Wednesday, June 21, 2017

‘If you want to keep it, give it away’

Dermot Staveacre, who helped countless addicts in Portugal conquer their dependence on alcohol or drugs, has died peacefully in his home in the Algarve.

The old adage about life beginning at 40 was not far off the mark for Dermot Staveacre. For years he had been an alcoholic on a steeply downward spiral, drinking a bottle of whisky a day. By the age of 41 he was a down-and-out. He had lost his home, his savings, his job and his friends. On the edge of the abyss, he finally sought help in an English treatment centre.
That was 35 years ago and that is how long he remained a non-drinker. For most of those years he continued helping other alcoholics and drug addicts make the same life-saving adjustment he made.
Central to his work in Portugal as a counsellor was a conviction first voiced in the mid-19th century by an American psychologist, Benjamin Rush: alcoholism is an illness with the same basic characteristics of other illnesses. It has a cause (alcohol), symptoms (loss of control) and a way to recovery (abstinence).
This is the crux of the whole problem. In its simplicity it is as true today as it was 150 years ago”, Staveacre said.
Addiction to alcohol or other mood changing substances, like heroin, seems to be hereditary and it seems to effect about 10 percent of the population. It has nothing to do with poverty or riches, intelligence or stupidity, being good or bad at sports.
If you put 10 students in a room and fed them all heroin, nine would emerge not wanting it again and one would become an addict.
Because those addicted to heroin are suffering from chemical dependency, were heroin not available to them it is probable they would become chronic alcoholics 10 or 20 years later”.
Staveacre agreed that there is a grey area between the social drinker and the full-blown alcoholic. The difference is in the symptoms.
The alcoholic cannot go into a bar and say, ‘ I’ll have two beers’. Normally he has no control over the amount he drinks. But it goes much deeper than that. If a drinker puts alcohol before his work, his finances, his family, his health or the law, it is probable he is an alcoholic and has lost control of his life.
Limiting or controlling consumption for an alcoholic or drug addict is impossible in the long term. Recovery from addiction is only possible through total abstinence”.
If the illness is in the genes, all it needs is a trigger. The problem then invariably goes from bad to worse until a point of crisis is reached. Most – perhaps 90 percent or more - die of cirrhosis of the liver, overdosing, accidents of one kind or another, or suicide.
Of the individuals who survive, “there needs to be a crisis which leads them to willingly to accept help”, said Staveacre. “An alcoholic or addict will continue so long as it is more comfortable to continue than to give up”.
He estimated that alcohol or drug addiction at any one time affected more than 30,000 people in the Algarve, but most wanted to cover it up.
I knew a foreign couple who lived in the hills behind São Brás de Alportel. She would drive down into town to buy her husband the booze because she was afraid he would crash the car. It would have been better if he had crashed the car, because then he would have had to face up to the consequences.
In my own village there are two men, both working, who spend all the money on heroin, while their mothers, both widows in their 70’s, house them, feed them and clothe them. While the sons live in this sort of comfort they will continue to be addicts”.
Staveacre worked closely with families and loved ones who needed education, guidance and counselling as much as addicts themselves.
What I try to do is help people face reality. But, of course, it is more comfortable to talk about a problem than to do something about it”.
With support and the vital ingredient of personal commitment, addicts can turn their lives around remarkably quickly – in a matter of weeks. There again, it may be easy to stop drinking or using drugs. The difficult bit is staying stopped.
If 100 alcoholics go into treatment, probably only 60 percent will complete the course and half of that 60 percent will be drunk within hours of leaving”.
Naturally, Staveacre saw a good deal of human misery but he was very upbeat about his work because, he said, “there is the other side of the coin – the people who get into recovery and start living quality lives”.
After training and working in England for several years and spending time at the Hazelden Foundation, a precursor to the Betty Ford clinic in Minoso in the United States, Staveacre ran a drug rehabilitation centre near Castelo Branco in central Portugal. He went on to make regular visits there to counsel counsellors.
In the Algarve he saw clients privately in his home in Pêra. He believed his own recovery from alcoholism gave him an advantage over other trained specialists.
I can read the mind of an alcoholic or an addict much more easily than a psychiatrist or psychologist because I have been there. I don’t need to know the answers to questions like, why do you do it?
He was a firm advocate of the philosophy and methods of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. In helping others, members help themselves and refresh their own commitment. Staveacre recalled that delightful Zen-like saying: “if you want to keep it, give it away”.
After 27 alcohol-free years, Staveacre suddenly found himself faced with an illness of a very different kind. A serious heart problem was diagnosed and he was taken to Lisbon where he underwent a quadruple bypass operation.
I’m still in denial about it”. he said with a smile some time later. “They open the chest cavity, deflate the lungs, take out the heart and put it on a slab, stick you on a life-support system, tear a vein out of your leg, cut it into bits, put the heart back in, inflate the lungs, put everything together up and down with steel clips and give you a 30-year guarantee. I feel almost as well now as before I went in”.
He died peacefully in his home on 9th June at the age of 76. Family and friends from the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland will join the local community at his funeral service in Pêra on Friday 23rd.

The funeral will be at 3pm,Friday 23rd June, Igreja de São Francisco de Pêra, on Largo São Francisco, 200 metres behind the main church (Igreja Matriz de Pêra) in the centre of the village.
After the burial, friends will be welcome yo join members of Dermot’s family at his flat at no.10, Rua Bartolomeo (500 mettes from the cemetery).
A family spokesperson says: “Should you wish to make a charitable donation rather than give flowers (very much Dermot's wishes) there will be a large leather collection case in the church. Proceeds will go towards one of Dermot’s favourite charities, the Santa Casa Misericórdia old folks home in Alcantarilha”.

Monday, June 5, 2017

On top of conflict and climate controls

Recent events have been a reminder of Portugal’s laudable position well ahead of many other more powerful countries in at least two key areas of human endeavour: keeping the peace and controlling climate change.
The atrocities in London last weekend and Manchester last month made the latest Global Peace index all the more poignant and pertinent.
Collated by an international panel of experts and published by a Sydney-based think-tank, the 2017 Global Peace Index places Portugal among the fop five most peaceful countries in the world.
In this annual index – the 11th so far - Europe remains the world’s most peaceful region. Iceland, Austria and Denmark are together with Portugal in the top five individual countries. Four other countries in Europe are in the world’s top ten.
The index provides a comprehensive analysis on 26 indicators based mainly on levels of safety and security in society, internal and international conflict, as well as militarisation.
The latest index research pre-dated the Manchester and London attacks, but the peace levels in 21 of the 34 countries in Europe has statistically improved over the past decade.
The average has not changed significantly, however, due to a worsening of conflict in Turkey, the impact of the terrorist attacks in Belgium and France, and worsening relations between Russia and its Nordic neighbours.
More notably, the United States has plummeted to 114th place in the latest index. Based on a wide range of negative factors, the US is now slotted between Rwanda and El Salvador in the analysis of 163 countries representing 99.7 percent of the world’s population.
America's ranking has dropped 11 places since last year due to what researchers say is a “deterioration in intensity of organised internal conflict and level of perceived criminality in society”, both strongly linked to the ongoing political turmoil.
Coincidentally, the United States has been further humiliated on the world stage by President Trump who famously described global warming as “a Chinese hoax” and tweeted that “this very expensive bullshit has got to stop”.
Having now deemed the Paris climate agreement a pernicious threat to the US economy and American sovereignty, Trump has announced he is pulling out.
While criticising the shortcomings of other nations and promising “to make America great again” by revitalising America’s coal mining industry among other things, Trump seemed to overlook the fact that the US is the world’s second biggest carbon dioxide polluter nationally and the biggest on a per person basis.
I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” declared the president at the end of a bombastic speech that was condemned by political leaders, scientists, environmentalists and corporate executives around the globe. It was also denounced by American Democrats, members of Trump’s own staff and a large majority of those polled on the subject in Pittsburgh itself.
President Trump expressed willingness to renegotiate the 2015 climate agreement to get a better deal for the US, but the leaders of France, Germany and Italy immediately issued a joint statement saying that the Paris accord was “irreversible” and could not be renegotiated.
Prime Minister António Costa is emphatic that Portugal is “totally committed” to the Paris agreement and has described global warming as “a challenge that does not allow further delays, because every day the threat is greater”.
Portugal is already at the forefront of renewal energy production through hydro-electric, solar and wind resources. It is committed to an ambitious agenda with the aim of accomplishing the goals established in Strategy Europe 2020 and in the EU directive on renewable energies.
Prime Minister Costa pointed out in Morocco at the last major international climate conference that Portugal had already achieved “more than 87% of the goal set for 2020, after installing 12 300 megawatts of renewable technology, which represent 61% of the potency of all our electricity production”.
Former prime minister António Guterres, now secretary-general of the United Nations, said President Trump’s withdrawal decision was “a major disappointment”, but Guterres remains confident that “all other parties to the Paris agreement will continue to demonstrate vision and leadership, along with very many cities, states and businesses in the United States and around the world, by working for the low-carbon, resilient economic growth that will create quality jobs and markets for 21st century economic prosperity”.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Seeking science-religion accord

Just hours before joining hundreds of thousands of pilgrims celebrating the centenary of divine visions at Fátima last weekend, Pope Francis whole-heartedly welcomed scientists attending a Vatican conference designed to bring science and religion closer together.
The Vatican had invited leading astrophysicists and cosmologists to its astronomical observatory near Rome to discuss “black holes, gravitational waves and space-time singularities”.
The four-day conference was in honour of the late Jesuit priest and scientist Monsignor George Lemaitre. He is credited with formulating the “hypothesis of the primeval atom”, which became popularly known as the “big bang theory” suggesting that the universe began with an almighty explosion.
Pope Leo XIII set up the Vatican Observatory in 1891 with the idea of dispelling the notion that the Roman Catholic Church was hostile to science.
Such a notion had been widely held since the Inquisition declared in 1633 that Galileo was a heretic for believing the Earth orbits around the Sun. Faced with torture, Galileo formally recanted.
It was the Catholic Church that recanted three and a half centuries later, though it insisted the Inquisition had acted “in good faith”. At a ceremony before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Rome in 1992, Pope John Paul II admitted that Galileo had been right.
Before boarding his plane to Fátima last Friday, Pope Francis said the issues being debated by scientists at the Vatican observatory were of particular interest to the Church because they addressed profound questions about the universe, such as its origin, structure and evolution.
It is clear that these questions have a particular relevance for science, philosophy, theology and for the spiritual life. They represent an arena in which these different disciplines meet and sometimes clash”.
Pope Francis told delegates to the conference: “As both a Catholic priest and a cosmologist, Mgr Georges Lemaître knew well the creative tension between faith and science, and always defended the clear methodological distinction between the fields of science and theology.
While integrating them in his own life, he viewed them as distinct areas of competence. That distinction, already present in Saint Thomas Aquinas, avoids a short-circuiting that is as harmful to science as it is to faith”.
Pope Francis went on to say: “Before the immensity of space-time, we humans can experience awe and a sense of our own insignificance, as the Psalmist reminds us: ‘What is man that you should keep him in mind, the son of man that you care for him’?”
The Pope even quoted one of Albert Einstein’s favourite sayings: “One may say the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility”.
However, unlike some scientists, Pope Francis strongly believes that the existence and intelligibility of the universe are not a result of chaos or mere chance, but of “God’s Wisdom”.
A few hours later Pope Francis was in Portugal at the shrine in Fátima where 100 years ago three unschooled children claimed to have witnessed apparitions of ‘Our Lady of Fátima’ as she became popularly known all over the world.
The children insisted they witnessed apparitions at Fátima on five consecutive months. The climax came on 13th October 1917 when a crowd of many thousands had joined the children to witness a promised miracle.
It turned out to be the so-called ‘Miracle of the Sun’ in which the sun appeared to temporarily abandon its normal place in the solar system and spin out of control towards the Earth.
As Galileo and many lesser people would probably agree, appearances can sometimes be illusionary and deceptive.
The day safer his return to Rome, May 14th, Mother’s Day, Pope Francis addressed a crowd in St Peer's Square, reiterating a theme wholly familiar to the Fátima faithful though not in tune with the rationale of a great many scientists.
What was needed to solve the world’s “absurd conflicts”, he said, was more of the same as requested by the Virgin Mary at Fátima a hundred years ago: “penance and prayer”.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Fátima, fake news and black holes

While the media focus was on Pope Francis and the centenary celebrations of the miraculous apparitions at Fátima, a Vatican-sponsored academic conference was debating more scientific celestial goings-on.
Before getting on to revelations about the papal interest in cosmology and astrophysics, let’s recap on the more down-to-earth issues.
Over the past one hundred years, the global expansion and enduring strength of devotion to ‘Our Lady Fátima’ has been steeped in ironies, paradoxes and allegations of what is now popularly called ‘fake news’.
On 3rd May 1917 three children tending sheep in a remote field in central Portugal claimed to have witnessed an apparition of someone they took to be the Blessed Virgin Mary. Even close relatives, including the mother of the principal visionary, accused them of lying.
Inconceivable though it was a hundred years ago, Pope Francis came to the very same spot to make two of the visionaries saints and join an estimated million pilgrims from many countries in prayers that were streamed live on computers and iPhones around the word.
Strange as it may seem, the name of what has become one of Christendom’s most famous places of pilgrimage takes after a daughter of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.
Soon after the creation of the Kingdom of Portugal in the 12th century, a Christian knight is said to have kidnapped a Moorish princess called Fátima and taken her to a village in the hills near the present town bearing her name. Fatima fell in love with her kidnapper and they married, but not before she had converted from Islam to Christianity.
Whether this romantic tale is entirely true or not is neither here nor there compared to the loathing of the growing number of Fátima faithful clearly expressed in 1917 by a Portuguese republican government hell-bent on eradicating religion from the country.
Half a century later. severe criticism began to be levelled at the Vatican hierarchy from within the Catholic Church itself. Traditionalist Catholics have concluded that following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council introduced in the1960s all of the popes have been heretics.
Traditionalists also denounced the Vatican’s explanation in the year 2000 of the long-withheld text on the so-called “Third Secret” as a ‘cover-up’ of the true apocalyptic meaning of ‘Our Lady of Fátima’s message’.
The ‘Second Secret’ of Fátima is generally accepted as a warning of another world war if Our Lady of Fátima's request to ‘consecrate’ Russia was not carried out. During the First World War, the 1917 Russian Revolution turned the country into a communist republic, the precursor of the Soviet Union.
The act of consecration to “the immaculate heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary” was never properly carried out, according to some traditionalists. It was more evidence, they said, that the Vatican was under heretical control.
Coincidental or not, Russia now seems to be trying to assert control and spread propaganda and political chaos internationally as it did in 1917. It was Russia’s meddling in the last U.S. presidential election that sparked the FBI investigation and subsequent turmoil over Donald Trump’s ties with Russia.
One way or another, allegations of lies, conspiracies, misinformation and fake news are being bandied about today as they have been at least since 1917.
None of this fazed the vast number of pilgrims at the Shrine of Fátima, united in their devotion to the Virgin Mary, who has been described by Pope Francis as “the Mother of hope”.
Meanwhile – and here’s the rub – scientists from around the world were attending a conference hosted by the Vatican at its observatory near Rome to discuss “Black Holes, Gravitational Waves and Space-Time Singularities”.
The idea is to dispel conflict between faith and science while we all continue to search for truth in understanding the mysteries of the universe.
If you haven’t heard of this conference you might be scratching your head, but it is NOT fake news. It is possible for scientists to take miracles seriously, especially the famous ‘Miracle of the Sun’ at Fátima. The Catholic Herald newspaper quoted a former particle physicist as saying, “Why not?”
The paper added: “Contrary to a common prejudice, a scientific perspective does not rule out miracles, and the event at Fátima is, in the view of many, particularly credible”.
Even so, it is going to be a hard job persuading most cosmologists and astrophysicists that when the sun supposedly went haywire for ten minutes at Fátima in 1917 it was in fact a pre-planned supernatural miracle.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Madeleine McCann and the media


The most reported and discussed missing person case ever recorded is still not only a highly contentious mystery, but also a personal tragedy that has been turned into a public farce by elements of the media.
In the entirely predictable press frenzy surrounding the imminent 10th anniversary of the disappearance, much of the coverage, particularly in the British tabloids, has been absurd. But it should not be dismissed lightly.
Unable to come up with “news” on the case, the tabloids have been rehashing the same old speculation and guesswork.
Could Madeleine McCann have been snatched by a lone paedo or simply wandered off?....”
Abducted by slave traders and sold to a rich family, says ex-Met detective..”
New hope after decade-long search....”
Experts say Madeleine McCann’s body is almost impossible to find ”.
And then there was the much-touted Australian TV show that promised “a major breakthrough in the case”.
Meanwhile, the Daily Mirror took a slightly different tack with a story headlined, “What REALLY happened the night Madeleine McCann disappeared as nanny breaks her 10-year silence”.
The story did not explain what “really” happened, nor did it name the nanny or why she had remained silent for so long.
It quoted her as considering the McCanns to be “the picture perfect family” and repeated the usual British criticism of the Portuguese police.
More surprisingly, she claimed that the resort from which Madeleine vanished was considered so unsafe that nannies were given rape alarms (whistles) and advised, “don’t go anywhere by yourself, ever”.
There was nothing to suggest the Mirror had tried to question or check this or any of the nanny’s other assertions, but, in Praia da Luz, they were viewed with derision. It was seen as yet another attempt to brand Praia da Luz as a den of iniquity, which it is not and never has been.
The official police files on the case contain nothing about rape whistles or alarms. None of the signed statements by child-care workers mentioned anything about suspicious goings-on or Luz being “unsafe”.
The manager of the Ocean Club where the McCanns were staying said in a police statement in 2007 that he had “no knowledge of any untoward situation involving Ocean Club users or in the village itself, other than some damage and minor thefts”.
The Mirror story was also a reminder that real journalism has to a large extent been replaced by ‘churnalism’, which disregards traditional standards of original news gathering based on impartiality and fact-checking for accuracy and honesty.
The nanny’s story was quickly recycled virtually verbatim on the Internet by other tabloids. Even the broadsheet Daily Telegraph fell into line as did news services in the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
Trial by the media has had a huge influence on public perceptions about guilt or innocence in this case. Most of the mainstream media reports state as if it were a fact that Madeleine was “abducted”. Maybe she was. Maybe she wasn’t. There is no certainty either about the other main theory, that her parents covered up an accidental death in the apartment.
Until solid evidence is found and the culprits are brought to justice, the public fascination with this case will continue to fuel and be fuelled by the media’s determination to churn out stories whose accuracy and agenda may sometimes be open to doubt.
The current avalanche of stories inevitably evokes the previous admission by Lord Bell, founder and former chairman of the Bell Pottinger public relations group, to columnist and author Owen Jones, that “the McCanns paid me £500,000 in fees to keep them on the front page of every single newspaper for a year, which we did”.
Nevertheless, “Maddie” helps circulation figures and makes money. Money, along with misinformation, has always played far too big a part in this case which, let’s remember, is about the tragic loss of a child.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Searching for Conman Ken

Lee Mackenzie, author of a book published this week called The Charming Predator, is hoping to flush out the notorious, international conman Kenner Elias Jones, her former husband. He was last reported to the police while seeking political asylum in Sweden.
Originally from Caernarfon in Wales, Jones absconded from a trial in Lewes Crown Court in Sussex, England, in 2003. He has been at large ever since, continuing a career of theft, deception and fraud.
Jones has been deported from both Canada and the United States. A senior immigration officer in America described him as “the best conman I have ever encountered in my entire career.”
He is wanted in Kenya. allegedly for unpaid debts of more than $100,000 after running his own charity for seven years, posing as a doctor. He also conducted church services claiming to be a priest.
Back in Europe he continued on his wicked way across the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal and Spain, apparently undeterred by having previously racked up more than 60 convictions over a period of four decades.
BBC Wales tracked him down and filmed him in Lisbon, but ‘Conman Ken’, as the BBC dubbed him, refused to answer accusations of defrauding individuals, businesses and institutions.
A travel agent in the town of Palmela near Lisbon said he persuaded her to hand over €2,500 worth of travel tickets and then disappeared without paying for them.
But his deceptions in Portugal were minor compared with his activities elsewhere.
In southwest Spain he spent six weeks having medical checks in a district hospital only to leave in apparent good health without paying a bill of some €26,000.
Two years ago a man in Malmo reported Jones to the Swedish police because of suspicious money transfers and after researching the Welshman’s background on the internet. The Swedish police declined to investigate. Meanwhile, Jones was seeking political asylum in the country as a refugee from Kenya.
The Canadian author Lee Mackenzie has written an account of how she met, fell in love with and married Jones only to find out too late about his true character.
As a young, unworldly woman from a small, trusting community on Canada’s west coast she fell victim to a sociopath regarded by all who met him as highly intelligent and charming. But he went on to shatter her emotionally, psychologically and financially.
After storing all the memories away in a cardboard box for decades,” says Mackenzie, “I finally opened it and looked inside. Not long after that I connected with an editor who challenged me to write my story. I love a challenge.”
Mackenzie admits that even after a long passage of time, sifting through the story was difficult. “It was certainly a journey into the past,” she says.
And along with remembering the damage Kenner had done, I also had to face my own part in the story. It was embarrassing, humiliating to see how easily I had been duped. I see now how I simply wanted to make my marriage and my life a happy one. I had to heal and forgive myself. That’s part of the story too.”
A former CBC radio and television journalist, Mackenzie is now a professional artist as well as a member of the administrative staff at her local detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Since her ex-husband’s last sightings in Spain and Sweden she has been trying to locate him via the internet.
With the publication of her book she plans to step up her efforts and has launched a website with a page called “Where’s Kenner?”
The Charming Predator has been published by Penguin Random House:
A CBC interview with the author on the subject of deception can be heard here:

Monday, April 10, 2017

Algarve Romanis in major German photographic project

Romani families in Portugal recently welcomed into their homes a professional German photographer, Florian Schwarz, to take portraits for a unique exhibition to illustrate the diversity of migrant communities across Europe.
Schwarz’s focus on Romani people, more commonly known in English as Gypsies and in Portuguese as Ciganos, was the start of a year-long project. Having previously photographed all over the world, his current project will take him to four geographical extremities of the European continent – west, east, north and south.
In the Algarve, local contacts introduced him to different Romani communities, the one in Porches long settled in municipal apartments, the others in Albufeira transient camps. He encountered remarkable hospitality, he said.
Originally from northern India, Romani people have been on the move for many hundreds of years. They first arrived in Portugal in the 15th century and long thereafter were subjected to severe discrimination. Full integration in Portugal continues to be officially encouraged, but it is still slow. Most Romanis live in close family groups with their own distinct cultural and social preferences.
As an integral part of the country’s population, official government statistics about Romanis do not exist. About 40,000 to 50,000 spread across Portugal as a whole is thought be a realistic estimate by the Council of Europe’s Commission against Racism and Intolerance.
Next stop for Schwarz, 37, will be Bucharest, capital of one of the continent’s most easterly countries, to photograph Romanian nationals (not to be confused with Romanis) heading westward on transport services to seek a better life in Germany, France and beyond .
This autumn he will be in Lapland to portray nomadic Sami people, the northernmost indigenous group in Europe, who traditionally travel around the Arctic regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia with herds of reindeer.
His final destination will be the Greek island of Crete where he will focus on the workers who arrive in droves to take part in the olive harvest that has been going on since ancient times.
Schwarz’s intention is to depict aspects of migrant life very different to the much televised mass movement of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa in recent years.
He uses a a small, modest-looking camera with a standard 50mm lens that takes images, undistorted by wide-angle or telephoto lenses, as near as possible to the way they are perceived by the human eye.
The exhibition of his work will be held next year in four public venues as part of a major cultural event in his home city of Konstanz in southern Germany. 
An exclusive preview image taken in the Algarve, the only photo from the project so far made public.