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Le Weekend: Madonna At The French Museum, Ben Franklin 2.0, Norway’s Runic Record

Photo of a laser designed to guide lightning as it strikes

Guide lightning with a laser


January 21-22

  • Dragon’s Breath danger
  • Greta and the “mud wizard”
  • Belarus’ secret war
  • … and much more.


What do you remember from the news this week?

1. What is Germany being pressed to deliver to Ukraine?

2. What did Jacinda Ardern cite as the main reason for her decision to step down as New Zealand prime minister?

3. Which country reported a decline in its population for the first time since 1961?

4. Italy’s most-wanted Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro was captured in Palermo after how many years on the run? 10 / 20 / 30 / 40

[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]


Indonesia warns people about the dangers of consuming liquid nitrogen after 25 children were seriously injured when they ate a famous street snack known as “Dragon’s breath.” The latter initiated a dangerous new viral video trend generating millions of views on social media. Two of the children were hospitalized, and all experienced severe burns to their skin, stomach pains and food poisoning. Though not illegal to use, liquid nitrogen has hazardous health effects when consumed.


• K-pop exports hit record in 2022: K-pop album exports hit $233.113 million in 2022 — a 5.6% increase compared to 2021 — setting a new record for the South Korean music genre. Japan was the country which imported the most K-pop albums last year, followed by China and the U.S.

In memoriam: The world of culture mourned this week Italian screen legend Gina Lollobrigida, who died at 95, American singer and folk rock pioneer David Crosby, Yukihiro Takahashi, the drummer and lead vocalist of Japan’s Yellow Magic Orchestra, was 70, Russian actress Inna Churikova, who passed aged 79. The world’s oldest known person, French nun Sister Andre, also died at the age of 118.

• Marvel films are back in China: China has ended its de facto ban on Marvel films after nearly four years, with superhero movies Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania announced on the big screen next month. The China Film Administration, which approves foreign film releases, has never provided an official explanation for the ban.

• Archaeologists find world’s oldest runestone in Norway: Archaeologists in Norway claim they have found the world’s oldest runestone, which features runic inscriptions dating back to 2,000 years. “This may be one of the first attempts to use runes in Norway and Scandinavia on stone,” said Kristel Zilmer, a professor at the University of Oslo.

• French city asks Madonna for loan of artwork lost in war: The mayor of Amiens has asked Madonna to lend to the northern French city the Diana and Endymion painting by Jérôme-Martin Langlois which was on display in a museum there before being lost during World War I and which the American singer reportedly bought at an auction in New York in 1989. The mayor hopes this might help Amiens’ chances of becoming the European capital of culture in 2028.

🇧🇾 Sabotaging railroads in Belarus to save Ukraine

It remains unclear whether Belarus' strongman Alexander Lukashenko will join Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Popular support for the war, meanwhile, remains low — and many in the country are actively fighting back by sabotaging the rail network that has been used to transport Russian military equipment on Belarusian territory. Anna Akage takes a closer look at the role of resistance fighters in Belarus, from past to present.

Read the full story: The Rail War: How Belarusians Are Secretly Fighting Putin And Lukashenko

🇹🇼 Tensions rising across the Strait of Taiwan

The past year has added new elements into the showdown between China and Taiwan: from Nancy Pelosi's visit to the war in Ukraine to Xi Jinping's power grab. Now we may be reaching a tipping point that could lead to a military showdown, even if the question of when is still wide open. Read this in-depth analysis by Zhenming Wang for independent Chinese-language media The Initium.

Read the full story: A Perfect Storm Of China-Taiwan Hostility: Will It Snap In 2023?

🥄 Stealing: a rich woman’s disease, a poor woman’s crime

Between 1880 and 1930, there was a significant rise in thefts in department stores, mostly committed by women from the middle and upper classes. This situation brought with it the establishment of a new pathology: kleptomania. A century later, feminist historians have given new meaning to the practice as a protest against the social structures and oppressions of capitalism and patriarchy. Read the investigation by Julia Amigo in Spanish-language Pikara Magazine.

Read the full story: Kleptomania, How A "Women's Pathology" Was Built On Gender And Class Bias


There are inventions that don’t seem like they’d ever need to be improved: Take Benjamin Franklin’s lightning rod, for instance, protecting buildings from destructive thunderbolts since 1752. Simple, efficient. But now, an experiment by an international team of researchers on a Swiss mountaintop has shown that a laser beam can be used to guide lightning on its way down. According to the researchers’ report, published in the journal Nature Photonics, powerful lasers could be deployed to attract thunderbolts from higher up, and help protect sensitive sites such as airports and launchpads.


The video of a so-called “mud wizard” went viral on social media. In Lützerath, Germany, climate activists are protesting against the eviction of the city for the construction of a lignite coal mine, resulting in sometimes violent confrontations with the police — Greta Thunberg got arrested there this week. But a cloaked protester also shot to internet fame for his face-off with the German riot police, after they got stuck in mud.


• New Zealand’s ruling Labour Party will vote to pick a new leader on Sunday following the sudden resignation of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The elected party leader will serve as prime minister until the next general election, scheduled in October.

• Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson is expected to travel to Ankara to meet his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar, as part of efforts from Sweden and its neighbor Finland to get Turkey to ratify their bid to join NATO.

• The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said it would announce its decision on whether to update the “Doomsday Clock”, described as a “metaphor for how close humanity is to self-annihilation,” on Jan. 24. For the past three years, the hands of the clock have remained at 100 seconds to midnight.

News quiz answers:

1. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is facing mounting pressure to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine as talks between more than 50 countries opened Friday at the country’s Ramstein air base to coordinate efforts to increase weapon supplies.

2. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern surprised the world by announcing her resignation after six years in power, citing burnout as one of the reasons for her decision. “I no longer have enough in the tank,” Ardern said during a press conference.

3. China’s population in 2022 (1.4118 billion) fell by 850,000 from the previous year — the first decline in population since 1961. The country’s falling birth rate has ushered China in an “era of negative population growth” that’s unlikely to end soon, despite a series of policies designed to slow the trend.

4. Matteo Messina Denaro was arrested in Palermo, Sicily, at a private clinic where he was undergoing chemotherapy under an alias, after spending 30 years on the run. Messina Denaro was considered the top boss after the arrests of bosses Totò Riina (1993) and Bernardo Provenzano (2006), with all three chiefs of Cosa Nostra responsible for the killing in the 1990s of prosecutors, police and innocent civilians.

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Evacuating Kupiansk, Train Crash Death Toll Rises, Obesity 4 Billion

Large-scale protests have rocked Greece for the second consecutive day in the wake of Tuesday's train crash near Larissa, which killed at least 57.

Ginevra Falciani, Inès Mermat, and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Здравейте*

Welcome to Friday, where Kyiv orders evacuation of Kupiansk, the death toll in Tuesday's train crash in Greece rises to 57, and half the world risks being overweight by 2035. Meanwhile, we take an exclusive look at the changes afoot in beauty pageants around the world, in terms of gender inclusivity.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]

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