Saturday, May 29, 2004

New Findings in Sleep Physiology

Reported via  AZo News-Medical.Net, Dr. Cameron van den Heuvel has found that temperature regulation is important in the initiation of sleep.  Furthermore, he has found that some persons with insomnia have a defect in their ability to regulate core body temperature. 

Discovery that body temperature has a vital role in the onset of sleep
Friday, 28-May-2004

Insomnia affects up to a quarter of the population in Australia and can have a severe impact on the quality of life and health of long term chronic sufferers, who often cannot stay alert enough to remain in the workforce.

[...] The research shows that the body needs to drop its core temperature in order for sleep to initiate normally, according to Research Fellow Dr Cameron van den Heuvel at UniSA’s Centre for Sleep Research.

[...] “Studies of sleep onset insomniacs show that they consistently have a warmer core body temperature immediately before initiating sleep, when compared with normal healthy adults. This results in a state of heightened arousal that prevents them from falling asleep when they go to bed, probably because they have to wait for their bodies to lose the heat that's keeping them awake. We're only talking about a half to one degree but that small temperature change can result in significant differences in arousal between insomniacs and people without sleeping problems.

“While sleeping tablets are effective in some people some of the time, many insomniacs have impaired thermo-regulatory systems that limit their ability to lose heat and affect their responses to commonly prescribed drugs that would normally increase sleepiness,” Dr van den Heuvel said. 

“When used by healthy young adults these drugs cause them to lose heat, become sleepier and fall asleep. This temperature change is important for the drugs to work successfully and is consistent across a range of drugs that we've investigated.

[...] One mechanism called biofeedback being researched by UniSA psychologist, Dr Kurt Lushington, involves training people to raise or lower their hand temperature by visualising images such as lying on a beach. Some 75-80 per cent of those studied successfully raised or lowered their temperature by one and a half degrees or more. The next step will be to enroll insomniacs in a similar study to determine its suitability as a treatment. [...]

Therapists of various sorts have been using little thermometers for a long time, to teach people how to relax.  It is a form of biofeedback.  This is useful for general relaxation training, as well as specific treatment for migraine headaches  and Reynaud's phenomenon or disease.  Now we see that this has the potential to be useful for persons with insomnia.

The flow of blood to the skin is one of the main ways your body regulates temperature.  Cutaneous blood flow is regulated primarily by the arterioles that provide blood to the skin.  It is possible to develop some degree of voluntary control over the diameter of the arterioles.  This enables you to increase the blood flow to the skin, which lowers the core body temperature. 

If you want, you can spend hundreds of dollars  on a biofeedback machine, but unless you are a therapist, it is not worth the money.  You can get a little thermometer for one dollar here  (although the shipping is ten dollars).  You can get a digital thermometer that is better for this purpose, for twenty dollars, here.  I found a message thread in which migraineurs discuss using a hardware-store indoor-outdoor thermometer here

Self-administered biofeedback takes a lot of persistence to learn, but it is really inexpensive and can help a lot.  I don't know how effective it is for insomnia, but it is worth a try. 

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Friday, May 28, 2004

Why My Job is Getting Harder
Mixed Reviews of the Economy

The economic recovery continues, sort of, but it looks as though the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer.  According to the Economic Policy Institute, corporate profits are up, but labor compensation has not kept pace in proportion, and private wage/salary income is down.  This information is portrayed differently n the Joe Hill Dispatch, but the conclusion is the same.  John Irons at Argmax  echoes the same data.  In this post, I review the latest economic data and provide links that show the implications of the "Upside Down Recovery."

Snapshot for May 27, 2004

When do workers get their share?
Despite recent good news on employment growth, the current economic recovery, now approaching its third year, remains the most unbalanced on record in respect to the distribution of income gains between corporate profits and labor compensation. Essentially, rapid gains in productivity have been translating into higher corporate profits without increasing the wage and salary income of American workers.

The chart below shows growth in corporate profits and total labor compensation (the sum of all paychecks and employee benefits in the U.S. economy) over the last 12 quarters; measuring profit growth since the peak of the last recovery in the first quarter of 2001.* [...]

Growth in corporate profits, labor compensation, and private wage and salary income

*This recession/recovery period is also notable for being the first on record where corporate profits were higher in the trough quarter than in the peak quarter.
Source: National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA) from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

This Snapshot was written by EPI economist Josh Bivens.

How Ya Like Them Apples

OMB Watch:
Recent data show a major shift in the balance between corporate income and labor compensation. As a share of the economy labor compensation has not been this low in almost 40 years (since 1966), and after-tax corporate profits are at the highest levels ever recorded by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Since it's peak in 2001, as a share of gross domestic product (GDP), labor compensation has decreased by about 4 percent (from 67 to 63 percent) and corporate profits have increased by about 4 percent (from 8 to 12 percent) — see chart below. After taxes, corporate profits reached 9.6 percent of GDP — the highest level recorded dating back to 1947. [...]

(Components are percent of GDP; source: graphic adopted from National Economic Trends, St. Louis Federal reserve.)

An interesting perspective on this is offered by Jonathan Evans, a UH-60 Blackhawk pilot, in his Livejournal post.  He does not write specifically about the recent Labor Department figures, but the principle is the same. 

[...] This disparity shakes the very foundation of how we define our culture. While the projection of force may be a diplomatic necessity, to honor our warriors while ignoring those who volunteer to build this country from within is to accept a new American ethos that places equality second to superiority. If we as a people were offered the opportunity to serve principles other than those that are articulated by the show and use of force, however, I believe we could rise again to reclaim our fabled egalitarian ethos.

[...] How we invest our resources as a nation is a moral question. We vote with our money by revealing our cultural references dictating those enterprises that are worthy of investment and those that are not. The federal military budget is $400 billion this year. The Corporation for National and Community Service, which encompasses AmeriCorps and is the only substantial service program that offers an alternative to the military, squeaked out $940 million (a little less than a quarter of a percent of the military budget). [...]

A different perspective is offered by Christian E. Weller and Radha Chaurushiya in their article, Upside-Down' Economy Takes a Bite out of Middle Class Wallets. (See full report, the basis for their article, in this 247KB PDF)  They show the economic impact of the shrinking compensation for labor.  They add some insight into the implications of the fact that much of the economic recovery has been fueled by consumer credit.  As credit card defaults and mortgage foreclosures attain record levels, the prognosis for a sustainable recovery is dim. 

J. Bradford DeLong  echoes Paul Krugman's editorial  on job growth:

And employment is chasing a moving target: it must rise by about 140,000 a month just to keep up with a growing population. In April, the economy added 288,000 jobs. If you do the math, you discover that President Bush needs about four years of job growth at last month's rate to reach what his own economists consider full employment.... Three years of lousy performance, followed by two months of good but not great job growth, is not a record to be proud of. 

This means that it is way too early to think of Bush's economic policy as a good thing; and way to early to consider switching your vote to the Republican Party on economic grounds. 

Now, why, you might ask, is The Corpus Callosum interested in economics?  The answer is: I am interested in economics only when the economy is bad.  As an applied neuroscientist, a large part of my job is to keep people at work, or to get them back to work.  When everyone else's job is stressful, it makes my job more difficult.  The current economic conditions not only make for a tight job market; it makes existing jobs more stressful.  Although we can be proud of the fact that the US worker is the most productive, on average, in the world, and that the productivity of the US working is increasing, these statistics come with a cost

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Thursday, May 27, 2004

Bioethics of Gender Selection, part II:
Preconception Gender Selection

Because the two main technologies for gender selection are so different, the bioethical issues must be analyzed separately.  Flow cytometry is a method that sorts sperm into two pools.  one pool contains sperm with two X chromosomes, which will produce girls; the other contains sperm with one X and one Y, which will produce boys.  For technical reasons, it is easier to produce a sperm sample that contains only XX sperm.  Thus, this method is more commonly used to select for girl babies.  Using it to select for boy babies will greatly increase the odds of getting a boy, but there still is a significance chance of getting a girl.  GIVF, a company that offers Microsort® flow cytometry sperm-sorting technology, claims  that XX-sorted sperm has produced girls 88% of the time, whereas XY-sorted sperm produces boys 73% of the time.  Because sperm have a limited life span, it is not possible to run the sample through the machine enough times to get a more highly purified sample.  Presumably, technological improvements will improve the accuracy of the sorting process, but it probably will not be possible to guarantee absolutely the outcome of a pregnancy with this method.

Note that the pregnancy occurs after either artificial insemination with the enriched sperm sample, or after in-vitro fertilization.  No zygotes  are destroyed in the process.  As a result, the use of flow cytometry does not raise the ethical issues that arise when multiple zygotes are produced, then tested, and the unwanted ones are destroyed.  For this reason, the analysis is simpler.

The ASRM ethics report identifies several potentially negative issues with this kind of gender selection:

They also identified a few potential positives:

They point out that some couples who might otherwise choose to have no children, or to stop having children, might decide to go ahead and have a child if they can influence the probability of having a child of a preferred gender.  Another issue is that the use of pre-conception gender selection could result in fewer abortions.  They also point out the argument:

[U]nless substantial harm to others resulted from a reproductive practice, couples should in many circumstances be permitted to act on preferences for children of a particular gender.

This brings up a critical issue.  Regardless of whether the practice of gender selection is good or bad, the decision about whether to impose governmental restriction is a separate issue.  Also, even if the government does get involved in regulation, it does not necessary follow that the procedure should be prohibited.  In some cases, regulation short of prohibition may be appropriate.  This is the position the government has taken with cigarette smoking, for example: the government restricts cigarette use to adults, restricts sales and advertising, and taxes the product heavily, but it does not prohibit smoking entirely. 

The ASRM seems to have the position that unless substantial harm to others can be demonstrated, the practice of gender selection should be permitted.   Analysis of this is not entirely straightforward.  They point out that the use of flow cytometry for gender selection is costly and consumes significant medical resources.  Would it be better if these resources be diverted elsewhere?  If so, does the medical profession have a moral obligation to direct the resources to where they will do the most good? 

Regarding the question of psychological harm to the children, or to society, this is an area in which there are many opinions, but few clear answers.  I was not able to locate any actual studies on the subject.  (Although I did not look very hard, and it is not a literature that I routinely read; there could be a study out there somewhere.)  The post on Evangelical Outpost suggests that there is something inherently dehumanizing about gender selection, even when used for medical purposes.  This is a concern expressed also by the President's Council on Bioethics (PCBE).  The potential for gender selection to be dehumanizing is something that could have an impact on specific individuals, namely, the parents involved in the procedure or their children; or, it could have an impact on society as a whole.  This is what was referred to as an "intangible harm" in the Hastings Center report, Reprogenetics and Public Policy (470KB PDF).   The Hastings report includes expressions of concern that use of gender selection technology could lower the overall "well-being" of society.  But they point out also that restrictions on individual liberty could have the same effect. 

The potential for sex ratio imbalance is a serious one.  There are countries, such as China, where the sex ratio is abnormal.  According to a Guardian newspapers report, there are 116.9 males for every 100 females in China.  Futurepundit reports  that the sex ratio was 121 in China in the early 1990's.  (The normal ratio is 105.)  This indicates that it is possible for parental preference to have a large impact on the sex ration of the population.  This is due to "human intervention."  However, since gender selection via flow cytometry is expensive and requires so much time from specialists, it is not likely that it could be done often enough to have a measurable impact on the sex ratio of the population.  It is assumed widely that use of gender selection would result in a preponderance of boys, but so far, that has not been the case.  Most couples who are looking for a child to adopt, want girls.  Clinics offering Microsort® gender selection report that more clients want girls.  If the technology advances to the point that XY sorting is as accurate at XX sorting, that could change. 

The concern that gender selection could be a kind of sex discrimination, or that it could reinforce gender prejudice is another intangible risk, difficult to study objectively.  However, the ASRM found the possibility to be sufficiently disturbing that they consider it to be a major argument against nonmedical gender selection.  They raise an interesting point, though, that could come only from those with experience in a clinical setting:

Medical techniques intended for other purposes have the potential of being used for sex selection without the provider's knowledge or consent.  Because patients are entitled to obtain personal medical information, including information about the sex of their fetus, it will sometimes be impossible for health professionals to avoid unwitting participation in sex selection. 

This is an important point, because it provides an argument against governmental prohibition of the technology.  The technologies are inherently dual-use, since they do have medical purposes that are generally regarded to be appropriate. 

Reading through the various news reports, committee reports, and blogger commentary, I have not seen any argument that is sufficiently compelling to warrant governmental prohibition against gender selection.  Furthermore, the Hastings Center report mentioned above includes a consideration of possible governmental regulation, but they express doubt that the government could act quickly enough to put such regulations in place before there is a substantial precedent set by current and near-future private behaviors.  Indeed, even as the PCBE has been considering the issue since 2002, and many couples already have had children using flow cytometry based gender selection, there still is no law regulating the practice.  Therefore, at present, the only regulations are the self-imposed ethical guidelines developed by the ASRM. SInce the ACOG ethics committee concluded that nonmedical gender selection is inappropriate, they did not recommend ethical guidelines for this practice.  The ASRM ethics committee reached the opposite conclusion, and they did make recommendations for the ethical implementation of nonmedical gender selection:

[P]hysicians should be free to offer preconception gender selection in clinical settings to couples who are seeking gender variety in their offspring if the couples [1] are fully informed of the risks of failure, [2] affirm that they will fully accept children of the opposite sex if the preconception gender selection fails, [3] are counseled about having unrealistic expectations about the behavior of children of the preferred gender, and [4] are offered the opportunity to participate in research to track and assess the safety, efficacy, and demographics of preconception selection. Practitioners offering assisted reproductive services are under no legal or ethical obligation to provide nonmedically indicated preconception methods of gender selection.

I suggest that the ASRM guidelines be implemented in a structured fashion.  That is, they should develop a mandatory curriculum to ensure that couples contemplating nonmedical gender selection are fully informed about the procedure and the attendant ethical issues; that true informed consent is obtained; and that specialized counseling should be available post-delivery. 

Even if there is no role for governmental prohibition of nonmedical gender selection, there still is a role for governmental intervention.  Specifically, the FDA should be involved in their usual role of testing for safety and effectiveness before any products or procedures are marketed, as well as monitoring postmarking surveillance studies.  State congressional committees should develop legislation regarding safe implementation of the procedures, as well as mandating pre-procedure counseling and standards for informed consent. 

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Bioethics of Gender Selection, part I

I have decided to write about the bioethics of gender selection.  Gender Selection, also known as sex control or sex selection, is the practice of employing technology to influence the gender of a child, either prior to, or during the process of, conception.  In this article, I will talk about the reasons for writing this, and the sources of information that I have located so far.  Later, possibly tomorrow, I will write about the various ethical issues that have been discussed in the various sources.  I may or may not get to my own conclusion at that time, or I might write that even later.  We'll see.

How I decided to write this: Last Friday, I got to go in to work late.  Well, 10AM is late.  It turns out that whenever there is a little sliver of time in my schedule, if I don't keep it a secret, somebody else thinks of a way to fill it.  So five weeks ago, we took out mare, April, to be bred.  According to the breeding contract, we had to get an ultrasound done to verify and date the pregnancy.  My wife, having her right leg in a beautiful purple cast, knew that she would not be able to help the vet.  As a result, she scheduled to vet to come on Friday morning. 

So here I am, Friday morning, getting my work clothes on.  "Honey, is there any way you could stay and help the vet with the ultrasound?" 

"Yeah, I guess."  Off with the Dockers and Rockports, on with the jeans and Muck boots.  The vet comes about a half hour late.  We go out and I get April.  She skittish because she's seen the vet's van come up the drive.  Fifteen minutes of cajoling later, we're in the barn and I'm holding the horse while the vet puts this big probe up where it can see what it needs to see.  On the screen, I see the little amniotic sac with what looks like a blurry comma inside. 

Merely 15 minutes late, I get to the hospital. I probably smell like a pregnant mare, but everyone is too polite to say anything. 

On the weekend, I run across some articles mentioning something called "gender selection."  This refers to the process of trying to make sure you get a child with the set of chromosomes that you want, thereby assuring the birth of a girl, if that is what you want; or a boy, if so desired.  BTW, I found out about this after reading a post on McConchie on Bioethics.  His post addresses the issue of people having babies specifically for the purpose of  obtaining tissue for donation to another child who has a life-threatening illness.  This issue is related to the issue of gender selection, because it uses some of the same methodology, but the ethical issues are different.

Later, I read on Marcland  that Marc and his wife are expecting a baby soon. 

This synchronicity sparking some spontaneity, I decided to collect some information about gender selection and write about it.  I read Dan McChonchie's post, then Joe Carter's (Evangelical Outpost).  Then I looked for more blogger commentary; I did not find much.  There is a post  by Jeremy Beard on Livejournal, and one  by Albert Mohler on Crosswalk.  The Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics  has a mention, but it is merely a link to a newspaper article in which one of their professors is quoted. 

There have been a few news articles recently.  The first ones I found were these:
Additional information:
[...] After describing preconception gender selection techniques, this report will discuss the ethical arguments for and against the use of such techniques. Drawing on the Ethics Committee’s previous analysis of preimplantation genetic diagnosis for sex selection, it recognizes the serious ethical concerns that such a practice raises and counsels against its widespread use. It concludes, however, that sex selection aimed at increasing gender variety in families may not so greatly increase the risk of harm to children, women, or society that its use should be prohibited or condemned as unethical in all cases. [...]

The committee rejects the position that sex selection should be performed on demand...because this position may reflect and encourage sex discrimination.

Some background points gleaned from these sources:

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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Bush's Speech

from Arabnews.comThere is nothing about Mr. Bush's latest Iraq speech so far on the Tehran Times  website, nor on Russia TodayThe Straights Times  (Singapore) has a reprint of a generic AP article.  Arabnews  (Saudi Arabia), likewise, has no report yet; they do, however, have a cartoon showing Bush falling off a bicycle.  Nothing on Jerusalem PostKaleej Times  (UAE), interestingly, has a short article that mainly echoes the statements John Kerry made after the speech:

Bush said the United States would stay in Iraq until it was free and democratic and suggested that more US soldiers might have to be sent to stop enemy forces bent on destroying the new government.  In response, Kerry said: “That's going to require the president to genuinely reach out to our allies so the United States doesn't have to continue to go it alone and to create the stability necessary to allow the people of Iraq to move forward. That's what our troops deserve, and that's what our country and the world need at this moment.”

Kerry has said on the campaign trail that Bush has damaged relations with allies to the point that only a new president can repair them.

Kaleej Times also has a short article, containing some critical statements  that Madeline Albright made after the speech. 

In this post, I refer to news reports that came out after Bush's speech today.  (Note that it is late at night in the Middle East right now, and most of the news websites there seem to refrain from updating continuously through the night.)  There isn't much blogger commentary out there yet, although I'm sure dozens of people are writing theirs as I write this.  At The Rest of the Story,  I include more quotes about the speech, and conclude with my own comments.

Madeline Albright (SecState under Clinton), as quoted from CNN in the Kaleej Times, stated:

“He laid out five points (on the future of Iraq) but they raised as many questions as he provided ideas about,” Albright told CNN.

Albright said Bush did little to assure the public that Iraqis would support the new government, or how to improve security, rebuild the country, bring in additional foreign troops, or hold elections.

from AljazeeraA Sydney (Australia) news site has an article  headlined "Attacks will get 'more brutal', warns Bush." 

Aljazeera does not have an article up yet about Bush's speech, although they do have an article abbot the latest UN resolution, accompanied by an unflattering picture of Bush.   Japan Times has nothing yet.  The Washington Post (United States of America) has an article about the speech:

A Speech Meant to Rally Public Support Doesn't Answer Key Questions

By Robin Wright and Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, May 25, 2004; Page A12

With only five weeks before the transition in Iraq and five months before the U.S. elections, President Bush last night called for more patience, more time, more resources and more support to transform troubled Iraq.

[...] Nor did Bush try to answer some of the looming questions that have triggered growing skepticism and anxiety at home and abroad about the final U.S. costs, the final length of stay for U.S. troops, or what the terms will be for a final U.S. exit from Iraq. After promising "concrete steps," the White House basically repackaged stalled U.S. policy as a five-step plan.

The Sacramento Bee (USA) has an article with a positive headline but mostly negative content.

Bush gives plans for new Iraqi government
By DAVID WESTPHAL, McClatchy Washington Bureau
Last Updated 9:05 pm PDT Monday, May 24, 2004

[...] Bush reaffirmed a June 30 target date for transferring "full sovereignty" to an interim government and touted a new overture to win international support at the United Nations. He also offered a fresh formulation for why success in Iraq is fundamental to fighting terrorism.

"The rise of a free and self-governing Iraq will deny terrorists a base of operation, discredit their narrow ideology, and give momentum to reformers across the region," Bush said in a speech at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. "This will be a decisive blow to terrorism at the heart of its power and a victory for the security of America and the civilized world."

[...]  Although the administration has been unable to prove pre-war theories of a strong link between deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaida terrorist network, Bush sought in his speech to put Iraq squarely in the context of the fight against terrorism.

Drawing a straight line beginning with the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington and continuing on to Baghdad, Bush portrayed Iraq as a war of necessity.

[...]  Touting a five-point plan, Bush said the United States would "hand over authority to a sovereign Iraqi government, help establish security, continue rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, encourage more international support and move toward a national election that will bring forward new leaders empowered by the Iraqi people."

There are other articles, but I did not find any that gave a positive impression.  CNN, for example, leads with this:

Bush outlines Iraq transition
Speech was first of six before June 30 handover

Tuesday, May 25, 2004 Posted: 12:10 AM EDT (0410 GMT)

[...]  "Despite past disagreements, most nations have indicated strong support for the success of a free Iraq, and I am confident they will share in the responsibility of assuring that success," he said.

The CNN site also has video of the speech, and the text of the draft UN resolution.  And earlier today, CNN had this to report, about an earlier speech:

Bush's shaky base
Monday, May 24, 2004 Posted: 10:59 AM EDT (1459 GMT)

[..] As ACU vice chairman, Devine was privileged to be part of a pre-dinner head-table reception with President Bush. However, Devine chose not to shake hands with the president. Furthermore, he is one of about 20 percent of Republicans that polls classify as not committed to voting for Bush's re-election.

[...]  What most bothers Devine and other conservatives is steady growth of government under this Republican president. If Devine's purpose in devoting his life to politics was to limit government's reach, he feels betrayed that Bush has outstripped his liberal predecessors in domestic spending. A study by Brian Riedl for the conservative Heritage Foundation last December showed government spending had exceeded $20,000 per household for the first time since World War II. Riedl called it a "colossal expansion of the federal government since 1998."

Basically, most of the news items focus on Mr. Bush's persistent attempts to imply a connection between the war in Iraq and the War of Terror, his insistence that the transfer of power on June 30,2004, and his statement that we will transfer full sovereignty.  Of course, full sovereignty would mean that Iraq would be able to arrest, take to trial, and convict US soldiers and contractors implicated in the Abu Ghraib scandal.  That obviously never will happen.  And the attempt to link the War in Iraq to the War of Terror is a little like the McDonald's commercials that show a lot of smiling children.  They never say that your kids will be happy if you get them a happy meal, but watching the commercial leaves you with that impression anyway.  Likewise, Bush did not state explicitly that the War in Iraq was an antiterrorism operation, but it sure seems that way, listening to him talk about it.  Bush did not repeat his apology for Abu Ghraib, but he should have.  This omission calls into question the sincerity of his previous apology. 

On the positive side, I will say that the speech was among the better ones that Mr. Bush has given.   No gross mispronunciations, grammar generally was acceptable, and he did not make himself look bad with poor oration.  Unfortunately, the style is there, but the substance is not.  There really was nothing new in the speech.  As Albright said:

“It was a little bit more organized"  

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Sunday, May 23, 2004

Damn Liberal Media
Trying To Hide White House Scandal

In the 5/22/2004 Detroit Free Press -- widely regarded as the more liberal of the two major Detroit papers -- there is an article about the allegation that  Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi obtained secret intelligence information that later was passed on to Iran.  The headline of the article:

U.S. suspects key Iraqi passed secrets to Iran

May 22, 2004

This article started on the front page, but below the fold.  Buried deep in section A are the paragraphs;

Two U.S. officials said evidence suggests that Arras Habib, Chalabi's security chief, is a longtime agent of Iran's intelligence service, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security.

[...]The two U.S. officials said Habib is suspected of giving classified U.S. intelligence to officials in Iran, with whom Chalabi has long had close ties. Habib is now a fugitive.

A U.S. intelligence official said the evidence of Habib's ties to Iran includes intercepts and some documentation. The official said Habib provided sensitive information, some of it classified above top secret, to the Iranians.

The intelligence official said Habib also was the Iraqi National Congress official who handled most of the Iraqi defectors, including one code-named Curveball, who provided much of the fabricated, exaggerated and unconfirmed information about Iraqi weapons programs and links to terrorism that President George W. Bush used in making his case for invading Iraq.

"The bottom line here is that much of the information the administration had about Iraq may have come from an Iranian agent," said the intelligence official. "If that's true, this is a huge scandal."

Isn't it clever of the liberal media to make us actually turn the page and read the entire article to find the comment: "If that's true, this is a huge scandal"?

In this post, I review the news items and blogger posts quickly, boiling it all down to a few essential points.  I conclude with a rant about the misguided US foreign policy, pointing out how incredibly -- and predictably -- foolish it was to think we could create a benevolent government by force.

In reviewing what has been written about the Chalabi affair (please, not "Chalabigate") key points appear to be: Chalabi was put in a position that one normally would fill with a trustworthy person.  Apparently, much of the US Administration did trust him, although the CIA did not.  Most commentators wonder if the US was duped, or whether they new all along that Chalabi had these connections to Iranian intelligence.  Were we using him, or was he using us?  Or both? 

There is more than a hint of scandal here, but most people do not appear to think there will be huge repercussions.  Most do not even mention the possibility of scandal that could reach the White House.  My impression is that the US Administration was trying to use Chalabi to set up some kind of semi-stable government in order to meet the deadline for transfer of sovereignty.   Unfortunately, this now seems unlikely to work.  Good thing, too, since the situation easily could have given rise to an all-to-familiar scenario:  The USA uses a foreign leader to impose some kind of short-term solution to a political problem, but unwittingly sets us up for bigger problems later on. 

Conceptually, this reminds me of the now-discredited practice of Eugenics.  One hundred years ago, scientists and politicians thought that they could improve mankind by enacting policies of selective breeding.  There are many problems with this, both ethical and scientific.  One of the main scientific problems, though, is that living organisms are highly complex, individually; and, they have to function within a network of other highly complex organisms.  We simply are not smart enough to meddle with such a complex set of interacting systems.  As tempting as it may be to think that we could tweak the human genome to improve it, the more likely outcome would be that we would just screw things up worse than they already are.  If you are not already familiar with the history of the Eugenics movement in the US, please peruse the Eugenics Archive (link above.)  It is shocking.  And it could happen again. 

To illustrate: imagine that we somehow defined a genetic composition that seemed ideal, and that we somehow managed to create a fairly homogenous genetic composition across the entire population.  What would happen?  The entire species probably would be wiped out.  We know that, from time to time, a virus that previously had affected only animals, makes the leap into the human population.  That appears to be what happened with SARS, and with AIDS.  In both cases, the only thing that saved us was our genetic diversity.  Without that diversity, basically, we're toast.

Like biological systems, political systems are pretty complicated.  Yes, there have been some political success stories.  But for every political movement that created something good, there probably have been hundreds that have been dismal failures.  With this in mind, it is clear that going into Iraq was an enormous gamble.  It may be that we will straighten things out eventually, but in my view, it is even more likely that we will end up with a bigger mess than what we started out with.  One that the entire world will have to deal with for decade; perhaps centuries.  The only safeguard is diversity of, not genetic material, but diversity of political ideas. 

There is another conceptual reminder here.  From time to time I have been involved in training students in psychology and social work.  Most of them are pretty bright, if overly idealistic.  Some seem to have the notion that if you are just nice enough to people, they will come around to your way of thinking.  Usually, this idealism fades rather quickly, once confronted with the realities of polysubstance abuse, domestic violence, major mental illness, and a social service network that is in tatters after years of compassionate conservatism. 

Sometimes I mutter the phrase to myself, "a thousand point of darkness." 

Improving the life of a single person often takes years of study, combined with a team of professionals, working in close coordination, lots of resources, and a steady vision of what is possible versus what is a pipe dream.  Improving the fate of an entire country is an undertaking of such overwhelming complexity, that meaningful success is doubtful under the best of circumstances. 

In Iraq, we do not have the best of circumstances, nor do we seem to have a clear view of what is realistic, and what is foolishly idealistic. 

Back to the point: if indeed Chalabi is connected with or sympathetic to the Iranian agenda, setting him up in power in Iraq could be step along the process of having Iran (90% of Iranians are Shia) become closely allied with Iraq (60%  Shia).  Such a development could seriously upset whatever balance of power there is in the Middle East.  We went into Iraq with an idealistic, sophomoric misunderstanding of the complexities of alliances and divisions. 

Of course, such an alliance would not have to be a bad thing.  But if it came to be led by a single radical and militant faction, it could be very dangerous indeed.  Without a diversity of political opinions, something very bad is inevitable. 

By the way, this is true in the USA as well.  Let one party get control of everything, and we are bound for destruction.  I'm not kidding about this.  It would be very bad indeed.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is as naïve as a sophomore social work student.  (Or medical student, or nursing student, etc.; I don't mean to pick on social workers.) 

A couple of years ago, the political system in the United States of America was dangerously close to being monolithic.  Fortunately, some people are wising up and it now is unlikely that we will see a single party wielding so much power.  Let the problems we are having in Iraq remind us of the folly that awaits us if we allow this to happen. 

If it turns out that Chalabi was a tool of the Iranian government, it will look very bad for the White House. But they will deserve of the repercussions thereof.

The blogger commentary that is enlightening is here:

War and Piece:  May 22, 2004
Oliver WIllis: The Fall of Dick Cheney's Pal
American Assembler: Ahmad Chalabi’s Fall From Grace
Talking Points Memo:  May 22, 2004
Command Post: Chalabi May Have Spied for Iran (Updated)
King of Zembla: Piss on Chalabi Before He Pisses on You
The Commons: Chalabi not CIA Friendly
Ilyka Damen: Oh My

The most enlightening news links that are pertinent are these:

WaPo: Chalabi Aides Suspected of Spying for Iran
Newsday: Chalabi aide is suspected spy
NY Newsday: Chalabi turning to politics for survival

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