You are currently browsing the Breaching The Web blog archives for February, 2003.

Slow Snow Day

February 28th, 2003

It is snowing today (again), and I’ve spent an unconscionable about of time reading Jane Austen fanfic.

Robert K. Merton

February 25th, 2003

Sociologist Robert K. Merton died yesterday, at the age of 92. Merton was one of the founders of what is commonly called American sociology. His intellectual contributions and driving personality shaped the development of a “science based” sociology.

Merton was furthermore a public intellectual who contributed a scientific basis to various policy debates, most notably the battles over school desegregation in the 1950s. He is commonly called “the Father of the focus group” and he explained sociological concepts in a commonsense, jargon-free way that has filtered into our everyday language and popular culture.

In spite of these accomplishments, I think his most compelling and long-term contribution will prove to be his focus on “middle level” theories. He encouraged sociologists to avoid the extremes of both theories that attempt to explain the workings of entire social systems and theories that focus on the mundane with no contribution our understandings of broader systems. He argued that we must focus on both biography and history to understand the world around us. In Merton’s view (and my own), this middle range was where sociology could contribute most to our understandings of the world.

Nothin’ MacGuffin

February 24th, 2003

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering “What exactly is a MacGuffin?” (as I did this morning), then here’s your answer.

A few vax

February 24th, 2003

Some complex results from trials of a new HIV vaccine indicate that the vaccine both does and does not help prevent new HIV infections.

The vaccine proved moderately effective for Asians and Blacks but not for Whites or Hispanics. While the results don’t bode well for FDA approval of the vaccine, researchers have some hope of identifying why the vaccine worked for some ethnic groups and not others and using this information to improve the vaccine.

Snowed Under

February 17th, 2003

So how have I spent this snowy weekend? I’ve been knitting like a crazy woman. I finished two purses, started and worked about 1/2 of a shawl, and I made a couple pairs of absolutely adorable baby socks.


Irritation of the Day

February 13th, 2003

I’m really mad at an ad I saw on the right sidebar of this Washington Post article about endangered plants stolen from Mexico .

It’s animated. It begins with a pink box which displays the words “The three most romantic words spoken by married couples?” and a photo showing a man whispering into a woman’s ear. After a few seconds, the photo disappears and the text shifts to “GET A SITTER.” Because obviously, all married couples have kids, right? And all people with kids are married, right?

WRONG. Not all married couples have or want kids, and not all people with kids are married. In practice, large segments of our society have decoupled marriage and parenthood, either by choice or necessity, and we will all better off once our cultural mores catch up with that shift and we start seeing the world as it is rather than how it was 50 years ago.

(Note: the ad is for the Washington Post’s special Valentine’s Day Guide and may not be displayed in that location for long. If you don’t see it right away, try hitting reload a couple of times.)


February 12th, 2003

This is the time of the year when we here at Breaching the Web Industries like to take a few minutes out of our busy schedules to get excessively (perhaps even irrationally) upset over a small matter — a matter that might strike others as so miniscule, so tiny, so impossibly irrelevant, that wasting even one bit of weblog space on it is absurd.

But here at BtWI, our motto is “No matter how tall, no matter how small, we will rant at it all. We will rant in the house, we will rant with a mouse, we will rant in the rain, we will rant with all Spain.”

So consider this rant a little warning, a public service announcement if you will, that will aid you the next time you are faced with the need to nomenclate your dinner.

In the name of all that is holy, where are the BEANS?!

The defining element of chili is beans. Chili is made from beans, chili powder and additional flavorful ingredients (like tomatoes, garlic or onions) — but no meat. Chili con carne (meaning chili “with meat”) features the addition of meat to the beans. Note that this is an addition, not a substitution. “Chili con carne with meat” is a stupid thing to say and an even stupider thing to write on a menu. It’s like saying “roast beef aus jus with juice.” Furthermore, if beans are omitted from the chili, it can then be called a stew (regardless of how it is seasoned, and regardless of whether meat is part of its ingredient list) but it can no longer be called a chili.

American tastes give preference to meat over beans in soup, stew and chili-type dishes — thus, what began as a Mexican bean soup has become a thick American stew. It’s fine that Americans now prefer stew over chili. However, that doesn’t mean that stew IS chili.

I don’t care what the International Chili Society or the Chili Appreciation Society or any so-called “chili” participants say about beans — if there are not beans, it is not chili. It may be very, very good, but it’s not chili. It may even win you an award or two, but it is not chili.

So when I walk into your restaurant, and I order your chili, I’d like to see a few beans on my plate, ok? Not some sort of mutant ground meat stew with too much oil and too few seasonings. And when, in my surprise, I exclaim “Huh. There are no beans!” I don’t want to be told that the beans must be ordered separately, at additional cost. And while I may, in fact, enjoy your ground meat stew, it probably won’t satisfy me because it’s not what I had in mind when I initially looked at your menu and thought “Huh. Chili con carne with meat. Stupid name. Sounds good though.”

I advise you, dearest reader, to tread carefully when ordering chili and ask questions of your kind and attentive server to ensure that you are in fact ordering what you think you are ordering, and that you don’t fall victim to the “this stew is really chili, because we say so” juggernaut.


February 7th, 2003

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is collecting spiders in LA, and they’ve asked local residents to help by trapping spiders and sending them to the museum.

I wouldn’t want to work in the museum mailroom.

What the…?

February 7th, 2003

Illinois is moving toward ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Yes, the federal ERA. It has been voted out of committee and has the support of 3 of the 4 top leaders in Illinois’ Democratic General Assembly. If Illinois ratified the amendment, it would be the 36th state to do so — just two shy of the 38 needed to secure the amendment.

This will be interesting to watch for several reasons.

In the first place, the ERA has been assumed dead because Congress set a deadline for its ratification which expired in 1982. However, after passage of the Madison Amendment in 1992 (concerning Congressional pay raises — it was ratified 203 years after first being sent to the states), ERA supporters adopted the three state strategy. The goal is to get 3 more states to ratify the ERA, and then mount a court challenge of Congress’s power to set a time limit for ratification.

The Illinois effort is more significant still. The 1981-1982 battle in the Illinois legislature over the ERA is usually construed as the end of the road for the ERA. Both opponents and supporters of the ERA used their most extreme weapons in Illinois. Supporters spilled pig blood on the floor in the capitol building, writing the names of the most recalcitrant assembly members in the blood. Opponents changed the rules of statecraft, requiring that 3/5 of the Illinois assembly vote for the amendment in order to ratify it (previously, a simple majority was all that was necessary).

What do I think of the ERA? Well, in an ideal world it wouldn’t be needed. The protection of the 14th amendment would suffice. However, this isn’t an ideal world. Setting aside all the (really important) cultural disparities between the sexes, women still earn 3/4 of what men do — even when differences in skills, education and experience are taken into account, women make 4/5 of what men make*. I think the ERA is necessary.

However, I don’t really buy the 3 state strategy — in 1921 the Supreme Court affirmed the power of Congress to set such limits (after the passage of the 18th Amendment — the Prohibition Amendment — which included a time limit). And given the current temper of the court, I think this would be a particularly difficult argument to win right now. But you never know about these things — I do think this battle is worth the effort.

* I once had a student tell me that 4/5 was near parity and that feminists shouldn’t worry about attaining that last fifth — that it wasn’t worth the effort. I pointed out that making up that last fifth would require giving women (on average) a 25% raise in pay. I’d do a lot for a 25% raise, wouldn’t you?

Copyright not infringed

February 4th, 2003

I was a high school freshman when Challenger exploded. I was sitting in my Biology class, mentally preparing myself for the ordeal of dissecting a fetal pig, when a friend of mine came in and told the class the space shuttle had blown up. I didn’t believe him.

Of course, I soon learned that he was right. In the time after, my young self was inspired to start a scrapbook (a low-tech weblog?) of articles about Challenger. I cut every article I could find out of the newspapers and magazines my parents read, and carefully pasted them onto the blank pages of a scrapbook I bought at the drugstore with money I had earned baby sitting.

I kept this up for months. As more and more revelations about the accident came out, I dutifully stashed them. I even collected articles on the one year anniversary of the accident, the final reports of the investigation, and a photo I took a couple of years later of the monument in Arlington National Cemetery commemorating the astronauts.

In light of recent events, I pulled out this scrapbook and looked through it with my husband. One of the last things I glued into that scrapbook was a political cartoon clipped from my then-local newspaper. I’d like to scan it and post it here, but I don’t want to violate the copyright, so instead I’ll describe it for you.

The sun is up, and a dusty road extends to the horizon. A wagon without horses rolls along. On the side of the wagon are the words “Westward Expansion.” The caption reads “Stunned by the deaths of early explorers, the United States continued exploring the West through a series of unmanned Conestoga probe vehicles.”