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Did Thalia Vida Gardner Die From Vaccination?

In the days in which I feared immunization, there were few things that panicked me more than what I saw today: stories of children killed by vaccines. Today, I saw them in the form of screenshots from the Facebook account of Karla Gardner, a mom whose eleven-month-old baby died after receiving routine immunizations. The way the screenshots are selected and placed by those sharing the story makes it clear that vaccines were to blame, and it's a chilling thing to witness:

A healthy baby girl goes in for her shots...

Spikes a high fever...

Becomes very, very sick...

Needs a miracle...

Won't make it through the night...

And passes away.

These stories are sacred to the anti-vaccine movement. When you see or read about a dead child, you don't care about numbers and statistics. You're consumed by fear that it could happen to you. You want justice for the child and the parents. You want to know that it won't happen again. You'll gladly donate to the pages set up to fund-raise for the child's funeral.

Through all the fear, you might not notice, for example, that on the mother's Facebook page, the posts about her daughter's death appear on March 6th, an entire nine days after she was vaccinated. You might be so distracted by the grief and agony that you don't see that, in the nine days between the check-up and her daughter's death, Mom wasn't posting about having a critically ill daughter, as she would be if her child were in the throes of encephalitis.

She was posting selfies:

You might also fail to notice that, in a conversation with a caregiver, the caregiver said that Thalia Vida was "100%" and was hard to keep up with her because she was being so active. She had only a small red bump at the site of the injection:

There are also photos of her taken between her vaccines and her death. Here are several, taken February 28, halfway between the shots and her hospitalization:

Dig a little deeper and you'll find some other things that are rather troubling-- like that, immediately, Karla Gardner's friends kept the details of the story hushed:

You might discover that Thalia's father has been insistent that he had nothing to do with his daughter's death:

Or you might find the page where he's asking for money to help him  defend himself against murder charges find the real cause of her death, since he says the hospital was wrong.

You might find that Thalia Vida's mother didn't say that vaccines were the cause of her daughter's death until several days later, at which point it came up because the hospital had a specific accusation:

Or you might find Thalia Vida's aunt's account of what happened, starting with the day of the incident:

And continuing later:

I'm not a judge and I'm not on the jury for this case. But I will say that it seems to me that one of two things happened:

1. Thalia Vida baby suffered a severe reaction to a vaccine, which is something that happens in fewer than one in a million cases, and died of vaccine-induced encephalitis. She was for some reason well between when the shot was given and when she developed encephalitis a full eight days later. The doctors, nurses, coroner, and police all engaged in a cover-up of her vaccine-related death. To cover for a pharmaceutical company that none of them have any connection to, they accused the parents of shaking Thalia Vida and/or allowing her to access dangerous prescription drugs, including scattering them through the child's home after her death. The parents are now being prosecuted because of this cover-up. Thalia Vida's aunt was also in on the conspiracy and lied from the moment of her hospitalization in order to accuse two innocent people of child abuse.

2. Eight days after a check-up that found that she was well, Thalia Vida's father left drugs where she could access them and shook her, both of which caused her to experience swelling and bleeding in her brain. She died a horrible, premature, and unnecessary death the next day, a full nine days after her immunizations. When the parents realized that they could get sympathy, money, and help covering up the crime by calling it a vaccine injury, they began promoting the idea that vaccines killed their baby.

I'll let you decide for yourself which is more likely.

5 Lies Intactivists Told Me

The decision not to circumcise my son wasn’t one that I took lightly. It involved deep introspection and careful evaluation of the science on both sides. It also meant breaking myself away from herd mentality: both my Jewish background, which strongly encouraged me to circumcise, and my involvement in the communities of gentle parenting, which strongly encouraged me not to circumcise. Eventually, just a few months before my son was born, I decided not to circumcise him. What it boiled down to was this: I can’t justify a permanent alteration of the body of someone who can’t consent, unless there is irrefutable scientific evidence of the benefits of doing so.

That evidence exists for vaccines. It does not exist for circumcision.

But, unfortunately, as with all too many factors in “crunchy” culture, I found that “intacvitist” communities on the internet were positively overflowing with misinformation and pseudoscience. Here are the five most ridiculous lies and statements I encountered during my misadventures with intactivism:

1. “Circumcision of newborn boys is just as bad as female genital mutilation, or worse.”

What a way to insult survivors of FGM! There are different forms of femalegenital mutilation, but they all share several traits in common: they are absolutely condemned by science, they cause severe and irrevocable damage to sexual function and urogenital health, and they have no medical benefits whatsoever.  Circumcision, on the other hand, has the intended goal of promoting human health. Girls who are mutilated are often strapped down so hard that they break limbs trying to escape, while elders cut off their labia or clitorises with sharp and rusty razors. They often bleed to death or die of infection. If you think a baby boy snipped in a clean American hospital is a victim on the same level, you need a fast and serious reality check.

2. “Circumcision is a modern invention. Circumcision in ancient times didn’t even involve removing skin. That’s why Michelangelo’s ‘David’ and paintings of baby Jesus show foreskins.”

If we assume that Renaissance artwork can be counted on as historically accurate, it would follow that unicorns must be real and that people had  habit of standing around near objects that were symbolically appropriate to every occasion. “David” and historical paintings of Jesus show foreskin because Renaissance artists used non-circumcised models and because it was considered more aesthetically pleasing at the time. Circumcision is absolutely ancient: there is artistic and written documentation of it as far back as the fifth century BCE in ancient Egypt, and is specifically commanded and described in the Torah, which was written during roughly the same time period. Rewriting history to fit an intactivist agenda doesn’t help anyone.

3. “Babies die from circumcision every single day in the U.S.”

Bull. Death from circumcision is extraordinarily rare, estimated at about 1 in500,000 to 1 in 1,000,000. Your baby’s chances of dying of circumcision are slim to none, yet it’s a common intactivist tactic to make up bogus statistics. Some that I’ve heard include, “Your baby has a 1 in 50 chance of dying of circumcision”—really?—and “A baby dies from complications of circumcision every 10 minutes.” Nope, not at all. Sorry, guys, but you can’t make up statistics just to sound scary.

4. “Circumcision destroys sexual function. Men who are circumcised have 80% less sensation than men who are not circumcised.”

Just how do they think that was measured, I wonder? All evidence to date actually shows that circumcision has essentially no impact on sexual function. None. There was a massive review in 2010 that investigated several studies and couldn’t find evidence of any sexual dysfunction caused by circumcision. Circumcision didn’t affect rates of premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, difficulty with orgasm, sexual desire, or pain during sex. There’s no evidence that circumcised men suffer sexually because of it.

5. “Babies almost never need to be circumcised for medical reasons.”

This intactivist lie is often followed with the claim that a baby is more likely to die from circumcision than to medically need a circumcision. And, again, that’s just not true. Medically necessary circumcisions aren’t uncommon at all. One of my relatives needed one shortly after birth during surgery to correct a birth defect known as hypospadias. A friend of mine who is now an adult was circumcised as a child to make it easier, safer, and cleaner to use his catheter (he is incontinent).  One of my friends’ sons needed a circumcision at three because of severe recurrent yeast infections. To call these people “mutilated” or “ruined,” or to erase the reality of their experiences, is hurtful—not to mention inaccurate.

 At the end of the day, I don’t regret my decision not to circumcise my son—and I hope that he doesn’t regret it, either. But, unlike other intactivists, I don’t feel a need to bury my head into pseudoscience and lies in order to justify the decision I made regarding my child’s body, and I don’t feel a need to shame or attack men who have been circumcised or parents who choose to do it. As long as the science says that there’s not enough evidence to fully support or condemn circumcision, I think it’s about time we reach an agreement: let’s stop arguing and obsessing over baby penises. You take care of your kids and I’ll take care of mine.

Prenatal Testing for Autism Could be Disastrous

I knew I was having a boy—and I knew, after spending many late nights poring over forgotten studies in obscure medical journals, what that meant. For a boy with an older sister with autism, the chances that he had it were as high as one in four. If I factored in the fact that both of my son’s biological parents have conditions genetically linked to autism, the results were clear. It’s far more likely that my baby boy will be autistic, than that he won’t be.
I was thinking about this, and what it meant for my family’s future, while a nurse looked over my daughter at a visit to the pediatrician’s office.
“A boy,” the nurse repeated back to me, “Are you going to get genetic testing? They seem to be able to test for everything now, if you ask for it. Do they offer that for autism?”
“No,” I said, fidgeting with a pen, “No, they don’t have genetic testing for it. Not yet, anyway.”
But they’ve been trying.

The Basics on Prenatal Testing for Autism

Genetic research into autism has advanced miles in just a few years, and we might be only a few more years away from being able to diagnose it prenatally. Already, Baylor College offers a prenatal chromosomal microarray test,  the closest thing to prenatal testing for autism that we have to date. The test reveals tiny duplications and deletions in genetic material, which together are behind about 20% of cases of autism. At the rate we’re going, autism could join Down’s syndrome, sickle cell disease, PKU, and cystic fibrosis as one of the many diseases that high-risk moms will test for, and make decisions about.
To date, our best studies—those that have examined identical twins—have estimated that over 90% of the differences between autistic and non-autistic people are genetic. The remaining 10% are believed to be environmental influences like nutrition and early care, which in some cases might influence a child’s development so strongly that one child can be “genetically autistic,” but appear to have few or no symptoms. The test also would not test for how the child’s symptoms will appear. Identical twins sharing 100% of their DNA can, for unknown reasons, present completely differently: one nonverbal and reserved, the other verbal and explosive. The fact remains, though. Prenatal testing for autism could change everything about the way we, as parents, live our lives and make our choices.

Prenatal Testing for Autism… and Abortion

The outcome could be grim, and could result in a plummet in the number of autistic children and, later, autistic adults we share our planet with. Although we live in a nation where roughly half of women oppose all abortion and where the vast majority oppose abortion after the first trimester, a whopping 91-93% of pregnant women choose abortion after learning that the fetuses they are carrying have Down’s syndrome. This is even higher than the rate of women who will terminate a pregnancy because the fetus has anencephaly, or no brain. In other words, women are on the whole more afraid of having developmentally disabled children, than they are of having children with no hope for survival.
If science does succeed in making prenatal testing for autism available, how many parents will believe the same thing? If the abortion rate for prenatally diagnosed autism is anywhere near as high as it is for Down’s syndrome, spina bifida, and even relatively minor differences like Turner syndrome and Klinefelter syndrome (which cause abnormal reproductive development), the vast majority of autistic fetuses will never survive to birth, and the consequences, for parents and for society at large, could be devastating.
Any woman who has terminated a wanted pregnancy for medical reasons can tell you that this is not a decision that is ever taken lightly. It hurts, deeply and completely, and it never entirely stops hurting. The loss of a wanted pregnancy often triggers every bit as much grief and despair as the loss of a newborn. It is a choice that even otherwise anti-abortion moms will make not because they don’t love or want to be mothers, but because they genuinely believe that they will be unable to parent a disabled child, or will believe that a disabled child’s life isn’t worth living.

Our Duty as Autism Parents

My heart aches for the one woman in five hundred who terminates a wanted pregnancy because of Down’s syndrome—and that ache becomes a horrified stab when I imagine the number of women who might do the same thing because of autism, which is now estimated to affect as many as one in seventy pregnancies. Prenatal testing for autism could lead to an epidemic level of grief and loss, and much of it could be unnecessary.
That’s where we, as autism parents, come in, and it’s where we, immediately before a new era of genetic testing, have an opportunity to make a difference. If you had told me six years ago, when I was twenty and pregnant and scared to death, that the little girl in my womb had autism, I would have believed that my life was over. I would have thought that my child would never be able to learn or feel or love. I would have thought that I was being sentenced to a life of never-ending agony and that the sweet moments that make motherhood worthwhile would be forever out of my reach. I wouldn’t have imagined the brilliant, bubbly, sensitive child who has stolen my heart and touched so many lives.
If we can work from the inside out to change the myths and misconceptions about autism before prenatal testing for autism becomes available, we can prevent millions of parents from experiencing the grief and agony of ending a wanted pregnancy. If we can empower the parents of children with special needs, improve respite care, and pressure our public school systems to improve the education they provide for autistic children, more parents will hear a prenatal autism diagnosis and think, “Huh, guess I’m in for a bit of a challenge,” instead of believing that their lives have ended and that their children’s lives won’t be worth living. We need to be making a difference now, not just to create a better world for our own children, but also to prevent an epidemic of loss among the parents of the future.
Prenatal testing for autism does offer some very real benefits. If and when it becomes wholly available, it will allow parents to make preparations beforehand if they know they will be having an autistic child. It will make it so that the children who need Early Intervention services the most will have few barriers to accessing them. Genetic screening of people who have already been born will help to identify autistic traits in children and adults who might be more difficult to diagnose. But I don’t believe that we should view elective eugenic abortion as a major benefit to prenatal testing. While every woman should ideally have that option, it’s a pain that would only rarely be “worth it,” and it’s a pain that we can prevent by making sure that children and parents have what they need to thrive.

Talking to Children About Autistic Murder Victims

I should have learned my lesson a long time ago: it’s not a good idea to watch the news within earshot of my six-year-old daughter, because it’s not unlikely that she’ll overhear—and internalize—what she’s heard. I thought my daughter was tuning out the news when it aired the story of Robert Robinson, an autistic murder victim whose mother killed him, and then herself. It’s a story that has appeared in the news dozens of times now, with a new case arising monthly. Alex Spourdalakis. Issy Stapleton. Daniel Corby. George Hodgins. Benjamin Barnhard. The list goes on and on and on. Is it any wonder that special-needs children might hear these stories and react with alarm?
As I was getting my kiddo ready for school the next day, she kept looking at me in a way that broke my heart. She looked scared and sad and confused, and seemed to be studying me. I didn’t make the connection to the news story until she suddenly choked out, “Why would a mommy kill a kid with autism? Why would someone do that?” She was shaking when she asked it. I couldn’t imagine how scary a story like that must sound to our children. They turn to us for safety and reassurance and confidence. How must it feel, for them to hear the media talking about parents, who sound so much like us, committing such atrocities against children, who sound so much like them?
While I can’t say that I handled the situation perfectly—I’m not a perfect parent and never will be—I believe I did a good job discussing this deeply sensitive and scary topic with my daughter. Here are my tips for discussing autistic murder victims with your own autistic child.

Reassure them, first and foremost, that it won’t happen to them.

Autistic people on the whole tend to have a knack for pattern recognition. It’s an awesome gift, but in times like this, it’s also a source of anxiety. When the news spouts an almost monthly update about a murder-suicide involving a special-needs child, it’s only natural for an observant kid in the same boat to wonder, “Could that happen to me?” Almost every news story about the murder of an autistic child includes some degree of praise of the mother’s parenting skills. The claim is always that she was an amazing parent who loved her children, or, at the very least, it seemed that way—so how can a child know for sure that there’s a big difference between his parents and the parents who hurt their own children?
In times like this, I think it’s important for parents to take the time to make a promise to their kids. We may think that it doesn’t need to be said—we may think that our kids would never, ever fear us—but as my daughter’s worried face showed that morning, the anxiety of “Could it happen to me?” can be present even in children who are loved and well-cared-for. Reassure your child that, no matter how hard things get and no matter what life throws at our family, you will never, ever harm him. For extra reassurance, you might also explain what you would do instead—for example, “If I was ever so upset that I thought I couldn’t take care of you anymore, I would ask your aunt to come and help me for a few days, or I would call a doctor and say that I had depression and needed help. I would never, ever hurt you.” The reassurance of their own safety is the most important thing that autistic children can hear when disturbing stories pop up in the news.

Explain, but don’t excuse, the stories of autistic murder victims. 
It’s impossible to deny that special-needs children are being killed at a much higher rate than their typical peers, but it’s irresponsible to imply that autism itself is the reason for these tragedies. When discussing this situation with your autistic child, make it clear that there are several factors that make problems like this more common among special-needs families. For example, as I explained it to my daughter, “brain problems” run in families, and we know that moms who have depression are more likely to have kids with autism. I also explained that parenting, no matter how normal or abnormal a child is, is a very difficult job, especially if you have a child who needs a lot of help or a lot of attention compared to average. Finally, you’ll want to mention that we need more services to help parents who are very stressed and are afraid that they might hurt their children.

However, when you bring up these explanations, it’s important to make it clear that you’re in no way excusing the actions of the parent or saying that the autistic murder victim deserved what happened. Don’t present these stories as the mother “having no way out”—there are always alternatives to hurting yourself or your children—or as a child being too difficult for his parents to handle. Your child is listening closely and you don’t want to give them any indication that they have reason to consider themselves inherently flawed or burdensome, or to think that they could in any way be at risk.

Be careful about comparing ability levels.

I had to stop myself from explaining to my daughter that she is very, very different than most of the autistic victims of murder who end up in the news. My instinct was to explain that Robert Robinson was nonverbal and still needed his parents’ constant care even though he was an adult, and to explain that my stresses as a mother will likely never be as serious as those of the parents of most autistic murder victims. But I caught myself before I said that. It’s not uncommon for autistic children to experience developmental regression, and it can sometimes be severe in its impact. A verbal, independent child may suddenly developmentally backtrack to toddlerhood and need lifelong care. Even for neurotypical children, there is always some risk that an accident or serious illness could lead to life-long profound disability. I didn’t want to imply to my daughter that her relative ability (compared to average autistic murder victims) is the reason I would never hurt her. The reason I would never hurt her is because she’s my child.
The most important thing to emphasize to your child about the pandemic of autistic murder victims is that none of these victims deserve what happened to them. Your child needs to know that people with autism are not inherently broken, nor are they an unbearable burden that their parents cannot tolerate. While it’s not a bad idea to note that parenting autistic children is a challenge, your children need to understand that they are not to blame for that challenge, and that they will never be victims at the hands of the people they trust. The world today might be a very scary place for children seeing such unsettling news on TV, but, as parents, we can and will provide the reassurance they need to feel safe, confident, and whole. 

4 Repubican Favorites Who Would Hate Republicans

Originally Published on Addicting Info
Conservatives have a thing for historical celebrity-worship. They tend to pick out a few figures from history—usually, but not always, heterosexual white males—and establish them as their own cultural superheroes. There's nothing wrong with having historical figures you look up to, but you know there's a problem when the greatest heroes a movement are people who wouldn't have approved of the movement at all. Here are some of the historical figures that today's right-wingers tend to idolize… without knowing much about what these people really believed.

Ayn Rand was atheist, pro-choice, and hated libertarians.

Certifiable sociopath Ayn Rand has been one of the gods of conservativism ever since the New York Times dubbed her the "novelist laureate of the Reagan administration" in 1987. After this point, conservative douchebags, including Alan Greenspan, Clarence Thomas, Rush Limbaugh, and Paul Ryan, all unanimously decided that Ayn Rand was just awesome. Just to demonstrate that they're independent thinkers, masses of high-school and college-age libertarians decided that they'd sound really smart if they called themselves objectivists and said that they adhered to Ayn Rand's philosophy and formed a Cliff's Notes-based cargo cult on her ideas.

The funny thing is that, until at least the 1980s, Rand was pretty largely despised by the right because more people bothered to find out what she actually believed… Like that she idolized a serial killer, that she was pro-choice, and that she was staunchly opposed to religion.

Objectivism was all about cold, hard reasoning with no room for anything remotely spiritual or emotional. So Rand was not only openly atheist, but she considered religion to be an instrument for brainwashing people into obedience. In Philosophy: Who Needs It?, she wrote:

Faith and force… are corollaries: every period of history dominated by mysticism, was a period of statism, of dictatorship, of tyranny.

In other words, ladies and gents, Ayn Rand's world has no room for your religion. Or anyone else's.

So what about the Unborn, those precious little souls terminated before birth, that conservatives use as poster children for the evils of liberalism? Ayn Rand didn't care much for them, either, as she stated in The Voice of Reason:

An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn). Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?

Wait a sec,that sounds… That sounds a lot like what you hear from feminists, doesn't it?

Conservatives who are willing to concede that Ayn Rand wouldn't be a fan of the modern-day Republican party usually jump to the next conclusion. She would totally be on board with libertarians, right? Well, unlike many historical figures, Ayn Rand was actually alive along enough to see her beliefs being misappropriated and was quick to shoot that down. In 1971, she wrote in The Objectivist:

For the record, I shall repeat what I have said many times before: I do not join or endorse any political group or movement. More specifically, I disapprove of, disagree with, and have no connection with, the latest aberration of some conservatives, the so-called "hippies of the right," who attempt to snare the younger or more careless ones of my readers by claiming simultaneously to be followers of my philosophy and advocates of anarchism. Anyone offering such a combination confesses his inability to understand either.


Thomas Paine was a socialist and loathed organized religion.

How does a socialist become a teabagger? There's not a punch line. It's a serious question. Thomas Paine was a hardcore socialist who somehow became, in the minds of his oblivious "followers," a gun-toting, God-fearing, tax-cutting, immigrant-hating conservative—to the point that right-wing lunatic Glenn Beck went so far as to rewrite Paine's Revolutionary War pamphlet Common Sense for today's audience, ad Paine is considered one of the most influential historical figureheads to conservatives.

We already know that Glenn Beck is off his rocker, but for the record, Paine was everything that the Tea Party is not. For one thing, he wasn't a fan of church involvement in religion—or even church involvement in church. In his magnum opus, The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine wrote:

My own mind is my own church. All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

Whoa, that sounds almost like something a radical liberal would say! But it doesn't stop there. His pamphlet Agrarian Justice is essentially a socialist manifesto and full of the things that inhabit the nightmares of conservatives. Calling uncultivated land "the common property of the human race," Paine stated that property is necessary in a society with buildings and agriculture, but that since all "improvements" take place on land that naturally belongs collectively to mankind, property-owners naturally have a debt to those who do not own property.

He outlines a system in which the wealthy pay taxes for all their income, and that those taxes are used to provide for the needy. Remarking that financial support for the elderly is "not the nature of a charity but of a right," Paine suggested setting up a national fund that would pay the living expenses for everyone over age 50, as well as the "lame and the blind." Adjusted for inflation and our pesky increasing life expectancy, that's Social Security– invented by liberals and loathed by conservatives.

There's more. Thomas Paine also suggested that poor families receive a credit every year to help support the cost of feeding and housing every child under they age of 14. This has existed since the Clinton era in the form of the Child Tax Credit, which Republicans staunchly opposed—because, hey, if you can't feed ‘em, don't breed ‘em, right?

Once those kids came of age, Paine stated that they were owed a one-time payment of 15 pounds to help them get a start in life, ensuring that even poor young adults would be given some opportunity at success. Instead, a couple-hundred years later, our young adults are saddled with five-digit student loan debt—if they're privileged enough to go to college to begin with– by the time they reach their 21st birthdays.

Want to pick a different idol to worship, Glenn Beck?

Thomas Jefferson was the guy who established separation of church and state

Thomas Jefferson is one of those rare presidents who most people agree was pretty cool. Liberals and conservatives alike tend to like him — 89% of people say they view him "favorably" — despite the fact that he was totally okay with slavery and repeatedly raped his slave Sally Hemings, who mothered six of his children.

But in case that is not enough evidence that Jefferson wasn't the guy we want to remember him as, there are his many letters and statements regarding religion—and they're not what conservatives would want. As many an angry Republican has pointed out, the constitution itself does not actually contain the phrase "separation of church and state."

Somebody else said that — Thomas Jefferson. The entirety of his >statement was:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and state.

Yes, conservatives: Jefferson was the one who first and most openly suggested that you don't get to use your religion to infringe on other people's freedoms. Sorry, guys.

Jesus of Nazareth was a political activist and a socialist.

If there's one historical figure who is deeply adored, and profoundly misunderstood, by conservatives, it's Jesus of Nazareth. Now, we're not going to argue with anyone over whether Jesus performed miracles or whether or not he was God, because these things are ultimately pretty irrelevant to what his political beliefs were. And whether you think Jesus of Nazareth was God, a prophet, a teacher, or just some Jew who lived 2000ish years ago, there are some things about the guy that are pretty clear.

For example, we know that Jesus was a political activist. You remember Reza Aslan, the Iranian-American who was the subject of the most humiliating interview Fox News has ever done? In his book Zealot, he—speaking as an educated historian, not the Big Bad Muslim out to get you—points out that, in Jesus's time and place, crucifixion was a punishment reserved for political revolutionaries. Jesus was crucified for the crimes of sedition and treason. He was into the idea of overthrowing an unfair government way before it was cool.

Now, let's take a look at what Biblical accounts of Jesus had to say about him. At one point, 5,000 people followed Jesus out into the desert wanting food. His disciples were worried because they had only five loaves of bread and two fish—not enough for 5,000 people—but he told them to distribute the food freely within the crowd, and somehow, everyone was fed.

Maybe the "miracle" here wasn't that Jesus did a trick that made massive amounts of food from very little. Maybe the miracle was that he gave what he had even when it looked like wasn't enough, and, seeing the example, those in the crowd who did have food began to share. The fish and loaves miracle wasn't a magic trick: it was a way of showing that when people choose to share, they will be happy and well-fed.

The Bible gives plenty of other accounts of what most people would call "socialism" on Jesus's behalf. In Matthew 25:31-46, he said that God will judge people by how they treated the "least" among themselves. He commanded that people serve him by caring for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill, and the imprisoned—yes, even those dirty, rotten criminals. There is no "unless they're gay," or "unless they really deserve to be in prison," or "unless they're just lazy and won't get a job," here. It's unconditional. Those who don't do as he says? It's Hell for them, and Heaven for those who helped the needy.

He also said that the wealthy sell what they have and give it to the poor, and when some of them refused—screaming for a tax cut, we suppose– Jesus made it pretty clear that they'd just sold their tickets to Heaven. It is easier," he said, "for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven." Well, since the chances of a camel walking through the eye of a needle are exactly zero, we're going to assume that, if there's a Heaven, there aren't many one-percenters there.

We're not sure why it is that Conservatives seem so Hell-bent on misinterpreting the political beliefs of their favorite icons, but it seems to be the norm, not the exception. Note to Conservatives: idolize whoever you want. Just make sure you do your research to find out what they actually believe before claiming to share their opinions.

No, All Children are Not Gifted

All children are special and all children have gifts, but not every child is "gifted." The diagnosis of intellectual giftedness is a specific kind of special need (actually classified by school systems as a disability). It's not a way of saying that a kid is bright or has a certain talent; it's a neurological condition.
"Gifted" is an unfortunate term and should be replaced with something else, because it carries a number of problematic implications, not limited to the implication that intelligence is a "gift" and can or should be used as a measure of someone's worth or total ability. But, problematic or not, it's the word we have and the one we have to use.
"Giftedness" is defined as having an IQ above 118 (95th percentile) or 130 (98th percentile), depending on the standards of the institution. By definition, it is not possible for every child to be gifted. Saying that is like saying that every child has a height in the 95th percentile. It's a nonsensical statement.
One of the problems with the use of the term "gifted" for these children is that IQ is not a reflection of a person's total functioning level. As many as 10% of "gifted" people also have learning disabilities-- my spouse, daughter, and I all fall into this category. A person can be gifted but completely unable to focus on schoolwork, tie his own shoes, or maintain the emotional stability necessary to work full-time. A person can also be gifted but make incredibly poor decisions, or simply be lazy and unmotivated. Gifted people are of no greater value to their loved ones, or to society at large, than people who are not gifted.
When parents of gifted children talk about their experiences or what their kids are going through, sometimes it *is* bragging. Just as I'm proud of my son for holding his head up early-- I have no clue if he's "gifted" yet and honestly don't have a preference for whether I want him to be or not-- I'm proud of my daughter for reading and writing early. Wherever our kids' gifts are, it's in the nature of a parent to feel proud of them. But that doesn't mean that, when a parent identifies her child as "gifted" (assuming that the diagnosis has been made by a professional), she's indicating that she believes her child is better than his peers or that her child is simply bright. She's saying that her child is on an extreme end of a bell-curve, which-- just like the other end of the bell curve-- is a condition that requires special attention in school and at home.
The reason that it's so important to correctly identify what "gifted" means and which children are (and aren't) gifted is because giftedness creates a serious challenge for parents and teachers, just as with any other form of extreme neurological divergence. Children who are gifted, by definition, can not have their needs met by a mainstream academic curriculum. Without special attention in school, they, just like children with other special-needs conditions, usually develop significant behavioral problems and emotional disturbances. My own daughter had severe challenges with trichotillomania (compulsively pulling out her own hair, often by the handful) until she started getting appropriate interventions in school. When parents express concerns about their kids being underchallenged or needing special services, we're not saying that our kids are special snowflakes who are too smart for normal school. We're saying that our kids are struggling because their needs aren't being adequately met.
It's a huge problem that we live in a society that often defines a person's worth by their intelligence. That attitude leads to systematic discrimination of people with below-average IQs, and that's unacceptable. But the answer to that problem isn't to say "Every child is gifted," or, "All kids are gifted but they open their packages at different times." Statements like that only reinforce the notion that intelligence is a measurement of a person's value. The fact is is that human beings are wonderfully and beautifully diverse. We are all born with different neurological wiring and different levels of ability, *and that's okay*. To claim that all children are gifted is to deny human diversity while also depriving special-needs children-- yes, giftedness is a special need-- of the help and services they need to thrive.

How Paulownia Wood Can Save Our Planet

A few weeks ago, I went on a green shopping spree to find sustainable furniture and decor for my apartment. I was interested when I saw that many green-labeled furniture options were made from paulownia wood. Although I am an avid environmentalist and tree enthusiast, I had never heard of this beautiful and exotic form of lumber. I decided to take a look at this tree's ecology to find out if, and how, it can actually enhance the health of our environment.
I was pleasantly surprised when I found out how sustainable paulownia wood actually is. This dense hardwood is an affordable, ecologically friendly alternative to expensive, environmentally disastrous rainforest woods like ebony and mahogany. It looks as chic as the unsustainble woods found in old-growth forests, but it costs a fraction of the amount of its endangered counterparts.
Paulownia wood is not only a viable alternative to less sustainable woods; it actually helps to benefit the environment. These hardwoods thrive in poor, even toxic land, and they are now used to restore lands damaged by pollution, deforestation or climate change. The tree has been shown to extend its roots as much as forty feet into the ground, where it immediately gets to work removing pollutants like salt and pesticides. Its deep roots also help to regulate water tables to prevent desertification.
The leaves of the paulownia tree are massive and absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide-- a major contributor to global warming-- from the air. Like other trees, it also helps to replenish oxygen in the air, which we all need for survival. Additionally, its broad leaves tend to absorb and disperse particulate pollution, or smoke, that clouds the air near large industrial cities.
Much of paulownia's ecological benefit derives from its incredible growth pattern. Unlike most trees, which can take decades or centuries to provide usable timber, paulownia yiers after it yields excellent timber within seven to twelve years after it germinates. Compare this to chestnut and mahogany trees, which may be well over one hundred years old before they provide enough wood to be valuable. Most amazingly, after a paulownia tree is cut, it immediately begins regrowing from the stump, becoming a mature tree again in as few as five years.
The tree's ability to regenerate adds to its ecological benefits. Because the root system is already established, it holds soil in place to prevent erosion and topsoil runoff. Other woods-- particularly exotics grown in tropical regions-- die immediately after harvest, leaving the soil bare and, eventually, desertified.
Paulownia trees can grow readily throughout the world, where they are raised on large plantations to restore dying lands. People in economically depressed regions throughout Asia, Europe, North America, South America, Africa, and Australia plant paulownia trees between rows of edible crops. While the other crops grow and thrive, the land owners are also able to add a sustainable lumber to their combination of lucrative yields. This prevents them from needing to cut old-growth forests to support their lives. This practice, known as inter-cropping, may really save the world.
Wood harvested from paulownia continues to save our suffering environment by providing a sustainable habitat to wild animals. Paulownia plantations rarely require fertilizer or pesticides in order to thrive, because paulownia trees do well even in nutrient-depleted soils and tend to resist damage from pests. Many invertebrates, birds and mammals can live in paulownia trees without causing any damage to the usable part of the lumber. As the animals populate the area, they help to stabilize damaged ecosystems.
The world still has a very long way to go before we can really see a strong, bright future for our rainforests and atmosphere. Nevertheless, industrial, ecological, and economic progressions like paulownia wood continue to offer glimmers of hope for our future. By purchasing products made from paulownia, you can help to give our planet a fighting chance.