Jan 8, 2011

Romanian witches to cast anti-government spell

Double, double toil and trouble: witches in Romania are planning to cast a spell on the country’s rulers because of laws that will force them to pay tax for the first time. Cat excrement and dead dogs, rather than eye of newt and toe of frog, will go into their cauldron – but they are hoping to put a Macbeth-style hex on the country’s president, Traian Basescu, and his government after the imposition of a tax regime aimed at tackling the recession.

Witches will gather on Romania’s southern plains and the banks of the Danube to protest against the laws and cast spells on the politicians who implemented them. A dozen witches will hurl the poisonous mandrake plant into the river “so evil will befall them”, a witch named Alisia said.

The threatened curse is not being taken lightly in a country with a long tradition of superstition. Basescu and his aides have been known to wear purple on certain days in an attempt to ward off evil.

The new law is part of the government’s drive to collect more revenue and crack down on tax evasion. It will force the likes of witches, astrologers and fortune tellers to register their professions and become liable for 16% tax in line with other self-employed Romanians.

The Queen witch Bratara Buzea said she would lead a chorus in casting a spell using a concoction of cat excrement and a dead dog. “They want to take the country out of this crisis using us? They should get us out of the crisis because they brought us into it,” she said.


Hundreds of NY Churchgoers Exposed to Hepatitis From Communion

Hundreds of people who attended Christmas Day Mass at one Long Island, New York church may have unknowingly been exposed to hepatitis A, the Nassau County Health Department has warned.

Parishioners who went to service at Our Lady of Lourdes church in Massapequa Park may have been exposed to the virus while taking Communion, health officials are warning.

“An individual tested positive for hepatitis A who is involved in the Communion process,” Nassau County health department spokeswoman Mary Ellen Laurain told Newsday. Our Lady of Lourdes has a congregation of roughly 7,500. Both priests and lay eucharistic ministers assist with Communion services at Roman Catholic churches.

Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, told the newspaper that the investigation is ongoing. The health department is encouraging parishioners that attended Mass on Christmas Day to get vaccinated for the virus.

Full Story AOL

Drill Close to Reaching 14-Million-Year-Old Antarctic Lake

Lake Vostok, which has been sealed off from the world for 14 million years, is about to be penetrated by a Russian drill bit.

The lake, which lies 2.5 miles below the icy surface of Antarctica, is unique in that it’s been completely isolated from the other 150 subglacial lakes on the continent for such a long time. It’s also oligotropic, meaning that it’s supersaturated with oxygen: Levels of the element are 50 times higher than those found in most typical freshwater lakes.

Since 1990, the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St. Petersburg in Russia has been drilling through the ice to reach the lake, but fears of contamination of the ecosystem in the lake have stopped the process multiple times, most notably in 1998 when the drills were turned off for almost eight years.

Now, the team has satisfied the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat, which safeguards the continent’s environment, that it’s come up with a technique to sample the lake without contaminating it. Valery Lukin told New Scientist: “Once the lake is reached, the water pressure will push the working body and the drilling fluid upwards in the borehole, and then freeze again.” The next season, the team will bore into that frozen water to recover a sample whose contents can then be analysed.

The drill bit currently sits less than 328 feet above the lake. Once it reaches 65 to 98 feet, the mechanical drill bit will be replaced with a thermal lance that’s equipped with a camera.

Time is short, however. It’s possible that the drillers won’t be able to reach the water before the end of the current Antarctic summer, and they’ll need to wait another year before the process can continue.

Read More at Wired

Jan 7, 2011

Humans First Wore Clothing 170,000 Years Ago

Humans began to wear clothing 170,000 years ago, concludes a new study that suggests our ancestors first put on clothes after the second-to-last Ice Age, when being nude must have been too cool for comfort.

The evidence comes from seemingly very unfashionable lice, since scientists tracked when head lice evolved into clothing/body lice around 170,000 years ago. So lice have been with us since the world's first clothes were made.

(Viking attire circa 900 A.D. By this advanced stage, humans had created very sophisticated and colorful ways to clothe themselves. Credit: Annika Larsson)

The study, published in this month's Molecular Biology and Evolution journal, explains how DNA sequencing of the parasites was used to calculate when clothing lice first began to genetically diverge from human head lice.

“We wanted to find another method for pinpointing when humans might have first started wearing clothing,” said project leader David Reed, associate curator of mammals at the Florida Museum of Natural History, in a University of Florida press release. “Because they are so well adapted to clothing, we know that body lice or clothing lice almost certainly didn’t exist until clothing came about in humans.”

The findings reveal that our ancestors started to wear clothing long after they lost their ape-like body hair. Genetic skin coloration research shows that hair loss happened around one million years ago, long before modern humans emerged in Africa. Our ancestors were likely running around nude and relatively hairless for quite some time then.

“It’s interesting to think humans were able to survive in Africa for hundreds of thousands of years without clothing and without body hair, and that it wasn’t until they had clothing that modern humans were then moving out of Africa into other parts of the world,” Reed said.

He added that our success and progression as a species has been made possible, in large part, to our "controlled use of fire, the ability to use clothing, new hunting strategies and new stone tools."

Since our ancestors are thought to have migrated out of Africa and into colder climates and higher latitudes anywhere from 100,000 to 60,000 years ago, the findings indicate the invention of clothing made such long journeys northward possible.

Read more at Discovery News

Extrasensory perception paper published in respected journal

The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology plans to print "Feeling The Future", by Professor Daryl Bem later this year, which presents what he claims is strong evidence for extrasensory perception (ESP).

Prof Bem, of Cornell University, New York, said the results of nine experiments he had carried out on students over the past decade suggested humans could accurately predict random events.

His peer-reviewed work was described as "pure craziness" and "an embarrassment for the entire field" by scientists who allege it has serious flaws and that ESP is a myth.

In one test, 100 students were presented with a computer screen showing two curtains. They were told an image, which could be erotic, lay behind one curtain and they should guess which.

Prof Bem found students predicted correctly 53 per cent of the time when the picture was erotic, while regular images only elicited a 50 per cent success rate, in line with average chance.

While the three per cent difference was small, Prof Bem said students consistently outperformed the average when predicting the location of erotic images.

Remarkably, Prof Bem told a student newspaper, analysis of the students' brains suggested they made their choices "about 2-3 seconds prior to the appearance of the picture".

In another experiment, students received a surprise memory test after reading a list of 48 nouns. They were then given a random selection of 24 of the nouns, and told to memorise and retype them.

When Prof Bem examined their answers to the first, surprise, test, he found students tended to "remember" words they had later been given at random and deliberately memorised.

"The results show that practicing a set of words after the recall test does, in fact, reach back in time to facilitate the recall of those words," his paper concluded.

Charles Judd, the editor of the journal, defended the publication of the study, which he said had been reviewed by four "very trusted people".

But Prof Ray Hyman, of the University of Oregon, a long-time critic of ESP research, told the New York Times: "It's craziness, pure craziness. I think it's just an embarrassment for the entire field." Others, including Eric-Jan Wagermakers, of the University of Amsterdam, said it highlighted wider problems with the field of academic literature and the scientific method.

Read more at The Telegraph

Jan 6, 2011

Golden-Voiced Homeless Man Captivates Internet

This clip speaks for itself -- literally. The Columbus Dispatch discovered a homeless man along Ohio's I-71 claiming to have "the God-given gift of voice," and what began as your everyday viral video has exploded into a life-changing experience for one man. Yesterday morning he was a panhandler; today he's the most in-demand voice personality in the world, thanks to offers from countless radio stations, voiceover gigs and even the Cleveland Cavaliers.

His name is Ted Williams, and he's an ex-radio announcer according to the note he scrawled on a piece of cardboard that he used to solicit change from drivers. And wow, does Williams ever deliver for a dollar.

Williams tells the Dispatch about his struggles, but thankfully "alcohol and drugs and a few other things" haven't diminished Williams' velvety vocal cords, and he says he's two years clean now.

"I have a god given gift of voice. I'm an ex-radio announcer who has fallen on hard times. Please! Any help will be greatfully appreciated. Thank you and God bless. Happy holidays," reads Williams' roadside sign for help.

Like Williams, the radio industry has fallen on hard times in the past decade, but given the viral power of this video, Williams was quickly approached by more than a few morning show appearances. In fact, Reddit reported that Ted was tracked down by Columbus area radio show the Morning Zoo and appeared on this morning's program, and even found time for an interview with CBS' "The Early Show":

As evidenced by Williams' new haircut, what a difference a day makes. A mere 24 hours after the video went viral, Williams says he's already been offered a bunch of employment opportunities, including one that's a Ohio citizen's dream job. "The Cleveland Cavaliers just offered me a full-time job and a house," Williams revealed. The Cavs will reportedly have to compete against MTV, the NFL and likely countless more suitors for Williams' services.

Read more at Yahoo! News

Jan 5, 2011

Moon and Space Station Eclipse the Sun

Tuesday morning’s partial solar eclipse produced a gorgeous crescent sunrise in Europe, Africa and Asia as the moon blocked most of the sun’s disk. But for a split second, the sun was also partially blocked by another satellite: the International Space Station.

French astrophotographer Thierry Legault traveled to Oman to snap this mind-blowing photo of the sun, moon and space station all lined up. The space station took just 0.86 seconds to cross the sun.

Legault is known for his stunning photos of spaceships crossing the sun, each of which was captured in less than a second. To lose hours staring at them, check out his Astrophoto.fr website.

From Wired

Can Fright Kill Animals?

The mysterious deaths of thousands of blackbirds is leaving people around the world scratching their heads—but so is the official explanation. As an AFP article on Discovery News noted a couple days ago,

“Fright likely killed thousands of birds which dropped onto a small town in Arkansas, officials said Monday. As many as 5,000 birds began falling over the small town of Beebe shortly before midnight on New Year's Eve. ‘We right now are pretty confident that the trauma is what caused the die-off,’ said state veterinarian George Badley.”

This explanation seemed bird-brained to many people, including those who posted in response to the Discovery News piece. Their skepticism is understandable: Fright killed the birds? An animal might die from any number of causes, such as blood loss, trauma, or the heart or lungs ceasing to function. But fright cannot kill anything.

The idea that psychological trauma has a physical effect is an ancient one, and fear has generated its own folklore. For example, it is widely believed that sudden fright can not only kill, but turn hair white. This is a common theme in horror films (especially older ones) and ghost stories. It is also featured prominently in many urban legends, describing the results of, for example, encounters with hook-handed serial killers freshly escaped from local insane asylums.

This is a myth; it is physically and medically impossible. Hair cannot suddenly or spontaneously change color. Hair is dead, and once the main shaft of the hair follicle is extruded, expired biomass can’t be tinted or bleached by psychological trauma or fear.

One often hears the comment that someone “died of old age.” In fact, no one dies of old age; “old age” is not a disease, nor is it a cause of mortality. A person might die of a disease commonly associated with old age (such as emphysema or cancer), though such diseases are by no means restricted to the elderly.

Similarly, there is no biological mechanism by which fear, by itself, can kill. It is well known that a sudden shock, stress, or strain can increase a person’s heart rate or cause the brain to release a potentially lethal cocktail of flight-or-flight chemicals. But saying that fright killed an animal is like saying that suicide killed a person. It doesn’t really provide a useful or accurate answer as to what, exactly, happened.

Read more at Discovery News

Jan 4, 2011

King Tut's Wife's Tomb May Emerge in 2011

The tomb of King Tut’s wife, a buried pyramid, the Great Pyramid’s secret doors, and the final resting place of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony: these discoveries could await us in 2011, according to Dr. Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Hawass, one of the world's leading Egyptologists, gave an exclusive interview to Discovery News at an exhibition of images from ancient Egypt taken by photographer Sandro Vannini. Hawass’ many-years-long effort to solve the mystery behind the Great Pyramid’s secret doors and Cleopatra’s burial place is well known.

Less publicized has been his search for a new tomb in the Valley of the Kings and a buried pyramid in the Dashur area.

“We took satellite images over an area in Dashur and we could see that a pyramid is buried underneath the ground. Right now we are excavating this pyramid,” Hawass told Discovery News.

Located some 50 miles south of the Egyptian capital, Cairo, Dashur is the site of several pyramids. The best known are the “Bent” pyramid, so named because of its sloping upper half, the “Red" pyramid, named after the reddish limestone from which it is built, and the “Black” pyramid of Amenemhat III.

Hawass believes the buried pyramid might belong to a king of the 13th Dynasty (1782-1650 BC), a period marked by rivalry over the throne, with many kings reigning for a short time.

Read more at Discovery News

60 Minutes documentary on Superior Autobiographical Memory

There has been a discovery in the field of memory recently, so new you won’t find it in any textbook. It’s so hard to fathom, there are some who remain unconvinced.

For the moment, the scientists studying it are simply calling it “superior autobiographical memory.” And unless you happen to know one of the handful of people discovered so far who have it, get ready to be amazed.
Louise Owen is 37 years old and a professional violinist living in New York City. But she has another gift too, one that is far more rare.

When correspondent Lesley Stahl mentioned a date, Jan. 2, 1990, Owen told her, “Right now, I’m remembering the jogging class that I started that morning.”

To see the rest of this documentary click here.

Crematorium considers dissolving bodies

“Cambridge City Crematorium have proposed a set of gruesome after-death arrangements – which they claim are more environmentally-friendly than traditional funerals.
Bosses have called for a 21st century ”commercial approach” towards handling death and asked Cambridge City Council to let them use futuristic technologies. Plans include using liquid nitrogen to chill a body to -196C, in a process called ”promession” or ”cyromation”, when it is so brittle it can be fragmented and cleaned. The body is then freeze-dried to remove moisture and the dust is used as environmentally-friendly compost or buried in a biodegradable casket.

Crematorium chiefs also want to place bodies in silk bags and submerge them in a 160C alkaline solution – which would dissolve them in around three hours. The grisly procedure, called ”resomation”, dissolves all the organs and bones and leaves behind a green-brown liquid and white dust. The liquid can be disposed in a number of different ways, including being flushed into the sewerage system.

Bereavement services manager Tracy Lawrence said the ”greener” alternatives emit less pollution than traditional cremation. She said: ”The plans proposes improvements to the quality and value of services to customers and envisages a modern, forward-looking service delivering good value and offering improved returns to future investment.” The move is intended to tackle a lack of burial space and environmental concerns as 573lbs of carbon dioxide are released by each cremated corpse. Six states in America have passed legislation to allow resomation and the Scottish company Resomation Ltd says it is in talks to allow the process in the UK.”

Read more at The Telegraph

Jan 3, 2011

Rare 'panda cow' born

The so-called "panda cow" born in Larimer County is thought to be one of only about 24 in the world.

The male calf named Ben was born Friday morning, according to The (Loveland) Reporter-Heralrd. His mother is a Lowline Angus cow while his father, Donovan, is a panda bull on the farm.

Farmer Chris Jessen raises miniature cattle and also owns a miniature kangaroo on his hobby farm.

The miniature panda cow is the result of genetic manipulation. A white belt encircles the animal's midsection, and the cow has a white face with black ovals around the eyes, giving it a panda-like appearance.

Read more at The Telegraph

Atheists a dying breed as nature ‘favours faithful’

A study of 82 countries has found that those whose inhabitants worship at least once a week have 2.5 children each.

Atheists, watch out. Religious people have evolved to produce more children than non-believers, researchers claim, while societies dominated by non-believers are doomed to die out.

A study of 82 countries has found that those whose inhabitants worship at least once a week have 2.5 children each, while those who never do so have just 1.7 — below the number needed to replace themselves.

The academic who led the study argues that evolution, credited by atheist biologists such as Richard Dawkins as the process solely responsible for creating humanity, favours the faithful because they are encouraged to breed as a religious duty.

Full Story at RDF

US authorities investigate mystery death of 1,000 birds

Wildlife officials are trying to determine what caused more than 1,000 black birds to die and fall from the sky over an Arkansas town. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said it received reports about the dead birds about 11:30 p.m. the previous night. The birds fell over a 1-mile (2-kilometer) area, and an aerial survey indicated that no other dead birds were found outside of that area.

Commission ornithologist Karen Rowe said the birds showed physical trauma, and she speculated that “the flock could have been hit by lightning or high-altitude hail.”

The commission said that New Year’s Eve revelers shooting off fireworks in the area could have startled the birds from their roost and caused them to die from stress. Officers estimated that over 1,000 birds had fallen out of the sky over the city before midnight. Most of the birds were dead, but some were still alive when officers arrived. The blackbirds fell over a one-mile area in the city.

More at The Telegraph

Jan 2, 2011

Facebook generation suffer information withdrawal syndrome

The scientists asked volunteers to stay away from all emails, text messages, Facebook and Twitter updates for 24 hours. They found that the participants began to develop symptoms typically seen in smokers attempting to give up.

Some of those taking part said they felt like they were undergoing "cold turkey" to break a hard drug habit, while others said it felt like going on a diet. The condition is now being described as Information Deprivation Disorder.

Dr Roman Gerodimos, a lecturer in communication who led the UK section of the international study, said: "We were not just seeing psychological symptoms, but also physical symptoms."

The findings will fuel concerns raised by neurologists and psychologists about the impact that excessive use of the internet, computer games and social networking sites are having on the so-called "Net Generation" of teenagers and young adults.

In the experiment, called Unplugged, volunteers at 12 universities around the world - including 125 students Bournemouth University - spent 24 hours without access to computers, mobile phones, iPods, televsion, radio and even newspapers.

Read more at The Telegraph

110-year-old man finds 82-year-old willing to be his wife

Ahmad Mohamad Isa, who has 20 grandchildren and 40 great-grandchildren, told Malay-language newspaper Utusan Malaysia earlier this week that he wanted company and a wife to take care of him. The report grabbed the attention of 82-year-old Sanah Ahmad, a widow of 30 years and mother of nine, who said she was willing to do so and had asked her children to contact Ahmad’s family to make arrangements.

“It doesn’t matter who she is, as long as she can cook for me,” Ahmad told the paper Sunday. “It is lonely to live alone and I am afraid to sleep alone. If I have a wife she can take care of me,” the centenarian, who has five previous marriages and suffers mild hearing and vision problems, said in an earlier interview.

Four of his wives have died and he divorced the fifth. Mrs Sanah told the paper that she was attracted to Ahmad as he bears a striking resemblance to her late husband and both men shared the same name.

Read more at Herald Sun

Armageddon rescheduled for may 2011

Harold Camping lets out a hearty chuckle when he considers the people who believe the world will end in 2012. ”That date has not one stitch of biblical authority,” Camping says from the Oakland office where he runs Family Radio, an evangelical station that reaches listeners around the world. “It’s like a fairy tale.” The real date for the end of times, he says, is in 2011.

This is not the first time Camping has made a bold prediction about Judgment Day.

On Sept. 6, 1994, dozens of Camping’s believers gathered inside Alameda’s Veterans Memorial Building to await the return of Christ, an event Camping had promised for two years. Followers dressed children in their Sunday best and held Bibles open-faced toward heaven.

But the world did not end. Camping allowed that he may have made a mathematical error. He spent the next decade running new calculations, as well as overseeing a media company that has grown significantly in size and reach. ”We are now translated into 48 languages and have been transmitting into China on an AM station without getting jammed once,” Camping said. “How can that happen without God’s mercy?”

Read the full article at SFGate.com