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How looted treasure helped heritage protection in Spain: The side benefits of the ‘Odyssey case’ | USA

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On stormy days, the Underwater Archeology Center (CAS) in Spain’s southern city of Cádiz is reminiscent of an early 20th-century ship at the mercy of the waves. The windows of this former spa overlooking La Caleta beach creak in the wind, and the rough seas are a reminder of the tragedies of bygone days.

Just in the area within eyesight, there are 87 sunken shipwrecks dating back to many different periods of time, 19 of which have been archeologically located while the rest are known about through existing documents. If the radius is extended to the entire gulf of Cádiz, the figure is closer to “around 2,000″ according to Milagros Alzaga, the head of CAS.

The well-publicized case of a US treasure hunting company named Odyssey that plundered one of these shipwrecks 14 years ago has had an unexpected benefit: Spain has since become a world leader in the legal protection of its underwater heritage. The effort is also creating new scientific challenges.

“We have become a role model and the world looks to us as a point of reference,” says Mariano Aznar, a professor of public international law and an expert on the subject. But reaching this status involved years of litigation in the US, where in February 2012 a Florida court recognized Spain’s ownership of 500,000 gold and silver coins taken by Odyssey from Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, a frigate that was sunk by the British navy on October 5, 1804 off the southern coast of Portugal. The US company had named the recovery project Black Swan in an effort to conceal the wreck’s real identity.

Divers from the Andalusian Center for Underwater Archeology working in the bay of Cádiz.
Divers from the Andalusian Center for Underwater Archeology working in the bay of Cádiz.

However, a Spanish court was recently forced to drop an ongoing probe into Odyssey’s alleged destruction of the archeological site because the statute of limitations had passed; the court expressed “discomfiture” and “anger” at the unusual circumstances surrounding the legal procedures of the case, which required cooperation from the US that was not forthcoming.

“The case was a bit sad, but if you look at the positive side, it’s been a wake-up call for everyone,” says the head of CAS, which answers to the Andalusian Institute for Historical Heritage (IAPH).

The people in charge of Odyssey Marine Exploration, then headed by Greg Stemm, were aware of the ship’s history, which is linked to the Spanish-French defeat at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. They were knowledgeable about the conflicts of power between the relevant institutions and about the existing legal loopholes in Spain.

“They took advantage of the administrative weaknesses,” says Aznar about Odyssey but also about another US company that used a ship named Louisa to scour the coast of Cádiz in 2004 in search of treasure.

Following two years of meetings and discussions, a volume published in the summer of 2010 under the name “Green Paper on the Underwater Heritage Protection Plan” eliminated a lot of this lack of coordination. “That plan provided support to regional governments, which lacked an underwater archeology map,” notes Alzaga.

On the legal front, the combined efforts triggered a wave of reinforced regulations. At the regional level, each government has “aligned even further” with the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. National maritime legislation has added a provision stating that salvage rules do not apply to submerged archeology. And the changes are not over yet: an amendment to the 1985 Spanish Historical Heritage Law announced in June will include the need for supervision from the Culture Ministry during any extraction of a cultural asset from the seabed.

The Naval Museum in Madrid organized an exhibition in 2014 that displayed part of the recovered treasure.
The Naval Museum in Madrid organized an exhibition in 2014 that displayed part of the recovered treasure. LUIS SEVILLANO

More awareness, fewer digs

This increased protection, coordination and knowledge has also permeated Spain’s law-enforcement agencies. The Navy now plays a much larger role, and the incorporation of the Integrated External Surveillance System – a network of cameras and sensors in the Strait of Gibraltar and the Canary Islands used to control immigration and drug trafficking – has shielded much of the Gulf of Cádiz, home to the greatest concentration of sunken wrecks in need of protection, against treasure-hunting pirates. “The professionalism these days is spectacular,” notes Aznar.

If the Odyssey case has been revived again in the collective imagination, it is not just because of the court probe that was recently closed in Spain, but also thanks to La Fortuna (or, The Fortune), a TV series by filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar based on The treasure of the Black Swan, a graphic novel by Paco Roca.

The Odyssey case also created more social awareness. Very few local divers dare plunder the sea bottom these days, and alert citizens often “call in if they see something strange,” notes Alzaga, of CAS. “People now view the underwater heritage as something that belongs to them and cannot be traded with.” But Aznar believes that more could be done to educate the public. “We need to show young people that [the seabed] is the biggest museum in the world. Maybe we can’t access it for economic and technological reasons, but a day will come when it will be possible. You can only love what you know, and at that point we will be able to force our political class to be more proactive.”

There is still room for improvement. The archeologist Javier Noriega, whose company Nerea won a EU award in 2009 for social responsibility, was part of the private prosecution in the case against Odyssey in Spain. Noriega admits he is disappointed with the things that happened during the investigation, but would rather focus on the future now through studies showing submerged sites as places of memory and war graves. Last week, Noriega defended this vision at Cyanis, a brand new Ibero-American congress on underwater heritage that was held in Cádiz.

Every shipwreck, whether caused by battles, raging seas or accidents, typically involves dozens of deaths. This is something that Odyssey did not take into account when it raided Nuestra Señora de la Mercedes “without shame or respect,” says Alzaga. This was one of Spain’s arguments at the Florida trial, and Aznar believes that it would have been a key argument in Spain if the second case had prospered. In any event, Noriega defends that underwater archeology should also incorporate this dimension as a way “to give people an identity, to reconstruct their stories.”

The head of CAS is familiar with that perspective. Construction work at the port of Cádiz in 2012 turned up three sunken ships from the 16th to 18th centuries. Alzaga was able to identify the Piccola Vassalla, the first ship sunk by Francis Drake in 1587, during his attack on the city. An exploration of the shipwrecks found remains of a woman’s skull and a man’s femur, and these are still being analyzed for clues about everyday life in the 16th century. The CAS has not carried out new surveys since then, although it has made documentation visits to sites.

Noriega defends the need for more underwater digs, particularly at the site of the wrecks of the Battle of Trafalgar, some of which are largely unknown to researchers. “We need to investigate, intervene, conserve and publish information about more wrecks in order to shed light on the stories of the people who died on them,” he says. For him, it would be almost an act of poetic justice following his disappointment over the shelving of the case against Odyssey. And ultimately it would be a way “for a problem to turn into an opportunity.”

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Census 2022 – what difference does it make?

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Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.

But what it is it all about?

At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.

The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.

The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.

Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.

Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.

And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.

In this episode of In The News, the head of census administration Eileen Murphy and statistician Kevin Cunningham about what it all means for us.

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Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture

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Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”

The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.

At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.

During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.

When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”

He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”

“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.

The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.



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House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022

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House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.

Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.

The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.

Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.

Price

This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.

MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.

“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.

“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.

Soure: MyHome.ie

“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.

“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.

He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.

Homes

Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.

Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.

The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.

“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”


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