Previous posts in this discussion:
PostMight England Eject Scotland from the UK? Belgian Congo (John Heelan, UK, 04/21/17 3:39 am)
John E asked me on April 19th: "Do I understand correctly that the English may hold a referendum to expel Scotland from the UK?"
Not yet, but in England there is a noticeable groundswell of antipathy against the Scottish National Party in general and specifically against the machinations of its leader, Nicola Sturgeon (aka "Wee Krankie") and Angus Robertson MP (the SNP Leader in Westminster).
On another recent topic, I suggest that WAISers also read the 1904 report to the UK Parliament by Roger Casement (then a Consul in the Congo) about the treatment of the Congolese by the owner of the Congo, King Leopold of Belgium.
JE comments: I think I've "plugged" this book before on WAIS, but regarding Belgium's inhumanity as a colonizer in Congo, see King Leopold's Ghost, by Adam Hochschild. It's a painful but gripping read. Some even saw Germany's brutality in 1914 as divine punishment against the Belgians. The whole text is now available free in a PDF:
Vargas Llosa's "The Dream of the Celt"
(Patrick Mears, Germany
04/21/17 3:15 PM)
In response to John Heelan (21 April), one should also read The Dream of the Celt, by Peruvian Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa. It is a biography, more or less, of Sir Roger Casement, one of the many heroes of the Easter Rising, who was executed by the British after Casement's capture in 1916 on Banna Strand on Ireland's Dingle Peninsula.
Here is a link to the review of Vargas Llosa's work in The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jun/08/dream-celt-mario-vargas-llosa-review .
JE comments: I haven't gotten around to reading Vargas Llosa's El sueño del celta (2010, the same year MVLl won the Nobel). Must do so--shame on me. Vargas Llosa may be the finest novelist alive, especially in the genre of historical fiction.
Roger Casement, Congo, and "The Dream of the Celt"
(John Heelan, UK
04/24/17 9:50 AM)
Patrick Mears (21 April) is right to point up Vargas Llosa's The Dream of the Celt--a quasi-biography of Roger Casement--as a record of the iniquities inflicted by the Belgian King Leopold and his supporters on his Congolese subjects. The following excerpt from Wiki provides a flavour, as well as a warning that even civilised people can succumb to "Man's Inhumanity to Man," as has been observed frequently in places like 1930s Germany, 1970s Cambodia, and 1990s Rwanda.
"Today I began the return to Boma. I had planned to remain on the Upper Congo for a couple of weeks longer. But, in truth, I have more than enough material to show what is taking place here. I am afraid that if I continue to examine the depths to which human infamy and shamefulness can descend I will simply not be able to write my Report. I am on the shores of madness. A normal human being cannot submerge himself for so many months in this hell without losing his mind, without succumbing to some mental derangement. Sleepless, some nights, I feel it happening to me. Something is breaking in my mind. I live in constant anguish. If I keep brushing elbows with what goes on here I too will find myself laying the lash, chopping off hands, and murdering Congo natives between lunch and dinner without feeling the slightest pangs of conscience or loss of appetite; for this is what happens to Europeans in this God-forsaken country." [pp. 108-109]
JE comments: Hoschschild's King Leopold's Ghost describes in great detail the Belgian practice of chopping off the hands of Congolese who fell behind on their tribute. Can there be a more chilling example of Walter Benjamin's maxim, that "there is no document of civilization that is not also a document of barbarism"?
History, Fiction, Historical Fiction; from Gary Moore
(John Eipper, USA
04/25/17 3:09 AM)
Gary Moore writes:
Re: John Heelan April 24, presenting as documentation of the Belgian Congo
atrocities a quote from Mario Vargas Llosa's The Dream of the Celt:
Google books classes this work as fiction. How is this documentation?
Moreover, the quote is standard cant about losing one's mind amid the storm,
something real dissenters in such circumstances seldom seem to do--though
the novelists have been discovering it since The Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim.
How do Vargas Llosa's talent and imagination relate to what did or did not
happen in the Congo?
Stephen Crane wrote Red Badge of Courage without
ever seeing a war, and ex-Sgt. Major Ambrose Bierce seethed about that,
but did anybody cite Crane as documentation? Naive question.
Isn't the important thing the entertainment?
JE comments: Vargas Llosa bases his historical novels on extensive documentation, but does that make them "documentation" in and of themselves? Gary Moore forces us to reflect on the wider problem of historical fiction. Seen from the opposite angle, consider Hayden White's claim about the "narrativity" of history itself--meaning, history contains literary (fictional) elements.
My vote for Vargas Llosa's best historical novel is The Feast of the Goat (2000), about the brutal dictatorship of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. Part of the narrative takes place in Adrian--really. Did V Ll "get" this town right? Not exactly. Among other liberties, he talks about skiing in Adrian and it's flat here. Billiard-table flat.
I hope historical novelist Tim Ashby will join this discussion.
That's a fascinating piece on Bierce's Civil War. I did not know he saw so much combat.
Old Testament: Fact or Fiction? From Ric Mauricio
(John Eipper, USA
04/26/17 6:47 AM)
Ric Mauricio writes:
If only Adrian had a downhill ski run.
Here is a question for WAISers that someone had asked me and which I had no response that I could think of. How much of any historical book is true and how much is embellishment or exaggeration? The book in question is the Old Testament. While there are many archaeological findings that support much of the Jewish history put forth in the Old Testament, there are still questions.
For example, why is it that the probably the most important artifact of Jewish history, the tablets of the Ten Commandments or even the Ark of the Covenant that holds it, has never been uncovered? If you really wanted to end the discussion of whether or not Moses was in close contact with God, would this not settle the discussion?
The New Testament book that elicits the most discussions and movies and other books is Revelations. Yet I find that many Christians think that it was written by the disciple John, when in fact, it was written by an exiled mystic named John, who was shunned by your mainstream Christian. This guy was "out there." He wrote the book while exiled on the island of Patmos, which is well known for the existence of hallucinogenic mushrooms. So are his visions provided by God as the Church teaches or as a result of tripping out on those mushrooms? Fact or fiction?
Are there any Mormons among WAISers? I asked the lady in front of the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City the origin of the Book of Mormon. Her story was that the angel Moroni gave the golden book to Joseph Smith (I think it was Smith she referred to; this was awhile ago), and he went to the local Kinko's and copied it and gave it back to the angel. My response was: "Oh, like a library book." That didn't get a good look from her. Fact or fiction?
Today, in our digital world, we refer to "data fiction." This is nothing new. Wall Street has been feeding us "data fiction" since I discovered it at the beginning of my investing career. For example, mutual funds and stocks that have disappeared have had their performances expunged from databases, thus leaving us only the performances of the survivors. Since corporate accounting is my background, I can tell you that the question of how you want to make the financials look this quarter has been brought up many times. There has been many a Controller who has succumbed to pressures from upper management to stretch GAAP rules beyond the spirit of truthful accounting.
I once found an asset (a gas drilling rig) on the books that was bought, then sold for a loss, then leased from a third party. When I compared the serial numbers, I found that it as the same asset. I brought this to the attention of my CFO and two weeks later (I had gone on vacation), 3 top management personnel had to resign due to what I refer to as GasGate.
But how far back does "data fiction" go? From the beginning of time? Interesting that we have not found Noah's Ark. We know that much of the statistics put forth by the government is manipulated to illustrate how the government wants us to think. But how much of what we know about history is actually "data fiction?"
Is Adrian really flat? Fact or fiction?
JE comments: Now you've got me thinking, Ric. Adrian is demonstrably flat, but we do have a region a few miles from here called the Irish Hills. They roll a bit, but they're not quite hills. Certainly they are not Irish. As Linda Richman would say, discuss.
I don't know of any practicing Mormons in WAIS, but can someone tell us what supposedly happened to the gold plates found by Joseph Smith?
Old Testament: Fact or Fiction?
(Edward Jajko, USA
04/27/17 5:13 AM)
On the historicity of the books of the Bible, a question posed by Ric Mauricio on April 26th), there is a well-known dictum or rule of Biblical scholarship. "Everything in the Bible is true, and much of it actually happened."
As for JE's question about what happened to the Golden Plates in "reformed Egyptian," Joseph Smith is said to have returned them to the angel Moroni after translation and publication of the Book of Mormon.
JE comments: Thus Ric Mauricio's quip to the LDS missionary in Salt Lake City: "it was like a public library." (Which reminds me: I have to go to the Royal Oak library and renew an audio book. Twenty-five cents per day times a month or three, and you're talking about real money.)
- Old Testament: Fact or Fiction? (Enrique Torner, USA 04/27/17 8:31 AM)
In this my last week of classes, when I'm all stressed out from papers, quizzes, and exams to grade, plus having to write the final exams, Ric Mauricio (26 April) had to "push" all my "buttons": first, bringing out the topic of Bible contradictions; later, asking whether the Old Testament is fact or history, stating categorically that Revelation was not written by John the Apostle, and asking why nobody hasn't found yet the Ark of the Covenant of Noah's ark, among other things.
For crying out loud! You can't do this to me, Ric! I could spend all summer expounding on all the issues you have mentioned, but now?
Coincidentally, I have been studying contemporary novels centered on Christian, Jewish, and Muslim relics for the last two or three years, as I think I already said in a previous post a year or two ago. For this reason, I have had to do research on religious archeological history: that's one of the reasons I said Ric "pushed my buttons." So, what can I say in 10 minutes? That's a hard question!
For one, I believe there were no contradictions in the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, because they were divinely inspired, and that, even with today's main English translations (NASB, NIV, and a few others), there are only apparent contradictions. I think I could make my case with most of the ones Ric mentioned, if not all, if I had the time, but I don't, so it will have to wait till summer break.
Whenever I am left with an apparent contradiction, my response is that I am only human, and unable to figure it out at that time. Regarding Ric's statement that Revelation was not written by John the Apostle, but by some other mystic John who was exiled to the island of Patmos, there are several theories about who wrote the last book of the Bible, and none of them are conclusive: the only thing all scholars agree on is that we don't know for sure who wrote it. There are mentions of another John called the Presbyter (or the Elder), who some scholars claim wrote 2 and 3 John, but there is nothing conclusive about it.
Finally, is the Old Testament fact or fiction? Both! The OT has lots of different genres in it, historical and non-historical; there is also the fun but controversial subject of literal versus metaphorical meaning, some examples of this led to religious wars. We have enough wars right now, so I won't start another one.
I'd better stop here for now, because I am having too much fun, and took too long of a break from school work. Maybe sometime this summer I will tell you where Noah's ark is!
JE comments: Best of luck with the semester wrap-up, Enrique! My final final exam was yesterday, and now I'm settled in for a long spring of grading. Our graduation ceremonies are this weekend.
Trenchant Tales from the Taxtime Trenches; from Ric Mauricio
(John Eipper, USA
04/29/17 7:49 AM)
Ric Mauricio writes:
I apologize to Enrique Torner (27 April) for "pushing all his buttons." But this is what happens when you lock me in a tax office for 3 months. I come out spewing fire and brimstone.
Having just completed the first official stage of tax preparation, I can tell you, the stories of inept tax preparation just astound me. Many were promulgated by self-preparation through TurboTax and other online providers, but also through Tax Professionals (CPAs included and companies that provide tax preparation services ... OK, yes, I'm talking about my own H&R Block). Could it be that the IRS secretly created self-preparation software in order for people to overpay their taxes?
Let's start with the TurboTax story (could be any self-preparation software). A taxpayer works for Uber and gets a 1099K. For those unfamiliar with the 1099K, it is a record of credit card payments processed through a credit card processor. For Uber, there is a gross amount charged through the credit card processor (in other words, their gross earnings). And self-preparers will take that amount and process it as their earnings. Lo and behold, if one looks at the detail, part of the gross amount are reimbursements by Uber. Reimbursements of what? Of expenses incurred. Aha, that means you spent money out of pocket for those expenses. Deduct those expenses. Hey, look, there is an Uber fee over here. Another deductible expense. And mileage. Ah, wear and tear on your vehicle. After calculating the income and expenses, it was clear that the self-preparer was overpaying his taxes. And when I asked the taxpayer how many hours he spent earnings that net amount, I divided the net amount by the number of hours to calculate his hourly wage. Oh my gosh, no way. It's below minimum wage...way below. Like half the so-called living wage.
But the worst tax return that I looked at for prior years was one prepared by a CPA. The taxpayers thought they were filing as Married Filing Separate (one of the two filing statuses that can be filed by a couple who are legally married). When I pointed out to them that when filing Married Filing Separate in a Community Property state like California, that one has to take half the wife's income and put it on the husband's tax return and vice versa. That's what I was looking for when looking at their prior returns. But I was shocked. Not only did he not do that, but the CPA filed them both as Head of Household. I covered the Head of Household questionnaire when I asked them the question: when were you legally married? Their response was that they had been legally married for awhile. Then I uncovered the question on the questionnaire that the CPA had filed. The question was: Are you legally married? The CPA had marked it "no." There is no interpretation issue here. There is no "maybe." There is either fact or fiction. Yes or no. There is no error here. This is a fraudulent act, and fraud is a criminal act.
I filed their 2016 correctly as Married Filing Joint (didn't make any sense to file Married Filing Separate; no gain from that) and I am taking steps to correct their prior returns for them.
And finally, I am looking forward to finding out where the real Noah's ark is (since the Mt. Ararat one in Turkey seems to have been debunked because of iron in its substructure). And I'm pretty sure that the Ark of the Covenant in the Indiana Jones movie was fiction.
JE comments: Turkey actually has an ark to visit? Has anyone in WAISworld been to Ararat? I'd love to know more about the region's tourism infrastructure--iron, wood, or other.
Glad you survived Tax Purgatory, Ric. I have heard many stories about TurboTax frequently erring on the side of overpaying. To be sure, aren't the "Little People" the ones who are supposed to pay the taxes?
- Herodotus, History, Fiction (A. J. Cave, USA 04/26/17 2:55 PM)
I am not Tim Ashby, so my novelist 2 cents probably doesn't count. So, how about a more basic question instead:
What about Histories of Herodotus?
Hint: Herodotus wrote a full generation after the Helleno-Persian wars.
JE comments: Tell us more, A. J! Herodotus was not only the (widely recognized) first historian, he was the first non-eyewitness historian. I infer from the above, A. J, that you've found some fictional elements in his accounts. Please tell us more...
- Mario Vargas Llosa; Thoughts on Historical Fiction (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 05/18/17 9:22 AM)
On April 21st, in reference to the genocides in the Belgian Congo, Patrick Mears mentioned Vargas Llosa's historical novel about Roger Casement (The Dream of the Celt). It is a little late now, but the topic attracted my attention then, and I've been meaning to comment.
First I agree with John Eipper's view that "Vargas Llosa may be the finest novelist alive, especially in the genre of historical fiction." I particularly agree with his other comment, "My vote for Vargas Llosa's best historical novel is The Feast of the Goat (2000), about the brutal dictatorship of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic." There are some other great novels by Vargas Llosa. In particular, I recall La Guerra del Fin del Mundo, in which he recreates the historical event of La Guerra de Canudos, 1896-1897 in Brazil, a conflict between the Brazilian army and a pseudo-social and religious uprising led by Antonio Conselheiro. It is a great and amazing novel from the first page. Of course, I am an admirer of Vargas Llosa and I have read much of his extensive oeuvre.
There are many other great authors on this historical fiction genre. For instance, the Venezuelan Francisco Herrera Luque, the Spaniard Santiago Posteguillo, the Italian Valerio Massimo Manfredi, and many other Spanish and British writers that I do not remember now.
Surely the main objective of literature is to entertain, and less important to illustrate or teach history, but the interesting thing that always intrigues me is where the fiction, the author's imagination, begins and where the historical documentation and facts end.
But this very same question arises many times when reading books of straight history. That is to say, this happens when a historian has to make interpretations based on pure assumptions, values, ideologies, prejudices or "imagination" to explain some facts and make conclusions due to the lack of proper sources or, worse, due to purposely overlooking sources that supposedly contradict their possibly biased assumptions.
I suppose that rigorously contrasting data and documents is part of the process of reducing imprecision, bias or false interpretations. That is to say, how much and how rigorous a protocol is really followed by historians? And how can historically illiterate people like me be assured that their work is objective and impartial? I have no answer.
JE comments: One liberty off-limits to the historian but available to the historical novelist is dialogue. Paradoxically perhaps, dialogue can convey "truths" such as motivation and inner psychology. A question for our many WAISer historians: have you ever been tempted to invent dialogue based on rigorous historical research--to fill in the blanks, so to speak?
- Herodotus, History, Fiction (A. J. Cave, USA 04/26/17 2:55 PM)
- Old Testament: Fact or Fiction? (Enrique Torner, USA 04/27/17 8:31 AM)
- Old Testament: Fact or Fiction? (Edward Jajko, USA 04/27/17 5:13 AM)
- Old Testament: Fact or Fiction? From Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 04/26/17 6:47 AM)
- History, Fiction, Historical Fiction; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 04/25/17 3:09 AM)
- Roger Casement, Congo, and "The Dream of the Celt" (John Heelan, UK 04/24/17 9:50 AM)