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Botched Historical Art Restoration Leads to Calls for Better Regulation

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  • An art collector in Spain said his copy of a famous painting, La Inmaculada Concepción Del Escorial, was ruined after a recent restoration attempt.
  • Parallels have been made to other botched restorations in the country, including a statue of St. George and a fresco of Jesus Christ.
  • Professionals are now calling for regulation over who can restore historical and cultural works.

Historical Painting Ruined

Conservation experts in Spain are calling for better regulation over restoration projects after an art collector had a copy of a famous painting ruined by an amateur restorer.

The destroyed artwork was a historical copy of La Inmaculada Concepción del Escorial , which depicted the Virgin Mary and her lack of Original Sin, according to Catholic dogma.

The unnamed collector paid €1,200 to a local furniture restorer to fix the painting. He told El Pais that the man had fixed plenty of historical furniture for his family, so he trusted his work. Fortunately, the collector’s painting wasn’t the original, but an early 20th-century copy of baroque artist Bartolome’s Esteban Murillo’s 17th Century piece. The original is currently housed at El Prado, one of the world’s most prestigious art museums.

The collector also told El Pais that the piece was actually ruined twice by the furniture restorer. According to an interview with the outlet, the first attempt at a restoration featured a “completely disfigured face,” although both attempts are far cries of Murillo’s work.

The original version on the left, and subsequent restoration attempts on the right. Via The Guardian

Ecce Artem

However, this isn’t the first time a story about a botched-attempt at restoring historical artwork has come out of Spain.

In 2012 Ecce Homo, a fresco of Jesus Christ in a small Borja church was destroyed when an elderly parishioner attempted to fix the deteriorating piece. She claims the priest gave her permission to fix the fresco.

For many, it ended up looking like a monkey, and received the nick-name Ecce Mono – a mix of Spanish and Latin that means “Behold the Monkey,” a play on the piece’s original name which means “Behold the Man.” However, in a twist, the ruined fresco helped drive tourism to Borja, which was facing economic hardships and proved to be a huge boon.

Left: an early photo of Ecce Homo.
Center: the deteriorated fresco as of 2012.
Right: Ecce Mono
Via The New York Times

In 2018, a statue in northern Spain of St. George slaying the Dragon was heavily altered after a local artist tried to restore the piece. The colors were so bold, solid, and vibrant that it drew comparisons to playmobil figures. After hundreds of hours of work across a year, professional restorers managed to make it appear much closer to its pre-2018 likeness.

The various iterations of St. George Slaying the Dragon in Navarre Spain. The image on the right is the statue after it was properly restored. Via The Guardian

Calls for Regulation

The latest fiasco involving La Inmaculada Concepción del Escorial has caused professionals in the industry to call for regulation over historical art restoration. In a memo released on June 23rd, the  Spanish Association of Conservators and Restorers (ACRE) said:

“If the facts are confirmed, we will have to lament the loss, again, of a cultural icon… and we ask that in this situation isn’t used as a joke by the media or social media, as has happened in the past… It’s sad that in the 21st century there aren’t any laws or legal orders [that prohibit] people without certifications from carrying out restorations. Especially when in Spain, and specifically within Valencia, there are a large number of qualified specialists… And this lack of regulation translates into an absence of protection of our heritage, and that allows people without training to intervene on it, facing, at best, simple administrative sanctions.”

The Vice-President of ACRE’s Valencia chapter, Maria Borja Ortiz, added that botched-restorations are “unfortunately much more common than you’d think.”

It’s yet to be seen if any lawmakers, either at the federal level or within the autonomous communities of Spain, will move to regulate the industry.

See what others are saying: (El Pais) (The Guardian) (BBC)

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100Mbps Uploads and Downloads Should Be U.S. Standard, Bipartisan Senator Group Says

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Image via Pixabay
  • On Thursday, a bipartisan group of four U.S. senators sent a letter to the heads of the Federal Communications Commission and the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture arguing that the definition of broadband internet should be changed.
  • Since 2015, broadband internet has been defined by the FCC as a minimum of 25Mbps download speed and 3Mbps uploads, but the senators urged the agency to define the new minimum as 100Mbps for both download and upload speeds.
  • Currently, the U.S. ranks 11th in average wired internet speeds, at 170Mbps, however, many rural parts of the country are far below the current 25Mbps download standard. 
  • The senators hope a higher standard will force companies to raise speeds for millions of rural Americans.

Some Americans Left Behind

A bipartisan group of several US senators have come out in support of increasing U.S. broadband internet speeds.

When it comes to broadband speeds, the U.S. ranks 11th in the world. The average consumer has download speeds at about 170Mbps, with uploads speeds often about one-third of that.

While 170Mpbs is more than enough for nearly any activity online, rural Americans often struggle to even get 11Mbps. That speed is barely enough to function online today.

The Federal Communications Commission has attempted to rectify this in some ways. In 2015, for instance, when it set a 25Mbps download and 3Mpbs upload speed as the minimum to be labeled “broadband.” Despite this, many Americans still fall short of that due to various exceptions to the rule.

On Thursday, in an attempt to rectify this situation and increase speeds for Americans across the board, Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Angus King (I-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) sent a letter to the heads of the FCC, U.S. Commerce Department, and the Department of Agriculture urging that a 100Mbps download/upload speed be the new standard to be considered “broadband.”

“We strongly urge you to update federal broadband program speed requirements to reflect current and anticipated 21st century uses,” the four Senators wrote.

“In the years ahead, emerging technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, health IoT, smart grid, 5G, virtual and augmented reality, and tactile telemedicine, will all require broadband networks capable of delivering much faster speeds, lower latency, and higher reliability than those now codified by various federal agencies,” they added.

Overlapping Jurisdiction

The letter was sent to the various agencies because, confusingly, they all have different standards of what broadband internet is, which may explain the discrepancy between speeds for rural and urban/suburban Americans.

The Department of Agriculture claims that 10Mpbs down and 1Mpbs up is enough to be broadband internet. To reiterate, that is barely enough to watch a single YouTube video in 1080p resolution (HD) and do any other activity on the internet.

The issue compounds with multiple users in a household as 11Mpbs (used by most rural Americans) can only account for about two YouTube videos at 1080p resolution being watched at a single time before quality is impacted.

While the FCC hasn’t answered a request to comment, it’s possible that it may consider the proposal in the senators’ letter. Back in 2015, the commission’s acting head, Jessica Rosenworcel, had advocated that the benchmark should be 100Mpbs.

While a new standard may not be agreed upon, the FCC has been making efforts to help rural Americans by distributing billions to internet service providers in an attempt to bring gigabit-broadband speeds to remote areas.

Arguably the most successful venture has been SpaceX’s Starlink platform, which has begun beta-testing with some members of the public and is a drastic difference at between 50Mpbs to 150Mpbs, with low latency.

See what others are saying: (Engadget) (The Verge) (Gizmodo)

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Death Toll in Myanmar Surpasses 50 People as Police Continue To Use Live Ammunition

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  • At least 50 people have died across Myanmar since the start of the coup on Feb. 1, with Wednesday being the single largest loss of life to date after 38 were shot by security forces.
  • Despite the danger, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
  • The U.N. Security Council is due to meet Friday to discuss how to deal with the situation in Myanmar in response to calls for a solution from nations and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Growing Violence Across Myanmar

Over the weekend, security forces in Myanmar killed 18 anti-coup protesters and wounded at least 30 more. Across the subsequent three days, that number rose considerably.

According to the U.N., at least 38 people were killed on Wednesday alone.; making it the bloodiest day of the coup so far and raising the overall death toll to over 50. Exact number are difficult to find, as the chaos on the ground precludes outlets from confirming accounts of possibly more deaths.

The violence has occurred across the country, with the deaths largely being tied to the use of live ammunition by security forces. The demonstrations, and the response to them, have been widely captured on camera. Some of the most shocking scenes are of police passing a BA-53 (a Burmese Army variant of the HK G3 military rifle) to fire into protesters.

Despite the death, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Thursday morning saw thousands in the streets who attended vigils for those slain on Wednesday, an increasingly common ritual for the prior day’s deaths.

Sanctions May Not Work

The United States has tried to get neighboring countries to join it and the European Union in sanctioning the Burmese military, but few Southeast Asian countries wanted to sign on, which gives the Burmese military breathing room as most of its diplomatic and trade relations are with neighboring countries.

At the U.N., Security Council members are due to meet on Friday to discuss calls from countries and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to stop the coup and the escalating crackdowns against protesters. However, it’s unclear what more they can do. Sanctions against specific military leaders are often ineffective, yet sanctions on the country as a whole would affect the everyday people they’re trying to support.

Other options include direct intervention, but Justine Chambers, Associate Director of the Myanmar Research Center at the Australian National University, pushed back against this, telling The New York Times, “Unfortunately I don’t think the brutality caught on camera is going to change much.”

“I think domestic audiences around the world don’t have much of an appetite for stronger action, i.e. intervention, given the current state of the pandemic and associated economic issues.”

While it’s unclear what more the international community can do, it’s quite likely that violence will continue in Myanmar as citizens try to peacefully restore democracy.

See what others are saying: (AP) (Reuters) (New York Times)

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Saudi Arabia To Require Vaccine for Hajj Pilgrims

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  • Saudi Arabia will require all pilgrims participating in the Hajj this year to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to local media.
  • The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime if they are physically or financially able to.
  • Many believe the inoculation requirement may help allay suspicions over vaccines within certain Muslim communities.
  • Those suspicions have persisted despite Muslim leaders clarifying that there are no theological problems with taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines available.

COVID-19 Vaccines for Pilgrims

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry will only allow people vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the Hajj this year, according to local outlet Okaz.

The Hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims at least once in their lifetime – assuming they are physically and financially able to. However, requiring a vaccine before taking part in the Hajj isn’t a new thing. In fact, Saudi Arabia already has a list of necessary vaccinations for pilgrims.

For a virus that is among the most virulent in recent history and requiring a COVID-19 vaccine makes sense, especially since the Hajj is among the most densely populated events in the world.

In an effort to combat COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has also introduced restrictions over how many pilgrims can come to Mecca for the first time in modern history.

Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to partake in the Hajj will likely have the added benefit of allaying fears about COVID-19 vaccines in Muslim communities, which account for nearly 2 billion people in the world. While Muslims overall support vaccinations and their religious leaders openly support vaccination efforts, some do doubt vaccines for either political reasons or religious ones.

Changes in Vaccine Hesitancy

Suspicions have arisen due to recent history, notably after Osama bin Laden was located through a vaccine program that acted as a front for the C.I.A. That incident led to a wider-anti vaccine movement in parts of Pakistan that have seen vaccine clinics burned to the ground.

Others are worried over more religious concerns, such as whether the vaccines are Halal, which is roughly the Muslim version of Kosher. To that, most major vaccines say that they are Halal and contain no animal products, such as Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, and AstraZeneca’s,

While other possibly non-Halal vaccines, such as Sinovac’s, have been given the okay from major Islamic authorities, such as Indonesia’ Ulema Council.

The concerns over whether a vaccine is Halal or not may be mute as most imams and Islamic councils have clarified that such dietary restrictions are trumped by the need to save human lives.

While the Health Ministry’s statement is for 2021, it’s possible that the decision will last beyond that based on the pandemic’s progress.

See what other are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The Hill) (Middle East Eye)

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