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.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Conference Call

I found an Internet kiosk and thought I would give a very brief update... I am out in the wild west exploring all things western at the moment. It has been a grand adventure and I will have many tales to tell upon my return. I should have new posts up by Sunday or Monday.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Put That In Your Pipe...

The use of marijuana as a "medicine" has been widely debated for at least 35 years as far as I can recall. As of today, 14 states allow physician approved people to use marijuana for a variety of medical ailments. But what is the science behind these claims? Evidence appears to be growing that there may be MORE medical benefit than previously thought from marijuana. As an individual who has never tried the stuff, this is interesting news indeed. What follows is a report from Science News:

Not Just a High: Scientists Test Medicinal Marijuana Against MS, Inflammation and Cancer

By Nathan Seppa

June 19th, 2010; Vol.177 #13 (p. 16)

In science’s struggle to keep up with life on the streets, smoking cannabis for medical purposes stands as Exhibit A.

Medical use of cannabis has taken on momentum of its own, surging ahead of scientists’ ability to measure the drug’s benefits. The pace has been a little too quick for some, who see medicinal joints as a punch line, a ruse to free up access to a recreational drug.

But while the medical marijuana movement has been generating political news, some researchers have been quietly moving in new directions — testing cannabis and its derivatives against a host of diseases. The scientific literature now brims with potential uses for cannabis that extend beyond its well-known abilities to fend off nausea and block pain in people with cancer and AIDS. Cannabis derivatives may combat multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory conditions, the new research finds. Cannabis may even kill cancerous tumors.

Many in the scientific community are now keen to see if this potential will be fulfilled, but they haven’t always been. Pharmacologist Roger Pertwee of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland recalls attending scientific conferences 30 years ago, eager to present his latest findings on the therapeutic effects of cannabis. It was a hard sell.

“Our talks would be scheduled at the end of the day, and our posters would be stuck in the corner somewhere,” he says. “That’s all changed.”

Underlying biology

The long march to credibility for cannabis research has been built on molecular biology. Smoking or otherwise consuming marijuana — Latin name Cannabis sativa — has a medical history that dates back thousands of years. But the euphoria-inducing component of cannabis, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, wasn’t isolated until 1964, by biochemist Raphael Mechoulam, then of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and his colleagues. Within two decades, other researchers had developed synthetic THC to use in pill form.

The secrets of how THC worked in the body lay hidden until the late 1980s, when researchers working with rats found that the compound binds to a protein that pops up on the surface of nerve cells. Further tests showed that THC also hooks up with another protein found elsewhere in the body. These receptor proteins were dubbed CB1 and CB2.

A bigger revelation came in 1992: Mammals make their own compound that binds to, and switches on, the CB1 receptor. Scientists named the compound anandamide. Researchers soon found its counterpart that binds mainly to the CB2 receptor, calling that one 2AG, for 2-arachidonyl glycerol. The body routinely makes these compounds, called endocannabinoids, and sends them into action as needed.

“At that point, this became a very, very respectable field,” says Mechoulam, now at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who along with Pertwee and others reported the anandamide discovery in Science. “THC just mimics the effects of these compounds in our bodies,” Mechoulam says. Although the receptors are abundant, anandamide and 2AG are short-acting compounds, so their effects are fleeting.

In contrast, when a person consumes cannabis, a flood of THC molecules bind to thousands of CB1 and CB2 receptors, with longer-lasting effects. The binding triggers so many internal changes that, decades after the receptors’ discovery, scientists are still sorting out the effects. From a biological standpoint, smoking pot to get high is like starting up a semitruck just to listen to the radio. There’s a lot more going on.
Sanctioned smokingView larger image | Though smoked cannabis has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, its use for medical purposes has been sanctioned by law in 14 states (shown in green, year given). Different states apply their own restrictions, some of which are highlighted.kelly ann mccann; source: D.E. hoffmann and E. weber/nejm 2010

Though the psychoactive effect of THC has slowed approval for cannabis-based drugs, the high might also have brought on a serendipitous discovery, says neurologist Ethan Russo, senior medical adviser for GW Pharmaceuticals, which is based in Porton Down, England. “How much longer would it have taken us to figure out the endocannabinoid system if cannabis didn’t happen to have these unusual effects on human physiology?”

Beyond the pain

Today smoked cannabis is a sanctioned self-treatment for verifiable medical conditions in 14 U.S. states, Canada, the Netherlands and Israel, among other places. It usually requires a doctor’s recommendation and some paperwork.

People smoke the drug to alleviate pain, sleep easier and deal with nausea, lack of appetite and mood disorders such as anxiety, stress and depression. Patients not wanting to smoke cannabis can seek out prescriptions for FDA-approved capsules containing cannabis compounds for treatment of some of these same problems.

Research now suggests that multiple sclerosis could join the growing list of cannabis-treated ailments. More than a dozen medical trials in the past decade have shown that treatments containing THC (and some that combine THC with another derivative called cannabidiol, or CBD) not only ease pain in MS patients but also alleviate other problems associated with the disease. MS results from damage to the fatty sheaths that insulate nerves in the brain and spinal cord.

“MS patients get burning pain in the legs and muscle stiffness and spasms that keep them awake at night,” says John Zajicek, a neurologist at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry in Plymouth, England. Patients can take potent steroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs, but the effects of these medications can be inconsistent.

Pertwee has analyzed 17 trials in which MS patients received some form of cannabis or its derivatives. Reports from the patients themselves, who didn’t know if they were getting real cannabinoids or a placebo in most of the trials, show improvements in muscle spasticity, sleep quality, shakiness, sense of well-being and mobility. Pertwee, who is also a consultant for GW Pharmaceuticals — which makes a cannabinoid drug that is delivered in spray form, called Sativex — reviewed the findings in Molecular Neurobiology in 2007.

Sativex was approved in Canada for MS in 2005 after studies (some included in Pertwee’s analysis) showed its success in relieving symptoms of the disease.

GW Pharmaceuticals expects clearance for MS treatment in the United Kingdom and Spain this year. Later, the company plans to seek U.S. approval of Sativex for cancer pain.

Zajicek’s team has also compared MS patients who received a placebo with patients receiving either a capsule containing THC or one with THC and CBD. Both of the cannabis-based drugs outperformed a placebo, and the researchers are now working on a multi­year MS trial.

Calming symptoms such as muscle spasticity and pain is useful, Zajicek says, but the true value of cannabinoids may exceed that. “To me, the really exciting stuff is whether these drugs have a much more fundamental role in changing the course of MS over the longer term,” he says. “We’ve got nothing that actually slows progression of the disease.”
Tumor suppression View larger image | In patients with aggressive brain tumors, THC seems to knock down MMP-2 (green in images above left), an enzyme that facilitates cancer’s spread by breaking down tissues. Cannabinoids also affect other cancer cells in rodents and in lab-dish experiments (see table).c. Blázquez

Fighting inflammation

CBD, the same cannabis component that proved beneficial alongside THC for MS, may also work on other hard-to-treat diseases. Tests on cell cultures and lab animals have revealed that CBD fights inflammation and mitigates the psychoactive effects of THC.

Crohn’s disease, which can lead to chronic pain, diarrhea and ulcerations, could be a fitting target for CBD. In Crohn’s disease, inflammatory proteins damage the intestinal lining, causing leaks that allow bacteria in the gut to spread where they shouldn’t. This spread leads to a vicious cycle that can trigger more inflammation.

Karen Wright, a pharmacologist at Lancaster University in England, and her colleagues have found that CBD inhibits this inflammation and can reverse the microscopic intestinal leakiness in lab tests of human cells. Adding

THC doesn’t seem to boost the benefit, Wright reported in December 2009 in London at a meeting of the British Pharmacological Society. The results bolster earlier findings by Wright’s team showing that cannabinoids could improve wound healing in intestinal cells.

CBD’s anti-inflammatory effect may work, at least in some cases, through its antioxidant properties — the ability to soak up highly reactive molecules called free radicals, which cause cell damage.

In the brain and eye, CBD slows the action of microglia, immune cells that can foster harmful inflammation when hyperactivated by free radicals. Working with rats whose retinas were induced to have inflammation, biochemist Gregory Liou of the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta and his team found that CBD neutralized free radicals, preventing eye damage. This finding could have implications for people with diabetes who develop vision loss.

Apart from being an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, CBD tones down the psychoactive effect of THC without eliminating its medical properties. CBD also mutes the occasional anxiety and even paranoia that THC can induce. This has been welcome news to scientists, who consider the “buzz” of cannabis little more than psychoactive baggage.

But CBD has paid a price for this anti-upper effect. “CBD has essentially been bred out of North American black market drug strains,” Russo says. People growing cannabis for its recreational qualities have preferred plants high in THC, so people lighting up for medical purposes, whether to boost appetite in AIDS patients or alleviate cancer pain, may be missing a valuable cannabis component.

Cannabis versus cancer

With or without CBD, cannabis may someday do more for cancer patients than relieve pain and nausea. New research suggests THC may be lethal to tumors themselves.

Biochemists Guillermo Velasco and Manuel Guzmán of Complutense University in Madrid have spent more than a decade establishing in lab-dish and animal tests that THC can kill cancer of the brain, skin and pancreas.

THC ignites programmed suicide in some cancerous cells, the researchers reported in 2009 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The team’s previous work showed that THC sabotages the process by which a tumor hastily forms a netting of blood vessels to nourish itself, and also keeps cancer cells from moving around.

THC achieves this wizardry by binding to protein receptors on a cancerous cell’s surface. Once attached, the THC induces the cell to make a fatty substance called ceramide, which prompts the cell to start devouring itself. “We see programmed cell death,” Velasco says. What’s more, noncancerous cells don’t make ceramide when they come into contact with THC. The healthy cells don’t die.

Many compounds kill cancer in a test tube and even in animals, but most prove useless because they cause side effects or just don’t work in people. The Madrid team is now seeking funding to test whether cannabis derivatives can kill tumors in cancer patients. In an early trial of nine brain cancer patients whose disease had worsened despite standard therapy, the scientists found that THC injections into tumors were safe to give.

Early reports from other research groups suggest that THC also fights breast cancer and leukemia. “I think the cancer research is extremely promising,” Russo says. “Heretofore, the model for cancer was to use an agent that’s extremely toxic to kill the cancer before it kills you. With cannabinoids, we have an opportunity to use agents that are selectively toxic to cancer cells.”

Testing of cannabis and its derivatives has also begun on type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, Tourette syndrome, epilepsy, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Pertwee is particularly optimistic that cannabis will help people with post-traumatic stress disorder. Experiments in rats show that THC “speeds up the rate at which the animals forget unpleasant experiences,” he says. And a recent study in people with PTSD showed that THC capsules improved sleep and stopped nightmares.

Despite these heady beginnings, medical cannabis still faces an uphill climb. Although some states have sanctioned its use, no smoked substance has ever been formally approved as a medicine by U.S. regulatory agencies. Smoking cannabis can lead to chronic coughing and bronchitis, and smoking renders a drug off-limits for children, Mechoulam notes.

THC pills don’t have these downsides, but the drugs have received only lukewarm acceptance. Despite smoking’s drawbacks, “it is seen as better because you can regulate the amount of THC you’re getting by not puffing as much,” says pharmacologist Daniele Piomelli of the University of California, Irvine. Capsules can cause dizziness and make it hard to focus. “Patients suffering from neuropathic pain or depression don’t want to be stoned — they want relief,” he says.

Controlled, randomized trials that seek to clarify whether smoked cannabis delivers on its medical promise — with acceptable side effects — have been hard to come by. But scientists in California have recently concluded several studies in which patients with severe pain received actual cannabis cigarettes or cannabis cigarettes with the cannabinoids removed.

In one trial, researchers randomly assigned 27 HIV patients to get the real thing and 28 to get fake joints. All the patients had neuropathic pain, in which neurons can overreact to even mild stimuli. About half of the people getting real cannabis experienced a pain reduction of 30 percent or greater, a standard benchmark in pain measurement. Only one-quarter of volunteers getting the placebo reported such a reduction.

“That’s about as good [a reduction] as other drugs provide,” says Igor Grant, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California, San Diego, who is among the scientists overseeing the trials.

While such studies provide evidence that smoked marijuana has medical benefits, future trials are more likely to explore the benefits of cannabis derivatives that don’t carry the baggage that smoking does.

Ultimately, the fate of medical cannabis and its derivatives will rest on the same make-or-break requirements that every experimental medicine faces — whether it cures a disease or alleviates its symptoms, and whether it’s tolerable.

“We have to be careful that marijuana isn’t seen as a panacea that will help everybody,” Grant says. “It probably has a niche.… We can’t ignore the fact that cannabis is a substance of abuse in some people.”

When most people think of medicinal cannabis, smoking comes to mind. Though smoking works quickly and allows users to regulate their intake, it’s hardly a scientific approach: Cannabis quality is often unknown, and inhaling burned materials is bad for the lungs. These and other drawbacks have spawned new ways to consume medical marijuana.

Some people inhale cannabis by using a device that heats the plant without igniting it. This vaporization unleashes many of the same cannabinoid compounds as smoking does, without the combustion by-products, researchers say. Anecdotally, patients report that the effect is prompt, on a par with smoking.

Because cannabis derivatives can pass through the lining of the mouth and throat, a company called GW Pharmaceuticals has devised a spray product called Sativex. This drug contains roughly equal amounts of two key cannabinoids — THC and CBD — plus other cannabis components in an alcohol solution. A dose of Sativex is sprayed under the tongue; no smoking required.

In the face of these options, the “pot pill” seems almost passé. But capsules of synthetic THC exist. One called Marinol has been approved in the United States since 1985, and another called Cesamet was cleared more recently. Doctors can prescribe the drugs for nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and weight loss. Though sales of capsules have increased recently, many users complain of psychoactive side effects and slow action.

* * * * *

It shall be interesting to see how this proceeds.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

St. John of Sahagun

As I am working to deepen my faith (Roman Catholicism), I thought it would be appropriate for me to delve into the lives of some of the saints. Saints are people who lived their lives in a way that is highly respected because of their impact on Roman Catholic philosophy. I think by looking at a variety of saints, I can perhaps see a broader picture of how my faith's philosophy may be even more useful to me and my family.

John Gonzales de Castrillo was born at Sahagun, Leon Spain. He was educated by the Benedictine monks of Fagondez monastery there and when twenty, received a canonry from the bishop of Burgos, though he already had several benefices. He was ordained in 1445; concerned about the evil of pluralism, he resigned all his benefices except that of St. Agatha in Burgos. He spent the next four years studying at the University of Salamanca and then began to preach. In the next decade he achieved a great reputation as a preacher and spiritual director, but after recovering after a serious operation, became an Augustinian friar in 1463 and was professed the following year. He served as master of novices, definitor, prior at Salamanca, experienced visions, was famous for his miracles, and had the gift of reading men's souls. He denounced evil in high places and several attempts were made on his life. He died at Sahagun on June 11, reportedly poisoned by the mistress of a man he had convinced to leave her. He was canonized in 1690 as St. John of Sahagun. His feast day is June 12th.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Car Rental Agencies

I am renting a car for the first time in, hell, it has been almost 20 years! I figured with the trip out West, we will want to do some long distance sight seeing. The process for car rentals has sure changed.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Done & Time for Fun!

I feel pretty damn good! I have my PowerPoint presentation of my research all done and backed up in a variety of forms (flash drive, CD, DVD, cloud storage) and have also saved it in the newer .pptx format as well as the older .ppt format so whatever way they need it at the meeting, it will hopefully be one of the ways I have.

It feels wonderful. This morning I took the longer route for my walk, and the weather was crisp, but not too cool. I then finally decided to give it a go, and rode my new bicycle the many miles to work, and then worked out (upper body weight training)in the U gym to boot! It is the first time I have biked to work, and the first time I went to the gym in nearly three weeks.

I think I may call it a day, and bicycle home. Then I will do some yard work for a spell, and then perhaps I will head over to my father-in-laws for chat, pipes and libations!


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Almost Finished (Fingers Crossed)

The agonizing focus on detail and minutiae that is part and parcel of developing a PowerPoint Presentation about research data is nearly finished! I suspect I may be finished at least with a draft by midnight tonight!

Wish me luck!


Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Creating My Research Talk

I will be light on writing for the next day or two due to the need to get my research talk I need to present soon up to snuff.


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Flash Fiction Effort

Happily, Flash Fiction has returned this week. Here is my entry based on the starter sentence we were given, "So much for plan B":

"Plan B...itter"

"So much for plan B." I muttered under my breath.

I grabbed my old, beat-up pipe that I kept in the workbench drawer. It was badly battered, and even the bowl had a hairline crack along one side, so it was now relegated for use only in the garage. I stuffed its bowl angrily with tobacco. Firing it up quickly, I smoked, chewed on the stem, and grumbled..

"So, what the hell will plan C be?" My furry eyebrows knitted together, belaying my frustration.

What I felt like doing was taking a hammer to the metal object of my rancor and smashing it into as many pieces as possible. But, of course, that wouldn’t do a damn bit of good, and only give me MORE work to do in the end.

"Why the hell do they change things like this and then say it will fit is beyond me." I think to myself.

I look down at the mower with grave disdain, then look back at the new, shiny metal box, about the size of a bar of soap on the bench.

My wife comes out to the garage. In her hand is a tall glass of iced tea. She smiles at me.

"Drink this, dear, you need to keep drinking enough fluids."

I complain loudly about the stupidity of the design of the replacement muffler, and in an animated fashion, holler about the idiotic instructions. With rising impatience, I loudly read from the instructions:

"If your mower was manufactured before 1985, it will have only TWO screw posts to attach the muffler. You will need to remove the third screw post manually or it will not fit against the flange correctly."

I point out to my wife the asinine additional post, a stalk of cast iron about 1 inch in length. Then I show her how I already mangled the post, trying to cut it with my hacksaw blade. The raggedness of the cut, and its haphazard, meandering slant make it look like I was drunk as a skunk when I tried to cut it. Unfortunately, that was not the case. I was sober, and aggravated as hell.

"Now listen to this..." I continue, "You must leave at minimum 3/16th of an inch of the post but no more than 1/4th of an inch of the post to allow for plugging the hole with the enclosed thumb screw. Failure to attach the thumb screw to the muffler to block this hole will result in significant loss in performance of the muffler."

I take a deep pull from the stem of my pipe.

As I exhale, I exclaim, "Why the hell do they say this is the replacement muffler for my mower, when the son-of-a-b*tch does not fit!"

"It *is* an old mower, dear. Maybe we should buy..." my wife begins, attempting to placate me.

I glower at her. "What the hell does age have to do with it? If it is a damn f*ck*ng replacement part, it sure as f*ck*ng damn hell should fit without me having to figure out how to remake it here!"

Angrily, I look around at the various tools parts, and instruction sheets splayed across my workbench.

"Look at this hammer, its 50 years old, for Chr*st’s sake!!! It was my dad’s and I remember going to the hardware store with him to get it." I sputter, my rage gaining momentum now.

"Sh*t, look at this radio, its got to be at least 40 years old. Hell, even my pipe," I exclaim as I take it out of my mouth and show her for emphasis, "I bought this old beast over 30 years ago!"

"Now, dear..."

"No! Its asinine, and there’s no way you can tell me any different!" I knock ashes from my pipe into the ashtray on my workbench angrily. "They do sh*t like this so people give up on fixing things! They do it so people won’t try to do their own repairs! They do this bullsh*t only to line their own damn pockets!"

My wife gives up trying to calm me and walks back into the house.

I sit there alone, and fume. Mad at the world, mad at the asinine little metal box before me, and mad at my feeling of incompetence.

"I am NOT going to take you in and have some punk kid charge me $55 bucks to "install" the damn muffler, and I am sure as hell not going to buy a new mower!"

I reach again for the pipe, fill its bowl, and think, and think.

* * * * *

Any and all comments are appreciated,


Monday, June 07, 2010

Blogger Outage?

For most of the day, today, there was some sort of Blogger outage where I was unable to submit a post. I do not know what the outage was about, as there were no updates in the "News" section of Blogger.


Sunday, June 06, 2010

Doubting Thomas Catholicism

With all the yammerings we hear from all sorts of people both for and against religions, I am often asked by students if I am religious or ascribe to any religious beliefs. Often, some of them ask me this because I talk frequently about evolutionary theory in my courses, and for many the Theory of Evolution is a bit controversial.

Well, I am strongly Roman Catholic. It is a faith I ascribe to for two major reasons... one is familial and the other is philosophical. The familial aspect stems from my desire to be part of a larger family of people who share similar beliefs. I can attend Mass at any Catholic Church world wide, and even though there will be differences, I will feel I have found a home. This sense of a larger community, a larger "family" in which I belong is very special to me. The philosophical aspect stems from my philosophy of life. In studying a large array of different religions (and atheism and agnostic philosophies), I feel the teachings, ideals, and especially peace and social justice philosophies are those that seem most in keeping with how I view life.

I tend to feel that I and my wife and kids should strive to work hard to be helpful in our lives, that we should always work to treat everyone with kindness and respect. I also feel that strenuous effort to "do good" is something I hold dear. And for me, I feel the philosophical underpinnings of the Roman Catholic faith best mesh with my own ideas.

Now, before people stomp around in my comments section and rant about how awful and corrupt and pedophilic the Church is, let me state a few things for clarification:

1. The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) is not a perfect institution. No institution nor person is perfect. There are people who do bad things in the RCC just like there are people who do bad things in other faiths and people who are atheiests or agnostics who also do bad things. A faith or philosophy does not prevent some members who ascribe to it from being "bad". Human nature is such that there will always be people who do wrong things in EVERY walk of life. So, ranting on about the "evil of Catholicism" is not really a valuable response here.

2. While I hold a faith of Catholicism, I am also very interested and appreciative of other faiths and philosophies as well. I enjoy hearing and learning about other's own ideas.

3. I firmly believe in seperation of Church and State. I believe the rules and guidelines of the Roman Cathoic faith should be ascribed to and followed by ME and the members of MY FAMILY. But, I feel society as a whole NEED NOT follow those tennets of RCC. A larger society of people must create its sets of rules and regulations based upon what is right for that society as a whole... taking into account all members of the society.

4. Do I believe in God? Yes. Can I "prove" God? No. Does that mean I can and do sometimes have doubts? Yes, of course. As a scientist, I *know* that any sort of faith issue is BEYOND the scope of being able to be proven or disproven using science. But here is the KEY POINT.... whether God exists or not, it does not change my core beliefs of how I *should* live my life.

5. For me, I see absolutely NO CONFLICT with my faith and my belief in the validity of the scientific ideas expressed in Darwin's Theory of Evolution. I view the Theory of Evolution as our best scientific understanding of our origins, and I see no conflict with my faith or philosophy.

For me, the way I strive to live my life aligns very well with the philosophies of the RCC.


Saturday, June 05, 2010


Both my wife and I are interested in getting back into bicycle riding. It is something we both have enjoyed in the past, but it has been at least 15 years since either of us has ridden a bicycle. That has now changed as we bought a pair of bicycles and are planning to begin regular riding starting Monday. We plan to go bicycling with the kids, and to also bike together as well as separately. I am thinking I may incorporate bicycling to the University as an added part of my health and fitness goals.

We shall see how it goes.


Friday, June 04, 2010

Gardens and Grains

The life of a professor (this professor and my family at least) does not lend itself well to typical planting times for flowers and gardens. In my neck of the woods, most plantings occur during the week preceeding through the end of Memorial Day. However, inevitably, there is a huge plethora of University related work details I find myself engrossed (forced engrossment) in during that time. So, inevitably, work on the yard and planting of flowers/gardens etc is late for us.

Happily, I have had far better luck in regards to getting yard work and plantings underway this year than in the last several. I was able to get the ornamental flowers planted in their various locations in the yard on Wednesday of this week and planted the vegetable garden on Thursday of this week. I am even relatively close to being on top of things regarding mowing/trimming/laying down mulch in the various locations in the yard.... relative being the operative word... I am far behind most of the neighbors, but far ahead of my usual pace.

My planting choices were designed around the philosophy of "keep it simple" this year. As we have a rather shady yard, all the flowers I planted are Impatients other than two pots of geraniums (purchased for placement on the graves of my parents and grandparents at the cemetery for Memorial Day and then brought home as a symbol of having them close to us), and a large barrel planted with the smaller flowers also originally used at the cemetery (for uncles, aunts, cousins) and brought back as well. Vegetable garden choices were also kept simple this year... tomatoes all of the same variety, green bell peppers (no wild colors this year, because we would inevitably forget which were which and leave them on the vine too long), cabbage, and kohlrabi.

Earlier in the midst of winter, I had schemed and planned to go for a lot of exotic plantings and my elderly father-in-law also had similar plans. He did get around to getting a few odd varieties of melons and peppers into the ground, but like me, for the most part he reverted to keeping it simple this year. The one exotic I think both he and I had strongly contemplated but neither of us attempted was to grow some pipe tobacco. We had been pouring over various gardening catalogs and stumbled upon actual smoking tobacco plants that were available for purchase, and one of the varieties was for a form of tobacco especially suitable for pipe smoking. That intrigued both of us, for it sounded fun and very different to grow. Tobacco (other than non-smokable ornamental varieties) is hardly ever seen available from most gardening supply catalogs. As we are both pipe smokers, we would have enjoyed the challenge of growing these plants, but somehow it fell by the wayside for both of us. I think in reality, it slipped our minds due to other things happening in life until it was too late in the season to make them a viable planting choice.

Oh well, perhaps next year. I think I will take the afternoon off today, and head on over to my father-in-law's to see his garden, talk and laugh, and to enjoy some pipes and libations.


Thursday, June 03, 2010

Willie Nelson's Hair

A great deal of hoopla has been made of Willie Nelson's cutting off his braids after 30+ years. While I think his real haircut is rather odd looking (he reminds me of the little Dutch kid on the paint cans), the picture above (which is a doctored image) is much more flattering. Perhaps Willie will attempt such a skinhead look?

Regardless, I enjoy the fellow's music, and I wouldn't mind hanging out with him for a few days. From all accounts, he seems to enjoy life.


Wednesday, June 02, 2010


Teddy Roosevelt, whom I feel was one of the very best Presidents we have ever had (and by a LONG SHOT the very best Republican President we have ever had. He was so good, in fact, I would almost swear he was a closet Democrat) is not really the focus of today's essay, but when I read this I saw some similarities.

Roosevelt was a scrawny child who had significant illnesses when young. From the biographies I have read, he was often picked on as a child at school. However, through fortitude and cussed determination, he overcame the difficulties of his youth.

However, some children may not be so capable. The genetic basis of responses to bullying is a very interesting sub-discipline in the field of neuroscience. Please read the following from Science News:

Gene Makes Kids More Vulnerable to Bullying's Effects: Victims With a Genetic Variant Have More Emotional Problems

By Bruce Bower

Web edition : Friday, May 21st, 2010

There’s nothing fair about getting bullied at school. To add insult to injury, a new study finds that bullied kids who happen to have inherited one form of a stress-related gene develop the most emotional problems.

Symptoms of anxiety, depression and social withdrawal appeared most often in regularly bullied kids who possessed two copies of a short version of the 5-HTT gene, says a team led by psychologist Karen Sugden of Duke University in Durham, N.C.

One-third of bullied children who had two shorter copies of the gene displayed emotional problems severe enough to merit mental health treatment, the researchers say. That figure fell to 29 percent for regularly bullied kids carrying one short copy of the gene and 15 percent for those with two long copies.

By tracking pairs of twins, Sugden and her colleagues ruled out the possibility that pre-existing emotional problems led genetically vulnerable children to be victimized by bullies. In cases where each twin carried two short copies of the 5-HTT gene but only one got repeatedly bullied, emotional difficulties were observed only in the bullied twin, the researchers report in a paper scheduled to appear in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

The experiment can’t directly pin the kids’ emotional problems on the gene-bullying combo, “but it is about as close as it is possible to get, given that it’s not ethical to bully a child deliberately for research purposes,” says Duke psychologist and study coauthor Terrie Moffitt.

Other evidence suggests that the short form of the gene, which is involved in transporting the chemical serotonin in the brain, intensifies emotional reactions to various kinds of stress, possibly by triggering the release of high levels of stress hormones, remarks Stanford University psychologist Ian Gotlib, who was not part of the study team.

Gotlib’s team has reported that teenage girls who were socially excluded or lied about by peers showed signs of depression, but only if they had two copies of the short 5-HTT gene. And medical interns with at least one copy of the critical gene variant are particularly prone to depression, a group led by psychiatrist Srijan Sen of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has found.

Other studies have failed to link the serotonin transporter gene to stress-related emotional problems (SN: 7/18/09, p. 10). But most of those studies collected data via phone or questionnaires, not in thorough interviews, Moffitt says.

She and her colleagues monitored 1,116 pairs of same-sex twins age 5 to 12 in England and Wales. Identical twins made up just over half of the sample.

Parents and teachers assessed children’s emotional condition at ages 5, 7, 10 and 12. At the final assessment, 230 kids told experimenters that they had been bullied “a lot” by other children and described what had happened.

Frequent bullying victims with two copies of the short gene displayed emotional problems by age 12. They accumulated an average of six or seven new symptoms of anxiety, depression and social withdrawal during the study.

Children who had one long and one short 5-HTT gene had fewer emotional problems than kids with two short copies. Bullied children with two long genes exhibited relatively few emotional difficulties, but still slightly more than never-bullied or occasionally bullied peers.

Emotional problems stayed at low levels and tended to decline during the study for children who never or rarely got bullied, regardless of their genetic makeup.

School programs to reduce bullying probably provide the greatest emotional benefits to genetically vulnerable children, Moffitt says. But it's too early to say whether this research will lead to targeting genetically vulnerable children for specific school interventions, she adds.

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I suspect there are a great many behavioral responses that we as human animals display that are in large part due to our genetic makeup. Bullying is a horrid, wretched, evil practice and should be stopped. I would say that expulsion for even seemingly "minor" cases of bullying is wholly warranted and justified.


Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Memorial Day & Life

I took part in my normal ritual of bringing flowers to the grave sites of the relatives I love and miss. And, as has been my habit as well, I took flowers to the graves of those family I may not have known, but that my beloved mother knew and took flowers to prior to her passing. The task left me feeling melancholy, but ok. I talked to each person for 5-10 minutes when I brought the pot of flowers to their grave.

For the people I knew and loved (my mother and father, two uncles, an aunt and a niece) I spoke to them directly. For those people whom my mother also routinely left flowers for, I spoke to them about mom and how I wanted to continue to show her love for them by my actions. These people included my grandparents, an uncle I never met, and a young child of my aunt's who had died at less than a year's age. I expressed to them my happiness at being related to them, and thanked my grandparents for the joys of my mother and my uncles and aunts I knew.

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We had a wedding to attend on Saturday during this past holiday weekend. It was for relatives from my wife's side of the family and she did not know them particularly well. The food was decent, and I danced a bit with my wife. I drank gin and tonics, which were very good and refreshing. I need to remember how much I enjoy gin.