Monday, December 05, 2016

Síndrome de inmunodeficiencia social

La posverdad ha sido facilitada por las nuevas técnicas de comunicación. Me parece sintomático el uso que se hace de la palabra 'viralidad' en las redes. Por JOSÉ ANTONIO MARINA

Las sociedades tienen sus propias patologías. El fanatismo y la violencia, por ejemplo. Hace años, describí una enfermedad social apenas atendida. La denominé síndrome de inmunodeficiencia social. La inmunodeficiencia está bien estudiada en individuos: un organismo pierde su capacidad para defenderse contra un agente patógeno. Su sistema inmunitario deja de funcionar. Una sociedad puede también perder esa capacidad y volverse incapaz de aislar, combatir, neutralizar o expulsar los elementos dañinos. Sospecho que España padece esta enfermedad. Es la razón por la que no somos capaces de combatir la corrupción. 

Hoy quiero tratar otra manifestación de esa enfermedad que ha adquirido una virulencia especial en muchos países: la tolerancia a la mentira. Oxford Dictionaries ha elegido el término 'post-truth', posverdad, como palabra del año. Aunque existe desde hace dos décadas, ha saltado a la fama en los últimos meses. En lo que a mí respecta, por sendos artículos en 'Harvard Gazette' (julio de 2016), 'The New York Times' (agosto) y 'The Economist' (septiembre). Luego vinieron muchos más. La posverdad se define como "situación en que las emociones y creencias personales influyen más en la formación de la opinión pública que los hechos objetivos”. Mala definición si pretende definir un fenómeno nuevo, porque ese ha sido un sempiterno mecanismo de manipulación política o publicitaria. Lo nuevo es que una falsedad continúa siendo aceptada a sabiendas de que es una falsedad, y se toman decisiones basándose en ella, porque no se considera importante que lo sea. Sucedió en el Brexit y ha vuelto a suceder con Trump. Según 'PolitiFact', alrededor del 70% de las afirmaciones sobre hechos de Donald Trump eran falsas. Da igual. Christopher Robichaud, de la Harvard Kennedy School, sostiene que es cierto que Trump miente, pero que en la era de la política posverdad tal cosa no parece criticable. "Sería como criticar a un actor por decir cosas falsas”.

Se trata, pues, de una devaluación de la verdad y, paralelamente, de una devaluación de la falsedad y de la mentira. Como todos los fenómenos sociales, este tiene un larga historia, que contaré telegráficamente. El siglo XX mostró que todos los regímenes dictatoriales y todos los fanatismos defienden verdades absolutas. Se pensó que el antídoto era el pensamiento débil y un educado relativismo, menos belicoso que la pretensión de verdad. Todas las opiniones se volvieron igualmente respetables. Frente al monoteísmo de la verdad, el politeísmo de las opiniones. En los medios de comunicación se hizo cada vez más difícil distinguir entre 'hechos' y 'opinión sobre los hechos'. Incluso se piensa que los hechos no existen, solo existen las interpretaciones de los mismos. La palabra 'post-factual' es sinónima de 'post-truth'. Los expertos dicen, con un cinismo realista, que, si uno tiene el suficiente dinero, puede contratar a una agencia que le busque hechos que apoyen su idea, sea cual sea. Y, por supuesto, también puede contratar un filtro que solo le proporcione las noticias que corroboren sus prejuicios.

La posverdad ha sido facilitada por las nuevas técnicas de comunicación. Las patologías sociales se expanden como un virus. Me parece sintomático el uso que se hace de la palabra 'viralidad' en las redes. Por eso ha surgido la polémica, incluso dentro de Facebook. Según 'The New York Times', altos responsables de la compañía han discutido sobre la posible responsabilidad de Facebook en el triunfo de Trump, y la necesidad de trabajar para combatir la desinformación. Pero Zuckerberg ha recordado que esta red social no es una agencia de noticias ni un medio de información social, y que no pueden convertirse en guardianes de la verdad. Es una mera red social. Sin embargo, según el informe Pew, el 62% de los americanos recibe noticias a través de estas plataformas. Neerzan Zimmerman, que trabajó en 'Gawker' como especialista en “tráfico rápido de historias virales” (el nombre de su profesión ya es significativo), afirma: “Hoy día no es importante que la historia sea real. Lo único importante es que la gente haga clic sobre ella. Los hechos están superados. Es una reliquia de la edad de la prensa escrita, cuando los lectores no podían elegir. Ahora, si una persona no comparte una noticia, no hay noticia”. 

La tolerancia al engaño es una de las manifestaciones del síndrome de inmunodeficiencia social del que les estoy hablando. Se están intentando vacunas, como el 'fact checking', que comprueba los datos ofrecidos por los políticos. Han aparecido el FactCheck.org, PoliticFacts, The Fact Checker, en EEUU, Channel4Fact Check, Fact Check Central y FullFact en el reino Unido, 'El objetivo' de Ana Pastor en España, 'Les Decodeurs' en Francia, e iniciativas más limitadas, como el blog 'BILDblog' en Alemania, que verificaba los artículos del diario 'Bild'. Los grandes periódicos ya realizaban esta función con otro nombre. Por ejemplo, 'Der Spiegel' mantenía un equipo de 70 personas dedicado a verificar hechos, lo que supone un elevado coste económico. El 'Reporter’s Lab' de la Universidad de Duke recoge información sobre estas iniciativas. A pesar de su auge, por el momento, la vacuna no funciona porque el influjo de la posverdad es demasiado fuerte. Donald Trump ha calificado al 'fact-check' de “out-of-touch” y “elitist media-type thing” , es decir, algo desconectado de la realidad y elitista, y Michael Gove, uno de los políticos que más apoyaron el Brexit, afirmó que los expertos son un peligro, lo que suponía desacreditar el conocimiento.

La única solución que se me ocurre es defender una filosofía que crea en la verdad, lo que en este momento no es tan fácil de encontrar. Sin embargo, es posible. El síndrome de inmunodeficiencia social es un prueba más de que necesitamos reivindicar la filosofía —que trata del método para separar la verdad de la falsedad— como servicio público. 

Postdata. Cuando el artículo ya está escrito, leo un reciente discurso de Michael Higgins, presidente de Irlanda, diciendo que el mejor antídoto contra la posverdad es introducir la filosofía en las escuelas. ¡Bienvenido al club! (El Confidencial, 22.11.2016)

Friday, November 25, 2016

Traffic Warden_short film

A short film by Donald Rice (UK, 2004)
There is nothing like a good short film. A simple plot, words gone, this film proves why short films are still the best and most complete art form. Director Donald Rice portrays love at first sight wonderfully and proves that this simple plot is such a universal, if not dreamy, understanding amongst everyone, no matter who they are. Words then become useless, and any little push the audience needs in the right direction is shown written, on signs along the way. People like twists on old favourites, and that is what makes this film so charming.
This short film contains almost no dialogue, but is clever, touching, and funny. The acting is brilliant, especially considering the constraints of time and scope. Actor David Tennant especially shines as the traffic warden who might make you think twice about saying mean things next time you get a parking ticket.
The music, the setting, and the characters unite to create a piece of art that is harmonious and a treat for the eyes and ears. Extra little touches add a layer of clever creativity that elevates it from good to great. Enjoy it!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Video: US tourists ask Madrileños to translate a homophobic note

A US gay couple asks Madrid passers-by to translate a homophobic note. The film is part of gay rights group’s awareness campaign encouraging people to report hate crimes.



A gay couple from the United States makes a reservation online to stay at a hostel in Madrid. When they ask for directions on how to reach it, they receive a message in Spanish from the owner and, not speaking a word of the language, ask for help translating it from passers-by. The note is filled with homophobic insults, including a threat to punch them in the face if they even think about kissing each other inside the hostel.

The spontaneous reactions of the people reading out the note to them are recorded in an English-language, Spanish-subtitled video produced by Spain’s State Federation of Lesbian, Gays Transsexuals and Bisexuals (FELGTB) for its new awareness campaign, Con la voz bien alta (With a loud voice).

Two actors were hired to play the couple, but the reactions of the passers-by were genuine. 
The aim of the campaign is to remind people that they have the right to file a police complaint against anyone who threatens, insults or physically assaults someone because of their sexual orientation. According to the group, 38 percent of the LGBT community in Spain has been a victim of some kind of assault, but only 10 percent report such incidents to police.

FELGTB wants the new campaign to educate people about the hate crimes that many suffer because of their sexual orientation and also to pressure the government into passing a law against what it has labeled “LGBT-phobia.”




Thursday, November 17, 2016

'Post-truth' named word of the year by the Oxford Dictionary

US election and EU referendum drive popularity of adjective describing situation ‘in which objective facts are less influential than appeals to emotion’


In the era of Donald Trump and Brexit, Oxford Dictionaries has declared “post-truth” to be its international word of the year.

Defined by the dictionary as an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”, editors said that use of the term “post-truth” had increased by around 2,000% in 2016 compared to last year. The spike in usage, it said, is “in the context of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States”.

Oxford Dictionaries’s word of the year is intended to “reflect the passing year in language”, with post-truth following the controversial choice last year of the “face with tears of joy” emoji. 

Contenders for the title had included the noun “alt-right”, shortened from the fuller form “alternative right” and defined as “an ideological grouping associated with extreme conservative or reactionary viewpoints, characterised by a rejection of mainstream politics and by the use of online media to disseminate deliberately controversial content”.


But the increase in usage of post-truth saw the term eventually emerge ahead of the pack. “We first saw the frequency really spike this year in June with buzz over the Brexit vote and Donald Trump securing the Republican presidential nomination. Given that usage of the term hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words of our time,” predicted Oxford Dictionaries president Casper Grathwohl. 
(The Guardian, November 15, 2016)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Populists are out to divide us. They must be stopped

So now the challenge is in plain view: we face the globalisation of anti-globalisation, a popular front of populists, an International of nationalists. “Today the United States, tomorrow – France,” tweets Jean-Marie Le Pen. It will be a long, hard struggle to defeat them, at home and abroad, and we may now have to look elsewhere for the “leader of the free world”. But defeat them we will.
In Vladimir Putin’s Russia we have something very close to fascism. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey is rapidly crossing the line between illiberal democracy and fascism, while Viktor Orbán’s Hungary is already an illiberal democracy. In Poland, France, the Netherlands, Britain and now the US, we have to defend the line between liberal and illiberal democracy.
In Britain that means standing up for the independence of the judiciary, the sovereignty of parliament and the impartial strength of the BBC. In the US we shall now witness the biggest test of one of the strongest, oldest systems of liberal democratic checks and balances. Even though Republicans dominate Congress and, fatefully, Donald Trump will be able to make key political appointments to the supreme court, that does not mean the new president will have it all his own way.
What we see in all these nationalist populisms is an ideology that claims that the directly expressed will of “the people” trumps all other sources of authority. And the populist leader identifies himself – or herself, in the case of Marine Le Pen – as the single voice of the people. Trump’s “I am your voice” is a totemic populist line. But so is the Daily Mail’s front page denouncing the three British judges who ruled that parliament must have a vote on Brexit as “enemies of the people”. So is the Turkish prime minister rebuking EU claims that a red line has been crossed in his country’s brutal repression of media freedom by saying: “The people draw the red lines.”
On closer examination, it turns out that “the people” – Volk might be a more accurate term – is actually only a part of the people. Trump perfectly exemplified this populist sleight of hand in an impromptu remark at a campaign rally.
Pint

“The only important thing is the unification of the people,” he said, “because the other people don’t mean anything.” It’s not the Others, you see: the Kurds, Muslims, Jews, refugees, immigrants, black people, elites, experts, homosexuals, Sinti and Roma, cosmopolitans, metropolitans, gay Europhile judges. Ukip’s Nigel Farage announced that Brexit was a victory for ordinary people, decent people, real people – 48% of those who voted in the referendum being thereby declared neither ordinary nor decent nor real.
Does history teach us anything about such wave-like phenomena, appearing at roughly the same time in many places, in different national and regional forms, but nonetheless having common features? Nationalist populism now, globalised liberalism (or neoliberalism) in the 1990s, fascism and communism in the 1930s and 40s, imperialism in the 19th century. Two lessons perhaps: that these things usually take a significant period of time to work themselves out; and that to reverse them (if the wave is of a kind you want to see reversed) requires courage, determination, consistency, the development of a new political language and new policy answers to real problems.
A great example is the development of western Europe’s combination of market economy and welfare state after 1945. This model, which finally saw off the waves of communism and fascism, needed the intellectual genius of a John Maynard Keynes, the policy know-how of people like William Beveridge and the political skill of people like Clement Attlee. I say “people like” because other names could be inserted for the versions adopted in other west European countries. But what an ocean of blood, sweat and tears we had to swim through to reach that point.
We must therefore brace ourselves for a long struggle, perhaps even a generational struggle. This is not yet a “post-liberal world”, but it could become so. The forces behind the popular front of populism are strong, traditional parties are often weak, and such waves are not reversed overnight.
For a start, we need to defend pluralism at home. We also need to understand the economic, social and cultural causes of the vote for populists. Not just the left but liberals and moderate conservatives must seek a new language to appeal, emotionally as well as substantively, to that large part of the populist electorate that is not irredeemably xenophobic, racist and misogynist. (Not calling half of them a “basket of deplorables” is a good place to start.) Rhetoric alone obviously won’t do it. What are the right policies? Is it really free trade agreements and immigration that are undermining people’s jobs, or is it mainly technology? If the latter, what do we do about that?


PinElsewhere, the first challenge is to prevent the erosion of existing elements of liberal international order – hard-won agreements on climate change, for example, and current free-trade agreements. Philosophically, president Xi Jinpingof China might welcome a Trumpworld of strong, assertive, nationalistic sovereign states, but practically both leaders should recognise that a return to the economic nationalism of the 1930s – 45% tariff barriers on Chinese imports were promised by campaigner Trump – would be disastrous for everyone. The one good thing about an International of nationalists is that it’s ultimately a contradiction in terms.

We must also hope that serious, experienced Americans do go to work shaping the foreign and economic policy of the new administration, however morally distasteful Trump is. It’s time for holding your nose and Max Weber’s “ethics of responsibility”. Yet even if they do, this is likely to be a bombastic, erratic and unpredictable presidency.
A greater burden therefore falls on other leading democracies: many in Europe, but also Canada, Australia, Japan and India. If we in Europe feel it is vital for the Baltic states to be protected against any possible kind of aggression by Putin’s Russia, we must work through Nato and the EU to ensure that. We can’t rely on a Putin-praising Trump.
If we Europeans think it important to keep an independent Ukrainian democracy alive, we must see to that ourselves. Britain having sidelined itself as a result of its own version of nationalist populism, a special responsibility lies with French and German voters. If we have a French president Alain Juppé and a re-elected chancellor Angela Merkel at the end of next year, Europe may still be able to pull its weight.
Merkel made by far the most dignified response I have seen to Trump’s election. “Germany and America,” she said, “are tied by values of democracy, freedom and respect for the law and human dignity, independent of origin, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views. I offer the next president of the United States, Donald Trump, close cooperation on the basis of these values.” Magnificent.
The phrase “leader of the free world” is usually applied to the president of the United States, and rarely without irony. I’m tempted to say that the leader of the free world is now Angela Merkel.
By The Guardian, November 11th 2016
Link to the Spanish translation.

Friday, November 11, 2016

B2 Language Structures

  • to be fed up with something/doing something (face2face, Upper Intermediate, Workbook, page 64) + Learn other ways of expressing feelings and opinions in exercise 1a, face2face, p 18

  • to get used to something/doing something (face2face, Workbook, p 64). See: used to + INF vs. be/get used to + GERNowadays children are not used to playing games outdoors. BUT When they were children, my parents used to play in the street and would invent their own games. be/get used to + GERUND BUT used to + INFINITIVE

  • An alternative way to express probability: [not] to be likely to do something: Relax about your mistakes and you are less likely to make them again. (face2face, Workbook, p 64)

  • To express that a situation has ceased to exist we use the expression: Affirmative verb + no longer OR Negative verb + any more/any longer: Exams are no longer necessary OR Exams aren't necessary any more/any longer. (face2face, p 12, 19, 105) He does not travel by plane any more/any longer = He no longer travels by plane.

  • something is worth doing: His book will convince people that rapid cognition is worth studying. (face2face, p 21) See also: the "worth" structures

  • to blame someone for something; to blame something on something else; to blame something/someone: She is not be blamed for her mistakes! A lot of people blame everything on the media. It's time we stopped blaming the school system. (face2face, p 82 + Workbook, p 66) 

  • We say something is supposed to + Verb (The "dead kangaroo" story was supposed to have happened in the Australian outback, Listening Unit 4A) or someone is supposed to be + Adjective (People in that part of the world are supposed to be very talkative). 

  • To evaluate an activity we say: I find it easy/difficult/etc to + INF:  Do you find it easy to work out what's happening when you watch a film in English? (face2facep 32) To evaluate people or things we use the structure: Subject + find + someone/something + AdjectiveI find Eva Hache funny. NOT *I find funny Eva Hache. He found that film boring. (p 36)

  • to do one's best [to achieve something/to get something done]Big companies also do their best to fool the public. (face2face, p 36)

  • To point out a progressive increase we use a double comparative: These days we're all becoming more and more concerned about the effect our lifestyle has on the environment. (p 46)

  • We say: You should go and see a Bollywood film. NOT *...go to see...! (p 73)

  • This is the first time I have heard such a thingThis is the first time + Subject + PRESENT PERFECT. BUT The first time my mother went clubbing she was 19The first time + Subject + PAST SIMPLE.

  • The more prominent a story is, the more likely you are to read it. (face2face, Workbook, p 80): the + COMPARATIVE + subject + verb, the + COMPARATIVE + subject + verb The rarer an autograph is, the more I can ask for it.

  • I only have two subjects left to finish my degree. You still have 5,000 words left to say! (face2face, Workbook, p 169): Noun + left [+ to + INF]

  •  We use the expressions to have/get something done OR to get someone to do something to talk about actions that we ask or persuade someone else to do for us.

  • ...it's my turn to babysit tonight: to be someone's turn to do something: it + be + possessive + turn + to + ING

  • Rosa Parks was sitting with three other blacks in the fifth rowSyntactical order: NUMBER + other(SINGULAR) + PLURAL NOUN

  • Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the Civil Rights Movement. The film Crash won the Academy Award for Best Film in 2005. Someone is awarded a prize for something/doing something

  • Whenever you feel like it. ALSO: Do you feel like going out tonight, or would you rather stay in? [not] feel like something/doing something

  • To express when something is not where it should be or someone is not present: My keys are missing from the cupboard; have you seen them anywhere? Eighty years after the war, her grandfather's remains are still missing. something/someone + be + missing

  • Stop [or prevent] are followed by object + (from) + GER: Try to stop/prevent them (from) finding out. (The preposition from is optional.) It is the opposite expression from ask somebody to do something.

  • Using GERunds as nouns or adjectives: The project coordinator finds the writing and translating both stimulating and challenging.

  • They decided to go and live in Zimbabwe. NOT … decided to go *to live in …  In American English, though, the bare infinitive is acceptable after go or come: Come take a look!