Skeptical Reporter @ 2013-09-06

Skeptical Reporter for September 6th, 2013

Former WBO heavyweight champion Tommy Morrison died in an Omaha hospital this week. He was 44. Morrison's longtime promoter, Tony Holden, said Morrison died with his wife, Trisha, beside him. Morrison tested positive for HIV in 1996 before a fight with Arthur Weathers, effectively ending his boxing career. In the years that followed, he denied having HIV and also challenged the existence of the virus. Trisha Morrison, who married Morrison in 2011, picked up that fight, and in a recent interview with ESPN.com insisted that Morrison had Guillain-Barre Syndrome, not HIV.

Swaziland’s absolute monarch, King Mswati III, said he was visited by God during the weekend and this resulted in atypical electrical storms in the country, but also a new name for the country’s controversial political system. “The lightning was flashing even though it was (the time of year) when there is usually no clouds or rain,” Mswati said when he opened a trade fair in Manzini. He said the storm was sent by God to accompany his vision. The South African Weather Service interpreted it differently, reporting that a cold front from South Africa to the north colliding with warm air from the Mozambique Channel had created thunderstorm conditions in Swaziland. Swaziland is now officially to be known as a monarchical democracy, the king decreed. Mswati said the new name reflected the people’s participation in the country’s governance through use of the ballot box. Swaziland’s parliamentary election will be held next week. However, political parties are banned, and widespread bribery and vote-rigging were reported in last week’s primary election. Parliament has no governing power and may be dissolved at any time by Mswati, who may also ignore its resolutions.

The carcass of a dead dog floats on the lake that supplies tap water to 750,000 Venezuelans. Witch doctor Francisco Sanchez has just dumped the previous night’s sacrifice from a cliff, contaminating the resource that has become scarcer than gasoline in Caracas. The water from Lake Mariposa, polluted by sacrifices and garbage from a local cult, is pumped to a 60-year-old treatment plant that lacks the technology to make it safe for drinking, said Fernando Morales, an environmental chemistry professor at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas who has visited the site. Ten years ago, Mariposa was a sunbathing and sailing destination. Today it is a haven for followers of Santeria. Eight kilometers away from the lake, in Caracas, sales of bottled water are booming, with families paying the equivalent of almost $5 for a five-gallon jug, twice the price of gasoline.

A vote-rigging row has erupted in the Maldives ahead of the presidential election amid suspicions that one party is using cursed coconuts imbued with black magic spells to sway voters’ political allegiances. The claims came after a coconut, described as "young", was placed near a polling booth in an alleged bid to disrupt the upcoming elections. The fruit had been inscribed with verses from the Koran and placed near the booth at a school on the remote Kaafu atoll, one of the islands that make up the Indian Ocean archipelago state. Following the discovery of the 'cursed' coconut police brought in a 'ruqyah' practitioner (white magician) to examine the coconut. The expert found the black magic element of the coconut to be fake and because it's was fake the police were not worried.

And now let’s look at some news in science.

A system that allows electronic messages to be sent with complete secrecy could be on the verge of expanding beyond niche applications. A team of British scientists has discovered a way to build communications networks with quantum cryptography at a larger scale than ever before. Quantum cryptography has the potential to transform the way sensitive data is protected. The system is based on a communication system, where information is carried by individual photons - single particles of light. Once these single photons of light are observed, they change. That is, they cannot be intercepted by an "eavesdropper" without leaving a detectable trace. The team says they have now extended the way to send uncrackable codes - referred to as "quantum key distribution" (QKD) - beyond very niche applications. Andrew Shields of Toshiba's Cambridge Research Laboratory and his colleagues, have demonstrated that up to 64 users can share a fiber link and a detector.

A "window to the brain" implant which would allow doctors to see through the skull and possibly treat patients has been devised by US researchers. It uses a see-through version of the same material used for hip implants. The team at University of California, Riverside, say it could allow lasers to be fired into the brain to treat neurological disorders. The researchers say emerging laser-treatments in stroke and cancer care and brain imaging require access to the brain. However, they are limited as a part of the skull needs to be removed and replaced each time a treatment is performed. Instead the team of scientists have devised a transparent implant that would replace a small section of the skull. Professor of mechanical engineering, Guillermo Aguilar, said: "This is a case of a science fiction sounding idea becoming science fact, with strong potential for positive impact on patients”.

Scientists believe they have discovered a new reason why we need to sleep - it replenishes a type of brain cell. Sleep ramps up the production of cells that go on to make an insulating material known as myelin which protects our brain's circuitry. The findings, so far in mice, could lead to insights about sleep's role in brain repair and growth as well as the disease MS. Precisely why we need to sleep has baffled scientists for centuries. It's obvious that we need to sleep to feel rested and for our mind to function well - but the biological processes that go on as we slumber have only started to be uncovered relatively recently.

A new timeline for the origin of ancient Egypt has been established by scientists. A team from the UK found that the transformation from a land of disparate farmers into a state ruled by a king was more rapid than previously thought. Using radiocarbon dating and computer models, they believe the civilization's first ruler - King Aha - came to power in about 3100 BC. Lead researcher Dr Michael Dee, from the Research Laboratory for Archaeology at the University of Oxford, said: "The formation of Egypt was unique in the ancient world. It was a territorial state; a state from which the moment it formed had established borders over a territory in much the same way we think of nations today”. Until now, the chronology of the earliest days of Egypt has been based on rough estimates.

And, now, in local news from Romania, we learn that

Romanian first graders will get to learn a bit about philosophy, economy and social education. The new subjects will be introduced as optional, but they could help the young students understand society and social involvement, as well as making them more financially aware from a young age.

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