Post 257

Cubits Upon Cubits

Noah pondered the message that he had heard.
Death of flesh, an end to corruption and violence.
A boat to be built, cubits upon cubits.

A covenant. A flood.

Noah pondered the meaning of it all, and he imagined.
He imagined all the people he would save.
Had this not been his prayer, once?
Had he not prayed for a boat large enough to take
Everyone he knew
To the Lord?
Indeed, he had.

That, however, was a metaphor, and this,
Well, this
Was not.

This was cubits upon cubits, animals and food.
He imagined all the people that would fit
In such a ship.
He knew many people.
He imagined it would be
Rather like
A party.

He knew that his own family
Would be safe,
Along with Mr Bull and Mrs Cow

But he was quite convinced
That others, though unmentioned, would naturally be there
Out on the water.

Cubits upon cubits.

Noah started building.
His friends pretended
Not to notice.
He was amazed and utterly stunned.
Not to notice
This enormous thing?

Noah kept on building.
Finally, someone appeared.
At last! Good old friend!
(We’ll play cards when we’re on board.)
Greetings and blessings to you and yours!
So much for that.

Cubits upon cubits.
Noah didn’t stop.
Where was everyone?
Eyes averted. Strangers now.
Who were these people?
They were unchanged, but now Noah
Saw their hearts.

He kept building.
Cubits upon cubits.
Is it for real?

Did the Lord really say?
How did it go?
Animals, food, a flood and a covenant.
Animals, food, a flood and a covenant.
His sons, their wives, his wife but
Come to think of it,
Nothing more.

The Lord spoke again. It was time.
His family gathered.
With them were the animal kinds.

They closed the door upon the world they knew
And here we ask,
Who appeared as prisoners
When really free?
In any case
One week of nothing was
An eternity.

But the boat
in all its Mass
Was soon afloat.

Noah marvelled at the ark and at floating in the sea
Above his earthly abode.
Noah praised the Lord for poetry and beauty and justice and family.

As for friends,
He remembered them.
He remembered everything.

He remembered what had been said and what had been done
And he had
No regrets
For himself.
What he had
Was regrets
For them.

The smooth surface of the water
Hid many secrets
And many misdeeds.

Noah remembered.
The thing that pained him most
Was the memory of the laughter

The jokes about the beards and flying fruit, about tattoos and magic mushrooms and the Tabasco sauce cure. The jokes about the feet in the air and the wide bicycle chair. The jokes about the aunt stuck in the dirt and the dogs splattered on the windshield. Too many to count.

Memories upon memories, cubits upon cubits

The barbeque in the backyard the dinners at the restaurant and one last royal party. The photographs taken everywhere and the music playing loudly. Conversations about every moving thing and theories and analogies and good-natured chatter. Or so it seemed.

Past now

The water was still
It contained everything
And nothing

Noah now had nothing and everything
For he had everything worth having
In the whole wide world

He had his Lord
He had his family
And he had his dog.


Post 256

All About Asparagus: A Recipe for April

At even some of the best restaurants, vegetables are treated as rather unimportant. Sure, you’ll receive them cut into interesting shapes, but often they’re just steamed. Don’t get me wrong — steaming has its place, but some techniques really take veggies to another level.

This is from the cookbook The Best Vegetable Recipes, put out by America’s Test Kitchen. I am choosing asparagus because it’s the season for them and because the word ‘asparagus’ begins with the letter “A,” just like the month of April. Asparagus is often viewed as rather deluxe. Emperor Augustus is responsible for the phrase, “faster than cooking asparagus,” which I did not even know was a phrase. Another fun fact comes from Wikipedia: “A recipe for cooking asparagus is in the oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius’s third-century AD De re coquinaria, Book III.” Asparagus grows well in salty soil, but it can take a very long time (years) to get them set up properly.

I like broiling my asparagus because it’s quick and easy, but most of all, it’s tasty:

Another cooking option, and one that most cooks don’t consider, is grilling or broiling. The intense dry heat concentrates the flavor of the asparagus, and the exterior caramelization makes the spears especially sweet. The result is asparagus with a heightened and, we think, delicious flavor.

And here’s even more, specifically about broiling them:

The two primary questions related to broiling concerned the thickness of the stalks and the distance they should be kept from the heat source as they cook. In our tests with thicker asparagus, anywhere from 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter, the peels began to char before the interior of the spears became fully tender. When we used thinner spears (no thicker than 5/8 inch), the interior was tender by the time the exterior was brown.

We then focused on how far to keep the spears from the heating element. At 3 inches, the asparagus charred a bit. At 5 inches, the asparagus took a little too long to cook, and they failed to caramelize properly. The middle ground, 4 inches, proved perfect for cooking speed, control and browning.

And more:

Grilled and broiled asparagus should be lightly oiled before cooking — use extra-virgin olive oil for the most flavor. After cooking, grilled and broiled asparagus can be tossed or drizzled with a viniagrette for even more flavor.

And here’s the recipe itself:

Master Recipe for Broiled Asparagus

Choose asparagus no thicker than 5/8 inch.

2 pounds thin asparagus spears, tough ends snapped off
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper

Adjust an oven rack to the uppermost position (about 4 inches from the heating element) and heat the broiler. Toss the asparagus with the oil and salt to taste and then lay spears in a single layer on a heavy rimmed baking sheet. Broil, shaking the pan halfway through to turn the spears, until the asparagus is tender and lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool the asparagus 5 minutes and arrange them on a serving platter.

The accompanying recipes are variations. There’s “Broiled Asparagus with Reduced Balsamic Vinaigrette and Parmesan” and “Broiled Asparagus with Soy-Ginger Vinaigrette” and “Broiled Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus with Mascarpone,” but I’m done with retyping.

Besides, you know I like to keep my posts short.


Post 255

Not What You Expected:
The Small Voice of a Big God

When you see this phrase, “God spoke to Noah,” what do you picture? How do you envision it happening? Do you imagine a booming voice startling the man?

Sometimes, angels appear to people. They are God’s messengers. When they appear, the angels usually begin with the words, “Be not afraid,” because angels don’t look like chubby-cheeked cherubs. They look strong and powerful, and the sight of their radiant beauty can be, well, intimidating.

It’s not usually like this with God’s voice. God’s voice is gentle, like the voice of a patient father. Consider how God was not in the strong wind, the earthquake or the fire when he communicated with Moses. Moses knew it was God when he heard “a small still voice” (1 Kings 19:12), and he stepped forward from the cave. Consider how when Samuel was called by God, the only one who could hear God’s voice was Samuel. Samuel heard a voice and thought that Eli, who was nearby, was calling him, but it wasn’t Eli. Eli, for his part, could not hear anything at all (1 Samuel 3:7-11).

And that’s what we sometimes forget. When these prophets and saints heard God’s voice, usually nobody around them did. When they learned things from God, usually nobody else around them did. In most cases where God spoke to prophets or saints, there were neither eyewitnesses nor ‘ear’ witnesses; no one would be able to verify that the prophet or saint heard or saw anything out of the ordinary.

So what are you to do? Let’s say you’re there, minding your own business, when suddenly you hear God’s voice. It’s clear and it’s distinct and you’re not imagining it.

What do you do?

What makes the prophets and the saints holy is not that they heard God’s voice, but that they responded to it. Even Jonah, who is viewed as somewhat of a wimp for initially running in the opposite direction from the one that God wanted him to, did not doubt that he had heard what he heard. He believed that he had received a message from God and that he had a mission. What makes St. Paul special is not that he heard Christ’s voice, but that he heeded it.

More people have heard God’s voice than have responded. More people have been invited than have responded. Those who don’t respond don’t make history. It’s only later that we will learn about all the rejected invitations and the squandered opportunities to become what God had wanted his children to become.

When Joan of Arc heard God’s voice and invitation, she obeyed and made big changes and took big chances. What did the people around her think? They didn’t look at her and see a glowing halo. They saw someone utterly ordinary who was now acting Really Odd.

When Juan Diego saw Our Lady of Guadalupe, he did not doubt what he saw, but what did the people around him see? They saw an ordinary man who was wasting the bishop’s time and acting Rather Oddly. It was only after the others were given concrete signs that they understood that they were dealing with the supernatural.

When Mary conceived Jesus, the world entered a new era, but the world did not know it. People passed Mary and Joseph on the street, clueless that Mary carried within herself the Saviour of humanity. And indeed, judging from outside appearances, nothing had changed. It didn’t seem that a new era had dawned at all. Herod savagely ordered the slaughter of innocent babies, and the normal lives of Mary and Joseph were interrupted as they fled to Egypt. Did they have anything, now that they had unexpectedly relocated to a foreign land? They had their newborn baby but neither friends nor relatives. Humanly, these refugees had nothing. Spiritually, they had everything.

When Mary and Joseph returned to their homeland, they had with them Jesus, true God and man, but who would have guessed it? They blended in to their neighbourhood and people would have treated them as they liked, with familiarity, with disinterest, with friendliness or coldness. There was no bright neon sign flashing above their home: “Here Resideth Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Son of the Living God.”

No. It was quiet. God is, generally, quiet.

So when the neighbours found out that Jesus, that most predictable Jesus, son of the unremarkable carpenter, had appointed himself teacher, and was attracting crowds, well, they didn’t deal with it well. They had known him long before these crowds knew him, and they Knew Better. They chose not to accept the possibility that Jesus or his followers knew more than they did, and that this man was special, or holy, and that his current behaviour was justified. Their high opinion of themselves caused them to stiffen their necks and harden their hearts against him. When Jesus returned to the region, willing to shower them with graces, they lacked the requisite openness to him, and he left, having performed no miracles. A prophet is not acceptable in his own country, he said.

Indeed, those who know you from the past can’t handle a change in plans. They can’t handle God’s plans for you if you go in a new direction that they haven’t pre-approved. Can they handle God, who calls people out of an ordinary existence to act in ways that are unpredictable and ‘wild’?

I received an email from someone whose name was “anonymous” and whose email address was written as “anonymous@anonymous.anonymous.” Part of the comment was, “This was NOT what I was looking for or expecting.”


Excuse me?

What have I said or done to make you expect anything at all? What is the basis of your expectation? My past conduct? Our past relationship? The contract between you and me, where I promised to satisfy your needs and desires, for a handsome fee? The contract between you and the internet, to which I am a party, assuring you that you will find Everything You Desire Online?

Look elsewhere. I don’t write to make you happy.

Giovanni was popular and loved to laugh. He had many friends and appreciated them all. There was really nothing to dislike about him, because he liked everybody, even the unlikeable. He was one of those people who wanted to do everything for everybody, and when he wanted to be a soldier, people cheered him on. He had, so it seemed, everything a young man could want, including a father who provided for him. But then, suddenly, inexplicably, something ‘got into’ that young man, and he went off the deep end. (He went into the deep, you could say.) The fellow publicly disowned his father (for what? A dispute about some cloth?) and walked away, abandoning his very tunic. It made no sense; what has happened to Giovanni — known to his friends as Francisco? What has happened to St. Francis?

What happened to him was what happens to many of the prophets and the saints. It goes like this: you’re there, minding your own business, when the email comes in, and it’s from God. No. Sorry, let me begin again. You’re there, minding your own business, when the doorbell rings, and it’s God.

That’s the problem.

What proof do you have that you heard anything? What proof do you have that God spoke? What proof do you have that he said, “Rebuild my Church,” or “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Did he leave his business card? What proof do you have that Mary spoke to you? What proof do you have that you heard her sweet voice, saying, “I am the Immaculate Conception”?

You have nothing. You have your word, easily discredited, especially in light of the way you’ve been acting lately.

The priests and the bishops gave many saints a very hard time. Why? It’s because they knew that God wouldn’t entrust anything important to an uneducated and unimportant layperson. Do I exaggerate? Read the accounts of saint after saint, distrusted by the clergy. How St. Faustina suffered!

Sadly, even in this post-Vatican II era, there is such a thing as clerical snobbery. It’s ironic, of course. As WiseOne once put it, “Where do priests think priests come from?” Every priest is born of a laywoman. The problem is that a priest, who is, generally, chosen by God to become a priest, forgets that there are other ways of being chosen. St. Peter was chosen to lead the Church, but St. John was chosen to be a son to Mary. St. Paul was not chosen as one of the twelve apostles, but he was chosen to preach to the gentiles.

Every person is invited, in more than one way, and more than once, to do God’s work. God’s voice is soft and hidden, but those who respond to his call may change before your eyes. The neighbour builds an ark. The shy man defies the Pharaoh. The shepherd boy becomes a king. The virgin has a baby. The carpenter’s son challenges the religious elite. The fisherman leads the church. The young man disowns his parent. The peasant girl leads an army. The wealthy widow sells her possessions. The laywoman becomes a blogger.


Post 254

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


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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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
the lone nutmeg

placed on the bright

without the white


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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).


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.


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.


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.


There are three countries whose flags don’t fit.

The flag of the Federated States of Micronesia is blue and it has four stars 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


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.


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 . . .


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.

I don’t mind the flag of Kazakhstan, even though it has a bird. The bright yellow sun is set against a bright blue background and the stylized bird is interesting to look at. The vertical design on the far left is also a plus.

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