.  Criminal activity, civil disobedience, and links to other social problems were blamed on Mexican Hemp.  This eventually lead to the creation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and a 40 year back and forth battle over punishment and legal ramifications of using Marijuana.

In the 1970s, while deeply immersed in what many consider the "Age of the Hippie" that parents began a revolution against drug use.  This movement began a fundamental shift in views towards Marijuana use that eventually shaped mandatory sentences and President Bush's War on Drugs.  It wasn't until 20 years later in 1996 that California was the first state to allow medical Marijuana use, which was in direct conflict with Federal laws prohibiting it's possession.

Right now there are 8 states (Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Colorado, Alaska, Massachusetts, and Maine) that allow recreational use of Marijuana.  There are currently 20 states that allow medical uses, including most of the Central Northern states and all of the North Eastern States.

Some Facts
Marijuana is called a "gateway" drug because it is typically the most easily accessible (both in terms of cost and quantity) drug in the United States.  Many, if not most, people who try Marijuana will go on to try or use other drugs.  Statistically, there is no link between Marijuana use and later drug dependency or abuse.  For a large portion of the population, Marijuana is actually considered an "only drug" or an "exit drug" meaning that it is the only drug a person regularly uses or it is the drug of choice to help those dependent on harder drugs transition out of dependency.

There is an abundance of contradictory research about the effects of Marijuana on the brain.  There is also contradictory research about the immediate impact of Marijuana use (and specifically the impact of it's use during driving and learning), but what is fairly certain is that the use of Medical Marijuana has had positive benefits for patients needing pain or nausea relief without many of the debilitating side effects of traditional prescription medications.  Medical Marijuana has also shown promise in relieving seizures, improving mood in mentally ill patients, and help patients with a variety of symptoms who have neurological disorders.

Less than 10% of those who try Marijuana actually become clinically dependent on the drug.  Comparatively, 32% of tobacco smokers and 15% of alcohol drinkers become dependent respectively.  It is unpredictable what these numbers will do if and when Marijuana is legalized nation-wide.

How Does This Affect Us, as Parents?
Let's face it, no matter how well we shelter our children they will be exposed to things we find questionable.  They will be tempted by friends to do things they haven't considered before and they will be pushed by peer pressure to do things they don't want to do.  Whether you believe Marijuana should be legalized or not and no matter what state you live in, your child will be faced with the decision of whether to try it.

Hopefully, this doesn't happen until your child in in their late teens.  Some controversial research suggests that marijuana use in early teenage years can impact brain development and impede learning.  No matter at what age you child comes into contact with Marijuana, there are things we can do to prepare them to make the RIGHT DECISION for them.

1.  Make sure your child knows the FACTS, not the hysteria.  There is a lot of mis-information out there about marijuana.  Your child's friends will tell them it's ok to use and that it's fun and all that jazz.  But as the conscience on your teen's shoulders it's your job to make sure they can see through they hype and know some facts.   Keep them informed of the latest research.  Make sure they know the effects it can have on their mind, mood, and ability to drive.  If you've recreationally used Marijuana make sure you child knows that you speak from experience.
2.  Don't tell your teen NO, let them decide on their own.  Yes, we all know that teenagers are rebellious.  But did you know your teen has probably done stuff just BECAUSE you said "No'?  Not only is it dangerous to tell a teen "No" but it actually makes more developmental sense to let your teen decide for themselves.  Teenagers are impulsive and learn by experience more than advice.  In the end, your teen needs to decide NOT to try or recreationally use Marijuana themselves in order for the decision to stick long-term.
3.  Maintain open communication.  This is the key part of the equation.  You have to talk to your teen.  You have to know what they are doing and where they are.  You have to know the current situations they are facing.  Keep the lines open.  Let them know that they can trust you and can tell you anything without judgement or punishment.  Let your teen know when they are putting themselves in a potentially risky situation.  Tell them when your uncomfortable in their decisions.
4.  Support your Teen in their decision making skills.  This isn't just about their decisions to use or not use Marijuana.  This is about their ability to make all kinds of decisions.  They need the experience of making big life decisions for themselves so that they feel confident when faced with peer pressure.  You can't make every decision for them, so make sure they have enough experience to make some decisions themselves.
5.  Trust your Teen, but keep a close eye on them.  Does your teen want to go to the party at so-and-so's house?  Trust them.  They will make the right decision.  But makes sure you know where they are and who they are with.  Also make sure to check up on them, discretely.  Trust is great, until it's broken.
6.  Give them a way out.  In the event that your teen is faced with a decision that they are uncomfortable making, develop a scenario that they use to get out of the situation quickly.  Discuss code words or phrases that they can use to get your attention in the event they need your help.

Do you have any other suggestions for helping your teen prepare to face the decision to try Marijuana?  Do you have any thoughts or opinions on the current state of Marijuana legalization?  Please share your RESPECTFUL thoughts and opinions below.

See Also: 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Virginia Tech Massacre: 10 Years Later

I remember when I was young my class took a field trip to visit a professor at Virginia Tech.  It was maybe 3rd or 4th grade.  It was one of those days that you spend in "awe" as a child.  Seeing the huge buildings and full classrooms of people you consider to be "so old" (because being 18 was sooooo many years away when your 10 years old).  We looked at those students and thought "wow, I'm going to be like them one day" and you admire how free and fun their lives must be.  I remember thinking how nice it must be to get to choose which classes you take.

We went into this big classroom, in one of the engineering buildings (I'm not sure which one it was, they move departments constantly in such a large school).  There were cool posters on the walls and images of students and their amazing projects in the hall.  The classroom was auditorium style with maybe 75-100 seats.  I climbed the concrete steps and sat down in one of those stadium style chairs (you know the kind that the seat folds down and there's a plastic back connected to the riser of floor the row behind you).  I was a few rows back from the front, close enough to be able to see and hear, but far enough back that I could be considered "cool".  I don't remember who sat next to me, but I know I was in a row full of my friends.  We weren't the super cool kids, just the ones that floated around in the middle.  Some of us dorks to the core, some of us a little weird, and some of us a little cool.  But we thought of ourselves as the cool kids, in our own way.

I remember when the professor walked out in front of us and started his computer at the desk in the front.  Those were the days when there was still a green chalk board on the wall at the front of the classroom and there was a white screen that you pulled down so that you could project your powerpoint presentation in front of the chalk board.  The rest is a blur.  I think the excitement took over.

I remember images of bridges and buildings.  Talk of water systems, ecology, and lots of technical terms.  The professor explained to us how all of these amazing things he was showing us were engineered projects.  Things that required Math and Science.  Projects that he had worked on and got to be a part of.

My parents were in the Architecture field.  My dad was an Interior Design Professor in the College of Architecture and my mom had been on the College Planning Team for years.  I had seen their designs and been to be buildings that they had helped design.  I knew what being a designer meant because my parents had showed me.  But I had never considered that there were things other than buildings that needed to be designed.  That there was a whole team of Engineers that design bridges and water systems.  That those systems needed to be developed on a city-wide and even region-wide scale.  It was all very awe-inspiring.

I left the classroom that day and told my friend how absolutely cool I thought her dad was and how he had the most awesome job in the world.  It was one of those moments that shape the rest of your life.  One of those moments that influences you forever.  Like your eyes had been closed and suddenly they were open to a whole new world of possibilities.

Years went by.  I remained friends with that professor's daughter.  She was one of those faithful friends that doesn't leave your side no matter how much you change. When our social circles changed in High School she was one of the few people from my childhood I remained friends with.  When I started running with the "wrong" crowd, she stayed my friend.  When I got pregnant in my senior year and so many of the people I thought were my friends shunned me, she stayed my friend.  And now, years later, even though our lives took us to different colleges and now different states, even though we have lost track of each other and have only seen each other a handful of times, I still consider her my friend.  She's one of those friends that lasts a lifetime.

I was lost my first year in college.  Partly because I was a new mom (seriously, I had my daughter 7 days before the first day of my first class my freshman year) and partly because I didn't like the program I was in.  I didn't like the professor I had.  I didn't like the environment that I was learning in.  I didn't like the pressure or the criticism or the hours that the program demanded.  I had chosen Architecture.  It just wasn't for me.   In fact, my Freshman Studio professor told me that the program wasn't for me.  It was another of those life changing moments.

I don't remember who gave me this advice, but someone who knew I was miserable in the Architecture program told me that I needed to think about what I really wanted to do.  They told me to think about something that inspired me, something that I got excited about, and switch to that program.  I knew I wanted to design.  I had this desire to be creative and to use those creative abilities to "help the world" and I knew that something in a design field would give me that opportunity.  I thought back to that field trip in Elementary School.  I thought about the passion that the professor had for the designs he had helped with.  I thought about the feeling I had when I had left the classroom.  I knew that THAT was what I wanted to do.  Of course, I dislike Math (it was always something I could do well and that I understood, but I didn't LIKE it) so I knew that Engineering wasn't for me.  So, I found the best of both worlds with Landscape Architecture.

I sat in the Landscape Architecture studio my first day and I just KNEW that I was were I was supposed to be.  I could feel it.  The inspiration radiating off of the professors.  The energy in the studio.  The feeling of being part of something great, the feeling that there were endless possibilities.  It was a great feeling.  I thrived in that program.  Its the time of my life when I felt indestructible.  I knew what I wanted and I was working hard to get it, enjoying every moment.  It was a five year program that demanded a great deal of work.  Work that I loved.

And then I took a hydrology class. My professor from that class probably doesn't realize just how much I loved it.  He always joked that I was the "phantom student" because I would do my work so quickly, but it was because I loved it, and I got it.  I ended up loving it so much that I took extra classes during the summer sessions and took a ridiculous course load during the regular semesters so that I could take courses in Wetland Soils, Geology, Evolutionary History, Site Reclamation, Environmental Science, Environmental Law, and Forestry.

All that hard work paid off because I was set to graduate a semester early.  I was was supposed to finish a 5 year program in 4.5 years and not only that, but I was finishing Cum Laude and with a minor.  Life was falling into place.  I was passionate about what I was doing and I loved every second of it.

And then it all came crashing down.

I woke up that Monday morning, just like any other. I was coming to the end of my 4th year and I was on cloud-nine.  I had plans to do a summer semester to start my Thesis project and then only had filler classes and one final Thesis studio the Fall 2007 semester before I graduated in December. Then I could start the rest of my life doing what I loved and loving what I did.  I had class on Global Crops at 10am and a Landscape Architecture Studio that afternoon at 1pm.  Other than that I didn't have much planned.

I was going to do what I did every Monday morning.  I planned to park next to where my afternoon Studio was, so that if I ended up staying late to work I wouldn't have to walk too far in the dark to get back to my car.  Then I would walk across campus to arrive at my Global Crops a few minutes before 10am (giving me enough time to run to the snack machine before class, they had those spicy Chex Mix packs that I loved).  I did what I did every morning in those days.  Woke up, took a shower, got dressed while my daughter played on the floor in our living room, then I got her dressed, fed, and we left the house around 8:00am for the 10 minute drive to daycare.

The route I normally took to get from the parking lot to my Global Crops class on the other side of campus.  There was a parking lot right beside the class, but I liked to take a few minutes to enjoy the scenery while I took that morning walk across campus.  I also liked to be parked near my afternoon class so that if I stayed late to finish up some work (the Studio class started at 1 and was supposed to end at 5, but I rarely left before 6 or 7)

My parents owned the daycare that my daughter went to and my mom was her preschool teacher.  It was a great set-up.  I grew up there and I wanted my daughter to grow up there too.  Surrounded by family.  We walked into the 3 year old preschool classroom that morning around 8:10, at the exact same time as another mom who was dropping off her 8 year old son (who I happened to work with 2 days a week in the after school program).  She was a nice mom and her son was always very polite and mostly well behaved (more than other 8 year old boys).  They came from a strict Jehovah's Witness family and were perhaps the first people I had met of that faith.  They are one of the reasons I am always very receptive and cordial when Jehovah's Witnesses come to my door now.  It's out of respect.

Anyway, she was there talking with my mom.  Once my daughter had run off into the room to play, the two of them quickly pulled me aside.  She was a housekeeper in West Ambler Johnston Hall and was running late to work that morning.  She was supposed to be at work by 8am, but through some strange moment of fate she was running late and had received a call around 8am that there had been an incident in the residency hall earlier that morning and to wait to come into work because the building was on lock-down.  Having co-workers inside the building, she was told that there had been a shooting and that two students were dead.  Her co-worker continued to give her updates about what she was hearing as the next 15 minutes went on.  By then I had sat down next to my mom, and was chatting while waiting for information.  I had decided to blow off my regular ritual of strolling across campus and was determined to just park next to my class and then move my car before studio (an odd decision for me because parking became an increasing nightmare around lunch time and it would have been a miracle to find a spot at that point in the day).  

It wasn't until much later that I realized that this chance meeting and odd parking decision might have saved my life, or at least spared me from the atrocities I might have seen if I had gone about my regular Monday schedule.  You see, I would have passed by Norris Hall just around the time that the shootings took place.  Had I been there earlier I would have seen Seung-Hui Cho chaining the doors shut.  Had I been there around 9:30 I might have heard the first shots. Had I walked by around 9:40 I might have seen students jumping from windows to avoid the massacre or seen SWAT storm the building.  

Students, faculty, and staff received an email around 9:30am that morning telling us about the two deaths in West Ambler Johnson that morning.  Of course, word travels quickly in a small town with a huge college presence and the News outlets were already covering the information.  About 20 minutes later we received an email telling us that a gunman was loose on campus.  It told us not to come to campus and if we were already on campus to stay inside and away from windows.

I'm not sure what possessed me to stay at the daycare so long.  I should have left by 9:40am in order to park and get to class on time.  It wasn't far away from the daycare, but parking was always a hassle, and I hated being late to class.  But I was still there when I got the 2nd email.  By then, my younger sister had called from my mom's house (where she lived at the time in a basement apartment) and told us that the news was going nuts.  My mom told me to go home and tell her what was happening.  That was the age before we all had smart phones and the daycare didn't have cable or internet to keep us updated.  So I took my daughter and drove to our house.  

It's dumb thinking back.  We lived 2 blocks away from campus.  I had to drive by campus to get home.  Clearly we didn't think this part through.  It was about 10am at that point.  We had arrived home and stepped out of the car to the sound of sirens.  I lived near the ambulance station.  The sirens.  Oh my gosh the sirens.  I remember being shocked by the sound of them when I got out of the car.  I guess I hadn't expected to hear them.  Remember, we didn't know that there had been a Mass Shooting at that point, we just knew that 2 people had been killed and that there was a gunman on the loose.  Everyone had theorized that the first 2 victims were the only victims and that the shooting was an isolated incident.  That the manhunt for the shooter was just a formality while they hunted down evidence and captured the person responsible.  We really didn't know anything at all.  

So we gathered some things up from our house with the intention of going to my parents house to hang out with my sister until I was either cleared to go to my afternoon studio, or until my parents got home from work.  While we were home the sirens continued.  I logged onto my computer determined to check my email again in case there was an update.  I remember I looked up, peering out the window, to see an ambulance go zooming down main street towards the campus.  The sirens echoed off the apartment buildings near my house.  At that point I decided to turn on the TV.  We didn't have cable back then.  A single mom trying to support herself and her child while going to school full time... I just didn't have the funds for cable.  But I did get 3 channels digitally broadcast: Sprout, CBS, and NBC.  It was on CBS when I turned it on.  Live coverage with our local team of news broadcasters.  They didn't have any images or very much information yet, but they had an alert on the TV with a picture of an emergency vehicle, lights flashing.  You know that image, the one about "Breaking News".  They were talking about how police and emergency crews had been called to the scene of a multiple shooting on campus.   

It was then that I looked down at my laptop and saw the email telling us that classes had been cancelled and not to come to campus.  I got a text message from my sister asking when I would arrive and I got a text message from my mom asking if I'd gotten to her house yet.  I turned off the TV and took my daughter outside to get into the car.  The sirens.  Just echoing off the buildings.  So many sirens.  

I got to my parent's house and saw my sister standing at the door.  Horror on her face.  They had been covering the shootings since shortly after the first shootings had taken place.  The hours between 10am and noon when the first press conference was held are a blur of news stories, mostly footage of news crews telling us what they see and saw.  There were unverifiable numbers of those killed.  Unconfirmed information about the location of the shootings.  And speculation by the media.  One news person said he saw people jumping out windows.  Another said he watched them carry bodies out of a building.  Another reported that the faces of many had been completely blown apart.  The reports were horrifying.  All the while, the sound of the sirens.

Over the course of the next few hours the names started coming.  As the names were released a few at a time each one was a shock.  Each one felt like we had lost part of our family.  Each loss felt like an attack on our community.  And then it hit home.  It was real.  I remember seeing the look on my sister's face when she learned that her friend from the Marching Virginians, Ryan "Stack" Clark, was killed in the first shooting.  A friend that she said could "light up a room without even trying".  I had to leave the room.  I couldn't keep listening to the list of names, seeing their pictures, hearing what the media could piece together about their lives.  It was all just too much.  

I remember the feeling of shock, confusion, and severe sadness when I saw my friend's dad, the very man that I had admired as a child in that classroom so many years ago and the man that had inspired me so greatly that it influenced my Bachelors degree program,  Dr. Loganathan, on the screen.  I brought a Peace Lily to her house that night and sat with her (as did many others who came to pay their respects).  It was all very surreal.  It didn't really feel real.  It couldn't have been real.  It must have all been a bad dream.

But then it the next morning it wasn't a dream.  It had happened.  32 of our friends and family had been taken from us.  We got in the car and left.  My mom, my sister, my daughter, and myself.  We all just left.  We drove the 11 hours to Saint Louis, MO to be with my other sister.  She had just had her first daughter 4 days before and we all needed the joy of a new baby to help us make it through the next weeks.  It was wonderful to get to hold that new life in our arms after so many lives had been taken.  She was like a little light in a tunnel of darkness.  

But then we had to go back and face a town and a community that had been ripped apart by sorrow.  Classes were canceled for the rest of the semester.  I had a few projects that I had to turn in, but there were no more classes to go to.  It was a good thing too, because I couldn't face going onto campus.  I had my mom drop off my school work.  I admire her strength.  I know she was facing the same emotions I was, but as my mother she knew I needed her to help me.  I don't think I could have turned in those last few projects without her help.  I have to give my step-dad a great deal of credit too.  He held all of us together. He stayed home and maintained the fort while we ran away to Saint Louis.  He knew when we needed a hug, when we needed silence, and when we wanted to talk.  Without them I don't think I could have made it through my last 2 semesters of school, and I certainly wouldn't have been able to heal without them in the months after I graduated.  

But I couldn't stay away for long because just a short month later my summer sessions started.  I was scheduled to take the first semester of my 5th year Thesis Studio that summer.  I had to take that class during that summer in order to graduate in the Fall.  I had to take the class.  Thankfully, my studio was on the edge of campus.  I'm not sure how it was possible, but I didn't set foot on campus that summer, or the semester after.  My course work allowed me to stay on the outer edge of campus and I found ways to avoid going anywhere near Norris Hall, or even within view of Norris Hall.

That summer I hit a turning point.  A turning point that would affect me for a long time, and to some extent still affects me today.  I took my daughter to the annual July 4th Parade.  It was always a good time and it was a nice event for the community to come together at.  The parade itself was good.  The floats were well put together.  The marching bands played well.  But then came the emergency vehicles.  Firetrucks, ambulances, and police cars representing each of the communities around ours.  It was a beautiful symbol of unity for all those first responders to be in our community together.  But the sirens.  EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. Sirens.  So loud.  Echoing off buildings.  I had my first panic attack that day.  Sobbing beneath my sunglasses, feeling my heart pounding, unable to catch my breathe.  I relieved every moment of the shooting during those 5 minutes.  Every image flashed through my head.  Every thought and feeling I had that day reverberated inside me.  It was the first time I cried.

That moment sent me into a haze.  It was like it had all suddenly become so much realer.  I graduated in a haze.  I pushed myself through those last few months of school.  Working and not thinking.  I didn't feel any of the same joy from my work that I had felt before.  I had blocked out as much as I could so that I could finish.  My thesis was amazing.  My work was spectacular.  I just didn't FEEL the same way about the work as I had before.

I spent the next 7 months doing nothing.  Seriously.  I did nothing in the next 7 months.  I sat on my parent's sofa and watched TV.  I ate cookies and drank hot chocolate.  Of course I took care of my daughter, went to her preschool events, volunteered in her school classroom, and did all the things I needed to do to take care of her, but what I needed for myself was a break.  A break from the work.  A break from the campus.  A break from thinking and feeling.  7 months is a long time.  I wasn't depressed, although I'm sure a psychologist might have other opinions. I just needed a break.  And that break was the best thing I have ever done.  It allowed me to heal, all-be-it only partially, from the tragedy and shock.

Then in August 2008, I started Graduate School.  I was a duel Master's student with an assistantship in Landscape Architecture.  I was determined to feel the same passion for my work that I had felt before Seung-Hui Cho ripped it away from me.  I was determined to find that inspiration again.  And I did.  

That first Monday morning I walked onto campus, headed towards Burruss Hall (the building right next to Norris Hall), to my first morning as a Graduate Teaching Assistant.  I walked past Norris Hall and felt the panic begin to build up.  I took a deep breath and recited the names of the people we lost.  I told them in my mind that I was living this for them.  That I was going to find my passion again for them.  That I was going to help keep their memories alive by continuing to live by the inspiration that Dr. Loganathan had opened my eyes to so many years before.

I was helping a professor that I greatly admired (a man who even now in his retirement spends countless hours in the program, living what he does and loving what he lives) teach a Materials course.  I credit him for helping re-inspire me to love Landscape Architecture again.  I credit the whole department for helping me find my passion again.  Each of them, loving what they do just as much as Dr. Loganathan did, inspiring another generation to love what they do.  My second semester as a Graduate Teaching Assistant I helped teach the Hydrology course that had reminded me so much of Dr. Loganathan in my sophomore year.  It was hard, and I probably wasn't the best GTA that semester because of the internal struggle that being in that class again put me through.  It was hard doing something that reminded me so much of that day.  

I wont say that there were not bumps in the road.  I cried a lot that year.   I felt the panic build up inside me many times.  The first (and second and third and many more) times that I walked by Norris Hall.  The first time I walked across the Drill Field.  The many times I visited the Remembrance Memorial.  The one year anniversary.  But there was not a more emotional day for me than the first home football game.  I didn't go, I watched it on TV.  But when the band started to play Enter Sandman and the entire stadium (and everyone in the room I was in) started to jump, I was overwhelmed by the feeling of unity, the sense of community, the feeling that we were still one family of Hokies.  Seung-Hui Cho had taken part of our family away from us, but he had not taken our spirit, he had not taken their memories, he had not taken their influence from us.  All 32 of those brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers were still part of our family.  There were still with us.  And they have been everyday since then.  

My story doesn't compare to those that lived through the massacre.  It certainly can't compare to those that were slain that day.  It also can't compare to those who lost loved ones that day.  But it's fresh in my mind.  Every year I think about those events.  Every news of another shooting sends me back to that day.  Every year I mourn those lost.  Every first football game I cry through Enter Sandman when I feel their presence with us.   Every year I remember.   Every day I try to live with the passion that Dr. Loganation inspired me with so many years ago.  We will neVer forgeT.  We Are Virginia Tech.  

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Autism Awareness Month: The Vaccine Debate

April is Autism Awareness Month, so this seems the perfect time to discuss the debate about Vaccines and the link (or lack of link) to Autism.  There is a great deal of debate over whether vaccines can "cause" Autism and this post will seek to reveal some of the discussion on both sides of the debate, will explain what parent's options are for vaccines, and will offer some tips for choosing the best option for our families.

Our Story...
The vaccine debate is one that is very near and dear to my heart.  I have a child who suffered what the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) considered to be a "severe adverse reaction" to the his 2 month old shots.  You see, I'm not an anti-vaccination advocate and I never have been.  my first 2 children were fully vaccinated on the CDC's recommended schedule and besides the occasional low-grade fever and fussiness neither of them ever had any adverse reactions.  I didn't expect my youngest to react any differently.  In fact, I never even considered the possibility that vaccines might hurt my baby.

We went into his 2 month old well-check visit happy and excited to have a baby who slept well, ate well, and was fully adjusting to life outside.  He was my easiest baby by far.  We left the appointment having gotten the recommended shots for a 2 month old (DTaP, Hib, IPV, PCV, and RV) and everyone was feeling fine.  That all changed in the mere hours after arriving home.  My baby became inconsolably upset.  By the time we got to dinner he was in an all-out non-stop scream.  I held him, bathed him, breast fed him, and did all the things that normally helped him settle, but nothing seemed to affect him or his blood-curdling screaming.

He screamed for 36 hours.  I'm not talking about "fussy baby cry", I'm talking about ear piercing,  window breaking, cover your ears so your eardrums don't burst screaming.  The only moments of quiet that we had were when he'd pass out from exhaustion every 3ish hours for a few minutes.  Seriously, he screamed for HOURS and then slept for 5-10 minutes, then woke and screamed some more.  He wouldn't eat.  He wouldn't accept swaddling.  His body was ridged.

Now, you have to remember, I'm a mom of 3.  I had two older children.  I'd lived through colic and eating issues.  I'd lived through sleep disturbances and fussy nights.  All of these things I knew and was prepared for.  NOTHING prepared me for this vaccine reaction.  I called the pediatrician, the ER, consulted nurse and doctor friends.  I called the ER again.  No one could do anything for my baby.  And then it stopped.  36 hours later by baby fell asleep and didn't wake up for 18 hours.  18 HOURS.  As if the first 36 hours of almost-non-stop screaming wasn't bad enough, my was stone still and unwakeable for 18 hours.   At first we let him sleep.  Then after about 6 hours (when my breasts, that had nursed him every 2 hours since his birth, felt like they would explode) we tried to wake him.  We undressed him, rubbed him with wet wash cloths, bathed him, rubbed his body to try to wake him, but NOTHING could wake him up.  I called the ER again.

12 hours later I was frantic.  I had been able to get him to latch for a few moments to release a small amount of breastfeeding pressure, but he was still out cold.  The nurses at the ER told me that "the damage had been done, this happens sometimes, and that there was nothing they could do" we simply had to "wait it out".  Finally, after 18 hours he woke up, dreary, hungry, and extremely weak.  My baby had been poisoned, but thankfully had lived to tell the tale.  After this incident, he was put on an alternate vaccine schedule where he recieved his vaccines in smaller increments over a much longer time frame.  He did not have another dose of DTaP until he was 3.5 years old.  Currently (at almost 4 years old) he doesn't appear to have any residual side effects from this experience.

Little C just before getting his 2nd ever dose of DTaP.
This shot is required by public schools in our state and in order to
finish his doses before Kindergarten this was the latest possible time
for him to receive his and dose to enter Kindergarten on time

We found out later that our baby had suffered from what the Pediatrician said might have been aluminum poisoning.  With a family suffering from metal allergies, this made since.  As it turns out the specific combination shot that he had been given, DTaP-IPV-HepB (called Pediarix by GlaxoSmithKline), was notorious for reactions similar to ours.  So much so that many Pediatricians no longer offer the Pediarix shot.  

What do BOTH sides say?
The primary points that Anti-Vaccine Advocates cite is that vaccines (and combinations of vaccines given at the same time) are not tested well enough, that internationally certain vaccines that are allowed in the U.S. are not allowed or are facing scrutiny in other countries, that the risk of catching many of the diseases contained in vaccines are so low that getting the vaccines isn't worth while, vaccine manufacturers are protected from criminal persecution, that there are too many chemicals in vaccines, and that the government should not be allowed to interfere in individual medical decisions.  Let's take each of these issues and analyze them.

1- Vaccines are not tested well enough.  First, lets look at what the CDC says about Vaccine Testing.  Vaccines must go through a three phase testing process.
         Phase one: Vaccines are tested on small groups.
         Phase two: Vaccines are tested on groups that match the characteristics of people the vaccines are meant for.
         Phase three: Vaccines are given to much larger groups to test their efficiency and safety.
         FDA Approval Process: after passing all three testing phases the FDA requires a variety of documentations showing the effectiveness and side effects in order to be approved.  The FDA then weighs the risks, economics, and benefits of the vaccines before approving for  mass use.
         **many vaccines also go through a Fourth Phase where ongoing trials are conducted**

So, technically every vaccine IS tested, EXTENSIVELY often over a 10 year time period. The issues are that the FDA does NOT require vaccines to be tested in combinations with other vaccines.  While many are tested together, not all are.  Because vaccines are developed individually, each vaccine is individually tested.  At no point are vaccines tested in coordination with the other vaccines on the recommended CDC schedule.  This means that while vaccines might be individually safe, when in put in combination with each other there may be unforeseen side effects or greater risks.  The next issue with testing is that historically there have been vaccines tested and accepted by the FDA that have later been pulled from the market because unforeseen side effects (often severe) were discovered that hadn't been seen in testing.  The last issue with testing is that a mistrust between manufacturers and the public exists due to multiple instances where testing data was skewed, changed, or questionable results were left out.  Why this has happened is up for debate.  The severity of these oppissions and changes are also up for debate.  But the fact remains that this mistrust affects EVERY test because, to be honest, we never really know which tests to trust and which not to trust.

2. Internationally certain vaccines that are allowed in the U.S. are not allowed or are facing scrutiny in other countries.  The fact that vaccines are offered world-wide allows us to see how other governments regulate ingredients, side effects, etc.  We are able to compare our own acceptance with that of other well-informed countries.  Historically, there have been MANY vaccines (and vaccine ingredients) that have been banned in other developed countries that the U.S. has allowed.  Gardasil is the hottest topic right now in vaccines because the U.S. recommends and has approved it while the list of countries that have banned the vaccine is ever growing (including countries like France, Spain, India, Japan, and many many more) due to unforeseen and wide spread serious and permanent side effects.  Similar bans have been put in place internationally on ingredients in MMR shots and various others sighting the poisonous nature of the ingredients and their potential to cause problems when administered in large populations.  This contributes to the skepticism of many American parents into the FDA's ability to judge a vaccines safety.

3.  The risk of catching many of the diseases contained in vaccines are so low that getting the vaccines isn't worth while.  Let's face it, many of the diseased we receive vaccines for have been all but eradicated in the Western Hemisphere and in most developed nations.  Take Tetanus for example.  Roughly 40-60 people get Tetanus annually in the U.S. (with roughly 10-15 deaths annually) thanks in large part to the vaccine.  That number is much larger internationally with Tetanus causing major problems neotatally in many impoverished African countries.  On the other hand, Diptheria has become very rare world wide.  The U.S. has seen less than five cases in the past decade while the World Health Organization states that in 2014 there were roughly 7,000 cases world wide (with roughly half causing mortality), mostly in countries where people live in very poor hygene conditions in densely populated living conditions.  So why are children in the United States being immunized for a disease that they will likely never be exposed to?  

The problem is that there is documented evidence for many other diseases (Measles, Rubella, Prutusis) that show that in populations of non-immunized in the U.S. the rates of disease are much higher with the side effects of the illnesses being much more severe.  This then because an issue of "what would happen if we stopped vaccinating for some diseases?"  I'm afraid we can't answer that question and that in and of itself is reason enough to continue to receive vaccines for most.

Another issue is what some call Herd Immunity.   The more people who are vaccinated the less likely a disease is going to spread through a community.  The idea is that if the majority of the "Herd" is protected then those who cannot be vaccinated (for whatever reason) will still be protected.  When you look at the sheer numbers required to achieve Herd Immunity it because a much more intangible theory.  For most vaccines to work on the entire "Herd" they must reach 95-98% vaccination in a community.  That is just not feasible if people are able to choose not to be vaccinated.  It's also not feasible when you consider vaccines "life spans" and the need for boosters, those who are not vaccinated due to medical conditions, and those who do not vaccinate because of religious beliefs.  The exposure of many cities to international populations also throws as "kink" in the Herd Immunity theory.

4. Vaccine manufacturers are protected from criminal persecution.  Wait? WHAT?! Vaccine companies are except from criminal persecution?! You read that right.  A vaccine company could knowingly put out a vaccine that they tampered with the testing of (to give it the illusion of being more safe), cause massive numbers of permanent injury (or death) and then NOT be held legally responsible.  Yes, you can sew for monetary damages, which could potentially hurt the company, but there is no criminal responsibility by vaccine manufacturing companies.  This is not the case in MOST other countries, but in the U.S. the vaccine manufacturers cannot be considered criminals, no matter what they do.  Is it illegal to tamper with testing results? Yes.  Has that stopped them in the past? No.

Here's the problem: Vaccine manufacturers are businesses.  They have to make money.  They are run as profit seeking companies.  If you go through the process of making, testing, distributing  millions and millions of vaccines these companies have already committed a great deal of money towards a particular vaccine.  If that vaccine is then not approved by the FDA or is recalled off the market (because of adverse effects or because the company has been deemed criminally responsible for those effects) then the company looses money.  Sometimes enough money for them to go under.

Consider for a moment: what if an entire vaccine manufacturer goes "under"?  What happens to the vaccines?  What happens to any future vaccines?  They disappear.  I think it's fairly clear why that would be a bad thing globally.  So the U.S. government decided to protect vaccine companies.  It makes since, but it is not morally or ethically ok in any way.  Taking away the criminal liability of these companies opens their door to all types of sketchy test-tampering activity.

5. There are too many chemicals in vaccines.  Not only are there too many chemicals, but the chemicals that are in vaccines are known to be dangerous.  This is the biggest issue for me personally. There is a lot of miss-information and completely contradictory information out there about these igredients. The CDC says these vaccines are safe and says their ingredients are safe.. The problem is, the FDA says that these ingredients are not safe over a certain amount and in most cases the vaccines produced by the CDC have higher amounts than those approved by the FDA. In addition, when you consider the collective amount of each of the vaccine ingredients over your lifetime and if you get multiple shots (for example Aluminium which stays in your system for a very long time) then you could actually be getting far more than the amount that event he CDC deems "safe". An example is aluminum. The FDA says that 25 micrograms of aluminum is a "safe" amount to inject intravenously for a full grown adult in a 24 hour period (anything higher could result in what they call "aluminum toxicity" which among many other things can cause brain damage, neurological symptoms, and kidney damage). These are the levels of aluminum in the most common vaccines given to children:
Hib (PedVaxHib brand only) – 225 micrograms per shot. Hepatitis B – 250 micrograms. DTaP – depending on the manufacturer, ranges from 170 to 625 micrograms. Pneumococcus – 125 micrograms. Hepatitis A – 250 micrograms. HPV – 225 micrograms. Pentacel (DTaP, HIB and Polio combo vaccine) – 330 micrograms. Pediarix (DTaP, Hep B and Polio combo vaccine) – 850 micrograms. A typical 4 month old (roughly 12-15lbs) gets the Hib vaccine, Pediarix vaccine, and the Pneumococcus vaccine at their 4 month wellness check up. When you add that all up, this 4 month old is getting roughly 1200 micrograms of Aluminum in one day. That is like getting the maximum amount of 25 micrograms recommended by the FDA injected 48 times in the same day.... I'll let that sink in for a second.... ummmm CRAZY! Right?! how is this even POSSIBLE?! That these two agencies that are both supposed to be looking out for our best interests have such contradictory MEDICAL opinions about safe levels of aluminum?! Another example is the Flu Vaccine. Technically speaking there isn't straight mercury in the flu vaccine, it's actually called thimerosal and is only 50% mercury. The FDA says that 2 ppb (parts per billion) is a maximum safe amount of ingested mercury and that 200 ppb is considered toxic. The typcial flu shot has 25 mcgs of thimerosal (which is equivalent to 25,000 ppb of mercury). Apparently you can get a thimerosal-free flu vaccine also (by special request), but even that one contains 300 ppb mercury because it actually contains trace amounts of thimerosal (a low enough level that the FDA don't require labeling of it). Do you see the contractions? This is why many think that there are too many chemicals in vaccines. Are the chemicals necessary? The CDC and vaccine producers think that they are because they both preserve the vaccine (to make it transportable, storable, etc) and they act as the agent that increases your body's immune reaction to the actual "good" stuff inside the vaccine.

6. The government should not be allowed to interfere in individual medical decisions.  This is the age-old politics argument.  How much control should our government have over us and how much freedom should we actually have?  Can the government mandate vaccines which in essence forces people to get them?  The answer is yes, and many states and local government entities have done so.  But SHOULD they be able to mandate vaccines?  This gets into a much more complicated debate.  Freedom of Religion comes into play (some vaccines have ingredients such as animal byproducts that are banned in some religions).  School districts can require children to get vaccines before entering school, but there are always exceptions.  Certain children can get medical write-offs to not get vaccines based on personal or religious beliefs.  Other children can get medical write-offs due to allergens in the vaccines.  Where is the line?  How far can the government go to mandate vaccines without crossing into denial of personal freedoms?  I don't have an answer to this.

What's the Connection with Autism?
So, with all that information being said, what do vaccines have to do with Autism? This is a multiple tiered question with many varying opinions, very few linked to any real medical evidence.  Some say that symptoms of Autism start to show up around the same time as certain vaccines are given (the MMR vaccine in specific) and that the time-connection is enough to verify a causal relationship.  Others say that those symptoms begin to show up around that age even in populations of vaccinated children.  I don't think we will ever be able to find a direct correlation based on age and onset of symptoms.

Some say that there are specific ingredients that actually cause Autism.  This is possible, to some extent.  There are many MANY ingredients in vaccines that are known to cause neurological problems.  Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder (in other words, something disrupts the neurological development), the cause of which is largely unknown.  Could it be that the combination, or some specific ingredient, built up over the first year of life in vaccines actually disrupts neurological development in some pre-disposed children which then actually causes an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis?  Knowing what we know about the ingredients, their levels, and the known side effects of getting these chemicals injected into you, I think we would be foolish to rule out this possibility.  

Others say that the connection can be seen in the numbers.  There seems to be a relationship to more children being diagnosed the more vaccines are given.  In this way, the relationship between greater numbers of early childhood vaccines is correlating to more diagnosed children with Autism.  While the numbers do correspondingly increase, and the time frames over the last 2 generations seem to support this hypothesis, there is just no scientific way to prove that this is a causal relationship.

Finally, some say that the information is there, the documentation has been proven, but that the government (including the CDC and FDA) are hiding the causal relationship.   This is perhaps one of the greatest conspiracy theories of all time.  A government that hides the fact that it is poisoning the brains of it's children?  Knowing the ethical standards of vaccine producing companies, the number of "whistle blowers" who have come forward in the past years from those companies, and the history of our government protecting those companies from criminal prosecution, I think that this conspiracy is possible.  But is it likely?  Why would our government WANT to peruse a vaccination schedule and push dangerous vaccines that they know would poison children's neurological development?  It just doesn't make since and honestly veers a little too far into the outer reaches for my taste.

Let's Cut Through the Hype...
It's all a matter of weighing the risks to the potential benefits. Let's take the flu vaccine as an example. If you DO get the flu, what are the chances that you (or your children) will develop complications? If you are relatively healthy people with relatively healthy immune systems, and if you are a parent who pays attention to your child's symptoms and diligently try to push fluids and keep your child "strong" enough to fight the infection, then you probably won't develop complications and neither will your children (which would then mean you probably don't need the vaccine). The flu shot contains mercury, formaldehyde, aluminium, and neomycin (all four are highly controversial and are the main reasons people don't get the flu vaccine, and all are listed on the CDC website as ingredients in the flu vaccine). If you are not at high risk for having complications from the flu, why would you knowingly inject yourself with these ingredients? Other vaccines are not as simple to reject. Whooping Cough and Measles have seen a huge resurgences in the past years. Your risk of being exposed to these and having lasting complications is much higher, especially if you are elderly or very young.
For me and my children I weigh these four questions when deciding about any vaccine: 1. Whats the risk of getting sick and having complications? 2. What are the risks of the ingredients in the vaccine? 3. Is the risk of getting sick greater than the risk of the vaccine ingredients? (if I can answer "yes" to this question then I will get the vaccine or have my child get the vaccine).
4. What is the greater good answer? with the exception of my youngest child, we all have tolerated vaccines well and have had minimal side effects. The "greater good" would suggest that we get vaccines in an effort to increase herd immunity for those who cannot tolerate vaccines as well (like my youngest child). We sacrifice a small amount, tolerate a small amount, because it helps protect those who cannot protect themselves.

For me and my family, the fourth question is of utmost importance, with the exception of my child who reacted poorly to the DTaP vaccine. I will gladly give my children vaccines to protect others, but ONLY because I know they react well to them. But this decision must be made by each of us individually. We each have to weigh the risks and benefits, not only to our own families but to our nation and our world. I would never ask someone else to sacrifice their child to save mine, just as I would never sacrifice my child to save someone elses. It's a hard choice.

Abbreviations you should know and a List of Vaccines given in the first 5 years of life: (34 total doses)
FDA: Food and Drug Administration
CDC: Center for Disease Control
DTaP: Diptheria, Tetanus, Acellular Pertussis Vaccine (5 doses)
Hib: Haemophilus Influenzae type B Vaccine (4 doses)
IPV: Inactivated Poliovirus Vaccine (4 doses)
PCV: Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (4 doses)
RV: Rotavirus Vaccine (3 doses)
HepB: Hepatitis B Vaccine (3 doses)
Influenza: Flu Vaccine (5 doses, 1 annually)
MMR: Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (German Measles) (2 doses)
Varicella: Chicken Pox Vaccine (2 doses)
Hep A: Hepatitis A Vaccine (2 dose)

How have vaccines impacted your life?  Have you or your children ever had an adverse reaction?  Do you follow the CDC schedule or an alternate schedule?  Please share your RESPECTFUL thoughts and opinions below.