Wednesday, March 16, 2005

I Really Wanted to Like Condi, but...

Did you know that there are several blogs devoted to adolation of Condoleeza Rice?

I suppose I can understand that; after all, I wanted to like her.  I wanted to believe that not all the members of the Bush Inner Circle were somehow tainted.  But, alas, it was not to be.

I was wondering what to blog about, and thought I would write about the ppopular notion that the war in Iraq has started a stampede toward Democrat principles and practices in the Middle East.  As is my usual practice, I checked around to see if anyone had already said what I had to say.  It turns out that Ann Arbor's own Juan Cole just published an article (view ad to get pass to read article; also see his blog, here) on the subject, in Salon.  Needless to say, he wrote about the subject in more detail, and with greater authority, than I ever could.

Then I remembered a piece I heard on the radio today.  Dr. Rice is in south Asia, on a much-publicized foreign relations tour. 
Rice says US opposes India-Iran pipeline:
[India News]: NEW DELHI, March 16 :

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Wednesday in New Delhi reiterated U.S. opposition to a gas pipeline from Iran to India, local media said.

During a press conference after her meeting with Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, Rice said it was necessary to look at the broader question as to how India meets its energy needs over the next decade."We believe that a broad energy dialogue should be launched with India because the needs are there," Indian news Web site Sify.com reported.

Rice said the United States had already expressed its opposition to an agreement last month by Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers to go ahead with the $4.5 billion pipeline.The project will link Iran's South Pars gas field to India through Pakistan's troubled southwestern region. [...]
Why oppose the pipeline?  Such a pipeline would require cooperation between India and Pakistan.  Both countries have nuclear weapons, and they have fought three wars since 1947, and have had several deadly skirmishes.  It would seem that anything that promoted cooperation would be in the best interest of the entire planet.  From the Washington Post:
The United States, which accuses Iran of trying to secretly develop nuclear weapons, has objected to the pipeline.

"Our views concerning Iran are well-known, we have communicated to the Indian government our concerns about the pipeline," Rice told reporters after talks with Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh.
Another news agency from India adds this perspective:
Chennai, Mar 14 (PTI)

The United States was opposed to a gas pipeline from Iran to India due to a law, which prohibits Teheran's economic expansion, unless it stops its support to terrorists, Teresita Schaffer, former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, said here today.  The US "concerns' on the pipeline had no direct link with Iran's nuclear programme, she said, giving a talk on `Security in India's neighbourhood: the view from Washington', organised by the Observer Research Foundation and The Department of Politics & Public Administration, University of Madras.

The Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) disallows any move that would aid Iran's economic expansion as the country was a "safe haven for terrorists", Schaffer said, [...]
So Teresita Schaffer, who sounds like an authoritative source, informs us that it is contrary to US law to aid economic expansion in Iran.  Of course, India and Pakistan are not bound by US law, but at least this explains our opposition.

However, Ms. Shaffer goes on to say:
[...] Schaffer said, adding that she personally felt that US should not interfere in the pipeline through Pakistan, as it would be a tremendous boost for building the India-Pakistan peace process.

"Personally speaking, I don't think the US should oppose the pipeline from Iran, as the pipeline to India through Pakistan would be a constituency of peace between New Delhi and Islamabad," Schaffer, who is now director, South Asia Program, Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington, said. [...]
This defines the issue as a question of balancing values: which is more important, inhibited the economic expansion of a country that (allegedly) promotes terrorism, or promoting peace between two nuclear rivals?  A knotty question, perhaps, but no more Gordian than most matters of foreign policy.  One could make a case either way. 

If my son were listening to me talk about this, by now he would be gesturing impatiently, urging me to get to the point.  Ethical dilemmas are about as rare as hen's feathers.  What does this have to do with liking or not liking Dr. Rice? 

Dr. Rice, apparently, is taking the position that it is wrong to contribute to the economic expansion of Iran.  Is that the issue? Or is there another agenda here?  Tehran Times informs us:
A senior State Department official said later the U.S. is ready to cooperate with India in the field of civilian nuclear power to help it meet its energy needs.
Even that is not enough to turn me against Dr. Rice.  First, I don't trust the Tehran Times.  Second, even if the US opposes the pipeline so that our sagging nuclear industry could make a buck or two, that's just business as usual.  A Secretary of State can't be blamed for promoting US economic interests. 

[more impatient gesturing]

OK, get to the point.  The reason I now am tending to dislike Dr. Rice is that she is spouting rank hypocrisy.  The fact is, an American company, Halliburton, has a subsidiary, Halliburton Products and Services Ltd., which is registered in the Cayman Islands.  Halliburton Products and Services has done business in Iran.  In fact, in 2003, they did Dick Cheney is still on the Halliburton payroll.  When confronted about this hypocrisy, a spokesperson for Halliburton had this to say:
Wendy Hall, a spokeswoman for Halliburton, said in an interview with me last year that Halliburton may not agree with Iran’s “policies or actions” and the company makes “no excuses for their behaviors” but “due to the long-term nature of our business and the inevitability of political and social change, it is neither prudent nor appropriate for our company to establish our own country-by-country foreign policy."

Hall added that "decisions as to the nature of such governments and their actions are better made by governmental authorities and international entities such as the United Nations as opposed to individual persons or companies. Putting politics aside, we and our affiliates operate in countries, to the extent it is legally permissible, where our customers are active as they expect us to provide oilfield services support to their international operations."
Of course, they are not merely "putting politics aside," they are sweeping aside any concern about morality.  Have they changed their ways, now that we all know that the people who reelected them are concerned about moral values?
International Trade Law News
January 30, 2005
Halliburton to Cease Operations in Iran
Iran Freedom Support Act Introduced in Congress

Citing U.S. sanctions on Iran and a poor business climate there, Halliburton Co. announced on Friday that it will no longer conduct future business in Iran once the company's current contractual obligations are finalized. However, Halliburton's CEO said that the company would return to Iran if U.S. sanctions are lifted. Halliburton conducts operations in Iran via Halliburton Products & Services Ltd., a Cayman Islands-registered company with headquarters in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
No.  They may be pulling out of Iran, although I doubt that government sanctions have anything to do with it; more likely, it is the "poor business climate."  Clearly, they will go back as soon as it is profitable to do so. 

I wrote about this at great length, and with great sarcasm, last year.  Then, I was excoriating only Mr. Cheney.  Now that Dr. Rice has come out in support of this duplicity, I guess I can't like her anymore.

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Monday, March 14, 2005

Inflammation Control Gets Fishy;
Lessons in Critical Thinking

The medical establishment was surprised recently when it was confirmed that cox-2 inhibitors could increase the risk of certain kinds of vascular disease.  Although some prior studies had suggested that this might be the case, the evidence was not strong enough to draw any firm conclusions.  One reason for the skepticism was that there was not any obvious mechanism for such an effect.  A study (abstract, editorial summary) in the most recent issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine now hints at such a mechanism. 

The structure of resolvin E1, a potent antiinflammatory lipid derived from omega-3 fatty acids.

Although we tend to think of fat as "bad food," humans in fact need fat to survive.  Some kinds of fat are called essential fats, because we need them and cannot make them from simpler compounds.  Most fats can be synthesized in the human body from other foods, such as carbohydrates.  However, we lack the enzymatic machinery to make the so-called omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.  Actually, we can only add double bonds to a molecule of fat somewhere in the first nine positions. 

The "omega" part of the name refers to the methyl end of the carbon chain.  Omega-3's have a double bond in the third position from that end.  The COOH group is known in organic chemistry as a carboxylic acid group.  By definition, the carbon atom in the carboxylic acid group is the first carbon atom in the numbering system.  Since a carboxylic acid can contain any number of carbon atoms, the last one is called omega, rather than being given a number.

So why does this matter?  It turns out that the omega-3 fatty acids have several roles in the body.  They also serve as precursors for a newly-recognized class of antiinflammatory lipids: the resolvins
This group recently identified a new class of aspirin-triggered bioactive lipids, called resolvins, the activity of which may in part explain the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids. Resolvins are synthesized from the omega-3 fatty acids by cellular enzymes and are potent counterregulators of inflammation in mice. The main bioactive component of this class of lipids was identified in mice and named resolvin E1.
In a study in which volunteers were given low-dose aspirin and fish oil, the researchers were able to find a type of resolvin, resolvin E1 (RvE1), in the blood of the volunteers.  Subsequent studies showed that RvE1 has a variety of antiinflammatory properties.  They suggest that selective cox-2 inhibitors might block the synthesis of RvE1.  Aspirin actually promotes the conversion of a form of omega-3 fatty acid (eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA) into RvE1. 

This illustrates an important concept.  It is common for early studies to be disregarded because the findings do not fit in with what we know about biochemical mechanisms.  The first study to show an association between Vioxx and vascular disease did not raise much alarm, possibly for this reason.  I am not suggesting that we necessarily should believe the results of studies that contradict our theoretical understanding of how the world works; that would be ridiculous.  However, I do think we need to avoid the trap of immediately rejecting any observations that do not fit our favorite paradigm.

Again donning my Perpetual Sophomore hat -- which has been getting a lot of use, lately -- this leads me to some idle speculation.  What would happen if people who took cox-2 inhibitors also took one baby aspirin (81mg) per day?  Would they get a good effect for arthritis, with less gastric effect than a full dose of aspirin, and with less cardiovascular risk than with the cox-2 inhibitor alone?  And would people who take fish oil for treatment of depression get a stronger effect if they also took aspirin?

Switching to my College Graduate hat, I would have to be skeptical of such conjectures.  Even so, idle speculation can be useful, so long as we do not take it too seriously.  I would not, for example, make any health-related decisions based upon such conjectures; I would consider doing some additional studies ... if I had a Serious Researcher hat. 

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