Thursday, May 31, 2012

Vatileaks - did the butler act alone?

Pope Benedict XVI’s  butler, Paolo Gabriele, is due to be formally questioned by Vatican prosecutors in the next few days. His lawyers say he has pledged to fully cooperate with the investigation. This raises the spectre that high ranking prelates may soon be implicated.
Associated Press reports that the scandal has tormented the Vatican for months and represents one of the greatest breaches of trust and security for the pope in recent memory.
Pope Benedict wants to get to the bottom of the scandal in order to heal the breach and re-establish a sense of trust among the faithful, according to the Vatican’s undersecretary of state, Archbishop Angelo Becciu.
“I consider the publication of stolen letters to be an unprecedentedly grave immoral act,” Becciu told the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. “It’s not just that the pope’s papers were stolen, but that people who turned to him as the vicar of Christ have had their consciences violated.”
Benedict’s personal butler was arrested and accused of theft after documents he had no business having were found in his Vatican City apartment. Few think the butler acted alone.
The motivation for the leaks remains uncertain. Some commentators say they appear designed to discredit Benedict’s second-in-command, the secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Others say they are aimed at undermining the Vatican’s efforts to become more financially transparent. Still others say they aim to show the weakness of the  85-year-old Benedict in running the Church.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Vatican turmoil over leaked secrets

It will be interesting to see if the latest scandal within the Vatican throws further light on the festering controversies detailed in my book The Fátima Phenomenon - Divine Grace, Delusion or Pious Fraud?

A Vatican spokesman has confirmed that the pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, is now under arrest and being held in a cell within the Vatican, charged with aggravated theft. He is alleged to have stolen and leaked hundreds of confidential documents.

The documents are said to include correspondence, notes and memos to the pope and his private secretary. Gabriele was is one of only a handful of people with access to the pontiff's private papers.

Reports from Rome suggest the documents contain evidence and expressions of concerns about internal power struggles, intrigue and corruption at the highest levels of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI's butler was the alleged mole feeding the documents to Italian journalists in an apparent bid to discredit the pontiff's No. 2.

Last week, the President of the Vatican bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, was ousted amid money laundering allegations. Associated Press has quoted Carl Anderson, a member of the board of the bank, as saying the turmoil was beyond belief even in a work of fiction. “No editor would let you put it in a novel," he said.

Deep concerns about goings-on in the Vatican have long been expressed by traditionalist groups within the Church, such as the Fátima Center apostolate based in North America, and the worldwide Sedevacantist movement.

These two groups and many other devout Catholics are convinced that the present pope and some of his predecessors have been responsible for a cover-up of the so-called Third Secret of Fátima. These concerns are fully explained in The Fátima Phenomenon – Divine Grace, Delusion or Pious Fraud? 
First published in Portuguese in 2010, it is now available in English as an ebook from Amazon.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Plenty of time to ponder a better life

 I arrived at a state-run health centre last Tuesday in good time for my appointment made exactly a month earlier. The receptionist told me I was third in line to see the doctor, a young woman. More people were waiting in the same area to see another doctor, a middle-aged man.
That morning, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development had issued its latest Better Life Index. It reported that 61% of Portuguese women aged between 15 and 64 are in paid work, compared with 70% of men.
Here it seemed like more than 90% of the observable staff were women, despite the OECD’s assertion that “glaring gender differences” mean Portuguese women spend more than five hours a day on domestic chores, while men spend only about 90 minutes cooking, cleaning or caring for children.
In the developed world, Portugal has one of the biggest gaps between rich and poor. It is the most unequal country in Europe, according to the OECD. The top 20% of the population earn six times as much as the bottom 20%. I felt sure no one in the top 20% would be seen dead in this national health centre.
The male doctor was clearing his line of patients fairly quickly. The woman doctor was taking much longer but, eventually, she got around to calling in her next client, a young mother with a baby. It occurred to me that in keeping with the OECD average, this Portuguese baby had a life expectancy of almost 80 years – 77 if it was a boy, 83 if it was a girl.
Meanwhile, the elderly patient in front of me was becoming increasingly depressed at having to spend so much of his dwindling lifespan waiting in a corridor. It must have seemed like eternity.
Suddenly a young schoolgirl appeared and marched confidently up to a desk staffed by two talkative women who seemed to have the joint responsibility of answering a phone that seldom rang. The girl was probably a grandchild of one of the operators.
As the three of them chatted, the phone rang but the women simply ignored it and carried on nattering. The demeanour of the operators suggested they were not among the 30% of Portuguese adults aged between 25 and 64 who have successfully completed a high-school education. This, incidentally, is the lowest rate among OECD countries. The average is 74%.
Later, when the little girl said goodbye and skipped off home, I guessed she would score well in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment. In reading literacy, maths and science tests, Portuguese girls outperform boys by 10 points, slightly more than the average OECD gender gap of 9 points.
Finally and at long last I was summoned to the consulting room. The lady in white smiled, shook hands firmly and asked brightly: “How are you?”
I passed her an envelope containing blood test results, hoping she would answer the question for me.
No wonder she was smiling. Male domination is on the wane. Across the 34 OECD countries, women have more job satisfaction and are happier than men.
As the doctor tapped clinical statistics into her computer, I still had time to reflect on the Better Life Index. Would I emerge from the health centre among the 72% in Portugal who say that, on an average day, they have more positive than negative experiences? 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Whither the Weather?

     The Algarve is supposed to have one the best climates in the world. Well, it’s simply not good enough.
     Can you remember as far back as the first week of November last year? Winter got off to a rip-roaring start. A storm tore the roof off the terminal at Faro Airport and trashed vegetable greenhouses. Then, throughout the supposedly wettest months, we basked in sunshine, leaving orange groves gasping for liquid refreshment. A few spring showers came too late for the burgeoning broad beans.
     A friend of mine accepted an outdoor contract in late April. The nature of the work demanded dry, calm conditions. The conditions had been perfect all winter. The day his team started work, it started raining. It rained intermittently, sometimes heavily, for two weeks. When the rain stopped, it was replaced by gale-force winds. When the winds stopped, temperatures suddenly shot up to 40ºC – and it was only mid May! What is it going to be like in July and August?
     The climate is changing the world over. It would be surprising if it wasn’t. It’s been changing this way and that for about four billion years. It’s sure to continue to change whatever we do, or don’t do. We will either just have to get used it, or just  keep on moaning.
     While you are lying awake at night thinking of one more thing to worry about, consider this. Please concentrate. The temperature in Portugal has risen by an average of 1.2 degrees since 1930. Before that, it took a whole century to rise by 0.8 degrees.
     It may be all our own fault. Well, not ours exactly. It’s the fault of those daft people who send many billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year. 
     Whether or not it’s due partly, or mainly, to our carbon emissions, hotter and more prolonged summers could have alarming consequences. These could include making the Algarve as attractive to residents and foreign visitors as the Sahara desert.
     It’s bad enough that global warming is causing the far-away polar ice caps to melt. Now we learn that the Gulf Stream that warms our shore is likely to weaken by as much as 25% over the next 100 years.
     Some scientists are predicting that the Gulf Stream may disappear altogether. If so, it may get colder, not hotter, in the Algarve. Monchique could become a ski resort.
     Incidentally, no one is suggesting that temperatures might stay boringly more or less the same as at present.
     This is all very worrying for wine lovers. Viticulturists say that increased temperatures of around 2.0ºC during the growing season over the past 50 yeas have significantly helped improve the quality of vintages in all major wine-producing countries. Analysts expect the average growing season temperature to increase by another 2.0ºC in most wine countries over the next five decades – and by a whopping 2.85ºC here in southern Portugal.
     Now for the really bad news. Grape varieties have been carefully selected to suit the climate in which they are grown. If the Algarve becomes a desert and the grapes frizzle, we might have to import our wine from Britain!


Friday, May 18, 2012

People in a Place Apart - comments

Published Algarve Daily News,

McCartney, Madeleine, Galloway, Cook - People in a Place Apart, the latest book by Len Port
A new book about the Algarve, unlike any before it, has just been published and is available exclusively from Amazon. It is called People in a Place Apart by the well-known local author Len Port who has been writing about the goings-on in the region for years.
     This new non-fiction title focuses on the people of southern Portugal from ancient times right up to the present day.  It contains intimate insights into various cultures and individual personalities, including royalty, political heads of state, outstanding warriors on the high seas and in the air, celebrated writers and stars of sports and entertainment. The famous characters included are as diverse as Henry the Navigator and Henry Cooper, Vasco da Gama and George Galloway, The Marquess de Pombal and Paul McCartney.
     Early chapters deal with people during momentous periods in the Algarve's history, from  the Phoenician explorers and the Moorish occupation, to nationhood and the Age of Discovery.  
The later chapters consider the movers and shakers from the Swinging Sixties to the troubled times right now. 
     While much of People in a Place Apart is about the famous and influential, parts dwell on villains and victims, as well as infamous murders and mysteries. The notorious trial of Michael Cook and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann are included.
     Well aware of the parlous economic state of print publishing nowadays, Len Port has embraced the new era of eBooks by launching People in a Place Apart with Amazon's Kindle  Direct Publishing programme. A print edition of the book may become available later in the year, but for now it is available as an eBook that can be read on Kindle devices and Kindle apps for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, PC, Mac, Blackberry, and Android-based devices.
     It can be downloaded from Amazon in seconds. 

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The Fátima Phenomenon - comments

Published Jornal Algarve 123 - www.
Much fuss over  Fátima: the full story
The 95th anniversary of the first apparition of the Virgin Mary reported from Fátima in Portugal will be celebrated this Sunday, May 13,  with mixed feelings.
     Pilgrims from around the world will worship at the hallowed shrine where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared before three Portuguese children on the 13th day of six successive months in 1917. The anniversary will also be celebrated at the Vatican.
     Controversially, it will be marked with dire warnings at the opening of an international conference in Rome. The conference will hear that not only the Catholic Church, but the whole world, is facing an apocalypse unless the so-called ‘Message of Fátima’ is fully implemented.
     The conference is being organised by the Fatima Center, an apostolate with a large following of traditionalist Catholics in North America and beyond. The organisers say the aim of the conference is “nothing less than saving the world from unthinkable disasters, including, in Our Lady of Fátima´s own words, ‘the annihilation of nations’.”
     There is an easy way to avoid this, according to the apostolate. The Pope, accompanied by all of his bishops, must formally consecrate Russia and thus convert the people of that country to the Catholic Faith - as requested by the Virgin Mary at Fátima.
     The alleged cover-up of the ‘Third Secret of Fátima’ is another highly contentious issue that is sure to be widely discussed again on Sunday.
     Members of the international sedevacantist movement, another radical traditionalist group, claim the Third Secret warned of the Church’s downfall. Freemasons have infiltrated the Church to its highest level, they say. Like at least three of his predecessors, the present Pope, Benedict XVI, is neither a true Pope nor a true Catholic, according to sedevacantists.
     These and all other aspects of the story of Fátima are delved into dispassionately in a new ebook, The Fátima Phenomenon – Divine Grace, Delusion or Pious Fraud?
     The author, Len Port who has lived in Portugal for many years, details the development of the cult of Fátima from historical and political as well as religious perspectives. He quotes the opinions of many eminent non-believers as well as devout believers. Readers are invited to make up their own minds about where the truth lies.
     “The aim of the book is to add light rather than generate more heat. It is meant to be factually informative and thought provoking,” says Port.
     Because it alludes to the much broader debate about faith and reason, creationism and evolution, the supernatural and evidence-based science, the author hopes his book will be of interest to believers and non-believers alike.
     The Fátima Phenomenon – Divine Grace, Delusion or Pious Fraud? is available as an ebook from Amazon.

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