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On a dark and stormy night in May this year, exactly 125 years to the day that Bram Stoker published the definitive vampire novel, two people pored over a document more than 500 years old in a room in Transylvania, signed by Dracula himself. Gleb and Svetlana Zilberstein’s mission? To extract genetic material from the letters written by Vlad Dracula, the historical inspiration for Stoker’s vampiric count, left there by his sweat, fingerprints and saliva. And from that, the pair – who have been dubbed “protein detectives” – can build up a picture of not only the physical makeup of the Wallachian warlord, who became known as Vlad the Impaler for his practice of displaying his enemies on stakes, but also the environmental conditions in which he lived.
Space debris expert: Orbits will be lost, and people will die, later this decade
Until about a decade ago, an average of 80 to 100 satellites per year were launched into varying orbits. Some reentered Earth’s atmosphere quickly, while others will remain in orbit for decades. This now seems quaint. In the last five years, driven largely by the rise of communications networks such as SpaceX’s Starlink and a proliferation of small satellites, the number of objects launched into space has increased dramatically. In 2017, according to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, the annual number exceeded 300. By 2020, the annual number of objects launched exceeded 1,000 for the first time, and this year, the total number of satellites launched has already surpassed 2,000.
France’s streets once again echo with the sound of working horses
Faced with climate breakdown, the energy crisis, and modern stress levels, there is a growing movement in French towns to bring back the horse and cart as an alternative to fossil fuels and a way to slow down urban life. Since the first trials to reintroduce draft horses for municipal tasks in the mid-1990s, the number of French towns and urban areas using them has multiplied by almost 20 and continues to rise. In the southern town of Vendargues, where the horse-drawn school carts are so popular that waiting lists have been 100 families-long, a study found they had improved the children’s relationship to learning. Some children who could walk or cycle to school preferred travelling by horse-drawn cart, despite it taking longer, because they found it “calming”.
Strange coincidences: Are they fluke events or acts of God?
In February 1973, Dr. Bernard Beitman found himself hunched over a kitchen sink in an old Victorian house in San Francisco, choking uncontrollably. He wasn’t eating or drinking, so there was nothing to cough up, and yet for several minutes he couldn’t catch his breath or swallow. The next day his brother called to tell him that 3,000 miles away, in Wilmington, Del., their father had died. He had choked on his own blood at the same time as Beitman’s mysterious episode. After becoming a professor of psychiatry, Beitman published several papers on the subject and started a nonprofit, the Coincidence Project, to encourage people to share their coincidence stories.
Japanese philosopher wins the $1M Berggruen Prize
Kojin Karatani has been named this year’s laureate for the $1 million Berggruen Prize for Culture and Philosophy. An expansive thinker who straddles East and West while crossing disciplinary boundaries, Karatani is not only one of Japan’s most esteemed literary critics, but a highly original mind who has turned key suppositions of Western philosophy on their heads. In Karatani’s sharpest departure from conventional wisdom, he locates the origins of philosophy not in Athens, but in the earlier Ionian culture that greatly influenced the so-called “pre-Socratic thinkers” such as Heraclitus and Parmenides. Their ideas centered on the flux of constant change, in which “matter moves itself” without the gods, and the oneness of all being — a philosophical outlook closer to Daoist and Buddhist thought than to Plato’s later metaphysics.