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?


Iranian press very annoyed with Argo’s success

As expected, Iranian press is getting nervous with all the attention ‘Argo’ is getting.

Quoting from Mehrnews:

In the era that politicization in Hollywood was very strong, and every awards and festivals in Hollywood had paid much attention to the anti-Iranian movie ‘Argo’, the 85 Academy Awards ceremony, unveiled the bare politicization in Hollywood.

In early February, when ‘Argo’ took home three BAFTA prizes, including those for best movie and for best director, Mehrnews defended:

The movie “Argo” which shows a distorted version of Islamic Revolution, has won three prizes from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) last night.

The selection shows that the Political approach rather than artistic standards was criteria for choosing the best film more than any time before.

On February 23, same site, there was the statement that the movie was not made to last due to its fixation on short-term policy goals:

In a news conference about the anti-Iran movie Argo and Oscar nominations, Behrouz Afkhami told reporters that “we need to consider this first; whether a film such as Argo or all the movies that are made with a short-term goal of propaganda, can leave a deep and lasting impression on the viewers’ minds or not and whether Iranian film makers should react to it.

In answer to a question whether awarding Oscar to Argo is really a blow to the Academy, the director, said “the fact that it’s been nominated for Oscars is blow to its prestige.”

So it comes with no surprise that, on February 25, Mehrnews accused Hollywood insiders of ‘sacrificing quality and artistic cinema to politic goals and slogans’.

Moreover, and as expected, the singular (sort of) presence of Michelle Obama was taken to the heart by such critics, interpreting it as the ultimate sign of what they believe to be the political manipulation of the cerimony:

Interestingly, in the current Academy Awards ceremony, presence of Michelle Obama was even surprising for the audience. One of official Hollywood reporters for the Oscar ceremony considered the attendance by President Obama’s wife to give the award for the best picture as ‘unexpected’ and very ‘surprising’.

This ‘unexpected’ and ‘surprising’ move by the US media and Hollywood activists showed the bare Hollywood scandals and politicization of the 85th Academy Awards ceremony.

The question here is that, in fact, even after cutting on the obvious layers of the iranian propaganda, ‘Argo’ presents a very one-sided view of the much more complex ‘Iranian Revolution’. It absolutely ignores the context, emphasizing the random violence against US officials over the causes, the goals or the ambitions behind the revolt of those Iranian people.


‘Persepolis’ took a very distinct approach by focusing on the everyday life of an Iranian middle-class family

More than 30 years before the ‘Arab Spring’, the Iranian Revolution was, in a very similar way, a movement of civil resistance against the authoritarian rule and social injustice. Despite the well known shortcomings (in short, oppression was not overcome), there’s an urgent need today to understand the mechanisms through which the Islamic Republic of Iran developed in the post-revolutionary period.

The critically acclaimed movie ‘Persepolis’ also drew great controversy in 2007, generating similar comments from Iranian press and officials. However, the movie took a very different approach from ‘Argo’, showing how the revolution affected the aspirations and the everyday life of an Iranian middle-class family, from an autobiographical perspective.

‘Argo’, it is clear today, is contributing to reinforce the clivage between the West and the ‘islamist’ other. In doing so, the picture openly transmits a derogatory image of the people of Iran, subjects of irrational violence against westerners and objects of manipulation by the CIA officials, which only serves the purposes of the Ahmadinejad’s rule.

Further politization by both sides (remember Michelle Obama) will only divert the public sentiments from more important things everywhere.


‘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.


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.


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.


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

george obama

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.


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.


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.

What we really pay taxes for

«Taxes» must be the most employed word in Portugal these days and with tax increases always comes the same question: what do we pay taxes for?

Those on the right side of the political spectrum can give you a clear answer: for nothing (unless, of course, there are ‘urgent’ and ‘unavoidable’ needs for ‘budgetary consoliation’, as we, they say, experience today).

Hardcore neoliberal policy markers often defend the called ‘trickle-down economics’ approach, arguing that tax cuts on the rich, at expense of cuts on the welfare state machine, «the fat», would pump both savings and investment, leading the way to the construction of vibrant societies. Such circumstances, they would continue, constitute environments prone to economic growth and job creation, benefits shared, in relatively equal fashion, among all citizens of a country or region.

Short version of the story: the rich get a banquet, while the poor put on a fight for the crumbs. That’s ok, that’s just normal not to throw privileges out the window.

Culturaly speaking, most common arguments from the right emanate from prejudiced conceptions of «the poor» as lazy, perhaps drunk, perhaps dirty, primitive, weak and most certainly unvirtuous – as an object or some sort of a dead body, with no soul. A zombie. The decent folk, they say, must not carry such weight on his shoulders. Autch, be aware of the back spasms sir.

However, and here starts the interesting part, the right is not alone such dehumanizing discoursive practices. The leftist rational for charging taxes to feed of the social state has been disappointing so far and it goes something like this: «the poor are not so well off as we [the rich], they are victims of quite a lot of hard luck and it won’t hurt us to give them some help». Oh thank you my lord for such kindness and generosity!

Such ‘paternalism’ derives itself from unfairness, verticality and distance, reinforcing the oppressive structures operating within our societies. Charity represents an act of oppression as long as it does not imply a real feeling of «togetherness», a feeling of unity around the common struggle against a system that exploits some in benefit of others.

I believe taxes and, more broadly, the Welfare State, to be necessary to promote inclusive development, social change and poverty erradication, by providing universally the tools necessary to deliver emancipation.

Those who have the resources must understand they need to contribute not to maintain the status quo but to level the playing field instead, helping those in the bottom of the social pyramid to build the new capacities they need to live fulfilled lifes.

Social justice, in this sense, and quoting from the great Paulo Freire, is about getting everybody out there «living for themselves instead of living for others».


Além uma igreja…

Além uma igreja, à frente
Um quatel e uma prisão:
Prisão de que sofreria
Não fosse eventualmente

Um operário em contrucão.

Mas ele desconhecia
Esse fato extraordinário:
Que o operário faz a coisa
E a coisa faz o operário.
De forma que, certo dia
À mesa, ao cortar o pão
O operário foi tomado
De uma súbita emoção
Ao constatar assombrado
Que tudo naquela mesa
– Garrafa, prato, facão
Era ele quem fazia
Ele, um humilde operário

Um operário em construção.

Olhou em torno: a gamela
Banco, enxerga, caldeirão
Vidro, parede, janela
Casa, cidade, nação!
Tudo, tudo o que existia
Era ele quem os fazia
Ele, um humilde operário
Um operário que sabia

Exercer a profissão.


Sentindo que a violência
Não dobraria o operário
Um dia tentou o patrão
Dobrá-lo de modo vário.
De sorte que o foi levando
Ao alto da construção
E num momento de tempo
Mostrou-lhe toda a região
E apontando-a ao operário
Fez-lhe esta declaração:
— Dar-te-ei todo esse poder
E a sua satisfação
Porque a mim me foi entregue
E dou-o a quem bem quiser.
Dou-te tempo de lazer
Dou-te tempo de mulher.
Portanto, tudo o que vês
Será teu se me adorares
E, ainda mais, se abandonares
O que te faz dizer não.
Disse, e fitou o operário
Que olhava e que refletia
Mas o que via o operário
O patrão nunca veria.
O operário via as casas
E dentro das estruturas
Via coisas, objetos
Produtos, manufaturas.
Via tudo o que fazia
O lucro de seu patrão
E em cada coisa que via
Misteriosamente havia
A marca de sua mão.
E o operário disse: Não!

— Loucura! — Gritou o patrão
Não vês o que te dou eu?
— Mentira! — disse o operário

Não podes dar-me o que é meu.

from Vinicius de Moraes, O Operário em Construção (1956)

Africa vs. Africans


Africa’s image abroad… Would it help if word “Africa” were used less and focus put instead on individual countries?

Humanitarianism, according to Wikipedia, can be described as «an ethic of kindness, benevolence and sympathy extended universally and impartially to all human beings». Such kindness or benevolence often lead to Paternalism and therefore to the reinforcement of the prevalent oppressive structures within the global economic and social order.

The word “Africa” is, in my opinion, branded in a deeply humanitarian sense. However, it is well accepted today that only africans themselves can change their objective reality and build new, more developed, contexts. Such paternalism is extended to the representation of the Other, the African, who, we believe, needs to be saved from its own reality.

Not only Africa is branded under such paternalistic light as there are also certain sectors of the developed societes who are, still today, very active on selling negative prejudices about the continent, labeling african nations and societies as conflict-prone, discriminatory or even pre-civilized. These sectors insist not to see africans as individuals or human beings but more like animals, deprived of agency and, more broadly, of their own will, or soul.

The use of a greater degree of detail when refering to african countries can refresh the image of the continent and reinforce the curiosity of the people for its internal dynamics. Africa is a diverse continent, as defended by historians such as Elikia M’Bokolo, and therefore it must not be treated, from an academic perspective, as an indivisible whole, in prejudice of complexity.

The extensively use of the word “Africa” also contributes to create distance from its people, who live in much more specific contexts than a subjective and uniform Africa, hiding their concrete lifes from the eyes of the world.

A possible solution to this question is to consider the african reality as a fragmented object, featuring a wide range of links and interdependences among its different subsystems or components, by following a subject oriented, bottom-up approach.

It is crucial to identify latent issues at smaller levels of analysis, emanating from the real people who experience the objective reality – the Subjects, and to place them afterwards in more generalized contexts.

Last year, during the Lisbon and Estoril Film Festival, Somali born hip-hop artist K’naan took the stage to speak about the reality of his country. During such presentation, the artist made reference to a documentary film he was producing based on his last visit to the country. In the crowd, one listener from Angola raised word to ask the singer about government oppression. According to him, in Africa it was very difficult to escape government’s authority and dictatorship in order to attain freedom of expression. K’naan got somehow confused and answered that in Somalia the problem was not the excess of authority but more the lack of it.

Obviously the people from Angola are very concerned about the oppression they live in: it is a latent issue for them. However, after 5 minuts of dialog, it was clear to everyone in the room that despite the common problems of oppression, in a broad sense, and underdevelopment, very little can be generalized from one african country to another. Even africans are, sometimes, not awared of such complexities, and the media play a big role on such global desinformation.

Once we are able to objectively identify such latent issues, they can be used as a platform for global dialog and only by then can prejudice disappear and the image of the continent renewed.

It is important then to stop abusing the word “Africa”, as if it was a homogeneous reality, and to put the emphasis on the lifes of the people, the primary agents of development.

Incovenient truth: Al Gore’s Current TV to Qatar

Since 2006, Al Gore, former US Vice-President under Bill Clinton, managed to gain major publicity and notoriety by lobying for renewable energy in Washington and all around the world. The documentary film «An Inconvenient Truth», directed by Davis Guggenheim, was aimed at educating citizens about global warming and was a box-office success, winning two Academy Awards in the process and a Nobel Prize for its mentor.

Not bad for a professional politician and even though rumours about Al Gore playing the activist while pursuing its own personal agenda were always around, they just never managed to gain momentum. At least until now.

Yesterday, Al Gore and his partners concluded the deal that sold Current TV, yes, the progressive media channel, to the Qatar-financed Al Jazeera. Qatar, it is well known, makes living from selling fossil fuels to the world. Not only has it made Qatar very, very rich as also the country with the largest per capita footprint around the globe.

According to a press release announced by Current TV’s staff, we can read that «as you may know, Al Jazeera is funded by the government of Qatar, which is the United States’ closest ally in the Gulf Region, and is where the United States bases its Middle East Air Force operations». No reference to oil or gas business and, (pam!) negative points, reference to military warfare.

Besides environmental issures, incovenient may have been the timing of the deal. According to some sources around the web, Al Gore, a Democrat who was supposed to stand by Obama’s administration policies, wanted the deal concluded before the end of 2012, for tax reasons. Decent rich folk also have to make money, I suppose.

Despite the bads, we should stick to the positives. Al Gore did a stupendous job at raising awareness for the climate challenges ahead of us, regardless of his real intentions. In the process, he managed to get people and, more specificaly, the youth, involved, militating against big oil business and environmental deterioration.

The «An Inconvenient Truth» motion picture and, most importantly, its message, remain urgent. The content of the expositions presented is overall accurate and must not not lose any type of credibility with such business practices: the message must prevail. Now, as it was before, it is up for the people to pursue the objective of environmental respect and clean energy.

Moreover, I think Al Jazeera has earned its space in today’s global media panoram as a respectable news agency with great regional insights.

The real problem here is the lack of coherence and responsability shown by a Nobel Laureate who offered himself to be the face of one of the most crucial causes of modern times.