The Thoughts of a Frumpy Professor

............................................ ............................................ A blog devoted to the ramblings of a small town, middle aged college professor as he experiences life and all its strange variances.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Sick, Sick, Sick

I am sicker than a dog at the moment. Acutally, sicker than a dead dog is a more apt description. The bronchitis is severe and I have coughed out roughly 3/4 cup of green mucous just this morning so far.

I am heading back to bed.


Friday, September 23, 2005

The Hobbit & the Pipe

Unfortunately, I am NOT a rabid fan of the "Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" series of books (and now films). I have tried several times to find enjoyment in Tolkien's writing and imagery, but to no avail. To me, fantasy writing that is not grounded in at least obeying most of the natural laws (of physics, etc) annoy the hell out of me. Many recent films that have used CGI technology have left me utterly bored out of my mind because they spend 90% of the time having some idiotic computer generated cartoon that looks like a human do things that are wholly impossible for anyone to do.

Back to Hobbits.... the only aspect I found remotely interesting in all of Tolkien's work was the Hobbit's affinity for the pipe and pipe weed. This is a similar relationship I have with the prolific "gnome" loving community. I do not understand the popularity of gnomes as art nor as ornamentation. I do, however find it pleasant that many gnomes are pipe smoking gnmomes. And in searching for an image to represent myself on this site, I ended up using the image of a gnome statue, for (fortunately or unfortunately, you decide) my facial visage and features ARE quite similar to this particular gnomic image. Even my wife says the image I selected looks very, very much like a mildly characterized version of the real me.

In case you have never ventured to the site where my image is stored it can be seen here.

But, why all the yammering? The reason is due to the article about a BBC program that I was able to see yesterday evening that I found quite interesting from a physiological/medical sense. I am hoping to perhaps purchase a copy of this program to show excerpts of in my anatomy & physiology course. It is very intriguing:


Scientists Are to Present New Evidence that the Tiny Human Species Dubbed "The Hobbit" May not be What It Seems

by BBC-TV (published on their website, no author noted)

The researchers say their findings strongly support an idea that the 1m- (3ft-) tall female skeleton from Indonesia is a diseased modern human. Their claims have been aired in a BBC Horizon programme screened on Thursday. The Hobbit's discoverers are adamant it is an entirely separate human species, which evolved a small size in isolation on its remote island home of Flores.

The bones were unearthed during a dig at Liang Bua, a limestone cave deep in the Flores jungle. The discovery caused a sensation when it was announced to the world in 2004. Analysis of the 18,000-year-old remains showed the Hobbit had reached adulthood, despite her diminutive size. Long arms, a sloping chin, and other primitive features suggested affinities to ancient human species such as Homo erectus. And Homo floresiensis, as science properly calls the creature, seems to exhibit other oddities, such as lower premolar teeth with twin roots.

In most modern humans, the lower premolars have a single root. Ancient roots Australian anthropologists Peter Brown, Mike Morwood, Bert Roberts and others involved in the find, proposed that the Hobbit was a descendent of erectus or some other ancient species that reached Flores just under a million years ago. Cut off from the rest of the world on this island, the species evolved small stature, much like the pygmy elephants it is thought to have hunted. Sophisticated stone tools found nearby suggest they were not lacking in intelligence, even though the Hobbit specimen's brain was no larger than a chimpanzee's. But it was not long before some scientists began to ask serious questions about the discovery team's conclusions. Indonesian anthropologist Teuku Jacob controversially took possession of the remains and declared them to be those of a modern human with the condition microcephaly. This disorder is characterised by a small brain, but it can also be associated with dwarfism, as well as abnormalities of the face and jaw. For this reason, some scientists believe the condition could cause a modern human to look primitive in evolutionary terms.

Jacob was soon joined by a handful of researchers in the belief that the discovery team had happened upon nothing more than a member of our own species with a rare disease. Professor Bob Martin, one of the team that is set to publish new evidence challenging the discovery team's original interpretation, says the Hobbit's brain is "worryingly" small and contradicts a fundamental law of biology. "What this law says in simple terms is that if you halve body size, brain size is only reduced by 15%," he told the BBC's Horizon programme. "So if you halve body size you don't halve brain size, the brain is reduced far less than that." Biological laws Working under the assumption that the Hobbit was basically a shrunken form of Homo erectus, Professor Martin used this law to find out how big the Hobbit's brain should have been. Starting with a height of 1.75m and a brain size of 990 cubic centimetres for Homo erectus, Professor Martin used the standard scaling formula to calculate that, given a height of 1m, the Hobbit's brain size should have been about 750 cubic centimetres. In fact, it was a mere 400 cubic centimetres. "You can calculate what body height the Hobbit would need to get its brain down to this size, and the answer is... about the size of a meerkat," he said. However, researchers who carried out the excavation at Liang Bua argue that island isolation can play strange evolutionary tricks. "If they'd been isolated on this island for 800,000 years by themselves, genetically cut off from the rest of the world, where very few other animals could get to, we'd expect strange things," Mike Morwood of the University of New England, Australia, told Horizon.

But another piece of evidence challenging the discoverers' claims has come from one of the oldest anatomical collections in the world. More remains Ann MacLarnon of Roehampton University, UK, has discovered the skull of a microcephalic in the vaults of London's Royal College of Surgeons with a brain that matches that of the Hobbit for size. "It showed that we really could demonstrate with a specimen that [microcephaly] could explain the Hobbit's small brain," she told Horizon. But there's a problem with the sceptics' version of the story. The Hobbit team has found more human remains. These include a lower jaw with the same unusual features as the original find (including twin roots to the molars). "Let's buy into [the sceptics'] argument just for a bit of fun," said Professor Bert Roberts of the University of Wollongong, Australia, a member of the discovery team. "We've got a complete lower jaw that's identical to the first so there we have a situation where we've now got to have two really badly diseased individuals. "We've got a diseased population like some sort of leper colony, living in Liang Bua 18,000 years ago. The probabilities have got to be vanishingly small." The Hobbit team is now looking in other caves on Flores for more evidence of this ancient population. The sceptics intend to publish their concerns in a scientific journal.

Horizon: The Mystery of the Human Hobbit was shown on Thursday, 22 September, 2005 on BBC Two at 2100 BST.

The find caused a sensation when it was announced in 2004


It was wonderful to watch. Also, (as I am in a somewhat apathetic, lazy, overindulgence in television mode this week) there is another show I saw on TLC last evening that also would be intriguing for my ethology course... it was a nice summary about the "Wild Children"... feral children.... those raised without any or very, very minimal human contact. This program helped to show the link between socialization and communication and the development of both. Very interesting.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Racist or Protecting Themselves?

I am not sure what to think about the report I have posted below. At one level it does feel like there is an aspect of racism going on in Gretna's closure of the bridge, but on the other hand, could a small town that itself was devestated by hurricane Katrina be reasonably expected to try to support a groundswell of refugees from devestated New Orleans?

I would like to hear your opinions. For me, I would like to know if the closure caused any loss of life (kept people from escaping flood waters for example) or if the closure simply kept the people from overloading the very limited resources of Gretna. The answer to this question would sway my opinion. If people were hurt/killed because of the closure, then I feel it was very likely racist and very wrong. If the closure simply helped to preserve Gretna... then I think it was less likely racist in nature and more likely a survival tactic by the small town.

What do you think?


After Blocking the Bridge, Gretna Circles the Wagons

By Nicholas Riccardi & James Rainey, LA Times Staff Writers

GRETNA, La. — Little over a week after this mostly white suburb became a symbol of callousness for using armed officers to seal one of the last escape routes from New Orleans — trapping thousands of mostly black evacuees in the flooded city — the Gretna City Council passed a resolution supporting the police chief's move.

"This wasn't just one man's decision," Mayor Ronnie C. Harris said Thursday. "The whole community backs it."

Three days after Hurricane Katrina hit, Gretna officers blocked the Mississippi River bridge that connects their city to New Orleans, exacerbating the sometimes troubled relationship with their neighbor. The blockade remained in place into the Labor Day weekend.

Gretna (pop. 17,500) is a feisty blue-collar city, two-thirds white, that prides itself on how quickly its police respond to 911 calls; it warily eyes its neighbor, a two-thirds black city (pop. about 500,000) that is also a perennial contender for the murder capital of the U.S.

Itself deprived of power, water and food for days after Katrina struck Aug. 29, Gretna suddenly became the destination for thousands of people fleeing New Orleans. The smaller town bused more than 5,000 of the newcomers to an impromptu food distribution center miles away. As New Orleans residents continued to spill into Gretna, tensions rose.

After someone set the local mall on fire Aug. 31, Gretna Police Chief Arthur S. Lawson Jr. proposed the blockade.

"I realized we couldn't continue, manpower-wise, fuel-wise," Lawson said Thursday. Armed Gretna police, helped by local sheriff's deputies and bridge police, turned hundreds of men, women and children back to New Orleans.

Gretna is not the only community that views New Orleans with distrust. Authorities in St. Bernard Parish, to the east, stacked cars to seal roads from the Crescent City. But Gretna's decision has become the symbol of the ultimate act of a bad neighbor, gaining notoriety partly from an account in the Socialist Worker newspaper by two San Francisco emergency workers and labor leaders who were in a crowd turned back by Gretna police.

Numerous angry e-mails to Gretna officials accuse them of racism. (Harris and Lawson are white.)

New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin said Thursday that Gretna officials "will have to live" with their decision.

"We allowed people to cross ... because they were dying in the convention center," Nagin said. "We made a decision to protect people…. They made a decision to protect property."

Paul Ribaul, 37, a New Orleans TV-station engineer from Gretna, said New Orleans and the suburbs have a complicated relationship.

"We say we're from New Orleans, but we're a suburb," he said. "The reason we don't live there is we don't like the crime, the politics."

Ribaul was among Gretna residents who praised the decision to close the bridge. "It makes you feel safe to live in a city like that," he said.

Critics suspect a racial motive for the blockade. City officials heatedly deny any such thing.

Among black residents of Gretna, some say that although they get along with most of their white neighbors, a few of the neighbors harbor strong prejudices.

Some black Gretna residents also speak fearfully of New Orleans. "We don't have as much killing over here as in New Orleans," said Leslie Anne Williams, 42.

Nonetheless, Williams' mother, a lifelong Gretna resident who is also black, disapproved of the Police Department's decision. People fleeing New Orleans "probably had a better chance of survival over here," said Laura Williams, 70, "especially with all that shooting" across the river.

When Katrina hit, about 5,000 of Gretna's residents were still in town. Police zigzagged the trim streets of ranch houses and older wooden buildings, checking on those who had not evacuated.

Like New Orleans, Gretna lost power and water. Town officials pleaded unsuccessfully for help from the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Then they learned that New Orleans officials had told the thousands trapped in that city's downtown, similarly deprived of food and water but also dodging gunfights and rising floodwaters, to cross to Gretna.

Not sure how to feed even their own residents, Gretna officials were overwhelmed by New Orleans' evacuees. They organized bus caravans Aug. 31 to take the arrivals to Metairie, 16 miles away, where a food and water distribution center had been set up.

The evacuees waited for rides out of Gretna at the foot of the bridge, across the street from Oakwood Mall. As the hours ticked by and the crowd swelled, trouble began, Gretna authorities said.

Sometime on Wednesday, Aug. 31, a fire broke out in the mall, next to the local branch of the sheriff's office, and police chased suspected looters out of the building.

Mayor Harris had had enough. He called the state police.

"I said: 'There will be bloodshed on the west bank if this continues,' " Harris recalled. " 'This is not Gretna. I am not going to give up our community!' "

The following morning, Gretna's police chief made his decision: Seal the bridge.

The San Francisco paramedics said in an interview and in their article that there were gunshots over the heads of people crossing the bridge from New Orleans' convention center — many of them elderly — where they were stuck for days without food, water and working toilets.

Nagin, New Orleans' mayor, said that he'd heard similar reports about gunfire, as well as people being turned back by guard dogs.

Chief Lawson said that he was unaware of any of his officers shooting over the heads of evacuees on the bridge but said that one black officer did fire a shot overhead to quiet an unruly crowd waiting to board a bus.

Harris said Thursday that closing the bridge was a tough decision but that he felt it was right.

"We didn't even have enough food here to feed our own residents," Harris said. "We took care of our folks. It's something we had to do."


Questions to ponder?

1. If the refugees from New Orleans were caucasion and not primairly of African American descent, do you feel Gretna would have closed the bridge?

2. Is it reasonable to expect (even in times of emergency) a small town to become swallowed whole by the influx of people (even very needy people) from a neighboring large city?


Further Thoughts

I tried to post the above last night and thought it failed. Low and behold I find it did post and now there is a duplicate. I am removing the second posting of the article, but leaving my commentary below because it is a slightly different perspective than the one I published just a while ago. Please consider both opinions. Please note that directly below was originally written at roughly 12:30am:

I read the article from a Louisiana newspaper and have posted it below. I am at a loss for a focused opinion. I can sure see how many could presume racism is at work in Gretna and its decision, yet at the same time it seems to me there could be non-racist, legitimate reasons for a small town to fear being "bullied" by a demanding large city flooding across its borders. What are your opinions? Was Gretna acting in a racist manner? Or was Gretna simply trying to protect itself and its own chance at survival?

After posting the article, I then wrote:

If 100 desperate, starving people.... whose tempers and demeanors were growing more frustrated and angry each passing moment suddenly knocked on the door to your house and wanted to move in... would you say "Sure! My home is your home... eat all the remaining food in my cupboard and let my family go hungry!" Or would you say "I am sorry, you cannot come in. We too are experincing difficult times... no electricity, no food, etc."

I do not know. If the bridge were closed and it prevented people from escaping death (such as drowning) then I would tend to think it was very wrong. If, however, the bridge was closed and simply kept the homeless victims from overloading the very limited resources of that damaged small town... then it may have been appropriate.

Your comments and discussion would be appreciated.


Monday, September 19, 2005

Feeling Less Maudilin

I am happy to report I am feeling less maudilin than I did last week. On Friday, my elderly father-in-law and I did get together and made a gentle, drunken afternoon of it with a bottle of "Wild Turkey" whisky, mix, and ample pipe tobacco. We talked and snoozed away the afternoon and by the time I went home for dinner, I felt a better perspective on my life.

I am in the process of developing a new, hopefully valuable research strand in my laboratory. Examining the effects I will study will hopefully help us to understand better how the nervous system works. I am also spending time researching a biography I am hoping to start work on as well.


Friday, September 16, 2005

Low Motivation and Sad

I cannot discern a rhyme or reason for it, but I am lacking in motivation, lacking in energy and feeling gloomy as hell at the moment. My mindset is akin to me simply going through the motions of what I must do in order to give the appearance of aoert, reasonable, calm behavior. What my inner being is saying to me to do is to sleep, rest, forget everything and simply "be". I have talks for major research meetings to prepare for, I have research to conduct, student papers to grade, lectures for students to write, and family members to care for.

I got my typical 4 hours of sleep last night, but this morning I feel so damn tired I cannot fathom ever feeling alert. It is only 10 am and I have consumed my 6th large mug of coffee, but it has not helped me be more alert or active... it has only made me feel a little jitery. Even my pipes this morning have lost their luster, and for that I am sad.

[Minutes pass..... ] I actually just nodded off at the computer screen for a few minutes. I am not sure how to alleviate this funk I am in.

I have contemplated going to visit my elderly grandfather to see if he is interested in having an afternoon of whiskey-soaked and pipe-soaked revelry. And while it sounds pleasant in the abstract, I am not sure if I have the energy to engage.

Bah. This literally stinks.


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Time Is Limited

Time is the thing we have the least of in our lives. Life is short and the loss of life is harsh and vivid. It makes me sad.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Research "Bug"

As many of you know, I have multiple roles at the University. I, of course teach... and it is my true passion. Being with all the meldable minds and being able to have an impact on them is an enormous joy and an energizing influence upon me. A second role I have at the University is in participating in campus and/or community service. To me, this was another aspect that drew me to a life of academia. A good professor is a person who not only does what is minimally required (ie teaching and research) but instead is active and inventive and creative in both teaching and research..... BUT ALSO A WILLING AND ACTIVE PARTICIPANT in the life of his campus and his community. In this vein, I am on more committees than I would care to admit (yes, committees are often dull, but they are important), but my favorite types of service involve direct action in the campus or in the community. The working at campus events (carnivals, graduations, events requiring music) all help me feel a contributing member as well as community events such as working at soup kitchens, participating in Habitat for Humanity, or working with K-12 teachers on improving cirricula... I love being a part of my community and I relish trying to make a positive difference.

However, there is one aspect of my career that is a bit more undulating than the two above... this is the research component. I love research and I am delighted to participate in research, yet the effort and time committment to conduct quality research is often daunting. Yet, that old research bug has been causing me to itch and I have acquesed and decided to scratch it.... I am in the midst of developing a new, long-range research study that I feel could have major impact on the information we know about the nervous system.


Friday, September 09, 2005

Why My Brother Frustrates Me

In my previous post, I posted a link to my brother's "Lectures On Life" blog. Not only am I a little frustrated that he posts infrequently at best, but worse... his latest post typifies an aspect of his personality I find very frustrating to deal with.

My brother is often ashamed of himself for the most assinine of reasons. The pipe is a classic example of this. He is literally ashamed he smokes a pipe. How preposterous is that? His logic and reasons are something I have difficulty grappling with and just do not understand. It seems to go something like this... 1) He thinks all smoking is wrong or bad (So why the hell smoke in the first place if you REALLY think this is so?), 2) He is ashamed of himself for smoking (I do not fathom why anyone would think pipe smoking is something to be ashamed about.). His shame is a universal shame because he smokes and it would not matter if it were cigarettes, cigars, or a pipe (he only smokes a pipe), 3) The way he talks about this matter, it seems he equates smoking a pipe to being akin to being a drug abuser (utterly preposterous), and 4) He seems to think there is a difference between he and I because of our ages in terms of our perspectives (Bah!).

I find this so utterly frustrating because not only is it akin to utter nonsense, it is a manner in which to simply be rude to family. Our father was a pipe smoker, our grandfathers were pipe smokers. Smoking pipes and pipe tobacco are not evil things, they are not abuses, they are simply pleasant hobbies.... even genteel hobbies for us to enjoy. Why does it all have to seem so negative to him. I simply cannot understand his emotions on this.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Oh Brother!

My brother has posted a doozy of an essay on his blog (Lectures on Life). Please consider reading it and commenting on it here or on his site or both. I am a little frustrated and need to think overnight before I comment.


Saturday, September 03, 2005

Sometimes I Want to Cry

Sometimes I feel so frustrated with all that goes on, be it locally or globally that I simply want to sit in a hole and sob.

Today seems to be one of those mornings. I have many things I wish to accomplish but no energy, ambition, or desire to do a damn thing.


Friday, September 02, 2005

A Further Explination

Universal Soldier and G@P (I must remember to add both to my links sidebar when I next update them) both left very interesting comments on my blog about my previous post. I value their comments but fear I may not have been clear enough in my writing so that I gave them both a misrepresentation of what I meant. Therefore, I hope to clarify my idea below:

1. Universal Soldier, I too very much enjoy the interaction with people through the Internet... for exactly the same reason... it allows me to interact with people I would never likely be able to interact with in any other way.

2. I agree with you about the ease at which artists can display their music. But that was not the change I was refering to. The decline in the quality of music that is popular with socieity is not because of dilution.... dilution because of electronic gagetry was not possible during the late 1970s and 1980s.... periods where in my opinion, music was at its weakest. Again, do not get me wrong... there were and always are great musical artists in any decade.... what I am trying to say is that in the musical era prior to roughly 1975.... the BETTER QUALITY music (and hence the better quality musical art) was what WAS most popular with the masses. In the later 1970s and beyond, the HIGHER QUALITY artistic music was NOT what was popular to the masses.... instead, inane "talent" such as Vanilla Ice, Milli Vanilli, Cindy Lauper, Billy Ocean as well as countless others were at the FOREFRONT of what the majority of the populace listened to.

I think the dilution of what the populace listens to due to electronic gizmos such as iPods and the like will HELP the more artistic of the musicians get a voice and may also help break the stranglehold that the inane artists have had for nearly three decades.

3. Universal Soldier and G@P... I agree with both of you that there IS high quality music out there currently... and that there has been high quality music produced virtually each and every decade. I was simply lamenting the difficulty the HIGH QUALITY material has in reaching the pinnicle of the average person's ear. It seems in the 60s and early 70s that the best items were the most popular.

Thank you for your comments, and if I am ever fortunate enough to be in either of your necks of the woods, I would greatly enjoy having multiple pints and multiple pipes with both of you.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Decline of Society

An internet friend of mine, Sean at has written an essay about the contrasts between a "cutting-edge" lifestyle of electronic toys and tools versus an older, more "traditional" lifestyle of sitting in a pub with beer mug and pipe in hand. It is an interesting essay and it is the impetus for my essay below:

Sean talks about a book that he is reading and I quote him here:

"Ian MacDonald's "Revolution In The Head". In between painstakingly analysing almost every extant Beatles recording, his thesis is that popular music has been in terminal decline since the early 1970s, and that the Western soul has died. He points to the absence of meaningful community spirit."

My comments about said:

1. The book sounds quite interesting in some ways. As having been very much immersed in the music of the era while in school, I can say that I would tend to agree with Mr. MacDonald. It does seem there has been a tremendous decline in the inherent value and quality of popular music since in my estimation roughly somewhere around 1975-1976. Now, please do not get me wrong... there ARE quite wonderful and valuable artists and recordings that have occurred since this time (all the way from Talking Heads, B-52s, Ice -T, Nirvana, Lennie Kravitz, Tupac Shakur) as well as others that are very noteworthy. Yet, I believe there has been a steady decline in terms of which artists and which artistic endeavors have become MOST POPULAR. You may find audio files of some extraordinary artists on Grumpy's Radio Station. He has excellent taste and has helped broaden my own awareness of high quality (albeit lesser known) modern musical artists.

What I mean by this is that the above examples of higher quality music are not and have never (except perhaps the brief popularity of Nirvana) been what the MASSES of popular music listeners will listen to as their dominant musicians. Each of the above has had fits and spurts of popularity whereas meaningless fluff (low quality) music from artists such as most "heavy metal" groups, Cindy Lauper, Britney Spears, Vanilla Ice, Boys to Men, etc that have been IMMENSELY POPULAR. The lion’s share of my students who do not realize (or at least do not care) that it is rude to wear headphones and tape recorders into class represent the AVERAGE Joe (or Joline) of the moment. I have asked several of them to stand up and tell us what it is they are listening to in their little personal stereo (as a manner of getting them to stop such behavior), and inevitably they will mention some sort of inane group such as the ones I have listed above. I then will confiscate their tape, CD, or other device and ask them to retrieve it after 24 hours. I then usually listen to the dreck for a few moments to see what it is like.

Yet these students represent the NORM of society and therefore I feel MacDonald is correct.... the decline in music standards of what is popular has correlated well with a decline in society.

2. Sean also comments about the contrast of a harried electronic existence and a leisurely beer-and-pipe pace of life. I can fully appreciate and share his interest and understand the contrasts. As an old grey-bearded fellow myself, I may be skewed a bit further to one field than Sean, but I am still firmly planted in the middle of the road:

Positives of the electronic and physical worlds:

a. I would be unhappy to not have my computer, the Internet as they have enriched both my work and my personal life.

b. I would be unhappy to have ONLY traditional film cameras. I enjoy the ease and speed available from the digital format.

c. I enjoy the pub experience of a mug of beer in one hand, and a pipe in the other, where the interactions are intimate and personal. You talk with those around you in a casual manner.

d. I enjoy the physical interplay that is possible with the alcohol and nicotine that is not possible with "gadgets". This would also include the old-fashioned behavior I enjoy of bedding my wife as often as she permits. The physical interplay is beautiful.

Negatives of the electronic and physical worlds:

e. I do not plan to ever own a damnable cellular telephone. I do not wish to be that easily contacted, nor do I wish to be tethered to such an obnoxious device.

f. I do not find computer games stimulating or enjoyable to play. I have tried on numerous occasions to find out what it is my young students find so captivating about said devices but cannot fathom what it is. There are only two electronic games that I have ever found remotely enjoyable (and then only marginally so). These two devices are Tetris and Tempest. From my understanding Tetris is still available for people to waste their time with, but the Tempest game is now apparently defunct.

g. The only negative I see in the physical world is its limited nature. We each only have such a brief period in which to live that it is so very, very sad.