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Another day of drama looms for Iran

Thursday is shaping up to be another huge day of demonstrations and counter-demonstrations in Iran, with pro- and anti-Ahmadinejad factions looking to demonstrate their ability to bring people into the streets for 22 Bahman, the anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Republic. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called on the nation to "give all arrogant [Western] powers a punch in the mouth" by showing their support for the revolution and, presumably, him. The credibility of both sides is at stake.

Of course, the regime in Tehran is taking no chances -- arresting protest leaders, shutting down Gmail Wednesday, and restricting text-messaging services in the hopes of keeping the opposition from organizing and getting the word out. Already there are signs that reaching people within Iran is more difficult than usual. And Al Arabiya reports that foreign journalists -- many of whom are back in the country for the first time since last summer -- will be allowed to cover Ahmadinejad's speech only, and not the rallies themselves.

These are not the actions of a confident government.

And yet, there are still few reliable reports suggesting that the regime is fracturing. I've seen unsourced assertions saying so, as well as unverifiable accounts traced back to the National Resistance Council of Iran, a group dominated by the odious Mujahedin-e Khalq. (A great example of unduly credulous reporting is Richard Spencer describing the NCRI as an "umbrella opposition group in exile.") And key swing players like Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani haven't stuck their necks out too far to support the greens (more here).

Be on the lookout for real evidence that elements of the regime -- policemen, militia members, etc. -- are refusing to crack heads. My suspicion is that it's still too early for us to see that sort of fragmentation on a large scale; Iran's economy is going to need to get much worse before Ahmadinejad's lower-class base starts to turn on the regime in significant numbers.  But I'm happy to be proven wrong.

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What We're Reading: Snowmaggedon Edition

What the Foreign Policy staff are reading while trapped in the blizzard:

Preeti Aroon: “War in Iran: British Join Soviet Allies,” on page 39 of the Jan. 26, 1942, issue of Life magazine. Google Books let’s you browse old issues of Life, and it’s fun checking out the old photos and advertisements.

Rebecca Frankel: "Unrolled, Unbridled and Unabashed." While it's not likely to "steam up" your wintry day, this NY Times review by Edward Rothstein of the Museum of Sex's latest exhibit, "Rubbers: The Life, History & Struggle of the Condom," will certainly peak your interest. The details range from that of romantic legend to obscure tidbits about venereal disease. The inventor of the condom has never been confirmed but apparently, history's most infamous ladies man, Cassanova was an avid user of what he called he called "English frock coats" that appreciatively "[saved] the fair sex from anxiety." What a dream boat.

Blake Hounshell: The Greatest Trade Ever: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of How John Paulson Defied Wall Street and Made Financial History, by Gregory Zuckerman. John Paulson was never thought of as a titan of Wall Street before the subprime mortgage meltdown, but the hedge-fund manager used the crisis to score record-shattering returns of nearly 600% in 2008. In reviewing the book, Malcolm Gladwell concocted a dubious theory that successful businessmen are actually not huge risk takers, but Zuckerman’s reporting doesn’t support that theory: It was touch and go all the way, and there was a good chance the government or a consortium of bankers would wise up before Paulson could reap the rewards of his foresight. Highly recommended.

Joshua Keating: A Little War That Shook the World: Georgia, Russia, and the Future of the West, by Ronald Asmus. The newsiest bit of this book is the revelation that the Bush administration considered military action to counter the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008. But more broadly, Asmus, a former deputy assistant secretary of state under the Clinton administration, argues that the West allowed the situation in the South Caucasus to deteriorate to the point where war was inevitable. While not letting Mikheil Saakashvili off the hook for the disastrous decision to attack South Ossetia on Aug. 7, Asmus convincingly explains why it seemed the prudent course of action at the time. It's a fascinating tick-tock though certainly not the last word on the subject. 

Christina Larson:  Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory by Peter Hessler recounts his 7,000 mile roadtrip through the Middle Kingdom. On a day when the capital of the free world has been shut down by snow, it's nice to imagine zipping across the backroads of rural China with Hessler, the author of Oracle Bones and longtime Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker. Moreover, in the midst of a blizzard of recent headlines about rising U.S.-China political tensions, it's nice to be taken into the lives of ordinary Chinese people whom Hessler meets, and to be reminded how much hope, serendipity and muddle still define the interior landscape of the rising superpower.

Annie Lowrey: In honor of Snowpocalypse 3...well, really, just because it is good, I'm in the midst of reading Moe Tkacik's 8,000-word critical review of the major financial crisis books in the new Baffler. The question remains whether Tkacik's brilliant article will recommend any of them.

Britt Peterson: As a huge fan of Scandinavian detective novels, I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment in the Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest. I'm told by globetrotter friends who've managed to get copies of the British translation that it's better than the somewhat preachy and disappointing second installment, while not quite as good as the gripping, morally complex, if a little bizarre and overstuffed first installment. Not surprisingly, the parts I love the best are the magazine-nerd scenes of daily editorial life at Mikael Blomkvist's muckraking journal, Millennium: decisions about when to pull and when to run pieces, staffing problems, difficult writers, confrontations with sources, etc. 

What are you reading?