Post 254

Maple Leaf in the Middle:
Reflections on the Flags of North America

1. FLAGS OF NORTH AMERICA WITH CROSS SHAPES

The Dominican Republic’s flag is divided into quarters by a white cross. In the centre is an emblem. The emblem, adopted in 1863, is the most Christian flag emblem in the world, featuring the cross in its upright and most typical style and a Catholic bible open to the Gospel of John: “And the truth will make you free.” (8:32) I like it and I think everyone should like it. So there.

Moving along, Dominica’s green flag is also divided into quarters by a big cross, but in the middle is a birdie. Yes, I can’t get away from them. I guess everyone kind of thought, “Hey, this flag is going to fly in the sky. Birds fly in the sky. How about we put a BIRD on the FLAG? Hey?” This bird is green and blue and has a yellow beak. Alright. It might be a parrot. I’ll just pop over to Wikipedia. I’ll be right back. Okay. I’m back. It’s a parrot. It’s the sisserou parrot, which I’ve never heard of, until now. It’s found only in Dominica. It’s endangered. There are only 250 individual birds left, which brings to the fore another question about animals on flags. What do you do if your chosen animal is suddenly in trouble? The images on a flag represent the nation, which includes, most importantly, the people of the nation, so if you must choose an animal, then it is best to stick with a generic version of it, in the same way that if you must choose a building, then it is best to stick with a generic version of it. Your symbol is less likely to disappear that way.

Jamaica’s flag looks alarming. That big yellow X on a background of black and green has an unsettling effect. Here’s something interesting: with one exception, all the other flags of the world incorporate at least one of the following colours: red, white, blue. (Mauritania’s flag is green and yellow.)

2. FLAGS OF NORTH AMERICA WITH HORIZONTAL COLOURS

Whoa! That’s a big emblem on the flag of Belize. There are two guys on it who aren’t wearing shirts. They look like characters you’d meet on the Simpsons or something. They have belts and muscles and white pants but no shoes. Someone thought this was a good idea. One fellow is equipped with an oar and the other is holding an axe, which you don’t see every day. The motto translates as, “Under the shade, I flourish.”

Costa Rica’s flag is nice, the only one in this horizontal category without an emblem.

El Salvador’s flag looks quite smart from a distance. Let’s go in for a closer look at that emblem. Well, it gets worse as it gets closer and closer to the center. The gold lettering is arranged in a circle, and that looks good. The leaves look nice, and they are tied artfully with a blue ribbon. The flags are arranged handsomely. But then – but then, you hit the triangle. Inside the triangle is a five-coloured rainbow, the Pacific ocean, a ridge of volcanoes illuminated by the sun, and, on a pole, in front of the sun, is the red Phrygian cap. I wish we could be done with the cap on a stick thing.

Honduras’s flag has nice colours, but your eye is drawn to the five stars arranged in a ninja pose.

Haiti’s emblem is strange because the design is placed on a white background. Everybody knows that’s not how you do an emblem, especially if you’re going to put it on a background of blue and red. It looks dorky. As for the emblem . . . AAAAGHHH! IT’S THE HAT! IT’S THE HAT! I CANNOT ESCAPE THE HAT ON A STICK!!!!

That’s right. It’s the cap again.

But that’s not all. The cap is on a pole which is stuck onto the top of a palm tree which is behind a drum which has two axes protruding from it. The drum is flanked by two trumpets pointing downwards and two cannons and two anchors. There are six flags and six long guns. There is a broken chain on the lawn (symbolizing freedom from slavery). I cannot figure out what the remaining items are. There are several golden balls on the lawn, and there are white flask-like shapes. On one cannon is, perhaps, a mortar and pestle. On the other cannon is something which looks something like a helmet. It’s just time to declutter. Let’s start with that cap.

3. FLAGS OF NORTH AMERICA WITH CHEVRONS

The flag of the Bahamas is blue and yellow overlapped by a black chevron.

Cuba’s flag would have gone into the stripey category, but the presence of a chevron takes priority. It’s got a white star on its red chevron.

4. FLAGS OF NORTH AMERICA WITH VERTICAL COLOURS AND EMBLEMS

Guatemala’s flag is very pretty, and the coat of arms looks attractive from a distance. Closer inspection brings you up close and personal with some weapons, however, including Remington rifles with bayonets and two swords. Sitting atop a scroll is a bird called a ‘resplendent quetzal.’ Reading about the resplendent quetzal only made me think of more reasons birds should stay off flags. This bird was associated with the snake god, Quetzalcoatl. The female bird often neglects her young. The resplendent quetzal is classified as ‘near threatened.’ Apparently, this bird was known to kill itself when held in captivity, and so somebody (maybe the bird?) decided that it should be a symbol of liberty.

The flag of Barbados is blue and yellow with part of a black trident. The trident is a three-pronged spear, and needs a stick to be of any use. This one is broken, and somebody decided that it should be a symbol of liberty.

And now we come to the Canadian flag. I didn’t know where it would wind up, but here it is, in the middle of the middle category. It’s centered, you could say. And indeed, the Canadian flag has a red maple leaf centered on a white background flanked by two red panels. You can fold the flag by placing the red panels on top of the white area, shutter style, in order to make a square.

It’s a great flag. Did you really think I would say otherwise? Let me count the ways. One: It has no rifles, Remington or otherwise. It has no spears or machetes or axes or clubs or cannons or shields or tridents, broken or otherwise. Two: It has no birds or snakes or dragons or animals of any kind. Three: It has no distorted astrological elements such as smiling suns, excessively pointy crescent moons or red stars. Four: It has a normal rectangular shape with normal proportions. Five: It is horizontally symmetrical, which in itself has two benefits. First, it means that whether it is read from left to right or right to left, or whether you see it from the front or the back, it’s the same. It’s still Canada. Second, symmetry is, in itself, attractive. Six: It cannot easily be mistaken for another flag. Seven: The colours are good. Eight: The red does not represent blood and there are no representations of anything negative. Nine: It is easy enough to draw from memory. Ten: It is transparent, both in the sense that it is not layered with symbolism and in the sense that seeing it from a distance gives you almost everything that you get from seeing it up close. Eleven: The leaf has eleven points.

I remember learning to draw the stylized maple leaf when I was five. It’s an interestingly shaped leaf — well-suited for emblem use, and the tree can be grown from Victoria to Prince Edward Island. I have such a tree in my own yard, and I can say that the red that you see on the flag is not an exaggeration.

Maple Leaf, square format

Mexico’s flag just did not work out. There have been many renditions of this eagle eating a snake while standing on top of a prickly pear cactus which is on a rock which is on a lake. The cactus on the current version looks cartoon-like. The first eagle, from 1821, was too big, but better. That eagle had a crown and wasn’t holding a snake. The cactus, the rock and the water were all better than they are now.

The flag of Saint Vincent and The Grenadines (doesn’t that sound like the name of a band?) is pleasing to look at, and clever in a subtle way. Three diamonds are arranged in the shape of a “v.” The colours are nice.

5. FLAGS OF NORTH AMERICA WITH A STRONG DIAGONAL ELEMENT

The flag of Saint Kitts and Nevis has a diagonal black band. These thick diagonal black bands are not a good idea, especially when the background is yellow or red.

Trinidad & Tobago’s flag is no better.

6. FLAGS OF NORTH AMERICA THAT ARE SUPER STRIPEY

The United States flag is so recognizable that one can hardly objectively analyze it. I can’t imagine the United States having anything else, though we know that the flag has changed many, many times since its initial adoption to show the different number of states. The current version, with 50 stars, dates from 1960. If Puerto Rico becomes the 51st state, then I suppose the United States will have a brand new flag, sort of. This is the problem with basing your flag on your political boundaries. It’s definitely a busy flag, and not at all symmetrical, but I can live with it.

7. FLAGS OF NORTH AMERICA THAT DON’T FIT INTO ANY OF THE ABOVE CATEGORIES

There are four countries whose flags don’t fit.

St. Lucia’s flag is blue with triangles overlapping each other. I see three colours (black, white and yellow) but I don’t know how many triangles I am supposed to count. I suppose I should see them as two, because the triangles represent the two volcanoes, which makes me notice that there are ‘canoes’ in ‘volcanoes,’ but in the interests of full disclosure, I’ll tell you that they’re technically ‘volcanic plugs’ and not volcanoes. At the same time, the thin line of white (arguably a third triangle) and the big triangle of black are supposed to represent two races living harmoniously. The yellow triangle represents sunshine and, at the same time, prosperity. It’s confusing and it doesn’t look good either.

Panama’s flag was designed by the family of Panama’s first leader. The flag features a small red star and a small blue star, which coordinate with the quadrants of the flag that are red and blue. It has a buoyant, almost circus feeling to me. It’s fun to look at.

The flag of Antigua and Barbados has a yellow sun rising in a black sky, which spells failure from the get-go. The intention of the designer was to have a strong “v” shape (victory) and so everything is made to fit into the red V.

Did someone say circus? Grenada’s flag is circus material, for sure. Gold stars are on the wide red perimeter, and then there’s one in the middle inside a red circle. The background is divided into green and yellow, diagonally, and that flame-like thing floating almost randomly on one of the green triangles is a clove of nutmeg.

I bet you didn’t see that coming. I didn’t, but I guess it all comes down to a clove of nutmeg. It makes me think of that William Carlos Williams poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow,” one of the first poems I loved. It still has a place in my heart. This bud’s for you, Grenada:

 

The Brown Shelled Nut

so much depends
upon
the lone nutmeg
clove

placed on the bright
flag

without the white
chickens.

 

Post 253

The English Evasion: Reflections on Etiquette

Christianity is found all over the world and in different eras. It has bathed certain regions of the world so thoroughly that the foundation of those regions are entirely saturated with Christian values and outlooks. Those who inhabit those regions today have a Judeo-Christian mindset without even realizing it. They take it for granted, for instance, that there is something deeply wrong with suicide and torture and infant-sacrifice and infidelity. When dealing with such issues, the dialogue is different. Those who declare themselves on the side of various forms of immorality have the style of revolutionaries, and this is fitting, because they are rising up against an ancient and wise tradition of moral know-how.

The difficulty that I want to explore has to do with the expressions of Christianity. Although Christianity, and specifically, Catholicism is oft seen as a system of rigorous and overly-restrictive picky rules, the truth is that there is, even within Catholicism – the most intellectually and spiritually complete version of Christianity – a tremendous amount of freedom. Christianity is compatible with every decent human culture. It is not, of course, compatible with all aspects of those cultures which have core practices antithetical to human dignity. In those cases, adoption of Christianity will result in abolition of abortion, infanticide, polygamy, self-mutilation and so on.

It is to be expected, then, that the expression of Christianity will be informed by one’s culture. The idea about how to be a good Christian will be shaped and influenced by the culture in which Christianity is practiced.

The Christian Golden Rule, to treat others as you would want to be treated, is expressed in various ways throughout the world. Cultural customs are retained, to a large extent, and so if you grow up as a good Christian in Japan, you’ll make sure not to walk around in someone’s home wearing your outdoor shoes. If you grow up as a good Christian in Italy, you might be quite accustomed to treating traffic signals as suggestions. If you grow up as a good Christian in Korea, you might interrupt your neighbour in eager conversation, but you’ll never blow your nose at the table, of course.

And that reminds me: did you know about Catholicism’s role in the development of Korean cuisine?

The Korean fascination with the chili is in itself a fascinating story since the chili originated botanically in the Valley of Mexico and Guatemala. The chili, which plays a central part in the high-voltage cooking of Korea, has developed a significance of its own in denoting the machismo of how much one can eat without gasping for breath . . . During the seven-year war that began in 1592 between Japan and Korea, Portuguese Catholic priests accompanied Japanese troops to Korea. The Portuguese took along the chili seeds or plants that the Spanish had brought from Central America to Europe. And so the chili entered Korea via Japan and took hold with a vengeance never to be relinquished.

— Copeland Marks, The Korean Kitchen:
Classic Recipes from the Land of the Morning Calm

(In other words, the Japanese didn’t have an interest in it, but the Koreans said to themselves, “Hey hey hey, whaddya think about mixing in some of this, eh?”)

If you grow up as a Christian in North America, your ideas about how to be a good Christian (or even, about how to be a good person) will be very much shaped by the English social norms. This is not necessarily a good thing. We owe a great debt to England in many ways, but it’s time to stop and think about some of these English tendencies.

Two tendencies are very English. The first has to do with appearing calm in all situations. The second has to do with indirectness.

You’ve heard the expression “stiff upper lip.” It’s a reference to both staying strong against the enemy and staying strong against oneself, where one is tempted to collapse in an emotional heap or pummel one’s mother-in-law. It’s an English thing.

Nevertheless, you would be entirely wrong in thinking that the British are without emotions. Their emotions run as deep as those of any human being. You can see this by noting that their artistic expression has the full range of human sentiment. I like what Elgar I’ve heard, and everyone knows that Shakespeare’s works show great insight into the human heart.

Chesterton spoke about how a Spanish man will run up to embrace his young son, but an English man won’t let himself. Chesterton said a Russian man will say, “Hello, I’m so-and-so and I killed my sister because her boots squeaked, how do you do?” I paraphrase his exaggeration, but there’s something to be said for such an approach. Indeed, there’s an openness of expression found in many other cultures that is frowned upon in the world of the English, particularly in upper-class circles.

England is very much a class-driven society. It is palpable when you’re there. There’s the Queen, and then there’s, well, you. The Trump phenomenon strikes the English as a prime example of the perils of the chaotic and ‘classless’ American way, where ‘just anybody’ can rise up to do anything.

The wealthy and those who pretend to be wealthy are dignified, reserved and very cold – on the outside, that is. On the inside, they’re as warm-blooded as any Chilean, as hot-blooded as a Korean soap opera star.

In the mind of an Englishman, being polite always involves being composed. Enthusiasm must be tempered and so must anger. All expressions of human sentiment must pass through a filter of respectability and decorum. You are left with what is tepid. You are left with what is neither hot nor cold.

But the emotions are there, and all of the anger and the hostility and the peevishness and small-mindedness are there. They are hidden under a veneer of perfect civility. The emotions are there, and the unspoken thoughts are there! Conversely, the words of love and tenderness and loyalty and heartfelt empathy are there. They just remain unspoken, is all. You complain?

The second attribute has to do with indirectness. I was recently chatting with a Ph.D. candidate who has a Slavic background, and she spoke about her impression of Canadians. She said that they were two-faced. She didn’t elaborate, but she did not need to. I know what she means. In their interactions with you, they are unfailingly smiley and agreeable. Once you turn your back, however, they will mutter to themselves or a close friend that you have failed in this way and that. She said that she once asked a classroom of students to separate a list of adjectives into two piles. Put the positive human qualities here and put the negative human qualities over there. Kind, trustworthy, generous, well, those go over here. Selfish, dishonest, blunt, well, those go over there. Whoa! She was so shocked – why do these Canadians categorize bluntness and directness as being a bad thing?

It’s our heritage. Our English heritage tells us that confronting things directly is ill-advised. Confronting an issue head-on could lead to conflict, and, of course, conflict is always bad. It could result in emotions being inadvertently expressed, which, of course, is bad. You see?

The English language therefore makes use of many round-about methods of talking. There are many circuitous ways of making statements and asking questions, to avoid direct engagement. You can speak in generalities, and you can speak using the hypothetical and you can speak in the passive voice where things happen without anybody making them happen. They are just The Way Things Went, The Way They Are and The Way They Will Always Be. And of course, there are many conversations about the weather, to avoid the elephant in the room. “Would you like me to change your tires?” “Oh, no thank you, I had them done just yesterday, as a matter of fact.”

It is viewed as polite, and, sadly, it is often viewed as The Christian Way.

Man. That’s when you need Jesus to walk in and kick the tea tray down the hall.

You’ll see that the heroines of the best English novels (written by Bronte, Austen, Gaskell) don’t play by the rules if the rules get in the way. They surprise and scandalize those who are ‘proper’ because they say what needs to be said and they refuse to say what is expected to be said. Deep down, we admire that, and so such novels continue to be popular. Chesterton’s protagonists are similarly simple and free, and do not follow the predictable style of the English upper classes. His heroes show their cards and they show their loyalty. When lines are crossed, words are spoken and sometimes swords follow words. His protagonists break the mold, and will break window panes if Our Lady is defamed. His heroes know how to fight for a worthy cause and they do.

Chesterton showed that the proper expression of Christianity was not shackled by the English upper-class’s definition of good manners. It’s important to separate the two things. Being well-mannered according to the English or Canadian standard is not an indication of your holiness as a Christian.

As a matter of fact, you can be on both ends of the spectrum at once. Here’s Horace, and he’s as polite as can be, but he relishes every opportunity to show that everyone around him is not nearly as composed as he is. He particularly likes any evidence that someone is flustered or perturbed. He is Mr. Unflappable. He enjoys verbal duels, and will use language designed to confuse or impress or both. He aims to unsettle and disturb others so that he can be, by contrast, very collected. It’s disgraceful, really, especially because it is underhanded. What seems to be politeness and restraint is disguised venom. When he meets his match, Horace resorts to the other English tactic: evasion. When his questions and attacks have been answered in full, he refuses to acknowledge that he has been answered. He poses yet another question. When asked a question, he pretends it went unheard. When asked the question again, he says that it is unanswerable. After causing trouble and hardship to others, he neither apologizes nor accepts responsibility. He haughtily says, “Pity,” and expects you to act as if all is business as usual.

In the other corner, we have Horatio. Horatio is a character. He has a big laugh and a big heart. His poker face is second to none, but if the Oilers lose in overtime, he takes it pretty hard. Horatio doesn’t colour within the lines and you never quite know what he thinks, until he tells you. He’ll tell you his opinion using words you’ll understand, and is unimpressed when archbishops use phrases such as “ratified this truth” when half the congregation has English as its second language. When you’ve made him happy, you’ll probably know. When you’ve hurt him, you’ll probably know. He’ll call you out using words you’ll understand. Those who cross him claim to be utterly mystified as to his reasons, and you can believe them if you want. I’m going with Horatio. At least he tells the truth.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? Etiquette is well and good until it becomes a lie. Decorum and manners have their place, but they mustn’t reign as king. By the time politeness has demanded this and that and the next thing, it might have become a demanding dictator. It can become a way of life that is so ingrained that one views everything through the lens of etiquette, and, what’s worse, it can become a counterfeit Christianity. Everything is judged by whether it meets the modern definition of good manners. It’s no longer Good versus Evil; it’s Good Manners versus Bad Manners.

Good manners and general civility in society is important, but it cannot be confused with virtue, and it must give way, as needed, to the demands of a moral life. We cannot forfeit truthfulness and genuine dialogue in the name of good manners. To do so would be to limit our lives and to lead a two-faced existence. How many people imprison themselves behind a false mask of congeniality, going to their graves without expressing and living the truth of what they think and feel?

Does this mean that I am advocating temper tantrums when things don’t get well at the bank, the dentist’s and the podiatrist’s? No, it does not. Does it mean that I am in favour of screaming matches? It does not. It means that I am in favour of dialogue that doesn’t necessarily follow the script, because honest dialogue rarely does. I am in favour of real questions being asked and fair questions being answered fully and truthfully.

I know that there are saints who tell us to smile always and to be cheerful always, but those must be classified as suggestions applicable in some, but not all, contexts. Suggestions are good, but they should not be burdensome. These ideas are not in the Gospel and they are not in church teaching, so let’s not get carried away with this type of thinking, and treat, “Thou Shalt Smile” as the eleventh commandment. Jesus didn’t go around wearing a t-shirt that said, “It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.” He did what he needed to do and he wasn’t smiling while he suffered in the innumerable ways that he suffered. It would have been unnatural.

The emphasis on demeanor is in the same category as St. Josemaria’s direction that one must not talk about food while eating. He says one should talk about intellectual or spiritual things in order to dignify the duty of eating. Such things about the details of everyday life are suggestions, not commands of the Catholic Church. To think otherwise would be to make the Church excessively and obsessively controlling. In the case of this suggestion, there are valid arguments in favour of talking about food at the table, in keeping with the themes of sincerity and simplicity in other parts of his writing. After all, Jesus wants us to be like children, and children will joyfully talk about food or whatever comes to mind, for that matter. Children are natural, and we’d be in a stifled world if we couldn’t speak about food and prayer and gardening and the latest homily and fiber optic networks in the same wide-ranging conversation. Besides, the cook is often anxious about whether the food has pleased her guests. If I enjoy food, I say so simply, and when others say they like what I serve, that makes me happy too. Why complicate matters? Similarly, if I am pleased, I smile. If I’m not, I don’t. Why add layers of Christian ‘requirements’ to life? Take such things as ideas for yourself, reminding you that there are things more important than food to talk about, but don’t take it as a rule, and don’t judge Sister Annata when she says these are the best asparagus spears she’s ever had.

So let’s be clear about things. At the end of the day, we’ll be judged on what we have in our heart towards God and our neighbours. Jesus had, at all times, immense love of God his Father. His heart could not have been more cheerful and happy, and he was full of love for those around him, but this was not expressed by a strict adherence to Jewish etiquette. He was a gentle man, but he wasn’t evasive. Indeed, when necessary, his words were direct and as sharp as a sword.

He was a gentle man, but thank God, he wasn’t an English gentleman.

 

Post 252

Sunburn: Reflections on the Flags of South America

1. FLAGS OF SOUTH AMERICA WITH CROSSES

Brazil’s flag is, well, strange. It features the stars arranged as they were at such-and-such a time on such-and-such a date in November of 1889. They’re not arranged the way anybody would have seen them, but rather, they’re arranged the way someone looking down from the other side of all the stars towards Rio de Janeiro would have seen them. That’s why the Southern Cross looks reversed. (It’s there, however, and that’s why it’s in this category.) Even with my limited knowledge of such things, I know that this gets tricky really quickly. Where, exactly, would you position this hypothetical observer? You have to make sure that all the stars are in front of him, which would mean that the stars closer to him would look really bright and big, while the stars further away from him would look smaller. These stars are on a deep blue background shaped like a sphere. This sphere appears tilted, as if on an axis, and reminds you of Earth, except that when you look for the land masses, you see none. This blue star-speckled sphere is then placed on a yellow rhombus. The background of the flag is green and a banner is wrapped around the blue sea or earth or sky.

2. HORIZONTAL COLOURS AND NO EMBLEMS

The upper half of Colombia’s flag is yellow, and the lower half is equal parts blue and red. After looking at flags divided into equal horizontal thirds, the Colombian flag looks off-balance, but once you get used to thinking in terms of halves and quarters, it works. The colours are good here and suited to a South American country.

3. FLAGS OF SOUTH AMERICA WITH HORIZONTAL COLOURS AND EMBLEMS

Ecuador’s flag has a coat of arms in the middle, the kind where you zoom in to see it better, and then you keep zooming because there are so many details. It’s kind of funny, because as I zoom in on the ship, finding details upon details, I half expect to see a loaf of bread with some cheese somewhere in this picture. I really like details in paintings. Do I like them in flags? Flags are trickier because you hope that the population could draw it reasonably well from memory, and if your flag incorporates teensy-weensy lines on the surface of a body of water to represent waves, and tufts of grass outlined just so, then getting it right isn’t easy. But more importantly, the success of details depends on what the details are. I don’t mind this steamboat on water scene, with the mountain in the back. I like the draping flags. There are a large number of pointy weapons, from what I can tell.

However, I could do without the smiley-faced sun and the astrological symbols and the Caduceus (staff with intertwined snakes). As for the big vulture atop the coat of arms, well, do I really need to talk about birds again?

Oh great. Bolivia has a condor too. I guess there’s no escaping him. Here’s another coat of arms featuring a mountain scene. This one has an alpaca standing next to a palm tree and some wheat. There’s a collection of weapons (two rifles and an axe), and the sun has two eyes. This sun is red, however, and has eyebrows. You can’t see the sun’s nose or mouth because he’s behind the mountain.

Argentina’s flag is blue and white, but in the middle is a golden sun with a face on it. He looks like the same guy who was rising in the Bolivian flag – same eyebrows and eyes. It’s not a good idea to have a face in the sun on your flag. It’s just not.

Uruguay’s stripey flag has the same sunshiney face that Argentina does, which wrecks it. Some say that this “Sun of May,” is a reference to the time the sun broke through the clouds when the new government was proclaimed, but I believe the alternate theory that the “Sun of May” is the Inca sun god Inti. The sun that broke through the clouds that day didn’t have a face.

Four countries have Inti on them: Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, and Uruguay. Argentina and Uruguay have him huge and on his own, but Ecuador and Bolivia have him as part of the landscape, sort of.

Venezuela’s flag is nice. It has three horizontal bands of equal size. The middle band is blue and has an arc of stars representing different states, which is one of these ideas which sounds good at first, but then winds up causing a hassle when new states are carved out of existing ones. Things get political and then you have to change your flag. Using your nation’s geography can work better, but borders of states and nations have been known to change from time to time, to put it mildly. Venezuela’s flag has its own anthem and student’s oath.

The flag of Suriname, which would have been pretty good in the context of the flags of Asia, is still not particularly appealing, looking like a less precise version of North Korea’s flag. On the plus side, it doesn’t have a sun with a face in it.

Paraguay’s flag is red, white and blue. It’s unusual because it has one style of emblem on the front and a different style of emblem on the back. There’s a lion on one side. He’s sitting up and looking to the left. He’s not happy. His tongue is sticking out and his teeth are on it. He’s biting his tongue, you could say. He has lots of pointy claws. On a pole is a little red hat, which is the Phrygian cap. Hats almost never work. I like the front side better – some leaves tied with ribbons, a yellow star and “REPUBLICA DEL PARAGUAY” going around the circle.

4. FLAGS OF SOUTH AMERICA WITH CHEVRONS

Guyana’s flag has a triangle on top of a triangle. All these pointy points seem pointless.

5. FLAGS OF SOUTH AMERICA WITH VERTICAL COLOURS

Peru has, arguably, one flag too many. The one that can be used by the citizens has a central vertical section of white, and red on both sides of this. The citizens are to use this one, which has no emblem. The other flag has an emblem in the middle, and that’s the one that is used for anything official. Let’s take a look at the emblem. The emblem has the vicuña, the national animal, the cinchona tree and a cornucopia with coins spilling from it. I think it’s the only flag we’ve seen with money on it. And how do you feel about cornucopias in general? The ‘horn of plenty’’ is quite filled with this and that mythology, which is not a plus. Here at the flag design school, students are discouraged from using them, especially with coins spilling out of them.

6. FLAGS OF SOUTH AMERICA THAT DON’T FIT INTO ANY OF THE ABOVE CATEGORIES

Chile’s flag has the elements of the American flag, but only one of each. One big red stripe, one big white stripe and one white star on a dark blue upper-left canton. The Chileans sometimes refer to their flag as the Lone Star. It’s the fifth oldest flag in the world, after Denmark, Netherlands, Nepal, France and the United Kingdom.

 

Up Next: The English Evasion

 

Post 251

Star Crossed: Reflections on the Flags of Oceania

1. FLAGS OF OCEANIA WITH CROSS SHAPES

In Oceania, the cross shows up in many forms.

Everyone knows the flag of the International Red Cross. They adopted it in 1863, but it was already Tonga’s flag at the time. Did they know that Tonga already had that as its national flag? In response, Tonga changed its flag to its current design, which features what is called a Greek cross in the upper left canton. Tonga doesn’t want to change its flag again, however, and the constitution says the flag can never be altered.

The following flags get a cross by incorporating the flag of the United Kingdom (“the Union flag”): Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Niue and Tuvalu. As I said in the previous post, I’m not keen on flags that incorporate other flags. It’s too large a tribute to pay another nation. Do something else. Send them flowers or a fruit basket once a year or put a plaque at the base of some tree in your capital city.

Speaking of fruit, I honestly thought that the closest I would come to a banana would be the flag of Mauritania. The yellow crescent moon, in that position, reminded me of a banana. I didn’t tell you that before, but now I abandon my usual reserve. Little did I know that I would not get far before encountering genuine bananas and several other food products. The coat of arms placed on the flag of Fiji is busy. Wikipedia explains: “At the top of the shield, a British lion holds a cocoa pod between its paws. The upper left is sugar cane, upper right is a coconut palm, the lower left a dove of peace, and the lower right a bunch of bananas.” That sounds fabulous. What can you make with coconut, sugar, cocoa and bananas?

You can make a lot, seriously.

The cross also shows up in several Oceania flags in the form of the constellation known as “Crux,” or the Southern Cross. Australia has this, as does Papau New Guinea, New Zealand and Samoa. What do you think of having a constellation in your flag? While a cross works better than other shapes, I don’t think a flag is the place for a constellation. A constellation is not particular to one region; it represents the broadest of areas.

Tuvalu, however, has the right idea. They have an arrangement of stars, and at first sight, you believe that you’re looking at a constellation. However, those stars show the quantity and geographical position of the nation’s islands. The islands are represented by yellow stars, and the background is a light blue. Another point in Tuvalu’s favour is the colour of its stars; they’re yellow. Stars should be white or yellow, not red with white outlines (New Zealand’s flag has that).

Papau New Guinea has a disturbing black and red flag. To look at it is to wonder what type of creature is flying against the red background. I’ll tell you. It’s not a butterfly and it’s not a moth. This floppity thing is the Raggiana bird-of-paradise, which shows there’s a lot to be said about having a more recognizable bird on your flag if you need to have a bird (you don’t). As I said, it’s not easy to get animals right. Once you stylize them (here the bird is a yellow silhouette), they usually lose their attractiveness. On the opposite side of this flag is the southern cross.

Niue, which has the Union flag in the top left canton, added more stars to it, to represent, among other things, the Southern Cross. The technical name for this further decoration is to say that the Union Flag is “defaced.” Wikipedia comments: “It is very unusual for a flag based on a British ensign design, in having not only a yellow background, but also a defaced Union Jack in the canton.” I dislike it.

The Southern Cross is so commonly used in this region that other flags, almost subconsciously, feature a diamond-style arrangement of stars as well, and you have to look twice to see if it’s the constellation. The designer of the Solomon Islands flag specifically said that his arrangement was NOT the Southern Cross, thank you very much.

Constellations have always been a stretch for me. There’s a whole bunch of dots, and even when I connect them according to the package instructions, I still don’t wind up with that glorious image of a bear or an archer or a waiter walking in carrying champagne (and those stars right there are the bubbles).

2. FLAGS OF OCEANIA WITH HORIZONTAL COLOURS AND EMBLEMS

Nauru’s flag looks strikingly upside-down. Is it the only flag with its primary emblem in the lower left section? I guess there was Cape Verde’s flag, but in that case, the emblem extended closer to the centre.

Why is it there? Okay, so this is the deal. That skinny line going across the middle is the equator. The star just below the equator represents the island nation of Nauru. Naura is just one degree south of the equator. Why is the star is so far to the left? WiseOne suggests that it might be because Naura is to the left of the nearby international date line. Let’s go with that.

I think this flag is highly amusing, in a good way. It begins as a complete mystery, but once you know what it depicts, you say, “Ohhhh!” and then you laugh.

3. FLAGS OF OCEANIA WITH CHEVRONS

Vanuatu’s flag looks like it has a snail on it, but it doesn’t. That’s a boar’s tusk. Boars are big on this flag. The top part is red in order to represent the blood of men and boars. Alrighty.

4. FLAGS OF OCEANIA WITH A STRONG DIAGONAL ELEMENT

The flag of the Solomon Islands has five stars in the upper blue diagonal half. These are the stars that are not in the shape of the Southern Cross. It’s pretty good.

The flag of Marshall Islands is visually strong. So many flags try so desperately hard to be dynamic or exciting, but not many flags are. This one was designed by Emlain Kabua, the first lady of the new republic. The star manages to look bright, and the diagonal stripes widen as they go from the bottom left corner to the top right, creating a sense of motion. It’s similar to Nauru’s flag in that it refers to the island’s geographical position. The stripes represent the equator and the star represents the island.

5. FLAGS OF OCEANIA THAT DON’T FIT INTO ANY OF THE ABOVE CATEGORIES

There are three countries whose flags don’t fit.

The flag of the Federated States of Micronesia is blue and it has four flags representing the member states: Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae and Yap. They’re arranged on the flag like the points of a compass, but that’s not how they appear in reality. In reality, they are in a line. It’s fine.

Palau’s flag is blue with a big yellow disc on it. Nothing is what you expect with this one. The blue doesn’t represent the sky or the sea. It represents the transition from foreign domination to self-government, somehow. The big yellow disc is not the sun. It’s the moon. And worst of all, that big yellow disc isn’t in the middle. It’s ever so slightly to the left. Odd.

Kiribati has a bird and a sun and lotsa wavity waves. Big blue and white lines go up and down and up and down and the sky is red and the sun with wiggly rays is yellow and the bird is flyin.’ The bird is yellow from beak to tail and goes flap flap flap. The flag will flap and so will the bird. It’s a frigatebird. You don’t want the frigatebird on your flag – trust me. You’ve seen his type on those animal video documentaries, and I think I saw you laughing when you saw that “the males have inflatable red-coloured throat pouches called gular pouches, which they inflate to attract females during the mating season.” I heard your dismay when you heard that frigatebirds are known for their stealing of baby birds from other birds nests, and you seemed grossed out when I told you that they “will rob other seabirds of their catch, using their speed and manoeuvrability to outrun and harass their victims until they regurgitate their stomach contents.” Strange birds. The females are up to 25% larger than the males.

Kiribati is, you could say, a strange country. Until January 1, 1995, part of it was on one side of the International Date Line, and the other part of it was on the other side, which meant that one side was 24 hours ahead of the other. Kiribati decided that enough was enough and moved the International Date Line, which means that the International Date Line is now quite a bit stranger.

Up Next: Flags of South America

 

Post 250

Red Yellow Green: Reflections on the Flags of Africa

1. FLAGS OF AFRICA WITH CROSS SHAPES

There is one country in Africa with a cross shape. Burundi has a white saltier, also known as the Saint Andrew’s cross. Scotland has one. Burundi’s flag has a green and red background, and in the centre of the flag, there’s a white disc. There are three stars, each with six points, shaped like the star of David, arranged on the disc. If you want religious symbolism, this flag is about as diverse as it gets, especially if you remember how much the Islamic countries liked to incorporate green and red. The big disc in the middle arguably has an Asian feel as well. So what happens to a flag that is everything all at once? I think it winds up with a bit of an identity crisis.

2. FLAGS OF AFRICA WITH HORIZONTAL COLOURS AND NO EMBLEMS

The flag of Mauritius has four colours. You don’t find very many flags with four horizontal bands in different colours like this one. I don’t mind it.

The flag of Botswana is a very nice blue, but running across the middle is a black stripe, bordered on the top and the bottom by white. Blue and white are such a great combination that even a big stripe of black isn’t enough to ruin it, as Estonia can testify. And in the case of Botswana, they have the best excuses ever for that black and white in the middle. It represents peace between races, and something else: the zebra. That’s cool.

Gambia’s flag has the same design as Botswana’s, but with different colours. It’s pretty good too.

Sierra Leon and Gabon both have really nice flags. They have refreshing and cheerful colours and just look plain smart. Sierra Leon has green, white and blue, and Gabon has green, yellow and blue.

That’s it for the ones without emblems. Things get more interesting when we move to the ones with emblems, but interesting isn’t always a good thing . . .

3. FLAGS OF AFRICA WITH HORIZONTAL COLOURS AND EMBLEMS

Rwanda’s flag isn’t bad. It has three colours and in the top right corner, there is a yellow sun which represents enlightenment. Should the sun be so far from the flagpole? What if the flag gets tattered, as many flags do? The first thing you lose is enlightenment.

Cape Verde’s flag has all the right pieces, but the arrangement is just ‘off.’ I have the urge to flip it the other way, so that the band is in the top half of the flag and so the circle of stars is in the centre or to the right or something.

Kenya’s flag is – whoa – what is that in the middle? A beetle? Okay. It’s a stylized Maasai shield and two spears crossed behind it. That one didn’t work out very well.

Ethiopia’s flag is strange from a colour point of view. The background colours of green, yellow and red are rather typical for Africa, but this one has a bright blue disc overlaid on the three colours, and in the middle is a stick-like star. The blue emblem is a relatively new addition, and although the star is supposed to testify to Ethiopia’s bright future, there is no bright future for those caught displaying the earlier version of the flag, which had no emblem. Various punishments await.

Malawi’s flag is a disaster. The top third of the flag is black and a red sun is rising in it. I don’t like red suns, especially if they rise in a black sky.

Speaking of suns, the flag of Niger has an orange disc in the middle, which represents either the sun or independence. I don’t think it’s good if your flag has a large circle in the middle for unknown reason.

Ghana’s background colours are red, yellow and green. In the middle is a black star. I don’t like black stars.

I want to say “Gambia’s flag has” but I see I should write, “The Gambia’s flag has.” That feels strange. The Gambia’s flag has red, blue and green bands separated by thin white bands. There are no surprises with this flag. Everything represents what you’d expect, but the red part represents the sun. The flag is fine and even likable.

Lesotho’s flag has nice enough background colours but something black and ‘interesting’ is in the middle. What is it? I’ll take a closer look and report back. Okay folks, it’s a hat. It’s a straw hat called a “mokorotlo.” Hmm. I suppose some places have crowns, and the Vatican flag has a bishop’s hat. I think the problem here, other than the fact that it’s rendered in black, is that you want something dignified for your flag, and folk symbols don’t always get you there. (Some animals, similarly, don’t get you there. A lion can look dignified, but a rooster won’t.) If you want to use folk symbols, I’d recommend incorporating them into a coat of arms style design, balanced with other objects from your kitchen and garage and cultural ceremonies.

Angola’s flag is red on the top and black and on the bottom, so it’s not off to a great start. The emblem here has three components, a star, half a gear and a machete (yes, a machete) arranged to remind one of the communist hammer and sickle. For a non-Islamic country, the flag sure reminds one of the Islamic flags.

Egypt’s flag is red on top, white in the middle and black on the bottom. Centred in the white band is the 1958 version of the golden Eagle of Saladin. I was surprised at how difficult it was to get basic information about this flag. I wanted to know, for instance, what the writing on the flag was, underneath the eagle. Finally, I found it. It says, “Arab Republic of Egypt.” The black band at the bottom of the flag represents the period of time when Egypt was under British control. Thus the Egyptian flag is one of many flags which incorporate symbols into its current flag which express negativity toward a past era. I don’t think that’s a good idea. It seems to me that any country or institution will undergo various hardships and struggles. Why memorialize these things and elevate them by giving them such prominence? Similarly, I have so often seen red on flags, with the idea that it symbolizes bloodshed on the way to independence. Is this a good idea? A country should be defined by what it is, and not by what it was against. Unity is one thing, but unity against an enemy of the time is another. If you knew nothing about history, you would imagine that England was the worst of powers, as you consider all the flags emphasizing their independence from it. Was England’s role entirely dastardly? Was the era under England entirely black? Egypt’s flag says that it was, but I believe that these ‘revolutionary’-style flags are sometimes designed in the heat of the moment, when recent losses and struggles are uppermost in the minds of those who decide on emblems and symbolism. But anyway, to return to Egypt’s flag, this eagle has a real Egyptian feel to it, by which I mean that it’s sculpted and stiff. Rigid animals are their forte. This art and this atmosphere are initially intriguing, pulling you in, until you realize that you really want to get out.

Let’s look at Libya. Red on the top, black next and green on the bottom. White star and crescent in the middle. Haven’t I seen this before?

Burkina Faso’s flag has a Christmasy feel to it: red and green with a normal-looking golden star in the middle. Nothing to complain about here. It’s distinct yet simple and rather cheerful.

Swaziland’s flag was interesting enough before the emblem arrived. The emblem is a black and white shield with a staff and two spears and some blue feathers. All of these over-sized items are shown horizontally. It’s as if the graphic designer just kept going and going and nobody had the nerve to tell him to stop.

4. FLAGS OF AFRICA WITH CHEVRONS

Africa has a lot of chevron flags. Look at all these countries: Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Comoros, Democratic Republic of São Tomé & Príncipe, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Equatorial Guinea.

Sudan’s flag is red white and black with a green chevron. It looks painfully similar to all the other flags with those colours in the Middle East.

South Sudan’s flag is similar to Sudan’s flag but it has small white stripes dividing the horizontal lines and a bright blue chevron with a tipsy yellow star on it. It really looks like the unsuccessful merger of two completely incompatible visual ideas.

Eritrea’s flag isn’t technically a chevron. It’s an isosceles triangle that extends from one end of the flag to the other. The red colour represents – you guessed it – blood from something at some time. You should take a look at this flag because it’s has a real optical-illusion feel to it. When you look at it, don’t you find that the fly side of the flag (on the right) appears to be bigger than the hoist side of the flag? The golden emblem of leaves looks quite good from a distance.

Djibouti has quite a good flag – blue and green with a white chevron. I don’t like stars in red (here it represents the blood of the ‘martyrs of independence,’) but at least it’s not an ocean.

If I ran a flag school, I think I might start with the flag of Comoros. It would be an example of a flag where many things were attempted at once with questionable results. It looks like a group project gone wrong. The colours don’t coordinate and the themes compete. Here are some stripes, here’s a chevron. Let’s add a crescent and some stars. Hmm, how shall we arrange them? I know! Let’s make them all in a column in a line. Hey! I know, I know! Let me talk, will you? The BEST. IDEA. EVER. We’ll put them in a VERTICAL LINE!!! We’ll stack ’em up and they’ll go from one end of the crescent to the other. We are AMAZING!

The flag of the Democratic Republic of São Tomé & Príncipe is just kind of ugly. Red chevron, two black stars on a green and yellow background. It’s as if they weren’t trying.

Mozambique. I took a look at this one and I can say that even when it’s only one inch across, it’s clearly a flag that didn’t work. Let’s go take a look. Hoo boy. Okay, so these folks are really into layering. On the stripes is a red chevron. On the red chevron is a yellow star. On the yellow star is a white book. On the white book is a black hoe. On the black hoe is a black rifle. Yes, I did write, “rifle.” It’s supposed to represent vigilance and defence. The word “symbol” here is quite a stretch. When you start including precisely shaped weapons, you’re making a catalogue and not a flag. Weapons are bad enough, but modern weapons are even less poetic. What’s the idea here? If you trespass against us, we’ll take our rifles and blam blam blam?

Zimbabwe has a very stripey flag, but I’m going to keep it here with all the chevron ones, instead of putting it into my special stripey flag category. On this white chevron, there is what looks like a yellow duck with front paws attached to some kind of rectangular base. That, my friends, is the Zimbabwe Bird. The flag features a drawing of this bird, based on an artifact found somewhere (presumably in Zimbabwe) at some time (presumably a while ago). If you want to know more, you’ve got Wikipedia.

South Africa isn’t exactly a chevron flag, but it’s got that kind of an idea. It’s has two lines coming to a point and continuing on together as one line. It is a colourful roadway sign, signalling that it’s time to merge. Put your turn signal on.

The people who made the flag for Equatorial Guinea were in the same class as the people who made the flag of Comoros. They had a lot of the same ideas, so maybe the class assignment required the use of horizontal bands, a chevron and stars. This group decided to place the stars in an arc along the top, and their big innovation was a tree in the middle. I’ll give the prize to this group, because the colours are more pleasing, the motto is solid (“Unidad, Paz, Justicia”), and the tree is likable enough.

5. FLAGS OF AFRICA WITH VERTICAL COLOURS BUT NO EMBLEMS

Romania had a flag which was blue, yellow and red, and it did not have any emblems on it. However, during the Communist era, the flag was changed. The flag was changed so that there was an emblem in the centre. It had that emblem from more than forty years, from 1948 – 1989. I mention this because it means that when Chad chose a flag for itself, in 1959, the plain blue, yellow and red flag was not being used. I’m on Chad’s side on this one. A country cannot reserve for itself all variations of a flag. I sympathize with Romania in wanting to return to its pre-Communist flag, but it wasn’t available by 1989. By 1989, Chad had been using the flag for thirty years. A solution? Romania has a horizontal version of the blue, yellow and red flag in its history; it could return to that one.

The flags of Guinea and Mali are so similar that it’s a shame. Green yellow red yellow green. It’s not a good idea for one region of the world to use the same colour scheme over and over again, whether it’s those colours, the black, white, red and green combination or the red, white and blue combination. It becomes both boring and confusing.

Ivory Coast’s flag is, admittedly, different from Ireland’s flag. For one thing, the colours are in a different sequence. Ireland had it’s flag beginning in 1922, and Ivory Coast chose its flag in 1959. The visual impact, however, is the same. The other consideration is that flags are meant, for the most part, to be seen from both sides, which means that they can look even more similar to each other in some contexts. It’s too bad that Ivory Coast couldn’t have chosen something different.

Nigeria has green, white and then green again. It’s a unique flag, surprisingly, and it’s really quite fine.

6. FLAGS OF AFRICA WITH VERTICAL COLOURS WITH EMBLEMS

Algeria’s flag is green on the left and white on the right. A red star and an excessively pointy crescent are in the middle.

Like many African countries, Cameroon has a green, red and yellow flag. A yellow star is in the middle. What can I say that I haven’t already said? In the context of all the flags so similar to it, this flag is forgettable.

Oh my! I actually didn’t see this coming. The flag is Senegal is almost exactly the same as Cameroon’s! It’s green, yellow and red (as opposed to green, red and yellow) and it has a red star in the middle (as opposed to a yellow star). Cameroon got the better deal here, because a yellow star is always better than a red one. On the other hand, are there any winners when everyone appears to be imitating everyone else?

7. FLAGS OF AFRICA WITH A STRONG DIAGONAL ELEMENT

The flag of Seychelles is wild. From the bottom left corner, there are five ‘rays’ shooting outward, widening as they do. It’s not visually appealing.

In 1963, the Democratic Republic of Congo brought in a diagonal stripe, with an accent colour of yellow on each side of the stripe. These accent colours give the flags a finished look. In 2006, the country moved to a very bright shade of blue, unfortunately. The deeper blue looked more mature and dignified, and provided a more fitting background for the star.

In 1964, Tanzania’s two states merged and they adopted a similar style of flag. This one has a blue and green background and a diagonal stripe going from one corner to the other. The stripe is black with yellow accent stripes on each side. Black, as you should know, is difficult to work with (black goes well with, um, black), and when it is adjacent to certain colours, it can produce a negative visual result. Black with white can work, and blues and greens can have a softening effect on black. However, the combination of black with hotter colours (red, orange and yellow) can look downright alarming, as makers of traffic signs and warning labels realize.

The flag of Namibia, adopted in 1990 upon Namibia’s independence, seems to be an imitation of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s, but the diagonal line is noticeably wider, which makes the diagonal line seem to be more of an interruption of the background (or even a cancellation of it). It has a stencil-style sun in the upper left corner.

The flag of the Republic of Congo (yes, this is a different country from the Democratic Republic of Congo) has the same old green yellow and red. I suppose having these colours on a diagonal does make them more interesting, but after seeing that colour scheme again and again, one almost wouldn’t mind seeing a duck instead.

I’m kidding.

Ducks don’t work on flags.

8. FLAGS OF AFRICA THAT ARE SUPER STRIPEY

Central African Republic has four horizontal stripes, but what makes this flag different is that there’s a vertical red stripe going down the middle, which has the effect of slicing those four horizontal stripes into eight rectangles.

Togo has five stripes in alternating green and yellow and since the colour theme of Africa is green, yellow and red, I am sure that you can guess the colour of the canton in the upper left. Yes, indeed, it is red. For five additional points, can you guess the shape of the emblem on that red canton? Yes, indeed, it is a star.

Liberia’s flag reminds me of the United States’ flag, and a bit of reading shows me that this was done deliberately. Back in 1822, the American Colonization Society was involved in setting up freed slaves in Liberia. Those freed slaves wanted to show their ties to the United States, distinguishing themselves from Liberians born in Liberia. This flag shows those ties. I’m not a big fan of these acorn-from-the-tree flags because there are enough colours and design possibilities that a new nation should be able to devise something unique. Close duplication drags down the flags of both countries.

Uganda has a stripey flag with a chicken. Or wait. A rooster? No, no, silly! It’s a gray crowned crane. Oh. Okay, so it turns out that cranes don’t work on flags either. They’re better than rifles, but putting a bird (or any animal, for that matter) into stylized flag lingo is not easy. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s easier to fail than to succeed. In any case, Uganda’s flag’s many stripes, in black, yellow and red, are hyper and the net effect of this animated-style crane on a white disc on a vibrantly striped background reminds me of a pizza box.

9. FLAGS OF AFRICA FEATURING RECTANGLES ON TOP OF RECTANGLES

Guinea-Bissau has a rectangle-based flag. I’m not going to have anything good to say about this flag. The colour scheme is the same ‘pan-African’ one red and green and yellow, and on the red rectangle, there’s a black star. Or wait, here’s something: a black star is better than a black rifle.

Speaking of pan-African, Benin’s flag is a colour block flag of green, yellow and red. This idea of having a colour scheme for a region is a very bad idea. Arguably, countries that share geographical regions have more to gain by distinguishing themselves from each other using their flags. After all, they are separate countries, aren’t they?

Madagascar’s flag has a white vertical section on the flagpole side, and the fly side is divided horizontally into green and red. I don’t mind it.

10. FLAGS OF AFRICA THAT DON’T FIT INTO ANY OF THE ABOVE CATEGORIES

There are five countries here whose flags don’t fit.

Zambia’s flag is unexpected. On the fly side of the flag, there is an eagle, which symbolizing the Zambian people rising about the problems of the nation. Below the eagle, there are, presumably, the problems of the nation. Well, I guess not. I see that the black stands for the people (when they’re not rising about the problems of the nation?) and the red stands for their fight for freedom and the orange represents the land’s natural resources and mineral wealth. I don’t think that black should be used to represent people, because it is a total absence of colour. The colour symbolism is rather mixed up, as it is in many flags. You have the people represented twice, an event, and an attribute of the land. The design is innovative, and this is probably the best bird I’ve seen so far, but the composition looks unfinished. It’s rare to have the emblem on the right side, which in itself is an interesting phenomenon. There are so many countries with different cultures and religions, but there is, nevertheless, a general agreement as to where these important symbols go. They go in the middle or in the upper left corner.

Mauritania’s flag is completely green but in the centre there is a yellow star and crescent. This crescent isn’t even pretending to be a moon, positioned on its back with it’s ultra sharp points turned upwards.

Tunisia’s flag is completely red but in the centre there is a white disc containing a red star and crescent.

Morocco’s flag is completely red but in the centre there is a green star.

Somalia’s flag is completely blue but in the centre there is a white star.

That would be the second part of my hypothetical flag design school. I’d show the flag of Morocco next to the flag of Somalia as proof of the obvious: colours matter. If you don’t know which flag is better, then you haven’t been paying attention to these posts. If you don’t think there is such a thing as “better,” then you haven’t been paying attention to life.

Up Next: Flags of Oceania

 

Post 249

Layers: A Recipe for March

It occurs to me that a big component of simplicity is transparency. A simple person does not have layers upon layers of appearances. He either shows his cards or he doesn’t. If he shows his cards, he shows his cards. You don’t get the false deck. You don’t get the mask. A deceitful person, by contrast, often appears to be sharing his ‘true’ self, but he is wearing yet another mask, chosen for the occasion. Rather than show you the truth or refuse to say anything at all, he’ll tell you something that looks quite like the truth.

I mention this in the context of consistency. A consistent person is often not a transparent person. A person who appears always unflappable, and always smooth and poised and composed is a strange creature indeed. A person who seems always kind and gentle and just so gosh golly sweet is all too often the person with the most layers.

Consider a child, held up by Christ as the model for Christians. Here is a transparent human being. What does that look like? Simple: it looks wild. It’s every flavour of the rainbow. It’s a merry-go-round of moods and emotions: natural reactions to life’s joys and sufferings. It’s unrehearsed and here you can witness genuine reactions to the surprises and sorrows of life.

Consider, however, the adult, jaded and shaped by the world. Here is a complex and twisted human being, in many cases. What does that look like? Simple: it looks tame. It looks, as a matter of fact, bizarrely tame. You could dance a jig down the halls of a university and people will barely lift their eyes from their phones. You could carry a casket onto the train station platform and people will pretend they didn’t see a thing. Poker faces to the left and poker faces to the right. You could return from the dead to admonish but the hardened one won’t change his life.

It’s weird but it’s just like Jesus said. He said they were just like those referred to in the song sung by the children: “We piped to you, and you did not dance / We wailed, and you did not weep.” (Luke 7:32)

In other words, nothing moves and nothing satisfies the cynical one, who believes he has seen everything and who believes that he can accurately assess everything. You can sing him a song but he’s heard it before (or something similar); you can show him a vision but he’s seen it before (or something similar); you can make him a dish but he’s had it before (or something similar). Everything’s a bore for the know-it-all.

There’s a Christian version of the same thing. Genuine meekness and gentleness is wonderful but can you tell the difference between what is real and what is counterfeit? The placid smile, the sigh of resignation and self-sacrifice, the passing mention of having recently offered up yet another rosary, the soft voice, the Christian bumper sticker and the refusal to really talk about what’s going on. It’s fake. Don’t be fooled.

Ask any kid.

Ask Jesus.

People struggle to describe him because they want to put him in a box of Niceness and Gentility and Manners All the Time. He won’t fit. He won’t fit because he was as simple and as internally coherent as a child. He praised what was praiseworthy and he condemned what was wrong. He condemned what was fake. He smiled and he wept. He was simple, and so you can’t nail him down. He didn’t play a part. He wasn’t an actor, scripted to be always a charmer. He was all about being genuine. He was all about telling the truth. He told the truth about God and about man. It got him killed, but, well, he saw it coming.

Think about simplicity. Being sweet and lovable and perfectly popular all the time might not be an entirely good sign. Are you honest? Are you honest some of the time, all the time, never? Has “being polite” become your “style” but not an expression of your heart? What’s your act? Are you cheery and bouncy or so smart and so cool or are you just all around fun? Are you devout and so loving, so respectful and caring or are you just all around holy? Are you like this when you’re here and like that when you’re there? Who are you, anyway? Who are you, behind all of these layers, so conveniently put on and yet so easily shattered? Enough with your masks. Enough with your layers.

Layers are for lasagna, not people.

I offer you a recipe for March.

This is America Test Kitchen’s Skillet Lasagna, and I type below the version from The Best 30-Minute Recipe. I love the traditional version of lasagna but here’s a useful and yummy dish when you want something rather quick. It works and proves that you don’t need layers.

Skillet Lasagna
Serves 4

For the jarred tomato sauce, we like marinara, but you can use whatever type you like. Any brand of curly-edged lasagna noodles will work here, but do not use no-boil lasagna noodles. If the pasta is especially dry and shattery, you may need to add extra water to the skillet while the pasta cooks. If you can’t find meatloaf mix, use 1/2 pound 85 percent lean ground beef and 1/2 pound ground pork. Like it spicy? Increase the amount of red pepper flakes up to 1 teaspoon. To make things go even quicker, you can replace the mozzarella and Parmesan with 3/4 cup of shredded Italian cheese blend.

1 pound meatloaf mix (see note)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and ground pepper
6 ounces curly-edged lasagna noodles (8 noodles) broken into 2-inch pieces
1 (26-ounce) jar tomato sauce, such as marinara (about 3 cups)
2 cups water
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded (see note)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (see note)
3/4 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh basil

MAKING THE MINUTES COUNT: Mince the garlic and measure out the pasta while the meat cooks.

1.COOK AND DRAIN MEAT: Cook meat in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat, breaking it into pieces with wooden spoon, until fat renders, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain meat and return it to skillet. [I don’t have any non-stick stuff so I just use my regular skillet.]

2.SAUTE AROMATICS: Stir in garlic, pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3.SIMMER LASAGNA NOODLES: Sprinkle broken noodles into skillet, then pour in tomato sauce and water over top. Cover and cook, stirring often and adjusting heat as needed to maintain vigorous simmer, until noodles are tender, about 20 minutes.

4.ADD CHEESE: Off heat, stir in half of mozzarella and half of Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Dot heaping tablespoons of ricotta over noodles, then sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan. Cover and let stand off heat until cheeses melt, 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle with basil before serving.

VARIATION:

Skillet Lasagna with Sausage and Red Bell Pepper

Substitute one pound hot or sweet Italian sausage, casings removed, for meatloaf mix. Add 1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped fine, to skillet with meat in step 1.

Post 248

Ominous or Empty or Both:
Reflections on the Flags of Asia

1. FLAGS OF ASIA WITH CROSS SHAPES

Um, crosses anyone? No? Alright. Moving along . . .

2. FLAGS OF ASIA WITH TWO HORIZONTAL COLOURS

The flag of Indonesia is basically identical to that of Monaco. There’s an almost imperceptible difference in terms of ratios. Monaco has had its flag since 1881, whereas Indonesia’s official adoption date was in 1945, so I think its Monaco’s by right.

The flag of Singapore is very similar to Indonesia’s, but Singapore’s features a moon and five stars in the upper left canton. It’s the only non-Muslim nation to have a crescent moon, but the moon has a more natural and relaxed shape. The five stars stand upright.

3. FLAGS OF ASIA WITH HORIZONTAL BANDS

It was common to see the ‘fess’ flag (three horizontal bands) without further ornamentation in the European flags (I counted ten), but the Asian countries are more prone to adding emblems. I find only four countries without emblems on a fess flag. The flag of Yemen is red on top, white in the middle and black on the bottom. The flag of Armenia is red on top, blue in the middle and orange on the bottom. The United Arab Emirate flag has green white and black running horizontally, but it is also red on the hoist side. The flag of Thailand has a thick blue band in the middle with white and red bands on the top and the bottom.

When you count the fess flags with emblems, then it’s time to whip out the abacus. There’s Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Oman, and Syria. There’s also Lebanon, Israel, India, North Korea, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

Iraq’s red, white and black flag has big green writing in the middle of it. It’s the Arabic phrase, “God is the greatest” in Kufic script. Like any flag with writing, the flag has a ‘wrong’ side and cannot be reversed. These Islamic symbols are usually red or green.

The Iranian flag’s colours are green, white and red. The white is in the middle and appears to have an indistinct edge because white Kufic script runs onto the green and the red. It’s the phrase,“Allah is the greatest,” but this is repeated eleven times, which makes it look decorative when you don’t know the language, but strangely repetitive if you do. The red emblem in the centre is a combination of several Islamic symbols. One peculiarity about this flag is that there are conflicting ideas about the aspect ratio (the height to width ratio). If you build it according to the official rules, you are supposed to aim for a really weird (irrational number weird, where you can never, ever get it exactly right) ratio. So they’ve come up with another method, where you are to aim for a ratio of 4:7. The most common ratio for flags is 2:3 and the second most common ratio is 1:2. Canada’s flag is of the 1:2 style, which means that it’s quite long.

The flag of Azerbaijan is similar. It’s a fess flag and it has a crescent moon with an eight-pointed star. There’s disagreement as to why the star has eight points.

The flag of Uzbekistan has a moderately shaped crescent with twelve stars organized in an unappealing way.

The flag of Tajikistan has white in the middle with red above and green below. I don’t mind the emblem. It’s a golden crown with twelve stars.

The flag of Oman is also Islamic but instead of the crescent and star or text, it’s weapon happy. It’s got a curved dagger on top of a pair of crossed swords. There’s a horsebit in there too. From a distance, it looks like a bug.

Things are currently very unsettled in Syria. One group wanting power uses a red white and black flag with two green stars in the middle and the other group wanting power uses a green white and black flag with three red stars in the middle. Which is better? Which is worse?

The population of Lebanon is religiously diverse. It’s flag is distinct and recognizable, featuring a completely green cedar of Lebanon, touching both the top red band and the bottom red band. It’s a pleasant concept that could have been executed a little better. The current flag’s version of this tree isn’t entirely appealing, and I prefer some of the draft versions of the flag.

The flag of Israel is nice. It’s got the star of David in blue along with two blue horizontal lines on a white background. It’s hard to go wrong with blue and white, and this prayer-shawl inspired flag works. In 2007, an Israeli flag broke the world record for largest flag. It was 660 meters long. The Mexicans remind us that the largest flag flown on a flagpole was Mexican, and some other country wants to talk about who flew their flag the highest and someone else wants to talk about who put their flag on the highest mountain and someone else wants to talk about putting their flag on the moon. Ah, the human race! God have mercy.

The flag of India is a fess flag. It has orange on the top, white in the middle and green on the bottom. In the middle is a blue circle. Gandhi proposed a traditional spinning wheel but then it was changed to the “Ashoka Chakra,” a 24-spoke wheel. It represents “the eternal wheel of law.” It’s not that great.

The flag of North Korea has a red background (“field”) symbolizing Communism or whatever else the speaker says it currently symbolizes, and white and blue horizontal stripes. There is a large red star inside a white disc. The problem with these blue white and red flags is that it can be difficult to remember what colour goes where. A blue star on red? A red star on white? A red circle? White and blue stripes? I had to keep checking just to be able to describe it. The North Korean flag looks precise, rigid, clever and cold, if not hostile.

Cambodia’s flag has a red and blue background and in the middle is an image of a building, Angkor Wat. I don’t agree with buildings on flags; they’re too transient. Do you really want your country to be symbolized by a building, which can be bombed to smithereens in a moment?

On the other hand, a building is way better than a big white circle of nothingness. That’s what Laos has. The Laos flag is red and blue and in the middle is a big white disc. It looks like a hole. Someone bombed the flag.

Similarly, the flag of Myanamar looks like it has a star-shaped chunk of its flag missing, instead of a white star superimposed on a tri-colour background. We tend to see a large area of white as a background, so that’s the problem with the flags of Laos and Myanamar.

4.FLAGS OF ASIA WITH CHEVRONS

The flag of East Timor has overlapping chevrons. The flag has red, black and yellow and a tipsy white star. According to the official description, the yellow triangle represents “the traces of colonialism in East Timor’s history” and the black triangle represents “the obscurantism that needs to be overcome.” Don’t you find that odd? Why include, on your flag, anything that you’re against? It’s not a recipe for success.

The flag of the Philippines, on the other hand, is a very good chevron flag. It’s blue and red with a white chevron. On the white chevron are golden-yellow symbols: three stars and a sun with eight main rays. It’s a flag where the symbolism is more settled than in a lot of places, and here’s something interesting: a lot of flags have rules about display, and one of the Philippine rules about their flag is that if you display it with the red band on top (the normal method is with the blue band on top), then it means that the country is in a state of war.

If I were giving a flag quiz, I’d see if students could remember the differences between the flag of Palestine and the flag of Jordan. Both are black, white and green with a red chevron. One of them has a white star and a pointier chevron. Do you know? Don’t worry if you don’t; this is an open-book test.

I’m going to put the flag of Kuwait in here with the chevron flags. It doesn’t have a proper chevron because the point got lopped off somewhere along the way. The result is a flag that looks like one of those optical illusion images. You’ll have to take a look to see what I mean, maybe while you’re looking up the flags of Palestine and Jordan.

Shall I put the flag of Qatar here? Hmm. No, I don’t think so.

5.FLAGS OF ASIA WITH TWO VERTICAL COLOURS

In Europe, only three countries have two colours side by side: Malta (which I listed in the list of flags with crosses), Vatican City and Portugal. In Asia, it’s uncommon as well, and the two of the three countries that did it (Qatar and Bahrain) separated the two colours with a serrated line. Although it’s an unusual design, the two countries did it in almost exactly the same way as each other. That’s ironic.

Pakistan’s flag has a narrow vertical strip of white and the balance is dark green. There’s a white crescent and a white star on the green, but you probably saw it coming.

6. FLAGS OF ASIA WITH A CENTRAL VERTICAL BAND

Afghanistan currently has the pale style of flag, but stay tuned because Afghanistan is the world leader in replacing its flag. At one point, the Taliban had – no joke – a plain white flag! Afghanistan’s current flag has a mosque on it, but unlike Cambodia, it’s not tied to an exact building and location. It has black adjacent to red followed by green, so it’s quite a gloomy flag.

Mongolia also has a central vertical strip. The blue middle section is flanked by red, and the gold emblem is on the hoist side. What is that emblem? Let’s see. Okay. So there was a guy named Zanabazar who was deemed to be, at the age of 4, someone very important, and was later declared to be the reincarnation of someone else who was, I suppose, important. Mr. Zanabazar invented the Soyombu alphabet and one of the ‘special’ characters of that alphabet is this character, composed of no less than ten parts. They are: fire, sun, moon, two triangles, two horizontal rectangles, the Taiji (yin and yang) and two vertical rectangles. In other words, it’s a character that just keeps on giving.

Whew.

7. FLAGS OF ASIA WITH AN EMBLEM ON A GREEN BACKGROUND

Turkmenistan has the most ornate flag in the world. It has a vertical column featuring five intricate rug designs. Does it work? No.

Bangladesh goes to the other extreme. Its only feature is a red disc, which sits on a green background. Grim.

Saudi Arabia’s flag is arguably one of the worst. In large letters, it says, “There is no god but God: Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” Beneath this is a sword, symbolizing strictness in applying justice. The flag is unique in that it is meant to be hoisted to the ‘sinister’ side, meaning it is meant to be hoisted with the flag to the left of the flagpole. ‘Sinister’ means ‘left’ in Latin.

8. FLAGS OF ASIA WITH AN EMBLEM ON A RED BACKGROUND

Krygyzstan has a yellow something or other on a bright red background. Ah, I see. It’s a yurt in a sun. Enough said.

The flag of the People’s Republic of China features one large star and four smaller stars in the upper left canton. The four smaller stars arranged in an arc represent the four different social classes of Chinese people. The tiny stars are at various angles in relation to the big one, but this makes them look lively. Even though I do not love the red background colour, the Chinese flag is well done. The Chinese government encouraged submissions as part of a contest, and the final result was very respectful of the original design submitted by Zeng Liansong.

And come to think of it, that’s not a bad way to get a good flag. Start with many ideas that are internally coherent, and decide from there. Do you know what I mean? Instead of having a committee of five or twelve or whatever, with each person pitching in an undeveloped thought (let’s have a flower, let’s have a stripe, let’s have some writing, let’s have a rug and let’s have a glowing yurt), invite every willing person to contribute a completed and balanced product that they’re ready to stand behind. Choose the best one from there. It’s about having a vision. Input is fine, but someone needs to have a workable and sensible game plan.

Vietnam’s flag is not nearly as interesting as China’s. It has a big golden-yellow star in the middle of a red background.

The Maldives flag is, well, kind of depressing. They’ve got a white crescent on a green rectangle which is on a red background.

9. FLAGS OF ASIA WITH A PROMINENT DIAGONAL ELEMENT

A diagonal stripe is called a “bend” in the world of flags. The ‘normal’ bend is like the back-slash on your keyboard. This guy: \. The other bend, this guy, /, is called ‘a bend sinister,’ so you don’t want that, I guess. On the other hand, when it comes to what is ‘better,’ the diagonal line is not a clear-cut situation, because it moves from one side to the other. How do you keep track? In one case, you begin on the left, and in the other case, you move towards the left. The verdict? Let’s say it doesn’t matter with diagonal lines.

Okay, so let’s see who has what.

Technically, the diagonal lines on the flag of Brunei don’t qualify as a bend because they’re too thick. On top of that, a bend needs to go from corner to corner, but the Brunei flag’s diagonals don’t touch the corners. The Brunei flag is yellow, white and black. I dislike the emblem. It looks, at first glance, rather nautical. Upon closer inspection, you see that it’s a composite of several items, including a parasol, a crescent and a pair of hands coming up from out of nowhere.

Bhutan’s flag is divided diagonally into two colours, yellow and orange, and features Mr. Dragon. The Asian version of dragon actually manages to be more hideous than the western version. The skin is highly textured on the Bhutan flag, for instance. Mind you, on some level this cartoon villain is actually funny. I remember the sketches that boys used to make in junior high school: Dramatic and Fearsome Art.

10. FLAGS OF ASIA THAT DON’T FIT INTO ANY OF THE ABOVE CATEGORIES

The flag of Japan is a red disc on a white background, as you know. It is memorable in its starkness, but one hopes that a country could be symbolized by something more than this.

The flag of South Korea has a lot more going on. In the center is the yin and yang symbol representing everything and anything you want it to symbolize – all opposites in the universe, basically. At what point does something which signifies everything become something which signifies nothing? Added to this are four black ‘trigrams’ which symbolize ‘the’ four elements. It goes on and on – four seasons, four virtues, four directions, four family member types. I don’t know what I think of it. It’s visually captivating but you pretty much have to buy into all the religion behind it, and I don’t.

Moving along, the flag of Malaysia looks very much like an Islamic version of the American flag, but it was based on the flag of the East Indian Company, an English (and subsequently British) company.

The flag of Sri Lanka has a bunch of stuff. It’s divided into two uneven sections. The section on the left has two colours, green and orange, which surely symbolize something and then there’s a big lion holding a ‘kastane’ sword. Animals are tricky, you know. How stylized should they be? A flag calls for a compromise between reality and ease of representation. So far, I haven’t found any animal flags that worked. In the case of this lion, his nose (representing intelligence) is upturned, pig-style, and his eyes (representing nothing, as far as I can find) are nothing more than a curled line. Adding to the problem is the fact that the artists want to warp the animal qualities, giving them thumbs to grasp things and/or two heads.

For the most part, I’ve skipped the flags belonging to regions, autonomous or not, within other countries. I didn’t look into Hong Kong’s flag, or Taiwan’s flag, for instance. Nepal has something strange; does it merit the word “flag”? It’s two triangles kind of attached together, which means that it does not have a four-sided shape. This pennant has two suns. One sun is peeking up behind a horizontal crescent of a moon and the other sun is by itself. Both the sun image and the moon image had faces until 1962.

I kid you not.

Up Next: Flags of Africa or a Recipe for March

 

Post 247

Flags of Europe:
Vexillology Like You've Never Seen It Before

You’ve been wondering, “But what does Blogger really think about the different flags of the world?” I won’t leave you in suspense any longer. I’ll tell you what I really think, for a change.

The world has a lot of flags. I can’t tell you how many there are, because there isn’t really even agreement about how many countries there are in the world. It depends how you count them. Wikipedia says there are 190 sovereign states whose statehood is undisputed. There are another 16 states whose independence is challenged.

The one that I found humorous was about Korea. Beside North Korea, it says: “Claimed by South Korea” and beside South Korea, it says: “Claimed by North Korea.”

So let’s get started.

How does one begin? What sequence makes the most sense? Alphabetical? By region? By seniority? By colour? By pattern?

Let’s do it like this:

1. FLAGS OF EUROPE WITH CROSS SHAPES

Great Britain has a symmetrical cross superimposed onto a St. Andrew’s cross (also called a ‘saltire’). The advantage with a symmetrical cross is that it looks great when viewed from the front or the reverse. Nevertheless, this flag is less symmetrical than it could have been, and it’s less symmetrical than it appears at first glance. The red striping on the St. Andrew’s cross is not as predictable as you might expect. Strangely, it reminds me of the way the Korean flag rotates as you go around it; the little black lines vary in quantity, from three to six. Those wily Brits.

England’s cross is a symmetrical red cross on a white background.

Georgia’s flag is quite new, adopted in 2004. It has a total of five red crosses, one in the middle and four smaller crosses in each quadrant (or ‘canton’) of the flag. The mini crosses are done in the style of “bolnur-katskhuri” so they don’t match the central cross in style, which is sort of strange; something doesn’t quite fit.

Switzerland has a symmetrical white cross on a square red background. It’s a little disconcerting to have a square at a party for rectangles, but it’s been around since 1889.

The Nordic Cross is asymmetrical in terms of left and right. It’s inspired by the Christian cross, but of course that’s symmetrical from left to right. Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland have the Nordic cross and all of them are strong yet approachable. I like Finland’s the best. Blue and white is always a wonderful combination.

And speaking of blue and white, Greece has a seamless and clever combination of a cross in the top left canton and several stripes. It’s an interesting flag that keeps your attention despite its apparent simplicity. It’s a 10.

Scotland has the St. Andrew’s cross, and it’s noble-looking. The flag is very unique, which is surprising when you consider how simple and pleasing it is.

Malta has a George Cross in the top left canton. The cross is gray with an image of St. George defeating a dragon. As for the rest of the flag, it is white on the left side (‘hoist’) and red on the right side (‘fly’). Does it work? I’m not sure.

2. FLAGS OF EUROPE WITH TWO HORIZONTAL COLOURS

Poland, Ukraine and Monaco have bicolour flags without emblems. Again, the disadvantage of a bicolour design is that it can be easily mistaken for other flags and again, its beauty comes down to the colours chosen and the arrangement of those colours. When I say arrangement, consider how Monaco has red on the top and white below, while Poland has the white above. The thing is that red is a strong and, you could say, a ‘heavy’ colour. For that reason, it looks misplaced above the white. Ukraine has cheerful and optimistic colours.

Some flags add an emblem somewhere on two horizontal colours. San Marino has an emblem which is reasonably memorable and not overly minimalistic. It has three towers topped with ostrich plumes. Lichtenstein has a crown floating in the top left canton, and the entire combination with the strong blue and red looks questionable. Belarus has almost an embroidery-style pattern running vertically on the left side. To the right of this, there is a thick band of red above a narrower band of green. The flag presents a strange mood. It strikes me as undecided about its own identity, as if created by committee.

3. FLAGS OF EUROPE WITH HORIZONTAL BANDS

The word “fess” comes from the Latin word “fascia” meaning band. It’s a reference to a horizontal band across the flag, and it’s a very common style in Europe and throughout the world. The following European countries have nothing more than three bands: Russia, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Estonia. What do I think of these? One of the biggest problems has to do with the popularity of this style. It means that one flag can be mistaken for another. The flag of Luxembourg is too similar to the flag of the Netherlands. The Netherlands flag is older so give it to them, although the red, white and blue colour combination is fairly bland. The ‘success’ of the tri-colour fess flag depends upon the colours chosen; some colours are better than others, obviously.

Other fess flags have, in addition to the horizontal bands, an emblem. Spain has an emblem, and so do these former members of ‘Yugoslavia,’ which I visited when it was still known by that name: Serbia, Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia. Emblems can be an improvement to an otherwise unremarkable background (or ‘field’). However, emblems are often problematic – a flag that looks regal and handsome from afar can be a disappointment when seen up close. Angry eagles and lions are never a plus, especially when decked out with claws and protruding wavy tongues. Spain’s pink lion is not an asset, you could say. At the other extreme, sometimes the emblem becomes almost cartoonesque. Croatia’s emblem doesn’t work, on a number of levels. Slovenia’s and Slovakia’s emblems are similar in their level of detail and visual appeal, or lack thereof. Serbia’s flag does not pass go, because animals do not have two heads.

4. FLAGS OF EUROPE WITH CHEVRONS

The flag of the Czech Republic features a chevron. It’s red and white with a blue chevron, which is fine if you’re into chevrons and triangles in general.

5. FLAGS OF EUROPE WITH TWO VERTICAL COLOURS

Portugal and Vatican City have two vertical colours. Portugal’s emblem has polka-dotted shields ringed with castles at various angles. It’s another case of a flag which looks better from a distance.

The Vatican City flag is very good. No lions or eagles or dragons, slain or alive. The main feature is two hefty keys positioned in the shape of an ‘x.’ The flag is divided into two parts. The emblem is on the white half. A Canadian looking at it would say that the flag needs to have yellow on the other side as well, which would have the secondary effect of making a square flag into a rectangular one.

6. FLAGS OF EUROPE WITH A CENTRAL VERTICAL BAND

Some flags are divided into three vertical sections. That central vertical section is called a ‘pale.’ It’s also popular, and can have an emblem or not. You know which countries have this style. Ireland, Italy and France have flags of this type, and so does Romania and Belgium. The Belgian flag has the same colours as the German flag, but the black is tempered when it is on the left instead of across the top, and when it is separated from the red. Red and black are never a good combination.

Flags with emblems on the pale are Moldova and Andorra. Moldova’s flag is a mess of symbols, including a bull and an eagle. The eagle holds a cross in its beak (isn’t that somewhat irreverent?) and some knick-knacks in its claws. As for Andorra’s emblem, it’s not too bad. It has writing: “Virtue united is stronger” which is a good thought.

7. FLAGS OF EUROPE THAT DON’T FIT INTO ANY OF THE ABOVE CATEGORIES

The flag of Montenegro features a golden two-headed eagle sporting a shield with a lion on it. There’s one crown above this creature, but neither head is wearing it. I believe that the bird has opposable thumbs.

The flag of Albania is dreadful, and it makes most of the other flags of Europe look splendid by comparison. It breaks all the rules of flag school. It features a black two-headed eagle with outstretched tongues and claws on a red background. The ‘wings’ of the eagle are entirely unlike wings. I initially thought it was a dragon. I extend my sympathy to those who have this as their flag.

The flag of Wales is perhaps equally bad, consisting of a large pissed-off red dragon on a background of green and white. My research shows me that nobody is entirely sure as to why a dragon is still being used on the flag. No reason could justify it anyway.

The flag of Turkey is almost entirely red. It has a crescent which at first glance brings to mind the moon, but which, on further examination, is the wrong shape. It’s an extreme and excessively sharp shape. The two tips of the crescent are too close together. The star is at a precise angle in relation to the crescent but this makes the star off-balance as a whole. It’s tipped over. Flags are meant to be symbolic, and this one reveals a lot.

The flag of Macedonia also has a red background. In the centre is a yellow circle surrounded by eight yellow rays. It strikes me as a flag designed by someone who thought that all the other flag ideas were already taken. It’s bright and I suppose it’s earnest in its way, but I find it a bit much.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has a flag that looks like a chevron who lost its way. The stars are similarly not sure where to stand, as a couple of them are sliced off, missing their points. On the plus side, at least they’re upright.

The thing that surprises me most, in looking into flags, is that so many flags are very new. Sometimes this is because the country has recently undergone major political upheaval. In other cases, the country itself is new. When one country divides into several smaller ones, the newly-independent countries scramble to agree on a new banner. Often the newer nations make flags that are very similar to the nation that they recently left, which is counter-intuitive. I would have expected that a new country would want to differentiate itself in the matter of its flag.

Up next: Flags of Asia

Post 246

Another Thing You Don't Need:
Reflections on Eyebrows

More and more frequently, you see women with fake eyebrows. It’s called “microblading.” It’s like thick painted-on eyebrows except that it lasts for one to three years.

The other day, I was at a store and the cashier had them.

It doesn’t really work.

Even according to the standards of the world, it doesn’t work, because one of the basic rules is that you are not supposed to draw attention to your less attractive features.

Once you get your eyebrows drawn onto your face, you begin to draw attention to them and to the fact that you were unhappy with them — desperately. You tell the world that your eyebrow issues were so significant that you have made a commitment to walking around with that “improvement” for many months to come.

I never would have noticed her eyebrows or her lack of eyebrows, but now my eyes were drawn to them. I was looking to see what her real eyebrows looked like. Hmm. I see them. I see little dark hairs there, in the midst of the paint. Are there more? Maybe, but it’s hard to tell because the real brows are difficult to see against the black background. Hmm. Oh, it’s time to pay.

The problem is that the microbladed eyebrows are without texture. The deal with hair is that it’s three-dimensional. There’s a quotable quote, if there ever was one: “The deal with hair is that it’s three-dimensional.” That is why wigs and hairpieces are the way to go, if you really must. Nobody paints their head. Beardless men don’t draw on beards and moustaches. Consider the eyebrow wisdom from Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Spock. In an interview for TV Times, he told Susan Lerner: “The makeup is a tough problem for me. It always has been. It’s tedious. It’s painful and it’s confining. The entire makeup takes two hours. It’s an extremely complicated makeup and it’s not just the ears. The eyebrows can take longer because they must be laid on hair by hair and cut fresh every morning. They are not one piece. lf they were, you would not get mobility. They would sit there and look unnatural.”

You see? Eyebrow mobility. It’s what you want.

The second problem is that even eyebrow styles change. Sometimes we favour the thinnest line and sometimes we favour a thick one. As a matter of fact, over-plucking, to suit earlier fashions, is why some women now find themselves tempted to have their eyebrows “fixed.” A moment’s reflection reveals the obvious: fashion cannot dictate what suits every face. The red head might have glinting blond eyelashes and brows. The Asian girl has thick hair, but it’s on the top of her head and not the face itself. Similarly, the Asian boy will one day grow only the wisp of a beard, if he decides to have one at all. Some faces are rounded and some are narrow. Can fashion be right when it dictates that the very thick brow with the unnatural squarish beginning is the look that will suit every face of every race? Yikes. Clothing is one thing, but facial redesign is another.

Eyebrows are the kind of thing that you leave alone as much as possible. Stop talking about how they “frame the face.” Enough already. Let sleeping brows lie, as they say. The most I’d permit is the removal of hairs in between the brows, if you have been blessed with what you consider an over-abundance.

And hey, I have an idea! You could donate them!

 

Post 245

King for Now:
Reflections on the Tyranny of Cool

Are you on Facebook? I have put myself on Facebook twice, both times believing that it would be useful to promote a given venture. (You need a profile in order to create a “page.”)

I don’t know if it’s a good idea, though, even to promote a worthy event and as a matter of fact, for my most recent project I didn’t go through with a Facebook campaign.

Some people justify Facebook use in the name of Christian evangelizing. I won’t criticize that motive, but not all tools are equally pure. Television is neither good nor bad in and of itself. It’s a tool. The internet is neither good nor bad in and of itself. It’s also a tool. The bus and the bike and the airplane: same thing. Neutral tools.

As for Facebook, I don’t know. How neutral is it? To what extent does the structure of it tend to lead people in certain directions? It features a constant news feed from all of your ‘friends’ and a system of ‘likes.’ I know that users can make some modifications, but that’s the starting point and the basic idea. To what extent does the structure provide a breeding ground for certain temptations?

I think one of the primary temptations created by Facebook is that it encourages people to judge things and people in terms of whether or not they are “cool.”

The term “cool” began to be used in this way in the 1940s.

Being a cool person means caring about things that are cool and, more importantly, it means not caring about things that are uncool. Being cool means caring about people who are cool and not caring about people who are uncool.

There are some people who do not care about what is cool. For some reason, this brings to mind my grandmother, who would pick up an empty pop bottle if she saw one while she walked along, and carry it all the way home. She was planning to collect the deposit.

What was it? Five cents? (Five Canadian pennies in 1980 would be fifteen nowadays, except that the humble penny is gone now, replaced by, well, nothing.)

But anyway, if that was cool, she certainly didn’t know it.

Having said that, you could not say that she was entirely above thinking about what people might think. When she got dressed for church, the make-up was hard to miss and she made a point of wearing her glasses. She thought she looked better in them.

Some would say that being concerned about looking nice is no different from being concerned about coolness — that it is a manifestation of the same thing — and in a general sense, it can be. Concern for one’s appearance can be another case of looking at oneself from the perspective of one’s friends, acquaintances or the stranger who happens to be paying attention. However, wanting to be seen as youthful or beautiful or wealthy or sophisticated or intelligent is not quite the same as wanting to be seen as cool.

Being seen as cool is more complicated than being seen as beautiful. Being seen as beautiful is a more straightforward process because you can see, by flipping through any magazine, that the most-photographed women have several traits in common, and although the ideals of beauty shift this way and that, there are several constants over the ages. Being seen as intelligent generally has to do with having degrees or inventing something. Being wealthy means having access to a lot of income. (Becoming wealthy, according to Chesterton, means being foolish enough to want all that wealth in the first place.) These other common and more ‘traditional’ goals are, in some ways, simple.

But being cool . . . well, that’s a little different.

The problem with coolness is that it is a trait measured very much in relation to very specific outside things. Being a musician means that you have spent many hours practicing but having cool taste in music involves nothing more than liking a particular genre or musician. Being a gemologist means that you have learned a great deal about gems, but being cool means that you like a specific style of bling.

Being cool means surrounding oneself with objects and people and activities which are, themselves, cool. For this reason, travelling appeals to many; it is a way of relocating your entire self into a world which will hopefully be perceived as cool. All is orchestrated with the ultimate Facebook photo in mind. Here is a beautiful beach. In the foreground are my legs on the lounger and my hand holding a very cool drink. Here is my (rented) bike, leaning up against a Parisian tree. It’s immersion in coolness, in theory.

Let’s take a look at some cases, sorted by severity. How do you compare?

Let’s begin with Yoo-hi. Yoo-hi is over there picking up discarded pop bottles. She almost never thinks about what is cool, but she is not immune to the standards of the world. You’ll see her putting on her big jade ring when she goes out for dinner with her friends and she dies her hair at the age of 79. Nevertheless, she does not comprehend “cool.” You would need to spend quite a while with her to explain what it is and why she should care about it.

Next, there’s Taylor. Taylor knows about coolness. He knows enough about coolness to know that many things in his life do not meet with the standards of what is cool. He tells himself that most of it is nonsense and that the real focus of one’s life should be on spiritual things. Nevertheless, he is sometimes downcast as he realizes that he is not “cool.”

Over here, we have Sally. Sally is visibly active on social media, frequently liking and commenting on the Facebook posts made by her friends, even though she privately ridicules and complains about them and their posts. Does she think about what is cool? She does, but she will fail the coolness test again and again by speaking out on issues where others would not.

By contrast, ‘under the radar’ Kate was always cool in school, being both pretty and athletic. Unlike Sally, she chooses to play it safe and be appropriately bland. She’s older now but has the financial means to surround herself with what middle-aged people consider cool. She never draws excessive attention to herself but she takes care to post photos of her life at socially-acceptable intervals to let you know that she is still doing cool things in cool places and has children who are also doing cool things.

Over there, we have Charles. Charles is obsessed with appearing cool and watches his Facebook newsfeed like a hawk. His comments on other people’s pages are crafted to reveal his own coolness.

And last, we have Dave. Dave is the king of cool and in his abundant public Facebook posts, he shows himself involved in as many cool activities as humanly possible. A trip is not a reality until it has been brought to Facebook. He writes about the cool music he is currently listening to and the cool technology he is using to listen to it (Charles quickly replies that he is using that cool technology himself, at this very moment). Dave chooses his own hobbies based on how they will round out his coolness portfolio, and he encourages his children to pursue hobbies that he considers cool enough to post on Facebook. His wife posts a photo of her tanned and nearly naked-self to show, well, nearly everything. Dave stands next to her, oiled and tanned and similarly in need of a shirt.

Ironically, one of the supposed hallmarks of a cool person is the cool person’s disinterest in seeking the approval of others. The cool person is supposedly so self-assured and so confident that he does not need external validation. The notion is that the cool person is looking forward and ahead, and happily oblivious to what his admirers and followers are thinking.

What’s the emoticon for a wry smile?

In theory, the cool person would never check to see how many ‘likes’ his recent Facebook post got. In theory, the cool person would be so busy pursuing cool things that he wouldn’t have time to upload photos of himself doing cool things. In theory, coolness is about a rather ambivalent and easy-going attitude.

The truth is that the people who bring themselves into the spotlight in order to showcase their coolness are excessively interested in the approval of others. Social approval is their sustenance; it is their drug, and they hunger for ‘likes’ the way a druggie craves another hit. They check repeatedly and with avid interest to see if anyone has sent a thumbs-up their way and they are more interested in reading the comment that their ‘friend’ has posted than in hearing the comments that their children are making in the same room.

Seeking coolness is bad enough; seeking cool things in the context of Facebook is worse. This is because Facebook is constant. In the past, your opportunities to impress others were limited by your ability to show up here there and everywhere. There was, of course, the telephone, but you had to brag to your friends one by one. Nowadays, the domestic goddess Athena can show her kitchen renovations to one hundred people at once, provoking others to suddenly covet the latest back-splash tiles and counter-top surfaces. Nowadays, Aphrodite can show herself smiling at a party wearing this dress with that hairdo and those new eyebrows to people who aren’t even there. And of course, the more friends you have, the more messages you will get: Jennifer got a (cool) new job, Dave is going to Holland, Jane is looking trim (and cool), Marty’s daughter made the (cool) team, Dave is going to Spain, Megan is starting a (cool) new business, Jordan got a (cool) car and Dave is going to Cuba. Each message causes a reaction, pulling and pushing the recipients. Facebook amplifies the noise in all users’ lives.

But even without the accelerating and compounding effect of Facebook, the preoccupation with coolness is detrimental to our well-being and our interpersonal relations.

Seeking coolness prevents us from knowing our true personality. In particular, a preoccupation with appearing cool tempts us to hide our real thoughts, emotions and feelings. We do not want to reveal that we care deeply about various issues and as a result, conversation and relationships become empty and superficial. We do little self-examination to examine what we really think about the people and situations in our lives, and why we think the way we do.

Seeking coolness prevents us from becoming the person God intended us to be. We have innate talents and unique interests that harmonize with those talents. Worrying about being cool prevents us from looking inward to discover our genuine gifts and interests. We waste our time in pursuits that we secretly find to be ho-hum when we could be excelling in a lesser-known area of life. We’re so busy playing basketball when we could be playing the bagpipes like nobody’s business.

Coolness is one of the most fleeting standards in an already-fleeting world. What changes faster than what is cool? Yesterday, that actor and this band and that fashion and that area of psychology or science were the very cutting edge of cool, but today, you are embarrassed to admit you ever liked those nineties tunes and wore jeans that looked like that. Blink once, however, and that singer’s face is on all the magazines. He’s popular like never before because he’s dead.

As a result, staying on top of what is cool requires vigilance and time. Much of modern conversation consists of sharing one’s opinion about what is cool. “I saw such-and-such at Costco . . . There’s a new kind of camera . . . Have you seen this show? . . . That new restaurant . . .” In my books, such conversation quickly runs out of steam because it endlessly skims the surface, flitting across it like a water bug. Can we get some depth here?

Parenthetically, the antithesis to what is “cool” is generally what is traditional and tried-and-true. Although token tribute is sometimes paid to aspects of earlier times (Cararra marble counter-tops, anyone?), for the most part, what is cool is synonymous with what is newly popular. By contrast, tradition is about what has been popular with people over the ages, to adapt an idea from Chesterton.

Staying on top of what is cool involves avoiding, for the most part, what is controversial. The cool person knows how to avoid touchy topics at all costs, because falling on the ‘wrong’ side of an issue is too easily done when the population is known to be divided. For this reason, politicians become vaguer and more prone to platitudes as they rise in popularity, as Chesterton has pointed out. Taking a firm stand is akin to welcoming a breeze near a house of cards. Who knows what the fall-out will be when the cards are shown to the voting population? The politicians want to play it safe; speaking vaguely and infrequently is a surer method to retain whatever popularity they have.

Turning to the average person, however, the circles are far smaller; most people have audiences that are more homogeneous and predictable. In that context, they willingly take a firm stand against the agreed-upon enemy and wait for applause. Yet there is no heroism in speaking against abortion when all your friends are pro-life. There is no risk in speaking against President Trump when the audience is full of show-biz folks. And it’s not bravery to Stand with Wisdom when that’s what your friends are doing. However, it is a risk to speak against the king when you’re Thomas More. It’s a risk to speak against the hypocrisy of the Catholic elite when you’re Pope Francis and it’s a risk to speak against the Pharisees when you’re Jesus. But sadly, being cool means playing it safe and honouring the views of your social circle while avoiding or even silencing those who challenge those views.

So whatever the theoretical definition of “cool” may be, practically we could define the cool person as someone who is aware of what is popular (especially newly popular) and is incorporating as many of these things into his life as possible while shunning anything that has lost or is losing its popular appeal. The goal in the coolness game is to detect, as early as possible, what is popular. The elusive prize is the respect and admiration of those in your circle.

Have you got it?
Are you sure?
Maybe you’ve lost your touch.
Or maybe
Maybe you never had it in the first place, hey?

Stay on your toes and stay ahead of the curve.

Be the first to realize that Ed What’s-His-Name is cool. Is he?
Be the first to realize that turmeric is a hit. Is it?
Be the first to realize that picking up trash is where it’s at.
Hey man
Oh man
Are you as eco as that?