Friday, June 21, 2013

Just a Plane Ride Away

He boarded the plane, heading from India back to his home in North Carolina. Around his late twenties or early thirties, he settled in for the long, trans-oceanic flight toward the end of March. He wasn't traveling alone; he had company with him, though he didn't know it at the time. In fact, he was carrying stowaways he'd picked up during his visit, and now they were replicating inside him. It was a long flight. He relaxed and waited while his fellow passengers worked feverishly.

The plane touched down. He collected his bags and started off to his home in Stokes County. Perhaps he was tired from the flight. A few days passed, and his head grew warm to the touch. Runny nose, a bit of a cough. If it weren't for the fever, it could have just been allergies. Probably just a cold picked up on the plane or during his trip. Nothing to worry about.

Also around the end of March, another individual, a Hasidic Jew from New York is flying home from London. He or she lives in a highly religious, insular community in Borough Park, Brooklyn. Just as with the visitor to India, a hitchhiker accompanied them on the flight home. And just as with the fellow further south, several days after returning home, the signs of a cold begin.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I Need Some Serenity

After yesterday's post, I thought the blog could use something a bit lighter. With that in mind, I present to you, LEGO Serenity:

Isn't she shiny?
This was a gift I received recently, combining two things I love, LEGO and Firefly. This is a lovely little model created by Ichiban Toys, who have a number of other amazing custom mini-models.

Of course, what I really want is this:

Monday, June 17, 2013

Struggling to Understand the Murder of Alex Spourdalakis

Ever since I heard the news early last week that a 14-year-old autistic boy was found dead, I've been struggling to put into words how I feel and my thoughts on the issue. I got the news in rapid succession: he was found dead, he was stabbed multiple times, his mother and godmother were found in the same room, unconscious. More digging through the news: he was stabbed four times in the chest (twice of those in the heart) and his wrist was slashed nearly to the point of taking off his hand. His mother and grandmother were under the influence of sleeping pills, having taken a non-lethal overdose. They left a three-page letter explaining that they had planned over a week to kill the boy. More news reports revealed they first tried to kill him with sleeping pills, but then went for the knife when the pills didn't appear to work. The godmother also killed the cat "for fear he would be sent to a shelter". Then they wiped the knife clean, put it back in the kitchen and took sleeping pills for themselves. The two women reportedly confessed to police that they had murdered the boy, and they have been charged with first degree murder. It also came to light that the boy's mother had filed for divorce from his father in February, with a court date set for this coming Thursday, June 20. It was the father and uncle who caused the boy to be found, after failed attempts to reach the mother and son for a well checkup.

In the months leading up to the murder, the mother, Dorothy Spourdalakis, with help from Age of Autism's Lisa J. Goes, appealed to others for help for her son, Alex. Per Goes' writings (and others), Alex had been taken to the hospital for severe gastrointestinal symptoms (constipation, diarrhea, pain) and had been held in restraints, naked. If their reports are to be believe, he was kept in the ER, strapped down, for 19 days straight. As others have pointed out, the narrative sounds like some key information is either misrepresented or missing. For example, it is highly unusual for a patient to be kept in the ER for an extended period of time. They would either be treated and discharged or they would be admitted to inpatient care. Further, use of restraints on patients is highly regulated. If Dorothy and Lisa's accounts are correct, not one, but two hospitals inappropriately used restrains (three hospitals, if you include Alex's second, more recent admission). Part of Dorothy's petition for help was to get the hospitals to provide gastrointestinal treatment, which included a colonoscopy, which was deemed unnecessary by an attending gastroenterologist that examined Alex. There is some suspicion that the procedures Alex's mother wanted for him included dubious biomed treatments. Some also suspect that she may have subjected Alex to MMS (bleach) enemas in an attempt to cure him of his autism. News outlets report that Dorothy was offered services for her son, which she rejected. Supporters claim the services would only have been admittance to a psychiatric facility and drugging Alex to keep him docile. Others think that it would more likely have been day or residential care.

Unfortunately, due to HIPAA privacy regulations, we only have one side of the story, told by Dorothy and her supporters. The hospitals cannot comment on any aspect of Alex's care without violating patient confidentiality laws, though the pending trial may reveal more information. We can't know for certain what treatment he received in hospital, nor the exact nature of the services that were offered. I'm not going to speculate on what treatment he did or did not receive, either at the hands of his mother or at the various hospitals to which he was taken. Rather, I want to focus on the murder itself and how people have reacted to it, including myself.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Academic Earth Takes On an Anti-vaccine Myth

Images can often speak more to us than simple words on a page (or monitor). While words do carry subtext, we frequently need to use many more words, and take up more space, to get even basic ideas across. Yet images alone have their own limitations. Bringing images and words together can help solidify an idea and make it more accessible to people. The folks over at Academic Earth have done just that. In addition to hosting open course videos and lectures from Harvard, MIT, Stanford and other universities, they have put together Video Electives, short (less than 5 minute) videos and animations that cover a variety of topics.

A reader sent me a link to one of these electives, titled "Too Many, Too Soon: The Anti-Vaccine Fallacy". The video is embedded after the break below, and I think it does a good job of illustrating why the anti-vaccine argument of "too many, too soon" as it relates to supposedly overwhelming the immune system is flawed. The focus is on the antigen exposure aspect of vaccines and diseases, so I'm sure those opposed to vaccines will still cry, "but what about the other ingredients!?" It's a start, though, and is another arrow in the quiver.