Labour surge in polls

By Alex Bryan

© Archived Department of Energy and Climate Change

In many ways it was inevitable; in a week of an unpopular budget and a party funding scandal, it is hardly surprising that the new polling figures put Labour up to 10 points ahead of the Conservatives. There is a temptation to put this entirely down to the events of the past week, but there are some long-term points which can be drawn for these figures. Read more of this post


Is Britain’s drinking problem more than just a binge?

By Rochelle Sampy

Copyright Mark Turner

Copyright Mark Turner

In an attempt to rid the UK of its binge drinking culture, the government has proposed a minimum price of 40p per unit of alcohol for England and Wales, it was revealed today.  It is believed by the government that this proposal would not only save the lives of many but also mean that less money will be spent on policing and hospitals which are used to dealing with public drunkenness.

This might come as good news for many as a recent study carried out by the National End of Life Care Intelligence Network showed that in Britain, there has been a 25% in liver disease with alcohol being the main factor in number of cases.  This study also demonstrated that 60% of those affected are men while death rates were highest in the north west of the country with 24 out of 10,000 people affected.

A separate YouGov survey has shown that 55% of women in the UK aged 16 -24 like getting drunk perhaps indicating that the government are right to hold their fears about young people and binge drinking. In addition, the 2010 General Lifestyle Survey showed that women who are aged 65 or over in Britain and 12 times more likely to drink on near – daily basis than those who are 16 – 24.

Whilst all these statistics are useful in monitoring whether Britain’s binge drinking culture has got progressively worse, especially for women, the bigger question is whether this increase in cost is likely to solve the problems with drinking in the UK. Of course, the effect of the problem is larger than one can contemplate and requires more than simply increasing the cost of alcohol. Read more of this post

Art Forgery: The Changing Ways of Spotting a Fake

By Cressida Smart

Tom Keating, infamous art forger (Sourced from

Brought to life in films such as How to Steal a Million and The Thomas Crown Affair (1999), art forgery has been around since the beginning of time. The ancient Romans crafted thousands of copies of Greek sculptures, ancient China is noted for its wide variety of forgeries and modern art has seen more than its share of falsified work. Some forgeries are innocent enough, usually created by students copying a master, but others were created with the sole purpose of tricking an unsuspecting public into thinking they were the real deal. There are forgers that are so good at what they do that it’s virtually impossible to tell the difference between the original and the copy – leading to many museums, investors and galleries putting millions into complete fakes. With this in mind, it is vital therefore, to establish the authenticity of a work through examination.

Some forgers have used artistic methods inconsistent with those of the original artists, such as incorrect characteristic brushwork, perspective, preferred themes or techniques, or have used colours that were not available during the artist’s lifetime to create the painting. Others have dipped pieces in chemicals to “age” them and some have even tried to imitate worm marks by drilling holes into objects. While attempting to authenticate artwork, experts will also determine the piece’s provenance. If the item has no paper trail, it is more likely to be a forgery.

One of the most common methods is forensic examination used in Portrait of a Woman, attributed to Goya (1746-1828). Conventional X-ray is used to detect earlier work present under the surface of a painting.  Often artists will legitimately re-use their own canvasses, but if the painting on top is supposed to be from the 17th century, but the one underneath shows people in 19th century dress, the scientist will assume the top painting is not authentic. Furthermore, x-rays can be used to view inside an object to determine if the object has been altered or repaired.  When x-ray images were taken of Portrait of a Woman in 1954, it revealed a portrait of another woman, circa 1790, beneath the surface. X-ray diffraction analysis, which analyses the make up of the paint revealed the presence of zinc white paint, invented after Goya’s death. Further analysis revealed that the surface paint was modern and had been applied so as not to obscure the craquelure of the original. After analysis, the conservators left the work as it is seen now, with portions of old and new visible, to illustrate the intricacies of art forgery, and the inherent difficulty of detecting it.

Other forensic methods include including carbon dating which measures the age of an object up to 10,000 years old and x-ray fluorescence which bathes the object with radiation causing it to emit X-rays. This reveals if the metals in a metal sculpture or if the composition of pigments is too pure, or newer than their supposed age; it can also reveal the artist’s fingerprints.

As expected, with the speed in which technology has developed over the last ten years, digital examinations are often used.  These include statistical analysis of digital images of paintings, whereby a picture is broken down into a collection of more basic images called sub-bands. These sub-bands are analysed to determine textures, assigning a frequency to each sub-band. The broad strokes of a surface such as a blue sky would show up as mostly low frequency sub-bands whereas the fine strokes in blades of grass would produce high frequency sub-bands.  Recently, a group of 13 drawings attributed to Pieter Brueghel the Elder was tested using the wavelet decomposition method. Five of the drawings were known to be imitations. The analysis was able to correctly identify the five forged paintings.

One of the most famous recent battles over authentication includes La Bella Principessa attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.  Depending on whom you ask, this painting is either a priceless masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci or a highly skilled copy worth just $20,000. The authenticity of this work has been a hotly contested topic since 2008 when art dealer, Peter Silverman, claimed he discovered it in the drawer of a Parisian friend’s home. The story, while romantic in nature, was untrue seeing as how the work had been auctioned and sold to Silverman several years previously. Despite initial excitement about the work, as new ones by Leonardo rarely come on the market, the story might have ended there. However, several noted art historians and art experts came to support the theory that it might not be that of da Vinci. These experts claim to have science on their side, but so do their detractors and both have produced compelling evidence in support of their positions. The debate over the authenticity of this work could rage on indefinitely, but one thing is sure, whether the work was done by da Vinci or another artist, it’s a beautiful and skillfully drawn portrait.  Its value has leapt from the approximate $20,000 purchase price to a Leonardo-worthy $150 million. Keep in mind, though, that the high figure is contingent on unanimous attribution by the experts, and their opinions remain divided.

Whilst authentication methods are improving, so are the techniques employed by the forgers themselves.  Where once art dealers and auction houses were overly eager, by accepting forgeries as genuine to turn a neat profit, increasing time and effort is now made to establish provenance and authenticity where there is doubt.

Kandahar massacre has provoked outrage from Afghan parliament

By Robert Whittaker

© The US Army

In the early hours of Sunday morning a US soldier broke into three homes in Panjwai district in Southern Afghanistan and killed 16 civilians including 9 children. A further five people were wounded.

US officials have announced that the suspected perpetrator, a 38-year-old staff sergeant, surrendered soon after the attacks and is currently being held. NATO has identified only one killer whilst some eye-witnesses claim that more soldiers were involved; President Hamid Karzai has sent a team to investigate. Read more of this post

Stop Kony 2012, victim of its own success?

By Simon Youel

© Invisible Children

It seems that the latest submission to the internet realm to go truly viral is not an unintentionally bad music video or commercial marketing strategy, but a humanitarian cause.  Or that’s how it would appear at first.

The viral piece I am talking about is of course the so called ‘Kony 2012’ video, produced by the American charity Invisible Children, that we have all seen flood the homepages of our favourite social networking sites. Read more of this post

A new era in welfare for Britain

By Rochelle Sampy

© The Prime Minister’s office

After 60 years of battle with the House of Lords, the Welfare Reform Bill was finally signed off by Parliament on 29 February 2012 and will soon become law.

The main objections to the Bill came from a group of Church of England bishops in the House of Lords who believed that the reforms would adversely affect cancer patients and families with a larger number of children that received monetary payments. Read more of this post