Thursday, June 19, 2014

Microburst storm damages the Belle Haven area of Alexandria

At midnight between 18 and 19 June, a very unusual storm hit near my home. A "microburst" is something like a reverse tornado. The wind pushes straight down from the sky, and flattens out as it contacts the Earth's surface, dissipating its power in concentric rings around the point of impact. Trees are not blown over so much as mashed down.

I drove through the neighborhood and took a few photos, but none add as much information or awareness about this type of storm--and the impact of this particular storm on the area of Alexandria known as Belle Haven--as these news clips.!/news/local/Severe-Storm-Leaves-Damage-in-Fairfax-County/263895441

Sad to see the destruction of so many wonderful old trees. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Absolutely Nothing? My Response to a Fellow Veteran’s Indictment of the Iraq War

Retired US Navy Chief Warrant Officer Jim Wright has an opinion, and by damn he wants to share it. If you have not seen it yet, please take a moment (or five) and read Wright's recent rant.

Mission Accomplished?

Welcome back!

--good god, ya'll!--

What is it good for?"

Absolutely nothing?

As rants go, I think we'd all have to agree, that one is mighty good: relentlessly fiery, brutally direct, and straight to the heart. Bam, bam, bam, BOOM! But I implore you, dear reader, with tears in my eyes, read the rant for entertainment, not for enlightenment.

Two points for my fellow Veteran, Mr. Wright, (and all of us) to consider:

(1) War is a necessary evil, 
(2) We get the leaders we deserve (especially in a democracy), and
(3) Sometimes I say, "Two points" and then think of a third and try to add it real quick. That does not make me a liar or a bad person. The truth changes. Let's not look at a gray world through black or white lenses.

Allow me to further illustrate and expand upon my points, 1 through n.

(1) To say that war is "good for absolutely nothing" is incredibly naive.  No one hates war more than those who must do the fighting, but as Pliny said, "Only the dead have seen the end of war." The warrior class understands the way to end war is to build and maintain a strong defense. No amount of ranting about the evils of war will ever fix human nature. Human beings have banded together to do violence upon enemies, real or perceived, since time immemorial. The quickest way to the dustbin of history is to be a weak, feckless, easy mark for aggressors. I am not advocating war. I am just saying that Vikings, pirates, and Imperialists are real, and you can either (a) join them, (b) defend yourself and your spoils, (c) live in fear, hoping your luck holds out, or (d) be a victim (and even if you smile while getting kicked, you are still getting kicked). This is not a defense of war or a glorification of combat or a call to arms. I do not advocate starting fights for the hell of it. That said, not all wars pass the Just War Theory or even the smell test. History is replete with bad wars. 

(2) To blame a bad or unjust war on leaders is to forget who empowered those leaders in the first place. This point is especially valid for the inhabitants of a democratic Republic such as the US of A. Mr. Wright's rant spares few people in Coalition leadership positions. He rips into Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Romney, McCain, Blair, the Koch brothers, and Rush Limbaugh with equal glee. Even poor Colin Powell gets eviscerated for not knowing better. Yet none of these people took their positions of authority by force. They have influence because We the Sheeple listen to them and either do what they say or do nothing to stop them. And for those of you sad souls living under a harsh dictatorship, may I remind you of point #1 above? You have options, too. A righteous revolt is Just War Theory approved, and further evidence of war's necessity.   

(3) To follow, like, or share Mr. Wright's rant is hopefully nothing more serious than to enjoy a little entertainment, not unlike forwarding this famous clip from Newsroom. Mr. Wright's savage tongue-lashing is a hoot to read! But once again I beg you, with tears in my eyes, do not take the rantings of this disgruntled man as enlightenment. His emotion-drenched pleadings and after-the-fact exaggerations completely miss the point of the war in Iraq, and yes, there was a point.

Here is the point: Look at the neighborhood around Israel and imagine Turkey, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia holding the line. Syria is geographically isolated from Russia and Iran. Now look closer. What happens to global security when a democratic and westward leaning Iraq collapses into a radical warlord-led, Caliphate-seeking, Israel-hating tribe? What if the borders created after WWI collapse, and Iraq simply disappears into a single theocracy running from the western border of Afghanistan to the eastern border of Lebanon and the northern border of Jordan? Coalition forces left Iraq too soon, and now ISIS has filled the void. See what I mean?  What's next?  Iraq falls at great peril to peace and stability in the Middle East and thus to our way of life.

Here is the bottom line. Too many people bemoan the price of war without consideration for cost of freedom. All I want is to delay Armageddon long enough for my children to grow up and enjoy a good life. Mr. Wright believes that someone has been sniffing too many "flying magic bunny rainbow farts." I believe that his diagnosis may be correct, though I am not sure he has identified the correct patient. Don't let it be you!

Flying mint bunny is farting sparkles and rainbows! 

"Peace love and understanding tell me
Is there no place for them today?
They say we must fight to keep our freedom
But Lord, there’s got to be a better way

"War what is it good for?
Absolutely nothing…" 

- Edwin Starr, “War” 1969

Flying Mint Bunny is a copyright of Hidekaz Himaruya
Mr. Wright's post was published by Americans Against the Tea Party (AATTP)
Wikipedia offers these notes about Edwin Starr's version of the iconic anti-war song quoted herein.

Life is a Balancing Act

Life is a Balancing Act
"We all have our balancing act to do.

A kind person must avoid being a doormat, for their own sake and so not to interrupt others' life lessons. The highly intelligent must remember that it is not only the world within, but the outside world which enriches their existence. The extrovert, in addition to the energy they gain from being with others, must find a way to be at peace with being alone.

"Everyday, every one of us is adjusting to the ever-shifting fulcrum beneath our personal balance board. Some days, we stay upright. Some days, we wobble. Some days, we just plain fall off.

"Getting up and trying again - This is Living."

My friend Joy touched my heart today. I asked her for permission to re-post her words of wisdom for PhilosFX readers. In grateful response to the power of Joy's message, here are a couple of questions for you to discuss with your friends today:

  • How are you maintaining your balance today?
  • Where do you find the strength to climb back on the balance board after a fall?
  • How do your aspirations help you cope with setbacks?  

Photo deviant art
Words: Joy Murphy

Monday, June 9, 2014

My Personality Type: The Groundbreaking Thinker

What's the big idea?

I took the online iPersonic Personality Test at and learned that my Personality Type is The Groundbreaking Thinker. I have pasted the results below--you may feel free to judge the accuracy! You may also visit the site and take the test for yourself. It's free, it only takes about 5 minutes, and you get immediate results.

When you pursue this a bit, you'll soon see that test results will place you into one of 16 different personality types which roughly align with classic Jungian types used by Myers-Briggs and others.

Here is my report

Groundbreaking Thinkers are charming, enthusiastic persons. They really bubble over with energy and like to take centre stage. They love variety both professionally and privately. Groundbreaking Thinkers tackle changes consistently with their optimism and firm belief in their own abilities; they are always on the look-out for improvement possibilities.
Their excellent communication skills are of great advantage to them here. They approach the world with curiosity and openness and master new situations with a great deal of talent for improvising and with resourcefulness. Their spare time is taken up with a large number of hobbies; most Groundbreaking Thinkers like to travel in order to gather as many different impressions as possible. This personality type is unbeatable at discovering new possibilities.

In their work, Groundbreaking Thinkers highly rate challenges and diversified tasks. They cannot stand routine and too detailed work. They love to astound others with bold ideas for an original, new project and then leave it up to the others to implement them. Hierarchies, rules and regulations arouse their opposition and they love outsmarting the system. It is vital to them that they enjoy their work; if this is the case, they quickly become pure workaholics. Their creativity best takes effect when they work independently; but they are very good at motivating others and infecting them with their optimistic nature. Conceptual or advisory activities appeal especially to Groundbreaking Thinkers. It can happen that some people feel somewhat duped by their flexible, spontaneous nature.

Their sociability and enterprise ensure that Groundbreaking Thinkers always have a large circle of friends and acquaintances in which activity plays an important role. As they are mostly in a good mood, they are popular and very welcome guests. Grumbling and peevishness are unknown to them. However, they do tend to be a little erratic and unstable when it comes to obligations and this makes them appear to be unreliable to some. Groundbreaking Thinkers are very critical and demanding when it comes to picking a partner because they look for the ideal relationship and have a very concrete picture of this ideal relationship. Mutual aims in life are very important to them. They do not like compromising and would rather remain alone. For the partner, it is often a challenge to have a long-term relationship with a Groundbreaking Thinker. Groundbreaking Thinkers need a lot of space and diversity or otherwise they become bored and feel cramped. Types who are rather more traditionalistic often have problems with the willingness of Groundbreaking Thinkers to take risks and their often crazy, spontaneous actions. However, if one can summon up sufficient flexibility and tolerance for them, one will never be bored in their presence and will always have a loyal and faithful partner.

As a Groundbreaking Thinker, you are one of the extroverted personality types. Dealing with others, communication, discussions, and a little action are your life’s blood - and some of your strengths. You are very articulate and love variety personally as well professionally. New tasks, new projects, new people, fascinate you because you are always interested to increase your wealth of experience.
Consequently, you have no problem run with the hare and hunt with the hounds; juggling parallel tasks to be accomplished electrifies you, and you are an accomplished improviser. Your enthusiasm carries others along and enables you to create positive impulses in your team. Mountains of paperwork, endless e-mail correspondences, and solitary work tire you quickly, and bore and frustrate you. The appreciation of your work by others is more important for you than for the introverted Thinker types. You measure your own professional value by the admiring glances of your colleagues and superiors.

The psychologist Keirsey once described the Groundbreaking Thinker as the “soul of the company,” and that can be just as easily applied to an employee position, as to an independent chief of a company. Since risk represents less of a threat than excitement, freelance or self-employment are well suited to you. However, you must take care to have collaborating staff around you, or that you are able to work closely with other teams in order to satisfy your contact and communication needs. You are naturally suited for leadership positions because there you have the ultimate freedom making your decisions and choosing your tasks.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Thoughts on Gun Safety in the Wake of (Yet Another!) Mass Murder

Where my M9 at?

First, let's agree that there is no "gun problem" in American society.


That's right. We don't have a gun problem. What we have is a people problem. Our society values guns--or, more probably,the gratuitous display of power--but we do not value the associated competence and courage as we once did. Somewhere along the line, our guns stopped being a means to an end. Too many untrained people and mentally unstable people can get access to guns. Too often the resulting violence is glorified. Too often, raging wackos are idolized in popular media, their emailed self-pity labeled "manifesto" and studied--even copied. Not even the most hard-core gun advocate could argue the point that when people kill people, the weapon of choice is often a nearby gun.

Guns are awfully good at what they are designed to do.

Incidents of gun violence persist, and after every incident, we say, "No more Columbines! Oh, wait. No more Virginia Techs--er--Sandy Hooks!" The headlines change so fast that the mantras can barely keep up. For your information, I have included links to compilations of well-publicized and tragic mass killings in the United States at the bottom of this post. You may think you've read about all of them but I wager you will be surprised when you see the list.

For the record, I began writing this post after the September 2013 attack at the Navy Yard. This, like the 9/11 attacks, the anthrax attacks, and the sniper attacks, was "close to home" for me. I know people at the Navy Yard. The NoVA / DC area has been home to more than its share of violent deaths. The history of violent gun death in DC would take three volumes to tell.

  • One could write a complete volume about the gun violence in the National Capitol Region. Attacks range from historically significant assassinations completed (Lincoln, Garfield) and attempted (Reagan) to the drug-and-thug killings that took place when DC was known as the Murder Capitol. The town itself is synonymous with guns. 
  • A second volume would include the political and racial assassinations of the 60s. JFK, Malcolm X, MLK, Jr., RFK. Again, the issue was not guns so much as the underlying turbulence caused by racism, classism, and other forms of bigotry. These killings did not occur in DC but they may well have occurred because of progressive political ideas emanating from DC.
  • A third volume would be required to describe the local and national attempts to control the sale and use of weapons, to include banning hand guns in DC from 1976 to 2008, instituting post-Reagan national gun buyer background checks (Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act) in 1993, and the ironic act of hunting for the snipers that terrorized the DC region in 2002.

Honestly, when I set our to write about this issue after the Navy Yard shootings, I did not want to get into all that heavy history. As a military retiree, gun owner, marksman, and 2d Amendment supporter, I just wanted to address the knee-jerk anti-gun sentiment that comes spewing out after every mass shooting that takes place. This knee-jerk is invariably countered by utterly ridiculous nonsense from Wayne LaPierre and his minions at the NRA that the answer is guns, guns and more guns. Arm the teachers? Are you kidding me? In what bizarre world is handing out guns to untrained people considered a good idea, a positive role model for the kids, or anything but an accident waiting to happen?

Mass shootings are fewer than 1% of the gun murders that occur in this country, but mass shootings seem to be taking place at an increasing rate, they get perhaps too much press, and they engender irrational reactions from many concerned citizens who incorrectly view guns as the problem or the solution. Again, we have a people problem...

The issue is not whether there is a problem, but what to do about it.To explore possible solutions to the people problem with respect to guns, one could compare gun violence in this country with that of other so-called first world countries, some of which have banned hand guns (Japan, England, Australia) and others which encourage private arsenals (Switzerland). One could also point to the relative effectiveness of the prohibition of alcohol and the war on drugs. Attempts to solve problems through disincentives and punitive regulation rarely turn out well. 

But in the midst of these musings about what to do, I got distracted, and set the post aside. Six or seven months slipped by, and suddenly--yet another in a long (and growing?) line of mass shootings shook me from my slumber.
  • 1999: Littleton / Columbine 
  • 2007: Blacksburg / Virginia Tech 
  • 2009: Fort Hood 
  • 2011: Tuscon 
  • 2012: Aurora 
  • 2012: Newtown / Sandy Hook
  • 2013: Washington, DC / Navy Yard
  • 2014: Spanish Fork, UT
  • 2014: Santa Barbara
The Navy Yard shootings ended when police shot and killed the suspect in September 2013. Since then, there have been 16 mass killing incidents (shootings, stabbings, incinerations, or bludgeonings) in the USA. Mass killings -- defined by the FBI as four or more victims, not including the killer -- have occurred across the U.S. at the rate of about one every two weeks since 2006. Of the 248 incidents on record in that period, the majority (187) have involved guns.

Many of these rampage murders never make it past the local news. But there was something different about the Santa Barbara killing spree. The spoiled son of privilege experiences teen-aged angst, bewilderment at the mysteries of the opposite sex, and writes a bunch of self-absorbed. self-pitying emails. Despite being in therapy he is allowed to by guns. Despite his mother's concerns, he his able to convince authorities that he is no threat to himself or others.

This is a picture of some messed up punk in his (really his daddy's) Beemer  The punk stabbed 3 men asleep in his apartment and shot random pretty women because he was angry that he couldn't get laid. His name? Doesn't matter. He was a boil on Mother Earth's tuchus. Move along. There is nothing to see here. The 6 murder victims and the 13 injured survivors were just unfortunate to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Watch for wackos: they are everywhere.

"This most recent massacre by twenty-two year old Elliot O. R. Rodger has shown the interconnectedness of a few of America’s big-ticket societal issues. The complex relationship between access to guns, racism, mental health, and male entitlement and misogyny has had it’s curtain pulled back by the powerful, one-two punch of social media and twenty-four hour television news." --Richards Burroughs

I would like to say that I have this all figured out--that the answer to our "people problem with respect to guns" is an emphasis on individual responsibility, coupled with rigorous training, high standards, and strict discipline. Banning guns is the ostrich solution (head buried in the sand). Better to have guns everywhere, and insist that every gun owner is trained, licensed, and competent. Unlike the ostrich solution, my pipe-dream solution follows from a Utopian view of society that is not realistic. However, my emphasis on competence and courage is at least a positive stride, as opposed to the negative, bureaucratic, regulatory, and fearful Big Brother stumble.

I'd rather move through this life standing tall, and carrying with me the the means to protect myself. As the US Army Ranger t-shirt says,

"Lord, if today is truly the day You call me home, let me die in a pile of empty brass."

Great Resources for Further Study, 

The Telegrpah,


USA Today,


Monday, June 2, 2014

A Father of Two Teen-aged Daughters Ponders "Pretty"

This image is making the rounds. Have you seen it yet?

Image of Diana Vreeland by Andy Warhol. Words by Erin McKean. Image and words are from Erin's 2006 blog post

A friend of mine, a poet named Suzi Q, posted what you see above, and I was immediately taken in--captivated--by the confident defiance and unconventional wisdom of the words laid over the unflattering yet artful photo of a homely and intriguing woman. 

As it happens, I have two (count them TWO) teen-aged daughters. And as a Modern Dad in the Modern World, I do my best to spark conversations about beauty, happiness, body image, why boys are jerks, why no boy will ever be worthy of either of my daughters, why I have a shotgun mount on my Road King, why I have evidence of my prowess with a pistol posted prominently on my garage door, and so on. I can only imagine how hard it is to be a teen-aged girl these days with all the media attention paid to skin-deep beauty and hyped-up sexuality.

My first reaction was to my friend's post was to write the following comment on her wall:
This is very thought-provoking post, Suzi Q., and as a father of 2 teen-aged daughters, I am soaking it in. Thank you!
The very next thing I did was I looked up Diana Vreeland. OK, I can admit it, I did not recognize the image or the name. I guess I have done other things during my 28-year Army career besides read fashion magazines--so sue me! Diana Vreeland (1903-1989) was not gifted with classical beauty at birth, but she parlayed an eye for beauty into a career as a tastemaker and fashion icon whom a great many people still admire and respect after her passing. 

Then I searched for the quote itself, and to my surprise, I found that it was actually blogger Erin McKean who wrote those words. It was also her choice to adorn her blog post with this iconic photo. 

Warhol's unadorned portrait of Vreeland as it appears on McKean's post

Erin's fiery words speak to breaking free of social conventions and pressures regarding standards of feminine beauty. Ironically, the anti-fashion sentiment would never have been uttered by Vreeland, the pre-eminent fashion mogul of her day. I am not sure what led McKean to pair her words with Vreeland's image. "Pretty" is not the first word that comes to my mind when I see this photo. However, I do see elegance, class, style, personality, and defiance.

I still do not know the identity of the third person who overlaid McKean's words upon Warhol's image and began circulating the resulting image appearing at the top of the post.  All of this gave me pause about proper attribution, but I suppose giving credit where it's due and not putting words in someone's mouth are the topics of a different post. 

Suffice to say, the poster version got me thinking. I went back to Suzi Q's wall and thought some more about prettiness and beauty in the context of modern society. If "pretty" is not rent you pay for occupying a space marked "human," then what about other attributes and socially-constructed values? And is McKean advocating slovenly behavior and appearance? I added the following comment, in which I modified the original statement to be gender-neutral and removed the various versions of "Pretty / Prettiness":

You don't have to be ____. You don't owe ____ to anyone. Not to your spouse or partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random people on the street. You don't owe it to your parents, you don't owe it to your children, you don't owe it to civilization in general. ____ is not rent you pay for occupying a space marked "human."

Fill in the blank! Does the paragraph make sense if you substitute any of the following words for PRETTY? You don't have to be NICE. You don't have to be POLITE. True?

  • NICE
My belief is that rewarding beauty is different from punishing ugliness. I think it is great when people care enough about themselves to eat well, get plenty of exercise, manage stress appropriately, and devote their productive energies to worthy causes. I feel that a person's intentions and alternatives should be taken into consideration when evaluating fashion, grooming, and appearance.

Meanwhile, the social graces of politeness, cheerfulness, and humility are undervalued in today's skin-deep society. We should try to be attractive, pleasant, decent human beings. We should deploy our gifts as best as we are able. Elegance is not about random beauty inherited at birth. Elegance is about attitudes and aspirations.

As for my two teen-aged daughters, they are both beautiful and smart. No boy will ever be worthy! And as long as I continue to have anything to say about the matter, they will never be merely "Pretty!"

Related post: "Pretty" by Kate Makkai

H/T: Suzi Q.