State Flags: The Good, Continued

Okay, so maybe slightly later than “later this week.” None the less, here is the conclusion to the first installment of our series on state flags. If you haven’t read the first part of this, it’s here.

Without further ado, my choices for the best of the state flags, #6 to #1.

6. Colorado

It’s interesting how your quickly opinions can change on some of this subjective stuff. Although Colorado has an objectively nice flag, this morning it’s looking like a piece of sporting apparel and I’m now pondering if it belongs in the category of flags that need a minor tweak. Not going to do it; that way lies madness. Well, maybe in the comments if there’s interest.

This flag technically breaks two of NAVA’s five criteria, there are four colors and the large “C” is text. But this is another flag that Good Flag, Bad Flag uses to demonstrate that one can depart from their principles “with caution and purpose,” calling the “C” a “stunning graphic element.”

The Colorado National Monument

Each of the four colors carries symbolic meaning. The red, perhaps most significantly, represents the land. “Colorado,” the name of first the river and then the state literally means “colored red.” The gold evokes the abundant sunlight, the blue the sky, and the white, the snow-capped mountains.

5. Tennessee

The “Tri-Star Flag” is a nice flag with some nice symbolism, but boy is that a lot of red! That’s not really to my taste. Still, the centerpiece makes a nice symbol that is used by businesses and sports teams. The three stars represent the three “Grand Divisions” of Tennessee defined in the state constitution, East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and West Tennessee. These divisions are “bound together in indissoluble unity” within the blue circle by the “unending white band.” The blue band is merely a design element to relieve, as LeRoy Reeves, the designer puts it, “the sameness of the crimson field and prevents the flag from showing too much crimson when hanging limp. The blue band is symbolically a bit of a missed opportunity. In its current location, it could represent the Blue Ridge Mountains on the eastern border of the state. On the left, it could symbolize the Mississippi River, the western border. Do both and the flag becomes a metaphorical map of Tennessee. The star placements are established by state law and are a bit fiddly; a commemorative stamp issued in 1976 showed the stamp upside down.

4. The District of Columbia

The nation’s capital was founded in 1791. It had to wait until 1938 before a flag was chosen, but at least it’s an objectively good flag. The design is striking and is based on the Washington family’s Coat of Arms so the symbolism more-or-less takes care of itself. The flag was designed by a three-member commission appointed by Congress and was initially a symbol of the District’s lack of representation. Ironically, Washingtonians have since embraced the flag. It appears on merchandise throughout the district and is used prominently by the DC Statehood Movement.

When a seal or a coat of arms is used in the design of a flag, the usual approach is to merely place the seal on a solid colored background as we see at left, and then perhaps add the name, a date of a motto to the flag. None of those are improvements. The DC flag is an object lesson in how to use a seal or a coat of arms as an inspiration for flag design. The trick, in this case, is to focus on one or two clear and distinctive design elements, rather than trying to include the entire coat of arms. Another excellent example can be found in this video.

3. Hawaii

Having the British flag in the canton of one of the thirteen original colonies would be kind of obnoxious, but here makes for a beautiful and distinctive flag. Before the War of 1812, King Kamehameha I flew the Union Flag over his home. This flag had been a gift from Britain’s King George III. During the war, this was replaced by the American flag until some British officers objected. Kamehameha responded by commissioning a new flag that was a hybrid of the two. Britain is represented in the canton while the stripes and their colors symbolize the United States. The eight stripes each stand for one of Hawaii’s major islands, echoing the symbolism of the American flag. Hawaii’s flag is one of only two state flags to have been the flag of an independent country and it is the only flag to fly over a kingdom, a republic, an American territory, and a state.

2. Ohio

NAVA’s fifth principle of flag design is to “Be original or be related.” Ohio’s flag is proof that the “or” is not exclusive. It’s certainly “related.” Of all the state flags, Ohio’s flag has the strongest resemblance to the Stars and Stripes. It is also original. It’s the only non-rectangular state flag and the blue triangle on the hoist as well as the white-and-red “O” are distinctive.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/36/The_Ohio_State_Flag_%28design%29.jpg

Virtually every element of the flag has meaning. The triangular swallowtail shape is thought to hearken back to flags carried by Ohio units in the Civil and Spanish American wars. The five stripes symbolize the roads and waterways of the state while the blue field stands for Ohio’s hills and valleys. The 13 stars encircling the “O” represent the thirteen original states while collectively the 17 stars evoke Ohio’s position as the 17th state to join the Union. The “O” doesn’t merely stand for the state’s name, it also suggests an eye and thus Ohio’s nickname as the “Buckeye State.”

It’s interesting that, although we now recognize Ohio’s is a well-designed flag, it wasn’t initially so well received. The “seal-on-a-bed-sheet” model was ubiquitous among state flags. It was seldom used and compared to the flags of Cuba and the Philippines. It was particularly disparaged for the red center of the O’s similarity to the Japanese flag’s sun.

1. Alaska

Readers of this blog might recall that Alaska is my favorite state flag. It’s a simple, attractive flag. If you know anything about celestial navigation, at least some of the symbolism is easy to deduce. The location of the big dipper makes it clear that the larger star is the north star; symbolizing that Alaska is the northern-most state.

But there’s a lot more going on here, worthy of a post of its own. The flag was initially chosen as the territorial flag in 1927 after the Governor held a design contest open to school children in grades 7 through 12. The winner of the contest was 13-year-old Benny Benson, a native Alaskan. His entry was the unanimous choice of the panel of judges and was adopted unanimously by both houses of the territorial legislature. There’s synergy here; the blue represents not only the night sky but also the color of a forget-me-not which was later chosen as the state flower. Marie Drake, the assistant commissioner of education wrote a poem about Benson’s symbolism for an educational program about the flag. Elinor Dusenbury, a former Alaska resident, set the poem to music out of, as she put it, “pure unadulterated homesickness for Alaska!” The song was quite popular; it was chosen as the territorial song in 1955 and became the state song when Alaska became the 49th state. It is the only state song about a flag.

Benny Benson.jpg
Benny Benson holding a homemade version of his flag

Eight stars of gold on a field of blue
Alaska’s flag. May it mean to you
The blue of the sea, the evening sky,
The mountain lakes, and the flow’rs nearby;
The gold of the early sourdough’s dreams,
The precious gold of the hills and streams;
The brilliant stars in the northern sky,
The “Bear,” the “Dipper,” and, shining high,
The great North Star with its steady light,
O’er land and sea a beacon bright.
Alaska’s flag to Alaskans dear,
The simple flag of a last frontier.

Alaska’s Flag

Coming soon(?), the state flags that require minor alterations.

References:

Image Credits:

  • Featured and Other Images: (c) 2020, ComicsTheUniverseAndEverything.net
  • Alaska State Flag: Wikimedia, BlinxTheKitty [Public domain]
  • Colorado State Flag: Wikimedia, Andrew Carlisle Carson [Public domain]
  • The Colorado National Monument, Wikimedia, Rennett Stowe [Public domain]
  • DC Flag: Wikimedia, -xfi- [Public domain]
  • Maryland State Flag: Wikimedia, Michael Wheeler [Public domain]
  • NY State Flag: Wikimedia, Xrman [Public domain]
  • Ohio State Flag: Wikimedia, John Eisenmann [Public domain]
  • Original specification for the Ohio Flag, Wikimedia, John Eisenmann [Public domain]
  • South Carolina State Flag: Wikimedia [Public domain]
  • Tennessee State Flag: Wikimedia, -xfi- [Public domain]
  • Texas State Flag: Wikimedia [Public domain]

Last and First Men

Listen patiently; for we who are the Last Men earnestly desire to communicate with you, who are members of the First Human Species. We can help you, and we need your help.

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Two frequently used themes within Science Fiction are Evolution and Future History. Within these, Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men is a towering achievement, inspiring generations of science fiction writers with a scope that transcends even geologic time frames. I read it for the first time almost thirty years ago and it is not a light read; it requires patience and attention but it’s well worth the effort. Arthur C. Clarke said “No book before or since has ever had such an impact upon my imagination” and it echoes in his greatest works, including Childhood’s End and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

So I was intrigued when I discovered that Last and First Men had been made into a film by Jóhann Jóhannsson. It would seem to be unfilmable; the novel has few characters other than humankind itself and spans the time from the 1930s to the terminus of the solar system two billion years hence.

And it may be a film, but it isn’t a movie in the traditional sense. What it is, is a skillful melding of music, imagery, and narration.

The music is central as is to be expected, Jóhannsson was primarily a composer, known for the score to Arrival and other films. The score here is both haunting and melancholy. It supports the narration and underscores the imagery; many moments rely only on the music and the images, building the mood between sections of monologue.

The narration adopts the framework of the book. It is a monologue by one of the last men, a member of the eighteenth distinct species of humanity, as they contemplate the impending extinction of humankind. Tilda Swinton’s performance is understated, yet effective. The script seems to be portions of the book spliced together into a shorter but coherent form, mostly from the introduction and the later chapters about the last men. I haven’t checked this in detail, but the words themselves are Stapledon’s own with some occasional modernizing of the language.

Visually, this film is stark and beautiful. Bare trees and the sun failing to shine through overcast skies are recurring motifs that suggest desolation and the depths of winter. Mostly the film is in black and white with two exceptions. The bright green of an oscilloscope occasionally emphasizes the dialogue. The central image of the film is the sun glowing red through the clouds as the narrator explains that changes in the sun will bring about humanity’s demise. The inclusion of color in an otherwise monochrome film is jarring and effective. It’s a nice touch that the one note of red in the film visually reminds us of Hal from Clarke and Kubrick’s 2001. That movie may not have existed without Stapledon’s influence and a thoughtful and subdued SF film like this one might not have existed without 2001.

The other important visual motif is the sculptures, spomeniks, monuments to the Second World War in the former Yugoslavia. These are essential to the tone of the film. They evoke the distant future by suggesting buildings with geometry that seems utterly alien and strange and yet they also manage to suggest that you’re traveling through the ruins of a long-extinct civilization.

Most of Stapledon’s novel doesn’t make it into this film, particularly the long sweep of history that covered so many species of humankind. But the tone is there; the emotional resonance is there and much of it, in 2020, seems prophetic.

Our prospect has now suddenly and completely changed, for astronomers have made a startling discovery, which assigns to man a speedy end. His existence has ever been precarious. At any stage of his career he might easily have been exterminated by some slight alteration of his chemical environment, by a more than usually malignant microbe, by a radical change of climate, or by the manifold effects of his own folly.

Like Stapledon’s novel, this movie is well worth watching but it too requires patience and attention. If you’re looking for a summer-blockbuster of a Sci-Fi movie, this is certainly not one of those. 2001: A Space Odyssey is famously slow but this film makes it look like Independence Day. It’s weighty and it’s philosophical and it showcases a classic. As his directorial debut, it’s also a fitting swan song for Jóhann Jóhannsson, who tragically died in 2018 at the age of 48. Much like the film, it makes you wonder what more might have been accomplished.

Bottom Line:

References:

Adventure #265

Back in November, I stumbled across three beat-up vintage comics at my local comic shop: Adventure Comics #265, Action Comics #257, and Superboy #76. The issue of Superboy has become my retirement plan as it is the first appearance of Beppo the Super-Monkey. As soon as the DCEU decides to make a movie about his exploits, I’ll be on my way to Easy Street.

One of the first things I noticed when I got these books home is that all three share a cover date of October 1959. I find that intriguing for two reasons. The first is that this is almost precisely 60 years ago. It was when I bought them anyway. On second thought maybe not-quite-so precisely after all; these probably hit the stands in July or August. I contemplated calling this post “Attack of the 60-Year Old Comic Books;” but that is dangerously close to treading on someone else’s turf, even as an homage. And as the universal brouhaha of 2020 interferes with my ability to blog it’s becoming more and more inaccurate. We’re basically at 61 years at this point.

The second intriguing thing is that these three books were right together in a box in the back room. The odds of that occurring by mere happenstance must be infinitesimal. Much more likely is that these were first purchased at the same time from the same place by the same person, thoroughly enjoyed and then, possibly years later, given up for some reason. It’s fun to contemplate what these comics’ collective journey must have been, but sadly this is something that we could probably never discover.

In choosing one of these comics as the focus of this post, I eventually settled on the issue of Adventure for one particular reason. After World War II, superhero comics faded away; horror comics, western comics, crime comics, and other genres took their place on the newsstand. Only a few superheroes remained in publication. Most people are aware of three of those, namely Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. The remaining two were Aquaman and Green Arrow; they survived within the pages of Adventure Comics. Even though we’re well into the Silver Age proper by 1959 and the Comic Code Authority had been established years before, I was justifiably curious about this unflagging outpost of the superhero genre and the features within it.

The main feature of Adventure at this time was Superboy who was only the 6th DC hero to receive his own title and the only one to gain in popularity between the end of World War II and the Silver Age. Superman and his satellite characters maintained widespread appeal, so there can be little doubt that the Man of Steel’s popularity helped carry this title through the interregnum between the Golden and Silver ages.

Sadly, our lead story, The First Superman Robot, reads like an episode of Three’s Company. How does the plot progress? It opens with Clark building a Superboy robot. As he is leaving to go on patrol, “Dad Kent” as he’s referred to in this story decides to “try out his new tool chest” while Clark reminds him of the rules; he is not to use the robot unless there is a dire emergency. But Pa or Dad or Jonathan or whoever has lost the key to his tool chest and decides to have the Superboy robot melt the lock with his x-ray vision. Yes, you read that correctly and no, I don’t get it either.

Of course, Superboy sees this and becomes very upset. He decides to prank Jonathan to teach him a lesson. Now, I did not experience the 1950s, but I have watched enough Leave It To Beaver to know that this is not the way things worked back then. I suppose if you’re young enough, making rules that your parents have to follow might rank up there with flight and super strength.

The form of the prank itself is… odd. Superboy builds a Superman robot and pretends to be aged unnaturally to adulthood. He uses his “time telescope” to spy on his future self and get the face correct because the secret to a character-building prank like this one lies in the details.

It occurs to me that both Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke wrote stories about devices like the Time Telescope, but that bit of trivia adds nothing here. I now return you to our regularly scheduled program.

Anyway, nothing is ever this simple. Pa or rather “Dad” gets wise to the prank and decides to turn the table on our young hero.

And he does. There is a certain amount of strangeness here that permeates the entire story. Dad thinks of and calls Clark “Superboy” consistently while Superboy thinks about “Clark” in the third person as though he’s a separate character.

Check out the look on Clark’s face as Jonathan carries his “favorite playthings” away. He knows he’s taken things too far and resolves to make things right with Dad when he gets home from the store. Conveniently, the Superman robot begins to malfunction and explodes in a conveniently helpful way, removing it from the story. Clark, with some time to kill, decides to entertain himself using the time telescope which might be even better than the internet. Imagine being able to watch any cat at any time throughout all of history and not having to wait for someone to post a video. Sounds great!

Clark tunes in on his future self while Superman is watching that very instant from the future. We get to see Clark watching Superman watching Clark watching Superman watching Clark ad infinitum. This opens a “time pathway” that causes Clark to change places with his adult self.

It’s not clear to me why in these panels, Superman would have a time telescope “by sheer chance.” If I had had a device that allowed me to look through time as a boy, I’d damn sure have one now. Just sayin’ as they say.

Hilarity ensues. Clark tries to talk to Dad Kent, who refuses to believe he’s now the actual, real, adult Clark from the future and not the robot. Even Krypto believes he’s an enemy and forces him from the house, guarding it so Adult-Clark cannot return.

This, of course, is a problem. Clark needs access to the time telescope so he can set things right and return to his own time. After some gratuitous adventures in Smallville, he manages to trick Krypto long enough to access the time telescope and make the switch. The tone of this sequence, like so much of this story, is odd. Clark remains unmoved by seeing his long-dead parents. At least he didn’t try to order a Pepsi Free, accidentally woo Martha or invent Rock and Roll. For that, we can all be thankful. Both Clark and Dad Kent learned their lessons, so we wrap things up a bit too nicely. It seems to me that Clark could have broken all of space-time with those time telescope shenanigans. Seriously, let’s have some perspective here.

The remaining two stories, as mentioned before, feature Aquaman and Green Arrow. Both are lightweight enough that, judging only by these stories, I’d have to assume that the popularity of Superboy was mainly responsible for dragging these characters into the Silver Age. When their original home of More Fun Comics switched to an all-humor format, these features moved to Adventure along with Superboy starting in issue 103 (1946). Green Arrow remained through issue 269 (1960) when it was supplanted by Congorilla of all things. Aquaman persisted until issue number 282.

The Aquaman story is probably the weakest and the blandest in this comic. A man named Roxroyd offers Arthur a large sum of money to transport a heavy safe to a particular spot in the ocean.

Despite the suspicious nature of the request, Arthur agrees after a startlingly lax vetting process, which mainly consisted of using his pet octopus as a lie detector. He transports the safe to the agreed-upon location.

But Arthur’s still not suspicious even after a group of thugs try to break into the safe and eventually blow the door off. It isn’t a safe at all, it’s a solid block of stone. Now he gets it, he’s been duped; Roxroyd is a counterfeiter who dumped his equipment at the bottom of the ocean and then tricked Arthur into dropping the now-immovable stone atop them, making them inaccessible. Within four too-brief panels, Arthur tricks Roxroyd into confessing and all is once again right with the world.

The final story features Green Arrow. I previously wrote about Green Arrow’s encounter with the Clock King from World’s Finest Comics #111 (1960). The Amature Arrows is NOT better, but maybe it’s just a little charming. It starts out with GA and Speedy “out west” visiting the “Green Arrow Camp for Boys” that’s paid for with “all” of GA’s “reward money.”

The kids at the camp are all excited to see Green Arrow and Speedy; they are particularly anxious to show them a collection of special arrows that they invented in Arts and Crafts. There’s a doughnut arrow, a baby-rattle arrow, a candy cane arrow, a bubble gum arrow, and a bait arrow that flies through the air and quacks like a duck. GA and Speedy are rightfully dubious, but the kids are convinced that the arrows will help them fight crime. Suddenly, the most obvious thing possible occurs!

A group of escaped criminals gets the drop on our heroes and the boys. They force the archers to throw away all their specially-made trick arrows but not, inexplicably, their bows. Doubling-down on the obviousness, GA and Speedy then use the inane arrows to capture the bad guys. It’s obvious, but it’s not without its nice touches; the panel where the “desperado” is swamped by ducks is hilarious. As an old guy, I’ve gotten to really enjoy some of the silliness here, but overall it doesn’t do much for me.

Six-year-old me might have been a different story. I can see kids of a certain age really enjoying this story.

So, bottom line, if you’re looking for a serious-comic-story, there isn’t one here to be found. If you’re in the mood for a little silver-age silliness, on the other hand, this comic is pretty good. As a bonus, you get a sense of the two lesser-known superheroes to survive the golden age.

Adding the Stars and the Stripes

Happy Independence Day! We’ve made it a tradition to begin flying a historic American flag on each July 4th. In 2018, it was the “Betsy Ross” flag. Last year it was the Bennington Flag. This year we’re flying the only American Flag to have anything other than 13 stripes.

The original United States Flag act was passed on 14 June 1777 and established the familiar 13-stars and 13-stripes that are still recognizable today.

But then, Vermont joined the Union as the fourteenth state in 1791 and Kentucky followed suit the following year. Two years later, the United States changed its flag for the first time, adding both a star and a stripe for each of the new states.

That from and after the first day of May, Anno Domini, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-five, the flag of the United States, be fifteen stripes alternate red and white. That the Union be fifteen stars, white in a blue field.

The United States Flag Act of 1794
https://images.dailykos.com/images/270502/story_image/Star_Spangled_Banner_Flag_on_display_at_the_Smithsonian's_National_Museum_of_History_and_Technology__around_1964.jpg?1467684539

But this flag is notable for more than merely the number of stripes. Also known as the “Great Garrison Flag,” it is this version of the American flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812.

It was seeing this flag both before and after that battle that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem Defence of Fort M’Henry which, when sung to the tune of To Anacreon in Heaven became our national anthem in 1931. And that gave this flag its far more famous name, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” If you’d thought Vermont and Kentucky waited a long time to be included on the U. S. Flag, the flag wasn’t changed again for another 24 years.

In the meantime, Tennessee (1796), Ohio (1803), Louisiana (1812), Indiana (1816), and Mississippi (1817) had joined the union. Tennessee had to wait for nearly a quarter-century for their star to officially be added. That seems strange to me. For Vermont and Kentucky, there was an existing national flag with established symbolism. Now the precedent of including new states had been established; the public responded with a variety of unofficial flags that added stars and frequently stripes, like this version with 17 stars and 17 stripes. It and an assortment of other flags from this time can be seen at the Zaricor Flag Collection.

You might be wondering what our flag would look like if we’d continued to add stripes as well as stars. So did Michael Orelove of the Portland Flag Association. He went a step further and had one made; it looks kind of cool. It’s interesting, but it’s very pinstripey. Joanne’s reaction was that it “messes with my astigmatism.” On the PFA blog, Scott Mainwaring points out that it would look pink from a distance. There are disadvantages, but in the era of printed flags, making such a flag is feasible. I can’t imagine trying to make such a thing by sewing red and white strips of cloth together.

It wasn’t until after the War of 1812, that the congress finally got serious about updating the flag when Peter Wendover, a representative from New York proposed forming an exploratory committee to find “an unessential variation” to the flag. He suffered the fate of many who proposed creating a committee; he was put in charge of it.

Wendover consulted Samuel Reid, “a privateer and naval hero of the War of 1812.” Reid was the first to propose maintaining 13 stripes on the flag. He designed three flags, a people’s flag with 20 stars in a “great star” pattern, a governmental flag for federal use, and a “Standard of the Union” for use at celebrations. Congress settled on the first version, with 20 stars and 13 stripes. Invoking the founders, Wendover argued, “In their memory, and to their honor, let us restore substantially the flag under which they conquered, and at the same time engraft into its figure the after-fruits of their toil.”

An Act to establish the flag of the United States.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress Assembled, That from and after the fourth day of July next, the flag of the United States be thirteen horizontal stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be twenty stars, white in a blue field.

And be it further enacted, That on the admission of every new state into the Union, one star be added to the union of the flag; and that such addition shall take effect of the fourth day of July then next succeeding such admission.

The United States Flag Act of 1818

The 1818 Flag Act did two things that were smart. It limited the number of stripes to 13, and it established that the flag would change on July 4th after each new state joined the union. It remains in force today.

References:

Picture Credits:

State Flags: the Good

The New York State Flag

Happy Flag Day! I’ve been planning to start a series of posts on the flags of American states and today seems an appropriate time to get started. In recognition of the occasion, we’ve started flying the New York State flag, seeing as we live in New York State. Our state flag, like many others, is the state coat of arms on a field of blue. The flag we’re flying is actually a bit out of date. New York recently appended “E Pluribus Unum” to our state motto, which caused a change in the coat of arms and consequently the flag. We’ll come back to the New York Flag in a later post.

An overview of state flags suggests a self-evident organizational structure which will define the posts in the series. We’ll break things down thusly.

  1. Flags that need no changes
  2. Flags that only need very slight changes
  3. Flags that have well established and aesthetic alternatives and
  4. Flags that require significant changes.

I’m hardly the first person to undertake this kind of analysis, I don’t remember the first time I saw such a thing on the internet. I do, on the other hand, remember my reaction, “Oooo. That must have been fun!” That was one of the many things that helped inspire me to start this blog. Lots of people must have thought this would be fun since, judging from the “U.S. State Flags – Current, Historical and Proposed” Facebook group, every state has dozens of proposed alternatives. In part 3, we’ll focus our attention on states with good historical alternatives or proposals that have some ongoing public support. When we get to part 4, there might be as many as one post per state. I’ll highlight some of the proposals that I like and I may try my hand at making my own.

But let’s dispense with part one, the best flags which are just great as they are. I’ll start off by reminding us about the NAVA’s five principles for good flag design as delineated in Good Flag, Bad Flag.

Principle 1. KEEP IT SIMPLE: The Flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory.
Principle 2. USE MEANINGFUL SYMBOLISM: The flag’s images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes.
Principle 3. USE 2 TO 3 BASIC COLORS: Limit the number of colors on the flag to three, which contrast well and come from the standard color set.
Principle 4. NO LETTERING OR SEALS: Never use writing of any kind or an organization’s seal.
Principle 5. BE DISTINCTIVE OR BE RELATED: Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections.

North American Vexillological Association

I put nine flags in the category, which I’ll list from my least favorite to my favorite.

9. Maryland

The flag of Maryland comes up short with respect to principles one and three, but Good Flag, Bad Flag uses Maryland as an exemplar of when it’s okay to bend the rules. It’s distinctiveness is it’s strength. The Symbolism is strong too; the flag is based in the coat of arms of Cecil Calvert the 2nd Baron Baltimore, founder of the Maryland colony. When NAVA did a survey of the state, provincial and territorial flags of North America, the Maryland flag placed fourth and the flag is a common motif on team uniforms, airplanes and license plates.

8. Texas

Demonstrating all five of the NAVA principles, the flag of Texas actually predates Texas’ entry into the Union as it was the final flag of the Republic of Texas. The colors are defined by the Texas Flag Code to be identical to the colors of the US Flag, with red, white and blue representing bravery, purity and loyalty respectively. The single red and white stripes date back to the Republic of Fredonia which attempted to seceded from Mexico in 1926. The single star was the common element of every flag of the Republic of Texas, symbolizing the Texans’ unity in declaring independence from Mexico. That star inspired the nickname “the Lone Star State.”

7. South Carolina

The flag of South Carolina and the palmetto palm as a symbol for the state both date back to the American Revolution. The flag is based on the Moultrie or Liberty Flag which consisted of the upward facing crescent containing the word “Liberty” on an indigo background. The sable palmetto became a symbol of the state when the trees were used to build a fort on Sullivan’s island that subsequently withstood a British attack. The palmetto was incorporated into the first state seal in 1777 but it was not added to the flag until 1861 as South Carolina seceded from the Union. A variation of this state flag was the first flag raised by the Confederate Army after it occupied Fort Sumner. The South Carolina flag placed 10th in the NAVA survey and it is cited in Good Flag, Bad Flag to illustrate Principle 4. “The palmetto tree” it notes “represents the ‘Palmetto State’ far better than the state’s seal could.”

Everything takes longer than it does and so, in order to post this while it’s still Flag Day, we’re going to leave it there for today. Can you stand the suspense? Tune in for my favorite state flags numbers 6 to 1 coming soon!

I’m Back

It’s been a rough couple of months. A heavy semester turned into a work-from-home marathon and that was followed by a shorter semester that was online from end-to-end. It was grueling. I’ve never been all that interested in teaching online; the investment of time seemed too extreme and I was not wrong. Still, there were pleasant surprises. We found out on a Friday that we’d have to start teaching on-line and I was able to figure out a lot of stuff over the weekend working with my colleagues in the mathematics department. Calculus II went on-line that Monday and although it wasn’t perfect, we barely missed a beat.

This is fairly boring, but here’s part of the figuring-out-what-the-hell-I’m-doing process.

There’s still a lot to learn. My Science Fiction class in particular really drove home how much I depend on cues from students in the classroom. But it was still a rewarding albeit different experience from what I was used to. Having gone through the experience I’d be willing to try it again although hopefully not in such impromptu circumstances. It also has me pondering the possibility of doing parts of this blog with a “v” in front of it.

But I finally seem to be able to carve out some time for this. Later today, we’ll have the first in a series of posts on state flags in honor of flag day. There’s a post mortem on Mad Magazine in the works and I need to get back to these comics that seemed like they would be fun to write about.

I purchased these 60 years old to the month from their cover date but in August it will be 61 years from when they hit the stands. That should give you an idea of how long some of these things need to ruminate.

So, there’s more to come. Please stay tuned!

Super Tuesday, Live.

It’s like a regular Tuesday except from Krypton. Well, not really. Actually, it’s like a regular Tuesday except with a genuinely life-threatening number of fries.

I published these predictions a few minutes ago on Facebook and it looks fairly even. There’s not a whole lot of analysis there on my part; I mostly just took the 538.com favorite. Thus, this is as much of a benchmark as anything else. We can use this to look for surprises.

The exception is Texas. Sanders had a pretty big lead there before South Carolina, but Biden seems to be getting a boost of his big win last Saturday. He was gaining fast; that one could really go either way.

What’s the status quo? Biden has Momentum, which changes things dramatically. Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and Steyer have dropped out of the race in the last few days which is good news for Biden.

Warren is still in. It’s perplexing that she hasn’t caught on more than she did. I still think that she would have been the Democrats best bet against Trump. She is the Quintessential anti-Trump and that contrast would have been her best argument. Sadly, if the predictions above are correct, this might be her campaign’s last gasp.

7:08 pm. I’ll be switching over to coverage soon.

7:30 pm. It’s a big win for Biden in VA. That sounds good for him. His bounce must be pretty big. NC is called for Biden at the moment the polls closed. Sanders wins in Vermont. No surprise there.

Tom Perez was just talking about the Jones election as a sign of Democratic Party strength, That’s a real misread of the situation.

And Bloomberg wins American Samoa. Did not see that coming. Is the tide turning? No.

7:55 pm. Five Poll closings coming up at 8. Alabama, Maine, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee. That’s probably 3 for Biden and 2 for Sanders.

8:00 pm. Alabama is called for Biden. Oklahoma, Maine, Massachusetts are all to early to call. All the early calls for Biden should help him. Arkansas will go his way as well.

8:10 pm. Biden is competitive in Massachusetts. That’s a sign that he could run the table. And yeah, that’s ignoring a lot of voting theory vote-splitting arguments.

8:40 pm. No call in Arkansas yet (did I miss it?). Texas is closing soon. There’s a huge line of college students in Austin still waiting to vote. I hope they’re all able to stick it out.

8:57 pm. Watching how everything else is going tonight, I think Texas is going to go to Biden.

9:00 pm. “To early to call” is not a call. “To close to call” is not a call.

9:21 pm. AL SC NC TN OK. Biden is running up a big delegate lead, mostly in states that Democrats won’t win in November.

9:40 pm. NBC’s finally caught up and called Colorado for Sanders.

9:45 pm. James Clybern is on MSNBC right now. Damn, that guy is good. He might be the MVP of the entire 2020 election for better or for worse.

9:47 pm. If Biden’s “officially leading” in Minnesota, that’s devastating for Sanders if it holds up.

10:14 pm. It looks like Biden wins Massachusetts. This is officially a rout.

10:19 pm. And now Minnesota. Crap.

11:40 pm. California is called for Sanders. Too little too late.

12:13 am. So much for Super Tuesday; it’s now Fatigued Wednesday. There’s got to be a better name for it than that. It looks at this point that Biden will win both Texas and Maine. I thought I saw an official call on Texas, but I can’t verify that. What’s the headline for the evening? Biden Wins Big. Biden won everywhere he was supposed to and a lot of places that Bernie was supposed to.

What’s the Matter with Iowa

This was initially published yesterday as part of Prelude to Iowa. It looks like this scenario is playing out in real time so it deserves to be out on its own.

Beware of Paradoxical Results

You might think that first-past-the-post or the plurality vote is the worst voting system ever. You’d be wrong. In 2017, my student, Brandon Payne studied the Iowa Caucuses. He determined that the caucuses violate all sorts of mathematical “fairness criteria.” One example is the Condorcet criterion which states that if one candidate beats every other candidate in head-to-head match-ups, that candidate should be the overall winner. Such a candidate might not win the Iowa Caucuses.

Turns out, the viability constraint can also lead to seemingly contradictory results, which I’ll call the “viability paradox.” As a quick example, suppose that in some state, the voters have the following preferences.

Candidate A35%
Candidate B30%
Candidate C12%
Candidate D12%
Candidate E11%

In a primary election, this would be a clear victory for candidate A.

Now let’s divide our state into five precincts of 100 voters each and let’s assign each precinct 10 delegates. We’ll conduct a caucus to allocate the delegates.

Suppose that the voters are arranged within the caucuses according to the graphic below.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png

Notice that there are non-viable candidate preference groups in each precinct. These voters will have to join a viable group in order to participate. They may reorganize themselves as shown below.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-1.png

And so, in this case, Candidate B actually wins pretty decisively, probably 23 delegates to 15 delegates for A. Candidates C, D and E should get 4 delegates each.

There might be good reasons to decide that either candidate A or B is the rightful winner here, but one point is that there is a significant difference. Systems like this can lead to chaotic or paradoxical results. One important take away is that, right or wrong, geography can have a lot of influence on who the victor will be. Even if a candidate seems to be ahead in the polls, they can lose without any shenanigans going on, simply because how their voters are distributed across the state. Surprising results aren’t necessarily nefarious or even necessarily surprising.

You might even want to argue that results like this are a good thing because a lot of voters got to express their second choices. Here’s why you’d be wrong. It’s not systematic. In Instant Run-Off voting, for example, everybody’s second choice is counted unless their first choice is. In the caucus exactly whose second choices are counted is determined by an accident of geography. In deciding a winner between candidates A and B above, should the second choices of voters who picked candidate C in precinct 1 be less important than those in precinct 3? They shouldn’t be but in the current system they are. This is worse than a plurality vote because this could be taking us even farther away from a good collective decision.

In fact, it’s a bit worse than that. Apparently, the state weighs the delegate counts in rural counties a bit more heavily than their urban counties. If the Democrats who think we should dump the Electoral College are to have any intellectual consistency, they should reject these results and work to reform this process.

References

  • Payne, B., The Iowa Democratic Caucuses: A Mathematical Analysis of the “Vote,” Unpublished Manuscript.

Prelude to Iowa

These things happen on Tuesdays, right? Nope. Turns out it’s tonight. The democratic caucus was quite the roller coaster ride four years ago, perhaps we can hope for a more definitive result this time around. I plan to live blog the caucus and the results from my comfy couch in upstate New York. Results will be coming in shortly, which you can keep up with here: Iowa Results, Live.

How do the Caucuses Work?

Primaries are pretty straightforward; party members come out and vote for their preferred candidate, the votes are tallied and delegates are assigned based on the vote counts. There’s a certain amount to unpack there, but if you believe in the assumptions of first-past-the-post voting, primaries should make sense to you.

Caucuses on the other hand, can be kind of weird and I’m sure that most people don’t know what will happens at a caucus site in Iowa Tonight. Here’s what is scheduled to happen.

  1. Caucus-goers will arrive at the site. Those who are not registered have the opportunity to do so, including people who want to change their party registrations and 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before Election Day in November. Only registered democrats are allowed to participate. The number of caucus-goers is established.
  2. At 7:00 pm CST the Caucus is called to order. Representatives of campaigns may speak and caucus-goers may talk among themselves. After 30 minutes, every participant will join a “presidential preference group” or an “undecided” group. Volunteers will determine how many caucus-goers are in each group.
  3. Each preference group’s viability is determined. If a candidate has the support of fewer than 15% of the participants at a caucus location, that group is considered non-viable. Members of that preference group will not be permitted to support that candidate without additional voters. If every candidate is viable, the caucus can proceed to step 5.
  4. If one or more groups are non-viable, the members of those groups have four options. They can:
    1. join a viable group,
    2. merge with another non-viable group to form a viable group,
    3. attempt to recruit members from a viable group to become viable or
    4. leave the caucus. Every group must be viable before the caucus can end.
  5. The size of each preference group is determined. Once every group is viable, the results can be officially recorded and released to the Iowa Democratic Party and the media. The caucus is declared closed.

Conventional Wisdom

This is all over the place. Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com last time I looked, had Biden as the favorite to win the caucus. Meanwhile the betting sites are giving the advantage to Sanders, who has led in the most recent polls. The very last, important poll will not be released. Still, it seems likely that one of these two men will wind up the victor. If I had to bet, I’d bet it will be Sanders. I still think he has enough of an enthusiasm gap on Biden to make the difference. But it’s a very different situation than it was 4 years ago. He isn’t the only challenger left standing.

If either Biden or Sanders wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, I think there’s a good chance that that person will go on to win the nomination.

Inherent in this relatively genteel tone is the belief that the candidates have time to sharpen the distinctions among them. But recent Democratic primaries indicate that they might not. In the past four contested Democratic primaries—2000, 2004, 2008, and 2016—the winner in Iowa has gone on to capture the nomination each time. The winnowing process has been swift and merciless: As I’ve calculated, in these four races combined, Democratic candidates who did not first win either Iowa or New Hampshire have won a total of just five states—and of those, three were the home or neighboring states of the candidates who won them. Not since 1992 have Democrats had a primary race in which more than two candidates won multiple states well into the process.

Ronald Brownstein in The Atlantic

The next tier of candidates seem to be betting on the race lasting long enough to make a mark. That may or may not be the case.

Beware of Paradoxical Results

This section was expanded a bit and moved here: What’s the Matter with Iowa.

If you’re interested in the original version, it’s not very different, but it’s preserved here: Paradoxical Results

References

Iowa Results, Live

3:52 pm: You know what happens when you assume; I thought the Caucus was tomorrow, but as I was working on a companion piece, Prelude to Iowa I discovered that results were already coming in. So I’ll jump back and forth between the two posts. Prelude to Iowa will be published when there’s something complete enough to share.

Early Lead for Sanders: We already have some results as the good folks in Ottumwa caucused earlier today. The final tally was 9 for Bernie Sanders, 6 for Elizabeth Warren and 3 for Pete Buttigeig. Klobuchar and Yang had some support in the first alignment but neither was viable. M*A*S*H fans will remember Ottumwa as the home town of Radar O’Reilly. I’m sure Walter would be proud.

6:08 pm: It sounds like Amy Klobuchar has won a satellite caucus somewhere in Florida. If there’s a surprise tonight, it will be her beating expectations, but I don’t think she’ll break into the top tier, NY Times endorsement or no.

7:00 pm: Prelude to Iowa is now live. More to come, only “How do the Caucuses Work?” is done for now.

7:53 pm: “Beware of Paradoxical Results” has been added to Prelude to Iowa. The caucuses are set to start any minute, I’m going to start paying attention to the news coverage.

8:00 pm: Turnout sounds high, possibly 15% over last year? That would be good news for Sanders.

8:03 pm: Biden group looks tiny in Iowa City. Entrance polls indicate a 4 way race, Biden, Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg.

8:16 pm: Nicole Wallace just claimed that traditionally Democrats are married to substance over elect-ability. That seems wrong. Lots of candidates look strong in Des Moines. MSNBC is promising full first and final alignment results.

8:33 pm: In Debuque, Warren and Klobuchar missed viability at least on the first alignment. Buttigeig is ahead of everybody there.

8:50 pm: Klobuchar will probably beat expectations. Based on the buzz the surprise might be bigger than I thought.

There’s a woman on the tv now making a strong case for Warren.

Record turnout on a number of different places. Oldest group is looking smaller while the youngest group is getting bigger. All good news for Sanders.


The difference between the under 30 and over 65 groups is stunning.

9:18 pm: There seems to be a lot of Amy/Pete synergy.

9:23 pm: Pete looks like he’s a lot of people’s #2. Could that be enough to push him to the top?

9:31 pm: Pete and Amy kill it in Clive, IA. Biden and Warren still viable. Bernie didn’t make viability there.

9:50 pm: There’s very little data being released. In Cedar Falls only Sanders, Warren and Buttgeig are viable. The formula for assigning delegates appears to be really complicated.

This lack of data is getting kind of tedious. I wonder if they’re worried about the different narratives the three different sets of numbers will tell.

11:20 pm: Finally something is happening. Klobuchar took the stage. This is smart. If no one else does, it will get tons of airplay.

11:30 pm: The secretary from Iowa Precinct 1-1 could not get his smart phone app to work and has been on hold to the “hotline” for over two hours.

12:19 pm: It’s a shame that Elizabeth Warren’s speech was tape delayed; it’s probably the strongest one of the night.

It doesn’t look like we’ll be getting any results tonight. That’s not a good look for the Iowa Caucus; there’s already talk about whether on not there will even be a Caucus in four years. If the nomination comes down to delegates from Iowa, we’ll all be up to our asses in conspiracy theories.

It could be doubly delayed, Biden’s lawyer sent the Iowa Democratic Party a letter wanting to see the results before they are released. That’s not a good look for the Biden campaign, although without any data what-so-ever it may tell us all we need to know about how he did tonight.

Pete: “Iowa you have shocked the nation!” That made me laugh really hard. He’s the last major candidate to speak I think, and they all did okay, but Warren still wins.

Good night!

Image Credits:

  • Featured Image: Citizensharp [Public domain]