May 29 2010

Spiny tree pig of the week

North American Porcupine
It’s a bastard Monty Python sketch around here: Spiny Norman meets the plummetin’ sheep. My Golden Retriever Bert treed this specimen. North American porcupine roosting in live oak tree, Cottonmouth County TX, April 2010.

Here’s some No. 1 Science Porcupine Information:

They’re the most longevitous of rodents, maxing out at 10 years, which is longer than some Golden Retrievers. They eat bark. They like salt. Quills are specialized hairs. Porcupines don’t shoot their quills, but they (the quills) fall right out when dogs bite’em. The ends of the quills are shaped so that they work their way inextricably into the flesh of their would-be assassins. Possibly, against the eventuality of the porcupine pronging itself, quills are coated with an antibiotic substance that prevents primary infection when your dog gets porcupined.

In closing, I’d just like to say that my lobe is entirely blown by the recent and entirely lobe-blowing spate of anti-sciencism here at I Blame the Patriarchy.

The last time my lobe was this blown by something I read on the Internet, I was instantly transformed from Jill Psmith, casual funfeminist hipster punkrock sexlesbo, to Twisty Faster, Internet Radical Feminist. I allude to the moment I discovered that all of my liberal-dude real life pals, with whom I’d been canoodling on a local listserv, were actually gross antifeminist woman-hating pornsick horndogs. The year was 2001. A conveniently passing obstreperal ray originating from a distant galaxy blew my lobe on the spot. The result was this blog.

Here on Savage Death Island, we like to think that our thirst for knowledge is what separates us from the fucking dipshits. Thus I am shocked to learn that there exists so pronounced a thirst for backwardism.

Needless to say, stand by; way more No. 1 Science Information is in the offing.

If you have any Porcupine Science Information to add, feel free to enlighten the group. As a connoisseur of hideous smells, I am particularly curious about the reputed stench of the porcupine den, which stench I have never personally nostriled.

No. 1 Science Information Notes

Schmidly, David J. The Mammals of Texas. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.

Conger, Cristen. “What’s the best way to remove porcupine quills?”. 13 October 2008. HowStuffWorks.com. Retrieved 29 May 2010.


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  1. Orange

    I’m glad Bert learned from that previous experience and managed not to be defeated by the porcupine this time.

    I like science, but sadly, I have no Erethizon dorsatum information to impart.

  2. Jill

    But he didn’t learn, that’s the thing. He chased it just like before. If that handy tree hadn’t been handy, I’d have been back at the Dog E.R., shelling out $200 bucks for another de-quilling. Stupid dog.

  3. DangerMouse

    Dear Jill,

    As a female scientist who typically reads you in google reader and therefore misses the occasional idiocy of the commentariat, I come here to thank you for fighting the good fight. Science > intuition, and most of the time intuition is just your brain having done the scientific method enough times over the years to know what should work.


  4. Alexa

    ‘idiocy’ of the commenters? a bit harsh no?

    I don’t understand the damn fuss.

  5. MPMR

    Some porcupines have prehensile tails!

    Which is handy for tree climbing when, say, they get chased by a dog.

    What day was it in 2001? (I would celebrate that anniversary with margaritas, tacos, and butt-dancing on the Lido deck.)

  6. Sally Sputnik

    I’m real familiar with the interwebs, and it’s my conclusion that a large percentage of all internet content (based on word count) is written by idiots. Depending on the website, the level can rise to as high as 100%, but I think it never ever falls below 10%. A single idiot who’s pretty wordy can be responsible for the whole percentage. Hell, I’m an idiot myself. I just single-handedly brought the idiot quotient on this post up to 11.5%!

  7. Pinko Punko

    Yes, I was going to say thanks be that the probability of a tree being in the area for this case was higher than Bert being able to catch up to serious pain.

  8. Larkspur

    The way I think of the term “idiot” in the context of the last few days of savage death islandism is that it is not meant dispositively about the whole entire past and future character of the person to whom idiocy has been attributed. It is a way of characterizing profound disagreements involving actual facts without having to fall into the tedious and unhelpful trap of saying, “Well, you’re entitled to your opinion”, or “I don’t want to be judgmental, and there’s two sides to every story”.

    Here is an idiotic thing I do every night: I make sure my hair is covering whichever of my ears isn’t on the pillow (after having checked the pillow first) because two score and a couple of years ago, some mean older girls told us younger gullible girls about a news story they’d heard. Some girl just kept spraying her beehive hairdo, and didn’t brush it out or wash her hair, and a spider nested in it and had spider babies one night, and they crawled into her ears and ate her brain and she was dead by morning. I was terrified, but not because I was an idiot. I just didn’t have good information. But I keep doing it after all of these years because I’m kind of an idiot about it.

    Whimsy, belief, speculation – all that works with a lot of stuff. But if I have two porcupine quills on one end of the table, and two porcupine quills on the other end of the table, and I carefully push them together, I have four damn porcupine quills. That’s a fact.

    I make no further assumptions about those particular quills. I cannot estimate, based on those quills, that there are eleventy-seven hundred separate porcupine quills in Cottonmouth County, or that 37% of them are aimed at Bertie.

    Now: what does the porcupine think as the quills are deployed? Do the individual quills feel any separation anxiety? A little of that might be answerable by the scientific method: observing porcupines, assessing behavior, recognizing patterns, analyzing changes in blood chemistry. But that still leaves me with an abundance of freedom to imagine the world from the departing quill’s point of view.

    Humans can do science and humans can do weird imaginative story-telling and myth-making. I don’t see anything oppressive in making the distinction. In fact it’s pretty darn liberating.

    I would like to grow a prehensile tail. It will not happen, but I can pretend it could.

  9. Melanie

    Although many of the commenters here use their real names, there’s still a level of anonymity on the internet that seems to make a conversation creep more towards argument than discussion.

    And holy crap Larkspur, I do the same thing for the very same reason.

  10. SargassoSea

    Instead of genuflecting at my mentor-blamers’ feet (and possibly offering to gestate their spawn) I’ll say:

    What a pretty Hill Country sky blue that is.

  11. Margaret

    Look for porcupine quill baskets on the internet and enjoy the artistic results obtained from separating a porcupine from its quills. I wouldn’t buy quills to do this craft though since they are obtainable for free at the side of the road.

  12. Jezebella

    Larkspur, baby spiders won’t eat your brain, but cock-a-roaches occasionally crawl into earholes, and then you have to go to the ER to get the sucker out of your earhole. This happened to a coworker, and when she went to the ER, they said they have to remove roaches from people’s ears ALL THE TIME. So, keep covering those earholes if you live in cockroach country.

  13. Uppity

    Number 1 science information re: porcupines

    The regurgitated rotted flesh of these animals smells like a combination of thai fish sauce and pinesol.

    My dog liked them, too.

  14. nails

    A vet tech told me that the quills start to get mushy and soggy if left in another animal for too long and no longer stay in one piece when removal is attempted, so that it is really hard to remove them from neglected animals. She had a million disgusting stories. I liked her a lot. I trained her in phlebotomy.

  15. nails

    In our neighborhood the mean girls told stories about earwigs eating brains via ear hole.

    Bugs in ears are a regular thing in the ER. It seems like it is mostly little kids though. Most people freak and move away if they feel bugs on their ears because they know better, but the world is all new to youngins.

  16. Protagoras

    I did not know that porcupines were the most long-lived rodents. I blame the patriarchy for wasting my time teaching me how to oppress women, when I could have been learning about porcupines. But I’m a huge science fan, and I love looking at problems with science in hopes of finding ways to fix them (probably as a result of wishing to be able to justify the existence of philosophers of science, since that’s one of my fields). There is, of course, some great recent scientific research on bias, which has shown that tons of it exists, sometimes in places even the most dedicated patriarchy-blamers might not have expected (and, though very much more rarely, that it doesn’t exist in some cases where everyone’s sure it does; equally valuable information to those hoping to develop effective strategies).

    I usually don’t comment around here, as I like to argue (whether that’s because I’m a philosopher or because I’m male or privileged or because of some combination of factors), and the commenting policy makes me feel like the argumentative comments I might like to post once in a while would be unwelcome, what with my having a penis and all. I’m not complaining, mind; I don’t think I have a right to post my obnoxious comments anywhere I like. It’s not like there’s a shortage of other places that put up with me. But I thought I’d comment on this post since I’m totally on board with your pro-science stance here, and since I don’t usually comment I thought I’d mention that I’m a long time reader who thinks your blog is amusing and enlightening. Even though I’m probably a gross antifeminist woman-hating pornsick horndog, at least some of the time.

  17. Siren

    Well, this looks like the perfect opportunity for me to chime in with my first substantive comment on this terrifying blog, since even I should be able to get through an enlightening porcupine story without betraying my own blamey ineptitude and thereby incurring the wrathful ridicule of the faithful, wordiful members of this blog’s super-blaming commenters’ club.

    But alas, I have no Porcupine Science Information—nor even a funny spiny anecdote/antidote—to contribute, and I’m not quite desperate enough to resort to the Google machine in hopes of tracking down some hilariously obscure fact that no one else has tracked down yet. So now, in addition to being insufficiently blamey, this comment breaks the relevance rule, and in the end has only served to reveal me as yet another pathetic young feminist trying vainly to keep up with the cool kids, some of whom might argue I haven’t earned the right to even comment here in the first place.

    However I did make use of the word “thereby,” and I set off a parenthetical with honest-to-goodness option-shifted em dashes, and that ought to count for something, if you ask me, which of course, nobody did.

    Goddamnit. If I were enough of a rebel I’d end with an aposiopesis, but instead I’ll just be run-of-the mill irritating and put the word “aposiopesis” in there so at least some of you have to go look it up.

    P.S. In light of the previous comment I feel obliged and rather proud to announce that while I may be a very inexperienced blamer, I do NOT have a penis. Also, I am not at any time a gross antifeminist woman-hating pornsick horndog.

  18. Pinko Punko

    Jezebella- gross. Seriously. GROSS

    Lark- that was an awesome comment. I didn’t eat blue M&Ms for several years, although Jill has posted on this blog that the problem there would be eating the other colors not the absence of blue M&Ms in my piehole. I can’t help it. Sometimes I see a giant bag of peanut M&Ms and I want to swim in it like it is a ball crawl at FUNLAND.

  19. Siren

    Damn, I forgot to fill in the linky stuff. Now on top of everything else I’ve not only demonstrated my lack of attention, but also managed to present myself as one of those people who likes to say snarky shit anonymously. A total fail all around.

    I never had any bugs crawl in my ears, either.

  20. Jill

    If I had a porcupine quill for every time some dude commenter showed up to tell us all about himself — with allusion to his penis and declaration that he finds the blog “amusing” complete — I could make a porcupine-quill hell-handbasket.

  21. Mel

    Jill, you have clearly learned the fundamental truth about dogs and porcupines. They never, ever learn. I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much, as it ensures that I’m able to keep paying the mortgage, but when I see dogs for their 7th or 8th tangle with a porcupine it does make me wonder when their people are going to learn.

    As to the odor of a porcupine den I cannot comment, but when I’ve encountered live thornpigs I’ve not noticed any particular fragrance lingering on them.

  22. ElizaN

    The porcupine photo is quite heartwarming! Less heartwarming is the need for further No. 1 Science Information. “Persistent and willful ignorance is the enemy of liberation!” seems like it should perfectly sum things up.

  23. humanbein

    I discovered that all of my liberal-dude real life pals, with whom I’d been canoodling on a local listserv, were actually gross antifeminist woman-hating pornsick horndogs.

    I was wondering if this discovery was a finding of a universal truth about all men, or if it was just me? I doubt anyone ever found a man, especially a man who practices masculinity, who hasn’t got these traits to some extent, whether he likes it or not.

    I like to think I’ve come a long way since then, but I still wonder, because if anyone knows how ingrained masculine training is, it’s certainly me. But knowing better has been an incredible help, and I can thank you for all the instructive commentary you’ve offered over the years. Not to mention the book ideas. As great as this blog is, reading the basic feminist authors – Dworkin, Mackinnon, Firestone – has really made the biggest difference in understanding gender.

  24. Cactus Sally

    Porcupines like long walks in the woods, fine dining (ala Euell Gibbons Pinecone Needle Stalker Cook Book), are not afraid of heights and were adventurous rafters long before Bear Grylls thought it was a good idea to fling himself off cliffs for entertainment. Unlike Bear Grylls, porcupines would never name their offspring Marmaduke or Huckleberry.

    They are not fond of Canadian or American natives as the natives used to find them tasty and decorative. The porcupines have not forgotten that fact. Porcupines have an amazing ability to learn complex mazes, but they typically do not care for Sudoku.

  25. madeleine

    Porcupine home science: I learnt from “cowboy books” (here and then pronounced as “coyboy books”) that to cook a porcupine you pack it in clay and put it in the fire. The quills stay in the clay and the coyboy has his dinner.

  26. hero

    Porky-pine den smell: imagine bad popcorn. Then imagine more bad popcorn. Then add the worst locker room funk you can recall from before any of the middle school kids learned about deodorant. Or bathing. Then add in a close-up skunk (note: not driving-down-the-backroad “Ew Hon, roll up your window, somebody musta hit a skunk last night around here” but honest to dog, right up close, IN YOUR HOUSE skunk). Then add more bad popcorn, and turn down the skunk by about four point two. Shaken, not stirred. *I* certainly was.

  27. Jill

    “As great as this blog is, reading the basic feminist authors – Dworkin, Mackinnon, Firestone – has really made the biggest difference in understanding gender.”

    Pah, those show-off bitches with their fancy editors and giant brains!

  28. Comrade PhysioProf

    Jill, you have clearly learned the fundamental truth about dogs and porcupines. They never, ever learn.

    This is because back in the caveman days, cavemen bred their dogs to act as bait for the porcupines so that the porcupines wouldn’t bother their women who were around the campfire talking a lot and being all emotional and wearing furs stained pink with red berry extracts that the women cooperated to make out of the red berries that they cooperatively foraged for, while the men were out killing and grunting incommunicatively and being all rational and competing with each other and wearing furs stained blue with blue berry extracts that their women cooperated to make out of the blue berries that they cooperatively foraged for.

  29. Tarr

    Hate to call you on this. Capybaras live longer than porcupines in the wild. Capybaras are enormous rodents.

    I recently stayed at the Bemberger Ranch in Johnson City and was struck dumb by the smell of their Chiropterarium (manmade cave for bats).

    On the bright side, driving into Austin from the west is a place to buy Brenderup trailers. So I did. Please show more pictures of Stanley.

  30. yttik

    I think Kiuku, myself, and perhaps a few others may be too radical for the rad fems. That strikes me as kind of funny. It’s like getting kicked out of a biker bar for having bad table manners.

    I posted about women and self defense, but we worried the patriarchy might engage in victim blaming. I posted about including women’s stolen contributions to science in a rad fem wiki, and we worried that the patriarchy would think we were promoting the theory of squishy lady brains. So ensued a long debate about how science was superior.

    Wake me up when we finally get to the radical part of this journey.

  31. nails

    yttik- Gender essentialism isn’t radical.

  32. Alexa

    I agree all this started with a few subtle digs and laughs at the more radical blamers. No wonder the male posters here are lapping it up!

  33. Larkspur

    I have heard tell that no offloaded substance stinks worse than python poop. Apparently because they only crap two or three times a year.

    yttik, I love you, but darn, I’m way too old to be whipping out my radfem cred to see how it measures up.

  34. Mortisha

    I didn’t know they climbed trees, do they leap off branches and skewer would be enemies and passerbys? That would be WAY cool.

    Our local equivalent, the echidna, doesn’t climb, it digs , it seriously digs. Trying to pick one up after it has glued itself to the ground is like trying to pick up an interesting looking small rock that is really just the tip of an underground car sized boulder. Some interesting leverage physics going on there. They conquer dogs with boredom. No running, just dug in and staying with an infinite capacity to outdo a dogs ability to lie there and stare at a rock all day.

  35. nails

    Will you guys define “radical” so I can understand what you think I am persecuting you for?

  36. Hedgepig

    Re yttik’s comment at 7.09pm: nice summary!

    Never on Savage Death Island have I felt so sneeringly and relentlessly mansplained at by so many lady blamers as in these last few thread discussions. It’s been like just another day in Dude Nation. I might start building a big sand model of an airplane so as to summon one to come and pick me up.

  37. Larkspur

    Assume crash positions.

  38. nails

    Wtf? Mansplaining? Perhaps a rehash of the definition is in order.

    In order to mansplain, you have to explain a phenomenon to a woman who *knows more than the explainer does* in a condescending fashion. A bunch of people who don’t know the subject matter, refuse to look into it before forming a critique, and are acting like willful ignorance is a virtue, is quite a different thing all together.

  39. Protagoras

    Would it have been better if I’d said “enlightening and amusing,” or did I need to just leave the “amusing” out? I certainly intended praise, but I know intentions count for little. As it seems I did not explain myself clearly, that is one of the reasons I usually don’t post here; I realize privilege colors everything I write, especially in a context like this blog, and I haven’t quite figured out how to prevent it from making almost anything I say unhelpful. And now I suppose I’m asking for advice concerning problems I really should be figuring out for myself instead of pestering people who have more important concerns than educating me. Anyway, I was sincere in praising the blog. It doesn’t make much difference to me whether anyone believes that or not, and of course you don’t need dudely validation; sometimes I just feel an urge to praise people who deserve it.

  40. Pinko Punko

    On the internet the lowest and most delicious hanging fruit is the easy rhetorical out, the one that implies taking a particular side is to bring comfort to the powers that be.

    Against this phenomenon, I say up with nails!

    Pro- I know you tried to form a kind of amusing lil’ comment to say some nice stuff about the blog, but instead of coming across as self-deprecating it came across as “he stoops to comment”- you rode the spankapotamus, and your internet bum hurts- just slap some boudreaux’s on it and let it go.

  41. Sarah

    Your origin story is even more compelling than I imagined! Not only would I buy the heck out of the Twisty Faster comic book, I would cosplay her at conventions, rescuing enpornulated female humans from their bikini-induced patriarchal freeze-rays.

  42. Barbara P

    Wait, what? There was once a younger, less-enlightened Jill? The mind reels, like seeing a teacher at a grocery store or something and realizing, “hey, she leaves school at the end of the day and lives a NORMAL LIFE”.

    Though I never imagined that you were actually BORN this way, I still pictured a fairly young person with your full range of opinions. Too bad, because possibly that kind of head start would have already brought about the Twist-olution. Just think: this most recent blog blowup could have been avoided. Perhaps we’d still have a discussion about the topic, but much less of the one-up-one-ship. (One-up-one-ship simply wouldn’t occur to anyone as a valid way to proceed.)

    Instead, your evolution to Twisty took time & involved fits and starts? Because that would imply that you’re human or something. Next you’ll tell me that you don’t think about this blog 24/7. Well, you’ve already said that, but I didn’t believe you before.

    And Sarah – I would also heartily enjoy the comic book & do the cosplay.

  43. Protagoras

    I shall attempt to take Pinko Punko’s excellent advice. I blame the patriarchy for making it so hard for me to do so.

  44. Helen Huntingdon

    Thanks for the bellylaugh, yttik! Delicious parody of how dudez co-opt the word “science” to attempt emotional blackmail, by co-opting “radfem” to mean something opposite to itself in exactly the same way.

    Won’t work here — we all know how to read a dictionary.

  45. JK

    Just wanted to say this post, and the last couple of posts, and some of the commentary (especially by nails) has been really helpful in thinking about how to convince my middle-school-entering daughter to take the advanced math classes that she is fully capable of excelling in, but which the patriarchy seems to be conspiring to make her not want to take.

  46. SargassoSea

    Examining just when my first radfem “aha” moment took place has kept a portion of the memory lobe very much occupied since yesterday afternoon.

    Said lobe has produced this, the first real shove of the stone that’s only been gaining speed:

    Los Angeles, Fall 1989.

    Pre-RadFem Sea lands her first professional gig as a Boom Operator on an honest-to-goodness feature film. ‘Twas written and directed by a woman and with only 2 male characters: 1) hottt secretary-bangin’ husband and 2) gigolo masseuse; think Fabio.

    Location sound people (of which there were only two of the female variety, including myself, at the time) often use wireless radio mics and often the transmitters are placed in an actor’s sweaty knickers. All four of the female leads said essentially the same thing to me: Thank gawd you’re a woman! You wouldn’t BELIEVE the way the men grope me.

    One confided that she’d been digitally raped by a soundfuck, whereas the *husband* asked if I’d like to suck his dick as long as I was down there.

    I didn’t feel so empowerfullized by being a ground-breaking feminist-techgeek working with *Liberal Artists* during that shoot, and the examples only got worse. Way worse.

    I’ve realized, finally, after these 20 years to blame the patriarchy.

    Many thanks due to Jill and the Blametariat for helping me to find the words to express my blamin’ in public.

  47. Helen Huntingdon

    This is bloody surreal: I’m reading The Feminine Mystique for the first time, and it’s reciting yttik’s arguments, chapter and verse, as the very arguments the men of the time were using to keep women trapped.

  48. CassieC

    What ElizaN and nails said. Sheesh.

  49. Ron Sullivan

    My personal experience with live-porcupine dens has been at zoos. At first I thought it was just lack of sanitation but the places were clean, except for having porcupines.

    Then about a zillion years ago, on a camping trip somewhere around Steens Mountain in eastern Oregon, we all happened upon a little square stone building with IIRC a metal roof, not rotting away (wull yeah) but apparently not in use either. Its stout wooden door was ajar. Of course we opened it and peered in.

    Way back in the back was a disorderly heap of deflated porcupines. I mean porcupine skins that clearly had been separated from the rest of the porcupines before, say, the usual process of decomposition could happen. No bones sticking out or anything. If they were skinned-out, it must’ve been by a skillful hand indeed; the heads and feet and tails were attached pretty much as they had been in life.

    I still haven’t figured out what the hell was going on there. We did see a couple of live porcupines that week. Also, our rainfly was shat on by a flock (!) of Townsend’s solitaires who’d been eating juniper berries. Stained it forever.

  50. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Hey, Ron, you describe perfectly the reason why I don’t hang my sheets on the line to dry during Concord grape season. And I love me the smell of some dried-in-the-sun sheets.

    Dog-porcupine relations exhibit a certain sameness with dog-skunk relations.

    Supporting science is my day-job. Has been for more than 26 years. I have witnessed some flaming examples of knobjectivism during my illustrious career, it’s true, but never found it to be a good enough reason for chucking the whole enchillada in favor of nebulous bullshit. Sorry if this besmirches my radfem creds.

    Why do dudely commenters feel the irresistible urge to make mention of their dudeliness?

  51. Barn Owl

    Naked mole rats are extremely long-lived (25-30 years), and unusual in other ways, not the least of which is a social organization (eusociality) similar to that of termites, ants, and some bee species.

    I hesitate to include “wasps” when referring to social organizations, lest anyone is led to make inappropriate connections due to mental capitalization of the word.

    Because of their longevity, naked mole rats are the subject of intense interest in biology of aging research – but who wants to live a long time, if one looks like a phallus dentata with legs?

  52. rootlesscosmo

    @Ron Sullivan:

    a flock (!) of Townsend’s solitaires who’d been eating juniper berries.

    Townsend’s Solitaire wouldn’t be a bad name for a brand of gin.

  53. Jill

    “Townsend’s Solitaire wouldn’t be a bad name for a brand of gin.”


    I love gin jokes.

  54. Comrade PhysioProf

    Gin is not a laughing matter.

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