Monday, September 22, 2003

Well, the Brit who was arrested in the Malaga murder cases has confessed. His name is Tony Alexander King and he is a 38-year-old bartender who lived exclusively within the English community that is so large a part of the Costa del Sol. He admitted killing both Sonia Carabantes and Rocio Wanninkhoff; he claims to be innocent of the third disappearance linked to him by the press. King also says he committed three rapes, and he claims to have murdered the man who raped his sister in England, which sounds like a pretty specious way of bucking for an insanity plea to me. His motive was sexual; he got pleasure out of touching dead bodies, it seems. He claims to be impotent, depressed, and alcoholic, all of which is probably true, but it's not an excuse for going around raping and killing people. Hang the bastard. We can't, of course. He claims to have acted alone, which would rule out Dolores Vazquez as some sort of accomplice. (One of King's compatriots was arrested and accused of helping to cover up for him.) If King is telling the truth, she's completely innocent, not that there was ever any real evidence against her anyway. Ms. Vazquez has suffered from a serious miscarriage of justice, and Rocio's mother is guilty of the false accusation of her lesbian ex-lover out of pure spite.

The Spanish media, for the first couple of days after his arrest, referred to him as "Alexander King", Spanish-style, as if those were his two surnames. Alexander, of course, is the guy's middle name; his surname is just King. Now they've gotten it straight; he's King, at least as of yesterday. I wish they'd get this name thing right, though I must admit that the English-language press is thoroughly capable of screwing up Spaniards' names by assuming that the first surname is the middle name and the second surname is the real surname, if you see what I mean. Maybe we can manage to beat this getting-people's-names-right thing into the heads of journalists in both languages.

Something that always bugs me, by the way, is whenever there's a sports event in Spain, the headline the next day in the English-language press is always "Serena (or whoever) Reigns in Spain". It's been done, guys! Get a new one! We're already sick of this! And everybody does it, from Sports Illustrated to the Sun.

That and can you touring bands please refrain from doing covers of "Kansas City" when you play KC? Everybody does it. It's not original or creative or clever. We're tired of it. And you all do the Beatles' version, anyway, not the original. And don't play "La Bamba" in Spain. That's a Mexican song. It's about as appropriate as playing "London Bridge Is Falling Down" when you're doing a gig in, say, Albuquerque. And you look really stupid when you don't know any other words of the song than "la bamba", anyway. "Bla-bla-bla-bla la bamba". Ouch.

Here's an interview from Sunday's Vanguardia with Artur Mas, the designated successor to Jordi Pujol as Prime Ministerial candidate for Convergence and Union (CiU), the Catalan Nationalist party.

Q. Do you still think the PP (conservative People's Party) and the PSOE (Socialist Party) have exactly the same vision of "Catalanness"?
A. The PP and the PSOE coincide on the same model of the State. It is the Spain that is based on the principle that the equality of Spanish citizens is more important than the differences between regions (comunidades autonomas), whether they are historic or not. The PP and the PSOE are trying to guarantee this equality with a strong State and weak regions, equally low.

Q. And where does CiU want to go?
A. Toward a plurinational Spain, giving freedom and autonomy to everyone (every region / ethnicity) as a function of his abilities, goals, and wishes, so that everyone can go where he can and where he wants.

Q. But to make that forward leap in substance that you propose, there's no other way except dealing with the others or "running off to the hills".
A. So far we've demonstrated that we can advance. It always depends on the correlation of forces. When CiU has been strongest, the Spanish model has opened more.

Q. You're forgetting that the difference between the PP and the PSOE is that the Socialists accept the reformation of Statutes (of regional autonomy) and the PP doesn't.
A. The Socialists talk a lot and don't do much, except for the reform of the Senate, which the PP had already proposed while they were in the opposition.

Q. Is CiU in favor of reforming the Senate?
A. Yes, but that is a marginal issue. It does not give any more freedom of decision to Catalonia.

Q. And regarding the conference of regional prime ministers?
A. We are not interested in just being "one more in the crowd". The dream of the PP and the PSOE is that we should be all just the same, the same at the level of the most conformist. Snow White and the seven dwarves.
Q.Will you attend if you become Prime Minister?
A. As a rule, no.

Q. You'll admit the PSC (Catalan Socialist Party) is different from the PSOE.
A. I have no doubt that Maragall (Socialist Candidate for Catalan Prime Minister) favors more autonomy than Ibarra (Prime Minister of Extremadura) or Bono (Prime Minister of Castile-La Mancha). the problem is that the PSC does not have the influence to orient the regional policies of the PSOE regarding Catalonia's interest. If they can't influence their own party to increase self-government, how is it going to convince everyone else?
Q. What are you referring to?
A. The examples are repeated every week. Without going any farther, this week it's happened with the Catalan national sports teams. The PSC votes in favor in the Catalan parliament, but in Madrid its deputies abstain. The PSC is more pro-autonomy than the PSOE, but when the moment of truth comes it cannot tip the balance against the PSOE's centralism.

Q. What is your central argument for a victory?
A. Catalonia must be governed from Catalonia and not from Madrid, and CiU is the only force that can guarantee that Catalonia is governed from the Plaza Sant Jaume and not from an office in Madrid.

That's his whole argument. More self-government for Catalonia. Fair enough. I am actually in favor of making government as decentralized as possible, and I would normally support Mas in his demand for more locally-based decisions. The thing, though, is that Mas wants the power to belong to the Catalan regional government. He's not going to decentralize any power at all any further down to the comarcal or municipal level. He wants the power to make the real decisions in Catalonia in his party's hands, because the regional elections are the only ones that Mas's party, CiU, do well in. So he wants for power to be maximized at the regional level. His motive is not "keep government small, local, and unobtrusive." It's "Maximize the amount of government authority in my hands".

Mas and CiU are against what they disparagingly refer to as "coffee for everyone", that is, giving all 17 Spanish autonomous regions the same status and the same amount of power. Right now some autonomous regions are more autonomous than others: Navarra has the most local power, then the Basque country, then Catalonia, then Galicia and Andalusia, and after them all the rest have the same level of authority. What Mr. Mas wants is for Catalonia's regional government to get more power than anybody else's.

Q. Regarding management, what does a CiU administration offer that would be better than a PSC administration?
A. CiU administrations work cohesively, get to the point, and maintain stability. The alternative to CiU, a PSC-Initiative for Catalonia (Communist)-Republican Left coalition, would paralyze government wand would be a reversal for the country.
Q. Why?
A. Because of a problem of internal coherence. There will be no stability.
Q. That's like saying "Me or chaos".
A. I don't want to sound apocalyptic, but I think that is a worse alternative...
Q. If you win, where will you begin?
A. The first thing I will do will be to convene all the presidents of all Catalan parliamentary groups and establish a calendar for the negotiation of the new statute (of Autonomy). The drawing up of the new Statute should be finished between March and April. then I will call on the Minister for Economics to have the budget ready for 2004, and this will be the guarantee that we are working and that there will not be paralysis in the administration.

Oh, jeez, the goddamn Statute, as if anybody cares. What we're concerned about is police protection and taxes and traffic and education and health care. We don't give a rat's ass whether the government branch in charge of that is municipal or regional or Madrid-based as long as what's supposed to get done gets done, and in many cases--street crime, air pollution, illiterate kids, and my pet hate, those goddamn squatters, or spending all our money.

(Murph says, Look at real people complaining in today's Letters to the Editor column in the Vangua--my little girl can't go to the public day-care center because there aren't any open spots, when I ask people politely not to smoke on the Metro they get rude and nasty to me, I can't sleep because the city government allows building construction in dwellings to go between 8 AM and 8 PM Saturdays and Sundays, my son had his rollerblades stolen off him in a park, the city government promised to put a park in my neighborhood and now they're going to let apartments be built there, in my neighborhood plaza it smells like a sewer and there are bums sleeping out there, there's a public statue near my house that's falling down--all of these real, legitimate problems have nothing to do with the Constitution but have everything to do with competence in government (including the police) and good management. All these issues are examples of problems that somebody should be dealing with and is not, while our regional government is debating about meaningless questions of symbol and status. They go all-out for projects like renumbering all the inter-city highways while doing nothing about any of these much more basic issues. Murph says they're trying to distract us from the real issues by nationalist bloviating.

I wouldn't go that far, but I will agree that on one very basic measure of governmental competence, keeping a balanced budget, Jose Maria Aznar's central administration has had a brilliant record at doing exactly this. Now Spain's the country keeping the deficit and inflation rates down within the EU, while the French and Germans want to be allowed to run a deficit of more than 3% of GDP. By contrast, the CiU Pujol government never gets anywhere near staying on-budget; there's always a new propaganda campaign to remind us how wonderful we all are for living here and how grateful we should be to the Convergence and Union administration that they can spend a bunch of linguistic normalization money on.)

Also notice that Mr. Mas makes a total of zero specific statements about the budget, just that we're going to have one. Hey, Art, how about some concrete proposals?

Q. What is, in your opinion, the new immigration?
A. A social challenge, but also a strong challenge to our identity.
Q. What conditions should a recently-arrived immigrant to Catalonia fulfill, in your opinion?
A. He should know what Catalonia is, the different characteristics of our country, our culture, our language, and the social framework they will have to live in along with us. I want them to commit themselves to Catalonia. We have to show them the way.
Q. And how do you plan to achieve this?
A: I will promote a project, which we will call the Contract with Catalonia, whose objective will to be to preserve Catalonia's own identity at a moment in which people from all over the world with very different customs, and with an absolute lack of knowledge of who we are, are coming to our country.
Q. What will it consist of?
A. The recent arrivals will be offered the opportunity to voluntarily participate in a linguistic and social immersion seminar. From the first moment they will be taught Catalan at its most basic level (that of conversation) and they will be given entry-level job qualifications. They will also come into contact with the society's own values of Catalan society and culture. Once this seminar is finished, they will be given a certificated during a formal ceremony at the comarcal council in the presence of the mayor.

Q. A certificate of "a good immigrant"?
A. A mutual commitment between Catalonia and the immigrant in the form of a symbolic "contract"
Q. How will you convince them to go to this seminar?
A. With this argument: a person coming in from abroad will have more possibilities of individual promotion if we stimulate his feeling of belonging to the society which has received him.

Rejoice, honey, the Normalization Squad is dragging me off to the re-education quarry. I'm being given the voluntary opportunity to participate in the old Catalan community tradition of breaking rocks. There'll be classes in Catalan too, they've promised! We all have to shout "Gracies, Senyor, vull trencar mes pedres!" When we get it right we'll be allowed to come home after maybe a couple of months.

Damn, I'm glad I've already got my papers. Watch them somehow get elected and make it retroactive.

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