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facts & arguments

Boo, in advance

Sunday is Halloween, an opportunity for children to collect candy and for young adults to dress up and look even scarier than usual.

Bloody gourd

"Carved pumpkins abound this Halloween season, but a decorated gourd dated to 1793 may be the spookiest of them all," Discovery News says. "New research determines it may contain the blood of Louis XVI, who was executed by guillotine that same year." The owner had dipped his handkerchief into the king's blood after his beheading, as did many others. The blood has the mutation for blue eyes, a prominent feature of the late monarch. A heart thought to be that of Louis's son is in the French royal crypt, so a definite identification may be possible.

Witch life today

Recent press reports:

- In South Africa, Eastern Cape police are looking for a 20-year-old man who allegedly stabbed his parents to death with a spear and wounded two others on Wednesday over accusations of witchcraft, the South African Press Association reports.

- "Townspeople in Bolivia lynched a couple for allegedly practising witchcraft even though it is not a crime in the South American country," Agence-France Presse reports. "… Locals in Tomina, Chuquisaca, in the southeast, beat to death and strangled the couple, aged 46 and 48, after filing charges against them for suspected witchcraft. The mob fatally attacked the couple after learning that there would be no charges …, the Correo del Sur newspaper reported."

- A woman in Nalgonda, India, gave an interview to the New Indian Express after her husband was killed by fellow villagers. "They blamed my husband for natural deaths and accidents," she said, adding that she had no idea that her husband was being beaten up, paraded in the village and later thrown on burning logs. "It was when he was being burnt alive that I came to know about the incident and rushed there. But by the time I reached the graveyard … it was all over."

Human sacrifice

"It's arguably the worst place on Earth to be born with albinism, Tanzania," says an August episode of ABC's 20/20. "The country has one of the largest albino populations in the world. But despite being a tourist mecca with a peaceful reputation, this is a country where albinos are being hunted down like animals … the victims killed because of a superstitious belief that their limbs possess supernatural powers. A renegade group of witch doctors are now using their body parts in potions and spells. Nearly 60 albinos have been killed since 2007. It's a relatively new phenomenon."

Grave robbers

"Russian bears have grown so desperate after a scorching summer they have started digging up and eating corpses in municipal cemeteries, alarmed officials said [this week]" The Guardian reports. Two women recently frightened a bear eating a body in a cemetery in the northern republic of Komi, near the Arctic Circle. A similar case occurred two years ago in the northern Karelia republic. A Russian official from the International Fund for Animal Welfare said: "In Karelia one bear learned how to do it [open a coffin] He then taught the others. They are pretty quick learners."

Ride of the mummy

Medical examiners in Costa Mesa, Calif., have identified a mummified corpse that was left in the passenger seat of a woman's car for 10 months, Los Angeles TV station KTLA reports. The coroner's office identified the desiccated body after hydrating the tips of the fingers to get usable fingerprints. Officers also found a box of baking soda inside the car that the driver was using to try to dissipate the smell. Police say the car's owner befriended the homeless woman and let her sleep in the car, but when she died overnight, the driver was too afraid to go to the police. Police allege she tried to cover the remains with pieces of clothing and continued to drive the car.

Ducking for apples

Adults can have fun merely by staying home on spooky Sunday and laughing at their children, suggests Chambers's Book of Days (1891). "The grand sport with apples on Halloween is to set them afloat in a tub of water, into which the juveniles, by turns, duck their heads with the view of catching an apple. Great fun goes on in watching the attempts of the youngster in pursuit of the swimming fruit, which wriggles from side to side of the tub and evades all attempts to capture it; whilst the disappointed aspirant is obliged to abandon the chase in favour of another whose time has now arrived. … Some competitors will deftly suck up the apple, if a small one, into their mouths. Others plunge manfully overhead in pursuit of a particular apple, and having forced it to the bottom of the tub, seize it firmly with their teeth, and emerge, dripping and triumphant, with their prize. This venturous procedure is generally rewarded with a hurrah! by the lookers-on."

Thought du jour

"I'm not concerned about all hell breaking loose, but that a part of hell will break loose … it'll be much harder to detect."

George Carlin (1937-2008), comedian