Of Prophets and Poets

Much of what I like most about the King James Version is the beauty inherent to its prose. Whether Psalms, Proverbs, Peter and Paul, or Prophets, I almost always find the version’s way of saying things – even when (mostly) inaccurate—poetic. Which version of the 23rd psalm can compare with the beauty and eloquence of the King James?

My undergraduate education was at the University of Madrid, during the days when Francisco Franco reigned. The world was a frightful place with Vietnam, Watergate, civil rights marches and riots, assassinations of beloved leaders, Khrushchev banging his shoe on a table at the United Nations while threatening “We will bury you!” and campus crusades ending in pools of blood.

In Franco’s Spain, however, the armed civil guard stood sentry on every street … ready to shoot first and (not) ask questions later. Especially when it came to students—university students—who were considered radical rabble-rousers causing trouble.

Young and old, many of us took up the arts for solace—playing music, painting, writing—to quell the anguish in our souls.

Some 50 years ago, I worried these words out in Spanish:

O, mi dolorosa verdad que evade los ojos …

Te buscaba entre las espinas de la vida.

¿Es que has muerto en un siglo cortísimo?

O, que, ya vives,

pudriéndote cada dia?

Roughly translated, my words mourned about the search for a painful and elusive truth, asking if it had died in a short, bygone era … or whether it still lived, albeit diseased and decaying, every day.

I think of my Spanish poem often these days.

Somehow, it seems even more relevant now than then.

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Algorithmea

I wish I could find a doctor to treat – and fix – my algorithmea in the same way s/he deals with my allergies and arthritis.

Here in Portugal and Spain, that usually means a medical consult followed by lab tests, more consults, and meds.

If only it were so easy dealing with the algorithms causing my algorithmea!

Like the “Bogie Man” and “El Coco,” they’re invisible (to me, at least), yet have taken hold of my life. Sarting with Facebook:

I realize that every single bit of data about my personal profile – age, income, locations, friends, preferences, politics, education, what I like (or don’t) and follow – is mixed and mingled by Facebook’s manipulations. So, whatever I see on my feed is custom-tailored for me. And, perish the thought that I click on a “sponsored” link! Within minutes, I’m deluged with ads for similar services or products that last for days. Sometimes after a hiatus, they return to haunt me again.

The good news, I guess, is that I’m only receiving promotional messages which, supposedly, will interest me, instead of other junk scattered through the great commercial diaspora.

(The bad news, of course, is that I’m not interested. If I want to buy something or learn more about it, chances are that I’ll be more responsive to my own Google searches than anything that Facebook sends my way.)

Which brings up another symptom of my algorithmea:

I am absolutely certain that these pillars of the Internet’s most powerful platforms collude somewhere in back rooms filled with smoke and mirrors, shaking hands and hand-me-downs of yours truly.

What makes me suspect this conspiracy of complicity against little, old me? Simple! No matter which “social” medium – Amazon, YouTube, LinkedIn or even so-called customer service websites that supposedly provide price comparisons and reviews for whatever I want in my geographical area, they’re almost instantly followed, cloak-and-dagger, by successive posts on Facebook. Heck, even weather channel sites are involved. Whenever I check on the forecasts, wouldn’t you know it that appropriate clothing and accessories for the climate crises appear, ipso facto, on my Facebook feed.

Amazon is just as bad. It keeps records and reminds me of what I bought (when), acknowledging my (good) tastes and encouraging me to reorder. And if I don’t want to, because I’m looking for something else? Presto: Amazon provides slews of suggestions. Next visit, it anticipates my needs and wants, recommending that I take a look-see at the products it recommends. To think, this bazaar, the whole enchilada, started as an online bookstore!

Netflix knows what I like to watch on the screen and is always there – even when the action is paused for a potty break – to recommend others it presumes I will like. Gee, how I miss my school librarian who got to know me and my favorites (genres, authors, styles) before doling out book recommendations.

Maybe it all started with radio?

Pandora, a subscription-based music streaming service owned by Sirius XM Holdings, was founded in 2000 (as Savage Beast Technologies) focusing on recommendations based on the “Music Genome Project” — a means of classifying individual songs by musical traits. The service originally launched in the consumer market as an Internet radio service, which would generate personalized channels based on these traits and songs liked by the user. In 2017, the service launched Pandora Premium, an on-demand version of the service more in line with its competitors: Spotify,YouTube Music, AccuRadio, and a bunch of others that allow you to choose a constant stream of music based on your favorite singers, styles or genres, or even topics.

Let’s say I want to hear Christmas music. Even “Jingle Bells,” despite its huge number of versions and singers. All fine and good. Of course, my one or two cringe-worthy crooners play repeatedly, over and again. Is there a way I can further fine tune my settings so that I get Christmas music including Jingle Bells—except for when performed by Singer X (and Y and Z)?

It’s not just online that I’m plagued by algorithmea.

Consider my car. In addition to telling me when my fuel or tire pressure is running low, it also warns me when it thinks I should up-shift, slow down, correct course, and/or if I’m getting too close to something behind (or before) me. It decides when to turn on my windshield wipers — even if there’s no rain or condensation – and fog lights. I have no desire whatsoever for a self-parking (or -driving) car. Lord, have mercy!

Nor do I want a refrigerator that probes the condition of its contents and informs me of what foods are rotten and should be tossed. Or, somehow, knows what I’m running low on and creates a shopping list for me—complete with suggested menus.

Please don’t misunderstand: I do appreciate, even value, some features of certain “smart” appliances. For instance, my washing machine and dryer. It’s good to know that they’ll compensate for the weight of my load and adjust water levels, spin speeds, and drying time as needed.

“I think; therefore I am” was the end of the search Descartes conducted for a statement that could not be doubted. He found that he could not doubt that he himself existed, as he was the one doing the doubting in the first place. In Latin (the language in which Descartes wrote), the phrase is “Cogito, ergo sum.”

Nowadays, I no longer need to think, as algorithms crunch my data, analyze the findings, and direct my paths accordingly.

“I input, therefore I am output” may be our new mantra.

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Auld Lang Syne

Historians call it “the song that nobody knows.” And yet we’ve all tried to sing it. There are scores of Christmas songs, but New Year’s  just has the one: Auld Lang Syne.

“Auld lang syne” is the title and key phrase of a 1788 Scottish poem by Robert (Rabbie) Burns. The phrase literally translates to “old long since” and basically means “days gone by.” Or, as Merriam-Webster puts it, “the good old times.” The original five-verse version of the poem essentially gets people singing, “let’s drink to days gone by,” an appropriate toast for the New Year. 

As Scots immigrated around the world, they took the song with them. Eventually, North American English speakers translated Burns’ dialect into the common lyrics we know today, made famous in part by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians band, who performed the song on New Year’s Eve from 1929 until about 1977. It’s his version that plays after the ball drops in Times Square every year. 

Auld Lang Syne, along with making New Year’s “resolutions,” is a tradition recognized – if not practiced – all around the world.

I’ve given up on making New Year’s resolutions, which I don’t really keep (for long, anyway). Instead, I use this time of the year for reflection and meditation: the good and the bad, things I’ve done and haven’t, where—and who—I am now at this time, in this place.

It’s been four years since we left the USA and moved to Portugal, dividing our time between two cozy homes … one in Castelo Branco, the other in Elvas. We also have an even smaller vacation bolt — which we purchased 15 years ago — in one of the “pueblos blancos” of Andalucía (southern Spain), where we head twice each year for three weeks at a time … plus quick getaways whenever.

Any regrets? No, not really. Except for the major stuff, like exploding empires and an imploding world. I can’t honestly say we’re “glad” that we left the USA, although I can unequivocally state we’re glad to be here, not there. Watching the republic, this lauded experiment in democracy, knowingly unravel before our eyes is among life’s saddest spectacles … along with reactive (not proactive) efforts to confront the immeasurable havoc wreaked by record-breaking hurricanes, flooding, draughts, heat waves and chills, tornadoes and earthquakes, and unquenchable fires.

Nor the mind-boggling numbers affected by the Corona virus.

Looking back isn’t easy; but looking ahead is even harder. While we video chat every Sunday with my son, his amazing wife, and our (almost) two-year-old granddaughter, who knows if, when, or where we’ll ever get to hug them in person. They live just outside of Dallas, Texas, surrounded by tightly knit in-laws and we are resolute about not returning to the USA … especially to a state that’s become a litmus in limiting voting rights, where a woman’s right to decide what happens to her own body is relentlessly restricted by handmaiden tattletales, and wiping the slate clean of books parents (especially) dislike has become a cause célèbre for librarians everywhere.

No, no, we won’t go.

Unfortunately, neither will our children and grandchild come to visit us in Portugal. It’s not an issue of money (we’d be delighted to pay their expenses) but more a matter of disruption and complications for them—especially in terms of work, family, and business.

We understand; they do, too. Not that we like it — nor do they — but there are more than principles and challenges involved.

Selfish we can be, but hypocrites not. Honestly, how could we go and turn a blind eye, ignoring life-altering evils for the sake of our personal satisfaction and contrivance?

Unlike a number of immigrants, we choose to live more of a typical Portuguese life than do others who emigrate. For some, that means living in “expat” communities surrounded by others like themselves—with all the bells and whistles, notions and novelties, they enjoy … all without learning the language or hobnobbing with the natives. They love that they get more for their money here.

Others, whom I refer to as “quintassentials,” are here for a simpler and healthier life, living on and off the land … with renewable energy and wholesome produce that sustains them without upsetting Mother Nature. They love that the cost of living is much lower here.

They’re not the same, you know, in terms of the bottom line: getting more for your money v. spending less on life’s essentials.

For us, however, we’re betwixt and between, neither there nor here. While we live in typical row houses in typical towns and villages populated by Portuguese speakers, we’re still — in many ways — different from the natives …

Take language, for instance. No matter how much vocabulary we master or practice we pursue, we’ll never speak like they do.

Blame it on our pronunciation. Or the fact that most Portuguese have a better handle on English than we do on their language. In school, they’re required to study English not as a “foreign” language, but as part of their core curriculum. With certain people, I’ve learned that it’s best to engage with them as they prefer – in English – rather than to insist on practicing our Portuguese.

Still, we can communicate. Ask lots of questions and reply to them. Complain. Deal with contractors and repairs. Joke and poke fun at our lopsided Portuguese.

Other matters – usually financial – also separate us, both from other immigrants and our neighborhood Portuguese. It’s our background. And our money.

We keep ourselves warm in the winters and cool in the summers with inverter aircon units, several of them in each house. Our neighbors might have one. Maybe. We’ve equipped our homes with furnishings and appliances that few Portuguese find reasons to need. Although using these gadgets and gizmos costs more in electric bills than our elderly neighbors receive in their monthly state pensions, we condone and rationalize it: after paying between $300 and $500 (or more) per month in the USA for electricity, we’re spending far less – €125-€150 during the five or six months of peak usage — in Portugal. Yeah, we tried using our kitchen fireplace and installed a pellet stove on the bedroom level … but the cost of the firewood and pellets added at least €60 per month to our budget.

Yet we feel a bit awkward and uneasy around our neighbors, who hear the almost constant hum of our plugged-in existence.

The past couple of years have been times of change and upheaval—both personally and globally. Climate crises hit as the world suffered through draught, fires, flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, cyclones, earthquakes, and abuse by humankind. Social upheavals, like most malignancies, took no prisoners. From nations united, we became societies divided. Covid, the first “pandemic” most of us experienced, took the lives of too many … even as it was added to the arsenal of politics and propaganda.

Like lots of our friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, we learned that our “dream house” in Lousa, Castelo Branco, Portugal wasn’t (really), when the doctor told us that we couldn’t continue living there: Going up and down the 37 steps dozens of times daily between our street-level kitchen and upper-level bedroom was crippling my 72-year-old bones. And those charming cobble stone streets meandering throughout our quaint village became slippery and dangerous for someone without balance or sure-footedness (me) when walking the three dogs several times every day.

“It would be best for you to live in a single-level residence,” the doctor insisted … ideally one with a backyard (quintal) for the dogs.

Easier said than done.

We looked everywhere in Lousa, asking our Portuguese friends and neighbors for help in finding a proper residence. No luck. Everything needed too much work or was overpriced and still needed work.

After living there for three years, we had learned what we could deal with in a property … and what we couldn’t. As mentioned, it needed to be a single story. With a (small) attached backyard. In a nice neighborhood. We didn’t want to be on the main street anymore—too much noise, especially with all the church processions and festas. Preferably, the bedroom would be in the middle of the house, not facing the street. The rooms and divisions had to be of adequate size. And, of course, it had to be within our budget.

We found what we were looking for in Alcains, the next municipality over, and moved up the municipal hierarchy from village to town.

Meanwhile, much to our distress, we had been grappling with a case of liver failure in our littlest family member, Manny, our nine-year-old Miniature Schnauzer with a heart that melted ours. Despite all the tests, medications, veterinary consults, and hospitalizations, he passed across the rainbow bridge comfortably, in my lap.

We spent three months mourning and grieving our loss. But the heart is a lonely being, and we ached to fill the void Manny had left in our hearts. Nobody could ever replace him … but our newest furry family member, Toto, is an endearing ball of fluff whose unique personality has enchanted and endeared us to him.

Loss can also mean giving up, in the sense of losing something.

Learning that as EU residents, we didn’t need a separate bank account in Spain for our bills and taxes there, we closed our CaixaBank account – which, as “nonresidents,” cost us €35 every three months, compared to the €3.50 we paid in Portugal – and transferred all direct debits from Spain to our Portuguese account. One of the benefits of no trade barriers among the EU nations!

In the process of exercising creativity by birthing and balancing Portugal Living Magazine – a broad spectrum, English language magazine that covers all of Portugal, not just the Algarve – I was forced to learn how to tweet and post on Instagram. If only I could give up Facebook! But, what’s the alternative?

Life goes on, ooblah-di, ooblah-da …

With all its pathos and saudade, we continue to be in awe of Portugal, our small democratic nation, thinking of it as that “little engine that could.” Portugal administered at least 19,137,482 doses of COVID vaccines so far, enough to have vaccinated about 93.2% of the country’s population with two doses. Most of us already have had our third (booster) shots.

Where else can you find such determination in anti-Covid regulations that prevent crowds from congregating than a country that declares there shall be no retail “sales” between 26 December and 9 January? How many shop windows does one pass devoid of any “SALE!” signs? Or stores that haven’t removed marked-down merchandise from their full-price inventory?

The words of the song ring true:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For days of auld lang syne.

Now, por favor, let’s drink!

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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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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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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).

We live in the suburbs of a major city, a comfortable if not upscale vila of mixed housing–most are row houses of all shapes and sizes, although there are plenty of upscale properties with huge houses and landscaped gardens behind magnificent gates (not fences) around the town. We moved here from a smaller village (aldea) of about 500 people, down from 1,200 or more during its glory days. Today, one corner market, two cafés, and a beautician who visits twice each week comprise its commercial corps. Except for three tremendous but decaying manor homes, still grand and stately, all of the other dwellings are attached. No, that’s not quite right: around the village’s outskirts are a number of quintas inhabited by daily commuters who work for the government (elsewhere) and dirt-poor people.


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 in local elections.


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.

Trumpism had yet to transcend the 45th president of the USA; but we saw the handwriting on the wall. The Republican Party no longer was the GOP, standing for small government and fiscal restraint. Increasingly, “regular” Americans were exhibiting hatred, vitriol, and self-serving prejudice, encouraged by the cartoonish candidate. Donald Trump was inaugurated on 20 January 2017; we left the USA with no plans to return two months later.

Despite owning a vacation bolt in Andalucía, Spain, for 15 years, Portugal beckoned and was more welcoming … in every sense of the word.


Economically, Portugal is poor, at least compared to the competition. The national minimum wage jumped this year by 6%, going from its steadfast €775.83 per month to €822.50 per month. Yearly, that amounts to US $9,052 (“international currency”), with an average hourly rate of sixteen euros.


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.

It doesn’t take much (again, compared to other EU countries) to be granted a visa followed by legal and tax residency in Portugal. Doing all your homework correctly — being sure to cross every “t” and dot every “i” — will prepare most everyone for dealing with Portugal’s notorious bureaucracy. Forget to bring a document, legal identification, a signature required somewhere, and you’ll be sent to “jail” without passing “Go” and collecting your $200.


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. Back in the USA — before relocating to Portugal — he worked as a university professor, church pastor, public relations executive, book and magazine publisher.

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. Volcanoes and lava. Icebergs. Tornadoes. 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 here.

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?