It’s Pride Month and so we’re flying a “Straight Ally” flag to show our support. I’m not wild about the flag itself. The stylized “A” for ally with the rainbow motif is both perfect and visually striking. Unfortunately the background lessens the effect somewhat; the
black and white strips remind me of an old style prison uniform and it has a lot of contrast. Because of this the rainbow A doesn’t stand out as well as I would have liked. I probably wouldn’t have thought about it quite so much but the first version of the Ally flag that I saw had graduated shades of gray in the background and looked better. But the marketplace once again has spoken in order to choose the version I don’t like as well.
Of course, the Ally flag is a derivative of the traditional LGBT Pride Flag which was designed by Gilbert Baker and first flown in San Francisco in 1978. The rainbow may have been inspired by Judy Garland’s “Over The Rainbow.” Interestingly the flag originally consisted of eight stripes representing sexuality, life, healing,
sunlight, nature, magic & art, serenity and spirit. Over time, the number of stripes were reduced to the six we see on the ally flag. We’ve never gotten a complete spectrum on any version of the flag but you have to admit, as a metaphor for inclusiveness, it’s hard to go wrong with a rainbow.
It seems like the Pride Flag is in process of increasing the number of colors again. There’s a new version which adds stripes to support people of color and another which adds a white stripe to represent the full spectrum of gender and sexuality as well as “peace and union among all.”
The Ally flag always puts me in mind of a joke from “Dimitri Martin: Person” which is pretty funny. Interestingly, the first thing I found when I was looking for this clip was a discussion of whether or not the shirt described in the bit would be offensive. I hope not; as a society we currently seem to be actively seeking things to offend us and that isn’t healthy.
Well, the UFP Flag didn’t end up being flown for very long. We’re now flying the Earth Day flag that was designed by John McConnell, founder of Earth Day in 1969. This version of the flag features the famous photograph of the Earth that was taken from the Apollo 17 spacecraft. The original version was screen printed; but both were official Earth Day promotional items used to advertise the occasion.
The flag I’d originally wanted to fly for Earth Day is the “Flag of the Earth,” (shown below) that was designed by James W. Cadel. It shows a stylized collection of the Earth, Moon and the sun. It flies at Observatories and SETI installations world wide.
We’re flying a new flag this morning; specifically the flag of the United Federation of Planets. It flew for a day a few weeks ago, but it was wet and windy and the flag kept getting tangled around the pole so I decided to take it down for a bit.
In the meantime, we purchased a Valley Forge Tangle-Free Aluminum Pole (not pictured above) from the Horseheads Do It Center. It’s working beautifully so far. The flag is affixed directly to the pole through the grommets and the entire top section of the pole rotates freely. The weight of the flag itself keeps it from wrapping around the pole.
I like this flag, however, it puts me in mind of a lot of state flags, most of which are pretty dreadful. I therefore thought I’d look at the UFP flag in terms of the North American Vexillogical Association’s criteria for evaluating/creating flags.
NAVA’s five criteria for creating a good flag were first codified in 2001 when they conducted a survey to choose the best and worst flags on the continent. These are:
The design of the flag should be simple enough that a child could draw it from memory.
It should use clear and understandable symbolism.
The flag should use common colors; probably no more than four different ones.
Both text and seals should be avoided.
Finally, the flag should be unique as it represents a distinct entity. It can however, show similarities to other flags, to show cultural, historical or political connections.
A nice example of the last criterion is the similarities between the flags of Ohio and the United States. The flags are distinct but the common elements make it clear that the US and Ohio are closely related.
We could segue to a long discussion of state and province flags, but we’ll save that for another day. The existing state flag that was closest to the bottom of the 2001 NAVA survey was Nebraska.
The dubious distinction for last place was given to Georgia, but that flag was changed in 2003. Meanwhile, my favorite state flag has to be Alaska; simple and elegant with clear symbolism. It’s a classic.
The UFP flag fares pretty well according to the NAVA standards. The design is simple and clean. The colors, blue and white, are classic and attractive. The weakest element of the flag is the text. Like the conventional wisdom assumes, it’s difficult to read as the flag waves in the wind, especially as the text is backward on one side of the flag. It’s also an odd choice; at one point, the Federation contained over 150 member worlds each of which probability had its own language. I think it remains an odd choice even though English had evolved into “Federation Standard.”
To think about the symbolism, it makes sense to look back to the obvious inspiration for the UFP flag, the Flag of the United Nations. The blue color was chosen in contrast to “red, the war color.” The world map represents all the people of the world. The map projection is surrounded by olive branches, a common metaphor for peace.
The similarities to the UFP flag are striking and the symbolism transfers in a straightforward manner. The branches are similar, though may not be of terrestrial origin. The galactic map with the density of the stars in an off-center diagonal line is evocative of a section of one of the spiral arms of the galaxy.
Earth and presumably most of the other member worlds of the Federation are located in the Orion Spur, a minor arm of the Milky Way, which exists between the Perseus and Sagittarius Arms of the galaxy. In universe and otherwise, the similarities between the UFP flag and the UN flag make sense since one organization is clearly an inspiration for the other. If the UN still existed in the 23rd Century, the two flags might be too similar to be flown together, but I suspect the UN flag has been supplanted by a “United Earth” flag.
One place where the symbolism of the UFP flag seems lacking is that there are three stars in the galactic map that are stylized as four-pointed stars rather than circles. These stand out and in a standard flag, these might represent the founding worlds of the Federation. Unfortunately, there are four; Earth, Vulcan, Andor and Tellar Prime. This is not surprising. The UFP flag was designed long before the founding worlds were codified in “These are the Voyages…” the series finale of Star Trek: Enterprise. I might be inclined to add a fourth four-pointed star.
It’s been awhile since I changed the flag outside and I decided to swap for today, in honor of the holiday. Specifically, we’re now flying a 35-Star American Flag with the stars in what is known as a great star configuration.
The 35-Star Flag became the official flag of the United States on 4 July 1863 when a star was added for West Virginia. It remained the official flag until 1865 when the 36th Star was added to represent Nevada.
The relevance to Thanksgiving Day? Although the holiday was celebrated a various times prior to 1863, the modern celebration dates back to 1863 when Abraham Lincoln called for a National day of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. This was the national flag on that day.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of historical evidence for a 35-Star flag with a great star configuration, most show the stars in a rectangular array. Congress doesn’t typically specify the configuration of the stars, but there were 20, 26, 33, 34 and 36-Star Great Star variants. Great stars were popular and commonly flown on private ships in the early part of the 19th Century.
The closest historical flag that I can find to the version I’m flying was one of many mourning flags for Abraham Lincoln. This one had an additional star in the center of the great star and a black border. According to loeser.com,
“It should be understood that these special flags are only examples because the engines were switched as the train was passed from railroad to railroad. There were at least five or more different engines used to pull the train on its journey, plus more pilot locomotives that ran the tracks ahead of the actual train to make sure the tracks were clear. Each railroad used their best and most powerful engines to move the funeral train slowly from station to station and they each decorated their engines differently with locally made flags…”
Other sources indicate that this flag was used for later periods of national mourning, including for President Kennedy in 1963.