The Intellectual Wilderness There is nothing more useless than doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

2009.07.23 21:01

AIDS Research Declining: Perspective of a Former AIDSVAX Investor

Filed under: Science & Tech — zxq9 @ 21:01

An almost comical article was released by the AFP today trumpeting the first human clinical trials of an African-developed AIDS vaccine. While on the surface this certainly sounds great and hopeful, the fact is the vaccine trial is not only likely of very little statistical significance (the pool of patients is only 48 people) the real research money — and therefore the real brains — for AIDS prevention research is in other areas.

But why would AIDS research money be in any area other than vaccines these days? Just a few years ago several now-forgotten subsidiaries of the most respected pharmaceutical companies were hard at work trying to develop a vaccine for AIDS. This was natural as every human in the world was a potential (and almost certain) customer, so even a very cheap vaccine would see at least 6 billion units sold as quickly as they could be produced. This is not even counting the market position one would have for the duration of the patent’s life, as the vaccine would almost certainly be a worldwide child vaccination requirement.

The fact that the vaccines never made it to market (and most never even to trials) and the striking reality that nearly all of these companies or subsidiaries no longer sponsor AIDS vaccine research or in some cases even exist is a testament both to the difficulty of this sort of research and the negative effects of intellectual property threats from a huge number of sources.

The basic problem with medical research is that it simply is not free. A common misconception in the pharmaceutically un-invested public is that pharmaceuticals are produced by companies which are dark, evil and seek to control life, death and the money involved with those two. People further assume that somehow the sort of extremely difficult and exhaustive research required to develop truly innovative and life-saving drugs and techniques is not worth the enormous effort (represented by money) required for such research and that companies have no right to recoup the billions they spend annually on such research by charging market prices for drugs.

The drug research industry has seen a huge contraction in recent years, particularly in areas such as AIDS prevention research and drugs simply because they are afraid of investing the time and money required to produce a stable product only to have their intellectual rights trampled and product stolen.

But that’s ridiculous!” was the first response I got to this. It is not. Consider that every populist government on the planet and nearly every left-leaning political party or private organization has plainly stated that any technical knowledge which has the potential to reduce or eradicate AIDS will and must be appropriated in the public interest. No compensation is mentioned here and none is intended. The image of drug companies being only after money (as if that were somehow a crime and against the public interest) and therefore evil greatly assists this assertion and has, indeed, protected such policies and the men who promote them from any backlash. They have, in fact, usurped the moral high-ground and made their intended theft appear moral — and amazingly made working hard and spending money to eradicate AIDS with the expectation of being compensated for this effort appear evil. Amazing, isn’t it?

French and Canadian health consortia have both stated that they will strike the intellectual property rights of whatever company first successfully develops an AIDS vaccine within their jurisdictions. Under their proposed programs government-subsidized generic drug makers are the ones who will provide the “public service” of producing at-cost generic AIDS vaccinations for everyone. This sentiment sounds great to anyone not actually involved in trying to find an AIDS vaccine… or to anyone who lacks an understanding of how all the medical miracles we take for granted today have come into being (not to mention the mountain of other miracle gadgets that make modern life what it is… from elevators to airplanes).

I personally was heavily invested in more than one company trying to develop an AIDS vaccine back in the days when that was a popular and forward thinking thing to do. I invested money not simply because I want to see AIDS done away with (I enjoy philandering enough to have a personal interest in seeing this disease wiped out, after all) but most importantly because I want to see a decent return on my investment capital.

In the end, I have the intellectual and operational capacity as an individual to avoid contracting AIDS under nearly all circumstances, so I am much less worried about contracting AIDS personally than I am getting a decent return on my money. I am not unique in this regard. Saving the world simply doesn’t make you any money. I tried it for years, risking my own life in the process, and you just walk away with divorces under your belt, kids who don’t know you and a home country that “respects” you from afar but doesn’t understand or care to know you as a person anymore. However, investing money in things that are inherently useful (and therefore worth money) is something that is easy to believe in, no matter how cynical the world has made you, and the pinnacle of functionality for humans is something that has the potential to save their very lives from something like AIDS.

But the problem with such a thing is that everybody who doesn’t have anything to do with the effort wants it, and not just wants it bad enough to pay for it (which is your whole angle as an investor) but wants it bad enough to steal it. Enough of them want to steal it that they will vote together to make the process of stealing it legal. So in the end you can invest billions in an AIDS vaccine and the only thing that will ever come of it is for people to not thank you and repay you, but to steal the product of your long labor in a flurry of moral self-certainty and self-righteously call you an “evil pharmaceutical profiteer”. Some way to thank the group who worked so long an hard to save the world from AIDS.

Where is the fun in that? Lose my investment while the bleeding hearts pat themselves on the back for what amounts to intellectual property theft leaving all those who worked hard on the project to wonder what happened and why they are suddenly unable to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labor instead of looking for jobs or investment opportunities in another sector. After all, once research is proven to be unprofitable, does anyone imagine smart money would continue to fund smart researchers only to repeat the painful experience of being legally robbed? Research is a business and it takes huge sums of money to pay huge teams of talented researchers who can demand appropriately huge salaries for committing years of their lives to this extremely difficult and deep research. Researchers are easy to come by, but motivated, insightful, good researchers of the caliber a private concern are willing to pay top money for are frighteningly rare.

So… to bring a rambling article to its focus: What happened to all those very promising trial vaccines and the companies that were producing them? They all shut down. Funding was withdrawn, people were let go, the information collected across thousands of man-years of research was recorded, sealed and secured probably forever, never to see the light of day. The research is simply too controversial. It appears that nobody is ever going to let an investor or company make a dime off of an AIDS vaccine, at least not while it is still a political topic instead of an actual disease that actually infects Real People(TM) in the minds of billions of people around the world. That means all the money will move into other, less controversial areas of research or different sectors of industry entirely and AIDS vaccines will continue to be a largely neglected area of research.

But what about government grants? Those exist, sure, but they provide a mere fraction of what is necessary for research at this level with any speed. There is not a war against AIDS and AIDS is not threatening the national security of a country such as the US which actually has the means to do something about it. So it will fall to the side in favor of more pressing issues such as people who kill citizens by the thousands with airplanes or other political hot button topics such as making sure that Planet English only produces literature using feminine or gender-neutral pronouns (even when it doesn’t make sense) or global warming (which are far less controversial on the surface, despite being based on far shakier science than AIDS research).

As discussed above researchers are easy to come by — the dirtbag, non-productive type, I mean. The sort of researcher who is content to subsist on government grants which require no real way of quantifying, qualifying or substantiating their research for funding justification (which is what the government grant game is all about) are not the same sort of top-notch engineers and researchers hired by companies who have the private investment capital to pay bigger salaries for bigger brains. Research, just like making drugs, is a business after all, and nobody goes to MIT or interns at the Mayo Clinic to end their life poor, merely happy with the “difference” they made on a crap government salary.

The South African trial in most likely will fail, but the failure being based on an extremely limited group (most trials based on prevention, not treatment, utilize a pool of thousands, not tens, for very good reasons) will be easy enough to publicly misinterpret long enough to attract some unwise investors into impulsively tossing their money away at this company in time for the company to close its doors and stop operating at a realized profit — and yes, halting operations after absorbing free bags of stupid money (as opposed to smart money mentioned above) is a business model, though it’s a swindle, not a productive interprise.

This certainly appears to be a stunt that the media is trumpeting out of sheer hope, not based on concrete and promising data. I hope that AIDS gets eradicated; further, I hope that I can profit from that eradication. I’m happy either way, but something nobody is going to stand by (at least not me) for is to see AIDS get eradicated and the people responsible for the work behind it to get nothing but a smirk, a smile, or robbed in return.

2009.07.21 19:12

Future site additions on the way

Filed under: Admin — zxq9 @ 19:12

I am back (again) and can continue where I left off with other projects. On the list of zxq9 additions on the way are:

  • Completion of the Fast Food Fighter blog entries
  • Mirroring and expansion of an older (now defunct) site I once wrote for called BarfDader
  • Possible mirroring and expansion of a few WoTMUD related sites or pages
  • The completion of the special series I was writing on President Obama’s geopolitical challenges
  • The beginnings of the Fast Food Fighter video section layout and script

All of these things are on their way and will probably appear roughly in this order. The Fast Food Fighter section and Obama series are obvious and needed items that have been on my list for a while, but the WoTMUD and BarfDader parts might seem pretty out of place. I am interested for personal reasons in these two projects so I will simply create new sections of the site for them and leave them in relative isolation. Yahoo’s service changes are sending ripples across the internet and a lot of smaller sites which remain of significant interest to a somewhat small segment of the internet population are likely to suddenly disappear soon because of this.

I will probably be occupied for another week or two getting my personal and professional situation realigned once again before I can start any real work here again, but once I do these are the things I plan to get done first.

2009.07.8 20:15

Steve McNair and Sahel Kazemi: Could this be an honor killing?

Filed under: Society — zxq9 @ 20:15

I am certainly not in a position to jump to conclusions about the circumstances surrounding the somewhat bizarre death of Steve McNair and Sahel Kazemi, but the details which have been released so far do open a speculative possibility I have not seen discussed thus far: an Islamic honor killing.

The scene of the crime appears at first glance to be a murder suicide. This, however is circumstantial and the absolute lack of any prior indicators that Kazemi was planning to off herself and murder her boyfriend have given the police pause in their investigation. Normally in a murder suicide, particularly once occurring in a domestic environment and not involving a hostage situation, it is almost inevitable that neighbors, family members and close friends will eventually come forward saying “we were wondering when that was going to happen…” But this time nobody is saying anything of the sort. All anecdotal evidence is that Kazemi was in consistently good spirits, had not received any shocking news recently and that her live-in boyfriend McNair was getting on well with her.

The suicide argument stems from the lay of the scene, with McNair having been shot three times at a distance and once up close (one shot in the head and two in the chest at range, once in the head at point-blank range) and Kazemi having been shot once in the head from extreme close range. A scenario of a murder suicide can easily be imagined from this. The discovery that the gun they were both killed with brought a tighter argument to the suicide theory and will certainly influence police in that direction

But there are mitigating factors, both circumstantial and social. For one Kazemi had long expressed an interest in purchasing a firearm and had been to firing ranges for target practice in the past. None of this raised suspicion as she had a genuine interest in both marksmanship and in self-defense, having had discussed applying for a firearm carrying permit according to her aunt (who was raised as her sister). The purchase of a firearm is therefore does not have to be interpreted as an out-of-character act, but could rather have been a very inconveniently timed purchase. Her frequent comments to ger aunt about feeling vulnerable and personally insecure could also be an indication that she felt under threat from a known source, one which the police investigation simply has not yet revealed. Another primary mitigating factor is the apparent total lack of motive. A happy woman living with a happy man is entirely against the profile of a female murder-suicide suspect. An additional — and thus far entirely undiscussed — socially mitigating factor is one that is possibly too controversial to breach in the traditional media: that of an Islamic honor killing.

Kazemi was Iranian, as was the rest of her family. Honor killings are an Islamic phenomenon in which usually male members of the family of a girl who is engaging in sexual conduct outside the confines of an Islamic-sanctioned marriage must kill her and the man or men with whom she has been acquainted to cleanse the name and preserve the honor of the family. There are varying interpretations of how violent to be, who to target and what specific acts define the term “sexual conduct” across the Muslim spectrum. For example it is not unusual for an unmarried woman who is observed exiting the car of a man not closely related to her (brother or father, specifically) to be the subject of an honor killing by the father or brothers in a very strict society such as Saudi Arabia. On the other end of the spectrum there are some “liberated” Muslim women openly living in Baghdad alone maintaining long-term relationships with foreigners with the open blessings of the family. On the weird end of all this there is a custom in the predominantly Muslim areas of the Sulu Archepelago of the Philippines where a man who desires a specific girl for marriage will arrange a kidnapping and rape of the girl to reduce her dowry price (which in that culture is a price paid to the father for the hand of the girl) by means of stripping her of her virginity, thus making her “less valuable” — for some reason this custom does not generally result in a clan war, just a frustrated father-in-law.

With all the above in mind it is certainly unreasonable to assume that an honor killing is to be primarily suspected in this case, but it is also possibly unreasinable to simply rule this case a murder-suicide in light of the circumstantial and socially mitigating evidence. Kazemi’s aunt was very close to her and has not only made statements to the effect that Kazemi had a private and normal interest in firearm ownership but that she also felt threatened. She has also made statements to the effect that she believes that not only was Kazemi’s death a set-up by a third party but that the death of another female relative was also carried out by a party with malicious intent.

This information and the additional curveball of the Islamic social component definitely opens the door to the possibility of an elaborate honor killing in this case. Unfortunately honor killings of this sort have become an oddly prolific problem in the Muslim neighborhoods of England, France, the Netherlands, etc. despite the otherwise rather clean domestic safety record for the other demographic groups in those countries. This has never been a major problem in the US, at least not a very well reported one if a problem actually does exist to the ignorance of the public. For this reason it is also interesting to speculate on why US muslims tend to be less vocal and violent than their peer social groups in Europe who are quite prone to social violence and creating civil unrest. Are things just that much better for US muslims than those of Europe? Is this sort of question pointed in the wrong direction and missing the essence of whatever problem does exist? I’ve no idea, but the very real possibility of an honor killing in this very public case brings an interesting opportunity to examine these issues from new angles.

2009.07.3 15:30

Why the Twits’ Iranian Revolution Fizzled

Filed under: Politics / Geopolitics — zxq9 @ 15:30

Iran was in the news in a big way recently with the mass media and the blogging world full of grand predictions for a revolution, calls for election annulments, recounts, claims of election fraud that were stated as plain fact, and a whole lot of other totally unsupported garbage besides. The Iranian elections could have been rigged or they could have not been rigged. In many ways questions of election fraud miss the point when it comes to the real questions of power and conflict outside of Western Europe, North America and Japan. As I’ve said before holding elections and having democracy are two very different and often confused things. The point of having elections is often merely to provide a sort of cover for status for dictators who would otherwise be much easier to decry in the mass media.

The talk about an Iranian revolution was, to say the least, premature. Claims that a “real” revolution must be underway in Iran were not only pervasive, they were universal among the Western media and bloggers. Western bloggers and media personalities plainly stated that the election was a fraud and that Ahmadinejad was thus completely invalid not only according to the election results but also according to the mass majority of Iranian people. All of this was seemingly backed up not just by pictures of people in the streets pitching a fit, but by Iranian boggers and Twitterers themselves writing about the goings on in plain English for the world to see.

But, for all the noise generated and all the highly emotional discourse that was had no revolution materialized. Certainly an interesting crisis for the state arose and most importantly a schism at the highest levels of Iranian clerical political was revealed (and it must be remembered that Ahmadinejad is not a part of the clerical establishment and did not take part in the 1979 Islamic Revolution), but in the end there was no revolution and the noise fizzled, protests dwindled in size and even the main electoral challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, withdrew his support for continued resistance.

So everyone who was so emotional, self-assured and certain of an Iranian revolution before who was writing and blathering about it in the media and online is either backtracking, conjuring up enormously humorous conspiracy theories or simply pretending that none of that happened. Some folks even blamed US President Barak Obama for the “failure” of the “otherwise certain” revolution in Iran through a lack of support — which is, of course, laughable. In fact despite the death and “martyrdom” of that cute Iranian girl everyone was holding up pictures of a few days ago so that “noone could ever forget” everyone has collectively decided to forget.

This series of events, while incredibly funny to the outside observer, demonstrates a vast gap between what actually happens in Iran and what the West generally thinks happens in Iran. Using this event as an example we can examine some commonly carried misconceptions that the mass media and bloggers tend to hold about Iran. Let’s start this as a question, because questions beg for answers: How is it possible that everyone got things so wrong when it certainly appeared at first glance as though the events we thought represented social movement seemed to be backed up so clearly by information actually coming from people inside Iran, in Tehran no less?

That last bit of the question is where we will find the first bit of our answer. I do not speak Farsi. In fact, I do not know anybody who speaks Farsi. This is a little bit alarming in a sense, because the last several years of my working career has required that I and everyone around me maintain a rating in two foreign languages. In the military, government and private security sectors I know lots of people who speak Thai, Chinese, German, Russian, French, Portueguese, Spanish, Arabic, etc. I even know a few folks who speak Urdu or Pashtu, but I do not know anybody who speaks Farsi. Not one. I heard about one guy but I never met him. However, I know three different Iran specialists who are required to maintain close contact with Iranian sources and produce analysis on the goings on there. But I don’t know anybody who speaks Farsi. I know a lot of reporters who pass through Tehran as well, and they tell me fascinating stories about what is going on in Iranian society and how the young upper-middle class couples completely flaunt the morality laws and how this must be a sign of massive social change. I even hear people tell me about Iranian friends of theirs from Tehran who believe in George W. Bush’s Middle East policies! But through all this I do not know a single person who speaks Farsi.

This lack of Farsi speakers tells me something about the sort of information I am getting. For one thing it is almost all information exclusively from Tehran, as the people I know travel specifically to Tehran and are not free (or safe) to move about the country on their own. It is also all information which either comes from Iranians who speak English or information which has been filtered through such people (remember the child’s communication game “telephone”?). It is entirely possible and in fact likely that the sort of Iranian who lives in the big city who has the money and further economic incentive to learn English, maintain technical contact with the Western world and believes in Western liberal social values is not representative of the vast majority of the Iranian people who do not live in Tehran.

In short, to take information from a single social segment of society and assume it represents the majority view will lead you to make several fundamental errors. To put it in American terms it is like assuming that a Chinese immigrant living in California who does not yet speak English well, a poor black female living in government project housing in Louisiana and a white male post-graduate student at Berkley all have the same view of the United States and adhere to the same concepts of civic virtue. That is clearly ridiculous and in the Iranian case we are essentially taking information from the Tehranian equivalent of the white male Berkley post-grad and imagining that it represents the majority view in Iran.

That this is not actually the majority in Iran was borne out by the course of the protests. While the educated and well-monied elite who have access to things like Twitter and speak English may have been in support of Mousavi more than they were in support of Ahmadinejad the majority were clearly not of that opinion. This is not only demonstrated in the landslide electoral victory — tampered or not, the results were overwhelmingly in favor of Ahmadinejad and that is a level of election rigging that most dictators don’t mess with for fear of a huge backlash — but most importantly by the fact that the protests which started with the educated upper-middle class never spread beyond that original demographic. In this sense it is important to realize that social revolutions and protests are a different sort of electoral index, a sort of unsolicited social polling. People who feel stringly about an issue are likely to join a protest. People who feel strongly the other way are likely to join an opposing protest. People who are sastisfied enough with the status quo to resist the urge to get riled up and arrested tend to stay home.

If the election had been stolen and the true overwhelming majority of people really were against Ahmadinejad then we would have quickly seen the protesting urbanites being joined by other social classes, but that never happened. Nobody who voted for Ahmadinejad is going to join the protest, and it certainly seems that outside of Tehran and specifically outside of the upper-middle class educated demographic the majority was in support of Ahmadinejad or at least satisfied enough by his victory to not feel compelled to run out into the streets yelling about it.

It is also important to note that there were several counter protests in support of Ahmadinejad. It should not come as any surprise, really. Iran is a country that has a moral police who execute crackdowns on anything a Westerner would think is fun or entertaining. The Iranian Islamic Revolution which deposed the Shah in 1979 was based on Islamic principles first, and political principles second. This concept still holds sway across the majority of the Iranian people. The educated elite might not really care about religion one way or the other, but the rural masses certainly do. It is also key to remember that not everybody in the world sees things the same way the Western media personalities and bloggers do. It is a fact that a huge segment of the Iranian population do not value social liberalization, economic progress or international political stature over adherence to Islamic doctrine. It is possible for a population to vote for and overwhelmingly support what the West considers a despotic regime. Contrary to numerous advertizing slogans and common 1st World perceptions people are not all the same the world over and we can’t get along because we simply do not agree about the most basic of things, even social freedoms.

So if the West’s general understanding on Iran was wrong and all the predictions of revolution was conjecture based on assumptive fallacies, why did the Western media fall into the hype trap? More tellingly, why did the bloggers all fall so soundly into the same trap? For one thing, Ahmadinejad is universally reviled in the Western media for some of the racist, intolerant stances he has taken. His statements are a direct affront to Western liberal social values and it seems almost inconceivable that his statements could actually be tailored to generate support from the average Iranian — but that is actually what they are. His “extreme” statements are not so extreme to the actual average Iranian, though they are obviously anathema to the educated upper class minority living in urban areas of Tehran. So the Western media personalities take him personally. Everyone wanted to see him fall and nobody wanted to imagine a world in which a person such as himself has the support of the people — any people. Nobody wants to beleive that the world actually could be full of folks who want to burn Paris to the ground, kill everyone in America or behead all of the residents of Amsterdam, London and Tokyo.

The basic problem here is one of hearing what one wants to hear. There was very little information coming out of Iran, and very little of the information even inside Iran was in English. So, as discussed above, the Anglo-centric nature of the available information guaranteed that the majority of that information would not be representative of the majority of information to be had about Iran. In this case the available information was exactly what they Western media and bloggers had been waiting for for years and there was no ready way to counter that information with an alternative source. Nobody in northwest Iranian herding communities were blogging in English or sending urgent tweets out to good friends in Chicago to let them know how not in tune with the protests in Tehran they were. This brings to light a very important fact of information assessment: In the midst of an information blackout it is very easy to become obsessed and entirely absorbed in whatever information is available. This can lead us to stop vetting information, not take the time to vett or even consider what source it is from and thus leap to wildly inaccurate conclusions with a high level of self-assured certainty.

So that explains why the media was so far off the mark on the Iranian issue. It is not the only issue they are way off on, of course, but this time they were not just wrong, they were very loud about everything they were very wrong about. As I mentioned above backtracking from the positions people had previously taken is almost impossible so most have decided to simply forget any of this happened and ignore the issue. That is sad because it severely reduces the chances that the Western media will enhance its own understanding of the realities of Iranian politics or the understanding of its consumers who rely on it to learn about the rest of the world.

But what did happen? What was significant about these protests and, backing up to the original issue, what was significant about this particular election in Iran?

Obama himself even plainly stated in the media that one of the reasons he is holding his tongue on the Iranian election issue is that there is no real difference in policy between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi, so it wouldn’t matter if the election results were tossed or not or who wound up being president. (I discussed why this wouldn’t matter earlier in an admin piece.) So if there is no real difference, why the big fuss? Because there is a big difference inside Iran. This was an Iranian election and the real issue at hand is not about foreign policy, the nuclear program, social liberalization, a stance against racism, religious freedoms or anything else that. This election and the interplay at the top levels of Iranian power were about the future of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Regime.

In 1979 the Iranian Islamic Revolution toppled the long-ruling regime of the Shah. The Shah had been a close ally of the US (believe it or not) but was also seen as corrupt and self-serving by the people. He was also seen as increasingly distant from the socially overwhelmingly important tenets of Islam. The uprising and subsequent ousting of the ruling regime is a fascinating study of its own and if compared with the most recent unrest in Iran a number of compelling differences can quickly be discerned and reasons for the failure of the most current movement to gain traction can be located.

The revolutionaries who took power were in solid agreement that the Islamic Republic should be ruled exclusively by the Islamic clerical establishment but disagreed to a large degree on exactly how Islamic law, pragmatic democracy and the hard facts of military and economic competition in the region should be managed. They were afraid to put too much power in any one place and so developed an incredibly intricate series of councils, leadership positions, clerical judiciaries and secular political posts to provide a system of checks and balances to prevent another Shah-like figure from eventually emerging.

Today the majority of the clerics holding high posts within the originally established councils are generally the same exact men who orchestrated the original Islamic Revolution. The revolution occurred in 1979, quite some time ago. The time is coming when they, as a class, will begin to face the ultimate neccessity of picking successors as they fade into retirement. Fading into retirement is not the same thing as fading into obscurity, however. The Islamic Revolution may no longer feel as relevant to them personally now that they are incredibly wealthy and confortable as it did in 1979 when they were young and hungry, but they do not want to see everything they feel they have worked hard for dissappear or fall into chaos after they leave the scene. The Iranians of today often feel a great connection to the great Persian empires of the past and none of them want to feel responsible for tossing the next chance at Persian greatness by leaving no durable political system in place after all they’ve invested.

But just as these men did not agree on how the Republic should be formed in 1979 they also still do not agree on how things should be carried forward. These stresses have produced some rifts within the highest halls of Iranian power and the post-election power plays within the clerical councils have been extremely interesting and important. This can be neatly contrasted by the relative predictability and unimportance of the upper-class protests in Tehran that absorbed the majority of media coverage throughout June.

Nearly every clerical heavyweight with a large stake in the establishment is against Ahmadinejad. This does not mean that they are neccessarily for Mousavi, however. Ahmadinejad is supported almost solely by Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, however, and it is here that we see the major rift. The chairman of the Assembly of Experts (another clerican body which appoints or sacks the Supreme Leader) Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Speaker of the Majlis (like the Iranian Islamic Parliament) Ali Larijani, Mir Hossein Mousavi, and a series of other clerical and even secular personalities (most notable former commanders of the IRGC/Pasdaran) are all arrayed against Ahmadinejad and thereby the Supreme Leader.

Why the Supreme Leader would support Ahmadinejad through all this resistance is a bit confusing on the surface, particularly when we consider that the Khamenei’s policies differ greatly from Ahmadinejad’s, until we consider what Ahmadinejad’s stated plans are if he can secure another term. The long list of Ahmadinejad’s enemies is not exactly the same as the list of Khamenei’s enemies, and many of them share rivalries between themselves. With this level of complexity in the political landscape and the entire ruling elite facing a generational succession period as a class Khamenei may think that it is time to wipe the board, so to speak, to reduce complexity and start laying the groundwork for a solid and orderly succession between generations. He seems to be planning to use Ahmadinejad as a tool to remove or marginalize most of the standing obstacles that exist within the established elite to clear the way to effect his own vision of how the next generation of rulers should look.

This is no trivial matter, as Khamenei could influence the next hundred years of Iranian policy by effectively sweeping the board clean of all but his clerical leadership. Considering that most of the people Ahmadinejad would be ousting are not direct opponents of Khamenei this is a brilliant move to use someone else to do his dirty work, so to speak. By empowering Ahmadinejad to take care of his political rivals for his own reasons (which are irrelevant to Khamenei’s drive to influence regime succession) he will not only be able to clear the way ahead for him to be the most senior and credible cleric in a position of power, but he will also be able to paint a negative picture of Ahmadinejad in the process, fouling his reputation to the point that it will likely reduce him as a future threat on its own. Once the slate is wiped clean the last man standing with historical, social, political and clerical relevance and gravitas will be free to underwrite the political and clerical credibility of the future leaders of Iran and thus ensure an enormously durable personal legacy.

With all the wacky goings on lately, this seems to be the most likely explanation for all the maneuvering that has gone on within the councils over the last three weeks. This has nothing to do with upper class Twitter subscribers rallying alone in the streets and everything to do with Ahmadinejad’s plans to clean house of his political rivals and how that falls into line with Khamenei’s plans to personally write the next chapter of Iranian political history single handedly.

This course, naturally, is extremely dangerous for Khamenei. If he fails, if Ahmadinejad falls politically or physically due to some unexpected circumstance, or if the councils establish emergency meetings and rule together to remove Khamenei from his post as Supreme Leader then everything he is trying for would be lost. He is insulated to some degree by the fact that Ahmadinejad will gladly do the housecleaning on his own with no prompting, giving Khamenei a level of separation from the events he hopes he is engineering. But this is the way that power plays work and a lot has to be risked for a lot to be gained, or so the saying goes.

It will be interesting to see what happens over the next four or five years. It should be remembered that all of this is quite independent of Iran’s geopolitical dealings with the US, Russia, Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan. Iran is going to follow roughly the same policies regardless which personality is in the Presidency because the face of the man does not change the geopolitical imperatives of the State, nor does it change the overwhelming will of the majority of Iranians to maintain political and social independence from what they view as a generally evil, meddling and corruptive West.

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