Monday, August 22, 2016

That Moment When #6: Disagreement?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

That Moment When #5: Too Hot to Run?

Today was hills day. It was 90 degrees, sunny, and humid. Pretty sure the heat index carried the apparent temps into the mid-nineties. I did my job, summiting Harrison Hill three times--but it took me the better part of an hour to accomplish, plus a gallon of water and 40 minutes to cool down. 


Monday, August 15, 2016


Fans of "The Big Lebowski" will no doubt appreciate this t-shirt.Get yours here:

Rather than on a wooden floor, though--shouldn't this shirt be displayed on a rug? Yes, on a rug, one that really ties the room together. And a tumbler containing a half drunk White Russian should be displayed beside the shirt. I'd be more likely to order a shirt if a beverage were somehow involved.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

That Moment When #4: the Power of Memes

"That moment when" something touches a shared nerve--and sends ripples across the Internet!

The fact that you are reading a blog post is a good indicator that you are at least a consumer and possibly also a producer of social media content. So I could almost take your understanding of memes for granted. Perhaps you have already used a meme-generator to add a funny or poignant quip to the social fabric. This post is intended for those of us who are perhaps a little late to the party. I'll define a meme in the context of social media, provide some examples, and conclude with links to some meme generator sites. Then, we'll all be armed and ready to meme on!

A meme is "an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation."

In his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, British scientist Richard Dawkins coined word meme, which he defined as "a unit of cultural transmission." The term meme itself, like any good meme, caught on fairly quickly, spreading from person to person as it established itself in the language.

Often, a meme takes the form of "a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc. that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users."

Here are a couple of examples from among thousands upon thousands floating around the hive mind we call the Internet.

Meme generators are websites that facilitate the creation of memes by providing some images and editing tools, Users can add their own text and, viola! Of course, you can always use PowerPoint or even a photo editor to quickly make your memes. But the meme generator sites are nice because they come with the tools you'll need to launch your little gem into the ethersphere.

The original meme generator
Imgur's site
Live meme
Meme Dad
Quick meme
Image Flip
One of Image Flip's popular meme templates (The World's Most Interesting Man)
Good old Photoshop

That Moment When #3: Old Friends

That Moment When #2: Remote Control

Oh, the Irony! A Look at Values in a Changing World

Forty years have passed and a lot has changed for me, my Army, and my Nation. 

I was 15 years old and something of an aspiring athlete when Bruce Jenner won the 1976 Olympic Decathlon in fairly dramatic fashion. From 1979 to 1984, I attended Notre Dame on an ROTC scholarship (read: not an athletic one!) and was subsequently commissioned an officer in the Army Corps of Engineers. I served in the Army on active duty from 1984 to 2012. My regard for Bruce the athlete was so high that I paid little attention to his demeaning and confusing appearances in reality TV shows in the role of Bruce, the husband of Kristen Mary "Kris" Houghton Kardashian Jenner beginning in 2007, or indeed to his surprising decision to come out as a woman in 2015. Now, 40 years to the day after Bruce Jenner was the hero of the Games of the 21st Olympiad, the world seems to be very different. Are we moving in the right direction? Is society evolving in a manner that will be seen as successful in hindsight? 

This post is not about irony, per se, but irony is involved in the telling of it. Given all the buzz around the ironic absence of actual irony in Alanis Morissette's song, "Ironic," I'd like to begin by stipulating to the following definition of irony. With a little help from our friends at Merriam-Webster, we believe irony is the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect. So, irony is similar to sarcasm, causticity, cynicism, mockery, satire, and sardonicism, but quite different from, say, coincidence, such as rain on your wedding day.

Are we good?

I want to dispense with the terminology question because I am more interested in a deeper issue. This post is also about intrinsic values and the evolution of values in a social context. Our subjects for exploring this question are Olympic Champion Bruce Jenner, erstwhile commentator Terry Coffey, artist, photographer, and survivor Mark Hogancamp, psychologist Carl Jung, and the US Army. We'll look at how the values espoused by groups such as the Army can, do, and should change over time. Our success as a species depends on it.   

Here we go...  

Bruce Jenner in the 1976 Olympics and Caitlyn Jenner on the July 2015 cover of Vanity Fair.

“As I see post after post about Bruce Jenner’s transition to a woman, and I hear words like, bravery, heroism and courage, just thought I’d remind all of us what real American courage, heroism and bravery looks like!” --Terry Coffey, June, 2015

Insert grainy black & white photo of a wounded major being hauled through the mud to safety while defiantly firing a pistol at his attackers, and--BOOM!--an Internet meme is born.

Like millions, I saw the original post as it flew around . Were you one of the 800,000 who not only saw it but shared it? Did I see it because you shared it? For any of you who somehow missed this message and image that touched such a nerve, here is is again:

As an career Army officer, now retired, I place a high value on personal courage. The image Mr. Coffey attached to his comment and the courage it represented was one that resonated with me. I saw lots of my Army friends "liking" this image and commenting on social media. For some reason, I held back and did not share my opinion one way or the other. More on that later.

I can relate to the example of courage in the photo. Honestly, the example of Bruce transitioning to Caitlyn is harder for me to relate to on a personal level, but who am I to question or judge another's struggle? Truly, I am not sure which battle would require more courage.

Whether Mr. Coffey's comment was intended as a mockery of Jenner or merely a rebuttal to all the attention being paid to Jenner's public transition is unclear. However, supporters and detractors of rights for trans-gendered people soon took up sides. Mr. Coffey was praised by some, and slammed as a "trans hater" by others.

Who is Terry Coffey

As it happens, Mr. Coffey's commentary about "real" courage was ironic in a way that he couldn't have imagined. In an interview following the popularity of his post, Coffey admitted he had conducted a quick image search online, and simply chose an image that fit his words. Again, I think lots of people like me might have selected the same image as a depiction of true courage. After Coffey's post went viral, he decided to identify the photographer so he could give him or her proper attribution. Imagine Coffey's shock when he realized that the photographer was actually a cross-dresser who had been savagely beaten by a gang of five hate-filled and bigoted thugs.

“In an ironic twist, I have discovered that the photo is part of a documentary created by a man who was beaten nearly to death outside of a bar in 2000,” Coffey posted.
The photographer, Mark Hogancamp, spent nine days in a coma and suffered severe brain damage and other injuries, Coffey learned.
Hogancamp coped with his pain afterward by creating an imaginary world set in World War II – where he created the image that went viral years later – but Coffey was gobsmacked by something else he learned.
“Why was [Hogancamp] nearly beaten to death by 5 strangers?” Coffey asked. “Because he was a cross-dresser.”
“I could have chosen any one of hundreds of photos depicting bravery, but I chose this one,” Coffey said. “Do I think it was an accident? No, I don’t. What happened to this man was cruel, wrong, and unforgivable,” Coffey said. “Hate helps nothing, love wounds no one, God heals all, and irony makes you think.”
Oh, the irony! And, even though no one could have scripted Mr. Coffey's comeuppance, there is a script accompanying Marwencol, a 2010 American documentary film that explores the life and work of artist, photographer, and survivor Mark Hogancamp.
On April 8, 2000, Mark Hogancamp was attacked outside of a bar by five men who beat him nearly to death. After nine days in a coma and forty days in the hospital, Mark was discharged with brain damage that left him little memory of his previous life. Unable to afford therapy, Mark creates his own by building a 1/6-scale World War II-era Belgian town in his yard and populating it with dolls representing himself, his friends, and even his attackers. He calls that town "Marwencol," a portmanteau of the names "Mark," "Wendy" and "Colleen." The film was shot in New York State between 2006 and 2010. The film received widespread critical acclaim, holding a 98% approval rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. The site awarded the film their "Golden Tomato" Award for the best-reviewed documentary of the year. The Los Angeles Times called the film “an exhilarating, utterly unique experience” while the Village Voice said that it's “exactly the sort of mysterious and almost holy experience you hope to get from documentaries and rarely do.”
Suffice to say, this is a movie I would like to watch. Again, forty years have passed and a lot has changed....

As a person who grew up worshiping Bruce Jenner the athlete and then served 28 years in the Army, how did I get to the point where Terry Coffee's public excoriation leads me to an interest in a documentary about Mark Hogencamp's struggle to recover from senseless brutality?

I am what pioneering psychologist Carl Jung would call an ENTP (Extroverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Perceiving). As an ENTP, my preferences are to:
  • interact with others as a means of generating ideas and soliciting feedback in an environment that fosters interaction and synergy (Extrovert, E); 
  • use my intuition and deductive reasoning rather than facts and inductive reasoning to fill in the gaps in my knowledge (Intuitive, N); 
  • to think as opposed to feel my way through the world (Thinking, T); and 
  • to look for ways to improve processes and products rather than to judge them against a standard (Perceiving, P). 
As a consequence of my ENTP personality type, I spend a lot of time studying and perceiving (P) others such as Bruce, Terry, and Mark without judging them. Despite my extroverted (E) tendencies, I saw but did not share the original Coffey post. Now that the rest of the story has come to light, I am glad I listened to my intuition (N) and did not comment right away. How I felt about all of this at the time is not as important to me as is what I think (T) about it now.

How I respond to the Caitlyn Jenner story is a function of my personality type combined with my experience serving in the Army. The Army experience can be summed up as shared hardships around selfless service. In this environment, an individual Soldier's worth to the squad, platoon, company, and battalion is based on what he or she can do under pressure. I love this about the Army. If you can shoot, move, and communicate, you can succeed--regardless of your race, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Most folks think of the Army as a very conservative institution. Bear in mind, the Army has long been at the forefront of important social change. The Army integrated minorities before the nation as a whole (1948). The Army integrated women before the nation as a whole (1948). The Army integrated gays and lesbians before the nation as a whole (2011). The Army integrated trans-gendered people before the nation as a whole (2016). The Army is leading the way in terms of valuing people based on who they are and what they do, not where they are from, who they love, or how they pray.

The Army's current values statement expresses seven distinct and important values captured in the acronym, LDRSHIP. These Army values are: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. Although this particular value statement is fairly new (2003), I doubt there is much in there to which our WWII veterans would not ascribe. 

Seven values is a nice number of values to keep track of, but I think we can safely bump that number up to nine or 10 without undue burden--particularly if we are clever enough to do so, and spell LEADERSHIP properly to boot! And why would we want to do such a thing? Because times have changed. The core values are timeless--service before self, and merit-based promotion. What needs updating is how such selfless service and merit is recognized, valued, and rewarded. 

Therefore, thanks to the lessons we have learned at Terry Coffey's expense, to the Army's list of seven core values I would add three more: Equality, Acceptance, and Ethnic Diversity. Biases of bygone days must be challenged and the unhelpful ones removed. Expressly emphasizing the values of Equal treatment of all persons, Acceptance of various backgrounds, and appreciation for Ethnic diversity takes nothing away from the old values but strengthens the core.

  • Loyalty
  • Equality
  • Acceptance
  • Duty
  • Ethnic Diversity
  • Respect
  • Selfless Service
  • Honor
  • Integrity
  • Personal Courage

The Army is not a homogeneous bunch of xenophobic, misogynistic, bigoted, middle-aged white Christian men, so the Army's Values should explicitly reflect the institution's commitments to promotions based on merit and character and achievements independent of religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The Army is a high-performing organization. The Army is a self-governing profession with a body of knowledge worthy of study and thought. The Army takes volunteers, transforms them into Soldiers, and provides society with Veterans who espouse the values inculcated into them. The Army can and should espouse values that enable Veterans to be the strength of the Nation.

This realistic depiction of personal courage was created and photographed by a talented human.

Are we moving in the right direction? Is society evolving in a manner that will be seen as successful in hindsight?  Ironically, er--I mean, coincidentally, Terry Coffey has the best answer to that question.

“Hate helps nothing, love wounds no one, God heals all, and irony makes you think.”--Terry Coffey

That Moment When #1: Pants

My first post in a planned series of original #ThatMomentWhen memes.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Happy 6th PhilosFX Day!

We're celebrating 6 years of PhilosFX with a Public Service Announcement.
"Got Your 6" is a nonprofit empowering veterans and strengthening communities.
Keep reading PhilosFX, and check out "Got Your 6" at

You know how they say that time flies when you're having fun? And that time flies faster as you age? For your humble correspondent, this past year flew by like a Perseid meteor. At midnight UTC (8 pm Eastern) between 6 and 7 Aug, we at PhilosFX completed 72 months (6 years!) of musing, writing, sharing, and inquiring about this wonderful world of ours. 

Six years! Time is flying, so I must be having fun or getting older or both! Here's some evidence to support our claim of a good, productive year worth celebrating:

  • Total views have climbed 31% to 263,229 from 201,692 this time last year. We crossed the Quarter of a Million Visits mark!
  • First-time views rose 83% to 78,197 vs. 42,619 after five years. 35% of all first-time views are from outside the United States. Lots of new viewers came from Russia to look at the Demitri Martin posts.
  • Countries with at least one unique visitor increased to 196 from 189 a year ago. It's getting pretty difficult to attract viewers from the few remaining "never" countries (or, as I prefer to call them, "not yet" countries!). All of the top 48 countries have at least 42 unique visitors. I love being part of an international network.
  • In terms of content, we have now published 879 posts (this will be 880), which is a 5% increase over the 836 we had last year. Any bets on when we'll hit 1000? Any requests on a topic?

Speaking of 6, I want to call attention to "Got Your 6," a great non-profit organization that is focused on empowering veterans and enabling them to make lasting positive contributions in communities across the USA. The phrase, "Got Your 6" is mil-speak for protecting you from threats to your rear, or 6 o'clock position. It means, "I got your back." 

As a public service announcement in honor of our favorite blog's 6th birthday, I recommend all PhilosFX readers--especially those with a soft spot for veterans and a passion for community activism--check out "Got Your Six."

"Got Your 6" believes veterans are leaders, team builders, and problem solvers who have the unique potential to lead a resurgence of community across the nation. Got Your 6 uses six pillars to strengthen veterans–jobs, education, health, housing, family, and leadership. Got Your 6 continues to ensure all Americans see veterans as indispensable assets that make our Nation stronger. For more information, please visit

Bottom line, friends: be focused, happy, and productive. Find and maintain your center. Align your priorities to worthy goals. Unite others on your quest for success. Thanks for reading and celebrating six years of Philosophy + Special Effects here at PhilosFX! Here's to many more...

For the insanely curious or terminally bored, here are links to previous PhilosFX Day posts, which you may enjoy at your leisure:

5. The 2015 version:
4. Musings from the Batman:
3. Lots of stats:
2. Basically, a one-liner:
1. First year in review:
0. Launch!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The AP Top 100 College Football Programs Over 80 Years

The Associated Press (AP) has been ranking the best teams in college football since 1936. Over 80 years and in 1,103 polls, a total of 165 schools have been ranked in the Top 25 on any given week.  Additionally, 44 of those schools have been ranked No. 1 at least once (Minnesota was the first).
To determine the all-time Top 25, the AP used the following formula:
  • 1 point for each poll appearance to mark consistency, 
  • 2 points for No. 1 rankings to acknowledge elite programs, and 
  • 10 points for AP championships.

You can read the full article and see the Top 100 HERE. Where does your team fall in? I am a Notre Dame fan. We've not won a National Championship since 1988, but we had a great decade in the 1940s, and based on the AP formula, we came in 3rd overall.

I copied the results into Excel to look a little closer at the data. I wanted to know some relative measures instead of the straight ordinal measures. For example, Notre Dame is 3rd on the All-Time list. But how far behind Ohio State (#1) and Oklahoma (#2) are they? And how much cushion does Notre Dame have over Alabama (#4)? I added the 3rd and 4th columns to generate and explore some ratio data.

In addition, I was curious about the relative strengths of the various conferences the teams represent. Everyone talks about the powerhouse SEC. So how many SEC teams made the overall Top-25, I wondered? I added the 5th column and filled it in mostly from memory, checking a few on the NCAA website.

Here is a closer look at the Top 25 of the past 80 years with some additional information:

The all-time AP Top-25 Points Pts Back % Conf
No. 1 Ohio State 1,112 0 100% Big Ten
No. 2 Oklahoma 1,055 57 95% Big 12
No. 3 Notre Dame 1,042 70 94% Independents
No. 4 Alabama 993 119 89% SEC
No. 5 Southern California 974 138 88% Pac 12
No. 6 Nebraska 901 211 81% Big Ten
No. 7 Michigan 894 218 80% Big Ten
No. 8 Texas 822 290 74% Big 12
No. 9 Florida State 714 398 64% ACC
No. 10 Florida 674 438 61% SEC
No. 11 LSU 655 457 59% SEC
No. 12 Penn State 647 465 58% Big Ten
No. 13 Miami 642 470 58% ACC
No. 14 Tennessee 624 488 56% SEC
No. 15 Georgia 572 540 51% SEC
No. 16 Auburn 570 542 51% SEC
No. 17 UCLA 535 577 48% Pac 12
No. 18 Texas A&M 447 665 40% SEC
No. 19 Michigan State 443 669 40% Big Ten
No. 20 Washington 430 682 39% Pac 12
No. 21 Arkansas 412 700 37% SEC
No. 22 Clemson 411 701 37% ACC
No. 23 Pittsburgh 356 756 32% ACC
No. 24 Wisconsin 336 776 30% Big Ten
No. 25 Iowa 329 783 30% Big Ten

Notice that the Top 5 teams all come from a different conference. Isn't that interesting? Is that a measure of parity?

I made a table that counted the number of times any given Conference landed a team in the Top 25. Below is a recap by Conference, showing that the SEC has 8 college football programs in the all-time Top 25, more than any other Conference. But I noticed that the Big Ten has 3 teams in the Top 10 compared to the SEC's 2, so the Big Ten may have fewer teams in the Top 25 but the teams they have are higher up. Notre Dame's eventual move into the ACC from the Independents will not be enough to bump the ACC into 2nd place.

Conference Count Pts Back %
SEC 8 0 100%
Big Ten 7 1 88%
ACC 4 4 50%
Pac 12 3 5 38%
Big 12 2 6 25%
Independents 1 7 13%

But of course, as many readers know, the Conferences are of different sizes, ranging from a low of 10 teams to a high of 14 teams, plus the 4 Independent teams. So that made me wonder if the SEC was performing so well as a conference because they field a lot of teams? Or, would the data show that the SEC is punching above or below its weight? To answer this, I gathered the total count of all the teams in all the NCAA Division I-A colleges and made the table below.

Conference Teams Top 25 %
SEC 14 8 57%
Big Ten 14 7 50%
ACC 14 4 29%
Pac 12 12 3 25%
Independents 4 1 25%
Big 12 10 2 20%
Conf USA 13 0 0%
American  12 0 0%
Mountain West 12 0 0%
Mid-American 12 0 0%
Sun Belt 11 0 0%

The SEC does have a lot of teams (14), but the bottom line is that 57% of those teams are in the all-time Top 25. That is more than any other conference in raw numbers and also tops when adjusted for the number of teams. The Big Ten has 14 teams (wait, what?) but they lag the SEC slightly in both raw and normalized numbers. Meanwhile, the ACC also has 14 teams but only half as many teams in the Top 25.

Looking over 80 years, the SEC is formidable, indeed. And of course recent years make them appear down right unstoppable.