The smell of sulphur

Hugo's UN performance was political comedy, which played very well for his intended audience. "Taste" had nothing to do with it , any more than it does for George Carlin or Stephen Colbert. It's a kind of comedy very familiar in Venezuela, where everybody makes outrageous statements as the only way to attract attention. The alcalde mayor of Caracas -- part of Chávez's team -- got off some real zingers a week or so ago, and is probably still spouting off, but the most outrageous of all come from Chávez's opposition, who pride themselves on being better educated and should know better. The lamentable historian Guillermo Morón (I had the dubious honor of being his house guest for a few weeks, many years ago) formally and pompously declared that "magnicidio" would be appropriate in the case of Chávez ("“es lícito matar a un gobernante cuando éste incumple las leyes, comete injusticias y deja de gobernar”).

See La bárbara e irreflexiva oposición venezolana

Portrait of Satan pursued by the people is from El Phineas » Blog Archive » La Carta de Satanas


Why do people read?

Our reading club in the public library of Carboneras has started off with a workshop, aimed to help us all "read better." It has been more fun than I had expected -- our librarian María José Rufete has brought in

Waples, Douglas, Bernard Berlson, and Franklyn R. Bradshaw. 1940. What Reading Does to People. A Summary of Evidence on the Social Effects of Reading and a Statement of Problems for Research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Excruciatingly dull--"pedestrian" the authors themselves call their conclusion, which is actually their starting point: that one has to take into account all the relevant "major factors"; survey of literature on reading tastes (who reads what), effects of propaganda (esp. Lasswell's work), etc. It is literally no more than "a summary of evidence," with no critique of any study mentioned. People read for (1) "instrumental effects" (learning something they want to know), (2) "prestige effects" (feeling better about themselves, e.g. by identifying with a dashing hero/heroine), (3) "reinforcement effects" (to strengthen their previously held opinions), (4) "aesthetic effects" (some people appreciate "belles lettres" for themselves), and/or (5) "respite effects" (to take a break). "Prestige" seems the most amusing as a category, could maybe become a short story.


Politics & demography: Spain's immigration problem

Every day TV news brings images of open boats crowded with Africans arriving in the Canary Islands. Sometimes a boat is crowded with people from further away, from Pakistan. Medical, judicial and customs personnel claim to be overwhelmed by the sudden increase in these "illegal" arrivals.

The Canaries (named not for the birds but for the fierce dogs or canes that used to roam there) were conquered by Spain in the 15th century and are now -- though geographically African -- a region of Spain, like Andalucía or Catalunya. If you can reach the Canaries, you have reached the European Union, and (if the Spanish authorities don't do something about it) you face no legal impediment to traveling anywhere in the EU. The Pakistanis who arrived the other day were probably heading to the United Kingdom, the French-speaking Africans from Mali, Senegal or Mauritania are probably thinking of France or Belgium. Thus, even though most of the French-speaking magrebíes (Morrocans and Algerians from the Maghreb) and Sub-Saharan Africans remain in Spain (where jobs are relatively plentiful), Spain's problem of immigration control is Europe's problem.

Or anyway, that's what the Spanish government is arguing in the European Parliament. Spain wants help in financing helicopters, patrol boats and vigilance systems (Spain has deployed several infrared detectors of outboard motors and human body warmth, but not enough to cope with the great numbers of clandestine immigrant craft). But so far countries remote from the African coast, and especially those with "conservative" (meaning, among other things, anti-immigrant) governments insist that controlling its borders is Spain's problem. Same with Malta and Italy, the other "front line" countries targeted by would-be immigrants from the south.

But then, how can it be just Spain's problem, if there are no longer any real borders among the European countries? Spain's coasts are now the southern frontier of all of Europe. It's the age-old philosphical debate, Whose responsibility is it to see to the welfare of all?

But there are also practical questions, not philosophical so much as sociological. First, What has spurred the great increase in illegal immigration in the past five or six years? Second, is this increase a problem for the richer countries that are receiving the immigrants? And if so, what kind of problem? Economic, political, cultural? And is it a problem (or perhaps a solution) for the poorer, sending countries? And thirdly, a sociological question which is also a big political question these days, regardless of whether it is really a problem or not, can it be stopped or even significantly reduced?

Here are some hypotheses.

1 - The main causes of increased illegal immigration may be a sudden relative impoverishment of the sending countries (relative to the beckoning prosperity of Spain and its northern neighbors). We'll need to look at the economic stats of the countries that sent the most migrants to Spain last year. OR it may be the increased efficiency of underground people-exporting business. OR the active recruitment by employers in Spain and elsewhere in Europe. Likely employers include construction industry, agriculture (big employer in southern Spain), and brothels, among others. All three of these things are going on, but which are more important probably varies by country.

These (rounded) figures are for numbers of applications for residence in Spain last year (thus, not counting the undocumented), but they may give an idea of the proportions:
Morocco 63,000
Algeria 8,000
Senegal 7,000
Nigeria 5,000
Mauritania 3,000

Ecuador 21,000
Colombia 14,000
Brazil 3,000
Argentina 3,000

Rumania 9,000
Poland 4,000
Ukraine 4,000
Bulgaria 3,000

China 10,000
Pakistan 6,000

Further thoughts to come.

(This note is two days later than promised. My apologies. Things happen.)


Günter Grass

It's hard to take seriously the expressions of shock and disdain at Günter Grass's recent revelation that he was, very briefly in the last months of the war when he was 17, a member of the SS. It's not as though we hadn't known that he was a Nazi sympathizer as a youth or that he had served in the armed forces (in an anti-aircraft unit initially). He had reserved this embarrassing added detail, as he told interviewer Hermann Tertsch in El País, until he was ready and had found a way to tell it. But in fact his most famous work is all about coming to terms with, and unsuccessful denials of, the unacceptable past. That in any event is the theme that came through most strongly in the novel I just finished reading, Dog Years.

I had picked up this novel just by chance, a week or so before Grass reappeared in the headlines for his new memoir. Now I want to read its predecessors in the Danzig Trilogy, The Tin Drum and Cat and Mouse. (Little by little and author by author, I'm trying to make up for my cultural deficits.)

See Günter Grass - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia