Although sorely tempted, I'm not going to nominate Dr. Sydney Spiesel for the Nobel Prize for Medicine. Spiesel invented a shampoo that makes the nits of head lice glow under ultraviolet light. The Nobel Committee doesn't go in for the sort of achievements that focus on everyday life, however stunning they may be. I learned that a long time ago when I tried to get the Nobel Peace Prize for the late Lisa Mosca, of Mosca's restaurant in Waggaman, La., for the perfection of her baked oysters. They gave it to Kissinger that year.
Maybe Dr. Spiesel, a professor at Yale University School of Medicine, could be recognized by the PTA. There ought to be a way to honor the person who each year has done the most for lightening the load of parents--an award for achievements like figuring out how to replace all the buckles and zippers and snaps on children's snowsuits with Velcro.
Spiesel's achievement is of Velcro-on-snowsuits magnitude. Think of a mother executing nits one by one as she combs out her second-grader's hair. She knows she's in for a 45-min. search-and-destroy mission. She's irritated by the knowledge that she's bound to miss a few of the tiny things and will have to go through the entire process again in a couple of days. Now think of the second-grader's hair washed in Dr. Spiesel's shampoo, which was developed in response to a head-lice epidemic in the day-care center he serves as pediatrician. The nits would light up so brightly that pilots could use the kid's head to get a bead on the airport. The mother could destroy them all. Think of the hours saved--hours the mother might use to write a novel or perfect her computer skills or harangue her husband about why he never seems to be the one combing out the second-grader's hair.
I know that some people on the left might oppose an award to Dr. Spiesel on the ground that an advancement in fighting head lice is basically a service to the rich, the medical equivalent of a Republican tax-cut plan. Dr. Spiesel himself has acknowledged that although head lice were formerly associated with poor people who couldn't afford proper hygiene, "these days, head lice seem to especially favor wealthier people."
It's true that what the Serengeti Plain is to lions, the poshest private grade schools in Manhattan are to head lice. In recent years the head-lice problem at private schools has increased at almost the same rate as tuition, leading to the theory, not yet proved, that some of these places must be charging by the nit.
When I'm on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and I see a child who seems particularly pampered--fabulously expensive clothing, state-of-the-art toys, an attentive nanny or two--my first thought is, "That poor kid's head must itch like crazy."
The theory that has always been at the core of all Republican tax-cut proposals--if rich people pay less in taxes, we'd all be better off--may actually make sense when applied to head lice, which like to jump from head to head, irrespective of the head's economic circumstances. Passing along lice, after all, works on more or less the same principle as trickle-down economics, but it's more certain.