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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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2008-09-30 

Melamine in Chinese milk products

Melamine

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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2008-09-23 

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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2008-09-20 

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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2008-09-16 

Anglican Church supports Darwin

Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown
Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown

The publication of Darwin's theory of evolution in which he proposed a lineage from apes to humans is approaching its 150th anniversary. A recent column entitled "Good religion needs good science" by Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown, Director of Mission and Public Affairs for the Church of England, says that the reaction against Darwin "now seems misguided". Dr. Brown's article acknowledges that natural selection, as a way of understanding physical evolutionary processes over thousands of years, makes sense, and goes on to explain why Darwin's scientific theory does not pose a threat to religion.

In the past, creationists have tried to dismiss the Theory of Evolution on the basis that it is just a theory. In common usage, the word theory is often used to signify a conjecture, an opinion, a hunch, a speculation, or a hypothesis. In science, a theory is a testable model of the manner of interaction of a set of natural phenomena, capable of predicting future occurrences or observations of the same kind, and capable of being tested through experiment or otherwise verified through empirical observation.

According to Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time, "a theory is a good theory if it satisfies two requirements: It must accurately describe a large class of observations on the basis of a model which contains only a few arbitrary elements, and it must make definite predictions about the results of future observations". He then states, "any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis; you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory. On the other hand, you can disprove a theory by finding even a single observation which disagrees with the predictions of the theory".
Learn more about the Evolution vs. Creation controversy


Comments »

Jeff Short said,
2008-10-25 @ 23:52:31

The only argument you have stated correctly is that dismissing an idea or theory without further study is prejudice. BUT, almost every theory that Darwin had has been disproved time and time again. The theory of coming from apes was constructed by finding a bone that came from a pig. You really need to do some research before you make statements that further confuse the issue. Darwin himself had recanted his statements about evolution and came to christianity before he died. Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown, by his statements has proven that there is evil in the church. Please review information on www. drdino.com for some information that may be helpful to understand where we came from.

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2008-09-13 

Can tomatoes cause prostate cancer?

Tomatoes

A Canadian study has found an association between tomato intake and prostate cancer risk.[1] Not only that, vegetable juices and ketchup were also associated with prostate cancer. According to the study, "Tomato intake had a significant positive association with prostate cancer risk for highest versus lowest quartiles (OR=1.6; 95 percent CI: 1.2-2.0)." The abbreviations OR and CI stand for odds ratio and confidence index, respectively. Ninety five percent confidence index is very high.

Isn't this contrary to everything that we know about eating vegetables? Aren't vegetables supposed to prevent cancer? Tomatoes are found in almost everything we eat including salads, soups, hamburgers, and pizza.

Studies seem to flip-flop a lot about conclusions. Meat is good. Meat is bad. Dairy is good. Dairy is bad. Vegetables are good. Vegetables are bad. Whenever some study comes up with unusual results, we have to wonder about their methodology and their sample sizes. This study does not concern women. Women don't need to worry, but what should men eat?

Tomatoes are native to America, and they have been eaten by millions of people for hundreds of years. Maybe, in the past, the association between tomatoes and prostate cancer could not be detected because men died before they got sick. Now that we live much longer, prostate cancer is more common because it affects older men, and there are enough cases to associate tomato consumption with prostate cancer.

I don't know about you, but I don't plan to change the way I eat based on just one report. Life is eventually fatal anyway, and much worse without tomatoes and ketchup.

[1] Darlington GA, Kreiger N, Lightfoot N, Purdham J, Sass-Kortsak A., Prostate cancer risk and diet, recreational physical activity and cigarette smoking, Chronic Dis Can. 2007;27(4):145-53. PMID: 17623560

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2008-09-08 

Are food dyes harming you?

Food Dyes

Kool-Aid drink, Fruit Loops cereal, jelly beans, M&M chocolates, Jell-O gelatins and many other commercial foods, candies, medicines, and cosmetics are loaded with food dyes. At home, we use food dyes for Easter eggs, cake frostings, and cookies. What are these dyes doing to our health and the health of our children?

In the early 1970s, scientific studies raised questions about the safety of Red Dye No. 2. The Toxicology Advisory Committee of the FDA evaluated numerous reports and decided there was no evidence of a hazard. The committee then asked FDA to conduct follow-up analyses and they concluded that FD&C Red No. 2 at a high dosage resulted in a statistically significant increase of malignant tumors in female rats. Red Dye Number 2 was banned by the FDA in 1976.

In 1993, John E. Bailey, Ph.D., acting director of FDA's Office of Cosmetics and Colors said that food colors were "very" safe because by law, industry must prove the safety of the colors that it sells. But are these dyes really safe? For some time, evidence has been accumulating that food dyes are not really innocuous and can affect sensitive individuals. Children seem to be more at risk.

In one experiment, forty children were given a diet free of artificial food dyes and other additives for 5 days. Twenty of the children had been classified as hyperactive and the other 20 were normal. The children were then given doses of 100 or 150 milligrams of FD & C approved food dyes or placebo. On the day that the hyperactive children received the dye their performance was impaired relative to their performance after they received the placebo. The performance of the nonhyperactive children was not affected by the food dye.[1]

Another study found that 40 children out of 220 suspected of hyperactivity improved after a 6 week trial of the Feingold diet which eliminates artificial colors, artificial flavors, aspartame, and some preservatives. Children who had shown the greatest reaction to the dyes had behavior problems that featured extreme irritability, restlessness and sleep disturbance, rather than attention deficit.[2] A study published in 2007 also concluded that artificial colors or a sodium benzoate preservative (or both) in the diet result in increased hyperactivity in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the general population.[3]

Eliminate foods with artificial dyes from your home. You may find that you and your children can think more clearly.

[1] Swanson JM, Kinsbourne M., Food dyes impair performance of hyperactive children on a laboratory learning test, Science. 1980 Mar 28;207(4438):1485-7. PMID: 7361102

[2] Rowe KS., Synthetic food colourings and 'hyperactivity': a double-blind crossover study, Aust Paediatr J. 1988 Apr;24(2):143-7. PMID: 3395307

[3] McCann D, Barrett A, Cooper A, Crumpler D, Dalen L, Grimshaw K, Kitchin E, Lok K, Porteous L, Prince E, Sonuga-Barke E, Warner JO, Stevenson J., Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial, Lancet. 2007 Nov 3;370(9598):1560-7. PMID: 17825405

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2008-09-05 

The Case for Sex Education

Sarah Palin and Bristol Palin
Sarah Palin and her daughter Bristol

Republican presidential candidate John McCain has picked Sarah Palin as a running mate, and everybody is talking about Sarah's 17-year old pregnant daughter, Bristol. Sarah and her husband Todd Palin made a public disclosure about the pregnancy saying: "Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned. Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child."

There have been reports that Levi Johnston, the 18-year old boy who made Bristol pregnant, does not want to get married, but this is probably beyond his control. Republicans have sought the support of religious groups and it would not look very good for the Vice President's daughter to be an unwed mother with a bastard son. It will be a shotgun wedding and probably an unhappy marriage. Poor kids.

You reap what you sow. Republicans have been against sex education for a long time and have withdrawn money from programs that teach about contraception. According to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, half of Americans have lost their virginity by age 16. If children are not educated about sex, they will follow their instincts and make more babies. It is well known that only teaching sexual abstinence is not an effective way of preventing teen pregnancies. Today's world is filled with many sexually alluring images in fashion magazines, movies, videos, and the internet. Many teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases are the result of ignorance, lack of effective communication with parents, and not knowing how to deal with temptations.
Learn about Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD)

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2008-09-02 

Stable relationships depend on brain chemistry

Cys-Tyr-Phe-Gln-Asn-Cys-Pro-Arg-Gly
Vasopressin

Scientists have found a gene that affects the way men bond to their partners.[1] The gene codes for one of the receptors for vasopressin, a hormone found in the brains of most mammals. Men who carry one or two copies of a variant of this gene (allele 334) are more likely to have a marital or relationship problem than those who lacked the gene variant. The research found that men without the allele had more stable relationships with their partners. Men with two alleles were less likely to show enough commitment in their relationships.

Earlier studies had found similar results in animals. Prairie voles form lifetime bonds with their mates and help to raise successive litters. On the other hand, montane voles which are physically very similar, do not bond with the females and do not help to raise their offspring. The animal experiments showed that by manipulating the vasopressin receptors, montane voles could be changed into devoted partners and prairie voles could be changed into unsupportive parents.

Vasopessin is a small peptide consisting of 9 amino acids which is very similar to oxytocin, a maternal hormone that stimulates mammary glands and helps to bond a mother to her child. About 40 percent of men have one or two copies of allele 334. The median duration of first marriages that end in divorce is about 7.8 years. In the future, it may be possible to have premarital genetic tests that could be used to predict the chances of a successful marriage and avoid the chances of marrying a womanizer or a deadbeat dad.
Learn about aminoacids and peptide hormones

[1] Hasse Walum, Lars Westberg, Susanne Henningsson, Jenae M. Neiderhiser, David Reiss, Wilmar Igl, Jody M. Ganiban, Erica L. Spotts, Nancy L. Pedersen, Elias Eriksson and Paul Lichtenstein, Genetic variation in the vasopressin receptor 1a gene (AVPR1A) associates with pair-bonding behavior in humans, PNAS Early Edition, 2-5 September 2008.

Comments »

Justin said,
2008-09-03 @ 02:46:27

I wonder if this could help someone make legal claims. For example, someone could argue to a judge that his alimony payments should be reduced or eliminated on the basis that he is genetically inclined to have relational problems. Obviously there is much more to making a relationship work than genetics, but this opens the door to people using genetics as an excuse.

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2008-08-24 

Plan your Travel

Porcelain Girls

Traveling provides an opportunity to enhance our knowledge, meet new people, and enjoy the taste and atmosphere of far-away places. Traveling can be interesting and fun, unless something goes wrong. Flying is one of the safest ways to travel, but there are risks. A few days ago, a Spanair MD-82 flight to the Canary Islands crashed on takeoff and killed 153 people. Nineteen people survived the crash. No amount of preparation can get you ready for this type of accident, but most trips end up uneventfully. People get to where they want to go in spite of the delays in the airports, and they accomplish their business or they have a good time.

As I was walking in the living room today, the porcelain figurines on my bookcase caught my attention, and I thought about travel. These ceramic figures are the only survivors of a trip that I took to Europe many years ago. I had gone to Spain and Italy on business for a couple of weeks. When I did not work, I took the opportunity to know the countries better. In Spain, I drove a rental BMW from Madrid to Costa del Sol in Andalucía, which is by the Mediterranean Sea. I visited cities like Torremolinos and Marbella, but I did not get as far as Gibraltar. Many faces in the south of Spain reminded me of my maternal relatives. I am sure that some of my ancestors came from there.

One of the interesting things that you can do on a trip is to gather souvenirs. You can look at them later and remember where you were and re-imagine your adventures. As I traveled in Spain, I encountered some beautiful ceramic figurines and bought four of them. The price was about $15 Dollars each because they were Tengra ceramics, rather than the more expensive Lladro ceramics. My statuettes were carefully wrapped in multiple layers of paper and placed in large boxes.

After one week in Spain, I spent another week in Pisa, Italy. From there, I drove to Rome where I stayed overnight in preparation for my trip back to the United States. After I packed everything in the car to go the airport, I went to check out of the hotel. During the time that I was checking out, someone jimmied the car open and stole all my luggage. The thief probably had a small car and could not fit the bulky boxes with the ceramics. I went to the police station and filed a report. I received a copy of the complaint, and drove immediately to the airport. I checked-in the boxes with the figurines with the airline and took the flight home.

When I arrived in Washington, D.C., I waited at the baggage return for my boxes, but they never came. I went to the airline counter to ask about my lost boxes, and they told me that they would investigate. So, there I was with only the clothes on my back after a two-week trip to Europe. The customs agent eyed me with suspicion, but let me through. My boxes with the four figurines arrived safely several days later. They had been loaded on a different flight by mistake.

I spent the next few weeks going over my receipts to make a list of what I had lost. I submitted claims to my employer, to the car rental agency, and to my home insurance. Of course, the insurance agents asked me if I was in financial trouble, trying to figure out if I was pulling an insurance scam. In the end, I got reimbursed for most of my losses. I only have these ceramic figures to remind me of that trip, and I also know that somewhere in Italy, an Italian thief is wearing my clothes.
Learn how to plan your trip.


Comments »

peg diamond said,
2008-10-15 @ 16:16:09

I still have a couple of Lladro's that I bought in Europe 28 years ago. At the time I was teaching with DODDS in Germany and Lladro's were very popular. On a Xmas vacation - to the US - I gave some of them as gifts. One daughter-in-law put hers on top of the toilet bowl tank. As was to be expected it fell to the floor and broke. My daughter-in-law had no idea of the value of the Lladro I'm sure, or she wouldn't have put it on top of the toilet bowl tank.
Yes, thievery in Italy has been a problem for many years. When we traveled there the train passengers were good targets.
I just came across your weblog and it's very interesting. I'm sending the info about soy products on to family members. There needs to be more publicity about this IMO.
Peg D

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