A Free Man’s Best

What follows are some of my posts that you, my beloved readers have chosen of some of your favorites. The wheat amongst the chaff, if you will:

Braggin’ Rights

Every Sunday morning for the past month or so, our budding family is up at the crack of dawn for Water Babies class. This, initially, was something about which I was really excited. The lustre has worn off a bit, not just because of the early hour, but also because I’m just not sure if the boy is enjoying it. His Mum says that it’s during his morning nap time, but in order to keep him in the water we’ve got to provide him with a little rubber fish that he tries to decapitate throughout the class. Not the Water Babies model student.

Another part of Water Babies that I’m struggling with is the competitive Dad aspect of the class. All of our kids are far too young for their to be much comparing and contrasting in their performances. But I can see embryonic “crazy soccer Dad” in the eyes of some of my fellow fathers – particularly in the locker room before and after class.


All come to look for America

“Let us be lovers we’ll marry our fortunes together.”
“I’ve got some real estate here in my bag.”
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies
And we walked off to look for America.

-Paul Simon – “America”

Remarkably, there’s not much of a Fourth of July celebration here in Britain. Probably something to do with not wanting to commemorate the beginning of the end of the British empire or something like that. So, there’s not much going on for me today. A few of my friends will wish my a Happy 4th of July. I’ve been invited to a BBQ by the husband of a Rhodes scholar (I’ve not met his wife but I’m sure she’s an exception to what I’m about to say), but a) it’s going to be raining and b) it’s going to be filled with Rhodes scholars. If you’re a Rhodes Scholar, I apologize in advance, but these folks are the worst variety of American in Oxford. They’re going to become lawyers and politicians, they wear ties all the time and they only mix with other Rhodes Scholars. Tossers.


Science Tuesday: In Response to an Animal Rights Apologist

I’m as fond of animals as the next guy. Maybe even, as I contemplate the exorbitant cost of transporting my seven year old dog to Australia, a little fonder than most. Like most folks, I love little furry creatures and would be personally loathe to do them any harm. Like most people, I ignore the irony of pampering my pooch whilst eating and wearing another furry creature. Unlike most people, until very recently I made my living as a research scientist. Early in my career, I made a decision to avoid working with animal model systems and to concentrate on plant genetics. This was due only to personal squeamishness not a grand moral stand. Many, if not most, of my scientist friends do work on animal model systems and their work sometimes requires those animals to be killed. They are not doing this because they are sadists or monsters, they are doing it in almost every case with the goal of improving the lives of you, I and themselves.


He was the one made me what I am today

“Señores y señoras
Nosotros tenemos mas influencia
Con sus hijos, que tu tienes
Pero los queremos
Creado y areglado
De Los Angeles
Juana’s adiccion!”

Listening to Jane’s Addiction, the wonderful SoCal alternative pioneers, always takes me back to Tallahassee, Florida. I lived there for a couple of years at the outset of the nineties. For a good part of that time I lived in a little studio apartment that had been carved out of a turn of the (twentieth) century house in the shadow of the Florida capitol building. It was my first solo apartment and I loved it – the freedom of living alone for the first time in my nearly two decades. It was tatty, dirty, tiny and didn’t have screens on the window or air conditioning. That latter feature of the apartment was a little bit of a problem in the hot Florida summers. It meant either suffocating or leaving the windows open to the varied fauna of the Sunshine State.


Good Morning Son, I Am A Bird

“Sara spelled without an ‘h’ was getting bored
On a Peavey amp in 1984
While Zak without a ‘c’ tried out some new guitars
Playing Sara-with-no-h’s favourite song…”

-Ben Folds – “Zak & Sara”

Ben Folds is one of the most entertaining live performers I’ve ever had the good fortune of seeing. He owns both his piano and the crowd, channeling Jerry Lee Lewis and Elton John in the same set. He can get a hipster/poseur crowd singing in rounds under his direction, not an easy task considering applause is sometimes too much of an effort. I’ve seen him a few times – at the University of Missouri with the defunct Ben Folds’ Five and solo in London and in Kansas City.

That latter show was the most memorable – it was some time in June of 2002 (I think). We got cheap promotional tickets from a radio station and headed to KC with our friends Alex and Nichole to see Folds’ at an outdoor show at the Kansas City River Market, which sounded nice and rustic. I’m sure that there is more to it than what I experienced but as far as I could tell on the day it was essentially a very large parking lot – with a stage. Now I don’t mind standing at a show, but for those of you unfamiliar with Missouri summers, June is a hellishly hot and humid time in the Midwest (like mid 90’s F and 60% plus humidity). Even at dusk, as the show was starting, that baked pavement held in enough heat to cook a stir fry. Because it was in a parking lot there was no incline from the stage, so your view of the stage was entirely dependent on your genetic good fortune. Now, Alex is a tall fellow, Dr O’C and I hold our own on the height curb, but Nichole – well, I think vertically challenged is the politically correct term.


Hello, I’m Johnny Cash

That’s the way one of my favorite live albums starts, that deep baritone voice, with the soft Southern accent. This is followed by one of the most familiar guitar licks you’ll ever hear and…

“I hear the train a comin’
It’s rollin’ ’round the bend,
And I ain’t seen the sunshine,
Since, I don’t know when,
I’m stuck in Folsom Prison,
And time keeps draggin’ on…”

The other day we were playing the baby Johnny Cash – the Sun Records version of “I Walk the Line”, in his/her continuing pre-natal musical education, and he or she went crazy, started kicking like Michael Flatley. We’ve interpreted this response as the baby enjoying the music, we’re glass half full kind of people. Now I found this kind of odd, I mean what’s in Johnny Cash for an unborn baby, where are the bits for him/her to relate to? Sometimes I think about things too much, but it got my memory working.


Science Tuesday: The MMR vaccine and autism – truth, lies and the media

Zach’s coming up on the time for his MMR vaccine. As with most of the jabs he’s gotten to date, it’s just a thing that we do, a right of passage designed to keep my child healthy. Not something I would have thought about much at all, except that I’ve had a little bird (who shall remain nameless) chirping in my hear about the MMR vaccine and autism. It’s a link that I’d heard about once or twice, generally as being absolutely mythical based on apocryphal stories by grieving parents. But, when it’s your own child you think twice and just to quiet that little quiver of doubt in the tin-foil hat part of my brain, I decided to take a look at the science behind autism and MMR. It turned out to be quite a story.


And Absolon has kissed her lower eye…

Just a warning in advance, I am in a bad mood today. Not in any kind of mood to mince words…

Strange Scottish Girl, who has a snazzy new site by the way, asked me the other day for a political post. I’ve not written one in a while, largely because the whole Sarah Palin nomination/ Republican circus has just depressed me. I’m depressed at the cynicism of the McCain campaign thinking that disaffected Clinton voters will flock to Palin just because of the number of X chromosomes that she bears. I’m depressed that the Republicans are falling back on extreme social conservativism to engorge their base. Again. I’m depressed that the oldest presidential candidate in history has selected a viciously pro-life, creationist, anti-science, book banning neo-fascist to be a malignant melanoma away from the reins of my homeland.

Mostly I’m depressed that it seems to be working. The most recent Real Clear Politics aggregate polls have McCain up three points on Obama, the first time he’s led since he became the presumptive Republican nominee back in the Spring. This isn’t because of McCain’s slightly histrionic and more than slightly disingenuous speech last week, it’s because of Palin.