You are currently browsing the Breaching The Web blog archives for January, 2009.


January 29th, 2009

A few years ago, I heard that someone was replicating Stanley Milgram’s infamous authoritarian personality studies (these were the series of experiments where participants were asked to administer shocks to someone they could not see, and most did so long after the unseen person stopped crying out in pain). Hearing this took my breath away — Milgram’s experiments led to new ethics standards in social science research, and replicating them seemed nearly impossible.

But through a close reading of Milgram’s results, psychologist Jerry Burger found a way to replicate the study without damaging participants. His results have been recently published in a peer-reviewed journal, so Cognitive Daily has summarized and commented on the study, including the crucial difference in methodology that allowed the study to go forward under modern ethical oversight.

The Cognitive Daily post is worth reading. Not surprisingly, the study’s findings mirror Milgram’s: we usually do what we are told, regardless of the harm we seem to be imposing on others. We all like to think we are independent thinkers who would disobey immoral orders, but the truth is, we rely on the herd to know what to do. I guess the trick is to pick the right herd.


January 29th, 2009

It makes no sense at all for the word compendium to mean both “a brief treatment” and “a full list or inventory.” The word compendium bugs me.

That is all.

The job that wasn’t there

January 28th, 2009

The last few days have brought us news of massive layoffs in many different sectors of the economy: IBM, Target, Home Depot, Caterpillar, Microsoft, Nextel… the list feels endless.

In the midst of all that comes a different type of bad news. GM has announced that it plans to use imported engines in the Chevy Volt. GM had planned to build a new factory in Flint, Michigan to produce the Volt engines, but put those plans on hold a month ago. They’ve now all-but-canceled them, eliminating thousands of construction and manufacturing jobs before they were even created.

If the new Flint plant had been built, these jobs would emerge throughout 2009 — as jobs are evaporating elsewhere. Of course these jobs would do only a little to offset the job losses in other sectors, but they are nothing to sneeze at in the middle of a recession. Our nation needs those jobs, and had Congress moved on the Detroit bailout last month for real we would have had them. As it is, we’ll get nothing but more and more layoffs. As I wrote then, this is blatant class warfare and it is deeply stupid.


January 28th, 2009

I’ll admit a secret to you.  I have been slavishly following all the fashion news about Michelle Obama for the last few months.  I’ve read all about her high/low fashion sensability, what shade of lipstick she wears, and her fabulous brooches.  But this editorial from the Calgary Herald gave me a bit of a shake:

She is a lawyer, a graduate of Princeton and Harvard, a community activist and former hospital executive. She was an adviser, strategist and impressive speaker in the Obama campaign. She was once assigned to be Barack Obama’s mentor; that’s how they met. But this week, what everyone wants to talk about is whether the colour of her outfit was chartreuse, lemon grass-yellow or marigold.

Right.  I really should know better.

Green is my favorite color

January 27th, 2009

It’s very cold these days — the high yesterday was somewhere in the 20s and I’m distracting myself from the cold with seed catalogs.  Which is why this article in the Boston Globe about the effects of different landscapes on the brain caught my eye.

There’s a lot of research that suggests that lush, green, varied environments make us feel calm and help us to concentrate — and that barren city landscapes without greenery make us feel unfocused and lost.  I looked up some of the research mentioned in the article, and while I’m not completely convinced, the idea is compelling.

Creative Impulse (mostly plagiarised)

January 26th, 2009

The first* five people to respond to this post (by comment, email or twitter) will get something made by me.

My choice.
For you.

This offer does have some restrictions and limitations:

* I make no guarantees that you will like what I make.
* What I create will be just for you.
* It’ll be done this calendar year.
* I reserve the right to do something extremely strange.
* You have no clue what it’s going to be.

The catch: You have to put this offer in your weblog (or facebook page or journal) as well.

(Idea swiped from Medley.)
* Chronology of receipt of responses will be determined by me - in other words, don’t trust the timestamps. I’ll post the “lucky” winners here, and I’ll post updates about what I make as I complete each item.

An astonishing bit of culture

January 13th, 2009

My husband found this video of a 1954 Chevrolet sales conference on the Internet Archive. It’s an audacious song-and-dance (no really!) number about selling cars. I particularly like the bit (at 5:57) with women popping up out of a U.S. map and singing about regional stereotypes!! (but what’s that about the Great Lakes and pickles?) Thank god the sixties happened. I can’t imagine living in a world where this sort of thing was cool.


January 6th, 2009

I have recently become a gardener, and I have a thing for seeds. I love planting them, tending them, and watching them grow. The Seed Site is a fantastic seed starting resource, detailing germination requirements and times for various kinds of plants. It’s interesting to just read through all the experiments with different types of seeds, and it’s also helpful for planning out my own seed starting activities.

Good to know

January 5th, 2009

Should you exercise with a cold? There’s not a lot of research on this question, but what little there is suggests that it is neutral to slightly-beneficial to do so. It won’t make your cold shorter or longer, or more or less severe, but you might feel better anyway.

Old ways

January 4th, 2009

I was touched by this story about David Watson, a country doctor in Texas who just won the Country Doctor of the Year award. Here’s the nicest bit:

The night the hospital urgently needed blood for an obstetrics patient, Watson rushed down from his office to donate some of his O-negative, then stayed to call in other townspeople with the right blood type. (He knew who they were.)

Watson is 78 and has been practicing family medicine for 50 years. He still sees 30 patients a day.