So that’s how they do it

What it is it about me, Australian scientists, and the strange sex lives of weird animals? I don’t know, but here we go again.

Yazad over at AnarCapLib points to this bizarre page written by Australian grad student Wendy Cooper. While bored in the library basement one day, she stumbled upon a couple of papers studying how porcupines make love (yeah, yeah, we all know the joke). For the benefit of humanity, she has summarized the results for easy reading. Their mating rituals are interesting, to say the least. A sample of male behavior:

When placed in a cage with a female the male porcupine toured the whole area rubbing everything with his nose. He carefully smelled all items, paying closest attention to objects that had been in contact with the female and the places where she had urinated. He often walked about the cage on three legs, clutching at his genitals with his free left front paw.

Hey, if he’d gone to Vanderbilt he could have pledged DKE!

[Sorry D, after the notorious Hand Pants Man news incident of 2003 I just couldn’t resist.]


Just beautiful

Though I was blogging various updates on the Ansari X Prize, I wasn’t going to post anything about yesterday’s flight since it was already big news. After watching the video, however, I changed my mind. The live webcast of yesterday’s flight is available online, either in long form with all the build up or just the flight footage. Watch it here.

[Via BoingBoing.]


Summer music round up

Road trips are always a good excuse to pick up some new CDs, and with all the traveling I did this summer I was sure to find a few good ones. Two are worth writing up here. Both of them, coincidentally, come from England. If my taste in music means anything to you (and I can’t really give you any reason why it should), keep reading.

The first is Katie Melua’s debut album Call off the Search. I picked this up on a lark after seeing her compared to Norah Jones. I haven’t heard much about her here, but the album is already quadruple platinum in the UK. Happily, she doesn’t disappoint.

The comparison to Norah Jones is understandable, in that they’re both young and jazzy. Melua’s voice is more girlish, yet expressive, beautiful, sometimes sultry, and always demanding of attention. I find myself listening to her more closely and more often than I ever have to Jones.

Only two of the songs are her own, but the selection showcases a variety of styles. “Mockingbird Song” surprised me the most. It’s a sexy re-write of the old lullaby, complete with a more lilting rhythm and new, mature lyrics (think “And when my man’s no longer hot/I’m gonna bring him a vodka shot” in place of “If that billy goat won’t pull/ Momma’s gonna buy you a cart and bull.”) “Crawling Up a Hill,” “Closest Thing to Crazy,” and “Belfast” are a few of my other favorites. Amazon has the sound samples, but their tinny sound definitely doesn’t do justice to Melua’s voice. Highly recommended if you enjoy slower, jazzy music with smart lyrics and a focus on the vocals.

The second album is much more pop: The Corrs’ Borrowed Heaven. I was eagerly awaiting this since it’s been almost four years since their last studio album (In Blue), but also somewhat dreading it since their last was such a disappointment. In Blue had its moments, but it was overproduced and lost the distinctive Celtic feel of their previous work. Its main purpose seemed to be to get the band airplay in the U. S. It succeeded at that level, but was otherwise forgettable (though some of the songs actually sound pretty good live).

Borrowed Heaven opens with the radio-friendly single “Summer Sunshine.” It’s catchy, and I like it, but it did make the album remind me of their last. After giving the whole CD a few listens, however, I changed my mind. While it still has a pop feel to it, the lyrics are much smarter than on In Blue and Sharon Corr’s violin is once again given a more prominent place in the scores (though still not prominent enough – judging by the crowd’s reactions at their concert a few weeks ago, she’s definitely their strongest asset). The final track is almost purely instrumental and lives up their previous standards.

The album is, undeniably, commercial pop, but it’s a big step above the vast majority of what’s out there. The Corrs have real talent that shines through and they’re great fun to listen to. Borrowed Heaven has become one of my favorites for driving. Recommended, though not as highly as 2002’s Live in Dublin.


My new daily grind

I don’t like being in an office. I do like being in a coffee shop. So why work in an office if I could work in a coffee shop?

My thoughts exactly. Starting a few weeks from now I will be working at Murky Coffee’s new Clarendon location. As some of you know, I’ve always thought about wanting to own a coffee shop someday. More recently I decided to forego jobs that require reporting to an office in favor of part time coffee shop work, magic, and writing. Now the first goal has been met and the other two are progressing nicely.

Speaking of Murky Coffee, there’s another bit of news I’ve had to sit on for a while: their new store is opening up in the current location of Common Grounds. It’s a friendly buyout and the new store will share many of the same goals as CG, including the vital community feel. But there will be changes. Most importantly, the new owner cares intensely about the art of making good coffee and espresso and he’s going to refocus the store on offering the best damn coffee in town (yes, he said “damn”).

I’m excited about starting training and being in on the ground floor of the new operation. The exact time of the transfer hasn’t been decided upon yet, but once the change is made feel free to stop by the store, say hi, and test out my new barista skills. That goes especially for those IHS employees who currently favor a certain Seattle-based coffee chain.

[Update 9/30/04: Nick has the official announcement.]



Smittens may be sickeningly cute, but they just don’t take account of today’s exciting range of alternative lifestyles. Somehow Court and I ended up talking about how these mittens for two leave out people who refuse to accept the traditional heterodoxy of couplehood. A problem like this called for drastic measures. Namely, PhotoShop.

Check out Court’s weblog for the invention that will make us millionaires, the Menage-a-MittenTM.


My exciting Saturday night

Mike Podguski reports on last night’s festivities, complete with sarcastic comments about my organizational skills. The evening starts with me inviting Mike and two other friends to a party downtown. Trouble begins when we arrive and I realize that I have forgotten to bring both the directions and the host’s phone number.

The situation worsens as I call a friend whom I’m pretty sure will be at the party. I ask if he’s there and he has no idea what I’m talking about. It appears I’ve committed the faux pas of asking him about a party to which he wasn’t invited. Oops.

But I’m wrong. He then informs me that said host had thrown a really big party last weekend and perhaps that is what I was thinking of. I realized then that I’d dragged three friends all the way out to Columbia Heights for no good reason, having arrived without directions to a party that had ended about 6.5 days ago.

Every cloud has a silver lining, however, and last night Mike and I accomplished something: we rode on all five Metro lines in one evening. That was orange line to L’Enfant, yellow line part of the way to Columbia Heights, green line for the rest, red line from DuPont to Metro Center, the blue line (just for kicks) to Farrugut West, and then the orange line again back to Clarendon. Ridiculous, but a suitable consolation prize for a poorly planned night out.


Nyaah nyaah nyaah, all you non-candidate Libertarians

If I had to guess that one friend of mine would be casting a Libertarian vote this year, I would not have guessed Ben Stark. And yet, when election day rolls around, he just might do it. Is this due to the free market influence of Duke law professors? Unlikely. The enticement of the Votergasm? Even more unlikely. No, it was the old “nyaah nyaah nyaah” strategy. Ben explains…

Strange as it seems, given my general dislike of libertarianism, the Libertarian candidate in my U.S. House district my have won my vote! See the following statement from Max Longley, Libertarian candidate for the 4th District of NC (David Price’s district):

“A word about my own candidacy. I am running as a write-in candidate for Congress with the endorsement of the Libertarian Party of North Carolina. In addition to supporting the basic program of the Libertarian Party, I have a specific principle to advance: That the federal government shouldn’t take any human life, ever. It doesn’t matter whether the human life is a day-old embryo or an adult Iraqi. I don’t support the federal government killing anyone, no matter what overall benefits are supposed, on utilitarian grounds, to accrue from the killing. Whether it’s a Libertarian principle or not, it’s my principle. Not all Libertarians will agree with me on this, but I’m the candidate and they’re not, so nyaah nyaah nyaah.”

First off, it’s not like my vote will make much of a difference in the 4th District. Price has this district in the bag. Second, a pro-life, anti-war candidate represents my views better than anybody else. Third, you gotta love any candidate who says “nyaah nyaah nyaah” on his campaign site! ( (And who provides a link to his Livejournal on that website:

The Pro-Life Anarchist in me is pleased by his attitude.

– Ben

Given the state of the political rhetoric this election season, I’d say that’s as good a reason as any!


Vote! Again! Harder! Oh, baby, don’t stop!

Looking over this year’s field of presidential candidates, it’s not easy getting motivated to head over to the voting booth. Perhaps offering a Votergasm will help? [Update 9/23/04: Court has the photographic evidence of us supporting the cause.]

The link comes via the new issue of The Slant, which also includes this extremely helpful safety warning.


Lattes without guilt

As much as I love hanging out at unique coffee shops, I’ve always been a fan of Starbucks. The much-maligned corporation served as my introduction to gourmet coffee and gave me a place to hang out when I went to high school in Houston’s outer suburbia. More than any other company, Starbucks is responsible for making the coffee shop a contemporary institution. This excellent article from Portland’s Willamette Week Online makes this point and demolishes a few other myths about the Starbucks giant.

The link comes via the Murky Coffee weblog, which also announces some big news for Clarendon: our coffee scene is about to undergo a major change.


Me am baaack!

Every time I write a weblog entry after returning from a trip I feel like titling it “Me am baaack!” in honor of the cover of a Superman comic that featured Bizarro way back in 1994. For no particular reason that cover has always stuck with me. This time I’m using it and, well, me am baaack in Arlington.

I’ve been here since Sunday night, but am only now finding time to update thanks to an editing job that fell suddenly into my lap: very fast turn around, interesting material, and great pay. (M, if you’re reading this, I owe you one!).

The trip up here was fun, especially the afternoon Chad and I spent at Wine on the River. Wine on the River is, I think, the best thing that has ever happened in Nashville. The weather was beautiful as over thirty tents hosting more than 300 different wines (we sampled too significant a fraction) lined the Shelby Pedestrian Bridge for three hours. The Nashville Symphony Quartet played in the background, in addition to a few other acts. Morton’s Steakhouse was there to offer filet mignon sandwiches two for a dollar. Wrap that up with an evening at J-J’s with Taco Boy, Dr Pepper Man, and Feta Girl, and life can’t get much better. (And, as Chad humorously reports, it was much better than riverside events of the following day.)

That’s all I have to report from the long drive up. Now it’s just a matter of establishing a new pattern sans normal employment.


Back on the road

Starting this morning I’ll be back on the road to D. C., arriving Sunday night after a few days of hanging out in Nashville. You’ll probably see nothing from me till then. I leave you instead with the hammerjaw, the newest fish on the Australian Museum site. In the picture it just looks like a particularly ugly minnow, but with a length of thirty cm it’s more serious than that. Nice chompers!

[Update: Forgot the link. Here it is.]


Thirty-eight minutes of your time

If you want a preview of the 2010 Census, click on this .pdf file. This American Community Survey is planned to replace the long form. I don’t remember how long the long form was, but the ACS weighs in at twenty-one pages and the Census Bureau estimates it will take thirty-eight minutes for the average household to complete.

The Bureau also has a Paperwork Project that’s looking for ways to reduce the survey’s burden. Send them an email at if you’d like to tell them what they can do with their survey.

As expected, Ron Paul is already all over this one. Here’s an op-ed he wrote on the subject.

[Hat tip to Dante Arciero for the link.]


Provence on Peabody

One thing Vanderbilt’s doing right: allowing the French bakery Provence to open up shop in the Peabody Library, bringing along with their famous Dancing Goats coffee. The coffee is one of the best I’ve had and is named after the mythological goatherder Kaldi, who is said to have discovered the drink’s awakening qualities upon seeing his goats dancing after eating coffee cherries. Not surpisingly, Provence reports problems with red tape blocking their access to VandyCard accounts.

My friend Sarah questions the choice of location, however: “But why would they open up in a place no one ever goes? I mean, Peabody students in the library? Hello…” She raises a good point!


About that moral clarity

President Bush and his supporters never tire of praising his moral clarity, his willingness to call evil by its name. This is in stark contrast to Kerry, whose positions one can only charitably call “nuanced.” Bush, so the theory goes, must therefore be the only one of the two candidates who can steer a steady course through the Middle East and win the war against the terrorists.

Does this theory hold water? In the weeks and months following 9/11, his moral clarity was all well and good. A band of very bad men killed several thousand Americans and it was his job to track the bastards down and dispense some Texas style justice. No one was going to begrudge the U. S. its right to strike back at those responsible for those attacks.

Three years later, the task has shifted focus. The War on Terror is no longer about combating known terrorists, or even about preventing terrorists from getting WMD from certain countries believed to possess them. Now its about transforming the Middle East by invading and rebuilding not one, but two of its nations at the same time. Iraq, especially, is hoped to become the shining city on the hill that will win over the hearts and minds of the Arab world.

Now, regardless of whether one thinks that this is a sound approach to policy in the Middle East, consider what leadership qualities a president would need to make it succeed. Intelligence, diplomatic skills, knowledge of history and culture, openness to criticism, and an appreciation for subtlety and nuance all come to my mind. None of these are attributes that are commonly attributed to George W. Bush.

Moral clarity doesn’t even make my list. I think it is detrimental when it is meant to denote the way Bush views the world. Robert Wright has an excellent op-ed in Foreign Policy on how the president’s moral clarity provides him with a dangerous self-assurance and disregard for pesky details. Wright imagines a president with a more responsible conception of evil:

This idea of evil as something at work in all of us makes for a perspective very different than the one that seems to guide the president. It could lead you to ask, If we’re all born with this seed of badness, why does it bear more fruit in some people than others? And this question could lead you to analyze evildoers in their native environments, and thus distinguish between the causes of terrorism in one place and in another.

This conception of evil could also lead to a bracing self-scrutiny. It could make you vigilant for signs that your own moral calculus had been warped by your personal, political, or ideological agenda. If, say, you had started a war that killed more than 10,000 people, you might be pricked by the occasional doubt about your judgment or motivation—rather than suffused in the assurance that, as God’s chosen servant, you are free from blame.

In short, with this conception of evil, the world doesn’t look like a Lord of the Rings trailer, in which all the bad guys report to the same headquarters and, for the sake of easy identification, are hideously ugly. It is a more ambiguous world, a world in which evil lurks somewhere in everyone, and enlightened policy is commensurately subtle.

Instead we have a president who remains immune to criticism, who cannot answer difficult questions and does not care that he cannot, and who wants the country to believe that the mandate given him by 9/11 has not yet expired. He has set himself a task in the Middle East that he is incapable of seeing through. In short, he has grossly “misoverestimated” himself and there is no way in Hell he deserves to be reelected for it. Four more years of his kind of moral clarity is not what U. S. foreign policy needs right now.

[The Robert Wright link comes from Justin Logan’s most recent anti-Bush post, which is also worth your attention.]