They can burn books, destroy libraries, forbid languages, ban beliefs, delete past times,
draw new present times, order future actions, torture and execute people...
But they still don´t know how to kill the intangible and bright
bodies of ideas, dreams and hopes.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

La revo kiu neniam povis realig’i

La revo kiu neniam povis realig'i

(A dream that never came true)

By Edgardo Civallero
Translated by Sara Plaza

Esperanto. It means "the hopeful". Even if I prefer an alternative translation:

"In the hope of..."

This is the idea after which the artificial language was named. It came to birth with the aim of becoming a universal code that allowed human beings to communicate with each other beyond political barriers, mother tongues, and the different races and religions that exist in the world.

Such a kind fate –and the dream that formed the basis for it– never happened, though.

I learnt Esperanto many years ago, when I was in my teens. It had been a proposal considered by Spanish and Italian anarchists along the track of their comings and goings, and maybe that was the reason for my interest. However, it might also have had something to do with my liking for languages since I was a child. I remember that I got a small Sopena [1] dictionary –which I still have, threadbare but proud, in my library– and in one morning I learnt the grammar. No, it is not a tale of any heroic deed: what happens is that Esperanto was designed –like any other good artificial language– with a very simple structure, which can be summarized in 16 basic rules. Once you know the grammar rules, the only thing to be done is to start learning the vocabulary. That is the most complex part of the language, but it is not worse than in any other one.

The simplicity of Esperanto can be exemplified by writing down a few grammar points. For example, all the names end in "o", the adjectives in "a", the verbs in "i" and the adverbs in "e". This fact, which seems too simple, endows Esperanto with an amazing richness. Knowing the root of any word, let's say "hom-" for example, we can create "homo" (human being), "homa" (human), "home" (humanly) and even "homi" that has not a translation in English but would express the idea of "being human". Thanks to this feature, a lot of terms can be created that do not exist in any Indo-European language, and, in a very simple way, can also be explained concepts that would imply many words and very complex constructions in our languages.

On the other way, the vocabulary is clear and concise: the best dictionaries do not have more than 10.000 roots, and from each root, as it was mentioned above, different type of words can be created. In addition, the creator of Esperanto added 40 prefixes and suffixes –whose number is always increasing, even though some of them are not officially accepted– that allows you to compose new words by deriving them from the root. In that way, from the root "bibliotek-" I can obtain "biblioteko" (library), "bibliotekisto" (librarian), "bibliotekistestro" (chief of librarians – male) and "bibliotekistestrino" (chief of librarians – female). And from this last term I can also build the adverb "bibliotekistestrine" (in the chief of librarians (female) manner) and even a verb and an adjective, though they might not have any sense in our language. As anyone can notice after reading the examples given in the previous lines, from each root a minimum number of 20 or 30 words can be derived...

Pronunciation is quite simple as well: it has sounds that do not exist in English but they can be found in others Indo-European languages (e.g. French), what should make it not very difficult for us to try them. The good news is that any letter has only a sound, which stays always the same and does not change under any circumstance, a feature that is not easily found in many natural languages.

Once I had learnt the language, I read a lot in it because I was lucky to study it when the world enjoyed a sort of Esperanto "revival". At that time I had access to many texts and books, and much later the Internet allowed me to find even more. I found absolutely beautiful words, explaining ideas that were impossible to say in Spanish without building a very long and too complex sentence. Esperanto is an intense, expressive and wonderful language, and to use it properly demands a kind of endowment, a sort of artistic ability which refers to creativity and a strong desire to communicate with others...

Esperanto was invented by Dr. Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof (1859-1917), of Ashkenazi Jewish origin, who was an ophthalmologist and philologist born in the present Polish territory under the Russian dominion. He concluded his work in 1878, but only was able to publish it in 1887, in Warsaw, with the title "International Language" under a pseudonym: "Doktoro Esperanto" (hopeful Doctor), after which the language was named in the end.

Zamenhof invented Esperanto combining roots and grammars from different Latin languages (Spanish, French, Italian...), Saxon (German, English, Scandinavian languages...) and Slavic (Polish, Russian...). He also used terms from Greek and Latin. Esperanto is, therefore, a mosaic. It is a language that has a very detailed vocabulary, which avoids homonymous as far as possible: so dream (a series of images, events and feelings that happen in our mind when we are asleep) is said "song'o", but dream (a wish to have or be) is said "revo". And the same happens with the many different verbs, with animals, with the diverse tones of colors, with flowers...

Zamenhof's intention was to create a universal language (an aim also pursued by Volapuk and other artificial languages later on) as a means of international communication that contributed to peoples understanding of each other. His personal life and the dark times through which it went by were the frame and the basis that led him towards the invention of Esperanto. The scope of this project was such that in 1954, the UN, in response to 19 million signatures, recommended all member countries to teach and use the language. The library of the "Brita Esperantista Asocio" (British Esperanto Association) had, in the 60s, over 30.000 volumes, and a great deal of literary works, essays and journals were translated into Esperanto, as well as books of Science, Technique, Policy and Philosophy. Many clubs and regional and national associations were created, and a good number of conferences (around 700) were celebrated in order to exchange culture and experiences among people interested in the language and with a good knowledge of it. Millions of letters marked with a green star (the symbol of Esperanto) crossed the seas at that time and allowed many people to communicate in this gorgeous language with others far away.

To learn Esperanto did not consist only in knowing a new language. It meant, more than anything else, to be part of a dream, a philosophy, a hope. The speakers of that language were, all of us, "people in the hope of something". We believed in the possibility of a world of equals, where, as a first step, we would communicate with each other in a universal code, avoiding the dominion of one natural language over the others.

Nevertheless, the dream had one objection. Zamenhof did not have invented exactly a "universal" language: he had created a pan-European language, if it can be explained that way, a language that had quite an easy pronunciation and sounded familiar to European ears, but was extremely difficult for speakers from other parts of the world. For an Arabic, Chinese or Quechua speaker, to learn Esperanto was even more difficult than study English, and to put things worse, English was not only more useful, but it was widely spread and was more "important".

As time passed, Esperanto was slowly forgotten. It felt silent when the voices of their speakers faded into a whisper and the dream of its creator withered like a flower.

It may be spoken yet and continue to be a number of Esperanto speakers: national and international associations have not disappeared. However, this number is neither high nor enough.

Few libraries have books written in Esperanto, and there are even less librarians who know the language, its background, the philosophy behind... There are almost not libraries specialized in the language and the handful of them that I know are placed in Europe. There is still a number of people that keep on writing letters (or emails) and marking them with the well-known green star, which was (and continues to be, I suppose) synonymous with peace, solidarity, nearness... and hope: the sort of hope held by Zamenhof (when invented it) and his followers (when decided to use it) that would help us to create a new world, based on tolerance and mutual understanding.

The philologist developed a tool that would make it possible the world he wanted very much to get. However, the real world decided to walk in a different direction.

At the present, if we want to be understood by a foreigner, we end up speaking a language that has nothing to do with ourselves. We end up searching the web, whose 80 % of information is written in English. We end up spoiling our own languages with terms that are not connected with our cultures. When I see this, I feel full of sadness and cannot avoid thinking that perhaps the dream should not have died. I also think that a library in a language shared by everybody –in addition to the titles in our own one– rich and easy to learn, would have allowed us to know each other deeper and to learn more and better from each other.

If you have doubts about what has been said in the previous paragraph, you only have to consider the great number of books that we cannot read because they are written in dozens of empowered languages that we cannot dream of learning; you may also take into account all those colleagues and friends we cannot speak to for the same reason; you can even think in all the valuable information that remains out of our hands on the basis of such circumstance...

The person that is writing to you still reads, from time to time, the couple of Esperanto books that has in his library. He wants to believe that someday the dream will grow and mature again: maybe in a different way, perhaps with other words and new rules, but he awaits that it flourishes with the same intentions and hopes behind.

De la plene floranta urbo de Kordobo, mi sendas al vi miajn pli bonajn deziraj'ojn, kun tiuj vortoj kiu mi ankorau' rememoras, malgrau' la forgesaj'o kiu falis sur ili.

(From the heavily populated, with hundreds and hundreds of flowers, city of Córdoba, I send to you my best wishes through these words that I still manage to remember, in spite of the cloak of forgetfulness that has covered them).

[1] Spanish publisher

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sorry about my love for literature...

Sorry about my love for literature

By Sara Plaza

I do not really feel ashamed of my reading passion; however, I do feel certain degree of remorse when the pages of a novel trap me and I cannot break free from their hug. I spend days and nights embarked on somebody else's boat, like a stow–away in the belly of a ship that an author headed for the open sea and takes me in its bowels toward waters deeper and deeper... I love books, stories and the life that slips through the paragraphs of a novel when its characters unweave it before my eyes.

I have got the last novel of Almudena Grandes [1], "El corazón helado" (The frozen heart), which makes me think, once and again, of a sentence that I came across when I was reading page number 409 or 410 "(...) the astonishment that consolidates itself becomes a skin much more astonishing, and the only miracles that are worthy are the ones that can be repeated". So many times a book has amazed me, so many times literature has seemed to me a miracle, that I am sure of having touched the skin that Grandes mentioned, in many occasions. I am almost sure of having also carved it with a smile, with a bunch of tears, with a good number of silences and with more than one comment. I have been able to feel it under my feet and in my hands many times and it is worthy, of course it is...

A bit further on, the author reminded me of a wonderful picture of Degas, which poster I got in the Tate Gallery of London when I still was a secondary student, and fastened it to my bedroom wall with four drawing pins. It was called "After the bath" and showed a woman beside a bath, wrapped in a towel, with her naked back and shoulders, who was drying her long hair. While I kept on reading I asked myself whether or not Almudena Grandes would had had the same picture in her home, since her lines took me back to my sixteen years of age with a extraordinary easiness and I saw exactly that: "(...) a young woman was washing her hair, and a shell, hard, dry and aware of its own clumsiness, fell noiseless onto the floor, useless in before the power of those naked arms, armed only with their nakedness". And, once more, I fell completely in love with her writing, because of everything, with everything and having nothing to stop it.

It happens to me every time I take one of her books in my hands; however, on this occasion reading "The frozen heart" it is taking place in a very special manner and in a different way as well. Their pages hurt, hurt a lot. Inside them the writer does not only tells about a war, The Spanish Civil War that broke out in 1936 and finished in 1939 (although, like any other war, was hatched up in advance and lasted longer); she also shares a good number of stories which make up "only a Spanish story, one of those that spoils everything". And one starts to understand, as the characters do, that after that war the man or the woman who went back to Spain "had not arrived at a pacified country, but at a captive one, an occupied country where there were not winners any more, but masters".

And one also understands better the joke that was published by the cartoonist Máximo, a few days ago, in EL PAÍS journal. He wrote in a small piece of paper a sort of announcement by the Abbreviated Historiography General Direction where anyone can read the following four points:

1. La guerra ha terminado. (The war has finished)
2. La posguerra, casi (aunque) (The postwar, almost (but))
3. La transición, bien, gracias. (The transition, well, thank you)
4. La memoria, Dios dirá. (The memory, God will say it)

It would make me laugh if it did not bring so much shame on all of us. A very deep and bitter shame that spreads not only around Spain but also through the world, which tears to bits entire continents because "there are strange moments in life, moments when everything is forgotten, everything that has always been known, everything that should never have been forgotten" as one of the main characters of the book remembers us.

When I wrote before that the novel hurts and hurts a lot, and maybe it hurts me more because those 900 pages are, in fact, another page of the many that make up the history of the country that saw me to be born and grow, the country where my grandparents and my parents were also born and grew; where the former had to fight and that was inherited by the latter. Of which country their children and grandchildren will be simple and forgetful offspring [2], unless we do something to change the current state of things. Where do we think that we will arrive if we ignore the place where on we are? Where did our predecessors set out from? How further did they go?

In another sentence of the book that I am talking about, another character refers to his grandmother, a socialist teacher during the II Republic, as the woman "who plucked up enough courage to write that, even though she thought to be doing what was correct and did it for love, she might had been wrong anyway. I believe that this is a good reason for defending a country against fascism, for fighting in favor of its women, of the education offered by the "Institución Libre de Enseñanza", ILE (Free Institution of Teaching) as well as in favor of the children of the former and the students of the latter.

Here I would like to make a marginal comment, and mention the fact that during the Civil War, many schools were shot and yet nobody knows how many teachers were assassinated. So the secondary school teacher Iñaki Pinedo, and the journalist Daniel Álvarez, have named their documentary "La escuela fusilada" (The Fussillated School). It was shown in Madrid a few days ago after being presented in a number of Spanish cities. The film has got each prize in the film festivals of Aguilar de Campoo and Cantabria and it is expected to take part in the Bogotá film festival. An excellent piece of news, without doubt, which takes me back to the last quote that Almudena Grandes has included in her novel:

... para los estrategas, para los políticos, para los historiadores, todo está claro: hemos perdido la guerra. Pero humanamente, no estoy tan seguro... Quizás la hemos ganado.

Antonio Machado [3]

(December, 1938)

... for strategists, for politicians, for historians, everything is clear: we have lost the war. Humanly speaking, however, I am not so sure... Maybe we have won it.

And before ending this post I would like to point out a discrepancy –that maybe is not such– between the author and me. Although in many occasions we can feel as "a satisfied subject of the slow and demanding tyranny of the slowness that governs the time in the libraries", I believe that the literature we can find in them will always make us freer, and will turn us into the true heroes of their bookshelves

[1] She was born in Madrid in 1960. Author of the novels Las edades de Lulú (Lulú ages, which was awarded with the XI "La Sonrisa Vertical" prize), Te llamaré Viernes (I will call you Friday), Malena es un nombre de tango (Malena is a "tango" name), Atlas de geografía humana (Atlas of human geography), Los aires difíciles (Difficult winds) y Castillos de cartón (Cardboard castles). She has also written a fantastic compilation of articles, Mercado de Barceló (Barceló Market), and two books of tales, Modelos de mujer y Estaciones de paso (Woman models and Passing stations).

[2] Almudena Grandes quotes at the beginning of her book the following words of José Ortega y Gasset: "Lo que diferencia al hombre del animal es que el hombre es un heredero y no un mero descendiente" (What makes the difference between a human being and an animal is the fact that the human being is an inheritor not the mere offspring)

[3] The writer to whom the author says thank you, por todo y por el título (for everything and for the title) in her last words at the end of the book.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Publishing a book is one big adventure

Publishing a book is one big adventure

By Edgardo Civallero
Translation by Sara Plaza

Let's see if the following words remind you of something... We sit down in front of the papers, the keyboard –or the typewriter, since still there are many who maintain such a healthy custom–, and begin to write all the words that we have been building through several months (or years) of experience, research, discovery and failing. All those many words we have been looking for, chewing, digesting and thinking out inside us before being able to tell them to somebody else.

We all know that any researching process is hard and hazardous, even for the most accustomed and best prepared professional. Sometimes it leads to walk in circles, to get lost among one's own and somebody else's doubts, to get disillusioned, to spend days and weeks reading and noting down, and to steal hours from our work, sleep and family time. Writing in order to be able to show the result of our research –the final step of this process– means, for the researcher / writer, to put into words everything we have learnt and found. Anyway, we do not have to forget that those who decide to write are not only researchers: novelists, poets, essayists, teachers and anyone who has something to tell ends in front of a piece of paper developing their talent as writers. For all of them it was also necessary –I would say even "vital"– the process of searching (the words) and maturing (ideas and feelings) with all the problems and risks connected.

Then we begin to write. And nobody –not even oneself– knows how much time this task will demand. To put into words what our thought dictates is one of the biggest challenges for any human being, a process through which we have to take off the accessory clothes of what we think and turn it into word, into written word in fact, into orthography and grammar. I believe Plato was the one who wrote that when we turn what we think into word we lose almost everything, and when we pass from the spoken word into the written one we lose much more. Only the greatest ones in the art of writing know how to counteract (wonderfully, by the way) the effects of what seems to be a universal law.

Let's presume that the process of writing –with its high dose of emotion, effort, fear, tiredness and unpleasantness– has already finished. We have the manuscript in our hands, the product of our work. Congratulations! At that very moment we have to answer the big question:

"And now, what am I going to do with this?"

In order to be read –the aim pursued by the majority of those who have decide to write– it is necessary to multiply our manuscript by ten, hundred or thousand, and put it in our readers' hands. Being aware of the business that those following steps might represent, publishers took a step forward in the direction of their own benefit.

No, I am not going to criticize publishers in these lines. Business is business, and this is one of the many that "inhabits" our world (less condemnable than others such as health, education or law). What I am intended here is to describe, in short, the adventure of getting your book to be published.

The very first step: find out a number of publishers. There are international, national, regional and local publishers; they can be bigger or smaller, famous or unknown... There is a wide range of possibilities so it is important to have the ability to make a sensible decision after carefully considering all them.

Let's say that we are looking for a publisher that publishes LIS texts (I am so sorry, this is "professional deformation"): the spectrum gets drastically reduced. There are not so many, neither are they very well-known. Their lines of business –more or less specific– are collections and books about librarianship, documentation and information sciences.

After seeking and finding them –with names and surnames– we have to review their proposals, their collections, the titles they have published, which should be announced in their catalogues (usually online). And now it is time for a second judgment: does any of them publish books on the subject of our work? If none of them do it, welcome to the club of those who keep our manuscripts in a drawer! However, if any of them deals with our topic, we will have to propose the text for its edition, telling to the publisher about our work and also about us. This last point is very important: both in sciences and in literature, it can be said that on many occasions it sells more the name than the content. Once more we have to remember that this is business and "nobodies", despite the quality of their production, sometimes do not sell...

The publisher may give us different answers. For a start, they can ask us for the original in order to have a look at it; they can also refuse our offer... or they can say to us that they do not publish anything concerning the matter (despite the fact that our topic appears in their catalogue), which, far from being a contradiction, is a simple and quite diplomatic way of telling "we are not interested in you nor in your production".

However, if by chance they accept the original for its examination, we send it to them, always thinking and remembering (this is the case of the suspicious authors like me) that there are some examples of publishers, which decided to go on publishing very interesting texts with other name, forgetting the true author's, who, by the way, did not have his work protected by copyright. Sometimes, it might happen that in addition to request the original, publishers want to know our opinion about the market for our book, and they might also question us on the reason they should publish it for (this is to get their work done by someone else).

Anyway, a few weeks or a couple of months later (it all depends) you receive their assessment of your book. If they reject it, we can try with another publisher, and if there are not more options... again, welcome to the club of those who keep our manuscripts in a drawer!

On the contrary, if they decide to accept our work, they will send a contract to us. The terms of this document may be very different depending on the publisher, and once more, we do not have to forget that this is business. Generally speaking, the publisher holds the copyright on the author's work: s/he has to make it over to the publisher for a period of time. If the author wants to do something with her/his own text after having signed that contract, s/he has to ask for their permission to use it or any part of it (and publishers may give it or not). In addition, the publisher establishes the number of copies that they will publish (which use to be limited to 200 or 400 in the case of LIS texts) and the quality of those copies (in general the most economic, that it to say, the one that cost less to the publisher in terms of paper, ink and binding)

And finally, the bonus has to be decided also in advance: how much money the author will receive after publishing her/his book. Broadly speaking, the percentage is about the 10% of the selling price (at least in my own experience, but this amount may be different as well). This point can be illustrated with an example: after two or three years doing research and writing a book on the results got from it, I send the original to any publisher that wants to publish it. They print over 200 copies (very simple ones) that will be sold, let's say, for 10 U$S each. I will receive 200 dollars, while they will have earned 1800.

We have to admit that both novel researchers and writers –the ones who make such low number of copies– do not seek a healthy profit on what we write. We would like to be read. After months and months moving from one publisher to another, being badly affected by their unpleasant comments, lies, silences, tricks and so on, one ends up asking him/herself if the fact of seeing your book printed onto paper is worth so much effort when there are a few more options that we can choose in order to be read.

One of them is called POD, Print on Demand. It consists of companies that print a small number of copies of your book at a very reasonable price, according to the author's interests. The books are not of very high quality but... sometimes, the product of the big publishers is not good either. The author (sometimes the publisher itself) has to request the ISBN (a very simple step) and get the copyright for her/his work, and once the copies are ready (the minimum number of copies is about 30), s/he can present the book personally in libraries, bookstores, meetings or conferences.

The other is the ebook, in whose elaboration there is a number of enterprises working nowadays. For many people, an ebook is a book that does not exist. Nevertheless, it is one of the most versatile forms of spreading knowledge. In this case the author does not pay for the printing but for the design. S/he requests the ISBN, gets the copyright and then is able to do with her/his book whatever s/he wants (since s/he never hands her/his copyright over anybody else, neither the publisher): to spread it on the Internet, self-archive in Open Access portals, upload it to different websites, send it, store it in virtual libraries, sell it or even print it on demand. And those readers who want to have it printed onto paper, can download, print and use it (being always respectful of the conditions imposed by the author on her/his rights). In the case that the author wants to sell the book, all the profits made on the deal will be for her/him (though we should admit that try to sell our own work is not that easy).

Will the publishers disappear? No, I do not think so. We all enjoy and take advantage (intellectually, I mean) of their work. However, it is probably that we, authors whose material is not exactly "profitable" or "likely to be sold", begin to explore new possibilities, consider different spaces and open doors never knocked before. And I believe that it is necessary that something of the sort happens. Because if things continue to be as they are at the present, we will continue to read only what is business. That's all. In my opinion that will be really worrying.

Best wishes from behind this keyboard, where I have not got tired of writing yet. Outside, behind the window and the smoke of my pipe, the world blooms in spring....

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

A plurality of opinions: between doubt and contradiction

A plurality of opinions: between doubt and contradiction

By Sara Plaza

I must confess that I have read a lot of journals lately, newspapers from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean (I should admit, however, that nostalgia tied me up alongside the pages of an old quay [1] most of the times), and pieces of news from all the shores of the world. I have put my foot on the five continents at the hands (though I should say the fountain pen) of journalists who showed me the hazardous paths through which they have trodden before. I have seen peoples of different class and conditions with similar problems, here, there and in all the "corners" of our spherical planet. I have found diverse opinions about the same topic and they raised a huge number of doubts about the matter that was being dealt. I have discovered a great deal of controversial lines under the same headline, which would have also added new unknown quantities to the confusion state that I just mentioned above, which was increasing as days kept on going... When I got fond of reading newspapers –during my years at the Faculty–, I told myself that I read for knowing more; a few years later, I can say that I know almost nothing about what I first believed to know.

Which, I think it is not that bad, since my ignorance increases my curiosity and makes me keep on reading... Nevertheless, I do not believe that reading the daily news leads me to understand what is written by those who affirm to know what is happening. The same as Fernando Savater said in an interview, I "understand those who do not understand" [2]. The Spanish philosopher stated in those lines that "I am closer to those who are ignorant because of my own ignorance." And he added: "most of the manuals are very boring because those who write them believe that there is an obligation to read them." I do not know if this will be the case of the newspapers that, in some way, make us feel under any obligation to read them in order to be informed. And when I write "to be informed" I want to say exactly that: to be informed; since I would not want my words to suggest to the readers that it is the same as knowing about something, not even as feeling certain about the truth of the matter; I simply wish to point out that by reading what is written in the journals one can be, more or less, aware of what is said to be happening.

However, it is necessary to be able to understand certain linguistic register. Here I would not be only talking about a more formal or less formal style –even vulgar sometimes–, inside the standard way of writing, but also about the double–edged comments and what anyone can –and should– read between the lines to discover a meaning that is not openly stated... Regarding the differences in the writing style (that in many occasions become almost idiomatic differences), the writer Juan Goytisolo exposed a number of very interesting considerations in the article called "La fractura lingüística del Magreb" [3] (The linguistic break in Magreb). The author made a comparison between the current uses of the classical Arab (which is used in religious contexts, parliamentary assemblies, official ceremonies, almost the majority of the written literature, etc.) and the popular language that shares the people from Morocco and Algeria, the darixa, "named condescendingly, by the doctors and the 'living forces', dialectal or colloquial Arab, not to say 'vulgar'". For Goytisolo, that popular language, far from being "coarse", had surprised him by its "constant creativity" since, without forgetting its origin, the classical Arab, it has continually included voices from other languages. However, the author indicated that "the disparity between the formal and the spoken languages affects all the social, political and cultural life orders". Despite this statement, he permitted himself to be optimistic and concluded that "given the fact that the Maghrebian identity is multiple and mutant –as it happens with all the identities, no matter what constitutions and official texts say–, the darixa and the Berber common to the Atlas and the Cabilia will grow roots, sooner than later, in the field of knowledge and culture, however strong the resistance offered by the learned and the factitious powers might be".

The writer did not focused his article upon the desirable use –on the part of the media– of the language spoken by over the 99 % of the Maghrebian population, but he did mention them when reminded us of the prosecution against Ahmed Benschemi, the editor of the journals Nichan and Tel Que. Benschemi had published in the former an open letter to the king Mohamed VI in the language darixa instead of doing so in classical Arab. There is no doubt at all that languages and their different uses (and abuses) are a worry for many media. Another example that I have found surfing the newspapers during the last few weeks will illustrate this. In a sketch entitled "Lenguas contra personas" [4] (Languages against people) it was stated that: "the language white–collar workers' passion for regulating so strictly what people speak makes a complete nonsense of it". Those words were written about the Cristina Peri Rossi dismissal from Catalunya Ràdio (Catalonia Radio) program. She is a Uruguayan writer settled in Barcelona more than three decades ago, and this was her second period participating in the program. Peri Rossi was dismissed from her job for speaking in Spanish. "(...) Vocational censors might have thought that it would damage the rights of the Catalan language, and have decided to damage the labor rights of the writer instead". A number of pages ahead this note (that shows the linguistic fervor of some people) is amplified under the headline "La CCRTV [5] endurece el uso del catalán en los medios públicos" [6] (CCRTV hardens the use of Catalan in the public media). In my opinion, this official position, as it was assessed in the sketch mentioned, "contradicts the argument that in the social reality there is no problem, since there is an spontaneous linguistic co–occurrence, which allows all the civilians to participate in the public life whatever their communication language might be".

When at the beginning of these lines I wrote that I had found a lot of contradictions through my readings, the following one might turn to be another good example of it. Esteban Beltrán [7] affirmed in his article "Voltios sin control" [8] (Out–of–control voltage): "in the USA, the Taser–like guns are used with too much frequency in situations that the use of lethal force is not justified (...) the recent images of the student who was tased by security agents on the seventeenth of September, in the middle of Senator John Kerry conference, at the University of Florida, are an example of it. He was neither a dangerous delinquent, nor wanted to attempt against the Senator. A current of 50.000 volts passed through him because he was very insistent on making a question." Curiously, when I turned the page I discovered by chance a letter to the editor entitled "La verdadera libertad de expression" (The true freedom of expression), where the author explains, in relation with the recent celebration of the UN General Assembly in New York, that: "it has been an incomparable spectacle to see how the media and the students [in the States] have interrogated the Iranian President in a number of occasions, while in his country this is simply impossible".

I guess that things can always be worse... And it is to this fear that Fernando Savater referred when, under the title "Del dicho al hecho" [9] (Actions speak louder than words), he talked about the big political parties: "they know that the majority of the population have to choose between a party that they do not like and another that they hate, and each provost is awaiting for his party to be the one that they only do not like." I have been reading this philosopher for years and cannot stop wondering at the clarity in his explanations. With respect to the new and polemical subject in the Spanish school curriculum, "Educación para la ciudadanía" ("Education for Citizenship", which has already been adopted by 22 countries in the European Community and it is called "Civic Education" in Argentina), the author stated in the same text that "it has been proven that there are still citizens who consider an inadmissible abuse the explicit and reasoned establishment of a series of common civic values, which do not depend on the moral of each one, but on the ethics of living together in equality. Laicism consists precisely in this, and it is as indispensable in democracy as it is the universal suffrage." Among those citizens that Savater mentioned, might be the spokesman of the Spanish bishops, Juan Antonio Martínez Camino. He declared, in the article entitled "Los obispos reprenden a los colegios católicos por la asignatura de Ciudadanía" [10] (Bishops reprimand Catholic schools for the subject of Citizenship), that neither the Government, nor the Court, although they are democratic, have the right to meddle in "the education of the consciousnesses".

I definitely consider that reading the newspaper, if you do it with a bit of humor, may offer you a good number of surprises, in addition to many doubts and numerous contradictions as the examples shown in this page. I am not going to deny that I use to laugh less than I would like to when I have a journal in my hands; however, I make an effort to allow news to provoke in me such a healthy effect that is laugh, if we have to believe the words of Juan Goytisolo when he affirms that "(laugh) has always signaled the direction that all the peoples wishing to gain their freedom and their progress try to follow, whatever obstacles they have to overcome in their way." [11]

[1] Through these lines I will mention a number of different articles published in the international edition of EL PAÍS at the end of September 2007.

[2] From the article "Entiendo a los que no entienden" (I understand to those who do not understand), in the international edition of EL PAÍS, Friday 21st, 2007, in the "Cultura" (Culture) section.

[3] In the international edition of EL PAÍS, Monday 24th, 2007, in the "Opinión" (Opinion) section.

[4] In the international edition of EL PAÍS, Friday 28th, 2007, in the "Opinión" (Opinion) section.

[5] Corporación Catalana de Radio y Televisión (Radio and Television Corporation of Catalonia).

[6] In the international edition of EL PAÍS, Friday 28th, 2007, in the "Sociedad" (Society) section.

[7] Director of Amnesty Internacional Spain.

[8] In the international edition of EL PAÍS, Friday 28th, 2007, in the "Opinión" (Opinion) section.

[9] In the international edition of EL PAÍS, Friday 28th, 2007, in the "Opinión" (Opinion) section.

[10] In the international edition of EL PAÍS, Friday 28th, 2007, in the "Sociedad" (Society) section.

[11] From the article "La fractura lingüística del Magreb" (The linguistic break in the Magreb), In the international edition of EL PAÍS, Friday 28th, 2007, in the "Opinión" (Opinion) section.

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