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How to apply for Social Security benefits

Social Security Benefits

Two months before you reach 65 years of age, you will need to apply for Medicare. Medicare becomes your primary insurance policy at age 65, and any employer-provided health insurance becomes secondary. If you don't apply for Medicare, you may end up without health insurance. This is typical for most people who have medical benefits from an employer. If you don't have employer insurance, you can buy various types of supplementary medical insurance.

It is important to know that even though you qualify for Medicare insurance at age 65, you may not qualify for full retirement benefits yet. Social Security retirement benefits are accrued depending on your year of birth. People born from 1943 to 1954 need to wait until they become 66 to achieve "full retirement age". People born from 1955 to 1959 qualify for full retirement at ages 66 and 2 months to 66 and 10 months. Those born in 1960 or later qualify for full retirement only at age 67. Delaying the retirement age is one of the things that the Social Security Administration has done in an effort to provide services for an aging population with longer lifespans.

When you apply for Medicare or Social Security, you need to have the following documents:

The Social Security Administration requires to see your original birth certificate or other proof of age. They do not accept photocopies unless they are certified by the office that issued the original. If Citizenship or Naturalization is involved, they also need original documents. The office can accept uncertified copies of military service papers, W-2 or IRS Schedule C or SE forms. If you have already proven your date of birth and citizenship status while filing for Medicare, you do not need to submit these proofs again when applying for Social Security.

You can apply for Social Security benefits online at www.socialsecurity.gov
Learn more about Medicare

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Clay can kill bacteria

Turkish Mud Bath

Facial mud packs and mud baths have been promoted for centuries with incredible claims about beauty and health that a reasonable person would tend to dismiss as easily as the proverbial snake oil. This is a typical unedited promotional excerpt for the mud baths near a hotel in Dalyan, Turkey:
The thermal water in the mud baths at the 4km distance to Dalyan is useful for the rheumatisms, muscle fatigue, nervous diseases, joints and calcification diseases kidney and urethra treatments. This thermal water, which is in 39 degrees, contains sulfur, chloride, fluoride and radioactive gases. It is believed that the mud bath, which is famous to be an elixir of beauty, makes the people at least ten years younger. The mud which is waited in the body for 45 minutes period of time stretches the skin and removes the wrinkles. You can reach the region by means of a boat from Dalyan. You can experience the charm of Mud Bath with the comfort of Dalyan Hotel Palmyra.

The temperature of 39 degrees Celsius corresponds to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Clays have been used for thousands of years to heal wounds, soothe indigestion, and kill intestinal worms. Lynda Williams, an associate research professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University is coordinating the work of three teams of researchers to study healing clays.[1] They have found that a French clay can kill M. ulcrans, a flesh-eating bacteria from Africa, methicyllin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), penicillin-resistant S. aureus (PRSA), and pathogenic Escherichia coli (E. coli).

Antimicrobial clays kill through purely physical means. When a bacterium comes in physical contact with the clay, the antimicrobial agents in the clay poke a hole in the cell wall of the bacterium causing the bacterium to leak to death. Mixing some of the clay at very low levels into sewage sludge that contains all kinds of bacteria causes all the bacteria to die so that nothing will grow in the sludge.

Lynda Williams

"Our pilot study showed that one of the French clays completely kills E. coli; with substantial decreases in other Gram negative, Gram positive and Mycobacterial populations. A second French green clay had the opposite effect; enhancing bacterial growth. The mineralogy and major element chemistry of these clays are quite similar, therefore we seek to identify trace elements, organic compounds, chemical conditions (pH, Eh) or physical parameters (surface thermodynamic properties) that might be responsible for the disparate outcomes."

[1] French Clay Can Kill MRSA And 'Flesh-Eating' Bacteria

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How to avoid Alzheimer's disease

Beta Amyloid plaques
Amyloid plaques consist of protein strands misfolded
as beta-pleated sheets through hydrogen bonding

Alzheimer's disease affects approximately 4.5 million Americans, according to The U.S. National Institutes of Health. About 5 percent of people ages 65 to 74 and almost half of those ages 85 suffer the disease. There is no cure for Alzheimer's. People with the disease experience memory loss, difficulty remembering recent events or the names of familiar people or things. This disease does not result from normal aging.

Autopsies of people suffering from Alzheimer's have shown a substantial number of amyloid plaques in their brains. Amyloids are insoluble clumps of fibrous proteins that have misfolded into beta sheet structures. Amyloids may also accumulate in other organs and cause amyloidosis which is determined by microscopic histological examination and is characteristic of several different diseases such as inclusion body myositis, a muscle disease, and cerebral amyloid angiopathy.

The increase of Alzheimer's disease and the increase of obesity in the last 20 years, have caused scientists to explore the idea that specific diets may be beneficial or harmful for brain function. Indeed, it has been proven that obesity-related leptin levels contribute to the formation of beta amyloid plaques[1,2], and that caloric restriction prevents age-related neuronal damage.[3,4]

If you are overweight, now is the time to get back in shape. Don't wait until your body has been damaged beyond repair. You should exercise regularly and adopt a nutritious, low-calorie diet to maintain your ideal body weight. You will be a little bit hungry, but you will be healthier.
Tips on exercise, nutrition, calorie restriction, and a diet calculator

[1] Fewlass DC, Noboa K, Pi-Sunyer FX, Johnston JM, Yan SD, Tezapsidis N., Obesity-related leptin regulates Alzheimer's Abeta. FASEB J. 2004 Dec;18(15):1870-8. PMID: 15576490

[2] Jefferson Scientists Discover Mechanism Tying Obesity to Alzheimer's Disease

[3] Gillette-Guyonnet S, Vellas B., Caloric restriction and brain function, Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2008 Nov;11(6):686-92. PMID: 18827571

[4] Qin W, Yang T, et al, Neuronal SIRT1 activation as a novel mechanism underlying the prevention of Alzheimer disease amyloid neuropathology by calorie restriction, J Biol Chem. 2006 Aug 4;281(31):21745-54. Epub 2006 Jun 2. PMID: 16751189

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My sunflowers and the disappearance of honey bees

Sunflower bloomSunflower seeds

The sunflowers in my penthouse started blooming in August. Today, I harvested them. Most of the pollination was done by bumblebees. I did not see many honey bees in my garden this year. There have been reports that honey bees have been disappearing in massive numbers since 2006, forcing many beekeepers into bankruptcy.

Scientists have been trying to find out what is causing what they call "colony collapse disorder" (CCD). Pesticides and viruses are suspected, but the mystery illness may stem from a bee virus that apparently spread to the U.S. from Australia in 2004. A genetic comparison of healthy and diseased bee colonies in the U.S. has revealed the presence of Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV) in almost all beekeeping operations affected by CCD.[1] Bees are important because one-third of the U.S. food supply, including a variety of fruits, vegetables and even nuts, requires pollination by bees or other insects.

Our global economy depends on the interchange of goods originating from diverse ecosystems. Pests and invasive species expand into new territories by the hand of man. Starlings, kudzu, zebra mussels, Dutch elm disease, and snakehead fish are just a few examples of non-native species imported to America. It is possible that the demise of the bees has been caused by the globalization of commerce.

Flowering plants (angiosperms) developed approximately 115 to 125 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period. Bees evolved from the wasp family 100 million years ago. Bee fossils have been found in amber, which is petrified tree sap.
Learn more about the Cretaceous Period and the future of the Earth

[1] Mysterious Honeybee Disappearance Linked to Rare Virus, Scientific American, September 7, 2007.

Comments »

SolitaryBee said,
2008-10-16 @ 15:21:53

Do you grow many sunflowers?

If this disappearance serious and as yet unresolved, there has to be other measures taken to encourage alternative pollinators. It's great you have bumble bees in your garden, but have you ever thought about encouraging solitary bees... they don't usually sting, nor do they make honey, but they can be very easy going and happy to take up nesting boxes if you get the conditions approximately right. They have a limited March to May activity, but they are very avid pollinators for fruit tree blossoms if you have them.

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Antibacterial properties of raw honey

Pittsboro Honey

I saw a bottle of honey at a discount store with a very low price. When I looked at the label, I realized that it was syrup and not honey. The trade name was something like Honey Bear syrup. The word "syrup" was in small letters. The ingredients were high fructose corn syrup with artificial flavorings. Always read the labels and don't buy this junk food.

Real raw honey, which consists mostly of carbohydrates, differs from syrups in that it has enzymes from the flowers and from the bees. Some of the most important honey enzymes are invertase, diastase, and glucose oxidase. The most prominent enzymes are added by the bee during the conversion of nectar to honey. In some countries, such as Germany, the specification of enzymes is a binding legal indicator that prevents the adulteration of honey. The diastase content varies according to floral source, the length of the storage period and exposure to high temperatures.

We have heard this advice since childhood: If you have a sore throat, drink some hot tea and take a spoonful of honey. Don't put the honey in the hot tea! The high temperature will degrade the enzymes, and these enzymes have antifungal and antibacterial properties. Scientists have found that the enzymes in raw honey are effective against fungi such as Candida albicans and Aspergillus niger[1,2] and against antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus[3]. If you think about it, bees would not have been able to survive for millions of years without evolving a method of preserving their food from fermentation and spoilage by microorganisms.

My friend, Vladislav Oleynik, learned beekeeping (apiculture) from his father. Not too long ago, he established some hives and began a small operation called Pittsboro Honey in North Carolina. He brought me some samples of his honey when he visited me recently. What a delight!

Honey is not for everybody. Some people have allergic reactions to the components of honey. The symptoms of honey allergy may range from itching in the oral mucosa to severe systemic symptoms, and even anaphylactic shock. The proteins derived from secretions of pharyngeal and salivary glands of honeybee heads and the proteins from the pollens contained in the honey are generally the cause of allergic reactions to honey.[4]

[1] Boukraâ L, Bouchegrane S., Additive action of honey and starch against Candida albicans and Aspergillus niger, Iberoam Micol. 2007 Dec 31;24(4):309-11.

[2] Boukraâ L, Benbarek H, Ahmed M., Synergistic action of starch and honey against Aspergillus niger in correlation with Diastase Number, Mycoses. 2008 Mar 3, PMID: 18331445

[3] Kwakman PH, Van den Akker JP, Güçlü A, Aslami H, Binnekade JM, de Boer L, Boszhard L, Paulus F, Middelhoek P, te Velde AA, Vandenbroucke-Grauls CM, Schultz MJ, Zaat SA., Medical-grade honey kills antibiotic-resistant bacteria in vitro and eradicates skin colonization. Clin Infect Dis. 2008 Jun 1;46(11):1677-82, PMID: 18433338

[4] Bauer L, Kohlich A, Hirschwehr R, Siemann U, Ebner H, Scheiner O, Kraft D, Ebner C., Food allergy to honey: pollen or bee products? Characterization of allergenic proteins in honey by means of immunoblotting, J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1996 Jan;97(1 Pt 1):65-73. PMID: 8568139

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The Danger of Portfolio Balancing

Many brokerage houses offer portfolio balancing between different asset classes to minimize risk. The idea is that you can reduce your risk by having a mix of fixed income assets such as treasury notes or municipal bonds and a variety of small cap, large cap and international stocks. If your stocks are booming, you should sell some of your gainers and put the gains into your fixed asset classes.

However, during down markets, your cash reserves are higher relative to stocks that have lost value. In this case, portfolio balancing consists of buying stocks at the depressed values in the hope that they will eventually grow. But what happens when the stocks continue to go down in value? Should you continue putting good money into stocks that are likely to lose value? I don't think so. During these times it is probably more prudent to keep your cash and fixed income assets and wait for the market to stabilize.

Brokers say that you never know when the stocks will go up. They insist that gains are made during sudden market moves. You have to stay invested in order not to miss the upward market movements. I think that the times are changing and the old rules don't work. The market has dropped so much and so fast that if you had put all your assets as fixed income at the beginning of 2001, you would now have more money than if you had invested in the S&P 500 index or a fund based on the Dow-Jones index -- even accounting for inflation and all the dividends! Automatic portfolio balancing is dangerous because it can reduce your funds substantially during a long period of recession. With current market conditions, it may be wise to wait for a period of economic stability that lasts at least three months before you put some of your hard-earned cash into stocks.

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Is it time to buy stocks?

S & P 500 Index
Six-month prices

The volatility of the stock market is being reflected in the values of 401k retirement funds. Your Third Quarter statement for 2008 will be a shocker. Your savings of the last two or three years have been wiped out by the falling values of index funds like the S&P 500 which is the basis of many retirement plans.

The companies that have survived the financial collapse of the sub-prime mortgage industry may offer some opportunities for investment. Warren Buffet has a good track record of investing in solid companies. Warren Buffet just bought General Electric (GE) stock. In October 2007, a share of GE stock was above $41 Dollars. Today, a share of GE is at $22 Dollars. GE is a diversified company involved in technology, media, and financial services. It pays a dividend of $1.24 per share which translates to 5.1% at today's prices. This is not bad considering that bank savings accounts are paying miserable rates way below 2%. GE is a good buy with a Price-to-Earnings ratio (P/E) of 10.31 and $2.15 earnings per share (EPS).
Learn how to evaluate stocks

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Melamine in Chinese milk products


Melamine is a cyclic molecule made from urea which contains 66% nitrogen by weight. Melamine in combination with formaldehyde is used to produce melamine resin, a very durable thermosetting plastic. Formica counter tops and Melmac dinner plates are made from melamine resins.

Recently, several Chinese food products have been found to be intentionally contaminated with melamine. In 2007 several brands of pet food were recalled after thousands of dogs died of kidney failure. This month, China recalled more than 700 tons of infant formula containing melamine following the death of several children and over 50,000 cases of illnesses. Tests found that melamine had been added illegally to baby formula in order to increase the apparent protein content. Standard tests such as the Kjeldahl and Dumas tests estimate protein levels by measuring the nitrogen content. Adulterating watered down milk with nitrogen-rich melamine fools these tests.

Melamine-contaminated products from China have made their way around the globe. The latest impact is the recall of instant coffee and milk chocolate products from Kraft Foods, Mars, and Cadbury. Melamine is nontoxic in low doses, but it can combine with other chemicals to form insoluble compounds that cannot be excreted.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set 2.5 parts per million as the maximum "tolerable" amount of melamine that could be safely consumed in foods, but the agency was not able to determine a safe amount for baby formula. Melamine levels in imported Chinese candies recalled in California were as high as 520 parts per million.

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Human speech developed 530,000 years ago

hyoid hyoid

The hyoid bone is the only bone in the body that is not directly connected to another bone. The hyoid is supported by the muscles of the neck and it, in turn, supports the base of the tongue. Scientists agree that the hyoid bone and its position in the throat is what makes human speech possible.

Some time ago, it was discovered that Neanderthals had hyoid bones. This made it possible to deduce that Neanderthals living throughout Europe 230,000 years ago were able to speak. A new discovery of two hyoid bones from the middle Pleistocene site of the Sima de los Huesos in the Sierra de Atapuerca (Spain) indicates that the predecessor of the Neanderthal, Homo Heidelbergensis, was also capable of speech. The researchers conclude that "Modern hyoid morphology was present by at least 530 kya [thousands of years ago] and appears to represent a shared derived feature of the modern human and Neandertal evolutionary lineages inherited from their last common ancestor."[1]

Once language got started, pre-humans could coordinate their activities and argue about religion and politics, just like we do today.
Look at the evolutionary timeline

[1] Martí­nez I, Arsuaga JL, Quam R, Carretero JM, Gracia A, Rodrí­guez L, Human hyoid bones from the middle Pleistocene site of the Sima de los Huesos (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain), Journal of Human Evolution, 2008, vol. 54, no. 1, pp. 118-124. PMID: 17804038

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Shampoo for bald people

Michael Jordan's Shampoo Michael Jordan

About a year ago, I got a free promotional 10 fl. oz (300 ml) bottle of Michael Jordan's daily conditioning shampoo. I am finally getting to the bottom of the bottle. It does not take much shampoo to create a lather when you don't have much hair. The shampoo has a high concentration of mint extract that tingles your scalp, but can also burn your eyes if you are not careful.

Every time that I use the shampoo, I smile at the thought that somebody who has no hair endorses a hair product. What is next? Michael Jordan's combs and brushes? Michael Jordan's hair gel? Michael Jordan's head gloss?

Michael earned a reputation as a high-scoring basketball player who could soar through the air unimpeded by gravity. Although he has been away from baketball for some time, people still admire him and he is still influential in getting people to buy the stuff that he promotes. TV commercials for Hanes underwear continue to feature Michael Jordan pushing tag-less T-shirts, boxers, and briefs. Business must be good.

I have not seen Michael's shampoo in the drug store shelves recently. Maybe Michael Jordan does not have the same power for advertising hair products as Jaclyn Smith, one of the stars of Charlie's Angels.
Jaclyn Smith
Jaclyn Smith

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