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VOLUME V ISSUE III
YOUTH AGAINST IRAN by Lexie Goetz & Shikshya Adhikari
JAPAN’S DIMINISHING RETURNS by Cory Fitz + the EGYPT SITUATION + REVIEWS of “DIARY of a VERY BAD YEAR: CONFESSIONS of an ANONYMOUS HEDGE FUND MANAGER” & “KAPITOIL” SPRING 2011
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volume v, issue iii
editor-in-chief Tex Pasley managing editor Erin Shadowens visual director John Vining layout editor J. Keenan Trotter business managers Shikshya Adhikari Andrew Donders web master Louis Pisha founding editor Zachary Fryer-Biggs ÂŠ 2011, The Epoch Journal disclaimer The Epoch Journal is produced and distributed in annapolis, maryland. opinions expressed in articles or illustrations are not necessarily those of the editorial board or st. johnâ€™s college. advertising please contact business manager shikshya adhikari for information on advertisements at email@example.com. mailing address p.o. box 1495 annapolis, md 21404 website www.epochjournal.org
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The American University of Iraq â€” Sulaimani sulaimani, iraq
Young & Angry lexie goetz & shikshya adhikari
photo by david shankbone
’d say about 90 percent of people [in Iran] a long list of grievances. The Iranian justice sysaren’t happy with the government,” says tem has been frequently criticized for its vioMr. Saiedy, an American citizen born and raised lence and overzealous application of the death in Iran, “but the problem is that the government penalty, often by violent means such as stoning. has the guns and the money.” An article in Iran Focus, Tehran, October 16, A month ago, all eyes were on Tunisia as the reports of a thirteen year old school girl being international community witnessed protests sentenced to death by stoning. She is reported aiming to overthrow Tunisia’s authoritarian to have been raped by her brother. president of the past 23 years, Zine el-Abidine According to the article, “She [Zhila Izadi] Ben Ali. After the success of that campaign, at- was accused of committing ‘‘moral sin’’ and givtention was turned eastward, ing birth to an ‘‘unholy child”. interviewees where the Egyptian people Her brother, a 15-year-old rallied against President boy who was also accused Hosni Mubarak, and a couple Mr. Saidy*, American citizen and is currently in prison in weeks later, ended his 30- born and raised in Iran Tehran, was given a sentence year rule. of 150 lashes, in accordance Now, in a historic period of Mr. Farbiborz*, Iranian with Islamic laws.” successful protests, it might Iran Press News reported be Iran’s turn next. Student that another boy was lashed in this article have been changed to protests have broken out in *Names for breaking the Ramadan protect the identity of the interviewees. the streets, prompting a viofast. He was sentenced to relent response from the Iraceive 85 lashes and reportednian government, and attracting the same in- ly died soon afterwards. The newspaper write, ternational attention that was given to Tunisia “The annual report of the death penalty in 2010 and Egypt. Although the protests are similar, shows a dramatic increase in the number of exthe citizens of each of these three countries are ecutions compared to the previous years. The responding to different challenges. number of annual executions in 2010 in Iran is Mr. Fariborz, another Iranian who has lived probably the highest since the mass executions in America for most of his life, agrees that the of political prisoners in the summer of 1988.” Iranian people are unhappy. “I believe that the Many children under 18 years of age have majority of people are not happy or satisfied been reportedly executed in Iran despite signwith this government,” he says. “The economy ing the ‘Convention on the Rights of the Child.’ is in real sad shape with double digit inflation. Fariborz comments, “In the last few months, A very small percentage of the population con- one to two people a day have been executed by trols more than 95% of the wealth within Iran.” this regime.” The state of the economy is only one item on Besides being violent, the justice system SPRING 2011
A Political History of Iran
is also disorganized and inconsistent. “They couldn’t enforce full Islamic justice because people wouldn’t accept it,” Saiedy explains, “so they tried to combine Islamic justice with the justice during the Shah[’s reign] and it became like a bowl of soup with everything in it. It has Islamic law in it, law from the previous regime in it; you can’t even tell what it is.” When asked about the Iranian justice system, Fariborz is blunt: “What justice system? Anyone who thinks there is justice within the Iranian judiciary system is simply fooling themselves. The corrupt regime in Iran is using the justice system as a stage to put up a show justifying all their atrocities, false accusations and wrong imprisonments of political prisoners.” These political prisoners include people like Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human-rights defense lawyer who was arrested in September 2010 for allegedly posing a threat to national security, and Javid Houtan Kian, arrested in October for his role as defense lawyer in the case against a woman sentenced to death by stoning for the crime of adultery.
he persecution of lawyers clearly does not bode well for those they are trying to defend, and many defendants are lucky to even be allowed a lawyer in the first place. Fariborz adds, “I think this regime is one the most criminal regimes within recent history. They use the word Moharab (against God) as an excuse to label political prisoners and execute them with little to no defense by a lawyer.” In addition to lawyers, journalists, opposition leaders, and citizens accused of petty crimes, many other groups are marginalized under the current government. According to Fariborz,
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Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [Party- Abadgaran] came into power followed by protest from the Opposition party [Party - Independent Reformist]. 2009 2011 2011 Human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh was banished for 11 years. Following the protest in Egypt and Tunisia, the Iranian Capital saw popular uprisings.
“Women are considered second class citizens by the Islamic regime, meaning they either have no rights in some cases or their rights are restricted by the regime. This makes a large portion of the female population not favor the [current government]…. This regime is also systematically either eliminating or making life very hard for all minority groups, in particular religious and ethnic minorities.” Even though Iran has an elected President and Parliament, the democratic government is partnered with a theocracy, ruled by the Supreme Leader (who is the final Authority over the President). Thus, Saiedy explains, any public official must be vetted by by religious clerics before taking office. “The approval is like this: you have to be a religious person, which means you have to know all the Islamic laws and things like that. Secondly, you are not supposed to be connected to any western countries by family or things like that. They [the government] reject people they don’t like; you could even know everything about Islam, but if they don’t like you they reject you. They say you talked to some foreign official without government permission for example… so it’s not really free elections, it’s like a dictatorship, like any other country, but they have elections to tell the westerners, ‘hey we have elections!’ but it’s just a cover.” Asked for his opinion about the fairness of Iranian elections, Fariborz mentioned Present Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as an example: “I do not think the elections were fair at all… The results of last year’s June election was grossly altered to ensure that Ahmadinejad was re-elected. The Supreme Leader who basically has the final say on anything related to the Iranian state wanted him to be re-elected. Of course all the
photo by david shankbone
e people of Iran were able to overthrow the Shah regime. Islamic Republic was established in Iran after the referendum to abolish the Iranian monarchial system of government. Iran-Iraq war. 1960 1979 1980 1960 1970 1978 Resistance to Iran’s Shah Regime started, e Shah of Iran attempted to retain as a result of which land reform program power to shoot the civilian demonstrators and vote to Iranian women were granted. and over 60,000 - 100,000 Iranian demonstrators.
evidence of the election-fraud was destroyed by the regime and there is no way of proving the fraud. But all the exit polls indicated that the opposition leader was going to win by a significant margin and the results were a lopsided landslide by Ahmadinejad. So the real answer is that the officials are not re-elected. The election was not anything more than a façade.” But that certainly does not mean that the situation in Iran is hopeless. Saiedy is confident that another revolution is inevitable, and this time with the goals of freedom and modernism instead of increased conservatism. (As regards) “the revolution, it’s just a matter of when it’s going to happen. And it’s not just Iran, it’s all of the Middle East,” he says. “The reason is that the educated people understand freedom, they understand that religion cannot play a big role in their life as far as job concerns, raising families, etc. go, and they don’t accept dictatorship anymore. That’s the way it is- they want freedom, they want to [be able to] criticize the government [like] in the US or other countries. They want that type of freedom.” “The majority of the Iranian population is young. I think the latest statistics say that more than 60 percent of the population in Iran is below 30 years old. Most young Iranians are highly educated,” comments Fariborz. In fact, a BBC study estimates that 70 percent of Iran’s population is under 30. The Iranian government’s attempts at censorship of any opposition are becoming increasingly ineffective due to the expansion of technology and the wide use of the internet. “Since the regime is controlling the flow of information in and out of country, social networking places such as Facebook and Twitter have been very effective method of getting information to and from people in Iran,” says Fariborz. “There are many pages on Facebook that hourly publish information about Iran. Also sites such as YouTube are used to post videos of demonstrations against the regime from inside Iran. People in Iran can also read and watch what other people around the world think and do about their struggles. Posted videos on You8
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Tube of solidarity demonstrations around the globe supporting the demonstrations in Iran, also shows the people in Iran that they are not alone in their struggle against this barbaric regime.”
ith all this tension building in the invisible space of the internet, it is inevitable that it will manifest itself in the streets. Saiedy describes a scenario on the ground in Iran: “most of the population in Iran doesn’t like the way [the government is now], that’s why when you go in the streets if a government official comes up to [a woman] and says, ‘why are you dressed like that?’ suddenly you see swarm of people come up and say ‘none of your business.’ That’s why the government is really scared of applying full Islamic rule in Iran. If they do something like that ordinary people of different ages old, young whatever will all come in and interfere and so the government officials back off, they just go away, because they’re afraid they’ll suddenly start the revolution again. Otherwise it would be like Saudi Arabia.” Saiedy concludes, “University students are almost I’d say 100% involved in politics. They’re all active, they want to see changes, and so the government brings a lot of old people into the universities to watch the students and be sure that they don’t match what’s going on in Egypt. Ultimately I think the younger generation is the one that’s going to have the revolution; it’s just a matter of time, it’s not a question of if it’s going to happen but just a question of when… Because the younger generation needs jobs, they are educated, they are not going to accept certain things so the conclusion really is the revolution. And it’s not just Iran, it’s all of the Middle East. It’s going on right now; the reason is that the educated people understand freedom, they understand that religion cannot play a big role in their life as far as job concerns, raising families, etc. goes, and they don’t accept dictatorship anymore. They want freedom, they want to [be able to] criticize the government like in the US or other countries. They want that type of freedom.” ■
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a worker operates an oil boom kalamazoo, michigan
Postmodern Nation cory fitz
t’s a real-time world laboratory.” Keisuke Japan may not feature in the news as much Nakashima, Assistant Director and Fel- as during its meteoric rise in the 1980s, but low at the Global Aging Initiative, is referring, what happens there should be of concern to says of Japan. One of the great ironies of Japan the rest of the developed world. Europe and is that it is both crowded and shrinking. 2010 North America are aging as well, if not as rapwas the fourth year that Japan experienced a idly, and although the United States will remain decline in its population, a result of decades the youngest of the developed countries, we can of low fertility, and the trend shows no sign of look to Japan as an extreme example of what the stopping in 2011. And just as important as a future of the rich world will look like. Accordshrinking population, Japan is going to become ing to Dr. Richard Jackson, Director and Senior an aged society faster than Fellow of the Global Aging interviewees any other. It already has one Initiative, “it’s ground zero, if of the highest median ages of you will, for global aging: it’s any country on Earth. But the Dr. Richard Jackson happening sooner, it’s hapDirector and Senior Fellow, future will see a grayer Japan, pening faster, and the magnia country unlike any country Global Aging Initiative tude of the demographic shift today, where two-fifths of the is as large or maybe larger people are elderly and there Keisuke Nakashima than it will be anywhere else. Assistant Director and Fellow, are more pensioners than There are a few other counGlobal Aging Initiative children. tries that will eventually What caused Japan’s aging? catch up with Japan, but it’s Neil Howe Low fertility is not a problem sort of pioneering the fronAssociate (Non-resident), unique to Japan, nor is it low- Senior tier of societal aging.” Global Aging Initiative est there: countries like South China surpassed Japan to Korea have lower fertility become the second largest rates, and most of the developed world has fer- economy in the world in 2010. For a country tility rates that are lower than the replacement whose economy was once believed to be on the level of 2.1. Neil Howe explains that Japan, “has way to becoming the largest in the world, this had low fertility for longer, and it lacked the underscored the direction of Japan’s standing post-war baby boom most other nations had.” on the world stage. And then in January 2011, Because of its chronically low birthrate, Japan Standard and Poor’s reduced Japan’s bond ratis beset by the challenge of a shrinking and ag- ing to AA-, the same rating as China. Although ing population. The reduction in absolute size these are more the result of short term economthreatens its geopolitical relevance, and the ic factors than long term demographic trends, graying of its people may harm the quality of the shrinking workforce will make it difficult life. for Japan to improve its economic situation.
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Population in Japan Age Structure, 2010
Male Female 50,000,000
The size of Japan’s economy is hampered by its shrinking population, and its ability to pay off its debt is limited by its aging. But Dr. Jackson is not dire about Japan’s situation. He believes that Japan has several “compensating advantages” that will allow Japan to better, “manage that challenge than for some countries.” He continues that, “one advantage is certainly the strength of the family in Japan. There are higher levels of multi-generational living.” The other advantage is a longer working life for seniors. Dr. Jackson calls it a, “productive engagement and integration of older people into the broader society. There’s not all or nothing retirement at an early age.” The difficulty is that the short term fix, immigration, and the long term fix, higher fertility, are at the heart cultural, and not policy, issues. The only way for Japan to reverse the situation in the long term will be for Japan to increase fertility rates. Mr. Howe points out that Japan, “has not figured out how to integrate women into the workplace very well: that results in both low labor force participation by women (which keeps GDP down, which keeps the tax base down for supporting old age payments) and it also keeps fertility down.” The status of women, then, is the key to the country’s demographic future. The Global Gender Gap Report of the World Economic Forum in 2010 ranked Japan 94th in the world in terms of women’s equality, and reported that the number of women in Japan’s workforce was only 73% of the number of men. 14
Births and Deaths, 1950-2004
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But despite the difficulty in enacting reforms, Dr. Jackson sees a silver lining in Japan’s sense of community and “proven historical ability to reach consensus on shared sacrifice and to share that sacrifice across generations.” He says that a lot of the reform movements in Japan in recent decades “have made an explicit appeal to the principal of shared sacrifice and generational equity. This is something you will never hear in the United States.” And although Dr. Jackson feels that family provides a social safety net for the elderly in Japan, he says “if that erodes and disappears, then they really are in trouble.” Although the political debate in Japan has not been focused on changing the conditions that have lead to its aging population, it is concerned with alleviating the economic and fiscal problems of its last two “lost decades.” At the World Economic Forum in January, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan discussed joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade agreement between countries along the Pacific Rim. His indebted government is also planning on raising the consumption tax to pay for reforms of the social security system. These moves will likely be as politically costly as they are necessary, so Japan will need to call on all of its social cohesiveness to enact these reforms. Japan was at the forefront of what we consider now to be the East Asian economic miracle. According to Mr. Nakashima, in order to remain a “relevant country and show the way, especially to the Asian countries,” Japan will also have to pioneer an “East Asian aging miracle.” ■
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his profession in general is summed up thusly: Why would “a mind so excellent, so generous, so curious, [spend] all its time on relative tradJ. Keenan Trotter ing in foreign jurisdictions and yelling at people was an educated American male in my who refuse to pay him back?” early thirties who lived in New York and That is, what was it about the late stages of I’d never heard of any of this stuff ”: this was why America’s particular flavor of monopoly capiKeith Gessen, a journalist and novelist, essayed talism that enticed and intoxicated the minds of to interview an anonymous Manhattan hedge so many young people, particularly young men, fund manager about “subprime mortgages, par- who might have otherwise been doctors or lawadigm shifts in finance, the problem with ex- yers or astronauts? pertise, and the recent troubles with black box This book does not answer these questions trading systems”—i.e., “this stuff.” because Gessen refuses to pose them. This The result—Gessen began speaking with the could be for three reasons. Gessen explains in manager (whom the author the book’s introducation that identifies as “HFM”) in the work discussed HFM is a “friend of a friend.” early fall of 2007—was a seI take this to mean we should ries of “interviews” serialized Diary of a Very Bad Year: expect a certain amount of in the Brooklyn literary jourConfessions of an Anonymous chumminess, without which, nal n+1, which Gessen cothe logic goes, we would not Hedge Fund Manager edits. The largely unedited have these interviews. Plus, transcripts have now been Keith Gessen and n+1 Gessen admits he “know[s] collected in the DIARY OF Harper Perennial almost nothing of econom272 pgs. A VERY BAD YEAR: CONics.” (Out of his own benevoFESSIONS OF AN ANONlence, Gessen considers his YMOUS HEDGE FUND Kapitoil “ignorance [a] part of this MANAGER (Harper Peren- Teddy Wayne particular document.”) But nial; $15). Harper Perennial I think the problem is one Who is HFM? Gessen de- 320 pgs. that Gessen mentions only scribes what he calls HFM’s in passing, which is that he is “tireless magnificence”— “he not a very good interviewer, never stops thinking, never stops turning ideas, or even a minimally competent one. concepts, and new facts over in his mind.” Most The Diary of a Very Bad Year is not an interimportantly, according to Gessen, HFM “draws view, as Gessen describes it; nor a confession, conclusions”—specifically, “he sees how things as the marketing savants at Harper Perennial are going, and in certain instances changes his branded it; but instead a conversation, whose mind.” The question of HFM in particular and particular infelicities inhibit, rather than en-
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courage, a certain kind of truth from emerging. Here is a sample of the sorts of thing Gessen says while interviewing HFM: “They’re standing with pots and pans…” “So it was really the money market fund that caused—” “Did you guys start getting calls in…” “Weren’t the banks given money so that they could give it out to people, and now they’re hoarding it?” “Can we go back a little bit to AIG? When we were emailing about this a while back, AIG was the thing that really freaked you out?” “So how bad are things right now?” “And it’s happening quite quickly.” “So next week Obama is inaugurated—are you—” “Wait, wait, aren’t we already in a worse situation than the late seventies?” “Because some of the counties in Europe are crazy?” “So it’s not that the dollar is so great; it’s just that there’s nothing else.” “They’re manufacturing…” If Gessen’s not interrupted by HFM, he’s leading him on; if he doesn’t offer a blatantly rhetorical question, he answers it himself; if he doesn’t finish HFM’s sentences (for what reason?!) he too easily yields his assent. Of course, Gessen is not Deborah Solomon. But the model with which he replaces the interrogation is a sort of dialectic stripped of its essential truth-seeking function. Gessen admits that he should have pursued certain lines of inquiry more thoroughly, but those original inquiries are so rare, and so readily lost, within The Diary of a Very Bad Year that it becomes a discouraging task to wade through HFM’s logorrhea to arrive at some moment of conflict wherein Gessen and HFM might have to actually disagree on something and thus enlighten the reader as to what, exactly, is at stake.
nd what is at stake in The Diary of a Very Bad Year? I read this book carefully, taking
notes, underlining what I thought to be meaningful passages, rereading what appeared to be important points; and I still cannot not tell you why HFM endured a “very bad year,” nor the “confessions” intended to document it. Read this passage: Now, considering that everyone at the table being super-bearish on the dollar probably meant that they were already short the dollar and long the euro, I went back and basically looked at my portfolio and said: “Any position I have that’s euro-bullish and dollar-bearish, I’m going to reverse it, because if everybody already had said ‘I hate the dollar,’ they’ve already positioned for it, who’s left?” What do “super-bearish,” “short,” “long,” “euro-bullish,” “dollar-bearish,” and “positioned” mean? Neither Gessen nor HFM bother to explain these terms. You can find this passage on the seventh page of the book. And here’s Gessen’s subsequently remark: “So you did well.” It seems impossible for Gessen to have said any much more feeble than that. I was drawn to The Diary of a Very Bad Year because Gessen is a gifted essayist and novelist, so perhaps I was mistaken in assuming the his literary powers would beget a worthwhile interview. There’s always a danger when an established artist dabbles in foreign mediums, and while Gessen doesn’t destroy the interview format, he gets it very wrong. Nowhere in The Diary of a Very Bad Year do Gessen or HFM seem to care very much about the book’s underlying theme: the effect of money on people, and vice versa. Perhaps their concern is there, but you wouldn’t know it, as it is bathed in euphemism and jargon. This would not have been a problem had Gessen the wherewithal to expose it. Maybe you will find it difficult to blame Gessen for his deficiencies. After all, the financial sector is unique in its conviction—e.g., that it is necessary to a functioning global economy, that it creates “value,” that it rewards talent, that they aren’t SPRING 2011
all going to hell. HFM himself seems like an intelligent person, but one who isn’t especially introspective—perhaps in part because his profession’s most successful members depend on a certain refusal of self-evaluation. How could Gessen know this, given his ignorance? Bearing his lack of knowledge like a credential, Gessen thinks he is holding up a mirror to the financial world, as a child asks his parents why the family doesn’t go to the movies anymore. But he is somehow satisfied with HFM’s assertions that all will be well in the end; that “this stuff ” was only a fluke. The Diary of a Very Bad Year is a compelling idea, but not a very good book. Gessen should have, of course stuck with fiction and journalism, in both of which he is penetrating and a blast to read. But that is almost beside the point. It is imaginable, after all, that HFM would never have consented to a more searching interview. In this way it is possible that Gessen was the perfect interviewer for this book. Perhaps, like Socrates, only he could reveal to us how little we actually know.
he problem in speaking about the financial world, in which billions of dollars are trafficked every day, is the difficulty inherent to finding a common way to speak. This is a goal of literature. Until a few years ago American novelists hesitated to aim their pens at the financial establishment—because, I think, it was apparent that no one, least of all those who worked in finance, really knew what those in power were up to. This was an intentional function of the language with which hedge fund managers spoke: “euro-bullish.” Even if you did not know what such a term meant, you could no longer be sure those individuals, such as HFM, who were supposed to know did either, because—as we saw in 2008—so many of them failed to grasp the meaning of their actions, or a minimal understanding of their consequences. If The Diary of a Very Bad Year says one thing, it’s that there is a certain deficiency in the agenda of straightforward journalism. Ultimately it too will succumb its own language, rendering it meaningless. Thus it becomes the task of the novelist to
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ask how finance reached the position of power it now enjoys, and what it was about the culture that created it that made it so clear that its leaders would ascend to such excesses of wealth. Nearly every novel is, in some way, about money; but few concern themselves with the actual mechanics and stories of finance. Fewer still are those as utterly original and inventive as Teddy Wayne’s KAPITOIL (Harper Perennial; $14). Set in the months leading up to the year 2000, Kapitoil is the diary of a young Qatarian named Karim Issar whom has been flown into New York City by his employer, Schrub Equities, to help prepare the firm for any Y2K-related computer maladies. Soon after he arrives, Karim begins work on a program he calls “Kapitoil,” which uses an algorithm to parse newspaper articles for words and phrases indicative of civil unrest and thereby predict the future prices of oil. This is how Karim puts it: When violence occurs, especially in the Middle East, my program will attempt to leverage it for financial gain. But this violence will happen with or without my program. Therefore, by making money, the program produces at least some positives from a very negative situation. These and other observations, in their limpidness, very much endear the reader to Karim. He is an extremely likeable character, and I say this being a reader who doesn’t believe that the “likeability” of characters bears any weight on a book’s importance. Early on, Karim considers a female coworker’s invitation to see Three Kings: I know it is customary in the U.S. for a female to invite a man to socialize, but it still makes me uncomfortable. Although of course I would not have the confidence to invite her to socialize, so in some ways I am relieved. But then I have another source of confusion: I am uncertain if this is a romantic date or if it is just two friends partnering for a movie.
A peripheral goal of Karim’s during his stay in New York is to improve his English and skills with women. After every chapter, which take the aesthetic of journal entries, an interstitial glossary accumulates from Karim’s daily interactions with his coworkers. These are idioms, obscure words, slang. I did not spend much time contemplating them while I was reading Kapitoil—they all seemed very obvious—but when I went back to write this review I found a new appreciation for their significance. Here is the glossary from Karim’s visit to the movies: are you still getting that = are you still continuing to eat a meal grab a bite = get something to eat homesick = missing home so much as if it were an illness invested in = care about kill it = terminate services let’s see if we can’t do = let’s see if we can do Through Karim, Wayne makes us aware of language’s crazy ability to influence our perceptions, and the cost one incurs when one’s language succumbs to laziness and apathy. While Wayne’s method might sit uncomfortably with some, I think it works. Usually a “foreign” character, which basically means someone pushed or pulled out of his or her habitat, gives a novelist several excuses not to develop fully human characters. (Such was the problem belonging to Jonathan Safran Foer’s two novels, Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which respectively exoticize the misperceptions of an Eastern European, who speaks in broken English, and a child, who, being a child, is extremely stupid.) The problem of The Diary of a Very Bad Year is its inattention to language; the essence of Kapitoil, however, is its obsession with it. By admitting that language contains inherently political content, and can be employed for both good and bad purposes, Wayne has nimbly avoided the faux naïveté that has come to replace sincerity in American letters. Another
way to put this: he has created a book that can be honest about itself and the world it creates without slipping into ideology or cant.
apitoil does not, however, answer Gessen’s question. Wayne’s is a very particular novel in this regard. It is about about a specific person (a Qatarian computer programmer) at a specific moment (1999) carrying with him a specific history, a specific personality. His reasons for pursuing the Kapitoil program, which sound as honest as anything in Wayne’s novel, explain his life only—not anybody else’s, not HFM’s, and certainly not the whole financial sector’s. But these reasons are that rare thing, they are true, and while Wayne never lets the reader convince himself that he wholly knows Karim, he gives us glimpses at what enlivens him, saddens him, gives him hope, and courage, and fear. Wayne’s novel could be described (perhaps ungenerously) as a series of Karim-isms: acutely observed moments and Karim’s reaction to them. My favorite Karim-ism comes about at the very end of the novel, in a carriage ride in Central Park, during which Karim’s boss tries to persuade Karim to sign over the rights to the Kapitoil program, whose underlying algorithm Karim had been planning to use to predict the spread of diseases. For unknown reasons, Karim looks at his boss’ hands: “Although he had no cuts on them, his skin had spots and looked as fragile and wrinkled as a used banknote.” The man he is describing is also Schrub Equities’ titular Derek Schrub, about whom Karim has expressed, for most of the novel, nearly comical esteem. Schrub has returned Karim’s admiration with a hidden desire to acquire the rights to, and profits of, Karim’s algorithm. When Karim refuses, Schrub coolly states, “You, Karim—you are a cipher. You are a nothing. A nobody. You don’t exist. You don’t make a difference.” This of course is false. It’s intimidation. Schrub mistakes disagreement for unintelligence; greed for virtue. Karim is someone, an actual person, and not despite his ambivalence toward money but because of it. ■ SPRING 2011
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