Category Archives: Europe

And now for something completely different. . .


It’s a mystery with, as yet, no solution.

There’s an artist somewhere in Europe who’s filling the private and public art galleries of the world with sophisticated fakes, bronze statues — busts primarily — of gods and rulers from ancient Rome and Greece.

The forger is skilled, using ancient metal, presumably from bronze coins, and his work is superficially impeccable, as in this bronze bust of the Roman emperor Augustus exposed [PDF] as a fake by German archaeologist Stephan Lehmann of the Archaeological Museum of the University of Martin Luther, Halle-Wittenberg:

BLOG Spanish master

To expose the fakes, Lehmann has turned to Europe’s most powerful particle accelerators, the only instruments capable of revealing critical details without damaging the sculptures.

The following documentary in English from Deutsche Welle Documentaries looks at the world of forgeries of ancient bronzes, including the complicated egos of the forger’s victims and the collusion of governments and dealers who have little interest in exposing the hazards of a trade that generates hefty revenues for both [and for those of you who came by earlier today and found the video “removed by user,” they changed the link and we have it up again]:

The Mystery Conman

Program note:

For years, a talented fraudster smuggled counterfeit antiques onto the art market. No one knew who the person was but workshops in southern Europe aroused suspicion, especially one in Spain. Experts in Germany have therefore named the fraudster the “Spanische Meister” or “Spanish master.” The documentary follows archeologist Stefan Lehmann from Halle near Leipzig, who’s been on the shark’s tail. Around 40 counterfeits have been discovered so far, but he thinks it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Lehmann hasn’t made himself popular – the subject of counterfeiting tends to get swept under the rug within the art trade and museums. A Swiss collector is the first one to break the silence. He gave Lehmann access to a bronze head of Emperor Augustus, which he bought for several hundred thousand dollars on the New York art market. It’s an exciting case for Lehmann – will his examinations prove that the head is fake? Auction houses and galleries know exactly what they’re selling according to Christoph Leon, an art dealer from Basel who’s working with Lehmann. He says the market is full of fakes because the global financial market invests in antique sculptures so there’s a lot of money at stake. This film follows the trail of the dirty dealings and gives an insight into the unknown world of the antiques trade.

It’s hard not to root for the forger, who is deftly picking the pockets of the one percent by playing on their pretensions.

After all, the forger with the heart of gold has been a staple of film and fiction. But all too often it’s the public’s pockets that are picked, if the form of tax writeoffs given wealthy donors who pass on their fakes to public museums.

And we have to admit that our favorite TV show during our college years was a wonderful series starring A-list stars who profited handsomely from, among other things, peddling forgeries to the wealthy booboisie.

From heavens above: Elba and a moonlit sea


From NASA’s Earth Observatory, a haunting look from above at Italy’s Mediterranean coast, with the island of Elba in the center between the coast of Tuscany on the left and Corsica on the right. Moonlight gives the sea the appearance of tarnished silver, with currents and ship wakes visible as patterns in the shimmering surface. Click on the image to enlarge, and a much larger version is here:

Astronaut photograph ISS037-E-15305 was acquired on October 17, 2013, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 180 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center.

Astronaut photograph ISS037-E-15305 was acquired on October 17, 2013, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 180 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center.

Zika update: Actions, fears, and more questions


We begin with the most newsworthy action of the day, via Al Jazeera America:

Obama seeks $1.8 billion in emergency funds to combat Zika

President aims to counter spread of mosquito-borne virus in US and abroad as it continues to spread rapidly

Details of Obama’s plan may be found in this White House fact sheet, Preparing for and Responding to the Zika Virus at Home and Abroad:

From Reuters, a precautionary action:

Exclusive: U.S. athletes should consider not attending Olympics if fear Zika – officials

The United States Olympic Committee told U.S. sports federations that athletes and staff concerned for their health over the Zika virus should consider not going to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in August.

Another form of action, via CNBC:

Zika virus putting Americans off vacations in Latin America, Caribbean: Poll

The rapidly spreading Zika virus is discouraging many Americans from traveling to Latin America and the Caribbean, with 41 percent of those aware of the disease saying they are less likely to take such a trip, a Reuters/Ipsos poll shows.

From WFAA-TV in Dallas, Texas, action in the Lone Star State:

Dallas to test pregnant women for Zika

As the U.S. prepares to spend more money to fight the spread of the Zika virus, local officials are also taking the threat seriously.

WFTV in Orlando, Florida, covers action in the Sunshine State:

Florida declares public health emergency over Zika virus

Twelve cases of the Zika virus have been found in Florida, and the state has declared a public health emergency. No local mosquitoes have been found with the virus, and all of the reported cases are travel-related.

From PressTV, action in Paris:

Zika forces restriction on blood transfusions in France

France has restricted blood donations for travelers who recently came from places affected by the Zika virus, the French health minister says.

The European Medicines Agency reports another action:

EMA sets up task force on Zika virus

European experts to provide support to global response on the emerging epidemic

Meanwhile in Brazil, action of another via the Sydney Morning Herald:

Brazil’s Carnival roars ahead despite Zika health scare

The worst health scare in recent history is not keeping Brazilians from their annual carnival revelry as millions of people fill the streets and some make fun of the mosquito that spreads Zika and other viruses.

From the Washington Post, consequences:

Zika prompts urgent debate about abortion in Latin America

Across Latin America, calls to loosen some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world in the face of the Zika virus outbreak are gaining momentum, but encountering strong and entrenched opposition.

And from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, a noteworthy question:

Zika virus: Brazilian survey calls into question cause of microcephaly

UPDATE: Another reason for questions, via Outbreak News Today:

Cape Verde: 7,000 Zika cases, No microcephaly

Officials with the Cape Verde Ministry of Health are reporting 7,164 Zika virus cases since first being confirmed in the capital city of Praia last October, while at the same time reporting no occurrences of microcephaly.

From CCTV America, a report with more questions and some answers from the World Health Organization’s regional affiliate:

Dissecting Zika with Dr. Marcus Espinal of PAHO

Program notes:

In a matter of weeks the Zika virus has gone from a concern to an all-out global crisis. In fact, the World Health Organization recently declared it a public health emergency of international concern which will bring more money and resources to fight it. Health officials are investigating a potential link between the mosquito-borne disease and hundreds, perhaps even thousands of babies born with abnormally small heads. There is no cure, no vaccine and each day it seems the warnings are getting worse. “Americas Now” anchor Elaine Reyes sits down with Dr. Marcos Espinal from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), to discuss what is known and what is not known about the Zika virus. Dr. Espinal is the Director of Communicable Diseases and Health Analysis at PAHO, in charge of disease prevention and control.Dr. Espinal gives his honest assessment of the virus and tells us what we can expect to see next.

From Singapore, the Straits Times covers a correlation:

Climate change linked to Zika outbreak

Record-high temperatures last year in Brazil, Ecuador and other South American countries created ideal conditions for the mosquito that transmits the Zika virus, which is suspected of causing birth defects, scientists said in a conference call with reporters on Friday.

The Times of India reports on a successful countermeasure:

Maharashtra villages can show world how to beat Zika

At a time when the world is reeling under an outbreak of the Zika virus, several villages in Nanded district of Maharashtra have successfully drowned out the mosquito buzz with underground soak pits that suck in waste water.

While the Los Angeles Times covers another:

Fighting mosquitoes with mosquitoes: Biological weapons target Zika virus

Maureen Coetzee, an entomologist at the University of Witwatersrand and international expert on mosquito control, is conducting research on an anti-malaria strategy that involves breeding male mosquitoes, sterilizing them with radiation and releasing them into the wild.

Finally, via the Independent, the inevitable:

Zika virus: Conspiracy theories about GMO mosquitoes and intentional infection spread as fears of disease grow

Many of the conspiracy theories are wild and obviously untrue — but they could still lead to people dying

Chart of the day: European online insecurities


From Eurostat [PDF], with the average for the 27 member European Union [minus Romania, which lacked the data] in black:

In the European Union (EU), the proportion of internet users having experienced certain common security issues over the  internet — such as viruses affecting devices, abuse of personal information, financial losses or children accessing inappropriate websites — stood  at 25% in 2015. In  other  words, three-quarters (75%) of internet users encountered no such online security problems in 2015.

In the European Union (EU), the proportion of internet users having experienced certain common security issues over the internet — such as viruses affecting devices, abuse of personal information, financial losses or children accessing inappropriate websites — stood at 25% in 2015. In other words, three-quarters (75%) of internet users encountered no such online security problems in 2015.

Birgitta Jónsdóttir: Headed for Iceland’s top post?


A 2011 self-portrait by Birgitta Jónsdóttir

A 2011 self-portrait by Birgitta Jónsdóttir

esnl‘s long been partial to Birgitta Jónsdóttir, Iceland’s poet, artist, Internet activist, publisher, hacker, and best-known science fiction fan.

She came to international prominence as a Wikileaks activist at a time when half the world’s cops and spooks wanted to shut the site down, and her activism led her into the national legislature as a member of the Pirate Party, a movement she helped found.

The anger spurring her move into the political arena came from the national government’s capitulation of the banksters who had brought the country to near-ruin.

But now she stands on the brink of yet another major change.

Birgitta Jónsdóttir could become the nation’s next prime minister.

From a 28 January post from the Reykjavik Grapevine:

The Pirate Party is currently polling at 42%, remaining the top party in the country for the past year now. Support for the party exceeds that of both parties in the ruling coalition combined.

These results come from a new poll conducted by Stöð 2 and Fréttablaðið, where the Pirates have polled at over 30% for the past 12 months.

At the same time, support for the Independence Party is now at 23.2%, which is a record low for the party for this poll. Their partners in the ruling coalition, the Progressive Party, are currently slightly above 10%. This puts support for the Pirates alone almost 10% greater than that of both parties in the coalition.

So what would this remarkable activist do in office?

From a 22 January Backchannel profile:

Stubbornly, Birgitta follows the Pirate Party guidelines: horizontal leadership, power rotation, liquid democracy. She votes in Parliament according to the majority will collected on the Píratar web platform. Birgitta is a captain with no title or privileges. Yet she leads.

With only three parliamentarians, Pirates have surged into first place for the next legislative elections. (With 38 percent of voter intention, they are ahead of both traditional parties combined.) “People are really fed up,” she comments. Birgitta could become prime minister. She rolls her big eyes and says, “That is my worst nightmare.”

Birgitta isn’t a rebel but a hacker. Complaining and pointing fingers is a waste of time. She has a goal, a plan: Birgitta wants democracy to work again. Being in charge is the price to pay. Yet she imposes her conditions: She wants her hands free. If in power, Birgitta’s action plan is clear: apply the new constitution; implement IMMI to make Iceland a safe haven for freedom of expression and data; hold a proper debate on joining the European Union, followed by a referendum; conduct a six-month policy assessment of every ministry; and turn the recommendation into a government plan. After that, Birgitta would step down to force new elections to have this plan supported across the board. A true pirate, she would leave her seat as soon as she is done. Power destroys souls. It has worn her out already.

So what does she believe?

From Julian Correa, a video of a talk she gave on freedom of information [and much more] at the November 2014 CopyCamp, a Warsaw gathering on copyright law:

Birgitta Jónsdóttir

And here’s an interview from We Are Change Rotterdam:

Birgitta Jónsdóttir: “We have to help the system to collapse”

Program notes:

Birgitta Jónsdóttir is a politician (poetician) and an activist member of the Althing, the Icelandic parliament, formerly representing the Citizens’ Movement and The Movement, but now representing the Pirate Party. We Are Change Rotterdam got a chance to talk to her about revolution, Icelandic politics, the new Icelandic constitution and much more. Utrecht, 2014

We suspect life is about to get very interesting in Iceland.

Her blog is here, she also posts on Facebook and on Twitter.

The Guardian figures in yet more media bias


While usually perceived as politically on the Left, the British paper has some biases that are anything but.

At the center of one such set of biases is one of the most famous whistleblowers in modern history.

From teleSUR English:

The Guardian and Assange

Program notes:

The UK newspaper The Guardian ignores the fundamental issues behind the Assange case.

Chart of the day: Perceived Euro media bias


How Europeans perceive media bias in their own countries, via YouGovUK:

BLOG Euromedia