Friday, December 14, 2012

Humbug! It looks like Xmas is still on

 Now that we are approaching the shortest day and the longest night of the year, new light is being shed on old myths.
The much-debated idea that Jesus Christ was merely a mythical character finds new expression in the latest issue of the newspaper Jornal Algarve 123. The paper quotes an Algarve genealogist, Nuno Inácio, speaking about a friend who died just as he was starting to write a book based on 20 years of delving into the origins of Christianity.
“He died when he had proof of what he wanted to prove: that the Biblical Jesus Christ never existed….. Jesus Christ was created by Paul, as part of a family vendetta,” says Inácio.
Those wishing to examine the “proof” will have to read the newly published 706-page book Apokalipsis based on the research of Inácio’s friend Victor Borges (not to be confused with the Danish musical comedian of the same name who had a home in the Algarve for many years).
Meanwhile, Russia’s former president, now prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev this week remarked on two other subjects thought by many to be steeped in mythology. 
The cameras had been switched off after a TV press conference but a microphone was still live when a journalist asked Medvedev if Russia’s president handled secret files about extraterrestrials when receiving the briefcase he needed to activate Russia's nuclear arsenal.  
Medvedev replied: “Along with the briefcase with nuclear codes, the president of the country is given a special top secret folder. This folder in its entirety contains information about aliens who visited our planet.”
Medvedev continued: “Along with this, you are given a report of the absolutely secret special service that exercises control over aliens on the territory of our country ... I will not tell you how many of them are among us because it may cause panic. More detailed information on this topic you can get from a well-known movie called ‘Men in Black’."
With tongue still firmly lodged in his cheek, Medvedev’s also discussed Santa Claus – or Father Frost as Santa is known in Russia. “I believe in Father Frost. But not too deeply,” said Medvedev. Anyway, you know, I'm not one of those people who are able to tell the kids that Father Frost does not exist.”
Film star Brad Pitt apparently is one of those people. The husband of Angelina Jolie and father of six recently revealed that when he was a child he was devastated to discover Santa wasn’t real as he had been led to believe. “I thought it was a huge act of betrayal when I was a kid. I didn't like that. When I found out the truth, I was like, ‘why, why, why would you lie to me, why?’”

According to an astonishing number of people around the globe, Santa will not be making his usual rounds this year. That, of course, is because the world is going to end before Christmas – next Friday to be exact. It says so in the Mayan calendar. Well, actually it doesn’t, but recent polls suggest that no fewer than 25 million Americans believe the end is nigh. Widespread alarm about the approaching ‘apocalypse’ has prompted people to stockpile food, fuel and weapons before going underground. Children across the planet are said to be scared to the point of suicide. Inmates in a Russian women’s prison experienced a “collective mass psychosis” so intense that their wardens had to summon a priest to calm them. Authorities in France are banning a flood of visitors from taking refuge in a supposedly sacred mountain said to contain an alien spaceship. It is believed to be the place that will protect a lucky few from Armageddon. 
Happily, Mayan scholars have pooh-poohed the notion and the large Mayan population in the Mexican state of Yucatán have scheduled a festival next Friday to celebrate the fact that the Mayan calendar does not predict any disaster at all.
The NASA space agency, through leading astrophysicist David Morrison, has described the December 21st doomsday prediction as just another modern hoax. Morrison has dismissed all the chatter about ‘End Times’ caused by a meteor strike, a solar flare or a polar shift as baloney. Despite what creationists believe, most scientists are agreed that the Earth is more than four billion years old and probably has another billion or so to go.
So, that’s that sorted. Phew! Now all we have to worry about is the Christmas shopping and getting into the festive spirit.
Bah! Humbug!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cheers to those helping save corks!

Getting into the spirit of Christmas, Ireland’s biggest selling newspaper, the Sunday Independent, ran an article in its last issue that will be welcomed by all in the Algarve and the rest of the Iberian Peninsula who side with corks in the War of the Stoppers.
The article was a timely reminder that market forces controlling how wine bottles are capped are still rampant and working against corks. Despite a reported cork resurgence in recent years, screw caps and plastic stoppers favoured by New World wine producers have  captured at least 20% of the market.
The Sunday Independent quoted the World Wildlife Fund in reporting that an estimated three-quarters of the western Mediterranean’s cork oak forests could be lost within 10 years. The plastic and screw top momentum could take up to 80% of the wine bottle market well before that.
While doing what it can to help, the WWF continues to express serious concern about a possible disastrous scenario. “Cork forests – home to endangered species such as the Iberian lynx and Iberian imperial eagle – have been protected and valued due to the centuries-old demand for cork in the wine industry. But the increasingly popular use of alternative stoppers threatens this environmentally and economically sustainable industry and leaves cork forests unprotected.”
Portugal produces about half of the cork harvested annually worldwide. In the past 10 years, cork forests in the Algarve have reportedly declined by 28%. One firm is said to have seen a fall of 70%, with its cork products now being used only for sparkling wine bottles.
The harvesting of cork oak, with the bark totally renewing itself after each nine-year harvest, offers one of the finest examples of traditional, sustainable land use. Cork oak woodlands provide a livelihood for 10,000 people in southern Portugal and many thousands more in southern Spain and parts of France, Italy Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. It is not only these livelihoods that are in danger if the demand for cork dwindles as feared.
The worry is that market forces may lead to the woodlands being felled to make way for other cash crops. “Cork oak forests also play a key role in maintaining watersheds, preventing erosion and keeping soils healthy, says the World Wildlife Fund. “They are a great example of balanced conservation and economic development. Their preservation is vital for the well-being of the Mediterranean region.”
If they are not preserved, climate change and erosion could bring about desertification. If that happened, the natural undergrowth, wild animals and birds the oak woodlands now support would be displaced or driven to extinction. Livestock, such as black pigs free-ranging on acorns, would no longer have their traditional pastures.
Cork is so crucial ecomonically that the Portuguese government has declared the industry’s  survival “a national cause.” Scientists are hellping the cause with laboratory investigations designed to improve the quality of cork products and by introducing a new European protocol to certify standards. Reuters reported recently that Spain’s cork-producing regions had set scientists the task of ensuring that nature’s stoppers are free from any of that infamous ‘cork taint.’
There are pros as well as cons for the synthetic alternatives, but while the War of the Stoppers rages on, the writer of the Sunday Independent article last weekend urged readers to continue to pop corks by saying: “This simple choice is a small but positive gesture towards those Portuguese and Spanish farmers hanging in there. Raise a glass or two to them. I will join you. (O mesmo por favor!) Fill 'em up again, lads.”