Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The State Flag That Induces Instant Headaches.

Since before the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, there has been talk of secession for the Long Island of New York. Modern Long Island Secessionists have their own flag designed Cesidio Tallini.

Michael J. Trinklein, author of the Lost States book and blog calls it, "the state flag that induces instant headaches." I cannot disagree.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Flag Question in Malawi

There's been quite a bit of flag controversy recently in Malawi, the small and cartographically skinny country tucked up northwest of Mozambique and on the eastern edge of Zambia. You may recognize the current flag, which has been in use since the country became independent of the British Empire in 1964:

Last month, the government began using a new banner, like so:

Why the change? And why, as it turns out, are a lot of people in Malawi not delighted with this change? I did some skimming of the Nyasa Times online to dredge up the basics.

Malawi appears to be one of many African countries that have come a long way toward political stability in the last 20 years. The current President, Bingu wa Mutharika, has been accused of election fraud by the opposition, but he seems to have participated in something more or less resembling a free election twice. The Mutharika government decided a new flag was in order to represent the improved civic climate, as well as an apparent rise in the country's overall standard of living. From the Times:
Government spokesman, Reckford Thotho said authorities proposed to change the national flag replacing the rising sun with a full sun and change some colours “symbolising the development that has taken place.”

Said the Information Minister: “The essence of changing the national flag is that times have changed since 1964 when Malawi adopted the flag on attaining its independence.

“The symbol of the rising sun that time made a lot of sense because it was dawn for freedom and hope. But there has been a lot of development that has taken place since and we cannot still be at dawn.”
Opposition figures are not pleased. They question whether the country has really made such meaningful progress, and claim that a change to the national flag is destructive to the country's unity and identity. Although the new flag was officially put into use earlier this month, there is a case pending at the Supreme Court on whether the change was legal under the Malawian Constitution. (Comments on the Nyasa Times website seem generally irritable and anti-change, but I'm going to assume that comments on African newspaper websites are like comments on American newspaper websites -- that is, disproportionately made by the grouchiest one percent of the population, and not really reflective of what the average person might be thinking.)

In this political climate, Mutharika's language at the ceremony that officially unveiled the flag was kind of interesting. Instead of emphasizing the change to the flag, he stressed the continuity in the two designs:
“We are not necessarily changing the flag as it has been reported by other quarters but we were modifying it to reflect the modern Malawi,” he said.
Is he making an attempt at reconciliation? Is he floating a strategy for the Supreme Court case? Kind of hard to tell from this distance, of course.

Now of course, this whole debate is nobody's business but the Malawians'. But -- as a complete outsider (presumably), what do you think? Do you like the new design better, or would you stick with the old?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Flag Friday XII

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: Approving of "good colors" but disliking "graven images," he gives it a "C+", 60/100.

Michael5000: Egypt's color scheme is not entirely to my personal liking, but it is certainly a dignified and regionally distinctive palette, so I can get behind Parsons there. As for the "graven image, let's take a closer look:

There is some fussiness here, but it is redeemed in my book by strong geometries and, especially, that the insignia is rendered in a single color. The local Betsy Ross, if she or he has sufficient appliqué skills, should be able to render it out of whole cloth. There is writing on this flag -- I am surprised that Parsons, who is a real writing hawk, did not beat me to this observation -- but it is subtle. I suppose that if I could read Arabic, the presence of words might bother me more, but there you go.

Grade: B

El Salvador

Parsons: Complaining of bad colors, writing, and a design that is "too busy," Parson adds that "not only did they write the name of country on the flag, but its full mailing address, in a living language." He gives it a D-, 36/100.

Michael5000: This is another case, as with Ecuador last time around, where at first you might at first wonder if Parsons is actually seeing the flag in question, or is merely hallucinating. But he's not. The civil flag, shown above, is as innocuous a tricolor as one could imagine, but El Salvador is another of many Latin American countries where the formal state flag gets a lot of popular use. So, here's the flag that Parsons was commenting on:

The seal, with its text -- Republica de El Salvador en la America Central -- is indeed rather busy. Here it is in schematic:

Mrs.5000 noted last week that the Haitian flag contains an image of itself, and found this -- if I do not put words in her mouth -- totally trippy. Well, the state flag of El Salvador ups the ante, with a whopping five images of itself in its central seal. The central triangle discretely spares us the knowledge of whether those five flags have five flags of their own, and so on, and so on, and so on. In any event, this seal is exactly the sort of thing I don't like to see on a flag, but even so you really have to look pretty closely to find "bad colors" here.

But in any event, Flag Friday's policy is to critique the civil flags of the world, and the civil flag is a simple white-on-blue sandwich. It is nothing remarkable, but would certainly seem restful on the eyes if you'd been staring at the flag of Austria for a while.

Grade (for the civil flag): B

Equatorial Guinea

Parsons: Complains of "writing" and "graven images," assigning a "D+", 45/100.

Michael5000: Small, culturally isolated, and with worse-than-usual quality-of-life problems across the board, Equatorial Guinea hardly needs grief about its flag. Yet I confess that I feel that Dr Parsons is essentially correct in his complaints, if a bit harsh in his grading.

It's fussy. The central elements are all simple: a shield, a tree, words on a banner, six stars. But four elements (or five, or ten, depending on how you count them) add up quickly, and soon start to look just a bit like a yard sale happening on the central stripe. I like the blue chevron, but it seems a bit thin, a bit... timid. Equatorial Guinea doesn't need a new flag or anything; it's just that its existing flag could stand for a bit of a makeover.

Grade: C+


Parsons: Condemning "bad colors," he gives it a "C+", 60/100.

Michael5000: In reference to the flag of East Timor, frequent L&TM5K commenter Jennifer noted that "there's an optical illusion for me caused by the two triangles that makes the right side of the flag look wider than the left side." Well, Jennifer, welcome to Eritrea.

I rather like the colors of the Eritrean flag, and I like the emblem -- and in answer to your question, that would be an upright olive branch within a wreath. Yet the optical effect that Jennifer noticed in East Timor is very pronounced here, creating the illusion that the rectangle is way out of true on the right-hand side. This uncomfortable effect is, in fact, the dominant feature of the flag for me, and it makes it really hard to enjoy the other elements.

Incidentally, the Eritreans went with a 5:3 ratio for a few years before switching to 2:1. Camp followers will know that I am no friend to the 2:1 ratio, but there's two sides to that story and there were some great comments on that point made after Flag Friday XI. In this case, anyway, the point is moot: the flag seems to be swelling out of its seams on the right-hand side in either ratio.

Grade: C


Parsons: Without comment, he assigns a "B-", 65/100.

Michael5000: You may already know of my enthusiasm for this unorthodox but mature tricolor, a striking and lovely banner which I awarded "Best Flag (Tricolor)" all the way back in 2008. (It was, in fact, the Estonian consulate's gracious response to this accolade which led to that Baltic country's Most Favored Nation status for this blog). Indeed, I am the kind of guy who, without a known drop of Estonian blood in his ancestry, might make a point of dressing up for Estonian Flag Day:

So you KNOW I'm not going to give it a measly B-. I am in fact going to give it an:

Grade: A