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


September 18th, 2003

From the Washington Post this morning, an overwrought piece about the miracle of sandbags. Wade through the overly ambitious prose, and you’ll find some interesting information about sand, sandbags, and the battle against rising water.

Sand is defined by soil scientists as disintegrated rock particles between 0.05 and 2 millimeters in diameter. Good sandbag sand is at the finer end of that scale. It packs well. Water does not flow through it easily. When the water-resistant but not waterproof bags let enough water in to soak the sand, they become almost as hard as rocks. If sandbags fail you, generally it is only because you neglected to pile them high enough.

But sandbags can do more than keep you dry. Enough sandbags will stop a bullet. During the Vietnam War, soldiers built great cathedrals of sandbags, with interior chambers and stereo systems.


September 17th, 2003

In honor of Isabel’s approach, I’ve been poking around the NOAA hurricane site. There’s some fascinating information to be found, including billion dollar weather disasters in the U.S. from 1980 to 2003, satellite images of severe storm sectors, the national weather service album, and the national hurricane center where you can find recent updates about Isabel’s progress.

Things I like

September 16th, 2003

Lately, I’ve been reading two new-to-me sites that I want to share:

Baraita: The Blog is simply amazing. The author is a convert to Judaism, and she writes about her life as a professor and as a “Child of Intermarriage” in a lovely, warm and fascinating way.

As We Know It is, as the author states, “about the relationship between technology and knowledge.” The author’s voice is clear, interesting and varied, and I almost always learn something new.


September 16th, 2003

As some readers already know, I am an admirer of Herbert Hoover. He was one of the most principled Presidents we’ve ever had, and although he made mistakes, he was very intelligent. He had the unique (in this century anyway) ability to look beyond his own ego and work for what he believed was good, regardless of which political party was involved. In ordinary times, he and FDR would both have been ordinary presidents. The extraordinary time of 1930s and 1940s turned one into a villian and the other into a hero — but neither would have earned such labels in other eras.

So imagine my joy when, while perusing the new issue of Knitty magazine, I found this pattern for a lovely baby blanket based on one Lou Henry Hoover designed. And me, in need of a baby gift too! The story that accompanies the pattern is interesting, perhaps even to non-knitters.

The new Knitty is pretty good — there’s at least two patterns I can’t wait to work on!


September 12th, 2003

I just filled out a survey for a professional organization of which I am a member. In the section that asked about my gender, there were three boxes I could choose: male, female, transgender.

I’ve never seen that on a survey before, and I think it’s very cool. However, the use of “male” and “female” to indicate gender still bothers me. The question should either be about sex (with response categories “male” “female” and I suppose “transexual”) or it should be about gender (with response categories “masculine” “feminine” and “transgender”).

However, I’m told by my colleagues who design survey instruments that respondents routinely refuse to answer the question when it is phrased in either of these two ways (and, of course, it’s not always clear what the second question means) — which is why the hybrid form gets onto surveys .

I suppose that makes sense, but it always confuses me.


September 12th, 2003

Troops’ Pneumonia Outbreak Spurs Medical Hunt is an account of several unusual pneumonia cases seen in soldiers stationed throughout the Middle East.

The article is fascinating for several reasons. First, the description of the medical detective work involved in finding the cases and identifying their common elements is an engaging, real-life mystery tale. Second, the most interesting commong thread in the cases — recent uptake of cigarette smoking — is of professional and personal interest to me. And finally third, the idea that a new diseased caused by something that’s been around for a century is intriguing. Although this possibility is discounted by the article, the very notion is fascinating.

Convert Alert

September 10th, 2003

I’ve recently started watching MI-5 on A&E, and I highly recommend it to y’all! It’s nuanced, with multiple, overlapping storylines and characters who aren’t always 100% good or bad. Last night’s episode, guest starring Alexander Siddig, was a particular gem.


September 9th, 2003

Bush’s absence from the funeral of a DC National Gaurdsmen who served and was killed in Iraq isn’t really such a big deal. I mean, he is the president after all, and one would assume that he’s probably pretty busy most of the time.

However, Bush is the head of the DC National Gaurd, the way state governers are the head of state Gaurds, one would expect that he might at least send flowers or a letter or make a phone call to the bereaved family. So far, he has not.

This seemingly small oversight speaks volumes when combined with Bush’s attempts to limit imminent danger pay, family separation allowances, and veterans’ health benefits (among other anti-military policies). The White House has backed off of many of these plans when they became politically risky. But that’s not the point — Bush has repeatedly slighted the troops he has put in harm’s way, in both large ways and now in small ways. This isn’t right.

Naked Learning

September 9th, 2003

When I was teaching, I met several students who made their living by working as exotic dancers. I could usually pick them out of the class by the way they stood on the balls of their feet, but most of them told me about their jobs during office hours, or sometimes even during class discussions. It was relevant since I was teaching women’s studies and sociology classes, and issues of sexuality often came up.

I always had mixed feelings about these women. On the one hand, I applaud their efforts to get an education at any cost. They were exploiting an institution that was exploiting them — so good for them for fighting back and getting something for themselves out of it. But then, I worried about what dancing was doing to their inner lives, their sense of self, their view of male/female relationships. And it made me mad (still does) that male and female strippers serve audiences with such different cultural reasons for being present. There’s a world of difference between male and female exotic dancers, and that difference says something important about the way we see the sexes.

So this story about a strip club that pays college tuition for dancers who maintain a B or better average raises the same ambivalent feelings:

Katzman said his company will pay $1,500 to $2,000 in educational expenses per year to women or men who work three or four seven-hour shifts in his clubs. The money is on top of the $10 an hour that dancers are paid, in addition to cash they get from tips and private dances.

This makes it seem as if dancing is an increasingly acceptable, recognized way to earn an education — and that bothers me. Why should a person have to take his or her clothes off to get ahead?


September 8th, 2003

Feral cats are a problem. They’re loud, dirty and menaces to local bird populations. That’s why my cats are not only fixed, but do not go outside.

It’s not clear how to solve the larger feral cat problem though. Some people advocate maintaining neutered feral colonies as a way to prevent new colonies from forming. However, this doesn’t remove them from the food chain, leading others to advocate killing ferals. This debate has heated up in Florida, where the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has established a policy of killing feral cats on state-run land.

I’m not sure what the right approach is. Perhaps a nuanced policy, where ferals are neutered and maintained in urban areas, and killed in wildlife areas would meet the goals of both sides, and be humane to as many cats as possible.

However, I do know that spaying and neutering your pets is the best way for individuals to prevent further increase in feral populations. My cats are fixed, are yours?