Friday, July 23, 2010

Flag Friday XI

Flag Friday is a periodic discussion of the world's national flags; the project is explained and indexed here.

These discussions are about graphic design, and perhaps about nationalism and national symbolism in general. They should not be taken as critical of the countries, ideals, cultures, or people that the flags represent.


Parsons: Without comment, he gives it an "B", 74/100.

Michael5000: The flag of Djibouti does its job of being a recognizable symbol pretty well, taking fairly conventional elements and combining them in a distinctive fashion. This is in part due to the unusual pastel tint of its blue and green fields, and in part to its use of white in the left-hand field -- fields abutting the flagpole are generally darker than the rest of the flag, but that pattern is reversed here. Too, the red star looks a little too small for the space it occupies. So yes, the flag of Djibouti is distinctive and recognizable. But to an extent, it arrives at that effect by looking just slightly, just subtly, not quite right.

Grade: B-


Parsons: "Do not put a picture of a parrot on your flag!" demands Parsons. "(This goes for you too, Guatamala)." For this, and "bad colors," "graven images," and "it being "too busy," he assigns a "D", 40/100.

Michael5000: Hmm. It's fussy, it's figurative, and it fails the Betsy Ross test with flying colors. Seven distinct flying colors, to be precise. The three-tone stripes create an inherent asymmetry that I find deeply unsatisfying. And, it's in the long, stretched-out 2:1 ratio. There's not much to love about this flag qua flag, and I could hardly disagree with Parson's "Do not put a picture of a parrot on your flag." However... I will go as far as to confess... he's kind of a cute parrot...

Grade: C-

Dominican Republic

Parsons:Without comment, he assigns a "B", 70/100.

Michael5000: Without comment? Really? Because, although Parsons and I are generally on the same page regarding fussy figurative detail on flags, I'm usually a little more flexible and forgiving. But the flag of the D.R. is pretty egregiously fussy. The white cross through blue and red fields are, sure, terrific. But that bit in the center! Here's a description, from the Wiki:
A small coat of arms featuring a shield with the flag design and supported by a bay laurel branch (left) and a palm frond (right) is at the center of the cross; above the shield, a blue ribbon displays the national motto: Dios, Patria, Libertad (God, Fatherland, Liberty). Below the shield, the words República Dominicana appear on a red ribbon (this red ribbon is depicted in more recent versions as having its tips pointing upward). In the center of the shield, flanked by three spears (two of them holding Dominican banners) on each side, is a Bible with a small cross above it and said to be opened to the Gospel of John, either to chapter one or chapter 8, verse 32, which reads Y la verdad nos hará libre (And the truth shall make you free).
Heavens. This would be a preposterous level of detail for the flag as a whole, let alone for the little patch in the center. If you've got such specific flourishes in your design that they are not visible to the naked eye -- the Bible is "said to" be open to a special verse? -- it's safe to say they are not contributing to the overall effect. Purely conceptual elements in a flag design are not going to help you rally to your side on a chaotic battlefield.

Do not put a Bible flanked by three spears and tops with a small cross on your flag! And don't YOU get any ideas, Guatemala!

Grade: D

East Timor

Parsons: Dr. Parsons was either writing before, or using a list compiled before, 2002, the year that East Timor joined the happy community of recognized states.

Michael5000: The flag of East Timor, which if memory serves is still our youngest country, is distinctive, highly visible, and satisfyingly flaggy. It very nicely pulls off the trick of distinguishing itself from the other 200-odd flags without leaving the tradition of easily made, easily recognized whole-cloth banners. Two complaints, however -- the East Timorans, like the good people of Dominica, have made the unfortunate choice of the 2:1 ratio (at least officially, anyway; I believe most 2:1 flags are generally corrupted in general use into something closer to the more comfortable 5:3 ratio). Secondly, somebody seems to have gone to a great deal of trouble to establish that the star is rotated so as to not conform to any obvious symmetry. That drives me a little crazy.

Grade: B


Parsons: "The Colombian flag was not very good to begin with, fine effort from Ecuador making it worse." Charging "plagiarism," that it has "graven images," and that it's "too busy," he assigns a "C+", 64/100.

Michael5000: Sigh. We might as well start with the "plagiarism" bit. Yes, the flag of Ecuador is similar to those of Colombia (which Parsons calls "original") and Venezuela. Behold:

This shouldn't be too surprising, though, seeing as how they used to be three parts of the same country. Nowadays we call it Gran Colombia, but at the time (1819-1831) it was just "Colombia," a loose federal state that eventually got so loose that Ecuador and Venezuela calved off as independent countries. All three remnants of Gran Colombia took that country's flag as the starting point in coming up with their own banners, and there you have it. Their flags look similar, just as you'd expect. History is not plagiarism.

Now then, what of the "graven images" and "too busy" accusations, applied to a simple tricolor? It is not, as it might at first appear, an instance of good Dr. Parsons neglecting his medication, nor do I think it is his reaction to the Dominican Republic's issues, applied to Ecuador due to a compositor's error. No, I think that Parsons must have realized -- despite using a graphic of the plain civil flag on his website -- that Ecuador is one of several Latin American countries where the more elaborate state flag is in common use.

...and while it is certainly handsome -- I think the primary colors of the Gran Colombia flags look pretty sharp against a clear blue sky -- it is certainly as fussy as any flag burdened with an official seal.

Photographic evidence suggests that there are quite a few Ecuadoran flags that have had the state seal sewn onto only one side of them. You can tell, for instance, that there is a seal lurking on the reverse side of this one:

Which is pretty cool, in a flag-geeky sort of way: it yields a banner that is a state flag on one side, and a civil flag on the other. Two for the price of one!

I gave the flag of Colombia a B+. Essentially the same, but like Dominica and East Timor stretched into the elongated 2:1 ratio, Ecuador gets a...

Grade: B

Friday, July 16, 2010

Flag Friday X

[This episode of Flag Friday appeared last week at the L&TM5K.]

Flag Friday is a periodic discussion of the world's national flags; the project is explained and indexed here.

These discussions are about graphic design, and perhaps about nationalism and national symbolism in general. They should not be taken as critical of the countries, ideals, cultures, or people that the flags represent.


Parsons: Without comment, he gives it an "A", 85/100.

Michael5000: One hundred and fifty years old, it seems reasonable to assume that this red, white, and blue star-and-stripes design worked out by anti-colonial Cubans was inspired by a broadly similar flag in a major mainland country to the north. There's some irony in there, since the relationship between those two countries over the last half-century has been antagonistic and ridiculous, sometimes comically so, sometimes tragically.

It is my belief that the country of Cuba leads the planet in cultural influence per capita, and since the flag is (as it is supposed to be!) a potent symbol of all things Cuban, it is a little difficult to separate the design from all that it has been freighted with, from groovy revolutionary idealism to Caribbean cuisine. But I try. At its heart, it is a sturdy, simple, but unremarkable flag. Not too fussy, but neither especially memorable in and of itself.

Grade: B


Parsons: "What can I say?" laments Parsons. "The mother of all flags with maps on them." For this, and "bad colors," he assigns a "D", 40/100.

Michael5000: I've got no special beef with maps on flags, which are rare enough in any event. The main problem with the flag of Cyprus, for me, is that it is kind of depressing. There's more than a touch of desperation in its overt symbolization of goals that seem reasonable enough, but have proven gloomily elusive: peace between Turkish and Greek Cypriots, and a politically united island.

There is a new flag, more traditional and less didactic, already designed for whenever Cyprus is able to reemerge as a united, independent country. I'll hold off on discussing it here, though, until we actually see it on the flagpoles.

Grade (for the current flag): C

Czech Republic

Parsons:Without comment, he assigns a "B", 70/100.

Michael5000: If the Czech flag seems a bit uninspired, that may be because it is. The traditional flag of Bohemia, back in the day, was a bicolor with white over red. This proved inconveniently identical to the flag of neighboring Poland and irritatingly similar to the red-white-red tricolor of neighboring Austria, so a distinction was made by adding a blue triangle. Voila! The flag of the Czech Republic.

Or rather, the flag of Czechoslovakia. When that awesomely named country went through its amicable divorce, one of the first acts of the new Czech Republic was to ban all symbols of the previous federation. One of the second acts was to adopt the flag of the previous federation as its own. It's a cute little constitutional crisis that nobody really cares too much about.

Grade: B


Parsons: Noting that it is "simple," he gives it a "B", 74/100.

Michael5000: The flag of Denmark fell from heaven onto a battlefield in 1219, and the Danish king caught it before it touched the ground. This obvious gesture of God's favor inspired the Danes to win the day. Or so the story goes.

Now some of your more picky historians dispute the divine origins of the Dannebrog, but the upshot of the story is that, even if some of the specific details are in question, Denmark's flag must be very, very, very old. In fact, as noted earlier in this series, it seems to be in more or less of a tie with Austria for the oldest national flag still flying. Classic in that sense, it also has an elegant simplicity of line, form, and high-contrast colors that makes it a truly archetypical flag. Indeed, the "Scandinavian Cross" has subsequently been adopted by most of the Nordic countries. The short version? the Danish flag is awesome.

Grade: A

Friday, July 9, 2010

Flag Friday IX

[Due to the chaotic nature of complex systems, Vexillophilia Flag Friday has fallen behind L&TM5K Flag Friday. We apologize for any inconvenience.]

Flag Friday is a periodic discussion of the world's national flags; the project is explained and indexed here.

These discussions are about graphic design, and perhaps about nationalism and national symbolism in general. They should not be taken as critical of the countries, ideals, cultures, or people that the flags represent.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Here's the flag of the DRC that Parsons reviewed:

Parsons: Clarifying that "this is the one [the Congo] whose captial is Kinshasa," Parsons objects to "too many stars" but gives it a "B", 74/100.

Since 2006, though, the DRC has flown a new flag as it tries to overcome the ghastly shadow of nasty dudes like King Leopold of Belgium and Mbuto Sese Seko.

Michael5000: The DRC is another country that has wrestled with its choice of flag as it has wrestled with its incredibly complex internal politics. The six-little-stars-and-one-big-one was a past flag hauled back into service to replace the banner of Mbuto-era "Zaire," which you'll probably remember when you see it:

That flag, which flew from 1971 to 1997, was a good representation for Mbuto's professed program of Africanization and the emergence of a strong and confident large African country. Since that vision was subsequently discredited by the reality of Mbuto's tenure in office, which consisted mostly of his systematically looting the country for the staggering personal enrichment of himself and a handful of toadies, it -- along with the flag and the name "Zaire" -- ended up leaving a bad taste in everybody's mouth.
So, it's understandable that there was a quick reversion to the six-little-stars-and-one-big-one flag. Problem is, that flag was intended to symbolize the union of six provinces, and the country has since been reorganized into ten provinces and a capital district. So in 2006 yet another old flag, the red-star-and-diagonal-slash has been pulled back into service. Now this flag is not entirely without its problems either, as it ultimately traces its history to the brutal Belgian Congo era. My guess is that, as so often happens in the tensely multi-national countries of Africa, it was probably selected as not being representative of any one ethnic group, and therefore being equally offensive -- and therefore equally inoffensive -- to all.

Plus, it looks pretty sharp on a flagpole.

Grade: A-

Republic of the Congo

Parsons:I initially thought that Parsons had overlooked Congo-Brazzaville, but he had, rather saucily it seems to me, filed it under "T" for "The Other Congo." Noting that "This is the one whose capital is not Kinshasa," he gives it a "B", 70/100, without comment.

Michael5000: We have seen vertical and horizontal tricolors, but I believe this may be the first diagonal tricolor we have run into. The diagonal tricolor shares all of the flaggy advantages of the other tricolors, being highly simple and easily to construct as well as easy to recognize at any distance. It does introduce an additional complexity -- how will the diagonal stripe fit into the corners -- but I think the Congolese picked the right solution here for a banner of normal dimensions, keeping the central stripe off of the sides.

Having said all that, I have to confess to a mild personal preference for the horizontal and vertical versions of the tricolor. But, it's also important to recognize that countries that came to the flag-design table later in the game had to do something to distinguish their symbols from existing European models, and this wasn't a bad way to do it. Too, the colors that Congo-Brazzaville is rocking at the moment are certainly better than those in place from 1970 to 1991, which were in my estimation rather... didactic.

Grade (for the current flag): B+

Costa Rica

Parsons:Complaining that it is "too busy," he assigns a "C", 55/100.

Michael5000: "Too busy"? Five horizontal stripes of red, white, and blue? Let's assume that was a clerical error. The only problem with the flag of Costa Rica, which is admirably simple, distinctive, and attractive in a businesslike sort of way, is that it is quite similar to the flag of Thailand. But, Costa Rica's flag has eleven years of seniority over Thailand's, so there.

Grade: A-


Parsons:Complaining that it, too, is "too busy," he again assigns a "C", 55/100.

Michael5000: OK, yes, here we have too much busy-ness. The checkerboard shield is a bit Ralston-Purina, and the fussy symbols-in-a-crown detail is much too fine-grained to make sense on a flag. Having said this, it's also true that the Croatian flag stands out pretty well and is not hard to pick out of the 200-country lineup.

Grade: B-

Friday, July 2, 2010

Salute the Flag... Then Eat It!

What are you making for your 4th-of-July picnic?*

How about miniature tart shells filled with mascarpone cream and decorated with blueberries and strawberries?

From the Food Network.

*Some restrictions may apply. Void in England.

HT to Jennifer