Hate from Back Home

Sesame Street characters, athletes and other celebrities, politicians, health care professionals, bots, government spokespeople, misfits and the marginalized, and ordinary, regular people share this in common: They’re victims or perpetrators of prejudice, hatred, lies, and deliberate misinformation.

Like Covid, malice and fear-mongering know no borders. Those of us who tried to escape the lunacy by moving to another country have learned history’s quintessential lesson: no matter how far we go, there’s no place to hide. Especially when complacency and discord blind us from recognizing the foes and fears that follow us.

Part of dealing with the challenges of our new lives abroad is coping with unresolved tensions we may have thought we’d left behind.

Or the insidiousness sprouting in hitherto peaceful places, as natives are infected by an onslaught of newcomers with nasty habits and not-so-hidden hubris.

While most of us were supported in our decision to relocate abroad, some of the people we know and don’t know – families, friends, even strangers – take issue with us for leaving the homeland. Their reasons are varied, but essentially boil down to certain considerations:

Loss and Estrangement. Family and friends, especially, are disappointed that we’ll no longer be as accessible to them as we had been. They’re right! Despite connecting on social media, person-to-person audiovisual chats, phone calls, and occasional trips back to visit, our lives, thoughts, and activities increasingly are focused on our current – not former – environment. Sometimes, the emotions and logistics of planning visits are complicated, causing consternation and conflicts. Although some expats and immigrants have no second thoughts about returning to the country they left, others are so repulsed (and scared!) by the emotional climate and turmoil of their homeland that they ‘d rather not set foot there again. Trying to explain our resistance is an ongoing process.

Situational Complications. While many of those closest to us would love to join us and live abroad, they can’t, due to reasons ranging from family commitments or entanglements to employment, education, health issues, etc. Their motivations and tugs-of-war with significant others in their own spheres aren’t as imperative as are ours. Genuinely happy about our decision to leave for greener pastures (cost of living, health care, safety and security, etc.) elsewhere, there’s a wee bit of apprehension and jealousy that we’re doing something they can’t. These scenarios are rife with opportunities for misunderstanding and/or miscommunication that can threaten the status of even the most well-meaning relationships.

My Country Right or Wrong “Love it or leave it” may have been replaced by “stay and defend our rights” in the face of intolerable autocratic abuses, but the passions embodied by such catch phrases can be strong and and offensive. Other citizens can’t always understand how we do make our voices heard and votes count from abroad by contributing our time, talents, and resources to people and organizations we believe can make things better “over there.” We write letters to the editors of newspapers, magazines, websites, and blogs. We send emails and faxes to elected “representatives,” informing them of our perspectives regarding matters of consequence. Posting, commenting, responding, and sharing diplomatically on the “social” media, we join and participate in expat groups that represent our interests … maybe even marching and rallying to show our solidarity with others who believe as we do. We’re involved “back home” as registered overseas voters, encouraging others – wherever they live – to register and vote.

Divisive Politics Arrogance and intimidation – the sincere belief that “we’re right and you’re not” – cannot be constrained by borders. These tears in the fabric of our social conscience and affiliated responsibilities have broken the ties that bound families and friends … regardless if an international move was involved or at issue. As we learn the language and culture of our new country and, in the process, become more involved in its welfare, we become aware that the politics of division – especially as fostered by the alt-right – permeate peoples everywhere. For now, however, despite the ticks and pricks of ultra-conservatives, the freedoms and benefits we enjoy in left-of-center countries appear to be strong and pervasive. Yet here, too, we must be vigilant and persevere.

Belligerence and Retribution Throughout history, there always have been haters, people who resent others for whatever their reasons. But the access to unfettered podiums in Internet town squares reaching millions, and ability to hide behind social media’s anonymity – or, increasingly, not to – have given rise to attacks from people whose lives revolve around chaos, supremacy, conflict, and their crippling effects. They are resentful, hawkish (even if “Christian”), and waver between autocracy, anarchy, and annihilation. Hitherto fringe elements of civilized society, they are intent on making their way into the mainstream. Some are byproducts of others who seek to spread lies, misinformation, and other tactics designed to bring down democracy … even as others are real, repugnant, and reprehensible whisperers whose malevolent behavior creates havoc.

These aren’t the pleasant thoughts we want to dwell on as we plan and proceed with our international relocation; yet they are troubling concerns that – sooner or later – we will face in some shape or form, going hand-in-hand with the “new normal” that’s undermined civics and ethics and most everything that these words connote.

Be aware. Be polite. Be prepared.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine.

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Meninho

This is Meninho. We called him ninho (niño), for short.

Two months ago, Manny, our little boy schnauzer, died of liver failure. We were heart-broken. Bereaved. Grieving.

Nobody can ever replace Manny – his personality, love, and memories are too special – but, in time, the hole in our hearts can be healed through a new furry family member.

A friend informed us that her dogs recently had produced a litter. One was available. We went to her farm to meet and spend time with the puppies.

Meninho was one of seven. One died during birth. We just learned that the remaining six have developed Parvo. The last thing any new puppy owner wants to hear is a diagnosis of parvo. Parvo in puppies is a common disease with deadly consequences. Puppies ages six weeks to six months are the most susceptible. Meninho was six weeks old when we met him … we were to bring him home when he reached ten.

We were grief-stricken. Again.

Helping families to deal with the demise of a beloved pet was a major part of my ministry as chaplain at an animal rescue shelter in Northeast Wisconsin after retiring. Because they couldn’t understand, well-meaning people would ask, “Why does an animal rescue shelter need a chaplain?”

Current circumstances reminded me of the challenges, concerns, and considerations people experience with their pets throughout their too-short time with us.

Life would go on, for our family …

The best time to bring a new beating heart into your home after the demise of a beloved one was one of the struggles I tried to help people deal with during my time as a chaplain.

Others further explain why “pet-people chaplains” are vital:

● I probably spent more time consoling and counseling people upon the traumatic and heart-wrenching departure of a family member, albeit a four-legged one, than any other aspect of my ministry.

● A woman called the shelter to ask if there was someone she could talk to about a difficult choice regarding her nine-year-old cat. It wasn’t a life-or-death decision. Her cat was going blind. After its preliminary diagnosis and second opinions, the consensus was that the only hope to save the cat’s vision was at a specialized facility in Madison, the state capital. The procedure would cost about $5,000 … almost all the money she had in the world. Should she spend it on her cat? She made an appointment to speak with her pastor, whose response was, “Geez … it’s only a cat!” Alas, he just didn’t understand.

● People adopting pets and bringing new ones into their lives often want the pet to be blessed. Sure, some churches honor St. Francis (of Assisi), patron saint of animals and the environment, with an annual “blessing of the pets.” Up-close-and-personal, however, is something different entirely.

● Prayers over pets (sick or otherwise) and home visitations were frequently requested. Other times, disappointed and desperate, many wanted clergy to be there with them, holding their hands and hugging them closely, as they said “good-bye” to their family member departing for the rainbow bridge.

● Some deeply spiritual people wanted their houses blessed before (and after) pets entered and exited.

● Of course, many times were frequently spent visiting and playing and helping with the pets housed in the shelter.

Probably my most extraordinary moments as chaplain at an animal rescue shelter, however, were those spent in a variety of area churches, preaching about God’s love for all creatures great and small. The subject matter is rarely taught (or quickly passed over) in most seminaries and schools of theology.

Lions, leopards, bears (although no tigers), along with nearly 100 other animals, insects, and non-human creatures are mentioned throughout the Hebrew and Christian Testaments. And, while dogs figure prominently in several biblical passages, interestingly there is not a single mention of a domestic cat in the canon.

(You’ve heard it before: “What is dog spelled backwards?”)

What does the Bible say about animals?

In Genesis 9:3-4, God tells us that a person cannot cut off the limb of a living animal. In Exodus, the Ten Commandments remind us that we are supposed to treat animals with respect and care, particularly those who work our lands.

Psalm 147:9 shows us that God is concerned for all creation, including the animals: “He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call.” In Psalm 104:21, we see that “the lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God”; implied is that God feeds them. In Luke 12:6, Jesus says, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.”

And, who can forget these words from the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd …”

If God cares for creation and the animals, so should we.

In fact, it is God’s care for animals that probably explains our desire for pets.

We have inherited the part of God’s nature that cares for the animals. In the very beginning, we’re told, God blessed the people and commanded them, “Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28).

When beginning my messages from the pulpit, I asked those in the pews if they remembered the story of Balaam and his donkey (Numbers 22:21-39).

After Balaam started punishing his devoted donkey for refusing to move, the animal was miraculously given the power to speak. It complained about Balaam’s treatment. Balaam saw an angel, who informed him that the donkey’s behavior was the only reason the angel did not kill Balaam. Balaam immediately repented, and was told to go on his way.

I reminded the congregation that, if God could speak through a jackass, God certainly could speak through me!

Disclaimer: I share these stories of our experiences not to complain or seek sympathy, but because we are North Americans acculturating to another country’s norms and expectations. Information in posts such as this aren’t found in tourist or relocation guides … nor asked about and answered in most Facebook groups. Hopefully, some will learn from my anecdotes and be better prepared for the grit and grist, the grain of living abroad.

Bruce is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. Read the current online issue and subscribe to the magazine at no cost whatsoever: http://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue

Don’t Be Duped by Facebook:

Facebook Bilks and Breaks Businesses It Begets

An Open Letter to the USA Congress

While public, media, and government attention was riveted by the emotional distress caused to teens and young women by Facebook subsidiary Instagram, most lost sight of the bigger crime committed:

“[M]illions of small businesses weren’t able to reach potential customers … around the world,” testified Frances Haugen (aka the “Whistle-blower”) on October 5th to a Senate Commerce subcommittee.

Facebook exacts a far greater toll on the myriad businesses that trust and follow the oversize social medium´s suggestions to bolster their businesses by creating and promoting “Pages” … with Facebook’s guidance, of course.

Pages are far more profitable for Facebook than users and user groups.

Follow the money, and you’ll easily see why …

Maintaining a presence on Facebook is a perceived marketing requisite for major brands and big businesses to build loyalty for these well-known names; but a Facebook Page for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and paperback writers boosts Facebook’s income with a continuous feed of revenue streams.

I don’t have thousands of pages of internal research and documents at my disposal to prove my point, but I do have extensive experience(s) to share—come-ons and addictive snake oil which have impacted countless businesses besides mine.

It starts by Facebook engaging you to create a Page for your business online. With Facebook, of course. While not every business can afford the costs of building and maintaining its own website, what better place to advertise than the largest online people portal of all? And Facebook promises to help you, every step of the way.

After all, Facebook knows who we are and targets us (specifically), even as it’s able to pinpoint precisely the people we want to reach.

I acquiesced to help launch Portugal Living Magazine.

Once you’ve completed its questionnaire with information Facebook can use in its enormous data base-driven marketing machine … and added some attractive graphics … you’re set up and ready to publish your Page.

Don’t forget that publishing implies distribution, as well as a product.

So, Facebook tells you to begin promoting your new Page by inviting all of your friends and acquaintances (on Facebook) to *Like* and *Follow* your Page, urging them to *Share* it with all of their Facebook contacts.

Not unlike a Ponzi scheme, as the number of people who like your Page grows, you’re drugged by that rush of adrenalin and anxiety … to attract more people, always more, to the product.

The question now becomes, what’s the product: your Page or Facebook?

It’s here that Facebook begins with its financial inducements, tagging you with a plethora of ways to promote your Page through Facebook advertising. You can spend money to *Boost* a popular post on your Page. You can spend money to convince new people—people you don’t know – to like your Page. You can spend money to make people click on an ad and be linked directly to your website, where they can conduct business with you. There are plenty of opportunities to pay the Facebook piper, over and again, especially since this online platform offers the most precise targeting to reach prospects in your preferred audience. Besides, you can augment your reach through Facebook subsidiaries—like Instagram!

Ultimately, I spent nearly $2,000 promoting my Page through Facebook’s daily $5 to $25 promotions for five to seven consecutive days.

It adds up quite quickly.

Like Citizens United, Facebook treats Pages (businesses) as it does people. Pages can join groups and post to these groups as the Page, not the person. Pages get their own, internal news feed based on the groups you’ve joined, other Pages you like, and any other entity Facebook thinks is appropriate. Moreover, Facebook will send you messages when it thinks there’s a post elsewhere on its platform that you should read. It will continue to suggest groups, media, and Pages to add to the favorites appearing on your looped news feed. And it makes it relatively simple to share a post from your Page’s news feed (which only you can see) with others who follow your Page.

Facebook has helped you survive through increased recognition (growth) and applause (reactions and comments to the posts on your Page).

Until, one day, it happens: Facebook’s algorithms turn against you, making it virtually impossible to use your Page. Those posts from others you’ve shared? You can’t anymore. Facebook times you out, no longer permitting you to share posts on your Page … or even to post directly on your own Page!

Click the “Share” button once too often, and you’ll get messages like this one when trying to share something on your Page: “Your message couldn’t be sent because it includes content that other people on Facebook have reported as abusive.” You’ve got to be kidding, right? Nope!

Try posting something directly—not by sharing but be entering it directly to your Page. It’s your own content you’re publishing … or trying to, at least. Now, you’ll get this kind of message courtesy of Facebook’s algorithms: “We limit how often you can post, comment or do other things in a given amount of time in order to help protect the community from spam. You can try again later. If you think this doesn’t go against our Community Standards, let us know.”

Try again later? Define “later,” please: An hour or two? A couple of days? A week? It’s been six weeks now and I’m still waiting … although I did try to let them know that, in no way, did my posts violate their community standards.

Have you ever tried to contact Facebook to let them know something’s wrong, not working, needs immediate attention? LOL! Their phone may be answered, after a fashion, but it’s not connected to anyone. Click on that hyperlink under “Let us know” (not even a “please” of common courtesy). Yeah, right. Whatever you send ends up somewhere in that black hole of cyberspace. Facebook doesn’t want to be bothered with our problems; instead, it has Forums for this, that, and the other thing.

But still no answers to my conundrum.

I did mention that I tried contacting Facebook through the Community Standards link included in its “You’ve been a bad boy” comment under whatever I tried to publish on my Page? (Eight times!)

Finally, I tried to outwit the system and its algorithms. I had been paying to promote my Page. There, in the Ad Center section, was a “Need Help?” button. Queued up, I awaited someone to appear on the chat screen. Finally, someone did. Felicia from Facebook Concierge Support.

I reviewed in agonizing detail – down to the screen shots – what I’d been experiencing (or not) on Facebook for the past six weeks.

“We greatly appreciate your patience while waiting for an update and for your cooperation on this case,” Felicia began. “We have received an update from our Internal Team and we would like to share with you the update below: We have limits in place to prevent abuse of our features and to protect people from spam and harassment. For example, if someone is sending out a lot of messages to people they aren’t friends with, they may be warned or temporarily blocked from sending messages. Limits are based on different factors, such as speed and quantity, but we can’t provide additional details on the rate limits that are enforced. Our team concluded that the issue should now be resolved from your end. If this is not correct or if you are not satisfied with the resolution provided, please feel free to reply to this email and I will get in touch with you as soon as possible.”

Immediately, I opened my errant Page and tried to post. Nothing … but those same messages contained in the screen shots above. I reread Felicia’s response. Her “Internal Team” must comprise even more algorithms. No information could be provided about the “rate limits” imposed and enforced. Yet, the “team” concluded that the issues should now be resolved from my end. Double entendre? Was she saying that Facebook had resolved my issues and I should no longer experience the problems? Or was the implication that it was up to me to find and fix the problems?

Certain that Felicia was a bot, artificial intelligence working for Facebook, I replied, nonetheless, to her email, saying that I continued to experience the same Page problems that I’d contacted Facebook about time and again.

Her response came within hours:

“Thank you for responding and sharing your concern with us. We can understand how important this can be for you. Please be informed that we are re-coordinating again with our support team and they are investigating on this case. Rest assured that necessary steps and follow up are done to emphasize the urgency of this case and as soon as we have an update, we will coordinate with you through this email thread. Until this case get resolved, we will keep this ticket number open and keep you updated.”

I no longer am certain that Felicia is a bot, artificial intelligence, or that her algorithms are appropriately aligned. “We are re-coordinating again?” The support team “are investigating on this case?” And one of the longest run-on sentences of Donald Trump double-speak?

This is whom I had entrusted with my Facebook future and livelihood?

Meanwhile, I noticed that my own personal posts on my personal profile’s feed no longer were receiving the usual reactions or responses that they’d cultivated since I joined Facebook. Whereas I typically received about a dozen or so emojis in reaction and at least several comments, now I’m not receiving any (of either). It’s as if the algorithms are teaming up to conspire against me personally, as well as my Page(s).

It’s already been almost two months since I’ve been locked away in Facebook prison, unable to add feed for my followers.

Without fresh, new, content, people stop visiting your Facebook Page. You’re old news, about which they no longer care.

Facebook’s nonchalant, devil-may-care attitude and irresponsibility — perhaps even malfeasance — have caused me and many others to suffer grave injustices. For some, like me, we have paid good money to Facebook only to receive damages and losses as a result.

We desperately need legislative reform of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook.

Facebook is bigger and more powerful than most nations. It starts wars, takes sides, and spreads misinformation. In the process, it kills the very businesses that – once upon a time – it helped to establish.

Now, it’s the world’s biggest monopoly and money pit that’s stifled and absorbed any real competition. There’s nowhere else to go, nobody to listen, nothing but what Facebook allows to be told.

Facebook has outgrown its own britches and needs to be cut down to size.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine.

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The Serpent Was Right

Regardless of our current religious orientation, most of us are familiar with the Garden of Eden story … which begat the Christian concept of “original sin” and redemption through substitutionary atonement.

Christian religious traditions hold that the original sin has been passed down from Adam and Eve to all humanity. And that the only way to regain our right-standing with God is to accept Jesus as our savior, heaping all of our misdeeds and offenses upon him—the sacrificial scapegoat for us all.

But what, exactly, was the original sin? Disobedience? Doubt? Rebellion? Self-awareness? Self-centered egoism?

According to one chapter of the Bible, God warned our primogenitors, “… you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it, you will certainly die” (Gen 2:17, NIV).

Apart from the fact that there’s a second account of this story in which, rather than die, God recognized their transgression and proclaimed their punishments—pain in childbirth and subordination to men for women, and, for men, relegation to an accursed ground with which they must toil and sweat for their existence (Gen 3:17-19, NIV)—we learn that Adam and Eve didn’t die for what they did; with 56 children, they are reckoned to have lived about 930 years before their demise.

Therefore, the serpent was right: neither Adam nor Eve died after eating the forbidden fruit.

Yet the crafty old snake was the voice of temptation, dressed up in an all-too-human question: “Did God really say (that)?”

Eve, in effect, replied: “Yes. Those were God’s rules.”

But what some think of as the devil in disguise—the serpent—persisted: “You will not certainly die … For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:4-5).

For most of the Judeo-Christian persuasion, “die” was symbolic, as in separation from our intimate connection to God, which evangelicals and other Christians will tell you can only be redeemed through being “born again” with Jesus … aka (metaphorically, of course), a resurrection.

So, let’s return to my original question: What, exactly, was the so-called original sin? Was it disobedience? Doubt the God really said something? Rebellion against the established rules? Self-awareness and/or its offspring, self-centered egoism?

I believe it was self-awareness and egoism.

What happened after Eve enjoyed the tasty fruit and cajoled Adam into trying it, too? They recognized that they were naked and donned fig leaves as garments. Their son, Abel, killed his brother, Cain, out of envy. Humanity sold its soul in a variety of Faustian deals and bargains.

Egoism is a “doctrine that individual self-interest is the actual motive of all conscious action; a doctrine that individual self-interest is the valid end of all actions,” along with “excessive concern for oneself with or without exaggerated feelings of self-importance,” according to Merriam-Webster.

Only by transcending our egoism can we truly understand and care about the welfare of others.

What Don’t You Like about Portugal?

“There must be something you don’t like!”

That’s the response I get from the naysayers, those who don’t believe that Portugal is a land of milk and honey, even if its streets aren’t lined with gold. After all, almost everything they read these days paints Portugal as the best, the most, the friendliest, the warmest, the cheapest, absolutely an ideal place to live—nirvana—especially for digital nomads and foreign retirees.

And, in many ways, it is!

But, let me get this off my chest upfront—because I know there will be those mocking and taking issue with whatever I say here:

I love Portugal.

Please, reread that:

I. Love. Portugal!

Still, despite all the hype, hoopla, and fanfare about how this Iberian country is the closest to heaven on earth–calm, peaceful, friendly, welcoming, beautiful, easy on the wallet—there are some things that are bothersome here or incur a hard time getting used to.. Of course, my likes and dislikes, probably differ from yours … so, what annoys or frustrates me may be perfectly acceptable to you and others. For some, these queixas aren’t applicable. And, sooner or later, we come to grips with this stuff.

I share these stories of our experiences not to complain or seek sympathy, but because we are North Americans acculturating to another country’s norms, traditions, and expectations. Information in posts such as this typically aren’t found in tourist or relocation guides … nor asked about and answered in most Facebook groups. Hopefully, some will learn from my anecdotes and be better prepared for the grit and grist, the grain of living abroad. We love Portugal for what it is, not what it isn’t, and have no intention of leaving. And, certainly, not all “foreigners” have difficult dealing with what I consider these nuisances.

Again, let me be clear: Just because I may not like something doesn’t diminish my love for the country. Some things we get used to; others we don’t.

So, here’s my list of what irks me most in (not about) Portugal …

Allergens. Never in my life have I had allergies—until moving to Portugal. I don’t know what’s in the environment, the air, but I cannot stop sneezing and sniffling or rubbing my itchy eyes. Perhaps it’s related to what our veterinarian warned us affects non-native dogs (and cats), requiring periodic medications. Or, more likely, it has to do with all the dust. Good heavens, you can dust something—a mirror, furniture, countertops—today and it will be back within 24 hours. Spontaneous generation?

Ants, Flies, and Creepy-Crawlers. Ants are almost everywhere here in Portugal. Big ones that you find crawling along your steps and landings. Medium ones going about their business. Most of all, though, are the little ones that suddenly appear out of nowhere —entire armies—near doors, windows, and other entry points, or marching across your counters. Then, there are the flies. And gnats. And hovering predators that insist on following, needling, and targeting us … playing catch me if you can. I swear, they’re sadistic! The big, fat flies that buzz the loudest are the lamest, not lasting long against our arsenal of mechanical and chemical weaponry. It’s the smaller, quicker ones that are the nastiest. Darting around, playing hide-and-seek, they’ll find you, wherever you are—especially the loo! They last the longest and are the most persistent. Like the gnats buzzing in your ears as you’re trying to sleep … no matter how many times you slap yourself in the process of trying to say good riddance. More often than not, they swim and die drowning from overdoses of alcohol while floating in your (tinto) wine. How the Portuguese aren’t bothered by them in this café culture of outdoor dining, is beyond me. We cannot sleep with open windows without screens. Spiders, centipedes, and other common critters may creep me out; but I can deal with them. Not with the dreaded processionary caterpillars, however, whose venomous entanglements scream, “Danger, danger, Will Robinson!” to us and our furry family. My word, even if I could pronounce Leishmaniose, it’s another parasite I don’t want our dogs to encounter.

Banking It just doesn’t seem fair that we have to pay banks here for the privilege of holding and using our money to invest in their ventures, especially when coming from a country that pays us interest (however minimal) each month for the right to speculate with our hard-earned deposits. If it’s any consolation, the few euros deducted each month from our Portuguese bank accounts don’t compare with the €45-90 per quarter some Spanish banks charge to non-residents … even if you own property there!

Home construction—primarily concrete and cement—leaves much to be desired in terms of insulation. Think drywall (sheetrock/plasterboard): Remember how easy it was to hang pictures and whatever on our walls? Better tool up with a drill, lots of drill bits, a hammer, and pliers! Most houses throughout Portugal have strong interior cement walls that are rough and textured … making painting and wall-hanging time-consuming challenges.

Mold Regardless of the barricades used to keep it away, come the colder months of the year, you’ll do constant battle with mold. Typically, it appears looking like nothing more than damp shadows on your ceilings and walls (Brits refer to it as “the damp”); but then it gets dank and darker. Mold multiplies and spreads almost everywhere—even inside closets and wardrobes, attaching itself to our clothes. It’s definitely not healthy. Opening windows often to the cold, wet, and wind increases ventilation and helps to minimize mold. Nevertheless, you’re going to need a step ladder (or larger), spray bottle, cleaning rags, and face masks to tackle what’s stubbornly intruded and settled in. Many stores—groceries, supermarkets, hardware shops, even the ubiquitous Chinese bazaars—sell products to spray on, rub in, and remove the mold … but diluted vinegar and elbow grease work just as well.

(Some) Portuguese Drivers. Once they get their licenses, all hell breaks loose. About half of native Portuguese drivers are courteous and follow the laws in their roadside behavior. The remaining 50% are divided, again, in half: About 25% are speed demons and road hogs, kissing your car’s butt—regardless of whether (or not) they ultimately decide to pass you. The other 25% are slow pokes who drive 50 km/h in 80 km/h zones and 80 km/h on highways designated as 120 km/h Both types of drivers – speed demons and slow pokes – straddle more than one lane and typically drive in the wrong lane through roundabouts … sailing from the inside (left) lane to exit right, cutting you off without so much as a signal. Roundabout ramifications need more explanation.

Roundabouts, Parking, and Lack of Consideration. Some people swear by roundabouts and their greater efficiency over traffic lights. Others, like me, dislike them—especially the big ones with traffic coming at you from nine different directions simultaneously and nary a driver courteous enough to let you in. Panic attack territory is when there’s a series of these circles from hell … one after another. Even my GPS with its brilliant British accent can’t keep up. Before you know it, you’ve missed the seventh exit and find yourself lost along the way. And to add insult to near injury, there are pedestrian crosswalks within meters of the exit—an accident waiting to happen. Similarly terrifying are Portuguese parking lots—often with tight, awkward spaces between concrete posts that make it almost impossible to open your doors, let alone back out. They’re breeding grounds for inconsiderate parkers. Is there any reason why two cars must take up three parking spots? Park horizontally in vertical spaces? Or for drivers to park diagonally in well defined areas, often sticking their vehicles dangerously into the traffic lane, where cars are traveling in both directions, even though arrows clearly indicate which (one) way they’re supposed to move?

The flip side of the “what I don’t like about Portugal” coin is what I can’t seem to find (yet) here—stuff that’s probably no big deal to some, but important to me. Maybe these eccentricities are here hiding, just waiting for me to discover them:

Vacuum cleaners that really can clean carpets and rugs. No matter what shop you go in or search for on Amazon, a reasonably priced vacuum cleaner that picks up the dirt and dust in carpets (especially thicker pile ones imported from elsewhere) is almost impossible to find. Ironic that upscale vacuums here are referred to as “Hoovers,” which are available online. So are Sharks, Kirbys, and Dysons. But they cost a friggin fortune—some more than 400-500 euros. In Yankee dollars, that translates to between $500 and $600. For a bloody sucker-upper!

Yard sales, estate sales, auctions, flea markets, thrift shops, and antiques malls. Yeah, I’ve been to a few “boot” sales … but, “Meh!” For intrepid bargain hunters and collectors, we wait with baited breath for those Saturday or Sunday open air markets hosting a fair share of memorabilia merchants. Sorry, online vendors: Facebook’s Marketplace, OLX, CustoJusto, and the periodic items for sale that pop up in our Facebook feeds or Portuguese second-hand groups just don’t measure up to the thrill of the hunt.

Bagels. Yes, I’m aware that “bagels” are available in Portugal, in the bakery cases of supermarkets, padaderías and pasteleirías, and the frozen food aisles of Lidl. Sorry, Charlie, but they´re too doughy or pasty … blander than biscuits without jelly or jam. I grew up in New York, where–along with seltzer–it’s said that nowhere else can produce the same quality bagels … because of the water. Don’t believe me? Go ask Jerry Seinfeld!

Crushed Red Pepper For the most part, pizza in Portugal is delicious—whether you prefer thin crust or deep dish, and whatever toppings you want. Except one: crushed red pepper. It’s just not served here—even when requested—in Portuguese pizzerías. Some like it hot … Piri Piri just doesn’t make it.

While we can get good pizza almost anywhere in Portugal, what we can’t (by and large) get is savory Tex-Mex or its essential ingredients (except online, through a retailer like The Chilli Experience). What the Portuguese consider tacos, burritos, tamales, and enchiladas here just don’t fit the lingo. Maybe Tex-Mex is better and more plentiful in bigger, coastal cities, but it’s sadly lacking elsewhere in the country.

So, there you have it: my big, bad list.

As a Boy Scout, I memorized the “Be Prepared!” motto. Now you are ready, as you prepare for your relocation to Portugal … or, as a resident already, to find whatever comfort you can in the “misery loves company” balm.

I’ll end this soliloquy where I began, repeating that—despite these minor horrors and inconveniences—we love Portugal and have no intention whatsoever of moving away.

Nevertheless, there are those who are going to find fault, complain, and deplore me and my words with a variety of curious, finger-pointing comments.

Have at it!

Bruce is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. Read the current online issue and subscribe to the magazine at no cost whatsoever: portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue. On Facebook: www.facebook.com/PortugalLivingMagazine.

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Letter of the Law in Fine Print

I’ve got to give the Portuguese credit: Most of their laws are for the greater good of us all, even if increasing bureaucracy results from their administration.

In August, the Food and Economic Safety Authority (ASAE) carried out a national operation aimed at the services provided by tourist and local accommodation establishments, monitoring compliance with the general operation rules and the specific rules in the context of the pandemic prevention.

With 297 operators inspected, the main infractions were a lack of or out of date outdoor identification plaques displayed with the establishment’s classification; lack of the complaints book in the electronic format; and lack of observance of the rules of occupation, capacity, permanence and physical distance in food and beverage areas. Compliance with the COVID digital certificate or negative test of 2,227 customers was also verified, but no irregularities were detected.

A temporary suspension of two—not even 1%–establishments resulted, due to the lack of (or out of date) outdoor identification plaques displaying the establishment’s classification, and lack of observance of the rules of occupation, capacity, permanence and physical distance in food and beverage areas.

Anyway …

Yesterday, I was reading the most recent issue of AFPOP’s Update newsletter. For those unfamiliar with AFPOP, the acronym originally stood for the Association of Foreign Property Owners in Portugal; now, to better reflect the members it represents, AFPOP’s name has been changed to Association of Foreign Residents and Visitors. Among its benefits are the newsletter and, in partnership with its insurance broker (Medal) and insurance underwriter (Allianz), probably the most comprehensive health care coverage at the lowest prices … especially for the “senior citizens” among us.

While skimming the pages of the August (2021) Update, I came across four briefs dealing with new and existing laws in Portugal:

● Ever experience difficulty in reading the small print—especially on contracts? As of 25 August, that all changed: “[S]mall print and tiny spacing between lines are expressly prohibited in contracts with general contractual clauses, previously signed by organisations ranging from banks and insurance companies to gyms, telecom companies, and energy suppliers.”

Now prohibited are clauses written with smaller than 11 point (or 2.5 mm) font size and spacing less than 1.15 lines.

Of course, it’s not just the size of the font that prevents a better understanding of the contract. So, the law also establishes a control system to prevent what is referred to as “abusive clauses” in the wording of the contract which, itself, causes problems, “sometimes written with such technical complexity that the consumer has serious difficulties in understanding what they are reading, for example regarding clauses on early termination of contracts or loyalty periods,” notes AFPOP.

No more free shopping bags—whatever the material—came into force on 1 July this year. Part of a larger ban on the sale of all single-use plastics encouraging consumers to reduce the use of disposable and waste products, shoppers will now have to pay for their packaging … at prices set by the trader.

To prevent forest fires, any outdoor fires (including bonfires), launching rockets or fire-induced hot air balloons are forbidden when the Secretary of State for Forests declares a “critical period” for fires. It’s also mandatory to clear vegetation, cut trees and mow tall grasses around your property. If you don’t do it before 15 March, you could be fined a lot. In 2018, fines ranged from 140 to 5,000 euros in the case of individuals and from 1,500 to 60,000 euros for corporations. More recently, fines have been doubled!

Traveling in a motor home offers some freedoms, but you need to be aware of the rules and restrictions—especially as regards where parking overnight is—and isn’t—allowed. Since January this year, staying overnight in motorhomes isn’t permitted in nature reserves (except where expressly designated). In the rest of the country, except for places clearly approved for overnight stays (for which there’s no time limit), you can park in the same municipality for a maximum of 48 hours. As of 1 January 2021, the bill could be huge for parking in the wrong places: Non-compliance with this new regulation can be penalized with a fine of 60 to 300 euros—or more.

Actually, there are lots of laws and associated fines for violating Portugal’s decrees about vehicles … whether parking or driving …

Speeding fines are charged on a sliding scale depending on how far above the limit you are driving. For example, if you’re between 30 and 60km/h over the speed limit on a rural road, you could face a fine of up to €600. But if you’re going between 60 and 80km/h above the limit, the fine could be as high as €1,500.

Speed limits in the country are set in accordance with the “character” of the area within which the vehicle moves. Hence, in “built-up” areas, the speed limit is 50km/h; on rural roads, it’s 90km/h; and, for motorways, it’s between 50-120km/h.

Which means it is illegal to drive on motorways at a speed of less than 50km/h, or a fine can be imposed!

The legal blood/alcohol limit for driving when drinking in Portugal is under 0.5g/l (grams of alcohol per liter of blood) for all drivers. Those tested and found within between 0.5 and 0.8g/l face fines of between €250 and €1,250—along with license suspension between one month and one year.

Portuguese citizens can own firearms for hunting, target shooting, pest control and collecting. There’s no Second Amendment clause allowing for “well-regulated militias,” nor is self-defense considered a legal reason for owning a firearm. Legally, only licensed gun owners can lawfully acquire, possess, and/or transfer a firearm or ammunition. Portugal’s gun law also limits the number of firearms each person can have at home.

To gain a gun license in Portugal, one must be over 18-years-old and pass a background check which considers both criminal and mental health records. The person is also required to interview undergo thorough police scrutiny. The police have final say in whether to issue or reject a Firearms Owner License (FOL), which must be renewed every five years. Failure to renew may result not only in revocation of a license, but confiscation of all guns.

People in Portugal aren’t the only ones subject to rules and regulations. Even pets (theoretically) are protected under Portuguese law.

According to current legislation, it is now mandatory to register pets in the Pet Information System (Sistema de Informaço de Animais de Companhia—SIAC). Registration fee per pet is 2.50 euros and is compulsory for all animals born in or present on Portuguese territory for a period of 120 days or more. Pet owners who don’t comply face fines of no less than 50 euros … which can reach €3,740 for private persons and €44,890 if you represent an enterprise.

What’s more, as of 21 August, prison sentences have been toughened for those who mistreat or kill pets in Portugal.

Killing pets “without a legitimate reason” in this country may now imply prison sentences of between six months and two years, or imprisonment corresponding to 60-240 days. Sentences can be even heavier if there is “perversity” in the act. This toughening of sentences is the result of a change to the law that condemns the mistreatment of pets passed in 2014.

While some expats and immigrants can afford to shrug off these stiff financial fines and/or imprisonments, the majority of the population–Portuguese people—cannot.

Perhaps that’s among the reasons why Portugal consistently ranks among the top five most welcoming and peaceful countries in the world, as well as one of the most tranquil and beautiful destinations to visit or live.

Maybe if more countries put stronger teeth in their own laws and enforcement, violence and illegal activities would be reduced … and societies would become more civil.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. Read the current issue and subscribe to future ones at no cost at our website: http://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue. And follow Portugal Living Magazine’s daily posts, news, briefs, and photos at www.facebook.com/PortugalLivingMagazine.

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Dead Giveaways

You’re officially a USA (or UK) citizen, but you currently have legal (tax) residence in Portugal, where you now own property.

Do you need to create a separate will in Portugal to deal with it?

Technically, no.

According to Danielle Richardson in “Planning your wills and estates in Portugal” (distributed and updated by Expática on 16 October 2020), “There is no legal requirement to draw up a will in Portugal,” says Richardson. “Furthermore, inheritance law in Portugal recognizes wills that have been drawn up abroad; even if they include instructions for property and assets in Portugal.””

As with most countries, for the purposes of a will, assets include any cash or savings, property, and any other items or instruments of value.

However, if you have sizeable assets in Portugal, “it is likely that Portuguese inheritance law will deal with them,” Richardson cautions. “Therefore, it is worth considering having a Portuguese will, even just as a safeguard.”

International attorneys Sandra Jesús and Stéfanie Luz of Caiado Guerreiro in Lisbon agree:

“Under the EU Regulation known as Brussels IV, the laws of the country where someone habitually resided will apply to the property upon their death. This means that Portuguese law could potentially be applicable to your inheritance, in spite of your nationality.”

To ensure that the applicable law will be the one that you choose (either Portuguese law or the law of your nationality), it is advisable to clearly state the choice of law in the will.

In certain circumstances, the law of the country where a property is located may become applicable. For example, if the deceased was an owner of property in Portugal, and the law of his/her nationality or residence determines that the law of the country where the deceased’s property is located takes precedence, then Portuguese inheritance law becomes relevant.

A Portuguese will also allows you to avoid delays in the administration of the estate, as it will enable you to proceed with the probate process following death without having to wait to receive documents from other jurisdictions as part of the probate process.

Remember, though, that Portugal follows forced heirship rules which state that legitimate heirs are entitled to a minimum of 50% of the deceased’s estate. And, if there is more than one legitimate heir, this portion usually increases to 60%.

Legitimate heirs include spouses, biological and adopted children, grandchildren, parents, and grandparents. The only way these relatives can be excluded from an inheritance is if the deceased has specifically asked for it on the grounds of unworthy behavior. Even then, the courts can challenge this request and reasoning.

Beyond the forced heirship rules, with a few exceptions, you can distribute your estate however you want. For example, the deceased’s last doctor, the priest of a religious establishment, and personal administrators cannot inherit any part of the estate.

Portuguese inheritance law states that the laws of an expat or immigrant’s home country should apply. Therefore, if you want Portuguese inheritance rules to apply to your estate, it must be stipulated so in your will. If the spouse of the deceased is a different nationality, s/he can apply the laws of his or her country of residence. So, if you have relocated to—or retired in—Portugal, Portuguese inheritance law can be applied.

If there is no will, and no spouse (ascendant or descendant), the estate passes to the siblings and their descendants, other collateral family up to the fourth degree, and finally to the State. Each subsequent class of heirs is only called upon if the previous class is not present.

Fortunately, if you don’t want to choose between a Portuguese will and one in your home country, you don’t have to. This is because Portuguese law allows people to have two wills. You can have one will in Portugal and one in your home country. Nevertheless, you must draft them so that one doesn’t accidentally negate or revoke the other. For this reason, it is wise to consult an attorney or solicitor if you want to have more than one will.

While there is no inheritance tax in Portugal, there is a type of tax–Imposto do Selo. This is charged at a flat rate of 10%, with several exemptions. No ‘legitimate heirs will pay this tax: spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, and grandparents. Further, it is only charged on Portuguese assets, such as Portuguese properties or other valuable items.

Property inherited by minors or other persons not of legal age may be registered in the name of the minor in Portugal’s Public Registry; however, minors do not have the power to administer property until they reach legal age. A guardian may be appointed from the immediate family provided he/she has capacity to perform the relevant guardianship duties. If no one in the immediate family is available the court can appoint an independent person to fulfil the task.

With all due respect, it never can be said that last wills and testaments are the basis of “dead giveaways” in Portugal!

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American in Portugal


I am an American living in Portugal, splitting time — with my spouse — between small homes and villages in the country’s core (Alcains, Castelo Branco) and the Alentejo (Vila Boim, Elvas).


After almost four years, we’ve come to know what we like most about living in Portugal, as well as a few things that frustrate or confuse us. It has nothing to do with our love for Portugal and the Portuguese, but because we grew up in another land and culture, and can’t help but see life (for the moment) through a different lens and viewpoint.


That’s not a criticism, just a fact we’ve come to understand.


Some things can’t be taught to us; we need to learn them by experience. Answers aren’t to be found in the fine print of guide books and manuals, or in the files of some Facebook group. Only time here will tell and reveal.


Examples?


Who knew that Portuguese pharmacies would refill our prescription(s) from the USA – before we have a local doctor or our SNS number – simply by showing a bottle or box containing our existing medicine … or, better yet, a Rx from our American doctor? Or that, unlike the USA, right turns on red (after pausing) aren’t legal here? Who do you call if your car should break down on the road? And how long does it take until that “Eureka!” moment when we realize that gasóleo and diesel fuel are the same?


Moving from one address to another in Portugal brings its own load of lessons. After all is said and done, you remember that your mail needs to be forwarded. Should be simple enough … until you learn from the post office that it costs €20 per month for the service. Apart from the flyers and junk mail, our mailbox receives so few pieces that it’s better (suggests correios), if not simpler, to contact those postal patrons who connect with us through CTT and fill out the forms to change our address.


The same goes for Finanças, a legal requirement.


Changing addresses also means stopping by EDP (several times) to disconnect and stop service, as well as to resolve any billing issues. Are we the only ones who didn’t know that the country’s energy provider has us all on annual contracts? Sure, you can cancel your contract … but through its legal end date, you’ll continue to be billed monthly service charges.


Then, there’s shopping: We’ve been used to being able to return stuff we bought and get full refunds, as long as we bring the receipt, the item is in its original packaging, and the return is made within a designated timeframe. One major hardware and household supply chain in Portugal advertises, “Don’t worry! If you buy it here and find a lower price elsewhere, we’ll refund you the difference plus 10%!” Plenty of merchants will give you a refund in full if you return something, for whatever reason, no questions asked. But don’t ass-u-me that’s the rule everywhere. Stores aren’t required to post their returns and refunds policy, whether at the point-of-sale or on the receipt. So, before buying something, especially if it’s costly, you’d best ask about the store’s return and refund policy.


Did you know that, from the moment SEF exchanges your temporary visa for a residency permit, you’re eligible to vote in Portuguese elections? That’s right: legal residents, as well as citizens and Portuguese natives are entitled — and encouraged — to vote here.


Nonetheless, Portugal’s politics, elude us … probably because there are more than two intransigent political parties. But that’s a good thing, as partisan politics here don’t appear to put party before people. Instead, coalitions are formed to move things forward—unlike certain countries where nothing progresses because of unrelenting forces meeting intractable objects.


“But it’s a socialist country,” some homelanders insist, confusing politics with economics (capitalism).


“And you don’t think there’s socialism at work in your country, too?” we reply.


Economically, Portugal is poor, at least compared to the competition. The national minimum wage remained fixed in 2021 at 775.8€ (US $940/UK £665.90) per month or 9,310 euros (US $11,275/UK £7,991) per year, taking into account 12 payments per year. Accordingly, the national minimum wage has been raised 35 euros per month from the previous year, or 4.72%. Put another way, Portugal’s national minimum wage rose to 665 euros per month before tax in 2021, but is based on 14 (not 12) monthly payments. The Portuguese government maintains its objective of gradually increasing the minimum wage to 750 euros per month by 2023.


We love Portugal for its neutrality. It’s not one of the big G7 nations … or even the G20, for that matter. Rather, the country is an active (if errant) participant in the European Union, whose most recent president was Portuguese. Portugal is also a member of NATO. It’s a safe and peaceful place; to the best of my knowledge, there’ve been no mass murders, gunfire, attack weapons, or daily violence.


We adore the Portuguese people, some of who are our closest friends, even when they’re standing outside our house after midnight talking, without using their “inside” voices.


Yet Portugal remains somewhat of an enigma, an evasive paradox … which might explain that sense of “saudade” shared by so many of its inhabitants—increasingly including immigrants like us, who have come to experience much the same feeling.


Especially when it comes to dealing with the dust, flies, and mold!


(Bruce is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine.)

Climate-Changed

It’s here, huffing and puffing and blowing our houses in.

Not to belittle Covid rising or myriad international crises and challenges, but the greater good demands that we stop what we’re doing and confront climate change—here and now.

Wildfires. Heat waves. Tropical storms, hurricanes, tsunamis. Heat waves. Flooding. Draughts. Icebergs. Air Quality. Haze.

All are symptoms — accessories and accomplices — of earth’s painful diseases.

Fuel spills and non-biodegradable plastic are destroying our oceans and their inhabitants. The Amazon is emitting more carbon than it’s absorbing. Flooding in Germany and Belgium defies explanation, as does passengers trapped in waist-high water inside a submerged subway and cars floating through streets, as deadly floods sweep through central China. Record high temperatures – some 50 degrees above normal – suffocate people trying to breathe in western Canada, California, Oregon, and Washington. Dozens of wildfires rage across the Pacific Northwest, with the region experiencing unrelenting draught while smoke stretches all the way to the East coast. Seemingly everywhere, haze obliterates the sky. And, in an ironic twist, smoke from the “bootleg” wildfires is changing the weather.

“There are more than 40 evacuation orders affecting about 5,700 people or almost 2,900 properties in the province,” reports the Canadian Broadcasting System. “There are also 69 evacuation alerts, affecting just under 33,000 people and about 16,000 properties. Three hundred of Canada’s 800 fires at the moment are raging in B.C. (British Columbia).”

Elsewhere, William Brangham reports on PBS from California’s San Joaquim Valley, “The demand for water has threatened the drinking supply for hundreds of thousands of rural residents—including the farmers who grow a significant part of the country’s food supply.”

Here in Portugal, 21 municipalities and districts have been placed at maximum risk of fire. As a Facebook friend put it following days of sweltering heat, “We’re making like lizards and keeping to the shade.”

Plastic pellets escape into the environment during every stage of their lifecycle–from production to transportation and during final product manufacturing. Together with single-use plastics which continue to line supermarket shelves, despite being banned by the government (in Portugal), they absorb toxins such as dioxins from water and transfer them to the marine food web and human diets, increasing the risk of adverse effects to wildlife and people, along with fishing and survival.

The bacteria that make up “red tide,” Karenia brevis, already have killed more than 613 tons of marine life and fish around Tampa, Florida, as sewage stops everyone from bathing at an Algarve (Portugal) beach when a burst pipe causes sewage to be discharged into the sea.

Following his sky shuttle, space cadet Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame and fortune announces the commercial potential of his billionaire joy ride: All that dirty, polluting manufacturing and industrial waste will be moved from earth into outer space, leaving the earth a much more splendid place … even while the universe becomes a more contaminated “dumping ground.”

Already, global warming has become climate chaos. In the future, will it be universal?

Satellite data have shown that the world’s biggest iceberg is no more. Weighing billions of tons and bigger than many cities when it broke away from the Antarctic ice shelf in 2017, the iceberg has completely melted away. Scientists warn that this could be a sign of the quickened pace of global warming.

Greenland has decided to suspend all oil exploration off the world’s largest island, calling it “a natural step,” because the Arctic government “takes the climate crisis seriously.”

I don’t want to sound like Chicken Little, but we used to predict that the devastating effects of climate change and global warming would hit us in twenty to fifty years—worrisome for our children and grandchildren, but not nearly so deadly to us.

Climate scientists for decades have warned that the climate crisis would lead to more extreme weather. They said it would be deadly and it would be more frequent. But many are expressing surprise that heat and rain records are being broken by such large margins.

That’s the difference between prophets and profits.

Limiting global warming to 1.5C will be a “pipe dream,” predicts US climate envoy John Kerry, if China waits as late as 2030 – not even a decade away – for the peak of its emissions.

And the USA? Russia? The UK and EU? Africa and Asia?

Several developed countries, including the US, this year have significantly increased their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union last week unveiled an ambitious plan to put climate at the center of just about every development and economic initiative it has.

Yet many activists say that their pledges still fall short of the action needed to contain average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which the International Panel for Climate Change says is necessary to avoid even more catastrophic impacts of climate change. They also criticize governments that make ambitious pledges while continuing to approve new fossil fuel projects, including coal mines, and oil and gas facilities.

“When you look at what’s happening in Canada, where they had temperatures of 50 degrees (C), and what’s going on all over the world, it is clear this is the result of climate change,” Niklas Pieters told CNN, as he helped his parents clear the debris from their ravaged home in Schuld, Germany. “I don’t want to have to get used to this.”

Wake up and do something, people: climate change is upon us.

Maybe we all should watch The Day After (again) on Netflix?

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Both Sides Now

Both Sides Now

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down and still somehow, it’s clouds illusions I recall … I really don’t know clouds at all.”—Joni Mitchell/Judy Collins

Clouds have always been a metaphor.

On the one hand, we have people—entire populations—scratching the earth and cursing the “clouds” for their woe begotten perils and perishing resources. On the other, big tech companies own and reside in the clouds, as their titans fly high above them … quite literally, thanks to the likes of Sir Richard Branson and Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos.

It’s increasingly the double standard: the haves and the havents, the sick from the healthy, people and their preferred politicos, conspirators v. resisters, demagogues and/or uniters.

Call it a bipolar dichotomy, if you will, where even the bad guys (i.e., ransomware attackers) are considered Robin Hoods by some, stealing from big business and the powers that be, shutting down their usury.

But it’s more than that …

How can some people have such unquantifiable riches that they take joy rides with clouds, while others—entire countries, in fact—are victims of deadly forces beyond their control?

Some blame it on Covid, which helped the rich get far richer and the poor even more destitute. The virus has strangled us all—economically, physiologically, politically, socially, morally, and even spiritually. We’re tired and anxious, because of all the ever-lasting limitations.

Turn on the news, any channel, and we’re besieged by chaos in different places: Haiti, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, South Africa, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Turkey, Nicaragua, India. And the list goes on …

… including higher prices and inflation, making an unwelcome comeback, as we dig deeper to pay for our lives.

Consider the scapegoating, the unprecedented violence in cities and towns everywhere around the globe.

Unprecedented.

How often that word is now used: A condominium building in Florida collapses, while another in Hamas-occupied Israel is deliberately obliterated. Flash flooding in New York and London put these cities under water, while more hurricanes approach, ever stronger and more furious. Record high temperatures, hitherto unthinkable, are being reached in the most moderate climates … with unquenchable flames igniting hell fires and damnation.

Plagues: Water turning on the blood of droughts, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and the killing of firstborn children. The question of whether Bible stories can be linked to archaeological discoveries has long fascinated scholars.

Symbolic of the universe’s moral law, the preacher in me believes that the ancient plagues represent the Almighty’s expression of justice, as well as judgments upon those who refuse to repent of their evil, self-serving ways.

According to the New York Times, Republicans in more than a dozen states are seeking to limit ballot access and increase partisan control of elections. GOP legislators want to make it more difficult for people to vote, paradoxically leaving Democrats to object and flee—impeding a vote (without a quorum).

Will partisan politics and the puerile need for power ever be replaced by an emphasis on the greater good? Or, are we to be the epitome of Darwin’s survival of the fittest?

Can we truly have both sides now—maybe more?

Or will clouds get in our way?