Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Doctor Keldon Shooper presents 'Fun with Flags'

The International Federation of Vexillological Associations

For many years now, I've done posts in which flags figure prominently; these were not really about the flags themselves, but flags as symbols of other ideas.  I've thought the question to myself on many occasions, but I've never written about it: 

"What makes a good flag?"

The study of flags is called vexillology.  The name comes from the Latin vexillum, a square flag carried by Roman cavalry, and -logia; the Greek suffix meaning to study: meteorology, geology, astrology, etc. 

There are several organizations devoted to vexillology, and the most famous vexillologist in recent memory is the fictional Sheldon Cooper, Big Bang Theory genius/autist who did a podcast called "Fun With Flags."  Very "meta."  The running gag is that nobody watched it.  Along with rampant misogyny, the big bangers celebrated geekdom in all it's forms.  I suppose vexillology is one of the geek Hydra's heads.

If my posts are any indication, I'm something of a vexillologist myself.  I also love Sci-Fi.  Hey-ho!  I own three flags:  US, Spanish, and Portuguese.  I don't collect them, I just ended up with them somehow.  I have always coveted Jolly Roger though....

People get really emotional about flags.  In America there is all manner of etiquette surrounding them: how they're folded (in a triangle), flown (always highest; upside down indicates SOS), stored (folded) and disposed of (ceremonially burned).  Military widows (and widowers) receive them.  If someone burns one in protest, it could lead to a drubbing.  Constitutional amendments have been proposed to make burning one as a protest a federal offense.  The 1st Amendment makes this unfeasible.  Signified trumps signifier?

Flags are important.  Have you seen the Civil War epic, Glory?  At one point in the climactic final battle, the flag-bearer falls.  All becomes chaos, the advance is halted.  Then a soldier picks up the flag, waving and yelling, and the advance continues.  A doomed advance as it turns out, but the importance of the flag, a statndard around which men rally, is undeniable.  This is actually based in fact, and flag-bearers were especially significant in the US Civil War (1860-1864). 

Sayeth Wiki:

"...as far back as Roman warfare and medieval warfare the standard-bearer had an important role on the battlefield....the standard-bearer acted as an indicator of where the position of a military unit was, with the bright, colorful standard or flag acting as a strong visual beacon to surrounding soldiers. Soldiers were typically ordered to follow and stay close to the standard or flag in order to maintain unit cohesion, and for a single commander to easily position his troops by only positioning his standard-bearer, typically with the aid of musical cues or loud verbal commands. It was an honorable position carrying a considerable risk, as a standard-bearer would be a major target for the opposing side's troops seeking to capture the standard or pull it down."

So, what makes a good flag?  One supposes being easily seen,  and recognizable, would be important in the context of warfare, but what else?  

What follows are my opinions, some of which leading vexillologists agree with, as it turns out.

Shape-wise, the basic rectangle is best. Flags which are square (Switzerland) or doublet triangles (Nepal), or otherwise tapered and forked (Ohio, T.ampa) are rarities for a reason. Nepal's flag works, and Switzerland's does as well.  The shape seems to fit the nature of those countries.  Ohio and Tampa, not so much.  The shape does them no favors, but the colors and design are abominable.  I'm from Tampa, and our flag is, well, a mess.

Switzerland 


Nepal

Ohio

Tampa 

On rare occasions, flags can work with even one color, bit this is so rare. Libya's flag was just a green field until 2011.  The black flag of anarchy or the red flag of communism have power because of the ideas behind them.

Two colors can be effective. The Japanese and Bangladeshi flags make it work; they are also very similar in that they have a monochromatic field with a red, stylized sun in (or offset from) the middle. Qatar's flag has always been attractive to me.  A nice maroon color with a serrated white band on the left.

Japan

Bangladesh 

Qatar

Personally, I think three colors work best, although there are some with more that pull it off.

Text should be avoided. Dates or slogans are useful for other parts of the national identity, but the flag is a visual medium of color and basic forms.  It's not a sign.  From a distance, one can't read the text anyway.

Flags should avoid overly-complex images with lots of finicky details.  The aforementioned Japanese sun is a case in point. That said, the smiling sun on Argentina and Uruguay's flags work.  They aren't complex per se, but instead of a circle they have faces.  How cool is that?  I'm not a big fan of the light blue and white color scheme of Argentina, but the sun, a whimsical fellow, makes up for it.

Argentina

Ñnnnñ
Uruguay 

Colors should be in large (-ish) swaths: vertical bands or horizontal stripes are pretty common.  The French flag is simply 3 vertical stripes, and it works.  Better, in my opinion, than Italy's tricolor, which uses green and not blue.  It's not ugly, but just doesn't have the verve of the French.  Russia and the Netherlands also have the same colors as France, but they are horizontal, and to my eye lack the force of the French "Tricolour". 

France

Russian Federation 

The Netherlands 

France's flag is red, white and blue.  Many countries use this color combo: Chile, Cuba, France, the USA, Russia, the Netherlands, Taiwan, etc.  It's a good mix.  Malaysia has a similar flag to the USA. Red and white stripes, blue canton in the upper-left corner.  But where Old Glory has 50 stars, Malaysia has a yellow crescent moon and a single star. It's known as The Stripes of Glory.  The stripes and points on the star represent the states in Malaysia, much like the US flag represents the 13 colonies and 50 states.

Malaysia 

So, I wrote the text above, then Googled the query, "What makes a good flag?" and landed here:

https://www.atlasobscura.com/artlicles/we-asked-a-vexillologist-how-to-design-a-great-national-flag

This article discussed a downloadable booklet called Good Flag, Bad Flag by Ted Kaye:

https://nava.org/digital-library/design/GFBF_English.pdf

The author has 5 basic ground rules:

Flags should be simple, have meaningful symbolism, no lettering or seals, no more than three colors, and be unique or refer to other flags.

I pretty much picked up on Kaye's rules.  I didn't discuss symbolism and I'm not sure uniqueness is required. Even the author of this pamphlet praises the French flag, which is neither unique in it's design (Italy, Belgium) nor choice of color (Russia, the Netherlands).  Why does France's flag work?  Good question. For me, it just does.

The US flag is simple enough, a bit busy, bit it's a works. Red, white, and blue go well together.  I think Malaysia must have looked to the US, as did Liberia, logically.

Most US state flags are awful, but there a few I like: Alaska, South Carolina, and New Mexico are my top three.  Rounding out a "top ten" would be Indiana, Texas, Tennessee, and since we're aiming for 10, Rhode Island, Louisiana, Maryland for being so crazy, and Arizona.  I actually like the Arizona flag.  It sometimes it appears top-heavy, but it is a striking design, unusually-colored, but totally appropriate for the skies and rock formations of the Arizona desert.  That Maryland flag sometimes strikes me as ugly, but it is unique.  Most state flags are boring; so many are basically the state seal on a field of blue.  And with the name of the state writ large, they break all the rules of good flag design.

Maryland

Arizona

New Mexicos 

This guy doesn't mince words in his video. I agree with the gist of his ranking.  My biggest disagreement is his high marks for the Washington state flag.  No offense Washingtonians, but that bust of George is just goofy.  I like the green field but that's about it.  He also places Colorado at number one.  Maybe further reflection will endear me to it, but to be honest, I don't like it.  I can see why people do, but I dunno.  The big C is kind of cheesy.  It's not a bad flag, but I honestly think dropping the C would help.  I'll sleep on it.

There are a few things I wanted to query here. The first is the Principality of Sealand.  Sealand is a micronation consisting of a structure built by the English during WW2.  The current "Prince's" father seized it from pirate radio broadcasters in 1967 and the Prince even repelled an attack by a disgruntled ex-partner and a group of mercenaries in 1978.  Like many of these self-proclaimed nations, they issue currency, stamps and ID cards to collectors.  Apparently, they have a serious business offer as a secure data-haven.  

Do they have a website? Of course they do.  I think Sealand raises interesting and legitimate questions about what constitutes a nation. And by what right.  Possession being 9/10ths of the law and all that.  Heck, why does the Catholic Church have a state?  Why is the President of France co-prince of Andorra, along with the bishop of Oviedo?  Or some Spanish Bishopric.  Look it up.

From a vexillological point of view, is their flag a success?  I like it, but would like it better if the red and black were of equal proportion.  The Red and the Black.  Perhaps my fondness for Stendahl predisposes me to like it.

The colors are also those of Nazi Germany's flag.  I include it here, along with that of the Confederate States of America, because I think from a design point of view, they are effective flags.  The problem with that assessment is self-evident.  Or should be.  Can we appreciate a flag or a design separately from what it represents?  The Marseillaise, the French national anthem, is rousing.  But it speaks of irrigating French fields with the blood of it's enemies.  

The Nazi flag represents an odious ideology.  Genocidal bigotry.  The Confederate Battle Flag represents the fight to preserve slavery.  I look at them and can't help but think of what they represent.  But part of me has to admit that they are well-designed and follow Kaye's 5 rules.  Perhaps this is why the battle flag persists as a symbol of the South, whereas the actual national flag of the CSA is all but forgotten.

It strikes me that perhaps I've become too amoral trying to be "objective."  Is it normal I can look at the Nazi flag and admire the design?  It's not that I forget what it represents, just that I think it's powerful.  It also occurs to me that the "power" isn't in the design at all, but in the actions performed in its shadow.  There must be some semiotic falderal about signifier and signified to delve into here, but I'm just not that clever.

Ancillary questions:  Can we admire Pound's poetry knowing he was a fascist?  Can we admire Coco Chanel knowing she cavorted with Nazis?  What about H.P. Lovecraft?  He was racist and antisemitic even by the standards of his time.  And Polanski sodomized a 13-year-old with a champagne bottle.  I still enjoy Fearless Vampire Killers....

I don't mean to be flip or dismissive.  I think it's a legitimate aesthetic issue; how much can we separate a design from what it symbolizes?

Thoughts?

Sealand

Nazi Germany

The Confederate States of America 

I know that puts me at odds with many.  I'm not trying to sneak in some nastiness under the guise of vexillology.  It's just a an ethical and aesthetic question I've pondered for a long time.  I wonder what Kaye would say....?

Friday, July 29, 2022

The Random Sun

At the supermarket, stuck for ideas, I asked the woman at the register to give me a random word.  She said "Soleil."  Sun.  The Sun and political imagery came to mind:  Obama's rising sun logo.  The Japanese flag.  The Sun King.

Then I Googled "national flags with the sun".  I knew The Philippines and Argentina would pop up, but I wasn't familiar with Namibia's flag until today.  When I saw it  (adopted, 1990), I was surprised, because the sun in the upper left Canton is a 12-pointed version stylized almost exactly like that of the Taiwanese flag, which I'd seen when looking into the brief life of the Chinese fascist "Blueshirts."  Dig:

The colors are different.  The Taiwanese rays are longer and completely unattached, but the angles at the base of each isosceles ray of the Namibia flag touch slightly.

At first glance they are almost identical.  Both have 12 rays and are set against a blue field.  Curious that they are stylized in such a similar fashion.

I won't recap the 10+ years of sun imagery and metaphor we've discussed here on LoS, but it seems worth discussing the similarities between these two flags. 

According to the Namibia government website:

The sun symbolises life and energy. The golden colour of the sun represents the warmth and the colour of the plains of the Namib Desert.

The blue symbolises the sky, the Atlantic Ocean, Namibia’s marine resources and the importance of rain and water.

Red represents the Namibian people, their heroism and their determination to build a future of equal opportunity for all.

White refers to peace and unity.

The green symbolises the country’s vegetation and agricultural resources.

No reason why there are 12 rays.

On Taiwan's flag....The twelve rays of the white Sun symbolize the twelve months and the twelve traditional shichen (時辰; shíchén), a traditional unit of time which corresponds to two modern hours. Sun Yat-sen added the "Red Earth" to the flag to signify the blood of the revolutionaries who sacrificed themselves in order to overthrow the Qing Dynasty and create the ROC. Together, the three colours of the flag correspond to the Three Principles of the People: Blue represents nationalism and liberty; White represents democracy and equality; and Red represents the people's livelihood and fraternity.

The explanation for the colors, although not exactly the same, is very similar.  I hadn't really noted that Taiwan's flag is red, white, and blue.  Common flag colors:. USA, France, Russia, the Netherlands, Cuba, Chile, the UK....

Other national flags feature the sun: Argentina and Uruguay, the Philippines....here's a complete list.  

We've looked at some flags with single stars and some with constellations.  I don't think we've looked at any with the moon.  I suppose most of these would be the crescent moon of Islam, although South Carolina is an obvious exception 

..

Coming up next, or in short .  order, anyway.  Sun, stars, constellations, and soon, the moon....

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Art Crime


French Authorities Detain Two Archaeologists, Including a Louvre Curator, as Part of an Ongoing International Art-Trafficking Dragnet

"Two high-ranking archaeologists and curators are being held for questioning by French investigators as part of a probe into a global art-trafficking scandal that has implicated the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Met, and former Louvre director Jean-Luc Martinez.

Jean-François Charnier and Noëmi Daucé are suspected of ignoring warnings about the questionable provenance of at least two allegedly stolen Egyptian antiquities worth millions, and urging the Louvre Abu Dhabi to acquire them, according to the French daily Liberation."


----



Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Well, that's something.

I could spew until the good time you promised comes to fruition. Hard-pressed to run, evade, even move.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

*Star-Spangled* Fascism

Here at WLOS, 106.66 on your dial, we're all fascism, all the time!  Anti-fascism, that is. 

Our last post was a link to a paper about interwar European "shirt movements."  

Today, we link to a paper about the same topic and the same period, but in the USA

Star-spangled fascism: American interwar political extremism in comparative perspective

It's an academic paper, but I also add a link to a retrospective by the Saturday Evening Post on the same topic.  (Apparently all fascists in the US are "star-spangled"....Why not Yankee Doodle Death Camps?  Or The Reich's Red Glare?)

Star-Spangled Fascists White Shirts, Silver Shirts, White Camellias, and plain, old Nazis: here is the 1939 field guide to America's hate groups.

We've spoken elsewhere of Dudley Pelley and the Silver Legion, aka "Silver Shirts"; this current post is a short riff on a few of his fellow travelers.

One such group was the Crusader White Shirts.  They were founded by KKK alumnus George W. Christians in the early 1930's; Christians had also founded the American Fascists, previously the American Reds.  He once claimed to be so red he made the Russians look yellow.  So I guess he took whatever extremism he could find.  Antisemitism was the constant....despite his fascist moniker, he often promoted himself as a communist.  Keep 'em guessing.  This, I should add, is consistent with another theme we keep running across:  that the lines to the political left and right are curved, circle towards each other, and meet up.  It's almost as if the specific ideology is incidental to the extremism, whatever it may be.

Christians fancied himself something of a Templar, which is another recurring theme in this little niche of history.  Oslo fascist terrorist Anders Breivik claimed to be a Templar.  Blackwater/Xe mercenaries were said to use Templar-related call signs, and ex-employees have testified that there was a culture of Christian supremacy and a Crusader mentality among their operatives.  They were also linked to the Knights of Malta.  

The famous bit of Nazi propaganda you can see above has Hitler himself pictured as a knight, a "standard bearer," and what some say is specifically a Grail knight; legends say the Templars are the grail guardians.  This is all what I have previously felt is an underlying Romanticism in the fascist mindset....Fascism recalls a mythical great past, because the future is scary and the present often sucks; the fascists politicize nostalgia, a powerful emotion; Peter Pan as impish storm-trooper....And one can't help but think of the slogan: 

Make America Great ....Again.  If the brown-shirt fits.... 

The fascist mindset of the 1920's, as articulated by Futurist poet F.T.  Marinetti, makes it possible to think of fascism itself as a work of art.  A sophisticated "happening" that goes beyond politics into the reorganization of society to such a point that perception itself is affected. Everything from dates and times to weights and measures undergo an almost magical renaming, one long ceremony in which dark forces brazenly possess the powerful and speak through them, dictating inhuman programs and pogroms, inner psychoses manifest in one large orgy of hate and apocalyptic violence.   The uniform of a fascist is less appealing than a mad hobo's tattered rags.  The tipping point is razor-thin.  Leading a nation into total war is a coin-toss away from sleeping in one's own shit.

(Footnote:  the point where even sculptures along the axes of the world quiver, shake, beg for coin, move in square, 2-axes movements, like forks wielded by mechanical men in spray-painted bed-sheets.) 

Marinetti would disagree and proclaim that the "Toot!" of the factory whistle every morning is the daily recurrence of Fiat Lux!  And on the 7th day, rest....

(Foonote 2:  "....today" is always a hot, stinking mess, and tomorrow is the apocalypse.  Unless of course you go to the fascist strongman who can "get 'er done...."  Fascism is personality-driven; it's not about ideas;  whether swastika or hammer and sickle, it doesn't matter; it's the power of emotion in the ceremonial Black Mass of the state religion, the charismatic warrior-priest to follow.  History as a series of "great men".)

An ongoing fascination, these Templars....in the end, George Christians may just have been a lunatic:

Christians was investigated by U.S. Army military intelligence who described him as having "a brilliant mind but of erratic temperament", and as posing no threat. Raymond Moley described him as a "harmless lunatic"

In 1934, Pat McGrady, author of Fascism in America, visited Christians in Chattanooga for New York's Jewish Daily Bulletin....thought that Christians was not as much of a "nut" as some made out, saying:

He is a clever fellow with a fine appreciation of the limits of our broad liberties of speech and action which he strains in promoting his personality and an economic scheme which, if effective, is enough to surrender the rights and properties of the people into the hands of whoever may be strong enough to grasp control of a despairing nation.

Despite his intelligence, McGrady identified in Christians a deep ignorance of the principles of Fascism and of its practice in Germany and Italy, fostered, he thought, by the narrow sources on which Christians was able to draw in Chattanooga in understanding World affairs. This made the question of whether Christians was really a Fascist, a moot one.

In his 1943 book Under Cover: My Four Years in the Nazi Underworld of America, Christians was described by John Roy Carlson (Arthur Derounian) as "an odd combination of comedian and sinister revolutionist", strongly anti-Catholic but not anti-Semitic.

Another pro-Nazi, KKK alumnus was a dude with the unlikely name of George E. Deatherge.  Death urge?  Thanatos much?  He founded a group called the Knights of the White Camelia, based on a group linked to the first (1860's) version of the KKK.  Deatherge mixed with anti-Jewish circles until WW2 forced all these dickheads out of business.  Good thing.  The tactics of the original KWC included "harassment, floggings, and sometimes murder."  Apparently, groups with this name have cropped up in our time, in Florida and Louisiana, probably elsewhere....

There was a brief flare-up in the USA known as the "Brown Scare" under the Roosevelt administration, during the war, when a number of fascists were put on trial for sedition and/or tax-related charges.  Christians was arrested for sedition in 1942; Deatherge was charged in 1944 under the same law, the Alien Registration Act, aka the Smith Act.  He was arrested on 12 counts of sedition and conspiracy, eventually serving 8 out of 15 years in prison.  He was one of 30 defendants in his 1944 trial, know as the "Great Sedition Trial of '44."

Roosevelt's crackdown was effective.  These groups were all but destroyed.  No mass incarceration like the Japanese, just a targeted approach.

Nazi leader Julius Kuhn was arrested as early as 1939, for tax evasion, and re-arrested in 1943 on charges related to his activity as a foreign agent.  He was deported in 1945 and later imprisoned in Germany under their postwar de-Nazification laws.  He was released shortly before his death in 1951.

This page on the Brown Scare is a neat little summary, specifically mentioning Kuhn and Pelley, but it doesn't speak about Deatherge and Christians.

The Great Sedition Trial of 1944 included 30 defendants, George Deatherge among them.

George Deatherge

So, these were just a few of the many would-be American führers, not to mention the thousands of rank and file sympathizers, of fascism in America.  Had the Japanese not attacked pearl Harbor, the US may never have entered the war.  Man-on-the-street interviews from the time show that many Americans saw the war as a European problem we'd best stay out of.

There were a number of fascist outfits in the US before WW2, but the only outright Nazis were the German-America Bund.  They were actually in contact with the Reich.  Their leader, Fritz Julius Kuhn, was a German immigrant and member of the Nazi party.  That said, relations with Germany were somewhat fraught and the Bund, despite some success, never seems to have been really important to Berlin.

Julius Kuhn

The Bund started life in the mid-20's as the Free Society of Teutonia.  From 1933 to 1935, they were known as the Friends of New Germany.  Reshuffling, time-biding, a lot of this reorganization was made in collaboration with Berlin, but it doesn't seem like anyone in Berlin really cared all that much.  Whereas the Bund was in contact with German officials who issued directives, meetings between reps from the Bund and the Germans government were more often than not "disappointing."

Bund flag

The Bund flag is kind of odd.  It has the three Nazi colors:  black, white, and red, forming an Iron Cross.  But the golden, 3D swastika looks like an Art Deco trophy.  It's kind of silly.

The "AV" stands for Amerikadeutscher Volksbund, but is it really necessary?  A flag shouldn't need subtitles.  The Bund flag is a failure on all levels from the POV of vexillology.

Bund youth group flag

The flag of the Bund's youth group has a starker color scheme, with a Celtic-type cross and the sig rune...comic-book villainy.  Weird how it shares zero in common with the flag of the parent organization.  One would never look at thee two flags and think that they are somehow related.

As I stated above, after the US entered WW2, American fascist leaders were either sent to prison or otherwise silenced.  After war was declared on the Axis, some groups found discretion was the better part of valor, and closed of their own accord.  But just 2 years prior (cue dithering harp music):

....the zenith of the Bund's activities was the rally at Madison Square Garden in New York City on February 20, 1939....Some 20,000 people attended....Most shocking to American sensibilities was the outbreak of violence between protesters and Bund storm troopers.

Charlottesville"s "Unite the Right" rally comes to mind; it shocked many in the nation, but it shouldn't have.  Fascists negotiate with their fists.

As the memory of WW2 fades, young people seem willing to pick up the Tiki-torch and run with it, but they run nowhere.  Fascism is a dead end.  Don't be surprised by fisticuffs; fascism fetishizes violence, and fascists attack in packs, like dogs: 

Survival of the Fittest.

Might makes Right.

Whenever I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver.  

Violence is part and parcel of fascist ideology, violence is their currency.  Fight Club.  A glorification of the jackal.  An almost suspect over-glorification of the family; the homosocial, coded violence of the soldier, the athlete, the Proud Boy....

The word "fascist" has been tossed around so much it's somewhat lost its power.  Ho-hum hipster yawn.  Been there, done that.  Like the boy who cried wolf.  But I think it's something to take seriously.  White sheets and all-black uniforms have given way to polo shirts and less menacing attire, but the goals remain the same.  It's easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, perhaps because our lives are relatively short.  WW2 finished a mere 25 years before I was born.  Fascism was never fully vanquished, just forced underground, and then only barely.  

We're a violent society, inflation has skyrocketed, our climate is going berserk, and we're still in the uncertain throes of an ugly pandemic.  Some positive Star Trek version of society could emerge as we sit on the brink of environmental and economic challenges (collapse?) the likes of which we haven't seen in centuries.  But I have a feeling things will get worse before they get better.  Make the country great.  Again.  I'd focus on making it tolerable, or even functional, first....