Rembrandt is no knockoff
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Thanks to modern technology and some expert detective work, a nearly 400-year-old painting that had long been attributed to an unknown artist in Rembrandt’s workshop has now been judged to have been a work of the Dutch master himself. For decades, the Allentown Art Museum displayed an oil-on-oak panel painting called “Portrait of a Young Woman” and credited it to “Studio of Rembrandt.” Two years ago, the painting was sent to New York University for conservation and cleaning. There, conservators began removing layers of overpainting and dark, thick varnish that had been added over centuries — and they began to suspect Rembrandt himself was responsible for the original, delicate brushwork underneath. “Our painting had numerous layers of varnish and that really obscured what you could see of the original brushwork, as well as the original color,” said Elaine Mehalakes, vice president of curatorial affairs at the Allentown Art Museum. Conservators used a variety of tools, including X-ray, infrared and electron microscopy, to bolster the case that it was the work of one of the most important and revered artists in history. The scientific analysis “showed brushwork, and a liveliness to that brushwork, that is quite consistent with other works by Rembrandt,” said Shan Kuang, a conservator at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts who restored “Portrait of a Young Woman.” Outside experts who examined the 1632 painting after the completion of its two-year restoration concurred with the NYU assessment that it’s an authentic Rembrandt. “We’re very thrilled and excited,” Mehalakes said. “The painting has this incredible glow to it now that it just didn’t have before. You can really connect with the portrait in the way I think the artist meant you to.” When “Portrait of a Young Woman” was bequeathed to the museum in 1961, it was considered to be a Rembrandt. About a decade later, a group of experts determined that it had been painted by one of his assistants. Such changes in attribution are not unusual: Over the centuries, as many as 688 and as few as 265 paintings have been credited to the artist, according to Mehalakes. The museum has not had the painting appraised — and has no intention of selling it — but authenticated works by Rembrandt have fetched tens of millions of dollars.
Durst faces murder trial
LOS ANGELES — There is almost no physical evidence connecting New York real estate heir Robert Durst to the slaying of his best friend in Los Angeles 20 years ago. What does link him to the killing of Susan Berman, though, is a cryptic note sent to police with her address and one word: “CADAVER.” The slip of paper intended to lead authorities to her lifeless body in December 2000 was penned by Durst, now 76. His lawyers have admitted as much. Durst himself has said more than once that only the killer or someone involved in the shooting could have written it. Prosecutors intend to use the note and a web of circumstantial evidence to put Durst behind bars for three killings he’s suspected of committing over nearly four decades. They will be up against a legal team that won Durst’s acquittal in one of those deaths. “Our defense is, one, he didn’t do it, and, two, they can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he did it,” defense lawyer David Chesnoff said. “It is a highly circumstantial case and we will have strong responses to explain the circumstances.” Jury selection begins Wednesday in a case built around a story so sensational it inspired a feature film starring Ryan Gosling as Durst and a six-part documentary on his life that helped lead to his arrest.
Manatee deaths in Florida drop
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Fewer manatees died in 2019 in Florida compared with the year before. Statewide, manatee deaths decreased to 606 deaths last year, down from 824 in 2018. Experts say it appears the main cause of the decline in deaths is the reduced effect of red tide algae on manatees. Twenty-one manatees died of red tide in 2019, compared with 288 in 2018, said Jaclyn Lopez of the Florida Center for Biological Diversity. The Sun-Sentinel reports that boats and other watercraft were the biggest cause of manatee deaths last year, causing at least 136 of the fatalities — or about 22% for the year. According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission data, 129 of the gentle giants were not recovered.
Vandals paint Plymouth Rock
PLYMOUTH, Mass. — The iconic Plymouth Rock and other sites were covered in red graffiti Monday during a vandalism spree discovered at the site marking the landing of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts 400 years ago. Officials in Plymouth discovered the vandalism early in the morning. Workers had removed the red spray paint, which included the letters MOF and the numbers 508, from the rock before noon. Authorities say no arrests have been made and the site was open to tourists. The rock has come to symbolize the spot where William Bradford and the Mayflower Pilgrims disembarked before founding Plymouth Colony in December 1620. Police said the vandals also targeted a seashell-shaped sign celebrating the upcoming 400th anniversary of the 1620 Mayflower landing, the Pilgrim Maiden statue and the National Monument To The Forefathers. It was not immediately clear if this graffiti incident had any connection to the anniversary celebration, but Plymouth Rock has been the site of political demonstrations before. United American Indians of New England holds the solemn remembrance on every Thanksgiving Day since 1970 there to recall what organizers describe as “the genocide of millions of native people, the theft of native lands and the relentless assault on native culture.”
Pier 1 files for bankruptcy
Pier 1 Imports Inc. — the once-trendy supplier of home goods like papasan chairs and throw pillows — filed for bankruptcy protection Monday after years of sliding sales. The Fort Worth, Texas-based company has been struggling with increased competition from budget-friendly online retailers like Wayfair and Amazon and discount stores like Home Goods. In a 2018 presentation to investors, the company acknowledged that shoppers thought its merchandise was outdated and expensive. It was also burdened by high sourcing and supply chain costs. Pier 1 said it will pursue a sale, with a March 23 deadline to submit bids. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. In the meantime, Pier 1 said lenders have committed approximately $256 million in debtor-in-possession financing so it can continue its operations during the Chapter 11 proceedings. “Today’s actions are intended to provide Pier 1 with additional time and financial flexibility as we now work to unlock additional value for our stakeholders through a sale of the company,” Pier 1 CEO and Chief Financial Officer Robert Riesbeck said.
Dogs not too big to be miniature
BERLIN — A German court has decided a Duesseldorf dog dispute, ruling Monday that not only size matters in determining whether a dog is officially “miniature.” The Muenster regional administrative court decision puts an end to years of battles between two Duesseldorf owners of Miniature Bull Terriers and the city in western Germany. The city said the two dogs — “Jagger Bonsai von Amadis” and the more prosaically named “Louis” — were both taller than the 14 inch (35.5 cm) height generally recognized as the breed maximum. That, the city argued, meant they were not Miniature Bull Terriers but full Bull Terriers — a breed considered dangerous and subject to multiple restrictions. Those include having to wear a muzzle after 6 months of age unless they pass a “behavioral test” and having to be kept on a leash, while the owners must prove why they need such a dog — citing reasons such as property protection — and hold half a million euros ($550,000) in liability insurance. According to the American Kennel Club, the Miniature Bull Terrier usually is about 10-14 inches (25.4 to 35.5 cm) tall, and weighs between 18-28 pounds (8.2-12.7 kilograms). The Bull Terrier typically is about 21-22 inches (53.3-55.9 cm) tall, and weighs between 50-70 pounds (22.7-31.8 kilograms). Two government veterinarians measured the dogs for the judges Monday, determining that they were in a grey zone at about 15.8 inches (40 cm) tall. But the court ruled that the dogs could not be judged by their height alone. “Both dogs exceed the height only slightly, and do not have the very compact appearance of a standard Bull Terrier,” the court said.
Killing of 7-year-old stokes anger
MEXICO CITY — The killing of a 7-year-old girl on the southern outskirts of Mexico City has stoked rising anger over brutal slayings of women, including one found stabbed to death and skinned earlier this month. The city prosecutor’s office said Monday that investigators identified a body found over the weekend as that of Fatima, a grade-school student who was taken by a stranger on Feb. 11. By law, prosecutors don’t give the full name of victims. Her body was found wrapped in a bag and abandoned in a rural area on Saturday and was identified by genetic testing. The cause of death has not been released. Five people have been questioned in the case, and video footage of her abduction exists. Prosecutors’ spokesman Ulises Lara offered a $100,000 reward for information on the person who picked her up when she left school. The girl’s mother, Maria Magdalena Anton, appeared angry and distraught outside prosecutors’ offices. “Justice has to be done, for my daughter and for all women,” she said. She said investigators made the family wait hours and travel across the city to even file a missing person report. Other relatives accused police of not acting quickly enough. “She could have been found alive, but nobody paid attention to us,” said Sonia Lopez, the girl’s aunt. Lopez also said there had been longstanding questions about the mother’s ability to care for her children, but that city health and family welfare agencies had not helped them.
Virus to cut iPhone production
CUPERTINO, Calif. — Apple Inc. is warning investors that it won’t meet its second-quarter financial guidance because the viral outbreak in China has cut production of iPhones. The Cupertino, California-based company said Monday that all of its iPhone manufacturing facilities are outside Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, and all have been reopened. But the company said production is ramping up slowly. “The health and well-being of every person who helps make these products possible is our paramount priority, and we are working in close consultation with our suppliers and public health experts as this ramp continues,” Apple said in a statement. The death toll from COVID-19, a disease caused by the new coronavirus, was 1,770 as of Monday. Apple says demand for iPhones is also down in China because many of Apple’s 42 retail stores there are closed or operating with reduced hours. China is Apple’s third largest retail market for iPhones, after the U.S. and Europe.
Pete Buttigieg’s next test
DES MOINES, Iowa — So far, Pete Buttigieg has made it look easy. The once little-known former mayor of a midsize Midwestern city vaulted over a former vice president and several U.S. senators in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire presidential primary. The 38-year-old’s fresh face, intellect and turn-the-page message won votes across many demographic groups in the kickoff states. Now the promise of his candidacy is colliding with the reality of the central question about his viability: Can he win among minority voters who form the critical foundation of the party’s base? That will be tested Saturday in Nevada, with a diverse blend of Latinos and African Americans, but especially in South Carolina, where two-thirds of the primary electorate could be black voters, the base of the Democratic Party that Buttigieg has struggled to attract. Buttigieg’s strategy is to earn a fresh look from black and brown voters by flashing his support in the first two contests, drawing on the validation of minority leaders who have endorsed him and leveraging the personal networks of his supporters.
Swift’s father safe after burglary
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Taylor Swift’s father recently fought a burglar who broke into his $4 million Florida penthouse, a newspaper is reporting. The Tampa Bay Times said that Scott Swift returned to his home in the Vinoy Place Towers in St. Petersburg on Jan. 17 just moments after 30-year-old Terrence Hoover used an emergency escape stairwell to climb 13 floors to enter it. The men fought before Hoover ran away, the paper reports, citing police records. Hoover has a lengthy arrest record that includes domestic violence by strangulation, aggravated battery, burglary, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and kidnapping and false imprisonment, the paper said. Swift picked Hoover out of a photo lineup and police say Hoover called them to report the altercation. Hoover could not be found, however, until last week, when he was arrested on burglary charges. Hoover’s mother told the newspaper that her son got lost while searching for his estranged wife and should only be charged with trespassing. The penthouse encompasses the entire top floor of one Vinoy tower and includes 5,359 square feet, three bedrooms and three full baths.
Bezos commits $10B to climate
NEW YORK — Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said Monday that he plans to spend $10 billion of his own fortune to help fight climate change. Bezos, the world’s richest man, said in an Instagram post that he’ll start giving grants this summer to scientists, activists and nonprofits working to protect Earth. “I want to work alongside others both to amplify known ways and to explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change,” Bezos said in the post. Amazon, the company Bezos runs, has an enormous carbon foodprint. Last year, Amazon officials said the company would work to have 100% of its energy use come from solar panels and other renewable energy by 2030. The online retailer relies on fossil fuels to power planes, trucks and vans in order to ship billions of items all around the world. Amazon workers in its Seattle headquarters have been vocal in criticizing some of the company’s practices, pushing it to do more to combat climate change.
80% of cases have been mild
Health officials in China have published the first details on nearly 45,000 cases of the novel coronavirus disease that originated there, saying more than 80% have been mild and new ones seem to be falling since early this month, although it’s far too soon to tell whether the outbreak has peaked. Monday’s report from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention gives the World Health Organization a “clearer picture of the outbreak, how it’s developing and where it’s headed,” WHO’s director-general said at a news conference. “It’s too early to tell if this reported decline will continue. Every scenario is still on the table,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. The new disease, called COVID-19, first emerged in late December in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province, and has spread to more than two dozen other countries. China says more than 70,000 people have been infected and 1,770 have died in mainland China, but numbers are squishy because the country is counting many cases based on symptoms rather than the methods WHO uses. The new study reports on 44,672 cases confirmed in China as of Feb. 11. The virus caused severe disease such as pneumonia in 14% of them and critical illness in 5%.
China criminalized Muslim faith
Beijing — For decades, the Uighur imam was a bedrock of his farming community in China’s far west. On Fridays, he preached Islam as a religion of peace. On Sundays, he treated the sick with free herbal medicine. In the winter, he bought coal for the poor. But as a Chinese government mass detention campaign engulfed Memtimin Emer’s native Xinjiang region three years ago, the elderly imam was swept up and locked away, along with all three of his sons living in China. Now, a newly revealed database exposes in extraordinary detail the main reasons for the detentions of Emer, his three sons, and hundreds of others in Karakax County: their religion and their family ties. The database obtained by The Associated Press profiles the internment of 311 individuals with relatives abroad and lists information on more than 2,000 of their relatives, neighbors and friends. Each entry includes the detainee’s name, address, national identity number, detention date and location, along with a detailed dossier on their family, religious and neighborhood background, the reason for detention, and a decision on whether or not to release them. Issued within the past year, the documents do not indicate which government department compiled them or for whom. Taken as a whole, the information offers the fullest and most personal view yet into how Chinese officials decided who to put into and let out of detention camps, as part of a massive crackdown that has locked away more than a million ethnic minorities, most of them Muslims.
Abuse victim pressured to lie
MILAN — The cardinal’s response was not what Yolanda Martinez had expected — or could abide. Her son had been sexually abused by a priest of the Legion of Christ, a disgraced religious order. And now she was calling Cardinal Valasio De Paolis — the Vatican official appointed by the pope to lead the Legion and to clean it up — to report the settlement the group was offering, and to express her outrage. The terms: Martinez’s family would receive 15,000 euros ($16,300) from the order. But in return, her son would have to recant the testimony he gave to Milan prosecutors that the priest had repeatedly assaulted him when he was a 12-year-old student at the order’s youth seminary in northern Italy. He would have to lie. The cardinal did not seem shocked. He did not share her indignation. Instead, he chuckled. He said she shouldn’t sign the deal, but should try to work out another agreement without attorneys: “Lawyers complicate things. Even Scripture says that among Christians we should find agreement.”
Hundreds still flooded from homes
JACKSON, Miss. — The swollen Pearl River appeared to have crested Monday in Mississippi’s capital, but authorities warned the hundreds of evacuees in the Jackson area not to rush back home until they got the all clear, and a forecast of more rain put counties further south at risk of flooding. No injuries were reported from the major flooding in central Mississippi and southern Tennessee. But as the high water recedes, officials expect to find damaged roads and problems with water and sewage pipes. In Savannah, Tennessee, two houses slid down a muddy bluff into the Tennessee River, although its residents had fled earlier. “Please do not move back into your neighborhood or into your home until authorities and officials give you the OK to do so,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said at a news conference. A near-record rainy winter has forced authorities to release water from swollen reservoirs, potentially worsening the flooding for those living downstream. “It is a chess match we’re playing with Mother Nature,” said Jim Hopson, spokesman for the Tennessee Valley Authority.
UK grapples with severe floods
LONDON — Britain issued severe flood warnings Monday, advising of life-threatening danger after Storm Dennis dumped weeks’ worth of rain in some places. A woman was found dead after being swept away by the floodwaters, the storm’s third confirmed victim. To the east, Dennis’ gale-force winds also left nine people injured in Germany as their vehicles crashed into broken trees littering roads and train tracks. Flooding and power outages were reported elsewhere in northern Europe. By Monday evening, Britain’s Environment Agency issued seven severe flood warnings in the central English counties of Herefordshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire . Another 200 lower-level flood warnings were also in place, meaning that flooding was expected. Some 480 flood warnings and alerts were issued across England on Monday, the highest number on record, the agency said. The storm’s confirmed death toll rose to three as West Mercia Police said a body had been found in the search for a 55-year-old woman who had been missing near Tenbury in Worcestershire since Sunday. The weather system brought winds of more than 145 kph (90 mph) and up to 150 millimeters (6 inches) of rain to Britain over the weekend. And the tumult is not over.