Social Security and Medicare for Baby Boomers
The Social Security Act of 1935 established retirement benefits for workers, for the handicapped, and for victims of industrial accidents. Payroll deductions taken under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) provide the funding for Social Security. The age for retirement was originally 65 years of age, but as life expectancy in the United States continues to increase, and the sources of funding for Social Security continue to dwindle, the retirement age is being gradually extended. People born from 1943 to 1954 will qualify for retirement at age 66. Those born after 1960 will not get a full pension until age 67.
According to the Center for Health Statistics, the average life expectancy in the United States is approximately 78 years. This means that retirement income should be able to sustain you for at least 10 years if you were to die at the average age, but you are likely to live much longer than that with modern medical interventions. Social Security and individual retirement accounts (401K) are supposed to provide the funds to meet your expenses when you no longer work, but Social Security is in trouble.
One of the problems with Social Security is the uneven population growth known as the post-World War II "baby boom" between 1946 and 1964. The large population of boomers started using birth control and had fewer children who could fund Social Security. This means that Social Security will run out of money. The trustees of the fund estimate that by 2017 the revenue collected by Social Security will be less than what is needed to pay the beneficiaries. If Social Security then starts using its surplus reserves, the reserves will be exhausted by 2041. Medicare, which provides medical benefits to retirees, will start going negative in 2013 and will consume its reserves by 2019.
The United States is heading toward a crisis in social services and health care in ten years. The traditional services that serve our seniors today may not be available to those who were born after 1954. What are you going to do about it?
Stressful exercise can be fatal
It happened again. A Michigan police officer died during the 2007 Chicago Marathon. An autopsy showed that a heart condition, and not the record-setting heat and high humidity, was what killed him. The temperature was 88 degrees Fahrenheit (31°C) by 10 AM, which broke the previous record of 84 degrees set in 1979. However, at least 49 people were taken to hospitals, while another 250 were treated onsite, many for heat-related ailments. The high heat index and the large number of casualties prompted director Carey Pinkowski to stop the race at 11:30 a.m., about 3 1/2 hours into the run, when the organizers became concerned they would not be able to cope with additional heat-related injuries as the temperature continued to soar. According to the organizers of the Marathon, approximately 45,000 runners registered for the race, but 10,000 did not show up. So, of the 35,000 who actually raced, about 300 required treatment or a hospital visit. That is about one percent.
Exercising during extreme heat and humidity causes a loss of body fluids as the body tries to keep cool by sweating. Drinking only water can be fatal because it results in hyponatremia, a sodium deficiency that may cause abdominal cramps and convulsions. Profuse sweating requires replacing sodium and potassium, two essential electrolytes. Drinking a glass of water with 1/4 teaspoon of salt or sports drinks helps to restore the electrolytes lost by sweating.
Our oceans are changing and jellyfish prosper
Commercial fishermen use nets that may measure more than a mile in length. These efficient fishing techniques have made it possible to bring cheap seafood to our table. The sea was thought to be an inexhaustible source of food, but warmer ocean waters and overfishing have resulted in major changes in marine ecosystems.
Around the world, jellyfish populations are displacing fish and becoming the dominant form of marine life. Jellyfish populations have become so dense that they have overwhelmed fishing nets along the coast of France and clogged the water intake pipes of nuclear power plants in Japan. Jellyfish are consuming shrimp larvae and small fish thus reducing the population of species that are important to humans. Jellyfish compete for the same kinds of prey as adult and young fishes, so we are promoting the expansion of jellyfish habitats by overfishing and polluting the waters.
Fish provide valuable sources of essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for human diets. If our society continues to exploit natural resources without limits that guarantee renewal, we will wipe out the fauna and flora on which we depend. Neanderthals managed to survive for over 230,000 years in Europe. We, who have named ourselves Homo Sapiens, meaning "wise man", have only been around for approximately 60,000 years. Will we use our intelligence to outlive the Neanderthals?
Vegan, Vegetarian, Omnivore, and Carnivore
Vegan and Carnivore
Vegans follow a philosophy of eating only vegetable products, whereas vegetarians allow themselves to eat some animal products such as eggs and milk. Vegans usually avoid animal products for ethical, health or environmental reasons, whereas vegetarians who consume eggs and milk point out that their dietary choices do not harm other living beings. Omnivores will eat both vegetable and meat products, and carnivores eat only other animals.
Humans have evolved eating a varied diet and this has resulted in evolutionary adaptations that set certain limitations on what we should eat to be healthy. Unlike other mammals, humans do not have the capacity for making Vitamin C and this requires regular consumption of fruits and vegetables to avoid scurvy. Similarly, the human body needs to have Vitamin B12 and essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that can be satisfied by eating fish. People who are strictly vegan usually develop Vitamin B12 deficiencies unless they consume fortified products. Vitamin B12 deficiency can result in anemia and nervous system damage. Low levels of Vitamin B12 increase the risk of heart disease or pregnancy complications.
Cats are strict carnivores whose nutritional needs must be the met by eating meat or animal-based protein. Insufficient dietary protein results in the loss of skeletal muscle tissue. Like humans, cats convert carbohydrates that are not used for energy into body fat. A diet should have the right proportion of macronutrients to supply all the essential nutrients with a low enough level of calories to avoid obesity.
Calorie Restriction - the key to longevity
I was recently interviewed by the Baltimore Sun for an article about calorie restriction and its life-extension effects.
Recent research by David Sinclair, a Harvard University molecular geneticist, has found a link between aging and two human genes that seem to play a role in the longevity of the cells that compose our bodies. In 2003, Sinclair made headlines when he found that resveratrol, a compound in red wine, can lengthen the life span of yeast cells by up to 80 percent. The compound has also been shown to extend the lives of worms and flies. Resveratrol activates SIRT1, a gene that produces enzymes known as sirtuins. It turns out that cells which are starved by giving them fewer nutrients try to protect themselves from dying by activating two more of the seven sirtuin genes humans carry, SIRT3 and SIRT4. This knowledge may help to shed some light on the molecular mechanisms of life extension.
While the search for a longevity elixir continues, we have to rely on calorie restriction, which has been known to extend the life span of many species. Although calorie restriction has not been shown to extend human life span (yet), it can prevent many of the diseases associated with aging and obesity such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension.
The human need for music
An Indian Sitar
The great human need for music can be judged from the success of the Sony Walkman recording cassette and today's Apple iPod. Music has ancient traditions that can be documented to the time of the Neanderthals. In 1995, a 43,000-year-old flute fragment made from a bear femur was found in cave in northern Yugoslavia. Music existed in the form of chants, whistles, and rhythmic beats for thousands of years before that.
Music is the most universal and ancient form of human communication, and the human voice is the most ancestral instrument. A lullaby will soothe a crying baby and the lyrics of a song will be remembered with little effort after many years. Music and rhyme provide a regular structure that helps us to organize our thoughts.
Listen to the sitar
 Early Music. Editorial sidebar in Science, Vol. 276, 11 April, 1997, pg. 205.
Is bottled water really better?
Sales of bottled water have grown to record levels as people have become more affluent and more conscious about their health. Advertisements for bottled water help to boost sales by emphasizing the purity and the taste of the product.
In reality, bottled water is seldom better than the city water that comes out of a faucet. Last July, news channels reported that Pepsi's Aquafina and Coca-Cola's Dasani are both made from public water sources. Unless the labels of the bottles say that the source of the water is a spring, bottled water usually comes from municipal water supplies, and it can be 10,000 times more expensive than tap water due to transportation and packaging costs.
Dentists have noticed a rise in the number of tooth cavities in children due to drinking bottled water. Bottled water usually does not have the fluoride that is normally added to municipal water, and fluoride has been shown to strengthen teeth and reduce cavities. Bottled water is basically a luxury item that does not have any benefits over most municipal public water sources, but there are exceptions, such as in some neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. where the water is distributed through old lead pipes.
The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority officials announced a program that will replace all the city's estimated 23,000 lead pipes by 2010 at a cost of $300 million. The agency's Board of Directors mandated the plan after tests showed that thousands of District homes had water with lead levels above the federal safety limit.
Bottled water is a good option for places with unsafe municipal or underground water sources. As an alternative, purifying filters, such as Brita filters that contain activated charcoal and ion-exchange resins, can be used to remove chlorine and heavy metals like lead and mercury, but these filters are not effective against bacterial contamination.
Global warming will increase your insurance
An ice-free Arctic Ocean
Earlier this month, the European Space Agency released satellite photos showing an ice-free passage in the Arctic Ocean along northern Canada, Alaska and Greenland. The amount of ice in the polar region is at its lowest level since 1978, when NASA first started getting images of the Arctic. The melting of the polar ice has been attributed to climate changes caused by an increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by our industrialized society. Most of our energy is derived from fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum which generate carbon dioxide when they burn.
There are still many people who do not believe that global warming is a cause for concern, but researchers predict that the climate change by 2050 will place a large number of species at risk of extinction. The organisms affected will include corals, seals, and polar bears. Humans are so widely distributed that they will not face extinction, but many people will lose their homes.
If all the ice in Greenland melts, the sea level will rise by 7 meters (23 feet), and low-lying islands, such as the Maldives, will be swallowed by the sea. Parts of Bangladesh will become uninhabitable and create a humanitarian catastrophe as millions of people lose their homes and the fields on which they grow their food. New Orleans and the southern half of Florida will be underwater. Miami will disappear under the sea like the legendary city of Atlantis. Even a one-meter rise in sea level would be very damaging to the cities on the Gulf Coast and eastern seaboard of the United States.
Insurance companies have been paying close attention to these scientific predictions and adjusting their rates accordingly. During a trip to the North Carolina Outer Banks, I read a story in a local paper about a man who had bought a beautiful house by the shore many years ago. He had always thought of the house as a nest egg which would finance his retirement. Before he could sell, he was notified by his insurance company that the land on which the house was built had been recategorized as having a high risk of flooding and that his insurance would not be renewed. This also meant that any prospective buyers would not be able to get a mortgage to buy the house because they could not get insurance either. This is a story that is likely to be repeated many times as the sea level continues to rise.
Can we do anything about global warming? It is probably too late to do anything to prevent the Arctic from melting, but our individual actions could be significant.
- Cut down your driving
- Use less electricity
- Telecommute (work from home)
- Take public transportation
- Support solar, geothermal, and wind power
- Move away from low-lying coastal areas while you can still sell your house at a profit
See the Timeline of the Earth and flooding predictions
Conjugation of the English verb BE
To be or not to be ...
The verb BE is the most frequent and most misused verb in English. It is also the most irregular. BE may be used as an auxiliary verb or as a linking verb. Here is the conjugation of the verb "to be":
Contractions of the verb "to be" are very peculiar because some forms can be confused with possessive nouns and must be disambiguated using context. Finally, there is the forbidden word "ain't" which is used indiscriminately for "is not" and "are not" disregarding person agreement.
Ketosis helps you burn fat
The pancreas is a gland organ that produces insulin and glucagon. Insulin is a hormone that directs the body to store glucose as fat, whereas glucagon directs the body to break down fat (triglycerides) into fatty acids and ketone bodies that can be used by the body for energy. These two hormones help to keep glucose at a normal level in the body.
After a meal, the pancreas reacts to an increase of glucose in the blood by secreting insulin. When the body is not active enough to burn the available glucose and it cannot produce enough insulin to convert it to fat, blood sugar increases above normal levels. Persistent, elevated blood glucose is diagnosed as diabetes.
During periods when much of the available glucose has been consumed and the blood glucose level decreases, the pancreas releases glucagon causing the liver to convert fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies that can be used by the body for energy. This metabolic process is called ketosis. Carbohydrate shortages cause the liver to increase the production of ketone bodies from fatty acid oxidation, and allow the heart and skeletal muscles to use ketone bodies for energy, thereby preserving the limited glucose for use by the brain. Ketosis starts when carbohydrates are depleted and you feel hungry. At this time, your body starts to burn fat.
Diets, like the Atkins diet, work by limiting carbohydrates. This forces the body to burn fat for energy. You will lose weight when the number of calories in the diet is reduced below those needed to maintain your current weight.
 Medical Biochemistry Page - Fatty Acid Oxidation
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