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ERIC BLAIR'S WORLD OF FLAGS


i shall use this valuable space to critique a world flag. i shall follow only this rule: stick to the extraordinary and the dreadful while ignoring the mundane. now, on with the flags!

libya

Libya

2-28-03

I can't begin to say enough bad things about this flag. Where's the imagination? (Oh, that's right, Col. Muammar Qadhafi is behind this monstrosity.) I'm not a big fan of green as it is, but an entire flag of it … with no emblem or stripe … not even a speck. Terrible. Terrible, I say!

After an Italian occupation that lasted from 1911-1943, Libya was administered by Allied armies until the United Nations granted its independence in 1951.

Libyan flag circa 1951.
The country adopted the Arab revolt tricolor with a white crescent and star in the middle. The stripes represented the three constituent provinces of Cyrenaica (black), Fezzan (red) and Tripolitania (green).

The Colonel took control during a 1969 military coup, and in 1972 the country entered the Federation of Arab Republics with Egypt and Syria. All three used the red/white/black horizontal tribar with a gold hawk of Quraish in the middle. Libya gave up this flag during the so-called "Green Revolution" of 1977. (Syria reinstituted two green stars in its middle stripe in 1980, and Egypt altered the bird to an eagle in 1986.)

The Colonel is an interesting man. During the 1970s and '80s, he espoused his own political system — a combination of socialism and Islam which he calls the Third International Theory. Viewing himself as a revolutionary, he used oil funds to promote this ideology. However, his military adventures failed and UN sanctions were imposed in 1992. Those sanctions were suspended in 1999 after it was determined that Qadhafi was heir to the KFC fortune.

Now using a blend of Marxism, the Third International Theory and Sandersism, the Colonel has found a new way to destroy the capitalists. Instead of blowing up airplanes and funding terrorist organisations, he's discreetly killing Westerners by filling them up with fried chicken and biscuits. The nutritional time bomb is ticking!

Rating: 1 stars

Next week: Quebec


marshall
islands

MARSHALL ISLANDS

2-14-03

Happy Valentine's Day to all of you vexillologists out there. What could be more romantic than spending an evening reading Eric Blair's World of Flags with a loved one? I can think of nothing …

This week's review focuses on the Marshall Islands, which includes such famous atolls as Bikini, Enewetak, Kwajalein, Majuro, Rongelap and Utirik. One would think that an island group with such names would be called something like the Skeebahdee Islands, but no, they are the Marshall Islands.

The chain was administered by the United States after World War II, but achieved its independence in 1986.

Did you know that the islanders speak a language called Marshallese? Linguists describe it as belonging to the Austronesian Language Family. And it has two major dialects: ralik and ratak. Here's a little Marshallese 101: "hello" (iokwe), "How are you?" Ejet am mour?, "Where is the bank?" Ewi bank eo?

So how is it that nation's capital is called Majuro in English and Dalap-Uliga-Darrit in Marshallese? That's a mystery which may never be unravelled.

The flag is of the same proportions as the American flag (10:19) and features two diagonal bands — one orange and one white — and a 24-pointed star on the hoist side.

While it may have been a clever flag in 1986, it's starting to show its age. It rather has the appearance of a generic-food brand logo. The blue and orange combination just screams out "Marshall Brand Toasty O's" or "Marshall Brand Lemon-Lime Soda." However, I do like the star and it really saves the flag from a terrible review.

Rating: 2.5 stars

Next week: Libya


grenada's flag

TIBET

2-7-03

WARNING: The above flag is used by the Tibetan government-in-exile and Tibetan organizations around the world. Its use in Tibet is FORBIDDEN, and its use elsewhere may cause offense to Chinese authorities.

But that doesn't mean we here at TheLatchook.com can't review it, right?

I'll tell you right off the bat, this is a four-star banner. The colors are bright and cheery, and I particularly like the two crazy-looking winged lions in the white triangle. If you look closely, you can even spot a blue-and-yellow yin-and-yang symbol between them.

The sun rises above the ferocious beasts and bursts into bands of red and blue. Stare at it long enough and your eyes begin to phase in and out of focus. Finally, the yellow border covers only three sides leaving the outer side open. That's a nice touch now isn't it?

China invaded Tibet in 1950 and continues to "administer" the territory. In addition to displacing nearly 100,000 Tibetans following the military takeover, China has been accused of deforestation practises, dumping nuclear waste, and persecuting Buddhists. (For more information, please see www.freetibet.org.)

Incidentally, Tibet is also home to the little Lhasa Apso (Tibet's capital is Lhasa). In Tibet, the hairy dog is known as the "Bark Lion Sentinel Dog." His primary function was that of a police watchdog. Unfortunately, he was replaced by the German shephard as authorities needed a dog that was harder to kick across a room.

Rating: 4 stars

Next week: Marshall Islands


grenada's flag

GRENADA

1-24-03

The year was 1983. While Americans were enjoying the benefits of President Ronald Reagan's new supply-side economics (using their new-found wealth to scoop up hot singles such as "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" by Bonnie Tyler and "Maniac" by Michael Sembello, no doubt), a group of "Marxists" (and their Cuban "advisors") were busy making their own plans in the basement of a grass hut in the outskirts of Grenville, Grenada.

That autumn, these "Marxists" (and their Cuban "advisors") acted and seized control of the tiny island's government. Other Caribbean nations protested, claiming Cuba was trying to assert its Communist ideals on its neighbors. As soon as President Reagan heard the word "Communist," he leapt into action and ordered an invasion. On Oct. 19, 1983, the military might of the United States rained down on the beaches of the Caribbean speck. "There's no way we could say no," Reagan said.

The initial force of "Operation Urgent Fury" was made up of around 1,000 American soldiers. When they encountered stiff resistance, another 6,000 were brought in to "finish the job." After several days of fighting on an island no bigger than Washington, D.C., the Americans emerged victorious. By mid-December, U.S. combat forces returned home (just in time for Christmas) and a pro-American government was installed. The final casualty count: 19 dead Americans, 49 dead Grenadians and 29 dead Cubans.

I preface my column with this because of the sheer ridiculousness of the incursion. Why would a country with so much power want to invade a state with such a pretty flag? Look at the flags of America's enemies hitherto: Germany (a Swastika), Japan (a red dot on a white field), Vietnam (a yellow star on a red field) … all were fairly blasé. But Grenada has a colourful banner that says, "come, and I'll show you a secret place of happiness."

Maybe it's not all that simple. Maybe Pres. Reagan saw those yellow stars on the red background and was haunted by America's folly in Indochina. Maybe, he couldn't figure out what that "thing" was on the hoist-side green triangle. Well, MISTER Reagan, here is what it's all about:

A rectangle divided diagonally into two yellow triangles (top and bottom) and two green triangles (hoist and outer sides) with a red border around, the Grenadian flag features seven yellow, five-pointed stars with three centered in the top red border, three centered in the bottom red border, and one on a red disk superimposed at the center of the flag. A symbolic nutmeg pod on the hoist-side triangle lets us know that Grenada is the world's second-largest producer of nutmeg (Indonesia is No. 1), and the seven stars represent the seven administrative divisions of the country.

Now, I feel for Pres. Reagan and his illness — I'm sure he can't possibly remember all of this — but if he absolutely had to invade someone, couldn't he have chosen a country with a dull flag? My best suggestion: Libya. A plain green flag is about as bad as it gets. Plus, no one likes them anyway.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars

Next week: Tibet


brazil's flag

CYPRUS

1-17-03

The flag of Cyprus is technically the flag of the entire Mediterranean island, but in practise it is used only by the Greek south. The Turks in the north unilaterally declared their own state of Northern Cyprus in 1983. Unfortunately (for them), this is only recognised by Turkey.

The elegant banner features a copper-coloured silhouette of the island (the name Cyprus is derived from the Greek word for copper) above two olive branches which symbolise the hope for reconciliation between the currently divided state.

I like many things about the flag, but most importantly I like that it is uniquely Cypriot. As you may have discovered in previous World of Flags columns, I enjoy flags that incorporate something about the nation they represent. The outline of the island was a brilliant way to achieve this. (The shape rather looks like a genie lamp, doesn't it?)

The contrast between the copper and white is also a nice touch. And the olive branch provides another important symbol relevant to the island.

So why is it that so many nations in turmoil have such great flags? My theory is that these flags are such beautiful objects, normally law-abiding citizens feel compelled to possess them. I have many scientific studies and facts to back up this assertion, but most of the information is copyrighted and unobtainable. Damn the United States Supreme Court and its "higher-than-thou" judgements! They really know how to put the "ham" back in "ham-handed."

Rating: 4 stars

Next week: Grenada


brazil's flag

BRAZIL

1-10-03

Stargazers and globetrotters will love the national flag of Brazil. Once you get past the green background and into the yellow diamond, you'll find a large blue globe with 27 white stars (one for each of the country's states) arranged in the same pattern as Brazil's night sky. A white equatorial band carried the motto "Ordem e Progresso," or "Order and Progress" in Portuguese.

What I particularly like about this flag is that it has country-specific images: The night sky, the 27 stars, the Portuguese motto. All point to things distinctly Brazil.

The major drawback of this banner, however, is that God-awful green background. I liked Macau's flag because of its unique central image (see previous column) but in general, I don't like green flags waving in my face. The worst offender, of course, is Libya with its plain green flag. I mean, really.

If you ever get a chance to visit Brazil, may I suggest checking out a little shop called Fidelio's on Fourth in Main in downtown Rio. They sure know how to treat a tourist right. It's right between the Chuck E. Cheese and the Holiday station. You can't miss it. When you get to the airport, just ask for "Joe." He'll show you the way …

Rating: 3 stars

Next week: Cyprus


zambia's flag

ZAMBIA

1-3-03

Sorry for the delay in flag-reviewing. The Blair Family Christmas is not an affair to be trifled with. The holiday tea ceremony alone lasts three-and-a-half hours. Of course, there's always plenty of discussion and this year's roundtable turned to my "World of Flags" column. My father, James Edward William Blair IV, had much to say about it, in particular today's subject.

"Zambia," he paused as if lamenting the death of a dear relative, "was the end of the Crown." He went on, "The day we gave up Rhodesia was the day the world pulled down our trousers."

Anyway …

Formerly known as Northern Rhodesia, Zambia gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1964. With the new country, of course, came a new flag. Zambia's choice in this matter, though, leaves much to be desired.

First off, here's what the Zambian pundits say (what, you didn't know there were Zambian pundits?):

Green represents agriculture. Red recalls the struggle for independence. Black stands for the Zambian people. Orange symbolizes Zambia's mineral wealth, particularly its copper deposits.

That's all fine and dandy, but couldn't they have come up with a better design?

My main problem with this flag is that it's backward. Shouldn't the eagle and stripes be on the left side? I can't even imagine how this thing looks on a pole. Maybe they use two poles, I don't know.

My secondary problem is the color combo. Green, red, black and orange? Too many colors considering the green background. If they insisted on using all these colors, perhaps a lighter background would have helped.

So why are you giving it one and a half stars, you say? One of Eric Blair's steadfast rules: Any flag with a bird on it gets an additional half star.

Rating: 1 1/2 stars

Next week: Brazil


Greenland

GREENLAND

12-22-02

The world's largest non-continental island, Greenland (or Kalaallit Nunaat as it is called locally) is about 84 percent ice-capped. Though the territory is part of the kingdom of Denmark, it was granted self-government in 1978. Only 56,000 people live on the island.

Denmark
The flag of Denmark.

The flag — called Erfalasorput (meaning "our flag"), and oftentimes Aappalaaroq ("the red") — was adopted in 1985 after an extended search to replace the Danish banner (called Dannebrog).

The first serious proposal for a new Greenland flag came in 1973 when it was suggested that a green-white-and-blue flag might be appropriate.
1973
Proposed 1973 design.

This inspired other people to put forward their own designs, and in 1974 a Greenland newspaper published a total of 11 proposals. All except one had a Scandinavian cross in its design. After a vote, however, Dannebrog was still the most favoured flag. So it stayed.

Another design contest was organised in 1980 and more than 500 proposals were submitted. The government was unable to agree on a design, and later invited artists to submit even more designs. In the final decision, a red-and-white flag with a split circle narrowly won.

Several people were dissatisfied with the decision not to adopt a flag with a Scandinavian cross. However, the flag now seems to have been accepted and appreciated.

Flag designer Thue Christiansen said this on the symbolism of the flag:

"The large white part in the flag symbolises the ice cap, and our fjords are represented by the red part in the circle. The white part of the circle symbolises the ice bergs and the pack ice, and the large red part in the flag represents the ocean."

Christiansen went on to add, "The colours are the same as [the Danish flag] and thus we can also continue to call our flag ['the red']." This was probably the reason why the design won over the proposed green and white Scandinavian cross design.

This well-designed flag is simple and clean, and should last for generations. It's definitely one of my favourites.

Rating: 4 stars

Next week: Zambia


Macau

MACAU

12-13-02

A gambling enclave made up of a peninsula and two islands in the South China Sea, Macau was the last remnant of European colonialism in Asia. Ruled by Portugal from 1557-1999, Macau is now administered by China under the "one country, two systems" formula. It's only a tenth of the size of Washington, D.C., but has roughly the same population (around 500,000).

Portugal leaves behind its cultural legacy in the form of architecture, cuisine, and bullfighting. Macau's economy is heavily reliant on gambling taxes, which make up 60 percent of its total revenue.

The flag is simple, modern and anything but European. A lotus flower sits above a stylized bridge and water against a green background. Above it are five gold stars along an arc: one large in the center and two smaller on each side. What I like about the flag is that it takes an old symbol like the lotus and brings it up to date with some clean lines and good design.

Macau provides an excellent model for a modern Minnesota. Here's how: We could separate the Northwest Angle from the rest of the state and make it a "gambling enclave." The additional revenue could more than pay for the $4.5 billion budget deficit. As a nod to our newfound Macanese roots, we could also adopt a new flag: a twin-beaked loon's head above a "stylized" Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge.

(A controversial part of the plan calls for flooding 95 percent of the state to create a peninsula and two islands, but that might not be feasible as it would drastically reduce our tax base by killing more than 5 million people.)

If you're "on board" with these ideas, share them with Minnesota Governor-elect Tim Pawlenty at gov.elect@state.mn.us. Tell him Eric sent you!

Rating: 3 stars

Next week: Greenland


Czech Republic

CZECH REPUBLIC

12-05-02

What do Texas and the Czech Republic have in common? Take a look at their flags. They're remarkably similar. Both contain a field of blue along the left edge, and a white
Czechxas?
The flag of Texas.
stripe atop a red stipe to the right. The major difference, of course, is that the Czech flag has a triangular blue field and the Texas flag has a rectangular blue field with a white star.

So how is it that these two vastly different cultures have such a similar banner? One theory is that a group of Czechs left Europe for America sometime in the early 18th century. They formed their own state, a kind of Utopia called Czechxas (pronounced CHECK-sas). There they lived peacefully until a group of Mexican bandits sacked the capital — called Praha nad Austin — and ceded the entire Czechxan territory to Mexico. Following the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846-48, Czechxas was ceded to the United States. It was renamed Texas after pioneer animator Tex Avery, creator of such classic cartoon characters as Droopy, Chilly Willy and Screwy Squirrel.

Of course, that theory has been totally discounted by nearly every living (and dead) historian, but it's still fun to think about.

In summation, the Czech flag is an excellent example of how a simple form can be so effective. The colors — used by such countries as France and the United States — are classic. What makes the Czech flag stand out, however, is the ease in which the fields flow into each other.

One can only wonder what would have happened had those Mexican bandits gone to Louisiana, or Nouvelle Ville de Jack as it was called then. But that's another story …

Rating: 3 stars

Next week: Macau


angola

THE ISLE OF MAN

11-27-02

Now that we have that nasty Angola business behind us (nasty business, but great flag) it's time to take a look at a bit of a curiosity in the flag world, the banner of the Isle of Man.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Isle of Man, it's a small dot of rock located between Great Britain and Ireland in the Irish Sea. It was part of the Norwegian Kingdom of the Hebrides until the 13th century when it was ceded to Scotland. In 1765, the isle came under British rule and continues to be a British crown dependency to this day.

The bold, red flag features the Three Legs of Man emblem, or Trinacria, in the center. The three legs appear to be modeling some kind of underwear and have five-pointed yellow stars as spurs. Interestingly, a two-sided emblem is used in order to have the toes pointing clockwise on both sides of the flag.

The originality and sheer audacity of this flag sure make it a lot of fun. However, it can really freak you out if you stare at it for any duration. Especially disturbing are those strange yellow kneecaps and crotch cap. My advice: Don't look at it for more than 10 seconds. Prolonged exposure may result in unspeakable acts.

Rating: 2 1/2 stars

Next week: The Czech Republic


angola

ANGOLA

11-22-02

My first endeavour brings us to the African nation of Angola. Located on the southwest portion of the continent, Angola has been in nearly constant upheaval since its independence from Portugal in 1975. Nevertheless, it has a downright splendid flag.

The American Central Intelligence Agency describes its flag as follows: two equal horizontal bands of red (top) and black with a centered yellow emblem consisting of a five-pointed star within half a cogwheel crossed by a machete (in the style of a hammer and sickle).

Indeed, it's the cogwheel and machete that makes this banner roar. The old Soviet hammer and sickle represented a different, less mechanized time. The Angolan version is smooth and clean, suggesting an industrial modernism. It's ironic, then, as the country hasn't much of an industrial base; it's labor force is nearly totally agricultural.

Rating: three stars

Next week: The Isle of Man