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Can Bad Robot’s “Stranger” be the teaser for Rod Serling’s “The Stops Along The Way”?

The only sure thing about this new teaser by Bad Robot is that JJ Abrams and Michael Giacchino are up for no good.

All we know is that “Stranger” is a dramatic teaser for a new entertainment project and, as the web remains mostly clueless, there are already a few theories buzzing around.

Do you really want to you what “Stanger” is about?

Let me take a long shot here.

Stars. Dark, intense, retro photography. Haunting score. Cryptic, intricated action. Creepy narration. Sinister dude with sewn shut lips.

Can it be a ‘Lost’ spin-off? It could be, but doesn’t feel like it. It feels more sinister with that macabre, ghastly, twist at the end.

So here’s my bet: remember when, about two and a half months ago, word spread that JJ Abrams was developing an unproduced script by Twilight Zone legend Rod Serling as a miniseries for the 2013-14 television season?

This must be it. How awesome would it be?

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Getting things going for Benfica

We’re going completely out of topic today.

Back in 1900 there was a sort of football field in Belém, southwest Lisbon, in a place known at the time as “Terras do Desembargador”. When a ball was lost to outside the field the chances were that you would probably never recover it due to the open spaces. Moreover, the Portuguese Army used it as an exercise field as well so it would be often complety destroyed.

One day, in 1904, a group of friends, headed by the very great Cosme Damião, decided to create a football club to play regularly there. In a pharmacy called “Laboratório Franco” in Rua de Belém (same street as “Pastéis de Belém), they decided to call it “Sport Lisboa” and to wear red and white as main colors as well as an eagle for the symbol.

The first games? 4 victories, against Clube Internacional de Futebol (2 times), Estephania and Campo de Ourique.

Despite the good results (Cosme Damião, for instance, was one of the first great Portuguese football players), the club faced very poor operating conditions and that can explain why a set of players left Benfica in 1907 to join the more prosperous newborn Sporting in Campo Grande, in the other side of town.

In 1908 Sport Lisboa e Benfica was formed, as Sport Lisboa acquired Grupo Sport Benfica and moved from Belém to Benfica. Despite the merger, Grupo Sport Benfica maintained the ownership of the football field known as “Campo da Feiteira”. A bicycle wheel was added to the emblem of Sport Lisboa to represent cycling, the most important sport of Grupo Sport Benfica.

For Sport Lisboa e Benfica finding a playing field was always a struggle, due, more than anything, to the high rents on the club’s rented fields. Following the merger, the football club moved to “Campo da Feiteira” (1907) at “Quinta da Feiteira”, Estrada de Benfica, and then to “Campo de Sete Rios” (1913), “Campo de Benfica” (1917), “Estádio das Amoreiras” (1925-1940) and in 1941 to “Estádio do Campo Grande”, former Sporting Clube de Portugal playing field (Sporting had just moved to “Estádio do Lumiar”).

From these, only “Estádio das Amoreiras” belonged to the club but it was demolished to give way to a freeway connecting Lisboa to Jamor. After the expropriation, the club dealt with government officials for a piece of land between Carnide and Benfica. At the time the feeling was that, in the words of Duarte Pacheco himself, “Benfica must return to Benfica”.

And there was born the “Estádio da Luz”, also known, in the beginning, as “Estádio de Carnide”.

This is when things get really interesting. For the construction of the new stadium, the associates coped with an increased fee for supporting the building costs, offered very large donations and some (not very few) went as far as to work themselves on the building yard on holidays or weekends. And did it pay dividends.

The first match in “Estádio da Luz” was a loss 1-3 against FC Porto but overall Benfica won 854 out of the 1092 home games played there, winning 23 national championships, 17 Portuguese cups and 2 European Champions League cups (to go along with the 5 finals played).

Next year (2014) the new “Estádio da Luz” will host the European Champions League final game. I hope we continue on writting history today against Chelsea FC just to get things going in advance.

Can money buy happiness after all?

Can money buy happiness after all?

Life satisfaction and income (from “The Economist” daily charts)

And so they have managed to prove that human beings can never have too much income.

Or have they?

Looking closely at the graph presented above, we can verify the use a logarithmic (log) scale on the x-axis and of a linear scale on the y-axis. This type of representation is known as a lin-log plot.

Lin-log representations have to be interpreted in a particular way. Here, a 45º line (similar to the ones above) means that Y = log (X) or, more specifically, that “Self-Reported Life Satisfaction” = K (Constant) + log (“Self-Reported Annual Income”).

Therefore, in this singular presentation, this set of straight lines in different colors implicitly tell us that, no matter the country, increases in income hold diminishing returns in terms of satisfaction.

Please note that the core interpretation made by those at The Economist magazine is not wrong: in fact, the study suggests that the relationsip between income and satisfaction is always positive (meaning that more money will never hurt your overall satisfaction).

Is just that the Easterlin paradox still applies after all: increases in income hold greater returns in terms of satisfaction for individuals experiencing low levels of income.

This is common sense, I mean, if I have millions of dollars in my multiple bank accounts, an one euro increase in one of them is pretty much negligible no? However, for a number of households facing severe deprivation all around the world one dollar can be a matter of life and death.

Now, if we depart from this atomistic vision of satisfaction (as presented until here) and take the satisfaction of your community as a whole, think about the huge aggregate satisfaction gains that would result from the very rich willing to somehow give some of their income to the very poor who value it much more.

Wouldn’t the rich folk even get some additional satisfaction from the exercise of active citizenship?

Taking the diminishing returns of income referred above, couldn’t this ‘community’ gains even generate greater satisfaction for the rich than the passive accumulation of income?

May I ask: in what kind of society would you prefer to get your satisfaction?

‘Argo’ and the ‘most political’ Oscar

And Argo is the best movie of the year.

Michelle Obama herself announced the prize for the best picture in the 85h Academy Awards, for certain delight of her husband, an assumed friend of the very ‘wonderful’ George Clooney, who produced the fim along with Ben Affleck (director) and colaborator Grant Heslov.

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Michelle Obama goes to Hollywood (via video) and announces ‘Argo’ as the best picture of 2012

The movie itself narrates the story of an extraction (‘exfiltration’) of six americans who managed to escape from the American embassy in Tehran during the 1979 hostage crisis. Mendez (Ben Affleck), the CIA expert, undertakes the mission and manages to create the widespread illusion of a false sci-fi movie in the making called ‘Argo’ to be recorded in Iran.

Mendez takes the flight to Iran all by himself where he meets the six refugees, who pretend to be the remaining of the film’s producing crew, hoping that the Iran authorities will buy the scheme and allow them to leave the country all together in a couple of days.

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Ben Affleck plays officer Mendez, a CIA expert on ‘exfiltrarions’ on hostile territories

Direct bilateral Iran-US relations do not currently exist between the two governments and the Embassy of the United States in Tehran has not been used ever since the hostage crisis.

‘We’ve been through a lot together’, told George Clooney’s voice in 2012, a big supporter and fund raiser for Barrack Obama, during the President campaign.

On May 10, 2012, Clooney held a dinner for Obama at his LA home that brought in a record breaking $15M for the campaign.  Some months later, Clooney made an appearance in Switzerland, raising $625K at a Geneva fundraising convention of the Democrat party’s Swiss branch.

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President Obama receiving a visit from friend George Clooney in the White House

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President Obama side by side with Clooney in a political convention

But more than anything else, Argo’s spotlight points out to the movie’s director Ben Affleck. Affleck has been involved in politics in several ways, notably through the LivePlanet label he created along with Matt Damon in 2000. According to wiki knowledge, the same duo founded a new company called Pearl Street Films in 2012.

Matt Damon himself (who I sincerely admire) is a well-kown democrat but a volatile one as well. He was a very vocal and enthusiastic supporter of Obama’s election at first but some time later he came up with the statement that ‘a one-term president with some balls would have been better’. Nonetheless, he made clear that he voted for Obama’s re-election in November 2012, despite the earlier first-term criticism.

Other actors from the same political circle as Damon and Clooney (you may call it the Danny Ocean’s crew) include Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and Don Cheadle.

But what about Ben Affleck may you ask? You should check it out yourself here. Democrat? No doubt: everything’s there, perfect resume. If you ask me, none of the Ocean’s few is even close.

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Can Ben Affleck be on his way to a political career of his own, Ronald Reagan style?

Al Gore 2000? Check, cheerleader. Hillary Clinton endorsement? Check. John Kerry 2004? Check. First row on Bush criticism? Check. Gay marrigage, invisible children and ‘westerners are not and will not and will never be saviors of Africa’? Check. Even some anti-CEO stuff. Come on, and I am a stubborn lefty myself.

Possibly more than any other actor, Ben Affleck could follow the footsteps of Reagan (not literally, you got it) and make it to a promissing political carreer.

Now let’s get back to the 85th Academy Awards, where Michelle Obama personally announced ‘Argo’ as the picture of the year, remembering us how thin the boundaries between politics and entertainment always were.

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Argo’s co-producers (from left to right Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Grant Heslov) receiving the oscar

This recognition, at least on paper, appears to be politically influenced (even if it isn’t, what remains a strong possibility) and the Obama family directly contributed to raise suspections by actively engaging in the celebration.

Strange enough is the fact that ‘Argo’ is the first film to win best picture without a concurrent nomination for best director since 1989. Ang Lee took the prize with the fable ‘Life of Pi’ suggesting that the Academy’s love is not extendable to Ben Affleck as an individual.

As much as I found ‘Argo’ to be fun and entertaining (objectively I did like the movie) I must say I felt disappointed about the unpleasant spectacle when I saw Clooney and Affleck taking the stage, all smiles on their faces, after the Obama’s endorsement. It did look weird, a bit like a political convention.

In favor of Ben Affleck and the others, truth is that his movie is collecting all sort of awards and prizes, as well as good reviews, everywhere.

Said that, I was rooting for Zero Dark Thirty overall, mostly because of its documentary value and apparent ‘leaks’, though I really liked Lincoln.

Best City Contest – Stockholm

Normally, or so I believe, it is easier for people to realize what is lacking in their cities than what they have of great or distinctive. One could fairly say that it is very difficult to realize such things if you don’t effectively know that many great cities, even more if you, like me, have never travelled to another continent, challenging by all means your perception of everyday life. If in other circumstances that could probably invalidate my capacity to judge what is supposed to be the best city in the world to live in, the most recent contest organized by the EIU together with Buzzdata challenges such assumption by emanating a useful compilation of data and a Liveability Index to be utilized by the ones that, like me, want to take the quest.

Download Original EIU’s Liveability Index Ranking and Overview

If you’re a first timer here, hello. My name is João and I’m writing from Cacém, in the suburbs of Lisboa in Portugal. I’m a bachelor in Economics, I’m finishing my master’s degree in Development and International Cooperation in a couple of months and I’m by no means a statiscian. In fact, I spent good part of my last year rejecting the more numerical approach to the science but, you know what they say, what goes arround comes arround. I started this text arguing that it is easier for us, ordinary people, to complain about what lacks our city than to praise its merits and it was exactly how this idea got to my mind. After spending a couple of months in Belgium studying in the great city of Liège under the Erasmus Programme, I felt very concretely the peripheral condition of Lisbon ever since I came back.

EIU’s Cities Cloud

Taking the EIU’s Liveability Index as the main ground for my work, what I simply try to do here is reformulating the final results of such ponderation, which I feel that erroneously underestimate the importance not only of the geographic proximity to the greatest cities but also of the cultural exchange happening in highly diversified areas. Of course multiplicity can only be proficuous in the right institutional environment and under conditions of stability and healthy interaction, but that’s already explored in the Liveability Index we adopt from the EIU’s crew.

EIU’s Cities per Language and Continent

My first task was therefore to measure the (flying) distances between the 144 cities in competition and all the 21 cities with score superior to 90%. That would give me their proximity to the greatest cities in the world, according to the Index. As expected, several cities ranking high on the original tables fell short on connectivity indicators; this is not a surprise as long as the original publication highly favored very isolated Commonweath territories, notably in Australia and New Zealand. Simple additional computations allowed us to calculate the median and the standard deviation of our population. I opted for the use of the median as preferential indicator due to the assymetric nature of our data.

Distance to all the 21 >90% cities (all cities)

Median, Std. Devation and Mins of the Distances

But, as stated earlier in this article, proximity of great cities is not everything. Very similar cities, is believed, have little extra value to add to each other. On the other hand, different cities, with different cultural paths and heritages, have the potencial to develop the kind of dialogue that not only sets ground for common development but also helps people realizing their potential and living flourishing and complete lives. As a barometer for cultural path, I’ve chosen the language indicator. Despite its simplicity, it is, I believe, a fair and significant sign of cultural variance. Borders still matter in this category as well, so only cities from different countries were considered in the subsequent computations.

Closest >90% City with Different Country and Different Language (all cities)

Closest >90% City with Different Country and Different Language (>90% Cities) and Count for Closest >90% City with Different Country and Different Language per Country of Arrival

The result favors largely the fragmented European territory, as comproved by our last indicator: Number of >90% Cities with Different Country and Different Language within 1000 km. European cities got ridiculous results, being such fragmentation an important cultural heritage of the Continent as a whole. Other cities did well and deserve reference, like the cases of Miami, Montreal and Hong Kong. If in the future the centrality of Hong Kong is to increase, that’s something we’ll have to wait and see. Vienna proved to be the closest >90% city for 25 cities of the lot, an impressive result; however, the same city didn’t meet  such high standards in the other statistics and indicators.

EIU’s Liveability Scoring vs. Median Distance to all >90% Cities

EIU’s Liveability Scoring + Number of >90% Cities with Different Country and Different Language within 1000 km

Here, the figure shows the relation between Liveability Index, Median of the Distances and >90% Cities with Different Country and Language within 1000 km. By interpreting the map, we can pick up our undoubtful winner. It was a risk I decided to take, representing my final results graphically instead of calculating a reformulated index. It seemed logic for me and it was convenient, as it saved me a lot of precious time (a man needs to work, from times to times). I think the results are clear enough to prove my point.

Alone in the superior left corner, we have a city ranking high on the Liveability Index (95%) [vertical axis], the lowest on median distance [horizontal axis] and pretty awesome on >90% cities with different country and language within 1000 km. The winner is…

Stockholm, a great city with huge connectivity potencial, is a very reasonable bet. Feel free to comment, I’m very available for any questions and demands for clarifications. I spent a great time working on this project, hoping someone would find some value in it; if you found it, please leave a note for the author.

Dataset here.

(All distances calculated using Google Maps software.)

EIU’s most livable cities by language

Source: data from EIU

The language might be a relevant factor on picking up the finest cities in the world to live in, according to the EIU’s most livable city index. English speaking cities rank high on the list, with 18 out of the 39 cities with a >90% index value having English as an official language (Honolulu and Hong Kong included). In fact, 7 out of the top-10 cities (Melbourne, Toronto, Calgary, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Auckland) fit the description. Do their common heritages provide some sort of a cultural advantage on building up great cities to live in, or is it nothing more than an anglocentric approach to the issue, designed by an english-language, London edited, magazine?

What are the distinctive features of great cities anyway? Share your thoughts if you feel like doing it.

Good news!

Long time no see. After a couple of very intense weeks my master’s thesis is finally “on” (although not officially) and so you can expect to read here some insights about my research during the upcoming year. I’ll keep this blog as an useful tool to share and discuss some of its core ideas and advances as well as an alternative space where I can briefly develop some interesting ideas that don’t fit the main research and its final purpose. In case you’re curious, you can look at my previous article (On Portuguese austerity and why we’re (probably) not paying back anything) as some sort of manifesto representing my present state of mind and from which my research will depart. Keep following, you’ll get the chance to see this idea grow and take form.