Friday, March 31, 2017

Tightening the noose on the polio virus

Not long ago, the virus that causes the paralyzing, often deadly disease polio circulated freely worldwide, crippling or killing half a million people every year, including thousands in the U.S. and Canada.

The mid-20th Century development of the Salk and Sabin polio vaccines gave mankind the tools needed to eradicate this dreaded disease. It's taken 7 decades, but the worldwide campaign to wipe out polio, spearheaded by the UN's World Health Organization and UNICEF, Rotary International, the US Centers for Disease Control and The Gates Foundation, is closing in on the polio virus' last strongholds, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0! Let's end this terrible disease
Credit RIBI Image Library

So far this year, polio has only sickened five children, three in Afghanistan and two in Pakistan. At the same time, 116 million were vaccinated. With such an active monitoring and vaccinating program, the total eradication of polio is in sight.

That will represent just the second human disease to be complete eradicated. Another deadly viral scourge, smallpox, was completely eradicated nearly four decades ago through a similar worldwide campaign.

The eradication of polio will represent a second great achievement for mankind.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017


I'll keep this story short and sweet.

It turns out that when mothers sing to their babies during pregnancy and after delivery, they and their infants are more securely attached, their babies sleep more, cry less, and suffer less colic than babies whose mothers didn't sing to them. Not surprisingly, the mothers of these healthier, happier babies experience less stress.

Mothers who sing lullabies have happier and healthier babies
Credit: makelessnoise
I won't go into all the details of the carefully designed study that found this lovely result, except to say that it took place in Italy, involved 168 expectant mothers and their babies, and showed that singing had remarkably powerful positive effects. For example, babies that were sung to were three times more likely to sleep well than babies who weren't, and were 40 percent less likely to suffer from colic.

The authors also note that the mothers enjoyed crooning lullabies-- " . . . the mothers continued to sing lullabies to their newborns and a remarkable percentage (93%) reported that this activity enriched the relationship with their babies." They also point out that the quality and security of parent-child bonding " . . . is of utmost importance for the development and well-being of the baby." As a psychologist, I would add that a positive parent-infant bond provides the best foundation for a healthy life.

It's delightful to be reminded that something as simple and natural as a mother singing lullabies to her baby can have such powerful, positive and long-lasting impacts.

Thursday, March 02, 2017


On Monday, February 27, President Trump announced his new "public safety and national security" budget. The centerpiece is a $54 billion raise for the military, to be paid for by an equal package of cuts to social, educational, environmental, health and other "non-essential" government programs. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of State reportedly are first in line at the chopping block.

David Koch, worth $39.6 billion--Will he be the first to pitch in?
Credit: Gage Skidmore
Unfortunately, $54 billion in cuts to those programs will do some serious damage. As quoted in the NYT article cited above, longtime Republican budget specialist Bill Hoagland comments "I don't know how you take $54 billion out without wholesale taking out entire departments."

In other words, boosting our safety and security by pumping up our military muscle will inflict a lot of pain on school children and their teachers, workers, poor people, disabled people, the unemployed, and those of us who have gotten used to clean air and water, safe food and drugs, and a functioning federal government.

However, there's a simple way to come up with $54 billion, and one that will only impact fewer than two dozen people rather than hundreds of millions of us. Why not ask Trump, his cabinet members, and his billionaire backers to help out?

A few minutes of online research shows that Trump and his cabinet are worth around $13 billion. If we add in just the top dozen Trump supporters--billionaires like the Koch brothers, Robert Mercer, Peter Thiel and Sheldon Adelson, all of whom pumped a lot of cash into his campaign--we find that they're worth around $163 billion. So Trump, his cabinet, and twelve of his biggest backers have a combined worth of $176 billion.

Given their obvious patriotism, and the fervent support for Trump demonstrated by their generous contributions to his election, I'm sure that these munificent ladies and gentlemen would be happy to contribute, say, 30% of their net worth to pay for the bigger and better armed forces we so urgently need. That would neatly cover the $54 billion Trump has earmarked, and, remarkably, all of those noble donors would still be incredibly rich.

Nor will their generosity go unrewarded if Trump's proposed tax cuts become law. According to Forbes, the wealthiest one-tenth of one percent of the population will receive 24 percent of the $6.2 trillion in tax cuts, or just under $1.5 trillion, and will see their after-tax income increase by 14.2 percent. With that $1.5 trillion pie to divide up, I'm guessing it would not be long before those generous billionaires will be even richer than before. Talk about a win-win solution!

Ladies and gentlemen of the billionaire class, please consider this an open invitation, not just to Trump, his cabinet and his top dozen supporters, but to all 540 U.S. billionaires. With your combined worth of $2.4 trillion, just think of what you can accomplish.

Who will be the first to step up? Bill, Warren, Jeff, Mark, Larry, Michael, Charles, David, Larry, Jim, Alice, Sheldon . . .?