Lies

“The Internet started as a bastion for free expression,” a former Reddit C.E.O. wrote. These days, “the trolls are winning.” Illustration by Javier Jaén.

It would appear that we are surrounded — swallowed — by lies, untruths, distortions, and alternative realities or interpretations and understandings. Lies come in all shapes and sizes … spread from pulpits, political podiums, and public squares. I’ve selected three here which must be turned on their heads, despite how gigantic and rampant they are.

The Big Lie:

Donald Trump won the USA’s 2020 presidential election; Democrats, dilettantes, and demons conspired to deny and deprive him of office.

The Bigger Lie:

The best defense against bad people with guns is good people with guns.

The Biggest Lie:

The US Constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to have and use guns.

Trump did not win the 2020 election. Umpteen challenges, court cases, recounts, and eye-witness testimonies show quite the contrary: He lost. But he used every tool — from lies to blackmail, conspiracy and terrorism to rile up his followers … which, ultimately, led to the Great Insurrection. On January 6, 2021, a mob of Trump supporter attacked the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., seeking to overturn his defeat by disrupting the joint session of Congress assembled to count electoral votes that would formalize President-elect Joe Biden‘s victory. Yet this heinous moment of American history wasn’t yet over … in fact, Trumpism has been spreading by Trumpsters intent on destroying democracy.

There’s no need for gun control in the USA? Bullshit. The lie propagated by the National Rifle Association advocating for additional guns, not fewer, has become the mantra of the country’s Republican party fed by egregious sums of financial contributions and favors to their campaigns by the NRA. Even as massacres and killings — of children! — continue to rise, politicians blame (other) people rather than the weapons of mass destruction. The height of hypocrisy was only recently reached when politicians like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Texas Governor Greg Abbott addressed the NRA’s recent annual convention in Texas in the same state and time that a gunman killed 19 school children and two teachers at an elementary school.

“The rate of gun ownership hasn’t changed. And yet acts of evil like we saw this week are on the rise,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told crowds at the National Rifle Association’s convention in Houston. Cruz’s claim about stagnant gun ownership (which is factually misleading), is among the trove of inaccurate claims made by GOP officials at the NRA’s annual gathering, making clear that the string of mass shootings in recent weeks has not influenced their pro-gun convictions. On the other side of the world, much as I cringe and cry at loss of lives and homeland during Putin’s war against Ukraine, I can’t help but shudder at the billions of dollars in assembly line armaments sent continuously by the USA to Ukraine. (In the long run, I believe, it will be the sanctions against Russia by a steadfast European community of nations and the Russian people clamoring for change that will be the determining factors for Putin and his enablers’ defeat.)

And the Constitutional basis for bearing arms? I’m neither a historian nor a Constitutional scholar, but I cannot understand how these words upon which rest vigilante injustice and bloodshed aplenty have been interpreted and blessed by the government–executive, legislative, and judicial branches alike.

Second Amendment to the Constitution:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

For decades, the US has been locked in a reckoning over the breadth of the language in this amendment protecting the right to keep and bear arms. But in recent months, national attention has instead shifted to the lesser-considered subject of its first clause: “A well regulated Militia …”

Armed self-described militia members have shown up with growing frequency this summer to racial justice protests held in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police. Their appearance, usually carrying rifles and dressed in military-style gear, has ratcheted up the tension at demonstrations and the risk of confrontation. Militia groups also attended gun rights rallies and demonstrations protesting coronavirus lockdown measures. Militia groups have, for years, argued that their actions are constitutionally protected. But legal analysts say the Constitution does not protect private military groups that are unconnected to or outside the authority of the government. In fact, all 50 states prohibit and restrict private militia groups and militia activity with several different kinds of laws as well as provisions included in most state constitutions.

If militias can be defined and defended these ways, is there any doubt that legislators and courts will accede to “pro-life” group demands to do away with abortion, denying women control over their own bodies? Or that same-sex marriage and adoptions will be redacted (at best) or overturned (at worst)? And that even issues concerning data privacy will be applied?

This is an unprecedented time we live in. We are living through climate change, a pandemic on pause, and an international conflict that has the potential to turn global. People around the world are struggling with conflicts and atrocities, at times due to the American military’s involvement, while hundreds more are dealing with increasingly dangerous heat waves as a result of the climate crisis. Still, others are trying to face the consequences of the pandemic, including the devastation left behind due to the loss of lives and the increasing financial insecurity that continues to widen the inequality gap between the struggling and the affluent. War in Ukraine wages on with what seems like no end in sight, while the Pentagon discusses options of US involvement in the fight against Russia.

This regression of rights in the democratic nation which has claimed countlessly throughout history to “spread democracy into the world” seems beyond ironic and hypocritical.

Although an ordained pastor, I’m certainly no Bible literalist. But when the same words are repeated nine separate times in one book (Deuteronomy) of Hebrew Testament Law and echoed at least once in the Christian Testament (I Corinthians 5:13), it’s time to take note:

You must purge the evil from among you.

I doubt that any of us disagrees about the importance of ridding ourselves and our society of evil; the problem arises because of our different values, beliefs, and interpretations of what constitutes “evil.”

In terms of the nine commands in Deuteronomy to remove evil, such “evils” are said to include liars (false witnesses); children who are stubborn, rebellious, gluttons and drunkards; idolaters; kidnapping and human trafficking; purity, unity, and promiscuity; showing contempt for judges and priests; prophets and dreamers advocating rebellion against God; and God’s so-called jealousy.

Moreover, Deuteronomy 17 describes three apparently disconnected aspects of justice:

  1. How to handle an allegation of idolatry. (Verses 2-7)
  2. How to handle a case that is too difficult for the local court. (Verses 8-13)
  3. How to ensure a king remains humble and accountable to God. (Verses 18-20)

I say “apparently” because they are connected by more than the overall theme of justice. For example, the sequence illustrates the roles and responsibilities of various members of the nation as their relative authority increases. The picture begins with individuals, moves to the community, then to the nation, and finally to the king.

You must purge the evil from among you.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. You can read the current issue and subscribe, free of charge, to the magazine on its website:
https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/

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The Sheep

Feeding my three miniature schnauzers their morning meal, the youngest one goes through the same ritual every day: While gulping food from his bowl, he invariably misses one kibble that falls to the floor. He stops what he’s doing and searches for that kibble before casting an eye at all the chow still in his bowl waiting to be eaten. He ignores the bowl, however, until he’s swallowed that one errant nugget.

As he went through his routine this morning, for some reason the parable about the “lost” sheep came to mind. I couldn’t shake it all day. Like so many of the parables Jesus tells, I believe there’s more than one take-away or meaning to this one.

Conventional wisdom has it that even one silly sheep out of a hundred is important to the good shepherd, who leaves the 99 in search of the one. We all will be saved!

Doesn’t that make you feel good? That none of us “sinners” will be abandoned until we’ve all been brought back into the fold. That God so loved the world that …

But, wait a minute.

Aren’t we making some assumptions about this parable? That the shepherd is good and the sheep isn’t? That the 99 were respectful, while the one may have been resentful? That the one responsible for the incident was the sheep, not the shepherd?

Perhaps this parable is also about responsibility?

The Parable of the Lost Sheep appears in the Gospels of Matthew (18:12–14) and Luke (15:3–7). It is about a shepherd who leaves his flock of ninety-nine sheep to find the one which is “lost.”

Lost? Who is lost and who is responsible for the loss?

In the Gospel of Luke, the parable is as follows.

He told them this parable. “Which of you men, if you had one hundred sheep, and lost one of them, wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one that was lost, until he found it? When he has found it, he carries it on his shoulders, rejoicing. When he comes home, he calls together his friends, his family and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that even so there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance” (World English Bible).

It’s interesting that, in Luke’s Gospel, the one responsible for the sheep being lost is the shepherd, who wasn’t keeping watch when the sheep happened to wander off somewhere. Look how the verse is translated by different biblical versions:

(NIV) “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”

(NAS) “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?”

(Complete Jewish Bible) “If one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, doesn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?

(KJV) What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?”

(MSG) “Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it?”

(Living) So Jesus used this illustration: “If you had a hundred sheep and one of them strayed away and was lost in the wilderness, wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine others to go and search for the lost one until you found it?”

Only the Living Bible translates the verse such that the sheep had strayed and was lost, until the shepherd sought and found it. The other verses put a more mercantile twist to the story: The shepherd was responsible for the care and welfare of 100 sheep. Maybe he was napping or day-dreaming; perhaps one shepherd wasn’t enough to watch over 100 sheep. Nonetheless, one of the sheep was gone—leaving only 99 accounted for.

Perhaps that “lost” sheep was of critical importance to the flock—a leader, innovator, “heretic,” visionary, prophet whose role is essential to all the others? We assume that the errant sheep had wandered off … but what if that sheep had left to escape? Who’s at fault here: the shepherd or the sheep? In every single translation, the man has lost the sheep (i.e., the fault is his), rather than the sheep has gone astray (the sheep’s fault).

Remember the Napoleon character in George Orwell’s Animal Farm?

Sheep symbolize the masses. A clever and designing leader can easily lead them anywhere. Their numbers count in getting things done, but they never want to know the reason for any change. They are content to do what the leaders want them to.

Napoleon was quick to realize that they could be of great use to him in his struggle to attain supreme power. He therefore pays attention to their education, and teaches them to repeat the slogan “Four legs good, two legs bad.”

Another animal on the farm, Snowball, is addressing a meeting. This interrupts the meeting at crucial stage and Snowball fails to control his audience. When Napoleon expels Snowball and announces that there will be no Sunday meeting in future, four of the pigs voice their protest. At that, Napoleon’s dogs begin to growl and the sheep start bleating “Four legs good, two legs bad.”

The sheep are part of the massive propaganda machine that Stalin set up as he came to power in Russia, and they’re also the people who were swayed by that same propaganda. Instead of thinking for themselves, they just repeat slogans over and over.

The sheep represent the duped citizens of a totalitarian state.

In the New International Version, the words of Matthew’s Gospel tell the story a bit differently … such that the sheep caused the problem by leaving the flock:

(KJV) “How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?”

(NIV) “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off.”

(NAS) “What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying.”

(Complete Jewish) “What’s your opinion? What will somebody do who has a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillsides and go off to find the stray?”

It’s a matter of responsibility—individual and collective.

Atlas Shrugged, a 1957 novel by Ayn Rand was her fourth and final novel; it was also her longest, and the one she considered to be her magnum opus in the realm of fiction writing. Rand described the theme of Atlas Shrugged as “the role of man’s mind in existence.” The book explores a number of philosophical themes from which Rand would subsequently develop her Objectivism philosophy: reason, individualism, capitalism, and depicts what Rand saw as the failures of governmental coercion.

The book depicts a dystopian United States in which private businesses suffer under increasingly burdensome laws and regulations. Railroad executive Dagny Taggart and her lover, steel magnate Hank Rearden, struggle against “looters” who want to exploit their productivity. Dagny and Hank discover that a mysterious figure called John Galt is persuading other business leaders to abandon their companies and disappear as a strike of productive individuals against the looters. The novel ends with the strikers planning to build a new capitalist society based on Galt’s philosophy.

In Atlas Shrugged, she shows that without the independent mind, our society would collapse into primitive savagery. Atlas Shrugged is an impassioned defense of the freedom of mankind’s mind. But to understand the author’s sense of urgency, we must have an idea of the context in which the book was written.

Rand called her philosophy “Objectivism,” describing its essence as “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” The world is best served, she believed, when individuals act entirely in their own rational self-interest. In other words, when they act selfishly.

This, of course, is contrary to the basic tenets of Christianity and most other faiths based on living out the Golden Rule.

The “absolute,” when taken together, is that we truly do need each other. It is both through community and leadership that we survive. With leadership without community, we have Putin’s aggression against his neighbor and brother. With community without leadership, we are lost and without direction.

Like that one missing sheep.

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. Read our current issue online and subscribe at no charge (free!) at https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/

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Just Give Me the Book!

When referring to “The Book,” most Christians are talking about the Bible. For Jews, it’s the Talmud. Muslims generally assume it’s the Qur’an. Those who belong to the Church of the Latter-Day Saints reference the Book of Mormon.

But here in Portugal, whether mentioned with reverence or threatened as restitution, the holy “Book” of judgment is the Livro de Reclamações (Complaints Book), “a legally enshrined instrument of citizenship,” according to its website.

Not only is the Book accessible for use online (www.livroreclamacoes.pt), but, by law, it must be available upon request by any consumer in every Portuguese shop and business.

The closest those in the USA come to this instrument of justice is the BBB (Better Business Bureau); to the best of my knowledge, however, there’s no real equivalent of Portugal’s Book or the USA’s consumer rights group in the UK. Yes, there is Trading Standards and Citizen’s Advice (which offer consumer advice). For businesses, the closest equivalent is probably a professional trade association or another membership body. There are also supplier directories such as MemberWise and great.gov.uk.

But none are as awesome and powerful as o Livro de Reclamações.

Every legitimate business must have one of these books.

If a shop refuses to give you the book, call the police (112). Seriously! Each business entity can be liable for fines from €3,500 to €30,000 for refusing to let a customer complain, because it is deemed “concealment of fraudulent practice.” The police actually have the power to close the establishment. If the police do intervene, there is a minimum fine of €15,000 euros. The threat of calling the police is often enough.

The book, itself, is A4 sized, and also available online.

Every business category has a designated Competent Authority which oversees and regulates its practice. If there is no singular government agency for it, the default regulator is the Ministry of Justice. The power of this book is that if you feel you have a valid reason for an official complaint, you are encouraged to write in the book.

Moreover, each business must also display the Complaints Book poster visibly — either in the shop window or at the payment counter – that displays the business entity’s legal name and identifies which authority governs its business practices.

Since July 2017, according to its website, some 357,684 suppliers of goods and registered service providers have been regulated by the Book; 625,084 claims have been made; 23,365 requests for information have been received; 3,801 entries of satisfaction and praise were contributed; 1,800 suggestions made; 35 regulatory entities and/or registered inspectors reviewed the complaints; and user satisfaction is rated as 3.2 out of four possible stars. In terms of activity, these are the top ten industries or services and their number of complaints in the book—online or in print:

1: Internet Providers/Electronic Communications Services (209,040)

2: Postal Network and Services (103,060)

3: Electricity (49,498)

4: Appliances, electrical and electronic equipment sales and assembly (25,358)

5: Financial Services (21,889)

6: Combined Utilities (Electricity + Natural Gas) (17,284)

7: Airplanes & Carriers (10,478)

8: Insurance Companies (9,671)

9: Informatics, Computers & Related Devices (9,507)

10: Department Stores, Large Retailers & Hypermarkets (9,374)

The Complaints Book is bilingual (Portuguese/English) but can be completed in whatever language you want. If it is not one of the major European languages (Portuguese, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, German), you may need to indicate that fact somewhere on the form, so that authorities can find someone to translate it for them.

You will need to provide your personal details and contact details if you wish to receive notification on the progress of your complaint. You need not be a resident of Portugal to use the Complaints Book—with a valid reason, anyone can write in it. If you write in the book itself, a staff member must also sign the form to witness your claim.

There is space for a business to write whatever defense against the claim it may have. They can write whatever they want … the business Regulator will arbitrate the issue at hand.

Carbon paper is used to triplicate the sheet you write on. One copy is retained by you, one by the business establishment, and the final copy is sent to the Regulator within five working days. The Regulator then has ten 10 working days to uphold your complaint and compel the business to redress your issues.

Naturally, a business manager will plead to resolve the issue before or while you write in the Book. If you do find yourself in a situation where s/he has resolved the matter with you, you will need to cross off your complaint (two diagonal lines across the page) and write “complaint cancelled” or “reclamação anulada.”

Personally, I have used the Livro de Reclamações twice in the four-going-on-five years that we’ve lived here:

● I purchased a barbecue grill at a major retailer “superstore.” Nowhere – not in the window, by the cashier’s line, on the sales slip, or even near the lavatories — was the store’s return policy shown. When I tried to return the grill – box unopened, receipt in hand – two days later, the service attendant and then the manager offered to let me buy other stuff in the store and credit the amount of my earlier purchase to the bill then and there. Or, I could be issued a credit voucher for that amount … good for 30 days. Trouble is, we were just visiting friends in the area and had no plans to return anytime that soon. My issue wasn’t that the story wouldn’t give me a refund or credit my debit card; my primary complaint was that nowhere in the store was its returns and refunds policy posted.

Within two weeks of filing my complaint, I heard back from the competent authorities. Bottom line: “The store, in good faith, attempted to resolve the refund (problem) according to its policies.” I, however, was unwilling to accept those policies without proof. Case closed.

● My second use of the Book happened just recently. We were planning to buy a new car, which were few and far between. Depending on the model, color, and equipment, it would take anywhere from four months to a year for the car to be delivered once ordered. After discussing our options with nearly a dozen dealerships across Portugal (and one in Spain), we were now negotiating with two different dealers in two different districts. Dealer one’s order sheet showed that it would have the car and color we wanted, hopefully, six months later. He emailed us a “propuesta” (proposal) showing the car’s description, its cost, Portugal’s 23% “sales” tax (IVA), road tax, dealer preparation, administrative costs, and transportation charges, as well as the amount they would give us in trade for our current car.

“If you want it, I advise you to send a deposit of €3,234.17 immediately,” he said. “You can come in anytime to complete the paperwork and sign the contract.” The next morning, however, we heard from the second dealer two, who had been trying to confirm a car on order with his manager—who wasn’t around (until after we sent more than three thousand euros to the first dealer). The second’s offer was much better: Though comparably equipped, his was a limited edition, the top model in the line. Plus, he offered us €250 more for our trade-in, while his administrative, dealer preparation, and transportation costs were €250 less. Our total cost savings would be $500—for a superior model that would be delivered a month earlier that the other. Confirming with our lawyer that we could back out (with a full refund) as we hadn’t signed a contract, we went to the dealership to explain the circumstances surrounding our change of mind. Obviously, the salesman wasn’t happy and tried to talk us out of our decision. But we were firm.

“When can we expect a refund of the €3,234.17 we sent you?” I asked.

“We have a girl who comes in once each month – on the 17th, I believe – to do the accounting and pay all our bills and obligations,” he replied.

“That’s three weeks from now,” I countered, “and you’ve already had our money for a week. I paid you immediately upon your request and expect our money refunded and in our bank account by the end of this business week,” I insisted.

He shrugged and suggested we go home and send him an email explaining why we weren’t going ahead with his offer, which he would show to his boss and see if payment could be expedited. Following two more weeks of waiting, we decided to use the Complaints Book. (It’s yet too early to tell how they’ll respond.)

My point here is simple: The Complaints Book is a very powerful instrument provided for your protection. It can be used in almost all measures of life with justification, though consumers must also play their part to not abuse the system.

As long as you remember that this is Portugal … and don’t become too impatient!

Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine, the country’s only full spectrum, English language magazine for those considering relocation, newcomers, and long-time residents. Read our current issue and order your free — no cost! — subscription via this link: https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/

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