Monday, February 18, 2019

In the Closet of the Vatican

A startling account of corruption and hypocrisy at the heart of the Vatican

In the Closet of the Vatican, by French journalist Frédéric Martel, exposes the rot at the heart of the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church today. This brilliant piece of investigative writing is based on four years' authoritative research, including extensive interviews with those in power. 

The celibacy of priests, the condemnation of the use of contraceptives, countless cases of sexual abuse, the resignation of Benedict XVI, misogyny among the clergy, the dramatic fall in Europe of the number of vocations to the priesthood, the plotting against Pope Francis – all these issues are clouded in mystery and secrecy.

In the Closet of the Vatican is a book that reveals these secrets and penetrates this enigma. It derives from a system founded on a clerical culture of secrecy which starts in junior seminaries and continues right up to the Vatican itself. It is based on the double lives of priests and on extreme homophobia. The resulting schizophrenia in the Church is hard to fathom. But the more a prelate is homophobic, the more likely it is that he is himself gay.

"Behind rigidity there is always something hidden, in many cases a double life." These are the words of Pope Francis himself and with them, the Pope has unlocked the Closet.

No one can claim to really understand the Catholic Church today until they have read this book. It reveals a truth that is extraordinary and disturbing.

In the Closet of the Vatican is due to be published by Bloomsbury on February 21, 2019 in the US, the UK and Canada. The title of the Italian and Spanish editions will be Sodoma

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Billy Wilder: Hollywood Comedy’s Caustic Social Chronicler

Compound Adjective Practice

Billy Wilder, who died on 27th March at his Beverly Hills home at the age of 95, was the most pungent and literate creator of movie comedy in mid-20th century Hollywood. As a writer and director, he helped shape an evolution in style and taste from the pre-war innocence blended with verbal sophistication of screenplays like Midnight and Ninotchka, via the satirical tragicomedy mixed with resonant one-liners (“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr DeMille”) of Sunset Boulevard (1950), to the hectic, irreverent slapstick of his best-known comedy Some Like It Hot (1956).

That the same man directed the hardboiled thriller Double Indemnity, a classic of film noir, the archetypal Hollywood drama about alcoholism The Lost Weekend and the Oscar-winning sweet-sour romantic comedy The Apartment made Wilder a caustic social chronicler almost without peer in western cinema in the last century.

A European refugee who fled Germany in 1933, he showed a fondness for fish-out-of-the-water tales. In Ninotchka, stern Bolshevik Greta Garbo falls for pleasure-loving American Melvyn Douglas. In Ball of Fire mild-mannered linguistics professor Gary Cooper tangles with goodtime girl Barbara Stanwyck. Both these movies were scripted, for other directors, by Wilder and his then regular collaborator Charles Brackett. When Wilder himself began directing, in 1942 with The Major and the Minor, the same misfit themes recurred in films as diverse as Ace in the Hole, his hard-hitting satire on newspaper reporting; the prisoner-of-war drama Stalag 17; the wistful Audrey Hepburn romantic comedy Sabrina; and the strident but fiercely idiosyncratic comedies he made from the mid-1950s with new screenplay collaborator I.A.L. Diamond.

Wilder’s cinema reflected, albeit in a comical distorting mirror, the life of a man tossed about from country to country since his teens. Born in Vienna in 1906, Wilder first flirted with law studies and journalism in Austria. He soon migrated to Berlin, working variously as a reporter, as a so-called taxi dancer and finally as a script collaborator in half a dozen German films.

As one of a legion of refugees from Nazism in Hollywood, Wilder soon became the most American of immigrant film-makers. His brash, wisecracking style set a pace few natives could equal. He used favourite actors over and over —Fred MacMurray, Shirley MacLaine, Walter Matthau, above all Jack Lemmon— to help shape his world of abrasive dialogue, astringent romance, hapless physical comedy and defiant optimism. The final line of Some Like It Hot became the most famous in screen comedy history —when millionaire Joe E. Brown’s “fiancée” Lemmon (in drag) confesses that he is a man, Brown shrugs, smiles and says “Nobody’s perfect”.

After The Apartment won Oscars for Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay, Wilder’s work declined in vitality and inventiveness. The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes, Avanti! and Fedora were ambitious but thinly scripted whimsies. The Front Page and Buddy Buddy tried to re-ignite the spark of the Lemmon-Matthau partnership Wilder himself created in the 1966 Meet Whiplash Willie (aka The Fortune Cookie), which won Matthau an Oscar.

In the 1980s and 1990s Wilder toyed with projects that never saw the light, including directing Shindler’s List. He also gave his time to befriending younger directors, one of whom, Cameron Crowe (of Jerry Maguire) published in 1999 a definitive book-length interview with him, Conversations with Billy Wilder.

As a movie artist, Wilder left no one indifferent. Detractors included Pauline Kael, the New Yorker critic, and David Thomson, who in his Biographical Dictionary of Film called Wilder “a heartless exploiter of public taste who manipulates situations in the name of satire. He prefers dialogue to character, sniping to structure”. For others, Wilder combined a classical command of craft with iconoclastic courage in confronting taboo subjects. 

© NIGEL ANDREWS, Financial Times, 2002

Task 1 Look up the underlined compound adjectives that you did not know.
Task 2 Learn the expressions highlighted in pink.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019


This historical political cartoon by Tom Wilson was published by The Washington Post in November 1980, in the aftermath of ultra-conservative Ronald Reagan's landslide victory in the US presidential election. What happened afterwards is in the public domain.

Friday, January 18, 2019

TV or not TV? The impact of subtitling on English skills

English is the language of the globalized world, and the lingua franca for the international communities in, among others, science, business, finance, advertising, tourism, and technology. Sixty-eight percent of citizens in the EU rate English as the most useful foreign language – far above the second position of French with 25% (European Commission, 2006). Not surprisingly, English is the most widely learned foreign language, and this trend is expected to continue growing fast in the coming decades (Graddol, 2006). Graddol (1997) estimates that about one billion people are currently learning English worldwide, with 200 million in China alone. More than 80% of the EU’s school students learn English. The duration of foreign language as a compulsory subject ranges between six and 13 years in the non-English-speaking EU (Eurydice, 2005).

The general message in this study is simple. Continuous exposure to English-language media contents help people learn English and, thus, the citizens of countries where foreign films and programs are shown in their original version in television will likely speak, on average, better English than those that live in countries where television is dubbed. This is relevant because previous studies have shown that better English language skills improve economic performance. 

Dubbing countries in our sample invest the same in education as the subtitling countries. Yet subtitling countries score 3.4 points higher in the TOEFL exams. We show that the television translation methods can explain part of the skills gap. We identify a subtitling effect equivalent to 16.9% of the overall TOEFL score. We also analyze the differential impact of subtitling by type of English skill (listening, speaking, reading, and writing). We find that the strongest effect is for listening (19.4%). 

Our results are robust to the inclusion of other determinants of language skill including language proximity, demographic indicators and proxies for the quality of the education system. Interestingly, the choice of translation technology at the time of sound cinema diffusion did (could) not take into account the benefits of improved English skills. In fact, subtitling may have appeared undesirable at first because it forced audiences to read, but it turned out to be beneficial ex-post in terms of English proficiency (and audiences got used to subtitling). This paper thus shows that how countries adopt foreign “cultural” products matters in the long term.

Excerpts from: A. Rupérez Micola, A. Aparicio Fenoll and A. Banal-Estañol et al., TV or not TV? The impact of subtitling on English skills, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization,

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Watch TV series with subtitles

TV series in English recommended by teachers according to your level

Watching series in English improves your comprehension skills, but first you need to choose the right ones

Estas son tres de las series que los profesores nos han recomendado para mejorar distintos niveles de inglés.

Estar al día de todas las series de moda puede ocuparte muchas horas semanales pero, si las ves en versión original, al menos tienes una buena excusa: estás perfeccionando tu inglés. Según un estudio publicado el pasado diciembre en Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, los países de habla no inglesa en los que las series y programas de televisión se emiten en versión original subtitulada tienen mejor nivel de inglés que los países que los doblan. Sin embargo, debido al vocabulario, a la personalidad de los personajes, las tramas o los acentos, no todas las series pueden ayudarte del mismo modo. Hemos preguntado a cinco profesores de inglés —españoles y extranjeros— por cuáles son sus recomendaciones dependiendo de tu nivel.
Antes de empezar a devorar capítulos (queremos decir, aprender idiomas), tienes que tener en cuenta que la elección de las series no depende solo del nivel, sino de tus gustos personales. “Nosotros, como profesores, podemos dar muchas pistas de cómo aprovechar mejor el visionado de una serie [para aprender inglés], pero es algo muy personal”, cuenta a Verne Christina Anastasiadis, directora académica para alumnos adultos de International House Madrid. “Lo más importante es ver algo que te interese y te motive, porque así es como se presta atención. No basta con ponérsela y esperar aprender inglés por ósmosis”, bromea.
Para que tengas dónde elegir, hemos preparado esta infografía con diferentes opciones, según cuál sea tu nivel y tus gustos:

De las sitcoms a las series complejas
Si te fijas en la infografía, verás que uno de los géneros más recomendados para los niveles principiante e intermedio son las comedias de situación como Los Simpson o Friends. “Son series de capítulos cortos, por lo que es fácil mantenerse atento”, cuenta Anastasiadis. Además, “son bastante repetitivas, por lo que es más fácil seguir una trama cuando ya conocemos a sus personajes y sabemos cómo suelen reaccionar”. Por el mismo motivo, también pueden ser muy útiles los programas de televisión temáticos de subastas, reformas del hogar o concursos de cocina. Además de las que aparecen en la infografía, los profesores también nos han recomendado la edición británica de Masterchef, Love it or List it, The World's Most Extraordinary Homes o The Tudors.
Las sitcoms también son recomendables para niveles intermedios, pero pueden probarse formatos más largos y empezar a poner el oído en los acentos. Una de las más recomendadas por los profesores y profesoras consultadas es The Crown. “La pronunciación es difícil al principio, pero te acostumbras. Es el típico acento británico, muy correcto y clásico”, explica a Verne Charlie Carr, profesor del Instituto Internacional de Idiomas.
Para niveles avanzados, los profesores recomiendan series más complejas, en las que las tramas tienen más giros. También series con acentos complicados —varios han citado Peaky Blinders por su inglés de Birmingham— o con humor basado en el lenguaje y los juegos de palabras, como Flowers. “Es una comedia abstracta típicamente inglesa que exige un alto nivel de inglés para entender no solo el vocabulario, sino el humor inglés y la cultura británica”, cuenta Carr. Además de las que aparecen en la infografía, los profesores también nos han recomendado Call the Midwife, Peaky BlindersBillions, Sense8 o Black Mirror.
(Verve, 17.01.2019)

Friday, January 11, 2019

Campus europeos

La Unión Europea refuerza los lazos entre universidades de países distintos con un plan para compartir alumnos, profesores, títulos y proyectos

Las universidades europeas han cambiado mucho desde que empezó hace veinte años el plan Bolonia. Son cada vez más los estudiantes que viajan al exterior para formarse, existen propuestas de títulos dobles y planes de colaboración —en másteres, en doctorados, en investigación— entre centros de países distintos. El programa Erasmus ha sido eficaz a la hora de fomentar y consolidar esa familiaridad entre jóvenes de ciudades distantes que tanto aporta al proyecto de una Europa común. El plan que ahora ha puesto en marcha la Unión, dotado con 30 millones de euros, para que en 2025 existan 20 campus transnacionales va en esa misma dirección. La idea de que hasta tres universidades de países distintos creen consorcios para compartir alumnos y planes científicos y de investigación representa un paso más para romper con esa percepción que tanto ha calado de que Europa está lejos de sus ciudadanos.

A finales de febrero termina el plazo para que las alianzas se presenten al programa piloto, y a partir de ahí se irán estableciendo los procedimientos para la convalidación de estudios y otras complicaciones burocráticas. Una de las rémoras principales de las universidades españolas es precisamente su falta de internacionalización, y por eso el Gobierno ha convertido este factor en una de las tres patas que están orientando la nueva ley universitaria en la que trabaja. Por eso mismo, este nuevo plan constituye un estímulo más para abrir una universidad en la que sólo el 1,8% de sus profesores es extranjero. La Autónoma de Madrid, Salamanca, Complutense, Granada y Pompeu Fabra participan ya en consorcios.

Sea como sea, la propuesta europea no debería servir en ningún caso de cortina de humo para que la universidad española se desentienda de los problemas que sigue arrastrando desde lejos. El viejo nepotismo ha adoptado nuevas formas en la selección del personal, la calidad y orginalidad en la investigación deja que desear, hay demasiadas diferencias entre unos centros y otros, está la vergonzosa sombra de los másteres regalados a políticos, y hace falta mejor financiación, mayor autonomía, y más competencia y autoridad en quienes la dirigen. (El País, 8.1.19)

Saturday, January 05, 2019

130 Years of National Geographic_exhibition

Protecting the environments become the most important crossroad of our time. Our existence depends on the conservation of the planet. Therefore, the research projects whose purpose is to guarantee this survival are key to our very own future as a species.

130 years ago, there was an identical desire to learn about our environment in order to improve it. This brought together 33 scholars including natural scientists, geographers, cartographers, educators, lawyers, and fom the military, to create an entity which would contribute to extending the boundaries of knowledge of geography. Thus was born the National Geographic Society, founded on a cold day, 27 January 1888 in Washington D.C. by this heterogeneous group of wise men, among which were philanthropist Gardiner Greene Hubbard, the first President of the Society, and his son-in-law, British inventor, scientist, and speech therapist Alexander Graham Bell, who succeeded him as President. 
Since then, National Geographic has become the most important non-profit institution in the world, and an absolute reference when it comes to exploration and research.

Under the protection of the yellow frame of its iconic logo, in the last century and a half the National Geographic Society has supported the careers of scientists and researchers from all around the world. Figures such as the North Pole explorer Robert E. Peary, or the man who discovered the city of Machu Pichu, Hiram Bingham, as well as those who are closer to our contemporary period. This is the case of the primatologists Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey; the oceanographer and marine archaeologist who discovered the remains of the Titanic, Robert Ballard; film-maker James Cameron; Spanish marine biologist, Enric Sala; and the recent winner of the 2018 Princess of Asturias Award, also a marine biologist, Sylvia Earle.

"A Window to the World. 130 Years of National Geographic" shows not only the history of the Society and its legacy, but also the evolution of an institution that has been capable of adapting to the times, and to vary the definitions of its main missions according to the demands of the said missions. Although when it started out the goal of the 33 founders was to explore the geography of the world and search for places that were still unknown to man, the challenges have varied according to the times to accommodate other priorities. Geography has given way to exploration of other worlds: space, with articles and documentaries about NASA missions and unknown universes such as Mars, and the oceans, the latest current frontier, source of life from the beginning of our planet, and one of the main conservation missions in order to guarantee the survival of our species. In the words of Sylvia Earle, "No Blue, No Green," in reference to how much we depend on the sustainability of the seabed in order to recover the environmental balance. 

Through photographs, videos, and iconic objects, the exhibition delves into these issues, presented in five sections, through which we will learn more about the early days, but especially about the present and future of National Geographic, its missions and their meaning. Visitors will begin their journey in Terra incognita, where we celebrate the birth of the Society and the age of expeditions. In Origin, visitors will learn about the explorations that have contributed to discovering our development as a species. In De Profundis, we propose a look at this essential underwater world, with the presence of the Pristine Project, the mission set up by Enric Sala in 2008 to explore the last wild underwater enclaves. In The Future at Stake we look towards space, but also to the challenges that we have as a species to reverse the degradation of our natural environment, and finally, the Coexistence section shows us other challenges that National Geographic also currently addresses, such as gender and racial diversity in our global society, the most relevant issues of the present.

The exhibition A Window to the World. 130 Years of National Geographic is on at the Espacio Telefónica in Madrid (Fuencarral, 3) until February 24th, 2019.