Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Socialists in compromise talks

As the centre-left Socialist victory in the October 6 general election fell short of producing an outright majority government, caretaker Prime Minister António Costa is considering practical options.

 Costa has ruled out the written alliance the Socialists had for the last four years with the far-left.

The Socialists may be able to arrange a less formal pact on specific issues with either or both the Left Bloc and the Communist Party.

The absence of a formal alliance with the far-left could also make it easier for the centre-left to join forces with their old mainstream rivals, the centre-right.

Uncertainty exists but compromises seem to be on the cards and inter-party discussions are presently ongoing.

This will be good news to Socialists in other countries in the European Union that have been sidelined in recent years, particularly by right-wing Populists.

Meanwhile, international investors do not seem worried about Portugal’s current political uncertainty.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Age-old miracle still attracts millions

While the number of practising Catholics in Portugal and elsewhere in Europe is in decline, the Sanctuary of Fátima remains one of the most visited Catholic places of pilgrimage in the world. Pilgrims will be pouring in this weekend for the 102nd anniversary of the “Miracle of the Sun”.  

According to Sanctuary statistics, the annual number of visitors to Fátima over the past ten years has fluctuated between 3 million and 6 million.  The centenary year, 2017, exceeded all expectations with 9.4 million pilgrims from 109 countries.

Fátima attracts the largest number of visitors around 13 May and 13 October, the first and last dates in the six successive months in 1917 when three children tending sheep claimed to have witnessed apparitions of the Virgin Mary.

It was on 13 October that a miracle is said to have occurred at the time and place prophesied to the children by the Virgin Mary. The event occurred before an estimated crowd of 70,000.  

Many believers consider that the way in which the sun whirled and seemed to defy all cosmic law was one of the most outstanding miracles of the 20th century if not the entire history of Christendom. 

Among the crowd on that day there were contradicting opinions about what actually happened, with some people saying they did not see the sun do anything unusual at all. 

Since then, psychologists, meteorologists and other scientists have offered plenty of non-supernatural explanations, including the power of suggestion and mass hallucination.

Unlike at Lourdes in France, the Sanctuary of Fátima does not actively encourage the idea of miracle cures for the seriously ill. An official spokesperson explained: “Fátima's spirituality is very much centred on prayer, conversion and reparation, with particular attention to prayer for the Pope and peace in the world”. 

In May 2017 Pope Francis visited the Sanctuary to attend the centenary celebrations and canonise the two shepherd children, Jacinta and her brother Francisco, who died of influenza two years after their visions. 

Portuguese make up the majority of the pilgrims each year, but this October registered groups will be coming from other predominantly Catholic countries such as Italy, Poland and France, and from countries such as Azerbaijan, Indonesia and Senegal, where the overwhelming majority of the populations are Muslim.

Sanctuary officials have confirmed that this weekend they will also be welcoming pilgrims from Sri Lanka, where most citizens are Buddhists, and from South Korea, where all the major religions co-exist but most people have no formal affiliation with any. South Korea is the fastest growing Asian country represented at the Sanctuary, with about 250 South Koreans in seven groups having announced many weeks ago their planned presence this weekend.

In recent times the distribution of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics has been changing significantly. About 80% of Portugal's population are nominally Catholic, but increasingly empty pews and closing churches indicate a huge decline in the numbers attending Mass – thought to be down to about 18% of the population and also falling steeply elsewhere in western and southern Europe. 
Europe as a whole is now home to just 24% of the world’s Catholics, compared to about 65% in 1917. Where Catholicism still has a strong hold are parts of Africa, and Central and South America. In Asia, Catholicism is flourishing in the Indian states of Goa and Kerala; and in the Philippines, 86% of the population are Catholic.

Catholicism has been the dominant religion among the Portuguese since Roman times and even through the centuries of Moorish occupation. The Church, along with monarchies, continued to control the nation well after the 18th century Age of Enlightenment which advocated individual liberty and eradication of religious authority. 

 “The time has come for people of reason to say enough is enough”, says Prof. Richard Dawkins, the outspoken Oxford University evolutionary biologist. “Religious faith discourages independent thought, it’s divisive and it’s dangerous”, he says.

Like Dawkins, many contemporary atheists and agnostics condemn the routine ideological indoctrination of the young from an early age, particularly by Catholics and Muslims. They regard such indoctrination as a form of totalitarianism based on a collection of made-up writings that are anything but the “Word of God”. 

A close read of the original story of Fátima, say the sceptics, must persuade all but the most blinkered dogmatists to question the mindset of the child visionaries. It is surely obvious that particularly the two highly imaginative girls, Lúcia and Jacinta, aged ten and seven, were highly imaginative and utterly devoted to angels and the image of a person they identified as Our Lady of the Rosary who became popularly known as Our Lady of Fátima. 

Despite the hopes of secularists, religion is not going away any time soon. About 2,700 different religions exist today to which 84% of humanity is affiliated. Christianity has 2.1 billion followers. Islam, with 1.6 billion, is growing at a considerably faster rate and by 2050 its numbers are expected to equal those of Christianity.

The gods and goddesses of ancient Greece, such as Zeus, Apollo, Poseidon, Athena, Aphrodite and Nemesis, have long passed into mythology. To sceptics, Our Lady of Fátima is already a myth, but to the pilgrims visiting the Sanctuary this weekend she is very real.  

Part of the crowd at Fátima on 13 October 1917

Fátima Basilica  2019

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The deepening crisis of dementia

Dementia is a progressive illness that has preoccupied philosophers and physicians for many centuries, yet there's still no known cure and it continues to afflict an increasing number of people in Portugal and around the globe.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines dementia as a syndrome in which there is deterioration in memory, thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday activities.
About 50 million people in the world have dementia and there are as many as 10 million new cases expected each year. Although it mostly involves the elderly, dementia is not an inevitable part of growing old.

The effect of aging on human cognitive processes was the subject of much philosophical deliberation in ancient Greek and Roman times. It was studied by Pythagoras in the 6th century BC and by Hippocrates, the “father of medicine”, who lived between the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. Plato and Aristotle both had profound but often conflicting views on the aging process and cognitive decline, though Plato carried on writing up to the grand old age of 80 and Aristotle to around 62 in an era when life expectancy was about 30.

The Roman philosopher Cicero in the 1st century BC put forward the reasonable theory that cognitive decline could be offset by vigorous mental activity. 

During the Middle Ages, religion stifled medical studies, and renewed efforts were not sparked again until the 17th and 18th centuries, in the “Age of Enlightenment”.

The notion that those with severe mental problems were possessed by demons and should be locked up in lunatic asylums or even executed persisted into the 20th century, despite the humanitarian attitudes of such specialists as the French physician Philippe Pinel and the pioneering work of German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer.

Dementia is a generic term for a group of related illnesses, the commonest being the one named after the German psychiatrist. Vascular dementia is the second most common.

Mental illness is taken much more seriously by the general public nowadays than it used to be. Those who scornfully used the term “bird-brain” probably didn’t realise it was they themselves who were being stupid. Birds have very complex brains. 

The cells in a bird’s brain interactively organise with extraordinary precision how the bird communicates with other members of the same species through characteristic calls and song, how it finds a suitable nesting site either singly or in colonies, and how it manages to fly individually or in flocks across unfamiliar terrain. 

Some species manage to migrate thousands of kilometres and turn up at just the right time to prepare for breeding in the very same spot they used the previous year.  This and much more in each bird is dependent on one or two billion brain cells called neurons. 
A honey bee has less than a million neurons in its brain, which measures just one cubic millimetre but operates far faster than the most advanced computers. The neuron cells allow bees to stay in touch with one another using their own distinctive language, remember where to find their favourite pollen and display extraordinary aerial agility.
We humans pride ourselves on being the most intelligent of mammals because of the relative size of our brain and the presence of some 1o0 billion neurons in the frontal part known as the cerebral cortex.
Several types of neurons work in conjunction with other cells to send and receive electrochemical nerve impulses that transmit with lightning speed all sorts of messages to different parts of the body. In short, neurons are the key to everything we think, sense and do from birth to death. 
Under normal conditions, our neurons continue to function well into old age, but abnormal events such as strokes may kill certain neurons, with serious and irreparable consequences – including the onset of dementia.  
While the causes of particular and sometimes mixed forms of dementia may be somewhat different, the effects are rather similar: loss of short-term memory, confusion when trying to carry out basic daily tasks, inability to solve problems, misplacing or losing small items, not always recognising friends, not remembering names, uncertainty about time and place, trouble understanding straightforward events. 

Such frailties usually worsen with time and even if the progression is slowed by medications it may be accompanied by increased anxiety, depression and aggression.  Except in the early stages of dementia, these symptoms are likely to be more severe than having “senior moments” such as making bad judgements now and again, occasionally forgetting an appointment, getting the time or the day wrong but getting it right a little later, temporarily struggling to come up with the right word. 

It's estimated that in ancient times only 3% of the population in Greece or the Roman Empire lived to the age of 65. Since the early 20th century, life expectancy globally has risen dramatically due to the advances in medical treatment. According to WHO figures from 2018, average life expectancy is Portugal is now 78.3 for men and 84.5 for women.  
The main lifecycle problems in Portugal currently are that this country has one of the lowest birth rates in the world and state social care is extremely underfunded while professional private care is expensive if not unaffordable. 
In seeking a second term in the 6 October general election, the popular Socialist prime minister, António Costa, has put both of these matters high on his campaign agenda.
As the size of our aging community rapidly grows, it is encouraging that medical technology is improving internationally and understanding of all forms of dementia is increasing.
Meanwhile, it is far from easy for those with dementia, their partners, families, friends and carers to cope, but cope we all must do as best we can.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Confidence within the EU increasing despite Brexit

Support for key perceptions of the European Union is showing a strong increase among the majority of EU citizens despite  –  or perhaps partly because of –  Britain’s shambolic efforts to leave.
The overall approval rating among respondents in a survey conducted in all 28 member states before the European parliamentary elections in May this year showed a peak last recorded between the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and approval of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. 
Since autumn 2018, the proportion of respondents with a positive image of the EU has increased in 23 member states, including Portugal, where it has climbed seven percentage points and now stands at 60%. 
The findings of an EU Barometer post-election survey published last week show “the best results in five years”. Many people now trust the EU more than their own national government or parliament. This trust level is topped by 72% of respondents in Lithuania and 68% in Denmark.  Portugal, with 57%, is sixth on the trust table.
A strong sense of optimism prevails across Europe, most notably in Ireland, where 85% of those questioned felt upbeat about the future of the eurozone.
Within the eurozone, confidence in the euro has weighed in at a new record high of 76%; and in the EU as a whole remains at 62%. 
A large majority of respondents (81%) agree with the free movement that allows EU citizens to live, work, study or do business in any country they choose within the Union.
Significant variations emerge when respondents were questioned about the situation of their own national economy. Almost half of the respondents are happy with the situation:  e.g. Luxembourg (94%), Denmark (91%), Netherlands (90%), Germany (83%) and Sweden (80%). The results for Ireland and the United Kingdom were 75% and 41%, respectively. 
Respondents from several other countries, however, regard their national economy as “bad”; especially in Greece, where an approval rating of only 7% was registered. The equivalent in France is 29% and in Croatia, Bulgaria and Italy the percentage is in the lower twenties. 
Also in the recent survey, many other interesting statistics emerged from face-to-face interviews with around 27,500 citizens in the 28 member states. 
The number one concern remains immigration (34%), although this has dropped six percentage points since last year's survey. Meanwhile there has been a six percentage point increase, to 22%, in what has become the number two concern: climate change.
It’s beyond the scope of EU Barometer surveys to speculate on any correlation between migration and climate change, but it’s likely that the widespread movement of people in the years ahead will be closely related to global warming. Well-documented rising sea levels, devastating flooding, more common extreme weather conditions and ultimate desertification may alter or destroy traditional food production and fundamental lifestyles to the point where there will be no feasible alternative to large-scale migration, not only from Africa into Europe but also from southern Europe northwards.  
The European Union has been in the forefront of deliberations on these dangers, with the Paris Agreement and more recent deliberations in Bonn and Geneva. 
All in all, in the wake of two devastating world wars and a global financial crisis, there is a sense of togetherness in Europe that may long outlive the self-indulgent determination of those in Britain who want out – deal or no deal – on 31 October.  

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The cost of care for the elderly

Care for the elderly within an aging population is an ever growing challenge, but quality services are already in place in the Algarve for visitors and permanent residents from abroad, as well as local citizens  –  at a significant cost.  
The various services include assistance from unofficial carers, registered caring agencies, retirement homes and sheltered communities with nursing facilities.
The Portuguese have traditionally looked after their own elderly within their family circles.  This is partly due to their culture, as well as costs and a state system with poor resources.  Foreigners who have not worked in this country and paid into the social security system are obliged to return to their country of origin or seek private care.
With people generally living longer and illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia increasingly on the rise, private care has become all the more vital. 
Competent help at home can be best obtained through reliable personal recommendations. 
Arrangements to help those with physical or mental impairments can range from a few hours a day a few days a week, to round-the-clock full-time in extreme cases.
The current normal hourly rate for informal daytime care is €10; less overnight. That means that round-the-clock care can reach  €6,000 or more a month.
Registered agencies charge more – typically €12.50, €15 or even €17 an hour during the day – in providing a wide range of home services all over the region using networks of fully trained associate nurses and carers.    
A cheaper option for those in need of full-time care would be a partially state-funded retirement home. Full-board in a single room – if you can find one –  may cost  €1,900 a month, not including medications or special medical treatment.
By contrast, the Madrugada charitable organisation, founded in the western Algarve in 2009, offers palliative care free of charge. Most of its patients affected by a life-limiting illness  are located in its main operational area, between Lagoa and Budens. 

Dependant on fund-raising events, donations and charity shops,  Madrugada’s  clinical team provide care to those who prefer to spend their remaining days in their own home.

Madrugada say the criteria for receiving home care considers the patient’s wishes, the clinical indications, the suitability of the home environment for safe and effective nursing care, the willingness of the patient’s family and current medical team to work in tandem with their professional team.
Special care equipment is made available to ensure that patients remain as safe and as comfortable as possible.
In addition to palliative care, Madrugada provides more normal hourly or daily services with carers looking after patients at home.

Another unique organisation in the Algarve but in a very different setting is the Monte de Palhagueira sheltered community. Comprising a village of 33 privately-owned properties next to a 20-room nursing home, it's located in a beautiful hillside setting at Gorjôes,  a 20-minute drive from Faro Airport. 

Other features interspersed by landscaped gardens and  connected by tranquil lanes include an Anglican Church, a restaurant, a tennis court, two swimming pools and an ornamental lake.
The village properties are all different in size and shape, costing from £90,000 for a one-bedroom apartment to £340,000  for a three-bedroom, two-storey villa.
Properties seldom come on the market and when they do, those already living in the community or on a waiting list have first choice. 

The nursing home costs at Monte de Palhagueira depend on the size of the room and the level of care, but are between €1,100 and €1,350 per week.

Whichever of the above options is most appropriate, two important points, especially for foreign residents to bear in mind, are the likely need to plan well ahead and the volatility of foreign exchange rates.

Monte de Palhagueira

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Wild Boar, a menace moving south

Wild boar and their close relatives, feral pigs, are making more of a nuisance of themselves closer to the coast in the Algarve this year because of previous wildfires inland. 
Family groups of these somewhat dangerous animals have been reportedly enjoying themselves on popular beaches, including Quarteira, Albandeira and Nossa Senhora da Rocha. Mercifully, they stay hidden during the day, only appearing at dusk and dawn, and so do not interfere with human sunbathers.
Javali, the name for wild boar in Portuguese, are not often seen on golf courses either but their nocturnal presence has been apparent on some, such as Gramacho near Carvoeiro and Parque da Floresta west of Lagos. Morgado near Portimão suffered badly before it was fenced.
The attraction of golf courses in spring and summer is that they are well irrigated, making scratching for food easier
As omnivores, the wild boar and descendants of escaped domesticated pigs gone wild, eat acorns, nuts, seeds, fruit, creepy-crawlies, mice, small reptiles and much besides. They dive into wheelie bins in search of lunch and dinner scraps.
In many places such as Odeaxere near Lagos they destroy farm crops. In the Odelouca Valley near Silves they have been turfing up young Quercus canariensis, a special and rare native tree, being cultivated by environmentalist Antonio Lambe. In the process the boars have damaged parts of the irrigation system. 
Hunters and their dogs go after wild boar in what is known in Portuguese as a montado. Usually on a Saturday in the autumn a man in a red scarf near Messines would conduct the hunt blowing a horn. The dogs, specially bred for this type of hunting, would leap on the boar before the hunters get there. 
“Those tusks are unforgiving. It's pretty gruesome,” says John Greenhill who has watched from an opposite hillside. 
“After the kill, the boar is transported on a pole to the hunting club lodge to be butchered. A lot of drink is taken, mainly the hard stuff, bagaço or medronho.
“I have a neighbour whom I have never met who used to put a wire noose on the boar path, always on a steep part so the boar would run headfirst into it and strangle itself slowly. I know this because I have cut two dogs out of the trap.
“I used to go regularly and destroy the nooses, so eventually whoever it was gave up.”
The presence of more wild boar closer to the coast this year is thought to have been forced by the extensive wildfires in their favourite habitat in the hills and foothills of the Algarve.
Early risers may now spot wild boar in the countryside anywhere from Aljezur in the far west to the Guadiana River in the far east.
This year, for the first time in decades of living in a small wood just north of the N125 at Porches, the Fitzpatrick family have watched groups of up to ten feral pigs close to their home. And there have been reports too of javali in the Porches countryside south of the N125.
Sudden outbursts of barking by fenced-in dogs at around sunrise or sunset can be a useful  signal that wild boars or feral pigs are passing nearby.
Javali are capable of wrecking cars and have done so in collisions on ill-lit country roads in the Loulé area
People out walking in the countryside need to be cautious. Should you encounter one or more of these mighty, fanged creatures, back off!  Avoid any form of confrontation.
Don’t for a moment imagine you can outrun animals with such robust bodies but relatively little legs. They can sprint at 40 km/h and jump over obstacles one and a half metres tall.

Although short-sighted, wild boar and feral pigs can quickly sense potential trouble but generally try to avoid conflict with humans by running for cover in dense undergrowth.  
Global warming permitting, they are here to stay. They are among the most widespread wild mammals in the world and among the least endangered.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Reformed UK criminal helps beat Alentejo property scammers

An elderly couple, who say they fear losing their home in southern Portugal because of a scam, have turned to a reformed criminal for help.
All the characters in this remarkable saga are British. The victims are Richard and Jane Wallinger, who fell in love with Portugal’s lifestyle and people on their first short visit in 2002. They sold their home in the UK in 2004 and used the funds to buy a house 30 kilometres from the town of Ferreiras do Alentejo in the district of Beja.
They say they were conned into trying to buy another plot of land by an unmarried couple who turned out to be fraudsters. The person trying to solve the ongoing problem is Shaun Smith, a former “enforcer” who was sentenced in Liverpool to five years' imprisonment for a firearms offence.
Released from prison in 2009, Smith is now the director of an investigative and debt collection company. He has recently risen to fame as a bare-knuckle boxer in a Netflix documentary featuring his gym in Warrington, Cheshire.
Richard Wallinger, a former racing driver, says he handed over an initial payment of £50,000 in cash to a supposed vendor for a plot of land on a Ferreiras do Alentejo farm. He later made a bank payment of £60,000.

Wallinger says the amount he paid, including tax and lawyer fees, totalled the equivalent of €184,000. The vendor whom Richard had paid later denied receiving the £50,000 cash. His partner still lives on the farm but says she is no longer in a relationship with him, yet he has since been seen at her home.
Wallinger insists, however, that in 2004 the two alleged fraudsters had promised to repay him the full amount for the land he thought he had bought but which was never in his name. They had only given back the £60,000 and were now trying to sell the land to another couple.
In January 2007 both the alleged fraudsters attended a mediation hearing in the UK and agreed to return an outstanding amount of   £116,000 to Wallinger within 21 days.
That did not happen, so Wallinger arranged to have the High Court order served at the farm on the vendor’s partner as she was the registered owner, but this backfired. She won a court judgement against Wallinger in which he was ordered to pay costs of £5,000.
Everything became more complicated when the British court order was transferred to the Portuguese legal system. The Wallingers were unable to attend civil hearings in Portugal because of poor health. They were both battling cancer.
A charge was lodged against their property in Portugal and the amount they owe has now reached nearly €145,000. Their financial problems and fear of losing their beloved home drove them to consider committing suicide.
Jane and I have endured 16 and more years of hell at the hands of these evil fraudsters,” says Richard. “Only ou~
r strong competitive background as motor racing championship winners has helped us to deal with the stress and trauma”.
A friend referred them to Shaun Smith, who had totally changed his ways and turned his back on crime. As director of Shaun Smith Enterprises Ltd., he fully sympathises with the Wallingers’ plight. Last month he wrote to the alleged conman setting out some disturbing figures.
According to Smith, the fraudsters owes the Wallingers the original High Court amount of £116,000, plus interest at 8% per annum from January 2007 of £113,292, and collection costs to date of £15,000. Total: £244,292.
Smith offered to meet and discuss how the debt might be settled before further costs are incurred, but he has not yet received a reply.
Smith has described the situation as “diabolical.” He has emphasised that he “is going to fight tooth and nail to save the Wallinger pensioners from losing their home”.

   Jane Wallinger

Richard Wallinger

                                   Shaun Smith