Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Should neutering pets be mandatory?


Dogs have long been regarded as “man´s best friend” and cats are often considered adorable, but stray or abandoned animals pose a huge problem in Portugal and there’s no solution in sight.
It’s a worldwide conundrum. The European Union estimates there are about one hundred million homeless dogs and cats across the continent.
A single unspayed female dog and her offspring can produce 67, 000 puppies in six years.
A similar exponential calculation concludes that in seven years a single cat and her offspring can produce a population of 370,000.
In Portugal, despite updated protection laws and the dedicated work of veterinarians, municipal authorities and animal welfare charities, the problem of homeless animals continues to multiply.
Sterilisation – spaying females and castrating males – seems the most humane and practical means of control, yet it’s viewed by many people as cruel, immoral, or even religiously sinful.
Traditional anti-sterilisation sentiment – especially about castration - is still common in Portugal.
So is the practice of dumping unwanted animals by the wayside or in rubbish bins. The threat of criminal prosecution, fines or even jail sentences for abuse or abandonment is frequently ignored.
Animals on the loose are vulnerable to malnutrition, injury and disease, as well as pregnancies that proliferate the suffering.
Conflicting and muddled attitudes on what to do about this are compounded when emotion takes precedence over rational thinking. Awareness education is increasingly needed.
But the real nub of the matter is money.
Pet animals are usually abandoned because owners are unable or unwilling to pay for basic food and medical essentials.
Abandoned dogs and cats that don’t perish from starvation, road accidents or mutilation in garbage trucks usually end up in municipal compounds or charity shelters, all of which struggle with limited funds. Taxpayers and donors foot the bills.
Municipal centres are overcrowded with unwanted animals. Before last year’s parliamentary decision to ban culling except in cases to relieve intolerable suffering, an estimated 100,000 street animals were being collected and “put down” in Portugal each year.
The ban was generally welcomed, but it is still controversial and has intensified the need for municipal facilities. The difficulty of rehoming municipal kennel and cattery inmates is acute. No one wants to adopt a pet unless it is lovable and certainly not if it is uncontrollably aggressive or feral.
Of course, dogs and cats support profitable businesses, notably veterinary clinics and suppliers of pet food.
Sterilisation may only be carried out by qualified and registered veterinary surgeons, and it generates a significant part of their income.
The going rates vary considerably between vets. Depending on weight, the charge for sterilising a male dog ranges from about €90 to €150, and for a female €150 to €300. For male cats, it costs about €50 to €65 and for females €80 to €125.
But vets will sterilise for charities at much lower prices. To avoid paying a vet the full rate, those who rescue one or more animals and want to arrange sterilisation can apply for a discount through a charity.
Animal welfare groups and municipal kennels and catteries are intensely busy. They operate independently with strong-minded leaders who have differing priorities.
It is understandable, therefore, why sterilisation campaigns in the Algarve have been sporadic, limited in scope and localised. There has been a lack of regional cohesion.
Sterilisation laws exist elsewhere in various forms. Some places in the US, for example, demand that animals be sterilised by the age of four months.
It would be culturally difficult to introduce and strictly impose such legislation in Portugal. But one line of thinking here is that if mandatory sterilisation is not possible then it must be made much easier to arrange. Incentives could include lowering licensing and insurance costs for owners of neutered animals.
It is increasingly hard to find anyone – individuals or organisations – willing or able to rehome animals. Facebook is full of applicants. There are simply too many abandoned dogs and cats in need of personal care.
Foreigner residents strongly support their Portuguese counterparts in animal charity work. And foreigners, including visitors, have been helping with the burden of rehoming by sending animals for adoption abroad, especially to the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands.
The problem here is acute but mercifully less abhorrent than last week’s BBC revelations that cruel puppy breeding is taking place in the UK on “an industrial scale”. A criminal trade in puppies reaping hundreds of millions of pounds has been booming with the approach of Christmas. Many of the puppies will become unwanted in the New Year.



Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Brexit, “calm and orderly”

In introducing the so-called Great Repeal Bill in the House of Commons last week, the UK’s chief negotiator in Brussels, David Davies, said the intention of the bill was to ensure “a calm and orderly exit” from the EU.
Only Big Ben remained quiet. It has been silenced for extensive repair work. But politicians of all stripes erupted furiously in a howling debate that heard the Great Repeal Bill denounced as a government “power grab.” The Independent newspaper warned that the bill was no less than a major “threat to democracy.”
The bill, which would incorporate relevant EU law into the British legal system, has also been described as an “astonishing monstrosity.”
Nevertheless, a majority accepted it in a midnight parliamantary vote. That’s not the end of the battle, however. Plenty more fierce argument over the bill lies ahead.
Calm and order have been noticeably absent since the outpouring of lies and distortion during last year’s referendum campaign, through the parliamentary political turmoil that followed, and on to the belligerent divorce proceedings now underway in Brussels.
Last weekend saw the start of the anti-Brexit “autumn of discontent.” Protest groups are demanding a rejection of the referendum vote.
Instead of feeling calm, British nationals living in Portugal and other EU countries can be excused for feeling rather anxious or angry, befuddled or just plain fed up with the pro-Brexit efforts “to make Britain great again.”
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to get an accurate picture of what British expats in Portugal really think. For starters, it’s unknown how many of them are living here. Many remain unregistered, though there has been a scramble to apply for Portuguese residential permits to give a measure of security amid the mess unleashed by “the will of the people” back home.
Recent reports claim hundreds of thousands of retired Britons in Europe who cannot afford private healthcare abroad may be forced to return to the UK unless the government guarantees their healthcare will continue to be reimbursed by the NHS. 
It has been pointed out, however, that returning pensioners would be a drain on the NHS and the UK housing market as well.
Other reports have revealed a surge in the number of British pensioners wanting to move out of the UK and settle in Portugal, Spain or France, fearing the imposition of life-changing restrictions when the UK leaves the EU.
Concern among established British residents extends to those contemplating moving here permanently, as well as holidaymakers.
The pound has continued to plummet against the euro and more pressure is forecast, at least in the short-term. Analysts say sterling is heading for parity with the euro for the first time in the single currency’s 18-year history.
The exchange rate has prompted many would-be property buyers in Portugal to adopt a “wait and see” attitude. On the other hand, as Kerstin Buechner, director of QP Savills, specialalising in in the up-market Quinta do Lago and Vale do Lobo areas of the Algarve, has told us: “The loss in the value of the pound is stimulating our vendors (almost 100% of them) to reinvest in the local market as opposed to taking the funds back to the UK. This has most certainly contributed to our impressive sales volume this year of over €100 million, which has exceeded all our expectations.”
Many tourists have stayed at home despite the appalling weather in Britain this summer. Fortunately for Portugal, the big decline in British visitors has been offset by a significant increase in other nationals.
Many of the Brits who have spent their holidays in the Algarve this summer have been economising by buying more groceries in supermarkets and dining out less in restaurants.
Among long-term expats, there is still smouldering outrage that those who had lived here for more than 15 years were denied the right to vote in what turned out to be a close-run referendum.
Ardent pro-EU expats here are in touch with protest groups across the continent about what might be done to come up with a better solution than Brexit.
At the other end of the spectrum, some expats are contemptuous of the European Union. Yet it seems that many of these ardent Brexiteers want to continue living out here in the sun.
What lies ahead is as much a mystery now as it was during the referendum. It can still only be guessed at. Brexit may be disastrous for both the UK and the EU, or it may indeed help make Britain great again.
Meanwhile, for the UK and EU expats being used as “bargaining chips,” there is still no sign of agreement on their future rights, let alone getting to grips with the fiendishly complex matter of trade relations.
Instead of ensuring calm and order, all this Brexit baloney looks like bungling on and on and causing yet more chaos.
It may or may not be sorted by the time Big Ben strikes again - and that's not scheduled until 2021.



Thursday, August 31, 2017

Angela Morado, a true professional

Angela Morado of the British Vice Consulate in the Algarve has been presented with an Honorary MBE, awarded to her by Her Majesty the Queen, in recognition of her significant contribution to relations between the United Kingdom and Portugal.
The award was formally presented by the British Ambassador to Portugal, Kirsty Hayes, at a reception on Tuesday in Portimão.
The Ambassador said in tribute: “Angie has proved herself to be a consummate professional in dealing tenaciously with hundreds of consular cases, and providing exemplary support to many distressed and vulnerable British nationals.
Angie always sees each and every person as an individual, an essential skill in consular work, where each person has a set of unique, personal circumstances, even if the type of situation is one she has dealt with many times before.
She has a seemingly limitless supply of empathy and compassion for fellow human beings, often facing up to the worst situation in their lives in a foreign country, sometimes alone, where they don’t speak the language or understand the norms”.
The Ambassador also noted that crisis response is another significant responsibility of consular staff around the world, and, in 2010, Angela was deployed to Funchal to assist British nationals caught up in the flood crisis there. With all communication systems down, there were huge challenges in making contact with British residents and holidaymakers in Madeira.
A year later, Angela went to Malta at one hour’s notice to assist with the evacuation of Libya during the Arab Spring crisis.
Angela Morado was born in Durban, South Africa. At the age of 18 she emigrated to Portugal with her parents and sister. Her father is Portuguese.
Angela was hoping to study fine arts but did not have the Portuguese language skills at the time to pursue a university degree in Portugal.
Instead, in October 1988, she started working for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office at the British Consulate in the Algarve, having been advised about the job vacancy by her previous employer, Zita Neto, Director of the language school Interlingua in Portimão. The British Consulate was just up the road from the school.
I was interviewed by the then Honorary British Consul, Dr José Pearce de Azevedo, to whom I am ever grateful for teaching me the Portuguese I am able to read, write and speak today,” she says.
Having started as a consular support officer, she was promoted to consular assistant in 1994. With the retirement of her former colleagues Ron Underwood and Zefita Azevedo, she was promoted to Proconsul and then appointed Vice Consul in 2004.
She has served under seven consuls. Commenting on her MBE award, Roger Nuttall, the British Consul in the Algarve between 2000 and 2005, who now lives in retirement in England, said: “Among former colleagues in my 40 plus years in the Diplomatic Service, Angela Morado was simply the best consular officer I ever worked with. She was conscientious, professional, and wonderful with the public, British and Portuguese alike. I wish we could clone Angela for every consular job in the Service”.
Angela’s own reaction to the MBE award: “I am truly honoured for the recognition and proud to work for this organisation that has provided me with so many opportunities in my career to learn and develop and to travel.
Above all it is the great job satisfaction I have every day in being able to help vulnerable people. Within the consulate we have a saying that “there is never a dull day” and this makes my job exciting.
I have always worked with fantastic teams who have been supportive especially when dealing with the more complex cases.
It is a luxury these days to be able to say that I get paid for the job that I love doing”. 


 Angela (right) with the British Ambassador
photo by Clive Jewell, the UK's Vice Consul in the Algarve. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Relax, silly, it’s summer holiday time!

The tourist trick of grabbing the best available sunbathing spots by laying down early morning towels is said to have been pioneered long ago by the Germans, but they have met their match.
The competition used to be fought over poolside sun-loungers and the British learned to become even better at it.
Nowadays the beaches have become hotly contested battlegrounds and the Portuguese have become wily protagonists.
That is certainly the case on the long and lovely beach front by the high-rise resort of Armação de Pêra in the Algarve.
For the second year running, and despite much criticism and ridicule, many towels and sun-umbrellas are in place in prime positions on the otherwise empty Armação sands between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. each morning. They remain there, deserted, until mid-morning.
The pre-breakfast predators must wake up early or go to bed very late to ensure success.
Armação’s predominately Portuguese population swells from about 5,000 in winter to more than 120,000 in mid-summer. Tower blocks of vacant apartments suddenly become full when the holiday hordes descend from Lisbon and elsewhere in the north.
In August the beach becomes packed from one end to the other. Barely sardine-sized patches of sand are at a premium, especially at high tide.
And never mind the prolonged heat wave, high ultraviolet alerts and the danger of skin cancer. Live for the moment! Rising sea levels due to global warming may mean that within a few decades there will be no beaches or seaside resorts in southern Portugal at all.
The Brits, the most numerous of the foreign holidaymakers in the Algarve, used to compete with the Germans by laying down early morning towels emblazoned with the word “reserved”
Such Rule Britannia arrogance has been curtailed. Indeed, in Albufeira, just east of Armação, some holidaying Brits seemed uninterested in seeking any sunlight at all.
Having voted to leave the EU did not inhibit a festive “Portugal Invasion” of late-night revellers, some of whom became drunken louts on the rampage and requiring the attention of riot police.
More Brits than usual chose to stay at home this summer, only to be inundated by rain and unusually miserable weather at times across the UK.
Many of those who did come abroad his year have had genuine grounds to grumble about such things as the fall in the value of the pound and the long delays for non-Schengen passport checks.
There are plenty of other moans from visitors every summer, of course. Before early-morning towels and sun-umbrellas became an issue on Armação beach, one holidaymaker staying in a beach-front hotel had objected to the sound of the waves flopping on the shore. There’s no pleasing everybody. 










Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dane plans to expand exotic exports

A resident Danish entrepreneur, Brian Knudsen, is looking to transform large tracts of unproductive land around Lagoa in the Algarve to considerably expand the quantity of special crops he has started growing and exporting from the area.
In May 2016 Knudsen obtained a 15-year rental agreement to take over 12 hectares of state-owned farmland between Lagoa and Sesmarias that had remained abandoned for decades.
Having carefully prepared the soil, installed an irrigation system and sown a type of sweet pea beloved in Denmark as snacks, he was able to harvest 15 tonnes of the healthy delicacy this March.
Since then, on the same land, he has produced large quantities of pumpkins and butternut squash for the Dutch and UK markets. Huge truckloads have been packed and sent northward in recent weeks.
Never before have crops like this been grown in Lagoa for export. And this is just the start.
The ideal climate and soils in the Lagoa area, combined with the demand for fresh produce in northern Europe, are why Knudsen is now looking for much more land, another 40 hectares if possible.
      He is seeking long-term rental contracts with private owners within  the municipality, preferably for land with access to Silves reservoir water channels, or at least where boreholes could be drilled to tap into underground sources.
Meanwhile, Knudsen’s team recently planted 15,000 more pumpkins for maturing in October. Special events are going to be arranged so that local children and families can come and pick their own pumpkins for Halloween celebrations.
Educating groups of children about the nature of agriculture and farming methods is high on Knudsen's agenda once his sowing and harvesting schedules both in Portugal and Denmark have settled down a bit.
He also wants to steadily progress towards organic production, focusing still on sweet peas, pumpkins and squash, but introducing onions and other crops deemed to be particularly healthy and increasingly in demand.
We see a very bright future here,” says 40-year-old Knudsen who regularly travels to Denmark where he has similar business interests. He is planning to sell up there, however, and focus exclusively on the Algarve.
He and his Danish wife and their two children have been living in the Lagoa area since 2010 and this is where they intend to stay.

Brian Knudsen in his Lagoa pumpkin field

Loading butternut squash bound for Holland

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Brexit spats over expats

The Brexit talks now underway in Brussels may end in no deal, says Britain’s chief negotiator, David Davis.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, says no deal would be “a very,very bad outcome for Britain.”
Prime Minister Theresa May, keeps telling us that no deal would be better than a bad deal.
Okay, so that’s all clear, isn’t it?.
Mrs May was equally clear last week in telling more than three million EU citizens, including almost a quarter of a million Portuguese, that her offer of rights to remain in the UK after Brexit was “fair and generous”.
The offer was on the table (if you’ll excuse the pun) at a dinner in Brussels featuring vegetable tart, monkfish and macerated cherries.
According to The Guardian, one of the few British newspapers you can trust these days, Mrs May left the room as EU leaders digested her proposals over coffee and mints.
Fair and generous” were not the words used afterwards by European leaders. We can only speculate on any off-the-record remarks in foreign languages, but “below expectations”, was EU Council President Donald Tusk’s reported polite riposte.
Representatives of affected EU citizens were much more outspoken. They branded the British prime minister’s offer not only as “vague” but also “pathetic”. Far from being fair and generous, the offer portrayed them as “second-class citizens” and actually worsened doubts and anxieties, they said.
One of many things causing sleepless nights is the fear that Brexit will deny automatic citizenship to about half a million children born or raised in the UK .
Fully a fortnight earlier, the EU had offered a lifetime guarantee on current British expatriate rights, something the British negotiating team in Brussels failed to even acknowledge while warning that their “fair and generous” offer would depend entirely on a reciprocated response by the EU.
The British government finally unveiled details of their offer on Monday this week, which was a year late, and while continung to use people as “bargaining chips”, complained opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn.
A 15-page document revealed that the three million EU nationals in the UK will have to apply for a special “settled status” identity card if they want to stay.
Among the most noticeable omissions in the document was clarity on when the cut-off date begins (some time between March 2017 and March 2019) and the future rights of dependants of current EU residents in the UK.
The biggest stumbling block of all may be which courts – British or EU – will have jurisdiction in dealing with citizenship disputes.
     The detailed British proposals received a cool reception in Brussels. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, tweeted rather disdainfully: “More ambition, clarity and guarantees needed than in today’s UK position.”
And yet this whole citizenship issue was supposed to be straightforward and easy, the preliminary bit before the two-year Brexit negotiations get down to the seriously complex stuff about trade.
The Brexit battle seems to have become bogged down before it has really begun.
Meanwhile, the tens of thousands of British expats in Portugal and a million elsewhere in the EU can only look on in befuddlement, and hope that the EU turns out to be fair and generous to them.







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.


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


  COMMENT

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?” www.thecharmingpredator.com.
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:  
     http://www.cbc.ca/radio/outintheopen/pastepisodes/deception-effects-1.4030392?autoplay=true