Category: Uncategorized

This Flag Does Not Belong To Me

I am a veteran of the United States military. This flag does not belong to me. I have no special claim to it, as much as I respect and do my best to represent it.

I claim for myself only the ideals it represents: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the right to free speech, free press, due process, and freedom of religion, among many others.

I will defend you with my last breath against those who would force you under physical, moral, or financial duress to worship or pay fealty to it, for that is the way of fascists and dictators.

This flag does not belong to the military, nor did it ever. We have only the honor of following it into battle.

We do so knowing that we might die, not for this piece of cloth, but for the idea of a nation that holds its citizens equal to one another and free from oppression and discrimination. If it no longer represents those ideals, then for what do we fight?

The experiment that is this republic only works if this flag belongs to every person under its shadow: past, present, and future.

So, remember the great deeds that have been done and words that have been said by those flawed and sincere individuals who have stood by this flag, so that you can follow in their steps and avoid their pitfalls. Remember the mistakes of the past so that when you look around at citizens of this nation, you can acknowledge them as an integral part of both its failures and its successes.

Look toward the horizon, knowing that the journey does not end and that we are all endlessly creating the legacy that will shape the meaning of this flag. Most importantly, realize that everyone owns this flag, and we all have a duty to live up to its ideals.



How Do You #Hashtag?

Sometime during the year 2013, I became vaguely aware of the Twitter phenomenon that had apparently been raging all around me for years. Frankly, I had only had a Facebook account for a couple years, and I certainly had no awareness of what a hashtag was, how it was used, or the major effect it was having socially and linguistically across almost every demographic group. The beginning of my awareness of hashtags was this Subway Tuscan Chicken Melt television commercial (, which depicts two young men eating the sandwiches (Unknown Director, 2013). One of them is tweeting excitedly about the sandwich, using multiple hashtags to describe it, his experience, and his intended actions, while the other quietly observes. While the tweeting man is distracted with his phone, the second man steals his sandwich and begins to eat it. The tweeting man is depicted as rather ridiculous and, certainly in this case, is outsmarted and bested by his friend, so my already negative impression of social media sites and apps was deepened even further.

It was not until recently, as I noticed several of my friends quite liberally sprinkling their Facebook posts with hashtags that I became fascinated with the idea that this punctuation mark or symbol was changing the way that people spoke about and around topics. I learned quickly that many of these hashtags were being employed well outside of the intended use of the signifier, which is to semantically tag and categorize content to make it easier to find or organize (Dwyer & Marsh, 2014). Certainly, there were examples of typical use in promoting an idea, expressing sarcasm, offering subtext, or repeating a theme, however, some examples of its use seemed so bizarrely cryptic as to be inscrutable (Daer, Hoffman, & Goodman, 2014). As evidence mounted of a subtext to these expressions, I began to also wonder why individuals used the hashtag at all; why not just make the statement or express the feeling through the text of the post or message? How did using the hashtag differentiate their language actions from plain speech or text?

This, then, is the question that this exploratory research will attempt to answer. In order to accomplish this, it was key to find a venue in which the hashtag did not really belong, since applications in which the hashtag behaves naturally would be overwhelmed with “typical” use of it and fail to highlight the nuanced information sought here. The hashtag did not originate on Facebook, nor is it the expected or “natural” place to use it, so this platform was chosen. It was also of interest to take a brief detour into the use of the hashtag in spoken language to determine if there was a difference between its use when posting on Facebook and when speaking, both of which are not, in the strictest sense, occasions when hashtags would normally be used.

Peer-reviewed literature regarding the semiotics, purpose, and meaning of hashtags is currently sparse and extremely diverse. Research that specifically examines the linguistic and/or social significance of hashtags is even more rare. The studies can also be highly specific, as in the case of Dwyer and Marsh’s work in using hashtags to interpret how users conceptualize trust (Dwyer & Marsh, 2014). Often, the research may investigate the purpose or content of the hashtag, as has been done in several studies regarding the use of sarcasm, but does not touch on the underlying function of the symbol (Gonzalez-Ibanez, Muresan, & Wacholder, 2011). Other papers, but these latter especially, approach the research from a machine learning perspective and are attempts to teach computers to identify and categorize social media posts on a big data scale (Kunneman, Liebrecht, van Mulken, & van den Bosch, 2015).

Hashtags can also be placed into type categories, in addition to the content categories, based on their content. Some identified broad categories of purpose like Critiquing and Iterating, both of which, again, concern the purpose of the hashtag’s words, rather than the function of the hashtag itself (Daer, Hoffman, & Goodman, 2014). Others point to the use of the hashtag as a type of “metadata” associated with the content of the post (Wang, Wei, Liu, Zhou, & Zhang, 2011). These categories do point to the hashtag as a functional linguistic item, but in a very roundabout way.

In virtually all of these instances, the researcher acts as a distant observer, collecting information about the hashtag use through automated systems or mass downloads. One thing on which they consistently agree, though, is the idea of the hashtag as an ad hoc tagging system that has been dubbed a “folksonomy” (Yang, Sun, Zhang, & Mei, 2012). This term is an agglutination of the words “folk” and “taxonomy,” indicating a “user-created bottom-up categorical structure development with an emergent thesaurus” (Vander Wal, 2007). This, of course, refers to the function of the hashtag to categorize content, and does not explore any deeper meaning. However, this function may contain a kernel of the social characteristic of the hashtag investigated in other studies.

This pragmatic characterization of the hashtag has a relation to more meaningful definitions, such as that of Smith and Smith, who define the hashtag as “an index, an identifier, a filter, and a promoter; more important, it can connect a virtual community of users” (Smith & Smith, 2012). These are communities which, importantly, are created by the users. Other studies mention these properties, but this particular study rigorously tests the assumption using Twitter data from the 2012 College World Series of baseball. Thousands of tweets with hashtags were collected and examined during the first two games of the series and the “Twittersphere” was dubbed the new watercooler around which sports fans gather to discuss the events of the game. The use of hashtags was also classified as an active form of social-identity theory carried into virtual spaces and, in fact, creating a new kind of space.

Research surrounding hashtag activism also proved fruitful for this study, as it tends to focus on the community dynamic surrounding the hashtags, rather than the content of the hashtags themselves. Two such studies offered intriguing ideas that will be developed further in this study, as they dovetail well with the findings from the interviews in this analysis. Here, it is sufficient to say that those themes are hashtags as a shared temporality (Bonilla & Rosa, 2015) and as a use of narrative agency (Yang G. , 2016).

In order to explore the motivations and meaning behind using hashtags on Facebook and in spoken language, qualitative and quantitative methods were used. Since this is an exploratory research paper and intended only to gather broad data about the subject to determine whether there is a basis for further research, strict scientific methods were not employed. For example, no attempts have been made to randomize samples or make the researcher unaware of the identities of the survey participants.

First, a short survey was distributed using the researcher’s own Facebook account, Slack social media account, and off-line social circle. This consisted of several demographic questions and a few basic, open-ended questions regarding the users’ behavior online and off-line with regard to hashtags. It was designed to be very short and concise in order to maximize participation. The questions from the survey are detailed below.

  1. What is your age?
  2. What is your job role?
  3. Do you have any children under 18?
  4. In a typical week, which of the following social networking websites do you use most often?
  5. In a typical week, about how often do you use hashtags when posting to Facebook?
  6. If you have posted to Facebook using a hashtag, please briefly describe the post (picture, text, subject matter), the hashtag you used, and how and why you used the hashtag. For example, was it to highlight something in the post, to express sarcasm, or to share an inside joke with certain friends?
  7. Have you ever used the word “hashtag” in spoken language? If so, please describe the circumstances and intent of the use and context for the conversation.

Second, multiple interviews with friends of the researcher who evidenced higher than average use of hashtags on their Facebook accounts (as observed by the researcher) were conducted to obtain a qualitative, deeper understanding of the nature of their use of hashtags. The interviews began with some broad questions about the subject of hashtags, and the conversation was permitted to range freely as topics surfaced and follow-up questions were presented. The subject of the second part of the interviews were ten of the interviewee’s posts collected by the researcher. The subjects were requested to, without restriction by the interviewer, explain the meaning and motivation of the hashtags used in each post. The interviewer would then interject or ask follow-up questions regarding the information conveyed. The interviews lasted approximately 35-45 minutes each. Some examples of the introductory questions are detailed in the list below.

  1. Define what you think a hashtag is and how it is used in general.
  2. How do you think that other people use hashtags?
  3. Are there any social norms surrounding the use of hashtags that you are aware of?
  4. How active are you on social media and which ones do you use?
  5. Have you ever used hashtags in spoken language? Can you give an example?

Survey Results and Discussion

Overall, most of the 55 respondents (80%) to the survey indicated that they used hashtags on Facebook “Not at all often,” with the highest percentage of use in the 25 to 34 year-old age range reporting use “Not so often” or “Somewhat often.” The only other group that showed a significant figure (20%) of “Somewhat often” use was the 45 to 54 year-old age range, which seemed surprising until it was revealed that 100% of those who responded this way have children under the age of 18. This low overall rate of hashtag usage was predictable due to the aforementioned fact that Facebook is not really the indigenous environment of the hashtag and is also in line with the hashtag percentages found by Caleffi in her investigation (Caleffi, 2015). The higher use by younger people is also an expected result, although the fact that the 18 to 24 year-old range showed lower usage may indicate a generational awareness of the norms surrounding the use of hashtags in certain forums.

A large portion of respondents stated in the open-ended questions that they do not use hashtags on Facebook at all, and approximately the same number did not respond to that question. The most used purposes of the respondents were, in descending order, sarcasm and humor (7% each), emphasis (5%), and rallying (4%). The last two categories are in line with the findings of Daer, et al., who coded “metacommunicative tagging” of Tweets, although it seems unusual that their findings did not include any mention of humor or sarcasm as a category, since this seems so prevalent (Daer, Hoffman, & Goodman, 2014).

The final point of interest is the responses to the question whether the respondents used the word “hashtag” in spoken language. As might be expected, those who reported not using hashtags on Facebook also consistently reported not using them in speech. However, almost a quarter of respondents across all Facebook hashtag use were either very adamant in their denial of use in speech or reported using it to mock the use of hashtags. This points to a certain social stigma surrounding the use of hashtags that echoes the depiction of the hashtagging Subway customer cited earlier.

Interview Results and Discussion

As stated earlier, there are some uses of hashtags that cannot be immediately categorized, and this revealed itself much more clearly in the individual interviews than in the survey or in the literature. First and most importantly, the hashtags used on Facebook by the interviewees revealed far more personal and interpersonal content than has even been hinted at in much of the literature; the studies of hashtag activism perhaps come close, but are still at a very large scale and use observational techniques. This is not to say that the uses of hashtags cited in these studies do not exist or are not practiced, but there also exists a deep well of information that has not been plumbed and must be studied from a participant observational standpoint to be appreciated. Of course, this latter category is not mutually exclusive of the former; they can be employed in concert with one another.

In response to the general questions, the interviewees consistently quoted the functional aspect of hashtags as the generally accepted use of hashtags; that is, they stated that hashtags are defined as a marker to categorize and group posts and pictures, or perhaps to make a post funny. Interestingly, they also initially characterized their own use of hashtags as falling in this category. When interviewees were speaking about their own hashtag posts, though, a much different story unfolded. For example, one interviewee used the hashtag #deydontevenknow as an inside joke to only one other person and another had a set of identity hashtags that he uses each time he posts anything, regardless of the content of the post. These uses are much more social than verbally reported by the interviewees or the survey respondents.

In fact, overall, the information gathered from the interviewees pointed toward social use as one of the primary functions of the hashtag and functioned under several overall themes, either singly or in combination. Even those posts that may, at face value, appear to be strictly functional have deeper social meaning. For example, #birchwood (name of a restaurant) was used, not just because the individual was at the restaurant or that they wanted to promote the restaurant. Although these were also reasons to use the hashtag, the person reported using it because it is one of their favorite restaurants and they go there all the time with close family and friends, which is a primarily social reason for using a seemingly unemotional hashtag. Similarly, #pitbull (the artist) was used to speak directly to the poster’s mother who had joked with him about saying hi to Pitbull when he travelled to Miami. Importantly, had I researched these hashtags by simple observation, they would have been categorized these as purely promotional hashtags and missed the entire point of why they were used.


After reviewing the surveys and interviews, it became clear that the hashtag itself has a socio-linguistic function of its own, independent of the intent or content of the post or hashtag. One way this became clear was when I asked interview respondents to “translate” their hashtags into plain language or to describe how they would have expressed the sentiments without hashtags. On most occasions, the interviewee stated that they would have dropped at least some of the hashtags altogether because there was not an emotive equivalent in plain language or the story it represented would have taken too long to explain in long form. There was also the sense that it would have changed the meaning if it had to be explained, rather similar to when one tells a joke.

There are also clues to the hashtag’s function in the specific uses of some of the interviewees. One of the more straightforward uses that was revealed was group or social identification. Hashtags like #livingthedream (reference to specific college shared experience), #team[lastname], #armyaviation, and #eraualumni are clearly direct appeals or statements of membership in a certain group with which the poster identifies. This is part of the social identity studied by Smith and Smith in their research into baseball fan interactions on Twitter and is related to the human desire to be part of an organization or group (Smith & Smith, 2012). To take this one step further, one can argue that even hashtags that seem to have a different purpose are actually displays of social identity. For example, #breastcancersupport and #sundayfunday may seem to be rallying or simply functional, but peeling back a layer of this onion exposes the underlying motivation to be part of a certain group, since an individual could certainly post in support of breast cancer without using a hashtag. Minus the hashtag, however, the tweet or post does not invoke the social request or statement of the poster to be a part of a larger group and to be known as such. Even a hashtag like #irmagoaway (Hurricane Irma), when explained by the respondent, was used because she is a teacher and her students used it heavily and she was, in that moment, identifying with them.

In many other posts, and arguably all of the ones examined, there is also a temporal character layered below the social character. Temporalities or temporalizing practices are defined by Nancy D. Munn as devices “whereby the inherent temporal character of social life is brought out” and further as a sort of “hinge” that connects and relates different subjects and time-spaces (Hodges, 2008). One interviewee almost primarily uses hashtags in this way and even maintains a special relationship with her best friend through the use of hashtags. The bulk of these hashtags are inside jokes or stories, created at the time the story occurred, that, when posted to social media, have meaning for the two of them and few others. But they are not just jokes, per se; some of them entail long stories or shared experiences that are memorialized in the hashtag and are linguistic shortcuts for the time, place, and event being evoked.

Although slightly different, this usage has all the temporal functionality of Apache place names, in that they provide a link to a place and time without need for exposition or explication (Basso, 1996). Another key element in this case is that the respondent plainly stated that these insider stories, which have clearly enriched their friendship, would not make sense and perhaps would not have been developed without the existence of the hashtag device, thereby affirming that the hashtag is a new and unique device that does not have an immediately available substitute in the English language. Also importantly, this usage has a social facet as well, in that it creates a new social group or space, containing a time-related dimension, that did not previously exist, and it also serves to renew and reinforce the connection within that group.

There are many more hashtags among those used by respondents and interviewees that exhibit these characteristics. Returning to the original research question of how the hashtag differentiates language actions, one may tentatively define the hashtag as a type of original and unique temporal-social linguistic device, currently residing only in online spaces, which allows users to strengthen, create, or identify with social groups in real-time or in a constructed temporal space. It serves the function of stating some or all of the following: What follows is an offer or request to be part of a social practice or group, or a statement that I am part of this practice or group that exists in a temporal space defined by myself or previously defined by others. Clearly, this research should be expanded in a more scientific manner and some of the survey glitches should be cleaned up, but it is evident that a subject for research of the hashtag as a social-linguistic device does exist.




Basso, K. (1996). Wisdom sits in places: Landscape and language among the Western Apache (Kindle DX version). Retrieved from

Bonilla, Y., & Rosa, J. (2015). #Ferguson: Digital protest, hashtag ethnography, and the racial politics of social media in the United States. American Ethnologist, 42(1), 4-17.

Caleffi, P.-M. (2015, December). The ‘hashtag’: A new word or a new rule? SKASE Journal of Theoretical Linguistics, 12(2), 46-60.

Daer, A. R., Hoffman, R., & Goodman, S. (2014). Rhetorical Functions of Hashtag Forms Across Social Media Applications. Proceedings of the 32nd ACM International Conference on The Design of Communication CD-ROM (SIGDOC ’14). Article 16, p. 3 pages. New York, NY, USA: Association for Computing Machinery. doi:

Dwyer, N., & Marsh, S. (2014). What can the hashtag #trust tell us about how users conceptualise trust? 2014 Twelfth Annual International Conference on Privacy, Security and Trust, (pp. 398-402). Toronto, Ontario, CA. doi:

Gonzalez-Ibanez, R., Muresan, S., & Wacholder, N. (2011). Identifying Sarcasm in Twitter: A Closer Look. Proceedings of the 49th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics:shortpapers – Volume 2 (HLT ’11). 2, pp. 581-586. Portland, OR, USA: Association for Computational Linguistics.

Hodges, M. (2008). Rethinking time’s arrow: Bergson, Deleuze and the anthropology of time. Anthropological Theory, 8, 399-430. doi:10.1177/1463499608096646

Kunneman, F., Liebrecht, C., van Mulken, M., & van den Bosch, A. (2015, July). Signaling sarcasm: From hyperbole to hashtag. Information Processing & Management, 51(4), 500-509. doi:

Smith, L. R., & Smith, K. D. (2012). Identity in Twitter’s Hashtag Culture: A Sport-Media-Consumption Case Study. International Journal of Sport Communication, 5, 539-557.

Unknown Director (Director). (2013). Subway Tuscan Chicken Melt TV Commercial, ‘Hashtag’ [Motion Picture]. Retrieved November 30, 2017, from

Vander Wal, T. (2007, February 2). Folksonomy Coinage and Definition. Retrieved November 30, 2017, from Folksonomy:

Wang, X., Wei, F., Liu, X., Zhou, M., & Zhang, M. (2011). Topic sentiment analysis in twitter: a graph-based hashtag sentiment classification approach. In B. Berendt, A. de Vries, W. Fan, C. Macdonald, I. Ounis, & I. Ruthven (Ed.), Proceedings of the 20th ACM international conference on Information and knowledge management (CIKM ’11) (pp. 1031-1040). New York, NY, USA: Association for Computing Machinery. doi:

Yang, G. (2016). Narrative Agency in Hashtag Activism: The Case of #BlackLivesMatter. Media and Communication, 4(4), 13-17.

Yang, L., Sun, T., Zhang, M., & Mei, Q. (2012). We Know What @You #Tag: Does the Dual Role Affect Hashtag Adoption? Proceedings of the 21st international conference on World Wide Web (WWW ’12) (pp. 261-270). New York, NY, USA: Association for Computing Machinery. doi:


Effects of Vanadium Seed Layer in Ferrimagnetic Heusler Alloy Thin Films

Hi there! And thanks for checking out the additional information! This information is meant to be supplemental to the MIT Materials Processing Center/Center for Materials Science and Engineering Summer Internship Research Experience for Undergraduates poster presentation that I took part in on August 3, 2017.

For anyone who landed here by means other than the QR code on my research poster, take a look at the presentation below first. (Don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as it sounds.)

Effects of Vanadium Seed Layer in Ferrimagnetic Heusler Alloy Thin Films

Further and more in-depth information

First, if you are looking for more information about the research from this group, here’s a link to the website, which includes a summary of the research topic and the publications to date.

Spintronic Material and Device Group

Also, below are links to the sources that I used for my presentation.

  1. Kumar, D., Konishi, K., Kumar, N., Miwa, S., Fukushima, A., Yakushiji, K., … & Suzuki, Y. (2016). Coherent microwave generation by spintronic feedback oscillator. Scientific reports6, 30747.
  2. Žic, M., Rode, K., Thiyagarajah, N., Lau, Y. C., Betto, D., Coey, J. M. D., … & Archer, T. (2016). Designing a fully compensated half-metallic ferrimagnet. Physical Review B93(14), 140202.
  3. Felser, C., & Hirohata, A. (Eds.). (2015). Heusler Alloys: Properties, Growth, Applications (Vol. 222). Springer. p. 160.
  4. Helmich, L., Teichert, N., Hetaba, W., Behler, A., Waske, A., Klimova, S., & Huetten, A. (2015). Vanadium sacrificial layers as a novel approach for the fabrication of freestanding Heusler Shape Memory Alloys. arXiv preprint arXiv:1503.02987.
  5. Kurt, H., Rode, K., Stamenov, P., Venkatesan, M., Lau, Y. C., Fonda, E., & Coey, J. M. D. (2014). Cubic Mn 2 Ga thin films: Crossing the spin gap with ruthenium. Physical review letters112(2), 027201.

Some graphs that are notable but were not included.

Plot 1: VSM out-of-plane comparison of 5nm V sample with other samples from poster.

This plot shows the magnetization of a 5nm sample of vanadium compared with the samples from the poster. It was not included because the magnetization saturation value overwhelmed the other samples and distorted their graph, but the properties are notable. As you can see, the Hysteresis loop shows high saturation and some remanence, but very little coercivity, which makes it relatively unsuitable for spintronic applications. The magnetization would switch far too easily and would not lend itself to the persistent precession state necessary.



Plot 2: VSM out-of-plane comparison of varying V and Mn2RuxGa thickness samples.

Along the same lines, this plot shows several samples of increasing thickness of V and Heusler alloy, and varying concentration of ruthenium. Not enough samples of varying Heusler thickness and ruthenium concentration have been conducted to begin to make any conclusions, but it’s interesting to see the trends and standouts. It appears that when V and Mn2RuxGa are in a 1:1 to a 1:2 ratio, performance is fairly good, and the higher ruthenium concentration does not seem to contribute positively.

Background and topical information

If you don’t know the subject of spintronics very deeply, and you’re just curious to learn more, I’ve put together what I hope is a simple summary of some key ideas that I learned and that helped me understand exactly what it is I’ve been doing all summer. Be forewarned that this is by far and away not a comprehensive coverage of the subject, and I may actually have things a little wrong on some subjects. However, I’ve tried my best to understand each topic and explain it in simple, concise terms.

First, a little introduction to the topic.
Spintronics Introduction.png
Bonus! Great video on electron spin/precession and why it’s associated with angular momentum.

One result of these conditions is that the steady-state precession can produce an rf microwave frequency at higher power and lower energy than conventional rf sources. In the project I worked on, we are attempting to create these devices using ferrimagnets because their precession rates are faster than ferromagnets. Another use involves random access memory (RAM). Since the parallel configuration has lower resistance than the anti-parallel, this can be used to read and write information extremely quickly. And, no, I don’t know exactly how. Hopefully, you understand RAM better than I do.

And a little bit about the materials used in the project.


In this case, Wikipedia does a really good job.
Also, these documents go deeper and also talk about Mn2RuxGa specifically.
The process of creating the thin films.


Magnetron sputtering

sputtering pic

Some properties of the thin films.

exchange bias

This is a really good, simple explanation:
And, lastly, some methods for characterizing the films.
I watched a few videos on Bragg’s Law, and this was the best one:


This is a cool, simple resource for some more details:

Military family booed?

Gold Star Family Booed on Flight as they Headed Home with Soldier’s Remains

This article about a Gold Star military family being booed off a plane by passengers in first class has been circulating on facebook, and of course, I and my fellow military members are incensed at the headline. It is unbelievable and disgusting that anyone would do this. And not that it isn’t all that, but once again I think the media has charged forward with a shocking headline meant to get people to click, rather than to inform the public. I try my best to refrain from political or controversial discourse on facebook, which is one of the reasons I started this blog, so here are my thoughts.

So, this is bad, but it may not be as bad as this particular article makes it out to be. From several sources, I’ve gathered that the passengers were told that a “special military family” was exiting the plane first, which prompted the booing. And honestly, Mr. Perry, the father of the fallen soldier and hero, couldn’t even remember if the airline captain said those exact words ( Even if correct, I don’t know that this phrase would necessarily have conjured in the mind of the average civilian an image of a family who had just suffered this loss. In fact, civilians are generally pretty immune to understanding anything from a military point of view and the wealthy (first class passengers) usually have few if any family members in the military, so I doubt it would have. Most civilians have some romanticized image of soldiers and their families being escorted around in military planes and vehicles and could not even make the perfectly logical connection that the military might just pay for a plane ticket instead.

The behavior is still despicable, in general and in light of the family’s loss, but I don’t think it necessarily indicates a rising hatred or disrespect for the military in our country, or even a strong hatred by these first class passengers, although it does completely expose their reprehensible sense of entitlement and privilege. Who knows, maybe they really did know and they are that despicable, but the social norms and pressures that prevent people from booing a family who has just lost a son are tremendous and are not lightly trespassed in the general course of things.

Unless, of course, you are wealthy and have a certain amount of power, which has been indicated by research to result in a lack of empathy and a dismissal of the importance of the feelings and needs of others. So, perhaps it’s a combination of all of the above: they a) didn’t truly understand what was going on, b) have a lack of empathy that lead them not to try to understand what was going on and c) have a sense of entitlement that lead them to engage in socially unacceptable selfish behavior. I just have a hard time believing that they would have reacted this way if they really knew what that family represented. Maybe that says more about me than it does about them, though.

Either way, I think much of the media skewed this story into a shocking headline for ratings, and I dislike their exploitation of this family’s grief as much as I dislike the behavior of the passengers. The good news is, as you can see from this article (, that the kind, generous actions of many other people far exceeded the petty, egoistic actions of a few disgruntled airline passengers.

Why Trump-Pence should be Pence-Trump

Before anyone gets shocked by this title coming from a registered Democrat who absolutely despises Pence’s stand on social issues, please refer to the following comparison of their thoughts on Syria.

If you were president, what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo?


“Provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength.”

This is a general statement of his policy toward the world power that is Russia. It encapsulates his overall views on our relationship with this country and, whether you agree with it or not, is a clear and coherent declaration that can be followed to a logical conclusion.

“If Russia continues to be involved in airstrikes along with the Syrian government forces of Assad,…”

Here, Pence shows that he is knowledgeable of international policy, forces, and conflicts. He presents verifiable facts that may have counterpoints or need qualification but are at least a fairly accurate summary of the situation in Syria with regards to Russia. This also provides detail to support his larger argument that this type of provocation requires a show of strength by the United States and highlights his awareness of the US’s recent complex relationship with Russia on this issue.

“the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets of the Assad regime.”

Conclusion: strong, clear goal with feasible response that prioritizes the threat of the Assad regime to its own people and the dangerous prospect of a Russia-Syria-Iran coalition should their attempts to keep Assad in power succeed. I now know where Pence stands on this issue.


“I think you have to knock out ISIS.”

This is a fairly meaningless statement in reference to the question that was asked. It is clearly a priority for America and the world in more places than Syria. However, this is a long-term goal that may never be accomplished and an over-simplification of a complex situation in which over 60 different factions have been involved, including ISIS, other al-Qaeda related organizations, and multiple world powers. Also Trump, unlike Pence, doesn’t outline any particular theme or tactic for accomplishing this goal.

“Right now, Syria is fighting ISIS. We have people that want to fight both at the same time.”

This is true. Syria is fighting ISIS and many other factions that the US may actually support. In the course of this struggle, Syria has released a series of chlorine gas attacks within its own borders and requested repeated bombings by Russia on its own soil. To say that Syria is fighting ISIS is like saying Trump is fighting Megyn Kelly. While this is true, he is also fighting against multiple other media outlets while also being supported by several other heavy hitting big names in the media. She, just like ISIS, is one element of an extremely complicated conflict that requires delicate handling of multiple issues at once, and we have no choice but to fight more than one at a time. They are all current threats and need to be addressed.

“But Syria is no longer Syria. Syria is Russia and it’s Iran,…”

This is also relatively true, if you take it to mean that Syria is in bed with both of these powers and is poised to create a strong alliance in the Middle East if they are successful in supporting the Assad regime. Of course, this actually reveals that the strategy of attacking ISIS (which combined with his previous statements implicitly means in support of Syria) is far too simplistic to handle this situation.

“Which [Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton] made strong and scary and Obama made into a powerful nation and a very rich nation, very, very quickly.”

Aaaaand pivot to what he does best, which is to cast blame on other people instead of addressing the question. It almost seems like he gets stuck and runs out of material and knowledge on the issues (as his own staff says, it’s useless to try to “fill his head with facts and figures”) and does what you would do in a fight with your spouse about why the dishes didn’t get washed (“Well, you didn’t do them last week.”). Also, speaking of Syria in the same terms that you would talk to your 5-year-old about the bogeyman does not inspire much confidence and reveals that he understands the details so little that he resorts to vague characterizations. I would really like him to provide some specifics about how the US has made Syria into this powerful nation that he simultaneously says is no longer strong enough to carry its own identity. If this is true, I would like to know exactly what he means by this. In the research I have done, it appears that the United States has actually supported Syrian opposition groups.

“I believe we have to get ISIS. We have to worry about ISIS before we can get too much more involved.”

Again, this is so vague as to be bordering on a non-statement. How do we “get ISIS”? In what ways should we be involved or not (which was the question to begin with)? How involved are we and how involved should we be? What is “too much more”? How can we hold off being involved in Syria while trying to fight ISIS in Syria (as well as other places)?

“She had a chance to do something with Syria, they had a chance.”

Once again, the lack of specifics. What should she have done and what would he have done differently? And if we’re speaking in terms this general, she (and the President, and multiple Senate and House committees and several military generals) “did something” with Syria. They attempted to form a task force that included Russia, and Russia failed to live up to the commitments of that agreement. Maybe he should talk about what he thinks of what “they” did do.

“And that was the line.”

Conclusion: Completely vague and enigmatic nonsensical jumble of words. What is “the line”? What does that even mean? Line of demarcation? Did they “cross the line”? Are they standing in line? What that sentence actually sounds like is a line of auto-generated beatnik poetry from an online poem generator. Amid all the contradictions and blame shifts, I have no idea what Trump has or has not said about this issue.

As a last note, I’d like to point out that neither of them addressed the humanitarian aspect at all. I consider this a major failing and an indication that both lack empathy and humanity.

Girl Veterans Get Makeovers. Boy Veterans Get Jobs.

Well, that is a rather simplistic view of it, I will admit, but one that has an unusually large and disturbing kernel of truth in it. As I continue to do research into the issue of female veteran unemployment, I am astounded at the level of disconnection between the real and sometimes dire needs of unemployed female veterans and the seemingly superficial solutions offered. This is not to say that there don’t exist some very good programs that deal with the more serious issues that veterans face, but they are often ill-equipped to deal with the specific problems that females encounter.

In transitioning to civilian life, all veterans struggle with health issues, mental health problems, culture change, financial problems, homelessness, and lack of family support; however, women tend to both suffer more  from these challenges and have specific needs that are not currently being met. To compound this problem for women, while the population of male veterans is projected to decrease over the next decade, female veterans are the fastest growing veteran cohort.

While I’m going to focus mostly on the culture of veteran transition assistance specific to employment, it’s important to recognize some of the underlying issues that also contribute to the statistics. Let’s begin with a very military style comparison chart that I’ll call Challenge and Response to summarize what we’re dealing with here.

While these facts are just highlights, they are symptomatic of the overall culture and institutional deficiencies that contribute to female veteran unemployment, although new initiatives such as the Women Veterans Program Manager being installed at Veterans Affairs Offices are gaining ground. The most damaging feature of these findings is that they are cyclical and mutually sustaining. Being divorced or a single parent contributes to lack of social support, which leaves a veteran less likely to recover from PTSD, which then contributes to physical illness, all of which are factors that increase the likelihood of unemployment. Again, while these factors do affect all veterans, it has been indicated by recent research that they disproportionately affect women. For a little more information, take a look at the Disabled American Veterans’ report “Women Veterans: The Long Journey Home” at

While the VA is beginning to do its part in dealing with these substantive issues, certain other organizations cling to the comfortable, tried-and-true fallback of putting some makeup on them. Enter three organizations (which also have varying degrees of potential to offer real help) that insist on making it all about the dress.

First, and most gratuitously, Makeovers That Matter…. “Helping women look better on the outside and feel stronger on the inside.” Ugh! As if one is directly related to the other, or, moreover, should be. Their main service is just what is advertised – a makeover. Similar to Operation Reinvent (see my last post for more info), they pinkify everything and conflate femininity with confidence. The photos that litter the webpage are mostly of women made over in the image of what is required by our society and who are supposed to be convinced that this will magically ensure their success. It’s like they’re your Fairy Godmother.

This program, like Operation Reinvent, offers other services that are buried deep within the webpage architecture and, even when found, leave you wondering exactly what in the world is really going on. Their Mindset Program touts a “body, mind, and spirit approach to style.” Um, I’m sorry, what does that even mean? And who exactly are the specialists hired to “guide and teach these women utilizing the learning approach of auditory, visual, hands on, and group participation.” Are they joining a cult? This is all very hippy-dippy and special, but watch the video ( and you get a better idea.

The voices are difficult to hear, but the captions relate the overall themes. It’s not all that bad, really. It’s a bit spiritual and retreat-like, but they do briefly, among the advice on diet, yoga, makeup, and wardrobe, offer a financial advising session and an overview of veterans’ services. Although I will say that the financial “advising” session looks a lot like some of those “free wine tastings” I’ve been to where you can have as much wine as you want as long as you listen to the guy trying to sell you a crappy mutual fund. My main beef here is, again, like Operation Reinvent, the pink-washing. Why does any substance offered have to be smothered in lace and sparkles and sugar and spice and everything nice?

Next up, Final Salute Inc. Ok, number one, what kind of name is that? Is this where female veterans go to die? Sounds so depressing. Second, “Inc.”? Meaning a for-profit company? I’m not entirely sure of the implications of that, so I won’t try to analyze it, but it seems a bit strange that a charitable organization is being run on a for-profit basis.

When I first looked into this organization, I was a little impressed. The Housing Outreach Mentorship Encouragement (HOME) Program, although obviously a clunky attempt to make the name fit the acronym, is substantive, well thought out, and, most importantly, desperately needed. My only complaint is that they are only able to reach a few lucky women, having placed only 39 individuals since inception. They also offer financial assistance with rent, security deposits, and utilities through the Savings Assessment and Financial Education (SAFE) (a slightly less awkward acronym) Program. Again, incredible, much needed assistance the only fault of which is its limited reach.

Then I clicked on their Stand Up Program and was deflated once again. Business attire, dress shoes, accessories, make-overs, image consulting. Sigh…. Well, at least, I thought, they are offering something truly substantive and not actually hiding it behind the pink curtain. As I watched yet another, although slightly less princessy, feminine propaganda video, some of the quotes really wrecked me. “Just being pretty is a confidence booster.” Why is feeling pretty a confidence booster?!?! Why isn’t being skilled, trained, capable, strong, educated, supported, talented, intelligent, or courageous a confidence booster?

Then I discovered the queen – literally – of all outdated, sexist purveyors of the feminine ideal.

“The Ms. Veteran America competition highlights more than the strength, courage, and sacrifice of our nations military women, but also reminds us that these women are Mothers, Daughters, Sisters and Wives.”

No, I’m not kidding; I wish I were. Final Salute actual runs a Ms. Veteran America beauty pageant. So if we need reminding of the dual role of these women, who, may I ask, is reminding everyone that military men are Fathers, Sons, Brothers, and Husbands? I’ll tell you who – nobody. Because it’s not required as part of their social or professional identity. In fact, the social requirement placed on women, but not men, to inhabit the care role in addition to a professional role is one of, if not the most determining factor in the wage gap and is definitely one of the reasons for the difference in the unemployment rate.

A third organization, Dress for Success, despite its slightly cringe-worthy name, has a more authentic, concrete approach to assistance. The idea is that the suit (with nary a mention of makeovers and femininity) is just the starting point for a support system that continues through the job seeking, finding, and retention process. The outfit is clearly demarcated on the website as a tool for a job interview, not a flimsy substitute for self respect and confidence. There is even a nod to women who may be in non-traditional fields, as this portion of the program bestows a suit “appropriate for the industry” in which the job seeker is interviewing. As an added blessing, as much as I searched their website, I could only find one single lonely picture of a woman being made over.

With the suit as a springboard, the organization offers the use of a career center including computer access and job training and employment retention programs. All of these are decidedly robust offerings, but I found the most important element of them all is a professional network, one of the key elements missing from the female veteran experience, as I’ll expand upon a little later. The monthly meetings, mentor assignments, and expert speakers provide continuous support and advice in all aspects and stages of a career. In other words, they don’t just slap some lipstick on you, call it a day, and throw you back out into the world to discover that your new blouse is not, in fact, a breastplate against the blows of discrimination and that your new curling iron makes a poor sword  with which to battle a culture intent on maintaining gender stratification.

None of the criticisms above are to say that professional appearance is not important and a challenge for veterans. Really, how many suits does the male infantry sergeant exiting the military after 6-10 years have in his closet? He’ll need help with his image, also, and there are far fewer organizations to help him than there are to help women with this issue. Also, I realize that some women will want these things and fit this role, but it leaves anyone who doesn’t outside in the cold. What about the female electrical technician who is struggling to impress potential employers in a male-dominated, blue-collar field? How exactly do these programs help her? Consider, also, that women currently enlisting will begin filling roles in combat positions and learning skills that definitely do not fit the expected gender roles of society and these programs. What support will they be offered?

The idea that women’s employment must begin with a suit and/or makeup once again places strict limits on which activities women are expected to engage in. Why can’t it begin with a hard hat, a pair of work coveralls, a flight suit, or running shoes? Military women are special, capable, and unique because of the roles they have inhabited in the military. They should not be asked to abdicate those roles once they enter the civilian world.

And again, my issue is not necessarily, or at least wholly, with these organizations which truly believe they are doing something good and beneficial. It’s not even as if I believe that these services don’t provide benefit. It’s the the underlying pressures and assumptions about women, about women veterans, and the image that women veterans have of themselves, which make these programs expected, desired, and even (yes, I admit it), in some cases, needed.

“One of the most persistent problems is a military and veterans’ culture that is not perceived as welcoming to women and does not afford them equal consideration.” – DAV Women Veterans Study

Wow. I’ll tell you what, this study has some sharp one-liners that really hit home with me, and it’s the first thing I’ve read that doesn’t pull many punches about the attitudes and uncomfortable facts that surround women soldiers and veterans. Through this and several other sources, I’ve isolated four key factors, in addition to the underlying issues, that contribute to the unemployment rate gap between women veterans and both their male veteran and female civilian counterparts.

Identity. Women veterans often do not identify as veterans in much more than a superficial sense. They simply do not, on a very basic level, feel that the definition of their person includes their military service. To someone outside of this experience, it is extremely difficult to explain, but this leads many of us to devalue our experience on resumes (some even excluding it entirely) or in job interviews. For anyone whose entire career consists of their military experience, this is obviously a crushing detriment.

Some of you will notice that I used the pronouns “us” and “our” just now; that is because I, too, behaved this way until quite recently. As a Reservist, I saw my active duty time as an interruption of my career instead of an enhancement, when many of my most impressive accomplishments occurred during those times. Those years were relegated to one or two lines each at the bottom of my resume, leaving large gaps in my employment history that potential employers would certainly see as a red flag.

Network. It is undeniable that female soldiers do not benefit as greatly as men from the professional network inherently created by the camaraderie of the military. We may experience short periods of solidarity while deployed, but that quickly disappears back home in the face of the potential for impropriety and suspicions of infidelity. I know more than one female soldier returning from deployment who has been directly confronted by the accusation of a wife or girlfriend. And I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to call a fellow soldier or superior officer whose significant other responded to my call with an accusatory “Who’s this?” even though I had just very professionally asked to speak with the soldier by rank and last name. Even texting is fraught with apprehension. Most single male soldiers don’t maintain friendships either; I mean, how can they hook up or get a girlfriend while hanging out with a woman?

Industry. Although women still occupy more administrative and medical jobs in the military than do men, enough of them are entering technical or skilled worker positions that the transition to the usually male-dominated civilian analogous field can be very difficult. Even women who gain professional skills in the military usually do so in occupational areas, such as aviation or electronics/communications, that, in the civilian world, don’t traditionally welcome women.

Culture. This is obviously a very broad category and would be the most difficult to pin down and alter for the better. As the DAV study pointed out, though, even the culture of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs remains stubbornly unwelcoming to women. In addition, as much as the military seems a hostile place to women sometimes, the civilian world makes even greater demands, stacking femininity and attractiveness on top of the “strength, courage, and sacrifice” that these women have already shown. Organizational and employer education programs on both sides of this fence are sorely needed.

So, Pentagon, since I’ve so kindly done some actual research and provided detailed and supportable improvement points based on the findings and recommendations of an actual government agency, do you think you could expend just a little more effort and money in programs that do more than make the problem look pretty?

Putting lipstick on a…soldier?

Recently, while listening to NPR podcast news, I heard about an “Un-Boot Camp” program for women veterans that is run by an organization called Operation Reinvent. Veteran unemployment is a real problem, and this program, which is administered by a man, purports to help women veterans make the transition from military to civilian life by offering various professional services and helping them “reconnect with their femininity.” Essentially, the podcast and related story that I found online on ( portrayed the program as a makeover and wardrobe update, with a goal of closing the “several percentage points” gap between male and female veteran unemployment, because the Pentagon just can’t figure it out.

My initial reaction, much like the veteran quoted below who commented on the article, was disbelief and anger that yet another man was mansplaining women’s issues to women.


And on top of that, there was some civilian woman civsplaining (note that I just coined that word and claim all rights and royalties contingent thereto) veteran’s issues to veterans and working really hard to invalidate the experience and character of women veterans by replacing their real confidence with some commercial feminine ideal. As a member of the U.S. Army Reserves for the past 17 years with two deployments in my career, I find that the advantages I’ve earned through my experience and hard work far outweigh any that might be conferred by a feminine appearance.

So, after I had my mental tirade – well, loud verbal tirade alone in my car, actually – I reverted back to a more rational mindset. I decided to see what I could see about this alleged unemployment gap and what might be causing it, and also find out more about Operation Reinvent. There might be something to it and maybe I can come up with some better answers. After all, the Pentagon can’t figure out the unemployment problem, so it should be a snap, right?

First things first: Is there actually an unemployment gap between men and women veterans? For this, I turned to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics ( I discovered that, while unemployment among all veterans has declined about 1.3% from 2013 to 2014 and the total veteran unemployment rate is lower than the nonveteran rate, there are some differences between the male and female veteran unemployment rates. The difference between all male veterans and all female veterans is 0.8%, which is not statistically significant. However, the difference between male and female veterans of the entire Gulf War era (from August 2, 1990 through the present) is 1.4%. Of course, this is still not “several percentage points” as described in the article. It turns out that it comes down to Gulf War II veterans (September 2001 through the present); the unemployment rate for male Gulf War II veterans is 6%, while it’s 8.5% for females. Ok, this is technically “more than two but not many,” although I think common usage of the word “several” is in reference to integers, not fractions. Since the article is talking about a program currently in use that is designed to assist veterans who are exiting the military today, most of whom are Gulf War Veterans, in the words of, I find this claim “Mostly True.” I would like to point out, though, that the unemployment rate for male veterans aged 18 to 24 is a whopping 17.3%, and I haven’t heard of any special programs intended to get them in touch with their masculinity, pull up their ass-dragging pants, and stop playing video games. (See what I did there? More stereotypes.)

The second question I had was “What the heck is this Operation Reinvent?” Who runs it, why did they establish it, and is this makeover crap really the only thing they do? I turns out that it’s not quite the eyewash program that the media seems determined to represent it as. It’s certainly a part that is emphasized FAR too much by the program executives and journalists, but there are other, very effective sessions of the retreat that could benefit any veteran. As you can see from their marketing video (, it includes peer-to-peer mentoring, business mentoring, career/life coaching, and other vital elements of getting and keeping a job. With that being said, these are tools that every veteran entering civilian life could benefit from, so having a special program that targets women veterans is not only unnecessary, but exclusionary and sexist against men.

As for who runs the program, Julie Lewit-Nirenberg is an astoundingly successful, strong, independent woman who seems to have done a lot in her life to support less advantaged demographics in women’s printed media. She was on the sales team for the feminist Ms. Magazine when it first published in 1973 and she launched the magazine Mode in 1996, which was the first women’s magazine to not only feature but focus on plus-size women. These are just a couple of the wonderful and prestigious projects she has engaged in over her impressive career ( I noticed, however, that, until quite recently, none of her work has escaped the gravitational forces of the fashion world, which increasingly objectifies, sexualizes, and over-feminizes women. Even her job at Ms. Magazine was in health and beauty aids sales. In her world, femininity gives women validity and sexuality gives them power. This does not tarnish her reputation at all but, let’s face it, when you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. The problem of female veteran unemployment is not a nail, so stop hitting me on the head!

The third issue here is the determination of the media covering the program to whitewash it as pink, fluffy makeovers and a big fashion show. Granted, this is not entirely the media’s fault; every one of Operation Reinvent’s own videos only depict women having their hair done, putting on makeup, gushing over new clothes, and being soooo thankful for all the feminine advice they’re receiving. On top of that, all of the interviews with the organization’s executives take place in front of a backdrop of hair curlers, stylists, rows and rows of makeup, mirrors, and general girlish mayhem. Where are the business mentors and life coaches sitting down in sober conversation with advice on life choices, maintaining a work-life balance, how to negotiate salary, and matching their workplace personality to their own to ensure career happiness? If all of these are part of the program and are being glossed over in favor of surface feminization, they are doing these women veterans a grave disservice. That being said, the media takes it to another level. Case in point is this article from The Wall Street Journal (, in which this male journalist, Ralph Gardner, Jr., turns the entire proceedings into a pity party for himself and his eyebrows as he sulked home after submitting to a brow makeover – and barely a mention of the veteran he’s supposed to be interviewing.

And here’s one part of this issue that I find absolutely heartbreaking. The intended interviewee of his article had this to say about her return home from Kuwait:

“Returning home from overseas you’re trying to blend back into society,” she explained. “Your self-esteem is kind of low because you’ve been away for so long. What’s new are clothing, hair. It’s a hard change. Someone like me, I don’t touch makeup.”

Oh, man! The idea that she should “blend in” when she has so many advantages and experiences that make her stand out as an awesome and accomplished person is unbelievable; and the fact that she doesn’t see herself that way is at least partially the product of a society that values women primarily for the way they look and prefers that they take a back seat instead of driving the bus. Ask any male veteran, and I’ll bet, after a year of working in a team, accomplishing missions, saving lives, and overall kicking ass, he won’t have low self-esteem. So why do women? By her own admission, the pressure to appear feminine, be pretty, and wear makeup significantly affects her self-esteem. While this is an established and unhappy fact of life for women in America, we need to support programs that counter it, not encourage it.

And this is what Operation Reinvent, for all its good intentions, does. It reinforces stereotypes and outdated values and imposes a structure of feminine behavior on women who may or may not want to fit that mold. Our society places more value on male social traits like aggression and competitiveness, but wants women to abandon these traits that they’ve acquired through military service in favor of more gender “appropriate” behavior. Military characteristics like assertiveness and bluntness are what make veterans distinctly hire-able, so why are we trying to un-train those characteristics? It really irks me when Lewit- Nirenberg talks about soldiers reconnecting with their “feminine side,” “rediscovering yourself as a woman,” or claiming that her program “instills confidence in women” ( Sounds like a surgeon trying to convince them they should get a boob job. It implies that military women have somehow lost themselves and need to be guided back to the shelter of the barn, there to be kept safe and sound in the dark to ensure they don’t wander into far-off pastures of…let’s call it the bull pen. I don’t know about my fellow female veterans – actually, you know what? I do know. The female veterans I know are powerful, complete, and utterly capable, and they don’t need to slap on some lipstick to prove it.

Although I’ve spent this time mostly criticizing Operation Reinvent, let me be clear that: 1) I understand that the people setting up and running this program are not intentionally degrading women and that they have good intentions in promoting these methods; 2) I don’t think there is anything wrong with either men or women wanting to be attractive in appropriate contexts, but the idea that it’s required as a minimum standard to participate in the workforce is degrading.

Well, I’ve taken up all the space I intended with my analysis of Operation Reinvent, so my thoughts on the actual unemployment problem will wait until next time. However, I’ll sign off with this:

No matter what you think or say, no one, and I mean no one, is going to tell these two women that they need to put on a skirt and makeup to be effective.

The first women to pass the Army's elite Ranger training, Capt. Kristen Griest (left) and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver (right), received their Ranger tabs when they graduated on Friday.