World Health Organization Reports Dramatic Declines in Child Mortality

In 1950, a full 25 percent of infants born around the world died before reaching their fifth birthday. After a concerted effort to brings this down, today only 7 percent of infants born around the world die before reaching their fifth birthday. Too many children to be sure, but an incredible decline in only a few decades.

In fact the decline in child mortality outpaced World Health Organization goals. In 1990 the World Summit for Children set a target goal of 70 deaths per 1,000 live births by the year 2000 — at that time there were 85 child deaths per 1,000 live births. The current rate is actually an estimated 67 deaths per 1,000 live births.

To put those in absolute numbers, last year 10.5 million children under the age of five died compared to 12.7 million in 1990, even though the world population in 1999 was significantly higher than in 1990. If things had remained as they stood in 1950, a staggering 25 to 30 million children would have died last year alone.

What caused the decline? A combination of factors but primarily improvements in nutrition, environmental factors such as effective sanitation and clean water supplies, and better use of basic medical intervention such as oral rehydration therapy to combat childhood diarrhea. In 1990 an estimated 3.5 million children died from diarrhea-related problems, but by the end of the decade that number had been cut in half as the use of oral rehydration zoomed from 40% to 69% of diarrhea cases in the developing world.

Not that there aren’t troubling trends on the horizon. There are still 57 countries that haven’t yet reach the 70 deaths per 1,000 live births target, and they tend to be the countries you’d expect — Afghanistan, Somalia, Liberia, Niger. Seven countries actually saw increases in child mortality — Botswana, Namibia, Niger, Zambia, Zimbabwe, North Korea and Papua New Guinea. For the most part child mortality showed little change or increased for the same reason most of those countries have a multitude of other problems; they tend to be countries where corruption, authoritarianism and/or war is high while respect for human rights is very low.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic also poses potential problems, with some WHO experts predicting that the disease might stop further improvement in childhood mortality in its tracks in Africa.

Still, overall, the WHO report is very good news for anyone who cares about the quality of life for the world’s children.


Drop in world child mortality reaches target, new study shows but many countries lagging. Press release, World Health Organization, October 12, 2000.

Bulletin of the World Health Organization: Special Theme – Child Mortality. The World Health Organization, Volume 78, Number 10, Bulletin 2000, 1172-1282.

Afghanistan In Dire Need of Food Aid

What do you get if you combine an ongoing civil war along with the worst drought in 30 years? In the case of Afghanistan the result is a potential humanitarian disaster. The World Food Programme recently warned that unless it receives additional aid from donor countries, it will run out of aid sometime in February 2000 — the worst possible time thanks to Afghanistan’s harsh winters. Appeals for additional aid this summer brought in only half of what the World Food Programme expected.

According to to the WFP, up to one million Afghans could face starvation. “If we do not receive new pledges this month, we will have to cut down or stop our operations in Afghanistan at a time when Afghans will be in the midst of the pre-harvest hungry season,” the WFP’s Gerard van Dijk told the BBC.

According to the BBC, about 80 percent of Afghanistan’s population are subsistence farmers — the constant warfare since the 1980s has pretty much destroyed any economic alternatives for the bulk of the population.


Wartorn Afghanistan Facing Up To Worst Drought In 30 Years. Press release, The World Food Programme, October 2000.

UN agency pleads for Afghan aid. The BBC, October 27, 2000.

PCRM vs. Noah Wyle: Will the Real Physician Please Stand Up?

In a bit of humorous hypocrisy, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is upset about a new “Got Milk” ad featuring Noah Wyle — the actor who plays Dr. John Carter on TV’s “ER.” The ad shows Wyle with a milk mustache and the tag line, “Noah Wyle, M.D. (Milk Drinker)” and suggests readers should drink milk under “doctor’s orders.”

The ad prompted PCRM to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission that the ad is misleading. “Like many of the ads in the milk-mustache ad campaign,” PCRM president Neal D. Barnard said in a press release, “the Wyle ad violates federal law by disseminating deceptive information. It implies that milk-drinking an stop osteoporosis among men, a claim not proven in medical studies. At the same time, it promotes regular, full-fat milk without warning that the product contributes to heart disease and cancer. The Wyle ad is particularly egregious as it misleads people into thinking a real doctor is prescribing milk.”

Okay, maybe Barnard and his PCRM folks don’t realize that just because Noah Wyle plays a doctor on “ER” doesn’t mean he really is a doctor, I think most Americans are able to make that distinction. On the other hand it’s a bit amusing for Barnard to complain that the ad passes Wyle off as a doctor, because despite PCRM’s name, it actually consists of very few physicians — in fact the last time I checked only about 10 percent of PCRM’s members were in fact physicians. In addition the leading physician’s group in the United States, the American Medical Association, has in the past censured PCRM for spreading unfounded health claims (the claims that milk contributes to cancer and heart disease, for example, are very misleading).

This seems a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black.


Physicians lodge complaint over misleading ad starring “ER” actor Noah Wyle. Press release, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, October 24, 2000.

Why Reading Is Bad for Women

Like a lot of parents, some of the best times I spend with my toddler is reading to her. It’s fascinating to watch children’s reactions to stories and seem them start to acquire pre-reading skills. Leave it to postmodernist feminists to argue that by encouraging my daughter’s interest in reading I’m committing an act of violence that inaugurates her into hierarchical patriarchal oppression.

Writing for Salon.Com, freelance writer Amy Halloran describes attending an academic conference where the University of Southern California’s Peggy Kamuf likened teaching children to read to a terrorist act. For those of you who don’t follow the wacky world of academic postmodernism, Kamuf is a scholar (and I use that word very loosely) noted for her translations of works by the godfather of deconstructionism Jacques Derrida. To sum up deconstruction very quickly, it holds that the words you are reading right now have absolutely no inherent meaning. If you think this is a description of a recent football game, your interpretation is just as valid as any other. No meaning, no truth — everything is just social constructs (even seemingly biological phenomenon such as pregnancy are just social constructs according to some postmodernists).

So what’s left if there is no meaning or truth? Politics. Rather then whether a statement is true or false, what the postmodernists care about is whether or not a statement is oppressive. This is the basis on which Kamuf attacks reading. Unfortunately, Halloran only paraphrases Kamuf, but here’s how she describes her paper,

She presented a paper (she read it aloud!) to a crowd of about 40 people, most of them academics, in which she insisted that teaching kids to read initiates them into the patriarchal construct of the family unit and society at large. This initiation is, according to her, a brutal and painful rite of passage. It is so painful, she added, that people don’t even recollect learning to read. The memory is repressed, said Kamuf, because the act is violent.

Halloran thinks she can paint Kamuf into a logical corner and confronts her after the reading of the paper by pointing out that if what she’s said is true, then the act of teaching/learning to speak would be the original locus of violent indoctrination. Rather than recoil at this idea, Kamuf simply replies, “Of course, of course. We all know that.” (And Halloran notices a common motif in radical feminist use of postmodernism — Kamuf reserves her attacks for mothers who teach children to read. This is not actually that odd, since a number of radical feminist attacks on things like the family tend to focus on imagined horrors passed on by mothers. A lot of these folks seem to have serious mother-daughter issues that come out in their approach.)

Of course the claim that learning to speak and/or read is oppressive is so absurd that one often wishes to avoid attacking it, which gives it far more weight and credence than it deserves. The main point I take from this report is that higher institutions of learning have largely become refuges for a growing number of morons passing off their ignorance as if it were knowledge. And these are the folks we’re counting on to teach coming generations of college students. Yikes.

Don’t think, by the way, that the attack on reading is isolated to Kamuf or even postmodernists. Surgery professor (!) Leonard Shlain has gotten a lot of publicity and support for his formulation of the reading-as-oppression thesis in his book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image. Shlain starts with a common feminist shibboleth — that men are inherently “left brain”, logical, abstract thinkers while women are inherently “right brain”, holistic, creative, visual thinkers — and takes it to its logical extremes.

Since reading is supposedly a left brain, linear, analytic activity, it follows, according to Shlain, that the rise of literacy and the alphabet was also the rise of misogyny and patriarchy. As his web site summarizes the book’s thesis,

Shlain argues that literacy reinforced the brain¹s linear, abstract, predominantly masculine left hemisphere at the expense of the holistic, iconic feminine right one. This shift upset the balance between men and women initiating the disappearance of goddesses, the abhorrence of images, and, in literacy’s early stages, the decline of women’s political status. Patriarchy and misogyny followed.

Ironically Shlain sees the rise of visual media such as television as restoring equity. I guess I should be encouraging my daughter to put down those books and watch more television. Actually to be fair to him, Shlain doesn’t exactly disparage literacy per se, but his claim that linear thinking (and hence reading) fundamentally disadvantages women vs. men is absurd.

It is interesting that after a couple hundred years we’ve come full circle from when traditionalist anti-feminists argued that teaching girls linear thinking skills was a waste of time, to contemporary radical feminists who argue that teaching girls linear thinking skills is inherently oppressive.

This is progress?


Is nothing sacred? Amy Halloran, Salon.Com, October 30, 2000.

October Was A Good Month

Not for me personally — I was sick most of the month. But the web server traffic is finally almost back to normal after the problems we experienced over the summer.

In October 1999, we served up about 260,000 page views. We’re off that level a bit in 2000 at 200,000 page views this month, but server traffic was 50% higher in October over September, so we’re definitely headed in the right direction. The way things are going and the new features I’ve been able to implement in the past few months, I’m pretty confident we’ll reach a 400,000 page view month sometime in Q1 2001.

Kinda small potatoes compared to some sites, but who would have thought at the beginning of the 1990s that in less than a decade it would be possible to reach hundreds of thousands of people for next to nothing (I’m currently paying $320/month for a dedicated server — I think we charged more than that for a full page ad in my college newspaper.)

Life is good.

Stop the Social Security Madness

Last week Cathy Young had a very well done article for Salon.Com arguing that at least one good reason for voting for Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush was his solid approach to Social Security reform. She has no illusions about Bush, hilariously noting that, “Of course it would be nice if Social Security privatization had a spokesman other than Bush; the man probably couldn’t make a convincing case for celebrating Mother’s Day, let alone privatizing retirement benefits,” but argues that compared to Al Gore’s “pernicious … handling of the issue” Bush is a solid alternative.

Now, I don’t plan on voting for Bush but Young’s dissection of Gore’s arguments are sound.

First, there is no Social Security trust fund. Look, by law when Social Security has a surplus the only thing it can do with that money is invest in government bonds. So Social Security buys a ton of government bonds, and the government takes the money and spends it. When Social Security wants that surplus it has to redeem the bonds. And guess where that money comes from? That’s right, out of our taxes. Gore recognizes this since his proposal calls for going one step further and paying Social Security recipients in part directly from general tax funds.

Second, Social Security isn’t a “sacred trust” (as I saw Gore call it recently). Rather it’s an investment opportunity that is so bad the government has to threaten people with jail if they don’t contribute. The return on Social Security is in the low single digits. You could probably get better terms from a loan shark.

Third, Social Security is largely an income transfer from the poor to the rich. Gore goes in front of Democratic audiences and says Bush will never be able to privatize Social Security for today’s young workers while simultaneously keeping its obligations to the elderly. But one of the problem is that Social Security transfers income to the elderly regardless of income. The wealthy retired person with an annual income of $100,000 gets the same Social Security benefit as the poorer retired person with an income of $18,000. And yet the idea of actually means testing Social Security benefits so they go to the elderly who truly need the benefit is anathema to Democrats. Apparently it breaks the sacred trust they have to tax the poor to subsidize the rich.

A system that combines privatization for younger workers while means testing benefits for recipients would go a long way to solving the problems with the poor performance of the SOcial Security system while simultaneously guaranteeing minimum income levels for the elderly poor.

(Which probably means it makes far too much sense to ever have a realistic chance of happening.)