Illegal Trade in Antiquities is the Scourge of Millennia

Elgin Marbles Antiquities
The Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum. Credit: Marcio Cabral de Moura/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The looting of artifacts has always been a sign of military might or economic power. To combat this illicit traffic in antiquities it is necessary to have a comprehensive international strategy, which allows once and for all to stop this cultural crime.

By Evangelos Kyriakidis

Over millennia, conquering generals all over the world would take away with them trophies to adorn their cities. In more recent centuries, the wealthy upper classes would make “grand tours” of classical sites and acquire – through whatever means – anything from vases to statues to entire temple friezes to show off at home.

Owning a piece of antiquity was seen as demonstrating wealth, a love of ancient culture and, ultimately, one’s own distinction: having things that nobody else could have.

At least this is what the looters thought. We should now all know the most apt way to describe this dubious form of collection – and it’s a word that has historical resonance: vandalism.

So many antiquities were stolen that they fill massive imperial museums in many of the world’s capital cities: the British Museum, the Louvre, the Metropolitan, the Istanbul Museum. These and many, many other institutions continue to hold on to national treasures of other countries, claiming that they are international museums keeping the heritage of the world and making it available to everyone.

So it is with the Parthenon Marbles – one of the most controversial acts of vandalism of them all – which are still held at the British Museum in London after being dubiously “acquired” by Thomas Bruce, Earl of Elgin in 1801, less than three decades before the independence of Athens from Ottoman rule.

The UK’s opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, recently stated that a Labour government would return the Parthenon marbles to Greece. In a statement on June 3 of this year he said:

“As with anything stolen or taken from occupied or colonial possession – including artefacts looted from other countries in the past – we should be engaged in constructive talks with the Greek government about returning the sculptures.”

The traditional position for the British government on the Parthenon marbles is that it is up to the trustees of the British Museum to decide on the return of any artifacts in its collection.

But since the British government is a key funder of the museum, it can surely wield a powerful influence on trustees’ decisions.

So the Parthenon marbles have remained in London. And the antiquities trade is still going strong – not only depriving countries of their heritage, but — which is worse — depriving the world of the information that could be extracted with appropriate systematic excavation and reducing the artifacts into mere art pieces that can only be enjoyed in a stale museum context and not as both rich symptoms and teachers of the history of mankind.

Meanwhile, there is evidence that revenue from the sale of stolen antiquities looted in Syria and Iraq has been used to fund the Islamic State and other terrorist groups – so one illegal activity has been connected to many others.

Fighting the illegal trade in antiquities

How are we to stop this trade, which is a scourge of historical knowledge, local pride and international sovereignty? The illicit trade in antiquities – and almost all trade of antiquities is illegal in some sense, as it almost always breaks the law of the source countries – is considered to be a common crime. In many countries there are police departments that specialize in this type of crime. For example, the UK has the Metropolitan Police’s Art and Antiques Unit and in the US the FBI has a 16-person Art Crime Team.

In the UK, “Operation Bullrush,” on the part of the art and antiques unit successfully prosecuted dealer Jonathan Tokeley-Parry in 1997 for smuggling priceless antiquities out of Egypt (he was also sentenced in absentia in Egypt). Meanwhile in 2002 a US court convicted Frederick Schultz, the former president of the National Association of Dealers in Ancient, Oriental and Primitive Art, under the 1934 National Stolen Property Act (NSPA) of conspiracy to receive antiquities stolen from Egypt.

Meanwhile various countries are signing memoranda of understanding (MOU) to control the importation of antiquities and to coordinate efforts to prevent smuggling. In 2017 the US concluded an MOU with Egypt. These arrangements are backed up by the 1970 UNESCO Paris convention which prohibits the sale and purchase of ancient art that had not been in circulation before the ratification of that treaty by each country.

But most of these measures and stakeholders focus on the final destination of the illicit antiquities, the collectors or museums – and this isn’t enough. There need to be measures to account for all stages of the illicit trade of antiquities: from excavation to the first and second intermediary (the dealers), to those transporting it from one country to another, to the final purchaser, the collector.

Working together

The Heritage Management Organisation (HERITΛGE), a project associated with the University of Kent, has been working to create a comprehensive strategy for the illicit antiquities trade, which aims to combine the knowledge and efforts of multiple stakeholders: scientists, local communities, police, collectors, legislators and the public.

To prevent illicit excavations, police forces need to deploy the latest technological advances such as satellite surveillance, pattern recognition and forensic science. But they need the assistance of local communities in areas of archaeological significance who need to become more positive as stakeholders in the protection of their heritage as well.

Collectors should not all be seen as the enemy – but as potentially powerful stakeholders that need to be engaged and trained in the fight against the illegal antiquities trade.

Many collectors are careful in how they buy – but others are simply ignorant of how to buy more responsibly. Collectors have insights and valuable information on clandestine networks, art dealers and their potentially rigorous verification (or not) of the legal standing of each piece in their own collections. With the cooperation of the Greek Ministry of Culture, HERITΛGE organized the first-ever meeting between collectors, the Ministry and the police in Greece. Much more needs to be done in this area.

It’s all very well having international treaties to control the antiquities trade, but first they must be understood by all the relevant stakeholders. HERITΛGE has published one of the few commentaries on restitution in both European and international law.

It is imperative that volunteers are also trained how to check the provenance of items for sale and how to use existing databases to “catch” clandestine or stolen pieces. One example is the academic Christos Tsirogiannis who had major successes in tracking down looted antiquities and ensuring they are returned to their country of origin.

But for this strategy to bear fruit, all the relevant stakeholders need to collaborate with an open mind — and then maybe there is a chance that we’ll be able to bring an end to millennia of the despoiling of so many countries’ national heritage.

Evangelos Kyriakidis is a titular Professor of Prehistory of the Aegean at the University of Kent. This article was published in The Conversation and is republished under a Creative Commons License.

Pfizer, Moderna Release Data Supporting Booster Shot

Booster shot
Both Pfizer and Moderna backed up their previous research on Wednesday as they reiterated the need for a booster shot. Credit: Marco Verch CC By SA 2.0

Late on Wednesday, the pharmaceutical firm Moderna released new data regarding breakthrough cases of the coronavirus that it says supports the need for a third booster shot of its coronavirus vaccine.

Earlier the Pfizer Corporation had announced that evidence from Israel shows a third coronavirus vaccine shot restores protection back up to the original effectiveness rate of 95% as it made the case to the US Food and Drug Administration for boosters.

Pfizer stated that the need for the authorization of a booster shot is in response to what it called an “urgent emerging public health issue” as the much more contagious Delta variant of the virus races across the globe.

Adding further assurance to those who may shun the third shot for fear of additional side effects, Pfizer officials stated that such occurrences are similar to those observed after receiving the second dose of the vaccine.

For its part, Moderna officials offered up a new analysis that showed breakthrough Coronavirus cases were experienced less often in those who were more recently vaccinated, indicating that the effectiveness of the shot does indeed wane over time.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts firm noted that analysis gleaned from its phase three study showed the incidence of breakthrough cases in fully vaccinated people, occurred less often in a group of trial volunteers who had been inoculated recently, suggesting that immunity for those who received the coronavirus vaccines has begun to wane.

In all, Moderna cited a total of 88 known breakthrough cases out of 11,431 individuals who had been vaccinated between December of 2020 and March of 2021, compared with 162 such cases out of a total of 14,746 trial subjects who had received their inoculations in July through October of 2020.

The pharmaceuticals firm also announced in the statement that fewer severe cases of the coronavirus occurred in those who had received the vaccine more recently, according to a manuscript of the results distributed by Moderna.

Vaccine booster shot decision as Delta variant rages

There were only three coronavirus-related hospitalizations that occurred in those who had received their inoculations early on, and these resulted in two deaths, according to Moderna officials.

There were no hospitalizations or deaths at all for those who had received a more recent shot, although the firm said that this finding regarding severe cases was not considered statistically significant.

CNBC reported Moderna President Stephen Hoge said in an interview “There’s a large debate, we all know, about whether or not vaccine boosters are going to be necessary into the fall.

“That debate, what makes it really hard is it’s not really about whether the vaccine worked last month. It’s really about whether it’s going to work this winter.”

Vital FDA outside panel meeting set for Friday

Meanwhile, FDA officials declined earlier on Wednesday to endorse any position regarding Pfizer’s third shots, saying that there is a lack of verified data at this point.

As of now, there has been no peer review of the Moderna analysis.

The new flurry of vaccine claims appeared on the scene just two days before an important FDA vaccine advisory committee meeting; this initial panel of outside experts is tasked with debating whether or not there is enough evidence to support the wide distribution of booster shots across the country.

This advisory group, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, was also the first body to consider the first coronavirus vaccine to come on the market in November of last year. Now it will debate the administration of a third dose of  the Pfizer/BioNTech product.

Federal health regulators have stated that they need more time to review the equivalent information regarding the Moderna booster shot.

Moderna president Hoge stated the data indicated that “we do see a significant increase in the risk of Covid-19 for those who are vaccinated a year ago versus six months ago.

“If you take that number, which in the paper is roughly 28 cases per 1,000 persons, and you extrapolate that across the 60 million Americans who’ve received that vaccine, the incremental number of cases of Covid-19 that would happen between here and the hospitals is about 600,000, more than half a million cases of Covid-19,” he explained.

Biden administration behind booster program early on

Observers noted that the FDA may be looking askance at some of the information provided by Pfizer, including the numbers on vaccine efficacy from Israel, where researchers there have shown that indeed the Pfizer shot’s protection does indeed wane over months’ time.

The urgency of the Winter setting in as the Delta variant continues to march across American society makes for a fraught meeting for the panel on Friday.

Biden administration officials have already said it would like to begin to offer booster shots to all those who are eligible as early as next week, as long as the FDA signs of on a third inoculation. The President has been dogged by lingering economic and social issues as the variant makes hospitals fill up across the nation just as children return to school this Fall.

The administration already shared the results of three studies, which were released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicating that the vaccines’ protection did indeed decrease over the course of several months.

The White House’s plan, frequently bruited about by many in the ongoing debate on booster shots, calls for the general public to receive a third inoculation eight months after completion of their Pfizer or Moderna vaccine series.

Immunocompromised individuals already have third shot

Some immunocompromised individuals in the US — as well as many Israeli citizens — have already received their third shot, exactly eight months after their second dose.

However, some scientists have criticized this practice, saying that the data used by the federal health officials wasn’t convincing enough, even going so far as to state that the Biden administration’s emphasis on starting a booster program was premature.

Earlier this week, the British medical journal The Lancet published a scientific paper written by a leading group of scientists positing that booster shots are not needed now for the general public. Their position was that even though the protection afforded by inoculations does indeed decrease over time, their effectiveness against severe disease seems to persist.

The scientists — including two senior FDA officials and a number of scientists from the World Health Organization (WHO) called the distribution of booster shots to the general public “not appropriate” at this time.

Earlier this year, as the vaccination campaigns across the developed world reached a saturation point, with nearly all who were willing to receive a vaccine being fully inoculated, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned wealthier nations that there should be no question of administering booster shots while people in developing nations still had not received a first shot.

Bourla announces children’s shot info before FDA imminently

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla also stated on Tuesday that coronavirus vaccine data for children under the age of five may become available as early as late October.

The Thessaloniki-born Pharma CEO said that he expects to release the official clinical trial data on its vaccine for children between the ages of six months to five years by the end of October.

Meanwhile, the data concerning children between five and eleven years of age will become available much sooner — possibly allowing Pfizer to submit it to the FDA by the end of September.

“Then, it is up to the FDA to take their time, and then make a decision,” Bourla stated in an interview at Research!America’s 2021 National Health Research Forum.

Bourla’s encouraging news comes at a time when children across the country are returning to school, with some of them testing positive despite the strict coronavirus measures, including masking and social distancing, taken across the board nationwide.

Many parents are anxious to have their children vaccinated, especially as the much more infectious Delta variant is continuing to pose a problem across the country. This mutation of the virus has been responsible for a spike in hospitalizations across the U.S., even for young children.

Although they do not suffer from the most severe form of the virus as a rule, compared to adults, the lack of a vaccine for younger children has occasioned ongoing worry for parents, educators and school officials.


Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Mother, Brother Become Greek Citizens

alex giannis antetokounmpo
Alex Antetokounmpo, Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Veronika Antetokounmpo, and Giannis Antetokounmpo at the Prime Minister’s mansion on Thursday. Credit: Office of the Prime Minister

“Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo will attended a ceremony at the Greek Prime Minister’s mansion in Athens on Thursday in which his mother Veronika and his brother Alexandros officially became Greek citizens.

Like his brother Giannis Antetokounmpo, who plays in the NBA for the Milwaukee Bucks, Alex was born in Athens, Greece to immigrant parents from Nigeria.

Although born in Greece, the 20-year-old Antetokounmpo does not yet have Greek citizenship, due to the country’s notoriously restrictive requirements for becoming a citizen.

The parents of the basketball stars immigrated to Greece illegally and had no legal status at all for some time.

After wishing them congratulations, Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis, at the ceremony, stressed that the Antetokounmpo family, who are “now all Greek citizens,” “reflects the Greece that we want.”

“The Greece that tries, fights, and overcomes difficulties, and keeps her family together. It is the Greece that makes us all proud,” Mitsotakis continued.

He thanked and congratulated Veronika specifically, for “raising amazing children with dignity and ethos.”

The youngest Antetokounmpo had to apply to become an official Greek citizen at a government office in the Athenian neighborhood of Zografou in March of 2021.

Alex Antetokounmpo, a basketball star in his own right, is the youngest son in a family that left Nigeria for Greece in order to make a better life for their children.

All of Alex’s siblings are also star athletes — along with Giannis, known as the “Greek Freak,” Alex has two brothers, Thanasis and Kostas, who also play for the NBA.

Antetokounmpo family struggled to gain Greek citizenship

The family lived in a very tenuous situation, as they were in the country illegally.

Their parents, as illegal immigrants, could not easily find work, so Giannis and his older brother, Thanasis, helped out by hawking watches, handbags and sunglasses in the streets.

Although Giannis and three of his four brothers were born in Greece, their parents had come to the country illegally.

They also did not automatically receive full Greek citizenship as Greek nationality law follows the concept of jus sanguinis, or by ethnicity.

“We always felt like Greeks”

After his mother and brother became Greek citizens, making the entire family Greeks, Giannis stressed that “we always felt like Greeks, but now that we have Greek citizenship, we’re very happy.”

Although they felt like it, the road to becoming Greeks officially was a difficult one for the family.

For the first 18 years of his life, Antetokounmpo was effectively stateless, having no papers from either Nigeria or Greece.

Both Giannis and Thanasis, his younger brother, became Greek citizens in 2013, just a few months before the NBA draft that year.

Three years later, Kostas Antetokounmpo became a citizen of the Hellenic Republic.

Their mother Veronica, however, and her youngest son Alex, did not become Greeks at the time.

Giannis, Antetokounmpo family will attend citizenship ceremony

It is only now that they will be fully recognized as citizens of Greece at a ceremony at the Prime Minister’s Mansion, with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in attendance.

Alex currently plays basketball professionally for the Spanish team UCAM Murcia. Much like his brothers, Antetokounmpo is an amazing talent at the sport, and signed a three-year contract with the team when he was just 17 years of age.

Although he’s now a pro in European basketball, the young athlete spent many years in Wisconsin, where he moved with his family to attend high school in 2013.

Upon moving to the US, Alex did not speak any English at all, but he has since mastered the language.

Despite spending his formative years in the US, the youngest Antetokoumpo brother has always felt a deep connection to his native land and culture, always considering himself a Greek.

Scientists Develop “AstroCrete” Concrete for Affordable Housing on Mars

The University of Manchester has developed “cosmic concrete” to make the colonization of Mars cost effective. Credit: NASA

The University of Manchester has developed a “cosmic concrete” called AstroCrete to make the colonization of Mars cost effective. The material is more durable than typical concrete and can function longer in Mars’ challenging environment.

The material is composed of an unlikely and slightly unsavory combination of sweat, tears, urine and a protein from human blood. The protein works to bind the other ingredients together so that the tough material can adequately hold together on Mars’ soil.

AstroCrete has an overall strength of up to 25 Megapascals. The new material’s strength was multiplied by 300 when researchers mixed urea (contained in urine, sweat, and tears) into its recipe. Some of the AstroCrete tested was shown to be stronger than normal concrete.

Dr. Aled Roberts, a research fellow at The University of Manchester who helped create the material, said that “The new technique holds considerable advantages over many other proposed construction techniques on the moon and Mars.”

“Scientists have been trying to develop viable technologies to produce concrete-like materials on the surface of Mars, but we never stopped to think that the answer might be inside us all along.”

“It is exciting that a major challenge of the space age may have found its solution based on inspirations from medieval technology.”

Water on Mars

Most materials used by the astronauts who will eventually live and work on Mars must be sourced from the planet itself. Fortunately, scientists are discovering more and more resources on the red planet every day. Before finalizing the recipe for AstroCrete, scientist had recently discovered that there had been water on the planet’s surface. The water on Mars seems to have existed for a long time, according to the experts.

“It looks like our first rocks reveal a potentially habitable sustained environment,” said Ken Farley of Caltech, project scientist for the mission, which is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

“It’s a big deal that the water was there a long time,” Farley said.

The rock that provided the mission’s first core samples is basaltic in composition and may be the product of lava flows.

The presence of crystalline minerals in volcanic rocks is especially helpful in radiometric dating. The volcanic origin of the rock could help scientists accurately date when it formed.

Each rock sample can serve as part of a larger chronological puzzle. If they are put in the right order, they can show a timeline of the most important events in the crater’s history.

Some of those events include the formation of Jezero Crater, the emergence and disappearance of Jezero’s lake, and changes to the planet’s climate in the ancient past.

Within the rocks, scientists also found salts. These salts may have formed when groundwater flowed through and altered the original minerals in the rock, or more likely when liquid water evaporated, leaving the salts.

The salt minerals in these first two rock cores may also have trapped tiny bubbles of ancient Martian water. If so, they could offer information about the ancient climate and habitability of Mars.

On Earth, salty minerals have shown their ability to preserve signs of ancient life.

World of Basketball Mourns Death of Legendary Coach Dusan Ivkovic

Dusan Ivkovic basketball
Dusan Ivkovic was adored in his homeland of Serbia and in Greece, where he managed several clubs during his illustrious career. Credit: Twitter/Košarkaški savez SRB

Legendary basketball coach Dusan Ivkovic passed away in the early hours of Thursday morning in a Belgrade, Serbia hospital after a brief illness. He was 78.

Ivkovic, who coached several Greek basketball clubs, was known as one of the most influential coaches in European and world basketball, having won numerous titles in his 46 years on the job.

The Serbian coach began his career with the youth squad of Radnički Belgrade, before moving to Partizan in 1978 and winning the Yugoslavian championship in 1979.

Ivkovic coached several Greek basketball clubs

He then went on to coach Aris, PAOK, Panionios, Olympiacos (winning the EuroLeague title twice in 1997, 2012) and AEK Athens in Greece, as well as CSKA and Dynamo Moscow.

He ended his career in Anadolu Efes in 2016 after two seasons with the Turkish club.

“One of the greatest coaches that ever lived. He won all there is to win in Europe in terms of major trophies, including two Euroleague titles with Olympiacos,” the Greek club wrote on Twitter.

Basketball rivals PAOK also paid tribute to coach Ivkovic: “The teacher, the mentor, the great Dusan Ivkovic. A huge basketball personality passed away this earlier today. The memories will stay with us for ever, together with his enormous contribution to the sport. Fare well Duda…” the Thessaloniki club said on Twitter.


Triumphs with Yugoslavia, Serbia

As a head coach for the Yugoslavian selection, “Duda” led the squad to several gold medals, including at the 1989 and 1991 EuroBasket and at the 1990 FIBA World Cup.

The triumph of Yugoslavia in 1990 marked the end of the “amateur rule” in international basketball. It was the last major FIBA tournament in which NBA players were not allowed to compete. The roster included, among others, Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc, Vlade Divac, Zarko Paspalj, and at point guard Ivkovic’s heir as the most dominant basketball coach in Europe, Zeljko Obradovic.

He coached the Serbian national selection as well, winning gold at the 1995 EuroBasket and silver in the 2009 edition.

In 2008, he was named one of the 50 Greatest EuroLeague Contributors. He was elected to the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2017. He was also named a EuroLeague Basketball Legend in 2017.

France Blasts US, Australia Over Ditching of Massive Defense Deal

France US Australia submarines
France is furious with the US and Australia over cancelling of a lucrative submarine defense deal. Credit: Guillaume Rueda,  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

France accused the U.S. of on Thursday of stabbing it in the back after Paris was pushed aside from a lucrative defense deal worth more than €50 billion that it had signed with Australia for submarines.

Instead, Australia announced it will acquire American-made nuclear-powered submarines as part of a new defense association, called AUKUS, with the UK and the US.

French officials were outraged by the Wednesday announcement. “France takes note of the decision just announced by the Australian government to stop the future submarine program and launch co-operation with the United States,” French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

“It is a decision contrary to the letter and the spirit of co-operation which prevailed between France and Australia.

“It’s a stab in the back. We had established a trusting relationship with Australia, and this trust was betrayed,” Le Drian said in a Franceinfo interview Thursday morning. He added he was “angry and very bitter about this break up,” adding that he had spoken to his Australian counterpart days ago and received no serious indication of the move.

“The world is a jungle”

French diplomat Gerard Araud lashed out at the surprise arrangement. He charged that the deal had nothing to do with nuclear capabilities, but instead Australia was trying to secure a “juicy contract.

“The world is a jungle,” he declared. “France has just been reminded this bitter truth by the way the US and the UK have stabbed her in the back in Australia.

“(This) has nothing to do with capabilities … France was able to sell nuclear-powered submarines.”

Araud, the former Ambassador to the UN and the US, blamed the Biden administration. “What is striking is that the Biden administration didn’t do anything to cushion the blow it was deliberately delivering to France. No consultation, no association, no compensation.”

Under a deal announced Wednesday by U.S. President Joe Biden, Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. will form a new alliance to be known as AUKUS, which will see the three countries share advanced technologies with one another. Although the three nations explicitly stated that their partnership is not specifically about China, Biden has made it clear that countering China’s autocracy with democracy is one of the primary goals of his foreign policy.

US to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines

President Joe Biden announced that he will be working with the United Kingdom to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

AUKUS believes that supplying Australia with nuclear submarines will give the country the ability to function at a more advanced military level. Nuclear submarines are capable of moving at faster speeds and withstand greater amounts of stress than standard submarines.

As part of AUKUS, Australia will abandon its submarine deal with France.

Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, tried to soften the blow after blindsiding France. “I want to stress that France remains an incredibly important partner in the Pacific,” Morrison said.

“I look forward and I hope to see us continue once we move past what is obviously a very difficult and disappointing decision for France.

“I understand that. I respect it. But as a Prime Minister I must make decisions that are in Australia’s national security. I know that France would do the same.”

Australia’s deal with French shipbuilder Naval Group on a new fleet of submarines has been mired by cost blowouts and delays. The French-made submarines were not expected to be delivered until about 2035.

Greece Approves New Pet Law: “No Animal Abandoned or Abused”

Greece pet law
The new pet law aims at reducing the numbers of stray animals in Greece, imposing heavy fines for abuse. Public domain

The Greek Parliament approved a new law on pet ownership on Wednesday, which PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis said will create rules so that no animal “will be abandoned, or abused.”

“Greece is changing and is finally adopting a modern legal framework for the protection of pets,” Mitsotakis tweeted before the vote in Parliament.

Last April, Mitsotakis adopted a stray dog and he has since been championing the cause of abandoned pets. “Peanut came into our lives! He chose us when two weeks ago we visited the Ilioupoli Animal Welfare Association on the occasion of the International Day of Stray Animals. Open your arms and save a stray!” he wrote in a post at the time.

Greece Mitsotakis stray dog
Peanut awaits the arrival of PM Mitsotakis. Credit: Instagram/Mitsotakis

Mitsotakis followed the example set by Greece’s President Katerina Sakellaropoulou who officially adopted a stray kitten named Calypso from the island of Karpathos, making the tiny feline the very first stray cat ever adopted by a Greek President while in office.

Major provisions of the pet law in Greece

The new law stipulates that pet abuse will carry stricter fines and will now include acts such as abandonment, shooting, intentional injury and poisoning.

Other provisions include:

  • Records of people who have been sentenced for torturing animals will be entered into a database managed by the Athens prosecutor’s office and be cross-referenced with the Pet Registry so that they may not register as pet owners in the future.
  • A pet DNA analysis and storage bank is also being set up, so that if an animal is abandoned the owner can be easily located and be penalized accordingly.
  • The leading change brought along by the new bill is the new digital health book for all pets, which will include a full medical history and will be accessible by both owners and veterinarians.
  • Banning cat and dog sales at pet shops, together with a ban on mating advertorials: the fine for publishing a mating ad will be more than tripled when not referencing the pet’s unique ID microchip number and the new reproduction license.
  • The sale of pets will only be allowed by approved breeders and owners. Pet adoption fees will be forbidden, except for transportation and medical treatment costs.
  • New rules are introduced for breeding as well: owners will be licensed for one litter per pet, while prospective owners of offspring will have to be officially registered.
  • Neutering will become mandatory for all owners, with some medical exceptions. Approved licensed breeders will be fined 2,000 euros if they mate a single animal more than six times. Amateur (so-called ‘back yard’) breeders will also be subjected to several new restrictive rules.
  • Neutering should be done within six months of the pet’s acquisition if the animal is more than one year old. In case of acquisition of an animal less than one year old, neutering takes place within the first six months after the completion of the first year. This deadline may vary depending on the breed of the animal and other specific characteristics, after a thorough veterinarian opinion.
  • Neutering is not mandatory for animals for which a sample of their genetic material (DNA) has been sent to the Laboratory for Conservation and Analysis of Pet Material Genetic Material.
  • In case the animal owner does not sterilize his pet or does not send in a DNA sample, a fine of 1,000 euros will be imposed and the owner will be given a three-month period to sterilize or send a sample of the animal’s genetic material. In the event that this deadline also passes without action, the fine will be imposed again.
  • Finally, a new National Pet Registry will be introduced, where all pets, either owned or stray, will have to be registered, including pets put up for adoption. Animal welfare associations, vets, breeders and animal shelters will all have to register too.

In order to encourage owners to take better care of their pets, the bill introduces incentives by municipalities, such as a reduction in city taxes by up to 10 percent.

Maria Callas: The Diva Lives on

Maria Callas
Greek opera singer Maria Callas in 1958. Public Domain

Maria Callas may have died almost 45 years ago but her immortal voice lives on, along with her legend. It’s no mystery why Greeks, Italians and Americans, all claim Callas as theirs.

She was born Sophia Cecilia Anna Maria Kalogeropoulou on Dec. 2, 1923, in New York, her family name later shortened to Callas. Educated in Greece, she started performing at the age of 8.

She lived in New York for her first thirteen years. Though she then lived mostly in Europe, she also sang in the U.S. from 1954 to 1974 and English was her native language. She learned Greek from her parents.

In Verona she meets Giovanni Battista Meneghini, a wealthy industrialist who is passionate about opera. Twenty-eight years her senior, he becomes her impresario and then husband in 1949.

In 1954 she loses around 30 kilos (66 pounds) and transforms into the ultimate diva, taking top parts in the most well-known operas.

Maria Callas reminded opera that it is also theatre

Callas reminded opera that it is also theatre, and that the “long lines of paunchy and plump singers that come along to push out a tune on centre stage are no longer acceptable,” as a French correspondent wrote after her death in 1977.

On January 2, 1958, Callas opens the Rome season with “Norma” in the presence of Italy’s president, Giovanni Gronchi. But at the end of the first act, she says she has lost her voice and refuses to continue.

The temperamental diva is accused of being capricious as there had been whistles during one of her arias. But she insists to the media: “As you could see, I could no longer speak.”
In 1959 Callas leaves Meneghini to embark on a passionate nine-year affair with shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. Their idyll ends in 1968 when Onassis leaves Callas to marry the widowed Jackie Kennedy.

Tragic personal life

She did not marry Onassis, she once said, because “love is much better when you are not married.” She said she bore no ill will to Jackie Kennedy, and took the marriage “in her stride.”

A new book reveals shocking details about the tragic private life of one of the greatest opera sopranos of the 20th century.

“Cast A Diva: The Unknown Life of Maria Callas” by Lyndsey Spence, includes unknown details about Callas’ legendary marriage with Onassis. Through the personal letters of Callas, the book reveals shocking tidbits about the diva’s tempestuous relationship with Onassis. It also includes disturbing anecdotes about Callas’ early life with her verbally abusive mother who forced her to leave Greece to have an international singing career

Callas turns her back on opera in 1965. On February 20 she triumphs in “Tosca” in Paris. During a performance on May 29, she falls ill. On July 5, “despite the advice of her doctor,” she takes to the stage for the last time in London, with Queen Elizabeth II in the audience.

In 1973 Callas undertakes an international tour of recitals. In Paris, bouquets rained onto the stage, accompanied by standing ovations and cries of “Viva Maria,” even if the critics were less enthusiastic.

Callas dies at her Paris home on Sept. 16, 1977, aged 53, having suffered a heart attack.

Both Judi Dench and Meryl Streep have praised her acting. To create a characterization, Callas said, “listen to the music. You will find every gesture there.” She had a particular genius for studying the music and discovering the character in the score. Callas gave primacy to the music, while many singers and audience members focus on the words.

Mike Wallace interviewed her on “60 Minutes.” Wallace spent very little time talking to her about music. It was a waste to go for the jugular rather than revealing her artistry. Barbara Walters, whose close friend was Beverly Sills, did not do much better.

Renowned Italian actress and beauty icon Monica Bellucci is to portray the iconic Greek soprano Maria Callas at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens on September 21, 22 and 23 of this year.

Bellucci is coming to Greece to perform a monologue which is based on unpublished letters of the great soprano entitled “Maria Callas: Letters and Memories.” It is directed by Tom Volf and based on his book and film “Maria by Callas.”

Vladimir Putin Self-Isolates After Being Exposed to COVID-19

Vladimir Putin has begun quarantining after someone in his inner circle tested positive for COVID-19. Credit: The Presidential Press and Information Office, CC BY 4.0

Russian President Vladimir Putin is self-isolating after several members of his inner circle tested positive for the coronavirus, the Kremlin announced on Tuesday.

Dimitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, stated that Putin tested negative for COVID-19 but he appears to be “absolutely healthy.”

The announcement comes after someone Putin worked closely with fell ill with COVID, along with multiple other members of his tight-knit staff.

The staffer Putin worked closely with was vaccinated against COVID and had even received a booster shot, according to the Russian President:

“He was revaccinated, apparently, a bit too late. He fell ill three days after the revaccination. The day before I communicated with him very closely, all day long,” Putin said.
“This is an experiment — let’s see how Sputink V actually works. Because my (antibodies) are high. Hope everything will be as it should be and Sputnik will show its high parameters for protection against Covid-19 in real life,” he added.
Putin had met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday before making the decision to go into quarantine. He also met with Russian Paralympians and informed them that members of his “innermost circle” had tested positive for the virus. Peskov asserted that there was “nothing illogical” about Putin’s actions on Monday:
“First, I can say that Putin did not meet with Assad at the end of the day, it was at the beginning of the working day. And everything else, as the doctors completed their studies and the necessary procedures … a decision was made. There is nothing illogical here. At that time (when the meetings happened), doctors were still doing their tests. Nobody’s health was endangered.”
Putin addressed the unfolding situation directly on a call with the President of the Republic of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, informing Rahmon that he would be isolating for “a certain period of time” due to the infections spreading in his milieu.
Putin will be transitioning all of his forthcoming appointments to videoconference:
“Isolation does not directly affect the work of the President. But there will be no face-to-face events for some time,” said Peskov.

Putin’s struggle to contain COVID-19 in Russia

Russia, which has been struggling in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic, currently reports the eighth-highest amount of cases in the world. On Tuesday it reached over 7 million cases and 190,000 deaths.

The country is in the midst of an especially brutal third wave of infections, and weekly death rates are on a sharp incline.

Russia has struggled to convince its population to get vaccinated despite producing multiple successful COVID-19 vaccines. Only a quarter of adults in Russia have gotten their first dose — while more than half in the United States have received theirs. Putin received the vaccine this past March.



SpaceX Inspiration4 Launches Crew of Private Citizens into Space

Elon Musk’s space exploration project SpaceX has launched its first crew of private citizens to space. Credit: Official SpaceX Photos, CC BY-C 2.0

SpaceX’s Inspiration4, a spaceflight manned by four ‘everyday citizens,’ has successfully launched into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida today.

SpaceX completed its launch during a livestream after the company tweeted “All systems and weather are looking good for today’s Falcon 9 launch of Dragon’s first all-civilian spaceflight.”

The Inspiration4 mission also doubles as a charity fundraising event for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. The organization, which functions as a children’s hospital as well as a research center for pediatric cancers and other serious illnesses, developed the fundraiser in coordination with billionaire Jared Isaacman. St. Jude’s will be auctioning off prizes centered around the crew’s upcoming mission to space as well as a meet-and-greet package with the four member team.

As part of the fundraising effort, a song that also exists as an NFT (non-fungible token) by the Kings of Leon will be played in space and later auctioned off. 66 pounds of beer hops will also travel on the mission, and when the hops return to Earth Sam Adams will use them to create the official, limited edition Inspiration4 beer. A ukulele played by one of the crew members and a portrait of the team on the cover of Time magazine will also be auctioned off.

Inspiration’s goal is to ultimately raise $200 million for St. Jude’s as well as performing researched “designed to advance human health on Earth and during future long-duration spaceflights,” the company said.

The team includes Isaacman — who is privately funding the trip — as well as a physician’s assistant at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, data engineer Chris Sembroski, childhood bone cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux, and artist Sian Proctor. Those who have contributed will have their pick of the prizes after Inspiration4’s launch, with the highest donations having their first choice of reward.

The team took off at around 8 PM on today according to plan after preparing this past Thursday with a follow-on readiness review and weather briefing, as per an official statement from the team:

“After evaluating the readiness of the Falcon 9 rocket, Dragon spacecraft, associated ground systems, recovery assets and other key elements of SpaceX’s human spaceflight system, and the current weather forecasts of conditions at the launch site, along the ascent corridor, and at the landing locations off the coasts of Florida for a safe return of the crew a few days later, teams agreed to now target no earlier than 8:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, September 15 for liftoff,” the statement announced.

“This will allow additional time for final preparations, vehicle checkouts and data reviews. SpaceX and Inspiration4 will narrow down the launch window to five hours approximately three days before liftoff,” the statement added.

SpaceX’s historic mission follows Blue Origin’s July trip

SpaceX’s historic missions closely follows Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin’s July trip to space. But Blue Origin’s trip, which also contained a crew of four individuals, stayed in space for approximately five minutes, while SpaceX is aiming for three entire days in orbit.

The Blue Origin capsule hit speeds of more than three times the speed of sound before it reached 80 kilometers (about 262,000 feet), which is considered the edge of space. The fortunate crew, including Jeff and Mark Bezos, Oliver Daemen and Wally Funk — the first woman to undergo Astronaut training back in the 1960’s — floated in gravity for a couple minutes. The capsule returned several minutes later and landed under a set of parachutes.