; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fortean / Alternative News: Airborne Prion Concerns, Himalayan Viagra and Microsoft Patenting 'Biological Trojans'

Airborne Prions: Neurodegenerative Pathogen Concerns

wired - When sprayed into the air, prions that cause mad cow and other neurodegenerative diseases may be in one of their most lethal forms.

A new study has revealed one short exposure to sprayed prions can be 100 percent lethal in mice. While the discovery doesn’t present any foreseeable public health threat, it comes as a surprise to scientists who study prion-based diseases and calls existing safety rules for laboratories and slaughterhouses into question.

“Common knowledge is that prions aren’t airborne, and can’t cause infection that way,” said neuropathologist Adriano Aguzzi of University Hospital Zurich, co-author of a study appearing today in PLoS Pathogens. “We were totally surprised and also a bit frightened at how efficient [airborne infections] were.”

Most infectious diseases are spread by bacteria or viruses, which use genes to copy themselves. But prions are a third form of disease discovered in 1982, and they’re made only of misfolded proteins. The molecules resemble regular proteins found in the brain cells and other nervous tissues, but their abnormal shape converts healthy proteins into long fibrils that ultimately kill cells.

Like a chain reaction, fibrils create more prions until the host dies from destroyed brain and nervous tissue. All prion infections are 100 percent fatal, and symptoms appear suddenly months or years after infection.

“Prions are like an enemy within, the alien in some B-movie that transforms people to an evil version,” said prion biologist Edward Hoover of Colorado State University, who was not involved in the study. “The immune system doesn’t see them coming.”

Five known human prion diseases exist, including Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, as well as six non-human diseases, including scrapie, chronic wasting disease and mad cow disease (which sometimes jumps to humans through contaminated meat).

Although prions infect only one to two people per million in the United States each year, as much as 15 percent of deer in some Colorado populations carry chronic wasting disease. Such diseases spread via infected body fluids and tissue, yet only inconclusive evidence on airborne transmission existed until now.

To see if airborne prions could cause infection in mammals, Aguzzi and his team exposed several small groups of mice to different concentrations and exposure times of aerosolized prions that cause scrapie.

All mice except one group, which was exposed to a very light concentration of prions, got infected and died about 150 to 200 days after exposure. When it came to a lethal dose, the researchers also found that prion concentration didn’t matter as much as exposure time. A group of four mice exposed for one minute to a light dose of prion-infected fluid, for example, died from scrapie in about 200 days.

Other forms of prion exposure typically require high concentrations of them to do anything, so Aguzzi said the lethality wasn’t what he expected. Roughly 100,000 times more prions, for example, are required to cause an infection through the mouth compared to brain-to-brain contamination.

“That’s part of the reason why we don’t see more cases of prion diseases,” Aguzzi said.

Because the incidence of prion disease is so low among humans — and continues to remain low — it’s unlikely airborne forms are a significant threat to most people.

“I think this study is interesting and comprehensive, but my big question is this: Where do prions exist in aerosolized form?” said prion biologist Anthony Kincaid of Creighton University, who also was not involved in the research. “People who remove brains or spinal chords often use bone saws, so those might make infected tissue airborne. Otherwise I’m not sure.”

Slaughterhouse environments may also be a concern, Kincaid added, but the jury is out until further research is done. Until then, he agreed with Aguzzi and Hoover that laboratory protocols are worth revising.

“My real hope in studying prions is apply what I learn to much more common but similar diseases, such as Alzheimer’s,” Aguzzi said. “Knowing why aggregated proteins damage neurons will allow us to understand how they affect brain function.”

NOTE: Here is a list of prion infectious diseases...Lon
  • Alpers syndrome : a progressive degenerative disease of the central nervous system.
  • Bovine spongiform encephalopathy : a fatal, neurodegenerative disease of cattle that is transmitted to human beings who eat infected carcasses.
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease : rare and incurable degenerative neurological disorder (brain disease).
  • Fatal familial insomnia : rare autosomal dominant inherited brain disease, that is fatal.
  • Kuru : characterized by headaches, joint pains and shaking of the limbs. Affects the brain and is fatal.
  • Transmissible spongiform encephalopathy : a group of progressive conditions that affect the brain and nervous systems.

Return of the Black Art: Nigerian witches, wizards go public, hold retreat

compassnewspaper - Wonders shall never end, even as Christians say that the termination of the world is near, very near indeed.

Last week, the media was agog with reports that an “association” of witches and wizards held a press conference!

And its supposed members told some politicians of the misfortune awaiting them in the on-going political contests in the country. Not that the warnings were bad in themselves, but many a Nigerian were baffled at the source they were emanating from.

“Drop your presidential ambition, witches, wizards warn Atiku”, a headline of a newspaper had flashed of the witches’ warning in one of the reports.

The report continued: “The contest for the nation’s coveted seat, particularly the emergence of the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has gone from the terrestial to the celestial realm.

“The outcome, if the warning of the Witches and Wizards Association of Nigeria (WITZAN) is anything to go by, might have been predetermined on the spiritual plane.

“In a statement signed by the National Coordinator of the association, Dr Okhue Iboi, WITZAN told former Vice-President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, to withdraw from the battle to clinch the presidential ticket of the PDP or face humiliation that will spell doom for his political career.

“Giving this warning in Lagos, Iboi said the collective body of witches and wizards had resolved that Atiku should quit the race or risk being disgraced out of politics.

“While saying that the warning to Atiku was based on revelations given to the witches and wizards in Nigeria at the end of a three-day retreat they held in Ofosu in Edo State, he said, “we are not politicians. Witches and wizards are a group of patriotic Nigerian citizens who wanted the best for this nation. During our three-day retreat in Ofosu, it was revealed to us that Atiku’s days of relevance in Nigeria politics are numbered.

“It was revealed to us in our crystal ball that Atiku was going nowhere.........”

Responding to the report, a reader had shouted “wonder shall never cease, Nigeria is a country of anything goes.” The reader would later argue that the principle of freedom of expression and association as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution is being assaulted. “What a shameless publicity,” the reader further blurted. Apart from this reader, many others that read the report reacted in awe.

Why the shocked responses? It may be queried. It’s common knowledge that as powerful and terrific as many people regard those who practise witchcraft to be, they never dared, in the past, come to the open and do a pride of that power because of the evil meaning people attached to it. Besides, the two major religions of the world- Christianity and Islam- strongly condemn it and those who practise it. Also, the laws of virtually all the countries of the world are against it.

Witchcraft, in various societies, is the alleged use of supernatural or magical powers. Historically, it was widely believed that witchcraft involved the use of these powers to inflict harm upon members of a community or their property. Since the mid 20th century, the term witchcraft has sometimes been used to distinguish between bad witchcraft and good witchcraft, with the latter often involving healing. The concept of witchcraft as harmful is normally treated as a cultural belief and a means of explaining human misfortune by blaming it either on a supernatural entity or a known person in the community

Beliefs in witchcraft, and resulting witch-hunts, are both found in many cultures worldwide, today mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, and historically notably in early modern Europe of the 14th to 18th century, where witchcraft came to be seen as a large diabolical conspiracy against Christianity, and accusations of witchcraft led to large-scale witch-hunts, especially in Germanic Europe. It has also come to be regarded by some people as a suppressed pagan religion and was popular in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Probably, according to historians, the most obvious characteristic of a witch was the ability to cast a spell, a “spell” being the word used to signify the means employed to carry out a magical action. A spell could consist of a set of words, a formula or verse, or a ritual action, or any combination of these. Spells traditionally were cast by many methods, such as by the inscription of runes or sigils on an object to give it magical powers; by the immolation or binding of a wax or clay image (poppet) of a person to affect him or her magically; by the recitation of incantations; by the performance of physical rituals; by the employment of magical herbs as amulets or potions; by gazing at mirrors, swords or other specula (scrying) for purposes of divination; and by many other means.

However, there are several references to witchcraft in the Bible that strongly condemn such practices. For example, Deuteronomy 18:11-12 condemns anyone who “..casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you” (NIV). Exodus 22:18 states “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” while Leviticus 20:27 says “A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them” (KJV). In the Holy Scripture, the strong condemnations of such practices do not seem to be based so much upon the supposition of fraud as upon the abomination of the magic in itself.

The word “witch” in Exodus is a translation of the Hebrew word “kashaph,” which comes from the root meaning “to whisper.” The word as used in Exodus probably thus meant “one who whispers a spell.” In context, the Exodus passage probably was intended to urge Jews to adhere to their own religious practices and not those of surrounding tribes.

In 420 BC Saint Augustine of Hippo, an influential theologian in the early Christian Church, argued in the early 400s that God alone could suspend the normal laws of the universe. In his view, neither Satan nor witches had supernatural powers or were capable of effectively invoking magic of any sort. It was the “error of the pagans” to believe in “some other divine power than the one God.” Of course, if witches are indeed powerless, the Church need not overly concern itself with their spells or other attempts at mischief.

The late medieval Church accepted St. Augustine’s view, and hence felt little need to bother itself with tracking down witches or investigating allegations of witchcraft.

In 1208, Pope Innocent III opened an attack on Cathar heretics who believed in a world in which God and Satan, both having supernatural powers, were at war. The Church attempted to discredit the Cathar belief by spreading stories that the heretics actually worshiped their evil deity in person. Propagandists for the Church depicted Cathars kissing the anus of Satan in a ceremonial show of loyalty to him. As a result of the Church’s sustained attacks, the public’s understanding of Satan moved from that of a mischievous spoiler to a deeply sinister force.

In spite of condemnation by major religions, modern practices identified by their practitioners as “witchcraft” have arisen in the twentieth century, generally portrayed as revivals of pre-Christian European magic and spirituality. They thus fall within the broad category of Neopaganism (new paganism). The first groups of neopagan witchcraft to publicly appear in the 1950s and 1960s were Gerald Gardner’s Wicca and Roy Bowers’ Clan of Tubal Cain. They operated as initiatory secret societies. More recently a movement to recreate pre-Christian traditions has taken shape, including such practices as Divination, Seid and various forms of Shamanism.

Here in Nigeria, attempt at presenting witchcraft as not evil has led to dreaded societies of some of the practioners of the art renaming themselves to reflect the mood and spirit of the present time. That’s why the Ogboni Confraternity in the South-West has now changed to the Reformed Ogboni Confraternity. And unlike before, the confraternity can now be identified by known addresses and members can meet to public knowledge.

Some people believe that not everything about witchcraft is evil and that it can in many situations benefit mankind. Supporting this view, Madeleine Bunting of the The Guardian, London wrote: “The danger is that the aggression and hostility to magic/witchcraft in all its forms.. deters engagement with the really interesting questions that have emerged recently in the science/[necromancy] debate. The durability and near universality of [witchcraft] is one of the most enduring conundrums of evolutionary thinking... Does spell-casting still have an important role in human wellbeing? ... If sorcery declines, what gaps does it leave in the functioning of individuals and social groups?”

Other religions on witchcraft

Judaism: Jewish law views the practice of witchcraft as being laden with idolatry and/or necromancy; both being serious theological and practical offenses in Judaism. Although Maimonides vigorously denied the efficacy of all methods of witchcraft, and claimed that the Biblical prohibitions regarding it were precisely to wean the Israelites from practices related to idolatry, according to Traditional Judaism, it is acknowledged that while magic exists, it is forbidden to practice it on the basis that it usually involves the worship of other gods. However, some of the Rabbis practiced “magic” themselves. For instance, Rabbah created a person and sent him to Rabbi Zera, and Rabbi Hanina and Rabbi Oshaia studied every Sabbath evening together and created a small calf to eat (Sanhedrin 65b). In these cases, the “magic” was seen more as divine miracles (i.e., coming from God rather than pagan gods) than as witchcraft.

Judaism does make it clear that Jews shall not try to learn about the ways of witches (Deuteronomy/Devarim 18: 9–10) and that witches are to be put to death. (Exodus/Shemot 22:17). Judaism’s most famous reference to a medium is undoubtedly the Witch of Endor whom Saul consults, as recounted in the First Book of Samuel, chapter 28.

Islam: Divination and magic in Islam include a wide range of practices, including black magic, warding off the evil eye, the production of amulets and other magical equipment, conjuring, casting lots, astrology, and physiognomy. Muslims do commonly believe in magic (Sihr) and explicitly forbid its practice. Sihr translates from Arabic as sorcery or black magic. The best known reference to magic in Islam is the Surah Al-Falaq (meaning dawn or daybreak), which is known as a prayer to Allah to ward off black magic says: I seek refuge with the Lord of the Dawn From the mischief of created things; From the mischief of Darkness as it overspreads; From the mischief of those who practise secret arts; And from the mischief of the envious one as he practises envy. (Quran 113:1–5).


New Yorkers paying $800 an ounce for worms that promise sexual prowess

nypost - It's a stiff price to pay for a fungus-encrusted silkworm.

But New Yorkers are gladly shelling out $800 an ounce for these dried dead bodies -- and the sexual prowess they promise.

The vile virility remedy known as "Himalayan Viagra" works a little differently from the blue pill. There's no immediate reaction, but sprinkle them on your corn flakes every morning and users swear it'll make your bedsprings bounce.

The wonder drug -- called "yarsagumba" or "dong chong xia cao" -- can also be brewed into an anti-impotence tea.

The insects come from the highlands of Nepal, where they are attacked by a beige fungus, cordyceps sinensis, that kills and entombs them.

"It's like the ultimate invasion of the body snatchers," said Thomas Leung, owner of Kamwo, a Chinese herbal pharmacy on Grand Street.

Hoping to resurrect their love lives, older men are blowing wads of cash on the creepy caterpillar cocktails.

"It would cost you about $200 per serving," Leung said.

Leung remembers the ingredient selling for a mere $6.50 decades ago, but the price has rocketed to half the price of gold in recent years.

"It's hard to come by, and the demand for it is very high because of there's a lot of hype," he said.

The infected worms are picked by peasants during the summer in isolated villages along the Annapurna trail. Schools shut down for the lucrative picking season so children can join the hunt for the expensive aphrodisiac.

But where there's sex and money, violence can't be far behind. Competition for the cash crop between remote mountain towns has turned bloody, with mobs murdering poachers.

In June 2009, a mob of 65 villagers from the Menang clan in Nar bludgeoned seven poachers from a neighboring Gorkha tribe. The Nar men -- one from each household -- first slew two rivals with primitive tools and tossed their bodies into a crevasse. Then the gang ripped another five encroachers to pieces and cold-heartedly discarded them. Next month a verdict is expected to come down for 35 men charged in the crime.

Leung believes local interest in the mystical worm is based more on folklore than on serious Eastern medicine.

The sweet-tasting substance is commonly used in formulas to treat chronic asthma and is a centuries-old remedy for lung and kidney health, he said.

"The kidneys are responsible for sexual and reproductive functions, so people kind of stretch that and say, 'Well if you consume this, you'll have that,' " he said.

"Very few people who sell this are going to tell you that, because they want to keep the hype up," he added.

Leung said the ingredient is peddled in cheaper supplements and the fungus has been synthetically duplicated.

But he's no snake-oil salesman.

"People always ask, 'Is it really that good?' " he said. "And I say, 'It's not $800 good.'"


Gaza: Hamas 'Witch Hunts'

ansamed - Hamas leaders are committed to a systematic ''witch hunt'' and 150 women were arrested in 2010 in Gaza for having made recourse to witchcraft of some sort. During a symposium held in recent days in Gaza, it was stated that in the eyes of Hamas, the activities of these women represent a real social danger, also because they risk ''breaking up families,'' causing divorce and frittering away of money. Sometimes their activities also have criminal repercussions. One awareness campaign against ''the witches'' was launched using large posters in mosques, universities and public offices frequented by women.

The issue emerged again in August last year when a 62-year-old woman, Jabryieh Abu Ghanas, considered to be active in the field of ''witchcraft'' and the production of ''voodoo dolls'', was shot dead in a street in the centre of Gaza. This murder caused great alarm in the Palestinian human rights defence organisations al-Mezan and Pchr-Gaza. It seems however that for now Hamas are not using an iron hand in regard to the women suspected of witchcraft. They are forced to sign an undertaking to abandon their practices, consider incompatible with Islam, for good. It seems this measure has been sufficient and to date there is no news of any ''witch'' being imprisoned by Hamas.


Microsoft is patenting 'biological trojans' to infect the human body

"In its just-published patent application for Adapting Parasites to Combat Disease, Microsoft lays out plans to unleash 'altered parasitic organisms' on humans, including mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, bed bugs, leeches, pinworms, tapeworms, hookworms, heart worms, roundworms, lice (head, body, and pubic), and the like. 'Irradiated mosquitoes can be used to deliver damaged Plasmodium to individuals,' explains Microsoft. 'Instead of contracting malaria, an individual receiving the damaged Plasmodium develops an immune response that renders the individual resistant to contracting malaria.' Don't worry about runaway breeding, advises Microsoft — 'a termination feature [that] can include programmed death' makes this impossible. As David Spade might say, I liked this movie the first time I saw it — when it was called Jurassic Park."


Woman calls 911 when Facebook took too long to remove her nude photo

WLSAM - A Portage, Ind., woman scrambled to get her nude self-portrait photograph off the Internet.

Angelica Nicholson thought Facebook wasn't responding fast enough to her request on Thursday, so she called police, telling them she was 17, a minor, trying to make it happen faster.

Instead, she got arrested after police found out she was 18.

Nicholson told police she took the photo in front of a mirror and allowed a male acquaintance to send it to his phone.

Then, a Gary, Ind., woman who is dating the man posted Nicholson's nude photo on her own Facebook page. That started a series of angry text messages between the two women. Nicholson contacted Facebook staff in an attempt to have the picture removed, then called police because she didn't think it was happening fast enough.

An officer learned Nicholson's actual age through Bureau of Motor Vehicle records, while typing up the incident report. Nicholson was arrested for false reporting and is being held in jail awaiting a $500 cash bond.

NOTE: I just wonder how much weirdness that occurs on Facebook never goes public? Lon